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Told by the Death's Head By Mór Jókai Characters: 8173

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

A convincing proof of my honest and pious intentions is, that notwithstanding I was in great need of money-I hadn't a penny to my name!-it never occurred to me to help myself from the alms-box at the door of the chapel, which, at such seasons like Passion Week, was always well filled.

I had no "motive" to carry the box with me-it had not been defiled by sacrilegious hands.

I still wore the dress in which I had masqueraded as a lictor: the Roman balten, the leathern caliga, the chalizeh sandals with straps, and the ancient Hebrew pallium. Anywhere else in the civilized world a man garbed as I was would have been arrested as a vagabond lunatic; but I was not molested in Stettin.

That city, under Swedish domination, was a free port; the mouth of the Oder was crowded with vessels of all sorts, from all countries. The quay swarmed with negroes, Spaniards, Turks, Chinese-all nationalities, all the costumes of the globe were represented. Consequently no one, however striking may have been his garb, would have attracted special attention. Nor did I, as I passed through the crowd in search of a vessel that was lifting her anchor, preparatory to sailing at once.

Chance led me to a Dutch ship.

The owner of the craft, Mynheer Ruissen, paid no attention to me until after we were out of the harbor, and were scudding before a favorable wind. Then, as he was passing along the deck, his eyes fell on me, where I was sitting near the rail, with my bag by my side.

He stopped in front of me, thrust his hands into the pockets of his coat, and, after a moment's close scrutiny, addressed me in a language I had never heard before. He tried several different tongues-oriental by their sound-with the same result. I could only indicate by shaking my head that I did not understand him. At last he became impatient, and exclaimed in Flemish:

"Potztausend-wetter! What language does this fellow speak, I wonder?"

I understood him then, and told him I could speak Dutch, and that I was not a heathen from the Orient, but a native of Europe, and a Christian like himself.

"And where are you going, may I ask?"

"Wherever your ship will take me," I answered.

"Have you the money to pay for your passage?"

"Not a solitary batz."

"Have you anything of value?"

"I have a beautiful golden flask set with precious gems, which I will give you as a pledge, or in payment-as you prefer."

"Did you come by it honestly?"

"I will take my oath that I did not steal it. A beautiful woman gave it to me as a souvenir. May I sink with this ship to the bottom of the sea, if every word I tell you is not true!"

"Na, Na,! you needn't mind swearing in that way," hastily interposed Mynheer. "I don't want my ship to go to the bottom of the sea! Is the flask worth enough to pay for your passage to Hamburg?"

"It would fetch more than your whole ship!"

He paused a moment, then asked again:

"What have you got in that bag?"

"Gold and silver vessels, and jewels."

"Are they souvenirs too? There, there, you needn't mind swearing again! I won't arrest you-it's no concern of mine how you came by them."

I told him then that if he would take me to his private cabin, I would tell him how I came to have the valuables in my possession.

He led me to his cabin, where he bade me place the leather bag in the corner. Then he ordered one mug of beer to be brought; filled a porcelain pipe-about the size of a thimble-with tobacco, thrust the stem between his lips, but did not light it-I dare say, because he feared it might burn out before he had emptied the beer mug, from which he took an occasional sip while I was telling him my story.

When I had told him of the scandalous scenes in the castle, and of my escape with the denied vessels, which I had decided to take to the archbishop, Mynheer removed the pipe from his lips, deliberately knocked the tobacco into the palm of his hand and emptied it into the tobacco-pouch. Then he drained the last sip of beer from the mug, thrust his hands into his pockets and said:

"Well, my son, yo

u have acted cleverly, and stupidly at the same time. To fetch the things away with you, was clever-very! But, to decide that you-by yourself-a poor unknown devil, would be believed by the archbishop, when you accused so powerful an order as the Dornenritter of blasphemy and sacrilege, was stupid in the extreme. Nobody will believe your story; you will be ridiculed, and told that you dreamed all these things."

"But," I interposed, "how could I have dreamed things, no living being ever saw with his eyes, or heard with his ears? How could I have dreamed the Baphomet worship? How could I have dreamed names like Jaldabaoth and Ophiomorpho, and that disquisition around the sarcophagus?"

"Why, you stupid lad! Don't you see they will say you have been reading the secret pamphlet which was published by the opponents of the Ancient Order of Templars? But, what was permitted to King Philip will not be tolerated in you; you will not be allowed to tell stories about Baphomet idolatry, and serpent worship. And, suppose you are allowed to tell what you 'saw with your eyes and heard with your ears'-you have no witness to prove that what you say is true."

"Oh, haven't I?" I cried, triumphantly producing from the leather bag the pyx with its contents. "Here is my witness: this sacred wafer, defiled by the idol-worshippers. See! here in the center of it, is the print of Ashtoreth's slipper heel, where she trod it under foot. You see, it is directly over the banner of the Agnus Dei?"

Mynheer deliberately adjusted his large spectacles on the bridge of his nose, and scrutinized the wafer.

"Donnerwetter!" he growled, "you are right, lad, this is the symbol of Baphomet: a half-moon, a double-headed serpent curved to form the figure 8. Hm, hm-you have acted in a praiseworthy manner after all! By bringing this wafer with you, you have saved the souls of many devout Christians from eternal damnation, in that you have hindered them from kneeling in adoration today at mass before this symbol of Baphomet! Indeed, half Stettin will owe thanks to you if, instead of damnation, it wins salvation! Your brave and valiant deed will save from the flames of hell at least twelve thousand souls! Therein lies the wisdom of your action; the unwisdom will come to the fore when you ask yourself: 'What shall I do with these desecrated vessels?'

"You thought to arraign an entire order-nay, two, for those wanton females must belong to an order of some sort. To accuse a religious body is always extremely dangerous-specially so, if the order be composed of women. I am afraid it will result in your ruin; you will most likely be arrested for stealing church property-the punishment for which is death at the stake. What will your word be worth against the denials of the knights? Do you imagine that any trace of their scandalous revelry will be found? Not by a good deal! You will be pronounced a wicked calumniator; unless you want them to cut off your tongue, you will keep it silent between your teeth!"

"Then what shall I do with these things?" I asked in perplexity, giving the bag a thrust with my foot. "Shall I take them back to the castle?-"

"That"-interrupted Mynheer-"would be the stupidest thing you could do. The sir knights would, beyond a doubt, have you walled into some corner of the castle, where you might await the resurrection with what patience you could summon!"

"Then, what would you advise me to do?" I asked again.

"Well, my son, I say, that what you have in your possession belongs to you; accept it as the gift of heaven-though you acquired it from Satan. When we get to Hamburg I will direct you where to find an honest man whose business it is to relieve pious folk of any treasure they may have taken from Satan-or, found where it was not lost. I am acquainted with a Christian of that sort; you need not be afraid to trust him-he is honest as a Quaker, and would not cheat anyone-on Sunday! I think I may trust you to dispose of your treasure as cleverly as you-appropriated it, which, after all, is the chief secret of trade!"

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