Keidan in the 17th Century

Excerpt from “The Deluge: A historical novel of Poland, Sweden, and Russia”  by Henryk Sienkiewicz; Published 1893.


The night was clear and warm ; the stars twinkled by thousands in the sky. Dragging on at a walk, they slept sweetly till, when day began to break, Pan Michael woke.

“Gentlemen, Open your eyes ; Kyedani is in sight ! “cried he.

“What, where? “asked Zagloba. “Kyedani, where? “

“Off there! The towers are visible.”

“A respectable sort of place,” said Pan Stanislav.

“Very considerable, ”answered Volodyovski; “and of this you will be able to convince yourselves better in the daytime.”

“But is this the inheritance of the prince?“

“Yes. Formerly it belonged to the Kishkis, from whom the father of the present prince received it as dowry with Panna Anna Kishki, daughter of the voevoda of Vityebsk.’ In all Jmud there is not such a well-ordered place, for the Radzivills do not admit Jews, save by permission to each one. The meads here are celebrated.”

Zagloba opened his eyes.

“But do people of some politeness live here? What is that immensely great building on the eminence? “

“That is the castle just built during the rule of Yanush.”

“Is it fortified? “

“No, but it is a lordly residence. It is not fortified, for no enemy has ever entered these regions since the time of the Knights of the Cross. That pointed steeple in the middle of the town belongs to the parish church built by the Knights of the Cross in pagan times ; later it was given to the Calvinists, but the priest Kobylinski won it back for the Catholics through a lawsuit with Prince Krishtof.”

“Praise be to God for that!“

Thus conversing, they arrived near the first cottages of the suburbs. Meanwhile it grew brighter and brighter in the world, and the sun began to rise. The knights looked with curiosity at the new place, and Pan Yolodyovski continued to speak, —

“This is Jew street, in which dwell those of the Jews who have permission to be here. Following this street, one comes to the market. Oho! People are up already, and beginning to come out of the houses. See, a crowd of horses before the forges, and attendants not in the Radzivill colors! There must be some meeting in Kyedani. It is always full of nobles and high personages here, and sometimes they come from foreign countries, for this is the capital for heretics from all Jmud, who under the protection of the Radzivills carry on their sorcery and superstitious practices. That is the market-square. See what a clock is on the town-house! There is no better one to this day in Dantzig. And that which looks like a church with four towers is a Helvetic (Calvinistic) meeting-house, in which every Sunday they blaspheme God; and farther on the Lutheran church. You think that the townspeople are Poles or Lithuanians, — not at all. Real Germans and Scots, but more Scots. The Scots are splendid infantry, and cut terribly with battle-axes. The prince has also one Scottish regiment of volunteers of Kyedani. Ei, how many wagons with packs on the market-square! Surely there is some meeting. There are no inns in the town; acquaintances stop with acquaintances, and nobles go to the castle, in which there are rooms tens of ells long, intended for guests only. There they entertain, at the prince’s expense, everyone honorably, even if for a year; there are people who stay there all their lives.”

“It is a wonder to me that lightning has not burned that Calvinistic meeting-house,” said Zagloba.

“But do you not know that that has happened? In the centre between the four towers was a cap-shaped cupola; on a time such a lightning-flash struck this cupola that nothing remained of it. In the vault underneath lies the father of Prince Boguslav, Yanush — he who joined the mutiny against Sigismund III. His own haiduk laid open his skull, so that he died in vain, as he had lived in sin.”

“But what is that broad building which looks like a walled tent?” asked Pan Yan.

“That is the paper-mill founded by the prince; and at the side of it is a printing-office, in which heretical books are printed.”

“Tfu!”said Zagloba, “a pestilence on this place, where a man draws no air into his stomach but what is heretical! Lucifer might rule here as well as Radzivill.”

“Gracious sir,” answered Volodyovski, “abuse not Radzivill, for perhaps the country will soon owe its salvation to him.”

They rode farther in silence, gazing at the town and wondering at its good order, for the streets were all paved with stone, which was at that period a novelty.

Afjer they had ridden through the market-square and the street of the castle, they saw on an eminence the lordly residence recently built by Prince Yanush, — not fortified, it is true, but surpassing in size not only palaces but castles. The great pile was on a height, and looked on the town lying, as it were, at its feet. From both sides of the main building extended at right angles two lower wings, which formed a gigantic courtyard, closed in front with an iron railing fastened with long links. In the middle of the railing towered a strong walled gate; on it the arms of the Radzivills and the arms of the town of Kyedani, representing an eagle’s foot with a black wing on a golden field, and at the foot a horseshoe with three red crosses. In front of the gate were sentries and Scottish soldiers keeping guard for show, not for defence.

Translated from the Polish by Jeremiah Curtin.