The heroic descendant of the Scythians at these words became seriously alarmed.
“The Herr Doctor, I trust, will be honorable enough not to gossip about it,” he said meekly.
“Oh, you may rest without fear, so far as I am concerned; but I would n’t say as much for the surveyor, here. If ever he should succeed in getting beyond ‘I say,’ I won’t answer for the safety of your secret, Herr Vice-palatine! When your wife hears, moreover, that it is ‘Bernat’ and ‘Katinka’ up here, it will require something besides an anecdote to parry what will follow!”
When the baroness appeared at the dinner-table, she was attired simply, yet with a certain elegance. She wore a plain black silk gown, with no other ornamentation save the string of genuine pearls about her throat. The sombre hue of her gown signified mourning; the gems represented tears; but her manner was by no means in keeping with either; she was cheerful, even gay. But laughter very often serves to mask a sorrowful heart.
“Thy place is here by my side,” said the baroness, mindful of the “thee-and-thou” compact with Herr Bernat.
The vice-palatine, remembering his spouse, sought to modify the familiarity.
“I forgot to tell you, baroness,” he observed, as he seated himself in the chair beside her own, “that with us in this region ‘thou’ is used only by children and the gypsies. To those with whom we are on terms of intimacy we say ‘he’ or ‘she,’ to which we add, if we wish, the words bacsi, or hugom, which are equivalent to ‘cousin.’”
“And do you never say ‘thou’ to your wife?”
“To her also I say ‘she’ or ‘you.’”
“What a singular country! Well, then, Bernat bacsi, if it pleases ‘him,’ will ‘he’ sit here by me?”
Baroness Katinka understood perfectly how to conduct the conversation during the repast—an art which was not appreciated by her right-hand neighbor, Herr Mercatoris. The learned gentleman had bad teeth, in consequence of which eating was a sort of penitential performance that left him no time for discourse.
But the doctor and the vice-palatine showed themselves all the more willing to share the conversation with their hostess.
“The official business was satisfactorily arranged without me, was it not, Bernat bacsi?” after a brief pause, inquired the baroness.
“Not altogether. We are like the gypsy who said that he was going to marry a countess. He was willing, and all that was yet necessary was the consent of a countess. Our business requires the consent of a baroness—that is, of Katinka hugom.”
“To what must I give my consent?”
“That the conditions relating to the Nameless Castle shall continue the same as heretofore.”
“Nameless Castle?—Conditions?—What does that mean? I should like very much to know.”