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It occurred to me that I might want to actually comment on the story I'm reading as I watch it unfold, the way the B-movie and (Heaven help me) Lost recappers do on the Intertubes--because as an uncultured cretin, that's my current frame of reference. Therefore, for those who might want to read this stuff and still be surprised, but you still want to folow along, I've set up spoiler and non-spoiler tags for my book reports. If you weren't expecting this, this is your only warning.

Oh, and if you're going to read the spoiler posts out of hopes that it'll be enough to do your homework for you, this is just going to be enough of a gloss to give you an idea what caught my attention. This isn't Cliff's Notes, you lazy bum. Hope you get an F.

Anyway, on to Our Feature Presentation...

Chapter 1 ("An Oddity, 1822") introduces us to John Kárpáthy (nicknamed Master Jock to the villagers), a good-natured Hungarian nabob (hey! just like the title of the book!) and a lover of practical jokes. As we join him, he's in the process of pulling one off, riding to a country inn (or BEER HALL, but we went through the semantics of that yesterday) in the middle of the night to see how quickly his massive retinue can piss off the proprietor. Oh, and maybe he'll have the guy roast a mouse and try to feed it to his Gypsy jester.

Meanwhile, the mouse was a-roasting. The innkeeper himself brought it lying in the middle of a large silver dish, surrounded by a heap of horseradish shavings, and with a bit of green parsley in its mouth, the usual appurtenances of a very different animal.

Down it was placed in the middle of the table.

First of all, the Nabob offered it to the heydukes one by one. They did not fancy it, and only shook their heads.

Then it came to the poet's turn.

"Pardon, gratia, your Excellency! I am composing verses on him who eats it."

"Well, you then, Vidra! Come, down with it, quick!"

"I, your Excellency?" said Vidra, as if he did not quite catch the words.

"Yes, you. What are you afraid of? While you were living in tents, one of my oxen went mad, and yet you and your people ate him!"

"True; and if one of your lordship's hogsheads of wine went mad I would drink it. That's another thing."

"Come, come, make haste! Do the dish honour!"

"But my grandfather had no quarrel with this animal."

"Then rise superior to your grandpapa!" (p. 21)

Yes sir, nothing but good clean fun. And pestilence.

This variety of shenanigans is interrupted by a stranger riding in on the back of one of his retainers, because it's one of those ridiculous muddy country roads and his coach got stuck on the bridge and he can't be bothered to walk. He introduces himself to the assembled crowd as "Abellino Kárpáthy, of Kárpát," which, besides being John's name, is Quite Worthy in those parts to the tune of thirty generations. Abellino, who used to be Bélá until he changed it to something a little more "up-market", isn't terribly impressed with the lineage, Hungary or this crazy Hungarian moon language he has to talk while he's there, except he's been living the life and his purse is awfully empty at the moment, and when he heard his uncle John died, he came straight around to collect what's due to him as a relative who has sworn off the family and then get the hell out of Dodge, or whatever you people call this godawful backwater. That's a notion of which Master Jock is happy to disabuse him...after he allows the lad a bit more rope to hang himself, of course.

"A mad, doating old fellow, of whom I could tell you a thousand follies."


"Oh yes. He never budges from his native village; but he has a theatre in his castle, in which they play his own comedies; he sends for the leading prima donnas, simply that they may sing boorish peasant ditties to him; and he keeps a whole palace for his dogs, who eat with him from the same table."

"Anything else?"

"Then he has a whole harem of farmyard wenches, and betyárs similar to himself dance with them and him till dawn. Then he sets the whole company by the ears, and they fight till the blood flows in streams."

"Nothing more?"

"And then his conduct is so very eccentric. He can't endure anything that comes from abroad. He does not allow peas to appear on his table, because they don't grow on his estate. They are for the same reason not allowed to bring coffee into the house, and he uses honey instead of sugar. Mad, eh?"

"Certainly. But do you know anything else about him?"

"Oh, I could tell you a thousand things. His whole life is an absurdity. He only did a wise thing once in his life. When I was at the very last gasp, and nothing in the world could save me but a rich uncle, this Hungarian Nabob, this Plutus, one night crammed himself up to the very throat with plover's eggs, and died early in the morning. I was immediately advertised of the fact."

"And so I suppose you have come hither to take over the rich inheritance without delay?"

"Ma foi! nothing else were capable of bringing me back into this detestable country."

"Very well, my pretty gentleman, then you may just clap your horses into your carriage, and drive back to Paris, or Italy, or Morocco if you like, for I am that half-crazy uncle of yours, that rich betyár of whom you speak, and I am not dead yet, as you can see for yourself."

At these words Abellino collapsed; his arms and legs grew limp and feeble, and he involuntarily stammered in his terror

"Est-ce possible? Can it be possible?"

"Yes, sir, it can. I am that John Kárpáthy whom the country folks jokingly call Master Jock, and who likes to be so called." (pp. 34-6)

That revelation knocks Abellino off his game, but only for a moment. Live as long as you like, uncle...just give me the money and I'll be on my way. A few million should tide me over.

This upper-class twit tests Master Jock's last nerve like no one ever has, and not only does he walk out with his entire retinue ("Leave everything where it is; I'll touch nothing that that fellow has had aught to do with."), but he pays the (wink wink) innkeeper to put the torch to the place immediately with everything left inside. This obviously wasn't the result Abellino was looking for. "You have driven me out of this inn; I'll drive you out of the world."

Chapter 2 ("Bargain For The Skin Of A Living Man") begins with a vest-pocket history of one Monsieur Griffard, a Parisian and former baker-turned-moneylender whose rising and falling fortunes are on the upswing, as evidenced by his gaudy, Trump-like tastes in decor:
It was not enough that the garden itself should stand on an island, but it was surrounded by an artificial stream meandering in the most masterly style in every direction, and with all sorts of bridges thrown across it, from an American suspension-bridge to a rustic Breton bridge, composed of wood and bark, and covered with ivy. And each of these bridges had its own warden, with a halbert across his shoulder, and the wardens had little sentry-boxes to correspond with the style of the bridges, some like hermitages, others like lighthouses, and their own peculiar trumpets to proclaim loudly to approaching guests over which of the bridges they ought to go to reach the castle.

[...] In one place he would behold masterly reproduced ruins, with agaric and cactus monsters planted amongst them. In another place he would observe an Egyptian tomb, with real mummies inside, and outside eternally burning lamps, which were replenished with oil early every morning, or a Roman altar with vessels of carved stone and Corinthian vases. Here and there, in more open places, fountains and waterfalls plashed and gurgled in marble basins, throwing jets of water into the air, and enabling merry little goldfish to disport themselves, whence the stream flowed among Oriental reeds into artfully hidden lakes, where, on the tranquil watery mirror, swam beautiful white swans, which did not sing as sweetly as the poets would have us believe, but made up for it by eating no end of Indian corn, which was then very much dearer than pure wheat. (pp. 43-45)
Very classy. Probably compensating for a bad combover. Maybe this guy was his decorator:

Ya gotta get yahself some MAHBLE CAHLUMNS! Look at this one...and that one...and this one...

So of course, upperclass twit of the year Abellino Kárpáthy, hand eternally in the begging position, is drawn to him like a fly to your sweaty Uncle Dave, except that Griffard sees through his pitiful story and cuts to the meat of the matter: Abellino found out he had a rich dead uncle with all that pretty money, but his uncle didn't have the courtesy to stay dead. Not surprisingly, Griffard seems okay with that, but he's not just a ATM machine in fancy French bloomers. Oh no, he's a loan shark in fancy French bloomers, and expects to make back two francs for every one that he "invests".

"[...]But let us go further. So far as you are concerned it is not enough that I pay your debts. You will want at least twice that amount to live upon every year. Good! I am ready to advance you that also."

At these words Kárpáthy eagerly turned towards the banker again.

"You are joking?"

"Not in the least. I risk a million to gain two. I risk two millions to gain four, and so on. I speak frankly. I give much and I lose much. At the present moment you are in no better a position than Juan de Castro, who raised a loan on half his moustache from the Saracens of Toledo. Come now! an Hungarian gentleman's moustache is no worse than a Spaniard's. I will advance you on it as much as you command, and I'll boldly venture to doubt whether there is any one except myself and the Moors of Toledo who would do such a thing? I can answer for nobody imitating me."

"Good! Let us come to terms," said Abellino taking the matter seriously. "You give me a million, and I'll give you a bond for two millions, payable when my uncle expires."[Pg 53]

"And if your uncle's vital thread in the hands of the Parcæ prove longer than the million in your hands?"

"Then you shall give me another million, and so on. You will be investing your money well, for the Hungarian gentleman is the slave of his property, and can leave it to nobody but his lawful heir." (pp.52-53)

Unless, Griffard reminds him, the old guy marries and the union pumps out a kid. Foreshadowing? Probably...I haven't read that far ahead. But for now, he's content to invest in the foreclosures of the future. All Griffard asks is that the young man doesn't do anything stupid so he won't outlive his uncle. Either that or get married. Whatever it takes to run down the clock on Master Jock.

"Then we are agreed?"

"To-morrow morning, after twelve, you can send your notary to me with all the documents ready, so that no time may be lost."

"I will not keep you waiting."

Abellino took his leave, and the banker, rubbing his hands, escorted him out to the very door of the saloon.

And thus there was a very good prospect of one of the largest landed estates of Hungary falling in a few years into the hands of a foreign banker. (pp. 56-7)
Duhn duhn DUHNNNNNN. Is that nationalistic enough for you?

(Back in a few...or maybe a few more after that.)


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