Hungarians Flee to New Border: Cut Scene from Chapter 4

Hungary is a country with more Hungarians living outside its borders than within. What a strange notion.

But it came be when the Great War peace agreement put the kingdom on the chopping block to create new countries (Czechoslovakia, for example), awarding a huge swath of it, Transylvania, to Romania.


The Romanians had been occupying Transylvania for a couple of years, so when the agreement was signed, they were already in charge. Any Hungarian who could flee, did so.


The flow of refugees was enormous. Everyone was hurrying to squeeze into Hungary’s newly reduced borders, some traveling hundreds of miles by foot.


Three characters in The Angel Makers were refugees: Prosecutor Kronberg, and a brother and sister duo called Stephen* and Marcella  (*known as Franklin in the book).

I had to trim the manuscript by about 15,000 words. This is one of the cut scenes. It previously opened Chapter 4.


By January, the Romanians still occupied all of the country east of the Tisza River, despite orders by the Supreme Council to vacate. In Budapest, placards protesting the dismemberment of Hungary had been plastered all over shop windows, on street lamps, on theater marquees, and given out as handbills to passersby on the streets. Meanwhile, the question returned to: What should Hungary be? The Hungarian Democratic Republic that Károlyi had tried to form had been a colossal failure.

Most Magyars wanted to return the country to a kingdom. But Central Powers had made it clear they would not tolerate a return of a Hapsburg to the throne, the principal dynasty that had been defeated in the Great War. The names of other nobles were bandied about. Hungarian Count László Széchenyi was considered, chiefly because he was married to the wealthy American aristocrat Gladys Vanderbilt. Her money and influence in America were appealing to the Hungarians.

The Kingdom was re-established with Admiral Horthy as Regent. Horthy had been at the helm since occupation and Kun's defeat. He was given nearly all the powers of the crown. Hungary was now “a kingdom without a king, ruled by an admiral without a fleet in a country without a coastline.” On Friday, June 4, the longest lasting historical borders in Europe were broken. For one thousand years, Hungary had been intact, but the peace treaty signed at the Grand Trianon Palace in Versailles put an end to that. Opponents still screamed of a“victor’s peace,” not a “just peace.”

A portion of Hungary went to form Czechoslovakia, and another large swath went to form the Kingdoms of Serbia and Croatia; smaller portions were meted out to Italy, Poland and Austria, which had  laid no claim to the land. But by far, the largest tract — Transylvania and beyond — was granted to Romania. Hundreds of thousands of Hungarians had gone to bed in one country and woken up in another. Scores upon scores set out from their homes to flee the tyranny of new regimes. Across what remained of the kingdom, flags were lowered to half mast, and would remain so for years.


Transylvania. Franklin Todor wiped the silty dirt from his eyes. They were rimmed with red and stinging, and the smaller grains had lodged stubbornly in the delicate corners, where tears were meant to form. The hot air was choked with dust. The wind lifted it up from the road as if with arms and cast it in all directions, creating a vague haze that hung low. The sky was stained with it, a beige smudge on the hem of its azure dress. The dirt had also worked its way deep into Franklin’s ears and had temporarily deprived him of the finer attunement of his hearing. The crisp, straight wire of sound he had always known had dulled. Every cry, every word, every shout, every note, every thump of hooves, every whinny, every snort, every bark, every caw, every whistle of wind, every crack of thunder, every shuffle of feet and every moan of cartwheel was wrapped in deaf’s cotton.

Franklin and his sister Marcella had been on the road for weeks. The two siblings had abandoned their cottage — both parents were long dead — and had set out on foot. Their mule carried their light load. Franklin plucked his hat off of his head and clutched it tightly between his knees. In the cramped space allowed him, he leaned forward. His linen shirt fell around his face. The collar was thick with grime and he could smell the stench of his sweat more powerfully now. He shook his head wildly and the fine dirt cascaded out. He rustled his fingers through his hair to shake out more and then flung himself upright again, his soiled shirt billowing back into place. He set his hat back on his head, adjusting the brim to block as much of the summer sun as possible.

The shake of his head had sent a smattering of dirt onto Marcella, who walked beside him. The sleeve of her once-white blouse blew against his own. A large scarf was knotted under her chin and trailed partly down her back. She had pulled the scarf forward on her head to shield her face, although thin lines had already begun to emerge on her soft, nineteen-year-old skin, where she had begun to crinkle her eyes against the sun. Her apron smelled of the dirt and other women’s babies she had helped carry on her hips.

From time to time, Franklin worked his way to the side of the road, inching through the throngs until he got to the road's edge, where the line of covered wagons and draft animals, his mule among them, stretched in a line miles long. There, he would steady himself atop a mule or an ox for a better view. He balanced on his knees along the end of the animal’s broad back, pressing lightly on the chattels stacked upon it. He squinted against the swirl of dust, though it seemed less offensive from this height. The amply wide brim of his hat offered the eyeshade he needed.

He looked back, in the direction from which they had come. He could not see the road itself, the buff blanket of dust, the rough wheel tracks. He looked for a locus at the horizon — for this he had to arch his back higher for greater height and lift his head — searching for a clearing, what felt to him a glade in a forest, but there was none. No clearing, no gaps. Every spot of road he could see, looking forward, looking back, had feet set upon it.

The masses were fenced on either side by the ungainly trail of wagons. The throngs were hatted and headscarved, the browns and blacks and dark florals looked to Franklin like a long carpet rippling across the landscape. Franklin and Marcella had walked already more than two hundred miles, heading west from Transylvania, farther inland, to Hungary's new borders.