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قراءة كتاب The Deluge: An Historical Novel of Poland, Sweden, and Russia. Vol. 2 (of 2)

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The Deluge: An Historical Novel of Poland, Sweden, and Russia. Vol. 2 (of 2)

The Deluge: An Historical Novel of Poland, Sweden, and Russia. Vol. 2 (of 2)

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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think that all was blazing and falling to ruins behind their shoulders, that song was like healing balsam, announcing continually that the church was standing, that the cloister was standing, that so far flames had not vanquished the efforts of men. Hence it became a custom to sweeten with such harmony the suffering of the siege, and to keep removed from the ears of women the terrible shouts of raging soldiery.

But in the Swedish camp that singing and music made no small impression. The soldiers in the trenches heard it at first with wonder, then with superstitious dread.

"How is it," said they to one another, "we have cast so much fire and iron at that hen-house that more than one powerful fortress would have flown away in smoke and ashes, but they are playing joyously? What does this mean?"

"Enchantment!" said others.

"Balls do not harm those walls. Bombs roll down from the roofs as if they were empty kegs! Enchantment, enchantment!" repeated they. "Nothing good will meet us in this place."

The officers in fact were ready to ascribe some mysterious meaning to those sounds. But others interpreted differently, and Sadovski said aloud, so that Miller might hear: "They must feel well there, since they rejoice; or are they glad because we have spent so much powder for nothing?"

"Of which we have not too much," added the Prince of Hesse.

"But we have as leader Poliorcetes," said Sadovski, in such a tone that it could not be understood whether he was ridiculing or flattering Miller. But the latter evidently took it as ridicule, for he bit his mustache.

"We shall see whether they will be playing an hour later," said he, turning to his staff.

Miller gave orders to double the fire, but these orders were carried out over-zealously. In their hurry, the gunners pointed the cannons too high, and the result was they carried too far. Some of the balls, soaring above the church and the cloister, went to the Swedish trenches on the opposite side, smashing timber works, scattering baskets, killing men.

An hour passed; then a second. From the church tower came solemn music unbroken.

Miller stood with his glass turned on Chenstohova. He looked a long time. Those present noticed that the hand with which he held the glass to his eyes trembled more and more; at last he turned and cried,—

"The shots do not injure the church one whit!" And anger, unrestrained, mad, seized the old warrior. He hurled the glass to the earth, and it broke into pieces. "I shall go wild from this music!" roared he.

At that moment De Fossis, the engineer, galloped up. "General," said he, "it is impossible to make a mine. Under a layer of earth lies rock. There miners are needed."

Miller used an oath. But he had not finished the imprecation when another officer came with a rush from the Chenstohova entrenchment, and saluting, said,—

"Our largest gun has burst. Shall we bring others from Lgota?"

Fire had slackened somewhat; the music was heard with more and more solemnity. Miller rode off to his quarters without saying a word. But he gave no orders to slacken the struggle; he determined to worry the besieged. They had in the fortress barely two hundred men as garrison; he had continual relays of fresh soldiers.

Night came, the guns thundered unceasingly; but the cloister guns answered actively,—more actively indeed than during the day, for the Swedish camp-fires showed them ready work. More than once it happened that soldiers had barely sat around the fire and the kettle hanging over it, when a ball from the cloister flew to them out of the darkness, like an angel of death. The fire was scattered to splinters and sparks, the soldiers ran apart with unearthly cries, and either sought refuge with other comrades, or wandered through the night, chilled, hungry, and frightened.

About midnight the fire from the cloister increased to such force that within reach of a cannon not a stick could be kindled. The besieged seemed to speak in the language of cannons the following words: "You wish to wear us out,—try it! We challenge you!"

One o'clock struck, and two. A fine rain began to fall in the form of cold mist, but piercing, and in places thickened as if into pillars, columns and bridges seeming red from the light of the fire. Through these fantastic arcades and pillars were seen at times the threatening outlines of the cloister, which changed before the eye; at one time it seemed higher than usual, then again it fell away as if in an abyss. From the trenches to its walls stretched as it were ill-omened arches and corridors formed of darkness and mist, and through those corridors flew balls bearing death; at times all the air above the cloister seemed clear as if illumined by a lightning flash; the walls, the lofty works, and the towers were all outlined in brightness, then again they were quenched. The soldiers looked before them with superstitious and gloomy dread. Time after time one pushed another and whispered,—

"Hast seen it? This cloister appears and vanishes in turn. That is a power not human."

"I saw something better than that," answered the other. "We were aiming with that gun that burst, when in a moment the whole fortress began to jump and quiver, as if some one were raising and lowering it. Fire at such a fortress; hit it!"

The soldier then threw aside the cannon brush, and after a while added,—

"We can win nothing here! We shall never smell their treasures. Brr, it is cold! Have you the tar-bucket there? Set fire to it; we can even warm our hands."

One of the soldiers started to light the tar by means of a sulphured thread. He ignited the sulphur first, then began to let it down slowly.

"Put out that light!" sounded the voice of an officer. But almost the same instant was heard the noise of a ball; then a short cry, and the light was put out.

The night brought the Swedes heavy losses. A multitude of men perished at the camp-fires; in places regiments fell into such disorder that they could not form line before morning. The besieged, as if wishing to show that they needed no sleep, fired with increasing rapidity.

The dawn lighted tired faces on the walls, pale, sleepless, but enlivened by feverishness. Kordetski had lain in the form of a cross in the church all night; with daylight he appeared on the walls, and his pleasant voice was heard at the cannon, in the curtains, and near the gates.

"God is forming the day, my children," said he. "Blessed be His light. There is no damage in the church, none in the buildings. The fire is put out, no one has lost his life. Pan Mosinski, a fiery ball fell under the cradle of your little child, and was quenched, causing no harm. Give thanks to the Most Holy Lady; repay her."

"May Her name be blessed," said Mosinski; "I serve as I can."

The prior went farther.

It had become bright day when he stood near Charnyetski and Kmita. He did not see Kmita; for he had crawled to the other side to examine the woodwork, which a Swedish ball had harmed somewhat. The prior asked straightway,—

"But where is Babinich? Is he not sleeping?"

"I, sleep in such a night as this!" answered Pan Andrei, climbing up on the wall. "I should have no conscience. Better watch as an orderly of the Most Holy Lady."

"Better, better, faithful servant!" answered Kordetski.

Pan Andrei saw at that moment a faint Swedish light gleaming, and immediately he cried,—

"Fire, there, fire! Aim!

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