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THE BRETHREN OF THE CROSS.
IN Philippovitch's soul henceforward there was only one feeling, that of the most glowing hatred against the president. His former officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Aldany, had taken his promise not to make any attack on Raikocsi's life, and he had given it. Never before had the thought of murder occupied his mind, but now he could not get rid of it. Still, there were other ways of avenging himself on the president.
With such thoughts and resolutions he reached the Wallachian village of Pancsova, in which he lived, and possessed one of the best houses. Though it was only thatched with straw, it had three glazed windows in front, and a spacious court-yard with a boarded stable, in which at times eight or ten Moldavian or Russian horses stood. In the interior of the house cleanliness and order prevailed. Philippovitch not only possessed the greatest power over the Wallachs, but was also considered one of the most prosperous men among them.
The greatest interest was excited in the house of Philippovitch by the room in which he kept his instruments of the chase. Half a dozen bearskins hung on the walls, along with a rifle, a long duck-gun, a doublebarrelled fowling-piece, two short axes, a lance, two saddles, a cavalry sabre, a brace of pistols, and a dagger. In a corner of the room was suspended a small board, in which a long knife-blade was fixed, and the thongs attached to it showed that it was employed as a breastplate. Philippovitch fastened it on his chest when he went hunting, and when a bear hugged him the knife-blade quietly ran into its breast.
Still and silent the young Wallach sat down in his room. He gave no answer either to his mother, or to a pretty young girl, his sister, who bore an unmistakable likeness to him. He did not even think of changing his wet clothes. What did they matter? He was no delicate townsOn his frequent bear-hunts he had far greater privations to endure than spending a few hours in wet clothes, even in the winter season. Though he did not look strong, he had grown hardened by wind and storm, and the strength and elasticity of his muscles were almost incredible.
He sat there brooding gloomily. Suddenly the door of the room opened, and a tall, almost blonde, but weather-beaten young man appeared on the threshold.
"Ha, Jensko!" Philippovitch exclaimed, as he sprang up, and hurried towards the new arrival. Almost forcibly he drew him into the room, and seized his hand. For a moment he looked him fixedly in the face, and a tear gathered in his own eye.
"Wilt thou stand by me, Jensko?" he at length asked. Certainly, whatever it may
be. Are we not brothers of the cross and faithful partners?" Jensko replied. Philippovitch pressed his hand firmly.
Both young men belonged to the Union of the Brethren of the Cross, who had vowed fidelity to each other in life and death. This fraternity was drunk in water, in which a few drops of blood from each of the confederates were mingled, and out of a jug at the bottom of which a
cross lay. Those who had drunk thus were united for life. In addition, Jensko was a passionate and undaunted bear-hunter like Philippovitch himself, and although a native of Transylvania, the two young men generally went bear-hunting together.
In a few words Philippovitch described what had occurred, and both left the room, in order to consult about the revenge to be taken on the president.
Three days later Raikocsi found the following letter on the table of his saloon:
"IN THE NAME OF GOD AND HIS JUSTICE!-Stanko, Marko, and Arzub did wrong in stealing your horses: they deserve punishment for it. But you threatened and tortured an innocent man, and equally merit punishment.
"The thieves are condemned to restore the horses, and they will obey.
"You are summoned to pay a penalty of three hundred florins. You will lay the money the day after to-morrow under the flat stone which is near the well of your Csarda.
"The people who restore your horses are satisfied with this money fine, but the thieves whom you tortured must remain only three months in prison, and be well treated.
"If you refuse to carry out one of these conditions your estates will be destroyed; and in the first place your herds will be driven off and your stacks fired; secondly, your house will be burned down; and, thirdly, you will not be permitted to house any harvest from your estates. "This the Brethren of the Cross have sworn !"
Raikocsi was furious. He could not discover who had brought the letter, but he knew from whom it came. In the first outburst of his passion he wished to have Philippovitch arrested, but he was afraid of the vengeance of the Brethren of the Cross. He must yield, and perhaps he might yet succeed in taking his revenge on the bear-hunter.
The president went in person to his Csarda, and laid the demanded three hundred florins under the appointed stone; but he remained in the house, and watched at a window which commanded the well. The night passed away, and no one appeared. For hours he waited in vain. At length, quite wearied, he mounted his horse and rode to his village, which was about five miles distant. A wood came down to the roadside. Through caution he rode across country about a couple of hundred yards from the wood. Suddenly a shot was fired, and a bullet whizzed over
Forgetting all caution, and excited to madness, he dashed with cocked pistol in the direction whence the shot had come. All around remained silent and gloomy. In the impotence of his wrath he uttered loud imprecations against the invisible shot. At this moment a rifle flashed near him; then, on the other side, a second, followed by a third and fourth. Four bullets whistled close over his head, and by their peculiar sound he recognised that they had a hole bored through them. A feeling of his powerlessness against invisible foes, who shot so certainly even in the darkness, overcame him. Still he did not like to betray his fear.
"Who whistles last wins the game," he said, gnashing his teeth. Two
more bullets whizzed over his head at these words. He rode slowly home.
The next morning the three hundred florins had disappeared from under the stone. On the second night four horses were handed over by strangers to the president's neatherd. He recognised them as his master's horses.
THE election to the post of vice-gespann was impending. Raikocsi belonged to the Liberal party, and had the greatest hopes that the choice would fall on him. Count Bornicz was put up by the Conservative party as the opposition candidate. Both parties met in the capital for the election, and both were prepared to gain it. Serious disturbances were anticipated. Although it was prohibited to take sabres to the polling-booth, here and there the end of a thick stick could be seen under a bunda, and the small axe that formed the handle had been expressly sharpened.
Raikocsi had collected his partisans in the yard of a large inn, and at ten o'clock he started with them for the Comitat-house. The election began at first extremely favourable for Raikocsi, but the Conservatives soon got a little ahead. Raikocsi was informed of this, and he was determined to risk anything to secure his election.
"We must employ force," he replied; "a little tumult will intimidate our opponents, and then we can easily gain the upper hand again. Fetch Firmay."
Soon after a colossal man made his appearance, with a bright red face, long moustache, and red hair. His blue cloth clothes were overladen with tags and silver buttons. He was the Szekler Firmay, renowned for his duels with sabre and hatchet.
Raikocsi whispered a few words in his ear, and a savage delight enlivened his features. He unbuttoned his coat, and produced a stout stick with an axe, which was hanging from his neck. This battle-axe, known as a buzogany, is next to the sabre the national weapon of the Magyars. Firmay quitted the president, and ran over the square in front of the Comitat-house, yelling, in a thundering voice, "Treachery! treachery! our opponents are voting twice over!"
"We will drive them away! Long live the fatherland! long live liberty!" his accomplices joined in.
Within a second, more than five hundred battle-axes glistened in the hands of the Liberals. Firmay placed himself at their head, and dashed at the street occupied by the Conservatives, whom he thus cut off from their partisans in the court-yard of the Comitat-house. They, too, were not quite unprepared, but armed with sword-sticks and axes. Firmay rushed at them, and drove them back, as they were in a considerable minority.
More than two hundred of the Conservative party, however, were still round the Comitat-house, and Firmay's wild band now dashed at them. They were attacked on both sides: blood already flowed from several wounds. Five of the Conservatives had fallen, and yet the Conservatives defended themselves manfully.
"Forwards! Capture the house!" Firmay ordered.
"Back into the house, all of you!" a voice shouted in the rear of the Conservatives, "then we can keep them at bay! Long live the king! Long live Bornicz! In with you!-in, I say! I will hold them in check!" The new combatant stepped out of the ranks of the royalists and opposed Firmay.
Tis the bear-hunter! 'tis Philippovitch!" was heard on all sides. The Liberals fell back before him.
"So long as it is not the devil, why should we be afraid of him ?" Firmay shouted, with a contemptuous laugh. "Come on, my lad, we will have a little dance!"
"Your dancing days will soon be over!" the young Wallach replied. A narrow space was left between the opponents. Philippovitch was bareheaded he waved a short broad axe, which seemed too heavy for a man of his size. He raised it in the air. The face of the gigantic Firmay became red with passion. He rushed furiously on his enemy, and dealt a blow at him with his heavy and sharp buzogany. Philippovitch parried the tremendous stroke with the back of his axe without giving way an inch. The polished axe then flashed through the air like lightning, and the giant sank to the ground dead, with his skull cleft asunder.
"We will avenge Firmay! Forwards!" his comrades shouted, and dashed at the bear-hunter. The latter retired, fighting, to the Comitathouse, where he held them at bay. The other half of the Conservatives drove the Liberals back, and the victory was on their side. Already a loud cry of victory was raised, which drew from Raikocsi a suppressed and bitter curse. At this moment the cry broke out inside the house, "Fire! fire! we are lost!" Dense smoke poured out of the doors and windows of the house, and the Conservatives rushed wildly into the court-yard.
The conquered Liberals had set fire to the house. They extinguished the fire, occupied the house, and the victory passed over to them. Two squadrons of Hulans advanced to separate the combatants. The Liberals retained the victory in spite of Philippovitch's bold exploit. Raikocsi obtained a dozen more votes than his opponent. He was vice-gespann, but he did not forget how near he had been to defeat, through the deed of a man he so fervently hated-the bear-hunter Philippovitch.
That evening there was a ball at the capital. Raikocsi left it at a late hour, and morning was coming on apace ere he reached the Nyirsalu wood, through which the road ran.
The events of the day passed over again before his mind's eye during his lonely drive. He thought of Philippovitch, his deed, his threat, and his dauntless courage, and though he knew not what fear was, an uncomfortable feeling crept over him. Suppose he was to meet him now!
He reached the wood. In the midst of it he noticed a fire not far from the road. A dozen suspicious-looking men were sitting round it, and several horses were fastened to the trees by their bridles. Raikocsi looked anxiously at the men; he was seeking Philippovitch. He thought it better to set his horses at a gallop, but suddenly they were checked by a tree thrown across the road, in the branches of which they were entangled. The men had ieaped up and come within fifteen paces of him. One of
them, who carried a lighted torch, shouted in Hungarian, "Do not be afraid we are not here on your account; but remember the Brethren of the Cross!" He then seized the leading horses by the reins and led them over the tree. Raikocsi lashed his horses on.
"Do not forget what I said to you," the man shouted after him; and several hollow bullets whizzed a few paces above the vice-gespann's head.
The horses were startled, and dashed madly along. He did not check them. The oppressive feeling that lay heavy on his breast did not disappear till the horses turned into his court-yard. He had not recognised Philippovitch among the men, but he knew that they had assembled by his orders, and the mysterious power of this man caused him even greater apprehension.
A DAY'S SHOOTING.
IN Eastern Europe spring and autumn are of short duration, and there are really only two seasons-summer and winter. The winter is cold and quiet, with starry nights, and is seldom disturbed by rain and snowstorms; the summer is as warm as in Andalusia. A luxuriant vegetation speedily springs up on the damp, rich soil.
The neighbourhood of Nyirsalu had assumed quite a different aspect. The roads were firm, and the eye gazed all around on growing crops. Immense fields of wheat waved backwards and forwards, the flax-fields ran in long strips by the side of the darker hemp and the already blossoming poppy. Here and there the peasants were at work on the tobaccofields. Other fields were covered with crops of Indian corn, whose heads were growing splendidly. Pools of water still stood on some lowlands, but they daily grew smaller, and at length entirely disappeared among grass that sprang up between the reeds and rushes. Plovers fluttered over these little swamps, and showed the sportsman the spot where game was to be found. The quails hidden in the green crops called to each other, storks flew through the air in large circles, and at times one of them, not fearing man, would swoop down on the marsh to snap up a frog, a fish, or a small snake.
This was the most favourable season for sporting on the moor. It conceals game of the most various descriptions: wild geese, ducks, teal, pelicans, and cranes, white and black storks, snipe, bittern, &c. Any one who has once enjoyed sport on the moor prefers it to any other, in spite of its fatigue. The sportsman goes into the water up to the loins, often up to the chest, with his long duck-gun held aloft to protect it from the wet. He walks cautiously on, for the geese and ducks have a fine scent, and if they perceive him too soon, the result of the sport is more than doubtful. At a long distance off the cries and quacking and flapping can be heard on a pond or green swamp, and the noise these legions of birds produce is almost indescribable. It resembles the roaring of the sea, or thunder rolling in the distance. They often flutter over the water with cries and whistling without flying away. Shortly before sunrise, especially, the aquatic birds make a fearful noise. This is the time when they rise, and the experienced sportsman likes to take advantage of it.