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Chapter 17 ("A Dangerous Experiment") picks up where we left off, where we find Flora masterfully baiting her bullheaded husband by denying him none of her customary affections...except the big one.

He fancied that he was enjoying to the full the victory won in yesterday's warfare, and he felt magnanimous and would not reproach his wife with her defeat in that sweet hour. But when he embraced Flora with both arms as if he were going to hold her fast for ever, the lady gently disentangled herself, and, leaning on his shoulder, whispered in his ear—

"And now, my dear Rudolf, God be with you! Let us wish each other good night."

Rudolf was dumfounded.

"You see I am not so flighty as you fancied. I am not weak even where you are concerned; but I can love, and nobody shall forbid me to love whom I will." And with that she blew him a kiss from the threshold of her bedroom, and Rudolf heard her double-lock the door behind her.

Now this of itself was more than enough to make any man angry.

Rudolf tore at least two buttons off his coat in the act of undressing, and in his wrath took down Hugo Grotius, read steadily away at it till midnight, and then dashed Hugo Grotius to the ground, for he did not understand a word that he had been reading. His thoughts were elsewhere.

And the following day passed away with the same peculiar variations.

His wife was captivatingly amiable. Like a seductive siren, she immeshed her husband in the magic charms of her caresses, was kindness, tenderness personified, loaded him with every little attention which one can look for from a gracious lady, right up to her bedroom door, which she again locked in his face.

Now this was the most exquisite torture conceivable to which a man can be submitted. Compared with this little fairy, a Nero, a Caligula was a veritable philanthropist. (pp. 315-6)

Ow. Reeeeeeeeeejected. He asks her in exasperation how long will this go on? Her answer, in essence, is "Until you get your ass off your shoulders, dear."

However, sleeping alone puts bad ideas into a man's head (yeah, tell me about it), and he decides the only way to put this nonsense to bed is to grab a coach for the Kárpáthy castle at Nagy Kun Madaras and seduce his wife's best friend. For science!

Rudolf whispered lovingly in her ear, "Come now, shall there be an end to our warfare?"

"I require an unconditional surrender," said Flora, with an unappeasable smile.

"Good! there shall be an end to it when I return, but then I shall dictate peace."

Flora shook her pretty head dubiously, and kissed her husband again and again; and when he was actually sitting in the coach, she ran after him to kiss him once more, and then went out on the balcony and followed him with her eyes, whilst Rudolf leaned out of the coach, and so they kept on bidding each other adieu with hat and handkerchief till the coach was out of sight.

And thus an honest husband quitted his house with the fixed resolve to deceive another man's wife, simply in order that he might thereby win back his own.

If only he had known what he was doing! (p. 317)

It's one of the red-letter rules in the Book of Guys: Never let common sense get in the way of an awesome plan.

Fanny and Master John are roaming through their English-style garden (and to hammer the purity angle home, author Jokai even has deer eating out of Fanny's hand) when Rudolf's carriage rolls up the pathway. Even with his old-man vision, John recognizes the Szentirmay horses, but Fanny recognizes the danger, and it sets off all kinds of alarms in her head.
"Come, come, don't you want to meet your friend?" insisted the good old man.

"It is not Flora," stammered Fanny, with frightened, embarrassed eyes.

"Then who else can it be?" asked the Squire. He must have been somewhat surprised at the conduct of his wife, but there was not a grain of suspicion in his composition, so he simply asked again, "Then who else can it be?"

"It is Flora's husband," said Fanny, withdrawing her hand from her husband's arm.

Squire John began to laugh.

"Why, what a silly the girl is! Why, you must welcome him too, of course. Are you not the mistress of the house?"

Not another word did Fanny speak, but she hardened her face as well as her heart, and hastened towards the coming guest on her husband's arm.

By the time they reached the forecourt of the castle, Rudolf's carriage was rumbling into the courtyard. The young nobleman perceived and hastened towards them. Kárpáthy held out his hand while he was still some way off, and Rudolf pressed it warmly.

"Well, and won't you hold out your hand too?" said the Squire to his wife; "he's the husband of your dear friend, is he not? Why do you look at him as if you had never seen him before?"

Fanny fancied that the ground beneath her must open, and the columns and stone statues of the old castle seemed to be dancing round her. She felt the pressure of a warm hand in hers, and she involuntarily leaned her dizzy head on her husband's shoulder.

Rudolf regarded her fixedly, and his ideas concerning this woman were peculiar: he took this pallor for faint-heartedness, this veiled regard for coquetry, and he believed it would be no difficult matter to win her. (pp. 318-9)

As this visit goes on, we'll find that Rudolf is a brilliant misreader of Fanny's signals, especially the "mortification" ones.

After spending all day with Squire John, the old man excuses himself for an after-dinner lie-down, leaving Rudolf with the choice of perusing his library or trying to befool his wife. Y'know, whatever floats your boat. Rudolf corners Madame Kárpáthy in the garden and breaks down her defenses with some double-edged flower talk.

"Yes, if only your ladyship knew the flowers, not merely by name, but through the medium of that world of fancy which is bound up with the life of the flowers! Every flower has its own life, desires, inclinations, grief and sorrows, love and anguish, just as much as we have. The imaginations of our poets give to each of them its own characteristics, and associates little fables with them, some of which are very pretty. Indeed, you will find much that is interesting in the ideal lives of the flowers."

Here Rudolf broke off an iris from a side-bed.

"Look, here is a happy family, three husbands and three wives, each husband close beside his wife. They bloom together, they wither together; not one of them is inconstant. This is the bliss of flowers. These are all happy lovers."

Then Rudolf threw away the iris, and plucked an amaranth.

"Now, here we have the aristocrats. In the higher compartment is the husband, in the lower the wife—upper-class married life. Nevertheless, the ashen-purple colour of the flower shows that its life is happy."

Here Rudolf rubbed the amaranth between his fingers, and innumerable little dark seeds fell into the palm of his hand.

"As black as pearls, you see," said Rudolf.

"Yes, as pearls," lisped Fanny, thinking it quite natural that they should pour out of the youth's hand into her own, for it was a shame to lose them. There was not a pure pearl in the Indies that she would have exchanged for these little seeds. And now Rudolf threw the amaranth away too.

Fanny glanced in the direction of the rejected flower, as if to make sure of the place where it had fallen.

"And now will your ladyship look at those two maples standing side by side? What handsome trees they are! One of them seems to be of a brighter green than the other: that, therefore, is the wife; the darker one is the husband. They also are happy lovers. But now look over yonder! There stands a majestic maple tree all by itself. How yellow its foliage is! Poor thing! it has not found a husband. Some pitiless gardener has planted it beside a nut tree, and that is no mate for it. How pale, how yellow it looks, poor thing! But, good Heavens! how pale you are! What is the matter?"

"Nothing, nothing, sir," said Fanny, "only a little giddiness," and without the slightest hesitation she leant on Rudolf's arm.

He fancied he understood, but he was very far from understanding. (pp. 320-2)

Therefore, when he knocked on the lady's bedroom door later that night, it was with certain expectations. Those expectations probably didn't include Fanny excusing herself from the room, presumably to find some moral support in her hour of darkness, and they definitely didn't include what he found carefully hidden under a handkerchief: her prayer book, with an iris and an amaranth pressed between the pages. Ooooo. In his head, the light snapped on, with the realization of what type of game he was playing and with what type of woman. And that's when Fanny reenters the room, while the evidence is lying out in the open. Now he knows, and she knows he knows, which leaves her free to have another one of her emotional breakdowns.

"Why did you come here," inquired the lady in a voice trembling with emotion—she could control herself no longer—"when, day after day, I have been praying God that I might never see you again? When I avoided every place where I might chance to meet you, why did you seek me out here? I am lost, for God has abandoned me. In all my life, no man's image has been in my heart save yours alone. Yet I had buried that away too, far out of sight. Why, why did you make it come to life again? Have you not observed that I fled every spot where you appeared? Did not your very arms prevent me from seeking death when we met together again! Ah, how much I suffered then because of you? Oh, why did you come hither to see me in my misery, in my despair?"

And she covered her face with her hands, and wept.

Rudolf was vexed to the soul at what he had done.

Presently Fanny withdrew the handkerchief from the Prayer-book, dried her streaming eyes, and resumed, in a stronger voice—

"And now what does it profit you to know that I am a senseless creature struggling with despair when I think of you? Can you be the happier for it? I shall be all the unhappier, for now I must deny myself even the very thought of you."

What could he say to her? What words could he find wherewith to comfort her? What could he do but extend his hand to her and allow her to cover it with her tears and kisses? What could he do but allow her in her passionate despair to fall upon his breast, and, sobbing and moaning, hold him embraced betwixt unspeakable agony and unspeakable joy?

And when she had wept herself out on his breast, the poor lady grew calmer, and ceasing her sobbing, said in a determined voice—

"And now I swear to you before that God who will one day judge me for my sins, that if ever I see you again, that same hour shall be the hour of my death. If, then, you have any compassion, avoid me! I beg of you not your love but your pity; I shall know how to get over it somehow in time."

Rudolf's fine eyes sparkled with tears. This poor lady had deserved to be happy, and yet she had only been happy a single moment all her life, and that moment was when she had hung sobbing on his breast.

How long and weary life must be to her from henceforth! (pp. 324-6)

Having done his damage, and with a full and awful awareness of the damage he had just done, he left for home that night without a by-your-leave. Fanny wins, but everybody loses in the long term.

Chapter 18 ("Unpleasant Discoveries") brings us wintertime in Pest, where both the days and the chapters are growing shorter (five pages (!)), and the well-to-do (including our main characters) are again making camp. The hubbub of the day was signaled by the arrival of the party maestro, "our friend" Kecskerey. This time through, his path of destruction includes a gentlemen's club, where his end of the entertainment not only includes his endless well of travel yarns, but the type of things that happens when he's in the same room with (here we go again, friends) Abellino, the increasingly ineffectual villain of this piece.

Abellino went towards Kecskerey. He attributed the fact that he drew after him a whole group of gentlemen, who quitted the tea-tables and the whist-tables to crowd around him, to the particular respect of the present company to himself personally.

"I congratulate you," cried Kecskerey, in a shrill nasal voice, waving his hands towards Abellino.

"What for, you false club?"

Thus it was clear that Abellino also was struck by Kecskerey's great resemblance to the historical playing-card already mentioned, and this sally brought the laughter over to his side.

"Don't you know that I have just come from nunky, my dear?"

"Ah, that's another matter," said Abellino, in a somewhat softer voice. "And what, pray, is the dear old gentleman up to now?"

"That's just where my congratulations come in. All at home send you their best greetings, kisses, and embraces. The old gentleman is as sound as an acorn, or as a ripe apple freshly plucked from the tree. Don't be in the least concerned on his account; your uncle feels remarkably well. But your aunt is sick, very sick, and to all appearance she will be sicker still."

"Poor auntie!" said Abellino. "No doubt," thought he to himself, "that is why he congratulates me; and good news, too. No wonder he congratulates me. Perhaps she'll even die—who knows?—And what's the matter with her?" he asked aloud.

"Ah, she is in great danger. I assure you, my friend, that when last I saw her, the doctors had prohibited both riding and driving." (pp. 328-9)

Yeah, she's sick alright, especially in the morning. And once it sinks in, ya dumb bastard, you'll be even sicker. To continue...

Even now the real state of things would not have occurred to Abellino's mind, had not a couple of quicker-witted gentlemen, who had come there for the express purpose of laughing, and were therefore on the alert for the point of the jest, suddenly laughed aloud. Then, all at once, light flashed into his brain.

"A thousand devils! You are speaking the truth now, I suppose?"

His face could not hide the fury which boiled up within him.

"Why, how else should I have cause to congratulate you?" said Kecskerey, laughing.

"Oh, it is infamous!" exclaimed Abellino, beside himself. (pp. 329)

As much of an opportunistic jerk Kecskerey has been, it's absoultely delicious how ready he is to kick Abellino when he's down. As the author said, "He never pitied any one who was unfortunate; he reserved all his sympathy for the prosperous."

Now that all that land and all that money he would've inherited is rapidly darting out of view, a question occurs to Bélá: who's the baby daddy? "Our friend" Kecskerey has the exact answer Abellino doesn't want to hear.

"I am absolutely sure I know who her lover is," remarked Kecskerey.

"Who?" asked Abellino, with sparkling eyes. "Oh, that man I should like to know!"

Kecskerey, who was having rare sport with him, drew his neck down between his shoulders, and continued—"How many times have I not seen you fall upon his neck, and kiss and embrace him!"

"Who is it, who is it?" cried Abellino, catching hold of Kecskerey's arm.

"Would you like to know?"

"I should."

"Then it is—her husband." (pp. 330-1)

John Kárpáthy, everybody. The potent potentate. The genetic jackhammer. The ram that am. Dwell on that for a moment.

Of course, Abellino being Abellino, he threatens to tear down Madame Kárpáthy's house of deceit and find out who's really been making her sooooo bloody happy. At that point, a familiar voice pipes up from across the room.

"Gentlemen," it said, "you forget that it is not becoming in men of breeding to make ribald jests about the name of a lady whom nobody in the world has any cause or any right to traduce."

"What, Rudolf! Why, what interest have you in the matter?" inquired the astonished Kecskerey.

"This much—I am a man and will not allow a woman whom I respect to be vilified in my presence."

That was saying a great deal, and there was no blinking it, not only because Rudolf was right and enjoyed the best of reputations, but also because he was known to be the best shot and swordsman in the place, and cool-headed and lucky to boot.

So from henceforth Madame Kárpáthy's name ceased to be alluded to in the club. (p. 331)
Yep, that's all it took. Nice to see he came through when it counted. I can't help think that I'm forgetting something, though...

(skips back to the first paragraph of the recap)

Flora...master baiter...heh heh. Okay, I'm done now.

Next: The homestretch of book #1! A baby! The stench of death!


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