Timar's Two Worlds, by Mór Jókai

Chapter iv.

A Spider Among the Roses.

People who live by their labor have no time to admire the moonlight from mountain-tops, or to waste in observation on the beauties of nature: the flocks of sheep and goats already waited to be relieved of their milky tribute by their mistress. Milking was the office of Frau Therese, and it was Noémi’s duty to cut grass enough for the herd. Timar continued the conversation meanwhile with his back leaning against the stable-door, and lighting his pipe just as the countryman does when he is courting the peasant girl.

The great boiler must be refilled with fresh rose-infusion, and then they can all go to bed. Timar begged for the bee-house to sleep in, where Frau Therese spread him a couch of fresh hay, and Noémi arranged his pillow. Very little was needed to woo him to slumber. Hardly had he lain down before sleep closed his eyes; he dreamed all night that he had become a gardener’s boy, and was making endless rose-water.

When he awoke the sun was already high in the heavens. The bees buzzed round him busily; he had overslept himself. That some one had already been here he guessed, because near his couch lay all the toilet necessaries he had brought in his knapsack. A poor traveler who is used to shaving every day feels very uncomfortable when unable to go through that operation; his mind is as much disturbed by that confounded stubble as if it were a prick of conscience. When he was ready, the women already awaited him at breakfast, which consisted of bread and milk, and then they went to the day’s work of rose-gathering.

Michael was, as he desired, set to rose-crushing. Noémi picked off the petals, and Frau Therese was busy with the boiler. Timar told Noémi all about roses. Not that they were like her cheeks, at which she would have burst out laughing, but he imparted to her what he had learned about them in his travels: learned things which Noémi listened to with attention, and which instilled into her a still greater respect for Timar. With young and innocent maidens a clever, intelligent man has a great advantage.

“In Turkey they use rose-water in eating and drinking. There, too, whole groves of roses are planted; there beads are made of roses pressed into the form of balls and strung together: that is why they are called rosaries. In the East there is one lovely kind of rose from which attar is made; it is the balsam rose, and grows on trees of ten feet high, whose branches are bent to the ground by their snow-white burden. Their scent surpasses that of any other kind; if you throw the petals into water and set them in the sun, in a very short time the surface is rainbow-colored with the oil that the petals exude. It is the same with the evergreen rose, which does not shed its leaves in winter. The Ceylon and Rio roses dye the hair and beard light, and so fast that they do not lose their color for years; for this purpose alone there is a considerable trade in them. The leaves of the Moggor rose stupefy; you are intoxicated by their scent as if with beer. The Vilmorin rose has the property that, it if is bitten by a certain insect which is obnoxious to it, it throws out great tubers, which are said to send a crying child to sleep if put under its pillow.”

“Have you been everywhere where roses grow?” asked Noémi.

“Well, I have been a good deal about in the world. I have been to Vienna, Paris, and Constantinople.”

“Is that far from here?”

“If one traveled on foot one would get to Vienna in thirty days from here, and to Constantinople in forty days.”

“But you went in a ship.”

“That takes longer still; for I should have to take in cargo on the way.”

“For whom?”

“For the owner I was traveling for.”

“Is Herr Brazovics still your principal?”

“Who told you about him?”

“The steersman who came with you.”

“No longer now — Herr Brazovics is dead.”

“Dead! so he is dead? And his wife and daughter?” interrupted Frau Therese, quickly.

“They have lost everything by his death.”

“Ah, just God! Thy avenging hand has reached them!”

“Mother, good mother!” cried Noémi, with gentle entreaty.

“Sir, there is one more thing you ought to know. When that blow fell on us, when I had implored Brazovics on my knees not to drive us to beggary, it struck me that this man had a wife and child. I determined to find out his wife and tell her my misery — she would help me and take pity on us. I took my child in my arms and traveled in the hottest part of the summer to Komorn. I sought her out in her fine large house, and waited at the door, for they would not let me in. At last Frau Brazovics came out with her five-year-old daughter. I fell on my knees, and begged her for God’s sake to take compassion on us, and be our mediator with her husband. The woman seized my arm and thrust me down the step; I tried, in falling, to protect my child with both arms, that it might not be hurt, and struck my head against one of the two pillars which support the balcony. Here is the scar still visible. The little girl laughed aloud when she saw me limping away and heard my baby cry. That is why I sing ‘Hosanna,’ and blessed be the hand which thrust her away from the steps down which she cast us.”

“Oh, mother, don’t talk so!”

“So they have come to misery? Have they become beggars themselves — the haughty, purse-proud people? Do they wear rags, and beg in vain at the doors of their former friends?”

“No, dear lady,” said Michael; “some one has been found to take care of them.”

“Madman!” cried Therese, with passionate force. “Why should he put a spoke in fate’s wheel? How can he dare to receive into his home the curse which will ruin him?”

Noémi ran to her mother and covered her mouth with both hands; then she fell on her neck and sealed her lips with kisses. “Dearest mother, do not say such things. Do not utter curses; I can not bear to hear them — take them back. Let me kiss away the dreadful words from your lips.”

Therese recovered herself under her daughter’s caresses. “Do not be afraid, silly child,” she said, shaking her head. “Curses fall idly on the air. They are only a bad, superstitious habit of us old women. God never thinks of noticing the curses of such worms as we are, and keeping them till the day of judgment. My curses will take effect on no one.”

“It is already fulfilled on me,” thought Timar. “I am the madman who received them into his house.”

Noémi tried to bring the subject of roses back. “Tell me, Herr Timar, how could you get such a Moggor rose whose scent stupefies?”

“If you wish, I will bring you one.”

“Where do they grow?”

“In Brazil.”

“Is that far?”

“The other side of the world.”

“Must you go by sea?”

“Two months continuously at sea.”

“And why would you go?”

“On business — and to fetch you a Moggor rose.”

“Then do not bring me any.”

Noémi left the kitchen, and Michael noticed that tears were in her eyes. She only returned to the distillery when she had filled her basket with rose leaves, and shook them out on to the rush-matting, where they made a large hill.

The boiling of yesterday’s rose-essence lasted till midday, and after breakfast Frau Therese said to her guest that there was not much work for today, and that they could go for a walk in the island. One who was so great a traveler might be able to give good advice to the islanders, as to what vegetables they might usefully and profitably introduce into their little Eden. Frau Therese said to the dog, “Stop here and watch the house! Lie down in the veranda and don’t stir!” Almira understood and obeyed.

Michael disappeared with his companions among the plantations.

Hardly had they vanished into the wood before Almira began to prick her ears uneasily and to growl angrily. She scented something. She shook her head, rose from time to time, but lay down again. A man’s voice became audible, which sung a German song, whose refrain was, “She wears, if I can trust my eyes, a jet-black camisole.” The person coming from the shore sings, of course, on purpose to attract the attention of the inhabitants. He is afraid of the great dog — but it does not bark.

The new arrival appears from among the shadows of the rose-arbor. It is Theodor Krisstyan.

This time he is attired like a fashionable dandy, in a dark-blue tunic with golden buttons; and his overcoat hangs on his arm. Almira does not stir at his approach. She is a philosopher, and reasons, if I fly at this man, the end of it will be that I shall be tied up and not he. I shall do better to keep my opinion of him to myself, and to look on in armed neutrality at what he does. Theodor drew near confidently, and whistling to his huge black enemy. “Your servant, Almira. Come, Almirakin, you dear old dog — where are your ladies? Bark a bit to please me. Where is our dear Mamma Therese?” Almira could not be induced to answer.

“Look, then, little doggie, what I have got for you — a piece of meat; there, eat it. What? Don’t you want it? You fancy it’s poisoned, you fool? Gobble it up, you beauty!” But Almira would not even sniff at the piece of meat, until Narcissa (it is well known that cats have no decision of character) crept up to it, which made Almira angry, and she began to scratch a large hole in the ground; there she buried the meat, like a careful dog which makes provision for a day of necessity.

“Well, what a distrustful beast it is,” murmured Theodor to himself. “Am I to be allowed to go in?”

But that was not allowed. Almira did not say so in words, but she curled her lip to let him see the beautiful white teeth underneath.

“Stupid creature, you don’t mean to bite me? Where can the women be? Perhaps in the distillery?”

Theodor went in and looked round — he found no one. He washed his face and hands in the steaming rose-water, and it gave him especial pleasure to think that so he had spoiled the work of a whole day.

When he wanted to come out of the distillery, he found the entrance barred by the dog. Almira had laid herself down across the threshold and showed him her white teeth. “Indeed, so now you won’t let me come out, you churl? Very well, I can wait here till the women return. I can find a little place to rest on.” And so saying he threw himself on the heap of rose leaves Noémi had turned out. “Ah, what a good bed — a Lucullan couch! Ha! ha!”

The women came back with Michael from their walk through the island. Therese saw with uneasiness that Almira was not lying in the veranda, but was guarding the door of the distillery.

When Theodor heard Therese’s voice, he thought of a good trick to play. He buried himself in the rose leaves, so that nothing was to be seen of him; and when Noémi, with the words, “What have you here, Almira?” looked in at the door, he put his head out and grinned at her: “Your own beloved bridegroom is here, lovely Noémi!”

Noémi, starting back, screamed aloud.

“What is it?” asked the mother, hastening up.

“There, among the roses . . .” stammered the girl.

“Well, what among the roses? A spider?”

“Yes . . . a spider . . .”

Theodor sprung laughing from his bed of roses, and like one who has surprised his dear ones with a capital joke, rushed with shouts of laughter to Mamma Therese, embraced her, without noticing her angry looks or Noémi’s disgusted face, and kissed her several times.

“Ha! ha! Did I take you by surprise? You sweet dear mamma, be happy: your dear son-in-law is here; he has risen like a fairy from the roses. He! he!” Then he turned toward Noémi, but she slipped away from his embrace, and then first Theodor Krisstyan was aware of the presence of a third person — Michael Timar.

This discovery damped his joviality, which indeed was only put on, and for this reason it was disagreeable to see some one with whom most unpleasant recollections were connected.

“Your servant, Mr. Supercargo!” he addressed Timar. “We meet here again? You have not any more Turkish pashas in your ship? He! he! Don’t be afraid, Mr. Supercargo.”

Timar shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. Then Theodor turned to Noémi, and put his arm caressingly round the girl’s waist, who in answer to it pushed him away and turned her face from him.

“Leave the girl alone!” said Therese shortly, in a severe tone. “What do you want now?”

“There, there — don’t turn me out of the house before I have got in. Is it not permissible to embrace my little bride? Noémi won’t break if I look at her? What are you so afraid of me for?”

“We have good reason,” said Therese, sullenly.

“Don’t be angry, little mother. This time I have not come to get anything from you: I bring you something — a great, great deal of money. Ho! ho! a heap of money! So much that you could buy back your fine house that you once had, and the fields and gardens on the Ostrova Island — in short, all that you have lost. You shall have it all again. I know that I, as a son, owe you the duty of making good all that you lost by my poor father’s fault.”

By this time Theodor had become so sentimental that he was shedding tears, but it left the spectators unmoved: they believed as little in his tears as in his laughter.

“Let us go in, into the room,” said he, “for what I have to say is not for every ear.”

“Don’t talk such nonsense,” Frau Therese said, angrily. “What do you mean by ‘every ear’ here on this lonely island? You can say anything before Timar: he is an old friend — but go on. I know you are hungry, and that’s what it all means.”

“Ah, you dear good mother! how well you know your Theodor’s little weakness of always having a splendid appetite. And you do so thoroughly understand the exquisite Greek cuisine, at sight of which one would wish to be all stomach. There is no such housekeeper in the world as you are. I have dined with the Sultan of Turkey, but he has no cook who can compare with you.”

Frau Therese had the weakness of being sensitive to praise of her housekeeping. She never grudged good things to any guest, and even her deadly enemy she could not send away empty.

Theodor wore a so-called Figaro hat, which was then in fashion, and managed that the low door-way of the little cottage should knock it off his head, in order to be able to say, “Oh, these confounded new-fangled hats! but that’s sure to happen when one is used to high door-ways. In my new house they are all folding-doors, and such a splendid view over the sea from my rooms.”

“Have you then really a home anywhere?” asked Therese as she laid the table.

“I should think so! At Trieste, and in the finest palace in the town. I am agent to the principal shipbuilder.”

“At Trieste?” interrupted Timar. “What’s his name?”

“He turns out sea-going vessels,” said Theodor, casting a contemptuous look at Timar. “He is not merely a barge-builder — and for that matter his name is Signor Scaramelli.”

Timar was silent. He did not care to let out that he himself was having a large vessel built for the ocean trade by Scaramelli.

“I am just rolling in money!” bragged Theodor. “Millions and millions pass through my hands. If I were not such an honest man, I could save thousands for myself. I have bought something for my dear little Noémi, which I once promised her. What did I promise? A ring. What sort of a stone? A ruby, an emerald? Well, it is a brilliant, a four-carat brilliant: it shall be our betrothal ring. Here it is.” Theodor felt in his breeches-pocket, fumbled a long time, made at last a terrible grimace, and stared on the ground. “It is lost!” groaned he, turning his pocket out, and showing the treacherous hole through which the valuable engagement-ring with the four-carat diamond had escaped. Noémi broke into a hearty laugh. She had such a lovely ringing voice when she laughed, and one seldom had a chance of hearing it.

“But it is not lost!” cried Theodor; “you may spare your laughter, fair lady!” and he began to draw off his boot — and there really was the ring, which fell out of the turned-over top of the boot on to the tray.

“There it is! A good horse does not run away. My little Noémi’s engagement-ring has never left me. Look now, Mamma Therese — your future son-in-law has brought this for his bride; there, what do you say to that? And you, Mr. Underwriter, if you understand these things, what do you value this diamond at?”

Timar looked at the stone and said, “Paste. In the trade it is worth about five groschen.”

“Hold your tongue, Supercargo! What do you know about it? You understand hay and maize, and perhaps never saw a diamond in your life.”

And so saying, he placed the despised ring, which Noémi would on no account wear, on his little finger, and was busy all through the meal in showing it off. The young gentleman had a fine appetite. During dinner he talked very big about what a gigantic establishment this shipbuilder’s was, and how many million square feet of wood were required every year. There were hardly any trees left in the neighborhood fit for building ships. They had to be brought from America. There were only a few left in Sclavonia. Only after he had dined well, he came out with the principal affair.

“And now, my dear lady, I will tell you what I have come about.”

Therese looked at him with anxious distrust.

“Now I will make you all happy — you, as well as Noémi and myself. And besides, I can do Signor Scaramelli a good turn. That’s enough for me. Says Scaramelli to me one day, ‘Friend Krisstyan, I say, you will have to go off to Brazil.’”

“If only you were there now!” sighed Therese.

Theodor understood and smiled. “You must know that from there comes the best wood for shipbuilding. The makaya and the murmuru tree, used for the keel; the poripont and patanova, from which the ribs are made; the royoc and grasgal-trees, which do not decay in water; the ‘mort-aux-rats’-tree, the iron-wood for rudder shafts, and sour-gum-tree for paddle-floats; also the teak and mahogany for ship’s fittings, and —”

“Pray, stop with your ridiculous Indian names,” interrupted Therese; “you think you will turn my head by reeling out a whole botanical catalogue, so that I sha’n’t see the wood for the trees. Tell me why — if there are such incomparable trees in Brazil — why you are not there already?”

“Yes, but that’s just where my grand idea comes in. Why, said I to Signor Scaramelli, should I travel to Brazil when we have plenty of wood close by even better than that of Brazil? I know an island in the middle of the Danube which is provided with a virgin forest, and where grow splendid trees, which can compete with those of South America.”

“I thought so,” murmured Therese to herself.

“The poplars take the place of the patanovas; the nut-trees far surpass mahogany, and those we have in hundreds on our island.”

“My nut-trees!”

“The wood of the apple-tree is much better than that of the jaskarilla-tree.”

“Indeed; so you have already disposed of my apple-trees!”

“Plum-tree wood need not fear comparison with the best teak.”

“And those too you would cut down and sell to Signor Scaramelli?” asked Frau Therese, quietly.

“We shall get a mint of money for them; at least ten gulden for each tree. Signor Scaramelli has given me carte blanche. He has left me free to make a contract with you. I have it in my pocket; you have only to sign and our fortune is made. And when once the useless trees here are cut down, we will not stay here, but go and live in Trieste. We will plant the whole island with ‘Prunus mehaleb’— you know they make Turkish pipe-stems from it. This tree requires no care; we need only keep one man here; he would sell the yearly crop of tubular stems to the merchants, and we should receive five hundred ducats for every rood — for ten roods five thousand ducats.”

Timar could not suppress a smile. Speculations of such rashness had not occurred even to him.

“Well, what is there to laugh at?” Theodor said, in a lordly manner. “I know all about these things.”

“And I understand, too,” said Therese, “what you want. As often as my unlucky star brings you here, you appear like a bird of prey, and I may be sure you have some malicious scheme against me. You know that you will not find any money with me, but you help yourself. Once before you came with a boat and carried off what we had saved for our own use, and turned it into money. Now you are no longer satisfied with the fruit of which you took tithes more jealously than any usurious pasha. You want to sell the trees, too, over my head — those trees, my treasures, my only friends in the world, which I have planted and nurtured, which keep me, and under which I can rest. Fy! for shame! to tell me such stories of getting money for these trees, to build ships of them. For certain, you would only cut them down to sell them for a trifle to the nearest charcoal-burner — that is your splendid plan. Who are you going to take in? Not me, who know your cunning. I tell you, have done with your foolish tricks, or you may yet learn what is the use of Turkish pipe-stems!”

“No, no, Mamma Therese, I am not thinking of joking; you may be sure I did not come here for nothing: remember what day it is. It is my fête-day, and the day of my little darling Noémi’s birth. You know my poor father and hers betrothed us to each other when we were little; they settled that as soon as Noémi was seventeen we should be united. I should have come from the ends of the earth for such a day as this. Here I am, with all the warmth of my loving heart; but people can not live on love alone. It is true I get good pay from Signor Scaramelli, but that goes to the splendid furniture of my house in Trieste. You must give me something with Noémi, so that she may make an appearance consistent with her rank. The bride can not enter the bridegroom’s house with empty hands; she is your only daughter, and has a right to require of you that you should provide for her handsomely.”

Noémi had sat down sulkily in a corner of the room, and remained with her back to the company and her head against the wall.

“Yes,” continued Theodor. “You must give Noémi a dowry. Do not be so selfish. Keep half your trees, for all I care, and leave the other half to me; where and how I sell them is my affair. Give Noémi the nut-trees for a dowry: for those I have, really, a certain purchaser.”

Therese had come to the end of her patience. “Listen, Theodor. I do not know whether today is your fête or not, but one thing I do know, that it is not Noémi’s birthday. And yet more surely I know that Noémi will not marry you, if you were the only man on God’s earth.”

“Ha! ha! leave that to me — I am not afraid.”

“Just as you like; but now, once for all, you shall never have my splendid nut-trees, if Noah’s ark was to be built of them. One single tree I will give you, and that you can use for the end you will come to sooner or later. You say today is your fête-day, and that would be a good day to do it.”

At these words Theodor rose, but not to go on his way — only to turn the chair he had been sitting on, and place himself astride on it, with his elbows on its back, and looking into Therese’s eyes he said with provoking coolness —

“I must say you are very kind, Mamma Therese; you seem to have forgotten that if I say one word —”

“Say it then! You can speak freely before this gentleman: he knows everything.”

“And that this island does not belong to you?”

“Yes.”

“And that it would only cost me one word, either at Vienna or Constantinople —”

“To make us homeless and shelterless and beggars.”

“Yes; I can do that!” cried Theodor Krisstyan, who, now showing his true colors, looked with greedy eyes at Therese and drew a paper from his pocket, which he held toward her. “Here is the agreement, and here is the date. You know what I can do, and I will do it, if you do not sign this contract immediately.” Therese trembled.

“No, sir,” said Timar, laying his hand gently on Theodor’s shoulder. “You can not do that.”

“What?” asked he, throwing his head back defiantly.

“Lay information anywhere of the existence of this island, and of its unauthorized occupation.”

“Why should I not do it?”

“Because another has already done it.”

“You!” cried Theodor, raising his fist to Michael.

“You!” exclaimed Therese, pressing her hands to her brow.

“Yes; I,” said Timar, steadily and calmly. “I have given information both at Vienna and in Constantinople, that here close to the Ostrova Island a nameless and uninhabited islet has been formed in the course of the last fifty years. Then I begged of the Vienna Government as well as of the Sublime Porte to leave me the usufruct of the islet for ninety years: as an acknowledgement of ownership, the Hungarian Government is to receive every year a sack of nuts, and the Sublime Porte a box of dried fruit. The patent in question and the imperial firman are already in my hands.” Timar drew the two deeds out of the envelope he had received at his Baja office, and which had, so much pleased him. When he became a great man, he had determined to procure comfort and peace for this poor storm-driven family. That sack of nuts and box of fruit had cost him large sums. “But,” he concluded, “I hastened to transfer the rights thus obtained to the present inhabitants and colonists. Here is the official deed of settlement.”

Therese fell speechless at Michael’s feet. She could only sob and kiss the hands of the man who had freed her from this incarnate curse, and driven away the phantom which oppressed her heart by day and night.

Noémi held her two hands on her heart, as if afraid that it would cry aloud, and betray what her lips suppressed.

“You see then, Herr Theodor Krisstyan,” said Michael, “that you have nothing to get on this island for the next ninety years.”

Pale with rage, Theodor screamed, foaming at the mouth, “And who are you who dare to meddle in the affairs of this family? What gives you a right to do it?”

“My love!” cried Noémi suddenly, with all the strength of overpowering passion, while she fell on Michael’s breast, and threw her arms round his neck.

Theodor said not a word more. He shook his fist in silent rage at Timar, and rushed out of the room. In his look lay that hatred which does not hesitate to use a dagger or to mix poison. But even when he was gone, the girl still held Timar’s neck in her embrace.

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