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Title: The Poor Plutocrats
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 POOR PLUTOCRATS

_Translated from the Hungarian_

_By_

R. NISBET BAIN

NEW YORK
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1899, BY DOUBLEDAY & McCLURE CO.



PREFACE


"Szegény Gazdagok" is, perhaps, the most widely known of all Maurus
Jókai's masterpieces. It was first published at Budapest, in 1860, in
four volumes, and has been repeatedly translated into German, while good
Swedish, Danish, Dutch and Polish versions sufficiently testify to its
popularity on the Continent. Essentially a tale of incident and
adventure, it is one of the best novels of that inexhaustible type with
which I am acquainted. It possesses in an eminent degree the quality of
vividness which R. L. Stevenson prized so highly, and the ingenuity of
its plot, the dramatic force of its episodes, and the startling
unexpectedness of its _dénouement_ are all in the Hungarian master's
most characteristic style. I know of no more stirring incident in
contemporary fiction than the terrible wrestling match between strong
Juon the goatherd and the supple bandit Fatia Negra in the presence of
two trembling, defenceless women, who can do nothing but look on, though
their fate depends upon the issue of the struggle,--and we must go back
to the pages of that unsurpassed master of the weird and thrilling
Sheridan Le Fanu to find anything approaching the terror of poor
Henrietta's awful midnight vigil in the deserted _csárda_ upon the
lonely heath when, at the very advent of her mysterious peril, she
discovers, to her horror, that her sole companion and guardian, the
brave old squire, cannot be aroused from his drugged slumbers.

There is naturally not so much scope for the display of Jókai's peculiar
and delightful humour, in a novel of incident like the present tale as
there is in that fine novel of manners: "A Hungarian Nabob." Yet even in
"Szegény Gazdagok," many of the minor characters (e.g., the parasite
Margari, the old miser Demetrius, the Hungarian Miggs, Clementina, the
frivolous Countess Kengyelesy), are not without a mild Dickensian
flavour, while in that rugged but good-natured and chivalrous Nimrod,
Mr. Gerzson, the Hungarian novelist has drawn to the life one of the
finest types we possess of the better sort of sporting Magyar squires.

Finally, this fascinating story possesses in an eminent degree the charm
of freshness and novelty, a charm becoming rarer every year in these
globe-trotting days, when the ubiquitous tourist boasts that he has
been everywhere and seen everything. Yet it may well be doubted whether
even he has penetrated to the heart of the wild, romantic, sylvan
regions of the Wallachian and Transylvanian Alps, which is the theatre
of the exploits of that prince of robber chieftains, the mighty and
mysterious Fatia Negra, and the home of those picturesque Roumanian
peasants whom Jókai loves to depict and depicts so well.

R. NISBET BAIN.



Contents


CHAPTER

    I.  BOREDOM
   II.  A NEW MODE OF DUELLING
  III.  AN AMIABLE MAN
   IV.  CHILDISH NONSENSE
    V.  SHE IS NOT FOR YOU
   VI.  BRINGING HOME THE BRIDE
  VII.  THE CAVERN OF LUCSIA
 VIII.  STRONG JUON
   IX.  THE GEINA MAID-MARKET
    X.  THE BLACK JEWELRY
   XI.  TWO TALES, OF WHICH ONLY ONE IS TRUE
  XII.  THE SOIRÉES AT ARAD
 XIII.  TIT FOR TAT
  XIV.  THE MIKALAI CSÁRDA
   XV.  WHO IT WAS THAT RECOGNIZED FATIA NEGRA
  XVI.  LEANDER BABEROSSY
 XVII.  MR. MARGARI
XVIII.  THE UNDISCOVERABLE LADY
  XIX.  THE SHAKING HAND
   XX.  THE FIGHT FOR THE GOLD
  XXI.  THE HUNTED BEAST
 XXII.  THE SIGHT OF TERROR
XXIII.  THE ACCOMMODATION
 XXIV.  CONCLUSION



POOR PLUTOCRATS

CHAPTER I

BOREDOM


"Was it you who yawned so, Clementina?"

Nobody answered.

The questioner was an old gentleman in his eightieth year or so, dressed
in a splendid flowered silk Kaftan, with a woollen night-cap on his
head, warm cotton stockings on his feet, and diamond, turquoise, and
ruby rings on his fingers. He was reclining on an atlas ottoman, his
face was as wooden as a mummy's, a mere patch-work of wrinkles, he had a
dry, thin, pointed nose, shaggy, autumnal-yellow eyebrows, and his large
prominent black eyes protected by irritably sensitive eyelids, lent
little charm to his peculiar cast of countenance.

"Well! Will nobody answer? Who yawned so loudly behind my back just
now?" he asked again, with an angry snort. "Will nobody answer?"

Nobody answered, and yet there was a sufficient number of people in the
room to have found an answer between them. In front of the hearth was
sitting a young woman about thirty or thirty-five, with just such a
strongly-pronounced pointed nose, with just such high raised eyebrows as
the old gentleman's, only her face was still red (though the favour of
Nature had not much to do with that perhaps) and her eyebrows were still
black; but her thin lips were just as hermetically sealed as the old
man's, when she was not speaking. This young woman was playing at
Patience.

In one of the windows sat a young girl of sixteen, a delicate creature
of rapid growth, whose every limb and feature seemed preternaturally
thin and fragile. She was occupied with some sort of sewing. At another
little sewing-table, immediately opposite to her, was a red-cheeked
damsel with a frightful mop of light hair and a figure which had all the
possibilities of stoutness before it. She was a sort of governess, and
was supposed to be English, though they had only her word for it. She
was reading a book.

On the silk ottoman behind lay the already-mentioned Clementina, who
ought to have confessed to the sin of yawning. She was a spinster
already far advanced in the afternoon of life, and had cinder-coloured
ringlets around her temples and a little bit of beard on her chin. She
was no blood relation of the family but, as an ancient companion to a
former mistress of the house, had long eaten the bread of charity under
that roof. She was now engaged upon some eye-tormenting, fine fancy
work which could not have afforded the poor creature very much
amusement.

The old gentleman on the sofa used to divert himself the whole day by
assembling as many human beings around him as possible and driving them
to desperation by his unendurable nagging and chiding; they, on the
other hand, had by this time discovered that the best defence against
this domestic visitation was never to answer so much as a word.

"Of course! Of course!" continued the old gentleman with stinging
sarcasm. "I know what a bore it is to be near me and about me. I see
through it all. Yes, I _know_ that I am an unendurable old fellow on
whom not a single word should be wasted. I know well enough that you are
not sitting here beside me because you like to be here. Who compels you
to? I certainly shall not prevent anybody's petticoat from going away by
laying hold of it. The gate is not closed. Nothing easier than to be
off. Yet nobody likes the idea, eh? Ah-ha! It is possible that when the
eye of old Lapussa no longer sees, the heart of old Lapussa may no
longer remember. Besides, nobody can tell exactly when the old man may
die. Indeed they are waiting for his death every hour--he is beyond
eighty already. A most awful bore certainly. Ah ha! The old fool is
unable to get up any more, he is not even able to strike anybody. If he
cries out, nobody is afraid of him; but, at any rate, he has strength
enough to pull the bell-rope, send for his steward, tell him to go to
the office of the _alispán_[1] there ferret out and bring back his last
will and testament--and then he can dictate another will to his lawyer
quite cosily at his ease."

[Footnote 1: Vice-lieutenant of the county.]

And in order to emphasize his words more terribly, he there and then
gave a tug at the bell-rope.

Yet for all that nobody turned towards him; the lady kept dealing out
the cards, the young girl continued working beads into her sampler, the
governess went on reading, and the old spinster was still intent upon
some delicate operation with her needle--just as if nobody had spoken a
word.

In answer to the bell an ancient serving-man appeared in the doorway,
and the old gentleman, after waiting a little to see from the
countenances of those present (he could observe them in the mirror
opposite) whether his allusion to his will had produced any effect, and
finding no notice taken of it whatever, said in a sharp, petulant voice:
"Louis!"

The servant approached the sofa and then stood still again.

"My dinner!"

This was the end of the awe-inspiring threat.

The old gentleman observed, or rather, suspected, some slight amusement
in the company present.

"Miss Kleary!" he observed irritably, "don't you observe that Henrietta
is looking out of the window again? I am bound, Miss, to direct your
attention to the fact that I consider such a thing decidedly unbecoming
in a young lady."

"Dear Grandpapa.....!" began the accused.

"Silence! I did not speak to Henrietta, I spoke to Miss Kleary. Miss
Henrietta is still a child who understands nothing. I neither address
her nor attempt to explain anything to her. But I keep Miss Kleary in
this house, I pay Miss Kleary a princely salary, in order that I may
have some one at hand to whom I can explain my educational ideas. Now my
educational ideas are good; nay, Miss, I think I may even say that they
are very good. I will therefore beg you to do me the favour to stick to
them. I know what ought and what ought not to be allowed young girls; I
know that....."

The young girl's face blushed beneath the reproachful look of the old
tyrant, whilst the governess rose defiantly from her place, and in order
that she might wreak her anger upon some one, industriously proceeded to
pick holes in Henrietta's sewing and effectually spoil her whole day's
work.

Thus, it will be perceived, only one person had the right to speak; the
only right the other people had was not to listen to him.

But there was someone else in the background who had better rights than
anybody, and this someone now began to hammer with his fists on the
door, that very door at which the oldest and most trusty domestics
hardly dared to tap--began, I say, to hammer with his fists and kick
with his heels till everyone was downright scared.

This was the little grandson, the old gentleman's spoiled darling little
Maksi.

"Why don't you let in little Maksi?" cried the old gentleman, when he
heard him. "Open the door for little Maksi; don't you know that he is
not tall enough to reach the door-handle? Why don't you let him come to
me when he wants to come?"

At that moment the footman opened the door and the little family prince
bounded in. It was a pale little mouldy sort of flower, with red eyes
and a cornerless mouth like a carp, but with the authentic family nose
and the appurtenances thereof, which took up so much room as to
seriously imperil the prospects of the rest of the head growing in
proportion. The little favourite was wearing a complete Uhlan costume,
even the four-cornered chako was stuck on the side of his head; he was
flourishing a zinc sword and grumbling bitterly.

"What's the matter with little Maksi? Has anybody been annoying him?"

Grandpapa succeeded at last in making out that on running out Maksi had
tripped over his sword, that his tutor had wanted to take it away, that
Maksi had thereupon drawn his weapon and made the aggressor's hand smart
with it, and that finally he had fled for refuge to grandpapa's room as
the only place where he was free from the persecutions of his
instructors.

Grandpapa, in a terrible to do, began to question him: "Come here! Where
did you hit yourself? On the head, eh! Let us see! Why, it is swollen
up--quite red in fact! Put some opodeldoc on it! Clementina, do you
hear?--some opodeldoc for Maksi!" So the family medicament had to be
fetched at once; but Maksi, snatching it from the worthy spinster's
hand, threw it violently to the ground, so that the whole carpet was
bespattered with it.

Nobody was allowed to scold him for this, however, as grandpapa was
instantly ready with an excuse: "Maksi must not be vexed," said he.
"Does not Maksi wear a sword by his side already? Maksi will be a great
soldier one of these days!"

"Yes," replied the lad defiantly, "I'll be a general!"

"Yes, Maksi shall be a general; nothing less than a general, of course.
But come, my boy, take your finger out of your mouth."

The English governess here thought she saw an opportunity of insinuating
a professional remark.

"He who would be a general, must, first of all, learn a great deal."

"I don't want to learn. I mean to know everything without learning it. I
say, grandpapa, if you've lots of money, you will know everything at
once without learning it, won't you?"

The old man looked around him triumphantly.

"Now that I call genius, wit!" cried he.

And with that he tenderly pressed the little urchin's head to his breast
and murmured: "Ah! he is my very grandson, my own flesh and blood."

He was well aware how aggravated all the others would be at these words.

Meanwhile the footman was laying a table. This table was of palisander
wood and supported by the semblance of a swan. It could be placed close
beside the ottoman and was filled with twelve different kinds of dishes.
All these meats were cold, for the doctor forbade his patient hot food.
The old gentleman tasted each one of the dishes with the aid of his
finger-tips, and not one of them pleased him. This was too salt, that
was too sweet, a third was burnt, a fourth was tainted. He threatened to
discharge the cook, and bitterly complained that as he did not die
quickly enough for them, they were conspiring to starve him. They might
have replied that he had ordered all these things himself yesterday; but
nobody took the trouble to contradict him any longer, so gradually the
storm died away of its own accord and the old man, turning towards
Maksi, tenderly invited him to partake of the disparaged dishes.

"Come and eat with me, Maksi, my darling."

"That I will," cried the little horror, grabbing at everything
simultaneously with both hands.

"Oh, fie, fie!" said grandpapa gently. "Take Maksi out for a ride and
let the lacquey go with him instead of his tutor!" The old gentleman
then pushed the little round table aside and signalled to the footman
that he was to put all the dishes carefully away, as he should want to
see them again on the morrow. The footman conscientiously obeyed this
command--which was given regularly every day--and locked up all the
dishes well aware that he would get a sound jacketting if he failed to
produce a single one of them when required to do so.

The old man knew well enough that there was not a servant in the house
who, for any reward on earth, would think of touching any food that had
ever lain on his table; indeed, they held it in such horror that they
used regularly to distribute it among the poor. In order therefore that
the very beggars might have nothing to thank him for, he had the food
kept till it was almost rotten before he let them have it. As for his
own family, he had not dined at the same table with them for ten years.

It was certainly not a sociable family. For example, the old gentleman's
widowed daughter, red-cheeked Madame Langai, did not exchange a single
word with her father for weeks at a time. At first he had expected her
to remain in the same room with him till nine o'clock every evening,
dealing out cards for him or boring herself to death in some other way
for his amusement. She endured it for a whole month without a word; but
at last, one evening, at seven o'clock, she appeared before him in
evening dress and said that she was going to the theatre.

Old Lapussa glared at her with all his eyes.

"To the theatre?" cried he.

"Yes, I have ordered a box."

"Really? Well, I hope you will enjoy yourself!"

The lady quitted him with a shrug. She knew that from that moment she
would inherit a million less than her elder brother; but nevertheless
she went to the theatre regularly every day, and never stirred from her
box so long as there was any one on the stage who had a word to say.

The Lapussa family was of too recent an origin for the great world to
take much notice of it, and the fame of its fabulous wealth went hand in
hand with the rumour of a sordid avarice which was not a recommendable
quality in the eyes of the true gentry. The Lapussas were, in fact, not
of gentle blood at all, but simply rich. Madame Langai's elder brother,
John, was notoriously the greatest bore in the town, whom nobody, from
the members of his own family down to his coffee-house acquaintances,
could endure for a moment. Only his father made much of him. For all his
great wealth, he was very stingy and greedy; he even lent money at usury
to his best friends. Our amusing little friend Maksi was this man's son.
The slender, fanciful damsel, Henrietta, who appeared in that family
like an errant angel specially sent there to be tormented for the sins
of her whole race, was the orphan daughter of another son of old
Lapussa, who had lost father and mother at the same time in the most
tragical manner; they had both been drowned by the capsizing of a small
boat on the Danube. Henrietta herself had only been saved with the
utmost difficulty. She was only twelve years old at the time, and the
catastrophe had had such an effect upon her nerves that ever afterwards
she collapsed at the least sign of anger, and often fell a weeping for
no appreciable cause. Since the death of her parents, who had loved her
dearly, Henrietta had been obliged to live at her grandfather's house,
where nobody loved anybody.

But no, I am mistaken. She had a brother, Koloman by name, who was a
somewhat simple but thoroughly good-natured youth. He used to appear
very rarely among his relations because they always fell foul of him.
The poor fellow's sole fault was that he was in the habit of regularly
selling his new clothes. Still, I am doubtful, after all, whether this
can fairly be imputed to him as a fault at all, for although it was
always being dinned into his ears that his family was immensely rich, he
was never blessed with a penny to spend in amusing himself with his
comrades, and therefore had to do the best he could to raise the wind.
Another failing of Koloman's was that he would not learn Latin, and in
consequence thereof he had to suffer many things. Old Lapussa and his
son John indeed had no notion whatever of the Latin tongue. The former
in his youthful days had never gone to school at all, because he was
occupied in building up a business. The latter had not gone to school in
_his_ youth because by that time his people were already rich and he
considered it beneath him. The consequence was that neither father nor
son had a proper idea on the simplest subjects, except what they picked
up on their travels. Still that was no reason why Koloman should not
learn, but as the tutor had his hands full already with little Maksi,
Koloman was obliged to go to the national school in order to become a
wiser man than his forbears.

Poor Henrietta often slaved away for hours at a time with her younger
brother sitting at the table by her side, helping him to struggle
through the genders, declensions, conjugations, or whatever else the
infernal things were called; and the end of it all was that, at last,
she learnt to know Latin better than Koloman, and secretly translated
all his exercises from Cornelius Nepos and the Bucolics of Virgil for
him.

But we must not linger any longer over these Latin lessons, for a much
more important event claims our attention--Mr. John is coming home, and
we must hasten forward to admire him.

Mr. John Lapussa was a perfect prototype of the whole family. His
extraordinarily lanky pinched figure seemed even lankier than it was by
nature because he always carried his head so high: he peered down from
that elevation upon humanity at large as if there was something the
matter with his eyes which prevented him from properly raising the lids.
In him the dimensions of the family nose were made still more remarkable
by an inordinately tiny chin and thin compressed lips. His moustache was
shaved down to the very corners of his mouth, only a little mouse-tail
sort of arrangement being left on each side, which was twisted upwards
and dyed black with infinite skill. His costume was elegant and
ultra-refined, and only differed from the fashion in being extra stiff
and tight-fitting. Moreover, all the buttons of his shirt and his
waistcoat were precious stones, and he had a plenitude of rings on his
fingers which he delighted to show off by ostentatiously adjusting his
cravat in the course of conversation, or softly stroking the surface of
his superfine coat.

Mr. John entered the room without looking at a soul, and paced up and
down it with his hands behind his back. Then he suddenly caught sight of
his father, kissed his hand and resumed his dignified saunter. It was
evident that he was bursting for some one to speak and ask him what was
the matter.

Clementina was the first to speak.

"Your honour!" said she.

"What is it?" he asked, lifting his head still higher.

"I have finished the embroidery for your shirt front which your honour
was pleased to command."

His honour with a haughty curl of the lip condescended to glance down
upon the proffered embroidery. I am afraid Clementina was a poor
physiognomist, she might have noticed from his face how utterly
indifferent he was to her and her embroidery, which he regarded with
puckered eyes and screwed-up mouth.

"No good. Those flowers are too big; it is the sort of thing the
Wallachian peasants stitch on to their shirts." And with that he took up
Clementina's scissors from the work-table and deliberately snipped into
little bits the whole of the difficult piece of work which the worthy
woman had been slaving away at for a week and more, finally pitching it
away contemptuously while she sat there and stared at him dumfoundered.

"John, John!" said the old man in mild remonstrance.

"To show me such rubbish when I am mad! When I am wroth! When I am
beside myself with fury!"

"Why are you angry, and with whom?"

John went on as if he did not mean to tell the cause of his anger. He
flung himself into an armchair, crossed his legs, plunged his hands into
the depths of his pockets and then, starting up, began to pace the room
again.

"I am furious."

"Then what's the matter?" enquired the old man anxiously.

John again flung himself into an armchair and cocked one leg over the
arm of the chair: "It is all that good-for-nothing Hátszegi!" he cried.
"The fellow is a villain, a scoundrel, a robber!"

"What has he done?"

"What has he done?" cried John, leaping to his feet again, "I'll tell
you. Yesterday he sent word to me by his broker that he would like to
buy those houses of ours in the Szechenyi Square which I have offered
for sale. Wishing to save broker's expenses I went to see him myself at
twelve o'clock. Surely that is the most convenient time for paying
business calls. At least I have always supposed so. I entered his
ante-chamber and there stood a flunkey. He told me I must wait! Told
_me_ forsooth--_me_, John Lapussa--that I must cool my heels in an
ante-chamber, at an inn, to please that wretched Hátszegi. Very well. I
waited. I sent him a message that I _would_ wait. Meanwhile I found I
could not sit down anywhere, for the rascal had piled dirty boots and
brushes on all the chairs. Presently the rascal of a servant came back
and told me that his master could not see me then, would I come back
again in the afternoon--I, John Lapussa, forsooth! Absolutely would not
speak to me, but told me to come again another time! Thou dog, thou
wretched rascal! But wait, I say, that's all!"

At this the old man also grew excited.

"Why did you not box his ears?" cried he.

"I'll do it, and do it well. I'll not stand it. What! send a Lapussa
packing! It cannot be overlooked. I shall immediately go and find two
seconds and challenge him to a duel."

"Nay, John, don't do that! Don't even box his ears in the street, but
give a street-porter ten shillings to cudgel him well as he comes out of
the theatre; that will be best!"

"No, I will kill him. I will shed his blood. He who insults me in a
gentlemanly manner must be shown that I can revenge myself like a
gentleman. I will wipe off the score with pistols--with pistols I say."

The old man and the female members of the family were duly impressed by
this bragging, or rather all except Madame Langai, who was getting ready
for the theatre and took no notice of the general conversation.

Mr. John was much put out by her indifference. "Matilda," he asked,
"what do _you_ say? Ought I not to fight, after such an insult?"

Madame Langai answered the unavoidable question with a cold smile: "I
would only say that if anyone angers you another time you had better
expend your wrath upon him before dinner, for if you nurse your wrath
till after dinner you spoil the whole thing."

Mr. John listened to her in silence and then resumed his promenade with
his hands behind his back snorting furiously. Suddenly he snatched up
his cap and rushed out.

"John, John, what are you going to do?" the old man called after him in
a supplicating voice.

"You'll very soon see, I'll warrant you," and he banged the door behind
him.

The old man turned reproachfully towards Madame Langai. "Why did you
irritate him when he was mad enough already?" he cried. "What will you
gain by his death? He has a son who will inherit everything, you know.
Yes, everything will belong to little Maksi."

Madame Langai calmly went on tying her bonnet strings.

"I know what fiery blood he has," mumbled the old man. "When he is angry
he will listen to nobody, and is capable of facing a whole army. We must
prevent this duel somehow. And you are actually preparing to go to the
theatre when things have come to such a pass? You are actually going to
see a comedy!"

"The actor Ladislaus plays just the same parts on the stage as John does
off the stage," replied Madame Langai bitterly. "And I am as little
afraid of John's rhodomontade as I am of the result of stage duels.
Don't be afraid! He'll come to no harm."

A lacquey now entered to announce that the coach was ready, and Madame
Langai, adjusting her mantilla, went to the playhouse where the actors
were, at least, amusing.



CHAPTER II

A NEW MODE OF DUELLING


Old Lapussa always liked to have under his eye, night and day, some one
or other whom he could plague and worry. Till eight o'clock every
evening he was fully occupied in tormenting the whole family. Then
Madame Langai went to the theatre and Henrietta and the governess had to
sit down at the piano in the large drawing-room till it was time to put
the child to bed. But when Clementina and the domestics had had supper
and there was no longer anybody else with him, the turn of the night
nurse began.

The duties of a night nurse are never very enviable or diverting at the
best of times, yet penal servitude for life was a fate almost preferable
to being the nocturnal guardian of old Demetrius Lapussa. The unhappy
wretch who was burdened with this heavy charge had to sit at Mr.
Lapussa's bed from nine o'clock at night till early the following
morning and read aloud to him all sorts of things the whole time. Old
Demetrius was a very bad sleeper. The whole night long he scarcely slept
more than an hour at a time. His eyes would only close when the droaning
voice of some one reading aloud made his head dizzy, and then he would
doze off for a short time. But at the slightest pause he would
instantly awake and angrily ask the reader why he left off, and urge him
on again.

The reader in question was a student more than fifty years old, who,
time out of mind, had been making a living by fair-copying all sorts of
difficult manuscripts. He was an honest, simple creature who, in his
time, had tried hard to push his way into every conceivable business and
profession without ever succeeding till, at last, when he was well over
fifty, he was fortunate enough to fall in with an editor who happened to
know that Demetrius Lapussa wanted a reader, and recommended the poor
devil for the post. He knew Hungarian, Latin, and Slovack well enough to
mix them all up together; German he could read, though he did not
understand it, but this was not necessary, for he was not expected to
read for his own edification.

This worthy man, then, grew prematurely old in reading, year out year
in, aloud to Mr. Demetrius, one after another, all the German
translations of French novels procurable at Robert Lempel's circulating
library without understanding a single word of them. Mr. Demetrius had,
naturally, no library of his own, for reading to him, in his condition,
was pretty much the same as medicine, and who would ever think of
keeping a dispensary on his own premises? I may add that the reader
received free board and lodging and ten florins a month pocket-money for
his services.

On that particular night when Mr. John flung out of the house in such a
violent rage, Mr. Demetrius was particularly sleepless. I know not
whether Monte Cristo, the first volume of which honest Margari happened
to be reading just then, was the cause of this, or whether it was due to
the old man's nervousness about the terrible things John was likely to
do, but the fact remains that poor Margari on this occasion got no
respite from his labours. At other times Margari did manage to get a
little relief. Whenever he observed that Mr. Demetrius was beginning to
draw longer breaths than usual he would let his head sink down on his
book and fall asleep immediately till the awakened tyrant roused him out
of his slumbers and made him go on again. But now he was not suffered to
have a moment's peace.

Monte Cristo had already been sitting in his dungeon for some time when
Madame Langai's carriage returned from the theatre. Then Mr. Demetrius
rang up the porters to inquire whether Mr. John had also returned home.
No, was the answer. At eleven o'clock Mr. John had still not returned.
Meanwhile Monte Cristo's neighbour had traced the figure on the floor of
the dungeon. Mr. Demetrius here demanded a fuller explanation of the
circumstances. "How was that, Margari?" he enquired.

"I humbly beg your honour's pardon, but I don't understand."

"Very well, proceed!"

Every time a door below was opened or shut, Mr. Demetrius rang up the
porter to enquire whether Mr. John had come in, to the intense
aggravation of the porter, who appeared in the door of the saloon with a
surlier expression and his hair more and more ruffled on each occasion,
inwardly cursing the fool of a student who had not even wit enough to
send an old man asleep, and envying the other servants who at least were
able to sleep at night without interruption.

And still Margari went on reading.

By this time Monte Cristo had had himself sewn up in a sack and flung
into the sea as a corpse.

"Would you have dared to have that done to you, Margari?" interrupted
Mr. Demetrius.

"If I had a lot of money I might, begging your honour's pardon, but a
poor devil like me is only too glad to live at any price," replied
Margari, whose answer naturally had no relation whatever to the text,
not a word of which he understood.

"You are a simple fellow, Margari; but go on, go on!"

Margari gaped violently, he would have liked to have stretched himself
too, but he bethought him in time that his coat had already burst
beneath his armpits, and he had no wish to make the rent still larger,
so he let it alone and proceeded with his bitter labour.

By the time Monte Cristo had swum back to dry land, Margari's eyelids
were almost glued to his eyes and still the old gentleman showed no
sign of drowsiness. Mr. John's threat had kept Mr. Demetrius awake all
night, and consequently had kept poor Margari awake too. Once or twice
an unusually interesting episode excited the old man's attention, and
for the time he forgot all about John's duel--for example, when Monte
Cristo discovered the enormous treasure on the island--and he would then
rouse up Margari and make him go and find a map and point out the exact
position of Monte Cristo's island. Margari searched every corner of the
sea for it, and at last looked for it on the dry land also without
finding it. Tiring at length with the fruitless search he proposed, as
the best way out of the difficulty, that he should write on the
afternoon of the following day to Monsieur Alexander Dumas himself to
explain to his honour where the island used to be and whether it still
existed.

"What a blockhead you are," said the old man, "but go on, go on!"

Margari gave a great sigh and looked at the clock on the wall, but,
alas! it was still a long way from six o'clock. At last, however, while
he was still reading, the clock _did_ strike six. Margari instantly
stood up in the middle of a sentence, marked the passage with his
thumb-nail so as to know at what word to begin again on the following
evening, turned down the leaf and closed the book.

"Well! is that the end of it?" enquired Mr. Demetrius in angry
amazement.

"I humbly beg your honour's pardon," said Margari with meek intrepidity,
"there's nothing about reading _after six_ in our agreement"--and off he
went. Mr. Demetrius thereupon flew into a violent rage, cursed and
swore, vowed that he would dismiss his reader on the spot, and as the
morning grew lighter fell into a deep, death-like, narcotic sleep from
which he would not have awakened if the house had come tumbling about
his ears. When he did awake, about ten o'clock, his first care was to
make enquiries about Mr. John. Then he sent the porter to the police
station to inform the authorities that his son and Mr. Hátszegi, who
were both staying at the Queen of England inn, were going to fight a
duel, which should be prevented at all hazards. A police constable, at
this announcement, flung himself into a hackney-coach and set off at
full speed to make enquiries. Half an hour later a heyduke was sent back
to the porter to tell him that either the whole affair must be a hoax,
as nothing was known of a duel, or else that the two combatants must
already be dead and buried, as not a word could be heard of either of
them. Luckily, towards the afternoon, Mr. John himself arrived in a
somewhat dazed condition, like one who has been up drinking all night.
The members of the family were all sitting together as usual in Mr.
Demetrius's room, listening in silence to his heckling, when the tidings
of Mr. John's arrival reached him. Demetrius immediately summoned him.
He sent back word at first that he was lying down to try to sleep, which
was an absurd excuse for even the richest man to give in the forenoon;
on being summoned a second time he threatened to box the porter's ears;
only the third time, when Clementina was sent with the message that if
he did not come at once, his sick father would come and fetch him, did
he respond to the call and appear before them in a pet.

"Well, thou bloodthirsty man, what has happened? What was the end of
it?"

"What has happened?" repeated John with monstrously dilated eyes. "What
marvel do you expect me to relate?"

"Clementina, Miss Kleary, Henrietta, retire," cried the old man;
"retire, go into the next room. These are not the sort of things that
children should hear."

When they had all withdrawn except Madame Langai, Demetrius again
questioned his son: "Now then, what about this affair, this _rencontre_
with Hátszegi; did you challenge him, did you meet him?"

"Eh? Oh--yes! Naturally. Of course I sought him out, I have only just
come from him. We have been making a night of it together at the Queen
of England. I can honestly say that he is a splendid fellow, a gallant,
charming gentleman. He has really noble qualities. I am going to bring
him here this afternoon. You shall all see him. Even you will like him,
Matilda. But now, adieu, I must really have a little sleep, we were
drinking champagne together all night. Oh, he is a magnificent, a truly
magnificent character."

Mr. Demetrius said not a word in reply, but he compressed his thin lips
and wagged his head a good deal. Nobody made any observation. Mr. John
was allowed to go to bed according to his desire. A little time after he
had withdrawn, however, the old man said to Madame Langai: "What are you
doing Matilda?"

"I am trying to guess a rebus which has just appeared in 'The Iris.'"

"Don't you think that what John has just said is rather odd?"

"I have not troubled my head about it one way or the other."

"I can see through it though. John wants to pay off Hátszegi in his own
coin. He has invited him here this afternoon in order to keep him
waiting in the ante-chamber, and then send him word that he can't see
him till to-morrow. Oh! Jack is a sly lad, a very sly lad, but I can see
through him. I can see through him."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. John passed the whole afternoon in his father's room; he did not
even go to his club. No doubt he was awaiting his opportunity for
revenge. He amused himself by sitting down beside his niece, stroking
her hand, admiring the whiteness of her skin, and, drawing the
governess into the conversation, enquired how Henrietta was getting on
with her studies, whether she had still much to learn in English and
French, and whether she was not, by this time, quite a virtuoso at the
piano. He insinuated at the same time that it would be just as well,
perhaps, if she made haste to learn all that was necessary as soon as
possible, because she was no longer a child, and when once a woman is
married she has not very much time for study.

"By the way, Henrietta," he added suddenly, "have you chosen a lover
yet?"

Henrietta was too much afraid of him even to blush at this question, she
only glanced at him with timid, suspicious eyes and said nothing.

"Don't be afraid, sisterkin," continued Mr. John encouragingly. "I'll
bring you such a nice bridegroom that even your grandpapa, when he sees
him, will snatch up his crutches in order to go and meet him half-way."
Here the old man growled something which John smothered with a laugh.
"Yes, and if he won't give you up we'll carry you off by force."

Henrietta shuddered once or twice at her uncle's blandishments, like one
who has to swallow a loathsome medicine and has caught a whiff of it
beforehand.

The porter interrupted this cheerful family chat by announcing that his
lordship Baron Hátszegi wished to pay his respects to Mr. Lapussa.

Mr. Demetrius immediately raised himself on his elbows to read from Mr.
John's features what he was going to do. Would he tell the lacqueys to
turn Hátszegi out of the house? or would he send him word to wait in the
ante-chamber, as he himself had waited at Hátszegi's, and then put him
off till the morrow? Oh! John would be sure to do something of the sort,
for a very proud fellow was John.

But, so far from doing any of these things, Mr. John rushed to the door
to meet the arriving guest and greeted him aloud from afar in the most
obliging, not to say obsequious, terms, bidding him come in without
ceremony and not make a stranger of himself. And with that he passed his
arm through the arm of his distinguished guest and, radiant with joy,
drew him into the midst of the domestic sanctum sanctorum and presenting
him in a voice that trembled with emotion: "His lordship, Baron Leonard
Hátszegi, my very dear friend!"

And then he was guilty of the impropriety of introducing his guest first
of all to his father and his niece, simply because they happened to be
the nearest, only afterward he bethought him of turning towards Matilda
to introduce her, whereupon Matilda's face assumed a stony expression
like that of the marble maiden in Zampa, to the great confusion of John,
who felt bound to enquire in a half-whisper: "Why, what's the matter?"

"You dolt," she whispered back, "have you not learnt yet that the lady
of the house should be introduced to her guests not last, but first?"

John's first impulse was to be shocked, his second was to be furious,
but finally he thought it best to turn with a smile to Baron Hátszegi,
who courteously helped him out of his embarrassment by observing: "It is
my privilege to be able to greet your ladyship as an old acquaintance
already. Many a time have I had the opportunity of secretly admiring you
in your box at the theatre."

"Pray be seated, sir...!"



CHAPTER III

AN AMIABLE MAN


Baron Hátszegi was certainly a very amiable man. He had a handsome face
full of manly pride, sparkling eyes, and a powerful yet elegant figure.
He moved and spoke with graceful ease, bore himself nobly, picked his
words--in short, was a perfect gentleman. Mr. Demetrius was quite taken
with him, although Hátszegi hardly exchanged a word with him, naturally
devoting himself principally to the widowed lady who played the part of
hostess. What the conversation was really about nobody distinctly
recollected--the usual commonplaces no doubt, balls, soirees,
horse-racing. Henrietta took no part in the talk; Mr. John, on the other
hand, had a word to say on every subject, and, although nobody paid any
attention to him, he enjoyed himself vastly.

When Hátszegi had departed, John, with a beaming face, asked Madame
Langai what she thought of the young man.

Instead of replying, Madame Langai asked what had induced him to bring
him there.

"Well, but he's a splendid fellow, isn't he?"

"You said yesterday that he was a vagabond."

"I said so, I know, but it is not true."

"You said, too, that he was a robber."

"What! I said that? Impossible. I didn't say that."

Old Demetrius here intervened as a peacemaker.

"You said it, John, you did indeed; but you were angry, and at such
times a man says more than he means."

"So far from being a robber or a vagabond," replied John, "he is one of
the principal landowners in the Hátszegi district. How _could_ I have
said such things! He has a castle that is like a fortress. He is like a
prince, a veritable prince in his own domains. He is just like a petty
sovereign. I must have been downright mad to call him a vagabond. . . ."

"Yet, yesterday, you would have called him out," continued Madame Langai
teasingly.

"Yes, I was angry with him then, but there are circumstances which may
reconcile a couple of would-be duellists, are there not?"

"Oh, certainly, if a man is a man of business before all things, or has
perhaps a valuable house or two on his hands."

"This has nothing to do with business or selling houses. If you must
know," he continued, lowering his voice, "it is about something entirely
different, but of the very greatest importance."

"Indeed?" returned Madame Langai, "a new Alexander the Great, I suppose,
who has gone forth to conquer, and who has come to look not for a house,
but for a house and home perhaps?"

She thought to herself that it was some adventurer whom her brother
John would palm off upon her as a husband so as to get her away from the
old man.

"Something of the sort," replied John. "Yes, you have guessed half--but
the wrong half."

"I am glad to hear it."

"Ah!" put in the old man sarcastically, "Matilda will never marry again,
I'm sure; she loves her old dad too much and feels far too happy at home
to do that."

"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed John scornfully, "I did not mean Matilda, I was
not thinking of her. Ho, ho, ho! Madame Langai imagines that _she_ is
the only person in the house whose hand can be wooed and won."

Dame Langai, with a shrug, looked incredulously round the room to see if
there was anybody else who could possibly become the object of the
baron's sighs. All at once her eyes accidentally encountered those of
Henrietta, and immediately she knew even more than her brother John did.
For she now clearly understood three things: the first was that
Henrietta had taken in John's meaning more quickly than she had done,
the second was that John had brought the suitor to the house on
Henrietta's account, and the third was that Henrietta loathed the man.

She at once bade Miss Kleary give Henrietta an extra lesson on the piano
in the adjoining room, and when they had taken her at her word and
disappeared, she said to John in her usual quiet, mincing tone:

"You surely do not mean to give Henrietta to that man?"

"Why not, pray?"

"Because she is still a mere child, a mere schoolgirl; five years hence
it will be quite time enough to provide her with a husband."

"But the girl is sixteen if she is a day."

"Yes, and delicate, sickly, and nervous."

"She will soon be well enough when she is married."

"And who, may I ask, _is_ this suitor of yours. Is it not your duty,
Demetrius Lapussa, as the girl's grandfather, to make the fullest
enquiries about any man who may sue for your grand-daughter's hand? Is
it not your duty, I say, to find out who and what he is and everything
relating to him? For brother John may be very much mistaken in fancying
his dear friend to be a wealthy and amiable nobleman. Whether he be
amiable or not does not concern you personally, I know; but you ought
certainly to know how he stands, for he may have castles and mansions
and yet be up to the very ears in debt. In such a case if he is a
nobleman so much the worse for you: for he will then have all the
greater claim upon you. It may cost you dearly to admit a ruined baron
into the bosom of your family."

John grew yellow with rage: "How dare you talk like that of anyone you
do not know?" he cried.

"Then, do you know him any better?"

But here the old man intervened:

"You're a fool, John," said he. "Matilda is right. I will send for my
lawyer, Mr. Sipos. He understands all about such things and will advise
us in the matter. We _must_ find out how the baron stands."



CHAPTER IV

CHILDISH NONSENSE


Meanwhile Hátszegi continued to call every day, dividing his attention
equally between the widow and Henrietta; and at the end of a fortnight
everyone was charmed with his personal qualities. It could not be denied
that he was a delightful companion, always merry, lively, frank, and
entertaining. He even made the old gentleman laugh aloud more than once;
in fact Demetrius Lapussa grew quite impatient if Hátszegi was five
minutes late. Mr. John was more delighted with him than ever. They took
walks together, invariably drove in the same carriage to the park, and
John was to be seen every night in the baron's box at the theatre,
talking at the top of his voice so that everybody might become aware of
the fact. Nay, he succeeded, through the courtesy of his new friend, in
making the acquaintance of one or two magnates who subsequently lifted
their hats to John in the street and thus gratified the dearest desire
of his heart.

The enquiries made about Hátszegi also proved extremely satisfactory. He
was certainly sound and solid financially, had never had a bill
dishonoured, had no dealings with usurers, always paid cash and was
never even in temporary embarrassment, as is so often the case with most
landed proprietors when the crops fail. In fact, he seemed to have
unlimited funds constantly at his disposal and to be scarcely less
wealthy than old Lapussa himself.

So far then, everything was as it should be, and everyone was enchanted
with him personally.

But what of Henrietta, the intended bride?

Oh! she was not even consulted in the matter; it is not usual, and
besides she had neither mind nor will enough to have a voice in so
important a matter as the disposal of her hand. Nay, she was not even
told that she was going to be married. She only got an inkling of it
from various phenomena that struck her from time to time, such as the
polite attentions of the baron, the whispering of the domestics, the
altered attitude towards her of the various members of the family--who
now addressed her in the tone you employ when speaking to a baroness
that is to be. And then there was Clementina's chatter! Clementina was
now for ever talking of all the sewing and stitching that had to be done
for the young lady, and of the frightful quantities of linen and lace
and silk that were being made up into dresses and other garments. Six
seamstresses were hard at work, she said, and she was helping them and
yet they had to make night into day in order to get the necessary things
ready in time.

So gradually they accustomed her to the idea of it, till at last one
day Madame Langai took her aside and lectured her solemnly as to the
duties of women in general and of women of rank in particular, pointing
out at the same time how much such women owed to their own families for
looking after and providing for them and expressing the hope that
Henrietta would be duly grateful to the end of her days to _her_
family--from all which she was able to gather that any opposition on her
part would not be tolerated for a moment.

The day was already fixed for the exchange of the bridal rings, but the
night before that day, Henrietta suddenly fell ill, and, what is more,
dangerously ill, so that they had to run off for the family physician
incontinently. The doctor was much struck by the symptoms of the illness
and the first thing he did was to make the patient swallow a lot of milk
and oil. Then he drove the servants headlong to the chemist's, and
descending into the kitchen closely examined every copper vessel there
by candle light, scolded the cook and the scullery maids till they were
in tears, and terrified Clementina by telling her she was the cause of
it all to the speechless confusion of the innocent creature. Not content
with this, he made his way at once to Mr. Demetrius's room and there
cross-examined everyone with the acerbity of an Old Bailey judge. What
had the young lady been in the habit of eating and drinking? They must
fetch what had been left over from her meals, he must see and examine
everything. What had she eaten yesterday evening? Preserves? Then what
sort of sugar was used, and where was the spoon? He insisted on seeing
everything.

"But doctor," whined old Lapussa, "you surely don't mean to say that the
child has been poisoned?"

"I do indeed, and with copper oxide too."

"How is that possible?"

"Why, simply because some of her food, preserve, for instance, has been
allowed to stand too long in a copper or silver vessel and copperas has
been developed."

The old man did not know enough of chemistry to understand how copperas
could be developed from silver, but he was seriously alarmed.

"I hope there's no danger?" said he.

"It is a good job you sent for me when you did," replied the doctor,
"for otherwise she would have been dead before morning. Copperas is a
very dangerous poison, and if it gets into one's food in large
quantities there is practically no antidote. A vigorous constitution,
indeed, has a good chance of throwing it off; but, taking into
consideration the state of the young lady's nerves and her general
debility, I should say that her case was downright dangerous; anyhow she
will be ailing for some time."

"Oh, doctor, doctor! and we all love Hetty so much, she is the very
light of our eyes! I cannot tell you how anxious I am, on her account I
should be so glad, doctor, if you could stay with her night and day and
never leave the house. I would richly recompense you."

"I will do all I can, though I can't do that, and unless any unforeseen
accident arise, I think I can answer for the result. But one thing I
must insist upon, all these copper and silver vessels of yours must go
to the devil. I'll come to-morrow and examine thoroughly the whole lot
of them by daylight. The health of the family must not be endangered by
such recklessness. And let me tell your honour something else. Are you
aware that your honour's business-man, Mr. Sipos, who is only a lawyer
and, therefore, can ill afford to do so in comparison with your honour,
are you aware, I say, that he has on this very occasion sent all his
copper vessels to the lumber-room?"

"On this occasion! what do you mean?" enquired the old man eagerly.

"I mean that I have just come from him and a similar case has happened
in his house. His assistant--a fine young fellow, you know him,
perhaps?--has also been poisoned by copperas. I have only this instant
quitted him."

"What an odd coincidence."

"Very odd, indeed. Two exactly similar cases of poisoning at the same
time and all because copper vessels were used and not properly cleaned."

"And how is the young man progressing? Is he out of danger?"

"Fortunately; although at the outset his was an even worse case than the
young lady's. But then he is so much stronger. Well, good-bye! I will
look in again to-morrow."

"But I should be so much easier, doctor, if you never left my
grandchild's side."

"I would willingly do even that if I had not other patients in the town
to attend to."

"Could you not entrust them to someone else?"

"Impossible. My reputation would be at stake. Besides I do not often
have the chance of studying two such interesting parallel cases of
poisoning at the same time."

"Very well, doctor. All I ask of you is to cure our little one."

"I hope to save the pair of them. And now I'll go up and have a look at
her, and then I must return to Mr. Sipos's house. But I shall be here
again in an hour or so."

And with that the old man had to be content.

During the whole course of Henrietta's illness he sent to enquire after
his grandchild every hour. Clementina and an old maid-servant took it in
turns to watch by her bedside. It was strictly forbidden to leave
Henrietta alone for an instant, and Mr. Demetrius gave special orders
that her brother Koloman was not to be allowed to approach within six
paces of her bed because he was sure to bring cold air into the room, or
convey to her surreptitiously something which she ought not to have and
behave like a blockhead generally. So he was obliged to keep his
distance.

At last when weeks and weeks had flown by, God and blessed nature
helped the doctor to triumph over the effects of the poison. Henrietta
slowly began to mend. She was still very weak, but the doctor assured
them that she was quite out of danger and that the little capricious
fancies of convalescence might now be safely humoured.

Madame Langai, in the doctor's presence, asked the sick girl whether
there was anything in particular she would like, any food she fancied,
any pastime she preferred.

The pale, delicate-looking child languidly cast down her eyes as if she
would say: "I should like to lie in the grave--deep, deep, down." But
what she really did say was: "I should like to read something. I feel so
dull."

"That I cannot allow," said the doctor, "it would make your head ache,
but I have no objection to someone reading to you some nice, amusing
novel, Dickens's "Pickwick Papers," for instance, or a story of
Marryat's, something light and amusing, I mean, which will not excite
you too much."

"I should like that," said Henrietta and the choice fell on the
"Pickwick Papers." But as the English governess complained that she
could never read aloud for ten minutes at a time without growing hoarse
and Clementina's eyes were too weak for any such office, it was
suggested that Margari should be asked to submit to this extra
sacrifice, and Clementina succeeded in persuading him to do so by
promising him a liberal reward. So she brought him back with her and
seated him behind a curtain so that he could not see the invalid (that
would have been scarcely proper), and put the book into his hand.

But scarcely had Margari struggled through a few lines when Henrietta
again became fidgety and said she longed for something to eat. The
good-natured Clementina jumped with joy at this sign of returning
appetite, and asked her what she would like and how she would like it.
Henrietta thereupon directed her to have prepared a soup of such a
complicated character (only the morbid imagination of an invalid could
have conceived such a monstrosity), that Clementina felt obliged to
descend to the kitchen herself to superintend its concoction herself,
for it was certain that any servant would have forgotten half the
ingredients before she could get down stairs.

Scarcely had Clementina shut the door behind her when Henrietta
interrupted Margari's elocution.

"For Heaven's sake, come nearer to me," she said, "I want to speak to
you."

The worthy man was so frightened by this unexpected summons that he had
half a mind to rush out and call for assistance. He fancied that the
young lady had become delirious--it was such an odd thing to ask him to
draw nearer. But the sick girl, pressing together her trembling hands,
looked at him so piteously that he could hesitate no longer but
approached her bedside.

Henrietta did not scruple to seize the hand of the embarrassed
gentleman.

"For God's sake, help me, my good Margari," she whispered. "I am plagued
by an anxiety which prevents me from closing my eyes. Even here when I
sleep it follows me into my dreams. You can free me from it. In you
alone have I confidence. You suffer in this house as much as I do. You
have no cause to torment or persecute me. Will you do what I ask you, my
dear, good Margari?"

It occurred to Margari that the young lady was wandering in her mind, so
to humour her, he promised to do whatever she asked him without
hesitation.

"I will be very good to you, I will never forget all my life long the
kindness you are about to do me."

"Your humble servant, Miss! but you have always been good to me. As far
as I can remember, while the others took a delight in vexing me, you
were the only one who always took my part. I don't forget that either.
Command me! I will go through fire and water for you."

"Look, then!" said the girl, drawing from her bosom a little key
attached to a black cord, "this is the key of my toilet casket. Open it
and you will find a bundle of documents tied together with a blue
ribbon, take them. All through my illness I trembled at the thought that
they might ransack my things and find them, and when I came to myself I
was worrying myself with the idea that I might perhaps have spoken about
these papers in my delirium. Oh! it would have been frightful if my
relations had seized them. Take them, quickly, before Clementina
returns. I must conceal everything, even from her."

Margari accomplished the task with tolerable dexterity. He only broke
the looking-glass while he was opening the casket, and that was little
enough for him. There the documents were right enough, nicely tied
together.

And then Henrietta seized his hand and pressed it so warmly and looked
at him with her lovely, piteous, imploring eyes--a very lunatic might
have been healed by such a look.

"I know you for an honourable man," continued she, "promise me not to
look at these papers, but give them to my brother Koloman, he will know
what to do with them. You will do this for my sake, dear Margari, will
you not? It is just as though one of the dead were to come back to you
from the world beyond the grave and implore you, with desperate
supplications, to free its soul from a thought which rested upon it like
a curse and would not let it rest in the grave."

Margari shuddered at these words. A corpse that returns from the world
beyond the grave! This young gentlewoman certainly had a terrifying
imagination. Nevertheless he swore by his hope of salvation that he
would not bestow a glance upon the papers, but would give them to young
Koloman.

"Hide them, pray!"

And indeed it was high time that he should bestow them in the well-like
pocket of his long coat, for Clementina's steps were already audible in
the adjoining chamber. When she appeared, however, he was sitting behind
the curtain again, reading away as if nothing had happened.

When the clock struck four, at which time Koloman usually returned from
school, Henrietta said to Margari that she had had enough of
romance-reading for that day, but thanked him for his kindness and asked
him to come again on the morrow if he would be so good. Margari
protested that he should consider it the highest honour, the greatest
joy. He would willingly read even English to her, if she liked, and
without any special honorarium either, and then off he went to seek
young Koloman.

Now it so happened that young Koloman did not come home at the usual
time that day, and Margari after looking for him in vain became very
curious as to the contents of the packet entrusted to him. What sort of
mysterious letters could they be which Miss Henrietta was afraid of
falling into the hands of her family. Hum! how nice it would be to find
out!

The packet was tied up--naturally! But it was possible to undo and then
retie the knots in just the same way as before, so that nobody would be
any the wiser. To an honourable man, indeed, the mere knowledge that
another's secret was concealed therein which he was bidden to guard
would have been as invincible an impediment as unbreakable bolts and
bars; but the worthy fellow reassured himself with the reflection that,
after all, he was not going to tell anybody the contents of these
documents, and he so very much longed to know what it could be that Miss
Henrietta was so anxious to hide away, and old Lapussa would so much
like to find out. As if he would ever betray the secret of such a nice,
kindly creature to such an old dragon! Why, he would rather have his
tongue torn out than betray it!--but know it he must and would!

So he locked himself up in his little room on the third storey, and very
cautiously opened the bundle which was enwrapped in I know not how many
folds of paper and greedily devoured the contents of the various
documents.

But how great was his fury when, instead of the expected secrets, he
found nothing but dull Latin exercises, wearisome rhetorical
commonplaces on such subjects as the charms of spring and summer, the
excellence of agriculture, the advantages of knowledge, the danger of
the passions, and similar interesting themes. He was just about to tie
the bundle up again, when it occurred to him to read one of these
tiresome dissertations to the end, just to see what sort of style the
young scholar affected. And now a great surprise awaited him, for he
found that after the first five or six lines the theme suddenly broke
off and there followed something altogether different, which though also
written in the Latin tongue had nothing whatever to do, either with the
beauties of spring or the excellencies of agriculture, but was,
nevertheless, of the most interesting and engrossing character.

Now, indeed, he read every one of the exercises from beginning to end,
and, when he had done so, he clearly perceived that if old Demetrius
Lapussa had very particular reasons for ferreting out these things, Miss
Henrietta had still greater reason for concealing them.

After having neatly tied up the packet again, he bethought him what he
had better do next. Miss Henrietta had confided the secret to his
safe-keeping, but Mr. Demetrius had commanded him to keep an eye upon
Koloman and his Latin exercises--which of them had the best right to
command in that house? But was it right to divulge a secret? Ah! that
was another question. It is true that, as a general rule, it is wrong to
betray secrets; yet, it is nevertheless true, that to betray a secret
that ought to be known is at least justifiable. Moreover, was it not a
Christian duty to let the grandfather know as soon as possible what
extraordinary things his granddaughter was turning over in her noddle?
And finally--there was money in it!--good solid cash! If old Lapussa did
not choose to pay a price for it, and a liberal price too, he should be
told nothing at all and Margari would show the old miser that he had a
man of character to deal with. For after all poor Margari had to live,
and this was worth as much as a thousand florins to him or its
equivalent anyhow. Surely Miss Henrietta could not be so unreasonable as
to expect poor Margari to chuck such a piece of good fortune out of the
window, especially as she had given him nothing herself.

At that moment someone knocked at the door and enquired whether Mr.
Margari was there.

Margari was so frightened that he bawled out: "No, I am not!"--so of
course he was obliged to open the door, but he concealed the packet of
letters in his pocket first.

It was the lacquey who came to ask whether Mr. Margari was aware that it
was past seven o'clock; he must come and read to the old gentleman.

Margari could not endure to hear the domestics speaking to him
familiarly.

"Seven o'clock! What do you mean?" said he. "Am I bound to know when it
is seven o'clock? Am I a clockmaker or a bell-ringer? If your master
wants me to know what a clock it is, let him send me, not a lacquey, but
a gold repeater watch!"

And salving his wounded dignity with these and similar effusions,
Margari trotted alongside the lacquey to the room of Mr. Demetrius, to
whom he immediately notified the change in the situation by sinking
down into a soft and cosey arm-chair instead of sitting down on the edge
of the hard leather-chair, expressly provided for him.

Demetrius measured him from head to foot with his terrible eagle eyes
and observed in an even more stridently moral voice than usual: "Well,
Margari, when are we going to have our novel reading?"

"We will have our reading presently, but it won't be a novel to-day."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"I humbly beg to remind your honour that you were pleased to commission
me to lay hands upon certain Latin exercises of your grandson Koloman. I
humbly beg to inform you that they are now in my possession."

"Oh!" said old Lapussa, with a forced assumption of _sang froid_, "you
may give them to me to-morrow, I will look them through."

"Crying your honour's pardon, they are in Latin."

"Well, I can get someone to look them through for me."

"I beg humbly to represent that it would not be well to put them into
anybody's hands, for strange things are contained therein."

"What!" cried the old man angrily, "you don't mean to say _you_ have
looked into them?"

"Yes, I have read them all through."

"I did not tell you to do that."

"No, but you were graciously pleased _not_ to forbid me to do so. Now,
I know everything. I know the cause of the young lady's illness. I know
why she does not wish to become the wife of Count Hátszegi. Nay, I even
know what will happen in case she does. I know all that I say--and here
it is in my pocket."

"And what presumption on your part to read other people's letters!"

"I beg your honour's pardon, but it is not presumption; I only wanted to
know the value of the wares I have obtained for your honour. I wanted to
know whether they were worth one florin, two florins, a hundred florins,
a thousand florins, lest you should do me the favour to say to me:
'look, ye, Margari, my son, here are some coppers, go and drink my
health!'--and so get the better of me."

"You are becoming impertinent! Do you want me to ring for the footman?"

"Pray do not give yourself the trouble! If you are determined to take
the documents away from me by force I will fling them into the fire that
is burning there on the hearth before the footman can come in and there
will be an end to them."

"Then it is money you want, eh? How much?"

This question made Margari still more bumptious.

"How much do I want? A good deal, a very good deal, I can tell you. In
fact I cannot tell at present how much."

But then he suddenly reassumed his obsequious cringing mien and added:
"I tell you what, your honour, procure me some petty office at Count
Hátszegi's. I don't care what it is, so long as I get a life-long
sinecure--suppose we say his bailiff, or his librarian, or his
secretary? A single word from your honour would do it."

An idea suddenly occurred to Mr. Demetrius.

"Very good, Margari, very good. So it shall be. I give you my word upon
it--you shall be Hátszegi's secretary."

"But it must be life-long. I humbly beg of you, it must be till the term
not of his but of my natural life."

"Yes, yes, till the term of your natural life."

"But if he won't have it?"

"I'll pay you myself. You shall receive your regular salary from me
without including whatever you may get over and above from him. Will you
be satisfied with a yearly salary of three hundred florins with your
board and keep?"

At these words Margari's breath failed him. It was not without
difficulty that he put the rapacious question: "Will your honour do me
the favour to give me this promise in writing?"

"Certainly! Bring writing materials and I will dictate it to you on the
spot."

And so an agreement was duly drawn up whereby Mr. Margari, in
consideration of a yearly salary of 300 florins to be punctually sent to
him at the beginning of every quarter, undertook in his capacity of
secretary to Baron Hátszegi, to keep his Honour Demetrius Lapussa
informed of all that he saw and heard at the residence of that
gentleman, Henrietta's future husband, and this obligation of
maintaining Margari was to be transferred on the death of Mr. Demetrius
to his son John. And no doubt Mr. Demetrius knew very well what he was
about.

This document signed and sealed, Mr. Margari, with the greatest
alacrity, produced the Latin exercises in question, first of all,
however, respectfully kissing the hand of his patron.

It took till midnight to read and translate all these documents one by
one. Mr. Demetrius was very well satisfied with the result, that is to
say so far as concerned the fidelity of the translation,--with the tenor
of the original text he had not the slightest reason to be pleased.

When, shortly after midnight, these revelations were concluded, Mr.
Demetrius commanded Margari to go up into his room and have a complete
translation of all this Latin rigmarole written down in honest Hungarian
by the morning and to encourage him in his task he gave him two guldens
and an order on the butler for as much punch as he could drink. By the
morning all the punch was drunk, but the translation also was finished,
to the tune of bacchanalian songs which Margari kept up with great
spirit all night long.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day, punctually at the appointed hour, the lawyer, Mr. Sipos,
appeared at the house of the Lapussas, with the necessary documents
neatly tied up with tape, under his arm as usual; he was not like our
modern lawyers who carry their masterpieces in portfolios as if they are
ashamed of them. The only persons in the reception room besides the old
man, were Madame Langai and Mr. John. Henrietta, still an invalid, had
been allowed to take a stroll to the woods near the town in order to
visit her favourite flowers once more and possibly take leave of them
for ever. She had received no invitation-card for this lecture. Why,
indeed, should a bride know anything of her bridegroom's biography
before marriage! The lawyer took his place at the table, untied his pile
of documents and began to read.

It appeared from these documents that the founder of the Hátszegi
family, the great grandfather of the present baron, was one Mustafa, who
had been a Defterdar[2] at Stamboul, and had used his unrivalled
opportunities for making money so well that he found it expedient to fly
from Jassy to Transylvania, where he made haste to get baptized and
naturalized. His son, now an Hungarian nobleman, cut a fine figure at
court and gallantly distinguished himself in the Turkish wars against
his former compatriots, his exploits winning for him the estate of
Hidvár and the title of baron. His son again was a miser of the first
water who could be enticed neither to court nor into the houses of his
neighbours. He was continually scraping money together and was not over
particular in the choice of his scraper. By adroit chicanery he acquired
possession of the gold mines of Verespatak, which he exploited with
immense advantage, and by means of money lending and mortgages got into
his hands the vast estate of Hátszegi in the counties of Hunyad and
Feher, so that when he died it took thirty heavy wagons to convey his
ready money in gold and silver alone from the Vadormi caverns, where he
had concealed it to the castle of Hidvár, which his only son, Leonard,
chose as his residence after his father's death. All these details were
certified by unimpeachable documents in schedules B. C. and D.

[Footnote 2: The chief of the financial department in the Turkish
vilagets.]

Moreover, the blood of many nationalities circulated in the veins of
Baron Leonard. The Defterdar himself was a Turk of Roumelian origin,
whose only son was the child of his Hindu concubine. He again married
the daughter of a Polish countess at the court of Vienna. The wife of
Baron Leonard's father was a wallachized Hungarian lady, whom he married
for her wealth. It was not wonderful, therefore, if the noble baron
possessed the qualities of five distinct races. Thus he had something of
the voluptuousness of the Turk, the ostentation of the Hindu, the
flightiness of the Pole, the foolhardiness of the Hungarian, and the
obstinacy of the Wallach.

"For, I speak of his faults first," the lawyer proceeded, "because I
consider that they outweigh his good qualities. That the baron is a
rich man is evident from the accounts and inventories classed under
schedule E; that the baron is a handsome man is evident from the
photograph under schedule H; that the baron is physically sound is clear
from the certificates annexed to schedules I and K, one of which is
supplied by his physician and the other by his hunting comrades. Those
who require nothing from a man save health, wealth, strength, and
beauty, will of course consider him fit and proper to make a woman
happy. Yet having regard to the following facts (1) that the aforesaid
baron is not merely unstable in love affairs but capricious to the verge
of eccentricity, and a winebibber and gourmand to boot; (2) that he is
as vain as an Indian prince who takes unto him a wife for the mere pomp
and show of the thing; (3) that he is violent and brutal, sparing nobody
in his sudden fits of passion and, as the documents testify, has
frequently inflicted mortal injuries on those who have come in his way
while he was in an ill-humour; (4) that he has an odd liking for rowdy
adventures, which do not reflect much credit upon him; and (5) that,
according to the whispers of those nearest to him there is a strange
mystery pervading his whole life, inasmuch as mysterious disappearances,
which nobody can make head or tail of, occupy an incalculable number of
his days and weeks which remain unaccounted for, and make a pretty
considerable hiatus in every year of his life--taking all these things
into consideration, I am constrained to give it as my opinion that I do
not consider such a man a fit and proper husband for such a tender,
sympathetic young lady as the Miss Henrietta in question, and let the
world if it likes consider such a match as the greatest piece of good
fortune imaginable, I, for my part, would nevertheless call it a
calamity to be avoided at any price. And now would you do me the honour
to examine the original documents I have brought with me as exhibits in
corroboration of my statements--though I would mention," he quickly
added, perceiving that Madame Langai had greedily clutched hold of them,
"that among those documents there are sundry by no means suited for a
lady's perusal."

"When I come across any such I will pass them over," said she. Of course
these were the very passages she proceeded to search for straight away.

Meanwhile Mr. Demetrius also had drawn a packet of papers from
underneath the cushions of his sofa and handed them to Mr. Sipos.

"Then you do not advise me to give Henrietta to Baron Hátszegi to wife?
Good! And now, perhaps, while we run through the exhibits and schedules,
perhaps you'll be so good as to cast your eye over these papers. I don't
think they will bore you."

These documents, by the way, were the Latin documents discovered by Mr.
Margari--_in natura_.

Mr. John was marching pettishly up and down the room, and Madame Langai
was reading her documents with the greatest attention so that nobody
observed the surprise, the confusion reflected in the countenance of the
lawyer as he looked through the fatal Latin manuscripts. He kept shaking
his head and twisting his moustache right and left, fidgeted in his
armchair, and the beads of perspiration which stood out on his forehead
gave him enough to do to wipe them away with his pocket-handkerchief; at
last he had read the papers, and then he laid the whole bundle on the
table and stared silently before him like one whose reason for the
moment had no counsel to give him.

Just about the same time Madame Langai had completed the perusal of
_her_ documents, and now she too seemed to be in an extreme state of
agitation. During the course of her reading, she had been unable to
restrain herself from exclaiming at intervals: "the monster! the
scoundrel!"

Mr. Demetrius had been amusing himself all this time by carefully
observing the various mutations of expression in the faces of the
readers, which certainly afforded considerable entertainment to an
onlooker with any sense of humour.

When every document had produced its expression, he remarked in a soft
gentle voice: "Well, my daughter, what do _you_ think of the affair?"

Madame Langai clapped to her eyeglass and, with the air of one who had
made up his mind once for all, replied instantly: "I would not allow a
decent chambermaid to become Baron Hátszegi's wife, let alone a
Henrietta Lapussa."

"And what is your opinion, Mr. Lawyer?" enquired the old man turning to
Mr. Sipos.

"I?" replied the honest man, visibly perturbed, with a voice full of
emotion: "I would advise that the young lady should be married to the
baron as quickly as possible."

Madame Langai regarded him with wide-open eyes.

"What! After all that is in these papers?"

"No, after all that is in those other documents."

"What are they?" cried Madame Langai pouncing upon them incontinently
and extremely vexed, the next moment, to find them all written in Latin.
She perceived that they were Koloman's exercises, and that was all. She
did not understand their connection with the case in point.

"I'll take those documents back please," said old Demetrius, stretching
out a skinny hand towards them. "They will be of use to us though I have
a translation of them besides. Then, you think, Mr. Lawyer, it will be
as well to marry Henrietta to the baron, eh? Very well! Let me add that
on the day when Henrietta goes to the altar with Baron Leonard, I will
make you a present of all this scribble. Till then I shall require them.
Do you understand?"

Mr. Sipos was completely beaten; you might have knocked him down with a
feather. He had never been so badly worsted in his professional
capacity. Madame Langai would have besieged him with questions, but he
avoided her, put on his hat and departed.

Madame Langai thereupon turned to her father: "What is the cause of this
wondrous change?" she cried. "What secrets do those miraculous papers
contain?"

Mr. Demetrius tucked the documents in question well beneath him and
replied: "They contain secrets the discovery whereof will be a great
misfortune and yet a great benefit to the parties concerned."

"Have they any connection with Henrietta's wedding?"

"They have a direct bearing thereupon, and, indeed, necessitate it!"

"Poor girl!" sighed Madame Langai.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Sipos passed by his own dwelling three times before he knew that he
had reached home, so confused was he by what he had just learnt. When he
_did_ get inside the house he walked for a long time up and down his
consulting room as if he were trying to find a beginning for a business
he would very much have liked to be at the end of. At last he gave the
bellrope a very violent pull and told the clerk who answered the bell to
send him his assistant, Mr. Szilard, at once.

Szilard appeared on the very heels of the messenger. His was one of
those faces which women never forget. There was ardent passion in every
feature and the large flaming black eyes, which spoke of courage and
high enthusiasm, harmonized so well with the wan hue of the pallid face.

"Well, my dear fellow, do you feel quite well again now?" asked Mr.
Sipos in a tone of friendly familiarity; "did the doctor call to see you
to-day?"

"I have no need of him, there's nothing the matter with me."

"Nay, nay! Not so reckless! You have been working again, I see. You know
the doctor has forbidden it."

"I only work to distract my thoughts."

"You should seek amusement rather. Why don't you mix in society like
other young men? Why don't you frequent the coffee-houses and go to a
dance occasionally? Why, you slave away like a street-porter! Young
blood needs relaxation."

"Oh, I am all right. My dear uncle, you are very kind, but you worry
about me more than I deserve."

"That is my duty, my dear nephew. Don't you know that your poor father
confided you to my care on his death-bed, bade me be a father to you.
Don't you remember?"

"I do," replied the young man, and catching hold of his guardian's hand
he pressed it, murmuring in a scarcely audible voice: "You have indeed
been a second father to me!"

But Mr. Sipos tore his hand passionately from the young man's grasp and
said in a somewhat rougher tone: "But suppose your dead father were to
say: 'That is not true! You have _not_ watched over my son as a father
should! You have lightly left him to himself. He was in danger and you
were unaware of it. He hovered on the edge of the abyss and you were
blind and saw nothing. And if God and my dead hand had not defended him,
he would have become a suicide and you knew it not--wherefore?'"--

The young man trembled at these words, he grew even paler than before
and gazed with a look of stupefaction at his chief. Then the old man
approached him, and took him by the hand as if he would say: "I am going
to scold you, but fear nothing. I am on your side."

"My dear Szilard," said he, "don't you recollect that when you were a
little child and did anything you should not have done, and your father
questioned you about it, did he not always say to you: 'when you have
done wrong and are ashamed to confess it, keep silence! press your teeth
together! but don't lie, don't deny it, never think of taking refuge
behind any false excuse, for your name is Szilard,[3] and cowardice does
not become the bearer of such a name!' You understood him. You acted as
he would have had you act. And now I also would remind you once more
that you were christened Szilard and I ask you therefore to listen
calmly to what I am about to say to you. Don't interrupt, don't attempt
to deceive me. If you don't want to answer my questions, simply shake
your head! And now sit down, my son! You are still barely convalescent.
Your head is weak and what I have to say to you might very well make it
reel again."

[Footnote 3: Strong, firm.]

Then the old lawyer tenderly pressed the youth into a chair and sighing
deeply, thus continued: "You fell in love with the daughter of a great
family and she with you. You got acquainted at a dance and the intimacy
did not stop there. Every conceivable obstacle intervened between you,
but love is artful and inventive and you found a way. The rich girl had
a neglected brother whom his relations sent to the grammar school and
the rascal frequently took refuge with me, the family attorney, when he
was ill-treated at home, and here you came across him. You cared for him
and explained to him the difficulties in his lessons which he was unable
to do for himself. The boy grew very fond of you. He spoke to you of
your beloved, and he spoke to her of you, and he was always praising
each of you to the other. The grandfather, the uncle, the aunt, the
governess, the domestics who never took their eyes off the girl for an
instant, had no idea that she was already involved in a love affair. But
amazing is the ingenuity of love and lovers! You knew that none of the
older members of the family understood the classical language of the
orators, and the girl loved so dearly that she did not consider it too
great a labour to learn a dead tongue which could be of no further use
to her in order to be able to say to her beloved: _Ego te in aeternum
amabo!_ One must admit that that was a great and noble sacrifice. Every
day you corresponded with each other. Before school time the girl
dictated his lessons to her young brother, beginning with the usual
scholastic flowers of rhetoric but ending in the passionate voice of
love, and after school was over, you, in your turn dictated a similar
lesson for the lad to carry back with him. Naturally, _this_ lesson book
he _never_ took to school with him; you kept the other here, the genuine
one which he had to show to his masters. And this ingenious smuggling
was carried on beneath the very eyes of the family without their
perceiving it. Yet at last it _was_ discovered. This very day, only an
hour ago, the old head of the family placed these papers in my hands
that I might read them, informing me at the same time that he had
already read a translation of them. Terrible were the things I
discovered in these papers. The appearance of a rich and noble suitor
who, according to the notions of the world, was just made for the girl,
frustrated all your plans of waiting patiently for better times. The
family forced this union upon the girl. You, in your despair, racked
your brain as to what you should do. At first you resolved upon an
elopement, but the redoubled vigilance with which every step of the
young girl was watched made this impossible. Then a black and terrible
thought occurred to you both. You resolved to kill yourselves--it was
your one remaining means of deliverance. Yes, you resolved to kill
yourselves at once, on the self-same day, in the self-same manner. For
many days you deliberated together as to the best way of accomplishing
your design. Great caution was necessary. You had to pick your words
lest the little brother who wrote them down from dictation should have
guessed your intentions. The girl asked you, at last, to send her a book
on natural science. You sent it to her. She, with the help of it tried
to find out what sorts of poisons could be most easily procured. For two
whole days you deliberated together as to the best way of obtaining
matches, the phosphorus of which is the most efficacious of poisons. But
in vain. In great houses only the domestics have charge of the matches,
it was impossible to get any. At last the girl hit on an expedient. She
discovered that if you put a copper coin in a glass dish and pour strong
vinegar over it, verdegris will be formed and verdegris is poison. Your
minds were at once made up. The girl prepared poison for herself and
taught you to do the same. . . . Merciful Heaven! what notions children
do get into their heads to be sure."



CHAPTER V

SHE IS NOT FOR YOU


Up to this moment the youth had listened to the lecture in silence, but
now he arose and said in a calm clear voice: "'Tis all true; it is so!"

"I should say it was all very bad, very bad indeed!" said the lawyer
vehemently, as if completing a broken sentence. "What! Children to
meditate suicide because things in this world don't go exactly according
to their liking! Have you never regarded the affair from its practical
side? Did you imagine that the girl's relations would support you? And
would you yourself endure to be their pensioner, their butt, the scorn
of the very domestics, for a poor son-in-law is the standing jest of the
very flunkeys--you ought to know that!"

Szilard's face burned like fire at these words, but the old man hastened
to soothe him.

"No, you could never reconcile yourself to that, I am sure. But you
thought, perhaps, that the girl might descend to your level and share
your poverty. There are in the world many a poor lad and lass who endow
one another with nothing but their ardent love and yet make happy
couples enough. So, no doubt, you argued, and herein lies the fallacy
that has deceived you. If you had been enamoured of a poor girl, I
should have said: it is rather early to think of marriage, but if it be
God's will, take her! Work and fight your way through the world where
there is room enough for every one. The lass, too, is used to
deprivation, and you are also. She will be content with little. She can
sew, she will do your cooking for you, and, if need be, your washing
likewise! She can make one penny go as far as two. When there is a lot
to do she will sing to make the work lighter, and when your supper is
slender, her good humour and her loving embraces will make it more. But
my dear boy! how are you going to make a poor housewife out of a girl
who has been rich? How can she ever feel at home in a wretched,
out-of-the-way shanty, where she will not even have you always by her
side, for you will have to be looking after your daily bread? She will
say nothing, she will make no complaint, but you will perceive that she
misses something. She will not ask you for a new dress, but you will see
that the one she wears is shabby and it would break your heart to
reflect that you have fettered the girl you love to your step-motherly
destiny, and your manly pride would one day blush for the recklessness
which led you to drag her down with you."

"My dear guardian," said Szilard, "to prove to you that I did think of
all these things let me tell you that I have put by from my salary and
commissions enough to enable us to live comfortably for at least a
twelvemonth. For a whole year I have lived on two pence a day in order
to save, and during all that time I am sure you have not heard from me
one word of complaint."

Mr. Sipos was horrified. It was an even worse case than he had imagined.
What! to live for a whole year on two pence a day in order to scrape
together a small capital for one's beloved! It would be very difficult
to cure a madness which took such a practical turn as this!

"But my dear boy!" he resumed, "what is the good of it all? What can you
do now that your secrets are discovered? It would have served you right
if the girl's parents had proceeded against you on a charge of murder,
for you were an accomplice in this poisoning business; but I am pretty
sure they will only threaten to do so in case she refuses the baron. And
what, pray, can you do in case they thus compel her to become his wife?"

"Whoever the baron may be," rejoined Szilard, "I suppose he is at least
a gentleman; and if a woman looks him straight in the face on the
wedding day and says to him: 'I cannot love you because I love another
and always will love another,'--I cannot think he will be so devoid of
feeling as to make her his wife notwithstanding."

"And if she does not say this, but voluntarily gives him her hand in
order to save you from the persecutions of her family, what then?"

"Hearken, my dear guardian! She may be compelled to write to me that
she loves me no more and I must forget her, but I shall not believe it
till she pronounces or writes down a word the meaning of which only we
two understand and nobody else in the world can discover. So long as
this one word does not get into the possession of a third person, I
shall know that she has not broken with me and no power in this world
shall tear her from my heart. She may be silent, because she is not free
to speak; she may speak because she is commanded to speak; yet, for all
that, this religiously guarded word tells me what she really feels--and
what no other human intelligence can understand. If you like, my dear
guardian, you may betray this confession of mine to Henrietta's
relatives and they will torment the girl till they get her to pronounce
the mysterious word which once pronounced will burst the bonds that
unite us. She will be driven to say something. But oh! women who love
are very crafty. The word they will report to me will not be the right
one. It is possible, too, that they may take her far away from me. Let
them guard her well I say, let those who watch over her never close an
eye. And if they give her a husband, they had best pray for his life for
they know not what a fated thing it is to give away in marriage a girl
who bears about in her heart the secret of a third person."

"My dear young friend, I see that we shall not come to an understanding
with each other. You are bent upon plunging into ruin a poor
defenceless girl in the name of what you call love, and will not
renounce, though you have not the slightest hope of winning her--that I
do not understand. I, on the other hand, am the legal adviser of the
young lady's family, and, in that capacity, I considered it my duty to
protest very energetically against the match in question. But when they
placed those precious papers in my hands, I said at once that they must
marry her to this man in any case. Otherwise they would have fancied I
was advocating your crazy hopes, that I was an interested party and
simply opposed the family candidate in order to smuggle in a kinsman of
my own in his stead. That idea I was determined to knock out of their
heads, happen what would. But that of course you do not understand. And
now you had better return to your room. Destiny will one day explain to
all of us what we do not understand now."

       *       *       *       *       *

At about the same hour the second act of this drama was proceeding in
the torture-chamber of the Lapussa family.

Henrietta had returned home from her little tour laden with flowers,
when old Demetrius sent word to her that he would like to see her in his
room. He had taken the precaution of sending Madame Langai away shortly
before and Mr. John was absent at the Corn Exchange.

"My little maid, Hetty, come nearer to me," said the old gentleman,
turning sideways on his couch and ferreting out from beneath his
pillows a concave snuff-box, "pray do not be angry with me for putting
you to inconvenience. Bear with me for the little time I have still to
live. But if you find living under the same roof with me unendurable,
all the greater reason for you to seize the opportunity of releasing
yourself as quickly as possible."

Henrietta was too much used to these choleric outbursts to think of
replying to them.

"Pray, put your hand beneath my pillow. You will find a packet of papers
there. Take them out and look at them."

Henrietta did with stolid indifference what the old man bade her and
drew forth from this peculiar repository--which served as a sort of lair
for snuff-boxes, pill-boxes and odd bits of pastry--a large bundle of
manuscripts which she recognized at the first glance. The apprehended
papers, which during her illness had prevented her from sleeping, which
had made it impossible for her to get well, were now in the possession
of him from whom she had been most anxious to conceal them. The criminal
stood face to face with the witness whose damning evidence was to
condemn her. There was no escape, no defence.

"My little maid," said the old man, exultantly stuffing his eagle nose
full of that infernal heating material which goes by the name of snuff,
"don't be angry with me for directing your attention to this scribble. I
don't want to make any use of it. I know quite enough of it already,
but be so good as to listen to me!"

Henrietta absolutely could not look away from her grandfather's
blood-shot eyes; it seemed to her as if those eyes must gradually bore
through to her very heart.

"You won't marry an eminent and wealthy man who bestows an honour upon
your family by asking for your hand, and yet you would run away with a
worthless fellow who does not even know why he was put into the world,
and when your family steps in to prevent it, you would violently put
yourself to death in order to die with him, to our eternal shame and
dishonour. That was not nice of you. But sit down. I see you are all of
a tremble. I would fetch you a chair myself if it was not for this
infernal gout of mine."

Henrietta accepted the invitation and sat down, otherwise she must have
collapsed.

"Now look ye, my dear little girl! if you had to deal with an
unmerciful, austere old fellow, a veritable old tiger, in fact, as I
have no doubt you fancy I am, he would make no bones about it but pack
you straight off to a nunnery and so cut you off from the world for
ever."

Henrietta sighed. Such a threat as that sounded to her like a
consolation.

"In the second place, an old tyrant, such as I am imagining, would have
sent that rip of a brother of yours, who is not ashamed to lend a hand
in the seduction of his own sister, would have sent him, I say, to a
reformatory. I may tell you there are several such institutions,
celebrated for their rigour, whither it is usual to send precocious and
incorrigible young scapegraces. And richly he would have deserved it,
too."

"Poor Koloman!" thought the little sister. They were tenderly devoted to
each other.

"In the third place, our old tiger would have prosecuted at law that
reckless youth who had a share in this fine suicide project of yours.
For death, my dear, is no plaything and jests with poison are strictly
forbidden. He would certainly be condemned to hard labour for five or
six years, which would be a very wholesome lesson for him."

"Grandfather!" screamed the tortured child. This last allusion dissolved
her voice in tears. She fell down on her knees before him and shed
innocent tears enough on his hand to wash out all the old specks and
stains on it.

"I am glad to see those tears, my dear little girl, they show that you
have confidence in me. I am not a tiger who eats little children, what I
have said _might_ happen but I don't say it necessarily _must_. I don't
want to be cruel and vindictive. I don't want to recollect anything of
the insults showered upon me in that scribble of yours, all I ask of you
is that you will not stand in your own way. Get up and don't cry any
more or you will be ill again. Go up into your own room and ponder
deeply what you ought to do! In two hours' time I shall send for you
again, and in the meantime make up your mind about it. You have the
choice between accepting as your husband an honourable gentleman of
becoming rank and at the same time renouncing and forgetting a fellow
who will never be able to raise himself to your level, or of taking the
veil and bidding good-bye to this world. In the latter case, however,
your brother will be sent to a reformatory and an action will be
commenced against your accomplice. It is for you to choose. You have two
whole hours to turn the matter over in your mind. In the meantime I
shall send for my lawyer and, according to your decision, I shall get
him to draw up a marriage contract or a summons to the criminal court.
It all depends upon you. And now put back those documents beneath my
head. Remember that you will only receive them back from me as a bridal
gift. Go now to your own room and reflect. For two hours nobody shall
disturb you."

The girl mechanically complied with his commands. She put back the
ominous documents in their receptacle and withdrew to her room. There
she stood in front of a vase of flowers and regarded their green leaves
for an hour without moving. In the vase was a fine specimen of one of
those wondrous tropical plants whose leaves never fall off, one of those
plants which the seasons leave unchanged and which, therefore, is such a
beautiful emblem of constancy. This beautiful plant has a peculiar
property. If one of its compact shining leaves be planted in the earth
it takes root and grows into a shrub whose fragrant wax-like flowers
diffuse an enchanting perfume. Three years before at a jurists' ball,
when Henrietta and Szilard met for the first time, he had given her a
bouquet, among the flowers of which was one of these green-gold leaves,
and when she got home she had planted it in a jar and it had taken root,
spread its shoots abroad and grown larger and larger every year. And
Henrietta had called it Szilard and watched over its growth and cared
for it as if it had been a living human creature. For a long time she
stood before this flowering plant as if she would have spoken to it and
taken counsel of it. At last she turned away and with her hands behind
her head, she walked slowly up and down the room, and as often as she
paused before the vase, she behaved like one whose heart is breaking.
But time was hastening on, an hour is so short when one would have it
stay. Alas! nowhere was there any help, any refuge. She was abandoned.
She had nothing in the world but this one flowering plant which she
called Szilard. And the moments swiftly galloping after one another
called for a decision. There must be an end to it. Once more she
approached her darling plant and kissed all the leaves of its beautiful
flowers one by one. And now there came a knock at the door. Mr.
Demetrius's messenger had come and a cold shudder ran through the girl's
tender frame. "I am coming!" she cried. The next moment not a tear was
to be seen on her face, nay, not a trace of sorrow, or fear, but only
snow-white tranquillity.

All the members of the family were assembled together again in
grandpapa's room. Mr. Sipos was also present, he had been told all about
the business.

"Well my dear little grandchild," said Mr. Demetrius, motioning
Henrietta to take her place at the table with the others, "have you made
up your mind?"

"I have."

"Veil or myrtle wreath?"

"I will be married."

"To the baron?"

"Yes," replied the girl in a strangely calm and courageous tone, "but I
also have my conditions to impose."

"Let us hear them."

"In the first place I must be sure that my brother Koloman will not be
persecuted. I suppose you will not let him come with me?"

"No, that one thing cannot be allowed."

"But I cannot let him remain here. Send him to some other town. You are
always talking of your rank and riches, give him an education to
correspond."

The child in those two hours had grown older by ten years, she now spoke
to the other members of the family with the air of a matron.

"Agreed!" cried Mr. Demetrius. "Besides it will be much better if we do
not see him."

"My second request is that I may take the furniture I have been used to
and my flowers along with me to the place where I have to go."

"Granted, a harmless feminine caprice. Be it so!"

"In the third place I should like the papers grandfather knows of to be
given back to him whom it most concerns."

"Certainly," said Mr. Demetrius, "I promised, did I not, that it should
form part of your marriage portion. Mr. Sipos, would you be so good as
to place these documents in the hands--of the proper person?"

Mr. Sipos bowed and promised to carry out the mournful commission.

"And now, my girl, the marriage-contract is before you, the baron has
already signed it and awaits your decision in the adjoining room. Show
us what a nice hand you can write."

And Henrietta did show it. She signed her name there in such pretty
little delicately rounded letters that it looked as if some fairy had
breathed a spell upon the page.

"And just one thing more, my dear young lady," put in Mr. Sipos
politely, "while the pen is still in your hand, would you be so good as
to write down on the cover of the returned documents a particular word,
that particular word, I mean, which is known only to yourself and one
other person in the world, as a proof that your renunciation is genuine
and irrevocable."

The girl fixed her mysterious black eyes for a long time on those of
the lawyer. It was in her power to deceive him if she would and he knew
it well. At last she gently stooped over the bundle of papers and
pressing down the pen with unusual firmness she wrote that barbarously
sounding name of a beautiful bright star: "Mesarthim" and then quietly
laid down the pen. There was not the slightest sign of agitation in her
face. Could it be the right word?

"And now the bridegroom can come in and the necessary pre-nuptial legal
formalities can be carried out."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Mr. Sipos got home he went straight up to the room of his young
protegé.

"My dear fellow," said he, "I have brought you some medicine. As you
know, medicine is generally nasty and bitter, but perhaps none the worse
on that account. As I said beforehand, the young lady reconsidered her
position, chose the better way and consented to the marriage with the
baron. The betrothal is an accomplished fact and they signed the
marriage contract before my eyes."

"Doubtless," returned Szilard coldly.

"My friend, the girl did not make such a sour face over it as you are
doing. She was strong-minded and decided. I was amazed at the composure
with which she addressed her family, she was like the capitulating
commandant of a fortress dictating the terms of surrender. Not a tear
did she shed in their presence and yet I believe she suffered."

"Oh, she has lots of courage."

"I wish you had as much. Here is your absurd scribble, its surrender was
one of the conditions imposed. I am glad these mischievous exercises are
safely in our hands again. Don't bother your head about them any more!
The girl is going away, you will remain here, in a year's time you will
have forgotten each other."

Szilard smiled frostily.

"And that word which binds us together or tears us asunder?" said he.

"Yes, I thought of that, too. She looked me straight in the eyes for a
long time when I asked for it and I told her I wanted the real, the
genuine word. She has written it on the back of these papers, look!"

Szilard stretched forth a tremulous hand towards the papers, seized
them, turned them round, and cast one look at the word written there and
then fell at full length on the floor, striking his head against the
corner of the table so that the blood flowed.

Mr. Sipos, cursing the whole stupid business and wishing the papers at
the bottom of the sea, raised the young man tenderly and bathed his head
with cold water. He did not call for assistance (why should the whole
world be taken into his confidence?), but when the youth came to again,
he soothed and consoled him with loving words. And Szilard, unable to
contain himself any longer, hid his head in the good old man's bosom,
pressed his lips to his hand and wept long and bitterly.

       *       *       *       *       *

A fortnight later the marriage of Baron Hátszegi and Henrietta Lapussa
was solemnized with great pomp and befitting splendour. The bride bore
herself bravely throughout the ceremony, and they tell me that her lace
and her diamonds were fully described in all the fashionable papers.



CHAPTER VI

BRINGING HOME THE BRIDE


In those days there were no railways in Hungary. It took a whole week to
travel post from Pest to the depths of Transylvania, with relays of
horses provided beforehand at every station. On the very day after the
wedding the young bride set out on her journey. She had only stipulated
that they should set off very early before anyone was up and stirring.
They travelled in two carriages. In the first sat the bride and
Clementina, who had begged and prayed so urgently to be allowed to
accompany the young lady that to get rid of her they had at last
consented. The poor thing fancied she would better her position thereby:
it was not from pure love of Henrietta that she had been so importunate.
In the second carriage sat the baron and Margari. Margari was just the
sort of man the baron wanted. He was a scholar who could be converted
into a domestic buffoon whenever one was required. Now-a-days it is
difficult to catch such specimens, all our servants have become so
stuck-up. Henrietta did not dare to ask how far they were going, or
where they were to pass the night, she felt so strange amidst her new
surroundings. Her husband was very obliging and polite towards her,--in
fact he gave her no trouble at all.

Towards the evening they stopped at a village to water the horses and
there Hátszegi got out of his carriage and, approaching his wife's,
spoke to her through the window: "We shall rest in an hour," said he.
"We shall put up for the night at the castle of an old friend of mine,
Gerzson Satrakovich. He has been duly apprised of our coming and expects
us."

But the promised hour turned out to be nearly two hours. The roads were
very bad here and it was as much as the carriage wheels could do to
force their way through the marshy sand. The monotonous _Bucskak_[4]
which extended desolately, like a billowy sandy ocean, to the very
horizon, were overgrown with dwarf firs that looked more like shrubs
than trees. Not a village, not a hut was anywhere to be seen. From the
roadside sedges, flocks of noisy wild-geese, from time to time, flew
across the sky which the setting sun coloured yellow. At last a great
clattering and rattling gave those sitting in the carriage to understand
that they were passing into a courtyard and the carriage door was
opened. Henrietta got out. The young wife looked around with the same
sort of curiosity which a robber condemned to a long term of
imprisonment and conveyed to a distant jail might feel on first
surveying his new environment.

[Footnote 4: Sand hills.]

In the midst of a spacious courtyard, surrounded by stone walls, stood
an old-fashioned mansion with a verandah in front of it, resting on
quadrangular columns which one ascended by a staircase whose brick
parapet served as a lounge both for the gentlemen guests and their
heydukes whenever they wanted to take their ease,--though, of course,
the gentlemen occupied one end of it and the heydukes the other. A
couple of favourite dogs were also accommodated with a place there. But
when the carriages stopped in front of the verandah, every one instantly
quitted this favourite sun-lit resting place and rushed down to meet
them--host, guests, heydukes, and dogs.

The first to reach the carriage door was a peculiar looking man, a more
repulsively mutilated creature it was impossible to imagine. He might
have been fifty, but it was difficult to read his age from his face. His
features were scarred with ancient scars and a piece of his mouth was
missing--and perhaps a tooth or two as well, if one could have seen
through his thick grizzled moustache. An eye was missing on the same
side, and half his face was tattooed with little black points as if from
an exploded musket. His nose was bent sideways and quite flattened at
the top, doubtless owing to a heavy fall. He had only three whole
fingers on the right hand, the other two were fearfully mutilated. As
for the left arm it was horribly distorted from its natural position,
the elbow being twisted right round and the joint immovable. Add to
this that one of his legs was shorter than the other. Yet, in spite of
everything, this fraction of a man was so agile that he anticipated all
the others and was the first to courteously kiss the hand of the
descending lady, who shrank back horror-stricken at the contact of those
crippled fingers.

"My wife--my friend Gerzson," said Hátszegi hastening to introduce them
to each other. The master of the house professed himself delighted at
his good fortune; pressed his friend's hand with his third remaining
finger and presented his arm, the stiff one, to the lady who touched it
as gingerly as if she was afraid of hurting it.

The master of the house laughed aloud at her misgivings.

"Lean on it hard your ladyship!" cried he, "it won't break, it is as
strong as iron. Down Fecske, down sir!" (this to a dog who had expressed
his joy at the sight of Henrietta by jumping on her shoulder.) "I
rejoice that I have the felicity to welcome your ladyship. I have
arranged a great fox hunt in your ladyship's honour for to-morrow. We
are all fox hunters here. I hope your ladyship will take part in it?"

"I don't know how to ride," replied the child-wife simply.

"Oh! that's nothing, we will teach you. I have got a good nag who is as
gentle as a lamb. We won't let your ladyship go till we have taught
you."

When they reached the saloon a number of jackbooted, brass-buttoned,
gentlemen of various ages were presented in turn to Henrietta who forgot
all their names the moment after they were introduced and was quite
delighted when she was conducted to her room and left alone with
Clementina.

She had scarce time to change her travelling dress when supper was
announced. The meal was laid on a large round table in the midst of a
vast hall; there were more wine bottles than dishes; the handles of the
knives and forks were made from the horns of elks and the antlers of
stags,--the principal meats were cold venison, highly spiced and
peppered stews and pickled _galuska_.[5]

[Footnote 5: A sort of large dumpling.]

"I am afraid this is only a hunter's repast, my lady!" opined Mr.
Gerzson conducting Henrietta to the table, at which she and Clementina
were the only ladies present. "Unfortunately this house has no mistress
and an old bachelor like me must serve others as he himself is served."

"Then why don't you marry?" bantered Hátszegi.

"I wanted to once, but it all come to nothing. The bride was already
chosen and the day for the bridal banquet was fixed. My lady bride was a
fine handsome lassie. On the eve of my wedding day, in order that the
business might not escape my memory, I told my heyduke to place by my
bed in the morning my nice bright dress boots instead of my old hunting
jacks. Very well! Early next morning while I was still on my back in
bed, I heard a great barking and yelping in the garden below. 'What's
the row?' I shouted. They told me the dogs had started a lynx out of the
bushes. 'What! a lynx!' I cried, for a lynx, let me tell you, is a rare
beast in these parts. I was out of bed in a twinkling, plunged into the
nice dress boots, snatched my gun from the wall and was off into the
thicket. I soon found the trail and after that lynx I went. The dogs led
me further and further into the depths of the forest and the further I
went the more fiery grew the pursuit. Once or twice I had a sort of
feeling that I had forgotten something at home, and I felt myself all
over, but no, powder horn, pipe case, tobacco pouch, flint,
steel--everything was there. So on I went further and further. Again I
felt bothered, but by this time the lynx quite carried me away with him
and kept appearing and disappearing again in the most distracting
fashion. Only towards evening did I hold its pelt in my hand and home
with it I went straightway. And now, again, an oppressive feeling
overcame me, just as if there was something wrong going on somewhere in
the world which it was in my power to prevent. Only in the evening when
I was pulling off my dress boots did it flash across me that I ought to
have been present at my wedding that very day. And so matters remained
as they were, for my bride was so angry with me for my forgetfulness
that she went away and married a lawyer fellow. No doubt she got the
right man, but since then I have had no desire for matrimony."

The company laughed heartily at this jest, and then attacked the
patriarchal banquet with tremendous appetite, nor did they wait to be
asked twice to fill their glasses. Henrietta, naturally, did not touch
anything. Even at ordinary times she ate very little, but now there was
nothing at all she fancied. Mr. Gerzson was in despair.

"My dear lady," said he, "you eat so little that if I were a day
labourer I could easily support you on my wages."

The company laughed aloud at this. The idea of a day labourer with such
hands and feet as that!

Then Gerzson proceeded to relate to them the exploits or misadventures
in which his various limbs had more or less come to grief. "And now,"
concluded he, "I will tell your ladyship how I came by this scar on my
forehead. A few years ago I was visiting our friend Leonard, your
husband, my dear lady, at his castle at Hidvár, and whilst there we
spent two weeks among the glaciers."

"Night and day?" enquired the astonished Henrietta.

"Well, at night we built ourselves huts out of the branches of fir
trees. If, however, no rain fell we encamped in the open round our
watch-fire snugly wrapped up in our _bundas_[6]. Splendid fun I can
tell you! For two days, when our stores gave out, we lived on nothing
but bilberries and broiled bear's flesh."

[Footnote 6: Sheepskins.]

"You were badly off then."

"No, on the contrary, the paws of a bear are great delicacies, only we
had no salt to salt them with."

"Why did you not return home?"

"We could not, for four days together we had been on the track of a
blood-bear. Do you know what a blood-bear is? A bear is a very mild,
harmless sort of a beast in general, and is quite content with honey,
berries, and roots; but let him once taste blood and he rages about like
a lion, and more than that, he has a decided preference for human blood
before all other kinds of blood. We had been pursuing one of these old
malefactors four days running, as I have said; four times we got within
range of him and four times he broke away. He carried a few bullets away
with him beneath his hide, indeed, but a lot he cared about that! He
gave one or two of our badly-aiming huntsmen a clout on the head which
sent them flying, stripped the skin from the head of one of the beaters
and then took refuge in the wilderness. Friend Leonard and the other
gentlemen now wanted to abandon the chase, for they were frightfully
hungry and the heavy rain and rock scrambling had pretty well torn our
clothes from our bodies, yet I urged them to make another attempt on
the morrow. I assured them that if they beat up the wood once more we
should capture the bear. The whole lot of them were against me. Friend
Leonard insisted that we should not catch him, as a bear never remains
in the place where he has been wounded, but runs on and on night and
day; by this time he would have got right across the border into
Wallachia. 'Very well!' I said, 'What do you bet that he is not quite
near and we shall come upon him to-morrow?' Leonard replied he would bet
me two to one we shouldn't. 'All right!' said I. 'I'll pay you a hundred
ducats if we don't find Bruin to-morrow.' 'And I'll pay you a thousand
if we do,' said he. So the bet was clinched. Next morning in a thick
mist we sent out the beaters while we ourselves stood on our guard.
Leonard and I took up our post near a ravine waiting impatiently for the
mist to disperse. Towards mid-day it began to clear. No end of stags and
foxes ambled slowly past us, but we did not even aim at them; the bear
was our watchword. The beaters had pretty nearly finished their work. We
were standing only fifty paces or so apart, so we began to chat
together. 'I begin to be sorry for your hundred ducats,' said Leonard.
'I am still sorrier for the lost bear's skin,' said I. 'It is in
Wallachia by this time!' he replied. Behind my back, some ten yards off,
was the opening of a narrow hole; there were hundreds such in the rocks
all about. 'Come, now!' I cried, 'suppose my bear has stowed himself
away in this hollow!'--and there and then, like a mischievous little
boy, I poked the barrel of my gun into the hollow and fired off a couple
of shots in quick succession. A frightful roar came from the depths of
the cavern. The wild beast during all this noise, clamour and beating
about the bush was actually behind my back holding his tongue,--and a
splendid big beast he was, two heads taller than I and with tusks like a
wild boar. In a moment he was upon me, and I had already discharged my
two barrels. It is all over with me now, I thought! Why, it will be
nothing at all to a magnificent beast like this to tear such a wretched
creature as myself limb from limb! Erect on his hind legs he came
straight at me, smashing my hunting-knife at a single blow, and,
enfolding me in his terrible arms, he tried to mangle my features with
his teeth. At the last moment I called to Leonard: 'Shoot between us,
old chap! you will hit one of us anyhow!' I preferred being killed by a
bullet to being torn to bits. The next instant a report sounded, and I
was only just aware that the pair of us, still tightly embraced, were
rolling backwards into the bottom of the ravine. There, however, the
thick undergrowth held us up, and I perceived that my bear was quite
done for. The bullet had gone clean through his ear. Yes, a masterly
shot on Leonard's part it was, I must confess--at fifty paces at the
very moment when the bear's head and mine were near enough for kissing.
And I do think it was so nice of Leonard to risk a shot for me, when if
he had simply allowed me to be torn to pieces he would have saved his
thousand ducats, for he lost his bet, you see. Not only did he liberate
me, but he paid a thousand ducats for doing so."

"He acted like a true gentleman!" they all cried. It was the general
opinion.

"Your ladyship will see this splendid bear skin at Hidvár, it is a real
treasure for a hunter, I can tell you. And in fact if I had had the
choice I would much rather have had the bear skin than the thousand
ducats, and the exchange would have been much better for me too in the
long run, for I should have the skin to this day, whereas the thousand
ducats were forcibly taken from me at Dévá by that villain, Fatia
Negra."[7]

[Footnote 7: Black face.]

"Who is that?" enquired Henrietta curiously.

"A famous robber-chieftain in these mountains whom they can never lay
hands upon."

Henrietta cast anxious glances around her.

But here Hátszegi coolly interrupted him by striking his plate with his
fork: "I won't have my wife frightened to death by your highwayman
yarns," cried he, and changed the conversation. Shortly afterwards
Henrietta went to her chamber, leaving her husband with Mr. Gerzson and
his guests.

Such was Henrietta's first night after her marriage. She at least was so
far fortunate as not to be obliged to see her husband. Towards morning
she dozed off, and when she awoke again she found that the whole
company had long ago set off fox-hunting, nor did they return till late
in the evening, tired out, wet through, and dripping with sweat.
Henrietta meanwhile had discovered the remains of a dilapidated library
in an old disused huntsman's hut, had ferretted out of it a few Latin
books, and had amused herself with them,--at least so far as she was
able, for many of the leaves had been torn out and used as tinder.

It is notorious that tired sportsmen are about the dullest dogs on
earth; so Henrietta felt that she would not lose much when her husband
told her she had better go to rest early, as they must be up betimes
next morning. And, indeed, next morning they were off so early that,
except their old host, not one of the hunting party was there to bid
them God speed! But he again conducted his lady-guest to her carriage on
his crippled arm and arranged her cushions comfortably for her with his
three-fingered hand.

It was a very fine day for a journey, and the windows of the two
carriages were let down so that Henrietta was able to view the landscape
stretching out before her. She had never been here before, it was all
new to her. She discovered from Clementina's lamentations that they had
still a three days' journey before they reached home, and that they
would spend the coming night at the castle of Count Kengyelesy. The
coachmen had told Margari so, and he passed the news on to Clementina.
It also appeared that Count Kengyelesy was a very curious sort of man,
who contradicted Baron Hátszegi in everything, yet for all that they
were never angry with and always glad to see each other. The count was
also said to have a young wife who did not love him. So ran the gossip
of the servants. It was all one to Henrietta what they said about Count
Kengyelesy and his consort.

Between five and six in the afternoon they reached the count's castle,
which lay outside the village in the midst of rich tobacco and rapeseed
fields, and enclosed on three sides by a splendid English garden; the
place was arranged with taste and evidently well-cared for.

That the count expected the arrival of the Hátszegis was evident from
the fact that dinner was awaiting them. Kengyelesy was a little puny bit
of a man with very light bright hair, white eyelashes, and a pointed
chin made still more pointed by a long goatish beard. It always pleased
him very much when his friends confidentially assured him that he had a
perfect satyr-like countenance.

His wife was a young, chubby, lively lady with smiling blue eyes
unacquainted with sorrow, whom her husband on the occasion of a _bal
paré_ at Vienna had seen, fallen in love with, and carried off, although
the girl's father, a retired Field-marshal, was quite ready to surrender
her--they preferred, however, the romance of an elopement.

The countess received her lady-guest with the most effusive heartiness,
called her by her Christian name on the spot, and invited her to do that
same with her. She told Henrietta she was to feel quite at home, dragged
her all over the castle, and showed her in rapid succession her rare
flowers, her Parisian furniture, her Japanese curiosities; played
something for her on the piano, made her parrot talk to her and
incontinently popped on her finger a large and beautiful opal ring,
which she told her she was to keep as an eternal souvenir.

Then the countess seized the hand of the child-wife and led her into her
bed-chamber. On the wall hung a fine large battle-piece, a splendid oil
painting by a Viennese master.

"A magnificent picture, is it not?" enquired the countess with a broad
smile.

"Yes," replied Henrietta absently.

"How do you like the central figure? I mean the hero on horseback with
the standard in his hand?"

"He is handsome, but it seems to me that, situated as he is, he smiles
too much."

The countess laughed loudly at this remark.

"That," said she, "is the portrait of a young hussar officer who for a
long time paid his court to me. I could not, of course, keep his
portrait in my room, for there everyone would know all about it, so I
had a battle-piece painted in all round, and nobody suspects anything.
Oh! my friend, if women were not so inventive, they would often be very
unhappy. But that, mind! is a secret; not a soul must know about it."

Henrietta grew pensive. She also had her secret, but she would tell it
to nobody, not even on her death-bed. She also had a portrait written in
ineffaceable characters in her heart, yet between him and her stand two
infinite obstacles, the one a betrayed star whose name is Mesarthim, the
other that unbetrayable thing, whose name is--woman's honour!

"_Madame est servie!_" cried the epauletted lacquey, and the countess
drawing her arm through Henrietta's, led her into the dining-room, where
the gentlemen already awaited them.

After dinner the humorous young countess entertained Henrietta for a
long time with her amusing chatter. She told her, at the very outset,
things that young wives, as a rule, only confide to their most intimate
friends. She told her, for instance, how very jealous her little
Squirrel was (she called her husband by this pet name) and how he would
never take her to Vienna or Pest, because he suspected that she might
find someone there to interest her. Anything like correspondence on her
part was of course impossible; a wise woman will always have sense
enough never to part with a line of writing. Everything else, she
witnesses, treacherous servants, for instance--can always be disowned;
but there is no defence against a letter which has fallen into the wrong
hands. Oh no! she knew a trick worth two of that. Whenever the Squirrel
went to Vienna, she gave him a list of articles required by her from a
modiste in the town, on this list are set down hats, head-dresses,
muffs, and other similar articles. Squirrel always reads this list over
ten times at least, but finds nothing in it to excite his suspicions.
But it regularly escapes his attention what day is indicated by the date
at the head of the list, for he can never tell for the life of him on
what day of the month such or such a day will fall. Now at the head of
this list stands, instead of the date on which the goods are to be sent,
the date up to which the Squirrel intends to divert himself at Vienna.
This list the Squirrel in person conveys to the modiste, who
communicates with the person whom it most concerns, and the Kengyelesy
_puszta_[8] will not seem the end of the world to whomsoever has a
magnet in his heart to draw him thither.

[Footnote 8: Heath. But also, as in this place, used to designate the
uncut terated land forming part of a nobleman's estate.]

Henrietta was amazed and confounded by this new science, the very
alphabet of which was unknown to her. Even when she lay in bed she
ruminated for a long time how it was possible that certain things which
break the hearts of some people are nevertheless regarded by other
people as mere frolics all their lives.

The next morning everyone arose late. The gentlemen had been up till the
small hours and were hard to wake. They all met together in the
breakfast-room. Hátszegi and his host were preparing for the journey.
The count asked the young wife what she had dreamt about, "for," added
he, "whatever one dreams about the first night in a strange place is
sure to come true."

Henrietta did not like to speak of her dreams; her waking thoughts were
too often interwoven with them.

"And you, you great silly," said the countess to her husband in a
bantering tone, "did you dream anything of me?"

"Yes, darling, I dreamt that we shall spend the coming winter in Vienna.
Don't put so much sugar in my tea!"

"What! not for such a nice dream as that. Will it really come to pass?"

"Most certainly, pussy. We will go there together after the bathing
season is over."

The countess possessed sufficient self-control to conceal her delight.

"By the bye," said Kengyelesy, turning to Henrietta, "how does your
ladyship like the Kengyelesy _puszta_?"

"Very well."

"And the castle?"

"That is nice too."

"Don't you think it a good joke that yesterday your ladyship and your
honoured husband were my guests, whilst to-day we are your ladyship's
guests and that, too, without our having to move out of the house?"

"How?" enquired the astonished Henrietta.

"Why, we made an agreement this very morning whereby friend Leonard is
going to take over the whole property and everything belonging to
it--not you, my dear, of course," this to his wife, "I mean the nags and
the cows--and henceforth this house belongs to you."

"Don't forget to invite the countess to Hidvár for the vintage
festival," whispered Hátszegi to his wife.

Henrietta accordingly made the effort, and when they rose from the
breakfast she timidly expressed the wish that the Kengyelesys would do
them the honour to return their visit at Hidvár.

"Oh, we will be sure to come!" the fair countess hastened to reply,
"Squirrel will bring me to you in the autumn and we will remain a whole
month."

Kengyelesy also courteously accepted the invitation and then taking
Henrietta's little hand between his own palms so that he could just
manage to kiss the tips of her fingers, he said to her in a strange and
piteous sort of voice: "But then you must promise to love our friend
Leonard here a little better than you have done hitherto."

A shudder ran through Henrietta's body at these words. The very air of
the room was all at once difficult to breathe, and she only felt better
when she sat in the carriage again. But even there she was haunted by
some unendurable, undefinable, torturing feeling which struck her still
more unpleasantly when Clementina remarked: "Yes, there is nothing but
good land on this _puszta_."

Why, what could it matter to the honest creature whether the land was
good or not, it was surely all one to her?

"Two thousand acres in one lot, nothing but first-class land."

"How do you know that?" asked Henrietta.

"Margari told me he drew up the agreement and witnessed it, and yet no
money was paid down."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Did not your ladyship then understand the allusion the count made just
now when he asked you to love your husband a little more than hitherto?"

"What has such nonsense to do with me?"

"He meant by that that he who is unlucky in love is lucky at play; for
last night my lord baron played cards with my lord count and won from
him the whole Kengyelesy estate straight off."

Henrietta felt like one who is in the embrace of the boa-constrictor and
unable to defend himself. She had not expected this.

But Clementina was only too delighted to have something to chatter
about. "And do you know, your ladyship," she continued, "the baron and
the count have been rivals for a long time, and each has always been
trying his hardest to ruin the other--in a friendly way, of course. The
chambermaid told Margari, and Margari told me. 'I will not be content,
comrade,' my lord baron used to say to my lord count, 'till one of us is
reduced to his last jacket, and as soon as one of us is absolutely
beggared, the other will hold himself bound to maintain him, in a way
befitting a gentleman till the day of his death.' Strange men these,
madame, eh!"

Perceiving, however, from Henrietta's looks that there was something
depressing to her young mistress in her narration, she tried to soften
the effect of her words by intimating that the count had another
property besides, although not such a nice castle, and also that it was
open to him to buy back the former estate in thirty years' time if he
could find the money.

"That will do, Clementina, my head aches badly!" said Henrietta. She
wished to rid herself of this uncalled-for gabble, in order that she
might devote herself to her own thoughts.

And what thoughts! She had had no idea that such things could be. How
was it possible that two men who called themselves friends, could ruin
one another thus in cold blood? How was it possible that a man could
enter the house of an affectionate host as a welcome guest in the
evening, and by next morning leave him not an inch of land on which to
put his foot, or a roof to cover his head! "And one has to get
accustomed to such things!" thought she.

All the day long their journey lay through that brain-wearying plain
whose endless flatness oppressed soul and body with its monotony and
soon drove her back to her own thoughts. Towards evening there were
signs of rain. Clouds were rising and then, at least, there would be
something new to point at in the eternal monotony of the sky.
Unfortunately clouds have the bad habit of bringing tempests along with
them, and tempests are evil travelling companions on the steppes of the
_Alföld_.[9] The towers of the town they were trying to reach were still
only dimly visible on the horizon. In ordinary weather it would not have
mattered if they had arrived late, for they had reckoned upon the
moonlight; but there could be no moon to-night, instead of her a storm
full of angry lightnings was approaching. Already from afar they could
hear it rumbling as it drove dust-clouds before it, could hear that
peculiar, continuous, roar as of some giant hand playing uninterruptedly
on the keys of some terrible organ. Whoever has been caught on the
_Alföld_ in a storm knows the meaning of that wind; it means that the
tempest is bringing hail with it.

[Footnote 9: The great Hungarian plain.]

One thing was now certain: they must turn aside somewhere. All that
Henrietta observed, however, was that her carriage stood still for a
moment, and then Hátszegi's carriage went on in front, the baron himself
seizing the horses' reins and shouting to the coachman behind him:
"After me as hard as you can tear!" With that they left the road and
plunged right across country through ditches and swamps and low, marshy
ground till the water came up to the very axles of the wheels and
Clementina shrieked that they were perishing. But there was no need to
be afraid. Hátszegi was a skilful coachman, who could ever find his way
even where there was no way at all. About a four hours' journey off, a
pump now became visible, and beyond it a little hut loomed white and
high, there they must seek a refuge from the tempest as it passed over
them. And indeed they had only just reached the small courtyard when the
first lumps of ice as big as nuts, began bombarding the windows of the
carriages.

"Quick, quick, into the house!" cried Hátszegi. The baron himself helped
his wife and Clementina to descend and hurried them in beneath the
verandah, which was made of crooked branches and hung over the kitchen
door like a shade over the forehead of a weak-sighted man.

On their approach the woman of the house emerged from the kitchen with
her head tied up in a red handkerchief. She was no longer young, but
ruddy, robust, bright-eyed, and bustling, and as full of sparkle as if
she had just sprung out of the fire.

On perceiving her guests she clapped her hands together.

"Lord deliver us, if it isn't his lordship! And only just married now,
eh!--after all these years! But which is the bride, your lordship?
Surely not this one (pointing to Clementina) for she is an old
dear!--and yet the other is but a child!"

The baron hastened to interrupt this uncalled-for outburst.

"Come, come, my good woman! No chatter now, please, for the hail will be
upon us in a moment; but take these ladies into a room and see that it
is clean and comfortable. Henrietta! pray get out of the rain."

The _csárdá_[10] woman kissed Henrietta's hand with great familiarity
and kept on saying in a quavering voice: "Oh, thou tender little
creature! to think of giving them to husbands so early!" cried she. But
Clementina, who was always nervous in strange places, called the baron's
attention to the fact that loud masculine voices were proceeding from
somewhere within the _csárdá_.

[Footnote 10: Inn.]

"Have you anyone here now?" enquired the baron of the _csárdá_ woman.

"Yes, three or four lads and _Ripa_. The old fellow has just been
released from the prison at Arad. I don't know whether he served his
full time. Pray walk in!"

"They are not robbers, are they?" asked Clementina hesitating.

"No, dear heart alive, there are no robbers in these parts, but only
poor vagabonds. You will not find robbers nearer than the Bakony forest.
These poor fellows hurt nobody, least of all ladies. I don't count old
Ripa at all, but only the other three. It would be another thing if
Blackey were here, for he is a fine gentleman and likes to amuse
himself with the ladies. But don't think, dear soul, that his features
are black, oh, dear, no! I call him 'Blackey' because he always wears a
mask of black velvet lest he should be recognized, only his eyes and
mouth are ever visible."

And with such comforting assurances she escorted Henrietta and
Clementina up the narrow staircase.

They had to pass through the long tap-room before they came to the inner
parlour. At the guest table were sitting three hardy looking young
fellows and an old pock-marked man, a foxey-eyed rascal who drank out of
the others' glasses from time to time and kept the conversation going.

"Come! shut up, Ripa!" said the landlady to the old man. "This is no
Jew-Madame, but the spouse of my lord, Baron Hátszegi. Show your manners
if you have any and thank her for the honour."

The old rascal rose from his bench with cunning humility and twisting up
both ends of his gray moustache, politely kissed Henrietta's hand, and
would have paid the same compliment to Clementina if the landlady had
not prevented him by shouting: "Leave her alone, she is only a sort of
servant!"

With that she led the ladies into the inner room, where were two lofty
bedsteads reaching to the beams above, covered with bright bedding and
prettily painted over with tulips and roses. In the window screens were
wide-spreading rosemary and musk plants. In front of one of the great
chests stood a spinning wheel. From this the landlady, winter and
summer, spun off that fine thread from which were woven those bright and
gay handkerchiefs which could be seen bobbing about in the doorway of
the inn from afar. One would never have expected to find such ease and
comfort in a _csárdá_ of the _puszta_.

The landlady very politely divested Henrietta of her travelling clothes,
made a soft resting place for her with cushions in an arm-chair, put a
stool beneath her feet, and in less time than it took to draw a breath,
totted up ten different kinds of dishes that she might choose from them
the one she liked best. Perhaps she would like some leaf-cake? It was
just cooking and would be served up immediately, and she began spreading
the table with a nice horse-cloth. Clementina whispered Henrietta to
beware of poison, whereupon Henrietta told the landlady that she _would_
have a bit of that nice dish, and when it came she really enjoyed it,
though she did not know what it was, at which the landlady was
infinitely pleased.

Meanwhile Hátszegi came in after seeing that the carriages were put into
a dry place. He took no notice of the poor vagabonds, but hastily
demanded a change of clothes, as his own were soaking, and was amazed to
see Henrietta handling her knife and fork so well; it was the first time
on the whole journey that she had eaten with appetite. Henrietta said
that this peasant roast suited her taste.

"And now, Dame Kardos, will you put the ladies up for the night?" said
Hátszegi to the woman of the _csárdá_.

"Certainly," returned the worthy woman, "I have feather mattresses
enough and bedsteads enough for as many guests of quality as your
lordship likes. This bed will be my lord baron's and this my lady's, and
this the lady attendant's!"

"Not so quick, not so quick! I shall not lie here."

"Not lie here?" cried this child of the _puszta_. "Why, pray?"

"Oh! I'll find some place or other in the tap-room outside."

"It's a way great folks have, I suppose," murmured Dame Kardos,
shrugging her shoulders, "but I never saw or heard the likes of it
before."

"But, my lord," lisped Clementina, greatly agitated, "won't those wild
vagabonds outside disturb you?"

"Me?" exclaimed Hátszegi, "how the devil can they disturb _me_?"

"They are such wicked men, surely?"

"I don't care what sort of men they are." And with that he went out with
the utmost _sang froid_; nay, as Clementina herself noticed, he drew
forth his pocket pistols and left them behind him on the table.

"His lordship has no need to fear such men," the landlady reassured the
ladies, "for he can talk to them in their own lingo."

Henrietta did not understand. Did robbers then speak a dialect peculiar
to themselves? She became quite curious to hear how Hátszegi would speak
to the robbers in their own language.

But the landlady knew exactly what to do. She filled a _kulacs_[11] for
the baron and placed it on the table before him. Hátszegi took a good
pull at it, dried the mouth of the _kulacs_ and passed it on to the old
pockmarked vagabond who, after raising his cap, took a little drop
himself and then passed it on to the others.

[Footnote 11: A wooden field-flask.]

"Well, old fellow, is the wine good?"

"Wine is always good."

"Have you had enough?"

"One can never have enough."

"Then God grant you plenty!--By the way, does the wind still blow
through the crevices of the prison door at Arad?"

"It blows for him who lists to it. Let him who likes it not close his
ears to it."

"Have many children been born to the governor of the jail lately?"[12]

[Footnote 12: Whenever a new convict arrives at the jail, the governor
is said to have another son born to him.--_Jókai_.]

"Yes, lots have been born there--and christened too."[13]

[Footnote 13: _i.e._, with stripes.--_Jókai_.]

"Has the daughter of the cord[14] been married lately?"

[Footnote 14: A flowery expression for the gallows.--_Jókai_.]

"Only Marczi Csendes has been elevated lately. He was a fool. He took
the crime of two comrades on his shoulders in order to let them go free.
They were caught in the act, but he swore he did the deed. They were
young bloods, you see, and he had nobody to care for him. And yet it was
they who presented the empty pistol at the Jew's head. The Jew himself
pointed them out, but Marczi steadfastly maintained that it was he who
frightened the fellow."

"So they made him cold against the winter time?"

"Yes, but he didn't very much care. The hour before his execution he
took an affectionate leave of his comrades, and to me he bequeathed his
warm old sheepskin. When the priest asked him whether he had anything
upon his conscience, he merely said the only thing that grieved him was
the thought that he would never again be able in this life to eat his
fill of well peppered _gulyás_[15] such as old Ripa knew how to cook.
They humoured him, and I was sent into the kitchen to prepare it. My old
friend ate with a good appetite and wanted me to take a bit too; but my
throat felt as cramped as if they had already taken my measure round it
with the gallows rope. He gave each of the two heydukes who accompanied
him in the felon's car, one on his right, the other on his left, a
silver coin apiece. The heydukes told us afterwards that when he got
outside he rose up in the car and addressed the people. He was a tall,
handsome fellow with red cheeks, long black hair and a fine sonorous
voice like any chaplain's. His last words were: 'Well, I now look upon
this fair world for the last time.'"

[Footnote 15: Hungarian pilau.]

"Did he leave behind him any new songs," enquired Hátszegi. "He was
always a famous singer."

"Yes, one he made in jail, and a splendid song it was too, I can tell
you. Bandi! pipe it to his lordship on your _tilinka_ as I have taught
you." At these words one of the youths drew forth from his sleeve one of
those flutes made of elder-wood, which in Hungarian goes by the name of
a _tilinka_, and which with its poor six holes is able to give forth as
many variations as the throat of a lark; then, without any virtuoso airs
he simply piped the plaintive melody.

The baron was immensely pleased. "Margari," cried he, "go to the
carriage, look for my fiddle and bring it hither!"

At this command poor Margari had a veritable ague fit of terror. All
this time he had remained ducking down in the carriage firmly persuaded
that the robbers in this lonely place would cut down every mother's son
of them at nightfall. In such a case he was prepared to swear that he
had never belonged to the party at all, but would pretend he was only a
poor tramp, and so escape that way. And now the baron had ruined his
little plan by ordering him to come forth! The robbers would now
absolutely believe that he also was a swell. Oh, it is a frightful
situation when a poor devil has managed to get a 100 gulden into his
purse for the first time in his life and is obliged the very next
evening to put up at an inn full of robbers! What the devil did the
baron want with the fiddle at all? And then what sort of a thing _was_ a
fiddle? When a man is terrified he easily mistakes one thing for another
and Margari's first experiment was to carry in to the baron a long
leaden box containing the territorial chart of the Kengyelesy
estate--was that what his lordship wanted?

"Have you lost your wits, Margari? How could you possibly get a fiddle
into that? Or has the fellow never cast eyes on a fiddle? Bandi, you go
and look in the carriage for the fiddle!"

But this was not at all to Margari's liking. What, send that vagabond to
the carriage to ferret about there! His lordship must have clean taken
leave of his senses. Why, in the carriage was Margari's own brand-new
mantle, for which he had paid nine and twenty gulden. The vagabond would
be sure to lay his hands upon it. No, he would rather go to look for the
fiddle himself. So he found the violin case at last somehow, and handing
it to the baron through the _csárdá_ window (for he durst not trust
himself inside), he retired again beneath the coach-house, although the
rain was now splashing down upon it.

Baron Leonard took from its morocco case his splendid Straduarius, that
relic of the greatest master of fiddle-making, for which he had paid a
small fortune, and following the lead of the young vagabond's _tilinka_
played the bitter-sweet melancholy air on the sonorous instrument, and
at the third trial he enriched it with so many variations as to astonish
everyone. Then Ripa became enthusiastic and chimed in with his hoarse
old voice.

When the baron once had the violin in his hands, he was not content with
playing a single song, one melody enticed another forth, and so, one
after another, his fiddle-bow ran through all those rhapsodies of the
last century, those compositions of the "Gipsy-Beethoven," Bihari, and
other great popular masters, with the most classical variations. Princes
listen not to such a concert as now resounded through that wretched,
desolate _csárdá_. Even Henrietta arose from her couch the better to
enjoy these melancholy airs. If ever in her life, it was at this moment
that she beheld her husband in an aureole of dazzling light which
irresistibly attracted, overpowered, subdued.

One thing, however, struck her as strange, incredible--how could a
fashionable man brought up in the atmosphere of elegant saloons, find
any pleasure in playing _bravoura_ pieces in the tap room of a miserable
_csárdá_ to an audience of half-tipsy vagabonds? Was this an habitual
diversion of these wealthy magnates, or was it only Hátszegi's bizarre
humour?

However, when "the lads" began to chime in a little too vigourously,
Hátszegi restored the violin to its case, took out his pocket-book,
opened it before them all and nonchalantly displayed as he did so the
bundles of thousand-gulden notes which it contained. Nay, he searched
among them for stray ten-gulden notes and gave one to each of the four
vagabonds "for the fine song they had taught him"--that was the way he
put it--at the same time requesting them to quit the tap-room, as the
ladies in the adjoining chamber wanted to sleep and must not be kept
awake by any further noise. The vagabonds must seek a couch elsewhere.

The vagabonds, without the slightest objection, arose, drank up the
dregs of the wine, pocketed the bank-notes without so much as a "thank
you!" and settled down for the night on the roof of the coach-house--to
the great terror of Margari, who was concealed in one of the coaches and
did not have a wink of sleep all night, his teeth chattered so.

But Hátszegi, when the drinkers had withdrawn, spread out his hunting
pelisse on the long table, laid down thereon and quietly fell asleep. He
did not even shut the door, nor did he have his pistols by him.

In the adjoining chamber, meanwhile, the _csárdá_-woman had brought out
her spindle, set all its many wheels a-working and began to tell her
ladyship a lot of those wondrous tales that have neither beginning nor
end, _puszta_ adventures, the atrocities of vagabonds and their
fellows, the sad love stories of poor deserted maidens and such like.
And all the while the wheels of the spindle whirr-whirr-whirred
monotonously, and Henrietta felt like a little child whose nurse sits
beside her bed and lulls her to sleep with fairy tales. For weeks she
had not enjoyed so quiet and dreamless a slumber as she had that night
beneath the roof of the _csárdá_ in the midst of the lonely _puszta_.

Next morning Clementina, after first making quite sure that nobody had
had his or her throat cut during the night, was moved by curiosity to
ask what sort of connection his lordship had with this _csárdá_ since he
seemed to know everybody in it. And then she learnt that not only this
_csárdá_ but the whole of the surrounding _puszta_ also was the property
of his lordship, for which the people who lived upon it paid very little
rent, inasmuch as his lordship did not look upon it as a source of
income but chiefly valued it on account of its numerous reedy lakes
where he was wont every year to hunt water-fowl and beavers on a grand
scale. Moreover, from this spot to his own house, a good two days'
journey by foot, everything belonged to his lordship's estate. Nay, his
lordship, if he liked, could traverse the whole kingdom from Deva to
Pest, and be on his own property the whole time, it was only like moving
from one of his houses to another.

The next day the Hungarian plain came to an end and the Transylvanian
Alps drew nearer and nearer. In the evening they descended into a little
mining town whose forges and furnaces were all illuminated in honour of
the arriving guests. Henrietta then learnt that this mining town also
belonged to her husband.

On the third day, quite early in the morning, they crossed the
Transylvanian frontier. The whole of that splendid region seemed to
smile, but the faces of its inhabitants are sad and mysterious.
Henrietta had a peculiar sense of anxiety during her stay among these
angry looking people who spoke a language she had never heard before. At
intervals of a mile all along the road a roughly carved cross shot up,
covered with clumsily carved letters, which did not in the least
resemble those we are accustomed to. Clementina once asked the coachman
what these crosses might mean and repented doing so immediately
afterwards, for he informed her that they marked the places where
unlucky travellers had come by an untimely death; the inscriptions were
the records of the tragic romances through the scene of which they were
passing.

The valleys grew narrower and narrower, the road wound upward among
precipices, and the loquacious coachman attached horrible stories to
every rock and ruin. Each valley seemed to have its own particular
ghost.

Here and there by the roadside stood silent houses not one of which had
an inviting appearance, it would never have occurred to a human soul to
knock at any of them, even at midnight, to ask for a night's lodging.
They were all of them sooty dilapidated shanties, which might easily
have been taken for stables, consisting of a single room in which the
whole family lived, livestock and all. The church often lay far away
from the settlement as if it belonged to two villages equally.

Then the road rose again between bare and barren cliffs, where only here
and there a solitary bush seemed to cling to the rocky wall. There was
no trace of a garden, but here and there was a fenced in space in which
the Roumanians are wont to unload their hay, with a long pole sticking
up in the midst of the hay ricks to prevent the wind from carrying it
away, or else the hay was piled up on the branch of a living tree like a
bird's nest.

Down-pouring mountain streams traversed the path at intervals, over
which never a bridge is built, all cars and coaches must cross by the
fords. From the depths of the wooded mountain slopes was reflected the
blood-red glare of iron works and foundries, and the droaning monotonous
din of the machinery scares away the stillness till it loses itself in
the loud murmuring of the mountain torrents.

At every fresh mile, Henrietta felt how lonely she was in this strange
world, whose giant mountains shut her out from the very prospect of the
familiar places from which she had come and from every possibility of
returning; and whose inhabitants would not even be able to answer her if
she were to ask them: "Which is the way back to my native place?"

They travelled onwards till late at night by the light of the moon.
Hidvár was now close at hand. As the prospect opened out on both sides,
at the turn of a narrow defile, suddenly, like a picture in a black
frame, between two mountain slopes, thickly covered with dark
beech-trees, the castle of Hidvár came full in view, standing lonely and
isolated on the summit of a hill. The mountain torrent shot swiftly down
beneath a shaky bridge. The round moon stood straight over the tower of
the castle, as if it had been impaled on the point of it, and painted
everything with its silvery light, the tower, the bastions, the brook
and the valley--only one thing it brightened not, the heart of the young
wife.



CHAPTER VII

THE CAVERN OF LUCSIA


Not so very long ago there was in Transylvania a wide-spreading society
of coiners which, it is now notorious, had carried on its nefarious
business undetected for more than half a century. The science was an
inheritance descending from father to son, people married and were born
into it. Careful parents trained their children to follow it, and a very
lucrative profession it proved to be. That it should have remained
undiscovered for so long a time, that it should have been plied
successfully for more than fifty years under the very noses of the
authorities--all this was capable of a very simple explanation, _these
men coined gold pieces_.

Yes, genuine ducats, of full weight, out of real three-and-twenty carat
gold, without any admixture of baser metal, so that they absolutely
could not be distinguished from the royal ducats of the authorized
minting towns, Körmöcz and Gyulafehervár. If they fell into the hands of
a goldsmith, and he melted them, he found that they did not contain half
a grain more silver than the genuine ones. Indeed the public lost
nothing by their fabrication, though the state treasury suffered
considerably.

The whole region, in fact, from Zalathna to Verespatak abounded in that
precious metal which some fool or other has called "a mere chimera," and
the gold mining was farmed out to private individuals, the yearly output
from the shafts being twelve hundredweights. These private diggers are
bound to deliver the gold they obtain to the minting towns at Abradbanya
or Gyulafehervár and there receive coined money in exchange.
Nevertheless, during some fifty years, only about six hundredweights
were delivered annually at these places; the rest disappeared, though at
first nobody could suspect it. The State pays to the diggers 441 guldens
for every pound of gold dust, which quantity when coined is worth 720
guldens. But it occurred to the mountaineers that they also might
profitably engage in coining and circulate the money so coined. So they
provided themselves with all the necessary implements and machinery
(there were skilled workmen among them) and issued false ducats to their
very great advantage. Their existence was not even suspected except by
the parties interested in the concern, and they had every motive in the
world for preserving the secret.

       *       *       *       *       *

Travelling from Abradbanya up towards Bucsum, one might have seen two
riders toiling up the mountain along the stream overshadowed by dark
alders; one of them was a grey-haired, gigantic Roumanian, the other a
proud-looking young woman. The old man wore a lambskin mantle, on his
head he carried a tall pointed cap, also of lambs' wool, drawn down over
his eyebrows, his body was carelessly girdled with a golden girdle. His
rich grey locks were plaited into two thick pig-tails which reached down
to his broad shoulders, and his snow-white moustache hung down from his
mouth like two seamew's wings. A coarse sack lay in front of him across
his saddle, both ends of which appeared to be full of something heavy;
across the sack lay his fowling-piece.

The fair cavalier was sitting on a small, wild, shaggy horse, which
constantly evinced a praiseworthy endeavour to overtake the rider in
front of him; his mistress with difficulty held him in. She was one of
those famous Roumanian beauties. Her features, the cut of her lips, her
full chin could have stood as a model beside any antique statue. And
then those sparkling eyes, that vividly red complexion, those coal-black
eyebrows--they made an ideal beauty of her. And the picturesque
Roumanian costume enhanced her charms. Her black hair, twisted into a
double plait, was bound round with a flaming-red scarf, and on her head
she wore a round hat, trimmed with pearls and garnished in front with a
row of gold pieces which reached down to her marble-white forehead.
Moreover, her fine cambric shirt embellished with bright flowers and
gold ornaments fitted so closely as to betray the outlines of her
harmonious figure. Wound ten times round her neck she wore a necklace
of gold coins extending down to her bosom. As she rode along (and she
sat astride her saddle like a man), every now and then one could catch
glimpses beneath her variegated girdle of her red morocco boots and of a
Turkish dagger, with a massive silver handle, gleaming forth from their
shafts. On each side of her holsters peeped forth a double-barrelled
pistol with an ivory handle.

When the old man stopped to water his horse at the spring gushing forth
from the black slate rock, he said to the girl: "Anicza, when did you
speak last with Fatia Negra?"

"Just a month ago. It was at the time of the full moon, like it is now.
He then said that he was going away on a long journey."

"And yet he has already been at home these two days. I saw his sign over
against my window."

"Impossible. It cannot be," cried the girl passionately.

"What cannot be? Do you think I am dreaming or lying?"

"If he were at home, he would have come to see me ere this."

The old man shrugged his shoulders.

"And yet he did not come. But the day before yesterday, about midnight,
I found the three owl-feathers there in the window."

"The wind carried them thither."

"The wind did not carry them thither for they were stuck fast in putty.
And only we three know what that means. Fatia Negra would speak with us
and we are going to meet him in the Lucsia cavern."

"It cannot, cannot be--three days at home and never to come to me--to
_me_!"

"Who knows?" said the old man coolly, tightening his saddle girth, "a
whole month is a long while, long enough for the moon herself to change
four times. There are many pretty wenches on the other side of the
mountain."

"O no! such a one as I am he will not find there," said the girl
proudly, glancing into the tremulous water-mirror which threw back a
distorted likeness of her defiant face--"and besides he knows very well
that I should murder him were such a woman to mock me."

"Ah, ah!" mocked the old man, "so Fatia Negra is afraid of you,
eh?"--and with that he swung himself back into his saddle with
youth-like agility. "Black Face fears nobody, I tell you. He is not even
afraid of the commandant of Gyulafehervár, nor of the lord-lieutenant of
Krasna, and they have no end of soldiers and heydukes. Nay, he fears not
the devil himself."

And with that he urged on his horse which ambled forward meditatively,
whilst the girl's little nag whinnied in the rear.

"He may not fear the great gentlemen, he may not fear the devil, but I
tell you that he would be afraid of the girl he made to love him, if he
proved false to her."

"So you really think he loves you violently?" said the old man casting a
backward glance at her.

"He swore he did."

"To whom? the priest?"

"Go along with you! No, to me!"

At this the old man chuckled--"little fool!" said he.

"And if he breaks his oath now, the devil shall have him. I'll murder
him."

"Very well, I suppose you know him. Yet you have never seen his face. If
he were to tear the black velvet mask from his face you would never
recognize him."

"But that he cannot do as to that mask he owes all his power."

"Well, you are a comical wench--to be enamoured of a man whose face you
have never seen!"

"I recognize him by his voice, by the beating of his heart."

"Well, if I were a girl and had a lover, I would insist on seeing his
face. He should not come to me in a mask anyhow."

"He cannot put off his mask, I tell you. His oath forbids him to. The
moment he removes his mask from his face his power is gone, and neither
the devil nor the good angels will obey him any longer."

"That is true," returned the old man solemnly. "When he likes he can
make himself invisible. I know it. He has always escaped pursuit even
when the whole country was out after him, and when they thought they had
him fast he always disappeared in the earth or in the air. Yet, for all
that, if I were his love, see his face I would."

"He told me I should die of fright if I beheld it."

"Then I _would_ die of fright--but I would see it."

"His eyes are very fine,--they glow like coals."

"Like coals? Perhaps he is the Dracu[16] himself. Have you ever tried to
make him kiss the amulet on which is the image of St. George and the
Dragon?"

[Footnote 16: Dracu-dragon, _i.e._, devil.]

"Yes he has kissed it and was none the worse."

"Have you tried to get him to lay his three fingers on a copper
crucifix?"

"He laid his fingers thereon and yet they were not burnt."

"Can he say the prayer of condemnation without trembling?"

"He has said it hundreds of times."

"Nevertheless, I maintain he is no mortal man."

"If he should love another woman, I swear that he will very soon find
out that he _is_ mortal."

Talking thus the riders had descended into the depths of the valley, and
when the mountain stream again crossed their path they quitted the usual
footpath and followed the bed of the stream. And a very good road it is
for such as do not wish to leave foot-marks behind them. The rapid
current swiftly fills the traces of the horses' hoofs with leaves and
pebbles.

The ravine grew ever deeper and narrower, and the stream at intervals
formed small cataracts which the horses, who had been trained thereto,
had to cross. Finally, at a sudden declivity, the water took an
unexpected leap of four yards, and when the riders reined up at this
very spot, it was plain that here a mill had been built into the
hillside, whose wheel it was which drove the swiftly plunging water
along.

If a stranger saw this mill he would certainly say: "What foolish man
the miller must be who has built his mill here," (----) and that for
three reasons. Firstly, because it was so concealed beneath the thick
alders that even if one sees it one cannot get at it. Secondly, because
it is built exactly under the water-fall which drives the wheel as
rapidly as a spindle, so that the millstone must needs be red hot
beneath it. Thirdly, because the way to this mill is so peculiar,
passing right through the mountain torrent and then winding down to the
door by way of a foot-path hewn in the naked rock, and inaccessible to
horses. Well, such a miller will surely get but little grain to grind!

When the two riders reached this spot they sprang from their horses, led
them into a little dry islet formed by the alders and tied them by
their halters to the branches. Then the old man lifted the sack from
the saddle.

"Give me a lift up, Anicza!" said he.

One would hardly have supposed that an old fellow of such a colossal
build would have required any help at all in order to get this sack
across his shoulders, nor would one have supposed from the size of the
sack that it would have been so heavy to lift or that it would have
weighed so heavily on the old man's shoulders that he had to plant his
hand firmly on his hip in order to carry the load.

Then the girl drew both pistols forth from her holsters, stuck them into
her girdle, threw the long fowling-piece across her shoulder and
springing fearlessly across the stream from boulder to boulder followed
behind the stooping old man along the narrow foot-path which led to the
mill. In the doorway of the mill stood a youth clad in the usual coarse
cloth "_guba_" and half concealed by the door post. In one hand he held
a double-barrelled musket, an implement not absolutely necessary for a
miller. The old man addressed him while still a good way off:

"_Che timpu?_"[17]

[Footnote 17: What sort of weather?]

"_Luna plina._"[18]

[Footnote 18: Full moon.]

A strange sort of greeting, more like an exchange of pass-words.

Then both the new arrivals entered the mill in the midst of which a
dilapidated grinding machine was revolving, the central wheel was minus
a couple of teeth.

"Plenty of grinding going on, Paul?" asked the old man.

"Quite enough."

"Help me down with this sack."

"It is heavy certainly," said the other, panting beneath the strain,
"how much does it hold?"

"A hundredweight and eighty pounds."

"No mere Turkish maize, eh?"

"Stop the wheel!"

The young man at once obeyed by driving an iron beam clean through the
wheel which brought the machinery to a standstill. Then he raised the
central revolving disc which was in connection with the millstone, hung
in the hook of the millstone an iron chain which was wound round the
beam and this done, laid the sack and its contents on the bolting-hutch.
Then the old man himself, sat down on the hutch and extended his hand to
the girl. "Jump on Anicza." And the girl jumped on without help for she
was as agile as a chamois.

"Paul," said the old man to the young journeyman, "was not Fatia Negra
here before us?"

"He has not been through here either to-day or yesterday. It has been my
turn to watch these last two days."

"I am right you see; he is not here," said the girl.

"He _is_ here, I tell you."

"Come Onucz," said the youth, "can Black Face make himself invisible
then? He could not pass here without my knowing it!"

"What do you know about it?" answered the old man, adjusting himself on
the bolting-hutch. "Let the mill go!"

As now the revolving disc or platform began to move, the machinery stood
still, yet the millstone together with the bolting-hutch began slowly to
sink downwards together with those sitting upon it, and after some
moments, disappeared entirely into a dark gulf, the chain unwinding and
rattling after it. Suddenly from the depths below resounded the old
man's voice: "Halt!" Then Paul stopped the mill, hung the chain in an
iron ring and the machinery once more set in motion, raised the
millstone up, Paul fastened the revolving disc to it and it began to
rattle round again so furiously that sparks flew out of it. Now whoever
had any meal to grind might come, he was quite ready for them.

It was a huge subterraneous cavern into which Onucz and Anicza had
descended. At the bottom of this hollow flowed a branch of the mountain
stream which turned the mill and indeed was diverted thither by means of
wooden pipes. Here, however, it flowed in its regular bed, glistening
here and there in the light of two oil lamps which burnt on both sides
of a small iron bridge that traversed the stream.

In the background of this hollow stood a peculiar, roofless, stone
building, whose two round little windows, like the eternally watchful
eyes of some underground worm, shone with a red glare which dazzled the
eyes, while the slate-covered chimney belched forth a thick smoke filled
with sparks into the subterranean midnight.

From the interior of the building resounded heavy thuds and the din of
grinding as of machinery in perpetual motion which made the very
foundations of the rocks quiver. On the bridge stood another armed man
with whom the new arrivals exchanged watchwords and the same thing was
done at the door of the stone building where the old man made the girl
stop.

"Now Anicza," said he, "while I go in, you sit down on that stone bench
and wait for me."

"Why cannot I go into the house as well?" enquired the girl,
impatiently.

"No more of that. Once a year we come here and every time you ask again
if you can come in, and every time I tell you that cannot be. And now I
tell you once more: _it cannot be_--and there's an end on't."

"But why may others go in and I not?"

"Why--why! because you are a girl, of course. Leave me in peace. Women
have no business in there, they are always so inquisitive, want to know
everything and then blab it all out--it is their nature so."

"I'm not like that."

"And then whoever enters here has to swear a frightful oath that he
will divulge nothing that he sees. I myself shudder all over when I have
to repeat it; it is not fit for the mouth of a woman."

"As if _I_ were afraid of any oath!" cried the girl defiantly. "I would
say any thing that a man might say."

"Don't be a fool, Anicza. A girl cannot come in here, because everyone
has to strip himself stark naked before he goes out, before the
watchman, and then dress himself again. So you see it won't do."

This difficulty appeared insuperable even to the iron will of Anicza. It
was a test even she could not submit to. She stamped her foot with rage
and uttered again and again the word Dracu, which in Roumanian means
nothing less than his highness the devil himself.

Old Onucz and the watchman thereupon laughed heartily, and the same
instant the iron door of the building opened and the girl exclaimed
joyfully: "Fatia Negra!"

Onucz and the watchman immediately tore their caps from their heads. It
was, indeed, Fatia Negra.

How could he get hither invisibly through all the ambushes set for him?
Who could tell? Who had the courage to ask him? Not even Anicza. All she
thought of at that moment was to rush forward, fall upon the neck of her
mysterious lover and cover his eyes and mouth, which the mask left
exposed, with kisses.

"Let Anicza come in!" said the black-masked man, "I'll answer for her,
and she shall, like myself, be exempted from undressing."

"It is well, Domnule,"[19] said the watchman, "but let her at least take
the oath which everyone here must swear."

[Footnote 19: Master.]

"I am ready," cried the girl boldly.

"No, Anicza," replied Black Mask, "you shall swear to me a stronger oath
even than that, you shall swear--by our eternal love."

The proud maiden, trembling with joy, fell at the feet of Fatia Negra at
these words, and pressing one of her hands to her heart, raised the
other aloft, and, raising her lovely eyes--which reflected the infernal
glare of the windows--aloft, towards the smoking canopy above her head,
she swore by her eternal love to her beloved that she would never, not
even on the rack itself, betray a word, a syllable of what she was about
to learn.

But old Onucz scratched his poll.

"Domnule, it is not wise of you to let women swear on such useless
things. It is just as if one of us were to hold a penny in his hand and
swear by that. It binds nobody."

"It is enough for me," replied the Mask, "and my head is no cheaper than
yours. Let him who trusts me not keep away from here."

And holding the girl in his arms, he carried her with him into the
building while old Onucz had to dress himself from head to foot in other
clothes and leave those he had brought with him outside. He would have
on his return to put on his own again and leave these others behind.
Thus smuggling was impossible.

The first room was for the smelting.

Here there was nothing to be seen of the blazing fire which illuminated
the dark hollow through the windows, in one corner of the room was a
simple cylinder shaped iron furnace which radiated a burning heat, on
the top of which stood a round graphite crucible covered in at the top
and provided with a lateral pipe.

"Here the gold is remelted after it has come out of the purifying oven,"
said Fatia Negra to the girl who pressed close up to him. "Heretofore it
required a whole apparatus of boilers and loads and loads of wood to
bring it to smelting heat, but since I got that cylinder-stove, ten
hundredweights of metal can be melted in ten minutes."

"But where does the fire come from?" enquired the girl.

"From the earth, my beloved."

The girl shrank back with horror, and yet Fatia Negra did not mean hell
but that furnace whose powerful bellows drove the melting heat into the
double cylinder.

He looked at his watch, the moment had come. At a single whistle a
couple of workmen appeared, each of them stripped to the waist on
account of the great heat; they held in their hands large iron moulds
and stood facing each other opposite the crucible. Then by means of an
iron tap Fatia Negra turned the pipe of the crucible and immediately a
pale glare began to spread through the room--the liquid gold ran in a
thin jet out of the crucible and that was the cause of the light.
Actually genuine pure gold made liquid in the fire like wine in a glass
and emitting on every side of it a glowing white radiance! Each of the
two workmen held his mould beneath it and the girl surveyed the scene
with bated breath.

When the operation was finished Black Face turned to the girl again and
embraced her saying: "So you see, darling, that is how gold is melted."
The girl smiled back at him; what a pity the Black Mask could not smile
in return. And now old Onucz came up with his sack for the purifying
furnace.

"How much have you in your sack?" asked Fatia Negra.

"A hundredweight and eighty pounds."

"Now we'll see into how much pure gold it will work out."

"The dross mixed with it is only a few pounds in weight."

"Of what quality is it?"

"Well, they purify it very incompletely you know. It is only
two-and-twenty carat gold."

"It doesn't matter: we will coin Prussian ducats out of it."

"But where's the mould?"

"I brought it with me, to-day; we'll adjust that also to the machine.
We shall gain a hundred florins in every thousand."

Old Onucz kissed Fatia Negra's hand. "Domnule," said he, "you are a man
indeed. Domnule, since you became our chief our gains have doubled and
the ducats are so good that one cannot distinguish them from the
Imperial ones."

Meanwhile the girl felt her head going round to hear them talk of
nothing but money, gold, gain!

"Come Onucz, let us look at the new machinery," said the Mask.

"When did you bring the new machinery here?"

"A long time ago; we have coined a great deal of money since it first
came. The work is all the quicker and we need fewer men to work it."

They went into the next room through a low door, all three of them
having to bow their heads as they entered, and there they saw a gigantic
machine at work between whose revolving cylinders depended the long gold
ingots which were gradually reduced to the proper thinness for making
gold coins.

"Don't you see, Onucz? Hitherto we wasted too much time and labour in
cutting the gold plates thin enough and the edges were always too thick
to our great loss. Now the machine rolls them all out uniformly. It only
cost 10,000 ducats."

"Very cheap indeed!" cried the old man, who was wearing a ragged
sheepskin and yet considered ten thousand ducats a moderate price for a
rolling mill.

The Mask took up one of the little glistening plates.

"Do you know, my friend, the name of this?" said he.

"No."

"Its name is Zain. In order that you may not forget it I will wind it
round your arm." And as if it were merely hard paper he lightly bent the
gold plate round the girl's wrist and then pressed the ends of this
improvised bracelet together with his steel-like fingers. "Don't forget
that this is called Zain and that you got it from me."

The girl looked doubtfully at him as if she would have said: "Is it
lawful for you to give away everything here as if it were your own."

But the old man could not look on at this in silence. "Alas! alas!
Domnule, give not away uncoined gold. Rather squander coined gold in
heaps. The other is of itself a witness against us and thereby we shall
furnish a clue to our enemies."

"It is in a good place," replied Fatia Negra; "it is on Anicza's arm and
there it will keep silence."

Anicza replied to this apology with ten kisses. And she calculated
rightly. This necklace weighed exactly ten double ducats--but the kisses
also were double ones.

Then Fatia Negra led them to another machine which cut round gold
pieces out of the rolled out "Zain." He showed the girl how every
clipper, how every screw beneath the impulsion of the piston did its
proper share of the work, and how the whole process was set going by
steam power from without and could therefore be directed and controlled
by one man with another man to relieve him at intervals.

"Dumnezu!"[20] sighed old Onucz, "when I think that fifty years ago we
did all this with only our hammers and chisels! We sweated two whole
days over a piece of work which this marvel can do in an hour. And how
many hands we employed too!"

[Footnote 20: My master.]

Then they went to another machine. This was a small table whose steel
wheels notched the ducats before they passed beneath the stamping
machine. Perpetually moving elastic springs pushed the gold pieces
forward one after the other, turned them round and jerked them away. You
saw no other motive power but a large wheel revolving under a broad
strap; the strap disappeared through the floor, it was underneath there
that the man who set it in motion lived.

Old Onucz sighed aloud. "What things they do invent now-a-days," said
he.

But Anicza, full of superstitious fear, clung silently to the arm of
Fatia Negra whom all these speechless marvels served and obeyed.
Finally, descending six stone steps they entered the actual minting
room.

A gigantic screw press stood in the midst of the low vaulted chamber.
Through the head of the screw was driven a long moving bar, with leaden
bullets at both ends and two strong fellows were pushing this bar
backwards and forwards; the weight of the machine, as it turned, forced
the screw sharply down and in a second it pressed the two round gold
pieces laid in the steel matrix into the stamping dies, on one of which
was the image of the Mother of God and on the other the cuirassed
likeness of the reigning monarch. Immediately after the two matrices
recoiled again of their own accord and the two powerful men repeated the
pressure. Then a little steel ring shifted suddenly, flinging aside the
coined ducat, and a fresh gold piece took its place. The coined ducats
already lay in a heap in front of the machine and the workmen, now and
then, kicked them away with their feet.

There was something impressive in the spectacle. Here were two poor men,
working hard perhaps for their daily bread with little hillocks of
seductive gold piled up all around them, gold of which everyone is
enamoured in the earth above them, gold for which so many men gladly
give up everything, even to their hope in Heaven!

Now and again a third man comes in and pitches the gold into a linen
sack with a wooden shovel.

"Let us stamp a few ducats ourselves by way of souvenirs," said Fatia
Negra. Anicza assenting, the workmen stepped aside, and Fatia Negra and
the girl placed themselves on either side of the leaden bullets on the
turning bar.

The Mask bade his sweetheart be careful to avoid the recoil of the
machine for should the handle hit her the blow might prove fatal,
whereupon the girl, burning to show off her great strength, did not wait
for the end of the bar to recover its normal position, but seizing the
iron rod when it was only half way round, tore it back again, with the
result that the steel clapper did not cast the gold piece between the
matrices in the usual way and it thus received a double impression,
being stamped with a two-fold figure of the Mother of God on one side
and a two-fold figure of the royal profile on the other.

Old Onucz rushed towards Anicza and angrily tore her away:

"You little fool, be off!" cried he, "you will spoil the machine, it is
not for the likes of you."

But Fatia Negra now picked up the ducat which had fallen to the ground
and showed it with a smile to Anicza: "Look," said he, "there is now a
double picture on it."

The girl turned it curiously between her fingers.

"And what will happen to it now?"

"It will go into the smelting furnace again."

"Ah, don't destroy it, give it to me!"

At this the old man fairly lost his temper.

"Are you out of your mind to ask for such a thing? What! a ducat with a
flaw in it, which, if seen in your hands would saddle us with the
vengeance of the whole government! Domnule, be not so mad as to let her
have that ducat! If she has no sense, you at least be sensible. You
might ruin the whole lot of us with it."

"Well, Anicza will not wear it on her head, I suppose, or even on her
neckerchief, but will fasten it to a little bit of thread and wear it
next her heart, there nobody will find it but myself."

Onucz would very much have liked to say: "Neither have you any right to
look there, Domnule, for you have not yet spoken to the priest about
it"--but this was the one thing he durst not say.

But Anicza gratefully kissed Fatia Negra's hand like a child who has
received a gift, not indeed for the ducat, but for the boundless
confidence he had shown in giving it to her, which was the surest token
of his love. Then she drew forth a little Turkish dagger, bored a hole
with it through the ducat and fastened it to a little piece of thin
black cord by the side of her little crucifix which she wore upon her
bosom--and hid both of them away again.

"Well Domnule," remarked Onucz sulkily, "since we have placed our heads
in the girl's hands we must beware of ever offending her."

But now the assayer came up, bringing with him a nice elaborate
calculation on a black slate, showing exactly how much pure gold Onucz
had handed in to the coining department, how much it would be worth when
coined and deducting three per cent for expenses, how much he was to
receive in cash by way of exchange.

"And now go and let the cashier pay you what is due to you, Onucz," said
Fatia Negra.

And so while he remained behind for the purpose of settling his account
Anicza and Fatia Negra retired to a little adjoining chamber. There
would be plenty of time for two lovers to talk over their love affairs
while so many gold coins were being counted out.

"Where have you been? it's a whole month since I saw you?" asked Anicza
sitting on the adventurer's knee. "Do you know how long a month is to
me? First quarter, new moon, full moon, last quarter, all this have I
watched through and never saw you once, where have you been?"

"I have been abroad for those new machines. That is a business one
cannot entrust to another."

"Are there pretty girls abroad?--Might you not fall in love with them?"

"Hush! Those are not the questions that men should be asked."

"Why not?"

"Because men are not in the habit of answering them."

"But suppose a girl wants to know?"

"Then it will go badly with her. Besides, what do you want me to tell
you? Would you like to know that I'm such a block, a clod, that no
other eye but yours takes any pleasure in looking at me? Or would you
like to hear that I am a sort of hermit who has wandered in disguise
through seven kingdoms and casts down his eyes whenever he encounters a
petticoat? Or that I cross myself and turn away whenever a woman looks
at me? Or shall I tell you: in such and such a place I nipped the white
cheeks of a pretty blonde, and in such and such a place the coquettrie
of a pair of blue eyes made me forget myself, and in such another place
I bedded my intoxicated head in the arms of a brunette?--and that after
wandering through seven kingdoms I have found no lovelier girl than my
own enchanting Anicza?"

The girl could neither reply nor scold, for her mouth was closed fast
with kisses.

"You know I am very jealous," she said at last, when she was able to
tear herself free. "I do not love as others love. I can only think of
you and your love. I am neither hungry nor thirsty but only--in love. I
am never weary, I scarcely know that I am working, for love makes me
sing and sing all day. I dream only of you. I care not what is going on
in the whole world so long as I only know what is happening to you. I
know that you love me and that you are mine so long as you are here. But
how often you are far away! How often I do not see you for weeks, for
months at a time! Then I get nearly mad. I am determined to find out
where you are and what you are doing, with whom you are speaking and
then I say, I feel quite mad."

"Indeed! Then let me tell you, my dear girl, that it would do you no
good to know where I am, for I am much more exposed to the fire of
pointed rifles than to the fire of pretty eyes."

"Are you then a robber chieftain, a mountain smuggler?"

"I am a lot of things."

"Then take me with you into your band"--she spoke with heaving bosom.

But Fatia Negra stamped his foot.

"It cannot be, Anicza," said he; "think no more of it! I will never take
you with me."

"Why not?" asked the girl and her eyes flashed like a wild cat's.

"Because then I should become jealous of you and that would be bad for
us both. Remain in your father's house; there you are safe."

The girl drew from her bosom the defaced ducat she had just received
together with the crucifix.

"Hearken, Fatia Negra! my father says that this badly coined piece of
gold places your life in my hand. And know, besides, Fatia Negra, that I
have sworn on this Crucified One here that if ever you betray me I will
kill you in my fury without thinking twice about the how or where. It is
not well that two such dangerous objects should repose on my heart.
Look! I give them both to you."

"Wherefore, Anicza?"

"Take the things, I say, and keep them, for my guardian angel knows, I
have told him, that with me they are not in a safe place. You do not
know me yet."

The girl burst out crying, and Fatia Negra could no longer soothe her
with kisses, and then old Onucz poked his gray shaggy head through the
doorway and said: "I have been paid already, Domnule, have you?"

Fatia Negra stroked the girl's hair and face and whispered her not to
take on so.

The stitches of the old Roumanian's patience now, at last, gave way
altogether. "Domnule," said he, "would you not, if I earnestly besought
you to do so, begin to think of the day on which you intend to become my
daughter's husband?"

For a moment Fatia Negra seemed thunderstruck; then he recovered himself
and replied in a calm but menacing voice: "If ever it occurs to you to
put the question to me again, your head will reach home an hour earlier
than yourself."

The old man made no reply, but he seized the girl by the hand and led
her away with him, returning to the mill with her by the same way that
he had come. They found their horses by the alder trees and remounted.
It was a fine clear night, and Onucz told his daughter to ride in front.
They had now divided the coined gold into two portions. When they had
once more reached the ridge of the mountain the old man pronounced
Anicza's name in a low tone. The girl looked, backwards and perceived
that the old man's long-barrelled rifle was pointed directly at the back
of her head. In her terror she covered her face with her hands. "What
would you do?" cried she.

"Fear nothing, I only want that piece of gold which Fatia Negra gave
you. I'll not stake _my_ head on _your_ whimsies!"

The girl had anticipated something much worse than this, so she quietly
answered: "You can spare yourself the trouble, I have already returned
it to Fatia Negra. I would not carry it about with me any longer."

"You have acted wisely," said the old man, lowering his musket. "Now you
can ride on."

The early dawn was breaking as they reached home. When Anicza entered
her room she found hanging up beneath the ikon that gleamed and shone
over her bed both the damaged ducat and the little cross which she had
given to Fatia Negra two hours before. He must indeed be in league with
the devil--else how could he have got there, invisibly, so long before
them?

Anicza said not a word about it to anybody, but she hid both the amulets
safely away in her bosom again--and now she was right proud of her Fatia
Negra!



CHAPTER VIII

STRONG JUON


Henrietta's married life was not a happy one. Her husband was polite,
complaisant, and conventionally correct in his behaviour towards her,
and that was all. And then she saw so little of him. He was frequently
absent from Hidvár for weeks at a time, and when he returned he
regularly brought in his train a merry company of comrades, in whose
pastimes Henrietta could take no sort of pleasure.

During those long days when she had Hidvár all to herself and was left
entirely to the company of her sad thoughts, she would sometimes walk
about till late in the evening in the shady alleys of the home park,
listening to the songs of the girls working in the fields. At the end of
the park was a church, and in front of it a small clearing fenced around
with stakes and looking like a cabbage garden. It surely belonged to
some poor man or other. It did--and the poor man was the parish-priest.

Henrietta often saw him, a tall, grey-bearded man in a long black
cassock, hastening to his little garden; there the reverend gentleman
would divest himself of his long habit, produce a rake, and work till
late in the evening. Henrietta fancied at first that was merely a
dietetic diversion, but afterwards, when she found him there the next
day and the day after that, and at every hour of the day; when she saw
him wiping the sweat from his brow in the burning afternoons and leaning
wearily at intervals on his rake to rest a while from his labour, then
she was persuaded that this work was not a pastime, but a bitter toil
for daily bread.

Often times she would very much have liked to ask him how this was, but
she was a stranger in these parts and did not understand his language;
at last, however, the priest, perceiving the lady one day, peered at her
through the palings and wished her good-day in the purest Hungarian,
thereby giving her to understand that the language of the gentry was
well known to him.

Henrietta begged the old man to leave his labour and come to her.

"It cannot be, your ladyship; his lordship has forbidden me to appear in
his courts."

"Why?"

"I am always a nuisance."

"How so?"

"Because I am always on some begging errand. At one time the wind
carries off the roof of the church; at another, something is broken in
the belfry. It is a year ago now since the school was burnt down, and
since then the walls have become overgrown with thistles; the
schoolmaster too has gone away, and there is nobody to teach the
children, so that they grow up louts and robbers, to the great hurt and
harm of the gentry."

"But why is not all this put to rights?"

"Because the poor folks are lazy and drunken, and his lordship is
stingy."

Henrietta was astonished at the old man's words.

"Yes, stingy, that's the word," continued the priest. "I do not pick my
words, for I am a priest and used to hunger. And he who is used to
hunger is free from the yoke of servility. I told his lordship that to
his face, and that was why he forbade me the castle."

Henrietta could not continue the conversation, so upset was she at the
idea of Hátszegi's stinginess. What! the man who raked in hundreds of
thousands at a time with the greatest ease, and no doubt scattered them
as recklessly, could shut his door in the face of a poor priest who
begged for the house of God and the education of the people! She hastily
wished the priest good-night and returned to the castle.

The same evening she sought her husband, who had just come home wearied
from the chase, "I have a favour to ask of you," said she. Hátszegi
looked astonished: it was the first favour the wife had ever asked her
husband.

"Command me!" said he. "Whatever you like to ask is as good as granted
already."

"I should like to learn the language of the people in the midst of whom
we dwell. I am like a deaf-mute among them at present."

"That will not be difficult. The Wallachian tongue is easily acquired,
especially by anyone with a knowledge of French or Latin."

Henrietta blushed scarlet. Was there a covert allusion behind these
words? Did Hátszegi know that she understood Latin?

"I should like to have a master who can put me in the way of it. The
parish priest here would be a suitable person."

For an instant Hátszegi's eyebrows contracted.

"You shall have your way," he said at last. "It is true that he is the
one man in the world who insults me to my face with impunity whenever he
meets me, and even presumes to chalk upon the walls of my own castle
denunciations against me from the book of the Prophet Nehemiah, so that
I was obliged to forbid him ever to appear before me under pain of being
thrown headlong out of the window; yet to show you what an obedient
servant I am of yours, madame, I will not baulk you of your desire, or
desire you to choose another master, but will send and invite him to
come up here at once. Everyone shall see that in my house, my wife is
the master." And with that Leonard kissed his wife's hand and withdrew.

Early next day the pastor arrived. Margari informed him of her
ladyship's desire to learn the Roumanian language, and the words almost
stuck in his throat when he added that his Reverence would receive a
hundred florins every month for it. Fancy! a hundred florins a month for
teaching a lingo only spoken by bumpkins.

Todor Rubán--that was the priest's name--was at once conducted to her
ladyship. He was an elderly man, of an open, cheerful countenance; his
fine, long white hair fell in thick locks on his simple black cassock,
which showed considerable signs of wear.

Henrietta was not in time to prevent the old pastor from kissing her
hand.

"This is no slavish obsequiousness towards a great lady," said he, "but
the respect of a poor pastor for an angel whom Heaven by a peculiar act
of grace has sent down to us. This is no empty compliment, your
ladyship. I am not very lavish of such things myself, but I feel bound
to address you thus because I am well aware that it is not merely to
learn our poor language that you pay me so well for so little trouble.
No, I recognize herein the good will which would do what it can to raise
and help a poor neglected population: for I certainly shall not exchange
my simple maize-bread for better, but will employ your ladyship's gift
in the service of God and of our poorer brethren."

From that day Henrietta believed that a call from on high had summoned
her to Hidvár to be the guardian angel, the visible providence of a
poor, forsaken people, and her most pleasant occupation was now to go
from village to village,--often in the company of the priest, and at
other times accompanied by a single groom or quite alone. Thus she
visited one after the other all the surrounding parishes like any
archdeacon, enquiring after and helping their necessities, distributing
money for school-buildings and service books, collecting all manner of
stray orphans and bringing them home with her to be fed and instructed;
nay she erected a regular foundling hospital at Hidvár for the benefit
of the sprouting urchins of the district, and had the liveliest debates
with the priest as to the best method of managing it. Her benevolent
enthusiasm cost Hátszegi a pretty penny.

"She is a child; let her play!" he would only say when Margari and
Clementina represented to him that Henrietta had pawned her jewels at
Fehervár in order to teach some more little Roumanian rag-a-muffins how
to go about with gloves on like their betters. Nay the baron secretly
instructed the tradesmen with whom Henrietta had pawned her jewels to
advance her four times as much as they were worth, _he_ would make it
good again, he said--and then he would buy his wife fresh jewels. An
admirable husband, truly!

One day, Henrietta had ridden out to the neighbouring Ravacsel in order
to visit a poor Wallachian peasant woman, to whom she had sent some
medicine a few days before. The woman, naturally, never drank the
medicine, but instead of that got a village quack to rub her stomach
with some wonder-working salve so vigorously that the poor patient died
in consequence; in fact she was already at the last gasp when Henrietta
arrived. Henrietta was beside herself with grief and anger. She felt
like a doctor whose prescriptions have been interfered with by a
competitor. She could not indeed help the woman, who expired soon after
her arrival, but she had at least the satisfaction of making
arrangements for a decent funeral. In the meantime it had grown so late
that when she turned back toward Hidvár the moon was already pretty high
in the heavens.

She was alone on horseback, for it was only a two hours' journey between
the two places, and she had therefore not thought it worth while to
bring an escort with her. Besides, whom had she to fear? Since she had
lived in these parts, all the bad men had disappeared, and whoever she
might meet in the roads or lanes would be ready to kiss her hand.

So she turned homewards again alone. The road wound in and out among the
valleys and was therefore much longer than if it had gone in a straight
direction across the mountains. She had, however, often heard from the
peasants that there was a shorter way to Hidvár from Ravacsel on which
mules and ponies could go, and she thought it better to look for this
road lest night should surprise her among the mountains. But a road that
is good enough for mules and ponies may not suit a thoroughbred English
steed which does not care about putting its hoofs into the tracks of
other beasts; and besides, a hundred paces on level ground is much
shorter than twenty-five up hill. Henrietta vividly experienced the
truth of this when she reached the summit of the hill, for her horse was
sweating from every pore and trembling from the violent exertion. Such
horses should not be used in hilly country: a shaggy, sturdy little pony
would have treated the whole thing as a joke and not said a word about
it.

But the real difficulties of the road only began during the descent,
which was equally dangerous for horse and rider. The track, a mere
channel washed out of the soft sandstone by the mountain torrents,
descended abruptly, the stones giving way beneath the horse's hoofs and
plunging after it. Frequently they had to cross very awkward places, and
Henrietta could see from the way in which her horse pricked up his ears,
snorted and shook his head, that he was as frightened as his mistress.

At last they came to a very bad spot indeed, where on one side of the
road there was a sheer abyss, while the rocky mountain side rose
perpendicularly on the other. The narrow path here ran so close to the
rock that the rider had to bend her head aside so as not to knock it,
and the horse could only go forward one foot at a time.

For an instant the horse stood still, as if weighing his chances on that
narrow path; but, as there was no turning back now, he was obliged at
last to go on.

Henrietta looked shudderingly down into the chasm below her, over which
she seemed to hang suspended; and she thought to herself, with something
very like a sob: what if we should stumble now!

The thought was scarcely in her mind when one of the horse's hind legs
tripped, and the same instant horse and rider were precipitated into the
abyss.

Henrietta never lost her head during the fall. She noticed everything
that happened during the brief plunge, how the horse struggling
desperately clattered down the mountain-side, how the saddle girth burst
beneath the strain, how for a mere second some bush or shrub arrested
the descent, and how the next instant the weight of the horse tore it
down along with him. Finally, falling still lower and turning right
round on its back the horse got wedged in between two rocks from which
position he was fortunately unable to disengage himself, for had he
fallen any further he would have been dashed to pieces.

Henrietta was quite conscious the whole time. Holding on with both hands
to the roots of a bush with her left leg still in the stirrup (for
saddle and stirrup also remained hanging in the bush) it occurred to her
in this painful situation that she still had time to commend her soul to
God and then face death more calmly. As to help, there was no hope of
it, for the place was far away from all human dwellings; night would
soon fall and the bush would presently yield beneath her
feet--destruction was certain.

But while the lady neglected to call for assistance, the wedged-in horse
did so all the more loudly. Supine and unable to free himself from his
uncomfortable position, he repeatedly uttered that terrified scream
which one never hears from this noble and reticent beast except in dire
extremity. Whoever has heard such a cry will readily admit that it is
far more terrible than any merely human appeal for assistance.

After a few moments it seemed to Henrietta as if a halloo were
resounding from the depths below; looking down she perceived by the
light of the moon a black shape leaping from rock to rock like a
chamois, and gradually approaching the dangerous point where she hung.

Any efforts on this man's part seemed to her impossible. There was not a
single visible gap or crevice in the face of the steep rock by means of
which he could scramble up to her; and how could he help her, how could
he liberate her, if he did manage to get at her?

Nevertheless the man drew nearer and nearer. She could by this time make
out his goatskin cloak, his high broad cap, the clean shaved face
peculiar to the mountain goatherds. His dexterity was as astonishing as
the physical strength, with which he often raised himself on the tips of
his toes in order to reach a cleft in the rocks, scarcely visible high
above his head; often he could scarce hold on by the tips of his
fingers, yet the next moment he would swing himself up with half a hand
and, setting his foot in the cleft, look about for a fresh foothold.

About a yard below Henrietta was a projecting piece of rock just large
enough for a man's foot to stand upon. The next moment Henrietta saw the
herdsman mount to this place. He himself was a good fathom in height and
his head reached up as far as Henrietta's hips. He looked up at her with
a friendly smile, as if he had merely come there to help her down from
her horse. Then he said to her in Roumanian: "_Noroc bun Domna!_" which
means "Good luck to you, my lady!" So even in this perilous situation it
occurred to him to say something pleasant.

"The horse took a false step, my lady," said he, "but all's well that
ends well. Prithee, mount upon my shoulder, this bush will not hold fast
much longer, it is only a juniper, its roots are weak." Henrietta's
heart failed her. This man surely does not imagine that he will be able
to carry her down on his shoulders.

"Come, my lady, don't be afraid, I can easily carry you down. Why I
often roam about like this after my kids when they fall into the
precipice; and you are no heavier than a young kid, I'm sure."

And then, with the hand that remained free, he plucked at the remainder
of the damaged bush. Henrietta perceived with astonishment that the
roots which had not snapped asunder beneath his weight were loosened
from the rock by the mere tug of the man's hand. But what was he going
to do with them?

The herdsman bade the lady fear nothing; no further accident could
happen, he said; then, sticking the torn out stump between his legs like
a hobby-horse and pressing it against the rock with one hand, he himself
turned his back to the mountain-side and suddenly, stretching his legs
wide apart, let himself glide down the shelving rock.

Henrietta shrieked aloud, she thought she was lost, but the next moment
the herdsman stood on solid ground and looked up at her with a smile:
"We're all right, you see," he cried. "Oh, I have travelled like this
many a time; it is rare fun,--sledging I call it."

Sledging indeed!--to plunge down a steep mountain side five fathoms deep
with the aid of a juniper bush!

From where they now stood it was an easy matter to convey the lady to
the bottom of the precipice, which was overgrown with bright grass, on
which he deposited her.

"There you are, my lady," said he. "Don't be frightened; I will soon be
back again."

And with that he scrambled up again towards the wedged-in horse.
Henrietta gazed after him in amazement--whatever was he going to do
there?

The fellow, on reaching the wriggling horse, first of all caught firm
hold of its front legs and then tied all four legs tightly together with
the stirrup-straps. Thereupon, he seized the beast by his fettered legs,
pulled them over his shoulders, and with a violent jerk freed the animal
from its uncomfortable position and carried it down into the valley
likewise. There he untied its legs, helped it on to its hoofs again,
and, turning with a smile to Henrietta, said: "A fine horse that; it
would have been a shame to have let it come to grief!"

"And you were able to carry it on your shoulders?" gasped Henrietta.

"That isn't very much. It scarce weighs more than four hundredweight.
The bear not long ago weighed five, and I had to beat it to death before
I could take it home. Surely your ladyship knows that I am the strong
Juon--Juon Tare?" And the goatherd said this with as much self-evident
pride, as if everyone in the wide world had heard that strong Juon dwelt
among these forests. Henrietta's look of surprise apprised him, however,
that she, at least, had never heard of him.

"You do not know then, Domna, who I am? Yet I know who you are. I have
often met the _Dumnye Barbatu_[21] and he knows me well. He is the only
man in the world who is as strong as I am. We have often wrestled
together on this grass-plot for a wager. Neither of us has ever been
able to throw the other. His lordship can throw an axe deeper into a
tree than I can, but I can put a greater weight. His lordship can kill
an ox with a blow from his fist, but I can throttle a bear to death. But
we cannot overcome each other, though we have often stood up
together--only in joke, only in sport, of course, your ladyship. It
would not be well if we encountered each other in our wrath--that would
be terrible."

[Footnote 21: My lord, your husband.]

All the time he spoke Juon was skilfully mending the torn saddle-girths
and the bridle; then he re-saddled the horse, which was still trembling
in every limb, wiped the bloody foam from its mouth, washed its sores
and encouraged the lady to remount. In a quarter of an hour, he said,
they would meet the road again, and in half an hour they would be at
Hidvár.

Then the goatherd, who was well acquainted with all the meanderings of
the valley, took the horse's rein and conducted the lady to the mountain
pass, where the beaten track began again. There he kissed her hand and
parted from her.

"I must now go back," said he, "for they are waiting for me."

"Who?"

"My goats and my wife."

"Then you have a wife? Do you love her?"

"Love her?" cried the herdsman proudly,--and then he added in a lower
voice: "She is as beautiful as your ladyship!--_Buna nopte, Domna_!"[22]

[Footnote 22: Good night, my lady.]

And without waiting for an answer, he plunged back into the forest,
disappearing by leaps and bounds.

When Henrietta got home she said not a word to anyone about what had
taken place, though the condition of the horse and his harness sufficed
to show that an accident had happened. But she could scarce wait for the
morrow to come, bringing along with it Todor Rubán, from whom she meant
to find out everything relating to Juon Tare.[23]

[Footnote 23: From the Roumanian _Taria_, strength, solidity.]



CHAPTER IX

THE GEINA MAID-MARKET


"Would your ladyship believe,"--so Todor[24] Rubán began his story of
Juon the strong,--"sitting here as you do by the fireside, accustomed
from your birth to every elegant luxury, with a particular servant
always ready to fly obediently to accomplish each separate command, and
with different glasses and porcelain for each several course at
meals--would your ladyship believe, I ask, that there are people in this
world who know not what it is to have a roof above their heads when they
go to sleep, who would not recognize a bed or a dinner service if they
saw them, nay, who often are in want of bread--and yet, for all that,
are happy?

[Footnote 24: Theodore.]

"And yet such people live quite close to us. We need not think of the
savage inhabitants of Oceania,--we can see enough of them and to spare
in this very place. Your ladyship can hear from your balcony the
melancholy songs of their pastoral flutes, especially of an evening,
when the milch-goats are returning from the deep valleys.

"The herdsman here never sleeps beneath a roof either summer or winter;
every spring he counts the goats of his master's herds and the half of
every increase belongs to him; nobody enquires how he lives there among
his herds in the lofty mountain-passes, how he defends himself against
hurricanes and snow-storms, yes, and against the wild beasts of the
forest, the bears and wolves--nobody troubles his head about all that.

"Such a goatherd is that same Juon whom your ladyship has learnt to
know. Perhaps we shall hear something more about him some other time,
for his life has been very romantic; now, however, I will only tell you
of a single episode therein:

"There once lived near here in the district of Vlaskutza, a rich
_pakular_[25] who had scraped together a lot of gold out of a mining
venture at Verespatak, and therefore went by the name of wealthy Misule.

[Footnote 25: Roguish speculator.]

"He had an only daughter, Mariora by name,--and has your ladyship any
idea of what Roumanian beauties are? A sculptor could not devise a
nobler model. So beautiful was she that her fame had spread through the
Hungarian plain as far as Arad, and whenever great folks from foreign
lands came to see Gyenstar and Brivadia they would make a long circuit
and come to Vlaskucza in order to rest at the house of old Misule, where
the finest prospect of all was a look into the eyes of Mariora.

"This wonderously beautiful maiden loved the poor goatherd Juon, who
possessed nothing in the world but his sheepskin pelisse and his
alpenstock; him she loved and him alone. Wealthy old Misule would
naturally have nothing to say to such a match; he had in his eye an
influential friend of his, a gentleman and village elder in the county
of Féhervár, one Gligor Tobicza,--to him he meant to give his daughter.
Reports were spread that Juon was a wizard. It was Misule's wife who
fastened this suspicion upon him, because he had succeeded in bewitching
her daughter. She said among other things, that he understood the
language of the brute beasts, that he had often been seen speaking with
wolves and bears, and that when he spread out his shaggy sheepskin, he
sat down at one end of it and a bear at the other. There was this much
of truth in the tale, that once when he was tending his flocks Juon
heard a painful groaning in the hollow of a rock, and, venturing in,
perceived lying in one corner a she-bear who, mortally injured in some
distant hunt, had contrived to drag its lacerated body hither to die.
Beside the old she-bear lay a little suckling cub. The mother dying
before his very eyes, Juon had compassion on the desolate cub, took it
under his protection, and carried it to a milch-goat, who suckled it.
The little wild beast thrived upon the milk of the tame animal and,
softened by human fellowship, grew up much attached to its master.
Bears, I may tell your ladyship, are not bloodthirsty by nature.
Henceforth the bear went forth with the herdsman and the herds, helped
to drive the goats together of an evening, and enlivened the long
dreary days by turning somersaults--an art at which bears excel. At
night it slept by Juon's side and made itself cosey by burying its snout
in his bosom. When meal-time came, the bear sat down beside Juon, for he
knew that every second slice of cheese would be his. He also fetched
fire-wood to put under the pot in which the maize-pottage was boiling.
Then, too, he explored the woods in search of wild honey and brought
back his booty to share it with Juon. When it was very hot he carried
his pelisse after him, a pelt more or less made very little difference
to him. Juon had nobody to speak to but the bear, and if a man speaks
quite seriously to the beasts they get to understand him at last.
Moreover, in moments of ill temper the bear had learnt to recognize that
Juon's fists were no less vigorous than his own paws, so that he had no
temptation to be ungrateful.

"This, then, was the man beloved by Mariora.

"In our part of the country, my lady, there is an original popular
custom, the maiden-market.

"In the highlands of Bihar stands the rocky bluff of Geina, which grows
green, like every other Transylvanian height, as soon as it is cleansed
from snow. There I first met Juon, many years ago. He stood there on the
mountain summit the live-long day, blowing on his alpenstock, while the
bear was plucking strawberries in the valley below and guarding the
goats, not from running away, but from other wild beasts. The prospect
from this spot is really sublime. In one direction you can see the
mountain-chain of Vulcani, in the other the environs of Klausenberg and
the Gyalian Alps. But westwards stretches the great Hungarian plain,
whose misty expanse loses itself against the horizon.

"On a certain day of the year things are very lively at Geina. In the
evening of the first Sunday after St. John Baptist's day the
ginger-bread-bakers come thither from Rezbanya and Topanfalu with their
horses dragging loads of honey-cakes, and barrels full of meal and
brandy, and pitch their tents in the forest-clearing. On that Sunday the
highlands are full of merry folks, and the maiden-market is held there.

"From near and far repair thither the mothers and their marriageable
daughters, all tricked out with their dowries ready in the shape of
strings of gold and silver coins round their necks, with bright
variegated garments at their horses' sides, and stuffed pillows and
painted pitchers on the saddles in front of them. All these things they
unpack and arrange in rows in front of the tents, just as at an ordinary
fair; and then the purchasers come along, jaunty, connubially-inclined
young fellows, who inspect the dowries, engage the wenches in
conversation, and chaffer and haggle and go away again if they cannot
come to terms. Many of the girls are kept back, others are given up to
the first bidder, and when once a couple is mated they are escorted to
the tune of lively flutes and bagpipes to the first Kalugye,[26] or
pastor, who sanctifies the union according to the religion of the
spouses.

[Footnote 26: Or rather, _Calugaru_, monk, not pastor.]

"Your ladyship laughs at this custom, yet it is capable of a very
natural explanation. The inhabitants of these Alpine regions live
necessarily far away from one another--how else could they tend their
herds?--even the nearest neighbours being a good stiff half hour's walk
apart. So the young girls stay at home, and the young fellows only see
them once a year--at the maiden-market of Geina.

"Now, of course such a famous beauty as Mariora had no need to go all
the way to the Geina fair in search of a husband, especially as one had
already been chosen for her who brought with him all the pride of
riches. But her father Misule would not on any account have neglected
the opportunity of exhibiting his daughter, during the pilgrimage to
Geina, as the most lovely girl of the district; and his wife could not
have lived unless she had hung out Mariora's gold-embroidered shift in
front of the tent and haughtily sent at least ten suitors about their
business.

"Gligor Tobicza, coming all the way from Rezpatak, appeared at the fair
at the same time, with twelve high-backed horses and six Gipsy
musicians, ribbons and coloured kerchiefs fluttering from every horse
and every cap. The comrades drank together and then had a little rumpus
also. Tobicza broke the heads of a few of the more uproarious spirits,
and then peace was restored again, and the general good humour was
higher than ever--only the bride remained sad.

"Suddenly it occurred to Tobicza that it would be nice to get a kiss
from Mariora. But the girl repulsed him: 'I am not your wife yet,' she
cried.

"'Yet if Juon were to ask for you, I suppose you would not say no?'

"The girl honestly confessed that she would not.

"At this Tobicza was mad with rage. 'Let him come hither then, if he
loves you,' cried he, 'let him tear you away from me if he be the better
man. I will strike him dead with this--see!' And drawing a long
goat-skin bag out of his girdle, the bottom of which was choke full of
ducats, and whirling it round his head like a morning-star[27] he turned
forestwards and roared: 'Come hither, tattered Juon, thou ragged dog!
'Tis now maiden-market day if you want to buy Mariora! Come forth thou
cowardly hound and let me beat you to death! I'll fell you to the earth
with my ducats. I'll break your head with my gold money.' And the whole
crowd laughed at and loudly applauded these witticisms.

[Footnote 27: A spiked club.]

"But just as he was raging most furiously, a great roaring suddenly
arose from the direction of the forest,--whereupon the crowd rushed away
from their tents to their horses, overturning barrels and trunks as they
went, the women screaming and the men cursing, and all with one voice
exclaiming: 'the bear is coming!' 'Juon is coming with his bear!'

"That was enough for every one. Only the most determined sportsmen care
about tackling a bear in the open, for even when mortally wounded the
beast is quite capable of taking his revenge. In an instant every soul
rushed headlong from the summit of Geina into the roads below, leaving
behind bride, dowry and drinking booth; so that when the bear and Juon
leaped out of the juniper bushes there was nobody left on Geina. Nobody,
that is, but Mariora, who did not fly with the fugitives, but hid
herself in the tent.

"Tobicza had headed the race, but as his legs were heavy with the mead
he had drunk, he threw away his big bag of gold to lighten his limbs and
prevent Juon from overtaking him. But Juon, snatching it up, whirled it
round like a sling and threw it with all his might after his rival,
exclaiming: 'There's your money, big voice! take it and buy a wife with
it. You are nothing at all without it. But I am still Juon, though I
have only an axe in my hands.'

"Then he went up to Mariora, kissed and embraced her, and asked her if
she would be his bride and go away and live with him in the forest. And
when she said: 'Yes,' he kissed her again and took her with him into the
free forest without once looking back at the dowry lying abandoned there
with all its gold and glitter. In his eyes only Mariora was of gold,
nothing else.

"The bear meanwhile made some little havoc in a mild sort of way, among
the honey-cakes, but he did no other damage.

"And I can assure your ladyship that this wife who has nothing in the
world but her husband, but that husband all her own--is even now very
happy."



CHAPTER X

THE BLACK JEWELRY


It was during this time that Henrietta cherished the bizarre illusion
that it was her vocation to cultivate the acquaintance of the honest but
homely peasantry living around, in whose lowly circles a widowed
protestant pastor's wife and a worn-out old miner were the principal
personages. Her husband laughed good-humouredly at her vagaries, as he
called them: "She is only a child," he cried, "let her play and cut out
dolls' clothes for those who want them! When she has grown up, she will
very soon look out for other diversions." "My dear child," he would
sometimes say to her, "do exactly as you like. I only beg of you one
thing: whenever you are tired of these innocent, well-meaning illusions
and return to rough, prosaic, brutal reality; whenever you feel yourself
deceived or wounded by those whom you may have implicitly trusted, pray
recollect that you have a natural protector, a real friend--your
husband!"

Thus it was that Hátszegi spoke to his child-wife on the rare occasions
when they met together.

It was only rarely, for they saw nothing of each other for the greater
part of the day. During the so-called honey-moon the husband and wife
had scarcely spent half an hour a day in each other's company.

On one occasion the pastor went to Déva, and when he returned he had a
lot to tell her ladyship of a fine young fellow, Szilard by name, who
held the office of magistrate at Lippá. His other name he had forgotten,
but Henrietta easily guessed it. Mr. Szilard had been very polite to
him, the parson added, and had joyfully listened to all he had to tell
him about Hidvár and its mistress; but when the priest had pressed him
to pay a visit to that part of the country to see and admire its rare
natural beauties, the young man had replied: "Anywhere in the world but
there." What possible objection could he have against the district?

This piece of news gave Henrietta plenty to think about for days and
nights together. So Szilard had not remained at Pest; he had followed
her to the utmost confines of the realm; they were now quite close to
each other and yet he would not see her. He seeks her out and avoids her
at the same time. What a romantic dreamer!

And yet there was nothing romantic in it after all. Szilard had come to
Arad county on a visit to Mr. Sipos's relations; he had been elected a
magistrate there, and he did not approach Hidvár because he had no
desire to run after a former sweetheart who was now another man's wife.
As for Henrietta she had long ago earned from her husband's friends the
name of the "little nun," the "little eremite" because nothing could
entice her from her seclusion. If only they had known her thoughts!

One day, however, she surprised her husband by expressing a wish to go
to the Charity Ball at a neighbouring mining town; it was for raising
funds to build up again a burnt-down village.

Hátszegi, always courteous, bowed and consented.

Henrietta had made up her mind to go as simply dressed as possible. She
wanted to be modest and humble, as it befitted a woman who, rich
herself, envied everyone who was poor. While she was still in the midst
of her preparations, she received through the post (Margari went to the
nearest post-office once a week) a little sealed packet which, to judge
from the postmark, must have been posted at Lippá. Before breaking it
open, she locked herself in her room, like one about to commit a capital
offence, and three times examined the seals which guarded it before she
ventured to open it. The seal bore the impress not of a crest or an
initial letter as usual, but of a single star. There could be no doubt
whatever now as to who the sender was.

Then, very cautiously, she broke the seals and opened with a beating
heart the lid of the box. Inside was a little morocco casket.

With a tremulous hand she opened it, and found inside it a pair of
earrings and a brooch. Both earrings and brooch were of oxydized silver,
dark blue in colour passing insensibly into black. The pendants of the
earrings were in the shape of little fishes hanging upon little hooks
and with mobile little scales, which at the slightest movement made them
seem alive. Each of them had a pair of very tiny but very brilliant
diamond eyes. The brooch on the other hand represented a butterfly, also
with two sparkling diamond eyes; one of them was blue, a rare colour for
a diamond.

Henrietta was indeed pleasantly surprised.

There was not a line of writing along with them, but was there any
necessity for it? How simple, how nice it all was! How well he must know
her taste who had selected it! Her husband could never have hit upon
such an idea.

What should she say to her husband if he should notice them? But why
should she show them to anybody? She would not even put them on till the
last moment, just before she started on her journey. All day long she
was as happy as a child who is going to its first party; even in her
husband's presence she could not control her delight.

But Hátszegi never enquired why she was so joyous. On the day before the
entertainment he went with his wife to the town in question, where he
owned, not the castle, it is true, but a comfortable mansion of
considerable extent, whose first floor was rented by a mining engineer
and his family. These worthy people felt highly honoured at receiving
the baron and his lady beneath their roof. They gave their distinguished
guests their best rooms which looked out upon the street, and retired
themselves to the back of the house. The mining engineer had a pretty
young wife, with whom Henrietta immediately made friends. Ladies love
the close companionship of their own sex best whenever something
entirely different is occupying their thoughts.

On the morning of the great day the big-wigs of the little town hastened
to pay their respects to the great lady who had arrived in their midst,
and whose reputation for benevolence had spread far and wide. Amongst
them was an aged woman whose hands and head were continually shaking,
and who almost collapsed with terror every time anybody accosted her
unexpectedly. She was the widow of a Unitarian pastor, well to do,
people said, and a large mining proprietor. Her nervous affection was
due to a painful episode in her life. One night Fatia Negra and his band
had broken into her house and played havoc there, and ever since she had
been tremulous and easily terror-stricken. The old woman was delighted
to see Henrietta, whom she called the guardian angel of the county, and
she would not be content till she had seized Henrietta's little hands in
her own trembling ones and raised them painfully to her lips.

At last the joyous evening arrived. Henrietta put on a very simple
ball-dress, compared with which the dress of the mining engineer's wife
was really luxurious. The black ornaments well became her attire, but
the engineer's wife was astounded at the simplicity of the great lady's
costume. She had now only one anxious moment to go through, the moment
when her husband first saw the new ornaments. But this moment sped away
without any catastrophe, although with much of heart throbbing. Hátszegi
observed the jewels in the ears and round the neck of his bride and paid
her the compliment of saying that they contrasted admirably with the
snowy whiteness of her alabaster neck.

So no ill came of it after all.

When the time came, the baron's carriage drove up to the door and the
ladies entered it. The baron himself was to come afterwards with the
mining engineer when the empty carriage returned. In the meantime the
baroness was entrusted to the care of the mining engineer's wife, who
was one of the notabilities of the little town.

The ball was to take place in the large room of the chief inn of the
place, and the baroness, on entering it, was surrounded by a crowd of
admirers. The young wife felt that she was being made much of. She felt
in the midst of all this homage and devotion as if she had been lifted
up to Heaven, and her heart was full of gratitude. If he be here (and he
_must_ be here somewhere, hiding in the crowd, no doubt, in order not to
excite attention) then he will be able to see from his hiding-place how
pale the face of his old love is from sorrow--and yet how radiant
because of the honour now shown to her.

But Szilard did not see her face at that moment. He was far away, never
dreaming that anybody still thought of him. A surprise of quite another
sort awaited Henrietta.

After she had twice walked round the room--there was a pause just then
between two dances--she perceived sitting on a corner seat the old lady
already alluded to, whose head and hands were always shaking so, and
hastened up to her as to an old acquaintance.

The old pastor's wife, perceiving Henrietta, rose at first from her seat
in order to meet her half way, but the next moment she fell back
horror-stricken, at the same time stretching out both hands in front of
her with widely-outspread fingers as if to ward her off. Henrietta,
unable to explain this odd gesture, remained rooted to the spot with
astonishment.

The old lady, still continuing to stretch out her trembling hands, now
advanced towards her with tottering footsteps indeed, yet with flaming
eyes. Everyone regarded the two women with amazement. There was a dead
silence, and in the midst of this astonishment, in the midst of this
silence, the old woman shrieked with a voice full of horror that turned
everybody's blood cold: "Madame!--those jewels--on your neck--that black
butterfly--'tis the very same--which on that fearful night--that
accursed Fatia Negra--tore from my neck--those black earrings which he
tore from my ears--one eye of the butterfly is a blue diamond!"

Henrietta felt as if the floor were slipping away from beneath her feet.
She was wearing stolen jewels on her neck, and their former owner had
recognized them!

She heard a hissing and a murmuring all around her. She gazed about her,
possibly for a protector, and she perceived that she was standing alone
in the midst of the room and that everyone recoiled from her, even her
companion, and all eyes were fixed upon her. She had a feeling of being
branded with red-hot irons as she stood there, dishonoured and
unprotected in the midst of so many strangers, and over against her a
terrible accuser who had the horrible right to ask her: "Madame, where
did you get those stolen jewels?"--and she had nought to say to such a
question.

At that moment a manly voice, which she at once recognized, rang out
close beside her.

"Madame, give me your arm!--I bought those jewels for you at Paris. I
will be responsible for them."

It was her husband. And with that, he strode up to his wife, seized her
hand and, casting a glance at the surrounding throng, cried in a
threatening voice to those closest to him: "Whoever dares to cast a
disrespectful glance upon my wife, will have to reckon with me. Make
room there!"

Henrietta saw how the crowd made way, how everyone stepped aside at
this word of command; she saw even the shaking widow sit down somewhere;
but then everything began to grow black before her eyes and she sank
swooning into the arms of the man whom, hitherto, she had hated so much,
and who in this most awful moment had been her sole deliverer! When she
came to again, she found herself in the carriage. Her husband had not
stayed a single instant longer in that town, but was conveying her,
though it was now night time, straight to Hidvár.

It is not very advisable to travel in pitch-black darkness along
mountain roads. Henrietta could gather from the slow jolting of the
coach that they were proceeding very cautiously. She opened the window
and peeped out. She then saw her husband walking along by the side of
the coach with a lantern in his hand picking his way. The coachman was
sitting on the box and the heyduke was close to the carriage in order to
steady it over the more difficult places.

A voice within her reproached her for hating this man so long--how could
she have done it? He had always been delicacy itself towards her, he had
never demanded anything of her, and no doubt the reason why he had held
back from his young wife for a time was because he would not importune
her with his presence--her who had now learnt to recognize him as her
sole protector!

After a vast amount of jolting and tumbling about, they got at last on
to a regular road again. Here the baron halted the coach and looked
inside it. When he saw that Henrietta was awake, he asked her if she
wanted anything, and whether she would allow him to sit down beside her.

Henrietta had resolved to tell her husband everything at the very first
question, everything, even to her most secret enthusiasms; nay, even
that which God alone could read in her heart. But Hátszegi gave her no
opportunity of doing so.

"My dear Henrietta," said he, "don't imagine for a moment that I shall
trouble my head as to how you came into possession of that mysterious
jewelry, or why you should have chosen them out of all your bijous to
wear on this particular evening. I have charged myself with all the
responsibility in the matter. I could not think of anything more
appropriate to say at the moment. Only one thing I beg of you: tell me
no lies. Act as if you had received the jewelry from me. I will so
arrange the matter that nothing more will be heard about it. Such things
may happen to anybody. The only awkwardness about the business is that
the things were recognized in such a public place, and that the former
possessor of the ornaments is so extremely nervous. Don't be afraid!
Give me your hand! Why do you tremble so? I'll guarantee that there
shall be no unpleasant consequences for you. In case, however, you did
not receive this jewelry from your dear grandfather, I ought, I think,
to write to the good old man and put his mind at ease by letting him
know that I gave it you, as goodness only knows what Rumour may whisper
in his ear."

Could any man have asked his wife for a confession more tenderly?

"Shall I write to him?"

"Yes, write," said Henrietta, and with that she fell upon her husband's
bosom and began to sob bitterly--and a husband's breast is no bad place
for a wife's flowing tears.

Henrietta was forced to confess to herself that her husband, at least so
far as she was concerned, was a man of noble and tender sentiments. From
henceforth she began to regard him through a glass of quite another
colour; she began to believe that the faults she had noticed in him were
only the usual bad habits of his sex, and began to discover all sorts of
hidden good qualities in him. She began to love her husband.

When early next morning the carriage stood in the courtyard of Hidvár.
Henrietta awoke in her husband's arms: there she had been sleeping for a
long time. When she looked round and encountered Hátszegi's bright manly
glances it almost seemed to her as if the dreadful scene of the night
before was a mere dream, from which it was a joy to awake. When her
husband kissed her hand before departing for his own room, Henrietta
pressed _his_ hand in return and gave him a grateful smile.

But what then was the key to this horrible mystery? Who could have hit
upon the idea of sending this jewelry? There was not a gleam of light to
go by. An enigma closed the way to every elucidation, and this enigma
was--Fatia Negra. How did the jewelry get out of his hands into
Henrietta's? What was the motive for such a transfer? And who was the
man himself? This thought gave Henrietta no rest.

Why could they not seize this famous robber? First of all, she kept on
asking her husband about it, and he replied that the whole story about
Fatia Negra was only a Wallachian fable. It was true that robberies were
committed by men who regularly wore black masks, but it was never one
and the same man who was guilty of these misdeeds. Nevertheless the name
had won a sort of nimbus of notoriety among the common people, many had
made use of it as well as of the mask attaching to it, and though it was
an undeniable fact that Fatia Negra had been caught and hanged more than
once, yet he still continued to live and go about. The popular mythology
had immortalized him.

The parson, however, had quite a different opinion of the matter; he
seemed to be more particularly informed. Although he opined Fatia Negra
wandered through every corner of the kingdom, his abiding nest was in
this district; he had a sweetheart here to whom he appeared
periodically.

"Why don't they seize him then?" asked Henrietta.

"Because a part of the common folks holds with him, and the other part
thinks he is in league with the devil."

"I would set a high price on his head and give it to whomsoever caught
him."

"Oh, my lady, the various counties have done that scores of times, and
now and then a young fellow braver than the rest has tried to catch him;
but they have all of them ended by losing their own heads instead of
getting his."

"Never mind, I will not be satisfied till that man is in my power. Ah,
the robber-chieftain little imagines what an enemy he has raised up
against him in me, when he put this terrible riddle into my heart. And
it is a riddle I mean to solve, too."

The priest shook his head as if he would have said: "Strong men have
given up the task, what can a weak woman do?"

Henrietta told her husband not a word of all this, and the chatter about
the black jewelry gradually died a natural death. Hátszegi sent back her
property to the widow and told her where she could find the vendor--in
Paris. We can readily imagine that she did not go all the way to Paris
to make enquiries, being quite content with getting back her stolen
property.

This incident made such an impression on Henrietta that she avoided all
those circles in which she had been so ruthlessly exposed to insult. A
blush of shame and anger suffused her face whenever she thought of it.
She also abandoned all her work of benevolence among the people. She
began to think that her husband was right after all when he said, as he
did continually: "Let the gentry stick to the gentry, and the poor to
the poor!" In fact she was now inclined to think him right in
everything; the easiest thing a wife can do, she said to herself, is to
trust her husband implicitly. Henceforth Henrietta adopted another mode
of life; her motto now was: "Whatever my husband chooses, for at home he
is my lord!"

So the halls of Hidvár overflowed with guests again, and balls,
_soirées_, and picnics followed each other in quick succession. The
young wife learnt to know the gentry and magnates of Transylvania face
to face, and it was no wonder if she quickly accommodated herself to her
new surroundings and began to be reconciled to her fate. She felt like
one who, after seeing a landscape by moonlight and thinking it highly
crude, sees it again by the light of day and finds it quite different.

And now the autumn came, the season when men prepare and congregate
together for dangerous hunting expeditions. Bears and boars are now the
only topics. For a week beforehand the women cannot get a word out of
the gentlemen, they herd together in the armoury and talk of nothing but
guns and dogs, firing each other by recounting their past exploits,
making bets, and playing at cards. The ladies at such times are shelved
altogether.

During the actual hunting season the men are not to be seen for whole
weeks at a time, but off they go to the woods and stalk or lurk for
their prey in the midst of water and ice, and the ladies think it
nothing extraordinary if their husbands or lovers, as the case may be,
come back, or are carried back, drenched with rain, invisible for mud,
with their garments torn to shreds and their limbs mangled; for after
all it is the only manly diversion--the only diversion really fit for a
gentleman.

When the bear-hunting began, that heroic cripple, Squire Gerzson, also
appeared with Count Kengyelesy and numerous other familiar faces from
distant counties, who had all met together on the day after Henrietta's
wedding, and who regularly made Hidvár their autumn trysting-place.

Count Kengyelesy did not bring his wife with him: the little rogue on
her husband's departure declared that she was ill and remained
behind--_verbum sap_!

Henrietta was very much occupied by the duties of hospitality. She took
a pride in anticipating the wants of all her guests, and at the evening
_soirées_ she played the part of hostess with becoming _aplomb_.

One day the gentlemen with their beaters, rangers, dogs, and carts, had
all gone off to the forest as usual, and Henrietta was left alone in the
castle with Clementina, Margari, and the domestics. As for Margari, he
would not have gone to the woods for all the bears in the world.

Clementina, solemnly cackling gossip as usual, imparted to Henrietta
that the night before, when the gentlemen played at cards, the luck had
run dead against Hátszegi: Count Kengyelesy had won back from him the
whole of the Kengyelesy estate. "Thank God!" sighed Henrietta at this
glad intelligence. This was one of the things that had weighed down her
heart like a nightmare, one of the partition-walls, so to speak, which
had hitherto separated her from her husband. This, at any rate, had now
disappeared.

Clementina went on to say that my lord baron had not cared a straw for
this loss; nay, he had laughed and said that it only showed how lucky he
was in love. Henrietta applied the saying to herself and began to be
quite proud of it.

The count, however, pursued Clementina, had said that he durst not
rejoice in his winnings or that accursed Fatia Negra might rob him of
them again on the highroad as he had done once before.

A cold shudder ran through Henrietta's limbs at that accursed name. That
Fatia Negra! She had already begun to forget him. And thus old memories
began to revive, and at last her excited imagination began to fancy that
there was some sort of connecting link between Szilard and Fatia Negra,
between the dearest and the most terrible of beings! What if her
rejected lover had avenged himself by publicly shaming her! It was with
such anxieties as these that the young wife went to sleep in her lonely
chamber.

Early next day she received a visit from the priest.

All the time the army of guests was going in and out of the castle
gates, he never came near the place, but now he hastened to exchange a
few words with the lady of the house. And Henrietta was very glad that
he had come.

"I bring you news of Fatia Negra and of other things also," said the
priest, as soon as he was alone with the lady.

Henrietta was instantly all attention.

"Yesterday the famous butterwoman who dwells at Dupe Piatra came to open
her soul to me in a very difficult matter. This woman, as the whole
country-side knows, is a famous quack and a preparer of such specifics
as it is unlawful for one man to give to another. Formerly she was
visited by multitudes of people suffering from every sort of
ill--especially girls. More than once she has paid dearly for her
quackery, for the county authorities apprehended her for poisoning, and
clapped her into jail for some years. Since then she has grown more
cautious and does not care about seeing everyone in her lonely little
forest hut, especially since I impressed upon her severely what a heavy
load she was burdening her conscience with by turning the secret healing
forces which Nature had implanted in the herbs of the field, to the
destruction of ignorant humanity. Yesterday, then, this woman came to
me (and it is a very rare thing to see her among men) and informed me
that last night Fatia Negra had visited her."

Henrietta shuddered all over. So he was as near as that!

"The medicine-woman said that the mask requested her to prepare poison
for him that would be sure to kill. She said she would not as she had no
wish to fall again into the hands of the county authorities. He promised
her money, he showed her a lot of ducats. She told him it wouldn't do.
Then he drew forth a pistol, pressed the barrel to her temples, and
threatened instantly to blow her brains out if she did not comply with
his request. 'Very well,' said she, 'fire away: I would rather be shot
than hanged.' Perceiving he could do nothing with her by threats, he
fell to entreating, and said it was not a man he wanted to poison but a
wild beast. 'What sort of a beast do you want to kill?' she asked him.
'That is no business of yours,' said he. 'But it is my business,' she
replied, 'for the poison that a wolf or a savage dog will eat, a bear
will not even sniff at, and what makes one beast ill, on that will
another beast thrive.' 'Then you must know that it is a bear.'--'Swear
that you do not want the venom for a human being.' Fatia Negra swore
with all sorts of subterranean oaths that it was really for a bear that
he wanted the poison. The medicine-woman thereupon prepared for him a
mortal concoction capable of killing the most vigorous beast in the
world; then she kneaded honey-cakes, a delicacy to which bears are very
partial as everyone knows, and mixed it well into them. Fatia Negra gave
her ten ducats for the poison, but the old woman's conscience would not
allow her to rest, and the next day she brought the ducats to me for the
church's needs, as she put it,--and would I help her to relieve her soul
of the heavy burden which oppressed it. And what now if Fatia Negra,
contrary to his oath, were to make use of this poison against his
fellow-men?"

"That would be horrible," said Henrietta apprehensively.

"I don't think he will," said the priest; "the poison is really meant
for a beast."

"I suppose he wants to kill some animal who is a domestic guardian, in
order that he may rob a rich man's house."

"No. He wants to kill a faithful animal in order that he may steal a
poor man's only treasure--his wife."

"How so?"

"Listen, my lady, and I will tell you. After this had happened, Juon
Tare's wife, Mariora, came to me at an unusual hour. Generally she only
comes on a Sunday for prayers. What she said to me was not so much a
confession made to a priest as a confidence reposed in a friend; I am
therefore not committing sacrilege by retailing it to another person.
That young woman is exposed to temptation."

"What! in the midst of the forest?"

"Yes, in the midst of the forest, where, for weeks at a stretch, the
herdsman hears no other human voice than his own thrown back to him by
the echoes. The seducer in this case is Fatia Negra."

"Then he must dwell hard by."

"None knows his abiding dwelling, but his temporary resting places among
the high Alps are these herdsmen's lonely huts. For this reason he lives
in good fellowship with the mountain goatherds, does them no harm,
brings presents for them and their wives, pays handsomely for every bit
of bread, and thus makes it pretty sure that they will never betray him.
The place where Juon Tare's wife dwells is called the ice valley. They
call it so because it is here that the first ice of the winter appears;
as early as mid-September the stream is fringed with it. There, by the
side of the stream, stands a little wooden hut, one of whose walls
reposes on the ascending rock behind it. Here dwells the fair Mariora
all alone. And yet I am wrong to say alone, for three of them dwell
together there--herself, a little one-year-old child, and a tame bear.
Her husband she sometimes does not see for a week at a time, especially
in the autumn and winter when the freshly fallen snow has obliterated
the pastures. At such times the goatherd encamps on the summit of the
mountains and nourishes his kids by felling with his axe a growing
beech-tree, on which the little creatures fall and gnaw off the juicy
buds. Whenever a snowstorm overtakes him, the herdsman drives the goats
into a glen, and lest the snow should bury them all by the morning while
they sleep, he drives them continually up and down, thus making them
trample down the falling flakes. Meanwhile Mariora sits at home and
spins the wool from which she makes her own and her husband's clothes,
or she pounds maize into meal in a stone mortar for household needs,
playing at intervals with her child."

"And an evil hand would destroy their simple joys!"

"Hitherto the goatherd and his wife feared nothing. It is good to be in
those solitudes. God dwells very near to them there. Then, too, Juon
Tare is a strong man; no evil beast can harm him. Nor has he any fear of
robbers. What can they deprive him of? Mariora is in a good place out of
the reach of snow-storms. If a savage beast or a vagabond were to try to
harm her, there is Ursu, the bear, with the terrible jaws,--he would
tear them to pieces. So your ladyship will perceive that Juon Tare's
castle is provided with a very strong guardian against thieves and wild
beasts--but who can guard it against the wily and the insinuating? Fatia
Negra is a guest of longstanding at the hut in the ice valley, and never
goes thither empty handed. He brought the woman pearls and coral which
she innocently hung about her person. How was she to know whether such
trinkets were worth thousands or whether they could be bought in a
pedler's booth for a few pence? She fancies it is but the thank-offering
of a grateful guest. But now her eyes have been opened to the fact that
these gifts _are_ costly, very costly,--for the Black Mask demanded a
price for them which all the treasures in the world could not outweigh,
a price, the bare mention of which caused her to shut the door in his
face. And when he, unable to obtain his desire by fair words, attempted
to gain his object by force, a single cry for help from the woman caused
Fatia Negra to feel Ursu's paws on his shoulders and so he knows that
this lonely woman is right well defended. Only at Mariora's command did
the bear release Black Mask who, attacked from behind, was unable to
defend himself. Burning with rage, he quitted the hut and said,
meaningly to the woman: 'You shall be mine nevertheless!' Mariora came
to me next day, full of despair, telling me the whole story, and asking
me whether she ought to tell her husband. I advised her to keep the
secret in her own bosom and to close her door against Fatia Negra. Oh, I
know the fellow! It is good to guard against him but it is not advisable
to scratch him. He is no ordinary man. And now putting together all this
with the confession of the Dupe Piatra milk-woman, I have a strong
suspicion that Fatia Negra wants to poison the herdsman's bear."

"I will not allow it," interrupted the baroness emphatically.

"We shall scarcely be able to prevent it, my lady, for how can we warn
the dwellers in the mountain hut of their danger? It is of no use
sending a letter for they cannot read. We cannot entrust the secret to
anyone, for no living soul in these parts would dare to convey any
message to the disadvantage of the mysterious Fatia Negra. I myself dare
not do it. I too am afraid of him. I am sure that if he found it out,
and he is sure to do so, my days would be numbered."

"Yet I know someone who will take this message to the hut of Juon Tare."

"Not your ladyship, I hope?"

"No. Even if I knew my way among these mountains I would not venture to
expose myself to the perils of such a journey after my last experience;
since then I have grown timid and nervous. But I know of one who will
hasten to take it, who will not be afraid, and who will show no mercy to
him before whom everyone else trembles."

The priest did not guess to whom Henrietta alluded, yet he himself had
once told her ladyship that Black Mask had a sweetheart to whom he had
been married, not before a priest indeed, but in the sight of Heaven,
and that this woman was very jealous and very brave. "But I beg of your
ladyship," the priest had said on that occasion, "to leave my name out
of the transaction if you repeat this secret, for otherwise, people will
hear one fine morning that the worthy pastor of Hidvár has been found in
his room with a split skull."

Scarcely had the priest quitted the castle than Henrietta had the horses
put to the carriage, took Clementina with her in order to avoid all
suspicion, and drove to Tökefalu. There, in front of the house of rich
old Onucz she stopped and descended. The Wallachian Nabob was much
pleased to have the honour of entertaining so distinguished a guest, and
immediately spread his table and loaded it with preserves, honey, and
fresh cheese. Clementina, who had a good appetite, remained with their
host and made ready to talk scandal of her mistress and insinuate that
the baroness wanted to get some money without her husband's knowledge,
whilst Henrietta locked herself up with Anicza in the latter's bedroom
and talked with her concerning things which had no relationship whatever
with money.



CHAPTER XI

TWO TALES, OF WHICH ONLY ONE IS TRUE


After a couple of days the whole hunting party returned from the
mountains. This was much sooner than they had determined, and the cause
was a very serious accident which had befallen Baron Hátszegi. They
brought him home in an ambulance car to Henrietta's great consternation.
The baroness, sitting by the bedside, heard from the doctor that her
husband's wounds were serious, but that his life was not in danger, and
that he might even be allowed to smoke a cigar if he liked. Then Mr.
Gerzson related how it had happened: "Only imagine, your ladyship! This
irrepressible friend of ours, not content with pursuing game all day
through the thickets, learns, late in the evening, that a gigantic old
bear was trotting towards the ice valley, and, without saying a word to
anybody, must needs leave the company and set off alone, late at night,
on the track, with only a double-barrelled musket and not so much as a
dog to keep him company. The bear enticed Leonard further and further.
At last down he squats before him in the bright moonlight and begins
licking his paws; then suddenly quits the path and disappears. Leonard
thought at first that the bear had returned within the deadly circle
drawn for him by our beaters, till, all at once, on reaching a steep
slope covered with reeds, he again heard a growling and perceived the
savage beast trying to scale the slope. The place was too steep for a
man to climb, but a bear with the help of his long strong claws can
scale it like a fly climbing up a wall. Leonard soon saw that he would
be unable to get a close shot at the bear, so he resolved to fire down
from where he was at random. But the experienced old brute, guessing
this good idea, instantly executed one of those surprising feats which
only fall within the observation of veteran hunters. While Leonard was
taking aim, the bear rolled rapidly down the steep incline by means of a
series of clever somersaults and rushed upon Leonard with a sort of
swift shamble. And a cursed bad manoeuvre it is, I can tell you. The
acrobatic beast, whether a man hits it or not inevitably bears down the
hunter by his sheer weight, and as a man's bones are more brittle than a
beast's, and he has no tough pelt to cover him withal, he will be
infallibly crushed to pulp,--while the bear takes the whole thing as a
mere joke and ambles on further. But the whole affair did not last half
as long as I take to tell it. Leonard had just time enough to fling
himself on the ground before the first rush came. Then he felt a heavy
body fall prone upon him and then they began to roll over and over in
company among all sorts of stones and bushes, till a benevolent rock
interrupted their rapid descent. Fortunately the bear was underneath and
lay stunned at full length upon the ground. Our friend Leonard naturally
did not wait for his travelling companions to pick him up. He had lost
his musket and it was a good job that his hunting-knife had snapped off
close at the hilt instead of running into his body; then, too, his knees
and elbows were badly crushed, yet he had sufficient strength and
presence of mind to drag himself back to our hunting box, and his story
was a very pleasant surprise for us, I can tell you. At first, indeed,
we were much alarmed, and fancied that every bone in his body was out of
joint, but now we can look on it merely as soldiers' luck. To-morrow
he'll be up no doubt, and the day after to-morrow we shall all be
dancing."

Henrietta had never removed her eyes from her husband's face during this
narration, and it was plain from his looks that he was not proud of his
adventure and did not want it talked about. "Why do you frighten my wife
to death?" he said. "It is a mere trifle. Let me remain for a whole
night in cold wet wraps, and to-morrow I shall be all right. And now,
enough of the stupid business. And will you please, Henrietta, look
after my guests while I lie here in swaddling bands? All I want is a
couple of days of rest and then I shall be on my legs again."

Towards midnight Henrietta disappeared from among her guests and went to
enquire after Leonard; but she found his chamber door locked, and
received no answer to her gentle enquiries, from which she gathered that
Leonard was still dozing. She did not want to disturb him, and as her
husband's guests, judging by the noise they made, had evidently begun to
amuse themselves in real earnest after her departure, she did not return
to them, but hastened to her own chamber.

How amazed was she to find Anicza there closeted with Clementina!

The Roumanian girl had been awaiting Henrietta for some time, and
Clementina thought it quite natural to conduct her into her mistress's
sleeping-room, imagining that there was some monetary transaction
between them, of which the baron and the domestics need know nothing. In
order that she might not be bored by waiting, Clementina entertained her
for a whole hour with a hair-raising account of the hunting accident,
with which the whole castle was full. Anicza let the other talk on
without so much as a hint that she had a still more hair-raising and
terrific tale to tell of the night just past than ever Miss Clementina
had.

As soon as Henrietta perceived Anicza, she politely requested Clementina
to be so good as to leave them to themselves, a request which Clementina
very naturally regarded as incomprehensible; and, of course, the instant
she had crossed the threshold, she diligently took up her position
before the keyhole. She was, however, furious to discover that
Henrietta proceeded, more prudently than speakers on the stage who
regularly allow themselves to be overheard by eaves-droppers, for she
drew together the heavy damask curtains of the alcove and retired behind
them with Anicza, so that neither prying eyes nor listening ears could
find anything there to satisfy their inquisitiveness.

"It almost succeeded!" said the Roumanian girl impatiently, beginning
her story at the end instead of at the beginning.

"Only almost?" repeated the dissatisfied Henrietta.

"So far the game is neither over nor lost."

"Did Fatia Negra appear at the hut in the ice valley?"

"Pardon, my lady, but please never mention that name before me, for on
hearing it everything I look upon grows red, and every limb of my body
begins to tremble. You see, my hands are trembling now. Let us speak of
him in future as the Unknown; so far as I am concerned he shall
henceforth be the Unknown for ever more."

"Then you met him there?"

"Suffer me, my lady, to rally my scattered wits a bit. Oh! what a
horrible night this has been! When I look back upon it, I feel giddy.
But anger and despair sustain me. Oh! what have I not sacrificed for
that man, for that devil, and oh! how I have been betrayed! But why
should I worry your ladyship with my misery! Listen to what happened.
When your ladyship left me the other night, I immediately saddled my
horse and set off for the ice valley. The way thither is very bad,
dangerous in fact, but fortunately the moon was high and bright and made
it easier for me to find the path. The Pole star was already sinking
when I reached the bottom of the valley, and I could see from afar that
there was a light still burning in the goatherd's little hut. The night
owls soon drove it out of my eyes, for in that valley dwells so many
owls, and they are so bold that the tips of their wings brush against
people's faces as they sweep past. I had known Mariora for a long time,
while she still lived at home with her father, but since she became Juon
Tare's wife we have only seen each other occasionally and at long
intervals, and then too only when I visited her, for she, the
poorly-married woman, never came to visit us--the rich people. On
reaching the hut, I tied up my horse and tapped at the little window,
through which one cannot peep as, instead of glass, the window-frames
are filled with opaque mica which Juon Tare himself discovered amongst
the hills. Mariora recognized my voice and hastened to unbar the door.
She was much surprised and much delighted to see me at that hour. She
embraced, kissed me, and burst into tears. At first I thought it was
from pure joy,--then I thought she pitied me. 'Is there anything wrong?'
I asked. Then she pulled herself together, dried her tears and said: 'I
have an invalid on my hands.'--'Your child?'--'No, Ursu.'--It was just
as if a viper had stung me.--'Ursu sick?' I cried.--'Yes, I don't know
what ails him. Since yesterday he has been lying down shaking and
trembling, while the day before he was skipping about and turning
somersaults. Fatia Negra (Domne Zeu,[28] forgive my lips for uttering
that name) was playing with him for a long time.' 'Did he come hither?'
'Yes, he said he was on his way to you.' 'He lied. Then it was he who
poisoned the bear.'

[Footnote 28: The Lord God.]

"Mariora trembled at these words, and grew paler than ever.

"I seized her by the hand and drew her with me into the hut. I whispered
in her ear that I knew all. 'The accursed wretch has been faithless to
me because of your pretty eyes. He swore to me by sunlight and he swore
to you by moonlight, but you would not listen to him. You love your
husband and Black Mask relies on his strength now that fair words have
failed. The coward has poisoned your faithful guardian like the wretched
thief, the miserable house-breaker, that he is.'--Mariora's hut was
lighted by the flame that flickered on the hearth. A bedstead of
linden-wood covered with goat-skins, a table of slate and a few
three-legged chairs were all the furniture. There was also a nicely
carved and painted little cradle in which lay the little child,
sleeping, with his plump little hands drawn up behind his head, like an
angel. In the extreme corner of the room the faithful beast lay all of a
heap on a lair of soft moss,--at the last gasp. He groaned and shivered
continually like one in a fever, and raised his failing eyes with such
an eloquent appeal to his mistress, as if he would have spoken to her.
Sometimes he pricked his ears as if he were listening and snuffed
joyously. Perchance he expected his master, perhaps he wanted to lick
his hands for the last time. Poor beast, how I pitied him! 'He will
die,' I whispered to Mariora. I durst not say it aloud for I imagined
the beast understood everything which men say to one another. 'And then
will come the tempter, who knows that you are alone and defenceless.' I
told her everything which your ladyship told me, and the woman trembled
like an aspen-leaf.

"'Where is Juon Tare encamping now?' I asked Mariora.

"'Only a mile from here in the Vale Capra.'

"Hem! It is impossible to get there on horseback, but I can reach him by
going on foot. Meanwhile you lock yourself in, put out the fire, and
whatever noise you hear, do not open the door till we come back.

"'Nay,' said Mariora, 'you must not go away. If Juon ought to come home,
there is a sign between us. I have here an Alpine horn; he has taught me
how to blow upon it, and has told me that if ever I should be in great
danger I must blow it, and however distant he may be, he will hear it
and hasten home.'

"'But it is night now; perhaps he is asleep.'

"'Juon never sleeps at night, he must be awake and protect his herds.'

"'And what then will become of his goats if he leaves them?'

"'Are not I and my child dearer to him than all his property?'

"Then I told Mariora that no time must be lost, and that she should blow
the horn at once. It is a long tube made out of the bark of trees, with
the end tilted upwards, and anyone who knows how to blow it can make its
voice heard for miles. Mariora was too feeble with it. Perhaps at
another time she would have been more up to it, but now she was upset,
there was something which weighed down her bosom and hampered her
breathing: the horn gave forth but a feeble and uncertain sound. We
listened for the echoes and they scarce resounded from the sides of the
adjacent hills. Juon would never hear that. 'Give it to me,' I said. 'I
shall throw more force into it.' A moment after I had blown the horn,
the woody heights repeated the sound just as if there was another
horn-blower there. Presently, from afar, right away among the hills,
another horn replied, just as if there was another echo there. That was
Juon's answer. He had heard the summons; we could now rest content. In
half an hour he would have bounded across the mountains and through the
glens and would be here. In the meantime we would barricade ourselves
inside the hut. Mariora anxiously asked me what we should do if her
husband were the last to arrive, for the robber had firearms. Acting on
my advice, we closed the door with a heavy beam and put out the fire.
The child began to cry, but Mariora took it in her arms and soothed it
to sleep. A heavy groan sounded from a corner of the room: it was the
faithful beast breathing forth his last breath. We exchanged not another
word in order not to betray the fact that Mariora was not alone. Half an
hour had nearly elapsed when we heard footsteps in the distance
approaching. We listened. Who was coming? Which of us would recognize
those footsteps first? I did. It was he! he for whose sake I had brought
down a curse upon my head.

"For about as long a time as it would take one to repeat a Paternoster,
he remained standing there before the door. Then he rapped lightly with
his fingers and I heard the voice I knew so well: 'Mariora, are you
asleep?'

"'I am awake. What do you want?' she replied.

"'Let me in, Mariora; open the door!'

"I whispered to her what she should say.

"'I cannot, my husband is not at home. I am alone.'

"'For that very reason open, so that we two may have it all to
ourselves?'

"'There will be three of us, don't forget Ursu.'

"'It is all up with Ursu,' laughed the robber outside.

"'You have killed him, you villain!' cried Mariora though I never
whispered this to her.

"'Not I, but the honey-cake.'

"'Why did you do so?'

"'Because he was in my way.'

"'Who will defend me now?'

"'I will defend you. I will take you away with me. I will take you to a
beautiful city full of palaces. I will buy you a house and an estate and
you shall be a great lady.'

"'It cannot be. I already have my lawful husband and you too have your
lawful wife.'

"'Your lawful husband shall die when I choose, and you will then be a
widow. As for Anicza, she only married a mask. I will tear it off and
she will no longer know who I was.'

"Oh, my lady, can you not fancy how my heart broke at these words! Yet I
did not weep.

"'You will deceive me as you deceived her,' replied Mariora.

"Then the robber began to swear that I had deceived him first. He lied
concerning me, oh! the accursed wretch! Yet the game had to go on.
Mariora was no longer the mistress of her own thoughts. She is a
helpless creature. If I had not whispered in her ear what she was to
say, she would have had no answer ready for him.

"'I fear you,' she said at my prompting, 'for you are a robber; it is
not love but money that you want. Why did it not occur to you to court
me before? You have only come now because you have found out that my
father has been here and offered me a hundred ducats that we may buy a
little estate with it. You have only come here to rob me of that.'

"The tempter grew furious at so much gainsaying.

"'Stupid wench!' he cried, 'what are your hundred ducats to me? I will
give you ten times as much. Here! take them!' And with that he pitched
through the little window--opening above the door a heavy purse which
fell rattling at our feet. It was full of ducats. I kicked it aside with
loathing.

"'It is easy to talk,' replied Mariora. 'Now, you give and give, but if
I were to let you in, you would take them back again to-morrow with my
own.'

"'I swear I will not.'

"'No, I will not believe the oaths of a robber. You have firearms and I
am therefore defenceless against you. Go and hang up your musket, your
pistols, and your hunting-knife on that beech-tree, which is a hundred
paces distant from the house; when you come back without your firearms I
will believe that you do not want to kill me and will listen to what you
have to say?'

"The robber fell into the snare and did as he was bid. Then he
returned. 'Here I am without weapons,' said he. 'Let me in!'

"We had to gain as much time as possible, so I whispered Mariora to say
that she must first stir up the fire into a blaze for she could not let
him in in the dark.

"These words inflamed the passion of the tempter still more.

"'You will have time for that afterwards,' said he. 'I can see your
beautiful eyes even in the dark, for then they shine all the more
brightly.'

"'Then I suppose I have eyes like a cat?' I made Mariora say.

"'Silly fool!' growled the tempter to himself in Hungarian, which
Mariora did not understand. 'No,' he then added in Roumanian, 'you have
eyes like stars.'

"'But confess now, do you really love me? Or do you only come hither
with evil designs? Don't you want, now, to cut off the hands of my
little child? for robbers covet the hacked off hands of babies,--they
make them invisible.'

"At this the man's temper fairly gave way. He perceived that he was
being trifled with and exclaimed roughly: 'Woman, open the door, or I'll
bring it down about your ears!' And he gave the door such a blow with
his clenched fist that it cracked from end to end. 'I tell you for the
last time,' cried he, 'let me in peaceably. If you will come with me, I
will take you, and your child also, to a pleasant place. I will make a
gentleman of him and a lady of you. But if you gainsay me another
moment, I'll batter in the door, dash the brains of your brat out
against the wall and carry you off by force wherever I please.'

"Thereupon Mariora paid no more attention to me but began wringing her
hands and I snatched up the child, who had been awakened by the noise
and begun to cry. I drew my pistol from my bosom and planted myself
beside the door. If there's nobody else, I thought, I must bear the
brunt of it.

"The robber planted his shoulder against the door and pressed it inwards
with tremendous force. The boards cracked and as the middle of the door
was barricaded by a stout beam, there was soon a regular gap between the
two folds of the door and the door inclined more and more inwards.
Through the opening thus made, I held the pistol, pointed straight at
his temples and only an inch away from him. He is a very strong man, I
thought, but another effort of strength and he will be lying dead at my
feet."

The girl was quite overcome by the narration of this scene. She paused
for a moment to recover herself, during which Henrietta, as pale as a
statue, gazed at her in silence.

Presently she resumed:

"At that critical moment, a cry like the howl of a wild beast resounded
in front of the hut. The door fell back into its proper place and
rushing to the little window, I saw that _two_ men now stood in front
of the hut.

"Juon Tare had arrived at last!

"It was neither speech nor language that he addressed to his antagonist
in the first instant of their encounter, it was the savage roar of a
wild beast rushing upon its prey.

"Juon Tare is a very strong man. Fortunately, he is also a peaceful,
retiring creature, for if he were as passionate as he is strong and
frequented the wine shops, every carouse would end with the death of a
man. All the more horrible was it therefore to behold him at that moment
like a ravening beast of prey.

"The detected seducer at once made a rush for his arms, but Juon Tare
overtook him with an enormous bound and seized one of his hands. If
Fatia Negra had been one of God's ordinary creatures, he must have been
writhing the next moment with crushed limbs on the ground beneath Juon's
knee; but at the very instant in which Juon caught hold of one hand, the
robber faced about and seizing the herdsman round the body began to
wrestle with him.

"The moon flooded the valley with its light; the whole course of the
struggle was plainly visible.

"As soon as Juon Tare perceived that his antagonist was foolhardy enough
to try a fall with him, he complacently allowed his body to be encircled
and calmly murmured: 'Ho, ho! then you would wrestle with me, eh, Fatia
Negra! Very well, be it so!'

"Then he also quietly encircled the trunk of his opponent with those
terrible arms of his, which had shown themselves capable on one occasion
of throttling a bear, and prepared to crush his adversary.

"And thus began an awful struggle, the mere remembrance of which is a
horror.

"There is nothing more terrible than when two men struggle for life or
death with their bare hands.

"Juon Tare's tremendous strength was unable to crush Fatia Negra. The
herdsman might perhaps have been a little exhausted by his swift run,
but the robber was skilful and opposed a steel-like elasticity to the
herdsman's massive weight.

"Now the one, now the other was forced down upon his knee, only to bound
instantly back again. The grass was rooted up by their stamping feet.
Tightly embraced, with straining shoulders, with their fists tearing at
each other's bodies, their faces were pressed so closely together that
the two heads seemed but one.

"Now and then they would pause for an instant to take breath and at such
times would gasp out short, fierce words.

"'Who are you?' growled Juon. 'Who are you that you can resist the arm
of Juon Tare? Who are you that Juon Tare cannot put to silence?'

"'What is it you want, you fool?' the robber gasped back. 'Has that two
hundred ducats, the price set on my head, tempted you? Is that why you
want to catch me? Let me go, and I will give you five hundred.'

"'I will not let you go. I want neither your money, nor yet the money of
the magistrates. Your destruction is all that I want. You should not
escape from these hands if you were thrice a devil.'

"'We will see.'

"And again the tussle began. Each of the two men put forth all his
strength against his adversary. Fatia Negra's garments split into rags,
the blood spouted from his shoulders where Juon had worried him with his
sharp teeth like a wild beast. Not another word did they now speak, only
their panting sobs were to be heard like the snorting of two wild boars
as they dragged and dashed each other up and down on the sward.

"I was obliged to restrain Mariora violently from rushing to her
husband's assistance. She would only have distracted his attention. And
besides I would not have it so. Let the men fight it out, I thought.
They are a well matched pair."

"Then you still love Fatia Negra?" enquired Henrietta sadly.

The girl blushed.--"I love him, yes,--and therefore he must die."

She went on:

"'At that moment he was like a magician battling with a giant. The other
was half a head taller than he, and the muscles of his arms stood out
like the rugged bark of an oak's trunk. Black Mask was much the slimmer.
But every muscle in his frame seemed made of steel. His gigantic
adversary might pitch and toss him wherever he pleased, he always fell
on his feet; nor was the other ever able, squeeze as he might, to
disjoint his arms or free his own head from Fatia Negra's embrace,
though again and again he ducked down to do it; and then they would
struggle more fiercely than ever, on their knees, with their limbs
interlaced like one single, inseparable quivering mass of flesh.

"'If I could only see your hidden face!' roared Juon, throwing himself
with all his might on Black Mask. 'You devil, you, I'll tear your
mummery off for you!'--and he gnashed at his opponent's face with his
teeth, trying to snap his mask off.

"This attempt seemed to redouble Fatia Negra's fury. He too now began
roaring like a wounded bear, struggling with a huntsman. It was no
longer a struggle between men, but a ravening of two beasts. The
combatants had now rolled far away from the hut. Their savage yells
resounded through the still pastures. We, watching them from the hut,
could see that they were drawing near the edge of a steep abyss with a
sheer descent of many fathoms, at the bottom of which are the sources of
the little mountain streams.

"'Take care, Juon!' cried Mariora despairingly. But her voice was
unheard. Both of them were deaf and blind. The next moment Juon gave his
adversary a fierce shake and instantly the pair of them plunged head
over heels into the gulf below.

"We both rushed after them, and on reaching the edge of the abyss
perceived one shape lying motionless among the rocks of the stream, and
another limping painfully towards the further shore. This second figure
was Fatia Negra."

"Surely Juon was not dead?" cried Henrietta, horrified.

"No; only crippled by the fall. He fell undermost, the other on top. Yet
the other must have suffered severely. We could see from his heavy
movements that he had more than one limb damaged. Only with the utmost
exertion did he manage to scale the opposite cliff.

"While he was clambering up the mountain-side, Mariora sobbing and
screaming, rushed down to her insensible husband, and taking his head
into her bosom dragged his limp body out of the cold water of the brook,
whilst I took down from the beech-tree Fatia Negra's double-barrelled
musket and raised it to my cheek. Before me on the white rock, in the
full light of the moon, a good mark for a marksman was that panting
black object struggling upwards. I pointed the barrel straight at him. I
took a long and careful aim. I am certain I should have hit him. And
then I bethought me how much I had loved him once upon a time, and the
weapon sank down. I flung it from me."

The girl ceased to speak and covered her face with both her hands. It
was a long time before she took them away again.

At last she sprang up quickly, and turning her pale face towards
Henrietta, said in a hard, dry voice: "It will be the last time, your
ladyship. I am weak because I am a woman, folks would say. But they
shall know that that is not true. Don't be afraid, my lady; what I have
promised, that will I do. You have been very good to me in telling me
that I was being deceived, and I will requite you for it. And now, God
bless you, my lady. Farewell!"

"But surely you are not thinking of going home so late at night?"

"What care I about the night? No spectre can meet me anywhere that is
worse than the horrible thing that dwells at the bottom of my heart. God
bless your ladyship. You shall hear from me soon. Farewell!"

Then the girl gently kissed Henrietta's hand and left the room, throwing
into her gait and bearing an energy and a self-confidence which she was
far from feeling.



CHAPTER XII

THE SOIREES AT ARAD


Despite his misgivings, Count Kengyelesy succeeded in reaching his home
at Arad without being robbed by Fatia Negra.

During the evenings of his visit at Hidvár he had won back everything
which he had lost on the occasion of his friend Hátszegi's visit at
Kengyelesy, and in the joy of his heart he gave his countess _carte
blanche_ in the matter of entertaining her friends and opened his halls
freely to the elegant world of Arad.

For the society of Arad is distinctly elegant. Excepting Pest, there is
no other place in Hungary where the aristocratic element is so strongly
represented. Nay, it has this advantage over Pest that its society does
not scatter as the seasons change. Such pleasure-resorts as Csákó,
Ménes, Magyarát and Világos and the castles of the magnates residing on
the circumjacent _puszta_ are all of a heap, so to speak, around Arad;
so that there is no occasion for acquaintances to separate in spring or
autumn; wherefore to all those who would devote themselves
uninterruptedly to social joys, Arad is a veritable Eldorado.

There was no need to offer the Countess Kengyelesy such an opportunity
twice,--the very next day the round of visiting began. All the
notabilities of the higher circles got themselves introduced to her
ladyship by mutual friends, and the lesser fry, whom nobody knew, were
introduced to her by the count himself. Amongst those who came from afar
was a young man from Pest who had an official post in the county, a rare
distinction in those days, who was much praised for his culture and who
had spoken once or twice very sensibly at Quarter Sessions,--a certain
Szilard Vamhidy. But what interested the ladies in the young man far
more than his official orations was the rumour connecting his name with
a romantic attachment he was said to have had with the daughter of a
wealthy merchant of Pest. The young man, being disappointed in his love,
had resolved to kill himself, and had persuaded the girl to do likewise
at the same time. Only with difficulty had they been snatched from the
threshold of death. Subsequently, on account of this very thing, the
girl had been compelled to become the wife of the wealthy Hátszegi.

The countess quickly made up her mind that such a young man as this was
an indispensable acquaintance. What! Henrietta's ideal, with whom she
had been in love and who would have gladly embraced death with her! Here
indeed was a rare species, especially in these modern days, which
deserved to be exhibited; and she gave her husband no rest till he had
promised to introduce the young man to her. To this end it was necessary
that he should first of all make the young man's acquaintance himself,
but this was an easy matter. The deputy Lord-lieutenant of the county
knew them both and at his house they learnt to know each other. And
Count Kengyelesy was one of those men whom it is impossible to avoid
when once you have made his acquaintance. It was not very long,
therefore, before he took his new friend, absolutely under his
protection and hauled him off to his wife.

The usual stiffness of a first introduction was speedily broken down by
the quaint conceits of the count.

The countess had donned a flowing antique _moiré_ dress and wore her
hair in long English curls to match.

"Come now, friend Szilard!" cried the count, "what do you say? this
dress and that _coiffure_ hardly suit the countess's style of face--eh?"

Many a worthy young man would have been plunged into confusion by such a
silly question, but our Szilard's eternally composed countenance was not
ruffled for an instant.

"Everything becomes the countess," he replied; "but I know of something
which is still more charming and would make any fair woman still more
beautiful."

"Really! You make me quite curious," said the countess.

"Why, Szilard, you a connoisseur!--you surprise me!" cried the count.

"I mean those blue stuff gowns with white spots, which lend quite a
peculiar charm to our women, especially if you set it off with an
old-fashioned _csipkeköto_."[29]

[Footnote 29: A Hungarian headdress made of black lace. The dress
suggested was also of native Hungarian manufacture worn at one time by
the greatest ladies.]

At the very next _soirée_ the Countess Kengyelesy was attired in one of
these blue stuff gowns with white spots, of home manufacture, and with a
black lace head-dress--exactly as Szilard had described it to her.

"My dear friend, be so good as to look there!" said the count
appropriating Szilard while he was still only half through the doorway.
"There she is costumed from head to foot exactly as you advised. Ah! I
pity you. You are already in the toils."

Szilard hastened at once to greet the countess, who treated the handsome
young fellow with marked distinction all through the evening. Indeed she
made no secret of it.

Three days later Szilard was bound, by custom to pay a complimentary
visit upon the Countess. He purposely chose an hour when he knew she
would not be at home, and left his card, but the same evening he
encountered her at the theatre. It was in the entrance hall, where she
was waiting for her carriage, and till it drove up Szilard could not
very well leave her.

"Ah, ah! my honoured friend," cried the countess archly, "this won't do.
You wait till I am not at home, and then you go and leave your card
upon me as a token of respect. But I don't mean to let you off so
easily. I have got a lot to say to you which I am determined you shall
listen to. You must therefore promise to come to my house at twelve
o'clock to-morrow, or else I shall astonish the world by inviting you to
come along with me this instant in my carriage."

A man, in another mood, could scarcely have resisted the temptation of
replying that he would be delighted if the countess put her threat into
execution then and there, even at the risk of astonishing the world.
Szilard merely looked grave and said that he would be happy to pay his
respects to the countess at twelve on the morrow.

He went accordingly. His pulses beat no more quickly than usual as he
entered the countess's private apartment, although she gave the footman
to understand in a low voice that she would be at home to nobody else,
and invited the young man to sit down close beside her, face to face.

The countess was a beautiful woman, and she possessed the art of
dressing beautifully likewise. The countess had beautiful eyes and she
could smile beautifully with them, too. The countess had an extremely
pretty mouth, and when she spoke it was prettier still, for she had a
witty way with her. The danger of the situation was very appreciable.

"My dear, good Szilard," began the countess, with that light, natural
_naïveté_ which so easily disarms the strongest of us, "do not take it
ill of me if I speak to you confidentially. The world will very soon be
saying that you are in love with me and I with you. I shall not believe
the former and you will not believe the latter. Let the world say what
it likes. I have a real blessing of a husband, whom it would be a shame
to offend, and you have quite other ideas. I know what they are. Don't
be angry, don't frown! I am not exacting. I don't want to fetch you away
from other people. I will not ask where you have buried your treasures.
I will merely say to you that I know you have treasures and that they
are buried. Is it not so? You need not be afraid of me."

Szilard was a little taken aback by this unexpected turn. Could it be
sheer curiosity, he thought?

"I have nothing to be afraid of, countess," remarked Szilard, smiling,
"I have no buried secrets. I was a young man once, that is all. I have
had my foolish illusions, like other people, and like other people I
have cured myself of them."

"Nay, nay, sir, now you are not quite sticking to the truth; you are
_not_ cured of them. But before I go any further let me tell you that
all this is not mere feminine curiosity on my part. I want you to trust
me and I will trust you equally. Believe me when I say that if I love to
make fun of empty-headed noodles, I can always respect a good heart
because it is a rarity. The lady I want to speak to you about is my
dear friend and she is very, very unhappy."

Szilard was bound to believe that this was true, for tear-drops sparkled
in the countess's eyes.

"Is it my fault?" he asked bitterly.

"It is neither your fault nor hers. I know that as a fact. The cause of
it all is money, the thirst for money. There is not a more miserable
creature in the wide world than the daughter of a rich man. But that is
the least of her misfortunes. They married her to a man who did not love
her, who only took her because her grandfather was a millionaire. Her
grandfather frightened her into the match by threatening her with his
curse and now, when she has become the wife of this man who does not
even feel friendship for her, I hear that this same old grandfather has
made another will depriving her of everything."

Szilard's lips trembled at these words.

"You can imagine what will be the result. This young woman loves not and
is not loved. They gave her away to an Oriental nabob who, imagining his
wife to be wealthy, scatters his money like a prince. And now this man
has suddenly been startled by the report that his wife has absolutely
nothing!--do you know the meaning of the expression: bread of charity?"

"I have heard the expression, but the bread itself I have never tasted."

"Then you can have no idea what that sort of bread is like which a man
gives to the wife whom he finds to be poor, when he fancied her to be
rich--oh! that sort of bread is very, very bitter!"

Ah! thought Szilard, the bread that _I_ offered her was only dry--not
bitter.

"I can tell you on very good authority," resumed the countess, "that the
baron's conduct towards his wife has completely changed since he
discovered that she has been disinherited. He had lost heavily at cards
when the news first reached him, and he took no pains to conceal his
ill-humour from his wife in consequence. The poor of the district had
got to regard Henrietta as their ministering angel because of her
labours of love among them, but now she can play the part of lady
bountiful no longer. She has to shut her door in the faces of her poor
petitioners, for her husband will not allow any unnecessary expense.
Nay, more, they say that Hátszegi now keeps his wife's private jewels
under lock and key to prevent her from pawning them and relieving the
needs of the poor with the proceeds, as she was wont to do, and only
brings them out on state occasions when he compels her to pile them all
on her person. Isn't that a humiliation for a woman?"

"If only you had become mine," Szilard mentally apostrophized poor
Henrietta, "you would now have had a cosey little chimney-corner, and a
nice little room all to yourself; and though I could not have bought you
jewels, the best of every morsel of food we shared together would always
have been yours."

"And," pursued the countess, "most degrading experience of all,
Hátszegi no longer attempts to conceal from his wife his outrageous
_liaisons_ with pretty peasant women. The thing has long been a byeword,
though his wife knew nothing of it--but she knows it now. Nor is this
all, my dear Vámhidy. Poor Henrietta's heart is suffering from another
sorrow which she feels all the more keenly because it smarts
unceasingly. Her young brother, Koloman, has suddenly disappeared from
Pest and left no trace behind him. They say all sorts of things about
him, which I do not care about telling you, but most of them are bad
enough. On the news reaching Henrietta, she asked her husband to make
enquiries as to the cause of Koloman's disappearance. Hátszegi wrote to
his agent and received an answer which he will not show to Henrietta on
any consideration; nay, more, he commanded his wife never to mention
Koloman's name before him again. The poor woman is naturally in despair.
She cannot conceive why the cause of her brother's disappearance should
be hidden from her. And now I am coming to the end and aim of all this
rigmarole. Henrietta believes, and I am likewise convinced of it, that
if her brother be alive, there is only one person in the world whom he
will try and seek out and that is yourself."

"Poor lad! he loved me much," sighed Szilard.

"And now you understand what I am driving at, don't you? If anybody can
find out the whereabouts of Henrietta's brother and the real reason why
he fled from his relations at Pest and took refuge neither with his
aunt, Madame Langai, who, I hear, has taken his part all through, nor
yet with his sister, it is most certainly you. This is no lawyer's
business, for a lawyer would set about it too gingerly. Here sympathy
and chivalry are before all other things necessary, and if the husband
declines this noble task, we have nobody to turn to except--the man who
has been sacrificed."

Szilard bit his lips to prevent the tears from coming. Who could ever
have thought that so frivolous a woman would have had so much feeling
for her friend? Then he rose, bowed and curtly informed the countess
that he would undertake the commission.

The countess pressed his hand affectionately: "And keep me informed of
everything," said she, "for I am the common post between you two."

Szilard thanked the countess and withdrew. He pondered the matter
carefully till the evening, and by that time he had a plan all ready in
his head.

For a whole week after this, nothing was to be seen of Vámhidy. Count
Kengyelesy sought him everywhere and could find him nowhere. Every day
he asked his countess what she had done with the young man.

Ten days after the first _soirée_ the date for another had been fixed.
Szilard did not appear even at this. Kengyelesy hunted for him from
pillar to post, but could not discover what had become of him. Nobody
had heard anything of him.

"He has poisoned himself," said Kengyelesy at last to a group of his
sporting friends. "It is quite plain to me. When a fellow has got that
sort of thing into his head once, he will try it again and again. I wash
my hands of the business, it is all the fault of the countess. Why does
she play her tricks with such people? No doubt he has swallowed poison
and then crawled away into some nook or corner of a forest. In a month
or two, I suppose, we shall come upon him unexpectedly."

"Whom shall we come upon unexpectedly?" cried a voice behind his back.
He looked around and there was the long lost Szilard.

"Oh, there you are, eh? What have you been doing with yourself all this
time? Come along with me--and Heaven help you!--I will take you to my
wife. Poor young chap! I thought you had already had enough of it and
made away with yourself in consequence."

Then he drew his arm through Szilard's and tripped off to the countess.
"Here he is!" he cried. "We have found him, do not abandon yourself to
despair on his account. Be so good as to sit down beside him!--here's a
chair! I'll take care nobody disturbs you!"

The countess pressed Szilard's hand and made a sign to him to remain.

"I have just arrived from Pest," said Szilard.

"Really! Well?"

"I have found out everything, or rather, I should say, a good deal."

"Do pray tell me at once. All the people are dancing, they will take no
notice of us."

"Ever since old Lapussa's death," began Szilard, "for he died soon after
he had altered his will, all the members of his family have been at
bitter variance. Madame Langai, the old man's widowed daughter, disputes
the validity of the last will--whereby Mr. John Lapussa becomes heir to
the exclusion of everybody else, and has instituted legal proceedings to
upset it. Madame Langai seeks to prove that old Lapussa was _non compos
mentis_ when he disinherited the other members of his family, and she
also maintains, that the old fellow had no reason whatever for hating
his grandchildren and reducing them to beggary as he has done. On the
other hand, Mr. John maintains that his dear father had excellent
reasons for detesting his grandchildren because the Baroness Hátszegi
has never written a letter to her grandfather since her marriage and
both she and her husband have expressed themselves, at home, in the most
disrespectful terms imaginable concerning the old gentleman, even giving
it to be understood that they would be very glad if they had not to wait
too long for the curtain to fall on the fifth act of his life's drama.
He calls as his witness one Margari, who was formerly old Lapussa's
reader before the girl was married, and since then has been compelled
to act as secretary to Hátszegi, or rather as a spy upon him. This
fellow, who is now the mere tool of Mr. John, is quite prepared to
retail all sorts of horrors about the Hátszegis. As to the other
grandchild, the boy Koloman I mean, his uncle has saddled him with a
terrible charge. He has produced a bill for 40,000 florins which he
accuses the lad of forging in the name of his sister, the Baroness
Hátszegi."

"Ah!" exclaimed the countess in an incredulous voice.

"The thing is ridiculously incredible, I know, yet there the bill is; I
have seen it, for it has been sequestered by the Court. It is obviously
in the youth's handwriting as also is the very bad imitation of his
sister's signature. In connection therewith is the fact of the youth's
sudden disappearance (and every attempt to trace his whereabouts has
failed), for, on the very day when the subject of the bill was first
broached, he vanished from his college, and apparently he had been
preparing for flight some time before."

"But what could have induced a mere child to do such a thing, he is
scarcely thirteen years old?"

"He was always somewhat flighty by nature, though that, of course, is
not sufficient to explain how he came to forge his sister's name on a
draft for 40,000 florins."

"But why will not the baron tell his wife all about it?"

"Does not your ladyship see?--It is quite plain to me. Hátszegi
understands his wife thoroughly. He feels certain that as soon as the
baroness hears of what her brother is accused, she would not hesitate a
moment to acknowledge the forged signature as really her own."

"True, true. And then I suppose her brother could be saved."

"Completely."

"And then, I suppose, she would have to pay the money?"

"Either pay it or be sued for it."

"Poor woman! I know she has no money. A most awkward position, most
awkward. But it does not matter; if her jewels are under lock and key,
nobody guards mine."

At these words which came straight from the best of hearts, Szilard
could not restrain himself from impressing a burning kiss on the
countess's hand so affected was he by this outburst of generosity.

"Ah, ha!" cackled the count behind his back, "so we have got as far as
that already, eh! Capital, capital, upon my word! Nay, nay, my young
friend, don't be afraid of me. Do not put yourself out in the least on
my account! God bless you, my boy!"

"To-morrow, we'll plan it all out, I'll be waiting for you at one
o'clock," whispered the countess to Szilard, "now I must go, the
cotillion is beginning."

"Don't you dance then?" enquired the count of Szilard. "Nonsense!
they'll say you are mourning somebody. Thank God, old Lapussa was not
_your_ father-in-law, but Hátszegi's. It is for him to pull a long face,
but you go and dance!"



CHAPTER XIII

TIT FOR TAT


It may seem strange to us that the rumour of Fatia Negra's nocturnal
adventure was not spread abroad in these parts, but as a matter of fact
nobody did speak of it. It seemed as if everybody who knew anything
about it, died out of the world before he could pass the news on to his
neighbour.

The dwellers in the hut in the Ice Valley had vanished without leaving a
trace behind them. The herd, untended by a shepherd, was scattered to
the winds by wolves. Nobody could say what had become of Juon Tare and
Mariora. The person who shewed least of all tell that she knew anything
about this midnight adventure was Anicza herself. She had sobbed out the
whole story before Henrietta, but after that she kept her own counsel
and kept a good countenance also when folks looked at her. But there was
venom at the bottom of her heart, and she nourished it there.

In a fortnight's time Fatia Negra visited her again. There was now
nothing the matter with him, all traces of the life and death struggle
had disappeared. Anicza was more affectionate towards him than ever. She
did not even ask him where he had been all this time, nor did she notice
the scar on his neck which had not been there before.

Fatia Negra came to her at night, as he always did. The famous
adventurer was very cautious. Anicza knew for certain that whenever he
came to visit her in a populous place like this, before him and behind
him went faithful henchmen who stood on guard at the corners of the
streets and gave a signal at the approach of any danger. Only amongst
the snowy mountains was he wont to go alone. He was also very wary in
other ways. Thus, he never drank wine: there was really no getting at
him. And if once he had his weapons handy, then he could always cut his
way through his enemies, even if he were completely surrounded.

"Fatia Negra," said the girl, throwing her arms round his neck, "last
night I had an evil dream. I dreamt that the smallpox had ruined my
face. Would you love me if I were pockmarked?"

"Yes, I would still love you," replied the adventurer.

"Well, as it happens I am not. Kiss me! Then I dreamt another dream. I
dreamt that all our property was destroyed. I was a ragged wandering
beggar with my head tied up. Would you love me if I were a ragged
beggar?"

"Little fool, of course I should love you."

"Then embrace me nicely. After that I dreamt that some one had shut me
up in prison for some great offence; they had condemned me to many
years' imprisonment, condemned me to spend all my youth behind
iron-barred windows and they would only let me free again when I had
become a wrinkled old hag. Would you love me if I was in prison? Would
you come and stand outside my iron bars and speak to me now and then?"

"Stop this foolish chatter! Who is able to answer such questions?" and
in order that she should obey the more readily he closed her mouth with
kisses.

But as soon as the kisses were over, she began to prattle again:

"But after that I went on dreaming again, and I dreamt what made me very
angry with myself. I dreamt that I married someone else and forgot you.
Would you still love me if I were to deceive you and wed another?"

"Yes, I would love you even then, Anicza,--and my love for you would
make me shoot you through the heart."

How the girl laughed when he said this!

"Wait a bit," said she, "and you will see that it will all come to pass.
I shall grow sick and ugly. I shall become a poor beggar. They will send
me to prison and make a slave of me. I shall deceive you and wed
another. Then we shall see whether you will love me; then we shall see
whether you will kill me."

Anicza thought all this so amusing that she laughed aloud. The noise
brought old Onucz into the room. His daughter turned towards him
smilingly. "Isn't it true, father, that three suitors are courting me?"
she asked. "I was asking Fatia Negra which of the three I should take."

Old Onucz scratched his nose pretty hard at this question. He would have
liked to have said: "whichever you like, as long as it is the right
one!" but he was afraid of offending Fatia Negra.

"Well, Domnule," said he at last, "truth is truth, after all. I'm
getting an old man now, and what's the good of my scraping together and
piling up all these ducats if nothing comes of it all? I have indeed an
only daughter, a pretty girl and a good girl, too, but what's the use of
that? You are not her husband. If I only knew of some corner of the
world quite out of your reach, I would gather together all my
belongings, seek it out and settle down there; but it would be of no
avail, you would always find me out and befool my girl again, so I have
to stay where I am."

"Don't grumble, old chap, there is a time for all things. This black
mask shall not always cover my face; when I come to see you, my name
shall not always be Fatia Negra. The day will come when a carriage and
four shall drive into your courtyard, a sabre-tashed heyduke will then
leap from the box and open the silver-plated coach and a cavalier in
cloth of gold will step out who comes to you as a suitor. If you see
this ring on his finger you will know that it is I, and there will no
longer be a Fatia Negra in the wide world. We will go together to
Bucharest, a true Roumanian city, where folks will respect us and then
our happy days will begin."

"If only that could be soon! But you have been telling me this for a
long, long time."

"That is because we cannot put an end to our work yet. There are very
many people who still expect much from us. If I do not satisfy them they
will remain a perpetual danger to us. That is why I am compelled to wear
this mask a little longer. When once I have taken it off, he who used to
wear it is dead and has nothing more in common with me."

"Then you really mean to break away from everything one day?"

"Yes, it is high time. My little finger whispers that someone wants to
betray me. But say that to nobody. We must not frighten our own people.
The Government is getting suspicious at the disappearance of so much
gold. It is sniffing about, but at present it is on a wrong track. The
Jews of Hungary are suspected and they happen to know nothing at all
about it. But it is quite enough that suspicion _has_ been aroused. So
far they fancy that only about fifty to sixty pounds of gold a year are
unlawfully made away with. They don't know yet that it amounts to five
or six hundredweight, which is coined into ready money underneath the
ground. This business must be put a stop to. This year the mines yielded
a rich profit. Next Saturday there will be a last delivery of gold in
the Lucsia cavern. As soon as the coins are struck, we shall divide the
profits, wish one another 'buna nopte!'[30] and depart our respective
ways. We shall destroy the machinery, blow up the smelting furnaces with
gunpowder, break down the aqueducts and close up the mouth of the
cavern. After that everyone can do as he likes with his gold. I shall
wash my hands of it."

[Footnote 30: Good night.]

"Well said!" cried old Onucz, "that is as I would have it also. The
whole lot of us who are partners in the concern will meet once more in
the Lucsia cavern. There we will listen to what you say and swear to
each other that we will not say a word of what has gone on down below
there. Then everyone will do as you bid, for you are the most prudent of
us all."

"Then I shall only have to wait another week?" enquired Anicza, winding
the locks of Fatia Negra round her fingers.

"For what?" asked the adventurer.

"Nay, but surely you know?"

"Aha! of course!" said he smiling. "You mean you will only have to wait
another week for me to cease to be your husband under a mask and become
your real, true husband, eh? That is the end of all your thoughts, eh?"

"Yes, yes!" said the girl, but she thought within herself: "I shall only
have to wait a week to give up your masked head into the hands of the
hangman!"

So Fatia Negra unsuspiciously rocked the girl up and down on his knee
and reflected complacently: "Girls are made in order that they may
believe the lies which men choose to tell them."

But Anicza was a Wallachian girl and Wallachian girls are jealous,
revengeful and artful.

       *       *       *       *       *

That Saturday had arrived.

Seven hundred torches lit up the Lucsia Grotto. In between, from out of
the corners of the cavern Bengal lights burst forth from time to time
flooding for a few moments the whole of that gloomy palace with green,
blue, white and rose-coloured flames to which the red flame of the
pitch-torches with their black smoke formed a spectral contrast.

The great company of coiners had arranged for the last evening before
their separation a sumptuous feast in this subterranean hall. The floor
was strewn with white sand and all round about tents were erected in
which roast and baked meats were piled up into veritable hillocks on
broad beech-wood dishes. In order to show the wealth at their command an
ox was roasting whole on a flaming fire, revolving as it roasted, while
two men, one on each side, basted it well with bacon fat held on iron
forks. Close behind it was a gigantic vat of wine, everybody was free to
drink out of it as much as he chose. Right in front of the smithy, too,
was another gigantic vat holding about fifty firkins, filled to the brim
with the finest eau de vié. A couple of young fellows lolled in front of
the vat; they were already too lazy to dip their glasses into the fluid,
they sucked it in from the brim of the vat itself.

The glare of the smelting oven no longer shone from the windows of the
stone building in the midst of the cavern, the smoke intermingled with
sparks no longer welled out of the flue, the subterranean hubbub no
longer accompanied the stroke of the hammers, the machinery was silent,
its work was done.

Two hundred and fifty thousand coined ducats await distribution; of
these, fifty thousand belong to Fatia Negra and twenty thousand to old
Onucz.

The smithy to-day is adorned with green twigs and bright ribbons, and on
its massive chimneys all the requisites for a pyrotechnical display have
been heaped up; it is from these that the rockets will ascend, it is
here the blue and red Catherine wheels will revolve. The vaulted ceiling
of the cavern is so high that the rockets in their highest flight will
not graze it. An orchestral-like balustrade has been provided for the
musicians. The shareholders themselves will do their best to enliven the
festivities with fiddles, flutes and bagpipes. The guests are already
appearing, singly and in groups, down through the machinery of the mill.
The men are all accompanied by their womenkind in gala costumes.

Before the appearance of Fatia Negra, mirth and uproar have full swing.
Everyone gives free course to his jollity till the chief comes whose
black mask is sufficient to quiet everyone's good humour.

And to-day brings with it its own peculiar festivity. After the great
distribution of money, Fatia Negra will take the daughter of Onucz by
the hand and plight his troth to her in front of a crucifix placed on a
high pedestal. The oath of betrothal will be an invention of Fatia Negra
himself, filled with well assorted curses and promises. And he will
swear to regard Anicza as his lawful bride from this day forth until
such time as he can, without any mask or disguise, conduct her before a
priest and solemnize his wedding in another place and before other
people. For a long time this ceremony has been the pet idea of old Onucz
and now Fatia Negra has agreed to it.

Gradually all the partners have assembled in the cavern. Amongst the
last to arrive are old Onucz and his daughter with the bridesmaids.
Anicza is dressed as usual with her girdle and embroidered bodice and a
round hat on her head. The only difference is that now she sparkles all
over with gold and jewels and her pig-tail is interwoven with real
pearls. Amongst all the picked beauties who have gathered together here,
she is still the most beautiful.

Only the bridegroom still keeps the good folks waiting. He is a long
time coming, as becomes a great man. Nay, it is quite possible he may
be there already without anyone seeing him. Perchance he is walking
along there behind the bride in an invisible mantle and only when he
throws it off, then only and not till then will the people see him.

Anicza screams aloud--perhaps with joy! Everyone is thunderstruck; they
imagine their leader must be in league with the devil himself, for he
comes up from out of the earth!

And with what splendour does he ascend! The purple robe that he wears is
scarce discernible for gold lace; a long embroidered mantle, like the
mantle of a prince, floats down from his shoulders and on his head he
wears a golden helmet from which the mask depends.

The top of this helmet is set all round about with diamonds, and one of
his comrades makes the remark that the spike of this helmet is somewhat
muddy. He wore no weapon by his side, not even a dagger. Naturally,--one
generally lays aside one's arms when one is about to swear solemnly
before an altar. Onucz approached him obsequiously and kissed the hand
of his mysterious leader with profound respect, whilst Anicza approached
him with roguish archness, adroitly feigning a superstitious fear of her
magician of a sweetheart.

"I am not afraid of you, Fatia Negra! though you come and go unseen. I
fear you come not in God's name."

"That is true. We are nearer methinks to the Kingdom of the Devil."

"Hush! say not so!"

"Why not? If these men had imagined that I came down from Heaven, they
would have betrayed me long ago. They would have carried me bound to
Fehervár; but because they fancy I came from below and am acquainted
with the devil, they fear me and are faithful. It is the same with you:
you love me because you fear me."

"Ho, ho, ho! We shall see. I fear nobody, not even you. It was a joke
when I said just now: I am afraid. You did not see that."

"Come now, I'll put you to the test at once. You see that crucifix on
the altar? On that we will swear fidelity to each other and everyone
here present will also swear to preserve eternal secrecy. As, however,
we coiners cannot call God to witness, for by our trade we have rejected
him, our oaths cannot ascend to Heaven but must descend elsewhere. In
order then that our oath may be effectual, go if you have the courage,
turn the crucifix and return it to its place--only upside down."

For an instant the girl grew pale and trembled, then she advanced boldly
up to the altar, seized the crucifix and lifting it up, turned it round
and thrust it upside down into a hole that happened to be on the altar,
so that its pedestal stood up in the air.

All who were present looked on with wonder and horror.

As the girl raised the cross and put it down again reverse ways, a
mechanical involuntary jolting motion of her arms was discernible,
though her face betrayed nothing. An electrical machine hidden beneath
the altar was the cause of this shock.

"Well?" enquired Fatia Negra as she returned to her place.

"The crucifix struck me when I seized it, and struck me again when I put
it down," whispered the girl; and as she said these words she was very
pale.

"And yet you did what I told you," said Fatia Negra, placing his hand on
Anicza's shoulder. "You are a brave girl, and worthy of me."

"Comrades!" the leader of the adventurers now cried with a thundrous
voice, "come and listen to me!"

Everyone thereupon abandoned his booth, his table or his diversion and
stood in a circle round Black Mask.

"Ye know," he began, "the name of that place which is under the earth!
Its name is the grave. Ye are all of you at this moment in the grave
with me and if I wish it, dead men. Whoever would see once more the
bright sunlight of the upper world where dawn is now breaking, he must
swear that he will never at any time, drunk or sober, tell to any man
what has happened, what he has seen or heard in this underground tomb,
but will regard it all as a dream which he has forgotten on awakening.
Swear this with me in this hour! I myself will first of all repeat the
oath and ye must say whether ye are content therewith or not."

Thereupon he approached the altar whose basement formed the glass
isolating "island" which all of us who have ever seen an electrical
machine know so well. The electric machine itself, a battery of Leyden
jars was hidden under the altar and connected by a piece of clockwork
with that opening covered with metal in which the crucifix had been
planted.

Black Mask stood silently for a moment on the basement of the altar
after removing his helmet from his head, and those who stood nearest
were horrified to observe that single hairs of his long flowing mane of
hair rose slowly and remained stiffly suspended in the air. There was a
deep silence, the silence that prevails under the earth--among the Dead.

And now Fatia Negra began to recite the words of the oath in a solemn
ghostly voice: "I, the bearer of the Black Mask, Fatia Negra, as they
call me, swear in the subterranean midnight by the living fire which
falling like rain reduced Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes; by the flood
which killed all the dwellers upon earth; by the gaping gulf which
swallowed up the traitorous bands of Dathan and Abiram; by the spirit
which announced the death of King Saul; by the Angel Lucifer who by
reason of his rebellion was cast down from Heaven; by the angel Malach
Hamovesh who carries in his hands the sword of violent death; by the
twelve plagues of Egypt with which Moses visited the land of the
Pharaohs; by all these things and by the star under which I was born do
I swear secresy--and may I perish in fire and water, may I be buried
alive in the bowels of the earth, may I become a pillar of salt, may the
wild beast of the forest tear me to pieces, may my own weapon turn
against me in the evil hour, may I be terrified by midnight spectres and
hag-ridden, may my body be smitten with leprosy, my eyes with blindness,
my tongue with dumbness, my bones by rottenness, if ever I speak one
syllable to anybody, be it priest, or child, or father, or condemning
judge, or threatening headsman, of anything I have seen, heard or learnt
in this place, or write it down with my hand or put anybody on the track
of it! May every drop of my blood become curse-laden; may my remotest
posterity anathematize me; may I awake in my grave and go about again as
a spectre, if ever I act in anyway contrary to what I now swear! May all
those who are under the earth and above the earth be the witnesses of
this my oath!"

This drastic formula satisfied everybody. In those parts the people much
prefer such unmeaning self-objurgation to our legal oaths as taken in
the presence of the judges and they are considered a hundred times more
binding. Meanwhile numerous single hairs had seemed to detach themselves
from Black Mask's long locks and now stood upright all around his head
like some spectral crown. Those who stood around regarded him with deep
horror. Many believed that a supernatural marvellous power was in his
words; only the girl did not believe in him at all.

In order to increase still further this terrified respect the adventurer
beckoned towards him the old men of the assembly.

"Come hither, that ye may see for yourselves how well acquainted with
the words of the oath are those in that other place where knowledge
needs must be; stretch out your hands towards me, touch me with the tips
of your fingers and ye will discover there is something else present
here besides yourselves."

Old Onucz tremblingly stretched out his hand in the direction of Fatia
Negra and the next moment collapsed with fear when he perceived sparks
crackle forth from his leader's garments which burnt his finger tips.
More than one elder was afraid at first to put out his hand till
curiosity made him venture everything. Several wanted to convince
themselves personally of this miracle, which they could not credit from
the hearsay of others and the juggler himself encouraged those standing
near him to touch him wherever they chose and fire would spring from his
body. Sparks sometimes leaped forth from his neck and sometimes from
the tips of his ears and everyone was persuaded that the curse had
already made its way into every drop of his blood.

Anicza alone did not draw near him.

"Are you afraid of me, then?" enquired the imposter.

"No."

"Come and kiss me then!"

Anicza approached and allowed herself to be kissed.

Immediately afterwards a shudder ran through her.

"Well? What did you feel?"

"Your mouth burnt my mouth," replied the girl, and Fatia Negra happening
to look aside just then, she furtively crossed herself.

Fatia Negra was completely satisfied with the success of this comedy.
Their awe of the mysterious and the unintelligible had made his comrades
his slaves; he need have no more scruples concerning them.

"Give me your right hand, Anicza," said he, "and give your other hand to
your next neighbour, and let everyone take the hand of the person next
to him."

Thus he made them form a long chain, the extreme end of which was
brought up by old Onucz in whose hand he placed a slender conducting rod
which hung down from the altar. Then he recited the fantastic oath
before them all once more, whilst they repeated every syllable of it
after him. The comedy was concluded by a violent electric shock which
instantly sent a spasm of pain through the muscles and sinews of every
member of the living chain. The poor untaught creatures all imagined
that the devil himself was flying through their limbs and with tears and
groans they begged Black Mask not to put them to any further test.

"And now, Fatia Negra," said old Onucz respectfully, "the moment has
come in which you also must keep your word. Will you really take my
daughter to wife?"

"I will not see the light of day again until I have done so."

"Will you swear to be her husband in the way you promised to swear?"

"You shall hear me."

"Then have I something else to say to you. Over there, as you see,
stands the great weighing machine, in one of the scales I will place
Anicza and in the other as many piles of ducats as will make her kick
the beam. I will give my girl as many gold ducats as she weighs."

Thereupon the two bridesmen produced a large wooden platter, placed the
bride on it, raised it high in the air and carried it to the huge
weighing machine. Onucz bade them place both bride and platter in the
scale that it might weigh the heavier. Then they piled up into the other
scale as many of the sacks of ducats sealed with the seal of Onucz as
were necessary to establish an absolute equipoise between the two
scales, and then while both the girl and the gold, balancing each other
were floating in the air, old Onucz, his face beaming with triumph,
poked Fatia Negra in the side with his elbows and said: "And now all
that is yours."

The adventurer rushed to the weighing-machine, not indeed to the scale
on which the gold was, but to where the girl stood and lifted her down
on his arm as if she were a child. The other scale, losing its balance,
rushed earthwards and the sacks filled with gold ducats toppled off it
left and right.

At this the company was delighted. Fatia Negra's manly tenderness was
appreciated by everyone and old Onucz, radiant with joy, turned towards
his cronies: "You see it is not my money but my daughter that he is
after!"

And yet if Fatia Negra had only been able to foresee what was about to
happen the next instant, if only he had been able to guess what would
happen during the first few moments of the first approaching quarter of
an hour, could he but have heard one step, one bump which might have
told him what was going on just then above his head, instead of
extending his hands towards the girl, he would have done much more
wisely if he had grasped in each hand one of the sacks lying on the
other scale and made off with it somewhere through that dark corridor
which nobody knew of but he himself, under the special protection of the
devil. Just now, however, the devil was evidently not looking after him
as carefully as usual, for he returned to the altar with the girl in his
arms and deposited his load on the altar steps. The girl knelt down.

"Strew over her corn moistened with honey!" whispered old Onucz to the
bridesmaids;--he considered this old custom as of the highest
importance. Possibly it was a symbol of fruitfulness.

Anicza wanted Fatia Negra to bend down to her. She had something to
whisper in his ear. He leant over her as she desired, drew her pretty
face close up to his, and the girl timidly whispered:

"Are you going to take me away under the earth?"

"Are you afraid I shall do so?"

"With you I will go wherever you choose and will fear nothing."

"I take you at your word."

"I don't care. Whither lies the way, to the right or to the left?"

"To the left. Everything which brings luck must be done lefthandedly."

"Is the door underneath the coining-shop?" asked the girl carelessly.

"Yes, if you must know."

"I am ready. Say the oath that I may hear it!"

Fatia Negra repeated his hocus-pocus, kneeling down beside Anicza on the
steps of the altar, and raising his eyes towards the black vault of the
cavern as he recited the words of a new oath, which kept all the
listeners spellbound, so full it was of grisly images and hellish
fancies. So deep indeed was the general attention that nobody observed
in the meantime that, in the dark background formed by the distant walls
of the cavern, a multitude of strange faces were popping up. First two
men descended through the machinery of the mill and then two others
until, gradually, a hundred of them had assembled. They were all armed
and dressed in uniform, but their arms were concealed beneath their
mantles, that they might not glimmer through the darkness. And then they
quietly formed into ranks like supernumeraries on the stage of a theatre
whilst the chief comedian is ending his monologue in front of the
footlights. Only Anicza had observed them. During the whole course of
the oath, she had not once looked at Fatia Negra's cursing lips, but at
the groups forming in the darkness above his head.

The oath over, Fatia Negra seized the reversed crucifix and an electric
shock again jolted the hand of the girl which he held fast in his own
right hand. "Now, you swear it also!" cried he.

The only reply the girl gave was to passionately tear her hand out of
the adventurer's. Rising from her knees, and with her handsome face full
of rage, scorn and hatred, she turned upon him, who knelt at her feet,
gnashing her pearly teeth as she spoke: "Wretched play-actor! masked
imposter! You have deceived everybody, but nobody so much as me. Do you
remember that night in the ice valley and how shamefully you betrayed me
there? Know then that I was present in that hut, that it was I who blew
the horn and brought back the jealous husband from the forest. I saw the
tussle that followed and I swore, there and then, that I would be your
ruin. Just now you swore that if ever you betrayed me, thus might you
yourself be betrayed by whomsoever you trusted most. You said: 'Let
water pursue; let fire seize me, let the axe of the headsman descend
upon me and the dogs drink up my blood!' Be it so, then--here is fire in
front of you and water behind you and the headsman's sword above your
head! The dogs that are to lick your blood are already barking for it. I
have betrayed you. Look behind you!"

The armed band of soldiers, moving forward in line, like a piece of
machinery, suddenly disclosed a row of bayonets glittering in the light
of the torches. "We are lost!" howled the mob, whilst the voice of the
officer in command (it had a strong foreign accent), rose above the din:
"Down with your arms! no resistance!"

Onucz rushed roaring towards his sacks of ducats, the women scattered
screaming among the tents. For an instant Fatia Negra stood petrified
before Anicza, like a devil caught in a trap, and gazed vacantly at the
girl's flaming face.

Anicza now turned quickly towards the armed soldiers and cried with a
piercing voice: "Hasten Juon Tare! Seize the smelting-oven entrance,
else this devil will still escape us!"

That was why she wanted to know from Fatia Negra which way they would go
underground.

At these words, however, the adventurer recovered himself. He saw a
pitiless enemy and a troop of armed men hastening to the door of the
smelting-furnace and that way of refuge was consequently closed. The
same instant an infernal idea occurred to him.

Hastily snatching up a burning torch from the altar with a couple of
vigorous bounds he approached the smelting-furnace. Twenty bayonets and
a long axe in the hands of Juon Tare were raised against him--and he was
unarmed.

But it was not to the door he wished to get. With a spring sideways he
reached the huge vat filled with brandy, threw the burning torch down in
front of it and placing his muscular shoulders against the vat, with a
desperate exertion of strength scattered its contents on to the floor of
the cavern from end to end.

In an instant the whole cavern was in flames!

The floor was of stone so that it could not absorb the spirit as it
leaked out and it flashed up as it caught the flame of the torch close
at hand. It spread rapidly like a lake of fire that has burst its dams.

The blue spirit-flame filled the whole of the empty cavern with a pale,
ghastly glare, the air, the empty space itself seemed to burst into
flame. Hundreds of torches, burnt down to their very roots, flickered
luridly in the midst of this blue fire of hell, and the heaped-up fire
works,--the Bengali pyramids and the rockets and crackers--flamed,
fizzled and banged about in the midst of the terrible heat. And in the
thick of this infernal blaze black figures, like the souls of the
Accursed, were running frantically about, howling, shrieking and
toppling over one another and seeking a refuge on the higher rocks
whither the flames, spreading through the air, leaped after them. Juon
Tare lost his eyesight in the flames. The others tried to find a refuge
in the aqueduct running through the cavern, but the pursuing alcohol
rushed after them like a living cataract of fire. Everyone seemed bound
to perish at this hellish marriage feast.

Only two people did not lose their presence of mind; only two knew what
ought to be done, and one of these was Fatia Negra. When the armed
soldiers scattered from before the door of the smelting-furnace, he had
boldly waded through the burning spirit; he knew very well that it could
not set fire to clothing immediately and he took care to hold his hands
in front of his eyes to save himself from being blinded. He tore the
door open and hastily vanished through it.

The other was Anicza, who, when she saw that in the hundred-fold
confusion everyone had lost his head and was running desperately to
certain death, quickly snatched up an axe, rushed to the gigantic beer
vats and staved in their bottoms. The neutral fluid streamed down upon
the floor like a water fall and, gradually gaining ground, forced the
flaming _palinka_[31] back further and further, till at last the
infernal blue light was gradually extinguished.

[Footnote 31: Hungarian brandy.]

By that time, however, the beautiful bride was a sight of horror, her
face was burnt out of all recognition.

Every member of the party had received injuries from the fire. Some of
them, already blinded, writhed in agony on the ground and dipped their
faces in the cool puddles formed by the flowing beer. Old Onucz had not
a hair of his head left, but for all that he was still sitting on a heap
of ducats, which were rolling in every direction out of the half charred
sacks. His scorched hands he dug down deep among his ducats, and
thought, perhaps, that they would assuage his pangs.

Both of Juon Tare's eyes had been burnt out by an explosion of
gunpowder, and two of the soldiers had also received serious injuries.

Only after the general terror had subsided a little, did it occur to
someone that now that the fire had been brought under, Fatia Negra might
be pursued. This someone was the bride.

It was she who seized a new torch, it was she who cried to the soldiers:
"After me!" and was the first to tear open the door of the
smelting-furnace. Within was darkness. By torchlight they explored every
corner of that underground world--but Fatia Negra was nowhere to be
found.



CHAPTER XIV

THE MIKALAI CSÁRDA


From Hidvár to Gyula Fehervár is a good day's journey, even with the
best horses and in the best weather; in the rainy season the mountain
streams make the journey still longer. Fortunately, exactly half-way
lies the Mikalai _csárdá_, in which dwells a good honest Wallachian
gentleman who also follows the profession of innkeeper. In these mining
regions there are no Jews, all the inns and _csárdás_ are in the hands
of the Armenians and Wallachs: the people are content with them and the
Hungarian gentry like them.

Young Makkabesku had built up his den in a most picturesque situation
beside a stream gushing down from among the mountains and forming a
waterfall close to the very house. This stream possessed the peculiar
property of turning to stone every leaf and twig which fell into it,
even the branches of the trees hanging over it were turned into pretty
white petrifactions so far as the water was able to reach them.

Domnul Makkabesku did not carry on the business of inn-keeper for the
sake of gain (he would not have been able to make a living out of it if
he had tried), but from sheer goodheartedness and good-fellowship. His
charges therefore were extremely moderate. A traveller on foot who asked
for a night's lodging, had to pay twopence, a traveller on horseback a
shilling; if he required wine and brandy for supper as well, still he
was only charged a shilling. Who would go to the trouble of totting up
extra figures for trifles of that sort? A carriage and four was not
taxed at all, those who came in it paid what they chose. If anybody did
not ask what he had to pay but simply shook hands and went on his way,
mine host simply wished him a happy journey and never said a word about
his account.

For Makkabesku was a proud man in his way and thought a great deal of
his gentility. He expected to be addressed as "Domnule!"[32] and was
delighted when his guests took notice of his coat of arms hanging up in
the guest chamber,--to-wit, a black bear with three darts in its
heel--and enquired as to its meaning; when he would explain that that
black bear with the three darts which was also painted on a sheet of
lead and swung backwards and forwards in front of the house between two
iron rods was not a sign-board, but his family crest.

[Footnote 32: Sir.]

Late one afternoon Baron Leonard Hátszegi might have been seen on foot
crossing the bridge which led to the Mikalai _csárdá_, and entering its
courtyard. He came on foot with a small box under his arm and his
double-barrelled gun across his shoulder. Makkabesku greeted him from
the verandah while he was still a long way off.

"God be with your lordship! Is anything amiss that your lordship comes
on foot?"

"Yes, at that cursed _tyira lupului_[33] the axle of my coach gave way.
I have always said that that bad bit of road ought to be seen to, this
is at least the sixth time that this accident has befallen me."

[Footnote 33: Wolf-corner.]

"God is the cause thereof, your lordship. Whenever the stream overflows
it damages the road."

"That is no consolation for me. My fellows are struggling with the coach
yonder and cannot set it upright again, so badly damaged it is. It is a
good job I was driving my own horses, for otherwise my neck might have
been broken. As it is one of my heydukes has sprained his hand. Send
help to them at once, or they are likely to remain there all night.
Where's your little girl?"

"Ah, my lord! your lordship will always be having your little
joke.--Flora, come hither!"

A pretty little maid came out of the inn at these words, and smiled upon
the nobleman with a face toasted red by the kitchen fire.

"Take his lordship's gun and little box and carry them into the
guest-room!"

"Well, my little girl! how are you? not married yet, eh?" said the
baron, pinching her round red cheeks whilst the wench took his box.

"Heh, but 'tis heavy!" she gasped, as if she were quite frightened at
the weight of the box. "Won't the gun go off?"

"Don't turn your fiery eyes upon it, or else it might--eh, grandpapa,
what do you say?"

"Come, Flora, go in, go in! His lordship is always in such capital
spirits. Even when his carriage comes to grief he will have his joke all
the same."

The point of the joke was that Makkabesku was a man not much beyond
forty though there were flecks of grey on the back of his head here and
there. The girl, on the other hand, was scarcely sixteen when the
Roumanian gentleman took her to wife. Leonard therefore always made a
point of aggravating the innkeeper by pretending to believe that his
wife was his daughter and by regularly asking him, as if he were her
grandfather, when he intended to get his granddaughter married.

"You need not send help to my carriage, after all," said Hátszegi, after
due reflection; "for, by and by I'll see to that myself. I am going back
that way. But I should like you to place that little box in some safe
place for the time being. It contains 4,000 ducats and that is no
trifle."

"Huh! my lord!" cried the innkeeper clapping the back of his head with
both hands, as if he feared it was already about to fall off backwards.
"Your lordship dares to carry so much gold about with you and stroll so
carelessly about in these parts!"

"Carelessly!--what do you mean? I cannot wheel them in front of me on a
barrow can I? I want to pay them into my account at Fehervár the day
after to-morrow; I have payments to make. That is why I carry them about
with me."

"I only meant to say that it is dangerous to go about alone with so much
money."

"I am not in the habit of going about with an escort."

"The more's the pity, Domnule. These parts are panic-stricken, since
Anicza betrayed the coiners in the Lucsia Cavern, we have been saddled
with a whole heap of calamities. A lot of poor fools and a heap of
treasure were captured, but the head of the band, Fatia Negra, was
suffered to escape. And now, furious at his loss of treasure, he
blackmails the whole region. Nobody is safe here now,--only the day
before yesterday he stopped and robbed the royal mails on the King's
highroad."

"Ho, ho! If he takes to those games, he'll soon get his teeth broken. He
won't venture to touch me though, I'll be bound."

"I don't know about that Domnule. He wears a mask and therefore has no
need to blush or blanch at anything."

"Does he ever look in here, or has he ever lodged with you?"

"No, my lord, I can safely say that he has never been here, to my great
astonishment I must confess. For a great many gentlemen call here and
many paths lead hitherward."

"Don't you keep arms in your house?"

"Why should I? I have not enough money to make it worth Fatia Negra's
while to rob me. Besides, it is a great mistake to resist him. Juon Tare
actually had him in his hands, yet what was the result? He goes about
now a blind beggar. Anicza betrayed him and brought down the soldiers
upon him, yet what did _she_ get by it? _He_ vanished under the earth,
but she reduced her old father to poverty and is now sitting with all
her acquaintances in the dungeons of Gyula Fehervár!"

"Fear nothing! At any rate no ill can befall you while I go to my
coachman and come back again. Lock this casket in your wall-cupboard in
the meantime, and keep the key yourself."

"Nay, let your lordship keep it rather. I don't want it to be said that
I knew anything about it."

So Makkabesku locked up the casket in the huge wall-closet which greatly
resembled a large standing clock case and in which were his diploma of
nobility and all his domestic treasures. The key of the locked closet he
returned to his guest. Then by way of extra precaution, he locked the
room as well and forced that key also upon the Baron.

"Domnule," he added, when he saw that Hátszegi was determined to return
to his wrecked coach. "I can only say that I should be very glad if
your lordship would not go. The servants will be quite able to bring the
carriage along."

"That they cannot: the whole lot of them are mere boors who have never
seen a carriage with an iron axle."

"Let me go then, and your lordship remain here."

"I suppose you want me, then, to show your daughter how to cook?"

The innkeeper's eyebrows contracted at these words; his desire to go
visibly subsided.

"But suppose I am afraid of being left alone in the house with so much
money?"

"Come, come, wretched man!" cried Hátszegi at last losing all patience,
"you don't suppose that your blockhead of a bandit is lying in wait for
me, do you? Look you now! I'll leave you my gun. Take it in your hand
and plant yourself there before the door. Bring out a chair, if you
like, and sit down on it. Pull down the hammers of both barrels and hold
your thumb on them and your index finger on the trigger. The left barrel
is filled with ten buckshot and you can be quite sure that whoever
approaches you from the lower end of this passage will inevitably get
five in his body,--and five of them is enough for anybody. The second
barrel, the right one I mean, is loaded with a bullet which we generally
keep in reserve for a wild beast, at the last moment, at six paces; at
that distance any child could kill a giant. Don't be afraid, if he wore
a coat of mail, it would go through it, for that bullet has a steel
point and would perforate a leaden door. Come, you are not afraid now,
surely?"

Makkabesku certainly felt a great stream of courage flow into his heart
at the knowledge that he held in his hand a weapon which could kill the
most terrible of men twice over.

"But what about your lordship?" he enquired.

"Oh, I've got two revolvers in my pocket."

And with that, gaily whistling, Hátszegi strode down the long passage
and peeped into the kitchen, on his way out, to exchange a word or two
with the fair young cook.

"Look ye, my daughter, have supper ready by my return, and take care not
to over-salt the soup!" and then with the nonchalance becoming his
station he sauntered across the bridge again into the highroad, followed
all the way by the eyes of Makkabesku.--"What a gallant fellow it is!"
reflected the Roumanian.

The innkeeper did not count courage among his virtues. He was a
peace-loving soul who detested the very idea of a brawl. Even when he
sat down to drink, it was always inside a room with a locked door, for
on one occasion, when he had got drunk in public, the wine had instilled
within him such unwonted audacity that he had got his skull broken in
two places in consequence. After that he avoided all such occasions of
heroism.

For such folks who have nothing to do with firearms as a rule, there is
a peculiar charm in suddenly holding a loaded weapon in their hands.
Valour and a sudden access of pugnacity combine to put them in a
condition of perpetual fever. A strange longing arises within them to
make use of their weapon. Once or twice Makkabesku raised his gun to his
cheek and made a target of a fly on the wall. At the end of the
vestibule facing him was an old Roman image, the head and bust of an
Emperor, which had been unearthed in the neighbourhood of the house when
the foundations had been laid, and had been adopted forthwith as a
family relic. If this old imperial figurehead had been an enemy, let us
say the famous robber of the district, our marksman felt that he could
easily have shattered his skull for him.

The sun was now slowly descending from the sky, and the lower it sank,
the less golden and the more purple grew the light which it threw upon
the ancient monument opposite, till the shadow of an adjacent column
fell softly across it and hid it half from view.

Suddenly it seemed to Makkabesku as if he saw the shadow of a human head
moving beside the shadow of the column.

The breath died away on his lips--someone was lurking there!

"Who is there?" he cried, in a voice half choked with terror. The same
instant there stood before him at the opposite end of the
corridor--Fatia Negra!

Yes, there the figure was just as it had been described to him,
enfolded in a black atlas mantle, with a black mask across its face.

"Stay where you are, don't come here!" cried the armed Makkabesku, in an
agony of terror, "or I'll shoot you through," and as the mask continued
to advance, he hurriedly fired off the left barrel of the gun.

The smoke of the powder cleared away, Fatia Negra stood there unwounded,
he was coming nearer and nearer!

Ah, those little shots could not hurt him, of course--but now he shall
have the bullet with the steel point.

As the first shot was fired, Makkabesku's wife came running out of the
kitchen and came face to face with the robber. He immediately seized her
arm with his muscular hand and flung her back into the kitchen the door
of which he locked upon her.

Mr. Makkabesku permitted all this to go on before his very eyes, but he
had raised the gun and held it firmly pressed against his cheek, he
wanted the robber to draw nearer still that he might make quite sure of
him.

When there were only three yards between them he aimed right at the
middle of the intruder, pressed the trigger of the gun and the right
barrel also exploded.

Yet the report was followed by no death cry--and Fatia Negra still stood
in front of him unscathed.

Paralyzed with terror Makkabesku continued to hold the discharged gun
in front of him as if he expected it to go off again of its own accord;
but Fatia Negra, catching hold of the end of the gun with one hand,
wrenched it out of the innkeeper's grasp and brought down the butt of it
so violently on the top of his head that he collapsed in a senseless
condition.

After that nobody knew what happened.

When Hátszegi and his servants arrived with the patched-up carriage,
Makkabesku was still lying on the ground unconscious, his wife was
thundering at the locked door, the door of the guest chamber was smashed
and the cupboard in the wall had been broken into and pillaged.
Curiously enough, while not one of the innkeeper's relics was missing,
Hátszegi's box with the 4,000 ducats had disappeared. A little later it
was found in the bed of the stream--empty of course.

Makkabesku was a very long time coming to, but he contrived at last, in
a very tremulous voice, to tell Hátszegi the somnambulistic case of the
double shots, nay he called Heaven to witness that Fatia Negra had
caught the bullets in his hands as if they were flies.

"You're a fool," cried Hátszegi angrily. "I suppose you fired above his
head on both occasions."

"But then you ought to see the marks of the bullets on the opposite
wall."

And it was a fact that, look as they might, they found no trace of a
bullet on the walls or anywhere else.



CHAPTER XV

WHO IT WAS THAT RECOGNIZED FATIA NEGRA


The events at the Mikalai _csárdá_ considerably upset Hátszegi. He
returned home very sulky and was unusually ungracious towards Henrietta.
There were several violent scenes between them, in the course of which
the baron twitted his wife with having betrayed him and hinted that it
was all in consequence of her own and her brother's bad conduct that she
had been disinherited by her grandfather. He revealed to her that he
knew everything. He was well aware, he said, that in her girlhood she
had had a rascally young attorney as a lover and had thereby incurred
her grandfather's anger.

Henrietta, poor thing, had not the spirit to answer him back: "If you
knew this, why did you marry me? Why did you not leave me then to him
with whom I should have been happy if poor?" She could only reply with
tears. She trembled before him while she loathed him.

And yet how dependent she was on him.

She was well aware now of what her brother was accused, and never
doubted for a moment what she ought to do. She ought to atone for his
fault by an act of self-sacrifice. She must recognize the forgery as her
real signature. But what then? The recognition of the signature must
needs have consequences. What would be the result of her action?

She could see she had no help to expect from her husband. At every step
she perceived that he eagerly sought occasion to quarrel with her and
seized every pretext for avoiding her. And now to add to her
embarrassment, there was this unlucky Mikalai accident. It seemed just
to have come in the nick of time so far as he was concerned, just as if
he had actually agreed with Fatia Negra that the latter should rob him
on the high road in the most artful manner so that she might not have
the slightest hope left of being relieved from her anxieties by the
assistance of her husband. The baron, now could always end every
_tête-à-tête_ by remarking that that rogue Fatia Negra had relieved him
of all his money, and he knew not how to make good his loss.

One day, while away from home hunting at Csáko, Baron Leonard learnt
that the Countess Kengyelesy's latest ideal was Szilard Vámhidy and when
chance soon afterwards brought him also to Arad, he could see for
himself that the countess really did load the young man with distinction
in society.

The circumstance began to irritate him.

This pale-faced youth with the big burning eyes had turned the head of
his own consort once upon a time, and now he was making other enviable
conquests. The idea occurred to Hátszegi to knock this "student chap"
out of his saddle a second time. Heretofore he had never regarded the
countess as a particularly pretty woman, but now he very readily
persuaded himself that he was over head and ears in love with her.

He began to pay his court to her--and he was lucky. At least everybody
believed it--himself included.

The countess always seemed pleased to see him, and the oftener he paid
his visits, the less frequent grew the visits of Szilard. Occasionally
they met at the countess's and then Szilard would hastily step aside, as
vanquished rivals are wont to do when their conquerors appear. At last
Leonard was a daily institution at the countess's, while Szilard only
appeared there occasionally.

Yet one day, while Hátszegi was in the drawing room of the countess,
paying his court to her most assiduously, Vámhidy entered _sans gêne_;
whereupon the countess hastily springing up from her _causeuse_ asked
leave of the baron to withdraw for a moment and there and then conducted
Vámhidy into her private boudoir and remained closeted with him for a
good quarter of an hour, whilst Hátszegi, yellow with jealousy, was left
alone with the countess's French companion, who could answer nothing but
"oui" and "non" to all his remarks.

When the countess emerged from her room, she seemed to be in a very good
humour. She accompanied Szilard all the way to the drawing-room door,
pressed his hand, and when they parted at the door exchanged a
significant look with him, at the same time touching her lips with her
index finger--a very confidential piece of pantomime as any connoisseur
will tell you.

And all this Hátszegi saw reflected in the mirror, opposite to which he
sat.

As soon as the countess sat down, her companion, as if at a given
signal, arose and left the room.

Scarcely were they alone when the baron petulantly remarked: "It appears
as if your ladyship and our young friend rejoiced in very intimate
mutual relations."

"Oh, very intimate. I assure you he is a most worthy, honourable man."

"So I observe."

"I am quite in earnest. I find him quite a treasure, and he is
extraordinarily attached to me."

"Very nice of him, I'm sure."

"Oh, you gentlemen, what mockers you are. There are men, I can tell you,
who for all that they are poor are more capable of self-sacrifice than
the haughtiest nabobs who make such a fuss over us till we are in
trouble and then snatch up their hats and fly from the house. You also
belong to that class, my lord!"

"I don't understand you."

"Suppose, for instance, I were to say to you: my dear friend, I have
fallen into quite an awkward predicament and to-day or to-morrow they
will distrain upon me for 40,000 florins."

The baron burst out laughing.

"Don't laugh, for so it really is. That need cause _you_ no anxiety,
however, I only ask you to tell nobody, especially my husband. He would
be capable of making an end of me if he knew it."

"But seriously, countess, who could ever have lent you 40,000 florins?"

"Nobody, and yet I am indebted to that amount. You must know that once
upon a time, many years ago, when we lived at Vienna, I was given to
card playing. We played for high stakes in those days. One evening not
only did I lose all my cash, but had to give I.O.U.'s for 1,000 florins
besides. Debts contracted at play cannot remain unpaid for more than a
couple of days. It was absolutely indispensable that I should procure
these thousand florins somehow. I would not ask my husband for them and
that was very foolish of me. I got the amount at last from a wretched
usurer at an enormous rate of interest. When the amount plus interest
became due again, I was still more afraid to tell my husband, and so
kept on giving fresh bills, with the result that the amount of my
indebtedness grew and grew as the years rolled on, till it resembled the
egg of the widow in the nursery tale--out of which came first two cocks,
then a bristling boar, then a camel, and finally a carriage and four,
for at last my original poor little debt of one thousand florins swelled
into forty thousand and the usurers became importunate and would allow
me no more credit. Once when I was in a very bad humour, I let out my
secret before Szilard, and the worthy young man undertook to relieve me
of my burden. I don't know whether he detected a technical flaw in my
bonds or whether he found out some other means of frightening my
creditor; anyway, he assured me I only need pay the original sum with
interest upon it at the legal rate. Moreover, he undertook to procure me
an honourable loan on easy conditions, which to me was a veritable
godsend. And so now you know, my dear friend, why Vámhidy is so welcome
a guest at my house that I leave even you all alone with my companion
when he comes. But you can see for yourself how dear and necessary he is
to me and how much I owe to him."

Hátszegi remained in a brown study for several moments, and began biting
his lips. The countess sat down at the piano with the most amiable
nonchalance as if she gave not another thought to what she had been
speaking about.

"If only I had not had the misfortune to be robbed!" cried Hátszegi at
last.

"Do you know what, my dear friend," said the countess, at the same time
letting her fingers glide lightly over the ivory keys of the piano, "I
consider the whole of that affair as simply incredible. Two shots so
close to a man and no result!--why it borders a little upon the
fabulous!"

"Then I suppose you think it was the innkeeper himself who robbed me?"

The countess shrugged her round shoulders slightly and went on playing.

"That is not possible," resumed the baron, answering his own query, "for
I myself saw the blow which Makkabesku received on the head from the
butt of the musket, and I can tell your ladyship that there are no four
thousand ducats in the world for the sake of which I could lend my head
to such a blow."

The countess interrupted her _roulades_ for a moment:

"You saw it, eh? And did anybody else see it?"

Hátszegi was strangely surprised by this question.

"What is in your mind, Countess?" he asked.

"I am thinking, my dear friend, that you have some particular reason for
playing the injured man, and I have read the whole tale of the Maccabees
in some history or other of the Jews which you would now palm off upon
the world as something new."

"Your jests are most unmerciful, Countess; but may I beg of you to give
that piano a little rest, especially as it wants tuning. I should like
to speak seriously to you for a moment or two."

"About the Maccabees, eh?" enquired the countess, laughing.

"No. About myself. I am quite serious when I say I have had losses.
Your ladyship need not know how. But for all that I know what a
gentleman ought to do after such a revelation as that with which the
countess has just honoured me and which I accept as a most flattering
mark of confidence."

"Impossible."

"What I say is never impossible; but what that student fellow has chosen
to palm off on your ladyship that _is_ impossible. He will not be able
to help your ladyship without a great scandal. Naturally a mere attorney
looks upon that as a matter of course. He does not understand that there
are cases in which a person would rather spring into a well than risk
her reputation in the eyes of the world by appealing to the courts for
redress. I make your ladyship another proposal: I will exchange a bond
of my own against the bond of the countess to an equal amount. I feel
confident that the usurers will lend readily on my paper and will jump
at the exchange."

"Oh, many thanks, many thanks! But, first of all, I should like to know
what interest you mean to charge me; for I am not going to pay anything
usurious again."

"Legal and Christian interest, I assure you. But I must impose one
condition: your ladyship's doors must henceforth be closed against this
lawyer fellow."

"Are you serious, Baron?"

"Perfectly so."

"Are you not afraid I shall take you at your word?"

"By doing so you will satisfy my desires. Look, Countess! I consider
myself as one of your most sincere admirers and it wounds me to hear all
this tittle-tattle circulating in our set which links your ladyship's
name with that of young Vámhidy."

"But will it not injure the respect you entertain for me if your name
takes the place of Vámhidy's in the gossip you complain of?"

"All that I desire is that a certain man shall be excluded from this
house, and if the countess desires it I will then keep away likewise."

The countess hastened to press Hátszegi's hand as a sign that _she_ did
not desire _that_.

"Very well, then, to prove to you that my relations with Vámhidy were
purely professional, I will break off all further intercourse with him."

"Then we'll clinch your ladyship's determination at once. May I make use
of your writing table? Have you any other ink than this rose-coloured
ink, with which to be sure, your ladyship generally writes your letters,
but which is a little unusual in official documents?"

"Everything you desire, sealing-wax included."

"That is not necessary for bills. What a fortunate thing that I have a
blank form with me."

The baron discovered in his pocket a blank form, without which no
gentleman ever goes about, and filled it up in the usual way. The
countess, with her elbows on the back of the armchair, looked over the
baron's shoulder while he signed the precious document, and thought to
herself: what an odd thing it is when a rich and influential man
refuses, with a heart of iron, to give his wife a little assistance
which would make her happy and save her brother from dishonour, and yet
lightly pitches the very sum required out of the window for the sake of
a pretty speech from another woman who is almost a stranger to him!

After signing the document Leonard did not linger another instant, but
snatched up his hat and hastened off so as to avoid the suspicion that
he was expecting some little gratification on account.

The pressure of the hand which the countess exchanged with him at
parting assured him that this conquering manoeuver on his part was a
complete success.

Subsequently, however, as, stretched at full length on his sofa, he was
smoking his first pipe of tobacco, he grew suspicious, and speedily felt
convinced that the countess's tale of the usurers was a fable from
beginning to end and that Vámhidy was some broker or other who lent
money privately; and he began to be not quite so proud at having ousted
the fellow from her ladyship's drawing room.

But a still greater surprise awaited him.

He had a shrewd suspicion that the Countess Kengyelesy did not require
the bill he had signed to discharge any debt to usurers; but not even
in his dreams would it ever have occurred to him that Madame Kengyelesy,
at the very moment when he had gone out into the street, had sat down on
the very same chair from which the baron had arisen, taken into her hand
the very same pen in which the ink he had used was not yet dry, and
selecting a sheet of letter paper, written a few lines of her long
pointed pot-hooks to her friend, the Baroness Hátszegi: informing her in
a most friendly manner that she had succeeded in persuading Hátszegi to
exchange the bill that Koloman was suspected of forging for one of his
own in order to give his wife the opportunity of acknowledging the
signature as her own and putting a stop to all further legal
proceedings. All this was set forth with far greater elaboration than it
is here, but was nevertheless perfectly intelligible. The original bill
was appended to the letter and the letter was posted. Henrietta was
bound to receive it next day.

Imagine then the surprise of Hátszegi, who for the last three days had
been pacing impatiently up and down his room, naturally expecting every
moment that the countess would surrender at discretion and send for him
out of sheer gratitude, when the door was suddenly opened with
considerable impetuosity and in came--Henrietta. Before he could
sufficiently recover from his amazement to ask her what she was looking
for there, his wife fell on his neck, and, sobbing with emotion, came
out with some long rigamarole about delicacy,--gratitude--a delightful
surprise--and only half suspected kindness of heart--and a lot more of
unintelligible nonsense, winding up by begging his pardon if ever she
had unwittingly offended him and promising him that _after this_ she
would ever be his faithful slave!

_After this!_--after _what_?

It was only when his wife told him that she was alluding to that bill
for 40,000 florins which he had been so kind as to send her through the
countess, that some inkling of the truth burst upon him.

"Oh, that eh! It quite escaped my memory and is not worth mentioning,"
he cried, hiding his astonishment beneath the affectation of a
magnanimity which scorned even to remember such trifles.

Oh, if the countess had been able to see him at that moment, how she
would have laughed!

Every drop of Leonard's blood seemed to turn to gall. How ridiculous he
had been made to appear by a woman's nobility, and the consciousness
thereof was still further embittered by the artless and innocent
gratitude of that other woman--his own wife. He could have torn the pair
of them to pieces. What a pretty fool he had made of himself. He had
purchased the love of his wife for 40,000 florins. He could not demand
back the bill from her, nor could he explain to her the compromising
origin of that document. And in addition to that, he must play the part
of dignified pater familias which his wife had assigned to him in this
domestic drama, instead of that of first lover which was so much more to
his liking.

"All right, Henrietta," said he, assuming a calmness he was far from
feeling. "If you like to give me the bill, I'll see that it is posted to
your lawyer at Pest, Mr. Sipos."

Henrietta thanked him sincerely, but said she would rather take it to
Pest herself in order that she might have a long confidential talk with
Mr. Sipos personally about her poor brother.

"Then wait, Henrietta, till the Arad races are over. You know I am
greatly interested in them. If I am not there myself they are quite
capable of striking my horses out."

"My dear Leonard, I don't want you to interrupt any of your business or
pleasure on my account. I can easily go by myself. But I don't want to
postpone the matter a single day. You know how anxious I am about my
poor brother."

"Well, but you know that the roads are very dangerous just now. You know
what happened to myself a little while ago."

"Oh, I have my plan all cut and dried. I am prepared for the very worst.
If robbers attack me I will give up to them, at the first challenge, all
the cash I have about me. What I am most afraid of is the bill, but I
will hide that so that nobody can find it."

"My dear, these men are very artful."

"Oh, they won't find it, I can tell you. The insides of my
upper-sleeves consist of steel rings which fasten close to the arms, and
I will roll up my bill, insert it within my sleeve and draw a steel ring
over it. They will never guess that, will they?"

"A good idea, certainly."

Yet, good idea as he thought it, Hátszegi nevertheless complained to his
friend Gerzson, whom he met at the club the same evening, how anxious he
was about his wife, who was going all the way to Pest next day, and how
glad he would be, since he was unable to accompany her himself, if
someone would persuade her not to go.

Naturally Mr. Gerzson at once offered to dissuade the baroness, as
Hátszegi had anticipated, and was invited to tea by him the same day
with that express purpose, but, talk as he might, he could not prevail
with Henrietta. In reply to all his arguments, she pleaded for her poor
brother, whose fate, she added, with tears, depended upon her instant
action.

Now, Mr. Gerzson was a gentleman--every inch of him. He was also
kind-hearted to a fault, and when he beheld the poor woman in despair,
he put an end to the difficulty by saying: "Very well, my lady, then I
will escort you to Pest myself."

At this Hátszegi fairly lost all patience. "Why, what can you be
thinking of?" cried he.

"Your pardon, Leonard, but I suppose you may regard me as old enough and
honourable enough to fill the place of a father to your wife on an
occasion like this! It appears to me that it will never enter anybody's
head to speak slightingly of a lady because she travelled alone with
me."

Good, worthy old man, he was quite proud that no woman could look at his
face without a shudder.

"And then I fancy that there's still quite enough of me left to defend a
woman against anybody, even though it were the devil himself. And I
should advise that worthy Fatia Negra not to show his mug to me, for my
stunted hand does not fire guns as our friend Makkabesku is in the habit
of doing, nor will my bullets be caught like flies, I warrant."

"You will be done out of the horse-racing, all through me," remarked
Henrietta sadly.

"Oh, it does not interest me much. I don't care much about it."

This was not true, but it was all the nicer of the old man to say so.

"Then you really mean to escort my wife to Pest?" said Hátszegi, at
last.

"With the greatest of pleasure."

"Very well. At any rate, I will see to all the travelling arrangements
that there may be no delay at any of the stages. Which way do you prefer
to go _via_ Csongrad or _via_ Szeged?

"By way of Csongrad."

"Well, 'tis the shorter of the two certainly, but at this season of the
year the road is as hard as steel. It will be as well to provide my
horses with fresh shoes."

"It is now ten o'clock. By midnight your coachman will have managed to
do all that. The baroness would do well if she had a little sleep now.
Meanwhile I will go home for my luggage and my weapons; at two o'clock
in the morning I shall be here again, and at three we can start."

"I will be awake and watching for you, and I thank you with all my
heart."

Mr. Gerzson drank up his tea and hastened home. Leonard advised
Henrietta to go and sleep--and she really was very sleepy--while he went
to the stables to see to the horses.

It was about midnight when he returned. He looked very tired, like one
who has had a great deal of bustling about. He was alone in the drawing
room, so he stirred up the fire, lit a cigar and waited in silence.

At half past two Mr. Gerzson rang the gate-bell; he entered the
drawing-room very boisterously like one resolved to wake up the whole
house. A little coffer hung upon his stunted arm, in the other hand he
carried a double-barrelled gun, and from a pouch, fastened by straps to
his shoulder, peeped forth two four-barrelled pistols.

"Why, plague take it!" laughed Hátszegi, "you are armed for a whole
guerilla warfare."

"No more than Fatia Negra deserves," replied Mr. Gerzson with a sombre
grimace. "Is your wife up and dressed?"

"I fancy she lay down ready dressed."

"All the better. It'll be as well if we start early."

"I hear the opening and closing of doors in her apartments, no doubt
your ringing disturbed her. She will be here in an instant, for she is
very impatient."

"That is only natural."

"And in the meantime, let us have something to strengthen the heart,"
said Hátszegi producing a flask of _szilvapalinka_[34] and filling his
own and his guest's glass. "If you have a chance of shooting Fatia
Negra, you must give me one half of the thousand ducats set upon his
head, because I have abandoned this fine opportunity to you."

[Footnote 34: Hungarian cherry brandy.]

At this Mr. Gerzson coughed.

"I have also provided you with a good wooden flask of _Hegyalja_,"[35]
said Leonard, taking from the sideboard a handsome flask bound in
foal-skin.

[Footnote 35: A species of Tokay.]

"Therein you acted wisely."

"All this side of the Theiss you will get no drinkable water, and
Henrietta always gets ague at once if the water is bad. Although but a
child, she will never take any wine unless you force her to do so. I
earnestly beg of you to take great care of her. I don't like this
journey a bit. A letter would have done the business just as well; but I
make it a rule never to thwart her when she gets these ideas into her
head. All I say is: take care of her."

"I'll watch over her as if she were my own child."

In a quarter of an hour Henrietta appeared in full travelling costume.
The lacquey brought in breakfast. The gentlemen also sat down to it lest
the lady should breakfast alone.

"We shall have splendid weather, Baroness," observed Mr. Gerzson,
dipping his cake into his black coffee. "The sky is full of stars, we
could not wish for better travelling weather."

"The sky is nice enough, but the ground is a little stumbly," put in
Hátszegi. "Around Dombhegyhaza in particular the roads will spill you if
you don't look out."

"I don't care a bit, for I mean to drive the horses myself."

"Oh, that I will not allow," said Henrietta. "It is no joke to hold the
reins, for hours at a stretch, on bad roads."

"I do it because I like it, your ladyship. You know I love my pipe, and
how can I smoke it in a covered carriage?"

Shortly afterwards Mr. Gerzson asked leave to go out and inspect the
coach and the coachman, and after closely investigating everything and
wrangling a little with the coachman, purely from traditional habit,
just to show the fellow that he understood all about it, he ascended to
the drawing-room again and announced that the horses had been put to.

Hátszegi helped his wife to adjust her mantle over her shoulders, and
impressed a cold kiss upon her forehead. Henrietta once more thanked him
warmly for being so good to her and allowed Mr. Gerzson to escort her
down the steps. The old gentleman, however, would not allow himself to
be persuaded to take his place in the carriage by her side. His hands
itched to hold the reins and he would, he said, be sure to go to sleep
and make himself a nuisance if he sat inside. So he had his way, and
indeed in all the Hungarian plain a more adroit and careful driver could
not have been found.

Gradually the night began to die away and the sky began to grow lighter
behind the mountains of Bihar, which they had now left behind them. The
smaller stars vanished in groups before the brightening twilight; only
the larger constellations still sparkled through the dawn. Presently a
hue of burning pink lit up the sky and long straight strips of cloud
swam, like golden ribbons, before the rising sun whose increasing
radiance already lit up the broad cupolas of the dark mountains. Before
the travellers extended the endless plain of the _Alföld_,[36] like a
bridge rising from her bed to greet her beloved Lord, the Sun.

[Footnote 36: The great Hungarian plain.]

On Mr. Gerzson, however, the romantic spectacle of sunrise on the
_puszta_ produced no romantic impression whatsoever. He neither observed
the golden clouds in the sky, nor the dappled shadows flitting across
the dewy fields, nor the lilac-coloured nebulous horizon. He saw none
of these things, I say, but he saw something else which did not please
him at all.

"I say, Joska, the right leader is limping."

"Yes, it certainly is," replied the coachman.

"Get down and see what's the matter."

The coachman got down, lifted the horse's leg, brushed away the dust
from around the hoof and said with the air of a connoisseur: "This
horse's hoof has been pricked."

"What the devil...!" rang out Mr. Gerzson, but there he stopped, for
it is not becoming to curse and swear when a lady is in the carriage
behind you, even if she does not hear.

Meanwhile the coachman mounted up beside him and they drove on again.

"Well we cannot drive that horse much further," grumbled Mr. Gerzson,
"the other three must pull the carriage. At Csongrad we must get another
to take its place and leave it behind there."

A long discussion thereupon ensued between him and the coachman as to
the clumsiness of smiths in general, who when they pare away a horse's
hoofs in order to shoe it, so often cut into the living flesh, which is
very dangerous, and is technically known as "pricking."

They had scarce proceeded for more than another half hour when Mr.
Gerzson again began to cast suspicious glances down from the box-seat.

"I say, Joska," he cried at last, "it seems to me the left leader, the
whip horse, is also limping."

Down leaped the coachman, examined the horse's foot and pronounced that
the hoof of the left leader had also been pricked.

"Devil take...!" cried Mr. Gerzson, but once more he did not
enlighten the devil as to the particular individual he was desirous of
drawing his attention to.

"Well, I suppose we must go on as best we can with two horses now, for
the first two are good for nothing." And in the spirit of a true driver
he stuck his whip beneath him, as being a thing for which there was now
no further use, and resumed his argument with the coachman about the
inefficiency of smiths in general.

"As soon as we reach Oroshaza, we'll get two fresh horses; we ought to
be getting there now."

Yet the steeple of Oroshaza was, as yet, scarcely visible and midday was
already approaching. There was no intermediate station where they could
change horses.

Half an hour later Mr. Gerzson dashed his clay pipe against the wheel of
the coach and swore that he would be damned if ever such a silly-fool
thing had ever befallen him before, for now the thill horse also began
to limp.

Naturally, that also was found to have been pricked.

"May the devil take all those scamps of smiths who look after the poor
beasts so badly! A pretty fix we are in now. We may thank our stars if
we are able to crawl into Oroshaza before nightfall. A pretty amble we
shall have now, I'll be bound."

And indeed ambling was about all they could do. As for the Oroshaza
steeple, so far from drawing any nearer, it seemed to be travelling away
from them, and with very much better horses than they had. It seemed to
get further off every moment.

"Well, all we want now is for the saddle horse also to throw up the
sponge and we shall be complete."

If that were Mr. Gerzson's one remaining wish, Fate very speedily
granted it to him, for they had not gone another quarter of an hour when
all four horses began to limp together, one with the right foot, another
with the left, the third with the fore and the fourth with the hind leg,
till it was positively frightful to look at them.

Mr. Gerzson leaped from the box, and in his rage and fury dashed his
pipe-stem into a thousand pieces.

"What can the smith have been about!" whined the coachman shaking his
head, "and yet his lordship had a look at them too!"

"Devil take your smith, and his lordship also for the matter of that.
The whole lot of you deserves hanging." And it was a good thing for the
coachman that he happened to be standing on the other side of the
horses, as otherwise he would certainly have had a taste of Squire
Gerzson's riding whip.

Henrietta, who had hitherto been sleeping quietly in the carriage,
aroused by the loud voices, put her head out of the window and timidly
inquired what was the matter. At the first sound of her voice, Squire
Gerzson grew as mild as a lamb.

"Nothing much," said he. "I have only been trying to put together again
my broken pipe-stem, the carriage-wheel has gone over my pipe, that is
all."

"But where are we now?" asked Henrietta, peeping curiously out of the
carriage. Then of course they had to tell her the truth.

"We are three leagues from the station in front of us, and about four
from the one behind us, and there is no prospect of our getting on any
further. All four horses are lame, they have been damaged during the
shoeing."

"What steeple is that in front of us?"

"Oroshaza, I fancy, but with these four lame horses I don't believe we
shall get there before midnight."

Henrietta perceived the confusion of the old gentleman, who for sheer
rage and worry could not keep his hat on his burning head, so she tried
to comfort him.

"Never mind, dear papa Gerzson, not far from here must lie Leonard's
_csárdá_. You and I, papa Gerzson, might go on there with the horses
while the coachman makes the best of his way on foot to Oroshaza, where
he can get fresh horses and join us early in the morning at the
_csárdá_."

Squire Gerzson jerked his head significantly.

"I don't want to alarm you, my dear Baroness," said he, "but that
_csárdá_ lies in the beat of the "poor vagabonds"--you may have heard of
them."

"Oh, I have spent a night there already. I know the innkeeper's wife.
She is a very good sort of woman, who told us tales all night long while
she worked her distaff at my bedside. I should very much like to see her
again. Besides, I know the "poor vagabonds" also. All of them kissed my
hand in turn when I was there. If, however, anybody should be rude to
me, have I not papa Gerzson?--when he is by I fear nobody."

"Noble heart!--very well, be it so! If your ladyship fears nothing, I
think I may very well say the same."

Whereupon Squire Gerzson gave the coachman two florins to speed him on
to Oroshaza, where he was to get fresh horses and come on the same night
to the _csárdá_, so that they might be able to set off again before dawn
on the morrow. He himself then quitted the highroad in the direction of
the well-known _csárdá_ which, with sound horses, he might have reached
in about an hour, but which with lame ones he only got up to towards
evening, having repeatedly to rest on the way. Squire Gerzson kept on
asking Henrietta whether she was hungry or thirsty and offered her his
flask again and again; but she always gently declined it, the old man
feeling in honour bound to follow her example. He comforted her,
however, with the assurance that the _csárdá_-woman was a dab hand at
turning out all sorts of good old savoury Hungarian dishes.

At last, after a weary journey, when evening was already closing upon
them, Henrietta perceived the _csárdá_ gleaming white behind the acacia
trees. When they stumbled into the courtyard they found nobody, and
nobody came out of the door to meet them.

"All the better, nobody will see these game-legged nags," growled Squire
Gerzson as he helped Henrietta out of the carriage.

"It is odd that the woman of the inn does not come out to meet me," said
Henrietta. "She liked me so. How pleased she will be to see me."

Nevertheless no one came. Squire Gerzson grew impatient. He could not
leave the coach and horses all by themselves.

"Hie! somebody! Who's at home? Landlady, wenches, or whoever you are,
can't you creep out of your hole?"

In reply to his hallooing, a hoarse voice resounded from the taproom:
"Who is it? Can't you come inside instead of standing and bawling
there?"

"What, you scoundrel! Come out this instant, Sirrah, do you hear, or do
you want me to come and fetch you?"

At this categorical command, the speaker inside made his appearance.
Henrietta recognized him at once, though Squire Gerzson saw him now for
the first time. It was old Ripa.

"I am a guest here myself," said he.

"Thou blockhead! by the soul of thy father I charge thee--where is the
hostess?"

"She is outside in the cool air."

"What is she doing there?"

"She is guarding the moles"--which means in the flowery language of the
_puszta_: "she is dead."

"Surely she is not dead?"

"Yes--she did away with herself."

"When?"

"The day before yesterday."

"What was the matter with her?"

"She drank too much water."

"Where?"

"In the hurdle well."

"Why?"

"Because her feet did not reach the bottom."

"She leaped in then?"

"It looks something like it."

"But why did she do so?"

"She was much upset about her lover."

"Did he leave her?"

"The rope-girl[37] took him."

[Footnote 37: _I.e._, the gallows.]

Henrietta listened with a sort of stupefaction to the cynical answers
of the old scoundrel, and her heart grew heavy within her. To think that
that merry, rosy cheeked young woman should have killed herself out of
grief for her lover.

"Then who is carrying on the house?" enquired Squire Gerzson.

"Nobody. All the servants bolted after the funeral, in order that they
might not appear as witnesses."

"Then why do you remain here all alone?"

"Because if I went on my way, everyone would be sure to say that I had
murdered the hostess, I mean to remain here till they come for me."

"Yes, you old swine, and drink up every drop of wine that remains in the
meantime."

"Your pardon, sir, but it all turned to vinegar when the landlady killed
herself. That is always the case."

"None of your nonsense, Sirrah, but listen to me. There's a shilling for
you, forget for the time that you are a guest here. Take out the horses,
put them into the stable, give them hay at once and water them in about
an hour's time. Don't steal them for they are lame and you would be
caught at once. We shall remain here till our coachman returns with four
fresh horses. Should any troublesome person look in, you may tell him
that the consort of Baron Hátszegi is here and that Gerzson of
Satrakovics is mounting guard before her door."

Old Ripa kissed her ladyship's hand without so much as thanking Squire
Gerzson for his tip, but he quietly unyoked the horses and brought into
the house some of the things he found in the coach.

And Henrietta stood once more in the landlady's room and gazed pensively
out of the window. Her meditations were presently disturbed by Squire
Gerzson.

"My dear good lady," he began, "fate has certainly sworn to be our enemy
in every possible way to-day. I would not have believed it myself if I
had not actually experienced it. First of all, all our four horses fall
lame on the road. Then, at the very place where we decide to take up our
quarters, we find that the landlady has jumped down the well. Truly fate
pursues us with a vengeance. But we'll defy it, won't we my lady? Fate
is very much mistaken if it fancies it will get the better of us, eh? it
does not know with whom it has to deal, I'll be bound. For our hearts
are in the right place and we'll pretty soon show that we have not lost
our heads. Our greatest misfortune is that the fine supper we promised
ourselves has vanished to dust beneath our very noses. Never mind. We
have brought with us in our knapsack, after the custom of our ancestors,
some good ham, some hung beef and some white loaves, to say nothing of a
flask of prime wine; we don't mean to starve ourselves do we, my lady?"

The good old gentleman then took out of his knapsack all these good
things and piled them up on the table, then he fetched the carriage lamp
to light up the room a bit and politely invited Henrietta to partake of
his simple banquet.

The young lady smilingly took her place on the bench.

"We really cannot drink the water here, your ladyship," said Gerzson,
handing her his flask; "to all appearance nobody will ever drink the
water out of the well of this shanty again. Such wells are generally
walled up."

Merely to oblige the old man, Henrietta raised the flask to her lips and
pretended to drink out of it so as not to spoil her companion's good
humour, but really she drank not a drop. She never used to drink wine
and wiped off the drops that remained on her lips with her pocket
handkerchief. Nor did she eat anything except an apple which was just
sufficient to keep the pangs of hunger off.

Mr. Gerzson, however, fell to like a man. He had generally a good
appetite, and the lack of a dinner, the worry and trouble of the
journey, and the labour of driving had made him hungrier than ever. He
cut such whacking slices off the loaf and off the good red ham beside
him that it was a joy to watch him; after he had raised the
cluck-clucker[38] to his lips, his conversation became so entertaining
that Henrietta listened to him with delight.

[Footnote 38: _I.e._, the wine-flask.]

"But now I am not going to drink any more," said Mr. Gerzson at last,
"for it is apt to make me sleepy and I don't want to sleep to-night.
About midnight the coachman will arrive with the fresh relay of horses.
Won't your ladyship rest a little in the adjoining room?"

Henrietta shook her head.

"Well, I suppose you are right. How indeed could you remain all alone in
the room of a suicide? Let us stay together then and tell each other
tales."

"Yes, that will be nice, and I'll begin by telling papa Gerzson
something."

"I could go on listening to you till morning, it will be like the angels
singing in my ears."

So Henrietta began to tell him all about the dead hostess and about her
love, and also the story of the robber who was hanged for his companion.

Mr. Gerzson, with his head supported by his hand, listened religiously
and struck himself violently on the mouth when he was seized by an
involuntary fit of gaping.

"I cannot understand why I am so sleepy,--my eyes seem to be closing in
spite of me."

"Why don't you have a pipe then? Come light up!"

"What, light up? Your ladyship will really allow me? You are sure you
don't mind tobacco smoke? You are indeed a blessed creature. But are you
sure it won't make your head ache?"

"On the contrary, I like tobacco smoke."

Squire Gerzson half drew out his cigar case, but he immediately shoved
it back again.

"No, I won't smoke a cigar. One ought not to abuse one's good fortune. I
shall get on well enough."

Then Henrietta began to tell him of Fatia Negra's Transylvanian
exploits, of the Lucsia Cavern, of the capture of the coiners--and then
she observed that Mr. Gerzson's eyelids were sinking lower and lower and
he was nodding his head violently.

"Now you really must light up, papa Gerzson," she cried, "or you'll
never be able to keep awake."

On being thus accosted, Mr. Gerzson bobbed up his head with a frightened
air and rubbed his eyes, like one who has been suddenly aroused from
slumber and knows not what is going on under his very nose.

"I am not asleep, 'pon my word I'm not. I was only nodding a little."

"Light a cigar."

"No I won't. I prefer to go out and have a turn in the open air and get
the cobwebs out of my head. I'll have a look round outside a bit."

And with that he planted both his arms on the table, laid his head upon
them and fell fast asleep.

Henrietta could not help smiling. Poor old gentleman, he had had a good
deal of exertion and no doubt that wine was uncommonly strong. Let him
rest a bit. He had had no sleep the night before. It would be quite
sufficient if one of them kept awake.

Then she took up the lamp and went out into the hall observing to her
great satisfaction that the door thereof was provided with a good lock.
So she locked and fastened it. With timid curiosity she then explored
every corner with the lamp and came upon nothing suspicious. Finally she
returned to the guest room, locked the door of that also and placed the
carriage lamp on the table, turning its shade towards the sleeping old
man so that he might not be awakened by the glare of the lamp; and there
she remained all alone, watching in the _csárdá_ of the desolate
_puszta_, patiently waiting for the night to pass over her homeless
head.

So patient was she that only once did she take her watch from her bosom
to see what the time was.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was now past midnight.

She began to calculate how long it would take the coachman to get to
Oroshaza and how much time he would require to reach this place. If he
had got horses at once he ought to be near now.

A short time afterwards she heard the tread of horses' feet in the
courtyard. Those must be our horses, thought she, and hastening to the
window looking out upon the courtyard, she pulled the blind a little to
one side and looked out.

The night was so light outside that she could see the four horses quite
plainly in the courtyard--but she observed that a man was sitting on
_each_ of them.

"This is very curious," thought she, "_two_ men would have been quite
sufficient to bring along the relay."

Three of the four men dismounted from their horses and a fifth came out
of the stable and had a short consultation with them; then the three
approached the _csárdá_ door and tried to open it.

This struck Henrietta as suspicious and she thought it was now high time
to awake Mr. Gerzson.

"Pardon, papa Gerzson, but four men have arrived here."

Still Mr. Gerzson did not awake.

Henrietta approached, bent over him and gently insisted:

"My dear papa Gerzson, just wake up for a moment, somebody wants to come
in."

Even then Mr. Gerzson did not awake.

Henrietta listened. Outside, the hall door was beginning to groan and
rock. They were forcing it.

Full of terror now, she seized Mr. Gerzson's arm.

"Sir, sir! robbers are upon us. Awake, awake. This is no time for
slumber."

But Mr. Gerzson still slumbered on--he might have been dead. In vain she
tore him away from the table, he fell back again all of a heap and went
on slumbering.

The strangers were now in the hall, and a heavy hand was trying the
latch of the guest chamber.

"My God, my God!" moaned Henrietta, wringing her hands and rushing up
and down the room, terrorstricken, not knowing where to look now for
refuge.

A violent thud resounded against the door. Someone had placed his
shoulder against it. Henrietta clung to the table to save herself from
falling.

At last the lock burst, the door flew open, and Fatia Negra with two
masked companions stood before the lady. The same instant Henrietta
recovered her presence of mind. At a pace's distance from danger she
ceased to tremble and calmly addressed them: "What do you want?"

"Why are you not asleep now like your companion?" enquired Fatia Negra
in a low voice.

One of his comrades approached the sleeper and held the barrel of his
pistol to his temples. In Fatia Negra's hand there was only a dagger.

"Don't wake him," he whispered to Henrietta, "for if he should but raise
his head his brains will be blown out."

"Do him no harm!" implored the lady. "I will give you everything you
want. Here is my pocketbook, here are my jewels, and you shall have my
watch too. See, I will draw off my rings, only don't touch me. But if
possible let me keep this round ring for it is my wedding ring."

"All that is nothing," whispered Fatia Negra, "nor do we want these
things. Your ladyship has received a bill for 40,000 florins from your
husband; give up that and swear that you will not say anything about it
to anyone for three days so that we may have time to turn it into cash."

At the mention of the bill Henrietta felt her head reel, the blood stood
still in her veins, she could scarce keep her feet. Her voice trembled
as she lied to the robber denying that she had any such thing.

"We will search you, my lady, if you do not give it up voluntarily."

Henrietta persisted in her falsehood: "I have nothing upon me. I posted
it in order that it might get to its destination more safely."

"My lady, you are only wasting our time. Turn round, take that steel
netting out of your puffed sleeves and hand it over to us."

At these words, all the blood flew to Henrietta's head. It was no longer
fear but the fury of despair that possessed her. It suddenly occurred to
her that here was the man whom nobody had ever recognized; the man who
had made so many people unhappy; who had robbed her husband and would
now stifle her last hope of saving her brother from disgrace. Who could
this terrible man, this accursed wretch, be? And so, as Black Mask drew
near to her, flashing his dagger before her eyes, she, the weakest, the
most timid of women, made a sudden snatch at the mask and tore it off.

She saw his face and recognized him. . . .

For an instant her eyes gazed upon him and then she collapsed on the
ground in a swoon.

      *       *       *       *       *

It was pretty late next morning when Mr. Gerzson raised his muddled head
from the table. The sun was shining brightly through the blinds.

He looked around him. He was quite alone.

He looked for Henrietta, he called her by name. She was nowhere to be
seen. Their luggage had also disappeared. He went into the courtyard and
looked for the carriage. That also was nowhere to be seen. Only the four
horses were in the stable, and they were neighing for water; nobody had
watered them.

After that Mr. Gerzson's head grew more muddled than ever.

What had become of the lady? What had happened during the night? How was
it that he remembered nothing about it, he who generally used to sleep
so lightly that the humming of a midge was sufficient to awake him?

Gradually he bethought him that the evening before he had drunk some
wine with an unusual flavour. Even now he was conscious of a peculiar
taste in his mouth. Yet no wine in the world had ever been able to do
him harm. He returned to the room to examine the contents of his flask.
But even the flask was now nowhere to be seen. There was not a single
forgotten object, not a single indication to give him a clue in this
obscure confusion. What could have happened here?--he had not the
faintest idea.

He went and stood in front of the _csárdá_. He gazed out upon the
desolate _puszta_ stretching around him in every direction. From every
point of the compass wagon tracks, some old, some still fresh,
zig-zagged to and from the _csárdá_ and he could not make up his mind
which of them to take in order to reach the world beyond.



CHAPTER XVI

LEANDER BABEROSSY


Whenever one carts away a heap of stones which have been lying
undisturbed for years, or whenever one removes the shingle-roof of an
ancient tenement, or drains off the water from a marshy place, one
generally stumbles upon all sorts of hitherto undiscovered, curious
beetles, odd looking moths and spiral-shaped, creeping things in these
routed out lurking places, which nobody ever saw before or read of in
the natural history books; and at such times a man bethinks him how
wonderful it is of Mother Nature to provide even such holes and corners
as these with living inhabitants which never see the light of day at
all.

Once, while on circuit, Vamhidy was obliged to lie one night at a
village within his jurisdiction whose inhabitants were a strong mixture
of Hungarian, Servian and Wallachian ingredients. Arriving late, it was
a long time before he could go to sleep, and he was awakened rather late
next morning by an unusual hubbub. His bedchamber was only separated
from the large drinking room by a door and through this door broke every
now and then very peculiar sounds the meaning of which, on a first
hearing, it was very difficult to explain.

It sounded as if a couple of women and a couple of men were roundly
abusing one another, sometimes in a low tone and sometimes in a loud,
and the most peculiar thing about the whole business was that two of
them never spoke at once but each one of them allowed each of the others
to have his say out to the end. All at once the noise grew more alarming
and broken outbursts plainly suggested that someone in the adjoining
room wanted to murder somebody else. Vamhidy leaped from his bed and was
about to intervene when in came the landlord with his coffee.

"What is that row going on next door?" enquired Szilard irritably.

"Oh, I cry your honour's pardon," replied the innkeeper with a proud
smile, "it is only our actors. They are rehearsing a new piece which
they are going to act this evening. I hope your honour will condescend
to go and see it--it will be real fine."

"What, actors in this village?" cried Szilard in amazement. "Why, where
do they come from?"

"Nobody knows where they came from or whither they mean to go, your
honour."

"How many of them are there then, and who is their manager?"

"Well, it seems that there is only one man among them and he is half a
child; all the others are women and girls, even to the ticket taker and
the prompter."

"And what sort of pieces do they act?"

"Oh, all sorts, your honour. Those of the women who have the deepest
voices dress up as men, stick on beards and mustaches and act much
better than men would, because they don't get drunk."

"And they are able to make a living here? Who goes to the theatre then?"

"Well, the rustics about here come if there is anything to grin at. They
don't give money because they have none themselves; but they bring corn,
potatoes, sausages and hams and the actors live upon the proceeds as
best they can. When they have made any debts they cannot pay they simply
bolt on the first fine night and go somewhere else."

"But don't they leave their decorations or their wardrobe in pledge
behind them?"

At this the landlord laughed aloud as if it were a capital joke.

"Decorations, wardrobes, indeed! Why their stage curtain consists of a
large piece of threadbare sackcloth pasted over with tricolored paper on
which they have painted the national coat of arms. Their wardrobe too is
of the very simplest description. When they play a piece in which kings
and queens appear, they borrow the gold bespangled dresses of the rich
Servian women of the district to serve them as royal mantles. All they
require besides is a little tinsel, some spangles and some
pasteboard--and there you are! The manager, as I have said, is still but
a child, but so ingenious is he that he can make moonshine out of a
yellow gourd and produce thunder and lightning,--but that is a
professional secret. It is true they have only six pieces in all, and
when they have played these through they begin them all over again. The
public, naturally, does not like to see the same piece twice, so the
manager gives the piece another title, changes the titles of all the
characters and represents the piece over again as a brand new one."

"I should like to see to-day's representation," said Szilard, whose
curiosity had been excited by this peculiar description.

"I'll fetch your honour a play bill immediately," said the innkeeper.

Off went mine host returning in a few moments with a MS. play bill on
which was written in large red letters: "Hernáni or Castilian Honour,"
followed by the names of the personages. Hernáni was naturally the
manager himself, Leander Babérossy,[39] Elvira was to be played by Miss
Palmira, the other gentlemen were simply indicated by N. N., X. X. or
* *. "They are all women you know," explained the innkeeper, "who don't
want to advertise their names. The charge for the front seats is 21/2d,
for the second-class places, a penny."

[Footnote 39: _I.e._, Laurel bearer.]

"The gentry can sit where they please, I presume?"

"I suggested to the manager that he should write that on the play bill,
but he replied that that would be an impertinence. I also advised him to
take the play bill to your honour himself and was almost kicked out of
the room for my pains. Did I take him for a bill poster? he said."

"This manager of yours seems to have a pretty good opinion of himself."

"Oh, he is frightfully proud, your honour. He will play no other pieces
but sword pieces because, says he, they are classical. The poor fellow
is so very young you know. When he grows a little older and learns to
starve a bit he will soon lower his crest."

"I like him none the less for holding up his head. I will come to the
play."

"But you must be there at seven o'clock sharp. He always begins
punctually; whether there is any audience or not."

"The lad has character, I see; pray give him this"--and he handed the
innkeeper half a sovereign. He quickly returned with the reply that the
manager could not for the moment give change.

"But I meant him to keep the whole of it as an admittance fee."

"Ah, yes."

A short time afterwards, the innkeeper reappeared with a whole bundle of
admission tickets for Szilard, saying that the manager thanked him for
his sympathy, but as he was not in the habit of accepting presents from
anyone, he assumed that his honour meant to engage the whole house for
himself that evening and he, the manager, would therefore give a
representation for his honour's sole benefit.

Szilard laughed heartily at this comical conscientiousness, and after
dressing, he went about his official business with as much dispatch as
possible in order to arrive at the play at seven o'clock sharp, for he
was now the whole public and the public ought always to be punctual.

When he got to the room set apart for the performance he found that,
despite the provisional _abonnement suspendu_ arrangement, the place was
not quite empty, for the gratis public, the lenders of the theatrical
requisites and their families, the letters of lodgings to the actors and
other peaceful creditors, occupied a couple of benches, so that Szilard
had the opportunity of effacing himself and thus avoiding confusing the
_troupe_ by his solitary and imposing personality.

No sooner had the innkeeper's cuckoo clock struck seven than the ring of
the prompter's bell resounded behind the curtain (it sounded
suspiciously like a glass struck smartly with the back of a knife) and
by means of a highly ingenious piece of machinery the drop-curtain,
stuck over with the tricolored cardboard representing the national flag,
was hoisted up to the ceiling-beam, and the open stage was revealed.

The background was formed by a collapsible screen which was painted to
represent a room; in the foreground on one side was a paper window
painted black and white, and on the other side the cellar door,
metamorphosed into the portal of a Gothic palace. Through this entry the
whole of the _dramatis personae_ came and went, for it was the only one.

The piece acted was, naturally, not "Hernáni or Castilian Honour," but
Schiller's "Robbers." Szilard recognized it at the very first three
words. He also noticed that the characters of Karl and Franz Moor were
acted by one and the same person (the manager himself, as he was
informed) with a simple change of voice and mask, and despite the
different disguises employed, it constantly seemed to Szilard as if he
had seen that caricature of a face somewhere else and the voice,
parodied as it now was, nevertheless seemed familiar to him. No less
familiar appeared the violent gestures of the young actor which
frequently endangered the side scenes.

Now as early as Scene 2 the noble public began to be aware of the
unheard of fraud practiced upon it; a murmuring, an agitation, a
whispering and a wagging of heads, and finally an impatient thumping of
sticks began to mingle with the bustle of the drama, till at last a
worthy cobbler, who had lent the _troupe_ three wooden benches and
received in return a free pass every day, suddenly bawled out: "Halloh
there, Mr. Manager! we have seen this piece once before. There's
politics in it."

Franz Moor, disturbed in his artistic interpretation by this sudden
onslaught, suddenly forgot himself, lost his cue and answering the
interpellator in his natural, everyday voice (he knew he had only a free
list public to deal with) exclaimed: "Whoever has seen this piece before
and does not wish to see it again, will have his money returned to him
on applying at the ticket office."

These words were no sooner uttered than Vamhidy leaped from his seat,
rushed upon the stage, caught Franz Moor in his arms and kissed his
painted face crying with a voice trembling with joy: "Coloman!"

Franz Moor hesitated for an instant, then tore off his Spanish beard,
dropped his red wig, wiped the painted wrinkles from his forehead and
Szilard saw before him a pale, melancholy, childish countenance.

Leander Babérossy was young Coloman, Henrietta's brother.

The representation naturally ceased at once. Szilard hustled the
rediscovered "prodigal son" off the boards and never let him stop for an
instant till he had got him safe and sound into his own private room.
There he embraced him again, held him at arms' length and had a good
look at him. The lad seemed to be twenty years old at the very least,
yet really he was but fifteen. Play acting, want and premature shaving
soon make a youth look old. Moreover, in his whole bearing, in all his
movements, there was something precocious, a resolute, bold expression
which made one forget that he was a mere child--a sort of cynicism not
pleasant to behold.

Szilard soon had a good supper ready for him, which the youth fell to
work upon without ceremony.

"My dear Leander," said Vamhidy when the meal was over, "no doubt it is
a very fine thing when one can say that he is his own master, nor is it
so difficult to attain to such a position after all. All that is wanted
is a strength of character always true to itself. But you, my friend,
have committed follies which might easily make of you something very
different."

Coloman shrugged his shoulders.

"I have committed many follies no doubt, but I do not call to mind any
which I should be afraid to confess."

Szilard began to fancy that his suspicions were groundless.

"People are talking of a certain _bill_ which you have given in your
sister's name?"

At these words Coloman cast down his eyes upon his plate and his whole
face grew blood-red. In a scarcely audible voice he enquired: "And has
Henrietta refused to honour that bill?"

Vamhidy sighed deeply. Then it was really true that this thoughtless
child had committed the crime!

"My dear Coloman," said he, dropping the Leander now, "your sister is
the martyr of her own devotion. She was most certainly ready to
acknowledge the bill as her own; but you ought to have thought what
sacrifices she will have to make now that her grandfather has cut her
off with a shilling and her husband refuses to place such a considerable
amount at her disposal."

"Good gracious!" cried the itinerant actor, thrusting his hands deep
down into his empty pockets, "what then do these big wigs call
considerable amounts. Very well, sir. I had no idea that the Baroness
Hátszegi was _so very poor_. I will try to recover the bill, and it
shall be the first thing I will pay off with my benefit money."

Szilard could not help being struck by the terrible comicality of the
idea.

"But, my dear young friend," said he, "if you had two benefits every
year and got a clear forty florins at every one of them, it would take
you at least a hundred years from to-day to discharge the amount."

"What?" cried Coloman with wide open eyes, and in his amazement seizing
the candlestick instead of his fork.

"Why, don't you know that the bill is for 40,000 florins?"

"What?" thundered the young vagabond. And kicking aside his chair, he
snatched up a knife lying by the side of his plate and, bareheaded as he
was, rushed towards the door. Szilard had need of all his dexterity to
catch him before he reached it and prevent him from rushing into the
street like a madman.

"Let me murder him, let me murder that villain," he cried.

Szilard was a strong man so he easily disarmed the youth.

Then Coloman began to weep and fling himself on the ground. Szilard
seized him by the arm and hoisted him on to a chair again.

"Be a man!" he cried. "Of whom do you speak?--whom do you want to kill?"

"That villain Margari."

"Then it was he who persuaded you to take this step?"

"I will tell you all about it, sir, and you shall judge me. When I left
my grandfather's house, that Satan sought me out, affected sympathy for
me and asked me what I meant to do. I told him I intended to go on the
stage and he said I did well not to remain there. I had only a florin
which I borrowed from one of the lacqueys, and I told this devil that I
should require 20 florins at the very least. He promised to get them for
me from a usurer but told me I should have to give a bill for forty. Do
you think I cared what I signed then? Not long afterwards he came back
again and said the usurer would give nothing on the strength of my
signature, because I was a minor, but that if my sister's name stood
upon the bill he would advance upon that because she was a married
woman. Margari persuaded me to sign the bill in her name. What was forty
florins to Henrietta? he said, a mere trifle. If I were to ask her, she
would give me twice as much. Surely she would not proclaim me, whom she
loved so much, a forger for the sake of a paltry 40 florins? But 40,000
florins, 40,000!--that is a frightful, a horrible villainy. I only made
it forty."

And with that he began to dash his head against the wall like a madman.

"My dear Coloman, do pull yourself together," said Szilard, "what you
have just told me is of the very greatest importance. Be quiet and don't
tear out your hair! Are you aware that your infinitely good sister has
honoured the 40,000 florin bill also in order to save you?"

The poor youth was thunderstruck at these words.

"And now you can imagine the embarrassment of the baroness, who has been
disinherited and is nevertheless responsible for this very considerable
sum without being at all sure that her husband will pay it for her."

"I will hang myself."

"That would be the most gigantic piece of folly you could commit. You
must make good your fault. And now for a time we cease to be friends and
I am simply an examining magistrate, and you are an accused prisoner who
is about to make a voluntary confession before me. Pray sit right
opposite to me and answer all my questions clearly and accurately--in
fact tell me exactly what happened."

And Vamhidy produced paper and writing requisites, lit a pair of candles
which he placed by his side and began the examination of the youth
sitting in front of him.

By midnight the confession was duly written down.

When, however, Vamhidy proposed that Coloman should now come back to
Pest and be reconciled to his relations, the youth hesitated: "We will
see," said he.

"At any rate remain here with me then," continued Szilard. "Sleep in my
room and take till to-morrow to think it over. I won't lock the door but
you must give me your word of honour that you will not go out of that
door without my knowledge."

"I give you my word upon it."

Then Szilard made the youth lie down and only went to rest himself when
he was sure that Coloman was asleep.

Nevertheless on awaking next morning and looking round the room he could
see no trace of Coloman, but there was a letter from him on the table as
follows: "Dear old friend, I thank you for your extreme kindness to me,
but I don't want to see my relations any more, not because I fear to
meet them, but because I have a holy horror of the very atmosphere they
breathe. My confession will suffice to rectify my fault. I am going on
the tramp again. The linen tent is my home. And then--there are
obligations in respect to the discharge whereof I am not my sister's
brother. I have taken nothing with me but four cigar ends from the
table, a liberty I hope you will pardon me. As I have given you my word
that I would not go out of the door without your knowledge, I have been
obliged to make my exit through the window. Adieu! Till death thy
faithful admirer.   COLOMAN."

A couple of hours later Vamhidy learnt from the innkeeper that the
manager, without any previous leave-taking, had decamped leaving behind
him his decorations and theatrical wardrobe as some compensation for his
trifling debts. All he had taken away with him was what he actually had
on his person--and Miss Palmira.

And now Szilard understood the meaning of the passage "there are
obligations in respect to the discharge whereof I am not my sister's
brother."

This vagabond comedian had an equally vagabond childish ideal, and when
he had to make his choice, he flung his arm around her and fled away
with her--into the wide, wide world.



CHAPTER XVII

MR. MARGARI


Mr. Margari had got on in the world. He was now a real gentleman who had
a four-roomed domicile, paid house-rent, and had even gone the length of
marrying. And can you guess the lady of his choice?--why it was no other
than Miss Clementina. That worthy virgin was of just the proper age for
him, moreover a cosy little bit of cash might safely be assumed to go
with her, which exercised a strong attraction upon Mr. Margari--and goes
to prove that iron is not the only metal susceptible of the influence of
the magnet. The worthy maiden had persuaded her respected swain to
abduct her from Hidvár, an enterprise which he had nobly performed while
the lady of the house was travelling with her husband to Arad. It is
true there was no necessity whatever for an elopement, for the baroness
was very far from being one of those dragons in feminine shape who love
to tear asunder hearts that are burning for each other. If Mr. Margari
had respectfully solicited the hand of her lady-companion, there is no
reason to suppose he would have sued in vain; but Clementina was far too
romantic for anything so humdrum as that. She insisted that he should
abduct her, at night too and through a window, although she had the key
of every door close at hand.

So Margari had managed to set up as a gentleman and become his own
master. Clementina's money bought the furniture and they even sported a
musical clock.

Mr. Margari had a smoking-room all to himself, in which he did nothing
all day but smoke his pipe. No more work for him now, no more copying of
MSS. There the happy husband, dressed in a flowered dressing-gown,
stretched himself out at full length on the sofa and blew clouds of
smoke all around him out of his long csibuk, stuffed full with the best
Turkish tobacco.

Clementina was always scolding him for putting his legs upon the sofa.
It was a nasty habit she said, and not only unbecoming but expensive,
because it ruined the furniture. Clementina, in fact, was scolding him
all day; and this was very natural, for any woman who has been condemned
to obsequious servility for thirty whole years and has silently endured
the caprices of her betters all that time, when she sets up as a lady on
her own account will do her best to compensate herself for this
interminable suppression of her natural instincts. But Mr. Margari used
only to laugh when his wife began nagging at him. "_Alios jam vidi ego
ventos, aliasque procellas_," he would say. He was only too glad to have
a home of his own at all.

"Don't worry, woman!" he would say with reference to the furniture,
"when that's worn out, I'll buy some more. John Lapussa, Esq., will give
me whatever I want."

"He may be fool enough to do so now," replied Clementina, "but just you
wait till he has won his action against Madame Langai and has no further
need of you, he won't care two pence for you then. I know Mr. John
Lapussa."

"So do I," retorted Margari. "He has paid me hitherto to say what he
tells me, he shall pay me hereafter for holding my tongue. John Lapussa,
Esq., will have to take care that Margari has plenty to eat and decent
clothes to put on, for, if Margari grows hungry, Margari will bite."

Mr. Margari spoke with an air of such impertinent assurance and blew
about such clouds of smoke that Clementina began to respect him, and sat
down on the sofa by his side, no doubt to protect her property. "If you
hold his honour so completely in the palm of your hand," said she, "why
don't you provide better for yourself and me? It is all very well for
his honour to fork out now when you press him, but money goes and more
is wanted. One of these days something will happen to him and he will
die,--and you can't follow him to the moon."

This was indeed a hard nut for Margari to crack. One cannot squeeze much
out of dead men. Such an impression did the remark make upon him that he
took his feet off the sofa and sat bolt upright.

"Then what do you think I ought to do?" he asked his wife.

"Well, it is of no use his doling you out mere driblets; for the great
services you have rendered him he ought to give you something more in
proportion to your merits--a little estate in the country, for instance.
There we could settle down comfortably."

"True, and he has lots of such little properties which are of no use to
him at all. What do you say, for instance, to an estate of one hundred
acres or so; it would be a mere flea-bite to him. But flea-bite or no
flea-bite that's all one to me. I _wish_ him to give it me and give it
he must. I mean to pick and choose."

"And suppose he says no?"

"He'll never say that, or if he does, I shall say something to somebody
and then it will be he who will be sorry and not I. Oh, he'll take jolly
good care not to make Margari angry. His honour has much more need of
Margari's friendship than Margari has of his honour's."

And we shall very soon see under what auspices Margari hoped to get the
little country estate from Mr. John Lapussa as a reward for his faithful
services.

Meanwhile the action brought by Madame Langai against Mr. John Lapussa
was still in its initial stage. Both parties were inexhaustible in
producing documents and raising points of law, but it seemed highly
probable that Mr. John would win. Mr. John appeared almost daily before
the magistrate, whom he called his dear friend and whom he frequently
invited to dine, an invitation which, naturally, was never accepted. One
day Mr. Monori, for that was the worthy magistrate's name, asked Mr.
John whether he knew anything of a certain Margari who was soliciting
the post of a clerk in the district court and gave as his reference the
Lapussa family in whose service he had been for some years. Mr. John,
with his innate niggardliness, at once seized this opportunity for
disembarrassing himself of an importunate beggar by saddling the county
with him. He exalted "the worthy, excellent man" to the skies, and
especially praised his rectitude, his sobriety, his diligence!

"But is he trustworthy?" inquired the magistrate. "You see there are
various little cash payments he will have to see to, is he clean
handed?"

"As good as gold, I assure you. I could trust him with thousands. Why
some of my own bills are in his keeping--" and with that he proceeded to
say as many pretty things of Margari as if he were a horse dealer trying
to palm off a blind nag on some ignorant bumpkin at a fair.

In his delight at having so successfully rid himself of such an incubus,
he made his _valet-de-chambre_ slip over to Margari to tell the worthy
man to wait upon him on the morrow at 11 o'clock precisely, as he had a
very pleasant piece of news to impart to him; for he meant to make
Margari believe that it was through his, Mr. John Lapussa's special
influence, that he had obtained the coveted appointment and so get him
to renounce all further claims upon his old patron.

On the very same day Mr. John was surprised to receive a visit from the
magistrate, Mr. Monori, and this certainly was a wonder, for the
magistrate never made any but official visits.

"To what do I owe this extraordinary pleasure?" asked Mr. John,
familiarly inviting the magistrate to sit down on a couch.

"I have come in the matter of this Margari," said Monori, holding
himself very stiffly and fixing his eyes sharply on Mr. John. "Since our
conversation of this morning, the circumstance has come to my knowledge
that one of my colleagues in the county of Arad has succeeded in finding
the long-lost Coloman Lapussa."

At these words Mr. John began to smooth out the ends of his mustache and
chew them attentively.

"The young man confesses to having forged the bill, but asserts that it
was Margari who led him to do so, and that the bill signed by him was
originally for forty florins only, so that undoubtedly somebody else
must have turned it into 40,000."

Mr. John coughed very much at these words,--no doubt the bit of mustache
which he had bit off stuck in his throat.

"This is a very ticklish circumstance, I must confess," continued
Monori, "for although the young man's offence has thereby been
considerably lightened, yet the burden of the charge has now been
shifted to other shoulders hitherto quite free from suspicion. No doubt,
he being a minor, under strict control, did what he did as a mere
schoolboy frolic, but this Margari and an unknown somebody else will
find it not quite such a laughing matter."

Mr. John's mustache was by this time not enough for him, he began
nibbling his nails as well.

"But what are you driving at?" he said. "How does all this concern me?"

"It concerns you, sir, in this way: you told me that Margari was your
confidential agent, and therefore he must have destroyed the bill at
your bidding."

"I only said that to help him to get a small official post. I am
responsible for nobody. What have I to do with the characters of my
servants, my lacqueys."

"But you assured me that your bills often passed through his hands."

Mr. John fancied that the best way out of this unpleasant _cul-de-sac_
was by adopting a little energetic bluffing.

"What do you mean by cross-examining me in my own house?" he cried, with
affected _hauteur_, springing from the sofa.

The magistrate rose at the same time.

"Pardon me, but I am here not as a visitor, but in my official
capacity--as your judge."

And with that he coolly unbuttoned his _attila_[40] and drew forth from
the inside pocket a large sealed letter.

[Footnote 40: A fur pelisse, worn on state occasions.]

"You must swear to every one of the interrogatories administered to you
by me."

"I? I'll swear to nothing," cried Mr. John. "I am a Quaker and therefore
cannot take an oath."

"This document, sir, is a royal mandate and whoever refuses to obey it
is liable to penalties."

"What penalties?"

"A fine of eighty florins."

"Eighty florins? There you are then, take them!" cried Mr. John flinging
down the amount eagerly and thinking to himself that this mandate was
indeed a juridical masterpiece, not being binding on a rich man--for
what after all is eighty florins?

"Very good," said Mr. Monori, giving him a receipt for the amount, "I'll
come again to-morrow."

"What for?"

"I shall again call upon you to answer my interrogatories upon oath."

"And if I won't swear?"

"Why then you'll have to pay the court fine _toties-quoties_. A _juratus
tabulae regiae notarius_ will call regularly every day and exact the
fine from you until such time as you make up your mind to take the
oaths. Good-day."

After the magistrate had withdrawn Mr. John's fury reached its climax.
First of all he poured forth his wrath upon the poor inkstand, with the
ink from which Monori had written out the receipt. This he dashed to the
ground. The lacquey who rushed in at the commotion to inquire if his
honour had rung, he seized by the nape of the neck and flung out of the
room. Then he rushed after the man and pommelled him for daring to go
out before he had been told to go. Finally he dashed out and, for the
lowest silver coin he could make up his mind to part with, hired a
hackney coach to take him to his villa near the park, for thither he had
resolved to fly.

On arriving there he recovered himself somewhat.

So Coloman had been discovered and had confessed about his own doings
and Margari's. Well he must simply disavow Margari, that's all. But
suppose Margari were to make a clean breast of it? Well he could
repudiate the whole thing of course. But then that wretched royal
mandate? He must either swear or pay the court fine every day. It would
be best perhaps to fly, to leave the capital of the magistrate behind
him and set out on his travels. Perhaps then they would forget all about
it. But then there was the law-suit! And suppose it should be decided in
the meantime and decided against him! It was an absurd dilemma! To
remain here was dangerous and to go away was also dangerous. What a good
job it would be if that cursed forged-bill business could disappear from
the face of the earth. The bill ought to be withdrawn. But that was
impossible because it was already in the magistrate's hands, and
therefore could not be ignored. And then the oath required of him.
Either he must confess that he was personally interested in the matter
and then he would not be required to swear but would at the same time
make himself an object of suspicion, or else he must go on paying this
infernal toll money in order to be able to cross the non-juratory
bridge, so to speak. It was an absolutely desperating syllogism, and
after tossing about sleeplessly all night in the midst of this vicious
circle, Mr. John resolved in the morning to set off at once for the
vineyards of Promontor,[41] tell his servants that he meant to remain
there and enjoy himself, and immediately afterwards get into a
post-chaise and drive to his Sarfeneki property. Nobody should know his
real address but his lawyer, and there he would await developments, only
emerging in case of the most urgent necessity.

[Footnote 41: A village a few miles out of Pest.]

So he hastily swallowed his chocolate, wrapped himself in his mantle and
fancied that now he might safely fly; but he reckoned without his host,
for, on the very doorstep, he came face to face with Margari!

"What do you want here, eh?" he inquired fiercely of the humble man he
feared so much.

"You were so good as to make an appointment with me, your honour," said
Margari cringingly.

"Yes, yes, I know, I know" (he was afraid to warn him of his danger,
with all the servants listening to them), "but I cannot spare the time
now, come some other day. I cannot give you anything here."

"But your honour was good enough to say that you had some glad tidings
to communicate."

"Another time, another time! I am very busy just now."

Mr. John would have shaken off Margari altogether, but Margari was not
so easily got rid of. He had already ascertained from the coachman that
Mr. John was off to Promontor and did not mean to return again in a
hurry, so he resolved to take his measures accordingly. He rushed
forward to open the carriage door, helped Mr. John to get into the
coach, wished him a most pleasant journey, no end of enjoyment and other
meaningless things, all of which made much the same agreeable impression
upon Mr. John as if an ant had crept into his boot and he could not kill
it because he was in company. Only when the carriage door was shut to
and he saw Margari's face no more did he begin to breathe freely again.

Margari however attributed this reception, or rather, non-reception, to
the capricious humours to which his honour was constantly liable without
rhyme or reason (it is a peculiarity of self-made plutocrats as
everybody knows); but he was not a bit offended,--he knew his place. His
honour doesn't want to see Margari just now, very well, he shall not see
him so he jumped up behind the carriage alongside the lacquey. But how
surprised his honour will be when he gets to Promontor to see Margari
open the carriage door for him? How he will bid him go to the devil and
immediately after burst out laughing and give him a present! And what
will the present be? Has it anything to do with the good news with which
he meant to surprise him? And all the while, Mr. John, inside the
carriage was hugging himself with the idea that he had rid himself of
Margari for a time and devoutly wishing that the cholera, or some other
equally rapid and effectual disease, might remove the old rascal off the
face of the earth altogether.

When the carriage stopped at the picturesque vineyards of Promontor, Mr.
John almost had a stroke when, on looking through the glass window, the
first feature of the panorama that presented itself was the figure of
Margari, hastening to open the door with obsequious familiarity.

"You here, Sirrah," he roared (he would have choked with rage on the
spot if he had not said Sirrah). "How on earth did _you_ get here?"

Margari instantly imagined that his honour's flashing eyes, convulsive
mouth and distorted face were the outward signs of a jocose frame of
mind, for there was always a sort of travesty of humour in Mr. John's
features whenever he was angry. So, to his own confusion, it occurred to
him to make a joke for the first time in his life.

"Crying your honour's pardon, I _flew_," said he.

And in fact the very next instant he was sent flying so impetuously that
he did not stop till he plumped right into the trellis-work surrounding
a bed of vines. Never in all his life before had Mr. John dispensed such
a buffet. Margari fairly disappeared among the leaves of the friendly
vine arbours.

It was now Mr. John's turn to be frightened at what he had done. He was
frightened because every box on the ears he gave used regularly to cost
him 200 florins, a very costly passion to indulge in. And besides he was
particularly anxious just then to keep Margari in a good humour. A man
may loathe a viper but he had better not tread on its tail if he cannot
tread on its head. Horrified at his own outburst of rage, the moment he
saw Margari disappear in the vine-arbours, he rushed after him, freed
him with his own hands, picked him up, set him on his legs again and
began to comfort him.

"Come, come, my dear friend! compose yourself. I did not mean to hurt
you. You are not angry, are you. I hope you are not hurt? Where did you
hit yourself?"

Margari, however, began whimpering like a schoolboy, the more the other
tried to quiet him, the more loudly he bellowed.

"Come, come! don't make such a noise! Come under the verandah and wipe
the blood from your face!"

"But I am not a dog!" roared Margari. "I won't go under the verandah,
I'll go into the street. I'll howl at the top of my voice. The whole
town shall see me bleed."

"Margari, don't be a fool! I didn't mean to hurt you. I was too violent,
I admit it. Look here! I'll give you money. How much do you want? Will
200 florins be enough?"

At the words "200 florins," Margari stopped roaring a bit, but he wanted
to see the colour of the money, for he thought to himself that if he
quieted down first he would get nothing at all. So he kept on whining
and limped first on one leg and then on the other and plastered his
whole face over with blood from the one little scratch he had got.

Mr. John hastened to wipe Margari's face with his own
pocket handkerchief.

"Come, come my dear Margari. I have told you I did not mean to do it.
Here are the two hundred florins I promised you. But now leave me alone.
Go abroad with the money and enjoy yourself and I will give you some
more later on."

"I most humbly thank you," lisped the buffeted wretch with a
conciliatory voice and he kissed Mr. John's two hundred florined hand
repeatedly, while the other did all in his power to hustle him out of
the door; and so engrossed was he in the effort that he never observed
that some one had been observing the scene the whole time. He therefore
regularly collapsed when a voice which he instantly recognized,
addressed him: "Good morning, sir!"

The Lernean Hydra was not more petrified at the sight of the head of
Medusa than was Mr. John by the sight of the person who had just
addressed him. It was the magistrate, Mr. Monori.

At first he feared he had come after him for his diurnal eighty florins,
but something very much worse than that was in store for him.

"Pardon me," said the magistrate drawing nearer, "but by order of the
High Court, I am here to arrest Margari, and ascertaining that you had
taken him away with you, I was obliged to follow to prevent him from
escaping altogether."

Two stout _pandurs_[42] behind the magistrate gave additional emphasis
to his words.

[Footnote 42: Hungarian police officers.]

"Arrest me?" cried Margari, "why me? I am as honest as the day. I am
neither a murderer nor yet a robber. Mr. John Lapussa can answer for me.
I am his confidential agent!"--and he clung convulsively to the coat
tail of his principal.

Mr. John plainly perceived that never in his life before had he been in
such an awkward situation. They could accuse him now of having
instigated Margari to make a bolt of it. Had not the magistrate seen
him give the wretched man money to run away with? His first care was to
disengage Margari's hands from his coat tail and next to hold him at
arm's length so that he should not clutch his collar. Then with pompous
impertinence he pretended not to know him.

"What does the man want? Who is he? How did he come hither?" he
exclaimed. "I know nothing about him. I boxed his ears for molesting me,
and then I gave him 200 florins which is the usual legal fine for an
assault of that kind, to prevent him bringing an action against me. We
have nothing else in common. Take him away by all means. Put him in
irons. Give him whatever punishment he has deserved. Yes," he continued,
seizing the astounded Margari by the cravat, "you are a refined
scoundrel. You persuaded my dear nephew Coloman to take that false step
and then you yourself changed the forty florins into forty thousand. You
wanted to ruin the young man's future and bring a slur upon the family.
I know everything. His honour the magistrate told me all about it
yesterday, and that is why I hand you over to the law for punishment."
And with that he shook him so violently that he fell on his back again,
this time into a bed of tomatoes, whereby his white linen pantaloons
very speedily became stained with the national colours.[43]

[Footnote 43: Red, white and green.]

The dialogue that thereupon ensued no shorthand reporter could have
reproduced, for the pair of them began forthwith to rave and storm at
one another with all their might, stamping, swearing, shaking their
fists, and loading each other with abuse. When they had got as far as
calling each other robber and scoundrel, the magistrate thought it high
time to interfere, and at his command Margari was torn forcibly out of
the tomato bed, led to a hackney coach and thrust inside; yet even then
he put his head out of the window and shouted that he did not mean to
sit in prison alone but would very soon have Mr. John Lapussa there
also, as his companion. All the efforts of the two pandurs were
powerless to silence him.

As for Mr. John, the magistrate simply said to him: "Sir, it is not good
for a man to make use of nasty tools, for by so doing he only dirties
his own hands."

Then he got into a second hackney coach and drove away after the first
one.

Even Mr. John could see that it was now quite impossible for him under
the circumstances to think of quitting Pest.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE UNDISCOVERABLE LADY


Squire Gerzson Satrakovics thought it best after that night at the
_csárdá_ to go back to Arad. This wondrous event, the clue to which he
could not hit upon anyhow, must needs interest Hátszegi most of all. It
would be a terrible thing to appear before him with the tidings that the
lady who was intrusted to his care, had been lost on the way; yet,
nevertheless, this was the first thing he must say, and after that they
would consult together as to what was to be done to find her and where
they were to look for her.

Never had Mr. Gerzson approached a bear's den with such beating of heart
as he now approached Hátszegi's chambers. His breath almost failed him
as he seized the handle of the street door and wished it might prove
locked in order that it might take a longer time to open it.

And locked indeed the door proved to be, he had to ring. Thus he had, at
any rate, a respite, for he must await the result of the ringing. And a
long time he had to wait too, so long indeed that it was necessary to
ring again. Even then there was no response. Then he rang a third time,
and after that he went on ring-ring-ringing for a good half hour. At
last the bellrope remained in his hand and he put it into his pocket
that it might testify to the fact that he had been there. Then, for the
first time, he noticed that the shutters were all up--the surest sign
that nobody was at home.

Gerzson explained the matter to his own satisfaction by supposing that
the whole household was at the races. It was the last day of the races
and he reached the course just as the betting was at its height and
everybody's attention was concentrated on the event of the moment. At
such time the crowd has no eyes for men, everyone is occupied with the
horses. Mr. Gerzson therefore had plenty of time to scrutinize all who
were present, but look as he would he could not see Leonard anywhere.

At last he could stand the suspense no longer, and during the interval
between two races, he descended from the grand-stand, in a corner of
which he had ensconced himself in order to get a better view of the
field, and mingled in the ring with his brother sportsmen awaiting
resignedly for the expression of amazed and horrified inquiry which he
expected to see in all faces the moment they perceived him.

But how taken aback was he when the first man who cast eyes on him gave
vent to a loud: Ha! ha! ha! whereupon everybody else began laughing also
and pointing their fingers at him and exclaiming: "Why here's Gerzson!
Gerzson has come back again!"

"Have you all gone mad?" cried Gerzson, confused by this inexplicable
hubbub.

He really fancied that he had fallen among a lot of lunatics, till at
last Count Kengyelesy forced his way through the crowd towards him, put
both his hands on his hips and began to quiz him: "Well, you are a
pretty fellow!--you are a pretty squire of dames, I must say!"

"But what's the matter? What has happened? Why do you laugh?"

"Listen to him!" cried the count, turning to the bystanders. "He
actually has the impertinence to ask us why we laugh! Come, sir! where
did you leave the Baroness Hátszegi?"

"I don't see what there is to laugh at at such a question?" replied
Gerzson, in whose mind all sorts of dark forebodings began to arise.

"What have you done with the baroness? What have you done with our
friend Leonard's wife, I say?" persisted the count.

"That is a perfect riddle to me," growled Gerzson in a low voice.

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the count, "it is a riddle to him what has become
of his travelling companion."

"But can any of you tell me what has happened to her? Is she alive?"

The count clapped his hands together and flung his round hat upon the
ground.

"Now, that is what I call a _leetle_ too strong! He asks: is she alive?
Why, comrade, where have you been in hiding all this time?"

"A truce to jesting," cried Gerzson fiercely. "Tell me all you know
about it, for it is no joking matter for me, I can assure you."

On perceiving that Gerzson was seriously angry, Kengyelesy drew nearer
to him and enlightened him without any more beating about the bush:
"Well then, my dear friend, let me tell you that you have behaved very
badly. First of all you made all four of Hátszegi's horses lame; in the
second place you compelled his poor wife to spend a night in a _csárdá_
of the _puszta_, and in the third place you got so drunk that you began
to quarrel with her and at last did not know whether you were boy or
girl. The poor little woman has grown almost grey with terror, and after
you had fallen to the ground in liquor she sent the coachman to town for
fresh horses and, leaving you under the table, tried to make her way
back to Arad."

"That is not true," interrupted Gerzson, his whole face purple with
rage.

"What is not true?"

"Where is the baroness?"

"Stop, stop, my friend! Don't run away! You'll never catch her up, for,
early this morning, she drove back to Hidvár in a postchaise with her
husband."

"That can not be true. Did you see her?"

"I saw her through my own field glass. But we all saw her--did we not,
gentlemen?"

Many of those present admitted that they had indeed seen the baroness.

"But my dear fellow," said the perturbed Gerzson, "this is no joke. On
the contrary, my adventure with the baroness is somewhat tragical, and
I'll trouble you to expend no more of your feeble witticisms on me."

Kengyelesy shrugged his shoulders. "I did not know you would take it so
seriously, but so it is."

"From whom did you hear all this, from the baroness?"

"No--from Hátszegi."

An idea suddenly flashed through Gerzson's brain.

"Did you speak to the baroness herself?"

"No. I only saw her through the carriage window when they drove away."

"Was she veiled?"

"No, my friend. It was her very self I assure you."

"Thank you. And now, if you like, you can go on amusing yourself at my
expense. Adieu!"

Only when he had got home and flung himself on the sofa in a state of
stupor, did he begin to reflect a little calmly on what he had heard.
There was so much about the affair that was startling and
incomprehensible, true and untrue, probable, incredible, shameful and
exasperating, that he could make neither head nor tail of it.

That the baroness _had_ returned must be true, for they all maintained
that she had come back while he was lying drunk. It is true that he had
got drunk, but he had no recollection of having been quarrelsome and
misbehaving himself. Strain his memory as he might, all he could call to
mind was Henrietta, with her angelically gentle face, sitting before him
at the table and telling him the legends of the Transylvanian Alps--all
the rest was a blank.

Up he jumped at last and began pacing up and down the room. At last,
after much reflection, his mind was made up, he had formed a plan.

"I'll be off. I'll be off immediately. I'll go straight to her. I am
determined to learn from her own lips exactly what happened to me and
how I came to make such a fool of myself. I will speak to her myself."

And immediately he ordered his coachman to put the horses to; but he
told not a living soul whither he was going, even to the coachman he
only mentioned the first stage.

At a little booth at the end of the town he bought four and twenty
double rolls and a new wooden field flask. When they came to the River
Maros, he descended to the water's edge, rinsed out his flask at least
twice and then filled it with water, finally thrusting both the rolls
and the flask into his travelling knapsack. After that he drew on his
mantle, clambered up into the back part of the coach, stuck his pipe in
his mouth and his pistol in his fist and never closed an eye till
morning.

And it must be admitted that Mr. Gerzson's mode of travelling on this
occasion was decidedly eccentric. On reaching a village he would tell
his coachman where to go next but he never told him more than one stage
in advance. Every morning he would consume one of his rolls and wash it
down with the lukewarm brackish water of the Maros--and bitter enough he
found the taste of it too. He never quitted the carriage for more than
two or three minutes at a time, and he presented his pistols point blank
at everyone who approached him with inquisitive questions.

Only twice during the night did he allow the horses an hour or two of
rest--and then away over stock and stone again.

The coachman, who was unaccustomed to such queer ways, presently shook
his head every time he received orders to go on further, but by dawn of
day he had had about enough of the job.

"Your honour," said he, "are we going to stop at all? It would do the
horses no harm if they had a little rest."

"What's that to you, you rascal, eh?" roared Mr. Gerzson, "I suppose
you're sleepy, you lazy good-for-nothing? Off the box then, you hound,
you! I'll drive the horses myself, you gallows-bird!"

The old fellow, who had been in the service of the family for twenty
years and had never had so many insulting epithets thrown at his head
before explained that he did not speak for himself but for the horses.

"If they perished on the spot, Sirrah, what business is it of yours?
When one pursues the enemy in time of war, does one think of food or
fodder?"--whence the coachman concluded that there was some one whom the
squire meant to cut to pieces.

It was only when they came to the road leading to Hidvár that the
coachman began to suspect that they were about to go in that direction.
It was now the evening of the second day and both man and beast were
tired to death. It was indispensable that they should stay the night
here, for if they passed Hidvár they would have to go on the whole night
before they reached the next stage--or come to grief on the road, which
was much more probable.

"You will stop in front of the castle!" commanded Mr. Gerzson when they
were crossing the castle bridge.

The coachman looked back and shook his head. He did not like it at all.

"Shan't we turn into the castle yard?" enquired he.

"No!" bellowed Squire Gerzson, so venomously that the "why not?" he was
about to say, stuck in the poor coachman's throat like a fish-bone.

"Now listen to me," said Gerzson, when they had fairly got across to
the other side: "Keep your eyes open and try and take in what I am going
to say to you. I don't know how long I may remain inside there--possibly
some time. At any rate you must not loiter about here with the horses
but go on to the priest and beg him, civilly, mind, to kindly
accommodate my nags in his stable and give them two bushels of maize. As
soon as I return I'll settle with him, but don't say anything about
payment, or else you will offend him. Kiss his hand, for he is a priest
and you are only a lazy vagabond. If you hear no news of me by to-morrow
morning, put the horses into the carriage again and return to Arad where
Count Kengyelesy will tell you what to do next."

Then he turned upon his heel and set off towards the castle.

It was already evening. In the upper story seven of the windows were lit
up and the moon shone into the eighth. That was Henrietta's bedroom.
Squire Gerzson knew it. He was quite at home in the castle.

At the hall entrance he encountered Leonard's huntsman, an impertinent,
bony, jowly loafer whom he had never been able to endure. The fellow
barred the way.

"Good evening your honour."

"Why should _you_ wish _me_ good evening, you stupid jackass! Do you
suppose I have travelled five and twenty miles for the pleasure of
wishing _you_ good evening? Who's at home?"

"Nobody."

"Go along with you, you sodden-headed son of a dog. Nobody at home and
seven windows in the upper story all alight!"

"It is true the rooms are lit up, but that is on account of her
ladyship--they are sitting up with her."

"Then where's your master?"

"He has trotted into Klausenburg for the learned doctor."

"What is the matter with her ladyship?"

"I don't know. They say she is mad."

"You are mad yourself, you stupid beast. Who told you that?"

"I saw it, I heard it myself, and others also have seen that she is
mad."

"Cannot I speak to her?"

"How can you? That's just the mischief of it, that she cannot be spoken
to."

"You rascal, I tell you your master _is_ at home. I am sure of it."

Long-legs shrugged his shoulders and began to whistle.

"Look ye here, my son," said Gerzson, scarcely able to contain himself,
"the fist that you see in my pocket here is pulling the trigger of a
revolver and I have a jolly good mind to send a bullet in between your
onion chawing teeth, so I should advise you not to try any of your
tom-foolery on me. On this occasion I have not come to pay your master
a visit but for other reasons. Speak the truth, sirrah! Is your master
at home or is he not?"

"I have just told you that there is not a soul at home except her
ladyship, and she is mad."

At that same moment Gerzson thought he heard a fiddle in the upper
story.

"What, music here!" he cried.

The fellow laughed.

"Yes, they are trying to cure the sick baroness by playing to her."

"But I hear the sound of men's voices also as if there were guests
here."

"Where? I hear nothing. It is only the dogs barking in the enclosure."

"You did not hear it, sirrah?"

"I heard nothing."

"Very well, my son, I see you have orders to make a fool of me; but it
strikes me that both you and your master will have to get up pretty
early to do that. You need not be so anxious to guard the door, I shall
not try to force my way up to your master. I'll wager he will come and
see me first. Wait a bit."

And with that Gerzson sat down on the step, tore a leaf out of his
pocketbook and, placing it on his knee, wrote with his pencil the
following words: "Sir, I declare you to be a miserable coward. If you
want to know why, you will find me at the parson's, there I will tell
you and after that we can arrange our little business between ourselves.
                                                  "GERZSON SATRAKOVICS."

Mr. Gerzson had even taken the trouble to provide himself with
sealing-wax and matches so he could seal his letter without any
difficulty and the step served him as a table.

But suppose even this letter did not make Hátszegi come forth? Struck by
this idea he tore open the note again and added this postscript: "If you
do not give me proper satisfaction, I will wait for you at the gate of
your own castle and shoot you down like a dog!!"

Surely _that_ would be enough!

Again he sealed the letter and was about to hand it to the huntsman when
it suddenly occurred to him that Hátszegi might chuck the note unopened
into the fire. Now, therefore, he wrote on the outside of it, just below
the address: "If you don't open this letter, I will have an exact copy
of it posted upon the notice-board of the club at Arad."

"And now, you door-keeping Cerberus," said he, "take this and give it to
your master, wherever he may be."

He wasted no more words upon the fellow, but went straight to the
dwelling of the old priest who was awaiting him in his porch.

"I must beg your reverence for a night's lodging, I am afraid," said
Squire Gerzson, cordially pressing the old clergyman's hand. "There is
serious illness at the baron's house so I don't want to incommode them
with my company. All I want is a place whereon to lay my head. My wants
are few. You know me of old."

"Gladly will I share with your honour the little I have. God hath
brought you hither. I am glad you did not stay at the castle. The
company there is not fit for your honour."

"Then there is company there, eh? What sort of folks are they?"

"Folks I should not care about meeting. Drahhowecz and Muntya, and
Harastory, and Brinkó, and Bandán, and Kerakoricz, and . . ."

"That will do," interrupted Mr. Gerzson, aghast at so many odd, strange
names not one of which he had ever heard of before. "New comers, I
suppose?"

"I was sure their names would be quite unfamiliar to your honour,"
remarked the priest smiling, and he led his guest into his narrow
dwelling, looking cautiously round first of all to make sure that nobody
was listening. Once inside he carefully barred the door, seated his
guest at the carved wooden table, which was covered with a pretty
covering made from foal-skin, and filled a dish with fresh maize
pottage, adding thereto a ham bone and a jug of mead. Mr. Gerzson fell
to, like a man, on the very first invitation; and each armed with a
wooden spoon, attacked the maize pottage from different points till
their assiduously tunnelling spoons met together in the centre of the
large platter.

"A capital dish, your reverence, really capital."

"Very good for poor folks like we are, I admit. I know you don't have
fare like this in Hungary."

"I suppose we don't know how to prepare it properly," said Gerzson.

And then the priest explained how hot the water must be when maize meal
or sweet-broom meal has to be mixed with it, how the whole mess must be
stirred with a spoon, how a little finely grated cheese has to be added
to it, and how it had then all to be tied up in a cloth like a
plum-pudding and have milk poured over it. And Squire Gerzson listened
to him as attentively as if he had come all the way from Arad to Hidvár
on purpose to learn the art of cooking maize pottage. And after that
they pledged each other's health in long draughts from the mead jug.

"And now," said the priest when they had well supped, "I know that your
honour spent all last night upon the road. You must be tired and instead
of boring yourself by listening to my uninteresting gossip, it would be
better, methinks, if we both went to bed."

"I shouldn't mind lying down at all, but alas! I have an appointment
here with some one."

"May I ask with whom?"

"I have written the baron a letter and I await a reply."

"He will not send one: he is too much taken up with his pleasures just
now."

"My letter contains things which a man durst not ignore."

"Was your letter an insulting one?"

"I don't wish to advertise its contents."

"Very good. But for all that you may as well lie down. The ways of the
baron are incalculable. Even when he is angry he knows what he is
about."

"Then we'll wait for him till morning."

"Meanwhile repose in peace. My humble dwelling is not very luxurious,
but let your honour imagine that it is a hunting hut in the forest."

"But where then will your reverence sleep?"

"I'll go out to the bee-house. I can sleep there excellently well, I
have a couch of linden leaves."

"Nay, but I also love to sleep on linden leaves, covered with my
_bunda_.[44] I'll lie there to-night. I am accustomed to sleeping in the
open air at night, and you are an old man"--he forgot that he was one
himself--"I could never permit you to sacrifice your comfort for my
sake."

[Footnote 44: A sheepskin mantle.]

The clergyman paused for an instant like one who is suddenly struck by a
new and odd idea.

"You said just now that you had insulted Hátszegi, did you not?" he
asked.

"Well--yes!--if you _must_ know."

"Grossly?"

"Yes, and most deliberately."

"Very good, I only asked the question out of curiosity. You shall have
the choice of your resting place, where would you like to sleep?"

"I choose the bee-house."

"Good. It is true that the night air is not very good for me. I will
sleep then in my usual resting place."

"And I will sleep among the bees. Their humming close beside a man's
ears generally brings him dreams that a king would envy."

"Then good night, sir."

"Good night."

They parted at the little porch. Gerzson wrapped his _bunda_ round his
shoulders and went towards the bee-house, but the priest returned to his
chamber, blew out the light, lay down fully dressed on his bed, took up
his rosary and fell a-praying like one who does not expect to see the
dawn of another day.

He knew his man; he knew what was coming.

Squire Gerzson, on the other hand, troubled himself not a jot about
possible consequences. With the nonchalance of a true sportsman, he lit
his pipe and, lest he should set anything on fire, he made up his mind
not to sleep a wink till he had smoked his pipe right out.

In order that slumber might not come upon him unawares, he resolved to
fix his eyes on the castle windows--as the best preservative against
dropping off. He could see them quite plainly from the bee-house.

The illuminated windows were darkened one by one. It seemed as if,
contrary to the words of the clergyman, the revellers within there did
not mean to await the rosy dawn glass in hand, but had lain down early.

For, indeed, it was still early. The village cocks had only just crowed
for the first time. It could not be much beyond eleven.

After the lamps had been extinguished, the castle stood there in the
semi-obscurity of night like a black, old-world ruin. It stood right in
front of the moon which was now climbing up behind its bastions and
where its light fell upon two opposite windows which met together in a
corner room it shone through them both and lighted up the whole
apartment. This room was the baroness's dormitory.

While Mr. Gerzson was luxuriating in the contemplation of the moonlight,
he suddenly observed that the moonlight falling upon the windows was
obscured for an instant, as if somebody were passing up and down the
room. In a few moments this obscuration was repeated, and the same thing
happened a third time, and a fourth, and many times more, just as if
some one were passing up and down in that particular room in the middle
of the night restlessly, incessantly.

Mr. Gerzson counted on his pulses the seconds which elapsed between each
obscuration--sixteen seconds, consequently the room in which this person
was to-and-froing it so late at night like a spectre, must be sixteen
paces from one end to the other. So long as the other windows had been
lit up, this person had not begun to walk but as soon as the whole
castle was slumbering its restless course began.

Gerzson felt that if he looked much longer, he would become moonstruck
himself.

Slowly divesting himself of his _bunda_, and after knocking the burning
ashes out of his pipe, he noiselessly quitted the bee-house, traversed
the garden and sprang over the fence at a single bound. Then he stole
along in the shadow of the poplar avenue leading up to the castle till
he stood beneath the moon-lit window, climbed, like a veritable lunatic
on to the projecting stones of the old bastion, and gazed from thence,
at closer quarters, at the regularly recurring shadow.

But not even now was he content, but began to break off little portions
of the mouldering mortar and cautiously throw them at the window. When
one of these little fragments of mortar rattled against the glass the
whole window was quickly obscured by a shadow as if the night wanderer
had rushed to it in order to look out. Gerzson felt absolutely certain
that he must be observed for there he stood clinging fast on to the
moulding. A few moments afterwards the shadow disappeared suddenly from
the window and again the moonlight shone uninterruptedly through it.

Gerzson determined to remain where he was, to see what would come of it.

In a short time the shadow reappeared in front of the moonlight, the
window was silently and very slightly raised, and through the slit
fluttered a rolled up piece of paper.

This missive fell from the moulding of the bastion down into the moat.
Mr. Gerzson scrambled down after it, grabbed at it in the dark and
sticking it into his pocket, returned to the dwelling of the priest.

Not wishing to arouse the clergyman, he went to his carriage which stood
in the stable and lit the lamp in order to read the mysterious missive.

The letter was written on a piece of paper torn out of an album. He
recognized Henrietta's handwriting, and the contents of the note were as
follows: "Good kind Gerzson! I implore you, in the name of all that is
sacred, to depart from hence this instant. Depart on foot by bye
paths--the priest will guide you. If you do not wish me to lose my
reason altogether, tarry here no longer. I am very unhappy, but still
more unhappy I should be if you were to remain here. Avoid us--and
forget me forever--your affectionate--respectful--friend who will ever
mention you in her prayers--and whom you have treated as a
daughter--HENRIETTA."

Gerzson's first feeling on reading this letter was one of
relief--evidently Henrietta was not angry with him or she would not have
alluded to herself as his daughter! There must therefore have been some
other reason for her turning back other than the squabble between them
which Hátszegi had so industriously circulated. Well, he would settle
accounts with Hátszegi presently.

What he found especially hard to understand, however, was the mysterious
warning contained in the letter.

"Well, my dear parson," he said to himself, "I very much regret having
to arouse you from your slumbers, but there's nothing else to be done,"
and, unscrewing the coach lamp, he took it with him and went towards the
house.

The hall door was closed, he had to shake it.

The parson was evidently still awake, his voice resounded from within
the house: "All good spirits praise the Lord!"

"Amen! 'Tis I who am at the door. Let me in reverend father."

The priest immediately opened the door and, full of amazement, asked Mr.
Gerzson what had happened.

"Read that!" said Gerzson handing him the letter and lighting him with
the lamp.

"This is the baroness's writing," said the priest, who immediately
recognized the script.

"What do you say to its contents?"

"I say that you must get away from this place immediately. I quite
comprehend the meaning of the baroness's directions."

"What! fly from a man whom I have just called out?"

"No, you must fly from the man you have _not_ called out."

"I don't understand."

"You will one day, but there is no time for parleying now. First of all,
put on my garments, while I dress up in peasants' clothes."

"Why?"

"Why! Because I must be your guide through the mountains. I cannot trust
another to do you that service. Do quickly what I tell you."

The priest gave his orders to Mr. Gerzson with imperious brevity, but
that gentleman, even in his present situation, could not divest himself
of his homely humour, and as he was donning the parson's long cassock
and pressed the broad brimmed clerical hat down upon his head, he fell a
laughing at the odd figure he cut.

"Deuce take it!" he cried, "I never imagined that I should ever be
turned into a parson."

But the priest was angry at the untimely jest and turning savagely upon
Squire Gerzson, said: "Sir, this is no time for jesting, we are both of
us standing on the very threshold of death."

Gerzson was no coward, nor did he trouble himself very much about death,
but the emphatic tone of the parson at least induced him, at last, to
take the matter seriously.

"Then according to that you also are in danger on my account?"

"Ask no questions! I knew what would happen when I gave you a night's
lodging."

Then he took out of a drawer a packet of letters and bade Gerzson put
them in the pocket of his cassock as the coat he was wearing had no
pockets.

"Why do you take these with you?"

"Because I fear to leave them here, and also because I believe I shall
never return to this house any more. I have one request to make of you
and that is that you will read these letters and keep the contents to
yourself." Gerzson promised to do so.

It was just as the descending moon seemed to be resting on the summits
of the mountains that the priest and his guest quitted the quiet little
house by way of the garden. The night which covered the retreat of the
fugitives was pitch dark. Nobody but one who had been accustomed to that
district for years and knew all its ins and outs could have found a path
through those wooded gorges.

By the morning light the fugitives perceived the little posting station
on the high road. There the priest exchanged clothes with Gerzson and
resumed his clerical attire.

"Nothing can detain us now," said the priest, "you can procure post
horses here and return home, but I go in an opposite direction."

"Whither?"

"The world is wide. Do not trouble yourself about me. In a month's time
we shall meet again."

"Where?"

"At this very place."

The priest hastily quitted Gerzson and returned towards the forest,
while the latter went on to the little town, where he speedily got post
horses.

When now he found himself sitting all safe and sound, in the carriage,
it suddenly struck him how remarkably odd it was that he and the parson
should have actually fled away from a non-existent danger. How they
would laugh at him from one end of the kingdom to the other! Suppose
Henrietta had been playing a practical joke upon him! But then, on the
other hand, Henrietta was not of that sort--so he consoled himself.

But there was another thing which bothered him a good deal. The coachman
had been left behind with the four horses and would not know what to
make of the disappearance of his master and the priest. When, however,
the post chaise stopped in front of his house at Arad who should he see
coming to meet him through the gate but this very coachman whose
astonishment at the meeting was even greater than his master's. And
then, to the amazement of the postillion, master and servant fell upon
each other's necks and embraced each other again and again.

"Come into the house," said Mr. Gerzson at last, "and tell me what
befell you. I don't want you to bellow it out here before all the
world."

"I hardly know how to put it, sir, but I will tell it you as best I can.
After watering the horses, I lay down and went to sleep. A loud neighing
suddenly awoke me and, looking around, I saw a great light. The
parson's house was all in flames. Up I was in a jiffy and ran to the
door to call your honour but I found the door was locked from the
inside. I then ran to the windows and found that the shutters were
nailed down over them. What horrified me most of all, however, was that
nobody came from the castle to put the fire out. Then I began to roar
for help and while I was roaring and running up and down looking for an
axe with which to batter in the door--'burum! burum!' I heard two shots
and the bullets whistled to the right and left about my ears. At that
all my pluck went down to my heels; I rushed under the shelter of the
barn, cut the tether ropes of the horses, swung myself up on to the
saddle horse, driving the others before me, and trotted into Arad
without once stopping to water them."

So he had reached home more quickly than Squire Gerzson himself.

"Well, my son," said Gerzson, "all that you have told me is gospel truth
I have no doubt, but say not a word of it to anybody, or else . . ."
(and here he uttered the threat which the ordinary Hungarian common folk
fear most of all)--"or else the affair will come before the courts and
you will have to give testimony on oath."

After that he was sure of the fellow's silence.



CHAPTER XIX

THE SHAKING HAND


Whoever in an evil hour encountered Fatia Negra had a shaking hand for
the rest of his life.

Ever since that meeting at the _csárdá_ Henrietta's hand also trembled
to such an extent that it was only with the utmost difficulty that she
could sign her own name.

What happened to her after that meeting? Whom did she recognize in Fatia
Negra? How did she get home?--all these things remained eternal secrets.
The lady was never able to tell it to anybody. Perchance she herself
regarded it as a dream.

The poor lady used now to pray all day. For hours at a time she would
kneel before the altar of the castle chapel returning thence to her
perpetual walking to and fro, to and fro, kneeling down to pray again
when she was tired out. And so she went on from morning to evening, nay,
till late into the night, sometimes till midnight, sometimes till the
dawn of the next day, up and down, up and down, between four walls, and
then on her knees again a-praying.

She never appeared in the dining-room; her meals were sent to her room.
She scarcely touched them, it was difficult to understand how she kept
body and soul together.

She only quitted her chamber to go to chapel. At such times she would
frequently meet domestics or strangers in the castle corridors, but she
looks at nobody and says not a word. She does not notice that they are
there, that they are amazed at her, that they greet her. No one has
heard her speak for a long time.

And therefore they think her mad. At first only the domestics whispered
this among themselves, then the villagers--and in a month's time it was
notorious through Transylvania that the youthful Baroness Hátszegi was
out of her mind.

Early one morning, as Henrietta was returning from chapel, there
suddenly appeared before her a ragged woman who must have been hidden in
some niche as the servants had not seen her or driven her out.

"Stop one moment, my lady," whispered the woman and Henrietta seemed to
hear in that whisper the voice of an old acquaintance, though she did
not recognize the face. It was half masked in a cloth and the little she
could see of it was disfigured by wounds and scars like the face of one
who had been badly injured by fire. Henrietta was horrified at the sight
of her, she looked so dreadful.

"Don't be frightened, my lady," said the woman falling down on her knees
before her and seizing Henrietta's dress to prevent her from escaping,
"I am Anicza."

Henrietta fixed her eyes upon the woman full of stupid amazement, and
vainly sought in her face for some trace of the ideal loveliness which
only the other day, so it seemed, had made her so charming. She began to
fancy that the woman was under some evil spell and that if anyone could
but repeat the talismanic word, her former loveliness would be restored
to her.

"You cannot recognize me your ladyship for my face was burnt to death in
the Lucsia Cavern. Oh, if it had only always been what it is now. I am
much better as I am now. God has punished me because I let my soul be
lost for the sake of my fair face. I am not vain now as I used to be.
Yes, God has smitten all of us on account of our sins, as your ladyship
already knows; but none has he smitten so hard as me. I denounced all my
kinsfolk and acquaintances to the tribunal to be avenged on one man who
had deceived me,--all of them were taken except him and he escaped. And
now I am a beggar, an accursed creature whom everyone drives from his
door, but what care I?--I never feel hungry. They took away all my
father's property--heaven only knows how much there was, more than
twenty thousand ducats, I think, and it would have been mine for I am
his only child. I was summoned before the court, they said they would
reward me for denouncing the society, they said they would give me a
thousand ducats. Ha, ha, ha! a thousand ducats for making myself the
wretched creature I am! But I did not come here to frighten your
ladyship, I came here to humbly beg a favour. Gracious lady, the
magistrates told me that a mixed commission will be appointed to try the
forgers and that his lordship, the baron, will be the president of this
commission; on him depends the life and death of everyone concerned."

Henrietta felt obliged to lean against the wall.

"My lady, I do not expect impossibilities, I cannot wish that the guilty
should remain unpunished--justice is justice! But the leader of the
whole gang was Fatia Negra, he planned everything, the others only
carried out his orders. And now there is a lot of false witnesses ready
to swear that my father was the ring-leader and throw all the blame upon
him, but it was Fatia Negra and nobody else as God knows."

Every time the peasant woman mentioned Fatia Negra's name a spasmodic
twitch convulsed Henrietta's pale features.

"Gracious lady," continued Anicza, "I implore you by the tender mercies
of God not to abandon me. Grant me my petition! Either let them kill me
or lock me up with the others. I implore you, my lady, to speak or write
to your husband (if these things must be in writing) on my behalf. Do
not let me perish. God will not be angry with you for protecting me."

Henrietta was now even less able to speak than before. But though she
could not express herself in words, she placed one hand on the girl's
head and raised the other tremulous hand to heaven, as one who takes a
solemn oath before God. Then she tore herself away from Anicza, who had
stooped to kiss the hem of her garment, and hastened back to her own
room. On reaching the threshold of the house she looked back and saw
that the girl had sunk down in the dust and was gratefully kissing the
very traces of the footsteps of the departing lady.

On reaching her room Henrietta paced up and down it for a long time,
wringing her hands as she went and moaning loudly: "My God! my God!"
Then she flung herself down on her couch, writhing like one in mortal
agony.

But soon she strengthened her heart and sat down at the writing-table.
What had become of that beautiful handwriting of hers which had
resembled copper plate? Scarcely legible letters now issued from her
trembling hand, dumb witnesses of the terror of her heart, and yet write
she must for it was her petition to her husband. Ah! that she should be
forced to write to him.

Her letter was as follows:

     "DREAD SIR: Tremulously and submissively I approach you. In the
     name of an unhappy creature I appeal to your compassion. You will
     be the judge of a lot of wretched men. Be merciful to them. By the
     grace of heaven I implore you, condemn them not! In the name of
     God, I implore you not to sign their death warrants. By the
     terrors of eternity I implore you do not ruin these men, for they
     are most innocent. N. N."

She durst not subscribe her own name.

And now she waited, she watched for the moment when Leonard quitted his
room and, slipping in, laid the petition on the couch where he would be
sure to find it. Nobody observed her.

The same day she encountered him, she had in fact sought for such an
encounter. It was in the great armoury. Leonard, as soon as he perceived
his wife, began humming some mad operatic tune, an opera bouffé air and
bawled through the door to the dog-keeper to unleash the hounds.

The pale lady nevertheless approached him, with tottering but determined
footsteps, and folding both her trembling hands as if in prayer, stood
mutely in front of the door through which Leonard would have to pass,
like some dumb spirit from another world. But Leonard merely shrugged
his shoulders and passed her by, whistling all the time.

Again, on the following day, the timid petition lay on Leonard's table,
written in the same tremulous characters. Henrietta had written it
again, and again had crept into his chamber and in whatever part of the
house the magnate might now be found, he everywhere encountered this
pale tremulous figure who pressing her hands together and without
uttering a word gazed at him beseechingly, imploringly--only they two
knew why.

On the third day Leonard again found the petition and again encountered
Henrietta.

This time he spoke to her.

"My dear Henrietta, have you read 'The Mysteries of Paris?'"

Henrietta, as usual, only stared at the speaker with frightened eyes and
said nothing.

"How did you like the description of Bicètre? A horrible place, eh? I
have noticed that you have been behaving in rather a peculiar way
lately. In fact, the whole district has been talking about it and saying
that you are a little crazy. I have been asked all sorts of questions
about it too.--Hitherto I have always told everybody that it is not
true.--But if once I should say that it _is_ true, then, you will be
most certainly shut up in a mad house. Regulate your conduct
accordingly."



CHAPTER XX

THE FIGHT FOR THE GOLD


Of late Mr. Gerzson Satrakovics had invented for himself a peculiar sort
of pastime.

He had renounced bear hounds and grey hounds and all other kinds of
dogs, he did not care a jot when partridge shooting began, but he hung
up his gun on a nail and began regularly visiting one after another the
session courts of the counties of Arad, Biehar and Temes, in all of
which he was a justice of the peace, and moving resolutions.

The object of these resolutions was to induce the three counties to
endeavour with their united strength, and in conjunction with the
Transylvanian counties of Hunyad, Fehér and Zarand, to extirpate the
robber bands that had so long been terrorizing the whole district. He
compiled lists of the atrocities perpetrated in the various localities
and connected them all with the name of one particular robber, the
notorious "Fatia Negra." He produced convincing proofs of the existence
of a combination extending from the depths of the dungeons to the
summits of the mountains which was held together by the magic influence
of this one man and he left no stone unturned to bring him to book.

He, naturally, became quite a laughing stock for his pains, and his
acquaintances could not for the life of them understand what had come to
the man.

"Why, old fellow!" said Count Kengyelesy to him one day, after he had
been indulging in an unusually fiery philippic at Quarter Sessions,
"why, old fellow, what sort of venom have you swallowed that makes you
perorate so savagely against this worthy Fatia Negra. If anybody has
cause to complain against him it is I, for he relieved me of 1,000
ducats on the high road, and so cleverly did the rascal manage it, that
I cannot find it in my heart to bear him any ill-will. But what have you
got to do with him I should like to know? What is all this cock and bull
story you keep on spouting out concerning organized robber bands and
mysterious chieftains? Is it your ambition, my friend, to become public
prosecutor?"

"Yes, it is, and public prosecutor I will be, too. I want six counties
to place their armed constabulary at my beck and call, and if they do,
I'll wager that I'll so purify all these Alpine regions that the robbers
will not have a single lurking hole left."

"Rubbish! Don't make a fool of yourself. Besides, they say that Fatia
Negra has flown to America."

"Newspaper lies. He is here, I know he is."

"And suppose he is, what harm can he do? This band has been cut off to
the very last man. They have all been sentenced heavily, the older men
to twenty years penal servitude, the younger men to penal servitude for
life. I had it from Hátszegi himself who was the president of the mixed
commission that tried them, and signed the judgment himself. The whole
fraternity is now sitting in chains in the trenches of Gyula Fehérvár
and we have seen the last of it."

"What guarantee have you of that?"

"What guarantee?--why the security of the whole region ever since. Why,
everyone there can now sleep with open doors and if you yourself were to
lie dead drunk in the public thoroughfare you would not have your money
stolen from your pocket any more."

Squire Gerzson protested vehemently against the assumption that he was
in the habit of sprawling tipsily on the king's high road.

"I'll tell you," said he, "why everything is so secure just now. The
confiscated gold of Fatia Negra is still at Gyula Fehérvár, as a forfeit
to the crown, and, sooner or later, must be sent to Vienna. Fatia Negra
is _not_ dead, his robber band has _not_ been captured and does _not_
sit in irons at Gyula Fehérvár, and the present tranquillity and
imagined security suit their plans nicely. The band now pretends to have
vanished, but just you wait till the gold is sent under convoy from
Gyula Fehérvár to Vienna--and you will see some fun."

"How do you know that?"

"I know it sir, because I know that this man, this brazen faced,
iron-fisted man is not such a chicken-hearted creature as to allow a
half-million or so to be snatched from him without stirring every nerve
and muscle to try and win it back again. For I know that hitherto he has
always triumphed over the power of the law and has always escaped from
the most dangerous ambushes."

"Well, all I can say is that I do not understand what you have to do
with this worthy man."

       *       *       *       *       *

The falsely coined gold pieces deposited at Gyula Fehérvár, had, after
the trial was over, to be sent to Hungary to be recoined. The precious
consignment filled two post-wagons and was of the estimated value of a
million and a half. Four and twenty Uhlans were told off to escort it.
This was a more than sufficient protection for the most costly treasure
at ordinary times. Moreover, in Hungary, cavalry has always inspired the
mob with terror. During the disturbances at the time of the cholera
outbreak, two squadrons of Hussars were easily able to quell the whole
riot. It was impossible to calculate how many robbers and peasants the
four and twenty Uhlans were capable of coping with. So, at least, the
county magistrates believed.

The soldiers were commanded by a lieutenant, the post-wagons were under
the charge of an official accountant and a comptroller. All the
postillions were provided with pistols and it was strictly ordered that
the wagons were not to travel on the high-road after six o'clock. There
was no lack of precaution, anyhow!

Now when the post wagons had reached the celebrated Bridge of Piski,[45]
lo, there and then, face to face, four and twenty horsemen came, riding
towards them from the opposite side of the bridge and the five and
twentieth was Fatia Negra.

[Footnote 45: It was here that a small band of Hungarians under Czsez
and Kureny held a whole Austrian army at bay on Feb. 9, 1849.--_Tr._]

All the four and twenty had black crape wound round their faces, their
clothes had the lining turned outwards and they were well provided with
swords, csákánys[46] and muskets. Fatia Negra himself rode a vigorous
black stallion and held in his hand a broad, naked sword.

[Footnote 46: Hooked axes.]

The horse of the Uhlan lieutenant took fright at the sight of the black
faces and began to rear, it was as much as his rider could do to prevent
him from springing over the parapet of the bridge.

Fatia Negra and his band halted in the centre of the bridge and did not
budge from the spot.

The lieutenant was a brave soldier, who never lost his presence of mind;
he tightened the reins of his plunging horse and turning towards
Black-Mask, exclaimed: "Who are you, what do you want, and why do you
block up the bridge?"

A deep, thundrous manly voice replied to him from afar: "I am Fatia
Negra. The treasure which you have with you is mine,--it has been stolen
from me. I now want to have it back again. I have brought hither a man
to every man of yours, we are as strong as you. I meet you openly in the
light of day. Give me back my gold or you shall have a taste of my
iron."

The lieutenant, who was one of the best swordsmen and one of the bravest
heroes in the regiment, did not think twice about accepting the
challenge, but put spurs to his steed and fell upon the adventurer who
awaited him in the middle of the bridge.

He encountered a terrible antagonist. Fatia Negra warded every blow and
countered instantly; the young officer was thrown into confusion by the
superior dexterity of his opponent, and it was only a soldier's sense of
honour that induced him to continue an attack which was bound to end
fatally for himself: practised fencers always know at once whether they
can vanquish their antagonist or not. At the same time it was really
surprising that Fatia Negra did not immediately take advantage of his
strength and skill. He seemed to be sparing his enemy, nay, he even
retreated before him step by step.

Meanwhile the _melée_ on the bridge had become general. The lancers
hastened to the assistance of their leader, the black masks slashed away
at them with their csákánys, and soon there were very few among the
combatants who had not received a lance thrust or a csákány blow. The
adventurers were forced by the lancers to the opposite end of the
bridge, when the miller, who lived in the mill beside the bridge,
thrust his head out of the window and shouted: "Take care, soldiers! the
beams of the bridge have been sawn through!"

Was this the fact? Was it the plan of the adventurers to entice the
horses on to the bridge in order that it might break down beneath their
weight?--or was the miller also an accomplice and only shouted this
because the soldiers were gaining the upperhand? In either case the
warning cry had a magical effect upon the pursuers, for they immediately
turned back in alarm and strove to reach their own end of the bridge
again.

And now they perceived what a two fold trap the cunning adventurers had
set for them, for whilst the lancers had been fighting with the mounted
robbers, a large band of footpads armed with firearms had surrounded the
post wagons in their rear, disarmed the postillions and were now engaged
in attempting to overturn the wagons into the ditch by the roadside.

The lancers dashed towards the wagons and freed them in a moment from
the hands of the mob which, on their appearance, dispersed among the
brushwood by the roadside from whence they began firing.

Not far from the bridge was a _csárdá_, and there the cavalry and the
post-wagons sought a refuge. And indeed they needed it. The number of
the footpads armed with guns was about a couple of hundred; they
enfiladed the whole road and, more than that, it was easy to perceive
that some of the tall roadside poplars had been sawn through beforehand
so that they might be made to fall down and thus make it impossible for
the post wagons across the road behind the backs of the soldiers, to
force their way through.

The soldiers had, indeed, no reason to fear that the rabble, nine-tenths
of which had no professional knowledge of the art of war, would boldly
storm the _csárdá_, for in such a case the soldiers would know how to
defend themselves vigourously, well provided as they were with carbines;
but they were well aware of one thing, to wit, that if they allowed
themselves to be surprised after nightfall they were lost, for the
robbers could then set fire to the house over their heads and burn them
alive.

For their lives they cared nothing; it is a soldier's business to die;
but how to save the enormous sum of money intrusted to them--that was
the problem. Four and twenty horsemen in a solid mass might, with a
desperate effort, cut their way through a mob, despite every obstacle,
but to take the heavy wagons along with them was impossible, for the
road in front was barred by the mob; the bridge and the road behind by
the felled poplars.

Fortunately, the officer in command had read the history of Napoleon's
Russian campaign and he recollected how the guard on one occasion had
saved the military chest from the Cossacks when the wagon, from want of
horses, had to be left behind. He now applied his knowledge
practically.

The ducats were taken out of the post-wagons and distributed among the
soldiers; knapsacks, cartridge-boxes, belts and shakos were filled with
the treasure; not a cent was left in the wagons, yet they nailed down
the chests inside them carefully that it might take all the longer to
break them open. Then they mounted the postilions and the civilians on
the spare horses, hastily threw open the gates and the whole band rushed
into the courtyard.

A sharp volley poured in upon them from every side; some of them were
wounded, but none mortally, for their assailants either fired from afar
or aimed badly. And this was well, for every dead man among them would
have been worth 100,000 guldens.

Fatia Negra and his horsemen stood close at hand with their loaded
muskets pointed in their hands, but they did not fire.

"Let the lancers run if they like!" cried Fatia Negra. "Give all your
attention to the wagons!"

The cavalry soon escaped from the mob of sharpshooters, leaped over the
barriers and began galloping rapidly back to Széb safe and sound. And
they had need to haste, for it was easy to foresee that as soon as the
cry of victory behind their backs had changed into a cry of fury, it
would be a sign that Fatia Negra's band was rushing after them.

And, indeed, scarce a quarter of an hour had elapsed, when they could
perceive clouds of dust whirling up behind them which proved that the
audacious adventurers, after discovering the fraud, were actually in
pursuit.

What unheard of audacity! In broad daylight, on the King's highway,
within the borders of a highly civilized, well-organized state, a troop
of adventurers dares to attack an equal number of trained soldiers. Gold
must have turned the heads of the men who had the audacity to do such a
thing! Yet they did it.

The soldiers saw the cloud of dust behind their backs gradually draw
nearer, the neutral ground between gradually diminished, the fellows
were capitally mounted, there could be no doubt of that.

The lieutenant ordered his men to halt and face the foolhardy bandits.
He arranged them two deep and spread them out so that they extended
right across the road. He himself stood in the centre a little in
advance of the rest; the civilians were in the rear.

Presently single shapes were discernible through the approaching cloud
of dust. The robbers were galloping along in no regular order with
intervals of from ten to twenty yards between each one of them.

More than a thousand yards in front of his comrades galloped Fatia
Negra. His splendid English thoroughbred, as if it would outstrip the
blast which whirled the dust aloft, flew along with him and seemed to
share the blind fury of his master who waved his flashing sword above
his horse's head and bellowed at his opponents from afar like a wild
beast.

"We'll seize the fellow before his companions come up," said the
lieutenant to his men. "Cut him down from his horse and capture him
alive."

"Hurrah!" roared the lonely horseman, now only a yard off.
"Hurrah!"--the next moment he was in the midst of them.

And now began a contest which, had it been recorded in the chronicles of
the Crusades, would have been regarded as an act of heroism that only
awaited immortality from a poet great enough to sing it. Fatia Negra,
alone and surrounded, fought single-handed in the midst of the hostile
band. His light sword flashing in his hand like lightning, never stayed
to parry but attacked incessantly. Handless swords and headless shakos
flew around him in the air and whithersoever his horse turned its head,
an empty space gaped before him, every antagonist retreating before him.
So close was the _melée_ that the soldiers stood in each other's way and
could not use their firearms for fear of shooting their comrades. The
lieutenant was the only man who did not avoid him. Like a true soldier
who considers wounds an honour, he did not trouble himself to recollect
that his adversary was superior to him both in strength and skill, but
strove incessantly to urge his horse towards him. Twice he struck the
fellow but he did not seem to feel the blow. Once he dealt him a skilful
thrust in the side, but the sword bent nearly double without entering
his body. "Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Fatia Negra--he must have put on a coat
of mail beneath his jacket--and the same instant he countered so
savagely that if the lieutenant had not dodged his head, he must have
lost it. As it was the sword pierced through his shako and out poured
the gold pieces by thousands on to the highroad.

At the sight of the shower of gold pieces, Fatia Negra roared like a
demon. What he had done hitherto was a mere joke--now the battle began
in grim earnest.

"Down with your heads, down with your headpieces!" he thundered, and
with the fury of a lion he flung himself on his opponents, everyone of
whom wore on his head the dangerous magnet which irresistibly attracted
his flashing sword.

He himself was invulnerable. Neither sword nor lance could penetrate his
shirt of mail. And meanwhile his companions were rapidly galloping up.
Now another shako flew into the air and the horse's hoofs trampled the
falling ducats in the mud.

"Shoot down his horse!" cried the voice of the post-office functionary
from the rear, and the same instant three pistol shots resounded. At the
third, which struck him full in the chest, the animal reared high in the
air. Fatia Negra, perceiving the danger, and before the horse had time
to fall and crush him, leaped from the saddle on to the ground.

And now he attacked the enemy on foot. He was blind now. He saw nothing
before him but blood and ducats--he was drunk with both.

All at once he observed that he was alone, and, fighting the air--he no
longer felt the contact of swords, or skulls or human bodies. After the
officer had been wounded, the post-office functionary took the command
and concluded it advisable not to await the arrival of the whole robber
band. It was his duty to save the money. He ordered the soldiers to turn
back and make the best of their way to Szászvár, the money that had been
already spilt was given up for lost. It was of no use for mere men to
attempt to grapple with such a devil incarnate as Fatia Negra.

"After them, after them!--Give me a horse!" roared Fatia Negra to his
comrades as they came galloping up, whereupon they all leaped from their
nags, not so much indeed for the sake of giving him a mount as for the
sake of grabbing the scattered heaps of ducats.

"Let that alone; it won't run away" cried the adventurer. "The bulk of
it is galloping in front of us--follow me!"

And at that, without waiting their decision, he seized one of the
horses, swung himself into the saddle and dashed after the lancers.
Nobody followed him. The robbers were wise enough to perceive that if
they left lying here these thousands of ducats, actually won, in order
to run after ten times as many which they had still to catch, (not to
mention the broken heads which they were sure to get into the bargain),
the loafing members of the confraternity who were following behind them
on foot, would pocket the booty nicely at their ease, so they stayed
where they were, with the comfortable persuasion that Fatia Negra would
be sure to turn back when he perceived he was alone.

He, however, never gave them a thought, but putting spurs to his horse,
pursued the soldiers. In vain. He had no longer a blood horse beneath
him and was unable to overtake the bearers of the lost treasure. Nor did
they halt again to give him anything to do. Looking back from time to
time, they saw how a single horseman was galloping after them, with his
sword blade firmly gripped between his teeth, and a shuddering
recollection of the old nursery tales of nether-world monsters came over
them.

The solitary horseman pursued them right up to the toll-house of
Szászvár, and even when he gave up the pursuit the toll-man saw him for
a long time trotting round about the outskirts of the town shaking his
fist and shouting imprecations. Once or twice he drew near enough to
fire his pistols through the doors and windows of the toll-house, and so
great was the spell of terror surrounding the person of the terrible
adventurer that nobody ventured outside the city wall to try and
capture him; nay, the burgesses even remained under arms in the streets
all night guarding the principal entrances for fear lest Fatia Negra and
his band might take it into their heads to formally besiege the place,
and, had it only depended upon his will to do so, he would assuredly
have made the attempt.

But it never came to that. On returning to the place of combat Fatia
Negra found his horsemen still searching in the mud and darkness for the
lost ducats, and made an attempt to reorganize his band, which did,
indeed, do a little maurauding on its own account; but when the news
reached him, through one of his paid spies, that four hundred infantry
with a cannon had reached Szászvár from Szeb--the very word "a connon"
had such an effect upon the robbers that they scattered in every
direction as if a tempest had dispersed them. Next morning there was not
a trace of them anywhere.



CHAPTER XXI

THE HUNTED BEAST


Such a piece of audacity could not be overlooked.

That a robber horseman should in the middle of the nineteenth century
and within the confines of a civilized state take it into his head to
attack, in broad daylight, post wagons defended by a strong escort of
regular soldiers--was a thing unheard of.

The news spread like lightning through the six confederated counties and
everyone seized his sword and musket. So old Gerzson Satrakovics whom
everybody had laughed at, was right after all. It was universally agreed
that a stop must be put to this sort of thing once for all. There was no
waiting now for the meetings of Quarter Sessions. The lord-lieutenants
of the counties proclaimed the _statarium_,[47] called out the
_banderia_[48] and gathered together the county _pandurs_[49] and the
militia, in order by their combined efforts, to extirpate the evil
without having recourse to the assistance of the military--a measure
always repugnant to the freedom-loving Magyars.

[Footnote 47: A decree authorizing summary procedure.]

[Footnote 48: Mounted gentry.]

[Footnote 49: Police.]

Squire Gerzson was elected the leader of this vast hunt, whose area
extended over hundreds of square miles, by all the six counties
concerned--it was generally felt that this was but due to him for the
neglect of his warnings--and Mr. Gerzson proved on this occasion that if
he was not a great strategist, at any rate he was a great beater up of
game. His plan was to occupy all the mountain roads and passes leading
out of the six counties with armed bands of militia, while at the same
time he himself advanced slowly along the highroads with his
gentlemen-volunteers joining hands together from place to place. Between
various groups of the volunteers were regular lines of _pandurs_ who had
to thoroughly scour all the forests they came to. The encircling network
of this gigantic army of beaters grew narrower and narrower day by day
and was to converge towards a fixed point which Squire Gerzson said he
would more definitely indicate later on.

Moreover there was a flying column admitted to the full confidence of
its leader, whose duty it was to appear suddenly and unexpectedly in all
parts of the closely environed region, in order to head off anything
like a definite plan of defence on the part of the adventurers and track
them down more easily. The leadership of this special corps was
entrusted to young Szilard Vamhidy, upon whose ingenuity, determination
and ability Squire Gerzson professed to place the utmost reliance.

As soon as he had received this important charge, Szilard took horse
and set off at the head of his four and twenty _pandurs_. First of all
he went in the direction of the Alps of Bihár and along a narrow
mountain path and through a melancholy, uncanny, region with not a
living plant by the wayside and not a morsel of moss on the naked rock.
No sound is to be heard there but the eternal sighing of the wind, and
in the dizzy depths below the traveller sees nothing but dense, dreary
forests crowding one upon another with the Alpine eagles circling and
screaming above them.

It was just the place for a hunted band of robbers to turn upon their
pursuers for a last life and death struggle,--here where even the bodies
of the slain would never be found. For not once in two years does a
wanderer chance to come this way, and long before that time the wolves
and the vultures will have dispersed the bones of the fallen.

Yet this time the robber bands did not fall in with their pursuers, a
sufficient proof that Szilard's plan was skilfully laid and
unanticipated. For had Fatia Negra had any idea of his design, it is
absolutely inconceivable that he would not have laid in wait for him on
this spectre-haunted path, where ten resolute men could have held a
whole army at bay.

For hours Szilard's long troop of horsemen pursued their way along
without meeting a soul. Late in the afternoon they came upon the first
shepherd's hut. The herdsman himself was out in the forest with his
flocks; there was nobody at home but a lame dog which barked at them.

In the evening they met a mounted countryman carrying maize to be ground
at the mill, him they took along with them as guide.

After that they travelled all night long, passing through Skeritora and
Nyigsa, till they came to the cataract of Vidra, which they reached at
dawn of day.

The houses of these Alpine villages are so far apart that next
neighbours cannot even see each other's dwellings, as there is at least
half a league between them. This circumstance and the night-season
favoured Szilard's plans. They could surround each house, one by one,
without the inhabitants of the other houses being aware of what had
happened in the first ones.--A fruitless labour for they found nothing
of a suspicious nature.

Tired out, the band, early in the morning, reached the house beneath the
waterfall; here they felt the need of halting. Szilárd put some
questions to the guide and then dismissed him, commanding him to return
to Skeritora.

When the guide had mounted, the _pandur_ sergeant observed to Szilard:
"I fancy, your honour, that that rascal does not mean to return to
Skeritora, but as soon as he is out of sight will turn back and give the
alarm beforehand in all the districts on our line of march."

"I fancy so too."

"But then every suspected person will get wind of the whole affair and
have time to bolt."

"That is just what I want. The trouble is at present that they lie so
still."

And with that he ordered half of his _pandurs_ to lie down and sleep and
the other half to remain awake and so relieve each other every three
hours. So the _pandurs_ rested till midday and then the sergeant began
to urge Szilard to set off again or else they would arrive too late.

"It is too early yet," replied Szilard, and he spent a good half of the
afternoon there doing nothing. Only then did he take horse again,
complaining to everyone how much yesterday's ride had taken it out of
him, and asking everybody he met on the road, coming or going, where the
next village lay?--how to get to it?--and in what direction the highroad
lay?

The old _pandurs_ naturally began murmuring among themselves. "Oh!" said
they, "if he keeps on blurting out his whole line of route like this, we
shall only have the empty nests of the robbers to thresh out for our
trouble."

"And this chap thinks, forsooth, that he will capture Fatia Negra!"
growled the veteran sergeant.

But no sooner did they get beyond the fenced fields than Szilard
suddenly turned his horse's head and leading the way to the other side
of the mountain-stream, cut his way through the forest, ordering his
comrades to hurry after him as speedily as possible. What he was aiming
at, nobody had the least idea. If he meant to lose his way in the forest
he was setting about the best way to do it.

Suddenly he ordered his followers to dismount and lead their horses by
their bridles up to the top of the mountain. The old sergeant now
guessed what he was after, but did not approve of it.

"There is no path for a horse up this mountain," said he.

"Silence, sir! I know what I am about. Follow me!"

And so, for a good half hour, cursing their leader bitterly beneath
their breaths, they painfully struggled after him up the dangerous path
and then, suddenly, a marvellous sight met their gaze. An immense cavern
gaped open before them through which, as through a tunnel, they could
reach the valley on the other side. This was the so-called "Roman Gate."
Many believe that the Romans dug this passage through the mountain, but
this marvellous piece of workmanship has been carried out on too vast a
scale for anybody else but Nature to be its architect; it is possible,
however, that the Romans may have used this passage for their campaigns.

And now the _pandurs_ understood the plan of their young leader and were
ready to follow him blindly through fire and water.

In another half hour they had passed through the "Roman Gate" and
reached the valley beyond, and by next morning Vamhidy had lit down
like a thunderbolt from the sky where nobody expected him.

By the evening he had run down eight persons who were under very strong
suspicion. After dusk the same day he sent the following letter to
Gerzson by one of his men: "I feel certain I hold the thread of the
whole conspiracy in my hands. We are on their track."

At nightfall he encamped in a lonely mill, which he chose because, in
case of necessity, it could easily be defended. He had reasons for
thinking that he might be attacked in the night.

The mill was built over a rushing mountain-stream so that the stream
shot through and under the building, over the wheels. In front, three
sluices confined within the basin the collected flood of water which was
here very deep. A broad, thick board, laid across three stout piles,
formed the bridge which connected the foot-path sloping down from the
forest, with the foot-path on the opposite side.

Towards evening his pickets came and told Vamhidy that a blind beggar
wanted to speak to him and in secret, so that nobody could hear.

Szilard ordered the blind man to be led in. He seemed to be a muscular,
athletic fellow with broad shoulders and a huge body--what a pity he was
blind.

"Domnule, are we quite alone?" inquired the blind man when he stood
before Vamhidy.

"We are quite by ourselves; what is it you want, my good fellow?"

"Thank you, sir, for calling me a good fellow, for I _was_ good for
something once upon a time, and will be so again. I am the famous Juon
Tare whose eyes were burnt out in the Lucsia Cavern when they wanted to
catch Fatia Negra, and the monster set the whole cavern on fire. I want
the head of Fatia Negra. I am after that head now and when I get it all
my woe will cease. Do you want that head Domnule?--I can tell you where
it is."

"Well?"

"Have you pluck enough not to be afraid of him, Domnule?"

"I am afraid of nothing."

"And yet many brave men fall back at the sight of that black face, which
never changes, which is just like steel and which they fancy neither
sword nor bullet can hurt; but my nails have torn his body and I have
seen his blood flow."

"Say where he is!"

"Close at hand."

"In which direction?"

"Ah! Domnule!" sighed Juon Tare, "how can I answer that, I who can see
neither heaven nor earth?"

"Then how do you know that he is hard by?"

"Ah, Domnule, I can recognize him by his voice, and if I do not hear him
speak, I can recognize the sound of his footsteps when I hear him draw
nigh. Nobody else has his trick of walking. Sometimes he goes as softly
as a spectre so that only the ears of a blind man can detect his
footfall and at other times he tramps as if the whole earth beneath him
were hollow and it resounds at every step. Oh, I have often heard him
approaching when he was still far, far away."

"But do you know anything certain about him?"

"I will tell you everything, Domnule, beginning at the beginning. You
see that I am blind, a blind beggar, for begging is my trade. So long as
my wife was alive, I had no need to turn beggar, for she worked for me
and kept me. But she died. After that I would gladly have died of
hunger, but she left me a little son, a child but two years old and I go
a begging for him. Above the brook here on the King's highway is a stone
bridge built by the county. Early in the morning my little son is wont
to lead me hither and then returns to the village, little mite as he is
the wife of the scrivener looks after him, and in the evening he comes
and fetches me home again. Whatever is given me by charitable wayfarers
I share with my poor hostess, who is poorer than any beggar. Yesterday
something happened. It was this. I was sitting outside there at the end
of the bridge and as I had not heard a human voice about me for a long
time and it was extremely hot, slumber weighed heavily upon me. I
struggled hard against it but it was too much for me. I was afraid that
if I fell across the road a cart might go over me. So I laid myself down
under the arch of the bridge. I knew the place well for I had often
sheltered there from the storm. Suddenly I was awakened by those
familiar footsteps. They passed across the bridge over my head. I will
take my oath that it was he. He stood still in the middle of the bridge.
Shortly afterwards I heard the sound of many more footsteps coming, some
from the left and some from the right. Men were coming in all directions
towards the bridge, and there in the middle of it they stood; I counted
them--there were four and twenty of them."

Szilard now began to listen attentively.

"Then he spoke. Oh, even if I had had the light of both my eyes, I could
not have seen him so plainly before me as I saw him in my blindness when
I heard him speak. It was indeed he, at the very first word I recognized
him; but when I tell you what he said, then you also will recognize him
Domnule. Those four and twenty men are a sworn confederacy. It was a
secret plot they were hatching at that place, where nobody could
surprise them, as it is girt about with woods on every side. He called
his companions here to tell them of the measures that were being taken
against them. He told them they had no need to fear all that the six
counties were doing but that the little band which was zig-zagging
through the whole district was greatly to be feared. It was the cause of
all the mischief and must be put out of the way. But his comrades made
no reply. They grumbled and muttered among themselves and at last they
said that this would be a difficult thing to do. They all said they
would not tackle the _pandurs_ because they were better shots than any
robber and were used to hunting and all its wiles. In vain were all the
assurances of Fatia Negra; they said they meant to hide away as best
they could. 'Then hide and be d----d to you,' said their leader, 'I will
tackle them single-handed. I'll seek them out and show you that they too
are but mortal men.' Those were his last words to them; they scattered
again, to the right and left, and I heard their departing footsteps over
my head. But believe me, sir, Fatia Negra will try to do what he said."

"What! come and attack us?--alone, against so many?"

"You do not believe what I say, sir, but so it will be."

"Nay, my good fellow, but are you quite certain you did not dream it
all?"

"Domnule, in the first moment of my amazement that is what I fancied
myself. How can a blind man know whether he is awake or dreaming. I
therefore drew forth my pocket-knife and with the point of it I cut a
cross in my left arm. Look, sir, there it is!"

Juon tucked up the wide shirt sleeve from his herculean arm and Szilard
was astonished to see the half healed and cross-like scar--it had been
a deep gash.

"So now, sir," pursued Juon, "you can see that I am not dreaming. Watch
well, for Fatia Negra will come. Not to-night for he awaits you on the
road by which you came. But to-morrow he will know that you have dodged
him by going through the 'Roman Gate' and to-morrow night you can safely
reckon upon him."

Szilard charged Juon not to say a word to anybody about what he had told
him and promised him a reward if what he had said really came to pass.

That night nothing happened, and till the afternoon of the next day he
lingered idly at the mill. Towards midday they heard in the forest a
loud barking of dogs; the miller said it was no doubt the lord of the
manor hunting bears.

"He chooses a very inopportune time," growled Vamhidy, "he will scare
_my_ game away."

The hunters were not long in issuing from the forest, they seemed to
have lost the track of the bear.

Vamhidy sent word to the gentlemen that he would be much obliged to them
if they would postpone their amusement to some more convenient season as
business of a graver sort was going on here. Word was at once brought
back that the company was quite ready to do as he said. The dogs were
quickly leashed again, the beaters recalled by signals and the whole
hunt came straight towards the mill. A few moments later Vamhidy
recognized in the leader of the hunt--Leonard Hátszegi.

It was an unwelcome surprise on both sides, but Hátszegi was the first
to recover himself, and he greeted him with as radiant a countenance as
if he had never had any cause of quarrel with him.

"We both of us seem to be on a hunting expedition your honour!" said he.

"Mine is an official pursuit."

"And mine pure pastime. Had I known you would have taken this road, I
should certainly not have engaged in such a mal-apropos diversion. But
it is over now, we are all going back. My bear may run--how about
yours?"

"No sign of him yet."

"Well, I could regale you with no end of interesting anecdotes
concerning the hunted adventurer, for I have had more than one famous
_rencontre_ with him myself. If it were only worth your while to pay us
a visit at Hidvár I could promise you the heartiest reception--not only
on my own part but also on the part of my wife."

"I am much obliged to your lordship," replied Vamhidy cooly, "but I am
bound by instructions from which I cannot depart. It is not pleasure
that brings me hither. Besides I have got a sure clue at last which I
must follow up and I know not whither it may lead me."

"Bravo! So you are on his track at last, eh! Take care my friend it is
not a false clue. These rascals are very crafty."

"It is a real clue that I have discovered. You must know that before the
confiscated gold captured in the Lucsia Cavern was sent to Vienna, every
coin of it was marked with a little cross, a very simple official
precaution, but it has proved very useful to us. Now I have come upon
these marked ducats among the people here. They themselves, I believe,
are innocent and can give the name of the persons from whom they
received them; and so, by tracing the various intermediaries, we shall
come at last, upon the original dispensers of these ducats. I can
imagine how Fatia Negra will laugh when he hears that the soldiers of
six counties are hunting for him in the depths of the forests and
tapping every rotten tree-stump in search of him while he is sitting
comfortably in some large theatre and eyeing the ballet-dancers through
his opera glass; but he will be very much surprised when, one fine day,
without any preliminary siege-operations we shall tap at his own door
and enquire: 'Is Fatia Negra at home?'"

Hátszegi laughed heartily.

"Not a bad idea, upon my honour! I myself am inclined to think that the
worthy highwayman will be sooner found in a coffee house than in a
forest. I only regret that I did not mark my own coins so that I might
recognize them again."

And so laughing and whistling, he returned to his party which appeared
to consist of mere dependents and gave them his orders.

"Unpack the horses and get lunch ready," said he, "we will not go any
further."

Then he turned again to Vamhidy.

"Since we are obliged to capitulate to superior force, would you be so
good as to pick out with me a nice, round, shadowy spot in the forest
where we may encamp and share with each other our provisions which have
thus become the spoils of war?"

"Thank you, my lord," replied Vamhidy coldly, "but I have already had my
lunch."

His lunch, by the way, had consisted of a maize cake baked in the ashes.

"Then won't you allow your men to drink my health in a glass of wine,
since they are actually on my domains?"

"My _pandurs_ are not allowed to drink; they have to remain sober. They
must not leave the mill without my leave and your lordship must not camp
out here although the mill is your property. For just now I am
'verbiro,'[50] here with the right to open and close every door as I may
think fit."

[Footnote 50: A magistrate with the power of life and death in his
hands.]

"Then I shall know how to respect your authority. All the same, I do not
withdraw my offer. My castle and every house and shanty on my estate is
at your disposal and if you should not find me at home at Hidvár, as I
have to be off early to-morrow morning to Szeb, my wife will be
delighted to see you."

And with that he threw his gun across his shoulder and tripped away with
well bred nonchalance across the field, and, calling to his party to
follow him, disappeared in the depths of the forest from which he had
just emerged.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now it was evening and the heavens were full of stars and Szilard
began to gaze at the stars and as he did so he forgot all about the
official burdens that weighed so heavily upon his shoulders, all about
Fatia Negra and the robbers. He fancied that his eyes encountered among
the stars the eyes of "another" whom slumber and happiness had deserted
just as they had deserted him.

How close to each other chance had brought them once more! He had only
to accept her husband's invitation in order to meet her face to face.
What would they not have to say to one another?

The night was quite still, the whole region was dumb save for the
gurgling of the water rushing through the sluices. The _pandurs_ were
snoring in the living room, for they were allowed to sleep till two
o'clock. Only Vamhidy kept watch with a single _pandur_ who was guarding
the prisoners in the cellar.

"The Lord God bless thee!" a hushed voice suddenly resounded from among
the brown bushes and Szilard distinguished by the light of the rising
moon a tall dark shape approaching the mill path. It was blind Juon.

"How did you know anyone was here?" enquired Szilard suspiciously.

"I heard you sigh, sir, once or twice and I knew you were awake for I
warned you beforehand to watch--to-night he will be upon you."

"Who?"

"Who? Why Fatia Negra."

"So you think he will be bold enough?"

"I know that he is already on the way."

"And where were you just now?"

"I was working in the mill-ditch."

"At night! What were you doing there?"

"I have removed the supporting beam underneath the bridge leading across
the reservoir! It was a hard bit of work but I had the strength to do
it."

"Why did you do that?"

"Because he will come from the opposite side and immediately he steps on
the middle of the bridge the plank will give way beneath him and he will
fall into the water like a mouse in a trap."

"What is the good of that, he will only swim out again."

"Yes, but his pistols will then be full of water and he will be unable
to use them against you."

Szilard began to perceive that he had a most determined ally with all
sorts of ideas in his head that had never occurred to himself.

"But surely, my poor fellow, you do not imagine that anybody will be
mad enough to face so many armed men alone."

"I don't know, sir, but I also do not know whether you yourself may not
be alone among so many armed men, for I hear snoring among the very
guard you told off to watch the cellar."

Szilard was startled. He immediately hastened to the place indicated and
there, sure enough, he saw the sentry stretched at full length across
the cellar door. He angrily hastened to arouse him and seized the
sleeper by the arm; but all his efforts were powerless to awake the
fellow,--he might just as well have been dead.

"Try to wake the others, sir," said Juon.

The pandurs lay in long rows stretched out upon the straw in the meal
magazine.

Szilard spoke to them, first gently, then loudly, and at last angrily,
calling them by name, one after the other; but not one of them awoke. He
tore the sleepers away from their places, but they were not aware of it;
as soon as he let them go they rolled back again into their former
positions.

"What has happened?" cried the confounded Szilard.

"There must be a traitor among them, sir, a hireling of Fatia Negra; he
has his hirelings everywhere, in forests, in palaces, in dungeons, in
barracks, everywhere. And this traitor has mingled thorn-apple juice in
the drink of his comrades and they will now sleep on for a night and a
day. The traitor himself is pretending to sleep along with his fellows
but he is only awaiting the arrival of Fatia Negra and then up he will
get and release the captives. It was an artful dodge, your honour!"

Szilard felt a tremor running through all his limbs.

"You see, sir, you are here alone, but Fatia Negra is never alone. But
so far no great harm has been done. We will make him to be alone also.
We cannot find out just now which of the four and twenty is a traitor.
But we will bind the whole four and twenty hand and foot, and then the
traitor also will be helpless."

Szilard began to perceive that this blind man was right in everything.
His words must be listened to, for the danger was close at hand, there
was no time for hesitation. So he quickly routed up all the halters in
the mill and they set to work.

The blind giant laid the pandurs one by one across his knee and placing
their hands behind their backs crosswise held them towards Szilard, who
bound them fast. Three and twenty of them felt nothing of all this and
the four and twentieth who did feel it thought it just as well to go on
feigning slumber, for had it been discovered that he was awake one grip
of those enormous fists would have made of him a sleeper indeed--for
ever more.

"Is your sword sharp, sir?" enquired the blind man when this piece of
work was done.

"Yes, and I have pistols likewise."

"Test them, sir, for I suspect they have been tampered with."

"What?"

"If ever, sir, you have pursued some wild beast, a bear or a buffalo,
for instance, you know the rule surely: never rely upon any weapon which
has not been freshly loaded by your own hand. Let us take the loading
out of your pistols. It won't do to fire them off for we are lying in
wait for big game and at such times one must keep very quiet."

Szilard hearkened to the warning and drew the loading out of both his
well charged pistols. It is usual when the powder is taken out to blow
down the barrel and as he did so now he remarked that something was
wrong. The ramrod encountered some soft substance which he drew forth.
Juon smelt it and pronounced it to be the wax of wild bees.

"You see, sir, you will not be able to discharge this pistol, for the
touch holes are so plugged up that it will take you some hours to
thoroughly clean them."

"At any rate I have still the firearms of my pandurs."

"Let us examine them also, sir!"

They did so forthwith and found that they too had been utterly ruined.
And all this must have been done while Szilard had been sitting outside
and his men had been sleeping!

"Then your sword is sharp, sir, eh?" enquired the blind man, "for I
hear the footsteps of Fatia Negra."

The sensitive ears of the blind man "scented" so to speak the well known
footfalls while they were still approaching on the distant forest paths.

The young man felt an involuntary shudder run through his body as the
moment drew near when he would have to face the hunted foe. The magical
mysteriousness which enveloped his pursuer; the marvellous audacity
which ensured the success of all his projects; his gigantic bodily
strength--all these things were sufficient to make any man's heart beat
more quickly at the prospect of encountering Black-Mask in a life and
death struggle at a lonely place.

But Szilard was resolved to see the business through. The strong will
peculiar to men of his nature broke down his fear. He had no business to
tremble, it was not permitted to him to fear. He who has a sword in his
hand is never alone--a sword is also a man.

The blind man trembled in his stead. He feared for him. When Szilard
returned with his naked sword, the blind man passed his finger along its
edge from end to end to test its sharpness.

"A good sword, a very good sword, Domnule. Fear him not, but when he
scrambles out of the water, rush upon him and strike at his neck. Do not
aim at his body for this accursed one wears a coat of mail so that no
weapon can pierce him. If he comes to close quarters, do not defend
yourself but slash away at him, you may perhaps be wounded, but if you
stand on the defensive, he will kill you. If he gets too much for you,
call out and I will rush in and strangle him with my naked hands. Oh,
what would I not give now for the sight of my two eyes."

And the blind man began to weep bitterly.

"That man killed my wife and blinded me and now when I hear him
approach, when I hear him coming towards me all alone I cannot see him.
I cannot rush in and close with him. Be valiant, Domnule, and God be
with you. May the soul of my Mariora direct the edge of your sword and
darken his eyes. Hearken!--is not that he approaching!"

And it was actually he. The tall elegant figure was descending the
moonlight rocks with a light, elastic tread, dressed from head to foot
in a black atlas mantle. Szilard saw him drawing nearer and nearer, step
by step, to the mill behind a pillar of whose verandah he himself was
concealed expectant.

At the very moment when he perceived this figure, his former terror gave
way before a strange, resolute fury which now filled his heart, a
feeling familiar only to those whose blood is set boiling whenever they
are suddenly confronted by a pressing danger. He feared the man no
longer, he burned to encounter him.

Blind Juon stood beside him and pressed his hand. They both of them
began to listen intently, nature itself was as still as if the wind
also would listen. Nothing was audible but the dull measured tramp of
the approaching footsteps.

The black shape now footed the bridge; with a confident gait he
approached the middle of it, another step and the bridge gave way
beneath him and with an involuntary cry the man in black plunged into
the water.

"Now, sir, rush in!" whispered Juon to Szilard. But the latter could not
help thinking at that moment that it was an act of cowardice to attack a
man when he could not defend himself, even though that man was a robber,
so he allowed him to scramble out onto the other side.

The black mantle had fallen from the shoulders of Fatia Negra into the
water and there he now stood before Szilard with his wet clothes
clinging closely to his body like a statue of Antinous, a shape of
athletic beauty.

In his girdle were a couple of pistols, in all probability rendered
useless by the water and a long Arab yataghan almost as long as an
ordinary sword but without the usual cruciform hilt.

Szilard barred the way.

For an instant Fatia Negra was taken aback by his antagonist's
unexpected wariness and courage, but the next moment his drawn yataghan
flashed in his hand and the second flash was the clash of the contending
weapons.

And now happened what happens hundreds and thousands of times in actual
life. At the very first onset Fatia Negra, the notorious, the
practised, the invincible swordsman was disarmed by a young civilian who
had never, perhaps, held a naked sword in his hand before and possessed
no advantage over his opponent save the courage of an honest man as
opposed to the effrontery of a malefactor--a marvel indeed!

Both of them had lunged at the same time, neither of them had parried,
Szilard's sword cut through his adversary's wrist and at the same
instant Fatia Negra's yataghan fell from his hand.

The wounded robber set up a howl like a wild beast and Juon, lurking
beneath the verandah of the mill responded with another howl of joy that
sounded like an echo. The blind man had recognized that Fatia Negra was
in danger and at once rushed out upon him.

The disarmed adventurer lost his presence of mind along with his sword.
His right hand suddenly sank helpless to his side and his stout heart
was seized with a sort of paralysis. He perceived that this was the man
sent by fate to announce to him that his last hour was at hand. He
turned and fled toward the forest.

Szilard rushed after him.

"Take care," screamed blind Juon. But none heeded him. Fatia Negra flew
away before his enemy. At first he left him far behind, but gradually
the continuous loss of blood began to weaken him and it also occurred to
him that even if he succeeded in distancing his adversary, he would
still leave a trail of blood behind him. To complete his confusion the
moon made the whole region as light as day. He was forced to sit down on
a tree stump to tie up his wounded hand; at least he would stop the flow
of blood and make the trail more difficult to follow.

While with the help of his left hand and his teeth he was binding up his
useless right hand, his pursuer overtook him.

"Fatia Negra--surrender!"

The only reply the adventurer gave was to try to fire his pistols and
finding them only flash in the pan he hurled them one after the other at
his enemy's head. Szilard then had practical experience of the rumor
that Fatia Negra could throw very well even with his left hand,--had he
not leaped aside at the nick of time the pistols would have dashed his
brains out.

Then up Fatia Negra started to his feet again and fled away still
further. The pursuer and the pursued now sped along with pretty equal
energy, though the loss of blood continued to weaken the robber. Yet he
made one desperate effort to scale the steep side of the mountain. An
ordinary man could rarely breast such an ascent, yet he tried it. But he
soon found that even thus he could not shake off his enemy. He remained
indeed some hundreds of paces behind but he could not dodge out of his
sight in the now open glade.

On the brow of the hill the adventurer stopped to pant and surveyed the
undulating thickly wooded hills stretching away on every side of him.
He drew a silver whistle from his bosom and gave with it three
penetrating signals which re-echoed from among the distant mountains.
But it was only an echo, only the note of the whistle that he heard, he
waited in vain for anything else. All his accomplices had evidently
hidden away.

And again the pursuer overtook him. He waited till he was only two paces
off and then he seized a stone weighing half a hundred weight and hurled
it at him--the tree trunk behind which Szilard had taken refuge bent
beneath the blow. Then Fatia Negra fled down towards the valley.

It was a desperate way for him to take, for down hill his adversary
could cover the ground as quickly as he could; the distance between them
was never more than ten paces, the wound the robber had received began
to enervate his whole body, and he was not long in finding out that the
hurling of missiles is a very profitless mode of warfare when you have
only one hand at your disposal.

Panting hard he fled on further seeking refuge. And now he took to
zigzagging through the wood in the hope of dodging his pursuer if only
for an instant as a flying fox is wont to do when he is already nearing
his hole whose entrance he does not wish to betray to his pursuer.

A little further on a stout quickset hedge barred their way. Fatia Negra
burst through it and Szilard followed in the gap that he had made.

Suddenly a hunting lodge came in view--at least the antlers on the top
of the porch and above the windows suggested that that was what it was
intended for.

One of the windows looking out upon the forest stood open. Fatia Negra
suddenly stopped short, waited till his adversary was close up to him
and then shaking his fist at him sprang through the open window.

Vamhidy did not hesitate a moment about following the adventurer into
the house. He forced his way through the window and found himself in a
dark corridor at the extreme end of which the footsteps of the hunted
adventurer were still resounding. And after him he ran straightway.



CHAPTER XXII

THE SIGHT OF TERROR


"My dear Henrietta," Leonard had said to his wife the day before, as he
shook the dust of the chase off his clothes, "very shortly some guests
will arrive at Hidvár and possibly they may be numerous. May I ask you
to make ready for their reception?"

Henrietta signified by a motion of her head that she understood.

"It is possible you may have to perform the duties of hostess without my
assistance, for I have to be off at once to Szeb and don't expect to be
back for a couple of days. It is possible that the gentlemen in question
may arrive during my absence which I should very much regret.
Nevertheless you may depend upon my hastening home as quickly as I can
to meet them here."

All this did not seem to interest Henrietta very much. Leonard noticed
it.

"Let the gentry, my dear, occupy the room overlooking the park, the
servants had better have the six rooms generally given to hunting
parties on the ground floor, with the four and twenty beds."

At these directions the lady looked at her lord with an expression of
surprised inquiry.

"I see," resumed her husband, "you are asking yourself what sort of
company that can be for whose master one room suffices while the
servants require six. I will tell you. It is the armed corps from Arad
which is charged with the capture of Fatia Negra and his associates. As
they will pass by this way I don't see how they can avoid calling at
Hidvár. In fact I have invited the magistrate who commands the corps to
make Hidvár the centre of his operations and if he is a sensible man he
will accept my invitation. The name of my guest I have not yet
mentioned," continued Leonard with easy levity, "it is Szilard Vamhidy,
a justice of the peace of the county of Arad--really a very nice young
man."

Henrietta became as white as a statue.

"You will greatly oblige me, my dear Henrietta, if you will do your best
to make our guest feel quite at home in our house. But you are a
sensible woman, so I have no need to press the point. Let me kiss your
hand--_au revoir_!"

Henrietta watched him go out, watched him get into his carriage and bowl
off and then began to weep and hide her head among the cushions that
nobody might hear her.

They are pursuing Fatia Negra! ... Szilard Vamhidy is pursuing Fatia
Negra!

He will come hither, he will enter this very castle. Leonard himself has
invited him!

He will certainly come to see his former love once more. The thought was
terrible!

But it must not, it should not happen.

Leonard himself had invited Vamhidy to his castle. This man relied too
much on the terror of a poor timid woman, he built too much on that
nimbus of terror which made him so horribly unassailable in her eyes.
What! first to invite the former lover of his wife to be his guest and
then show his indifference by choosing that very time to absent himself
from the house for some days!

But on one thing she was resolved--Vamhidy should not find her at
Hidvár. She would fly. She would leave her husband's house. Where should
she go? Who would receive her? What would become of her? She did not
know, she gave the matter no thought, but one thing was certain: Szilard
and she might meet together in the grave but they should never encounter
each other beneath the shadow of the halls of Hidvár.

There was nobody she could confide in. All the servants were her
husband's paid spies and her own jailors. The priest had disappeared
altogether from Hidvár. In her despair an old memory rose up before her.
She called to mind that during the earlier days of her stay at Hidvár
when she had explored the whole region under the delusion that she could
make the wretched happy, she had often passed a little house which had
always riveted her attention. It was a little hunting hut in the midst
of the forest built entirely of wood and planed smoothly outside like a
little polished cabinet. In front of it stood broad spreading fruit
trees, crowded with flowers in spring, crowded with fruit in autumn,
wild vines and moss grew all over its roofs.

In the midst of the listening woods this little house had such an
inviting exterior that the very first time she saw it, Henrietta could
not resist the temptation of entering it.

The door of the little house stood open before her, being only on the
latch. She had stepped in: there was nobody inside. In the first room
there was furniture of some hard wood; close to the wall stood a carved
side-board with painted earthenware on it, on a table was a pitcher of a
similar ware full of fresh pure water. The door of another room to the
right was also open and in that room also she found nobody. There stood
a bed with a bear skin for a coverlet, other bear skins spread on the
floor served instead of carpets and on the walls were bright lynx, and
wildcat skins.

From this room there was a door leading into a third room and here also
she found nobody. The walls of this room were covered with
weapons--guns, pistols and curiously shaped swords and daggers, in rows
and crossed, hanging on nails and leaning against the walls. On the
oaken table stood stuffed beasts and birds, under the table was a
stuffed fox fastened to a chair; a pair of wild boars' heads with
powerful tusks were over the door, but there was no sign of any living
beast.

Henrietta fancied that the master of this little house must be away but
not far off and she made up her mind to wait till he returned home. Yet
one hour after another passed away and Henrietta was at last obliged to
go on further lest she should have to pass the night there and, only
when she was already some distance away, was she struck by the peculiar
circumstance that all round the hut grass was growing thickly and that
no path led up to it.

In a few weeks' time curiosity drew her again in the same direction.
Alone, without any escort, she stood before the forest dwelling,
fastened her horse to the fence and passed through the door.

Everything was just as she had seen it on the first occasion. In the
first room on the table was the earthenware pitcher full of water; in
the second room was the bed covered with a bear skin and in the third
room were all the guns and other weapons just as she had seen them
before.

Again she waited for a long time for some of the dwellers of this little
house to draw near, and again she waited in vain; even by eventide not a
human being had approached the hut.

These hut dwellers must be curious folks she thought, they leave
everything unlocked, evil disposed people might steal everything.

On the way back she met some charcoal burners and asked them about the
lonely little house in the midst of the forest. Three of the four
pretended not to understand: they did not remember ever seeing such a
house they said. The fourth, however, told the lady in reply that in
that house dwelt "Dracu."[51]

[Footnote 51: The Devil.]

This only made Henrietta more than ever curious. She asked the priest
about it and even he was inclined to be evasive. He evidently either
knew nothing about it or was casting about in his mind for some
plausible explanation. At last he said that rumour had it that a
huntsman's family had either been murdered or had committed suicide
there, and, ever since, nobody dwelling in the district could be
persuaded to cross its threshold, let alone steal anything out of it;
they would not even take shelter there during a storm, for they believed
that an evil spirit dwelt there.

Henrietta, however, did not believe in these invisible evil spirits. The
evil spirits she was acquainted with all went about in dress clothes and
surtouts. The atmosphere of mystery and enchantment which made the
little house uninhabitable only stimulated her fancy. She determined to
discover whether it was really uninhabited or not.

Accordingly, when she entered the house for the third time, she plucked
a wild rose and threw one of its buds into the pitcher of water on the
table, a second on the bear skin coverlet of the bed and a third, fourth
and fifth she stuck into the barrels of the muskets hanging up in the
armour room.

When now, she visited the lonely house for the fourth time, she looked
for the rose buds and could not find one of them in the places where
she had put them. Consequently there must needs be someone who slept in
the bed, drank the fresh water from the pitcher and used the firearms.

Her thirst for knowledge now induced her to enquire of her husband
concerning this little dwelling and he, then and there, elucidated the
mystery.

It was quite true that a lonely inhabitant of this house had once been
murdered there, that the common people believed it to be haunted, and
that consequently not one of them would cross its threshold at any price
either by day or by night. An old landed proprietor from the mining town
of X., who owned a small strip of forest in those parts and was at the
same time an enthusiastic huntsman, had taken advantage of this popular
superstition to buy this little house, for a mere song. He used it as a
hunting box. He could not afford to keep a huntsman of his own to look
after it and knowing that if he locked it up, thieves would most
probably break into it and steal everything, he left the doors wide open
and everyone instantly avoided it as uncanny. The reason Henrietta never
met him was that this old gentleman was a government official, who had
to live most of his time in the town of Klausenburg, but whenever he was
not hunting here he was out in the forests all night till dawn when he
turned into the little house for a nap and was off again before the
afternoon; and so Henrietta who regularly visited the hut in the
afternoon, naturally never encountered him.

Leonard even named the old gentleman's name and then Henrietta
remembered meeting him at the _soirées_ at Klausenburg. Leonard,
however, warned his wife never to mention the matter in the presence of
the old gentleman in question, if she should ever meet him, for he had
sundry relations with poachers and other people of that sort. The fact
was, his own strip of forest was not very large and therefore he very
frequently trespassed on Leonard's property in pursuit of game. The old
gentleman was, therefore, very desirous to keep his passion for the
chase a secret, especially as his relations with Leonard were none of
the best.

After that Henrietta had visited the little forest house no more. This
prosaic explanation had robbed it in her eyes of all its mysterious
interest, nor did she think it becoming to enter a house whose owner was
not on very good terms with her husband. Only now did the recollection
of the little forest dwelling recur to her, and in the terror of her
soul she began to regard the little moss-covered hut whose doors stood,
open, night and day, as a possible asylum. It was the only place where
she could take refuge, the only place where she had no need to fear
spies, where nobody would look for her, where she might remain in hiding
and from whence she might either return home or wander further out into
the world according as fate was kind or unkind to her.

At night there would be nobody in the little house, for the enthusiastic
old hunter would be stalking the forest. It was also possible that his
official duties might keep him away for days together. But even if she
were to meet him, why should she be afraid of the eccentric old man?
Would she not rather find in him a natural protector who would conduct
her out of the mountains to Klausenburg or Banfi-Hunyad, from whence she
would make her way to Pest and there seek a refuge in her aunt's house?

She did not think twice about it, but accepted the idea as a heaven-sent
inspiration which it was her duty to follow. She put on a shawl as if
she were only going to take a walk in the moonlight and descended into
the park accompanied by the gardener's daughter whom she had bribed to
help her to escape. The girl succeeded in hoodwinking the men servants
by dressing herself up in a mantle of her mistress's, pretending she
would have supper out in the park as the night was so fine and warm, so
that by the time the fraud was discovered and the alarm given, Henrietta
had had a start of several hours and although the men, fearful of the
anger of their master when he should return and find his wife flown,
searched in every direction with lighted torches they were unable to
discover a trace of the missing lady.

Terror lends strength to the most feeble. Ordinarily Henrietta was so
weak that it was as much as she could do to promenade through the park.
But to-day after a two hours' run over stones and through briars and
bushes, at midnight, she still did not feel weary. From the top of a
hill she looked back. She could still see the tower of the castle of
Hidvár in the valley, but it looked blue through the mist in the
distance and then she hastened down into the valley whose steep
overhanging sides hid her even from the moonlight.

The night was noiseless, the forest dark. Now and again a humming night
beetle circled round and round her and obstinately pursued her as if he
also was a spy sent after her. The poor thing's heart throbbed
violently. What if she had lost her way? What if she fell into the hands
of the robbers whom they were now actually pursuing through the woods?
Yet still greater was her terror of Hidvár and a hundred times more
homelike was the dreadful forest with its giant trees speaking in their
sleep than the tapestried walls of the Castle of Hidvár.

Suddenly a glade opened up before her which seemed to greet her as an
old acquaintance.

Yes, indeed, there were the wild roses which she had so often plucked to
adorn her hat. The hunting-box could not be far off now. It conceals
itself to the right of the rose bushes beneath a lofty birch.

A few moments later she found herself outside its door.

As she laid her hand on the latch, a thought of terror transfixed her.
What if the door should be shut?

But she had only to press the latch in order to put all her fears to
flight. The door this time also was not fastened.

Standing on the threshold she enquired with a trembling voice: "Is
anybody in?"

No answer.

Then she closed the door behind her and opened the door of the second
room. There also nobody responded to her enquiry. The third room was
also open as usual, nay even one of its windows was opened towards the
orchard. Moreover, everything was in its proper place just as she had
always found it--the weapons, the bear skin coverlet and the water
pitcher.

It occurred to Henrietta to close the door from the inside so that
nobody might come upon her unawares while she slept. But then the
thought also struck her that it was not right to lock the old gentleman
out of his own house especially as he might turn up in the early morning
tired out and half frozen. So she ultimately decided to stay up for him
in order to tell him, as soon as he arrived, that she meant to obtain a
separation from her husband, whose conduct she could no longer endure.
Till then she would try hard not to go to sleep. But she was tired to
death from her long run through the forest and was obliged at last to
throw herself on the bear skin coverlet to rest; and gradually sleep
overcame all her anguish, all her terror.

She might have slept for about a half an hour, a restless,
phantom-haunted sleep at best, when she suddenly awoke.

It seemed to her as if she had heard a distant cry. Perhaps she had only
imagined she had heard it in her slumbers, and perhaps what she had
dreamt was so awful and what she fancied she had heard was so terrible,
that it had awakened her.

She began to listen attentively. After midnight every light sound seems
so loud.

She fancied in the great stillness that she could hear rapidly
approaching footsteps.

Again a cry! like the cry of a hunted beast, like the cry of a wounded
wolf!

She was not dreaming now, she could hear it plainly. She saw where she
was. The moonlight was streaming through the window, she could see to
the end of all three rooms.

Suddenly at the window overlooking the garden whence the moonbeams
streamed in, a black shape appeared which obscured the moonlight for an
instant.

This shape leaped through the window and, panting hard, rushed through
the two rooms into the third where the arms stood.

Henrietta saw it fly past her bed, she heard its panting sobs
and--recognized it.

It was Fatia Negra! this was Fatia Negra's house!

And this was not all.

Close upon the traces of Fatia Negra rushed another phantom with a drawn
sword in its hand, but its face was towards her and she recognized in
it--Szilard Vamhidy.

And yet she did not lose her consciousness at this double sight of
terror, though it would have been much better for her if she had.

Fatia Negra plunged into the armoury and plucked down a pistol from the
wall.

Szilard paused on the threshold.

"Halt!" cried Fatia Negra with a voice like a scream--"this is my house
and your tomb."

Szilard did not condescend to reply but drew a step nearer.

"Sir, but one word more," said Fatia Negra in a fainter voice and so
hoarsely as to be scarcely audible, "you have wounded me, you have run
me down; but your life is now in my hands and I could kill you this
instant if I had a mind to. Let us bargain a bit: I won't kill you if
you will not pursue me any further. You return and say you could not
catch me. I swear to you that to-morrow I will send you twenty thousand
ducats."

With contemptuous coldness Szilard replied: "Surrender, I will not
bargain."

"You won't bargain, you crushed worm you! The mouth of my pistol is on a
level with your forehead. I have only to press my finger and your head
would be shattered--and yet you dare to have it out with me? Do you want
to save your head?"

"I mean to have yours," said Szilard and he drew a step nearer to the
adventurer.

"My head, eh? Ha, ha, ha! You would have it would you, and have it here!
Take it then!"

At that moment a piercing shriek startled the two deadly antagonists and
in the adjoining room a white figure fell prone upon the floor.

The next moment there was a loud report and Fatia Negra fell back
lifeless on the bear skin carpet.

At the very moment when he had laughed aloud and cried: "Take it then!"
he had suddenly put the mouth of the pistol into his own mouth and fired
it off. The heavy charge blew his head to bits, Szilard felt a warm red
rain showering down upon him.

So Fatia Negra, after all, did not give up his head, the pistol shot had
annihilated it.

And nobody ever knew who Fatia Negra really was.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE ACCOMMODATION


It was now the seventh time that Mr. John Lapussa had informed Mr. Sipos
that he wanted to see him and for the seventh time word was sent back
that the lawyer could not come. Why could he not come? They could not
say. Finally a message was delivered to the effect that the lawyer could
not come either that day, or the next, or indeed on any other day in the
whole year. In a word Mr. Sipos declined to have anything more to do
with the Lapussa family or its affairs. Their transactions were not at
all to his taste.

So, as Mr. Sipos would not appear at the summons of Mr. John Lapussa,
Mr. John Lapussa must needs call upon Mr. Sipos.

He was wearing mourning in his hat and tried hard to lend his face a
funereal appearance also.

"Have you heard the news?" he asked.

Mr. Sipos had heard nothing.

"Don't you see the mourning in my hat? Alas! my poor niece, unhappy
Henrietta!"

"Well, what has happened?"

"Hátszegi has been drowned in the Maros."

"Impossible, he was a first-rate swimmer."

"His horse ran away with him, he had lost all control over it. When he
saw that the horse was determined to plunge into the river from the
high bank, he tried to spring out of the saddle, but his spur
unfortunately caught in the stirrups and the horse dragged him down with
it into the water. There in the full stream, with his head downwards and
his legs in the air, he vainly attempted to extricate himself. The
frantic horse swam with him to the opposite shore, dragging the poor
wretch after it, and before the opposite bank was reached, his head was
so shattered that it was impossible to recognize his features. It is now
a week since they buried him in the family vault at Hidvár. Poor
Henrietta! So young to be left a widow! And to have lost so handsome, so
beloved a husband through so sad a death! Really lamentable!"

"I wonder what the rascal is after now," thought Mr. Sipos.

"My heart really is breaking for her! If only there were not these
unhappy money differences between us. I am not a tiger. My heart is not
made of stone. Perhaps you don't believe me! Let me tell you that I have
half resolved, despite the old gentleman's will, to transfer to my
niece, Henrietta, the Kerekedar property."

"Because its expenses are greater than its revenue, I presume?"

"None of your poor witticisms, sir. I am ready to make any sacrifices to
oblige my relatives. The world misjudges me. They call me greedy and
avaricious; if only they could look into my heart!"

"What you have done hitherto, sir, does not testify to any great regard
for your relatives. For instance, look at the case of my client, young
Coloman--for you know that Vamhidy has instructed me to act for him.
What intrigues, what tricks were employed to fasten upon him the
suspicion of forgery! Nobody knows that better than you, sir. And let me
tell you that although my young client is nothing but a strolling
player, I shall spare no pains to thoroughly vindicate his good name and
you, with all your wealth and property, will be unable to affect the
issue one jot."

Mr. John pondered for a moment. "Look here," said he at last, "let us
pitch the whole confounded suit into the fire. I have a compromise to
propose. I candidly confess I am in a bit of a hole. That bill business
is now before the courts and when it comes on for trial, it will cause a
horrible scandal and people have condemned me beforehand. I only wish I
had never mixed myself up in it."

"Suppose I help you out of the difficulty!"

"In that case you may dictate your own conditions and I will consent to
them beforehand."

"There is only one way to save you. Henrietta must say that the bill is
not forged, but is really signed by her and she must then pay and cancel
it, then every foundation of a charge against you vanishes."

"A sublime idea," cried Mr. John springing from his seat. "And now let
me hear your conditions."

"My only condition is, complete satisfaction to be made to the children
of your second sister."

"What! surrender a whole third of the property to them without any
deduction?"

"We will accept nothing less."

"What must I do first then?"

"First you must pay the baroness forty thousand florins."

"Forty thousand florins! Why?"

"In order that she may meet the bill as soon as she has acknowledged her
signature."

"Well, and what next?"

"You must sign deeds whereby you undertake to surrender to the children
of your late sister the estates of Zôldhalom and Orökvar bequeathed to
them by your father."

"Why, they are the best paying properties of all."

"Then pay them the value of the estates in cash."

"That would seriously inconvenience me."

"Then make over your houses in Vienna and Pest."

"I cannot find it in my heart to part with them."

"Then propose some other expedient."

"Very well, I will. Give me till to-morrow to think it over."

And with that Mr. John put on his hat and took his leave.

The following day the lawyer awaited him in vain; then he waited for
him a whole fortnight, but Mr. John never came near him. Then he went to
the courts to find out what was being done and there he learnt, to his
astonishment, that the declaration of the Baroness Hátszegi
acknowledging the genuineness of her signature to the bill had already
arrived.

What had happened was this: As soon as Mr. John had got Sipos's opinion
gratis, he quickly traveled post to Hidvár and had a chat with his niece
over the business. The poor lady was so utterly crushed by her
misfortunes that she could scarce fix her mind steadily on anything and
was a mere tool in his hands. She accepted the properties offered to her
by her uncle--what did it matter to her now how much or how little they
brought in!--and gave an acknowledgment in writing that the signature to
the bill was her own.

Mr. Sipos was therefore not very much surprised when one day he received
a commission from the baroness's agent to pay over the forty thousand
florins in question to a financial agent at Pest. So Mr. John made a
rattling good profit out of the transaction and Henrietta in return for
her generosity had to pay up in cash as Mr. Sipos had shrewdly
anticipated she would have to do all along. But it was all one to
Henrietta.



CHAPTER XXIV

CONCLUSION


Meanwhile the long drawn out process between Mr. John and his sister
Madame Lángai continued its course. There was no thought of a compromise
between the parties. Madame Lángai expended so much of her private means
in the action that nearly the whole of the property left her by her
husband went in costs. She could now neither keep her coach nor live in
a large house. She cooped herself up in a couple of small rooms, visited
nobody and wore dresses that had been out of fashion for at least four
years--and all to be able to carry on the action!

It was ten years before the suit came to an end.

Mr. John lost it and a fearful blow it was to him, for he had to pay out
a million to his sister without any further delay. It is true he had as
much again left for himself, but to be the possessor of only a single
million is nevertheless a fearful thought to anyone who has hitherto
been the possessor of two millions.

The poor plutocrat! How deeply it disturbed him to be obliged to pay his
only sister her due portion! How the constant thought that he was now
only half as rich as he had been before gnawed his life away! Poor, poor
plutocrat!

Szilard had a brilliant career--a career extending far beyond the
horizon of this simple story. He never married. Count Kengyelesy quizzed
him often enough and was continually asking him why he did not try his
luck again with his former ideal now that she had become a widow. All
such questions, however, he used to evade in a corresponding tone of
jocularity. But once when Kengyelesy inquired seriously why he never
approached Baroness Hátszegi and at the same time reproached him for his
want of feeling in so obstinately keeping out of the poor lady's way,
Szilard replied: "I am not one of those who can be thrown away to-day
and picked up again to-morrow."

After that the count never mentioned Henrietta's name in Szilard's
presence again--and who knows whether there was not some impediment
between these two from which no sacrament could absolve them. Who knows
whether it might not after all have been as well for Vamhidy to avoid
any meeting whatever with--the widow of the late Baron Hátszegi?

Yet it was she who was, in any case, the most wretched of them all.
Although only six and twenty she could already be called an old woman.
She was the victim of her shattered nerves night and day. The least
noise made her tremble. The opening of a door was sufficient to make her
start up. When she was only four and twenty she had already given up
plucking out her grey hairs, there were so many of them. She found no
relaxation in the society of her fellows and therefore avoided all
social gatherings. Most of her time she spent at home, sitting all by
herself in the remotest chamber of the house, half of whose wall was by
this time overgrown by the asclepia which Szilárd had given her ages
ago--or so it seemed to her. This was the only one of her acquaintances
which had not forsaken her, and luckily for her it was tenacious of
life, for if that too had perished, with whom could poor Henrietta have
held converse?

So there was at least one creature in the world to whom this possessor
of millions could still confide her reminiscences and her sorrows. Poor
rich lady, all the poorer because of her great wealth! Poor plutocrat!


THE END

[Transcriber's Note: Most obvious typographical errors have been
corrected. Foreign words may appear at some points in the text with
accents and at other points without, and proper names may be spelled
differently in different parts of the text. These inconsistencies have
been preserved from the original publication.]





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