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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPeter The Priest - Chapter 10. The Feast
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Peter The Priest - Chapter 10. The Feast Post by :miscreed Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :2472

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Peter The Priest - Chapter 10. The Feast

CHAPTER X. THE FEAST

The next day, they reached Madocsany, and the second day after, the feast began. They had hardly time to get rested. In truth, the feast began. The beautiful Lady of Madocsany did not close her gates, as she had said she should do, on the way home: she did not try to find any thick veil for her head to cover her face before the eyes of the world. The one expression, "On my word as a knight", had kindled a new glow in her heart. What was the world to her now! Whoever did not respect her, she did not respect. Contempt for contempt. The people of the castle did not go abroad, but they broached their casks, spread their tables, and summoned the pipers; and where there are spread tables, good wine, and fair women, there are guests in plenty. It is true, it was a mere revel. Not one personage of note. Perhaps the same drunken set that frequented the Mitosin Castle when there were feasts there; if so, no one could afford to reproach his neighbor. At Mitosin they criticised the Lady of Madocsany, and at Madocsany the Lord of Mitosin. They flattered both, and drank to the health of the one who owned the wine; and Father Peter tarried with them in the interval. He no longer spent his nights in singing psalms, but listened to the reckless conversation of this motley crowd. No one counted it against him that he had been driven from the Castle at Bittse; here it is no disgrace, quite the contrary, to be the beloved of a beautiful woman, the more glorious because it was unlawful; they clapped him familiarly on the shoulder, and admitted him as their companion. And he had to accept this quietly, and realize that there was something still more disgraceful than to be despised by men of position, and that was to be honored by the worthless. So he spent every evening with them; every evening, the side of the castle toward the Waag was lighted up, so that the household at Mitosin could see what a great feast it was. In their sledging parties on the frozen Waag, with sound of bells and bright torches, music, and crack of whip, they passed so near Mitosin Castle that their voices floated up to the windows of Lord Grazian Likovay. What sport! Father Peter took his part. "A lucky dog! he knew when to lay down his cowl," they said to his face.

In his sleeping room he was alone: for since their return from the Bittse wedding, the mother had kept her child with her. She no longer urged him to study, and all his days were spent in playing. As soon as Father Peter was alone in his room, he drank a pitcher of water, and poured another over his head, to wash away all traces left on his face by the revellers' kisses. Then he knelt down before his bed, and struggled with serious thoughts; his brow on his folded hands. The old man was aroused in him, the defiant,--the man of hot, passionate love; the devil of pride was struggling to break the fetters of his vow. Already he felt a loathing for the cowl he wore. His soul was no longer oppressed by the weight of a great guilt. The insult of the father had released him from the blood-money for the son.

Friday before this, a message had come from the Jesuit monastery to the lady of the castle, to the effect that she should not serve her guests any meat that day, and that she should send back Peter, who must be brought before an ecclesiastical court for his sins of conduct. The widow sent back in reply a letter and a purse. In the letter she said: "I send you back, not one, but a thousand Peters;" and in the purse were a thousand gold pieces stamped for the emperor Peter. And the fathers made answer: "Also serve the fish."

Tihamer Csorbai had a horror of Father Peter. He could not find his faith again. Every dream misled him: and there were dreams that his waking moments carried on,--fabulous treasures, for which the waking man had only to stretch out his hand to hold what he had seen in the dreams of sleep.

During these few days, Idalia was not recognizable. For days at a time, she would not leave her sitting-room, but worked there with her maids like a simple peasant girl who prepares her trousseau. She stayed at the banquet only long enough to eat and drink, and then vanish. This great tumult was only to defy the world. She herself played the coy maiden, who waits for her wooer, and whispers to her mother, "There is a suitor in the house." If by chance she met Father Peter, she drew back before him.

Sunday morning, the company scattered to the four winds. "Six days shalt thou eat and drink, but the seventh is holy--" so it stands written. When the bells for early mass rang, Idalia dressed herself for church, and took her jewelled prayer-book in her hand. But first she summoned Father Peter.

"I am going to church. Perhaps for the last time to the Roman church. Do not come to-day; leave me alone. Meantime, take care of my only treasure." And then she covered Cupid's cheek with kisses, and went to church.

"Do you see how fond my mother is of me?" said Cupid, throwing his arms about Father Peter's neck. "Since we have come back she is so fond of me. That's because you're fond of her, I know, for she whispered it in my ear. You're not Father Peter, but Tihamer. Nights, she says this name over and over, and then she hugs and kisses me. Once I asked her who Tihamer was; at that she turned red, and laughing loudly, covered my mouth; then she took me up on her lap and kissed me. 'Wouldn't it be fine if you had to say Papa-Tihamer?' That means you. I know; you need not try to make believe to me,--you're no monk; I knew that when you threw the ball at the Fool's head. Do you know what my mother and her four maids are working at in her quarters? Come, I'll show you, there's nobody there. They're all gone to church." And the child dragged Father Peter into his mother's innermost room, where he had never been before. It was a marvel of convenience and elegance. Cupid ran to a richly carved wardrobe, which he opened. In it hung a rich travelling cloak trimmed with rosettes, and large buttons, lace, and gold embroidery.

"That's what they've been sewing and embroidering. And do you know who is to have this for a present? Why, it's for Tihamer, and nobody else. They told me not to tell anybody, but I'll just tell you. To-day is Sunday and to-night, when you go to bed, you'll find on your bed these clothes, and riding boots, and a gold sword. Yes, you can try them all on and see if they fit."

Father Peter looked around him. He thought he caught sight of the tempting countenance of a grinning demon behind him, and this urged him a step farther.

"Yes, and I know something more," Cupid went on. "From to-day on, every night down in the summer house, there'll be two horses saddled, and the key is left in the rear gate. I heard her arrange it all with the gate-keeper. For you know the monks down there keep watch over our gate day and night, so that if Father Peter should once try to escape from here, they could pursue him and catch him and throw him down into a deep dungeon, because he tried to run away. But if you two slip out through the garden gate some night, on those good horses, with me tucked under the cloak of one of you, then the monks may follow, but they will never overtake us."

Cupid's shafts all went home. All these preparations fitted so well into the framework of those dreams which the monk pursued day and night, when they did not pursue him. The entire plan of flight was completed; all one had to do was to adopt it. All obstacles were removed. The monk who flees with a woman may be arrested in any village, bound and brought back; but when a distinguished couple, on richly caparisoned horses, dash along, who would stop them?

"But you're not going to leave me, I'll tell you that beforehand," Cupid ran on. "There's a little fox-skin ready for me too, and little boots bordered with rabbit; don't be afraid, Mamma won't leave me behind. She takes me up on her lap now, just as she used to when I was a little boy, and as we are in the picture. Would you like to see the picture? I'll show it to you. It isn't everybody can see it at any time. It's shut up, but I know just how to press the springs, so it will open." He was then in front of the carved work which divided as he pressed a spring. When the picture came in sight, it lighted up the whole room, it was of such radiant beauty. It was an Italian masterpiece--Venus and Cupid, the veritable goddess of the myth, with the magic charms of beauty, in the act of bathing her child; her eyes were turned toward the spectator, languishingly, roguishly, seductively; a companion piece to the Venus of Correggio. The monk held his hands before his eyes,--he was dazzled.

"Shut it up," he ordered the boy.

"You're not afraid of it, are you, that it will hurt you?"

Father Peter hurried out of Idalia's room. At the door, he met the lady. His eyes betrayed the struggle of his soul. Idalia was gracious, and acted as if she had noticed nothing. She looked down.

"I have just come from church, Father. I have sinned, and wish to confess."

Father Peter looked at her in astonishment.

"Yes, I have sinned in the church, and now I have come for you to shrive me. I sinned at the altar when I was praying. I prayed God: 'I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou hast not prevented me from doing what I vowed to do, and that was to rob Thine altar of one whom my heart loves. I thank Thee that Thou hast sent upon us shame and disgrace to drive him away from Thy holy offices. I beg Thee, I pray Thee, grant me to hurry him away with me to destruction. Close the gates of Heaven against us. Grant that I may make him a heretic and a denier of the saints. Grant me to lead this saint out of the number of Thy believers; send me Thy evil angel to aid me in this work of mine.' This was my prayer at the altar named in honor of Ignatius Loyola, while they were singing the Dominus vobiscum. It was a sin, Father, I smite my breast and own it was a sin, I kneel before you; do you absolve me?"

Father Peter took the hand of the penitent and raised her. His tongue could with difficulty shape the words, "I absolve you."

"You do absolve me!" cried the woman, and pressed passionately the hand that he, unthinking, had left in hers. "Then you have absolved me, and I bind you to it."

Then she hurried in triumph from the room, leaving him alone. From the inner room rang out the laugh of Venus and Cupid. To be sure, the picture was still open, and probably it was at that they laughed.

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