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Title: The Day of Wrath
Author: Jókai, Mór, 1825-1904
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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WORKS OF MAURUS JÓKAI

HUNGARIAN EDITION

THE DAY OF WRATH

_Translated from the Hungarian_

_By_

R. NISBET BAIN

[Illustration: Publisher's logo]

NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1900, BY McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.



CONTENTS.

CHAPTER                                       PAGE
I.        THE BIRD OF ILL-OMEN                  11
II.       THE HEADSMAN'S FAMILY                 18
III.      A CHILDISH MALEFACTOR                 44
IV.       A DIVINE VISITATION                   56
V.        THE UNBELOVED SON                     62
VI.       TWO FAMOUS PÆDAGOGUES                 71
VII.      A MAN OF IRON                         93
VIII.     THE POLISH WOMAN                     121
IX.       THE PLAGUE                           175
X.        A LEADER OF THE PEOPLE               189
XI.       THE FIRST SPARK                      210
XII.      IN THE MIDST OF THE FIRE             236
XIII.     THE LEATHER-BELL                     25O
XIV.      THE SENTENCE OF DEATH                264
XV.       OIL UPON THE WATERS                  277
XVI.      'TIS WELL THAT THE NIGHT IS BLACK    291
XVII.     THE VOICE OF THE LORD                326
XVIII.    THE READY-DUG GRAVES                 336



PREFACE.


"Szomorú Napok" was written in the darkest days of Maurus Jókai's life,
and reflects the depression of a naturally generous and sanguine nature
bowed down, for a time, beneath an almost unendurable load of unmerited
misfortune. The story was written shortly after the collapse of the
Magyar Revolution of 1848-49, when Hungary lay crushed and bleeding
under the heel of triumphant Austria and her Russian ally; when,
deprived of all her ancient political rights and liberties, she had been
handed over to the domination of the stranger, and saw her best and
noblest sons either voluntary exiles, or suspected rebels under police
surveillance. Jókai also was in the category of the proscribed. He had
played a conspicuous part in the Revolution; he had served his country
with both pen and sword; and, now that the bloody struggle was over, and
the last Honved army had surrendered to the Russians, Jókai,
disillusioned and broken-hearted, was left to piece together again as
best he might, the shattered fragments of a ruined career.

No wonder, then, if to the author of "Szomorú Napok," the whole world
seemed out of joint. The book itself is, primarily, a tale of suffering,
crime, and punishment; but it is also a bitter satire on the crying
abuses and anomalies due to the semi-feudal condition of things which
had prevailed in Hungary for centuries, the reformation and correction
of which had been the chief mission of the Liberal Party in Hungary to
which Jókai belonged. The brutal ignorance of the common people, the
criminal neglect of the gentry which made such ignorance possible, the
imbecility of mere mob-rule, and the mischievousness of demagogic
pedantry--these are the objects of the author's satiric lash.

As literature, despite the occasional crudities and extravagances of a
too exuberant genius that has yet to learn self-restraint, "Szomorú
Napok" stands very high. It is animated by a fine, contagious
indignation, and its vividly terrible episodes, which appal while they
fascinate the reader, seem to be written in characters of blood and
fire. The descriptions of the plague-stricken land and the conflagration
of the headsman's house must be numbered among the finest passages that
have ever flowed from Jókai's pen. But the mild, idyllic strain, so
characteristic of Jókai, who is nothing if not romantic, runs through
the sombre and lurid tableau like a bright silver thread, and the
_dénouement_, in which all enmities are reconciled, all evil-doers are
punished, and Gentleness and Heroism receive their retributive crowns,
is a singularly happy one.

Moreover, in "Szomorú Napok" will be found some of Jókai's most original
characters, notably, the ludicrous, if infinitely mischievous, political
crotcheteer, "Numa Pompilius;" the drunken cantor, Michael Kordé, whose
grotesque adventure in the dog-kennel is a true _Fantasiestück à la
Callot_; the infra-human Mekipiros; the half-crazy Leather-bell; and
that fine, soldierly type, General Vértessy.

R. NISBET BAIN.

_October_, 1900.



THE DAY OF WRATH.

CHAPTER I.

THE BIRD OF ILL-OMEN.


Whoever has traversed the long single street of Hétfalu will have
noticed three houses whose exterior plainly shows that nobody dwells in
them.

The first of these three houses is outside the village on a great green
hill, round which the herds of the village peacefully crop the pasture.
Only now and then does one or other of these quiet beasts start back
when it suddenly comes upon a white skeleton, or a bleached
bullock-horn, in the thickest patches of the high grass. The house
itself has no roof, and the soot with which years of heavy rains have
bedaubed the walls, points to the fact that once upon a time the place
was burnt out. Now, dry white stalks of straw wave upon the mouldering
balustrades.

The iron supports have been taken out of the windows, on the threshold
thorns and thistles grow luxuriantly. There is no trace of a
path--perhaps there never was one.

The land surrounding this house is full of all sorts of fragrant
flowers.

The second house stands in the centre of the village, and was the castle
of the lord of the manor. It is a dismal wilderness of a place. A stone
wall, long since fallen to pieces, separated it at one time from the
road. Now only a few fragments of this wall still stand upright, and the
wild jasmine creeps all over it, casting down into the road its
poisonous dark red cherries. The door lolls against its pillars, it
looks as if it had once upon a time been torn from its hinges and then
left to take care of itself. The house itself, indeed, is intact, only
the windows have been taken out and the empty spaces bricked in. Every
door, too, has been walled up, boards have been nailed over the
ventilators in the floor, the white stone staircase leading up to the
hall has been broken off and propped up against the wall, and the same
fate has befallen a red marble bench on the ground floor.

Here and there the cement has fallen away from the front of the house,
and layers of red bricks peep through the gap. In other places large
heaps of white stone are piled up in front of the building. In the rear
of it, which used to look out upon a garden, it is plain that a good
many of the windows have also been built in, and, to obliterate all
trace of them, the whole wall has been whitewashed. All round about many
fruit-trees seem to have been rooted up, and for three years running,
the caterpillar-host has fallen upon the remnant; nobody looks after
them, and they are left to perish one by one, consumed by yellow mould.

The third house is a little shanty at the far end of the village, shoved
away behind a large ugly granary, with its little yard full of reeds, in
the midst of which is a crooked, dilapidated pump. The panes of glass in
the lead-encased frames have been frosted over, the marl of the thatched
chimney is crumbling away, and the whole of the roof is of a beautiful
green, like velvet, due to the luxuriantly spreading moss.

It is thirty years since these three houses were inhabited.

In the little hut, on the reed-thatched roof of which the screech-owl
now lays its eggs, dwelt thirty years ago, a crazy old woman, they
called her Magdolna. She must have been for a long time out of her wits;
some said she had been born so, others maintained that the roof had
fallen right upon her head and injured her brain; others again affirmed
that the marriage of her only daughter with the hangman was the cause of
her mental aberration. There were some who even remembered the time when
this woman was rich and respected, and then suddenly she had become a
beggar, and subsequently a crazy beggar. Be that as it may, in those
days this old woman exercised a peculiar influence over the
superstitious peasantry.

A sort of awe-inspiring exaltation seemed to take possession of this
creature whenever she stood at the threshold of her hut, within the
walls of which she usually remained in a brown study insensible to her
surroundings for days together.

When, at such times of exaltation, she stepped forth into the street,
all the dogs in the village would fall a howling as they are wont to do
when the headsman goes his rounds. All who met her timidly shrunk aside,
for, not infrequently, she would foretell the hours of their death, and
cases were known in which her prophesies had come true. She could tell
at a single glance which of the young unmarried women did honour to
their _pártás_[1] and which did not. She could read in the faces of the
children the names of their parents, and she often gave them names very
different from the names they bore. The maids and young married women of
the village therefore, not unnaturally, trembled before her.

[Footnote 1: _Pártá_--head-dress of the young peasant maids.]

She recognised the stolen horse in front of the cart, and shouted to the
farmer who drove it: "You stole that, and it will be stolen back again!"

At other times she would sit in the church-door, lay her crutch across
the threshold, and wait to see who would dare to step across it. Woe
then to whomsoever had transgressed any of the commandments! All through
the summer the ague would plague him, his oxen would die, the tares
would choke his corn, his limbs would be racked with pleurisy, or he
would be nearly mauled to death in the village tavern.

Often she sat for hours at home, among her thorns and thistles, sobbing
and moaning, and at such times the common folks believed that the whole
district would be visited by a hailstorm. Sometimes she roamed about for
weeks, nobody knew where, nobody knew why, and during all that time the
hosts of grasshoppers, wood-lice, spiders, caterpillars, and other
Heaven-sent plagues, multiplied terribly throughout the land; but the
moment the old woman returned they all disappeared again in a day
without leaving a trace behind them.

At one time they fancied she was at the point of death.

She lay outside her hut close to the well and drank incessantly of its
water. At last she collapsed altogether, she could not even lift her
hands. The passers-by perceived that she was parched with thirst, was
wrestling with death, and yet could not die. If they had but given her a
drink of cold water, she would immediately have been freed from the
torments of life, but nobody durst approach to give her to drink. On
that same day the lightning thrice struck the village, and such a deluge
of rain descended that the water flooded the roads and invaded the
houses.

The next day there was nothing at all the matter with the old woman, but
she went about bowed down, shaking and leaning heavily on her crutch as
at other times.

When the spring of 1831 was passing away, all sorts of terrible
premonitory signs warned the people of the frightful visitation which
was about to befall humanity. Nature herself made the people anxious
and uncomfortable. There were showers of falling stars, it rained blood
in various places, death-headed moths flew about in the evenings,
wolves, tame and fawning like dogs, appeared in the village and let
themselves be beaten to death before the thresholds of the houses.

What was going to happen?--nobody could tell.

Everyone augured, feared, felt that mourning and woe were close at hand;
yes, everyone.

The trees made haste to put forth their blossoms, they made even greater
haste to produce their ripened fruit. All nature knew not what to do,
man least of all.

In those days when a single good word spoken in season, a single lucid
idea might have meant the saving of many lives, the sole prophet in the
whole country-side was this crazy old woman, who, in the dolorous
exaltation of her deranged mind, sometimes blindly blurted out things on
which the future was to impress the seal of truth. But, for the most
part, her multitudinous, ambiguous utterances might be interpreted this
way or that, according to the liking of her hearers, and obscured rather
than revealed the future.

When the summer came, with its terribly hot days, the woman's madness
seemed to culminate in downright frenzy, for whole nights together she
went shrieking through the village. The dogs crept forth from under the
gates to meet her, and she sat down beside them, put her arms round
their heads, and they would howl together in hideous unison. Then she
would go into the houses weeping and moaning, and would ask for a glass
of water, and would moisten her hands and her eyes therewith. In some of
the houses she would simply say: "Why don't you smoke the room out,
there's a vile odour of death in it;" in other places she would ask for
a Prayer Book, and would fold down the page at the Office of Prayers for
the Dead. Or she would send messages to the other world through people
who were on their legs hale and hearty, and would tell them not to
forget these messages.

"Get a cross made for you!" was her most usual greeting. And woe betide
the family into whose windows she cried: "Get two crosses made! Get
three made! One for yourself, one for your wife, one for each of your
sons and each of your daughters!"

The people lived in desperate expectation; they would have run away had
they known whither to run.

And what then were the wise and learned doing all this time, they who
knew right well that a mortal danger was approaching; for they had read
of its ravages, they had looked upon the very face of it in pictures,
they knew the pace at which it was travelling day by day--what did they
do to soothe the anguish of the people, and inspire them with confidence
in the tender mercies of God?

All they did was to have a cemetery ready dug for those who were to die
in heaps in the course of the year.



CHAPTER II.

THE HEADSMAN'S FAMILY.


The house of the headsman is surrounded by a stone wall, its door is
studded with huge nails, acacia trees rustle in front of it. Its windows
are hidden by a high fence. On its roof from time to time something
flap-flaps like a black flag; it is a raven which has chosen the roof of
that house as a refuge. No other animal likes the hangman. The dogs bay
at him, the oxen run bellowing out of his way, only the ravens
acknowledge him as their host. They are his own birds.

It is late in the evening, the sun has long since set, it may be about
nine or ten o'clock, and yet the sky is unusually bright. Everywhere a
strange reflected glare torments the eye of man. Not a cloud is visible;
there is not a star in the heavens, yet a persistent, murky yellowness
embraces the whole sky like a shining mist, as if the night, instead of
putting on her usual cinder-grey garment, had clothed herself in
flame-coloured weeds. Any sounds that may be audible seem as if they
come from an immeasurable distance, and are hollow and awe-inspiring.

Close to the horizon the pointed steeples of Hétfalu are visible, their
black outlines stand out in sharp contrast against the burning sky.

The whole district is empty and deserted. At other times, in the summer
evenings, one would have seen tired yet boisterous groups of peasants
returning home from working in the fields and hastening back to their
respective villages. The voice of the vesper bell would everywhere have
been resounding, the sweetly-sad songs of the good-humoured peasant
girls would have soothed the ear, mingled with the jingle of the bells
of the homeing kine, and the joyous barking of the dogs bounding on in
front of their masters. Now everything is dumb. The fields for the most
part lie fallow and overgrown by weeds and thistles, never seen before.
In other places the green wheat crop, choked by tares, has already been
mown down. Means of communication have everywhere been interrupted by
the sanitary cordons. The high road is covered with broad patches of
grass on both sides. Men hold handkerchiefs to their mouths and noses,
and do not trust themselves to breathe. The tongues of the bells have
everywhere been removed. At the end of every village stands a good-sized
four-cornered piece of ground surrounded by a ditch, and within it, here
and there, graves have been dug well beforehand.

Throughout this lonely wilderness the furious barking of a watch-dog
suddenly resounds, to which all the dogs in the distant village
instantly begin to respond. Two men are fumbling at the latch of the
headsman's door, and the chained dog within the courtyard, scenting a
stranger, gives him a hostile greeting.

"Who is there?" inquires from within an unpleasant, hoarsely screeching
voice, the owner whereof at the same time soothing the big dog which,
snarling fiercely, thrusts his nose between the door and the lintel, and
snaps from time to time through the opening.

"Open the door, Mekipiros, and don't bawl!" answers one of the new
arrivals, impatiently beating with his fists upon the door. "There's no
necessity for closing the door either, for who is likely to come? Even
if you left it wide open, nobody would stray in, I'll be bound, save
your pal, Old Nick, and here he is."

At this well-known voice the wolf-hound ceased to bark, and when the
door was opened leaped joyously upon the neck of the new-comer, whining
and sniffing.

"Send this filthy sea-bear to the deuce, Mekipiros, can't you? It's
licking my very nose off."

The person so addressed was a curious sport of nature. It was a
square-set creature dressed completely in women's clothes. Its features
were those of a semi-bestial type. It had an immense round head covered
with short, tangled, unkempt hair, a large broad mouth, a stumpy,
wide-spreading nose, a projecting forehead furrowed with deep wrinkles,
thick bushy eyebrows, and one half of the horny-skinned face was covered
by immature furry whiskers. And this masculine creature wore women's
clothes! On perceiving the new-comer, it seized the yelping dog, big as
a calf though it was, by the chain with a bony hand and hurled it
backwards, grinning and grunting all the time without any apparent
cause.

"Come! go in and don't stand staring aimlessly about," said the
new-comer turning to his comrade, who was standing in melancholy
amazement on the threshold, wrapped up in a large mantle, with a
broad-brimmed hat on his head.

The dog accompanied the guests as far as the door of his kennel,
sniffing all the time at the heels of the stranger, whilst the gabbling
Mekipiros tugged away at its chain. A hideous moustache had been painted
on the monster's lip either with blood or red chalk, and he tried to
call attention to it with extreme self-satisfaction.

"Is the master at home, or the missus, eh! Mekipiros?" inquired the
first-comer.

"The master is singing and the mistress is dancing," replied the
half-man with a bestial chuckle.

"Tell them that we have arrived, come! off you go, and look sharp about
it," and with that he gave a kick accompanied by a vigorous buffet to
the monster, who regarded him for a time with a broad grin, as if
expecting a repetition of the dose, and then plunged clumsily through
the kitchen door bellowing with mirth. Meanwhile the two men remained
outside in the courtyard.

One of them was a tall fair youth clad from head to foot in a greasy
leather costume. He had round washed-out features, a callous sort of
apathy played around his lips, and a cold indifference to suffering was
visible in his red-rimmed green eyes. What struck one most about him was
the furtive, prying expression of his face; he was evidently a spy by
nature, although he attempted to conceal his real character beneath a
mask of stupidity and absent-mindedness. But he pricked up his ears at
every word spoken in his presence. He reminded one of a snake which,
when captured, stiffens itself out and pretends to be dead, and will let
itself be broken in pieces before it will move.

The other youth was a pale-faced man, plainly a prey to the most
overwhelming depression. The ends of his little black moustache
straggled uncared for about the corners of his mouth, his hat was
pressed right down over his eyes. You could see at a glance that his
mind and his body were wandering miles apart from each other.

There they stood, then, in the courtyard of the headsman's house. The
appearance of this courtyard formed an overwhelming contrast with the
idea one generally pictures to one's self of such a place. A pretty
green lawn covered the whole courtyard, clinging to the walls were
creeping fig and apricot trees; in the background was a pretty vine;
heart-shaped flower-beds had been cut out of the lawn, and they were
full of fine wallflowers and the most fragrant sylvan flowers of every
species; further away stood melon beds, sending their far-reaching
shoots in every direction, red currant bushes, a weeping willow or two,
yellow rose bushes, myriad hued full-blown poppies--and little white
red-eyed rabbits were bounding all over the grass plot.

And yet this is the dwelling of the headsman.

"You can come in!" cried a strong, penetrating, sonorous woman's voice
from within, and the same instant Mekipiros bounded through the door
with his huge shaggy head projecting far in front of him. It was plain
that he had not quitted the room voluntarily, but in consequence of a
vigorous impulsion from behind.

The man in leather now shoved his melancholy comrade on in front of him,
and the headsman's door closed behind them.

It was a kitchen into which they had entered, in no way different from
the hearth and home of ordinary men. The plates and dishes shone with
cleanliness, everything was in apple-pie order, the fire flickered
merrily beneath the chimney, and yet--fancy was continually finding
something in every object reminiscent of blood-curdling circumstances.
That axe, for instance, stuck in a block in front of the fireplace? Two
years ago the executioner had beheaded a parricide--perchance 'twas on
that very block!

That rope, again, attached to that bucket, that curved piece of iron
glowing red in the fire, that heavy chain dangling down from the
chimney--who knows of what accursed horrible scenes they may not have
been the witnesses at some time or other? Yet, perhaps, there may be
nothing sinister at all about them; perhaps they are employed for quite
simple, honest, culinary purposes. Still, this is the headsman's house,
remember!

Here and there on the walls black spots are visible. What are they?
Blood, perhaps. One's eye cannot tear itself away from them; again and
again it goes back to them, and the mind cannot reconcile itself to the
thought: perchance this may be the blood of some beast, the blood of
some common fattened beast which man must kill that he may eat and
live--for is not this the dwelling of the headsman?

A woman is roasting and frying over the hearth, a tall, muscularly built
virago, to whose sinewy arms, dome-like breast, red shining cheeks, and
burning eyes, the flickering flames gave a savage, uncanny look; her
fine black locks are wound up in a large knot at the back of her head,
her large eyebrows have grown together, and the upper surface of her
red, swollen lips are amber-coloured with masculine down.

"Sit down!" she cries to the new arrivals with a rough growling voice.
"You are hungry, eh? Well, soon you shall have something to eat. There's
the table"--and she went on cooking and piling up the fire; as it roared
up the chimney it gave her red face an infernal expression. This was the
headsman's wife.

The melancholy youth sat down abstractedly at the table, the other
strode up to the hearth and began whispering to the woman, whilst from
time to time they cast glances at the stranger-guest.

The man's whispers were inaudible, but it was possible to catch every
word the woman said, for, try as she might, she could not soften down
her thunderous voice into a whisper.

"I know him," said she, "he will soon get used to this place.... Nobody
will look for him here.... Get away from here? How can he?"

Presently she placed a dish of boiled flesh before her guests. The pale
youth picked at his food slowly and sadly, the other attacked it with
ravenous haste, throwing a word over his shoulder to the woman the
while, or urging his comrade to eat, or flinging bones to the dog and
kicking him viciously in the ribs when he snapped them up.

"Can one have a word with the old man?" he inquired of the woman.

"Let him bide, the old man is plagued with his devils again. Don't you
hear how he sings? Why, he voices it as lustily as any Slovak student on
St Lucia's day."

And indeed from some room far away now came this verse of a well-known
hymn, sung in a deep vibrating voice full of a woeful, contrite
tremulousness:

    "Oh, Lord, the number of our sins
      And vileness, who shall purge?
    Withhold the fury of Thy wrath,
    Though we deserve its pouring forth,
      And stay Thy chastening scourge!"

Melancholy, heart-rending was the sense of penitence conveyed by this
deep, vibrating, bell-like voice. A penitential hymn in the house of the
headsman!

The sad-faced youth shivered at the sound of this voice and seemed to
awake suddenly from out of a reverie. He passed his hand once or twice
across his forehead as if to rally his wits and reduce the chaos within
and around him to some sort of order, but gradually sank back again into
his former lethargy.

A short time afterwards the same hymn was heard again; but the voice of
the singer this time was not the sonorous, manly voice they had heard
before, it was a heavenly, pure, childlike voice which now began to
sing, full of the magic charm and sweetness of a crystal harmonica:

    "Yet know we, Lord, whoso repents
      And turns his heart to Thee,
    Shall aye find favour in Thy sight;
    Nor wilt thou hide from him Thy light,
      Thy mercy he shall see."

Angels in Heaven could not have sung more sweetly than the voice that
sang this verse. Who could it be? An angel proclaiming remission of sins
in the house of the headsman!

"So the old cut-throat still keeps the girl under a glass case, eh?"

"He wants to bring her up as a saint on purpose to aggravate me, for he
knows very well that I never could endure anything of the saintly
sort."

"Apparently the old chap is stark staring mad."

"He is possessed by devils, I fancy. Last week three of his 'prentices
bolted because they could not stand his sanctimoniousness any longer.
Before dinner he would insist on reading to them out of the Bible for
half an hour at a stretch, and if any of them dared to laugh he flung
him out of doors like a puppy dog; you may imagine what a pretty figure
a headsman cuts who is always preaching about the other world, and
proclaiming the word of the Lord with his clenched fists."

"I'll be bound to say he has even taught Mekipiros to go down on his
hams."

"Ho, ho, ho! Call him in! Come hither, Mekipiros, you bear's cub, you!"

Mekipiros came in.

"Come hither, I would box your chaps. There, take that! What, still
grinning, eh? There's another then! Weep immediately, sirrah! can't you!
Pull a wry mug! So! Put your hands together! Cast down your eyes! So!
And now fire away!"

And the monster did indeed begin to recite a prayer. One might perhaps
have expected him to mumble something altogether unintelligible. But no!
He recited it to the end with a solemn voice, and his eyes remained cast
down the whole time. His face even began to assume a more human
expression, and when he came to the words which announced remission of
sins to the truly penitent sinner, two heavy tear-drops welled forth and
ran down his rough wrinkled face.

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the headsman's wife, and she smacked the forehead
of the suppliant repeatedly with the palm of her hand; "a lot of good
may it do you!"

Suddenly, like the rolling echo of a descending thunderbolt, a song of
praise uttered in an awe-inspiring voice from the adjoining room cut
short this inhuman mockery.

    "Who thunders so loudly in the lurid heavens above?
    What means this mighty quaking? Why doth the round earth move?"

At the same instant the boiling water overflowed from the caldron and
put the fire out, and they were all in darkness. There was a dead
silence, when suddenly a blast of wind caught the half-open door and
slammed it to violently, and in the dead silence that followed could be
heard something like the cry of a bird of ill-omen or the yell of a
maniac flying from the pursuit of his own soul: "Death!--a bloody
death--a death of horror!"

Gradually the last sounds of this voice died away in the distance. The
chained watch-dog sent a dismal howl after it.

And when the feeble light of the tallow candles shone again through the
darkness, it fell upon three shapes which had sunk upon their knees in
terror, the two 'prentices of the headsman, and the monster. But the
proud, defiant virago turned towards the elder of the 'prentices, and
looked him up and down contemptuously.

"Then you, too, are one of them, eh?" cried she.

"Did you not hear the cry of the death-bird?" stammered he.

"What are you afraid of? Tis only my half-crazy old mother."

       *       *       *       *       *

At night the headsman's apprentices sleep on the floor of the loft. The
headsman himself has a room overlooking the courtyard; Mekipiros slept
in the stable outside with the watch-dog.

All was silent. Outside, the wind had died away, not the leaf of a tree
was stirring; one could distinguish the deep breathing of the sleepers.

At such times the lightest sound fills the sleepless watcher with fear.
Sometimes he fancies that a man hidden beneath the bed is slowly raising
his head, or that someone is lifting a latch, or the wind shakes the
door as if someone were rattling it from the outside. There is a humming
and a buzzing all around one. Night beetles have somehow or other lit
upon a piece of paper, and they crinkle it so that it sounds as if
someone were writing in the dark. Out in the street men seem to be
running to and fro and muttering hoarsely in each other's ears. The
church clocks strike one after another, thrice, four times--one cannot
tell how often. The time is horribly long and the night is an abyss of
blackness.

On a bed of straw, with a coarse coverlet thrown over them, the
headsman's two apprentices sleep side by side. Are they really asleep?
Can they sleep at all in such a place? Yet their eyes are closed. No,
one of them is not asleep. When he perceives that his comrade does not
move, he slowly pushes the coverlet from off him and creeps on all fours
into the inner room; there he lies down flat on his stomach and peeps
through a crevice in the rafters. Then he arises, creeps on tiptoe to
the chimney and knocks at the partition wall three times, then he climbs
down from his loft by means of a ladder, withdraws the ladder from the
opening, and whistles to the watch-dog to come forth. One can hear how
the chained beast scratches his neck, and growling and sniffing lies
down before the door of the loft.

Meanwhile the other apprentice has been carefully observing every
movement of his companion with half open eyes. Whenever the first riser
turns towards him he feigns to be asleep; but as soon as he takes his
eyes off him he opens his own eyes again and looks after him.

When the last sound has died away, he also arises from his sleepless
couch and looks through that crevice into the inner room through which
his comrade had looked before. It was easy to find, the ray of a lamp
pierced through the crevice in the beam, and that ray comes from the
hangman's bedroom.

Carefully he bends down and looks through this little peep-hole.

He sees before him a room furnished with the most rigorous simplicity.
Close to the wall stands a black chest, fastened with three locks; in
the middle of the room is a strong wooden table; further away are two
beds, a large one and a small one; there are also two armless
four-legged chairs; in the window recess are a few shabby books; above
the beds is a heavy blunderbuss. The pale light of the lamp falls upon
the table. Sitting beside it is a child reading out of the Bible. At the
feet of the child lies a man with his face pressed down to the ground.

The man is of mighty stature--a giant, and he lays down his head,
covered with a wildered shock of grey hair, at the feet of a child whose
beauty rivets the eye and makes the heart stand still.

It is a pretty little light-haired angel, twelve or thirteen years of
age, her hair is of a silvery lightness, like soft feather-grass or
moonbeams, her face is of a heavenly whiteness, she has the smile of an
angel. The smile of this white face is so unearthly, that neither joy
nor good-humour is reflected from it, but something of a higher order,
which the human heart is not pure enough to comprehend.

The old man lies there on the ground, with his fingers clutching his
grey locks, and the ground on which his face has rested is wet. But the
little girl, with hair like soft feather-grass, reads with a honey-sweet
voice verses full of mercy and pardon from the Holy Book. From time to
time her little fingers turn a leaf over, and whenever she comes to the
name of the Lord she raises gentle eyes full of devout reverence.

"Pray, pray, my angel, go on praying! God will hear thy words. Oh! thy
father is indeed a sinner, a great, great sinner!"

The child leant over him, kissed his grey head, and went on reading.

The old man fell a-weeping bitterly.

"Oh! thy father's hands are so bloody! Who can ever wash them clean? I
have killed so many men who never offended me, never did me any harm.
Oh! how they feared death! how sad they were as they waited for me! how
they looked and looked to see whether a white flag would not be hoisted
after all! Oh! how they begged and prayed, how they kissed my hands in
order that I might wait a moment, but one moment more--life was so sweet
to them, yes, so sweet! And yet I had to kill them. I murdered
them--because the law commanded it."

A deep and bitter sob choked the old man's voice.

"Who will answer for me when God asks in a voice of thunder: 'Who has
dared to deal out death--the prerogative of God alone?' Who will answer
for me, who will defend me, when my judges will be so many pale, cold
shapes, me in whose hands were Death and Terror? And if we meet together
above there--or, perchance, down below, we, the executioner and the
executed, and sit down at one table! oh! those bloody souls!--moving
about headless, perchance, even in the other world, oh! horrible,
horrible! To have to answer for the head of a man! And what if he were
innocent besides, what if the judge erred, and the blood of the
condemned cries out to Heaven for vengeance? Alas! oh, Mighty Heavenly
Father!"

The grey-headed giant writhed on the ground convulsively, and smote his
bosom with his clenched fists. One could now catch a glimpse of his
face. It was a hard, weather-beaten countenance, bronzed by the suns of
many a year, large patches of his beard were grizzled, but his eyebrows
were of a deep black. He was quite beside himself, every muscle writhed
and quivered.

The little girl knelt down beside him and tenderly stroked his
sweat-covered forehead, took his head into her lap, and did not seem to
fear him terrible as he looked--like one of the damned on the verge of
the grave.

The old man kissed the girl's hands and feet, and timidly, tenderly
embracing her with his large, muscular, tremulous arms, bent over her,
hid his face in her lap, and sobbing and groaning, spoke in a voice near
to choking--it was as though his very soul was bursting away from his
bosom along with these terrible words.

"Look, my little girl!--once the judges condemned a young man to
death--my God! there was no trace of a beard upon his face, so young was
he. For three days he was placed in the pillory, and everybody wept who
beheld him--the youth was accused of having murdered his father. He
could not deny that he slept in the same room, and a bloody knife was
concealed in the bed. In vain he said that he was innocent, in vain he
called God to witness--he must needs die. On the day when he was
beheaded, two women, weeping and wailing, and dressed in deep mourning,
ran beside the felon's car to the place of execution. One was his dear
mother, the other his loving sister. In vain they screamed that he was
innocent, that he ought not to die, and, even if he were guilty they
forgave him the mourning dresses they wore, though they were the
sufferers and had lost everything. It was useless, he must needs die.
When he sat down in front of me in the chair of death, and took off his
clothes, even then he turned to me and said: 'Woe is me that I must die,
for I am innocent.' I bound up his eyes. But my hand shook as I aimed
the blow at him, and the blood that spurted on to my hand burnt like
fire. Oh, my child! that blood was innocent. A year ago I executed a
notorious highwayman, and as I was ascending the ladder with him, he
turned and laughed in my face: 'Ha, ha!' cried he, 'it was in this very
place that you beheaded a fine young fellow whom they accused of having
murdered his father; it was I who killed that father of his and hid the
knife in his bed, and now hang me up and look sharp about it.' Oh, my
child, thou fair angel, beseech God that _He_ will let me forget those
words!"

"Go to sleep, go to sleep, my good father. God is good, God is wrath
with no man. Why dost thou weep? Thou art not a bad man, surely, else
thou wouldst not love me. Look now! Last summer two children went from
the village into the woods to pluck flowers, there Heaven's warfare
overtook them, and when they sought a refuge beneath a tree to avoid the
rain, the lightning struck both of them dead. Yet the lightning is God's
own weapon, and both the children were innocent. God knows wherefore He
gives life and death, we do not. Go to sleep, my good father! God is
everywhere near us, and turns away from nobody who lifts up his eyes
towards Him. Look, I see Him everywhere. He watches over me when I
sleep, He holds me by the hand when I walk in the darkness; I see Him if
I look up at the sky, I see Him when I cast down my eyes. He abandons
nobody. Kiss me and go to sleep!"

The big muscular man slowly struggled to his knees. He pressed the fair
child to his bosom and raised his hard rough face. He looked up, his
lips quivered, he seemed to be praying, and his tears flowed apace. Then
he stood up, and the little girl embraced his arm, that huge arm of his
like the trunk of a tree. Fumbling his way along, he allowed himself to
be led to his bed, and plunged down upon it fully dressed as he was.
After turning about restlessly for a moment or two, a loud snore like
thunder, which made the whole room vibrate, proclaimed that he had
fallen asleep at last. But his slumbers were restless and uneasy.
Frequently he would start and cry aloud as if in agony, or utter broken
unintelligible half sentences and groan horribly.

But the fair little girl extinguished the lamp before she got ready to
lie down herself. The pale light of the moon shone through the window
and made her face whiter, her hair more silvery than ever, as if by
enchantment. It shone right upon her snow-white bed. It shone upon her
soft eyebrows, her smiling face, upon her sweet lips as they tremulously
prayed.

So slumber came upon her in the shape of a snow-white moonbeam. With a
smiling face, hands clasped together, and praying lips, she fell
asleep--and her guardian angel stood at the head of her snow-white bed.

The youth had watched the whole scene through the rift in the door with
bated breath and great amazement. When he rose to his feet, he remained
for a long time, rapt in a brown study, leaning against the wall and
staring blankly before him, lost in wonder that two such different
beings should be slumbering together beneath the same roof.

He sighed deeply. In the stillness of the night it seemed to him as if
he heard the echo of his own sigh coming back to him in whispering
words. He listened attentively--he could plainly distinguish the deep
droning voice of the headsman's wife, which seemed to him to come from
somewhere below at the opposite end of the house.

He went in the direction of the voice, and when he came to the place
where his comrade had knocked thrice on the boards near the chimney, he
distinctly heard two people talking to each other in a low voice. It was
the headsman's wife and her lover.

The youth turned away full of loathing. Nevertheless, it soon occurred
to him that this tempestuous _tête-à-tête_ could have little to do with
love. The voice of the headsman's wife frequently arose in anger.

"Let him go to hell!" he heard her exclaim.

"Hush! hush!" murmured the young 'prentice, "somebody might overhear
us."

"Pooh! God and men both slumber now."

What could they be talking about? Whom did they want to harm? Such folks
had it not in them to love anyone. Woe to those whom they had cause to
remember!

So he crept softly to the spot and listened.

"If these people should rise they will not leave one stone upon
another," the headsman's apprentice was saying.

"And do you suppose they will rise up because you tell them to?"

"I have thought the matter well out. The common folks about here do not
love their masters, there is no reason why they should. Their lords have
kicked and cuffed and spat upon them, and treated them worse than dogs.
You have but to cast a burning fagot into the mass of discontent, and
it will flame up at once. Even the wisest among them who do know
something about it, are the most narrow-minded. If there be two versions
of a matter they always believe the most absurd one. I told them to be
on their guard against danger. I told them to look after their wells and
their granaries, as their masters wanted to poison them. When they asked
why? I told them that the whole kingdom was surrounded on every side by
enemies, and the gentry wanted to raise a pestilence in the kingdom to
keep the enemy out of it. At my words the common people at once became
suspicious, for they have heard for a long time that the gentry were
expecting a pestilence, and as this was the first explanation of the
prophesied epidemic that had come to their ears, they believed it at
once. Suspicion is contagious. And as the gentry have since had the
imprudence to order a separate graveyard to be dug for the corpses of
those who may die of the cholera (naturally in order to prevent the dead
bodies from spreading the contagion), the common folks have believed my
words as if I were a prophet, and quite expect that the gentry are going
to poison the poor people. The digging of the churchyard they take to be
a first move in that direction."

"Devilish clever of you, Ivan, I must say."

"And then don't forget the announcement of the Kassa doctors to the
effect that if the common folks will not take the salutary bismuth
powder voluntarily, it must be forced upon them, thrown into their
wells and scattered about their barns. It looks as if everyone was
intent upon playing into our hands."

"Does the young chap upstairs suspect anything?"

"I don't think so, but let us speak in a lower tone. I promised to hide
him here. He fancies he has shot his captain dead. He caught him with
his sweetheart and banged away at him; the man fell to the ground, but
he did not die. But the young fellow ran away and deserted his colours.
I have been persuading him to desert for a long time, as I had need of
him. This, in fact, is the third time he has deserted, and if they catch
him now they will undoubtedly string him up. Not a bad idea for him to
fly to the headsman's house, eh? They will seek him everywhere but under
the gallows-tree. And if they find him here, they won't have very much
more trouble with him, that's all."

"Ho, ho, ho! Suppose he were to hear you?"

And he did hear!

"You see, this was my object all along. I shall put his pursuers on his
track in any case, and they will capture him here and take him to
Hétfalu, where the court-martial will pronounce sentence of death, and
then have him exposed in the pillory. All the common folk about Hétfalu
love the youth as if he was their own son, but they hate his father like
the devil. It will be no very great masterpiece to stir up the people in
these troublous times, and when they see the young fellow led out to be
hanged they will be quite ready to seize their scythes and dung-forks,
set him free, raise him on their shoulders, and rush with him to the
castle of his father (who, by the way, has done his best to hound his
son to death), and level it with the ground, and there you have a
peasant revolt in full swing straight off."

"But will the lad consent to be put at the head of such an enterprise?"

"Never fear! Death is an awful prospect. There is no road, however
terrible, which a man will not take in order to avoid it. Besides, at
such times a man is not himself, but does everything almost
unconsciously, and thus our names will not appear in the business at
all; and if it is put down, he will be looked upon as the ringleader.
Not the shadow of a suspicion will fall upon us."

"Bravo, Ivan! I could kiss you for this."

"A more amazing popular rebellion than this will be has never been
known. From village to village the rumour will fly that his own son has
risen against his poisoner of a father at the head of the people, has
cut to pieces every member of his family, and levelled his ancestral
halls to the ground. He will be looked upon as a public avenger.
Horribly black rumours will be noised abroad all over the kingdom, and
at the tidings thereof the people will run downright mad with savage
fury, and the gentry will not know which way to turn to escape the
unforeseen danger which will suddenly break out at their very doors."

"You are the Devil's own son, Ivan; come and let me cuddle you."

The youth rose from the chimney-place trembling in every limb. He had
heard every word they said.

For an instant he remained standing there quite beside himself, half
mad, half senseless from sheer terror and amazement. Presently he began
to gaze about him with desperate alertness, like a wild beast that has
fallen into a trap and looks eagerly for a way out of it, rallying all
its powers for a final struggle, becoming resourceful and inventive in
proportion to its peril, and forgetting the very instinct of life in the
longing for freedom, at last gets to fear nobody and nothing. After
fruitless struggles it surrenders in despair, lies down, closes its
eyes, and the next instant once more begins the hopeless fight for
liberty.

The youth looked down through the opening in the floor. The ladder had
been removed, and in the courtyard below a big shaggy dog was slouching
surlily about and shaking its collar, and from time to time it would
tear at its skin with its teeth or worry its tail and bay at the moon.

And now there is a good sharp knife in the youth's hands. He sticks it
between his teeth and looks carefully around him. In case of need he
would have risked a fight with the dog, and perhaps killed it; but this
could not happen without a great deal of noise, and he wished, at any
price, to escape unnoticed.

The fence, too, surrounding the enclosure, was very high, how was he to
get over it? Nowhere could he see the ladder.

At the extreme end of the house, right opposite the windows of the
headsman's bedroom, was a large mulberry tree, whose wide-spreading
branches bent down over the roof of the house. With the help of these
branches one could easily get to the fence, and then a bold leap down
from the top of it would do the rest.

Like a panther escaping from its cage the young man crept along the
narrow window-ledge of the garret with his knife between his teeth.
Wriggling along on his belly he clutched hold of the ridge of the house,
and crawled cautiously on till he came to the branches of the
mulberry-tree, then he seized an overhanging branch, clambered up it and
scrambled to the very end of it--and all so quietly, without making the
least noise.

From the extreme edge of the branch, however, to the top of the fence he
had to make a timely spring, and in so doing overestimated the strength
of the branch on which he stood--with a great crash it broke beneath
him, and he remained clinging like grim death to the fence half-way up.

At the sound of the snapping branch the watch-dog became aware of the
fugitive, and rushed barking towards him; and while he was struggling
with all his might to scramble up to the top of the fence it seized him
by one of the tails of his coat and furiously tried to drag him down.

"Who is that?" a loud voice suddenly roared. The headsman had been
aroused by the noise outside his window, and was now looking down into
the courtyard. He there perceived a man quite unknown to him clambering
up the fence, while the dog was tugging away at him to bring him down.
"Ho, there! stop, whoever you are!" he thundered, and mad with rage he
seized the musket and took aim at the fugitive. His eyes were wild and
bloodshot.

Then a white hand lowered the weapon, and a clear ringing childish voice
from behind him exclaimed:

"Wilt thou slay yet again, oh, my father?"

The man's hand sank down. For a moment he was motionless, and his face
grew very pale. Then the calm look of self-possession came back to him.
He embraced the child who had pushed the gun aside. Then he took aim
once more. There was a loud report, and the watch-dog, without so much
as a yelp, fell to the ground stiff and stark. The fugitive with a final
effort leaped over the fence.



CHAPTER III.

A CHILDISH MALEFACTOR.


That house which stands all deserted in the middle of Hétfalu was not
always of such a doleful appearance.

Its windows which are now nailed up or bricked in were once full of
flowers; those trees which now stand around it all dried up and withered
as if in mourning for their masters, and with no wish to grow green
again after the many horrors which have taken place among them, those
trees, I say, once threw an opulent shade on the marble bench placed
beneath them, where a grave old gentleman used to sit of an evening and
rejoice in the splendid wallflowers with which the courtyard abounded.

Yes, he could rejoice in the sweet flowers although his own heart was
full of thorns.

This old gentleman was Benjamin Hétfalusy.

In front of those two windows which look out upon the garden, and which
are now walled up, a solitary vine had been planted, whose branches,
crowded with fruit, climbed up to the very roof of the house. Now it
lies all wildered on the ground, and its immature berries twine
themselves round the nearest bushes.

Those windows were once thickly curtained. The yellow silk curtains
inundated with a sickly light a room where everything was so still, so
sad.

There was an invalid in the house, little Neddy, the son of Benjamin
Hétfalusy's daughter, the son of that once so haughty gentlewoman,
Leonora Hétfalusy.

This poor lady had been visited by many a terrible calamity. After a
youth passed amidst feverish excitements, she had married Squire
Széphalmi, and there had been two children of this marriage, a son and a
daughter. Edward and Emma were their names. The children were constantly
bickering with each other, but this after all is only what happens every
day with brothers and sisters.

One day the little girl disappeared, nobody knew what had become of her.
They searched for her in the woods and in the fields, and in the pond
close by; they explored the whole country side, their little pet
daughter was nowhere to be found.

From that very day Neddy fell sick. He lost his fresh ruddy colour. He
could neither eat nor sleep. They laid him on his bed, a fever tormented
him. At night he would wander in his speech, and at such times he would
constantly be calling for his little sister Emma; he would cry out and
weep, and his features would stiffen and his eyes would almost start
out of his head till he looked like one possessed.

The doctors said that it was epilepsy. They treated him in every
possible way. It was all of no avail. He grew worse from day to day, and
his father and mother stood and wept by his bed morning after morning.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was one of those evenings when the wind rages outside and dashes rain
mingled with hail against the window-panes. The child was crying and
moaning in his bed, out of doors the dogs were howling, the wind was
whistling, and the freely-swinging pump-handle creaked and groaned like
a shrieking ghost.

"Ah!" wailed the sick child in his sleep, half rising up. "Emma! Let in
little Emma! Don't you hear how she is crying outside--she cannot get
through the door ... she is shivering, she is afraid of the dark ... go
out and look...!"

"There is nobody outside, my darling, nobody, my poor sick little son."

"There is, there is. I hear someone scratching at the door, fumbling at
the latch; she is stroking the dogs; don't you hear how she is moaning,
dear, dear mother, don't you hear it?"

"Go to sleep, my sick darling, nobody is coming here, the whole house is
locked up."

"She is dead, she is dead," whined the little boy in his delirium.
"Wicked men killed her when she went into the woods to pluck flowers.
They tied a stone to her feet and sank her in the yellow pond. Oh! oh!
why don't you make haste? She will be drowned directly. Oh! oh! how
bloody her forehead is!"

In the corner of the room was the father on his knees praying. The
mother with tearful eyes kept on spreading the bed-clothes over the sick
child, and the grey-headed grandfather stared stupidly in front of him.

"Hark! Don't you hear little Emma weeping there again? She has not been
properly buried beneath the ground, she wants to come out. Hush! hush!
Don't go, don't go, then perhaps she will stop crying."

Outside the tempest was shaking the trees.

"Oh, oh! There's a knocking at the door! They have come for me. They
want to kill me. They are bringing little Emma. Oh, do not let them in!
Tell them that I am not here! Lock the door!----Father, father, don't
leave me."

It was hideous to see the expression of despair on the round childish
face all covered with sweat. They are wont to paint little children in
the shape of angels. If it should ever occur to a painter to paint a
four-year-old child as a devil, as a fallen accursed spirit, it might be
such a face as his was.

"Oh, God, have mercy upon him, and take him to Thee," sobbed the
grandfather, hiding his face on the table. He could not endure to look
upon the superhuman torments of the child, while the weak, helpless
father cried in the bitterness of his heart, "it is my only son, my
dearest, fairest hope."

The child made as if it would fly or hide itself. It leaped up in its
bed incessantly, and saw hideous shapes around it and raved about them,
and writhed and struggled like one attacked by a serpent.

"Come, my daughter, come, my son!" sobbed old Benjamin, going down upon
his knees. "Kneel beside me, let us pray for him; if our sins are ripe
for punishment, let the punishment fall upon our heads, not upon the
child's."

And the three elders knelt down beside the bed, and held each other by
the hand and wept, and called upon God, and prayed _Him_ to heal the
child.

At that moment three violent blows from a clenched fist were heard upon
the door. The dogs ran howling to the other end of the courtyard, and a
shrill piping voice uttered the words:

"Death! death!"

The old grandfather leaped up from his knees like one beside himself
with rage. Cursing aloud, he snatched his gun from the wall, rushed into
the courtyard and looked about for whomsoever had uttered that cry that
he might shoot the wretch down like a dog.

Perchance if that cry had come from Heaven he would have fired up at
Heaven itself!

What! to cry out "Death" to the Amen of those who were praying for
life!

And again that ear-piercing voice cried: "Death, death!"--it sounded
like the whoop of a screech-owl.

The "death-bird," as they called her, was standing there in front of the
trellised gate with her eyes fixed on the windows, her face was as pale
as the face of a corpse, and her white hair was fluttering in the
tempestuous night.

"It is thine own death thou hast prophesied, thou crazy witch, thou!"
thundered old Benjamin, and he fired his gun at her at ten paces.

The "death-bird" stared at him without moving a muscle. Old Benjamin, in
a sort of stupor, let the weapon fall out of his hand; it never occurred
to him that he had extracted the bullet himself beforehand lest in a
moment of distraction he might blow his own brains out.

"What dost thou want, Benjamin?" asked the old woman in a calm mocking
voice. "Death comes not from thee, but to thee. Nobody can kill me.
Death has passed me by, he does not think of me, he does not trouble
himself about me, he has turned me into a living spirit. I am old and
ugly, Death cares not for such as I. He too has a liking for youth and
beauty, for pretty young women like thy daughter, for strong gallant
young fellows like thy son-in-law, for tender, rosy chicks like thy
grandchildren, and for fat ripe corn like thyself, saddled with more
sins than the hairs of thy head. Benjamin Hétfalusy, I have looked upon
thee as a young man, when thou didst chicane me out of my house, and
tear from my hands the dry crusts I lived upon. And thou hast grown fat
upon it too. But the bread that is wet with the tears of orphans cries
to Heaven for vengeance, the blessing of God rests not upon it. Thou art
old and thou wilt die. Thou shalt leave none behind thee, thou shalt
bury all whom thou didst ever love. But I shall remain alive to see thy
grave. I shall survive thee that I may see everything that once belonged
to thee lie desolate. And this fine house of thine shall remain
empty--these trees shall fade away and wither one by one--strangers
shall divide thy lands among them. And now go home, for thou shalt not
dwell there long. When thou liest outside I will come and visit thee
yonder!"

The "death-bird" drew herself up straight at these words, she seemed as
big again as her usual old shrunken self, and pointed towards the
churchyard with her crutch.

The dogs howled dismally behind the house and durst not come forward.

The old woman collapsed once more. Close to the trellis gate stood a
large heap of planks. She reached out and tapped them with her crutch.
"Good timber here for ever so many nice coffins!" she mumbled to
herself, and tripped away coughing and wheezing, and leaning heavily on
her crutch.

Benjamin Hétfalusy lay senseless in his own courtyard, and when he came
to himself he was unable to utter a word. He had had a stroke, and his
tongue was tied.

Early next morning, while the whole house was still asleep, Mrs.
Széphalmi, all alone, stealthily and unobserved, quitted the house and
made her way across the park to old Magdolna's hut.

This great lady, despite an outward show of culture, believed in and
made use of all sorts of charms and quackeries, and it was not the first
time, so credulous was she, that she had turned to the old woman for
counsel. She had made her tell her her fortune by means of cards,
predict the future, brew potions for her which would make her husband
faithful, teach her spells which would cause flies and other vermin to
vanish, to concoct balsamic cakes to keep the skin white--in fact, she
hung upon every word the old crone uttered.

Magdolna kept her waiting for a long time in the yard before she opened
the door. She said, by way of excuse, that she had been praying, then
she shut the door behind them.

The great lady sat down on a straw-covered chair and began to weep. The
old woman crouched down upon a stool and cleansed some mushrooms which
she held in her lap.

"Dame Magdolna, can you not help my son?" sobbed Mrs. Széphalmi.

"No."

"I will give all I have to whomsoever can cure him. Oh! if you could
only see how much he suffers, nobody ever suffered so much before."

"I know it, and he will suffer still more."

"The doctors cannot cure him."

"No healing herb that ever grew in the field can heal him; it would be
all one even if you bathed him in balm."

"He will die?"

"'Twould be good for his soul if he did die."

"What, is there then anything worse than death?"

"Yes, damnation!"

"You are raving. A child who four years ago was an angel in Heaven, a
child only four years of age--damned!"

"It has sinned enough to suffice for a long life, enough to merit
damnation."

"Then for such a sin there is no name among men."

"There is a name for it, terrible and accursed--the murder of a sister."

"Merciful God!--I will not hearken to you."

"Why do you ask me, then? I have told nobody. Go home, my lady, you
cannot buy the mercy of God for money."

"And yet there must be something in it. He is repeatedly mentioning his
sister's name. And--oh! what a look he has at such times!"

"I know it. His groaning can be heard outside in the street. If a poor
man's child wailed like that they would pitch it down a well."

"Speak! How and where did it take place?"

"The children were playing outside, close to the pond, I was on the
opposite side plucking healing plants. Suddenly the two children caught
sight of a pretty flower on a high rock. They both hastened to the spot
to pluck it. The girl was the quicker, and got there first, and when she
had plucked the flower the lad began to quarrel with her, and as they
struggled the little girl fell off the rock, her head struck against the
hard root of a tree, and she remained motionless on the spot. All pale
and frightened little Cain stood beside her, and gazed stupidly at the
blood flowing from his sister's forehead. He saw that he had killed his
sister, and in vain he begged and prayed her to awake again, in vain he
pulled her about. Then he began to cry like one who is desperate, and
ran towards the lake. I saw him gazing into the water, and he gazed into
it for a long time, perhaps he thought of drowning himself. He shrank
back from the face that stared at him from the surface of the water, his
own distorted face. Slowly he crept back again, his face was as white as
death, and his lips were blue. He gazed around him in every direction to
see if anybody was looking. Then he suddenly put his arms round the
lifeless body, and with a strength incredible in one so young he dragged
it to a ditch which was thickly overgrown with bushes, and covered it
over with leaves and branches. There was still some life in the little
girl, for when the lad began stamping down the heaped-up leaves with his
feet, she groaned aloud and said: 'Oh, Neddy, Neddy, don't bury me. Emma
won't cry. Emma won't tell mamma!'"

"Oh! my poor little girl!"

"On hearing these words the boy took to his heels--he ran and ran till
he fell down senseless in the wood. There some swine-herds found him as
they were gathering beech-mast, and since then he has been plagued by a
burning fever-fit."

"It is like a frightful nightmare."

"I tell you the truth, and such a thing is only what your family
deserves--a murderer of his sister only four years old! Sins like yours
are enough to hasten on the end of the world."

"And where, then, is the poor tiny little body of my innocent child?"

"I sought for it next day, but I could not find it. On the very day of
the evil deed I durst not go there, for I was afraid they might think I
killed her. Here and there among the bushes were fragments of a little
pink frock. I also came across a tiny red slipper with a golden
butterfly on it, and some gay ribbons which must have tied up her hair.
I have often heard the wolves howl at night in that very place. They can
tell perhaps where she is."

"Would that my son might die also!" cried the mother in the anguish of
her despair.

"He would die even if you did _not_ wish it. An old man might live
perhaps with such a mental cancer, but it will destroy a child. Ah!
there is no remedy against the worms that gnaw away at the soul."

"Will he be tormented for long?"

"If you do not wish to see his torments, stand by his bed when nobody
else is by, cross yourself thrice, and repeat the words which his dying
sister said to him: 'Don't bury me, Neddy! Little Emma won't cry!'--and
then he will die."

"How his father will weep! It is his favourite child--he loved him
better than the little girl."

"How his grandfather will weep! For he loved them both, and they were
both his pets."



CHAPTER IV.

A DIVINE VISITATION.


The whole region was pitch black, half the night was over, there was no
sign of life anywhere.

But slumber was no dweller in _that_ darkness, the terrible voice of God
drove it far away from the eyes of men--Heaven was thundering as if it
would have smashed this nebulous star of ours here below into fragments.
Who could sleep at such a time?

One thunderbolt followed hard upon another. Whenever the crashing uproar
ceased for an instant one could hear the ringing of bells, which the
superstitious peasantry set a-going to charm away the terrifying
tempest.

At such times every soul of man prays silently in its quiet place of
rest. Not a single light is burning in any of the windows, the awakened
sleeper lies with fast-closed eyes beneath his coverlet, all his sins
rise up before him, all his sins and their punishment--death!

In one house, and one house only, nobody has gone to rest. Every living
thing there is wakeful, from the master of the house to the watch-dog.
It is the squire's house. All its windows are lit up and all its doors
are locked.

In the room looking out upon the garden, the mother is alone with the
sick child.

The child is delirious, he is gabbling terrible things, his features
wear a different expression every instant.

And his mother understands every word of that mortal fever-born
nightmare; she guesses at every thought which underlies all those
varying expressions of countenance, the sight of whose horrible
contortions are enough to make even the heart of a strong man break
down.

How she must suffer!

He who takes poison dies a terrible death, his veins burst asunder one
by one; his nerves and muscles strain and crack, his very marrow seems
to be on fire. But, oh! what is all that compared to the death of a
poisoned soul! A remedy may be found perhaps for bodily venom, but there
is no remedy against spiritual venom. The grave may close upon the
former, but never upon the latter. Both here and hereafter recollection
and reprobation wait upon it.

God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children even to the fourth
generation. They graft the evil qualities of their blood upon their
sons; one generation passes on its wickedness to the next; man is
vitiated when he is born; he sins as soon as he is conscious of his
existence and he dies accursed.

The sweat streamed from the child's temples; for the last three days he
has had the mark of death upon him.

The doctors say he may live, but if he lives he will be weak-witted.

What a future for a four-year-old child! A burden to the world, a burden
to himself, to live on for years after the mind is dead! To be an idiot
for ever! It would be good for him if he could be made away with,
surely.

Will God take him? Or is it the Divine Will that he should live on as an
example of a living curse, as a witness of the Almighty's chastising
arm?

Does he bear so much suffering by way of ransom for the sins of his
father, his mother, and his grandfather?--or must the years of
punishment be as many as the years of sin?

Who will be merciful enough to put an end to his sufferings?

His mother sits silent and watchful at the head of the bed.

No, she cannot do it!

After all she is his mother. The roots of that young flower are still
but half detached from the soil of her heart. Death would be a benefit
to him. Perchance it might be easier to forget him if he were under the
sod. But man who does not endow with life, must not distribute death.
Man must wait till the last of his allotted days has come.

And yet only a few words would bring it to pass.

The "death-bird" has whispered the magic spell, and Death will obey the
summons.

Yet she lacks the courage to summon him at a time when the very
foundations of the earth are trembling at the voice of Heaven's thunder!

Poor woman!

It is a marvel that she also is not mad. She cannot even weep now though
her bosom heaves tumultuously--it were not good for a man to know her
secret thoughts at this moment.

"They are calling me, they are calling me," stammers the child.... "Men
without heads ... they are running after me ... the black dog is
scratching up the ground ... the hand of the dead body is sticking
out.... Poor Emma!"

The poor lady, all trembling, rose from her seat, very softly lest she
should make a noise, she gets up, she cannot blow out the night lamp on
the table, her breath is too feeble for that, she puts it out by casting
it out of the room.

Then she approaches the window in the darkness to see whether the
curtains are closely drawn, or whether anyone can look into the room
from the outside. What a flashing past there was of fiery eyes amid the
darkness of the night--Hah! What a blinding flash that was!--And then
black darkness again.--No, nobody could see her--nobody--.

Can she make up her mind?

She goes slowly back to the bed. The lad is moaning fearfully. He is
babbling dreadful words and his throat rattles painfully. "How blue...?
her mouth ... how bloody ... her forehead ... poor little Emma."

The lady bends down over the bed. The ghost of a pale little face comes
into sight now and then as the lightning flashes quiver past the
windows.

Can she make up her mind?

"Poor little Emma," wails the lad.

This last pathetic wail was too much for her. The unhappy woman crossed
herself three times and, in a dry, half-suffocated voice exclaimed:
"Don't bury me, Neddy, little Emma won't cry!"

The lad uttered a cry like the scream of a wild bird when it is shot
through the heart--then he drew a long deep sigh and was quite still.

"Oh!" cried the desperate mother, as if suddenly throwing off the
oppressive influence of some magic trance, "help, help!" and like a mad
creature she rushed towards the bell-rope which hung beside the hearth.

She seized the golden tassel, the bell rang out like a ghostly chime,
when suddenly a fearful crash was heard, a thunderbolt came down the
chimney, zig-zagging through the room like a fiery serpent, fusing the
metal of the bell in its passage and flashing down the bell-rope to the
golden tassel with a blinding glare, finally vanishing with a dull
crackling sound.

The whole family rushed at once to the scene of this fearful crash.

With ghastly, frightened faces they came rushing in one by one, huddled
up in sheets and counterpanes or whatever else came first to hand, like
so many spectres in white mourning.

In the room lay two corpses, the mother and the child.

Bitter lamentations resounded through the house.

The father and the grandfather came hurrying along.

Howling and screaming like some wild beast never seen before, the father
flung himself upon his dead, turning frantically from the mother to the
child, and from the child to the mother, kissing and squeezing them
constantly. And then he pressed them to his bosom and literally howled
like one beyond the reach of the mercy of God.

But the grandfather groped his way along in silence, looking in his
white nightdress and his dishevelled silvery locks like some spectral
thing.

He could not speak. His palsied tongue could not utter a single cry for
the relief of his agony. He knelt down in front of the dead bodies and
raised his eyes aloft. Oh! how he strove to give expression to his
grief, to utter one word, if only one, which might pierce Heaven itself.
But he could not. He was dumb, his mouth moved as if it would speak, but
his tongue was tied.

Oh! how much this family must have sinned, to suffer so much.



CHAPTER V.

THE UNBELOVED SON.


The day dawned slowly and, as it seemed, with great difficulty. The
morning was cold and cloudy as is often the case after a tempestuous
night.

There was a great bustling about in the house of mourning. A bier and a
coffin had to be made, and the dead clothed in their funeral finery. The
old squire wished the funeral to be a splendid one.

The courtyard had been swept clean. Every household tool and implement
of labour had been removed out of the way. They were preparing to keep
one of those days of sad and solemn observance which must befall every
household at some time or other.

At such times the street door is kept wide open. Let the country folks
come in and look upon the dead, let them learn from the sight that Death
is the judge of the gentry as well as of the serfs; let them see how the
rich can be splendid even after death, how they embellish their coffins,
how they fasten them with golden nails, how they embroider their palls
with patterns of roses and gold filagree, how they spread the bed of
death itself with the finest white watered silk and perfume it with the
most fragrant balm.

Yet that fragrant balm cannot stifle the smell of the charnel house.
Here, too, men must hold their handkerchiefs to their mouths as they do
before the corpses of the poor.

For Death is a just judge.

A ragged man passes through the door. He is soaked through and through
with mud and dirt, it was clear that no roof had covered his head during
last night's tempest. His feet peeped from out of his boots, his damp
hair seemed glued to his temples, his eyes were sunken, his cheeks were
mere bone, his lips were blue and hollow.

He entered the courtyard falteringly like one who would steal something
but does not know how to set about it, and there he stood at the
entrance of the hall, leaning against the lintel, with eyes cast down
upon the ground.

The dogs approached him, sniffed at his clothes all round, and began to
growl at him.

Only one dog, an old boar-hound, would not be satisfied with sniffing
impatiently among the others, but rushed upon the stranger, placed its
two front paws upon him, licked his limp hand, and began joyously
barking at him.

At this the major-domo, a sunburnt old man with a white moustache drew
near, gave the speechless stranger a large piece of bread, and bade him
go about his business.

"In God's name take yourself off," said he, "don't stand here in the
way of everybody that comes out or goes in."

The new-comer did not move, but kept on looking straight in front of
him, his chin and his lips trembled as if he were keeping back by force
a torrent of tears.

The major-domo did not notice this, but the old dog kept leaping up at
the stranger's hand, and yelped and yapped so persistently that it was
plain he wanted to say something.

"Come, stir your stumps and look sharp about it, my good fellow, and
don't set all our dogs barking for nothing," said the major-domo, and
with that he seized the vagabond's hand and turned him round.

And now he saw his face for the first time.

The tears streamed from the eyes of the ragged man, sobbing and weeping
he turned to the wall and hid his face.

The old servant stood there dumbfounded. At first he would not believe
his eyes, then at last he clapped his hands together and exclaimed:
"Why, if it is not young Master Imré himself. Good Heaven!" and deeply
agitated he approached the young man and began to soothe him, finally
falling upon his neck and weeping along with him.

"Nobody recognises me," sobbed the youth, whose left hand was bleeding
badly. He had hurt himself somewhat severely when he leaped over the
fence of the headsman's house.

"Oh, why have you come home just at this time?" lamented the old
servant, "if only it had been any other day in the whole year but this;
this house is a sad dwelling-place just now, there are two corpses in
it."

"Who has died then?"

"Mistress Leonora and little Ned. How they are all weeping within
there."

"I shall be the third."

The servant was silent. Perhaps he thought to himself: "Nobody will weep
for you."

"I have deserted from my regiment a third time."

"Oh dear, oh dear! And why have you come home again?"

"I wanted to speak to my father once for all."

"From henceforth your father will speak to nobody but the Lord God."

"I don't ask him to be kind to me. I want to tell him that Death is very
near him, and he must try to avoid it."

"Methinks the poor old man would rather seek out death than fly from it;
but you may be seen and recognised here, young master, and taken
away--and then..."

"They will hang me up, eh? Don't be afraid. The pistol with which I shot
the captain is loaded, one shot will be sufficient to save me from the
gallows-tree--show me where my father is."

"Go, then! Where the mourning is loudest there will you find him."

The youth went in the direction indicated and entered the room.

The room was wholly darkened, the mirrors and pictures were draped in
black; in the midst of it stood two coffins, within which lay two pallid
shapes like wax figures.

It was impossible to recognise them.

On a candelabra beside the coffins burnt four large wax candles, and a
gilded crucifix had been placed on a little table right opposite.

Kneeling at the foot of the dead was a white-haired man. He glanced now
at the one now at the other of the departed, and from time to time would
press his clenched hands to his lips and moan softly like one in a
troubled sleep.

It was a heart-breaking sight--this old white-haired man crushed beneath
the hand of God, moaning like some wild beast dedicated to death, but
unable to utter a word or shed a tear.

When God visits His people with affliction He also gives them tears that
they may weep out their sorrow, and power of speech that they may talk
of their griefs and so find relief, but even these things were denied to
this old man. There he knelt, scourged by the wrath of God, humbled to
the very earth, like a withered branch which stiffens into dry
lifelessness without complaint.

The young man, groping his way along, with his soul benumbed with
sorrow, approached the old man, and gently, noiselessly knelt down by
his side.

The old man regarded him stupidly, and for some time seemed to be
wondering who it was. He could not speak, for, though still alive, Death
had already mastered his tongue, and his son fancied he did not
recognise him. Perchance it was impossible to recognise that haggard
distorted face, that ragged garb, those dishevelled locks.

"I am your son whom you drove away, and who will soon be your dead son
too," he exclaimed, with deep emotion, trying to seize the old man's
hand that he might kiss it.

But the old man drew back his hand with horror. One could see loathing
in the expression of his face, just as if the Devil had extended his
hand to him in the moment of his most sacred sorrow.

"I deserve your disgust, your repudiation. I sinned grievously against
you. You have grown grey betimes because of me. But all this shall be
atoned for by a death, my death. You never loved me, you drove me away
from your house as you would never have driven a dog, you let me perish
in want and wretchedness; from my childish years upwards I have never
had a good word from you, had it been otherwise things might have been
very different. Those whom you loved God took away from you, those you
did not love you drove away yourself, and now you are alone in the
world."

The old man signified to him in dumb show that he was to say no more.

"I have not come hither to ask anything of you, so short will be the
remaining period of my life that I shall want no provision for the way.
I only want to reveal to you a horrible diabolical plot which threatens
your grey head, your family, and perhaps your very house. My father, in
ten minutes' time I shall have ceased to live, and no more words of mine
will ever trouble your soul again, do not repulse me in the very hour of
my death!"

The old man slowly rose from his knees, surveyed his tatterdemalion son
from head to foot with infinite contempt, and his lips moved and
quivered as if they would have said something, but not a word fell from
them.

The son did not know that his father had had a stroke and could not
speak.

"Have you not one word for me?--bad or good, a curse or a blessing? Only
a single word, father! before you see me die!" and he dragged himself on
his knees to the feet of the old man, who supported himself tremulously
against the altar that had been placed opposite the two coffins, his
hair seemed to rise, his eyes started from his head. Then he seized the
heavy gilded crucifix and slowly raised it aloft in his right hand as if
he would have stricken to the earth with it his own son who knelt there
embracing his knees.

During this painful scene the door opened, the clash of the butt ends of
muskets brought sharply to the ground was heard, and a corporal and
three soldiers appeared on the scene.

Imré looked round at this noise. For an instant his face turned deadly
pale; behind the backs of the soldiers he perceived the grinning face of
his evil angel, the headsman's 'prentice. He felt that he was lost.

He glanced around him. Whither should he flee for refuge? Close beside
him were two corpses with cold unsympathetic faces--and there was also a
third, a living face, still colder, still more unsympathetic than the
faces of the dead, living and yet not loving, the face of his own father
who still stood there with the large heavy crucifix in his uplifted
fist.

The corporal approached the youth and seized him by the collar. What did
it matter to him that the culprit was standing beside two corpses
covered with a funeral pall? what did he care about the painfulness of
the scene? Naturally he only saw before him a deserter, a deserter whom
it was his duty to arrest.

At this the youth grew absolutely desperate, and at the same time the
instinct of self-preservation arose within him. In one magical moment
there flashed through his mind all the horrors which the future had in
store for him--the cold dungeon wall, the narrow barred windows, the
heavy rattling chain, the court-martial, the reading of the sentence,
the pillory, the gaping crowd, the white shirt worn by the condemned,
the man of death, the executioner, with a Prayer Book in one hand and a
cord in the other, the ignominious death, the black carrion crows----

"Ah!" he roared in despair, and with the iron strength of frenzy he tore
himself loose from the grasp of the corporal who fell prone into the
fireplace with a fearful crash.

"Whoever touches me is a dead man!" screamed Imré, with a voice full of
fury and defiance, and tearing open his vest he drew forth with one hand
a dagger and with the other a large hussar pistol. The broken-winged
young eagle had turned upon its pursuers, hacking at them with its
wounded beak and flapping its still uninjured pinion in their faces.

The soldiers began to fall back before the infuriated youth, who, with
bloodshot eyes and foaming mouth, followed hard upon them, and either
from fear or compassion opened a way before him.

Then the white-headed old man seized from behind the youth's murderous
uplifted arms, and held him back.

When the young man felt the touch of those cold tremulous hands upon his
arm, he let fall the weapons from both his own hands, his arms fell down
benumbed by his side, his whole body collapsed; nerveless and swooning
he sank in a heap upon the ground. The soldiers lifted him upon their
shoulders, removed him from the room, put fetters upon his hands and
feet, and carried him off.

The old man looked coldly after them. When they had gone, he again knelt
down close to the two coffins, his white locks falling about his face,
raised his clasped hands to his tremulous but impotent lips, and kept
gazing, gazing fixedly first at one of his dear departed and then at the
other.

Not a tear, not a single tear fell from his eyes.



CHAPTER VI.

TWO FAMOUS PÆDAGOGUES.


The first of these famous pædagogues was the cantor, worthy Mr. Michael
Kordé.

The second was the rector, Thomas Bodza.

Apart from the fact that he had an extraordinary liking for wine and
never could quite distinguish the forenoon from the afternoon, Mr.
Michael Kordé was a man of refinement to the very tips of his toes.

In his time he had worn out a great many stout hazel switches, it being
the custom of his establishment to make each pupil provide his own rod.
This was no doubt an extra item in the curriculum, but, on the other
hand, there was something to show for it; all those who passed through
his hands when they subsequently fell into the clutches of the Law could
endure as many as five-and-twenty strokes from the hardest bludgeon
without so much as wincing. They had been case hardened by their
previous education.

The schoolhouse was the _vis-à-vis_ of Mr. Kordé's own private dwelling.
It had never once been whitewashed since it was first built; but, on
the other hand, it was richly adorned outside with the Christian names
and the nicknames of all the urchins who had ever been inside its walls,
names to which later generations of scholars had taken good care to add
such distinguishing epithets as ass, swine, &c., &c. Those, moreover,
who possessed a taste for art did not omit to paint on the wall, with
red chalk, hussars, two-legged heads with six noses and one eye, large
meerschaum pipes, &c., &c. Here and there, too, the remains of big black
ink blots and red splodges, like hideous bunches of cherries, pointed to
past combats in which inkpots had been hurled and fists used freely;
these pictorial devices, however, were but fragmentary, as the various
generations of students had from time to time dug large bits of mortar
out of the walls with their nails to serve as sand for blotting their
themes.

Inside the schoolroom the shapeless battered benches were also carved
all over with names and emblems. The window panes had for the most part
been broken to bits, and the gaps stuffed with closely written MS. torn
out of old exercise books. Layers of dust met the eye everywhere, and
there was a perfect network of dangling spiders' webs in all the
corners.

Such, in all its beauty, was the academical emporium where Mr. Michael
Kordé for thirty years had been in the habit of regularly dispensing
science and slaps--with what result we shall see later on.

Worthy Mr. Kordé used regularly to return to his own honourable
dwelling from the pot-house just when the night-watchmen were going home
to sleep and the cocks were crowing in the morn, and at such times he
would bellow forth ditties the whole way at the top of his voice to the
accompaniment of the howling of all the watch-dogs in the village.

The object of this singing bout was to warn the honest tutor's better
half that her lord was approaching, and give her time to open the street
door for him.

On safely reaching home he would first of all knock his wife about a bit
and break to pieces any odd articles which might stray into his hands,
whereupon, after a little miscellaneous cursing and swearing, he would
fling himself down upon the floor, light his pipe, fall asleep and snore
like a wild hog.

Heaven only knows how it was that he did not burn his house over his
head every day.

The following morning when the children assembled in the schoolhouse and
began to kick up a most fearful din, the noble pædagogue would scramble
to his feet, shake the straw out of his hair, smooth out his moustache,
and gaze with a cannibalistic expression out of the attic window, not
recognising for a moment exactly where he was.

After convincing himself by ocular demonstration that the schoolhouse
had not taken wings unto itself and flown, but was still in the old
place, he would shamble downstairs, stick a couple of canes under his
arm, and go forth to teach.

His pupils meanwhile were engaged in frightful hand-to-hand combats with
one another. There were scratched faces and bloody noses everywhere, and
when the master entered he regularly found all the benches upset and
everybody's hands tugging at his neighbour's hair.

The moment the facial portion of Mr. Michael Kordé stumbled against the
door, the little rebels instantly disentangled themselves from one
another and attempted to reach their proper places, whence the grand
inquisitor hooked them out one by one, and thwacked the whole class in
turn with his own honourable hand.

This little commotion used generally to chase slumber somewhat from his
eyes, and when the lads had left off howling a bit, he would measure out
to each of them a big slice of catechism, or a similar amount of
Hübner's "Short questions in geography," to be repeated aloud till
learnt by heart, whilst he himself adjourned to the pot-house. From this
place of refuge he would send a message to the urchins later in the
afternoon that they might go home.

Thereupon there was a general rush for the door (just as when a herd of
swine reaches home, and every one tried to get through first) to an
accompaniment of kicks, cuffs, and the tugging and tearing of clothes.

On Sundays the lads did their best to ferret out where the Lutheran
children were playing ball. Then they all consulted together, and set
off for the same place with stout sticks in their hands and their
pockets crammed full of stones, and a battle royal forthwith would ensue
between the youths of the rival creeds. When, then, Monday morning came
round again Mr. Kordé conscientiously administered a dose of birch,
previously soaked in salt water, to each one of his pupils who appeared
in class with a swollen face or a damaged noddle.

On Sunday, moreover, he twice took them with him to church where, during
the sermon, they either caught blue-bottles under the seats, or played
at knucklebones, or (but this was only when they were particularly well
behaved) lay down on the floor of the pews and slept like Christians.

And when they grew up and became full-blown louts, their actions still
testified to the influence of the school in which they had been reared.
Whoever was the most skilful farmyard pilferer in the village, whoever
was the most thorough-paced loafer in the county, could infallibly be
regarded as an ex-pupil of Mr. Kordé's.

Whoever was regularly chucked out of the pot-house every Sunday evening,
whoever brought a broken pate home with him the oftenest, whoever spent
most of his time in the village jail, would be he, you might be quite
sure of it, who had picked up the rudiments of learning at the feet of
Mr. Kordé.

Whoever lied and perjured himself most frequently, whoever could swallow
most brandy at a gulp, whoever knocked his wife about the oftenest,
whoever turned his father and mother out of doors, whoever was most
slothful in business, whoever had the filthiest house, whoever was cruel
to his horse, whoever sat in the stocks habitually, would be he, you
might safely rely upon it, who had learnt the philosophy of life in the
school of Mr. Kordé.

Thus for thirty years had he spread the blessings of science in Hétfalu
and its environs.

The second instructor of the people was Thomas Bodza, a panslavist
incarnate.

He had but little mind yet much learning. He was one of those men who
remembered all he read without understanding it, a semi-savant and one
of the most dangerous specimens of that dangerous class. Of him, I shall
have occasion to speak presently.

       *       *       *       *       *

One day Mr. Kordé had drunk himself into an unusual state of fuddle.

When I say _unusual_, I mean, that as early as midnight he did not know
whether he was boy or girl, and took the starry firmament for a
bass-viol.

He had made a little excursion with his friend the magistrate, Mr.
Martin Csicseri, to a little tavern in the outlying vineyards to taste
the new vintages, and there the two gentlemen got so drunk that they
would have found it difficult to explain in what language they were
conversing.

Finally they set off homewards, leaning heavily for support on each
other's shoulders. His honour, Mr. Csicseri suddenly caught sight of a
broad ditch by the roadside. He swore by heaven and earth that it was a
nicely quilted bed, and there and then laid himself down in it and fell
asleep.

For some time Mr. Kordé kept on pulling and tugging at him to get him
out, first by an arm and then by a leg. However, so far from giving his
friend any encouragement, Mr. Csicseri only rebuked his wife for putting
such a low pillow beneath his head, and then, without pursuing the
subject further, went off as sound asleep as a humming top.

So the cantor found himself all alone in a strange world.

In front of him lay the high road, and the village was only three
hundred yards further on; but wine is a bad compass in a man's noddle,
and never points north in the same direction two minutes together.

He resolved, therefore, to return to the inn among the vineyards. Acting
straightway upon this noble resolve, he stumbled along totally unknown
paths up hill and down dale; plunged through field after field of Indian
corn; pursued his endless way through hemp grounds and fallow lands;
scrambled on all fours through hedges and ditches, and finally forced
his way through a vast morass in which he wallowed freely. In a sober
condition he would have come to grief twenty times over, but Fate always
protects the toper.

Then he strayed into a vast forest; zig-zagged through fens and coppices
like an old dog-wolf; tore himself almost to ribbons among the sloe and
blackberry bushes, and emerged at last at a ramshackle forest-keeper's
hut, the door of which stood wide open.

By this time he bore not the slightest resemblance to man or beast.

In the courtyard a big, shaggy, lazy mastiff was shambling about, who,
on perceiving a strange unknown four-legged animal (Mr. Kordé had ceased
for a time to belong to the category: man) thus approaching him, sidled
up to him with incomparable phlegm, and began sniffing at him all round.

Mr. Kordé forthwith collared the neck of the huge dog and began kissing
him all over. "Dear friend, faithful old comrade," he cried, "what a
long time it is since last we met! What! don't you recognise your old
schoolfellow?"--whereupon the big dog in his extreme bewilderment sat
down beside the ex-cantor on his haunches and was so astonished that he
forgot to bark.

At this Mr. Kordé was completely overcome. Once more he warmly pressed
the head of his so unexpectedly recovered friend to his bosom, and then
shambled along with him into the courtyard. He pathetically complained
to him on the way that he had been chucked out of his employment and was
now a fugitive on the face of the earth, whereupon he fell to weeping
bitterly and dried his tears with the mastiff's bushy tail.

The poor dog was so utterly taken aback that it could not recover from
its astonishment. Once or twice it showed its white teeth and growled at
the stranger, but it did not venture to hurt him. No doubt it thought
that this strange animal might perhaps be able to bite better than
itself.

Thus the two quadrupeds strolled comfortably together right into the
courtyard. The dog stopped before his three-cornered kennel which Mr.
Kordé interpreted as an invitation on the part of his respectful host
for him to go in first, and, accepting the offer in the spirit of true
courtesy, and with the deepest emotion, he squeezed himself into the
narrow dog-kennel, while the dispossessed bow-wow squatted down at the
entrance of his house with the utmost astonishment, unable
satisfactorily to explain to himself by what right this strange wild
beast usurped his ancestral holding.

Mr. Kordé, however, soon began to snore inside there so terrifically
that the scared dog ran out into the middle of the courtyard and fell
a-barking with all his might and main, as if he had been offered pitch
for supper instead of meat.

As to what followed, it is extremely doubtful whether Mr. Kordé saw it
all with his own eyes, or whether it was the dream of a drunken brain
impressed so vividly on his memory by his imagination that subsequently
he fancied it to be true.

       *       *       *       *       *

The moon had gone down and there was a great commotion in the courtyard
surrounding the forester's hut.

A lamp had been lit in the shelter of a shed, and a group of men was
standing round it--pale, sinister figures, putting their heads closely
together and listening attentively to a lean, lanky man in a cassock,
who was reading a letter to them.

The reader was short-sighted, and as he spelt out the letter he put his
face so near it as to quite cover his features.

"What the deuce is all this about?" thought Mr. Kordé to himself as he
peeped through the crevices of the dog's dwelling-place, "what is my
colleague, the myoptic schoolmaster doing here, and why is he burying
his nose in that bit of paper?"

     "I hasten to inform you," so read the man in the cassock, "that
     the hostile armies are already on the confines of the kingdom.
     What the object of the enemy is you know right well. He is coming
     to ravage the realm, wipe out the landed gentry, and divide their
     estates among the peasantry. What then shall we do? Our peasants
     are wrath with us for we have treated them very badly, and you,
     sir, in particular, have no cause to trust them. When you had
     your house built, as you well remember, you made your serfs work
     three weeks running for nothing. When you were a young man you
     ruined the domestic happiness of many a married peasant; you
     appropriated the communal lands to your own uses; you never
     bestowed a thought upon the parish church; once you gave the
     priest a good cudgelling; you kept a poor fellow in jail for four
     or five years and beat and shamefully treated him. When a poor
     man wanted to build him a house, you never gave him clay to make
     bricks with, nor rushes for the thatching of his roof. When lots
     of planks were rotting away in a corner of your courtyard, and
     two poor young fellows stole just enough of them to make a coffin
     for their father, you tied the pair of them up tight in the
     burning sun and beat their naked bodies with thorny sticks; one
     of them died a week afterwards of sun-stroke. On one occasion you
     injured the thigh of a neat-herd on your estate and he is a
     cripple to this day. When your sheep died of the murrain you hung
     up their hides to dry--in the schoolhouse. If all these things
     should now recur to the minds of your tenants, you will have, I
     fancy, rather a bad time of it. But the rest of us are in the
     same boat. We never gave a thought to the education of our
     people. They grew up, they grew old, and all they have ever
     learnt to know of life is its wretchedness; not one of them
     therefore has any reason to love us now. What can we do if it
     comes to an open collision with them? Five hundred thousand
     gentry against twenty times as many peasants! Why not one of our
     heads would remain for long in the place where God placed it. We
     must defend ourselves with the weapons of desperation. It is too
     late now to try and entice the common folk over to our side, as
     some of our set want to do who are now distributing no end of
     wine and corn among their underlings, building sick-houses for
     them, and putting the priests up to preaching sobriety to them,
     and the fear of God and due respect for the squire and his
     family. It is too late now for all that I say. We should only
     raise suspicions. We must summon Death to our assistance. In
     order to keep the people down by terror, therefore, we have
     resolved, in a secret conference, to establish cordons in the
     various counties and send patrols of soldiers in every direction
     to search and examine everybody passing to and fro. In this way
     we shall prevent the people from going from one village to
     another in large bodies, in fact we must keep them down in every
     possible way. I, therefore, send you by the bearer of this
     letter, on whom I can thoroughly rely, a box of powder which you
     are to scatter about in the barns, the fields, the pastures where
     the cattle feed, and especially in the wells from which the
     herdsmen draw water. The county authorities will take care that
     where this simple method does not do its work, the parish doctor
     shall compel the peasants to take this powder by force. At the
     same time we mean to make a great fuss, and spread the rumour
     that the plague is spreading from the neighbouring states, and
     will be mortal to many. You, meanwhile, will enclose a large plot
     of land on your estates, and make a churchyard of it. You may
     safely make the peasants a present thereof, as it will be mostly
     filled by them. Take out, by the way, the tongues of all the
     church-bells, that the number of the dead may not cause any
     commotion. You might also have prayers said in the church to
     avert the calamity, and at the same time scatter the powder
     broadcast. A separate cemetery must be dug lest the plague spread
     among the gentry. In this way we shall kill two birds with one
     stone: in the first place the peasantry will be sensibly
     diminished, and, taking the whole thing as a Divine visitation,
     will not have the spirit to rise up; and in the second place, the
     enemy hearing that the plague has broken out among us will fear
     to pitch his camp here lest it fare with him as it fared with
     King Sennacherib, who lost his whole army in a single night, as
     the Bible testifies.

     "Believe me, my dear brother-in-law,
         "Always affectionately yours,
             "AMBROSE LIGETI."

"The letter is addressed to the noble Benjamin Hétfalusy."

"Horrible, horrible!" cried two or three of the men, while the rest
remained speechless with amazement.

"Softly, my friends!" said the rector soothingly. "We must do nothing
hastily. So much is certain, however: they have designs upon our lives,
and would wipe us clean out."

"Not a doubt of it, else why should they be so friendly towards us? Why
should they distribute among us such a lot of food? We have never yet
asked an alms from our masters, and hitherto they have snatched the
food from our very mouths. If they caress us now it is because they fear
us."

"Yes, they would destroy us. The other day they gave me a glass of
brandy to drink at the tavern. I saw at once that it was not the usual
sort of stuff, and, to make certain, I dipped a bit of bread in it and
threw it to a dog, and he would not eat it."

"And why do the parsons preach so much about the scourge of God, the
pestilence? Why we have never had a better promise of harvest than now.
How do they know when Death will come? Only God can know beforehand whom
He will destroy and whom He will keep alive."

"Suspend your judgments, my good friends," resumed the rector, with an
affectation of benevolence, "you can see that the hand of God is over us
all. He can work great wonders, and it is not impossible that these
wonders will come. You can perceive from the signs of Heaven that great
changes are about to come on the earth. On Good Friday a bloody rain
fell near the hill of Mádi; not long ago a flaming sword was visible in
the sky three nights running; everywhere about curious big fungi have
shot up from the ground, which turn red or green immediately they are
broken. Earth and sky seem to feel that the hand of God is about to
press heavily upon us."

("Deuce take this instructor of the people for befooling them so!"
thought Mr. Kordé in his dog-kennel.)

"Did you notice, my brothers, how the rats roamed all about the roads
in broad daylight a fortnight ago, how they scuttled away from our
landlords' granaries, and set out for another village, and how they
stiffened and died in heaps on the way?"

"There you are!" shouted one wiseacre, "the corn in the granary was
poisoned!"

("Plague take thee, thou clodpole!" growled the cantor in his
hiding-place; "it was the rats that were poisoned, not the corn.")

"And we borrowed of that very corn a fortnight ago to last us till
harvest time."

"Then now we'll pay them back with interest!" bellowed one of the
rustics, fiercely flourishing a pitchfork.

("I'll swear that's one of my pupils, he is so pugnacious," thought the
cantor to himself.)

"And I have already eaten bread made of that very corn, God help me!"
cried another; "it is as blue as a toadstool when you break it in two."

("Lout! Tares and other rubbish were mixed up with it, and that made it
look blue!")

"And after I had eaten it I felt like to bursting."

("Naturally, for your wife did not bake it sufficiently, and you stuffed
it into your greedy jaws while it was still hot.")

"Yes, not a doubt of it, we have all been poisoned, we have eaten of
Death."

"My friends, allow me to put in a word," said the benign rector. "You
know that I have always desired your welfare; but look now! this mortal
danger has appeared in other districts also, possibly it may be a Divine
visitation. There are villages in which two or three deaths have
occurred in every house, there are other places in which whole families
down to the very last poor member thereof have followed one another to
the grave. I know of a man who a short time ago had nine sons, now he
has nine corpses with him in the house."

"The gentry have killed them also I'll be bound."

"It is so! What would God want with so many dead men?"

"Have patience for a moment, my friends. I don't want to defend the
gentry, but I would not condemn anyone unjustly. If there be any truth
in this fearful accusation, it will see the light of day sooner or
later, and then the arm of God will not be straitened."

"Thanks for nothing, by that time the whole lot of us will be under the
sod."

"Produce the fellow who brought this letter!"

Two stalwart rustics thereupon brought forward upon their shoulders a
young fellow, bound and pinioned like a trapped wolf, and put him down
in the midst of the mob.

"This is the bird who was carrying about the message of death!" cried
the rebels, surrounding the poor wretch. And then one pulled his hair,
and another tugged at his ears, and a third tweaked his nose, and
everyone of them was delighted to have found a fresh object on which to
wreak their furious cruelty.

And all the time the fellow ground his teeth together and said nothing.

It was poor Mekipiros. It was his mauled and bruised shape, his
half-bestial face that they were torturing and tormenting. There is no
sight more terrible than that of a tortured beast that cannot speak.

One of those who had brought him thither was the headsman's apprentice.

This fellow whispered some words in the ear of the rector, and then
placed himself behind the back of the fettered monster. His face assumed
an expression of cold pitilessness, he bit his lips as if he wanted
blood, and screwed up his eyes.

"Harken now, my dear son!" said the rector in a gentle voice; "don't
fancy we want to do you any harm, for of course how can you help what is
written in this letter; but if you want to escape scot free, answer
truly and without compulsion to the questions that I am about to put to
you."

The headsman's 'prentice with twitching features gazed fixedly at the
interrogated wretch.

"Who gave you this letter?" asked the rector.

Mekipiros sat there tied with cords so as to be almost bent double with
his head between his knees, and did not seem to be aware that he was
spoken to.

"Do you hear?" whispered the headsman's apprentice hoarsely, at the same
time giving him a vicious pinch.

The monster set up a howl, which lasted only for an instant, then he
was silent again, and his face did not change.

"Is it not true now, my dear son, that a gentleman gave you this
letter?" asked the rector, giving the question another turn.

Mekipiros made no reply.

"I'll make you speak!" yelled his chief persecutor with gnashing teeth,
and seizing his head between his muscular fists he shook it violently
backwards and forwards. "I'll bring you to reason!"

The monster kept on howling so long as his hair was being tugged; his
eyes vanished completely, his head seemed to have grown broader than it
was long; but when they let his head go again he only grinned derisively
and said nothing.

"My son, bethink you that we do not want to do you any harm if you
confess everything, but, on the other hand, we shall have to chastise
you unmercifully, as you well deserve, if you stubbornly remain
silent--who gave you this letter?"

"Speak, you wretched dog! What were you told to say? Who gave you this
letter?" hissed the headsman's apprentice in his ear.

"You gave it to me!" cried the wretch defiantly.

"Scoundrel!" thundered the other furiously, at the same time giving the
prisoner a kick; "so you want to palm it off upon me, eh? Hie, there!--a
rope!" The fellow's face was as white as the wall, perhaps with fear,
perhaps with anger. The rector also grew pale for a moment.

"Yes, you put it into my hand and told me that I was to----"

"Hold your tongue, you wretched creature! Here we have a peasant cub
just as ragged as anyone of us, and yet he takes it upon himself to ruin
his own kith and kin; I caught him in the act of sprinkling a white
powder in a well, and the water of that well is still bubbling and
boiling from the virulence of the poison, and yet, as you see, he has
the face to deny it all."

"It was you who put the powder in my pocket."

"Very good, I suppose you'll say next that I put this purse of gold in
your pocket also? You are surprised, eh? You had better say you got it
from me, we shall all believe you, of course. Naturally I have sacks and
sacks of gold under my bed. The executioner pays his 'prentices with
gold, of course, of course."

"You accursed villain!" cried an old peasant, "let him have the rope!
String him up and let him swing!"

"No, my friends, we must not kill him, we have need of him, he must live
because he knows so much."

"Then let him out with it."

"Oh, he will talk presently," said the headsman's 'prentice, and folding
his arms he stood right in front of the defenceless wretch. "My lad,"
said he, "you know, don't you, that I have been the headsman's assistant
these six years? You know, don't you, that I am accustomed to torture
and kill man and beast in cold blood? You know the sort of smile with
which I am wont to reply to the agonised despair of my victim, and the
memory of it ought to make your brain freeze in your skull. Very well!
Let me tell you that I am prepared to practice upon you all the
refinements of my infernal handiwork if you do not say all I want you
to?"

"I know nothing."

"Nothing?"

"I have forgotten all you taught me."

"You lying serpent! Do you mean to say, then, that I taught you
anything? You can see, all of you, that this ripe gallows-tree blossom
is determined at any cost to saddle me with his sins. I'll refreshen
your memory for you," murmured the headsman's assistant, grinding his
teeth. "Carry him over yonder under that plank. You must put out the
lamp, for perchance anyone who caught sight of his face might feel sorry
for him. Lay him on that block. Where is the rope? A bucket of water
here in case he faints..."

From that moment the cantor saw nothing for the darkness, but all the
more horrible, therefore, were the pictures which his imagination
painted for him as it laid hold of the fragments of words and sounds
which reached him at intervals from the outhouse.

The cold-blooded murmuring of the headsman's assistant.

The inquisitorial procedure of the rector.

The frantic cursing of the bystanders.

And from time to time a despairing howl uttered by the tortured monster,
a howl which set the terrified dog a-barking, and made him scratch up
the ground beneath the gate in order to make his escape.

The cantor began to shiver as with ague.

"The horrible beast won't confess," he heard a couple of furious voices
say quite close to him.

"Don't howl like that, but answer my questions," hissed the rector,
evidently losing patience.

"The wretched creature tires me out," grunted the executioner. "He bites
his lips and smiles right in my face when his very bones are cracking."

"Speak the truth, and you shall be free. We will let you go."

"He's still laughing at me."

Then for some time could be heard a great bustle and clatter in the shed
out yonder. There were sounds of hasty, yet cold-blooded preparations
for completing something which ought to have been finished long before.
There was a sound of running to and fro, of panting and puffing and
straining.

And all this time the monster kept on laughing defiantly, though now and
then he set up an unearthly howl, and then the whole assembly cursed him
for an obstinate gallows-bird.

"Red-hot irons here!" yelled at last a voice of malignant fury, and
immediately three of the boors set off running towards the stable. A few
minutes later the cantor saw them hastening back to the shed, carrying
flaming red objects, which scattered a long trail of sparks behind
them.

"Will you confess?" sounded from within.

The monster yelled in the most ghastly manner, and then could be heard a
savage gurgling sound For a few seconds the people inside the shed were
silent, and then they could be heard whispering to each other with
mingled surprise and amazement: "If the cub has not bitten his own
tongue out!"

The cantor took advantage of the general consternation to crawl forth
from his hiding-place in the darkness, slipped out through the hole
scratched by the dog beneath the gate, and then set off running like one
who runs down a steep mountain-side; he ran with his eyes fast closed,
and early next morning he was found huddled up on the threshold of his
own house in a state of collapse.

When he came to himself he sent for some worthy men of his acquaintance
whom he could trust, and told them privately what he had seen,
frequently hiding his face during his narration, as if to shut out the
spectacle of the monster's bloody face.

But his acquaintances, after listening to his tale, only shook their
heads, and remarked to one another, what a horrible thing it is when a
man is so fond of wine that it takes more than three days to make him
get sober again.

It occurred to nobody that there might be some truth in the matter after
all. It was not the first time that Mr. Kordé had had visions of
copper-nosed owls and other horrors.

"As if a man could believe everything that Mr. Kordé said!"



CHAPTER VII.

A MAN OF IRON.


General Vértessy had for many years been the commandant of a military
station in Hungary. After such a long time as that, men get to be
acquainted with one another, and the soldier comes to be regarded as
quite a member of the family. The townsfolk, too, begin to speak of him
as a member of the upper classes; no great entertainment is considered
complete without him, and the ordinary civilian exchanges greetings with
him as a man and a brother in all places of public resort. The county
makes him a magistrate on account of his numerous distinguished
services; he receives the freedom of the city for the same reason; and,
finally, the only daughter of a most distinguished patrician family,
impressed by the gallant soldier's noble qualities, consents to become
his wife; and thus the general, as citizen and magistrate, as husband
and landlord, becomes rooted by the strongest ties to the soil which it
is his duty as a soldier to defend.

His acquaintances in general have the greatest confidence in him; his
tenants allude to him gratefully, for he deals mercifully with them; the
citizens regard him with respectful astonishment when, on the outbreak
of a fire, he orders out his soldiers, and is himself the first to
clamber to the top of the burning roof, distributing his commands in the
midst of danger as if his life was worth no more than the life of any
broken-down, invalided old soldier; the school children rejoice at the
sight of him, for he is always sure to be in his place on the occasion
of any public examination, to distribute sixpences and shillings to
those scholars who give the best answers, and exhort them to hold up
their heads and stand upright like good little men! When then, after
this, they meet him in the street, the little fellows throw back their
heads and stick out their chests so that it does you good to look at
them. For the General dearly loves children. Very frequently they break
his windows with their tops and balls, but he never scolds them for it,
and always gives them back their playthings. "They are but children, let
them play!" says he.

In society, too, he is a most agreeable, amusing man, polite and
chivalrous towards ladies, and at public entertainments he distinguishes
himself by his neat little speeches, which are always good-natured, very
much to the point, and seasoned with attic salt of a piquant but not too
pungent quality. He is merciful to the absurdities of his
fellow-citizens; it is no business of his to impress them with any
affectation of soldierly gravity or stiffness; and if at first sight
his stern, clean-shaven face--the regulation countenance of soldiers of
those days--keeps a timid stranger somewhat at a distance, he has only
to open his mouth, and his beautifully pure Magyar accent and intonation
prove to demonstration that, soldier as he is, he has remained a true
son of his fatherland--and all hearts open to him at once.

But all this ceases at the gate of the barracks. Within the barrack
courtyard there is an end to all friendship, kinsmanship, _camaraderie_,
and patronage. He is no longer either a county magistrate or an honorary
citizen. He has done with all those qualities which make up a man's
social amiability. Here Vértessy is only a soldier, a rigorous,
inexorable commandant, who never overlooks a blunder, and never leaves a
fault unpunished.

As regards the good school children, you could give them no better
encouragement than to say to them: "The General is coming and will pat
you on the shoulder!" but there was nothing so terrible to the bad
school children as to be threatened with the General if they did not
learn their lessons. "You'll be sent to the General, and he will tap you
from the shoulder to the heel and make another man of you in
double-quick time," people used to say to them.

At any rate, so much is certain: the most stubborn, pig-headed louts,
whom no school would keep at any price, when sent, despite the tears and
protests of their fond mothers, to the General's establishment, used to
return from thence in a couple of years or so as if transformed. They
had become orderly, methodical, manly fellows, courteous, tractable, and
as spick and span as if they had just been taken out of a band-box. As
to what exactly happened to them during their manipulation in this same
military band-box not one of them was ever known to allude in a boastful
spirit; but the lay mind had a very strong suspicion that not much time
was wasted inside the barracks in fine talking.

Moreover, the General used to have guilty soldiers tied up and well
whipped without first stopping to inquire who their fathers might be.
With him punishment was meted out with no regard for persons. It was the
uniform, not the man who happened to be inside it, that he regarded.
When his soldiers were drawn up in line he was quite blind to the fact
that this man perhaps was the son of his old crony, or that man was the
son of a county magistrate--sergeants, corporals, ensigns, and privates,
these were the only distinctions he ever made. And if anybody tried to
distinguish himself by appearing on parade in a dirty jacket, he had it
well dusted for him there and then in a way the individual concerned was
not likely to forget in a hurry.

Nor did the General ever allow anybody, no matter whom, to be exempted
from service. The dear little gentlemen-cadets had to pace up and down
when on guard, with seven-pound muskets across their shoulders, just
like anybody else, though the hearts of their distinguished mammas
almost broke at the sight, when they drove over in their fine coaches
to see their darlings. Malingerers, again, had a fearful time of it with
him. Such young gentlemen never wanted to go to the hospital more than
once. Their distinguished mammas would scurry off to the General full of
despair, and explain to him with tears in their eyes that this or that
young exquisite lay mortally sick in the hospital, would he allow them
to take their poor darlings home, or at least let them come to the
hospital to nurse the invalids there, or send them nice tempting dishes
from home, or tell the family doctor to call? No, nothing of the sort.
The General used to receive them buttoned up to the chin, and nothing on
earth could move him. The proper place for the fellow was the
barrack-hospital, he would say, there he would receive proper treatment
like any other of His Majesty's soldiers; the regimental surgeons had
quite sufficient science to cure him. And it regularly happened that
after a four or five days' course of a platter of coarse barley pottage,
and half an ounce of plain black commissariat bread, the young gentleman
was so completely cured of every bodily ailment that he had never the
faintest wish ever afterwards to divert himself in the hospital, but
preferred instead to attend to his daily duties.

Nor could his officers boast that he showed them any special indulgence.
It was really terrible how he contrived to fill up their time all day
long: instruction, regimental practice, writing, calculation, technical
studies filled up every hour of the day. The smoking-rooms of the cafés
and the civic promenades very rarely saw Vértessy's officers gathered
together there. The officers had to know everything which the General
asked them about, and were often obliged to work out for themselves,
with the aid of their mother wit, the details of their extremely laconic
instructions. Everyone knew, too, that he could not endure the slightest
suspicion of cowardice; if an officer were insulted, he was obliged to
fight in defence of his honour, or the regiment was made too hot to hold
him. If, on the other hand, the townsmen got to know anything of the
details of these duels, he would punish severely all the officers
concerned in the affair, for he placed boastfulness on the same level as
cowardice. Such severity had this good effect however, that the soldiers
tried to live amicably with the townsmen as they knew very well that it
would be impossible to keep dark a duel with any of the black-coated
gentry, such an event was certain to be an object of common gossip in
all four quarters of the town within twenty-four hours.

It was also a recognised fact throughout the length and breadth of the
kingdom that the officers of Vértessy's regiment were all well
instructed, orderly, serious men, and that this result was due entirely
to the initiative of "the iron man," for this was the name most usually
and very naturally applied to him.

And his face, figure, and expression, corresponded with the name. He
was of a tall, straight, well-knit-together habit of body, with broad
shoulders and a well-rounded chest. His head seemed almost too small for
his extraordinary developed body, especially as the chestnut-brown hair
was clipped quite short. His face was of a deep red, and shaved to the
chin, but a pair of small well kept semicircular whiskers helped to give
it character. His nose was straight, his mouth small; his eyes were grey
and piercing. And everything on this face: nose, mouth, eyes, down to
the smallest feature, seemed one and all to be under the most rigorous
military discipline, not one of them was suffered to move without the
General's command. When once his features are under orders to be coldly
severe, the lips may not give expression to joy, the eyes may not be
clouded with sorrow, the eyebrows may not contract with rage, or lead
anyone to suspect, by so much as a twitch or a jerk, that anything in
the world outside has the slightest influence upon the business he may
happen to have on hand.

We may add that the General did not acquire this honourable title in
times of peace. Formerly, beneath the walls of Dresden, when he was a
lieutenant scarcely five-and-twenty years old, he had earned it by
holding a position on the battle-field as stubbornly as if he had really
been made of cast iron, whereby a totally defeated army corps was saved
from the annihilating pursuit of the triumphant foe. Even the enemy's
general had inquired on this occasion: "Who is that man of iron who
will neither break nor bend?" That, then, was how he had won the epithet
"iron."

Subsequently the nickname was applied in jest or flattery; you could
take it as spite, fear, or homage, according to the manner in which it
was pronounced, naturally always behind the General's back, for it went
very hard indeed with the man who ventured to pick a quarrel with him,
and still harder, if possible, with anybody who tried to flatter him.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the ante-chamber of "the iron man" stood an orderly with a big sealed
dispatch in his hand, a tall grenadier-sort of warrior, with two stiffly
twisted moustachios, the pointed ends of which projected like a couple
of fixed bayonets. A deep scar furrowed each of his red cheeks from end
to end, a living testimony to the fact that this warrior was no mere
sucking soldier. His chin was planted firmly on his stiff cravat and
half hidden by the broad loop of his shako. His jacket was as white as
chalk, and his buttons shone as if they were fresh from the shop. On his
bosom gleamed gloriously the large copper medal of which the veterans of
former days used to be so proud. The warrior was standing motionless
behind the door, with the big sealed dispatch in his bosom; not a muscle
of him moves, his heels are pressed close together at attention, his
eyes now and then glance furtively from side to side, but his neck does
not stir the least little bit.

The oblique motion of his eyes, however, is explicable by the fact that
a trim little wench, a nursery-maid from some village hard by, with a
round radiant face, with her hair trailing down her back in ribboned
pigtails, is rummaging about the room as if she had no end of work to do
there, casting furtive sheep's eyes from time to time at the upright
soldier, and looking as if she would very much like to say to him: "Oh!
how frightened I am of you!"

"Why don't you sit down, Mr. Soldier?" she says at last; "don't you see
that chair there? And here have I been dusting it so nicely for you."

"A pretty thing for an orderly to sit down in the General's
ante-chamber," replies the defender of his country. "Short irons would
be very soon ready for me, I can tell you."

"Then why are you here at all?"

"That is not for your ears, my little sister."

"You are looking for the General, eh? Well, he is inside that room there
along with my lady, his wife--why don't you go in?"

"You've a nice idea of manners, I must say! What! an orderly to make his
way into the room of the General's lady!"

"Then give the letter here and I'll take it in for you."

"Now, my little sister, that's quite enough! What! deliver a letter into
the hands of anybody but the person to whom it is addressed!"

"Do you know how to write, Mr. Orderly?"

"What a question! Ask me another! Why, if I could write I should have
become a sergeant long ago."

"Why don't you take off that shako? It's pretty heavy, ain't it?"

"Now, my little wench, that's quite enough! Right about turn, quick
march! They are calling you in the kitchen."

The nursery-maid scuttled off. The veteran was getting quite angry at
all these simple questions.

In no very long time, however, the neat little wench came sidling back
again. First she poked her head through the kitchen door as if she
wanted to find out whether the big soldier there would bite off her
nose--which was a little snub, and small enough already.

"Mr. Orderly, the cook has sent you three hearth cakes."

"Good."

"Take them then." This she said, still keeping at a safe distance, and
thrusting forward the nice lard-made hearth cakes as if she were
offering them to some snappy, snarling watch-dog at the end of a long
chain.

"I can't," answered the gallant defender of his country sturdily.

"Ain't you got hands, then?"

"No, not for them. But if you like you can tuck them into my
cartridge-box behind there."

"What, in there?" inquired snub-nose amazedly. "But ain't there
gunpowder inside?"

"Shove 'em in, they won't hurt it."

"Won't it explode?"

"Not unless a spark from your eyes catches it."

The nursery-maid timidly lifted the brightly-polished lid of the
cartridge-box, peeping half up at the soldier to see if he meant to
frighten her, and at the same time gazing curiously at the many funny
round little things in the cartridge-box, at which she pretended to be
desperately afraid.

The gallant soldier was in duty bound not to move his hand, but he so
far relaxed as to allow the tips of two of his fingers to crook
downwards and give the plump round arm of the wench a good tweak.

"Be off with you, I'm afraid you're a bad man after all, Mr. Soldier!"

"I fancy I am too, otherwise I suppose there would not have been so much
of me--little and good you know!"

"Do you know why the cook sent you those cakes?"

"That I may eat them instead of you, I suppose."

"Go along, you naughty man! You do say such naughty things! No, she sent
them that you might tell her when the next public whipping will take
place."

"Does the cook want to see it then? A nice pastime, I must say. You
don't want to see it too, do you?"

"No, not I."

"You ought to see it. It is just the thing for wenches. There are
always as many ladies present on such occasions as if it was
play-acting."

"Oh, I should like to see it then, the sooner the better. Will there be
another soon? That's for the General to decide, isn't it? If I were a
General I would order a flogging every morning, and make the band play
every evening."

"That would be very nice. Come hither, and I will whisper it."

"Truly?" inquired the wench, half turning her head round. "But don't
shout in my ear!"

When she had got near enough to the soldier for him to be able to
whisper in her ear, he suddenly planted a smacking kiss on her red
cheek.

In her terror the wench gave a bound back to the kitchen door, but there
she remained standing, and rubbed her face vigorously with her blue
apron.

"Yes, you are indeed a bad man, Mr. Orderly. And still you have not yet
told me when the next whipping will be."

"Don't fret, my little sister. The spectacle will be better than you
think. There will be a shooting-to-death shortly."

"A shooting-to-death! Oh! that _will_ be nice! And who is going to be
shot?"

"A soldier, my little sister."

"And you'll have to shoot him, perhaps, eh?"

"It is quite possible, my little sister."

"Oh, Mr. Soldier, that's too bad!"

The snub-nosed wench made haste to quit a room in which stood a man
heartless enough to shoot down his living fellow-man, and outside in
the kitchen she had a long discussion with the cook about it, and they
came to the conclusion that it must be a very fine entertainment to see
a man shot right through the head. First there would be the getting up
early, for such spectacles generally take place at dawn, and it would
never do to sleep away such an opportunity as that, especially as it was
just as likely as not that the poor devil would be placed in the pillory
first. What could he have been doing? But suppose they were to pardon
him? Oh, no! no chance of that, for the General never pardons anybody;
even if it were his own son he would not pardon him if he were found
guilty, for he was "the iron man."

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, inside there, "the iron man" is sitting in his wife's room on
a small embroidered armless chair. Opposite to him on a large elevated
divan lies his wife, a tiny, elegant, transparent little lady, with a
face of alabaster, and wee wee hands which a child of two would not have
known what to do with if they had been doled out to her. Her small
strawberry-like mouth scarcely seemed to have been made for talking
purposes; all the more eloquent, on the other hand, were her large
dark-blue eyes, which were saying at that moment that those who can love
are very, very happy.

The iron man was sitting in front of her with his elbows planted on his
knees and both his hands stretched forwards. Extended on these two
hands of his was a skein of thread, which the elegant little woman was
winding with great rapidity.

He need only have stretched his arms a wee bit more to burst the whole
skein to pieces, but he has learnt to watch very carefully lest the
thread gets entangled, and he laughs heartily every time he moves his
hands clumsily, at the same time begging pardon and promising to do
better in future.

"My darling, I have an old sword--it served me well in the French
war--do you think it would be of any use to you?"

The little lady laughed, and how charmingly she could laugh; it sounded
like the bells of a glass harmonica striking against each other.

"I understand the allusion. If you can use the owner of the sword for
unwinding thread, you might use his sword instead of scissors."

"I mean what I say."

"That doesn't matter a bit, you must wait till the skein is unwound."

"Naturally that is as it should be, of course. Nor would I suffer
anybody else to take my place. To hold a skein of thread requires great
strength of mind, not every man is up to it. A giddy head would very
soon give way beneath the task. It is a science in itself. Besides, I
swore before the parson I would take you 'for better or worse.' You see
how I keep my word. Look there now! The thread has tied itself into a
knot again. Now, if one of your parlour-maids had been holding it, you
would have been angry with her, but as my darling little wife it is not
lawful for you to be angry. Do you hear me? It is not lawful for you to
be angry with me, I say."

The little lady undid the knot again, and her husband tenderly kissed
the little intervening hand as it drew nearer; the little lady affected
not to have observed this, but she knew it well enough.

"Look now, my darling! it is you who have taught me to consider myself
an extraordinary fine fellow. Formerly, when people used to say: General
Vértessy is such and such a man, I only used to hold my tongue and think
to myself: Talk away! talk away! _I_ happen to know that Vértessy is as
timid as a child, there is one thing he is as much in dread of as any
schoolgirl, and that is--unravelling a skein of thread. When I was a
little chap I twice ran away from home to avoid this very thing. And now
my dear little spouse has made it quite clear to me that General
Vértessy is _not_ afraid of it after all. Honour to whom honour is due!
General Vértessy is a brave man."

"Naturally; why the thirteenth labour of Hercules brought him more fame
than all the rest--don't you remember how he held the skeins of Madame
Omphale?"

"That was the greatest of his heroic exploits, certainly. You ladies
cannot imagine what tyranny you practice upon the masculine gender when
you constrain them to this terrible servitude. To wear chains is a mere
jest, but when you bind a man with a skein of thread, a mere gossamer,
in fact, and then tell him he must not break it asunder, that is cruelty
indeed! Why don't the English invent a machine for this sort of hard
labour? They rack their brains about steamboats, about woman's rights,
and the emancipation of the negro; but as to _these_ fetters, these..."

"Come, come, attend to your skein!"

And indeed those dangerous fetters, as the General called them, were
themselves in great danger, for the General in his ardour had made a
slight gesture which had almost ripped them asunder.

"I'll take it away from you if you don't behave yourself properly. Fancy
making such lamentations over a little skein-unravelling!"

"Oh, I am not speaking of myself. I am used to all sorts of hardships. I
pity more particularly those poor innocent children who come to groan
under this unnatural yoke. Just picture to yourself, my dear, one such
innocent eight or nine years old, a little lad whose blood bubbles over
like champagne, who sees the sun shining through the windows, who hears
the boisterous mirth of his comrades outside as they play at ball, and
would give anything to run away himself and romp and wrestle and turn
somersaults; fancy such a one obliged to remain shut up in a room,
fettered by a string of thread or cotton, and made to move his hands up
and down just as if he were some stupid machine; fancy him fidgeting
first on one leg and then on another, and waiting, waiting for the end
of the interminable skein! I wonder they don't become utter blockheads
beneath the strain. I wonder their teachers don't forbid it. If I had a
child he should not be allowed to hold a skein. No son of mine, I tell
you, should ever become a mere skein-unwinding machine..."

And it seemed somehow more than a jest, for the gallant soldier now
suddenly forgot all about the skein entrusted to him, and with tender
emotion pressed his blushing little wife to his bosom.

The little lady with infinite patience slowly disentangled the chaotic
labyrinth of threads again, and then exclaimed with a deep sigh:

"Life and death lie between..."

They both knew the meaning of the allusion.

Then the uninterrupted labour proceeded again. The iron man was now
completely silent, but one could observe from the unconsciously radiant
expression of his face that his mind was occupied by some very pleasing
thought, and in the delightful contemplation thereof he had no longer
any idea that he was holding a skein of thread.

Presently, however, he said:

"Let us begin another!"

He must certainly have found it a very agreeable pastime to say that.

It was this time a skein of silk that the little lady wanted to have
unwound. This was a still higher symbol of tenderness. Not in vain does
the folksong sing of the captive of love being bound with silken
chains.

"But, my dear, when I was a little boy, and had to hold skeins, my
sisters, by way of compensation, used to tell me tales."

"With all my heart."

"Fire away, then: once upon a time...!"

"Once upon a time there was a girl who always wanted to die."

"Ah! I scarcely bargained for that."

"She was constantly pale, and took it for a compliment when people said
to her that she was as white as death."

"She must have eaten lots of raw coffee and chalk, I'll be bound."

"Don't interrupt, I want to tell a tale, not circulate scandal."

"I am all attention."

"Sometimes she carried her bizarre ideas so far as to appear at dances
in a white dress trimmed with black, and with a myrtle wreath on her
head, just as the dead are wont to be arrayed for the tomb. By way of a
breast-pin she used to wear a small skeleton's head carved out of
mother-o'-pearl, and she boasted that her gloves had been taken out of
the coffin of a deceased friend."

"Shall I be very unfeeling if I allow myself to smile?"

"Pray do nothing of the kind, or you'll be very sorry in a moment."

"Ah, ha! I know a man who fell in love with this girl."

"All the more reason to be serious."

"And subsequently that man got the better of his passion altogether."

"Do not be too sure."

"Too sure! Why, I have been studying the whole case these four years."

"As defendant?"

"Defendant, indeed! I wanted to make that girl my wife. Oh! you were
quite a little thing then, a wee wee little lass, scarcely so big as my
finger. You were learning to dance in those days and had not yet
appeared upon the scene."

"And you deserted that girl on the eve of the wedding!"

"I had reasons for doing so, of which nobody, I fancy, is aware."

"They said at the time that you found out that Benjamin Hétfalusy, the
girl's father, was over head and ears in debt, and that you withdrew for
that reason."

"I did not take the trouble to contradict the rumour, it was so like
General Vértessy to marry for money."

"And the Hétfalusy family became of course your bitterest enemies ever
afterwards?"

"They have insulted, but they cannot wound me."

"And you forgave them for it?"

"I never troubled my head about them."

"Say that you forgive them."

"I don't want to flatter myself. I simply forgot them."

"Very well, now let us go on with our story. This poor family has had
many heavy visitations of late."

Vértessy's face grew very grave.

"My dear, I am afraid your skein of silk will break asunder on my arms
if you go on with such stories. Don't speak to me of the calamities of
the Hétfalusy family. I am not at all interested in the happiness of
these people, and if they are wretched I don't want to hear anything
about it. They seem to have always been bent upon tempting Fate, so that
it is not surprising if Fate at last has turned upon them. But I don't
want to know anything about it. I am not good enough to grieve with them
in their misfortunes, and I am not bad enough to rejoice in their
misery. Leave the subject alone, my dear Cornelia."

Cornelia put down the little ball of silk, relieved her husband's arms
of the skein, and then sitting beside him on a little stool, kept on
stroking him with her tiny hands until she had quite smoothed out all
the angry wrinkles on his face, and he had brightened up again and
declared, like a good little boy, that he was not a bit put out and
would listen to the story again.

"Poor Leonora! her married life was very unhappy."

"But she got what she wanted."

"It seems to me that you know more of my story than I do myself."

"I only know the happy part of it. Was not her husband her youthful
ideal?"

"You amaze me. Whenever we used to meet subsequently, she was always
full of lamentations, and described herself as very unhappy. To my mind
she only took Széphalmi out of bravado, because you deserted her."

"My dear, after that I must whisper in your ear something which only one
other soul in the world but myself knows anything about. I am sure _you_
will not say anything about it, because you are good, and that other
person will be silent because she is afraid to speak. That pale lady who
was so fond of thinking of death, who went to a ball in a myrtle wreath
and a white dress with a black fringe, used to have assignations in the
dilapidated hut of an old village granny with a youth who was no other
than Széphalmi, her present husband. The affair was kept so secret that
nobody knew anything about it. The old hag, why I know not, confided the
secret to me on the very day when I arrived at Hétfalu Castle in
readiness for the wedding. It was as I have said. My pale moonbeam, when
everybody was asleep in the castle, used to put on a peasant girl's
garb, wrap her head in a flowered kerchief, and glide all alone, along
the garden paths, to the old woman's hut at the end of the village,
where the youth, disguised as a shepherd, was waiting for her. Oh! this
intimacy was of long standing. I heard them talking to each other. In my
first mad paroxysm of rage, I was for rushing out and killing the pair
of them on the spot; but gradually I recovered my senses, and I asked
myself whether it was not more shameful for me, a soldier, to have
pried upon a woman than for that woman to have deceived me. Besides,
what was there to be done if she loved another? She ought not, of
course, to have promised me her hand--a hand without a heart _must_
bring dishonour with it. I said nothing to anybody. I went back to the
castle, and the next day I had an interview with the girl's father, and
made pecuniary demands upon him, which, in view of the shattered state
of his finances, I knew it was impossible for him to comply with. We
split upon that very point. There was no marriage. The guests separated.
The world laughed. I was cried down as a money-grubber, and for a long
time I was in such bad odour, that I'll wager anything that if I had
sued for the hand of any respectable girl her relations would have shown
me the door in double-quick time. My darling little Cornelia certainly
displayed great strength of mind to accept a man who was notorious for
having jilted his bride."

"And you had to endure a whole heap of persecutions in consequence."

"Yes, a great many. The Hétfalusys had powerful kinsfolk who did their
utmost to make life intolerable to me. A nephew of Benjamin's, who was
an officer in the guards, insulted me publicly in the street. The most
damaging insinuations were made against me in high places. All my
measures were openly and freely criticized. They sought to embroil me
with the county authorities. I was persecuted by high and low. I
defended myself and held my tongue. I fought duels, I had an answer for
everyone. I suffered in silence--but I never betrayed that lady's
secret. Keep what I have told you in the depths of your heart, my
darling, as I have done hitherto."

Cornelia kissed her husband's high open forehead.

"Yet poor Leonora had her punishment too," said she; "he whom she longed
after so much when once she possessed him made her wretched. Széphalmi
was unfaithful to her."

"My dear Cornelia, you cannot have love without respect. Széphalmi only
married his wife because her desperation drove him to do so. I have
often heard people say that Leonora used to dance at parties as if she
wished to kill herself, and would drink quantities of iced water when
she was in a most heated condition. It was no longer a pretence with
her. What scenes took place at home between her mother and herself it
was no business of mine to pry into; but this I know right well that the
girl one day went straight to Széphalmi and threatened him there and
then with something terrible if he did not marry her. I will not tell
you, Leonora's former friend, the nature of this threat; it would revolt
your pure mind too much, for a heart like yours could form no idea of
it; but it is certain that it was fear rather than love which induced
Széphalmi to lead her to the altar. I know, however, that the marriage
was not unblessed; they have two children."

"They had."

"What! are they dead then?"

"A terrible destiny seems to oppress the whole family. The little girl,
her father's darling, disappeared one day without leaving a trace behind
her, and the other child was struck dead by lightning while the mother
was watching by its sick bed; the mother was killed at the same time."

The General was deeply affected by these words. The heart of the iron
man trembled.

"Merciful God...!"

"Old Hétfalusy had a stroke when the dreadful tidings reached him."

"No, _no_! He did _not_ deserve so much suffering. Fate has been more
rigorous towards him than he deserved."

"And as if this were not enough--you knew Hétfalusy's son who became a
soldier?"

"I knew him. He was a hot-blooded youth, warfare might have made a good
soldier of him."

"Well, he quarrelled with his captain in Poland and fired a pistol at
him."

"A misfortune, a great misfortune," said the General, pressing his fists
so tightly together that if there had been anything inside them it would
have been crushed to pieces.

"After this deed the youth fled."

"That is worse still," murmured the General, and he pressed his iron
fists still more violently together.

"And if I am not mistaken, this is the third time that he has run
away."

There were now two beads of sweat on the General's forehead; he would
have wiped it dry with his hand, but he could not, for his fists were
firmly clenched, and it never occurred to him to open them.

"My dear Cornelia," said he, "if you know where this young man now is, I
implore you to tell me nothing about it. You know that I ought not to
hear it."

"You very soon will know all about it; the unhappy youth appeared in his
father's house on the very day when his sister and her son lay in their
coffins."

"Then he has been arrested," cried the General quickly.

"What makes you think that?"

"Because his own father would be the first person to deliver him up."

Cornelia regarded her husband with amazement.

"Is it not so, I say?" he cried passionately, springing from his seat
"Hétfalusy has given up his fugitive son, I'll swear he has, even if I
had not been told it beforehand."

"So indeed it is," said Cornelia sadly.

"And how came you to know it before it has been officially reported to
me?"

"My uncle is a magistrate there, and he told me. He came from thence in
his carriage, while the prisoner was being brought along on foot."

"They are bringing him hither--hither to me," groaned the General
impatiently and turning pale. "They will hand him over to me, and I
shall have to pronounce judgment upon him."

How he feared, how he shuddered at the thought!

"You could not have told me a worse tale," resumed the General, turning
to his wife, and supporting her tender little head against his bosom.
"That is a sad, a very sad story."

"But the end has yet to come."

"Yes, and the saddest part of it is that the end of it is in my hands."

"And to my mind it could not be in better hands."

"How can you say that? Is not every member of the Hétfalusy family my
personal enemy? If I could forget everything else, must I not remember
that they have insulted you? Why, this very young windbag actually
insulted you, you my wife, at a public assembly, and now Fate has cast
him at my feet, him the last scion of the family, and I must be his
judge and pronounce sentence of death upon him! The whole world will
believe that I have gladly taken advantage of this grievous opportunity
of revenging myself in the most bloody, the most exemplary manner upon
my enemies! They will fancy that I condemn the son of my bitterest enemy
to the gallows because I am thirsting for his blood. And you say it is
well that it should be so!"

"I said it and I will stick to it. I am quite confident that you will
save him."

"_I_ save him?" cried the General, opening wide his blue eyes with
amazement; "it is impossible."

"I believe that General Vértessy, that rigorous, inflexible man, whom
his admirers and his detractors alike called 'the man of iron,' who has
never relaxed the rule of discipline to favour friend or kinsman, will
do everything in his power to make an exception for once in his life,
and save the son of his enemy from the rigour of the law. Oh! I know
this gentleman right well, I am confident that so he will act."

"It is impossible, impossible; if he were my own brother I would not
save him in his unfortunate position."

"A brother you could not save, I'll allow; but this youth--oh, yes! I am
persuaded that you will not be satisfied till you have devised some
method of saving this unfortunate youth."

And in saying this, she knew right well how to read the very depths of
the heart and mind of the man of iron.

The General impatiently quitted his wife's room, but the moment he had
crossed its threshold, there was not a trace of impatience to be seen on
his face.

The orderly was still standing in the ante-chamber and, turning on his
heels in the direction of the General, presented to him the sealed
dispatch which he had thrust into his bosom.

It was the official report of the arrest of the deserter.

The General made a sign to the soldier that he might depart.

Then the General returned to the room he had quitted, spread out the
document in front of him, sat down over it, supported his head in his
hands, and for a long, long time struggled with oppressive and wearying
thoughts.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE POLISH WOMAN.


"Who is at home here?" inquired a strong sonorous voice at the door of
the headsman's dwelling, and immediately afterwards a shape huddled up
in a grey mantle passed through the kitchen door.

By the hearth were sitting Ivan and the woman of the house, it was a
dark tempestuous night outside; it might have been about ten o'clock and
every door was closed.

The youth and the woman gazed stupidly at the stranger and said nothing.

"Who is at home here?" repeated he, drawing nearer to the fire, in whose
flickering light his smooth handsome young face seemed transparent with
its sharply defined eyebrows, soft but masterful lips and courageous
eagle eyes which gazed fixedly before them.

The youth and the woman exchanged glances. Instead of answering, Ivan
fell to questioning:

"How could anyone possibly enter here?"

"I leaped over the fence," replied the stranger, sitting down beside the
fire without the least ceremony. "The door was bolted and barred;
twice, thrice did I knock, but nobody opened to me. I was forced to get
in somehow."

"How about the dog?" inquired the woman of the house much perplexed.

"I didn't mind him. I know how to talk to dogs. It is a way I have.
There's a plaguey bad tempest roaring outside, the rain is falling in
torrents. I could not wait outside any longer."

"But what do you want here?" inquired the woman, looking into the face
of the stranger with some timidity.

"That is just what I am going to tell you, my dear! But first give me a
glass of water, for I am perishing with thirst."

The woman was involuntarily constrained to obey without more ado.

"And you, my friend, spread out my mantle before the fire!" said the
stranger turning towards Ivan, and stripping from his neck and shoulders
the heavy mantle which was dripping with rain.

The youth and the woman incontinently obeyed his commands as if they
were under a spell.

The mantle was removed, the slim, muscular figure of the stranger was
clearly visible, it seemed too soft for a man's. His hands as they
grasped the beaker seemed white and delicate.

"That is certainly a woman," murmured the headsman's wife to Ivan,
staring suspiciously at the stranger from beneath her thick contracted
bushy eyebrows. Then approaching him and looking him full in the face
she said: "My Dovey! It seems to me that you are in no good way. Whom do
you seek?"

"The master," replied the stranger curtly, resting his elbows on the
hearth.

"Possibly you may suppose this house to be an inn because it lies at the
extreme end of the town?"

"I think nothing of the sort, my pretty mistress. I know that here
dwells Master Zudár, the worthy ferry-master."

"Ferry-master?"

"Yes, ferry-master! Does he not transport men from this world to the
next?"

"How come you to know the master?"

"I have never seen him, yet I know him well for all that. It is not
possible to speak to him now because he is a-praying. He prays regularly
for a whole hour at a time, and then it is not well then to disturb him.
That is why you two are crouching in the kitchen here. You, my pretty
mistress, are Master Zudár's wife, and this young man is his 'prentice.
I know you very well also."

"But who are you yourself then? Speak! What do you want?" asked the
woman much puzzled.

"I shall tell that to the master himself, inside there, when he has
quite finished his devotions. It is his habit every night, before he
lies down, to fire off his gun, then I will approach him. Meanwhile sit
down beside me! Look ye, this bench can very well hold the pair of us,
let us have a little talk together."

The stranger thereupon doffed his little round furred cap and his long
black trussed-up locks fell in curling ringlets about his shoulders.

"'Tis a woman, a woman indeed!" whispered Ivan and the dame of the house
to each other.

The latter now approached the enigmatical shape a little more boldly,
and sitting down beside him, opened a conversation with him.

"What, pray, is your business with my husband?"

"Come, come, my dear creature! You have no right to put such questions
to me. You ought rather to ask me whether I am hungry and would like
some supper. You would not have to ask me that twice I can assure you."

The woman, at this hint, arose sullenly and took from a wainscot
cupboard a plate of hearth cakes which she set before the stranger.

"I suppose, sir, you don't mind eating off the headsman's platter?" said
she.

"Stuff! What if I am of the same profession!"

"Oh, of course! I can see that from those soft white little hands of
yours which are not such as the hands of a man ought to be."

But the words were scarce out of her mouth when the virago uttered a
loud scream, for the little white paws she had just tapped suddenly
pressed her huge fleshy palm so vigorously that every bone in it
cracked.

"Satan take him!--'tis a man, not a doubt of it!" whispered the woman to
Ivan. "He has a hand like an iron vice."

The stranger had an excellent appetite. There was absolutely nothing at
the bottom of the platter when he had finished eating.

"Pardon!" cried he at last, "perhaps I ought not to have gobbled up
everything. Perchance this was set aside for someone who does not happen
to be at home just now."

"Oh, don't be uneasy on that score, we have all had our suppers."

"But this is not the whole family I suppose? Have you no children?"

"Yes," replied the woman, and as she spoke she durst not lift her eyes
to the stranger's face. "I have a daughter."

"Really your own child?"

The woman looked hesitatingly at the stranger, twice she attempted to
speak and twice the words seemed to stick in her throat.

"Yes, my own child," she said at last.

"And have you no other 'prentice but this one, Dame Zudár?"

"No, why should I?"

"And are you two able to carry on the business?--for I suppose there are
all sorts of things to be done?"

"Good heart alive! The less you say about the headsman's trade the
better."

"But why should I not talk about it? It is a regular profession, is it
not, like any other? And just as respectable too, eh? Nay, it is more
profitable than most trades, because there is less of competition in
it. Now, as for me, I have a perfect passion for it. Why, the only
reason why I am here is to come to some arrangement with Master Zudár. I
want to buy of him, my pretty dame, the business which you loathe so
much."

The headsman's wife regarded the stranger with eyes full of doubt and
astonishment.

"You are a very young man for the business," said she suspiciously.

"Oh, as for that, my dear, pray don't imagine that I am going to put up
with all the disagreeables of the profession for the fun of the thing. I
mean to have lots of help I can tell you. I shall live in town and
frequent the best taverns and coffee houses. I shall live like a
gentleman and nobody will know who I am. I shall only appear on the
scene officially when an execution worthy of my skill awaits me--a nice
beheading or something of that sort, you know. Oh! I shall have a fine
time of it I can tell you."

Dame Zudár felt a shudder run all down her back. She durst not look
again at the stranger.

"It is a pity you have not more than one 'prentice now. It looks as if
you had very much neglected the business. I am annoyed at that. It will
be difficult to give it a fresh start. Had you not more than one
apprentice a little time ago?"

"Yes, there used to be another," stammered Dame Zudár involuntarily.

"Then why did you pack him off?" inquired the unknown, picking from the
fire with his delicate index-finger a burning ember, tossing it lightly
on to his soft palm, and thence chucking it adroitly into the bowl of
his little pipe.

The woman and Ivan exchanged a look as if deliberating together what
answer they should give, and then the woman hastily replied:

"He went away of his own accord; the business is a pretty one, but he
got disgusted with it."

"Oh--ho! what a rum 'un the fellow must have been. And has he a better
time of it now?"

"I don't know," replied the virago defiantly. "It is not my business to
find out what has become of my discharged apprentices. He got sick of
this trade and took to another--that is the whole thing."

"You are quite right, my pretty dame, not everyone is fit for this
business. A man must have a natural liking for it. I, for instance,
would never take as an apprentice a man who had not spent some time in a
dungeon, or cooled his heels in jail two or three times running in five
or six years, for all the others are for ever wishing themselves back in
polite society, and want to live in town. And then, too, they are always
sighing and groaning and trying to make out that they are too good for
the business. I don't like such people myself. Those who are likely to
excel in this business show their teeth betimes. Those children who put
out the eyes of birds, nail bats to barn doors, and love to shoot at
little dogs, those are the sort of fellows from which apt pupils can be
trained."

"That is quite true. Why you, yourself, must be the son of a headsman,
or else you would not know all the conditions of the trade so well."

"You've hit it, that is just what I am. My father was an executioner and
my grandfather before him, the business has steadily descended from
father to son."

"Where do you live then?"

"In Poland. Rochow is where my father dwells. You must have guessed
already from my accent that I was a Pole."

"Yes, and from your face too."

"My brother and I divided our heritage between us. He got the Rochow
business and paid me out in cash that I might set up for myself
elsewhere. I heard that the executioner of Hétfalu was getting sick of
his office, for of course he is not growing younger, is he? Come, now!
you silly little thing, you must not be angry with me for saying that!
You know very well that your husband _is_ an old man, and there are lots
of old men who have pretty young wives. There is no great harm in that.
I only asked you whether he _was_ old, because in that case he would be
more likely to seek for repose."

"Yes, young sir, my husband loathes the business with all his soul."

"But there's a great deal of fun in it too, if only you look at it
properly. I have often gone to Lemberg togged up like a swell, with a
fine jewelled pin in my scarf, a gold chain and a little whalebone stick
in my hand. I have turned the heads of two or three fine ladies and
insinuated myself into the best society--and what a joke it was when
they found out who I really was. How pale they all went, and how their
hair stood on end. Ha, ha, ha!"

"But didn't they make you pay for it afterwards?"

"Well, once I was called out by a young cadet. Officers of higher rank
thought it beneath their dignity to fight with me, the utmost they did
was to pitch me out of the window. The lad who challenged me was a
Hungarian, and I promised to appear at the rendezvous. I am afraid,
however, that he waited for me a very long time. I like to shed blood,
but only when I run no risk myself."

All three laughed heartily at this witticism.

"But listen to the sequel of my story. My father has an amiable whim of
his own--he always prefers to have deserters from the army as his
assistants. He is well aware that men of that kidney have practically
renounced the world. Now who do you think rushed into his house one
evening all ragged and travel-stained? Why the very soldier-youngster
who had wanted to fight a duel with me! To avenge his sweetheart he had
shot his captain and had to make a bolt of it."

The woman and Ivan involuntarily looked at each other with terror.

"You may imagine how I laughed the poor youth out of countenance when I
recognised him. Every time I met him I used to say to him: 'Well, what
do you say to our fighting our duel now?' He could not stand such
heckling long. On the third day he skedaddled, and I don't know what
became of the poor fellow. I have little doubt, however, that since then
he has been shot dead."

"If they have not done it yet it won't be very long before they do,"
observed Ivan.

"Hush!"--hissed the woman with a warning gesture.

The unknown did not seem, however, to have noticed this little piece of
by-play.

At that moment the report of a gun was heard from the headsman's window.
At night he used regularly to discharge his firearms and load them again
immediately afterwards. He was afraid that someone might have got at
them in the course of the day and either extracted the bullets or damped
the powder. He did not feel himself safe in his own house, and always
locked the door of his room before he lay down to sleep.

"Now you will be able to have a talk with him if you like," said the
virago. "The girl will come down presently, as usual, to fetch him his
water for the night, you can let her know that you are here and want to
speak to him."

Shortly afterwards the door opened and, with a lighted taper in one hand
and a ewer in the other, the moon-pale little maid entered the room. She
came very quietly, as if afraid of making the slightest noise. Her
beautiful blonde locks had been unloosed, for it was bedtime, and
strayed freely over her smooth snow-white shoulders, her tiny bare feet
seemed to kiss rather than touch the ground.

The stranger gazed at the gentle creature with rapt delight. She did not
appear to notice him in the semi-darkness, as she glided past him
through the vestibule on her way to the well.

"Is that your own child, my fair dame?" asked the unknown, flashing his
eagle eyes full upon the woman.

"Yes, my own child!"

"How fair she is, and how pale!"

The woman laughed.

"While I am so brown and ruddy, eh?"

And again she laughed aloud.

The face of the unknown blushed deeply. One could have sworn it was a
woman. It was the blush of shame that covered his face.

In a few moments the child returned with the filled ewer in her hands.

"Come hither, my little girl!" said the stranger, in a tender,
affectionate voice.

The child started violently.

"Don't be alarmed!" growled the virago. "Don't you hear that this
gentleman wants to speak to you? Are you afraid he will bite your nose
off?"

And with these words she seized the child's hand roughly and pushed her
towards the stranger.

The stranger softly patted the child's little head.

"Don't be afraid of me, my little girl! You have no reason to fear me.
What is your name?"

"Betsey!" replied the virago.

"Ah, why Betsey? Such a coarse, common name for such a tender child! I
would call her Elise, that is far prettier. Besides, the two names mean
one and the same thing."

"Nay, nay, you will spoil the child, sir. As if she was not spoilt
enough by her father already. Peasant folks call their daughters Betsey
or Polly; Elise and Lisetta are the names of gentlefolks' children. You
must not listen to such nonsense, child; but go and tell your father
that there is a gentleman here from Poland who wants to speak to him
immediately before he lies down."

The child timidly withdrew her little hand from the stranger's, who
seemed very disinclined to let it go, and hastened to her father's room.

The stranger thereupon tidied up his clothing, smoothed back his hair on
both sides of his forehead, thereby giving to his features a gentle
amiable expression, and softly tapped at the headsman's door.

"Come in!" resounded a deep melancholy voice from within.

The unknown youth entered and carefully closed the door behind him.

The moment he was well within the room, the smile of frivolous
braggadocio he had lately assumed entirely disappeared from his face;
the defiantly thrown back head bent meekly down; a look of devout
inspiration was visible on the thin lips and in the veiled eyes; the
whole figure of the man seemed to have grown smaller, the shoulders
contracted, the breast receded; he had now the air of a gracious and
benignant missionary.

And a benignant missionary indeed it was who now stood face to face with
the headsman.

The herculean figure of the headsman arose slowly and tremulously, and
while his hand with furtive anxiety sought the hand of the little girl,
he asked the stranger in a scarcely audible voice what he required of
him. Perchance the latter did not catch what he said, he spoke so low.

"Peace and blessing be upon this house!" said the unknown in a voice
full of tender unction.

"Amen, amen!" the headsman hastened to reply.

"Heaven's blessing descend upon thy heart, my son!" said the youth to
the old man raising his hand in blessing.

"He is a pastor, a priest," said the headsman to himself, "he has all
the appearance of it."

Peter Zudár stooped down towards the youth's hand and kissed it. He
durst not touch it with his own hand but with his lips only.

"A priest in _my_ house, forsooth! My child! take the gentleman by the
hand and lead him to the arm-chair, make him sit down! Thy hands are
clean, they may touch him. Oh! a man of God in _my_ house! I never dared
to hope so much."

"I come from afar," said the unknown youth, sitting down in the
arm-chair provided for him, while the old executioner stood before him
bare-headed, with his large muscular arms folded across his bosom. The
little girl wound her hands round his arm and stood beside him.

"I come from afar, I say. I do not belong to your nation, though I
understand your language well enough to be able to converse in it
intelligibly. In olden times the Apostles of our Holy Faith received
direct from Heaven the gift of tongues, we, their unworthy successors,
must, with great labour and weariness, acquire the languages of those to
whom we have to preach the Gospel. I am the member of an English
religious society whose mission it is to seek out those who are
suffering, in whatever rank of life they may be, and endeavour to
administer to them, so far as we are able, those divine consolations
which God so freely distributes to the broken-hearted. We have our
special missionaries for every section of humanity, and we send them
forth continually to minister to their sufferings, and bring them peace
and healing. Some of us are sent to the palaces of the mighty, others to
the hovels of the poor. For everyone on earth has his own particular
sorrow, and everyone finds his own sorrow very hard to bear. Some of us
have chosen the dungeons and jails as our spheres of consolation, others
prefer to comfort the secret woes of family life, others again visit the
needy masses of the work-people. To me has been assigned the task of
ministering to those terrors of evil doers, the public executioners."

At these words the youth looked steadily at the face of the man, who was
standing there before him, with downcast eyes and quivering lips.

"For the last nine years I have been going about in this strange world
of mine," continued the youth. "I have learnt something of the deepest
wounds and of the sublimest woe. All the suffering in this department of
sorrow is very much alike. Some can hide their wounds better than
others--that is the sole difference. There are amongst these headsmen
cold impenetrable natures, hearts closed against the world, whom it is
very difficult to get at. And then again there are devil-may-care,
extravagant, passionate dispositions who fancy they can find oblivion in
wine, excitement, and other external delights. And then, too, there are
defiant, haughty souls, who mock and jeer at those things which ordinary
people are afraid of--but at the bottom of all their hearts it is the
same worm that is ever gnaw-gnawing. Some of them die young, others grow
grey, and have a late old age before them. And it is the selfsame worm
which kills the one and will not let the other die. I have known among
them men who, drink as they would, could never get drunk. I have known
others who loathed the sight of wine and yet have been haunted by
phantoms in broad daylight. The evil was always one and the same. Yes,
and the mercy of God is always one and the same likewise."

"God's mercy is indeed over all!" stammered the headsman.

"And if this endless mercy did not cover the earth what could defend all
living beings from judgment? If the Lord were one day to proclaim: 'Let
Justice prevail in the world instead of Mercy!' must not we all be
instantly consumed by the divine vengeance? The Lord does not look at
the outward appearance of men but at their hearts. He judges him who
charitably distributes alms at the church door to make up for the secret
sins that he has carefully concealed at the bottom of his heart, and
raises once more the broken-hearted sinner who has fallen beneath the
stress of temptation."

The headsman slowly sank down upon his knees before the chair of the
unknown, and rested his folded arms against it.

"What are we after all? Impotent tools in the hands of all creative
Power. Greater in the eyes of God is humble weakness than haughty
strength; dearer to Him is the repentant sinner than the man who boasts
of his virtues. All that is power is His gift, and His gift must needs
return to Him again. Strength will turn to dust, merit will become but
as an empty sound, God's mercy alone will endure for ever. Heaven is
always open to him who seeks it."

The youth tenderly stroked the old man's hands whilst he tried,
tremulously, to draw them away.

"Oh, sir, touch not my hands!"

The youth seized one of the executioner's hands by force and drew it
towards him, looking as he did so, now at the old man's hand and now at
his face. Then with his delicate index-finger he pointed at the
headsman's forehead.

"I see here a whole network of wrinkles," said he, "and this cross of
ill-omen here betokens the anguish of a heavy heart. Thy hand trembles
in mine because it feels upon it spots of innocent blood."

"True, true!" groaned the strong man, hiding his face in his hands.

"Thou hast executed a death sentence upon a man whose innocence shortly
afterwards became as clear as noonday."

"So it is. You can read right into my heart. It is even as you say."

"This thought haunts thy mind continually and the mark of it is on thy
forehead."

And at that moment could be plainly seen on the old man's forehead the
deep cruciform mark of the intersecting furrows.

The youth laid his fresh cold hand on the man's forehead.

"Who can tell why the Lord hath ordered it so? Who can tell whether the
blindly executed convict did not deserve his punishment after all? Who
knows whether he was not worse at heart than he who actually committed
the bloody deed? What if he wished his father's death, and therefore was
guiltier than he who carried out that wish? A wise monarch in the East
once hung up twelve robbers by the roadside, and placed watchers there
at night to guard the bodies. While the watchers slept, the comrades of
the robbers cut down the body of their leader and made off with it. The
awakened watchers, full of the fear of punishment, hung up a wayfaring
peasant in the place of the missing body. An innocent man!--And behold
when they searched the baggage of the peasant's mule they found the
bloody limbs of a freshly murdered traveller! 'Twas the judgment of God.
But suppose that the youth whom thou didst execute was really innocent?
Who shall dare to say, even then, that Heaven distributes death by way
of punishment? What if it were sent as a favour, as a reward?--Once, in
the olden times, a God-fearing couple prayed Heaven to bestow its
greatest reward upon their twin sons for their filial piety, and next
morning they were found dead.--Who knows from what calamity Heaven may
have saved him by dealing him that blow? Might he not have grown base
and vile had he been spared? Might he not have been plunged in misery
and ruin? Might he not have become a murderer or a suicide? Might he not
ultimately have come to die on the selfsame scaffold, aye, and deserved
it too? Only He is able to answer all these questions before Whom the
future lies clear and open. We can only see through a glass darkly; we
do not even know when we ought to laugh or when we ought to weep."

The youth removed his hand from the old man's forehead, and, lo! that
ugly wrinkle had been smoothed away, and the headsman could raise aloft
eyes full of comfort, and folding his hands across his huge heaving
breast, he began to stammer softly:

"Our Father...!"

When he had pronounced the "Amen!" the unknown youth raised him
tenderly from his knees, and the pale little girl embraced the old man's
arm and leaned her head against it.

"Hast thou not always had about thee here Heaven's messenger of mercy?"
said the youth, pointing to the fair child. "Has not Heaven sent her to
thee without any effort or foreknowledge on thy part, so that even to
this day thou canst not tell from whence she came?"

The man tapped his bosom:

"Sir," said he, "read into my heart. You know everything."

The stranger thereupon turned to the little girl and addressed her in a
gentle tone which instantly inspired confidence.

"My good little child, go downstairs and tell them to put my horse,
which I have left standing outside the gate, under cover, lest it be
drenched by the storm."

"I myself will lead it to the stable and give it food and water."

"Thank you, my little girl."

Little Elise sought for something in the wardrobe, and, concealing it in
her apron, went out.

The stranger looked after her till she had closed the door behind her. A
solemn silence then prevailed in the room, the youth looked at the old
man in silence as if he expected him to speak.

In a short time Peter Zudár approached the door and opened it--in the
kitchen all was now dark.

"They are asleep now," he muttered, partly speaking to himself, partly
addressing his words to the stranger. "The woman has gone to rest, the
lad is with the horses, the child will remain in the kitchen, she has
something to do there I know. This, my good sir, is the time for us to
talk. Outside there is nought but storm and darkness, I cannot let you
go further on your way while it is like this."

It was only after much persuasion that the old man consented to sit down
beside the youth and began to speak.

"I am an old man, sir, my hoary hair speaks the truth. I have gone
through a great deal. My father also was an executioner, and my
grandfather before him. I inherited 'the business' so to speak. In my
younger years I was wild and frivolous. I loved racket, wine, and
boisterous mirth. A sort of heavy indescribable load oppressed my heart
continually, a sort of blinding darkness enveloped me which I would
gladly have chased away had I only known how. This heavy mental
oppression, this black weariness tortured me more and more, according as
my sad reminiscences multiplied with my advancing years, and I drank
more and more wine, and plunged all the more recklessly into vile
debauchery in order that I might not hear all round me those faint sighs
and moans which troubled and terrified me most when there was not a
sound in my room, and I was all alone. My acquaintances used to laugh at
me because I sat all alone drinking silently till far into the night,
just as they used to laugh at me afterwards for sitting by myself and
singing hymns."

The fellow sighed deeply and was silent for a time, as if he were trying
to gather up again the threads of his scattering thoughts.

"You may perhaps have noticed a woman outside there. That is my wife. I
married because I fancied that I should thereby find rest for my soul. I
imagined how happy I should be if I were to have a child. I should then
have something to knit me to life, to the world again. No, I said to
myself, he shall not inherit the curse of my abhorred existence. I will
choose for him a career in which he will be happy, honoured, and
respected. I will provide him with a comfortable maintenance and have
him educated far from me and my house. I will make a worthy, honest,
sensible man of him. For two years I comforted myself with such visions
and was happy. My mind shook off its horrors and became bright and
cheerful. And then--then I began drinking heavily again. Evil memories
commenced assailing me worse than ever, and my fair hopes abandoned
me--for life and death, sir, are both lodged in a woman's heart, and
some find the one and some the other. Once more I was visited by that
midnight sighing, by that speechless moaning, by those voices that
terrified my solitude and pursued me sleeping and waking, and I began to
drink and run riot again once more."

The man hid his drooping head in his hands. Even now those dreadful
memories weighed him down when he thought upon them.

"Suddenly I began to be deaf. A continuous humming sounded in my ears
which kept me in a perpetual whirl. I did not understand a single word
unless I looked at the lips of the speaker. I never noticed anyone
coming into my room until I suddenly caught sight of him. Oh! deafness
is indeed a horrible torture. The deaf man is far more completely shut
off from the world than the blind. At first I hid my wretchedness lest
they should make sport of me. Nobody is merciful to the deaf. Whenever
two people talked to each other in my presence I fancied they were
plotting against me. I feared to go to sleep lest I should be murdered
without hearing my door burst open. And then, too, in the night, in the
darkness, in my lonely deafness, I had an ear all the keener for those
sighs and moans which nobody could hear but myself. And in vain I drank,
in vain I sang riotously. After every bumper of wine it seemed to me as
if I was plunged more and more deeply into a roaring bottomless sea, and
at last I could not even hear my own howling. Then my soul died away
within me, I cast myself despairingly on my bed, and then for the first
time in my life it occurred to me to pray. The only thing I could think
of to say was: 'My God! my God!' as I wrung my hands, and the tears ran
down my cheeks."

And at these words tears stood once more in the headsman's eyes.

"That night I slept quietly, nothing disturbed me. Thus I slumbered for
many hours like one dead, and was only awakened at last by a feeling of
moisture all over my face. I had been lying face downwards, and a rush
of blood had come through my nose and mouth and wetted my couch. I
arose, douched my face in a large tub of water, and felt that my head
was very much relieved. I no longer heard that roaring sound as of a
deep sea rolling over me; there was no more whispering and moaning
around me; but, instead of that, I heard through the deep stillness of
the night the crying of a child. The crying of a child in my own house!
I fancied it was but a dream-voice--for was I not deaf?--and that
instead of a pursuing, the voice of an enticing spectre was now sounding
in my ear. But again the crying of a child penetrated to me from the
room where my wife usually slept. What could it be? I walked thither,
and lo! I could hear the soft pattering of my own footsteps. I must walk
more softly, thought I. And I did walk more softly, and then I also
heard distinctly the light cracking of the boards beneath my feet. And
through it all the weeping of that child sounded continuously. The door
was only closed by a bolt. I slipped it softly aside so that not a sound
should be heard. Softly I opened the door. And behold! on the table in
the middle of the room was a tiny babe. The night-lamp flung a
flickering flame across its face, it could not have been more than a
couple of months old. It was wrapped up in fine swaddling clothes, a
tiny embroidered chemise covered its little body, and its wee round head
was covered by a deep cap trimmed with pearls, from underneath which
welled forth tiny little ringlets like fine gold thread. Just like those
little painted angels of whom you only see the heads peeping out of the
sky."

The unknown smiled so sympathetically at the childish simile of the old
headsman.

Then Peter Zudár's face again grew clouded, he drew his chair closer to
his guest's and thus continued:

"My wife was not in the room. Her bed was empty and I could see through
the door, which she had left open behind her, that a large fire was
flickering in the kitchen. My wife was busy with something at the hearth
and with her was her mother, a sly, wicked old woman, whom all the
people hereabouts look upon as a witch. What were they doing there so
late at night I asked myself? The younger woman was holding a pan over
the fire and the elder was casting into it all sorts of herbs. There was
nothing to be afraid of, and yet they were speaking to each other in
whispers and peering timorously around. I know not how the thought
occurred to me, but I suddenly thrust into my bosom the little suckling
lying on the table and carried it off into my own room. There I laid it
down upon my bed and put into its hands again its plaything of little
bells which it had dropped, whereupon it ceased to cry. Then I returned
to watch and see what the two women would do next. The contents of the
pan were already frizzling. Now and then it boiled over into the fire
and the flames shot up all round it. Then the old woman would skim it
carefully with a spoon. And all the time they were muttering together:

"'Are you sure nobody is awake?'

"'No, everyone is asleep.'

"'How about the old Knacker?'

"'He is drunk by this time and so deaf besides that he could not even
hear the blast of a trumpet.'

"At last they finished what they were about, poured the mess into a
large dish, and the pair of them came back again into the room. And
there was I standing in the midst of it! It had the effect upon them of
a thunderbolt. The old woman let fall the dish and the young one rushed
at me like a maniac:

"'You deaf hog, you! what have you done with the child?'

"'Don't bawl so loudly, my good woman,' I said. 'I can hear you just as
well if you speak softly.'

"'What have you done with the child?'

"'Don't be uneasy about it, it is in a safe place.'

"'You old fool, you; you will bring the whole lot of us to ruin. Do you
know what you are doing?'

"'I know this much, that however you may have got hold of the child it
shall not fall into _your_ hands again. I will take it and care for it
myself, and whoever dares to come into my room after it shall have good
cause to remember that I am the public executioner!'

"And with that I went into my room and locked it behind me. The women
cursed aloud and hammered at my door, and the old witch threatened to
undo me in all sorts of ways; but I quietly and comfortably got out my
milk-warming machine and heated a mash of breadcrumbs and milk over my
spirit lamp. When it was ready I took the little child upon my lap and
fed it nicely myself. Then I made a cradle for it out of my coverlet,
which I slung upon a beam, and rocked it to sleep, and when I looked at
it in the morning it was still slumbering."

After saying these words the headsman took out of a little cabinet a
small bundle, carefully wrapped up in paper, and, unwinding it gradually
from its manifold wrappings, set out its contents before the stranger.

In the parcel was a dainty little child's smock, a pair of socks, and a
baby's cap trimmed with pearls. Everyone of these items was marked with
a red "E."

"I keep these things as souvenirs," he continued. "This crisp little
smock, this baby's bonnet embroidered with rosebuds and forget-me-nots,
are more precious to me than all the treasures of life, for to them I
owe the soothing moments which poured balm into my soul. It was by the
side of this child, sir, that I learnt to pray. Something whispered to
me that this child was sent to me from Heaven. And so it must have
been. Nobody under heaven loves me save she, and I love nobody, nothing
else in the world. I have never tried to find out who the child might
be, nay, rather I have trembled lest she might one day be discovered and
demanded back from me. But all these years nobody has inquired after
her. I fancy she must have had a bad mother whom they told she was dead,
and she was glad to hear it. Perhaps she even wished it to be killed.
Ah! sir, there are those born outside the headsman's house who ought to
end their lives on the headsman's threshold. Never for one hour's time
have I quitted that child. I taught her to walk, to talk, I prepared all
her food for her, and now she prepares mine for me. I have eaten no
cooked food which her hand has not made ready. While she was still but a
wee thing I watched by her bed while she slept, now she watches over me
while I sleep. When I go a journey she comes with me, I never leave her
behind. Only one thing troubles me when I think of her: What will become
of her when I die? what will become of her when she grows up?"

The youth tenderly pressed the old man's hand, and said to him with a
voice betraying some emotion:

"Don't be uneasy! Thou hast been a good father to the child, if thou
shouldst die I will find a good mother for her. Make a note of this name
and address: 'Maria Kamienszka, Lemberg.' Whenever thou dost write to
the above address on this subject thou shalt receive an answer with
full information. Nay, perhaps thou mayest hear sooner from that quarter
than thou desirest."

The old man kissed the youth's hand and stammered some unintelligible
words of blessing.

At that moment the door opened, and little Elise came in with two
glasses of wine-soup on a platter from the kitchen.

She placed the fragrant steaming drink on the table, spread beneath it a
snow-white diaper, and with her sweet gracious voice invited the
stranger to partake thereof, as it would warm and comfort him.

The stranger gently stroked her sweet pretty face, kissed her fair head,
and touching glasses with his host, emptied his own at one manly gulp.

"And right good it is, my little hostess! It has made quite a man of
me."

The old man needed far more pressing. The little girl had to taste it
first to put him in the humour for it. It was quite clear that this
adopted father ran a great risk of being spoiled.

Peter Zudár's face was now quite bright and cheerful.

"Ah, sir!" said he to the stranger, "I have never felt before as I feel
now. My heart feels as light as if no load had ever lain upon it. I feel
myself a man. How long will you remain with me? I hope it will be for a
long time."

"It cannot be, my worthy fellow, my vocation summons me elsewhere. By
the way, hast thou any apprentices or assistants who require spiritual
consolations?"

Peter Zudár's face grew dark at these words.

"I have only one 'prentice," said he at last, "and, sir, waste not any
words of the Lord upon him--one must not cast bread before dogs."

"Hast thou no other?"

"Not long ago this 'prentice of mine brought a stranger to my house.
Early next morning, before I could see him, he escaped through the loft
and over the fence, why or whither I know not to this day. This was not
the first case of the kind."

"Then my mission to this house is ended," said the stranger, sighing
involuntarily. "Accept from me this little Prayer Book as a souvenir; as
often as thou dost read it thou wilt find consolation. On its cover is
the name of that lady whom thou must not forget."

The old man pressed the little book to his lips and concealed it in his
coffer.

"And I, what shall I give, what can I give to you, my spiritual
benefactor, and, after God, my regenerator, as a token of my gratitude;
what can I give you, I say?"

The stranger hastily replied:

"If I might be so bold as to ask for something, give me the half of thy
treasures, the little embroidered baby's cap."

For a moment the headsman was overpowered with astonishment, then he
quickly undid once more the little bundle of clothes, drew forth, the
pearl-trimmed cap, regarded it steadily, and a tear fell from his eye
as he did so, then he kissed it, and handed it to the stranger without a
word.

"If thou dost find it so hard to part with it I will not take it."

"Nay, it will be well disposed of," whispered the old man, and he
pressed it into the hand of the youth, who thrust the little relic into
his bosom.

"And now God be with thee, and go and lie down, for it is late. As for
me, I have a long journey to make before daybreak."

The headsman would have gone with him to help him to saddle his horse,
but the stranger restrained him.

"I will arouse thy lad," said he, "I have a word for his ear."

"But the watch-dogs are vicious."

"They will do me no harm."

The stranger would not be persuaded. On reaching the kitchen he wrapped
himself in his mantle, and after inquiring whereabouts near the stables
the 'prentice usually slept, took a lighted lamp in his hand and went
forth into the courtyard.

The mastiffs when they beheld him slunk away, growling timidly and
uneasily, and only began to bark with all their throats when they found
themselves safely behind the house. Those strange eyes had the effect of
a spell on man and beast. Meanwhile the headsman could be heard singing
within his room the hymn:

    "Ere slumber fall upon mine eyes."

The youth hastened towards the night-quarters of the headsman's
'prentice. On the way thither he encountered the young woman. He pinched
her ear and tapped her on the shoulder.

"Get along with you, you naughty boy!" said she.

And then the virago sauntered back into the kitchen, leaving her guest
to go where he liked.

His quest was an easy one now. He had only to proceed in the direction
from whence the woman had come. Ivan feigned to be asleep.

"Hie! my little brother! up! up!" cried the stranger, and tugged at the
fellow's hair till he opened his eyes in terror.

"Well! what's the row? what do you want with me?"

"What do I want? I'll very soon let you know, you rascal, get up, I
say!"

Ivan made no very great haste to obey.

The stranger wasted no more words upon him but began buffeting him right
and left, till his head waggled on his shoulders.

Full of fury Ivan started up from his couch and fell upon his tormentor;
but the latter, with serpentine agility, clutched the fellow's throat
tightly with his right hand and pressed his head against the wall, while
with his left he held a large pistol in front of his nose.

"You dare to move, you rogue, that's all, and I'll spread you out over
the wall like a painted picture."

The lad was awed by the unexpected strength of that fist and the
threatening proximity of the pistol.

"But, sir, what in heaven's name have I done?" he babbled. "Who are you,
and what do you want of me?"

"Who am I, eh? I am a police-sergeant, you rascal. I am pursuing a
deserter, whom you have concealed. Come, speak, what have you done with
him?"

Ivan had already begun to recover himself a little.

"I'll tell you the truth, I will indeed, only let me go. It is true that
I enticed a deserter hither, but it was not to conceal him."

"You did not bring him hither to conceal him, eh? You lie, you dog.
Another falsehood, and I'll tie you to my horse's tail and drag you all
the way to Dukla. What did you do with him?"

"I'll tell you everything, Mr. Sergeant, I am a man of my word. It is
true that I enticed a young gentleman here, at one time I was his
lackey. Later on we became soldiers together. I was subsequently
discharged because I was growing blind. I am speaking the truth, I was
blind then. The young man had confidence in me, and one day, when he saw
me in the street at Dukla, he implored me to hide him."

"What were you doing in Galicia?"

"My master sent me to buy horses, but I could not get any fit for us. I
am speaking the truth, I assure you I am."

"Do you know why that man deserted?"

"Yes, he shot his captain because of a woman."

"Did you hear the woman's name?"

"I heard it, but I have forgotten it."

"You lie. You know it now. Come, out with it!"

"I'll say it then--Oh! my throat!--the Countess Kamienszka."

"Did you hear it from him?"

"No, it is my own idea, for he wrote her a letter while about to fly and
sent me to the post with it, that is what put them on his track, I
should think."

"That is none of your business, where is the man now? Don't lie! I shall
know if you do, and in that case I will make an end of you at once."

"He is safe enough now, Mr. Officer, I assure you. He escaped before
daybreak, but I denounced him, and he was arrested at the house of his
own father."

The stranger dashed the fellow's head furiously against the wall, then
flung him on the floor and kicked him.

"You denounced him, eh? Oh! you detestable dog!"

"But what is the matter, sir? Why do you strike me again? Surely I did
right? I had him arrested, and they locked him up. He is in the pillory
already, I daresay. What harm have I done?"

The stranger made an effort to master his passion, and, controlling his
rage, answered coldly,

"What harm have you done, you fool! Haven't you made me take all my
trouble in vain, and done me out of the promised reward to those who
ferret out and hand over deserters. You dare to meddle with my affairs
again, that's all!"

Gnashing his teeth, he kept his pistol grasped firmly in his hand; he
would very much have liked to have beaten the fellow's shaggy poll about
with the butt end of it.

"Go and saddle my horse this instant!"

Ivan was only too delighted to get clear of the narrow little room where
he was so close to this dangerous visitor's muscular fists, and went to
saddle the horse. While so employed, he could not help reflecting that
the nag was just a trifle too good to be bestridden by a secret
police-agent.

The stranger did not wait till he was ready, but hurried after him. Then
he quickly mounted his horse, and presented something to Ivan.

"Here, take that!"

The fellow dodged his head, thinking he was about to get another buffet.
Then the stranger flung a thaler at his feet.

"Take that, you dog, for your trouble. And now open the gate!"

The horse splashed the 'prentice's eyes and mouth full of mud as the
stranger galloped away.

At the sound of the rapidly retreating hoofs the headsman thought to
himself: "That was Heaven's own gracious messenger." The headsman's
young wife, however, sighed: "Ah! that _was_ a gay gentleman." But the
'prentice growled furiously: "It was old Nick himself."

And with that he picked up the thaler, wiped the mud off it, put it in
his pocket, and then turned furiously upon the watch-dog and kicked out
one of its teeth.

"Take that for not barking!" cried he.

       *       *       *       *       *

The whole house of Hétfalu was still in mourning. The doctor from town
looked in every day. There were two invalids to be seen to. Young
Széphalmi was able indeed to go about, but he was like a worm-eaten
plant, there seemed to be but little life within him. Old Hétfalusy, on
the other hand, had altogether succumbed to his woe, he had taken to his
bed, and was frequently tormented by epileptic fits.

The doctor, worthy Mr. Laurence Sarkantyús, regularly every day
deposited his round-headed bamboo cane in the doorway, rubbed his
short-cropped grey hair all over with his pocket handkerchief for a
minute or two, felt the respective pulses, wrote out prescriptions for
unguents and syrups; ordered baths, blisters, clysters, and cold
douches--and all to no purpose, as both patients seemed to dwindle away
more and more day by day. The only really doubtful point seemed to be,
which of the two would bury the other?

One day, when Dr. Sarkantyús was superintending the preparation of a hot
bath, a light chaise drove into the courtyard of the castle, from which
our unknown friend descended, dressed in a stylish black frock coat,
and shod with elegant calfskin shoes. His long hair was combed back and
smoothed down behind his ears on both sides, and he had an eyeglass
cocked knowingly in one eye. Altogether he looked very different from
what he was when we last saw him. His characteristic _sang froid_, that
peculiar rigidity of the lips, that faint furrow in the middle of the
forehead between the eyebrows, and the gravity of the somewhat languid
face, made the metamorphosis complete. A savant, a scholar of practical
experience, a cosmopolitan physician stands before us.

He inquired for Mr. Széphalmi. The servants at once announced his
arrival, and presently a broken-down, prematurely aged man appeared,
with sunken cheeks, pale withered lips, and staring eyes starting from
their sockets, and with but the ghost of their former brilliance and
expressiveness.

After the first greetings the stranger handed him a letter. Széphalmi
broke it open and read it with an apology for so doing, and all the time
his hands trembled.

The letter was from his friend, Ambrose Ligety, who informed him that
the bearer of the letter was a famous physician, who had just come from
France, and cured maladies by means of magnetism. Would he allow this
doctor to make experiments upon the old squire? He had reason to believe
that such experiments would not be thrown away.

Széphalmi sighed deeply, and conducted the stranger into the parlour
where he beckoned him to take a seat. As yet they had not exchanged a
single word professionally.

Then Széphalmi went into an adjoining chamber, where he encountered Dr.
Sarkantyús, and showed him the letter.

Dr. Sarkantyús thereupon told him that his honour, Judge Ligety, was a
big donkey, that the French doctor was a still bigger one, but that the
old gentleman would be the biggest one of all if he allowed himself to
be meddled with. Let them try it, however, by all means, if they choose,
he added.

Nevertheless, he could not help going out to have a look at this
miraculous _Scarabœus_ that professed to be able to cure men with the
tips of its antennæ.

The young man greeted him with refined courtesy, and the Doctor anxious
to show him that he understood French, addressed him in what he supposed
to be that language, a smattering of which he had picked up as far back
as the time of the Emperor Napoleon I.

"Vooz-ate oon medesen, monshoo?"

"Oui, monsieur, mon collègue."

"The Devil is your collègue, I am not!--Vooe-ate oon magnetizoor,
monshoo?"

"Oui mon cher bonhomme."

"Zate--oon--sharlatanery, monshoo!"

"Comme toute la médecine, monsieur."

Dr. Sarkantyús put both hands behind his back, measured the young man
first from head to foot, and then from foot to head, scratched his own
head violently, and retreated precipitately.

And now Széphalmi rejoined the stranger, and begged him to come in and
see the invalid.

In the adjoining chamber where old Hétfalusy was lying, the curtains
were drawn and the floor was covered with carpets, so that no light and
no noise should disturb the sufferer.

On the lofty bed lay a motionless figure, with closed eyes and hands
folded across his breast, a motionless, helpless bit of earth, worse off
indeed than other bits of earth, because it had the consciousness of
existence.

The stranger approached the bed, seized one of the cold bony hands,
tested the pulse and laid his hand on the invalid's forehead. It might
have been a corpse that lay there. The eyes did not open, the blood
scarce seemed to flow through the veins, the respiration was hardly
perceptible.

"He lies like that all day long," said Széphalmi to the stranger.

The youth took his rings from his hands, asked for a glass of water, and
drew the tips of his fingers first round the rim of the glass and then
along the eyeballs and the temples of the old man in a downward
direction.

Széphalmi stood beside him with a dubious expression. The young man at
once observed it.

"You, sir, are also a sufferer," said he; "my method can cure you also."

Széphalmi smiled bitterly--galvanised corpses may smile in the same
way.

"The balm that is to cure me does not exist," said he.

"My method does not depend on material substances. You shall see. In an
hour's time you shall have actual experience of my treatment. Your cases
are very much alike."

"How so?"

"They are due to the same cause. The hidden seat of the evil in both
your cases is the mind, both of you are suffering from terrible
bereavements, you have lost your wife and two children, the old man his
daughter and two grandchildren."

The sick old man drew a long and deep sigh at these words, but his eyes
still remained closed. Széphalmi sat down on a chair beside him, hid his
face in his hands, and fell a weeping.

The young unknown continued to draw his fingers softly round the rim of
the glass, producing a ghostly sort of low wailing sound.

"The water will become magnetic before long," said he, "and then we
shall see."

"Yet," pursued he, "there is an even more evil malady than the sorrow of
bereavement, and that is--remorse. You are both troubled by the bitter
memories of an irrevocable past. You did not always love your children,
your grandchildren, as you do now that they are both dead--and this is
the greatest affliction of all."

At these words the sick Hétfalusy opened his eyes and gazed at the
speaker in astonishment.

Széphalmi stammered sorrowfully:

"Oh, sir! why do you torture us with these words? They make the poor old
man's heart bleed."

"I see. Already he begins to revive. The medicine is a violent one, no
doubt, but for that very reason all the more efficacious. Suffering
supervenes, and in suffering lies the very crisis of the malady. But a
few more drops of this water. So! The reaction will be still more
violent presently, as you shall see. The sick man will groan and have
convulsions. Cold drops of sweat will exude from his temples. After
that, however, he will grow calmer, and the cure will be complete if God
help us."

The youth continued to magnetise the water.

"The sick man's greatest pain proceeds from the recollection of those
years when first you made the acquaintance of his recently deceased
daughter."

"What do you know, sir, of those years?" stammered Széphalmi, much
surprised.

"As much as a doctor ought to know whose business it is to cure the
hearts of his patients. He strongly opposed the marriage of the girl
with you. He was wrong in so doing. True affection when excluded from
the right road seeks out secret paths for itself. You discovered for
yourselves some such secret path."

"Sir!"

"Hush! The patient is groaning. The cure is operating. These secret
relations had consequences which could not be hidden. Your wife became
a mother before she was yet your wife. Pardon me, sir, but it is as a
doctor that I address you."

"How do you come to know all this?" faltered Széphalmi, in a scarcely
audible voice. "And when it was kept so secret too!" he thought to
himself. The same instant the old man made a violent effort to rise from
his bed and compel the speaker to be silent.

"It is having a strong effect, a very strong effect," said the youth,
feeling the sick man's pulse. "His pulse is beating ten strikes more a
minute than it did just now. Squire Hétfalusy," he resumed, "on hearing
these evil tidings flew into a violent temper; he was always a very
passionate man. He told his daughter that if she did not kill her child,
he himself would kill the pair of them. He would have married her to
someone else, to a rich man of high rank. This unlucky accident must be
kept secret. The girl was very miserable. Her brother stood forth in her
defence, and took her part against his own father, and his father cursed
him in consequence, expelled him from the house, and forbade him ever to
show his face there again. And the uninvited guest, the little suckling
who had no right to be born, also atoned for its fault; they said that
it was dead. Oh, how the sick man is pressing my hand with his cramped
fingers! This method of treatment is working wonders."

Széphalmi sank back into the depths of his arm-chair and shivered as if
with an ague fit.

"The rich man, however, abandoned the bride on the very day of the
wedding, and in that same year the elder Hétfalusy suddenly grew grey.
You see, sir, I am well informed. A doctor ought to know every little
detail relating to a case if he is to cure the patient. The father was
now ready to let his daughter marry her former lover, but you were no
longer inclined for such a marriage. One day, however, the girl went to
you of her own accord, with the face of a lunatic, and threatened..."

"Hush, sir! for Heaven's sake!"

"Ah! how much more rapidly his blood is circulating. His muscles are
twitching, his lips are convulsed, his arteries begin to throb--the girl
threatened to reveal the fact that she had killed her child and so mount
the scaffold, unless you made her your wife."

The sick man began to throw about his arms, and cold drops of sweat,
like transparent pearls, welled forth from his forehead. Széphalmi arose
and walked about the room wringing his hands.

"Who told you that?" he asked the stranger, suddenly planting himself
right in front of him.

"Softly, sir, you are disturbing me. The patient is about to take a
favourable turn, look how he is sweating. His sufferings are violent,
and I am glad to see them, it shows that his vital energy is returning.
Repose is a symptom of death, pain is a sign of life. Let us go on with
our magnetising. These long passes from the temples to the shoulders
work wonders. The whole soul of the sick man now clings to the thought
that just because he himself cast forth his first grandchild, which he
hated, therefore God took from him the other two which he loved. Notice,
sir! that heaving bosom, those fiery red eyes, those swelling lips--all
of them are in their way the interpreters of that one thought. God has
punished him and you, the father and the grandfather; He has removed
from you the blessing which you rejected of your own accord, and now you
stand by yourselves in the world, so lonely, so comfortless, joined to
each other by nothing but the recollection of a terrible loss."

Széphalmi buried his head among the pillows of the speechless invalid
and sobbed bitterly.

Then the youth arose and took the old man's hand in his hand, gazed
steadily into his burning eyes with his eyes, and with a voice of
exaltation thus addressed the unhappy wretch, who seemed to be bearing
in his bosom all the torments of Hell:

"Suppose someone were to come here to you now and say, 'Behold! that
outcast child, whom you wished to think of as dead, nay, or murdered!
whose birth you cursed, and whose death you prayed for, I now give her
back to you!'--how would you feel?"

The sick man there and then drew the youth's hand up to his lips, and
with an effort raised himself up in his bed. His lips were wide open,
his tongue babbled something unintelligible, while Széphalmi regarded
him with amazement, and tugged away at his own hair like one possessed.

The youth put his hand into his bosom and drew forth the little baby's
cap embroidered with rosebuds and forget-me-nots, and held it up before
the two men.

"What if someone were to restore to you the darling wearer of that
little cap? What if I were to tell you that a single consolation still
remained to you, an angel sent from Heaven in whom you could learn to
rejoice once more? What if I were to tell you that she had grown up as
gentle and as beautiful as those angels who are permitted to minister to
the earth?"

At these words the father knelt down at the stranger's feet and kissed
his hands in a transport of joy, while old Hétfalusy, in a sort of
paroxysm threw himself off the bed, made a snatch at the little
pearl-embroidered cap, and exclaimed in a piercing voice:

"Elise!"

The remedy had indeed been efficacious. The old man was actually sitting
up and had recovered the use of his tongue.

The broken-down old man, who had been in a state of collapse, now
violently seized the youth's arm with his still tremulous hand, and
groped his way along it till he was able to touch the little cap with
his lips.

"Elise, Elise, wore that! How beautiful she was!" he cried.

"Where is she?" sobbed Széphalmi, hiding his face in his hands.

"Now she is indeed beautiful. She is in safe hands too. She has found a
loving father who guards her as the apple of his eye. And she is wise as
well as beautiful. Her glorious eyes are as blue as the expanse of
heaven, and radiant with innocence and goodness. Her lips are as small
as wild strawberries, and when she smiles her pretty little face is full
of dimples."

"Yes, yes, she promised to be like that!" stammered Széphalmi, pressing
the stranger's hand to his heart.

But old Hétfalusy was sitting up in bed and insisted upon getting up.

"I am going. I am going for her. Lead me to her. I will fetch her."

"Softly, softly, sir. Lie down again! Remember that I am a doctor, and I
have still to cure you. You must continue to lie in bed for some time,
and cannot yet see your grandchild. The girl is with folks who love her.
Her adopted father is all love, you have been all hatred. You must first
be cured of that evil sickness."

"Of what sickness? I am no longer sick. I am quite cured."

"Of hatred. You have a cast-off son who perhaps at this very moment is
standing on the threshold of destruction. You have no thought for him.
You have still some hard stones in your heart. Those stones must first
of all be pulverized and dissolved. Now if this son of yours were
standing here, and you were to stretch out your arms to him and say, 'My
child!' then you would be cured, then you might very well say, 'I am no
longer sick.'"

"And shall I not see my child till then?" wailed Széphalmi.

"Sir, you are very exacting."

"Ask of me what you will, I place all my property at your disposal. If
you will not bring my child hither, at least take me where I may see
her. You need not tell her I am her father, I only want to exchange a
word or two with her. Whatever price you may put on such a service I
shall not consider it too great."

"Sir, I am no impostor who wants to make money out of you. The only
recompense I claim for restoring to you your lost child is that you
welcome back the youth who was driven from this home. I have odd desires
sometimes, but I stick to them."

The young man shrugged his shoulders, refolded the little pearl-trimmed
cap, thrust it into his bosom again, and coldly replied:

"And if we cannot save this young man?"

"Then I shall keep my secret and you will never know where the girl is."

Old Hétfalusy sighed deeply.

"Bring me pen and paper," said he to his son-in-law.

The latter looked at him as if he did not understand.

The old man insisted impatiently.

"Place the table here and give me writing-materials, I say."

When he had got what he wanted he beckoned to the stranger.

"Listen, sir, to what I write," said he. Then he arose from his bed,
took up the pen, and wrote with a trembling hand the following letter:

     "TO GENERAL VÉRTESSY,

     "SIR,--By a divine miracle I have recovered within the last hour
     my power of speech, and the use of my fingers. The very first
     word I am able to speak and to write I address to you who have
     such good cause to hate me, and that word is--mercy!
     I ask of you mercy towards that son of mine to whom I myself have
     never shown mercy. I ask for mercy from you who in your judicial
     capacity have never shown mercy to anyone. You know full well
     that all the faults of this child of mine are due entirely to me.
     You know that my cruelty has made life a wilderness to him and
     filled him with cynical bitterness--he who was always so
     tender-hearted that even an angry look was pain to him. Behold,
     sir! the one man who could venture to insult you with impunity
     now lies in the dust before you, and begs for your compassion.
     And in order that such compassion may not appear as rust on your
     iron character, show this letter to the world and say: 'My mortal
     enemy has wept before me in the dust in order that I might
     condescend to stoop down and raise him up.' Your humbled,
     eternally faithful servant,

     "BENJAMIN HÉTFALUSY."

"Would you look at this letter, sir?" asked the old man, turning
towards the stranger--and there were tears in his eyes.

"I thank you," faltered the stranger, and he himself hastened to fold up
the letter and seal it.

"Széphalmi will deliver it."

"Nay, sir, I will see to that myself."

"_You_ will? But who, then, are you?"

"That I will tell you--perhaps--some day."

The old man took the youth's hand in both his, and pressing them warmly,
said in a voice that trembled with emotion:

"God help you!"

At that moment Dr. Sarkantyús peeped in at the door, and was amazed to
see the old man talking and writing the address on a letter with his own
right hand, while his whole countenance was warm with feeling. This
magnetic cure was truly marvellous.

He approached the youth and, bowing respectfully, remarked,

"Mossoo! vooz ate oon anshantoor!"

"Possibly, but why should we not speak Hungarian?" replied the other
smiling.

"Then you are not French?" asked the dumfounded doctor.

"Why should I be? It does not follow because a person may have just come
from France that therefore he is a Frenchman, does it?"

"All the better pleased, I am sure, my dear colleague!"--and then it
suddenly occurred to him that only a short time ago he had said to him
in Hungarian: "The Devil may be your colleague, I'm not!"

"All you have to do now is to give the patient tonics; that won't
interfere with my cure. I shall come back again in a few days, and by
that time I hope he will be quite strong. Till then, let us trust in
God!"

The young unknown then hastened to his carriage, Széphalmi accompanying
him the whole way.

Everyone who had recently seen the old man apparently on the verge of
the grave, and now beheld him completely changed, going about with a
lively irritable temper and rosy cheeks, were amazed at this
wonder-doctor who could perform cures by the mere touch of his
finger-tips.

"He must be a magician!" said they.

       *       *       *       *       *

The unknown next presented himself at the residence of General Vértessy.

They told him this was not the official hour for being received; at such
times the General was wont to be with his wife. He replied:

"So much the better; what I have to tell him will be better told in the
presence of his wife."

The General was informed of this odd wish, and took to the idea so
kindly that he ordered the young man to be instantly admitted.

And, in a few moments, a handsome, courtly youth stood before him, who
greeted the General frankly and the General's wife ceremoniously. In
his hands he carried a small forage-cap with a border of thin gold
thread round it, and his whole style and bearing testified to the fact
that, somewhere or other, he had been brought up as a soldier.

"I beg your pardon, General, for disturbing you so unconscionably, and
robbing you of your most precious moments, but the business on which I
have come admits of no delay. My name is Count Kamienszky, I come from
Poland, and I bring a petition in favour of young Hétfalusy, who
deserted in the belief that he had shot his captain."

The General's face grew suddenly cold. He had become a cast-iron statue,
just as he was wont to be when on parade.

"From whom is your petition?"

"From the very officer for whom his bullet was intended. That bullet did
not strike home, but stuck fast in his laced jacket; yet it was well
aimed too at thirty paces, just in the middle of the heart."

"And what does the officer want?"

"Pardon for the deserter. He admits that he was in the wrong. He
insulted a woman--I speak with absolute certainty, for I am that woman's
relation--and he would now make good his fault by imploring pardon for
the man who stood forth to wipe out that insult."

"To implore pardon is not enough. What can he say in the man's defence?"

"He certifies that the youth was a pattern of soldierly honour, valour,
and discipline, that his comrades idolized him, his superiors liked
him, and they now unanimously unite in this petition for his pardon. I
have brought letters with me to prove all that I say; be so good as to
peruse them!"

The General took the letters and read them through. He discovered more
than one old comrade, more than one dear friend among the names written
there. The young man had spoken the truth. But what was the use of it
all. The claims of duty only became the more urgent.

"Sir," said the General coldly, folding up the letters again and placing
them on the table, "I gather from your manner and bearing that you were
brought up as a soldier."

"You are right, General. I passed the years of my childhood at a
military institution, and a little time ago I was a soldier myself."

"In that case you must have some notion of the absolute necessity of the
strictest discipline so long as the soldier is under arms."

"I am well aware of it, and it was not that which made me abandon a
military career. If he whom I am now addressing were to say to me, 'I
stand here as a judge,' I should simply withdraw, knowing that my cause
was lost. But, sir, I am now addressing the man that is in you, a man
with a heart, a being blessed with human feeling, 'tis to him that I
would speak."

And the large black eyes of the stranger had such a heart-searching
expression in them that the General turned away from him.

Then, as if still in search of hope and confidence, the youth glanced in
the direction of the General's wife, and her bright eyes gave him in
return such a look of encouragement, as if to bid him not to fear, for
they two were certainly at one in the matter.

But now the General turned sharply round upon the stranger again.

"Do you know what I am commonly called, whether from fear, or fun, or
respect, I will not say, that is all one to me, but do you know what
they commonly call me?"

"Yes, they call you 'the man of iron,' yet even iron melts in a
smelting-furnace."

"Do you fancy there in such a smelting-furnace in the world?"

"I hope so. I have got one more letter for you. I ought to have given it
to you first of all, but I have kept it till last. The handwriting will
be familiar to you. Take it and read it through."

The General was dumfounded when he recognised the handwriting in which
the address was written. The hand which had penned those lines had been
somewhat tremulous, that was plain from the irregularity of the script,
but he recognised it perfectly all the same.

As he regarded it he grew a shade paler.

He opened the letter, and his eyes remained riveted on the very first
line as if he were too astonished to proceed any further.

"Read on, General, I beg. Read it out aloud," murmured the youth; "we
shall see whether the iron will melt or not."

The General stared stiffly for a time at the young man, then he read the
letter through in silence, finally refolding it and thrusting it into
his breast-pocket.

Then he turned to the window, and remained for a long time in a brown
study.

Suddenly he turned once more towards the youth and said:

"Sir, devise some means whereby I may save this man. Find, I say, some
way or mode of salvation compatible with soldierly honour, and I will
pursue it."

The youth, surprised, overcome, rushed towards the General, seized his
muscular hand, and would certainly have kissed it had not the General
drawn it back.

Vértessy was very near losing his composure.

"Stay here!" said he. "There you have," pointing at Cornelia, "a
confederate who would also take the stronghold by assault. Deliberate
together, and devise some expedient. I leave you to yourselves."

And with that he quitted the room, leaving the young man alone with his
wife.

And when he had gone, when the door had closed to behind him, the figure
of the strange youth lost its soldierly bearing, and his limbs with a
painful spasm subsided into that picturesque pose in which artists
generally represent Niobe, or the Daughters of Sion mourning by the
willows of Babylon. Every trace of energy and vigour vanished from his
face, his eyelids closed over his tearful eyes, and his lips parted with
an expression of the deepest emotion. Once more he raised his
languishing head to show his strength of mind, but the effort was
useless. In the presence of a woman such affectation was no longer
possible, and when his eyes met those of Cornelia, he suddenly burst
into tears, fell sobbing on his knees before her, seized her hand,
pressed it convulsively to his breast, and trembling and gasping, said
to her in a voice full of agony:

"Oh, madame, by the tender mercies of God, I implore you to help me and
not forsake me."

Cornelia regarded him with wondering eyes, her shrewd intellect had
already deciphered the enigma, but her eyes still looked doubtful.

"Who are you?" she asked.

The stranger covered his blushing face with both hands and sobbed forth:

"A woman, an unhappy woman, who loves, who is beside herself, who is
ready to die for him she loves."



CHAPTER IX.

THE PLAGUE.


There is a mighty Potentate among us here below, the secrets of whose
existence are still unknown to our wise men, although they have a lot to
tell us about her power; a Potentate whom they have not yet taught us to
fear, or else everybody would not still be turning to her full of hope.

This Potentate is not Hell, but the Earth.

Yes, the good, the blessed, the peaceful Earth. She is not violent like
the other elements, fire, water, and air. She calmly allows herself to
be trampled underfoot; lets us make great wounds in her; lets us load
her broad back with cities and towns; crush her bones by driving deep
mining-shafts into her--and for all that she allows us who plague her
so, to live and multiply in the midst of her dust.

Has anyone ever inquired of her: Oh, my sovereign mistress! thou good
and blessed Earth! art thou pleased with the deeds we do upon thee? Can
it please thee, perchance, to see us root up thy beauteous fresh woods
from off thee, leaving thy tormented body all naked in the blaze of the
Sun? Can it please thee to see us constrain thy flowing rivers within
narrow basins, dry up thy lakes and leave thee athirst? Can it please
thee to see us tear open thy body, break it up into little fragments,
and compel these fragments to produce meat and drink for us? Can it
please thee to see us drench thy flowery meads with blood and hide away
the bones of our dead in thy bosom? Can it please thee that we live upon
thee here, and bless and curse thee that thou mayest nourish us, and
rack our brains as to how we may best multiply our species in those
portions of the earth where men are still but few?

Nevertheless, the Earth patiently endures all this ill-treatment. Only
now and then does she tremble with a fleeting horror, and then the
palaces heaped upon her totter to their very foundations. Yet are there
any among us who understand the hint?

And then for centuries afterwards she gives not a single sign of life.
She puts up with her naughty children as every good mother does. She
overlooks and hides away their faults and endures in their stead the
visitations of Heaven. She is never angry with them, she never punishes
them. She cherishes and nourishes them, and expects no gratitude in
return. She only pines and pines, she only frets within herself, she
only grieves and is anxious about the fate of her children, her selfish,
heartless children: grief and anguish, the nastiness and the wickedness
of man slowly undermine her strength and suddenly the Earth sickens.

Oh! how man falls down and perishes when the earth is sick!--like the
parasitical aphis-grub from the jaundiced leaves!

New sorts of death for which there is no name appear in the midst of the
terrified peoples, and a breath of air carries off the bravest and the
strongest. In vain they shut themselves up within stone walls, anoint
their bodies with salutary balms, and hold their very breath. Death
invisible stalks through the fast-closed doors and seeks out them that
fear him. No vitiated air, no contagion is necessary; men have but to
hear the name of this strange death and they tremble and die.

This is no mere mortal malady, the Earth, the Earth herself is sick.

       *       *       *       *       *

And how comical too this terror is!

I remember those times. I was only a child then, I fancy, and the
general terror affected me but little; nay, the novelty of the situation
rather diverted me. We were not allowed to go to school, we had a
vacation for an indefinite period at which I was much delighted I must
confess. Our towns were separated from each other by military cordons,
and all strangers passing to and fro were rigorously examined. My good
father, whose gentle, serious face is one of my most pleasant memories,
buckled on his silver-hilted sword and went off himself to mount guard
somewhere. I had greater confidence in that sword than in the whole
English navy. My blessed, thoughtful, mother hung round each of our
necks little bags with large bits of camphor in them, in the beneficial
effects of which we believed absolutely, and strictly forbade us to eat
melons and peaches. And we were good dutiful children and strictly
obeyed her commands. And yet in that very year, just as if Nature had
resolved to be satirical at our expense, our gardens and orchards
overflowed with an abundance of magnificent fruit. And there we allowed
them all to rot. We had a doctor in those days, a fine old fellow, who,
when the danger was at its height, went fearlessly from house to house.
He had white hair, rosy cheeks, and a slim, erect figure, and was always
cracking jokes with us. He used to say: "No funk, no risk of Death!" and
would pick up the beautiful golden melons before our eyes and eat them
with the best appetite in the world, and he took no harm from them, for
he feared no danger. You had only to live regularly and trust in God, he
used to say. He would laugh when we asked him: "Is it true that the air
is full of tiny scarce visible insects, the inhaling of which brings
about the disease?" "If you believe in these insects you had better keep
your mouths shut lest they fly into them while you are talking," he
would say. And subsequently when we heard the drowsy monotonous tolling
of the bells and the funeral dirges sung day after day, morning and
evening, beneath our windows, and saw orphans following in the track of
the lumbering corpse-carts; when they told us that everyone in the
neighbouring houses had died off in two days, and we saw all the windows
of the house opposite fast-closed, and not a soul looking through them;
at such a time it was good to fold one's hands in prayer and reflect
that we were still all together, and that not one of us had been taken
away, but God had preserved us from all calamity. Our hope was weak, for
there was no foundation for it to build upon, but our faith was strong
and all-sufficing.

Such is the sole impression I have retained of that memorable year.

Ah! elsewhere that same year was not content with embroidering its
mourning robe with mere tears, it used blood also, and taught the land a
twofold lesson at a heavy cost.

       *       *       *       *       *

The circular letters issued by the county authorities flew from village
to village, informing the local sages of the approaching peril of which
even the well-formed knew no more than they had known ten years before,
no more than they actually know now.

The local sages, that is to say the justices and the schoolmasters, were
directed to explain to the ignorant people the contents of these
circular letters.

Explain indeed! Men whose own knowledge was of the most elementary
description, men who looked for supernatural causes in the most natural
phenomena, were to explain what was still a profound mystery to the
collective wisdom of the world!

Mr. Kordé, whom we remember as one of the two schoolmasters of Hétfalu,
accordingly, by dint of bellowing, gathered all his subjects around him.
It was the day before breaking up for the holidays, and drawing from his
pocket the folded and corded vellum document, he gave them to understand
that he was going to explain it to them. They, in their turn, were to
explain it when they got home to their dear parents.

"Blockheads!" this was his usual mode of addressing his _jeunesse
dorée_--"blockheads! you see here before you the letter patent of His
Honour, the magistrate, signifying that all the schools are to be shut
up, and the whole village is to be on the alert, inasmuch as a terrible
disease, called the 'morbus,' is about to enter the kingdom. When the
morbus lays hold of anybody the individual in question has not even time
to look over his shoulder, but falls down dead on the spot. Down he
drops, and there he stays.

"The morbus begins in this way. The gall overflows into the vital
essences, and becomes gall-fever or cholera, consequently take care you
don't aggravate me.

"Moreover, the morbus in question is to be found inside this year's
melons, apricots, and all sorts of fruit; so every man jack of you who
doesn't want to be a dead 'un mustn't go guzzling berries and such
like."

Here a couple of Scythians from the northern counties began squabbling
loudly on the back benches.

"Hie, there, you blockhead! Mike Turlyik, I know it is you--what was I
talking about?"

"You was saying that--that--that--no more apricots were to be sneaked
from his reverence's garden."

"Come out here, my son, wilt thou? I've a word to say in thine ear!"

And he leathered the unfortunate Mike soundly. Yet the lad after all had
reasoned not illogically, for he had started from the assumption that
the prohibition in question had been inserted in the letter patent for
the express purpose of scaring the people away from the priest's
orchard, his reverence being the only man in the village who cultivated
fruit-trees.

"And now let us return to the matter in hand. Listen now, you
addlepates!

"Bathing, too, is very dangerous just now, and, in fact, every sort of
washing with cold water, for thereby the vital essence within a man is
easily upset. On the other hand, brandy-drinking is very wholesome, for
thereby the volume of spiritual essence in man is at any rate increased.
Work on an empty stomach is also dangerous, as also are too much
reflection and brain-racking. On the other hand the eating of roast meat
and as little walking about in the sun as possible are very
profitable."

This passage delighted the addlepates immensely.

"Inasmuch, however, as it is quite possible that a man from a
neighbouring village might easily convey to us in his jacket or knapsack
this morbus, which, by the way, is as catching as sheep-ticks; therefore
it is ordered that nobody is to quit his own village, either by cart or
on foot, and no stranger is to be admitted from without. Should anyone
require, however, to pass through the district, he must first of all be
locked securely in a cowshed beyond the limits of the village, and there
his clothes must be well smoked ('fumigated' they call it), and he
himself well doused in a ducking-tub, and if he has any coin about him
it must be rubbed with ashes, which life-imperilling occupation will be
duly attended to by the local gipsies."

After a pause, Mr. Kordé resumed his learned instructions as follows:

"If, nevertheless, anyone, despite these wise regulations, _should_
catch the morbus, there is only one antidote, the name whereof is
Vismuthum. Vismuthum, vismuthi, neuter gender, second declension. In
Hungarian viszmuta, in Slovak vismuthium, in English bismuth."

At this point the worthy preceptor was overcome by a violent fit of
coughing, for he was now bound by his directions to explain the
properties of this mysterious substance whose name he himself had just
that moment learnt for the first time from his letter patent.

"Well, now! listen all of you, for I shall examine you presently upon
all that I have been telling you. Vismuthum is a powder, or rather a
fluid, or perhaps 'twere better to say a powder of a--a quite
indefinable colour. It is prepared in all sorts of ways, and has no
particular odour, and in substance much resembles piskotum.[2] Everyone
who partakes of it instantly becomes quite well again. First of all it
is to be taken in a coffee spoon (his reverence will supply the spoon
gratis), and then, if that has no effect, in a tablespoon. If that also
has no effect, then two tablespoons must be taken, and so on in
increasing doses, until the morbus leaves the patient altogether. It is
to be had in the apothecary's shop at Kassa, so whoever does not go and
get some has only himself to blame if he dies. Poor men will receive it
gratis from Dr. Sarkantyús, and those who won't take it willingly will
have it crammed down their throats by force, and it will be also
sprinkled in all the wells of drinking water that the people may get
some of it that way. It will therefore be much better to make the
acquaintance of vismuthum in a friendly manner, than go to the devil one
way or other for not taking it."

[Footnote 2: Antimony.]

The young people appreciated this last witticism and roared with
laughter.

One of Mr. Kordé's cubs took the liberty, however, of stretching out two
fingers, which signified that he had a question to ask.

"Well, Slipik, out with it!"

"Mr. Rector, is the stuff sweetish like?"

"Asine! have I not told you what it was? You have not been attending;
hold out your paw!"

The urchin got a smart rap on the palm of his hand with the ruler.

"And now the other!"

And so both hands smarted instead of his ears.

"And now, Guszti Klimpa, stand out and repeat to these blockheads what I
have been saying."

Guszti Klimpa was the head boy, because his father rented the village
pot-house, and he himself wore the best jacket of them all, so he was
the master's favourite. The urchin hastily pocketed the pen-knife with
which he had hitherto been carving his bench, blushed deeply in his
embarrassment, and his eyes almost started from his head in his
endeavours to find an answer to the question put to him.

"Well, my son, come, what did I say now?"

The lad took a plunge at random.

"Nixnus is a fluid which becomes a powder, which, can be made from
anything, and very much resembles a piskota."[3]

[Footnote 3: Biscuit.]

"_Bene, prœstanter, eminentissime._ Only not _piskota_ but
_piskotum_;[4] not feminine, you know, but neuter gender, second
declension."

[Footnote 4: Antimony.]

So Guszti Klimpa returned to his seat very well satisfied with himself.

"Moreover, this I must add--and mind you tell it to your parents when
you get home--that nothing is so good in these dangerous times as to
drink one glass of brandy in the early morning on an empty stomach,
another in the afternoon, a third on lying down, and as many times more
as one feels any foreign substance in the stomach. That is the best
remedy of all. And, Guszti Klimpa! mind you don't forget to inform your
dear father that your schoolmaster, the rector, is very much afraid of
the morbus, and that my spirit flask is still with you."

Guszti Klimpa's face assumed a pious expression at this reminder, and
shoving beneath his hymn-book the shaft of his quill pen out of which he
was manufacturing a pocket pistol, he promised to deliver the message at
home.

"And now let us sing a hymn and say a prayer. And after that there will
be no more school till the morbus has departed."

Great was the joy of the promising youths at these words. Guszti Klimpa
fired off his improvised pistol underneath the bench, and the pellet hit
Mr. Kordé full on the nose, whereupon he well trounced Jóska Slipik,
though he knew very well that he was not the culprit.

Whilst the wrongfully flogged urchin was still howling, the others began
singing the hymn. So long as the low notes predominated Mr. Kordé's
voice was alone audible, but at the crescendoes the youthful believers
had it all their own way, and shrieked till the windows rattled, the
rector beating time the while by lightly tapping the heads of the
Faithful with his ruler whenever they departed from the impracticable
melody.

After that, Guszti Klimpa grappled with a prayer, and recited the
morning devotions instead of the evening devotions by mistake, a lapse
of which the rector, however, took no notice. The Amen was no sooner
uttered than the youngsters, with a wild yell, made a solid rush for the
door, bearing in mind Mr. Kordé's laudable habit on such occasions of
lambing it into the hindermost by way of protesting against the general
uproar. When the whole class was fairly out in the street again, its
delight at being released from school for some time to come was too much
for it, and in the exuberance of its high spirits it fell tooth and nail
upon the Lutheran lads who were playing at ball in front of their own
church, broke a couple of their heads, scribbled: "Vivat vacatio" on the
walls of every house they came to, slammed to every gate they passed,
and roused every dog in the village to fury pitch--thus giving the whole
world to understand that the rector, Mr. Michael Kordé, had given his
promising pupils an extraordinary holiday, because the morbus was
coming, and it was not good for people to congregate together at such
times.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now the village ancients and the women were trooping home from
church.

Every face was dominated by an expression of dumb terror.

In the church the priest also had read aloud the letter from the county
authorities, adding a short discourse of his own to the effect that a
calm confidence in the providence of God and a clear Christian
conscience were worth far more than all the medicaments, cordons, and
bismuth powder in the world.

"We are all, however, in the hands of God," he said, "and if we live
well we shall die well. A righteous man need never fear Death."

The old hag, "the death-bird," was crouching there on the church steps
with a bundle of healing herbs in her lap, and her crutch under her
armpits, and with her chin resting on her knee. She kept counting all
who came out of the church: "One! two! three!" Every time she came to
three she began all over again--every third person was superfluous.

And now all had gone, only she remained behind, she and shaggy Hanák,
the bellringer.

After the departure of the people a little white dog came running along,
and, as often happens, peeped into the church.

"Clear out of that!" cried the sexton, flinging the large church door
key after him.

The aged sybil lifted a skinny finger and shook it menacingly at the
sexton.

"Hanák! shaggy Hanák! Why dost thou drive away the dog? I tell thee, and
I tell thee the truth, that it were better for thee, aye! and for others
also, if they could be as such dogs instead of the two-legged beasts
they really are, for ere long we shall be in a world where not the voice
of thy bell, but the howling of dogs will accompany the dead to their
last resting-place. Therefore trouble not thyself about the dogs, Hanák,
shaggy Hanák."

The bellringer durst not reply. He closed the church door softly, got
out of the woman's way, and while he hastened off, it seemed to him as
if his head was dizzy from some cause or other, and his feet were
tottering beneath him.

When he handed the church door key over to the priest, his reverence
gave him to understand that by order of the authorities the church bells
were not to be tolled for the dead during the outbreak of the plague to
avoid alarming the people.

As he went home that evening shaggy Hanák's head waggled from side to
side, as if every hair upon it was a heavy debt. As he went along he
heard all the dogs howling. Well, henceforth _they_ would have to follow
the dead to their graves.

After that Hanák had not the heart to go home, but sought comfort in the
pot-house, where the village sages were already sitting in council
together and discussing the problems of the Future.



CHAPTER X.

A LEADER OF THE PEOPLE.


The other rector, Mr. Thomas Bodza, had read a lot of things in the
course of his life.

He had read the history of Themistocles who, with a handful of Greeks,
converted millions of Persians into rubbish heaps; he had read of the
exploits of the valiant Marahas, who, when one of their warriors flung
his sandal into the air and uttered thrice the word: "Marha, Marha,
Marha!" swept the Roman legions from the face of Pannonia; he had learnt
from the Spanish historian all about Ferdinand VII., who chased the
Moors from the Alhambra where they had held sway for hundreds of years;
he had read of the Scythian Bertezena, who, starting in life as a simple
smith had delivered his race from the grinding yoke of the Geougs;--and
finally he had not only read but learnt by heart all the great works of
our savants in which it is demonstrated with the most exact scholarship
and the most inflexible logic, that the Greeks, the Marahas, the
Spaniards, the Scythians, and, in fact, all the most famous nations of
the earth have originated from a single powerful race which numbers
among its chiefest branches, such noble nations as the Russians, the
Poles, the Bohemians, and the Croats, &c., inasmuch as the languages of
all these various nations are so crammed with original Slavonic words,
that if these words were suddenly demanded back from them by their
rightful owners, any sort of verbal intercourse amongst the nations in
question would be henceforth impossible.

All this Thomas Bodza had read and crammed into his head. Once he had
even written a dissertation in which, with astonishing profundity and
ingenuity, he had demonstrated the striking resemblance and the
identical significance of the Greek ον and the Slavonic _tiszi_, which
dissertation was received with general applause in the local mutual
improvement society where he recited it.

In his library were to be found all those learned tomes which do our
dear native land the honour of only noticing her in order to disparage
her, attributing _inter alia_ a Slavonic origin to all our chief towns,
and forcing upon us the crushing conviction that we Hungarians cannot
even call a single water-course our own, inasmuch as all our rivers rise
in other countries--certainly a most depressing, poverty-stricken state
of things, especially as regards our cattle dealers and boatmen, who, of
course, can do so little without water.

After long-continued scientific investigations, materially assisted by a
vigorous imagination, Thomas Bodza had constructed a map of his own, in
which the various countries appeared in a shape diverging essentially
from that which they actually occupy, and indeed only the figure of the
virgin Europa, and the outlines of the unchangeable water-courses made
one suspect that it was a representation of the old world at all. Not
only did the boundaries of the realm suffer strange permutations, but
the classical termination "grad,"[5] unusual and unnatural as it seemed
to all but the initiated, was tacked on pretty frequently to the names
of purely Hungarian towns both small and great; and there was also
noticeable this slight and fanciful deviation from the strict truth, to
wit, that whereas cities of unappropriatable Asiatic origin like
Debreczen, Kecskemet, Nagy-Köros, and others, appeared degraded into
insignificant villages by being marked with tiny points, every little
twopenny-halfpenny Slavonic village in the Carpathians was magnified
into a cathedral city, or starred to represent a formidable fortress.

[Footnote 5: The Slavonic word for "town," thus Constantinople is
Tsargrad.]

The worthy pædagogue used to sit brooding over this map for hours. He
would draw his boundaries with a pair of compasses, construct imaginary
roads from town to town, and reconstruct a fortress from the imposing
ruins in the bed of the River Waag. Nay, he even ventured upon the
audacious experiment of cutting through the mountain chain separating
the River Hernád from the River Poprád, and uniting these two rivers (in
a state of nature they flow in diametrically opposite directions) into
one broad continuous water-course, thus bringing together all the
various branches of that scattered family of kindred nations which
dwells between the White Sea and the Black.

In those days very little was known among us of railways beyond the
rumour (the newspapers mentioned it as a sort of curiosity) that a
certain Englishman, called William Griffiths, wanted to make a
wheel-track of iron. Thomas Bodza's idea therefore of a continuous
European waterway almost deserved to be called sublime.

Such exaltation is innocent enough in itself. It is found, more or less,
in every race, and is especially vigorous wherever an impoverished,
orphaned stock is aware of the existence of a powerful, dominating,
gigantic kinsman beyond a mountain range.[6] Unfortunately, however,
this exaltation did not remain an empty poetical dream in the bosom of
our village pædagogue.

[Footnote 6: _E.g._, The Slovaks in north Hungary, who know that Russia
lies beyond the Carpathians.]

Even as a student his heart was full of a bitter hatred of everything
Hungarian. He went to school at Pressburg, that peculiar town where the
traders are German, the gentry Hungarian, and the poor Slavonic. The
traders pick holes in the gentry and the poor folks hate them both. He
saw the heady young squires of the _Alföld_[7] idle away their time at
school in unedifying contrast to the diligent sober conduct of himself
and his friends, and yet the masters treated them with the greatest
distinction. Some of them scarcely attended the lectures at all, and yet
they sat on the front benches. They were able to have private lessons,
and thus easily outstripped the poor scholars who had to slave night and
day to keep pace with them. They marched about in fine clothes and got
their poorer fellow-students to copy out their exercises for them. At
the public examinations they declaimed Hungarian verses with such
emphasis, with such a fire of enthusiasm, that even that portion of the
audience which did not understand a word of their fulminating periods
cheered them vociferously, whereas he, Thomas Bodza, recited the
affected, pedestrian, poetic effusions of the Slavonic School of
self-improvement without the slightest effect. Even in the rude arena of
material strength the Asiatic race showed a determination to be
paramount. The youths of the _Alföld_ were the better wrestlers, more
skilful in gymnastic exercises, and in all serious encounters asserted
themselves with more self-confidence and greater enthusiasm; they
boasted ostentatiously of their nationality, and scornfully looked down
upon his.

[Footnote 7: The great Hungarian plain.]

And then, too, during the sessions of the Diet, when the haughty
Hungarian gentry flocked to the capital from every quarter of the realm
with extraordinary pomp and splendour, a new and clamorous life filled
all the streets, and the brilliant visitors monopolized every yard of
free space. It frequently happened, in the evenings, that a dozen or so
of high-spirited _jurati_ would join hand to hand, occupy the whole
road, and squeeze against the wall any shabby-coated alienist who
happened to come in their way. The poor devil might be carrying home his
meagre _jusculum_[8] under his mantle in a coarse unvarnished pot, with
a piece of brown bread stuck into it, revolving in his mind the whole
time the story of another poor scholar in days gone by who, once upon a
time, used, in the same way, to carry home his humble mess of pottage in
just such another coarse earthenware pot, and who, nevertheless, came to
be one of the princes, one of the great men of Hungary, with a great big
coat of arms, and castles to dwell in. He forgot, however, to reflect
that he, with whom he compared his own fate, was gifted at the outset
with intellect and virile courage, qualities with which he himself had
only been very modestly equipped by nature; their common misery in early
life was the sole point of resemblance between them.

[Footnote 8: Pottage.]

These first bitter impressions never left his mind. He registered the
disfavour of fortune and the fruits of his own limited capacity among
the grievances of the oppressed nationality to which he belonged. Years
of want, his little dilapidated dwelling--granted him in his capacity of
village teacher but shoved away into an obscure corner of Hétfalu--his
meagre barley-bread, his sordid frock-coat--all these things aggravated
the anguish of his soul.

His occasional intercourse with the lord of the manor, the arrogant and
pretentious Hétfalusy, was not calculated to reconcile him with his
destiny. Hétfalusy regarded as a profitless loafer every man who did not
seek his bread with spade and hoe, unless, of course, he happened to be
a gentleman by birth. He applied this theory to the schoolmaster race
especially, whom he conceived to have been invented for the express
purpose of eternally hounding on the common folks against their lawful
masters, the gentry. As if the world could not go on comfortably without
the peasant learning his letters! What he heard in church was quite
enough for him surely! On one occasion, when mention was made in his
presence of a village shepherd who had forged a bank-note, he observed
that if the fellow had not learnt to write he would never have gone
astray. The national school teachers, he said, were the natural
attorneys of the agricultural population as against the landlords. And
Hétfalusy gave practical expression to his belief whenever he had the
chance. The corn he was bound to supply to the schoolmaster was always
measured out to him from the bottom of the sieve; he seized the
courtyard of the school for his threshers, so that during school-time
not a word of the lessons could be heard for the racket; he never
repaired the building set apart for the cultivation of the muses, but
looked on while the schoolmaster himself patched up the holes in his
wall with balls of clay borrowed from his own garden, and re-thatched
the dilapidated rush-roof with his own hand. Frequently he would rate
the schoolmaster in the public thoroughfare, in the presence of the
gaping rustics, on the flimsiest pretext, and bully him as if he were
the lowest of his menials.

Thomas Bodza totted up all these outrages on the back of his map, and
whenever he was immersed in that odd production, his eyes always
fastened themselves on three red crosses which he had marked over the
little town which indicated Hétfalu; and at all such times he would
heave a deep sigh, as if he found this long waiting for the day of
retribution almost too much for his patience.

For that a day of retribution would arrive sooner or later was his
strong belief.

Frequently, on popular festivals, you might notice on his index-finger a
rude iron ring (the handiwork of a blacksmith rather than of a jeweller,
from the look of it), the seal of which was engraved with the three
letters: U. S. S. On such occasions, anyone observing him closely could
have remarked that he carried his head higher than usual, and whenever
he was asked what these initial letters signified, he would simply shrug
his shoulders and say that he had got the ring from a comrade in his
student days, and really did not know _what_ the letters meant.

During vacation time he would regularly undertake long journeys on foot
into distant parts of the land, traversing no end of mountains and
valleys, and always returning home more surlily disposed towards the
lord of the manor than ever, at the same time dropping mysterious hints
in the presence of his confidants, and talking darkly of old
expectations being realised, of extraordinary forthcoming events, and of
important changes in the general order of things here below.

Nowadays people will scarcely believe that there are men whose whole
course of life is determined by such baseless and centrifugal ideas.
Such a species of human ambition is certainly a great rarity. It
resembles that cryptogram which goes by the name of "star-ashes," whose
tremulous spray-like masses only appear in rare seasons and odd places
after the warm summer rains. No ordinary soil is good enough for them.

At any rate, Mr. Thomas Bodza would have acted more wisely if he had
endeavoured to inoculate the minds of the faithful committed to his
charge with a little reading, a little writing, and some slight
knowledge of geography, ethnology, natural history, and fruit
cultivation, instead of assembling round him all the loafers of the
district in the pot-house, the meeting-house, at the hut of the forest
rangers, or in some underground cellar outside the village, and there
putting into their heads ideas which, interpreted by their ignorant
fanaticism, could only be productive of infinite mischief.

He had in all the villages round about personal acquaintances, whom he
was wont to visit successively in the course of every year, and whose
fantastic aspirations he constantly did his best to keep alive.

And at last the opportunity had presented itself for beginning his great
work.

Being a very well-read man himself, he had been the first to learn from
the newspapers of the approach of that dangerous contagious sickness,
the antidotes against which were still unknown.

Suddenly a mysterious rumour began to spread through the villages that a
powerful foreign nation was about to invade the kingdom for the purpose
of reconquering for the descendants of the Quadi and the Marahanas the
Pannonian provinces that they had held centuries before.

The country folk could see for themselves the soldiery hastening on its
way through the land to the frontiers; every carter, tramp, and
traveller, brought news of the military cordons which were drawn far and
wide, from town to town, and required every person passing to and fro to
show his passport, a very unusual institution in those days.

The wiser and better informed persons quieted the whisperers by
explaining that these measures were not adopted against any foreign foe,
but were simply taken to prevent the spread of the terrible pestilence
which was already raging beyond the limits of the kingdom.

And then a still more terrible rumour began to raise aloft its
dragon-like head.

It was generally said, muttered, whispered, and at last proclaimed
aloud, that it was no pestilence the people had to fear, but that the
gentry themselves who had resolved to exterminate the common-folks!

They had determined to exterminate them in an execrable horrible way--by
poison! They were casting into the barns, the wells, and the vats of the
pot-house a deadly poison of swift operation-_that_ was the way in which
they meant to destroy the people.

The doctors, apothecaries, and innkeepers had all been corrupted;
everyone with short cropped hair; everyone who wore a cloth coat was to
be regarded as an enemy; nobody was to be trusted!

Who spread this terrible rumour?--spread it first of all in secret, in
mysterious whispers from house to house, but presently proclaimed it in
the public thoroughfares with a loud voice and amidst the clash of arms?
Ah! who can say? So much only is certain that the tissues of this
network of calumny spread far and wide. It is possible to make human
weakness, ignorance, and rustic stupidity believe almost anything. The
severity of the gentry in the past had, no doubt, contributed something
to this end; but certainly not much, for, as a matter of fact, the
common people raged most furiously against those of the gentry who had
done them most good; it was their benefactors they treated the most
savagely. And then, too, the usual vices of every community, the love of
loot, the thirst for vengeance, blind fury, anger of heart, low greed,
were so many additional predisposing causes of the horrors that
followed.

Yet a red thread ran all through this woof of sorrow and mourning;
"blind destiny," upon whom man so cheerfully casts the burden of his
sins, had but little to do with it at all.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was after vespers, and Thomas Bodza was taking a walk across the
fields. This was his usual promenade. Sometimes he went as far as the
boundaries of the neighbouring village with a little book under his arm
which he perused with philosophic tranquility.

It was the works of Horace, all of whose verses he knew by heart; for,
inasmuch as it had once been very wisely observed in his presence by
some distinguished scholar that no other human lute-strummer had ever
sung so beautifully and so grandly as Horace, it thenceforth became a
point of honour with Mr. Bodza to read nothing else; so he never
troubled his head about any other poet or poets, whatever language they
wrote in. He made an exception in favour of himself indeed, for he also
had his moments of inspiration, but even his poems were not _quite_ as
good as those of Horace.

And now also he was reading over again those lines he already knew so
well. He had sat down to rest beneath a large poplar tree on a big round
stone that had often served him as a seat before, and he had just come
to the verses, beginning with the beautiful words:

    "Nunc est bibendum! Nunc pede libero,
    Pulsando tellus...."

when the sound of approaching footsteps disturbed his tranquil enjoyment.

"I have been awaiting you, Ivan," said the master, thrusting his little
book beneath his arm again, but not before he had carefully turned down
the leaf at the place where he had stopped reading, lest he should
forget where he had left off.

"I could only get off late. The old man would not let me go till
vespers."

"Ivan, the long expected signal has at last been given."

"How so?" inquired the fellow, amazed.

"It has been announced in every church, in every school; it has been
nailed in printed form on every wall, on every post. The county itself
has given the signal. That about which the people were still in doubt,
that which it refused to believe, it believes now, for it has been
officially proclaimed. Death is approaching, and woe to him who fears
it. I fear it not. Do you?"

The fellow shuddered, yet he replied,

"Not I."

"The plague will break out suddenly in various places, and wherever
there are dead bodies, there the living will fly to arms, and seek out
those on whom they would wreak their vengeance."

Ivan's face turned a pale green, but he stifled his inward terror. It
was indeed a terrible time that was coming.

"In the town there is a great commotion, but that does not amount to
much. I know the Hétfalu folks. They are cowards and only half ours so
far. There are many strangers, many traitors among them. Even when their
fury is at the highest point, a gentleman with silver buttons has only
to come among them with honied words, or a heyduke has only to appear
among them with a stick, or, at the most, a couple of gamekeepers with
loaded muskets, and they scatter and fly in all directions like startled
game. It is useless; they are a race of cowards. They are a mongrel set
after all. Yet here must be our starting point. We must compel the folks
here to tackle to the business--a petty village cannot take the
initiative without some stimulus from without."

Ivan listened to the master's words admiringly; he began to have the
strong conviction that Bodza possessed the qualifications of a great
general.

"We must bring in the folks from some neighbouring village just to stir
them up. The people of the Tribo district are best suited for that I
should think. Many of them are shepherds and herdsmen; men who lie in
the fields, who can be brought together in the night time, without
anyone observing it. There is a distillery in the village too, and he
who says that poison is concocted there does not lie in the least. In
general, every village should choose its leaders from some other
village, so that the local gentry may not recognise the strange faces.
Some men are easily put out if people, when they begin to supplicate,
call them by their name."

Ivan nodded his head approvingly at these sage suggestions. Bodza will
certainly deserve a plume of feathers in his cap, thought he.

"You will go at night to all the shepherds, one after the other, and
bring them together in front of the lonely inn near the main-road. I
will not tell you what you are to do, you must be guided by your own
common-sense. You must not all remain on the high road however, some of
you must march towards the village."

"The best hiding-place will be the headsman's dwelling."

"Will not the Zudár woman betray us?"

"Not till she has burnt down the castle of Hétfalusy, at any rate."

"Does she hate them then as much as her mother, the old crone?"

"As much! far more. The old crone is all talk."

"I have often heard her say that Hétfalusy seized her property, but one
can't go by what she says. She says that one wing of the castle is built
upon her land."

"It was like this. Dame Anna's husband was a poor gentleman who had a
little plot of land in the neighbourhood of the castle, which was the
occasion of an eternal squabble between him and the lord of the manor.
One day, Hétfalusy--you know how overbearing these great gentlemen
are!--suddenly fell upon this poor gentleman as he was walking on this
little plot of land of his and gave him a sound drubbing. The result was
a great lawsuit. Hétfalusy questioned Dudoky's gentility, and the
latter could not make good his claim to be regarded as an _armiger_. He
lost his case in the local court, and the suit dragged on for years. The
heavy law costs soon swallowed up all the appellant's means, till at
last his little property was put up to auction to defray his expenses.
Hétfalusy acquired it for a mere song, and even while the suit was
proceeding, he revenged himself on his adversary by building a new wing
to his house on the very plot of land the ownership of which was still a
matter of dispute. Then Dudoky had an apoplectic stroke which carried
him off. His orphan daughter took service for a time in town. Thence she
got into a house of no very extraordinary reputation where somebody
suddenly found her and offered her his hand in marriage. The wretched
woman agreed and accepted him. And who, you will ask, was the luckless
creature who sought out a wife in such a place? _She_ only discovered it
on the wedding-day. It was the headsman of Hétfalusy. Thus Barbara
Dudoky became the headsman's bride. If old Dame Anna became mad, her
daughter was partly the cause of it. This also they put down to the
account of the Hétfalusies. Since then Dame Anna has frequently sought
opportunities for revenging herself on the Hétfalusy family--'the
snail-brood,' as Barbara is wont to call them. The old night-owl loves
to torment the souls of those who anger her; she loves to fill the inner
rooms of the splendid Hétfalusy castle with tears and groaning; she
loves to see her haughty enemy grow grey beneath his load of sin and
sorrow; she rejoices at the spectacle of his shame and remorse and agony
of mind, for the old hag knows how to concoct the sort of venom that
corrodes the heart. Now Barbara is not like that. Whenever that woman
speaks of the Hétfalusies, her downy lips swell out, her cheeks flush,
her black eyes cast forth sparks like a crackling fire, and if at such
times she has a knife in her hands, it is not well to approach her. She
longs to taste the blood of her enemy, and smack her lips over it; she
longs to see his haughty castle in a blaze. I have often heard her say
so, and then add, 'After that they may kill me if they like, I don't
care.' Oh! that is indeed a terrible woman, you ought to see her."

"A veritable Libussa!" cried Thomas rapturously. "If we win, a great
destiny awaits her. Are you in love with her?"

"Perhaps it is more correct to say she loves me. I am very comfortable
with her, anyway. The old man does not mind a bit."

"He must be got out of the way."

"We'll take care of that."

"All the exits from the place must be seized after nightfall, and a band
of our bravest lads must make a dash for the town hall. Take care that
no close-cropped head[9] escapes from the place, even if he be dressed
as a peasant. The rest shall be my care."

[Footnote 9: No gentleman.]

"All right, master."

"Then we must have Mekipiros ready in front of the forester's hut."

"Why that, master? The fellow is dumb and foolish. You know that he bit
out his tongue under torture."

"So much the better. He cannot talk. He must have brandy, and lots of
it."

"When he drinks brandy he becomes like a wild beast. He can bite and
scratch now, but when he is drunk you can make him worry people like a
dog."

"That is just what we want. There may be things to be done which a man
would willingly keep out of and yet have done all the same. Do you take
me?"

"Yes, perfectly, you are worthy of all admiration, master. We can let
loose this wild beast in cases where we don't want our own hands to be
soiled. When he has lots of brandy he would shoot his own father if you
put a gun in his hands. And if anything goes wrong we can lay all the
blame on him."

The master regarded his pupil with a look of solemn reproach.

"And you are capable," said he, "capable of saying in cold blood, 'if
anything goes wrong'? Ivan, you are not a true believer. Ivan, you are a
worthless fellow."

The youth was greatly taken aback at these words, and made a feeble
attempt to defend himself.

"Ivan, you are a worthless fellow, I say. I regret that I chose you out
to take part in this great work."

Ivan grew angry.

"What! you chose me! Why, it was I who chose you! Am I not the head of
the conspiracy?"

"And am I not its soul?"

"What! with those weak pipe-stem arms of yours! Look at my arms! Look!"
said Ivan, turning up his shirt sleeves and exposing his fleshy arms. "I
could do more with one of my arms than you could with your whole body."

"And yet you are a coward if you ask, shall we succeed?"

"I'll show what I am when I am on the spot," said Ivan, sticking out his
brawny chest and boastfully thumping it with his clenched fist; at that
moment he wore the expression of a savage proud of his bones and sinews.

"Till then, however, let there be peace between us," said Bodza,
extending his dry and skinny hand towards Ivan in token of
reconciliation, and Ivan squeezed the hand with all his might, not so
much to convince the master of the firmness of his friendship as to give
him some idea of the expressive vigour of his grip.

Bodza did not move a muscle of his face during this violent tension;
but, all at once, Ivan began writhing, his features contracted with
pain, and he placed one hand on his stomach.

"Well, what is the matter?" inquired Bodza.

The fellow doubled up with pain.

"I have a sudden stitch, in the side."

"What! is that all? and you make so much fuss over it! I didn't flinch
just now, when you nearly crushed my fingers, did I?"

"But this is horrible--such spasms."

"Perchance, Ivan, you too have been poisoned."

"Oh, don't joke like that," said the fellow with a pale and agitated
face.

"Why you know the whole thing to be a fable."

Ivan gave a great sigh with an air of relief.

"It has gone now. I felt so odd. It is a fable, of course. But what a
peculiar pain it was!"

"Drive the idea out of your head and swallow some comforting cordial.
And now go and look after our confidants."

Ivan was still a little pale, and it seemed to him as if the master's
face also was of an odd yellow colour.

"How yellow the sky is!" said he, looking up, "not a speck of blue
anywhere. And what a long black cloud is rising up from the
horizon--just like a large black bird."

"Gape not at the sky, Ivan, but make haste and have everything ready
against the night."

"You can look right into the sun, there's not a bit of light in it when
it goes down," murmured he--and his head felt strangely dizzy.

"What have you got to do with the sky, or the sun, or the clouds?"
inquired the master sarcastically.

"Nothing, I suppose, nor with what is beyond them either. Good night, my
master," he cried after a pause, and turned truculently away.

"A happy and peaceful good night!" said the other with an ironical
smile.

"Pleasant dreams."

"And a joyful awakening."

And with that they parted. The master returned towards the village,
reading the immortal verses of Horace all the way along. But Ivan
hastened towards the lonely forest hut, looking up from time to time at
the yellow sky, the faded sun, and the long black cloud, and then
glancing around him horror-stricken, to perceive that he cast no shadow
either before or behind.

That sombre yellow light, how odd it was!--and then, too, that brown,
copper-coloured cloud, which was gradually covering the whole earth, and
enveloping the whole horizon with its broad sluggish wings like some
huge bat-like monster of the Nether World! And the little black letters
in the master's open book seemed to be dancing together in long dizzying
rows, and this is what he read:

    "... Pallida Mors
    Aequo pede pulsat
    Pauperum tabernas
    Regumnque turres..."



CHAPTER XI.

THE FIRST SPARK.


Maria Kamienszka talked for the whole of a long hour with the General's
wife.

She told her all she knew of that unhappy family, whose fate was bound
up with the General's by such tragic memories.

She had learnt to know the disowned and rejected son as a gallant young
officer in Galicia, and the relations which had sprung up between them
were the tenderest imaginable.

The calamity which compelled the youth to fly had profoundly affected
but not overwhelmed her, for Maria, with that virile determination which
has so frequently distinguished the Polish women, had followed up the
track of the vanished youth step by step, and when, at last, she had
discovered him, she had devoted all the ingenuity of a loving heart to
the desperate task of saving him.

The enthusiastic words of the girl had electrified Cornelia Vértessy;
indeed, she, the gentler, calmer of the two, was quite carried away by
Maria's courage, energy, readiness of resource and impulsive
enthusiasm, so that she considered the most fantastic projects which the
Polish lady elaborated on the spur of the moment with the rapidity of
cloud formation, as perfectly natural and feasible.

They agreed between them that old Hétfalusy and his son-in-law should be
brought together to the General's, that Cornelia, at the same time,
should present to them the child who was believed to have perished,
Maria undertaking to get it from its adopted father. They argued that
the scene which would ensue, when the father and grandfather recognised
the child they so ardently longed to see could not fail to touch the
heart of the General, who at the same instant, when the grandfather
recovered his grandchild, would complete the old man's joy by presenting
him with his son also.

The dear conspirators had calculated all contingencies, and the whole
thing seemed to them as feasible as it was romantic, and therefore bound
to succeed ... but they forgot that Fate was, after all, mine host, and
that the reckoning was in mine host's own hands and not in theirs.

Nevertheless, Maria, dressed in her masculine attire, which best suited
her present purpose, mounted her nag again, and hastened off towards
Hétfalu. On her way she posted a letter in which she instructed old
Hétfalusy to get into his carriage and hasten to town as soon as
possible, she herself meant to go straight to the headsman's dwelling.

It was already late when she turned into the main-road. The sun had
already sunk, and there was in the sky that red glare, so trying to the
eyes, which envelops every object in a yellow light and obliterates
every shadow. In the western sky blood-red rays, like the spokes of a
wheel, cut up the oddly-coloured sky into segments; while in the
opposite, eastern firmament, solar rays of a similar description rose
brown and lofty, like the horns of the crown of an avenging angel.

There was a sombre air of homelessness about the whole region. Not a
bird was flying in the air, no cattle were grazing in the fields, even
the merry chirp of the crickets was no longer to be heard in the wayside
ditches. The road itself was overgrown with grass on both sides, scarce
leaving room for a little winding ribbon of a track in the centre, and
even there the ruts, which the last luckless cart had left behind it,
were hidden by weeds. It was weeks since anybody had passed that way,
for every village was afraid of the village next to it, every man
avoided his neighbour, and feared to look upon his face.

The lanes and byeways had been quite abandoned, they were only
distinguishable by the luxuriant crop of weeds which covered them--weeds
more rampant and of darker colour than were to be found elsewhere. The
whole land looked just as it used to look in the olden times after a
Tartar invasion.

The horse trotted along all alone, before and behind him there was no
trace either of man or beast, the rider looked round about her with a
melancholy eye.

Here and there on both sides of the road crooked trees were tottering to
their fall. They had been stripped bare by the devastating army of
caterpillars, and instead of their beautiful green leaves they were
clothed with the rags of dusty spider-webs; further away the fruitless
orchards looked as if they had been burnt with fire, and, stretching to
the horizon, as far as the eye could reach, the arid corn-fields had the
appearance of being covered with nothing but scrappy stubble.

The atmosphere was oppressive and lay like a stifling weight on the
breast of man; and if, now and then, a faint breath of air flitted
languidly over the country, it was as burning hot as if it had just come
out of the mouth of a blast-furnace, and only increased the exhausting
sensation of oppression.

Then slowly, very slowly, it began to grow dark. There was a long black
stripe all along the edge of the sky, which gradually bulged out into a
sort of black veil, and as the infrequent stars twinkled forth in the
pallid sky, this dark veil blotted them out one by one; it was just as
if some mighty spirit-hand had drawn a crape curtain across a funeral
vault bright with glittering lamps.

It was already midnight when Maria Kamienszka perceived the first
roadside _csárda_[10] which, according to her calculations, lay midway
between the county-town and Hétfala. In the midnight gloom and silence
it was easier to distinguish distant sounds than to clearly recognise
near objects.

[Footnote 10: Inn.]

It seemed to Maria as if she heard a medley of despairing yells and
savage maledictions, and dimly discernible masses of men were moving up
and down all round the house.

Instinctively she felt for the pistols in her saddle bow--there they
were in their proper place.

In a few moments she was close up to the house and perceived clearly at
last, with a tremor of horror, the spectacle that had long been engaging
her attention.

Some hundreds of peasants, the dregs of the agricultural population,
were swarming in and out of the _csárda_ door, savagely singing and
shouting. Two large casks had been planted in front of the house, their
bottoms had been stoved in, and those of the mob who had got near enough
were ladling out the brandy they contained in their hats. Some of these
gentlemen could only keep their legs at all by leaning upon the object
nearest to them. A white-bearded Jew had been tied to the leg of a chair
placed between the two casks. The drunken mob was bestowing most of its
attention upon him, and pulling out his beard hair by hair as they
cross-examined him. The tortured victim was howling horribly, but would
give his tormentors no answer, only from time to time he implored them
to spare his innocent daughter. A childish shape, evidently a woman's,
was lying across the threshold, and everyone going in and out of the
door gave it a kick as he passed through. Fortunately she felt nothing
more now.

Maria, full of indignation, spurred her horse right into the midst of
the mob that was tormenting the old innkeeper, and exclaimed in a voice
of virile assurance:

"What are you all doing here?"

The mob only first perceived the horse when it was right amongst them.

A young lout with a stumpy nose, which had evidently been broken some
time or other, a bare breast, and a shock of ragged hair covering his
face, answered the question.

"We are paying off a poisoner, young sir, if you must know."

"What poisoner do you mean?" inquired Maria, who had not the remotest
idea what the fellow was driving at.

"What!" cried the stripling defiantly, "do you mean to say you don't
know? Why, haven't the gentry got the Jews to put poison in the brandy!
Why, everyone knows that."

Maria was so dumfounded that she had not a word to say in reply.

"Look! how he pretends to know nothing about it. But we are up to them.
They may weave their plans as artfully as they like, we've got eyes in
our heads all the same. All is betrayed. Come, thou Jew! confess that
there is poison in that cask!"

And yet they all went on drinking out of the barrel as if they had made
up their minds to discover what poison really tasted like.

The lout of a spokesman now filled his hat with brandy up to the brim,
and held it out towards Maria.

"Come, young sir," said he, "if you don't believe that there's poison in
it, just taste for yourself and see."

Maria, full of loathing, pushed aside the dirty hat-full of nauseous
fluid.

"You see! he won't drink it! he knows there is poison in it."

"Pull him off his horse!" cried a voice from the midst of the crowd.

"We ought to hang him up where the Hétfalusy squires are going to be
hung!" roared the others.

The dirty lout, who had offered her brandy, quickly seized the horse's
bridle, and several of the mob stretched out their hands towards Maria.

These savage menaces acted like a stimulant upon the Polish lady, she
recovered her presence of mind instantly. She brought down the round
knob of her riding-whip like lightning on the head of the fellow who was
trying to hold her horse back, and he fell like a log prone to the
ground. Then giving her good steed the spur she leaped clear of the
encircling mob. A bludgeon came whizzing after her just above her head,
and the belated sweeping strokes of a couple of scythes just missed her.
One or two agile young ruffians even set off after her, and as two large
waggons lay right across her path a little further on, they made sure of
overtaking her there. But the lady, with a single bound, leaped over the
obstacle, whereupon her pursuers remained behind, but as she turned her
back upon them they sent after her a horrible yell of laughter. "That's
right, go on!" she heard them cry, "you are going to a good place, where
you'll be well looked after--ha, ha, ha!"

Maria had only proceeded a few hundred paces when she was thunderstruck
to perceive that her horse was beginning to limp. More than once it
stumbled heavily, and suddenly it went dead lame.

The good steed, when it leaped the obstruction, must assuredly have
sprained its front leg.

Presently it could scarce put one foot before the other, and Maria was
obliged to tighten the reins continually to relieve the poor beast and
prevent it from stumbling as much as possible. It was as well that her
pursuers had abandoned the chase, for she could scarce have hoped to
escape from them now.

But what sort of disorderly mob could this be? Maria, now growing
thoroughly alarmed, began to ask herself; a mob which had the audacity
to indulge in such excesses in the midst of a civilised, constitutional
state, in despite of all law and order? She had not the remotest idea
that it was a widespread rebellion of the most horrible description.

Meanwhile, that black curtain had been drawn right across the sky, the
whole region was in pitch-black darkness, one star after another had
been blotted out, the horse hung its head and frequently whinnied. Maria
felt that she could no longer remain safely in her saddle, fearing as
she did that the horse might at any moment fall head foremost. So she
dismounted, and letting the reins hang over her arm, led the horse along
beside her.

It was hard to discern the grass-grown path in the darkness, and Maria
immediately directed her footsteps towards a bright light in front of
her a long way off, which seemed to proceed from the windows of some
wayside house.

As she drew nearer to this house it seemed to her as if masses of men
were flitting backwards and forwards, and the din of many voices struck
upon her ear.

And now it suddenly dawned upon her why her pursuers had laughed so
loudly when they saw her take refuge in this direction, here also the
road was barred.

For an instant she stopped short. Feminine weakness for a moment took
possession of her heart, and a shudder ran suddenly through her whole
body; it was one of those instinctive feelings of panic which we cannot
explain to ourselves. Where can I take refuge? she thought. Shall I
forsake the road and venture amidst the strange woods beyond? Then she
bethought her on what errand she had come, and she trembled no longer,
but drew forth her pistols from her holsters, looked well to their
priming, placed one under her arm, took the other in her hand, and tying
the horse to a tree by the roadside (for, indeed, of what further use
was he now?), resolutely directed her steps towards the noisy mob.

It was now so dark that it would have been easy to have avoided them
altogether by making a short circuit, but that sort of perilous
curiosity which often urges men to thrust themselves into the very
situations from which they instinctively shrink, would not now permit
her to turn from her purpose of penetrating those howling masses there
and then.

Only when she was already in the midst of them did they become aware of
her.

"Stop!" resounded on every side of her, and the point of a scythe
pressed against the breast of the intruder.

In the moment of danger Maria recovered in an instant all her presence
of mind.

"Give me room! two paces at the least!" she cried with a clarion-like
voice. "A step nearer and I shoot! What do you want here?"

At the sight of the pistol the sordid mob drew back. If she had wished
to proceed the path now lay clear and unobstructed before her.

But now she had changed her mind. This nocturnal spectacle had put it
into her head that here was some evil plot afoot against the Hétfalusy
family. She must find out what it was, and if possible defeat it. So she
repeated her question:

"What are you doing here?"

At that moment the door of the wayside house opened, and out came Thomas
Bodza with a lamp in his hand.

"Who is talking here?" he asked, peering all around him into the
darkness.

Some timorous peasant lads behind the door pointed out to him the new
arrival, at the same time calling his attention to the fact that the
stranger had a pistol in his hand, and it was therefore not advisable to
go near him.

The master, however, boldly advanced towards Maria, and held the lamp
high above his head the better to read the intruder's face.

"What a fine head that young squire has," growled shaggy Hanák behind
his back, "it would look very well on the point of my scythe."

"Hush!" said the master. "I want to speak to him! Who are you, sir, and
what do you want?"

"That is what I don't mean to tell to the first blockhead I meet. First
of all I should like to know who you are. If you are robbers I shall
defend myself against you to the best of my ability; if you are fools I
shall try to enlighten you; if you are brave and honest men I will shake
hands with you."

The last idea only occurred to Maria when she caught sight of Bodza's
face. She had encountered such enthusiasts before now, and had had
opportunities of studying them.

Bodza's eyes sparkled.

"We are neither robbers, nor fools, but brave men in very deed, who are
battling for one great brotherhood, from the icy sea to the warm
sea."[11]

[Footnote 11: _I.e._, From the White Sea to the Black Sea; he meant the
Slavs.]

Maria at once stuck her pistol into her breast-pocket and
confidentially extended her hand to the master.

"Then I greet thee, my brother, I have just come from Russia."

Thomas Bodza squinted suspiciously at Maria, and holding the iron ring
on his little finger right in front of her eyes, inquired:

"Dost thou then know the meaning of these three letters: U. S. S.?"

Maria answered with a smile:

"_Ud slovenske stridnosce._"[12]

[Footnote 12: "Member of the Slavonic League;" the language is Slovak.]

Then the master did indeed press the hand offered to him.

"Come inside!" said he, himself escorting the stranger, whilst the
peasants, obsequiously raising their caps, made a way for them right up
to the door.

The master dismissed everyone from the room, and when they two were
alone asked excitedly in Russian:

"You come from Russia, you say? From what part of Russia?"

"From the eternal city where stand the golden gates of the Kremlin,"
answered Maria, also in the Russian tongue.

All Bodza's doubts instantly disappeared.

"What news in the Empire since the death of Romulus?"

Maria knew very well whom was meant by Romulus. It was none other than
Muraviev, who was to be the builder of the walls of the new Rome, which
was ere long to be the Lord of the whole earth.

Maria was no proselyte of this extravagant confederacy, but, living, as
she did, nearer to the main source of it all, she was better able, with
the assistance of current rumours and her own lively imagination, to
amuse Thomas Bodza with more fables than he could have told her.

"Romulus is not dead, Romulus is still alive," whispered she to the
interrogator mysteriously.

"How so?" asked Bodza, much surprised; "where is he then?"

"He has disappeared--like Romulus. The Gods have taken him!"--and Maria
smiled enigmatically, as if she could reveal a great deal more if she
only chose.

Bodza seized her hand violently.

"And in his own time he will appear again, eh?"

The only answer Maria gave was to press his hand significantly.

"Then it is true that they have not beheaded him?" continued the master
excitedly, "and one of his good spiritual brethren sacrificed himself in
his stead?"

"It was my own brother," said Maria, covering her eyes with her hands.
Then she suddenly placed her hand on the master's shoulder. "Weep not
for him!" she cried. "Look! _I_ do not weep, and yet he was my brother.
Romulus still lives and demands sacrifice and obedience from us all."

The master pressed Maria's hand still more warmly.

"What is thy name, my beloved brother?"

"My name is Fabius Cunctator!" said Maria, well aware of the weakness of
these visionaries for classical names.

"_My_ name is Numa Pompilius," said Bodza, tossing back his head with
proud self-consciousness. "Numa Pompilius, ever true to the good cause,
fervent in action, lucid in counsel, pitiless in execution, and fearless
in peril."

And again they pressed each other's hands in a fiery masonic grip, and
all the while Maria was thinking: how I long to seize the dry skinny
throat of this fervent, pitiless, and fearless man while he is spouting
his finest, and throttle him on the spot.

"So you have raised the standard of revolt, eh?" inquired Maria of the
valiant Numa Pompilius, "who gave you the signal?"

"Heaven and Earth," replied the master. "Heaven which sends death down
upon the people, and Earth which opens her mouth to receive their dead
bodies. Never was there a better opportunity than now. The terrible
destroying angel is going from house to house, and striding from village
to village, bringing with him wherever he goes sorrow and terror. Men
perceive that life is cheap and that it can't last long. Desperation has
severed every bond between masters and servants, creditors and debtors,
superiors and inferiors. It needs but one spark to ignite the whole
mass. That spark has already been kindled."

"How?"

"A blind rumour has begun to circulate among the masses to the effect
that the gentry are about to poison their peasants _en masse_."

Maria looked at the master in amazement.

"But is there anyone who believes such a thing?"

"The tales of wayfarers first spread the rumour, the thoughtless speech
of a drunken apothecary's assistant established it, intercepted letters
written by the gentry to one another served as confirmatory testimony."

"And the gentry actually wrote to each other that they were about to
poison the peasants?"

"No, but those who read out these letters to the people, took care to
find therein things that had never been written down."

In her horror and disgust Maria had been on the point of betraying
herself.

"Oh! I see. You read out forged letters to the illiterate people. A very
judicious expedient, I must say. Village folks can be got to believe
anything. But how about the townsfolk?"

"Oh! in the towns there is even more fear than in the country, and more
terrifying rumours too. But one loud cry and the walls of Jericho will
fall down--fall down where nobody expected it."

An idea suddenly flashed like lightning through Maria's brain.

"Have our brethren who dwell on the banks of the Drave[13] and among
the mountains of Chernagora[14] been informed of this movement?" she
asked.

[Footnote 13: The Croats and Serbs.]

[Footnote 14: The Montenegrins.] The master, somewhat confused, replied
that they had not.

"Then all our fine preparations will lead to nothing," rejoined Maria,
with self-assumed despondency. "While you are awake in one place they
are asleep in another; in one spot the flames are bursting forth, in
another they are being extinguished. Why, they ought to have flashed
forth everywhere at once. Have you issued proclamations?"

"No," replied Bodza shamefacedly.

"Then, Numa Pompilius, you know not what you are about," cried Maria.
"Why, that was the first, the one absolutely indispensable thing to be
done. You should have sent proclamations in every direction, you should
have kept the local leaders fully informed of what was going on, you
should have concentrated the whole force of the movement, you should
have thoroughly systematized the whole concern. Ah! Numa, I see you are
but a neophyte after all. Why did you begin without inviting the aid of
the Poles? This is just the sort of thing a Pole would understand! Have
you writing materials handy?"

Startled into obsequiousness, Bodza produced ink and paper from some
secret receptacle. He was humbly silent now. He felt himself in the
presence of a man wiser than himself.

"And now sit down and write!"

Bodza obeyed mechanically. Maria dictated to him what he was to write,
while she herself, at the same time, was writing something else on
another piece of paper.

     "BRETHREN!

     "The long expected hour has at length struck. The flag is
     unfurled. The gentry want to extirpate us by means of poison, we
     will extirpate them with fire and sword. The brave shall live,
     the cowards shall die. Ye, who see your children, your parents
     tormented and grovelling in the dust, snatch up your arms and
     avenge them. Fear not the soldiers, they also will be on our
     side. Let none go who has short-cropped hair. Two deputies must
     proceed forthwith from every village to Hétfalu, which is to be
     the centre of our operations, and there await our further
     instructions. Valour and concord.

     "Given at our headquarters near Hétfala."

"Write your name beneath it: 'Numa Pompilius, prætor of Upper
Pannonia.'"

Thomas Bodza, with a spasmodic grin, accepted this title of distinction,
and added his sprawling signature to the dangerous document.

Then Maria snatched up a pen, and subscribed it with the name: Fabius
Cunctator, quæstor of Volhynia.

Then both documents were sealed with the famous signet ring, bearing the
three mysterious letters, and also with Maria's family seal.

"And now send one of the documents by a rapid horseman to the Nyitra
district, while I hasten with the other towards Slavonia. Meanwhile, you
will organize here a standing army. You have already arranged, I
suppose, to procure provisions and uniforms?"

Thomas Bodza confessed with a blush that he had _not_ taken thought for
these things.

"Well, write as soon as possible an open order to the presidents of the
Tailor and Cobbler Guilds of Kassa and Rozsnyó, commanding each of them
to provide, without fail, within ten days four thousand pairs of boots
and just as many dolmans and szürs,[15] and send them in carts to
Hétfalu, otherwise you will levy upon them a grievous contribution."

[Footnote 15: A szür is a sheepskin mantle such as the peasants wear.]

This letter also Thomas Bodza wrote as he had been told. "These Poles
have had such lots of practice in such matters," thought he to himself.

"And now despatch one of these open orders by a swift courier to
Rozsnyó, and the other I will take charge of. Do not forget to have
numerous copies made of these proclamations for instant distribution
throughout the length and breadth of the kingdom."

Bodza promised to make his pupils copy out the documents in question
early on the following morning.

"And now, my brave Numa, don't forget that our watchword is: 'Valour and
Concord!' Of valour we have no lack, but as regards concord I would
first of all have you know why they call me Fabius Cunctator. My
principle is: judicious procrastination! It was a premature signal, you
will remember, which ruined the plots of Romulus II. If only he had
waited for another half day, for another six hours, his enterprise would
have been a triumphant success. Only over-hastiness ruined us then. Lest
a similar risk should befall us now, I would strongly advise you to
postpone the general rising till to-morrow afternoon. To-morrow
afternoon all the soldiery will quit Kassa for Eperies, and they will
not be relieved for two whole days. You will now understand therefore
why I want the rising postponed till to-morrow afternoon."

The master turned very pale.

"Too late now!" said he.

"How so?" exclaimed Maria confounded.

"All my orders have been distributed already."

"Then they must be recalled."

"It's impossible, impossible," cried the master, wringing his hands; and
he glanced anxiously, from time to time, through the window, through
which a far distant reddish light was beginning to illuminate the room.
"They have already fired the house of the headsman."

"What!" cried Maria beside herself.

"That was to be the beginning of it. It is impossible now to hold them
back any longer."

"Oh, fools and madmen!" hissed the lady. Her immediate impulse was to
rush from the room. At the door, however, she recovered her _sang
froid_, and, turning back, clutched Bodza by the arm and whispered in
his ear:

"There is now only one remaining way of gaining a complete victory."

"What is that?"

"We must revolt the county-town also. If we succeed we shall have the
General as a hostage, if we do not, at least we shall give the soldiers
something to do."

Thomas Bodza, with his teeth all chattering, approved of this project.
He would, however, have very much liked to know who would undertake this
dangerous enterprise.

Never had Maria had to exercise such self-control as now, when, gazing
through the window into the night, she watched with the utmost _sang
froid_ the distant conflagration which was lighting up the room.

For an instant the thought of what was happening there and what might be
happening elsewhere flashed through her brain. She saw vividly before
her all those midnight horrors, and all the time she had to affect an
enthusiastic interest in the affair.

"Numa Pompilius, we must make haste! Have you a good steed handy here?
Mine I have left behind on the road, it was no longer of any service to
me."

"Be it so, Fabius! It was my first care to seize all the post-horses in
order that the authorities should not send forth couriers for
assistance. You see that I am provident. Choose the best horse for
yourself and hasten whither you would. I entrust this province to you."

Bodza was magnanimous. The department of greatest danger and the glory
of conquest he entrusted to another.

"I will hasten," cried Maria, flinging open the door--and for some
moments she remained standing on the threshold. "Numa!" she cried at
last, "you would let me depart alone?"

"Why not?"

"You are making a mistake. The popular leaders might be suspicious.
Suppose they took me for a spy or a traitor? Never put your whole
confidence in a single person. Always send forth your emissaries in
couples, that one of them may be a check upon the other. That is a
general rule. I am surprised that you have not learnt it hitherto."

Thomas Bodza admitted his mistake, but of course Fabius had had so much
more experience in these matters. An escort he must have certainly.

Maria, on the other hand, required an escort in order to avoid being
again detained by the mobs of rustics encamped in front of the _csárda_.

"Bring hither two good horses!" cried Bodza to the boor mounting guard
in the corridor, and with that the pair of them stepped forth amidst the
peasant host.

The peasants were scattered about in groups. Here and there some of them
were engaged in sharpening their scythes. Others were standing round
excited stump-orators, or making a frightful uproar over a few pence
which they had found upon some poor Jewish tramp and would not divide
fairly.

"My friends!" cried Maria, stepping into the midst of them, and speaking
in a friendly confident tone, "can I find among you half a dozen
stouthearted dare-devils who are ready, if necessary, to go through fire
and water?"

The gaping rioters did not respond very willingly at first, but when
Thomas Bodza assured them that they now saw before them one of the most
powerful leaders of the movement, ten or twenty of them forced their way
to the front, boasting loudly that they were prepared to face any
danger.

"Remember this is no joke, my sons," continued Maria. "Are you ready to
adventure yourselves with me in the county-town, read the proclamation
in the streets, stir up the people there, provide yourselves with
weapons and powder, and seize all the bigwigs at one stroke like a pack
of wolves in a spinney?"

This little speech somewhat abated the ardour of the more clamorous
heroes, yet two or three youths, well soaked with brandy, still
persisted in beating their breasts with their fists, and declared that
they were men enough for anything.

Maria selected from among them shaggy Hanák. The fellow had a face as
broad as it was long, one half of which was covered with hair, the other
with bristles; it was impossible not to take to him at once.

"You shall come with me. Mount on the other horse."

Shaggy Hanák did not wait for a second invitation. He managed somehow to
scramble on to the horse's back, and could not help smiling with joy at
the thought that at last he had a good steed beneath him.

Maria leaped lightly on to the second horse. It was a somewhat lean and
bony beast of great powers of endurance.

"To-morrow about this time you shall hear of us," she said, addressing
herself to Bodza. "Till then avoid every decisive step. Whomsoever you
may capture keep a strict watch upon them, and see that no harm befall
them. Do you take me? It is possible that the captives may attempt to
put an end to their own lives. But we shall require them all on account
of their confessions. Therefore take care of their lives. We must judge
each one of them separately. Numa! take care to be ubiquitous. Valour
and vigilance!"

Then, after pressing Thomas Bodza's hand once more, Maria put spurs to
her horse and galloped briskly along the high road. As for the horse of
her comrade it had to be almost dragged out of the courtyard, as it
showed a disposition to force its rider to return to the stable. Only
with the utmost difficulty did Hanák succeed in overtaking Maria,
pursued by the yells of encouragement and exultation of the mob he had
left behind him.

Maria pounded along the highway, glancing aside from time to time in the
direction of the burning house, the conflagration of which lit up the
overcast sky, tinging the clouds with an angry purple. The wind drove
the lurid smoke hither and thither. There was as steady a glare as if a
whole village was in flames. As they sped further and further away the
flames lit up the road and the wayside trees, and the towering masses of
clouds ever less and less. At last all that was to be seen was a large
blood-red star rising from the plain, a mere point of light far, far
away. Then even that vanished. Soon afterwards day began to dawn. The
cinder-grey sky reduced the nightly glare to ashes, and a dark grey
column of smoke, standing out against the pale yellow horizon, was the
only sign left of the conflagration.

On approaching the next _csárda_, Maria allowed Hanák to draw nearer to
her; her escort had to explain to the mob of peasants drinking in front
of the door on what errand they were speeding. He did so in his usual
boisterous bombastic fashion.

"We are going to town," bawled he. "We are going to read the
proclamation and collar the soldiers and the bigwigs, and bring back
with us guns and gunpowder, and lots of money. This is the courier."

Hoarsely bellowed "Eljens!" greeted this magnanimous resolution. A
guffawing scytheman, moreover, pressed with his horny palm the hand of
Maria, for whom shaggy Hanák, in the fervour of his enthusiasm, could
find no more important title than that of "courier."

As the day slowly began to dawn, the sobering breath of the fresh
morning breeze blew full in the faces of the horsemen, and the towers
of the county-town stood out plainly before them in the distance. And
now Maria began to observe that her companion was lagging behind her at
a considerable distance. More than once she had to shout back to him:

"My brother! don't drop behind so!"

"My horse is tired out," stammered Hanák, and he kept on mopping up the
sweat from his towzled poll.

"Give him the spur, then!"

"I would if I had 'em."

"Then ride in front of me, and I'll whip him up from behind."

And so they went along pretty well for some time, but when the towers
and steeples of the county-town drew very much nearer, shaggy Hanák
began to complain that his saddle was nearly falling off.

"Dismount, then, and fix it tighter!"

The fellow dismounted accordingly, but he was fumbling about with it
such a long time that Maria, growing impatient, herself leaped to the
ground and tightened his saddle-girths.

"And now up you get and off again!"

Shaggy Hanák stuck all five fingers into his hairy poll and scratched
his head all round beneath his cap, then suddenly, with an artful grin,
he turned his face towards Maria.

"Hark ye! Are we really going into the town?"

"Of course we are."

"And you really intend to read out the proclamation, to seize the
General, take away the guns, and capture the barrack?"

"Yes, and much more besides, when the business has been fairly begun."

Shaggy Hanák began to scratch his head still harder, and seemed to have
a thousand and one things to put to rights in the horse's trappings. At
last he came out with the following proposition:

"Listen, comrade! Don't you think it would be better if, when you went
into the town, I remained outside and read the proclamation to all the
people coming to market?"

"You can read then?"

"Read! A pretty sort of sexton I should be if I couldn't read!"

"Very well. I rather like your idea;" whereupon Maria drew from her
side-pocket a couple of cigars wrapped up in part of an odd number of
the Leutschau county newspaper, and gave the sheet to her valiant
comrade, who glanced over it with the air of a connoisseur, and, after
declaring aloud that he quite grasped its meaning, folded it neatly up,
and stuck it in the braiding of his cap.

"I'll read it in my best style," said he, "and will come to your
assistance at the head of a fresh band of them."

Maria approved of his design, and, whipping up her horse, galloped
towards the town at such a rate that shaggy Hanák felt constrained to
pray Heaven that his comrade might not break his neck before he got
there.



CHAPTER XII.

IN THE MIDST OF THE FIRE.


Zudár was to-night more anxious than at other times. He had put up the
iron shutters in front of his windows immediately after dusk, and had
gone to bed much earlier than usual.

The evening prayer of the little girl soothed him for a while. "Amen!
Amen!" he kept repeating after her, laying stress upon the word--and
then something began agitating him again strangely.

"An evil foreboding, an evil foreboding," he kept on murmuring; "some
great calamity is about to befall me."

"You have caught cold, my good father," said the little girl soothingly,
stroking the old man's forehead with her tiny hand; "your hand is
trembling, your head is burning..."

"I am all shivering inside," said the old man; "a sort of deadly
coldness seems to come from within me. Don't you hear a noise in the
courtyard?"

"There is nothing, my father. Only the horses are stamping in the
stable."

"But don't you hear talking, whispering beneath the windows, just as if
someone was digging at the wall below?"

"The dog is settling down for the night; 'tis he who is scratching down
below there. Go to rest, my good father!"

"I will lie down, but I shall not be able to sleep. Put my musket at the
head of my bed."

Elise took the gun down from the wall, examined it carefully to make
sure that it was in perfect order, and then leaned it against the bed.

Then they both lay down.

Zudár kept conversing for a long time with Elise in the darkness, and
assuring her that he should never go to sleep--nevertheless, suddenly,
there was a deep silence, followed presently by a deep, thunderous
snore, only interrupted from time to time by cries of terror, as if the
sleeper were tormented by evil dreams, and at such times he would fling
himself violently against the sides of the bed.

The child did not sleep. Resting on her elbows she lay there listening
and gazing steadily into the vision-haunted darkness.

Presently it seemed to her also as if a large concourse of people was
moving backwards and forwards along the wall outside, and a great deal
of whispering appeared to come from the kitchen.

Suddenly she heard a soft knocking at the door, and the voice of Dame
Zudár inquired:

"I say, Betsey! is your father asleep?"

"Yes," stammered the little girl.

"Some people have come hither from Kassa, they don't understand German,
come out and speak to them!"

The little maid hastily put on her clothes and, opening the fast-locked
door, went out into the kitchen.

       *       *       *       *       *

Peter Zudár was continually tormented by evil dreams. Danger to Elise
was the ever-recurring subject of his nightmares. Now he saw her
wandering among rocks overhanging dizzy abysses, and would have
stretched out his hand to lay hold of her and draw her back, but his
hand could not reach her. Now a fierce wolf was pursuing the child, and
he would have run after it with a gun, but his legs refused their
service, or he forgot where the gun was, or it refused to go off.

Suddenly a shrill scream sounded in his ear.

"Father!"

Up he jumped. That cry had pierced through his heart, through every
fibre of his body. It was Elise who was calling.

"Elise! Elise, my child! are you asleep? Were you calling just now?" he
inquired softly.

Receiving no answer he turned towards the child's bed, which lay at the
foot of his own, and sought for her little head on the pillow with his
hand.

She was not there.

The same instant he heard the key of his room-door turning in the lock
outside.

With one bound he was at the door. Not a word did he say, but he shook
the door till it trembled on its hinges.

At that moment he heard hasty footsteps quitting the kitchen and the
hall, and once more imagined he could distinguish Elise's stifled moans.

Redoubled fury lent gigantic strength to his Sampsonian frame. The door
burst into two pieces beneath the pressure of his hands, and the upper
portion containing the lock remained in his clenched fist.

He roared aloud for the first time as he rushed into the kitchen. It was
no human voice, no intelligible sound, but the roar of a savage lion
whose den has been broken into, and who scents the flesh of the
huntsman.

And in response to this savage roar there arose from the courtyard the
mocking yell of hundreds and hundreds of human voices, intermingled with
laughter, curses, and threats.

For a moment he remained there dumfounded. What could it be? Surely not
a band of robbers in collusion with his wife?

"Look out!" cried the shrill voice of Dame Zudár rising above the din
outside, "the old carrion has a loaded musket, and would shoot at you if
there were a thousand of you."

But Zudár did not even require the help of a loaded musket, he would
have rushed out among them with his bare fists, but the kitchen door was
barred and bolted, and barricaded with all sort of heavy obstacles.

Panting hard, Zudár rushed back into his room, sought out a heavy axe,
and rushed back to the kitchen door. At the first vigorous strokes the
joints of the door began to crack.

"Quick! throw the bundles of faggots in front of the door!" shrieked the
savage virago outside, "and set it alight at once! Don't you see the
door is giving way?"

The courtyard was crowded with a mob of louts, armed with scythes and
pitchforks, among whom stood Dame Zudár, with dishevelled hair and
flaming eyes, like the very Fury of Revolt.

The peasant host quickly got together a heap of faggots, and carrying
them to the door, literally buried it beneath them.

"And now a match! Let him burn in his own den!"

It was Zudár's own wife who thus exclaimed.

The boor who tried to kindle the fire was such a long time about it,
owing to the damp tinder, that Dame Zudár impatiently snatched the flint
and steel out of his hands, struck away at it till she had ignited the
tinder, then thrust it with her own hand in the midst of the straw
surrounding the faggots, fanned it with her apron till it burst into a
vivid flame, and then ran across the courtyard to the other side of the
faggot heap to set it alight there also. Her wild and tangled tresses
fluttered in the tempest.

"My father, oh! my good father!" wailed a scarce audible voice from the
bottom of the reed-covered waggon to which the headsman's horses had
been attached.

The dry bunches of twigs and fire-wood suddenly began spluttering and
crackling, and burst into a flame. The windows of the house were also
crammed full with straw and sticks, and each heap of combustibles was
ignited one by one. Soon something very like a big bonfire was blazing
merrily all round the house.

The man imprisoned within there thundered away at the door with all his
might, and at each terrible blow the besiegers laughed derisively.

"Bravo, fire away! Frizzle away in your own den, old Bruin!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The thuds against the door had ceased; the flames were already leaping
above the roof of the house; the whole building was burning with a
steady glare, casting forth showers of sparks upwards towards the sky.
And long, long after that, when the flames were towering upwards in each
other's embrace above the ruins of the house, it seemed to many as if
they heard, arising from the deepest depths of this furnace of blazing
embers, the half-smothered sound of a deep sonorous voice intoning the
vesper hymn. Perchance it was only imagination, only a delusion of the
senses. Nobody _could_ be singing there now, except it were the _soul_
of the headsman. In a short half-hour the roof collapsed between the
four walls, burying in a burning tomb all that lay beneath it, and
millions of sparks rose straight up into the air.

"So there we have settled your account for you!" cried Dame Zudár, as
the hellish glare of the fire lit up her passion-distorted face. "And
now comes the turn of the castle!"

"Oh, my father! my poor father!" wailed the child, who lay fast bound at
the bottom of the cart beneath a covering of rushes.

The furious virago gazed at her with gnashing teeth.

"Your father indeed! Your _real_ father's turn will come later, my
chicken. And now, my lads, let's be up and doing elsewhere!"

And, with that, she leaped upon the car, seized the reins in her hands
and whipped up the horses, and before and behind her tore the savage,
bloodthirsty mob with torches and pitchforks. There she stood in the
midst of them with dishevelled, storm-tossed tresses like the Genius of
War and Devastation rapt along on frantic steeds, with coiling snakes
for hair, a terrible escort of evil beasts and semi-bestial men, and
ruin and malediction before and behind her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Zudár, as soon as he had guessed the hellish design of his enemies,
hastily abandoned all attempts to stave in the door, and rushed to the
rear-most room of the house with the intention of escaping into the
garden through the window.

But what was his horror when he perceived that here also the windows
were covered with a fence of dry reeds and faggots, through which the
hissing flames were already beginning to wriggle like fiery
serpents--clouds of smoke were already coming through the shattered
windows.

Back again he hastened into the front room, the windows of which were
guarded by iron shutters, which stopped the intrusion of the flames.
Outside resounded the furious howling of the rioters, and all round
about him too was to be heard the soft hissing fizz of the burning reeds
and the licking of the flames, and the loud crackling of the dry
beams--all around him and above his head also.

The iron shutters over the windows were gradually becoming red-hot, and,
like transparent panes of glass, admitted the rays of the fiery sea
beyond them, spreading a horrible scarlet glare through the room which
coloured every object, every shadow, blood-red.

The imprisoned wretch kept running frantically up and down the room like
a wild beast caught in a trap, striking the walls with his fist and
hacking at the beams with his axe.

In vain, in vain, slash away as you will, neither on the right hand nor
on the left, neither from above nor from below, is there any way of
deliverance!

At last, in his despair, he began to sing the hymn:

    "On Sion's Hill the Lord is God...!"

and collapsed upon his knees in the midst of the room.

And lo! the Lord answered the man who cried out to Him in his dire
extremity. The boards resounding beneath him suddenly gave him a bright
idea of deliverance. Above and around there was no place of safety, but
might there not be a refuge below--down in the cellar?

The entrance into the cellar was from the outside by an iron door; but
if the vault beneath the room where he was, the ceiling of which had
resounded so loudly beneath his footsteps, if this vault were broken
open, it would be possible to get down into it that way.

Ah! how nice and cool it would be down there. The atmosphere of the room
was now burning hot. Terror and exertion had bathed every limb of the
headsman with sweat; the glare of the iron windows was merging into a
dazzling white, and radiated a heat that burnt the eye that looked upon
it. There was no time to be lost.

Zudár hastily broke up the floor with his axe, it would not be difficult
for him to find the key-stone of the cellar beneath it.

Nevertheless, he had to be careful lest he should stave in the whole
vault, and thus open a way therein after himself for the fire. He must
cautiously pick out the mortar from the interstices with a knife, and
lift up the bricks one by one.

And, now and then, in the midst of his work, he would stop and listen.

And then he would hear on every side of him a hubbub of wild voices,
hissing, shrieking, savage dance-music, and bloodthirsty harangues.

Or was it, after all, but the many-voiced gabble of the flames above his
head?

And on he went--digging, digging, digging.

The first layer of bricks over the vault was followed by a second. This
cellar vault had been very strongly built, it was well lined with a
double row of bricks. And he had to pick out each brick of the second
layer as carefully as he had done with the first.

Meanwhile, in the roof above him, a rafter here and there was gaping
open, and fiery monsters, with blood-red eyes, were peeping down at him
and puffing clouds of blue smoke through the interstices. Thousands and
thousands of voices were bickering and chattering with each other, the
voices of the fire-spirit's little ones quarrelling with each other over
every little bit of rafter till their old mother, the evil flame, burst
roaring through a huge tough beam and frightened them into silence. And,
all the time, something was humming and crooning like a witch hushing
little children to sleep; and in the midst of the charred and
smouldering embers a buzzing and a fizzing was going on continually,
like the noise made by an imprisoned bee; and the pent-up blast howled
dismally down the chimney: Hoo! hoo! hoo!

"They are dancing and singing outside there!" murmured the headsman to
himself.

And now the second layer of bricks was also pierced, and up through the
rift, like a blast of wind, rushed the cold air of the cellar. Peter
Zudár bent low over the gap and filled his lungs with a good draught of
the life-giving air. He regularly intoxicated himself with it.

The gap was just big enough to enable him to squeeze through it.

First, however, with perilous curiosity, he cast a look round the room
he was about to leave. The principal girder of the ceiling was bent in
the middle from the intense heat, smoke was pouring into the room
through every crack and crevice, and filled it already to the height of
a man's stature; it was slowly descending in regular layers, lower and
lower, like a gradually falling cloud.

Little fluttering fiery threads were darting hither and thither, in the
grey cloud, like tiny flashing birds. The fiery spectre, peeping through
the rent in the roof, was already laughing a thunderous "ha! ha! ha!"
Peter Zudár laughed back at it.

"If thou dost laugh, I can laugh too, so the pair of us may laugh
together!"

Already he had crept half through the opening, whence he observed how
the beams were curving above his head, how they were bursting and
charring.

All at once he recollected something.

Hastily he scrambled out of the hole again. To walk upright in that room
was impossible, for the clouds of smoke were now only three feet from
the ground. He crept along the floor on all fours to his oaken chest,
opened it, and drew forth therefrom a little Prayer Book and a couple of
ribbons, which he thrust into his bosom.

Then he also drew forth a long leather bag which was fastened at each
end by a clasp. These clasps he opened, one by one, with the utmost
composure. Inside lay the _pallos_,[16] that bright, two-edged implement
which flashes at the command of the criminal law, the weapon of Justice.

[Footnote 16: The sword of the public executioner.]

When Peter Zudár felt it in his hand, his gigantic figure suddenly arose
bolt upright, and there he stood amidst the smoke, amidst the flames,
like an avenging demon, slashing about him with his sparkling blade as
if he would say to the smoke and the flames, "Fear me! I am the
headsman!"

At that moment a thundering crash resounded behind him. His gun, which
had been leaning up against the wall, suddenly exploded by reason of the
intense heat, and the bullets penetrated the wall.

The shock recalled Zudár, whom a sort of frenzy had seized for a moment,
to his senses, and quickly crouching down upon the floor, he tore a
cushion from the bed and dragging it after him, crept towards the gaping
hole in the floor. The cushion he flung down before him and then leaped
carefully after it.

The cool air of the cellar gradually restored him to himself again; the
oppression of the fierce heat no longer tortured his brain, the
semi-darkness was so grateful to his eyes, already half-blinded by the
flames, a semi-darkness but faintly illuminated by the gleam of the
fiery-world above shining through the gap.

Then it occurred to him that this very gap was now superfluous.

In the stands of the cellar were several casks, large and small, either
empty or full of beer and wine.

He rolled one of the empty casks below the hole in the ceiling, and
turned it upside down. Then he stove in the top of a beer-cask and
dipped into it the cushion, allowing the beer to well soak through it.
Then he mounted on the top of the empty cask and thrust the saturated
cushion into the hole above.

It was now quite dark in the cellar, but Peter Zudár knew his way about
there all the same. He was well aware of the exact locality of the best
cask of beer, and lost no time in staving in the top of it, found a
pitcher in a niche close at hand, filled it with fresh beer, sat him
down by the side of the barrel, and took a monstrously long pull at his
pitcher. After that he moistened well his head and face, and then he
replenished his pitcher and took another long draught.

Above his head there the roof now fell in with a loud roar and a crash,
and the whole tribe of flames laughed and roared in their joy at having
done their work so well.

"We have roasted his goose for him, anyhow!" cried Dame Zudár outside,
and her band of rogues and scoundrels laughed and bounded for joy.

But down in his underground asylum the old headsman sang from the depths
of a fervent heart:

    "To thee, O Lord! on Sion's Hill,
    All praise and glory be."

And he drew his fingers along the double edge of the sword--right well
had it been sharpened, nowhere was there the trace of a notch, nowhere.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE LEATHER-BELL.


We Magyars are very liberal in the distribution of nicknames, in this
respect, indeed, our fancy outruns that of the Princes of the Orient,
and the titles we bestow are even more appropriate than theirs.

In Hétfalu "Leather-bell" was the nickname of a peculiar man, whose real
name had quite slipped out of everybody's memory. This derisive epithet
was given to him by the housewives to whom he used to convey all the
local gossip, to wit: who it was who died to-day, where he was going to
be buried, whose turn it was to work for the castle this day or that,
who was doing the rector's cooking for him, &c, &c, &c. This was the
name he went by throughout the parish when he went about telling
everybody in which house there was going to be a birth, a marriage, or a
funeral; who was in need of the last sacraments, or how much wine the
squire gave for the use of the Lord's Table. This was the title by which
he was greeted at the castle, where he religiously presented himself to
inform the good folks there where serviceable domestics could be got, or
where anything was to be sold, or what were the current prices of corn
and poultry. He himself was half the servant of the gentry, and half the
servant of the community; nay, he belonged somewhat to the village
priest also, and indeed to any good fellow who had a glass of beer to
offer him. He was perpetually scurrying from house to house, from the
local magistrate's residence to the market-place, from the market-place
to the castle, from the castle to the parsonage, from the parsonage to
the miller's, the pot-house, and the tavern, thence into the fields, and
thence again into the courtyards. He would pick up something here and
something there, something he might, perhaps, have heard at the church
porch or up in the belfry; or something would catch his ear as he was
dawdling among the waggons on a market-day, and he would immediately run
and repeat it at the miller's. By the time he had reached the pot-house
he would hear his own invention, already well amplified and nicely
embellished, circulating from mouth to mouth as an absolute fact.
Whereupon he would dash off with this enlarged edition of it to the
castle, stopping, however, to tell it to every living soul he met on the
way with all the variations which struck him as most appropriate on the
spur of the moment, so that he really well-earned the epithet of
"Leather-bell," inasmuch as he was performing all the functions of a
bell, and, nevertheless was covered with a coat of skin or leather.[17]

[Footnote 17: The Hungarian word "bör" means both skin and leather.]

On this particular momentous evening, the Leather-bell, all
hurry-scurry, rushed into the porch of the castle, where the old lord of
the manor was nursing his invalided limbs in an ample easy chair, having
so disposed himself as to be able to command a view of the western sky,
still lit up by the faint hues of sunset.

Once upon a time the Leather-bell must have been a tall man, but
excessive salutations had so bent his back, and an incessant to-ing and
fro-ing had given his head such a forward inclination, that whoever
beheld him now for the first time must needs have suspected him of an
intention to run straight under the table incontinently. He was the very
image of obsequiousness, and he presented his back to the world as
though he would say: "Smite away at it whoever has a mind to."

Old Hétfalusy liked to see the man. He had leave to come and go whenever
he chose. He was free to relate serious matters with a smiling face, and
amusing incidents in a whining voice, especially as the points of all
the jokes generally turned against himself.

"I kiss your honour's hand," said the Leather-bell, depositing his hat
and stick in the doorway. "I kiss your hand (and kiss it he did there
and then). How frightfully hot it is outside, and oh! what a lot of
dust. Those boors are always routing it up with their ox-waggons. They
_make_ all the dust, I do believe. My throat is full of it, and it lies
heavy on my chest. Oh no! I humbly thank your honour! Don't put
yourself about! I'll not have a drink. Yes, I really mean it. I didn't
say I was thirsty on that account. Wine does not suit my constitution at
this time of day. Besides, to tell you the truth, I have had some
already. For how else could I endure this terrible heat and this
horrible dust. It weighed so upon my chest that I was obliged to look in
at Samsi's tavern for an instant. Oh no! I assure you I did not go there
on that account. I only wanted to have a word or two with my good friend
the magistrate. He was not there, it is true, but instead of him I found
the sworn jurors, Spletyko and Hamza, and a couple of peasants, who
thereupon seized and offered me some brandy to drink. Your honour will
graciously understand that I don't like brandy very much, my
constitution won't stand it, and then it was only the afternoon, and it
is not wholesome to drink so early. So, says I, thank you, but I won't
take any, whereupon every man jack of them fell fiercely upon me. 'Oh,
ho!' they cried, 'so you too have already been primed what to drink and
what not to drink, eh? So they have told you that the brandy has been
poisoned, eh?'

"'What do you mean?' I cried.

"'The brandy is poisoned.'

"'Who has poisoned it?'

"'Who but the bigwigs themselves.'

"'Fire and flames! here goes!' I shouted in my horror, and forthwith,
just to show my indignation, I seized and emptied every glass I could
get hold of one after the other.

"'Poison, eh!' says I, 'poison! how can it be poison if I drink it? I'm
as alive as ever I was, ain't I?'

"'Well,' says that squinting blockhead Hamza, 'if there's no poison in
that cask there is in the other, so draw us some out of that, Samsi!'

"But Samsi durst not leave the room, he made out that an ague was
shaking him, so his wife went instead of him down into the cellar in the
presence of the two sworn jurors, and brought a sample for tasting out
of every cask. I assure your honour it was very hard upon me, for brandy
does not suit me at all, yet, out of gratitude to your honour, I drank
all this new stuff likewise. It is a marvel to me that I didn't grovel
on the ground and root up the earth with my nose, so much did I drink.

"'Well,' cried I, 'should I not be dead by this time if there was really
poison in it?'

"All that squinting Hamza could say in reply was:

"'Well, if there's none in to-day there will be some in to-morrow.'

"'Very well,' says I, 'I will come to-morrow also, and the day after
to-morrow likewise; and, in fact, every day, and I'll taste every one of
your drinks, one after the other, and show you that I'm none the worse.'

"Those were my very words. And I'll do it too, your honour, that I will,
although it will be very hard upon me, for I can't abide spirits. But I
won't allow your honour's noble family, to whom I owe so much, to be
maligned by any pack of boors in the world."

Old Hétfalusy let the Leather-bell rattle on, perhaps he did not even
listen to him. He paid as little attention to the tongue of the
Leather-bell as he did to the clapper of the bell that hung in the
church tower, perhaps less. For, indeed, in the solemn sonorous
ding-dong, ding-dong of the church bell, those who have ears to hear,
and still preserve memories of the past, may recognise the voices of the
dead telling them all manner of mysterious things.

The brilliant exposition of the Leather-bell was interrupted by the
arrival of Dr. Sarkantyús, who drove into the courtyard in a wretched
chaise, dragged along by a couple of rustic nags, and immediately
hastened up to the Squire.

The Leather-bell hastened forthwith to the chaise in order to take out
the doctor's things, and as it was his ambition to load himself with as
many boxes and packages as he could seize upon before the arrival of the
domestic heydukes, he managed in his excess of zeal to drop three of the
parcels on to the ground, one of which immediately burst asunder, and a
stream of whitish powder poured forth upon the marble floor.

The doctor turned upon him furiously.

"Am I not always telling you not to load yourself so much? You see the
result, all my bismuth powder wasted."

"I'll soon pick it all up again," said the Leather-bell submissively,
and going down on his hambones he began sweeping into the palm of his
hand what had been spilt and putting it back with the rest.

At this the doctor was ready to thrash him on the spot.

"What! mix what is all full of dust with what is still pure--go to the
devil!"

"I humbly crave your pardon, doctor, but wouldn't it do for the cattle?"
asked the mischief-maker with an obsequious smile.

"Cattle indeed! Does the fellow suppose I carry about drugs for pigs and
oxen."

"I mean there's so much of it."

"None too much for such cattle as you, but now what has been spilt must
be swept away."

And the doctor snatched the damaged box from the fellow's hands, and
hastened into the house with it.

The Leather-bell remained kneeling on the ground, staring amazedly with
foolish, wide-open eyes at the spilt powder. Then he moistened the tip
of his index-finger in his mouth, and dipping it gingerly in the powder,
transferred a tiny morsel thereof to the tip of his tongue, and
instantly fell expectorating in every direction. At last he frantically
scraped a good bit of it together, drew his handkerchief from his
breast-pocket, shovelled a portion of the suspicious substance into it,
looking round cautiously all the time in case anyone should see him,
then shuffled out of the hall, departed from the courtyard by way of the
garden, and, once free of the house, set off running rapidly towards
the inn on the outskirts of the village, as if the most fleet-footed of
horrors were behind him, his head, as usual, being a good yard or so in
advance of his feet.

When he entered the tavern it never once struck him how very calm and
peaceful it happened to be there at that particular moment. Mr. Martin
Csicseri, the village justice, was sitting at the head of the table, and
before him on the table lay his long hazel stick.

"I wish you a very good evening, my dear Mr. Justice and good Mr.
Comrade, if I may make so free. 'Tis a good job you are here. And where
may Hamza and Spletyko be?"

The village justice regarded him angrily.

"They are in a very good place where they will do no mischief--the
stocks."

"Really? Well, they will certainly be well looked after there. All the
same it is a great shame they are not here just now." Then, lowering his
voice mysteriously, he added: "Well, my honoured comrade, I myself can
now say that it is all up with us."

"How is it all up with us?" inquired Martin Csicseri, leaning both
elbows heavily on the table.

"Oh, it's all up with us in every way, all up, all up!" wailed the
Leather-bell, rapidly pacing up and down the room, and pressing his head
betwixt his hands. "It is all up with the whole village."

"Will you tell me how it is all up with us, you old woman, you. Are you
aware that this stick has an end to it, and I am very much inclined to
give it some work to do on your back this instant?"

The fellow made as if he would simply answer the justice's question, yet
all the while he kept glancing about him timidly, till five or six
inquisitive rustics had also gathered around him, only then did he
exclaim in a strident whisper: "The poison has already arrived!"

"You're a fool!" cried the justice, starting back as he spoke.

"I am not. I have seen and tasted it, and I have brought some of it with
me. The doctor himself admitted that the county authorities had sent a
large trunk of poison hither, and were going to make us drink it. The
box was in my hand. I lifted it down from the carriage. Divine
Providence so ordered that it fell from my hands, and a whitish powder
poured out of it. The whole box was full of that powder. The doctor was
horribly frightened, and swore at me like anything for my clumsiness. I
_saw_ him, I tell you, he grew quite yellow. I merely asked whether this
medicine might not be for the cattle, but he savagely snatched it from
my hand, and said he would make our heads ache with it."

"Is that true?" asked a terrified boor on the other side of the table.

"As true as I'm alive. The doctor immediately ordered the domestics to
sweep the spilt powder away lest one of the animals should taste it and
perish instantly; but I managed to scrape together a little of it
first, and here it is in the corner of my handkerchief."

And the Leather-bell undid his handkerchief and poured the powder out
upon the table.

The boors, with the fearful inquisitiveness of professed connoisseurs,
carefully regarded the strange awe-inspiring powder from every side--so
this was the murderous instrument of extirpation.

Some of them had heard, somewhere or other, that it was usual to make
preliminary experiments with such poisons on the brute-beasts. One of
them accordingly smeared a piece of bread with the powder, and offered
it to a large shepherd's dog extended at his ease beneath the table. The
dog sniffed at the morsel but would not touch it.

"Poison! poison!" cried those who stood around full of horror.

"Didn't I say so!" cried the Leather-bell, with a radiant face; but his
joyful triumph was very speedily embittered, for when he least expected
such a distinction, he became sensible that the long hazel cudgel of the
village justice was unmercifully belabouring his back and shoulders.

"You good-for-nothing, lying wind-bag you, how dare you calumniate your
own landlord? You hound of the whole village, you! that barks at every
man behind his back, and licks his hand when he faces you. You dare to
come hither with such idle stories at a time when there's already far
too much discord among the people! You good-for-nothing vagabond! What!
I suppose you want the peasant folks to beat the landlords to death,
burn their castles to the ground, and rob them of everything? Coward and
rebel as you are, the gallows-tree is far too good for you. I tell you
what it is. I'll put you in irons and send you to the county jail, and
there you may sit till your turn comes to stand before the judges. You
incendiary, you!"

The Leather-bell was thoroughly scared, he began to hedge.

"Alas! my dear sweet Mr. Justice, and my good friend, don't be angry!
God bless me! Why should I wish our landlord beaten to death? God
preserve us from anything so dreadful."

"Who are you aiming at then?"

"I? Nobody at all. Not for all the world would I injure anyone. Oh, dear
no! I only opened my mouth in order that every poor mother's son of us
might look out for himself and guard himself, that's all."

"Guard himself!--from what?"

"From danger."

"And who told you there was any danger here? Don't you know that the
doctor has a long way to go, and many people to cure, and must therefore
carry a great many drugs along with him? And you, you senseless ass!
dropped one of his medicine boxes, spilt the contents, and instantly
jumped at the conclusion that it was poison! Poison! your grandmother!
It is true, no doubt, that if a man in health takes medicine he will
have stomach-ache for his pains, but if he be sick the same medicine
will cure him. Every fool knows that. Drugs are not good to eat."

A couple of the more sensible peasants murmured approvingly behind him.
The Leather-bell stood confounded before the magistrate, and made a sort
of downward movement with his hat as if he would have liked to scatter
to the winds the little bit of powder still lying on the table.

"And now tell me, you seditious idiot, what might not have happened if
these honest men here had not had their wits about them? What if they
had believed the horrible accusation spread by you and a few more
vagabond busybodies of the same kidney? What if in their mad terror they
had fallen foul of your young landlord, who has done you so much good,
and shot him dead before your eyes? What if they had dragged his father,
the old squire, out of bed in his nightshirt, and burnt him to death?
What would you have done then, you good-for-nothing? I suppose you would
have sharpened the knife that cut their throats?"

The knees of the Leather-bell smote together; he stammered piteously
that he had had no idea that such horrible things would follow from what
he said, that he had, in fact, not been thinking at all of what he was
saying.

"Well, you will have plenty of time to think it over when you are
sitting in the county jail."

The Leather-bell begged and prayed that he might not be sent there,
rather shove him in the stocks alongside Hamza. He admitted that he
deserved it; but if they liked to give him twenty or thirty blows with a
stick instead, he would take it kindly of them. He had meant no harm,
and he would never spread any more such rumours.

Meanwhile, no one had remarked that the tap-room had gradually been
filling with silent, savage-looking forms, one of whom, while listening
attentively to the conversation, began sweeping the suspicious-looking
powder into the palm of his hand.

Mr. Martin Csicseri was so far moved by the piteous lamentations of the
Leather-bell as to promise not to cast him into irons and send him to
the county jail as a fomenter of sedition.

"But you shall, at any rate, sit in the stocks till morning, my friend!"
added he. "Hie, you sworn jurymen, come forward and convey him thither."

"Nay, not that man!" cried a voice from the crowd, and the magistrate
beheld Thomas Bodza advancing towards him--by the side of the long
table.

"Whom then?" cried he.

"Whom but yourself!" exclaimed Numa Pompilius, accompanying his words
with the gesture of a Roman Senator.

For the moment it occurred to the magistrate that the worthy rector who
was not, as a rule, addicted to strong drink, had actually, for once,
taken more of the noble juice of the grape than was quite good for him,
so he simply laughed at him. All the more astonished, therefore, was he
when, at a sign from the master, two strange men rushed upon him and
seized his hands fast.

He had never seen their faces before, they were men who did not belong
to the village.

"What's the meaning of this, eh?" he thundered, giving one of them a
rattling box on the ear and knocking the other down. It was of no use.
Ten at least instantly threw themselves upon him, seized his hands and
feet, threw him to the ground and bound him fast. One or two of his
acquaintances tried to defend him but were thrust aside.

So long as the tussle lasted, Thomas Bodza stood upon the table with the
pose of a capitoline statue, whence he exclaimed in a dictatorial voice:

"It is now for me to command."

The pinioned magistrate continued to curse and swear, and threaten the
rioters till they shoved a gag into his mouth. As for the Leather-bell,
he hid himself behind the fireplace partly to avoid blows, partly from a
fear that this business would have unpleasant consequences, and he might
be called upon to give evidence. He wanted neither to hear nor see
anything more.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE SENTENCE OF DEATH.


The candles were burning on the table though it was broad daylight, the
bells were tolling though nobody was sick, the coffin had also been made
ready though nobody was dead.

The hard sentence had been pronounced over the poor sinner, he must die.
The law demanded his head. If his dear father and mother and all his
brothers and sisters were to plead for him all day long they could not
wash away the strict letter of the law with their tears.

All those who sat by the long table, the captains, lieutenants, and
common soldiers, all of them wished, longed, to avoid uttering the fatal
word. The General himself covered his face with his hands as he uttered
the words:

"With God there is mercy!"

In his hand he held a little staff, a little white staff. From time to
time he glances at it, it is still whole, still smooth and unbroken.

The old sergeant-major approaches him, his shako on his head, his
storm-belt strapped down over his shoulder, one hand by his side, the
other touching the band of his shako.

"Mercy, General, for the poor condemned prisoner!"

"With God only there is mercy."

Again the sergeant-major raises the tip of his palm to the cord of his
shako and makes his petition.

"Mercy, General, for the poor condemned criminal!"

A third time he utters his appeal.

"With God only there is mercy," is the General's reply.

The little white staff falls to the ground broken in two. The condemned
man gives a sigh of relief, thanks the gentlemen present for the trouble
they have taken, the good sergeant-major for interceding on his behalf,
and the rigorous judge for pronouncing over him the sentence of the law.

Then they take him away to the house of mourning, give him a white
uniform to put on, and set meat and drink before him that he may eat and
drink for the last time.

That day the iron man was afraid to go to his own quarters.

Suppose Cornelia were to ask him what sentence he had pronounced upon
the son of his enemy?

He durst not go home, he was actually afraid.

He was still brooding there when the gaoler came to tell him that the
condemned man wished to say a few words to the General privately.

Vértessy hastened to him at once.

"You defended yourself badly," said he reproachfully on entering, "you
made it impossible for us to pronounce any other sentence."

"I know that, I wished it so," replied the youth with a bright, calm
countenance. "That is all over now, General; it was a soldier's duty to
condemn me. In three days' time I am to die. Take it as if I was very
sick, and the doctors had told you beforehand that I had only three more
days to live."

"I will send the sentence to His Majesty."

"It would be useless. Why, even you can advance nothing in my defence,
and I have myself nothing to allege in mitigation of my sentence."

"But I know everything. Others have come forward to defend you, and if
you had not cut the ground from under my feet by your defiant answers
before the court-martial, I might have devised some means of saving
you."

"I am surprised that anyone should have defended me. I know of none who
might bear me in mind."

"Indeed yes. First of all there was my wife."

"Ah! General, such knowledge will make my death the easier."

"Then there was the man you fired at in your stupid jealousy."

"Then he did not die after all?" exclaimed the youth joyfully. "It does
me good to hear that."

"That's all one so far as you are concerned. You have in any case
committed a capital offence."

"But my heart is the easier, nevertheless. A load has been removed from
it. I thank you. What you have said will shorten my last moments."

"Your third advocate was your father."

"What?" stammered the youth with trembling lips--"my father, did you
say?--my own father?"

"Your own dear father. He wrote to me with those trembling hands of his,
those hands which have barely recovered from a paralytic stroke. He
wrote to me himself--do you realise what that means?"

"He wrote on my account!" whispered the condemned man, clasping his
manacled hands together and closing his heavy eyelashes over his moist
eyes.

"Your fourth advocate was Count Kamienszki, whose sister you will
doubtless remember."

The youth looked up in astonishment.

"I have no recollection of such a person. _She_ had no brother."

Vértessy shrugged his shoulders.

"He himself told me so, he was with me here to-day."

A struggle with a torturing suspicion seemed to be going on in the young
soldier's troubled mind; presently, however, he turned to the General
with a radiant countenance and said to him with a smile:

"All these things, General, will alleviate my chastisement and I thank
you for telling them to me. I regret that my misfortune will cause
others to shed tears which I did not expect, which I do not desire;
still, they will greatly ease my affliction. I am sure that you too, at
the bottom of your heart, forgive me and my poor family--you do forgive
us, General, do you not? Will you not even go further and protect that
poor old man who has now got nobody to stand by him?--will you not be
his protector if any danger, yes, any great danger should threaten him?"

The General pressed the young man's extended hand--the chains rattled on
the hand that he held in his.

"And now, General, may I speak to you of a very serious matter? Would
you be so good as to hear me out?"

"Say on."

"And you will not take what I am about to tell you as the mere ravings
of a disordered brain? Many men's brains grow disordered at the approach
of death I know; you will not imagine that I am simply delirious, will
you? You will believe that I am well and with all my wits, sound both in
heart and mind, will you not?"

The General nodded.

"First of all I would beg you not to postpone my execution for the usual
three days. Let it take place sooner. I do not ask this for my own sake.
I am as good as dead already, my time has run."

"Why do you make this request?"

"I will tell you presently. Then I would beg you not to conduct me
outside the town; the execution could take place just as well inside the
courtyard of the barracks."

"Very well, I will promise you that."

"And, finally, announce the execution for the afternoon and have it
carried out in the morning, early, at break of day, before anyone is
awake."

"What are your reasons for so extraordinary a request?"

"I will tell you, General. You know right well what terrifying rumours
have been circulating through the land in consequence of the
extraordinary, unprecedented epidemic now raging there. I had an
opportunity of discovering, involuntarily, the designs of sundry
malevolent persons who looked upon this terrible time as an excellent
occasion for carrying out their nefarious designs. The dregs of the
population have been roused to action, and only await the signal to pour
their ignorant, brutal herds all over the kingdom. This is no idle tale
I am telling you, General. I have heard their seditious mutterings, I
have read their letters, I have seen the lists of the names of those who
are to fall the first victims. My father's name stands at the very top
of the list. His peasants have always hated him as much as they have
loved me. One of the leaders of these secret conspirators was formerly a
fellow-soldier with me, since then he has been compelled to quit the
service. I accidentally met him in Galicia, where he was pursuing his
secret plans. He promised to hide me away, and, immediately afterwards,
went and denounced me. It is part of his infernal plan, when I am led
outside the town and a large crowd of people have come together to see
the execution, to incite the mob to riot, overpower the little band of
soldiers guarding me, release me, proclaim me far and wide as a hero,
and use my name as the means of provoking a general rising. You can see,
General, with what horror I so much as mention this affair, you can see
that I have neither dreamt nor imagined it, but shudder at it, and for
that very reason would hasten on my exit from this world."

The General really did believe that the youth was not quite in his right
mind.

The young man perceived the cold smile on the General's face, and
convulsively grasping his hand with his own manacled hands, exclaimed
despairingly:

"General! they would murder my father, they would destroy my house, my
nation!"

"Who forsooth?" inquired the General with an expression of unutterable
contempt. "These skulking loafers, eh? I will not presume to deny that
they may, perhaps, intend to do what you say, such ideas may and do
occur at times to some blockhead or other. But I do not believe that the
time will ever come for the realisation of such projects. But if anybody
should attempt to move in the matter, I solemnly assure you that at the
very first outcry he will be a dead man!"

And he tapped his sword with proud self-consciousness.

At that moment an adjutant hastily entered the room and announced that
there were suspicious gatherings of the people in the market-place and
the streets of the town. They were exclaiming loudly against the gentry
and the soldiers, and were goading one another on with incendiary
speeches. It had been found necessary to bar the gates of the town hall
against them, and the windows of an apothecary's shop had already been
smashed. Apparently they meant to give most of their attention to the
barracks and the town hall.

The General had no sooner hastened out of the corridor than he already
heard in the adjacent streets, that vague hubbub whose chaotic voice
sounds so terrifying in the ears of the faint-hearted, who know not
whether it is an alarm of fire or a hue and cry after a murderer.

On the present occasion, however, there was both fire and murder in the
sound--it was a riot.

In a distant part of the town some over-zealous guardians of public
order had set ringing the alarm-bells, whose strident semi-tones rose
above the low hideous murmur of the mob.

The General hastened into the courtyard. The soldiers were already
standing there under arms.

There was scarcely more than two hundred men there, the rest were a long
way off, forming part of the far-stretching military cordon.

This, however, was quite enough for Vértessy's purpose.

What had he to fear? It was impossible to conceive that the honest
scythe and saddle makers of the town, the peaceful citizens who had only
to do with planes and awls and shuttles, would dare to attack him
forcibly and compel him to retire before them.

Swiftly, but with the utmost _sang froid_, he made his preparations.

Half a battalion took up a position outside the gate guarding every
approach, the rest remained within the courtyard.

The rifles of the soldiers outside the gate remained unloaded.

At three rolls of a drum the remaining column also marched out into the
street.

A single word of command would suffice for subsequent tactics.

It was also considered necessary to close the gates of the neighbouring
house, and two sentries were posted outside it with loaded muskets.

All this was done in the most perfect order, there was no hurry, no
bustle.

In that house opposite dwelt the General's wife; one could reach it from
the barracks across a garden.

Vértessy had just completed his preparations when Cornelia's maid came
hastening up to him and whispered something in his ear.

For a moment a smile of delight flashed across the General's face, which
immediately afterwards, however, formed into still darker folds than
before.

Hastily transferring the command to his first lieutenant, he hastened to
his dwelling, promising to be back in a moment.

It must indeed have been a matter of importance to have constrained
Vértessy to quit the post becoming a soldier at such a moment.

He hastened as fast as he could go to his wife's bedchamber.

The curtains had been let down, in the semi-obscure alcove lay a pale
woman, seemingly a corpse which, nevertheless, was suffering the
torments of life.

Domestics were gathered round the bed, at a table sat the doctor writing
something.

Vértessy had already unfastened his sword outside so as to avoid making
a clatter. He now rushed to Cornelia's side, seized her trembling,
sweat-covered hand, and, pressing it to his lips, inquired:

"How do you feel?"

"On the threshold of death," answered the lady, and with her other arm
she drew down her husband's head towards her that she might kiss it. Her
whole face was as white as marble, and the cold sweat stood out upon her
forehead like pearly beads.

"The coming hour has secrets of its own, Vértessy," lisped the lady,
pressing Vértessy's hand in her own, "whether it be good or evil, joy or
death."

Vértessy's eyes interrogated the doctor as if he hoped for some
comforting reassurance from him.

The doctor beckoned him aside.

"She is suffering tortures," he whispered, "but she would hide it from
you."

"She may hide it in her voice, but I can tell it is so from her
breathing. Is the danger great?"

The doctor shrugged his shoulders.

"Pretty much as usual. She is very nervous, and besides that, there is
something on her mind."

"What can it be?"

"It would be as well, General, if you ascertained. At such a time peace
of mind is a matter of life or death, and fear or any feeling of anxiety
might have a bad effect upon--a new life."

At the words "a new life" that involuntary gleam of joy flashed across
Vértessy's lips once more. He went back to his wife and knelt down on
her tapestried cushion.

"Cornelia, how are you?"

"In God's hands," whispered the lady, raising her glorious eyes. "God
chastises and is merciful as it seemeth Him good."

Her convulsive pressure showed Vértessy what she must be suffering.

"There is mercy with God," faintly murmured the lady once more.

Vértessy felt his heart tremble at these words. An hour before he also
had said: "With God there is mercy," and that to a man who had promised
himself a long life.

The lady turned towards him with a languid look, pressed both her
husband's hands to her breast, and looking long and painfully into his
eyes, she asked:

"Will God be merciful to me?"

"To thee, my angel?--yes!--oh yes!" stammered the General.

"And have you also been merciful to him who begged you for mercy?"

Vértessy could not meet that look, he could find no words to answer that
question.

"Vértessy! One death demands another, judgment is requited with
judgment. I am standing on the edge of the grave, do not let me die."

"What am I doing, what can I do?" said her husband with a faltering
voice.

"You see," replied his wife, winding her arm round his like a tender
creeping plant round a sturdy oak, "if you slay, I must die also. What
the condemned man in the neighbouring house suffers that I also must
endure--his terror, his despair, his death-struggle. Oh! my husband,
have pity upon me. Be merciful now to him who has offended, that I also
may find mercy with God!"

Vértessy's mind was much disturbed. And now the doctor approached him
and solemnly observed:

"General, I fancy it would not be the first instance of a capitally
condemned felon being pardoned on the plea of such a sufferer."

Vértessy regarded him abstractedly as if to beg him to proceed.

"I knew of a similar case when I was in service at the fortress of
Comorn, when a youth, who had thrice deserted the ranks, was pardoned in
consequence of a similar petition."

"And do you believe that it would do good?"

"My dear sir, when the exaltation of the nerves has reached such a
degree as this, the imagination is omnipotent, good news may give life,
bad news death. A soothing thought in such cases is worth all the drugs
in the world."

Vértessy kissed the forehead of his pale, suffering well-beloved, and
cried with a manly emphasis, which instantly inspired self-confidence:

"I will save him!"

The lady raised her trembling hands and her pale features to Heaven, her
eyes slowly closed, and a smile of joy passed over her white face.

Outside resounded the threefold roll of the drums.

The General arose, hastened to the door, tied on his sword, and rushed
towards the barracks.

The noise, the hubbub, was now quite close at hand, and he fell
a-thinking how he could best, with fair words, persuade these turbulent
citizens to go back to their homes and begin weaving linen and stitching
boots again, though he longed all the time to storm forth amongst them
and like a tempest scatter them in every direction.



CHAPTER XV.

OIL UPON THE WATERS.


The whole of the broad street was entirely covered with caps.

It was impossible to see anything but caps. Here and there a scythe or a
pitchfork projected from the midst of the throng, but the larger portion
of the mob was unarmed, unless slender canes, of which there were a
great number, be accounted weapons.

Here and there in the midst of the surging crowd might be distinguished
sundry honest citizens still in plain clothes indeed, but carrying along
with them bayonetted muskets, thereby inspiring the rabble with peculiar
valour, the common people always imagining in such cases that the
national guard with its bayonets is quite equal to the military.

"Halt!" a voice rung out in front of the crowding mass.

At the sound of that voice the hubbub for an instant grew still. The mob
stopped short.

"Load your muskets!"

The soldiers, like a single, many-handed machine, instantly brought down
their weapons to their sides with a clash, and the clatter of the
loading-sticks in the barrels of the muskets was distinctly audible.
Then there was another clatter, and every musket was instantly pointed.

The rioters began to look at one another, and those in front envied the
position of those in the rear, who could freely use their lungs without
the slightest risk.

And now the General rode along in front of the noisy mob and shouted to
them in a hard, stern voice:

"What do you want? What is the matter with you? Why are you obstructing
the street?"

The fellows kept elbowing each other forward, and, at last, one of them
exclaimed:

"Here is Master Matthias! Let Master Matthias speak!"

"Bravo, Master Matthias!"

And suddenly from the midst of the mob arose the form of a citizen in a
leather apron, with a shako on his head, and a musket with a bayonet
attached thereto in his hand. He was passed along over the heads of the
crowd, from shoulder to shoulder, and finally planted on his feet right
in front of the General. This was Master Matthias.

Even if his hands, the knuckles whereof were unwashably embalmed with
pitch, had not of themselves betrayed the fact, the awl hanging beside
his leather apron, and evidently left there by accident, would have
declared that the individual in question belonged to that estimable
section of the community whose business in life it is to provide
humanity with corns. His moustache was twisted with seven-and-seventy
ringlets, and he had the habit every time he opened his mouth of
violently shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders by way of making
his words the more emphatic.

Master Matthias was a famous orator of the market-place, a toast-master
of the city guilds, a finished wedding-feast chairman, and a recognised
champion swine-slayer, he was consequently renowned throughout the town.

Nor was he the least afraid of the town, or the county either, or even
of the General himself, as he now intended to show him.

So there he stood manfully in front of Vértessy, twirling his crooked
moustache from end to end, and banging his musket on the ground as
violently as if he meant to smash its butt end to pieces. Then he
cleared his throat, and in a hoarsely strident voice gave expression to
the following sentiments:

"My Lord General, whereas it has happened, so to speak, that our human
masses in this comitavus[18] have attained to extraordinary dimensions,
and inasmuch as the honourable imposteratus[19] has decided in
consequence thereof that this is not a right state of things at all, far
from it, and right they are too, say I, for the members of the city
guilds have far too many qualifications; but, on the other hand, they
are quite wrong, inasmuch as our journeymen are in countlessly small
number therein, therefore we have resolved that as everyone is talking
about it, so it must be, and not otherwise. For great is the desire of
the enemy to make an impulse in this kingdom. Moreover, as for the
avoidance and confirmation thereof, the plenipotentiaries have
furthermore resolved that the 'pothecaries are concocting a certain
miasma, by which decree we men are to be kept within salutary
boundaries. Such finally being the case, and the people having
cognisance thereof, the secular inhabitants of the neighbouring
districts and sequestrations have arisen, and want to know what it is
all about and wherefore. I myself am not able to say a word there anent,
inasmuch as I wish not to apprehend it; but so much I can say for
certain, that one of my journeymen on his way to the fair had his feet
twisted double with cramp, and I know what I know. If, therefore, my
Lord General so wishes it, and considers it seasonable that men for the
common good of the kingdom should make a revolution, therefore we most
humbly and respectfully petition for the same. And we are not fools
either."

[Footnote 18: _I.e._, "Comitatus" county.]

[Footnote 19: _I.e._, "Compossessoratus," a local committee of landed
proprietors for assessing taxation, &c.]

During this brilliant and particularly lucid harangue, the bolder masses
of the mob had pushed right forward, and it seemed highly probable that
within the next few moments the arguments of the great popular orator
would be emphasized by fist-law. Vértessy, on the other hand, quite
apart from general feelings of humanity and patriotism, had still
stronger reason for avoiding tumult and bloodshed. At that very moment
his sick wife lay at the threshold of death. A mere volley, a single
hour of street-fighting, might perhaps be the death of her.

In this agonising situation a horseman was seen approaching from the
opposite side of the road. Only with the utmost difficulty could he
force his way through the densely packed mob. Indeed, they would not
have stirred a stump had he not kept on waving in his hand a piece of
paper, and shouting incessantly that this was a proclamation addressed
to the people, and he wanted to speak with their leader.

"Who is the worthy leader of these patriots?" he exclaimed.

Vértessy recognised in the horseman that mysterious Pole whom the
condemned man could not recollect, and by this time he was a trifle
suspicious of the fellow himself. After all, he began to think, there
might be some coherency in the words of the prisoner, though only an
hour ago he had looked upon them as the mere ravings of a lunatic.

"Where is the leader of the people?" cried Kamienszka, urging on the
sweating horse towards the nearest open space.

Master Matthias proudly pointed to the warm swelling bosom which lay
beneath his leather apron, by way of indicating that he was the man.

With an air of pathetic dignity Kamienszka handed to the worthy patriot
the proclamation of Numa Pompilius, in which that worthy confided to
the tailors, cobblers, and bakers of the city the honourable task of
making, stitching, and baking some thousands of boots, hose, and rolls
for headquarters to be delivered immediately.

"What are you doing?" cried the General in French. "At the very first
movement I shall scatter these men."

"I am pouring oil upon the waters," replied the young horseman in the
same language. "Within an hour every man of them will go home."

Master Matthias seized the document with both hands, pressed his musket
betwixt his knees, and read the proclamation attentively from beginning
to end.

The impression it made upon him could be imagined from the conduct of
his moustache, which gradually lost its martial fierceness, and at last
hung meekly down.

"Six thousand pairs of boots--whew!"

Meantime, a skinny fellow-citizen, buttoned up to the chin, kept on
stretching his scraggy neck a monstrous distance across the heads of
three rows of other burghers standing in front of him, with his eyes
glued all the time upon the distant document in Master Matthias' hands.
This was Master Csihos, known by the token over his shop as a member of
the honourable guild of tailors.

"There it is!--read it for yourself!" cried Master Matthias.

The long arm stretched all the way across three rows of fellow-citizens
standing in front of it, and a little group of tailors having put their
heads together around the master-tailor, he read out the proclamation in
a loud voice.

"Three thousand pairs of trousers!"

The head of the guild of bakers had not heard all that had been said,
but the words "bread" and "rolls" had tickled his ears uncomfortably.

The fatal proclamation had in a few moments made the round of the
assembly, gradually disappearing among the back rows of the mob. And,
wherever it passed, it left behind it long faces and gaping, speechless
mouths; the tumult subsided into a low murmur and an uneasy whispering.
Master Matthias, Master Csihos, and the chief of the Guild of Bakers
held counsel together cheek by jowl. Those in the rear began to edge
away along the wall as if it was no concern of theirs.

At last Master Matthias leaned his musket against the back of a friend,
took off his cap, smoothed out his moustache, and approached the General
with a very dubious expression of countenance, at the same time
violently scratching the back of his neck.

"Your pardon, my Lord General!" cried he, "possibly your honour did not
quite understand me. Although I never said that things were this or
that; neither did I mean the other thing, whether more or less.
Nevertheless, and be this as it may, and without prejudice, I am well
aware, as also are all my friends, that it is not for us to sit in
judgment on the county tribunals or on you, my Lord General--very much,
the other way in fact; and if impudent disturbers of the public peace
are carrying on their games amongst us, such are to be regarded as the
dregs of humanity, and we on the contrary see ourselves obliged to turn
to the worshipful county magistrates and to your honour that ye may
deign to have these evil-minded rioters who approach our peaceful towns
with firearms and pitchforks kept far away therefrom, whereunto we also
and the trainbands of this town volunteer our services, giving it to be
and understood that, at my Lord General's command, we shall be found
ready to pour out our life-blood in defence of our country, our town,
our county, and our prince. To the gallows say I, with all who demand of
us six thousand pairs of boots! Your poor humble servant!"

Vértessy could not forbear from quietly smiling at this discreet
coat-turning rhetoric. With his drawn sword he motioned to his soldiers
to lower their weapons, and return to the barracks, simply leaving the
usual sentries at their posts.

The noisy assembly then gave one long cheer for the General, and after
threatening every sort of distant object with their sticks and clenched
fists, tumultously dispersed.

Kamienszka, after the odd dispersal of the rioters, trotted alongside
the General into the courtyard of the barracks, where they both
dismounted and hastened into the waiting room. Each of them had
something urgent to say to the other which could not be expressed in
public.

"Sir," the General hastened to say, he was determined to have the first
word--"whoever you are, you have rendered me a very important service
which I hope to be able to repay."

"I come from the midst of danger, General," replied the heroic lady very
quickly, like one anxious to economize his moments and count his words;
"a dangerous rebellion has broken out in the midst of the county, and by
mere accident I have got the leading strings of it in my hands. For a
moment, however, I ran the risk of being strung up myself. The
visitation of this strange epidemic has afforded a band of desperate
fanatics with the opportunity of accomplishing a long-cherished design.
Here is the proclamation which in a few days will fly over the whole
realm."

The General read through the document handed to him with the utmost
astonishment.

"Love of loot, revenge, popular stupidity, will be powerful allies in
such a frantic enterprise, which, if it but gain the upper hand, will,
in a few weeks, change the whole appearance of the map of Europe. At
present the flame is but a tiny one. It has only burst forth in a few
villages. To-night they are going to attack the Castle of Hétfalu. That
will be the beginning of it."

The General's face quivered. So the words of the condemned man had been
true!

"There they will murder both master and servants. Murdered they must be
in order that the participators in the outbreak may find retreat
impossible. This will be the beginning of a desperate struggle."

The General rang a bell. He whispered a few words in the ear of the
adjutant who answered the summons, and then sat down and began writing
very rapidly, at the same time beckoning to Kamienszka to go on.

"General, at present the conflagration may be stamped out by a single
effort. A bold hand, which does not shrink from a bad burn, may cover up
the mouth of the volcano if instant action be taken. But not a day, not
an hour, not a moment, should be lost. The thing must be done at once.
In a day, an hour, a moment, things might happen which could never be
made good again."

A rattle of chains was audible at the door, two sentries were bringing
in the prisoner, behind them came the provost-martial.

The General, who never ceased writing, thus addressed him:

"Young man! have those chains taken off your hands, ask my adjutant for
a sword, and gird it on!"

Young Hétfalusy opened his eyes wide with astonishment. He allowed them
to take the chains off his hands, and gird a sword to his side, and did
not at once observe that a couple of yards away from him stood a strange
youth, who found it very hard not to burst into tears, and fall upon his
neck at the sight of him, so miserable did he look.

The General had at last finished his correspondence, and gave his whole
attention to young Hétfalusy.

"Now listen patiently to all that I am going to say. Take these letters,
choose the best horse from my stables, and hasten to the leaders of the
military cordons one after the other. Each one of them will place at the
disposal of the captain accompanying you one half of his effective
strength. As soon as you have gathered together half a battalion, hasten
with them to Hétfalu, as to the rest that will be provided for by
written instructions. Your own heart will tell you what you ought to do.
You are going to rescue and defend your family. There the hand of God
will be over you. If it please Him to carry your sentence into execution
His will be done, if you return alive the past shall be forgotten."

The youth did not know what to answer, his voice died away in his
throat. All he could do was to sink down in silence by the General's
side, press his hand to his lips, and shed tears.

"Get up, get up, and be off! You have not to thank me for this. You must
thank God and this worthy gentleman who has dared so much for your
sake."

Only then did the youth cast a glance upon Kamienszka, and it seemed to
him as if he dimly saw, conjured up before him, through the misty veil
of his tears, the vision of a form from other days.

The Polish lady hastened up to him, pressed his hand, and whispered in
his ear:

"Not a word now! We shall have plenty of time presently."

"Then you _do_ know each other?" said Vértessy. "What could the youth be
dreaming of to deny his friend a little while ago?"

And with that he gave the heroine's hand a vigorous grip, for he had
every reason to still call her a man.

"Sir," said he, "I fancy I am not making you a bad offer if I ask you to
come and have a hasty breakfast with me and your young friend, and then
choose one of my horses and buckle on one of my swords. You are not the
man I take you for if you do not feel inclined to follow your comrade
and share his danger."

Hétfalusy, with an expression of alarm, would have interrupted him; but
the girl thrust him aside, and her flashing eyes seemed to impose
silence upon him.

"Thank you, General," she manfully replied. "I anticipated that offer,
and I accept it. As for our breakfast we can have that in our saddles.
We have no time to stay."

"You are right," said Vértessy, squeezing the soft downy hand whose
steel-like muscles did not betray the woman, "you must hasten. This mad
rebellion must be overthrown as rapidly as it has arisen. Should the
movement extend to other parts of the county you will not find me
unprepared."

Meanwhile the steeds were led out below the gate. The attendant captain
rushed out, half dressed, bringing a sword with him for Kamienszka,
which she hastily buckled on like a man.

The General escorted them down to the horses, and the three cavaliers
swung themselves into their saddles. Vértessy pressed once more the
heroine's hand, and said to her with soldierly frankness:

"Mr. Kamienszki, I have a great regard for you!"

"Not Kamienszki but Kamienszka!" murmured the lady softly, and with that
she spurred her horse and galloped after her comrades.

And now for the first time a light dawned in Vértessy's mind, and he
understood it all.

"A marvellous woman!" he muttered, gazing after her till the distance
hid her from his eyes.

The streets were quite quiet, nobody was about, the General's own heart
was afflicted by the stillness. A beneficent calm, so often the reaction
from extreme excitement, came over him.

And now he had time to hasten back to the peaceful house opposite.

His heart beat so violently with joyful anticipation, the pulses of his
hands and temples throbbed so tumultuously as he strode through the
quiet rooms.

In the ante-chamber he encountered the doctor, who advanced towards him
with a smile and stretched out his hand.

"You have a joyful house now," said he.

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Vértessy, stammering with delight; he knew
very well, all the time, what the doctor meant.

"A wee, wee cherub has arrived," whispered the doctor--"and 'tis a boy
cherub too," he added with a still broader smile.

The next moment Vértessy was kneeling down before his wife, and pressing
her hands hundreds and hundreds of times to his burning lips.

And the wife, with a sweet and blissful smile, looked down upon her
husband like one of those whom the prayers of their beloved have called
back from the world beyond the grave.

"With God there is mercy!" was all that she could say.



CHAPTER XVI.

'TIS WELL THAT THE NIGHT IS BLACK.


At the Castle of Hétfalu everyone was quietly sleeping. None had any
thought of that black spectre which is the enemy of all living
creatures, which constrains the huge watch-dog to dig up graves with his
hind feet, which bids the night owl utter her dismal notes on the
housetop alongside of the creaking weather-cock, which sends into the
vestibules and corridors its living visiting-cards in the shape of those
large, black, night-moths with pale skull-like effigies painted on their
backs as upon tombs, beneath whose feet the furniture creaks and
crackles, which makes that tiny invisible beetle hidden between the
boards of the beds begin tick-tick-ticking like a fairy watch, eleven
times in succession, by way of showing that the witching hour of night
is close at hand.

Oh! there is such a great unanimity among these dumb creatures of the
night and darkness.

The wind blew gloomy-looking clouds before it across the sky, clouds
which hastened away from that district; which jostled one another as
they scudded along, some high, some low, and kept on changing their
shapes as if they feared lest something might catch them there. Some of
them had blood-red linings from the flames of distant conflagrations,
and these flew rapidly along, trying to force their way through in
advance of the rest; but these others sped along still faster, lest
they, too, should be enkindled.

And in the darkness disorderly masses of men might have been dimly seen
assembling in the roads and stealthily proceeding towards the castle. In
the tap-room of the _csárda_ evil counsellors are discussing the
destruction of all the dwellers in the castle.

Three separate opinions are fighting for the supremacy. Numa Pompilius
is in favour of an open, heroic attack, as became the _epigoni_ of the
valiant Sarmatians; with battering-rams, ballistas, and other classical
instruments of warfare, he would have fought breast to breast, eye to
eye with the foe.

Ivan, on the other hand, is more practical. He knows his own people
better, and anticipates much greater success from an insidious surprise
in which the warriors shall stealthily crawl over walls and through
windows upon the unguarded and unsuspecting garrison, and massacre them
in their dreams.

The wife of the headsman sits on the table opposite the two
commanders-in-chief with a mocking smile upon her lips, and her huge
muscular arms crossed over her bosom. From time to time she utters a
scornful laugh and grunts disapprovingly.

"Do what you like," she said at last, "neither of you knows anything
about it. The buffalo-catcher would proceed cautiously and the cripple
would run like a 'bull' at the gate."

"And what would you do, I should like to know," snarled Ivan.

"I know something, and I know how to keep it to myself. When you two
have made a mess of it, then I shall come forward."

The commanders began to be jealous of her influence. The first success
always wins the heart of the mob, they must make sure of that anyhow.

"Call in the Leather-bell," cried Ivan to the doorkeepers.

The old fellow was shoved in.

"The castle watch-dogs know you, don't they?" he was asked.

"Know me? of course they do," replied the worthy man. "Why, I brought up
Tiszá and Farkas myself. I give them bread every day. Why, they sniff my
pockets even now whenever I go along there."

"They know you still better, you knacker you, I'll be bound," said Dame
Zudár to Ivan derisively.

Ivan caught up a knife from the table and would have stuck the woman
with it had not Thomas Bodza stayed his hand. He did not like these
squabbles at all.

"This is not the time for wrangling," said he.

Only very reluctantly did Ivan allow himself to be pacified and induced
to continue the conversation.

"Here in this handkerchief are some pieces of meat, do you think you can
get the dogs to take them with soft words?"

"Why not? I have only to call them by name, and they will come to the
doors of their kennels and eat it out of my very hands."

"Then look sharp and set about it."

The Leather-bell was such a good fellow that he was never able to resist
the slightest command. He accepted the commission, although he knew very
well that the dogs would be poisoned. He consoled himself with the
reflection, however, that nobody had told him so beforehand.

"But look here, gentlemen, you don't want to do his honour, the squire,
any harm?" he inquired of Ivan, with a foolishly smiling face.

"No, old 'un, no."

"Nor the young squire either?"

"No, nor him either, not for all the world."

"Nor the heyduke? He is my godson, you know."

"No, nor him either, old 'un, but do look sharp."

"You only want to find out whether there is poison in the castle or not,
don't you?"

"Yes, yes. Devil take the fellow! Be off, or I'll knock some of your
teeth down your throat."

And the poor Leather-bell scuttled off.

"And now bring Mekipiros hither!"

They dragged the poor half-idiotic creature into the room. His thick,
bristly hair hung right over his eyes. He was grinning and evidently in
a good humour. But he could speak no longer, of course, since he had
lost his tongue; whatever they said to him he could only reply:
"Hamamama!"

This with him was the expression of happiness and contentment, both
question and answer.

"Mekipiros! come hither and drink," cried Ivan, holding to his mouth a
straw-covered pitcher full of spirit, which he to whom it was offered
did not remove from his lips till it was quite empty. Then he returned
it to Ivan with a joyful "Hamamama!"

"Look now, blockhead! You can climb up a rope anywhere, can't you?"

"Hamamamama!"

"All right, I'm not deaf! You can scale the roof of a house by means of
a rope then?"

The hideous monster rubbed his hands with joy at the proposal.

"And then you will drag me up after you by means of the same rope, do
you understand?"

The dwarfish abortion rushed with a howl of joy at Ivan, caught the
fellow round the knee, raised him high in the air, and leapt up and down
with him, by way of showing that he was as light as a bag of feathers,
till Ivan, by dint of shouting and pummelling, contrived to free himself
from the creature's grasp.

"The fellow has the strength of an ox," said he to Thomas Bodza,
seizing the thick-set creature by the hair, and lugging him hither and
thither, which appeared to infinitely delight the speechless monster.
Whenever he succeeded in getting hold of one of Ivan's hands he covered
it with kisses, whereupon the other, with an air of disgust, kept
rubbing them on the tails of his coat, as if he could not wipe them
sufficiently.

"He will do very well as food for their guns," whispered Ivan. "If the
people in the castle hear a noise, and guess our subterfuge, they will
shoot Mekipiros, for we will send him on in front. Why, even with a
couple of bullets in his body the fellow will be able to scramble up the
wall. He's like a toad."

Meanwhile the Leather-bell returned and announced that the dogs had
gobbled up all the meat thrown to them.

"Oh, they made no bones about it," cried he.

"Then we can go," said Ivan, thrusting a rusty military pistol into his
breast-pocket.

Dame Zudár hastened towards her matted waggon and leaped upon the
box-seat. For a moment a long, sharp knife flashed betwixt her hands,
and she peered at it closely to make sure that its edge was all right,
immediately afterwards it vanished again nobody knew whither. Then she
laid hold of her whip and lashed up the horses.

The road they followed passed by the hut of the Death-Bird. The old
witch was huddled up in her doorway, and began counting those who
passed, marking them off one by one, with her crutch: "One, two,
three--One, two, three."

She never went beyond three, therefore every third was a marked man.

When her daughter passed by with the rector and Ivan she laughed aloud.

"Ha, ha, ha! A splendid company truly! A schoolmaster, a headsman's
apprentice, and a nice young bride! Whither are you going such a dark
night? A splendidly dark night! Just the night for thieves and
murderers; just the night for those intent on rapine and burning! On you
go! On you go! Worry the great gentry, root out your landlords, and
after that fall yourselves into the hands of the headsman! The less
people there are in the world the nicer it will be."

None of the rioters durst molest her though she stood right in their
way, and spoke so that everyone could hear her. They all took care to
give her a wide berth.

Thomas Bodza distributed his people along the road, and occupied every
exit from the castle. One detachment he hid behind a haystack, with
another he seized the beehives, and with a third the distillery. The
servants who lived outside he overcame after a short resistance, and
then bound them tightly and locked them up.

Inside the castle nobody was yet aware of what was going on outside. Not
a single servant slept there. The young squire, in his terror of the
epidemic, would not suffer one of them to sleep in the castle, the only
people inside there besides himself were old Hétfalusy and the doctor.

Ivan then chose out six of the bravest of his followers, amongst them
the watchman in whose sylvan hut they had held their secret meetings,
Hamza, the sexton, and Mekipiros, whose mouth they had to gag, to
prevent him from uttering his eternal "Hamamama!"

Poor Mekipiros! A little while ago he was able to pray, now he could not
utter an intelligible word!

It was not difficult to get into the courtyard. The Leather-bell opened
the gate for them. Inside the dogs were lying near the well stiff and
stark, nothing had betrayed the venture.

And now Ivan produced a long strong rope, and tied on to it a lot of
pack-thread, at the end of which a heavy piece of lead was fastened.
Round the roof of the castle ran a metal gutter, which terminated at the
corners in old-fashioned dolphins. On to one of such dolphins Ivan threw
the pack-thread noose, and seizing hold of the re-descending lead
plummet, hoisted up the rope likewise. It was really a capital idea.
Mekipiros was to clamber up the rope, he knew the trick of it. He was to
be the _anima vilis_ by means of whom they were to find out whether the
folks in the castle were asleep or not.

When he got to the top he was to pull up Ivan after him, and then the
united strength of the pair of them would do the same by the others.
They would then creep into the castle through the attics and open the
doors, which were locked on the inside, to admit their comrades.

Nothing could have been more circumspectly conceived.

When the rope was firmly fastened to the top of the gutter Ivan hurried
up Mekipiros and shoved the free end of the rope into his hand.

The little monster did not trust himself to shout but expressed his
satisfaction in a lowly murmured "Hamamamama!"

The next moment he was clambering up the rope like a strange sort of
huge spider, climbing rapidly higher and higher with agile hands and
feet, occasionally he even helped himself along with his teeth. In a few
moments he was sitting on the back of the copper dolphin, delighted to
have found a steed in a monster similar to himself, and from thence he
shouted: "Hu, hu, hu!" like an owl.

"Will you shut up!" called Ivan, in a voice of suppressed fury. "The
beast will betray us! Haul up, can't you?"

Ivan clutched hold of the rope with both hands.

Mekipiros with vigorous tugs hoisted him upwards, hauling up the rope
with his short arms as easily as if there were no weight attached to it.

"How I wish he would let him fall," murmured Dame Zudár to herself.

Thomas Bodza had much the same sort of wish in his own heart. Each of
them had his or her particular reasons for wishing Ivan's plan to fail.

But Mekipiros did not let him drop. He hoisted him up right on to the
roof and helped him to climb up on to the metal gutter.

Ivan scarce felt his feet once more, however, when, instead of
expressing his gratitude, he expended his pent-up rage on his companion.

"You mad bullock, you, why did you roar out just now, eh?" he whispered
in the ear of Mekipiros, and he viciously tugged at the stunted
monster's bristly hair with one hand, at the same time holding his other
hand before his mouth to prevent him from screaming out.

At that same instant Mekipiros turned upon Ivan with flashing eyes,
seized him round the thighs and holding him fast embraced, hauled him
along the roof. For a second the pair of them tottered on the very edge
of the gutter, but then Ivan clutched the metal cornice and held on to
it convulsively with both hands.

"Hamama, hamama, hamama!" howled the enraged monster. Like a heavy load
of sin, he hung on to the legs of his prey, squeezing his knees together
in an iron embrace, worrying his enemy's calves with his teeth, kicking
and cuffing him, and striving to hurl him into the abyss below.

Ivan was fairly mad with terror.

"Help!" he roared, in a voice capable of arousing the Seven Sleepers,
"help! He is killing me!"

"I knew what would be the end of it!" cried Dame Zudár, gnashing her
teeth. "The poltroon is betraying us himself. Let him perish if he does
not know how to live."

"Scoundrel!" Bodza shouted to him. "What! cannot you die speechless like
a Julius Cæsar? And when the common cause demands that you should keep
silence too! Fie upon you, I say!"

Ivan, in his desperation, writhed over the gulf beneath him, and
forgetting everything but the horrible death awaiting him, bellowed
hoarsely to those standing below:

"Help, for the love of Christ. Men, I say! do not let me perish! I am
falling! I am dying. Woe is me! Spread straw underneath, can't you? Hold
a carpet below me! Mercy, mercy! Let me go, Mekipiros! I beseech you,
for God's sake, let me go!"

But it was no part of Mekipiros' plan to plunge down to the ground all
by himself. For the last hour or so he had been joyfully awaiting this
sweet moment, for this he had laughed, for this he had frisked about so
uproariously. He was unable to conceal his delight. If only he could be
alone with his tormentor at that giddy height, suddenly seize him, and
hurl him down with himself from the roof, fly for a few seconds through
the air, and then lie stretched upon the earth in a smashed and broken
mass, so that it would be impossible to distinguish the one from the
other--ah! then how happy he would be!

And--better than that even--his victim had clutched hold of something in
the very act of falling, and so the delicious moment was indefinitely
prolonged! He heard how his prey roared for help, saw how he writhed
convulsively in the desperate hope of saving himself, how half out of
his mind he even begged him, Mekipiros! for life: "Mekipiros, dear good
Mekipiros, let me go, and plunge down alone!"

"Hamamama! hamamama!" gurgled the monster with a grim cruel voice, and
he kicked the wall with his feet to make Ivan let go the quicker, and
buried his scanty teeth in the fleshy legs of his victim, and worried
him like a dog.

"Mercy, mercy! Help! I can hold out no longer!" gasped Ivan, his sinews
beginning to stretch beneath the pressure of the double load. No help
was possible. Those standing below cursed him for rousing the castle
with his shouts. The narrow edge of the gutter was gradually slipping
through his nerveless fingers. And now one hand relaxed its hold, and
only by a last convulsive effort did he manage to hold on for a few
seconds by the other.

"Hamamama!" screeched the monster, and then a yell, as of the lost,
resounded from height to depth, and a huge round, black, writhing, coil
came bounding rapidly to the ground, and there, the next instant, lay a
mangled mass of flesh, in which perhaps at one time two souls had dwelt.

"And now let us see what the next can do," growled Dame Zudár, leaning
nonchalantly back in her waggon, and crossing her arms over her breast
like an impatient singer at a concert who waits for his turn in the
programme to come while his colleagues are boring the public to death
with their dismal performances.

At Ivan's first howl two lights had become visible in the two corner
chambers of the castle, and presently both of these lights were observed
hastening to the central hall only, a few moments later, to be
extinguished. Then the iron shutters were banged down with a crash, only
one square piece in the middle still remained raised.

The besieged were on their guard.

Now, Numa Pompilius, you have a fine field before you for the race of
glory. Advance! put your ladders to the walls, hurl your beams against
the foe, sling your stones against the roof, begin the struggle, and
inspire the combatants with martial fury! Let shouts and yells and
curses supply the place of thundering artillery! The enemy is aroused
and expectant!

"Forward, ye heroes! The hour of the red dawn of our day of triumph is
at hand. Victory to the valiant!"

The excited mob heard not a word of this classical appeal, its ears were
too full of its own howlings, as it pressed into the courtyard.

Then from that window square, which had remained uncovered by the
shutter, a shot resounded, at whose sharp report the hideous hubbub
suddenly grew dumb, and during the lull a strong manly voice addressed
the rioters:

"That was only a blank shot. If you do not instantly leave the courtyard
we will fire among you with bullets."

"Let us depart hence, my noble patriots, let us depart!" stammered the
Leather-bell. "It is Squire Széphalmi who commands it. It is not well to
play games with him. He has a lot of six-barrelled firearms inside with
three bullets in each barrel. A mischief may befall some of us else. We
have wives and children at home. Let us go home, my dear fellow
patriots. Early to-morrow morning we will send a deputation."

The greater part of the mob shared this good opinion, and began to show
their respect for firearms by clearing out of the courtyard.

But Numa Pompilius, full of the fury of despair, barred the way against
his retreating host.

"Miserable, cowardly deserters! What! a single blank shot is sufficient
to turn you back! Holus-bolus, 'sicut examen apum,' ye decamp at the
word of a single foe! Fie, fie upon you, ye dregs, ye sweepings of
humanity!"

The bellicose commander spat in his disgust at the fugitives again and
again, and overwhelmed them with all sorts of choice epithets. Finally
he snatched up an axe, and declared that if nobody else stirred he would
go and batter down the door of the castle single-handed.

But the Leather-bell threw his arms round the body of the enthusiastic
hero lest he should hazard his life in so perilous an enterprise. Nay,
he would not even let him enter the courtyard, but went so far as to
seize the axe he held in his hand regardless of the kicks and cuffs he
received during the struggle.

Dame Zudár laughed scornfully at this tragicomical scene.

"Why don't some other of you fellows hold him back too?" she cried. "He
likes nothing better than not to be let go. Don't you see what a
business he makes of it to rid himself of that feeble old man, whom he
could throw to the ground with half a hand if he had a mind to. Get out
of my way, will you? Men are out of place in a joke of this sort. My
mother was a witch and I'm one also. Do you know that I can open every
door before you with a single word. All you have got to do is to sharpen
your knives."

And with that she opened the wicker covering of her waggon, which
hitherto had been kept tightly closed, and as easily, as if she only
held a down cushion in her hand, she hauled forth little Elise.

The child's hands were tied in front of her, and her head was completely
enveloped in a thick woollen wrapper so that she could neither see nor
cry out.

Dame Zudár removed the wrapper from the little girl's head, and ordered
her to stand upright.

Then she produced a half burnt wax taper, the relic of some past
funeral, lit it, and placed it between the child's fettered fingers.

"The woman is not quite right," growled shaggy-headed Hanák. "She lights
a candle so that they may be better able to fire among us."

"Have no fear, shaggy pate. They will not fire at you. Go and huddle
behind the doorpost if you like. _I_ mean to go alone into the
courtyard, and will draw the snake out of its hole with my bare hand."

The besiegers did not need much persuasion to hide themselves. When Dame
Zudár passed through the gate with the child, everyone, not excepting
Thomas Bodza, hastened to make himself scarce.

The child she sent on in front with the lighted taper sticking between
its fettered fingers. She followed close behind. She had no fear of
bullets now.

When they came in front of the open square in the shutter, she made the
child stop, and bade it kneel down.

Then with a loud resounding voice she shouted up at the windows:

"Old Hétfalusy, are you there? Young Széphalmi, are you there?"

There was no answer.

"It is of no use denying yourselves. I am here to carry on my process
against you. It is the old, old suit in which my father lost his life
and my mother her reason. I have also brought along with me a tribunal
which cannot be corrupted. _I_ am now the stronger party."

"Take yourself off!" a hoarse, broken voice suddenly cried from the
window; it very much resembled old Hétfalusy's.

"Oh, I'm to take myself off, eh!" cried the virago defiantly. "Am I not
standing then on my own ground? Is not this corner of the house whose
windows I am now rattling, built on the plot of ground belonging to my
forefathers? Is not this ground my own? Are not these very stones, these
very blades of grass on which I now trample, mine, mine, mine?"

"It may very easily be yours for ever, you wretched creature," said
another voice, the voice of the younger squire. "If you do not go away,
you shall die on the very spot."

The barrel of a gun flashed between the shutters, and the headsman's
wife could see that it was pointed straight at her heart.

Quickly she pulled the little girl towards her.

"Aim away, Széphalmi!" she cried. "I have even taken the trouble to
bring a light that you may see to aim straight."

And with that she snatched the candle from between the child's fingers,
and held it so that it lit up her face.

"Look now! A pretty child, ain't she? Those blue eyes, those soft lips
resemble someone you loved very much at one time, don't they? It would
be a shame, wouldn't it, to make this tender, slender shape a target for
bullets, wouldn't it?"

The barrel of the gun sank slowly down.

"How do you suppose now, Széphalmi," continued the virago, her face
radiant with infernal malice, "how do you suppose now that the
headsman's wife managed to get hold of this gentle cherub, who is as
much like her as an angel is to a devil?"

"Woman!" hissed someone from within, though whether it was the old man
or the young it was impossible to say.

Dame Zudár drew nearer, she now went right up to the window.

"You would like me to speak in a lower key, no doubt? Well, I may do
that. You see how close I am standing to you, you could touch my body
with the barrel of your musket. But you _won't_ touch me, I know, for
now it is I who am the destroyer."

And with that she laid her large, broad, muscular palm on the little
girl's tender shoulder.

"This child is now eight years old. When she was born her father cursed
her, her mother kicked her out, and her nurse confided her to a she-wolf
that she might either kill it or bring it up along with her own
whelps--which is much about the same thing. It is the foolish old story,
the old grey wolf carried off the brat and brought it up; the old
headsman nourished the innocent little girl, and defended her against
all the wild beasts of the forest. Do I make the fable quite clear to
you?"

A stifled moan was the sole reply.

"And then Heaven's lightning descended upon your house, misfortune was a
constant visitor upon you, you soon had a pair of corpses under your
roof, and there was no end to your affliction. Now I should say that
that looked very much like a curse upon you.

"Yes, a curse pursued your family. When you had securely fastened the
door behind you, you used to weep and wail like any beggar; yes, and no
beggar at your door would have thanked you for the chance of exchanging
his lot with yours."

To this there was no reply from behind the window.

The defiant features of the virago were illuminated by the candle which
the child now held again in her hand. She seemed to cast a dark shadow
upon the very night around her--the darkest of dark shadows.

And now she went right up to the window so that she could actually
whisper through it.

"Come, throw down your weapons, ye great and haughty gentlemen, for they
are no longer a defence to you. Something very evil is going to happen
to-night, for I have not come to you for nothing, I can tell you."

And with that she drew from beneath the kerchief covering her breast the
knife sharpened to a keen point, whose edge she had tested so carefully
a short time before.

"Do you see my key?" cried she. "This is the key to your hearts, this is
the key to the doors of your palaces. This knife will pare down your
pride and humble you to the dust beneath my feet. You could shoot me
dead as I stand here I know, though that would be no very great
master-stroke. But the same instant in which I fell, my mother, the old
witch, would stand behind my back and would shout to the infuriated mob
with all the force of her lungs, and tell them whose this child is, and
then do you know in whose heart this knife would be plunged first of
all?"

A sort of painful wail came from below the dark window, like the sounds
that are heard in a deserted, dilapidated old fortress where the whole
building is ever sighing and moaning, and none can tell whence the noise
comes.

During the virago's muttered discourse the bolder spirits among the mob
had gradually flitted back again into the courtyard. They perceived that
the headsman's wife was not afraid, and this of itself gave them
courage. Some of them even drew near to the threshold of the house,
where they pricked up their ears and did their best to catch something
of what the woman was talking about so mysteriously. It might be worth
their while to hear.

Dame Zudár began sharpening the knife against the stone ledge of the
castle window.

"I give you three minutes to think it over," she now exclaimed aloud.
"If you then say: let there be bloodshed! bloodshed there shall be."

And with that she turned back to the child.

There she stood in front of the castle threshold, with the heavenly
resignation of a martyr on her pale, innocent face. She appeared to be
quite undisturbed by the dreadful scene before her. The thought that she
was now about to die absorbed all her faculties.

"Kneel down!" cried the virago coldly.

The child took her at her word, and knelt down on the lowest of the
flight of steps.

"Pray, if you have a mind that way."

The child devoutly raised her eyes to Heaven, and holding the lighted
candle in front of her in her tiny hands, began to sing this verse of a
hymn:

    "The Lord my God, I praise and bless,
    For He hath heard my soul's distress,
    And hath inclined His ear to me
    Who love Him through eternity."

To many it seemed, while the child's quavering voice was intoning the
sad melody, as if, either from the midst of the crowd, or from some
corner close at hand, a man's voice was accompanying the tone in a
subdued voice, dwelling upon the final notes, as they do in church.

Who could it be?

None could say whence the accompanying voice proceeded.

A cold shudder ran down Dame Zudár's back. It was the voice of the
headsman!

But what a mad idea! Men no longer come forth unhurt from the midst of
the fire, as did the three holy children in the days of Nebuchadnezzar.

So she strengthened her heart, marched up to the door, and began
thundering upon it with her fists.

"The three minutes for consideration is now up. My old enemy and my
young enemy, you must now open the door and come forth."

The crowd waited in hushed suspense for what would come next.

Why did not the people inside fire beneath the sure protection of their
stronghold? What spell had this woman cast over them? Had she really the
power, then, to break through bolts and bars with a mere word, a mere
look?

"One, two, three!"

Still not a sound.

Then the virago, with a haughty look, turned towards the people, and
addressed them with a penetrating voice:

"If they won't speak I will. Friends and comrades, these bigwigs here
have sworn our ruin. They want to root out the whole lot of us, why,
then, should we have mercy on them? Now, however, it is not we who are
in their power, but they who are in ours. Their own sins have delivered
them into my hands. You know, and the whole world knows, that that
stuck-up gentleman yonder, Széphalmi, Esq., once upon a time exposed his
firstborn child. He cast it forth in the wilderness, cast it forth among
the wild beasts, because he feared the shame of it forsooth!--ha, ha,
ha! Has a poor man ever done the like of that? Aye, and it was a poor
man who found the child, it was a poor man who had compassion on the
little outcast thrown in his way, it was a poor man who brought it up as
if it were his own child. And now, if you please, these high and noble
gentlemen cast poison into the wells of the poor man that they may
destroy him, root and branch."

The mob listened to these murderous words with ever increasing
eagerness.

At the same time it did not escape Dame Zudár's attention that a key had
been put into the iron door of the castle from the inside, and that it
was being turned softly.

So now she fell a-shouting more noisily than ever.

"Before you kneels the foster-daughter of the headsman's wife. Who was
that child's mother? who gave her to the headsman's wife? Her mother, I
tell you, was a great lady, none other than Benjamin Hétfalusy's
daughter, whom the wrath of God smote down together with that little
murderer, her infant son. I nourished and brought up that child, and
what thanks did I get for it? Only this: that these bigwigs have
determined to kill us all by poisoning our meat and drink, that they may
thereby bury their shameful secret. But I declare their design aloud, so
that every man may know it. This girl is Hétfalusy's grand-daughter.
This girl is in our power, and if these fine gentlemen so much as
crumple a single hair of any of your heads, I will plunge this knife
into the child's heart."

A confused, savage murmur ran through the mob at these grim words, which
seemed to intoxicate the hearts of all who heard them with a fiendish
cruelty.

And Dame Zudár, listening attentively, heard the key turn in the door a
second time.

She was well prepared for what would follow.

She now stepped behind the child, wound its beautiful blonde tresses
round her left hand, and with her right grasped the handle of the knife
convulsively.

"Oh, God, my God!" cried Elise's bell-like voice.

At that same instant the iron door opened wide, and between its receding
wings stood a spectre--a spectre was the only name for it, as it had no
resemblance to anything human.

A pale face, like the face of one arisen from the tomb, white
dishevelled hair clinging round his temples and hanging over his
bloodshot eyes. He had wrapped a long mantle over his white night-dress
which fluttered about him like the wings of a bat.

It was old Hétfalusy.

In each hand he held a loaded pistol, and as the opening door groaned on
its hinges he cried in a hoarse voice:

"Here I am, but whoever dares to lay a hand upon the girl, him will I
shoot first and the girl afterwards."

But it was a threat which excited little terror, his hands trembled so
and his eyes were scarce able to see what was before them.

Nobody followed him. He passed through the door alone.

The Leather-bell, however, was so terrified lest he should carry out his
threat that he threw himself at the old man's feet, and embracing his
knees, piteously besought him:

"Master, master, oh, my dear master! don't fire, for God's sake! Lay
down your pistols. I assure you that nobody here will hurt you."

"Will ye swear, then, that you will do the child no harm?" gasped old
Hétfalusy.

"Put down your weapons!" cried the rioters.

"Swear that you will not harm her in any way, and then I will put them
down."

"Very well, we swear!" cried some in the rear of the crowd.

"Let that woman swear too," said Hétfalusy, pointing at Dame Zudár with
a shaking hand. None of them did he hold in such horror as her.

The virago smiled and twiddled the knife between her fingers. Craftily
lowering her eyes, and casting a side-long glance at the old man, she
replied:

"And by whom, then, am I to swear?"

"By the name of God, the living God."

"But what shall I swear?"

"Swear that neither you yourself, nor any of your companions, will do
this child any harm, whosoever child she is, and whether what you allege
concerning her be true or not."

"Nothing else?"

"Nothing."

"Would you not save your own grey hairs from being crumpled then?"

"May the Almighty dispose of me as it seemeth Him good."

"Then I will take the oath," cried the virago, and, raising her muscular
right arm heavenwards, she cried:

"No harm shall come to the child, so help me, God!"

Then Hétfalusy calmly surrendered his pistols to the Leather-bell, who
politely kissed his hand for so doing, and straightway fired the pistols
off in the air, so that they might do no harm to anyone.

The same instant the blaspheming mob fell upon the defenceless squire,
tore at his grey locks and impotent limbs, and hurled him to the ground.

"Smash him, kill him, the poison-mixer!" resounded from every side, and
the bloodthirsty cowards rushed furiously from their hiding-places with
cudgels and flails, to the spot where the defenceless old squire was
lying.

The worthy Leather-bell had not another word to say, but he cast himself
at full length upon the prostrate gentleman, and, tightly embracing his
frail figure, defended him with his own body from the first onset of the
raging mob.

In vain they pummelled, in vain they kicked him, his self-sacrificing
back endured everything, and patiently received the beating intended for
his master.

The poor fellow, after all, would really have been a very good man if
only he had not been so very simple.

"Clear out, will you!" cried Dame Zudár and Thomas Bodza simultaneously,
"we must not kill him. We want to get something out of him, so he must
live. Let no one hurt him, then, till he has received his sentence."

At last the two ringleaders succeeded in clearing away the furious mob
from the mauled and trampled body of the squire. Then they raised him
from the ground, tied his hands together, and fastened him tightly by
one lean arm to the trellised gate of the castle. Blood oozed from the
old man's limbs beneath the pressure of the rough cord, yet, with not so
much as a groan did Benjamin Hétfalusy betray the torture he was
suffering.

       *       *       *       *       *

And thou, oh, man, in thy fiery pit, art thou still singing thy hymns
below there, art thou still testing the edge of thy sword with the tips
of thy fingers, just as if it were the string of some sad and delicate
musical instrument, which can give forth but one voice, and that the
voice of a sad, sad song?

The heat of the collapsed dwelling was now penetrating to the cellar
below, and the straitened prisoner began to bethink him of some other
place of refuge.

Instead of the fierce crackle of the flames which had met his ear
hitherto, he now could only hear a monotonous flickering as of expiring
embers, and this lasted for a long time, when suddenly a fresh noise
attracted his attention.

Not far from his hiding-place something began to sound like the voice of
a wind-clapper. At first it went clap! clap! clap! very rapidly, but
gradually the strokes grew slower and slower, tapering down at last to
single beats at long intervals.

Whoever has attentively watched the doors of a metal furnace, will know
at once how that sound arises. When the heat of the fire which has
expanded the metal begins to decrease, the expanded fibres of the metal
suddenly begin to contract and give forth a snapping sound as of metal
strings violently torn asunder.

The iron door of the cellar was, in fact, loudly calling the attention
of the master of the house to the fact that the fire had reduced all the
brushwood piled round the house into red-hot embers, and it was
therefore high time for him to seek another asylum.

Peter Zudár seized a large measure of beer, approached the door, and
flung the malt liquid all over it.

Ha! how loudly the glowing metal hissed and spluttered at the contact of
the cold fluid, as if laughing with joy at the artful scheme which it
and the master together had devised for the latter's deliverance.

The iron door was far too burning hot to be opened with the naked hand,
but the blood-red glare visible behind it made it pretty certain that
the lead-soldering had long ago melted away, and it therefore only
needed a vigorous kick to wrench it off its hinges.

Peter Zudár listened attentively. Not a soul was stirring. There was
indeed no reason why anyone should linger any longer in that wretched
place.

Impatience spurred him on to action. He began to lift the door from its
hinges with the help of a heavy crowbar. It gave way sooner than he had
anticipated, and fell at full length on the smoking embers in front of
it, bridging over the fiery stream from one bank to the other.

With a single bound Peter Zudár leaped over the door, and sped away from
the burning house like a madman.

It was dark, nobody saw him. In his way stood huge thistles,
prickly-headed vegetable monsters, and Peter Zudár mowed them all down
with his headsman's sword just as if they had been so many condemned
malefactors, or as if he were a frolicsome lad waging fierce war with a
wooden sword against the whole evil host of weeds. Anybody who had seen
him would have taken him for a lunatic.

He only came to himself when the barking of a dog struck upon his ear;
he knew then that he was on the borders of the village, and close to the
nearest houses.

Then he began slowly to compose himself, the cool night air was soothing
his troubled brain. He now commenced to recollect what had happened to
him during the last few hours. The riot, the seizure of the child, the
house burnt over his head, the agony he had endured in the cellar--all
these things flashed like vivid pictures before his mind again.

But what had become of the child? What did they want to do with her? To
kill her perhaps?--these were his first thoughts. Then he began to
consider how he might discover her whereabouts and rescue her. Vengeance
was the last thing he thought of.

He had no suspicion as to whom the raging mob had risen against. He
fancied that the child was the pivot of the whole ghastly affair. He was
persuaded all along that they had sought her death, and would murder
her, and the idea of such a thing was all the more terrible to him
because he did not know the reason why. So much, however, he did know,
that his own wife was the person most to be feared.

He was fully sensible that there was no time to lodge a complaint with
the magistrate, the priest, or the local court, and await a heavy
sentence. This was a peculiar case in which the headsman himself must
investigate, condemn, and execute the sentence--and was not the sword of
Justice already in his hands?

And as he stood there, leaning against a fence, in a brown study, it
seemed to him as if he heard from the midst of the village the very hymn
which he had sung so often with his darling before their evening repose:

    "The Lord, my God, I praise and bless."

He listened attentively. It was no delusion. They were really the words
of the hymn, the child's voice was really singing them.

At first he fancied that his darling was in some other world, and was
speaking to him from the Kingdom of Heaven, and he lifted up his voice
likewise, and sang back again, his deep sonorous voice sounding like a
magnified echo of the bell-like childish voice.

Subsequently, however, it occurred to him that perhaps the child was
locked up somewhere, and wanted to let him know where she was by singing
the hymn.

Suddenly there arose a hideous shout from the courtyard of the castle,
the inarticulate roar of hundreds and hundreds of savage men, whose very
throats seemed to thirst for blood.

At that same instant Hétfalusy had surrendered his arms to his
assailants.

Peter Zudár lost not another instant in reflection, but turned up his
shirt-sleeves, smoothed away his hair from his eyes, and rushed towards
the castle.

A long lane separated him from the residential part of the mansion, but
not choosing to follow it along its whole length, he waited till he saw
the pinnacles of the castle, and then took a short cut over hedge and
ditch, dashing along straight before him heedless of everything.

       *       *       *       *       *

The infuriated mob which, after being cowed by the mere show of
resistance, became all the more brutal at the first symptom of
surrender, after Hétfalusy had laid down his arms, was able to glut its
brutal rage, at will, on the old gentleman who had thus become its
victim.

But it was lost labour.

What satisfaction can there be in the torturing of a withered stump
which is dumb to all outrage?--it is as fruitless a business as flogging
a corpse!

The old squire did not demean himself by a single outcry of pain.

When they wanted him to confess that the gentry had banded together to
extirpate the peasantry, he coldly replied:

"That is not true."

Every denial on his part was followed by inhuman tortures. But they were
but tormenting a frigid skeleton insensible to pain, who only replied,
again and again:

"That is not true!"

The invading mob, after breaking everything in the castle it could lay
its hands upon, began searching for young Széphalmi and the doctor.

They must have hidden well, for nowhere could they be found. The mob
turned all the rooms upside down, and yet it could not find them.

The old man must certainly know where they were stowed away.

But Hétfalusy would not betray his son-in-law or the doctor.

Amongst his executioners shaggy Hanák particularly distinguished himself
by his fiendish ingenuity, but the squire only remarked to him in a
gentle voice:

"Do you recollect, Hanák, how last year, you were bedridden, and I
supported your whole family? And when your biggest lad was taken by the
recruiting sergeant, did I not buy him out? And when the hail destroyed
your crops, did I not give you the corn on which you and your whole
family lived comfortably during the winter?"

But at this mild reproach, stubbly Hanák only wiped his bloody mouth,
and bellowed with bestial pride:

"There's no Hanák here! I'm Hanák no longer. I'm a rebel patriot, that's
what I am!"

The poor Leather-bell was quite unable to help his master. He could only
implore the rioters to torture him if they liked rather than Hétfalusy.
He knew he was the cause of it all because he had talked about the
poison. He wished now that he had eaten of the poison and died.

Dame Zudár, meanwhile, had been regarding the sufferings of her mortal
foe with devilish enjoyment.

There she stood, her arms folded across her breast, facing her enemy,
whose warm blood frequently spurted over her face.

"'Tis no good hurting him that way," she murmured to herself. "A boor
howls if you nip him, this sort only holds his tongue just as if he had
a soul different from the others...."

"This was the very spot where you made my father bleed," she cried. "Do
you recollect Dudoky, eh? There he lay, where you lie now, and you stood
beside him, as I now stand beside you, and revelled in it. But my father
wept and howled beneath his torments while you only keep silent. I
could not bear to look on, I ran away and hid myself in my room, but
there also I kept on hearing his shrieks. I heard them through two thick
walls. Twenty years have passed since then, and through those twenty
years I still hear him. I want to hear you weep too, and not mock your
executioners by putting on a stone-cold face like that. Yes, you shall
weep, you shall entreat. I will not be happy till I see your eyes full
of tears."

Hétfalusy regarded the fury contemptuously, and knitted his lips.

And then he called her a name, a low, degrading name, the worst of all
names that a man can call a woman.

With a hiss of rage the virago rushed upon him with the frantic idea of
plunging her knife in his heart.

But nay, not so.

Her face was white with fury, her whole frame trembled.

"I became that all through you!" she gasped with husky rage. "But you
will not mock me for it much longer. Do you see your grandchild here in
my power?"

"You swore you would not hurt her."

"I swore I would not kill her, but I will make her what I was. By Heaven
and Earth and all the torments of Hell, I swear I will do it."

"Woman!" stammered Hétfalusy, and his face lost at last its expression
of stony endurance.

"Ha-ha!" cried the virago, with a laugh like the howl of a wild beast.
"The last scion of the house of Hétfalusy will do credit to a house of
ill-fame. Look how lovely she is! Look at her face, her figure, her
eyes! As innocent as an angel too! Ah! you are weeping now, are you? But
you will have to weep tears of blood, you accursed old wretch, for what
I say I mean to do!"

"Woman, if you believe in God----" began the old man, writhing to free
himself from his bonds.

"I don't!" the woman yelled back defiantly. "There is no God!"

At that same instant her head leaped so suddenly into the air that her
body remained standing upright, three long jets of blood at the same
time shooting up from between her vacant shoulders. Her two hands still
fumbled about in the air as if they would have drawn back the uttered
blasphemy and defended her against this terrible judgment, and then the
whole figure collapsed in the direction of the fallen head, which lay
with its face turned heavenwards, and its mouth gaping open, as if
longing to speak, whilst the tongue still moved, perchance, asking mercy
or pardon from Heaven. Too late, too late! There was no longer any power
of utterance there. Once or twice there was a twitching of the eyelids
over the stiffening staring eyes, till at last they closed painfully in
the dream of death.

And above the condemned sinner towered the form of the avenger of
sin--the headsman.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE VOICE OF THE LORD.


During the blasphemous speech of the frantic virago nobody had observed
that Peter Zudár had reached the courtyard of the castle. In the
darkness and prevailing confusion he had been able to creep up to the
wretched woman unobserved.

He had heard to the end her furious outburst, her horrible menace. He
had seen the convulsions of the stony-hearted squire in the midst of his
fetters, he had seen the tender child collapse beneath the touch of the
horrible virago, and he had fulfilled his mission.

The people, who in that awful moment had seen his bright sword flash
forth like Heaven's lightning, who had seen the monstrously mutilated
body of the woman totter in their midst, and spurt blood on all the
bystanders, who had seen the awe-inspiring figure of the headsman close
to them all, him whom they had fancied dead and buried, him whom their
own eyes had seen burnt to ashes--all these people stood for a moment as
if turned to stone, as if their souls had left their bodies.

This brief interval of petrified astonishment was sufficient for Peter
Zudár to snatch up the sorrowing child with one hand, while with the
other he whirled his bloody sword above his head, and opened a way for
himself to the gate.

Then, when the rioters saw him escaping, they came to themselves again.

"After him!" cried Hanák, catching hold of his scythe.

"After him!" roared the Leather-bell, grasping a torch, and bounding on
in front, and so skilfully did he scatter the sparks in the eyes of the
pursuers, that their dazzled eyes could see absolutely nothing. When, at
last, he came to a narrow bridge over a stream which they had to cross,
he stumbled so suddenly that those coming immediately behind tumbled
over him, and the torch was extinguished in the water. Zudár, meanwhile,
had had time to conceal himself and the girl in the bushes on the banks
of the stream. Nobody had observed him except the Leather-bell, and as
soon as that worthy could gain his legs again he fell a-bellowing with
all his might:

"On, on! there he goes! catch him, seize him!"

And off he went at full tilt, as if a high price had been set upon the
head of the pursued, and he was determined to win it, whilst Zudár, snug
in his hiding-place, listened to the hundreds and hundreds of pattering
feet that made the bridge creak over his head, and to the hundreds and
hundreds of hoarse voices clamouring for his blood. Presently he heard
them all come panting back again, cursing and swearing and consoling
one another with the assurance that although they had not caught him
now, he would not be able to escape them for long.

"Yes," he thought to himself, "a time is coming when you will find me
without having sought me."

And now the pursuing band, full of fresh fury, stormed back to the
castle. The Leather-bell cursed them for not following up the trail when
they were already hot upon it. He had had, he maintained, the tail of
the fugitive's coat in his very hand, but had been obliged to leave go
because they had not helped him to hold on, and so the headsman had fled
away among the maize-fields.

The sky was now growing grey, the dawn was not far off; but the folks
had forgotten to ring in the morning, for the bell-ringers had something
better to do.

At Thomas Bodza's command they carried the corpses aside out of the
courtyard, the corpses of Ivan, Dame Zudár, and poor Mekipiros. They
conveyed them to a large ditch at the back of the house, so that none
might see their remains.

The surviving ringleader felt a secret satisfaction when his colleagues
had thus perished by his side. He alone remained upon the field, and he
flattered himself that Fate was on his side, and by thus putting the
leading threads of the whole movement into his hands, meant to emphasize
the fact that _mind_ was the true motive-power--his own mind
naturally--and therefore it was for him, and him alone, to hold sway.

The mob must be impressed, of course, by some great
never-to-be-forgotten scene, which would give a touch of sublimity to
its hitherto low and common rioting.

So Thomas Bodza ascended to the highest step of the castle staircase,
from whence he declared to the mob that as the champions of justice they
had prevailed.

"And now," continued he, "we will pronounce judgment on the
poison-mixers according to the good old Greek custom. Let the people
take potsherds in their hands. In front of the hall stand two urns. In
one is life, in the other death. Let each one of you cast his vote into
which urn he pleases. This, my friends, is the ostracism of classical
times. You are the archons who shall give judgment, and the whole world
will thus see that we exercise according to law and order the authority
which we have won with our arms. Sit around me, therefore, oh, citizens,
and let the accused be brought forth!"

The gaping mob was delighted with this new diversion.

Hitherto the only occasion on which they had had an opportunity of
seeing a court of justice was when they had been led in chains, for some
crime or other, before the green table of the district court, where
great gentlemen pronounced sentences upon them out of big thick books.
And now one of these very great gentlemen was, in his turn, to stand
before a tribunal, and the tribunal consisted of nothing but peasants,
whose hair had never been clipped, who had never worn linen, who could
neither read nor write, and yet who now had the power of passing upon
him whatever sentence they chose. So they all applauded Bodza's
proposition loudly, whilst he himself, with an air of ineffable
importance, sat down on the topmost step of the staircase, and beckoned
to his subordinates to lead forth the old squire.

He gave very little trouble, it was not even necessary to fetter him,
for the moment he was untied from the doorpost he simply collapsed and
remained lying where he had fallen.

Then they put him on an ambulance car, and thus conveyed him before the
Areopagus.

One worthy peasant had compassion on the old man lying there in his
shirt exposed to the cold morning air, and covered him with his
_guba_[20] yet this very man voted for his death a few moments later.

[Footnote 20: A shaggy woollen mantle worn by the Hungarian peasants.]

Meanwhile, stubbly Hanák had placed behind the old man's back a gipsy
brickmaker to keep an eye on him, and touch him up with a whip if he
refused to confess.

Thomas Bodza now produced the box of bismuth that had been found in the
castle, and, cautiously opening it, placed it in front of the old
squire.

"You old sinner," said he, "answer my questions truly. Why did they send
you so much poison?"

The old gentleman remained silent.

The gipsy savagely belaboured his dove-white head with the heavy whip.

At the sound of the blows, an angry voice suddenly resounded from behind
the master's back.

"Hold hard, hold hard! you blockheads, you brutes, you stupid
numbskulls!"

Bodza, in his terror, sprang from his seat, and the astonished multitude
beheld Dr. Sarkantyús running hastily towards them along the hall.

The worthy man had been well concealed with young Széphalmi in a blind
niche, in the chimney corner, whence he had listened to the whole
horrible tragedy; but when it came to accusing someone of poisoning
people with _his_ drugs, he could stand it no longer, but kicked open
the tapestried door, and rushed out among the rioters.

Young Széphalmi swooned with terror when his hiding-place was
discovered, so that they had to drag him out by the feet.

The unexpected joy of laying hands upon a couple of fresh victims whom
they had long sought in vain, whetted the appetite of the mob for more
blood. They kept pummelling Széphalmi till he came to again, and tied
the physician back to back with Hétfalusy.

Throughout the whole tussle Dr. Sarkantyús never ceased blackguarding
the rioters for their imbecile suspicion of medical science, and tried
to explain to Thomas Bodza how very much in error he was as to the
contents of the box.

Only Széphalmi displayed an utter want of dignity. He wept, he implored,
he fell on his knees, and promised to confess everything if only they
would not hurt him, if only they would not kill him. _He_ was not
guilty, he said, and he cursed the doctor for bringing all this mischief
on the house with his abominable drugs and betraying their hiding-place
so madly.

"Mr. Széphalmi," retorted Dr. Sarkantyús, "all my life long I have taken
you for a poor creature, and in that belief I shall for ever remain. If
you could remain quietly in your hiding-place when they were talking of
your only daughter, if you could hold your breath and your ears and
tremble in every limb when they were torturing your father-in-law--well,
that's your look out. As for me, if only I can unmask a downright lie, I
am quite content to look death itself between the eyes immediately
after. Ever since you fainted at the prick of a leech, and were not
ashamed to burst into tears when I cut out one of your warts, I knew you
to be a coward. Yes, a coward you are, and a very poor creature to boot;
but whatever else I am, I am not that. Twice have I broken the bone of
my own leg because it was improperly set, and I am ready to have my neck
broken into the bargain if only I may bear witness to the truth. Those,
sir, are my sentiments. And now is there anybody here with whom a man
can talk common-sense?"

Bound and helpless as he was, the doctor still seemed to have made some
impression on the mob. Thomas Bodza, therefore, hastened to cut him
short.

"Then you maintain," he began, "that the gentry have _not_ poisoned the
peasants?"

"A man must be mad to even ask such a question."

"Then why are so many people now dying all over the kingdom?"

"Because of their sins. They are dying of a terrible plague which is in
the air, in the earth, in the very meat and drink which God has given
us, in the heat of the day, and in the chill of night--a plague which is
no respecter of persons, but slays lord and serf, rich and poor alike;
which will visit you, too, if not to-day then to-morrow, which will
destroy a tenth part of your households, which will search you out
wherever you are, in the forest, in the fields, within your cottages,
though you were to slay instantly every gentleman in the county. You
will, therefore, do well to untie my hands, and let me distribute
amongst you the blessed antidote, by means of which, with God's
assistance, we may be able to prevent this terrible calamity."

Thomas Bodza felt something of the paralysis of extreme terror when he
saw the impression made by these words upon the mob, which evidently
already began to waver. So he hastily threw himself into the attitude of
a Roman statue, and exclaimed with a loud voice:

"Doctor! I tell you you are lying. Let nobody touch that white powder,
for there is death in it. If you maintain that this powder is not
poison, take some yourself!"

This proposal met with universal approbation.

"Yes, yes! let him swallow some of the stuff he has brought if it is not
poison."

The doctor did not at all relish the idea of taking his own drugs, but
he was careful not to betray his dislike, for he was in a decidedly
ticklish position.

"Death comes from above," he calmly observed to the master. "Medicaments
are no food for a healthy man, but, all the same, I will willingly take
some of that bismuth powder to convince you all of the truth of my
statement."

Then Thomas Bodza proceeded to pour a paper full of the stuff down the
throat of the pinioned doctor.

The bystanders thronged around and gaped curiously at him, expecting
every moment to see him drop down dead.

"Look how green his face is!" said Bodza, working with evil intent on
the excited imagination of the mob. "Look how his eyes are staring, and
how ghastly pale he is!"

"It is not _my_ eyes that are staring, my worthy master, but your own,"
replied the doctor calmly. "Your face is pale, you are trembling. I tell
you death comes from above and not from my powders."

Thomas Bodza felt so dizzy that he had to clutch hold of the arm of
shaggy Hanák, who was standing by his side. Quite early that very
morning he had felt a sort of numbing paralysis in all his limbs, a
sort of griping cramp convulsing his inner parts, and an unspeakable
fear had arisen within his soul, but the feeling had passed over, and he
had put the thought of it away from him.

And now, again, that panic fear, which has no name, but beneath whose
influence the bravest of men become pale, shaking spectres, overcame
him, and he felt like one who is sensible of the approach of that one
enemy against whom there is no defence.

The physician was the first to detect in the face of his tormentor that
terrible phenomenon, _facies Hypocratica_, and when he said to him:
"Your face is deathly pale," he as irrecoverably plunged him into the
grave that was gaping open for him, as if he had plunged a knife into
his heart.

The horror-stricken rioters gazed at their master who, for some moments,
stood gaping at them with a terribly distorted face. There were two
coloured rings round his glassy eyes, his cheeks had fallen in, his lips
were turning yellow, the whole man seemed to be a hideous
personification of mortal dread. Then, suddenly with a loud yell, he
rolled down the steps, and collapsing with hideous convulsions at the
doctor's feet, yelled in the midst of his racking torments:

"God of mercy, have compassion upon me! ... Doctor, help me! I am
dying!"



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE READY-DUG GRAVES.


Imré Hétfalusy, hastening with all his might, reached at last the
officer in command of the cordon, and delivered the General's command.
The officer at once placed four-and-twenty soldiers at the disposal of
the General's adjutant. More he could not spare, as his assistance might
be wanted elsewhere.

Imré lost no more time in going to the next cordon-commander, but
marched straight off to Hétfalu with his four-and-twenty warriors.

Only three of them were mounted, the General's adjutant, Kamienszka, and
himself, all the rest were on foot. Even with the utmost exertion it
would take at least four hours to reach Hétfalu.

During the long journey Maria told Imré everything she knew about his
family. Nobody disturbed their conversation, the road was empty and
noiseless.

When they reached the first _csárda_ that also was silent. The doors and
windows had been torn from their places, the road was strewn with the
débris of casks, bottles, and flasks. Here and there, amidst the ruins,
were little pools of blood in which somebody had stood, leaving a
bloody trail behind them....

The little band went further on their way in silence.

Two hours later they perceived in the wayside woods, concealed among the
bushes, three figures which rose to their feet on perceiving the
soldiers, and one of them came rapidly towards them, and was so out of
breath when he reached them that he could not speak a word, and would
have fallen if Imré had not supported him against his saddle.

Then Imré recognised the worthy Leather-bell.

"What's the matter, old man?" he inquired compassionately.

"Alas, alas! my young master, a terrible thing has happened. I cannot
describe it in words. I'm only glad that we have saved this innocent
creature."

"What innocent creature?"

"This child, the squire's grandchild, whom Zudár brought up in secret,
and the headsman's wife betrayed. But she has paid for it dearly now.
They had condemned the child to death. I hid them here beneath the
bridge, and gave them peasant's clothes to put on, and helped them to
scurry through the woods."

At these words Kamienszka leaped from her horse, and ran to the child
who was quite worn out. Her little feet were all wounded and bloody, it
was only by leaning on the arm of Zudár that she was able to walk at
all.

The headsman recognised at once the youth who had brought a blessing on
his house, although he had now quite another figure. Now he had come to
fight. Zudár stooped down and kissed his hand. He said, too, that his
own hands were now pure, for he had washed them in blood, the shedding
whereof was pleasing to God.

The officer in command had a rough litter made from the branches of
trees, on which they placed the exhausted little girl. Four soldiers
were then told off to carry it, and then the little band resumed its
march. Elise could not have been in a place of greater safety.

Meanwhile, the Leather-bell was giving a full account of the horrors
that had taken place around the castle from the evening to the morning.
He had left the place just as Széphalmi and the doctor had fallen into
the hands of the mob.

Imré was beside himself with horror.

"I must hasten to save my father or die with him," he murmured bitterly.

The officer wanted him to wait so that they might all reach the castle
together, but he would not listen. He was quite ready to face the danger
single-handed. But indeed he was not alone. He had beside him his
valiant comrade, in love a true woman, in trouble a true man, and she
would not be parted from him.

"Courage and hope!" she cried, pressing his hand, and with that the
heroic couple spurred their horses along the grass-grown road.

       *       *       *       *       *

With the fall of Numa Pompilius the last vestige of discipline
disappeared from the ranks of the rioters. The loss of their leader, so
far from bringing them to reason, only made them desperate. Bodza had
died at their very feet after half an hour of the most excruciating
torments, and, meanwhile, there mingled with the crowd numbers of
wailing women, each of whom already had their dead at home, and spread
sorrow and confusion wherever they went. Then everybody lost his head,
and was frightened into bestial ferocity. The dying lay about in the
road with none to care for them. Fathers no longer owned their sons,
brother had no compassion for brother. And the gentry had to pay for all
this panic terror.

The people had been brought up in such a way that its first thought on
breaking out of its cage was to tear its masters in pieces.

It listened no longer to any word of command, only the latest whim
obtained a hearing.

Stubbly Hanák hit upon a hideous idea.

"What are those three bigwigs lounging about here for, eh?" he cried.
"Let them go and dig graves, let them dig their own graves!"

And with that he untied their bonds, placed spades and shovels in their
hands, and pointed out to them the exact spots in the courtyard of the
castle where they were to dig their own graves, and nice, picturesque
spots they were too, beneath the shade of wide-spreading chestnut trees.

Old Hétfalusy had no longer the physical strength for such work, and
Dr. Sarkantyús declared categorically that anybody who was fool enough
to kill him might do so if he chose, but that he was not such a fool as
to dig his own grave, and nobody should make him do it either.

Only Széphalmi took them at their word. On his knees he implored them
not to torture him, and he would willingly dig not only his own grave,
but the graves of his comrades also.

The rioters thrust a spade into his hand, and, grinning with delight,
instructed him how to throw aside the earth out of the furrow, and then
they made him lie down in it in order to take his proper measure.

And how boisterously they laughed at the fun of it.

Suddenly there was a sound of pattering hoofs, and two horsemen, with
drawn swords in their right hands, galloped into the courtyard.

They came so unexpectedly that only the shrieks of the women wailing at
the gate told the frantic mob of their arrival.

"My son!" cried the old squire, painfully raising himself from the
ground with a supreme effort.

"My father, my father!" wailed the youth, and with that he cut his way
through the thickest of the crowd, distributing vigorous blows, right
and left, till he had forced his way up to his father's tortured body,
and forgetting everything at that moment, he flung himself from his
saddle, fell upon his father's neck, and embraced and sobbed over him.

The brutal mob instantly rushed upon him with a savage yell, when,
suddenly, a couple of shots resounded, and two of the assailants fell
dead close beside the father and son. It was Maria who had fired these
shots, and now, leaping from her steed, she shook Imré violently.

"You must fight for your life now, and leave weeping for another time,
my boy!" cried she.

The youth quickly recovered himself and drew his sword, and then the
pair of them turned upon the cowardly mob, and, by sheer dint of hard
fighting, began driving them out of the doorway of the castle.

In no very long time there were three of them, for the doctor had had
his weather-eye open, and, when the general attention was distracted, he
snatched up the spade assigned to him, and therewith dealt a lanky lout
beside him such a blow at the back of the neck that he immediately fell
down and never spoke again.

"Come along with us, Mr. Széphalmi, come along!" cried the doctor, as he
joined the combatants, but Széphalmi paid no heed. He fell down on the
edge of the freshly-dug grave at the feet of his jailors, and declared,
sobbing and moaning, that he would hurt nobody if nobody hurt him. The
only answer they gave him was a smashing blow on the head with a large
hammer, and he fell back into the grave and expired on the spot.

A vigorous slash with which Imré severed the arm of the most powerful of
the peasants, clean off at the elbow, somewhat damped the fighting
ardour of the crowd, which drew back to curse and swear at a distance.
The respite thus gained was sufficient to enable the little group of
gentlemen to reach the door of the castle, and bolt and bar it behind
them, after having first of all rescued old Hétfalusy from the hands of
his murderers.

Fortunately not one of the rioters remained in the castle, indeed there
was nothing else for them to do there. Everything had been eviscerated,
torn to atoms, reduced to powder. A large portion of the mob was down in
the cellars dead drunk.

Imré Hétfalusy who, all this time, had held his father closely embraced,
now deposited him on a torn and ragged hair mattress, and then they both
embraced each other again, and neither could speak a word. It was both
joy and anguish, it was something which words could not describe.

And now for the defence!

The three of them could not, of course, defend the whole castle against
the furious mob whenever it should return. For return it certainly
would, and if it could not get through the door, it was at least able to
climb through the windows. The best plan, therefore, was to confine the
defence to a single room, and the most convenient stronghold was the
family library, the door of which was strengthened by iron fastenings.

The sole object of the besieged was to keep the mob at bay till the
arrival of the soldiery.

In a few moments the roar of the rioters advancing to the attack was
again audible. Stones flew through the windows, and angry fists
thundered at the door. Curses and savage threats resounded in the
passages. The mob, swarming in the courtyard, were carrying about on
their shoulders the dead bodies of the two peasants that had been shot,
two or three men with bloody faces were exhibiting their wounds, the
widow of one of the fallen held up her weeping children in her arms, and
hounded the mob on to vengeance with her frantic bitterness.

The room to be defended had a window looking out upon the courtyard, and
a door opening upon the passage. Maria was to be the defender of the
window, Imré the defender of the door. The doctor, meanwhile, with the
nonchalance becoming his profession, was binding up old Hétfalusy's
wounds, tearing off portions of his own shirt to serve as bandages.

The rioters had now occupied the hall, they had crept into the castle
through the rearward windows, the walls and arches rang with their
triumphant shouting.

"Imré!" said the old squire to his son, "come nearer to me!"

The youth approached his suffering father and knelt down before him.

"It may be God's will," murmured the aged man, "that within an hour both
of us may stand before His Judgment Seat. Promise me that you will never
accuse me of being a hard father, that you will never say that I hunted
you to death. Promise me that, my son!"

"I have always loved you, and I will love you still," sobbed the youth,
kissing the shaking hand.

"Let us not part from each other in tears," continued the old man, "let
us rejoice as they rejoice who have found again those whom they fancied
they had lost, and now let me bless you as a father may bless his son
when he is about to undertake a long journey."

And then he placed his trembling hands on his son's head, while his eyes
looked up to Heaven, and his dumb lips murmured an inaudible prayer to
the Lord of life and death.

"And now, my son, brace yourself up for your long journey!"

But Maria came rushing towards them.

"To work, my friend! bear a hand! The evil game has begun. Let us but
gain half an hour and all our lives will be saved."

"Who is that apparition," whispered old Hétfalusy to his son, "who has
twice descended from Heaven to save us?"

Imré looked with some hesitation at Maria, the girl gazed back at him
encouragingly.

"Yes, tell him! Why not? I am your wife, the famous Maria Kamienszka,
and this is not the first time I have been in the midst of a scrimmage.
Courage, my father, your son is now in your embrace, and in half an hour
your grand-daughter will be there also. Trust in God and be not
faint-hearted!"

"Ah, yes!" whispered the old man, with a transfigured countenance and a
voice full of enthusiasm, "this cannot be the hour of my death, no, my
God! it cannot, cannot be!"

The youth and the valiant young woman then warmly pressed each other's
hands, and hastened back to their posts. It was indeed high time.

The besiegers, after swarming all over the castle, had come at last upon
the barred and bolted door, and with the bloodthirsty howl of ravening
beasts, had rushed upon it with their iron bars, while another band
began wrenching out the iron fastenings of the windows with their sharp
_csakanyas_.[21]

[Footnote 21: Hooked axes.]

The besieged had to economize their shots, for they had only four
charges left. Their means of defence had to be reserved till the very
last instant, they could not afford to simply destroy the first stupid
bumpkin who might happen to come in their way.

The fear of death no longer terrified the besiegers. Several times Maria
held the barrel of her pistol close to the temples of the peasant who
was busy with the iron fastenings of the window, and he did not so much
as move his head. Many of the howling mob were so drunk that they no
longer knew what fear was. They thrust their hands through the glass to
open the window sashes, and Maria sliced away with her sword at the
intruding hands, and a few minutes afterwards the same bloody hands
would re-appear with stunted fingers. Wounds no longer hurt them.

The time had come when the besieged could count the minutes which they
had still to live, the blows given and received were like so much money
paid for life, whosoever stock failed first would be utterly ruined.

Maria was able to defend the window longer than Imré could defend the
door, one of whose panels was suddenly burst in with a loud crash,
opening a breach to the besiegers outside, whose sudden rush to the gap
made it impossible for the youth, despite the most frantic efforts, to
defend the crazy door much longer.

Maria heard Imré's cry of despair, and, forgetting the same instant her
own danger, quitted the window, and sped to the help of her beloved.

For a few moments the besiegers made a frantic effort to force their way
through the door, but at length the two swords, swift as lightning
flashes, beat down the brutal preponderance of the mob. The two
defenders held their places, held them, at any rate, till the besiegers
should stream through the window or shoot them down from behind.

Either of these eventualities might be expected at any moment.

"Keep your shots to the very last," whispered Maria to Imré. "Reserve
one of them for the enemy, and the other for me. I must not fall into
their hands alive."

Nevertheless, there was an unaccountable tardiness among the besiegers
of the window, and the assailants of the door also began thinning down,
and everyone noticed with surprise that the deafening din had abated,
and a momentary suspension of hostilities had taken place.

"Our rescuers are at hand!" cried Maria, and the same instant they could
hear the sound of rolling drums drawing nearer and nearer to the castle.

The rebels had quitted the besieged window and were scampering towards
the gate.

The last beat of the drum indicated that the soldiers had arrived in
front of the castle.

There were only five-and-twenty, most of them young fellows, mere lads,
and opposed to them stood a savage multitude, armed with all sorts of
hastily appropriated weapons, and with bloodthirstiness enough for a
whole army.

The young officer in command stood at the head of his little company,
and when he saw the headless, savage mob surging all around him, he
exhorted them, in a bold, manly voice, to return to their homes, respect
the laws, and give up their captives and their ringleaders.

Shaggy Hanák took it upon himself to respond to this invitation:

"We will not return to our homes," he shouted, "so long as a single
castle in the kingdom is still standing. We will make whatever laws we
like. We will give up the captive gentry when they are stone dead, and
as for our ringleader you may have him if you can catch him."

To still further emphasize his words, shaggy Hanák whirled his knobby
bludgeon above his head, and shied it frantically at the officer, who
warded off the blow with his sword, and the same instant a young private
transfixed the braggart so vigorously that the end of his bayonet stuck
in the ground behind.

This unexpected scene served as a signal for the little band of
soldiers, and they there and then fired into the thickest of the crowd.

And with that the whole horrible tragedy came to an end.

A single volley dispersed the whole ragged host. The corpses remained on
the ground naturally, but all the rest fled without another word, fled
incontinently over pillar and post, rushed straight home, hid themselves
away, put on their simplest air, washed the blood from their hands, and
held their tongues.

The rescued welcomed their deliverers with open arms. But another
quarter of an hour and very sorry remnants of them would have been found
at Hétfalu.

Meanwhile, out came Dr. Sarkantyús, and a very great pother he made,
insisting that the whole company should instantly hasten back to town,
as if they remained there the pale death would speedily overtake them,
and it would therefore boot them little to have escaped from the red
death. And indeed the plague was raging fearfully in that district, and
dying wretches were writhing convulsively in the streets outside. He
himself must remain on the spot. He was bound by his official duties to
visit the very houses of these persons who, half an hour ago, had
combined to torture him, and whose families were now themselves
suffering torments in the grip of this unknown disease. Nevertheless, he
required the escort of two armed men, for, as he jocosely observed, "The
Deuce is in it when patients would compel the doctor to drink his own
drugs."

       *       *       *       *       *

Hétfalusy had the felicity of embracing his long-lost grandchild before
he died. The child accepted him as her grandpapa, but begged that she
might have as her dear papa besides, good old Zudár, who had loved her
so much.

Hétfalusy nodded his consent, and pressed the coarse palm of the
headsman with his own gentlemanly hand. Nobody told the child that she
had a perfect right to call Zudár her father, inasmuch as her real
father, who had cast her from him, now lay frightfully disfigured in a
grave he had dug with his own hand.

Hétfalusy indeed never mentioned the name of his son-in-law again.

Then they laid him in the carriage already prepared for him, and little
Elise sat beside him and nursed his head in her lap. Oh, by this time,
she was very well used to nursing old people.

Maria and Imré accompanied the carriage on foot all the way to town.
Yet, once again, they were forced to fight their way through armed bands
of rebels, but after that they reached the town peaceably enough.

The General had given orders that Hétfalusy should be conducted straight
to his house as soon as the old man arrived.

Boundless was the joy of the worthy General to welcome in his home as a
guest the man who, once upon a time, had been his mortal foe.

Now indeed they could pardon each other everything.

Hétfalusy knew, at last, why the General had abandoned his girl so
suddenly, and how could the iron man help forgiving him who had sinned
greatly against him it is true, but, at the same time, had suffered so
terribly for it.

It was only mental excitement which still kept the life in the old man's
shattered body. He survived for another six months. His bodily wounds
healed but slowly, and still more slowly the wounds of the spirit. He
saw his only son happy in the love of the noblest, the rarest of women;
he saw his little grandchild growing up full of beauty, wisdom, and
amiability; and it did him good to rejoice in the domestic happiness of
his former enemy, and oftentimes he would call Cornelia his darling
daughter. And she was worthy of the name.

A beneficent stroke of apoplexy called him home to his dead in the
family vault at Hétfalu.

Imré remained no longer in those parts. He settled down on his wife's
property with little Elise, and left for ever the place which had such
melancholy associations for him.

And Peter Zudár went with them. He pursued no more his grim profession.
After that last master-stroke of his, he never grasped the headsman's
sword again. He had wielded it for the last time at God's command, he
was not going to play the part of death's scytheman any more at the
bidding of man.

Close to the Kamienszki estates he rented a little plot of land where he
grew flowers and melons, sported with white doves and little rabbits,
and sang in the church choir every day. It never occurred to anyone that
he had once been----but no matter.

And the three houses at Hétfalu were abandoned to desolation.

The gutted dwelling-house was never re-built. The castle was never
re-inhabited, people avoided it as a spectre-stricken dwelling. Its
windows were bricked up, its garden became a wilderness of weeds, its
steps and staircases fell to pieces. Ruin wrought her work upon it.

The hut, with the moss-covered roof, endured the longest. The old
night-owl, who now could scarce use her limbs, would, nevertheless,
totter of an evening to the place where stood the vast family vault of
the Hétfalusies, sit down there, opposite to the iron gate, and talk all
sorts of nonsense to some imaginary interlocutor.

"Eh! eh! old Hétfalusy! who was right after all? Didn't I say you would
be the first to go? What a little room satisfies you now! what a quiet,
peaceable man you are now! You have got earth enough at last, yet you
were always hungering after more while you were yet alive! You would be
at rest now if I would let you alone, eh? Or are you sorry that we
cannot go on with our wrangling? Well, well, if I should discover the
door by which you made your exit, we will begin it all over again...."

For hours at a stretch she would pour forth these vain mad words,
unanswered, unheeded. What had once been dust now lay at rest, what had
once been a human spirit now abode in Heaven, there was none to answer
her.

The mossy roof grew more and more ruinous, and at last one day the old
night-owl had quitted her nest and was gone. Nobody mourned for her. Who
takes any count of the birds of the field or the beasts of the forest!


THE END.





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