Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Russian, Scandinavian, etc.
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XIV: Russian—Scandinavian—Miscellaneous
 
An Expensive Marriage
By Árpád Berczik (1842–1919)
 
ONE fine day I saw on the street pavement two absurdly small feet. I am a born esthete, and since there is more of the esthetic to be found in such a little pair of feet than in a dozen folios, and as I prefer experimental to theoretical science, there was nothing left for me to do but to follow the pair of feet. They hopped and scudded rapidly. I kept up with them. A woman selling crockery sits in my way; I stumble over her wares and smash a lot of them. She is enraged, and cries for vengeance. She throws herself upon me. I throw her a bank-bill. I believe it was one for ten Gulden. Let us say ten Gulden.  1
  That quieted things. My pursuer cooled off, and I was able to continue my own pursuit. I sought earnestly for my little feet—that is, her little feet (not the crockery woman’s). There they are again. At the same moment she who owns the little feet turns round and looks at me. She floats up to a cab and gets into it. I take another. She drives off, with me after her.  2
  This drive, together with a liberal tip for racing time, costs five Gulden. Our cabbies raced each other. She stopped in front of a fashionable shop. She entered it. Need I say that I did the same? Our actions were nearly simultaneous. In the shop she looked at me in surprise—from tip to toe. Then I was richer by another experience, for her face surpassed her feet in beauty, and her figure her face.  3
  The shopkeeper looked at me questioningly, and asked, “What can I do for you?”  4
  Near me sounds a voice like a little silver bell, “Please show me your silks.”  5
  The sound of her voice electrifies me. Thus must the angels sing at Christmas-tide.  6
  Of course I say, “Please show me your silks.”  7
  “What color?”  8
  Her hair and eyes are black. “Black,” then.  9
  Thereupon the lovely stranger looked at me again. Something passed over her face. What it was, and why it passed, I do not know. I did not worry much, so deeply was I engrossed in that fairy form handling the silks.  10
  The shopkeeper—that horrible shopkeeper! How he tortured me with questions! Is this a cross-examination? Let him give me what he chooses, wrap it up and hand me the bill, but, above all, leave me in peace to contemplate my haggling goddess. Do you not understand, my good man, why I am here? What do I care for your wares, or their quality or price? My visit here is due to her little feet, her little head, her figure!  11
  At last my purchase was concluded. Not so hers. She still haggles. And this unnatural monster of a shopkeeper does not kneel down before her, and cry, “All I have I lay down at your feet, only suffer me to love you!” Instead of doing that, he smiles, and refuses to reduce his price. The miserable creature says something about fixed prices, and at last gains his point. In order to be present at this painful scene to its very end, I was obliged to buy some other things. A nice way of passing one’s time! My bundles grew infinite, and when I had them carried out to my cab a curious smile played about the fair lady’s mouth. My bill at the shop mounts up to two hundred and fifty Gulden!  12
  We got into our cabs and drove on. Suddenly mine stops. What has happened? We have killed an old woman’s little pet pug. The old wretch raises an alarm, so that my driver has to stop. She curses, and demands damages for the life of the murdered innocent. A crowd gathers. My fair lady’s vehicle is almost out of sight. An idea! I plunge into my pocket, and throws its contents to the owner of the pug. The crowd scrambles for the coins. I cry, “Drive on!” I am saved.  13
  I had thrown about eight Gulden out of the window. Thus we catch up the cab of my fairy. Her cab stops before a house. She gets out and enters the door. A quarter of an hour passes, half an hour—three hours! She does not return, neither does any one come for her bundles. It is merely a visit. And so, while she is having a pleasant time within, I am bored to death, and freeze like a Congo negro in Siberia, for it is winter. I take refuge in a confectionary-shop opposite the house that I must watch. The shop-girls notice the bundles on my cab, and I take the opportunity of getting rid of my purchases by presenting them to the young women. One of them at once hurries out, and loads herself with packages, when, oh, fate! my enchantress issues from the door opposite.  14
  Next day things took a surprising turn. It appeared that my man was courting the maid servant of my fair unknown. He gave me very exact information. Her name is Szánfalvay. She is a widow. For the word widow my man got ten Gulden as a present. Furthermore, I increased his wages five Gulden per month. This comes to sixty Gulden a year. To her servant—Juczi is the girl’s name—I gave ten Gulden. I obtained fairly precise information as to the society in which the lady moved, and intended to seek an introduction to her at the house of some common acquaintance; but a fortnight passed before I found an opportunity. During that time, in order to forget my grief, I spent at least two hundred Gulden more than usual.  15
  My condition began to annoy me. My patience was at an end. Jancsi, my faithful servant, noticed it:  16
  “You seem to take it to heart, sir, that you can’t make the lady’s acquaintance. What will you give me if I bring it about?”  17
  “Listen, Jancsi; even impudence has its limits. If a servant gets too familiar, he goes!”  18
  “I do not wish to be familiar. I am sorry for you, sir. You are getting thinner every day, so that I have to take all your clothes to the tailor’s to have them made smaller.”  19
  The man spoke in a voice of genuine sympathy. What if he could really help me?  20
  “Well, Jancsi, on the day that the lady receives me, you shall receive a hundred Gulden.”  21
  Three days later Jancsi handed me a little note. It came from the widow, and ran thus:  22
  “I shall be glad if you will call on me at half past twelve to-day.”  23
  I very nearly hugged Jancsi. What a splendid fellow!  24
  “How did you manage it?”  25
  “That is my secret, with your permission. All you have to do is to be punctual.”  26
  In my joy I gave him the hundred Gulden.  27
  At last I was ready to go. At the very moment set I rang the electric bell at the lady’s house.  28
  Juczi opened the door. She seemed excited, and received me with visible delight. I gave her ten Gulden. Scarcely had I entered the reception-room, when she came—the angel, the goddess! I should have liked to fall at her feet, but I restrained myself.  29
  “You will pardon me—” said I.  30
  She interrupted me. If I had not taken the first step, she says, she would have been obliged to do so.  31
  Heavens! Is it possible?  32
  “The affair is one that interests us both.”  33
  Affair! She calls it an affair!  34
  “And so you know?”  35
  “How should I not? Jancsi told Juczi, and Juczi told me——”  36
  “And you do not object to it?”  37
  “One should not stand in the way of true love. I consent to a marriage.”  38
  “To marriage?”  39
  “Yes, and here is my hand upon it.”  40
  She gave me her little hand. I fell to my knees before her.  41
  “Oh, I thank you, I thank you!”  42
  The lady stepped back a little.  43
  “What do you mean? Why do you thank me?”  44
  “Because you give me your hand and consent to our marriage.”  45
  “Our marriage? Why, whoever put that into your head?”  46
  “Well, then, who is to marry?”  47
  “Why, Jancsi and Juczi. I am the girl’s godmother, and so you were to get my consent!”  48
  “And that was the reason you asked me to call?”  49
  “Certainly. I am sorry that I cannot continue your acquaintance, for I am going to marry and move away to another place next week.”  50
  Who made a fool of me? Jancsi or the lady, or both?  51
  The adventure cost me, all told—I prefer to let some one else do the sum.  52
 
 
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