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An Outlaw's Diary: Revolution

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
The town was preparing for the Day of the Dead, and white chrysanthemums were being sold at the street corners. A mad, black crowd carried the flowers with it. This year there will not be any for the cemeteries: the quick adorn themselves with that which belongs to the dead. Flowers of the graveyard, symbols of decay, white chrysanthemums. A town beflowered like a grave, under a hopeless sky. Such is Budapest on the 31st of October, 1918. Between the rows of houses shabby, drenched flags wave on their staffs, and the pavement is covered with dirt. Torn bits of paper, pieces of posters, crushed white flowers mixed in the mud. The town is as filthy and gloomy as a foul tavern after a night’s debauch. This night Count Michael Károlyi’s National Council has grasped the reins of power. So low have we fallen! Anger and inexpressible bitterness assailed me. Against my will, with an irresistible obsession, my eyes were reading over and over again the inscriptions on strips of red, white, and green paper which were pasted on the shop windows in unceasing repetition: “Long live the Hungarian National Council”.... Who has wanted this council? Who has asked for it? Why do they stand it? Count Julius Andrássy, the Monarchy’s Minister for Foreign Affairs in Vienna, was clamouring desperately for a separate peace. The thought of it raised in my mind the picture of some distant little wooden crosses.... As if they came down from among the clouds.... Graves at the foot of the Carpathians, on the Transylvanian frontier, along the Danube. Fallen in the defence of Hungarian soil.... And now we forsake the mothers, wives and children of those who are buried there. The blood rushed to my face. Everything totters, even the country’s honour. The very war-news fluctuates wildly. Our heroes gain tragic, profitless victories on Mount Assolo, whilst on the plains of Venezia the army is already in retreat—along the Drina, the Száva and the Danube too. And here in the capital the soldiers are swearing allegiance to Károlyi’s National Council. What a mean tragedy! And over the empty royal castle, over the bridges, on the steamers on the Danube, flags are flying as if for a holiday. I reached the Elisabeth Bridge. In irregular ranks disarmed Bosnian soldiers marched past me, most of them carrying small military trunks on their shoulders. The little wooden boxes moved irregularly up and down in rhythm with their steps, which had lost their discipline. The soldiers cheer and cannot understand what it all means. But for all that: “Zivio!” They are allowed to go home, so they are going towards the railway station. A motor lorry came up the bridge towards me. The electric trams have stopped, and the whole road belonged to the lorry. It raced along furiously, noisily, like a crazy wild animal that has escaped captivity. Armed young ruffians and soldiers stood on it, shouting; and a boy, looking like an apprentice, lifted his rifle with an effort and fired it into the air. The boy was small, the rifle nearly as long as himself. Everything seemed so incredible, so unnatural. One of the Bosnians appeared to think so too, for he turned back as he went along. I can see him now, with his prematurely aged face under the grey cap. He shook his head and muttered something.