A person, especially a woman, must believe something!
At first she shuffled the cards, then, placing them on her hand offered them to Lorand.
"Here they are, cut them: the one, whose future is being told, must cut. Not with the left hand, that is not good. With the right hand, towards you."
Lorand did so, to please her.
Czipra piled the cards in packs before her.
Then, resting her elbows on her knees and laying her beautiful sun-goldened face upon her hand she very carefully examined the well-known picture-cards.
The knave of hearts came just in the middle.
"Some journey is before you," the gypsy girl began to explain, with a serious face. "You will meet the mourning woman. Great delight. The queen of hearts is in the same row:—well met. But the queen of jealousy and the murderer stand between them and separate them. The dog means faithfulness, the cat slyness. The queen of melancholy stands beside the dog.—Take care of yourself, for some woman, who is angered, wishes to kill you."
[Footnote 68: These prophecies are made with Magyar cards and the gypsy girl pointing at certain cards, gives an interpretation of her own to them.]
Lorand looked with such a pitying glance at Czipra that she could not help reading the young man's thoughts.
She too replied tacitly. She pressed three fingers to her bosom, and silently intimated that she was not "that" girl. The yellow-robed woman, the queen of jealousy in the cards, was some one else. She placed her pointing fingers to the green-robed—that queen of melancholy. And Lorand remarked that Czipra had long been wearing a green robe, like the green-robed lady in the fortune-telling cards.
Czipra suddenly mixed the cards together:
"Let us try once more. Cut three times in succession. That is right."
She placed the cards out again in packs.
Lorand noticed that as the cards came side by side, Czipra's face suddenly flushed; her eyes began to blaze with unwonted fire.
"See, the queen of melancholy is just beside you, on the far side the murderer. The queen of jealousy and the queen of hearts are in the opposite corner. On the other side the old lady. Above your head a burning house. Beware of some great misfortune. Some one wishes to cause you great sorrow, but some one will defend you."
Lorand did not wish to embitter the poor girl by laughing in her face at her simplicity.
"Get up now, Czipra, enough of this play."
Czipra gathered the cards up sadly. But she did not accept Lorand's proffered hand, she rose alone.
"Well, what shall I do, when I don't understand anything else?"
"Come, play my favorite air for me on the czimbalom. It is such a long time since I heard it."
Czipra was accustomed to acquiesce: she immediately took her seat beside her instrument, and began to beat out upon it that lowland reverie, of which so many had wonderingly said that a poet's and an artist's soul had blended therein.
At the sound of music Topandy and Melanie came in from the adjoining rooms. Melanie stood behind Czipra; Topandy drew a chair beside her, and smoked furiously.
Czipra struck the responsive strings and meantime remarked that Lorand all the while fixed his eyes in happy rapture upon the place where she sat; though not upon her face, but beyond, above, upon the face of that girl standing behind her. Suddenly the czimbalom-sticks fell from her hand. She covered her face with her two hands and said panting:
"Ah—this pipe-smoke is killing me."
For answer Topandy blew a long mouthful playfully into the girl's face.—She must accustom herself to it: and then he hinted to Lorand that they should leave that room and go where unlimited freedom ruled.
But Czipra began to put the strings of the czimbalom out of tune with her tuning-key.
"Why did you do that?" inquired Melanie.
"Because I shall never play on this instrument again."
"You will see it will be so: the cards always foretell a coffin for me; if you do not believe me, come and see for yourself."
Therewith she spread the cards again out on the table, and in sad triumph pointed to the picture portrayed by the cards.
"See, now the coffin is here under the girl in green."
"Why, that is not you," said Melanie, half jestingly, half encouragingly, "but you are here."
And she pointed with her hand to the queen of hearts.
But Czipra—saw something other than what had been shown her. She suddenly seized Melanie's tender wrist with her iron-strong right hand, and pointed with her ill-foreboding first finger to that still whiter blank circle remaining on the white finger of her white hand.
"Where has that ring gone to?"
Melanie's face flushed deeply at these words, while Czipra's turned deathly pale. The black depths of hell were to be seen in the gypsy girl's wide-opened eyes.
THE YELLOW-ROBED WOMAN IN THE CARDS
Lorand deferred as long as possible the time for coming to an agreement with Desiderius as to what they should both do, when the fatal ten years had passed by.
His mother and grandmother would be sure to press the latter, when the defined period was over, to tell them of Lorand's whereabouts. But if they learned the story and sought him out, there would be an end to his saving alias: the happy man who was living in the person of Balint Tatray would be obliged to yield place to Lorand Aronffy who would have to choose between death and the sneers of the world.
When he had made Desiderius undertake, ten years before, not to betray his whereabouts to his parents, he had always calculated and intended to fulfil his fatal obligation. Desiderius alone would be acquainted with the end, and would still keep from the two mothers the secret history of his brother. They had during this time become accustomed to knowing that he was far from them, and his brother would, to the day of their death, always put them under the happy delusion that their son would once again knock at the door, and would show them the letters his brother had written; while he would in reality long have gone to the place, from whence men bring no messages back to the light of the sun. Yet the good peaceful mothers would every day lay a place at table for the son they expected, when the glass had long burst of its own accord.
In place of this cold, clean, transparent dream is now that hot chaos. What should he do now that he wished to live, to enjoy life, to see happy days?
Wherever he would go, in the street, in the field, in the house, everywhere he would feel himself walking in that labyrinth; everywhere that endless chain would clank after him, which began again where it had ended.
He did not even notice, when some one passed him, whether he greeted him or not.
To escape, to exchange his word of honor for his life, to shut out the whole world from his secret—what has pride to say to that?—what the memory of the father who in a like case bowed before his self-pride and cast his life and happiness as a sacrifice before the feet of his honor? What would the tears of the two mothers say?—how could tender-handed love fight alone against so strong adversaries?
How could Balint Tatray shake off from himself that whole world which cleaved like a sea of mud to Lorand Aronffy?
As he proceeded in deep reflection beside the village houses, his hat pressed firmly down over his eyes, he did not even notice that from the other direction a lady was crossing the rough road, making straight for him, until as she came beside him she addressed him with affected gaiety:
"Good day, Lorand."
The young fellow, startled at hearing his name, looked up amazed and gazed into the speaker's face.
She, with the cheery smile of undoubted recognition, grasped his hand.
"Yes, yes! I recognized you again after so long a time had passed, though you know me no more, my dear Lorand."
Oh! Lorand knew her well enough! And that woman—was Madame Balnokhazy....
Her face still possessed the beautiful noble features of yore; only in her manner the noblewoman's graceful dignity had given way to a certain unpleasant freedom which is the peculiarity of such women as are often compelled to save themselves from all kinds of delicate situations by humorous levity.
She was dressed for a journey, quite fashionably, albeit a little creased.
"You here?" inquired Lorand, astonished.
"Certainly: quite by accident. I have just left my carriage at the Sarvoelgyi's. I have won a big suit in chancery, and have come to the 'old man' to see if I could sell him the property, which he said he was ready to purchase. Then I shall take my daughter home with me."
"Of course—poor thing, she has lived long enough in orphan state in the house of a half-madman. But be so kind as to give me your arm to lean on: why I believe you are still afraid of me: it is so difficult, you know, for some one who is not used to it, to walk along these muddy rough country roads.—I am going to sell my property which I have won, because we must go to live in Vienna."
"Because Melanie's intended lives there too."
"Perhaps you would know him too,—you were once good friends—Pepi Gyali!"
"Oh, he has made a great career! An extraordinarily famous man. Quite a wonder, that young man!"
"But you only taunt me with your series of 'indeeds.' Tell me how you came here. How have I found you?"
"I am steward here on Mr. Topandy's estate!"
"Steward! Ha ha! To your kinsman?"
"He does not know I am his kinsman."
"So you are incognito? Ever since then? Just like me: I have used six names since that day. That is famous. And now we meet by chance. So much the better; at least you can lead me to Topandy's house: the atheist's dogs will not tear me to pieces if I am under your protection.—But after that you must help again to defend me."
Lorand was displeased by the fact that this woman turned into jest those memories in which the shame of both lay buried.
Topandy was on the verandah of the castle in company with the girls when Lorand led in the strange lady.
Lorand went first to Melanie:
"Here is the one you have so often sighed after," ... then turning to Topandy—"Madame Balnokhazy."
For a moment Melanie was taken aback. She merely stared in astonishment at the new arrival, as if it were difficult to recognize her at once, while her mother, with a passion quite dramatic, rushed towards her, embraced her, clasped her to her bosom, and covered her with kisses. She sobbed and kneeled before her; as one may see times without number in the closing scene of the fifth act of any pathetic drama.
"How beautiful you have become! What an angel! My darling, only, beloved Melanie!—for whom I prayed every day, of whom every day I dreamed.—Well, tell me, have you thought sometimes of me?"
Melanie whispered in her mother's ear:
"Later, when we are alone."
The woman understood that well ("later when we are alone, we can talk of cold, prosaic things: but when they see us, let us weep, faint, and embrace.") This scene of meeting was going to begin anew, only Topandy was good enough to kindly request her ladyship to step into the room, where space was confined, and circumstances are more favorable to dramatic episodes. Madame Balnokhazy then became gay and talkative. She thanked Topandy (the old atheistical fool) thousands, millions of times, for giving a place of refuge to her child, for guarding her only treasure. Then she looked around to see whom else she had to thank. She saw Czipra.
"Why," she said to Lorand, "you have not yet introduced me to your wife."
Everybody became embarrassed—with the exception of Topandy, who answered with calm humor:
"She is my ward, and has been so many years."
"Oh! A thousand apologies for my clumsiness. I certainly thought she was already married."
Madame Balnokhazy had time to remark that Czipra's eyes, when they looked upon Lorand, seemed like the eyes of faithfulness: and she had a delicious opportunity of cutting to the heart two, if not three people.
"Well, it seems to me what is not may be, may it not, 'Lorand?'"
"Lorand!" cried three voices in one.
"There we are! Well I have betrayed you now. But what is the ultimate good of secrecy here between good friends and relations? Yes, he is Lorand Aronffy, a dear relation of ours. And you had not yet recognized him, Melanie?"
Melanie turned as white as the wall.
Lorand answered not a word.
Instead of answering he stepped nearer to Topandy, who grasped his hand, and drew him towards him.
Madame Balnokhazy did not allow anyone else to utter a word.
"I shall not be a burden long, my dear uncle. I have taken up my residence here in the neighborhood, with Mr. Sarvoelgyi, who is going to buy our property; we have just won an important suit in chancery."
Madame Balnokhazy did not explain the genesis of the suit in chancery any further to Topandy, who had himself now fallen into that bad habit of saying, "indeed" to everything, as Lorand did.
"For that purpose I must enjoy myself a few days here."
"I hope, dear uncle, you will not deny me the pleasure of being able to have Melanie all this time by my side. I should surely have found it much more proper to take up my quarters directly here in your house, if Sarvoelgyi had not been kind enough to previously offer his hospitality."
"Indeed?" (Topandy knew sometimes how to say very mocking "indeeds.")
"So please don't offer any objections to my request that I may take Melanie to myself for these few days. Later on I shall bring her back again, and leave her here until fortune desires you to let us go forever."
At this point Madame Balnokhazy put on an extremely matronly face. She wished him to understand what she meant.
"I find your wish very natural," said Topandy briefly, looking again in the woman's face as one who would say "What else do you know for our amusement?"
"Till then I render you endless thanks for taking the part of my poor deserted orphan. Heaven will reward you for your goodness."
"I didn't do it for payment."
Madame Balnokhazy laughed modestly, as though in doubt whether to understand a joke when the inhabitants of higher spheres were under consideration.
"Dear uncle, you are still as jesting as ever in certain respects."
"As godless—you wished to say, did you not? Indeed I have changed but little in my old age."
"Oh we know you well!" said the lady in a voice of absolute grace: "you only show that outwardly, but everyone knows your heart."
"And runs before it when he can, does he not?"
"Oh, no: quite the contrary," said Madame apologetically, "don't misinterpret our present departures to prove how much we all think of that beneficial public life which you are leading. I shall whisper one word to you, which will convince you of our most sincere respect for you."
That one word she did whisper to Topandy, resting her gloved hand on his shoulder—:
"I wish to ask my dear uncle to give Melanie away, when Heaven brings round the happy day."
At these words Topandy smiled: and, putting Madame Balnokhazy's hand under his arm, said:
"With pleasure. I will do more. If on that certain day of Heaven the sun shines as I desire it, this my godless hand shall make two people happy. But if that day of Heaven be illumined otherwise than I wish, I shall give 'quantum satis' of blessing, love congratulatory verses, long sighs and all that costs nothing. So what I shall answer to this question depends upon that happy day."
Madame Balnokhazy clasped Topandy's hand to her heart and with eyes upturned to Heaven, prayed that Providence might bless so good a relation's choice with good humor, and then drew Melanie too towards him, that she might render thanks to her good uncle for the gracious care he had bestowed upon her.
Lorand gazed at the group dispiritedly, while Czipra, unnoticed, escaped from the room.
"And now perhaps Lorand will be so kind as to accompany us to Sarvoelgyi's house."
"As far as the gate."
"Where is your dear friend, Melanie, that beautiful dear creature? Take a short leave of her. But where has she gone to?"
Lorand did not move a muscle to go and look for Czipra.
"Well we shall meet the dear child again soon," said Madame Balnokhazy, noticing that they were waiting in vain. "Give me your arm, Lorand."
She leaned on Lorand's right arm, and motioned to Melanie to take her position on the other side; but the girl did not do so. Instead she clasped her mother's arm, and so they went along the street, the mother waving back affectionately to Topandy, who gazed after them out of the window.
Melanie did not utter a single word the whole way.
"The old fellow, it seems, is on bad terms with Sarvoelgyi?"
"Is he still as iconoclastic, as godless, as ever?"
"And you have been able to stand it so long?"
"And yet you were always so pious, so god-fearing; are you still?"
"So Topandy and Sarvoelgyi are living on terms of open enmity?"
"Yet you will visit us several times, while we are here?"
"Heaven be praised that once I hear a 'no' from you! That heap of yes's began already to make me nervous. Then you too are among his opponents?"
Meantime they had reached the gate of Sarvoelgyi's house. Here Lorand stopped and would proceed no further.
Madame Balnokhazy clasped Melanie's hand that she might not go in front.
"Well, my dear Lorand, and are you not going to take leave of us even?"
Lorand gazed at Melanie, who did not even raise her eyes.
"Good-bye, Madame," said Lorand briefly. He raised his hat and was gone.
Madame Balnokhazy cast one glance after him with those beautiful expressive eyes.—Those beautiful expressive eyes just then were full to the brim of relentless hatred.
When Lorand reached home Czipra was waiting for him at the door.
Raising her first finger, she whispered in his ear:
"That was the yellow-robed woman!"
Yet she had nothing yellow on her.
THE FINGER-POST OF DEATH
Lorand threw himself exhausted into his arm-chair.
There was an end to every attempt at escape.
He had been recognized by the very woman who ought to detest him more bitterly than anyone in the world.
Nemesis! the liberal hand of everlasting justice!
He had deserted that woman in the middle of the road, on which they were flying together passionately into degradation, and now that he wished to return to life, that woman blocked his way.
There was no hope of pity. Besides, who would accept it—from such a hand? At such a price? Such a present must be refused, were it life itself.
Farewell calm happy life! Farewell, intoxicating love!
There was only one way, a direct one—to the opened tomb.
They would laugh over the fallen, but at least not to his face.
The father had departed that way, albeit he had a loving wife, and growing children:—but he was alone in the world. He owed nobody any duty.
There were two enfeebled, frail shadows on earth, to which he owed a duty of care; but they would soon follow him, they had no very long course to run.
Fate must be accomplished.
The father's blood besprinkled the sons. One spirit drew the other after it by the hand, till at last all would be there at home together.
Only a few days more remained.
These few days he must be gay and cheerful: must deceive every eye and heart, that followed attentively him who approached the end of his journey,—that no one might suspect anything.
There was still one more precaution to be taken.
Desiderius might arrive before the fatal day. In his last letter he had hinted at it. That must be prevented. The meeting must be arranged otherwise.
He hurriedly wrote a letter to his brother to come to meet him at Szolnok on the day before the anniversary, and wait for him at the inn. He gave as his reason the cynicism of Topandy. He did not wish to introduce him as a discord in that tender scene. Then they could meet, and from there could go together to visit their parents.
The plan was quite intelligible and natural. Lorand at once despatched the letter to the post.
So does the cautious traveler drive from his route at the outset, the obstacles which might delay him.
Scarcely had he sent the letter off when Topandy entered his room.
Lorand went to meet him. Topandy embraced and kissed him.
"I thank you that you chose my home as a place of refuge from your prosecutors, my dear Lorand; but there is no need longer to keep in hiding. Later events have long washed out what happened ten years ago, and you may return to the world without being disturbed."
"I have known that long since: why, we read the newspapers; but I prefer to remain here. I am quite satisfied with this world."
"You have a mother and a brother from whom you have no reason to hide."
"I only wish to meet them when I can introduce myself to them as a happy man."
"That depends on yourself."
"A few days will prove it."
"Be as quick as you can with it. Let only one thought possess your mind: Melanie is now in Sarvoelgyi's house. The great spiritual delight it will afford me to think of the hypocrite's death-face which that Pharisee will make when that trivial woman discloses to him that the young man, who is living in the neighborhood, is Loerincz Aronffy's son, can only be surpassed by my anxiety for you, caused by his knowledge of the fact. For, believe me, he will leave no stone unturned to prevent you, who will remind him of that night when we spoke of great and little things, from being able to strike root in this world. He will even talk Melanie over."
Lorand, shrugging his shoulders, said with light-hearted indifference:
"Melanie is not the only girl on this earth."
"Well said. I don't care. You are my son: and she whom you bring here is my daughter. Only bring her; the sooner the better."
"It will not take a week."
"Better still. If you want to act, act quickly. In such cases, either quickly or not at all; either courageously or never."
"There will be no lack of courage."
Topandy spoke of marriage, Lorand of a pistol.
"Well in a week's time I shall be able to give my blessing on your choice."
Topandy did not wish to dive further into Lorand's secret. He suspected the young fellow was choosing between two girls, and did not imagine that he had already chosen a third:—the one with the down-turned torch.
Lorand during the following days was as cheerful as a bridegroom during the week preceding his marriage—so cheerful!—as his father had been the evening before his death.
[Footnote 69: The torch, which should have been held upright for the marriage festivities, would be held upside down for the festivities of death, just as the life would be reversed.]
The last day but one came: May again, but not so chilly as ten years before. The air in the park was flower-perfumed, full of lark trills, and nightingale ditties.
Czipra was chasing butterflies on the lawn.
Ever since Melanie had left the house, Czipra's sprightly mood had returned. She too played in the lovely spring, with the playful birds of song.
Lorand allowed her to draw him into her circle of playmates:
"How does this hyacinth look in my hair?"
"It suits you admirably, Czipra."
The gypsy girl took off Lorand's hat, and crowned it with a wreath of leaves, then put it back again, changing its position again and again until she found out how it suited him best.
Then she pressed his hand under her arm, laid her burning face upon his shoulder, and thus strolled about with him.
Poor girl! She had forgotten, forgiven everything already!
Six days had passed since that ruling rival had left the house: Lorand was not sad, did not pine after her, he was good-humored, witty, and playful; he enjoyed himself. Czipra believed their stars were once more approaching each other.
Lorand, the smiling and gay Lorand, was thinking that he had but one more day to live; and then—adieu to the perfumed fields, adieu to the songster's echo, adieu to the beautiful, love-lorn gypsy girl!
They went arm-in-arm across the bridge, that little bridge that spanned the brook. They stopped in the middle of the bridge and leaning upon the railing looked down into the water;—in the self same place where Melanie's engagement ring fell into the water. They gazed down into the water-mirror, and the smooth surface reflected their figures; the gypsy girl still wore a green dress, and a rose-colored sash, but Lorand still saw Melanie's face in that mirror.
In this place her hand had been in his: in that place she had said of the lost ring "leave it alone:" in that place he had clasped her in his arms!
And to-morrow even that would cause no pain!
Topandy now joined them.
"Do you know what, Lorand?" said the old Manichean cheerily: "I thought I would accompany you this afternoon to Szolnok. We must celebrate the day you meet your brother: we must drink to it!"
"Will you not take me with you?" inquired Czipra half in jest.
"No!" was the simultaneous reply from both sides.
"Because it is not fit for you there.—There is no room for you there!"
Both replied the same.
Topandy meant "You cannot take part in men's carousals; who knows what will become of you?" while Lorand—meant something else.
"Well, and when will Lorand return?" inquired Czipra eagerly.
"He must first return to his parents," answered Topandy.
(—"Thither indeed" thought Lorand, "to father and grandfather"—)
"But he will not remain there forever?"
At that both men laughed loudly. What kind of expression was that word "forever" in one's mouth? Is there a measure for time?
"What will you bring me when you return?" inquired the girl childishly.
Lorand was merciless enough to jest: he tore down a leaf which was round, like a small coin; placing that on the palm of her hand, he said:
"Something no greater than the circumference of this leaf."
Two understood that he meant "a ring," but what he meant was a "bullet" in the centre of his forehead.
How pitiless are the jests of a man ready for death.
Their happy dalliance was interrupted by the butler who came to announce that a young gentleman was waiting to speak with Master Lorand.
Lorand's heart beat fast! It must be Desi!
Had he not received the letter? Had he not acceded to his brother's request? He had after all come one day sooner than his deliberate permission had allowed.
Lorand hastened up to the castle.
Topandy called after him:
"If it is a good friend of yours bring him down here into the park: he must dine with us."
"We shall wait here by the bridge," Czipra added: and there she remained on the bridge, she did not herself know why, gazing at those plants on the surface of the water, that were hiding Melanie's ring.
Lorand hastened along the corridors in despondent mood: if his brother had really come, his last hours would be doubly embittered.
That simulation, that comedy of cynical frivolity, would be difficult to play before him.
The new arrival was waiting for him in the reception room.
When Lorand opened the door and stood face to face with him, an entirely new surprise awaited him.
The young cavalier who had thus hastened to find him was not his brother Desi, but—Pepi Gyali.
Pepi was no taller, no more manly-looking than he had been ten years before; he had still that childish face, those tiny features, the same refined movements. He was still as strict an adherent to fashion: and if time had wrought a change in him, it was only to be seen in a certain, distinguished bearing,—that of those who often have the opportunity of playing the protector toward their former friends.
"Good day, dear Lorand," he said in a gay tone, anticipating Lorand. "Do you still recognize me?"
("Ah," thought Lorand: "you are here as the finger-post of death.")
"I did not want to avoid you: as soon as I knew from the Balnokhazys that you were here, I came to find you."
After all it was "she" that had put him on Lorand's track!
"I have business here with Sarvoelgyi in Madame Balnokhazy's interest—a legal agreement."
Lorand's only thought, while Gyali was uttering these words, was—how to behave himself in the presence of this man.
"I hope," said the visitor tenderly extending his hand to Lorand, "that that old wrangle which happened ten years ago has long been forgotten by you—as it has by me."
("He wishes to make me recollect it, if perchance I had forgotten.")
"And we shall again be faithful comrades and true."
One thought ran like lightning in a moment through Lorand's brain. "If I kick this fellow out now as would be my method, everyone would clearly understand the origin of the catastrophe, and take it as satisfaction for an insult. No, they must have no such triumph: this wretch must see that the man who is gazing into the face of his own death is in no way behind him, who burns to persecute him to the end with exquisiteness, in cheerful mood."
So Lorand did not get angry, did not show any sullenness or melancholy, but, as he was wont to do in student days of yore, slapped the dandy's open hand and grasped it in manly fashion.
"So glad to see you, Pepi. Why the devil should I not have recognised you? Only I imagined that you would have aged as much as I have since that time, and now you stand before me the same as ever. I almost asked you what we had to learn for to-morrow?"
"I am glad of that! Nothing has caused me any displeasure in my life except the fact that we parted in anger—we, the gay comrades!—and quarrelled!—why? for a dirty newspaper! The devil take them all!—Taken all together they are not worth a quarrel between two comrades. Well, not a word more about it!"
"Well, my boy, very well, if your intentions are good. In any case we are country fellows who can stand a good deal from one another. To-day we calumniate each other, to-morrow we carouse together."
Ha, ha, ha!
"But you must introduce me to the old man. I hear he is a gay old fool. He does not like priests. Why I can tell him enough tales about priests to keep him going for a week. Come, introduce me. I know his mouth will never cease laughing, once I begin upon him."
"Naturally it is understood that you will remain here with us."
"Of course. Old Sarvoelgyi, as it is, had made sour faces enough at the unusual invasion of guests: and he has a cursedly sullen housekeeper. Besides it is disagreeable always to have to say nice things to the two ladies: that's not why a fellow comes to the country. A propos, I hear you have a beautiful gypsy girl here."
"You know that too, already?"
"I hope you are not jealous of her?"
"What, the devil! of a gypsy girl?"
("Well just try it with her," thought Lorand, "at any rate you will get 'per procura,' that box on the ears which I cannot give you.")
"Ha, ha! we shall not fight a duel for a gypsy girl, shall we, my boy?"
"Nor for any other girl."
"You have become a wise man like me: I like that. A woman is only a woman. Among others, what do you say to Madame Balnokhazy? I find she is still more beautiful than her daughter. Ma foi, on my word of honor! Those ten years on the stage have only done her good. I believe she is still in love with you."
"That's quite natural," said Lorand in jesting scorn.
In the meantime they had reached the park; they found Topandy and Czipra by the bridge. Lorand introduced Pepi Gyali as his old school-fellow.
That name fairly magnetized Czipra.—Melanie's fiance!—So the lover had come after his bride. What a kind fellow this Pepi Gyali was! A really most amiable young man!
Gyali quite misunderstood the favorable impression his name and appearance made on Czipra: he was ready to attribute it to his irresistible charms.
After briefly making the acquaintance of the old man, he very rapidly took over the part of courtier, which every cavalier according to the rules of the world is bound to do; besides, she was a gypsy girl, and—Lorand was not jealous.
"You have in one moment explained to me something over which I have racked my brains a whole day."
"What can that be?" inquired Czipra curiously.
"How it is that some one can prefer fried fish and fried rolls at Sarvoelgyi's to cabbage at Topandy's?"
"Who may that someone be?"
"Why, I could not understand that Miss Melanie was able to persuade herself to change this house for that; now I know: she must have put up with a great persecution here."
"Persecution?" said Czipra, astonished:—the gentlemen too stared at the speaker.—"Who would have persecuted her?"
"Who? Why these eyes!" said Gyali, gazing flatteringly into Czipra's eyes. "The poor girl could not stand the rivalry. It is quite natural that the moon, however sweet and poetic a phenomenon, always flees before the sun."
To Czipra this speech was very surprising. There are many who do not like overburdened sweetness.
"Ah, Melanie is far more beautiful than I," she said, casting her eyes down, and growing very serious.
"Well it is my bounden duty to believe in that, as in all the miracles of the apostles: but I cannot help it, if you have made a heretic of me."
Czipra turned her head aside and gazed down into the water with eyes of insulted pride: while Lorand, who was standing behind Gyali, thought within himself:
("If I take you by the neck and drown you in that water, you would deserve it, and it will do good to my soul: but I should know I had murdered you: and no one should ever be able to boast of that? My name shall never be connected with yours in death.")
For Lorand might well have known that Gyali's appearance on that day had no other object than that of reminding Lorand of his awful obligation.
"My dear boy," said Lorand patting Gyali's shoulder playfully, "I must show what a general I should have made. I have an important journey this afternoon to Szolnok."
"Well, go; don't bother yourself on my account. Do exactly as you please."
"That's not how matters lie, Pepi: you must not stay here in the meantime."
"The devil! Perhaps you will turn me out?"
"Oh dear no! To-night we shall have a glorious carnival at Szolnok, in honor of my regeneration. All the gay fellows of the neighborhood are invited to it. You must come with us too."
"Ha! Your regeneration carnival!" cried Gyali, in a voice of ecstasy, the while gazing at Czipra apologetically. "Albeit other magnets draw me hither with overpowering force—I must go there without fail. I must deliver a 'toast' at your 'regeneration' festival, Lorand."
"My brother Desi will also be there."
"Oho! little Desi? That little rebel. Well all the better. We shall have much in common with him; of old he was an amusing boy, with his serious face. Well I shall go with you. I sacrifice myself. I capitulate. Well we shall go to Szolnok to-night."
Why, anyone might have seen plainly—had he not come that day just to revel in the agony of Lorand?
"Yes, Pepi," Lorand assured him, "we shall be gay as we were once ten years ago. Much hidden joy awaits us: we shall break in suddenly upon it. Well, you are coming with us."
"Without fail: only be so good as to send some one next door for my traveling-cloak. I shall go with you to your 'regeneration' fete!"
And once again he grasped Lorand's hand tenderly, as one who was incapable of expressing in words all the good wishes with which his heart was brimming over.
"You see I should have been a good general after all," said Lorand smiling. "How beautifully I captured the besieging army."
"Oh, not at all; the blockade is still being kept up."
"But starvation will be a difficult matter where the garrison is well nourished."
The poor gypsy girl did not understand a word of all this jesting, which was uttered for her edification: and if she had understood it, was she not a gypsy girl, just to be sported with in this manner?
Were not Topandy and his comrades wont to jest with her after this manner.
But Czipra did not laugh over these jests as much as she had done at other times.
It exercised a distasteful influence upon her heart, when this young dandy spoke so lightly of Melanie, and even slighted her before the eyes of another girl. Did all men speak so of their loved ones? And do men speak so of every girl?
Topandy turned the conversation. He knew his man at the first glance: he had many weak sides. He began to "my lord" him, and made inquiries about those foreign princes, whose plenipotentiary minister M. Gyali was pleased to be.
That had its effect.
Gyali became at once a different person: he strove to maintain an imposing bearing with a view to raising his dignity, for all the world as if he had swallowed a poker; he straightened his eyebrows, put his hands behind him under the tails of his lilac-colored dress-coat and formed his mouth into the true diplomatic shape.
It was a supreme opportunity for being able to display his grandiose achievements. Let that other see how high he had flown, while others had remained fastened to the earth.
"I have just concluded a splendid business for his Excellency, the Prince of Hohenelm-Weitbreitstein."
"A ruling prince, of course?" inquired Topandy, in naive wonder.
"Why, you know that."
"Of course, of course. His possessions lie just where the corners of the great principalities of Lippedetmold, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen and Reuss-major meet."
Oh, Gyali must have been very full of self-confidence when he answered to the old magistrate's peculiar geographical definition, "yes."
"Your lordship has already doubtless found an excellent situation in the Principality?"
"I have an order and a title, the gift of His Excellency."
"Of course it may lead to more."
"Oh yes. In return for my winning His Excellency's domains, which he inherited on his mother's side, he will settle on me 5,000 acres of land."
"No: here in the Magyar country."
"I thought in Hohenelm-Weitbreitstein: for that is a beautiful country."
Gyali began to see that it was after all something more than simplicity that could give utterance to such easily recognized exaggeration; and when the old man began to inform him, in which section of which chapter of the Corpus Juris would be found inscribed His Excellency's Magyar "indigenatus," etc., etc., Gyali began to feel exceedingly uncomfortable, and began to again change the course of the conversation. He chattered on about His Excellency being a fine, free-thinking man, related a hundred anecdotes about him, how he turned out the Jesuits from his possessions, what jokes he had played on the monks, how he persecuted the pietists, and other such things as might be very inconvenient incumbrances to the Principality of Hohenelm-Weitbreitstein,—in the case of any such principality existing in the world.
The theme lasted the whole of dinner time.
Czipra wanted to do all she could to-day for herself. For the farewell-dinner she sought out all that she had found Lorand liked, and Lorand was ungrateful enough to allow Gyali the field of compliment to himself: he could not say one good word to her.
Yet who knew when he would sit at that table again?
Dinner over, Lorand spent a few minutes in running over the house: to give instructions to every servant as to what was to be done in the fields, the garden and the forest before his return in two weeks' time. He gave everyone a tip to drink to his health; for to-morrow he was to celebrate a great festival.
Topandy, too, was looking over the preparations for the journey. Czipra was the lady of the house: it was her task, as it had always been, to amuse the guest who remained alone. Topandy never troubled himself to amuse anyone, for whose entertainment he was responsible. Czipra was there, he must listen to what she had to say.
In the meantime the butler, who had been sent to Sarvoelgyi's to bring Gyali's traveling cloak, came back.
He brought also a letter from the young lady for Lorand.
"From the young lady?"
Lorand took the letter from him and told him to take the cloak up to the guest's room.
He himself hastened to his own room.
As he passed through the saloon, Gyali met him, coming from Czipra's room. The dandy's face was peculiarly flurried.
"My dear friend," he said to Lorand, "that gypsy girl of yours is a regular female panther, and you have trained her well, I can tell you.—Where is there a looking-glass?"
"Yes she is," replied Lorand. He scarcely knew why he said it: he heard, but only unconsciously.
Only that letter! Melanie's letter!
He was in such a hurry to reach his room with it. Once there and alone, he shut the door, kissed the fine rose-colored note, and its azure-blue letters, the red seal upon it; and clasped it to his breast, as if he would find out from his heart what was in it.
Well, and what could be in it?
Lorand put the letter down before him and laid his fist heavily upon it.
"Must I know what is in that letter?
"Suppose she writes that she loves me, and awaits happiness from me, that her love can outbalance a whole lost world, that she is ready to follow me across the sea, beyond the mocking sneers of acquaintances, and to disappear with me among the hosts of forgotten figures!
"No. I shall not break open this letter.
"My last step shall not be hesitating.
"And if what seems such a chance meeting is nought but a well planned revenge? If they have all along been agreed and have only come here together that they may force me to confess that I am humiliated, that I beg for happiness, for love, that I am afraid of death because I am in love with the smiling faces of life; and when I have confessed that, they will laugh in my face, and will leave me to the contempt of the whole world, of my own self....
"Let them marry each other!"
Lorand took the beautiful note and locked it up in the drawer of his table, unopened, unread.
His last thought must be that perhaps he had been loved, and that last thought would be lightened by the uncertainty: only "perhaps."
And now to prepare for that journey.
It was Lorand's wont to carry two good pistols on a journey. These he carefully loaded afresh, then hid them in his own traveling trunk.
He left his servant to pack in the trunk as much linen as would be enough for two weeks, for they were going to journey farther.
Topandy had two carriages ready, his traveling coach and a wagon.
When the carriages drove up, Lorand put on his traveling cloak, lit his pipe and went down into the courtyard.
Czipra was arranging all matters in the carriages, the trunks were bound on tightly and the wine-case with its twenty-four bottles of choice wine, packed away in a sure place.
"You are a good girl after all, Czipra," said Lorand, tenderly patting the girl's back.
Was he really so devoted to that pipe that he could not take it from his mouth for one single moment?
Yet she had perhaps deserved a farewell kiss.
"Sit with my uncle in the coach, Pepi," said Lorand to the dandy, "with me you might risk your life. I might turn you over into the ditch somewhere and break your neck. And it would be a pity for such a promising youth."
Lorand sprang up onto the seat and took the reins in his hands.
"Well, adieu, Czipra!"—The coach went first, the wagon following.
Czipra stood at the street-door and gazed from there at the disappearing youth, as long as she could see him, resting her head sadly against the doorpost.
But he did not glance back once.
He was going at a gallop towards his doom.
And when evening overtakes the travelers, and the night's million lights have appeared, and the tiny glowworms are twinkling in the ditches and hedges, the young fellow will have time enough to think on that theme: that eternal law rules alike over the worlds and the atoms—but what is the fate of the intermediate worms? that of the splendid fly? that of ambitious men and nations struggling for their existence? "Fate gives justice into the two hands of the evil one, that while with the right he extinguishes his life, with the left he may stifle the soul."
Some wise man, who was a poet too, once said: "the best fame for a woman is to have no fame at all." I might add: "the best life history is that, which has no history."
Such is the romance of Fanny's life and of mine.
Eight years had passed since they brought a little girl from Fuersten-Allee to take my place: the little girl had grown into a big girl,—and was still occupying my place.
How I envied her those first days, when I had to yield my place to her, that place veiled with holy memories in our family's mourning circle, in mother's sorrowing heart; and how I blessed fate, that I was able to fill that place with her.
My career led me to distant districts, and every year I could spend but a month or two at home; mother would have aged, grandmother have grown mad from the awful solitude had Heaven not sent a guardian angel into their midst.
How much I have to thank Fanny for.
For every smile of mother's face, for every new day of grandmother's life—I had only Fanny to thank.
Every year when I returned for the holidays I found long-enduring happy peace at home.
Where everyone had so much right every day madly to curse fate, mankind, the whole world; where sorrow should have ruled in every thought;—I found nothing but peace, patience, and hope.
It was she who assured them that there was a limit to suffering, she who encouraged them with renewed hopes, she who allured them by a thousand possible variations on the theme of chance gladness, that might come to-morrow or perhaps the day after.
And she did everything for all the world as if she never thought of herself.
What a sacrifice it must be for a fair lively girl to sacrifice the most brilliant years of her youth to the nursing of two sorrow-laden women, to suffering with them, to enduring their heaviness of disposition.
Yet she was only a substitute girl in the house.
When I left Pressburg and the Fromm's house her parents wished to take her home; but Fanny begged them to leave her there one year longer, she was so fond of that poor suffering mother.
And then every year she begged for another year; so she remained in our small home until she was a full-grown maiden.
Yes Pressburg is a gay, noisy town. The Fromm's house was open before the world and the flower ought to open in spring—the young girl has a right to live and enjoy life.
Fanny voluntarily shut herself off from life. There was no merriment in our house.
My parents often assured her they would take her to some entertainments, and would go with her.
"For my sake? You would go to amusements that I might enjoy myself? Would that be an amusement for me? Let us stay at home.—There will be time for that later."
And when she victimized herself, she did it so that no one could see she was a victim.
There are many good patient-hearted girls, whose lips never complain, but hollow eyes, pale faces, and clouded dispositions utter silent complaints and give evidence of buried ambitions.
Fanny's face was always rosy and smiling: her eyes cheerful and fiery, her disposition always gay, frank and contented; her every feature proved that what she did she did from her heart and her heart was well pleased. Her happy ever-gay presence enlightened the while gloomy circle around her, as when some angel walks in the darkness, with a halo of glory around his figure.
From year to year I found matters so at home when I returned for the holidays: and from year to year one definite idea grew and took shape in our minds mutually.
We never spoke of it: but we all knew.
She knew—I knew, her parents knew and so did mine; nor did we think anything else could happen. It was only a question of time. We were so sure about it that we never spoke of it.
After finishing my course of studies, I became a lawyer; and, when I received my first appointment in a treasury office, one day I drew Fanny's hand within mine, and said to her:
"Fanny dear, you remember the story of Jacob in the Bible?"
"Do you not think Jacob was an excellent fellow, in that he could serve seven years to win his wife?"
"I cannot deny that he was."
"Then you must acknowledge that I am still more excellent for I have already served eight years—to win you."
Fanny looked up at me with those eyes of the summer-morning smile, and with childish happiness replied:
"And to prove your excellence still further, you must wait two years more."
"Why?" I asked, downcast.
"Why?" she said with quiet earnestness. "Do you not know there is a vacant place at our table; and until that is filled, there can be no gladness in this house. Could you be happy, if you had to read every day in your mother's eyes the query, 'where is that other?' All your gladness would wound that suffering heart, and every dumb look she gave would be a reproach for our gladness. Oh, Desi, no marriage is possible here, as long as mourning lasts."
And as she said this to prevent me loving her, she only forced me to love her the more.
"How far above me you are!"
"Why those two short years will fly away, as the rest. Our thoughts for each other do not date from yesterday, and, as we grow old, we shall have time enough to grow happy. I shall wait, and in this waiting I have enough gladness."
Oh how I would have loved to kiss her for those words: but that face was so holy before me, I should have considered it a sacrilege to touch it with my lips.
"We remain then as we were."
"Not a word of it for two years yet, when you are released from your word of honor you gave to Lorand, and may discover his whereabouts. Why this long secrecy? That I cannot understand. I have never had any ambition to dive more deeply into your secret than you yourselves have allowed me to: but if you made a promise, keep it; and if by this promise you have thrown your family, yourself, and me into ten years' mourning, let us wear it until it falls from us."
I grasped the dear girl's hand, I acknowledged how terribly right she was; then with her gay, playful humor she hurried back to mother, and no one could have fancied from her face, that she could be serious for a moment.
I risked one more audacious attempt in this matter.
I wrote to Lorand, putting before him that the horizon all round was already so clear, that he might march round the country to the sound of trumpets, announcing that he is so and so, without finding anyone to arrest him, as it was the same whether it was ten years or eight, he might let us off the last two years, and admit us to him.
Lorand wrote back these short lines in answer:
"We do not bargain about that for which we gave our word of honor."
It was a very brief refusal.
I troubled him no more with that request. I waited and endured, while the days passed.... Ah, Lorand, for your sake I sacrificed two years of heaven on earth!
THE FATAL DAY!
It had come at last!
We had already begun to count the days that remained.
One week before the final day, I received a letter from Lorand, in which he begged me not to go to meet him at Lankadomb, but rather to give a rendezvous in Szolnok: he did not wish the scene of rapture to be spoiled by the sarcasms of Topandy.
I was just as well pleased.
For days all had been ready for the journey. I hunted up everything in the way of a souvenir which I had still from those days ten years before when I had parted from Lorand, even down to that last scrap of paper, which now occupied my every thought.
[Footnote 70: The paper of Madame Balnokhazy's letter which was used for the fatal lot-drawing.]
It would have been labor lost on my part to tell the ladies how bad the roads in the lowlands are at that time of year, that in any case Lorand would come to them a day later. Nor indeed did I try to dissuade them from making the journey. Which of them would have remained home at such a time? Which of them would have given up a single moment of that day, when she might once more embrace Lorand? They both came to me.
We arrived at Szolnok one day before Lorand: I only begged them to remain in their room until I had spoken with Lorand.
They promised and remained the whole day in one room of the inn, while I strolled the whole day about the courtyard on the watch for every arriving carriage.
An unusual number of guests came on that day to the inn: gay companions of Topandy from the neighborhood, to whom Lorand had given a rendezvous there. Some I knew personally, the others by reputation; the latter's acquaintance too was soon made.
It struck me as peculiar that Lorand had written to me that he did not wish the elegiac tone of our first gathering to be disturbed by the voice of the stoics of Lankadomb, yet he had invited the whole Epicurean alliance here—a fact which was likely to give a dithyrambic tone to our meeting.
Well, amusement there must be. I like fellows who amuse themselves.
It was late evening when a five-horsed coach drove into the courtyard—in the first to get out I recognized Gyali.
What did he want among us?
After him stepped out a brisk old man whose moustache and eyebrows I remembered of old. It was my uncle, Topandy.
Topandy came straight towards me.
So serious was his face, when, as he reached me, he grasped my hand, that he made me feel quite confused.
"You are Desiderius Aronffy?" he said: and with his two hands seized my shoulders, that he might look into my eyes. "Though you do not say so, I recognize you. It is just as if I saw your departed father before me. The very image!"
Many had already told me that I was very like what my father had been in his young days.
Topandy embraced me feelingly.
"Where is Lorand?" I inquired. "Has he not come?"
"He is coming behind us in a wagon," he answered, and his voice betrayed the greatest emotion. "He will soon be here. He does not like a coach. Remain here and wait for him."
Then he turned to his comrades who were buzzing around him.
"Let us go and wait inside, comrades. Let us leave these young fellows to themselves when they meet. You know that such a scene requires no audience. Well, right about face, quick march!"
Therewith he drove all the fellows from the corridor: indeed did not give Gyali time to say how glad he was to meet me again.
The gathering became all the more unintelligible to me.
Why, if Topandy himself knew best what there was to be felt in that hour, what necessity had we to avoid him?
Now the wagon could be heard! The two steeds galloped into the courtyard at a smart pace with the light road-cart. He was driving himself.
I scarcely recognized him. His great whiskers, his closely-cropped hair, his dust-covered face made quite a different figure before me from that which I had been wont to draw in my album,—as I had thought to see, as mother or grandmother directed me, saying "that is missing, that feature is other, that is more, that is less, that is different," times without number we had amused ourselves with that.
Lorand was unlike any portrait of him I had drawn. He was a muscular, powerful, rough country cavalier.
As he leaped out of the wagon, we hastened to each other.
The centre of the courtyard was not the place to play an impassioned scene in. Besides neither of us like comedy playing.
"Good evening, old fellow."
"Good evening, brother."
That was all we said to each other: we shook hands, kissed each other, and hurried in from the courtyard, straight to the room filled with roysterers.
They received Lorand with wall-shaking "hurrahs," and Lorand greeted them all in turn.
Some embittered county orator wished to deliver a speech in his honor, but Lorand told him to keep that until wine was on the table: dry toasts were not to his taste.
Then he again returned to my side and took my face in his hands.
"By Jove! old fellow, you have quite grown up! I thought you were still a child going to school. You are half a head taller than I am. Why I shall live to see you married without my knowing or hearing anything about it."
I took Lorand's arm and drew him into a corner.
"Lorand, mother and grandmother are here too."
He wrenched his arm out of my hand.
"Who told you to do that?" he growled irritatedly.
"Quietly, my dear Lorand. I have committed no blunder even in formalities. It will be ten years to-morrow since you told me I might in ten years tell mother where you are. Then you wrote to me to be at Szolnok to-day. I have kept my promise to mother as regards telling her to-morrow and to you by my appearance here. Szolnok is two days distant from our home:—so I had to bring them here in order to do justice to both my promises."
Lorand became unrestrainedly angry.
"A curse upon every pettifogger in the world! You have swindled me out of my most evident right."
"But, dear Lorand, are you annoyed that the poor dear ones can see you one day earlier?"
"That's right, begin like that.—Fool, we wanted to have a jolly evening all to ourselves, and you have spoilt it."
"But you can enjoy yourselves as long as you like."
"Indeed? 'As long as we like,' and I must go in a tipsy drunken state to introduce myself to mother?"
"It is not your habit to be drunk."
"What do you know? I'm fairly uproarious once I begin at it. It was a foolish idea of yours, old fellow."
"Well, do you know what? Put the meeting first, after that the carousal."
"I have told you once for all that we shall make no bargains, sir advocate. No transactions here, sir advocate!"
"Don't 'sir advocate' me!"
"Wait a moment. If you could be so cursedly exact in your calculation of days, I shall complete your astronomical and chronological studies. Take out your watch and compare it with mine. It was just 11:45 by the convent clock in Pressburg, when you gave me your word. To-morrow evening at 11:45 you are free from your obligation to me: then you can do with me what you like."
I found his tone very displeasing and turned aside.
"Well don't be dispirited," said Lorand, drawing me towards him and embracing me. "Let us not be angry with each other: we have not been so hitherto. But you see the position I am in. I have gathered together a pack of dissolute scamps and atheists, not knowing you would bring mother with you, and they have been my faithful comrades ten years. I have passed many bad, many good days with them: I cannot say to them 'Go, my mother is here.' Nor can I sit here among them till morning with religious face. In the morning we shall all be 'soaked.' Even if I conquer the wine, my head will be heavy after it. I have need of the few hours I asked you for to collect myself, before I can step into my dear ones' presence with a clear head. Explain to them how matters stand."
"They know already, and will not ask after you until to-morrow."
"Very well. There is peace between us, old fellow."
When the company saw we had explained matters to each other, they all crowded round us, and such a noise arose that I don't know even now what it was all about. I merely know that once or twice Pepi Gyali wished to catch my eye to begin some conversation, and that at such times I asked the nearest man, "How long do you intend to amuse yourselves in this manner?" "How are you?" and similar surprising imbecilities.
Meanwhile the long table in the middle of the room had been laid: the wines had been piled up, the savory victuals were brought in; outside in the corridors a gypsy band was striking up a lively air, and everybody tried to get a seat.
I had to sit at the head of the table, near Lorand. On Lorand's left sat Topandy, on his right, beside me, Pepi Gyali.
"Well, old fellow, you too will drink with us to-day?" said Lorand to me playfully, putting his arms familiarly round my neck.
"No, you know I never drink wine."
"Never? Not to-day either? Not even to my health?"
I looked at him. Why did he wish to make me drink to-day especially?
"No, Lorand. You know I am bound by a promise not to drink wine, and a man of honor always keeps his promises, however absurd."
I shall never forget the look which Lorand gave me at these words.
"You are right, old fellow:" and he grasped my hand. "A man of honor keeps his promises, however absurd...."
And as he said so, he was so serious, he gazed with such alarming coldness into the eyes of Gyali, who sat next to him. But Pepi merely smiled. He could smile so tenderly with those handsome girlish round lips of his.
Lorand patted him on the shoulder.
"Do you hear, Pepi? My brother refused to drink wine, because a man of honor keeps his promises. You are right, Desi. Let him who says something keep his word."
Then the banquet began.
It is a peculiar study for an abstainer to look on at a midnight carousal, with a perfectly sober head, and to be the only audience and critic at this "divina comedia" where everyone acts unwittingly.
The first act commenced with the toasts. He to whom God had given rhetorical talent raises his glass, begs for silence,—which at first he receives and later not receiving tries to assure for himself by his stentorian voice;—and with a very serious face, utters very serious phrases:—one is a master of grace, another of pathos: a third quotes from the classics, a fourth humorizes, and himself laughs at his success, while everybody finishes the scene with clinking of glasses, and embraces, to the accompaniment of clarion "hurrahs."
Later come more fiery declamations, general outbursts of patriotic bitterness. Brains become more heated, everyone sits upon his favorite hobby-horse, and makes it leap beneath him; the socialist, the artist, the landlord, the champion of order, everyone begins to speak of his own particular theme—without keeping to the strict rules of conversation that one waits until the other has finished: rather they all talk at once, one interrupting the other, until finally he who has commenced some thrilling refrain hands over the leadership to all: the song becomes general, and each one is convinced from hearing his own vocal powers, that nowhere on earth can more lovely singing be heard.
And meantime the table becomes covered with empty bottles.
Then the paroxysm grows by degrees to a climax. He who previously delivered an oration now babbles, comes to a standstill, and, cuts short his discomfiture by swearing; there sits one who had already three times begun upon some speech, but his bitterness, mourning for the past, so effectually chokes his over-ardent feelings that he bursts into tears, amidst general laughter. Another who has already embraced all his comrades in turn, breaks in among the gypsies and kisses them one after the other, swearing brotherhood to the bass fiddler and the clarinetist. At the farther end of the table sits a choleric fellow, whose habit it is always to end in riotous fights, and he begins his freaks by striking the table with his fist, and swearing he will kill the man who has worried him. Luckily he does not know with whom he is angry. The gay singer is not content with giving full play to his throat, helping it out with his hands and feet: he begins to dash bottles and plates against the wall, and is delighted that so many smashed bottles give evidence of his triumph. With a half crushed hat he dances in the middle of the room quite alone, in the happy conviction that everybody is looking at him, while a blessed comrade had come to the pass of dropping his head back upon the back of his chair, only waking up when they summon him to drink with him—though he does not know whether he is drinking wine or tanner's ooze.
But the fever does not increase indefinitely.
Like other attacks of fever, it has a crisis, beyond which a turn sets in!
After midnight the uproarious clamor subsided. The first heating influence of the wine had already worked itself out. One or two who could not fight with it, gave in and lay down to sleep, while the others remained in their places, continuing the drinking-bout, not for the sake of inebriety, merely out of principle, that they might show they would not allow themselves to be overcome by wine.
This is where the real heroes' part begins, of those whom the first glass did not loosen, nor the tenth tie their tongues.
Now they begin to drink quietly and to tell anecdotes between the rounds.
One man does not interrupt another, but when one has finished his story, another says, "I know one still better than that," and begins: "the matter happened here or there, I myself being present."
The anecdotes at times reached the utmost pitch of obscenity and at such times I was displeased to hear Lorand laugh over such jokes as expressed contempt for womankind.
I was only calmed by the thought that "our own" were long in bed—it was after midnight—and so it were impossible for mother or someone else out of curiosity to be listening at the keyhole, waiting for Lorand's voice.
All at once Lorand took over the lead in the conversation.
He introduced the question "Which is the most celebrated drinking nation in the world?"
He himself for his part immediately said he considered the Germans were the most renowned drinkers.
This assertion naturally met with great national opposition.
They would not surrender the Magyar priority in this respect either.
Two peacefully-inclined spirits interfered, trying to produce a united feeling by accepting the Englishman, then the Servian as the first in drinking matters—a proviso which naturally did not satisfy either of the disputing parties. Lorand, alone against the united opinion of the whole company, had the audacity to assert that the Germans were the greatest drinkers in the world. He produced celebrated examples to prove his theory.
"Listen to me! Once Prince Batthyany sent two barrels of old Goencz wine to the Brothers of Hybern. But the duty to be paid on good Magyar wine beyond the Lajta was terrible. The recipients would have had to pay for the wine twenty gold pieces—a nice sum. So the Brothers, to avoid paying and to prevent the wine being lost, drank the contents of the two barrels outside the frontier."
[Footnote 71: A river near Pressburg, the boundary between Austria and Hungary.]
[Footnote 72: Probably 200 florins.]
Ah, they could produce drinkers three times or four times as great, this side of the Lajta!
But Lorand would not give in.
"Well, your namesake, Pepo Henneberg," related Lorand, turning to Gyali, "introduced the custom of drawing a string through the ears of his guests, who sat down at a long table with him, and compelled them all to drain their beakers to the dregs, whenever he drank, under penalty of losing the ends of their ears."
"With us that is impossible, for we have no holes bored in our ears!" cried one.
"We drink without compulsion!" replied another.
"The Magyar does all a German can do!"
That assertion, loudly shouted, was general.
"Even draining glasses as they did at Wartburg?" cried Lorand.
"What the devil was the custom at Wartburg?"
"The revellers at Wartburg, when they were in high spirits used to load a pistol, and then to fill the barrel to the brim with wine: then they cocked the trigger, and drained this curious glass one after another for friendship's sake."
(I see you, Lorand!)
"Well, which of you is inclined to follow the German cavaliers' example?"
"I for one am not, and Heaven forbid you should be."
—Which remark came from Gyali, not Lorand.
I looked at him. The fellow had remained sober. He had only tasted the wine, while others had drunk it.
"If you are inclined, let us try," said Lorand.
"With pleasure, only you must do it first."
"I shall do so, but you will not follow me."
"If you do it, I shall too. But I think you will not do it before me."
One idea flashed clearly before me and chilled my whole body. I saw all: I understood all now: the mystery of ten years was no longer a secret to me: I saw the refugee, I saw the pursuer, and I had both in my hand, in such an iron grip, as if God had lent me for the moment the hand of an archangel.
You just talk away.
Lorand's face was a feverish red.
"Well, well, you scamp! Let us bet, if you like."
"Twenty bottles of champagne, which we shall drink too."
"I accept the wager."
"Whoever withdraws from the jest loses the bet."
"Here's the money!"
Both took their purses and placed each a hundred florins on the table.
I too produced my purse and took a crumpled paper out of it:—but it was no banknote.
Lorand cried to the waiter.
"Take my pistols out of my trunk."
The waiter placed both before him.
"Are they really loaded?" inquired Gyali.
"Look into the barrels, where the steel head of the bullets are smiling at you."
Gyali found it wiser to believe than to look into the pistol barrels.
"Well, the bet stands; whichever of us cannot drink out his portion pays for the champagne."
Lorand seized his glass to pour the red wine that was in it into the pistol-barrel.
The whole company was silent: some agonized restraint ruled their intoxicated nerves: every eye was rested on Lorand as if they wished to check the mad jest before its completion. On Topandy's forehead heavy beads of sweat glistened.
I quietly placed my hand on Lorand's, in which he held the weapon and amid profound silence asked:
"Would it not be good to draw lots to see who shall do it first?"
Both looked at me in confusion when I mentioned drawing lots.
Could their secret have been discovered?
"Only if you draw lots about it," I continued quietly, "don't omit to be quite sure about the writing of each other's name, lest there be a repetition of that farce which took place ten years ago, when you drew lots as to who was to dance with the white elephant."
I saw Gyali turn as white as paper.
"What farce?" he panted, beginning to rise from his chair.
"You always were a jesting boy, Pepi: at that time you made me draw lots for you, and told me to put both the one I had drawn and the other in the grate: but instead of doing so I threw the dance programme in the fire, and put those papers aside and kept them. You, instead of your own, wrote my brother's name on the paper, and so whichever was drawn, Lorand Aronffy must have come out of the hat. Look, the two lottery tickets are still in my possession, those same two pieces of paper, a sheet of note paper torn in two, both with the same name on them, and on the other side the writing of Madame Balnokhazy."
Gyali rose from his seat like one who had seen a ghost, and gazed at me with a look of stone.
Yet I had not threatened him. I had merely playfully jested with him. I smilingly spread out the two pieces of lilac-colored papers, which so exactly fitted together.
But Lorand with flashing eyes glared at him, and as the dignified upright figure stood opposite him, threw the contents of the glass he held in his hand into the fellow's face, so that the red wine splashed all over his laced white waistcoat.
Gyali with his serviette wiped from his face the traces of insult and with dignified coldness said:
"With men in such a condition no dispute is possible. We cannot answer the taunts of drunken men."
Therewith he began to back towards the door.
Everybody, in amazement at this scene, allowed him to go: for all the world as if everyone had suddenly begun to be sober, and at the first surprise no one knew how to think what should now happen.
But I ... I was not drunk. I had no need to become sober.
I leaped up from my place, with one bound came up to the departing man, and seized him before he could reach the door, just as a furious tiger fastens up a miserable dormouse.
"I am not drunk! I have never drunk wine, you know," I cried losing all self-restraint, and pressing him against the wall so that he shivered like a bat.—"I shall be the one to throw that cursed forgery in your face, miserable wretch!"
And I know well that that single blow would have been the last chapter in his life—which would have been a great pity, not as far as he was concerned, but for my own sake—had not Heaven sent a guardian angel to check me in my wickedness.
Suddenly someone behind seized the hand raised to strike. I looked back, and my arm dropped useless at my side.
It was Fanny who had seized my arm.
"Desi," cried my darling in a frightened voice: "This hand is mine: you must not defile it."
I felt she was right. I allowed my uncontrollable anger to be overcome; with my left hand I threw the trembling wretch out of the door—I do not know where he fell—and then I turned round to clasp Fanny to my breast.
Already mother and grandmother were in the room.
The poor women had spent the whole evening of agony in the neighboring room, keeping perfectly still, so as not to betray their presence there, with the intention of listening for Lorand's voice: and they had trembled through that last awful scene, of which they could hear every word. When they heard my cry of rage, they could restrain themselves no longer, but rushed in, and threw themselves among the revellers with a cry of "My son, my son."
Everyone rose at their honored presence: this solemn picture, two kneeling women embracing a son snatched from the jaws of death.
The surprising horror had reduced everyone to soberness: all tipsiness, all winy drowsiness, had passed away.
"Lorand, Lorand," sobbed mother, pressing him frantically to her breast, while grandmother, unable to speak or to weep, clutched his hand.
"Oh Lorand, dear...."
But Lorand grasped the two ladies' hands and led them towards me.
"It is him you must embrace, not me: his is the triumph."
Then he caught sight of that sweet angel bowed upon my shoulder, who was still holding my hand in hers: he recollected those words with which Fanny a moment before had betrayed our secret. "This hand is mine"—and he smiled at me.
"Is that the way matters stand? Then you have your reward in your hands, ... and you can leave these two weeping women to me."
Therewith he threw himself on his face upon the floor before them, and embracing their feet kissed the dust beneath them.
"Oh, my darlings! My loved ones."
What those who had so long waited, spoke and thought during that night cannot be written down. These are sacred matters, not to be exposed to the public gaze.
Lorand confessed all, and was pardoned for all.
And he was as happy in that pardon as a child who had been again received into favor.
Lorand indeed felt as if he were beginning his life now at the point where ten years before it had been interrupted, and as if all that happened during ten years had been merely a dream, of which only the heavy beard of manhood remained.
It was very late in the morning when he and Desiderius woke. Sleep had proved very pleasant for once.
Sleep—and in place of death too.
"Well old fellow," said Lorand to his brother, "I owe you one more adventurous joke, with which I wish to surprise you."
The threat was uttered so good-humoredly that Desiderius had no cause to be frightened, but he said quietly: "Tell me what it is."
"I shall not go home with you now."
"Well, and what shall you do?" inquired Desiderius quite as astonished as Lorand had expected.
"I shall escape from you," he said, shaking his head good-humoredly.
"Ah, that is an audacious enterprise! But tell me, where are you going to escape to?"
"Ha, ha! I shall not merely tell you where I am going, but I shall take you with me to look after me henceforward as you have done hitherto."
"You are very wise to do so.—May I know whither?"
"Back to Lankadomb."
"To Lankadomb? Perhaps you have lost something there?"
"Yes, my senses.—Well don't look at me so curiously as if you wished to ask whether I ever had any. You and this little girl quite understand each other. I see that mother and grandmother too are sufficiently in love with her to give her to you: but my blessing has yet to come, old man—that you have not received yet."
"Hope assures me that perhaps I have softened your hard heart."
"Not all at once. I shall tell you something."
"I am all ears."
"In my will I passed over all my worldly wealth to you: the sealed letter is in your possession. As far as I know you, I believe I shall cause you endless joy by asking back my will from you, and telling you that you will now be poorer by half your wealth, for the other half I require."
"I know that without waiting for you to teach me. But what has your old testament to do with the gospel of my heart?"
"Oh your head must be very dense, old fellow, if you don't understand yet. Then listen to my ultimatum. I refuse to give my consent to your marrying—before me."
Desiderius threw himself on Lorand's neck; he understood now.
"There is somebody you love?"
Lorand assented with a smile.
"Of course there is. But—you know how that blackguard (by Jove, you gave him a powerful shaking!) confused my calculation for an entire life. I could not make her understand about that of which the continuation begins only to-day. Still, all the more reason for hastening. A half hour is necessary to tell another all about it, half an hour in a carriage: they will remain here meanwhile. We shall fly to Topandy at Lankadomb: by evening we shall have finished all, and to-morrow we shall be here again, like two flying madmen, who are striving to see which can carry the other off more rapidly towards the goal—where happiness awaits him. I shall drive the horses to Lankadomb, you can drive them back."
Desiderius did not dare to go himself with these glad tidings to his mother. He entrusted Fanny to prepare her for them—perhaps so much delight would have killed her.
They told her Lorand had official business which called him to Lankadomb for one day; and they started together with Topandy.
Topandy was let into the secret, and considered it his duty to go with Lorand—he might be required to give the bride away.
The world around Lorand had changed—at least so he thought, but the change in reality was within him.
He was indeed born again: he had become quite a different man from the Lorand of yesterday. The noisy good-humor of yesterday badly concealed the resolve that despised death, just as the dreaminess of to-day openly betrayed the happiness that filled his heart.
The whole way Desiderius could scarcely get one word from him, but he might easily read in his face all upon which he was meditating: and if he did utter once or twice encomiums on the beautiful May fields, Desiderius could see that his heart too felt spring within it.
How beautiful it was to live again, to be happy and gay, to have hopes, expect good in the future, to love and be proud in one's love, to go with head erect, to be all in all to someone!
At noon they arrived at Lankadomb.
Czipra ran out to meet them and clapped her hands.
"You were driven away; how did you get back so soon? Well no one expected you to dinner."
Lorand was the first to leap off the cart, and tenderly offered his hand to the girl.
"We have arrived, my dear Czipra. Even if you did not expect us to dinner, you can give us some of your own."
"Oh, no," said the girl in a whisper, blushing at the same time, "I have been accustomed to eat at the servant's table, when you were not at home, and you have brought a guest too. Who is that gentleman?"
"My brother, Desi, a very good fellow. Kiss him, Czipra."
Czipra did not wait to be told twice, and Desiderius returned the kiss.
"Now give him a room: to-day we shall stay here. Send up water to my room, we have got very dusty on the way, although we wished to be handsome to-day."
"Indeed?"—Czipra took Desiderius' hand, and as she led him to his room, asked him the whole history of his life: where he lived: why he had not visited Lorand sooner: was he married already, and would he ever come back there again?
Desiderius had learned from Lorand's letters about Czipra that he might readily answer any question the poor girl might ask, and might at first sight tell her every secret of his heart. Czipra was delighted.
Lorand, however, did not wait for Topandy, who was coming behind, but rushed to his room.
That letter, that letter!—it had been on his mind the whole way.
His first duty was to take it out of the closed drawer and read it over.
He did not deliberate long now whether to break the seal or not: and the envelope tore in his hand, as the seal would not yield.
And then he read the following words:
"That minute, in which I learned your name, raised a barrier for ever between us. The recollections which are a burden upon you, cannot be continued by an alliance between us. You who dragged my mother down into misfortune, and then faithlessly deserted her, cannot insure me happiness, or expect faithfulness from me. I shall weep over Balint Tatray, as my departed to whom my dream gave being, and whom cold truth has buried; but Lorand Aronffy I do not know. It is my duty to tell you so, and if you are, as I believe, a man of honor, you will consider it your duty, should we ever meet in life, never again to make mention of what was Balint Tatray. Good-bye, "MELANIE."
Lorand fell back in his chair broken-hearted.
That was the contents of the letter he had kissed—the letter which, on the threshold of the house of death he had not dared to open, lest the happiness which would beam upon him should shake the firmness of his tread. Ah, they wished to make death easy for him! To write such a letter to him! To utter such words to one she had loved!...
"Why, she is right. I was not the Joseph of the Bible: but does not love begin with pardon? Did I blame her for the possession of that ring she let fall in the water? And from whom could she know that my crime was worse than that which hung round that ring?
"And if I were steeped in that crime with which she charges me, how can an angel, who may know nothing of what happens in hell, put such a thought in these cold-blooded words.
"They wished to kill me.
"They wished to close the door behind me, as Johanna of Naples did to her husband, when he was struggling with his assassins.
"And they wished to wash clean the murderer's hands, throwing upon me the charge of having killed myself because my love was despised.
"They knew everything well, they calculated all with cold mercilessness. They waited for the hour to come, and whetted the knife before I took it in my hands.
"And yet I can never hate her! She has plunged the dagger into my heart, and I remember only the kiss she gave...."
That moment he felt a quiet pressure on his shoulder.
Confused, he looked up. Czipra was standing behind him. The poor gypsy girl could not allow anyone else to wait on Lorand: she had herself brought him the water.
The girl's face betrayed a tender fear: she might long have been observing him, unknown to him.
"What is the matter?" she asked in trembling anxiety.
Lorand could not speak. He merely showed her the letter he had read.
Czipra could not understand the writing. She did not know how one could poison another with dumb letters, could wound his heart to its depths, and murder it. She merely saw that the letter made Lorand ill.
She recognized that rose-colored paper, those fine characters.
"Melanie wrote that."
By way of reply Lorand in bitter inexpressible pain turned his gaze towards the letter.
And the gypsy girl knew what that gaze said, knew what was written in that letter: with a wild beast's passion she tore it from Lorand's hand and passionately shred it into fragments and cast it on the ground, then trampled upon its pieces, as one tramples upon running spiders.
Thereupon she hid her face in her hands and wept in Lorand's stead.
Lorand went towards her and taking her hand, said sadly:
"You see, such are not the gypsy girls whose faces are brown, who are born under tents, and who cut cards, and make that their religion."
Then with Czipra's hand in his he walked long up and down his room without a word. Neither knew what to say to the other. They merely reflected how they could comfort each other's sorrow—and could not find a way.
This melancholy reverie was interrupted by Topandy's arrival.
"Now I beg you, Czipra, if you love me—" said Lorand.
If she loved him?
"To say not a single word to anybody of what you have seen. Nothing has happened to me.—If from this moment you ever see me sad, ask me 'What is the matter?' and I shall confess to you. But that pale face shall never be among those for which I mourn."
Czipra was rejoiced at these words.
"Let us show cheerful faces before my uncle and brother. Let us be good-humored. No one shall see the sting within us."
"And who knows, perhaps the bee will die for it—" Czipra departed with a cheery face as she said that. At the door she turned back once more:
"The cards told me all that last night. Till midnight I kept cutting them. But the murderer always threatens you albeit the green-robed girl always defends you.—See, I am so mad—but there is nothing else in which I can believe."
"There will be something else, Czipra," said Lorand. "Now I am going away with my brother to celebrate his marriage, then I shall return again."
Thereupon there was no more need to insist on Czipra's being good-humored the whole day. Her good-humor came voluntarily.
Poor girl, so little was required to make her happy.
Lorand, as soon as Czipra was gone, collected from the floor the torn, trampled paper fragments, carefully put them together on the table, until the note was complete, then read it over once again.
Before the door of his room he heard steps, and gay talk intermingled with laughter. Topandy and Desiderius had come to see him. Lorand blew the fragments off the table: they flew in all directions: he opened the door and joined the group, a third smiling figure.
THE UNCONSCIOUS PHANTOM
What were they laughing at so much?
"Do you know what counsel Czipra gave us?" said Topandy. "As she did not expect us to dinner, she advised us to go to Sarvoelgyi's, where there will be a great banquet to-day. They are expecting somebody."
"Who will probably not arrive in time for dinner," added Desiderius.
Czipra joined the conversation from the extreme end of the corridor.
"The old housekeeper from Sarvoelgyi's was here to visit me. She asked for the loan of a pie-dish and ice: for Mr. Gyali is expected to arrive to-day from Szolnok."
"Bravo!" was Topandy's remark.
"And as I see you have left the young gentleman behind, just go yourselves to taste Mistress Boris's pies, or she will overwhelm me again with curses."
"We shall go, Czipra," said Lorand: "Yes, yes, don't laugh at the idea. Get your hat, Desi: you are well enough dressed for a country call: let us go across to Sarvoelgyi's."
"To Sarvoelgyi's?" said Czipra, clasping her hands, and coming closer to Lorand. "You will go to Sarvoelgyi's?"
"Not just for Sarvoelgyi's sake," said Lorand very seriously,—"who is in other respects a very righteous pious fellow; but for the sake of his guests, who are old friends of Desi's.—Why, I have not yet told you, Desi. Madame Balnokhazy and her daughter are staying here with Sarvoelgyi on a matter of some legal business. You cannot overlook them, if you are in the same village with them."
"I might go away without seeing them," replied Desiderius indifferently; "but I don't mind paying them a visit, lest they should think I had purposely avoided them. Have you spoken with them already?"
"Oh yes. We are on very good terms with one another."
Lorand sacrificed the caution he had once exercised in never writing a word to Desiderius about Melanie. It seemed Desi did not run after her either; what had his childish ideal come to? Another ideal had taken its place.
"Besides, seeing that Gyali is the ladies' solicitor, and seeing that you, my dear friend, have 'manupropria' despatched Gyali out of Szolnok—he immediately took the post-chaise and is already in Pest, or perhaps farther—it is your official duty to give an explanation to those who are waiting for their solicitor and to tell them where you have put their man—if you have courage enough to do so."
Desiderius at first drew back, but later his calm confidence and courage immediately confirmed his resolution.
"What do you say,—if I have courage? You shall soon see. And you shall see, too, what a lawyer-like defence I am able to improvise. I wager that if I put the case before them, they will give the verdict in our favor."