Timar's Two Worlds, by Mór Jókai

Chapter ii.

The White Cat.

The oarsmen consulted in the boat what was to be done.

One advised cutting through the side of the mill below the water-line with an ax, so as to sink it: but that would do no good; the current would drive the wreck down on to the ship.

A second thought they ought to grapple the mill with hooks, and give it a list away, so as to direct it toward the whirlpool: but this counsel was also rejected, for the eddies would drag the boat down too.

Timar ordered the man at the tiller to keep straight for the point of the island where the Lovers’ Rock lies.

When they approached the rapids he lifted the heavy anchor and swung it into the water without shaking the boat, which showed what muscular strength the delicate frame contained. The anchor took out a long coil of rope with it, for the water is deep there. Then Timar made them row as quickly as possible toward the approaching mill. Now they guessed his design — he meant to anchor the mill. Bad idea, said the sailors; the great mass will lie across the fairway, and stop the ship; besides, the cable is so long and slight that the heavy fabric will part it easily.

When Euthemio Trikaliss saw from the vessel Timar’s intention, he dropped his chibouque in a panic, ran along the deck and cried to the steersman to cut the tow-rope, and let the ship drift down-stream.

The pilot did not understand Greek, but guessed from the old man’s gestures what he wanted.

With perfect calmness he answered as he leaned against the rudder, “There’s nothing to grumble at; Timar knows what to do.” With the courage of despair Trikaliss drew his dagger out of his girdle in order to cut the rope himself; but the steersman pointed toward the stern, and what Trikaliss saw there altered his mind.

From the Lower Danube came a vessel toward them: an accustomed eye can distinguish it from afar. It has a mast whose sails are furled, a high poop, and twenty-four rowers.

It is a Turkish brigantine.

As soon as he caught sight of it, Trikaliss put his dagger back in his sash; if he had turned purple at what he saw ahead, now he was livid. He hastened to Timéa, who was looking through the glass at the peaks of Perigrada. “Give me the telescope!” he exclaimed in a hoarse voice.

“Oh, how pretty that is!” said Timéa, as she gave up the glass.

“What?”

“On the cliffs there are little marmots playing together like monkeys.”

Euthemio directed the telescope toward the approaching vessel, and his brows contracted; his face was pale as death.

Timéa took the glass from his hand and looked again for the marmots on the rocks. Euthemio kept his arm round her waist.

“How they jump and dance and chase each other; how amusing!” and Timéa little knew how near she was to being lifted by the arm that held her, and plunged over the bulwarks into the foaming flood.

But what Euthemio saw on the other side brought back into his face the color it had lost.

When Timar arrived within a cast of the mill, he took a coil of the anchor-rope in his right hand; a hook was fastened to its end. The rudderless mass came quickly nearer, like some drifting antediluvian monster — blind chance guided it; its paddle-wheel turned swiftly with the motion of the water, and under the empty out-shoot the mill-stone revolved over the flour-bin as if it was working hard.

In this fabric devoted to certain destruction, there was no living thing except a white cat, which sat on the red-painted shingle roof and mewed piteously.

When he got close to the mill, Timar swung the rope and hook suddenly round his head, and aimed it at the paddle-wheel.

As soon as the grappling-iron had caught one of the floats, the wheel, driven by water-power, began to wind up the rope gently, and so give the mill a gradual turn toward the Perigrada Island; completing by its own machinery the suicidal work of casting itself on the rocks.

“Didn’t I say Timar knew what he was about?” growled Johann Fabula; while Euthemio in joyful excitement exclaimed, “Bravo! my son,” and pressed Timéa’s hand so hard that she was frightened and even forgot the marmots.

“There, look!”

And now Timéa also noticed the mill. She required no telescope, for it and the ship were so near together that in the narrow channel they were only separated by about sixty feet.

Just enough to let the diabolical machine get safely past.

Timéa thought neither of the danger nor of the deliverance, only of the forsaken cat.

When the poor animal saw the floating house and its inhabitants so near to it, it leaped up and began running up and down the roof-ridge, and to measure with its eye the distance between the mill and the ship, whether it dared jump.

“Oh, the poor little cat!” cried Timéa, anxiously, “if we could only get near enough for it to come over to us.”

But from this misfortune the ship was preserved by its patron saint, and by the anchor-rope, which, wound up by the paddle-wheel, got shorter and shorter, and drew the wreck nearer the island and further from the vessel.

“Oh, the poor pretty white cat!”

“Don’t be afraid,” Euthemio tried to console her; “when it passes the rock the cat will spring ashore, and be very happy living with the marmots.”

Only unluckily the cat, keeping on the hither side of the roof, could not see the island.

When the “St. Barbara” had got safely past the enchanted mill, Timéa waved her handkerchief to the cat, and called out first in Greek, and then in the universal cat’s language, “Quick, look, jump off, puss-s-s-s;” but the animal, frantic with terror, paid no heed.

At the very moment when the stern of the ship had passed the mill, the latter was suddenly caught by the current, swung round so that the grappled wheel broke, and the liberated mass shot like an arrow down the stream. The white cat sprung up to the ridge.

“Ah!”

But the mill rushed on its fate.

Below the island is the great whirlpool.

It is one of the most remarkable eddies ever formed by the river giants — on every map it is marked by two arrows meeting in a corner. Woe to the boat which is swept in the direction of either arrow! Round the great funnel the water boils and rages as in a seething caldron, and in the middle of the circle yawns the bare abyss below. This whirlpool has worn a hole in the rock a hundred and twenty feet deep, and what it takes with it into this tomb, no one ever sees again: if it should be a man, he had better look out for the resurrection. And into this place the current carried the mill. Before it reached there it sprung a leak and got a list over; the axle of the wheel stood straight on end; the white cat ran along to the highest point and stood there humping its back; the eddy caught the wooden fabric, carried it round in wide circles four or five times, turning on its own axis, creaking and groaning, and then it disappeared under the water. With it the white cat.

Timéa shuddered and hid her face in her shawl.

But the “St. Barbara” was saved.

Euthemio pressed the hands of the returning oarsmen — Timar he embraced. Timar might have expected that Timéa would say a friendly word; but she only asked, pointing to the gulf with a disturbed face, “What is become of the mill?”

“Chips and splinters!”

“And the poor cat?” The girl’s lips trembled, and tears stood in her eyes.

“It’s all up with her.”

“But the mill and the cat belonged to some poor man?” said Timéa.

“Yes; but we had to save our ship and our lives, or else we should have been wrecked, and the whirlpool would have drawn us into the abyss, and only thrown up our bones on the shore.”

Timéa looked at the man who said this, through the prism of tear-filled eyes.

It was a strange world into which she gazed through these tears. That it should be permissible to destroy a poor man’s mill in order to save one’s own ship, that you should drown a cat so as not to get into the water yourself! — she could not understand it. From this moment she listened no more to his fairy stories, but avoided him as much as possible.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/jokai/maurus/golden-man/chapter2.html

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