WORKS OF MAURUS JOKAI
A HUNGARIAN NABOB
Translated from the Hungarian
By R. NISBET BAIN
NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
Copyright 1899 by Doubleday & McClure Co.
This noble novel, now translated into English for the first time, was written nearly fifty years ago. On its first appearance, Hungarian critics of every school at once hailed it as a masterpiece. It has maintained its popularity ever since; and now, despite the manifold mutations of literary fashion, in Hungary as elsewhere, has reached the unassailable position of a national classic.
It is no light task to attempt to transplant a classic like "Egy Magyar Nabob." National tastes differ infinitely, and then there is the formidable initial difficulty of contending with a strange and baffling non-aryan language. Only those few hardy linguists who have learnt, in the sweat of their brows, to read a meaning into that miracle of agglutinative ingenuity, an Hungarian sentence, will be able to appreciate the immense labour of rendering some four hundred pages of a Magyar masterpiece of peculiarly idiomatic difficulty into fairly readable English. But my profound admiration for the illustrious Hungarian romancer, and my intimate conviction that, of all continental novelists, he is most likely to appeal to healthy English taste, which has ever preferred the humorous and romantic story to the Tendenz-Roman, or novel with a purpose, have encouraged me to persevere to the end of my formidable task.
I may add, in conclusion, that I have taken the liberty to cut out a good third of the original work, and this I have done advisedly, having always been very strongly of opinion that the technique of the original tale suffered from an excess of episode. This embarras de richesse would naturally be still more noticeable in a translation, and I am particularly anxious that "A Hungarian Nabob" should attract at first sight. Let this, therefore, be my apology to Dr. Jokai and, as I trust, my claim upon his forgiveness.
R. NISBET BAIN. AUGUST, 1898.
I. AN ODDITY, 1822 9 II. A BARGAIN FOR THE SKIN OF A LIVING MAN 41 III. THE WHITSUN KING 58 IV. A FAMILY CURSE 89 V. THE TEMPTER IN CHURCH 116 VI. PAID IN FULL 132 VII. THE NABOB'S BIRTHDAY 153 VIII. AN UNEXPECTED CHANGE 186 IX. THE HUNTER IN THE SNARE 203 X. POOR LADY! 242 XI. THE FEMALE FRIEND 260 XII. THE HOUSE-WARMING 268 XIII. THE HUNT 274 XIV. MARTYRDOM 287 XV. THE SPY 294 XVI. LIGHT WITHOUT AND NIGHT WITHIN 301 XVII. A DANGEROUS EXPERIMENT 315 XVIII. UNPLEASANT DISCOVERIES 327 XIX. ZOLTAN KARPATHY 332 XX. SECRET VISITORS 337 XXI. THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT 344 XXII. LEAVE-TAKING 356
A HUNGARIAN NABOB.
AN ODDITY, 1822.
It is nasty, dirty weather outside there on the puszta; the sky is cloudy, the earth muddy, the rain has been falling for two weeks incessantly, as if by special command. There are inundations and submersions everywhere; rushes are growing instead of wheat, the stork is ploughing, the duck is fishing all over the precious sea-like expanse. "This judgment weather began on St. Medardus' Day, and will last now for forty days longer, but if it does last, I know not where we are to find the Noah to save man and beast from a partial deluge."
[Footnote 1: For the meaning of this and all other Hungarian words used in the text, see the glossary at end of book.]
This melancholy reflection was made by the noble Mr. Peter Bus, whom a cruel fate had called to be a perpetual wrangler with guests on the cross-roads of the famous county of Szabolcs, for he was the innkeeper of the "Break-'em-tear-'em" csarda there. That worthy inn owed its name, not to its ancestors, but to its own peculiar merits, for no traveller could possibly reach that sweet haven till he had had endless spills and been nearly torn to pieces. This was especially the case at such times when the floodgates of Heaven were open, and it naturally occurred to a man's mind how much better it would have been to have had floodgates on the earth instead, for then you would not be brought to a standstill on the dike between two ponds, with the ground so soaking wet beneath your feet that there seemed nothing for it but to stick there till you grew old, or carry your waggon away with you on your back.
It was drawing towards evening. Mr. Peter Bus was coming home from his fields on horseback, grumbling to himself, but softly, for he grudged taking his pipe out of his mouth merely for the sake of what he was saying, which goes to prove that pipes were invented in order that man may have something to stuff his mouth with, and thus stop from swearing so much. "All the hay has gone to the devil already," he muttered, "and he'll have the wheat too! The whole shoot has gone to the deuce!" For the innkeeper of the csarda does not live by only doling out wine, but is a bit of a farmer besides, and his business is no sinecure.
While he was thus murmuring to himself, a dubious-looking being of the feminine gender, of whom it was difficult to judge whether she was a spouse or a scullery-maid, appeared at the extreme end of the dike, which led towards the River Theiss.
"Isn't there a coach coming along there?" she said.
"So I'm to be saddled with guests on an infernal day like this, eh! It only needed that," said Peter Bus, grumbling still more. He did not look in the direction indicated, but hastened into his pothouse to strip off his saturated pelisse before the fire, and swear a little more. "When our store of bread is gone, I don't know where I am to get any more from, but I don't mean to starve for anybody."
At last, however, he condescended to look out of the window, drying the sweat from his brow the while, and perceived a carriage a good distance off, drawn by four post-horses, struggling along the dike. He made a gesture of satisfaction towards it with one hand, and said, pleasantly, "It won't get here to-day." Then he sat him down in front of his door, and, lolling his pipe out of the corner of his mouth, looked on in calm enjoyment, while the coachman cursed and swore at the four horses on the far-extending dike. The lumbering old vehicle on its high springs swayed to and fro from time to time, as if it were on the point of toppling over, but a couple of men kept close to it on each side, and, whenever a jolt came, they clung heavily on to the steps to keep it steady, and when it stuck fast in mud up to the axles of the wheels, and the horses came to a standstill, they would, first of all, shout till they were husky at the horses, and then, buckling to, dig the whole conveyance out with sticks and staves, raise the wheels, clean out the spokes, which had been converted into a solid mass of mud, and then proceed triumphantly a few paces further.
Mr. Peter Bus regarded the dangers of others in the spirit of a true predestinarian. Frantic cries and the cracking of whips reached his ears from time to time, but what business was it of his? It is true he had four good horses of his own, by the aid of which he might have dragged the coming guests out of the mud in the twinkling of an eye, but why should he? If it were written in the Book of Fate that the carriage would safely arrive at the csarda, it would arrive, but if it were preordained to stick fast in the mud and remain there till dawn, then stick fast it must, and it would be wrong to cut athwart the ways of Providence.
And at last all four wheels stuck so fast in the mud in the middle of the dam that it was impossible to move either backwards or forwards. The men were hoarse with shouting, the harness was rent to pieces, the horses lay down in the mud, and the weather began to grow beautifully dark. Mr. Peter Bus, with a lightened heart, knocked the ashes of his pipe-bowl into the palm of his hand. Thank God! no guest will come to-day, and his heart rejoiced as, passing through the door, he perceived the empty coach-house, in which his little family of poultry, all huddled up together for the night, was squabbling sociably. He himself ordered the whole of his household to bed, for candles were dear, put out the fire, and stretching himself at his ease on his bunda, chuckled comfortably behind his lighted pipe, and fell reflecting on the folly of people travelling anywhere in such dripping weather.
While Mr. Peter Bus was calmly sleeping the sleep of the just, danger was approaching the house from the other, the further side. In the direction of Nyiregyhaza there was no dike indeed, and the water was free to go up and down wherever it chose. A stranger venturing that way might just as well make his will at once, but those who knew the lie of the land, could get along more easily than if there had been a regular road; indeed, there were coachmen who had loafed about the district so long and learnt to know all its boggy and hilly turnings and windings so thoroughly, that they could make their way across it late at night in any sort of vehicle.
It must have been close upon midnight, for the cocks of the "Break-'em-tear-'em" csarda had begun to crow one after the other, when a light began to twinkle in the twilight. Twelve mounted men were approaching with burning torches, with a carriage and a waggon in their midst.
The waggon went in front, the carriage behind, so that if a ditch presented itself unexpectedly the waggon might tumble into it, and the carriage might take warning and avoid the spot.
The bearers of the torches were all heydukes wearing a peculiar uniform. On their heads were tschako-shaped kalpags with white horse-hair plumes, on their bodies were scarlet dolmans with yellow facings, over which fox-skin kaczaganys were cast as a protection against the pouring rain. At every saddle hung a fokos and a couple of pistols. Their gunyas only reached to the girdle, and below that followed short, fringed, linen hose which did not go at all well with the scarlet cloth of the dolmans.
And now the waggon comes in sight. Four good boorish horses were attached to it, whose manes almost swam in the water; the reins were handled by an old coachman with the figure of a betyar. The worthy fellow was sleeping, for, after all, the horses knew the way well, and he only awoke at such times as his hands closed upon the reins, when he would give a great snort and look angrily around him.
The interior of the waggon presented a somewhat comical sight, for though the back seat did not appear to be occupied, in the front seat two ambiguous looking individuals were sitting with their backs to the coachman. Who or what they were it was difficult to make out, for they had wrapped themselves up so completely in their shaggy woollen mantles, or gubas, and drawn their hoods so low down over their heads, that they had no resemblance to anything human. Moreover, they were sleeping soundly. Both their heads were jig-jogging right and left, and only now and then one or the other, and sometimes both at the same time, would be thrown backwards by the jolting of the waggon, or they would bump their heads together, and at such times would sit bolt upright as if determined to say, "Now, I really am not asleep!" and the next instant off they were nodding again.
The body of the waggon was fenced about with large baskets, whose rotundity warranted the suspicion that they must be stuffed with plenty of all sorts. The basket on the back seat moved slightly now and then, and, therefore, might fairly have been assumed to contain some living creature, which the two gentlemen held in high honour or they would not have given up the best seat to it. Presently a more violent concussion than usual tilted the basket over, when, after a desperate struggle, the mysterious something poked out its head, and revealed to the world a beautiful greyhound. So it was to him that precedence belonged! And this he seemed to be quite conscious of, for he sat up on his haunches in the waggon, gaped majestically for a moment, then condescended to scratch his aristocratic ears with his long legs, shook his steel-chain collar, and when an impertinent nocturnal gadfly attempted to cultivate his acquaintance by force, plunged into a determined contest with it, and snapped at it vigorously with his teeth. Tiring at last of this diversion, he turned his attention to his sleeping companions, and being in a condescending humour, and observing that the lankiest of the two sleepers was nodding at him, the humorous greyhound raised his front paw and passed it over the face of the slumberer, who thereupon murmured heavily, "Pah! don't taste it, your honour!"
And now let us have a look at the carriage. Five full-blooded stallions were harnessed to it, and all of them were tossing their gaily decked heads proudly. Two of them were beside the shafts and three in front, and each of the three had jangling bells around his neck, to warn all whom they might encounter to get out of the way. On the box sat an old coachman in an embroidered bekes, or fur-pelisse, whose sole instructions were that wherever he might go, he was not to dare to look into the carriage behind him under pain of being instantly shot through the head. We, however, who are in no fear of having our heads blown off, may just as well take a peep inside.
Beneath the hood of the carriage sat an aged man wrapped up to the throat in a wolfskin bunda, and with a large astrachan cap on his head drawn down over his eyes. Inside it one could make out nothing but the face. It was a peculiar face, with eyes that looked strangely at you. An errant spirit seemed to dwell in them; they spoke of a mind that had been destined for great, for amazing things. But fate, environment, and neglect had here been too much for destiny, and the man had grown content to be extraordinary in mere trifles, and seemed quite surprised at the wonderful expression of his own eyes. The whole face was fat but colourless, the features were noble but puckered up in bizarre wrinkles. This, with the heavy eyebrows and the neglected moustache, caused repulsion at the first glance; but if the man looked at you long enough, you gradually got reconciled to all his features. Especially when he shut his eyes and sleep had smoothed out all the lines and creases of his face, he wore such a patriarchal expression that one involuntarily thought of one's own father. But what made him look still more remarkable was the peculiar circumstance, that crouching up close beside him sat two peasant girls; two chubby little wenches, from the seriousness, not to say anxiety, of whose faces it was possible to conclude that no mere idle freak had lodged them there by the side of the old gentleman. The cold wet night froze the blood in the veins of the aged man, his wolfskin bunda could not keep him warm enough, and, therefore, they placed close beside him two young peasant girls that his dilapidated organism might borrow warmth from their life-giving magnetism.
All night long he had been unable to get any rest, any pastime in his distant castle, so at last he had hit upon the idea of knocking up the landlord of the "Break-'em-tear-'em" csarda, and picking a quarrel with him at any price. The insult would be all the more venomous if he woke him in the middle of the night, and demanded something to eat and drink immediately. If the fellow cursed and swore, as he was pretty sure to do, he should have a good hiding from the heydukes. As the innkeeper was himself a gentleman, the whole joke would possibly cost about a couple of thousand of florins or so, but the fun was quite worth that.
So he called up his serving-men, and made them harness horses and light torches, and set off through the pathless darkness with twelve heydukes, taking with him everything necessary for eating and drinking, in order to have a banquet in honour of the jest as soon as it was accomplished, not forgetting to carry along with him the three personages who chiefly ministered to his amusement, and whom he sent on before him in a separate waggon, to wit, his favourite greyhound, his gipsy jester, and his parasitical poet, all three of whom made a nice little group together.
Now, worthy Mr. Peter Bus was famous far and wide for his peculiar sensitiveness to insult; the merest trifle was sufficient to lash him into a fury. A heyduke, therefore, was sent on in advance, who rattled at his windows like a savage, and bellowed at the top of his voice—
"Get up there, you innkeeper fellow! Get up, get up! You are required to wait upon your betters, and look sharp about it!"
At these words Peter Bus bounded to his feet as if he had been shot from a gun, snatched up his fokos, looked out of the window, and perceiving the brilliant array of serving-men, who lit up the whole house with their torches, instantly guessed with whom he had to do. He now grasped the fact that they wanted to make him fly into a rage for their especial amusement, and resolved for that very reason not to fly into a rage at all. So he hung his fokos up nicely on its nail again, thrust his head into his sheepskin cap, threw his bunda over his shoulders, and stepped out.
All the newly arrived guests were already inside the courtyard. In the centre, surrounded by his bodyguard, was his lordship, in a large attila with gold buttons, reaching down to his knee; the circumference of his body constrained him to hold his head a little thrown back, and he supported himself with a gold-headed Spanish cane. It was now quite evident how ill that scornful, mocking expression of his became his face, and wholly distorted its naturally jovial character.
"Come nearer, sirrah!" he called to the innkeeper in a loud imperious voice. "Throw open your apartments, and make ready for our entertainment. Give us wine, tokay, and menes; give us also pheasants, artichokes, and crab salad."
The innkeeper humbly took off his hat, held it in his hand, and replied with the utmost calmness and sangfroid—
"God hath brought your lordship to us; I will serve you with everything you command. I would only beg of you to pardon me for not possessing either tokay or menes. My pheasants, too, have not yet been fattened up; and as for my crabs, they have all been drowned in this great deluge, as you may see for yourself. And I suppose your lordship will not give me for my kitchen the two crabs I see here?"
This last sally was directed at the scarlet uniforms of the heydukes, and diverted his lordship's attention. He was pleased to find the innkeeper rising to the level of the joke. He had not expected it, and was all the more amused.
Meanwhile, the gipsy jester had poked out his black phiz, which vied with that of any nigger, and, flashing a row of white teeth at the innkeeper, began to tot up on his fingers what he wanted.
"All I want," said he, "is a dish of bird of paradise eggs, served with the fat of a sucking deer, and a brawn of pickled salmon spawn. I never eat anything else."
"Then I am sorry for that lordly belly of thine. A little gipsy-ragout is at your service, however," replied Peter Bus.
"I beg your pardon," cried the gipsy, "but that is my kinsman, and you are not allowed to roast him."
His lordship fell a-laughing at this insipid jest. Such witticisms formed no small part of his amusement, and because the innkeeper had humoured him, his intentions towards him had completely changed.
"Then what can you give your guests?" he resumed.
"Everything, my lord. Only, unfortunately, what is mine is all gone, what will be mine is far off, and what should be mine is nowhere."
His lordship was so pleased with this circumlocution of "nothing" that he burst out laughing, and, wishing to immortalize it, exclaimed—
"Where is Gyarfas? Where is that poet fellow skulking now?" And yet the worthy fellow was standing close beside him with his hands folded behind his back, and with his pale, withered, parchment-like face peevishly regarding the whole entertainment. "Look alive, Gyarfas! Quick! Make a verse upon this inn, where people can get nothing to eat!"
Mr. Gyarfas cast down his eyelashes, drew his mouth up to his nose, and, tapping his brow with the tip of his finger, delivered himself of this extemporized verse—
"If thou bring not to eat with thee hither, All empty the plates stand before thee. The fast of this house is eternal; The Turk will not visit this shanty."
"What's the man talking about! What has the Turk to do with this csarda?"
"He has a great deal to do with it," responded Gyarfas, placidly, "inasmuch as the Turk needs to eat, though he does not always get the chance, and therefore would not be likely to come here where he would find nothing, so the verse is perfect."
The Nabob now suddenly turned towards the landlord.
"Have you a mouse on the premises then?"
"They are not mine, my lord. I only rent the house. But as there are plenty of them, I don't suppose the ground landlord will begin an action at law if I take one or two."
"Then roast us a mouse!"
"Plague on such a question! Dost thou take the belly of a man for the abyss of hell, to think that one such beast is not quite enough for it?"
"At your service, my lord," said the innkeeper; and he immediately called the cats into the room to assist him, though he had only to move a few stones away in order to be able to pick and choose his mouse quite as well as any cat could have done it for him.
And here I may say, by the way, that a mouse is such a nice pretty little animal, that I cannot conceive why folks should hold it in such horror. It is very much the same thing as a squirrel or a guinea-pig, which we keep in our rooms and pet and play with; nay, it is cleverer far than they. What a delicate little snout it has, what sweet little ears, what wee little pets of feet! And then its comically big moustache, and its quick black eyes like sparkling diamonds! And when it plays, when it squeaks, when it stands up to beat the air on its hind legs, it is as clever and as comely as any other animal in the world. Nobody is horrified at a crab being cooked, nobody flies in terror when snails are served up at table, yet they are both far more horrible animals than a mouse. What, then, is there so horrifying in the idea of cooking a mouse? Why, in China, it is the greatest of delicacies, a lordly dish for epicures, and they feed it up in cages with nuts and almonds, and serve it up as the choicest of savouries!
Nevertheless, the whole company was persuaded that the very idea of such a thing was the most exquisite of jokes, and every one laughed aloud in anticipation.
Meanwhile, while Mr. Peter Bus threw open a large barn-like room for his guests, the heydukes had unpacked the waggon, and dragged into the light of day cushions, curtains, camp-stools, and tables; and in a few moments the empty, resonant room was changed as if by magic into a sumptuous apartment. The table was piled high with silver goblets and dishes, and, reposing among the ice in large silver pitchers, flasks of carved Venetian crystal with long necks seemed to promise something seductive.
The Nabob himself lay down on the camp bedstead prepared for him, his heydukes drew the large spurred boots from his feet, one of the peasant girls sat by his head stroking continually his sparse grey hairs, while the other sat at the end of the bed rubbing his feet with bits of flannel. Gyarfas, the poet, and Vidra, the jester, stood before him; a little further off the heydukes; the greyhound was under the bed. And thus, surrounded by gipsy, heydukes, jester, peasant-girls, and greyhound, lay one of the wealthiest magnates of Hungary!
Meanwhile, the mouse was a-roasting. The innkeeper himself brought it lying in the middle of a large silver dish, surrounded by a heap of horseradish shavings, and with a bit of green parsley in its mouth, the usual appurtenances of a very different animal.
Down it was placed in the middle of the table.
First of all, the Nabob offered it to the heydukes one by one. They did not fancy it, and only shook their heads.
Then it came to the poet's turn.
"Pardon, gratia, your Excellency! I am composing verses on him who eats it."
"Well, you then, Vidra! Come, down with it, quick!"
"I, your Excellency?" said Vidra, as if he did not quite catch the words.
"Yes, you. What are you afraid of? While you were living in tents, one of my oxen went mad, and yet you and your people ate him!"
"True; and if one of your lordship's hogsheads of wine went mad I would drink it. That's another thing."
"Come, come, make haste! Do the dish honour!"
"But my grandfather had no quarrel with this animal."
"Then rise superior to your grandpapa!"
"I'll rise superior to him for a hundred florins," said the gipsy, scratching his curly poll.
The Nabob opened the pocket of his dolman, and drew forth a large greasy pocket-book, which he half opened, displaying a number of nice blood-coloured banknotes.
The gipsy squinted with half an eye at the well-crammed pocket-book, and repeated once more—
"For a hundred florins I don't mind doing it!"
"Let us see then!"
The gipsy thereupon unbuttoned the frock-coat which it was his master's whim he should wear, contracted his rotund, foolish face into a squarish shape, twitched the mobile skin of his head up and down once or twice, whereby the whole forest of his hair moved backwards and forwards like the top-knot of a peewit, and then, seizing the horrible animal by that part of its body which was furthest from its head, and thereby raising it into the air, pulled an ugly, acidulous face, shook his head, constrained himself to a desperate resolution, opened his mouth, shut his eyes, and in an instant the mouse had disappeared.
The gipsy could not speak, but one of his hands involuntarily clutched his throat, for it is no joke to swallow a four-legged animal at a gulp; but his other hand he extended towards the Nabob, gasping with something like a sob—
"The hundred florins!"
"What hundred florins?" inquired the humorous gentleman. "I said I'd give you a hundred florins? Nonsense, sir. You should thank me for providing you with such a rare dish which your grandfather never ate, I'll be bound to say, and would have paid for the chance of it."
It was a screaming joke, no doubt; yet suddenly the merriment ceased, for the gipsy all at once began to turn blue and green, his eyes threatened to start out of his head, he sank down on his chair unable to speak, but pointed convulsively to his distended mouth.
"Look, look, he's choking!" cried several voices.
The Nabob was terribly alarmed. The joke had taken a decidedly serious turn.
"Pour wine into his throat to wash it down," he exclaimed.
The heydukes speedily caught up the flasks, and began to fill up the gipsy's throat with half a bottle at a time to assist the downward progress of the worthy mouse. After a long time the poor fellow began to breathe hard, and seemed to recover slightly; but his eyes rolled wildly, and he was gabbling something unintelligible.
"Well, take your hundred florins," said the frightened Nabob, who could scarcely contain himself for terror, and wished to comfort and compensate the gipsy on his return from Charon's ferry-boat.
"Thank you," sobbed the latter, "but there's no need of it now. It is all up with Vidra; Vidra is dying. If only it had been a wolf that had killed poor Vidra; but a mouse—oh, oh!"
"Don't be a fool, man! You'll take no harm from it. Look! here's another hundred. Don't take on so; it has quite gone now! Hit him on the back, some one, can't you? Bring the venison on now, and make him swallow some of it!"
The jester thanked them for the thump on the back, and when they set the venison before him, he regarded it with the doubtful, ambiguous expression of a spoiled child, who does not know whether to laugh or to cry. First he laughed, and then he grumbled again, but finally he sat him down before the savoury cold meat, which had been basted with the finest lard and flavoured with good cream-like wine sauce, and began to cram himself full with morsel after morsel so huge that there was surely never a mouse in the wide world half so big. And thus he not only filled himself, but satisfied the Nabob also.
And now, at a sign from the Nabob, the heydukes carried in all the cold dishes they had brought with them, and shoved the loaded table along till it stood opposite the couch on which he lay. At the lower end of the table three camp-stools were placed, and on them sat the three favourites, the jester, the greyhound, and the poet. The Nabob gradually acquired an appetite by watching these three creatures eat, and by degrees the wine put them all on the most familiar terms with one another, the poet beginning to call the gipsy "my lord," while the gipsy metaphorically buttonholed the Nabob, who scattered petty witticisms on the subject of the mouse, whereat the two others were obliged to laugh with all their might.
At last, when the worthy gentleman really believed that it was quite impossible to play any more variations on the well-worn topic of the mouse, the gipsy suddenly put his hand to his bosom, and cried with a laugh, "Here's the mouse!" And with that he drew it forth from the inside pocket of his frock-coat, where he had shoved it unobserved, while the terrified company fancied he had swallowed it, and in sheer despair had soothed him by making him eat and drink all manner of good things.
"Look, Mat!" said he to the dog, whereupon the greyhound immediately swallowed the corpus delicti.
"You good-for-nothing rascal!" cried the nobleman, "so you'd bandy jests with me, would you! I'll have you hanged for this. Here, you heydukes, fetch a rope! Hoist him upon that beam!"
The heydukes immediately took their master at his word. They seized the gipsy, who never ceased laughing, mounted him on a chair, threw the halter round his neck, drew the extreme end of the rope across the beam, and drew away the chair from beneath him. The gipsy kicked and struggled, but it was of no avail; there they kept him till he really began to choke, when they lowered him to the ground again.
But now he began to be angry. "I am dying," he cried. "I am not a fool that you should hoist me up again, when I can die as I am, like an honest gentleman."
"Die by all means," said the poet. "Don't be afraid. I'll think of an epitaph for you."
And while the gipsy flung himself on the ground and closed his eyes, Gyarfas recited this epitaph over him—
"Here liest thou, gipsy-lad, never to laugh any longer, Another shall shoulder the fiddle, and death shall himself fiddle o'er thee."
And, in fact, the gipsy never moved a limb. There he lay, prone, stiff, and breathless. In vain they tickled his nose and his heels; he did not stir. Then they placed him on the table with a circle of burning candles round him like one laid out for burial, and the heydukes had to sing dirges over him, as over a corpse, while the poet was obliged to stand upon a chair and pronounce his funeral oration.
And the Nabob laughed till he got blue in the face.
* * * * *
While these things were going on in one of the rooms of the "Break-'em-tear-'em" csarda, fresh guests were approaching that inhospitable hostelry. These were the companions of the carriage that had come to grief by sticking fast in the mud of the cross-roads, for, after the men and beasts belonging to it had striven uselessly for three long hours to move it from the reef on which it had foundered, the gentleman sitting alone inside it had hit upon the peculiar idea of being carried to the csarda on man-back instead of on horseback. He mounted, therefore, on to the shoulders of his huntsman, a broadly built, sturdy fellow, and leaving his lackey in the carriage to look after whatever might be there, and making the postillion march in front with the carriage lamp, he trotted in this humorous fashion to the csarda, where the muscular huntsman safely deposited him in the porch.
It will be worth while to make the acquaintance of the new-comer, as far as we can at least, as soon as possible.
From his outward appearance it was plain that he did not belong to the gentry of the Alfoeld.
As he divested himself of his large mantle with its short Quiroga collar, he revealed a costume so peculiar that if any one showed himself in it in the streets in our days, not only the street urchins but we ourselves should run after it. In those days this fashion was called the mode a la calicot.
On his head was a little short cap, somewhat like a tin saucepan in shape, with such a narrow rim that it would drive a man to despair to imagine how he could ever catch hold of it. From underneath this short cap, on both sides, there bulged forth such a forest of curly fluffy hair that the rim of the cap was quite overwhelmed. The face beneath was clean-shaved, except that a moustache, pointed at each end, branched upwards towards the sky like a pair of threatening horns, and the neck was so compressed within a stiffly starched cravat, with two sharply-pointed linen ends, that one could not so much as move one's chin about in it. The body of this gentleman's dark green frock-coat lay just beneath his armpits, but the tails reached to the ground, and the collar was so large that you could scarce distinguish its wearer inside it. He also had double and triple shirt frills, and while the brass buttons of his coat were no larger than cherry pips, the monstrously puffed sleeves rose as high as his shoulders. The wax-yellow waistcoat was almost half concealed by the huge projecting ruffles. The whole costume was set off by hose a la cosaque, which appeared to amplify downwards, bulged over the boots, and were slit up in front so as to allow them to be stuffed therein. Above the waistcoat dangled all sorts of jingling-jangling trinkets, but the boots were provided with spurs of terrible dimensions, so that if a fellow did not look out he might easily have had his eyes poked out. Such was the martial mode of those days, at the very time when no war was going on anywhere. The finishing touch to this get-up was supplied by a thin tortoiseshell cane with a bird's head carved in ivory, which a beau with any pretensions to bon ton used regularly to twiddle in his mouth.
"Eh, ventre bleu! eh, sacre bleu!" exclaimed the new-comer (so much, at any rate, he had learnt from Beranger), as he kicked at the kitchen door and shook his saturated mantle. "What sort of a country is this? Hie, there, a light! Is there any one at home?"
This marvel brought forth Peter Bus with a light, and after gaping sufficiently at the new-comer and his servant who had thus broken into his kitchen, he asked, with an alacrity to oblige by no means corresponding to his amazement, "What are your commands, sir?" His face showed at the same time that he meant to give nothing.
The stranger murdered the Hungarian language terribly, and he had a distinctly foreign accent.
"Milles tonnerres!" he cried, "can't you speak any other language here but Hungarian?"
"That's bad. Then where's the innkeeper?"
"I am. And may I ask, sir, who you are, whence you came, and where you live?"
"I own property here, but I live at Paris, and what devils brought me hither I don't know. I would have gone on further if the mud of your roads hadn't stopped me. And now give me—comment s'appelle ca?" And here he came to a stop because he could not find the word he wanted.
"Give you what, sir?"
"Comment s'appelle ca? Tell me the name!"
"My name, sir? Peter Bus."
"Diable! not your name, but the name of the thing I want."
"What do you want, sir?"
"That thing that draws a coach, a four-legged thing; you strike it with a whip."
"A horse, do you mean?"
"Pas donc! They don't call it that."
[Footnote 2: Relay of horses: Ger. Vorspann.]
"That's it, that's it. A forspont! I want a forspont immediately."
"I have none, sir; all my horses are out to grass."
"C'est triste! Then here I'll remain. Tant mieux; it will not bore me. I have travelled in Egypt and Morocco. I have spent the night in as deplorable a hut as this before now; it will amuse me. I will fancy I am in some Bedouin shanty, and this river here is the Nile, that has overflowed, and these beasts that are croaking in the water—comment s'appelle ca?—frogs? oh yes, of course—these frogs are the alligators of the Nile. And this miserable country—what do you call this department?"
"It is not a part of anything, sir; it is a dam, the dam of the cross-roads, we call it."
"Fripon! I am not speaking of the mud in which I stuck fast, but of the district all about here. What do they call it?"
"Oh, I see! They call it the county of Szabolcs."
"Szabolcs, eh? Szabolcs? C'est parceque, no doubt, so many szabos live in it, eh? Ha, ha! That was a good calembourg of mine, c'est une plaisanterie. Dost understand?"
[Footnote 3: Tailors.]
"I can't say for certain, but I believe the Hungarians so called it after the name of one of their ancient leaders who led them out of Asia."
"Ah, c'est beau! Very nice, I mean. The worthy magyars name their departments after their ancient patriarchs. Touching, truly!"
"Then, may I ask to what nationality you yourself belong, sir?"
"I don't live here. Bon Dieu! what a terrible fate for any one to live here, where the puddles are bottomless and a man can see nothing but storks."
Peter Bus turned to leave the room; he was offended at being treated in this manner.
"Come, come, don't run away with the light, signore contadino!" cried the stranger.
"I beg your pardon, but I am of gentle birth myself. My name is Peter Bus, and I am well content with it."
[Footnote 4: Pronounced Bush.]
"Ah, ah, ah, Monsignore Bouche, then you are a gentleman and an innkeeper in one, eh? That's nothing. James Stuart was of royal blood, and at last he also became an innkeeper. Well, tell me, if I am to remain here, have you some good wine and pretty girls, eh?"
"My wine is bad—'tis no drink for a gentleman—and my serving-maid is as ugly as night."
"Ugly! Ah, c'est piquant! There's no need to take offence; so much the better! 'Tis all the same to a gentleman. To-morrow an elegant lady of fashion, to-day a Cinderella, one as beautiful as a young goddess, the other as villainous as Macbeth's witches; there perfume, here the smell of onions. C'est le meme chose! 'tis all one; such is the streakiness of life."
Mr. Peter Bus did not like this speech at all. "You would do better to ask yourself where you are going to lie to-night, for I am sure I should very much like to know."
"Ah, ca, 'tis interessant. Then is there no guest-chamber here?"
"There is, but it is already occupied."
"C'est rien! We'll go halves. If it is a man, he need not put himself out; if it is a dame, tant pis pour elle, so much the worse for her."
"It is not as you think. Let me tell you that Master Jock is in that room."
"Qu'est-ce-que ca? Who the devil is Master Jock?"
"What! have you never even heard of Master Jock?"
"Ah, c'est fort. This is a little too strong. Folks lead such a patriarchal life in these parts that they are only known by their Christian names! Eh, bien, what do I care for Master Jock! Just you go to him and let him know that I want to sleep in his room. I am a gentleman to whom nothing must be refused."
"A likely tale," observed Peter Bus; and without saying another word, he put out the light and went to lie down, leaving the stranger to seek out for himself the door of the other guest's room if he was so minded.
The darkness was such as a man might feel, but the merry singing and howling served to guide the new-comer to the chamber of the mysterious Nabob, who went by the name of Master Jock; why, we shall find out later on. The fun there had by this time reached its frantic climax. The heydukes had raised into the air by its four legs the table on which the jester lay, and were carrying it round the room, amidst the bellowing of long-drawn-out dirges; behind them marched the poet, with the table-cloth tied round his neck by way of mantle, declaiming d—d bad Alexandrine verses on the spur of the moment; while Master Jock himself had shouldered a fiddle (he always carried one about with him wherever he went), and was dashing off one friss-magyar after another with all the grace and dexterity of a professional gipsy fiddler, at the same time making the two little peasant girls dance in front of him with a couple of the heydukes.
At this moment the stranger burst into the room.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," he cried, "I have the honour to salute you!"
The tumult instantly subsided. Every one gazed open-mouthed at the stranger who had suddenly appeared in their midst, and saluted them with such affability. Master Jock let his fiddle-bow fall from his hand, for though he loved a practical joke to excess, he did not like strangers to see him at it. But the new-comer was not a stranger for long, for the jester, surprised at the sudden silence, looking up, and perceiving a gentleman attired not altogether unlike himself, thought fit to come to life again, and, springing from his bier, rushed towards the stranger, embraced and kissed him, and exclaimed—
"My dear brother, Heaven has surely sent you hither!"
At this mad idea the laughter burst forth anew.
"Ah! ce drole de gipsy!" said the stranger, trying to free himself from the gipsy's embraces. "That's quite enough; kiss me no more, I say."
Then he bowed all round to the distinguished company, wiped away all traces of the gipsy's kisses with his pocket-handkerchief, and said—
"Do not derange yourselves on my account, ladies and gentlemen; pursue your diversions, I beg! I am not in the habit of spoiling fun. I am a true gentleman, who knows how to prendre son air in whatever company he may find himself. I have the pleasure of introducing myself to your worships as Abellino Karpathy, of Karpat."
And with these words he whistled into the hollow end of his cane, flung himself with a noble nonchalance into one of the camp-chairs, and threw one of his heavily spurred feet over the other.
This speech fairly astonished the company. Even Master Jock now sprang from his seat, and, resting the palms of both hands on his knees, regarded the new-comer with amazement, while the gipsy went down on all fours and began sniffing around him like a dog.
At length Master Jock, in a solemn, drawling voice, exclaimed—
"What! that gentleman a Karpathy? Do you know what it means to bear the name Karpathy? That name which has a line of thirty ancestors behind it, all of whom were foispans and standard-bearers; that name which is as sonorous as any in the kingdom! Bethink you, therefore, of what you are saying, sir! There is only one Karpathy in the world besides myself, and him they call Bela!"
"Le voila! That's just myself," said the stranger, protruding one of his legs in front of him, and beating time with the other to an operatic tune, which he whistled through the hole in his stick until he had quite finished it. "I was born in this barbarous land, and the father who bore me—ah, ca! not my father! comment s'appelle ca?—that one of my parents who was not my father, I mean."
"I suppose you mean your mother?"
"Yes, yes, of course! My mother, that's it! Well, my mother was a noble dame, and well-educated, but my father was a bit of an oddity who dearly loved his joke. But the greatest joke he ever perpetrated was when he christened me, his eldest son, Bela, and made me learn Hungarian. Bela, forsooth! Now, is that a proper name for a gentleman? Luckily for me, my father died betimes, and I went with my mother to Paris. My name displeased me, and as the most fashionable name just then happened to be Abellino, I changed my name Bela into it. On the other hand, I could not forget the Hungarian language. But it does not matter. I know the nigger lingo just as well. It is no disparagement to a real gentleman."
"Then why, may I ask, are you travelling about here?"
"Ah! venir ici de Paris, c'est tomber du ciel a l'enfer! ('To come hither from Paris is to fall out of heaven into hell!') C'est merveilleux, wonderful, that men can live here at all. Ah, mon cher heyduke, sure I see something cooked. Be so good as to bring it nearer; put it on the table, and fill my glass for me. A votre sante, messieurs et mesdames! And to your health in particular, Monsieur Jock!"
Jock had listened patiently to this harangue. His eyes followed attentively every movement of the stranger, and a sort of resigned melancholy gradually stole over his features.
"Then what brings my lord hither—out of heaven into hell?"
"Helas!" sighed Abellino, drumming a march on his plate with his knife and fork. "An unavoidable piece of business. A gentleman who lives abroad has many necessities, and my father only left me an income of a mouldy four hundred thousand francs. Now, I ask you, how can a man live decently on that? If a man wants to do honour to his nation, he must, before all things, cut a decent figure abroad. I keep going one of the first houses in Paris; I have my own meute and ecurie; my mistresses are the most famous dancers and singers. I have travelled in Egypt. In Morocco I abducted the most beautiful damsel of the Bey from his harem. I spend the season in Italy. I have an elegant villa on the shores of the Lake of Como. I have whole folios written of my travels by the best French authors, and I publish them as if I had written them myself. The Academie des Sciences has elected me a member in consequence. At Homburg I have lost half a million francs at a sitting without moving a muscle of my face. And so my mouldy four hundred thousand francs have all gone, interest and capital alike—where?"
And here, with hand and mouth, he intimated in pantomime that it had all dissolved itself into thin air.
Master Jock continued to regard the juvenile roue with a look that grew stonier and stonier, and involuntarily, unconsciously, a deep sigh escaped from his breast.
"Nevertheless, that was nothing," continued the young dandy, with a self-satisfied voice. "So long as a man has a million he can easily spend two millions; 'tis a science readily learnt. All at once ces fripons de creanciers, those villainous creditors of mine, took it into their heads to ask me for money, and when one began the others were not slow in following. I cursed them; but that did not satisfy them, so they went to the courts about it, and I had to leave Paris. C'est pour bruler la cervelle! It was enough to make me blow my brains out. Mais v'la! Fortune favoured me. It chanced that a kinsman of my father's, a certain John Karpathy, who was very much richer than my father——"
"A mad, doating old fellow, of whom I could tell you a thousand follies."
"Oh yes. He never budges from his native village; but he has a theatre in his castle, in which they play his own comedies; he sends for the leading prima donnas, simply that they may sing boorish peasant ditties to him; and he keeps a whole palace for his dogs, who eat with him from the same table."
"Then he has a whole harem of farmyard wenches, and betyars similar to himself dance with them and him till dawn. Then he sets the whole company by the ears, and they fight till the blood flows in streams."
"And then his conduct is so very eccentric. He can't endure anything that comes from abroad. He does not allow peas to appear on his table, because they don't grow on his estate. They are for the same reason not allowed to bring coffee into the house, and he uses honey instead of sugar. Mad, eh?"
"Certainly. But do you know anything else about him?"
"Oh, I could tell you a thousand things. His whole life is an absurdity. He only did a wise thing once in his life. When I was at the very last gasp, and nothing in the world could save me but a rich uncle, this Hungarian Nabob, this Plutus, one night crammed himself up to the very throat with plover's eggs, and died early in the morning. I was immediately advertised of the fact."
"And so I suppose you have come hither to take over the rich inheritance without delay?"
"Ma foi! nothing else were capable of bringing me back into this detestable country."
"Very well, my pretty gentleman, then you may just clap your horses into your carriage, and drive back to Paris, or Italy, or Morocco if you like, for I am that half-crazy uncle of yours, that rich betyar of whom you speak, and I am not dead yet, as you can see for yourself."
At these words Abellino collapsed; his arms and legs grew limp and feeble, and he involuntarily stammered in his terror—
"Est-ce possible? Can it be possible?"
"Yes, sir, it can. I am that John Karpathy whom the country folks jokingly call Master Jock, and who likes to be so called."
"Ah, if only I had thought a little!" cried the young gentleman, leaping to his feet and hastening to grasp his great-uncle's hand. "But, indeed, evil-minded persons described my only uncle to me so differently that I could not picture him to myself in the shape of such a gallant, noble gentleman. Milles tonnerres! let nobody in future dare to say in my presence that my dear uncle is not the finest cavalier on the continent! I should have been inconsolable if I had not made your acquaintance. Capital! I was looking for a dead uncle, and I have found a living one. C'est bien charmant! The Goddess of Fortune is not a woman for nothing. I protest that she has quite befooled me!"
"Enough of this sort of flummery, my sweet nephew; I don't like it. I am used to rough, plain speaking, even from my heydukes. I prefer to have it so. You, my good nephew, have come hither from a great distance to inherit my estate, and your creditors no doubt will be marching after you in regiments, and now you find me alive. A little aggravating I take it, eh?"
"Au contraire, as I find my dear uncle alive, it will be all the easier for him to show himself amiable towards me."
"How? Explain yourself!"
"Well, I do not ask you for a yearly allowance, ce serait bien fatigant for us both. My proposal is that you pay my debts in a lump sum, and there shall be peace between us."
"Hum! Most magnanimous! And if I do not pay them, I suppose war will be declared?"
"Come, come, my dear uncle! You are pleased to be facetious! Not pay, do you say! Why, 'tis only a matter of one or two hundred thousand livres or so, a mere bagatelle to you."
"Well, my dear Mr. Nephew, I much regret that you think so lightly of the estate which was won by the valour of your ancestors, but I am quite unable to help you. I also am in want of cash. I also squander it on follies, but on follies of purely home growth. I have a whole mob of comrades, heydukes and ne'er-do-weels, at my heels, and anything over and above what I spend on them, I scatter among the bumpkins who till my fields, or, if a foolish whim seize me, I build me a bridge from one hill to another. But I certainly do not waste my substance on opera-dancers, nor am I given to abducting Moorish princesses, or clambering up pyramids. If you like eating and drinking, you shall always have as much as you like of both at my house, and you may also choose you there pretty girls to your heart's content, who will look every bit as picturesque as your Morocco princesses, if only you trick them out finely enough. Moreover, if you have a mind to travel, this kingdom is quite big enough. You can ride in your carriage for eight days at a stretch without getting to the end of my property. But send money abroad I will not; we don't carry water to the Danube."
The young gentleman began to lose patience during the course of this lecture, turning incessantly in his chair and wriggling backwards and forwards.
"I don't ask for a gift, you know," he exclaimed at last, "but only for a payment in advance."
"What! a payment in advance! You want me to part with my very skin, I suppose?"
"Eh!" cried Abellino, impatiently, and his face began to wear an impertinent, contemptuous expression. "'Tis mine, you know, practically, or at least will be one day. I suppose you don't want to carry it away with you in your coffin?"
"In my coffin!" shouted the old man, deeply agitated, and his face suddenly turned pale. "What! In my coffin! Do you speak of coffins to me?"
"Of course I do. Why, you've one leg in your coffin already, and banquets, parties, and peasant-girls are dragging the other one in too, and thus all will be mine, and I shan't owe you a thank you, for it."
"Hie! my coachman!" thundered old Karpathy, springing from his chair, and at that moment his face wore an almost heroic expression, "get ready my conveyance. We'll depart—depart this instant. Let nobody breathe the air of this room any longer."
Abellino laughed aloud at the old fellow's impotent rage.
"Come, come, don't be so furious," he said. "Why echauffer yourself? You only give the apoplexy a quicker chance. Come, come, my good old boy, don't be waxy. I can wait, you know. I am quite a juvenile." And with that he stretched himself at full length across three chairs, and began to whistle a fragment of some vaudeville ditty that occurred to his mind.
The heydukes, packing up the things, would have pulled the chairs from under him, but the old man cried—
"Leave everything where it is; I'll touch nothing that that fellow has had aught to do with. Landlord! Where is the man? Everything in this room is his!"
The last words were spoken in so hoarse a voice as to be scarcely intelligible. The jester took his master's hand to prevent him from falling, while the poet led the way.
"You see, it is of no use kicking up a row," said Abellino, with ironical sympathy. "Don't go so quickly or you'll fall, and that won't be good for your health. Put on your fur pelisse lest you catch cold. Where are his lordship's leg-warmers? Hie! you fellows! Put a warm brick under my dear uncle's feet! Watch over every hair of his head!"
All this time John Karpathy said not a word. It was the first time in his life that any one had dared to anger him. Ah, if any one else had dared to do such a thing, what a scene there would have been! The heydukes, the coachmen, stood before him trembling. Even Mr. Peter Bus himself was speechless as he looked upon that dumb listening countenance staring fixedly at him with bloodshot eyes. With great difficulty the heydukes hoisted him into his carriage. The two little girls took their places by him, one on each side. Then he beckoned the innkeeper to approach, and murmured something in his ear in a low hoarse voice, whereupon Bus nodded with an air of approval. Mr. John then handed him his pocket-book, and signified that he was to keep its contents, and after that the carriage rumbled off with its escort of mounted torch-bearers.
The roue in a mocking, strident voice, sent an irritating farewell after it with a lavish accompaniment of resounding kisses—"Adieu, cher oncle! adieu, dear Jock bacsi! My respects to the little girls at home, and to the little dogs also. Au revoir! To our next merry meeting!" And he kept on sending after him whole handfuls of kisses.
Meanwhile the innkeeper had begun to drag out of the room one by one all the beds and tables which Sir John had left him.
"Ah, cher ami! won't you leave the furniture till morning? I shall want to use it."
"Impossible. The house has to be burnt down."
"Que diable! How dare you say such a thing?"
"This house belongs to the gentleman who has just gone out. What is inside it is mine, and has been paid for. He has ordered that this inn shall be burnt down, and that no other inn shall ever be built on this spot again. To every one his fancy, you know."
And thereupon, with the utmost phlegm, he neatly applied his candle to the rush-thatched eaves of the house, and with the utmost coolness watched to see how the flames would spread. By the light of the fire he could the more comfortably calculate how much money he had got for this illumination. He found he could hire three good houses for it in the neighbouring town of Szeged, and he was quite satisfied.
As for the young gentleman, if he had no wish to be burnt, he had nothing for it but to huddle himself in his mantle, whistle for his long-legged steed, mount on its back, and allow himself to be taken back to his carriage.
"You have driven me out of this inn; I'll drive you out of the world," he murmured between his teeth, as his human steed with squelching boots tramped along with him through the endless mud. By the light of the fire the two men, one on the back of the other, resembled a half-submerged giant.
And thus ended the fateful encounter of the two kinsmen at the "Break-'em-tear-'em" csarda.
A BARGAIN FOR THE SKIN OF A LIVING MAN.
One of the richest capitalists in Paris at this time was Monsieur Griffard. Not so very long ago, somewhere about 1780, Griffard was nothing more than a pastry-cook in one of the suburbs of the city, and his knowledge of the science of finance was limited to his dealings with the needy students who ate his wares on credit, and paid for them accordingly. The Mississippi mania whirled him along with it also. In those days every man in Paris meant to be a millionaire. In the streets, alleys, and public squares every one was either buying or selling Mississippi shares. Monsieur Griffard left his pastry-shop in the charge of his eldest assistant while he himself went in search of millions, and, what is more, found them. But one day, like a beautiful soap-bubble, the whole Mississippi joke collapsed, and Monsieur Griffard found himself out in the cold with but nine sous in his pocket.
Now, when a man who has not been a millionaire finds he has only nine sous in his purse, there's no reason why he should be particularly angry. But when a man has stood on an eminence from whence he can survey his own coaches, horses, liveried flunkies, magnificently furnished rooms, sumptuous table, pretty mistresses, and other agreeable things of the same sort, a relapse into insignificance may be very unpleasant indeed. So poor Monsieur Griffard, frantic with rage, hastened off to a cutler's shop, bought a large knife with seven of his sous, and had it well sharpened with the remaining two; but in the mean time up came a mob of ragged citizens with Phrygian caps on, bawling at the top of their voices, "Down with the aristocrats!" and carrying on a pole by way of a banner the last number of Marat's newspaper, whereupon it occurred to Monsieur Griffard that he might make a better use of his well-sharpened knife than applying it to his own throat, so he mingled with the crowd, and cried, "Down with the aristocrats!" as loudly as anybody.
How or where he was pitched and tossed about during the next few years he himself probably could not have told you; but when, a few years later, we come across him again under the Directory, we find him attached as commissary of stores to the army of the Rhine, or the army of Italy, and dodging from one to the other, according as this or that general showed a disposition to shoot him. For army commissaries are of two classes, those whose business makes them beggars and those who become millionaires; the former generally shoot themselves, while the latter are shot by others. But the last case is much the rarer.
Fortunately for himself, Monsieur Griffard belonged to the class who are not shot, but become millionaires. He managed to acquire some of the neat little estates which the emigre magnates had left to the care of the State, and when they came home again in the days of the Restoration, Monsieur Griffard was one of the lucky men who watched the gorgeous pageant of the march of the allied armies through Paris from his own balcony. Several of the emigres, who came in batches in the rear of the triumphant hosts, beheld with amazement the splendid five-storeyed palace in the Boulevard des Italiens, which was not there at all when they last saw Paris, and when they inquired after its owner, the name they heard was quite unfamiliar to them.
But it did not remain unfamiliar for long. The owner of millions has very little difficulty in acquiring distinctions which will admit him into the very best society. In a short time Monsieur Griffard's name became one of the most harmonious of passwords. An elegant soiree, a genial matinee, a horse race, an orgie, an elopement, were not considered complete without him, and Monsieur Griffard never remained away, for all such occasions were so many opportunities to an able business man for learning all about the passions, the follies, the status, the extravagance, or the necessities of other people, and building safe calculations upon what he learnt.
Monsieur Griffard was one of the boldest speculators in the world. He would lend large amounts to ruined spendthrifts whom their own servants summoned for their monthly wages, and yet, somehow or other, he always made his money by it. When I say "his money," I mean that he got back about twice as much as he expended. He did not risk his money for nothing. Amongst all the villas and pavilions on the Ile de Jerusalem, Monsieur Griffard's pleasure-house was the most costly and the most magnificent. It was built on a little mound, which human ingenuity had exalted into a hill, and its parade looked into the waters of the Seine. In point of style it owed something to almost every age and nation—a great point with the architects of the day, who, equally rejecting all pedantic classicism, and all rococo prettiness, strove instead to make everything they put their hands to as complicated, bizarre, and incongruous as possible. It was not enough that the garden itself should stand on an island, but it was surrounded by an artificial stream meandering in the most masterly style in every direction, and with all sorts of bridges thrown across it, from an American suspension-bridge to a rustic Breton bridge, composed of wood and bark, and covered with ivy. And each of these bridges had its own warden, with a halbert across his shoulder, and the wardens had little sentry-boxes to correspond with the style of the bridges, some like hermitages, others like lighthouses, and their own peculiar trumpets to proclaim loudly to approaching guests over which of the bridges they ought to go to reach the castle.
Beyond the bridges extended the winding ways of the English garden, which in those days had quite thrown into the background the earlier taste for stony, wall-like, rectilinear alleys. A man might now wander helplessly about for hours among densely foliaged trees without being able to find his destination. He would see the beds beside him everywhere thickly planted with flowers in full bloom, and at every turn he would come upon arcades of jasmine with idyllic benches underneath, or marble statues of ancient divinities overgrown with creeping gobaeas, or pyramids of modish flowers piled one on the top of the other. In one place he would behold masterly reproduced ruins, with agaric and cactus monsters planted amongst them. In another place he would observe an Egyptian tomb, with real mummies inside, and outside eternally burning lamps, which were replenished with oil early every morning, or a Roman altar with vessels of carved stone and Corinthian vases. Here and there, in more open places, fountains and waterfalls plashed and gurgled in marble basins, throwing jets of water into the air, and enabling merry little goldfish to disport themselves, whence the stream flowed among Oriental reeds into artfully hidden lakes, where, on the tranquil watery mirror, swam beautiful white swans, which did not sing as sweetly as the poets would have us believe, but made up for it by eating no end of Indian corn, which was then very much dearer than pure wheat.
Supposing a man to have safely run the gauntlet of all these obstructions and admired all these marvels, he would, at last, somehow or other, stumble upon the terrace leading to this Tusculum, every stage of which was planted thickly with orange trees, some in bloom, while others were weighed down by loads of fruit. Among these orange trees to-day we perceive that young gentleman we have already been fortunate enough to meet. Nevertheless, as a whole twelve months has elapsed since then, and the fashion has changed completely, we must look at him pretty hard before we shall recognize him.
The calicot season is at an end. The young dandy now wears a long overcoat reaching to the knee, buttoned by broad pendant gew-gaws, with stiff, inexpressibly high-reaching boots. There is no longer the trace of a moustache; it has been supplanted by whiskers, of a provocative description, extending from the ears to the nose, and quite changing the character of the face. The hair is parted, smoothed in the middle, and pressed down from the top by a frightful sort of thing, which they called chapeau a la Bolivar, a hat with so broad a rim that it could serve just as well as an umbrella.
This was Abellino Karpathy.
The banker's staircases and antechambers are swarming with hosts of lazy loafers strutting about in the silvered liveries of lackeys, who hand the arriving guests on from one to the other, and deprive them on entering of their overcoats, sticks, hats, and gloves, which they have to redeem on their return in exchange for liberal pour-boires. These worthy bread-wasters know Abellino of old, for Hungarian magnates are well aware that it is especially necessary in foreign lands to keep up the national dignity in the eyes of domestics, and here is only one way of doing this, i.e. by scattering your money right and left, parting with your guineas, in fact, every time you have a glass of water or drop your pocket-handkerchief. You know, of course, that a really elegant cavalier never carries any sort of money about with him short of guineas, and these, too, must be fresh from the mint, and well sprinkled with eau de Cologne or some other perfume, so as to be free from the soil of vulgar hands.
In an instant Abellino's cloak, cap, and cane were wrested from him, the servants rang to each other, and ran from apartment to apartment, and the cavalier had scarce reached the last door when the first courier came running back with the announcement that Monsieur Griffard was ready to receive him, and with that he threw open the wings of the lofty mahogany folding-door which led into Monsieur Griffard's confidential chamber.
There sat Monsieur Griffard surrounded by a heap of newspapers. In front of the banker, on a little china porcelain table, stood a silver tea-service, and from time to time he sipped from a half-filled saucer some fluid or other, possibly a raw egg beaten up in tea and sweetened by a peculiar sort of crystallized sugar, made from milk which was said to be a very good remedy against chest complaints, but was extraordinarily dear, for which reason many a bigwig thought it de bon ton to suffer from chest complaints, so as to have an excuse for using the sugar. The banker himself was a very respectable-looking old gentleman of about seventy, with a face gracious to amiability, and at first sight certainly most taking. Not only the dress, but the whole manner of the man, vividly suggested Talleyrand, one of whose greatest admirers he actually was. His hair was of a marvellously beautiful white, but his face quite red and clean-shaved, and therefore all the fresher and more animated; his teeth were white and even, his hands extraordinarily smooth and delicate, as is generally the case with men who have had much to do with the kneading of dough.
No sooner did the man of money perceive Abellino at the open door than he put down the paper which he was reading without the aid of an eyeglass, and, advancing to meet him to the very threshold, greeted him with the most engaging affability.
"Monseigneur," exclaimed the young Merveilleux (such was the title of the dandies of those days), "I am your servant to the very heel of my shoe."
"Monseigneur," replied Monsieur Griffard, with similar pleasantry, "I am your servant to the very depths of my cellar."
"Ha, ha, ha! Well said, well said! You answered me there," laughed the young dandy. "In an hour's time that bon-mot will be repeated in every salon of the town. Well, what's the news in Paris, my dear money monarch? I don't want bad news—tell me only the good!"
"The best news," said the banker, "is that we see you in Paris again. And still better news than that is seeing you here."
"Ah, Monsieur Griffard, you are always so courtly!" cried the young man, flinging himself into an armchair. "Well, Monsieur Griffard," he continued, regarding himself at the same time in a little pocket-mirror to see whether his smooth hair had been rumpled, "if you have only got good news to tell me, I, on the other hand, have brought you nothing but bad."
"Par exemple. You know I went to Hungary to look after a certain inheritance of mine, a certain patrimony which would bring me in a clear million and a half."
"I know," said the banker, with a cold smile, and one of his hands began playing with a pen.
"Then you also know, perhaps, that in the Asiatic kingdom where my inheritance lies, nothing is on such a bad footing as the land, except it be the king's highways. But no, the law is much the worse. The highways, if the weather be dry, are tolerable, but the law is always the same whether there be rain or sunshine."
Here the young Merveilleux stood up as if to allow the banker an opportunity to congratulate him on this jeu d'esprit, but the other only smiled calmly.
"You must know, moreover," continued Abellino, "that there is a vile expression in the Hungarian language, 'Intra dominium et extra dominium,' which may be expressed in French by 'In possession and out of possession.' Now, whatever right anybody may have to any property, if he be out of possession he is in a hobble; while he who happens to be in possession, let him be the biggest usurper in the world, may laugh at the other fellow, and spin the case out indefinitely. Now, here am I, for instance. Just fancy, the inheritance, the rich property, was almost in my hands; I hasten to the spot in order to enter into my rights, and I find that some one has been before me, and sits comfortably in possession."
"I understand," said the banker, with a cunning smile, "some evil-disposed usurper is in actual possession, Monseigneur Karpathy, of the property that was so nearly yours, and will not recognize your rights, but stupidly appeals to that big book, among whose many paragraphs you will also find these words written, 'There is no inheriting the living.'"
The young dandy stared at the banker with all his eyes.
"How much do you know?" he cried.
"I know this much—the evil usurper who makes so free with your inheritance is none other than your uncle himself, who is so lacking in discretion as to sufficiently come to himself again after a stroke of apoplexy, with the aid of a hastily applied lancet, to do you out of your property, and place you in such an awkward position that you cannot find a single article in that thick code of laws of yours which will enable you to bring an action against your uncle, because he had the indecency not to die."
"Then it is a scandal," cried Karpathy, leaping from his seat. "I have everywhere been proclaiming that I intend to bring an action."
"Pray keep quiet," remarked the banker, blandly. "Every one believes what you say, but I must know the truth, because I am a banker. But I am accustomed to keep silence. The family relations of the Rajah of Nepaul in the East Indies are as well-known to me as is the mode of life of the greatest Spanish grandee, and it is as useful to me to know of the embarras de richesses of the one as of the splendour-environed poverty of the other. I know the position of every stranger who comes to Paris, wherever he may come from, or whatever racket he may make. During the last few days, two Hungarian counts have arrived here, who are on a walking tour through Europe; another is returning from America, and he travelled third class the whole way; but I know very well that the properties of these three gentlemen at home are in such excellent condition that they could lend me money if I wanted it. On the other hand, there rode through the Porte St. Denis quite recently, in a gilded carriage, drawn by white horses, and escorted by plumed outriders, a northern prince, whose name is on every one's lips; but I know very well that the poor devil carries about with him all the money he has, for his property has been sequestered on account of some political scandal."
Karpathy impatiently interrupted the banker's speech.
"Well, well!—but why should I be forced to listen to all this?"
"It may serve to show you that there are and will be secrets at the bottom of the heart and the pocket, that the men who control the money market know things that they keep to themselves, and that although I am well aware of your delicate circumstances, you may tell the world quite another tale, and you'll find it will not doubt your word."
"Enfin, of what use is that to me?"
"Well," replied the banker, with a shrug, "I know very well that it would not trouble you much if the whole world knew of you what I know, if only I did not know it. You naturally come to me, intending to describe to me the symptoms of a disease entirely different to that from which you are actually suffering; but I am a practical doctor, who can read the symptoms of my patients from their faces. Suppose, now, I were able to cure you?"
The bitter jest pleased Abellino. "Hum! feel my pulse then," he said jestingly, "but put your hand, not on my pulse, but in my pocket."
"There is no necessity for that. Let us consider the symptoms. Are you not suffering a slight indigestion in consequence of an undigested debt of some three hundred thousand francs or so?"
"You know I do. Give my creditors something to go away with."
"But that would be hard on the poor fellows. You would not choke off your upholsterers, your coach-makers, and your horse-dealers because you can't pay them, I suppose? Would it not be juster to pay them up in full?"
"How can I?" cried Abellino, furiously. "If only, like Don Juan de Castro, I could raise money on half of my moustache by sending it to Toledo! But I can't even do that, for I have cut it off."
"And what will you do if they keep on dunning you?"
"Blow my brains out; that's soon done."
"Ah! don't do that. What would the world say if an eminent Hungarian nobleman were to blow his brains out for a matter of a paltry hundred thousand francs or two?"
"And what would it say if they clapped him in gaol for these same paltry francs?"
The banker smiled, and laid his hand on the young dandy's shoulder; then, in a confidential tone, he added—
"Now we will try what we can do to save you."
This smile, this condescending tap on the shoulder, revealed the parvenu most completely.
The banker now took a seat beside him on the ample sofa, and thus obliged him to sit straight.
"You require three hundred thousand francs," continued Monsieur Griffard, in a gentle, soothing voice, "and I suppose you will not be alarmed at the idea of paying me back six hundred thousand instead of that amount when you come into your property?"
"Fi donc!" said Karpathy, contemptuously. A feeling of noble pride awoke within him for an instant, and he coldly withdrew his arm from the banker's hand. "You are only a usurer, after all," he added.
The banker pocketed the affront with a smile, and tried to smooth the matter over with a jest.
"The Latin proverb says, 'Bis dat qui cito dat—'He gives twice who gives quickly.' Why should I not wish to double my money? Besides, money is a sort of ware, and if you are at liberty to expect a tenfold return from grain that you have cast forth, why may you not expect as much from money that you have cast forth likewise? Take into consideration, moreover, that this is one of the hardiest speculations in the world. You may die before the kinsman you hope to inherit. You may be thrown from your horse at a fox-hunt or a steeplechase and break your neck; you may be shot through the head in a duel; or a fever or a cold may seize you, and I shall be obliged to go into mourning for my dear departed three hundred thousand francs. But let us go further. So far as you are concerned it is not enough that I pay your debts. You will want at least twice that amount to live upon every year. Good! I am ready to advance you that also."
At these words Karpathy eagerly turned towards the banker again.
"You are joking?"
"Not in the least. I risk a million to gain two. I risk two millions to gain four, and so on. I speak frankly. I give much and I lose much. At the present moment you are in no better a position than Juan de Castro, who raised a loan on half his moustache from the Saracens of Toledo. Come now! an Hungarian gentleman's moustache is no worse than a Spaniard's. I will advance you on it as much as you command, and I'll boldly venture to doubt whether there is any one except myself and the Moors of Toledo who would do such a thing? I can answer for nobody imitating me."
"Good! Let us come to terms," said Abellino taking the matter seriously. "You give me a million, and I'll give you a bond for two millions, payable when my uncle expires."
"And if your uncle's vital thread in the hands of the Parcae prove longer than the million in your hands?"
"Then you shall give me another million, and so on. You will be investing your money well, for the Hungarian gentleman is the slave of his property, and can leave it to nobody but his lawful heir."
"And are you quite certain that you will be the one lawful heir?"
"None but me will bear the name of Karpathy after John Karpathy's death."
"I know that; but John Karpathy may marry."
Abellino burst out laughing. "You imagine my uncle to be a very amiable sort of cavalier."
"Not at all. I know very well that he stands at the very brink of death, and that his vital machinery is so completely out of order that if he does not change his diet immediately, and give up his gluttonous habits, of which there is but little hope, I regret to say, he will scarcely live another year. Pardon me for anticipating so bluntly the decease of a dear relative!"
"Go on, by all means."
"We who have to do with life assurance transactions are in the habit of appraising the lives of people, and I am regarding your uncle's life just as if it had been insured in one of these institutions."
"Your scruples are superfluous. I have no tender concern whatever for my uncle."
The banker smiled. He knew that even better than Abellino.
"I said just now that your uncle might marry. It would not be a very rare occurrence. It often happens that elderly gentlemen, who for eighty years have regarded matrimony with horror, suddenly, in a tender moment, offer their hands to the very first young woman they may chance to cast their eyes upon, even if she be only a kitchen wench. Or it may be some old inclination which, after years and years, suddenly springs into life again, like some tenacious animal that has lain imprisoned for centuries in a coal-seam, and the ideals which at sixteen he was unable to make his own, possibly because he had other ties, he turns to again at seventy when he finds himself free again."
"My uncle has no ideals. He does not know such a word. Besides, I can assure you that such a marriage could not possibly have the usual results."
"I have no uneasiness on that score, otherwise I should scarcely venture to make you an offer. But there is another point on which I shall require a satisfactory assurance from you."
"A satisfactory assurance from me? Now it is the turn of my beard, I suppose," murmured Abellino, smoothing down his black whiskers.
"The assurance I want from you," said the banker, cheerfully, "is that you will live long enough."
"Naturally, lest I die before my uncle."
"It might so happen. I will, therefore, not only give you money, but will take care that no harm happens to your life."
"I mean to say, so long as old John Karpathy is alive, you must fight no duels, go to no stag or boar hunts, undertake no long sea voyage, enter into no liaison with any ballet-dancer; in a word, you must engage to avoid everything which might endanger your life."
"And I suppose I must also drink no wine and ascend no staircase, as the drink might fly to my head, and I might fall down and break my neck?"
"I won't bind you too strictly. I admit that you may find the enumerated prohibitions somewhat grievous, but I know of a case which would free you from them all."
"And that is——?"
"If you were to marry."
"Parbleu! Rather than do that I would engage never to mount a horse or handle a weapon."
"Look at it in this way. Suppose you were to honour an elegant young gentlewoman with your hand. The first year you would be able to pass happily enough; for surely in all Paris you would be able to find a lady capable of making a man happy for at least a whole year! At the end of that year the Karpathy family would be enriched by a vigorous young scion the more, and you would be absolved from your onerous engagement, and be quite free to blow your brains out or break your neck, according as the fancy took you. But if, on the other hand, you preferred to enjoy life, why, then, Paris is large enough; and there's the whole world beyond. That's not such a very terrible affair, I'm sure."
"We'll see," said Abellino, rising from his seat and smoothing his ruffled shirt-front with the tips of his nails.
"How?" inquired the banker, attentively. He had foreseen that if he showed himself ready to help Karpathy out of his financial difficulties, the latter would at once grow coy.
"I say we will see which of the paths before me is the most practicable. The money you offer I will accept in any case."
"Ah! I hoped as much."
"Only the assurances you require somewhat complicate the matter. I will try, first of all, if I can put up with the restrictions you have laid upon me. Oh! don't be afraid. I am accustomed to ascetic deprivations. Once I cured myself homoeopathically, and for five weeks I was unable to drink coffee or perfume my hair. I have a great deal of strength of mind. If, however, I can't stand the test, I'll try matrimony. But it would be best of all if some one would neatly rid me of my uncle."
"Sir, sir!" cried the banker, leaping to his feet, "I hope this is only a jest on your part!"
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the young dandy. "I am not thinking of murder or poison. I am only thinking that the poor old fellow's health may be shattered by peasant-girls and fat pasties. There are, I must tell you, pasties so jolly heavy that they call them 'inheritance pasties.' There's no poison in them, but lots of goose-livers and other delicacies. Eat your fill of 'em, and throw in some good red wine, and apoplexy will be waiting for you round the corner."
"I can't say: I never made such things," said the ex-pastry-cook, gravely.
"Nor did I mean to say that I would have them made for my uncle. I am capable of killing, I am capable of shooting or cutting down the man I hate; but it is not in me to kill a man in order to inherit his property. But so much I may say, that if only I chose to take the trouble, I could accelerate his departure from the world a little."
"That would be a shame. Wait till he departs of his own accord."
"There's nothing else to do. Meanwhile you must make up your mind to be my banker. The more money I borrow, the better it will be for you; for you will get back as much again. What do I care? Whoever comes after me will have to shut the door."
"Then we are agreed?"
"To-morrow morning, after twelve, you can send your notary to me with all the documents ready, so that no time may be lost."
"I will not keep you waiting."
Abellino took his leave, and the banker, rubbing his hands, escorted him out to the very door of the saloon.
And thus there was a very good prospect of one of the largest landed estates of Hungary falling in a few years into the hands of a foreign banker.
THE WHITSUN KING.
And now we are home again in poor dear Hungary.
It is the red dawn of a Whitsun Day, and a real dawn it is. Very early, soon after the first cock-crow, a band of brown musicians began marching along the roads of Nagy-Kun-Madaras, and in front of them, with a long hazel-wood wand in his hand, strutted a sworn burgher of the town, whose face seemed full of angry dignity because he was engaged on an important official function before ever a drop of palinka had crossed his lips.
The worthy sworn burgher was honourably clad in blue, which well becomes a man in his official capacity; his spiral hat was adorned by a couple of large peonies in full bloom; in his button-hole was a posy of pinks and vine leaves; his silk vest had silver buttons; his face was red, his moustache pointed, his boots shaggy and spurred. He kept raising his feet as gingerly as if he were walking on eggs, and not for all the world would he have looked on either side of him, still less upon the gipsy minstrels behind his back; only when he came in front of the door of any burgher or town councillor he would signify, by raising his stick, that they were to walk more slowly, while the trumpets blared all the louder.
Everywhere the loud music aroused the inhabitants of the streets. Windows and blinds were thrown open and drawn up, and the young women, covering their bosoms with aprons, popped their heads out and wished Mr. Andrew Varju a very good morning. But Mr. Andrew Varju recognized nobody, for he was now the holder of a high office which did not permit of condescension.
But now he reached the houses of the civic notabilities, and here he had to go indoors, for he had particular business with them. This particular business consisted of a drink of palinka, which awaited him there, and whose softening effect was visible on his face when he came back again.
This accomplished, the most important invitation of all remained to the last, to wit, that of his honour the most noble Master Jock, which had to be given in due order.
Now, this was no joke, for Master Jock had the amiable habit of keeping tame bears in his courtyard, which devour a man without the slightest regard to his official position; or the poor man might stray among the watch-dogs, and be torn to ribbons. Fortunately, however, on this occasion a red-liveried menial was lounging about the gate, from whom it was possible to get a peaceful answer.
"Is the most noble Master Jock up yet?"
"Deuce take it, man! What are you shivering at? Why, he hasn't lain down yet!"
Mr. Varju trotted on further. He had now to report himself to their worships at the community-house, which he accomplished without any beating about the bush by simply saying, "I have done everything."
"It is well, Mr. Varju."
And now let us take a look at these famous men.
In the worshipful community-room, hanging in long rows on the walls, were the painted effigies of the local and civic celebrities, with room enough between for the arms of these defunct patrons, baillies, curators, and charity-founders also. On the table were tomes of tremendous bulk, pressed down by a large lead inkstand. The floor beneath the table was nicely covered with ink-blots—it was there that the pens were usually thrown.
The bell of early dawn was only now beginning to ring, and yet their worships were already assembled in the room, with their elbows planted in a circle all round the long table. The judge presided—a worthy, stout man.
Near the door stood a group of young men in short, strong, baggy knee-breeches and broad-buttoned pelisse-like dolmans. Every one of them had a bright kerchief in his button-hole, and spurred boots upon his feet.
Prominent amongst all the youths stood the Whitsun King of the year before. He was a tall, lanky stripling, with a large hooked, aquiline nose, and a long moustache triply twisted at the ends and well stiffened with wax. His neck was long and prominent and burnt black by the sun where it was not protected by his shirt. Below his shirt it looked as though it had been cut out of another skin. His dress was different to that of the common folks. Instead of linen hose, he wore laced trousers tucked into boots of Kordovan leather from which long tassels dangled down. The sparkling copper clasp of his broad girdle was visible beneath his short silken vest. A bright kerchief peeped out from every pocket of his dolman, and was tied at one corner to his buttons; and his fingers were so swollen with hoop and signet-rings that he could scarce bend them. But what distinguished the youth more than anything else was a large umbrageous wreath on the top of his head. The young girls had twined it out of weeping-willow leaves and flowers in such a way that the pretty chains of pinks and roses flowed a long way down the youth's shoulders like long maidenhair, leaving only his face free, and thus forming a parting on both sides.
Will he win this wreath again? Who can tell?
"Well, Martin," said the judge, "so here we have red Whitsun-Day again, eh?"
"I know it, noble sir. To-morrow I also shall be in church, and will listen."
"Then you intend to remain Whitsun King this year also?"
"I shall not be wanting to myself, noble sir. This is only the sixth year that I have been Whitsun King."
"And do you know how many buckets of wine you have drunk during that period, and how many guests you have chucked out of feasts, sow-dances, and banquets?"
[Footnote 5: A dance given at sow-slaughtering time.]
"I cannot say, noble sir. My one thought was not to miss one of them, and so much I may say, neither man nor wine has ever floored me."
"Mr. Notary, read to him how many pitchers of wine and how many broken heads stand to his account!"
And it appeared from the register that Martin, during the year of his Whitsun Kingship, had cost the community seventy-two firkins of wine, and more than a hundred heads broken for fun. He had also made an innkeeper quite a rich man by smashing all his glasses every week, which the town paid for.
"And now, answer me further, little brother: How many times have your horses come to grief?"
"I have not troubled myself about them. I leave all that to my underlings."
"How many girls have you befooled?"
"Why should they let themselves be befooled?"
"How much of ill-gotten goods has passed through your hands?"
"Nobody has ever caught me."
"But thy Whitsun Kingship has cost the town a pretty penny."
"I know this much, that it does not come out of the coffers of the town, but out of the pockets of our dear father, the noble John Karpathy, whose worthy phiz I see hanging up on the wall yonder. He it is who has presented a sum of money to the community to keep up our old customs, and to improve the breed of our horses by gathering together all our young riders, in order that they may run races with one another. I also know that whoever proves to be the victor on that occasion has the privilege of getting drunk gratis at every hostelry in the town, while every landlord is bound to look after his horses, and whatever damage they may do they are not to be impounded, but the sufferer has to make good the damage for not looking after them better. Besides that, he has the free run of all festivities and junketings that may be going on; and if sometimes, in the exuberance of high spirits, he knocks any one about a bit, he is not to be punished either by corporal chastisement or imprisonment."
"Bravo, little brother! you would make an excellent advocate. Where did you learn to speak so fluently?"
"For the last six years I have remained the Whitsun King," answered the youth, haughtily sticking out his chest, "and so I have had plenty of opportunities of learning my rights."
"Come, come, Martin!" said the judge, reprovingly. "Bragging does not become a young man. You have now got so accustomed to this sort of life that you'll find it a little difficult to fall into the ranks again, drink wine that you've paid for, and be punished for your offences if to-day or to-morrow you are deposed from your Whitsun Kingship."
"The man is not born who will do that," replied Martin, lifting his eyebrows, twiddling his thumbs, and hitching up his trousers with great dignity.
The councillors also perceived that the Whitsun King had made a mistake in answering so rashly, but as it would have been unseemly to have offended the dignity of so considerable a personage, they devoted themselves exclusively to the preparations for the entertainment.
Four barrels of wine, each of a different sort, were piled upon waggons; another waggon was full of freshly baked white rolls; fastened behind the waggons by their horns were the couple of yoke oxen that were going to be slaughtered.
"That's not the right way of going about it!" cried Martin. It was not his natural voice, but he was so accustomed to a peremptory tone now that he could use no other. "We want more pomp here. Who ever heard of the festal oxen being tied to a cart's tail? Why, the butcher ought to lead the pair of them by the horns, one on each side, and you ought to stick lemons on the tips of their horns, and tie ribbons round them!"
"Bravo, little brother! He knows how it ought to be done."
"And then four girls ought to sit on the top of each barrel, and dole out the wine from where they sit in long-eared rummers."
"Any more commands, Martin?"
"Yes. Let the gipsy musicians strike up my tune as we march along; and let two heydukes hold my horse when I mount."
These commands were punctually obeyed.
The people, after a short religious service, made their way towards the fields. In front trotted two sworn burghers with ribbon-bedizened copper axes in their hands; after them came a cart with the gipsy musicians, roaring out Martin's song as if they meant to shout the heavens down. Immediately upon their heels followed two gaily tricked-out oxen, led by a couple of bare-armed butcher's lads; and then came the provision-waggons; and last of all the wine-carts, with sturdy young bachelors astride every barrel. Then followed Mr. Varju. Fate had raised him still higher, for he was now sitting on horseback, holding a large red banner, which the wind kept flapping into his eyes every moment. From the satisfied expression of his face he evidently thought to himself that if Martin was the Whitsun King, he himself was at least the Whitsun Palatine.
Last of all came the Whitsun King. His horse was not exactly beautiful, but it was a large, bony beast, sixteen hands high, and what it wanted in figure was made up to it in gay trappings and ribbons woven into its mane; its housings too were of fox-skin. Martin did not ride badly. He rolled about a bit, it is true; but this was due, not so much to anything he had taken at breakfast, as to his usual habit of swaggering; indeed, for the matter of that, he sat as firmly in his saddle as if he had grown to it.
On both sides of him trotted a couple of burghers with drawn swords, who had to look well after themselves all the time, for Martin's horse, whenever he perceived any other horse half a head in front of him, would bite at it till it screamed again.
After him, in a long row, came the competing youths. In every face was to be seen a confident gleam of hope that he, perhaps, would be the winner.
The rear was brought up by a crush of carriages and carts, raising clouds of dust in their efforts to overtake the horses in front, adorned with green branches and crammed with merry holiday-folks with bright, streaming neckerchiefs.
At that moment the report of a mortar announces that the prime patron of the festivities, the rich nabob, Master Jock, has departed from his castle. The crowd takes up its position in the cemetery and the gardens adjoining. The wary horsemen stand out in the open; some of them make their horses prance and curvet to show their mettle, and lay bets with one another. Shortly afterwards a cloud of dust arising from below the gardens declares that Master Jock is approaching. No sooner are the carriages visible than they are welcomed by a thundering huzzah, which presently passes over into peals of merry laughter. For Master Jock had hit upon the joke of dressing the gipsy Vidra in a splendid costume of cloth of gold, and making him sit in the family state-carriage drawn by four horses, while he himself came huddled up in a common peasant-cart immediately afterwards, and the honest country-folks loudly applauded the gold-bedizened costume till they perceived that there was only a gipsy inside it, whereupon the laughter grew louder still, which greatly amused the good gentleman.
With him came, besides his court jesters, those of his boon companions whom he liked the best. Number one was Miska Horhi, the owner of an estate of five thousand acres or so at the other end of the kingdom, who would skip over to his crony in March and stay till August, simply to ask him who he thought would be the next vice-lord-lieutenant of the county, leaving word at home that the crops were to be left untouched, and nothing was to be done till he returned. Number two was the famous Laczi Csenkoe, the owner of the finest stud in the Alfoeld, who, rather than tire his own beautiful horses, preferred to go on foot, unless he could drive in somebody else's conveyance. Number three was Loerincz Berki, the most famous hunter and courser in the county, who told falsehoods as glibly as if he lied from dictation. Number four was Friczi Kalotai, who had the bad habit of instantly purloining whatever came in his way, whether it were a pipe, a silver spoon, or a watch. Nevertheless, this habit of his was not without its advantages, for whenever his acquaintances lost anything, they always knew exactly where to look for it, and would simply seize him by the neck and turn out his pockets, without offending him the least bit in the world. Last of all came Bandi Kutyfalvi, the most magnificent tippler and swash-buckler in the realm, who, in his cups, invariably cudgelled all his boon companions; but he had the liquid capacity of a hippopotamus, and nobody had ever seen him dead-drunk in his life.