Unable therefore to get any trace of Stanislaus, they soon came to the conclusion that he had fled. And, as we shall see, they had good reason in their own hearts for guessing that from the first. They returned to the house of the Senator Kimberker, where they were all lodging, and taking Kimberker, who was a Lutheran, into their confidence, they held a council of war.
It was decided that Stanislaus must have gone to Augsburg. Paul recalled something that Stanislaus had said to him only the day before, when he had threatened plainly to run away. And they had heard him say, another time, that at Augsburg was Peter Canisius, the Provincial of the German Jesuits. Of course they were going to follow him and bring him back. But night had come on before their inquiries and deliberations were finished. They must wait till the next day.
Accordingly, bright and early the following morning, all three, with one of the Kostkas' servants, drove out in a carriage over the Augsburg road. They had four good horses and they told their coachman not to spare the whip. They came to the inn where Stanislaus had spent the night. They questioned the landlord.
"Have you seen a boy of seventeen, a Polish noble, pass westward along this road yesterday or today?"
But the landlord was shrewd, and though the whole matter was beyond him, he fancied somehow that these eager folk were no great friends of the boy who had lodged with him. And as he trusted that boy and could scarcely help being loyal to him, he shrugged his shoulders and answered:
"How should I know? So many travel this road."
Then Bilinski described Stanislaus and his doublet of velvet and hose of silk and jeweled dagger. But at that the landlord shook his head in denial.
"I have seen no such person as your graces describe," he said.
Bilinski called out to the coachman:
"Drive on. We have nothing to learn here."
But Paul said: "NQ let us turn back. He cannot have walked this far in one day. We must have passed him on the road."
"Perhaps you could not have walked so far," said Bilinski, with a sneer. "But Stanislaus could. Drive on!"
Forty miles or more out of Vienna, they saw a boy trudging ahead of them, in a rough tunic, rope-girdled, with a staff in his hand. At the noise of the hurrying wheels the boy glanced back, then quickly turned up a lane which there entered the road. He did not look in the least like a nobleman's son, and the carriage passed the bottom of the lane without so much as slacking speed.
Stanislaus ran up the lane until he came to where it ended at a rough, brawling stream. Without a moment's hesitation he put off his shoes, tucked up his tunic, and began wading in the course of the stream. The water was cold, the sharp stones in the bed of the stream bruised his feet, at any moment he might fall into a deep hole and be drowned. But he splashed and stumbled ahead, as fast as he could go, praying to his guardian angel to have care of him. A little farther, he knew, the highway crossed this stream by a bridge, and there he could leave the water and regain the road.
The carriage meantime kept on and came to this bridge. But Paul had been thinking of the young fellow who took to the lane when he saw the carriage approach and a shrewd suspicion came into his head.
"Did you see that boy who ran up the lane?" he cried at length to Bilinski. "I believe it was Stanislaus."
"But he was dressed like a peasant," said Bilinski. "And Stanislaus had on a handsome suit."
They debated for a time, but Paul prevailed. Round they turned and drove furiously back to the lane. But as the driver tried to turn his horses into it, the animals reared and balked and refused to enter. Blows and curses were showered on them; they merely stood and trembled; no efforts could urge them into the lane. Then the driver grew afraid, and cried out:
"My Lord Paul, we cannot go into this lane. And before God, I have fear upon me! Never have the horses acted this way."
And indeed fear seized them all. They saw the hand of God in this strange obstinancy of their beasts. Even Kimberker cried the pursuit.
"Fear God!" he said. "For this is no common mishap!"
And when they turned the horses' heads again toward Vienna, the animals snorted and pranced and went very willingly.
And so, when Stanislaus came to the bridge, the highway was clear. After a look about, he put on his shoes, gripped his staff afresh, and took up again cheerily as ever his thirty miles a day to Augsburg.
Day after day, tired and footsore, he told off the long miles, begging his food and lodging as he went; fearless and happy, praying like an angel of God as he walked along.
Many were kind to him for the brave, bright spirit that shone out in his face. Many remembered those words of our Lord, "Whatsoever you have done unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me," and willingly sheltered the boy and gave him to eat. Sometimes he turned into the fields beside the road and slept through the warm August night beneath the open sky. Whenever he came to a church in the morning, he heard Mass and received Holy Communion, for he started out each morning fasting. And on the fourteenth day he reached Augsburg.
What happened there, we shall see in another chapter, and how within three weeks this smiling boy turned his face southward and tramped another eight hundred miles on foot to Rome. But just that will show you something of the spirit of Stanislaus, the spirit of a hero. All that a knight might do out of love for his lady, he did out of love for God. He really loved God with a sort of fierce intensity. And he wanted to show his love in deeds, just as we want to show our love for a person by doing something, by giving something. God had given him everything, he would give God everything: that was the whole of his life. And with that generosity went a fine common sense. He was not rash or headlong, acting first and thinking afterward. He reckoned things out calmly and sensibly, and then went ahead with a pluck and determination that nothing in the world could stop.
God asked a fearfully hard thing of him; to leave his people, his home; to set out afoot on an enormous journey; to undergo no end of hardships and humiliations; to live in a strange land, among strange people. And he did it, did it smilingly, joyfully, with a simple, quiet bravery seldom if ever matched by any other boy in the world.
The one thing that staggers us is his reason for doing it, his great love for God. And that is because we have not got, what we could easily get, his secret. He prayed, he kept close in thought to God always. God and heaven and our Lady were as familiar to his mind as the sun and the earth and the air are to our mind's. The earth to him was only the antechamber of heaven. He looked upon life as one looks upon a little delay at a railway station before the train leaves; the only important thing is to catch the train.