MoboReader > Literature > Told by the Death's Head


Told by the Death's Head By Mór Jókai Characters: 88309

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

I was ensign in a regiment under command of General Melchior Hatzfeld of the imperial forces. (Thus Hugo began his confession the next day when he had been brought to the court-room from the death-cell.) My conduct at that time was exemplary; I acquired so much skill in handling fire-arms that, at the siege of Cracow, I was advanced to the position of chief gunner of a battery.

Cracow at that time was in the hands of George Rákóczy, prince of Transylvania, who had leagued with Sweden to subdue Poland; and he would most likely have succeeded had not the imperial army come to the assistance of the Poles.

I shall not dwell long on the siege of Cracow lest I awake in the minds of the honorable gentlemen of the court a suspicion that, by relating incidents not immediately connected with my transgressions, I am purposely prolonging my recital. I shall therefore speak only of those occurrences which it will be necessary to mention in order to explain why I committed the crimes of which I am guilty. While with the army before Cracow I made the acquaintance of the daughter of a Polish noble. The young lady, who took a great fancy to me-I wasn't a bad-looking youth in those days, your honors-was a charming creature of sixteen years, with the most beautiful black eyes. If I remember rightly her name was Marinka. She taught me how to speak her language-and something else, too: how to love-the fatal passion which has all my life been the cause of much of my trouble.

During the siege my general frequently sent me to reconnoiter among the Hungarian camps; and as I was a fearless youth, I would venture to the very gates of the manor-houses in the neighborhood of Cracow. At one of these houses I met my sweetheart; and after that, you may guess, honored sirs, that it was not for the general's "yellow boys" alone I risked my neck night after night. No, my little Marinka's sparkling eyes were as alluring as the gold pieces; and I knew when I set out on my nightly tour that my sweetheart would be waiting for me at the gates of her father's place. But our secret meetings were at last discovered. There was an old witch of a housekeeper who ferreted out her young mistress' secret, and informed the old noble. One moonlight night Marinka was teaching me in her own little cozy chamber how to say: "Kocham pana z calego zersa"-which is "Mistress, I love you with my whole heart,"-when we heard her father's heavy footsteps ascending the staircase. I tell you I was frightened and said to myself, "This is the end of you, my lad!" but Marinka whispered in my ear:

"Nebojsa! (don't be afraid), go into the corridor, walk boldly toward my father, and to whatever he may say to you, do you reply 'God is One.'"

Then she softly opened the door, pushed me into the corridor, closed and locked the door behind me. The old gentleman was coming up the stairs very slowly because of a lame leg which he had to drag after him step by step. He had a square red face which I could see only indistinctly above the burning lunt he carried in one hand, blowing it continually to prevent it from going out. In the other hand he held a musket. The blazing lunt must have blinded him, for he did not see me until the muzzle of the musket came in contact with my breast. Then he stopped and cried in a stern voice:

"Kto tam? Stoj!" (Who are you? Stand!)

"God is One," I made answer. What else could I have said? The old gentleman's aggressive mien changed at once. He became quite friendly; he extinguished the lunt by stamping on it with his foot, tapped my shoulder in a confidential manner and called me little brother. Then taking me by the arm he led me down the stairs to a room where a huge fire was blazing on the hearth. Here he bade me seat myself on a settee covered with a bear skin and placed before me an English flagon of spirits. After he had arranged everything for my comfort he fetched from a secret cupboard a small book-it was so small I could have hidden it in the leg of my boot-and began to read to me all manner of heretical phrases such as "There is no need for a Holy Trinity, because the little which is done on earth in the name of God can easily be done by One alone."

My hair stood on end as I listened to the sinful words and I found what a trap I had fallen into. My Marinka's father was a Socinian, a leader of the heretical sect, and he was trying to make a proselyte of me.

The doctrines of Blandrata had spread extensively throughout Poland, but, owing to the persecution of its adherents, they could meet and work only in secret. The old noble's manor was one of their retreats, where recent converts were received for instruction. When the old gentleman believed he had enlightened me sufficiently he produced a heavy volume, bade me lay my right hand on it and repeat after him the vows of the society.

You may believe I was in a dilemma!

If I refused to repeat the vows I should have to confess that I had come to the manor for Marinka's sake, then the old noble would fetch his musket and send me straightway to paradise. If, on the other hand, I repeated the vows, then I was sure to journey to hades. Which was I to choose?

Should I elect to travel by extra-post, direct, without stopping, into the kingdom of heaven, or should I journey leisurely by a circuitous route, with frequent halts, to hades?

I was a mere lad; I was sorry for my pretty curly head-I chose the latter alternative!

From that time I became a daily visitor in the retreat of the followers of Socinus. Being a neophyte I was permitted to take part in their meetings only during the singing; when the sermon began I was sent to the gates to guard against a surprise. This was a welcome duty; for, once outside the house, all thought of taking up my station at the gates would leave me and, instead, I would climb the tree which grew close to my Marinka's window, swing myself by a branch into her room, in which she was kept a prisoner by her father to prevent our meeting; and there, while the sages below-stairs expounded the dogma of the unity of God, we two ignorant young people demonstrated how two human hearts can become as one.

One day our little community received an unexpected addition to its membership. There arrived from Cracow a troop of Hungarian soldiers who announced themselves as followers of Socinus. They received a hospitable welcome from the old noble, whom they overwhelmed with joy by telling him the prince of Transylvania had become an adherent of Socinus; that his highness had averred that, were he the King of Poland, all persecution of the heretics should cease at once and that some of the churches should be given over to them for their worship.

When I repeated this piece of news to my general he became so excited he sprang from his seat-his head almost struck the roof of the tent-and shouted: "It is perfectly outrageous how those Hungarians will stoop to base methods in order to win allies! If they succeed in inveigling the Polish Socinians to their ranks then we may as well stop trying to get them out of Poland!"

Fortunately, however, there arose dissensions between the Hungarian and the Polish adherents of Socinus. I must mention here, in order to explain how I became cognizant of the facts I am about to relate, that Marinka's father had begun to suspect me. Instead of sending me to stand guard at the gates when the sermon began, I was permitted to hear it and take part in the disputations.

The Hungarian troopers maintained that it was the duty of all pious Socinians to commemorate, at every one of their meetings, the death of the Savior by drinking wine; and they were so extremely devout that an entire quarter-cask of their host's best Tokay was emptied at every celebration. After the meetings, when the old noble would lift and shake the empty wine-cask, I could read in his countenance signs that heterodoxy was gradually taking root in him. At first he contented himself with remonstrating against the frequency of the celebration; surely it ought to satisfy the most devout member of the sect to observe the ceremony on Sundays, and holy days. But the troopers met his arguments with scriptural authority for their practices.

Then the old gentleman, finding his remonstrances of no avail, made an assault upon the dogma itself. He delivered an impassioned address in which he sought to disprove the divinity of Jesus. To this blasphemous assertion the Magyars made reply:

"If what you say be true, then He was the son of an honest man, and a good man Himself. Therefore, it is meet and right for us to show Him all honor and respect." And another quarter-cask was brought from the cellar. The old noble became daily more fanatical in his assaults upon the tenets to which he had so devoutly adhered before the accession to his little congregation of the Hungarian troopers; and, at last declared that Jesus was a Jew; that He deserved to be put to death, because He had promulgated the unjust law of taxation. But not even this fearful blasphemy deterred the Hungarians from their frequent celebrations. They said:

"If the Nazarene is so unworthy, then it is our plain duty to shed His blood, the symbol of which is wine-"

"Tremendously clever fellows, those Magyars!" here interrupted the prince.

"They were impious devils!" exclaimed the mayor reprovingly. "Impious devils!"

"Habet rectum," responded his highness. Then to the prisoner: "Continue, my son."

Hugo resumed his confession:

When the last cask was brought from the cellar the old noble declared to his congregation that the entire story of the Divine birth was a myth invented by the priests-

"And you took part in those blasphemous meetings?" sternly interrupted the mayor.

No, indeed, your honor! That is a crime of which I am guiltless. I never said one word; and escaped from the meetings whenever I could manage to do so. I had determined to flee with Marinka from the sinful community. Our plan was: I was to steal from the meeting on a certain night, assist my pretty Marinka to descend from her room by means of the tree outside her window and then set fire to the sheep-stables. The conflagration would scatter the blasphemers; everybody would run to the stables to release the horses, and in the general confusion Marinka would hastily secure as many of the family jewels as could be packed into a portmanteau. Then she and I would mount two of the freed horses and gallop straightway to my camp, where I would introduce her as my wife-

"A pious idea, certainly," commented the prince.

"How can your highness say so!" in a tone of reproof, exclaimed the mayor. "It was incendiarism pure and simple: Incendiarii ambitiosi comburantur; and further: raptus decem juvencis puniatur, and rapina palu affigatur."

"Very well, then," assented his highness. "My son, for the incendiarism you shall be burned at the stake; for the rape of the maid you shall pay a fine of ten calves; for the theft of the jewels, the punishment is impalement. Continue."

Unfortunately, resumed the prisoner, our plans miscarried, through the intermeddling of the old housekeeper I spoke of. Her suspicions had been aroused by Marinka's preparations for flight; she informed the old noble, who set spies to watch me. I was caught in the act of firing the stables and was flogged with hazel rods until I confessed that I was a spy from the enemy's camp. The old noble wanted to bind me to the well-sweep; but one of the Hungarian troopers took compassion on me and offered to buy me for sixteen Polish groschen. His offer was accepted; I was sold to him and taken to Cracow. I should not have had such a hard time as a slave had I not been compelled to grind all the pepper used in the Hungarian army. I ground enormous quantities, for the Magyars like all their food strongly seasoned with the condiment. My eyes were red constantly; my nose was swollen to the size of a cucumber. The only other complaint I had to make was that my master compelled me to eat everything that was set before me. He would say, when he placed before me enough for three men:

"You shall not be able to say that you hungered while you were my slave."

When I had eaten until I could not swallow another morsel, my master would seize me by the shoulders, shake me as one shakes a full bag in order to get more into it, and he would repeat the operation until the contents of every dish had been emptied into me. I used to sicken at the approach of meal-times, and whenever I saw the huge spoon-twice the size of my mouth-with which the food was ladled into me. Your honors will hardly believe that there is no greater torture than to be stuffed with food-

"We have never tried that method," remarked the prince.

"Nor are we likely to test it very soon," supplemented the mayor, with a grim expression on his countenance.

I yearned to be released from my unpleasant situation, resumed the prisoner. For the first time I realized the enormity of the transgression I had committed in joining the Socinian Community. Now I had no one to intercede for me with the Supreme Ruler of the earth. Had I become a Mussulman I should have had Mohammed; had I adopted the Jewish faith I should have been able to call to my aid Abraham, or some one of the other fathers in Israel. But I had no one. However, my desire to be released from the tortures of food-stuffing and pepper-grinding was at last fulfilled; I was captured, together with the entire Hungarian army, by the Tartars-

"Hold! hold!" interrupted the chair. "You must not tell untruths. You forget that you were in Poland. The Tartars could not have fallen from the sky."

I was about to explain how they came to be at Cracow when your honor interrupted me. It was this way: His Majesty, the Sultan of Turkey, who had become angry because his vassal, George Rákóczy, prince of Transylvania, had presumed to aspire to the crown of Poland, had commanded the khan of Crim-Tartary to attack the Hungarians with 100,000 cavalry. The khan obeyed. He devastated Transylvania in his march, surrounded the Hungarian army in Poland and captured every man jack of them-

"The explanation is satisfactory," enunciated the prince. "It was easy enough for the Tartars to appear at Cracow."

Yes, your highness; but I wish they hadn't, continued the accused. No one regretted it more bitterly than did I. After the capture of the Transylvanian army by the Tartars the victors divided the spoils as follows: The commanding officers took possession of all the valuables; the under-officers took the prisoners' horses; the captives themselves were sold to the common soldiers, each of whom bought as many slaves as he had money to spare.

My former master was sold for five groschen; my broad shoulders brought a higher price-nine groschen. The same Tartar-an ugly, filthy little rascal for whom I would not have paid two groschen-bought my master and me.

The first thing our Tartar master did was to strip us of our good clothes and put on us his own rags. He couldn't talk to us, as we did not understand his language; but he managed in a very clever manner to convey his meaning to us. He examined the material of which our shirts were made-the Hungarian's was of fine, mine of coarse homespun linen, and concluded that one of us was a man of means-the other a poor devil.

Then he took from his purse a gold coin, held it in his open palm toward the Hungarian, while with the other hand he hung a rope of horse-hair around his captive's neck. Then he closed his fingers over the coin, opened them again, at the same time drawing the rope more tightly about the captive's neck.

This pantomime signified: "How many coins like this gold one will your friends pay to ransom you?"

The Hungarian closed and opened his fist ten times to indicate "one hundred."

The Tartar brought his teeth together, which was meant to say, "not enough."

Then the Hungarian indicated as before, "two hundred," whereupon the Tartar placed the end of the rope in the captive's hand-he was satisfied with the ransom. Then came my turn. How much ransom would be paid for me? I shook my head to indicate "nothing;" but in Tartary, to shake one's head means consent. The little fellow smiled, and wanted to know "how much?"

Not knowing how else to express my meaning, I spat in his palm, which he understood. He put the gold coin back into his purse, took out a silver one and held it toward me. I treated it as I had the gold coin. Then he produced a copper coin; but I indicated with such emphasis that not even so small a sum would be paid for me that he raised his whip and gave me a sound cut over the shoulders. The Tartars then set out on their return to Tartary. My former master and I were bound together and driven on foot in front of our owner.

How forcibly my sainted grandmother's words, "He that reviles his Savior will be turned into an ass," came home to me when I was given dried beans to eat-the sort we feed to asses at home. Dried beans every meal, and my Tartar master did not think it necessary to stuff into me what I could not eat. What were left at one meal were served up again the next. Still more forcibly were my grandam's words impressed on my mind when, the fifth day of our journey, I became a veritable beast of burden. My Hungarian yoke-fellow declared his feet were so sore he could go no farther. His was certainly a weighty body to drag over the rough roads, especially as he had never been accustomed to travel on foot per pedes apostolorum. The little Tartar became alarmed; he feared he might lose the ransom if he left his rich captive behind, so he alighted from his horse, examined the Hungarian's feet and ordered him to get into the saddle. Then my feet were examined, and I imagined I too was to be given a mount. But I was mistaken. Before I could guess what he intended the little Tartar was seated astride my shoulders, with his feet crossed over my breast, and his hands clutching my hair for reins.

Luckily for me it was a lean little snips, not much heavier than the soldier's knapsack I was accustomed to carrying. It would have been worse had the Hungarian been saddled on my shoulders. That gentleman was greatly amused by the turn affairs had taken, and from his seat on our master's horse made all manner of fun of me.

He ridiculed my prayers, said they were of no avail where the enemy was concerned; that a hearty curse would give me more relief. I tell you he was a master of malediction! There was an imprecation he used to repeat so often that I remember it to this hour. I will repeat it for you-it is in that fearful Magyar lingo: "Tarka kutya tarka magasra kutyorodott kaeskaringós farka!"[3]

[3] The imprecation is really quite harmless, as are many other of the dreadful things attributed to the Magyars. It is, literally: "The spotted dog's straight upright spotted tail."-Translator's observation.

"Hold!" commanded the prince. "That sounds like an incantation."

"Like 'abraxas,' or 'ablanathanalba,'" added the mayor, shuddering. "We must make a note of it; the court astronomer may, with the assistance of the professors, be able to tell us its portent."

When the notary had taken down the imprecation, his highness, the prince, said to the prisoner:

"Continue, my son. How long were you compelled to remain in that deplorable condition of slavery?"

One day, resumed the accused, while I was fervently praying that heaven, or Satan, would relieve me from my ignominious situation, we turned into an oak forest. We had hardly got well into it, when, with a fearful noise, as if heaven and earth were crashing together, the huge trees came toppling over on us, burying the entire vanguard of the Tartar horde, together with their captives, under the trunks and branches.

Every one of the trees in the forest had been sawn clear through the trunk, but left standing upright, thus forming a horrible trap for the Tartars. The first tree that toppled over, of course, threw over the one against which it fell, that one in turn throwing over the next one, and so on until the entire wood was laid low.

My Tartar rider and I were crushed to the earth by the same tree. It was fortunate for me that I had him on my back, for he received the full force of the falling tree; his head was crushed, while mine was so firmly wedged between his knees I couldn't move. The horrible noise and confusion robbed me of my senses; I became unconscious. It is, therefore, impossible for me to tell how I escaped with my life. I only know that when I came to my senses I found myself in the camp of the "Haidemaken," a company of thieves and murderers, made up of all nationalities, the worst of all the robber bands that infested the country. The members were the outcasts of every land-the flower of the gallows. When inflamed with wine, they fought each other with axes; settled all disputes with knife and club. He who had become notorious for the worst crimes was welcomed to their ranks; the boldest, the most reckless dare-devil, became their leader. They would release condemned criminals, often appearing as if sprung from the earth at the place of execution, bear away the miscreants, who, naturally, became members of the band.

Was a pretty woman condemned to the stake for violation of the marriage vow or for witchcraft, the haidemaken would be on hand before the match was applied to the faggots, and bear away the fair culprit. In a word, the haidemaken were the hope, the comfort, the providence of every miscreant that trembled in shackles.

The band claimed no country as fatherland. Every wilderness, every savage ravine, from the Matra mountains to the Volga, offered them a secure retreat. They knew no laws save the commands of their leader, which were obeyed to the letter. None kept for himself his stealings; all booty was delivered into the hands of the leader, who divided it equally among the members of the band.

To him who, through special valor, deserved special reward, was given the prettiest woman rescued from the stake, the dungeon, the rack.

Where the haidemaken set up their camp, the Roman king, the prince of Transylvania, the Wallachian woiwode, the king of Poland, the hetman of the Cossacks, ruled only in name. The leader of the robbers alone was the law-giver; he alone levied taxes, exacted duties.

The trading caravans passing from Turkey to Warsaw, if they were wise, paid without a murmur the duty levied by the haidemaken, who would then give the traders safe conduct through all the dangerous forests, over suspicious mountain passes, so that not a hair of their heads would be hurt or a coin in their purses touched.

If, on the other hand, the caravan leaders were unwise, they would employ a military escort. Then, woe to them! The robbers would lure them into ambush, scatter the soldiers and plunder the caravan. He who resisted would be put to death.

There was constant war between certain nobles and the robbers. If the band, however, could be brought to seal a compact of peace with an individual or a community, it was kept sacred, inviolable, as we shall see later.

The haidemaken never entered a church unless they desired to secure the treasures it contained. Yet, they numbered several priests among their ranks. They were such as had been excommunicated for some transgression.

The band never set out on a predatory expedition without first celebrating mass, and receiving a blessing from one of these renegados. If the expedition proved to be successful, the priest would share the spoils, and dance with the robbers to celebrate the victory.

When one of the band took unto himself a wife, a renegado would perform the marriage ceremony. The haidemaken were as great sticklers for form as are the members of good society. To abduct a maid, or a woman, was not considered a crime; but for one member to run away with the wife of another was strictly prohibited.

They did not erect strongholds, for they knew where to hide in mountain caverns and in morasses, from which no human power could drive them.

In their various retreats they had stores of food, enough to stand a siege for many months. How great was their daring is best illustrated by the plot which threw me into their power. The prince of Transylvania had invaded Poland with an army of 20,000 men. This army was captured by the Tartar khan with his 80,000 men. Four hundred of the robbers laid in wait for this combined force, and slaughtered the vanguard of 2,000 men in the oak forest, as I have described.

When I opened my eyes after the catastrophe, I was lying on a bundle of faggots on the bank of a purling brook. By my side stood a gigantic fellow, with a hideous red face-compared to him the Herr Mayor, there, is a very St. Martin!-his beard and eyebrows were also red, but of a lighter shade. His nose was cleft lengthwise-a sign that he had had to do with the Russian administration of justice. He had the muscles of a St. Christopher.

At a little distance apart stood a group of similar figures, but none was so repulsive in appearance as the giant by my side. He was leaning on his sword, looking down at me, and when he saw my eyes open he said, or rather bellowed, for his voice was more like the sound that comes from the throat of a bull:

"Well, young fellow, are you alive? Can you get up on your knees? If so, swear that you will join our band, or I'll fling you out yonder whence I brought you, to perish with the rest of your comrades."

I had heard many fearful tales of the dreaded haidemaken, and knew them to be capable of any atrocity. Moreover, I was indifferent as to what became of me, so I said I would join the band if my life were spared.

"What are you?" then asked the red one, who was the leader of the band, "peasant or noble?"

I was not lying when I answered that I was as poor a devil as ever caught flies to satisfy a craving for food.

"That is well," returned the leader, "we have no use for nobles in our ranks. You shall stand the test at once." He blew a whistle, and two sturdy ruffians dragged from a cave nearby the loveliest maid I had ever set eyes on. Her complexion was of milk and roses; every virtue beamed in her gentle countenance. I can see her now, with her golden hair falling to her ankles-and she was very tall for a woman.

"Now lad," continued the leader, "we shall see how you stand the test. You are to cut off this maid's head. She is the daughter of a noble, whom we stole for a ransom; and, as her people have seen fit to ignore our demands, she must die. Here, take this sword, and do as you are bid."

He handed me his sword, which was so heavy I could lift it only by grasping it with both hands.

The maid knelt in the grass at my feet, bent meekly forward, and parted her beautiful hair at the back of her snowy neck, so that I might the more easily strike the fatal blow.

But I didn't do anything of the sort!

Instead, I flung the sword at the feet of the leader and cried:

"Go to perdition, you red devil! You may devour me alive-I won't harm a hair of this pretty child's head."

"Ho-ho," bellowed the red one, "you have betrayed yourself, my lad! Were you a peasant you would cut off the girl's head rather than lose your own. You are a noble-you would rather die yourself than harm a woman. Very well; so be it! On your knees! The maid will show you how to cut off a head at one blow. She is my own daughter."

He handed the sword to the maid, who had risen to her feet and was laughing at me. She took the heavy weapon in one hand and swung it as lightly as if it had been a hazel rod, several times about her head. I have always been fortunate enough to be able to command my feelings, no matter what the situation; no matter how extreme the danger, I never allow myself to yield to fear.

I looked at the wonderful maid confronting me with mocking eyes, her white teeth gleaming between her red lips, her beautiful hair shining like gold.

"Kneel!" she cried, stamping her foot. "Kneel and say your prayers."

A faint-hearted fellow would, most likely, have lost courage; but, as I said before, I had never made the acquaintance of fear. So I laughed, and said: "I am not going to kneel; and I am not going to pray. I don't want to part with my head, I have too much need of it myself." Then I turned boldly toward her father, and addressed him: "Captain, I want to marry your daughter," I said. "Let me serve under you for one year, and, if at the end of that time I have not proved myself worthy to be your son-in-law, you may cut off my head, and welcome!"

The robber chief received this daring speech with a grin that was like the grimace of a hungry wolf preparing to devour a lamb.

"Fellow, do you know what you ask?" he bellowed. "The suitor for the hand of my daughter is tortured to death by that hand if he fails to perform the tasks she sets for him."

"All right!" I returned jauntily, "you needn't give yourself any trouble about me."

He held out his hand; I gave him mine, and the pressure it received in the powerful grasp was so severe that the blood spurted from under the finger-nails. But I did not betray by look or sign how badly it hurt me. Nay, I even gave a playful pinch with the crushed fingers to the cheek of the golden-haired maid and received from her in return a sound slap on my hand.

I could see that my behavior won favor in the eyes of the robbers. But we had little time for merry-making. The main body of the Tartar army now drew near, and we were face to face with an infuriated enemy outnumbering our band a hundred to one.

In face of the extreme danger which threatened, our leader remained calm. At a signal from him, his men with lightning speed set fire in fifty different places to the fallen trees, among which a considerable number of the vanguard, who had not been crushed to death, were hiding.

Of course the poor wretches, Tartars and captives alike, were consumed in the flames; we could hear their shrieks of agony when we were half way up the mountain, to which we had made our escape.

The Tartar army not being able to follow us, because of the burning forest, made our escape easy; and, by the time the trees had been reduced to ashes, we were far enough away, and in a place of safety.

Instead of giving me weapons to carry, I was compelled to continue in the role of beast of burden; a heavy bag of treasure was strapped on my back. We marched until the next morning. The haidemaken travelled only by night, consequently they were familiar with all roads and mountain passes.

When day broke we halted to rest and partake of a scanty meal. While we were eating, the leader asked me my name, and I gave him the first one that came into my head: "Jaroslaw Terguko," which was the name of Marinka's father. If I couldn't steal anything else from him I could at least steal his name?

Late in the afternoon we set out again on our journey, which led us over rugged paths and through savage gorges where no signs of human life were to be seen. At last we entered a deep defile between two mountain spurs. The walls of rock on either side seemed, with their projections and hollows, as if they might once have been joined together. They were nearer together at the top than at the base, and when I looked up at the narrow strip of sky far, far above me, I had a sensation as if the two walls were coming together. In this almost inaccessible defile was the chief retreat of the haidemaken. It was a stronghold that could successfully defy all human assaults.

In the south wall, about twenty yards from the base, yawns the mouth of a huge cavern.

At that point the wall is so steep, and inclines forward to such a degree, that access to the cavern cannot be gained by means of a ladder. The robbers, however, had contrived a clever hoisting apparatus.

From the top of the opposite wall a mountain brook had once leaped into the defile, to continue its way over the rocky bed into the valley.

When the haidemaken first established themselves in the cavern, it happened frequently that they would be blockaded in their retreat by the nobles and their followers, who had pursued the predatory band to the defile.

At such times the robbers suffered greatly from the scarcity of fresh water, especially if they chanced to be out of wine. Therefore, they conceived the plan of conducting the brook from the opposing wall into the cavern through a stout oaken gutter, and the water at the same time served to turn a series of wheels. Over one of the wheels ran a stout iron chain, to which were securely attached several large baskets; and so skillfully was the apparatus manipulated that the entire band might be hoisted into, or let down from, the cavern in the short space of two hours. It was a most admirable contrivance for the robbers, but not so admirable for the dwellers in the valley. The intercepted brook now flowed into the cave, and, as the water did not fill the cave, the most natural conclusion was that it found an outlet through various subterranean fissures.

The turning of the water from its original channel caused Prince Siniarsky considerable inconvenience, in that all his saw-mills, flour-mills and leather factory were left without a motor; while the inhabitants of the surrounding hamlets, who were dependent on their looms for a livelihood, were compelled to remove to another region, because they now were unable to bleach the linen.

Still greater was the misfortune which had overtaken Count Potocky. He was the owner of extensive salt mines on the further side of the mountain, which contains an illimitable deposit of the saliferous substance. The haidemaken were unable to drink the water of the lakelet in the bottom of their cavern, because of its saline character.

After the course of the brook had been changed, the worthy Count Potocky discovered one day that innumerable springs of fresh water were bursting from his side of the mountain, and flooding his most profitable mines. If he attempted to obstruct the flow of water in one place it would break out in another.

At last the two magnates discovered the cause of the mischief, and determined to oust the thievish haidemaken from their retreat by fumigation. So long as the band confined their depredations to the trading caravans they might be tolerated; but, when they became insolent enough to interfere with the comfort and convenience of the magnates, it was high time to put a stop to their pestiferous conduct!

And so an expedition against the cavern was planned. Before it could be carried out the war against the Transylvanians and Swedes broke out, and the noble gentlemen were compelled to march with their followers toward the invaders; but when hostilities ceased and the succoring Tartars had returned home, a formal blockade of the robbers was constituted.

The entrance to their cavern, which is about as large as the door of the cathedral at Coblentz, was fortified by a double parapet furnished with loop-holes. The intercepted brook did not pour its waters into the main entrance, but into a side opening, underneath which was the hoisting wheel. This wheel also turned the mill-stone, which ground the rye used by the robbers.

The band included a miller as well as a smith, a shoemaker and a tailor. As it is dark in the cave, all work was performed by torchlight. Where all the torches used in the cavern were procured I learned afterward.

The fore part of the cavern, into which the rays of the blessed sun penetrate as far as the opposite wall permits, is like a vaulted hall. In it were stored the weapons: all manner of fire-arms, all patterns of cutting, thrusting and hurling implements, which had been purloined from the armories of noble castles. Here, for the first time, I saw an old-time culverin, rusty with age and for want of care. In this part of the cavern were stored also the provisions in huge stone receptacles-enough to feed four hundred men during a long siege.

From the provision chamber a low, narrow passage leads to the mill-cave, but, as I never entered it, I cannot tell you just what it contained.

The main cavern is spacious as a church. When the entire band were assembled in the vast hall they were as lost in it. The arched roof is so high above the floor it is invisible in the gloom, which not even the light of many torches can dispel.

From this hall numerous narrow passages and corridors lead to smaller caves, in which the artisans of the band performed their labors. These unfortunates certainly must have been captives; for it is hardly possible that any man would, of his own free will, consent to pass his life toiling in so gloomy a hole. When we arrived at the cavern the leader asked me if I had a trade, and, as I could truthfully reply that the only one I was perfectly familiar with was that of bombardier, I did so.

"Very good; you shall soon have an opportunity to prove that you understand your trade as thoroughly as you say," he growled. "It is not safe to boast here, my lad, and not be able to perform-as you shall soon learn."

Meanwhile the robbers had hoisted to the cavern the booty taken from the Tartars. It was stored in one of the smaller chambers, into which I merely got a glimpse, as they rolled the huge slab of granite from the entrance, but that fleeting glance was enough to dazzle my eyes. There were heaps on heaps of costly articles: robes, mantles, vestments, richly embroidered with gold and precious gems, gold and silver chalices, shrines, ciboria, pastoral staffs, and a host of valuables too numerous to remember. Had the haidemaken only decided to disband then, every one of them would have received a fortune as his share of the plunder.

It is not to be wondered at that such stores of gold and silver had accumulated. The robbers never had occasion to need money.

The provision chamber was filled with food and drink. Such quantities of meat and bread were served that every man had all he wanted to eat, while casks of metheglin were constantly on tap.

The secret of this inexhaustible food supply was known only to the leader and his daughter. No matter how much was taken from the provision chamber, no decrease was ever noticeable.

The first evening of our return, the successful expedition was celebrated by a feast. After the robbers had eaten their fill, they lighted a huge fire and danced wildly around it; and when they had drunk all they wanted, they gathered about their leader and his daughter, who had taken their seats on an estrade draped with purple cloth.

Then a pale-faced young man was dragged into the hall and placed in front of the leader.

I saw now that a sort of trial was about to be held, a singular tribunal, where the judge and the jury first get tipsy!

"Jurko," said the leader to the youth, "you are accused of cowardice-of having run away at the approach of the enemy; also, of having neglected to give warning of the coming of the Tartars."

"I am not guilty," responded the youth in defence. "You placed me on guard to watch for the Tartars. Instead of the Tartars came wolves. Ten of the beasts attacked me-maybe there were fifty. If I had allowed the wolves to eat me, how could I have signaled to you? I didn't run away-I hid in a hollow tree to defend myself-one against fifty! I call that brave, not cowardly."

"Silly chatter!" bellowed the leader. "No matter what happened, you should have obeyed the command of your leader. If you are not the coward you are accused of being, then prove it by standing the test."

"That I will!" cried the youth, striking his breast with his fist.

The leader rose, took his daughter's hand, stepped down from the estrade, and, bidding his comrades follow, moved with the maid toward the rear of the cavern, which, until now, had been buried in midnight gloom.

Here the ground slopes steeply downward, and I could see by the light of the torches that we were on the verge of an abyss, at the bottom of which was water.

The leader held a wisp of straw to a torch, then tossed it into the abyss, which was lighted for a few seconds by the circling wreath of blazing straw; but it was quite long enough for me to see the terrible grandeur of the yawning gulf.

After tossing the straw into the abyss, the leader snatched the red and yellow striped silken kerchief from his daughter's neck, leaving the lovely snow-white shoulders and bosom uncovered, and flung it also into the abyss.

"There, Jurko," he cried, "you have often boasted that you are the bravest of our band, and you have aspired to the hand of my daughter Madus. If you are what you pretend to be, fetch the bride's kerchief from the lake down yonder."

The youth stepped boldly enough to the rim of the yawning gulf, and every one believed he was going to dive into it. But he halted on the edge, leaned forward and peered down at the water far below. After a moment's survey, he drew back, rubbed his ear with his fingers and made a wry face.

"Why don't you jump?" cried his comrades, tauntingly.

Jurko cautiously thrust one leg over the edge, bent forward and took another look; then he drew back his leg and rose to his feet.

"The devil may jump into this hell for me!" he exclaimed; "there's no getting out of it again for him who is fool enough to enter it!"

"Ho, coward! coward!" derisively shouted his comrades, rushing upon him. They disarmed him and dragged him by the hair toward a cleft in the wall of the cavern, wide enough only to admit the body of a man. This opening was closed by a block of granite that required the combined strength of six men to move it. A lighted candle was placed in the trembling youth's hand; then he was thrust into the rock-tomb, and the granite door moved back to its place. The wild laughter of his comrades drowned the shrieks of the victim who had been buried alive.

Then followed the "dance of death," and I never witnessed anything more terrifying. The lovely Madus feigned death and looked it, too! and every member had to dance a turn with her. When it came my turn, the leader said to me:

"Hold, lad, you may not dance with Madus until you have become really one of us-until you have stood the test. Moreover, you, too, presume to aspire to the hand of my daughter."

"Yes, I do!" I replied, "and I will do whatever I am bid."

"Very good; the bride's kerchief lies down yonder in the lake; let us see if you are courageous enough to go after it."

"You surely did not undertake so foolhardy a task?" here interrupted the prince; and the chair dictated to the notary as follows:

"Sinful tempting of providence, prompted by criminal desire for an impure female."

"Yes, your highness, I performed the task," continued Hugo, "but I beg your honors not to register the leap as an additional transgression. I am not responsible for it. I was compelled to jump or be buried alive in the wall of the cavern. Besides, I knew the danger was not so great as it appeared. When a boy, I once visited a salt mine. I had seen by the light of the blazing straw that the walls of the abyss were formed of the dark blue strata peculiar to salt mines, and guessed that the lake was strongly impregnated with salt. I had also noticed on the further wall of the abyss a flight of steps hewn in the rock, and concluded that I had nothing to fear from drowning in the buoyant water, if I reached it in safety. But, before I proceed farther, I desire to enter a formal protest against the chair's designating my beloved Madus an 'impure female.' She was pure and innocent-an angel on earth, a saint in heaven. He that defames her must do battle with me-my adversary in coat of mail, I in doublet of silk. The weapons: lances, swords, or maces-whatever he may select; and I positively refuse to proceed with my confession until his honor, the mayor, has given me satisfaction, or amended

the protocol."

"Well, mayor," said the prince, addressing the chair, "I think the prisoner is justified in his protest. Either you must amend the protocol, or fight him."

The former expedient was chosen, and the notary erased the latter clause of the protocol. It read, when corrected: "Sinful temptation of providence by chaste affection for a respectable maid."

"Now, my son, you may jump."

Hugo thanked the prince and resumed his confession:

I pressed my ankles together, bent forward, and sprang, head foremost, into the abyss. As I sped swiftly downward, there was a sound like swelling thunder in my ears, then I became stone deaf, and the water closed over me. My eyes and mouth told me it was salt water, and whatever apprehension I had had vanished. The next moment I was floating on the surface, my head and shoulders above the water. I soon found the kerchief, which I tied about my neck, amid the acclamations and cheers of my comrades, which were multiplied by the echoing walls to the most infernal roaring. The torches held over the mouth of the abyss gleamed through the darkness like a blood-red star in the firmament of hades.

A few vigorous strokes propelled me to the steps leading from the lake to the upper gallery of the abyss, which is really an abandoned salt mine.

There are one hundred and eighty steps, but by taking two at a time I reduced them to ninety; and three minutes after I had taken my leap, I stood, encrusted from head to foot with salt-like a powdered imp!-before my blushing Madus.

She received me with a bashful smile when the robbers carried me on their shoulders to her, and I was about to kiss her, when the leader seized me by the collar and drew me back.

"Not yet, lad, not yet!" he cried. "You have only been through the christening ceremony. Confirmation comes next. You must become a member of our faith before you can become my daughter's husband. Every man that marries a princess must adopt her belief."

Now, as your honors may have guessed, the question of religion was one I did not require much time to answer. I consented without a moment's hesitation to adopt my Madus' faith. The leader then signed to one of the band to prepare for the ceremony of confirmation. It was one of the priests of whom I have spoken-I had taken particular notice of him during the feast, because he ate and drank more than any one else.

"He that becomes a member of our society"-the leader informed me-"must take a different name from the one he has borne elsewhere. I am called 'Nyedzviedz,' which signifies either 'the bear,' or 'without equal.' What name shall we give you?"

Some one suggested that, as I was an expert swimmer, I should be called "Szczustak" (perch); another thought "Lyabedz" (swan), more suitable and prettier, but I told them that, as I excelled most in hurling bombs, "Baran" (ram), would be still more appropriate; and Baran it was decided I should be called.

In the meantime the robber priest had donned his vestments. On his plentifully oiled hair rested a tall, gold-embroidered hat; over his coarse peasant coat he had drawn a richly decorated cassock; his feet were thrust into a pair of slippers, also handsomely embroidered-relics, obviously, of some gigantic saint; for the robber priest's feet, from which he had not removed his boots, were quite hidden in them. In his hands he held a silver crucifix; and as I looked at him, the thought came to me that he had, without a doubt, made way with the original wearer and bearer of the rich vestments, and the crucifix.

He ordered me to kneel before him. I did so, and he began to perform all sorts of hocus-pocus over me. I couldn't understand a word of it, for he spoke in Greek, and I had not yet become familiar with that language. I learned it later.

After mumbling over me for several minutes, he smeared some ill-smelling ointment on my nose; then he fumigated me with incense until I was almost suffocated. In concluding, when he bestowed on me my new name, he gave me such a vigorous box on the ear, that it rang for several seconds, and I almost fell backward. The blow was not given with the hand of the priest, but with the sturdy fist of the robber.

This is carrying the joke too far, I said to myself; and, before the ruffian could guess what I intended, I was on my feet, and had delivered a right-hander on the side of his head that sent his gold hat spinning across the floor, and himself, and his slippers after it.

"Actus majoris potentiae contra ecclesiasticam personam!" dictated the mayor to the notary; while his highness, the prince, held his stomach, and laughed until the tears ran down his cheeks.

"I should like to have seen that performance!" he exclaimed when he had got his breath again. "Did the padre excommunicate you?"

Not much, he didn't, your highness! From that moment I became a person of consequence among the haidemaken. The leader slapped me heartily on the shoulder, and said approvingly:

"You're the right sort, lad-we need no further proof."

After a bumper all 'round, to celebrate my entrance to the community, every man wrapped himself in his bear-skin, and lay down on the floor of the cavern. Although the torches had been extinguished I could see, by the faint light which penetrated from the entrance, that Madus ascended a rope ladder to a deep hollow high up in the wall, and drew the ladder up after her.

In a very few minutes the snores from the four hundred robbers proclaimed them oblivious to this work-a-day world.

At day-break the watchman's horn brought every man to his feet; at the same moment the leader appeared from an adjoining chamber, and gave to each one his task for the day.

After we had breakfasted, Nyedzviedz conducted me, in company with Madus and several of the band, to the armory.

"Here Baran," he said,-thrusting his foot against the culverin I mentioned before-"you claim to be a skilled bombardier. Let us see if you understand how to manage a thing like this. We stole it from Count Potocky's castle, and brought it here with great difficulty. Sixteen men would carry it two hundred steps, then other sixteen would relieve them, and so on. We didn't find out until we had got it up here that it would be of no use to us. The first time we tried to fire it off-it lay on the ground as now-four men sat astride of it, as on a horse, to steady it. I, myself, directed the shot toward the mouth of the cavern, and three men stood behind me to observe operations. When I applied the fuse, the infernal thing sprang into the air flinging the four men astride it to the roof of the cave; while the ball, instead of going where I had aimed-out of the entrance-imbedded itself in the wall over yonder, where it still sticks."

I laughed heartily at his amusing description of the gun's behavior; whereupon he said soberly:

"Oh, you may laugh, but it was no laughing matter I can tell you! I made a second attempt. I tied a rope around the rascal's neck to prevent him from kicking again, and fastened the ends securely to two stout pegs driven into the ground. 'There, sir,' I said, 'now kick if you want to!' I lighted the fuse-the demon didn't kick this time; instead he rushed backward dragging both pegs with him; broke the right leg of one of the men, the left of another, and both legs of the third; and the ball bored itself into the corner over there. Now let us see if you can do any better."

"Oh, you stupid bear!" I exclaimed, unable to restrain my mirth, "you may thank your stars that the rusty old gun didn't burst into flinders and kill every one of you!-as you deserved! The first thing to be done with the culverin is to clean and polish it until it shines like a mirror. Then-who ever heard of laying a cannon on the ground to fire it off?-it must have a sort of platform on wheels so it can be moved about."

The leader immediately gave orders to the smith and the wagon-maker of the band to obey my instructions and complete as quickly as possible the sort of gun-carriage I should describe to them, and I set about at once to clean and scour the old culverin which, with the accumulated rust of years, was no light task.

There was no time to lose, for the Tartars, with their Hungarian captives, having vacated Poland, the Polish magnates returned to their castles, and prepared to carry out the plans for punishing the insolent haidemaken, which had been interrupted by the war. Those members of the band who were sent on various errands into the regions adjacent to the Prsjaka Gorge, brought back, instead of booty, bloody heads, and the startling news that the roads leading to the Gorge were filled with armed troopers.

The two despoiled magnates had combined their forces, and were prepared for a regular siege of the plundering haidemaken.

The latter, however, merely laughed at the warlike preparations. They were not afraid of a siege! Nyedzviedz, on learning of the approach of the beleaguerers, instead of curtailing our rations, doubled them, mystifying all of us by the seemingly illimitable supplies in the provision chamber. We received, every day, double rations of fresh goats' meat and mutton, and yet there was not in any of the caves even the sign of a living animal.

Meanwhile the beleaguerers advanced steadily.

There was a stratagem the robbers had frequently resorted to in order to vanquish a beleaguering foe. They opened an underground sluice through which the water of the salt lake in the bottom of the abyss would rush into the defile and drown the enemy. But Prince Siniarsky's troopers had become familiar with this trick; and one morning, when we awoke, we found that a stone wall had been built across the gorge while we slept. An arched opening in the center of the base would give egress to all the water we might choose to let out of the lake.

This was bad enough, but worse came later.

The wall increased in height every night. I told Nyedzviedz at the beginning what would be the outcome of such a proceeding; when the top of the wall should have reached to the height of the wooden gutter which conveyed the brook into the cavern, Siniarsky's men would fling a line over it, attach a stout chain to the line, and when they had drawn it over the gutter it would be easy enough to pull it down.

"In that case we shall die of thirst," growled the leader, "for there isn't any other water in the cavern fit to drink. But a still greater danger, of which you know nothing, threatens us."

He did not tell me what it was, but he became so morose and ill-tempered, that no one but his daughter ventured to speak to him.

The haidemaken made several assaults on the wall, but the troopers returned the fire with such volleys from the numerous loop-holes in it, that our men were always forced to retreat.

All hopes were now centered in me, and on the culverin, which I had polished until it shone like gold. The carriage for it had been completed, and balls cast under my directions.

The wall grew higher and higher, until at last the top was on a level with our conduit. Its completion was celebrated in the enemy's camp by the blaring of trumpets, and beating of drums, and what I had foretold came to pass; the arquebusier mounted to the top of the wall, adjusted his arquebuse on its forked rest, and prepared to take aim at our water conduit.

"Now, watch me!" said I to Nyedzviedz, pointing the culverin's muzzle toward the cornice of the wall.

Two shots sounded simultaneously, and when the smoke had cleared away, there was neither arquebuse, nor arquebusier-nor yet the cornice of the wall, to be seen. All three had vanished.

I took aim a second time-this time at the base of the wall; and at the sixth shot, the entire structure of solid masonry tumbled down with a deafening crash, burying under it the musketeers who were at the loop-holes. Not one of them escaped alive.

The haidemaken, with loud cries of triumph, now hastily descended from the cavern in their baskets, and flung themselves on the enemy, and while the combat raged in the defile below me, I wheeled my culverin to the mouth of the cavern, and hurled shot after shot toward the troopers who were hurrying to the aid of their comrades.

The enemy was completely routed, and our men returned to the cavern richly laden with spoils.

So all-powerful is a cannon when its management is thoroughly understood.

"That will do for today;" at this point observed the prince. "The confession will be continued tomorrow."


The next morning Hugo resumed his confession:

When the haidemaken, after having put to flight the troopers returned with their booty to the cavern, the leader said to me:

"Well, Baran, you certainly earned your name today, by proving yourself a most effective 'ram.' To your assaults with the culverin we owe our victory. Here is the treasure we took from the vanquished foe-take of it what you want, you have the first choice." Gold and silver galore lay before me, but I answered: "Thank you, Nyedzviedz, you know very well I have no use for money; instead, I want your daughter-for her alone I have served you; she is the reward I desire."

To this reply the leader shook his head irritably, and said: "I am disappointed in you, Baran. You are, after all, only a tender-hearted dove that wants to bill and coo. The man who has a wife is only half a man. The true haidemak embraces his sweetheart, then slays her-or better: slays her first. Why do you desire to marry? Be wise, lad, and remain a celibate. If you will think no more of Madus I will make you my second in command."

"But I can't, and won't think of anything but Madus," I returned, stubbornly; "and if you don't give her to me, you are not a man of your word."

"You don't know what you are asking, Baran," again said the leader. "If you persist in your demand you will compel me to send you the way all our members have gone who proved themselves to be soft-hearted doves. The man who wants to bill and coo cannot remain with us. If you marry Madus you must leave us."

I told him I would manage somehow to endure such a calamity, which made him laugh heartily.

"I know very well, Baran, my lad, that it would not grieve you to leave us, if you were allowed to depart with Madus to the outside world. But that may not be. The man we pronounce a 'dove,' must go a different route. The youth who refused to leap into the abyss the day you arrived, was a dove. You saw what became of him. A hundred and more love-lorn swains, and cowards have gone the same way. You will find in every crevice the skeletons of the unfortunates. Do you still desire to join the ghastly company?"

It did not sound very alluring-to celebrate one's nuptials among cadavers; but when I looked at Madus, who was standing by her father's side, the glance which met mine from her beaming eyes banished from my thoughts everything but her beautiful image, and I said:

"It matters not whither I go if my Madus goes with me-be the journey to hades itself!"

When Madus also declared she had no dread of undertaking the journey with me, her father summoned a priest-the same bearded rascal that had performed the ceremony of confirmation over me.

His vestments this time were even more magnificent-('acquired,' I have not the least doubt, from some wealthy cathedral by my respected father-in-law and his comrades) and with all manner of unintelligible mummery he performed the ceremony, which united me and my beloved Madus in the holy bonds of matrimony.

When the marriage ceremony was concluded, my wife and I each received from her father a costly, gold ornamented cap, and a richly embroidered mantle; a bag of provisions, and a jug of wine were also given to us. Then we were conducted to the same cleft in the wall of the cavern, in which the unfortunate Jurko had been entombed.

When the heavy rock had been removed from the opening the robbers, one after the other, shook hands with us. The leader was so deeply affected he embraced both of us. After a lighted taper had been placed in my hand, we were thrust into the narrow passage which was immediately closed behind us.

The noises in the cavern sounded like the low murmur one hears in a sea-shell held close to the ear. By the faint light from our taper I could see a smile of encouragement on my Madus' face, and obeyed without a question when she bade me follow her.

We had forced our way through the narrow passage, which was hardly wide enough for one person, a considerable distance, when we suddenly came to a small chamber about the size of a room in a pleasant cottage. Here, Madus said, we should have to rest and pass the night.

"Night?" I repeated. "We can easily bring the blackness of midnight upon us in this hole! We have only to extinguish the candle. But we shall never know when it is morning. Daylight never enters here. No cheerful cock-crow ever reaches this tomb. Here, no one will come to rouse us, and say: 'Rise, rise! morning, beauteous morning, is come.'"

"Fie, fie, Baran," chided my Madus. "Do you already regret the step you have taken? Should you be sorry never again to see daylight-now that you have me with you?"

"No, no," I answered, promptly, ashamed of my momentary regret. "No, no," and I set about preparing for our night's rest. We spread our bear skins on the floor of the cave, sat down on them, and ate our supper, becoming quite cheerful as the wine sped with pleasurable warmth through our veins.

Suddenly Madus turned toward me and asked:

"Where do you imagine we are, Baran?"

"In paradise," I made answer, kissing her.

Thereupon she roguishly blew out the light and asked again: "Can you see me?"

"No," I answered, for I could see nothing at all. "Look again, Baran, and repeat after me what I say."

I fixed my eyes where I believed her to be, and repeated after her, word for word, the Lord's Prayer, the Ave Maria and the Credo, and as I did so, it seemed to me as if the dear child's countenance came into view, gradually growing brighter and brighter, until the gloom disappeared, and the subterranean grotto became irradiated as with the sunlight of noon. I did not tell her so, though, for women are so easily made vain; but from that moment I became convinced that Madus was my guardian angel.

Never, in all my life, have I been so happy as I was with my beloved Madus in that underground cave, and I should have been content to stop there with her until the end of time! I would not have inquired if ever a morning would dawn again for us, had not Madus roused me from a sound slumber, and lighted the taper.

"What do you imagine will become of us?" she asked, and I replied:

"I believe the haidemaken are playing a trick on us, and that they will fetch us away from here after a while."

"No, you are mistaken, Baran, we shall never again return to the cavern. The haidemaken do not expect to see us again."

"But, surely, Nyedzviedz will not allow his only daughter to perish miserably in this hole?" I exclaimed.

"Alas, you don't know him, my poor Baran," returned Madus sorrowfully. "My father's heart is impervious to pity. Those whom he banishes, as we have been banished, can never return to the cavern."

I now became alarmed in earnest. Until that moment I had entertained a suspicion that the haidemaken were only trying to frighten me.

I was cursing my folly-mentally of course-for having allowed the fascinations of a love-dream to lure me to so wretched a fate, when Madus rose from her bear skin couch, and bade me follow her. I remembered her radiant countenance of the preceding evening, and my confidence in her was restored.

We passed onward, through the narrow corridor which traversed numerous caves, larger and smaller than the one in which we had rested. I kept glancing furtively, right and left, expecting every moment to see the helpless skeletons with which Nyedzviedz had tried to intimidate me.

On, on we pressed, occasionally passing the entrance to a cave that was stored with all manner of plunder. At last I noticed that the corridor began to widen, and suddenly my soul was rejoiced to discover, far ahead, a faint gleam of light that became brighter and brighter as we approached. It was daylight!

"Hurrah!" I shouted aloud, in my ecstacy clasping Madus to my heart. "We are free! We are free!"

"Free? No, my Baran, far from it!" she returned gently and sadly. "We are approaching our life-prison. You will soon see it."

The passage was now wide enough for the two of us to walk side by side. We did not need the taper now, for we had sunlight from the strip of blue sky we could see overhead. I pressed eagerly forward to see more of it. I could have drunk in at one long breath the entire heaven.

At last we arrived at the end of the passage between the two tall walls of rock, and there below us lay the Viszpa Ogrod, which means: "Island Garden."

And it is a veritable island; only, instead of water, it is encompassed by rocks-rocks so high, and so steep, that nothing wingless can ever hope to escape over them into the world outside.

Heaven-towering walls of basalt, naked cliffs, sheer inaccessible, dome-shaped, and truncated, ranged one against the other in a compact mass like the facade of a vast cathedral, environ the Viszpa Ogrod, which, with its verdant fields, forest, fruit and vegetable gardens, lies like a gleaming emerald in a setting of rock, at the bottom of the deep crater.

From the dizzy heights of the cavern wall leaps a stream, that is transformed to iridescent spray before it reaches the valley, there to pursue its sinuous course amid the fields, gardens, and tiny white dwellings upon which we looked down as through a misty veil.

"That is our future home," whispered Madus. "Our life-prison from which there is no escape. To this island garden is banished all those haidemaken who prove too tender-hearted for their cruel trade, or tire of their adventurous life; also those who refuse to desert the women they love. Here, the banished dwell together and till the ground-they will never again see any other portion of the globe than this little valley."

The Viszpa Ogrod revealed the secret of the haidemaken's power to defy a siege. This island garden made it possible for them to defy all the troops sent against them, for it contained an inexhaustible supply of provisions. When the robbers discovered it, it was a wilderness of stunted fir trees. No living creature could exist in it, for there was no water until the brook, conducted into the cavern from the opposite side of the defile, found an outlet into it, thence, through the ground, into Prince Siniarsky's salt mines.

The water very soon wrought a wonderful change in the aspect of the valley. A portion of the stunted forest was cleared, and the ground planted with rye, vegetables, and various shrubs and plants which throve luxuriantly in this "garden" sheltered from the cold winds by the wall of rock. The firs left standing put forward new growth, and became stately trees-everything, even the human beings that came to dwell here, underwent a complete transformation.

True, those whom the haidemaken sent to the valley had already become tender-hearted, or, weary of the wild life of the robbers; but, no matter what the life of a man had been before he became a member of the little community in the island garden, there he would forget the entire world, become an entirely new being.

I speak from experience, for I, who have enjoyed a full share of this world's pleasures-everything that can rejoice the king in his palace, and the dreams of the prisoner in his dungeon-I never was truly happy until I went to dwell with my beloved Madus in the Viszpa Ogrod.

A narrow path winds from the outlet of the rock-corridor down into the valley. Madus, who was perfectly familiar with the path, led the way, recognizing, while still at a distance from them, each occupant of the little cottages. The children ran to meet us, and, on hearing from Madus who I was, seized our hands, and with shouts of joy drew us toward the village.

A bell was rung to announce our arrival. Later I learned from the inscription on this bell that it had formerly swung in the tower of Bicloviez monastery. Like everything else in the valley, it had been stolen. Everything, even the beautiful cloth and silk garments which clothed the women-nay the women themselves, were plunder.

Robber and robbed dwelt together amid plunder in harmony, happy as Adam and Eve in Eden. They ploughed, planted, and gathered the harvest in perfect contentment. They shared their abundance with the cavern, and received in return plunder from all parts of the world.

As I have said before, there were no animals in the Viszpa Ogrod when the robbers discovered it, and as it was impossible to convey full-grown cattle through the narrow passage from the cavern, calves, goats, and lambs instead were brought to the valley, which had become so well stocked with everything necessary to sustain a large army, that no potentate on earth could have reduced the haidemaken to starvation, no matter to what length the siege might have been extended.

The only danger which threatened the cavern was the stoppage of their water supply. Were that cut off, the luxuriance and fruitfulness of the valley would vanish, and it would become again an arid wilderness uninhabitable for man and beast. This was the danger dreaded by Nyedzviedz when the troopers began to build their wall in the defile.

The dwellers in the Viszpa Ogrod lived together like the family of Father Abraham in the promised land. The eldest of the men was the patriarch. He made all the laws; issued all the commands; allotted to each one his task and share of the harvest, giving to everyone as much as was required for the needs of himself and his household.

There was no priest in the valley. There was no Sabbath. The pleasant days were working-days; when it rained everybody rested.

There was no praying, no cursing, no quarreling. There, where every head of a household had once been a thief, no disputing about mine and thine was ever heard. There, every woman-and not one of them had been given an opportunity to vow fidelity to her mate before the altar, but had been forcibly conveyed to the valley-was so faithful, so modest, that no stranger could have told what was the color of her eyes.

When Madus and I arrived in the valley, Zoraw, the patriarch, prepared for us a feast, to which were invited the rest of the community to the number of eighty. After the feast, Zoraw conducted us to the brook, where we drank with everyone the pledge of fraternity from a wooden bottle of fresh water-that being the only beverage in the valley. At the conclusion of this ceremony, the bottle was broken in pieces, to symbolize unalterable alliance.

Then Zoraw measured off and assigned to us our plot of ground. The entire community lent a hand, and in two days our cottage was under roof, modestly furnished, and ready for occupancy. In the stable stood a cow and a goat for the housewife. When we were comfortably settled in our new home I was asked by the patriarch what manner of tools he should give me; and finding that I should be compelled to work-something I had never learned at school, or in the field-I chose the trade of smith, which would at least give me the handling of iron, without which I never felt contented.

I became accustomed in a very short time to my new mode of life. I would work at my trade the allotted time every day, then go home to my wife, who would tell me how the ducklings had got smothered in the shell, how the milk had turned sour, and such like prattle. And one day she whispered blushingly in my ear the secret which makes the husband's heart beat faster with joy and pride. In listening to it, I forgot everything else in the world. The thought that I was to become the father of a family, that would grow up to know no other home but this peaceful valley, filled my soul with joy and content. This thought became to me what roots are to a tree; it attached me so securely to my little plot of ground, that I felt as if no power on earth could tear me away from it. My beloved Madus, and our little home, became doubly dear to me. Had all the wealth, all the splendor that came to me later, been offered me then in exchange for my Madus and the humble little home she filled with her joyous presence, I should have refused with scorn.


I had become perfectly satisfied with my peaceful and uneventful existence. My entire world now lay within the rocky rim of the Viszpa Ogrod. My entire happiness lay in the beaming smile with which my Madus greeted my home-coming every day. My labors in the smithy were always over by noon; the afternoons were devoted to work required to be done at home.

One day I was siting in the hall-way of our cottage busily employed fashioning, from some crimson willow withes, a pretty basket-cradle, when a shadow suddenly shut out the sunlight from me. I looked up and was startled to see Nyedzviedz standing in the door-way.

"You here!" I exclaimed. "Have you, too, been relegated to the Viszpa Ogrod because of the softened heart? Or have you come here to hide from an enemy?-Which?"

"Neither, my good Baran," answered the leader. "I am not come to stop in this happy valley, but to fetch you away from it. We need you in the cavern. We cannot get on without you. We are planning a most important expedition, and need your assistance. A rich caravan is on the road to Mohilow; it is made up of Russian, Turkish and Jew traders, and is accompanied by a military escort. We propose to capture this caravan, and take possession of all the treasure and valuables, after which, we shall proceed to Berdiczov and loot the monastery. As the monastery is strongly fortified, and garrisoned, we shall have to batter down the walls; therefore we must take you with us, as you are the only one who understands how to handle our field gun. I shall appoint you second in command of the expedition."

Madus had come from the kitchen while her father was speaking. She was not in the least glad to see him; on the contrary, she greeted him with a frown, and demanded angrily:

"Why do you try to lure my gentle-hearted Baran away from me? He does not need your stolen treasure. He has all he wants here in his humble home. You buried us here-we are dead to you, therefore leave us here in peace."

To which Nyedzviedz made answer by saying: "Baran, does the father or the husband control the wife? If you, the husband, don't know how to control your wife, I, her father, will show you what to do with the woman who speaks when she is not spoken to."

I well knew what a hasty temper was the leader's, and persuaded Madus to come with me to the kitchen, where I gently argued away her opposition to my leaving home. I assured her it would be for our good; that when I had got together enough money to keep us in comfort I should return, and find a way to escape with her from the valley to some large city, where we should be safe from the haidemaken, and where she might sweep the dusty streets with a long-tailed silk gown, and be addressed as "gracious lady."

This had the desired effect. She wept bitterly; but she bade me go with her father. When I turned to cast a last look into the valley, before we entered the rock-corridor, I could see my poor little wife's red kerchief still gleaming in the doorway of our cottage. Her favorite dove had flown after me to the entrance of the corridor; there it settled down on my shoulder and began to coo into my ear. I had to fling it away from me quite forcibly in order to frighten it back to its mistress. My former comrades greeted me with loud cries of welcome, and celebrated my return by a tremendous drinking-bout.

When, after my long abstention from it, I again tasted wine, I forgot the Viszpa Ogrod and everything connected with it-as one will, when awake, forget even the most enchanting dreams.

It is a well-known fact that the wine-drinker who abstains for a long period from his favorite beverage, then yields again to the temptation, becomes a more inveterate drunkard than before he resisted the fascinations of the cup. The haidemaken drank only Tokay; they made a point of selecting from the cellars of the prelates, and magnates whom they plundered, only the best vintages.

The following night we set out for Mohilow, a twelve days' journey.

I am almost willing to wager that not a soul, in the region to which we were going, really believed such a band of robbers as the haidemaken was in existence-or, if it had ever been heard of, the tales of its marvelous exploits were looked upon as kindred to the fables repeated in the nursery.

As I said before, the band always traveled by night. During the day we rested, hidden in a dense forest, or in an uninhabited valley.

We never entered a village to procure food, but carried with us rations of dried meat, varying our diet with mushrooms collected on the way.

On learning definitely from the scouts we had sent to reconnoiter that the caravan was expected to reach Mohilow on a certain day, we concealed ourselves in a swampy thicket by the side of the road over which it would have to pass. Here we were forced to wait two days, during which our meat gave out, and we had to eat raw frogs and birds' eggs. The peasant carts passing along the road, with pretzels, smoked sausages, cheese, mead and wine for the market at Mohilow, were not molested by the hungry robbers, who would only have needed to stretch out their hands to secure the good things for which they languished. But the leader would not allow it.

"We are here to fight, not feast," he said.

Our patience was well nigh at an end, when, one day, the sound of a trumpet and drum announced the approach of the caravan.

On mules, on horses, camels, and ox-carts, came the fifteen-hundred-odd human souls, their escort, a valiant company of soldiers in coats of mail, and helmets, and armed with halberds, and muskets. It was a motly crowd, outnumbering our band in souls; but inferior to us in strength.

When, at a preconcerted signal, our men dashed from the thicket, the entire caravan fell into confusion. The soldiers fired off their muskets, heedless where they aimed; we, on the other hand, sent our shots where they would prove most effective.

A frightful tumult ensued-it was: save himself who can; while the heavily laden carts and vans were left behind.

I must admit that the haidemaken behaved atrociously. Never, in all my experience on the battlefield, did I witness such a scene of carnage. It made me ill; I became so faint with horror and disgust I sank unconscious to the ground.

When I came to my senses, I saw a Turkish merchant hobbling on a crutch toward me. He was old, and seemed to have been seriously wounded, for he was covered with blood. He came straight toward me, and, sinking to the ground by my side, said in a pleading tone: "My son, I beg you, take my yataghan, and cut off my head."

Your honors may believe that I was startled by so singular a request.

"I shan't do any such thing!" I replied promptly, and with decision.

"Pray do," he urged. "Cut off my head without further parley, and you shall have this koltuk-dengenegi," which is Turkish for "beggar's staff."

"No, Baba," I returned, with the same decision as before. "I can't cut off your head, for I have no grudge against you. I am not an assassin-though I do belong to the haidemaken; I was forced into this band, much as Pilate was thrust into the credo-against his will, I'll warrant!"

"Your countenance tells me, my son, that you are better than your comrades," said the old Turk. "For that reason I ventured to ask a favor of you. Come, hesitate no longer to perform the deed of mercy for which you shall be handsomely rewarded. Decapitate this old body; it will not be assassination; one can murder only a living being-so says the Koran, the only truthful book on earth-and I cannot strictly be called a living being. I have a deadly wound in the abdomen, and am bound to die sooner or later. Besides, I am prepared and desire to die. I can't flee any farther; and if I fall into the hands of your cruel comrades I shall be horribly tortured. Therefore, I beg you to release me from further suffering; cut off my head with this beautiful yataghan, which shall also be yours."

But, not even then could I bring myself to grant his prayer, and relieve him of his sufferings and his bald head.

"Leave me, Baba," I exclaimed impatiently. "If you want to get rid of your head, cut it off yourself with that beautiful yataghan; or else, hang yourself on one of those beautiful trees over yonder."

To this the old Turk responded with pious mien: "That I dare not do, my son. The Koran-the only truthful book on earth-says, there are seven hells: one underneath the other, and each one more terrible than the one above it. The first hell is for true believers, like myself; the second is for Christians; the seventh is for the Atheists. The fourth, Morhut, is for those persons who commit suicide. Were I to take my own life, I should have to descend to the fourth hell, where, as well as in every one of the three hells above it, I should be obliged to remain three-hundred and thirty-three years before I should be permitted to enter paradise. Whereas, if I should lose my life at the hands of an unbeliever like yourself, I should-so says the Koran, the only truthful book on earth-go straightway to paradise."

And still I hesitated; though it seemed but kindness to grant the old Turk's request, and send him speeding straightway into paradise. But, I remembered that our Bible (really the only truthful book on earth) says: "Thou shalt not kill;" and thrust the importunate old fellow away from me.

But he renewed his pleading with increased urgency: "See, my son, I will give you this koltuk-dengenegi-" "Of what use would that crutch be to me?" I interrupted.

"If you will screw off the top you will see that the crutch is filled with gold pieces," he replied; and to prove that he spoke the truth, he unscrewed the shoulder rest and shook several gold coins into the palm of his hand.

The yellow metal dazzled my eyes: "The crutch would hold a good many coins," I said to myself, to which added the Turk's pleading voice:

"You shall have it all, my son, if you will but grant my prayer."

And still I hesitated.

"I can't do it, Baba," I said. "Even if you gave me the crutch, I should not be allowed to keep the gold. No member of our band is allowed to keep for his own use alone any valuables that may come into his possession. Everything must be placed at once in the common treasury for the use of the entire band-and woe to the haidemak who would dare to keep for himself even a single Polish groschen! So, you see, Baba, your gold would be of no use to me."

"Listen to me, my son," again urged the wounded Turk, who was growing visibly weaker; "you are young; I can see that this wild life is not suited to you. If you had my gold, you could escape to Wallachia, buy an estate-a castle-serfs, and marry. Perhaps you already have a sweetheart-if so, why shouldn't you live in happiness with her, instead of skulking about in caves and swamps like a wild animal?"

This suggestion made me thoughtful. It brought back to my mind my dear good Madus. Ah! if only I might fly with her, far away, to some region where she might become a respected lady. If I had the Turk's gold! I could easily keep it secreted in the crutch. Some day, when the haidemaken were away on an expedition, I could easily stupefy the few members of the band remaining in the cavern by drugging their mead with Venice treacle; and when they were sound asleep I could fetch my Madus from the Viszpa Ogrod and with her escape to a far away land.

This thought impressed itself so deeply on my mind-it became so alluring that, unconsciously, my hand went out toward the beautiful yataghan.

"If I thought I could keep the gold hidden!" I said, unconscious that I had given voice to the thought.

"That will be easy enough; just leave it in the crutch," promptly responded the Turk. "When you join your comrades make believe to have taken cold in the swamp yonder, say that the muscles of your leg have contracted and made you lame. That will not only give you an excuse to use the crutch, but it will most likely get your discharge; a hobbling cripple is not a desirable comrade in a band of robbers."

Without waiting to see how I might take his suggestion, the Turk proceeded at once to show me how to bandage my left leg, so that it could not be straightened at the knee; how to keep my ankle against the crutch, and hobble along on the right leg. I thought of Madus, for whom I would have hobbled on one leg to Jerusalem, and let him show me how to transform myself to a cripple.

"Now, my son," he said, when he had delivered his instructions, "take my yataghan, my beautiful yataghan, and cut off my head-only don't hack it off as a butcher would with a cleaver. Swing the yataghan, thus, in a half-circle-easily, gracefully, as you would the bow of a violin. I will kneel here at your feet, bend forward, thus; then do you strike just here: between these two segments of the vertebr?. Be sure to keep firm hold on the handle to prevent the blade from slipping-"

He gave me so many directions, kept on talking so long that Satan, who is ever at one's elbow, gave my arm a sudden thrust, and, before I knew what had happened, a body minus a head lay at my feet, while a head minus a body was rolling down the hill-

"Homicidium!" dictated the chair to the notary. To this the prince appended:

"Under extenuating circumstances. We must not ignore the fact that the deed was committed at the urgent request of the decapitated-under approval of the Koran, and instigated, I might say, forced, to the act by the wicked one at the perpetrator's elbow."

"It was killing a human being, all the same!" said Hugo, "and I had cause soon afterward to repent most bitterly what I had done. After I had committed the bloody deed I set out to overtake my comrades. They had secured much valuable booty which they were carrying on their backs. When I came up with them, hobbling on one leg and leaning on my crutch, they broke into loud laughter:

"What the devil is the matter with you?" queried the leader.

"I am all used up!" I groaned. "I killed an old Turk, whose lame leg prevented him from running away with the rest of them; and before he gave up the ghost he cursed me and prayed that I might be compelled to hobble along on a crutch for the rest of my life. He had hardly got the words out of his throat before my leg became as you see it, and I can't straighten it."

"That comes of standing in the swamp-cold water will affect effeminate fellows like you in that way," observed Nyedzviedz. "But don't worry, we have among us one who understands how to cure such maladies. Ho, there! Przepiorka, come hither."

I was frightened, I can tell you! If my leg were examined it would be found to be in a sound and healthy condition. But there was no help for it-I could not escape an examination. So I drew up the calf of the leg so tightly against the lower part of the thigh that Przepiorka, after he had tried several times in vain to straighten it pronounced it permanently crippled.

On hearing this decision, I forgot my role and would have straightened the leg to convince myself that it could be done; but, what was my consternation and alarm to find that I was unable to do it. The affliction I had pretended had come upon me in earnest! God had punished me. I was a miserable cripple, unable to take a single step without the koltuk-dengenegi.

How I cursed him who had left it to me in legacy!

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