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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 7. The Dead Man's Vote
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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 7. The Dead Man's Vote Post by :redeagle Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :1527

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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 7. The Dead Man's Vote



I do not think it necessary to particularly describe the borough for which I was nominated as a candidate for Parliament. If you know one, you know all. There were factions, of course, ranged into parties, one of which drank deep, while the other drank deeper still. There are a good many nationalities in this particular district, and they are distinguished by the liquor they prefer. The Slavs drink whiskey; the Suabians or Germans, beer; the Ugro-Fins or Hungarians, wine; and the more intelligent and cultivated of all the races show their agreement in matters of taste by drinking, alternately, wine, beer, or whiskey, with equal relish. Jehovah's own chosen people, considering it much more prudent and hospitable to serve the liquid to others than to drink it themselves, furnish all parties with the wished-for fluid, according to individual taste, and find the transaction even more satisfactory and profitable than drinking in itself.

If Dante had visited Hungary, and had seen my particular borough in election-time, he would not have omitted it in his description of hell.

Yet the highly respectable voters expect a substantial confirmation of their patriotic convictions, and some of them are not fully persuaded until four or five angels (golden, of course) come to enlighten their minds. Others refuse to listen even to the sweet voices of these angels, and wait obstinately for the mightier spirits, emblazoned on fifty and one hundred florin bank-bills. Others, again, are to be had only _en bloc_--that is, in company with their friends and connections, and only just at the last moment, when the bidding is highest; and so tender is their conscience that they listen to the persuasions of all parties with equal earnestness, and it takes much to convince and win them over.

It is a matter of course that the nominated candidate of each party is far above such negotiations, and, although he owns that it has come to his knowledge that his antagonist actually stooped to bribery in order to defend his weak cause, yet he himself will never condescend to meet the man on that ground. If his own moral integrity, the lofty standing of his party, and his party's principles, will not secure the victory for him, why, then there is no honesty and patriotism in this decayed age, and the patriotic cause is lost!

At every election, as you well know, are a number of kind, disinterested, active, and zealous party members, indefatigably busy in securing and collecting votes, or, what is more essential, trying to win over the votes of the enemy. These very useful and highly respectable gentlemen are leaders or drum-majors, and they have a number of subalterns, not less useful, painstaking, and persuasive, only a little less gentlemanlike and less scrupulous, and perhaps not wholly disinterested as regards pecuniary gain. These are the election drummers, plain and simple.

Now at the election of which I am speaking there were two factions. I, as the champion of the Clerical-National-Conservative party, stood in opposition to the champion of the Panslavonic-Liberal-Reform party, and you may believe that we did all that was possible to defeat the opposing faction. My own party emblem was the red feather, that of my adversary the green feather; the national cockade we sported in common.

At six o'clock p.m. the green feathers were one vote ahead of us. "This is not to be endured!" shouted my head drummers, and "This is not to be endured!" was the war-cry of the subordinate drummers. But how could they help it? The lists were scrutinised again, and it was found that Toth Janos, the potter, had not voted. "Where is Toth Janos, the potter? and why did he not vote?" added my chief drummer. "Beg pardon," said one of the subalterns, "but the man was buried the other day."

"Well, that was a calamity. Is there no other Toth Janos in the village? The name is rather a common one."

"There is indeed, and he happens to live in the same house with the deceased, only he is not a voter, as he does not pay taxes; he is only a poor poultry-dealer. Still he is on the list as a carter, and the thing could be managed."

Toth Janos, the poultry-dealer, was sent for, but his voting in his own right was out of the question. So the drummers talked with him a long time, and they had glib tongues, and the aid of the ever-welcome angels. Toth Janos the poultry-dealer, who could not vote in his own name, voted as Toth Janos, the potter, but he had a great sacrifice to make. The deceased potter was nick-named the "gap-toothed," because he had lost his front teeth in a brawl. Now the poultry-dealer's front teeth were as sound as ivory, yet so great and effective were the persuasions of the "angels" that, in half an hour's time, Toth Janos, the poultry-dealer, so closely resembled Toth Janos, the potter, in outward appearance that no question concerning his identity was raised, and his vote was recorded.

Still, this was insufficient. True, we were now even with the foe, but we were compelled to show a majority, even if it consisted only of a single vote. If Richard III could offer "a kingdom for a horse," why should not we offer "1,000 florins for a vote?"

Somebody made the discovery that on the outskirts of the village, in an old tumble-down shanty of his own, lived a poor Jew with a lot of half-starved, forlorn-looking children, and a half-crazed, careworn, hard-working wife. The husband and father had been laid up with consumption for the last few months, and was daily expected to die. This poor wretch, who never in all his life had been the owner of an entire suit of decent clothes--for when he had a hat, he invariably lacked shoes, or when in possession of a coat, he was in sore want of a pair of trousers--this poor fellow had yet a fortune at his call, for he could bequeath to his family the 1,000 florins which we were willing to pay for his vote. All his life he had been as honest as he was poor, earning a miserable livelihood by setting glass panes in the village windows. Nobody had ever thought of getting his vote, still less had he himself thought of attaching any importance to the right he possessed as a taxpayer. Our drummers found the poor fellow just in the act of taking leave of this vale of care and sorrow; but they would not have been the smart fellows they were if they had not succeeded in defeating Death himself, and robbing him of his prey for as long as they needed. The dying man stared vacantly into their faces when they offered him this enormous sum of ready money, while his wife and children broke into a howl of despair that the offer had not come earlier, for how could a dying man leave his bed to vote? But my drummers were not to be beaten. They caught up the bedstead with the sufferer on it, and hastened with it to the tent where the votes were collected. The dying man had been made to understand that the bill of 1,000 florins which he saw would be given to his wife, if he would only pronounce my name when asked to whom he gave his vote, and he hold tight to his wife's hand, and met her appealing glance with something like assurance. Happily, he was still alive when brought to the urn, and the drummers announced that "the poor man was troubled in his conscience, and could not die unless the opportunity of fulfilling his patriotic duty was afforded him, so that he had begged them to bring him to the tent and allow him to vote." This touching little piece of news was received in the spirit in which it had been given, and just as the poor fellow in his agony was asked the name of his chosen candidate, Death came to claim his own. With a last look of sorrow and affection at his wife he sighed with his dying breath, "Du mein liebel"(1) ("Thou, my love!"), and expired.

(Footnote 1: The Jews in Hungary usually speak German among themselves.)

"'Nelly Dumany! Dumany Nelly!' he said," cried my drummers--"Nelly" being an abbreviation of Kornel, my Christian name--and since the "Du meine" really sounded like "Dumany" and not at all like "Belacsek," the candidate of the other party, and since the dead man could not be made to repeat his vote, whereas my drummers were ready to take their oath of the correctness of their assertion, the vote was credited to me, and I was declared elected by a majority of one vote, my suffrages being 1,501 in number, whereas my adversary had received only 1,500.

The case was afterward contested, and some witnesses endeavoured to prove that the dying man had not said, "Dumany Nelly," but "Du mein liebe"; yet there was the sworn statement of my drummers to the contrary, as well as the evidence of his wife and children that the man had been a devout and religious Jew, incapable of offending Jehovah by uttering German words with his last breath. He had simply pronounced my name in Jewish fashion, and eased his patriotic heart by voting for me. Itzig Maikaefer's vote was as sound as a nut and could not be rejected.

Not quite so sound, however, was the other dead man's vote--that of Toth Janos, the potter. We had sent his substitute, the poultry-dealer, with a cartload of odds and ends to Galicia, just to have him out of the way. We managed to make it difficult to prove which of the two men named Toth Janos had been buried two days before election-day by providing for the dead man's family, and sending them off to a remote place; and as the poultry-dealer (who was a widower without any family) did not return from Galicia for many weeks to come, everything seemed secure. But we had reckoned without our host, and did not take into consideration a possible treachery. The barber, a miserable wretch, whom we thought to be a true red-feather man, and who had been more than liberally paid for extracting the poultry-dealer's front teeth, and trimming his hair and beard into the semblance of those of the dead potter, went and blabbed of his work. A strict examination followed, the body of the potter was exhumed, and his identity proved to a certainty. Of course, no one dared to accuse me of foul play, but a new election was found necessary, and the day after I had first taken my seat as a member of the Hungarian Parliament, I was politely but firmly given to understand that I had no legal right to its possession, and had better go. This is the story of how I became to be called "the dead man's representative," and how I was a colleague of yours for a single day.

Yet this story I have told you cannot give anyone a fair or true estimate of me, or my character, or ability. Anybody who heard or read this story would suppose me to have been a vain, good-for-nothing sort of fellow, who had missed his degree at college and lacked the ability to fill any decent position, and therefore plunged into politics to make his living, or perhaps to squander the inheritance he had received from his ancestors. But, in reality, I had already, at the age of six-and-twenty, occupied the position of a well-qualified assistant physician, and at two-and-thirty the newspapers spoke of me as a famous specialist and a great light of the profession. As I was established in Vienna, where the competition is great, and Hungarians are pushed into the rear if possible, my reputation could not have been without some foundation at least. I was respectable and respected, very much in love with my profession, and did not care a straw for politics. So, in order to make you understand the change--nay, the entire revolution--which my outward and inward man, my entire existence, had experienced, I must acquaint you with a portion of my family troubles and domestic relations, and I shall have to speak of my Uncle Diogenes.

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