Maurus Jokai (1825-1904)
Jokai is the most famous of all Hungarian novelists. It has been said that “if all the persons whom he has called to life in his novels were to appear… the multitude would line the streets for more than a mile.” So much for quantity; but Jokai was an artist as well. In his numerous short stories he was a keen if not a very subtle observer of the life about him.
He led a very active life, as politician, journalist and editor. A Ball is characteristic of his skill as a narrator: the simplicity of the point of view shown in this story must not deceive the reader. Notice that the incidents are related in a letter from one prim young lady to another, neither of whom would for a moment be able to understand such shocking war stories as were to be told later by men like Stephen Crane and Ambrose Bierce.
The present translation, published anonymously, is reprinted from Jokai’s Hungarian Sketches In Peace And War, Edinburgh, 1854.
Dearest Ilma: I am in despair! I am very ill, and in bed!
Ah, I shall never dance a quadrille again. I will go into a convent, or marry, or make away with myself in some other way. Conceive what has happened to me! Oh, it is too dreadful! Too shocking! You never read such a thing in a romance.
You may have heard that the Hungarian troops marched through here last week after the battle of Branyisko; there was the greatest panic lind confusion at the news of their approach. We expected that they Would have set fire to the town, and pillaged and killed us—indeed, mamma said there was no knowing what horrors they might commit, and she desired me to scratch my face with my nails and disfigure myself in case they should wish to carry me off. Did you ever hear such an idea?
Well, ere long the National Guards marched in with their bands playing. Papa went to meet them with a deputation. Our servants all ran out to see the soldiers, and I could not find mamma anywhere; the day before, she had never ceased searching for a place to conceal herself in, never answering me when I called and looked for her; and if by chance I found her in a wardrobe, or in the clock, she scolded me severely for discovering her hiding-place.