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from human habitation, and neither man nor beast ever spent the night in
the morass of the Hansag. Besides, they could have seen, from the top of
a tree, if any one were approaching. They could see in the bright
moonlight the long poplar avenue which led to Eszterhaza; and even a
gilded steeple might be seen gleaming in the Hungarian Versailles, which
was perhaps a two hours' ride distant.

Suddenly the sharp call, "_Qui vive?_" was heard. It was answered by a
sort of grunt, half-brute, half-human. Again the challenging call broke
the silence, and was followed in a few seconds by a gunshot. Then a wild
laugh was heard at some distance from the hill. De Fervlans hurried
toward the guard.

"What was it?" he asked.

"I don't know whether it was a wild beast or a devil in human form," was
the reply. "It was a strange-looking monster with a large head and
pointed ears."

"I 'll wager it is my runaway fish-boy!" exclaimed the marquis.

"When I challenged the creature he stood up on his feet, and barked, or
grunted, or whatever you might call it; and when I called out the second
time he seemed to strike fire with something; at any rate, he did not
act in the proper manner, so I fired at him. But I did n't hit him."

"I should be sorry if you had," responded the marquis. "I am convinced
that it was my little monster. I taught him to strike fire; and he was
evidently attracted by the light of our camp-fire."

Perhaps it would have been better had the guard shot the amphibious
dwarf. Hardly had De Fervlans returned to his seat when the adjutant
called his attention to a suspicious flashing in the morass a short
distance from the hill on which they were resting. Suddenly, while they
were watching the flashes of light, a column of flame rose toward the
sky, then another, and another - the morass was on fire in a dozen
places.

"Hell, and all devils!" shouted De Fervlans, springing toward his horse.
"The little monster has set the marsh-grass on fire, and it was I who
taught the devil's spawn how to use touchwood! Give chase to the
creature!"

But the order for a chase came too late. In ten minutes the reeds
growing about the hill were burning, and the demons were compelled to
use their spurs in order to speed their horses from the dangerous
conflagration.

They did not stop until they had reached the Valla plain - driven to
their mad gallop by the caricature of the "militiaman"!

"This is a pretty state of affairs!" grumbled De Fervlans. "Mire first,
then flames, bar our way. _Quis quid peccat, in eo punitur_ - he who sins
will be punished by his sin! I sinned in teaching that monster to strike
fire. It has made us lose four more hours."

The four hours were of some consequence to the fugitive maid and Ludwig
Vavel.

Dawn broke before the demons found the road between the groups of hills,
and when they reached it, they still had before them that half of the
Hansag which is formed by a series of small lakes.

De Fervlans now became anxious to shorten their route. A lakelet of
fifty or sixty paces in width is not an impassable hindrance for a
horseman. Therefore it was not necessary to ride perhaps a thousand
paces in making a detour of the lakelets - the demons must ride through
them. How often had he, when following a deer, swam with his horse
through just such a body of water. Only then it was autumn, and now it
was spring.

The flora of this marsh country has many species which hide underneath
the water, and in the springtime send their long stems and tendrils
toward the surface. De Fervlans was yet to learn that even plants may
become foes. Those of his demons who were the first to plunge into the
water suddenly began to call for help. Neither man nor beast can swim
through a network of growing plants; at every movement they become
entangled among the clinging tendrils and swaying stems, and sink to the
bottom unless promptly rescued. The men on shore were obliged to grasp
the tails of the struggling horses and draw them back to land. De
Fervlans, who could not be convinced that it was impossible to swim
across the narrow stretch of water, came very near losing his life among
the aquatic growths. There was now no likelihood of their reaching the
highway before sunrise.

There was still another hindrance. The fire in the morass had alarmed
the entire neighborhood, and the inhabitants were out, to a man,
fighting the flames which threatened their meadows. Therefore De
Fervlans, who wished to avoid attracting attention to his troop, was
obliged to make his way through thickets and over rough byways, which
was very tedious work.

It was noon when they arrived at the bridge which crossed the Raab half
a mile from Pomogy. At the farther end of this bridge was the
custom-house, which was also a public inn.

"We must rest there," said De Fervlans, "or our worn-out beasts will
drop under us."

Just as the troop rode on to the bridge, two men ran swiftly from the
custom-house toward the swampy lowland. Before they entered the marsh
they stopped, and bound long wooden stilts to their feet; and, thus
equipped, stepped without difficulty from one earth-clod to another. No
horseman could have followed them across the treacherous ground. De
Fervlans's adjutant became uneasy when he saw these two men, whose
actions seemed suspicious to him; but the marquis assured him that they
were only shepherds whose herds pastured in the marshes.

The troop dismounted at the inn, and demanded of the host whatever he
had of victuals and drinks. He could offer them nothing better than sour
cider, mead, and wild ducks' eggs. But when a demon is hungry and
thirsty, even these will satisfy him. De Fervlans, who had not for one
instant doubted that his expedition would be successful, spread out his
map and planned their further march. General Guillaume would have
received one of his letters at least, - he had sent two, with two
different couriers in different directions, - and would now be waiting at
Friedberg for the arrival of the demons and their distinguished captive.
Therefore the most direct route to that point must be selected. It was
not likely that any militia troops would be idling about that cart of
the country; and if there were, the demons could very easily manage
them.




CHAPTER III


One of the two men who crossed the morass on stilts was Master Matyas,
whose distance marches during this campaign were something phenomenal.
Matyas found Count Vavel with his troop already at Eszterhaza, and
apprized him at once of De Fervlans's arrival at the bridge-inn. The
Volons had not yet rested, but they had traveled over passable roads,
and were not so exhausted. Their leader at once gave orders to mount.

When Ludwig saw that Katharina also prepared to accompany the troop, he
hurried to her side.

"Don't come any farther, Katharina," he begged. "Remain here, where you
will be perfectly safe. Something might happen to you when we meet the
enemy."

Katharina's smiling reply was:

"No, my dear friend. I have paid a very high entrance-fee to see this
tragedy, for that you will kill Barthelmy Fervlans I am as certain as
that there is a just God in heaven!"

"But _your_ presence will make me fear at a moment when I must not feel
afraid - afraid for your safety."

"Oh, don't trouble about yourself. I know you better. When you come in
sight of the enemy you will forget all about _me_. As for me, I am going
with you."

The troop now set out on the march through the poplar avenue. When they
drew near to Pomogy, Vavel sent a squad in advance to act as
skirmishers, while he, with the rest of his men, took possession of a
solitary elevation near the road, which was the work of human hands. It
was composed of the refuse from a soda-factory, and encircled on three
sides a low building. Vavel concealed his horsemen behind this
artificial hillock, then, accompanied by Katharina, he ascended to the
top to take a view of the surrounding country.

He could see through his field-glass the bridge across the Raab and the
inn at the farther end. The entire region was nothing but morass. A
trench ran from the highway toward Lake Neusiedl; it could be traced by
the dense growth of broom along its edges.

"You are my adjutant," jestingly remarked Vavel to Katharina. "I am
going down now; for if I should be seen here it will be known what is
behind me. You are a farmer's wife, and will not arouse suspicion; stop
here, therefore, and take observations with my glass, and keep me
informed of what happens."

The Marquis de Fervlans was enjoying a tankard of foaming mead when his
adjutant came hastily into the room with the announcement that some
troopers were approaching the bridge on the farther side of the river.
De Fervlans hurried from the inn and gave orders to mount. As yet only
the crimson hats of the troopers could be seen above the tall reeds on
the farther shore.

"Those are Vavel's Volons," said De Fervlans, taking a look through his
glass. "I recognize the uniform from Jocrisse's description. Madame
Themire has turned traitor, and sent the count to deal with me instead
of coming herself. Very good! We will show the gentleman that war and
star-gazing are different occupations. He was a soldier once; but I
don't think he paid much attention to military tactics, else he would
not have neglected to occupy yon hill, on which I see a peasant woman
with a red kerchief over her head. That is an old soda-factory - I know
the place well. I should n't wonder if Vavel had concealed some men
there after all! That small body coming this way is evidently bent on a
skirmishing errand. Well, our tactics will be to lure him from his
concealment."

He held a consultation with his subordinates; after which he turned
toward the waiting demons, and called:

"Signor Trentatrante!"

The man came forward - a true type of the gladiator of the Vatican.

"Dismount," ordered the marquis. "Take thirty men, and proceed on foot
to the farther side of yon thicket, where you will lie in ambush until I
have begun an assault on the soda-factory over yonder. The men in hiding
there will show up when we approach; I shall then pretend to retreat,
and lure them toward the thicket. You will know what to do then - fall
upon them in the rear. When you have arrived at the thicket let me know.
Set fire to that tallest clump of reeds near the willow-shrubs."

"All right!" returned the signor. Then he selected thirty of his
companions, who also dismounted, and they started at once to obey the
orders of their leader.

The "peasant woman with a red kerchief over her head," who was standing
on the soda-factory hill, called in a low, clear tone to Ludwig:

"De Fervlans is coming with his troop."

"Then we must prepare a greeting for him," responded Vavel. He ordered
his men into their saddles, then sallied forth with them to meet the
enemy.

The two bodies of soldiers moving toward each other were very nearly
alike in numbers. Neither seemed to be in a particular hurry to begin an
assault. Suddenly a column of smoke rose from the thicket near the
bridge - it was the signal De Fervlans was waiting for. He gave orders to
halt. The next instant there was a rattling salute from the demons'
carbines. The "peasant woman" on the hill covered her face with both
hands and shivered. The messengers of death flew about the head of her
lover, but left him unharmed.

Vavel now moved nearer to the attacking foe, and himself made straight
for the leader. One of De Fervlans's lieutenants, however, a thick-set,
sun-browned Sicilian, met the count's assault. There was a little
sword-play, then Vavel struck his adversary's blade from his hand with a
force that sent it whizzing through the air, and with his left hand
thrust the Sicilian, who was reaching for his pistols, from the saddle.

Nor had Vavel's companions been idle the while. The first assault was a
success for the count's troop. De Fervlans now ordered a retreat. The
death-heads looked upon this as a victory, and eagerly pursued the
retreating foe. But the woman on the hill had already perceived that the
retreat was but a feint. She saw the demons crouching among the reeds in
the thicket, and guessed their intention.

"Vavel!" she shouted at the top of her voice, "Vavel, take care! Look to
your rear!"

She imagined that her lover would hear her amid the tumult of the fight.

But Vavel had ears and eyes only for what was in front of him. Nearer
and nearer he approached to the trap De Fervlans had laid for him. He
was in it! The trench was behind him now, and the demons in ambush were
preparing to spring upon their prey.

Katharina could look no longer. She ran down the hill, sprang on her
mule, and galloped after her lover.

De Fervlans's retreat was conducted in proper order, step by step, from
earth-clod to earth-clod.

Suddenly Katharina discovered that a mule was an obstinate beast. The
one she was riding stopped abruptly, and would not advance another step.
In vain she urged and coaxed. At last she sprang from the saddle, and on
foot made her way toward the scene of the fray.

At this moment the demons creeping steathily along the trench sprang
from their concealment, their bayonets ready for action. They were on
the point of firing a volley into the black backs of the Volons, when a
rattling fire in their own rear brought down half of them dead and
wounded. The uninjured on turning found themselves confronted by Satan
Laczi and his comrades, who, black and slimy from their passage through
the morass, sprang like tigers upon the foe.

"Strike for their heads!" commanded Satan Laczi, as, with sabers drawn,
the ex-robbers rushed upon the bewildered demons, who had at last met
their match.

When De Fervlans heard the firing in the neighborhood of the trench, he
believed it to come from the muskets of his own men, and quickly sounded
an attack. The demons, who had been feigning to retreat, now turned and
met their pursuers, and a hand-to-hand conflict began.

Vavel also had heard the firing behind him, and believed himself
surrounded by the enemy. He beckoned to his trumpeter, to whom he wished
to give orders to sound a retreat, but the man's horse unfortunately
stumbled, and threw his rider to the earth. Three demons, at once sprang
to capture the fallen trumpeter; but Vavel, who knew how necessary the
man was to him, hastened to his assistance.

De Fervlans in amazement watched this unequal encounter. A masterly
conflict arouses admiration even in an enemy; and Vavel certainly
proved himself a master in the art of fighting.

He fought in cold blood; he was not in the least excited. He made no
unnecessary thrusts, but wounded his three adversaries in the hand, the
elbow, the forearm, whereby he rendered them incapable of further
combat. De Fervlans saw how his skilled demons gave way before Vavel's
masterly thrusts, while the Volons drew their unfortunate trumpeter from
beneath his horse, and assisted him to mount again, after they had also
helped the horse to his feet.

But the trumpet was now useless; it was filled with mud. Consequently a
signal for retreat could not be sounded.

A dense mass of wild-hop vines inclosed the eastern side of the scene of
action. De Fervlans glanced impatiently toward this green wall. The
armed men who should penetrate it would decide the victory.

Even as the thought flashed through his brain, the tangle of vines began
to shake violently; but the first man to appear therefrom was not Signor
Trentatrante, as De Fervlans had expected, but Satan Laczi, with his
ferocious followers.

The attack from this point was so unexpected that De Fervlans for a
moment seemed stupefied; then quickly recovering himself, he dashed into
the thick of the fight, Vavel following his example. By this time the
trumpet had been cleansed, but no orders were received for a retreat
signal; instead, the sound it shrilled above the fearful turmoil was:
"Forward! forward!"

With the blood pouring from a gaping wound in his head, Satan Laczi,
swinging a saber he had captured from a foe, now rushed to meet De
Fervlans, who at once recognized the former robber.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, preparing to meet the furious onslaught, "you have
not yet found your way to the gallows!"

"No; here in Hungary only traitors are hanged," retorted Satan Laczi, in
a loud voice, as, with a mighty leap that would have done credit to a
horse, he sprang toward the marquis, caught the reins from his hands,
and with true robber-wit called: "Surrender, brother-rascal!"

De Fervlans raised himself in his stirrups and brought his saber
savagely down on the robber's head. This was the second serious cut
Satan Laczi had received that day, and was evidently enough to calm his
enthusiasm. He staggered to one side, made several vain attempts to
straighten himself, then fell suddenly to the earth. His own blade,
however, remained in the breast of De Fervlans's horse, where he had
thrust it to the hilt.

The marquis hardly had time to leap from the saddle before the poor
beast fell under him.

All seemed lost now. His men were confused and thrown into disorder. In
desperation he tore his pistols from the saddle of his fallen horse.
Only a single shrub separated him from his enemy, - twenty paces, - and De
Fervlans was a celebrated shot.

Count Vavel saw what was coming, and he too drew his pistol.

"Good night, Chevalier Vavel!" in a mocking tone called De Fervlans, as
his finger pressed the trigger. There was a sharp report, the ball
whistled through the air - but Vavel did not fall.

"Accept _my_ greeting, marquis!" responded Vavel, He raised his pistol,
and fired without taking aim. De Fervlans fell backward to the ground.




CHAPTER IV


When De Fervlans's men saw that their leader had fallen they retreated
toward the bridge, where a portion of the troop alighted and held at bay
their pursuers, while the rest tore up and flung into the stream the
planks of the bridge. Then the men who had prevented the Volons from
following crossed on foot the narrow lengthwise beam to the opposite
shore - a feat impossible for a man on horseback.

The spot where the fiercest fighting had occurred was already cleared
when Katharina arrived upon it. She shuddered with horror, and staggered
like one who walks in his sleep as she moved about the desert place.

Suddenly she came upon a large wild-rose bush covered with bloom. Close
by it lay a horse with the hilt of a sword protruding from his breast.
Near the dead animal lay a metal helmet ornamented with the gilded
imperial eagle, and a little farther on lay a mud-stained form in a
uniform of coarse gray cloth, with a gaping wound in his head; his left
hand clutched the rushes among which he had fallen. As Katharina, in her
peasant gown, moved timidly across the open space, she heard a voice say
faintly in Hungarian:

"For God's sake, good woman, give me a drink of water."

Without stopping to question whether he was friend or foe, Katharina
caught up the metal helmet to fetch the water.

There was water everywhere about her, but it was the filthy water of
the morass.

Katharina remembered having heard that the shepherds of the Hansag, when
they were thirsty, cut a reed and thrust it deep into the swampy earth,
when clear, drinkable water would rise from the lower soil. She
therefore thrust a long cane into the moist earth, then put her lips to
it, and sucked up the water. On removing her lips a clear stream shot
upward from the cane. She held the helmet under this improvised fountain
until it was full, then returned with it to the rose-bush.

The wounded man was lying on his back, his bloodstained face upturned
toward the sky. Katharina knelt by his side, and held the helmet to his
lips.

"Themire!" gasped the wounded man.

At sound of the name a sudden fury seemed to seize the woman.

"De Fervlans!" she cried, in a hoarse voice. "_You!_ you, the accursed
destroyer of my daughter! May God refuse to forgive you for making of me
the wretched creature I am!"

As she spoke she raised the helmet, of water above her head, as if she
would dash it upon the dying man's face; but he turned his head away
from her furious gaze, and did not stir again.

Slowly Katharina lowered the helmet, and struggled with her excited
feelings. She looked about her, and saw another motionless form lying
across a clump of turf. Perhaps he was still alive. Perhaps she might
help him.

She stepped quickly to his side with the helmet of water and washed the
blood and mud-stains from his face. Ah, what a hideous face it was! All
the same, she carefully washed it, then bathed the gaping wounds in his
head. They were horribly deep, and she was almost overcome by the
fearful sight. But she looked upward for a moment, and it seemed to her
as if she recognized amid the fleecy clouds a snow-white form, and heard
an encouraging voice say:

"That is right, mother. I, too, performed such work."

Then she took her handkerchief and bound it around the wounded man's
head. While so doing her eyes fell on the steel ring on his thumb.

"Satan Laczi!" she exclaimed.

She put her arms around him, and lifted him to a more comfortable
position, wondering the while how he came to be there. Had he failed to
find Marie, whom he was to accompany to Raab? Had Cambray, perhaps,
prevented her from leaving the castle?

She bent over the wounded man and said:

"Satan Laczi, awake! Look up - come back to life!"

And Satan Laczi was such an obedient fellow, he opened his eyes and saw
the lady kneeling by his side.

Then he opened his lips, and said in a very weak voice:

"I should like a drink of water."

Katharina made haste to fill the helmet again at her fountain.

"Thank you, sister."

"Look at me, Laczi bácsi;" commanded Katharina, in a cheerful tone.
"Don't you know me? I am the woman who gave shelter to your wife and
child. I am little Laczko's foster-mother."

The wounded man smiled faintly, and murmured: "Yes, yes - Laczko - Laczko
is a fine lad! He came near - shooting me because - because of the maid."

"Tell me what you know about the maid," eagerly questioned Katharina.
"Where is she?"

The wounded man opened his eyes, and seemed to be trying to recall
something. After a pause, he said slowly, and with evident difficulty:

"You need n't - trouble about the - pretty maid. Laczko is a brave
lad - and my wife - my wife is - an honest woman."

"Yes, yes, I know," returned Katharina. "A good lad, and an honest
woman. But tell me, in heaven's name, where is the maid?"

"The maid - Sophie Botta went with - my wife to Raab - they are there
now - and Laczko too."

How gently the lady bathed the wounded man's face and hands! How
carefully she renewed the bandages on the horrible wounds!

Ludwig Vavel, who hart approached noiselessly, stood and watched her
perform the labor of love. He saw, heard, and admired. Then he came
close to the kneeling woman, and clasped his arms around her.

"My Katharina! Oh, what a woman art thou!"




PART X

CONCLUSION


CHAPTER I


When Count Vavel returned from his skirmish with De Fervlans's demons,
he sent his betrothed at once to Raab, with instructions not to separate
herself again from Marie.

He had not been able to accompany Katharina on her journey, as he had
received marching orders immediately on his return to camp. On parting
with his betrothed, however, he had promised to pay a visit to her and
Marie at an early day, and to write to both of them daily.

The first part of his promise he had not been able to fulfil; his time
was too fully occupied with the duties of the field. But he sent
frequent messages to his loved ones; while every day, no matter where he
might be, he would be sure to receive his letter from Raab - one sheet
covered to the edges with Katharina's writing, and the other with
Marie's.

Their letters were always cheerful, and filled with hope and confidence
for the future. Ludwig fancied he could see the scene as Katharina
described it, when Marie had opened the steel casket.

He knew just how delighted the young girl had been when she beheld
nothing but ashes instead of the little garments, the documents, the
portraits, the bank-notes; and he could hear her joyous laugh on finding
herself relieved of the burden of her greatness. But what he could not
hear was Katharina reciting his brave exploits during the fierce
struggle on the Hansag, a recital Marie insisted on hearing every day.

Then the two, Marie and Katharina, would go every morning to church, to
pray for Ludwig, to ask God to protect him, and bring him safely back to


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