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Told by the Death's Head By Mór Jókai Characters: 3140

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

I passed an entire year under the command of Captain Meyer, during which time I may say I committed no more-nor less, evil than my comrades. I do not hold it necessary to mention the seven mortal sins, of which all soldiers are guilty when in the enemy's country-those sins become virtues then.

Were I to enumerate the pillaging, homicides, conflagrations, in which I took active part, it would be rather a captatis benevolenti? than an enforced confession. This much, however, I will confess: The regions visited by Captain Meyer's corps never expressed a desire for our return. A whole year of such a life was quite enough for me; and, as I had enlisted for only a twelve-month, at the expiration of that time I asked for my discharge.

The captain expressed regret at my wanting to leave him; but made no objection when I gave him my reason for quitting the service; I was home-sick, and wanted to see my poor old mother and father. The old folks lived in Andernach, near which we were quartered. I had not seen them for full ten years; and I decided that I would spend the rest of my days with them.

The gold and silver I had once counted on taking to them, to solace their old age, was not now in my possession: Satan, through whose aid I had obtained it, had taken it away from me again.

But, if I could not give my parents curse-laden wealth, I was able to offer them two strong and willing arms which, after so many years of sinful struggling, longed for the honest toil that would call down a blessing from heaven.

I would adopt my father's trade;

become a pious believer, and try to be of some use to my fellow-creatures.

Before I could do this, however, I should be obliged to commit a forgery-as the world would call it.

The burgomaster of Andernach, and the manager of the tannery in that place, were so very scrupulous, that they wanted to know all about my antecedents, before they would consent to receive me as a citizen, and journeyman.

Not for the world would I have forged an entire testimonial for honesty, and respectability; but I did not think, that to add a single cipher to the honorable discharge I had received from Captain Meyer was anything out of the way. A tiny, innocent, worth-nothing, insignificant cipher, that could harm no one, take nothing from anyone! And I did not place it in front of the figure 1 either-thus giving it the precedence over the more valuable numeral. If the honorable, and high-born gentlemen will but look at it from a different point of view from that usually taken, I feel confident they will not think my transgression so heinous after all. Heaven knows! Ten years' service under Captain Meyer contained sufficient torture to purge the most hardened criminal, and make him fit for citizenship in any respectable community!

This, your highness, and honorable gentlemen, is the forgery to which I plead guilty.

"Humph!" ejaculated his highness. "It is not worth mentioning! Who would take the trouble to notice such a trifle? Proceed to the indictment next on the list-"

"On which there is still another crime less!" grumbled the chair impatiently.

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