Justice or Revenge, by Max Simon Nordau
A more unequally matched couple than the cartwright Molnár and his wife
can seldom be seen. When, on Sunday, the pair went to church through
the main street of Kisfalu, an insignificant village in the Pesth
county, every one looked after them, though every child, nay, every cur
in the hamlet, knew them and, during the five years since their
marriage, might have become accustomed to the spectacle. But it seemed
as though it produced an ever new and surprising effect upon the by no
means sensitive inhabitants of Kisfalu, who imposed no constraint upon
themselves to conceal the emotions awakened by the sight of the Molnár
pair. They never called the husband by any other name than "Csunya
Pista," ugly Stephen. And he well merited the epithet. He was
one-eyed, had a broken, shapeless nose, and an ugly scar, on which no
hair grew, upon his upper lip, so that his moustache looked as if it
had been shaven off there; to complete the picture, one of his upper
eye-teeth and incisors were missing, and he had the unpleasant habit of
putting his tongue into these gaps in his upper row of teeth, which
rendered his countenance still more repulsive.
The wife, on the contrary, was a very beautiful woman, a magnificent
type of the Magyar race. She was tall, powerful, only perhaps a trifle
too broad-shouldered. Her intensely dark hair and sparkling black eyes
suited the warm bronze hue of her plump face, which, with its little
mouth filled with magnificent teeth, its fresh full lips, the
transparent, enamel like crimson of the firm, round cheeks, and the
somewhat low, but beautifully formed brow, suggested a newly-ripe
peach. This unusually healthy countenance, overspread with a light
down, involuntarily produced in the spectator the impression that it
must exhale a warm, intoxicating, spicy fragrance; it looked so
tempting that one would fain have bitten it.
This had been much the feeling of the Uhlan officers who, with part of
a company of men, were stationed in Kisfalu. From the first day that
the three gentlemen had entered their village garrison the beautiful
woman had attracted their attention, and they had seen in the husband's
ugliness a pleasant encouragement to make gallant advances. The
captain, a Bohemian gentleman, was the first to introduce himself to
the fair wife. The morning of the second day after his arrival in the
hamlet, taking advantage of the absence of the master of the house, he
stole into the miserable clay hut tenanted by the ill-assorted pair,
but remained inside only a few minutes, after which he came out with a
deeply-flushed face and somewhat hasty steps, cast stealthy glances
around him to the right and left, and then hurried away. In the
afternoon of the same day, the young lieutenant tried his luck, but he
too left the cartwright's hut more quickly than he had entered, and not
exactly with the air of a conqueror. In the evening the three
gentlemen met in the spare room of the tavern where they took their
meals, and were remarkably taciturn and ill-tempered. On the third day
the slender, handsome first lieutenant called on the cartwright's wife.
He was a far-famed conqueror of women's hearts, which he was accustomed
to win with as little trouble as a child gathers strawberries in the
woods, and was envied by the whole regiment for his numberless
successes, which he did not treat with too much reticence. This time
the adventure lasted somewhat longer; those who were passing heard loud
outcries and uproar for a short time, as if a wrestling match were
going on in the hut, and the letter-carrier, an old woman, who was just
going by, even stood still in surprise and curiosity. The curiosity
was satisfied, for she soon saw the handsome Uhlan officer rush out,
pressing his hand to his cheek as if he had a violent toothache. He
looked very much dishevelled and made off with noticeable haste. He
did not appear in the tavern at noon, so in the afternoon his two
comrades sent their orderlies to him to enquire about his health; in
the evening he joined them at table and showed his astonished friends a
broad strip of black court-plaster on his right cheek.
"What does that mean?" asked the captain.
"It seems to be a bad cut," observed the lieutenant.
"Razor? sword-stroke? cat's claw?" continued the captain, pursuing his
"Woman's nails!" burst forth the Don Juan of the regiment, and now the
game of hide-and-seek between the trio ended, and they bewailed to one
another, with comic despair, the ill-luck they had all encountered.
She had courteously asked the captain to what she owed the honour of
his visit, and when, instead of answering, he pinched her plump cheek
and put his arm around her waist, she flew into a passion and pointed
to the door with the voice and gesture of an insulted queen. The
lieutenant had found her far more ungracious; she did not ask what he
desired, but angrily thundered, almost before he crossed the threshold,
an order to march which permitted neither remonstrance nor refusal;
finally, at the appearance of the first lieutenant, she had passed from
the position of defence to that of assault, shrieked at him with a
crimson face and flashing eyes to be off at once, if he valued the
smooth skin of his cheeks; and when, somewhat bewildered, yet not
wholly intimidated, he had ventured, notwithstanding this by no means
encouraging reception, to attempt to seize and embrace her, as he was
accustomed to do with the colonel's wife's maid, when, making eyes at
him in the ante-room, she whispered under her breath: "Let me go, or
I'll scream!" she rushed upon him literally like a wild-cat, and, in an
instant, so mauled him that he could neither hear nor see, and
considered himself fortunate to find his way out quickly. And when all
three heroes had finished their tragi-comic general confession, they
unanimously exclaimed: "The woman has the very devil in her!"
They would have learned this truth without being obliged to pass
through all sorts of experiences, if, instead of indulging in
self-complacent speculations concerning the possible combination of
circumstances which had united the beautiful woman to so ugly a man,
they had enquired about the cause of this remarkable phenomenon. They
would then have heard a strange tale which might have deterred them
from finding in Molnár's hideousness encouragement to pursue his wife
Yes, Molnár's wife had the devil in her, and it was her family
heritage. Her father, a poor cottager and day labourer, had been in
his youth one of the most notorious and boldest brawlers in the
neighborhood; even now, when prematurely aged and half-broken down by
want and hard work, people willingly avoided him and did not sit at the
same table in the tavern if it could be helped. In former years he had
been a frequent inmate of the county prison, where the bruises and cuts
received in the brawl on whose account he was incarcerated had time to
heal; two years before he had been in jail three months because he had
used a manure-fork to prevent a tax-collector from seizing his bed, and
the beautiful Panna had then gone to the capital once or twice a week
to carry him cheese, wine, bread, and underclothing, and otherwise make
his situation easier, so far as she could.
The family vice of sudden fits of passion had increased to a tragedy in
the destiny of the only son. He was a handsome fellow, slender as a
pine-tree, the image of his sister, whom he loved with a tenderness
very unusual among peasants; he early became the supporter and
companion of his father in his Sunday brawls, and the village was not
at all displeased when he was drafted into the army. It would have
been an easy matter, as he was an only son, to release him from
military service, but he was obliged to go because two fathers of
soldiers could not be found in the village to give the testimony
necessary for his liberation. He became a conscript in 1865, and, a
year after, the double war between Prussia and Italy broke out. The
young fellow's regiment was stationed in the Venetian provinces. One
night he was assigned to outpost duty in the field; the enemy was not
near, it was mid-summer, a sultry night, and the poor wretch fell
asleep. Unfortunately, the commander of the guard, a young lieutenant
full of over-zeal for the service, was inspecting the outposts and
discovered the sleeper, to whom he angrily gave a kick to recall him to
consciousness of his duty. The lad started up, and without hesitation
or reflection, dealt his assailant a furious blow in the face. There
was a great uproar, soldiers rushed forward, and had the utmost
difficulty in mastering the enraged young fellow; he was taken to
headquarters in irons, and, after a short trial by court-martial, shot
on the same day. The family did not learn the terrible news until
weeks later, from a dry official letter of the regimental commander.
How terrible was the grief of the father and sister! The man aged ten
years in a week, and the girl, at that time a child twelve years old,
became so pale and thin from sorrow that the neighbors thought she
would not survive it. Not survive it? What do we not outlive! She
conquered the anguish and developed into the most beautiful maiden in
There was an austere charm, an unintentional, unconscious attraction in
her, which won every one. Her notorious origin was not visited upon
her, and even the rich girls in the village gladly made her their
friend. While at work in the fields she sang in a ringing voice; in
the spinning-room, in winter, she was full of jests and merry tales, as
gay and gracious as beseemed her age. Probably on account of her
vivacious temperament and the feeling of vigour which robust health
bestows, she was extremely fond of dancing, and never failed on Sundays
to appear in the large courtyard of the tavern when, in the afternoon,
the whirling and stamping began. Her beauty would doubtless have made
her the most popular partner among the girls, had not the lads felt a
certain fear of her. A purring kitten among her girl companions, ready
to give and take practical jokes, she was all claws and teeth against
men, and many a bold youth who, after the dance, attempted to take the
usual liberties, met with so severe a rebuff that he bore for a week a
memento in the shape of a scratch across his whole face. Therefore she
did not have a superabundance of partners, and thus escaped the
jealousy which, otherwise, her charms would certainly have roused in
the other girls.
A dispensation of Providence rendered her irritability the means of
deciding the whole course of her life.
One Sunday, late in the summer, soon after the reaping and threshing
were over—she was then twenty—she again stood in the bright warm
afternoon sunshine in the spacious courtyard of the village tavern,
among a gay group of giggling lasses, waiting with joyful impatience
for the dancing to begin. The two village gipsies who made bricks
during the week and played on Sundays, were already there, leaning
against one of the wooden pillars of the porch in front of the house,
and tuning their fiddles. The lads crowded together, shouting jesting
remarks to the group of girls, who answered them promptly and to the
point. One after another the young men left their companions and took
from the laughing bevy of maidens a partner, who, as village custom
required, at first resisted, but finally yielded to the gentle
force—not without some pleasantly exciting struggling and pulling—and
was soon whirling around with her cavalier amid shouting and stamping,
till the dust rose in clouds.
The beautiful Panna, for reasons already known to us, was not the first
person invited to dance. But at last her turn came also, and she could
jump with a neighbour's son, till she was out of breath, to her heart's
content. After spending more than fifteen minutes in vigourous, rapid
motion, she finally sank, in happy exhaustion, upon a pile of bricks
near a coach-house which was being built, and with flaming cheeks and
panting bosom struggled for breath. Pista, the cartwright, profited by
the moment to approach, and with gay cries and gestures invite her to
dance again. Pista was a handsome fellow, but had the unfortunate
propensity of drinking on Sundays, and this time was evidently
intoxicated. The vinous suitor was not to Panna's taste, besides, she
was already tired, and she did not answer his first speech. But as he
did not desist, but seized her arm to drag her up and away by force,
she tartly answered that she would not dance now. This only made him
still more persistent.
"Why, why, you fierce little darling, do you suppose you can't be
mastered?" he cried, trying with both hands to seize her beautiful
black head to press a smack upon her lips. She thrust him back once,
twice, with a more and more violent shove, but he returned to the
attack, becoming ruder and more vehement. Then she lost her
self-control, and the choleric family blood suddenly seethed in her
veins. Bending down to the heap of bricks on which she had just sat,
she grasped a fragment and, with the speed of lightning, dealt her
persecutor a furious blow. Misfortune guided her hand, and she struck
him full in the face. Pista shrieked and staggered to the neighbouring
wall, against which he leaned half-fainting, while between the fingers
of the hands which he had raised to the wounded spot, the red blood
gushed in a horribly abundant stream.
All this had been the work of a moment, and the young people who filled
the courtyard did not notice the outrageous act until the mischief was
done. Shrieks, running hither and thither, and confusion followed.
The fiddlers stopped and stretched their necks, but prudently kept
aloof, as they had learned to do during frequent brawls; the girls
screamed and wrung their hands, the youths shouted hasty questions,
crowding around their bleeding companion. Water was quickly procured,
cold bandages were applied to the swollen, shapeless face, and other
efforts were made to relieve him, while at the same time he was
besieged with questions about the event.
After dealing the fatal blow Panna had stood for a moment deadly pale,
as if paralyzed, and then darted off as though pursued by fiends.
Perhaps this was fortunate, for she would have fared badly if the
enraged lads had had her in their power, when all, amid the confused
medley of outcries, had learned the truth. There was no time to pursue
her, for Pista seemed to be constantly growing worse; the cold water
and fomentations did not stop the bleeding; he soon lost consciousness
and lay on the ground amid the terrified, helpless group, an inert
mass, until some one made the sensible proposal to carry him home to
his mother, a poor widow, which, with their united strength, was
Meanwhile, Panna had rushed to her own home, locked herself in, and sat
on the bench by the stove, an image of grief and despair. She was
incapable of coherent thought, nothing but the spectacle of the
bleeding Pista staggering against the wall, stood distinctly before her
mind. But she could not give herself up to her desolate brooding long:
at the end of fifteen minutes the bolted door shook violently. She
started up and listened; it was her father, and she reluctantly went to
the door and opened it. The old man entered, shot the bolt behind him,
and asked in a trembling voice:
"For God's sake, child, what have you done?'"
Panna burst into a flood of tears; they were the first she had shed
since the incident described.
"He pressed upon me too boldly. And I didn't mean to do it. I only
wanted to keep him off."
"You were possessed. The devil is in us. To kill a man by a blow!"
The girl shrieked aloud. "Kill, do you say?"
"Sol was just told. They say he is dead."
"That is impossible, it's a lie," Panna murmured in a hollow tone,
while her face looked corpse-like. She seemed to cower into herself
and to grow smaller, as if the earth was swallowing her by inches. But
this condition lasted only a few minutes, then she roused herself and
hurried out, ere her father could detain her. She entered a narrow
path which ran behind the houses and was usually deserted, and raced as
fast as her feet would carry her to the hut occupied by Frau Molnár,
which was close at hand. Springing across the narrow ditch which
bordered the back of the yard, she hurried through the kitchen-garden
behind the house and in an instant was in the only room it contained
except the kitchen. On the bed lay a human form from which came a
groan, and beside it sat old Frau Molnár, who wrung her hands without
turning her eyes from her suffering son. Thank God, he was not dead,
the first glance at the piteous scene showed that. Panna involuntarily
clasped her hands and uttered a deep sigh of relief. Frau Molnár now
first noticed Panna's entrance; at first she seemed unable to believe
her eyes, and gazed fixedly at the girl, with her mouth wide open, then
starting up she rushed at her and began to belabour her with both
fists, while heaping, in a voice choked by fury, the most horrible
invectives upon her head. Panna feebly warded off the blows with
outstretched arms, hung her head, and stammered softly:
"Frau Molnár, Frau Molnár, spare the sick man, it will hurt him if you
make such a noise. Have pity on me and tell me what the injury is."
"You insolent wench, you God-forsaken,"—a fresh torrent of vile
invectives followed—"do you still venture to cross my threshold?
Begone, or I'll serve you as you did my poor Pista."
The mother again gained the ascendancy over the vengeful woman.
She turned from Panna, and hastened to her son, on whom she flung
herself, wailing aloud and weeping. The girl took advantage of the
diversion to leave the room slowly, unnoticed. She had seen enough;
Pista was alive; but he must be badly injured, for his whole head was
wrapped in bandages, and he had evidently neither seen nor heard
anything of the last scene which, moreover, had lasted only a brief
Panna did not go far. A wooden bench stood by the wall of the house
under the little window of the kitchen, which looked out into the yard.
Here she sat down and remained motionless until it grew dark. She had
seen by the bandages that the doctor must have been there, and hoped
that he would return in the evening. If this hope was not fulfilled,
she could go to him without danger after nightfall, for she was
determined to speak to him that very day and obtain the information
which Pista's mother had refused. Before darkness had entirely closed
in the physician really did appear, and entered the hut without heeding
the girl sitting on a bench near the door, perhaps without noticing
her. Panna waited patiently till, at the end of a long quarter of an
hour, he came out, then, with swift decision she went up to him and
touched his arm. He turned and when he recognized her, exclaimed in
"Softly, Doctor," she pleaded with glance and voice, then added: "Tell
me frankly how he is, frankly, I entreat you."
"You have done something very, very bad there," replied the physician
hesitatingly, then paused.
"His life is not in danger?"
"Perhaps not, but he will be a cripple all his days. One eye is
completely destroyed, the nose entirely crushed, the upper lip gashed
entirely through, and two teeth are gone."
"Horrible, horrible!" groaned Panna, wringing her hands in speechless
"He will not lose his life, as I said, though he has lost a great deal
of blood from the wound in the lips, and the lost eye may yet cause us
trouble, but the poor fellow will remain a monster all his days. No
girl will ever look at him again."
"There's no need of it," she answered hastily, and when the physician
looked at her questioningly, she went on more quietly as if talking to
herself: "If only he gets well, if he is only able to be up again."
Then, thanking the doctor, she bade him good-night, and returned slowly
and absently to her father's hut.
All night long Panna tossed sleeplessly on her bed, and with the
earliest dawn she rose, went to her father, who was also awake, and
begged him to go to old Frau Molnár and entreat her forgiveness and
permission for her, Panna, to nurse the wounded man.
At the same time she took from her neck a pretty silver crucifix, such
as peasant women wear, a heritage from her mother, who died young, and
gave it to her father to offer to the old woman as an atonement. She
had nothing more valuable, or she would have bestowed it too.
"That is well done," said her father, and went out to discharge his
duty as messenger.
It was a hard nut which he had to crack. The old mother was again
fierce and wrathful and received him with a face as black as night; but
he accosted her gently, reminded her of her Christian faith, and
finally handed her the silver atonement. This touched the old dame's
heart. She burst into a torrent of tears, upbraided him with the
magnitude of her misery, said that she would never be able to forgive,
but she saw that the girl had acted without any evil design, that she
Pista, who had been delirious during the night, but was now better, had
hitherto listened quietly and intently. Now he interrupted the flood
of words his mother poured forth amid her sobs, and said softly, yet
"Panna is not entirely to blame; I was persistent, I was tipsy, she was
right to defend herself. True, she need not have been so savage, but
how can she help her blood? I ought to have taken care of myself; I
ought to have known whom I was chaffing." Then, turning to the
visitor, he added: "If it will soothe Panna to know that I am not angry
with her, send your daughter here, and I will tell her so myself."
Fifteen minutes later Panna was in the Molnárs' hut. She entreated the
old mother to attend to her household affairs and not trouble herself
about the sick man; that should be her care. She arranged the
wretched bed, cleared up the room, brought Pista water to drink when he
felt thirsty, and when everything was done, sat silently beside the
bed. Pista quietly submitted to everything, and only gazed strangely
with his one eye at the beautiful girl.
In the course of the morning the physician came and renewed the
bandages. Panna stood by his side and kept all sorts of things ready,
but she did not have courage to look at the wounds. The doctor thought
it would be beneficial to have ice. But where was ice to be obtained
in a village at this season of the year! The brewery probably had
some, but would not be likely to give any away. Panna said nothing,
but when the bandages had been renewed and the physician had gone, she
hurried directly to the brewery, went to the manager, a good-natured,
beery old fellow, and entreated him, in touching words, for some ice
for a sick person. The manager blinked at her with his little
half-shut eyes, and answered: "You can have it, my child, but not
Panna lowered her eyes and murmured mournfully: "I will pay what you
ask, only not now, I haven't any money, surely you will wait a little
"It needn't be cash, one little kiss will do."
Panna flushed crimson, and a flash of anger like the lightning of a
sudden storm blazed over her face; but she controlled herself and held
up her compressed lips to the voluptuary, who rudely smacked them and
then took from her hand the pipkin she had brought, returning it in a
few minutes filled with ice.
The supply did not last long, but, when it was exhausted, Panna did not
go herself, sending in her place old Frau Molnár with a pleasant
greeting to the manager of the brewery. True, the latter frowned and
sneeringly asked why Her Highness did not appear in person, but he had
wisdom enough to give the ice for which she asked.
At the end of a week Pista had improved so much that the ice-bandages
were no longer needed, and he did not require constant nursing. Panna
who, hitherto, had come early in the morning and returned late in the
evening, now appeared only twice a day to enquire for the sick man and
bring him some refreshment, if it were only a handful of blackberries.
Of course, during all this time, there was no end of putting heads
together and whispering, but Panna did not trouble herself about it,
and quietly obeyed the dictates of her conscience.
Thus three weeks had passed since the fateful day. When, on the third
Sunday, Panna entered the Molnár's hut at the usual hour, this time
with a small bottle of wine under her apron, she found Pista, for the
first time, up, and dressed. He was just turning his back to the door
as the girl came in. She uttered a little exclamation of surprise,
Pista turned quickly and—Panna started back with a sudden shriek, the
flask fell shattered on the floor, and she covered her face with both
hands. It was her first sight of the young man's horribly disfigured
countenance without a bandage.
Pista went up to the trembling girl and said mournfully: "I frightened
you, but it must have happened some day. I felt just as you do now
when, a week ago, I made my mother hand me a looking-glass for the
first time. I see that it will be best for me to become a Capuchin
monk, henceforth I must give up appearing before the eyes of girls."
Panna hastily let her hands fall, gazed full at him with her sparkling
black eyes, and said gently:
"You always have girls in your head. Must you please them all?
Wouldn't one satisfy you?"
"Why, of course, but the one must be had first," replied Pista, with
Panna flushed crimson and made no reply; Pista looked at her in
surprise and doubt, but also remained silent, and in a few minutes the
girl went away with drooping head.
Pista now went to work again and endured days of bitter suffering. He
was ridiculed because a girl had thrashed him, the cruel nickname of
"the Hideous One" was given him, people gazed at him with horror
whenever he appeared in the street. Panna continued to visit him every
Sunday, but he received her distantly, taciturnly, even sullenly.
So Christmas came. On Christmas Eve Panna had a long talk with her
father, and the next morning, after church, he again went to old Frau
Molnár and without any preamble, said bluntly and plainly:
"Why won't Pista marry my Panna?"
The widow clasped her hands and answered:
"Would she take him?"
"You are all blind mice together," scolded the peasant, "of course she
would, or surely she wouldn't do what she has done for months past.
Isn't it enough that she runs after the obstinate blockhead? She can't
ask him to have her."
Just then Pista himself came in. His mother hesitatingly told him what
she had just heard, and the old woman looked at him enquiringly and
expectantly. When the young man heard what they were discussing he
became very pale and agitated, but at first said nothing. Not until
his mother and the guest assailed him impatiently with "Well?" and "Is
it all right?" did he summon up his composure and reply:
"Panna is a good girl, and may God bless her. But I, too, am no
scoundrel. Honest folk would spit in my face, if I should accept
Panna's sacrifice. I'd rather live a bachelor forever than let her do
me a favour and poison her own life."
His mother and would-be father-in-law talked in vain, he still
"I cannot believe that Panna loves me, and I won't take favours."
The simple, narrow-minded fellow did not know that the sense of justice
and absolute necessity can move a human soul as deeply, urge it as
strongly to resolves, as love itself, so from his standpoint he really
was perfectly right.
To cut the matter short: Pista remained obdurate from Christmas until
New Year, notwithstanding that his mother and Panna's father beset him
early and late. The girl suffered very keenly during this period, and
her eyes were always reddened by tears. But when New Year came, and
still Pista did not bestir himself, the strong, noble girl, after
violent conflicts in her artless mind, formed a great resolution, went
to Pista herself, and said without circumlocution, excitement, or
"I understand your pride and, if I were a man, would behave as you do.
But I beg you to have pity on me. If you don't have an aversion to me,
or love another, marry me. I shall not do you a favour, you will do me
one. Unless I become your wife, I shall never be happy and contented
so long as I live, but always miserable whenever I think of you. As
your wife, I shall be at peace, and satisfied with myself. That you
are now ugly is of no consequence. I shall see you as you were,
before—" Here, for the first time, she hesitated, then with a sudden
transition, not without a faint smile, said:
"And it will have its good side, too, I shall not be obliged to be
"But I shall!" exclaimed Pista, who had hitherto listened in silence.
"Nor you either, Pista," she said quickly, "for whenever I see your
face I shall say to myself how much I must make amends to you and,
believe me, it will bind me far more firmly than the handsomest
Pista was not a man of great intellect or loquacious speech. He now
threw his arms around Panna's neck, patted her, caressed her, covered
her head and her face with kisses, and burst into weeping that would
soften a stone. Panna wept a little, too, then they remained together
until long after noon and, in the evening, went to the spinning-room
and presented themselves as betrothed lovers. Three weeks after they
were married amid a great crowd of the villagers, some of whom pitied
Pista, others Panna, and from that time until the moment when the
incidents about to be described occurred, they lived together five
years in a loyal, model marriage.
Besides the church and the tile-roofed town hall built of stone, the
main street of Kisfalu contained only one edifice of any pretension,
the manor or, as it is called in Hungary, "the castle" of Herr von
Abonyi. It was really a very ordinary structure, only it had a second
story, stood on an artificial mound, to which on both sides there was a
very gentle ascent, and above the ever open door was a moss-grown
escutcheon, grey with age, on which a horseman, with brandished sword,
could be discerned in vague outlines, worn by time and weather.
The owner of this mansion, Herr von Abonyi, was a bachelor about fifty
His family had lived more than three hundred years on their ancestral
estates, which, it is true, were now considerably diminished, and he
was connected by ties of blood or marriage with all the nobility in the
county of Pesth. Up to the year 1848 the whole village of Kisfalu,
with all its peasants, fields, and feudal prerogatives (such as mill,
fish, tavern and other privileges) belonged to the Abonyis, and the
present lord, Carl von Abonyi, came from that gloomy time, termed—I
know not why—"patriarchal," when the peasant had no rights, and the
nobleman dwelt in his castle like a little god, omnipotent,
unapproachable, only not all-wise and all-good, walked through his
village whip in hand, like an American "Massa," and dealt the peasant a
blow across the face if he did not bow humbly and quickly enough,
ordered the village Jew to be brought to the manor, stretched on a
bench by two strong lackeys (called in Hungary heiducks) and soundly
thrashed whenever he felt a desire for cheap amusement; regarded the
women of the village, without exception, as his natural harem, spent
his days and nights in immoderate feasting and wild drinking, derived
all his education from the Bible with 32 leaves (the number of cards
contained in the pack commonly used in the country), and only displayed
to ladies of his own station a certain romantic chivalry, which was
manifested in rude brawling with real or imaginary rivals, unrestricted
duelling on the most trivial pretext, exaggerated gallantry and ardent
homage, serenades which lasted all night long under the windows of the
favoured fair, and similar impassioned, but tasteless eccentricities.
At the present time all this has certainly greatly changed, but many of
the nobles who, in the year 1848, the period of the vast
transformation, had partly or wholly attained maturity, could not or
would not adapt themselves wholly to the new era; in their inmost
hearts they still consider themselves the sovereign lords of the soil
and its inhabitants, and it is with rage and gnashing of teeth that
they force themselves not to display this feeling in words and deeds at
Abonyi, an only son, was a lieutenant in the Palatine Hussars, when the
revolution of 1848 broke out. He at once joined the honveds with his
troop and, in their ranks, performed, until the close of the war for
freedom, prodigies of daring on every battle field, rising, in spite of
his youth, within less than eleven months, to the rank of
lieutenant-colonel. After the disaster of Vilagos, he fled from the
country and spent several years in Turkey as a cavalry officer. In
1860, he again returned home and took possession of his estates, which
since his father's death, occurring meanwhile, had been managed by a
legally appointed trustee. What wrath and raging there was! The
regulation of property-ownership had been executed during the
trusteeship, and as Abonyi believed, with outrageous curtailment and
robbery of the lords of the estate. The best, most fertile fields—so
he asserted—had been allotted to the parish, the most sandy, barren
tracts of the land to him; the parish had the beautiful oak forest,
which had already been shamefully ravaged, he, on the other hand,
received the reed-grown, marshy border of the stream; in the division
of the pasturage the peasants had the easily cultivated plain, which
was therefore at once ploughed by the new owners, he, on the contrary,
the gravelly, steep hillside; in short, he was almost insane with rage
when he first saw what the commission had made of his land, and the
trustee who had unresistingly agreed to all these unjust acts would
have fared badly, if he could have laid hands upon him the first time
he went to inspect the bounds of the parish. There was nothing for him
to do, however, except to adapt himself to the new state of affairs as
well as he could; for nothing could be accomplished by indictments,
because the trustee had possessed full legal authority to act, and
everything had been done in strict accordance with the law. Far less
could he hope to effect anything by violence, since peasants understand
no jesting if their beloved acres are touched, and, at the first sign
of any intention on his part to disturb their possessions, would
quickly have set fire to his house and, moreover, tattooed on his body,
with the tines of a pitchfork, a protest to which a counter-plea would
scarcely have been possible. Only he could never carry self-control
and composure so far that, after nearly twenty years' habitude, he did
not become furiously excited at the sight of certain pieces of land,
and experience something akin to a paroxysm of longing to shoot, like a
mad dog, the first peasant who came in his way.
The disposition to command, which he had indulged from childhood, he
was unwilling even now to renounce. Under existing circumstances his
name and property alone would certainly no longer permit him to indulge
this habit, so he sought an office. When the Austrian magistrates were
removed in Hungary and the ancient county government restored, Abonyi
had only needed to express the wish, and the "congregation" of the
county, which consisted almost exclusively of his relatives and
friends, elected him president of the tribune of his district.
Now he could imagine himself transported back to the fine old feudal
times before the March revolution. The peasants were again obliged to
raise their hats humbly to him, his hand dispensed justice and mercy,
the ancestral rod was brandished at his sign, and the whipping bench, a
pleasing symbol of his power, always stood ready below the windows of
his castle. When he drove through the country on official business or
pleasure, his carriage was drawn by four horses with a harness hung
with bells; if a peasant's cart was in the way and did not hasten at
the sound of the familiar little bells to move out, the heiduck in
coloured livery, with a sword at his side, sitting by the driver,
shouted an order and an oath to the laggard, and the coachman, while
dashing by, dealt the disrespectful loiterer a well-aimed blow. He
might even fare still worse if the humor happened to seize the grandee
in the spring carriage.
It would no longer do to get the village Jew and have him flogged for
pastime on long afternoons; but there were still gipsies who were
summoned to the castle to make sport for the noble lord. They played
their bewitching melodies, and if he was filled with genuine delight,
he gave the fiddlers, right and left, an enthusiastic slap in the face
which echoed noisily, then took a banknote from his pocket-book, spit
upon it and clapped it on the swollen cheeks of the howling gipsies,
whereupon they again grinned joyfully and played on with two-fold
Although Abonyi was a pattern magistrate, at the second election, which
according to the old county system, occurred every three years, he
suffered defeat. Political party considerations and government
influence sustained another candidate. So Abonyi was again relegated
to private life, but his birth and the office he had filled gave him
sufficient personal distinction to induce his village, immediately
after, to compensate him in some degree for his overthrow by a
unanimous election to the position of parish magistrate.
This gentleman, with whose course of life and prominent personal
characteristics we are now familiar, went one hot August afternoon to
the stables, which formed the back of the courtyard, to inspect the
horses and carriages, as was his custom.
Abonyi was in a very bad humour that day, for there had been a violent
dispute with the harvesters, who cut and threshed on shares, and who
had claimed more grain for their portion than seemed just to the owner
of the estate. It did not improve his mood to find that his favourite
saddle-horse had its right hind fetlock badly swollen and could not be
used for a week. So he entered the coach-house, half of which,
separated by a board-partition, served for a hay-loft.
The first thing on which his eye fell here was a man lying stretched
comfortably on the straw, snoring. He recognized in the sluggard
"hideous Pista," who had been summoned to the castle that morning to
put new spokes into some broken carriage-wheels. The work he had
commenced, a chaos of naves, spokes, fellies, tires, and a variety of
tools, lay in a heap beside him, but he was sleeping the sleep of the
It needed nothing more to fan Abonyi's secret rage into a blaze of
fury, and he shouted fiercely:
"Devil take you, you idler, will you get off of my hay?"
Pista, evidently not fully roused by the call, merely grunted a little
in his dream and turned over to continue his nap. But the other could
now control himself no longer, and dealt the recumbent figure a violent
"Up, I say, up, you gallows-bird, you're paid for working, not for
Pista, with a sudden spring, stood on his feet, and was instantly wide
awake. Looking angrily at the brutal intruder with his one eye, he
said in a voice quivering with suppressed anger: "I'm not working for
you by the day, but by the job, and if I sleep, I do it at my own loss,
not yours. Besides, I don't remember that I ever drank the pledge of
brotherhood with you."
Abonyi threw up his head, his face growing crimson as if he had
received a blow on the cheek.
"What," he shrieked, "does the rascal dare to insult me under my own
roof? I'll teach you at once who I am, and who you are." And he
raised the riding-whip which he usually carried, to deal Pista a blow.
The latter's kindly, free peasant blood began to boil. Taking a step
backward, he grasped a pitchfork lying within reach of his hand, and
hissed through the gaps in his teeth, as he brandished the weapon of
"Woe betide you if you touch me! I'll run the fork into you, as true
as God lives!"
Abonyi uttered a fierce imprecation and hastily retreated three paces
to the door, where he called back to the cartwright, who still
maintained his threatening attitude: "This will cost you dear, you
scoundrel!" and before Pista could suspect what his enemy meant to do,
the latter had shut the door and bolted it on the outside.
Pista's first movement was to throw himself against the door to burst
it open with his shoulder, but he paused instinctively as he heard
Abonyi's voice, shouting loudly outside.
"János," called the latter to the coachman, who stood washing the
horses' harnesses beside the coach-house door, "go up to my chamber and
bring me down the revolver, the one on the table by the bed, not the
other which hangs on the wall!"
János went, and stillness reigned in the courtyard. Now the prisoner's
rage burst forth. "Open! open!" he roared, drumming furiously on the
oak-door. Abonyi, who was keeping guard, at first said nothing, but as
the man inside shouted and shook more violently, he called to him: "Be
quiet, my son, you'll be let out presently, not to your beautiful wife,
but to the parish jail."
"Open!" yelled the voice inside again, "or I'll set fire to the hay and
burn down your flayer's hut."
This was an absurd, ridiculous threat, for in the first place Pista, if
he had really attempted to execute it, would have stifled and roasted
himself before the mansion received the slightest injury, and besides,
as examination afterwards proved, he had neither matches nor tinder
with him; but Abonyi pretended to take the boast seriously and cried
"Better and better! You are a sly fellow! First you threaten me with
murder, now with arson; keep on, run up a big reckoning, when the time
for settlement comes, we will both be present."
János now appeared and, with a very grave face, handed his master the
"Now, my lad," Abonyi ordered, "run over to the town-hall, bring a pair
of strong hand-cuffs and the little judge, the rascal will be put in
Pista had again heard and remained silent because he had perceived that
blustering and raging were useless. So he stood inside and Abonyi
outside of the door, both gazing sullenly into vacancy in excited
anticipation. The gardener, who was laying out a flower-bed which
surrounded three sides of the fountain in the centre of the courtyard,
had witnessed the whole scene from the beginning, but remained at his
work, apparently without interest.
The town-hall was only a hundred paces distant. In less than five
minutes János returned with the beadle. Abonyi now retreated a few
steps, aimed the revolver, and ordered the beadle to open the door.
The bolt flew back, the sides of the folding door rattled apart, and
Pista was seen on the threshold with his hideous, still horribly
distorted face, the pitchfork yet in his right hand.
"Forward, march!" Abonyi ordered, and the cartwright stepped
hesitatingly out into the courtyard.
"Put down the pitchfork, vagabond, it belongs to me," the nobleman
Pista cast a flashing glance at him and saw the muzzle of the revolver
turned toward himself. He silently put down the fork and prepared to
"Now the irons," Abonyi turned to his men, at the same time shouting to
the gardener, "You fellow there, can't you come and help?"
The gardener pretended not to hear and continued to be absorbed in his
blossoming plants. But, at Abonyi's last words, Pista swiftly seized
the pitchfork again, shrieking:
"Back, whoever values his life! I'll go voluntarily, I need not be
chained, I'm no sharper or thief."
The coachman and the beadle with the handcuffs hesitated at the sight
of the threatening pitchfork.
"Am I parish-magistrate or not?" raged Abonyi, "do I command here or
not? The vagabond presumes to be refractory, the irons, I say, or——"
Both the servants made a hasty movement toward Pista, the latter
retreated to the door of the coach-house, swinging the pitchfork, the
beadle was just seizing his arm, when a shot was suddenly fired. A
shrill shriek followed, and Pista fell backward into the barn.
"Now he has got it," said Abonyi, in a low tone, but he had grown very
pale. The coachman and the beadle stood beside the door as though
turned to stone, and the gardener came forward slowly and gloomily.
"See what's wrong with him," the nobleman ordered after a pause, during
which a death-like silence reigned in the group.
János timidly approached the motionless form lying in the shade of the
barn, bent over it, listened, and touched it. After a short time he
stood up again, and, with a terribly frightened face, said in a voice
"The hole is in the forehead, your honour, he doesn't move, he doesn't
breathe, I fear"—then after a slight hesitation, very gently—"he is
Abonyi stared at him, and finally said:
"So much the worse, carry him away from there—home—" and went slowly
into the castle.
The servants looked after him a few moments in bewilderment, then laid
the corpse upon two wheels, which they placed on poles, and bore him
off on this improvised bier. This time the gardener lent his aid.
 A Hungarian office.
 Hungarian name for beadle.
When the men, accompanied by several children who were playing in the
village street and had inquisitively joined the passing procession,
appeared at the Molnárs' hut with their horrible burden, the beautiful
Panna was standing in the kitchen, churning. At the sight of the
lifeless form lying on the bier, she uttered a piercing shriek and
dropped the stick from her hands, which fell by her side as though
paralyzed. It was at least a minute before her body was again subject
to her will and she could rush to the corpse and throw herself prone
Meanwhile the men had had time to carry the dead form into the room
adjoining the kitchen and set the bier upon the clay floor, after which
they took to their heels as if pursued by fiends; at least János and
the beadle did so; the gardener had remained to try to comfort the poor
woman, so suddenly widowed, in the first tempest of her despair.
Panna lay on her husband's dead body, wringing her hands and moaning:
"Oh, God! oh, God!" sobbing until even the gardener, a stolid,
weather-beaten peasant, and anything but soft-hearted, could not
restrain his own tears. Not until after several minutes had passed did
the young wife raise herself to her knees, and ask in a voice choked
with tears, what all this meant, what had happened.
"The master shot your Pista," replied the gardener in a tone so low
that it was scarcely audible.
"The master? Pista? Shot?" repeated Panna mechanically, absently, as
if the words which she slowly uttered belonged to an unknown,
incomprehensible language. She stared at the gardener with dilated
eyes, and her lips moved without emitting any sound. At last, however,
understanding of the present returned, and the words escaped with
difficulty from her labouring breast: "Oh, God, oh, God, how could it
happen? How could God permit such misery?" Again she was silent,
while the gardener looked away and seemed to be examining the opposite
house with the utmost attention through the panes of the little window.
But Panna was beginning to think more clearly and to recover from the
dull stupor into which the sudden shock had thrown her. Still kneeling
beside the corpse, wringing her hands, and amid floods of tears, she
"The master shot my poor Pista from carelessness?"
The gardener hesitated a moment, then he said:
"Not from carelessness, poor woman."
In an instant Panna was on her feet, stood beside the gardener at a
single bound, grasped him by the shoulder, and said in a firm, harsh
voice, while her tears suddenly ceased to flow: "Not from carelessness,
you say? Then it was intentional?"
The gardener nodded silently.
"That is impossible, it cannot be, no innocent person is murdered, and
I am certain that Pista has done nothing; he was the gentlest man in
the world, he wouldn't harm a fly, he hadn't drunk a drop of wine in
five years, he— Have no regard for me! Tell me everything, and may
God reward you for remaining with me in this hour."
The gardener could no longer withhold the truth, and acquainted her
with the occurrence whose commencement the coachman János had described
to him on the way, whose tragical close he himself had witnessed.
Panna listened silently, never averting her eyes from the body during
the entire story. In the midst of a sentence from the gardener, she
suddenly uttered a shriek, and again threw herself upon the dead man.
"Here, here is the hole!" she murmured. "Horrible! horrible!"
Hitherto she had had before her eyes only a vague, shapeless,
blood-stained vision, without being able to distinguish any details;
now for the first time she had seen, amid the blood and oozing brains,
the terrible wound in the forehead. But this interruption lasted only
a moment, then Panna again stood beside the gardener and begged him to
He soon reached the catastrophe, which once more drew a scream, or
rather a quickly suppressed, gasping sound, from the widow, and then
closed with a few well-meant, but clumsy, words of consolation.
Here Panna interrupted him.
"That's enough, Friend, that's enough; now I know how it all was and I
will comfort myself. If you have anything to do, don't stay with me
longer, and may God reward you for what you have done."
"What do you mean to do now?" asked the gardener, deeply moved.
"Nothing. I mean a great many things. I have much to do."
She went into the kitchen and soon came back with a wooden water-pail
and a coarse linen towel. Placing the vessel on the floor beside the
corpse, she began to wash the face, without taking any farther notice
of her visitor. During her melancholy task she only murmured from time
to time in broken sentences; "Oh, God, oh, God!—No, God is not
just—Pista, the gentlest man—he was not like us—he was not
hot-tempered—What is God's will?"
The gardener felt that he was not wanted, so, after exhorting the widow
to be calm and to come to him if she needed advice or help, he went
away. She had nodded and, without turning her head, called after him
again: "God will repay you!"
When left alone, Panna carefully dried the dead man's face, placed
under his head a pillow which she took from the bed, kissed his poor,
ugly face,—sobbing meanwhile from the very depths of her heart,—and
covered it with a gay little silk kerchief which he had brought to her
from the last fair. Then she hurriedly made some changes in her own
dress and left the house, whose door she locked behind her.
Without looking round, she walked rapidly to the field where she knew
that her father was working, which she reached in a quarter of an hour.
He was toiling with other day-labourers in a potato-patch, pulling the
ripe roots out of the ground, and when she came up was stooping over
his work. He did not notice his daughter until she was standing by his
side and touched him lightly on the shoulder with her finger.
Then he straightened himself, exclaiming in great astonishment:
"Panna! What is the matter?"
A glance at her made him start violently, and he added in a subdued
"A misfortune? Another misfortune?"
Panna did not reply, but grasped his arm and, with long, swift strides,
led him far beyond the range of hearing of the other workmen. When
they had reached the edge of the field, she said softly:
"Father, Herr von Abonyi has just shot my Pista out of sheer
wantonness, like a mad-dog."
The old peasant staggered back several paces as if he had been hit on
the head with a club. Then his face, whose muscles had contracted till
it resembled a horrible mask, flushed scarlet, he uttered a tremendous
oath, and made a sudden movement as though to hurry away.
But Panna was again at his side, holding him fast.
"What are you going to do, Father?"
"There—the hoe—the dog must die—he must be killed—now—at
once—I'll run in—I'll split his head—die—the dog," he panted,
trying to wrench himself from his daughter's strong grasp.
The latter held him still more firmly.
"No, Father," she said, "try to be calm. I am quiet. Rage has never
been a good counsellor to us. I thought you would take it so, and
therefore I wanted to tell you myself, before you heard it from others."
The old man swore and struggled, but Panna would not release him.
"Father, be sensible, we are not living among robbers, an innocent man
is not shot down unpunished. You need not split his lordship's head,
another will do that, a greater person than you or he. There is a law,
there is a court of justice."
Her father grew calmer, his distorted face began to relax. Panna now
released his arm, sat down on the boundary-stone beside which they had
been standing, and, gazing fixedly at the ground, while rolling the hem
of her apron between her fingers, she continued, speaking more to
herself than to him,
"We certainly know best that punishment will not fail. They shot our
poor Marczi, and he only gave a man a blow. If you ever had a little
quarrel with any one in the tavern, they imprisoned you for weeks and
months. I, too, have atoned for the crime I committed; nothing remains
unpunished, and the nobleman will get his deserts, as we have always
The sun was setting, and the notes of the vesper-bell echoed from the
distance. The old man picked up his hoe, which he had left in the
furrow and, lost in thought, walked home with his daughter in silence.
Panna prepared the bed she had used when a girl in her father's hut,
and went to rest early. It is not probable that she slept during the
night. At least she was already completely dressed when, very early
the next morning, the parish-beadle knocked at the door of the hut, and
it was she who opened it.
He asked for the key of her house, because the corpse must be carried
to the town-hall.
"Because, early in the forenoon, the committee and the district
physician will come from the city to hold the coroner's inquest."
"Will he be present?"
"The—Herr von Abonyi."
The beadle shrugged his shoulders and said,
"I don't know."
Panna did not give up the key, but went with the beadle herself, and
was present when the latter appeared, with three other men and a bier,
and bore the corpse away.
The coachman János, and another servant, also came to fetch the wheels
and poles on which they had brought the dead man home the day before,
and which belonged to the castle. Panna locked her door behind them,
and followed the corpse to the town-hall.
In the centre of the court stood a long black table, surrounded with
all sorts of pails and various utensils, and near it a small one with
writing materials and a chair before it. Meanwhile the body was left
on the bier beside the table and covered with a horse-blanket. A great
crowd of people, among them many women, and even little children,
flocked into the building in a very short time, thronged about the
bier, the black table, and Panna, who was leaning against it, carrying
on a low, eager hum of conversation till it seemed as though countless
swarms of bumble-bees were buzzing through the air.
About eight o'clock two carriages drove up, from which descended five
dusty gentlemen, dressed in the fashion of the city, and a servant.
These were the examining magistrate, the prosecuting attorney, the
district physician, a lawyer, and a clerk of the court, then the
beadle, who carried a box containing the dissecting instruments. In
the absence of the parish-magistrate—it was remembered that Abonyi
held this office—the gentlemen were received by the village notary
(parish clerk) and ushered into the interior of the building, where an
abundant breakfast awaited them. Meanwhile the people were dismissed
from the courtyard, and as the mere request did not induce them to move
fast enough, were urged forward with gentle force, after which the gate
was closed and bolted on the inside. Panna had been obliged to go out
with the others, but she would not leave the spot, where she was joined
by her father, though she entreated him to return home or go to his
work in the field and not meddle with anything.
At nine o'clock the little funeral-bell in the church-steeple began to
toll, and at the same time the post-mortem examination took place, but
did not last long, as it was only necessary to open the cavity of the
skull. The investigation proved that the missile, a lead, cone-shaped
bullet of large calibre, had entered above the left eye, torn its way
through the left-half of the brain in a curve passing from above to the
lower portion within, and lodged in the pons vorolii. Under such
circumstances, death must have been instantaneous.
When all was over, the beadle again opened the gate and admitted the
curious throng. The village notary went to Panna and asked whether she
wished to have the funeral from the town-hall, or from her own house.
She decided in favor of the latter plan, and the notary gave the
necessary orders to the beadle. A coffin had been ordered by the
gardener the day before, and was ready for delivery. Some old women
offered to attend to dressing the body and preparing it for burial,
notifying the clergyman, etc., so Panna was spared all the mournful
business details which demand attention from a crushed spirit at a
moment when it is so incapable of forming any sensible, practical
conclusions, and could therefore remain near the committee.
After the post-mortem examination was over, the members went to view
the scene of the deed. Panna followed, and was silently permitted to
do so by the beadle and the constable, while the throng of villagers
was kept back. A mist dimmed Panna's eyes, when she saw the place
where the crime was committed, but she bore up bravely and watched the
proceedings around her with the utmost attention.
The gentlemen entered the coach-house and, standing at the door, she
could hear the physician say that he thought he noticed blood-stains on
the floor. The examining magistrate sketched a slight plan of the
place in his note-book, and ordered János and the gardener, who were in
the vicinity, to be brought in by the beadle. They were required to
point out the places where they were standing at the time of the
misfortune, and to briefly relate in turn the details of the story,
during which the prosecuting attorney and the lawyer for the defense
made notes. All this afforded Panna infinite satisfaction. She felt
her heart grow lighter, and became calm, almost cheerful. A voice in
her soul said: "There—there is justice!" and every letter which the
gentlemen, with swiftly moving pencils, scrawled on the paper, seemed
to her a link in the steel chain which was being forged before her
eyes, ever longer and heavier, and would serve to drag the criminal
fettered before the tribunal.
From the castle, the committee returned to the town-hall, and now
followed the real official examination of the witnesses, whose previous
information had been taken merely as unofficial information, and not as
legal depositions. They were summoned singly into the room and
examined, first János, then the gardener, and lastly the beadle. When
the latter came out Panna, who, until then had waited patiently at the
threshold, stepped resolutely into the chamber, though the constable
told her that she had not been summoned.
The examining magistrate looked at the new-comer in surprise, and asked
what she wanted.
"What do I want?" replied Panna in astonishment, "why, to be examined
as the others have been."
"Were you present when the misfortune happened?"
Panna felt a pang in her heart when the examining magistrate used the
word "misfortune." She would have wished him to say "crime." But she
answered with a firm voice.
"No, I was not present."
"Then you cannot be a witness."
"I am not a witness, I am the accuser."
The lawyer for the defense smiled faintly, but the prosecuting attorney
drew himself up and answered sternly and impressively, before the
examining magistrate had found time to open his mouth.
"You are mistaken, my good woman. I am the accuser, and you have
nothing more to do here."
"That is true," the magistrate now remarked. "If you desire to obtain
damages from Herr von Abonyi, you can bring the complaint before the
civil court. You have nothing to do with the criminal trial."
"But it is my husband, my Pista, who has been murdered!" cried Panna,
who was beginning to be greatly excited.
The prosecuting attorney twirled a lead-pencil between his fingers, but
the examining magistrate rose, took the widow by the hand and led her
to the door, saying soothingly: "You don't understand, my good woman;
the point in question is not your Pista, but our Pista. He was a
member of society, and his cause is the cause of all of us. Rely upon
it, you will have justice." While speaking he had opened the door and
given the constable a sign to lead the woman away.
This was not necessary; Panna went voluntarily, after casting a strange
look at the magistrate which somewhat perplexed him.
The cartwright's funeral took place in the afternoon amid a great
throng of villagers. Since his mother's death Molnár had had no
relatives in the place, and his wife and her father were the only
mourners among the concourse which followed the coffin to the cemetery.
The Catholic pastor, who was often Abonyi's partner at his evening card
parties, delivered an edifying address beside the open grave. He took
for his text the verse (Matthew v. 44): "But I say unto you, Love your
enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and
pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you," and said a
great deal about forgiveness and reconciliation. The listeners were
much moved, and frequently wiped their eyes. Panna alone was tearless
and sullen, she felt enraged with the fat, prating priest, who did not
seem to her to speak sincerely.
After the funeral she went with her father to his hut, and there the
two sat at the table opposite to each other, gazing into vacancy
without uttering a word. But they did not remain long undisturbed in
their gloomy meditations, for the door soon opened and the priest came
in with a smooth, unctuous: "Praised be Jesus Christ!"
"In eternity, amen!" replied the old man in a dull tone, rising
slightly from his chair, while Panna sat still in silence.
The priest took his seat beside the widow and, in sweet, cajoling
words, began to enlarge upon the subject of his funeral address. He
exhorted her, as her confessor, to remember that she was a Christian,
she must forgive her adversaries, nay, even love her enemies, that she,
too, might be forgiven; if she cherished anger and vengeance in her
heart, her sin would be greater than Herr von Abonyi's——
Here Panna threw back her head and looked at the honeyed speaker so
fiercely, that he found it advisable to follow another course. He
represented to her that Abonyi had committed the deed by some
incomprehensible rashness, in a sort of delirium and that he desired
nothing more ardently than to make amends for the consequences of the
luckless act, so far as lay in human power. While speaking, he put his
hand into his pocket and drew out a bank-note of large amount, which he
laid on the table.
Panna could bear no more. Seizing the money furiously, she threw it
violently on the floor and, with rolling eyes and quivering lips,
"I want justice, not alms. He must hang—I must see him dead like my
Pista, before I am at peace."
The priest now lost his evangelical mildness also, and rose angrily,
"Fie! fie! you are a pagan, a pagan, and belong to all the fiends in
hell." With these pious words he went away. The bank-bill, crushed
into a ball, flew out of the room after him, then the door banged
The committee, after the official proceedings were over, had returned
to the city, but not until the constable had given the beadle
information which afforded food for village gossip during several days.
It was learned that, directly after the fatal act, Herr von Abonyi had
saddled a horse and ridden alone to the city to denounce himself. It
was late in the evening when he reached the examining magistrate's
house. The latter, an old friend of Abonyi, was much troubled and
shocked, and it was long ere he could collect himself sufficiently to
be able to take the deposition of the acknowledged criminal. It was
ten o'clock before all the formalities were settled, then the
magistrate, deeply agitated, took leave of his unfortunate friend. The
former had not considered it necessary to arrest him, as Abonyi had
pledged his word of honor to hold himself always ready to obey the
summons of the court.
Panna of course heard these tales, as well as other people, and she
also noticed how they were received in the village. There were
numerous comments, some foolish, some sensible; as usual, opposite
parties were formed; one condemned Abonyi's being left at liberty, the
other thought it perfectly natural, since it could not be supposed that
so great and rich a man as Carl von Abonyi would make his escape under
cover of the darkness, like a strolling vagabond who has nothing but a
staff and a knapsack. Panna of course belonged to the malcontents. It
did not enter her head that any one could be permitted to go about
unmolested, after killing a man. The ingenious distinctions between
imprisonment while awaiting trial, and imprisonment as a punishment
were too subtle for her, and she did not wish to understand them; she
only knew that whenever her father was brought before the examining
magistrate, he was detained, and used to wait in jail two months and
longer, until at last condemned to a fortnight's imprisonment, which
was considered expiated by the imprisonment while awaiting trial.
Justice seemed to her far too slow. What kind of justice was this
which delayed so long, so torturingly long? Punishment ought to follow
crime as the thunder follows the lightning-flash. The murdered man's
death-glazed eyes ought to be still open, when the murderer is dangling
on the gallows. This was the demand of Panna's passionate heart, but
also of her peasant-logic, which could comprehend the causal relation
between sin and expiation clearly and palpably, only when both were
united in a single melodramatic effect. Why was nothing heard of a
final trial, of a condemnation? For what were the legal gentlemen
waiting? Surely the case was as clear as sunlight, with no
complication whatever, the criminal had acknowledged everything. Even
if he had not, there were three witnesses who had all been present, the
committee had seen the corpse, the hole in the forehead, the bullet
from the revolver, the blood-stains in the coach-house, was not all
this a hundred times enough to condemn a man on the spot? Yet week
after week elapsed, and nothing new was heard of the matter.
Meanwhile it was rumoured in the village that Abonyi was visiting a
friend, a land-owner in the neighboring county, with whom he was
constantly engaged in hunting. This might and might not be true.
At any rate it seemed to Panna atrocious that it was even possible.
When one evening the gardener, who was no longer in Abonyi's service,
came to see the widow, she poured out her heart, which was brimming
with bitterness, to the kind, faithful fellow.
"Isn't it enough to enrage a dove, that Pista has been mouldering in
the ground six weeks and his murderer still goes about at liberty,
perhaps enjoys himself in hunting?"
The gardener tried to soothe the infuriated woman, and said all sorts
of things about the laws, forms, etc.
"Laws? Forms?" Panna excitedly broke in, "where were these laws and
forms when our Marczi, my brother, was executed a few hours after his
offence? And he had not killed any one, only dealt a harsh officer a
"That was in the army, Panna, that was in war; it is an entirely
"Indeed? And is it also a different matter that, a few years ago, the
vine-dresser's Bandi was hung three days after he set fire to his
"Of course it is different, at that time we were under martial law."
"So once it was war and once it was martial law—that's all nonsense,
and I'll tell you what it is: our Marczi and the vine-dresser's Bandi
were peasants, and Herr von Abonyi is a gentleman."
The gardener made no reply, perhaps because he secretly shared Panna's
belief; but her father, who had been sitting at the table, cutting
tobacco with a huge knife and taking no part in the conversation,
suddenly struck its point so violently into the table that it stuck
fast, vibrating and buzzing, and exclaimed:
"Panna, Panna, I told you so then! The best way would have been to
split the dog's skull with the hoe that very day."
Meanwhile the affair pursued its regular course, which neither the
impatience of those concerned hastens nor their submission delays, and
one morning the gardener came to Panna's hut with the news that he had
received the summons to appear as witness at the trial, which was to
take place in four days. This was nearly three months after the
murder, and it was already late in November.
Panna knew that the witnesses were reimbursed for the expense incurred
for the carriages in which they drove to the city, and begged the
gardener to take her with him to the court, which the latter readily
On the appointed morning the peasant's vehicle appeared in front of
Panna's hut at a very early hour. It was not yet five o'clock, and
dense darkness obscured the village and the neighbourhood. But Panna
already stood at her door, and was seated in the carriage almost before
it had stopped. She wore a black dress, a dark shawl covered her
shoulders, at her throat was her old silver crucifix, which had again
come into her possession after her mother-in-law's death, and on her
head was a black silk kerchief, which set off her beautiful face so
marvellously that one might have supposed she had studied the effect,
had not this grave, strong woman been so wholly incapable of any act of
coquetry. She was pale and thoughtful, and during the whole way did
not address a single word to the gardener, who sat beside her,
occasionally glancing at her with admiring approval, only one could see
that the deep gloom which during the past few weeks had constantly
shadowed her features had disappeared.
In fact, she was calm, almost content. The satisfaction due her had
been delayed a strangely long time, but at last it would be hers;
to-day she, too, was to learn that the hand of justice could stroke her
with maternal kindness, after having hitherto, during her whole life,
experienced only its power to deal blows.
The road which, in the autumn, had been thoroughly soaked, had recently
been frozen hard by the early frosts, and they made such rapid progress
that, after a ride of barely five hours, the vehicle reached the city
and stopped in front of the town hall.
The beginning of the examination had been fixed at ten o'clock, but it
was fully eleven before it commenced. The room in which it took place
presented no imposing appearance. It was an apartment, or if one
chooses to call it so, a hall of ordinary size, with four windows; in
the centre was a wooden railing which divided it into two nearly equal
parts; inside was the usual apparatus of justice, a green-covered table
with writing materials and a black crucifix, between two candlesticks,
placed on a platform for the court-room; at the right, also on the
platform, a small table for the prosecuting attorney; below, a wooden
bench for the defendant, two police officers, and a little table for
the lawyer for the defence. Outside the railing stood a few wooden
benches, which afforded room for about forty persons.
When Panna entered with the gardener the other two witnesses, János and
the beadle, were already in the space set apart for the audience, and
also the village notary, the new parish magistrate, a rich peasant and
cattle-dealer named Bárány, the pastor, several other residents of
Kisfalu, and two or three owners of estates in the county, friends of
Panna, who sat in the front row, directly by the railing, had no eyes
for her surroundings, and scarcely noticed that every one was gazing at
her with curiosity and interest. Her mood was calm, almost solemn, and
she gazed steadily at the door in the end of the room through which the
court must enter.
At last a constable appeared, who moved the armchairs, arranged the
papers on the green table, and then noisily opened the doors. The
three judges, followed by the constable, came in and took their seats;
with them appeared the prosecuting attorney, the same one who had taken
part in the preliminary examination in Kisfalu, and almost immediately
after a side-door opened and Herr von Abonyi entered, accompanied by
his lawyer and followed by a man whose uniform cap showed that he was
some official. This individual remained standing at the door, while
Abonyi took his seat on the wooden bench and the lawyer in his chair.
Abonyi had bowed to the court when he entered, and now cast a searching
glance at the spectators. But he involuntarily started and hastily
averted his head, without noticing the smiling greetings of his
friends, for the first things he beheld were Panna's flashing black
eyes, which had pierced him when he first appeared, and which he
actually seemed to feel burning through his clothes, and consuming his
body, as he turned away from them.
Panna was intensely excited; her heart throbbed violently and her
eyebrows contracted in a gloomy frown. Abonyi's appearance had
destroyed a large share of her consoling and soothing illusions. She
had had a vague idea that he would be brought in in some humiliating
convict garb, perhaps with handcuffs or even with his feet chained, and
sit between two soldiers with fixed bayonets, deserted, humble,
penitent. Instead of that she saw Abonyi just as she was in the habit
of seeing him, attired in an elegant black suit, smoothly-shaved and
carefully combed, with plump cheeks and smiling lips, head erect and
bold eyes, more distinguished in appearance than any one inside the
rail, without the slightest token in aspect and bearing which could
mark him as a man charged with a heinous crime, in short here, just as
in his village, thoroughly the grand seigneur.
The presiding judge opened the proceedings and ordered the clerk of the
court to read the accusation, which was homicide through negligence, as
well as the minutes of the coroner's inquest and the other documents of
the investigation, then he proceeded to the examination of the accused,
asking the usual questions concerning his name, age, etc., in a
courteous, kindly tone, wholly devoid of sternness, which filled Panna
with vehement rage. This was not the terrible personification of the
fell punishment of crime, but a smooth farce, acted amid universal
Now the judge reached the kernel of the matter, and asked the defendant
to state the circumstances of the event which formed the subject of the
legal proceedings. Abonyi, in a somewhat unsteady voice, related that
on the fatal day he had gone to his coachhouse and found "his workman"
asleep; he had roused him and warned him to be more industrious, then
the fellow became amazingly insolent and defiant, and threatened him so
roughly with a pitchfork, that he owed his escape with a whole skin
solely to his rapid flight, and the presence of mind with which he
bolted the furious man into the shed.
Panna listened with dilated eyes and open mouth; a burning flush
suffused her cheeks, her breath came in gasps, and bending far forward,
she clenched the railing convulsively with both hands. It seemed
incredible that she could have heard correctly. What, is it possible
to lie so in a court of justice, in the presence of the black crucifix,
the judges, the listeners? And the prosecutor does not interrupt him
in his infamous speech? The earth which holds the murdered man, now
slandered in his very grave, does not open and swallow the shameless
The gardener, who perceived what was passing in her mind, laid his hand
upon her arm and whispered into her ear: "For heaven's sake, Panna,
keep quiet, control yourself, or if you cannot, go out of the room."
Panna impatiently motioned to him to keep silent, for the defendant was
continuing his story. He related how the imprisoned cartwright had
constantly raged and threatened murder and arson so that, as parish
magistrate, he had considered it his duty to have the dangerous fellow
arrested. To intimidate the rebellious man, he had sent for a
revolver, which he thought was not loaded, and this was accidentally
"Lies! Wretched, base lies!" shrieked Panna, shaking her clenched fist
furiously at Abonyi, who turned pale and paused in his story. A
passing tumult arose; the listeners crowded around Panna, who had
started up, and tried to force her back into her seat and to quiet her.
The presiding judge frowned and was about to speak, when the
prosecuting attorney told him in a hasty whisper who the disturber was.
But Panna continued to cry out: "Don't believe him, gentlemen, he is
lying! He shot him intentionally and without cause."
She would have said more, but the judge interrupted her, exclaiming
violently: "Silence, unhappy woman, you are making yourself guilty of a
serious offence and deserve that we should inflict exemplary
punishment. But we will have compassion on your condition and content
ourselves with turning you out of the room."
At the same time he beckoned to the constable, who, with the individual
standing behind the defendant, and a watchman posted in the
audience-room, seized the screaming woman and, in spite of her
struggles, forced her out of the door.
This interruption had lasted several minutes and evidently affected all
present very unpleasantly. Now, calmness gradually returned and the
trial could pursue its course. After the defendant, the turn of the
witnesses came. Their depositions were to elucidate two points
especially: whether Molnár had really behaved in such a manner that
deeds of violence might be expected from him, and it was necessary to
threaten him with a weapon and put him in fetters—also, whether the
revolver had been discharged accidentally or intentionally.
The first witness, János, gave his testimony cautiously and sinuously;
he did not know how the dispute had begun; he was not present while
Pista uttered the threats of which Herr von Abonyi spoke, as he had
gone first to fetch the revolver and then the beadle; Pista had
certainly seemed angry and excited, and would not permit handcuffs to
be put upon him; he, János, had his back turned to his master when the
shot was fired.
The beadle, too, could only say that Pista would not suffer himself to
be fettered, and that he had not noticed the discharge of the revolver.
Now the gardener was summoned. Abonyi looked sharply at him; the
witness bore the gaze quietly and began to speak. He stated that Pista
had always been a harmless, peaceful man, while the nobleman, on the
contrary, was arrogant and harsh in his intercourse with common people.
The lawyer for the defence interrupted him with the words: "You are not
asked for a certificate of good conduct!" and the judge admonished him
to keep to the point.
The gardener, unintimidated, added that Herr von Abonyi had first
inflicted bodily abuse on the cartwright, who was not his employee, and
the latter then threatened him or rather defended himself.
The judge asked if he had seen this.
"No," replied the witness, "but János saw it and told me."
János was recalled and confronted with the gardener. He could remember
nothing about it.
The examination was continued. The gardener testified that Pista had
been willing to submit to arrest, but would not allow himself to be
handcuffed, for which, moreover, not the semblance of necessity had
existed. Besides, Herr von Abonyi had had an evil intention when he
sent for the revolver, for he asked expressly for the one lying on the
table by the bed, and the whole parish knew that this weapon was always
loaded. So it was false that Herr von Abonyi supposed he held an
unloaded pistol in his hand.
The judge addressed his last question to the witness: "Did you see the
defendant fire the weapon intentionally?"
The gardener replied that no one could have seen that, except a person
who stood directly beside the criminal and watched his finger closely;
he could only say that Herr von Abonyi kept the weapon constantly
aimed, and his finger on the trigger, so that he, the gardener, had
involuntarily thought that some mischief would happen, and that the
shot was fired at the precise moment when Pista raised the pitchfork
against the servant, who was pressing upon him.
The lawyer for the defence rose and informed the court that the witness
was a servant whom Abonyi had discharged.
"I was discharged after I gave the same testimony at the preliminary
examination which I have given to-day," observed the gardener quietly.
"Speak only when the court questions you!" said the judge reprovingly;
then he whispered a short time with his companions in office, and
finally announced that the last witness would not be sworn.
The gardener looked at the judge in bewilderment and returned to his
place among the audience.
The prosecuting attorney now began his speech. He censured Abonyi for
sending for the revolver, and the command to handcuff the refractory
man seemed to him to show over-zeal and somewhat unjustifiable
severity; there was no ground to believe that murder was intended, yet
the defendant had committed a grave offence when, yielding to an absurd
notion, he had deemed it proper to threaten the cartwright with a
fire-arm. He would therefore propose to sentence Abonyi for homicide
through negligence to—six months' imprisonment.
Abonyi's lawyer tried to show that the revolver had not been
superfluous, since it was necessary to inspire a furious man, who was
threatening deeds of violence, with salutary terror, and thereby
restrain him from excesses. As parish-magistrate, it was Abonyi's duty
to oppose the cartwright, and when the latter scorned and rebelled
against the authorities, Abonyi had been fully justified in compelling
the cartwright to respect his orders, even by forcibly handcuffing him.
For the unfortunate accident which resulted in the loss of a human
life, Abonyi could not be held responsible, and he therefore requested
the acquittal of his client.
The prosecuting attorney replied that it was not fully proved that
Molnár had been so refractory that handcuffing was indispensable; but
he would admit that it was necessary to maintain the dignity of the
magistracy energetically, in the midst of a turbulent, insubordinate
Abonyi's lawyer answered that, instead of making any rejoinder, he had
only one thing to say: his client would engage to provide for the
unfortunate Molnár's widow by giving her a large piece of land and also
settling upon her an annual income, legally secured, of four hundred
A murmur of approval ran through the audience, suppressed by a stern
command from the judge. After a short whispered consultation, during
which the defendant was not even led out of the court-room, the judge
pronounced the sentence, that the defendant, for the homicide through
negligence of Stefan Molnár, was condemned to six months imprisonment;
any claims for compensation from those entitled to demand them were
reserved and could be brought before the civil courts. The prosecuting
attorney declared himself satisfied with the sentence, as his proposal
had been fully accepted; the lawyer for the defence exchanged whispers
a moment with the condemned man, and then also said that he would give
up the appeal to a higher tribunal; the judge closed the proceedings,
and Abonyi went out through the door by which he had entered, while the
man with the cap followed respectfully.
When the gardener came out of the courtroom he saw Panna standing in
the corridor, where she had been waiting since her expulsion from the
court-room. Hurrying up to him, she asked with an anxious look, "Well?"
"Sentenced!" replied the gardener, turning his head away.
"Ah!" A low cry escaped her breast and her eyes sparkled. "Sentenced!
The gardener gazed at her inquiringly.
"What do you mean by when?"
"Why, when will he be—executed?"
"Executed? you are out of your mind. He is sentenced to six months'
Meanwhile they had gone down into the courtyard; at the gardener's
words Panna suddenly stood still, stared fixedly at him, and said in a
"You know how I am, and what I feel, why do you jest so unpleasantly
"What I tell you is the most bitter earnest."
"Man! Six months! You are drivelling! That is impossible! A man who
has murdered another can be acquitted, it may be said that he did not
kill him, that the guilt was not proved, I understand that; but when it
is admitted that he is guilty, he surely cannot be sentenced to six
months' imprisonment! That is a mockery of mankind. My brother
strikes a brutal officer—he is executed; the vine-dresser's Bandi
burns a miserable barn—he is executed. This man kills a human being
and gets six months' imprisonment. No, I cannot believe it."
The gardener contented himself with silently shrugging his shoulders in
reply to the woman's passionate outburst of feeling, and pursued his
way. Panna followed him with compressed lips. She could not help
believing his communication, but she continually revolved it in her
mind, still unable to comprehend its meaning fully. They were seated
in the carriage again, and had driven a considerable distance, when she
began once more:
"There are higher courts. It cannot be left so."
"No one entered an appeal, so the case will not go to the higher
"Then you think that this six months is the last utterance of justice?"
"The last, Panna; only the king or God can still change the sentence."
Panna's eyes flashed.
"The king can change the sentence, you say?"
"He, of course," replied her companion laconically.
Panna said nothing more on the way home. Only the gardener once heard
"Justice is a fine thing, a very fine thing."
It was late in the evening when Panna again reached Kisfalu. Her
father was already expecting her with great impatience and, before she
left the carriage, shouted a question about the result of the trial.
Panna did not answer immediately, but cautiously descended, gratefully
pressed the hand of the gardener, who had brought her to her own house,
and entered the room with her father. Here she opened her lips for the
first time, uttering only the words: "Six months!"
Her father struck the table furiously with his clenched fist,
shrieking: "Then Hell ought to open its jaws and swallow the whole
band! But wait, I know what to do. Six months will soon be over, and
then I'll make short work with the fine gentleman. I'll be judge and
executioner in one person, and the trial won't last long, that I swear
by all the fiends."
Panna hastily interrupted him: "For Heaven's sake, Father, hush. If
any one should hear it might be bad for you. What induces you to say
such imprudent things? Do you want to be imprisoned for making
dangerous threats? You know that they wouldn't use as much ceremony
with you as with the nobleman. Only keep perfectly cool, we are not
obliged to make ourselves the judge, there is still one person higher
than the court, and he will decide our cause."
"What do you mean?" asked the father, looking inquiringly at Panna.
"You'll learn; only let me act, and keep cool."
The old man was not naturally curious, so he desisted and went to rest,
Panna following his example.
The next morning Panna was seen moving to and fro very busily between
her own house and her father's, and repeatedly entering the town-hall.
With her father's help, she carried all their property to his hut and
then offered the empty Molnár house for sale. There was no lack of
purchasers, but the peasant does not decide quickly to open the strings
of his purse, so it was three days before the bargain was concluded.
But at last the business was settled and Panna received several hundred
florins in cash. She gave the larger portion to her father, who bought
a vineyard with them, and kept a hundred for herself. When this was
done, Panna said that she had business in the city, hired a carriage,
and went to Pesth.
The king was at that time in Ofen, where he gave public audiences
daily. It is an ancient and wise custom of the Hapsburgs to make
themselves easily accessible to the people. In Austro-Hungary no
recommendation, gala attire, nor ceremony is requisite in order to see
and speak to the sovereign. On the days when public audience is given,
the humblest person is admitted without difficulty, and nothing is
expected from him except that he will appear as clean and whole as
possible, no matter how shabby he may be. The people are well aware of
this and, at every opportunity, profit by the facility afforded to
reach the king; there are persons who go to the monarch with a matter
which, in other countries, a village magistrate would decide without
So Panna left her carriage at a peasant tavern outside of the city, and
went on foot directly to the castle at Ofen. The audience began at
twelve o'clock, and it still lacked half an hour of this time. Panna
passed through the outer door unrestrained, and was first asked what
she desired by a guard on duty at the foot of the staircase leading to
the royal apartments. Panna answered fearlessly that she was going to
the audience, and the guardsman kindly showed her the way.
At the head of the stairs another official met her with the same query,
and she gave the same reply. But this time the official also asked for
her certificate of admission. Panna did not know what it was, and the
functionary then explained that the king's audience chamber could not
be entered so unceremoniously from the street, but a person must first
announce himself and state his business, after which he received notice
of the time when he was to present himself. Of course it would be too
late for to day, but she could be registered for the next audience,
which would be given in a fortnight. She probably had her petition
with her, she need merely give it to him, and he would attend to
everything for her the friendly man said at the close of his
Panna was obliged to confess that she had no petition, as she had
thought that she would be able to tell the king the whole story
The smiling functionary explained the mistake. She must write the
petition, for the king at the utmost would have only one or two minutes
for her, and no long story could be told in that time; besides, she
could not be recorded without a petition.
Panna became much dispirited and out of temper. She again saw beloved
illusions disappear. She had imagined everything to be far smoother,
more simple, easier, and now here also there were difficulties. She
dejectedly followed her guide into an office, where she had all sorts
of questions to answer about her name, residence, etc., and the purpose
which brought her here. To the last inquiry she gave the curt
information: "I am seeking justice from the king against an unjust
sentence." Then she received a card with a number and a date, and was
dismissed with the remark that she must be there again with her
petition a fortnight thence, on Thursday, punctually at twelve o'clock,
She had desired to keep her purpose a secret from every one in the
village; but this was now impossible, for she could not prepare the
petition alone. So she went to the gardener, who had obtained another
place, and initiated him into her plans. He eagerly dissuaded her from
the step, since nothing would come of it, but Panna remained immovable
in her confidence in the result.
"The king," she said, "will secure me justice. It is impossible that
he should hear of the atrocious sentence and not instantly overthrow
it." And when the gardener continued to try to show her the contrary,
she at last grew angry and said curtly: "Well, if you won't help me,
I'll go to a lawyer in the city who, for money and fair words, will
draw up the petition."
The gardener now relinquished any further opposition, and declared
himself ready to compose the document.
They were together two days to accomplish the great work with their
united powers. Evil tongues in the village sharpened themselves
eagerly on the remarkable fact, and the rumors about the pair were
endless. Some thought that the beautiful Panna had forgotten ugly
Pista very quickly, others thought that the gardener was by no means
amiss, though no longer very young; many said still more scandalous
things. The young widow did not trouble herself about this chatter in
the least; she had more important matters in her head and heart, and
therefore could not hear the malicious whispers of the gossips.
The petition was begun three times, and as often torn in pieces. Panna
wanted it to be very energetic, very vehement. The gardener softened
the passionate expressions and suppressed the violent appeals. Of
course he was not a practised writer, and he had serious difficulty in
putting his thoughts into the correct form. But at last the
composition was accomplished, and Panna read it ten times in succession
till she knew every letter by heart. Her influence had been more
dominant than the gardener's, and the petition was still very forcible.
In awkward, but simple, impressive language, it accused the judge of
partiality, described Abonyi and his crime in the darkest colors,
quoted the cases of the shooting of Marczi and the hanging of Bandi,
and finally demanded for Molnár's death the death of his murderer.
With this document Panna again went to Ofen, and this time she really
obtained the audience. The whole scene affected her soul like some
strange, wonderful face beheld in a dream. First she waited in the
ante-room, among hundreds of other persons, most of whom were dressed
in splendid uniforms, and covered with the stars of orders. She had no
eyes for her surroundings, but thought only of her business and what
she wanted to say to the king; suddenly her number, called loudly,
broke in upon her reverie; Panna did not know how it happened, but the
next moment she found herself in a room, which seemed to her fabulously
magnificent, before her stood a figure in the uniform of a general,
which she could not see distinctly because everything swam before her
eyes; she faltered a few words about justice, and fell upon her knees;
the figure bent over her, raised her, said a few gentle, pleasant
words, and took the petition from her trembling hand; then she was once
more in the ante-room, with a hundred confused voices buzzing in her
ears like the roar of distant surf. When the gardener and her father
afterwards asked her for details, she was compelled to answer that she
knew nothing, remembered nothing, had seen and heard nothing clearly;
she only knew that the king had been very kind and took the petition
From this time Panna was remarkably quiet and composed. She went about
her usual work, attended to her household duties with her usual care,
and seemed to think of the past no longer; at least she did not mention
the painful incidents of which we are cognizant, either to her father
or the gardener, who sometimes visited her, and when the latter once
turned the conversation to them, she replied:
"Let us drop that; the matter is now in the right hands; another head
is considering it, and we need no longer rack our brains about it."
The gardener understood what she meant, and her father only half heard
these mysterious words without pondering over their thoroughly
Thus six weeks passed away and the end of January was approaching when,
one Sunday afternoon, the pastor unexpectedly entered Panna's hut.
Without giving the astonished woman time for a remark, he sat down on
the bench near the stove by her side, and said:
"Do not wonder, my child, that I have come again, after you so deeply
offended and insulted me. I must not bear malice. It is my office to
forgive wrong, and I would fain have you follow my example."
Panna gazed silently into her lap, but the priest continued in a voice
which grew more and more gentle and insinuating.
"You see, you are still indulging your savage, pagan vengeance, and
committing all sorts of follies which will yet ruin you. What is the
use of it? Let the dead rest, and think of the living, of yourself,
your future. What is the meaning of your going to the king and giving
him a crazy petition——"
"What, do you know that, too?" cried Panna turning pale; she felt as if
every drop of blood had gone back to her heart. "So the gardener
tattled? Oh, fie! fie!"
"Nonsense, the gardener! We don't need the gardener for that. The
petition has come from the king's cabinet to the office of the Home
Secretary, which sent it through the county to the parish, that we
might give a report of your mental condition. From your petition, you
are believed to be insane, and that is fortunate, or you would be
punished for contempt of court."
Panna clenched her teeth till the grinding sound could be heard, and
obstinately persisted in her silence.
"Of course I know that your head is clear, only your heart is hardened,
and I will pray to God that He may soften it. Herr von Abonyi is a
very different Christian. You need not look at me so angrily, what I
say is true. You know that he has great and powerful friends; it would
cost them only a word, and he would be pardoned. They wished to appeal
to the king in his behalf, but he would not permit them to take a step
for him. He repents his deed, he has received a just punishment, and
he wished to endure this sentence to the final moment. Through me, he
entreats your forgiveness, he does not wish you and your father to
remain his enemies, when he has penitently borne the punishment. You
will probably owe it to him, if you have no unpleasant consequences to
bear on account of your petition. You see how a man of principle and
generosity behaves! And then, remember what I told you before: Herr
von Abonyi is ready to provide for you all your life, as no one in your
family was ever supported. Well, do you say nothing to all this? Have
I nothing to tell the nobleman from you?" The pastor rose, laid his
hand upon her shoulder, and looked her in the face.
Panna shrunk from the touch of his fat fingers, brushed them off, and
"Tell him it is all very well and we will see."
The priest departed with an unctuous farewell, and left Panna alone.
She remained motionless in the same position, with bent head, her hands
resting nervelessly in her lap, her eyes staring into vacancy. So her
father found her when, half an hour after, he returned from the parish
tavern. When she saw him, she started from her stupor, rushed to him,
and exclaimed amid a violent flood of tears:
"Father, it was all in vain, there is no justice on earth."
In reply to the astonished old man's anxious questions, she told him,
for the first time, the story she had hitherto kept secret of her
petition to the king, and the pitiful result of this final step.
Her father listened, shaking his head, and said:
"You see if, instead of acting on your own account, you had first asked
my advice, you would have saved yourself this fresh sorrow. I could
have told you that you would have accomplished nothing with the king."
Now, for the first time in many weeks, the old man again began to speak
of the matter which had never ceased to occupy Panna's whole mind. He
was choleric, and capable of a hasty deed of violence when excited, but
he was not resentful; he was not the man to cherish anger long, and had
already gained sufficient calmness to view Abonyi's crime more quietly
and soberly. He represented to his daughter that it would be folly to
demand the nobleman's life from the king in exchange for Pista's.
Panna answered sullenly that she did not perceive the folly; did her
father think that a peasant's life was less valuable than a gentleman's?
"That isn't the point now. You must consider that the master did not
kill your Pista intentionally."
"Stop, Father, don't tell me that. He did kill him intentionally. I
don't care whether the purpose existed days or minutes before, but it
was there; else he would not have sent for the revolver, he would not
have aimed the weapon, touched the trigger, or discharged it."
"Even admitting that you are right, he has been punished for it."
Panna laughed bitterly. "Six months! Is that a punishment?"
"For a gentlemen like him, it's a heavy one. And he will provide for
"Do you, too, talk as the priest does, father? You ought to know me
better. Do you really believe that I would bargain over Pista's life
for beggerly alms? I should be ashamed ever to pass the churchyard
where the poor fellow lies."
"You are obstinate, Panna. I see very plainly where you are aiming.
You always say you want justice, but it seems to me that what you want
Panna had never made this distinction, because she was not in the habit
of analyzing her feelings. But when her father uttered the word, she
reflected a moment, and then said: "Perhaps so."
Yet she felt that it really was not vengeance which she desired, and
she instantly added:
"No, Father, you are not exactly right, it is not revenge. I should no
longer be enraged against Herr von Abonyi if I could believe that the
law, which punished what he has done with six months' imprisonment,
would for instance have punished you also with six months, if you had
committed the same crime. But it cannot be the law, or they would not
have shot Marczi for his little offence, you would not have been
imprisoned three months for a few innocent blows. It is easy to tell
me that the case is different. Or is there perhaps a different law for
peasants and for gentlemen? If that is so, then the law is wicked and
unjust, and the peasants must make their own."
The old man did not notice the errors and lack of logic in Panna's
words, but he was probably startled by her gloomy energy.
"Child, child," he said, "put these thoughts out of your head. I have
done so too. If I could have laid hands on the murderer at first—may
God forgive me—I believe that Pista would not have been buried alone.
But now that is over, and we must submit. After all, six months'
imprisonment is not so small a matter as you suppose. You need only
ask me, I know something about it. Oh, it is hard to spend a winter in
a fireless cell, busy all day in dirty, disagreeable work, shivering at
night on the thin straw bed till your heart seems to turn to ice in
your body, and your teeth chatter so that you can't even swear, to say
nothing of the horrible vermin, the loathsome food, the tyrannical
jailers—a grave in summer is almost better than the prison in winter."
Panna made no reply, and the conversation stopped; but her father's
last words had not failed to make a deep impression upon her
imagination. She clung to the pictures he had conjured before her
mind; she found pleasure in them, painted them in still more vivid
hues, experienced a degree of consolation in them. While she was
working in the house, her thoughts were with Abonyi in his prison; she
saw him in the degrading convict-dress, with chains on his feet, as she
had so often found her father when she visited him in jail; there he
sat in a little dusky cell on a projecting part of the wall, eating
from a wooden bowl filled with a thin broth, repulsive in appearance
and smell and biting pieces of earth-colored bread as hard as a brick;
the cell was impregnated with horrible odours; the bare stone flags of
the floor were icy cold; a ragged, dirty sack of straw, and a thin,
tattered coverlet swarming with vermin covered the bench in the corner;
in the morning the prisoner, like the others, was obliged to clean his
cell and work at things whose contact sickened him; at noon he walked
up and down the prisonyard, amid thieves and robbers, who jeered at and
insulted the great gentleman; the jailers assailed him with rough
words, perhaps even blows—yes, perhaps, her father was right, possibly
Abonyi might have been better off lying in the grave than enduring the
disgrace and hardships of the prison.
She gave herself up to these ideas, which almost amounted to
hallucinations, with actual delight; she even spoke of them, told the
neighbours about them as if they were facts which she had witnessed,
and when, early in February, a peasant who had been sentenced to a
year's imprisonment in the county jail for horse-stealing, was released
and returned to Kisfalu, Panna was one of the first who visited him and
asked if he had seen Abonyi in the county prison.
"Why, of course," replied the ex-convict, grinning.
Panna's eyes sparkled.
"You went to walk in the yard with him? They probably put him in
"You are talking nonsense, neighbour," said the peasant. "He wore no
chains, and did not go into the yard with us. If I saw him, it's
because I waited on him."
"Waited? You waited on him?"
"Certainly. Surely you don't suppose that he is treated like one of
us! He lives in a pretty room, has his meals sent from the hotel, goes
in and out freely during the day, and is only locked up at night for
form's sake; he wears his own clothing and is served by the other
prisoners; we all tried to get the place, for he pays like a lord.
Hitherto, he hasn't found it very tiresome, for people came to see him
every day and, when there were no visitors, he played cards with the
steward. They say that, on New Year's Eve, he lost 140 florins to him;
it gave us something to talk about for a week."
During this story Panna remained rigid and speechless, listening with
her mouth wide open, without interrupting, and when the peasant paused
she sat still a short time, as if her thoughts were far away, and then
went out like a sleep-walker, leaving the man staring after her in
astonishment at her strange behaviour.
From this hour she was a different person. She was no longer seen to
smile, she scarcely spoke, did not open her lips all day, and avoided
meeting people's eyes, even her own father's. When the gardener came
to visit her, she evaded him if possible, and if she could not do that,
sat by his side and let him talk while she gazed into vacancy. When,
one Sunday afternoon, the priest again appeared in the hut, probably to
renew his attempt at reconciliation, she darted out of the door like a
will-o'-the-wisp the instant she saw him, leaving the amazed and
disconcerted pastor alone in the room.
Panna went daily to the churchyard and busied herself for hours about
her husband's grave. She ordered a stone cross from the city with the
inscription: "To her cruelly murdered husband by his unforgetting
widow." But when she wanted to have the monument set up, the priest
interfered with great vehemence and declared he would never permit this
cross to be placed in "his" churchyard. Panna did not make the least
attempt to rebel against this command, but quietly told the workmen to
carry the stone to her house; there it was leaned against the wall
opposite to her bed, and daily, when she rose and went to rest, she sat
a long time on the edge of her pallet, gazing thoughtfully at the cross
Once she interrupted her father in the midst of an ordinary
conversation with the abrupt inquiry, whether, in dismissing a
prisoner, the time fixed in the sentence was rigidly kept, and if, for
instance, any one was condemned to six months' imprisonment, this six
months would run from the end of the trial or from the following
The old man thought the question strange and did not know how to answer
it. He, too, was secretly beginning frequently to share the opinion
now tolerably current in the village, that Panna was not altogether
right in her mind.
Meanwhile Spring had come, Panna worked industriously in the fields and
in the vineyard, nothing betrayed what thoughts were occupying the mind
of the silent, reserved woman. Not until the latter part of May did
she begin to grow restless and excited, then she repeatedly entreated
her father and the gardener, though it evidently cost her a great
effort to control herself, to ask at the castle whether the day of the
master's release was known. Her father flatly refused to comply with
her crazy wishes, and very earnestly exhorted her to trouble herself no
farther about the castle and its owner. As for the gardener, he had
cautiously intimated repeatedly that it would be unnatural for so
young, robust, and beautiful a woman to remain a widow long, especially
when there was some one who would consider himself only too happy to
put an end to her widowhood, and he now added his entreaties to the old
man's that she would at last banish from her mind the memory of the
Accident rendered Panna the service she had vainly asked of the two
men. One evening, when she was returning from the fields, she passed
the housekeeper at the castle who, with her back to the road, stood
leaning against the low half-door of a peasant's hut, and called to her
friend who was working in the yard: "Well, the master wrote to-day; he
wants János to bring the carriage at six o'clock to-morrow morning to
take him from the prison."
At this moment the peasant woman saw Panna passing, and made the
housekeeper a sign which silenced her at once. But Panna had heard
enough. She quickened her pace to reach home quickly, put down her
hoe, and ascertained that her father was already in the house. Her
voice betrayed no trace of excitement as she asked if he was going out
again, which he answered in the negative. Then she went to her room,
put on a warm woollen shawl, slipped the few florins she still
possessed into her pocket, and went away, telling her father to go to
sleep, she would be back again.
Hastening to a peasant who lived at the other end of the village, she
begged him to drive her to the city at once; she would pay whatever he
asked. The man replied that his horses were tired out, he had driven
them to the pasture, and could not bring them home now, etc. Panna
went to the second house beyond and repeated her request. This peasant
was more curious than his neighbour and asked what she wanted in the
city in such a hurry.
"My father has suddenly been taken very ill, and I must get a doctor."
"Why don't you go to the village surgeon if the case is so urgent?"
"I have been there," was the quick, glib answer which fell from Panna's
tongue, "he isn't at home, and won't come before morning. He has been
called to a farm two miles off."
"H'm! And you are leaving the sick man all alone?"
"He isn't alone, a neighbour is with him."
"Wouldn't it be better for you to ask the neighbour to go to the city,
and stay with your father yourself?"
"To cut the matter short, neighbour," Panna, who had grown terribly
impatient, now burst forth, "will you take me or not? I'll answer your
foolish questions on the way."
The peasant cautiously named the price of the ride, which Panna,
without a word of objection, instantly placed in his hand, after which
he at last went to draw out the waggon and harness the horses. A few
minutes later the vehicle was rolling over the dusty high-road.
Panna, wrapped in her shawl, sat on a bundle of straw which the peasant
had put in to furnish a seat for his passenger, staring with dilated
eyes at the landscape, illumined by a soft radiance. It was a
marvellously beautiful night in May. The full moon was shining in a
cloudless sky, the ripening grain waved mysteriously to and fro in the
white light, over the darker meadows a light mist was rising which,
stirred by the faint breeze, gathered into strange shapes, then
dispersed again, now rose a little, now sank, so that the straggling
bushes scattered here and there alternately appeared above the floating
vapour and were submerged in it; the fragrance of the wild flowers
mingled with the fresh exhalations from the damp earth and gave the
warm air a stimulating aroma. Now and then, where the bushes grew more
thickly along the edge of the road, the rapturous songs of the
nightingales were heard, the only sound, except the distant barking of
a dog, or the buzzing of a huge night-beetle flitting past the waggon,
which, at times, interrupted the silence of the night.
But Panna's senses were closed to all this varied beauty. Her whole
existence, all her thoughts and feelings were now centred upon a single
point, the purpose which brought her to the city. With a torturing
effort, which drove the blood to her brain, she again reviewed the
events of the past month, of her whole life. She strove to examine
them on all sides, judge them impartially, consider them from various
Was it right that Abonyi should now be at liberty to move about as the
great lord he had always been, after being permitted to make himself
comfortable for six months in a prison, which was no jail to him? Was
it not her duty to execute the justice which neither the laws nor men
would practise? Had she not a perfect right to do so, since she, and
those who belonged to her, had hitherto always atoned fully and
completely, rigidly and more than rigidly, for every sin?
In her early childhood her soul had been ravaged by a terrible grief,
which had never been overcome; the law had killed her brother; in her
girlhood, she had been tortured by only too frequent repetitions of the
sight of her father, whom the law had loaded with chains and punished
with severe imprisonment; her sorely wounded heart had found
consolation only in a single thought which, amid her sufferings and
afflictions, had gradually become established as firmly as a rock
within her soul, that every sin found a harsh punishment, that this was
an immovable, inexorable law of the universe, which could not be
escaped, that it would be easier to pluck the stars from the sky than
to do wrong without atoning for it. When, by a sudden act of violence,
she injured Pista for life, it was instantly apparent to her that she
owed expiation for it, and she had not hesitated or delayed an instant
in punishing herself more severely than any judge would have done, by
voluntarily sacrificing the happiness of her whole existence. This had
cost her no self-conquest, it was a matter of course; the eternal law
of the universe of sin and atonement required it, and to this demand
there could be no resistance.
This law was her religion, she believed it and could not help
believing; if she did not, if there was no august law of the universe,
beyond all doubt, that sin exacted pitiless requital, it surely would
not have been necessary to shoot her brother, to deliver her father so
often to the hardships of prison-life, to bind her own youth to a
hideous being whom she did not love when she married him, whom only the
consciousness of duty voluntarily and proudly fulfilled afterwards
rendered dear to her. If this was not a necessity, surely God, fate,
mankind—use whatever name you choose—had basely, atrociously, robbed
her brother, her father, and herself of life and happiness, and their
destiny was enough to cause frenzy, despair, madness!
No, no, that could not be. Fate could not deal so rapaciously with a
whole group of human beings; such unprecedented, inconceivable
injustice could not have been done them. They had only experienced the
great law of the universe and ought not to complain, because it is the
course of the world.
But now this law had been violated in the most unparalleled manner;
Abonyi had committed a heavy sin and had not atoned for it; this was a
phenomenon which shook the foundations of her being, robbed her of all
support, abruptly reawakened all her slumbering doubts concerning the
necessity of her bitter fate, and unchained the terrible tempests in
her soul, which hitherto only intense faith in the stern, but morally
necessary omnipotence of the law of sin and atonement, had succeeded in
soothing. Her sense of morality showed her a means of escape from this
mental torture, and she did not hesitate to take it. The law of the
universe must not be belied, it must prove itself in this case, as it
always had; since those appointed to the office had shamefully omitted
to use it, it became her right and her duty to execute it herself.
Amid these thoughts, which did not enter her mind dimly and vaguely,
but with perfect clearness and distinctness, the hours passed with
magical swiftness and, ere she was aware of it, the springless waggon
rolled over the uneven pavement of a street in the suburbs. The noisy
rattle of the wheels, which followed their former comparatively
noiseless movement, and the jolts which the vehicle received in the
numerous holes of the roadway quickly roused Panna from her deep
reverie and brought her to a consciousness of external things.
It was about two o'clock in the morning. She asked the peasant to
drive to the corner of a certain street, where the doctor whom she
wanted, lived; when she reached the desired place she got out, gave her
driver another florin, and said:
"Neighbour, go into a tavern and let your horses rest. You can ride
home whenever you choose; I will ask the doctor to drive out in his own
carriage and to take me with him; we shall get there several hours
earlier with his fresh horses, than with your tired nags, which could
not turn back at once."
"You're right there," replied the peasant, somewhat drowsily, bade her
good-night, and drove off at a walk. In a few minutes the waggon was
out of sight and hearing.
Panna now moved with rapid steps through several streets, which were
alternately flooded with bright moonlight and shrouded in darkness,
until she stood before the county jail. This is a barrack-like
structure, whose plain front has for its sole architectural ornament
two pairs of columns, which flank the main entrance on both sides.
Panna entered the narrow space between the two columns at the left, and
sat down with her back resting against the fluted shaft at the stone
base of the pillar, whose shadow completely concealed her.
She was very weary and exhausted; the tempest of thoughts in her brain
were followed by fatigue and a dull stupor; the silence, the darkness,
the warmth of the shawl wrapped closely around her, the motionless
position which her narrow hiding-place required, exerted a drowsy
influence, and she soon sank into a torpor which imperceptibly passed
into an uneasy, agitated half slumber, visited by terrible dreams.
Panna saw horrible shapes dancing around her, which grasped her with
their icy hands and dragged her away; sometimes it seemed as if her
brother was brought out and a bullet fired into his head; while she was
trying anxiously to find the wound, it was not her brother, but Pista,
who lay there with the hole in his forehead; she wailed aloud and the
dead man rose, seized a brick, and dashed it on her head so that she
fell bleeding; then again it seemed as though it was not she who lay on
the ground in a pool of blood, but Abonyi, who still held the smoking
revolver in his rigid hand; so the frightful dream faces blended in
terrible, spectral changes, one horrible visage drove out another, till
Panna, with a low cry of fear, suddenly started from her troubled
sleep. A heavy hand had grasped her by the shoulder, and a harsh voice
shouted unintelligible words into her ear.
When she opened her eyes, she saw a policeman standing before her,
shaking her and asking what she was doing here. Panna was terribly
startled for a moment, but she quickly regained her presence of mind,
"My husband is in the jail and will be released early in the morning;
so I came here to wait for him."
"Why, my dear woman, you can't stay here," replied the policeman; "find
a night's lodging, and in the morning you can be here in ample time to
meet your husband."
"Oh, do let me stay here, I don't know anybody in the city, where am I
to go now in the night, it will surely be morning in two or three
hours," pleaded Panna, at the same time drawing from her pocket a
florin, one of the last she had left, which she slipped into the hand
of the guardian of order. After this argument the latter evidently
discovered that it would be no very serious crime if a beautiful young
woman waited in front of the jail, on a warm, moon-lit night in May,
for her husband's release, for, with an incomprehensible mutter, he
pursued his round, on which, during the next two hours, he repeatedly
passed Panna without troubling himself any farther about her.
All fatigue had now left the watcher and, after this disturbance, she
did not close her eyes a second time. She was once more calm and
strong, and constantly repeated in her mind that she was about to do a
good, needful work, pleasing to God. The moon had set, it was growing
noticeably cool, day was dawning in the east; she shivered, a slight
tremor ran through her whole frame, yet she remained motionless on her
stone seat. Gradually the light grew brighter and brighter, the great
city gave the first signs of awakening, a few sleepy-looking people
began to pass with echoing footsteps through the street, now and then a
carriage drove by, the matin bells pealed from the church steeples, and
the first rays of the rising sun flooded the roofs of the surrounding
houses with ruddy gold. Just at that moment a carriage rolled around
the corner, drove in a sharp curve to the door of the jail, and
stopped. Panna pressed farther back into her niche and hid her face in
her shawl. She had recognized János and an open carriage owned by
The driver, who had not noticed the dark figure between the pillars,
sprang from his box, blanketed the steaming horses, and gave them some
bags of oats. Meanwhile the door of the jail had opened, for it was
five o'clock; a heiduck came out, yawning and stretching, and asked
"For whom are you waiting so early, Brother?"'
"For my master, Herr von Abonyi, who will come presently."
"Yes, yes, you are to fetch his lordship; well, if you wish, I'll go in
and tell the gentleman that you're here."
"Do, we'll get away sooner."
The man vanished inside the building and János busied himself
industriously with his horses, while whistling a little song. It was
not ten minutes before steps and voices were heard in the doorway.
János raised his cap, called: "At your service," and sprang on the box.
Two men appeared on the threshold, both looking as though they had been
up all night—Abonyi and the steward.
"Cordial thanks and farewell till you see me in Kisfalu!" cried Abonyi,
shaking hands with his companion.
"Good-bye until then! And in Kisfalu I'll give you revenge for the
trifle you lost to-night."
"If my coachman hadn't come so early, I would have won it all back
"Why," said the steward, "if you feel inclined, you can come back and
play on comfortably."
"Thank you, I've had quite enough of your hospitality for the present,"
replied Abonyi, and both laughed heartily, after which they again shook
hands with each other.
The steward, who was shivering, turned back, and Abonyi prepared to get
into the carriage. At the moment when he had one foot on the step and
was half swinging in the air, without any firm hold, Panna sprang out,
threw her whole weight upon Abonyi, dragged him to the ground with her,
and, almost while falling, with the speed of lightning struck him
repeatedly in the breast with a long, sharp, kitchen knife, which she
had had in her bosom.
All this had been the work of a few instants. Abonyi had scarcely had
time to utter a cry. János sat mute with bewilderment on the box,
staring with dilated eyes at the two figures on the ground; the steward
turned at the shriek and stood as though spell-bound by the spectacle
which presented itself. Abonyi lay gasping, with his blood pouring
from several wounds; Panna had straightened herself and, throwing down
the bloody knife, stood quietly beside her victim. Instantly a great
outcry arose, János sprang from the carriage and went to the assistance
of his unconscious and evidently dying master, the steward rushed up to
Panna and grasped her by the arm, which she permitted without
resistance, a number of heiducks appeared, Panna was dragged into the
doorway, and a flood of curses and threats was poured upon her. While
Abonyi was carried into the guard-room under the entrance and laid on a
wooden-table, where he drew his last breath before a physician could be
summoned, a multitude of violent hands dragged Panna, amid fierce
abuse, into the courtyard, while the steward shouted loudly:
"Lads! Bring chains for this monster! Chains I say, put irons on her
hands and feet."
Then Panna who, hitherto, had not opened her lips, cried in a resonant
voice, while a strange smile hovered about her quivering lips:
"Why, my dear sir, how long have you used chains? Wouldn't you rather
play a game of cards with me?"
The steward's face flushed scarlet, he shrieked a few orders to his men
in a shrill tone, and rushed back into the guard-room to Abonyi.
Panna was shoved rather than led down the steps of a flight of cellar
stairs and thrust into a dark, stifling cell, where handcuffs were put
on. During this proceeding, she made many sneering speeches:
"Give me a handsomely furnished room, too, like the one the nobleman
had! And who will wait on me here?"
"Silence, witch!" cried the heiduck who was chaining her. "The
executioner will wait on you when he makes you a head shorter."
"The executioner? Fool, what nonsense you are talking! No executioner
will touch me. At the utmost I shall get three months imprisonment.
If six months is the sentence given for the murder of an innocent man,
surely one can't get more than three for killing a murderer."
At last Panna was left alone and the iron doors of her cell closed with
an echoing sound. The crime naturally created the utmost excitement in
the county jail; officials and employees talked of nothing else, and
after learning from János who the criminal was, the opinion was
generally expressed that she must be crazy. Before the examining
magistrate, who was informed of the bloody deed in the course of the
forenoon, gave Panna an examination, he sent a physician to see her and
give an opinion of her mental condition.
The doctor found the young widow lying on the bench, deadly pale and
utterly exhausted. She had spent all the power of her soul in the
horrible resolve and its execution, and was now as gentle and tearful
as a frightened child. She entreated the physician to have the irons
taken off; she could not bear them, she would be perfectly quiet; and
when he promised this she also besought him to write to her father,
whose address she gave, in her place. She begged the latter's
forgiveness for what she had done; she could not help it, there must be
justice for gentlemen as well as for peasants. If there was no justice
the world could not exist, everything would be topsy-turvy, and people
would kill one another in the public streets just as the wild beasts
did in the woods. She, too, would atone for the sin she had committed
that day, and that would be perfectly just. She also sent a message to
the gardener, thanking him for all the kindness and love which he had
shown her, and hoping that he might have a happier life than Fate had
allotted to her.
The physician talked with her some time longer, and received quiet,
rational, somewhat timid replies. At last he went away shaking his
head, evidently not knowing what to think of this singular woman, but
he succeeded in having the handcuffs removed, and faithfully wrote the
letter, as he had promised to do.
Panna was to be brought before the examining magistrate for the first
time on the following morning. When the jailer opened the door of the
cellar cell, he started back in horror. From the grating in the little
window, high up in the stone wall, dangled a rigid human form. Panna
had hung herself in the night by tying the strings of her skirt