Twardowski

Intermediate
7 min read
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    Twardowski was by birth a nobleman. He desired to be wiser than other, honest folks, and to discover an elixir against death; for of all things he feared to die. He had learnt in an old book the art of calling demons into his presence. He left Cracow, in which city he was a doctor of medicine, secretly at midnight, and came to Podgorze, where he began his magical arts to summon the demon from the deep. The evil spirit soon appeared. As was customary in those days, the two entered into a covenant. The demon knelt on the ground and wrote out a bond, which Twardowski signed with his own blood, squeezed out of the third finger of his left hand. The chief condition of the covenant was this: the demon should have no power over the body or soul of Twardowski unless he could catch him in Rome.

    By virtue of the bond executed between them, Twardowski commanded the services of the demon, and he ordered him to collect all the silver in Poland, to bury it at Olkusz and to cover it well over with sand. The obedient servant did as he was bid. Hence the celebrated silver mines of Olkusz. Then Twardowski ordered the evil spirit to bring a great rock to Piaskowa Skala, to set it on its sharpest point in the earth, and there to leave it for ever. The obedient servant at once obeyed the command. The rock still stands as it was first set up, and is called the Hawk’s Rock.

    In a word, whatever Twardowski desired he could at once obtain. He could ride on a painted horse, and fly in the air without wings. When he travelled he would seat himself on a cock, and gallop on his way faster than on horseback. He would proceed in a boat on the river Vistula, his sweetheart by his side, against the tide, without oar or sail. He could take a piece of glass in his hand, and with it burn up whole villages, although a hundred miles distant.

    Twardowski fell in love with a young lady, and sought her in marriage. But she had a curious whim of keeping an insect confined in a bottle, and said that the man who could guess what creature it was should be her husband. Twardowski disguised himself as a beggar, and presented himself before the young lady. She held up the bottle at a distance, and asked him:

    “What kind of creature is this—worm or snake?”

    “It is a bee, miss,” answered Twadrowski.

    He was right; and he married the young lady. But they made a strange couple. Madame Twardowski sold all kinds of earthern ware in a mud hut on the market-place at Cracow. Her husband would sometimes pass that way attired like a wealthy nobleman, and he would then order his numerous servants to break his wife’s wares into pieces. When the woman, in her fury, cursed him, his servants, and all about her, Twardowski, seated in his fine carriage, enjoyed his frolic the more, and would burst into loud laughter.

    After some time, when Twardowski was sated with pleasure, he went one day into the depths of a forest without his instruments of magic. As he there sat, buried in thought, the demon suddenly appeared to him, and demanded that he should at once set out for Rome. The magician, enraged at the demand, drove the evil spirit from before him by a single word of a powerful incantation. But the fiend, gnashing his teeth with fury, pulled a large pine-tree up by the roots and struck Twardowski with such violence on the legs that he broke one of them. Twardowski was lamed for life; and from that hour was nicknamed, and commonly known as, “Gameleg.”

    At last the demon grew tired of waiting for the soul of Twardowski. He devised a strategem to entrap him. He assumed the shape of a gentleman’s footman, went to Twardowski, who was then greatly renowned as a physician, and begged him to come to his master, who stood in great need of his help. Twardowski proceeded in all speed with the messenger to a neighbouring village, not knowing that in this village was a tavern called Rome. No sooner had he entered this tavern than a large flock of crows and owls sat down on the roof, and filled the air with dreadful croaks and screams. Twardowski saw at once how the matter stood. Trembling with fear he seized a newly baptised infant in his arms from the cradle in which it lay, and began to nurse it.

    The demon soon made his appearance. Although finely attired—he wore a three-cornered cocked hat, a dress coat, long waistcoat, tight breeches, and shoes with buckles—he was recognised at once, for his horns were visible above his hat, and his cloven feet stuck out of his shoes. The demon was about to seize Twardowski, when he perceived a difficulty—the magician held in his arms a sinless infant, over which the demon had no possible claim. But the fiend did not lose his wits. He approached Twardowski with the utmost composure, and said to him,—

    “You are at least a gentleman; remember, “Verbum nobile debet esse stabile.”

    Twardowski saw that he could not escape; so he laid the infant in the cradle, and disappeared with his terrible companion up the chimney. The flock of crows and owls screamed with joy. But Twardowski, although carried with great rapidity into the air, did not lose his consciousness or presence of mind. He was borne up so high that villages appeared no bigger than gnats, towns looked of the size of flies, and Cracow itself like two spiders. He looked down upon the earth, and sorrow filled his heart. There he had left all that was dear to him. When he had arrived at a height which neither the hawk nor the Carpathian eagle ever attained, he made a tremendous effort, and in a weak voice began to sing a hymn. It was a hymn to the Virgin Mary which he had composed when he was young and innocent. He knew nothing then of the Black Art, and used to sing the hymn daily. Although he sang with all the strength he possessed, his voice seemed lost in the air. But some shepherds who were tending their flocks on the mountain side, just beneath him, heard the hymn, and looked up, wondering, into the sky to learn whence came those sacred words; for his voice, instead of ascending and being lost in the air, descended to the earth, that human souls might hear it. Twardowski sang the hymn to the end, and found to his astonishment that his upward flight was arrested, and that he remained suspended in the air in the same spot. His companion had disappeared. Then he heard a voice from a dark cloud which said,—

    “Thus you will remain suspended in the air until the day of judgment.”

    Where his upward course was arrested there he still remains. But his voice is no longer heard. Not many years ago, old people who remembered his story, would point out on bright nights a dark spot in the sky as the body of Twardowski, awaiting the day of judgment.

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