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Men in War by Andreas Latzko

Part 3 out of 3

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stood still, deeply stirred by the sight of the stables, only a few feet
away, and inside, in the twilight, the gleam of his favorite horse's
flanks. He was about to turn off the path and make for the stable door
when far away down below, at the other end of the large place, he saw a
woman coming from the brickyard. She wore a dotted red silk kerchief on
her head and carried her full figure proudly, and the challenging sway
of her hips billowed her wide skirts as the wind billows a field of ripe

John Bogdan stood stockstill, as if some one had struck him on the
chest. It was Marcsa! There was not another girl in the whole country
who walked like that. He threw his luggage to the ground and dashed off.

"Marcsa! Marcsa!" his cry thundered out over the broad courtyard.

The girl turned and waited for his approach, peering curiously through
half-closed eyes. When almost face to face with her Bogdan stood still.

"Marcsa!" he repeated in a whisper, his gaze fastened upon her face
anxiously. He saw her turn pale, white as chalk, saw her eyes leap to
and fro uneasily, from his left cheek to his right cheek, and back
again. Then horror came into her eyes. She clapped her hands to her
face, and turned and ran away as fast as her legs would carry her.

In utter sadness Bogdan stared after her. That was exactly the way he
had imagined their meeting again since Julia, the station-guard's wife,
the woman he had grown up with, had not recognized him. But to run away!
That rankled. No need for her to run away. John Bogdan was not the man
to force himself on a woman. If he no longer pleased her now that he was
disfigured, well, then she could look for another man, and he, too--he
would find another woman. He wasn't bothered about that.

This was what he had wanted to tell Marcsa.

He bounded after her and overtook her a few feet from the machine shop.

"Why do you run away from me?" he growled, breathless, and caught her
hand. "If you don't want me any more, you need only say so. What do you
think--I'm going to eat you up?"

She stared at him searchingly--in uncertainty. He almost felt sorry for
her, she was trembling so.

"How you look!" he heard her stammer, and he turned red with anger.

"You knew it. I had them write to you that a shell hit me. Did you think
it made me better-looking? Just speak straight out if you don't want me
any more. Straight wine is what I want, no mixture. Yes or no? I won't
force you to marry me. Just say it right away--yes or no?"

Marcsa was silent. There was something in his face, in his one eye, that
took her breath away, that dug into her vitals like cold fingers. She
cast her eyes down and stammered:

"But you have no position yet. How can we marry? You must first ask the
master if he--"

It was as if a red pall woven of flames dropped in front of John
Bogdan's eyes. The master? What was she saying about the master? He
thought of the humpback, and it came to him in a flash that the fellow
had not lied. His fingers clutched her wrist like a pair of glowing
tongs, so that she cried out with the pain.

"The master!" Bogdan bellowed. "What has the master got to do between
you and me? Yes or no? I want an answer. The master has nothing to do
with us."

Marcsa drew herself up. All of a sudden a remarkable assurance came to
her. The color returned to her cheeks, and her eyes flashed proudly. She
stood there with the haughty bearing so familiar to Bogdan, her head
held high in defiance.

Bogdan observed the change and saw that her gaze traveled over his
shoulder. He let go her hand and turned instantly. Just what he thought
--the master coming out of the machine shop. His old forester, Toth,
followed him.

Marcsa bounded past Bogdan like a cat and ran up to the lord and bent
over and kissed his hand.

Bogdan saw the three of them draw near and lowered his head like a ram
for attack. A cold, determined quiet rose in him slowly, as in the
trenches when the trumpeter gave the signal for a charge. He felt the
lord's hand touch his shoulder, and he took a step backward.

What was the meaning of it all? The lord was speaking of heroism and
fatherland, a lot of rubbish that had nothing to do with Marcsa. He let
him go on talking, let the words pour down on him like rain, without
paying any attention to their meaning. His glance wandered to and fro
uneasily, from the lord to Marcsa and then to the forester, until it
rested curiously on something shining.

It was the nickeled hilt of the hunting-knife hanging at the old
forester's side and sparkling in the sunlight.

"Like a bayonet," thought Bogdan, and an idea flashed through his mind,
to whip the thing out of the scabbard and run it up to the hilt in the
hussy's body. But her rounded hips, her bright billowing skirts confused
him. In war he had never had to do with women. He could not exactly
imagine what it would be like to make a thrust into that beskirted body
there. His glance traveled back to the master, and now he noticed that
his stiffnecked silence had pulled him up short.

"He is gnashing his teeth," it struck him, "just like the tall Russian."
And he almost smiled at a vision that came to his mind--of the lord also
getting a smooth face and astonished, reproachful eyes.

But hadn't he said something about Marcsa just then? What was Marcsa to

Bogdan drew himself up defiantly.

"I will arrange matters with Marcsa myself, sir. It's between her and
me," he rejoined hoarsely, and looked his master straight in the face.
_He_ still had his mustache, quite even on the two sides, and
curling delicately upwards at the ends. What was it the humpback had
said? "One man goes away and lets his head be blown off." He wasn't so
stupid after all, the humpback wasn't.

What Bogdan said infuriated the master. Bogdan let him shout and stared
like a man hypnotized at the nickeled hilt of the hunting-knife. It was
not until the name "Marcsa" again struck his ear that he became

"Marcsa is in my employ now," he heard the lord saying. "You know I am
fond of you, Bogdan. I'll let you take care of the horses again, if you
care to. But Marcsa is to be let alone. I won't have any rumpus. If she
still wants to marry you, all well and good. But if she doesn't, she's
to be let alone. If I hear once again that you have annoyed her, I'll
chase you to the devil. Do you understand?"

Foaming with rage, Bogdan let out the stream of his wrath.

"To the devil?" he shouted. "You chase me to the devil? You had first
better go there yourself. I've been to the devil already. For eight
months I was in hell. Here's my face--you can tell from my face that I
come from hell. To play the protector here and stuff your pockets full
and send the others out to die--that's easy. A man who dawdles at home
has no right to send men to the devil who have already been in hell for
his sake."

So overwhelming was his indignation that he spoke like the humpback
Socialist and was not ashamed of it. He stood there ready to leap, with
tensely drawn muscles, like a wild animal. He saw the lord make ready to
strike him, saw his distorted face, saw the riding-crop flash through
the air, and even saw it descending upon him. But he did not feel the
short, hard blow on his back.

With one bound he ripped the hunting-knife out of the scabbard and
thrust it between the lord's ribs--not with a long sweep, so that some
one could have stayed his arm before he struck. Oh, no! But quite
lightly, from below, with a short jerk, exactly as he had learned by
experience in battle. The hunting-knife was as good as his bayonet. It
ran into the flesh like butter.

Then everything came about just as it always did. John Bogdan stood with
his chin forward and saw the lord's face distorted by anger suddenly
smooth out and turn as placid and even as if it had been ironed. He saw
his eyes widen and look over at him in astonishment with the reproachful
question, "What are you doing?" The one thing Bogdan did not see was the
collapsing of the lord's body, for at that instant a blow crashed down
on the back of his head, like the downpour of a waterfall dropping from
an infinite height. For one second he still saw Marcsa's face framed in
a fiery wheel, then, his skull split open, he fell over on top of his
master, whose body already lay quivering on the ground.

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