Timar's Two Worlds, by Mór Jókai

Chapter ix.

Ali Tschorbadschi.

The following day the “St. Barbara” continued her voyage with a fair wind up the Hungarian Danube. Until evening nothing remarkable occurred, and all went to bed early; they agreed that the previous night no one had been able to sleep. But this night also was to be a wakeful one for Timar. All was quiet on board the ship, which lay at anchor — only the monotonous splash of the wavelets against the vessel broke the stillness; but amidst the silence it seemed to him as if his neighbor was busy with important and mysterious affairs. From the neighboring cabin, which was only divided from his by a wooden partition, came all sorts of sounds; the clank of money, a noise as of drawing a cork and stirring with a spoon, as of one clasping his hands and performing his ablutions in the darkness, and then again those sighs, as in the previous night, “Oh, Allah!”

At last there was a gentle knocking at the partition. Trikaliss called —“Come to me here, sir.”

Timar dressed quickly and hastened into the cabin. There were two beds, and between them a table. The curtains were closed in front of one, and on the other lay Euthemio. On the table stood a casket and two small glasses. “What are your orders, sir?” asked Timar.

“I have no orders — I entreat.”

“You want something?”

“I shall not want anything long. I am dying; I want to die — I have taken poison. Don’t give the alarm — sit down and listen to what I have to tell you. Timéa will not wake. I have given her opium to send her into a deep sleep, for she must not wake up now. Don’t interrupt; what you would say is useless, but I have much to tell you, and only one short hour left, for the poison acts quickly. Make no vain attempts to save me. I hold the antidote in my hand — if I repented of my deed it rests with me to undo it. But I will not — and I am right — so sit down and listen.

“My true name is not Euthemio Trikaliss but Ali Tschorbadschi. I was once governor of Candia, and then treasurer in Stamboul. You know what is passing in Turkey now. The Ulemas and governors are rising against the sultan, because he is making innovations. At such times men’s lives are of little value. One party murders by thousands those who are not its allies, and the other party burns by thousands the houses of those in power. No one is high enough to be safe from his rulers or his slaves. The Kaimakan of Stamboul had at least six hundred respectable Turks strangled there, and then was stabbed by his own slave in the Mosque of St. Sophia. Every change cost human blood. When the sultan went to Edren, twenty-six important men were arrested, and twenty of them beheaded, while the other six were stretched on the rack. After they had made false accusations against the great men of the country in order to save themselves, they were strangled; then those were arrested against whom they had borne witness, and these suspected nobles disappeared without being heard of again. The sultan’s secretary, Waffat Effendi, was sent to Syria, and murdered by the Druses. The Pasha Pertao was invited to dinner by the governor of Edren, Emin Pasha: when the meal was over, black coffee was brought, and he was told that the sultan commanded him to take poison in it. Pertao only asked that he might be allowed to mix the poison he had with him in the coffee, as it was more certain; then he blessed the sultan, performed his ablutions, prayed and died. Even in these days every Turkish noble carries poison in his signet-ring, to have it at hand when his turn comes.

“I knew in good time when my turn was coming. Not that I was a conspirator, but for two reasons I was ripe for the sickle; these reasons were my money and my daughter.

“The treasury wanted my treasures and the seraglio my daughter. Death is easy, and I am ready for it; but I will not let my daughter go into the harem, nor myself be made a beggar. I determined to upset the calculations of my enemies and fly with my daughter and my property; but I could not go by sea, for the new galleys would have overtaken me. I had kept a passport for Hungary in readiness for a long time; I disguised myself as a Greek merchant, shaved off my long beard, and reached Galatz by by-roads. From there I could go no further by land; I therefore hired a vessel and loaded it with grain which I bought: in this way I could best save my wealth. When you told me the name of the ship’s owner I was very glad, for Athanas Brazovics is a connection of mine; Timéa’s mother was a Greek of his family. I have often shown kindness to this man, and he can return it now. Allah is great and wise — no man can escape his fate. You guessed I was a fugitive, even if you were not clear whether you had a criminal or a political refugee on board — still you thought it your duty as commander of the vessel to help the passenger intrusted to you in his speedy escape. By a miracle we traversed safely the rocks and whirlpools of the Iron Gate; by fool-hardy audacity we eluded the pursuit of the Turkish brigantine; by lucky chance we escaped quarantine and the search at the custom-house — and after we had left every bugbear behind, I stumbled over a straw under my feet into my grave.

“That man who followed us last evening to the unknown island was a spy of the Turkish Government. I know him, and he certainly recognized me; no one could have traced me except himself. He has hurried on in front, and at Pancsova they are ready to receive me. Don’t speak — I know what you mean; you think it is Hungarian territory, and that governments grant no extradition of political refugees.

“But they would not pursue me as a political criminal, but as a thief — unjustly — for what I took was my own, and if the State has claims on me, there are my twenty-seven houses in Galatz, by which they can be satisfied; but in spite of that they will cry after me ‘Catch thief!’

“I pass for one who has robbed the treasury, and Austria gives up escaped thieves to Turkey if the Turkish spies succeed in tracing them. This man has recognized me and sealed my fate.”

Heavy drops of perspiration stood on the speaker’s brow. His face had turned as yellow as wax.

“Give me a drink of water that I may go on, for I have still much to tell you. I can not save myself, but by dying I can save my daughter and her property. Allah wills it, and who can flee from His presence? So swear to me by your faith and your honor that you will carry out my instructions. First, when I am dead, do not bury me on shore — a Mussulman does not require Christian burial, so bury me like a sailor; sew me up in a piece of sail-cloth, fasten at my head and feet a heavy stone, then sink me where the Danube is deepest. Do this, my son, and when it is done, steer steadily for Komorn, and take care of Timéa!

“Here in this casket is money — about a thousand ducats; the rest of my property is in the sacks packed as grain. I leave on my table a note which you must keep. I declare therein that I have contracted dysentery by immoderate enjoyment of melons, and am dying of it; further, that my whole possessions were only these thousand ducats. This will serve you as a security that no one may accuse you of having caused my death or embezzled my money. I give you nothing; what you do is of your own kind heart, and God will reward you: He is the best creditor you can have. And then take Timéa to Athanas Brazovics and beg him to adopt my daughter. He has a daughter himself who may be a sister to her. Give him the money — he must spend it on the education of the child; and give over to him also the cargo, and beg him to be present himself when the sacks are emptied. There is good grain in them, and it might be changed. You understand?”

The dying man looked in Timar’s face, and struggled for breath. “For —” Again speech failed him. “Did I say anything? I had more to say — but my thoughts grow confused. How red the night is! How red the moon is in the sky! Yes; the Red Crescent —” A deep groan from Timéa’s bed attracted his attention and gave another turn to his thoughts. He raised himself anxiously in his bed, and sought with a trembling hand for something under his pillow, his eyes starting from their sockets. “Ah, I had almost forgotten — Timéa! I gave her a sleeping-draught — if you do not wake her up in time she will sleep forever. Here in this bottle is an antidote. As soon as I am dead, take it and rub her brow, temples, and chest, until she awakes. Ah! how nearly I had taken her with me! but no, she must live. Must she not? You vow to me by all you hold sacred, that you will wake her, and bring her back to life — that you will not let her slumber on into eternity?”

The dying man pressed Timar’s hand convulsively to his breast: on his distorted features was already imprinted the last death-struggle. “What was I talking of? What had I to tell you? What was my last word? Yes; right — the Red Crescent!”

Through the open window the half-circle of the waning moon shone blood-red, rising from the nocturnal mists. Was the dying man in his delirium thinking of this? Or did it remind him of something?

“Yes — the Red Crescent,” he stammered once more; then the death-throes closed his lips — one short struggle, and he was a corpse.


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