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   Chapter 10 THE MAGIC THALER.

Told by the Death's Head By Mór Jókai Characters: 7784

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The most convincing proof that everything occurred as I related it, said the prisoner, continuing his confession the next day, was the thaler I found in my pocket, when I came to my senses in the peat bog near the "kempenei"-the thaler my blood-comrade gave me in exchange for Lilith. I remembered what I had heard the witches say about the commandant's visit to the inn-keeper and though I had suffered terribly because I had tried once to perform a good deed at his house, I decided to warn him of the danger which threatened him that night.

It was very late in the evening when I drew near the inn; but light still gleamed from the windows, and sounds of merriment came from the open door.

The inn-keeper, who was celebrating his marriage with his fifth wife, recognized me at once. He was not in the least rejoiced to see me again; quite the contrary:

"See!" he called to his friends inside the house, "this is the fellow I told you about-the one who predicted what would happen to the Antwerp caravan. Every word he said came true! He shall not come into my house again. I dare say," he added, speaking to me from the door-way, "I dare say you have another witch-story to tell? Don't you dare to utter one word of your evil prophecies, you bird of evil omen!"

The entire company seized cudgels and chairs and threatened to brain me if I opened my lips.

"Just keep your temper, good people," I returned coolly, "I don't intend to tell you what would be of great benefit to you-your treatment of me is so unfriendly, I shall not say one word-I want nothing from you but some bread and cheese, and a mug of beer: and a bundle of straw in a corner where I may pass the night."

"Have you money to pay for all this?" demanded the inn-keeper.

"Certainly I have;" and I handed him my thaler.

"Ho-ho, fellow, this is a counterfeit," he sneered, tossing the coin to the ceiling and letting it fall on the stone table.

The clear ringing sound was unmistakable-the thaler was genuine. Angered by the insolence of the inn-keeper, I said in a tone, the meaning of which he could not mistake:

"Look here, beer-seller; I want you to understand that I am not a circulator of counterfeit money!"

"What!" he roared in a fury; "do you dare to insinuate that I circulate counterfeit money? For your impudence I shall keep this thaler, and have it tested in the city tomorrow; and that you may not run away in the meantime, I shall pen you in my hen-coop."

The entire company helped him to thrust me into the coop, which was so small I could neither stand upright nor lie down in it.

And there I crouched, hungry and thirsty as I had come from the witch-wedding.

Suddenly the early morning quiet was broken by a fanfare in front of the inn. I heard horses' hoofs stamping the earth; loud shouts and curses; and the clank of weapons-the commandant of Bilsen had arrived with his troops.

In a trice the doors were broken open; the startled wedding guests could neither escape nor defend themselves. The soldiers cut down all that came in their way: men, women, old and young. From my hen-coop I witnessed the slaughter, which I cannot describe, for I grow faint with horror if I but think of it.

Not even a dog was left alive about the inn. When the work of butchery was completed one of the soldiers took it into his head to peep into the hen-coop. He saw me, broke the lock with his hatchet, and dragged me out by the hair.

"Don't kill me, comrade," I begged, "I am only a poor soldier like yourself. The inn people took all my money, and penned me in the coop-you can see for yourself that I am not one of them, but a foot-sore wanderer."

"Did they take all your money?" asked the trooper.

"I had only a thaler; the inn-keeper said it was counterfeit, and kept it."

"Let's see if you're telling the truth," said the fellow, beginning to search abou

t my clothes.

"Ha! What's this?" he exclaimed suddenly, holding up the thaler he had found in one of my pockets. "I thought you were lying, you rascal," he added, giving me a blow with his fist, and thrusting my thaler into his pocket.

At that moment another trooper approached, and said something to the first, about not making 'way with me-that the French recruiting officers would give ten thalers for such a sturdy chap. Then he too inquired if I had any money.

I swore I had none; but he was as incredulous as his comrade, and also searched my pockets. In one of them he found the thaler which had returned to my possession; and he too gave me a blow for telling him a lie.

Then came a third trooper with the same inquiry: "Have you money?"

I had not yet got used to having the thaler return to me, so I said:

"No, my friend, I haven't another penny"-and he didn't find anything in my pockets; but when, at his command, I drew off my boots, the thaler fell out of one of them.

From this trooper also I received a vigorous blow for lying. When the fourth, fifth, and sixth troopers followed with the same demand for money, I replied:

"Yes, friend, I think I have a thaler somewhere about my clothes-just search me and maybe you'll find it."

And every one of them found the thaler-once it was found tucked under the collar of my coat; another time in the lining; a third time in my neck-ruff.

My fun came afterward, when the troopers discovered they were minus the thaler they had taken from me. They accused one another of stealing, which led to a scuffle and blows.

I was sold for ten thalers to the Frenchmen, who, when they stripped me to put me into uniform, also searched my clothes. They found nothing; but when they were shearing my hair the thaler suddenly dropped to the floor.

The sergeant pounced on it, exclaiming:

"A thaler profit, comrades!-we'll have a drink at once!"

Beer was ordered from the inn, in which they were quartered; and while they were drinking, the sergeant turned to me and said:

"Are you thirsty lad? You are? Very well, then, go into the yard, lift your face to the clouds, and open your mouth wide-it's raining heavily! When you have quenched your thirst from the clouds, stand guard at the gate."

I had to obey, and stand guard; but I did not quench my thirst with rain water.

After a while I heard loud voices in the bar-room. The inn-keeper's wife was accusing the soldiers of stealing the thaler given to her by the sergeant for the beer. She said it had been taken from the drawer, while she was attending to her work in the kitchen.

"Which of you fellows stole the thaler?" angrily demanded the sergeant.

No one answered; whereupon the sergeant proceeded to flog the men, one after the other, with a bunch of hazel-switches. But the thaler was not found.

Then the five soldiers seized the sergeant, and paid back what he had loaned them; as each had received six blows, the number delivered to him in payment amounted to thirty.

"Fine discipline!" I said to myself. "Fine discipline, where the sergeant flogs his men, and the men flog the sergeant in turn! It's a fine service I've got into, I must say."

I thrust my hands into the pockets of my wide trunk-hose, and what do you suppose I found in one of them? The dangerous thaler! It had not occurred to the Frenchmen to search me!

"I don't see how such a thing could happen," in a puzzled tone, observed the prince.

"There is no mystery about it," returned the chair. "The coin was a 'breeding-thaler'-as it is called. A breeding-thaler will return to the pocket of its owner, no matter how often he may spend it. If, however, he bestows it as a gift on any one, it will not return to him; but to the person to whom he has given it."

"Ah, had I only known that sooner!" in a tone of deep regret, murmured the delinquent.

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