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AN HUNGARIAN MAGNATE.
A HORSEMAN dashed at full speed through the extensive village of Nyirsalu, in Eastern Hungary. He was a fine-looking man, and might reckon some five-and-thirty years; his long hair was of a chesnut colour, and his beard full and thick. His features were regularly handsome, and whenever he opened his generally closed lips, white teeth glimmered between them. His elegant Hungarian costume rendered his appearance even more striking. His short, closely-fitting coat, like the rest of his attire, was black, and light golden spurs glistened on his boots. In spite of the excessive cold, which was some fourteen degrees below freezing point, he had thrown back his fur dolman, which fluttered in the breeze as he rode along, and gave him a bold and dashing appearance. His horse, a young apple-grey, black-spotted animal, was an Arab. It flew lightly along the road, and the rider had no necessity to employ either spurs or whip.
This handsome horseman was the deputy and president, George von Raikocsi, the pride of the Hungarian gentry of the Comitat. He lived in Nyirsalu, and was the richest proprietor in this large Magyar village, which contained more than ten thousand souls. One-fourth of the village, and of the estates attached to it, was his property.
Many a window in the houses situated along the road was opened, and more than one pretty youthful maiden face gazed out with a smile at the stately rider. On this morning, however, he had not the slightest greeting for one of them, and a gloomy expression covered his features. On returning from a visit in the neighbourhood, he had learned that during the night his four carriage-horses had been stolen from his stables, in spite of police and watchmen. Four horses were no loss for him; he would not have moved a feature about them; but these were valuable animals, and difficult for him to replace. When he drove out with them, harnessed four abreast in a light carriage, he could lay a heavy wager that no one for sixty miles round possessed a team so admirably broken in, or which obeyed the slightest pressure of the bit so excellently as these animals. They had been his pride, and he had boasted of their training. And, in the bargain, the impudence to take the horses out of his stable! What availed him his position and power as president, if they were unable to protect him from such roguery? ? He fancied that the thief had committed the deed merely to insult him, and feeling more angry still at this thought, he dug his spurs into his horse's flanks, so that it flew along like an arrow, and bore him to his home in a few minutes.
Without deigning a glance at the noble animal, he leaped off its back and walked towards his mansion. The police commissary, Melzi, came to meet him, followed by three heyduks-tall, powerful fellows.
"Such is the way, then, that the police are managed in Nyirsalu, that
the villains can steal the horses out of my stable, though I am president of the tribunal," Raikocsi shouted to him with a rough oath.
Melzi shrugged his shoulders. "The police cannot be charged with inattention," he replied; "they were crafty horse thieves, and I have already arrested four Wallachs."
"Who are they?"
"The old herd and scamp Stanko, two young fellows, equally cunning rogues, and Philippovitch, the bear-hunter and horse-stealer."
"Have you proofs ?" the president asked."
"The robbery was executed with so much cunning and daring, that Philippovitch and Stanko must necessarily have carried it out, or at least arranged it. Is not that proof enough?" Melzi remarked.
"I cannot think Philippovitch guilty of such an action," Raikocsi objected; "for though he is crafty and daring, he has pride, and even as horse-stealer a certain amount of honesty. He filches all his horses from across the Turkish or Russian border, or steals from the Jews, and I never yet heard that he stole the property of an Hungarian. There is something in his manner which it is impossible to despise: he takes from the rich and helps the poor."
A smile played over Melzi's face." Philippovitch has not stolen your horses for the sake of the animals," he replied; "but suppose he wished to insult you, and give vent to a feeling of hatred? Suppose the daring nature of the exploit seduced him?"
Raikocsi pressed his lips together. Almost the same thoughts had occurred to him.
"Why do you suppose that ?" he asked.
"From an expression he recently made use of in a public-house, when he openly stated that he did not fear your power or mine in the slightest, but would carry out any design in your teeth. He is a Wallach, he loves his race, and he is almost venerated by them; and he hates every Magyar, on account of the oppression and contempt his people suffer from them. He would find it an easy matter to get on, but he will not desert his tribe. Be on your guard against him, for the Wallachs are revengeful."
A proud, contemptuous smile played over the landowner's face. He knew no fear, least of all of a Wallach. "I will examine the accused men," he answered, shortly, and walked, followed by the police commissary and his heyduks, to the town-hall, which stood in an open square in the centre of the village. The burgomaster was also summoned.
Carelessly throwing himself into an arm-chair, the president awaited the arrival of the prisoners with petulant silence. When they entered, their chains rattled, for their feet were thrust through heavy rings wedded together by thick fetters. Stanko and the two young fellows were dressed alike. They wore the white bunda, and dirty trousers of coarse white stuff. Thin and of middle height, they had a yellowish complexion, large black eyes, expressive features, and black hair. Stanko seemed to be close on sixty, but he really counted seventy-four years, and had passed at least one-third of his life in prison. Wind and weather had hardened his body.
The features of these three men did not express the slightest fear; and, indeed, Stanko regarded the magistrates with a contemptuous look. Philippovitch was a handsome man, of about two-and-thirty. His
slight stature, his delicate, shapely limbs, his long pale face, his small moustache, his finely-chiselled lips and white teeth, his silky hair, his large black eyes overshadowed by the long eyelashes, the entire expression of his face,-all gave him a noble appearance. At the first glance his countenance produced an agreeable effect, but the wrinkle that crossed his broad forehead indicated a firm and unbending will. His dress consisted of a brown cloak with red cords, loose brown trousers, a cap of marten-skin, and tall morocco-leather boots.
Melzi commenced the examination. The prisoners denied their guilt obstinately. Stanko answered the police commissary's questions with jests, Philippovitch shortly and seriously. After about half an hour the latter lost patience, and said to Melzi, " You weary me. Condemn me if you please: I shall not say a word further. As, however, I did not steal the horses, you will convict me unjustly." And his eye sparkled darkly and threateningly.
Melzi tried to conceal his rising anger. "It is said, Philippovitch," he replied, "that you only rob Russians and Jews, and give openly to the poor what you take from the rich. Throughout the country there is no bear-hunter equal to you; but you have insulted myself and the high, well-born president, and you will have to repent it. I will not say that you have acted as a rogue, for you lay claim to noble birth, and any insulting expression is prohibited me by law; but I tell you that a gallows' rope is worth more than you, with all your haughty demeanour. I will give you the opportunity to reflect over your want of uprightness and your past conduct."
Philippovitch shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, but answered never a word.
At the police commissary's order the heyduks seized the prisoners, tore off their cloaks, led them in front of the town-house, and bound them securely to posts generally used for tying up horses, as well as for gagging heavy criminals.
Philippovitch said not a word. He looked gloomy and threatening. Not one of the inhabitants of the village, who had eagerly flocked up, dared to ridicule him, for he would have avenged it.
While the prisoners without began to tremble with cold, the president, police commissary, and burgomaster sat down comfortably to a steaming bowl of punch, and played in the best possible temper a game of taroc. "Do you think you will bring the fellows to confess by means of the cold?" the landowner asked, presently.
Melzi laughed cunningly:
"I intend to employ a little recipe, which will make their tongues wag."
The heyduks had brought in four buckets of water. Melzi rose, opened the window, and dashed a bucket of cold water on the head of each of the prisoners, who stood exactly under the window.
The unhappy men were unprepared for this, and became restless. They shook themselves, and looked silently at Philippovitch, who turned pale, and pressed his lips tightly together. It was only his menacing look that revealed his feelings. The three herds trembled with cold, however much they might seek to hide it, but drops of perspiration beaded on Philippovitch's forehead.
Melzi shut the window, and seated himself again at the card-table. He did not think of the wretches outside, for he was in luck. Raikocsi at length laid the cards aside, and asked,
"Is it the first time that you treat thieves like flower-pots?"
Melzi laughed, and declared that it was the best way to bring obstinate sinners to confess, and ordered the heyduks to fetch four more buckets.
"How long will you leave the fellows out there?" the president asked further.
"Had they been Germans, not half an hour, for they would hardly escape with life. But these men are capable of enduring such frost for three hours, and merely catch an ordinary cold in the head. If they are wrapped in their bundas, they care little whether it snows or rains. I have seen Wallachs over whom a very snowball has collected. No one could have suspected a human being beneath, and yet a Wallach lay there in his bunda fast asleep."
He opened the window, and a second bucket of water was slowly poured on Stanko's grey head. The old man trembled violently in all his limbs, and looked at Philippovitch.
"Confess, and trust to me," the latter said, in Wallachian.
Stanko shouted, with a forced laugh:
"My lord commissary, I stole the horses, with the help of these two. Philippovitch is innocent."
"Indeed," Melzi said, with a sarcastic glance at the bear-hunter. "His innocence will have to be proved."
He gave the heyduks orders to unfasten the confessedly guilty men, and lead them into the town-house.
"Give them each a glass of spiced wine," said Raikocsi, walking to the window.
Philippovitch gave him a piercing glance:
"You are very late in showing your pity, my lord president," he exclaimed.
"You can speak now, then !" Raikocsi said, with a triumphant laugh. "If you are innocent, you can easily prove to us that you were at home last night."
The young Wallach exchanged a glance with a pretty young girl among the crowd who was known to be his betrothed, and was silent.
At this moment a Hulan officer came galloping down the road, followed by his servant, and stopped his horse in surprise on seeing Philippovitch. The latter turned pale on recognising the officer; it was Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Aldany. The latter guessed from the prisoner's wet clothes and the bucket in the open window what had occurred. Melzi and the president were standing behind it.
"Are you not ashamed, sir, to be guilty of such an act ?" the officer shouted to the latter in German. "It is unworthy of an Hungarian!" Raikocsi, who was on bad terms with Aldany, smiled superciliously: "The fellow stole four valuable horses of mine last night: he will be loosed from the post so soon as he confesses."
Aldany looked at Philippovitch. Their glances met, and the Wallach's eye remained calm.
"He is innocent!" Aldany shouted. "He has not robbed you, my
lord president; in any case, I will be bail for him, no matter the amount required. Heyduks, remove his chains and set him at liberty."
The heyduks did not stir, but looked inquiringly at the police commissary, who appeared angry and confused.
Once again Aldany repeated his order without success. The country folk who stood curiously around became restless-it was in 1847-and one of them shouted that an imperial officer, and German in the bargain, had no orders to give here, and had no right to assail the privileges of the people.
Aldany drew himself up in the saddle. "Unfasten the man, heyduks!" he shouted. "I am Count Aldany, an Hungarian magnate."
Many heads were uncovered, and the heyduks unfastened the prisoner without further hesitation. Philippovitch shook his stiffened limbs and wrapped himself in his cloak.
able to go
home alone?" the officer asked. "Yes," the young Wallach answered, "I thank your excellency. I did not steal the horses. If ever you require a man, I am at your service."
He drew his cap over his ears, gave the president and commissary a threatening look, and went rapidly off.
Raikocsi, in spite of his ill will, could not help inviting the lieutenantcolonel to step inside. The latter accepted the invitation, because he owed the president an explanation about his sympathy with Philippovitch.
"I had him for four years in my squadron when I was in Transylvania as captain in the Archduke Joseph's Hussars," he narrated, after entering the house. "I took him as my orderly. He was the best horseman among my men. He tamed the wildest horse, and in a fortnight broke in the most obstinate. He accompanied me in all the bear-hunts I made with Count Remeny, and he soon proved that he was superior to all. No one understood better than he how to find the animal's track. When the bear was shot, and rendered furious, he would attack it in the Wallach fashion with axe and knife. I secured his promotion as corporal, and afterwards as sergeant, but then he was removed to another squadron. His new captain did not like his free unaffected manner, and Philippovitch at times neglected his duty by going hunting. The captain got in a passion with him one day, and had him put in irons. The young hothead drew his sabre and threw it at the captain's head, slightly wounding him. Philippovitch was degraded, and sentenced to run the gauntlet four times. I felt sorry for him, and obtained his pardon and dismissal. He was in all respects a faithful and honest lad. Since then I have learned to my regret that he does not confine his expeditions to hunting, but fetches horses out of Turkey and Russia and sells them among us. He told me that he did not steal your horses, and Philippovitch never told a falsehood."