Magyar Megmaradásért

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An Outlaw's Diary: Revolution - Chapter II

CHAPTER II

November 1st.

In the morning I heard that Tisza had been murdered.

The telephone rang in the corridor, sharply, aggressively, as if the town was shouting out to us among the woods. It was with reluctance that I put the receiver to my ear.

The ringing stopped and I heard only that meaningless buzzing at a distance. It lasted for some time while I stared through the window at the little icehouse in the garden. At last there was silence and I recognised the voice of my brothel Géza. He spoke from town, enquired after mother, and asked how we had passed the night. In town they had been shooting all night long, and armoured cars had rushed through the streets. And then he said something I could not understand clearly.

I felt a strange reluctance to understand. I began to be afraid of what was coming, of hearing something which, once known, could never be altered again. The presentiment of catastrophe took possession of me.

" But what happened ? "

" Poor Stephen Tisza... "

I still looked out into the garden at the reed-thatched roof of the ice-house, staring at a reed which had become detached by some winter storm. I stared at it till my eyes ached, as if I were clinging to it. It was only a reed, but now everything to which one could cling was but a reed. Suddenly the garden vanished. The window disappeared, and tears fell from my eyes.

I heard the voice of my brother again. He concluded from my silence that I had not understood what he said, so he repeated it : " He is the only victim of the revolution. Soldiers killed him. They penetrated into his house and... in the presence of his wife and of Denise Almássy they shot him dead. "

" The scoundrels ! "

Communication was suddenly broken off.

Poor human creature ! Forsaken, lonely, deserted man ! Nobody protected him. In his greatest hour, women alone stood by his side : it is always a woman who is at the foot of the rood. My awful presentiment of Tisza's martyrdom came back to me in a shudder. How he must have suffered from the thought that his usefulness had gone, how his brilliant brain must have rebelled against annihilation, how his remaining vitality must have revolted. Stephen Tisza was dead ! What an awful void these words created. Nobody was left to bear every burden in Hungary, to bear all blame, all responsibility. The weight of the responsibility which he alone bore falls to pieces with his death. Till now, one man bore them; will the whole country be able to bear the burden ? Even whilst I asked this question I felt as if something which I had never felt before had fallen upon my shoulders : my share of the terrible, invisible load. Small legatees of a great testator... I, others, every Hungarian.

Poor Tisza ! In his good qualities and in his shortcomings he was typical of his race. He was faithful and God-fearing, honest, credulous and obstinate, proud, brave, calumnied and lonely, just like old Hungary. In my mind his qualities were so tightly knitted together that I could not separate them.

He was killed ! Many will not understand the portent to Hungary of that phrase. And yet Tisza's corpse lies exposed in every Hungarian home, from one end of the country to the other, in every house, every farm, every cottage, even there where they do not know, where they laugh.

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The newsboy opened the door and threw the newspapers into the hall. The papers flew in disorder over the floor. I said nothing about it, though he seemed to expect some remark and looked back with voice so weary that it was as if she had travelled a great distance during our silence. " Soldiers... " and I handed the papers to her. I glanced at the page of one of them : these lines met my eyes : " ... Glorious Revolution. The National Council has taken over the government of Hungary... Naturally the constitution is no longer what it was. The King has handed all his powers to Károlyi, so that he may maintain order in the land. " I turned the page. " One detachment of soldiers after the other declares its adherence to the National Council. The communal authorities have submitted to the National Council. So have the Exchange, the railwaymen, the men of the electric trams... Count Julius Andrássy, the last common Minister for Foreign Affairs, has resigned ! "

News followed news in a topsy-turvy way. Vienna—in Austria too the old order has passed away. A Social Democrat called Renner has been made Chancellor. The Social Democratic deputy, Victor Adler, has become Foreign Secretary.

I read further, then my eyes were arrested by a proclamation of the National Council : " Our beflowered and bloodless revolution will bind the nation with eternal gratitude to the men who have worked disinterestedly at its reconstruction. " I looked at the end of the paper : a notice in small type caught my attention : " Report of the General Staff : As early as the 29th of October the Higher Command had established communication with the Italian Commander in Chief " ... " Trieste has been occupied by an English fleet " ... " The King has ordered that the Fleet, the naval institutions and all other things pertaining to the Navy, shall be gradually handed over to the local Committees of Zágráb and of Pola... "

Every word of the papers strikes one in the face. Insult, shame and degradation. And in face of this maddening conglomeration of defeats, of this heartless report of Hungary's collapse, there is Michael Károlyi's order : " The National Council orders that on the occasion of the people's victory, which has for ever abolished war, the whole of Budapest and all provincial towns are to be beflagged. "

My mother has thrown her paper aside.

" Have you read the circular by which the National Council informs the people of Hungary that Budapest has taken the power into its own hands and that ' not a single drop of Hungarian blood has been shed ? ' Tisza's blood is not Hungarian blood in the eyes of Károlyi and his friends. "

Even as she spoke, on the last page of one of the papers I came across the following :

" Count Stephen Tisza has been sacrificed to the cause of freedom... "

" They hid that so carefully that I could not find it, " said my mother.

I read aloud :

" At the villa at 35 Hermina Road an officer and a civilian appeared on the morning of the murder. They demanded admittance. Tisza received them in his study. ' What do you want ? ' he asked, and the civilian answered : " Are you hiding that swine of a Czech attorney who is upholding the accusation against me ? ' ' I don't hide anybody, ' replied Tisza.

" The strangers left hurriedly... It is more than probable that they only came to spy if Tisza was at home, because the rumour had spread in town that he had left Pest ! "

Then followed a remarkably short and cynical account of the details of the murder, every word of which showed clearly that the writer of the article wanted to avoid anything that might raise pity or sympathy in favour of the victim. The report continued :

" During the day a thick crowd had gathered in the vicinity of the villa. In the evening about a quarter past six eight infantrymen climbed over the high railings of the garden and crept across the lawn to the house. They entered by the back door. They quietly disarmed the police who were in charge of Tisza's safety, and penetrated into the hall. The footman tried to stop them. Hearing the noise, Stephen Tisza, his wife, and his niece, the Countess Denise Almássy, came out. Tisza held a revolver in his hand.

" The soldiers began by reproaching him : " We have been fighting five years because of you... You are the cause of the destruction of our country !

... You were always a scoundrel.' Then they shouted at him to put his revolver down.

" ' I will not, ' said Tisza, ' you are armed too. '

" ' Put it down, ' a tall, fair young man aged about thirty shouted.

" ' I won't. '

" ' Then let the women stand aside. "

" ' We will not, " said they.

" Tisza retired a few steps and put the revolver down.

" ' Now what do you want ? ' said he.

" ' You are the cause of the war. '

" ' I know what the war has done to us, and I know how much blood has flowed; but I am not the cause of it. '

" ' I have been a soldier for four years. Innumerable families have perished because of your wickedness. Now you must pay for it. '

" ' I am not the cause of it. '

" ' Let the women stand aside ! ' No answer. ' It is you who have brought this awful catastrophe about, and now the day of reckoning has come. '

" Three shots were fired. Tisza fell forward on the carpet. He was hit by two bullets : one in the shoulder, the other in the abdomen. The third grazed the cheek of Denise Almássy.

" ' They have killed me, ' said Tisza; ' God's will be done. '

" While the victim was writhing in agony the soldiers hurried away. It is not known to what regiment they belonged. "

Thus far the reporter's account. My mother looked at me interrogatively for an instant and then shook her head sadly.

" Something has been omitted from that account. It all sounds very improbable. Hungarian soldiers don't kill in the presence of women. "

" It is a psychological impossibility, " I said; " such an account can have sprung only from the imagination of a Budapest reporter. Soldiers from the front would not talk politics if they wanted to kill. They might have rushed in and stabbed Tisza, but such a cold-blooded, cowardly, premeditated murder is not in the nature of Hungarians. It must have been very different. "

" However it was, " my mother sighed, " it is terrible to think that it could happen. Poor Countess Tisza ! "

A short notice at the foot of the paper said something about her—Count Michael Károlyi had sent her the following telegram : " It is my human duty to express my deep sympathy over the tragical death of my greatest political opponent. "

My mother was horrified at this.

" How could he be so shameless as to intrude like that ! "

Indeed, this impudence sounded like a sneer at Tisza's memory, and in any case it was wanton cruelty to the faithful, heroic woman who knew full well that for many years Károlyi had with cruel hatred incited the masses against her husband.

The origin of this hatred was deep and irreparable, for it sprang not from a divergence of ideas but from the physical disparities which resulted from, Károlyi's infirmities. Michael Károlyi, a stunted degenerate afflicted with a cleft palate, a haughty, hopelessly conceited, spoilt and unintelligent child of fortune, could never forgive the simple nobleman Tisza that he was gifted, strong, clean and healthy, every inch a man, powerful, and in power. It was the hatred of envious deformity for strength, health and success. Those about him, for ends of their own, made capital out of this. Some of his satellites reported several of his utterances on this subject. In fact Károlyi made no secret of his hatred for Tisza.

Many times he was heard to assert that he would not rest till he had ruined him. Could he have done so, he would have sent his telegram of condolence to the widow of his " greatest political opponent " at an earlier date, namely when the discussion of the new standing order of the Hungarian parliament took place. On that occasion he challenged the half blind Tisza, who was about to undergo an operation, to a duel in the same week when he, Tisza, had already fought two others, one against Count Aladár Széchényi, the other against the Markgrave Pallavicini. On this occasion Károlyi's hatred was fanned to a white heat, for Tisza, a master of fence, assessed his adversary no more seriously on the duelling ground than in politics : he played for a little with him and finally thrashed him with the flat of his sword till he collapsed.

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Idly I turned the paper. Another notice attracted my attention : " In the name of the National Council Count Michael Károlyi, Dr. Joseph Pogány and Louis Magyar order that on the first of November all theatres of Budapest shall give gala performances. "

Gala performances ! Budapest and all Hungarian towns to be beflagged ! And Hungary struggling in agony and Stephen Tisza on the catafalque !... A wave of indescribable bitterness swept over me. Oh ! that I could escape from it all and leave it far behind me !

It was strange that at such a moment I could hear the hissing of the damp wood in the fireplace and could see that Alback's little old portrait was hanging crooked on the wall. I got up and put it straight. Out of doors the mist was drifting. Drops condensed on the window and trickled slowly down. The mist was noiselessly shedding tears over miles and miles.

When I left my mother's room I met my brother Béla in the hall. He stood with his back to me, staring fixedly out into the mist. His sword with the belt twisted round it and his officer's cap lay on the table. The cockade of the cap was still in its place.

I looked at him silently for some moments, and a deep pity filled me. He too was one of the hundreds of thousands. For him it was even worse than for us... As a lieutenant of reserve he joined his regiment of lancers on the first of August, 1914. Since then he had served with many branches of the service, often in the infantry, till at last, after long years of war, he was invalided home gravely ill from under Jamiano. On the banks of the Drava, in Przemysl, the battle of Lemberg, the wintry Carpathians, Besarabia, and that hell of rocks the Carso—the road of many Hungarian deaths, of much Hungarian honour. He had traversed it from end to end. And now he stood here, like an old man, looking into the fog, with his sword lying idle.

Only when I called him by name did he notice that I was in the room, and as he turned I noticed that his coat dangled as if it were hanging on a skeleton.

On his drawn face deep lines extended to the corners of his mouth. He seemed highly strung and started to say one thing, then stopped and said something else. " I started for town but could not stand the walk so I came back. " While he spoke I felt that he was thinking of something else all the time. Suddenly he collapsed into a chair, his elbows on the table. " There, in Pest, deserters and demagogues. They have suspended me, and shirking defeatists are the leaders and laugh at us. The new government glorifies cowardice and dishonour. We have come to this. Why, then, what was the good of it all ? " Through his voice spoke the voice of four years' suffering, and a tear trickled down his pallid cheeks. Suddenly he stretched out his thin hand for his cap, and looked eagerly with bent head at the cockade on it. " They won't tear mine off. " He stopped abruptly and looked up to me : " You have heard what happened yesterday in Hermina road ? "

" I know. "

He got up and returned to the garden door, and motionless stared out into the fog. In the evening a neighbouring farmer came over. He was a faithful old friend of ours, and now, in his own simple way, he tried to give proof of his devotion, as if to offer reparation for the wrongs we had suffered. He asked us if we wanted any vegetables. " Just say the word, there are a few left in our garden. " And his thoughtful kindness impressed me more with the change that had taken place in our social order than any annoying brutality of the street could have done.

Then we talked of other things. He spoke of Tisza and told us with many lamentations that they were still shooting in town, and that soldiers terrorised the people from big motor lorries. One railway station had been pillaged. Another was on fire, so a man told him who had just been there. The military stores had been stormed by the mob. Barrels of petrol were rolled into the street, smashed, and the petrol set on fire as it poured out.

Soon after the farmer left us, the door bell rang, and my brothers and sisters came, one after the other, up the garden path. Whenever the door was opened the mist floated in from the darkness like smoke, and the new arrivals stamped on the mat for a moment or two to rid themselves of the mud. Slowly we gathered round our mother like birds in a storm.

A fire was burning in the hall, its light playing over the beamed roof, glinting here and there from the oak staircase which rose high against the wall. It came and went, flared up a little, flickered, and then died down.

When daylight had disappeared from the mullioned panes of the window the shaded lamp was lit on the round table. My mother prepared tea, just as if things were as they used to be, when we came home chilled. Then she sat down in her usual place, in the corner of the green velvet couch. Above her, on the wall, was a fine old etching. It was an old friend of my childhood, full of stories—Le garde de chasse. How I loved to look at it on Sunday afternoons when it hung in my grandmother's room ! Since then its old mistress had gone, so had her room—indeed the very house had been demolished. The picture alone remained. In the foreground on the edge of a wood, with raised fists and a huge gun on his shoulder, stands the aged keeper, in an old fashioned beaver and high shirt collar. Cowed and cringing are two little children, who have been caught in the act of stealing firewood. And now while the voices of my brothers were humming in my ears I was struck by something I had never noticed before. How this picture had gone out of date ! Justice has altered. Nowadays the law of " mine, thine, his " is proclaimed in a new shape.

Thine—is mine, his—is ours ! This is the teaching of the new leaders of the people and the foundation of their power. For many thousands of years the crowd has learned nothing with such ease, and nothing has ever made it the slaves of its masters with greater speed. Involuntarily I glanced at the opposite wall. Another picture was over the other couch : a cheap, coloured engraving of Ofen-Pest, the ancient little town. People still passed across the Danube by the floating bridge; in its narrow little streets real red, white, and green flags were floating, and in their shadow Louis Kossuth and Alexander Petőfi made a real war for freedom. How all this has changed !

The kettle was singing, and from the fireplace a pleasant warmth, scented with the smell of pine-wood, penetrated the room. The silver and the cut glass shone on the white tablecloth. I sat snugly in the armchair. Here things were still as of old, and I felt a glow of gratitude towards the home which now was no more taken for granted but appeared as an island amid the flood.

Did the others feel this too ? I looked round. All were unusually silent. Now and then someone said a word which fell like a pebble in a silent pond. Worry was written on all faces. During the long war, among the many terrible misfortunes, I had never noticed despair in my family. We never gave up hope. Our faith that Hungary would survive whatever happened had never altered.

" She has been betrayed ! " And we returned to the fate of Tisza. We decided between us that we would all go to his funeral. But when will it be ? Nobody knew. My mother had been sitting for a long time silently in her corner when she said in a low voice, as if speaking to herself :

" They killed him... killed him. They knew what they did. They have bereft the nation of its head. "

We looked at each other.

" And the guilty have escaped without leaving a trace... At any rate, they would not have been hurt—the triumphing revolution will provide for all eventualities by a general amnesty. " My brother took up the newspaper. " Have you read this ? " By request of the National Council the Ministry of Justice has ordered by telegram that all those who are arrested or imprisoned for high treason, lèse majesté, rebellion, violence against the authorities or against private individuals, or incitement to violence, should be released at once ! "

The new government could not have pronounced a graver indictment of itself. This amnesty was a free confession of its ends, its means and its guilt. From this moment Michael Károlyi and his National Council appeared to us in the role of the accused at the bar of judgment.

" Criminals, " said my brother-in-law. " Here in Pest they have anticipated the ordinance. Two days ago they set free the Galileists accused of high treason. "

" It is said that Countess Károlyi herself went to fetch them. "

" Yesterday they liberated in triumph all the deserters... Only a few hours before the assassination of Stephen Tisza a commission came with the written order of the National Council to the jail to free all political prisoners, and as the order put it, " all deserving prisoners. " The first to rush out of the prison was Lékai-Leitner, the man who recently made an attempt on Tisza's life. He addressed a speech to the assembled mob and explained without being interfered with why the principal contriver of the war, Tisza, should be killed. " Let him perish ! " he shouted, and the mob cheered while he, protected by the police, incited his comrades in the street to murder. "

" Károlyi's National Council must have known of that. Yet they did nothing to protect Tisza. A few hours later his assassins could destroy him without fear of interruption. "

I thought of Marat's saying to Barbaroux : " Give me four hundred assassins and I will make the revolution. " ... Into the hands of what a crowd have fallen the fates both of our country and ourselves ! High treason and rebellion are no longer crimes, violence is lawful, incitement to it permissible. Assassins can exercise their trade without punishment, and there is no place where one can claim justice. I staggered under the confusing thoughts. I seemed to have lived through something like this once before. Many years ago, on a hot, close summer night, I was awakened by a violent shock. The room swayed, the house tilted backwards and forwards, everything tottered, cracked, collapsed. An earthquake ! And when I wanted to grasp something it gave way, moved from its place; nothing seemed firm... " Let us fly ! " ... A mad voice shouted it through the night.... Fly ? On such occasions there is no place whither flight is possible; for miles and miles the earth quakes.

Presently, in order to encourage my mother, I said aloud :

" Everything is not lost yet. The troops will come back from the front. They will restore order. Those who have fought there will not tolerate the rule of deserters and shirkers at home. "

" Unfortunately Károlyi's agents have gone to meet them at the front, " said my brother-in-law. " And they have taken with them an ample supply of the government's newspapers. "

Meanwhile out of doors the fog became as dense as if a morass had swollen up in the valleys. It clung about the windows and coated the panes. My brothers and sisters prepared to go. When we took leave we agreed that as we could hope at any rate for a little more safety in town than here, we would move in as soon as we could procure the necessary vans. The villa stood in a lonely spot among abandoned houses; only my sister Mary, and, on the other side of the ravine, the farmer, lived on the hill besides ourselves. And the woods were full of vagabonds.

" It will be safer... "

" It will be equally unsafe everywhere in Hungary, " I said while I put my coat on to accompany them a short distance.

When we reached the bottom of the hill shots broke the silence. Rifles answered them, and their echo rolled on between the hills. A white dog, frightened to death, rushed past me like an arrow, his tail between his legs, and his ears pressed tightly back. The caretaker of one of the empty villas, an old Swabian gardener, stood in the gate, smoking his pipe and watching the road.

" Himmelsakrament !... The Russians have escaped from the prisoners' camp, that's what people say in the shop. Goodness knows what is going to happen to us... "

" False alarms, " I said as I passed.

The firing increased every moment.

" Mother will fret, " said my sister Mary. We took leave of the others and turned back.

Beyond the Devil's Ditch, where the road starts up the hill, two bullets whistled over our heads. They must have come from the bushes near by, for we could smell the powder. In front of us a human form emerged from the fog. " That one went too low, " he muttered. " God guarded me so that it missed me. " The stranger had a big collar and wore a soldier's cap. He might have been a noncommissioned officer. " Can one get newspapers down there " by the electric tram ? " he asked, touching his cap.

" No, they don't sell papers to-day. "

The man turned back, and, leaning heavily on his stick climbed the hill slowly behind us. He never spoke, but sighed now and then, and one of his boots tapped curiously on the pavement. Through my thoughts I had heard the tapping for some time before I realized that the poor fellow had an artificial leg.

" It was all in vain, " he exclaimed unexpectedly, and his voice sounded even duller than before. I could not see his face, but somehow I felt that this man with a wooden leg was weeping in the dark. That made me think of my brother, and of the others, the cripples, the blind, the sick, the maimed, who all say to-day with a lump in their throat : " it was in vain... "

When I reached our garden another shot passed over my head. I pressed myself against the trunk of a tree and waited a little. I seemed to hear my heart beating in the tree. The danger passed by and I went on. The lighted windows of the house shone gently upon the path and beckoned to me, just as they had done the day before, just as they had done on any day when my steps took me home.

When I entered the house I found boxes and trunks in the hall, and my mother was packing. She was putting boxes tied with lilac ribbon into the trunks, her own dear old belongings which she had treasured with so much love throughout a long life. Indefatigable, she went to and fro. She bent down, brought another object, never complaining and astonishingly calm.

Meanwhile the fire on the hearth went out, and the sticky air of the night penetrated through the shutters. The dining-room had become very cold too. We did not dare to make fires : our wood in the cellar was running short and should we fail in our attempt to hire a van, who knew how long we might have to stay here ?

Later on I went up into my room and collected my papers. All the time I could hear my mother's steps down below : it was a step that I could recognise among a thousand others. It always sounds as though she drags one of her feet slightly, but she does not do so really, it only sounds like it, and it gives her gait a kind of swaying rhythm. I love to hear it, for it always reminds me of my childhood. Whenever I dreamed anything frightful in my little truckle bed that step would come slowly across the room, and even before it reached me all that was terrifying had disappeared.

On the ground floor a cupboard was opened : the noise sounded like a sigh; then drawers were gliding in and out. Beyond the garden the dogs barked. Now and then violent outbursts of firing rent the hills. But even then my mother's steps never stopped. I could hear them passing quietly backwards and forwards between the trunks in the hall and her room.

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