How I worried over that dream! A snub-nosed angel— What mocking dreams a man has, to be sure.
The next day we were early astir; to me it seemed all the earlier, as the window of our little room looked out on to the narrow courtyard, where the day dawned so slowly, but Marton, the principal assistant, was told off to brawl at the schoolboy's door, when breakfast was being prepared:
I could not think what kind of an assault it was, that awoke me from my dream, when first I heard the clamorous clarion call. But Henrik jumped to his feet at once, and roused me from my bed, explaining, half in student language, half by gesture, that we should go down now to the bakery to see how the buns and cakes were baked. There was no need to dress; we might go in our night clothes, as the bakers wear quite similar costumes. I was curious, and easily persuaded to do anything; we put on our slippers and went down together to the bakery.
It was an agreeable place; from afar it betrayed itself by that sweet confectionery smell, which makes a man imagine that if he breathes it in long enough he will satisfy his hunger therewith. Everything in the whole place was as white as snow; everything so clean; great bins full of flour; huge vessels full of swelling dough, from which six white-dressed, white-aproned assistants were forming every conceivable kind of cake and bun; piled upon the shelves of the gigantic white oven the first supply was gradually baking, filling the whole room with a most agreeable odor.
Master Marton, when he caught sight of me, began to welcome me in a kind of broken Hungarian "Jo reggelt jo reggelt!"
[Footnote 13: Good morning.]
He had a curious knack of putting the whole of his scalp into motion whenever he moved his eyebrows up or down; a comical peculiarity of which he availed himself whenever he wished to make anyone laugh, and saw that his words did not have the desired effect.
Henrik set to work and competed with the baker's assistants; he was clever at making dainty little titbits of cakes quite as clever as anyone there; and pleasure beamed on his face when the old assistant praised his efforts.
"You see," Marton said to me, "what a ready assistant he would make! In two years he might be free. But the old man is determined he shall learn and study; he wants to make a councillor of him." With these words Marton, by a movement of his eyebrows, sent the whole of the skin on his head to form a bunch on the crown, for all the world as if it had been a wig on springs.
"Councillor, indeed! a councillor who gnaws pens when he is hungry! Thanks; not if they gave me the tower of St. Michael. A councillor, who, with paper in hand and pen behind ear, goes to visit the bakers in turn, and weighs their loaves in the balance to see if they are correct weight."
It seemed that Marton did not take into consideration any other duties that a councillor might have besides the examining of bakers' loaves—and that one could hardly gain his approval.
"Yet, if you take a little pains for their sake, you will find them as gentle as lambs. Give them a 'heitige striozts,' or All Saints Day, and you will secure your object. Such is Mr. Dintenklek." At this point Marton could not refrain from breaking out into an unmelodious "Gassenhauer" the refrain of which was, "Alas! Mr. Dintenklek."
[Footnote 14: A kind of dainty bit suitable to this "holy" occasion.]
[Footnote 15: A popular air sung in the streets.]
Two or three assistants joined in the refrain, of which I did not understand a word; but as Marton uttered the final words, "Alas Mr. Dintenklek," his gestures were such as to lead me to suspect that this Mr. Dintenklek must be some very ridiculous figure in the eye of baker's assistants.
"Why, of course, Henrik must learn law. The old man says he, too, might have become a councillor if he had concluded his studies at school. What a blessing he did not. As it is, he almost murders us with his learning. He is always showing off how much Latin he knows. Yes, the old man Latinizes."
As he said this Marton could scarcely control the skin of his head, so often did he have to twitch his eyebrows in order to express the above opinion, which he held about his master's pedantry.
Then with a sudden suspicion he turned to me:
"You don't wish to be a councillor, I suppose?"
I earnestly assured him that, on the contrary, I was preparing for a vacancy in the county.
"Oho! lieutenant-governor? That is different, quite another thing; travelling in a coach. No putting on of mud boots when it is muddy. That I allow." And, in order to show how deep a respect he bore towards my presumptive office position, he drew his eyebrows up so high that his cap fell back upon his neck.
"Enough of dough-kneading for the present, Master Henrik. Go back to your room and write out your 'pensum,' for you will again be forbidden breakfast, if it is not ready."
Henrik did not listen to him, but worked away for all the world as if he was not being addressed.
Meanwhile Marton was cutting a large piece of dough into bits of exactly equal size, out of which the "Vienna" rolls were to be formed. This delicate piece of work needs an accurate eye to avoid cheating either one's master or the public.
"You see, he is at home here; he does not want his books. And there is nothing more beautiful, more refined than our art; nothing more remunerative; we deal with the blessing of God, for we prepare the daily bread. The Lord's Prayer includes the baker, 'Give us this day our daily bread.' Is there any mention anywhere of butchers, of tailors or of cobblers? Well, does anyone pray for meat, for coats, or for books? Let me hear about him. But they do pray for their daily bread, don't they? And does the prayer-book say anything concerning councillors? What? Who knows anything on that score?"
Some young assistant interrupted: "Why, of course, 'but deliver us from the evil one.'"
This caused everybody to laugh; it caused Henrik to spoil his buns, which had to be kneaded afresh. He was annoyed by the idea that he had learned all he had merely in order to be ridiculed here in the bakery.
"Ha, yes," remarked Master Marton, smiling. "It is a great misfortune that a man is never asked how he wishes to die, but a still greater misfortune if he is not asked how he wishes to live. My father destined me to be a butcher. I learned the whole trade. Then I suddenly grew tired of all that ox-slaughtering, and cow-skinning. I was always fascinated by these beautiful brown-backed rolls in the shop-window; whenever I passed before the confectionery window, the pleasant warm bread-odors just invited me in:—until at last I deserted my trade, and joined Father Fromm. At that time my moustache and beard were already sprouting, but I have never regretted my determination. Whenever I look at my clean, white shirt, I am delighted at the idea that I have not to sprinkle it with blood, and wear the blood-stained garment the rest of the day. Everyone should follow his own bent, should he not, Henrik?"
"True," muttered the youth in a tone of anger. "And yet the butcher's trade is as far above the councillor's as the weather-cock on St. Michael's tower is above our own vane. I do not like blood on my hands, yet at least I could wash it off; but if a drop of ink gets on my finger from my pen, for three days no pumice stone would induce it to depart. Yes, it is a glorious thing to be a baker's assistant."
Marton now busied himself in shovelling several dozen loaves of white bread into the heated oven. Meantime the whole "menage" commenced with one voice to sing a peculiar air, which I had already heard several times resounding through the bakers' windows.
It runs as follows:
"Oh, the kneading trough is fine, Very beautiful and fine.
Straight and crooked, round in form Thin and long, three-legged too, Here's a stork, and here's a 'ticker,' While here's a pair of snuffers too, Stork and ticker, snuffers too, Bottles, tipsy Michael with them. Bottles, tipsy Michael with them, Stork and ticker, snuffers too, Thin and long, three-legged too, Straight and crooked, round in form.
Oh! the kneading trough is fine, Very beautiful and fine."
They sang this air with such a passionate earnestness that, to this day I must believe, was caused, not by the beauty of the verses, or the corresponding melody, but rather by some superstitious feeling that their chanting would prevent the plague infecting the bread while it was baking, or perhaps the air served as an hour-glass telling them by its termination that now was the time to take the bread out of the oven. As they who are wont to use the Lord's Prayer for the boiling of eggs—God save the mark.
Henrik joined in. I saw he had no longer any idea of finishing his school tasks, and when the "Oh, the kneading trough" began anew, I left him in the bakery, and went upstairs to our room. On the table lay Henrik's unfortunate exercise-book open, full of corrections made in a different ink; of the new exercise only the first line had been begun. Immediately I collected the words wanted from a dictionary, and wrote the translation down on a piece of paper.
Not till an hour later did he return from the scene of his operations, and even then did not know to what he should turn his hand first. Great was his delight, then, to see the task already finished; he merely had to copy it.
He gazed at me with a curious peevishness and said: "Guter kerl."
[Footnote 16: Good fellow.]
From his countenance I could not gather what he had said but the word kerl made me prepare myself for a repetition of the struggle of yesterday, for which I did not feel the least inclination.
Scarcely was the copying ready when the steps of Father Fromm resounded on the staircase. Henrik hastily thrust my writing into his pockets and was poring over the open book, when the old man halted before the door, so that when he opened it, such a noise resounded in the room as if Henrik were trying to drive an army of locusts out of the country: "his abacem."
"Ergo, ergo; quomodo?" said the old man, placing the palm of his hand upon my head. I saw that this was his manner of showing affection.
I ventured to utter my first German word, answering his query with a "Guter morgen;" at which the old fellow shook his head and laughed. I could not imagine why. Perhaps I had expressed myself badly, or had astonished him with my rapid progress?
[Footnote 17: Correctly, "Guten Morgen" (wunsch ich): "I wish (you) (a) good morning."]
He did not enlighten me on the subject; instead he turned with a severe confessorial face to Henrik: "No ergo! Quid ergo? Quid seis? Habes pensum? Nebulo!"
Henrik tried whether he could move the skin of his head like Master Marton did, when he spoke of Mr. Fromm's Latin. For the sake of greater security he first of all displayed the written exercise to his father, thinking it better to leave his weaker side until later.
Father Fromm gazed at the deep learning with a critical eye, then graciously expressed his approval.
But the lesson?
That bitter piece!
Even yesterday, when he had only to recite them to the little snub-nose, Henrik did not know the verses, and to-day, the book was in the old man's hand! If he had merely taken the book in his hands! But with his disengaged hand he held a ruler with the evident intention of immediately pulling the boy up, if he made a mistake.
Poor Henrik, of course, did not know a single word. He gazed ever askance at Father Fromm's ruler, and when he reached the first obstacle, as the old fellow raised the ruler, probably merely with the intention of striking Henrik's mental capacity into action by startling him, Henrik was no more to be seen; he was under the bed, where he had managed to hide his long body with remarkable agility; nor would he come forth until Father Fromm promised he would not hurt him, and would take him to breakfast.
And Father Fromm kept the conditions of the armistice, only verbally denouncing the boy as he wriggled out of his fortress; I did not understand what he said, I only gathered by his grimaces and gestures that he was annoyed over the matter—by my presence.
The morning was spent in visiting professors. The director was a strongly-built, bony-faced, moustached man, with a high, bald forehead, broad-chested, and when he spoke, he did not spare his voice, but always talked as if he were preaching. He was very well satisfied with our school certificates, and made no secret of it. He assured grandmother he would take care of us and deal severely with us. He would not allow us to go astray in this town. He would often visit us at our homes; that was his custom; and any student convicted of disorderliness would be punished.
"Are the boys musicians?" he asked grandmother in harsh tones.
"Oh, yes; the one plays the piano, the other the violin."
The director struck the middle of the table with his fist: "I am sorry—but I cannot allow violin playing under any circumstances."
Lorand ventured to ask, "Why not?"
"Why not, indeed? Because that is the fountain-head of all mischief. The book, not the violin, is for the student. What do you wish to be? a gypsy, or a scholar? The violin betrays students into every kind of mischief. How do I know? Why, I see examples of it every day. The student takes the violin under his coat, and goes with it to the inn, where he plays for other students who dance there till morning with loose girls. So I break into fragments every violin I find. I don't ask whether it was dear; I dash it to the ground. I have already smashed violins of high value."
Grandmother saw it would be wiser not to allow Lorand to answer, so she hastened to anticipate him:
"Why, it is not the elder boy, sir, who plays the violin, but this younger one; besides, neither has been so trained as to wish to go to any undesirable place of amusement."
"That does not matter. The little one has still less need of scraping. Besides, I know the student; at home he makes saintly faces, as if he would not disturb water, but when once let loose, be it in an inn, be it in a coffee-house, there he will sit beside his beer, and join in a competition, to see who is the greatest tippler, shout and sing 'Gaudeamus igitur.' That is why I don't allow students to carry violins under their top-coats to inns, under any circumstances. I break the violin in pieces, and have the top-coat cut into a covert-coat. A student with a top-coat! That's only for an army officer. Then, I cannot suffer anyone to wear sharp-pointed boots which are especially made for dancing; flat-toed boots are for honest men; no one must come to my school in pointed boots, for I put his foot on the bench and cut away the points."
Grandmother hurried her visit to prevent Lorand having an opportunity of giving answer to the worthy man, who carried his zeal in the defence of morality to such a pitch as to break up violins, have top-coats cut down, and cut off the points of pointed boots.
It was a good habit of mine (long, long ago, in my childhood days), to regard as sacred anything a man, who had the right to my obedience, might say. When we came away from the director's presence, I whispered to Lorand in a distressed tone:
"Your boots seem to me a little too pointed."
"Henceforward I shall have them made still more pointed," replied Lorand,—an answer with which I was not at all satisfied.
In my eyes every serious man was surrounded by a "nimbus" of infallibility; no one had ever enlightened me on the fact that serious-minded men had themselves once been young, and had learned the student jargon of Heidelberg; that this director himself, after a noisy youth, had arrived at the idea that every young man has malicious propensities, and that what seems good in him is only make-believe, and so he must be treated with the severity of military discipline.
Then we proceeded to pay a visit to my class-master, who was the exact opposite of the director: a slight, many-cornered little man, with long hair brushed back, smooth shaved face, and such a thin, sweet voice that one might have taken every word of his as a supplication. And he was so familiar in his dealings with us. He received us in a dressing gown, but when he saw a lady was with us, he hastily changed that for a black coat, and asked pardon—why, I do not know.
Then he attempted to drive a host of little children out of his room, but without success. They clung to his hands and arms and he could not shake them off; he called out to some lady to come and help him. A sleepy face appeared at the other door, and suddenly withdrew on seeing us. Finally, at grandmother's request, he allowed the children to remain.
Mr. Schmuck was an excellent "paterfamilias," and took great care of children. His study was crammed with toys; he received us with great tenderness, and I remember well that he patted me on the head.
Grandmother immediately became more confident of this good man than she had been of his colleague, whom we had previously visited. For he was so fond of his own children. To him she related the secret that made her heart sad; explained why we were in mourning; told him that father was unfortunately dead, and that we were the sole hopes of our sickly mother; that up till now our behaviors had been excellent, and finally asked him to take care of me, the younger.
The good fellow clasped his hands and assured grandmother that he would make a great man of me, especially if I would come to him privately; that he might devote particular attention to the development of my talents. This private tuition would not come to more than seven florins a month. And that is not much for the whetting of one's mind; as much might be paid even for the grinding of scissors.
Grandmother, her spirits depressed by the previous reception, timidly ventured to introduce the remark that I had a certain inclination for the violin, but she did not know whether it was allowed?
The good man did not allow her to speak further. "Of course, of course. Music ennobles the soul, music calms the inclinations of the mind. Even in the days of Pythagoras lectures were closed by music. He who indulges in music is always in the society of good spirits. And here it will be very cheap; it will not cost more than six florins a month, as my children have a music-master of their own."
[Footnote 18: 1 florin equals 2s English money or 40 cents.]
Dear grandmother, seeing his readiness to acquiesce, thought it good to make some more requests (this is always the way with a discontented people, too, when it meets with ready acquiescence in the powers that be). She remarked that perhaps I might be allowed to learn dancing.
"Why, nothing could be more natural," was the answer of the gracious man. "Dancing goes hand-in-hand with music; even in Greek days it was the choral revellers that were accompanied by the harp. In the classics there is frequent mention of the dance. With the Romans it belonged to culture, and according to tradition even holy David danced. In the world of to-day it is just indispensable, especially to a young man. An innocent enjoyment! One form of bodily exercise. It is indispensable that the young man of to-day shall step, walk, stand properly, and be able to bow and dance, and not betray at once, on his appearance, that he has come from some school of pedantry. And in this respect I obey the tendency of the age. My own children all learn to dance, and as the dancing-master comes here in any case my young friend may as well join my children; it will not cost more than five florins."
Grandmother was extraordinarily contented with the bargain; she found everything quite cheap.
"By cooeperation everything becomes cheap. A true mental 'menage.' Many learn together, and each pays a trifle. If you wish my young friend to learn drawing, it will not cost more than four florins; four hours weekly, together with the others. Perhaps you will not find it superfluous, that our young friend should make acquaintance with the more important European languages; he can learn, under the supervision oL mature teachers, English and French, at a cost of not more than three florins, three hours a week. And if my young friend has a few hours to spare, he cannot do better than spend them in the gymnasium; gymnastic exercise is healthy, it encourages the development of the muscles along with that of the brain, and it does not cost anything, only ten florins entrance fee."
Grandmother was quite overcome by this thoughtfulness. She left everything in order and paid in advance.
I do not wish anyone to come to the conclusion, from the facts stated above, that in course of time I shall come to boast what a Paganini I became in time, what a Mezzofanti as a linguist, what a Buonarotti in art, what a Vestris in the dance, or what a Michael Toddy in fencing:—I hasten to remark that I do not even yet understand anything of all these things. I have only to relate how they taught them to me.
When I went to my private lessons—"together with the others"—the professor was not at home; we indulged in an hour's wrestling.
When I went to my dancing lessons—"together with the others"—the dancing master was missing: again an hour's wrestling.
During the French lessons we again wrestled, and during the drawing and violin hours we spent our time exactly as we did during the other hours; so that when the gymnastic lessons came round we had no more heart for wrestling.
I did just learn to swim,—in secret, seeing that it was prohibited, and truly without paying:—unless I may count as a forfeit penalty that mass of water I swallowed once, when I was nearly drowned in the Danube. None even dared to acquaint the people at home with the fact; Lorand saved me, but he never boasted of his feat.
As we left the house of this very kind man, who quite overcame grandmother and us, with his gracious and amiable demeanors, Lorand said:
"From this hour I begin to greatly esteem the first professor: he is a noble, straight-forward fellow."
I did not understand his meaning—that is, I did not wish to understand. Perhaps he wished to slight "my" professor.
According to my ethical principles it was purely natural that each student should admire and love that professor who was the director of his own class, and if one class is secretly at war with another, the only reason can be that the professor of one class is the opponent of the other. My kingdom is the foe of thy kingdom, so my soldiers are the enemies of thy soldiers.
I began to look at Lorand in the light of some such hostile soldier.
Fortunately the events that followed drove all these ideas out of my head.
MY RIGHT HONORABLE UNCLE
We were invited to dine with the Privy Councillor Balnokhazy, at whose house my brother was to take up his residence.
He was some very distant relation of ours; however, he received a payment for Lorand's board, seven hundred florins, a nice sum of money in those days.
My pride was the greatest that my brother was living in a privy councillor's house, and, if my school-fellows asked me where I lived, I never omitted to mention the fact that "my brother was living with Balnokhazy, P. C.," while I myself had taken up my abode merely with a baker.
Baker Fromm was indeed very sorry that we were not dining "at home." At least they might have left me alone there. That he did not turn to stone as he uttered these words was not my fault; at least I fixed upon him such basilisk eyes as I was capable of. What an idea! To refuse a dinner with my P. C. uncle for his sake! Grandmother, too, discovered that I also must be presented there.
We ordered a carriage for 1:30; of course we could not with decency go to the P. C.'s on foot. Grandmother fastened my embroidered shirt under my waistcoat, and I was vain enough to allow the little pugnose to arrange my tie. She really could make pretty bows, I thought. As I gazed at myself in the looking-glass, I found that I should be a handsome boy when I had put on my silver-buttoned attila. And if only my hair was curled! Still I was completely convinced that in the whole town there did not exist any more such silver-buttoned attilas as mine.
[Footnote 19: The coat worn by the hussars, forming part, as it does, of all real Magyar levee dresses.]
Only it annoyed me to watch the little pugnose careering playfully round me. How she danced round me, without any attempt to conceal the fact that I took her fancy; and how that hurt my pride!
At the bottom of the stairs the comical Henrik was waiting for me, with a large brush in his hand. He assured me that my attila had become floury—surely from Fanny's apron, for that was always floury—and that he must brush it off. I only begged him not to touch my collar with the hair brush; for that a silk brush was required, as it was velvet.
I believe I set some store by the fact that the collar of my attila was velvet.
From the arched doorway old Marton, too, called after me, as we took our seats, "Good appetite, Master Sheriff!" and five or six times moved his cap up and down on the top of his head.
How I should have loved to break his nose! Why is he compromising me here before my brother? He might know that when I am in full dress I deserve far greater respect from when he sees me before him in my night clothes.—But so it is with those whose business lies in flour.
But let us speak no more of bakers; let us soar into higher regions.
Our carriage stopped somewhere in the neighborhood of the House of Parliament, where there was a two-storied house, in which the P. C. lived.
The butler—pardon! the chamberlain—was waiting for us downstairs at the gate (it is possible that it was not for us he was waiting). He conducted us up the staircase; from the staircase to the porch; from the porch to the anteroom; from the anteroom to the drawing-room, where our host was waiting to receive us.
I used to think that at home we were elegant people—that we lodged and lived in style; but how poor I felt we were as we went through the rooms of the Balnokhazys. The splendor only incited my admiration and wonder, which was abruptly terminated by the arrival of the host and hostess and their daughter, Melanie, by three different doors. The P. C. was a tall, portly man, broad-shouldered, with black eyebrows, ruddy cheeks, a coal-black moustache curled upward; he formed the very ideal I had pictured to myself of a P. C. His hair also was of a beautiful black, fashionably dressed.
He greeted us in a voice rich and stentorian; kissed grandmother; offered his hand to my brother, who shook it; while he allowed me to kiss his hand.
What an enormous turquoise ring there was on his finger!
Then my right honorable aunt came into our presence. I can say that since that day I have never seen a more beautiful woman. She was then twenty-three years of age; I know quite surely. Her beautiful face, its features preserved with the enamel of youth, seemed almost that of a young girl; her long blonde tresses waved around it; her lips, of graceful symmetry, always ready for a smile; her large, dark blue, and melancholy eyes shadowed by her long eyelashes; her whole form seemed not to walk—rather fluttered and glided; and the hand which she gave me to kiss was transparent as alabaster.
My cousin Melanie was truly a little angel. Her first appearance, to me, was a phenomenon. Methinks no imagination could picture anything more lovely, more ethereal than her whole form. She was not yet more than eight years of age, but her stature gave her the appearance of some ten years. She was slender, and surely must have had some hidden wings, else it were impossible she could have fluttered as she did upon those symmetrical feet. Her face was fine and distingue, her eyes artful and brilliant; her lips were endowed with such gifts already—not merely of speaking four or five languages—such silent gifts as brought me beside myself. That child-mouth could smile enchantingly with encouraging calmness, could proudly despise, could pout with displeasure, could offer tacit requests, could muse in silent melancholy, could indulge in enthusiastic rapture—could love and hate.
How often have I dreamed of that lovely mouth! how often seen it in my waking hours! how many horrible Greek words have I learned while musing thereon!
I could not describe that dinner at the Balnokhazys to the end. Melanie sat beside me, and my whole attention was directed toward her.
How refined was her behavior! how much elegance there was in every movement of hers! I could not succeed in learning enough from her. When, after eating, she wiped her lips with the napkin, it was as if spirits were exchanging kisses with the mist. Oh, how interminably silly and clumsy I was beside her! My hand trembled when I had to take some dish. Terrible was the thought that I might perchance drop the spoon from my hand and stain her white muslin dress with the sauce. She, for her part, seemed not to notice me; or, on the contrary, rather, was quite sure of the fact that beside her was sitting now a living creature, whom she had conquered, rendered dumb and transformed. If I offered her something, she could refuse so gracefully; and if I filled her glass, she was so polite when she thanked me.
No one busied himself very particularly with me. A young boy at my age is just the most useless article; too big to be played with, and not big enough to be treated seriously. And the worst of it is that he feels it himself. Every boy of twelve years has the same ambition—"If only I were older already!"
Now, however, I say, "If I could only be twelve years old still!" Yet at that time it was a great burden to me. And how many years have passed since then!
Only toward the end of dinner, when the younger generation also were allowed to sip some sweet wine from their tiny glasses, did I find the attention of the company drawn toward me; and it was a curious case.
The butler filled my glass also. The clear golden-colored liquor scintillated so temptingly before me in the cut glass, my little neighbor would so enchantingly deepen the ruddiness of her lips with the liquor from her glass, that an extraordinarily rash idea sprang up within me.
I determined to raise my glass, clink glasses with Melanie, and say to her, "Your health, dear cousin Melanie." The blood rushed into my temples as I conceived the idea.
I was already about to take my glass, when I cast one look at Melanie's face, and in that moment she gazed upon me with such disheartening pride that in terror I withdrew my hand from my glass. It was probably this hesitating movement of mine that attracted the P. C.'s attention, for he deigned to turn to me with the following condescending remark (intended perhaps for an offer):
"Well, nephew, won't you try this wine?" With undismayed determination I answered:
"Perhaps you don't wish to drink wine?"
Cato did not utter the phrase "Victrix causa diis placuit, sed victa Catoni," with more resolution than that with which I answered:
"Oho! you will never drink wine? We shall see how you keep your word in the course of time!"
And that is why I kept my word. Till to-day I have never touched wine. Probably that first fit of obstinacy caused my determination; in a word, slighted in the first glass, I never touched again any kind of pressed, distilled, or burnt beverage. So perhaps my house lost in me an after-dinner celebrity.
"Don't be ashamed, nephew," encouragingly continued my uncle; "this wine is allowed to the young also, if they dip choice Pressburg biscuits in it; it is a very celebrated biscuit, prepared by M. Fromm."
My blood rose to my cheeks. M. Fromm! My host! Immediately the conversation will turn upon him, and they will mention that I am living with him; furthermore, they will relate that he has a little pug-nosed daughter, that they are going to exchange me with her. I should sink beneath the earth for very shame before my cousin Melanie! And surely, one has only to fear something and it will indeed come to pass. Grandmother was thoughtless enough to discover immediately what I wished to conceal, with these words:
"Desiderius is going to live with that very man."
"Ha ha!" laughed uncle, in high humor (his laughter penetrated my very marrow). "With the celebrated 'Zwieback' baker! Why, he can teach my nephew to bake Pressburg biscuits."
[Footnote 20: Biscuit.]
How I was scalded and reduced to nothing, how I blushed before Melanie! The idea of my learning to bake biscuits from M. Fromm! I should never be able to wash myself clean of that suspicion.
In my despair I found myself looking at Lorand. He also was looking at me. His gaze has remained lividly imprinted in my memory. I understood what he said with his eyes. He called me coward, miserable, and sensitive, for allowing the jests of great men to bring blushes to my cheeks. He was a democrat always!
When he saw that I was blushing, he turned obstinately toward Balnokhazy, to reply for me.
But I was not the only one who read his thoughts in his eyes; another also read therein, and before he could have spoken, my beautiful aunt took the words out of his mouth, and with lofty dignity replied to her husband:
"Methinks the baker is just as good a man as the privy councillor."
I shivered at the bold statement. I imagined that for these words the whole company would be arrested and thrown into prison.
Balnokhazy, with smiling tenderness, bent down to his wife's hand and, kissing it, said:
"As a man, truly, just as good a man; but as a baker, a better baker than I."
Now it was Lorand's turn to crimson. He riveted his eyes upon my aunt's face.
My right honorable uncle hastened immediately to close the rencontre with a vanquishing kiss upon my aunt's snow-white hand, a fact which convinced me that their mutual love was endless. In general, I behaved with remarkable respect toward that great relation of ours, who lived in such beautiful apartments, and whose titles would not be contained in three lines.
I was completely persuaded that Balnokhazy, my uncle, had few superiors in celebrity in the world, for personal beauty (except, perhaps, my brother Lorand) none; his wife was the most beautiful and happiest woman under the sun; and my cousin Melanie such an angel that, if she did not raise me up to heaven, I should surely never reach those climes.
And if some one had said to me then, "Let us begin at the beginning; that rich hair on Balnokhazy's head is but a wig," I should have demanded pardon for interrupting: I can find nothing of the least importance to say against the wearing of wigs. They are worn by those who have need of them; by those whose heads would be cold without them, who catch rheumatism easily with uncovered head. Finally, it is nought else but a head-covering for one of aesthetic tastes; a cap made of hair.
This is all true, all earnest truth; and yet I was greatly embittered against that some one who discovered to me for the first time that my uncle Balnokhazy wore a wig, and painted his moustache (with some colored unguent, of course, nothing else). And I am still the enemy of that some one who repeated that before me. He might have left me in happy ignorance.
Even if some one had said that this showy wealth, which indicated a noble affluence, was also such a mere wig as the other, covering the baldness of his riches; if some one had said that these hand-kissing companions, in whose every word was melody when they spoke the one to the other, that they did not love, but hated and despised one another; if some one had said that this lovely, ideal angel of mine even—but no farther, not so much at once!
At the end of dinner our noble relations were so gracious as to permit my cousin Melanie to play the piano before us. She was only eight years old as yet, still she could play as beautifully as other girls of nine years.
I had very rarely heard a piano; at home mother played sometimes, though she did not much care for it. Lorand merely murdered the scales, which was not at all entertaining for me.
My cousin Melanie executed opera selections, and a French quadrille which excited my extremest admiration. My beautiful aunt laid stress upon the fact that she had only studied two years. A very intricate plan began to develop within me.
Melanie played the piano, I the violin. Nothing could be more natural than that I should come here with my violin to play an obligato to Melanie's piano; and if afterward we played violin and piano together perseveringly for eight or nine years, it would be impossible that we should not in the end reach the goal of life on that road.
In consequence I strove to display my usefulness by turning over the leaves of the music for her; and my pride was greatly hurt by the fact that my noble relations did not ask grandmother how I understood how to read music. Finally the end came to this, as to every good thing; my cousin Melanie was not quite "up" in the remaining pieces, though I would have listened even to half-learned pieces, but my grandmother was getting ready to return to the Fromms'. The Balnokhazys asked her to spend the night with them, but she replied that she had been there before, and that I was there too; and she would remain with the younger. I detested myself so for the idea that I was a drag upon my good grandmother; why, I ought to have kissed the dust upon her feet for those words:
"I shall remain with the younger." My brother I envied, who for his part was "at home" with the P. C.
When I kissed my relations' hands at parting, Balnokhazy thrust a silver dollar into my hand, adding with magnificent munificence:
[Footnote 21: Thaler.]
"For a little poppy-cake, you know."
Why, it is true, that in Pressburg very fine poppy-biscuits are made; and it is also true, that many poppy-goodies might be bought, a few at a time, for a dollar; likewise I cannot deny that so much money had never been in my hand, as my very own, to spend as I liked. I would not have exchanged it for two other dollars, if it had not been given me before Melanie. I felt that it degraded me in her eyes. I could not discover what to do with that dollar. I scarce dared to look at Melanie when he departed; still I remarked that she did not look at me either when I left.
At the door Lorand seized my hand.
"Desi," said he severely, "that thing that the P. C. thrust into your hand you must give to the butler, when he opens the carriage door."
I liked the idea. By that they would know who I was; and my eyes would no longer be downcast before cousin Melanie.
But, when I thrust the dollar into the butler's hand, I was so embarrassed by his matter-of-fact grandeur that any one who had seen us might have thought the butler had presented me with something. I hoped uncle would not exclude me from his house for that.
Long did that quadrille sound in my ears; long did that phenomenon-pianist haunt me; how long I cannot tell!
She was the standard of my ambition, the prize of a long race, which must be won. In my imagination the whole world thronged before her. I saw the roads by which one might reach her.
I too wished to be a man like them. I would learn diligently; I would be the first "eminence" in the school, my teacher would take pride in me, and would say at the public examination: "This will be a great man some day." I would pass my barrister's exams, with distinction; would serve my time under a sheriff; would court the acquaintance of great men of distinction; would win their favor by my gentle, humble conduct; I would be ready to serve; any work intrusted to me I would punctually perform; would not mix in evil company; would make my talent shine; would write odes of encomium, panegyrics, on occasions of note; till finally, I should myself, like my uncle, become "secretarius," "assessor," "septemvir," and "consiliarius."
Ha, ha, ha!
When we returned to Master Fromm's, the delicate attention of little Miss Pugnose was indeed burdensome. She would prattle all kinds of nonsense. She asked of what the fine dinner consisted; whether it was true that the daughter of the "consiliarius" had a doll that danced, played the guitar, and nodded its head. Ridiculous! As if people of such an age as Melanie and I interested themselves in dolls! I told Henrik to interpret this to her; I observed that it put her in a bad temper, and rejoiced that I had got rid of her.
I remarked that I must go and study, and the lesson was long. So I went to my room and began to study. Two hours later I observed that nothing of what I had learnt remained in my head; every place was full of that councillor's daughter.
In the evening we again assembled in Master Fromm's dining-room. Fanny again sat next to me, was again in good humor, treating me as familiarly as if we had been the oldest acquaintances; I was already frightened of her. It would be dreadful for the Balnokhazys to suspect that one had a baker's daughter as an acquaintance, always ready to jump upon one's neck when she saw one.
Well, fortunately she would be taken away next day, and then would be far away, as long as I remained in the house; we should be like two opposite poles, that avoid each other.
Before bedtime grandmother came into the room once more. She gave me my effects, counted over my linen. She gave me pocket-money, promising to send me some every month with Lorand's.
"Then I beg you," she whispered in my ear, "take care of Lorand!"
Again that word!
Again that hint that I, the child, must take care of my brother, the young man! But the second time the meaning, which the first time I had not understood, burst at once clearly upon me; at first I thought, "Perhaps some mistaken wisdom or serious conduct on my part has deserved this distinction of looking after my brother." Now I discovered that the best guardian was eternal love; and mother and grandmother knew well that I loved Lorand better than he loved himself.
And indeed, what cause had they to fear for him? And from what could I defend him?
Was he not living in the best place in the world? And did I not live far from him?
Grandmother exacted from me a promise to write a diary of all that happened about us, and to send the same to her at the end of each month. I was to write all about Lorand too; for he himself was a very bad letter-writer.
Then we kissed and took leave. They had to start early in the morning.
But the next day, when the carriage stood at the door, I was waiting ready dressed for them.
The whole Fromm family came down to the carriage to say adieu to the travellers.
That girl who was going to occupy my place was sad herself. Methought she was much more winning, when sadness made her eyes downcast.
One could see from her eyes that she had been weeping, that she was even now forcibly restraining herself from weeping. She spoke a few short words to me, and then disappeared behind grandmother in the carriage.
The whip cracked, the horses started, and my substitute departed for my dear home, while I remained in her place.
As I pondered for the first time over my great isolation, in a place where everybody was a stranger to me, and did not even understand my speech, at once all thought of the great man, the violin-virtuoso, the first eminence, the P. C., the heroic lover, disappeared from within me; I leaned my head against the wall, and would have wept could I have done so.
THE ATHEIST AND THE HYPOCRITE
Let us leave for a while the journal of the student child, and examine the circumstances of the family circle, whose history we are relating.
There was living at Lankadomb an old heretic Samuel Topandy by name, who was related equally to the Balnokhazy and Aronffy families; notwithstanding this, the latter would never visit him on account of his conspicuously bad habits. His surroundings were of the most unfortunate description, and in distant parts it was told of him that he was an atheist of the most pronounced type.
But do not let any one think that the more modern freedom of thought had perhaps made Topandy cling to things long past, or that out of mental rationalism he had attempted, as a philosopher, to place his mind far beyond the visible tenets of religion. He was an atheist merely for his own amusement, that, by his denial of God, he might annoy those people—priests and the powers that be—with whom he came in contact.
For to annoy, and successfully annoy, has always been held as an amusement among frail humanity. And what can more successfully annoy than the ridiculing of that which a man worships?
The County Court had just put in a judicial "deed of execution," and had sent a magistrate, and a lawyer, supported by a posse of twelve armed gendarmes, for the purpose of putting an end, once for all, to those scandals, by which Topandy had for years been arousing the indignation of the souls of the faithful, causing them to send complaint after complaint in to the court.
Topandy offered cigars to the official "bailiffs." The magistrate, Michael Daruszegi, a young man of thirty, appeared to be still younger from his fair face. They had sent the under, not the chief magistrate, because he was a new hand, and would be more zealous. There is more firmness in a young man, and firmness was necessary when face to face with the disbeliever in God.
"We did not come here to smoke, sir," was the dry reply of the young officer. "We are on official business."
"The devil take official business. Don't 'sir' me, my dear fellow, but come, let us drink a 'chartreuse,' and then tell your business, in company with the lawyer, to my steward. If money is required, break open the granaries, take as much wheat as will settle your claims, then dine with me; there will be some more good fellows, who are coming for a little music. And to-morrow morning we can make out the report and enter it in the protocol."
As he said this he kept continuous hold on the "bailiff's" wrist, and led him inward into the inner room: and as he was far stronger by nature than the latter, it practically amounted to the leader of the attacking force being taken prisoner.
"I protest! I forbid every kind of confidence! This is serious business!"
In vain did the magistrate protest against his enforced march.
Soon the second part of the "legale testimonium;" Mr. Francis Butzkay, the lawyer, came to his aid with his stumpy, short-limbed figure: he had gazed for a time in passive inactivity at the fruitless struggle of his principal with the "in causam vocatus."
"I hope the gentleman will not give cause for the use of force; for we shall fetter him hand and foot in such a manner that no better safeguard will be necessary." So saying, our friend the lawyer smiled complaisantly, all over his round face, looking, with his long moustache, for all the world like the moon, when a long cloud is crossing its surface.
"Fetters indeed!" Topandy guffawed, "I should just like to see you! I beg you, pray put those fetters on me, merely for the sake of novelty, that I may be able to say: I also have had chains on me: at any rate on one of my legs, or one of my arms. It would be a damned fine amusement."
"Sir," exclaimed the magistrate, freeing his hand. "You must learn to respect in us the 'powers that be.' We are your judges, sent by the County Court, entrusted with the task of putting an end to those scandals caused by you, which have filled every Christian soul with righteous indignation."
Topandy raised his eyes in astonishment at the envoys of the "powers that be."
"Oho, so it is not a case of a 'deed of execution?'"
"By no means. It is a far more important matter that is at stake. The Court considers the atheistical irreligious 'attentats' have gone too far and therefore has sent us—"
"—To preach me a sermon? No, sir magistrate, now you must really bring those irons, and put me in chains, and bind me, for unbound I will not listen to your sermon. Hold me down if you wish to preach words of devotion to me, for otherwise I shall bite, like a wild animal."
The magistrate retreated, in spite of his youthful daring; but the lawyer only smiled gently and did not even take his hands from behind his back.
"Really, sir, you must not get mad, or we shall have to take you to the Rokus hospital, and put the strait-jacket on you."
[Footnote 22: A hospital in Pest.]
"The devil blight you!" roared Topandy, making for the two judges, and then retiring before the undisturbed smiling countenance of the lawyer. "Well, and what complaint has the Court to make of me? Have I stolen anything from anybody? Have I committed incendiarism? Have I committed a murder, that they come down so hard upon me?"
The magistrate was a ready speaker: immediately he answered with:
"Certainly, you have committed a theft: you have stolen the welfare of others' souls. Certainly you are an incendiary: you have set fire to the peace of faithful souls. Certainly you are a murderer: you have murdered the souls entrusted to you!"
Topandy, seeing there was no escape, turned entreatingly to the gendarmes who accompanied the magistrate.
"Boys, cherubims without wings, two of you come here and seize me, that I may not run away."
They obeyed him and laid hands on him.
"Well, my dear magistrate, fire away."
The worthy magistrate was annoyed, that this sorry business could not in any way assume a serious aspect.
"In the first place I come to see the execution of that judgment which the honorable Court has passed upon you."
"I bow my head,"—growled Topandy in a tone of derisive subservience.
"You have in your household youths and young girls growing up in various branches of service, who, born here, have never yet been baptized, thanks to your sinful neglect."
"Excuse me, the general drying up of wells...."
"Don't interrupt me," bawled the magistrate. "You should have produced your defence then and there, when and where you were accused; but as you did not appear at the appointed time, and obstinately procrastinated, you must listen to the sentence. All those boys and girls brought up within your premises must be taken into the country town and baptized according to the ordinances of religion."
"Could not the matter be finished here at once by the spring?"
The magistrate was beside himself with anger. But the good lawyer only smiled and said:
"Pray, sir, show a little common sense. The County Court compels none, against his will, to be a Christian: still one must belong to some religion. So if your lordship will not take the trouble to go with his household to the 'pater,' well, we shall take him to the rabbi: that will do just as well."
Topandy laughingly shook a menacing fist at the lawyer.
"You're a great gibbet! You always manage me. Well, let us rather go to the 'pater' than to the rabbi; but at least let my servants keep their old names."
"That is also inadmissible," answered the magistrate severely. "You have given your servants names, of a kind not usually borne by men. One is called Pirok, another Czinke: the name of one little girl—God save the mark—is Beelzebub! Who would register such names as these? They will all receive respectable names to be found in the Christian calendar; and any one, who dares to call them by the names they have hitherto borne shall pay as great a fine as if he had purposely calumniated a fellow-man. How many are there whom you have kept back in this manner from the water of Christianity?"
[Footnote 23: Chaffinch.]
[Footnote 24: Titmouse, names of birds given as pet names to these servants.]
"Four butlers, three maid-servants and two parrots."
"Perjurer! Your every word is spittle in the face of the true believers."
"Oh, gag me. I beg you to save me from perjury."
"Kindly call the people in question."
Topandy turned round and called to his butler who stood behind him:
"Produce Pirok, Estergalyos, Sepruenyel, then Kakukfue, and Macskalab; comfort them with the news that they are going to enter Heaven, and will receive a fur-coat, a pair of boots, and a good gourd, from which the wine will never fail: all the gift of the honorable County Court."
[Footnote 25: Turner.]
[Footnote 26: Broom.]
[Footnote 27: Thyme.]
[Footnote 28: Catsfoot.]
"For my part," said the young representative of the law, standing on tip-toe, "I must ask you seriously to answer, with the moderation due to our presence, have you hidden any one?"
"Whether I have stolen away someone on hell's account? No, my dear fellow, I don't court Satan's acquaintance either: let him catch men for himself, if he can."
"I have a mandatum for your examination on oath."
"Keep your mandatum in your pocket, and measure out thirty florins' worth of oats from my granary: that's the fine. For I don't intend to be examined on oath."
"Of course. If you bid me, I will swear: I'm a rare hand at it; I can swear for half an hour at a stretch without repeating myself."
Again the smiling lawyer intervened:
"Give us your word of honor, then, that besides those produced, there is no servant in your household who has not yet been baptized."
"Well, I give you my word of honor that there is not 'in my household' even a living creature who is a pagan."
Topandy's word of honor only just escaped being broken for that gypsy-girl, whom he had bought in her sixth year from encamping gypsies for two dollars and a sucking pig, now, ten years later, did not belong any more to the household, but presided at table when gentlefolk came to dinner. But she still bore that heathen name, which she had received in the reedy thicket. She was still called Czipra.
And the godless fellow had snatched her away from the water of Christianity.
"Has the honorable Court any other complaint to make against me?"
"Yes, indeed. Not merely do you force your household to be pagan, but you are accused of disturbing in their religious services others who make no secret of their devout feelings."
"Just opposite you is the courtyard of Mr. Nepomuk John Sarvoelgyi, who is a very righteous man."
[Footnote 29: Mud-valley.]
"As far as I know, quite the opposite: he is always praying, a fact which proves that his sins must be very numerous."
"It is not your business to judge him. In our common world it is a merit, if someone dares to display to the public eye the fact that he still respects religion, and it is the duty of the law to protect him."
"Well, and how have I scandalized the good fellow?"
"Not long ago Mr. Sarvoelgyi had a large Saint Nepomuk painted on the facade of his house, in oils on a sheet of bronze, and before the chief figure he was himself painted, in a kneeling position."
"I know: I saw it."
"From the lips of St. Nepomuk was flowing down in 'lapidarig' letters to the kneeling figure the following Latin saying: 'Mi fili, ego te nunquam deseram.'"
"I read the words."
"An iron grating was placed before the picture, and covered the whole niche, that infamous hands might not be able to touch it."
"A very wise idea."
"One morning following a very stormy night, to the astonishment of all, the Latin inscription had disappeared from the picture, and in its place there stood: 'Soon thou wilt pass from before me, thou old hypocrite!'"
"I can't help it, if the person in question changed his views."
"Why, certainly you can help it. The painter who prepared that picture, upon being cross-questioned, confessed and publicly affirmed that, in consideration of a certain sum of money paid by you, he had painted the latter inscription in oils, and over it, in water-colours, the former: so that the first shower washed off the upper surface from the picture, making the honest, zealous fellow an object of ridicule and contempt in his own house. Do you believe, sir, that such practical jokes are not punished by the hand of justice?"
"I am not in the habit of believing much."
"Among other things, however, you are bound to believe that justice will condemn you, first to pay a fine for blackmail; secondly, to pay for the repairs your tricks have made necessary."
"I don't see an atom of plaintiff's counsel here."
"Because plaintiff left the amount due him to the pleasure of the Court, to be devoted to charitable purposes."
"Good: then please break into the granaries."
"That we shall not do," interrupted the lawyer: "later on we shall take it out of the 'regalia.'"
"My dear, good magistrate. Do you believe all that is in the Bible?"
"I am a true Christian."
"Then I appeal to your faith. In one place it stands that some invisible hand wrote, in the room of some pagan king—Belshazzar, if the story be true,—the following words,'Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.' If that hand could write then, why could it not now have written that second saying? And if it was the rain that washed away the righteous fellow's words, you must accuse the rain, for the fault lies there."
"These are indeed very weighty counter-charges: and you might have declared them all before the Court, to which you were summoned: you might have appealed even to the septemvirate, but as you did not appear then, you must bear the consequences of your obstinacy."
"Good; I shall pay the price," said Topandy laughing:—"But it was a good joke on my part after all, wasn't it?"
The magistrate showed an angry countenance.
"There will be other good jokes, too. Kindly wait until the end."
"Is the list of crimes still longer?"
"A severe enquiry into the sources would never find an end. The gravest charge against you is the profanation of holy places."
"I profane some holy place? Why, for twenty years I have not been in the precincts even of a church steeple."
"You desecrated a place used long ago for holy ceremonies by riotous revels."
"Oh, you mean that, do you? Let us make distinctions, if you please. Great is the difference between place and place. Do you mean the convent of the Red Brothers? That is no church. The late Emperor Joseph drove them out, and their property was put up to auction by the State, together with all the buildings situate thereon. Thus it was that I came into possession of the convent garden: I was there at the auction; I bid and it was knocked down to me. There were buildings on it, but whether any kind of church had been there I do not know, for they took away all the movables, and I found only bare walls. No kind of 'servitus' (engagement), as to what I would use the building for, had been included in the agreement of purchase. In this matter I know of others who were no more scrupulous. I know of a convent at Maria-Eich, where in place of the ancient altar stands the peasant-chimney, and here the Swabian, into whose hands this honorable antiquity passed, keeps his maize; why, in a town beside the Danube may be seen what was once a convent, the 'aerarium' of which has been turned into a hospital."
[Footnote 30: A place in Austria where sacred relics exist.]
"Examples cannot help you. If the Swabian peasant keeps 'the blessing of God' in that place, from which they had once prayed for it, that is not profanity: the 'aerarium' too is pursuing an office of righteousness, in nursing bodily sufferings in the place where once mental sufferings gained comfort; but you have had disgusting pictures painted all over the walls that have come into your possession."
"I beg your pardon, the subjects are all chosen from classical literature: illustrations to the poems of Beranger and Lafontaine—'Mon Cure,' 'Les Clefs Du Paradis,' 'Les Capulier,' 'Les Cordeliers Du Catalogue,' etc. Every subject a pious one."
"I know: I am acquainted with the originals of them. You may cover the walls of your own rooms with them, if you please: but I have brought four stone-workers with me, who, according to the judgment of the Court, are to erase all those pictures."
"Genuine iconoclasm!" guffawed Topandy, who found great amusement in arousing a whole county against him by his caprices. "Iconoclasts! Picture-destroyers!"
"There is something else we are going to destroy!" continued the magistrate. "In that place there was a crypt. What has become of it?"
"It is a crypt still."
"What is in it?"
"What is usually in a crypt: dead men of hallowed memory, who are lying in wooden coffins and waiting for the great awakening."
The magistrate made a face of doubt. He did not know whether to believe or not.
"And when you and your revelling companions hold your Bacchanalia there?"
"I object to the word 'Bacchanalia.'"
"True, it is still more. I should have used a stronger expression for that riot, when in scandalous undress, carrying in front a steak on a spit, the whole company sings low songs such as 'Megalljon Kend' and 'Hetes, nyloczas,' and in this guise makes scandalous processions from castle to cloister."
[Footnote 31: "Stop (you)," "Kend" being the pleasant abbreviation for "Kegyed," one method of addressing (literally "your grace"), corresponding to our "you."]
[Footnote 32: "Seven and eight," referring to the number on the playing cards: the Austrian National Hymn is sung by great patriots to these words: the "king" and "ace" being the highest two cards, come together; and this is in Magyar kiraly (king), diszno (ace); is also "swein."]
"The authorities must indeed be greatly embittered against me, if they see anything scandalous in the fact that a body of good-humored men undress to the skin, when they are warm. As far as the so-called low songs are concerned, they have such innocent words, they might be printed in a book, while the melodies are very pious."
"The scandal is just that, that you parody pious songs, setting them to trivial words. Tell me what is the good of singing the eight cards of the pack as a hymn. And if you are in a good humor, why do you go with it to the crypt?"
[Footnote 33: In Magyar cards the pack begins with the 7.]
"You know we go there for a little mumony feast."
"Yes, for a little 'Mumon,'" interrupted the lawyer.
"That's just what I meant," said the atheist, laughing.
"What?" roared the magistrate, who now began to understand the enigma of the dead lying in their wooden coffins: "perhaps that is a cellar?"
"Of course: I never had a better cellar than that."
"And the dead, and the coffins?"
"Twenty-five round coffins, full of wine. Come, my dear sir, taste them all. I assure you you won't regret it."
The magistrate was now really in a fury: fury made a lion of him, so that he was quite capable of tearing his wrists by sheer force out of the imprisoning hands.
"An end to all familiarity! You stand before the authority of the law, with whom you cannot trifle. Give me the keys of the cloister, that I may clean the profaned place."
"Please break open the door."
"Would you not be sorry to ruin a patent lock?" suggested the lawyer.
"Well, promise me that you will taste at least 'one' brand: then I will open the door, for I don't intend to open any door under the title of 'cloister,' but any number under the title of 'cellar;' and in that case I shall pay in ready money."
The worthy lawyer tugged at the magistrate's sleeve; prudence yielded, and there are bounds to severity, too.
"Very well, the lawyer will taste the wine, but I am no drinker."
Topandy whispered some words in his butler's ears, whereupon that worthy suddenly disappeared.
"So you see, my dear fellow, we are agreed at last: now I should like to see the account of how much I owe to the county for my slight upon the Brotherhood."
"Here is the calculation: two hundred florins with costs, which amount to three florins, thirty kreuzer."
(This happened thirty years ago.)
"Further, the repair of the damage caused by you, the expenses of the present expedition, the daily pay and sustenance of the stone-masons aforesaid: making in all a sum total of two hundred and forty-three florins, forty kreuzers."
"A large sum, but I shall produce it from somewhere."
With the words Topandy drew out from his chest a drawer, and carrying it bodily as it was, put it down on the great walnut table, before the authorities of the law.
"Here it is!"
The interesting members of the law first drew back in alarm, and then commenced to roar with laughter. That drawer was filled with—I cannot express it in one word—but generally speaking—with paper.
A great variety of aged bank notes, some before the depreciation of value, others of a late date, still in currency: long bank-notes, black bank-notes, red spotted bank-notes; then, old cards: Hungarian, Swiss, French; old theatre-tickets, market pictures, the well-known product of street-humor; the tailor riding on a goat, the devil taking off bad women, a portrait of the long-moustached mayor of Nuremberg: a pile of envelopes, all heaped together in a huddle.
That was Topandy's savings bank.
He would always spend silver and gold money, but money paid to him in bank-notes, which he had to accept, he would put by year by year among this collection of cards, funny pictures, and theatrical programmes; this heap of value was never disturbed except when, as at present, some enforced visit had to be put up with, some so-called "execution."
"Please, help yourselves."
"What?" cried the magistrate. "Must we pick out the value from the non-value in this rubbish?"
"Now I am not so well-informed an expert as to distinguish what is recalled from what is still in circulation. Still my good friend is right, it is my duty to count out, yours to receive."
Then he plunged his hand into the treasure-heap, and counted over the bits of paper.
"This is good, this is not. This is still new, this is surely torn. Here's a five florin, here a ten florin note. This is the Knave of Hearts."
A little discussion occurred when he counted a label that had been removed from an old champagne bottle, as a ten florin note.
The gentlemen took exception to that: it must be thrown away.
"What, is this not money? It must be money. It is a French bank-note. There is written on it ten florins. Cliquot will pay if you take it to him."
Then he began to explain several comical pictures, and bargained with the authorities—how much would they give for them? he had paid a big price for them.
Finally the worthy lawyer had again to intervene: otherwise this liquidation might have lasted till the following evening; then, after a strict search in a critical manner, he withdrew two hundred and forty-three florins from the pile.
"A little water if you please, I should like to wash my hands," said the lawyer after his work, feeling like one who has separated the raw wheat from the tares.
"Like Pilate after passing judgment," jested Topandy. "You shall have all you want at once. Already there is an end to the legal manipulation: we are no longer 'legale testimonium' and 'incattus,' but guest and host."
"God forbid," repudiated the magistrate retiring towards the door. "We did not come in that guise. We do not wish to trouble you any longer."
"Trouble indeed!" said the accused, guffawing. "What, do you think this matter has been any trouble to me?—on the contrary, the most exquisite amusement! This annoyance of the county against me I would not sell for a thousand florins. It was glorious. 'Execution!' Legally erased pictures! An investigation into my private behavior! I shall live for a year on this joke. And you will see, my friends, I shall do so again soon. I shall find out some plan for getting them to take me in irons to the Court: a battalion of soldiers shall come for me, and they shall make me the son of the warden! Ha! ha! May I be damned if I don't succeed in my project! If they would but put me in prison for a year, and make me saw wood in the courtyard of the County Court, and clean the boots of the Lieutenant Governor. That is a capital idea! I shall not die until I reach that."
In the meantime a butler arrived with the water, while a second opened another door and invited the guests with much ceremony to partake in the pleasure of the table.
"Her ladyship invites the honorable gentlemen's company at dejeuner."
The magistrate looked in perplexity at the lawyer, who turned to the basin and hid his laughing face in his hands.
"You are married?" the magistrate enquired of Topandy.
"Oh dear no," he answered, "she is not my wife, but my sister."
"But we are invited to dinner in the neighborhood."
"By Mr. Sarvoelgyi? That does not matter. If a man wishes to dine at Sarvoelgyi's, he will be wise to have dejeuner first. Besides I have your word to drink a glass as a 'conditio sine qua non;' besides a chivalrous man cannot refuse the invitation of a lady."
The last pretext was conclusive; it was impossible to refuse a lady's invitation, even if a man has armed force at his command. He is obliged to yield to the superior power.
The magistrate allowed the third attempt to succeed, and was dragged by the arm into the dining-room.
Topandy audibly bade the butlers look after the wants of the gendarmes and stone-masons, and give them enough to eat and drink: and, when our friend, the magistrate, prepared to object, interrupted him with: "Kindly remember the 'execution' is over, and consider that those good fellows are tearing off plaster from the cloister walls, and the paint-dust will go to their lungs: and it shall not be my fault if any harm touches the upholders of public security. This way, if you please: here comes my sister."
Through the opposite door came the above mentioned "ladyship."
She could not have been taken for more than fifteen years old: she was wearing a pure white dress, trimmed with lace, according to the fashion of the time, and bound round her slender waist with a broad rose-colored riband; her complexion was brunette, and pale, in contrast to her ruddy round lips, which allowed to flash between their velvet surfaces the most lovely pearly set of teeth imaginable: her two thick eyebrows almost met on her brow, and below her long eyelashes two restless black eyes beamed forth: like coal, that is partly aglow.
Sir Magistrate was surprised that Topandy had such a young sister.
"My guests," said Topandy, presenting the servants of the law to her ladyship.
"Oh! I know," remarked the young lady in a gay light-hearted tone. "You have come to put in an 'execution' against his lordship. You did quite right: you ought to treat him so. You don't know the hundredth part of his godless dealings. For did you know, you would long since have beheaded him three times over."
The magistrate found this sincere expression of sisterly opinion most remarkable; still, notwithstanding that he took his seat beside her ladyship.
The table was piled with cold viands and old wines.
Her ladyship entertained the magistrate with conversation and tasty tit-bits, meanwhile the lawyer was quietly drinking his glasses with the host,—nor was it necessary to ask him to help himself.
"Believe me," remarked her ladyship: "if this man ever reaches hell, they will give him a special room, so great are his merits. I have already grown tired of trying to reform him."
"Has your ladyship been staying long in this house?" enquired the magistrate.
"Oh, ten years already."
("How old could the lady have been then?" the magistrate thought to himself: but he could not answer.)
"Just imagine what he does. A few days ago he put up an old saint among the vines as a scarecrow, with a broken hat on his head."
The magistrate turned with a movement of scorn towards the accused. It would not be good for him if that, too, came to the ears of the Court.
"Do not speak, for you do not understand what you're saying," replied Topandy by way of explanation. "It was an ugly statue of Pilate, a relic of the ancient Calvary."
[Footnote 34: Many such Calvaries exist in Hungary: they may be seen by the roadside, and are used as places of pilgrimage by pious peasants and others: there is always a picture of Christ crucified or a figure of the same.]
"Well, and wasn't that holy?" enquired the flashing-eyed damsel.
The magistrate began to rise from his chair. (Her ladyship must have had a curious education if she did not even know who Pilate was.)
Topandy broke out in unrestrained laughter. Then, as if he desired by an earnest word to repair the insult his language had given, he said to the lady with a pious face:
"Well, if you are right, was it not a gracious act on my part to give a permanent occupation to such an honest fellow, who had been degraded from office; and as he was bare-headed I gave him a hat to protect him against changes of the weather. However, don't treat our friend to a series of incriminations, but rather to that deer-steak; you see he does not venture to taste it."
Her ladyship did as she was told.
The magistrate was obliged to eat: in the first place because it was a beautiful woman that offered the viands to him, secondly because everything she offered was so good. He had to drink, too, because she kept filling his glass and calling on him to "clink" with her, herself setting the example. She drained that sparkling liquor from her glass just as if it had been pure water. And those wines were truly remarkably strong. The magistrate could not refuse the appeal of her ladyship's beautiful eyes.
"Forbidden fruit is sweet." The magistrate experienced the truth of the saying keenly, in so far as one may place among forbidden fruit the dejeuner of which a man partakes in the house of a godless fellow, destroying his appetite for the ensuing dinner to which he is invited by a pious man.
The courses seemed endless: cold viands were followed by hot, and the beautiful young damsel could offer so kindly, that the magistrate was powerless to resist.
"Just a little of this 'majoraine' sausage. I myself made it yesterday evening."
The magistrate was astonished. Her ladyship busied herself with such things? When the sausage had disappeared, he made a remark about it.
"Yet no one would imagine that these delicate hands could busy themselves with other things than sewing, piano-playing, and the turning over of gold-bordered leaves. Have you read the almanacs of the parliament?"
At this question Topandy burst into loud laughter, while the lawyer covered his mouth with his napkin, the laughter stuck in his throat: the magistrate could not imagine what there could be to ridicule in this question.
Her ladyship answered quite unconsciously:
"Oh! there are some fine airs in it: I know them. If you will listen, I will sing them."
The magistrate thought there must be some misunderstanding: still, if her ladyship cared to sing, he would be only too delighted to listen.
"Which do you want 'Vienna Town' or 'Rose-bud?'"
"Both," said the host, "and into the bargain the latest parliamentary air, 'Come Down from the Cross, and Fly to the Poplar-tree.' But let us go out of the dining-room to hear the songs; the forks and plates are rattling too much here: we'll go to my sister's room. There she will sing to the accompaniment of a Magyar piano. Have you ever seen a Magyar piano, my friend?"
"I don't remember having done so."
"Well, it is beautiful: you must hear it. My sister plays it wonderfully."
The magistrate offered his arm to her ladyship, and the company entered the next room, which was the lady's apartment.
It was an elegant, finely-decorated room, with mahogany and ebony furniture, richly carved and gilded, with huge glass-panelled chests, and heavy silk curtains yet there was a striking difference between this room and those of other ladies; all these expensive draperies, as far as their form and ordering was concerned, did not at all correspond with the usual appanage of a boudoir.
In one corner stood a loom of mahogany, richly inlaid with ivory: it was still covered with some half-finished work, in which flowers, butterflies, and birds had been worked with remarkable refinement.
"You see," said the lady, "this is my work-table. I am responsible also for that table-cloth on which we breakfasted to-day."
Indeed she had received an unusual education.
Beside the loom was a spinning wheel.
"And this is my library," said the lady, pointing to the cupboards against the wall.
Through the glass panels was to be seen a host of every kind of culinary bottles. On the bottom shelf the great folios; every kind of vinegar that grows in hot-houses; the second row was full of preserved cucumbers; and then on the top shelf different sorts of confitures in brilliant perfection; last of all, a row of fruit extracts was visible, in colors as numerous as the bottles that contained them.
"A magnificent library!" said the lawyer. But the magistrate could not yet clearly make out what kind of lady it might be, who called such things a library.
The heavy velvet curtains, which made a kind of tent of the alcove, also had their secret: the young lady; raised the curtain and said naively,
"This is my sleeping place."
An embroidered quilt laid out on a plank, nothing more.
Indeed, a curious, most remarkable education.
Beside the bed stood a large copper cage.
"This is my pet bird," said the fair lady, pointing at the creature within.
It was a large black cock, which rose angrily as the strangers approached, and crowed in an agonized manner, shaking its red comb furiously.
"You see, this is my old comrade, who takes care of me! and is at the same time my clock, waking me at daybreak." And the lady's look became quite tender, as she placed her hand on the wrathful creature. At her gentle touch the bird clucked his satisfaction.
"When I go outside, he accompanies me, loose, like a dog."
The black monster, as long as he saw strangers, only noted in quiet tones the fact that he had remarked their presence, but as soon as Topandy stepped forward, he suddenly broke out into a clarion cry, as if he wished to arouse every hen-roost in the property to the fact that there was a fox in the garden. Every feather on his neck stood bolt upright, like a Spanish shirt-collar.
"He will soon be quiet," the young lady assured the guests:—"for he will listen to music."
So we are about to see the Magyar piano? It was but a "czimbalom." It is true that it was a marvellous work of art, inlaid with ebony and mother-of-pearl; the nails on which the strings were stretched were of silver, the groundwork a mosaic of coloured woods; the two drumsticks lying upon the strings had handles of red coral; the stand on which the "czimbalom" rested was a marvellously perfected specimen of the carpenter's art, giving a strong tone to the instrument; and before it was a little, round, armless chair covered with red velvet, its feet golden tiger-claws. Yet it was certainly strange that a young lady should play the "czimbalom," that country instrument which they are wont to carry under the covering of a ragged coat, and to place upon inn-tables, or up-turned barrels.—Here it appeared among mahogany furniture, to serve as accompaniment to a young lady's voice, while she herself with her delicate fingers beat the melody out of the plaintive instrument for all the world as if she were seated beside a piano. Incongruous enough, for we have always thought of the "czimbalom-artist" as a gawky bushy-bearded fellow with the indispensable short-stemmed clay-pipe—all burned out and being sucked only for its bitter taste.
[Footnote 35: The peculiar and characteristic Magyar instrument which is indispensable to every gypsy orchestra, taking the place of harp and piano. It is in the form of a zither of large size, played with padded sticks, and forms the foundation of these wandering bands.]
And the whole "czimbalom" playing is such a jest, so grotesque; the player's arms jerk and wave continuously; his whole shoulder and head are in perpetual motion; whereas, with the piano, the five fingers do all; the artist's relation to the piano is that of my lord to his children, whom he addresses from a far-off height; the czimbalom-player is "per tu" with his instrument.
But the young lady had the grace of one born to the instrument. As she took the sticks in her hands and struck a chord upon the outstretched strings, her face assumed a new expression; so far, we must confess, there had been much "naivete" in it, now she felt at home; this was her world.
She sang two songs to the guests, both taken from what are called in our country "Parliamentary airs;" they used to break forth in "juratus" coffee-houses, during the sitting of Parliament, when there was more spirit in the youths of the country than now.
The one had a fine impassioned refrain: "From Vienna town, from west to east, the wind hath a cold blast." The end of it was that the Danube water is bitter, for at Pressburg many bitter tears have flowed into it, "Which the great ones of our land have shed, because Ragalyi was not sent to be ambassador." Now patriots are more sparing with their tears; but in those days much bitterness was expressed with the air of "Vienna town."
The other air was "Rose-bud, laurel," which had also a pretty refrain; it is full of such expressions as "altars of freedom," "angels of freedom," "wreaths of freedom," and other such mythological things. How the strings responded to the young woman's touch, what expression was in her refrain! It was as if she felt the meaning of those beautiful "flosculi" best of all, and must suffer more than all for them.
Then she introduced a third parliamentary song, the contents of which were satirical; but the satire was purely local and personal, and would not be intelligible to people of modern days.
Topandy was inexpressibly pleased by it: he asked for it again. Someone had ridiculed the priests in it, but in such a manner that no one, unless he had had it explained could understand it.
The magistrate was quite enraptured by the simple instrument; he would never have believed that anyone could play it with such masterly skill.
"Tell me," he asked her ladyship, not being able any longer to conceal his astonishment, "where you learned to play this instrument."
At these words her ladyship broke into such a fit of laughter, that, if she had not suddenly steadied herself with her feet against the czimbalom stand, she would have fallen over. As it was, her hair being, according to the fashion of the day, coiled up "a la Giraffe" round a high comb, and the comb falling from her head, her two tresses of raven hair fell waving over her shoulders to the floor.
At this the young lady discontinued laughing, and not succeeding at all in her efforts to place her dishevelled hair around the comb again, suddenly twisted it together on her head and fastened it with a spindle she snatched from the spinning wheel.
Then to recover her previous high spirits, she again took up the czimbalom sticks, and began to play some quiet melody on the instrument.
It was no song, no variations on well-known airs; it was some marvellous reverie; a frameless picture, a landscape without horizon. A plaint, in a voice rather playful over something serious that is long past, and that can never come back again, avowed to no one by word of mouth, only handed down from generation to generation on the resounding strings—the song of the beggar who denies that he has ever been king:—the song of the wanderer, who denies that he ever had a home and yet remembers it, and the pain of the recollection is heard in the song. No one knows or understands, perhaps not even the player, who merely divines it and meditates thereon. It is the desert wind, of which no one knows whence it comes and whither it goes; the driving cloud, of which no one knows whence it arose, and whither it disappears. A homeless, unsubstantial, immaterial bitterness ... a flowerless, echoless, roadless desert ... full of mirages.
The magistrate would have listened till evening, no matter what became of the neighbor's dinner, if Topandy had not interrupted him with the sceptical remark that this lengthened steel wire has far more soul than a certain two-footed creature, who affirms that he was the image of God.
And thus he again drew the attention of the worthy gentleman to the fact that he was in the home of a denier of God.
Then they heard the mid-day curfew, which made the black cock, with fluttering wings, begin his monotonous clarion, for all the world like the bugle call of some watch-tower, whose taran-tara! gives the sign to its inhabitants.
At this the lady's face suddenly lost its sad expression of melancholy; she put down the czimbalom-sticks, leaped up from her chair, and with natural sincerity asked,
"It was a beautiful song, was it not?"
"Indeed it was. What is it?"
"Hush! that you may not ask."
The lawyer had to call the magistrate's attention to the fact that it was already time to depart, as there was still another "entertainment" in store for them.
At this they all laughed.
"I am very sorry that it was my fortune to make your acquaintance, on such an occasion as the present," said the young officer of the law, as he bade farewell, and shook hands with his host.
"But I rejoice at the honor, and I hope I may have the pleasure of seeing you again—on the occasion of the next 'execution'."
Then the magistrate turned to her ladyship, to thank her for her kind hospitality.
To do so he sought the young lady's hand with intention to kiss it; but before he could fulfill his intention, her ladyship suddenly threw her arms around his neck and imprinted as healthy a kiss on his face as anyone could possibly wish for.
The magistrate was rather frightened than rejoiced at this unexpected present. Her ladyship had indeed peculiar habits. He scarcely knew how he arrived in the road; true, the wine had affected his head a little, for he was not used to it.
From Topandy's castle to Sarvoelgyi's residence one had to cross a long field of clover.
The lawyer led his colleague as far as the gate of this field by the arm, sauntering along by his side. But, as soon as they were within the garden, Mr. Buczkay said to the magistrate:
"Please go in front, I will follow behind; I must remain behind a little to laugh myself out."
Thereupon he sat down on the ground, clasped his hands over his stomach, and commenced to guffaw; he threw himself flat upon the grass, kicking the earth with his feet, and shouting with merriment the while.
The young officer of the law was beside himself with vexation, as he reflected: "This man is horribly tipsy; how can I enter the house of such a righteous man with a drunken fellow?"
Then when Mr. Buczkay had given satisfaction to the demands of his nature, according to which his merriment, repressed almost to the bursting point, was obliged to break loose in a due proportion of laughter, he rose again from the earth, dusted his clothes, and with the most serious countenance under the sun said, "Well, we can proceed now."
Sarvoelgyi's house was unlike Magyar country residences, in that the latter had their doors night and day on the latch, with at most a couple of bulldogs on guard in the courtyard—and these were there only with the intention of imprinting the marks of their muddy paws on the coats of guests by way of tenderness. Sarvoelgyi's residence was completely encircled with a stone wall, like some town building: the gate and small door always closed, and the stone wall crowned with a continuous row of iron nails:—and,—what is unheard of in country residences—there was a bell at the door which he who desired to enter had to ring.
The gentlemen rang for a good quarter of an hour at that door, and the lawyer was convinced that no one would come to open it; finally footsteps were heard in the hall, and a hoarse, shrill woman's voice began to make enquiries of those without.
"Who is there?"
"Who are 'we'?"
"The magistrate and the lawyer."
Thereupon the bolts were slipped back with difficulty, and the questioner appeared. She was, as far as age was concerned, a little "beyond the vintage." She wore a dirty white kitchen apron, and below that a second blue kitchen apron, and below that again a third dappled apron. It was this woman's custom to put on as many dirty aprons as possible.
"Good day, Mistress Boris," was the lawyer's greeting. "Why, you hardly wished to let us in."
"I crave your pardon. I heard the bell ring, but could not come at once. I had to wait until the fish was ready. Besides, so many bad men are hereabouts, wandering beggars, 'Arme Reisenden,' that one must always keep the door closed, and ask 'who is there?'"
[Footnote 36: Poor travellers.]
"It is well, my dear Boris. Now go and look after that fish, that it may not burn; we shall soon find the master somewhere. Has he finished his devotions?"
"Yes; but he has surely commenced anew. The bells are ringing the death-toll, and at such times he is accustomed to say one extra prayer for the departed soul. Don't disturb him, I beg, or he will grumble the whole day."
Mistress Boris conducted the gentlemen into a large room, which, to judge from the table ready laid, served as dining room, though the intruder might have taken it for an oratory, so full was it of pictures of those hallowed ones, whom we like to drag down to ourselves, it being too fatiguing to rise up to them.
And in that idea there is much that is sublime. A picture of Christ in the mourning widow's chamber; a "mater dolorosa," in the distracted mother's home; a "kerchief" of the Holy Virgin, spotlessly white, like the glorious spirit, above the bed of olden times, are surely elevating, and honorable presences, the recollections which lead us to them are holy and imperishable, as is the devotion which bows the knee before them. But a repugnant sight is the home of the Pharisee, who surrounds himself with holy images that men may behold them.