Timar's Two Worlds, by Mór Jókai

Chapter xiii.

The Fate of the “St. Barbara.”

The “St. Barbara” could now pursue her way unmolested; and Timar had no worse misfortunes than the daily disputes with the leader of the towing-team. On the great Hungarian plains the voyage up the Danube becomes extremely wearisome; there are no rocks, no water-falls or old ruins, nothing but willows and poplars, which border both sides of the river. Of these there is nothing interesting to relate.

Timéa frequently did not come out of her cabin during a whole day, and not a word did her lips utter. She sat alone, and often the food they set before her was brought out again untouched. The days grew shorter, and the bright autumn weather turned to rain; Timéa now shut herself entirely into her cabin, and Michael heard nothing of her except the deep sighs which at night penetrated to his ear through the thin partition. But she was never heard to weep; the heavy blow which had fallen on her had perhaps covered her heart with an impenetrable layer of ice. How glowing must that love be which could melt it!

Ah, my poor friend, how came you by that thought? Why do you dream waking and sleeping of this pale face? Even if she were not so beautiful, she is so rich, and you are only a poor devil of a fellow. What is the good of a pauper like you filling all his thoughts with the image of such a rich girl? If only it were the other way, and you were the rich one and she poor! And how rich is Timéa? Timar began to reckon, in order to drive himself to despair, and turn these idle dreams out of his head. Her father left her a thousand ducats in gold and the cargo, which, according to the present market prices, must be worth, say, ten thousand ducats — perhaps she has ornaments and jewels besides — and might be counted in Austrian paper-money of that date as worth a hundred thousand gulden; that in a Hungarian provincial town is a very rich heiress. And then Timar asked himself a riddle whose solution he could not guess.

If Ali Tschorbadschi had a fortune of eleven thousand ducats, that would not weigh more than sixteen pounds; of all metals, gold has the smallest volume in proportion to its weight. Sixteen pounds of ducats could be packed in a knapsack, which a man could carry on his back a long way, even on foot. Why was the Turk obliged to change it into grain and load a cargo-ship with it, which would take a month and a half for its voyage, and have to struggle with storms, eddies, rocks, and shallows — which might be delayed by quarantine and custom-houses — when he could have carried his treasure with him in his knapsack, and by making his way cautiously on foot over mountain and river, could have reached Hungary safely in a couple of weeks?

The key to this problem was not to be found.

And another riddle was connected with this one. If Ali’s treasure (whether honestly come by or not) only consists of eleven or twelve thousand ducats altogether, why does the Turkish Government institute a pursuit on such a large scale, sending a brigantine with four-and-twenty rowers, and spies and couriers after him? What would be a heap of money for a poor supercargo is for his highness the Padischa only a trifle; and even if it had been possible to lay an embargo on the whole cargo, representing a value of ten or twelve thousand ducats, by the time it had passed through the fingers of all the informers, tax-collectors, and other official cut-purses, there would be hardly enough left for the sultan to fill his pipe with.

Was it not ridiculous to set such great machinery in motion in order to secure so small a prize?

Or was it not so much the money as Timéa that was the object? Timar had enough romance about him to find this a plausible assumption, however little it agreed with a supercargo’s one-times-one multiplication table.

One evening the wind dispersed the clouds, and when Timar looked out of his cabin window he saw on the western horizon the crescent moon.

The “red moon!”

The glowing sickle seemed to touch the glassy surface of the Danube. It looked to Timar as if it really had a human face, as it is depicted in the almanacs, and as if it said something to him with its crooked mouth. Only that he could not always understand — it is a strange language.

Moonstruck people perhaps comprehend it, for they follow it; only they, as well as the sleep-walkers, remember nothing of what was said when they awake. It was as if the moon answered Timar’s questions. Which? All. And the beating of his heart? or his calculations? All.

Only that he could not put these answers into words.

The red crescent dipped slowly toward the water, and sent its reflected rays along the waves as far as the ship’s bows, as if to say, “Don’t you understand now?” At last it drew its horns gently below the surface, saying plainly, “I shall return tomorrow, and then you will know.”

The pilot was in favor of making the most of the light of the after-glow to go on further, until it grew dark. They were already above Almas, and not far from Komorn; in those parts he knew the channel so well that he could have steered the vessel safely with his eyes shut. As far up as the Raab Danube, there was no more danger to fear.

And yet there was something! Off Fuzito a soft, dull thud was heard; but at this thud the steersman cried “Halt!” in a fright, to the towing-team.

Timar also grew pale, and stood petrified for a moment. For the first time during the whole voyage dismay was depicted in his features. “We have struck a snag!” he cried to the steersman.

And that great strong man entirely lost his head, left the rudder, and ran crying like a little child across the deck to the cabin.

We have touched a snag! Yes, that was so. When the Danube is in flood it makes breaches in the bank, the uprooted trees fall into the current, and are carried to the bottom by the weight of the soil clinging to their roots; if a cargo-ship drawn by horses touches such a tree-trunk, it pierces the hull. From shallows and rocks the steersman can guard his vessel, but against a tree-trunk lying in ambush under water, neither knowledge, experience nor skill is of any avail. Most of the shipwrecks on the Danube are from this cause.

“It is all up with us!” howled the pilot and the sailors. Every one left his post and ran for his bundle and his chest, to get them into the boat.

The vessel swung across the stream, and the forepart began to sink. It was useless to think of saving it — absolutely impossible. The hold was filled with sacks of grain; before they could shift these in order to get at the leak and stop it, the vessel would long ago have gone down.

Timar broke in the door of Timéa’s cabin.

“Fraülein, put on your cloak quickly, and take the casket which stands on the table; our ship is sinking, we must save ourselves.” As he spoke he helped her into her warm kaftan, and gave her directions to get into the boat; the pilot would help her. He himself ran back into his cabin to get the box which held the ship’s papers and cash. But Johann Fabula was not thinking of helping Timéa; he flew into a rage when he saw the girl. “Didn’t I say this milk-face, this witch with the meeting eyebrows, would bring us all to destruction? We ought to have thrown her overboard.”

Timéa did not understand what he said, but she shrunk from his bloodshot eyes, and preferred to go back to her cabin, where she lay down, and saw the water rush through the door and mount gradually to the level of the edge of her bed. She thought to herself that if the water washed her away, it would carry her down-stream, to where her father was lying at the bottom of the Danube, and then they would again be united.

Timar was wading up to his knees in water before he had collected all he wanted from his cabin and packed them in a box, which he took on his shoulder and then hurried to the boat.

“And where is Timéa?” he cried, not seeing her there.

“The devil knows!” growled the pilot. “I wish she had never been born.” Timar flew back into Timéa’s cabin, now up to his waist in water, and took her in his arms. “Have you the casket?”

“Yes,” whispered the girl.

He asked no more, but hurried with her on deck, and carried her in his arms into the boat, where he put her on the middle seat. The fate of the “St. Barbara” was being decided with awful rapidity. The ship was going down stern first, and in a few minutes only the upper deck and the mast, with the dangling tow-rope, were visible above water.

“Shove off!” Timar said to the rowers, and the boat moved toward the shore.

“Where is the casket?” Timar asked the girl, when they had already gone some distance.

“Here it is,” answered Timéa, showing him what she had brought away.

“Miserable girl! that is the box of sweetmeats, not the casket.” In fact, Timéa had brought the box of Turkish sweets, meant as a present to her new sister, and had totally forgotten the casket which held her whole fortune. That was left behind in the submerged cabin. “Back to the ship!” Timar cried to the pilot.

“Surely nobody has got such a mad notion as to look for anything in a sunken ship,” grumbled Fabula.

“Back! — no words — I insist!”

The boat returned to the vessel. Timar asked no one’s help, but sprung himself to the deck and down the steps to the cabin.

Timéa looked after him with her great dark eyes as he vanished under the surface, as if to say —“And you too go before me into the watery grave.”

Timar reached the bulwarks, but had to be very careful, because the vessel had a list toward the side where Timéa’s cabin door was. He had to hold on by the timbers of the roof, so as not to slip altogether under water. He found the door, luckily, not shut by the waves; for it would have been a long job to get it open. It was quite dark inside, the water had filled it almost to the ceiling; he groped to the table, the casket was not there; perhaps she had left it on the bed. The water had floated the bed to the roof, and he had to draw it down; but the casket was not there either. Perhaps it had been knocked over by the rush of water. He felt about vainly with his hands, stooping under water. His feet were more fortunate, for he stumbled over the object sought for; the casket had fallen to the ground. He lifted it, and tried while holding it to climb up to the other side, where he need not hold on with both hands.

The minute that Timar was under water seemed to Timéa an eternity.

He was a full minute under water. He had held his breath the whole time, as if to try an experiment how long a man could do without breathing.

When Michael’s head appeared above the water she heaved a deep sigh, and her face beamed when Timar gave her the rescued casket, but not on its account.

“Well, captain!” exclaimed the steersman, as he helped Timar into the boat, “that’s thrice you’ve got soaked for the love of these eyebrows. Thrice!”

Timéa asked Michael in a whisper, “What is the Greek for the word thrice?” Michael translated it. Then Timéa looked at him long, and repeated to herself in a low voice “Thrice.”

The boat approached the shore in the direction of Almas.

Against the steely mirror in the twilight a long line was visible, like a distressful note of exclamation or a pause in life. It was the topmast of the “St. Barbara.”

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11