Mór Jókai.

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robbers, who ply their nefarious trade in a foreign land. The lady is
his mistress. She fell once into the hands of justice, in Germany, and
was branded as a criminal on her forehead. That accounts for the heavy
veil she always wears - "

"Oh, that is quite too horribly romantic, Herr Doctor!" interrupted the
baroness. "We cannot accept that version. Let us hear the other one."

"The second is more likely to be the true one. Four years ago the
newspapers were full of a remarkable abduction case. A stranger - no one
knew who he was - abducted the wife of a French officer from Dieppe.
Since then the betrayed husband has been searching all over the world
for his runaway wife and her lover; and the pair at the castle are
supposed to be they."

"That certainly is the more plausible solution of the mystery. But there
is one flaw. If the lovers fled here to Fertöszeg to escape pursuit, the
lady has chosen the very worst means to remain undiscovered. Who would
recognize them here if they went about in the ordinary manner? The story
of the veil will spread farther and farther, and will ultimately betray
them to the pursuing husband."

By this time the reverend Herr Mercatoris had got the better of his bad
teeth, and was now ready to join the conversation.

"Gentlemen and ladies," he began, "allow me to say a word about this
matter, the details of which no one knows better than myself, as I have
for months been in communication with the nameless gentleman at the

"What sort of communication?"

"Through the medium of a correspondence, which has been conducted in
quite a peculiar manner. The count - we will call him so, although we are
not justified in so doing, for the gentleman did not announce himself as
such - the count sends me every morning his copy of the Augsburg
'Allgemeine Zeitung.' Moreover, I frequently receive letters from him
through Frau Schmidt; but I always have to return them as soon as I
have read them. They are not written in a man's hand; the writing is
unmistakably feminine. The seal is never stamped; only once I noticed on
it a crest with three flowers - "

"What sort of flowers?" hastily interposed the baroness.

"I don't know the names of them, your ladyship."

"And what do you write about?" she asked again.

"The correspondence began by the count asking a trifling favor of me. He
complained that the dogs in the village barked so loud; then, that the
children robbed the birds' nests; then, that the night-watchman called
the hour unnecessarily loud. These complaints, however, were not made in
his own name, but by another person whom he did not name. He wrote
merely: 'Complainant is afraid when the dogs bark.' 'Complainant loves
birds.' 'Complainant is made nervous by the night-watchman.' Then he
sent some money for the owners of the barking dogs, asking that the curs
be shut indoors nights; and some for the children, so they would cease
to rob the birds' nests; and some for the watchman, whom he requested to
shout his loudest at the other end of the village. When I had attended
to his requests, he began to send me his newspaper, which is a great
favor, for I can ill afford to subscribe for one myself. Later, he
loaned me some books; he has the classics of all nations - the works of
Wieland, Kleist, Börne, Lessing, Locke, Schleiermacher. Then we began to
write about the books, and became entangled in a most exciting argument.
Frau Schmidt, who was the bearer of this exchange of opinions, very
often passed to and fro between the castle and the parsonage a dozen
times a day; and all the time we never said anything to each other, when
we happened to meet in the road, but 'good day.' From the letters,
however, I became convinced that the mysterious gentleman is neither a
criminal, nor a fugitive from justice, nor yet an adventurous hero who
abducts women! Nor is he an unfortunate misanthrope. He is, on the
contrary, a philanthropist in the widest sense - one who takes an
interest in everything that goes on about him, and is eager to help his
suffering fellows. In a word, he is a philosopher who is happy when he
is surrounded by peace and quiet."

The baroness, who had listened with interest to the reverend gentleman's
words, now made inquiry:

"How does this nameless gentleman learn of his poor neighbors' needs,
when neither he nor his servants associate with any one outside the

"In a very simple manner, your ladyship. He has a very powerful
telescope in the tower of the castle, with which he can view every
portion of the surrounding region. He thus learns when there is illness
or death, whether a house needs repair; and wherever anything is needed,
the means to help are sent to me. On Christmas he has all the children
from the village up at the castle, where he has a splendid Christmas
tree with lighted tapers, and a gift for every child, - clothes, books,
and sweets, - which he distributes with his own hand. I can tell you an
incident which is characteristic of the man. One day the county arrested
a poor woman, the wife of a notorious thief. The Herr Vice-palatine will
remember the case - Rakoncza Jutka, the wife of the robber Satan Laczi?"

"Yes, I remember. She is still in prison," assented the gentleman
referred to.

"Yes. Well, she has a little son. When the mother was taken to prison,
the little lad was turned away from every door, was beaten and abused by
the other children, until at last he fled to the marshes, where he ate
the young shoots of the reeds, and slept in the mire. The nameless count
discovered with his telescope the little outcast, and wrote to me to
have him taken to Frau Schmidt, where he would be well taken care of
until his mother came back."

By this time the tears were running down the baroness's cheeks.

"Poor little lad!" she murmured brokenly. "Your story has affected me
deeply, Herr Pastor."

Then she summoned her steward, and bade him fill a large hamper with
sweets and pasties, and send it to Frau Schmidt for the poor little boy.
"And tell Frau Schmidt," she added, "to send the child to the manor. We
will see to it that he has some suitable clothes. I am delighted,
reverend sir, to learn that my tenant is a true nobleman."

"His deeds certainly proclaim him as such, your ladyship."

"How do _you_ explain the mystery of the veiled lady?"

"I cannot explain it, your ladyship; she is never mentioned in our

"She may be a prisoner, detained at the castle by force."

"That cannot be; for she has a hundred opportunities to escape, or to
ask for help."

Here the surveyor managed to express his belief that the reason the lady
wore a veil was because of the repulsiveness of her face.

At this, a voice that had not yet been heard said, at the lower end of
the table:

"But the lady is one the most beautiful creatures I ever saw - and quite

Every eye was turned toward the speaker.

"What? Audiat? How dares he say such a thing?" demanded the

"Because I have seen her."

"You have seen her? When did you see her? Where did you see her - her
whom no one yet has seen?"

"When I was returning from college last year, _per pedes apostolorum_,
for my money had given out, and my knapsack was empty. I was picking
hazelnuts from the bushes in the park of the Nameless Castle, when I
heard a window open. I looked up, and saw in the open sash a face the
like of which I have never seen, even in a picture."

"Ah!" ejaculated the baroness. "Tell us what is she like. Come nearer to

The clerk, however, was too bashful to leave his place, whereupon the
baroness rose and took a seat by his side.

"She has long, curling black hair," he went on. "Her face is fair as a
lily and red as a rose, her brow pure and high, with no sign of the
branding-iron. Her mouth is small and delicate. Indeed, her entire
appearance that day was like that of an angel looking down from heaven."

"Is she a maid or a married woman?" inquired one of the company.

A maid, in those days, was very easily distinguished from her married
sister. The latter was never seen without a cap.

"A young girl not more than fifteen, I should say," was the reply. "A
cap would not suit her face."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Bernat bácsi. "And this enchanting fairy opened
the window to show her lovely face to Audiat!"

"No; she did not open the window on my account," retorted the young man,
"but for the beasts that were luckier than I - for four cats that were
playing in the gutter of the roof; a white one, a black one, a yellow
one, and a gray one; and all of them scampered toward her when they
heard her call."

"The cats are her only companions - that much we know from the servants,"
affirmed the justice.

The laurels which his clerk had won made the vice-palatine jealous.

"Audiat," he said, in a reproving tone, "you ought to learn that a young
person should speak only when spoken to; indeed, - as the learned
Professor Hatvani says, - even then it is not necessary to answer all

But the company around the dinner-table did not share these views. The
clerk was assailed on all sides - very much as would have been an
aëronaut who had just alighted from a montgolfier - to relate all that he
had seen in those regions not yet penetrated by man. What sort of gown
did the mysterious lady wear? Was he certain that she had no cap on? Was
she really no older than fifteen years?

The vice-palatine at last put an end to his clerk's triumph.

"Tut, tut! what can you expect to learn from a mere lad like him? - when
he saw her only for an instant! Just wait; _I_ will find out all about
this nameless gentleman and lady."

"Pray how do you propose to accomplish that?" queried the baroness, who
had returned to her former seat.

"I shall go to the Nameless Castle."

"Suppose you are not permitted to enter?"

"What? _I_, the vice-palatine, not permitted to enter? Wait; I will
explain my plan to you over the coffee."

When the time came to serve the black coffee, the amiable hostess
suggested that it would be pleasant to enjoy it in the open air;
whereupon the company repaired to the veranda where, on several small
tables, the fragrant mocha was steaming in the cups. Here the baroness
and the vice-palatine seated themselves where they could look directly
at the Nameless Castle; and Herr Bernat Görömbölyi proceeded to explain
how he intended to take the castle without force - which was forbidden a
Hungarian official.

Then the two ladies withdrew to make their toilets for the evening; and
the gentlemen betook themselves to the smoking-room, to indulge in a
little game of chance, without which no "installation" ceremony would
have been complete.


The following morning, after a very satisfactory breakfast, the
gentlemen took leave of their amiable hostess, Bernat bácsi lingering
behind the rest to whisper significantly:

"I will not say farewell, Katinka hugom, for I am coming back to tell
you all about it." Then he took his place in the extra post-chaise, and
bade the postilion drive directly to the neighboring castle. The
Nameless Castle was built on a narrow tongue of land that extended into
Lake Neusiedl. The road to the castle gate ran along a sort of causeway,
which was protected from the water by a strong bulwark composed of
fascines, and a row of willows with knotty crowns. A drawbridge at the
farther end made it necessary for the person who wished to enter the
gate to ask permission.

On ringing the bell, there appeared at the gate the servant who has
already been described, - the groom, coachman, and man of all work in one
person. He had on a handsome livery, white gloves, white stockings, and
shoes without heels.

"Is the count at home?" inquired the vice-palatine.

"He is."

"Announce us. I am the vice-palatine of the county, and wish to pay an
official visit."

"The Herr Count is already informed of the gentlemen's arrival, and bids
them welcome."

This certainly was getting on smoothly enough! And the most convincing
proof of a hearty welcome was that the stately groom himself hastened to
remove the luggage from the chaise and carry it into the vestibule - a
sign that the guests were expected to make a visit of some duration.

Now, however, something curious happened.

Before the groom opened the hall door, he produced three pairs of socks,
woven of strands of cloth, - _mamuss_ they are called in this
region, - and respectfully requested the visitors to draw them over their

"And why, pray?" demanded the astonished vice-palatine.

"Because in this house the clatter of boots is not considered pleasant;
and because the socks prevent boots from leaving dusty marks on the

"This is exactly like visiting a powder-magazine." But they had to
submit and draw their socks over their yellow boots, and, thus equipped,
they ascended the staircase to the reception-room.

An air of almost painful neatness reigned in all parts of the castle.
Stairs and corridors were covered with coarse white cloth, the sort used
for peasants' clothing in Hungary. The walls were hung with glossy white
paper. Every door-latch had been polished until it glistened. There were
no cobwebs to be seen in the corners; nor would a spider have had
anything to prey upon here, for there were no flies, either. The floor
of the reception-room into which the visitors had been conducted shone
like a mirror, and not a speck of dust was to be seen on the furniture.

"The Herr Count awaits your lordship in the salon," announced the groom,
and conducted Herr Bernat into the adjoining chamber. Here, too, the
furniture was white and gold. The oil-paintings in the rococo frames
represented landscapes, fruit pieces, and game; there was not a
portrait among them.

Beside the oval table with tigers' feet stood the mysterious occupant of
the Nameless Castle. He was a tall man, with knightly bearing,
expressive face, a high, broad forehead left uncovered by his natural
hair, a straight Greek nose, gray eyes, a short mustache and pointed
beard, which where a shade lighter than his hair.

"_Magnifice comes_ - " the vice-palatine was beginning in Latin, when the
count interposed:

"I speak Hungarian."

"Impossible!" exclaimed the visitor, whose astonishment was reflected in
his face. "Hungarian? Why, where can your worship have learned it?"

"From the grammar."

"From the grammar?" For the vice-palatine this was the most astounding
of all the strange things about the mysterious castle. Had he not always
known that Hungarian could only be learned by beginning when a child and
living in a Hungarian family? That any one had learned the language as
one learns the _hic, hæc, hoc_ was a marvel that deserved to be
recorded. "From the grammar?" he repeated. "Well, that is wonderful! I
certainly believed I should have to speak Latin to your worship. But
allow me to introduce my humble self - "

"I already have the honor," quietly interrupted the count, "of knowing
that you are Herr Vice-palatine Bernat Görömbölyi von Dravakeresztur."

He repeated the whole name without a single mistake!

The vice-palatine bowed, and began again:

"The object of my visit to-day is - "

Again he was interrupted.

"I know that also," said the count. "The Fertöszeg estate has passed
into the hands of another proprietor, who has a legal right to withdraw
the lease and revoke the conditions made and agreed to by her
predecessor; and the Herr Vice-palatine is come, at the request of the
baroness, to serve a notice to quit."

Herr Bernat did not like it when any one interrupted him or knew
beforehand what he intended to say.

"On the contrary, I came because the baroness desires to renew the
lease. She has learned how kind to the poor your worship is, and offers
the castle and park at half the rent paid heretofore." He fancied this
would melt the haughty lord of the castle, but it seemed to increase his

"Thanks," frigidly responded the count. "If the baroness thinks the rent
too high, she will find in her own neighborhood poor people whom she can
assist. I shall continue to pay the same rent I paid to the former

"Then my business will be easily settled. I have brought my clerk with
me; he can write out the necessary papers, and the matter can be
concluded at once."

"Thank you very much," returned the count, but without offering to shake
hands. Instead, he kept his arms crossed behind his back.

"Before we proceed to business," resumed the vice-palatine, "I must tell
your worship an anecdote. A professor once told his pupils that he knew
everything. Shortly afterward he asked one of the lads what his name
was. 'Why,' responded the youth, 'how does it come that you don't know
my name - you who know everything?'"

"I cannot see why you thought it necessary to relate this anecdote to
me," observed the count, without a smile.

"I introduce it because I am compelled to inquire your worship's name
and title, in order to draw up the contracts properly."

This, then, was the strategem by which he proposed to learn the name
which no one yet had been able to decipher on the count's letters?

The count gazed fixedly for several seconds at his questioner, then
replied quietly:

"My name is Count Ludwig Vavel de Versay - with a _y_ after the _a_."

"Thanks. I shall not forget it; I have a very good memory," said Herr
Bernat, who was perfectly satisfied with his success. "Allow me, also,
to inquire the family name of the worshipful Frau Countess?"

At this question the count at last removed his hands from his back, and
with the sort of gesture a man makes who would tear asunder an
adversary. At the same time he cast upon Herr Bernat a glance that
reminded the valiant official of the royal commissioner, as well as of
his energetic spouse at home. The angry man seemed to have increased a
head in stature.

Instead of replying to the question, he turned on his heel and strode
from the room, leaving his visitor standing in the middle of the floor.
Herr Bernat was perplexed; he did not know what to do next. Was it not
quite natural to ask the name of a man's wife when a legal contract was
to be written? His question, therefore, had not been an insult.

At last, as the count did not return, there was nothing left for Herr
Bernat to do but go to his room and wait there for further developments.
The contracts would have to be renewed, else the count would have to
vacate the castle; and one could easily see that a great deal of money
had been expended in fitting it up. The count had transformed the old
hunting-seat, which had been a filthy little nest, into a veritable
fairy castle. Yes, undoubtedly the contracts would be renewed.

The vice-palatine was pacing the floor of his room in his noiseless
cloth socks, when he suddenly heard the voices of his clerk and his
servant outside the door.

"Well, Janos, we are not going to dine here to-day; from what I can
learn, we are going to be eaten ourselves."

"What do you mean?"

"The groom told me his master was loading his pistols to shoot some one.
The count challenges to a duel every one who inquires after the

The voices ceased. The vice-palatine opened wide his eyes, and muttered:

"May the devil fly away with him! He wants to fight a duel, does he? I
am not afraid of his pistols; I have one, too, and a sword into the
bargain. But it 's a silly business altogether! I am to fight about a
woman I have n't even seen! And what will my wife say? I wish I had n't
come into this crazy castle! I wish I had n't sealed a compact of
fraternity with the baroness! Why did not I leave this whole
installation business to the second vice-palatine? If only I could think
of an excuse to turn my back on this lunatic asylum! But I am not going
to run away from a pistol. The Hungarian noble is a born soldier. If
only I had my pipe! A man is only half a man without his pipe. A pipe
inspires one with ideas. Where, I wonder, is that Audiat gadding?"

At this moment the clerk opened the door.

"Fetch our luggage, Audiat; we are going to leave this damned lunatic
asylum. The Herr Count may see to it then how he renews his lease."
Hereupon he kicked off the socks with such vigor that the very castle
shook. Then, grasping his sword in his hand, he marched out of his room,
and down the staircase, to prove that he was not fleeing like a coward,
but was clearing his way by force.

When the clerk, who went to fetch the luggage, was about to enter the
groom's apartment, the count came toward him and said:

"You are the vice-palatine's clerk?"

"That 's what they call me."

"When do you expect to become a lawyer?"

"When I have passed my examination."

"When will that be?"

"When I have served a year as jurat, and have paid a ducat for my

"I will give you the ducat, and when you have become a lawyer I will
employ you as my attorney at six hundred guilders a year. I know that a
Hungarian gentleman will not accept a gift without making some return; I
ask you, therefore, to give me for this ducat some information."

"What is it you wish to know?"

"How can I obtain possession of a portion of Lake Neusiedl for my own
use alone?"

"By becoming a naturalized citizen of the county, and by purchase of a
portion of the shore. I dare say there are some landowners on the shore
who would be glad to part with their possessions in exchange for solid
cash. If you buy such an estate you will have sole right to that part of
the water in front of your property, and to the middle of the lake."

"Thank you. One more question: if you were my attorney, what could you
do to prevent me from being ejected from this castle, in case I did not
sign a new contract with the present owner?"

"First, I should take advantage of the law of possession, and drag the
case through a twelve years' process; then I should appeal, which would
postpone a settlement for three years longer. Would that be long


The count nodded a farewell to the youthful jurist without even
inquiring his name; nor did Audiat venture to propound a like question
to his future employer.

Bernat bácsi did not, as he had promised, return to the manor to tell
the baroness the result of his visit. He drove direct to his home.




When they heard the call, "Puss, puss!" they scampered down the roof,
leaped from the eaves, and vanished, one after the other, between the
curtains of the open window. It was quite an ethnographic, so to speak,
collection of cats; a panther-like French pussy from Dund, a Caucasian
with long pointed ears, one from China with wavy silken fur and drooping
ears. Then the window was closed, for the company were all
assembled - four cats, two pug-dogs, and a sparrow, and the hostess, a
young girl.

The girl, to judge from her figure, was perhaps fifteen years old; but
her manner and speech were those of a much younger child. With her
arched brow and rainbow-formed eyebrows, she might have served as a
model for a saint, had not the roguish smile about the corners of her
red lips betrayed an earthly origin. The sparkling dark eyes, delicately
chiseled nostrils, and rounded chin gave to her face certain family
characteristics which many persons would have recognized at a first

Her clothing was richly adorned with lace and embroidery, which was not
the fashion for girls of her age; at the same time, there was about her
attire a peculiar negligence, as if she had no one to advise her what
was proper to wear, or how to wear it.

Her room was furnished with luxurious elegance. Satin hangings covered
the walls; the furniture was upholstered with rare gobelin tapestry.
Gilded cabinets veneered with tortoise-shell held, behind glass doors,
all sorts of costly toys, and dolls in full costume. On a Venetian table
with mosaic top lay a pack of cards and three heaps of money - one of
gold, one of silver, the third of copper. On a low, three-legged table
was a something shaped like an organ, with a long row of metal and
wooden pipes. Near the window stood a drawing-table, on which were
sheets of drawing-board, and glasses containing pulverized colors. There
was also a bookcase; on the shelves were volumes of Vertuch's "Orbis
pictus," the "Portefeuille des enfants," the "History of Robinson
Crusoe," and several numbers of a fashion magazine, the "Album des
salons," the illustrations of which lay scattered about on tables and

The guests were all assembled; not one was missing. The little hostess

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Online LibraryMór JókaiThe Nameless Castle → online text (page 5 of 21)