While the major spoke, Timea had risen slowly; she now stepped up to him and said, "I thank you."
And again Timar saw on her white cheek that soft rosy glow, never seen by him before, but which now rested there. The woman had flushed at the thought that the man she loved could defend him who, as her husband, stood between their two hearts.
The major continued his narrative, and in order not to confuse Timea by looking at her, sought some other object in the room on which to fix his eye. He chose the dragon's head in the picture of St. George. But that was the exact spot through which Timar looked into the room, so that it seemed to him as if the major directed his words purposely to him, although it was much too dark where Timar stood for any one to see him.
"On this the man's face changed suddenly; he leaped up like a sleeping dog when one treads on his tail. 'What!' he cried, so that every one could hear. 'You think Levetinczy is a rich man with a great name—a clever man, a happy family man, a faithful subject? I will prove to you that this man, if I can once meet him, will take flight from here next day—that he will leave his lovely wife and his house in the lurch, and fly from Hungary, from Europe, so that you will never hear of him again.'"
Timea's hand strayed involuntarily to the hilt of the broken sword.
"Instead of answering the man, I struck him in the face."
Timar drew back his head from the peep-hole, as if the blow might reach him.
"I saw at once that the man regretted what he had said. He would gladly have escaped the consequences of the blow, but I would not let him off. I stood in his way and said, 'You are an officer and carry a sword—you know to what such an affair leads among men of honor. There is a ball-room upstairs at the hotel; we will have the candles lighted; then you shall choose two of us as seconds, I also will choose two, and we will fight it out.' We did not leave him time for reflection. The man fought like a pirate: twice he tried to seize my sword with his left hand; then I got angry and gave him such a cut over the head that he fell. Luckily for him, it was with the flat of the blade, which was the reason of my sword breaking. The next day the man, so our surgeon told me, had left the town—his wound can not have been a dangerous one."
Timea took out the Turkish sword and looked at the hilt; then she laid it on the table and stretched out her hand in silence to the major. He took it gently in both his own, and carried it to his lips; it could hardly be seen whether he kissed it. Timea did not draw it away.
"I thank you!" whispered the major, so low that Timar could not hear it in his hiding-place, but the eyes said it too. A long pause followed. Timea sat down again on the sofa and supported her head on her hand.
The major spoke at last. "I did not request an interview, gracious lady, to boast of a deed which in itself must be painful to you, and was really only the duty of a friend, nor to receive the thanks you so kindly offered me by a grasp of the hand. That was a more than sufficient reward. But not on that account did I request you to meet me, but to ask a very important question. Gracious lady, is it possible that there should be any truth in what this man said?"
Timea started as if struck by lightning. And the bolt struck Timar too; every nerve thrilled at the question.
"What are you thinking of?" cried Timea, passionately.
"At last it is out," said the major, rising from his chair. "And now I will not go without an answer. I say openly, is it possible that there is truth in this accusation? I have not repeated all that this man said about Levetinczy: he accused him of everything that can be said against a man. Is it conceivable that Timar's life could take such a frightful course as that which the last owner of this unlucky house only escaped by death? For if that is possible, then no respect could restrain me from beseeching you in God's name, dear lady, to delay not a moment in fleeing from this doomed house. I can not leave you to ruin—I can not look on while another drags you into the abyss."
The glowing words found a response in Timea's bosom. Timar watched in trembling excitement his wife's mental conflict. Timea remained victorious; she collected all her energy, and answered quietly, "Do not be alarmed, sir. I can assure you that that man, whoever he was, and wherever he came from, told a lie, and his accusations are groundless. I know intimately the position of Herr von Levetinczy; for during his absence I managed his affairs, and am thoroughly acquainted with every detail. His finances are in order, and even if all he has now at stake were lost by some unlucky chance, no pillar of his house would be shaken. I can also tell you with a clear conscience that of all his property there is not a thaler dishonestly come by. Levetinczy is a rich man, who need not blush for his wealth."
Why did Timar's cheeks burn so there in the darkness?
The major sighed. "You have convinced me, gracious lady; I never believed anything against his financial reputation. But this man had much to say about your husband in his character as head of a family. Allow me to ask you one thing: Are you happy?"
Timea looked at him with inexpressible pathos, and in her eyes lay the words, "You see me, and yet you ask?"
"Riches and luxury surround you," continued the major, boldly; "but if that is true—which on my honor I never asked, and which, when told me, I answered with the lie direct, and a blow in the face—if it is true that you suffer and are unhappy, I should not be a man if I had not the courage to say to you, gracious lady, there is another who suffers like you. Throw far from you these unlucky riches; make an end of this suffering of two people, who in the next world can accuse a third person in the sight of God of being the cause of it: consent to a divorce!"
Timea pressed both hands to her breast, and looked up like a martyr on her road to the stake: all her anguish was aroused at this moment.
When Timar saw her so, he struck his forehead with his fist, and turned his face from the Judas-hole through which he had been looking. For the next few moments he saw and heard no more. When torturing curiosity drew him again to the spot of light, and he cast a look into the room, he no longer saw a martyr before him. Timea's face was calm.
"Sir," she said gently to the major, "that I should have heard you to the end is a proof of my respect. Leave me this feeling, and never again ask me what you did to-day. I call the whole world to witness whether I have ever complained by word or tear. Of whom should I complain? Of my husband, who is the noblest and best man in the world? Of him who saved the strange child's life? who thrice defied death in the waters' depths for my sake? When I was a despised and derided creature he protected me; for my sake he visited the house of his deadly enemy, that he might watch over me. When I had become a homeless beggar he gave me—a servant—his hand, his riches, and made me mistress of his house. And when he offered me his hand he meant it; he was not deceiving me." As she spoke, Timea went to a closet and opened the doors. "Look here, sir," she said, as she spread out before the major the train of a dress hanging within. "Do you recognize this dress? It is the one I worked. You saw it for weeks while I worked at it. Every stitch is a buried dream, a sad memory to me. They told me it was to be my wedding-gown; and when it was finished, they said, 'Take it off: it is for another bride.' Ah! sir, that was a mortal stab to my heart: I have been sore from that incurable wound all these years. And now should I separate myself from the good man who never courted me, as a child, with flatteries, to turn my head, but remained respectfully in the distance, and waited till others had trodden me under foot to raise me to himself, and has never ceased, with superhuman, angelic patience, his endeavors to cure my wound and to share my sorrow with me? I should separate from the man who has no one but me to love him, to whom I am a whole world, the only being that ties him to life, or at whose coming his gloomy face is cheered? I should leave a man whom every one honors and loves? Tell him that I hate him—I, who owe everything to him, and who brought him no dowry but a sick and loveless heart?"
The major hid his face at these words of the passionate and excited woman. And that other man behind the picture of St. George—must he not feel like the dragon when the knight thrust his spear into him?
"But, sir," continued Timea, whose lovely face was illumined by the irresistible charm of womanly dignity, "even if Timar were the exact opposite of all that he is known to be—if he were a ruined man, a beggar—I would not leave him—then least of all. If disgrace covered his name, I would not discard that name; I would share his shame, as I have shared his success. If the whole world despised him, I should still owe him eternal gratitude; if he were exiled, I would follow him into banishment, and live with him in the woods if he were a robber. If he wished to take his life, I would die with him—"
(What is that? Is it the dragon that weeps there in the picture?)
"And, sir, if even the bitterest, cruelest insult of all to a woman were inflicted on me—if I learned that my husband was unfaithful, to me—that he loved another—I would say, 'God bless her who gave him the happiness of which I have robbed him;' and I would not even then divorce him—I would not do it if he wished it. I will never separate from him, for I know what is due to my oath and the salvation of my soul!"
And the major too sobbed—he too.
Timea stopped to recover her composure. Then in a soft and gentle voice she continued: "And now leave me forever. The stab you gave my heart years ago is healed by this sword-stroke: I keep this broken blade as a remembrance. As often as my eye falls on it, I will think that you are a brave soul, and it will be balm to me. And because for years you have never spoken to me nor approached me, I will forgive your having come and spoken to me now." . . .
When Timar burst through the closet out of the hiding-place, a dark figure stood in his way. Was it a shadow, a phantom, or a spirit? It was Athalie. Timar pushed, the dark figure away, and while he pressed her with one hand against the wall, he whispered in her ear, "I curse you! and accursed be this house and the ashes of him who built it!"
Then he rushed like a madman down the stairs.
THE FIRST LOSS.
Escape! But where? That is the question.
The church clocks in the town struck ten: the barriers were down by now across the wooden bridge over the narrow part of the river to the island, from which the ice formed the only road across the rest of the Danube. It was impossible to get past without alarming the sentries, who had orders from the commandant of the garrison to let no one go on the ice between eight in the evening and seven in the morning—not even the pope himself. It is true that a couple of bank-notes of Herr Levetinczy's might compass what a papal bull could not procure, but then it would be reported next day all over the town that the "man of gold" had fled in haste and alone, at dead of night, across the dangerous ice. That would be a good sequel to the gossip which had arisen from the duel. It would at once be said, "There, you see he is already thinking of escaping to America," and Timea would hear it too.
Timea! oh, how hard it is to evade that name; it follows him everywhere. He can do nothing but return home and wait for daylight. As cautiously as a thief he opened his door. At this hour all the other inhabitants were asleep.
When he got to his room, he lighted no lamp, and threw himself on the sofa. But the phantoms which pursued him found him quite as easily in the dark.
How that marble face blushed!
So there is life there under the ice, only the sun is wanting. Marriage is for her eternal winter—a polar winter. The wife is faithful; and the rival is a true friend. He breaks his sword over the skull of him who dared to slander the husband of the beloved woman. And Timea loves the man, and is as unhappy as he. The misery of both comes from Timar's imputation as an honest man; those who love him idealize him; no one ventures to think of deceiving or robbing or disgracing him—of breaking a splinter from the diamond of his honor: they guard it like a jewel.
Why do they all respect him? Because no one knows him.
If Timea knew, if she discovered what he really was, would she still say, "I would share the shame of his name, as I have shared its glory!" Yes; she would still say so. Timea will never leave him: she would say, "You have made me unhappy; now suffer with me." It is an angel's cruelty, and that is Timea's nature.
But how about Noemi? What is she doing on the lonely island which she can never leave, thanks to Timea's high principle? Alone during the gloomy monotony of winter, with a helpless child at her knee! What is she thinking of? No one can take her a word of consolation. She may be trembling in that desert for fear of bad men, ghosts, wild beasts! How her heart must sink when she thinks of her absent darling, and wonders where he may be! If she knew! If both those women knew what a thorough scoundrel was the man who had caused them so much sorrow—if any one was found to tell them!
Who can the stranger be who has already said enough to deserve a blow in the face, and a cut of the major's sword? A naval officer. Who can this enemy be? It is impossible to discover; he has disappeared with his wound from the town. Something told Timar it would be wise to fly from this man. Fly! his whole mind was set upon it—there was nothing he dreaded so much as being obliged to remain in one spot. As soon as he left the ownerless island, no place was a home to him. When he stopped for dinner on a journey, he could not wait till the horses were fed, but walked on ahead. Something always drove him onward.
And sleep had fled from his eyes. The clock struck twelve; seven more long hours till morning! He determined at last to kindle a light. For mental anxiety there is a remedy more effectual than opium or digitalis—prosaic work. Whoever has plenty to do, finds no time to dwell on love troubles. Merchants seldom commit suicide for love. Cares of business are a wholesome counter-irritant to draw the blood from the nobler parts.
Michael opened and read his letters in turn: all contained good news. He remembered Polycrates, with whom everything succeeded, and who began at last to be afraid of his luck.
And what was the foundation of this monstrous success? A secret unknown to all but himself. Who had seen Ali Tschorbadschi's treasure spread out in the cabin? Only himself—and the moon. But that is an accomplice, and has seen other things too. It is the "Hypomochlion" of creation, to prevent crimes from coming to light. Michael was too deeply sensitive by nature not to feel that such overwhelming good fortune, springing from so foul a root, must eventually fall into dust—for there is justice under the sun. He would joyfully have looked on at the loss of half his wealth, or even given up all, if so he could have hoped to close his account with Heaven. But he felt that his penance consisted in the fact that his riches, influence, the renown of his name, his supposed home-happiness, were only a cruel irony of fate. They buried him, and he could not extricate himself to live the only happy life, whose center was Noemi—and Dodi. When the first Dodi died, he learned what he had been to him. Now, with the second, he felt it still more; and yet he could not make them his own. He lay buried under a mountain of gold which he could not shake off. What he had seen in the delirium of fever, he now really felt. He lay buried alive in a grave full of gold. Above his head stood on the grave-stone a marble statue which never moved—Timea. A beggar-woman with a little child came to gather thyme on his tomb—Noemi. And the man buried alive vainly strove to cry out, "Give me your hand, Noemi, and pull me out of this golden tomb!"
Timar went on with his correspondence. One letter was from the Brazilian agents. His favorite scheme—the export of Hungarian flour—had been brilliantly successful. Timar had gained by it honor and wealth. As he ran through the letters, it occurred to him that when he left home in the morning he had received a registered letter with a foreign stamp. He found the letter in his coat pocket. It was from the same correspondent whose favorable report he had just read, and ran thus:
"SIR,—Since my last, a great misfortune has occurred. Your protege, Theodor Krisstyan, has cheated us shamefully and brought disgrace on us. We are blameless in the matter. This man has for years past seemed so trustworthy and active, that we put the most perfect confidence in him; his salary and commission were so large that he could not only live comfortably, but could save money, which he invested in our house. While he left his avowable savings to grow to a small capital in our hands, he robbed us frightfully—intercepted money, forged bills, and made false claims on the firm, which was easy, as he had your power of attorney—so that our loss already amounts to some ten million reis. But what makes it more serious is the discovery that during the last few years he has been mixing the imported flour with some of inferior quality from Louisiana, and by this Yankee trick has seriously impaired the credit of the Hungarian article for years to come—even if we are ever able to restore it."
"This is the first blow," thought Timar; and on the most tender point for a great financier. It touched him in what he was most proud of, and what had obtained for him the rank of a privy councilor. And so falls the brilliant fabric erected by Timea—Timea again!
Timar read on hurriedly—
"Bad company has led the young criminal astray: this is a dangerous temptation in this climate. We had him arrested at once, but none of the stolen money was found in his possession. He had lost part at the gambling-table, and got rid of the rest with the help of the Creoles; but it is quite possible that the rogue has managed to conceal considerable sums, in the hope of being able to get at them when again at liberty. However, he must wait some time, for the court here has sentenced him to fifteen years at the galleys."
Timar could read no further. He let the letter fall on the table; then he stood up and began to pace the room restlessly.
Fifteen years at the galleys! Fifteen years chained to the bench, and nothing to look at all that time but sky and sea! Fifteen years to endure the sickening noonday heat, without hope or comfort—to endure life on the ever-restless sea, and curse unmerciful man! He will be an old man before he gets his freedom. And why? In order that Herr Michael Timar, Baron von Levetinczy, may live undisturbed in his forbidden joys on the ownerless island—that no one may betray Noemi to Timea, nor Timea to Noemi. You never thought of this when you sent Theodor to Brazil, and yet you did count on the chance of opportunity making him into a thief. You did not lay him dead on the spot with a bullet, as a man kills in a duel him who stands in the way of his love. You pretended to a paternal affection for him, and sent him on a three-thousand miles' voyage; and now you will look on at this slow decay through fifteen horrible years—for you will see him, though all the earth and all her oceans lie between!
The stove had gone out. It was cold in the room, whose windows were covered with frost-flowers. And yet sweat dropped from Timar's brow, as he strode up and down the narrow space. So, then, every one is consecrated to misfortune to whom he gives his hand—on that hand is a curse.
Oh, what an awful night this is! Will it never be day? He felt as if this room were a dungeon or a tomb.
But the terrible letter had a postscript. Timar came back to the table to read it. The postscript was dated a day later, and ran thus: "I have just received a letter from Port-au-Prince, in which we are informed that three slaves have escaped from the galley on which our prisoner was placed. I fear our man is among them."
After the perusal of these lines, Timar was a prey to indescribable anxiety. Though he had been perspiring before, he began to shiver now. Had the fever returned? He looked round fearfully. What was he afraid of? He was alone in the room, and as frightened as a child who has been hearing ghost stories. He could not endure the room any longer. He took out his pocket-pistol and looked to its priming; then he tried his dagger, whether it was loose in its sheath.
Away! It was still night—not yet two o'clock; but he could not await the morning light here. And could he not get across to the Uj-Szony side without a bridge? Above the island the ice would bear. It only required a man who was less afraid of darkness and danger than of the flickering candle and the outspread letter. He held that over the light and burned it; then he blew out the candle and crept out of the window.
Only when he was in the street did he feel his heart lighter: here he was a man again. Meanwhile fresh snow had fallen, which he heard crackling under his feet while he hurried to the shore, along the whole Servian Street right up to the harbor.
The Danube was completely frozen over up to Prestburg, and could be crossed anywhere. Still, in order to cross from Komorn to Uj-Szony, he had to go round a long way by the point of the island, for sand-banks exist there on which in summer the miners wash their gold, and on these mounds the ice often lies in great heaps, forming barricades difficult to surmount. Timar had a plan ready; as soon as he came in sight of the Monostor, where stood his villa, he would strike out in that direction. But something intervened to upset his calculations. He had expected a starry night, but when he reached the Danube a fog came on. At first only thin, transparent mist; but while Timar was seeking a path on the ice, the fog became so thick that you could not see three steps in front of you. If he had given ear to the voice of reason, he would have instantly turned round and tried to find his way back to the bank. But he was in a frame of mind in which a man is inaccessible to reason; by fair means or foul he meant to get across. Apart from the fog, it was a dark night; and above the island the Danube is at its widest, and the passage over the ice-floes the most difficult. Monstrous heaped-up masses of frozen snow form oblique stretches of barricade, and in many places the ice takes the shape of capriciously cleft ridges, from which rise six-foot pinnacles of frozen water instead of fingers of rock. In coasting round these, Timar suddenly found that he had lost himself. He had already been an hour on the river; his repeater struck a quarter to three; he ought long ago to have reached the other side; he must have lost his reckoning.
He listened; no sound in the dark night. It was beyond question that he was not approaching the opposite village, but getting further away from it. Not even a dog could be heard to bark. He fancied that instead of crossing the river he must have been walking along it, and determined to change his course. The Danube was nowhere more than two hundred paces wide; he must reach the shore somewhere if he kept straight on. But in mist and darkness one does not know which way one goes; a barrier of ice which must be avoided takes one, in spite of every care, out of the right road—one walks in zigzags and comes back to the spot where one was before; even if you get into the right path, and would only have to walk on to reach the bank, you think of something else, deviate slightly, and get back into that confounded ice labyrinth again.
Past five. Nearly four hours already had he wandered about. He felt exhausted. He had not slept all night, nor eaten all day, but had struggled with the most enervating mental emotions.
His only hope was, that when day at last dawned he would be able to guess by the sun where the east lay, and then, as an old sailor, could ascertain his position. If he had come across a hole in the ice, the current of the water would have shown him in what direction to go; but the surface was entirely covered, and without an ax it was impossible to make a hole. At last it began to dawn, but the fog hid the sun. Nine o'clock, and he had not yet found the shore, though the fog seemed to grow less and the sun's disk was visible, like a pale, colorless ball, a mere shadow of its glorious self. The air was full of countless glittering particles of ice, which melted into a dazzling vapor. Now he will discover where he is.
The sun was already too high to indicate the true east, but it showed something else. It seemed to Timar, as he peered through the brilliant mist, as if he could distinguish on his right the outline of the roof of a house.
Where there is a house there must be land. He walked straight toward it, and was careful to keep in a direct line; soon he found himself close to it—but the house was a water-mill.
The ice-floes had detached it from its winter refuge, or perhaps had found it belated, still chained to the shore, and carried it off. The shrouds were as neatly sawn asunder by the sharp ice-flakes as if a clever carpenter had done it: the wheels were shattered and the mill-house wedged into a mass of ice, forming a parapet round it.
Timar stood before it in horror. His head swam as if he had seen a ghost. The sunken mill in the Perigrada whirlpool occurred to him. Is not this the ghost of that mill which comes to visit him at the end of his career, or perhaps to take possession of him? A ruined mill amidst the ice! A house so near its downfall! He went in; the door was open, probably from the shocks received amidst the blocks of ice. The machinery was all complete, so that Timar felt at any moment the white miller's ghost might enter and shake the meal into the sacks. On the roof, the beams, on every little ledge sat crows. A couple of them fluttered away when they saw him; the rest sat still and took no notice of him.
Timar was dead beat. For eight hours continuously he had wandered on the ice; the hinderances he had met with had fatigued him yet more; his stomach was empty, his nerves overstrained, his limbs stiff with cold. He sat down exhausted on a post inside the mill.
His eyes closed. And hardly had they done so before he saw himself standing at the bow of the "St. Barbara," with the hatchet in his hand, and near him the girl with the pale face.
"Away from here!" he cried to her; the ship rushed down the cataract. The wave-curl came to meet them. "Into the cabin!" But the girl never stirred. Then the sea struck the ship. Timar fell from his seat: that woke him, and he realized his danger. If he fell asleep there, he would certainly freeze to death. No doubt that is the easiest way to take one's life; but he had work to do in the world—his hour had not struck.
He went out of the mill—the fog was too thick to see anything; it was not day but night. The sighs which might go up to Heaven are swallowed in the dark clouds which will not let them pass. Was there nothing living near to help him in his extremity?
When the mill was carried away by the ice there were mice in it: they waited till the ice had set; then they left the mill and found their way to the shore—on the thin snow-covering their tiny footsteps were visible. Timar followed them. The smallest of all the mammalia in this way conducted the wise and strong human being for a whole half hour till he reached the shore. Thence he easily found the road, and arrived at the inn where he had left the post-chaise. Mist was behind and before him, and no one saw whence he came. In the parlor he devoured salt calves'-feet which had been prepared for the wagoners, drank a glass of wine, had the horses put to, lay down in the carriage, and slept till evening. He dreamed constantly that he was on the ice; and when the carriage shook, he awoke under the impression that the ice had broken under him, and that he was sinking into fathomless depths.
As he had started late from Szony, he only reached his villa at Fured the next evening. The fog accompanied him the whole way, so thick that he could not see the Platten See. They were preparing for the first catch of the season next day; he gave orders to his steward to have ready plenty of wine and malt brandy.
Galambos, the old fishing overseer, predicted a large haul. One good sign was that the lake had frozen so early. At this time, just before spawning, the fish come up the gulf in shoals. It was a still better omen that Herr von Levetinczy had come himself. He always had luck.
"I—luck!" echoed Timar to himself, sighing heavily.
"I would almost venture to bet that we shall catch the king of the fogasch himself."
"How do you mean, the king?"
"It is an old fogasch which every fisherman on the lake knows, for we have all had him in our nets in turn; but no one can land him, for when he finds he is caught he works a hole at the bottom with his snout, and manages to get out of the net. He is a regular rogue; we have put a price on his head, for he destroys as many young fry as three fishermen. He is a huge beast, and when he swims on the surface, one would think he was a whale; but we'll get him to-morrow."
Timar did not contradict, but sent every one away and lay down. Now he first felt how tired he was; and he slept a long and healthy sleep, undisturbed by dream-faces. When he awoke he was perfectly fresh; even the anxieties which occupied his mind had faded into the background as if they were a year distant. The small span of time between to-day and yesterday seemed like an eternity. It was not yet daylight, but it surprised him that the moon was shining through the frost-covered panes. He got up quickly, bathed as usual in icy water, dressed, and hurried out to see the Balaton.
This presents, when frozen—especially the few first days—a most enchanting sight. The huge lake does not freeze like rivers, on which the ice masses gradually collect: here in one moment of calm the whole surface is covered with a sheet of ice like crystal; and in the morning a smooth unruffled mirror is outspread. Under the moonlight it is a looking-glass in one piece without a flaw—only the tracks are visible upon it, by which the inhabitants of the contiguous villages communicate with each other. They traverse it like measuring-lines on some great glass table—you see the reflection of the mountains of Tihany, with the double tower of the church, as distinctly as if it were real, only the towers are upside down.
Timar stood long absorbed in this fairy picture. The fishermen woke him from his dream; they arrived with nets, poles, and ice-axes, and said the work must begin before sunrise. When all had assembled, they formed a circle, and the old chief intoned a pious hymn, which all repeated after him. Timar walked away; he could not pray. How should he address a psalm to Him who is omniscient, and who can not be deceived by songs and hymns? The music could be heard two miles away over the level surface, and the echoes of the shore repeated the sound. Timar walked a long way over the lake. At last it began to dawn, the moon paled, and the eastern horizon was tinted with rosy red, which caused a wonderful transformation in the color of the giant ice mirror, dividing it into two sharply contrasted halves. One side assumed a coppery-violet hue, while the other looked azure blue against the pink sky.
In proportion to the growing light, the splendor of the sight increased; the purple red, the gold of the sky, were repeated in the pure reflection, and when the glowing ball, radiant with fiery vapor, shot up from the violet mists of the horizon and shone down on the glittering surface, it was a spectacle such as neither sea nor land can show, as if two suns rose at once in two real skies. The moment the sun had passed through the earth-fogs, its glorious rays leaped forth.
The fishing-captain Galambos cried from the distance to Timar, "Now you will hear something. Don't be afraid! Ho! ho!"
"Afraid!" thought Timar, shrugging his shoulders, incredulously. What in the world could frighten him now? He would soon know.
When the sun first shines on the frozen lake, a wonderful sound is heard from the ice, as if thousands of fairy harp-strings were struck. One is reminded of the tones from Memnon's statue, only that it does not last so long. The mysterious cling-clang grows louder, as if the nixies down below struck their harps with all their force: then follows a droning and cracking, almost as loud as a shot, and on every snap follows a glittering fissure in the ice, which till then was clear as glass. In every direction the gigantic mirror is flawed till it is like a huge mosaic, formed of millions of tiny dice, pentagons, and many-sided prisms, and whose surface is of glass. This is what causes the sound. He who hears it for the first time finds his heart beating faster; the whole surface hums, rings, and sings under his feet. Some cracks are like thunder, and are heard miles away. The fishermen, however, proceed quietly with the spreading of their nets on the top of the groaning ice, and in the distance may be seen hay wagons, drawn slowly by four oxen across the surface. Man and beast are used to the ice-voices, which last till sunset.
This remarkable phenomenon made a curious impression on Michael's mind. He was very sensitive to the great life of nature. In his emotional temperament the thought was implanted that everything living has consciousness—wind, storm, and lightning, the earth itself, the moon and stars. But who could understand what the ice under his feet was saying?
Then suddenly was heard a fearful detonation as if a hundred cannon had been fired at once, or a subterranean mine had been exploded—the whole surface trembled and shook. The effect of this thunderous convulsion was fearful—the ice opened in a cleft three thousand yards long, and between the edges of the floes yawned a six-foot chasm. "A Rianas! a Rianas!" (the ice-cleft), cried the fishermen, and ran to the place, abandoning their nets.
Timar stood only two paces from it. He had seen it happen. His knees trembled with the frightful shock, which had driven the two ice masses apart; he was stunned with the effect of this natural phenomenon. The arrival of the fishermen roused him; they told him that among the natives this fissure was called Rianas, a word unknown elsewhere. It was a great danger for travelers across the lake, for it was not visible far off, and it never froze over, because the water was always moving in it. It was therefore the first care of these good people, wherever a footpath led to the crack, to plant at both edges a pole in the ice with a bundle of straw at the top, so that those who approach might have warning. "But what is even more dangerous," said the fisherman, "is when, under great pressure of wind, the separated floes again unite. Then there is such a grinding and crushing! Very often the power of the wind is sufficient to raise the edges of the two floes, so that there is an empty space between the water and the uplifted ice. God pity those who go over there without knowing it, for the ice which does not touch the water is certain to give way under them!"
It was nearly noon before they could get to work. It is capital sport, this fishing under the ice. In the bay, where the fishermen's experience tells them the shoals of fish will lie, two large holes are made in the ice some fifty fathoms apart, and then a square of smaller holes is formed, so that the two large openings form the opposite angles. The pieces of ice hewn from the holes are piled round their edges, so that passengers may be warned of the danger of falling in. When the sun shines on these white heaps, they look like colossal diamonds. The fishermen sink the huge net sideways into the large hole, spread out its two ends, and fasten them on poles, each three and a half fathoms in length. One man pushes the pole with the net under the ice, while another waits at the next small hole, and when the pole appears there he pushes it on to the third hole, and so on, while the other side of the square is being treated in the same way with the second pole and the other end of the net. Both meet at the opposite large hole. The net, which is sunk to the bottom with lead weights, while its top edge is held up by ropes over the ice, forms an absolute prison for all the fish within the square, which usually swarm at this season. The fogasch and sheath fish leave their miry bed and come up to breathe at the ice-holes; they have their family festivals in the winter, when cold-blooded animals make love. The strong ice-roof protects them from the foreign element, but not from its inhabitants—men.
The ice now only assists in their destruction. When they discover that the net is pressing on them, it is already too late to find an outlet. They can not leap out, because the ice shuts them in, and even the fogasch can not as usual burrow in the mud, to get under the net, for the weight of his splashing companions leaves him no space to work. The fishermen lay hold on the rope and draw steadily. The united exertion of twenty men shows how great is the strain on them; it must be several hundred-weight. The surface of the large hole begins to be alive with the crowd of fishes pressing to the only outlet, there to meet their death. Various forms of fish-mouths peep out of the water—transparent jelly-fish, red tails, blue, green, and silver scales press up, and between them comes up sometimes a great silurian, the shark of the Balaton, a Wels of a hundred pounds' weight, with wide jaws and horse-shoe mustache; but it disappears into the depths again, as if to find safety there.
Three fishermen dip the living crowd out from the top with large landing-nets, and throw the fish on to the ice without more ado, where old and young leap about together: thence they can not escape, for the holes are all surrounded with heaps of ice. It is a regular witches' dance—wide-mouthed carp leaping high in air, the pike in its despair wriggling like a snake among the gasping heaps of perch and bass. One conger after another is hauled out with a hook and thrown on the frozen surface, where, laying down his ugly head, he flaps his fellow-prisoners into pieces with his heavy tail. The space around the hole is all covered with fishes. The carp jump like water-rats, but no one notices—they can not get away. The lazier fishes lie in heaps on both sides.
"I said so," murmured old Galambos; "I knew we should have a good catch. Wherever our gracious master shows himself, luck comes with him. If only we could catch the fogasch-king."
"If I am not mistaken, we've got him in there," said the man who was next him at the rope. "There's some great beast shooting about in the net; I feel it in both my arms."
"Ha! there he is!" cried another, whose landing-net was full of fish, as an enormous head like that of a white crocodile appeared above the water. The whole head was white; in the open mouth were two rows of sharp teeth like those of an alligator, but with four fangs meeting like a tiger's—a formidable head indeed. They may well call him the king of the lake, for there is no other creature in it, even of his own race, able to vie with him.
"There he is!" screamed three others at once, but the next instant the brute had sunk; and now began the struggle.
As if the imprisoned brute had suddenly given the word to his body-guard for a last and decisive combat, a dangerous tumult began inside the net. The skirmishing corps of pike and carp ran their heads against the tightly drawn meshes; the men were obliged to beat down the marine giants with loaded staves. The fishes became furious; the cold-blooded creation showed itself capable of heroic devotion, and rose against the invaders in pitched battle. The struggle ended in the defeat of the fishes. The dog-fish were knocked on the head, the net shook out many beautiful white fogasch and schille; but the fogasch-king would not show himself.
"He has got away again," grumbled the old chief.
"No, no; he is in the net still!" said the hauling-men, clinching their teeth. "I feel by my arms how he is pushing and fighting; if only he does not break the net."
The catch was enormous already; there was no room to stand without treading on fishes.
"There goes the net! I heard it crack!" cried the first man. Half the net was still in the water.
"Haul!" growled the old fisherman, and all the men put out their whole strength. With the net came the rest of the fishes, and the fogasch-king was among them—a splendid specimen indeed, more than forty pounds weight, such as is only seen once in twenty years. He had really torn the net with his great head; but he had caught his prickly fins in the meshes, and could not get free. When they got him out he gave one of the men a blow with his tail which knocked him backward on the ice. But that was his last effort; the next moment he was dead. No one has ever held a living fogasch in his hand. It is thought that his lungs burst as he is taken out of water, and he dies instantly.
The delight of the fishermen at the capture of this one was greater than over the whole rich haul. They had been after him for years; and every one knew the cannibal, for he had the bad habit of eating his own kind. That was why he was king. When he was opened they found a large fogasch in his inside, quite recently swallowed; his flesh was overlaid with a thick layer of yellow fat, and white as linen.
"Now, honored sir, we will send him to the gracious lady," said the old fisherman. "We will pack him in ice, and your honor will write a letter and say he is the king of the fogasch. Whoever eats him will eat a king's flesh."
Michael approved the suggestion, and assured the men they should get a reward. When they had finished with the fogasch, the short winter's day had come to a close; but only in the sky, not on the ice—there it was lively enough. From every village came the people with baskets and hampers and wooden kegs; in the kegs was wine, in the hampers pork, but the baskets were meant for the fish. When it came to the division of the spoil, a complete fair formed round the fishermen. After sunset, torches were made of dry osier-twigs, fires were lighted on the ice, and then began the bargaining. Carp and pike, conger and bass, are good enough for poor people. Only the fogasch and schille are sent to Vienna and Pesth, where they fetch high prices; all the rest go for a song—and even so there is room for a large profit, for in one haul they had caught three hundredweight of fish. This Timar is indeed a favorite of fortune! The unsold fish are packed in baskets and put in the ice-house, whence they will be sent to the Vessprimer market.
Timar wanted to give a feast to all the assembled crowd. He had a ten-gallon cask brought on to the ice and the top knocked out; then he begged the captain to prepare a fish-soup, such as he only could concoct. Certain selected fishes, neither rich nor bony, were cut in pieces into a great kettle; then some of the blood, and handfuls of maize and vegetables, were added. The whole art lies in the proper proportions of the mixture, which the uninitiated never understand. Of this delicious mess Herr Timar himself consumed an incredible quantity. Where good wine flows and fish-soup is brewed, be sure there will be gypsies to be found. Almost before they thought of it, a brown band of musicians appeared, who, as soon as the cymbal-player was seated on an upturned basket, began to play popular airs.
Where gypsies and rosy wenches and fiery youths get together, dancing will soon begin. In a twinkling a rustic ball was improvised on the ice, and rose to a frolicsome height. Round the bonfires circled the active couples, shouting, as they leaped, like King David, and before he knew where he was, Timar too, whom a handsome girl had caught by the arm, was drawn into the whirl. Timar danced.
In the clear winter darkness the cheery fires illuminated the ice for many a mile. The fun lasted till midnight. Meanwhile the fishermen had finished carrying the fish into the ice-house. The joyous crowd dispersed on their homeward way, not without cheers for the feast-giver, the generous Baron von Levetinczy.
Timar stayed till Galambos had packed the fogasch-king in a box, between ice and hay, and nailed the lid down. It was put into the chaise which had brought Timar, and the driver was told to get ready to drive for his life to Komorn: there is no time to lose in dispatching fish. He wrote himself to Timea. The letter was written in an affectionate and cheerful mood. He called her his dear wife, and described the picturesque scene on the frozen lake, and the terrible cleft in the ice. (That he had been so near the Rianas he did not mention.) Then he gave a description of the fishing, with all its amusing details, and finished with an account of the night festival. He told her how much he had been entertained, and how he had quite lost his head, and even ventured on a dance with a pretty peasant girl on the ice.
Some men write these amusing letters when they are contemplating suicide. When the letter was ready he took it to the driver. The old fisherman was there too. "Go home now, Galambos," Michael advised. "You must be tired."
"I must go and make up the fire on the ice," said the old man, lighting his pipe, "for the smell of fish brings the foxes and even bears from all the forests round, to fish on their own account: they watch for the fishes, which put their heads out of the holes, and drag them out, and that frightens away the others."
"No, no!" said Michael, "don't keep up the fire. I will keep guard—I often watch all night. I will go out now and then and fire my gun; that will send all the four-footed fishermen to the right-about." This satisfied Galambos, who invoked God's blessing on his master, and trotted away.
The deaf vine-dresser, the only other inhabitant of Timar's house, had long been asleep. To add to his deafness, he had drunk so much good wine that one might be certain his night's rest would be unbroken. Timar too went to his room and stirred up his fire.
He was not sleepy; his excited brain required no rest. But there is another form of repose; or is it not rest to sit near an open window and look out on dumb nature? The moon had not yet risen; only the stars of heaven shone down on the smooth ice. Their reflection was like rubies spread on a blight steel plate, or the lights which flicker over graves on Hallowe'en.
He gazed before him, and did not even think. He sat without any sensation, either of cold or of his own pulses, neither of the outer nor inner world—he only wondered. This was rest.
The stars glittered in heaven and sparkled from their frozen mirror: no breath disturbed the silence of the night. Then Michael heard behind him a voice which greeted him with "Good-evening, sir."
At the door of the bedroom stood, between the two lights of the lamp and the fire, a figure, at sight of which Timar's blood ran cold. In the bitter midnight, through the dense fog, he had fled from this specter across the frozen Danube.
The man's dress was that of a naval officer, whose uniform had, however, visibly suffered from storms and weather. The green cloth had altogether faded on the shoulders, and some buttons were gone. The shoes, too, were in sad condition. The soles had worn away at the tip so that the naked toes were visible; over one shoe a piece of carpet was tied. The wearer was suited to his ragged dress. A sunburned face with a neglected beard; in place of the shaven mustache, a few bristly hairs; across the forehead a black handkerchief covering one eye. This was the figure which had wished Timar a good-evening.
"Krisstyan!" said Timar, very low.
"Yes, to be sure; your dear Theodor—your dear adopted son, Theodor Krisstyan! How good of you to recognize me!"
"What do you want?"
"First, I want to have that gun in my own hands, lest it should remind you of the words with which we parted last time—'If I ever appear before you again, shoot me down.' Since then I have changed my mind." So saying he seized Timar's gun, which leaned against the wall, threw himself into a chair by the fire, and laid the gun across his knee. "There, now we can talk quietly. I have come a long way, and I am dreadfully tired. My equipage left me in the lurch, and I had to travel part of the way on foot."
"What do you want here?" said Timar.
"First, a respectable suit, for what I am wearing bears signs of the severity of the weather." Timar went to the closet, took out his pelisse trimmed with astrakhan, and the rest of the suit, laid them on the ground between himself and Krisstyan, and pointed to them in silence. The vagrant held the gun in one hand, keeping his finger on the trigger, lifted the clothes one by one with the other, and looked them over with the air of a connoisseur.
"Very good—but there is something wanting to this coat. What do you think it is? Why, of course, the purse."
Timar took his pocket-book from a drawer, and threw it over. The vagabond caught it with one hand, opened it with the help of his teeth, and counted the notes inside.
"We are getting on," he said, placing the pocket-book in the pocket of the pelisse. "Might I ask for some linen? I have worn mine for a week, and I fear it is hardly fit for company." Timar handed him a shirt out of the wardrobe. "Now, I have got far enough to proceed to the toilet. But first I have a few explanations to make in order to explain one or two things to his honor the privy councilor. But why the devil should we bother with titles! We are old friends, and can talk openly."
Timar sat down speechless by the table.
"So then, my dear fellow," said the fugitive, "you will remember that you sent me some years ago to Brazil. How affected I was! I adopted you as a father, and swore to be an honest man. But you did not send me over there to make an honest man of me, but in order that I might not stand in your way in this hemisphere. You calculated that a worthless youth, without a good fiber in him, is sure to come to grief in that part of the world. He either turns thief, or gets drowned, or somebody shoots him—anyway, he would be got rid of. But you intrusted me with a large sum of money. What was that to you? Only a stalking-horse. You reckoned on my robbing you, so that you might arrest and imprison me; and so it turned out. Once or twice I nearly did you the favor of dying of some native plague, but unluckily for you I pulled through. And then I devoted my whole energy to business; I robbed you of ten million reis. Ha! ha! Spanish thieves reckon in half-kreutzers, so that the sum may sound larger—it is not more than a hundred thousand gulden. If only you knew what lovely necks the women there have, you would not think it too much; and they will only wear real pearls. But your stupid agent, the Spaniard, looked at it from a different point of view; he had me arrested and tried, and the rascal of a judge sentenced me—just for a foolish boyish trick—only think, to fifteen years at the galleys! Now, just say, was it not barbarous?"
"They took off my fine clothes, and in order that they might not lose me, they branded me on the arm with a hot iron." The felon threw off his uniform-coat as he spoke, drew his dirty shirt from his left shoulder, and showed Timar, with a bitter laugh, the mark still fiery red on his arm. "Look you, it was on your account that they branded me like a foal or a calf, lest I should go astray. Don't be afraid—I would not run away from you, even without that."
With morbid curiosity Timar gazed at the burn on the miserable wretch, and could not turn his eyes away.
"After that, they dragged me to the galleys, and riveted one of my feet to the bench with a ten-pound chain." With that he threw his torn shoe from his foot, and showed Timar a deep wound on his raw ankle. "That also I carry as a remembrance of you," sneered the escaped criminal.
Timar's eyes rested as if fascinated on the disfigured foot.
"But just think, comrade, how kind fate can be! The ways of Providence are wonderful by which an unhappy sufferer is led to the arms of his friends. On the same bench where they had been good enough to fasten me, sat a respectable old man with a bushy beard. He was to be my bed-fellow for fifteen years. It is natural to take a good look at a man who is wedded to you for so long a time. I stared at him awhile, and then said in Spanish, 'It seems to me, senor, as if I had met you before.' 'Your eyes do not deceive you—may you be struck blind!' replied the amiable individual. Then I addressed him in Turkish, 'Effendi, have you not been in Turkey?' 'I have been there; what's that to you?' Then I said in Hungarian, 'Were you not originally called Krisstyan?' The old fellow was much surprised, and said, 'Yes.' 'Then, I am your son Theodor, your dear Theodor, your only offspring!' Ha! ha! Thanks to you, friend, I found my father, my long lost father, over there in the New World on the galley-slave's bench. Providence in its wonderful way had united the long-divided father and son! But may I beg you to give me a flask of wine and something to eat, for I am thirsty and hungry, and have many interesting things to tell you, which will amuse you intensely."
Timar did as he asked, and gave him bread and wine. The visitor sat at the table, took the gun between his knees, and began to eat. He devoured like a starved dog, and drank eagerly: at every draught he smacked his lips, like an epicure who has dined well. And then he went on, with his mouth full:
"After we had got over the first joy of the unexpected meeting, my dear papa said, while he thumped me on the head, 'Now tell me, you gallows-bird, how you got here?' Naturally my filial respect had prevented me from addressing the like question to my parent. I told him that I had defrauded a Hungarian gentleman named Timar of ten million reis. 'And where did he steal all that?' was my old man's remark. I explained that he never stole—that he was a rich landowner, merchant, and trader. But that did not alter my father's opinion: 'All the same, whoever has money stole it. He who has much stole much, and he who has little stole little: if he did not steal it himself, his father or grandfather did so. There are a hundred and thirty-three ways of stealing, and only twenty-two of them lead to the galleys.' As I saw it was useless to try and change my old man's opinion, I no longer disputed the point. Then he asked me, 'How the devil did you come in contact with this Timar?'
"I told him the circumstances. 'I knew this Timar when he was a poor skipper, and had to wash his own potatoes in the ship's galley. Once I was sent by the Turkish police to track an escaped pasha who had fled on one of Timar's ships to Hungary.' 'What was his name?' growled my father. 'Ali Tschorbadschi.' 'What!' he exclaimed, striking me on the knee. He leaped up so that I thought he would jump overboard. Ha! ha! he forgot the chain. . . . 'Did you know him too!' Then the old man shook his head and said, 'Go on; what became of Ali Tschorbadschi?' 'I detected him at Ogradina: I hurried on in front of the ship to Pancsova, where every preparation was made to arrest him. But the vessel arrived without the pasha. He had died on the way, and as he was not allowed burial on shore they had thrown the corpse overboard. All this Timar proved by documentary evidence.' 'And Timar was then quite poor?' 'No richer than myself.' 'But now he has millions?' 'Of which I was lucky enough to secure ten million reis.'
"'Now, you fool, you see I was right—he stole his wealth. From whom? he killed the pasha and hid his money. I knew Ali Tschorbadschi—well. He was a thief too, like every other man, especially like every other rich man. He belonged to the 122d and 123d class of thieves. Under those numbers we reckon governors and treasurers. He was in charge of the treasures of another thief—the sultan himself, No. 133.
"'Once I found out that thief No. 132, the grand vizier, wished to twist the treasurer's neck, to get back what he had stolen. I too was then in the Turkish secret police; only a sort of No. 10, simply a fraudulent bankrupt. I had a good idea: now if I could manage to push on into the ranks of the No. 50 thieves! I went to the pasha, and revealed the secret that he was on the list of rich men whom the minister meant to strangle as conspirators, in order to secure their property. What would he give me if I saved both him and his treasures? Ali Tschorbadschi promised me a quarter of his wealth when once we should both be in safety. "Yes," said I, "but I should like to know first how much the whole comes to, for I will do nothing with my eyes shut. I am a family man—I have a son whom I should like to settle in life."' Ha! ha! The old man said it so seriously that it makes me laugh now to think of it. 'You have a son?' said the pasha to my father. 'That is well; if I escape I will give my only daughter to your son, and so the whole property will remain in the family: send me your son that I may know him.' By God! if I had only known then that the lovely lady with the white face and meeting brows was destined for me! Do you hear, comrade?—but I must have another drink, to drown my grief. . . . You will permit me to empty my glass to the health of your spouse, the loveliest of ladies?"
The galley-slave rose with the courtesy of a prince and drank the toast. Then he threw himself back in his chair, and drew breath through his teeth like a man who has dined well. "My father agreed to the bargain. 'We decided,' said he, 'that Ali Tschorbadschi should pack his jewels in a leather bag, which I was to take with me in an English ship, which would convey me as an unsuspected person, with all my luggage, to Malta. There I was to await Ali Tschorbadschi, who was to leave Stamboul as if on a pleasure trip, with his daughter, but without any luggage, make his way to the Piraeus, and thence by a Greek trader to Malta. The pasha showed great confidence in me. He left me alone in the treasure-chamber, so that his own visits there should not be noticed, and commissioned me to select the most precious objects and pack them in the leather bag. I could describe now all the jewels I chose. The antique gems, the girdles of pearls, rings, agraffes, a casket full of diamonds—'
"'Could you not hide a few away?' asked I.
"'You ass's head!' he replied, 'why should I take a single diamond and become thief No. 18, when it was in my power to steal them all?'
"Aha! my old father was a clever fellow! 'The devil I was! I was a moon-calf. I ought to have done as you say. I stuffed my bag full, and brought it to the pasha without arousing suspicion. He put a few rouleaux of louis d'or among the jewels in the bag, closed it with a puzzle-lock, and fastened lead seals to the four corners: then he sent me for a caique, that I might get quietly away. I was back in a quarter of an hour. He handed me the bag with the English steel puzzle-lock and the four lead weights. I took it under my cloak and slipped through the garden door to the boat; on the way I handled the bag and felt the agraffes, the casket, and the rouleaux. In an hour I was on board an English ship, the anchor was weighed, and we left the Golden Horn.' 'And you never took me,' said I, with child-like reproach to my papa, 'who was to marry the pasha's lovely daughter?' 'You fool!' cried the old man, 'I didn't want you or your pasha or his lovely daughter; I never meant to wait for you at Malta: with the money given me for the journey I embarked direct for America, and the leather bag went with me. But, confound it! when I got to a safe place I took out my knife and slit the bag, and what do you think fell out of it?—copper buttons, rusty horse-shoes, and instead of the casket full of diamonds, a stone inkstand—in the rouleaux, instead of louis d'or were heavy paras, the sort the corporals use for paying the private soldiers. The rascally thief had robbed me! In all my 133 classes this had never occurred; there was no number for it. While I went for the boat, the thief had prepared another identical bag filled with all sorts of rubbish, and sent me with it across the ocean, while he fled in another direction with the real jewels. But look you, there is justice not only on land but by water, for the great thief ran into the net of a still greater, who robbed and murdered him.' And this tip-top thief, who deprived the other of his property and his life was—you—brother of my heart—Michael Timar Levetinczy, the man of gold!" said the fugitive, as he rose and bowed mockingly.
Timar answered not a word.
"And now we will talk in a different way," said Theodor Krisstyan, "but still at three paces' distance, and without forgetting that the gun is aimed at you."
Timar looked indifferently down the muzzle of the gun. He had himself loaded it with ball.
"This discovery considerably increased the sufferings of my slavery," continued the adventurer. "Instead of living comfortably on Ali's treasure, I had to drag out a miserable existence on the hateful sea. And why? Because Michael Timar had smuggled the treasures which were intended for me from under my nose, and also the girl I should have married, the fair little savage who had grown up for me on the desolate island. Of her too Timar must needs defraud me, for he could not be happy with the wife whose father he had killed; he must needs have a mistress as well. Fy! Herr Timar. So it was for that you sent me to the galleys for fifteen years."
Blow after blow fell on Timar's shame-stricken face. No doubt many of these accusations were false—they were not all true. He had not "killed" Timea's father, had not "stolen" his treasures; he had not "defrauded" him of Noemi, nor "got rid of" Theodor, but on the whole he could not entirely deny the charges. He had played a false game, and thereby got mixed up in every sort of crime.
The deserter continued: "When we were lying in the Gulf of Rio Grande do Sul, yellow fever broke out on board our ship. My father caught it, and lay in the death agony beside me on the bench—no one removed him. It is not the custom; a galley-slave must die where he is chained. This was a horrible situation for me. The old man shivered with ague the whole day, he swore and gnashed his teeth. He was unbearable with his continual curses on the Blessed Virgin, which he always uttered in Hungarian. Why did he not swear in Spanish? It sounds so fine, and then the rest would have understood; and why should he swear at the Madonna? I could not put up with it—there were plenty of other saints he could have maligned; it is not the thing for an educated man, a gentleman, to speak ill of the ladies. This caused a coolness between me and my old man. Not his deadly fever, which I might catch, merely his insufferable language. Strong as were the ties which united father and son, I decided to sever them, and succeeded in escaping in company with two others. We filed our chains at night, struck down the overseer, who had seen our proceedings, and threw him into the sea; then we launched the small boat and set off. It was very rough and our boat was swamped; one of my companions could not swim, and got drowned; the other could swim, but not so well as the shark which pursued him. I only knew by his shrieks that the sea-devil had caught him and bitten him in two. I swam ashore. How I obtained this naval uniform and the arms and money requisite for my passage, I will tell you some other day over a glass of wine, when we have plenty of time. But now let us conclude our business; for you know we have to settle our account together."
The outcast put his hand up to the handkerchief over his eye. The slowly healing wound seemed to be an unpleasant reminder. The severe cold to which he had been exposed had not done it any good.
"I tried to get to Komorn, where I knew you had your permanent home, and went to visit you. They said in your office that you had not yet come from abroad; what country you were in no one knew. Very well, thought I, then I will wait till he returns. To pass the time, I went to the cafes, and made acquaintance with officers to whom my uniform was an introduction, and then I visited the theaters. There I saw that exquisitely beautiful lady with the marble face and the melancholy eyes—you can guess whom I mean. With her was always another fair lady—oh! what murderous eyes that one has; she is a corsair in petticoats. I began to feel my way. Once I contrived to get a seat close by the wicked angel, and paid her attentions which she received graciously: when I asked leave to wait upon her, she referred to her mistress, on whom everything depended. I spoke admiringly of that awe-inspiring Madonna, and remarked that I had known her family in Turkey, and that she resembled her mother very strongly.
"'What,' said the lovely lady, 'you knew her mother? she died very young.' 'I have only seen her portrait,' said I. 'It portrayed just such a pale, sad face, surrounded with a double row of diamonds of great value.' 'You too have seen the splendid ornament then?' said she. 'My mistress showed it me when Herr Timar von Levetinczy gave it to her.'"
Timar clinched his fists in impotent rage.
"Aha! now we know all about it," continued the adventurer, turning to the tortured man with a cruel smile. "You gave Ali Tschorbadschi's daughter the treasures you stole from her father. In that case the rest of the jewels must have fallen into your hands, for they were with the picture. You can no longer deny it. . . . And now we are on a level: we need not scruple to talk openly."
Timar sat there paralyzed before the man into whose hands fate had delivered him. It was unnecessary to keep his gun from him: Timar had not strength to stand.
"You kept me waiting a long time, my friend, and I began to get anxious about you; besides, my pocket-money was coming to an end. My rich aunt's remittances, the advices from my steward, my bankers, and the admiralty, for which I daily inquired at the post-office, failed to arrive—for excellent reasons. You were highly respected wherever I went: an upright merchant, a great genius, a benefactor to the poor. Your exemplary private life was described; you were the model husband; wives would burn your body when you died and dose their husbands with your ashes. Ha! ha!"
Timar turned away his face.
"But perhaps I weary you? Well, I am coming to business. One day I was in a bad temper, because you would not come home, and when some one mentioned you at the officers' cafe, I could not refrain from casting a doubt on the possibility of one man's uniting so many good qualities. Then a ruffian replied with a slap in the face: I confess I was not prepared for this; but my cheek deserved it—why had it not kept my tongue quiet? I was as sorry as a dog that I ventured to let fall a disrespectful word, and took the lesson to heart. I will never slander you again. If the box on the ear had been all, I should not so much have cared—I'm used to that; but the insolent fellow forced me to go out with him, because I had attacked your good name. As I soon learned, this madman was a lover of your Madonna when she was a girl, and now he was fighting for the honor of the Madonna's husband. That is a piece of good luck which could only happen to you, you man of gold. But I owe you no thanks for your good fortune; again it was I who had to pay for it: I got a cut over the head right down to the eyebrow. Look!"
He thrust aside the silken bandage, under which was visible a long scar with a dirty plaster over it, the inflamed skin showing that the wound was not healed. Timar looked at it with a shudder.
Krisstyan drew the bandage over it again, and said with cynical humor, "That is souvenir number three which your friendship has bestowed on me. Well, there is all the more standing to my credit. I could not remain any longer in Komorn after this; but 'Stay,' said I—'I know where to have him; I know where the foreign country is whither he goes in the interest of his fatherland: it is not in any unknown land—it is none other than the ownerless island. I will follow him there.'"
At this Timar cried furiously, "What! you went to the island?" He trembled with rage and fear.
"Don't jump up, young friend!" said the felon, soothingly. "This gun is loaded; if you move it might go off, and I could not answer for the consequences. Besides, calm yourself. It did you no harm for me to go there, only myself; I always have to pay the piper when you go to the ball—it's as certain as if it were one of the ten commandments—you dance and I pay. You get into my bed, and it's me that they throw out of window. Why did I go to the ownerless island? only to look for you. But when I got there you had left, and I found no one but Noemi and a little brat . . . oh, fy, friend Michael! who would have thought it of you? . . . but hush! we mustn't tell anybody. . . . Dodi he's called, isn't he? A fine, forward boy; but how frightened he was of me, because I had my eye bound up! It is true that Noemi was startled too, for the two were quite alone on the island. It grieved me to hear that good Mamma Therese was dead; she was so kind, she would have received me differently. Just fancy—this Noemi would not even let me come in and sit down: she said she was afraid of me, and Dodi still more so, because they were alone. 'That's just why I have come, that you may have a man in the house to protect you.' By the bye, what potion have you given the girl that she has grown so pretty? Really she has become a splendid creature—it makes one's heart laugh to look at her; I never stopped telling her so. Then she tried to make ugly faces at me; I began to jest with her. 'Is it right,' said I, 'to make grimaces at your bridegroom?' That did not answer; she called me a vagrant, and turned me out. 'All right,' I said, 'I would go and take her with me,' and then I put my arm round her waist." Timar's eyes flashed fire. "Sit still, comrade; you need not jump up, but I had to, for the girl fetched me a box on the ear—just about twice as hard as the one I got from the major. To be accurate, I must acknowledge that she chose the other cheek, so as to make it equal."
Timar's face brightened.
"Then I did get angry. I am well known to be an admirer of the fair sex, but this insult demanded satisfaction. 'Well, I will just show you that you will come with me, if you don't allow me to stop here. You will follow me of your own accord'—and with that I took little Dodi's hand to lead him away.
"Devil!" cried Timar.
"Gently, gently, we can't both speak at once; your turn will come, and then you can talk as much as you like—but hear me out. I was not quite right when I said there were only two on the island—there were three; that confounded beast Almira was there. The dog had been lying under the bed, and seemed not to notice me, but when the child began to cry, the great brute flew out at me without being asked. I had my eye on her, drew out my pistol quickly, and shot her through the body."
"Murderer!" groaned Timar.
"Nonsense! If I had no more on my conscience than that dog's blood! and the beast was not even crippled by the ball; she made nothing of it. She only flew at me more furiously than ever, bit me in the arm, threw me down, and held me so that I could not move: in vain I tried to get at my second pistol—she held my arm in her teeth like a tiger. At last I entreated Noemi to set me free; she tried to get the beast away, but the raging fiend only sent her teeth deeper in. Then Noemi said, 'Ask the child—the dog will obey him.' I begged Dodi's help. The boy is kind-hearted; he had pity on me, and put his arms round Almira; then the dog let go, and the child kissed her." A tear ran down Timar's cheek. "So I was provided with another memento," said Theodor Krisstyan, as he pushed his dirty, blood-stained shirt-sleeve down from his shoulder. "Look at the mark of the dog's bite; all three fangs went to the bone: that is memorial number four, for which I have to thank you. I bear on my skin a whole album of wounds which I owe to you: the brand, the chain-sore, the sword-cut, and the dog's bite—all are remembrances of your friendship. And now say, what shall I do to you that our account may be balanced?"
As the escaped prisoner said to Timar, "And now say what shall I do to you?" he stood entirely undressed before him, and Timar had to look at all the horrible wounds with which he was scarred from head to foot . . . and naked, too, the wretch's soul stood there, and it too was full of loathsome wounds inflicted by Timar's hand.
The man knew that Timar had played a bold game with him; and now he was at his mercy: even physically he had not power to cope with him; his limbs were as feeble as those of a man overcome with sleep. The sight of the scarred form had the unnerving effect of an evil spell. The adventurer knew it, and no longer took precautions against him. Rising from his chair, he leaned the gun in the corner and spoke over his shoulder to Timar, "Now, then, for the toilet; while I dress you you can think over your answer to my question, what I shall do with you."
With that he tossed his ragged clothes one after another into the fire, where they flared crackling up, so that the flame rushed up the chimney. Then he began to put on Timar's clothes in a leisurely way. On the mantel-piece he found Timar's watch: this he put in his waistcoat-pocket, and inserted Timar's studs in his shirt-front, finding time to arrange his hair in the glass. When he was quite ready, he threw up his head, and placed himself before the fire with outstretched legs and folded arms. "Well; now then, comrade."
Timar began to speak. "What do you require of me?"
"Aha! at last I have loosed your tongue! How if I were to say an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth? go and have a gallows-brand burned on you; wander by land and sea among sharks, Indians, jaguars, rattlesnakes, and secret police; be cut over the head by your wife's lover, be bitten by your mistress's dog—and then we shall begin to share alike. But you see I am not so hard on you; I won't talk about my wounds—a dog's bones soon mend—I will be kinder than you. I must disappear for a time; for I am wanted not only because of your money—my escape from the galleys, and the overseer I threw overboard, are not yet forgiven. Your money will do me no good till I get rid of the burn and the scar on the chin. I shall get rid of the one with vitriol, and for the other mineral baths will be of service. I am not afraid of your putting my pursuers on my track—you are too wise for that; but foresight is the mother of wisdom. In spite of our close friendship, it might happen that some one should give me a knock on the head in the dark, or some convenient brigands might shoot me, or a friendly glass of wine might send me the same road as Ali Tschorbadschi. No, my dear fellow, I would not even venture to ask you to fill me this wine-flask again, not even if you drank first. I shall always be on my guard."
"What do you want then?"
"How formally you talk! my company is too low for you. But first let us ask what the noble lord wants on his side. Probably that I should hold my tongue over all the secrets I have got hold of. The noble lord would perhaps not be disinclined to settle on me in return an income of a hundred thousand francs in government stock."
Timar without hesitation replied, "Yes."
The vagabond laughed. "I require no such heavy sacrifice, your honor. I told you money was no use to me at present. Such a gallows-bird, with so many bad habits, would be arrested anywhere, and then what good should I get of my income? What I want is, as I said, rest, and a place where I can remain hidden for a considerable time, and where I should meanwhile enjoy a comfortable, easy life; that is reasonable enough surely?"
With that he took the gun up again, sat down on the chair, and held the gun before him in both hands, so as to be ready to fire at any moment. "I do not ask the hundred thousand francs at present; I only demand—the ownerless island."
Timar felt as if struck by lightning; these words roused him from his stupor. "What do you want with it?"
"Illustrissimo! See now. The air of the island is excellent, and most necessary to the re-establishment of my health, which suffered much in South America. I have heard from that dear departed saint, Frau Therese, that healing herbs grow there which are good for wounds; in botany books I have read that they will even make boiled flesh sound again. Then, too, I long for a quiet, contemplative life after all my trials; after the sybarite existence I have led, I long for the rustic joys of the golden age. Give me the ownerless island, excellency—serene highness."
The fellow begged so mockingly with the gun in his hand.
"You are a fool," said Timar, whom these jeers enraged, and then he turned his chair round and showed Theodor his back.
"Oh, don't turn your back on me, noble sir—senor, eccelenza, my lord, durchlaucht, mynheer, pan volkompzsnye, monsieur, gospodin, effendi. In what language shall I address you, to persuade you to grant the poor fugitive's request?"
This unseemly mockery did not do the assailant any good, but lessened the effect of the spell which lay on Timar, who began to recover from his stupefaction, and to recollect that he had to deal with a condemned man who was really in mortal danger. He spoke angrily. "Have done! Name any sum—you shall have it! if you want an island, go and buy one in the Greek Archipelago, or in China; if you are afraid of pursuit, go to Rome, Naples, or Switzerland: give yourself out as a marquis, get on terms with the Camorra, and no one will touch you; I will give you money—but you won't get the island."
"Indeed? Your lordship is going to talk to me like that?" cried Krisstyan. "The drowning man has risen again, and is going to swim ashore—now just wait till I push you in again. You think to yourself, 'Very well, booby, tell any one what you know; the first result will be that you will be arrested, clapped into jail, and forgotten there like a dog; you will soon be too dumb to tell anything more—or something else may happen.' I see what you think. But don't mistake the man you have to deal with. Now learn that you are tied hand and foot, and that you lie at my mercy like a miser gagged and bound by robbers, who must bear thorns thrust under his nails, his beard plucked out hair by hair, and boiling oil dropped on his skin, till he tells where his money is hidden. I shall do the same with you; and when you can bear no more, then cry 'enough.'"
Timar listened with the deadly interest of a man on the rack to the words of the galley-slave. "Till now I have told not a soul what I know, on my honor. Except the few words which escaped me at Komorn, I have never spoken of you, and what I said then was neither fish nor flesh; but all I know of you is written down—I have it here in my pocket, and in four different documents, with different addresses. One is a denunciation to the Turkish Government, in which I reveal what Ali Tschorbadschi took from Stamboul, and what, as the confiscated property of a traitor, is due to the sultan. Even the jewels described to me by my father are enumerated there, piece by piece, with the account of their present possessors, and of how they came by them. In the second letter I inform the Viennese authorities of your murder of the pasha, and your theft of his property. My third letter is directed to Frau von Levetinczy at Komorn. I tell her what you did to her father, and how you came into possession of her mother's picture and the other treasures you presented to her. But I have told her something else besides—the place you go to when you are not at home—the secret joys of the ownerless island—the intrigue with another woman—the deceit you practice on her. I tell her about Noemi and little Dodi. Now shall I drive another thorn under your nails?"
Timar's breast heaved with heavy panting sobs.
"Well, as you say nothing, we will proceed," said the cruel torturer. "The fourth letter is to Noemi. I tell her in it all she does not yet know: that you have a lawful wife out in the world—that you are a gentleman who has dishonored her, and can never be her husband; who only sacrificed her to his base lusts, and who is a murderer besides. What! you don't ask for mercy yet? Do you see those two towers? That is Tihany; there live pious monks, for it is a monastery; there I shall deposit the four letters, and beg the prior, if I do not return within a week, to forward them to their addresses. It would be no use for you to put me out of the way, for the letters would still reach their destination, and then you could not stay any longer in this country. You can not go home; for even if your wife forgave you her father's death, she would never forgive you Noemi. Justice would make inquiries, and then you would have to let out how you came by your riches.
"The Turkish Government would bring you to trial, and the Austrian too. The whole world would soon learn to know you, and those who looked on you as a man of gold, would see in you the very scum of humanity. You could not even take refuge in the ownerless island, for there Noemi would shut the door against you; she is a proud woman, and her love would turn to hatred. No, there is nothing left to you but to fly from the world, like me; change your name, like me; slink secretly from town to town, and tremble when steps approach your door, like me. Now, shall I go or stay?"
"Stay!" groaned the sufferer.
"Oho! you give in!" cried the rascal; "then let us sit down again. First, will you give me the ownerless island?"
A feeble subterfuge occurred to Timar's heart, which he used to gain time. "But the island belongs to Noemi, not to me."
"A very true observation; but my request is not altered by that fact. The island belongs to Noemi, but Noemi belongs to you."
"What do you mean?" asked Timar, wildly.
"Now don't roll your eyes; don't you know you are fast bound? Let us take it all as it comes. The thing can be arranged. You write a letter to Noemi, which I will carry; meanwhile that fierce black brute will have died, and I can land safely. In the letter you will take leave of her; you will say that you cannot marry her, because unavoidable family complications stand in the way; that you have a wife, the beautiful Timea, whom Noemi will remember: you will write that you have taken care to provide for her suitably; that you have recalled her former betrothed from the New World, who is a fine handsome fellow, and ready to marry her and shut his eyes to the past. You will promise to provide for them both handsomely in the future, and give them your blessing and good wishes for a happy life together!"
"You want Noemi too?"
"Why, what the devil! Do you think I want your stupid island in order to live there like Robinson Crusoe? I shall want something to sweeten my life in that desert. Over there I have reveled in a surfeit of embraces from black-eyed, sable-tressed women; now, after seeing Noemi's golden locks and blue eyes, I am quite mad about her. And then she struck me in the face, and drove me away; I must have payment for that. Is there a nobler revenge than to give a kiss for a blow? I will be the master of the refractory witch; that is my fancy. And by what right do you deny her to me? Am I not Noemi's betrothed, who would make her my legal wife and bring her to honor, while you can never marry her, and can only make her unhappy?"
The man drops boiling oil on Timar's heart: he wrung his hands in agony.
"Will you write to Noemi, or shall I take these four letters over to the cloister?"
In Timar's torture the words escaped him, "Oh, my little Dodi!"
The fugitive laughed with a knavish grin. "I'll be his father, a very good sort of father—"
At that instant Michael sprung from his seat, threw himself with a leap like a jaguar's on the convict, seized him by both arms before he could use his weapon, dragged him forward, gave him a blow in the back and a shove which sent him flying through the open door on to the landing, tumbling over and over: there he got up with difficulty, still giddy with his fall, stumbled over the first step, and limped groaning and swearing down the stairs. All below was darkness and silence. The only man besides these two in this winter castle was deaf, and sleeping off a carouse.
WHAT HAS THE MOON TO TELL?
Timar could have killed the man—he had him in his power; and Timar felt a madman's strength in his muscles: yet he did not kill him. Timar said to himself, the man is right; destiny must be fulfilled. Michael was not a miscreant who conceals one crime by another, but of that nobler sort which is willing to atone for past sin. He stepped out on to the balcony, and looked on with folded arms while the man left the castle and limped away toward the gate of the court-yard. The moon rose meanwhile over the Somogy hills, and illuminated the front of the castle.
The dark figure on the balcony would be a good mark for any one who wished to aim at it. Theodor Krisstyan walked underneath, and looked up: the half-closed wound on the brow had reopened in his fall, and was bleeding; the blood ran down over his face. Perhaps Timar had gone outside just because he expected the furious man would shoot him out of revenge. But he only stood still in front of him, and began to mutter words without sound—just like Athalie. How well those two would suit! Krisstyan only spoke by movements of the mouth. He limped, for he had hurt one foot in his fall. He struck his left hand on the gun, which he still held, then seemed to say "No," shook his fist at Timar, and threatened him by gestures. This pantomime meant, "Not thus will I destroy you; I have another fate designed for you; just wait!" Timar looked after him as he left the yard, following him with his eyes along the snowy path as far as the ice-covered lake. He gazed after him till he could only see a black speck moving in the direction of the double towers on the high peak.
Storm-clouds were rising over the Zala range. Timar saw them not. Round the Platten See a hurricane often arises in calm weather without the slightest warning; the fishermen who hear from afar the rustling of the leaves have not time to get back to the shore: the bursting storm drives a snow-cloud before it, from which tiny crystals drift down, sharp as needle-points. The cloud only covered half of the great panorama, wrapping the Tihany side, the peninsula with its rocky ridge and its gloomy church, in darkness, while the eastern level lay bright in the moonlight. The storm roared howling through the tall forests of the Aracs valley; the vanes on the ancient castle groaned like the cries of accursed spirits; and as the furious wind swept across the ice, it drew from the frozen floes such an unearthly music that one could fancy one saw the spirits which uttered it chasing each other, and yelling in their flight.
Amidst the ghostly music it seemed to Timar as if he heard through the howling of the tempest an awful scream in the distance, such as only human lips can utter—a cry of anguish, despair, blasphemy, which would rouse the Seven Sleepers and make the stars shudder. After a few seconds it came again, but shorter and more feeble, and then only the music of the storm was audible.
That ceased too. The snow-shower swept across the landscape; the storm held only one snow-cloud; the trees were still; the tones of the wind moaning over the ice-flats faded away in the distance with dying chords; the sky cleared, and all was once more silence. Timar's heart too was at rest; he had finished his career. No road lay open to him. He could go neither forward nor back; he had fled as long as life was possible; and now the abyss yawned in front of him which had no other shore. His whole life passed before him like a dream, and he knew that at last he was about to awake from it. His first desire for the possession of the rich and lovely girl was the origin of all these events; his life hung on it like the enigma of the Sphinx. When the riddle was solved, the Sphinx would fall into the abyss.
How could he live on, unmasked before the world, unmasked before Timea, and before Noemi? Thrown down from the pedestal on which he had stood for years at home and abroad, under the halo of his sovereign's favor and his compatriots' veneration! How could he ever look again on the woman who had defended him in his rival's presence with such holy sorrow, when she learned that he was the very opposite of all she had admired in her husband, and that his whole life was a lie? And how could he meet Noemi when she knew he was Timea's husband? or dare to take Dodi on his lap? Nowhere, nowhere in the wide world was there a place where he could hide. It was as that man had said: there was nothing for him but to turn his back on the civilized world—like him; to change his name—like him; to sneak like a thief from one town to another—like him; to wander homeless on the face of the earth. . . .
But Timar knew of another place; there is the moon's icy countenance—what did Noemi say? There live those who cast their lives away because they have ceased to know desire; they go where nothing exists: if that man seeks out Noemi on the ownerless island and brings despair on the lonely creature by his news, she will follow him there—to the frozen star.
Timar felt so tranquilized by this reflection that he had the self-control to direct his telescope on to the waning moon, on whose sphere shining spaces alternated with large, crescent-shaped shadows, and there came to choose a monstrous ravine, and say, "That shall be my dwelling; there will I wait for Noemi!"
Then he went back to his room. The adventurer's burned clothes still glowed red on the hearth, the ashes showing the texture of the charred cloth. Timar laid fresh logs on, so that the fire might destroy every remnant. Then he threw on his cloak and left the house. He bent his steps toward the Platten See. The moon lighted the great ice-floes, an icy sun shining over a world of ice. . . . "I come, I come!" cried Timar; "I shall soon know what you have to tell me—if you have called me I shall be there." He went straight to the great chasm. The poles erected by the good fishermen, the sticks with straw bundles on the top, warned every wanderer from afar to keep away—Timar sought them out. When he reached one of these danger-signals he stopped, took off his hat, and looked up to heaven.