Pozdordy was one of the best known and respected farmers in the province of B——, and the surrounding gentry were accustomed to visit him at his picturesque homestead. The frequency of their visits was, however, due chiefly to the circumstance that he was possessed of a lovely daughter. This maiden, besides being enchantingly beautiful, was as proud as a queen.
It was quite natural that the young men from round and about should be helplessly in love with her and willing to hazard life itself in the hope of winning such a prize. But many as were the rival suitors, they all at last had to give way to one upon whom Etelka bestowed her preference, and that preference could not be divided either in two or more parts. As a matter of fact no objection could have been made against her choice, for it fell upon such a man as is generally regarded as the ideal of a woman’s dreams. He was of fine stature, tall, well-proportioned, no longer young, it is true, but far from his decline. He was a retired major, and bore himself with a faultless military carriage. His manners were polished, his education extensive, and his wit by no means inferior. He was good-hearted, patriotic, and keen in business matters; he did not gamble, neither did he run into debt—in fact, from top to toe, you could not find a fault in him.
Of course the various competitors for the hand of Etelka had to bow before her decision, they could not help themselves; but one of them, in his fierce dissatisfaction, vowed inwardly that he would not yield the prize so easily. This rival was a young man who fancied that Etelka had regarded him with a degree of favour which was only second to that which she had bestowed on the victorious Major.
But Mogyorôdy, the malcontent in question, knew that Major Duránczy was very handy with rapier and pistol and did not care to be trifled with. He therefore determined to use diplomacy. He paid a friendly sort of visit to the father of Etelka, and spent the evening with him. Pozdordy had a pretty good suspicion as to why the visitor had come.
In due course the conversation turned upon Duránczy.
“A very nice fellow indeed, isn’t he?” said the farmer.
“Oh, yes,” replied Mogyorôdy, who at the same time made a grimace which betrayed his real opinion.
The farmer, who was evidently uneasy at the young man’s obvious jealousy, exclaimed:
“But you have nothing to say against him?”
“Oh, no, nothing in the world!”
“But you have something on your mind. It is true he’s not so youthful as you, but he is not yet old.”
“Oh, no, he’s in the prime of life.”
“Do you wish to imply that there is anything against his past?”
“No; for who amongst us has not got a past?”
“Perhaps you wish to make out that he is only marrying Etelka for her money?”
“By no means.”
“Do you accuse him of being a gambler?”
“He never touches cards.”
“He is the very reverse—stares on both sides of every halfpenny before he parts with it.”
“Do you think him lazy?”
“No, a model of plodding industry.”
“Then what is amiss with his character?”
“It is perfect—almost monotonously so; but he has one peculiarity with which you ought to be made acquainted if you are going to marry your daughter to him.”
“What is that?”
“Well, if you want to know, he’s a lunar somnambulist—when the moon is at the full he rises at night from his bed, and, with open eyes, walks about the house in a dream, muttering all kinds of extraordinary things. If swords or pistols were then within his reach he would probably wound or kill any one, and I shouldn’t like to see your daughter murdered in one of these moonlight perambulations.”
“Oh, that is nonsense. I will believe no tale of that kind.”
“Do as you please. I have discharged my duty, and told you. Now, good-night.”
But after Mogyorôdy had departed, the farmer, although he had pretended to be unconcerned, said to himself:
“This might possibly be true; I must investigate the matter further before the marriage takes place.”
His mind being very uneasy, he determined to invite Duránczy to his house on the next occasion, when the moon would be at its full; and when the night in question arrived he entertained the Major at his farm with all the outward demonstration of confidence and friendship.
It so happened that during the evening Mogyorôdy looked in, for although a rejected lover, he was still a recognised visitor, owing to business and family connections with the farmer.
Pozdordy, albeit that he was somewhat alarmed at the appearance of his rival, politely welcomed him, and was relieved to notice, as his two guests conversed together, that the old jealousy seemed to have quite disappeared, and that Mogyorôdy evinced towards the Major every symptom of good fellowship.
The wine circulated freely, and the night wore pleasantly away, until the clock reminded Pozdordy that there was a limit to every festivity. He had already intended to press Duránczy to sleep with him; but, as it was already late, he felt he could not do less than extend the invitation to Mogyorôdy. Wishing, however, to have the alleged somnambulist under his inspection, he assigned to the Major a spare bed in his own dormitory, and gave Mogyorôdy a separate room.
In due course, both host and guests retired. The farmer, as soon as he was between the sheets, lit a massive long-stemmed pipe, and began to smoke, keeping his eye upon Duránczy.
The moonlight was streaming in upon the Major’s pillow. It looked weird. The farmer watched Duránczy as he lay prostrate—watched and watched until he himself dozed off into an involuntary slumber.
Presently he was awoke by a noise. In the moonlight he perceived a figure, robed in a night-shirt. Ah! the Major, who seemed to be gazing around him with an air of mysterious inquiry. Then, step by step, with great circumspection, he advanced towards the farmer’s bedside. Pozdordy held his breath. “Yes,” he said to himself, “this man is a lunar somnambulist!”
Upon tiptoe the figure now went nearer and nearer to the farmer’s couch. Pozdordy, in breathless expectation, grasped his heavy long-stemmed pipe—the only weapon of self-defence within arm’s length—and just as the somnambulist was reaching towards an antique and richly inlaid sword, suspended high up against the wall, he dealt him a blow, so terrific as to produce a howl from the apparition. The farmer leaped out of bed, and, to protect his own life, was proceeding to half-strangle the sleepwalker, when, to his astonishment, he saw that it was not the Major.
“Who are you?” he exclaimed.
There was no answer. The farmer looked towards the Major’s bed—there, in the moonlight, lay the warrior, who was just beginning to be roused from sleep by the noise of the scuffle, and who dreamily exclaimed, “What the devil?”
Pozdordy released his hold of the neck of this unknown man, who hastily escaped from the room; and the report goes that Mogyorôdy travelled home at 2 A.M. in his night-shirt. Anyhow, after hiding under the Major’s bed in order to make him out to be a somnambulist, he never again dared to put his nose into Pozdordy’s household; and the gallant soldier is to-day in peaceful possession of the beautiful Etelka.