Nina Balatka, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter II

Nina, as she returned home from the Jews’ quarter to her father’s house in the Kleinseite, paused for a while on the bridge to make some resolution — some resolution that should be fixed — as to her immediate conduct. Should she first tell her story to her father, or first to her aunt Sophie? There were reasons for and against either plan. And if to her father first, then should she tell it to-night? She was nervously anxious to rush at once at her difficulties, and to be known to all who belonged to her as the girl who had given herself to the Jew. It was now late in the evening, and the moon was shining brightly on the palace over against her. The colonnades seemed to be so close to her that there could hardly be room for any portion of the city to cluster itself between them and the river. She stood looking up at the great building, and fell again into her trick of counting the windows, thereby saving herself a while from the difficult task of following out the train of her thoughts. But what were the windows of the palace to her? So she walked on again till she reached a spot on the bridge at which she almost always paused a moment to perform a little act of devotion. There, having a place in the long row of huge statues which adorn the bridge, is the figure of the martyr St John Nepomucene, who at this spot was thrown into the river because he would not betray the secrets of a queen’s confession, and was drowned, and who has ever been, from that period downwards, the favourite saint of Prague — and of bridges. On the balustrade, near the figure, there is a small plate inserted in the stone-work and good Catholics, as they pass over the river, put their hands upon the plate, and then kiss their fingers. So shall they be saved from drowning and from all perils of the water — as far, at least, as that special transit of the river may be perilous. Nina, as a child, had always touched the stone, and then touched her lips, and did the act without much thought as to the saving power of St John Nepomucene. But now, as she carried her hand up to her face, she did think of the deed. Had she, who was about to marry a Jew, any right to ask for the assistance of a Christian saint? And would such a deed that she now proposed to herself put her beyond the pale of Christian aid? Would the Madonna herself desert her should she marry a Jew? If she were to become truer than ever to her faith — more diligent, more thoughtful, more constant in all acts of devotion — would the blessed Mary help to save her, even though she should commit this great sin? Would the mild-eyed, sweet Saviour, who had forgiven so many women, who had saved from a cruel death the woman taken in adultery, who had been so gracious to the Samaritan woman at the well — would He turn from her the graciousness of His dear eyes, and bid her go out for ever from among the faithful? Madame Zamenoy would tell her so, and so would Sister Teresa, an old nun, who was on most friendly terms with Madame Zamenoy, and whom Nina altogether hated; and so would the priest, to whom, alas! she would be bound to give faith. And if this were so, whither should she turn for comfort? She could not become a Jewess! She might call herself one; but how could she be a Jewess with her strong faith in St Nicholas, who was the saint of her own Church, and in St John of the River, and in the Madonna? No; she must be an outcast from all religions, a Pariah, one devoted absolutely to the everlasting torments which lie beyond Purgatory — unless, indeed, unless that mild-eyed Saviour would be content to take her faith and her acts of hidden worship, despite her aunt, despite that odious nun, and despite the very priest himself! She did not know how this might be with her, but she did know that all the teaching of her life was against any such hope.

But what was — what could be the good of such thoughts to her? Had not things gone too far with her for such thoughts to be useful? She loved the Jew, and had told him so; and not all the penalties with which the priests might threaten her could lessen her love, or make her think of her safety here or hereafter, as a thing to be compared with her love. Religion was much to her; the fear of the everlasting wrath of Heaven was much to her; but love was paramount! What if it were her soul? Would she not give even her soul for her love, if, for her love’s sake, her soul should be required from her? When she reached the archway, she had made up her mind that she would tell her aunt first, and that she would do so early on the following day. Were she to tell her father first, her father might probably forbid her to speak on the subject to Madame Zamenoy, thinking that his own eloquence and that of the priest might prevail to put an end to so terrible an iniquity, and that so Madame Zamenoy might never learn the tidings. Nina, thinking of all this, and being quite determined that the Zamenoys should know what she intended to tell them, resolved that she would say nothing on that night at home.

“You are very late, Nina,” said her father to her, crossly, as soon as she entered the room in which they lived. It was a wide apartment, having in it now but little furniture — two rickety tables, a few chairs, an old bureau in which Balatka kept, under lock and key, all that still belonged to him personally, and a little desk, which was Nina’s own repository.

“Yes, father, I am late; but not very late. I have been with Anton Trendellsohn.”

“And what have you been there for now?”

“Anton Trendellsohn has been talking to me about the papers which uncle Karil has. He wants to have them himself. He says they are his.”

“I suppose he means that we are to be turned out of the old house.”

“No, father; he does not mean that. He is not a cruel man. But he says that — that he cannot settle anything about the property without having the papers. I suppose that is true.”

“He has the rent of the other houses,” said Balatka.

“Yes; but if the papers are his, he ought to have them.”

“Did he send for them?”

“No, father; he did not send.”

“And what made you go?”

“I am so of often going there. He had spoken to me before about this. He thinks you do not like him to come here, and you never go there yourself.”

After this there was a pause for a few minutes, and Nina was settling herself to her work. Then the old man spoke again.

“Nina, I fear you see too much of Anton Trendellsohn.” The words were the very words of Souchey; and Nina was sure that her father and the servant had been discussing her conduct. It was no more than she had expected, but her father’s words had come very quickly upon Souchey’s speech to herself. What did it signify? Everybody would know it all before twenty-four hours had passed by. Nina, however, was determined to defend herself at the present moment, thinking that there was something of injustice in her father’s remarks. “As for seeing him often, father, I have done it because your business has required it. When you were ill in April I had to be there almost daily.”

“But you need not have gone to-night. He did not send for you.”

“But it is needful that something should be done to get for him that which is his own.” As she said this there came to her a sting of conscience, a thought that reminded her that, though she was not lying to her father in words, she was in fact deceiving him; and remembering her assertion to her lover that she had never spoken falsely to her father, she blushed with shame as she sat in the darkness of her seat.

“To-morrow father,” she said, “I will talk to you more about this, and you shall not at any rate say that I keep anything from you.”

“I have never said so, Nina.”

“It is late now, father. Will you not go to bed?”

Old Balatka yielded to this suggestion, and went to his bed; and Nina, after some hour or two, went to hers. But before doing so she opened the little desk that stood in the corner of their sitting-room, of which the key was always in her pocket, and took out everything that it contained. There were many letters there, of which most were on matters of business — letters which in few houses would come into the hands of such a one as Nina Balatka, but which, through the weakness of her father’s health, had come into hers. Many of these she now read; some few she tore and burned in the stove, and others she tied in bundles and put back carefully into their place. There was not a paper in the desk which did not pass under her eye, and as to which she did not come to some conclusion, either to keep it or to burn it. There were no love-letters there. Nina Balatka had never yet received such a letter as that. She saw her lover too frequently to feel much the need of written expressions of love; and such scraps of his writing as there were in the bundles, referred altogether to small matters of business. When she had thus arranged her papers, she too went to bed. On the next morning, when she gave her father his breakfast, she was very silent. She made for him a little chocolate, and cut for him a few slips of white bread to dip into it. For herself, she cut a slice from a black loaf made of rye flour, and mixed with water a small quantity of the thin sour wine of the country. Her meal may have been worth perhaps a couple of kreutzers, or something less than a penny, whereas that of her father may have cost twice as much. Nina was a close and sparing housekeeper, but with all her economy she could not feed three people upon nothing. Latterly, from month to month, she had sold one thing out of the house after another, knowing as each article went that provision from such store as that must soon fail her. But anything was better than taking money from her aunt whom she hated — except taking money from the Jew whom she loved. From him she had taken none, though it had been often offered. “You have lost more than enough by father,” she had said to him when the offer had been made. “What I give to the wife of my bosom shall never be reckoned as lost,” he had answered. She had loved him for the words, and had pressed his hand in hers — but she had not taken his money. From her aunt some small meagre supply had been accepted from time to time — a florin or two now, and a florin or two again — given with repeated intimations on aunt Sophie’s part, that her husband Karil could not be expected to maintain the house in the Kleinseite. Nina had not felt herself justified in refusing such gifts from her aunt to her father, but as each occasion came she told herself that some speedy end must be put to this state of things. Her aunt’s generosity would not sustain her father, and her aunt’s generosity nearly killed herself. On this very morning she would do that which should certainly put an end to a state of things so disagreeable. After breakfast, therefore, she started at once for the house in the Windberg-gasse, leaving her father still in his bed. She walked very quick, looking neither to the right nor the left, across the bridge, along the river-side, and then up into the straight ugly streets of the New Town. The distance from her father’s house was nearly two miles, and yet the journey was made in half an hour. She had never walked so quickly through the streets of Prague before; and when she reached the end of the Windberg-gasse, she had to pause a moment to collect her thoughts and her breath. But it was only for a moment, and then the bell was rung.

Yes; her aunt was at home. At ten in the morning that was a matter of course. She was shown, not into the grand drawing-room, which was only used on grand occasions, but into a little back parlour which, in spite of the wealth and magnificence of the Zamenoys, was not so clean as the room in the Kleinseite, and certainly not so comfortable as the Jew’s apartment. There was no carpet; but that was not much, as carpets in Prague were not in common use. There were two tables crowded with things needed for household purposes, half-a-dozen chairs of different patterns, a box of sawdust close under the wall, placed there that papa Zamenoy might spit into it when it pleased him. There was a crowd of clothes and linen hanging round the stove, which projected far into the room; and spread upon the table, close to which was placed mamma Zamenoy’s chair, was an article of papa Zamenoy’s dress, on which mamma Zamenoy was about to employ her talents in the art of tailoring. All this, however, was nothing to Nina, nor was the dirt on the floor much to her, though she had often thought that if she were to go and live with aunt Sophie, she would contrive to make some improvement as to the cleanliness of the house.

“Your aunt will be down soon,” said Lotta Luxa as they passed through the passage. “She is very angry, Nina, at not seeing you all the last week.”

“I don’t know why she should be angry, Lotta. I did not say I would come.”

Lotta Luxa was a sharp little woman, over forty years of age, with quick green eyes and thin red-tipped nose, looking as though Paris might have been the town of her birth rather than Prague. She wore short petticoats, clean stockings, an old pair of slippers; and in the back of her hair she still carried that Diana’s dart which maidens wear in those parts when they are not only maidens unmarried, but maidens also disengaged. No one had yet succeeded in drawing Lotta Luxa’s arrow from her head, though Souchey, from the other side of the river, had made repeated attempts to do so. For Lotta Luxa had a little money of her own, and poor Souchey had none. Lotta muttered something about the thoughtless thanklessness of young people, and then took herself down-stairs. Nina opened the door of the back parlour, and found her cousin Ziska sitting alone with his feet propped upon the stove.

“What, Ziska,” she said, “you not at work by ten o’clock!”

“I was not well last night, and took physic this morning,” said Ziska. “Something had disagreed with me.”

“I’m sorry for that, Ziska. You eat too much fruit, I suppose.”

“Lotta says it was the sausage, but I don’t think it was. I’m very fond of sausage, and everybody must be ill sometimes. She’ll be down here again directly;” and Ziska with his head nodded at the chair in which his mother was wont to sit.

Nina, whose mind was quite full of her business, was determined to go to work at once. “I’m glad to have you alone for a moment, Ziska,” she said.

“And so am I very glad; only I wish I had not taken physic, it makes one so uncomfortable.”

At this moment Nina had in her heart no charity towards her cousin, and did not care for his discomfort. “Ziska,” she said, “Anton Trendellsohn wants to have the papers about the houses in the Kleinseite. He says that they are his, and you have them.”

Ziska hated Anton Trendellsohn, hardly knowing why he hated him. “If Trendellsohn wants anything of us,” said he, “why does he not come to the office? He knows where to find us.”

“Yes, Ziska, he knows where to find you; but, as he says, he has no business with you — no business as to which he can make a demand. He thinks, therefore, you would merely bid him begone.”

“Very likely. One doesn’t want to see more of a Jew than one can help.”

“That Jew, Ziska, owns the house in which father lives. That Jew, Ziska, is the best friend that — that — that father has.”

“I’m sorry you think so, Nina.”

“How can I help thinking it? You can’t deny, nor can uncle, that the houses belong to him. The papers got into uncle’s hands when he and father were together, and I think they ought to be given up now. Father thinks that the Trendellsohns should have them. Even though they are Jews, they have a right to their own.”

“You know nothing about it, Nina. How should you know about such things as that?”

“I am driven to know. Father is ill, and cannot come himself.”

“Oh, laws! I am so uncomfortable. I never will take stuff from Lotta Luxa again. She thinks a man is the same as a horse.”

This little episode put a stop to the conversation about the title-deeds, and then Madame Zamenoy entered the room. Madame Zamenoy was a woman of a portly demeanour, well fitted to do honour by her personal presence to that carriage and horses with which Providence and an indulgent husband had blessed her. And when she was dressed in her full panoply of French millinery — the materials of which had come from England, and the manufacture of which had taken place in Prague — she looked the carriage and horses well enough. But of a morning she was accustomed to go about the house in a pale-tinted wrapper, which, pale-tinted as it was, should have been in the washing-tub much oftener than was the case with it — if not for cleanliness, then for mere decency of appearance.

And the mode in which she carried her matutinal curls, done up with black pins, very visible to the eye, was not in itself becoming. The handkerchief which she wore in lieu of cap, might have been excused on the score of its ugliness, as Madame Zamenoy was no longer young, had it not been open to such manifest condemnation for other sins. And in this guise she would go about the house from morning to night on days not made sacred by the use of the carriage. Now Lotta Luxa was clean in the midst of her work; and one would have thought that the cleanliness of the maid would have shamed the slatternly ways of the mistress. But Madame Zamenoy and Lotta Luxa had lived together long, and probably knew each other well.

“Well, Nina,” she said, “so you’ve come at last?”

“Yes; I’ve come, aunt. And as I want to say something very particular to you yourself, perhaps Ziska won’t mind going out of the room for a minute.” Nina had not sat down since she had been in the room, and was now standing before her aunt with almost militant firmness. She was resolved to rush at once at the terrible subject which she had in hand, but she could not do so in the presence of her cousin Ziska.

Ziska groaned audibly. “Ziska isn’t well this morning,” said Madame Zamenoy, “and I do not wish to have him disturbed.”

“Then perhaps you’ll come into the front parlour, aunt.”

“What can there be that you cannot say before Ziska?”

“There is something, aunt,” said Nina.

If there were a secret, Madame Zamenoy decidedly wished to hear it, and therefore, after pausing to consider the matter for a moment or two, she led the way into the front parlour.

“And now, Nina, what is it? I hope you have not disturbed me in this way for anything that is a trifle.”

“It is no trifle to me, aunt. I am going to be married to — Anton Trendellsohn.” She said the words slowly, standing bolt-upright, at her greatest height, as she spoke them, and looking her aunt full in the face with something of defiance both in her eyes and in the tone of her voice. She had almost said, “Anton Trendellsohn, the Jew;” and when her speech was finished, and admitted of no addition, she reproached herself with pusillanimity in that she had omitted the word which had always been so odious, and would now be doubly odious — odious to her aunt in a tenfold degree.

Madame Zamenoy stood for a while speechless — struck with horror. The tidings which she heard were so unexpected, so strange, and so abominable, that they seemed at first to crush her. Nina was her niece — her sister’s child; and though she might be repudiated, reviled, persecuted, and perhaps punished, still she must retain her relationship to her injured relatives. And it seemed to Madame Zamenoy as though the marriage of which Nina spoke was a thing to be done at once, out of hand — as though the disgusting nuptials were to take place on that day or on the next, and could not now be avoided. It occurred to her that old Balatka himself was a consenting party, and that utter degradation was to fall upon the family instantly. There was that in Nina’s air and manner, as she spoke of her own iniquity, which made the elder woman feel for the moment that she was helpless to prevent the evil with which she was threatened.

“Anton Trendellsohn — a Jew,” she said, at last.

“Yes, aunt; Anton Trendellsohn, the Jew. I am engaged to him as his wife.”

There was a something of doubtful futurity in the word engaged, which gave a slight feeling of relief to Madame Zamenoy, and taught her to entertain a hope that there might be yet room for escape. “Marry a Jew, Nina,” she said; “it cannot be possible!”

“It is possible, aunt. Other Jews in Prague have married Christians.”

“Yes, I know it. There have been outcasts among us low enough so to degrade themselves — low women who were called Christians. There has been no girl connected with decent people who has ever so degraded herself. Does your father know of this?”

“Not yet.”

“Your father knows nothing of it, and you come and tell me that you are engaged — to a Jew!” Madame Zamenoy had so far recovered herself that she was now able to let her anger mount above her misery. “You wicked girl! Why have you come to me with such a story as this?”

“Because it is well that you should know it. I did not like to deceive you, even by secrecy. You will not be hurt. You need not notice me any longer. I shall be lost to you, and that will be all.”

“If you were to do such a thing you would disgrace us. But you will not be allowed to do it.”

“But I shall do it.”

“Nina!”

“Yes, aunt. I shall do it. Do you think I will be false to my troth?”

“Your troth to a Jew is nothing. Father Jerome will tell you so.”

“I shall not ask Father Jerome. Father Jerome, of course, will condemn me; but I shall not ask him whether or not I am to keep my promise — my solemn promise.”

“And why not?”

Then Nina paused a moment before she answered. But she did answer, and answered with that bold defiant air which at first had disconcerted her aunt.

“I will ask no one, aunt Sophie, because I love Anton Trendellsohn, and have told him that I love him.”

“Pshaw!”

“I have nothing more to say, aunt. I thought it right to tell you, and now I will go.”

She had turned to the door, and had her hand upon the lock when her aunt stopped her. “Wait a moment, Nina. You have had your say; now you must hear me.”

“I will hear you if you say nothing against him.”

“I shall say what I please.”

“Then I will not hear you.” Nina again made for the door, but her aunt intercepted her retreat. “Of course you can stop me, aunt, in that way if you choose.”

“You bold, bad girl!”

“You may say what you please about myself.”

“You are a bold, bad girl!”

“Perhaps I am. Father Jerome says we are all bad. And as for boldness, I have to be bold.”

“You are bold and brazen. Marry a Jew! It is the worst thing a Christian girl could do.”

“No, it is not. There are things ten times worse than that.”

“How you could dare to come and tell me!”

“I did dare, you see. If I had not told you, you would have called me sly.”

“You are sly.”

“I am not sly. You tell me I am bad and bold and brazen.”

“So you are.”

“Very likely. I do not say I am not. But I am not sly. Now, will you let me go, aunt Sophie?”

“Yes, you may go — you may go; but you may not come here again till this thing has been put an end to. Of course I shall see your father and Father Jerome, and your uncle will see the police. You will be locked up, and Anton Trendellsohn will be sent out of Bohemia. That is how it will end. Now you may go.” And Nina went her way.

Her aunt’s threat of seeing her father and the priest was nothing to Nina. It was the natural course for her aunt to take, and a course in opposition to which Nina was prepared to stand her ground firmly. But the allusion to the police did frighten her. She had thought of the power which the law might have over her very often, and had spoken of it in awe to her lover. He had reassured her, explaining to her that, as the law now stood in Austria, no one but her father could prevent her marriage with a Jew, and that he could only do so till she was of age. Now Nina would be twenty-one on the first of the coming month, and therefore would be free, as Anton told her, to do with herself as she pleased. But still there came over her a cold feeling of fear when her aunt spoke to her of the police. The law might give the police no power over her; but was there not a power in the hands of those armed men whom she saw around her on every side, and who were seldom countrymen of her own, over and above the law? Were there not still dark dungeons and steel locks and hard hearts? Though the law might justify her, how would that serve her, if men — if men and women, were determined to persecute her? As she walked home, however, she resolved that dark dungeons and steel locks and hard hearts might do their worst against her. She had set her will upon one thing in this world, and from that one thing no persecution should drive her. They might kill her, perhaps. Yes, they might kill her; and then there would be an end of it. But to that end she would force them to come before she would yield. So much she swore to herself as she walked home on that morning to the Kleinseite.

Madame Zamenoy, when Nina left her, sat in solitary consideration for some twenty minutes, and then called for her chief confidant, Lotta Luxa. With many expressions of awe, and with much denunciation of her niece’s iniquity, she told to Lotta what she had heard, speaking of Nina as one who was utterly lost and abandoned. Lotta, however, did not express so much indignant surprise as her mistress expected, though she was willing enough to join in abuse against Nina Balatka.

“That comes of letting girls go about just as they please among the men,” said Lotta.

“But a Jew!” said Madame Zamenoy. “If it had been any kind of a Christian, I could understand it.”

“Trendellsohn has such a hold upon her, and upon her father,” said Lotta.

“But a Jew! She has been to confession, has she not?”

“Regularly,” said Lotta Luxa.

“Dear, dear! what a false hypocrite! And at mass?”

“Four mornings a-week always.”

“And to tell me, after it all, that she means to marry a Jew. Of course, Lotta, we must prevent it.”

“But how? Her father will do whatever she bids him.”

“Father Jerome would do anything for me.”

“Father Jerome can do little or nothing if she has the bit between her teeth,” said Lotta. “She is as obstinate as a mule when she pleases. She is not like other girls. You cannot frighten her out of anything.”

“I’ll try, at least,” said Madame Zamenoy.

“Yes, we can try,” said Lotta.

“Would not the mayor help us — that is, if we were driven to go to that?”

“I doubt if he could do anything. He would be afraid to use a high hand. He is Bohemian. The head of the police might do something, if we could get at him.”

“She might be taken away.”

“Where could they take her?” asked Lotta. “No; they could not take her anywhere.”

“Not into a convent — out of the way somewhere in Italy?”

“Oh, heaven, no! They are afraid of that sort of thing now. All Prague would know of it, and would talk; and the Jews would be stronger than the priests; and the English people would hear of it, and there would be the very mischief.”

“The times have come to be very bad, Lotta.”

“That’s as may be,” said Lotta as though she had her doubts upon the subject. “That’s as may be. But it isn’t easy to put a young woman away now without her will. Things have changed — partly for the worse, perhaps, and partly for the better. Things are changing every day. My wonder is that he should wish to many her.”

“The men think her very pretty. Ziska is mad about her,” said Madame Zamenoy.

“But Ziska is a calf to Anton Trendellsohn. Anton Trendellsohn has cut his wise teeth. Like them all, he loves his money; and she has not got a kreutzer.”

“But he has promised to marry her. You may be sure of that.”

“Very likely. A man always promises that when he wants a girl to be kind to him. But why should he stick to it? What can he get by marrying Nina — a penniless girl, with a pauper for a father? The Trendellsohns have squeezed that sponge dry already.”

This was a new light to Madame Zamenoy, and one that was not altogether unpleasant to her eyes. That her niece should have promised herself to a Jew was dreadful, and that her niece should be afterwards jilted by the Jew was a poor remedy. But still it was a remedy, and therefore she listened.

“If nothing else can be done, we could perhaps put him against it,” said Lotta Luxa.

Madame Zamenoy on that occasion said but little more, but she agreed with her servant that it would be better to resort to any means than to submit to the degradation of an alliance with the Jew.

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