Preparations were making in the market-place for an ox-roast. The fat young ox had been spitted, and the pile of fagots underneath him was ready for the torch. Hard by, on a stout trestle, rested a barrel of wine. In front of the inn a gypsy band were tuning their instruments, while at the window of the church tower might have been seen two or three child faces; they were on the lookout for the new lady of the manor, in order that they might be ready to ring the bells the moment she came in sight. There was only that one tower in the village, and there was a cross on it; but it was not a Romish church, for all that. The inhabitants were adherents of Luther—Swabians, mixed with Magyars.
The municipal authorities, in their holiday attire of blue cloth, had grouped themselves about the town hall. The older men wore their long hair brushed back from the temples and held in place by a curved comb. The young men had thrust into the sides of their lambskin caps gay little nosegays of artificial flowers. They proposed to fire a grand salute from the pistols they had concealed in their pockets.
Meanwhile, the dignitaries underneath the umbrageous beech-tree were passing the time of waiting pleasantly enough. Maple wine mixed with mineral water was a very refreshing drink in the intense heat; besides, it served as a stimulant to the appetite—appetitorium, they called it.
Three wooden benches, joined together in a half-circle, formed a comfortable resting-place for the committee of reception, the chief of whom, the vice-palatine, was seated on the middle bench, drawing through the stem of his huge carved meerschaum the smoke of the sweet Veker tobacco. His figure was the living illustration of the ever true axiom: “Extra Hungariam non est vita,”—an axiom which his fat red face by no means confuted,—while his heavy, stiffly waxed mustache seemed to add menacingly: “Leave the Hungarian in peace.”
He shared his seat with the clergyman, whose ecclesiastical office entitled him to that honor. The reverend gentleman, however, was an extremely humble person, whom erudition had bent and warped to such a degree that one shoulder was lower than the other, one eyelid was elevated above its fellow, and only one half of his mouth opened when he gave utterance to a remark. His part in the festive ceremony was the performance of the beneventatio; and although he had committed the speech to memory, he could not help but tremble at thought of having to repeat it before so grand a dame as the new mistress of the manor. He always trembled whenever he began his sermons; but once fairly started, then he became a veritable Demosthenes.
“I only hope, reverend sir,” jestingly observed the vice-palatine, “that it will not happen to you as it did to the csokonai, not long ago. Some wags exchanged his sermon-book for one on cookery, and he did not notice it until he began to read in the pulpit: ‘The vinegar was—’ Then he saw that he was reading a recipe for pickled gherkins. He had the presence of mind, however, to continue, ’—was offered to the Saviour, who said, “It is finished."’ And on that text he extemporized a discourse that astounded the entire presbytery.”