De Fervlans raised himself in his stirrups and brought his saber savagely down on the robber’s head. This was the second serious cut Satan Laczi had received that day, and was evidently enough to calm his enthusiasm. He staggered to one side, made several vain attempts to straighten himself, then fell suddenly to the earth. His own blade, however, remained in the breast of De Fervlans’s horse, where he had thrust it to the hilt.
The marquis hardly had time to leap from the saddle before the poor beast fell under him.
All seemed lost now. His men were confused and thrown into disorder. In desperation he tore his pistols from the saddle of his fallen horse. Only a single shrub separated him from his enemy,—twenty paces,—and De Fervlans was a celebrated shot.
Count Vavel saw what was coming, and he too drew his pistol.
“Good night, Chevalier Vavel!” in a mocking tone called De Fervlans, as his finger pressed the trigger. There was a sharp report, the ball whistled through the air—but Vavel did not fall.
“Accept my greeting, marquis!” responded Vavel, He raised his pistol, and fired without taking aim. De Fervlans fell backward to the ground.
When De Fervlans’s men saw that their leader had fallen they retreated toward the bridge, where a portion of the troop alighted and held at bay their pursuers, while the rest tore up and flung into the stream the planks of the bridge. Then the men who had prevented the Volons from following crossed on foot the narrow lengthwise beam to the opposite shore—a feat impossible for a man on horseback.
The spot where the fiercest fighting had occurred was already cleared when Katharina arrived upon it. She shuddered with horror, and staggered like one who walks in his sleep as she moved about the desert place.
Suddenly she came upon a large wild-rose bush covered with bloom. Close by it lay a horse with the hilt of a sword protruding from his breast. Near the dead animal lay a metal helmet ornamented with the gilded imperial eagle, and a little farther on lay a mud-stained form in a uniform of coarse gray cloth, with a gaping wound in his head; his left hand clutched the rushes among which he had fallen. As Katharina, in her peasant gown, moved timidly across the open space, she heard a voice say faintly in Hungarian:
“For God’s sake, good woman, give me a drink of water.”
Without stopping to question whether he was friend or foe, Katharina caught up the metal helmet to fetch the water.
There was water everywhere about her, but it was the filthy water of the morass.
Katharina remembered having heard that the shepherds of the Hansag, when they were thirsty, cut a reed and thrust it deep into the swampy earth, when clear, drinkable water would rise from the lower soil. She therefore thrust a long cane into the moist earth, then put her lips to it, and sucked up the water. On removing her lips a clear stream shot upward from the cane. She held the helmet under this improvised fountain until it was full, then returned with it to the rose-bush.