Vladek' - the word was barely audible - 'I cannot see you clearly,' he said, the voice cracking. 'Come here.'
Wladek was stupefied by the sound of his patron's voice after so long a silence and didn't even look in his direction. He was immediately sure that it heralded the incipience of the madness which already held two of the older servants in its grip.
Vome here, boy? Wladek obeyed fearfully, and stood before the Bar - on, who narrowed his enfeebled eyes in a gesture, of intense concentration as he groped towards the boy. He ran his finger over Wladek's chest and then peered at him incredulously.
Wadek, can you explain this small deforrnity?'
'No, sir,' said Wladek, feeling embarrassed. 'It has been with me since birth. My foster - mother used to say it was the mark of God the Father upon me.'
'Stupid woman. It is the mark of your own father,' the Baron said softly, and lapsed into silence for some minutes.
Wladek remained standing in front of him, not moving a muscle.
When at last the Baron spoke again, his voice was br1sL 'Sit down, boy.'
Wladek obeyed immediately., As he sat down, he noticed once again the heavy band of silver, now hanging loosely round the Baroes wrist. A shaft of light through a crack in the wall made the magnificent engr - aving of the Rosnovski coat of arms glitter in the darkness of the dungeon.
'I do not know how long the Germans intend to keep us locked up here. I thought at first that this war would be over in a matter of weeks. I was wrong, and we must now consider the possibility that it will continue for a very long time. With that thought in mind, we must use our time more constructively as I know my life is nearing an end.'
'No, no,' Wladek began to protest, but the Baron continued as if he had not heard him.
'Yours, my child, has yet to begin. I will, therefore, undertake the continuation of your education!
The Baron did not speak again that day. It was as if he were considering the implications of his pronouncemenL Thus Wladck gained his new tutor and as they neither possessed reading nor writing - material he was made to repeat everything the Baron said. He was taught great tracts frorn the poems of Adam Mickiewicz and Jan Kochanowski and long passages frorn the Aeneid, In that austere classroom Wladek learned geography, mathematics and four languages: Russian, German, French and English. But his happiest moments were once again when he was taught history. The history of his nation through a hundred years of partidon, the disappointed hopes for a united Poland, the further anguish of the Poles at Napoleon's crushing loss to Russia in 1812. He learnt of the brave tales of earlier and happier times, when King Jan Casimir had dedicated Poland to the Blessed Virgin after repulsing the Swedes at Czestochowa, and how the mighty Prince Radziwill, great landowner and lover of hunting, had held his court in the great castle near Warsaw. Wladek's final lesson each day was on the family history of the Rosnovskis. Again and again, he was told - never tiring of the tale - how the Baron's illustrious ancestor who had served in 1794 under General Dabrowski and then in 1809 under Napoleon himself had been rewarded by the great Emperor with land and a barony.
He also learned how the Baron's grandfather had sat on the council of Warsaw and his father had played his own part in building the new Poland - Wladek found such happiness when the Baron turned his little dungeon into a classroom The guards at the dungeon door were changed every four hours and conversation between them and the prisoners was 'strengst verboten'. In snatches and fragments Wladek learned of the progress of the war, of the actions of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, of the rise of revolution in Russia and of her subsequent withdrawal from the war by the Treaty of Brest - Litovsk.
Wladek began to believe that the only escape from the dungeons for the inmates was death. The doors opened nine times during the next two years and Wladek started to wonder if he was destined to spend the rest of his days in that filthy hell - hole, fighting a vain battle against despair, while equipping himself with a mind of useless knowledge that would never know freedom.
The Baron continued to tutor him despite his progressively failing sight and hearing. Wladek had to sit closer and closer to him each day.
Florentyna - his sister, mother and closest friend - engaged in a more physical struggle against the rankness of their prison. Occasionally the guards would provide her with a fresh bucket of sand or waw to cover the soiled floor, and the stench became a little less oppressive for the next few days. Vermin scuttled around in the darkness for any dropped scraps of bread or potato and brought with them disease and still more filth.
The sour smell of decomposed human and animal urine and excrement assaulted their nostrils and regularly brought Wladek to a state of sickness and nausea. He longed above all to be clean again, and would sit for hours gazing at the dungeon ceiling, recalling the steaming tubs of hot water and the good, rough soap with which the nianja bad, so short a distance away and so long a time ago, washed the accretion of a merr - day's fun from Leon and himself, with many a muttering and tut - tut for muddy knees or a dirty fingernail.