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/ The Silver Hilt

The Silver Hilt part 6

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A soft, creeping noise could be heard, as the ladies, with their fingers on their lips, slipped away from behind the curtains.

“I have loved you for a long time,” said the Red Scoundrel in a melting tone.

Something seemed to choke the woman, but she told herself it was only imagination.

“I adore you.”

The woman could not take her eyes off his hand. And she pleaded:

“If you love me, let go the hilt of your sword.”

“Never,” shouted Scarlet in the heat of his passion, and drew his chair closer.

The Lady was trembling like a leaf in an evening breeze.

“You are beautiful!” howled the Scarlet Bone. “You are as beautiful as the morning star, and I tell you frankly I am going to make you my own love.”

His grip on the sword tightened.

“He’ will not let go of it.” thought the terrified woman. “He will not let go of it. I am lost.”

She made an attempt to stand up, but at that moment she felt the prickly hairs of a thin mustache on her lips. She wanted to scream, but the Count had already imprisoned her shoulders in his long, strong arms. Her beautiful head dropped like a flower, and she felt that the Scarlet Bone was holding her wilting head in the palm of his enormous hand. Kisses were beating heavily against her lips like hot rain.

“You are mine,” said the Count between two kisses, still tightly grasping his sword with his left hand.

“I am yours,” panted the Lady.

“What is the formula?” asked the Dark Blue Baron of the dying Maestro ten years later, for he had bought the scientist from the Scarlet Count for a hundred thousand gold pieces. He was a great lover of Women and had seen that for the past ten years the Scarlet Count had virtually made a harvest of beautiful women by the magic of the Silver Hilt. “What is the formula?”

Golden horseshoe nail

“By the Fires of Hell, there is no formula!” moaned the Maestro from his bed. “A silver hilt, a brass button, a tin spur, a golden horseshoe nail, it makes no difference. The man’s bearing must announce that he is sure of himself—that is the formula. There is no escape from one who is sure of himself. But you must believe in the silver hilt, because if you do not, the women will not believe in it either.

Now then: whether you believe in a silver hilt, a brass button, a tin spur, a golden horseshoe nail, your good manners, your beauty, your self-confidence or your discretion, it all amounts to the same thing. But now that I have told you this, O Dark Blue Baron, you will go to the women in vain with your silver hilt, because you will not believe in it any more. And the women will feel that you no longer believe in your own powers. And you will be defeated everywhere, O Dark Blue Ba…”

He could not finish the sentence, because the Dark Blue Baron struck him a blow on the head. He would have died anyway within the next ten minutes, but the Baron found it better to assist him in this manner.

So died Maestro Conrad Super polling erianus, the gray-haired swindler, with the truth on his lips.

The Silver Hilt part 5

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She lay resting on a large sofa when the Red Bone (that was what they called the Scarlet Count among themselves) entered the room. She rose and went to meet him, offering him a seat. The Lord sat down, on a footstool and, as was customary with knights, held his sword between his knees. The Lady, who until now had not dared to cast even a glance at the sword, looked at it shyly. She was taken aback by the sight. The sword, studded with diamonds and precious stones, ended at the hilt in a simple silver sheet. It had an uncanny faded look about it and gleamed in the dimness of the room with a ghostly light.

They could not see the thirty-three women peeping in from behind the heavy drapery and curtains. But these women agreed that the Count looked irresistibly powerful, though they always before considered him ridiculous.

“It’s fine weather,” said the Red Bone.

“Yes, very fine,” said the Lady, and was greatly relieved when she saw that the Count had not placed his hand on the hilt of the sword.

“Neither too warm nor too cold,” said the Count.

“Very pleasant, indeed,” said the Lady.

Company of a beautiful woman

“At noon it’s warm, but the nights are cool,” the Count went on, “but to-night the sunset is the most wonderful of all, more wonderful indeed if one spends the time in the company of a beautiful woman.”

And so saying, he placed his large red hand upon the silver hilt.

The Lady, who had been watching it with staring eyes, began to tremble a little. The heavy curtains began to move and a pleasant tremor passed through the veins of the women.

“He placed his hand on it,” said those in. front to those standing behind.

“He placed his hand on it… he did indeed!” the whisper passed around.

The Lady of the Castle could not take her eyes off the hand resting upon the hilt. The Red Count was talking away foolishly, but the Lady paid no attention to what he said.

“Eh,” she said to herself, “the whole thing is a stupid superstition; why should I look at it at all?”

But as soon as she looked away, something constrained her to look back immediately. The Count drew his footstool nearer to her, grasping at the hilt with all his might. The lady grew frightened.

“Why are you afraid of me?” asked the Count with a smile. “I do not wish to hurt you On the contrary…”

“Perhaps it would be better,” whispered one of the women behind the curtain, “if we left them alone.”

The Silver Hilt part 4

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The Count opened his eyes wide. He was known as an admirer of feminine charms, but had never had any success with ladies of rank. His face was gleaming with joy.

“I have ground silver into dust,” continued the Maestro, “and boiled it in the juice of Asperula Odorato and then in the juice of the root of Azarum Europseum. These are the ingredients. But the chemical proportion that yields the magic is my own secret. Ecce…”

And he raised the lid of one of the pots. There were indeed bits of silver balls boiling in the juice of something that smelled horribly Btrange. He had cooked the whole mess the night before as a last chance.

“And—?”

“And of this silver dust I shall mold a thin sheet of silver plate; with that silver plate you will graciously cover the hilt of your sword and while you are courting the ladies keep your left hand on the hilt of the sword. There is no great lady, baroness, countess, duchess, or even queen, who will be able to resist the charm of this wizardry. With this sword you will have success with any lady in the world.”

“Hm,” said the Count, “may I have complete confidence?”

“Not the slightest chance of failure, sir.”

The silver hilt was ready that same night.

“I am gaining time,” said the Maestro to himself, and to save him- lelf the trouble of bending down, he lifted his beard up over his arm and stroked it musingly.

Maestro Conrad Superpollingerianus

The rumor soon spread throughout the district. In the neighborhood cantles and fortresses, the great ladies dressed in gold-embroidered gowns, whispered and exchanged meaning glances, and everywhere conversation centered on the silver-hilted sword of Count Scarlet. Not three days had passed before Maestro Conrad Superpollingerianus had received eighteen offers from various other lords, promising him lifelong positions, any amount of gold, together with board and lodging, if he would only communicate to them the secret of the chemical composition of the silver hilt. But the Scarlet Count bid more than any of them, and would not permit the Maestro to leave his castle.

On the fourth day he set out to conquer with his silver hilt. His first trip took him to the neighboring castle, whose lord was journeying in foreign lands. Only the beautiful Lady of the castle was at home, in company with her thirty-three ladies-in-waiting. For a long time, this had been the unsuccessful hunting-ground of the Scarlet Count, but now the women were waiting for him with a strange excitement and expectancy.

All thirty-three of them wanted to receive the Count, and they all insisted that they were not afraid of the silver hilt. But the Lady of the Castle dismissed them and she, the model of faithfulness and womanly virtue, received the Count alone.

The Silver Hilt part 3

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Thus wailed the Maestro, bending to the floor again and again to stroke his long whiskers.

Suddenly, in the midst of his distress, he heard footsteps in the corridor. In a moment the door opened, and in the middle of the diabolical kitchen stood Count Scarlet with threateningly puckered eyebrows. The Count was tall, lanky, freckled1, with close-cropped red hair, and a wicked bony face. His hands were as large as beefsteaks. His knees stuck out from his tightly fitting trousers like two bunions. He lifted his aristocratic, hairy red hand, and his tiny pig eyes grinned searchingly:

“Well, Maestro!”

The Maestro suddenly grew limp and tried to sit down on the air. He gulped a big dry gulp, turned the color of onyx and faintingly whispered, “Well, what does that ‘Well’ mean?”

“It means what it means,” said the Count coldly.

Deadly silence

It was a terrible moment. The seriousness of the situation was accentuated by the fact that the Count had deviated from his usual custom, in rising at such an early hour. It was evident that he was in earnest about his threat. Deadly silence reigned in the room. Only the strangesmelling concoction of herbs boiled impertinently in the stillness of the room.

“Count,” said the Maestro at last, “there is no gold.”

“Then give me your whiskers,” shouted the Count, and leaped toward the Maestro, who quickly threw his whiskers across his left shoulder so that they hung down over his back.

“Stop, sire!” he yelled in despair.

The Count was startled.

“What is it?”

“There is no gold,” moaned the Maestro, “but there is something better.”

“What?”

At this moment Maestro Super pollingerianus made an awful gulp, but this time it was no longer dry. His mouth watered at the thought of the fine lie that had just occurred to him. He felt that he was saved.

“What?” repeated the Count sternly.

“Something that is better than gold.”

“The philosopher’s stone?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“The happiness of eternal love!” said the Maestro, and gulped again.

The Count stroked his nose. This was a sign of scepticism.

“Must I swallow this?” he asked. “Must I swallow this lie, too, as I have swallowed for a year and a half all the deceptions with which you have contrived to prolong your stay here, you shameless blot upon the heaven of science?”

To be undecided is half of believing, thought the Maestro and went on developing his lie with the greatest tranquillity.

“In the course of my experiments I have discovered the way to conquer the feminine heart.”

The Silver Hilt part 2

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The Maestro looked at this bit of gold and scratched his head. Count Scarlet had flown into a violent temper the night before. He was tired of having had him on his back for the past year and a half. The Maestro ate, drank and lived well, besides spending enormous sums for experiments, and he had not been able to make more than this tiny bit of gold. Once last year, the Count had determined to throw the Maestro out, when luckily the Maestro had succeeded in creating the gold.

It is true that he had been able to do so only by inserting the gold—which he had bought—into the lead which he was supposed to have transformed. But Count Scarlet, cunning rascal though he was, had not dis-covered this. With the weirdest and most impressive ceremonies, exactly a t the stroke of midnight, the Maestro put the stick of lead into the fire in the presence of the Count, and when they removed the jar from under the lead, the gold was discovered in the bottom of it.

And then the Maestro’s trouble began. The Count demanded more gold.

“Until now,” he said, “I believed that Superpollingerianus was the stupidest ox in the world. But now I am beginning to discover that he is not a fool, but an old scoundrel, who knows how to make gold but doesn’t want to. If by to-morrow morning there is not a considerable lump of gold in the furnace, I will defy the coming generations, who will certainly brand me as a scoundrel for having done it, and will tear your whiskers out, Maestro, and have you dragged to the top of the liighest tower of my castle and kicked off. Quod dixi, dixi.”

With that he turned on his heel, ate his supper, looked at his calendar to see in which of his villages there then was likely to be a little jus primes noctis, and spreading some scented pomade on his scanty red mustache, he rode out of the castle.

I repeat, this happened at night. At dawn the next day, the Maestro was still scratching his head.

Count Scarlet

“Alas,” sighed the Maestro, turning away from his strange-smelling concoction with disgust, “I cannot help myself. There can be no question about making gold, because I haven’t even a worn copper. All the money I’ve been able to get out of Count Scarlet, I have sent to my illegitimate child.

To think I have struggled through eighty-eight years of life by sheer deception, and now I cannot extricate myself from this predicament! That scoundrelly Scarlet will keep his promise. Only five years ago, for a similar offense, my honorable friend and colleague, Paphnucius Ratenowienis, was nailed to the gate of the castle by his ears, and made to look like a stray bat. Alas, how can I save myself?”

The Silver Hilt part 1

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Ferenc Molnar (1878-1952)

Molnar was born in 1878 in Budapest, the son, according to the translator of his plays, “of a Jewish medical practioner. He graduated from the Universities of Geneva and Budapest. His literary career was begun as a journalist at the age of eighteen.” Though Molnar is best known as a dramatist, he was the author of a few novels and several short stories. His is a cynical and worldly-wise philosophy, yet tempered always by a certain sentiment, which is perceptible in the bitter little fable printed in these pages. The Silver Hilt is in effect a parable, related with grace, humour, and a certain curious sentiment.

The translation of the story was made by Mr. Joseph Szebenyei for this volume, and appears here for the first time in English. Acknowledgment is hereby made to the author and translator for permission to use the MS.

The Silver Hilt

A Narrow ribbon of smoke wound its way lightly out of one of the many chimneys of the ancient feudal castle, and rose into the misty autumn dawn as the sun was just beginning to shine. Any well informed serf, noticing the smoke from the valley below, would have known that the cooks were not preparing breakfast for Count Scarlet, or as they called him in the Valley, the Red Scoundrel. In the castle of Count Scarlet the cooks were gentlemen, and never rose before seven in the morning. Any well-informed serf would know what the little ribbon of blue smoke meant.

It was Maestro Conrad Super- pollingerianus who rose so early. He was the Count’s professional alchemist. He had come from Wurzburg a year and a half before and had ever since been working at his alchemy without the least success. Indeed, Maestro Conrad was already awake and up. He was standing by his fire in a long black coat. Over the fire boiled mysterious and strange-smelling concoctions. The man’s long white beard reached to his knees, and whenever he wanted to stroke his beard (which was often) he had to bend down almost to the ground. Even then he could seldom reach the end of it.

He was surrounded by all sorts of mysterious instruments. On the walls hung mysterious charts showing the movements of the stars, and all the heavens were divided into those spheres by which one may read the whims of fate. Everywhere were ovens and smelting-furnaces built of brick, strong jars against which the fire of hell was futile, slabs of lead, shining quartz, enormous bellows which panted like the lungs of a fresh killed dragon, and in a comer on a richly carved stand, under a glass cover on a small velvet pillow, was one tiny bit of gold about half the size of a grain of rice.