Timar's Two Worlds, by Mór Jókai

Chapter xiv.

The Guardian.

At six in the evening the ship’s crew had left the sunken craft, and by half past seven Timar with Timéa was in Komorn. The post-cart driver knew Brazovics’ house very well, and galloped his four bell-decked horses with unmerciful cracks of the whip through the little streets up to the square, as he had been promised a good trinkgeld if he brought his passengers quickly to their destination.

Michael lifted Timéa from the country wagon and told her she was now at home. Then he took the casket under his cloak and led the girl up the steps.

The house of Athanas Brazovics was of two stories — a rarity in Komorn; for in remembrance of the destructive earthquakes by which the town had been visited in the last century, people usually only built on the ground-floor. The lower story was occupied by a large café, which served the resident tradespeople as a casino; the whole upper floor was inhabited by the family of the merchant. It had two entrances from the street, and a third through the kitchen.

The owner was generally not at home at this hour, as Timar knew; he therefore led Timéa straight to the door through which the women’s rooms were reached. In these reigned fashionable luxury, and in the anteroom lounged a man-servant. Timar asked him to fetch his master from the café, and meanwhile led Timéa to the ladies.

He was certainly hardly got up for company, as may be imagined when one remembers what he had gone through, and the number of times he had been soaked; but he was one of those who belonged to the house, who could come in at any time and in any dress: they looked upon him as “one of our people.” In such a case one gets over the strict rules of etiquette.

The announcement revives the old habit of the mistress, as soon as the door of the anteroom is open, of putting her head through the parlor door to see who is coming. Frau Sophie has kept this habit ever since her maid-servant days. (Pardon, that slipped out by accident.) Well, yes, Herr Athanas raised her from a low station; it was a love-match, so no one has a right to reproach her.

It is therefore not as idle gossip, but only as a characteristic touch, that I mention that Frau Sophie even as “gracious lady” could not get rid of her early habit. Her clothes always fitted her as if they had been given to her by her mistress. From her coiffure an obstinate lock of hair would always stick out either in the front or at the back; even her most gorgeous costumes always looked tumbled and creased; and if nothing else went wrong, there would be invariably a pair of trodden-down shoes with which she could indulge in her old propensity. Curiosity and tattle were the ingredients of her conversation, in which she generally introduced such extraordinary expressions that when she began to scatter them in a mixed party, the guests (that is, those who were seated) almost fell off their chairs with laughter. Then, too, she had the agreeable custom of never speaking low; her voice was a continuous scream, as if she were being stabbed and wished to call for assistance.

“Oh, good Lord, it’s Michael!” she cried, as soon as she got her head through the door-way. “And where did you get the pretty fraülein? What is the casket you have under your arm? Come into the parlor! Look, look, Athalie, what Timar has brought!”

Michael let Timéa pass, then he entered and politely wished the company good-evening. Timéa looked round with the shyness of a first meeting. Besides the mistress of the house there were a girl and a man in the room. The girl was a fully developed and conscious beauty, who, in spite of her naturally small waist, did not disdain tight stays; her high heels and piles of hair made her appear taller than she was; she wore mittens, and her nails were long and pointed. Her expression was of artificial amiability; she had somewhat arrogant and pouting lips, a rosy complexion, and two rows of dazzling white teeth, which she did not mind showing; when she laughed, dimples formed on chin and cheek, dark brows arched over the bright black eyes, whose brilliancy was increased by their aggressive prominence. With her head up and bust thrown forward, the beautiful creature knew how to make an imposing appearance. This was Fraülein Athalie.

The man was a young officer, verging on thirty, with a cheerful open face and fiery black eyes. According to the military regulations of the period, he had a clean-shaven face, with the exception of a small crescent-shaped whisker. This warrior wore a violet tunic, with collar and cuffs of pink velvet, the uniform of the engineers. Timar knew him too. It was Herr Katschuka, first lieutenant at the fort, and also a commissariat officer — rather a hybrid position, but so it was.

The lieutenant has the pleasure of taking a portrait of the young lady before him in chalks; he has already finished one by daylight, and is trying one by lamplight. The entrance of Timéa disturbs him in this artistic occupation.

The whole appearance of the slender delicate girl was something spiritual at this moment — it was as if a ghost, a phantom, had stepped out of the dusk.

When Herr Katschuka looked up from his easel, his dark-red chalk drew such a streak across the portrait’s brow, that it would be hard for bread-crumbs to get it out, and he rose involuntarily from his seat before Timéa.

Every one rose at the sight of the girl, even Athalie. Who can she be?

Timar whispered to Timéa in Greek, on which she hastened to Frau Sophie and kissed her hand, while the girl herself received a kiss on her cheek.

Again Timar whispered to her. The girl went with shy obedience to Athalie, and looked steadily in her face. Shall she kiss her, or fall on the neck of her new sister? Athalie seemed to raise her head higher still. Timéa bent to her hand and kissed it — or rather not her hand, but the kid mitten. Athalie allowed it, her eyes cast a flaming glance on Timéa’s face, and another on the officer, and she curled her lips yet more.

Herr Katschuka was completely lost in admiration of Timéa.

But neither his nor Athalie’s fiery looks called up any emotion on Timéa’s face, which remained as white as if she were a spirit.

Timar himself was not a little confused. How was he to introduce the girl and relate how he had come by her, before this officer?

Herr Brazovics helped him out of his difficulty. With a great bustle he burst in at the door. He had just now in the café— to the surprise of all the regular customers — read aloud from the Augsburg Gazette that the escaped pasha and treasurer, Ali Tschorbadschi and his daughter, had fled on board the “St. Barbara,” evaded the watchfulness of the Turkish authorities, and reached Hungary in safety. The “St. Barbara” is his ship. Tschorbadschi is a good friend of his — even a connection by the mother’s side. An extraordinary event! One can fancy how Herr Athanas threw his chair back when the servant brought him the news that Herr Timar had just arrived with a beautiful young lady, and under his arm a gilt casket.

“So it is actually true!” cried Herr Athanas, and rushed up to his own apartments, not without upsetting a few of the card-players on his way.

Brazovics was a man of enormous corpulence. His stomach was always half a step in front of him. His face was copper-colored at its palest, and violet when he ought to have been rosy: even when he shaved in the morning his chin was all bristles by the evening, his scrubby mustache perfumed with smoke, snuff, and various spirits; his eyebrows formed a bushy wall over his prominent and bloodshot eyes. (A fearful thought, that the eyes of the lovely Athalie, when she grows old, will resemble her father’s!)

When Herr Brazovics opens his mouth, one understands why Frau Sophie always screams; her husband, too, can only speak in shouts, but with the difference that he has a deep bass voice like a hippopotamus.

Naturally Frau Sophie, when she wants to overpower his voice with her own, raises it to a yell. It was as if they had a wager which could bring on the other a lung disease or a stroke of apoplexy. It is doubtful who will win; but Brazovics always stops his ears with wool, and Frau Sophie invariably has a comforter round her throat.

Athanas rushed, panting with haste, into the ladies’ room, where his voice of thunder had already preceded him. “Is Michael there with the young lady? Where is the fraülein? Where is Michael?”

Timar hastened to catch him at the door. He might have succeeded in keeping back the man himself, but the weight of his approaching paunch, when once set in motion, bore down all obstacles.

Michael made a sign to him that a visitor was present. “Ah, that doesn’t matter! You can speak openly before him. We are en famille; the Herr Lieutenant belongs to the family. Ha! ha! don’t get cross, Athalie; every one knows it. You can speak freely, Michael; it is all in the papers.”

“What is in the papers?” exclaimed Athalie, angrily.

“Well, well, not you; but that my friend Ali Tschorbadschi, my own cousin, the treasurer, has fled to Hungary with his daughter and his property on board my ship the ‘St. Barbara;’ and this is the daughter, isn’t she? The dear little thing!” And with that Herr Brazovics suddenly fell upon her, took her in his arms, and pressed two kisses on her pale face — two loud, wet, malodorous kisses, so that the girl was quite confused.

“You are a good fellow, Michael, to have brought her here so quickly. Have you given him a glass of wine? Go, Sophie — quick! A glass of wine!”

Frau Sophie pretended not to hear; but Herr Brazovics threw himself into an arm-chair, drew Timéa between his knees, and stroked her hair with his fat palms. “And where is my worthy friend, the governor of the treasury? Where is he?”

“He died on the journey,” answered Timar in a low voice.

“What a fatality!” said Brazovics, trying to give an angular form to his round face, and taking his hand from the girl’s head. “But no accident happened to him?”

A curious question. But Timar understood it.

“He intrusted his property to my care, to deliver it over to you with his daughter. You were to be her adopted father and the guardian of her property.”

At these words Herr Brazovics grew sentimental again; he took Timéa’s head between his two hands, and pressed it to his breast.

“As if she were my own child. I will regard her as my daughter;” and then again smack! smack! one kiss after another on brow and cheek of the poor victim. “And what is in this casket?”

“The gold I was to deliver to you.”

“Very good, Michael. How much is there?”

“A thousand ducats.”

“What!” cried Brazovics, and pushed Timéa off his knee; “only a thousand ducats? Michael, you have stolen the rest!”

Something stirred in Timar’s face. “Here is the autograph will of the deceased. He declares therein that he has given over to me a thousand ducats in gold, and his remaining property is contained in the cargo, which consists of ten thousand measures of wheat.”

“That’s something more like. Ten thousand measures of wheat, at twelve gulden fifty a measure in paper money, that makes a hundred and twenty-five thousand gulden, or fifty thousand gulden silver. Come here, little treasure, and sit on my knee; you’re tired, aren’t you? And did my dear never-to-beforgotten friend send me any other directions?”

“He told me to tell you that you must be present in person when the sacks are emptied, lest they should exchange the grain, for he had bought a very good quality.”

“Naturally I shall be there in person. How should I not be? And where is the ship with the grain?”

“Below Almas, at the bottom of the Danube.”

But now Athanas thrust Timéa right away, and sprung up in a rage. “What! my fine vessel gone down, as well as the ten thousand measures of wheat! Oh, you gallows-bird! you rascal! You were all drunk, for certain. I’ll put you all in jail; the pilot shall be in irons; and I shall not pay one of you. You forfeit your ten thousand gulden caution-money: you shall never see that again. Go and sue me if you like!”

“Your vessel was not worth more than six thousand gulden, and is insured for its full value at the Komorn Marine Insurance Office. You have come to no harm.”

“If that were true a hundred times over, I should still require compensation from you, on account of the lucrum cessans. Do you know what that means? If you do, you can understand that your ten thousand gulden will go to the last kreutzer.”

“So be it,” answered Timar, quietly. “We will speak of that another time; there’s time enough. But what we have to do now is to decide what is to happen to the sunken cargo, for the longer it remains under water, the more it will be spoiled.”

“What does it matter to me what happens to it?”

“So you will not take it over? You will not be personally present at the discharge of cargo?”

“The devil I will! What should I do with ten thousand measures of soaked grain? I am not going to make starch of ten thousand measures of corn; or shall I make paste of it? The devil may take it if he wants it!”

“Hardly; but the stuff must be sold. The millers, factors, cattle-dealers, will offer something for it, and the peasants too, who want seed-corn; and the vessel must be emptied. In that way some money may be got out of it.”

“Money!” (This word could always penetrate into the cotton-stuffed ears of the merchant.) “Good. I will give you a permit tomorrow to empty the vessel and get rid of the cargo in bulk.”

“I want the permit today. Before morning everything will be ruined.”

“To-day! You know I never touch a pen at night; it is against my habits.”

“I thought of that beforehand, and brought the permit with me. You have only to sign your name to it. Here are pen and ink.”

But now Frau Sophie interrupted with a scream. “Here in my parlor I do not allow writing to be done! That’s the only thing wanting — that my new carpet should be all spotted with ink. Go to your room if you want to write. And I won’t have this squabbling with your people here in my rooms!”

“I should like to know if it isn’t my house,” growled the great man.

“And it’s my sitting-room!”

“I am master here!”

“And I am mistress here!”

The screeching and growling had the good result for Timar that Herr Brazovics flew into a rage, and in order to show that he was master in his own house, seized the pen and signed the power of attorney. But when he had given it, both fell on Timar, and overwhelmed him with such a flood of reproaches and invective, that he would willingly have taken yet another bath in the Danube to wash them away. Frau Sophie only scolded Timar indirectly, as she abused her husband for giving such a ragged, dirty fellow, such a tipsy, beggarly scoundrel, a warrant like that.

Why had he not given it to any other supercargo than Timar, who would run away with the money, and drink and gamble till it was gone.

Timar stood the whole time with the same immovable calm in the midst of this tumult as that with which he had defied storm and waves at the Iron Gate. At last he broke silence: “Will you take charge of the money which belongs to the orphan, or shall I give it over to the City Orphanage?” (At this last question Brazovics got a great fright.) “Now, then, if you please, come with me into the office and we will settle the affair at once, for I don’t like servants’ squabbles.”

With this hundred-pound insult he succeeded in suddenly silencing both master and mistress. Against such scolds and blusterers, a good round impertinence is the best remedy. Brazovics took the light and said, “All right; bring the money along.” Frau Sophie appeared all at once to be in the best of tempers, and asked Timar if he would not have a glass of wine first.

Timéa was quite stunned; of what passed in a foreign language she understood not a word, and the gestures and looks which accompanied it were not calculated to enlighten her. Why should her guardian now kiss and hug her, the orphan, and the next moment push her from him? Why did he again take her on his lap, only to thrust her away once more? Why did both of them scream at this man, who remained as calm as she had seen him in the tempest, until he spoke a few words, quietly, without anger or excitement, and thereby instantly silenced and overpowered the two who had been like mad people the minute before, so that they could prevail as little against him as the rocks and whirlpools and the armed men. Of all that went on around her, she had not understood one word; and now the man who had been hitherto her faithful companion, who had gone “thrice” into the water for her sake, with whom alone she could speak in Greek, was going away — forever, no doubt — and she would never hear his voice again.

Yet no; once again it sounds in her ear. Before he stepped over the threshold Timar turned to her and said in Greek, “Fraülein Timéa, there is what you brought away with you.”

And with that he took the box of sweets from under his cloak. Timéa ran to him, took the box, and hastened to Athalie, in order to present to her, with the sweetest smile, the gift she had brought from far away. Athalie opened the box.

Fi donc!” she exclaimed, “it smells of rose-water, just like the pocket-handkerchiefs the maid-servants take to church.”

Timéa did not understand the words, but from the pouting lips and turned-up nose she could easily guess their meaning, and that made her very sad.

She made another attempt, and offered the Turkish sweetmeats to Frau Sophie, who declined with the remark that her teeth were bad, and she could not eat sweets. Quite cast down, she now offered them to the lieutenant. He found them excellent, and swallowed three lumps in three mouthfuls, for which Timéa smiled at him gratefully.

Timar stood at the door and saw Timéa smile. Suddenly it occurred to her that she must offer him some of the Turkish delight. But it was already too late, for Timar no longer stood there. Soon after, the lieutenant took leave and departed. Being a man of breeding, he bowed to Timéa also, which pleased her greatly.

After a time Herr Brazovics returned to the room, and they were now just the four alone.

Brazovics and Frau Sophie began to talk in a gibberish which was intended for Greek.

Timéa understood a word here and there, but the sense seemed to her more strange than those languages which were altogether unknown to her.

They were consulting what to do with this girl whom they had been saddled with. Her whole property consists of twelve thousand paper gulden. Even if it were likely that the soaked grain should bring in a little more, that would not suffice to educate her like a lady, like Athalie.

Frau Sophie thought she must be treated as a servant, and get used to cook and sweep, to wash and iron — that would be some use. With so little money no one would marry her except some clerk or ship’s captain, and then it would have been better for her to be brought up as a servant and not a lady.

But Athanas would not hear of it; what would people say? At last they agree on a middle course; Timéa is not to be treated like a regular servant, but take the position of an adopted child. She will take her meals with the family, but help to wait. She shall not stand at the wash-tub, but must get up her own and Athalie’s fine things. She must sew what is wanted for the house, not in the maid’s room but in the gentlefolks’ apartments; of course she will help Athalie to dress, that will only be a pleasure to her, and she need not sleep with the maids but in the same room as Athalie; the latter wants some one to keep her company and be at her service. In return, Athalie can give her the old clothes she no longer requires.

A girl who has only twelve thousand gulden can thank Heaven that such a fate should fall to her share.

And Timéa was satisfied with her lot. After the great and incomprehensible catastrophe which had thrown her on the world, the lonely creature clung to every being she came near. She was gentle and obliging. This is the way of Turkish girls. It pleased her to be allowed to sit by Athalie at supper, and it was not necessary to remind her: she rose of her own accord to change the plates and wash the spoons, and did it with cheerful looks and kind attention. She feared to annoy her guardians if she looked sad, and yet she had cause enough. Especially she busied herself in trying to help Athalie. Whenever she looked at her, her face showed the open admiration which young girls feel for a grown-up beauty; she forgot herself in gazing at the rosy cheeks and bright eyes of the other. Those innocent minds think any one so lovely must be very good.

She did not understand what Athalie said, for she did not even speak bad Greek, like her parents; but she tried to guess by her eyes and hands what was wanted. After supper, at which Timéa only ate fruit and bread, not being used to rich dishes, they went into the salon.

There Athalie sat down to the piano. Timéa crouched near her on the footstool and looked with admiration at her rapid execution. Then Athalie showed her the portrait which the lieutenant had executed, and Timéa clasped her hands in astonishment.

“You never saw anything like it?”

“Where should she have seen such things?” answered the father. “If is forbidden to the Turks to take a likeness of any one. That is why there is a revolution just now — because the sultan has had his picture painted and hung up over the divan. Ali Tschorbadschi was mixed up in the movement, and was forced to fly. You poor old Tschorbadschi, to have been such a fool!”

When Timéa heard her father’s name, she kissed the hand of Brazovics. She supposed he had sent some pious blessing after the dead man.

Athalie went to bed, and Timéa carried the light for her. Athalie seated herself at her dressing-table, looked in the glass, sighed deeply, and then sunk back in her chair tired and cross, with a gloomy countenance. Timéa would have liked to know why this lovely face had suddenly grown so sad.

She took the comb from Athalie’s hair and loosened the plaits with a skillful hand, and then again dressed the richly flowing chestnut locks for the night in a simple coil.

She took out the earrings, and her head came so near to Athalie’s that the latter could not help seeing the two contrasting faces in the mirror.

One so radiant, rosy, and fascinating, the other so pale and soft; and yet Athalie sprung up angrily and pushed away the glass. “Let us go to sleep.” The white face had thrown hers into the shade. Timéa collected the scattered clothes and folded them neatly together by instinct.

Then she knelt before Athalie and took off her stockings. Athalie permitted it.

And after Timéa had drawn them off, and held the snow-white foot, more perfect than a sculptor’s ideal, in her lap, she bent and pressed a kiss on it. Athalie permitted that too.

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