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A passionate sportsman will stand thus for hours in the lukewarm water, and it frequently happens that he comes across a herd of buffaloes, which lie down in the water to recover from the heat of the day, and often only raise their noses above the reeds. If he notice them in time, he gets out of their way, for if excited, the buffalo is an enemy that fears a duck-gun very little.
The Hungarians are passionately fond of such sport. Philippovitch had learned through his sweetheart that the vice-gespann, on whom he had not yet taken his revenge, was going to shoot the following morning on the Szamosvar moor. He was thoroughly acquainted with this moor, not only as sportsman, but also as enemy of the police, for it was bordered on one side by a wood, on the other by a river. It would serve him as a secure refuge in case of need.
Philippovitch had still to revenge himself on the vice-gespann for the icy ducking, and the idea occurred to him of requiting it by fire.
"The vice-gespann is active and strong," he thought to himself; "perhaps he will escape with life. At any rate, it will warm him, and a gentle roasting will do him no harm."
Filled with these thoughts, he went to a countryman who watched buffaloes on the moor. The latter gladly seized the opportunity of playing an Hungarian official a trick; moreover, he detested the reeds, in which his oxen were often lost. The plan of the two Wallachs was, therefore, speedily formed.
When Raikocsi appeared with his servant on the moor, he had no idea that two men, provided with lucifers and tow, crept after him, in order to fire the reeds at the moment when he was in the midst of them.
So soon as Philippovitch and his comrade saw the vice-gespann was well among the reeds, they parted. One hurried towards the river, the other to the wood. Each threw here and there burning tow into the reeds.
The north wind soon blew the smoke over the entire moor. At first Raikocsi paid no attention to it, believing that one of the peasants in the neighbourhood was burning reeds. The flames soon leaped up, however, and spread in a northern direction. Raikocsi considered this serious, and turned back at once. But the clouds of smoke grew denser and denser: he soon heard, too, the crackling of the flames, which now became visible in the south also. He found himself between two enormous fires.
Hasty flight between the two seas of fire to the ground not yet burning was the sole chance of safety. The vice-gespann hurried towards the river, for he remembered that the reed-beds there were damper and less extensive. But he was obliged to make more than one circuit to escape the flames, and more than once he gave up all hope of salvation. ever-rising flames constantly drove him onward, while the hot, stifling smoke almost deprived him of his senses.
For nearly ten minutes he ran anxiously backwards and forwards, and then saw no way out. Surrounded by the flames, he threw himself, breathless and desperate, with singed beard, hair, and clothing, on the ground. Even the mud in which he sank grew hot. His servant shouted loudly, but in vain, for help. In a few minutes the flames reached this place of refuge, and Raikocsi sprang up again, and rushed wildly on. Whither? He did not know himself. It was the haste of unconscious
despair. At this moment he saw, at a distance of about thirty yards, water streaming behind the burning, blackened reeds. A little stream ran there through the slimy peat soil. Like a madman he rushed
through the burning stalks, and threw himself into the muddy water. His servant followed him. The fire had already caught the clothes of both the Hungarians.
The fire extended to the stream.
Raikocsi waded in water to the middle of the swamp. At the moment he leaped into the water he heard his powder-flask explode, which he had thrown away a short time previously.
Two other persons heard the report, and accounted for it correctly: the Wallachian herd, who was quietly seated again by his buffaloes, and Philippovitch, who was hurrying towards the wood. "If he be not dead," the latter thought, "the fire, at any rate, will have frightened him a little."
With singed hair, burned clothes, and covered from head to foot with mud, Raikocsi, exhausted almost to death, reached his carriage, which he had left a short distance off. Philippovitch saw him from the wood; he saw his condition, noticed the tottering of his legs, and a smile of contentment glided over his pale features.
With the expenditure of his last strength the vice-gespann got into his carriage. He looked back. One side of the moor, for a length of three miles, was a black smoking surface, with smoke and flame still rising at various points.
When he looked back towards the wood, he fancied he could recognise Philippovitch in a man hurrying along through the trees.
might have deceived him, and yet he was only too well aware that the Wallach had fired the moor, and that the flames were aimed at his life. He silently pressed his lips together, and flogged the horses, in order to reach Nyirsalu as speedily as possible.
Both Philippovitch and Raikocsi knew what thoughts filled the breast of the other, and both only thought of vengeance. The vice-gespann was certainly protected by the power of his position, and Philippovitch was on his guard, although he was defended more than he supposed by Raikocsi's fear of the Brethren of the Cross. He did not dare employ open violence against the bear-hunter. Philippovitch was, at the same time, the head of the whole Wallachian party, and the death of their leader would have forced them into open revolt. Raikocsi intended to take his revenge secretly.
MONTHS had passed.
A great hunt was arranged in the extensive forest between Szamos and the little town of Bilknik. This wood was more than forty miles in circumference, and was full of game. The officers of an Austrian garrison quartered in the vicinity, the Magyars, and Hungarian gentlemen living near, also joined the hunt. More than one hundred and fifty beaters were ordered out from twelve parishes.
On the evening before the chase all assembled in front of the forest.
Raikocsi was among the sportsmen, and an angry frown settled on his face when he noticed among the horsemen who came up Philippovitch, mounted on a capital Russian horse, and fully equipped for the chase.
The two men got out of each other's way.
The sportsmen were assembled by bugle signals. Trees were felled, brushwood collected, and in a few minutes a mighty fire crackled. Sausages and slices of bacon were broiled, gourd bottles of potato schnapps passed from hand to hand, and soon after beaters, Wallachs, and Magyars were lying round the fire, waiting for the morrow.
The sportsmen sat over the bottle in a neighbouring forester's house till late in the night, and then had a few hours' sleep.
Bugles aroused the sleepers shortly before daybreak, and the whole party proceeded into the forest. The beaters were divided into squads, and the sportsmen posted by the forester. One of the beaters had remained a little behind to light a pipe. Raikocsi saw him: it was the old herd Stanko. The vice-gespann still owed him a grudge for the horse robbery. He abused him for his dawdling, had him thrown down, and ten blows administered-he was only a Wallach.
Several of the officers expressed their horror at this severity. The old man rose: he had not given way to a single cry, but his cheeks were pale, and his lips quivered.
Philippovitch had seen all this, and more than once his hand had clutched his rifle to send a bullet through the vice-gespann's head. But he retained his self-command.
The sportsmen were posted, and Philippovitch by some accident stood but a short distance from Raikocsi. The forester who stationed the shooters, and knew Philippovitch's sure aim, had given him this spot, because close behind it was a carriage full of ladies who wished to witness the sport, and required a sure defender, because it was suspected that there was a bear in the forest.
Raikocsi gave the bear-hunter a black, furious look, to which the other replied by a sarcastic smile.
The chase began. Roebuck, foxes, wild-boars, hares, and even a wolf were shot. The first drive was soon over, and the beaters were close up to the line of sportsmen. Philippovitch had paid but little attention to the sport, which offered him but slight interest, as no danger or difficulty was connected with it.
Suddenly he noticed that there was a silence in the centre of the long line of beaters. Presently the shout was raised, "A bear! a bear!"
The ladies became alarmed, but Philippovitch begged them to trust to him. He got his faithful rifle in readiness, and put his heavy axe ready
Most of the sportsmen were not prepared for such game, and could not conceal a feeling of apprehension.
Directly after the bushes parted, and a large black bear with a white throat, the most dangerous of all, slowly trotted towards the sportsmen. Philippovitch shouted to his next man not to fire yet, but several shots echoed through the forest at the moment. The bear was hit and wounded, but not incapacitated. It growled loudly, and displayed its terrible white teeth.
It rushed straight at the vice-gespann, but stopped at a distance of
thirty yards. The latter raised his gun, and discharged both barrels at it. The furious animal, struck in the side, dashed at its enemy, and stood upon its hind legs. Raikocsi dauntlessly clubbed his rifle to attack it with the butt. He was in the utmost peril.
Not one of the sportsmen dared fire, because the vice-gespann stood in front of the bear. Philippovitch alone could have done so, and he never missed his mark. But he did not seem to think of it. He had let his heavy rifle fall, and held his axe in the right hand.
He knew best the danger to which his enemy was exposed, but he would not, could not, assist him. A savage grin crossed his face when he noticed that the vice-gespann, in spite of all his blows at the bear's head, drew each moment nearer to death. At length Raikocsi's rifle was broken by a heavy blow, and he involuntarily gave a cry, for he saw that he was hopelessly lost. He tried to fly, but the bear caught him up with one spring, and dashed him to the ground with its paw. But Philippovitch could stand it no longer : he forgot his enmity for the moment, for the bear-hunter's nature was powerfully excited in him. With one spring he stood by the bear's side; his heavy axe flashed through the air, and cleft the animal's head in two; a second stroke cut off the paw that held the vice-gespann down.
The bear had fallen dead, and hardly quivered. A loud hurrah greeted the determined bear-hunter. Now he appeared to notice, for the first time, that he had saved the life of his bitterest foe. He gave a contemptuous and sarcastic glance at the slightly injured vice-gespann.
"We shall meet again!" he shouted to him; then turned away, mounted his horse, and galloped off, not troubling himself about the bear.
Raikocsi trembled. He understood the Wallach's glance, and at this moment would sooner have been torn asunder by the bear.
A LIFE FOR A LIFE.
MORE than a year had passed since this day. Much had altered in Hungary since then. The storms and disturbances of 1849 had broken out in that country, and war everywhere prevailed. The dreamy hopes to which the Magyars yielded were for a moment fulfilled. Suddenly, however, the scene changed. The Sclavons would neither speak Hungarian nor surrender their own manners and customs. Wallachs, Saxons, Croats, and Slovaks evinced most hostile feelings. Kossuth and his partisans had carried the war into Austria: the whole of Hungary was in a state of revolt.
But the events of that year are too well known: we can only record some incidents of it.
Even before Windischgrätz marched into Hungary, Philippovitch and his friend Jensko, who in the mean while had married his sister, placed themselves at the head of the Wallachs to avenge themselves on the Magyars for years of oppression. Their first daring exploit was an attack on Nyirsalu. They plundered Raikocsi's house and then burned it. The vice-gespann, who was attached to the Liberal Hungarian party, took his revenge on the bear-hunter's cottage.
Philippovitch's band soon counted above a thousand, all wild, determined men, who followed their courageous leader everywhere. The Hungarians were afraid of them, for cruelty and arson marked their path. Still they requited it on the Wallachian and German villages.
Dispersed by the numerical superiority of the Hungarians, the Wallachs retired in small bands to the mountains on the Polish frontier. Philippovitch collected them again, and when the proper moment arrived, the terrible bear-hunter dashed down from the mountains with his band like an avalanche, and committed frightful atrocities. It was the day of that revenge which he had awaited so long.
Thus the dice fell lucky and unlucky by turns, until the scene beneath the walls of the castle of Szamosvar, one of the last in the great sanguinary drama.
Stephan Bermy resided in the castle, but he lay sick and at death's door in bed. A brigade, commanded by Raikocsi, whom the Magyar government had nominated commissary-general, had arrived at Szamosvar, and prepared the castle for the best resistance possible. Loopholes were made in the walls, and four guns on the roof swept the plain, where a powerful Austrian corps appeared on the same day. Both bodies prepared for a serious contest.
This took place on the following day. Two ladies were standing at a window of the castle, and watching the action through a telescope with great anxiety. Fortune had as yet declared for neither party, and a violent conflict was taking place at the moment between a regiment of Austrian Hulans and one of Hungarian Hussars.
The bugles were sounding their piercing isolated notes, which urged on the squadrons to the contest. The ground shook again beneath the hoofstrokes of two thousand horses. Both regiments broke their ranks— a very rare instance in cavalry actions-and the troops fought singly.
The fate of the engagement was still undecided, though it seemed to be slightly in favour of the Hungarians, when a loud wild yell and the sounds of cow-horns were heard in the rear of the Magyars. At the same instant some three hundred horsemen dashed at the Hungarians.
We are lost!" one of the ladies standing at the window shrieked, as she staggered back. "We are lost! they are the Wallachs!"
At the head of the little band, who were armed with scythes, lances, and sabres, and dashed with wild fury on the startled Hungarians, rode their leader, Philippovitch, the bear-hunter. His eye flew along the ranks of the Hungarians. He sought some one-Raikocsi. No sooner did he see him than he rushed towards him. Raikocsi also recognised his embittered foe, and swung his sabre in the air. In a second they met. Philippovitch held a pistol in his hand; he pulled the trigger, but missed. At the same moment the Hungarian's sabre was buried in his chest. "Die, dog!" Raikocsi yelled loudly and furiously. But he had not raised his blood-dripping sabre again, ere a second shot from the Wallach scattered his brains. Without a cry he fell from his horse.
Philippovitch appeared unwounded. He held the pistol in his hand, and drew himself up in the saddle; his eye rested on his fallen foe, and a glad smile of pleasure played over his features; then, he fell dead from his horse, and the two men who had hated each other so fervently lay side by side.