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An Outlaw's Diary: Revolution - Chapter IV

CHAPTER IV

November 2nd.

The house stood amid a sad, grey morning. Through the fog a continuous drizzle was heard in the woods, and along the road a muddy stream gurgled in the broken gutter. The people in the electric trams going townwards were just like the morning itself : grey, wet and sad. They spoke of the mutiny in the Russian camp.

" They have been disarmed " ... " Not at all, they have spread over the country... " " They pillage in small bands, like the escaped convicts. They too broke out on the news of the revolution. They captured a train and came, all armed, towards Pest. On the way they fought a regular battle, with many dead and wounded; the rest escaped. " ... " No, they did not. They enlisted as sailors. "

There was panic and confusion in all this talk, and nobody seemed to know anything for certain.

The tram turned round the foot of the hill. At the stopping place I bought a newspaper. The papers were filthy, and the woman who sold them did not take much heed of me ; she was talking politics with a hawker who sold boot-laces and moustache wax at that spot.

" Give me the Budapesti Hirlap. "—But the paper which for the last ten years had fought, practically single-handed, against the machinations of the destructive press was not to be had. The woman thrust another paper into my hand. The tram went on and I began to read. As if announcing a glorious victory the head-lines proclaimed in immense type : " ON THE WHOLE FRONT WE HAVE LAID DOWN OUR ARMS ! IN CASE OF OCCUPATION WE HAVE ASKED FOR FRENCH OR BRITISH TROOPS. " Something stabbed and tore my heart : Gorlice, Limanova, Lovchen, Doberdo...

The newspaper continued : " Six weeks are needed for the conclusion of peace... The King has relieved the new government from its allegiance... The government has decided in principle for a Republic and has extended its programme by this condition... The Government has sworn allegiance the National Council at the Town Hall... the touching scene, which buried a past of a thousand years, passed amidst indescribable enthusiasm. "

Our arms laid down ! Foreign occupation ! The King has relieved the perjurers ! A republic in Hungary ! And one of the most important papers in Hungary writes of all this as if it were the accomplishment of long cherished hopes, as if it rejoiced that " the past of a thousand years " had been buried ! Not a word of sympathy, of consolation.

Then something suddenly dawned on me : in this paper a victorious race was exulting over the fall of a defeated nation ! And the defeated, the insulted nation was my own !... So they hated us as much as all that, they, who lived among us as if they were part of us. Why ? What have we done to them ? They were free, they were powerful, they fared better with us than in any other country. And yet they rejoiced that we should disappear in dishonour, in shame, in defeat.

I threw the newspaper away—It was an enemy.

We came to the Pest end of the bridge. The tram stopped, and I wanted to change. " The trams are not running. You can walk, " growled the inspector. The walls are covered with posters, orders, announcements, proclamations. On a big coloured poster : " Lukasich has been appointed executioner. " And under the announcement the execution of a soldier was depicted. As I walked along my eyes gleaned a sentence from another poster : " People of Hungary, soldiers, workers and citizens ! " (The order of the words was significant; but it did not appear to strike people's imagination). " Fellow-citizens ! Glory, honour and homage to the victorious people of Budapest. The people's revolution has conquered " ... and the signature : " The First Hungarian Popular Government. " Then another sentence : " The military and civil power is in the hands of the head of the Hungarian Popular Government, Michael Károlyi. " Many words, many black words. I read the last words of the Popular Government's Proclamation : " To assure the transition from the present conditions to a quiet peaceful life, we organise Soldiers' Councils and a National Guard so that ETERNAL PEACE may gain its healing, sway over us all. "

Red and white blotches of paper and alternate signatures : Heltai, Commander of the Garrison, Linder, Commander-in-Chief.

Linder ? I never heard this name during the war. And yet it seemed familiar to me. Then I remembered. I met him at a social gathering, and once at an afternoon tea. On both occasions he seemed under the influence of drink. That was the reason I noticed him, otherwise his insignificance would have wiped him out of my memory. Now I seemed to see his face. He gave me the impression of an elderly stage swashbuckler. His well-groomed hair was grey, his shoulders high, his neck thick-set, his face congested; his tiny grey eyes winked all the time, and when he laughed they disappeared entirely. Linder... Can this stage swashbuckler be the new Minister of War ?

I now noticed that more and more people hurried past me, and that all were going towards the House of Parliament. A crowd was gathering in the big, beflagged square. People dressed in black, officers in field uniform, poured from the neighbouring streets. Some mounted police arrived. Then came a military band. A military cordon was formed in the centre.

" What is happening here ? " I asked a woman who stood aimlessly among the loafers on the kerb.

" I don't know. " A young man, who might have been in her company, answered for her : " The officers of the Garrison are swearing allegiance to the National Council. "

" There are crowds of them, " said the woman, and moved her neck like a duck in a pond. The young man laughed with contempt. " There may be four hundred. " His accent seemed to proclaim him from Transylvania.

Motor cars rushed past me. Overhead, aeroplanes were circling and strewing leaflets among the crowd : " The glorious revolution ! The people have conquered ! " Leaflets on the ground, leaflets in the gutter, leaflets everywhere.

The great grey mass of the House of Parliament hid the Danube from our sight like a petrified lace curtain. On its walls the ancient coats of arms of various counties, the monuments of past Kings, appeared and disappeared in the mist like a dissolving view. At the sides of the building the square extended to the river, and the ghostly outlines of a bronze figure on horseback stood out against the background of mist-covered Buda : the statue of Andrdássy, the great Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the haze it seemed that the rider moved, as though he wanted to turn his steed and ride away to the sound of brazen horse-shoes, back along the banks of the Danube, to see if the river had changed its course— the river which had imposed upon the lands between the Black Forest and the Black Sea the alliance which he had written on paper. Had it left its bed, had it dried up, that great Danube, the ancient zone across Europe's body, that some man should be so bold as to tear up the scrap of paper which confirmed the bond ? Mist rose over the yellow waves. The poisoned town threw its image across a veil into the river and poisoned its waters. And the stream carried the poison, and perhaps by to-morrow the lands it crosses may already writhe with internal pains.

To-morrow... Everything is lost in a mist. Round the square the houses showed their many-eyed faces through a haze. Below, the rain-covered asphalt pavement shone, reflecting the people who stood upon it. In the windows of the houses, on the stone steps of the House of Parliament, between two stone lions, more people. I looked at my watch. It was eleven o'clock. Another motor car dashed up, there was some cheering in the centre of the square, and the figure of a man rose above the crowd. He stood on the steps of the House of Parliament in a dark overcoat, a bowler-hat on his head, a glaring red tie round his neck.

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The Minister of War. He began to wave his hat over his head as if attempting to catch an elusive butterfly. I caught a few of his words. He spoke with a lisp and stuttered slightly. " Soldiers, I expect discipline... We have faithfully done our duty on the field of battle... We suffered and we fought... We imagined that the ideals we fought for were worth while... I, your responsible Minister of War, declare that these ideals were false ! "

I thought he would be knocked down for saying that. Four hundred officers. Just enough...

" There is a new order of things, " ... shouted Linder. The short woman next to me jerked her neck and complained : " I can't hear anything. " The slim young man, in his thin shabby overcoat, stretched his neck to listen : " He says that we have not been beaten. We have won, the sovereign people has won. We have conquered that false system... "

" I can't understand, " said the woman excitedly.

We could hear Linder's voice : " When we had beaten the Russians and there was no more question of national defence, we had to go on fighting for imperialistic, militaristic, egotistic ends... "

" Aha, " said the woman, and was bored.

The voice in the middle of the square continued to shout : " But perhaps we ought not to grumble that this war has lasted so long. We had to demolish the tyranny of a thousand years, the tradition of a thousand years, the servitude of a thousand years. "

He, too, gloats over the destruction of a thousand years. What is the matter with this town ?

Some straggling cheers resounded and a few caps were raised. Then the square became mute, for the hat of the Minister of War began to wave again in the air. His face became purple with the effort, and his voice sounded shrill. Words came, and he said :

" I never want to see a soldier again ! "

For a moment these words passed above my comprehension. Then they came back and drummed in my brain. I could not believe my ears. I must have misunderstood him. It seemed impossible that a sane person should have said such a thing. The Minister of War of the government which had broken up the front under the pretence that Hungary was in need of Hungarian troops for the defence of Hungarian frontiers ! No, it was more than ever impossible now when the Serbians were marching towards us and Wilson's message had delivered us up to the rapacity of Czech, Roumanian and Yugoslav ambitions. Only the voice of dementia or sublime criminality could speak such words. What made him say it ? But he is drunk. Is it not visible on his face ? Do not people see how he sways and grins ? His tongue has slipped, he is going to withdraw his words. No harm has been done as yet. The people have not grasped his horrible meaning, his venomous words can be snatched back from the air.

Near Linder a long sallow face began to nod. Károlyi stood on the steps. At his shoulder appeared a puffy, olive coloured face : Oscar Jászi, Károlyi's prompter. So there they are too, listening to all this, and Károlyi nods and Jászi smiles, confirming, ratifying the awful words.

But the officers of the garrison are there ! There may be about four hundred, perhaps more, all soldiers, all armed, all men. They will not stand it, they will rush at the Minister of War, catch hold of him by his red tie and string him up to the nearest lamp post like a depraved beast. My heart was hammering, and for a moment I had to turn away. It would not be a pleasant sight, and after this who will keep the army in hand ? Who will take up the arms that are to be thrown away ? He proclaims anarchy ! He does not want to see any soldiers... And within the cordon cheers are raised !

" Take the oath ! " shouted Linder. Even then I had hope. Surely something must happen. The men will suddenly regain consciousness. In 1848 the Imperial High Commissioner Lambert was stabbed to death by the crowd on the floating bridge, though what was that foreigner's guilt compared with the guilt of these Hungarians ? Surely they cannot remain quiet like this ? They are going to tear him to pieces. A hundred naked fists—why perhaps a single one could do it... Oh for that ONE, gracious God ! Within the military cordon the officers of the garrison stood in a row, stood there and took the oath. The soldiers of the King swore obedience to Michael Károlyi's National Council.

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A burning sense of shame rose within me. And then, suddenly, something seemed to open my eyes, and I saw beyond men and events. Those officers in the square could not be, all of them, deserters and hired traitors. Surely there were some among them who had taken an honourable share in the tragic Hungarian glory of the war, who had suffered just as I had. They were soldiers, and as if it were a dishonour to be so, that fellow dared to tell them to their face that he did not want to see soldiers any more. And these words will run all over the town, and to-morrow they will be racing across the country and will reach the frontiers where they will lie in wait for the armed millions returning form the front.

Some vile spell, the dazzle of some occult charm, held the crowd fascinated and cowed all into a lethargy of terror. What power could it be ? Whence did it come ? What was its end ? For neither Károlyi, nor Linder, nor Oscar Jászi possessed that demoniacal influence which crushes will power and opposition, makes cowards of brave souls and drags honour in the dust. This force did not rise to-day or yesterday; it is the result of thousands of years of savage hatred and bestial will for power, a monster begotten in obscurity, which, safe from attack, has spread across the globe, waiting its opportunity, setting its snares with cunning, watching for the hour when it can strangle its victim as with a rope.

And now it will strangle us too ! Our time has come !

I shuddered in my helpless solitude amidst the crowd that blackened the square, where men suffered everything, cheered the negation of their existence, and pledged themselves to their own destruction.

The sound of trumpets rose. The military band struck up a tune. What was it ?... My heart nearly stopped beating when I realised what it was. The great revolutionary song of a strange people rose above the square, the national anthem of a nation which had been our enemy during the war, which led on the revengeful victors who were preparing to trample us beneath their feet. A hymn of rebellion, which they play in the beflagged towns on the banks of the Seine and the Marne to proclaim their victory, a tune which means glory to them, humiliation to us. If the French nation had succumbed to German arms, would they play this day Deutschland, Deutschland über alles on the Place de la Concorde ?

To what depth have you sunk, Hungarian men ? I set my teeth and pressed my suffering down into my heart. And the grandiose strains of the Marseillaise floated over my head. Their beauty I heard not. To me the notes were but the guffaws of a scornful melody that roared derision over the square. The clarions sounded brazen yells of contempt, the rolling of the drums emphasised their mockery, and the cymbals applauded—applauded our defeat... And the crowd cheered Károlyi.

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The soldiers went back to the City. The interrupted traffic thronged over the shining asphalt. Carriages drove by. Small groups vanished in the distant streets. Slowly the square became empty. A few constables remained on duty in front of the House of Parliament; people waited at the stopping place of the tram. The woman with the duck's neck and the Transylvanian youth were there too. We waited.

The House of Parliament relapsed into its grave silence. The bronze figure of the horseman near the shore was invisible. Had it gone, was it still there ? I hesitated. There, on the other side, towards the bridge, near the river, the embankment was bare. There never had been a statue there. But the wraith of a giant whose blood was spilt on October 31st is slowly groping his way towards it. His chest is pierced by a bullet, his heart's blood has flowed away. He goes slowly, but he will get there—when the day comes.

The Transylvanian young man and the woman near me were both staring at the shore. I had no intention of speaking aloud yet I said :

" That is where Stephen Tisza's monument is going to stand. "

The woman was horribly frightened. " Please, don't say things like that. The people hate him frightfully. "

" But why should they hate him so ? "

" He was the cause of the war; the soldier who killed him said so. "

" His monument is going to stand there. "

" You will be knocked down if you say such things, " said the young man. " This morning a gentleman just said to his wife : " Poor Tisza ! " Nevertheless the passengers became indignant, insulted him, stopped the car and shouted till both got off. You must say nothing openly about him, except that he was a scoundrel, that he wanted the war and was the cause of all the bloodshed. One may not say anything of anybody but what the National Council says. One must say nothing of Károlyi but that he is the only person who can save Hungary. This is our liberty. "

Later in the day I had news of another misfortune which had befallen us while the drunken Minister of War was proclaiming in front of the House of Parliament that he never wanted to see a soldier again. Archduke Joseph and his son Joseph Francis have sworn fidelity to the National Council at the Town Hall. Somebody who had seen the Archdukes told me that they had gone to the ceremony in field-uniform, with all their orders on their chests. John Hock had the doors of the hall opened so that the public might follow the ceremony and then received in the name of the Council the oaths which bestowed a certain prestige and a doubtful legal standing on the power they have built up on mud.

Károlyi's press shrieked with joy. The mid-day papers published the report and obsequiously fawned on the Archdukes. Cunningly they called this brave, clean soldier the new Philippe Egalité, comparing him to the Orléans Prince who had denied his origin and pronounced death on his king... I was dumfounded. Those who had any strength of character would feel now that they had been abandoned, while the weak would have nothing to cling to and would inevitably drift toward the National Council. What was at the bottom of it all ? How did it happen that Archduke Joseph, the general idolized by the nation, the bearer of the great traditions of the great Palatines, how did he come to the disgraceful table where a disreputable priest collected oaths for the National Council ? What has forced the Archduke to join the enemies of his country and his dynasty ? Among the many dark scenes of this grim tragedy this one alone has come to light; it cannot yet be understood, and the time has not yet come to pass judgment upon it. That the Archduke went there with a stricken soul, against his innate convictions, those who know him cannot doubt.

Ever since his childhood, ever since he started life under the old trees of Alcsuth, he had always trod the paths of the nation's honour. During the war he was a father to the Hungarian soldiers. Of the many stories told about him I will repeat only one which I had from my brother. At the Italian front a wounded Hungarian soldier was asked on his deathbed if he had any wish. " I should like to see Archduke Joseph once more. " That was all he said and the Archduke came and held his hand while he died. One who was loved like that was not carried by fear or bribe to the Town Hall. It was not for his own sake but in the misconceived interest of his country that he made the sacrifice, aggrandised by its background, his family's transcendent history of a thousand years.

In front of him in a dirty office : Michael Károlyi, John Hock, Kunfi, Jászi. Behind him, on a road lost in the centuries, in silver armour with vizor raised : the haughty face of the Emperor Rudolph, Count of Hapsburg, whose cup-bearer was a Hohenzollern. And again, his handsome silver locks covered with a black velvet biretta, the chain of the Golden Fleece about his neck : Maximilian, the friend of poets, the hero of Theuerdank, the last of the knights. In a heavily embroidered bodice, the sparkling Marguerite of Austria, ruling Duchess of the Netherlands. Philippe le Bel, and the amorous Joan. In grave splendour, Charles V., on whose kingdom the sun never set, and the victor of Lepanto's gory waters, the young Don Juan of Austria. The gloomy cortege of the Spanish Philips and Carlos. The full-wigged Ferdinand and Leopold under the holy crown, and Maria Thérèse's powdered little head bowed in the grandiose tumult of Hungarian fidelity, among drawn swords and hands uplifted for the vow : " Vitam et sanguinerm pro rege nostro... " Joseph, the king in a hat[3], a narrow, meditative face at the window of the Vienna Burg, while behind him Mozart's spinet sounds delicately sweetly from the gilt white room. A touching face : Marie Antoinette, more royal on the scaffold than on the throne. Leopold of Toscana, the friend of the Hungarians. In a simple white frock-coat : the Duke of Reichstadt. In the robes of the Order of St. Stephen : the great Palatines. And at the end of the row the constitutional old King, the last grand seigneur of Europe, and Elizabeth, the wandering queen, who never was at home but when she was in Hungary.

This history of the Hapsburgs is the history of Europe itself. It is a history of imperial diadems and royal crowns, of empires, kingdoms and countries, of centuries and generations. And so to drag the Archduke Joseph into the mire was precisely what Károlyi and his accomplices desired. Let the downfall be complete, so that there shall be nothing to look back on, so that the abased nation shall not be able to expect anything from anybody. The political leader of the nation has been killed in the person of Stephen Tisza; its military leader has now been enticed into the gutter and has been covered with mud so that those who look out for a chief round whom to rally may not discern his real character. The bonds have been severed, and in the silence of our amazement we are all become solitary and forlorn.

What is left to us ? The funeral of Stephen Tisza ! The dead leader will once more gather his followers together. And then our bitterness shall find voice and strength.

It was in the afternoon that I heard that the funeral which we had wanted to attend had already taken place quietly, in other words secretly. Only a new act of Károlyi's impudence made some noise. He had sent a wreath labelled : " A human atonement to my greatest political adversary. Michael Károlyi. " The mourning family, however, had the wreath thrown on the garbage heap. Quietly, with secrecy, Tisza's coffin was taken from the house of the bloody deed to the railway station. Few of his friends were present, but the two women who had been faithful to the last were there. They took him to Geszt. Once more he was to cross the great plain he loved so much, to take his rest in the soil of the land that had allowed him no rest while he lived.

Evening came. A cart rolled through the silence of our rural retreat and stopped in front of our garden. We had been waiting for weeks for the long paid-for firewood, and at last it had come. The Swabian driver who had brought it stood lazily on top of the pile and threw one log after the other indifferently into the road. I asked him if he would mind bringing the wood into the courtyard. If it remained out there every piece of it would be stolen before the morrow.

" Certainly not; you ought to be jolly glad that I brought it at all, " he answered. He squeezed the money for cartage into the pocket of his breeches, whipped up his horses, and the cart rolled downward on the mountain road. I did not know what to do. I went to the farm, then enquired at the nearest houses, when I noticed two men coming up the road. They had red ribbons in their buttonholes, and rifles over their shoulders. I stopped them and asked them if they would carry the wood in for me : I would pay for it with pleasure. They looked at each other, whispered, and at last one said, as if bestowing a favour on me :

" We might, but it will be sixty crowns for the cubic yard. "

" Have you taken leave of your senses ? You know it won't take you an hour to carry the whole lot in. "

" Well, if it doesn't suit you, carry it yourself, " and they laughed sardonically. " You'll have to come to us in the end, " one of them added. Then they sat down on the edge of the ditch opposite the gate, lit their pipes and looked on maliciously to see what I would do next. I turned my back on them, picked up a log and dragged it into the yard.

The men sat and looked on. I had to go in and out a good many times, and was soon panting with the unusual exertion; my hands got wet and sore with the damp wood. Then suddenly my sister's children appeared. They got two poles and we carried the logs in on the improvised stretcher. On the road two little boys and a girl came strolling towards the farm. They stopped, looked on for a while, and then they too joined us. Now the work proceeded fast, and within an hour the wood was all stacked in the yard.

While we worked the two men sat on the edge of the ditch opposite, smoked, spat, and addressed provoking remarks at us. When I closed the gate I could not resist shouting across to them : " Good of you to have stayed here. At least you saw of what mettle we are made. We managed your job although you couldn't manage ours. "

The log-pulling tired me out—and that did me good. For fatigue softened my troubles, and when I went to bed I fell asleep at once. But I must have slept only a short time, for suddenly I dreamt that somebody was standing in front of my window and knocking. In the semi-consciousness of awakening I listened. My room was on the first floor. I jumped up. Violent shooting was going on near the house and the windows rattled in their frames. Then a long appalling howl rent the night, steps ran down the hillside, and everything lapsed into silence.

I lay awake for a long time. A curious light came through the latticework of my blinds which overlooked a piece of waste ground. I listened. There were steps in the neighbourhood. Something was happening out there. Should I go and see ?... I hesitated for some time. My limbs were heavy with fatigue. Then at last I went stealthily to the window. Soldiers were standing in front of the empty villa which stood next to ours and were supporting a hatless man who seemed to be wounded or insensible. A small shrivelled form held an electric torch in its hand and fumbled with the lock of the door. The shadow which he cast on the white wall was like that of a hunch-backed cat. The door opened and they all went in.

My first thought was " I must telephone to the police ! " Then I realized that even that impulse belonged to the past. What good would it be ? There is nobody who can maintain order. I thought of the fugitives in our woods. The country was swarming with deserters, released convicts, small bands of burglars. We shall have to get used to it—we shall have to get used to many things.

And again there was firing down in the valley. Although the danger of remaining longer in this deserted neighbourhood still worried me, I was too tired to absorb fresh troubles, and went to sleep

Szóljon hozzá!

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