Sarvoelgyi allowed his guests to wait a long time, though they were, as it happened, not at all impatient.
Great ringing of bells announced his coming; this being a sign he was accustomed to give to the kitchen, that the dinner could be served. Soon he appeared.
He was a tall, dry man, of slight stature, and so small was his head that one could scarce believe it could serve for the same purposes as another man's. His smoothly shaven face did not betray his age; the skin of his cheeks was oil yellow, his mouth small, his shoulders rounded, his nose large, mal-formed and unpleasantly crooked.
He shook hands very cordially with his guests; he had long had the honor of the lawyer's acquaintance, but it was his supreme pleasure to see the magistrate to-day for the first time. But he was extremely courteous, not a feature of his countenance betraying any emotion.
The magistrate seemed determined not to say a word. So the brunt of the conversation fell on the lawyer.
"We have happily concluded the 'execution'."
That was naturally the most convenient topic for the commencement of the conversation.
"I am sorry enough that it had to be so," sighed Sarvoelgyi. "Apart from the fact that Topandy is unceasingly persecuting me, I respect and like him very much. I only wish he would turn over a new leaf. He would be an excellent fellow. I know I made a great mistake when I accused him out of mere self-love. I am sorry I did so. I ought to have followed the command of scripture, 'If he smite thee on thy right cheek, offer him thy left cheek also.'"
"Under such circumstances there would be very few criminal processes for the courts to consider."
"I confess I rejoiced this morning when the commission of execution arrived. I felt an inward happiness, due to the fact that this foe of mine had fallen, that he was trampled under my feet. I thought: he is now gnashing his teeth and snapping at the heels of justice that stamp upon his head. And I was glad if it. Yet my gladness was sinful, for no one may rejoice at the destruction of the fallen, and the righteous cannot be glad at the danger of a fellow creature. It was a sin for which I must atone."
The simplest atonement, thought the lawyer, would be for him to return the amount of the fine.
"For this I have inflicted a punishment upon myself," said Sarvoelgyi, piously bowing his head. "Oh, I have always punished myself for any misdemeanor, I now condemn myself to one day's fasting. My punishment will be, to sit here beside the table and watch the whole dinner, without touching anything myself."
It will be very fine! thought the lawyer. He is determined to fast, while we have taken our fill yonder. So we shall all look at the whole dinner, without tasting anything,—and Mistress Boris will sweep us out of the house.
"My friend the magistrate's head is doubtless aching after his great official fatigue!" Sarvoelgyi said, hitting the nail right on the head.
"It is indeed true," remarked the lawyer assuringly. The young official was in need rather of rest than of feasting. There are good, blessed mortals, whom two glasses of wine immediately send to sleep, and to whom it is the most exquisite torture to be obliged to remain awake.
"My suggestion is," said the lawyer, "that it would be good for the magistrate to repose in an armchair and rest himself, until the cleaning of the cloister is finished, and we can again take our seats in the carriage."
"Sleep is the gift of Heaven," said the man of piety: "it would be a sin to steal it from a fellow-man. Kindly make yourself comfortable at once in this room."
It was an extremely difficult process to make oneself comfortable on that apology for an arm-chair; it seemed to have been prepared as a resting place for ascetics and body-torturers: still the magistrate sat down in it, craved pardon,—and fell asleep. And then he dreamed that he saw before him again that laid-out table, where one guest sat two yards from the other while all round holy pictures were hanging on the walls, with their faces turned away, as if they did not wish to gaze upon the scene. In the middle of the room there was hanging from the ceiling a heavy chandelier with twelve branches, and on it was swaying the host himself.
What a cursed foolery is a dream! The host was actually sitting there vis-a-vis with the lawyer, at the other end of the long table; for Mistress Boris had so laid the places. And as the magistrate's place remained empty, host and guest sat so far apart that the one was incapable of helping the other.
At last the door opened, with such a delicate creaking that the lawyer thought somebody was ringing to be admitted:—It was Mistress Boris bringing in the soup.
The lawyer was determined to make some sacrifice, in order to maintain the dignity of the "legale testimonium," by dining a second time. He thought himself capable of this heroic deed.
He was deceived.
There is a peculiarity of the Magyar which has not yet been the subject of song: his stomach will not stand certain things.
This a stranger cannot understand: it is a "specificum."
When Voeroesmarty sang that "in the great world outside there is no place for thee," he found it unnecessary to add the reason for that, which every man knows without his telling them:—"in every land abroad they cook with butter."
[Footnote 37: From the celebrated Szozat (appeal) calling on the Hungarian to be true to his fatherland.]
A Magyar stomach detests what is buttery. He becomes melancholy and sickly from it; he runs away from the very mention of it, and if some sly housekeeper deceitfully gives him buttery things to eat, all his life long he considers that as an attempt upon his life, and will never again sit down to such a poison-mixer's table.
You may place him where you like abroad, still he will long to return from the cursed butter-smelling world, and if he cannot he grows thin and fades away: and like the giraffe in the European climate, he cannot reproduce his kind in a foreign land. Roughly speaking, all his neighbors cook with butter, oil and dripping: and "be harsh or kind, the hand of fate, here thou must live, here die."
[Footnote 38: Also from the "Szozat."]
The lawyer was a true Magyar of the first water. And when he perceived that the crab soup was made with butter, he put down his spoon beside his plate and said he could not eat crabs. Since he had learned that the crab was nought else but a beetle living in water, and since a company had been formed in Germany for making beetles into preserves for dessert, he had been unable to look with undismayed eye upon these retrograde monsters.
"Ach, take it away, Boris," sighed the host. He himself was not eating, for was he not atoning for his sins?
Mistress Boris removed the dish with an expression of violent anger.
Just imagine a housekeeper, whose every ambition is the kitchen, when her first dish is despatched away from the table without being touched.
The second dish—eggs stuffed with sardines—suffered the same fate.
The lawyer declared on his word of honor that they had buried his grandfather for tasting a dish of sardines, and that every female in the family immediately went into spasms from the smell of the same. He would rather eat a whale than a sardine.
"Take this away, too, Mistress Boris. No one will touch it." Mistress Boris began to mutter under her breath that it was absurd and affected to turn up one's nose at these respectable eatables, which were quite as good as those they had eaten in their grandfather's house. Her last words were rather drowned by the creaking of the door as she went out.
Then followed some kind of salad, with bread crumbs. The lawyer had in his university days received such a dangerous fever from eating such stuff, that it would indeed be a fatal enterprise to tackle it now.
This was too much for the housekeeper. She attacked Mr. Sarvoelgyi:
"Didn't I tell you not to cook a fasting dinner? Didn't I say so? You think everyone is as devout as you are in keeping Friday? Now you have it. Now I am disgraced."
"It is part of the punishment I have inflicted on myself," answered Sarvoelgyi, with humble acquiescence.
"The devil take your punishment; it is me that will come in for ridicule if they hear about it yonder. You become more of a fool every day."
"Say what is on your tongue, my good Boris; heaven will order you to do penance as well as me."
Mistress Boris slammed the door after her, and cried outside in bitter disappointment.
The lawyer swore to himself that he would eat whatever followed, even if it were poison.
It was worse: it was fish.
We have medical certificates to enable us to assert that whenever the lawyer ate fish he promptly had to go to bed. He was forced to say that if they chased him from the house with boiling water he could not venture to put his teeth into it.
Mistress Boris said nothing now. She actually kept silent. As we all know, the last stage but one of a woman's anger is when she is silent, and cannot utter a word. There is one stage more, which was imminent. The lawyer thought the dinner was over, and with true sincerity begged Mistress Boris to prepare a little coffee for him and the magistrate.
Boris left the room without a word, placing the coffee machine before Sarvoelgyi himself; he did not allow anyone else to make it, and occupied himself with the preparations till Mistress Boris came back.
The magistrate was just dreaming that that fellow swinging from the ceiling turned to him, and said "will you have a cup of coffee?" It did him good starting from his doze, to see his host, not on the chandelier, but sitting in a chair before him, saying: "Will you have a cup of coffee?"
The magistrate hastened to taste it, with a view to driving the sleepiness from his eyes, and the lawyer poured some out for himself.
Just at that moment Mistress Boris entered with a dish of omelette.
Mistress Boris with a face betraying the last stage of anger, approached the lawyer:—she smiled tenderly.
It is not the pleasantest sight in the world when a lady with a plate of omelette in her hand, smiles tenderly upon a man who is well aware of the fact that only a hair's breadth separates him from the catastrophe of having the whole dish dashed on his head.
"Kindly help yourself."
The lawyer felt a cold shiver run down his back.
"You will surely like this!—omelette."
"I see, my dear woman, that it is omelette," whispered the lawyer; "but no one of my family could enjoy omelette after black coffee."
The catastrophe had not yet arrived. The lawyer had his eyes already shut, waiting for the inevitable; but the storm, to his astonishment, passed over his head.
There was something else to attract the thunderbolt. The magistrate had again taken his seat at the table, and was putting sugar in his coffee; he could not have any such excuse.
"Kindly help yourself ..."
The magistrate's hair stood on end at her awful look. He saw that this relentless dragon of the apocalypse would devour him, if he did not stuff himself to death with the omelette. Yet it was utterly impossible. He could not have eaten a morsel even if confronting the stake or the gallows.
"Pardon, a thousand pardons, my dear woman," he panted, drawing his chair farther away from the threatening horror: "I feel so unwell that I cannot take dinner."
Then the storm broke.
Mistress Boris put the dish down on the table, placed her two hands on her thighs, and exploded:
"No, of course not," she panted, her voice thick with rage. "Of course you can't dine here, because you were simply crammed over yonder by—the gypsy girl."
The hot coffee stuck in the throats of the two guests at these words! In the lawyer's from uncontrollable laughter, in the magistrate's from still more uncontrollable consternation.
This woman had indeed wreaked a monstrous vengeance.
The good magistrate felt like a boy thrashed at school, who fears that his folks at home may learn the whole truth.
Luckily the sergeant of gendarmes entered with the news that the unholy pictures had been already erased from the walls, and the carriages were waiting. He too "got it" outside, for, as he made inquiries after his masters, Mistress Boris told him severely to go to the depths of hell: "he too smelt of wine; of course, that gypsy girl had given him also to drink!"
That gypsy girl!
The magistrate, in spite of his crestfallen dejection, felt an actual sense of pleasure at being rid of this cursed house and district.
Only when they were well on their dusty way along the highroad did he address his companion:
"Well, my dear old man, that fine lady was only a gypsy girl after all."
"Surely, my dear fellow."
"Then why did you not tell me?"
"Because you did not ask me."
"That is why you lay on your stomach and laughed, is it?"
The magistrate heaved a deep sigh.
"At least, I implore you, don't tell my wife that the gypsy girl kissed me!"
THE WILD CREATURE'S HAUNT
In those days the Tisza regulations did not exist—that plain around Lankadomb where now turnips are hoed with four-bladed machines was at that time still covered by an impenetrable marsh, that came right up to Topandy's garden, from which it was separated by a broad ditch. This ditch wound in a meandering, narrow course to the great waste of rushes, and in dry summer gave the appearance of a rivulet conveying the water of the marsh down to the Tisza. When the heavy rains came, naturally the stream flowed back along the same route.
The whole marsh covered some ten or twelve square miles. Here after a heavy frost, they used to cut reeds, and on the occasion of great hunting matches they would drive up masses of foxes and wolves; and all the huntsmen of the neighborhood might lie in wait in its expanse for fowl from morn till eve, and if they pleased, might roam at will in a canoe and destroy the swarms of winged inhabitants of the fen: no one would interrupt them.
[Footnote 39: A hunting match in which the vassals of the landlord form a ring of great extent and advancing and narrowing the circle by degrees, drive the animals together towards a place where they can be conveniently shot. (Walter Scott.)]
Some ancestor of Topandy had given the peasantry permission to cut peat in the bog, but the present proprietor had discontinued this industry, because it completely defiled the place: the ditches caused by the old diggings became swampy morasses, so that neither man nor beast could pass among them without danger.
Anyone with good eyes could still descry from the castle tower that enormous hay-rick which they had filled up ten or twelve years before in the middle of the marsh; it was just in the height of summer and they had mown the hillocks in the marsh; then followed a mild winter, and neither man nor sleigh could reach it. The hay was lost, it was not worth the trouble of getting; so they had left it there, and it was already brown, its top moss-covered and overgrown with weeds.
Topandy would often say to his hunting comrades, who, looking through a telescope, remarked the hay-rick in the marsh:
"Someone must be living in that rick; often of an evening have I seen smoke coming from it. It might be an excellent place for a dwelling. Rain cannot penetrate it, in winter it keeps out the cold, in summer the heat. I would live in it myself."
They often tried to reach it while out hunting; but every attempt was a failure; the ground about the rick was so clogged with turfy peat that to approach it by boat was impossible, and one who trusted himself on foot came so near being engulfed that his companions could scarcely haul him out of the bog with a rope. Finally they acquiesced in the idea that here within distinct view of the castle, some wild creature, born of man, had made his dwelling among the wolves and other wild beasts; a creature whom it would be a pity to disturb, as he never interfered with anybody.
The most enterprising hunter, therefore, even in broad daylight avoided the neighborhood of the suspicious hay-rick; who then would be so audacious as to dare to seek it out by night when the circled moon foretelling rain, was flooding the marsh-land with a silvery, misty radiance, adding a new terror to the face of the landscape; when the exhalations of the marsh were sluggishly spreading a vaporous heaviness over the lowland; while the eerie habitants of the bog (whose time of sleep is by day, their active life at night) the millions of frogs and other creatures were reechoing their cries, announcing the whereabouts of the slimy pools, where foul gases are lord and master; when the he-wolf was howling to his comrades; and when, all at once, some mysterious-faced cloud drew out before the moon, and whispered to her something that made all nature tremble, so that for one moment all was silent, a death-like silence, more terrible than all the night voices speaking at once;—at such a time whose steps were those that sounded in the depths of the morass?
A horseman was making his way by the moonlight, in solitude.
His steed struggled along up to the hocks in the swamp which showed no paths at all; the tracks were immediately sucked up by the mud:—nothing lay before to show the way, save the broken reed. No sign remained that anyone had ever passed there before.
The sagacious mare carefully noted the marks from time to time, instinctively scenting the route, that tracks trodden by wild beasts should not lead her astray; cleverly she picked out with her sharp eyes the places where the ground was still firm; at times she would leap from one clod of peat to another. The space between these spots might be overgrown by green grass, with yellow flowers dotted here and there, but the sagacious animal knew, felt, perhaps had even experienced, that the depth there was deceptive; it was one of those peat-diggings, filled in by mud and overgrown by the green of water-moss; he who stepped thereon would be swallowed up in an instant. Then she trotted on picking her way among the dangerous places.
And the rider?
He was asleep.
Asleep on horseback, while his steed was going with him through an accursed spot: where to right and left were graves, where below was hell and around him the gloom of night. The horseman was sleeping, his head nodding backwards and forwards, swaying to and fro. Sometimes he started, as those who travel in carriages are wont to do when the jolting is more pronounced than ordinary, and then settled down again. Though asleep he kept his seat as if he had grown to the saddle. His hands seemed wide awake for all he held the reins in one and a double-barrelled gun in the other.
By the light of the moon his dark face seemed even darker; his long, crisp, curly hair, his hat pressed down over his eyes, his black beard and moustache, his strongly aquiline nose, all proclaimed his gypsy origin. He wore a threadbare blue doublet, braided with cords, which were buttoned here and there at random, and over this was fastened some tattered lambskin covering.
The rider was really fast asleep: surely he must have travelled at such a pace that he had no time, or thought for sleep, and now, strangely enough, he felt at home.
Here, where no one could pursue him, he bowed his head upon his horse's neck.
And the horse seemed to know that his master was sleeping, for he did not shake himself once, even to rid himself of the crowds of biting, sucking insects that preyed upon his skin, knowing that such a motion would wake his master.
As the mare broke through a clump of marsh-willows, in the darkness of the willow forest, little dancing fire-flies came before her in scores, leaping from grass to grass, from tree to tree, dissolving one into the other, then leaping apart and dancing alone; their flames assumed a pale, lustreless brilliance in the darkness, like some fire of mystery or the burning gases of some moldering corpses.
The mare merely snorted at the sight of these flickering midnight flames; surely she had often met them, in journeys across the marsh, and already knew their caprices: how they lurked about the living animals, how they ran after her if she passed before them, how they fluttered around, how they danced beside her continuously, how they leaped across above her head, how they strove to lead her astray from the right path.
There they were darting around the heads of horse and horseman as if they were burning night-moths; one lighted upon the horseman's hat, and swayed with it, as he nodded his head.
The steed snorted and breathed hard upon those living lights. But the snorting awakened the rider. He gazed askance at his brilliant demon-companions, one of which was on the brim of his hat; he dug the spurs into the mare's flanks, to make her leap more speedily from among the jeering spirits of the night.
When they came to a turn in the track, the crowd of graveyard mystery-lights parted in twain: most of them joined the rushing air-current, while some careful guardians remained constantly about the rider, now before, now behind him.
Darting from the willows, a cold breeze swept over the plain: before it every mystery-light fled back into the darkness, and still kept up its ghostly dance. Who knows what kind of amusement that was to them?
The horseman was sleeping again. The terrible hay-rick was now so near that one might have gone straight to it, but the steed knew better; instead, she went around the spot in a half-circle, until she reached a little lake that cut off the hay-rick. Here she halted on the water's edge and began to toss her head, with a view to quietly awakening the rider from his sleep.
The latter looked up, dismounted, took saddle and bridle off his horse, and patted her on the back. Therewith the steed leaped into the water, which reached to her neck, and swam to the other side.
Why did she not cross over dry ground? Why did she go only through the water? The horseman meanwhile squatted down among the broom, rested his gun upon his knee, made sure that it was cocked and that the powder had not fallen from the pan, and noiselessly crouched down, gazing after the retreating steed, as she reached the opposite bank. Suddenly she drew in her tail, bristled her mane, pricked up her ears. Her eyes flashed fire, her nostrils expanded. Slowly and cautiously she stepped forward, so as to make no noise, bowed her head to the earth, like some scenting hound, and stopped to listen.
On the southern side of the hay-rick,—the side away from the village,—there was a narrow entrance cut into the pile of hay: a plaited door of willow-twigs covered it, and the twigs were plaited together in their turn with sedges to make the color harmonize with that of the rick. This was done so perfectly that no one looking at it, even from a short distance, would have suspected anything. As the steed reached the vicinity of the door, she cautiously gazed upon it: below the willow-door there was an opening, through which something had broken in.
The mare knew already what it was. She scented it. A she-wolf had taken up her abode there in the absence of the usual occupants, she had young ones with her, and was just now giving suck; otherwise she would have noticed the horse's approach; the whining of the whelps could be heard from the outside. The mare seized the door with her teeth, and suddenly wrenched it from its place.
From the hollow of the hay-rick a lean, hungry wolf crept out. At first in wonder she raised her eyes, which shone in the green light, astonished at this disturbance of her repose; and she seemed to take counsel within herself, whether this was the continuation of her sweet dreams. The providential joint had come very opportunely to the mother of seven whelps. Two or three of these were still clinging to her hanging udders, and left her only that she might prepare herself for the fight. The old animal merely yawned loudly,—in a man it would be called a laugh,—a yawn that declared her delight in robbery, and with her slatternly tail beat her lean, hollow sides. The mare, seeing that her foe was in no hurry for the combat, came nearer, bowed her head to the earth, and in this manner stepped slowly forward, sniffing at the enemy; when the wolf seemed in the act of springing on her neck she suddenly turned, and dealt a savage kick at the wolf's chin that broke one of its great front teeth. Then the furious wild creature, snarling and hissing, darted upon the steed, which at the second attack kicked so viciously with both hind legs that the wolf turned a complete somersault in the air; but this only served to make it more furious: gnashing its teeth, its mouth foaming and bloody, it sprang a third time upon the mare, only to receive from the sharp hoof a long wound in its breast; but that was not all: before it could rise from the ground, the mare dealt another blow that crushed one of its fore paws.
The wolf then gave up the battle. Terrified, with broken teeth and feet, it hobbled off from the scene of the encounter, and soon appeared on the roof of the rick. The coward had sought a place of refuge from the victorious foe, whither that foe could not follow it.
The steed galloped round the rick: she wished to deceive her enemy, who merely sat on the roof licking its broken leg, its bruised side, and bloody jaws.
All at once the proud mare halted, with a haughtier look than man is capable of, as who might say: "You are not coming?"
Suddenly she seized one of the whelps in her teeth. They had slunk out of the hollow, whining after their mother. She shook it cruelly in the air, then dashed it to the ground violently so that in a moment its cries ceased.
The mother-wolf hissed with agonized fury on the roof of the rick.
The mare seized another one of the whelps and shook it in the air.
As she grasped the third by the neck, the mother, mad with rage, leaped down upon her from the pile and, with the energy of despair, made so fierce an assault that her claws reached the steed's neck; but her crushed leg could take no hold, and she fell in a heap at the mare's feet; the triumphant foe then trampled to death first the old mother, then all the whelps. At last, proudly whinnying, she galloped in frisky triumph around the rick, and then quickly swam back to the place where she had left her master.
"Well, Farao, is there anything the matter?" said the horseman, embracing his horse's head.
The horse replied to the question with a familiar neigh, and rubbed her nose against her master's hip.
The horseman thereupon tied saddle and bridle together into one bundle, and leaped upon his steed's back, who then, without harness of any kind, readily swam with him to the place she had already visited, and halted before the opening in the rick. The master dismounted. The steed, thus freed, rolled on the grass, neighing and whinnying, then leaped up, shook herself, and with great delight grazed in the rich swampy pasture.
The gypsy was not surprised to see the bloody signs of the late struggle. He had many a time discovered dead wolves in the track of his grazing horse.
"This will serve splendidly for a skin-cloak, as the old one is torn."
Then something occurred to him.
"This was a female: so the male must be here somewhere—I know where." The rick was surrounded by wolf-ditches in double rows, so made that the inner ditch corresponded to the space left between the two outer ones: the whole crafty work of defence was covered over with thin brush and reeds, which had been overgrown by process of time by moss, so that even a man might have been deceived by their appearance. Here was the reason why the steed had not approached the rick in a straight line. This was a fortified place, and the only entrance to the stronghold was that lake which lay before it: that was the gate. The she-wolf, too, had undoubtedly come across the water, but the male had not been so prudent and had entrapped himself in one of the ditches.
The gypsy at once noticed that one ditch had been broken in, and, as he gazed down into the depths, two blazing blood-red eyes told him that what he was looking for was there.
"Well, you are in a fine position, old fellow: in the morning I shall come for you: and I'll ask for your skin, if you'll give it to me. If you give, you give; if you don't give, I take. That is the order of things in the world. I have none, you have: I want it, you don't. One of us must die for the other's sake: that one must be you."
Then it occurred to him to remove the skin of the she-wolf at once, for, if he left it to cool, the work would be more difficult. He stretched the fur on poles and left it to dry in the moonlight; the carcass he dragged to the end of the rick and buried it there; then he made a fire of rushes, took his seven days' old bread and rancid bacon from his greasy wallet and ate. As the darting flames threw a flickering light upon his face, he looked no more peaceful than that wild creature, whose hollow he had usurped.
It was just a sagacious, courageous, wily, resolute—animal face.
"Either you eat me, or I eat you." That was its meaning. "You have, I have not; I want, you don't:—if you give, you give; if you don't, I take."
At every bite with his brilliant white teeth into the bread and bacon, you could see it in his face; his gnashing teeth, and ravenous eyes declared it.
That bacon, and bread, had surely cost something, if not money.
Money? How could the gypsy purchase for money? Why, when he took that bright dollar from his knapsack, people would ask him where he got it. Should he show one of those red-eyed bank-notes, they would at once arrest, imprison him: whom had he murdered to obtain them?
Yet he has dollars and bank-notes in plenty. He gathers them from his leathern purse with his hands, and scatters them around him on the grass.
Bright silver and gold coins glitter around him in the firelight. He gazes at the curious notes of the imperial banks, and fears within himself that he cannot make out the worth of any of them. Then he sweeps them all together in one heap, along with snail shells and rush-seeds. After a while the man enters the hollow interior of the rick, and draws from the hay a large, sooty copper vessel, partly moldy with the mold of money. He pours the new pile in with two full hands. Then he raises the cauldron to see how much heavier it has become.
Is he satisfied with his work?
He buries his treasure once more in the depths of the rick; he himself knows not how much there might be. Then he attacks anew the hard, stale bread, the rancid bacon, and devours it to the last morsel. Perhaps some ready-prepared banquet awaited him on the morrow. Or perhaps he is accustomed to feasting only every third day. At last he stretches himself out on the grass, and calls to Farao.
"Come here, graze about my head, let me hear you crunch the grass."
And quickly he fell asleep beside her, as it were one whose brain was of the quietest and his conscience the most peaceful.
"FRUITS PREMATURELY RIPE"
At first I was invited to my P. C. uncle's every Sunday to dinner: later I went without invitation. As soon as I was let out of school, I hastened thither. I persuaded myself that I went to visit my brother. I found an excuse, too, in the idea that I must make progress in art, and that it was in any case an excellent use of time, and a very good "entree" to art, if I played waltzes and quadrilles of an afternoon from five to eight on the violin to Melanie's accompaniment on the piano, while the rest of the company danced to our music.
For the Balnokhazys had company every day. Such a change of faces that I could scarcely remember who and what they all were. Gay young men and ladies they were, who loved to enjoy themselves: every day there was a dance there.
Sometimes others would change places with Melanie at the piano: a piece of good fortune for me, for she was able to then have a dance—with me.
I have never seen any one dance more beautifully than she; she fluttered above the floor, and could make the waltz more agreeable than any one else before or after her. That was my favorite dance. I was exclusively by her side at such times, and we could not gaze except into each other's eyes. I did not like the quadrille so well: in that one is always taking the hands of different persons, and changing partners; and what interest had I in those other lady-dancers?
And I thought Melanie, too, rejoiced at the same thing that pleased me.
And, if by chance—a very rare event—the P. C. had no company, we still had our dance. There were always two gentlemen and two lady dancers in the house party; the beautiful wife of the P. C. and Frauelein Matild, the governess: Lorand and Pepi Gyali.
[Footnote 40: A nickname for Joseph.]
Pepi was the son of a court agent at Vienna, and his father was a very good friend of Balnokhazy; his mother had once been ballet-dancer at the Vienna opera—a fact I only learned later.
Pepi was a handsome young fellow "en miniature;" he was a member of the same class as Lorand, a law student in the first year, yet he was no taller than I. Every feature of his face was fine and tender, his mouth, small, like that of a girl, yet never in all my life have I met one capable of such backbiting as was he with his pretty mouth.
How I envied that little mortal his gift for conversation, his profound knowledge, his easy gestures, his freedom of manners, that familiarity with which he could treat women! His beauty was plastic!
I felt within myself that such ought a man to be in life, if he would be happy.
The only thing I did not like in him was that he was always paying compliments to Melanie: he might have desisted from that. He surely must have remarked on what terms I was with her.
His custom was, in the quadrille, when the solo-dancing gentlemen returned to their lady partners, to anticipate me and dance the turn with Melanie. He considered it a very good joke, and I scowled at him several times. But once, when he wished to do the same, I seized his arm, and pushed him away; I was only a grammar-school boy, and he was a first-year law student; still I did push him away.
With this heroic deed of mine not only myself but my cousin Melanie also was contented. That evening we danced right up till nine o'clock. I always with Melanie, and Lorand with her mother.
When the company dispersed, we went down to Lorand's room on the ground floor, Pepi accompanying us.
I thought he was going to pick a quarrel with me, and vowed inwardly I would thrash him.
But instead he merely laughed at me.
"Only imagine," he said, throwing himself on Lorand's bed, "this boy is jealous of me."
My brother laughed too.
It was truly ridiculous: one boy jealous of another.
Yes, I was surely jealous, but chivalrous too. I think I had read in some novel that it was the custom to reply in some such manner to like ridicule:
"Sir, I forbid you to take that lady's name in vain."
They laughed all the more.
"Why, he is a delightful fellow, this Desi," said Pepi. "See, Lorand, he will cause you a deal of trouble. If he learns to smoke, he will be quite an Othello."
This insinuation hit me on a sensitive spot. I had never yet tasted that ambrosia, which was to make me a full-grown man; for as every one knows, it is the pipe-stem which is the dividing line between boyhood and manhood; he who could take that in his mouth was a man. I had already often been teased about that.
I must vindicate myself.
On my brother's table stood the tobacco-box full of Turkish tobacco, so by way of reply I went and filled a church warden, lit and began to smoke it.
"Now, my child, that will be too strong," sneered Pepi, "take it away from him, Lorand. Look how pale he is getting: remove it from him at once."
But I continued smoking: the smoke burned and bit the skin of my tongue; still I held the stem between my teeth, until the tobacco was burned out.
That was my first and last pipe.
"At any rate, drink a glass of water," Lorand said.
"No thank you."
"Well, go home, for it will soon be dark."
"I am not afraid in the streets."
Yet I felt like one who is a little tipsy.
"Have you any appetite?" inquired Pepi scornfully.
"Just enough to eat a gingerbread-hussar like you."
Lorand laughed uncontrollably at this remark of mine.
"Gingerbread-hussar! you have got it from him, Pepi."
I was quite flushed with pride at being able to make Lorand laugh.
But Pepi, on the contrary, became quite serious.
"Ho, ho, old fellow," (when he spoke seriously to me he always addressed me "old fellow," and on other occasions as "my child"). "Never be afraid of me; now Lorand might have reason to be: we both want what is ready; we do not court your little girl, but her mother. If the old wigged councillor is not jealous of us, don't you be so."
I expected Lorand to smite that fair mouth for this despicable calumny.
Instead of which he merely said, half muttering:
"Don't; before the child..."
Pepi did not allow himself to be called to order.
"It is true, my dear Desi: and I can tell you that you will have a far more grateful part to play around Melanie, if she marries someone else."
Then indeed I went home. This cynicism was something quite new to my mind. Not only my stomach, but my whole soul turned sick. How could I measure the bitterness of the idea that Lorand was paying court to a married woman? Such a thing was not to be seen in the circle in which we had been brought up. Such a case had been mentioned in our town, perhaps, as the scandal of the century, but only in whispers that the innocent might not hear: neither the man nor the woman could have shown their faces in our street. Surely no one would have spoken another word to them.
And Lorand had been so confused when Pepi uttered this foul thing to his face before me. He did not deny it, nor was he angry.
I arrived at home in an agony of shame. The street-door was already closed: so I had to pass in by the shop door. I wished to open it softly that the bell should not betray my coming, but Father Fromm was waiting for me. He was extremely angry: he stopped my way.
"Discipulus negligens! Do you know 'quote hora?' Decem. Every day to wander out of doors till after nine, hoc non pergit.—Scio, scio, what you wish to say. You were at the P. C.'s. That is 'unum et idem' for me. The other 'asinus' has been learning his lessons ever since midday, so much has he to do, while you have not even so much as glanced at them; do you wish to be a greater 'asinus' than he? Now I say 'semel propter semper,' 'finis' to the carnival! Don't go any more a-dancing; for if you stay out once more, 'ego tibi umsicabo.' Now 'pergus, dixi.'"
Old Marton during this well-deserved drubbing kept moving the scalp of his head back and forth in assent, and then came after me with a candle, to light me along the corridor to the door of my room, singing behind me these jesting verses:
"Hab i ti nid gsagt Komm um halbe Acht? Und du Kummst mir jetzt um halbe naini Jetzt ist de Vater z'haus, kannst nimmer aini."
[Footnote 41: "Did I not tell thee, 'come at half-past seven?' and thou comest now at half-past eight? Now the father is at home, thou canst no more come in."]
And after me he called out "Prosit, Sir Lieutenant-Governor." I had no desire to be angry with him. I felt too sad to quarrel with any one.
Henrik was indeed slaving away at the table, and the candle, burnt to the end, proved that he had been at it a long time.
"Welcome, Desi," he said good humoredly. "You come late; a terrible amount of 'labor' awaits you to-morrow. I have finished mine: you will be behind with yours, so I have written the exercises in your place. Look and see if it is good."
I was humbled.
That heavy-headed boy, on whom I had been wont to look down from such a height, whose work I had prepared in play, work which he would have broken his head over, had now in my place finished the work I had neglected. What had become of me?
"I waited for you with a little pleasant surprise," said Henrik, taking from his drawer something which he held in his hand before me. "Now guess what it is."
"I don't care what it is."
I was in a bad humor, I longed to lay my head on the bed.
"Of course you care. Fanny has written a letter from her new home. She has written to you in Magyar, about your dear mother."
These words roused me from my lethargy.
"Show me: give it me to read."
"You see, you are delighted after all."
I tore the letter from him.
First Fanny wrote to her parents in German, on the last page in Magyar to me. She had already made such progress.
She wrote that they often spoke of me at home; I was a bad boy not to write mother a letter: she was very ill and it was her sole delight to be able to speak of me. As often as her parents or brother wrote to Fanny, she would add a few lines after opening the letter, in my name, then take it to my mother and read it to her, as if I had written. How delighted she was! She did not know my German writing, so she readily believed it was I who had written. But I must be a good boy and write myself, for some day mother and grandmother would discover the deceit and would be angry.
My heart was almost bursting.
I pored over the letter I had read, and sobbed bitterly as I had never before done in my life.
My dear only mother! thou saint, thou martyr! who sufferest, weepest, and anguishest so much for my sake, while I mix in a society where they mock women, and mothers! Canst thou forgive me?
When I had cried myself out, my face was covered with tears. Henrik raised me from my seat upon the floor.
"Give me this letter," I panted; and I kissed him for giving it to me.
Many great historical documents have been torn up since then, but that letter is still in my possession.
"Now I cannot go to bed. I will stay up until morning and finish the work I have neglected. I thank you for what you have written in my stead, but I cannot accept it. I shall do it myself. I shall do everything in which I am behindhand."
"Good, Desi, my boy, but you see our candle has burned down; and grandmother is already asleep, so I cannot ask her for one. Still, if you do wish to sit up, go down to the bakehouse, they are working all night, as to-morrow is Saturday: take your ink, paper, and books with you. There you can write and learn your lessons."
I did so. I descended to the court, washed my head beside the fountain, then took my books and writing material and descended to the bakehouse, begging Marton to allow me to work there by lamp-light. Marton irritated me the whole night with his satire, the assistants jostled me, and drove me from my place; they sang the "Kneading-trough" air, and many other street-songs: and amid all these abominations I studied till morning; what is more, I finished all my work.
That night, I know, was one of the turning-points in my life.
Two days later came Sunday: I met Pepi in the street.
"Well, old fellow: are you not coming to-day to see little Melanie? There will be a great dance-rehearsal."
"I cannot: I have too much to do."
Pepi laughed loudly. "Very well, old fellow."
His laughter did not affect me in the least.
"But when you have learned all there is to learn will you come again?"
"No. For then I shall write a letter to my mother."
Some good spirit must have whispered to this fellow not to laugh at these words, for he could not have anticipated the box on the ears I would have given him, because he could not for an instant forget that I was a grammar-school boy, and he a first-year law student.
THE SECRET WRITINGS
One evening Lorand came to me and laid before me a bundle of papers covered with fine writing.
"Copy this quite clearly by to-morrow morning. Don't show the original to any one, and, when you have finished, lock it up in your trunk with the copy, until I come for it."
I set to work in a moment and never rose from my task until I had completed it.
Next morning Lorand came for it, read it through, and said: "Very good," handing me two pieces of twenty.
"What do you mean?"
"Take it," he said, "It is not my gift, but the gift of someone else: in fact, it is not a gift, but a fixed contract-price. Honorable work deserves honorable payment. For every installment you copy, you get two pieces of twenty. It is not only you that are doing it: many of your school-fellows are occupied in the same work."
[Footnote 42: i. e., A printed sheet of sixteen pages.]
Then I was pleased with the two pieces of twenty.
My uneasiness at receiving money from anybody except my parents, who alone were entitled to make me presents, was only equalled by my pleasure at the possession of my first earnings, the knowledge that I was at last capable of earning something, that at last the tree of life was bearing fruit, which I might reach and pluck for myself.
I accepted the work and its reward. Every second day, punctually at seven o'clock in the evening, Lorand would come to me, give me the matter to be copied, 'matter written, as I recognized, in his own hand writing,' and next day in the morning would come for the manuscript.
I wrote by night, when Henrik was already asleep: but, had he been awake, he could not have known what I was writing, for it was in Magyar.
And what was in these secret writings?
The journal of the House of Parliament. It was the year 1836. Speeches held in Parliament could not be read in print; the provisional censor ruled the day, and a few scarecrow national papers fed their reading public on stories of the Zummalacarregu type.
So the public helped itself.
In those days shorthand was unknown in our country; four or five quick-fingered young men occupied a bench in the gallery of the House, and "skeletonized" the speeches they heard. At the end of a sitting they pieced their fragments together: in one would be found what was missing in the other: thus they made the speeches complete. They wrote the result out themselves four times, and then each one provided for the copying forty times, of his own copy. The journals of Parliament, thus written, were preserved by the patriots, who were members at that time,—and are probably still in preservation.
The man of to-day, who sighs after the happy days of old, will not understand how dangerous an enterprise, was the attempt made by certain young men "in the glorious age of noble freedom," to make the public familiar, through their handwriting, with the speeches delivered in Parliament.
These writings had a regenerating influence upon me.
An entirely new world opened out before me: new ideas, new impulses arose within my mind and heart. The name of that world which opened out before me was "home." It was marvellous to listen for the first time to the full meaning of "home." Till then I had had no idea of "home:" now every day I passed my nights with it:—the lines, which I wrote down night after night, were imprinted upon those white pages, that are left vacant in the mind of a child. Nor was I the only one impressed.
There is still deeply engraved on my memory that kindling influence, by which the spirit of the youth of that age was transformed through the writing of those pages.
One month later I had no more dreams of becoming Privy-Councillor:—then I knew not how I could ever approach my cousin Melanie.
All at once the school authorities discovered where the parliamentary speeches were reproduced. It was done by the school children, that hundred-handed typesetting machine.
The danger had already spread far; finding no ordinary outlet, it had found its way through twelve-year-old children: hands of children supplied the deficiency of the press.
Great was the apprehension.
The writing of some (among them mine) was recognized. We were accused before the school tribunal.
I was in that frame of mind that I could not fear. The elder boys they tried to frighten with greater things, and yet they did not give way: I would at least do no worse. I was able to grasp it all with my child's mind, the fact that we, who had merely copied for money, could not be severely punished. Probably we never understood what might be in those writings lying before us. We merely piled up letter after letter. But the gravest danger threatened those who had brought those original writings before us.
Twenty-two of the students of the college were called up for trial.
On that day armed soldiers guarded the streets that led to the council-chamber, because the rumor ran that the young members of parliament wished to free the culprits.
On the day in question there were no lessons—merely the accused and their judges were present in the school building.
It is curious that I did not fear, even when under the surveillance of the pedellus, I had to wait in the ante-room of the school tribunal. And I knew well what was threatening. They would exclude either me or Lorand from the school.
[Footnote 43: Warden of the school.]
That idea was terrible for me.
I had heard thrilling stories of expelled students. How, at such times, they rang that cracked bell, which was used only to proclaim, to the whole town, that an expelled student was being escorted by his fellows out of the town, with songs of penitence. How the poor student became thenceforth a wanderer his whole lifetime through, whom no school would receive, who dared not return to his father's house. Now I merely shrugged my shoulders when I thought of it.
At other times the least rebuke would break my spirit, and drive me to despair; now—I was resolved not even to ask for pardon. As I waited in the ante-room, I met the professors, one after another, as they passed through into the council-chamber. Fittingly I greeted them. Some of them did not so much as look at me. As Mr. Schmuck passed by he saw me, came forward, and very tenderly addressed me:—
"Well, my child, and you have come here too. Don't be afraid: only look at me always. I shall do all I can for you, as I promised to your dear, good grandmother. Oh how your devoted grandmother would weep if she knew in what a position you now stand. Well, well, don't cry: don't be afraid. I intend to treat you as if you were my own child: only look at me always."
I was glad when he went away. I was angry that he wished to soften me. I must be strong to-day.
The director also noticed me, and called out in harsh tones:
"Well, famous fiddler: now you can show us what kind of a gypsy you are."
[Footnote 44: The czigany (gypsy) is celebrated for his sneaking cowardice, and his fiddle playing, he being a naturally gifted musician, as any one who has heard czigany music in Budapest can testify.]
That pleased me better.
I would be no gypsy!
The examination began: my school-fellows, the greater part of whom were unknown to me, as they were students of a higher class, were called in one by one into the tribunal chamber, and one by one they were dismissed; then the pedellus led them into another room, that they might not tell those without what they had been asked, and what they had answered.
I had time enough to scrutinize their faces as they came out.
Each one was unusually flushed, and brought with him the impression of what had passed within.
One looked obstinate, another dejected. Some smiled bitterly: others could not raise their eyes to look at their fellows. Each one was suffering from some nervous perturbation which made his face a glaring contrast to the gaping, frozen features without.
I was greatly relieved at not seeing Lorand among the accused. They did not know one of the chief leaders of the secret-writing conspiracy.
But when they left me to the last, I was convinced they were on the right track; the copyers one after another had confessed from whom they had received the matter for copying. I was the last link in the chain, and behind me stood Lorand.
But the chain would snap in two, and after me they would not find Lorand.
For that one thing I was prepared.
At last, after long waiting, my turn came. I was as stupefied, as benumbed, as if I had already passed through the ordeal.
No thought of mother or grandmother entered my head; merely the one idea that I must protect Lorand with body and soul: and then I felt as if that thought had turned me to stone: let them beat themselves against that stone.
"Desiderius Aronffy," said the director, "tell us whose writing is this?"
"Mine," I answered calmly.
"It is well that you have confessed at once: there is no necessity to compare your writing, to equivocate, as was the case with the others.—What did you write it for?"
One professor-judge laughed outright, a second angrily struck his fist upon the table, a third played with his pen. Mr. Schmuck sat in his chair with a sweet smile, and putting his hands together twirled his thumbs.
"I think you did not understand the question, my son," said the director in a harsh dry voice. "It is not that I wished to know for how much you wrote that trash: but with what object."
"I understood well, and answered accordingly. They gave me writings to copy, they paid me for them: I accepted the payment because it was honorable earnings."
"You did not know they were secret writings?"
"I could not know it was forbidden to write what it was permitted to say for the hearing of the whole public, in the presence of the representative of the King and the Prince Palatine."
At this answer of mine one of the younger professors uttered a sound that greatly resembled a choked laugh. The director looked sternly at him, rebuked with his eyes the sympathetic demonstration, and then bawled angrily at me:—
"Don't play the fool!"
The only result of this was that I gazed still more closely at him, and was already resolved not to move aside, even if he drove a coach and four at me. I had trembled before him when he had rebuked me for my violin-playing; but now, when real danger threatened me, I did not wince at his gaze.
"Answer me, who gave into your hands that writing, which you copied?"
I clenched my teeth. I would not answer. He might cut me in two without finding within me what he sought.
"Well, won't you answer my question?"
Indeed, what would have been easier than to relate how some gentleman, whom I did not know, came to me; he had a beard that reached to his knees, wore spectacles, and a green overcoat: they must then try to find the man, if they could:—but then—I could not any longer have gazed into the questioning eyes.
No! I would not lie: nor would I play the traitor.
"Will you answer?" the director cried at me for the third time.
"I cannot answer."
"Ho ho, that is a fine statement. Perhaps you don't know the man?"
"I know, but will not betray him."
I thought that, at this answer of mine, the director would surely take up his inkstand and hurl it at my head.
But he did not: he took a pinch of snuff from his snuff-box, and looked askance at his neighbor, Schmuck, as much as to say, "It is what I expected from him."
Thereupon Mr. Schmuck ceased to twirl his thumbs and turning to me with a tender face he addressed me with soothing tones:—
"My dear Desider, don't be alarmed without cause: don't imagine that some severe punishment awaits you or him from whom you received the writing. It was an error, surely, but not a crime, and will only become a crime in case you obstinately hold back some of the truth. Believe me, I shall take care that no harm befall you; but in that case it is necessary you should answer our questions openly."
These words of assurance began to move me from my purpose. They were said so sweetly, I began to believe in them.
But the director suddenly interrupted:—
"On the contrary! I am forced to contradict the honored professor, and to deny what he has brought forward for the defence of these criminal young men. Grievous and of great moment is the offence they have committed, and the chief causers thereof shall be punished with the utmost rigor of the law."
These words were uttered in a voice of anger and of implacable severity; but all at once it dawned upon me, that this severe man was he who wished to save us, while that assuring, tender paterfamilias was just the one who desired to ruin us.
Mr. Schmuck continued to twirl his thumbs.
The director then turned again to me.
"Why will you not name the man who entrusted you with that matter for copying?"
I gave the only answer possible. "When I copied these writings I could not know I was engaged on forbidden work. Now it has been told me that it was a grievous offence, though I cannot tell why. Still I must believe it. I have no intention of naming the man who entrusted that work to me, because the punishment of me who did not know its object, will be far lighter than that of him, who knew."
"But only think, my dear child, what a risk you take upon your own shoulders," said Mr. Schmuck in gracious tones; "think, by your obduracy you make yourself the guilty accomplice in a crime, of which you were before innocent."
"Sir," I answered, turning towards him: "did you not teach me the heroic story of Mucius Scaevola? did you not yourself teach me to recite 'Romanus sum civis?'
"Do with me what you please: I shall not prove a traitor: if the Romans had courage, so have I to say 'longus post me ordo idem petentium decus.'"
"Get you hence," brawled the director; and the pedellus led me away.
Two hours afterwards they told me I might go home; I was saved. Just that implacable director had proved himself the best in his efforts to rescue us. One or two "primani," who had amused the tribunal with some very broad lies, were condemned to a few days' lock-up. That was all.
I thought that was the end of the joke. When they let me go I hurried to Lorand. I was proudly conscious of my successful attempt to rescue my elder brother.
THE END OF THE BEGINNING
Her ladyship, the beautiful wife of Balnokhazy, was playing with her parrot, when her husband entered her chamber.
The lady was very fond of this creature—I mean of the parrot.
"Well, my dear," said Balnokhazy, "has Koko learned already to utter Lorand's name?"
"Well, he will soon learn. By the bye, do you know that Parliament is dissolved. Mr. Balnokhazy may now take his seat in peace beside his wife."
"As far as I am concerned, it may dissolve."
"Well, perhaps you will be interested so far; the good dancers will now go home. The young men of Parliament will disperse to their several homes."
"I don't wish to detain them."
"Of course not. Why, Lorand will remain here. But even Lorand will with difficulty be able to remain here. He must fly."
"What do you say?"
"What I ought not to say out. Nor would I tell anyone other than you, my dear, as we agreed. Do you understand?"
"Partly. You are referring to the matter of secret journalism?"
"Yes, my dear, and to other matters which I have heard from you."
"Yes, from me. I told you frankly, what Lorand related to me in confidence, believing that I shared his enthusiastic ideas. I told you that you might use your knowledge for your own elevation. They were gifts of honor, as far as you are concerned, but I bound you not to bring any disgrace upon him from whom I learned the facts, and to inform me if any danger should threaten him."
Balnokhazy bent nearer to his wife and whispered in her ear:
"To-night arrests will take place."
"Whom will they arrest?"
"Several leaders of the Parliamentary youths, particularly those responsible for the dissemination of the written newspaper."
"How can that affect Lorand? He has burned every writing; no piece of paper can be found in his room. The newspaper fragments, if they have come into strange hands, cannot be compared with his handwriting. If hitherto he wrote with letters leaning forwards, he will now lean them backwards: no one will be able to find any similarity in the handwritings. His brother, who copied them, has confessed nothing against him."
"True enough; but I am inclined to think that he has not destroyed everything he has written in this town. Once he wrote some lines in the album of a friend. A poem or some such stupidity; and that album has somehow come into the hands of justice."
"And who gave it over?" enquired the lady passionately.
"As it happens, the owner of the album himself."
"The same, my dear. He too thought that one must use a good friend's shoulders to elevate himself."
Madam Balnokhazy bit her pretty lips until blood came.
"Can you not help Lorand further?" she inquired, turning suddenly to her husband.
"Why, that is just what I am racking my brain to do."
"Will you save him?"
"That I cannot do, but I shall allow him to escape."
"Surely there is no other choice, than either to let himself be arrested, or to escape secretly."
"But in this matter we have made no agreement. It was not this you promised me."
"My darling, don't place any confidence in great men's promises. The whole world over, diplomacy consists of deceit: you deceive me, I deceive you: you betrayed Lorand's confidence, and Lorand deserved it: why did he confide in you so? You cannot deny that I am the most polite husband in the world. A young man pays his addresses to my wife: I see it, and know it; I am not angry; I do not make him leap out of the window, I do not point my pistol at him: I merely slap him on the shoulder with perfect nonchalance, and say, 'my dear boy, you will be arrested to-night in your bed.'"
Balnokhazy could laugh most jovially at such sallies of humor. The whole of his beautiful white teeth could be seen as he roared with laughter—(even the gold wire that held them in place.)
My lady Hermine rose from beside him, and seemed to be greatly irritated.
"You are only playing the innocent before me, but I know quite surely that you put Gyali up to handing over the album to the treasury."
"You only wish to make yourself believe that, my dear, so that when Lorand disappears from the house, you may not be compelled to be angry with Gyali, but with me; for of course somebody must remain in the house."
"Your insults cannot hurt me."
"I did not wish to hurt you. My every effort was and always will be to make your life, my dear, ever more agreeable. Have I ever showed jealousy? Have I not behaved towards you like a father to a daughter about to be married?"
"Don't remind me of that, sir. That is your most ungracious trait. It is true that you yourself have introduced into our house young men of every class of society. It is true that you have never guarded me against them:—but then in a short time, when you began to remark that I felt some affection towards some of them, you discovered always choice methods to make me despise and abhor them. Had you shut me up and guarded me with the severity of a convent, you would have shown me more consideration. But you are playing a dangerous game, sir: maybe the time will come when I shall not cast out him whom I have hated!"
"Well, that will be your own business, my dear. But the first business is to tell our relation Lorand that by ten o'clock this evening he must not be found here: for at that hour they will come to arrest him."
Hermine walked up and down her room in anger.
"And it is all your work: it is useless for you to defend yourself," said she, tossing away her husband's hat from the arm-chair, and then throwing herself in a spiritless manner into it.
"Why, I have no intention of defending myself," said Balnokhazy, good-humoredly picking up his rolling hat. "Of course I had a little share in it: why, you know it well enough, my dear. A man's first business is to create a career. I have to rise: you approve of that yourself; it is a man's duty to make use of every circumstance that comes to hand. Had I not done so, I should be a mere magistrate, somewhere in Szabolcs, who at the end of every three years kisses the hands of all the 'powers that be,' that they may not turn him out of office. The present chancellor, Adam Reviczky, was one class ahead of me in the school. He too was the head of his class, as I was of mine. Every year I took his place: at every desk, where I sat in the first place, I found his name carved, and always carved, it out, putting mine in its place. He reached the height of the 'parabola,' and is now about to descend. Who knows what may happen next? At such times we must not mind if we make celebrated men of a few lads, whom at other times we did not remark."
[Footnote 45: Every three years new magistrates and officials were elected to the various posts in the counties.]
"But consider, Lorand is a relation of ours."
"That only concerns me, not you."
"It is, notwithstanding, terrible to ruin the career of a young man."
"What will happen to him? He will fly away to the country to some friend of his, where no one will search for him. At most he will be prohibited from being 'called to the bar.' But it will not prevent him from being elected lawyer to the county court at the first renovation. Besides, Lorand is a handsome fellow: and the harm the persecution of men has done him will soon be repaired by the aid of women."
[Footnote 46: As explained above.]
"Leave me to myself. I shall think about the matter."
"I shall be deeply obliged to you. But, remember, please, ten o'clock this evening must not find here—the dear relation."
Hermine hastened to her jewel-case with ostentation. Balnokhazy, as he turned in the doorway, could see with what feverish anxiety she unlocked it and fumbled among her jewels.
With a smile on his face the husband went away. It is a fine instance of the irony of fate, when a woman is obliged to pawn her jewels in order to help someone escape whom she has loved, and whom she would love still to see about her,—to send him a hundred miles from her side.
Hermine did indeed collect her jewels, and threw them into a travelling-bag.
Then she sat down at her writing-table, and very hurriedly wrote something on some lilac-coloured letter paper on which the initials of her name had been stamped; this she folded up, sealed it and sent it by her butler to Lorand's room.
Lorand had not yet stirred from the house that day; he did not know that part of the Parliamentary youth, gaining an inkling of the movement against them, had hurried to depart.
When he had read the letter of the P. C.'s wife, he begged the butler to go to Mr. Gyali and ask him in his name to pay him a visit at once: he must speak a few words to him without fail.
When the butler had gone, Lorand began to walk swiftly up and down his room. He was in search of something which he could not find, an idea.
He sat again, driving his fist into his hand: then sprang up anew and hastened to the window, as if in impatient expectation of the new-comer.
Suddenly a thought came to him: he began to put on gloves, fine, white kid gloves. Then he tried to clench his fist in them without tearing them.
Perhaps he does not wish to touch, with uncovered hands, him for whom he is waiting!
At last the street door opened, and steps made direct for his door.
Only let him come! but he, whom he expected did not come alone: the first to open his door was not Pepi Gyali, but his brother, Desiderius. By chance they had met.
Lorand received his brother in a very spiritless manner. It was not he whom he wished to see now. Yet he rushed to embrace Lorand with a face beaming triumph.
"Well, and what has happened, that you are beaming so?"
"The school tribunal has acquitted me: yet I drew everything on myself and did not throw any suspicion on you."
"I hope you would be insulted if I praised you for it. Every ordinary man of honor would have done the same. It is just as little a merit not to be a traitor as it is a great ignominy to be one. Am I not right? Pepi,—my friend?"
Pepi Gyali decided that Lorand could not have heard of his treachery and would not know it until he was placed in some safe place. He answered naturally enough that no greater disgrace existed on earth than that of treachery.
"But why did you summon me in such haste," he enquired, offering his hand confidently to Lorand; the latter allowed him to grasp his hand—on which was a glove.
"I merely wished to ask you if you would take my vis-a-vis in the ball to-night following my farewell banquet?"
"With the greatest pleasure. You need not even have asked me. Where you are, I must be also."
"Go upstairs, Desi, to the governess and ask her whether she intends to come to the ball to-night, or if the lady of the house is going alone."
Desiderius listlessly sauntered out of the room.
He thought that to-day was scarcely a suitable day to conclude with a ball; still he did go upstairs to the governess.
The young lady answered that she was not going for Melanie had a difficult "Cavatina" to learn that evening, but her ladyship was getting ready, and the stout aunt was going with her.
As Desiderius shut the door after him, Lorand stood with crossed arms before the dandy, and said:
"Do you know what kind of dance it is, in which I have invited you to be my vis-a-vis?"
"What kind?" asked Pepi with a playful expression.
"A kind of dance at which one of us must die." Therewith he handed him the lilac-coloured letter which Hermine had written to him: "Read that."
Gyali read these lines:
"Gyali handed over the album-leaf you wrote on. All is betrayed."
The dandy smiled, and placed his hands behind him.
"Well, and what do you want with me?" he enquired with cool assurance.
"What do you think I want?"
"Do you want to abuse me? We are alone, no one will hear us. If you wish to be rough with me, I shall shout and collect a crowd in the street: that will also be bad for you."
"I intend to do neither. You see I have put gloves on, that I may not befoul myself by touching you. Yet you can imagine that it is not customary to make a present of such a debt."
"Do you wish to fight a duel with me?"
"Yes, and at once: I shall not allow you out of my sight until you have given me satisfaction."
"Don't expect that. Because you are a Hercules, and I a titmouse, don't think I am overawed by your knitted eyebrows. If you so desire, I am ready."
"I like that."
"But you know that as the challenged, I have the right to choose weapons and method."
"And you will find it quite natural that I have no intention of being pummelled into a loaf of bread and devoured by you. I recommend the American duel. Let us put our names into a hat and he whose name is drawn is compelled to shoot himself."
Lorand was staggered. He recalled that night in the crypt.
"One of us must die; you said so yourself," remarked Gyali. "Good, I am not afraid of it. Let us draw lots, and then he whom fate chooses, must die."
Lorand gazed moodily before him, as if he were regarding things happening miles away.
"I understand your hesitation: there are others whom you would spare. Well, let us fix a definite time for dying. How long can those, of whom you are thinking, live? Let us say ten years. He, whose name is drawn must shoot himself—to-day ten years."
"Oh," cried Lorand in a tone of vexation, "this is merely a cowardly subterfuge by which you wish to escape."
"Brave lion, you will fall just as soon, if you die, as the mouse. Your whole valor consists in being able to pin, with a round pin, a tiny little fly to the bottom of a box, but if you find an opponent, like yourself, you draw back before him."
"I shall not draw back," said Lorand irritated; and there appeared before his soul all those figures, which, pointing their fingers threateningly, rose before him from the depths of the earth. Headless phantoms returned to the seven cold beds; and the eighth was bespoken.
"Be it so," sighed Lorand: "let us write our names." Therewith he began to look for paper. But not a morsel was there in his room: all had been burned, clean paper too, that the water mark might not betray him. At last he came across Hermine's note. There was no other alternative. Tearing it in two,—one part he threw to Gyali, on the other he inscribed his own name.
Then they folded the pieces of paper and put them into a hat.
"Who shall draw?"
"You are the challenger."
"But you proposed the method."
"Wait a moment. Let us entrust the drawing of lots to a third party."
"There is your brother, Desi."
"Desi?"—Lorand felt a twitching pain at his heart:—"that one's own brother should draw one's death warrant!"
"As yet his hand is innocent. Nor shall he know for what he is drawing. I will tell him some tale. And so both of us may be tranquil during the drawing of lots."
Just at that moment Desiderius opened the door.
He related that the governess was not going, but the stout aunt was to accompany "auntie" to the ball. And the "frauelein" had sent Lorand a written dance-programme, which Desiderius had torn up on the way.
He tore it up because he was angry that other people were in so frivolous a mood at a time when he felt so exalted. For that reason he had no intention of handing over the programme.
Hearing of the stout aunt, Pepi laughed and then began to feign horror.
"Great heavens, Lorand: the seven fat kine of the Old Testament will be there in one: and one of us must dance with this monster. One of us will have to move from its place that mountain, which even Mahomet could not induce to stir, and waltz with it. Please undertake it for my sake."
Lorand was annoyed by the ill-timed jest which he did not understand.
"Well, to be sure I cannot make the sacrifice: it must be either you or I. I don't mind, let's draw lots for it, and see who must dance this evening with the tower of St. Stephen's."
"Very well,"—Lorand now understood what the other wanted.
"Desi will draw lots for us."
"Of course. Just step outside a moment, Desi, that you may not see on which paper which of our names was written." Desiderius stepped outside.
"He must not see that the tickets are already prepared," murmured Lorand:——
"You may come in now."
"In this hat are both our names," said Gyali, holding the hat before Desiderius: "draw one of them out: open it, read it, and then put both names into the fire. The one whose name you draw will do the honors to the Cochin-China Emperor's white elephant."
The two foes turned round toward the window. Lorand gazed out, while Gyali played with his watch-chain.
The child unsuspectingly stepped up to the hat that served as the "urna sortis," and drew out one of the pieces of paper.
He opened it and read the name,
"Put them in the fire," said Gyali.
Desiderius threw two pieces of lilac paper into the fire.
They were cold May days; outside the face of nature had been distorted, and it was freezing; in Lorand's fire-place a fire was blazing. The two pieces of paper were at once burnt up.
Only they were not those on which the two young men had written their names. Desiderius, without being noticed, had changed them for the dance programme, which he had cast into the fire. He kept the two fatal signatures to himself.
He had a very good reason for doing so, and a still better reason for saying nothing about it.
"Thank you, Desi."
He thanked him for drawing that lot.
Pepi Gyali took up his hat and said to Lorand in playful jesting:
"The white elephant is yours. Good night." And he went away unharmed.
"And now, my dear Desi, you must go home," said Lorand, gently grasping his brother's hand.
"Why I have only just come."
"I have much to do, and it must be done to-day."
"Do it: I will sit down in a corner, and not say a word; I came to see you. I will be silent and watch you."
Lorand took his brother in his arms and kissed him.
"I have to pay a visit somewhere where you could not come with me."
Desiderius listlessly felt for his cap.
"Yet I did so want to be with you this evening."
"To-morrow will do as well."
Lorand was afraid that the officers of justice might come any moment for him. For his part he did not mind: but he did not wish his brother to be present.
Desiderius sorrowfully returned home.
Lorand remained by himself.
By himself? Oh no. There around him were the others—seven in number: those headless dead.
Well, fate is inevitable.
Family misfortune is inherited. One is destroyed by the family disease, another by the hereditary curse.
And again the cause is the "sorrowful soil beneath them."
From that there is no escape.
A terrible inheritance is the self-shed blood, which besprinkles the heads of sons and grandsons!
And his inheritance was—the pistol, with which his father had killed himself.
It were vain for the whole Heaven to be here on earth. He must leave it, must go, where the others had gone.
The eighth niche was still empty, but was already bespoken.
For later comers there was room only in the ditch of the graveyard.
And there were still ten years left to think thereon! But ten years is a long time. Meanwhile that field might open where an honourable death, grasping a scythe in its two hands, cuts a way through the ranks of armed warriors:—where the children of weeping mothers are trampled to death by the hoofs of horses:—where they throw the first-born's mangled remains into the common burying-pit: perhaps there the son will find what the father sought in vain:—those who fled from before the resting-chamber of that melancholy house, on the facade of which was to be read the inscription, covered by the creepers since days long gone by.
"Ne nos inducas in tentationem."
AGED AT SEVENTEEN
How beautiful it is to be young! How fair is the spring! Yours is life, joy, hope; the meadows lavish flowers upon you; the earth's fair halo of love surrounds you with glory: a nation, a fatherland, mankind entrusts to you its future; old men are proud of you; women love you: every brightening day of heaven is yours.
Oh, how I love the spring! how I love youth! In spring I see the fairest work of God, the earth, take new life; in youth I see the fairest work of man, his nation, reviving.
"In those days" I did not yet belong to the "youth:" I was a child.
Never do I remember a brighter promise of spring, than in that year; never were the eyes of the old men gladdened by the sight of a more spirited "youth" than was that of those days.
Spring began very early: even at the end of February the fields were green, parks hastened to bedeck themselves in their leafy wings, the blossoms hastened to bloom and fall; the opening days of May saw fruit on the apple-trees; and prematurely ripe cherries were "hawked" in the streets, beside bouquets of late blooming violets.
Of the "youths" of that year the historian has written: "These youths were in general very serious, very lavish in patriotic feeling, fiery and spirited in the defence of freedom and national dignity. The new tendency which manifested itself so vividly in our country was reflected by their impetuous and susceptible natures with all its noble yearnings, its virtues and excesses exaggerated. The frivolous pastimes, the senseless or dissolute amusements that were so fashionable in those days were abandoned for serious reading, gathering of information and investigation of current events. They had already opinions of their own, which not rarely they could utter with striking audacity."—I could only envy these lines of gold; not one word of them had any reference to me: for I was still but a child. During a night that followed a lovely May day, the weather suddenly changed: winter, who was during the days of his dominion, watching how the warm breezes played with the flower-bells of the trees, all at once returned: with the full vigor of vengeance he came, and in three days destroyed everything, in which man happened to delight. To the last leaf everything was frozen off the trees.
On this most inclement of the three wintry May evenings Lorand was standing alone at his window, and gazing abstractedly at the street through the ice-flower pattern of the window-panes.
Just such ice-flowers lay frozen before his soul. The lottery of fate has appointed his time: ten years his life would last; then he must die.
From seventeen to twenty-seven is just the fairest part of life. Many had made their whole earthly career during that period.
And what awaits him?
His ardent yearning for freedom, his audacious plans, his misplaced confidence; friends' treason, and the consequent freezing rigor, where were they leading to?...
Every leaf had fallen from the trees. Only ten years to live: the decree was unalterable.
From the opponent, whom he despised, it is not possible even to accept as a present, that to which chance has once given him the right.
And these ten years, with what will they begin? Perhaps with a long imprisonment? The time which is so short—(ten years are light!) will seem so long there! (ten years are heavy!) Would it not be better not to wait for the first day? To say: if it is time, take it away: let me not take the days on lease from thee! The hateful, freezing days.
Why, when nature dies in this wise, man himself would love to die after her.
If only there were not that weeping face at home, that white-haired head, mother and grandmother.
In vain Fate is inevitable. The eighth bed was already made;—but that no one must know for ten years. Should someone learn, he might perpetrate the outrage of occupying earlier the eighth niche in the family vault; and then his successor would have nothing left but the church-yard grave.
What a thought, a youthful spring with these frozen leaves!
He did not think for the next few moments. Is it worth while to try to avoid the fate, which is certain? Let it come. The keystone of the arch had been removed, the downfall of the whole must follow. His room was already in darkness, but he did not light a lamp. The dancing flames of the fire-place gazed out sometimes above the embers, in curiosity, as if they would know whether any living being were there: and still he did not stir.
In this dim twilight Lorand was thinking upon those who had passed away before him.
That bony-faced figure, whose death face he was painting,—his ordinary physiognomy was terrible enough: those empty eye-sockets, into which he fears to gaze:—suppose between these two hollows a third was darkling, the place of the bullet that pierced his forehead!
Lorand now knew what torture must have been theirs, who had left him this sorrowful bequest, before they could make up their minds to raise their own hands against their own lives! with what power of God they must have struggled, with what power of devils have made a compact! Oh, if they would only come for him now!
Those who picked the fruit that dared so early to ripen?
Yes, rather those, than these quiet, bloodless faces, in their bloody robes. Rather those who come with clank of arms, tearing open the door with drawn sword, than those who with inaudible step steal in, gently open the door, whisperingly speak and tremblingly pronounce your name.
"Ha! Who is that?"
Not one of the dead, though her robe is white: one far worse than they:—a beautiful woman.
It was Hermine who opened the door and entered Lorand's room so silently, with inaudible steps. Her ball-robe was on her: she had dressed for the dance in her room above, and thus dressed had descended.
"Are you ready now, Lorand?"
"Oh, good evening: pardon me. I will light a candle in a moment."
"Never mind about that," whispered the woman. "It is quite light enough as it is. To-day no candle may burn in this room."
"You are going to a ball," said Lorand, masking the sorrow of his soul by a display of good spirits: "and you wish me to accompany you?"
"Fancy the thought of dancing coming into my head just now!" replied Hermine, coming so close to Lorand that she could whisper in his ear. "Did you get my letter?"
"Yes, thank you. Don't be alarmed, there is no danger."
"Indeed there is. I know it well. The danger is in the hands of Balnokhazy: therefore certain."
"What great harm can happen to me?"
Hermine placed her hand on Lorand's shoulder and tremblingly hissed:
"They will arrest you to-night."
"They may do so."
"Oh no, they may not, kind Heaven! That they shall not do. You must escape, immediately, this hour."
"Is it sure they will arrest me?"
"Believe me, yes."
"Then just for that reason I shall not stir from my place."
"What are you saying? Why? Why not?"
"Because I should be ashamed, if they who wanted me should draw me out from under my bed in my mother's house, like a child who has played some mischief."