“You have guessed it.”
“Then there is not an atom of truth in the reports malicious tongues have spread abroad about you, for I know very well that a certain lady has not the least objection to tobacco smoke. I do not refer to the Herr Count’s donna who lives here in the castle—you may be sure I shall take good care not to ask any more questions about her. No; I am not talking about that one, but about the other one, who has puzzled me a good deal of late. She takes the Herr Count’s part everywhere, and is always ready to defend you. Had she not assured me that I might with perfect safety venture to call here again, I should have sent my secretary to you with the Sigillum compulsorium. I tell you, Herr Count, ardent partizanship of that sort from the other donna looks a trifle suspicious!”
The count laughed, then said:
“Herr Vice-palatine, you remind me of the critic who, at the conclusion of a concert, said to a gentleman near whom he was standing: ’Who is that lady who sings so frightfully out of tune?’ ‘The lady is my wife.’ ’Ah, I did not mean the one who sang, but the lady who accompanied her on the piano—the one who performs so execrably.’ ’That lady is my sister.’ ’I beg a thousand pardons! I made a mistake; it is the music, the composition, that is so horrible. I wonder who composed it?’ ’I did.’”
Herr Bernat was charmed—completely vanquished. This count not only smoked: he could also relate an anecdote! Truly he was a man worth knowing—a gentleman from crown to sole.
Toward the conclusion of the excellent dinner, to which Herr Bernat did ample justice, he ventured to propose a toast:
“I cannot refrain, Herr Count, from drinking to the welfare of this castle’s mistress; and since I do not know whether there be one or two, I lift a glass in each hand. Vivant!”
Without a word the count likewise raised two glasses, and drained first one, then the other, leaving not enough liquor in either to “wet his finger-nail.”
By the time the meal was over Herr Bernat was in a most generous mood; and when he took leave of his agreeable host, he assured him that the occupants of the Nameless Castle might always depend on the protection and good will of the vice-palatine.
Count Vavel waited until his guest was out of sight; then he changed his clothes, and when the regular dinner-hour arrived joined Marie, as usual, in the dining-room, to enjoy with her the delicate snail-soup and other dainties.
At last war was declared; but it brought only days of increased unhappiness and discontent to the tiger imprisoned in his cage at the Nameless Castle—as if burning oil were being poured into his open wounds.
The snail-like movements of the Austrian army had put an end to the appearance of the apocalyptic destroying angel.