At Table by Maurus Jokai
We are far amidst the snow-clad mountains of Transylvania.
The scenery is magnificent. In clear weather, the plains of Hungary as
far as the Rez promontory may be seen from the summit of the
mountains. Groups of hills rise one above the other, covered with
thick forest, which, at the period when our tale commences, had just
begun to assume the first light green of spring.
Toward sunset, a slight purple mist overspread the farther pinnacles,
leaving their ridges still tinged with gold. On the side of one of
these hills the white turrets of an ancient family mansion gleamed
from amid the trees.
Its situation was peculiarly romantic. A steep rock descended on one
side, on whose pinnacle rose a simple cross. In the depth of the
valley beneath lay a scattered village, whose evening bells
melodiously broke the stillness of nature.
Farther off, some broken roofs arose among the trees, from whence the
sound of the mill, and the yellow-tinted stream, betrayed the miners'
Through the meadows in the valley beneath a serpentine rivulet wound
its silvery way, interrupted by numerous falls and huge blocks of
stone, which had been carried down in bygone ages from the mountains
during the melting of the snows.
A little path, cut in the side of the rock, ascended to the castle;
while higher up, a broad road, somewhat broken by the mountain
streams, conducted across the hills to more distant regions.
The castle itself was an old family mansion, which had received many
additions at different periods, as the wealth or necessities of the
It was surrounded by groups of ancient chestnut trees, and the terrace
before the court was laid out in gardens, which were now filled with
anemones, hyacinths, and other early flowers. Now and then the head of
a joyous child appeared at the windows, which were opened to admit the
evening breeze; while various members of the household retinue were
seen hastening through the corridors, or standing at the doors in
their embroidered liveries.
The castle was completely surrounded by a strong railwork of iron, the
stone pillars were overgrown by the evergreen leaves of the gobea and
It was the early spring of 1848.
A party, consisting of thirteen persons, had assembled in the
dining-room. They were all members of one family, and all bore the
name of Bardy.
At the head of the board sat the grandmother, an old lady of eighty
years of age, whose snow-white hair was dressed according to the
fashion of her times beneath her high white cap. Her face was pale and
much wrinkled, and the eyes turned constantly upwards, as is the case
with persons who have lost their sight. Her hand and voice trembled
with age, and there was something peculiarly striking in the thick
On her right hand sat her eldest son, Thomas Bardy, a man of between
fifty and sixty. With a haughty and commanding countenance,
penetrating glance, lofty figure, and noble mien, he was a true type
of that ancient aristocracy which is now beginning to die out.
Opposite to him, at the old lady's left hand, sat the darling of the
family—a lovely girl of about fifteen. Her golden hair fell in
luxuriant tresses round a countenance of singular beauty and
sweetness. The large and lustrous deep-blue eyes were shaded by long
dark lashes, and her complexion was pale as the lily, excepting when
she smiled or spoke, and a slight flush like the dawn of morning
overspread her cheeks.
Jolanka was the orphan child of a distant relative, whom the Bardys
had adopted. They could not allow one who bore their name to suffer
want; and it seemed as if each member of the family had united to heap
affection and endearment on the orphan girl, and thus prevented her
from feeling herself a stranger among them.
There were still two other female members of the family: Katalin, the
old lady's daughter, who had been for many years a widow; and the wife
of one of her sons, a pretty young woman, who was trying to teach a
little prattler at her side to use the golden spoon which she had
placed in his small, fat hand, while he laughed and crowed, and the
family did their best to guess what he said, or what he most
Opposite to them there sat two gentlemen. One of them was the husband
of the young mother, Jozsef Bardy—a handsome man of about
thirty-five, with regular features, and black hair and beard; a
constant smile beamed on his gay countenance, while he playfully
addressed his little son and gentle wife across the table. The other
was his brother, Barnabas—a man of herculean form and strength. His
face was marked by smallpox; he wore neither beard or mustache, and
his hair was combed smoothly back, like a peasant's. His disposition
was melancholy and taciturn; but he seemed constantly striving to
atone, by the amiability of his manners, for an unprepossessing
Next to him sat a little cripple, whose pale countenance bore that
expression of suffering sweetness so peculiar to the deformed, while
his lank hair, bony hands, and misshapen shoulders awakened the
beholder's pity. He, too, was an orphan—a grandchild of the old
lady's; his parents had died some years before.
Two little boys of about five years old sat opposite to him. They were
dressed alike, and the resemblance between them was so striking that
they were constantly mistaken. They were twin-children of the young
At the lower end of the table sat Imre Bardy, a young man of twenty,
whose handsome countenance was full of life and intelligence, his
figure manly and graceful, and his manner courteous and agreeable. A
slight moustache was beginning to shade his upper lip, and his dark
hair fell in natural ringlets around his head. He was the only son of
the majoresco, Tamas Bardy, and resembled him much in form and
Beside him sat an old gentleman, with white hair and ruddy complexion.
This was Simon Bardy, an ancient relative, who had grown old with the
grandmother of the family.
The same peculiarity characterized every countenance in the Bardy
family—namely the lofty forehead and marked brows, and the large
deep-blue eyes, shaded by their heavy dark lashes.
"How singular!" exclaimed one of the party; "we are thirteen at table
"One of us will surely die," said the old lady; and there was a
mournful conviction in the faint, trembling tones.
"Oh, no, grandmother, we are only twelve and a half!" exclaimed the
young mother, taking the little one on her knee.
"This little fellow only counts half on the railroad."
All the party laughed at this remark, even the little cripple's
countenance relaxed into a sickly smile.
"Ay, ay," continued the old lady, "the trees are now putting forth
their verdure, but at the fall of the leaf who knows if all of us, or
any of us, may still be sitting here?"
* * * * *
Several months had passed since this slight incident.
In one of the apartments of the castle, the eldest Bardy and his son
were engaged in earnest conversation.
The father paced hastily up and down the apartment, now and then
stopping short to address his son, who stood in the embrasure of one
of the windows. The latter wore the dress of the Matyas Hussars—a
gray dolmany, with crimson cord; he held a crimson csako, with a
tricolored cockade, in his hand.
"Go," said the father, speaking in broken accents; "the sooner the
better; let me not see you! Do not think I speak in anger, but I
cannot bear to look at you, and think where you are going. You are my
only son, and you know how I have loved you—how all my hopes have
been concentrated in you. But do not think that these tears, which you
see me shed for the first time, are on your account; for if I knew I
should lose you,—if your blood were to flow at the next battle,—I
should only bow my head in dust and say, 'The Lord gave, and the Lord
takes away, blessed be His holy name!' Yes, if I heard that you and
your infatuated companions were cut to pieces, I could stifle the
burning tears; but to know that your blood, when it flows, will be a
curse upon the earth, and your death will be the death of two
"They may die now; but they will regenerate——"
"This is not true; you only deceive yourselves with the idea that you
can build up a new edifice when you have overthrown the old one. Great
God, what sacrilege! Who had intrusted you with the fate of our
country, to tempt the Almighty? Who authorized you to lose all there
is for the hope of what may be? For centuries past have so many
honorable men fought in vain to uphold the old tottering constitution,
as you call it? Or were they not true patriots and heroes? Your
companions have hissed their persecuted countrymen in the Diet; but do
they love their country better than we do, who have shed our blood and
sacrificed our interests for her from generation to generation, and
even suffered disgrace, if necessary, to keep her in life?—for though
that life has been gradually weakened, still it is life. You promise
her glory; but the name of glory is death!"
"It may be so, father; we may lose our country as regards ourselves,
but we give one instead of ten millions, who were hitherto our own
people, and yet strangers in their native land."
"Chimera! The people will not understand you. They never even dreamt
of what you wish to give them. The true way to seek the people's
welfare is to give them what they need.
"Ask my dependents! Is there one among them whom I have allowed to
suffer want or ruin, whom I have not assisted in times of need?—or
have I ever treated them unjustly? You will not hear a murmur. Tell
them that I am unjust notwithstanding, because I do not call the
peasant from his plow to give his opinions on forming the laws, and
constitution,—and what will be the consequence? They will stare at
you in astonishment; and yet, in their mistaken wrath, they will come
down some night and burn this house over my head."
"That is the unnatural state of the times. It is all the fault of the
past bad management, if the people have no better idea. But let the
peasant once be free, let him be a man, and he will understand all
that is now strange to him."
"But that freedom will cost the lives of thousands!"
"I do not deny it. Indeed, I believe that neither I nor any of the
present generation will reap the fruits of this movement. I think it
probable that in a few years not one of those whose names we now hear
spoken of may still be living; and what is more, disgrace and curses
may be heaped upon their dust. But a time will come when the great
institutions of which they have laid the foundation will arise and
render justice to the memory of those who sacrificed themselves for
the happiness of future generations. To die for our country is a
glorious death, but to carry with us the curses of thousands, to die
despised and hated for the salvation of future millions, oh! that is
sublime—it is Messiah-like!"
"My son—my only son!" cried his father, throwing himself passionately
on the young man's neck and sobbing bitterly. "Do you see these
"For the first time in my life I see them, father—I see you weep; my
heart can scarcely bear the weight of these tears—and yet I go! You
have reason to weep, for I bring neither joy nor glory on your
head—and yet I go! A feeling stronger than the desire of glory,
stronger than the love of my country, inspires my soul; and it is a
proof of the strength of my faith that I see your tears, my
father—and yet I go!"
"Go!" murmured his father, in a voice of despair. "You may never
return again, or, when you do, you may find neither your father's
house nor the grave in which he is laid! But know, even then, in the
hour of your death, or in the hour of mine, I do not curse you—and
now, leave me." With these words he turned away and motioned to his
son to depart.
Imre silently left the apartment, and as soon as he had closed the
door the tears streamed from his eyes; but before his sword had struck
the last step his countenance had regained its former determination,
and the fire of enthusiasm had kindled in his eye.
He then went to take leave of his Uncle Jozsef, whom he found
surrounded by his family. The twins were sitting at his feet, while
his wife was playing bo-peep with the little one, who laughed and
shouted, while his mother hid herself behind his father's armchair.
Imre's entrance interrupted the general mirth. The little boy ran over
to examine the sword and golden tassels, while the little one began to
cry in alarm at the sight of the strange dress.
"Csitt, baba!" said his mother, taking him from his father's arms;
"your cousin is going to wars, and will bring you a golden horse."
Jozsef wrung his nephew's hand. "God be with you!" he exclaimed, and
added in a lower voice, "You are the noblest of us all—you have done
They then all embraced him in turns, and Imre left them, amidst
clamors of the little ones, and proceeded to his grandmother's
On the way, he met his Uncle Barnabas, who embraced him again and
again in silence, and then tore himself away without saying a word.
The old lady sat in her great armchair, which she seldom quitted, and
as she heard the clash of Imre's sword, she looked up and asked who
"It is Imre!" said the fair-haired maiden, blushing, and her heart
beat quickly as she pronounced his name.
Jolanka felt that Imre was more than a brother to her, and the feeling
with which she had learnt to return his affection was warmer than even
a sister's love.
The widow lady and the cripple were also in the grandmother's
apartment; the child sat on a stool at the old lady's feet, and smiled
sadly as the young man entered.
"Why that sword at your side, Imre?" asked the old lady in a feeble
voice. "Ah, this is no good world—no good world! But if God is
against us, who can resist His hand? I have spoken with the dead again
in dreams. I thought they all came around me and beckoned me to follow
them; but I am ready to go, and place my life with gratitude and
confidence in the hands of the Lord. Last night I saw the year 1848
written in the skies in letters of fire. Who knows what may come over
us yet? This is no good world—no good world!"
Imre bent silently over the old lady's hand and kissed it.
"And so you are going? Well, God bless and speed you, if you go
beneath the cross, and never forget in life or in death to raise your
heart to the Lord;" and the old lady placed her withered hand upon her
grandson's head, and murmured, "God Almighty bless you!"
"My husband was just such a handsome youth when I lost him," sighed
the widow lady as she embraced her nephew. "God bless you!"
The little cripple threw his arms around his cousin's knees and,
sobbing, entreated him not to stay long away.
The last who bade farewell was Jolanka. She approached with downcast
eyes, holding in her small white hands an embroidered cockade, which
she placed on his breast. It was composed of five colors—blue and
gold, red, white, and green.
"I understand," said the young man, in a tone of joyful surprise, as
he pressed the sweet girl to his heart, "Erdely and Hungary united!
I shall win glory for your colors!"
The maiden yielded to his warm embrace, murmuring, as he released her,
"When I cease to remember you, I shall be no more," replied the youth
And then he kissed the young girl's brow, and once more bidding
farewell, he hurried from the apartment.
Old Simon Bardy lived on the first floor: Imre did not forget him.
"Well, nephew," said the old man cheerfully, "God speed you, and give
you strength to cut down many Turks!"
"It is not with the Turks that we shall have to do," replied the young
"Well, with the French," said the old soldier of the past century,
A page waited at the gate with two horses saddled and bridled.
"I shall not require you—you may remain at home," said Imre, as,
taking the bridle of one of the horses, vaulting lightly into the
saddle, he pressed his csako over his brow and galloped from the
As he rode under the cross, he checked his horse and looked back. Was
it of his grandmother's words, or of the golden-haired Jolanka that he
A white handkerchief waved from the window.
"Farewell, light of my soul!" murmured the youth; and kissing his
hand, he once more dashed his spurs into his horse's flank, and turned
down the steep hill.
Those were strange times. All at once the villages began to be
depopulated; the inhabitants disappeared, none knew whither. The doors
of the houses were closed.
The bells were no longer heard in the evening, nor the maiden's song
as she returned from her work. The barking of dogs which had lost
their masters alone interrupted the silence of the streets, where the
grass began to grow.
Imre Bardy rode through the streets of the village without meeting a
soul; few of the chimneys had smoke, and no fires gleamed through the
Evening was drawing on, and a slight transparent mist had overspread
the valley. Imre was desirous of reaching Kolozsvar early on the
next morning, and continued his route all night.
About midnight the moon rose behind the trees, shedding her silvery
light over the forest. All was still, excepting the echo of the
miner's hammer, and the monotonous sound of his horse's step along the
rocky path. He rode on, lost in thought; when suddenly the horse
stopped short, and pricked his ears.
"Come, come," said Imre, stroking his neck, "you have not heard the
The animal at last proceeded, turning his head impatiently from side
to side, and snorting and neighing with fear.
The road now led through a narrow pass between two rocks, whose
summits almost met, and a slight bridge, formed of one or two rotten
planks, was thrown across the dry channel of a mountain stream which
cut up the path.
As Imre reached the bridge, the horse backed, and no spurring could
induce him to cross. Imre at last pressed his knee angrily against the
trembling animal, striking him at the same time across the neck with
the bridle, on which the horse suddenly cleared the chasm at one bound
and then again turned and began to back.
At that instant a fearful cry arose from beneath, which was echoed
from the rocks around, and ten or fifteen savage-looking beings
climbed from under the bridge, with lances formed of upright scythes.
Even then there would have been time for the horseman to turn back,
and dash through a handful of men behind him, but either he was
ashamed of turning from the first conflict, or he was desirous, at any
risk, to reach Kolozsvar at the appointed time, and instead of
retreating by the bridge, he galloped towards the other end of the
pass, where the enemy rushed upon him from every side, yelling
"Back, Wallachian dogs!" cried Imre, cutting two of them down, while
several others sprang forward with the scythes.
Two shots whistled by, and Imre, letting go the bridle, cut right and
left, his sword gleaming rapidly among the awkward weapons; and taking
advantage of a moment in which the enemy's charge began to slacken, he
suddenly dashed through the crowd towards the outlet of the rock,
without perceiving that another party awaited him above the rocks with
great stones, with which they prepared to crush him as he passed.
He was only a few paces from the spot, when a gigantic figure, armed
with a short broad-axe, and with a Roman helmet on his head, descended
from the rock in front of him, and seizing the reins of the horse
forced him to halt. The young man aimed a blow at his enemy's head,
and the helmet fell back, cut through the middle, but the force of the
blow had broken his sword in two; and the horse lifted by his giant
foe, reared, so that the rider, losing his balance, was thrown against
the side of the rock, and fell senseless to the ground.
At the same instant a shot was fired toward them from the top of the
"Who fired there?" cried the giant, in a voice of thunder. The
bloodthirsty Wallachians would have rushed madly on their defenseless
prey, had not the giant stood between him and them.
"Who fired on me?" he sternly exclaimed. The Wallachians stood back in
"It was not on you, Decurio, that I fired, but on the hussar,"
stammered out one of the men, on whom the giant had fixed his eye.
"You lie, traitor! Your ball struck my armor, and had I not worn a
shirt of mail, it would have pierced my heart."
The man turned deadly pale, trembling from head to foot.
"My enemies have paid you to murder me?" The savage tried to speak,
but words died upon his lips.
"Hang him instantly—he is a traitor!"
The rest of the gang immediately seized the culprit and carried him to
the nearest tree, from whence his shrieks soon testified that his
sentence was being put in execution.
The Decurio remained alone with the young man; and hastily lifting
him, still senseless, from the ground, he mounted his horse, and
placing him before him ere the savage horde had returned, he had
galloped some distance along the road from whence the youth had come,
covering him with his mantle as he passed the bridge, to conceal him
from several of the gang who stood there, and exclaiming, "Follow me
to the Topanfalvo."
As soon as they were out of sight, he suddenly turned to the left,
down a steep, hilly path, and struck into the depth of the forest.
The morning sun had just shot its first beams across the hills,
tinting with golden hue the reddening autumn leaves, when the young
hussar began to move in his fevered dreams, and murmured the name
In a few moments he opened his eyes. He was lying in a small chamber,
through the only window of which the sunbeams shone upon his face.
The bed on which he lay was made of lime-boughs, simply woven
together, and covered with wolves' skins. A gigantic form was leaning
against the foot of the bed with his arms folded, and as the young man
awoke, he turned round. It was the Decurio.
"Where am I?" asked the young man, vaguely endeavoring to recall the
events of the past night.
"In my house," replied Decurio.
"And who are you?"
"I am Numa, Decurio of the Roumin Legion, your foe in battle, but
now your host and protector."
"And why did you save me from your men?" asked the young man, after a
"Because the strife was unequal—a hundred against one."
"But had it not been for you, I could have freed myself from them."
"Without me you had been lost. Ten paces from where I stopped your
horse, you would inevitably have been dashed to pieces by huge stones
which they were preparing to throw down upon you from the rock."
"And you did not desire my death?"
"No, because it would have reflected dishonor on the Roumin name."
"You are a chivalrous man, Decurio!"
"I am what you are; I know your character, and the same feeling
inspires us both. You love your nation, as I do mine. Your nation is
great and cultivated; mine is despised and neglected, and my love is
more bitterly devoted. Your love for your country makes you happy;
mine deprives me of peace. You have taken up arms to defend your
country without knowing your own strength, or the number of the foe; I
have done the same. Either of us may lose, or we may both be blotted
out; but though the arms may be buried in the earth, rust will not eat
"I do not understand your grievances."
"You do not understand? Know, then, that although fourteen centuries
have passed since the Roman eagle overthrew Diurbanus, there are still
those among us—the now barbarous people—who can trace their descent
from generation to generation, up to the times of its past glory. We
have still our traditions, if we have nothing more; and can point out
what forest stands in the place of the ancient Sarmisaegethusa, and
what town is built where one Decebalus overthrew the far-famed troops
of the Consulate. And alas for that town! if the graves over which its
houses are built should once more open, and turn the populous streets
into a field of battle! What is become of the nation, the heir of so
much glory?—the proud Dacians, the descendants of the far-famed
legions? I do not reproach any nation for having brought us to what we
now are; but let none reproach me if I desire to restore my people to
what they once were."
"And do you believe that this is the time?"
"We have no prophets to point out the hour, but it seems yours do not
see more clearly. We shall attempt it now, and if we fail our
grandchildren will attempt it again. We have nothing to lose but a few
lives; you risk much that is worth losing, and yet you assemble
beneath the banner of war. Then war. Then what would you do if you
were like us?—a people who possess nothing in this world among whom
there is not one able or one instructed head; for although every third
man bears the name of Papa, it is not every hundredth who can read! A
people excluded from every employment; who live a miserable life in
the severest manual labor; who have not one noble city in their
country, the home of three-fourths of their people. Why should we seek
to know the signs of the times in which we are to die, or be
regenerated! We have nothing but our wretchedness, and if we are
conquered we lose nothing. Oh! you did wrong for your own peace to
leave a nation to such utter neglect!"
"We do not take up arms for our nation alone, but for freedom in
"You do wrong. It is all the same to us who our sovereign may be; only
let him be just towards us, and raise up our fallen people; but you
will destroy your nation—its power, its influence, and
privileges—merely that you may live in a country without a head."
A loud uproar interrupted the conversation. A disorderly troop of
Wallachians approached the Decurio's house, triumphantly bearing the
hussar's csako on a pole before them.
"Had I left you there last night, they would now have exhibited your
head instead of your csako."
The crowd halted before the Decurio's window, greeting him with loud
The Decurio spoke a few words in the Wallachian language, on which
they replied more vehemently than before, at the same time thrusting
forward the kalpag on the pole.
The Decurio turned hastily round. "Was your name written on your
kalpag?" he asked the young man, in evident embarrassment.
"Unhappy youth! The people, furious at not having found you, are
determined to attack your father's house."
"And you will permit them?" asked the youth, starting from bed.
"I dare not contradict them, unless I would lose their confidence. I
can prevent nothing."
"Give me up—let them wreak their bloody vengeance on my head!"
"I should only betray myself for having concealed you; and it would
not save your father's house."
"And if they murder the innocent and unprotected, on whom will the
ignominy of their blood fall?"
"On me; but I will give you the means of preventing this disgrace. Do
you accept it?"
"I will give you a disguise; hasten to Kolozsvar and assemble your
comrades,—then return and protect your house. I will wait you there,
and man to man, in open honorable combat, the strife will no longer be
"Thanks, thanks!" murmured the youth, pressing the Decurio's hand.
"There is not a moment to lose; here is a peasant's mantle—if you
should be interrogated, you have only to show this paszura, and
mention my name. Your not knowing the language is of no consequence;
my men are accustomed to, see Hungarian gentlemen visit me in
disguise, and having only seen you by night, they will not recognize
Imre hastily took the dress, while Decurio spoke to the people, made
arrangements for the execution of their plans, and pointed out the way
to the castle, promising to follow them immediately.
"Accept my horse as a remembrance," said the young man, turning to the
"I accept it, as it would only raise suspicion were you to mount it;
but you may recover it again in the field. Haste, and lose no time! If
you delay you will bring mourning on your own head and disgrace on
In a few minutes the young man, disguised as a Wallachian peasant, was
hastening on foot across the hills of Kolozsvar.
It was past midnight.
The inhabitants of the Bardy castle had all retired to rest.
The iron gate was locked and the windows barred, when suddenly the
sound of demoniac cries roused the slumberers from their dreams.
"What is that noise?" cried Jozsef Bardy, springing from his bed, and
rushing to the window.
"The Olahok!" cried a hussar, who had rushed to his master's
apartments on hearing the sounds.
"The Olah! the Olah!" was echoed through the corridors by the
By the light of a few torches, a hideous crowd was seen before the
windows, armed with scythes and axes, which they were brandishing with
"Lock all the doors!" cried Jozsef Bardy, with calm presence of mind.
"Barricade the great entrance, and take the ladies and children to the
back rooms. You must not lose your heads, but all assemble together in
the turret-chamber, from whence the whole building may be protected.
And taking down two good rifles from over his bed, he hastened to his
elder brother Tamas's apartments, and overlooked the court.
"Have you heard the noise?" asked his brother as he entered.
"I knew it would come," he replied, and coolly continued to pace the
"And are you not preparing for defense?"
"To what purpose?—they will kill us all. I am quite prepared for what
must inevitably happen."
"But it will not happen if we defend ourselves courageously. We are
eight men—the walls of the castle are strong—the besiegers have no
guns, and no place to protect them; we may hold out for days until
assistance comes from Kolozsvar."
"We shall lose," replied Tamas coldly, and without the slightest
change of countenance.
"Then I shall defend the castle myself. I have a wife and children,
our old grandmother and our sisters are here, and I shall protect
them, if I remain alone."
At that instant Barnabas and old Simon entered with the widowed
Barnabas had a huge twenty-pound iron club in his hand; grinding his
teeth, and with eyes darting fire, he seemed capable of meeting
single-handed the whole troop.
He was followed by the widow, with two loaded pistols in her hand, and
old Simon, who entreated them not to use violence or exasperate the
"Conduct yourselves bravely!" replied the widow dryly; "let us not die
"Come with me—we shall send them all to hell!" cried Barnabas,
swinging his club in his herculean arm as if it had been a reed.
"Let us not be too hasty," interrupted Jozsef; we will stand here in
the tower, from whence we can shoot every one that approaches, and if
they break in, we can meet them on the stairs."
"For Heaven's sake!" cried Simon, "what are you going to do? If you
kill one of them they will massacre us all. Speak to them
peaceably—promise them wine—take them to the cellar—give them
money—try to pacify them! Nephew Tamas, you will speak to them?"
continued the old man, turning to Tamas, who still paced up and down,
without the slightest visible emotion.
"Pacification and resistance are equally vain," he replied coldly; "we
are inevitably lost!"
"We have no time for delay," said Jozsef impatiently; "take the arms
from the wall, Barnabas, give one to each servant—let them stand at
the back windows of the house, we two are enough here. Sister, stand
between the windows, that the stones may not hit you; and when you
load, do not strike the balls too far in, that our aim may be the more
"No! no!—I cannot let you fire," exclaimed the old man, endeavoring
to drag Jozsef from the window. "You must not fire yet—only remain
"Go to the hurricane, old man! would you have us use holy water
against a shower of stones?"
At that instant several large stones were dashed through the windows,
breaking the furniture against which they fell.
"Only wait," said Simon, "until I speak with them. I am sure I shall
pacify them. I can speak their language and I know them all—just let
me go to them."
"A vain idea! If you sue for mercy they will certainly kill you, but
if you show courage, you may bring them to their senses. You had
better stay and take a gun."
But the old man was already out of hearing, and hurrying downstairs,
he went out of a back door into the court, which the Wallachians had
not yet taken possession of.
They were endeavoring to break down one of the stone pillars of the
iron gate with their axes and hammers, and had already succeeded in
making an aperture, through which one of the gang now climbed.
Old Simon recognized him. "Lupey, my son, what do you want here?" said
the old man. "Have we ever offended you? Do you forget all that I have
done for you?—how I cured your wife when she was so ill, and got you
off from the military; and how, when your ox died, I gave you two fine
bullocks to replace it? Do you not know me, my son Lupey?"
"I am not your son Lupey now; I am a 'malcontent!'" cried the
Wallachian, aiming a blow with a heavy hammer at the old man's head.
Uttering a deep groan, Simon fell lifeless to the ground.
The rest of the party saw the scene from the tower.
Barnabas rushed from the room like a maddened tiger, while Jozsef,
retiring cautiously behind the embrasure of the window, aimed his gun
as they were placing his uncle's head upon a spike, and shot the first
who raised it. Another seized it, and the next instant he, too, fell
to the earth; another and another, as many as attempted to raise the
head, till, finally, none dared approach.
The widow loaded the guns while Tamas sat quietly in an armchair.
Meanwhile Barnabas had hurried to the attic, where several large
fragments of iron had been stowed away, and dragging them to a window
which overlooked the entrance, he waited until the gang had assembled
round the door, and were trying to break in; when lifting an enormous
piece with gigantic strength, he dropped it on the heads of the
Fearful cries arose and the gang, who were at the door, fled right and
left, leaving four or five of their number crushed beneath the
The next moment they returned with redoubled fury, dashing stones
against the windows and the roof, while the door resounded with the
blows of their clubs.
Notwithstanding the stones which were flying round him, Barnabas stood
at the window dashing heavy iron masses, and killing two or three men
His brother meanwhile continued firing from the tower, and not a ball
was aimed in vain. The besiegers had lost a great number, and began to
fall back, after fruitless efforts to break in the door, when a
footman entered breathless to inform Barnabas that the Wallachians
were beginning to scale the opposite side of the castle with ladders,
and that the servants were unable to resist them.
Barnabas rushed to the spot.
Two servants lay mortally wounded in one of the back rooms, through
the windows of which the Wallachians were already beginning to enter,
while another ladder had been placed against the opposite window,
which they were beginning to scale as Barnabas entered.
"Here, wretches!" he roared furiously, and, seizing the ladder with
both hands, shook it so violently that the men were precipitated from
it, and then lifting it with supernatural strength, he dashed it
against the opposite one, which broke with the force of the weight
thrown against it, the upper part falling backwards with the men upon
it, while one of the party remained hanging from the window-sill, and,
after immense exertions to gain a footing, he too fell to the earth.
Barnabas rushed into the next room grinding his teeth, his lips
foaming, and his face of a livid hue; so appalling was his appearance;
that one of the gang, who had been the first to enter by the window,
turned pale with terror, and dropped his axe.
Taking advantage of this, Barnabas darted on his enemy, and dragging
him with irresistible force to the window, he dashed him from it.
"On here! as many as you are!" he shouted furiously, the blood gushing
from his mouth from the blow of a stone. "On! all who wish a fearful
At that instant, a shriek of terror rose within the house.
The Wallachians had discovered the little back door which Simon had
left open, and, stealing through it, were already inside the house,
when the shrieks of a servant girl gave the besieged notice of their
Barnabas, seizing his club, hurried in the direction of the sounds; he
met his brother on the stairs, who had likewise heard the cry, and
hastened thither with his gun in his hand, accompanied by the widow.
"Go, sister!" said Jozsef, "take my wife and children to the attics;
we will try to guard the staircase step by step. Kiss them all for me.
If we die, the villains will put us all in one grave—we shall meet
The widow retired.
The two brothers silently pressed hands, and then, standing on the
steps, awaited their enemies. They did not wait long.
The bloodhounds with shouts of vengeance rushed on the narrow stone
"Hah! thus near I love to have you, dogs of hell!" cried Barnabas,
raising his iron club with both hands, and dealing such blows right
and left, that none whom it reached rose again. The stairs were
covered with the dead and wounded, while their death cries, and the
sound of the heavy club, echoed fearfully through the vaulted
The foremost of the gang retreated as precipitately as they had
advanced, but were continually pressed forward again by the members
from behind, while Barnabas drove them back unweariedly, cutting an
opening through them with the blows of his club.
He had already beaten them back nearly to the bottom of the stairs,
when one of the gang, who had concealed himself in a niche, pierced
him through the back with a spike.
Dashing his club amongst the retreating crowd, he turned with a cry of
rage, and seizing his murderer by the shoulders, dragged him down with
him to the ground.
The first four who rushed to help the murderer were shot dead by
Jozsef Bardy, who, when he had fired off both his muskets, still
defended his prostrated brother with the butt-end of one, until he was
overpowered and disarmed; after which a party of them carried him out
to the iron cross, and crucified him on it amidst the most shocking
On trying to separate the other brother from his murderer, they found
them both dead. With his last strength Barnabas had choked his enemy,
whom he still held firmly in his deadly grip, and they were obliged to
cut off his hand in order to disengage the Wallachian's body.
Tamas, the eldest brother, now alone survived. Seated in his armchair
he calmly awaited his enemies, with a large silver chandelier burning
on the table before him.
As the noise approached his chamber, he drew from its jeweled sheath
his broad curved sword, and, placing it on the table before him,
proceeded coolly to examine the ancient blade, which was inscribed
with unknown characters.
At last the steps were at the door; the handle was turned—it had not
even been locked.
The magnate rose, and, taking his sword from the table, he stood
silently and calmly before the enemies, who rushed upon him with
fearful oaths, brandishing their weapons still reeking with the blood
of his brothers.
The nobleman stood motionless as a statue until they came within two
paces of him, when suddenly the bright black steel gleamed above his
head, and the foremost man fell at his feet with his skull split to
the chin. The next received a deep gash in the shoulder of his
outstretched arm, but not a word escaped the magnate's lips, his
countenance retained its cold and stern expression as he looked at his
enemies in calm disdain, as if to say, "Even in combat a nobleman is
worth ten boors."
Warding off with the skill of a professed swordsman every blow aimed
at him, he coolly measured his own thrusts, inflicting severe wounds
on his enemies' faces and heads; but the more he evaded them the more
furious they became. At last he received a severe wound in the leg
from a scythe, and feel on one knee; but without evincing the
slightest pain, he still continued fighting with the savage mob,
until, after a long and obstinate struggle, he fell without a murmur,
or even a death-groan.
The enraged gang cut his body to pieces, and in a few minutes they had
hoisted his head on his own sword. Even then the features retained
their haughty, contemptuous expression.
He was the last man of the family with whom they had to combat, but
more than a hundred of their own band lay stretched in the court and
before the windows, covering the stairs and rooms with heaps of
bodies, and when the shouts of triumph ceased for an instant, the
groans of the wounded and the dying were heard from every side.
None now remained but women and children. When the Wallachians broke
into the castle, the widow had taken them all to the attics, leaving
the door open, that her brothers might find refuge in case they were
forced to retreat; and here the weaker members of the family awaited
the issue of the combat which was to bring them life or death,
listening breathlessly to the uproar, and endeavoring, from its
confused sounds, to determine good or evil.
At last the voices died away, and the hideous cries of the besiegers
ceased. The trembling women believed that the Wallachians had been
driven out, and, breathing more freely, each awaited with impatience
the approach of brother—husband—sons.
At last a heavy step was heard on the stairs leading to the garret.
"This is Barnabas's step!" cried the widow, joyfully, and still
holding the pistols in her hand, she ran to the door of the garret.
Instead of her expected brother, a savage form, drunken with blood,
strode towards her, his countenance burning with rage and triumph.
The widow started back, uttering a shriek of terror, and then with
that unaccountable courage of desperation, she aimed one of the
pistols at the Wallachian's breast, who instantly fell backwards on
one of his comrades, who followed close behind. The other pistol she
discharged into her own bosom.
And now we must draw a veil over the scene that followed. What
happened there must not be witnessed by human eyes.
Suffice it to say, they murdered every one, women and children, with
the most refined and brutal cruelty, and then threw their dead bodies
out of the window from which Barnabas had dashed down the iron
fragments on the besiegers' heads.
They left the old grandmother to the last, that she might witness the
extermination of her whole family. Happily for her, her eyes had
ceased to distinguish the light of sun, and ere long the light of an
eternal glory had risen upon them.
The Wallachians then dug a common grave for the bodies, and threw them
all in together. The little one, whom his parents loved so well, they
cast in alive, his nurse having escaped from the attics and carried
him downstairs, where they had been overtaken by the savages.
"There are only eleven here!" cried one of the gang, who had counted
the bodies, "one of them must be still alive somewhere—there ought to
be twelve!" And then they once more rushed through the empty rooms,
overturning all the furniture, and cutting up and breaking everything
they met with. They searched the garrets and every corner of the
cellars, but without success.
At last a yell of triumph was heard. One of them had discovered a door
which, being painted of the same color as the walls, had hitherto
escaped their observation. It concealed a small apartment in the
turret. With a few blows of their axes it was broken open, and they
"Ah! a rare booty!" cried the foremost of the ruffians, while, with
bloodthirsty curiosity, the others pressed round to see the new
There lay the little orphan with the golden hair; her eyes were closed
and a death-like hue had overspread her beautiful features.
Her aunt; with an instinctive foreboding, had concealed her here when
she took the others to the attic.
The orphan grasped a sharp knife in her hand, with which she had
attempted to kill herself; and when her fainting hands refused the
fearful service, she had swooned in despair.
"Ah!" cried the Wallachians, in savage admiration, their bloodthirsty
countenances assuming a still more hellish expression.
"This is a common booty!" cried several voices together.
"A beautiful girl! A noble lady! ha, ha! She will just suit the
tattered Wallachians!" And with their foul and bloody hands, they
seized the young girl by her fair slight arms.
"Ha! what is going on here?" thundered a voice from behind.
The Wallachians looked round.
A figure stood among them fully a head taller than all the rest. He
wore a brass helmet, in which a deep cleft was visible, and held in
his left hand a Roman sword. His features bore the ancient Roman
"The Decurio!" they murmured, making way for him.
"What is going on here?" he repeated; and seizing the fainting girl in
the arms of a Wallachian, he ordered him to lay her down.
"She is one of our enemies," replied the savage insolently.
"Silence, knave! Does one of the Roumin nation seek enemies in women?
Lay her down instantly."
"Not so, leader," interrupted Lupey; "our laws entitle us to a
division of the spoil. This girl is our booty; she belongs to us after
"I know our laws better than you do, churl! Due division of spoil is
just and fair; but we cast lots for what cannot be divided."
"True, leader: a horse or an ox cannot be divided, and for them we
cast lots, but in this case—"
"I have said it cannot, and I should like to know who dares to say it
Lupey knew the Decurio too well to proffer another syllable, and the
rest turned silently from the girl; one voice alone was heard to
exclaim, "It can!"
"Who dares to say that?" cried the Decurio; "let him come forward!"
A young Wallachian, with long plaited hair, confronted the Decurio. He
was evidently intoxicated, and replied, striking his breast with his
fist: "I said so."
Scarcely had the words escaped his lips, than the Decurio, raising his
left hand, severed the contradictor's head at one stroke from his
body; and as it fell back, the lifeless trunk dropped on its knees
before the Decurio, with its arms around him, as if in supplication.
"Dare anyone still say it can?" asked Numa, with merciless rigor.
The Wallachians turned silently away.
"Put the horses immediately to the carriage; the girl must be placed
in it, and brought to Topanfalvo. Whoever has the good fortune of
winning her, has a right to receive her as I confide her to you; but
if anyone of you should dare to offend her in the slightest degree,
even by a look or a smile, remember this and take example from it,"
continued the Decurio, pointing with his sword to the headless body of
the young man. "And now you may go—destroy and pillage."
At these words the band scattered right and left, the Decurio with the
fainting girl, whom he lifted into the carriage and confided to some
faithful retainers cf the family, pointing out the road across the
In half an hour the castle was in flames and the Wallachians,
descending into the cellars, had knocked out the bottoms of the casks,
and bathed in the sea of flowing wine and brandy, singing wild songs,
while the fire burst from every window enveloping the blackened walls;
after which the revelers departed, leaving their dead, and those who
were too helplessly intoxicated to follow them.
Meanwhile they brought the young girl to the Decurio's house, and as
each man considered that he had an equal right to the prize, they kept
a vigilant eye upon her, and none dared offend her so much as by a
When the Decurio arrived, they all crowded into the house with him,
filling the rooms, as well as the entrance and porch.
Having laid out the spoil before them on the ground, the leader
proceeded to divide it into equal shares, retaining for himself a
portion of ten men, after which most of the band dispersed to their
homes; but a good many remained, greedily eyeing their still
unappropriated victim, who lay pale and motionless as the dead on the
couch of lime-boughs where they had laid her.
"You are waiting, I suppose, to cast lots for the girl?" said Numa
"Certainly," replied Lupey, with an insolent leer; "and his she will
be who casts highest. If two, or ten, or twenty of us should cast the
same, we have an equal right to her."
"I tell you only one can have her," interrupted Numa sternly.
"Then those who win must cast again among each other."
"Casting the die will not do; we may throw all day long, and two may
remain at the end."
"Well, let us play cards for her."
"I cannot allow that, the more cunning will deceive the simpler."
"Well, write our names upon bricks, and throw them all into a barrel;
and whichever name you draw will take away the girl."
"I can say what name I please, for none of you can read."
The Wallachian shook his head impatiently.
"Well, propose something yourself, Decurio."
"I will. Let us try which of us can give the best proof of courage and
daring; and whoever can do that, shall have the girl, for he best
"Well said!" cried the men unanimously. "Let us each relate what we
have done, and then you can judge which among us is the boldest."
"I killed the first Bardy in the court in sight of his family."
"I broke in the door, when that terrible man was dashing down the iron
on our heads."
"But it was I who pierced his heart."
"I mounted the stairs first."
"I fought nearly half an hour with the noble in the cloth of gold."
And thus they continued. Each man, according to his own account, was
the first and the bravest—each had performed miracles of valor.
"You have all behaved with great daring, but it is impossible now to
prove what has happened. The proof must be given here, by all of us
together, before my eyes, indisputably."
"Well, tell us how," said Lupey impatiently, always fearing that the
Decurio was going to deceive them.
"Look here," said Numa, drawing a small cask from beneath the bed—and
in doing so he observed that the young girl half opened her eyes, as
she glanced at him, and then closed them. She was awake, and had heard
As he stooped down, Numa whispered gently in her ear: "Fear nothing,"
and then drew the cask into the middle of the room.
The Wallachians stared with impatient curiosity as he knocked out the
bottom of the cask with a hatchet.
"This cask contains gunpowder," continued Decurio. "We will light a
match and place it in the middle of the cask, and whoever remains
longest in the room is undoubtedly the most courageous; for there is
enough here to blow up not only this house, but the whole of the
At this proposition several of the men began to murmur.
"If any are afraid they are not obliged to remain," said the Decurio
"I agree," said Lupey doggedly. "I will remain here; and perhaps,
after all, it is poppy-seeds you have got there—it looks very much
The Decurio stooped down, and taking a small quantity between his
fingers, threw it into the Wallachian's pipe, which immediately
exploded, causing him to stagger backwards, and the next instant he
stood with a blackened visage, sans beard and moustache, amidst the
jeers and laughter of his comrades.
This only exasperated him the more.
"I will stay for all that!" he exclaimed; and lifting up the pipe
which he had dropped, he walked over and lit it at the burning match
which the Decurio was placing in the cask.
Upon this, two-thirds of the men left the room.
The rest assembled around the cask with much noise and bravado,
swearing by heaven and earth that they would stay until the match
burned out; but the more they swore, the more they looked at the
burning match, the flame of which was slowly approaching the
For some minutes their courage remained unshaken, but after that they
ceased to boast, and began to look at each other in silent
consternation, while their faces grew paler every instant. At last one
or two rose and stood aloof; the others followed their example, and
some grinding their teeth with rage, others chattering with terror,
they all began to leave the room.
Only two remained beside the cask; Numa, who stood with his arms
folded leaning against the foot of the bed; and Lupey, who was sitting
on the iron of the cask with his back turned to the danger, and
As soon as they were alone, the latter glanced behind him and saw the
flame was within an inch of the powder.
"I'll tell you what, Decurio," he said, springing up, "we are only two
left, don't let us make food of each other; let us come to an
understanding on this matter."
"If you are tired of waiting, I can press the match lower."
"This is no jest, Numa; you are risking your own life. How can you
wish to send us both to hell for the sake of a pale girl? But I'll
tell you what—I'll give her up to you if you will only promise that
she shall be mine when you are tired of her."
"Remain here and win her—if you dare."
"To what purpose?" said the Wallachian, in a whining voice, and in his
impatience he began to tear his clothes and stamp with his feet, like
a petted child.
"What I have said stands good," said the Decurio; "whoever remains
longest has the sole right to the lady."
"Well, I will stay, of course; but what do I gain by it? I know you
will stay, too, and then the devil will have us both; and I speak not
only for myself when I say I do not wish that."
"If you do not wish it, you had better be gone."
"Well, I don't care—if you will give me a golden mark."
"Not the half; stay if you like it."
"Decurio, this is madness! The flame will reach the powder
"I see it."
"Well, say a dollar."
"Not a whit."
"May the seventy-seven limited thunder-bolt strike you on St.
Michael's Day!" roared the Wallachian fiercely, as he rushed to the
door; but after he had gone out, he once more thrust his head in and
cried: "Will you give even a florin? I am not gone yet."
"Nor have I removed the match; you may come back." The Wallachian
slammed the door, and ran for his life, till exhausted and breathless
he sank under a tree, where he lay with his tunic over his head, and
his ears covered with his hands, only now and then raising his head
nervously, to listen for the awful explosion which was to blow up the
Meanwhile Numa coolly removed the match, which was entirely burnt
down; and throwing it into the grate, he stepped over to the bed and
whispered into the young girl's ear: "You are free!"
Trembling, she raised herself in the bed and taking the Decurio's
large, sinewy hands within her own, she murmured: "Be merciful! O hear
my prayer, and kill me!"
The Decurio stroked the fair hair of the lovely suppliant.
"Poor child!" he replied gently; "you have nothing to fear; nobody
will hurt you now."
"You have saved me from these fearful people—now save me from
"You have nothing to fear from me," replied the Dacian, proudly; "I
fight for liberty alone, and you may rest as securely within my
threshold as on the steps of the altar. When I am absent you need have
no anxiety, for these walls are impregnable, and if anyone should dare
offend you by the slightest look, that moment shall be the last of his
mortal career. And when I am at home you have nothing to fear, for
woman's image never dwelt within my heart. Accept my poor couch, and
may your rest be sweet!—Imre Bardy slept on it last night."
"Imre!" exclaimed the starting girl. "You have seen him, then?—oh!
where is he!"
The Decurio hesitated. "He should not have delayed so long," he
murmured, pressing his hand against his brow; "all would have been
"Oh! let me go to him; if you know where he is."
"I do not know, but I am certain he will come here if he is
alive—indeed he must come."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because he will seek you."
"Did he then speak—before you?"
"As he lay wounded on that couch, he pronounced your name in his
dreams. Are you not that Jolanka Bardy whom they call 'The Angel'? I
knew you by your golden locks."
The young girl cast down her eyes. "Then you think he will come?" she
said in a low voice. "And my relations?"
"He will come as soon as possible; and now you must take some food and
rest. Do not think about your relations now; they are all in a safe
place—nobody can hurt them more."
The Decurio brought some refreshment, laid a small prayer-book on the
pillow, and left the orphan by herself.
The poor girl opened the prayer-book, and her tears fell like
rain-drops on the blessed page; but, overcome by the fatigue and
terror she had undergone, her head ere long sank gently back, and she
slept calmly and sweetly the sleep of exhausted innocence.
As evening closed, the Decurio returned, and softly approaching the
bed, looked long and earnestly at the fair sleeper's face, until two
large tears stood unconsciously in his eyes.
The Roumin hastily brushed away the unwonted moisture, and as if
afraid of the feeling which had stolen into his breast, he hastened
from the room, and laid himself upon his woolen rug before the open
The deserted castle still burned on, shedding a ghastly light on the
surrounding landscape, while the deepest silence reigned around, only
broken now and then by an expiring groan, or the hoarse song of a
Day was beginning to dawn as a troop of horsemen galloped furiously
towards the castle from the direction of Kolozsvar.
They were Imre and his comrades.
Silently and anxiously they pursued their course, their eyes fixed
upon one point, as they seemed to fly rather than gallop along the
road. "We are too late!" exclaimed one of the party at last, pointing
to a dim red smoke along the horizon. "Your castle is burning!"
Without returning an answer, Imre spurred his panting horse to a
swifter pace. A turn in the road suddenly brought the castle to their
view, its blackened walls still burning, while red smoke rose high
against the side of the hill.
The young man uttered a fierce cry of despair, and galloped madly down
the declivity. In less than a quarter of an hour he stood before the
"Where is my father? where are my family? where is my bride?" he
shrieked in frantic despair, brandishing his sword over the head of a
half-drunken Wallachian, who was leaning against the ruined portico.
The latter fell to his knees, imploring mercy, and declaring that it
was not he who killed them.
"Then they are dead!" exclaimed the unhappy youth, as, half-choked by
his sobs, he fell forward on his horse's neck.
Meanwhile his companions had ridden up, and immediately sounded the
Wallachian, whom, but for Imre's interference, they would have cut
"Lead us to where you have buried them. Are they all dead?" he
continued; "have you not left one alive? Accursed be the sun that
rises after such a night!"
The Wallachian pointed to a large heap of fresh-raised mould. "They
are all there!" he said.
Imre fell from his horse without another word, as if struck down.
His companions removed him to a little distance, where the grass was
They then began to dig twelve graves with their swords.
Imre watched them in silence. He seemed unconscious what they were
When they had finished the graves they proceeded to open the large
pit, but the sight was too horrible, and they carried Imre away by
force. He could not have looked on what was there and still retain his
In a short time, one of his comrades approached and told him that
there were only eleven bodies in the grave.
"Then one of them must be alive!" cried Imre, a slight gleam of hope
passing over his pale features; "which is it?—speak! Is there not a
young girl with golden locks among them?"
"I know not," stammered his comrade, in great embarrassment.
"You do not know?—go and look again." His friend hesitated.
"Let me go—I must know," said Imre impatiently, as the young man
endeavored to detain him.
"O stay, Imre, you cannot look on them; they are all headless!"
"My God!" exclaimed the young man, covering his face with both hands,
and, bursting into tears he threw himself down with his face upon the
His comrades questioned the Wallachian closely as to what he knew
about the young girl. First he returned no answer, pretending to be
drunk and not to understand:
But on their promising to spare his life, on the sole condition that
he would speak the truth, he confessed that she had been carried away
to the mountains, where the band were to cast lots for her.
"I must go!" said Imre, starting as if in a trance.
"Whither?" inquired his comrades.
"To seek her! Take off your dress," he continued, turning to the
Wallachian, "you may have mine in exchange," and, hastily putting on
the tunic, he concealed his pistols in the girdle beneath it.
"We will follow you," said his comrades, taking up their arms; "we
will seek her from village to village."
"No, no, I must go alone! I shall find her more easily alone. If I do
not return, avenge this for me," he said, pointing to the moat; then,
turning to the Wallachian, he added sternly: "I have found beneath
your girdle a gold medallion, which my grandmother wore suspended from
her neck, and by which I know you to be one of her murderers, and, had
I not promised to spare your life, you should now receive the
punishment that you deserve. Keep him here," he said to his comrades,
"until I have crossed the hills, and then let him go."
And taking leave of his friends, he cast one glance at the eleven
heaps, and at the burning castle of his ancestors, and hastened toward
The hoary autumn nights had dyed the leaves of the forest. The whole
country looked as if it had been washed in blood.
Deep amidst the wildest forest the path suddenly descends into a
narrow valley, surrounded by steep rocks at the foot of which lies a
little village half concealed among the trees.
It seemed as if the settlers there had only cleared sufficient ground
to build their dwellings, leaving all the rest a dense forest. Apart
from the rest, on the top of a rock, stood a cottage, which, unlike
others, was constructed entirely of large blocks of stone, and only
approachable by a small path cut in the rock.
A young man ascended this path. He was attired in a peasant's garb and
although he evidently had traveled far, his step was light and fleet.
When he had ascended about halfway, he was suddenly stopped by an
armed Wallachian, who had been kneeling before a shrine in the rock,
and seeing the stranger, rose and stood in his path.
The latter pronounced the Decurio's name, and produced his paszura.
The Wallachian examined it on every side, and then stepped back to let
the stranger pass, after which he once more laid down his scythe and
cap, and knelt before the shrine.
The stranger knocked at the Decurio's door, which was locked, and an
armed Wallachian appeared from behind the rocks, and informed him that
the Decurio was not at home, only his wife.
"His wife?" exclaimed the stranger in surprise.
"Yes, that pale girl who fell to him by lot."
"And she is his wife."
"He told us so himself, and swore that if any of us dared so much as
lift his eye upon her, he would send him to St. Nicholas in paradise."
"Can I not see her?"
"I would not advise you; for if the Decurio hears of it, he will make
halves of you; but you may go around to the window if you like—only
let me get out of the way first, that the Decurio may not find me
The stranger hastened to the window, and looking in, he saw the young
girl seated on an armchair made of rough birch boughs, with a little
prayer-book on her knee; her fair arm supporting her head, while a
mass of golden ringlets half veiled her face, which was as pale as an
alabaster statue; the extreme sadness of its expression rendering her
beauty still more touching.
"Jolanka!" exclaimed the stranger passionately.
She started at the well-known voice, and, uttering a cry of joy,
rushed to the window.
"Oh, Imre!" she murmured, "are you come at last!"
"Can I not enter? can I not speak with you?"
The young girl hastened to unbar the door, which was locked on the
inside, and as Imre entered she threw herself into his arms, while he
pressed her fondly to his heart.
The Wallachian, who had stolen to the window, stood aghast with terror
and, soon as the Decurio arrived, he ran to meet him, and related,
with vehement gesticulations, how the girl had thrown herself into the
"And how did you know that?" asked Numa coldly.
"I saw them through the window."
"And dared you look through my window? Did I not forbid you? Down on
your knees, and pray!"
The Wallachian fell on his knees, and clasped his hands.
"Rebel! you deserve your punishment of death for having disobeyed my
commands; and if you ever dare to open your lips on the subject,
depend upon it, you shall not escape!" And with these words he strode
away, leaving the astonished informer on his knees, in which posture
he remained for some time afterwards, not daring to raise his head
until the Decurio's steps had died away.
As Numa entered the house, the lovers hastened to meet him. For an
instant or two he stood at the threshold, regarding the young man with
a look of silent reproach. "Why did you come so late?" he asked.
Imre held out his hand, but the Decurio did not accept it.
"The blood of your family is on my hand," he whispered. "You have let
dishonor come on me, and mourning on yourself."
The young man's head sunk on his breast in silent anguish.
"Take his hand," said Jolanka, in her low, sweet accents; and then
turning to Imre, "He saved your life—he saved us both, and he will
rescue our family, too."
Imre looked at her in astonishment.
The Decurio seized his arms and drew him aside. "She does not know
that they are dead," he whispered; "she was not with them, and knows
nothing of their fate; and I have consoled her with the idea that they
are all prisoners, she must never know the horrors of that fearful
"But sooner or later she will hear it."
"Never! you must leave the place and the kingdom. You must go to
"My way lies towards Hungary."
"You must not think of it. Evil days await that country; your prophets
do not see them, but I know, and see them clearly. Go to Turkey; I
will give you letters by which you may pass in security through
Wallachia and Moldavia; and here is a purse of gold—do not scruple to
accept it, for it is your own, it belonged to them. Promise me, for
her sake," he continued earnestly, pointing to Jolanka, "that you will
not go to Hungary."
Imre hesitated. "I cannot promise what I am not sure I shall fulfill;
but I shall remember your advice."
Numa took the hands of the two lovers, and, gazing long and earnestly
on their faces, he said, in a voice of deep feeling, "You love one
They pressed his hand in silence.
"You will be happy—you will forget your misfortunes. God bless and
guide you on your way! Take these letters, and keep the direct road to
Brasso, by the Saxon-land. You will find free passage
everywhere, and never look behind until the last pinnacles of the
snowy mountains are beyond your sight. Go! we will not take leave, not
a word, let us forget each other!"
The Decurio watched the lovers until they were out of sight; and
called to them, even when they could hear him no longer: "Do not go
He then entered his house. The prayer-book lay open as the young girl
had left it; the page was still damp with her tears. Numa's hand
trembled, as he kissed the volume fervently and placed it in his
When night came on, the Roumin lay down on his wolf-skin couch, where
the golden-haired maiden, and her lover before her, had slept, but it
seemed as if they had stolen his rest—he could not close his eyes
there, so he rose and went out on the porch, where he spread his rug
before the open door; but it was long ere he could sleep—there was an
unwonted feeling at his heart, something like happiness, yet
inexpressibly sad; and, buried in deep reverie, he lay with his eyes
fixed on the dark blue starry vault above him till past midnight.
Suddenly he thought he heard the report of some fire-arms at a great
distance, and at the same moment two stars sank beneath the horizon.
Numa thought of the travelers, and a voice seemed to whisper, "They
are now happy!"
The moon had risen high in the heavens, when the Decurio was roused
from his sleep by heavy footsteps, and five or six Wallachians, among
whom was Lupey, stood before him.
"We have brought two enemies' heads," said the latter, with a dark
look at the Decurio; "pay us their worth!" and taking two heads from
his pouch he laid them on Numa's mat.
The Wallachians watched their leader's countenance with sharp,
Numa recognized the two heads by the light of the moon. They were
those of Imre and Jolanka, but his features did not betray the
"You will know them probably," continued Lupey. "The young magnate,
who escaped us at the pass, came for the girl in your absence, and at
the same time stole your money, and, what is more, we found your
paszura upon him also."
"Who killed them?" asked the Decurio, in his usual calm voice.
"None of us," replied the Wallachian; "as we rushed upon them, the
young magnate drew two pistols from his girdle, and shot the girl
through the head first, and himself afterwards."
"Were you all there?"
"And more of us besides."
"Go back and bring the rest. I will divide the money you have found on
them among you. Make haste; and should one of you remain behind, his
share will be divided among the rest."
The Wallachians hastened to seek their comrades with cries of joy.
The Decurio then locked the door, and, throwing himself upon the
ground beside the two heads, he kissed them a hundred times, and
sobbed like a child.
"I warned you not to go toward Hungary!" he said bitterly. "Why did
you not hear me, unhappy children? why did you not take my word?" and
he wept over his enemies' heads as if he had been their father.
He then rose, his eyes darting fire, and, shaking his terrible fist,
he cried, in a voice hoarse with rage: "Czine mintye!"
In a few hours, the Wallachians had assembled before the Decurio's
house. They were about fifty or sixty, all wild, fearful-looking men.
Numa covered the two heads with a cloth, and laid them on the bed,
after which he opened the door.
Lupey entered last.
"Lock the door," said Numa, when they were all in; "we must not be
interrupted;" and, making them stand in a circle, he looked around at
them all, one by one.
"Are you all here?" he asked at last.
"Not one is absent."
"Do you consider yourselves all equally deserving of sharing the
"All of us."
"It was you," he continued to Lupey, "who struck down the old man?"
"And you who pierced the magnate with a spike?"
"You are right, leader."
"And you really killed all the women in the castle?" turning to a
"With my own hand."
"And one and all of you can boast of having massacred, and plundered,
and set on fire?"
"All! all!" they cried, striking their breasts.
"Do not lie before Heaven. See! your wives are listening at the window
to what you say, and will betray you if you do not speak the truth."
"We speak the truth!"
"It is well!" said the leader, as he calmly approached the bed; and,
seating himself on it, uncovered the two heads and placed them on his
knee. "Where did you put their bodies?" he asked.
"We cut them in pieces and strewed them on the highroad."
There was a short silence. Numa's breathing became more and more
oppressed, and his large chest heaved convulsively. "Have you prayed
yet?" he asked in an altered voice.
"Not yet, leader. What should we pray for?" said Lupey.
"Fall down on your knees and pray, for this is the last morning which
will dawn on any of you again."
"Are you in your senses, leader? What are you going to do?"
"I am going to purge the Roumin nation of a set of ruthless murderers
and brigands. Miserable wretches; instead of glory, you have brought
dishonor and disgrace upon our arms wherever you have appeared. While
the brave fought on the field of battle, you slaughtered their wives
and children; while they risked their lives before the cannon's mouth
you attacked the house of the sleepers and robbed and massacred the
helpless and the innocent. Fall down on your knees and pray for your
souls, for the angel of death stands over you, to blot out your memory
from among the Roumin people!"
The last words were pronounced in a fearful tone. Numa was no longer
the cold unmoved statue he had hitherto appeared, he was like a fiery
genius of wrath, whose very breath was destruction.
The Wallachians fell upon their knees in silent awe, while the women
who had been standing outside, rushed shrieking down the rocks.
The Decurio drew a pistol from his breast, and approached the cask of
With a fearful howl, they rushed upon him; the shriek of despair was
heard for an instant, then the terrible explosion which caused the
rocks to tremble, while the flames rose with a momentary flash amidst
clouds of dust and smoke, scaring the beasts of the forest, and
scattering stones and beams, and hundreds of dismembered limbs, far
through the valley, and over the houses of the terrified inhabitants!
When the smoke had dissipated, a heap of ruins stood in the place of
The sun rose and smiled upon the earth, which was strewed with the
last leaves of autumn, but where were those who had assembled at the
spring-time of the year?
The evening breezes whispered mournfully through the ruined walls, and
strewed the faded leaves upon eleven grassy mounds.
The pen trembles in my hand—my heart sickens at the recital of such
Would that I could believe it an imagination—the ghostly horror of a
Would that I could bid my gentle readers check the falling tear or
tell them: "Start not with horror; it is but romance—the creation of
some fearful dream—let us awake and see it no more!"
FOOTNOTES TO THIRTEEN AT TABLE:
[1: There is a race of the Hungarians in the Carpath who, unlike the
Hungarians of the plain, have blue eyes and often fair hair.]
[2: Part of the free corps raised in 1848.]
[3: Blue and gold are the colors of Transylvania.]
[6: The Wallachians were, in the days of Trajan, subdued by the
Romans, with whom they became intermixed, and are also called Roumi.]
[7: Everything on which a double-headed eagle—the emblem of the
Austrian Government—was painted, engraved or sculptured, the
Wallachians called paszura.]
[8: Olah, Wallachian—ok, plural.]
[9: Brasso, or Kyonstadt, a town in the southeast of Transylvania, on
the frontier of Wallachia.]
[10: A district inhabited by a colony of Saxons.]
[11: Czine mintye!—A Wallachian term signifying revenge.]