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Manasseh - A Romance of Transylvania
by Maurus Jokai
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She turned to go, but then, as if remembering something, came back and drew a ring from her finger.

"Here," said she, "I will give you this ring. Do you remember it?"

"It belonged to my sister," answered Manasseh, in a tone of sadness. "I bought it for her to give to her lover as an engagement ring. Soon afterward he deserted her."

"I know it. Her name is engraved inside the ring. The pretty fellow who gave it me told me all about it. He said to me: 'My pearl, my turtledove, my diamond, see here, I place this ring on your finger and swear to be true to you. But I can't marry you as long as that other woman lives who wears my betrothal ring, for our laws forbid it. That woman dwells in the big house at Toroczko. You know her name and know what to do to enable me to marry you.'"

Manasseh trembled with suppressed passion as he listened. The girl handed him the ring and proceeded:

"Give her back her ring; it belongs to her. And tell me, did not this man come to you and tell you how a shameless creature in woman's form was to steal into your house, and, under the pretext of rescuing your wife and sister, lead them away to misery and dishonour? Speak, did he not tell you some such story?"

"Yes, he did."

Zenobia laughed in hot anger and scorn. "Well, then," said she, in conclusion, "I have another present for you. The proverb says, 'Little kindnesses strengthen the bonds of friendship.' And this will be the smallest of gifts I could possibly make you. The handsome young man who gave me this ring, and is betrothed to me—or thinks he is—lies somewhere yonder in a ditch. His horse took fright at the tumult, and threw him so that he broke his ankle. His fleeing troops left him lying there; they stumbled over him and ran on; no one offered to help him up. They all hate him, and they see in his fall a punishment from Heaven. The Wallachian fears to lend aid to him that is thought to lie under God's displeasure. The fallen man's horse you will find in the church. Mount it and hasten back to Toroczko. As for the rider, you will do well to hang him to the nearest tree. You have a gipsy here to help you. And now farewell."

She blew a little whistle that hung at her neck, and a lad appeared leading two mountain ponies. Zenobia mounted one, waved a final adieu to Manasseh, and rode away with her attendant toward Bedelloe.

"Come, sir," said the gipsy, touching Manasseh's elbow, "let us set about what she told us to do. You go into the church and get Diurbanu's horse while I go and find the rider. You have two pistols and a dagger. What, don't you want them? Then give them to me."

The fiddler was proud to find himself so well armed. He made a belt of the cords he had brought with him from the cellar, and stuck the weapons into it.

"Now we must hurry," he urged, "or the people will be coming back."

While Manasseh made his way to the church, his companion hastened in search of Diurbanu. The little man had sharp eyes and keen wits. He conjectured that the fallen rider, with his broken leg, would avoid the dry harvest-fields, over which the fire was rapidly spreading, and would be found in the moist ditch beside the road. Nor was he wrong in this surmise. He was soon saluted in a voice that he recognised.

"Gipsy, come here!"

"Not so fast," the fiddler replied. "How do I know you won't shoot me?"

"I have nothing to shoot with. I am lying in the water, so that even if I had my pistols the powder would be soaked through."

"But what do you want of me?"

"I wish you to save my life."

"And won't you have me locked up afterward?"

"If you will help me get away from here I'll make you a rich man. You shall have a thousand florins."

"If you had promised me less I should have believed you sooner."

"But I will pay you the money now. Come, take me on your back and carry me away."

"Where to?"

"Into the church yonder."

The gipsy laughed aloud. "First do your swearing out here, then," said he, "for no one may curse God in his house. But what will you do in the church?"

"I will wait while you run to Gyertyamos and hire a carriage for me. You shall have a thousand florins, the driver the same, and for every hour before sunrise that you accomplish your errand you shall receive an extra hundred."

"You won't see the sun rise," muttered the fiddler to himself as he obeyed the other's directions.

The burden proved not too heavy for the little man's back; he could have carried him all the way to Gyertyamos, but the horse must obey his rider, so into the church he went with him.

"There, Manasseh," he cried, in triumph, "there's our man!" And he dropped his burden on the stone floor.

Diurbanu cried out with pain as he fell, then raised himself on one elbow and met Manasseh's gaze.

"Kill me and be done with it," he muttered, in sullen despair.

But Manasseh remained standing with folded arms before him. "No, Benjamin Vajdar," said he, "you shall not die by my hand. He who kills Cain is seven times cursed. My promise to an angel whom you would have destroyed is your safeguard. I shall neither kill you myself nor let any one else lay hands on you. You are to live many days yet and continue in the way you have begun, obeying the sinful impulses of your wicked nature, and doing evil to those that have done nothing but good to you. You weigh upon our house like a curse, but it is God's will thus to prove and try our hearts. Fulfil your destiny, plot your wicked scheme's against us, and then at last, broken, humbled, scorned of all the world beside, come back to us and sue for pity at the door of those to whom you have shown no pity. God's will be done!"

Manasseh allowed himself to use no reproach, no word of withering scorn, in thus addressing his enemy. He even spoke in German, to spare the fallen man's shame in the gipsy's presence. He had the horse in readiness for its master, and bade the fiddler help him lift the injured rider into the saddle and tie him there with ropes to ensure him against a second fall, especially as one foot was now unfit for the stirrup.

"Aha!" cried the little gipsy, "a good idea! We'll take him alive and show him off in Toroczko."

The fires in the village made the spirited horse restive and hard to manage. Manasseh took him by the bridle and led him out of the church, the gipsy following at the animal's heels.

"Turn to the right and begone!" whispered Manasseh to the rider, and he caused the horse to make a sudden spring to one side.

"Oh, he's got away!" cried the gipsy, in great chagrin. "Why didn't you let me take the bridle? Catch me bringing you another thousand-florin prize, to be thrown away like that!"

"Never mind, my lad. From this day on you shall find a full trencher always ready for you at our house. But now let us start for home."

* * * * *

Six weeks later Benjamin Vajdar made his reappearance in Vienna, the net result of his expedition to Transylvania being, first, a heavy draft on the bank-account of his chief, and, second, a limping gait for himself, which proved a sad affliction to him on the dancing-floor.



CHAPTER XXIV.

A CRUEL PARTING.

At the close of the war the young men of Toroczko who had served in the national guard returned home and resumed their work in the mines and iron foundries. The mining classes had always been exempt from military service in the imperial army, and so the Toroczko young men had no fear of being soon called away again from their peaceful industry.

Out of these young artisans Manasseh set about forming a guild for the better working of the Toroczko mines. He wished to make intelligent and skilful mining engineers of them, and so enable them to avail themselves, more fully than they had yet done, of the mineral resources of their native hills. And having now had some experience of military discipline, these young men offered him material of no mean order for his experiment. They seconded his efforts with a will, reposing the utmost confidence in their leader, and perceiving that he knew thoroughly what he was undertaking.

It was a great piece of good fortune for Manasseh that he had a partner in his enterprise who was in fullest sympathy with him, and in whom he could place the utmost trust. This partner kept the accounts of the business in which the two had invested their all, and showed the keenest intelligence and the most watchful vigilance in guarding their joint interests. This expert accountant and able manager was none other than Manasseh's wife. In the third year of her marriage, however, she had something else to engage her attention beside iron-mining: in that year the house of Adorjan was increased by the birth of twins,—Bela and Ilonka, the former a likeness in miniature of his father, and the latter a second Blanka. But their aunt Anna insisted on sharing the mother's cares, and soon she assumed almost entire charge of the little ones, thus enabling Blanka to resume her business duties.

In this way everything was running smoothly, when one evening there came a government order requiring all men between certain ages to report within three days at Karlsburg for military service; any who refused would be treated as deserters. Three quarters of Manasseh's workmen came under the terms of this order; but they promptly obeyed and went to Karlsburg, where, after being found physically qualified, they were enrolled for six years' service,—three extra years being added to the usual term because they had neglected to report voluntarily.

This was a hard blow to Manasseh's enterprise. He resolved to go to Vienna and petition for the exemption of his employees from military duty, claiming for them the miners' privileges which they had enjoyed hitherto.

Well acquainted though he had been in government circles in the past, Manasseh now found everything changed and scarcely a familiar face left. Like the veriest stranger, he was forced to wait with the crowd of other petitioners in the war minister's anteroom until his turn should come. Much to his surprise, however, the great man's door suddenly opened and Prince Cagliari advanced to meet him with a face all smiles and words of honey on his lips.

"Ah, my dear friend, how glad I am to see you!" began the prince. "All well at home? That's good. And what brings you hither, may I ask? You come on behalf of your countrymen who were recently drafted? Ah, yes." (Then in a whispered aside: "We'll soon arrange that; a word from me will suffice.") Again aloud: "A very difficult matter, sir, very difficult indeed! These recent complications in the Orient compel us to raise our army to its highest effective strength." (Once more in a whisper, with a stealthy pressure of the hand: "Pray give yourself not the slightest concern. I'll speak to his Excellency about it this very minute.")

Manasseh was by no means pleased at finding himself placed under obligations to Prince Cagliari, but he could not well refuse such a gracious offer of assistance. Accordingly, when the prince returned and smilingly informed him that he had put the petition in the minister's hands, and obtained a promise that it should be speedily taken under favourable consideration, Manasseh forced himself to smile in return and to express his acknowledgments to his intercessor as he took leave of him.

The petition was, in fact, taken under early advisement, and three days after Manasseh's return to Toroczko he was summoned to Karlsburg to learn the issue.

"Your memorial has reached us from Vienna with a refusal," was the chilling announcement that greeted him.

"Impossible!" cried Manasseh, in astonishment. "I was promised a favourable answer."

The government official only shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

"On what ground is the petition rejected?" asked Manasseh.

"On the ground that those for whom you petition forfeited their privileges as miners by taking up arms in '48. Having taken them up once, they cannot refuse to do so a second time."

Manasseh's bitter reflections were somewhat sweetened by the thought that, after all, he was not in any way indebted to Prince Cagliari. But he owed him more than he suspected. As he was turning to go, the government official detained him a moment longer.

"I hope," said he, as if by way of a casual remark, "that your own exemption from service is a matter of no uncertainty."

"My own exemption!" repeated Manasseh, in amazement. It had not once occurred to him that he, a former government councillor, might be drafted into the army. But he controlled his indignation at what seemed an ill-timed jest, and added, calmly: "At any rate, I cannot be charged with having forfeited my rights as a miner by taking up arms in 1848."

"That remains to be seen," was the cool reply. Then, after some search among his papers, the official produced a document from which he read as follows: "'Mr. Manasseh Adorjan is alleged, on unquestionable authority, to have participated in the fight at St. George and Toroczko. In fact, he with his own hands took General Diurbanu prisoner and bound him with a rope to his horse. Only the animal's impatience of control saved the rider and secured him his freedom.'"

After listening to this astounding accusation against him, Manasseh recognised that he was far more deeply in Cagliari's debt than he had supposed.

* * * * *

"I have accomplished my mission in brilliant style," was his report when he reached home. "Not only my workmen are drafted, but I also along with them."

The women were struck with consternation, but Aaron burst out laughing.

"Oh, you poor innocent!" he cried, "how can you be a soldier with one shoulder six inches higher than the other?"

"What, am I really so misshapen as that?" asked Manasseh, in surprise.

"To be sure, or at least you can make yourself so for the nonce. Don't you remember how our neighbour Methuselah's grandson went limping about with one leg longer than the other, when the recruiting officer was here?"

"Methuselah's grandson may do that kind of thing," answered Manasseh, "but not an Adorjan. I can't practise any deceit of that sort."

"Deceit!" cried Aaron; "we are deceiving no one—only the government."

"And is the government no one?" asked his brother.

"Well, it's all right to outwit the Austrians," muttered Aaron.

"I don't agree with you," was all Manasseh could say. "If I am ordered to march I shall obey. My poor lads are obliged to exchange the pick for the rifle, and shall I, their master, shirk my duty?"

"Manasseh is right," declared Anna. "What will do for a grandson of Methuselah will not do for an Adorjan. When an Adorjan's name is called he must answer to it like a man. Our brother will be the pride of his regiment, and will soon rise to be an officer; then he can obtain his discharge and come home."

Manasseh pressed his sister's hand in gratitude for these words of courage and good cheer.

"Yes, but suppose he has to go to war?" objected Blanka.

"Never fear," returned her husband. "Even if Austria becomes involved in the present dispute, the Hungarian regiments are not likely to be sent to the front. They will be stationed in Lombardy, where all is as quiet as possible."

"Then I will go with you," said Blanka, brightening up.

"No, you must stay with us," Anna interposed. "You and the children are best cared for here, and, besides, if Manasseh goes away you will have to look after the iron works. New hands are to be engaged, and ever so much is to be done all over again. How can you think of leaving us in the lurch? There will be no one but you to manage things; you alone can direct the works and put bread into our poor people's mouths."

"Ah, me!" sighed the distressed wife; "and must I live perhaps a whole year without seeing Manasseh—a whole autumn, winter, spring, and summer?"

Anna's eyes filled with tears and a sigh escaped her lips. How many a season had she seen pass, without hope and without complaint! Blanka knew the meaning of those tears, and she hastened to kiss them away.

And so it came about that the Toroczko young men, and Manasseh with them, were sent off to Lombardy. Thence every month came a letter to Toroczko, to Blanka Adorjan, from her devoted husband. The very first one told her how he had risen from private to corporal and then from corporal to sergeant. But there he stuck. On parting with his wife, he had consoled her with the confident assurance that in a year, at most, she would see him return; but the year lengthened into five. Little Bela no longer sent meaningless scrawls to his father, but wrote short letters in a round, clear hand, and even added verses on his father's birthday. But not a single furlough could that father obtain to go home and see his dear ones. Nor did he gain his long-expected promotion to a lieutenancy. The colonel of the regiment wrote letters with his own hand to Blanka, praising her husband and telling her how he was looked up to by all his comrades and esteemed by his officers; and yet he could not secure his promotion. Even the commandant at Verona had interceded for him in vain. He must have a powerful enemy who pursued him with relentless persistence.

Blanka well knew who that enemy was, but she took no steps—for she felt that they would have been useless—to try to soften him. Her family were united in opposing any suggestion on her part of undertaking a journey. She did not even venture to visit her husband in Verona. An instinct, a foreboding, and also certain timely warnings, kept her safe at home.

This long period of trial and suspense was not without its chastening effect on the young wife's character. It developed her as only stern experience can. On her shoulders alone rested the cares which her husband had formerly shared with her. The iron works were now under her sole management. Foresight, vigilance, and technical knowledge were called for, and nobly did she meet the demand.

Those five years brought her many a difficult problem to solve and many an anxious hour. Once a hail-storm destroyed all her crops two days before the harvest, and she was forced to buy grain from her own purse. Again it happened that the crop of iron itself was ruined by something far worse than hail. Some one at Vienna dealt a mortal blow to all the iron mines in the land with a single drop of ink. He lowered the tariff, and native iron production thenceforth could go on only at a loss. But Blanka was determined not to close her mines and her foundries. She recognised the hand that had dealt her this severe blow, but she knew the harsh decree would have to be repealed before long, such an outcry was sure to go up against it. So she pawned her jewels, kept all her men at work,—they seconded her efforts nobly by volunteering to take less than full pay,—and wrote nothing at all about her troubles to Manasseh.



CHAPTER XXV.

SECRETS OF THE COMMISSARIAT.

The mysterious workings of the commissary department are beyond the understanding of ordinary mortals. Therefore let it suffice us to take only a passing glance at those mysteries.

Benjamin Vajdar was enjoying a tete-a-tete with the Marchioness Caldariva after the theatre.

"Well, what has my cripple to report of his day's doings?" asked Rozina. "Is all going well in Italy?"

"We signed a contract to-day for supplying our army there with forty thousand cattle," was Vajdar's reply.

"Ah, that will make about two hundredweight of beef to a man," returned the other, reckoning on her fingers.

"Not an ounce of which will ever reach them," said the secretary, with a smile; "but we shall make a couple of millions out of the transaction,—a mere bagatelle for Papa Cagliari, however; not enough to keep him in champagne."

"A very clever stroke of yours," commented the marchioness, with approval; "and I can tell you of another little operation the prince has in hand just now. Bring me the morocco pocketbook out of my writing-desk, please."

Vajdar limped across the room and brought the pocketbook. Rozina opened it and drew forth an official-looking document.

"Here is a contract for so and so many bushels of grain to be furnished to the army. You see it foots up a large sum, but the profits won't be so very great, after all, owing to the recent rise in prices on the corn exchange."

"Oh, don't worry about that," interposed Benjamin, with a knowing smile. "Who will ever know the difference if a quarter part of the total weight is chaff and clay? It will all grind up into excellent flour, and when the soldier eats his barley bread or his rye loaf it will taste all the better to him. There is nearly half a million florins' clear profit in the transaction, at a moderate estimate."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the beautiful Cyrene. "So the soldiers must eat half a million florins' worth of chaff and clay to enable Papa Cagliari to take his morning bath in champagne."

"Well, what of that? It makes, at most, only two florins' worth to a man, and the soldier who loves his country ought to be glad to eat two florins' worth of her soil. Has the prince any other contract under consideration?"

"Yes, a very important one. He has procured an order that the troops in Italy shall wear for their summer uniform cotton blouses instead of linen, and he has the contract for furnishing the material."

"But the prices named here are very low," objected Vajdar, reading from the paper Rozina had handed him.

"Ah, but let me explain. The cotton is to be thirty inches wide, with so and so many threads to the warp—according to the specifications. But what soldier will ever think of counting the threads in his blouse, or know whether it was cut from goods thirty inches wide or twenty-eight? So, you see, with a little trimming here and a little paring there we can make a good hundred thousand florins out of the job."

"But are our tracks well covered? Is there no risk in all this?"

"Fear nothing. There are eyeglasses that blind the sharpest of eyes."

"How if there are some eyes that will not be fitted with these glasses?"

"Again I say, never fear. A victorious campaign covers a multitude of sins."

"And a lost one brings everything to light."

"Not at all. A slaughtered army tells no tales. But, by the way, is not our Toroczko friend among those who are likely enough to fall some day before the French and Italians?"

"He is still in Lombardy," said Vajdar, with a significant nod of the head. "We have our eyes on him."

"I am curious to know what this apostle of peace will do when he is ordered into battle. You know, he and his comrades are Unitarians and entertain scruples against shedding blood, except in defence of home and country. Will Manasseh Adorjan fight when he is ordered to, or throw down his arms?"

"In either case, he will die," declared Benjamin Vajdar.

"I should prefer to have him only wounded," said the marchioness. "Then his mate would leave her nest in the mountains and hasten to nurse him in the hospital; and contagious diseases are not uncommon in military hospitals, where both patients and nurses are often swept off by them—so quickly, too, that no one thinks of inquiring very closely into the matter."

"You are impatient, marchioness," commented the secretary.

"And you choose to remark upon it because I would have the prince a widower and a free man?"

With that the fair Cyrene nestled close at her fellow-conspirator's side, and proceeded to caress him and to murmur soft words in his ear.

And so the night sped, and the first peep of dawn overtook the two before they separated.



CHAPTER XXVI.

SOLFERINO.

One of the most momentous battles in history was in progress, and the battalion in which Manasseh Adorjan still served as a sergeant stood from early morning until afternoon among the reserves, watching the fight.

Leaning on his gun, Manasseh thoughtfully observed the transformation of that earthly paradise into a scene of slaughter. He thought how, in times of peace, the cry of a single human being in distress would call ready succour and excite the warmest sympathy; but now, when men were dying by thousands, their fellows looked on in the coldest indifference. He asked himself whether this fearful state of things, this deplorable sacrifice of a country's best and bravest sons, was a necessity, and must still go on for ages to come. And while he thus communed with himself he, too, held in his hands a weapon calculated to carry not only death to a valiant foe, but also sorrow and anguish to that foeman's wife and mother, and perhaps destitution to his family.

To the north of the fortress of Solferino rose a wooded height, since known to the historians of that battle as Cypress Hill, and distinguished as the point around which the conflict raged most fiercely. Occupied alternately by each side, the opposing batteries stormed it in succession, and the squadrons, now of one army, now of the other, marched up to assault it. But though they marched up, Manasseh saw none of them return. Austrians, French, and Italians, all seemed to be swallowed up alike in that maelstrom of blood and fire.

At four o'clock in the afternoon the battle was at its height. In the heat of the conflict one could see uniforms of all three armies mingled in inextricable confusion. The Austrian forces were at last becoming exhausted with toil and hunger. Whole regiments were there that had not tasted meat for a week—where were those forty thousand cattle?—and the bread dealt out to them was ill-baked, mouldy, gritty, and altogether unfit to eat.

A final and concentrated effort was determined upon. Reserves to the front! Cypress Hill was to be stormed once more. A battalion of yagers, the pride of the Austrian army, charged up the fatal hill and succeeded in taking it, after which the rattle of musketry beyond announced that the fight was being continued on the farther side.

At this point Manasseh's battalion was ordered to hold the hill while the yagers were pushed farther forward. The order was obeyed, and then Manasseh learned what the cypress-crowned height really was: it was a cemetery, the burial-ground of the surrounding district, and each cypress marked a grave. But the dead under the sod lay not more closely packed than the fallen soldiers with whose bodies the place was covered. Cypress Hill was a double graveyard, heaped with dead and dying Frenchmen, Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Poles, and Croatians, their bodies disfigured and bleeding and heaped in chaotic confusion over the mounds beneath which slept the regular occupants of the place.

In the soldier's march to glory each step is a human corpse. Manasseh took care to step over and between the prostrate forms before him. Gaining the summit of the hill, he had an open view of the prospect beyond. A large farm, since known to history as the Madonna della Scoperta, lay before him. A high terrace facing the hill had been converted by the enemy into a fortress, which commanded the cemetery, and which the yagers were now pressing forward to take. The charge was gallantly led, but after a fierce struggle, in which the assailants exhausted their ammunition, and the engagement became a hand-to-hand fight, the Austrians were driven back in confusion.

Manasseh's battalion was then commanded to charge the terrace, from which the enemy's battery was dealing such deadly destruction, and to capture and hold the Madonna della Scoperta. The major gave the necessary orders, but it was to Manasseh that every eye was turned at this critical moment. Had he but shaken his head the whole battalion would have stood still and refused to advance a step. If he said the word, however, his comrades would follow him, and attempt the impossible.

Manasseh looked up at the clouded heavens above, and breathed a sigh. The hour had come when he must bow before the iron will of destiny. He, the apostle of peace, must plunge into the midst of bloody strife. "Thy will be done!" he murmured, then advanced to the front of the battalion, and turned to address his comrades.

"Forward!"

They obeyed him with alacrity, singing as they advanced, "A mighty fortress is our God," and so began the assault.

Not a shot was fired as they pushed forward at double-quick in the face of a murderous artillery discharge from the terrace above. Gaining the foot of the scarp, they planted their bayonets in the earthern wall, and so mounted the rampart, those behind helping up those in front. As they sang the last stanza of their hymn, the Madonna della Scoperta was taken—without the firing of a single shot. The major of the battalion was beside himself with pride and exultation. He embraced Manasseh, and kissed him on both cheeks.

"To-morrow will see you an officer with a medal of honour on your breast," was his confident prediction.

Manasseh smiled sadly. He knew better than the other what to expect.

Meanwhile the enemy had not given up the fight. The terrace, they perceived, must be retaken, and a detachment of French troops was advancing to storm it.

"Let them come on!" cried the major, confidently. "We can handle them, ten to one. Give them a volley, my lads!"

But this time Manasseh shook his head, whereupon the whole battalion grounded arms.

"What do you mean?" exclaimed the major, astounded.

Manasseh raised his hand to heaven. "Egy az Isten!" he cried, and all his comrades followed his example.

"What do you say?" asked the bewildered officer.

"We swear by the God who has said 'Thou shalt not kill!'" was Manasseh's reply.

"But you are soldiers, and on the battle-field."

"We do our duty, we go whither we are ordered, and we can die if we must; but we will not take human life except in defence of our homes and our fatherland."

"But, man, the enemy will kill you."

"So be it."

The commander threatened, begged, wept—all in vain. The only reply was, "Egy az Isten!" The men were willing to discharge their pieces if necessary, but it would only be a waste of ammunition: they would fire into the air.

Troops were now rapidly moving on the threatened position from two directions, one party to assault, the other to defend. Fearful slaughter seemed imminent, and nothing was left for those who had so gallantly carried the terrace but to die where they stood. Suddenly, however, a third power took a hand in the fray, and smote both assailants and defenders with equal fury. The black clouds that had been gathering over the battle-field opened and began such a cannonade as neither side could withstand. Wind, hail, lightning, and thunder, accompanied by an ominous darkness in which friend was indistinguishable from foe, played such havoc with the puny combatants and their mimic artillery, that all were forced to seek shelter and safety from the angry elements. Thus neither side was left in possession of the field, but a third and a mightier power than either claimed the victory in that day's fight.

Manasseh and his comrades fled with the rest before the fury of the storm. They succeeded in gaining a sheltered position where they found campfires burning, and thought themselves among friends. But they were mistaken. They had stumbled in the darkness upon the enemy's camp.



CHAPTER XXVII.

AN HOUR OF TRIAL.

Manasseh and those with him were taken prisoners and sent to Bresci. What befell them there is matter of history. Adorjan was surprised one morning by the receipt of the following: a coffee-coloured uniform, trimmed with red cord and its collar adorned with gold lace; a handsome sword in a gold-mounted scabbard; and an official document from the Italian war office, appointing him major of the battalion with which he had been taken prisoner.

The sight of these most unexpected presents could not but thrill Manasseh with pride and exultation. Now at last it was in his power to wreak vengeance on those who had so grievously wronged him,—to cut his way, sword in hand, back to his downtrodden fatherland, perhaps even to exact a rich retribution at the oppressor's hands, and to restore his country once more to a position of proud independence. Added to all this, the seductive picture of future fame, of undying renown as a patriot and liberator, rose before his vision. Already, as hero of the Madonna della Scoperta, he had tasted the intoxication of martial glory. A strength and self-denial more than human seemed necessary if he would turn his back coldly on the splendid prospect that opened before him as his country's avenger and deliverer. What words can do justice to the conflicting emotions which Manasseh experienced in that hour of trial? His comrades in arms and many of his dearest friends, he felt convinced, would turn upon him with mockery and reviling if he should now still cling to his principles and refuse to disobey the commandment of his God,—"Thou shalt not kill."

In Italy every house has its image of the crucified Saviour. Manasseh stood now before one of these crucifixes, lost in troubled thought. To Jesus, too, the people had cried: "Be our general, lead us against the Romans, free your nation!" And he had answered them: "I will lead you to a heavenly kingdom, and will free all mankind." Then he was heaped with scorn and abuse, was scourged by the Roman lictors, and was finally dragged before Pontius Pilate and crucified. But not the scourging, not the crown of thorns, or the cruel nails, or the spear of Longinus,—none of these was the really hard thing to bear. A man may suffer the severest physical torture and still utter no cry. The cruelest of all was the scornful laughter of those to whom he had brought salvation and eternal life, the blame of his fellow-citizens for whom he so freely shed his life's blood. That was what only a man of divine nobility and courage could endure.

"I am but mortal!" cried the tempted man, in anguish. "I cannot attain unto such heights." And he buckled on his gold-mounted sword.

The crucified form, however, seemed to turn its eyes upon him in mild reproof and gentle encouragement. "I will lend you my aid," it seemed to say to him.

But Manasseh hastened from the room and turned his steps toward the commandant's quarters. Perturbed in mind and hardly master of himself, he started at the rattle of his own sword; and when some of his comrades saw him pass and cheered him with loud hurrahs, he hurried by and barely returned their salute.

The general received him in his breakfast-room, where he was engaged with his morning mail. Acknowledging Manasseh's greeting, he handed him an open letter. The Hungarian took it and read as follows:

"Villafranca. Peace has been concluded. The Hungarian battalion is to be disbanded, and its members allowed to return home."

This room, too, had its crucifix. It seemed to look down on Manasseh with the same gentle reproof, and to say, "Have I failed you in your hour of trial?"

With the first ripening of the fruit in the Toroczko orchards, Manasseh and his comrades were at home. Blanka came to meet her husband as far as Kolozsvar, bringing her little daughter Ilonka with her. Bela could not come, as he had just then a school examination. At the Borev bridge a splendid reception awaited the home-comers. A handsome little lad headed the receiving party, waving a flag.

"Who is that pretty boy?" Manasseh asked his wife.

She laughed merrily, and rebuked him for not knowing his own son. But he had not seen the child for six years.

His brother Aaron, too, he hardly recognised, so gray had his hair turned under the anxieties of the past few years. The speech of welcome which the elder brother was to have delivered proved a total failure, owing to the emotion aroused in the orator's breast at sight of the returned wanderer. But the most affecting part of it all to Manasseh was the appearance of his sister Anna. The poor girl, he could not fail to see, was sinking into an early grave.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A DAY OF RECKONING.

Victory had neither glossed over nor defeat buried from sight those dishonest army contracts. Louder and louder grew the murmurs against the fraud that had contributed so disastrously to the unhappy issue of the war, until at last a high military officer opened his mouth and declared, emphatically, "The parties responsible for such an outrage deserve to be hanged!"

Soon after this bold utterance a decree went forth for an investigation of the scandal and the condign punishment of the guilty ones. Confusion and panic followed in more than one family of exalted station. A nobleman of proud lineage burnt all his papers and then opened the veins of his wrists with a penknife, and so escaped the ignominy of a trial in court. Another submitted to arrest, but no sooner saw his prison door closed upon him than he despatched himself by piercing his heart with a breast-pin. Two others vanished completely from sight and hearing the very day the edict was published, and never showed themselves afterward.

Benjamin Vajdar, black with guilt as he knew himself to be, chose the shrewder course of remaining in Vienna and calmly going about his business, with all the outward confidence of spotless innocence. Suspicion is much like a watch-dog; it leaps upon the man who quails. Prince Cagliari and the Marchioness Caldariva also remained quietly in the city, and even went so far as to forego their wonted sojourn at the seashore when summer came. They seemed to have acquired a sudden extraordinary fondness for the Austrian capital.

But one day the expected happened to Benjamin Vajdar. He was called to the police bureau. The official who received him was an old friend of his who now gave signal proof of his friendliness.

"Benjamin Vajdar," said he, "you are ordered by the government to leave Vienna within twenty-four hours and go back to your native town, beyond which you are forbidden to stir."

This mandate was a surprise to Vajdar, who had expected to be arrested and tried, and had made his preparations accordingly. However, there was nothing to do but submit to the inevitable. Further particulars or explanations were denied him, except that he would find a special police officer placed at his service from that moment until he reached his destination,—which was a polite intimation that he was thenceforth under government surveillance, and that any attempt at flight would be frustrated.

He returned at once to his house, which adjoined that of the Marchioness Caldariva. Indeed, from his bedroom a secret passage, already referred to, led into Rozina's boudoir; but the clock-door had seldom opened to the secretary of late. Toward seven o'clock in the evening he saw a closed carriage drive away from the next door.

"She is going to the opera," said he to himself as he watched the vehicle turn a corner and disappear. He donned hat and coat and sauntered after it, the emissary of the police always ten steps in the rear. Arrived at the opera-house, he purchased tickets for himself and his faithful attendant, and then made his way to the box of the marchioness.

Rozina received him with apparent cordiality and listened to his whispered account of what had befallen him.

"Have you talked this over with Prince Cagliari?" she asked.

"No, and I shall not," replied Vajdar, with significant emphasis. "This is his doing."

"What makes you think so, pray?" asked the marchioness, with an air of surprise. "Why should he plot the ruin of his own secretary and confidant?"

"You yourself are the cause," was the retort.

The beautiful woman bent her head still nearer to him. Even her cruel heart felt the compliment conveyed in this acknowledgment of her power. "And what do you wish of me, my poor boy?" she murmured softly in his ear.

"I wish an interview with you after the opera—a strictly confidential interview."

"Very well. Come to me as soon as I get home, and I will admit you."

"No; you shall not turn me away so easily, with an empty promise."

"What, must I swear to you, then?"

"No, give me the little key, and I shall be sure of gaining admittance."

"I am almost afraid to trust you with it," objected the marchioness, with an arch look; "but still you shall have it—there! And now guard it well, and be discreet."

Vajdar kissed the hand extended to him and retired. The fair Cyrene turned again toward the stage and joined in the applause. One might have thought she was applauding the prima-donna; but no, she was applauding herself.

Benjamin Vajdar returned home, left the police officer quartered in his antechamber, and, with his servant's aid, began packing his trunks. After that task was accomplished he waited impatiently for the close of the opera and Rozina's return. When his watch told him that he must have waited long enough, he passed noiselessly through the secret passage and opened the mysterious door in the tall clock at its farther end. The marchioness was not there. One hour, two hours, he waited in her boudoir, and still she failed to appear.

"Very well; so be it," said Vajdar to himself. "You thought to outwit me; we shall see which will outwit the other."

With that he opened the little writing-desk and took out the morocco-bound pocketbook which he seemed to know so well where to find. A single glance at its contents satisfied him that the papers he desired were still there. He quickly pocketed his prize and then paused to look around for the last time at the dainty appointments of the luxurious apartment.

"Adieu, beautiful Cyrene, adieu, for ever!" he murmured, a smile of irony on his lips.

Stealthily he had come, stealthily he withdrew. He did not take the trouble to close the writing-desk, but he was careful to leave the little key sticking in the clock door, where its rightful owner would be sure to see it.

He found the police officer still awake and waiting for him. A cab was quickly summoned, and the two started on their journey to Transylvania.

When the Marchioness Caldariva entered her boudoir a little later, her eyes fell at once on her open writing-desk, and she perceived that the morocco pocketbook was gone. She laughed, but it was not a pleasant laugh to hear.

"Very good," said she, half aloud; "you would have it so, and I am not to blame."

* * * * *

Anna Adorjan hovered on the brink of the grave. She had heard that Benjamin Vajdar was charged with a penal offence, and she felt only too well convinced that if such a charge had been brought against him he must be guilty. If guilty, he would be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and she would never see him return to his old home as she had once so confidently expected. She had nothing now to live for. Her dear brother Manasseh was restored to his family, and she was ready to die.

"Brother," she gently entreated, as she lay on her bed of pain, "if he should by any chance ever come back to us, promise me to treat him as you would if I were still here. You will promise me that, won't you?"

A silent nod of Manasseh's bowed head was her sufficient assurance that her slightest wish would be respected.

"And even though he may never come back, I wish you to make my resting-place in the rocks large enough for two. Perhaps he will return sometime, when he sees his life drawing to a close, and he may be glad to find a place ready for him by my side. You will do as I wish in this matter, brother Manasseh, will you not?"

Another nod of the bowed head.

* * * * *

The prediction uttered by Manasseh, when his enemy lay in his power in the desolate church at St. George, was completely fulfilled. Though he would have infinitely preferred banishment to Siberia, Benjamin Vajdar was forced to return to Toroczko, to the very house where he had been reared, and there take up his abode as a state prisoner. The government made him a pitiful allowance of three hundred florins a year, to keep him from starving.

Thus it was, too, that Anna's words came true, and the man despised and rejected of all the world sought refuge in the house where he had been tenderly nurtured as a child. Thus did he return, vanquished in life's battle, to have his wounds bound by the hands of those he had so grievously wronged, and to beg a place in that family circle into which he had done his utmost to bring sorrow and despair.

Manasseh met the police officer at the door, and heard his announcement with perfect composure.

"We have no objection to raise," said he, "against the decree of the government. Benjamin Vajdar was formerly a member of our family, and so we must provide for him. The state allowance of twenty-five florins a month we beg leave to refuse. In our iron works there is a bookkeeper's position open to this man, and we shall ask him to assume its duties. Indeed, we shall ourselves probably be the gainers by this arrangement, as the keeping of our books has become too heavy a burden for my wife, and she will be glad to be relieved. But enough of this at present; to-morrow we will discuss the matter more at length. Meanwhile Mr. Vajdar is welcome to our house."

Benjamin Vajdar's emotions can better be imagined than described. To find himself called upon to lighten Blanka Zboroy's duties and to live in constant sight of her happy home life, after all he had done in the vain attempt to spoil that life, was more than he had counted on. He bit his compressed lips till the blood ran. Opening the door of the chamber into which he had been ushered, he hurried out to seek the freedom of the open air and to set his confused thoughts in order. On his way his attention was caught by an unexpected sight. Through an open door he had a full view of a bier, on which rested a coffin, and in the latter, with hands folded on her bosom, lay the woman he had most cruelly wronged. In those clasped hands he saw a little picture wreathed in evergreen,—his own likeness, which the dead girl had begged her family to bury with her. Now, if never before, the unhappy man saw what a wealth of love he had cast aside, a love that, even in death caused by his base desertion, could forgive him his perfidy and carry his picture in a fond embrace down to the grave. As his guardian angel, she would bear it with her up to God's throne, and there plead his cause. Overcome at last by a flood of anguish and remorse, the guilty man cried aloud in his despair and fell prostrate beside the coffin, striking his head on its corner as he sank unconscious to the floor.

Manasseh found him there and bore him back to his room. After putting him to bed and ministering to his wants, he went out with Aaron to prepare Anna's grave.

"We must make it wide enough for two," said he; "it was her wish."

When, after several hours of hard work, the two brothers returned home, Manasseh went at once to his guest's room. Before his marriage this chamber had been occupied by him, and he still used it occasionally for writing. In his absence Vajdar had risen and seated himself at the desk. Searching the drawer for writing-materials, he had come upon a sheet of paper yellow with age, and written upon in ink now much faded. The document proved to be a promissory note, but the signature was so heavily scored through and through as to be hardly legible. Benjamin Vajdar started violently as he took up the faded sheet and saw that the man whom he had so feared and hated had, by his own voluntary act, disarmed himself and put it out of his power to punish the fraud practised upon him by his false friend. As if distrusting his own constancy and the binding force of his promise to his sister, Manasseh had, with a few strokes of his pen, rendered harmless what could otherwise have been used as incriminating evidence against the forger.

On entering the room, Manasseh detected a peculiar odour in the air. Benjamin Vajdar sat at the writing-desk, a morocco pocketbook open before him. A half-finished letter lay under the writer's hand, but his pen had ceased to move. His eyes met those of his host with a dull stare.

"Don't come near me!" he cried, in warning. "Death is in this room!"

But Manasseh hurried to the window, threw it open, and then, snatching up the pocketbook and the papers scattered over the desk, cast them all into the fire that was burning on the hearth. Thus all the tell-tale documents relating to certain fraudulent army contracts went up in smoke, but not before they had done their deadly work on one, at least, of the guilty men involved. Those papers had passed through the hands of a second Lucretia Borgia, and not without reason had she applauded herself that night at the opera when she permitted her dupe to extort from her the little key which she wore in her bosom.

* * * * *

Many years of untroubled peace and happiness for the Adorjan family followed these events. The children and grandchildren born to Manasseh and Blanka grew up to call them blessed, the labours of the Toroczko miners and iron-workers were prospered, and Heaven still smiles on the humble homes of that happy valley.

THE END.

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