In 1938, the narrator accidentally met the knight of the Order of Maria Theresa Anton Hofmiller, who told him about what happened to him a quarter of a century ago when he was twenty-five years old. The narrator wrote down his story, changing only the names in it and some small details, allowing to guess who and what it is about.
Anton Hofmiller was the son of a poor official, burdened by a large family. He was sent to a military school, and at the age of eighteen he graduated from it. Thanks to a distant relative, he fell into the cavalry. Service in this kind of troops is not affordable, and the young man was surrounded by much more wealthy comrades. At the end of 1913, the squadron, where he served, was transferred from Yaroslavl to a small garrison town near the Hungarian border. In May 1914, the local pharmacist, who was also the assistant to the burgomaster, introduced Anton to the richest man in the district – Mr. von Kekeshfalve, whose niece struck Anton with his
Anton was invited to the house to the Kekeshfalls, and he was delighted with the warm welcome. He danced a lot with Kekesfalva’s niece Ilona, and with other girls, and only at half past eleven he realized that he had forgotten about the owner’s daughter and had not invited her to a waltz. Anton hastened to correct the mistake, but in response to his invitation, Edith Kekeshfalva burst into tears. Anton could not understand what was happening, and Ilona explained to him that Edith paralyzed her legs and she could not step a step without crutches. Confused, Anton hastened to leave.
He felt like a whip lashed the child, and then fled like a criminal, without even trying to justify himself. To make amends, Anton bought a huge bouquet of roses for the last money and sent him to Edith. The girl answered him with a thank-you letter and invited him to a cup of tea. When Anton came, Edith and Ilona were delighted and accepted him as a dear friend. He began to visit them without ceremony and became very attached to both of them, but Ilona seemed to him to be a real woman with whom he wanted
to dance and kiss, and Edith, at the age of seventeen or eighteen, looked like a child who wanted to be petted and comforted.
Edith felt some strange uneasiness, her mood often changed. When Anton first saw Edith moving around, clutching his crutches and dragging his feet with difficulty, he was horrified. Unlimitedly suffering from her helplessness, she wanted to take revenge on the healthy, forcing them to look at her agony. Her father invited the most famous doctors in the hope that they would cure her – in fact five years ago she was a cheerful, agile child. He asked Anton not to take offense at Edith: she often is sharp, but her heart is kind. Anton felt boundless compassion and even felt shame because of his health.
One day, when he was galloping on a horse, he suddenly thought that if Edith sees him from the window of the estate, it may be painful for her to look at this leap. He jerked the reins and gave his lancers the command to go to the trot and, only when the manor disappeared from sight, again allowed them to go to a gallop. Anton experienced a rush of warm sympathy for the unfortunate sick girl, he even tried to brighten up her dreary life: seeing the girls rejoice at his arrival, he began to visit them almost every day: he told funny stories, entertained them as best he could. The owner gratefully thanked him for bringing Edith back to a good mood and she became almost as cheerful as before. Anton learned that Ilona was engaged to the assistant to a notary from Bechkeret and was waiting for Edith’s recovery or to improve her condition in order to get married with him. “Anton guessed,
Therefore, the inflamed attraction to Ilona quickly died out, and his affection increasingly concentrated on Edith, who was deprived and defenseless. Friends began to banter about Anton, who stopped visiting their parties in the “Red Lion”: they say, of course, Kekeshfalva treats better. Seeing Anton’s gold cigarette case – a gift from Ilona and Edith to his birthday – the comrades noticed that he had learned to choose his friends well. By their ridicule they deprived Anton of self-confidence. He felt he was giving and helping, and then suddenly he saw how his relations with Kekeshfalvs looked from the outside, and he realized that many around him might find his behavior far from disinterested. He became less likely to visit the Kekeshfalls. Edith was offended and arranged a scene for him, though, then she asked for forgiveness. In order not to upset the sick girl, Anton again frequented their estate.
Kekeshfalva asked Anton to ask Dr. Condor, who treated Edith, about what her chances of recovery are really: doctors often spare the sick and their relatives and do not tell them the whole truth, and Edith is tired of uncertainty and is losing patience. Kekeshfalva hoped that the strange person, what was Anton, Dr. Condor will say it as it is. Anton promised and after dinner with Kekeshfalvov went out with Condor and started a conversation with him.