Monday, August 18, 2008

1.12.2


"I am sure the old bear must be afraid of the dogs which used to be here in the shed," he said to himself; "but it may be a wolf that has scented me."

Now the footsteps were no longer heard. Zbyszko, however, was sure that something had stopped twenty or thirty steps behind him.

He turned around once or twice; but although he could see the trunks of the trees quite well, he could not see anything else. He had no choice but to wait.

He waited so long, that he was surprised a second time.

"A bear would not come here to stop under the hive; and a wolf would not wait until morning."

Suddenly a shiver ran through his body as he thought:

"Suppose it is something dreadful that comes from the marshes and is trying to surprise me from the rear! Suppose the slippery arms of a drowned man seize me, or the green eyes of a ghost look into my face; suppose a blue head on spider's legs comes out from behind the tree and begins to laugh!"

He felt his hair begin to rise under his iron bonnet.

But after a while, a rustling sounded in front of him, more distinct this time than before. Zbyszko breathed more freely; he thought that something had gone around him, and now approached from the front, but he preferred that. He seized his pitchfork firmly, arose quietly and waited.

Now he noticed over his head the rustling of the pine trees, and he felt the wind blow in his face, coming from the marsh, and he smelt the bear.

There was not the slightest doubt that the bear was coming!

Zbyszko was no longer afraid, he bent his head, and he strained to the utmost his hearing and his sight. Heavy, distinct steps were coming. The smell grew stronger; soon the snore and groaning were heard.

"I hope there is just one!" thought Zbyszko.

But at that moment, he saw in front of him the large, dark form of the animal, which was walking with the wind, and could not get the scent of him; its attention was occupied by the smell of the honey on the trees.

"Hi, grandpa!" called Zbyszko, coming out from beneath the pine tree.

The beast roared shortly as if frightened by an unexpected apparition, but he was too close to flight, therefore, in a moment he reared and extended his forelegs as if for a hug. This was exactly what Zbyszko was waiting for; he gathered himself together, jumped like lightning and with all the strength of his powerful arms and of his weight, he drove the pitchfork into the animal's chest.

The whole forest resounded now with the fearful roaring. The bear seized the fork with his paws, and tried to pull it out, but it was stuck; therefore, feeling the pain, it roared still more fearfully. Wishing to reach Zbyszko, it leaned on the fork and thus drove it into his body still further. Zbyszko, not knowing that the points had entered so deeply, held on to the handle. The man and the animal began to struggle. The forest again resounded with the roaring in which wrath and despair were mingled.

Zbyszko could not use his axe until he drove the sharpened end of the fork into the ground. The bear seized the handle and was shaking it as well as Zbyszko, and despite the pain caused by every movement of the fork imbedded in his breast he would not let it be propped on the ground. In this way the struggle continued, and Zbyszko finally felt that his strength would soon be exhausted. If he fell, he would certainly die, therefore, he gathered all his strength, strained his arms to the utmost, set his feet firmly and bent his back like a bow, so as not to be thrown backward; and in his enthusiasm he repeated through set teeth:

"Either you or I will die!"

Such anger filled him that he really preferred at that moment to die, rather than to let the beast go. Finally his foot got caught in the root of a tree and would have fallen, if at that moment a dark figure had not appeared before him, and propped the beast with another fork. Then a voice shouted near his ear:

"Use your axe!"

Zbyszko excited by the fight did not wonder even for a moment where did the unexpected help come from? He seized the axe and cut with all his might. The fork cracked, broken by the weight and by the last convulsion of the beast, as it fell. There was a long silence broken only by Zbyszko's loud respirations. But after a while, he lifted his head, looked at the form standing beside him and was afraid, thinking that it might not be a man.

"Who are you?" asked he, with uneasiness.

"Jagienka!" answered a thin, womanly voice.

Zbyszko could not believe his own eyes. But his doubts did not last long, because Jagienka's voice again resounded:

"I will build a fire."

Immediately the clatter of a fire steel against a flint sounded and the sparks began to fall; by their glittering light, Zbyszko saw the white forehead, the dark eyebrows and the red lips of the girl who was blowing on the tinder which began to burn. Not until then did he realize that she had come to the forest to help him, and that without her aid, he would have died. He felt such gratitude toward her, that he impulsively seized her around the waist and kissed her on both cheeks.

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