Timar's Two Worlds, by Mór Jókai

Chapter ii.

The Red Crescent.

On the following day, Timar did actually bid for the sunken grain in company with brokers and millers, who made trifling bids, a few groschen a measure. Timar got tired of this groschen business, and suddenly cried, “I will give ten thousand gulden for the whole cargo.” When the bidders heard this they ran away, and it would have been in vain to run after them. The official auctioneer accepted Timar’s offer, and gave over the whole cargo to him as his property. Every one thought him mad. What could he do with such a mass of soaked grain? What he did was this.

He lashed two lighters together, fastened them with iron clamps to the deck of the sunken ship, and made arrangements to get up the cargo. There was a change since yesterday in the position of the vessel, for the stern had sunk so that now the forepart stood out of water, and one of the two cabins was quite dry. Timar installed himself here, and then began the hard work. He tore up the deck, and with the help of a crane drew up one sack after the other. They were first piled near the cabin, that the water might drain away; then they were transferred to a raft, and taken ashore: there straw mats were laid, on which the grain was shaken and spread out. Timar bargained meanwhile with the millers for immediate grinding of the corn. The weather was favorable, there was a strong wind, and the corn dried fast.

If only the work would go on quickly!

He began to calculate. The little ready money he had would all go to the payment of the work-people; if the undertaking failed he would be a beggar. Johann Fabula told him beforehand, that after this senseless purchase nothing would be left him but to hang the last sack round his neck, and throw himself into the Danube. A thousand disquieting thoughts passed through Timar’s head, without beginning or end. He looked on till night-fall, while one sack after the other was propped against the cabin wall. The sacks all had the same mark — a five-spoked wheel printed in black on the sacking. In truth, that poor fugitive pasha had been wiser, if, instead of buying so much grain, he had just put his money in his knapsack. And to think of pursuing him so obstinately only for this stuff! Was it worth while to flee only for this, and then actually to poison himself? Till late evening the work continued, and still only about three thousand measures were spread out to dry. Timar promised the laborers double pay if they would work a few hours longer. The grain which lies a second night under water will hardly make bread. The sack-carriers worked on cheerfully.

The wind had dispersed the clouds, and the moon appeared again in the sunset sky. Heavens and moon were red.

“How ghostly it looks!” said Timar, and turned his back on the moon, so as not to see it.

But even as he stood there, and counted the sacks as they were drawn up, the red moon rose again before him. This time it was painted on a sack. In the place where the other sacks bore a wheel of five spokes, here above the trade-mark a crescent was painted in vermilion.

A cold shiver ran through Timar. Here was the answer to the riddle! This was what the dying man meant by his last words. But either his confidence was not strong enough, or else time had failed him to finish his phrase. When the laborers turned away Timar took the sack and carried it into the cabin; no one noticed it, and then he locked the door behind him.

The work-people went on for two hours more; but at last they were so tired, wet, and stiff with water and wind, that they were not in a condition to go on any longer: the rest of the cargo must wait till the morrow. The wearied folk hurried to the nearest alehouse to warm themselves with food and drink. Timar remained alone on board: he said he wished to count the unloaded sacks, and would row himself ashore in the little boat. The moon had reached the water with its lower horn, and seemed to look in at the cabin window. Timar’s hand trembled as if with ague. When he opened the blade of his knife, he cut his hand, and the drops of blood painted stars on the sack by the side of the red crescent. He cut the rope with which the sack was tied, and put his hand in; what he brought out was beautiful white wheat. Then he cut the lower end of the sack; here too only grain came out. He now slit the whole sack up, and with the scattered corn, a long leathern bag fell at his feet. The bag had a lock. He broke it open.

And then he shook the contents out on to the bed — the same bed where once the living marble statue had lain.

What a sight was presented to him in the moonlight! Long rows of rings strung together — brilliant, sapphire, and emerald rings; armlets of opals and huge turquoises; pearl bracelets, each bead as large as a hazel-nut; a necklace of magnificent brilliants of the finest water; an agate box, from which when he opened it a whole heap of unset diamonds flashed upon him; at the bottom of the bag a number of agraffes and girdles, all set with rubies, and four rouleaux, each containing five hundred louis d’or. Here was an enormous treasure, at least a million gulden.

Now one can understand the man fleeing even to the bottom of the Danube, that this treasure might not fall into the hands of his pursuers. For this, it was worth while to send a gunboat and spies after the fugitive. For this, it was worth while to cut the tow-rope in the midst of a storm at the Iron Gate.

The “St. Barbara” had carried a million on board! that is no child’s play, no dream — it is reality. Ali Tschorbadschi’s treasures lie there on the wet quilt with which Timéa had once covered herself. Whoever knows the value of pearls and precious stones, can understand that it was not for nothing that Ali Tschorbadschi had been Governor of Candia and guardian of the treasury.

Timar sat in silent stupefaction on the edge of the bed, and held in his trembling hands the agate box, whose diamonds sparkled in the moonlight. He looked away through the window at the moon shining in. Again the moon seemed to have eyes and mouth, as it is depicted in the almanac, and to be entering into conversation with the poor mortal.

“To whom do these treasures belong?”

“Why, whom should they belong to but you? You bought the sunken cargo, just as it is, with the sacks and the grain. You were liable to the danger that it might remain on your hands as spoiled waste, as stinking rubbish. Now it has turned into gold and jewels. It is true that the dying man said something about the Red Crescent, and you puzzled your head as to what he could have meant; you wondered how it was possible that the refugee should have no more property than was visible. Now you see clearly how it all hung together; but then, when you bought the cargo, you did not know — you bought this mass of wet grain for quite another purpose. You wanted to make sweet and bitter bread out of it for the poor soldiers. Fate willed otherwise. Do you not see that this is a sign from Heaven? It would not permit you to make a shameful profit at the expense of twenty thousand poor soldiers — it has provided for you otherwise. As Providence has prevented something wicked, that which happened by its direction must without doubt be good.”

“Besides, to whom should these treasures belong?”

“The sultan must have stolen them in his victorious campaigns; the treasurer most probably stole them from the sultan. Both were robbed of them by the Danube: now they have no owner — they belong to you. You possess them at any rate with just as much right as the sultan, the treasurer, and the Danube.”

“And Timéa?”

At this question a long narrow black cloud rose before the moon’s face.

Timar remained long in thought. The moon appeared again.

“So much the better for you. You know best how the world treats a poor devil like you. They scold him when he has done his duty; they call him a knave when a misfortune overtakes him; they allow him to hang himself on the nearest tree when he has nothing more to live on; for his love-sorrows pretty girls have no balm. A poor man remains always only a clerk. Then see how the world honors the rich man — how people seek for his friendship, ask his advice, and trust him with the fate of the nation; and women, how they fall in love with him! Did you ever get even a friendly word of thanks from their lips? What would you get if you took the treasure you have found and laid it at her feet with the words, ‘There, take what is yours — I saved it for you from the depths?’ In the first place, she would not know how to use it. She can hardly distinguish the value of a box of diamonds from that of a box of sweets; she is only a child; and then it would never reach her hands, for her adopted papa would absorb it and get rid of nine tenths of it. Who can prevent him from taking one gem at a time and turning it into money? But granted that Timéa gets it, what would be the result? She would be a rich lady, who would not cast a look at you from her height; and you would remain a miserable supercargo, in whom it would be madness even to dream of her. Now, however, things are the other way — you will be a rich man and she a poor girl. Is not that exactly what you desired of fate? Well, that is what has happened. Did you put that log in the way of the ship which stove her in? Do you mean badly by Timéa? No; you do not want to keep for yourself the treasures you have found; you will invest them profitably, increase them, and when you have earned with the first million a second and a third, then you will go to the poor girl and say, ‘There, take it — it is all yours; and take me too.’ Do you wish to do anything wrong with it? You only wish to become rich in order to make her happy. You can sleep with a good conscience, having such designs.”

The moon was already half hidden in the Danube; only the tip of one horn rose from the water like a light-house; its reflection in the waves reached to the ship’s bow; and every ray and every wave spoke to Timar. And they all said, “You have fortune in your hand; hold it fast — you risk nothing. The only one who knew of the treasure lies below the Danube.”

Timar heard what was whispered to him, and also the secret voice in his own breast, and cold drops stood on his brow. The moon’s fiery tip vanished beneath the surface of the water, and cried to him with its last ray, “You are rich — you are a made man!”

But when it was dark, the inward voice whispered in the silent night, “You are a thief!”

An hour afterward a four-horse post-chaise was rushing along the Szönyer road at a gallop, and as the tower clock of St. Andrew’s Church in Komorn struck eleven, the carriage stood at the door in the Anglia under the double eagle. Timar sprung quickly out and hurried in. He was expected.


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