(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Thaddeus Sobieski was educated in the palace of Count Sobieski, his grandfather, an enlightened nobleman of Warsaw. On the evening of Thaddeus’ eighteenth birthday, his mother gave him a letter in which she revealed that his father, an Englishman, had deserted her in Italy before Thaddeus was born. The man’s name was Sackville. Thaddeus’ mother had returned to Poland, and her father maintained the fiction that she had married and had been widowed within two months. None knew of the deception except the king. At the end of the letter, Thaddeus’ mother begged him to be honorable always, for the sake of his grandfather and the illustrious Sobieski name.

In 1792, the Poles began a war of independence against Russia. Before Thaddeus and his grandfather set off to war, Thaddeus heard the story of how Count Sobieski and General Butzou had long ago saved the life of King Stanislaus of Poland. Both the knowledge of his own past and the story of his grandfather’s bravery helped to shape Thaddeus’ character into heroic mold.

Later, Thaddeus met General Kosciusko and was filled with hope for Poland. In one of the skirmishes with the enemy, Thaddeus displayed both bravery and intelligence. With dismay, he learned that the Poles were immediately to retreat, for they were outnumbered by the Russians. His grandfather was injured during the retreat but refused to let Thaddeus attend him. He ordered him to stay with the troops.

Thaddeus took an English prisoner, Pembroke Somerset, who had joined the Russian army for the sake of adventure. Somerset and Thaddeus became close friends. Thaddeus gained Somerset’s freedom, and when Thaddeus returned to his mother’s home, Somerset accompanied him.

The tremendous patriotism and the sense of honor existing in Thaddeus now transferred themselves to Somerset, who wrote in his letters to home of his great admiration of the Poles. At the insistence of his family, Somerset soon returned home to England.

Count Sobieski had greater cares, for Poland was falling under the Russian attack. When the Germans broke their treaties of assistance, the king decided that organized resistance was useless. He surrendered for his people. In Warsaw, the sons of the nobles vowed eternal resistance to the enemy, and Thaddeus was among those taking the sacred oath.

In November, 1793, Poland was shorn of her best lands, and her nobles were humbled. In the meantime, Thaddeus led troops into the south, where resistance continued. He managed to join with General Kosciusko and brought a measure of hope to the Poles.

Thaddeus managed to free his grandfather from a Russian prison. Later, Thaddeus led the other nobles in the surrender of all of his personal property for the continuation of the war. In a battle fought soon afterward, Thaddeus’ grandfather was killed. With his last breath, he made Thaddeus promise never to take any name other than Sobieski.

Devastation spread over Poland as the fighting continued. In one of the last campaigns of the war, Thaddeus found a moment to talk to his mother, who said she would not survive the destruction of Poland. She made him promise to go to England if Poland should fall. The Sobieski palace was burned to the ground. Along with General Butzou, Thaddeus watched as the towers of Villanow crumbled. Inside lay the dead body of his mother, who had died during the battle. Taking his farewell of the defeated...

(The entire section is 1409 words.)