Timar's Two Worlds, by Mór Jókai

Chapter vi.

Another Jest.

The newly ennobled Herr von Levetinczy was already, not only in Hungary but in Vienna, a famous person. He was said to be a “golden man.” Everything he touched turned to gold, all he undertook became a gold mine; and this is the real gold mine.

The science of the gold digger consists in finding out earlier than his rivals what large affairs are in contemplation by the government; and in this art Timar was a past master. If he took up any speculation, a whole swarm of speculators threw themselves upon it, for they knew money was to be had there for the picking up.

But it was not only on that account that Timar was called a “golden man,” but also for quite another reason.

He never swindled or defrauded any one.

He made large profits, for he undertook large concerns, but he was never tempted to steal or lie, for he never risked anything. He shared the profit with those on whom it depended whether he received a contract on reasonable terms, and in this way kept the source always open.

Once he began to buy up vineyards on the Monostor, the highest point of Komorn. It is a sandhill lying above Uj–Szöny, and its wines are very poor. But notwithstanding this, Timar bought ten acres of vine-growing land there.

This excited attention in the commercial world. What could he want with it? There must be some sort of gold mine there.

Herr Brazovics thought he was on the right track, and attacked Katschuka on his own ground. “Now, my dear son, tell me the truth; I swear by my soul and my honor that I will not betray it to a creature. Confess now, the government is going to build fortifications on the Monostor? That fellow Timar is buying up all the land: don’t let us leave him the whole mouthful. It is so, isn’t it — they are going to build a fort there?”

The captain allowed the acknowledgment to be got out of him that there might be something in it. The council of war had decided to extend the fortifications of Komorn in that direction. There could be no better news for Athanas. How many hundred thousand gulden had he made in similar circumstances by buying hovels before the expropriation, and selling them afterward to the government at the price of palaces? Only he would certainly like to have seen the plans, and begged his future son-in-law as prettily as possible to let him have just one peep at them.

Katschuka did him that favor too, and thus Athanas learned what portion would be bought by government. And that wretch of a Timar had really pitched on the place where the fort was to be built.

“And what are to be the terms of the expropriation?”

That was the question, and that the captain could not reveal without committing a capital crime. But he did it. The terms were, that the government would pay double the last purchase money.

“Now I know enough,” cried Herr Athanas, embracing his son-in-law; “the rest is my affair. On your wedding-day the hundred thousand gulden will be on your table.”

But he was wrong in thinking that he knew enough. He would have done well to ask one more question. Herr Katschuka, after saying so much, would have told him that too. But Katschuka no longer cared much about the hundred thousand gulden, nor yet about what depended on them. It he gets them, all right; if not, his hair will not turn gray for lack of them.

Brazovics hurried off to Uj–Szöny, and went to all the vine-growers to ask who had a vineyard to sell. He paid whatever was asked, and if any one refused to sell, he offered treble the price. The more he paid the better for him. Naturally this attracted the attention of other speculators, who arrived in troops and ran up the prices, so that the poor “Hönigler” and “Schafschwanz” wines of Monostor could not understand why they had suddenly turned into “Grands Crûs,” to be bought up even before the vintage.

The price of vineyards ran so high, that the land for which the government would have had to pay, before the plans were betrayed, at most one hundred thousand gulden, now could not be bought under five hundred thousand.

Brazovics had himself bought a fifth of them, though he had the greatest difficulty in getting the money together. He got rid of his stock of grain, sold his ships, borrowed from the usurers, and made use of trust-money committed to his care. This time he was safe! Timar was in the swim. He was the worst off, for he had bought cheap and would make a very small profit.

But this, too, was perfidy on Timar’s part. It was a coup aimed at the head of Herr Brazovics. He had learned from Katschuka the one thing Athanas had omitted to ask. It was true that the government would this year greatly enlarge the fortifications; but the question was, Where would they begin? For the work would extend over thirty years.

Here again Timar had done his rivals a bad turn, which would bring their maledictions down on him. As a good business man, he took care, whenever he had undertaken anything which would bring him curses, to set something else to work for which many more would bless him. So that between blessing and cursing he might keep a good balance on the credit side.

He sent for Johann Fabula and said to him, “Johann, you are getting old; many hardships have aged you. Would it not be better to look out for some employment which will allow you to rest?”

Fabula was already hoarse, and when he spoke it sounded as if he was whispering to the actors from the prompter’s box.

“Yes, sir; I have often thought of leaving the sea and looking out for work on shore; my eyes are weak. I wish you would give me a stewardship on your land.”

“I know of something better than that. You would never get on with the Rascians; you are too much used to the white bread at Komorn. Much better turn farmer.”

“I should like it well enough; but there are two things wanting — the land and the stock.”

“Both will come in time. I have an idea: the old pastures by the river are for sale — go to the auction and buy them all.”

“Oh,” said Fabula, with a hoarse laugh, “I should be a fool indeed! It is a waste where nothing grows but camomile. Shall I sell it to the chemists? And it’s a large piece of land; one would want several thousand gulden.”

“Don’t argue, but do as I tell you. Just you go there. Here are the two thousand gulden for the deposit, which you must hand in at the auction. Then bid till it is knocked down to you, and take it all at the price agreed on. Share with no one, whoever offers to go into partnership with you. I will lend you the money to pay for it, and you shall repay me when you are able. I ask no interest, and you need not give me a receipt. The whole bargain shall be a verbal one. There now, shake hands on it!”

Johann Fabula shook his head thoughtfully. “No interest, no writing, a lump of money, and bad waste land! The end of it will be, that I shall be arrested and stripped to my shirt.”

“No scruples, my friend; you have it for a year, and whatever you get off it meanwhile will be entirely yours.”

“But what shall I plow and sow with?”

“You will neither plow nor sow. But go and do what I told you — the harvest will not be wanting; but do not tell any one.”

Fabula was in the habit of looking on all that Timar did or said as folly à priori; but nevertheless he acted with absolute obedience on his orders, for à posteriori he had been forced to acknowledge that these unheard-of follies had the same result as if they had been wisdom personified. So he did as Timar had advised.

And now we will let the reader into the secret of these singular proceedings. The plan for the fortification did really exist. But it had been suggested to the council by some busybody that it was not necessary to execute all the sections at once, and that it would be sufficient for the present to expropriate the land lying between the two arms of the river, while the portion covered by the Monostor vineyards could wait twenty years. Now the speculators who got wind of the new plans had all thrown themselves on the sandhill, and no one thought of the shore between the two river branches. Herr Fabula got it for twenty thousand gulden. The land on the Monostor would not be wanted for twenty years to come, and during that time the money invested in the unproductive vineyards would all be eaten up by the interest. This was a trick played by Timar especially for the benefit of Herr Athanas Brazovics; and as soon as he had bought the Monostor vineyards, Timar set every lever in motion to prevent the council of war from beginning the fortifications on all points at the same time.

Affairs were in this position three days before the time fixed for Athalie’s wedding.

Two days before it Johann Fabula came flying into Timar’s house. Yes, flying — his floating cloak represented the wings.

“Ten thousand! Twenty thousand! Forty thousand! Commission paid! The emperor! The king! Pasture! The crop!” He gasped out disconnected words, which Timar at last put together.

“All right, Johann; I know what you mean. The commission has come to settle the value of the land wanted for the new works. Your fields, bought for twenty thousand, will be sold by you for forty thousand: the surplus is your profit; that is the crop — did not I tell you?”

“Yes, sir; and they were words like those of the golden-mouthed St. John. I see very clearly that you told me the truth, and I see that I get the twenty thousand gulden for nothing. Never in my life did I earn so much money by the hardest work. My senses are going. Do let me turn a somersault!”

Timar had no objection. Johann Fabula turned not one but three somersaults all across the floor, and then three back again; and then stood straight on his legs again before Timar.

“There! now I am all right again. All that money belongs to me.”

He came six times that day to pay a visit to Timar. First he brought his wife, then his younger daughter, then his married daughter, afterward his son who had left college, and the fifth time the little boy who was still at school. His wife brought Timar a splendid Komorn loaf of white bread with a brown glazed crust; the married daughter a dish of beautiful Indian-corn cakes; the unmarried one a plate of red eggs, gilt nuts, and honey-cakes decorated with colored paper like a wedding present; the big boy, who was a noted bird-catcher, brought a cage full of linnets and robins; and the school-boy declaimed a rhymed ode. The whole day they overwhelmed him with gratitude, and the sixth time they all came together late in the evening and sung in his honor a song of praise out of the hymn-book.

But what will his competitors, and especially Herr Brazovics, bring and sing to him when they learn how he has entrapped them about the purchase of the Monostor?

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