Not Made For Marriage
It had started like one of these days. One of these days that one would best spend in bed. Or under it, preferably. What could a man expect of a day when the first thing he heard in the morning was the high-pitched scream of a housemaid entering his bedroom?
"Major Horvāth!!! You are not up yet??"
"Obviously not," Janos Horvāth muttered. "Go away."
"But it is ten o'clock already, sir," the maid insisted. "Aren't you a bit late?"
"A bit, yes," Janos said. Only about two hours. Damn. Could not that stupid woman have screamed three hours earlier?
"Do you want any breakfast, sir," the maid asked him.
"No," he snapped. "I am quite fed up already."
Even a man about to starve would have lost his appetite on imagining what the Colonel, generally known as "The Old Fool", would do to Janos once he reached the barracks two hours late for an important staff meeting. In the back of his mind, Janos already tried to find an acceptable excuse. The old fool would want his head on a silver plate by now. The best thing for Janos to do would be to get someone to bury him, for the time being.
Janos managed to get dressed in record time, and was hurrying through the Viennese streets on his way to the barracks, his mind fully occupied with the problem at hand, when he suddenly realised that someone had hailed him from the other side of the street. He stopped short and looked about him, but could not for the life of him recognise a familiar face. There it was again, only this time Janos noticed who had been calling his name. A vaguely familiar looking man was hurrying towards him, his hands extended to greet him. Janos tried to recall where he could have met that gentleman before, but without success. He thought it safest to bid the man good morning and let him proceed. Sooner or later in the conversation there would be a clue as to the man's identity, Janos was pretty certain about that.
"I did not know you were stationed in Vienna, Horvāth, although I did know that you had joined the Army. You do look good, I have to say. Tell me, how are you?"
Janos informed the man that he was feeling quite well, politely refraining from asking the most pressing question, "Who the hell are you?"
"It has been some time since the old days at school," the man continued. "I have not been in Vienna ever since ... in fact I am quite amazed that you remember me still."
Janos suppressed a grin. Quite amazed, indeed. Fine. Let's see. School. Vienna. Does that ring a bell? School? Vienna? ... GRUM?
"We used to be a mischievous lot back then, weren't we," Janos said. If that was really Grum, he would certainly agree -- their pranks had been legendary.
"We definitely were," the man replied. "Remember when we put valerian oil on Father John's window sill?"
"I suppose the whole neighbourhood still remembers that night," Janos said with a grin. A whole neighbourhood of howling cats, and no one knew why those blasted animals had suddenly gone mad...this had been just one of the famous pranks of Horvāth & Grum, certainly still fondly remembered by their former teachers.
"Things were getting rather boring once you were gone," Grum said. "Not much fun for those you left behind."
Janos looked at his watch. It was a depressing picture. "I am really sorry, Grum, but I am in a hurry," he said. "What do you say to a meeting somewhere in the afternoon to talk about the good old days? Too bad I cannot stay now, but duty calls. It is already yelling at me, in fact."
"Meeting in the afternoon? That is fine with me," Grum said. "Five o' clock? The old place?"
The old place was a café on the Graben, a well-known place, though not usually frequented by Janos. With a curt nod, Janos indicated his approval and took his leave, bracing himself for an encounter with an irate Colonel.
"Where have you been, Horvāth?" the Colonel asked Janos, in a voice more calculated for a battlefield than a stuffy office. "There is one thing an officer should never do, Horvāth, he should never forget his duty so far as to turn up late! What if that meeting had been important?"
Ah, so the meeting had not been important? Interesting to know...
"But I always knew you were a good-for-nothing, right from the start, Horvāth. I have an excellent knowledge of human nature, no one can fool me. You joined the Army because you thought it was fun, right, and were determined to have as much fun as possible, if necessary at the cost of others! I know you, and I've half a mind to lock you up for a while, only I know it will not help in the least. It would only give you an opportunity to laze about even more, while others would have to get your work done! Off you go now, I am sure you have got something to do! I want that report of yours on my desk at 1500 sharp, do you understand?"
Janos, who had been standing attention with a motionless face and waiting for the moment when the Colonel's voice would finally give out, saluted.
He managed to leave the Colonel's office without either slamming the door or turning back and slapping the old fool's face. He made his way to the office he shared with Captain Lazar, trying to figure out if he had -- ever before -- been late for duty. According to his memory, he had not, and his memory was extremely reliable, in general.
"Good morning," Lazar greeted him with an ironical smile. "Been in trouble, have you?" His face wore a smug "better him than me" expression. Lazar was the most hated man in the whole platoon, second only to the Colonel himself. It was a well-known fact that everything one said to Lazar would go on straight to the Colonel before twenty-four hours had gone by. The Colonel was Lazar's father-in-law, which had probably saved the man from the firing squad. As a soldier, Lazar was no good. Worse than no good. A fourteen-year-old scullery maid would have made a better soldier than Lazar.
"It was to be expected, was it not, Lazar?" was all that Janos said in reply to Lazar's provoking questions. The less one talked to such people, the better it was.
"You ought to get yourself a wife, you know," Lazar said. "She would make sure you got to the barracks in time."
Yours would, Janos thought. I suppose she is quite happy to be rid of you for the day. I bet she is in church by now, begging the Lord on her knees to make you forget your way home.
"I will ask for your advice when I need it, Lazar," he said coldly. "Right now, I have got work to do. The Colonel made a particular point of seeing my report at 1500 hours, so if you will excuse me..."
Lazar could have prevented the uproar by discreetly sending someone round to fetch him, as a decent fellow like Hertenberg would have done, but Lazar was not decent. He had probably jumped at the chance to discredit Janos once more, and had made a particular point of informing the Colonel that Major Horvāth was not on time. Lazar still resented that Janos had been promoted to the rank of Major while he had not. Well, the General might be foolish sometimes, but he was not mad. No one with brains would promote Lazar.
Janos pretended to search the shelf for his report -- which was right there before his eyes, as he knew. However, having to search for an important report would keep him from having to talk to Lazar, who obviously wanted to know what had happened in the Colonel's office. If Lazar wanted to know whether his intrigues had worked, he would have to ask his father-in-law. Janos would not tell him a thing.
Having "found" the file containing the all-important piece of work, Janos sat down at his desk, pretending to work on it. It was nearly finished, actually it only needed proof-reading, but Janos would make sure that the Colonel would get the report at 1500 hours and not a minute earlier. While trying to look busy, Janos remembered the old school days with Grum. That scene with the Colonel had strongly reminded him of these days -- all one needed to do was replace a fat old soldier with a fat old monk, and voilā. Even their vocabulary had been remarkably similar. Father John would certainly have agreed with the Colonel on the fact that Janos was no good, lacking in discipline and principles, and that he would meet with a terrible fate one day.
At the age of ten, Janos had been sent to school in Vienna. His uncle had decided that he had no wish to be burdened with his brother's son any longer, and that the boy could do with some "proper schooling" anyway. The school had been a highly praised institution run by monks, which had added to the place's excellent reputation.
"What the boy needs is a well-founded, classical education," Aunt Erszebet had said. Janos had, by that time, not quite known what a classical education would include, but after only one week in school he had strongly suspected that "classical" was just another word for "incredibly boring".
The lessons had mainly consisted of Mathematics, Latin, Greek and more Religion
than he would ever need in his life. Janos had liked Mathematics, but as for
Latin and Greek...
"If Latin is a dead language, why don't they bury it, for Christ's sake?" he had once asked Father John in one of his fits of rising temper. Which had resulted in his being locked up in the cellars once again for "using profanity".
The cellars had been the place where Janos had spent a great deal of time in those years between his tenth and fourteenth birthday. Father John, his Latin and Religion teacher, had become his sworn enemy, and had tormented Janos whenever he had had the chance to. This had, of course, worked both ways -- Janos had teamed up with a boy who had been another regular victim of Father John's fury, Jakob Grum, and that was when the fun had started. They had repaid every bit of unkindness with a prank of some sort, and though Father John had known it had been them, he had only rarely been able to prove it. Those pranks had kept Janos sane, in a way, and had helped him develop his tactical skills -- which had come in useful more than once ever since.
Unfortunately, it had also earned him quite a reputation among the teachers. "Horvāth and Grum" had become a simile for "up to no good", and whenever something extraordinary had happened in school, they had been blamed for it -- though most of the teachers had thought that "poor Grum was just tricked by Horvāth". As if. Grum had been just as involved in the planning of mischief as Janos had been.
Finally, the monks had asked Janos' uncle to remove Janos from their school, to "spare him the humiliation of being expelled", and had suggested his further education to take place in military school, where strict discipline would, perhaps, make a useful man out of him. This had been one of the happiest days in his life, but once Janos had left his old school, he had lost touch with his old school friends. He had made new ones, of course, but had quite forgotten about Grum and the others. It was sad, really, once one thought of it.
Janos found Grum already waiting for him in the café when he arrived. It was quite impossible not to see him, Grum had got up from his seat and waved excitedly the moment he had seen Janos approach the place.
"How are you doing," he asked Janos, the moment he had taken a seat.
"Rather well, thank you," Janos said with a smile, and turned to the waiter to place his order. Then he asked Grum, "What about you?"
"The same," Grum answered. "I took over my father's business two years ago, and everything is going well. Got married last year. Are you married?"
Janos laughed. "No, I am not. We Horvāths are not made for marriage."
"Nonsense," Grum said.
"It is true. There has not been a single happy marriage in my family in the last three generations." Why was everyone trying to get him married lately, Janos thought. In order to change the topic, he said, "What brings you to Vienna, Grum? The Congress?"
"No, not really." Grum smiled. "Actually, it was my wife's idea. She has a cousin who is pretty high up in one of the ministries, and his letters have given her the impression that one simply has to be in Vienna at the moment, or one will miss some once-in-a-lifetime chances. Now, I thought I could do with a break, and besides that cousin of hers can introduce me to important people, which might help me along with my business, so here I am."
"When did you arrive?" Janos asked.
"Friday last week," Grum said. "It was a rather long journey from Marburg to Vienna, as you can imagine. I am glad we mean to stay here for a couple of months, I would not want to travel the same way back soon."
"I can imagine," Janos said. He had seen worse than a journey in a comfortable carriage from Marburg to Vienna, but well ... "Where are you staying?"
"We have found some very decent lodgings in Annagasse," Grum said. "My wife is still in the process of moving in, but she intends to invite some friends as soon as everything is ready. May I count on your coming to see us, too? My acquaintance in Vienna is not that large yet, you may probably get bored, but it would really mean a lot to me if you did."
"Of course I will come, if you think me respectable enough to be introduced to your wife," Janos said with a grin. "When is the great event going to take place?"
"Some day this week," Grum said. "I will let you know in time."
All in all, the day had not been as bad as it had started, Janos thought when he finally made his way home. True, there had been the Colonel, but the old fool was nasty at all times, and years of practice had made Janos get used to his foul temper. Meeting Jakob Grum again after all those years, however, had definitely been a good thing, and had made up for those bits of inconvenience the day had held in store for him.
So Janos was in a rather good mood when he arrived at home, which happened rarely. Since his sister's death, Janos had not much liked the Viennese home of his family. He had been there when he had received her last letter -- that alone had made him dislike the place. But not only the house put a damper on Janos' spirits -- his mother also had something to do with it. Since Ilona's death, Mrs. Horvāth had become so protective of her son that he had preferred to be stationed somewhere at the far end of the empire. His mother's behaviour had been more than he had been able to take, especially since he knew facts about his sister's death that he would never let his mother know.
Janos had been quite happy with these arrangements, him being stationed in Esztergom, and his mother staying in Vienna -- only, lately someone had thought that more officers were needed in Vienna, and Janos had been sent back. Bad luck -- because the moment he had arrived in the old family home, his mother had taken up her task again. The only way to escape had been to work a lot and to take up residence in one of the Viennese coffee houses during his hours of leisure. Janos made sure to spend most of his days there, to avoid his mother's company as much as possible.
However, he knew that he had to do his duty as a son, and therefore he had supper with his mother every day, listening to her gossip, and hoping that it might cheer her up in a way. Occasionally he took her out to the opera, or accompanied her to dinners at her friends'. Janos was unable to do more for her, though he felt bad about it.
"You are rather late," Mrs. Horvāth said to her son when he entered the dining room. "I was already worrying the soup would get cold, and you know what happens to meat when it has to be kept in the oven for too long."
"I am sorry, Mother," Janos said, kissing his mother's cheek and sitting down facing her. "I met an old school friend -- quite a surprise that was, I had not expected to meet him -- and you know what it is like. I am afraid I quite forgot about the time."
"Martha told me you were late this morning. I hope there has not been any trouble?"
"None at all, I assure you," Janos said. Why worry his mother with his concerns?
"You will never guess who came to call on me today," Mrs. Horvāth said. Janos smiled. You will never guess usually meant that he was actually supposed to make a guess.
"Who? Uncle Horvāth?"
"No. Your uncle is still in Hungary, and I do not believe he will come to Vienna this Christmas."
This sounded like good news. Janos had nothing against Uncle Horvāth, had he
not, in his youth, made the terrible mistake of marrying a lady who was nearly
as frightening as a dragon. More frightening. One could fight dragons, but what
was a man to do with his aunts?
So, sorry as Janos was that he was not going to see Uncle Horvāth any more that year, his satisfaction at being spared Aunt Erszebet's presence during the Christmas holidays outweighed the evil by far.
"It was your brother-in-law. Count Bāthory."
The mention of this name nearly made Janos choke on his soup. What the hell did that man want? He had visited them in their box at the opera the other day, which had been bad enough, but what made him think that any of the Horvāths would ever want to be on friendly terms with him again? After all he had done to Ilona? Suddenly, Janos had lost his appetite. He carefully put down his spoon next to his plate -- when the name "Bāthory" was mentioned in his presence, even that spoon might turn into a dangerous weapon -- and asked, in a carefully measured, yet threatening tone, "What did he want?"
"I thought I'd let you know after supper," Mrs. Horvāth said.
"If you thought so, why did you mention it now? Tell me, what did he want?"
Mrs. Horvāth sighed. "He invited us to dine with him."
"He did what?" Janos only realised that he had been shouting when he saw his mother's shocked expression.
"He invited us to dine with him," she repeated.
"You refused to come, I hope," Janos said in a tone that left no doubt as to his opinion on that matter.
"Actually, I accepted the invitation," Mrs. Horvāth said, "and I was hoping that you would do likewise."
"What made you hope for such an absurd thing?" Janos asked. "Not even ten horses could drag me across the threshold of that house of his, as you well know."
"I know you have never liked Count Bāthory," Mrs. Horvāth said. "But do you not think it is time to let bygones be bygones?"
Janos rose from his seat. He did not trust himself to stay in the same room with his mother for much longer. Let bygones be bygones, indeed.
"Where are you going," Mrs. Horvāth asked him, suddenly alarmed.
"Out," Janos answered.
He left the house, and headed for his favourite coffee house. Every man needed a refuge, and the coffee house was his.
Another family were sitting at the table having supper at that moment, though the atmosphere in their house was much more relaxed and friendly than in the Horvāths'.
Jakob Grum was eating with evident gusto, and was listening to his wife's account of the day she had had. Julija Grum was a pretty, good-natured young woman with an inclination to enjoy herself, whatever she did. She had a talent for making the best of every situation, and never complained if things did not work out the way she had wanted them to.
"We went out shopping today, Lina and I," she said. Karlina, or Lina, as she was called by all the family, was Jakob's sister. She had joined the couple on their trip, because, as Julija had pointed out, a young lady of Lina's age ought to see the world, and might as well start doing so by going to Vienna.
"Did you find yourselves something nice, then," Jakob asked.
Julija sighed happily. "Too much, I am afraid. It took me ages to decide -- I am in love with Vienna already. It was such a good idea of you to take us here, Jakob."
Jakob refrained from mentioning that it had, in fact, been Julija's idea, and only said that he was happy to see his wife and sister enjoying themselves so much.
"We did spend a great deal of money," Julija admitted. "I hope you do not mind."
"Were you still able to pay for our supper?" Jakob asked, with a smile.
"Of course I was! It was only -- when we saw those elegantly-dressed ladies in the streets, we felt like wallflowers, didn't we, Lina, and we had to do something about that. I would not wish for you to be ashamed of us, my dear."
"You can be pretty certain, Julija, that I see no reason for being ashamed of you," Jakob said. "As to clothes, you know I cannot tell one gown from the other."
Julija did know, and it was one of the few things that bothered her about her husband. Yet, he was so kind and generous as a rule that it was hard to resent this one fault in his character.
"I hope you had a nice day, as well," she said. "Did you go and meet Anton?"
Anton was Julija's cousin, and Jakob had been to see him early in the morning.
"I did," Jakob said. "And guess what, I ran into one of my old school friends in the street. Horvāth -- do you remember, Lina, I am sure I told you a great deal about him?"
"Your school days were a long time ago," Lina said with a smile, "and even though you told me about your friends then, I am afraid they are the same to me as Julija's gowns are to you. I can hardly tell one from the other."
"But you must remember Horvāth," Jakob said. "He used to be my best friend."
Lina shook her head. "I am sorry to disappoint you, Jakob, but this name does not sound at all familiar to me."
"Oh...well, never mind, you will meet him before long," Jakob replied. "I have invited him to dine with us -- whenever it should be convenient for you, Julija, I have not invited him for any particular evening."
"I was planning to invite a few people for the day after tomorrow," Julija said calmly. "Feel free to invite your friend, too. I am looking forward to meeting him. Tell me, what is Mr. Horvāth like?"
"A fine, dashing fellow," Jakob said. "He joined the Army, you have to know, and is a Hussars Major by now. I guess the ladies are quite wild about him."
Lina laughed. "In that case, I suppose he will be awfully conceited," she said. "Whenever a man thinks the ladies feel attracted to him, his pride in himself rises to heights totally unknown to him before."
"Horvāth does not look like that sort of fellow to me," Jakob said. "Why do you not have a good look at him the day after tomorrow and tell me what you think of him afterwards? It is hardly fair to judge him before you have met him."
Lina agreed with her brother, and the topic was laid aside for the time being, to be taken up again when Lina had had the opportunity to form her opinion of Major Horvāth.
The next day, Jakob duly sent an invitation to his friend Horvāth and received, in return, an eager acceptance. Jakob was very much looking forward to that evening, even more so now that his old friend would be there, too. He had nothing against Julija's cousin, only he thought Anton Straub a bit of a bore.
Janos had accepted his friend Grum's invitation even more willingly because the dinner happened to be on the same evening as Bāthory's. Now he would be able to end the discussion as to whether to join his mother or not. A prior engagement was a prior engagement, not even Mrs. Horvāth would argue about that.
She did not argue. "Why did you not tell me so in the first place, instead of running off and staying out all night," she simply asked indignantly. Janos refrained from commenting on that. In a way he could understand his mother, after all, she did not know that it had been Bāthory who had been to blame for most of the misery she had felt in those past two years. Yet, sometimes Janos doubted his mother's sanity, he really did. It could hardly have escaped her notice that Ilona had been extremely unhappy in her marriage, and since one could hardly blame Ilona alone for that, her mother ought to have had a different opinion of her son-in-law. Apparently Bāthory's charm still worked -- at least with his mother-in-law.
Janos arrived at his friend's house in Annagasse a bit early. He had not wanted to stay at home any longer, watching his mother preparing for an evening with Bāthory. Jakob Grum received him courteously, apologising for the ladies being not quite ready yet.
In order to pass their time until the ladies would join them, Grum challenged him to a game of billiards, a challenge that Janos was only too happy to accept.
"I did not know you were fond of billiards, too," he said.
"I am not," Grum said, smiling. "But I know you used to be."
"Still you have a billiard room in your house," Janos said.
Grum laughed. "That was not my doing. I rented the place furnished, you know. You do not seem to have learned much in all those years, as far as billiards are concerned," he added when he saw Janos make his first shot. "Hopefully you are better at aiming with your pistols."
"Do you want to give it a try," Janos asked with a grin.
"Was that a challenge to a duel?"
"No. I try to refrain from murdering my friends, if I can help it." Janos answered. "It does give one a nasty reputation."
They played for about a quarter of an hour, when a servant came in and asked Grum to come to the drawing room. His wife was quite anxious for his presence when the guests would arrive, which would happen any moment.
Grum looked at Janos. "Seems we will have to defer our game till some more convenient time," he said. "It is time for you to meet my two ladies."
Mrs. Grum welcomed Janos warmly, expressing her sincere pleasure to finally meet the friend of whom her husband had spoken so often, and of whom her husband seemed to have such a good opinion. Janos liked her at once.
The first impression Janos had of Miss Grum was not exactly favourable. Miss Grum was, without doubt, one of the giggly sort -- on seeing him, she had turned to her sister-in-law, had whispered something to her and had started to smile in a rather impertinent manner. Some of his sister's friends had been like that, and Janos decided he would deal with Miss Grum the way he had dealt with them. He would limit the conversation to a few polite, but meaningless phrases, and would take care not to show the least interest in her person. Thus, he would get over the evening pretty well and would leave her convinced that Major Horvāth was remarkably dull. Which was a pity, since she was rather pretty, coming to think of it.
Lina had to admit that her brother had been right in one respect. Major
Horvāth was definitely good-looking, and she regretted that he had not dressed
in his uniform for this occasion. Certainly, for some women that would
make him irresistible. Still, there was something about him that Lina did not
like at all -- his pointed indifference to her and her company. She had met with
gentlemen who had flirted with her the moment they had seen her, and she had
met some who had been on the verge of incivility when dealing with her, only
associating with her because she was part of the deal when they visited her
brother. She had been able to deal with both sorts, but Major Horvāth left her
quite at a loss. If he had not wanted to come, why had he? If he did not want
to talk to her, why did he bother? Was that sort of behaviour what he called
civility? He was civil, fine, but that was about all he was. There was
nothing in the least interesting about this man, and Lina found it hard to
understand that such a person had been her brother's best friend at school. She
would have thought Jakob to have better taste. Perhaps Major Horvāth had
changed since then ... could a lively boy grow up to be such a bore? Stranger
things had happened.
Try to be friendly, but not too friendly, and get over this dinner as soon as possible, Lina thought. It seemed that pure boredom was all this evening had to offer. Hopefully their circle of friends in Vienna would grow fast. She was not really content with what she had already seen in that respect. Julija's cousin was a bore, quite unlike his relation, and Major Horvāth was...
"So, what do you think of him?" Jakob asked, quietly.
"Whom," Lina said, pretending not to have understood her brother's question.
"Whom? Horvāth, of course."
"I did not think it would take me such a short time to determine, Jakob," she said. "I am sorry to say so, but I think him quite insipid. Really -- he hardly talked, and when he did, he sounded as if he was reading his remarks from a guidebook for polite conversation. Julija has seated me next to him at the dinner table ... how am I to stand two entire hours in his company? You must rescue me, Jakob, if you can."
Jakob gave a short, good-natured laugh. "I am pretty certain you will not need to be rescued, Lina. As you said, you have hardly talked to each other yet. Give him a fair chance, will you?"
A fair chance? In her opinion, Lina had given Major Horvāth a fair chance right at the beginning; only he had made no use of it. She did not see why she should try to be friends with a man who was so obviously not interested.
Janos was rather pleased with himself. So far, he had managed to be as dull and uninteresting as one could be. On the whole, Miss Grum seemed to be a good-natured girl, and not disinclined to talk, either, but the problem was that Janos just did not want to spend a whole evening talking about muslins and gossip. He'd rather not talk at all, if he could help it. When it came to boredom, he had a certain "better them than me" attitude.
When they went into the dining room Janos realised that his trials were not at an end yet. Mrs. Grum had seated him next to Miss Grum, so he would have to play his part for a bit longer. Fine, he would play it so well that Miss Grum would not care for his company afterwards.
As far as his plans were concerned, the dinner went very well. Miss Grum answered to his polite remarks politely, but did not seem to be inclined to talk any more than she had to. The suffering look that sometimes overshadowed her pretty face when she thought herself unobserved nearly made Janos feel sorry for her. But, for her sake, and for his own, he had to go through with it. No need to drop the mask now, his playacting had gone too far already.
Can you believe that man, Lina thought furiously. He annoyed her to no end, talking the way he did, but not caring for any of the answers she gave him. She might just as well have talked to a wall instead. Had it not been for her brother's sake, Lina would have given up speaking to Major Horvāth altogether. The more she saw of that man, the more she had to wonder what had made Jakob dote on his friend the way he obviously did. She could only account for this friendship by assuming that, in the years during which the two men had not met, something had happened to change Major Horvāth's character.
At one point of the conversation, however, Major Horvāth was suddenly alert. Jakob had mentioned that he was planning to buy a horse for his wife and sister. Although Jakob had made this remark to Cousin Anton, Major Horvāth asked, "Where do you want to buy one?"
Jakob said he did not know yet, but that he was planning to have a look round first.
Lina noticed how the Major's expression had changed from indifference to lively interest in an instant.
"If I can give you one piece of advice, Grum, do not buy anything they call a horse on the Viennese market. I do not know what those animals are, but to me some of them look as if they were crossbreeds between a mule and an ox."
"I thought mules cannot breed," Lina said before she could stop herself.
Major Horvāth gave her a surprised look, and then he smiled. "Neither can oxen, Miss Grum, but if they could, their offspring would look exactly like something certain Viennese dealers refer to as horses."
His smile was of a sort Lina could not resist. One had to smile back. Why had he not resorted to that earlier on? She had to reconsider her opinion of Major Horvāth. He did seem to have some kind of humour.
"So, what kind of horse would you suggest," she asked him, smilingly. "No doubt you are going to tell me that a nice, quiet, docile mare will be the best choice for me. "
He gave her a penetrating look, and then he answered, more earnestly, "No, I do not think so. Nice, perhaps, if friendly is what you mean, but quiet and docile -- never. Such an animal would bore you, to be sure. Something with a fiery temper would suit you much better."
"We are still talking about horses, are we?" Jakob said, with a grin and a wink at his sister that made her nearly furious. She felt the colour rise in her cheeks and hoped to God that Major Horvāth would not notice it.
"Of course," Major Horvāth said in reply to Jakob's improper remark. "I only talk about things I am familiar with." He looked at Lina and appeared to have noticed her mortification, but turned to her brother again instantly. "Anyway, if you need any help in purchasing a horse, Grum, tell me so. I shall be glad to be of assistance."
Then he changed the subject, and Lina was glad that, for the time being, no one paid her any particular attention. She needed the time to calm herself, and to rethink her opinion of the Major.
The moment Janos had taken part in Grum's conversation about horses he knew he had made a fatal tactical mistake. How could he convince Miss Grum that he was extremely boring and not interested in anything anyone said if he took such lively interest in her brother's affairs? Janos swore an inward oath that he would, on future occasions, hold his tongue whenever the topic of horses would be raised. Except when there was a young lady present who was not at all interested in horses. Or when he had to join the conversation to oblige his guests. Or any other occasion. He could only hope that Miss Grum was not interested in horses, otherwise his shield of assumed indifference would crumble any moment.
Unfortunately, she seemed to be interested. Blast. And she even smiled at him. What had he done to deserve this? He had to commend her on being cleverer than he had thought her at first. She did have something to say, certainly, only he had not given her the chance to do so, not yet. Hopefully he had not made too bad an impression ... what the hell are you thinking, Horvāth? Why should you mind? That was what you wanted, so stop whining, will you?
He could have slapped Grum for his highly inappropriate remark. With a quick glance at Miss Grum Janos noticed how she blushed, and decided that something ought to be done to help her get over her embarrassment. He owed her a favour. Two favours, even, if not more, for having behaved the way he had. So he began to lead Grum away from the topic of horses, and talked about the old school days instead. That was a safe enough subject for a company including ladies, and it might amuse them to hear of Horvāth and Grum's exploits.
When the ladies left the dining room a few minutes later, Janos even felt sorry that they should, but scolded himself at once for doing so. What had come over him? Have you left your brains at home or what, Horvāth?
"Lina, can you help me?" Julija asked her when they were alone in the drawing room. "I need to wind this yarn -- can you hold it for me, please?"
Lina complied readily, sat down opposite Julija and took the yarn into her hands.
"I must say I am quite pleased with your brother's new old friend," Julija said.
"Major Horvāth?" Lina asked. "I am afraid I barely know what to think of him. At first, I did not like him at all ... did you notice how he acted towards me all evening? Then, when he began to talk about horses, he was quite a different man. What is wrong with him? There are two sides to his personality, at least!"
Julija thought for a moment, and then she said, calmly, "Perhaps he is just shy."
"Shy? Hardly," Lina said.
"Think of it, Lina. The only time he really spoke up was when a topic sprung up that he felt comfortable with."
"He talked to everyone else with perfect ease, Julija, so I do not believe your theory for one moment."
"He already knows your brother, so naturally he sticks to him, while he keeps his distance from his new acquaintance. One always needs some time to warm up to strangers. Most likely he will change once he has seen us more often."
"He talked to you, did he not?"
"Oh yes, among other things he asked me the everyday questions that every new acquaintance has uttered those past two thousand years, and he complimented me on the dining room table decorations -- I told him that you had done them, and he seemed rather pleased with that. I would not really call that much of a conversation, Lina."
Lina had not seen it that way. It was true; Major Horvāth had spent most of his time talking to her brother, which was, as Julija had pointed out, only natural. In a large company of people she did not know she would probably do the same. She would not manage to be charming and amusing in surroundings that made her feel uncomfortable. Perhaps what Major Horvāth needed was more time. He had certainly proved that he could be amusing -- and very kind -- if he chose to. Hopefully he would choose to be so more often. The Major Horvāth she had seen tonight was not the sort of acquaintance she wished to go very far. The Major Horvāth that he could be ... it would be interesting to get to know him.
Janos did not stay much longer at his friend's house. He followed the other gentlemen and joined the ladies, but only for half an hour. The reason for this was not a disinclination to stay, but Janos knew that his mother would be at home, and he had a feeling that an evening in Bāthory's company would have made her miserable. It would remind her of those evenings when Ilona had still lived in that town house of his, organising dinners for her family and close friends that had, meanwhile, become legendary. The Bāthorys had looked like a perfect couple. No one, not even Janos, had noticed how unhappy Ilona had been. As a brother, he had been a complete failure.
It was just as Janos had foreseen. He found his mother already at home, sitting in the drawing room, crying, but trying to look composed the moment he entered.
"You are back already?" she asked, wiping away her tears with her left hand, and snatching her embroidery from her work table with the right one, attempting a smile. "Did you not enjoy yourself at your friend's?"
"Very much so, Mother," he said. "Is anything wrong?"
"Nothing. It is only ... to see Ilona's home again ... for the first time since she died ... I guess that was a bit too much for me."
"I told you that dinner at Bāthory's would not do you good, Mother, but you would not listen."
"He said he wanted to get rid of Ilona's portrait."
"He said so to you?" Janos asked. It would certainly be Bāthory's style.
"No, he was not so unkind as to do so. But I heard him say so to the English colonel, what is his name? I tend to forget it every time..."
"That was his name, yes. Bāthory told him that he wished to leave the past behind him."
Of course he would say so, the bastard, Janos thought. It is us who have to live with his past.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, at least, seemed to be very interested in Ilona," Mrs. Horvāth said. "I could talk to him about her, which I thought was ever so kind of him, wasn't it? It was such a comfort."
Janos managed to nod. He went to the drinks cabinet and poured himself some brandy in order to have something to do and to hide his feelings. He should have killed Bāthory when he had had the chance to...
Would life ever be restored to what it had been before Ilona's death? For two years, Janos had tried to return back to normal, and for two years he had failed miserably. In the meantime, he had got accustomed to the thought that he would never be really happy again.
Even though Major Horvāth had left the Grums' house early, he remained a subject of conversation for the family.
"What a pleasant gentleman your friend is," Julija remarked to her husband when all the guests had left. "You should invite him more often, I quite like him."
"He has changed, though," Jakob said thoughtfully. "He has grown more earnest."
"You cannot expect a grown man to be the same as he was at fourteen. Something would be seriously wrong with him if he had not changed," Julija said, convincingly.
Jakob smiled. "You are right, as always, my dear," he said. "I trust a man will grow more earnest, especially a man in Horvāth's profession. Sometimes I see the old Horvāth shine through, and no doubt he will be back at the surface again some day. I am glad you like him, Julija."
"One cannot help but like him," Julija said.
Though Lina had listened to her brother and sister, she had not said a word. She, too, hoped that the "old Horvāth" that Jakob was so fond of would shine through more often, and she wished to be there when he did.
Janos was back in Györ. Only a few miles, and he would be there. He had been riding as if the Devil himself were after him, to make it in time ... he had to prevent Ilona from committing suicide, he had to talk her out of it, had to get her packing and take her home with him. He had to get at Bāthory and shoot him down like a rabid dog.
Suddenly he heard a sound in front of him, the hoof beats of another horse. Janos spurred his own animal, he knew that the horse he heard was Ilona's, and he had to make haste if he wanted to catch up with her. It was dark, and foggy, and the only sign of Ilona's presence were the hoofbeats of her horse. Then, the hoofbeats stopped, and instead Janos heard a splashing sound, as if someone were walking into water. Frantically, Janos stopped his horse, dismounted and ran into the direction where the sound came from. The fog and the dark did not allow him to see anything. Suddenly the splashing sound, too, stopped, and Janos knew what had happened. Ilona was gone, and he had not been able to save her. A feeling of utter loneliness and helplessness overcame him, and once again Janos woke up to find out that reality was by no means better than this nightmare.
"Why did you do this to me, Ilona," he sighed, got out of bed and dressed himself. He had learned that there was only one way to get rid of the feelings of panic and helplessness that these nightmares roused in him. He had to go for a walk, even if it was ... he looked at his pocket watch ... past three o'clock in the morning, and freezing cold into the bargain. Fresh air would release him of the choking sensation that had got hold of him during the dream.
Nightmares were nothing new to Janos, but they had become more frequent after Ilona's death, and had always been the same ever since, with only slight variations. He always set out to save her, and he always failed and had to stand by helplessly while Ilona died yet again. Sometimes he saw her, sometimes not, but the events were always the same.
In reality, events had not been quite as dramatic as that. In reality Ilona had already been dead when Janos had received her letter, though Janos had not believed it. He had left Vienna at once, determined to take his sister home with him, whether she liked it or not. All the way to Györ he had had hope ... until the moment when he had arrived at Bāthory's estate and the stablehands had told him that the Countess was gone. Strangely enough, the picture of Ilona as he had found her did not haunt Janos. That ... thing ... lying on the river bank had not been Ilona. By that time, Ilona had already been gone, Janos was sure about that. What did haunt him were the circumstances of her death, and his firm belief that he, Janos, might have been able to prevent it, had he known...
This was what his dreams were telling him, night after night.
The cold and the light of the moon and stars in this mid-November night, the quiet of the Viennese streets at this late hour, and his own movements brought Janos back to his senses. He'd better move more slowly, or some member of the Night Watch would think he was running away from some scene of crime or other, and suspicion was proof in this town.
Let bygones be bygones, he thought grimly. More easily said than done.
Janos returned home, let himself in, and retreated to his bed. Shortly after he had curled up under his duvet, he drifted off to sleep. Mercifully, there were no more dreams that night.
Of course, a night without proper sleep had its effects on Janos. Coming to think of it, it was a miracle that he had, so far, overslept only once. Shaving was quite a hazardous affair in such a state, but realising that he had faced worse dangers than cutting his own throat with a razor, Janos proceeded with his early morning tasks, seriously considering the employment of a gentleman's gentleman. It would be convenient sometimes, certainly, but Janos despised men who depended too much on others, and did not wish to become one of them. Besides, years of soldiering had taught Janos never to trust anyone near his throat with a blade.
Von Hertenberg had once asked Janos why he had not asked for a private as his personal attendant, after all every officer was entitled to have one. "Not every private is a Novacek," Janos had said, and this had silenced von Hertenberg, as there was no way of denying the inevitable. Yet, such a disaster as the other day's would not have happened, had Janos had a Novacek to wake him. He decided to have a word with Captain Kodaly from the Recruiting Office.
Before entering the breakfast parlour, Janos sent a footman to the stables to have his horse brought to the front door by the time he had finished his meal. Turul would certainly be as much in need of fresh air and exercise as Janos was.
His mother seemed to have recovered from her distress, and greeted Janos
with a smile.
"Did you sleep well," she asked him, and Janos, feeling that a truthful answer would worry her, told her that he had, indeed, slept very well.
"Are you going to order any flowers today," he asked her in an offhand manner.
"I was planning to do so, " Mrs. Horvāth said with a wistful look at the withering blossoms in the vase on the cupboard.
"Could you do me a favour and send a bouquet to Mrs. Grum in Annagasse?" Janos asked. "You know me and my talent for finding the most inappropriate present for such an occasion."
"I do," Mrs. Horvāth said. "If I left you to your own devices you would send her a bunch of red roses and alarm her husband to the highest degree."
"What is wrong with red roses," Janos asked.
"Nothing, if you send them to the woman you intend to marry," Mrs. Horvāth replied calmly. "And Mrs. Grum is not the one, I am sure."
Janos, taking a mental note to himself to never send red roses to any young lady, just to be on the safe side, agreed with his mother and assured her that he trusted her taste entirely. He had just finished his thank-you note to be delivered along with the flowers when a servant came to inform Janos that his horse was ready for him.
Turul was not just a horse. Turul was Janos' baby, in a way. He had known Turul ever since that beautiful black stallion had been a colt, and Janos was about the only person -- besides Lajos, the stablehand who looked after him -- Turul allowed to get near enough to touch him. When his master was with him, Turul was a remarkably manageable horse. As soon as Turul lost sight of Janos, however, he had the Devil's own temper. This had, probably, been the reason why Uncle Horvāth had given this horse to his nephew in the first place.
Janos got into the saddle and told Lajos that he would be back in about an hour. He tried to keep to this time limit, usually, and it was important to have one. Otherwise he would probably just forget to turn back. Only flying could be more beautiful than riding Turul -- and no one would want to give up something as beautiful as that if one did not have to.
But there was the appointment with von Hertenberg at the fencing hall, and after that Colonel Polgār would want to talk to Janos about that report. That was nothing to look forward to -- Janos had found out about several "irregularities" in Lazar's bookkeeping, and it was quite impossible for the Colonel to ignore them. Even without having spoken to the Colonel yet, Janos knew who would be blamed for it. Major Horvāth was Lazar's commanding officer, Major Horvāth would get the blame. An hour of horse riding would help Janos to get the clear head he needed for such a discussion.
"So, what was your evening like yesterday," von Hertenberg asked Janos when they had finished their training. "Is your friend still what you remember him to be?"
"In some ways he is, in some ways he is not," Janos said. "It is certainly strange to see him with his family, it adds a different perspective to my knowledge of him."
"His family? Wife and children?" von Hertenberg asked.
"No children. Grum is here with his wife and sister," Janos answered.
"Who? The wife or the sister?"
"Any of them," von Hertenberg said with a grin.
"They are both pretty, each in her own way," Janos said. "Especially Miss Grum."
"Aha," von Hertenberg said.
"What do you mean with aha," Janos asked angrily.
"Nothing. Just aha. I would like to meet Miss Grum -- she is the first woman I know of that you talk about with such praise ... especially pretty..."
"Is there a plot going on or something of that sort," Janos asked suspiciously.
"A plot to get me married. Everyone seems to be doing that lately. Lazar, my mother, and now you. I am not going to do you the favour, you know. I am not made for marriage."
"Horvāth family tradition. There has not been a single happy marriage in my family for ages. I would only make my wife miserable if I married, and I would not want to do that to anyone I care for. As to marrying someone I do not care for, that is out of the question. I would never sink so low as that. You see," Janos added with a smile, "I am a hopeless case."
"And proud of it, I know," von Hertenberg said. "Yet, if referring to your host's sister makes you think of marriage, even in a negative way, there must be something to her. This requires further investigation, I say."
"Spare yourself the trouble, von Hertenberg," Janos said." She may be pretty, but she is not my type."
"Can you already tell?"
"I can usually tell by the very first glance, yes," Janos said. "If the first thing a woman does when she sees me is whisper something to her sister and laugh, she cannot be my type. I hate that giggly sort."
"Because they make you feel awkward, I suppose," von Hertenberg said dryly.
"Awkward? ME? I never feel awkward in company, you know that."
"I know that you never show it if you do," von Hertenberg said with a grin. "Are you going to join me for a drink?"
"I wish I could," Janos said apologetically, "but I cannot. I have an appointment with the Old Fool."
"Polgār? What does he want?"
"I suppose it is about that report of mine," Janos said. "The expenses Lazar has claimed but not proved."
Von Hertenberg whistled. "Sounds like serious business to me," he said. "Take care of yourself. Polgār is quite capable of placing the blame on you. You should have sent a copy of your report to the General, just to be sure."
"I am not as stupid as I look," Janos said. "I have sent him a copy."
Lina and Julija returned from their shopping trip, the footman laden with parcels and boxes. Finally, their wardrobe would contain garments "fit to be seen in Vienna", as Julija chose to express herself. They were just busy unpacking their parcels and marvelling at the purchases again when there was a knock at the door and the maid entered the drawing room, carrying a basket with the most exquisite arrangement of hothouse flowers Lina had ever seen.
"These flowers have just arrived for you, Ma'am," the maid said and handed the basket to Julija.
"Have you ever seen such beautiful flowers," Julija exclaimed happily and sent the maid to fetch a suitable vase. "So very kind!"
"Who sent them," Lina asked. Someone able to afford such flowers at this time of year...
"I do not know..." Julija began. "Oh, wait! Here is a note!" Julija opened the letter, read it, and gave it to Lina, who had been curious to know who had sent the letter, but had not wanted to ask.
this is just a poor means of thanking you for your warm welcome and kind hospitality of yesterday evening. I do hope you will accept this small offering and that it is to your taste.
"This friend of your brother's pleases me more and more, Lina," Julija said. "Such a man! I do wonder why he is not married -- such kindness, such charm, such looks, and such taste ... quite extraordinary!"
"There must be something wrong with him then," Lina said with a smile. "Since Major Horvāth is not married, despite his looks, kindness and charm. As for his taste -- who says he chose the flowers himself? He might have asked his mother or sister to send them round -- or even his valet."
Julija laughed. "You seem to be more interested in the man than you care to admit, dear Lina, or you would not be so determined to find fault with him."
"Nonsense. I am just not disposed to praise him as highly as you do, after such a short acquaintance. But I do admit that it was very kind of him to send you these flowers, whether he chose them himself or not."
Janos had dreaded the interview with his Colonel more than anything else that day. In a way, he nearly felt sorry for the old fool. It was not easy for a man to find out that the fellow whom he had trusted enough to let him marry his daughter was, in all probability, a fraud.
"Do you have any proof for your accusations," the Colonel asked Janos.
"Enough proof to mention my suspicions in this report, sir," Janos answered calmly.
"My son-in-law has told me quite often that you wanted to get rid of him, Mr. Horvāth," the Colonel continued.
Janos tried to stay calm. Of course, Lazar would resort to this method if he could not get out of trouble in any other way. If anyone accuses you, you try to make them look bad. He would have been surprised, had Lazar not tried to avoid problems that way.
"I have had no reason to do so in the past, sir," he replied, "and if Mr. Lazar is able to prove his innocence, he is most welcome to stay where he is. I did not accuse him, sir, I mentioned his mistake in my report to give him a chance to clear his name. Had I suspected him to have done anything illegal, I would have insisted on a court-martial. Which would have been most unpleasant for both you and Mr. Lazar, sir."
"Are you trying to threaten me, Mr. Horvāth?"
"Not at all, sir."
"Listen, Horvāth, you will go through all these figures once again, with another officer to help you, someone unprejudiced. I will not take any action before the charge you lay on Captain Lazar has been confirmed by someone who is not known to be his enemy."
Lazar's enemy? As if that man had anything but enemies, Janos thought. But, well, just as the old fool wanted to have it...
"Is there anybody in particular that you have in mind, sir," Janos asked coldly.
"What about Captain Kodaly? He is in the Recruiting Office, so he can hardly have any prejudices against Captain Lazar."
"I shall ask Captain Kodaly, then, and together we shall work on the report once more, sir," Janos said. "Should Captain Lazar, in the meantime, wish to make a statement, or to show me the missing receipts, he is most welcome to do so. As I said before, I wish to settle this matter without much ado. Is there anything more you need, sir?"
Colonel Polgār shook his head. "Not at the moment, Major. You are dismissed."
Janos saluted and left, again withstanding the temptation to slam the door shut. At least now he had an excuse to go and see Kodaly and could, perhaps, introduce the topic of an attendant for himself.
"He wants me to help you," Captain Kodaly asked, disbelievingly.
"No, he wants you to find out that I am cheating," Janos said. "He said he wanted someone unprejudiced. Which means, someone to prove that I am wrong and Lazar is as faultless as an angel."
"Lazar is too stupid to have faults," Kodaly said.
"Stupidity is his greatest fault, you mean," Janos answered. "Anyway, will you do me the service and read this report with me?"
"Certainly. That will cost you something, though. Do you still have that excellent wine in your cellars?"
"Plenty of it," Janos replied, "and if you want some, just tell me so."
Kodaly grinned. "You know, there is a lady who is fond of Tokay wine..."
"Kodaly, I am not in the least interested in your love affairs, you know that."
"Simply because I know that once I have managed to remember the name of your present flame, you will already be head over ears in love with another. Just spare me the trouble, Kodaly, will you."
"But this time it is different, Horvāth, really. You should see her..."
Even without having seen the particular lady, Janos knew what she would look like. Kodaly's grandes amours always looked the same. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and they usually had an intimate connection with either the theatre or the opera. Kodaly was the most notorious womaniser in the whole regiment, which was quite an achievement. He changed his women as often as other men changed their shirts, or perhaps even more often than that. Apart from this, Kodaly was an amiable fellow, and an excellent officer. Only his turbulent love life had, so far, prevented him from being promoted. He had, at one point, been involved with a lady for whose affections the General had been his rival.
With an impatient movement of his hand, Janos interrupted Kodaly's ode to his beloved, and brought the conversation back to business. Kodaly promised to visit Janos in the evening to try his wine and to read the report with him, and he promised to have a look at the new recruits to see if there was anyone suitable to be Janos' attendant.
The next day was a Sunday. Lina went to St Stephen's just like the rest of the family, to hear the Sunday Mass. She wore one of her new Sunday dresses, and felt quite comfortable in it. For the first time, she felt equal to rival the Viennese ladies in terms of elegance.
There was a great deal to see in St Stephen's, so many people, some of them only known to her by name, and too important in Viennese society to ever take notice of a mere Miss Grum of Marburg. Yet seeing them provided Lina with some amusement.
The Mass finished and Lina left the church, losing her brother and sister-in-law in the crowd. She was therefore forced to stand outside the church doors and wait for them. While she was busy looking for her brother, Lina suddenly found herself addressed by Major Horvāth.
"Good morning Miss Grum! You are not here all by yourself, are you?" he asked, quite affably, she had to admit.
"No, I am waiting for my brother and sister," Lina answered, and asked him, anxiously, "Have you seen them?"
"I am afraid I have not, no. Have you lost them then?"
"Yes, I have," Lina said, feeling quite ashamed. Losing her brother while
going out of a church was not common, certainly. She would look like an
uncommon simpleton to him.
"So I thought I would just wait here outside the door," she said, crossly. "They are bound to come out sooner or later."
Major Horvāth agreed with her, and then said, smilingly, "Never mind, if they do not turn up soon, I will take you home. I cannot let you walk to Annagasse all by yourself."
A stout, elderly lady walked towards them and asked Major Horvāth what he was waiting for. He explained the matter to her and introduced Lina. The lady was Major Horvāth's mother. There was not much of a likeness between the two, Lina thought, at least not in their looks.
Major Horvāth offered to go and look for Jakob and Julija, while Lina was to stay there and wait for them with Mrs. Horvāth. Since Lina had not seen the least bit of her brother and sister-in-law yet and was beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable by then, she was quite happy to leave matters to the Major.
"Have you been in Vienna long, Miss Grum?" Mrs. Horvāth asked her after her son had walked away.
"No, Madam, not for long. We arrived here not yet two weeks ago."
"Do you have a large acquaintance here, Miss Grum?"
"Not really." Lina smiled nervously. Somehow she had a feeling as if Mrs. Horvāth wanted to draw information out of her, and she did not quite like that feeling.
She was glad when, a few minutes later, Major Horvāth returned with Jakob and Julija in tow. Introductions were made, and together they set out in the direction of the Horvāths' home, which was not far from St Stephen's. Mrs. Horvāth kept Julija busy with her questions and gossip, and the men seemed to be most absorbed in the discussion of a horse that Jakob had seen and wanted to buy for Julija.
Lina was surprised to see that the Horvāths' house was so grand; she had not expected them to be quite as rich as they obviously were. The Horvāths took their leave, and Lina and her family walked on to Annagasse.
"You know, I am quite curious to see that house from the inside," Julija said to Lina when they were walking upstairs to change their dresses. "What do you say, shall we call on Mrs. Horvāth tomorrow morning?"
Though Lina did not feel quite comfortable at the thought, she agreed with Julija. It would be a most proper thing to do, and maybe the Major would be at home, too. Angrily, Lina dismissed that thought. Why should he be at home, and why should she care whether he was or was not?
The next day, Lina found herself in front of the Horvāth house again, silently cursing Julija's curiosity. Somehow she was not certain whether Mrs. Horvāth would be so happy to receive them -- perhaps she would consider their visit a nosy intrusion, which it was, in a way. After all, Julija had only suggested this visit to be able to see the Horvāth house from the inside.
If Mrs. Horvāth had such an opinion of them, she did not show it. She received her young visitors kindly, introduced them to another friend of hers who was just calling on her, a certain Mrs. Schiller ("Just like the poet, Mrs. Grum, but not related"), and offered them coffee and cake for refreshment. "Those young ladies are much too thin nowadays," she said, looking accusingly at Lina, and Mrs. Schiller heartily concurred. "Besides, it is such a cold morning outside, one needs something to warm up, to be sure." She would have no opposition and ordered coffee and cake at once, which was the end to all protestations of just having left one's breakfast table.
Obviously, the two older ladies had been talking about the circumstances of Prince de Ligne's death, and once Lina and Julija were provided with enough refreshment to keep them busy all day, Mrs. Horvāth took up the subject again. She seemed to be familiar with all the particulars of the funeral and only too happy to share them with her friend.
While pretending to listen to Mrs. Horvāth's wisdom, Lina had a look round in Mrs. Horvāth's drawing room. It was a large, airy room, and elegantly furnished -- the sort of room that ought to be cosy, but was not. So many things were missing, little touches that gave a room the air of being inhabited. There was the pianoforte, for example -- no one could have played that instrument for ages, Lina thought. There were no music-sheets anywhere near it, and the whole corner where it was situated had a desolate look -- as if no one ever cared to get near the instrument. Yet, there must have been someone...
"Do you play the pianoforte, Miss Grum," Lina found herself addressed by Mrs. Horvāth. She realised that her inquisitive look into the direction of the piano had attracted her hostess' attention.
"I am not very good at it," Lina said quietly, trying to hide her embarrassment. "I like to listen to good music, but I have never been patient enough to learn to play very well myself. I always wanted to be a good piano player, but did not use much effort on practising."
"My daughter used to be very fond of playing," Mrs. Horvāth said, with a sad smile. "That instrument over there used to be hers. It died on the very same day as she did -- no one has touched it ever since. My son wanted to have it removed, but I kept it here as a token of remembrance. -- But now to something more pleasant. I was planning to invite some friends for tomorrow evening. Do you already have any plans, Mrs. Grum?"
Julija admitted that she had not.
"Would you care to come to dinner, then? Your husband and Miss Grum are, of course, included in the invitation."
Julija accepted the invitation, also on behalf of her husband, and asked whether there would be many guests at the dinner party.
"No, not many," Mrs. Horvāth said. "Mrs. Schiller and her husband and daughter will be here, and some friends of my son's. That is to say, I do not really know if they are his friends, but they are officers in the same regiment. Colonel Polgār and his family will be with us, and Captain Kodaly. Oh, and I invited Colonel von Hertenberg, too, but I do not know if he will be able to come. Do you know any of these people, Mrs. Grum?"
Julija said that she did not, but that she was looking forward to meeting them. Then she caught Lina's desperate look and decided that it was, finally, time to leave.
When Janos arrived at the barracks, a note from Captain Kodaly was already waiting on his desk. Lazar gave Janos an inquiring look, but knew better than saying anything more than his usual morning greetings. He had still not given Janos any receipts for his expenses, and Janos was pretty certain that there were no receipts in existence, either. Well, even if Colonel Polgār was not disposed to act against his son-in-law, the General would be. The missing sum was not so insubstantial as to pass unnoticed.
In his note, Captain Kodaly asked Janos to call on him at the Recruiting Office "at any time convenient". Janos remembered that Kodaly had promised to send him word as soon as he had found a recruit suitable for service as a personal attendant to Major Horvāth. Janos left the office, telling Lazar curtly that he would be back soon. He chose to ignore Lazar's question as to where he was going.
Someone ought to give that man some information on the realities of life, Janos thought. He's a Captain, I'm a Major. If anyone in here is entitled to ask any questions, it's me.
Janos found Kodaly in his office, and Kodaly gave him a piece of paper -- an order for a certain Ferenc Simon to "call at Major Horvāth's and ask for further instructions".
"What sort of man is that Private Simon?" Janos asked. "I do hope you have not sent me a total idiot."
"Simon is not exactly an idiot," Kodaly said, slowly. "He can be quite clever at times, actually. The only trouble with him is that he has never been on horseback before and, therefore, is quite useless in a cavalry regiment. In civilian life he used to be a tailor, so I guess he will be quite useful in looking after your clothes and stuff."
"A tailor," Janos said dryly. It really was a disgusting practice
to take men out of their civilian lives and make soldiers out of them, soldiers
that were of no use to anybody because their civilian profession had not
prepared them for the battlefield. What use was a tailor there?
"Tell him to pack his stuff and to call at my place."
"I have already told him so," Kodaly answered. "He should be on his way there by now."
Janos, realising that he had not prepared his mother for any such arrival, decided that he had to go home to warn her. It would only be fair to inform her that a new member of the household would arrive soon. Janos suppressed a grin. If he talked to his mother about new members of the household, she would certainly believe he had finally made up his mind to marry. No, he would have to use a different term to introduce Private Simon.
Janos arrived at the back entrance of his house just in time to find a young soldier arguing with a servant. The servant was obviously trying to send Simon away, while Simon insisted on seeing the Major, as he had orders to do so.
"The Major is not at home, sir," the servant said. "You will have to try again later -- he usually arrives around seven o'clock in the evening."
"Today being an exception," Janos said loudly. Both, the servant and Private Simon turned towards him, Simon standing attention at once, crying, "Private Simon reporting for duty, sir!"
"Easy, Private," Janos said. "Let us just get inside first, we do not want to be a show for our neighbours, do we?"
Simon looked very young. He could barely be a day older than eighteen, Janos thought. Janos' estimate was confirmed when he asked the young man some questions about his origins -- family, place, former employment. Simon was from Pest, where his father owned a shop. He had been apprenticed to a tailor in Buda, and just as he had finished his apprenticeship he had received the letter from the army, reminding him that he had to do his duty by his country.
"I did not know they wanted to put me in the Cavalry, though," Simon said. "I suppose they put me there because I am Hungarian. Why does everyone here think that just because I am Hungarian I must be good with horses?"
"Because we usually are," Janos said with a grin.
"Not me, sir," Simon said. "Really, I've tried. They sent me to the stables first, when they found out that I could not ride. But some of those horses are fierce brutes -- I received a kick more than once, I'm lucky to be still alive. It is not that I do not like horses, but obviously the horses do not like me."
"You will be safe here," Janos said, outwardly earnest but roaring with laughter inside. "I do not usually kick my servants. Only once or twice a day. When I am in a good mood."
Simon stared at him, not quite certain whether the Major was joking or not. He had met all sorts of people in the army already, and some of them really were in the habit of beating up their subordinates for the slightest reason. Janos realised that this young man was taking him seriously -- which was a good sign in a way, but not really desirable in this particular case.
"Never mind," he therefore said soothingly. "As long as you do your duty, you will have nothing to fear from me. I am quite humane, for a Major. Now, I need to be back at the barracks soon -- I will just arrange for some accommodation for you, and while I am gone, you can make yourself familiar with the house and its residents. But not too familiar -- there is no fooling around with housemaids in this house, do you hear?"
At dinner, Lina wished she had never gone with Julija to visit Mrs. Horvāth. There was no other topic all evening; it was Mrs. Horvāth this and that all the time. Julija was honoured that Mrs. Horvāth had accepted her as an acquaintance so readily, and felt truly grateful for it.
"It will be much easier for us to make friends in Vienna if someone like Mrs. Horvāth introduces us," she said to Jakob. "I am looking forward to dining at her place tomorrow evening -- it will be a chance to meet some interesting people. What did you think of Mrs. Schiller, Lina?"
"Not much, I am afraid," Lina answered. "She seems to be pleasant, but a bit too much interested in gossip, if you ask me."
"Every woman is interested in gossip, Lina, even you are. Do not deny it."
"If the gossip concerns people I know, perhaps," Lina said with a smile. "But no one I knew was mentioned this morning."
"Did you know Major Horvāth had a sister," Julija asked her husband.
"Of course I know that," Jakob answered, with a surprised look. "He got letters from her very often when we were at school. One sure way of getting him really angry was to tease him about them. I knew better than to do that, of course. Miss Horvāth married some man of consequence -- a count, I think. She must be Countess Something-or-other by now. Will she be there tomorrow?"
"I doubt it," Lina said. "Mrs. Horvāth told us that she was dead."
"Dead?" Jakob exclaimed, with an expression of shock. " Well, that explains why Horvāth is not quite himself any more, the poor fellow. He used to be so fond of his sister. Talked about her a lot -- now what was her name ... something starting with an I ... Ilona, that was it. Ilona Horvāth. I cannot remember her married name, though. She married a Count, I can distinctly remember that. I read the announcement of the marriage in the newspaper and thought how proud Horvāth must be of his sister. What a heavy blow her death must have been for him!"
For a few minutes, they all ate in silence, then Julija turned to Lina and asked her what she was going to wear at the Horvāths'.
"I have not thought about it yet," Lina answered.
"You should wear the ivory-coloured dress," Julija said. "It suits your complexion, you will look so sweet in it."
Somehow Lina could not quite get rid of the feeling that Julija wanted to make a match between her and Major Horvāth -- a thought that did not quite please her. Matchmaking was a disgusting business, in her opinion. Why could people not let destiny take its own course? If she were meant to marry one particular man, Fate would certainly do its work, without Julija Grum's help. Not that Lina had anything against Major Horvāth, but marry him? Not really.
The evening started well. Lina had put on the ivory-coloured dress to please Julija, but had refused to have a string of pearls woven into her hair -- enough was enough. A flower or two in her hair and her cameo on a gold chain would be enough ornament for a dinner party.
Julija was satisfied with the way Lina looked, she expressed her admiration and assured Lina that all those young gentlemen at the party would be charmed with her.
Even Jakob said that she did look very pretty, but Lina was quite sure that he only said so to please her -- and Julija, of course. Jakob had never been able to appreciate any dress of hers or Julija's, and had often admitted that it was so.
They arrived at the Horvāths' house in time, but heard from the servant who led them to the drawing room that many of the guests had already arrived. Lina felt slightly nervous, knowing that she was not acquainted with any of the guests, apart from her own family.
Mrs. Horvāth welcomed them warmly, and introduced them to the guests who were already there -- Mr. and Mrs. Schiller and their daughter, Miss Marianne Schiller, and Colonel Polgār and his wife and daughters. One of the daughters was already married, and had come with her husband, a Captain Lazar. Her sister, Miss Eva Polgār, was rather plain -- she had red hair, freckles and protruding teeth, but she made up for her lack of beauty with a warm, friendly manner and ready wit. Lina liked her at once. As to Marianne Schiller, Lina was not quite sure what to think of her. She was pretty and had greeted her politely, but on the whole she seemed too quiet and distant to be really appealing.
Major Horvāth had welcomed her with all the civility she could expect from a host, but then he had turned to Jakob and did not pay her too much attention. For some reason or other, Lina found this annoying, and she looked at them from time to time to see if they did notice what was going on around them.
"He is rather handsome, is he not?" Miss Polgār asked Lina.
"Who? Major Horvāth or my brother?" Lina said.
"Major Horvāth, of course. I never waste my time looking at married men," Miss Polgār laughed.
"Well, I suppose one might call him handsome, yes," Lina said warily.
"He is a very good sort, too," Miss Polgār said. "Not like some of the other men in our regiment, only paying attention to pretty girls and ignoring someone like me. He is always most considerate and everything -- I know, of course, that this means nothing, but it does one good to see that there is a man treating one with respect even though one is not blessed with blond hair and rosy cheeks. I am sure you do not have such problems," Miss Polgār added, looking at Lina approvingly. "You must have lots of admirers."
"I am sorry to disappoint you, Miss Polgār, but there are none," Lina said laughingly.
"This cannot be. You must have an admirer," Miss Polgār said determinedly. "Probably he is just too shy to make his feelings known. But if there is really none, we shall have to do something about it. Would you like to attend our regimental ball next week? If so, I will ask my mother to procure an invitation for you and your family. She is one of the patronesses, you know."
"If my brother and sister have nothing against it, I should very much like to come," Lina said, knowing that Julija would be delighted with the scheme. Julija loved to dance, and a ball would be very much to her taste.
The door opened, and the servant announced Captain Kodaly. The Captain was handsome, though nothing in comparison to Major Horvāth, Lina thought. When he was introduced, Captain Kodaly immediately seated himself next to her, and Lina had to admit that he was a charming and amusing gentleman. Miss Polgār asked for his help in persuading Lina to come to the regimental ball, and he readily complied, endeavouring to find ten good reasons for Lina to come.
Lina could not help but laugh and pointed out that she was not the right person to apply to -- if Captain Kodaly wanted her to be at the ball, he ought to plead with her sister-in-law, not with her.
Finally, all the guests had arrived except Colonel von Hertenberg, who had not been able to attend, and so Mrs. Horvāth led her guests into the dining room, where Lina found herself seated between the Captains Kodaly and Lazar. Captain Lazar was a bit of a bore, always talking about things Lina knew nothing about, and Captain Kodaly was the only one to rescue her from dying of sheer boredom. It was with some feeling of relief that Lina left the dining room and followed the other ladies to the drawing room, leaving the gentlemen behind.
Janos had been struck by Miss Grum's beauty that evening. He had found her quite pretty right from the start, but tonight he had to admit that she was positively beautiful. For a moment Janos argued with himself whether he should go and talk to her or not, but then she sat down with Miss Polgār and seemed to be engaged in such lively conversation that he decided not to. Perhaps he would get a chance later in the evening, although, what should he say? Just complimenting her on her looks would be an insufficient subject for a longer conversation.
When Kodaly sat down next to Miss Grum, Janos watched him with growing suspicion. He could only comfort himself with the fact that Miss Grum did not look like Kodaly's type, not at all. She was not blond, her eyes, whatever colour they were, were definitely not blue, and she was neither an actress nor an opera dancer. So far, Miss Grum was safe.
After dinner, when the ladies left them, Janos stayed behind with his male guests, none of whom he liked much -- Grum and Kodaly being the only exceptions. Luckily, Mr. Schiller kept Colonel Polgār and Lazar busy with his conversation, so Janos did not have to entertain them.
While Grum went to help himself to some more brandy, Kodaly quietly said to Janos, "You know, you could have told me that this Miss Grum was such a dazzling beauty."
"I do not know why," Janos replied dryly, "but somehow I was quite certain you would find out for yourself."
"She looked even better in comparison to Miss Polgār II," Kodaly said. "I always forget her name."
"You shouldn't," Janos said, not without malice in his voice. "She might be your ticket to promotion."
"You mean I should marry her to get on? Over my dead body. I like horses, but I do not want to be married to one. Besides, why should I give up all those ladies lying at my feet, practically begging me to take notice of them just in order to get married?"
"That is something I really like about you, Kodaly," Janos said. "You are so modest."
Kodaly laughed. "That is Horvāth," he said to Grum who was just coming back to them. "A tongue like the blade of a sword."
"And it hits the right spot every time," Janos said with a grin.
Soon after that, they joined the ladies again, and Janos, for a moment, froze when he saw Miss Schiller seated at the pianoforte. No one had done that ever since Ilona had been gone, and Miss Schiller's sitting here was, in his opinion, an insulting amount of disrespect. She, of all people, ought to have been aware of what this meant. Had Miss Grum or Miss Polgār done so, it would have been pardonable, but Miss Schiller's family and his had been friends for ages.
Janos moved on slowly, listening to Miss Schiller's rather mediocre playing, until he was standing next to Miss Grum who was sitting on the sofa with Miss Polgār. Miss Grum, seemingly aware of his presence, looked up and their eyes met. She moved over to make room for him, and Janos sat down next to her. Miss Polgār gave them both a questioning look, but soon turned to look at Miss Schiller at the piano again.
"If she starts singing once again, I will run," Miss Grum whispered, no doubt speaking to Miss Polgār.
"I will lend you a hand," Janos answered in a low voice. "I
know the shortest way out of this house."
Miss Grum turned to him smilingly and said, quietly, "And, pray, what will people say, sir? Lina Grum ran off with a Hussar -- which was just what one could expect from her."
"Never mind the people, Miss Grum. None of them has ever heard Miss Schiller sing. I have." Janos said with a mischievous grin.
She gave him a stern look, which was, however, softened by a slight smile shortly afterwards. "What will you be saying about me behind my back, sir, when you get the chance to talk to Miss Schiller?"
"Only the best things, Miss Grum. I might tell her that you have remarkable taste in music, for example."
"Or in horses."
"I do not know anything about your taste in horses yet, Miss Grum."
"You have not given me the chance to prove it yet, sir. I can distinctly remember you promised my brother to help him find a horse for me."
"So I did, and I have kept my eyes open ever since. Unfortunately I have not been able to find a horse that might suit you, Miss Grum."
"I need nothing special, Major Horvāth."
"Oh yes, you do. I want your horse to suit you."
Too late, Janos realised that he had complimented her -- the very last thing a man should do if he wanted a woman to believe he was not interested in her.
There was a glow in Miss Grum's face -- she had blushed, and had done so most becomingly. Janos forced himself to turn away from her and to listen to Miss Schiller's playing. Miss Grum was not only beautiful; she had the power of throwing him off his guard. He would have to be more wary in future.
While the ladies had been among themselves, Lina had felt rather bored, even though Miss Polgār had been very nice. Miss Schiller had not done much; she had just given Lina an occasional inquisitive look, and had asked her how long she had been acquainted with the Horvāth family. Then she had sat down at the pianoforte and had asked Mrs. Horvāth if she would be allowed to play. Lina had taken a deep breath -- she had not yet forgotten what Mrs. Horvāth had told them. Mrs. Horvāth, too polite to refuse the wish of one of her guests, had asked Miss Schiller to play as long as she wanted, and Miss Schiller had started -- probably to show off her non-existent skill. After the first piece, things had gone worse -- Miss Schiller had started to sing. Lina had never before met a person who had been able to miss every note when singing.
"At least the piano is in tune," she said to Miss Polgār, who was sitting next to her on the sofa.
Miss Polgār smiled and whispered, "Miss Schiller is probably trying to enchant the Major with her singing -- and we are the innocent victims in that scheme."
"She will not enchant the Major with her singing," Lina answered. "Drive him away, more likely."
When the gentlemen joined them a few minutes -- and songs - later, Lina noticed the look Major Horvāth gave Miss Schiller -- he looked angry, but also sad. He came closer, and Lina made room for him to sit down next to her, as he promptly did.
Their short, whispered conversation delighted her -- for a few moments she could see what her brother had meant with the "other Horvāth". He was lively, mischievous, and charming. No wonder Miss Schiller wanted to "enchant him". The question was if she would succeed. Lina was quite certain that she would not.
Finally, the guests left the Horvāth house. Jakob, Julija and Lina were walking home, as their house was not far from the Horvāths'.
"By the way," Julija said, "both Mrs. Polgār and Mrs. Lazar have asked us to come to the regimental ball next week. I have accepted their invitation, and Mrs. Polgār will call tomorrow to bring us our tickets. What do you think, Lina?"
"A ball is always an enjoyable thing," Lina answered. "I will have to ask someone to teach me the Viennese dances, however. It is not my intention to make a fool of myself, going to a ball and not being able to dance. Do you think Mrs. Polgār will take her younger daughter with her tomorrow? She might be able to show me a thing or two." Lina was looking forward to seeing her again -- Miss Polgār had been, apart from Major Horvāth's affability that evening, the most pleasant surprise that dinner party had had in store for her. Not even a ball was better than making a new friend.
Š 2004 Copyright held by the author.