Post-World War I Europe experienced economic hardships that were the result of total war and continuing distrust and animosity. Unable to strike back at the impersonal economic system, disillusioned citizens redirected their frustrations and took aim at tangible, concrete “enemies,” particularly Jews and aliens whose foreign background made their allegiance questionable. The Homeland attempts to describe how hardships paved the way for demagogues and bigotry.
The people of Morenia suffered acutely as a result of the Great War. They had supported the Central Powers because of a profound sense of national honor. However, the conflict which had begun confidently as a display of national pride had ended as a nightmare amid the barbed wire and trenches of mechanized war. What was left of the small European state faced a grim, uncertain future.
Michael Tabeck, age twenty-four, survived the horrors of combat to find his small family farm a shambles. Four years before, he had enlisted in the army to support the patriotic cause personified in King Henrik. Now that cause was gone, for Henrik had abdicated, a victim of the democratic epidemic that had swept over the continent at the war’s conclusion. A group of lawyers was now meeting in what was called the National Assembly, and rumors persisted that there would soon be elections.
Michael ignored most of this. He knew how to do his duty, as any good citizen did. He would carry out the laws, but his world was the farm and those who depended on him for bread. Where would he get seed and stock to make the land productive again? Since his father’s death in the war, his mother and two sisters had scratched out a bare existence. They faced another very real danger — starvation — if Michael could not replenish the stores and revitalize the land.
Had it not been for the three of them, the young ex-soldier would probably have emigrated. In the last months of the fighting, he had grown profoundly cynical about the ideas at the center of the Morenia’s culture. Was unquestioning loyalty to the government some kind of natural law? Where were all the uniformed dandies who had convinced him that war was a glorious adventure? They had not slogged through the trenches. And what about the religion they had followed like the Pied Piper’s rats for hundreds of years? The Bishop told them that killing for the government was God’s will. Apparently drowning in waves of poison gas was God’s will as well. The Church was supposed to be at the core of their moral beliefs. How could men suspend their morality for four years and be expected to return to society as constructive citizens? The old values did not work for people who had to force everything from their minds but self-preservation.
Michael would have gladly sought a totally fresh existence elsewhere, had not the three women needed him so badly. Familial duty proved his strongest instinct, and he returned to the small patch of land near Kenowic as soon as he was discharged. No words can describe the hopelessness he felt when he first saw the trampled land pock-marked with shell holes. Obviously, it was a miracle the farmhouse and other buildings still stood.
The first words he spoke at his homecoming were, “Mama, how did you survive all this?”
“We found rooms in the city, Michael. They weren’t much, but they were all we could afford. We still owe a little on them. Mr. Paulik was kind enough to let us stay on credit when the fighting was so close. It was terrible, but we survived.”
Michael noticed a momentary look of disgust on the faces of his two sisters, but he assumed it was their way of responding to those memories.
“What about David’s family and their land? We served together until he was wounded and sent home from the front.”
Katarina, his elder sister, was first to respond. “You know he lost his left arm. He wasn’t much help on the farm, so they’ve moved to the city. The land still belongs to them, but I think they are trying to open some kind of bakery. Would you believe that? Amid all this famine, they are baking cakes and selling them!”
Noting the unexpected bitterness in her voice, Michael tried to soothe his sister. “Well, one must survive. When we get this farm going again, we won’t give the grain away, now will we? We’ll have to earn enough to buy the things we need. I’m sure that’s what David’s family is trying to do. They’re just using what they have.”
There was no response from Katarina, so he changed the subject and tried to maintain a sanguine tone that circumstances did not warrant.
“I guess my first order of business should be a trip to Kenowic to pick up a few groceries with some of this fine soldier’s pay.” Michael noticed the anxious expression on his mother’s face, so he quickly added, “But not today. Tomorrow I can use the whole day to buy food and look into the farm supplies we need. Now I want to be with my family!”
The dam holding back his mother’s suppressed tears gave way, as her son smiled and hugged her. For the rest of the day, nothing could detract from the joy of the homecoming.
* * *
Michael rose early the next morning for the long walk to Kenowic.. Since their livestock was too scrawny to provide serviceable transportation, he had no alternative. He set out on foot with his money in the pocket of the jacket from his old army uniform. That and his heavy boots were the only tangible things he brought back from the war. Morenia’s role in it had ended so precipitously that no one had bothered to collect the coat and shoes; it was pure luck that his pay had made it to his hands and that the currency was still considered acceptable. As he plodded along the country road, he mused about the fortunes of his family, which were now clearly on the rise. The day was sunny and filled with the fresh sounds of nature reborn. Nothing could impede his confidence. There were no more whistling artillery shells and no more persistent, unrelenting barks of small arms fire. The world was at peace, so what could go wrong?
As he approached Kenowic, he went over mentally what had to be done on this trip. He had to seek out a farm supplier and negotiate the purchase of seed and livestock. Then he must obtain groceries for his family. Finally, he must find that bakery of David Verlanger.
The young farmer had been reluctant to bring up Anna’s name. His sisters, for some reason, seemed critical of the Verlanger’s new occupation, so Michael did not think it wise to remind them that David’s sister was his sweetheart and, he hoped, soon would be his wife. Remembering her long, blonde hair and soft, quiet smile, he came close to searching for the Verlangers first. But reality called; reason overruled love. The overriding need was for provisions and farm supplies.
Kenowic was a city only by the standards of agricultural Morenia; the vast urban centers of western Europe made it worthy of no label grander than “town.” It was not so large that Michael would have trouble finding a merchant selling farm supplies. By asking questions in local markets, which in those meager days were relatively inactive, he discovered that the most reliable source was Lazlo Paulik. He recognized the name and sought directions. Perhaps the fact that his family had dealt with the man during the war would make it easier to obtain supplies.
Within an hour, Michael had made his way to a business establishment which in no way suggested the depressed state of the general economy. Inside, the well-appointed furnishings of the large reception area reflected prosperity, and the number of sullen figures in the waiting room showed that Paulik’s services were in demand. The clients seemed mostly to be peasants on errands similar to Michael’s. In fact, he thought he recognized some of the faces as old comrades-in-arms. No one was in the mood for casual conversation, so he waited silently, thinking that the atmosphere was more funereal than mercantile.
Eventually, he was paged by a receptionist and directed into a smaller, carpeted inner office, where a seated, middle-aged man smiled from behind a wide mustache. On the desk was a nameplate: “Lazlo Paulik.”
Paulik did not rise. He motioned Michael to a chair, and spoke in a perfunctory manner which betrayed the artificiality of the smile.
“Well, Mr. Tabeck. Have you come to borrow or to pay back old debts?”
Michael was perplexed, but replied, “I would like to obtain supplies to return our farm to productivity, sir. I have been told that you have access to stock and seed, and I would like to arrange a purchase.”
“That is a costly venture, Mr. Tabeck. May I call you Michael?” Without waiting for a response, he proceeded. “I have been trying to explain the difficulties to your fellow rustics for weeks with no apparent success. Since I came to your country fifteen years ago, I have never fully understood the difficulty you people have in comprehending the value of money.” His tone hardened as he spoke, and although Michael towered over him, there was no mistaking that this little man was in control. Paulik continued.
“Your case, in addition, is a rather special one, because your family already owes me money from past-due rent. I’m sure you will understand that since the Tabeck slate is not clean, I cannot advance you more than a minimal amount of credit.” He described a small measure of grain and an equally minuscule number of stock animals which he could arrange for Michael’s family to receive. His charge was enormous, and a payment amounting to almost three-quarters of the cash Michael carried was his demand as an immediate first installment
The cynical hostility which had now become a suppressed part of the former soldier’s personality welled to the surface. His temper flared.
“Perhaps a lien on my soul should also be included in your terms! Those charges are usury, sir!”
Paulik shrugged and maintained his artificial smile. “I doubt if either heaven or hell is interested in your peasant’s soul, Michael. As for the charges, they are in line with the current economic instability of Morenia. You may look elsewhere, but you will find no bargains. And you will find very few people whose deliveries are as reliable as mine. Of course, you may choose to do as you wish, but I must remind you that my patience is growing a bit thin because of the debt your family already owes me. I shall use the authorities to collect it, if the money isn’t paid in a week.
Shock and astonishment smothered Michael’s rage . He could not pay the overdue bill, which was even larger than the payment demanded for the farm supplies. He opted for the supplies because at least a little money would remain for groceries. As he counted the proffered currency, Paulik said calmly, “Your supplies will be ready Thursday. Until then I wish you good day.”
When Tabeck left the office, his demeanor seemed to confirm the fears reflected on the sullen faces in the waiting room. A few heads nodded knowingly to one another, as he departed. He had no choice now but to spend the remainder of his pay on a small parcel of groceries, scarcely more than a few days’ provisions for a family of four. He was intensely bitter and had to force himself to suppress thoughts of violent revenge against Paulik.
As if to regain some of his earlier sunny outlook, he set out to locate the Verlanger’s bakery. There was still plenty of time left in the day, and he intended to block from his mind the memory of the merchant’s injustice.
* * *
“Mikki! Father in Heaven! Is it really you?”
Anna saw him coming before he could cross the narrow street on which the bakery was located. Throwing propriety to the wind, she ran to embrace him just as he reached the sidewalk. Soon the rest of the Verlangers appeared to greet him with an enthusiasm equally genuine if slightly less demonstrative. In the pleasure of the reunion, Michael did not notice the restrained, one-armed figure, who stopped in the shadow of the doorway as if not daring to venture into the street.
Young Tabeck stared with speechless affection into the face of his sweetheart. They seemed oblivious to the happy swarm around them, until the movement swept them almost unconsciously into the shop. It took a second for Michael to spot David, but when he did, he reached out for his friend to embrace him like the long-lost brother he considered him to be. Apart from the three women who awaited his return, no persons on earth were as dear to him as the Verlangers.
David’s earlier restraint subsided.
“This calls for a celebration, Mikki! We are a bit low on coffee, but I think we have enough to share along with some freshly baked bread. Mother, Fritz, and Josef will mind the shop while Anna, you, and I talk.”
The familiar light banter continued for a while, until Michael was asked if he had come to shop for groceries in Kenowic. He recounted the unhappy tale of his meeting with Paulik.
David was sympathetic. “That man is a heartless monster. He wouldn’t give us any credit at all for supplies because he said my handicap made me a bad risk. To think he and Father came to Morenia together in ’05 and were close friends for years until the war! Paulik struck it rich and our fortunes were destroyed. His kind is making it difficult for all of us now.”
“Well, at least you have your bakery,” Michael answered. “I can’t say I understand where you got the materials to start your business in such bad times, but your product is certainly good enough!” He picked up a piece of the bread David had earlier requested and took an enthusiastic bite.
“Father had some savings,” Anna explained. “We had to fall back on that and on Mother’s old talents when we couldn’t make a go of the farm.”
“You should be prosperous in no time, if you continue like this. Then you can laugh at Paulik!”
David shook his head at his friend’s optimism. “I wish hard work and ability guaranteed success, but I’m afraid we have new problems you apparently know nothing about. Did you notice the high prices in the markets? Our new democratic government’s money is worth next to nothing. All they do in the capital is talk about free speech and elections while the rest of the country starves. It is also unfortunate that Konrad Schundler has been made Finance Minister.”
Michael’s brow furrowed . “General Schundler? The troops respected him, and he has always seemed an intelligent, fair-minded man. Why is he such a bad choice?”
The reply was another question. “Where was he born?”
“In Germany, I believe,” answered Tabeck. “But he’s lived in Morenia for as long as I can remember. Why is that important?”
Again, David responded with a question. “Have you heard of Jan Vanor and the Home Defense League?”
“Mikki, listen. You were among the last troops mustered out. Many others returned months ago, because, I suppose, they were stationed nearer home. Vanor was among them, a first lieutenant who had been decorated twice for bravery and who possesses unique persuasive abilities. He could not accept our defeat as the logical outcome of the Allies’ military superiority, and he began to spread convincing arguments that Morenia had been betrayed.”
Michael interrupted. “That’s ridiculous. We fought as bravely as any troops in the war, in spite of the terrible conditions.”
David assumed an exaggerated, theatrical pose. “Yes, my friend, you fought well for our nation, but surely you remember that you fought alone. Where were all the foreigners who should have been willing to die for their adopted land? They betrayed you. They wanted you to lose so they could profit from your defeat by replacing our great traditional monarchy with a foreign-run government, a puppet of wealthy traitors whose loyalty is to some foreign power! Schundler, Paulik, the others — they are all foreigners. Can’t you see what shape Morenia is in?”
Michael smiled. “Oh, then you lost your arm picking a fellow soldier’s pocket! No one believes that rubbish, do they?”
Anna replied softly. “We have found our store front defaced three times in the last two weeks. They spit at us when we go down the street. They yell ‘Traitor, go home!’ Mikki, we have no place to go without money to operate our farm. It’s so unfair!” She seemed about to break down, and Tabeck for the second time that day found his hopes shattered by an injustice he did not understand.
“Let me get that farm of ours going again, then I’ll do what I can to help you.” Michael’s strength was vaguely reassuring, and the trio talked no more of the joint problems of Vanor and Paulik. The rest of the afternoon was as happy a time as Tabeck thought himself capable of experiencing. As he left to begin the trek homeward, he thought of the love he bore Anna, David, and their family. If any person could defend their interests, he would be the one.
* * *
After Michael described his encounter with Paulik, Katarina grew more overtly bitter than she had been the previous day.
“Foreign scum! He and his like will soon get what they deserve!”
Although Mrs. Tabeck remained passively forgiving, the third female member of the household, young Maria, nodded agreement to her elder sister’s comments. Maria was nineteen and had always been the least outspoken of the children. She tended to copy her mother in that respect, but this time she was not reluctant to display her feelings.
Michael was so exasperated by the events of the day that he had begun his narrative the second he opened the door, and his description of Paulik had flowed nonstop to its conclusion and Katarina’s epilogue. A male visitor went unnoticed until Maria referred with pride to her guest. “Leo and the H.D.L. plan to do something about animals like Paulik. Isn’t that right?”
Michael immediately became aware of the dark young man, dressed in a deep green uniform, who had up to this time remained speechless and motionless. “The Commander will want to know of such inhuman acts by foreigners,” he said in a quietly confident voice. “You will have your revenge, my friends, before the week ends.”
The women introduced Leo Talos to Michael, presenting him as a great friend of Maria’s and the family’s guardian angel, who had looked out for them in the weeks before the male head of the household had returned. Further conversation revealed that he was a dedicated follower of Jan Vanor and wore the uniform of the National Legion, the paramilitary branch of the Home Defense League. When he spoke, the women seemed to hang reverently on every word. It did not take Michael long to recognize the source of the otherwise inexplicable hate now reflected in his sisters.
The conversation revealed an additional motive for the girls’ willingness to accept Leo’s views. During the darkest hours of the war, Paulik had offered to waive the rental charges if Mrs. Tabeck would marry him. It seemed he wanted the property, and that would be the quickest way to get it. When she rejected his advances, he struck back vindictively in the only way available to him: exorbitant rent. The merchant seemed determined to seize the land and to humiliate the family. Consequently, they had sought protection from the followers of Jan Vanor.
Maria obviously had fallen for Talos, so Michael thought it best to avoid any mention of his friendship with the Verlangers. He listened cordially as the uniformed visitor boasted of the League’s role as the real defender of the people. When Leo departed and the family bade each other good night, Michael lay awake pondering the future. Unless someone in the government acted decisively, it was clear that Vanor’s hotheads could incite desperate people to bloodshed.
* * *
For the next few days, the Tabecks threw all their energies into the farm. Storage areas had to be repaired and old equipment overhauled. It would be weeks before planting could be attempted, but there would be plenty to occupy the time. They could not allow their minds to dwell on fears about food for the winter. Katarina and Maria were confident that the League would take care of them if they fell into desperate straits.
Paulik’s supplies were ready exactly when he had promised them. When Michael arrived to pick up the goods, a clerk informed him that the stock would be brought to the farm later in the day. He was also told that Mr. Paulik wished to remind him of his mother’s outstanding debt.
The men who brought the assorted animals made a point of stopping by the farm house to collect the past-due bill, only to be told that the family could not pay at that time. Upon hearing this, the man who seemed to be in charge replied curtly that Mr. Paulik would seek legal recourse if he did not receive payment by Monday.
That night a small band of unidentified men broke into Lazlo Paulik’s office and destroyed most of the furniture. Entire files were burned and the ashes were scattered about the devastated rooms. Outside, on the walls of the building, investigators found a familiar bit of graffiti: the green figure of a swooping eagle, the insignia of the National Legion.
It was common knowledge that this was their standard, but government officials were unable to find a single witness who would confirm the involvement of Vanor’s people. Everyone said that he heard nothing or suggested that it had been the work of adolescent vandals.
The smug bearing of Leo Talos, who visited the Tabeck farm the following day, left Michael with no doubt as to the real identity of those involved. Although he did not approve of the National Legion’s views, he felt a certain elation over the damage done to Paulik. Perhaps Vanor was not as terrible a presence as he had first believed.
Although the police were unable to apprehend the guilty party, the victim refused to accept his losses. He knew what the painting on the wall meant, and he knew which of his patrons had connections with that radical organization. His suspicions focused on the one family whose financial predicament had intensified that very week, and he decided that they would feel his wrath.
Monday morning, Lazlo Paulik arrived at the Tabeck farm, accompanied by several policemen. Across a field Michael noticed the somber gathering at the door; he had a premonition that something bad was about to happen. He abandoned his labors and hurried toward the crowd. When he recognized Paulik, he quickened his pace even more.
“You will pay now or I will be forced to seize the equivalent value from your belongings.” The merchant spoke evenly, without emotion, as if his words carried no more weight than a simple “hello.”
Mrs. Tabeck’s face graphically showed the prededing weeks’ strain, but she likewise maintained an even temper. “Lazlo, we have just begun to put the farm in order again. It will be weeks before things are stable enough for us to repay you.”
“Under the law, my dear Mrs. Tabeck, one’s debts should be considered before any expectations of profit. I have waited longer than I am legally required to wait, and I shall wait no longer. Officer! Collect the items on the list I gave you in Kenowic. I believe I am within my rights.”
“Wretch! You don’t deserve to live!” Michael recognized Katarina’s scream, but he could not see any of his family except his mother. His sisters must have been standing behind her in the doorway.
“Is that a threat, Miss Tabeck?” replied Paulik with a smile. “I should think you would leave the threats to your friends in the National Legion.”
A hand flashed from the doorway, and Michael saw Paulik reel back from the slap. The merchant’s composure vanished. He lunged forward to repay in kind the blow he had received. The scene became chaotic, for the police likewise advanced to prevent a possible brawl. There were sounds of a struggle, followed momentarily by a dull crash and a shriek. Michael tore through the human barrier and saw his mother lying on the floor beside a table. Her head rested in a pool of blood, and there was a deep gash in her left temple.
For a stunned moment, he froze. On the borders of his consciousness, he heard Paulik’s panting voice, “She lunged at me! You saw that! I was only protecting myself!”
The thin veneer of restraint, already damaged by the brutality of war, vanished from the mind of Michael Tabeck. He now recognized only one motivation, an all-consuming hatred of Lazlo Paulik. Before anyone could stop him, his powerful hands were at the merchant’s throat, slamming his head into the wall with terrible force.
Two officers separated Michael from the limp body of his victim. He sensed that Paulik, like his mother, was dead; and with only mild surprise, he realized that he did not regret his actions. Over the uncontrollable sobs of his sisters, he heard words addressed to him by one of the officers. Only a few of them registered in his agitated mind: arrest . . . murder . . . law . . . state.
The hatred surged again. This time its focus was the weak, blind government which seemed to care only for the rich. Had he fought a war for this? With almost superhuman strength, he broke from his captors and plunged through a window. He was across the road before the police emerged from the house. Their pursuit proved futile, for Michael Tabeck knew how to hide from those bent on taking his life. The war had taught him that at least. He vanished into a thicket, leaving the tragedy behind him.
* * *
News of the violence at the Tabeck farm spread rapidly throughout the region surrounding Kenowic, and the popular reaction was predictable. Paulik had gotten what he deserved, most people concluded. Mrs. Tabeck’s timid personality was transformed into that of a heroic martyr by the growing number of Home Defense League sympathizers. Member-families quickly took in Katarina and Maria, against whom the authorities could press no charges.
The whereabouts of Michael was the subject of much discussion, but when he failed to surface after a few weeks, interest waned. The police searched the region without success, until the growing domestic crisis made an escaped peasant-murderer a minor concern.
Authorities found their attention shifting to the increasing strength and belligerence of Vanor and his followers. Throughout Morenia rallies in the name of the H.D.L. were occurring more frequently and with ever-increasing attendance figures. Whether the Commander himself presided or any of a number of lesser party dignitaries, the pattern of the meetings was always the same. Green-uniformed Legionnaires marched in, carrying the banner of the swooping eagle. Oratory reminded listeners of their duty to preserve Morenia from the foreign blight. The mechanism of government was alleged to be in the clutches of these unpatriotic interests, and had to be wrenched away if national traditions were to endure. This alone was the purpose of the H.D.L. Its members were the best Morenia had to offer; there were no inferior, parasitic foreign elements within it. If a Morenian wished to be true to his heritage, he must join the crusade to return the nation to its former position purity and greatness.
What could the government do against such inflammatory raving? General Schundler and the others agreed that free speech must be preserved, even for these radicals. As prices soared, thanks to the instability of the national currency, more citizens listened to Vanor and became convinced that he, and not the elected leaders, deserved their allegiance. The roots of democracy were too shallow for Morenians to appreciate their recently gained individual rights. They sought national leadership with a clear purpose and with easily identifiable dragons to slay.
In that atmosphere, the plight of the Verlangers grew increasingly more dire. Vandalism became habitual; and in every instance, the local authorities were either too inefficient or too frightened to press an investigation. Obviously, the bakery could not yield a profit under such circumstances; and with Paulik’s business now in the hands of an H.D.L. sympathizer, flour, sugar, and other supplies became next to impossible to obtain.
Mrs. Verlanger was a truly courageous matriarch upon whom leadership had devolved when her husband died in the first months of the Great War. David, her eldest son, was handicapped by the loss of his arm; but he shared his mother’s spirit. Fritz and Josef were barely teenagers, but they realized that much would be expected of them. The symbolic center of the family was Anna. In times of danger, the other four seemed to circle her to block any threat. In return, she nurtured their courage with a deep religious faith. She might admit her fears, as she had done the day of Michael’s return; but these worries never slipped into despair. God would protect them.
Vanor’s onslaught severely tested this confidence, but somehow the family endured. They were certain that the hate campaign of the H.D.L. would eventually be recognized for the irrationality that it was. Until then, however, their existence would be increasingly precarious. They braced themselves to weather the storm. If it ever entered their minds to seek sanctuary in a foreign country, no one suggested it. Morenia was their homeland; and whatever the Legion might think, their hearts were loyal.
In the face of such widespread civil discontent, the national government set the date for the first exercise of the democratic right of franchise. Parties of every shade of the political spectrum bid for seats in the National Assembly, but those with the most widespread support were the radical groups who promised sweeping changes as panaceas. Placards decorated every wall; and automobiles, until then rarely seen in depressed Morenia, carried politicians from rally to rally in garish splendor.
As he watched green uniforms parade to the tune of a traditional march, David Verlanger felt frustration and disgust. He had grown use to the insults and the looks of intense dislike directed his way by absolute strangers. He could ignore and even forgive such injustice. However, he sensed that people were on the edge of physical violence directed against all the foreign-born in the country.
He walked back to the bakery through the cold stares. His brothers were at work obliterating H.D.L. slogans which had been painted on the store front the night before. To protect their shrinking investment, the Verlangers were living in small rooms in the back of the shop; and they ventured from this relative safety very infrequently.
“May God grant that Schundler’s party wins a majority of delegates. They are weak, but there may yet be a chance to teach these people how irresponsibly they are acting.” Mrs. Verlanger spoke as if the damage and threats they were enduring were no more than annoyances, but the others knew she understood the gravity of the situation.
“It will take a miracle, Mother,” answered David, shaking his head. “If there were an earthquake on election day, the Vanor fanatics would still risk their lives to vote. They are really convinced that we are the cause of their problems.”
“We should put our account books on display at the City Hall so everyone can see how much we are benefiting from our neighbors’ poverty!” Mrs. Verlanger made no effort to dilute her sarcasm.
Anna now joined the conversation. “We must remember that we aren’t the only family being treated this way. The Donaceks have been attacked as much as we have. Mrs. Donacek is seriously ill now that doctors refuse to treat her. The Tamasus and Renslers have applied for visas to emigrate; but that may take months, and the radicals are making things unbearable for them. We should be grateful for the little we have.”
“Well, one thing we still have is the right to vote,” said David, trying to seem buoyant. “At least I can see to it that one Legionnaire vote is neutralized.”
* * *
When election day arrived, David got his chance to strike the one legal blow available to him. Universal manhood suffrage was the new rule in Morenia, so he left Anna and his mother in the care of his younger brothers and set out for the polls a few blocks away. He became aware almost immediately that he was being watched by several men on both sides of the street.
“Go home, pig! Go cheat your own kind! Leave our government to those who love this country!”
David pretended not to hear and continued his steady pace toward his destination. Through the corner of his eye, he could see local policemen stationed at intervals along the streets, apparently to prevent incidents such as this from developing into something worse. He also sensed that his tormentors meant to follow him all the way to the polls.
He glanced at the officers whose job it was to defend him from the hecklers, and something made him uneasy. He saw in their faces the same dislike, somewhat veiled but there nonetheless. He thought of Anna and remembered with a touch of cynicism her assurances that God would protect.
Scarcely a block from the polling station, the litany of hate became a chorus that could no longer be ignored. Neutral passersby watched in fascination as the hostile crowd, now substantially larger, circulated menacingly about its victim. The police made only token efforts to restrain the mob, as David was pelted with verbal abuse and spittle. Stone-faced, the one-armed man continued toward his objective.
He did not see one of his tormentors pull a brick from beneath his coat and hurl it with deadly accuracy. There was a moment of pain and then blackness.
David awoke to a throbbing head. His mother and sister were hovering over him, placing cold compresses on the huge welt left by the brick. In a moment he realized that he was back in the living quarters of the bakery.
“What happened?” he muttered feebly.
“You were a victim of Legionnaire democracy in action,” responded his mother bitterly. “You might have been killed, but apparrently the good patriots are not yet ready to commit public murder.”
“The election! I have to vote!” David tried to rise but the pain overcame him, and he collapsed back onto the pillow.
“You will not leave here, David,” ordered his mother. “If you try again, they might not hold back. Besides, I doubt that the votes of Kenowic will be counted accurately anyway! There are H.D.L. members swarming all over the streets. I can’t see how the government is going to keep them from influencing the tabulation.”
She sighed and shrugged. David could only respond, “Then it’s out of our hands.”
“Out of ours and into Vanor’s, I’m afraid,” said Mrs. Verlanger. “Well, we should let you rest.” They quietly withdrew, leaving an air of gloom and resignation behind them.
* * *
Amid ecstatic celebrating, Jan Vanor was inaugurated President of Morenia. Within weeks the flag of the young republic was replaced by a gold banner on which was emblazoned in green an eagle swooping downward on an unseen prey. A short time later, the Commander, as the new head of state preferred to be called, began to enact his program through a puppet National Assembly.
The Renslers and the Tamasus never received visas. Instead, both families were arrested for “conduct destructive to the Morenian people.” Immigrants gradually disappeared from public view, and the state seized their property, converting it into goods and services for native-born patriots.
The Verlanger bakery shut its doors. Prior to the election, business had tailed off badly, but it became virtually nonexistent after Vanor took power. For their own protection, the family decided to live like hermits on the supplies they had stockpiled for the shop. That was only a temporary solution, because it would be only a matter of time before a truck filled with green-clad troops stopped in front of their home. Because of their foreign blood, they were now officially enemies of the state.
During these dark days, Anna’s faith held firm, but the strain began to tell on David and his mother. Waiting for a time bomb to explode was unbearable.
At last the wait ended. On an otherwise peaceful evening, they heard a vehicle stop abruptly in front of the bakery. Several pairs of footsteps approached the door, and then there was an authoritative knock.
“Open in the name of the state of Morenia!”
“Stay back here,” David advised. “We must give them no excuse for violence.”
He walked to the door, opened it, and stared into the face of the officer before him, as lesser troops brushed rudely by.
The officer was Michael Tabeck.
* * *
The path that led from the incident at the farmhouse to the Verlanger’s door had been one of combined hostility and self-preservation. When he escaped from the police that morning, Michael knew that he could never forgive a government that would defend the likes of Paulik and evoke an unjust, impersonal law against a defenseless family. Years of combat had taught him how to take lives without remorse; now he could bring a new emotional commitment to his old skills. He had no life within current Morenian society, so he would not live by its rules. He would dedicate himself to the extermination of the Pauliks and their passive helpers.
Alone, Tabeck became little more than a vicious animal, hopelessly outnumbered by enemies. He lived off the land for days, evading the government’s feeble pursuit and considering how best to implement his hatred. Obviously, he could not remain in the vicinity of Kenowic. He was too well known there; and, anyway, after the death of Paulik, there was no other immediate target for his retribution. He carefully made his way to the capital, where he was certain no one had heard of, or cared to hear about, a peasant-murderer.
There was only one channel for his anti-establishment frenzy, and he knew where to find it. He joined the H.D.L. and quickly put his talents to work as a Legionnaire. Jan Vanor himself eventually came to hear about the farmer with the seemingly boundless, and pitiless, dedication to the Cause.
In the weeks prior to the election, someone in their party discovered that Michael had killed a foreign-born merchant. The disclosure enhanced his reputation, although it had to be carefully shielded from the police. Tabeck received a commission as major in the paramilitary organization, officially retaining it after the Commander’s inauguration as President.
When brutal decrees needed enforcement, Tabeck led squads to arrest “enemies of the Morenian people.” He was greatly respected and greatly feared by those who had to deal with him in an official capacity.
One evening, his assignment was to proceed to a rural area and secure the arrest of an offending family. He ordered a unit of four troopers to a truck and set out, unaware that this mission would be different from the rest.
With his men at his back, Major Tabeck knocked, repeating the statement which by that time had become second nature:
“ Open in the name of the state of Morenia!”
A tired, middle-aged woman unlatched the door and stared helplessly into his face.
“You and your family will come with us, by force if necessary.” Tabeck’s voice was hard, precise, and formidable.
“May we have a moment, sir, to order our things?” she begged, visibly frightened by the soldier’s truculence.
“You will need nothing,” he replied coldly. “Come with us immediately.”
“You despicable bully! What kind of pleasure do you get from abusing a helpless woman?” From the shadows stepped a younger woman, dressed in nightgown and robe.
“You may have ten minutes to dress, if you wish, but you won’t have that if you continue to show no respect.”
The girl became a fury. “Respect? For what? You certainly don’t mean respect for law, because you drag that through the mud!” She rushed forward, apparently to strike him. Instinctively, he moved to protect himself by shoving her aside. The older woman, however, had stepped between them, and it was she whom Tabeck pushed. Her head crashed against the furniture and she fell lifeless to the floor.
“You’ve killed her, you butcher!” the girl screamed and flung herself on top of the body. A pool of blood had begun to form on the floor beneath the fallen woman’s head.
Michael never heard the accusation, for all he heard were echoes of other voices from the mist of suppressed memory.
The blind rage that had dominated and driven him for months now confronted the one barrier it could not overcome: family. His enfeebled conscience now rose up; its accusation was inescapable.
“God forgive me! I have become a Paulik!” he thought. “Where is the justice in this?”
Before this revelation, he swayed and momentarily lost his balance. His men quickly took command of the situation and asked if the women had injured him.
“No, it’s nothing. I merely stumbled. Bring them along, Lieutenant.”
The realization that his obsessive vengeance had made him as terrible as those he sought to destroy had a two-fold effect on Michael. He knew he could not continue as a Legionnaire, for the burning hostility that had motivated him for months had expired with that woman on the floor of the farmhouse.
* * *
Major Tabeck of the National Legion stood before an old and valued friend, David Verlanger, who stared at him in disbelief.
“Lord of Heaven, Mikki! This cannot be you! We are your friends!”
“Gather your belongings, traitor. You and your family are leaving tonight.”
Michael heard a heart-rending sob and looked up to see Anna collapse into the arms of her younger brothers. His face remained emotionless as he watched his men herd the family into the room at the front of the bakery.
Mrs. Verlanger spoke loudly enough for all to hear. “Well, at least the wait is over. We will be able to sleep now. Tell me, Major Tabeck, will you sleep well tonight with the blood of friends on your hands?”
“I can never sleep well when enemies of the nation remain free,” came the haughty reply. Michael called for everyone’s attention. “I am commissioned to take all of you to the detention center at Moranzy. Two soldiers will remain to oversee the cataloguing of your possessions. Two others will accompany us. Is that clear?”
There was no response.
“Load the bags, Sergeant.”
Within five minutes, the vehicle, a limousine, had departed Kenowic and was motoring along a dark road toward Moranzy, fifty miles to the northwest. Inside the cab, there was no conversation. Anna continued to sob, resisting the efforts of her relatives to comfort her. David and Michael exchanged sullen glances, and Tabeck saw in the eyes of his friend an intense and well-deserved hatred.
After an hour the automobile approached an intersection. Michael spoke up, as if he were trying to stimulate some light conversation. “Funny, isn’t it? Turn left here and you will be at the Morenian border in twenty minutes and but a step from freedom. Go to the right and in about the same amount of time you come to the detention center and imprisonment.”
No one seemed interested or amused. He ignored the cold silence, and turned to the officer sitting next to him.
“I think we had better stop here for a moment. The tires are riding rough. We may be on the verge of a blowout.” He turned to the driver. “Pull over so we can check the tires.”
They emerged from the car. Tabeck watched as his two subordinates bent over to inspect the tires. He walked over to the sergeant, apparently to indicate a worn spot, but instead whipped out his pistol and brought it crashing down on the unsuspecting man’s head. Then he whirled and ordered the amazed driver to face the car and lean on it. In a second the pistol butt had rendered the second man unconscious.
The Verlangers watched the scene without understanding. Finally, Michael spoke again, “David! There are two lengths of rope in the trunk. Get them!” When no one moved, Tabeck’s voice became more urgent. “I’m trying to get you out of the country. I know it’s hard to believe, but you must understand. I cannot support this madness any longer, and I will not allow any of you to be injured!”
They looked at him incredulously, without moving. Finally, he walked to the window at which David sat. Calmly raising his pistol, he handed it to his friend, butt first. “You know from your military training that it is loaded. You may shoot me now or hold it against my head until I make good my promise.”
The look of hate faded from David’s eyes. They now filled with tears of relief. He returned the gun to his friend, saying in a choked voice, “I still don’t think I understand, Mikki. I just know you frightened the devil out of us.”
“I had to look convincing, my friend. It will buy us time. Now help me with those ropes.”
The two soldiers were tied, gagged, and hidden in the brush a number of yards from the road. Michael returned to the limousine, and seconds behind him came David, now attired in the sergeant’s green uniform, the empty sleeve pinned neatly at his waist. The automobile began its journey again, but it took the left turn at the intersection rather than the right.
* * *
At the border it was a simple matter for an officer as respected as Major Tabeck to convince the guards that the occupants of the limousine were being exiled. He explained that the detention center was temporarily overcrowded and that the Commander wanted this family immediately deprived of its possessions and removed from the scene. Forged papers were produced to validate the story. The guards had no reason to be suspicious of the sergeant’s physical handicap, for many such wounded heroes were Legionnaires. They agreed to raise the barrier that lay between the automobile and freedom.
Michael told them that he and David had to escort the four prisoners out of the country. As soon as the captives had been released at the guardhouse, the limousine would return. It never occurred to the inexperienced guards that members of the Legion had no authority beyond the border.
The automobile was indeed returned, but without any of its former occupants. Tabeck and the Verlangers were now under the protection of a sympathetic government. An interrogation followed, but the refugees were finally granted asylum.
The border disappeared behind them at last, amid a collective sigh of relief.
“I hope our new home welcomes us more willingly than the old one,” said David. “We wish nothing more than to be allowed to live in peace under the law.”
Michael nodded agreement. He had traded his uniform for civilian clothes at the guard post, but the memory of the banner with the swooping eagle was still fresh in his mind.
“All we can hope for is that hate stops at the border.”
Questions for Analysis:
1. The story suggests that the people of Morenia were opting for “xenophobia,” that is, extreme aversion to foreigners. What kind of impact could such a policy have on a modern nation’s economy? Would it help a country to compete in the modern world, or would it hinder it? Explain. Does xenophobia exist today? If so, what form does it take?
2. The Fascist and Nazi movements often described democratic governments as weak. What can you find in the story which they might have used as evidence of this? What evidence can you find to suggest that the H.D.L. would provide stronger, more efficient rule?
3. Should General Schundler and the democratic administration have jailed the Legionnaires as dangerous radicals? Is the preservation of law and order worth depriving a group of free speech? Is it better to have a powerful and efficient government or one that is dedicated to the protection of individual rights?
4. What signs can you find in the story that suggest the new Morenian government might take aggressive action against other countries? How does the H.D.L. convince the people that they are militarily capable and have a just cause?
5. What safeguards exist to prevent a Jan Vanor from coming to power in this country today? Could one be elected President of the United States? Why or why not?
6. Assume that Jan Vanor joined the Axis powers in World War II and met the same fate as his fellow dictators. If, in 1945, Michael Tabeck now an influential political, as well as military, figure, had returned to reconstruct the Morenian government along democratic guidelines, what would he have had to do to win the confidence of the people. How could he build a stable regime that would avoid the weakness of the pre-war administration?