Nina Balatka, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIII

For two days after this Nina heard nothing from the Jews’ quarter, and in her terrible distress her heart almost became softened towards the man who had so deeply offended her. She began to tell herself, in the weariness of her sorrow, that men were different from women, and, of their nature, more suspicious; that no woman had a right to expect every virtue in her lover, and that no woman had less of such right than she herself, who had so little to give in return for all that Anton proposed to bestow upon her. She began to think that she could forgive him, even for his suspicion, if he would only come to be forgiven. But he came not, and it was only too plain to her that she could not be the first to go to him after what had passed between them. And then there fell another crushing sorrow upon her. Her father was ill — so ill that he was like to die. The doctor came to him — some son of Galen who had known the merchant in his prosperity — and, with kind assurances, told Nina that her father, though he could pay nothing, should have whatever assistance medical attention could give him; but he said, at the same time, that medical attention could give no aid that would be of permanent service. The light had burned down in the socket, and must go out. The doctor took Nina by the hand, and put his own hand upon her soft tresses, and spoke kind words to console her. And then he said that the sick man ought to take a few glasses of wine every day; and as he was going away, turned back again, and promised to send the wine from his own house. Nina thanked him, and plucked up something of her old spirit during his presence, and spoke to him as though she had no other care than that of her father’s health; but as soon as the doctor was gone she thought again of her Jew lover. That her father should die was a great grief. But when she should be alone in the old house, with the corpse lying on the bed, would Anton Trendellsohn come to her then?

He did not come to her now, though he knew of her father’s illness. She sent Souchey to the Jews’ quarter to tell the sad news — not to him, but to old Trendellsohn. “For the sake of the property it is right that he should know,” Nina said to herself, excusing to herself on this plea her weakness in sending any message to the house of Anton Trendellsohn till he should have come and asked her pardon. But even after this he came not. She listened to every footstep that entered the courtyard. She could not keep herself from going to the window, and from looking into the square. Surely now, in her deep sorrow, in her solitude, he would come to her. He would come and say one word — that he did trust her, that he would trust her! But no; he came not at all; and the hours of the day and the night followed slowly and surely upon each other, as she sat by her father’s bed watching the last quiver of the light in the socket.

But though Trendellsohn did not come himself, there came to her a messenger from the Jew’s house — a messenger from the Jew’s house, but not a messenger from Anton Trendellsohn. “Here is a girl from the — Jew,” said Souchey, whispering into her ear as she sat at her father’s bedside —“one of themselves. Shall I tell her to go away, because he is so ill?” And Souchey pointed to his master’s head on the pillow. “She has got a basket, but she can leave that.”

Nina, however, was by no means inclined to send the Jewess away, rightly guessing that the stranger was her friend Ruth. “Stop here, Souchey, and I will go to her,” Nina said. “Do not leave him till I return. I will not be long.” She would not have let a dog go without a word that had come from Anton’s house or from Anton’s presence. Perhaps he had written to her. If there were but a line to say, “Pardon me; I was wrong,” everything might yet be right. But Ruth Jacobi was the bearer of no note from Anton, nor indeed had she come on her present message with her uncle’s knowledge. She had put a heavy basket on the table, and now, running forward, took Nina by the hands, and kissed her.

“We have been so sorry, all of us, to hear of your father’s illness,” said Ruth.

“Father is very ill,” said Nina. “He is dying.”

“Nay, Nina; it may be that he is not dying. Life and death both are in the hands of God.”

“Yes; it is in God’s hands of course; but the doctor says that he will die.”

“The doctors have no right to speak in that way,” said Ruth, “for how can they know God’s pleasure? It may be that he will recover.”

“Yes; it may be,” said Nina. “It is good of you to come to me, Ruth. I am so glad you have come. Have you any — any — message?” If he would only ask to be forgiven through Ruth, or even if he had sent a word that might be taken to show that he wished to be forgiven, it should suffice.

“I have — brought — a few things in a basket,” said Ruth, almost apologetically.

Then Nina lifted the basket. “You did not surely carry this through the streets?”

“I had Shadrach, our boy, with me. He carried it. It is not from me, exactly; though I have been so glad to come with it.”

“And who sent it?” said Nina, quickly, with her fingers trembling on its lid. If Anton had thought to send anything to her, that anything should suffice.

“It was Rebecca Loth who thought of it, and who asked me to come,” said Ruth.

Then Nina drew back her fingers as though they were burned, and walked away from the table with quick angry steps. “Why should Rebecca Loth send anything to me?” she said. “What is there in the basket?”

“She has written a little line. It is at the top. But she has asked me to say —”

“What has she asked you to say? Why should she say anything to me?”

“Nay, Nina; she is very good, and she loves you.”

“I do not want her love.”

“I am to say to you that she has heard of your distress, and she hopes that a girl like you will let a girl like her do what she can to comfort you.”

“She cannot comfort me.”

“She bade me say that if she were ill or in sorrow, there is no hand from which she would so gladly take comfort as from yours — for the sake, she said, of a mutual friend.”

“I have no — friend,” said Nina.

“Oh, Nina, am not I your friend? Do not I love you?”

“I do not know. If you do love me now, you must cease to love me. You are a Jewess, and I am a Christian, and we must live apart. You, at least, must live. I wish you would tell the boy that he may take back the basket.”

“There are things in it for your father, Nina; and, Nina, surely you will read Rebecca’s note?”

Then Ruth went to the basket, and from the top she took out Rebecca’s letter, and gave it to Nina, and Nina read it. It was as follows:

I shall always regard you as very dear to me, because our hearts have been turned in the same way. It may not be perhaps that we shall know each other much at first; but I hope the days may come when we shall be much older than we are now, and that then we may meet and be able to talk of what has passed without pain. I do not know why a Jewess and a Christian woman should not be friends.

I have sent a few things which may perhaps be of comfort to your father. In pity to me do not refuse them. They are such as one woman should send to another. And I have added a little trifle for your own use. At the present moment you are poor as to money, though so rich in the gifts which make men love. On my knees before you I ask you to accept from my hand what I send, and to think of me as one who would serve you in more things if it were possible.

Yours, if you will let me, affectionately,

REBECCA.

I see when I look at them that the shoes will be too big.

She stood for a while apart from Ruth, with the open note in her hand, thinking whether or no she would accept the gifts which had been sent. The words which Rebecca had written had softened her heart, especially those in which the Jewess had spoken openly to her of her poverty. “At the present moment you are poor as to money,” the girl had said, and had said it as though such poverty were, after all, but a small thing in their relative positions one to another. That Nina should be loved, and Rebecca not loved, was a much greater thing. For her father’s sake she would take the things sent — and for Rebecca’s sake. She would take even the shoes, which she wanted so sorely. She remembered well, as she read the last word, how, when Rebecca had been with her, she herself had pointed to the poor broken slippers which she wore, not meaning to excite such compassion as had now been shown. Yes, she would accept it all — as one woman should take such things from another.

“You will not make Shadrach carry them back?” said Ruth, imploring her.

“But he — has he sent nothing? — not a word?” She would have thought herself to be utterly incapable, before Ruth had come, of showing so much weakness; but her reserve gave way as she admitted in her own heart the kindness of Rebecca, and she became conquered and humbled. She was so terribly in want of his love at this moment! “And has he sent no word of a message to me?”

“I did not tell him that I was coming.”

But he knows — he knows that father is so ill.”

“Yes; I suppose he has heard that, because Souchey came to the house. But he has been out of temper with us all, and unhappy, for some days past. I know that he is unhappy when he is so harsh with us.”

“And what has made him unhappy?

“Nay, I cannot tell you that. I thought perhaps it was because you did not come to him. You used to come and see us at our house.”

Dear Ruth! Dearest Ruth, for saying such dear words! She had done more than Rebecca by the sweetness of the suggestion. If it were really the case that he were unhappy because they had parted from each other in anger, no further forgiveness would be necessary.

“But how can I come, Ruth?” she said. “It is he that should come to me.”

“You used to come.”

“Ah, yes. I came first with messages from father, and then because I loved to hear him talk to me. I do not mind telling you, Ruth, now. And then I came because — because he said I was to be his wife. I thought that if I was to be his wife it could not be wrong that I should go to his father’s house. But now that so many people know it — that they talk about it so much — I cannot go to him now.”

“But you are not ashamed of being engaged to him — because he is a Jew?”

“No,” said Nina, raising herself to her full height; “I am not ashamed of him. I am proud of him. To my thinking there is no man like him. Compare him and Ziska, and Ziska becomes hardly a man at all. I am very proud to think that he has chosen me.”

“That is well spoken, and I shall tell him.”

“No, you must not tell him, Ruth. Remember that I talk to you as a friend, and not as a child.”

“But I will tell him, because then his brow will become smooth, and he will be happy. He likes to think that people know him to be clever; and he will be glad to be told that you understand him.”

“I think him greater and better than all men; but, Ruth, you must not tell him what I say — not now, at least — for a reason.”

“What reason, Nina?”

“Well; I will tell you, though I would not tell anyone else in the world. When we parted last I was angry with him — very angry with him.”

“He had been scolding you, perhaps?”

“I should not mind that — not in the least. He has a right to scold me.”

“He has a right to scold me, I suppose; but I mind it very much.”

“But he has no right to distrust me, Ruth. I wish he could see my heart and all my mind, and know every thought in my breast, and then he would feel that he could trust me. I would not deceive him by a word or a look for all the world. He does not know how true I am to him, and that kills me.”

“I will tell him everything.”

“No, Ruth; tell him nothing. If he cannot find it out without being told, telling will do no good. If you thought a person was a thief, would you change your mind because the person told you he was honest? He must find it out for himself if he is ever to know it.”

When Ruth was gone, Nina knew that she had been comforted. To have spoken about her lover was in itself much; and to have spoken about him as she had done seemed almost to have brought him once more near to her. Ruth had declared that Anton was sad, and had suggested to Nina that the cause of his sadness was the same as her own. There could not but be comfort in this. If he really wished to see her, would he not come over to the Kleinseite? There could be no reason why he should not visit the girl he intended to marry, and whom he was longing to see. Of course he had business which must occupy his time. He could not give up every moment to thoughts of love, as she could do. She told herself all this, and once more endeavoured to be comforted.

And then she unpacked the basket. There were fresh eggs, and a quantity of jelly, and some soup in a jug ready to be made hot, and such delicacies as invalids will eat when their appetites will serve for nothing else. And Nina, as she took these things out, thought only of her father. She took them as coming for him altogether, without any reference to her own use. But at the bottom of the basket there were stockings, and a handkerchief or two, and a petticoat, and a pair of shoes. Should she throw them out among the ashes behind the kitchen, or should she press them to her bosom as treasures to be loved as long as a single thread of them might hang together? She had taken such alms before — from her aunt Sophie — taking them in bitterness of spirit, and wearing them as though they were made of sackcloth, very sore to the skin. The acceptance of such things, even from her aunt, had been gall to her; but, in the old days, no idea of refusing them had come to her. Of course she must submit herself to her aunt’s charity, because of her father’s poverty. And garments had come to her which were old and worn, bearing unmistakable signs of Lotta’s coarse but reparative energies — raiment against which her feminine niceness would have rebelled, had it been possible for her, in her misfortunes, to indulge her feminine niceness.

But there was a sweet scent of last summer’s roses on the things which now lay in her lap, and each article was of the best; and, though each had been worn, they were all such as one girl would lend to another who was her dearest friend — who was to be made welcome to the wardrobe as though it were her own. There was something of the tenderness of love in the very folding, and respect as well as friendship in the care of the packing. Her aunt’s left-off clothes had come to her in a big roll, fastened with a corking-pin. But Rebecca, with delicate fingers, had made each article of her tribute to look pretty, as though for the dress of such a one as Nina prettiness and care must always be needed. It was not possible for her to refuse a present sent to her with so many signs of tenderness.

And then she tried on the shoes. Of all the things she needed these were the most necessary. At her first glance she thought that they were new; but she perceived that they had been worn, and she liked them the better on that account. She put her feet into them and found that they were in truth a little too large for her. And this, even this, tended in some sort to gratify her feelings and soothe the asperity of her grief. “It is only a quarter of a size,” she said to herself, as she held up her dress that she might look at her feet. And thus she resolved that she would accept her rival’s kindness.

On the following morning the priest came — that Father Jerome whom she had known as a child, and from whom she had been unable to obtain ghostly comfort since she had come in contact with the Jew. Her aunt and her father, Souchey and Lotta Luxa, had all threatened her with Father Jerome; and when it had become manifest to her that it would be necessary that the priest should visit her father in his extremity, she had at first thought that it would be well for her to hide herself. But the cowardice of this had appeared to her to be mean, and she had resolved that she would meet her old friend at her father’s bedside. After all, what would his bitterest words be to her after such words as she had endured from her lover?

Father Jerome came, and she received him in the parlour. She received him with downcast eyes and a demeanour of humility, though she was resolved to flare up against him if he should attack her too cruelly. But the man was as mild to her and as kind as ever he had been in her childhood, when he would kiss her, and call her his little nun, and tell her that if she would be a good girl she should always have a white dress and roses at the festival of St Nicholas. He put his hand on her head and blessed her, and did not seem to have any abhorrence of her because she was going to marry a Jew. And yet he knew it.

He asked a few words as to her father, who was indeed better on this morning than he had been for the last few days, and then he passed on into the sick man’s room. And there, after a few faintest words of confession from the sick man, Nina knelt by her father’s bedside, while the priest prayed for them both, and forgave the sinner his sins, and prepared him for his further journey with such preparation as the extreme unction of his Church would afford.

When the prayer and the ceremony were over, and the viaticum had been duly administered, the priest returned into the parlour, and Nina followed him. “He is stronger than I had expected to find him,” said Father Jerome.

“He has rallied a little, Father, because you were coming. You may be sure that he is very ill.”

“I know that he is very ill, but I think that he may still last some days. Should it be so, I will come again.” After that Nina thought that the priest would have gone; but he paused for a few moments as though hesitating, and then spoke again, putting down his hat, which he had taken up. “But what is all this that I hear about you, Nina?”

“All what?” said Nina, blushing.

“They tell me that you have engaged yourself to marry Anton Trendellsohn, the Jew.”

She stood before him confessing her guilt by her silence. “Is it true, Nina?” he asked.

“It is true.”

“I am very sorry for that — very sorry. Could you not bring yourself to love some Christian youth, rather than a Jew? Would it not be better, do you think, to do so — for your soul’s sake?”

“It is too late now, Father.”

“Too late! No; it can never be too late to repent of evil.”

“But why should it be evil, Father Jerome? It is permitted; is it not?”

“The law permits it, certainly.”

“And when I am a Jew’s wife, may I not go to mass?”

“Yes; you may go to mass. Who can hinder you?”

“And if I pray devoutly, will not the saints hear me?”

“It is not for me to limit their mercy. I think that they will hear all prayers that are addressed to them with faith and humility.”

“And you, Father, will you not give me absolution if I am a Jew’s wife?”

“I would ten times sooner give it you as the wife of a Christian, Nina. My absolution would be nothing to you, Nina, if the while you had a deep sin upon your conscience.” Then the priest went, being unwilling to endure further questioning, and Nina seated herself in a glow of triumph. And this was the worst that she would have to endure from the Church after all her aunt’s threatenings — after Lotta’s bitter words, and the reproaches of all around her! Father Jerome — even Father Jerome himself, who was known to be the strictest priest on that side of the river in opposing the iniquities of his flock — did not take upon himself to say that her case as a Christian would be hopeless, were she to marry the Jew! After that she went to the drawer in her bedroom, and restored the picture of the Virgin to its place.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43