Nina Balatka, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter IV

When Nina returned to her father after Ziska’s departure, a very few words made everything clear between them. “I would not have him if there was not another man in the world,” Nina had said. “He thinks that it is only Anton Trendellsohn that prevents it, but he knows nothing about what a girl feels. He thinks that because we are poor I am to be bought, this way or that way, by a little money. Is that a man, father, that any girl can love?” Then the father had confessed his receipt of the bank-notes from Ziska, and we already know to what result that confession had led.

Till she had delivered her packet into the hands of Lotta Luxa, she maintained her spirits by the excitement of the thing she was doing. Though she should die in the streets of hunger, she would take no money from Ziska Zamenoy. But the question now was not only of her wants, but of her father’s. That she, for herself, would be justified in returning Ziska’s money there could be no doubt; but was she equally justified in giving back money that had been given to her father? As she walked to the Windberg-gasse, still holding the parcel of notes in her hand, she had no such qualms of conscience; but as she returned, when it was altogether too late for repentance, she made pictures to herself of terrible scenes in which her father suffered all the pangs of want, because she had compelled him to part with this money. If she were to say one word to Anton Trendellsohn, all her trouble on that head would be over. Anton Trendellsohn would at once give her enough to satisfy their immediate wants. In a month or two, when she would be Anton’s wife, she would not be ashamed to take everything from his hand; and why should she be ashamed now to take something from him to whom she was prepared to give everything? But she was ashamed to do so. She felt that she could not go to him and ask him for bread. One other resource she had. There remained to her of her mother’s property a necklace, which was all that was left to her from her mother. And when this had been given to her at her mother’s death, she had been specially enjoined not to part with it. Her father then had been too deeply plunged in grief to say any words on such a subject, and the gift had been put into her hands by her aunt Sophie. Even aunt Sophie had been softened at that moment, and had shown some tenderness to the orphan child. “You are to keep it always for her sake,” aunt Sophie had said; and Nina had hitherto kept the trinket, when all other things were gone, in remembrance of her mother. She had hitherto reconciled herself to keeping her little treasure, when all other things were going, by the sacredness of the deposit; and had told herself that even for her father’s sake she must not part with the gift which had come to her from her mother. But now she comforted herself by the reflection that the necklace would produce for her enough to repay her father that present from Ziska which she had taken from him. Her father had pleaded sorely to be allowed to keep the notes. In her emotion at the moment she had been imperative with him, and her resolution had prevailed. But she thought of his entreaties as she returned home, and of his poverty and wants, and she determined that the necklace should go. It would produce for her at any rate as much as Ziska had given. She wished that she had brought it with her, as she passed the open door of a certain pawnbroker, which she had entered often during the last six months, and whither she intended to take her treasure, so that she might comfort her father on her return with the sight of the money. But she had it not, and she went home empty-handed. “And now, Nina, I suppose we may starve,” said her father, whom she found sitting close to the stove in the kitchen, while Souchey was kneeling before it, putting in at the little open door morsels of fuel which were lamentably insufficient for the poor man’s purpose of raising a fire. The weather, indeed, was as yet warm — so warm that in the middle of the day the heat was matter of complaint to Josef Balatka; but in the evening he would become chill; and as there existed some small necessity for cooking, he would beg that he might thus enjoy the warmth of the kitchen.

“Yes, we shall starve now,” said Souchey, complacently. “There is not much doubt about our starving.”

“Souchey, I wonder you should speak like that before father,” said Nina.

“And why shouldn’t he speak?” said Balatka. “I think he has as much right as any one.”

“He has no right to make things worse than they are.”

“I don’t know how I could do that, Nina,” said the servant. “What made you take that money back to your aunt?”

“I didn’t take it back to my aunt.”

“Well, to any of the family then? I suppose it came from your aunt?”

“It came from my cousin Ziska, and I thought it better to give it back. Souchey, do not you come in between father and me. There are troubles enough; do not you make them worse.”

“If I had been here you should never have taken it back again,” said Souchey, obstinately.

“Father,” said Nina, appealing to the old man, “how could I have kept it? You knew why it was given.”

“Who is to help us if we may not take it from them?”

“To-morrow,” said Nina, “I can get as much as he brought. And I will, and you shall see it.”

“Who will give it you, Nina?”

“Never mind, father, I will have it.”

“She will beg it from her Jew lover,” said Souchey.

“Souchey,” said she, with her eyes flashing fire at him, “if you cannot treat your master’s daughter better than that, you may as well go.”

“Is it not true?” demanded Souchey.

“No, it is not true; it is false. I have never taken money from Anton; nor shall I do so till we are married.”

“And that will be never,” said Souchey. “It is as well to speak out at once. The priest will not let it be done.”

“All the priests in Prague cannot hinder it,” said Nina.

“That is true,” said Balatka.

“We shall see,” said Souchey. “And in the mean time what is the good of fighting with the Zamenoys? They are your only friends, Nina, and therefore you take delight in quarrelling with them. When people have money, they should be allowed to have a little pride.” Nina said nothing further on the occasion, though Souchey and her father went on grumbling for an hour. She discovered, however, from various words that her father allowed to fall from him, that his opposition to her marriage had nearly faded away. It seemed to be his opinion that if she were to marry the Jew, the sooner she did it the better. Now, Nina was determined that she would marry the Jew, though heaven and earth should meet in consequence. She would marry him if he would marry her. They had told her that the Jew would jilt her. She did not put much faith in the threat; but even that was more probable than that she should jilt him.

On the following morning Souchey, in return, as it were, for his cruelty to his young mistress on the preceding day, produced some small store of coin which he declared to be the result of a further sale of the last relics of his master’s property; and Nina’s journey with the necklace to the pawnbroker was again postponed. That day and the next were passed in the old house without anything to make them memorable except their wearisome misery, and then Nina again went out to visit the Jews’ quarter. She told herself that she was taken there by the duties of her position; but in truth she could hardly bear her life without the comfort of seeing the only person who would speak kindly to her. She was engaged to marry this man, but she did not know when she was to be married. She would ask no question of her lover on that matter; but she could tell him — and she felt herself bound to tell him — what was really her own position, and also all that she knew of his affairs. He had given her to understand that he could not marry her till he had obtained possession of certain documents which he believed to be in the possession of her uncle. And for these documents she, with his permission, had made application. She had at any rate discovered that they certainly were at the office in the Ross Markt. So much she had learned from Ziska; and so much, at any rate, she was bound to make known to her lover. And, moreover, since she had seen him she had told all her relatives of her engagement. They all knew now that she loved the Jew, and that she had resolved to marry him; and of this also it was her duty to give him tidings. The result of her communication to her father and her relatives in the Windberg-gasse had been by no means so terrible as she had anticipated. The heavens and the earth had not as yet shown any symptoms of coming together. Her aunt, indeed, had been very angry; and Lotta Luxa and Souchey had told her that such a marriage would not be allowed. Ziska, too, had said some sharp words; and her father, for the first day or two, had expostulated. But the threats had been weak threats, and she did not find herself to be annihilated — indeed, hardly to be oppressed — by the scolding of any of them. What the priest might say she had not yet experienced; but opposition from other quarters had not as yet come upon her in any form that was not endurable. Her aunt had intended to consume her with wrath, but Nina had not found herself to be consumed. All this it was necessary that she should tell to Anton Trendellsohn. It was grievous to her that it should be always her lot to go to her lover, and that he should never — almost never — be able to seek her. It would in truth be never now, unless she could induce her father to receive Anton openly as his acknowledged future son-inlaw; and she could hardly hope that her father would yield so far as that. Other girls, she knew, stayed till their lovers came to them, or met them abroad in public places — at the gardens and music-halls, or perhaps at church; but no such joys as these were within reach of Nina. The public gardens, indeed, were open to her and to Anton Trendellsohn as they were to others; but she knew that she would not dare to be seen in public with her Jew lover till the thing was done and she and the Jew had become man and wife. On this occasion, before she left her home, she was careful to tell her father where she was going. “Have you any message to the Trendellsohns?” she asked.

“So you are going there again?” her father said.

“Yes, I must see them. I told you that I had a commission from them to the Zamenoys, which I have performed, and I must let them know what I did. Besides, father, if this man is to be my husband, is it not well that I should see him?” Old Balatka groaned, but said nothing further, and Nina went forth to the Jews’ quarter.

On this occasion she found Trendellsohn the elder standing at the door of his own house.

“You want to see Anton,” said the Jew. Anton is out. He is away somewhere in the city — on business.”

“I shall be glad to see you, father, if you can spare me a minute.”

“Certainly, my child — an hour if it will serve you. Hours are not scarce with me now, as they used to be when I was Anton’s age, and as they are with him now. Hours, and minutes too, are very scarce with Anton in these days. Then he led the way up the dark stairs to the sitting-room, and Nina followed him. Nina and the elder Trendellsohn had always hitherto been friends. Before her engagement with his son they had been affectionate friends, and since that had been made known to him there had been no quarrel between them. But the old man had hardly approved of his son’s purpose, thinking that a Jew should look for the wife of his bosom among his own people, and thinking also, perhaps, that one who had so much of worldly wealth to offer as his son should receive something also of the same in his marriage. Old Trendellsohn had never uttered a word of complaint to Nina — had said nothing to make her suppose that she was not welcome to the house; but he had never spoken to her with happy, joy-giving words, as the future bride of his son. He still called her his daughter, as he had done before; but he did it only in his old fashion, using the affectionate familiarity of an old friend to a young maiden. He was a small, aged man, very thin and meagre in aspect — so meagre as to conceal in part, by the general tenuity of his aspect, the shortness of his stature. He was not even so tall as Nina, as Nina had discovered, much to her surprise. His hair was grizzled, rather than grey, and the beard on his thin, wiry, wizened face was always close shorn. He was scrupulously clean in his person, and seemed, even at his age, to take a pride in the purity and fineness of his linen. He was much older than Nina’s father — more than ten years older, as he would sometimes boast; but he was still strong and active, while Nina’s father was worn out with age. Old Trendellsohn was eighty, and yet he would be seen trudging about through the streets of Prague, intent upon his business of money-making; and it was said that his son Anton was not even as yet actually in partnership with him, or fully trusted by him in all his plans.

“Father,” Nina said, “I am glad that Anton is out, as now I can speak a word to you.”

“My dear, you shall speak fifty words.”

“That is very good of you. Of course I know that the house we live in does in truth belong to you and Anton.”

“Yes, it belongs to me,” said the Jew.

“And we can pay no rent for it.”

“Is it of that you have come to speak, Nina? If so, do not trouble yourself. For certain reasons, which Anton can explain, I am willing that your father should live there without rent.”

Nina blushed as she found herself compelled to thank the Jew for his charity. “I know how kind you have been to father,” she said.

“Nay, my daughter, there has been no great kindness in it. Your father has been unfortunate, and, Jew as I am, I would not turn him into the street. Do not trouble yourself to think of it.”

“But it was not altogether about that, father. Anton spoke to me the other day about some deeds which should belong to you.”

“They do belong to me,” said Trendellsohn.

“But you have them not in your own keeping.”

“No, we have not. It is, I believe, the creed of a Christian that he may deal dishonestly with a Jew, though the Jew who shall deal dishonestly with a Christian is to be hanged. It is strange what latitude men will give themselves under the cloak of their religion! But why has Anton spoken to you of this? I did not bid him.”

“He sent me with a message to my aunt Sophie.”

“He was wrong; he was very foolish; he should have gone himself.”

“But, father, I have found out that the papers you want are certainly in my uncle’s keeping in the Ross Markt.”

“Of course they are, my dear. Anton might have known that without employing you.”

So far Nina had performed but a small part of the task which she had before her. She found it easier to talk to the old man about the title-deeds of the house in the Kleinseite than she did to tell him of her own affairs. But the thing was to be done, though the doing of it was difficult; and, after a pause, she persevered. “And I told aunt Sophie,” she said, with her eyes turned upon the ground, “of my engagement with Anton.”

“You did?”

“Yes; and I told father.”

“And what did your father say?”

“Father did not say much. He is poorly and weak.”

“Yes, yes; not strong enough to fight against the abomination of a Jew son-inlaw. And what did your aunt say? She is strong enough to fight anybody.”

“She was very angry.”

“I suppose so, I suppose so. Well, she is right. As the world goes in Prague, my child, you will degrade yourself by marrying a Jew.”

“I want nothing prouder than to be Anton’s wife,” said Nina.

“And to speak sooth,” said the old man, “the Jew will degrade himself fully as much by marrying you.”

“Father, I would not have that. If I thought that my love would injure him, I would leave him.”

“He must judge for himself,” said Trendellsohn, relenting somewhat.

“He must judge for himself and for me too,” said Nina.

“He will be able, at any rate, to keep a house over your head.”

“It is not for that,” said Nina, thinking of her cousin Ziska’s offer. She need not want for a house and money if she were willing to sell herself for such things as them.

“Anton will be rich, Nina, and you are very poor.”

“Can I help that, father? Such as I am, I am his. If all Prague were mine I would give it to him.”

The old man shook his head. “A Christian thinks that it is too much honour for a Jew to marry a Christian, though he be rich, and she have not a ducat for her dower.”

“Father, your words are cruel. Do you believe I would give Anton my hand if I did not love him? I do not know much of his wealth; but, father, I might be the promised wife of a Christian tomorrow, who is, perhaps, as rich as he — if that were anything.”

“And who is that other lover, Nina?”

“It matters not. He can be nothing to me — nothing in that way. I love Anton Trendellsohn, and I could not be the wife of any other but him.”

“I wish it were otherwise. I tell you so plainly to your face. I wish it were otherwise. Jews and Christians have married in Prague, I know, but good has never come of it. Anton should find a wife among his own people; and you — it would be better for you to take that other offer of which you spoke.”

“It is too late, father.”

“No, Nina, it is not too late. If Anton would be wise, it is not too late.”

“Anton can do as he pleases. It is too late for me. If Anton thinks it well to change his mind, I shall not reproach him. You can tell him so, father — from me.”

“He knows my mind already, Nina. I will tell him, however, what you say of your own friends. They have heard of your engagement, and are angry with you, of course.”

“Aunt Sophie and her people are angry.”

“Of course they will oppose it. They will set their priests at you, and frighten you almost to death. They will drive the life out of your young heart with their curses. You do not know what sorrows are before you.”

“I can bear all that. There is only one sorrow that I fear. If Anton is true to me, I will not mind all the rest.”

The old man’s heart was softened towards her. He could not bring himself to say a word to her of direct encouragement, but he kissed her before she went, telling her that she was a good girl, and bidding her have no care as to the house in the Kleinseite. As long as he lived, and her father, her father should not be disturbed. And as for deeds, he declared, with something of a grim smile on his old visage, that though a Jew had always a hard fight to get his own from a Christian, the hard fighting did generally prevail at last. “We shall get them, Nina, when they have put us to such trouble and expense as their laws may be able to devise. Anton knows that as well as I do.”

At the door of the house Nina found the old man’s grand-daughter waiting for her. Ruth Jacobi was the girl’s name, and she was the orphaned child of a daughter of old Trendellsohn. Father and mother were both dead; and of her father, who had been dead long, Ruth had no memory. But she still wore some remains of the black garments which had been given to her at her mother’s funeral; and she still grieved bitterly for her mother, having no woman with her in that gloomy house, and no other child to comfort her. Her grandfather and her uncle were kind to her — kind after their own gloomy fashion; but it was a sad house for a young girl, and Ruth, though she knew nothing of any better abode, found the days to be very long, and the months to be very wearisome.

“What has he been saying to you, Nina?” the girl asked, taking hold of her friend’s dress, to prevent her escape into the street. “You need not be in a hurry for a minute. He will not come down.”

“I am not afraid of him. Ruth.”

“I am, then. But perhaps he is not cross to you.”

“Why should he be cross to me?”

“I know why, Nina, but I will not say. Uncle Anton has been out all the day, and was not home to dinner. It is much worse when he is away.”

“Is Anton ever cross to you, Ruth?”

“Indeed he is — sometimes. He scolds much more than grandfather. But he is younger, you know.”

“Yes; he is younger, certainly.”

“Not but what he is very old, too; much too old for you, Nina. When I have a lover I will never have an old man.”

“But Anton is not old.”

“Not like grandfather, of course. But I should like a lover who would laugh and be gay. Uncle Anton is never gay. My lover shall be only two years older than myself. Uncle Anton must be twenty years older than you, Nina.”

“Not more than ten — or twelve at the most.”

“He is too old to laugh and dance.”

“Not at all, dear; but he thinks of other things.”

“I should like a lover to think of the things that I think about. It is all very well being steady when you have got babies of your own; but that should be after ever so long. I should like to keep my lover as a lover for two years. And all that time he should like to dance with me, and to hear music, and to go about just where I would like to go.”

“And what then, Ruth?”

“Then? Why, then I suppose I should marry him, and become stupid like the rest. But I should have the two years to look back at and to remember. Do you think, Nina, that you will ever come and live here when you are married?”

“I do not know that I shall ever be married, Ruth.”

“But you mean to marry uncle Anton?”

“I cannot say. It may be so.”

“But you love him, Nina?”

“Yes, I love him. I love him with all my heart. I love him better than all the world besides. Ruth, you cannot tell how I love him. I would lie down and die if he were to bid me.”

“He will never bid you do that.”

“You think that he is old, and dull, and silent, and cross. But when he will sit still and not say a word to me for an hour together, I think that I almost love him the best. I only want to be near him, Ruth.”

“But you do not like him to be cross.”

“Yes, I do. That is, I like him to scold me if he is angry. If he were angry, and did not scold a little, I should think that he was really vexed with me.”

Then you must be very much in love, Nina?”

“I am in love — very much.”

“And does it make you happy?”

“Happy! Happiness depends on so many things. But it makes me feel that there can only be one real unhappiness; and unless that should come to me, I shall care for nothing. Good-bye, love. Tell your uncle that I was here, and say — say to him when no one else can hear, that I went away with a sad heart because I had not seen him.”

It was late in the evening when Anton Trendellsohn came home, but Ruth remembered the message that had been intrusted to her, and managed to find a moment in which to deliver it. But her uncle took it amiss, and scolded her. “You two have been talking nonsense together here half the day, I suppose.”

“I spoke to her for five minutes, uncle; that was all.”

“Did you do your lessons with Madame Pulsky?”

“Yes, I did, uncle — of course. You know that.”

“I know that it is a pity you should not be better looked after.”

“Bring Nina home here and she will look after me.”

“Go to bed, miss — at once, do you hear?”

Then Ruth went off to her bed, wondering at Nina’s choice, and declaring to herself, that if ever she took in hand a lover at all, he should be a lover very different from her uncle, Anton Trendellsohn.

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