HotFreeBooks.com
How Women Love - (Soul Analysis)
by Max Simon Nordau
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

E-text prepared by Al Haines



HOW WOMEN LOVE

(Soul Analysis.)

Translated from the German of

MAX NORDAU,

Author of "Degeneration," "The Malady of the Century," "The Comedy of Sentiment," Etc., Etc



Copyright, 1898, by F. T. Neely. Copyright, 1901, by Hurst & Co. New York Hurst & Company Publishers



CONTENTS

Justice or Revenge

Prince and Peasant

The Art of Growing Old

How Women Love

A Midsummer Night's Dream



JUSTICE OR REVENGE.

CHAPTER I.

A more unequally matched couple than the cartwright Molnar and his wife can seldom be seen. When, on Sunday, the pair went to church through the main street of Kisfalu, an insignificant village in the Pesth county, every one looked after them, though every child, nay, every cur in the hamlet, knew them and, during the five years since their marriage, might have become accustomed to the spectacle. But it seemed as though it produced an ever new and surprising effect upon the by no means sensitive inhabitants of Kisfalu, who imposed no constraint upon themselves to conceal the emotions awakened by the sight of the Molnar pair. They never called the husband by any other name than "Csunya Pista," ugly Stephen. And he well merited the epithet. He was one-eyed, had a broken, shapeless nose, and an ugly scar, on which no hair grew, upon his upper lip, so that his moustache looked as if it had been shaven off there; to complete the picture, one of his upper eye-teeth and incisors were missing, and he had the unpleasant habit of putting his tongue into these gaps in his upper row of teeth, which rendered his countenance still more repulsive.

The wife, on the contrary, was a very beautiful woman, a magnificent type of the Magyar race. She was tall, powerful, only perhaps a trifle too broad-shouldered. Her intensely dark hair and sparkling black eyes suited the warm bronze hue of her plump face, which, with its little mouth filled with magnificent teeth, its fresh full lips, the transparent, enamel like crimson of the firm, round cheeks, and the somewhat low, but beautifully formed brow, suggested a newly-ripe peach. This unusually healthy countenance, overspread with a light down, involuntarily produced in the spectator the impression that it must exhale a warm, intoxicating, spicy fragrance; it looked so tempting that one would fain have bitten it.

This had been much the feeling of the Uhlan officers who, with part of a company of men, were stationed in Kisfalu. From the first day that the three gentlemen had entered their village garrison the beautiful woman had attracted their attention, and they had seen in the husband's ugliness a pleasant encouragement to make gallant advances. The captain, a Bohemian gentleman, was the first to introduce himself to the fair wife. The morning of the second day after his arrival in the hamlet, taking advantage of the absence of the master of the house, he stole into the miserable clay hut tenanted by the ill-assorted pair, but remained inside only a few minutes, after which he came out with a deeply-flushed face and somewhat hasty steps, cast stealthy glances around him to the right and left, and then hurried away. In the afternoon of the same day, the young lieutenant tried his luck, but he too left the cartwright's hut more quickly than he had entered, and not exactly with the air of a conqueror. In the evening the three gentlemen met in the spare room of the tavern where they took their meals, and were remarkably taciturn and ill-tempered. On the third day the slender, handsome first lieutenant called on the cartwright's wife. He was a far-famed conqueror of women's hearts, which he was accustomed to win with as little trouble as a child gathers strawberries in the woods, and was envied by the whole regiment for his numberless successes, which he did not treat with too much reticence. This time the adventure lasted somewhat longer; those who were passing heard loud outcries and uproar for a short time, as if a wrestling match were going on in the hut, and the letter-carrier, an old woman, who was just going by, even stood still in surprise and curiosity. The curiosity was satisfied, for she soon saw the handsome Uhlan officer rush out, pressing his hand to his cheek as if he had a violent toothache. He looked very much dishevelled and made off with noticeable haste. He did not appear in the tavern at noon, so in the afternoon his two comrades sent their orderlies to him to enquire about his health; in the evening he joined them at table and showed his astonished friends a broad strip of black court-plaster on his right cheek.

"What does that mean?" asked the captain.

"It seems to be a bad cut," observed the lieutenant.

"Razor? sword-stroke? cat's claw?" continued the captain, pursuing his enquiries.

"Woman's nails!" burst forth the Don Juan of the regiment, and now the game of hide-and-seek between the trio ended, and they bewailed to one another, with comic despair, the ill-luck they had all encountered.

She had courteously asked the captain to what she owed the honour of his visit, and when, instead of answering, he pinched her plump cheek and put his arm around her waist, she flew into a passion and pointed to the door with the voice and gesture of an insulted queen. The lieutenant had found her far more ungracious; she did not ask what he desired, but angrily thundered, almost before he crossed the threshold, an order to march which permitted neither remonstrance nor refusal; finally, at the appearance of the first lieutenant, she had passed from the position of defence to that of assault, shrieked at him with a crimson face and flashing eyes to be off at once, if he valued the smooth skin of his cheeks; and when, somewhat bewildered, yet not wholly intimidated, he had ventured, notwithstanding this by no means encouraging reception, to attempt to seize and embrace her, as he was accustomed to do with the colonel's wife's maid, when, making eyes at him in the ante-room, she whispered under her breath: "Let me go, or I'll scream!" she rushed upon him literally like a wild-cat, and, in an instant, so mauled him that he could neither hear nor see, and considered himself fortunate to find his way out quickly. And when all three heroes had finished their tragi-comic general confession, they unanimously exclaimed: "The woman has the very devil in her!"

They would have learned this truth without being obliged to pass through all sorts of experiences, if, instead of indulging in self-complacent speculations concerning the possible combination of circumstances which had united the beautiful woman to so ugly a man, they had enquired about the cause of this remarkable phenomenon. They would then have heard a strange tale which might have deterred them from finding in Molnar's hideousness encouragement to pursue his wife with gallantries.



CHAPTER II.

Yes, Molnar's wife had the devil in her, and it was her family heritage. Her father, a poor cottager and day labourer, had been in his youth one of the most notorious and boldest brawlers in the neighborhood; even now, when prematurely aged and half-broken down by want and hard work, people willingly avoided him and did not sit at the same table in the tavern if it could be helped. In former years he had been a frequent inmate of the county prison, where the bruises and cuts received in the brawl on whose account he was incarcerated had time to heal; two years before he had been in jail three months because he had used a manure-fork to prevent a tax-collector from seizing his bed, and the beautiful Panna had then gone to the capital once or twice a week to carry him cheese, wine, bread, and underclothing, and otherwise make his situation easier, so far as she could.

The family vice of sudden fits of passion had increased to a tragedy in the destiny of the only son. He was a handsome fellow, slender as a pine-tree, the image of his sister, whom he loved with a tenderness very unusual among peasants; he early became the supporter and companion of his father in his Sunday brawls, and the village was not at all displeased when he was drafted into the army. It would have been an easy matter, as he was an only son, to release him from military service, but he was obliged to go because two fathers of soldiers could not be found in the village to give the testimony necessary for his liberation. He became a conscript in 1865, and, a year after, the double war between Prussia and Italy broke out. The young fellow's regiment was stationed in the Venetian provinces. One night he was assigned to outpost duty in the field; the enemy was not near, it was mid-summer, a sultry night, and the poor wretch fell asleep. Unfortunately, the commander of the guard, a young lieutenant full of over-zeal for the service, was inspecting the outposts and discovered the sleeper, to whom he angrily gave a kick to recall him to consciousness of his duty. The lad started up, and without hesitation or reflection, dealt his assailant a furious blow in the face. There was a great uproar, soldiers rushed forward, and had the utmost difficulty in mastering the enraged young fellow; he was taken to headquarters in irons, and, after a short trial by court-martial, shot on the same day. The family did not learn the terrible news until weeks later, from a dry official letter of the regimental commander. How terrible was the grief of the father and sister! The man aged ten years in a week, and the girl, at that time a child twelve years old, became so pale and thin from sorrow that the neighbors thought she would not survive it. Not survive it? What do we not outlive! She conquered the anguish and developed into the most beautiful maiden in the village.

There was an austere charm, an unintentional, unconscious attraction in her, which won every one. Her notorious origin was not visited upon her, and even the rich girls in the village gladly made her their friend. While at work in the fields she sang in a ringing voice; in the spinning-room, in winter, she was full of jests and merry tales, as gay and gracious as beseemed her age. Probably on account of her vivacious temperament and the feeling of vigour which robust health bestows, she was extremely fond of dancing, and never failed on Sundays to appear in the large courtyard of the tavern when, in the afternoon, the whirling and stamping began. Her beauty would doubtless have made her the most popular partner among the girls, had not the lads felt a certain fear of her. A purring kitten among her girl companions, ready to give and take practical jokes, she was all claws and teeth against men, and many a bold youth who, after the dance, attempted to take the usual liberties, met with so severe a rebuff that he bore for a week a memento in the shape of a scratch across his whole face. Therefore she did not have a superabundance of partners, and thus escaped the jealousy which, otherwise, her charms would certainly have roused in the other girls.

A dispensation of Providence rendered her irritability the means of deciding the whole course of her life.

One Sunday, late in the summer, soon after the reaping and threshing were over—she was then twenty—she again stood in the bright warm afternoon sunshine in the spacious courtyard of the village tavern, among a gay group of giggling lasses, waiting with joyful impatience for the dancing to begin. The two village gipsies who made bricks during the week and played on Sundays, were already there, leaning against one of the wooden pillars of the porch in front of the house, and tuning their fiddles. The lads crowded together, shouting jesting remarks to the group of girls, who answered them promptly and to the point. One after another the young men left their companions and took from the laughing bevy of maidens a partner, who, as village custom required, at first resisted, but finally yielded to the gentle force—not without some pleasantly exciting struggling and pulling—and was soon whirling around with her cavalier amid shouting and stamping, till the dust rose in clouds.

The beautiful Panna, for reasons already known to us, was not the first person invited to dance. But at last her turn came also, and she could jump with a neighbour's son, till she was out of breath, to her heart's content. After spending more than fifteen minutes in vigourous, rapid motion, she finally sank, in happy exhaustion, upon a pile of bricks near a coach-house which was being built, and with flaming cheeks and panting bosom struggled for breath. Pista, the cartwright, profited by the moment to approach, and with gay cries and gestures invite her to dance again. Pista was a handsome fellow, but had the unfortunate propensity of drinking on Sundays, and this time was evidently intoxicated. The vinous suitor was not to Panna's taste, besides, she was already tired, and she did not answer his first speech. But as he did not desist, but seized her arm to drag her up and away by force, she tartly answered that she would not dance now. This only made him still more persistent.

"Why, why, you fierce little darling, do you suppose you can't be mastered?" he cried, trying with both hands to seize her beautiful black head to press a smack upon her lips. She thrust him back once, twice, with a more and more violent shove, but he returned to the attack, becoming ruder and more vehement. Then she lost her self-control, and the choleric family blood suddenly seethed in her veins. Bending down to the heap of bricks on which she had just sat, she grasped a fragment and, with the speed of lightning, dealt her persecutor a furious blow. Misfortune guided her hand, and she struck him full in the face. Pista shrieked and staggered to the neighbouring wall, against which he leaned half-fainting, while between the fingers of the hands which he had raised to the wounded spot, the red blood gushed in a horribly abundant stream.

All this had been the work of a moment, and the young people who filled the courtyard did not notice the outrageous act until the mischief was done. Shrieks, running hither and thither, and confusion followed. The fiddlers stopped and stretched their necks, but prudently kept aloof, as they had learned to do during frequent brawls; the girls screamed and wrung their hands, the youths shouted hasty questions, crowding around their bleeding companion. Water was quickly procured, cold bandages were applied to the swollen, shapeless face, and other efforts were made to relieve him, while at the same time he was besieged with questions about the event.

After dealing the fatal blow Panna had stood for a moment deadly pale, as if paralyzed, and then darted off as though pursued by fiends. Perhaps this was fortunate, for she would have fared badly if the enraged lads had had her in their power, when all, amid the confused medley of outcries, had learned the truth. There was no time to pursue her, for Pista seemed to be constantly growing worse; the cold water and fomentations did not stop the bleeding; he soon lost consciousness and lay on the ground amid the terrified, helpless group, an inert mass, until some one made the sensible proposal to carry him home to his mother, a poor widow, which, with their united strength, was instantly done.

Meanwhile, Panna had rushed to her own home, locked herself in, and sat on the bench by the stove, an image of grief and despair. She was incapable of coherent thought, nothing but the spectacle of the bleeding Pista staggering against the wall, stood distinctly before her mind. But she could not give herself up to her desolate brooding long: at the end of fifteen minutes the bolted door shook violently. She started up and listened; it was her father, and she reluctantly went to the door and opened it. The old man entered, shot the bolt behind him, and asked in a trembling voice:

"For God's sake, child, what have you done?'"

Panna burst into a flood of tears; they were the first she had shed since the incident described.

"He pressed upon me too boldly. And I didn't mean to do it. I only wanted to keep him off."

"You were possessed. The devil is in us. To kill a man by a blow!"

The girl shrieked aloud. "Kill, do you say?"

"Sol was just told. They say he is dead."

"That is impossible, it's a lie," Panna murmured in a hollow tone, while her face looked corpse-like. She seemed to cower into herself and to grow smaller, as if the earth was swallowing her by inches. But this condition lasted only a few minutes, then she roused herself and hurried out, ere her father could detain her. She entered a narrow path which ran behind the houses and was usually deserted, and raced as fast as her feet would carry her to the hut occupied by Frau Molnar, which was close at hand. Springing across the narrow ditch which bordered the back of the yard, she hurried through the kitchen-garden behind the house and in an instant was in the only room it contained except the kitchen. On the bed lay a human form from which came a groan, and beside it sat old Frau Molnar, who wrung her hands without turning her eyes from her suffering son. Thank God, he was not dead, the first glance at the piteous scene showed that. Panna involuntarily clasped her hands and uttered a deep sigh of relief. Frau Molnar now first noticed Panna's entrance; at first she seemed unable to believe her eyes, and gazed fixedly at the girl, with her mouth wide open, then starting up she rushed at her and began to belabour her with both fists, while heaping, in a voice choked by fury, the most horrible invectives upon her head. Panna feebly warded off the blows with outstretched arms, hung her head, and stammered softly:

"Frau Molnar, Frau Molnar, spare the sick man, it will hurt him if you make such a noise. Have pity on me and tell me what the injury is."

"You insolent wench, you God-forsaken,"—a fresh torrent of vile invectives followed—"do you still venture to cross my threshold? Begone, or I'll serve you as you did my poor Pista."

The mother again gained the ascendancy over the vengeful woman.

She turned from Panna, and hastened to her son, on whom she flung herself, wailing aloud and weeping. The girl took advantage of the diversion to leave the room slowly, unnoticed. She had seen enough; Pista was alive; but he must be badly injured, for his whole head was wrapped in bandages, and he had evidently neither seen nor heard anything of the last scene which, moreover, had lasted only a brief time.

Panna did not go far. A wooden bench stood by the wall of the house under the little window of the kitchen, which looked out into the yard. Here she sat down and remained motionless until it grew dark. She had seen by the bandages that the doctor must have been there, and hoped that he would return in the evening. If this hope was not fulfilled, she could go to him without danger after nightfall, for she was determined to speak to him that very day and obtain the information which Pista's mother had refused. Before darkness had entirely closed in the physician really did appear, and entered the hut without heeding the girl sitting on a bench near the door, perhaps without noticing her. Panna waited patiently till, at the end of a long quarter of an hour, he came out, then, with swift decision she went up to him and touched his arm. He turned and when he recognized her, exclaimed in surprise: "Panna!"

"Softly, Doctor," she pleaded with glance and voice, then added: "Tell me frankly how he is, frankly, I entreat you."

"You have done something very, very bad there," replied the physician hesitatingly, then paused.

"His life is not in danger?"

"Perhaps not, but he will be a cripple all his days. One eye is completely destroyed, the nose entirely crushed, the upper lip gashed entirely through, and two teeth are gone."

"Horrible, horrible!" groaned Panna, wringing her hands in speechless grief.

"He will not lose his life, as I said, though he has lost a great deal of blood from the wound in the lips, and the lost eye may yet cause us trouble, but the poor fellow will remain a monster all his days. No girl will ever look at him again."

"There's no need of it," she answered hastily, and when the physician looked at her questioningly, she went on more quietly as if talking to herself: "If only he gets well, if he is only able to be up again." Then, thanking the doctor, she bade him good-night, and returned slowly and absently to her father's hut.

All night long Panna tossed sleeplessly on her bed, and with the earliest dawn she rose, went to her father, who was also awake, and begged him to go to old Frau Molnar and entreat her forgiveness and permission for her, Panna, to nurse the wounded man.

At the same time she took from her neck a pretty silver crucifix, such as peasant women wear, a heritage from her mother, who died young, and gave it to her father to offer to the old woman as an atonement. She had nothing more valuable, or she would have bestowed it too.

"That is well done," said her father, and went out to discharge his duty as messenger.

It was a hard nut which he had to crack. The old mother was again fierce and wrathful and received him with a face as black as night; but he accosted her gently, reminded her of her Christian faith, and finally handed her the silver atonement. This touched the old dame's heart. She burst into a torrent of tears, upbraided him with the magnitude of her misery, said that she would never be able to forgive, but she saw that the girl had acted without any evil design, that she was sorry——

Pista, who had been delirious during the night, but was now better, had hitherto listened quietly and intently. Now he interrupted the flood of words his mother poured forth amid her sobs, and said softly, yet firmly:

"Panna is not entirely to blame; I was persistent, I was tipsy, she was right to defend herself. True, she need not have been so savage, but how can she help her blood? I ought to have taken care of myself; I ought to have known whom I was chaffing." Then, turning to the visitor, he added: "If it will soothe Panna to know that I am not angry with her, send your daughter here, and I will tell her so myself."

Fifteen minutes later Panna was in the Molnars' hut. She entreated the old mother to attend to her household affairs and not trouble herself about the sick man; that should be her care. She arranged the wretched bed, cleared up the room, brought Pista water to drink when he felt thirsty, and when everything was done, sat silently beside the bed. Pista quietly submitted to everything, and only gazed strangely with his one eye at the beautiful girl.

In the course of the morning the physician came and renewed the bandages. Panna stood by his side and kept all sorts of things ready, but she did not have courage to look at the wounds. The doctor thought it would be beneficial to have ice. But where was ice to be obtained in a village at this season of the year! The brewery probably had some, but would not be likely to give any away. Panna said nothing, but when the bandages had been renewed and the physician had gone, she hurried directly to the brewery, went to the manager, a good-natured, beery old fellow, and entreated him, in touching words, for some ice for a sick person. The manager blinked at her with his little half-shut eyes, and answered: "You can have it, my child, but not gratis."

Panna lowered her eyes and murmured mournfully: "I will pay what you ask, only not now, I haven't any money, surely you will wait a little while."

"It needn't be cash, one little kiss will do."

Panna flushed crimson, and a flash of anger like the lightning of a sudden storm blazed over her face; but she controlled herself and held up her compressed lips to the voluptuary, who rudely smacked them and then took from her hand the pipkin she had brought, returning it in a few minutes filled with ice.

The supply did not last long, but, when it was exhausted, Panna did not go herself, sending in her place old Frau Molnar with a pleasant greeting to the manager of the brewery. True, the latter frowned and sneeringly asked why Her Highness did not appear in person, but he had wisdom enough to give the ice for which she asked.

At the end of a week Pista had improved so much that the ice-bandages were no longer needed, and he did not require constant nursing. Panna who, hitherto, had come early in the morning and returned late in the evening, now appeared only twice a day to enquire for the sick man and bring him some refreshment, if it were only a handful of blackberries. Of course, during all this time, there was no end of putting heads together and whispering, but Panna did not trouble herself about it, and quietly obeyed the dictates of her conscience.

Thus three weeks had passed since the fateful day. When, on the third Sunday, Panna entered the Molnar's hut at the usual hour, this time with a small bottle of wine under her apron, she found Pista, for the first time, up, and dressed. He was just turning his back to the door as the girl came in. She uttered a little exclamation of surprise, Pista turned quickly and—Panna started back with a sudden shriek, the flask fell shattered on the floor, and she covered her face with both hands. It was her first sight of the young man's horribly disfigured countenance without a bandage.

Pista went up to the trembling girl and said mournfully: "I frightened you, but it must have happened some day. I felt just as you do now when, a week ago, I made my mother hand me a looking-glass for the first time. I see that it will be best for me to become a Capuchin monk, henceforth I must give up appearing before the eyes of girls."

Panna hastily let her hands fall, gazed full at him with her sparkling black eyes, and said gently:

"You always have girls in your head. Must you please them all? Wouldn't one satisfy you?"

"Why, of course, but the one must be had first," replied Pista, with forced cheerfulness.

Panna flushed crimson and made no reply; Pista looked at her in surprise and doubt, but also remained silent, and in a few minutes the girl went away with drooping head.

Pista now went to work again and endured days of bitter suffering. He was ridiculed because a girl had thrashed him, the cruel nickname of "the Hideous One" was given him, people gazed at him with horror whenever he appeared in the street. Panna continued to visit him every Sunday, but he received her distantly, taciturnly, even sullenly.

So Christmas came. On Christmas Eve Panna had a long talk with her father, and the next morning, after church, he again went to old Frau Molnar and without any preamble, said bluntly and plainly:

"Why won't Pista marry my Panna?"

The widow clasped her hands and answered:

"Would she take him?"

"You are all blind mice together," scolded the peasant, "of course she would, or surely she wouldn't do what she has done for months past. Isn't it enough that she runs after the obstinate blockhead? She can't ask him to have her."

Just then Pista himself came in. His mother hesitatingly told him what she had just heard, and the old woman looked at him enquiringly and expectantly. When the young man heard what they were discussing he became very pale and agitated, but at first said nothing. Not until his mother and the guest assailed him impatiently with "Well?" and "Is it all right?" did he summon up his composure and reply:

"Panna is a good girl, and may God bless her. But I, too, am no scoundrel. Honest folk would spit in my face, if I should accept Panna's sacrifice. I'd rather live a bachelor forever than let her do me a favour and poison her own life."

His mother and would-be father-in-law talked in vain, he still persisted:

"I cannot believe that Panna loves me, and I won't take favours."

The simple, narrow-minded fellow did not know that the sense of justice and absolute necessity can move a human soul as deeply, urge it as strongly to resolves, as love itself, so from his standpoint he really was perfectly right.

To cut the matter short: Pista remained obdurate from Christmas until New Year, notwithstanding that his mother and Panna's father beset him early and late. The girl suffered very keenly during this period, and her eyes were always reddened by tears. But when New Year came, and still Pista did not bestir himself, the strong, noble girl, after violent conflicts in her artless mind, formed a great resolution, went to Pista herself, and said without circumlocution, excitement, or hesitation:

"I understand your pride and, if I were a man, would behave as you do. But I beg you to have pity on me. If you don't have an aversion to me, or love another, marry me. I shall not do you a favour, you will do me one. Unless I become your wife, I shall never be happy and contented so long as I live, but always miserable whenever I think of you. As your wife, I shall be at peace, and satisfied with myself. That you are now ugly is of no consequence. I shall see you as you were, before—" Here, for the first time, she hesitated, then with a sudden transition, not without a faint smile, said:

"And it will have its good side, too, I shall not be obliged to be jealous."

"But I shall!" exclaimed Pista, who had hitherto listened in silence.

"Nor you either, Pista," she said quickly, "for whenever I see your face I shall say to myself how much I must make amends to you and, believe me, it will bind me far more firmly than the handsomest features could."

Pista was not a man of great intellect or loquacious speech. He now threw his arms around Panna's neck, patted her, caressed her, covered her head and her face with kisses, and burst into weeping that would soften a stone. Panna wept a little, too, then they remained together until long after noon and, in the evening, went to the spinning-room and presented themselves as betrothed lovers. Three weeks after they were married amid a great crowd of the villagers, some of whom pitied Pista, others Panna, and from that time until the moment when the incidents about to be described occurred, they lived together five years in a loyal, model marriage.



CHAPTER III.

Besides the church and the tile-roofed town hall built of stone, the main street of Kisfalu contained only one edifice of any pretension, the manor or, as it is called in Hungary, "the castle" of Herr von Abonyi. It was really a very ordinary structure, only it had a second story, stood on an artificial mound, to which on both sides there was a very gentle ascent, and above the ever open door was a moss-grown escutcheon, grey with age, on which a horseman, with brandished sword, could be discerned in vague outlines, worn by time and weather.

The owner of this mansion, Herr von Abonyi, was a bachelor about fifty years old.

His family had lived more than three hundred years on their ancestral estates, which, it is true, were now considerably diminished, and he was connected by ties of blood or marriage with all the nobility in the county of Pesth. Up to the year 1848 the whole village of Kisfalu, with all its peasants, fields, and feudal prerogatives (such as mill, fish, tavern and other privileges) belonged to the Abonyis, and the present lord, Carl von Abonyi, came from that gloomy time, termed—I know not why—"patriarchal," when the peasant had no rights, and the nobleman dwelt in his castle like a little god, omnipotent, unapproachable, only not all-wise and all-good, walked through his village whip in hand, like an American "Massa," and dealt the peasant a blow across the face if he did not bow humbly and quickly enough, ordered the village Jew to be brought to the manor, stretched on a bench by two strong lackeys (called in Hungary heiducks) and soundly thrashed whenever he felt a desire for cheap amusement; regarded the women of the village, without exception, as his natural harem, spent his days and nights in immoderate feasting and wild drinking, derived all his education from the Bible with 32 leaves (the number of cards contained in the pack commonly used in the country), and only displayed to ladies of his own station a certain romantic chivalry, which was manifested in rude brawling with real or imaginary rivals, unrestricted duelling on the most trivial pretext, exaggerated gallantry and ardent homage, serenades which lasted all night long under the windows of the favoured fair, and similar impassioned, but tasteless eccentricities. At the present time all this has certainly greatly changed, but many of the nobles who, in the year 1848, the period of the vast transformation, had partly or wholly attained maturity, could not or would not adapt themselves wholly to the new era; in their inmost hearts they still consider themselves the sovereign lords of the soil and its inhabitants, and it is with rage and gnashing of teeth that they force themselves not to display this feeling in words and deeds at every opportunity.

Abonyi, an only son, was a lieutenant in the Palatine Hussars, when the revolution of 1848 broke out. He at once joined the honveds with his troop and, in their ranks, performed, until the close of the war for freedom, prodigies of daring on every battle field, rising, in spite of his youth, within less than eleven months, to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. After the disaster of Vilagos, he fled from the country and spent several years in Turkey as a cavalry officer. In 1860, he again returned home and took possession of his estates, which since his father's death, occurring meanwhile, had been managed by a legally appointed trustee. What wrath and raging there was! The regulation of property-ownership had been executed during the trusteeship, and as Abonyi believed, with outrageous curtailment and robbery of the lords of the estate. The best, most fertile fields—so he asserted—had been allotted to the parish, the most sandy, barren tracts of the land to him; the parish had the beautiful oak forest, which had already been shamefully ravaged, he, on the other hand, received the reed-grown, marshy border of the stream; in the division of the pasturage the peasants had the easily cultivated plain, which was therefore at once ploughed by the new owners, he, on the contrary, the gravelly, steep hillside; in short, he was almost insane with rage when he first saw what the commission had made of his land, and the trustee who had unresistingly agreed to all these unjust acts would have fared badly, if he could have laid hands upon him the first time he went to inspect the bounds of the parish. There was nothing for him to do, however, except to adapt himself to the new state of affairs as well as he could; for nothing could be accomplished by indictments, because the trustee had possessed full legal authority to act, and everything had been done in strict accordance with the law. Far less could he hope to effect anything by violence, since peasants understand no jesting if their beloved acres are touched, and, at the first sign of any intention on his part to disturb their possessions, would quickly have set fire to his house and, moreover, tattooed on his body, with the tines of a pitchfork, a protest to which a counter-plea would scarcely have been possible. Only he could never carry self-control and composure so far that, after nearly twenty years' habitude, he did not become furiously excited at the sight of certain pieces of land, and experience something akin to a paroxysm of longing to shoot, like a mad dog, the first peasant who came in his way.

The disposition to command, which he had indulged from childhood, he was unwilling even now to renounce. Under existing circumstances his name and property alone would certainly no longer permit him to indulge this habit, so he sought an office. When the Austrian magistrates were removed in Hungary and the ancient county government restored, Abonyi had only needed to express the wish, and the "congregation" of the county, which consisted almost exclusively of his relatives and friends, elected him president of the tribune[1] of his district.

Now he could imagine himself transported back to the fine old feudal times before the March revolution. The peasants were again obliged to raise their hats humbly to him, his hand dispensed justice and mercy, the ancestral rod was brandished at his sign, and the whipping bench, a pleasing symbol of his power, always stood ready below the windows of his castle. When he drove through the country on official business or pleasure, his carriage was drawn by four horses with a harness hung with bells; if a peasant's cart was in the way and did not hasten at the sound of the familiar little bells to move out, the heiduck in coloured livery, with a sword at his side, sitting by the driver, shouted an order and an oath to the laggard, and the coachman, while dashing by, dealt the disrespectful loiterer a well-aimed blow. He might even fare still worse if the humor happened to seize the grandee in the spring carriage.

It would no longer do to get the village Jew and have him flogged for pastime on long afternoons; but there were still gipsies who were summoned to the castle to make sport for the noble lord. They played their bewitching melodies, and if he was filled with genuine delight, he gave the fiddlers, right and left, an enthusiastic slap in the face which echoed noisily, then took a banknote from his pocket-book, spit upon it and clapped it on the swollen cheeks of the howling gipsies, whereupon they again grinned joyfully and played on with two-fold energy.

Although Abonyi was a pattern magistrate, at the second election, which according to the old county system, occurred every three years, he suffered defeat. Political party considerations and government influence sustained another candidate. So Abonyi was again relegated to private life, but his birth and the office he had filled gave him sufficient personal distinction to induce his village, immediately after, to compensate him in some degree for his overthrow by a unanimous election to the position of parish magistrate.

This gentleman, with whose course of life and prominent personal characteristics we are now familiar, went one hot August afternoon to the stables, which formed the back of the courtyard, to inspect the horses and carriages, as was his custom.

Abonyi was in a very bad humour that day, for there had been a violent dispute with the harvesters, who cut and threshed on shares, and who had claimed more grain for their portion than seemed just to the owner of the estate. It did not improve his mood to find that his favourite saddle-horse had its right hind fetlock badly swollen and could not be used for a week. So he entered the coach-house, half of which, separated by a board-partition, served for a hay-loft.

The first thing on which his eye fell here was a man lying stretched comfortably on the straw, snoring. He recognized in the sluggard "hideous Pista," who had been summoned to the castle that morning to put new spokes into some broken carriage-wheels. The work he had commenced, a chaos of naves, spokes, fellies, tires, and a variety of tools, lay in a heap beside him, but he was sleeping the sleep of the just.

It needed nothing more to fan Abonyi's secret rage into a blaze of fury, and he shouted fiercely:

"Devil take you, you idler, will you get off of my hay?"

Pista, evidently not fully roused by the call, merely grunted a little in his dream and turned over to continue his nap. But the other could now control himself no longer, and dealt the recumbent figure a violent kick, roaring:

"Up, I say, up, you gallows-bird, you're paid for working, not for snoring!"

Pista, with a sudden spring, stood on his feet, and was instantly wide awake. Looking angrily at the brutal intruder with his one eye, he said in a voice quivering with suppressed anger: "I'm not working for you by the day, but by the job, and if I sleep, I do it at my own loss, not yours. Besides, I don't remember that I ever drank the pledge of brotherhood with you."

Abonyi threw up his head, his face growing crimson as if he had received a blow on the cheek.

"What," he shrieked, "does the rascal dare to insult me under my own roof? I'll teach you at once who I am, and who you are." And he raised the riding-whip which he usually carried, to deal Pista a blow.

The latter's kindly, free peasant blood began to boil. Taking a step backward, he grasped a pitchfork lying within reach of his hand, and hissed through the gaps in his teeth, as he brandished the weapon of defence:

"Woe betide you if you touch me! I'll run the fork into you, as true as God lives!"

Abonyi uttered a fierce imprecation and hastily retreated three paces to the door, where he called back to the cartwright, who still maintained his threatening attitude: "This will cost you dear, you scoundrel!" and before Pista could suspect what his enemy meant to do, the latter had shut the door and bolted it on the outside.

Pista's first movement was to throw himself against the door to burst it open with his shoulder, but he paused instinctively as he heard Abonyi's voice, shouting loudly outside.

"Janos," called the latter to the coachman, who stood washing the horses' harnesses beside the coach-house door, "go up to my chamber and bring me down the revolver, the one on the table by the bed, not the other which hangs on the wall!"

Janos went, and stillness reigned in the courtyard. Now the prisoner's rage burst forth. "Open! open!" he roared, drumming furiously on the oak-door. Abonyi, who was keeping guard, at first said nothing, but as the man inside shouted and shook more violently, he called to him: "Be quiet, my son, you'll be let out presently, not to your beautiful wife, but to the parish jail."

"Open!" yelled the voice inside again, "or I'll set fire to the hay and burn down your flayer's hut."

This was an absurd, ridiculous threat, for in the first place Pista, if he had really attempted to execute it, would have stifled and roasted himself before the mansion received the slightest injury, and besides, as examination afterwards proved, he had neither matches nor tinder with him; but Abonyi pretended to take the boast seriously and cried scornfully:

"Better and better! You are a sly fellow! First you threaten me with murder, now with arson; keep on, run up a big reckoning, when the time for settlement comes, we will both be present."

Janos now appeared and, with a very grave face, handed his master the revolver.

"Now, my lad," Abonyi ordered, "run over to the town-hall, bring a pair of strong hand-cuffs and the little judge,[2] the rascal will be put in irons."

Pista had again heard and remained silent because he had perceived that blustering and raging were useless. So he stood inside and Abonyi outside of the door, both gazing sullenly into vacancy in excited anticipation. The gardener, who was laying out a flower-bed which surrounded three sides of the fountain in the centre of the courtyard, had witnessed the whole scene from the beginning, but remained at his work, apparently without interest.

The town-hall was only a hundred paces distant. In less than five minutes Janos returned with the beadle. Abonyi now retreated a few steps, aimed the revolver, and ordered the beadle to open the door. The bolt flew back, the sides of the folding door rattled apart, and Pista was seen on the threshold with his hideous, still horribly distorted face, the pitchfork yet in his right hand.

"Forward, march!" Abonyi ordered, and the cartwright stepped hesitatingly out into the courtyard.

"Put down the pitchfork, vagabond, it belongs to me," the nobleman again commanded.

Pista cast a flashing glance at him and saw the muzzle of the revolver turned toward himself. He silently put down the fork and prepared to go.

"Now the irons," Abonyi turned to his men, at the same time shouting to the gardener, "You fellow there, can't you come and help?"

The gardener pretended not to hear and continued to be absorbed in his blossoming plants. But, at Abonyi's last words, Pista swiftly seized the pitchfork again, shrieking:

"Back, whoever values his life! I'll go voluntarily, I need not be chained, I'm no sharper or thief."

The coachman and the beadle with the handcuffs hesitated at the sight of the threatening pitchfork.

"Am I parish-magistrate or not?" raged Abonyi, "do I command here or not? The vagabond presumes to be refractory, the irons, I say, or——"

Both the servants made a hasty movement toward Pista, the latter retreated to the door of the coach-house, swinging the pitchfork, the beadle was just seizing his arm, when a shot was suddenly fired. A shrill shriek followed, and Pista fell backward into the barn.

"Now he has got it," said Abonyi, in a low tone, but he had grown very pale. The coachman and the beadle stood beside the door as though turned to stone, and the gardener came forward slowly and gloomily.

"See what's wrong with him," the nobleman ordered after a pause, during which a death-like silence reigned in the group.

Janos timidly approached the motionless form lying in the shade of the barn, bent over it, listened, and touched it. After a short time he stood up again, and, with a terribly frightened face, said in a voice barely audible:

"The hole is in the forehead, your honour, he doesn't move, he doesn't breathe, I fear"—then after a slight hesitation, very gently—"he is dead."

Abonyi stared at him, and finally said:

"So much the worse, carry him away from there—home—" and went slowly into the castle.

The servants looked after him a few moments in bewilderment, then laid the corpse upon two wheels, which they placed on poles, and bore him off on this improvised bier. This time the gardener lent his aid.



[1] A Hungarian office.

[2] Hungarian name for beadle.



CHAPTER IV.

When the men, accompanied by several children who were playing in the village street and had inquisitively joined the passing procession, appeared at the Molnars' hut with their horrible burden, the beautiful Panna was standing in the kitchen, churning. At the sight of the lifeless form lying on the bier, she uttered a piercing shriek and dropped the stick from her hands, which fell by her side as though paralyzed. It was at least a minute before her body was again subject to her will and she could rush to the corpse and throw herself prone upon it.

Meanwhile the men had had time to carry the dead form into the room adjoining the kitchen and set the bier upon the clay floor, after which they took to their heels as if pursued by fiends; at least Janos and the beadle did so; the gardener had remained to try to comfort the poor woman, so suddenly widowed, in the first tempest of her despair.

Panna lay on her husband's dead body, wringing her hands and moaning: "Oh, God! oh, God!" sobbing until even the gardener, a stolid, weather-beaten peasant, and anything but soft-hearted, could not restrain his own tears. Not until after several minutes had passed did the young wife raise herself to her knees, and ask in a voice choked with tears, what all this meant, what had happened.

"The master shot your Pista," replied the gardener in a tone so low that it was scarcely audible.

"The master? Pista? Shot?" repeated Panna mechanically, absently, as if the words which she slowly uttered belonged to an unknown, incomprehensible language. She stared at the gardener with dilated eyes, and her lips moved without emitting any sound. At last, however, understanding of the present returned, and the words escaped with difficulty from her labouring breast: "Oh, God, oh, God, how could it happen? How could God permit such misery?" Again she was silent, while the gardener looked away and seemed to be examining the opposite house with the utmost attention through the panes of the little window.

But Panna was beginning to think more clearly and to recover from the dull stupor into which the sudden shock had thrown her. Still kneeling beside the corpse, wringing her hands, and amid floods of tears, she began again:

"The master shot my poor Pista from carelessness?"

The gardener hesitated a moment, then he said:

"Not from carelessness, poor woman."

In an instant Panna was on her feet, stood beside the gardener at a single bound, grasped him by the shoulder, and said in a firm, harsh voice, while her tears suddenly ceased to flow: "Not from carelessness, you say? Then it was intentional?"

The gardener nodded silently.

"That is impossible, it cannot be, no innocent person is murdered, and I am certain that Pista has done nothing; he was the gentlest man in the world, he wouldn't harm a fly, he hadn't drunk a drop of wine in five years, he— Have no regard for me! Tell me everything, and may God reward you for remaining with me in this hour."

The gardener could no longer withhold the truth, and acquainted her with the occurrence whose commencement the coachman Janos had described to him on the way, whose tragical close he himself had witnessed. Panna listened silently, never averting her eyes from the body during the entire story. In the midst of a sentence from the gardener, she suddenly uttered a shriek, and again threw herself upon the dead man.

"Here, here is the hole!" she murmured. "Horrible! horrible!"

Hitherto she had had before her eyes only a vague, shapeless, blood-stained vision, without being able to distinguish any details; now for the first time she had seen, amid the blood and oozing brains, the terrible wound in the forehead. But this interruption lasted only a moment, then Panna again stood beside the gardener and begged him to continue.

He soon reached the catastrophe, which once more drew a scream, or rather a quickly suppressed, gasping sound, from the widow, and then closed with a few well-meant, but clumsy, words of consolation.

Here Panna interrupted him.

"That's enough, Friend, that's enough; now I know how it all was and I will comfort myself. If you have anything to do, don't stay with me longer, and may God reward you for what you have done."

"What do you mean to do now?" asked the gardener, deeply moved.

"Nothing. I mean a great many things. I have much to do."

She went into the kitchen and soon came back with a wooden water-pail and a coarse linen towel. Placing the vessel on the floor beside the corpse, she began to wash the face, without taking any farther notice of her visitor. During her melancholy task she only murmured from time to time in broken sentences; "Oh, God, oh, God!—No, God is not just—Pista, the gentlest man—he was not like us—he was not hot-tempered—What is God's will?"

The gardener felt that he was not wanted, so, after exhorting the widow to be calm and to come to him if she needed advice or help, he went away. She had nodded and, without turning her head, called after him again: "God will repay you!"

When left alone, Panna carefully dried the dead man's face, placed under his head a pillow which she took from the bed, kissed his poor, ugly face,—sobbing meanwhile from the very depths of her heart,—and covered it with a gay little silk kerchief which he had brought to her from the last fair. Then she hurriedly made some changes in her own dress and left the house, whose door she locked behind her.

Without looking round, she walked rapidly to the field where she knew that her father was working, which she reached in a quarter of an hour. He was toiling with other day-labourers in a potato-patch, pulling the ripe roots out of the ground, and when she came up was stooping over his work. He did not notice his daughter until she was standing by his side and touched him lightly on the shoulder with her finger.

Then he straightened himself, exclaiming in great astonishment:

"Panna! What is the matter?"

A glance at her made him start violently, and he added in a subdued voice:

"A misfortune? Another misfortune?"

Panna did not reply, but grasped his arm and, with long, swift strides, led him far beyond the range of hearing of the other workmen. When they had reached the edge of the field, she said softly:

"Father, Herr von Abonyi has just shot my Pista out of sheer wantonness, like a mad-dog."

The old peasant staggered back several paces as if he had been hit on the head with a club. Then his face, whose muscles had contracted till it resembled a horrible mask, flushed scarlet, he uttered a tremendous oath, and made a sudden movement as though to hurry away.

But Panna was again at his side, holding him fast.

"What are you going to do, Father?"

"There—the hoe—the dog must die—he must be killed—now—at once—I'll run in—I'll split his head—die—the dog," he panted, trying to wrench himself from his daughter's strong grasp.

The latter held him still more firmly.

"No, Father," she said, "try to be calm. I am quiet. Rage has never been a good counsellor to us. I thought you would take it so, and therefore I wanted to tell you myself, before you heard it from others."

The old man swore and struggled, but Panna would not release him.

"Father, be sensible, we are not living among robbers, an innocent man is not shot down unpunished. You need not split his lordship's head, another will do that, a greater person than you or he. There is a law, there is a court of justice."

Her father grew calmer, his distorted face began to relax. Panna now released his arm, sat down on the boundary-stone beside which they had been standing, and, gazing fixedly at the ground, while rolling the hem of her apron between her fingers, she continued, speaking more to herself than to him,

"We certainly know best that punishment will not fail. They shot our poor Marczi, and he only gave a man a blow. If you ever had a little quarrel with any one in the tavern, they imprisoned you for weeks and months. I, too, have atoned for the crime I committed; nothing remains unpunished, and the nobleman will get his deserts, as we have always received ours."

The sun was setting, and the notes of the vesper-bell echoed from the distance. The old man picked up his hoe, which he had left in the furrow and, lost in thought, walked home with his daughter in silence. Panna prepared the bed she had used when a girl in her father's hut, and went to rest early. It is not probable that she slept during the night. At least she was already completely dressed when, very early the next morning, the parish-beadle knocked at the door of the hut, and it was she who opened it.

He asked for the key of her house, because the corpse must be carried to the town-hall.

"Why?"

"Because, early in the forenoon, the committee and the district physician will come from the city to hold the coroner's inquest."

"Will he be present?"

"Who?"

"The—Herr von Abonyi."

The beadle shrugged his shoulders and said,

"I don't know."

Panna did not give up the key, but went with the beadle herself, and was present when the latter appeared, with three other men and a bier, and bore the corpse away.

The coachman Janos, and another servant, also came to fetch the wheels and poles on which they had brought the dead man home the day before, and which belonged to the castle. Panna locked her door behind them, and followed the corpse to the town-hall.

In the centre of the court stood a long black table, surrounded with all sorts of pails and various utensils, and near it a small one with writing materials and a chair before it. Meanwhile the body was left on the bier beside the table and covered with a horse-blanket. A great crowd of people, among them many women, and even little children, flocked into the building in a very short time, thronged about the bier, the black table, and Panna, who was leaning against it, carrying on a low, eager hum of conversation till it seemed as though countless swarms of bumble-bees were buzzing through the air.

About eight o'clock two carriages drove up, from which descended five dusty gentlemen, dressed in the fashion of the city, and a servant. These were the examining magistrate, the prosecuting attorney, the district physician, a lawyer, and a clerk of the court, then the beadle, who carried a box containing the dissecting instruments. In the absence of the parish-magistrate—it was remembered that Abonyi held this office—the gentlemen were received by the village notary (parish clerk) and ushered into the interior of the building, where an abundant breakfast awaited them. Meanwhile the people were dismissed from the courtyard, and as the mere request did not induce them to move fast enough, were urged forward with gentle force, after which the gate was closed and bolted on the inside. Panna had been obliged to go out with the others, but she would not leave the spot, where she was joined by her father, though she entreated him to return home or go to his work in the field and not meddle with anything.

At nine o'clock the little funeral-bell in the church-steeple began to toll, and at the same time the post-mortem examination took place, but did not last long, as it was only necessary to open the cavity of the skull. The investigation proved that the missile, a lead, cone-shaped bullet of large calibre, had entered above the left eye, torn its way through the left-half of the brain in a curve passing from above to the lower portion within, and lodged in the pons vorolii. Under such circumstances, death must have been instantaneous.

When all was over, the beadle again opened the gate and admitted the curious throng. The village notary went to Panna and asked whether she wished to have the funeral from the town-hall, or from her own house. She decided in favor of the latter plan, and the notary gave the necessary orders to the beadle. A coffin had been ordered by the gardener the day before, and was ready for delivery. Some old women offered to attend to dressing the body and preparing it for burial, notifying the clergyman, etc., so Panna was spared all the mournful business details which demand attention from a crushed spirit at a moment when it is so incapable of forming any sensible, practical conclusions, and could therefore remain near the committee.

After the post-mortem examination was over, the members went to view the scene of the deed. Panna followed, and was silently permitted to do so by the beadle and the constable, while the throng of villagers was kept back. A mist dimmed Panna's eyes, when she saw the place where the crime was committed, but she bore up bravely and watched the proceedings around her with the utmost attention.

The gentlemen entered the coach-house and, standing at the door, she could hear the physician say that he thought he noticed blood-stains on the floor. The examining magistrate sketched a slight plan of the place in his note-book, and ordered Janos and the gardener, who were in the vicinity, to be brought in by the beadle. They were required to point out the places where they were standing at the time of the misfortune, and to briefly relate in turn the details of the story, during which the prosecuting attorney and the lawyer for the defense made notes. All this afforded Panna infinite satisfaction. She felt her heart grow lighter, and became calm, almost cheerful. A voice in her soul said: "There—there is justice!" and every letter which the gentlemen, with swiftly moving pencils, scrawled on the paper, seemed to her a link in the steel chain which was being forged before her eyes, ever longer and heavier, and would serve to drag the criminal fettered before the tribunal.

From the castle, the committee returned to the town-hall, and now followed the real official examination of the witnesses, whose previous information had been taken merely as unofficial information, and not as legal depositions. They were summoned singly into the room and examined, first Janos, then the gardener, and lastly the beadle. When the latter came out Panna, who, until then had waited patiently at the threshold, stepped resolutely into the chamber, though the constable told her that she had not been summoned.

The examining magistrate looked at the new-comer in surprise, and asked what she wanted.

"What do I want?" replied Panna in astonishment, "why, to be examined as the others have been."

"Were you present when the misfortune happened?"

Panna felt a pang in her heart when the examining magistrate used the word "misfortune." She would have wished him to say "crime." But she answered with a firm voice.

"No, I was not present."

"Then you cannot be a witness."

"I am not a witness, I am the accuser."

The lawyer for the defense smiled faintly, but the prosecuting attorney drew himself up and answered sternly and impressively, before the examining magistrate had found time to open his mouth.

"You are mistaken, my good woman. I am the accuser, and you have nothing more to do here."

"That is true," the magistrate now remarked. "If you desire to obtain damages from Herr von Abonyi, you can bring the complaint before the civil court. You have nothing to do with the criminal trial."

"But it is my husband, my Pista, who has been murdered!" cried Panna, who was beginning to be greatly excited.

The prosecuting attorney twirled a lead-pencil between his fingers, but the examining magistrate rose, took the widow by the hand and led her to the door, saying soothingly: "You don't understand, my good woman; the point in question is not your Pista, but our Pista. He was a member of society, and his cause is the cause of all of us. Rely upon it, you will have justice." While speaking he had opened the door and given the constable a sign to lead the woman away.

This was not necessary; Panna went voluntarily, after casting a strange look at the magistrate which somewhat perplexed him.

The cartwright's funeral took place in the afternoon amid a great throng of villagers. Since his mother's death Molnar had had no relatives in the place, and his wife and her father were the only mourners among the concourse which followed the coffin to the cemetery. The Catholic pastor, who was often Abonyi's partner at his evening card parties, delivered an edifying address beside the open grave. He took for his text the verse (Matthew v. 44): "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you," and said a great deal about forgiveness and reconciliation. The listeners were much moved, and frequently wiped their eyes. Panna alone was tearless and sullen, she felt enraged with the fat, prating priest, who did not seem to her to speak sincerely.

After the funeral she went with her father to his hut, and there the two sat at the table opposite to each other, gazing into vacancy without uttering a word. But they did not remain long undisturbed in their gloomy meditations, for the door soon opened and the priest came in with a smooth, unctuous: "Praised be Jesus Christ!"

"In eternity, amen!" replied the old man in a dull tone, rising slightly from his chair, while Panna sat still in silence.

The priest took his seat beside the widow and, in sweet, cajoling words, began to enlarge upon the subject of his funeral address. He exhorted her, as her confessor, to remember that she was a Christian, she must forgive her adversaries, nay, even love her enemies, that she, too, might be forgiven; if she cherished anger and vengeance in her heart, her sin would be greater than Herr von Abonyi's——

Here Panna threw back her head and looked at the honeyed speaker so fiercely, that he found it advisable to follow another course. He represented to her that Abonyi had committed the deed by some incomprehensible rashness, in a sort of delirium and that he desired nothing more ardently than to make amends for the consequences of the luckless act, so far as lay in human power. While speaking, he put his hand into his pocket and drew out a bank-note of large amount, which he laid on the table.

Panna could bear no more. Seizing the money furiously, she threw it violently on the floor and, with rolling eyes and quivering lips, shrieked:

"I want justice, not alms. He must hang—I must see him dead like my Pista, before I am at peace."

The priest now lost his evangelical mildness also, and rose angrily, exclaiming:

"Fie! fie! you are a pagan, a pagan, and belong to all the fiends in hell." With these pious words he went away. The bank-bill, crushed into a ball, flew out of the room after him, then the door banged violently.



CHAPTER V.

The committee, after the official proceedings were over, had returned to the city, but not until the constable had given the beadle information which afforded food for village gossip during several days. It was learned that, directly after the fatal act, Herr von Abonyi had saddled a horse and ridden alone to the city to denounce himself. It was late in the evening when he reached the examining magistrate's house. The latter, an old friend of Abonyi, was much troubled and shocked, and it was long ere he could collect himself sufficiently to be able to take the deposition of the acknowledged criminal. It was ten o'clock before all the formalities were settled, then the magistrate, deeply agitated, took leave of his unfortunate friend. The former had not considered it necessary to arrest him, as Abonyi had pledged his word of honor to hold himself always ready to obey the summons of the court.

Panna of course heard these tales, as well as other people, and she also noticed how they were received in the village. There were numerous comments, some foolish, some sensible; as usual, opposite parties were formed; one condemned Abonyi's being left at liberty, the other thought it perfectly natural, since it could not be supposed that so great and rich a man as Carl von Abonyi would make his escape under cover of the darkness, like a strolling vagabond who has nothing but a staff and a knapsack. Panna of course belonged to the malcontents. It did not enter her head that any one could be permitted to go about unmolested, after killing a man. The ingenious distinctions between imprisonment while awaiting trial, and imprisonment as a punishment were too subtle for her, and she did not wish to understand them; she only knew that whenever her father was brought before the examining magistrate, he was detained, and used to wait in jail two months and longer, until at last condemned to a fortnight's imprisonment, which was considered expiated by the imprisonment while awaiting trial.

Justice seemed to her far too slow. What kind of justice was this which delayed so long, so torturingly long? Punishment ought to follow crime as the thunder follows the lightning-flash. The murdered man's death-glazed eyes ought to be still open, when the murderer is dangling on the gallows. This was the demand of Panna's passionate heart, but also of her peasant-logic, which could comprehend the causal relation between sin and expiation clearly and palpably, only when both were united in a single melodramatic effect. Why was nothing heard of a final trial, of a condemnation? For what were the legal gentlemen waiting? Surely the case was as clear as sunlight, with no complication whatever, the criminal had acknowledged everything. Even if he had not, there were three witnesses who had all been present, the committee had seen the corpse, the hole in the forehead, the bullet from the revolver, the blood-stains in the coach-house, was not all this a hundred times enough to condemn a man on the spot? Yet week after week elapsed, and nothing new was heard of the matter.

Meanwhile it was rumoured in the village that Abonyi was visiting a friend, a land-owner in the neighboring county, with whom he was constantly engaged in hunting. This might and might not be true.

At any rate it seemed to Panna atrocious that it was even possible.

When one evening the gardener, who was no longer in Abonyi's service, came to see the widow, she poured out her heart, which was brimming with bitterness, to the kind, faithful fellow.

"Isn't it enough to enrage a dove, that Pista has been mouldering in the ground six weeks and his murderer still goes about at liberty, perhaps enjoys himself in hunting?"

The gardener tried to soothe the infuriated woman, and said all sorts of things about the laws, forms, etc.

"Laws? Forms?" Panna excitedly broke in, "where were these laws and forms when our Marczi, my brother, was executed a few hours after his offence? And he had not killed any one, only dealt a harsh officer a blow."

"That was in the army, Panna, that was in war; it is an entirely different matter."

"Indeed? And is it also a different matter that, a few years ago, the vine-dresser's Bandi was hung three days after he set fire to his master's barn?"

"Of course it is different, at that time we were under martial law."

"So once it was war and once it was martial law—that's all nonsense, and I'll tell you what it is: our Marczi and the vine-dresser's Bandi were peasants, and Herr von Abonyi is a gentleman."

The gardener made no reply, perhaps because he secretly shared Panna's belief; but her father, who had been sitting at the table, cutting tobacco with a huge knife and taking no part in the conversation, suddenly struck its point so violently into the table that it stuck fast, vibrating and buzzing, and exclaimed:

"Panna, Panna, I told you so then! The best way would have been to split the dog's skull with the hoe that very day."

Meanwhile the affair pursued its regular course, which neither the impatience of those concerned hastens nor their submission delays, and one morning the gardener came to Panna's hut with the news that he had received the summons to appear as witness at the trial, which was to take place in four days. This was nearly three months after the murder, and it was already late in November.

Panna knew that the witnesses were reimbursed for the expense incurred for the carriages in which they drove to the city, and begged the gardener to take her with him to the court, which the latter readily promised.

On the appointed morning the peasant's vehicle appeared in front of Panna's hut at a very early hour. It was not yet five o'clock, and dense darkness obscured the village and the neighbourhood. But Panna already stood at her door, and was seated in the carriage almost before it had stopped. She wore a black dress, a dark shawl covered her shoulders, at her throat was her old silver crucifix, which had again come into her possession after her mother-in-law's death, and on her head was a black silk kerchief, which set off her beautiful face so marvellously that one might have supposed she had studied the effect, had not this grave, strong woman been so wholly incapable of any act of coquetry. She was pale and thoughtful, and during the whole way did not address a single word to the gardener, who sat beside her, occasionally glancing at her with admiring approval, only one could see that the deep gloom which during the past few weeks had constantly shadowed her features had disappeared.

In fact, she was calm, almost content. The satisfaction due her had been delayed a strangely long time, but at last it would be hers; to-day she, too, was to learn that the hand of justice could stroke her with maternal kindness, after having hitherto, during her whole life, experienced only its power to deal blows.

The road which, in the autumn, had been thoroughly soaked, had recently been frozen hard by the early frosts, and they made such rapid progress that, after a ride of barely five hours, the vehicle reached the city and stopped in front of the town hall.

The beginning of the examination had been fixed at ten o'clock, but it was fully eleven before it commenced. The room in which it took place presented no imposing appearance. It was an apartment, or if one chooses to call it so, a hall of ordinary size, with four windows; in the centre was a wooden railing which divided it into two nearly equal parts; inside was the usual apparatus of justice, a green-covered table with writing materials and a black crucifix, between two candlesticks, placed on a platform for the court-room; at the right, also on the platform, a small table for the prosecuting attorney; below, a wooden bench for the defendant, two police officers, and a little table for the lawyer for the defence. Outside the railing stood a few wooden benches, which afforded room for about forty persons.

When Panna entered with the gardener the other two witnesses, Janos and the beadle, were already in the space set apart for the audience, and also the village notary, the new parish magistrate, a rich peasant and cattle-dealer named Barany, the pastor, several other residents of Kisfalu, and two or three owners of estates in the county, friends of the defendant.

Panna, who sat in the front row, directly by the railing, had no eyes for her surroundings, and scarcely noticed that every one was gazing at her with curiosity and interest. Her mood was calm, almost solemn, and she gazed steadily at the door in the end of the room through which the court must enter.

At last a constable appeared, who moved the armchairs, arranged the papers on the green table, and then noisily opened the doors. The three judges, followed by the constable, came in and took their seats; with them appeared the prosecuting attorney, the same one who had taken part in the preliminary examination in Kisfalu, and almost immediately after a side-door opened and Herr von Abonyi entered, accompanied by his lawyer and followed by a man whose uniform cap showed that he was some official. This individual remained standing at the door, while Abonyi took his seat on the wooden bench and the lawyer in his chair.

Abonyi had bowed to the court when he entered, and now cast a searching glance at the spectators. But he involuntarily started and hastily averted his head, without noticing the smiling greetings of his friends, for the first things he beheld were Panna's flashing black eyes, which had pierced him when he first appeared, and which he actually seemed to feel burning through his clothes, and consuming his body, as he turned away from them.

Panna was intensely excited; her heart throbbed violently and her eyebrows contracted in a gloomy frown. Abonyi's appearance had destroyed a large share of her consoling and soothing illusions. She had had a vague idea that he would be brought in in some humiliating convict garb, perhaps with handcuffs or even with his feet chained, and sit between two soldiers with fixed bayonets, deserted, humble, penitent. Instead of that she saw Abonyi just as she was in the habit of seeing him, attired in an elegant black suit, smoothly-shaved and carefully combed, with plump cheeks and smiling lips, head erect and bold eyes, more distinguished in appearance than any one inside the rail, without the slightest token in aspect and bearing which could mark him as a man charged with a heinous crime, in short here, just as in his village, thoroughly the grand seigneur.

The presiding judge opened the proceedings and ordered the clerk of the court to read the accusation, which was homicide through negligence, as well as the minutes of the coroner's inquest and the other documents of the investigation, then he proceeded to the examination of the accused, asking the usual questions concerning his name, age, etc., in a courteous, kindly tone, wholly devoid of sternness, which filled Panna with vehement rage. This was not the terrible personification of the fell punishment of crime, but a smooth farce, acted amid universal satisfaction.

Now the judge reached the kernel of the matter, and asked the defendant to state the circumstances of the event which formed the subject of the legal proceedings. Abonyi, in a somewhat unsteady voice, related that on the fatal day he had gone to his coachhouse and found "his workman" asleep; he had roused him and warned him to be more industrious, then the fellow became amazingly insolent and defiant, and threatened him so roughly with a pitchfork, that he owed his escape with a whole skin solely to his rapid flight, and the presence of mind with which he bolted the furious man into the shed.

Panna listened with dilated eyes and open mouth; a burning flush suffused her cheeks, her breath came in gasps, and bending far forward, she clenched the railing convulsively with both hands. It seemed incredible that she could have heard correctly. What, is it possible to lie so in a court of justice, in the presence of the black crucifix, the judges, the listeners? And the prosecutor does not interrupt him in his infamous speech? The earth which holds the murdered man, now slandered in his very grave, does not open and swallow the shameless liar?

The gardener, who perceived what was passing in her mind, laid his hand upon her arm and whispered into her ear: "For heaven's sake, Panna, keep quiet, control yourself, or if you cannot, go out of the room."

Panna impatiently motioned to him to keep silent, for the defendant was continuing his story. He related how the imprisoned cartwright had constantly raged and threatened murder and arson so that, as parish magistrate, he had considered it his duty to have the dangerous fellow arrested. To intimidate the rebellious man, he had sent for a revolver, which he thought was not loaded, and this was accidentally discharged——

"Lies! Wretched, base lies!" shrieked Panna, shaking her clenched fist furiously at Abonyi, who turned pale and paused in his story. A passing tumult arose; the listeners crowded around Panna, who had started up, and tried to force her back into her seat and to quiet her. The presiding judge frowned and was about to speak, when the prosecuting attorney told him in a hasty whisper who the disturber was. But Panna continued to cry out: "Don't believe him, gentlemen, he is lying! He shot him intentionally and without cause."

She would have said more, but the judge interrupted her, exclaiming violently: "Silence, unhappy woman, you are making yourself guilty of a serious offence and deserve that we should inflict exemplary punishment. But we will have compassion on your condition and content ourselves with turning you out of the room."

At the same time he beckoned to the constable, who, with the individual standing behind the defendant, and a watchman posted in the audience-room, seized the screaming woman and, in spite of her struggles, forced her out of the door.

This interruption had lasted several minutes and evidently affected all present very unpleasantly. Now, calmness gradually returned and the trial could pursue its course. After the defendant, the turn of the witnesses came. Their depositions were to elucidate two points especially: whether Molnar had really behaved in such a manner that deeds of violence might be expected from him, and it was necessary to threaten him with a weapon and put him in fetters—also, whether the revolver had been discharged accidentally or intentionally.

The first witness, Janos, gave his testimony cautiously and sinuously; he did not know how the dispute had begun; he was not present while Pista uttered the threats of which Herr von Abonyi spoke, as he had gone first to fetch the revolver and then the beadle; Pista had certainly seemed angry and excited, and would not permit handcuffs to be put upon him; he, Janos, had his back turned to his master when the shot was fired.

The beadle, too, could only say that Pista would not suffer himself to be fettered, and that he had not noticed the discharge of the revolver.

Now the gardener was summoned. Abonyi looked sharply at him; the witness bore the gaze quietly and began to speak. He stated that Pista had always been a harmless, peaceful man, while the nobleman, on the contrary, was arrogant and harsh in his intercourse with common people.

The lawyer for the defence interrupted him with the words: "You are not asked for a certificate of good conduct!" and the judge admonished him to keep to the point.

The gardener, unintimidated, added that Herr von Abonyi had first inflicted bodily abuse on the cartwright, who was not his employee, and the latter then threatened him or rather defended himself.

The judge asked if he had seen this.

"No," replied the witness, "but Janos saw it and told me."

Janos was recalled and confronted with the gardener. He could remember nothing about it.

The examination was continued. The gardener testified that Pista had been willing to submit to arrest, but would not allow himself to be handcuffed, for which, moreover, not the semblance of necessity had existed. Besides, Herr von Abonyi had had an evil intention when he sent for the revolver, for he asked expressly for the one lying on the table by the bed, and the whole parish knew that this weapon was always loaded. So it was false that Herr von Abonyi supposed he held an unloaded pistol in his hand.

The judge addressed his last question to the witness: "Did you see the defendant fire the weapon intentionally?"

The gardener replied that no one could have seen that, except a person who stood directly beside the criminal and watched his finger closely; he could only say that Herr von Abonyi kept the weapon constantly aimed, and his finger on the trigger, so that he, the gardener, had involuntarily thought that some mischief would happen, and that the shot was fired at the precise moment when Pista raised the pitchfork against the servant, who was pressing upon him.

The lawyer for the defence rose and informed the court that the witness was a servant whom Abonyi had discharged.

"I was discharged after I gave the same testimony at the preliminary examination which I have given to-day," observed the gardener quietly.

"Speak only when the court questions you!" said the judge reprovingly; then he whispered a short time with his companions in office, and finally announced that the last witness would not be sworn.

The gardener looked at the judge in bewilderment and returned to his place among the audience.

The prosecuting attorney now began his speech. He censured Abonyi for sending for the revolver, and the command to handcuff the refractory man seemed to him to show over-zeal and somewhat unjustifiable severity; there was no ground to believe that murder was intended, yet the defendant had committed a grave offence when, yielding to an absurd notion, he had deemed it proper to threaten the cartwright with a fire-arm. He would therefore propose to sentence Abonyi for homicide through negligence to—six months' imprisonment.

Abonyi's lawyer tried to show that the revolver had not been superfluous, since it was necessary to inspire a furious man, who was threatening deeds of violence, with salutary terror, and thereby restrain him from excesses. As parish-magistrate, it was Abonyi's duty to oppose the cartwright, and when the latter scorned and rebelled against the authorities, Abonyi had been fully justified in compelling the cartwright to respect his orders, even by forcibly handcuffing him. For the unfortunate accident which resulted in the loss of a human life, Abonyi could not be held responsible, and he therefore requested the acquittal of his client.

The prosecuting attorney replied that it was not fully proved that Molnar had been so refractory that handcuffing was indispensable; but he would admit that it was necessary to maintain the dignity of the magistracy energetically, in the midst of a turbulent, insubordinate populace.

Abonyi's lawyer answered that, instead of making any rejoinder, he had only one thing to say: his client would engage to provide for the unfortunate Molnar's widow by giving her a large piece of land and also settling upon her an annual income, legally secured, of four hundred florins.

A murmur of approval ran through the audience, suppressed by a stern command from the judge. After a short whispered consultation, during which the defendant was not even led out of the court-room, the judge pronounced the sentence, that the defendant, for the homicide through negligence of Stefan Molnar, was condemned to six months imprisonment; any claims for compensation from those entitled to demand them were reserved and could be brought before the civil courts. The prosecuting attorney declared himself satisfied with the sentence, as his proposal had been fully accepted; the lawyer for the defence exchanged whispers a moment with the condemned man, and then also said that he would give up the appeal to a higher tribunal; the judge closed the proceedings, and Abonyi went out through the door by which he had entered, while the man with the cap followed respectfully.

When the gardener came out of the courtroom he saw Panna standing in the corridor, where she had been waiting since her expulsion from the court-room. Hurrying up to him, she asked with an anxious look, "Well?"

"Sentenced!" replied the gardener, turning his head away.

"Ah!" A low cry escaped her breast and her eyes sparkled. "Sentenced! And when?"

The gardener gazed at her inquiringly.

"What do you mean by when?"

"Why, when will he be—executed?"

"Executed? you are out of your mind. He is sentenced to six months' imprisonment."

Meanwhile they had gone down into the courtyard; at the gardener's words Panna suddenly stood still, stared fixedly at him, and said in a hollow tone:

"You know how I am, and what I feel, why do you jest so unpleasantly with me?"

"What I tell you is the most bitter earnest."

"Man! Six months! You are drivelling! That is impossible! A man who has murdered another can be acquitted, it may be said that he did not kill him, that the guilt was not proved, I understand that; but when it is admitted that he is guilty, he surely cannot be sentenced to six months' imprisonment! That is a mockery of mankind. My brother strikes a brutal officer—he is executed; the vine-dresser's Bandi burns a miserable barn—he is executed. This man kills a human being and gets six months' imprisonment. No, I cannot believe it."

The gardener contented himself with silently shrugging his shoulders in reply to the woman's passionate outburst of feeling, and pursued his way. Panna followed him with compressed lips. She could not help believing his communication, but she continually revolved it in her mind, still unable to comprehend its meaning fully. They were seated in the carriage again, and had driven a considerable distance, when she began once more:

"There are higher courts. It cannot be left so."

"No one entered an appeal, so the case will not go to the higher courts."

"Then you think that this six months is the last utterance of justice?"

"The last, Panna; only the king or God can still change the sentence."

Panna's eyes flashed.

"The king can change the sentence, you say?"

"He, of course," replied her companion laconically.

Panna said nothing more on the way home. Only the gardener once heard her murmur:

"Justice is a fine thing, a very fine thing."



CHAPTER VI.

It was late in the evening when Panna again reached Kisfalu. Her father was already expecting her with great impatience and, before she left the carriage, shouted a question about the result of the trial. Panna did not answer immediately, but cautiously descended, gratefully pressed the hand of the gardener, who had brought her to her own house, and entered the room with her father. Here she opened her lips for the first time, uttering only the words: "Six months!"

Her father struck the table furiously with his clenched fist, shrieking: "Then Hell ought to open its jaws and swallow the whole band! But wait, I know what to do. Six months will soon be over, and then I'll make short work with the fine gentleman. I'll be judge and executioner in one person, and the trial won't last long, that I swear by all the fiends."

Panna hastily interrupted him: "For Heaven's sake, Father, hush. If any one should hear it might be bad for you. What induces you to say such imprudent things? Do you want to be imprisoned for making dangerous threats? You know that they wouldn't use as much ceremony with you as with the nobleman. Only keep perfectly cool, we are not obliged to make ourselves the judge, there is still one person higher than the court, and he will decide our cause."

"What do you mean?" asked the father, looking inquiringly at Panna.

"You'll learn; only let me act, and keep cool."

The old man was not naturally curious, so he desisted and went to rest, Panna following his example.

The next morning Panna was seen moving to and fro very busily between her own house and her father's, and repeatedly entering the town-hall. With her father's help, she carried all their property to his hut and then offered the empty Molnar house for sale. There was no lack of purchasers, but the peasant does not decide quickly to open the strings of his purse, so it was three days before the bargain was concluded. But at last the business was settled and Panna received several hundred florins in cash. She gave the larger portion to her father, who bought a vineyard with them, and kept a hundred for herself. When this was done, Panna said that she had business in the city, hired a carriage, and went to Pesth.

The king was at that time in Ofen, where he gave public audiences daily. It is an ancient and wise custom of the Hapsburgs to make themselves easily accessible to the people. In Austro-Hungary no recommendation, gala attire, nor ceremony is requisite in order to see and speak to the sovereign. On the days when public audience is given, the humblest person is admitted without difficulty, and nothing is expected from him except that he will appear as clean and whole as possible, no matter how shabby he may be. The people are well aware of this and, at every opportunity, profit by the facility afforded to reach the king; there are persons who go to the monarch with a matter which, in other countries, a village magistrate would decide without farther appeal.

So Panna left her carriage at a peasant tavern outside of the city, and went on foot directly to the castle at Ofen. The audience began at twelve o'clock, and it still lacked half an hour of this time. Panna passed through the outer door unrestrained, and was first asked what she desired by a guard on duty at the foot of the staircase leading to the royal apartments. Panna answered fearlessly that she was going to the audience, and the guardsman kindly showed her the way.

At the head of the stairs another official met her with the same query, and she gave the same reply. But this time the official also asked for her certificate of admission. Panna did not know what it was, and the functionary then explained that the king's audience chamber could not be entered so unceremoniously from the street, but a person must first announce himself and state his business, after which he received notice of the time when he was to present himself. Of course it would be too late for to day, but she could be registered for the next audience, which would be given in a fortnight. She probably had her petition with her, she need merely give it to him, and he would attend to everything for her the friendly man said at the close of his explanation.

Panna was obliged to confess that she had no petition, as she had thought that she would be able to tell the king the whole story verbally.

The smiling functionary explained the mistake. She must write the petition, for the king at the utmost would have only one or two minutes for her, and no long story could be told in that time; besides, she could not be recorded without a petition.

Panna became much dispirited and out of temper. She again saw beloved illusions disappear. She had imagined everything to be far smoother, more simple, easier, and now here also there were difficulties. She dejectedly followed her guide into an office, where she had all sorts of questions to answer about her name, residence, etc., and the purpose which brought her here. To the last inquiry she gave the curt information: "I am seeking justice from the king against an unjust sentence." Then she received a card with a number and a date, and was dismissed with the remark that she must be there again with her petition a fortnight thence, on Thursday, punctually at twelve o'clock, noon.

She had desired to keep her purpose a secret from every one in the village; but this was now impossible, for she could not prepare the petition alone. So she went to the gardener, who had obtained another place, and initiated him into her plans. He eagerly dissuaded her from the step, since nothing would come of it, but Panna remained immovable in her confidence in the result.

"The king," she said, "will secure me justice. It is impossible that he should hear of the atrocious sentence and not instantly overthrow it." And when the gardener continued to try to show her the contrary, she at last grew angry and said curtly: "Well, if you won't help me, I'll go to a lawyer in the city who, for money and fair words, will draw up the petition."

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse