Nina Balatka, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIV

Father Jerome had been very mild with Nina, but his mildness did not produce any corresponding feelings of gentleness in the breasts of Nina’s relatives in the Windberg-gasse. Indeed, it had the contrary effect of instigating Madame Zamenoy and Lotta Luxa to new exertions. Nina, in her triumph, could not restrain herself from telling Souchey that Father Jerome did not by any means think so badly of her as did the others; and Souchey, partly in defence of Nina, and partly in quest of further sound information on the knotty religious difficulty involved, repeated it all to Lotta. Among them they succeeded in cutting Souchey’s ground from under him as far as any defence of Nina was concerned, and they succeeded also in solving his religious doubts. Poor Souchey was at last convinced that the best service he could tender to his mistress was to save her from marrying the Jew, let the means by which this was to be done be, almost, what they might.

As the result of this teaching, Souchey went late one afternoon to the Jews’ quarter. He did not go thither direct from the house in the Kleinseite, but from Madame Zamenoy’s abode, where he had again dined previously in Lotta’s presence. Madame Zamenoy herself had condescended to enlighten his mind on the subject of Nina’s peril, and had gone so far as to invite him to hear a few words on the subject from a priest on that side of the water. Souchey had only heard Nina’s report of what Father Jerome had said, but he was listening with his own ears while the other priest declared his opinion that things would go very badly with any Christian girl who might marry a Jew. This sufficed for him; and then — having been so far enlightened by Madame Zamenoy herself — he accepted a little commission, which took him to the Jew’s house. Lotta had had much difficulty in arranging this; for Souchey was not open to a bribe in the matter, and on that account was able to press his legitimate suit very closely. Before he would start on his errand to the Jew, Lotta was almost obliged to promise that she would yield.

It was late in the afternoon when he got to Trendellsohn’s house. He had never been there before, though he well knew the exact spot on which it stood, and had often looked up at the windows, regarding the place with unpleasant suspicions; for he knew that Trendellsohn was now the owner of the property that had once been his master’s, and, of course, as a good Christian, he believed that the Jew had obtained Balatka’s money by robbery and fraud. He hesitated a moment before he presented himself at the door, having some fear at his heart. He knew that he was doing right, but these Jews in their own quarter were uncanny, and might be dangerous! To Anton Trendellsohn, over in the Kleinseite, Souchey could be independent, and perhaps on occasions a little insolent; but of Anton Trendellsohn in his own domains he almost acknowledged to himself that he was afraid. Lotta had told him that, if Anton were not at home, his commission could be done as well with the old man; and as he at last made his way round the synagogue to the house door, he determined that he would ask for the elder Jew. That which he had to say, he thought, might be said easier to the father than to the son.

The door of the house stood open, and Souchey, who, in his confusion, missed the bell, entered the passage. The little oil-lamp still hung there, giving a mysterious glimmer of light, which he did not at all enjoy. He walked on very slowly, trying to get courage to call, when, of a sudden, he perceived that there was a figure of a man standing close to him in the gloom. He gave a little start, barely suppressing a scream, and then perceived that the man was Anton Trendellsohn himself. Anton, hearing steps in the passage, had come out from the room on the ground-floor, and had seen Souchey before Souchey had seen him.

“You have come from Josef Balatka’s,” said the Jew. “How is the old man?”

Souchey took off his cap and bowed, and muttered something as to his having come upon an errand. “And my master is something better today,” he said, “thanks be to God for all His mercies!”

“Amen,” said the Jew.

“But it will only last a day or two; no more than that,” said Souchey. “He has had the doctor and the priest, and they both say that it is all over with him for this world.”

“And Nina — you have brought some message probably from her?”

“No — no indeed; that is, not exactly; not today, Herr Trendellsohn. The truth is, I had wished to speak a word or two to you about the maiden; but perhaps you are engaged — perhaps another time would be better.”

“I am not engaged, and no other time could be better.”

They were still out in the passage, and Souchey hesitated. That which he had to say it would behove him to whisper into the closest privacy of the Jew’s ear — into the ear of the old Jew or of the young. “It is something very particular,” said Souchey.

“Very particular — is it?” said the Jew.

“Very particular indeed.” said Souchey. Then Anton Trendellsohn led the way back into the dark room on the ground-floor from whence he had come, and invited Souchey to follow him. The shutters were up, and the place was seldom used. There was a counter running through it, and a cross-counter, such as are very common when seen by the light of day in shops; but the place seemed to be mysterious to Souchey; and always afterwards, when he thought of this interview, he remembered that his tale had been told in the gloom of a chamber that had never been arranged for honest Christian purposes.

“And now, what is it you have to tell me?” said the Jew.

After some fashion Souchey told his tale, and the Jew listened to him without a word of interruption. More than once Souchey had paused, hoping that the Jew would say something; but not a sound had fallen from Trendellsohn till Souchey’s tale was done.

“And it is so — is it?” said the Jew when Souchey ceased to speak. There was nothing in his voice which seemed to indicate either sorrow or joy, or even surprise.

“Yes, it is so,” said Souchey.

“And how much am I to pay you for the information?” the Jew asked.

“You are to pay me nothing,” said Souchey.

“What! you betray your mistress gratis?”

“I do not betray her,” said Souchey. I love her and the old man too. I have been with them through fair weather and through foul. I have not betrayed her.”

“Then why have you come to me with this story?”

The whole truth was almost on Souchey’s tongue. He had almost said that his sole object was to save his mistress from the disgrace of marrying a Jew. But he checked himself, then paused a moment, and then left the room and the house abruptly. He had done his commission, and the fewer words which he might have with the Jew after that the better.

On the following morning Nina was seated by her father’s bedside, when her quick ear caught through the open door the sound of a footstep in the hall below. She looked for a moment at the old man, and saw that if not sleeping he appeared to sleep. She leaned over him for a moment, gave one gentle touch with her hand to the bed-clothes, then crept out into the parlour, and closed behind her the door of the bed-room. When in the middle of the outer chamber she listened again, and there was clearly a step on the stairs. She listened again, and she knew that the step was the step of her lover. He had come to her at last, then. Now, at this moment, she lost all remembrance of her need of forgiving him. Forgiving him! What could there be to be forgiven to one who could make her so happy as she felt herself to be at this moment? She opened the door of the room just as he had raised his hand to knock, and threw herself into his arms. “Anton, dearest, you have come at last. But I am not going to scold. I am so glad that you have come, my own one!”

While she was yet speaking, he brought her back into the room, supporting her with his arm round her waist; and when the door was closed he stood over her still holding her up, and looking down into her face, which was turned up to his. “Why do you not speak to me, Anton?” she said. But she smiled as she spoke, and there was nothing of fear in the tone of her voice, for his look was kind, and there was love in his eyes.

He stooped down over her, and fastened his lips upon her forehead. She pressed herself closer against his shoulder, and shutting her eyes, as she gave herself up to the rapture of his embrace, told herself that now all should be well with them.

“Dear Nina,” he said.

“Dearest, dearest Anton,” she replied.

And then he asked after her father; and the two sat together for a while, with their knees almost touching, talking in whispers as to the condition of the old man. And they were still so sitting, and still so talking, when Nina rose from her chair, and put up her forefinger with a slight motion for silence, and a pretty look of mutual interest — as though Anton were already one of the same family; and, touching his hair lightly with her hand as she passed him, that he might feel how delighted she was to be able so to touch him, she went back to the door of the bedroom on tiptoe, and, lifting the latch without a sound, put in her head and listened. But the sick man had not stirred. His face was still turned from her, as though he slept, and then, again closing the door, she came back to her lover.

“He is quite quiet,” she said, whispering.

“Does he suffer?”

“I think not; he never complains. When he is awake he will sit with my hand within his own, and now and again there is a little pressure.”

“And he says nothing?”

“Very little; hardly a word now and then. When he does speak, it is of his food.”

“He can eat, then?”

“A morsel of jelly, or a little soup. But, Anton, I must tell you — I tell you everything, you know — where do you think the things that he takes have come from? But perhaps you know.”

“Indeed I do not.”

“They were sent to me by Rebecca Loth.”

“By Rebecca!”

“Yes; by your friend Rebecca. She must be a good girl.”

“She is a good girl, Nina.”

“And you shall know everything; see — she sent me these,” and Nina showed her shoes; “and the very stockings I have on; I am not ashamed that you should know.”

“Your want, then, has been so great as that?”

“Father has been very poor. How should he not be poor when nothing is earned? And she came here, and she saw it.”

“She sent you these things?”

“Yes, Ruth came with them; there was a great basket with nourishing food for father. It was very kind of her. But, Anton, Rebecca says that I ought not to marry you, because of our religion. She says all the Jews in Prague will become your enemies.”

“We will not stay in Prague; we will go elsewhere. There are other cities besides Prague.”

“Where nobody will know us?”

“Where we will not be ashamed to be known.”

“I told Rebecca that I would give you back all your promises, if you wished me to do so.”

“I do not wish it. I will not give you back your promises, Nina.”

The enraptured girl again clung to him. “My own one,” she said, “my darling, my husband; when you speak to me like that, there is no girl in Bohemia so happy as I am. Hush! I thought it was father. But no; there is no sound. I do not mind what anyone says to me, as long as you are kind.”

She was now sitting on his knee, and his arm was round her waist, and she was resting her head against his brow; he had asked for no pardon, but all the past was entirely forgiven; why should she even think of it again? Some such thought was passing through her mind, when he spoke a word, and it seemed as though a dagger had gone into her heart. “About that paper, Nina?” Accursed document, that it should be brought again between them to dash the cup of joy from her lips at such a moment as this! She disengaged herself from his embrace, almost with a leap. “Well! what about the paper?” she said.

Simply this, that I would wish to know where it is.”

“And you think I have it?”

“No; I do not think so; I am perplexed about it, hardly knowing what to believe; but I do not think you have it; I think that you know nothing of it.”

“Then why do you mention it again, reminding me of the cruel words which you spoke before?”

“Because it is necessary for both our sakes. I will tell you plainly just what I have heard: your servant Souchey has been with me, and he says that you have it.”

“Souchey!”

“Yes; Souchey. It seemed strange enough to me, for I had always thought him to be your friend.”

“Souchey has told you that I have got it?”

“He says that it is in that desk,” and the Jew pointed to the old depository of all the treasures which Nina possessed.

“He is a liar.”

“I think he is so, though I cannot tell why he should have so lied; but I think he is a liar; I do not believe that it is there; but in such a matter it is well that the fact should be put beyond all dispute. You will not object to my looking into the desk?” He had come there with a fixed resolve that he would demand to search among her papers. It was very unpleasant to him, and he knew that his doing so would be painful to her; but he told himself that it would be best for them both that he should persevere.

“Will you open it, or shall I?” he said; and as he spoke, she looked into his face, and saw that all tenderness and love were banished from it, and that the hard suspicious greed of the Jew was there instead.

“I will not unlock it,” she said; “there is the key, and you can do as you please.” Then she flung the key upon the table, and stood with her back up against the wall, at some ten paces distant from the spot where the desk stood. He took up the key, and placed it remorselessly in the lock, and opened the desk, and brought all the papers forth on to the table which stood in the middle of the room.

“Are all my letters to be read?” she asked.

“Nothing is to be read,” he said.

“Not that I should mind it; or at least I should have cared but little ten minutes since. There are words there may make you think I have been a fool, but a fool only too faithful to you.”

He made no answer to this, but moved the papers one by one carefully till he came to a folded document larger than the others. Why dwell upon it? Of course it was the deed for which he was searching. Nina, when from her station by the wall she saw that there was something in her lover’s hands of which she had no knowledge — something which had been in her own desk without her privity — came forward a step or two, looking with all her eyes. But she did not speak till he had spoken; nor did he speak at once. He slowly unfolded the document, and perused the heading of it; then he refolded it, and placed it on the table, and stood there with his hand upon it.

“This,” said he, “is the paper for which I am looking. Souchey, at any rate, is not a liar.

“How came it there?” said Nina, almost screaming in her agony.

“That I know not; but Souchey is not a liar; nor were your aunt and her servant liars in telling me that I should find it in your hands.”

“Anton,” she said, “as the Lord made me, I knew not of it;” and she fell on her knees before his feet.

He looked down upon her, scanning every feature of her face and every gesture of her body with hard inquiring eyes. He did not stoop to raise her, nor, at the moment, did he say a word to comfort her. “And you think that I stole it and put it there?” she said. She did not quail before his eyes, but seemed, though kneeling before him, to look up at him as though she would defy him. When first she had sunk upon the ground, she had been weak, and wanted pardon though she was ignorant of all offence; but his hardness, as he stood with his eyes fixed upon her, had hardened her, and all her intellect, though not her heart, was in revolt against him. “You think that I have robbed you?”

“I do not know what to think,” he said.

Then she rose slowly to her feet, and, collecting the papers which he had strewed upon the table, put them back slowly into the desk, and locked it.

“You have done with this now,” she said, holding the key in her hand.

“Yes; I do not want the key again.”

“And you have done with me also?”

He paused a moment or two to collect his thoughts, and then he answered her. “Nina, I would wish to think about this before I speak of it more fully. What step I may next take I cannot say without considering it much. I would not wish to pain you if I could help it.”

“Tell me at once what it is that you believe of me?”

“I cannot tell you at once. Rebecca Loth is friendly to you, and I will send her to you tomorrow.”

“I will not see Rebecca Loth,” said Nina. “Hush! there is father’s voice. Anton, I have nothing more to say to you — nothing — nothing.” Then she left him, and went into her father’s room.

For some minutes she was busy by her father’s bed, and went about her work with a determined alacrity, as though she would wipe out of her mind altogether, for the moment, any thought about her love and the Jew and the document that had been found in her desk; and for a while she was successful, with a consciousness, indeed, that she was under the pressure of a terrible calamity which must destroy her, but still with an outward presence of mind that supported her in her work. And her father spoke to her, saying more to her than he had done for days past, thanking her for her care, patting her hand with his, caressing her, and bidding her still be of good cheer, as God would certainly be good to one who had been so excellent a daughter. “But I wish, Nina, he were not a Jew,” he said suddenly.

“Dear father, we will not talk of that now.”

“And he is a stern man, Nina.”

But on this subject she would speak no further, and therefore she left the bedside for a moment, and offered him a cup, from which he drank. When he had tasted it he forgot the matter that had been in his mind, and said no further word as to Nina’s engagement.

As soon as she had taken the cup from her father’s hand, she returned to the parlour. It might be that Anton was still there. She had left him in the room, and had shut her ears against the sound of his steps, as though she were resolved that she would care nothing ever again for his coming or going. He was gone, however, and the room was empty, and she sat down in solitude, with her back against the wall, and began to realise her position. He had told her that others accused her, but that he had not suspected her. He had not suspected her, but he had thought it necessary to search, and had found in her possession that which had made her guilty in his eyes!

She would never see him again — never willingly. It was not only that he would never forgive her, but that she could never now be brought to forgive him. He had stabbed her while her words of love were warmest in his ear. His foul suspicions had been present to his mind even while she was caressing him. He had never known what it was to give himself up really to his love for one moment. While she was seated on his knee, with her head pressed against his, his intellect had been busy with the key and the desk, as though he were a policeman looking for a thief, rather than a lover happy in the endearments of his mistress. Her vivid mind pictured all this to her, filling her full with every incident of the insult she had endured. No. There must be an end of it now. If she could see her aunt that moment, or Lotta, or even Ziska, she would tell them that it should be so. She would say nothing to Anton — no, not a word again, though both might live for an eternity; but she would write a line to Rebecca Loth, and tell the Jewess that the Jew was now free to marry whom he would among his own people. And some of the words that she thought would be fitting for such a letter occurred to her as she sat there. “I know now that a Jew and a Christian ought not to love each other as we loved. Their hearts are different.” That was her present purpose, but, as will be seen, she changed it afterwards.

But ever and again as she strengthened her resolution, her thoughts would run from her, carrying her back to the sweet rapture of some moment in which the man had been gracious to her; and even while she was struggling to teach herself to hate him, she would lean her head on one side, as though by doing so she might once more touch his brow with hers; and unconsciously she would put out her fingers, as though they might find their way into his hand. And then she would draw them back with a shudder, as though recoiling from the touch of an adder.

Hours had passed over her before she began to think whence had come the paper which Trendellsohn had found in her desk; and then, when the idea of some fraud presented itself to her, that part of the subject did not seem to her to be of great moment. It mattered but little who had betrayed her. It might be Rebecca, or Souchey, or Ruth, or Lotta, or all of them together. His love, his knowledge of her whom he loved, should have carried him aloft out of the reach of any such poor trick as that! What mattered it now who had stolen her key, and gone like a thief to her desk, and laid this plot for her destruction? That he should have been capable of being deceived by such a plot against her was enough for her. She did not even speak to Souchey on the subject. In the course of the afternoon he came across her as she moved about the house, looking ashamed, not daring to meet her eyes, hardly able to mutter a word to her. But she said not a syllable to him about her desk. She could not bring herself to plead the cause between her and her lover before her father’s servant.

The greater part of the day she passed by her father’s bedside, but whenever she could escape from the room, she seated herself in the chair against the wall, endeavouring to make up her mind as to the future. But there was much more of passion than of thought within her breast. Never, never, never would she forgive him! Never again would she sit on his knee caressing him. Never again would she even speak to him. Nothing would she take from his hand, or from the hands of his friends! Nor would she ever stoop to take aught from her aunt, or from Ziska. They had triumphed over her. She knew not how. They had triumphed over her, but the triumph should be very bitter to them — very bitter, if there was any touch of humanity left among them.

Later in the day there came to be something of motion in the house. Her father was worse in health, was going fast, and the doctor was again there. And in these moments Souchey was with her, busy in the dying man’s room; and there were gentle kind words spoken between him and Nina — as would be natural between such persons at such a time. He knew that he had been a traitor, and the thought of his treachery was heavy at his heart; but he perceived that no immediate punishment was to come upon him, and it was some solace to him that he could be sedulous and gentle and tender. And Nina, though she knew that the man had given his aid in destroying her, bore with him not only without a hard word, but almost without a severe thought. What did it matter what such a one as Souchey could do?

In the middle watches of that night the old man died, and Nina was alone in the world. Souchey, indeed, was with her in the house, and took from her all painful charge of the bed at which now her care could no longer be of use. And early in the morning, while it was yet dark, Lotta came down, and spoke words to her, of which she remembered nothing. And then she knew that her aunt Sophie was there, and that some offers were made to her at which she only shook her head. “Of course you will come up to us,” aunt Sophie said. And she made many more suggestions, in answer to all of which Nina only shook her head. Then her aunt and Nina, with Lotta’s aid, fixed upon some plan — Nina hardly knew what — as to the morrow. She did not care to know what it was that they fixed. They were going to leave her alone for this day, and the day would be very long. She told herself that it would be long enough for her.

The day was very long. When her aunt had left her she saw no one but Souchey and an old woman who was busy in the bedroom which was now closed. She had stood at the foot of the bed with her aunt, but after that she did not return to the chamber. It was not only her father who, for her, was now lying dead. She had loved her father well, but with a love infinitely greater she had loved another; and that other one was now dead to her also. What was there left to her in the world? The charity of her aunt, and Lotta’s triumph, and Ziska’s love? No indeed! She would bear neither the charity, nor the triumph, nor the love. One other visitor came to the house that day. It was Rebecca Loth. But Nina refused to see Rebecca. “Tell her,” she said to Souchey, “that I cannot see a stranger while my father is lying dead.” How often did the idea occur to her, throughout the terrible length of that day, that “he” might come to her? But he came not. “So much the better,” she said to herself. “Were he to come, I would not see him.”

Late in the evening, when the little lamp in the room had been already burning for some hour or two, she called Souchey to her. “Take this note,” she said, “to Anton Trendellsohn.”

“What! to-night?” said Souchey, trembling.

“Yes, to-night. It is right that he should know that the house is now his own, to do what he will with it.”

Then Souchey took the note, which was as follows:

My father is dead, and the house will be empty tomorrow. You may come and take your property without fear that you

will be troubled by

NINA BALATKA.

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