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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 12. The Devil's Hoof
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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 12. The Devil's Hoof Post by :redeagle Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :2121

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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 12. The Devil's Hoof


One morning my dear friend, Siegfried, came. "My dear Nell," he said, "we held a party meeting yesterday, and it was decided that you should be a candidate for Parliament. In fact, we have nominated you already."

"You are in a jocular mood, I suppose?" said I. "I do not understand an atom of legislation and politics."

"Neither do I; yet I fill my place in the House of Lords, so will you fill yours in the House of Commons. You need not stare at me, for I am not joking. I am fully in earnest, and, now that the chalice is set to your lips, you are bound to drain it."

"But I can't see why," said I. "I am not in the least fit for the position, and am not going to make a fool of myself. I am a doctor of medicine, not a legislator."

"And what does that matter, pray? The department of public health is very much in need of a radical reform, and you are the very man to advocate sanitary measures in Parliament. But this is all nonsense. Hungary is not yet in a position to have all departments represented by experts; what she wants at present is firmness to principle, strict party fealty. The demagogues, the heretics, and the Panslavonians of our country are preparing for a strong contest at the coming electoral struggle, and we Conservatives must strain every nerve to defeat them, and cause patriotism, religion, and aristocratic rights to triumph. Our party believes that you are the man to represent these principles, and you can't decline to accept such an honourable mission. Do you not love your country? Do you want her to become a prey to infidels, or Panslavonic conspirators, or to the mob? You would not have the descendants of the Hussites dominate Hungary? Are you not a Catholic Christian? You are brave; you have strong principles, and you are an excellent orator. You are the man we want, and there is an end of arguing."

"Very good! But there is a practical side to the question."

"Yes. If the other parties come off victorious, the agrarian movement will grow too fast for us. The Socialist rabble is preaching the assessment of all land, the abolition of the congrua taxes,(3) and the abolition of our feudal privileges. This is the prose or practical side of the question, my friend."

(Footnote 3: Congrua taxes are the taxes paid by the parish members to their curates or priests.)

"There is another still," I persisted, "and I must speak plainly. You know that I have no money for political enterprises. My own money is in official custody; but, even if it were not, and I had so much money at my disposal that I did not know what to set about in order to get rid of it, I should not waste it in buying myself a seat in Parliament. I remember well what politics did for my father, and how much it cost him. But, besides this recollection, the idea of corrupting the minds of the electors and of making drunken animals out of decent and intelligent labourers for two or three weeks is repulsive to me. It is entirely against my conscience."

"Now listen to me. In the first place, no one asks for a penny of your money, so it is no business of yours to inquire or care about it. What is the use of party funds, I might ask? Then, what have you to do with the details of the campaign? I am head-drummer, manager of the canvass. You need not give a single bottle of wine to anybody, unless you want to regale your friends here in your house; but that is quite a different thing, and has nothing to do with the election. There is one thing you must remember. If you offer venison and champagne to your electors, it is called a banquet, and the papers speak admiringly of your bountiful hospitality; but if you boil a sheep and open a barrel of sixpenny wine or beer for them, then you are bribing voters, and corrupting the minds of the innocent. So never trouble your head with a thought about these things. I have made a bargain with every hotel-keeper or inn-keeper in the whole county for that one day, and the voters may revel as they please--at their own expense; that is, a dinner may be had for two kreutzers, a supper for three, and the wine will be included in that price. Who can forbid an inn-keeper to sell cheap viands? You will have nothing to do with the whole business. Only, if some decent elector gets his head broken in the spree, you will plaster him up, or sew him up, as may be necessary. Up to the day of election you will not show yourself, and only put in your appearance when they come to fetch you with music and flags and all that flummery, and beg you to come and kindly accept the mandate, which the chairman of the party is dying to hand over to you. Then at the banquet you offer a toast to his Majesty the King, and afterward you will accept of the torchlight serenade, which your voters will give you, and perhaps speak a few gracious words; but that is not essential, and you may hold your peace. At any rate, with that serenade all your duties are ended."

"I should think they began with that--at least, according to my notion. No, I can't accept. I can't afford to loiter about in Budapest, and have everything here go to the dogs."

"What a greenhorn you are! You need not live in Budapest at all. If the chief of the party telegraphs you that some great division is coming on with respect to some important question, you go up, find the seat with your name on it, sit down, and, when your name is called, you shout 'yes' or 'no,' according to the party's views, and then you travel home again, and make your famous 'Lipto cheese.'"

"I have no intention of becoming a voting machine."

"There you are right. You are too spirited and much too talented for that. You will deliver your maiden speech amid universal applause, and become famous at once. You will be hated by the opposite parties, hated and feared, and that will only stimulate your courage. You will be a great man, and a blessing to your country. You can engage a trustworthy man to manage your estate, and do well under such an arrangement; and you will give your talent and your faculties to your country and your party. It is your duty, and you are not the man to shrink from an acknowledged duty. Besides, out of friendship for me, you cannot refuse. I have positively staked my word on your acceptance; and then there is a request from the party, with a hundred and twenty signatures. Look here!"

He showed me a sheet of writing, with a long list of badly-scrawled names underneath a few lines of writing. I still hesitated, when Siegfried smiled, and, taking from his pocket a little bit of a letter, perfumed with heliotrope, handed it to me.

"My aunt sends you this."

I broke the rose-coloured wax, and drew out a tiny piece of bristol-board with the signature of Countess Diodora Vernoeczy. Its contents were as follows:--

"Pray accept the nomination."

That was all. But what all the persuasions, all the allusions to country, race, patriotism, and religion had not effected, these few Hungarian words, written in a fine, aristocratic hand, did at once. They persuaded me, and I accepted. Yet I had never seen the lady who had written these words, and did not even know whether she was young or old, beautiful or ugly! She was a woman, and that sufficed. No! the Devil is not dead; here is his hoof.

How I triumphed and how I fell I have told you already. If I had the gift of Virgilius Maro, and could speak or write in hexameters, in such verses I would compose the "AEneid" of my career as a belligerent. As it is, you can read it all, described in somewhat unflattering language, in the Hungarian newspapers of the period. There is a whole history of bribery, corruption, intimidation, and similar crimes committed in my name, related in those papers, and you may read of the horrible fraud that was practised in offering the vote of a dead man. The epithets "cheat," "deceiver," "liar," and so forth were freely and frequently attached to my name; and then followed the shameful annulment of the election, and I was sent home--a broken, disgraced, snuffed-out wretch--a dead man, indeed!

There is something fearful, something terribly cruel and unjust, in such a moral cudgelling to death, for those who cast the stones are not a whit better than their victim. A common criminal, murderer, counterfeiter, or forger may procure a pardon, and rehabilitate himself in time; but a man that has furnished society with amusement and been laughed to death is never again allowed to hold up his head and show his face. I was nearly mad with shame and disgrace. What should I do with myself now--now that I was nothing but a broken tool--I, who might have been a scientific celebrity, a light in the profession? I could not go back to Vienna for very shame. A flouted, ridiculed man cannot be a doctor. A doctor must be respected, trusted, even revered, like a priest. For me there was nothing but to hide myself in my own house, shut the doors against everybody, and live the life of a hermit--the life of my Uncle Diogenes.

I need not have shut my doors; not a soul demanded admittance. I really think my dear friends made a circuit around my chateau when they had to pass through my village.

The first day I remained shut up in my room; the second I paced the garden walks in a furious rage; the third I noticed that I had shamefully neglected my uncle's dearly-cherished garden since I had abandoned myself to the mania of politics. The carefully tended Isabella grapes wound their tender twigs up and around an apple tree; the roses were full of water shoots; the American lilies choked up with dead nettles. Wasps' nests were hanging from the branches of the trees, and giant ants had built their pyramids on the foot-path; and the hedgehogs boldly invaded the lawn as I passed. As I strolled, my eye fell upon a little flower which I recognised as a favourite from my dear mother's garden; I observed a glowing alkermes, an Oriental corn-rose, then again an artichoke, overgrown with vile weeds. All at once I found myself working away with garden-knife, shovel, and spade, pruning, weeding, and tying up the twigs and branches, just as Uncle Diogenes had done.

By night I had smoked out the wasps, put the little bower to rights, and, hardly knowing how or why, I had gone into my uncle's turret-chamber instead of my own bedroom. And why not be as he had been? I asked myself. Here at least I could meet with no shame, no disappointment, and no deception. All was well. I should be a gardener in summer and a museum-keeper in winter, and so the time would pass with me as it passed with him. No doubt, in time, this solitary, secluded life would not be so irksome to me as now. The social instinct would die out; and, left to rural pleasures and occupations, the polish would be rubbed off me, and in appearance also I should be as my Uncle Diogenes had been. I gave up shaving, dressed shabbily, and ordered a dinner of pork and potatoes, which disgusted me. I ceased to drink wine, because I was no toper to enjoy drinking alone, and in the course of two or three days I had a hearty indigestion, which at least recalled me from my self-tormenting course so far as my inward man was concerned. In outward appearance I had a beard of a week's growth, wore a pair of coarse breeches and high top-boots, because in low boots I could not ramble about in garden and field as I did.

My valet was in despair; the good old man had known me for years, and was very faithful to me. Of course, he dared not ask questions, but he threw me such appealing glances that I was strongly tempted to pour out all my burning shame and rage to him, since I had nobody else to make a confidant of. It was a very, very miserable time, and it lasted something more than a week--a week, I say! I thought it a century at the least.

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