Tormay Cecile - An outlaw's diary Volume 2

Author : Tormay Cecile
Title : An outlaw's diary Volume 2
Year : 1923

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Night of March 21st, 1919. THERE followed a moment's silence, the awful silence of the executioner's sword suspended in the air. Humanity in bondage draws its head between its shoulders, and, like the sweat of the agonising, cold rain, pours down the walls of the houses. Now... A bestial voice shrieks again in the street: "LONG LIVE THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT!" The neighbouring streets repeat the cry. A drawn shutter rattles violently in the dark. Street doors bang as they are hurriedly closed. Running steps clatter past the houses, accompanied by two sounds: "Long live . . . Death..." The latter is meant for us. Shots ring out at the street corner. "Death to the bourgeois!" A bullet strikes a lamp and there is a shower of glass on the pavement. A carriage drives past furiously, then stops suddenly amid shouts. A confused noise follows and the shooting dies away in the distance. Other cars follow its track into the maddened, lightless town. What is happening there, beyond it, everywhere, in the barracks, in the boulevards? Sailors are looting the inner city: a handful of Bolsheviks have taken possession of the town. There is no escape! One thought alone contains an element of relief: we have reached the bottom of the abyss. It is disgraceful and humiliating, but it is better than the constant sliding down and down. Now we can sink no lower. Presently the streets regained their former quiet, and nothing but the throbbing of our hearts pierced the silence. There is no escape for us. The opened gutters have inundated us. St. Stephen's Hungary has fallen under the rule of Trotsky's agent, Béla Kún, the embezzler. And all round us events are taking place which we have no longer the power to prevent. I have no idea how long this nightmare lasted. We were silent: everybody was struggling with his own sufferings. The lamp burnt low, and again the clock struck. I caught at its sound, and counted the strokes: nine. Countess Chotek, who had been with us, was there no longer, nor did I see my brother. Time went slowly on. My room appeared to me like the dim background of a painting; figures sat in the picture rigidly, disappeared, and then were there again. The door opened and closed. I saw my journalist friend, Joseph Cavallier, in a chair which had been empty a moment before. He spoke and pressed me to go—mad rumours were circulating in the town, awful events were predicted for the night. Lieut.-Col. Vyx and the other members of the Entente missions had been arrested, and it was intended to disarm the British monitors on the Danube. The Russian Red Army was advancing towards the Carpathians, the Bolsheviks had declared for the integrity of our territory. Béla Kún's Directorate had declared war on the Entente. "You must escape tonight," said my friend; "they are going to arrest you. Come to us." My mother called me and I opened her door with apprehension. She was sitting up in bed, propped high between the pillows: her face was livid and appeared thinner than ever. She too had heard the cries in the street, was aware of what had happened, and knew what was in store for us. Her haggard, harassed look inspired me with strength to face our fate. "Why don't you come here? Why can't we talk things over in here?" She did not mean to cause pain, but her words stabbed me. Poor dear mother! When Joseph Cavallier told her of his proposal she shook her head: "You live on the other side of the river, don't you? Don't let her go so far." Suddenly she recovered herself and turned to me: "It is raining hard and I heard you coughing so badly all day." The others had followed us into her room, and all had something to say. My sister-in-law mentioned her brother Zsigmondy who lived near by: he had offered me shelter in his home. My mother alone was silent. Though she could not say it, it was she who was most anxious for me to go. She looked at me imploringly. That decided me. " I t can only be a question of a day or two," I said. "Then, when they have failed to find me here, I can come back." Did I believe what I said? Did I imagine that things would happen like that? Or did I attempt to deceive myself so that I might bear it the more easily? I noticed a deep shadow that stole suddenly, I knew not whence, over my mother's face. It appeared on the other faces too, as if all of them had aged suddenly. And beyond them, around us, in the houses opposite, all over the town, people aged suddenly in that ghastly hour. They all went away and left me alone in my room. I knew I ought to hurry, yet I stood idle in front of the open cupboard. How many, I thought, are standing, hesitating like this to-night, how many are hurrying and running aimlessly about, not knowing whither to turn? Will it be the same here as in Russia? Quietly the door opened behind me: my mother had risen and came to me so that we might be together as long as possible. "I will take just a few things, very few, "I kept repeating, as if I wanted to force the hand of fate to make my trial short. "Perhaps I may be able to come home to-morrow..." My mother did not answer. She tied the parcels together for me. "The housekeeper must not know till to-morrow morning that you have gone..." She looked out into the anteroom to see that no one was about, then opened the door herself and accompanied me down the corridor. The house seemed asleep, the sky was black, and the courtyard underneath was like a dark shaft in which rain-water had accumulated. Leaning on my arm my mother walked along with me. In silence both of us struggled to keep control over our emotions. At the front door we stopped. Nothing was audible but the patter of the rain. My mother raised her hand and passed it over my face, caressingly, as though she would feel the outlines that she knew so well. "Take every care of yourself, my dear, dear one!" I was already running down the stairs. She was leaning over the balustrade, and I heard her voice behind me, keeping me company as long as possible, calling softly, "Good-night!" "Good-night..." I called back, but my voice failed me in a pain such as I had never felt before. Beyond the street door there was a rattle of gunfire. I tried to keep cheerful, and kept saying: "To-morrow I shall come back to her, to-morrow." I groped my way across the dark yard and knocked at the concierge's window. He came out, looking curiously at me in the glare of his lantern: "There is a lot of shooting out there. It would be wiser to stay at home." But I shook my head and the key turned in the lock; the door opened stealthily, and closed carefully behind me, as though unwilling to betray me. Next instant I stood alone in the rain. I shuddered: my retreat was cut off. Home, everything that was good, everything that protected me, was behind that door, beyond my reach. Motor horns, human shouts, rang here and there in the distance, whilst the rain poured in streams in the broken gutters. The road seemed absolutely empty. Suddenly I heard steps on the other side of the street. They had not approached from the distance but had started quite near by; someone must therefore have stepped from out of the shadow of the house opposite. Had he been waiting there spying on me? The steps became hurried, passed me, crossed the street. A dark shape hugged the wall under the recess of a door. No bell was rung. I stopped for an instant: the incertitude of the past few weeks reappeared. The knowledge of being watched, pursued, the torture of being deprived of my freedom, made me catch my breath. The threat had followed me so long, appearing and disappearing in turn, menacing me from under every porch, from every dark corner. Should I fly from i t ? Should I turn down a by-street? Suddenly I felt tired and ill : my pulses were leaden and my brain seemed weighed down with heavy stones. For an instant I contemplated giving in. I seemed to be of so little significance compared with the enormity of universal misfortune. The crash of general collapse had drowned the small moans of individual fates. The shadow suddenly emerged from under the porch and barred my way. We stared at each other. Then a well-known voice said, "Is it you?" It was my brother Béla, who had been watching for me so that he might accompany me. Only a few lamps were alight on the boulevard, and our heels crushed the fragments of glass from the broken ones. Empty cartridge cases shone in the puddles. Machine-guns stood in the middle of the street. Some men passed, carrying a red flag; then a lorry, bristling with bayonets, rumbled heavily by, full of armed sailors. One of these shouldered his rifle and aimed at us. He did not shoot, and when for an instant he appeared in the light of a lamp before the darkness swallowed him again, I could see the bestial grin which contorted his face. The lorry disappeared, but we could hear his voice shouting something in Russian. There are many of these here to-day. "A bourgeois, to hell with h i m ! " The cry of Moscow fills Budapest. Frightened forms ran across the openings of the streets on the other side, and the air was filled with wild movements and lurching fear. At last I rang the bell of the front door which was to shelter me, and my brother wished me Godspeed and turned back. It was some moments before the door opened, and a woman came along, dragging her feet. She looked at me suspiciously and seemed frightened. Where was I going? I murmured something, crammed some money into her hand, and brushed past her. Here too the courtyard was absolutely dark. I hesitated in front of the door of one of the flats: something urged me to go on, something else drew me back. At last I knocked, and a friendly face appeared. The table was still laid under the welcoming light of a swinging lamp: how peaceful was the sight of that quiet little home after the howling, dirty, soaking street! Michael Zsigmondy and his wife welcomed me, but whether or not they had expected me I cannot say; at all events they seemed to consider it quite a natural thing that I should have come. ...

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