Instead of replying to the question, he turned on his heel and strode from the room, leaving his visitor standing in the middle of the floor. Herr Bernat was perplexed; he did not know what to do next. Was it not quite natural to ask the name of a man’s wife when a legal contract was to be written? His question, therefore, had not been an insult.
At last, as the count did not return, there was nothing left for Herr Bernat to do but go to his room and wait there for further developments. The contracts would have to be renewed, else the count would have to vacate the castle; and one could easily see that a great deal of money had been expended in fitting it up. The count had transformed the old hunting-seat, which had been a filthy little nest, into a veritable fairy castle. Yes, undoubtedly the contracts would be renewed.
The vice-palatine was pacing the floor of his room in his noiseless cloth socks, when he suddenly heard the voices of his clerk and his servant outside the door.
“Well, Janos, we are not going to dine here to-day; from what I can learn, we are going to be eaten ourselves.”
“What do you mean?”
“The groom told me his master was loading his pistols to shoot some one. The count challenges to a duel every one who inquires after the countess.”
The voices ceased. The vice-palatine opened wide his eyes, and muttered:
“May the devil fly away with him! He wants to fight a duel, does he? I am not afraid of his pistols; I have one, too, and a sword into the bargain. But it ’s a silly business altogether! I am to fight about a woman I have n’t even seen! And what will my wife say? I wish I had n’t come into this crazy castle! I wish I had n’t sealed a compact of fraternity with the baroness! Why did not I leave this whole installation business to the second vice-palatine? If only I could think of an excuse to turn my back on this lunatic asylum! But I am not going to run away from a pistol. The Hungarian noble is a born soldier. If only I had my pipe! A man is only half a man without his pipe. A pipe inspires one with ideas. Where, I wonder, is that Audiat gadding?”
At this moment the clerk opened the door.
“Fetch our luggage, Audiat; we are going to leave this damned lunatic asylum. The Herr Count may see to it then how he renews his lease.” Hereupon he kicked off the socks with such vigor that the very castle shook. Then, grasping his sword in his hand, he marched out of his room, and down the staircase, to prove that he was not fleeing like a coward, but was clearing his way by force.
When the clerk, who went to fetch the luggage, was about to enter the groom’s apartment, the count came toward him and said:
“You are the vice-palatine’s clerk?”
“That ’s what they call me.”
“When do you expect to become a lawyer?”
“When I have passed my examination.”