Kandur was leading them.
Each man had a gun on his shoulder, a pistol in his girdle.
Along the winding road the mare Farao, treading lightly, led them: she too seemed to hasten, and sometimes broke through the reeds, making a short cut, as if she too were goaded on by some thirst for vengeance.
Among the willows, wills-o'-the-wisps were dancing.
They surrounded the horsemen, and followed their movements. Kandur smote at them with his lash.
"On the return journey we shall be two more!" he muttered between his teeth.
When they reached the lair there was merely a black stubbled ground left where the hay-rick stood before.
In all directions shapeless burnt masses lay about.
These were the ruins of the highwaymen's palace.
And the tears flow from their eyes, as they see their haunt thus destroyed.
All twelve had reached the burnt dwelling.
"See what the robbers have made of it," said Kandur to his comrades. "They have stolen all we had collected, the riches we were to take with us to another land, and then they have set the dwelling on fire. They came here in a boat: they found out the way to our palace. We shall now return the visit. Are you all here?"
"Yes," muttered the comrades. "We are all here."
"Dismount. Now for the punts."
The robbers dismounted.
"No need to tether the horses, they cannot get away anywhere. One man may remain here to guard them. Who wishes to stay?"
All were silent.
"Some one must guard the horses, lest the wolves attack them while we are away."
To which an old robber answered:
"Then you should have brought a herd-boy with you, for we didn't come here to guard horses."
"Very well, mate, I only wished to know whether anyone of us would like to remain behind. Whether anyone's 'sandal-strap was unloosed.' Does each one know his own business? Come up one by one, and let me tell each one his duty once more. Kanyo and Foszto."
[Footnote 77: Pilferer.]
Two of the men stepped forward.
"You two will guard the two doors of the servants' quarter when we arrive. Death to him who tries to escape by door or window."
"Csutor and Disznos. you will be in ambush before the hunting-box, and anyone who attempts to come out to the rescue, must be killed."
[Footnote 78: Nightshade.]
[Footnote 79: Swinish.]
"Bogracs! You will occupy the street-door, and if any peasant dares to approach you must shoot him: you alone are sufficient to keep peasants off."
[Footnote 80: Kettle.]
"Quite sufficient!" said the robber with great self-reliance.
"Korve and Pofok. You must take your stand opposite the first verandah, near the well, and if anyone wishes to escape by the first door, fire at him. But don't waste powder.—You others, Vasgyuro, Hentes, Piocza, Agyaras, will come with me through the garden, and will stay behind in the bushes until I give the sign. If I whistle once, that's for you. If I can get in quietly, by craft, without being obliged to fire a shot, that will be the best. I have planned the way. I think it will succeed. So three will come with me, one will remain in the doorway. Have the halters ready, to throw upon his neck, drag him to the ground and bind him. The black-bearded strong man must be dealt with suddenly, with the butt of your gun on his head, if not otherwise. But we must take the old man alive, for we shall make him confess."
[Footnote 81: Blub-cheeked.]
[Footnote 82: Bully.]
[Footnote 83: Butcher.]
[Footnote 84: Leech.]
[Footnote 85: Wild-boar.]
"Just leave him to me," said a fellow with a pox-pitted face, in a tone of entire confidence.
"I shall be there too," continued Kandur: "and if we cannot enter the castle stealthily, if some one should make a noise, if those within wake up, then the first whistle is for you four: two come with me to break open the garden door. Have you got the 'jimmies'?"
"Yes," said a robber, displaying the crowbars.
"Piocza, and Agyaras, your business is to answer any fire of people from the windows.—If I whistle twice, that means that something's up, then you must run from all sides to help me. If I cannot break open the door, or if those robbers defend themselves well, set the roof on fire over their heads and give them a dose of singeing. That will do just as well. Don't forget the tarred hay."
"Ha ha! The gentlemen will be warm."
"Well Pofok, perhaps you're cold? You'll soon get warm. Hither with the canteen. Let's drink a little Dutch courage first. Begin. Hentes. A long draught of brandy is, you know, good before a feast."
The tin went round and returned to Kandur almost empty.
"Look, I have hardly left you any," said the last drinker in a tone of apologetic modesty.
"To-day I don't drink brandy. The private must drink that he may be blind when he receives orders, but the general must not drink, that he may see to give orders. I shall drink something else when it is all over. Now look to the masking."
They understood what that meant.
Each one took off his sheepskin jacket, reversed it and put it on again. Then dipping their hands in the strewn ashes, they blackened their faces, making themselves unrecognizable.
Only Kandur did not mask himself.
"Let them recognize me. And anyone who does not recognize me, shall learn from my own lips, 'I am Kandur, the mad Kandur, who will drink thy blood, and tear out thy entrails. Know who I am!' How I shall look into their eyes! How I shall gnash upon them with my teeth, when they are bound. How tenderly I shall say to the young gentleman: 'Well, my boy, my gypsy child, were you in the garden? Did you see a wolf? Were you afraid of it? Shoo! Shoo!'"
[Footnote 86: A favorite child-verse in Hungary.]
Farao was impatiently pawing the scorched grass.
"You too are looking for what is no more, Farao," the robber said, patting his horse's neck. "Don't grieve. To-morrow you shall stand up to your knees in provender, and then you shall carry your master on your back. Don't grieve, Farao."
The robbers had completed their disguises.
"Now take up the boats."
Hidden among the reeds lay two skiffs, light affairs, each cut out of a piece of tree trunk: just such as would hold two men, and such as two men could carry on their shoulders over dry ground.
The robber-band put the skiffs into the water and started one after the other on their way; they went down until they reached the stream leading to the great dyke, by which they could punt down to the park of Lankadomb, just where the shooting-box was.
It was about midnight when they reached it.
On the right of Lankadomb the dogs were baying restlessly, but the hounds of the castle watchman did not answer them. They were sleeping. Some vagrant gypsy woman had fed them well that evening on poisoned swine-flesh.
The robbers reached the castle courtyard noiselessly, unnoticed, and each one at once took the place allotted to him, as Kandur had directed.
The silence of deep sleep reigned in the house.
When everyone was in his place, Kandur crept on his stomach among the bushes, which formed a grove under Czipra's window that looked on to the garden, and putting an acacia leaf into his mouth, began to imitate the song of the nightingale.
It was an artistic masterpiece which the wild son of the plains had, with the aid of a leaf, stolen from the mouth of the sweetest of song-birds.
All those fairy warblings, those plaintive challenging tones, those enchanting trills, which no one has ever written down, he could imitate so faithfully, so naturally, that he deceived even his lurking comrades.
"Cursed bird," they muttered, "it too has turned to whistling."
* * * * *
Czipra was sleeping peacefully.
That invisible hand, which she had sought, had closed her eyes and sent sweet dreams to her heart. Perhaps, had she been able to sleep that sleep through undisturbed, she would have awakened to a happy day.
The nightingale was warbling under her window.
The nightingale! The song-bird of love! Why was it entrusted with singing at night when every other bird is sitting on its nest, and hiding its head under its wing. Who had sent it, saying, "Rise and announce that love is always waking?"
Who had entrusted it to awake the sleepers?
Why, even the popular song says:
"Sleep is better far than love For sleep is tranquillity; Love is anguish of the heart."
Fly away, bird of song!
Czipra tried to sleep again. The bird's song did not allow her.
She rose, leaned upon her elbows and continued to listen.
And there came back to her mind that old gypsy woman's enchantment,—the enchantment of love.
"At midnight—the nightingale ... barefooted—... plant it in a flower-pot ... before it droops, thy lover will return, and will never leave thee."
Ah! who would walk in the open at night?
The nightingale continued:
"Go out bare-footed and tear down the branch."
No, no. How ridiculous it would be! If somebody should see her, and tell others, they would laugh at her for her pains.
The nightingale began its song anew.
Malicious bird, that will not allow sleep!
Yet how easy it would be to try: a little branch in a flower-pot. Who could know what it was? A girl's innocent jest, with which she does harm to no one. Love's childish enchantment.
It would be easy to attempt it.
And if it were true? If there were something in it? How often people say, "this or that woman has given her husband something to make him love her so truly, and not even see her faults?" If it were true?
How often people wondered, how two people could love each other? With what did they enchant each other? If it were true?
Suppose there were spirits that could be captured with a talisman, which would do all one bade them?
Czipra involuntarily shuddered: she did not know why, but her whole body trembled and shivered.
"No, not so," she said to herself. "If he does not give heart for heart,—mine must not deceive him. If he cannot love me because I deserve it, he must not love me for my spells. If he does not love, he must not despise me. Away, bird of song, I do not want thee."
Then she drew the coverlet over her head and turned to the wall. But sleep did not return again: the trembling did not pass: and the singing bird in the bushes did not hold his peace.
It had come right under the window; it sang, "Come, come."
Sometimes it seemed as if the song of the nightingale contained the words "Czipra, Czipra, Czipra!"
The warm mist of passion swept away the maiden's reason.
Her heart beat so, it almost burst her bosom, and her every limb trembled.
She was no longer mistress of her mind.
She left her bed, and therewith left that magic circle which the inspiration of the Lord forms around those who fly to Him for protection, and which guards them so well from all apparitions of the lower world.
Why it was only a few steps from the door to the bushes.
Who could see her? What could happen in so short a time?
It was merely the satisfaction of an innocent desire.
It was no deed of darkness.
Every nerve was trembling.
She was merely going to break a little branch, and yet she felt as if she was about to commit the most heinous crime, for which she needed the shield of a sleepless night.
She opened the door very quietly so that it should not creak.
Lorand was sleeping in the room vis-a-vis: perhaps he might hear something.
She darted with bare feet before Lorand's door, she carefully undid the bolt of the door leading into the garden and turned the key with such precaution that it did not make a sound.
Noiselessly she opened the door and peered out.
It was a quiet night of reveries: the stars, as is their wont when seen through falling dew, were changing their colors, flashing green and red.
The nightingale was now cooing in the bushes, as it does when it has found its mate.
Czipra looked around her. It was a deep slumbering night: no one could see her now.
Yet she drew her linen garment closer round her, and was ashamed to show her bare feet to the starry night.
Ah! it would last only a minute.
The grass was warm and soft, wet with dew as far as the bushes: no sharp pebble would hurt her feet, no cracking stick betray her footsteps.
She stepped out into the open, and left the door ajar behind her.
She trembled so, she feared she would fall, and looked around her: for all the world like someone bent on thieving.
She crept quietly towards the bushes.
The nightingale was warbling there in the thickest part.
She must pierce farther in, must quietly put the leaves aside, to see on which branch the bird was singing.
She could not see.
Again she listened: the warbling lured her further.
It must be near to her: it was warbling there, perhaps she could grasp it with her hand.
But as she bent the bough, a fierce figure sprang up before her and grasped the hand she had stretched out.
The dark figure, which seized Czipra's hand so suddenly, stared with a blood-thirsty grin into his victim's face, whose every limb shuddered with terror at her assailant.
"What do you want?" panted the girl in a choking, scarcely audible voice.
"What do I want?" he hissed in answer. "I want to cut your gander's throat, you goose! Do you want a nightingale?"
Then he whistled a shrill whistle.
His mates leaped out suddenly from their ambush at the sound of the whistle.
At that moment Czipra recovered her self control in sheer despair: she suddenly tore her hand from the robber's grasp, and in three bounds, like a terrified deer, reached the threshold of the door she had left open.
But the wolf had followed in her tracks and reached her at the door. The girl had no time to close it in his face.
"Don't whine!" hissed Kandur, seizing the girl's arm with one hand, with the other attempting to close her mouth.
But terror had made Czipra frantic: tearing down the robber's hand from her mouth, she pushed him back from the door, and with shrill cries awoke the echoes of the night.
"Lorand, help! Robbers!"
"Silence, you dog, or I'll stab you!" thundered the robber, pointing a knife at the girl's breast.
The knife did not frighten Czipra: as she struggled unceasingly and desperately with the robber, she cried "Lorand! Lorand! Murder! Help!"
"Damn you!" exclaimed the robber thrusting his knife into the maiden's bosom.
Czipra suddenly seized the knife with her two hands.
At that moment Lorand appeared beside her.
At the first cry he had rushed from his room and, unarmed, hastened to Czipra's aid.
The girl was still struggling with the robber, holding him back, by sheer force, from entering the door.
Lorand sprang towards her, and dealt the intruder such a blow with his fist in the face, that two of his teeth were broken.
Two shots rang out, followed by a heavy fall and a cry of cursing.
Topandy had fired from the window and one of the four robbers fell on his face mortally wounded, while another, badly hit, floundered and collapsed near the corridor.
The two shots, the noise behind his back, and the unexpected blow confused Kandur; he retreated from the door, leaving his knife in Czipra's hand.
Lorand quickly utilized this opportunity to close the door, fasten the chain, and draw the bolt.
The next moment the robbers' vehement attack could be heard, as they fell upon the door with crowbars.
"Come, let us get away," said Lorand, taking Czipra's hand.
The girl faintly answered.
"Oh! I cannot walk. I am fainting."
"Are you wounded?" asked Lorand, alarmed. It was dark, he could not see.
The girl fell against the wall.
Lorand at once took her in his arms and carried her into his room.
The lamp was still burning: he had just finished his letters.
He laid the wounded girl upon his bed.
He was terrified to see her covered with blood.
"Are you badly wounded?"
"Oh, no," said the girl: "see, the knife only went in so deep."
And she displayed the robber's knife, showing on the blade how far it had penetrated.
Lorand clasped his hands in despair.
"Here is a kerchief, press it on the wound to prevent the blood flowing."
"Go, go!" panted the girl. "Look after your own safety. They want to kill you. They want to murder you."
"Aha! let the wretches come! I shall face them without running!" said Lorand, whose only care was for Czipra: he quickly tried to stem the flow of blood from the wound in the girl's breast with a handkerchief. "Lie quiet. Put your head here. Here, here, not so high. Is it very painful?"
On the girl's neck was a chain made of hair: this was in the way, so he wished to tear it off.
"No, no, don't touch it," panted the girl, "that must remain there as long as I live. Go, get a weapon, and defend yourself."
The blows of the crowbars redoubled in force, and the bullets that broke through the closed windows dislodged the plaster from the walls; shot followed shot.
Lorand had no other care than to see if the wounded girl's pillows were well arranged.
"Lorand," said the girl breathlessly. "Leave me. They are numerous. Escape. Put the lamp out, and when everything is dark—then leave me alone."
Certainly it would be good to extinguish the lamp, because the robbers were aiming into that room on account of it.
"Lorand! Where are you? Lorand," Topandy's voice sounded in the corridor.
At that sound Lorand began to realize the danger that threatened the whole household.
"Come and take your gun!" said the old man standing in the doorway. His face was just as contemptuous as ever. There was not the least trace of excitement, fright or anger upon it.
Lorand rose from his kneeling posture beside the bed.
"Don't waste time putting your boots on!" bawled the old fellow. "Our guests are come. We must meet them. Where is Czipra? She can load our weapons while we fire."
"Czipra cannot, for she is wounded."
Topandy then discovered for the first time that Czipra was lying there.
"A shot?" he asked of Lorand.
"A knife thrust."
"Only a knife thrust? That will heal. Czipra can stand that, can't you, my child? We'll soon repay the wretches. Remain here, Czipra, quietly, and don't move. We two will manage it. Bring your weapon and ammunition, Lorand. Bring the lamp out into the corridor. Here they can spy directly upon us. Luckily the brigands are not used to handle guns; they only waste powder."
"But can we leave Czipra here alone?" asked Lorand anxiously.
Czipra clasped her hands and looked at him.
"Go," she panted. "Go away: if you don't I shall get up from here and look out for myself."
"Don't be afraid. They cannot come here," said Topandy; then, lifting the lamp from the table himself, and taking Lorand's hand, he drew him out from the room.
In the corridor they halted to decide on a plan of action.
"The villains are still numerous," said Topandy: "yet I've accounted for two of them already. I have been round the rooms, and see that every exit is barred. They cannot enter, for the doors have been made just for such people, and the windows are protected by bolts and shutters. I have eight charges myself: even if they break in, before anyone can come this far, there will be no one left.—But something else may happen. If the wretches see we are defending ourselves well they will set the house on fire over us and so compel us to rush into the open. Then the advantage is theirs. So your business is to take a double-barrelled gun and ascend to the roof. My butler and the cook have hidden themselves away and I cannot entice them out: if they were here I should send one of them with you."
The robbers were beating the door angrily with their crowbars.
"In a moment!" exclaimed Topandy jokingly.—"The rogues seem to be impatient."
"And what shall I do on the roof?" asked Lorand.
"Wait patiently! I shall tell you in good time. No Turk is chasing you.—You go up and make your exit upon the roof by means of the attic window: then you crawl round on all fours along the gutter, without trying to shoot: leave them to pound upon all four doors. I shall join in the serenade, when necessary. But if you see they are beginning to strike lights and set straw on fire, you must put a stop to it. The gutter will defend you against their fire, they cannot see you, but when they start a blaze, you can accurately aim at each one. That is what I wanted to say."
"Very well," said Lorand, taking his cartridges from his gun-case.
"You'd better use shot instead of bullets," remarked Topandy. "It's easier to hit with shot when one is shooting in the dark, especially in the case of a large company. A little sang froid, my boy—you know: all of life is a play."
Lorand grasped the old man's hand and hurried up to the garret.
There in the dark he could only feel his way. For a long time he wandered aimlessly about, striking matches to discover his whereabouts, until he came upon the attic window, which he raised with his head and so came out on the roof.
Then he slid down softly on his stomach as far as the gutter.
Below him the ball was in progress. The thunder of crowbars, the cracking of panels, the strong blows dealt to the tune of oaths; fresh oaths, thunder, pole-axe blows upon the wall. The robbers, unable to break in the doors, were trying to dislodge their posts.
And in the distance no noise, no sign of help. The cowardly neighbors, shutting themselves in, were crouching in their own houses: nor could one blame unarmed men for not coming to the rescue. A gun is a terrible menace.
Silence reigned in the servants' hall. They too dared not come out. Courage is not for poor men.
In the whole courtyard there were but two men who had stout hearts in their bosoms.
The third courageous heart was that of a girl, who lay wounded.
As he thought of this, Lorand became the victim of an excited passion. He felt his head swimming: he felt that he could not remain there, for sooner or later he must leap down.
An idea occurred to him. A difficult feat, but once thought out, it could be accomplished.
He scrambled up the roof again: cut away one of those long dry ropes which in the garrets of many houses stretch from one rafter to another, tied to one end of it the weight of an old clock lying idle in the attic, and returned again to the roof.
Not far from the house there stood an old sycamore tree: one of its spreading branches bent so near to the house that Lorand could certainly reach it by a cast of the rope. The lead-weighted rope, like a lasso, swung over and around the branch and fastened itself on it firmly.
Lorand looped the other end of the rope round a rafter.
Then, throwing his gun over his shoulder, and seizing the rope with both his hands, he leaned his whole weight on it, to see if it would hold.
When he was convinced that the rope would bear his weight, he began to clamber over from the roof to the sycamore tree, suspended in the air, on the slender rope.
Those below could not see him as they were under the verandah, nor could they notice the noise because of their own efforts: the little disturbance caused by the shaking of a branch and the dropping of a figure from the tree was drowned by the shaking of doors, and the discharge of firearms.
Lorand reached the ground without mishap.
The sycamore tree stood at a corner of the castle, about thirty paces from the besieged door.
Lorand could not see the robbers from this position: the northern side of the verandah was overgrown with creepers which covered the windows.
He must get nearer to them.
The bushes under Czipra's window offered him a suitable position, being about ten paces from the door, which was plainly visible from them.
Lorand cocked both triggers, and started alone with one gun against the whole robber-band.
When he reached the bushes he could see the rascals well.
They were four in number.
Two were trying the effect of the "jimmy" on the heavy iron-bound door, while a third, the wounded one, though he could no longer stand, still took part in the siege, notwithstanding his wounds. He put the barrel of his gun into the breaches made and fired over and over, so as to prevent the people inside from defending the door.
Sometimes single shots answered him from within, but without hitting anybody or anything.
The fourth robber, crowbar in hand, was striving to break down the door-supports. That was Vasgyuro.
On the other side of the courtyard Lorand saw two armed figures keeping guard over the servants' hall. It was six to one.
And there were still more than that altogether.
The door was very shaky already: the hinges were breaking. Lorand thought he heard his name called from within.
"Now, all together," thundered the robbers in self-encouragement, exerting all their united force on the crowbars. "More force! More!"
Lorand calmly raised his gun to his shoulder and fired twice among them in quick succession.
No cry of pain followed the two shots—merely the thud of two heavy bodies. They were so thoroughly killed, they had no time to complain.
The one in whose hands the crowbar remained dropped it behind him, as he darted away.
The man who had been previously wounded began to cry for assistance.
"Don't shout," exclaimed the fifth robber. "You'll alarm the others."
Then putting two fingers in his mouth he whistled shrilly twice.
Lorand saw that at this double whistle the two robbers running hastily came in his direction, while the din that arose on the farther side of the castle informed him of an attack from that side too. So he was between three fires.
He did not lose his presence of mind.
Before the new-comers arrived he had just time to load both barrels:—the bushes hid him from anyone who might even stand face to face, so that he could take no sure aim.
Haste, care and courage!
Lorand had often read stories of famous lion-hunters, but had been unable to believe them: unable to imagine how a lonely man in a wild waste, far from every human aid, defended only by a bush, could be courageous enough to cover the oldest male among a group of lions seeking their prey, and at a distance of ten paces fire into his heart. Not to hit his heart meant death to the hunter. But he is sure he will succeed, and sure, too, that the whole group will flee, once his victim has fallen.
What presence of mind was required for that daring deed! What a strong heart, what a cool hand!
Now in this awful moment Lorand knew that all this was possible. A man feels the extent of his manliness, left all to himself in the midst of danger.
He too was hunting, matched against the most dangerous of all beasts of prey—the beasts called "men."
Two he had already laid low. He had found his mark as well as the lion-hunter had found his.
He heard steps of the animals he was hunting approaching his ambuscade on two sides: and the leader of all stood there under cover, leaning against a pillar of the verandah, ready to spring, ten paces away. He had only two charges, with which he had to defend himself against attack from three sides.
One of the robbers who hurried from the servants' hall disappeared among the trees in the garden, while the other remained behind.
Lorand quietly aimed at the first: he had to aim low for fear of firing above him in the dark.
It was well that he had followed his uncle's advice to use shot instead of bullets. The shot lamed both the robber's legs: he fell in his flight and stumbled among the bushes.
The one who followed was alarmed, and standing in the distance fired in Lorand's direction.
Lorand, after his shot, immediately fell on his knees: and it was very lucky he did so, for in the next moment Kandur discharged both his barrels from beside the pillar, and the aim was true, as Lorand discovered from the fact that the bullets dislodged leaves just above his head, that came fluttering down upon him.
Then he turned to the third side.
There had come from that direction at the call of the whistle Korve, Pofok, and Bogracs, who had been guarding the street-door and the other exit from the castle.
At the moment they turned into the garden their comrade Foszto, seeing Kanyo fall, stood still and fired his double-barrelled gun and pistols in the direction of Lorand's hiding-place. It was quite natural they should think some aid had arrived from the shooting-box, for the bullets whistled just over their heads: so they began to fire back: Foszto, alarmed, and not understanding this turn of affairs, fled.
Old Kandur's hoarse voice could not attract their attention amidst the random firing. He cried furiously: "Don't shoot at one another, you asses!"
They did not understand, perhaps did not hear at all in the confusion.
Lorand hastened to enlighten them.
Taking aim at the three villains, who were firing wildly into the night, he sent his second charge into their midst from the bushes, whence they least expected it.
This shot had a final effect. Perhaps several were wounded, one at any rate reeled badly, and the other two took to flight: then, finding their comrade could not keep up with them, they picked him up and dragged him along, disappearing in a moment in the thickest part of the park.
Only the old lion remained behind, alone, old Kandur, the robber, burning with rage. He caught a glimpse of Lorand's face by the flash of the second discharge, recognized in him the man he sought, whom he hated, whose blood he thirsted after: that foe, whom he remembered with curses, whom he had promised to tear to pieces, to torture to death, who was here again in his way, and had with his unaided power broken up the whole opposing army, for all the world like the archangel himself.
Kandur knew well he must not allow him time to load again.
It was not a moment for shooting:—but for a pitched battle, hand to hand.
Nor did the robber load his weapon: he rushed unarmed from his ambuscade as he saw Lorand standing before him, and threw himself in foaming passion upon the youth.
Lorand saw that here, among the bushes, he had no further use for his gun, so he threw it away, and received his foe unarmed.
Now it was face to face!
As they clutched each other their eyes met.
"You devil!" muttered Kandur, gnashing his teeth; "you have stolen my gold, and my girl. Now I shall repay you."
Lorand now knew that the robber was Czipra's father.
He had tried to murder his own daughter.
This idea excited such rage in Lorand's heart that he brought the robber to his knees with one wrench.
But the other was soon on his feet again.
"Oho! You are strong too? You gentlemen live well: you have strength. The ox is also strong, and yet the wolf pulls him down."
And with renewed passion he threw himself on Lorand.
But Lorand did not allow him to come close enough to grasp his wrist. He was a practised wrestler, and was able to keep his opponent an arm's length away.
"So you won't let me come near you? You won't let me kiss you, eh? Won't let me bite out a little piece of your beautiful face?"
The wild creature stretched out his neck in his effort to get at Lorand.
The struggle was desperate. Lorand was aided by the freshness of his youthful strength, his sang froid, and practised skill: the robber's strength was redoubled by passion, his muscles were tough, and his attacks impetuous, unexpected, and surprising like those of some savage beast.
Neither uttered a sound. Lorand did not call for help, thinking his cries might bring the robbers back: and Kandur was afraid the house party might come out.
Or perhaps neither thought of any such thing: each was occupied with the idea of overthrowing his opponent with his own hand.
Kandur merely muttered through his teeth, though his passion did not deter his devilish humor. Lorand did not say a single word.
The place was ill-adapted for such a struggle.
Amid the hindering bushes they stumbled hither and thither; they could not move freely, nor could they turn much, each one fearing that to turn would be fatal.
"Come, come away," muttered Kandur, dragging Lorand away from the bushes. "Come onto the grass."
They passed out into the open.
There the robber madly threw himself upon Lorand again.
He tried no more to throw him, but to drag him after him, with all his might.
Lorand did not understand what his foe wished.
Always further, further:—
Lorand twice threw him, but the robber clung to him and scrambled up again, dragging him always further away.
Suddenly Lorand perceived what his opponent's intention was.
A few weeks previously he had told his uncle that a steward's house was required: and Topandy had dug a lime-pit in the garden, where it would not be in the way. Only yesterday they had filled it to the brim with lime.
The robber wished to drag Lorand with him into it.
The young fellow planted his feet firmly and held back with all his might.
Kandur's eyes flashed with the stress of passion, when he saw in his opponent's terrified face that he knew what his intention was.
"Well, how do you like the dance, young gentleman? This will be the wedding-dance now! The bridegroom with the bride—together into the lime-pit. Come, come with me! There in the slacked lime the skin will leave our bodies: I shall put on yours, you mine: how pretty we two shall be!"
The robber laughed.
Lorand gathered all his strength to resist the mad attempt.
Kandur suddenly caught Lorand's right arm with both of his, clung to him like a leech, and with a devilish smile said, "Come now, come along!"—and drew Lorand nearer, nearer to the edge of the pit. A couple of blows which Lorand dealt with his disengaged fist upon his skull were unnoticed: it was as hard as iron.
They had reached the edge of the pit.
Then Lorand suddenly put his left arm round the robber's waist, raised him in the air, then screwing him round his right arm, flung him over his head.
This acrobatic feat required such an effort that he himself fell on his back—but it succeeded.
The robber, feeling himself in the air, lost his head, and left hold of Lorand's arm for a moment, with the intention of gripping his hair; in that moment he was thrown off and fell alone into the lime-pit.
Lorand leaped up at once from the ground and, tired out, leaned against the trunk of a tree, searching for his opponent everywhere, and not finding him.
A minute later from amidst the white lime-mud there rose an awful figure which clambered out on the opposite side of the pit, and with a yell of pain rushed away into the courtyard and out into the street.
Lorand, exhausted and half dazed, listened to that beast-like howl gradually diminishing in the distance.
THE SPIDER IN THE CORNER
That day about noon the old gypsy woman who told Czipra her fortune had shuffled into Sarvoelgyi's courtyard, and finding the master out on the terrace, thanked him that he did not set his dogs upon her—did not tear her to pieces.
"I wish you a very good day, sir, and every blessing that is on earth or in Heaven."
Mistress Borcsa looked out from the kitchen.
"Well, it's just lucky you didn't wish what is in hell! And what is in the water! Gypsy, don't leave us a blessing without fish to go with it, for fish is wanted here twice a week."
"Don't listen to Mistress Boris' jokes."
"Good day, my daughter," said the master gently.
"Well he actually calls the ragged gypsy woman 'my daughter,'" grumbled the old housekeeper. "Blood is thicker than water."
"Well, what have you brought, Marcsa?"
"Csicsa sent to say he will come with his twelve musicians this evening: he begs you to pay him in advance as the musicians must hire a conveyance—then," she continued, dropping her voice to a tone of jesting flattery,—"a little suckling pig for supper, if possible."
"Very well, Marcsa," said Sarvoelgyi, with polite gentility. "Everything shall be in order. Come here towards evening. You shall get payment and sucking pig too."
Yet this overflowing magnanimity was not at all in conformity with the well-established habits of the devotee. Close-fisted niggardliness displayed itself in his every feature and warred against this unnatural outbreak.
The gypsy woman kissed his hand and thanked him. But Mistress Boris saw the moment had arrived for a ministerial process against this abuse of royal prerogative; so she came out from the kitchen, a pan in one hand, a cooking-spoon in the other.
She began her invective with the following Magyar "quousque tandem!"
"The devil take your insatiable stomachs! When were they ever full? When did I ever hear you say 'I've eaten well, I'm satisfied!' I don't know what has come over the master, that, ever since he became a married man, he has nothing better to do with his income than to stuff gypsies with it!"
"Don't listen to her, Marcsa," said the pious man softly, "that's a way she has. Come this evening, and you shall have your sucking pig."
"Sucking pig!" exclaimed Mistress Boris. "I should like to know where they'll find a sucking pig hereabouts. As if all those the two sows had littered were not already devoured!"
"There is one left," said Sarvoelgyi coolly, "one that is continually in the way all over the place."
"Yes, but that one I shall not give," protested Mistress Boris. "I shan't give it up for all the gypsies in the world. My little tame sucking pig which I brought up on milk and breadcrumbs. They shan't touch that. I won't give up that!"
"It is enough if I give it," said Sarvoelgyi, harshly.
"What, you will make a present of it? Didn't you present me with it in its young days, when it was the size of a fist? And now you want to take it back?"
"Don't make a noise. I'll give you two of the same size in place of it."
"I don't want any larger one, or any other one: I am no trader. I want my own sucking pig; I won't give it up for a whole herd,—the little one I brought up myself on milk and bread-crumbs! It is so accustomed to me now that it always answers my call, and pulls at my apron: it plays with me. As clever, as a child, for all the world as if it were no pig at all, but a human being."
Mistress Borcsa burst into tears. She always had her pet animals, after the fashion of old servants, who, being on good terms with nobody in the world, tame some hen or other animal set aside for eating purposes, and defend its life cleverly and craftily; not allowing it to be killed; until finally the merciless master passes the sentence that the favorite too must be killed. How they weep then! The poor, old maid-servants cannot touch a morsel of it.
"Stop whining, Borcsa!" roared Sarvoelgyi, frowning. "You will do what I order. The pig must be caught and given to Marcsa."
The pig, unsuspicious of danger, was wandering about in the courtyard.
"Well, I shall not catch it," whimpered Mistress Boris.
"Marcsa'll do that."
The gypsy woman did not wait to be told a second time: but, at once taking a basket off her arms, squatted down and began to shake the basket, uttering some such enticing words as "Pocza, poczo, net, net!"
Nor was Mistress Borcsa idle: as soon as she remarked this device, she commenced the counteracting spell. "Shoo! Shoo!"—and with her pan and cooking-spoon she tried to frighten her protege away from the vicinity of the castle, despite the stamping protests of Sarvoelgyi, who saw open rebellion in this disregard for his commands.
Then the two old women commenced to drive the pig up and down the yard, the one enticing, the other "shooing," and creating a delightful uproar.
But, such is the ingratitude of adopted pigs! The foolish animal, instead of listening to its benefactor's words and flying for protection among the beds of spinach, greedily answered to the call of the charmer, and with ears upright trotted towards the basket to discover what might be in it.
The gypsy woman caught its hind legs.
Mistress Borcsa screamed, Marcsa grunted, and the pig squealed loudest of all.
"Kill it at once to stop its cries!" cried Sarvoelgyi. "What a horrible noise over a pig!"
"Don't kill it! Don't make it squeal while I am listening," exclaimed Borcsa in a terrified passion: then she ran back into the kitchen, and stopped her ears lest she should hear them killing her favorite pig.
She came out again as soon as the squeals of her protege had ceased, and with uncontrollable fury took up a position before Sarvoelgyi. The gypsy woman smilingly pointed to the murdered innocent.
Mistress Borcsa then said in a panting rage to Sarvoelgyi:
"Miser who gives one day, and takes back—a curse upon such as you!"
"Zounds! good-for-nothing!" bawled the righteous fellow. "How dare you say such a thing to me?"
"From to-day I am no longer your servant," said the old woman, trembling with passion. "Here is the cooking-spoon, here the pan: cook your own dinner, for your wife knows less about it than you do. My husband lives in the neighboring village: I left him in his young days because he beat me twice a day; now I shall go back to the honest fellow, even if he beat me thrice a day."
Mistress Borcsa was in reality not jesting, and to prove it she at once gathered up her bed, brought out her trunks, piled all her possessions onto a barrow, and wheeled them out without saying so much as "good bye."
Sarvoelgyi tried to prevent this wholesale rebellion forcibly by seizing Mistress Borcsa's arm to hold her back.
"You shall remain here: you cannot go away. You are engaged for a whole year. You will not get a kreutzer if you go away."
But Mistress Borcsa proved that she was in earnest, as she forcibly tore her arm from Sarvoelgyi's grasp.
"I don't want your money," she said, wheeling her barrow further. "What you wish to keep back from my salary may remain for the master's—coffin-nails."
"What, you cursed witch!" exclaimed Sarvoelgyi. "What did you dare to say to me?"
Mistress Borcsa was already outside the gate. She thrust her head in again, and said:
"I made a mistake. I ought to have said that the money you keep from me may remain—to buy a rope."
Sarvoelgyi, enraged, ran to his room to fetch a stick, but before he came out with it, Mistress Borcsa was already wheeling her vehicle far away on the other side of the street, and it would not have been fitting for a gentleman to scamper after her before the eyes of the whole village, and to commence a combat of doubtful issue in the middle of the street with the irritated Amazon.
The nearest village was not far from Lankadomb; yet before she reached it, Mistress Borcsa's soul was brimming over with wrath.
Every man would consider it beneath his dignity to submit tamely to such a dishonor.
As she reached the village of her birth, she made straight for the courtyard of her former husband's house.
Old Kolya recognized his wife as she came up trundling the squeaking barrow, and wondering thrust his head out at the kitchen door.
"Is that you, Boris?"
"It is: you might see, if you had eyes."
"You've come back?"
Instead of replying Mistress Boris bawled to her husband.
"Take one end of this trunk and help me to drag it in. Take hold now. Do you think I came here to admire your finely curled moustache?"
"Well, why else did you come, Boris?" said the old man very phlegmatically, without so much as taking his hand from behind his back.
"You want to quarrel with me again, I see; well, let's be over with it quickly: take a stick and beat me, then let us talk sense."
At this Kolya took pity on his wife and helped her to drag the trunk in.
"I am no longer such a quarreller, Boris," he answered. "Ever since I became a man with a responsible position I have never annoyed anyone. I am a watchman."
"So much the better: if you are an official, I can at any rate tell you what trouble brought me here."
"So it was only trouble drove you here?"
"Certainly. They robbed and stole from me. They have taken away my yellow-flowered calico kerchief, a red 'Home-sweet-Home' handkerchief, which I had intended for you, a silver-crossed string of beads, twelve dollars, ten gold pieces, twenty-two silver buttons, four pairs of silver buckles, and a scolloped-eared, pi-bald, eight-week-old pig...."
"Whew!" exclaimed Kolya as he heard of so much loss. "This is a pretty business. Well, who stole them?"
"No one else than the cursed gypsy woman Marcsa, who lives here in this village."
"We shall call her to account as soon as she appears."
"Naturally. She went there while I was weeding in the garden; she prowled about and stole."
"Well I'll soon have her by the ears, only let her come here."
Not a word of the whole story of the theft was true: but Mistress Boris reasoned as follows:
"You must come here first, gypsy woman, with that scolloped-eared pig: if they find it in your possession, they will put you in jail, and ask you what you did with the rest. Whether your innocence is proved or not, the pig-joint will in the meanwhile become uneatable, and won't come into your stomachs. You may say you got it as a present,—no one will believe you, and the magistrate will not order such a gentleman as Sarvoelgyi to come here and witness in your favor."
Kolya allowed himself to be made a participant in his wife's anger, and went at once to inform the servants of the magistrate, who was sitting in the village.
Towards evening Kolya, in ambush at the end of the village, spied the gypsy woman as she came sauntering by Lankadomb, carrying on her arm a large basket as if it were some great weight.
Kolya said nothing to her, he merely let her pass before him, and followed her on the other side of the street, until she reached the middle of the market-place, where many loiterers sauntered and listened to the tales of his wife.
"Halt, Marcsa!" cried Kolya, standing in the gypsy woman's way.
"What do you want?" she asked, shrugging her shoulders.
"What have you in your basket?"
"What should I have? A pig which you shall not taste, is in it."
"Of course. Has not the pig scolloped ears?"
"Suppose it has?"
"You speak lightly. Let me look at the pig."
"Well look—then go blind. Have you never seen such an animal? Have a look at it."
The gypsy woman uncovered the basket, in which lay the unhappy victim, reposing on its stomach, its scolloped ears still standing up straight.
A crowd began to collect round the disputants.
Mistress Boris burst in among them.
"There it is! That was my pig!"
"As much as the shadow of the Turkish Sultan's horse was yours. Off with you: don't look at it so hard, else you will be bewitched by it and your child will be like it."
The loiterers began to laugh at that; they were always ready to laugh at any rough jest.
The laughter enraged Kolya: he seized the much-discussed pig's hind legs and before the gypsy woman could prevent him, had torn it out of the basket.
But the pig was heavier than such animals are wont to be at that age, so that Kolya bumped the noble creature's nose against the ground.
As he did so a dollar rolled out of the pig's mouth.
"Oho!—the thalers are here too!"
At these words the gypsy woman took up her basket and began to run away. When they seized her, she scratched and bit, and tried her best to escape, till finally they bound her hands behind her.
Kolya was beside himself with astonishment.
There was quite a heap of silver money sewn into that pig. Loads of silver.
Mistress Boris herself did not understand it.
This must be reported to the magistrate.
Kolya, accompanied by a large crowd, conducted Marcsa to the magistrate's house, where the clerks, pending that official's arrival, took the accused in charge, and shut her up in a dark cell, which had only one narrow window looking out on the henyard.
When the magistrate returned towards midnight, only the vacant cell was there without the gypsy woman. She had been able to creep out through the narrow opening, and had gone off.
The magistrate, when he saw the "corpus delicti," was himself of the opinion that the pig was in reality Mistress Boris's property, while the money that had been hidden in its inside must have come also from Sarvoelgyi's house. There might be some great robbery in progress yonder. He immediately gave orders for three mounted constables to start off for Lankadomb; he ordered a carriage for himself, and a few minutes after the departure of the constables, was on his way in their tracks with his solicitor and servant.
* * * * *
The spider was already sitting in its web.
As night fell, Sarvoelgyi hastened the ladies off to bed, for they were going to leave for Pest and so had to wake early.
When all was quiet in the house, he himself went round the yard and locked the doors: then he closed the door of each room separately.
Finally he piled his arms on his table—two guns, two pistols, and a hunting-knife.
He was loath to believe the old gossip. Suppose Kandur should, in the course of his feast of blood be whetted for more slaughter, and wish to slice up betrayer after betrayed?
In the presence of twelve robbers, he could not even trust an ally.
The night watchman had already called "Eleven."
Sarvoelgyi was sitting beside his window.
The windows were protected on the street side by iron shutters, with a round slit in the middle, through which one could look out into the street.
Sarvoelgyi opened the casements in order to hear better, and awaited the events to which the night should give birth.
It was a still warm evening towards the end of spring.
All nature seemed to sleep; no leaf moved in the warm night air: only at times could be heard a faint sound, as if wood and field had shuddered in their dreams, and a long-drawn sigh had rustled the tops of the poplars, dying away in the reed-forest.
Then, suddenly, the hounds all along the village began to bay and howl.
The bark of a hound is generally a soothing sound; but when the vigilant house-guard has an uneasy feeling, and changes his bark to a long whining howl, it inspires disquietude and anxiety.
Only the spider in the web rejoiced at the sound of danger! They were coming!
The hounds' uproar lasted long: but finally it too ceased; and there followed the dreamy, quiet night, undisturbed by even a breath of wind.
Only the nightingales sang, those sweet fanciful songsters of the night, far and near in the garden bushes.
Sarvoelgyi listened long—but not to the nightingale's song. What next would happen?
Then the stillness of the night was broken by an awful cry as when a girl in the depth of night meets her enemy face to face.
A minute later again that cry—still more horrible, more anguished. As if a knife had been thrust into the maiden's breast.
Then two shots resounded:—and a volley of oaths.
All these midnight sounds came from above Topandy's castle.
Then a sound of heavy firing, varied by noisy oaths. The spider in the web started. The web had been disturbed. The stealthy attack had not succeeded.
Yet they were many—they could surely overcome two. The peasants did not dare to aid where bullets whistled.
Then the firing died away: other sounds were heard: blows of crowbars on the heavy door: the thunder of the pole-axe on the stone wall, here and there a single shot, the flash of which could not be seen in the night. Certainly they were firing in at doors and out through windows. That was why no flash could be seen.
But how long it lasted! A whole eternity before they could deal with those two men! From the roots of Sarvoelgyi's sparse hair hot beads of sweat were dripping down.
Not in yet? Why cannot they break in the door?
Suddenly the light of two brilliant flashes illuminated the night for a moment: then two deafening reports, that could be produced only by a weapon of heavy calibre. So easy to pick out the dull thunder roar from those other crackling splutterings that followed at once.
What was that? Could they be fighting in the open? Could they have come out into the courtyard? Could they have received aid from some unexpected quarter?
The crack of fire-arms lasted a few minutes longer. Twice again could be heard that particular roar, and then all was quiet again.
Were they done for already?
For a long time no sound, far or near.
Sarvoelgyi looked and listened in restless impatience. He wished to pierce the night with his eyes, he wished to hear voices through this numbing stillness. He put his ear to the opening in the iron shutter.
Some one knocked at the shutter from without.
Startled, he looked out.
The old gypsy woman was there: creeping along beside the wall she had come this far unnoticed.
"Sarvoelgyi," said the woman in a loud whisper: "Sarvoelgyi, do you hear? They have seized the money: the magistrate has it. Take care!"
Then she disappeared as noiselessly as she had come.
In a moment the sweat on Sarvoelgyi's body turned to ice. His teeth chattered from fever.
What the gypsy woman had said was, for him, the terror of death.
The most evident proof was in the hands of the law: before the awful deed had been accomplished, the hand that directed it had been betrayed.
And perhaps the terrible butchery was now in its last stage. They were torturing the victims! Pouring upon them the hellish vengeance of wounded wild beasts! Tearing them limb from limb! Looking with their hands that dripped with blood among the documents for the letter with five seals.
Already all was betrayed! Fever shook his every limb. Why that great stillness outside? What secret could this monstrous night hide that it kept such silence as this?
Suddenly the silence was broken by a wild creature's howl.
No it was no animal. Only a man could howl so, when agony had changed him to a mad beast, who in the fury of his pain had forgotten human voice.
The noise sounded first in the distance, beyond the garden of the castle, but presently approached, and a figure of horror ran howling down the street.
A figure of horror indeed!
A man, white from head to foot.
All his clothes, every finger of his hand, was white: every hair of his head, his beard, moustache, his whole face was white, glistening, shining white, and as he ran he left white footsteps behind him.
Was it a spirit?
The horror rushed up to Sarvoelgyi's door, rattling the latch and in a voice of raving anger began to howl as he shook the door.
"Let me in! Let me in! I am dying!"
Sarvoelgyi's face, in his agony of terror, became like that of a damned soul.
That was Kandur's voice! That was Kandur's figure. But so white!
Perhaps the naked soul of one on the way to hell?
The horrible figure thundered continuously at the door and cried:
"Let me in! Give me to drink! I am burning! Bathe me in oil! Help me to undress! I am dying! I am in hell! Help! Drag me out of it!"
All through the street they could hear his cries.
Then the damned soul began to curse, and beat the door with his fist, because they would not open to him.
"A plague upon you, cursed accomplice. You shut me out and won't let me in? Thrust me into the tanpit of hell and leave me there? My skin is peeling off! I am going blind! An ulcer upon your soul!"
The writhing figure tore off his clothes, which burned his limbs like a shirt of Nessus, and while so doing the hidden silver coins he had received from Sarvoelgyi fell to the ground.
"Devil take you, money and all!" he shouted, dashing the coins against the door. "Here's your cursed money! Pick it up!"
Then he staggered on, leaning against the railing and howling in pain:
"Help! Help! A fortune for a glass of water! Only let me live until I can drag that fellow with me! Help, man, help!"
A deathly numbness possessed Sarvoelgyi. If that figure of horror were no "spirit," he must hasten to make him so. He would betray all. That was the greatest danger. He must not live.
He could not see him from the window. Perhaps if he opened the shutters, he could fire at him. He was a highwayman: who could call Sarvoelgyi to account for shooting him? He had done it in self-defence.
If only his hands would not tremble so! It was impossible to hit him with a pistol except by placing the barrel to his forehead.
Should he go out to him?
Who would dare to go out to meet that demon face to face? Could the spider leave its web?
While he hesitated, while he struggled to measure the distance from door to window and back, a new sound was heard in the street:—three horsemen came trotting up from the end of the village, and in them Sarvoelgyi recognized, from their uniforms, the country police.
Then the bell began to ring, and the peasants came out of their doors, armed with pitchforks and clubs: noisy crowds collected. In their midst were one or two bound figures whom they drove forward with blows: they had seized the robbers.
The battle was irremediably lost. The chief criminal saw the toils closing in on him but had no time to make his escape.
Day was dawning.
Topandy had not left Czipra since she had been wounded. He sat alone beside her bed.
Servants and domestics had other things to do now: they were standing before the magistrate, face to face with the captured robbers. The magisterial inquiry demanded the presence of them all.
Topandy was alone with the wounded girl.
"Where is Lorand?" whispered Czipra.
"He drove over to the neighboring village to bring a doctor for you."
"No harm has come to him?"
"You might have heard his voice through the window, when all was over. He could not come in, because the door was closed. His first care was to bring a surgeon for you."
The girl sighed.
"If he comes too late...."
"Don't fret about that. Your wound is not fatal; only be calm."
"I know better," said the girl in a flush of fever. "I feel that I shall not live."
"Don't worry, Czipra, you will get better," said Topandy, taking the girl's hand.
And then the girl locked her five fingers in those of Topandy, so that they were clasped like two hands in prayer.
"Sir, I know I am standing on the brink of the grave. I have now grasped your hand. I have clasped it, as people at prayer are wont to clasp their hands. Can you let me go down to the grave without teaching me one prayer. This night the murderer's knife has pierced my heart to liberate yours. Does not my heart deserve the accomplishment of its last wish? Does not that God, who this night has liberated us both, me from life, you from death, deserve our thanks?"
Topandy was moved. He said:
"Repeat after me."
And he said to her the Lord's Prayer.
The girl devoutly and between gasps repeated it after him.
How beautiful it is! What great words those are!
First she repeated it after him, then again said it over, sentence by sentence, asking "what does this or that phrase mean?" "Why do we say 'our Father?' What is meant by 'Thy Kingdom?' Will he forgive us our trespasses, if we forgive them that trespass against us? Will he deliver us from every evil? What power there is in that 'Amen!'"—Then a third time she repeated it alone before Topandy, without a single omission.
"Now I feel easier," she said, her face beaming with happiness.
The atheist turned aside and wept.
The shutters let in the rays of the sun through the holes the bullets had made.
"Is that sunset?" whispered the girl.
"No, my child, it is sunrise."
"I thought it was evening already."
Topandy opened one shutter that Czipra might see the morning light of the sun.
Then he returned to the sick girl, whose face burned with fever.
"Lorand will be here immediately," he assured her gently.
"I shall soon be far away," sighed the girl with burning lips.
It seemed so long till Lorand returned!
The girl asked no more questions about him: but she was alert at the opening of every door or rattling of carriages in the street, and each time became utterly despondent, when it was not he after all.
How late he was!
Yet Lorand had come as quickly as four fleet-footed steeds could gallop.
Fever made the girl's imagination more irritable.
"If some misfortune should befall him on the way? If he should meet the defeated robbers? If he should be upset on one of the rickety bridges?"
Pictures of horror followed each other in quick succession in her feverish brain. She trembled for Lorand.
Then it occurred to her that he could defend himself against terrors. Why, he knew how to pray.
She clasped her hands across her breast and closed her eyes.
As she said "Amen" to herself she heard the rattling of wheels in the courtyard, and then the well-known steps approaching along the corridor.
What a relief that was!
She felt that her prayer had been heard. How happy are those who believe in it!
The door opened and the youth she worshipped stepped in, hastening to her bed and taking her hand.
"You see, I was lucky: I found him on the road. That is a good sign."
Her eyes seemed to ask him, "Nothing has happened to you?"
The surgeon examined the wound, bandaged it and told the girl to be quiet, not to move or talk much.
"Is there any hope?" asked Lorand in a whisper.
"God and nature may help."
The doctor had to leave to look after the wounded robbers. Lorand and his uncle remained beside Czipra.
Lorand sat on the side of her bed and held her hand in his. The doctor had brought some cooling draught for her, which he gave the sufferer himself.
How Czipra blessed the knife that had given her that wound!
She alone knew how far it had penetrated.
The others thought such a narrow little wound was not enough to cut a life in two.
Topandy was writing a letter on Lorand's writing-table: and when asked "to whom?" he said "To the priest."
Yet he was not wont to correspond with such.
Czipra thought this too was all on her account.
Why, she had not yet been christened.
What a mysterious house it was, the door of which was now to open before her!
Perhaps a whole palace, in the brilliant rooms of which the eye was blinded, as it looked down them?
Soon steps were heard again outside. Perhaps the clergyman was coming.
She was mistaken.
In the new-comer she recognized a figure she had seen long before—Mr. Buczkay, the lawyer.
Despite the customary roundness of that official's face, there were traces of pity on it, pity for the young girl, victim of so dreadful a crime.
He called Topandy aside and began to whisper to him.
Czipra could not hear what they were saying: but a look which the two men cast in her direction, betrayed to her the subject of their discourse.
The judges were here and were putting the law into force upon the guilty.—They were examining into the events, from beginning to end.—They must know all.—They had taken the depositions of the others already: now it was her turn.—They would come with their documents, and ask her "Where did you walk? Why did you leave your room at night? Why did you open the house-door? Whom were you looking for outside in the garden?"
What could she answer to those terrible questions?
Should she burden her conscience with lies, before the eyes of God whom she would call as a witness from Heaven, and to whom she would raise her supplicating hands for pity, when the day of reckoning came?
Or should she confess all?
Should she tell how she had loved him: how mad she was: how she started in search of a charm, with which she wished to overcome the heart of her darling?
She could not confess that! Rather the last drop of blood from her heart, than that secret.
Or should she maintain an obdurate silence? That, however, would create suspicion that she, the robber's daughter, had opened the door for her robber father, and had plotted with workers of wickedness.
What a desperate situation!
And then again it occurred to her that she too could defend herself against terrors: she knew now how to pray. So she took refuge in the sanctuary of the Great Lord, and, embracing the pillars of his throne, prayed, and prayed, and prayed.
Scarce a quarter of an hour after the lawyer's departure, some one else came.
It was Michael Daruszegi, the magistrate.
The girl trembled as she saw him. The confessor had come!
Topandy sprang up from his seat and went to meet him.
Czipra plainly heard what he said in a subdued voice.
"The doctor has forbidden her to speak: in her present condition you cannot cross-question her."
Czipra breathed freely again. He was defending her!
"In any case I can answer for her, for I was present from the very beginning," said Lorand to the magistrate. "Czipra heard the noise in the garden, and was daring enough, as was her wont, to go out and see what was the matter. At the door she met the robber face to face: she barred his way, and immediately cried out for me: then she struggled with him until I came to her help."
How pleased Czipra was at that explanation, all the more because she saw by Lorand's face that he really believed it.
"I have no more questions to ask the young lady," said Daruszegi. "This matter is really over in any case."
"Over?" asked Topandy astonished.
"Yes, over: explained, judged, and executed."
"The robber chief, Kandur, before he died in agony, made such serious and perfectly consistent confessions as, combined with other circumstances, compromised your neighbor in the greatest measure."
"Sarvoelgyi?" inquired Topandy with glistening eyes.
"Yes.—So far indeed that I was compelled to extend the magisterial inquiry to his person too. I started with my colleague to find him. We found the two ladies in a state of the greatest consternation. They came before us, and expressed their deep anxiety at not finding Sarvoelgyi anywhere in the house: they had discovered his room open and unoccupied. His bedroom we did indeed find empty, his weapons were laid out on the table, the key of his money-chest was left in it, and the door of the room open.—What could have become of him?—We wanted to enter the door of the dining-room opposite. It was locked. The ladies declared that room was generally locked. The key was inside in the lock. That room has two other doors, one opening on to the kitchen, one on to the verandah. We looked at them too. In both cases the key was inside, in the lock. Some one must be in the room! I called upon the person within, in the name of the law to open the door to us. No answer came. I repeated the command, but the door was not opened: so I was compelled to have it finally broken open by force; and when the sunlight burst through into the dark room, what horrible sight do you think met our startled gaze? The lord of the house was hanging there above the table in the place of the chandelier: the chair under his feet that he had kicked away proved that he had taken his own life...."
Topandy at these words raised his hands in ecstasy above his head.
"There is a God of justice in Heaven! He has smitten him with his own hand."
Then he clasped his hands together with emotion and slipped towards the head of Czipra's bed.
"Come, my child, say: 'I believe in God'—I shall say it first."
The doctor had not forbidden that.
Czipra devoutly waited for the words of wonder.
What a great, what a comforting world of thoughts.
A God who is a Father, a mother who is a maiden. A God who will be man for man's sake, and who suffered at man's hands, who died and rose again promises true justice, forgiveness for sins, resurrection, life eternal!
"What is that life eternal?"
If only some one could have answered!
The atheist was kneeling down beside the girl's bed when the priest arrived.
He did not rise, was not embarrassed at his presence.
"See, reverend sir, here is a neophyte, waiting for the baptismal water: I have just taught her the 'credo.'"
The girl gave him a look full of gratitude. What happiness glittered in those eyes of ecstasy!
"Who will be the god-parents?" asked the clergyman.
"One, the magistrate,—if he will be so kind: the other, I."
Czipra looked appealingly, first at Topandy, then at Lorand.
Topandy understood the unspoken question.
"Lorand cannot be. In a few minutes you shall know why."
The minister performed the ceremony with that briefness which consideration for a wounded person required.
When it was over, Topandy shook hands with the minister.
"If my hand has sinned at times against yours, I now ask your pardon."
"The debt has been paid by that clasp of your hand," said the priest.
"Your hand must now pronounce a blessing on us."
"I do not ask it for myself: I await my punishment: I am going before my judge and shall not murmur against him. I want the blessing for those whom I love. This young fellow yesterday asked of me this maiden's hand. They have long loved each other, and deserve each other's love:—give them the blessing of faith, father. Do you agree, Czipra?"
The poor girl covered her burning face with her two hands, and, when Lorand stepped towards her and took her hand, began to sob violently.
"Don't you love me? Will you not be my wife?"
Czipra turned her head on one side.
"Ah, you are merely jesting with me. You want to tease, to ridicule a wretched creature who is nothing but a gypsy girl."
Lorand drew the girl's hand to his heart when she accused him of jesting with her. Something within told him the girl had a right to believe that, and the thought wrung his heart.
"How could you misunderstand me? Do you think I would play a jest upon you—and now?"
Topandy interrupted kindly.
"How could I jest with God now, when I am preparing to enter his presence?"
"How could I jest with your heart?" said Lorand.
"And with a dying girl," panted Czipra.
"No, no, you will not die, you will get well again, and we shall be happy."
"You say that now when I am dying," said the girl with sad reproach. "You tell me the whole beautiful world is thine, now, when of that world I shall have nothing but the clod of earth, which you will throw upon me."
"No, my child," said Topandy, "Lorand asked your hand of me yesterday evening, and was only awaiting his mother's approval to tell you yourself his feelings towards you."
A quick flash of joy darted over the girl's face, and then it darkened again.
"Why, I know," she said brushing aside her tangled curls from her face, "I know your intentions are good. You are doing with me what people do with sick children. 'Get well! We'll buy you beautiful clothes, golden toys, we'll take you to places of amusement, for journeys—we shall be good-humored—will never annoy you:—only get well.' You want to give the poor girl pleasure, to make her better, I thank you for that too."
"You will not believe me," said Lorand, "but you will believe the minister's word. See last night I wrote a letter to mother about you: it lies sealed on my writing-table. Reverend sir, be so kind as to open and read it before her. She will believe you if you tell her we are not cajoling her."
The minister opened the letter, while Czipra, holding Lorand's hand, listened with rapt attention to the words that were read:
"MY DEAR MOTHER:
"After the many sorrows and pains I have continuously caused throughout my life to the tenderest of mothers' hearts, to-day I can send you news of joy.
"I am about to marry.
"I am taking to wife one who has loved me as a poor, nameless, homeless youth, for myself alone, and whom I love for her faithful heart, her soul pure as tried gold, still better than she loves me.
"My darling has neither rank nor wealth: her parents were gypsies.
"I shall not laud her to you in poetic phrases: these I do not understand. I can only feel, but not express my feelings.
"No other letter of recommendation can be required of you, save that I love her.
"Our love has hitherto only caused both of us pain: now I desire happiness for both of us.
"Your blessing will make the cup of this happiness full.
"You are good. You love me, you rejoice in my joy.
"You know me. You know what lessons life has taught me.
"You know that Fate always ordained wisely and providentially for me.
"No miracle is needed to make you, my mother, the best of mothers, who love me so, and are calm and peaceful in God, clasp together those hands of blessing which from my earliest days you have never taken off my head.
"Include in your prayer, beside my name, the name of my faithful darling, Czipra, too.
"I believe in your blessing as in every word of my religion, as in the forgiveness of sins, as in the world to come.
"But if you are not what God made you,—quiet and loving, a mother always ready to give her blessing with the halo of eternal love round your brow,—if you are cold, quick to anger, a woman of vengeance, proud of the coronet of a family blazon, one who wishes herself to rule Fate, and if the curses of such a merciless lady burden the girl whom I love, then so much the worse, I shall take her to wife with her dowry of curses—for I love her.
"... God intercede between our hearts.
"Your loving son, "LORAND."
As the minister read, Czipra at each sentence pressed Lorand's hand closer to her heart. She could neither speak nor weep: it was more than her spirit could bear. Every line, every phrase opened a Paradise before her, full of gladness of the other world: her soul's idol loved her: loved her for love's sake: loved her for herself: loved her because she made him happy: raised her to his own level: was not ashamed of her wretched origin: could understand a heart's sensitiveness: commended her name to his mother's prayers: and was ready to maintain his love amidst his mother's curses.
A heart cannot bear such glory!
She did not care about anything now: about her wound: about life, or death: she felt only that glow of health which coursed through every sinew of her body and possessed every thought of her soul.
"I believe!" she said in rapture, rising where she lay: and in those words was everything: everything in which people are wont to believe, from the love of God to the love of man.
She did not care about anything now. She had no thought for men's eyes or men's words: but, as she uttered these words, she fell suddenly on Lorand's neck, drew him with the force of delight to her heart, and covered him with her kisses.
The wound reopened in her breast, and as the girl's kisses covered the face of the man she loved, her blood covered his bosom.
Each time her impassioned lips kissed him, a fresh gush of blood spurted from that faithful heart, which had always been filled with thoughts of him only, which had beat only for him, which had, to save him, received the murderer's knife:—the poor "green-robed" faithful girl.
And as she pressed her last kiss upon the lips of her darling, ... she knew already what was the meaning of eternity....
THE BRIDAL FEAST
"Poor Czipra! I thought you would bury us all, and now it is I that must give you that one clod of earth the only gift you asked from the whole beautiful world."
Topandy himself saw after the sad arrangements.
Lorand could not speak: he was beside himself with grief.
He merely said he would like to have his darling embalmed and to take her to his family property, there to bury her.
This wish of his must be fulfilled.
It would be a sad surprise for his mother, to whom Topandy only the day before had written that her son was bringing home a new daughter-in-law.
When Lorand had asked Topandy for Czipra's hand, he immediately wrote to Mrs. Aronffy, thinking that what Lorand himself wrote to his mother would be in a proud strain. He anticipated his nephew's letter, told his mother quietly and restrainedly in order that Lorand's letter might be no surprise to her.
Now he must write again to her, telling that the bride was coming, and the family vault must be ready for her reception.
And curiously Topandy felt no pain in his heart as he thought over it.
"Death is after all the best solution of life!"
He did not shed a single tear upon the letter he wrote: he sealed it and looked for a servant to despatch it.
But other thoughts occupied him.
He sought the magistrate.
"My dear sir, when do you want to lock me up?"
"When you like, sir."
"Would you not take me to gaol immediately?"
"With pleasure, sir."
"How many years have they given me?"
"I expected more. Well, then I can take this letter myself into the town."
"Will Mr. Aronffy remain here?"
"No. He will take his dead love home to the country. I have asked the doctor to embalm her, and I have a lead casket which I prepared for myself with the intention of continuing my opposition to the ordinance of God within it: now I have no need of it. I will lend it to Czipra. That is her dowry."
An hour later he went in search of Lorand, who was still guarding his dead darling. The magistrate was there too.
"My dear sir," he said to the officer. "I am not going to the gaol now."
"Not yet?" inquired Daruszegi. "Very well."
"Not now, nor at any other time. A greater master has given me orders—in a different direction."
They began to look at him in astonishment.
His face was much paler than usual: but still that good-humored irony and light-hearted smile was there.
"Lorand, my boy, there will be two funerals here."
"Who is the second dead person?" asked Daruszegi.
Then he drew from his breast his left hand which he had hitherto held thrust in his coat.
"An hour ago I wrote a letter to your mother. As I was sealing it the hot wax dripped onto my nail, and see how my hand has blackened since."
The tips of his left hand were blue and swollen.
"The doctor, quickly," cried Daruszegi to his servant.
"Never mind. It is already unnecessary," said Topandy, falling languidly into an arm-chair. "In two hours it is over. I cannot live more than two hours. In twenty minutes this swelling will reach my shoulder, and the way from thence to the heart is short."
The doctor, who hastened to appear, confirmed Topandy's opinion.
"There is nothing to be done," he said.
Lorand, horror-stricken, hastened to take care of his uncle: the old fellow embraced the neck of the youth kneeling beside him.
"You philosopher, you were right after all, you see. There is One who takes thought for two-legged featherless animals too. If I had known,—'Knock and it shall be opened unto you:' I should long have knocked at the door and cried, 'O Lord, let me in!'"
Topandy would not allow himself to be undressed and put to bed.
"Draw my chair beside Czipra. Let me learn from her how a dead man must behave. My death will not be so fine as hers: I shall not breathe my soul into the soul of my loved one: yet I shall be a gay travelling-companion."
Pain interrupted his words.
When it ceased, he laughed at himself.
"How a foolish mass of flesh protests! It will not allow itself to be overlorded. Yet we were only guests here! 'Animula, vagula, blandula. Hospes comesque corporis. Quae nunc adibis loca? Frigidula, palidula, undula! Nec, ut soles, dabis jocos.' Certainly you will be 'extra dominium' immediately. And my lord Stomach, his Grace, and my lord Heart, his Excellency, and my lord Head, his Royal Highness all must resign office."
The doctor declared he must be suffering terrible agony all the time he was jesting and laughing; and he laughed when other people would have gnashed their teeth and cried aloud.
"We have disputed often, Lorand," said the old man, always in a fainter voice, "about that German savant who asserted that the inhabitants of other planets are much nobler men than we here on earth. If he asks what has become of me, tell him I have advanced. I have gone to a planet where there are no peasants: barons clean earls' boots. Don't laugh at me, I beg, if I am talking foolishly.—But death dictates very curious verses."
The hand-grasp with which he greeted Lorand, proved that it was his last.
After that his hand drooped, his eyes languished, his face became ever more and more yellow.
Once again he raised his eyes.
They met Lorand's gaze.
He wished to smile: in a whisper, straining desperately he said:
"Immediately now ... I shall know—what is—in the foggy spots of the Northern Dog-star:—and in the eyeless worm's——entrails."
Then, suddenly, with a forced final spasmodic effort, he seized the arms of his chair, and rose, lifted up his right arm, and turned to the magistrate.
"Sir," he cried in a strong full-toned voice, "I have appealed."
He fell back in the arm-chair.
Some minutes later every wrinkle disappeared from his face, it became as smooth as marble, and calm, as those of dead persons are wont to be.
Lorand was standing there with clasped hands between his two dear dead ones.
* * * * *
On the morrow at dawn Lorand rose for his journey and stepped into the cart with a closed lead coffin. So he took home his dead bride.
The second letter which Topandy had written to his mother, the sealing of which had sealed his own fate, had not been posted, and could not have prepared them for his coming.
At home they had received only the first letter.
When that letter of good tidings arrived it caused feelings of intoxicated delight and triumph throughout the whole house.
After all they loved him still best of all. He was the favorite child of his mother and grandmother. No word of Desiderius is required for his heart was already united to his darling: and good Fanny was doubly happy in the idea that she would not be the only happy woman in the house.
With what joy they awaited him!
Could he ever have doubted that the one he loved would be loved by all?—no need to speak of her virtues: everybody knew them: all he need say was "I love her."
It was certainly very well he did not send his mother that letter, in which he had written of Czipra and requested his mother's blessing:—well that he had not wounded the dearest mother's heart with those final words—"but if you curse her whom I love—"
Curse her whom he loves!
Why should they do so? That letter brought a holiday to the house. They arranged the country dwelling afresh: Desiderius took up his residence in the town, handing over to his elder brother his birthright.
The eldest lady put off her mourning. Lorand's bride must not see anything that could recall sad thoughts. Everything sad was buried under the earth.
Desiderius could relate so much that was pleasant of the gypsy girl: Lorand's letters during the past ten years of silence always spoke of the poor despised diamond, whose faithful attachment had been the sunny side of Lorand's life. They read the bundles of letters again and again: it was a study for the two mothers. Where Lorand had been giving merely a passing hint, they could make great explanations, all pointing to Czipra.
Providence had ordered it so!
After the first meeting in the inn, it had all been ordained that Lorand should save Czipra from the murderer's knife, in order to be happy with her later.
... Why the gypsy girl was happy already.
Topandy's letter informed them that, immediately after the despatch of the letter, Lorand would wed Czipra, and they would come home together to the house of his parents.
So the day was known, they might even reckon the hour when they would arrive.
Desiderius remained in town to await Lorand. He promised to bring them out, however late they came, even in the night.
The ladies waited up until midnight. They waited outside under the verandah. It was a beautiful warm moonlit night.
The good grandmother, embracing Fanny's shoulder, related to her how many, many years ago they had waited one night for the two brothers to come, but that was a very awful night, and the waiting was very sorrowful. The wind howled among the acacias, clouds chased each other across the sky, hounds howled in the village, a hay-wain rattled in at the gate—and in it was hidden the coffin.—And the populace was very suspicious: they thought the ice would break its bounds, if a dead man were taken over it.
But now it was quite a different world. The air was still, not a breath of air: man and beast sleeps, only those are awake who await a bride.
How different the weather!
Then, all at once, a wain had stood at the gate: the servants hastened to open it.
A hay-wain now rattled in at the gate, as it did then.
And after the wain, on foot, the two brothers, hand in hand.
The women rushed to meet them, Lorand was the first whom everyone embraced and kissed.
"And your wife?" asked every lip.
Lorand pointed speechlessly to the wain, and could not tell them.
Desiderius answered in his place.
"We have brought his wife here in her coffin."
WHEN WE HAD GROWN OLD
Seventeen years have passed since Lorand returned home again.
What old people we have become since then!
Besides, seventeen years is a long time:—and seventeen heavy years!
I have rarely seen people grow old so slowly as did our contemporaries.
We live in a time when we sigh with relief as each day passes by—only because it is now over! And we will not believe that what comes after it will bring still worse days.
We descend continuously further and further down, in faith, in hope, in charity towards one another: our wealth is dissipated, our spirits languish, our strength decays, our united life falls into disunion: it is not indifference, but "ennui" with which we look at the events of the days.
One year to the day, after poor Czipra's death Lorand went with his musket on his shoulder to a certain entertainment where death may be had for the asking.
I shall not recall the fame of those who are gone—why should I? Very few know of it.
Lorand was a good soldier.
That he would have been in any case, he had naturally every attribute required for it: heroic courage, athletic strength, hot blood, a soul that never shrank. War would in any case have been a delight for him:—and in his present state of mind!
Broken-hearted and crushed, his first love contemptuously trampling him in the dust, his second murdered in the fervor of her passion, his soul weighed with the load of melancholia, and that grievous fate which bore down and overshadowed his family: always haunted by that terrible foreboding that, sooner or later, he must still find his way to that eighth resting-place, that empty niche.
When the wars began his lustreless spirit burst into brilliance. When he put on his uniform, he came to me, and, grasping my hand, said with flashing eyes:
"I am bargaining in the market where a man may barter his worn-out life at a profit of a hundred per cent."
Yet he did not barter his.
Rumor talked of his boldness, people sang of his heroic deeds, he received fame and wreaths, only he could not find what he sought: a glorious death.