Mór Jókai.

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Then she turned toward De Fervlans, and whispered, holding the
lorgnette in front of her lips:

"Mama leaves her money-chest in my care" - adding, with naïve sarcasm,
"which means that she has left me to battle with her creditors."




PART II

THE HOME OF ANECDOTE


CHAPTER I


The entire population of Fertöszeg was assembled on the public highway
to welcome the new proprietress of the estate. Elaborate preparations
had been made for the reception. An arch of green boughs - at the top of
which gleamed the word "Vivat" in yellow roses - spanned the road, on
either side of which were ranged twelve little girls in white, with
flower-baskets in their hands. They were under the superintendence of
the village cantor, whose intention it was to conclude the ceremonies
with a hymn of welcome by these innocent little creatures.

On a sort of platform, a bevy of rosy-cheeked maids were waiting to
present to the new-comer a huge hamper heaped to the brim with ripe
melons, grapes, and Ostyepka cheeses of marvelous shapes. Mortars
crowned the summit of the neighboring hill. In the shadow of a spreading
beech-tree were assembled the official personages: the vice-palatine,
the county surveyor, the village pastor, the district physician, the
justice of the peace, and the different attendants, county and state
employees, belonging to these gentlemen. The vice-palatine's assistant
ought also to have been in this company, but he was busy giving the last
instructions to the village beauties whose part it was to present the
hamper of fruit and cheeses.

These gentlemen had wives and daughters; but _they_ had stationed
themselves along the trench at the side of the road. _They_ did not
seek the shadow of a tree, because _they_ wished people to know that
_they_ had parasols; for to own a parasol in those days was no small
matter.

Preparations were making in the market-place for an ox-roast. The fat
young ox had been spitted, and the pile of fagots underneath him was
ready for the torch. Hard by, on a stout trestle, rested a barrel of
wine. In front of the inn a gypsy band were tuning their instruments,
while at the window of the church tower might have been seen two or
three child faces; they were on the lookout for the new lady of the
manor, in order that they might be ready to ring the bells the moment
she came in sight. There was only that one tower in the village, and
there was a cross on it; but it was not a Romish church, for all that.
The inhabitants were adherents of Luther - Swabians, mixed with Magyars.

The municipal authorities, in their holiday attire of blue cloth, had
grouped themselves about the town hall. The older men wore their long
hair brushed back from the temples and held in place by a curved comb.
The young men had thrust into the sides of their lambskin caps gay
little nosegays of artificial flowers. _They_ proposed to fire a grand
salute from the pistols they had concealed in their pockets.

Meanwhile, the dignitaries underneath the umbrageous beech-tree were
passing the time of waiting pleasantly enough. Maple wine mixed with
mineral water was a very refreshing drink in the intense heat; besides,
it served as a stimulant to the appetite - _appetitorium_, they called
it.

Three wooden benches, joined together in a half-circle, formed a
comfortable resting-place for the committee of reception, the chief of
whom, the vice-palatine, was seated on the middle bench, drawing through
the stem of his huge carved meerschaum the smoke of the sweet Veker
tobacco. His figure was the living illustration of the ever true axiom:
"_Extra Hungariam non est vita_," - an axiom which his fat red face by no
means confuted, - while his heavy, stiffly waxed mustache seemed to add
menacingly: "Leave the Hungarian in peace."

He shared his seat with the clergyman, whose ecclesiastical office
entitled him to that honor. The reverend gentleman, however, was an
extremely humble person, whom erudition had bent and warped to such a
degree that one shoulder was lower than the other, one eyelid was
elevated above its fellow, and only one half of his mouth opened when he
gave utterance to a remark. His part in the festive ceremony was the
performance of the _beneventatio_; and although he had committed the
speech to memory, he could not help but tremble at thought of having to
repeat it before so grand a dame as the new mistress of the manor. He
always trembled whenever he began his sermons; but once fairly started,
then he became a veritable Demosthenes.

"I only hope, reverend sir," jestingly observed the vice-palatine, "that
it will not happen to you as it did to the _csokonai_, not long ago.
Some wags exchanged his sermon-book for one on cookery, and he did not
notice it until he began to read in the pulpit: 'The vinegar was - ' Then
he saw that he was reading a recipe for pickled gherkins. He had the
presence of mind, however, to continue, ' - was offered to the Saviour,
who said, "It is finished."' And on that text he extemporized a
discourse that astounded the entire presbytery."

"I shall manage somehow to say my speech," returned the pastor, meekly,
"if only I do not stumble over the name of the lady."

"It is a difficult name," assented the vice-palatine. "What is it? I
have already forgotten it, reverend sir."

"Katharina von Landsknechtsschild."

The vice-palatine's pointed mustaches essayed to give utterance to the
name.

"Lantz-k-nek-hisz-sild - that's asking a great deal from a body at one
time!" he concluded, in disgust at his ill success.

"And yet, it is a good old Hungarian family name. The last Diet
recognized her ancestors as belonging to the nobility."

This remark was made by a third gentleman. He was sitting on the left of
the vice-palatine, and was clad in snuff-colored clothes. His face was
covered with small-pox marks; he had tangled yellow hair and inflamed
eyelids.

"Are you acquainted with the family, doctor?" asked the vice-palatine.

"Of course I am," replied the doctor. "Baron Landsknechtsschild
inherited this estate from his mother, who was a Markoczy. The baron
sold the estate to his niece Katharina. You, Herr Surveyor, must have
seen the baron, when the land was surveyed around the Nameless Castle
for the mad count?"

The surveyor, who was seated beside the doctor, was a clever man in his
profession, but little given to conversation. When he did open his lips,
he rarely got beyond: "I - say - what was it, now, I was going to say?"

As no one seemed willing to-day to wait until he could remember what he
wanted to remark, the doctor, who was never at a loss for words,
continued:

"The Baroness Katharina paid one hundred thousand florins for the
estate, with all its prerogatives - "

"That's quite a handsome sum," observed the vice-palatine. "And, what is
handsomer, it is said the new proprietress intends to take up a
permanent residence here. Is not that the report, Herr Justice? You
ought to know."

The justice had an odd habit, while speaking, of rubbing together the
palms of his hands, as if he were rolling little dumplings between them.

"Yes - yes," he replied, beginning his dumpling-rolling; "that is quite
true. The baroness sent some beautiful furniture from Vienna; also a
piano, and a tuner to tune it. All the rooms at the manor have been hung
with new tapestry, and the conservatory has been completely renovated."

"I wonder how the baroness came to take such a fancy to this quiet
neighborhood? It is very strange, too, that none of the neighboring
nobles have been invited here to meet her. It is as if she intended to
let them know in advance that she did n't want their acquaintance. At
any other celebration of this sort half the county would have been
invited, and here are only ourselves - and we are here because we are
obliged, _ex officio_, to be present."

This speech was delivered over the mouthpiece of the vice-palatine's
meerschaum.

"I fancy I can enlighten you," responded the doctor.

"I thought it likely that the 'county clock' could tell us something
about it," laughingly interpolated the vice-palatine.

"You may laugh as much as you like, but I always tell what is true,"
retorted the "county clock." "They say that the baroness was betrothed
to a gentleman from Bavaria, that the wedding-day was set, when the
bridegroom heard that the lady he was about to marry was - "

"Hush!" hastily whispered the justice; "the servants might hear you."

"Oh, it is n't anything scandalous. All that the bridegroom heard was
that the baroness was a Lutheran; and as the _matrimonia mixta_ are
forbidden in Vienna and in Bavaria, the bridegroom withdrew from the
engagement. In her grief over the affair, the _sposa repudiata_ said
farewell to the world, and determined to wear the_parta_[2] for the
remainder of her days. That is why she chose this remote region as a
residence."

[Footnote 2: A head-covering worn only by Hungarian maidens.]

Here the bell in the church tower began to ring. It was followed by a
roar from the mortars on the hilltop.

The gypsy band began to play Biharis's "Vierzigmann Marsch"; a cloud of
dust rose from the highway; and soon afterward there appeared an
outrider with three ostrich-plumes in his hat. He was followed by a
four-horse coach, with coachman and footman on the box.

The committee of reception came forth from the shade of the beech and
ranged themselves underneath the arch. The clergyman for the last time
took his little black book from his pocket, and satisfied himself that
his speech was still in it. The coach stopped, and it was discovered
that no one occupied it; only the discarded shawl and traveling-wraps
told that women had been riding in the conveyance.

The general consternation which ensued was ended by the agent from
Vienna, who drove up in a second vehicle. He explained that the baroness
and her companion had alighted at the park gate, whence they would
proceed on foot up the shorter foot-path to the manor. And thus ended
all the magnificent preparations for the reception!

A servant now came running from the village, his plumed _czako_ in one
hand, and announced that the baroness awaited the dignitaries at the
manor.

This was, to say the least, exasperating! A whole week spent in
preparing - for nothing!

You may be sure every one had something to say about it, audibly and to
themselves, and some one was even heard to mutter:

"This is the _second_ mad person come to live in Fertöszeg."

And then they all betook themselves, a disappointed company, to their
homes.

The baroness, who had preferred to walk the shorter path through the
park to driving around the village in the dust for the sake of receiving
a ceremonious welcome, was a lovely blonde, a true Viennese,
good-humored, and frank as a child. She treated every one with cordial
friendliness. One might easily have seen that everything rural was new
to her. While walking through the park she took off her hat and
decorated it with the wild flowers which grew along the path. In the
farm-yard she caught two or three little chickens, calling them
canaries - a mistake the mother hen sought in the most emphatic manner to
correct. The surly old watch-dog's head was patted. She brushed with her
dainty fingers the hair from the eyes of the gaping farmer children. She
was here and there in a moment, driving to despair her companion, whose
gouty limbs were unable to keep pace with the flying feet of her
mistress.

At the manor the baroness was received by the steward, who had been sent
on in advance with orders to prepare the "installation dinner." Then she
proceeded at once to inspect every corner and crevice - the kitchen as
well as the dining-room, astonishing the cooks with her knowledge of
their art. She was summoned from the kitchen to receive the dignitaries.

"Let there be no ceremony, gentlemen," she exclaimed in her musical
voice, hastening toward them. "I detest all formalities. I have had a
surfeit of them in Vienna, and intend to breathe natural air here in the
country, without 'fuss or feathers,' with no incense save that which
rises from burning tobacco! This is why I avoided your parade out
yonder on the highway. I want nothing but a cordial shake of your hands;
and as regards the official formalities of this 'installation' business,
you must settle that with my agent, who has authority to act for me.
After that has been arranged, we will all act as if we were old
acquaintances, and every one of you must consider himself at home here."

To this gracious speech the vice-palatine gave utterance to something
which sounded like:

"Kisz-ti-hand!"

"Ah!" returned the baroness, "you speak German?"

"Well, yes," replied the descendant of the Scythians; "only, I am likely
to blunder when speaking it, as did the valiant Barkocz. When our
glorious Queen Maria Theresa recovered from the chicken-pox, she was
bemoaning the disfiguring scars left on her face, when the brave
soldier, in order to comfort her, said: 'But your Majesty still has very
beautiful _leather_.'"

"Ha, ha, ha!" merrily laughed the baroness. "You are the gentleman who
has an anecdote to suit every occasion. I have already heard about you.
Pray introduce the other gentlemen."

The vice-palatine proceeded to obey this request. "This is the Rev. Herr
Tobias Mercatoris, our parish clergyman. He has a beautiful speech
prepared to receive your ladyship; but he can't repeat it here, as it
begins, 'Here in the grateful shadow of these green trees.'"

"Oh, well, your reverence, instead of the speech, I will listen to your
sermons on Sundays. I intend to become a very zealous member of your
congregation."

"And this, your ladyship," continued the master of ceremonies, "is Dr.
Philip Tromfszky, resident physician of Fertöszeg, who is celebrated not
only for his surgical and medical skill, but is acknowledged here, as
well as in Raab, Komorn, Eisenburg, and Odenburg, as the greatest gossip
and news dispenser in the kingdom."

"A most excellent accomplishment!" laughingly exclaimed the baroness. "I
am devoted to gossip; and I shall manage to have some ailment every few
days in order to have the doctor come to see me!"

Then came the surveyor's turn.

"This, your ladyship, is Herr Martin Doboka, county surveyor and expert
mathematician. He will measure for you land, water, or fog; and if your
watch stops going, he will repair it for you!"

"And who may this be?" smilingly inquired the lady, indicating the
vice-palatine's assistant, who had thrust his long neck inquisitively
forward.

"Oh, he is n't anybody!" replied the vice-palatine. "He is never called
by name. When you want him just say: '_Audiat!_' He is one of those
persons of whom Cziraky said: 'My lad, don't trouble yourself to inquire
where you shall seat yourself at table; for wherever you sit will always
be the lowest place!'"

This anecdote caused "Audiat" to draw back his head and seek to make
himself invisible.

"And now, I must present myself: I am the vice-palatine of this county,
and am called Bernat Görömbölyi von Dravakeresztur."

"My dear sir!" ejaculated the baroness, laughing heartily, "I could n't
commit all that to memory in three years!"

"That is exactly the way your ladyship's name affects me!"

"Then I will tell you what we will do. Instead of torturing each other
with our unpronounceable names, let us at once adopt the familiar
'thou,' and call each other by our Christian names."

"Yes; but when I enter into a 'brotherhood' of that sort, I always kiss
the person with whom I form a compact."

"Well, that can also be done in this instance!" promptly responded the
baroness, proffering, without affectation of maidenly coyness, the
ceremonial kiss, and cordially shaking hands with the vice-palatine.
Then she said:

"We are now Bernat _bácsi_, and Katinka; and as that is happily
arranged, I will ask the gentlemen to go into the agent's office and
conclude our official business. Meanwhile, I shall make my toilet for
dinner, where we will all meet again."

"What a perfectly charming woman!" exclaimed the justice, when their
hostess had vanished from the room.

"I wonder what would happen," observed the doctor, with a malicious
grin, "if the vice-palatine's wife should hear of that kiss? Would n't
there be a row, though!"

The heroic descendant of the Scythians at these words became seriously
alarmed.

"The Herr Doctor, I trust, will be honorable enough not to gossip about
it," he said meekly.

"Oh, you may rest without fear, so far as _I_ am concerned; but I
would n't say as much for the surveyor, here. If ever he should succeed
in getting beyond 'I say,' I won't answer for the safety of your secret,
Herr Vice-palatine! When your wife hears, moreover, that it is 'Bernat'
and 'Katinka' up here, it will require something besides an anecdote to
parry what will follow!"




CHAPTER II


When the baroness appeared at the dinner-table, she was attired simply,
yet with a certain elegance. She wore a plain black silk gown, with no
other ornamentation save the string of genuine pearls about her throat.
The sombre hue of her gown signified mourning; the gems represented
tears; but her manner was by no means in keeping with either; she was
cheerful, even gay. But laughter very often serves to mask a sorrowful
heart.

"Thy place is here by my side," said the baroness, mindful of the
"thee-and-thou" compact with Herr Bernat.

The vice-palatine, remembering his spouse, sought to modify the
familiarity.

"I forgot to tell you, baroness," he observed, as he seated himself in
the chair beside her own, "that with us in this region 'thou' is used
only by children and the gypsies. To those with whom we are on terms of
intimacy we say 'he' or 'she,' to which we add, if we wish, the words
_bácsi_, or _hugom_, which are equivalent to 'cousin.'"

"And do you never say 'thou' to your wife?"

"To her also I say 'she' or 'you.'"

"What a singular country! Well, then, Bernat bácsi, if it pleases 'him,'
will 'he' sit here by me?"

Baroness Katinka understood perfectly how to conduct the conversation
during the repast - an art which was not appreciated by her right-hand
neighbor, Herr Mercatoris. The learned gentleman had bad teeth, in
consequence of which eating was a sort of penitential performance that
left him no time for discourse.

But the doctor and the vice-palatine showed themselves all the more
willing to share the conversation with their hostess.

"The official business was satisfactorily arranged without me, was it
not, Bernat bácsi?" after a brief pause, inquired the baroness.

"Not altogether. We are like the gypsy who said that he was going to
marry a countess. He was willing, and all that was yet necessary was the
consent of a countess. Our business requires the consent of a
baroness - that is, of Katinka hugom."

"To what must I give my consent?"

"That the conditions relating to the Nameless Castle shall continue the
same as heretofore."

"Nameless Castle? - Conditions? - What does that mean? I should like very
much to know."

"Katinka hugom can see the Nameless Castle from the terrace out yonder.
It is a hunting-seat that was built by a Markoczy on the shore of Lake
Neusiedl, on the site of a primitive pile-dwelling. Three years ago, a
gentleman from a foreign country came to Fertöszeg, and took such a
fancy to the isolated house that he leased it from the baron, the former
owner, on condition that no one but himself and servants should be
permitted to enter the grounds belonging to the castle. The question now
is, will Katinka hugom consent to the conditions, or will she revoke
them?"

"And if I should choose to do the latter?" inquired the baroness.

"Then your ladyship would be obliged to give a handsome bonus to the
lessee. Shall you revoke the conditions?"

"It depends entirely on the sort of person my tenant proves to be."

"He is a very peculiar man, to say the least - one who avoids all contact
with his fellow-men."

"What is his name?"

"I don't think any one around here knows it. That is why his residence
has been called the Nameless Castle."

"But how is it possible that the name of a man who has lived here three
years is not known?"

"Well, that is easily explained. He never goes anywhere, never receives
visitors, and his servants never call him anything but 'the count.'"

"Surely he receives letters by post?"

"Yes, frequently, and from all parts of the known world. Very often he
receives letters which contain money, and for which he is obliged to
give a receipt; but no one has yet been able to decipher the illegible
characters on the letters addressed to him, or those of his own hand."

"I should think the authorities had a right to demand the information?"

"Which authorities?"

"Why - 'he,' Bernat bácsi."

"I? Why, what business is it of mine?"

"The authorities ought to inquire who strangers are, and where they come
from. And such an authority is 'he' - Bernat bácsi!"

"Hum; does 'she' take me to be a detective?"

"But you surely have a right to demand to see his passport?"

"Passport? I would rather allow myself to be thrown from the window of
the county-house than demand a passport from any one who comes to
Hungary, or set my foot in the house of a gentleman without his
permission!"

"Then you don't care what people do here?"

"Why should we? The noble does as he pleases, and the peasant as he
must."

"Suppose the man in the Nameless Castle were plotting some dreadful
treason?"

"That would be the affair of the king's attorney, not mine. Moreover,
nothing whatever can be said against the tenant of the Nameless Castle.
He is a quiet and inoffensive gentleman."

"Is he alone? Has he no family?"

"That the Herr Justice is better able to tell your ladyship than am I."

"Ah! Then, _Herr Hofrichter_," inquired the lady of the manor, turning
toward the justice, "what do _you_ know about this mysterious personage?
Has he a wife?"

"It seems as if he had a wife, your ladyship; but I really cannot say
for certain if he has one."

"Well, I confess my curiosity is aroused! How is it possible not to know
whether the man is married or not? Are the people invisible?"

"Invisible? By no means, your ladyship. The nameless count and a lady
drive out every morning at ten o'clock. They drive as far as the
neighboring village, where they turn and come back to the castle. But
the lady wears such a heavy veil that one can't tell if she be old or
young."

"If they drive out they certainly have a coachman; and one might easily
learn from a servant what are the relations between his master and
mistress."

"Yes, so one might. The coachman comes often to the village, and he can
speak German, too. There is a fat cook, who never leaves the castle,
because she can't walk. Then, there are two more servants, Schmidt and
his wife; but they live in a cottage near the castle. Every morning at
five o'clock they go to the castle gate, where they receive from some
one, through the wicket, orders for the day. At nine o'clock they
return to the gate, where a basket has been placed for the things they
have bought. But they never speak of the lady, because they have never
seen her face, either."

"What sort of a man is the groom?"

"The people about here call him the man with the iron mouth. It is
believed the fat cook is his wife, because he never even looks at the
girls in the village. He will not answer any questions; only once he
condescended to say that his mistress was a penniless orphan, who had
nothing, yet who got everything she wanted."

"Does no one visit them?"

"If any one goes to the castle, the count alone receives the visitor;
the lady never appears; and no one has yet had courage enough to ask for
her. But that they are Christians, one may know from their kitchen:
there is always a lamb for dinner on Easter; and the usual _heiligen
Stritzel_ on All Saints'. But they never go to church, nor is the pastor
ever received at the castle."

"What reason can they have for so much mystery, I wonder?" musingly
observed the baroness.

"That I cannot say. I can furnish only the data; for the deductions I
must refer your ladyship to the Herr Doctor."

"Ah, true!" ejaculated her ladyship, joining in the general laughter.
"The doctor, to be sure! If you are the county clock, Herr Doctor,
surely you ought to know something about our mysterious neighbors?"

"I have two versions, either of which your ladyship is at liberty to
accept," promptly responded the doctor. "According to the first
'authentic' declaration, the nameless count is the chief of a band of


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