Kalora’s education was being directed by a superannuated professor named Popova. He was so antique and book-wormy that none of the usual objections urged against the male sex seemed to hold good in his case, and he had the free run of the palace. Count Selim Malagaski trusted him implicitly. Popova fawned upon the Governor-General, and seemed slavish in his devotion. Secretly and stealthily he was working out a frightful vengeance upon his patron. Twenty years before, Count Selim, in a moment of anger, had called Popova a “Christian dog.”
In Morovenia it is flattery to call a man a “liar.” It is just the same as saying to him, “You belong in the diplomatic corps.” It is no disgrace to be branded as a thief, because all business transactions are saturated with treachery. But to call another a “Christian dog” is the thirty-third degree of insult.
Popova writhed in spirit when he was called “Christian,” but he covered his wrath and remained in the nobleman’s service and waited for his revenge. And now he was sacrificing the innocent Kalora in order to punish the father. He said to himself: “If she does not fatten, then her father’s heart will be broken, and he will suffer even as I have suffered from being called Christian.”
It was Popova who, by guarded methods, encouraged her to violent exercise, whereby she became as hard and trim as an antelope. He continued to supply her with all kinds of sour and biting foods and sharp mineral waters, which are the sworn enemies of any sebaceous condition. And now that she was nineteen, almost at the further boundary of the marrying age, and slimmer than ever before, he rejoiced greatly, for he had accomplished his deep and malign purpose, and laid a heavy burden of sorrow upon Count Selim Malagaski.
THE CRUELTY OF LAW
If the father was worried by the prolonged crisis, the younger sister, Jeneka, was well-nigh distracted, for she could not hope to marry until Kalora had been properly mated and sent away.
In Morovenia there is a very strict law intended to eliminate the spinster from the social horizon. It is a law born of craft and inspired by foresight. The daughters of a household must be married off in the order of their nativity. The younger sister dare not contemplate matrimony until the elder sister has been led to the altar. It is impossible for a young and attractive girl to make a desirable match leaving a maiden sister marooned on the market. She must cooperate with her parents and with the elder sister to clear the way.
As a rule this law encourages earnest getting-together in every household and results in a clearing up of the entire stock of eligible daughters. But think of the unhappy lot of an adorable and much-coveted maiden who finds herself wedged in behind something unattractive and shelf-worn! Jeneka was thus pocketed. She could do nothing except fold her hands and patiently wait for some miraculous intervention.