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Once again, I let my side of the bargain down by not being a very constant reader. But you haven't stopped me cold, you rotten bastards. Anyway, the brisk walkthrough worked so well the last time, let's do that again.

It's Chapter 7 ("The Nabob's Birthday"), and as advertised, Master Jock is celebrating his 70th birthday! And really, you only get a few of those in your lifetime.

As the richest guy in town, his birthday more closely resembles a festival, and "death was regarded as the one legitimate excuse" for his friends and relations to miss it. Part of the buidup to the big day was the discharging of the previous year's accounts. Everything seems to be going to seed, but Master Jock is inclined to let a lot of things slide.

"To begin, then, the Kakadi estate this year yielded twelve thousand bushels of pure wheat, consequently, the richest soil scarcely produced sufficient grain to pay for the expense of cultivating it."

"It was a bad year, you know," objected Master Jock. "The corn was levelled with the ground by hailstorms in the spring, and there was so much rain afterwards that it sprouted in the stack."

"That, indeed, is what your agent said," returned Mr. Peter; "but he could have insured against hail at Pressburg, and there's such an enormously big barn on the estate, that the whole crop could have been safely housed, and then there would have been no fear of its sprouting."

"Very well, Master Peter, go on! Another time things shall be different; you may rely upon me for that."

"The twelve thousand bushels of corn were sold at nine florins the bushel to a corn-dealer of Raab, I see, thus making a total of one hundred and eight thousand florins, although I notice from the newspapers that good wheat was selling all the time at Pest at twelve florins the bushel, and the corn might easily have been transported thither, for, owing to the inundations, the oxen had no work to do."

"Yes; but those very inundations carried away the bridge, so that it was impossible to cross the Theiss."

"It was a pity, truly, that the water carried away the bridge, but if the dyke had been kept in proper repair, the water would not have got at the bridge."

"Never mind; rely upon me in the future. Go on!"

"The millet-seed, it is said, got musty from waiting too long for purchasers, so that we could only get eight thousand florins for it. Now, that is a misstatement. I know as a fact that there was no rain just then; but the agent, in order that he might attend a christening, stacked the crop so hastily that it got black and sour from heat."

"No, really! And would you, as a Christian man, I ask, have the agent postpone the baptism of his son even for the sake of all the millet-seed in the world? Leave that to me, and go on!"

"The water carried away the hay because, just in the middle of harvest-time, your honour required the services of every man capable of holding a hay-fork at a big hunt. Otherwise nice large sums would, as usual, have been entered to your honour's credit under this item."

"Well, then, it is simply my fault this time; the poor fellows are not to blame. Rely upon me in the future." (pp. 158-9)
He's all heart, except when it comes to those goddamn foreigners. But moving on...

Next comes the petitions for donations and charities, which he dismisses in short order, followed by the meat and potatoes of his largesse for this year, and for that he called his family lawyer.

The fiskal stood and waited for his master to turn round. He waited a good half-hour, but the Nabob turned round at last, and said to his man of business, "Pray sit down, sir, and write."

An unusual embarrassment was observable in the Nabob's voice, which would certainly have surprised anybody else but the fiskal.

"My dear younger brother," old Kárpáthy began to dictate, "inasmuch as you are living at present in this realm, and I do not wish the name of Kárpáthy to be slighted on this particular day when I have made peace with all who ever angered me, therefore I now, as becometh a kinsman, offer my hand to you also, my younger brother, in the hope that you will not reject it; and I, at the same time, send you, my younger brother, two hundred thousand florins, which you shall receive from me, so long as I live, from year to year. And I hope that henceforth we shall continue to be good kinsmen."

The old man's eyes were wet while he recited these words, and if a more sympathetic man than the fiskal had been present, there might have been something like a tender scene.

"Wrap it up and write on the outside: To the Honourable Bélá Kárpáthy of Kárpát, at Pressburg. A stable lad must mount a horse at once, and deliver this letter personally."

Then he gave a great sigh of relief, as if two hundred thousand stones had been lifted from his heart with these two hundred thousand florins. He had never felt so happy as he was at that moment. (pp. 163-4)

He obviously felt guilty about burning an inn down around Abellino's ears. Or had forgotten what a pain in the ass the young man was. This was the guy who said a few million would tide him over until the holidays, remember, so I'm sure he'll take this really well.

The next day, Master Jock wakes up with the joy of a kid at Christmas and heads off to his customary church service. Well, customary for his birthday, anyway.

"Wait! I must first tell the priest that your honour is up."

"And there's another thing you must tell him—a sausage should be long, a sermon short."

"I know," said Palko; and off he trotted to the priest, whose chief defect and peculiarity consisted not in delivering long sermons, but rather in the rebuking of Master Jock roundly, in the name of the Lord, on this the one occasion in the whole year when he met him face to face, to the intense delight of the assembled guests, who kept up the joke afterwards till dinner-time. A particular Providence, however, delivered Master Jock from this bitter jest on this occasion, inasmuch as the reverend gentleman had suddenly fallen so ill that he could not perform his duties.

"The dean is here," added Palko, after communicating the sad intelligence.

"Who never knows when to leave off spouting," commented Master Jock. "If he gets hold of us, we must make up our minds to have dinner at supper-time; and he so bombards the ears of God with my praises that even I am ashamed. Let the supplikans complete the service."

The supplikans, be it explained, was a five years' student (counting not from his birth, of course, but from the beginning of his academical course)—a student togatus, as they called it, who ever since he had been immured at college had never set eyes upon a human being. We can, therefore, picture the terror of the worthy youth when he was informed that, within a quarter of an hour, he must preach an edifying discourse for the special benefit of a whole assembly of genteel backsliders.

He would very much have liked to have crawled away into some hole, but they kept much too good an eye upon him for that, and, perceiving his fear and affliction, the unprincipled mob played all sorts of devilries upon him. They sewed his pocket-handkerchief fast to the pocket of his toga, so that he could not pull it out when his nose required its help; they made him believe that the gipsy Vidra was the cantor; and finally contrived to substitute a book on veterinary surgery for his prayer-book.

The poor supplikans, when he perceived that he had carried a cattle-book into the pulpit, was so dumfounded that he could not even remember with what words the "Our Father" began, so he descended from the preaching-stool again without uttering a word. They had, therefore, to fall back upon the dean, after all; but they bound him down not to preach, but only to pray; and pray he did—for an hour and a half at least. The right reverend gentleman heaped so many blessings upon the Kárpáthy family and all its members, male and female, in ascendenti et descendenti, both in this world and the next, that, whether they lived or died, no very serious misfortune could possibly befall any of them. (pp. 176-7)

It doesn't take too long before everybody notices that the lord of the manor seems a little, well, off this year. For instance, he gave one of his guests a dressing down for his exploding poppy-cakes gag (an old favorite, since nothing says "comedy" like "gunpowder in your food"). And then there was the matter of the virginal lass who usually sat in on the banquet:

It was a good old custom on Master Jock's birthday to admit the damsel who made the pretty speech on this occasion among the guests, and seat her beside Master Jock at table; and thus she was the only woman present at the banquet. And rumour added that still worse things befell towards the end of the feast, when the wine had mounted into the heads of the guests, and the lamb-maiden had been caught in the whirl of an unwonted carouse. But she was always married to some one afterwards; for Master Jock used to give her a rich dowry, and she got six oxen from her own father into the bargain to set up with. So the good peasants were not very much alarmed at the prospect of bringing their daughters to Kárpáthy Castle.

Really, befoolishment followed by a shotgun wedding and some hush, hush oxen. You can't get clearer than that. 'Twas ever thus, but not this time around...

Master Jock, with patriarchal condescension, approached the damsel, pinched her cheek, patted her head, and asked her kindly—

"What is thy name, my daughter?"

"Susie," she replied, in a scarcely audible voice.

"Hast thou a sweetheart?"

"No, I have not," replied the damsel, casting down her eyes.

"Then choose thee among all the youths present the one that liketh thee best, for married thou shalt be this very hour."

"Is Master Jock in his right mind?" whispered some of his cronies to one another. "Why, he generally postpones this little ceremony to the afternoon of the following day." (pp. 173-4)

Interestingly enough, Susie takes advantage of this breach of tradition to choose Martin the Ass. My first reaction was "What a waste," but maybe not, as we continue...

And so it goes, with a raucous good time had by all...except for Master Jock, who found out that Abellino had fallen ill and couldn't make it down to bury the hatchet in person. But he did send his regards in another form

It was as much as six strapping fellows could do to bring in the long box which contained the birthday gift, and they hauled it on to the table so that all the guests might see it.

The four ends of the box were fastened down by strong iron clamps, and these had first to be removed with the aid of strong pincers.

What could be in this box? The guests laid their heads together about it, but not one of them could guess.

Suddenly all four clamps burst asunder, the four sides of the box fell aside in four different directions, and there on the table stood—a covered coffin!

A cry of indignation resounded from every corner of the room.

A pretty present for a seventieth birthday! A black coffin covered with a velvet pall; at the head of it the ancient escutcheon of the Kárpáthy family, and on the side, picked out with large silver nails, the name—J-o-h-n K-á-r-p-á-t-h-y.

Horror sealed every mouth, only a wail of grief was audible—a heavy, sobbing cry, like that of a wild beast stricken to the heart. It came from the lips of old John Kárpáthy, who had thus been so cruelly derided. When he beheld the coffin, when he read his own name upon it, he had leaped from his chair, stretched out his arms, his face the while distorted by a hideous grin, and those who watched him beheld his features gradually turning a dreadful blue. It was plain, from the trembling of his lips, that he wanted to say something; but the only sound that came from them was a long-drawn-out, painful rattle. Then he raised his hands to heaven, and suddenly striking his forehead with his two fists, sank back into his chair with wide-open, staring eyes.

The blood froze in the veins of all who saw this sight. For a few moments nobody stirred. But then a wild hubbub arose among the guests, and while some of them rushed towards the magnate and helped to carry him to bed, others went to fetch the doctors. The coffin had already been removed from the table. (pp. 179-181)

Way to ruin a party, jerky. He'll probably take that annuity anyway so he can spend it on more coffins. Become the Coffin Guy. Maybe next year he'll even put a skeleton in it.

That is, if there is a next year, because John Kárpáthy immediately came down with a case of the apoplexy--which is a real disease, but probably not in the sense the word is used here. His servants, tenants, and most of Master Jock's other hangers-on did what anyone brimming over with loyalty and respect would do in the situation: flee his bedside like the place was on fire and get a head-start on buttering up the presumptive next-in-line. Out of the retinue, the only men that stayed out of genuine loyalty were Mike Kis, John's estate agent Master Varga, his oldest heyduke Palko, court jester Vidra (because if you'd almost eat a mouse for a man, you're going to stick by him to the end), and Martin the Suddenly Not So Ass-like. Having an old fella fund your bar crawls for seven years running and still hand you a virginal young wife will do that for a young man's loyalty.

Despite the urgings of the platoon of fleeing rats, Abellino hung back and bided his time, having been burned by this nonsense once before, although that didn't prevent him from exercising his power in the personal sphere by making all the heydukes shave off their fancy mustaches and parade their upper lips around all pink and naked. I don't think I mentioned that all the men are mustachioed in this book, so that's a big, fat, hairy(-lipped) deal.

As it turns out, the waiting game was a wise strategy:

On the sixth day, however, a horseman galloped into Abellino's courtyard, whom they immediately recognized as Martin.

As he dismounted from his horse the steward of the Pukkancs estate, one of the first deserters, looked down from the tower, and, smiling broadly, cried out to him—

"Well, so you have come too, eh, Martin, my son? You're just in time, I can tell you. Had your marriage been celebrated a week later, your new landlord would have revived in his own favour some old customs. What news from Kárpátfalva?"

He had come, of course, to invite the gentlemen to the funeral. That was the most natural supposition.

"I have brought a letter for you, Mr. Bailiff," said Martin, nonchalantly; and, to the great disgust of the steward, he did not even doff his cap before Abellino, who was standing on the balcony.

"Look to your cap, you bumpkin! Why don't you doff it, sirrah? Who sent this letter?"

At the first question Martin only shrugged his shoulders; in answer to the second he replied that the steward of the estate had given it to him.

The bailiff broke open the letter, and green wheels danced before his eyes as he peered into it. The letter, which was in old John Kárpáthy's own handwriting, begged to inform the bailiffs, heydukes, and domestics assembled round Abellino that he had so far recovered as to be able to rise from his bed and write them a letter, and that he was very glad to hear that they had found so much better a master than himself, for which reason he advised them to remain where they were, for on no account were they to think of coming back to him.

The bailiff pulled the sort of face a man would naturally have who was compelled to make merry on a diet of crab-apples, and as he had no desire to keep the joyful intelligence all to himself, he passed the letter on from hand to hand amongst his colleagues, the other bailiffs, factors, doorkeepers, shepherds, scribes, and heydukes, till it had gone the round of them all. Under similar circumstances men often find a great consolation in twirling their moustaches; but now, alas! there was not a single moustache to twirl among the lot of them. They had neither places nor moustaches left. Some of them scratched their heads, some burst into tears, others cursed and swore. In their first fury they knew not which to turn upon first, Abellino for not inheriting, or Master Jock for not dying as he ought to have done. To make such fools of so many innocent men! It was scandalous!

Abellino was the last to whom, with tearful faces, they carried the glad tidings. The philosophical youth, who happened at that moment to be sipping an egg beaten up in his tea, received the intelligence with the utmost sang-froid.

"Enfin!" cried he, "I verily believe the old chap means to live for ever!" (pp. 183-5)
Indeed. Our Nabob pulls himself through, but as we'll see, he comes out the other end of this trial a changed man. No more mousekabobs and exploding cakes, I fear...

Wait a minute. Egg in his tea?


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