BY M. SADOVEAU
He was a terrible man, Cozma Racoare! When I say Cozma, I seem to seep do you know, I seem to see before me, a sinister looking man riding upon a bay horse ; two eyes like steel pierce through me; I see a moustache like twin sparrows. Fierce Rouman! He rode with a gun across his back, and with a knife an ell long, here, in his belt, on the left side. It was thus I always saw him. I am old, you know, nigh on a hundred, I have travelled much about the world, I have met various characters, and many people, but I tell you, a man like Cozma Racoare I have never seen! Yet he was not physically so terrible; he was a man of middle height, lean, with a brown face, a man like many another-ha! but all the same! only to have seen the eyes was to remember him. Terrible Rouman!
There was grief and bitterness m the land at that time. Turks and Greeks were overrunning the country on all sides, everywhere honest men were complaining-they were hard times! Cozma had no cares. To-day he was here, tomorrow one heard of him, who knows where! Every one fled before the storm, but he, good Lord, he never cared! They caught him and put him in chains. What need? He just shook himself, wrenched the bars with one hand, whistled to his horse, and there he was on the road again. Who did not know that Racoare had a charmed life? Ali, how many bullets were aimed at his breast! But in vain! It was said of him: only a silver bullet can slay him! Where do you see men like that nowadays? Those times are gone for ever.
Have you heard of the Feciorul Romancei? He was a fire-eater too! He robbed the other side of Muntenia, Cozma robbed this, and one night-what a night I-they both met at Milcov, exchanged booty, and were back in their homes before dawn. Were the frontier guards on the watch? Did they catch them as they rode? Why! Racoare's horse flew like a phantom, no bullet could touch him! What a road that is from here, across the mountains of Baran, to the frontier! Eh! to do it, there and back in one night, you mark my words, that's no joke! But that horse! That's the truth of the matter, that horse of Racoare's was not like any other horse. That's clear.
Voda-Calimbach had an Arabian mare, which his servants watched as the apple of his eye; she was due to foal. One night-it was in the seventh month-Cozma got into the stall, ripped open the mare and stole the foal. But that was not all he did! You understand the foal was wrapped in a caul. Racoare cut the caul, but he cut it in such a way as to split the foal's nostrils. And look, the foal with the split nostrils grew up in the dark fed upon nut kernels ; and when Cozma mounted it-well, that was a horse!
Even the wind, therefore, could not outdistance Cozma. On one occasion--I was a volunteer then-- Cozma woke to find himself within the walls of Probot, with volunteers inside and the Turks outside. The Turks were battering the walls with their guns. The volunteers decided to surrender the fortress. Coama kept his own counsel. The next day Cozma was nowhere to be found. But from the walls, up to the forest of Probot, was a line of corpses! That had been Racoare's road!
That is how it always was! His were the woods and fields! He recognized no authority, he did not know what fear was, nor love-except on one occasion, Terrible Rouman! It seems to me I can see him now, riding upon his bay horse.
At that time a Greek was managing the Vulturesht estate, and on this side, on our estate, within those ruined walls, there ruled such a minx of a Roumanian as I had never seen before. The Greek was pining for the Roumanian. And no wonder! The widow had eyebrows that met and the eyes of the devil-Lord! Lord! such eyes would have tempted a saint. She had been married, against her will, to a Greek, to I Dimitru Covas ; the Greek died, and now the lady ruled alone over our estate.
As I tell you, Nicola Zamfiridi, the Greek, was dying for the lady. What did that man not do, where did he not go, what soothsayers did he not visit, all in vain! The lady would not hear of it! She hated the Greek. And yet Nicola was not ill-favoured. He was a proud Greek, bronzed, with pointed moustache and curly beard. But still he did not please the widow!
One day, Nicola sat pondering in his room while he smoked. What was to be done? He most certainly wanted to marry, and to take her for his wife ; why would she not hear of it?
A few days before he had gone with Ciocirlie, the gipsy, and had sung desperately outside the walls. Alas, the courtyard remained still as stonel What the devil was to be done?
Boyar Nicola thought to himself: "You are not ugly, you are not stupid-what's the reason of it? Is she, perhaps, in love with some one else?" No. He watched for one whole night. Nobody entered, and nobody left the courtyard.
The boyar was angry. He rose, picked up a whip and went out. The grooms were grooming the horses in the yard.
"Is that horse supposed to be groomed?" he shouted, and slash! down came the whip on one of the grooms.
Farther on the gardener was resting from the heat.
"Is this how you look after the garden? Hey! " and swish! crack!
What next? Was it any use losing one's temper with the people? He went into the garden, and seated himself under a beautiful lime-tree. There, on the stone bench, he pondered again. His life was worthless if the woman he loved would not look at him! He watched the flight of the withered leaves in the still air; he heaved a sigh.
" Vasile! Vasile! " called the boyar. His voice rang sadly in the melancholy garden.
A sturdy old man came through the garden door, and went towards his master.
"Vasile;" said the boyar, "what is to be done? "
The old man eyed his master, then he, too, sighed and scratched his head.
"What is to be done, Vasile?"
"How should I know, master?"
"You must find something. Many people have advised me, now you suggest something. I got nothing out of that old witch, and Ciocirlie was no good ; cannot you propose something? "
"Do not desert me, Vasile! "
"H'm, master, I'll tell you something if you will give me something."
" Take a ducat of mine, Vasilica-speak! "
Vasile did not let himself be put off by the mention of one ducat. He scratched his head again.
"If I knew you would give me two ducats, master, or even three, or many-you understand -that's how it is! What will be, will be I say go right off to Frasini, go into the courtyard, through the courtyard into the lady's boudoir and steal her! That's what I say! "
"What are you talking about, good Vasile! Is it possible! " Vasile said no more. The boyar thought deeply, his hand on his forehead ; then he said
"That's what I must do, Vasile! I know what I have to do! Bravo you, good Vasile! "
"If only I knew I was to get two ducats reward! " sighed Vasile, scratching his head.
And that evening Boyar Nicola kept his word. He mounted his horse, took with him five companions from among the grooms, and started out to Frasini.
The forest shuddered with the whisper of the breeze of the autumn night. The men rode silently. From time to time could be heard the trumpeting of the cock, coming they knew not whence. Beyond lay silence. At last the widow's courtyard came into sight, black, like some heap of coal.
Like ghosts Nicola and his companions ap- proached the wall ; in silence they dismounted ; they threw rope-ladders over the top of the wall, climbed up and over to the other side. The horses remained tied to the trees.
Suddenly they heard cries. Boyar Nicola was not afraid. He hurried to the door-the doors were not shut. He passed along the corridor.
"Aha!" murmured the Greek. "Now I shall have the darling in my arms."
But suddenly a door was opened, and a bright sea of light illuminated the passage. Boyar Nicola was not frightened. He advanced towards the room. But he had scarcely gone two paces when there, on the threshold, stood the Sultana, with her hair undone, in a thin white petticoat and a white dressing jacket. With frowning brows she stood in the doorway looking at the boyar.
Nicola was beside himself. He would willingly have gone on his knees, and kissed her feet, so beautiful was she. But he knew if he knelt before her she would only mock him. He approached to embrace her.
"Hold! " cried the Sultana. "I thought there were thieves! Ha, ha! it is you, Boyar Nicola?" And suddenly, there in the light, she raised a shining scimitar in her right hand. Nicola felt a hard blow on the side of his head. He stood still. His grooms started to run, but one fell, yelling, and covered with blood. Just then a great noise was heard, and the lady's servants came in.
Nicola fled towards the exit followed by his four companions. Then on into the yard with scimitars flashing on their right and on their left. And once more they are on horseback fleeing towards Vulturesht.
There he dismounted, feeling very bitter, and entered the garden once more, and once more sat on the stone bench, and hid his face in his hands.
"Woe is me!" he murmured miserably. "How wretched is my life! What is to be done? What is to be done?"
He sat there in the October night tortured by his thoughts. Only the breeze carrying the mist from the fields disturbed him.
"Woe is me! How wretched is my life and he bent forward, his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees. " What a terrible woman! " he murmured again as he mused. "What eyes she has! Oh, Blessed Virgin! Oh, Blessed Virgin! Do not abandon me, for my heart is breaking! "
For some time he stayed there dreaming. After a while he rose and moved towards the house.
" What a terrible woman, and what eyes! "
In the house he once more called for Vasile.
"Good Vasile, I am undone! A terrible woman, good Vasile-she has burnt my heart and turned it to ashes! What is to be done? Do not leave me! Look, you understand, you shall have two of my ducats."
" I know what you have been through, master. She is a proud lady, there is no denying it! If I knew you would give me five ducats, or even six-but there, it's only an idea--'
"Speak, Vasile, good man, I will give you--What eyes! Woe is me! "
"Then I understand, master" says Vasile, "that you give me seven ducats, but you'll have to give seven times seven if you get her here at your hand-don't be afraid, master, it is not much -only seven times seven to have her here at your hand! I'll bring Cozma Racoare to you! As sure as you put the ducats into the palm of my hand, so sure will he put the Sultana into your arms, that's that "
Boyar Nicola was rather alarmed when he heard talk of Cozma Racoare, but afterwards he sighed and said:
Three days later Racoare came. Nicola was sitting on the stone bench in the garden under the lime-tree, smoking a pipe of fragrant tobacco. When he caught sight of the highwayman he sat gazing at him with startled eyes. Cozma came calmly along with his horse's bridle in his left hand. He wore top boots up to his knees with long steel spurs. A long gun was slung across his back. On his head was a black sheepskin cap. He walked unconcernedly as usual with knitted brows; his horse followed him with bent head.
Vasile, the boyar's agent, came up to the stone seat, scratching his head, and whispered with a grin:
"What do you say to this, master? Just take a look at him. He could bring you the devil himself! "
Boyar Nicola could not take his eyes off Cozma. The highwayman stopped and said:
" God be with you! "
"I thank you," replied Vasile. "God grant it!'
The boyar remained persistently silent.
" H'm! " murmured Vasile. "You have come to see us, friend Cozma?"
" I have come;" responded Racoare.
"On our business?"
Cozma spoke slowly, frowning ; wherever he might be no smile ever lit up his face.
"Ah, yes, you have come," slid the boyar, as if awaking from sleep. "Vasile, go and tell them to prepare coffee, but bring wine at once."
"Let them make coffee for one," said Cozma, "I never drink,"
Vasile went off grinning, after a side-glance at his master.
"Ah, you never drink! " said the boyar with an effort "So, so, you have come on our businesshow much? Ah, I am giving fifty ducats:'
"Good! " said Racoare quietly.
Vasile returned, smiling knowingly. The boyar was silent.
"Eh;" said Vasile, scratching his head, "how are you getting on? "
"Good Vasile, go and fetch the purse from under my pillow."
"No, there is no need to give me a purse," said the highwayman, " I have no need of money."
"What?" murmured the boyar. "Ah, yes! You do not need? Why? "
"The thing is to put the Sultana of Frasini into your arms-! hand you over the lady, and you hand me the money:"
Let's be brief!" cried Vasile, passing his hand through his hair. "One party gives the lady, the other the money. What did I tell you? Cozma would fetch you the devil from hell. From henceforth the lady is yours."
Racoare turned round, strode to the bottom of the garden, fastened his horse to a tree, drew a cloak of serge from his saddle, spread it out and wrapped himself in it.
" Well! Well! " groaned Boyar Nicola, breathing heavily. " What a terrible man! But I feel as though he had taken a load off my mind:'
Vasile smiled but said nothing. Later, when he was by himself, he began to laugh and whisper
" Ha, ha! He who bears a charmed life is a lucky man!"
The boyar started up as from sleep and looked fearfully at Vasile ; then he shook his head and relapsed into thought.
"Ah, yes!" he murmured, without understanding what he was talking about.
When night had fallen Cozma Racoare tightened his horse's girths and mounted. Then he said
"Boyar, wait for me in the glade at Vulturesht."
The gates were opened, the horse snorted and rushed forth like a dragon.
The full moon shone through the veil of an autumnal mist, weaving webs of light, lighting up the silent hills and the dark woods. The rapid flight of the bay broke the deep silence. Racoare rode silently under the overhanging woods with their sparse foliage ; he seemed like a phantom in the blue light.
Then he reached Frasini. Every one was asleep, the doors were shut. Cozma knocked at the door
"Who is there? ' cried a voice from within.
" Open! " said Racoare.
" Who are you?"
" Open! " shouted Cozma.
From within was heard a whispered:
"Open!" "Do not open!" "Open, it is, Cozma!"
A light shone through a niche in the wall above the door, and lighted up Cozma's face. Then a rustling sound became audible, the light was ex- tinguished, and the bar across the door rattled.
Cozma entered the empty courtyard, dismounted by the steps, and pushed open the door.
"The door is open," he murmured," the lady is not nervous."
In the dark corridor his footsteps and his spur. echoed as in a church. A noise was heard in on, of the rooms, and a bright light shone into the passage. The Sultana appeared in the doorway, dressed in white with her hair unplaited, witin frowning brows and the scimitar in her right hand.
"Who are you? What do you want?" she cried.
"I have come to fetch you," said Racoare shortly, "and take you to Boyar Nicola."
" Ah, you are not burglars? " said the lady, and raised her scimitar. "See here, you will meet the same fate as your Nicola! "
Racoare took a step forward, calmly seized the scimitar, squeezed the lady's fist, and the steel blade flew into a corner. The lady sprang quickly back, calling:
" Gavril! Niculai! Toader l Help!"
Voices were heard, and the servants crowded into the passage, and stood by the door. Racoare approached the lady, and tried to seize her. She avoided him, and caught up a knife from the table.
"What are you doing, you boobies? Help! Seize him, bind him! "
"Don't talk nonsense-I see you are not frightened ; I cannot do other than I am doing! " said Racoare.
Then the servants murmured again:
"How can we bind him! It is Racoare. He is here! Cozma Racoare, lady! "
"Cowards! " cried the lady, and threw herself upon Cozma.
The highwayman took her arm, pressed her hands together, tied them with a leather strap, and lifted her under his arm like a bundle.
" Get out of the way! " he said then, and the people fell over each other as they scattered to either side,
"What a pearl among women!" thought Cozma, while he strode along the corridor with the lady under his arm, "he has not bad taste, that Boyar Nicola! Proud woman! "
The Sultana looked with eyes wide with horror at the servants who gave way on either hand in their terror. She felt herself held as in a vice. At last she raised her eyes to Racoare's fierce face.
The light from the room was reflected in the man's steely eyes, and lit up his weather-beaten face.
" Who are you? " she gasped.
"I? Cozma Racoare."
The lady gave another glance at the servants huddled in the corners, and she said not another word. Now she understood.
Outside, the highwayman mounted the bay, placed the lady in front of him, and set spurs to his horse. Once more the sound of the galloping horse broke the silence of the night.
"What a pearl among women! " thought Racoare, and the horse sped along the road like a phantom.
The lady turned her head, and studied Racoare by the light of the moon.
"Why do you look at me like that, lady?" And the horse sped along under the overhanging woods.
The black hair of the lady shone in great billows of light. The foliage glistened with hoarfrost, like silver-leaf. The lady looked at the highwayman and shuddered, she felt herself squeezed in his powerful arms, and her eyes burnt like two stars beneath the heavy knitted brows,
" Why do you look at me like that, lady? Why do you shiver? Are you cold?"
The galloping hooves thundered through the glades, the leaves glittered in their silver sheen, and the bay passed on like a phantom in the light.
A shadow suddenly appeared in the distance.
"What is that yonder?" questioned the lady.
"Boyar Nicola awaits us there," replied Racoare.
The lady said no more. But Cozma felt her stiffen herself. The leather strap was snapped, and two white hands were lifted up. The highwayman had no time to stop her. Like lightning she seized the bridle in her right hand, and turned the horse on the spot, but her left arm she twined round Racoare's neck, The highwayman felt the lady's head resting against his breast, and a voice murmured softly
" Would you give me to another? "
And the horse flew like a phantom through the blue light; the meadows rang with the sound of the galloping hooves, the silver leaves glistened, and tresses of black hair floated in the wind. But now shadows seemed to be pursuing them. The hills on the horizon seemed peopled with strange figures, which hurried through the light mist. But the black phantom sped on, and ever onwards, till it was lost in the far distance, in the gloom of the night.
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