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I was going to write up chapter 3 last night along with the first two, but come on, did you notice the time stamp? People gotta sleep.

Anyway, Chapter 3 ("The Whitsun King") takes us back to Hungary in time for the Whitsun Day festivities (that's Pentecost, for those of us who speak American instead of English) in the village of Nagy-Kun-Madaras. They do a full festival and even crown a Whitsun King, which comes with all sorts of benefits, including an apparently bottomless bar tab at every tap in town and "the free run of all festivities and junketings that may be going on". That's unfortunate in a way, because the current Whitsun king for six years running is kind of an ass.

"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?"

"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." (pp. 61-2)

"Befooled." Must be some kind of code.

As it comes out, these old customs are subsidized by John "Master Jock" Kárpáthy, who you might remember has land and riches out the wazoo. He also keeps up the quality of horse racing in the community, which also feeds the festivities since a series of races is how the kingship is decided. Martin (the ass in question) got his pride of place by being handy with the spurs, but ho, what's this?

Master Jock was just about to signify, by a wave of his gold-headed cane, that the mortars were to be fired—the third report was to be the signal for the race to begin—when far away on the puszta a young horseman was seen approaching at full tilt, cracking his whip loudly, and galloping in the direction of the competitors. On reaching the two jurors—and he was not long about that—he reined up, and, whipping off his cap, briefly expressed the wish to compete for the Whitsun Kingship.

"Don't ask me who or what I am. If I am beaten I shall simply go on my way, but if I win I shall remain here," was all that the jurors could get in answer to their questions. Nobody knew the youth. He was a handsome, ruddy young fellow of about six and twenty, with a little spiral moustache twisted upwards in betyár fashion, flowing curly locks gathered up into a top-knot, black flashing eyes, and a bold expressive mouth, slight of build, but muscular and supple. His dress was rustic, but simple almost to affectation; you would not have found a seal on his white bulging shirt, search as you might, and he wore his cap, with a tuft of meadow-sweet in it, as gallantly as any cavalier.

Wherever he might have got the steed on which he sat, it was a splendid animal—a restive Transylvanian full-blood, with tail and mane long and strong reaching to the ground; not for an instant could it remain quiet, but danced and pranced continually.

They made him draw lots, and then placed him in a line with the rest. (pp. 66-7)

The Mysterious Stranger wins the first race, even beating Martin the Ass by a full half-minute, but still loses the first race on a technicality (you're supposed to grab the flag, too; wouldn't that be a fun NASCAR loophole?). The Stranger doesn't make that mistake in the second heat, snatching it out of the standard bearer's hand so briskly that it knocks him over. For round three, just as insurance, the Stranger grabs a willow switch, and the horse goes predictably nuts.

When the third report resounded, the stranger suddenly gave his horse a cut with the willow switch, and let the reins hang loosely.

The smitten steed scudded off like a tempest. Wildly, madly, it skimmed the ground beneath its feet, as only a horse can fly when, panic-stricken, it ravishes its perishing rider along with it. None, no none, could get anywhere near it; even Martin was left many yards behind in mid-course. The crowd gaped in amazement at the fury of the steed and the foolhardiness of the rider, especially when, in the midst of his mad career, the long chaplet of flowers fell from the youth's head, and was trampled to pieces beneath the hoofs of the other horses panting after him. He himself did not notice the loss of his chaplet till he reached the goal, where he had to exert all his strength to rein up his maddened steed. He had reached the goal; but he had lost his crown. (p. 71)

At this point, Martin the Ass, who by any objective standard is a beaten man, instead goes all Hillary Clinton on us and proposes a tie-breaker for a contest that isn't tied at all. That proposal: the manly, rugged art of bull-baiting. A wild bull has been spotted roaming the countryside, and the object of the contest is to rope it and take it back to the racing grounds. Then they will do what you expect them to do with a bull on a feast day. And in case the preceding flagged a few activists, hello, we're talking about 19th century literature today. Please drive through.

Martin the Ass, along with a collection of gawkers, is at the fore...and the bull is ready to do what bulls do to jerks that bug them when they're at home (wherever that may be) but once he catches wind of the audience, he proves that he's not nearly as dumb as his would-be hunter by stepping back and biding his time. This pisses off our would-be hunter, who gets out his whip...steel-tipped. Yikes. A few furious swats of that gets the bull's attention, and it's about six inches from tearing Martin the Ass a new orifice when the Mysterious Stranger lassos the beast and uses his own whip to force it into submission.

Yeah, I know. It's a necessary incident to move the story along. It's another time and culture. But in man vs. bull sports, I've taken to rooting for the bull, so part of me was let down that Martin the Ass didn't get a scratch.

That night, Master Jock calls the Mysterious Stranger into his study, who introduces himself properly to somebody for the first time all day: "Michael Kis, at your service, your honour." Michael has no family in the world and is a stablehand at Nadudvár. This lights a fire under the practical joker side of the Nabob, who has a proposition for the young man:
"[...]What if I make a bigger man of you than you yourself have any idea of; make you take your place in genteel society here; give you as much money as you like, to drink and play cards with; and turn you into Michael Kis, Esq., lord of the manor of Nadudvár?"

"I shouldn't mind, but how to conduct myself so that they may take me for a gentleman, I don't know."

"The bigger blackguard you are, the greater gentleman they'll take you to be. It is only our rustics who are modest and respectful nowadays."

"If that be all, I am ready."

"I'll take you with me everywhere. You shall drink, dice, bully, brawl, cudgel the men, and befool the women to the top of your bent. At the end of twelve months your Whitsun Kingship will be over, you will doff your genteel mummery, and become the leader of my heydukes. You shall then don the red mente, and wait upon those very gentlemen with whom you have been drinking and dicing for a whole year; you shall help into their carriages the same little wenches with whom you used to make merry. I consider that a very good joke. I don't know whether you think so, too? How the gentlemen will curse and the ladies blush when they find out who you were!"

The youth reflected for a moment; but then he threw back his head, and cried—

"All right! I don't care." (pp. 79-80)

So half an hour later, Mike came back kitted out as a gentleman of means, and acquits himself with the upper classes of the region by being an ass (as instructed, remember), even taking down a notorious drunken brawler. He spends the next year with Master Jock building his reputation, while the old man all the time relished the moment when the gentry gets punk'd. But when it comes time to trip the trigger on the punchline, it's Jock who gets the surprise.

There was a pipe in Master Jock's mouth, and he was engaged at that moment in filling it with tobacco.

"Halloa! Mike my son!" said he with infinite slyness, "just you get out of that chair and light my pipe for me—d'ye hear?"

"Light it yourself!" replied Mike; "the flint and steel is close beside you."

Master Jock stared at him with all his eyes. The lad himself had clearly forgotten what day it was. All the more piquant then to startle him out of his insolent security.

"Then, my beloved little brother, are you not aware that to-day is red Whitsun Day?"

"What's that got to do with me? I am neither a parson nor an almanac-maker."

"Eh, eh! Recollect that at a quarter to four your Whitsun Kingship ceases!"

"And what then?" inquired Mike, without the slightest perturbation, polishing the antique opal buttons of his attila with his silken handkerchief.

"What then?" cried Jock, who was beginning to get warm; "why, from this instant you cease to be a gentleman."

"What am I then?"

"What are you, sirrah? I'll tell ye. You're a boor, a betyár, a good-for-nothing rascal, a runaway ragamuffin, that's what you are! And you'll be glad enough to kiss my hand, and beg me to make you one of my lackeys, to save you from starvation or the gallows."

"Excuse me," replied Mike Kis, deftly twisting his moustache, "but I am Michael Kis, Esq., proprietor of Almasfalva, which I purchased the day before yesterday from the trustees of the estate of Kázmér Almásfalvi, for 120,000 florins, with the full sanction of the Court, wherefore my title thereto is unexceptionable." (pp. 86-7)

He got the money the honorable way: card sharking. Okay, fine, he doesn't come right out and say that, but he did have an unusually good night at the table at next to the last moment. Regarding the underhandedness of his masterstroke's second flank, there is no question, at least to me.

"Pray how did you get your diploma of gentility?" he asked; "you are not a gentleman by birth."

"That was a very simple matter. When Whitsun Day was only a week off, I strolled into one of the trans-Danubian counties, and there advertised that a prodigal member of the Szabolcs branch of the noble Kis family was in search of his relations, and if there were any noble Kises who remembered that branch of the family, and had certificates of nobility in their possession, which they were willing to transfer to the undersigned in exchange for one thousand florins, would they be kind enough to communicate with him. In a week's time fifteen members of the Kis family remembered their Szabolcs kinsmen, and brought me all kinds of certificates of nobility. All I then had to do was to select the one which had the prettiest coat of arms; whereupon we kissed each other all round, and traced out the genealogy. I paid down the thousand florins; they recognized me as their kinsman, and advertised the diploma throughout the county; and so now I am a landed gentleman. Look, here on my signet-ring is my crest." (p. 88)

So he got the ring, the crest, and the title, and all he had to do was use a bit of social engineering. Fraud? Never heard of it. Such a gauche word to use among gentlemen, really. At least he didn't have to start a war or anything.

To his credit, Master Jock is a good sport; he doesn't mind being had, as long as he's had well (and boy, isn't that a double-edged phrase on my part), so he forgives Mike for being such a clever, clever bastard.

Well, we're off to a rip-roaring start on what's shaping up to be a fun story. I'll be back in a few days with more, so stay tuned, lit fans...


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