“The Herr Count is already informed of the gentlemen’s arrival, and bids them welcome.”
This certainly was getting on smoothly enough! And the most convincing proof of a hearty welcome was that the stately groom himself hastened to remove the luggage from the chaise and carry it into the vestibule—a sign that the guests were expected to make a visit of some duration.
Now, however, something curious happened.
Before the groom opened the hall door, he produced three pairs of socks, woven of strands of cloth,—mamuss they are called in this region,—and respectfully requested the visitors to draw them over their boots.
“And why, pray?” demanded the astonished vice-palatine.
“Because in this house the clatter of boots is not considered pleasant; and because the socks prevent boots from leaving dusty marks on the carpets.”
“This is exactly like visiting a powder-magazine.” But they had to submit and draw their socks over their yellow boots, and, thus equipped, they ascended the staircase to the reception-room.
An air of almost painful neatness reigned in all parts of the castle. Stairs and corridors were covered with coarse white cloth, the sort used for peasants’ clothing in Hungary. The walls were hung with glossy white paper. Every door-latch had been polished until it glistened. There were no cobwebs to be seen in the corners; nor would a spider have had anything to prey upon here, for there were no flies, either. The floor of the reception-room into which the visitors had been conducted shone like a mirror, and not a speck of dust was to be seen on the furniture.
“The Herr Count awaits your lordship in the salon,” announced the groom, and conducted Herr Bernat into the adjoining chamber. Here, too, the furniture was white and gold. The oil-paintings in the rococo frames represented landscapes, fruit pieces, and game; there was not a portrait among them.
Beside the oval table with tigers’ feet stood the mysterious occupant of the Nameless Castle. He was a tall man, with knightly bearing, expressive face, a high, broad forehead left uncovered by his natural hair, a straight Greek nose, gray eyes, a short mustache and pointed beard, which where a shade lighter than his hair.
“Magnifice comes—” the vice-palatine was beginning in Latin, when the count interposed:
“I speak Hungarian.”
“Impossible!” exclaimed the visitor, whose astonishment was reflected in his face. “Hungarian? Why, where can your worship have learned it?”
“From the grammar.”
“From the grammar?” For the vice-palatine this was the most astounding of all the strange things about the mysterious castle. Had he not always known that Hungarian could only be learned by beginning when a child and living in a Hungarian family? That any one had learned the language as one learns the hic, haec, hoc was a marvel that deserved to be recorded. “From the grammar?” he repeated. “Well, that is wonderful! I certainly believed I should have to speak Latin to your worship. But allow me to introduce my humble self—”