Nina Balatka, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter IX

Nina’s misery as she went home was almost complete. She had not, indeed, quarrelled with her lover, who had again caressed her as she left him, and assured her of his absolute confidence, but she had undertaken a task against which her very soul revolted. It gave her no comfort to say to herself that she had undertaken to look for that which she knew she would not find, and that therefore her search could do no harm. She had, in truth, consented to become a spy upon her father, and was so to do in furtherance of the views of one who suspected her father of fraud, and who had not scrupled to tell her that her father was dishonest. Now again she thought of St Nicholas, as she heard the dull chime of the clock from the saint’s tower, and found herself forced to acknowledge that she was doing very wickedly in loving a Jew. Of course troubles would come upon her. What else could she expect? Had she not endeavoured to throw behind her and to trample under foot all that she had learned from her infancy under the guidance of St Nicholas? Of course the saint would desert her. The very sound of the chime told her that he was angry with her. How could she hope again that St John would be good to her? Was it not to be expected that the black-flowing river over which she understood him to preside would become her enemy and would swallow her up — as Lotta Luxa had predicted? Before she returned home, when she was quite sure that Anton Trendellsohn had already passed over, she went down upon the bridge, and far enough along the causeway to find herself over the river, and there, crouching down, she looked at the rapid-running silent black stream beneath her. The waters were very silent and very black, but she could still see or feel that they were running rapidly. And they were cold, too. She herself at the present moment was very cold. She shuddered as she looked down, pressing her face against the stone-work, with her two hands resting on two of the pillars of the parapet. It would be very terrible. She did not think that she much cared for death. The world had been so hard to her, and was growing so much harder, that it would be a good thing to get away from it. If she could become ill and die, with a good kind nun standing by her bedside, and with the cross pressed to her bosom, and with her eyes fixed on the sweet face of the Virgin Mother as it was painted in the little picture in her room — in that way she thought that death might even be grateful. But to be carried away she knew not whither in the cold, silent, black-flowing Moldau! And yet she half believed the prophecy of Lotta. Such a quiet death as that she had pictured to herself could not be given to her! What nun would come to her bedside — to the bed of a girl who had declared to all Prague that she intended to marry a Jew? For weeks past she had feared even to look at the picture of the Virgin.

“I’m afraid you’ll think I am very late, father,” she said, as soon as she reached home.

Her father muttered something, but not angrily, and she soon busied herself about him, doing some little thing for his comfort, as was her wont. But as she did so she could not but remember that she had undertaken to be a spy upon him, to secrete his key, and to search surreptitiously for that which he was supposed to be keeping fraudulently. As she sat by him empty-handed — for it was Sunday night, and as a Christian she never worked with a needle upon the Sunday — she told herself that she could not do it. Could there be any harm done were she to ask him now, openly, what papers he kept in that desk? But she desired to obey her lover where obedience was possible, and he had expressly forbidden her to ask any such question. She sat, therefore, and said no word that could tend to ease her suffering; and then, when the time came, she went suffering to her bed.

On the next day there seemed to come to her no opportunity for doing that which she had to do. Souchey was in and out of the house all the morning, explaining to her that they had almost come to the end of the flour and of the potatoes which he had bought, that he himself had swallowed on the previous evening the last tip of the great sausage — for, as he had alleged, it was no use a fellow dying of starvation outright — and that there was hardly enough of chocolate left to make three cups. Nina had brought out her necklace and had asked Souchey to take it to the shop and do the best with it he could; but Souchey had declined the commission, alleging that he would be accused of having stolen it; and Nina had then prepared to go herself, but her father had called her, and he had come out into the sitting-room and had remained there during the afternoon, so that both the sale of the trinket and the search in the desk had been postponed. The latter she might have done at night, but when the night came the deed seemed to be more horrid than it would be even in the day.

She observed also, more accurately than she had ever done before, that he always carried the key of his desk with him. He did not, indeed, put it under his pillow, or conceal it in bed, but he placed it with an old spectacle-case which he always carried, and a little worn pocket-book which Nina knew to be empty, on a low table which stood at his bed-head; and now during the whole of the afternoon he had the key on the table beside him. Nina did not doubt but that she could take the key while he was asleep; for when he was even half asleep — which was perhaps his most customary state — he would not stir when she entered the room. But if she took it at all, she would do so in the day. She could not bring herself to creep into the room in the night, and to steal the key in the dark. As she lay in bed she still thought of it. She had promised her lover that she would do this thing. Should she resolve not to do it, in spite of that promise, she must at any rate tell Anton of her resolution. She must tell him, and then there would be an end of everything. Would it be possible for her to live without her love?

On the following morning it occurred to her that she might perhaps be able to induce her father to speak of the houses, and of those horrid documents of which she had heard so much, without disobeying any of Trendellsohn’s behests. There could, she thought, be no harm in her asking her father some question as to the ownership of the houses, and as to the Jew’s right to the property. Her father had very often declared in her presence that old Trendellsohn could turn him into the street at any moment. There had been no secrets between her and her father as to their poverty, and there could be no reason why her tongue should now be silenced, so long as she refrained from any positive disobedience to her lover’s commands. That he must be obeyed she still recognised as the strongest rule of all — obeyed, that is, till she should go to him and lay down her love at his feet, and give back to him the troth which he had given her.

“Father,” she said to the old man about noon that day, “I suppose this house does belong to the Trendellsohns?”

“Of course it does,” said he, crossly.

“Belongs to them altogether, I mean?” she said.

“I don’t know what you call altogether. It does belong to them, and there’s an end of it. What’s the good of talking about it?”

“Only if so, they ought to have those deeds they are so anxious about. Everybody ought to have what is his own. Don’t you think so, father?”

“I am keeping nothing from them,” said he; “you don’t suppose that I want to rob them?”

“Of course you do not.” Then Nina paused again. She was drawing perilously near to forbidden ground, if she were not standing on it already; and yet she was very anxious that the subject should not be dropped between her and her father.

“I’m sure you do not want to rob anyone, father. But —”

“But what? I suppose young Trendellsohn has been talking to you again about it. I suppose he suspects me; if so, no doubt, you will suspect me too.”

“Oh, father! how can you be so cruel?”

“If he thinks the papers are here, it is his own house; let him come and search for them.”

“He will not do that, I am sure.”

“What is it he wants, then? I can’t go out to your uncle and make him give them up.”

“They are, then, with uncle?”

“I suppose so; but how am I to know? You see how they treat me. I cannot go to them, and they never come to me — except when that woman comes to scold.”

“But they can’t belong to uncle.”

“Of course they don’t.”

“Then why should he keep them? What good can they do him? When I spoke to Ziska, Ziska said they should be kept, because Trendellsohn is a Jew; but surely a Jew has a right to his own. We at any rate ought to do what we can for him, Jew as he is, since he lets us live in his house.”

The slight touch of irony which Nina had thrown into her voice when she spoke of what was due to her lover even though he was a Jew was not lost upon her father. “Of course you would take his part against a Christian,” he said.

“I take no one’s part against anyone,” said she, “except so far as right is concerned. If we take a Jew’s money, I think we should give him the thing which he purchases.”

“Who is keeping him from it?” said Balatka, angrily.

“Well — I suppose it is my uncle,” replied Nina.

“Why cannot you let me be at peace then?”

Having so said he turned himself round to the wall, and Nina felt herself to be in a worse position than ever. There was nothing now for her but to take the key, or else to tell her lover that she would not obey him. There could be no further hope in diplomacy. She had just resolved that she could not take the key — that in spite of her promise she could not bring herself to treat her father after such fashion as that — when the old man turned suddenly round upon her again, and went back to the subject.

“I have got a letter somewhere from Karil Zamenoy,” said he, “telling me that the deed is in his own chest.”

“Have you, father?” said she, anxiously, but struggling to repress her anxiety.

“I had it, I know. It was written ever so long ago — before I had settled with the Trendellsohns; but I have seen it often since. Take the key and unlock the desk, and bring me the bundle of papers that are tied with an old tape; or — stop — bring me all the papers.” With trembling hand Nina took the key. She was now desired by her father to do exactly that which her lover wished her to have done; or, better still, her father was about to do the thing himself. She would at any rate have positive proof that the paper was not in her father’s desk. He had desired her to bring all the papers, so that there would be no doubt left. She took the key very gently, as softly as was possible to her, and went slowly into the other room. When there she unlocked the desk and took out the bundle of letters tied with an old tape which lay at the top ready to her hand. Then she collected together the other papers, which were not many, and without looking at them carried them to her father. She studiously avoided any scrutiny of what there might be, even by so much as a glance of her eye. “This seems to be all there is, father, except one or two old account-books.”

He took the bundle, and with feeble hands untied the tape and moved the documents, one by one. Nina felt that she was fully warranted in looking at them now, as her father was in fact showing them to her. In this way she would be able to give evidence in his favour without having had recourse to any ignoble practice. The old man moved every paper in the bundle, and she could see that they were all letters. She had understood that the deed for which Trendellsohn had desired her to search was written on a larger paper than any she now saw, and that she might thus know it at once. There was, certainly, no such deed among the papers which her father slowly turned over, and which he slowly proceeded to tie up again with the old tape. “I am sure I saw it the other day,” he said, fingering among the loose papers while Nina looked on with anxious eyes. Then at last he found the letter from Karil Zamenoy, and having read it himself, gave it her to read. It was dated seven or eight years back, at a time when Balatka was only on his way to ruin — not absolutely ruined, as was the case with him now — and contained an offer on Zamenoy’s part to give safe custody to certain documents which were named, and among which the deed now sought for stood first.

“And has he got all those other papers?” Nina asked.

“No! he has none of them, unless he has this. There is nothing left but this one that the Jew wants.”

“And uncle Karil has never given that back?”

“Never.”

“And it should belong to Stephen Trendellsohn?”

“Yes, I suppose it should.”

“Who can wonder, then, that they should be anxious and inquire after it, and make a noise about it? Will not the law make uncle Karil give it up?”

“How can the law prove that he has got it? I know nothing about the law. Put them all back again.” Then Nina replaced the papers and locked the desk. She had, at any rate, been absolutely and entirely successful in her diplomacy, and would be able to assure Anton Trendellsohn, of her knowledge, that that which he sought was not in her father’s keeping.

On the same day she went out to sell her necklace. She waited till it was nearly dark — till the first dusk of evening had come upon the street — and then she crossed the bridge and hurried to a jeweller’s shop in the Grosser Ring which she had observed, and at which she knew such trinkets as hers were customarily purchased. The Grosser Ring is an open space — such as we call a square — in the oldest part of the town, and in it stand the Town Hall and the Theinkirche, which may be regarded as the most special church in Prague, as there for many years were taught the doctrines of Huss, the great Reformer of Bohemia. Here, in the Grosser Ring, there was generally a crowd of an evening, as Nina knew, and she thought that she could go in and out of the jeweller’s shop without observation. She believed that she might be able to borrow money on her treasure, leaving it as a deposit; and this, if possible, she would do. There were regular pawnbrokers in the town, by whom no questions would be made, who, of course, would lend her money in the ordinary way of their trade; but she believed that such people would advance to her but a very small portion of the value of her necklace; and then, if, as would be too probable, she could not redeem it, the necklace would be gone, and gone without a price!

“Yes, it is my own, altogether my own — my very own.” She had to explain all the circumstances to the jeweller, and at last, with a view of quelling any suspicion, she told the jeweler what was her name, and explained how poor were the circumstances of her house. “But you must be the niece of Madame Zamenoy, in the Windberg-gasse,” said the jeweller. And then, when Nina with hesitation acknowledged that such was the case, the man asked her why she did not go to her rich aunt, instead of selling a trinket which must be so valuable.

“No!” said Nina, “I cannot do that. If you will lend me something of its value, I shall be so much obliged to you.”

“But Madame Zamenoy would surely help you?”

“We would not take it from her. But we will not speak of that, sir. Can I have the money?” Then the jeweller gave her a receipt for the necklace and took her receipt for the sum he lent her. It was more than Nina had expected, and she rejoiced that she had so well completed her business. Nevertheless she wished that the jeweller had known nothing of her aunt. She was hardly out of the shop before she met her cousin Ziska, and she so met him that she could not escape him. She heard his voice, indeed, almost as soon as she recognised him, and had stopped at his summons before she had calculated whether it might not be better to run away. “What, Nina! is that you?” said Ziska, taking her hand before she knew how to refuse it to him.

“Yes; it is I,” said Nina.

“What are you doing here?”

“Why should I not be in the Grosser Ring as well as another? It is open to rich and poor.”

“So is Rapinsky’s shop; but poor people do not generally have much to do there.” Rapinsky was the name of the jeweller who had advanced the money to Nina.

“No, not much,” said Nina. “What little they have to sell is soon sold.”

“And have you been selling anything?”

“Nothing of yours, Ziska.”

“But have you been selling anything?”

“Why do you ask me? What business is it of yours?”

“They say that Anton Trendellsohn, the Jew, gives you all that you want,” said Ziska.

“Then they say lies,” said Nina, her eyes flashing fire upon her Christian lover through the gloom of the evening. “Who says so? You say so. No one else would be mean enough to be so false.”

“All Prague says so.”

“All Prague! I know what that means. And did all Prague go to the Jews’ quarter last Saturday, to tell Anton Trendellsohn that the paper which he wants, and which is his own, was in father’s keeping? Was it all Prague told that falsehood also?” There was a scorn in her face as she spoke which distressed Ziska greatly, but which he did not know how to meet or how to answer. He wanted to be brave before her; and he wanted also to show his affection for her, if only he knew how to do so, without making himself humble in her presence.

“Shall I tell you, Nina, why I went to the Jews’ quarter on Saturday?”

“No; tell me nothing. I wish to hear nothing from you. I know enough without your telling me.”

“I wish to save you if it be possible, because — because I love you.”

“And I— I never wish to see you again, because I hate you. I hate you, because you have been cruel. But let me tell you this; poor as we are, I have never taken a farthing of Anton’s money. When I am his wife, as I hope to be — as I hope to be — I will take what he gives me as though it came from heaven. From you! — I would sooner die in the street than take a crust of bread from you.” Then she darted from him, and succeeded in escaping without hearing the words with which he replied to her angry taunts. She was woman enough to understand that her keenest weapon for wounding him would be an expression of unbounded love and confidence as to the man who was his rival; and therefore, though she was compelled to deny that she had lived on the charity of her lover, she had coupled her denial with an assurance of her faith and affection, which was, no doubt, bitter enough in Ziska’s ears. “I do believe that she is witched,” he said, as he turned away towards his own house. And then he reflected wisely on the backward tendency of the world in general, and regretted much that there was no longer given to priests in Bohemia the power of treating with salutary ecclesiastical severity patients suffering in the way in which his cousin Nina was afflicted.

Nina had hardly got out of the Grosser Ring into the narrow street which leads from thence towards the bridge, when she encountered her other lover. He was walking slowly down the centre of the street when she passed him, or would have passed him, had not she recognized his figure through the gloom. “Anton,” she said, coming up to him and touching his arm as lightly as was possible. “I am so glad to meet you here.”

“Nina?”

“Yes; Nina.”

“And what have you been doing?”

“I don’t know that I want to tell you; only that I like to tell you everything.”

“If so, you can tell me this.” Nina, however, hesitated. “If you have secrets, I do not want to inquire into them,” said the Jew.

“I would rather have no secrets from you, only —”

“Only what?”

“Well; I will tell you. I had a necklace; and we are not very rich, you know, at home; and I wanted to get something for father, and —”

“You have sold it?”

“No; I have not sold it. The man was very civil, indeed quite kind, and he lent me some money.”

“But the kind man kept the necklace, I suppose.”

“Of course he kept the necklace. You would not have me borrow money from a stranger, and leave him nothing?”

“No; I would not have you do that. But why not borrow from one who is no stranger?”

“I do not want to borrow at all,” said Nina, in her lowest tone.

“Are you ashamed to come to me in your trouble?”

“Yes,” said Nina. “I should be ashamed to come to you for money. I would not take it from you.”

He did not answer her at once, but walked on slowly while she kept close to his side.

“Give me the jeweller’s docket,” he said at last. Nina hesitated for a moment, and then he repeated his demand in a sterner voice. “Nina, give me the jeweller’s docket.” Then she put her hand in her pocket and gave it him. She was very averse to doing so, but she was more averse to refusing him aught that he asked of her.

“I have got something to tell you, Anton,” she said, as soon as he had put the jeweller’s paper into his purse.

“Well — what is it?”

“I have seen every paper and every morsel of everything that is in father’s desk, and there is no sign of the deed you want.”

“And how did you see them?”

“He showed them to me.”

“You told him, then, what I had said to you?”

“No; I told him nothing about it. He gave me the key, and desired me to fetch him all the papers. He wanted to find a letter which uncle Karil wrote him ever so long ago. In that letter uncle Karil acknowledges that he has the deed.”

“I do not doubt that in the least.”

“And what is it you do doubt, Anton?”

“I do not say I doubt anything.”

“Do you doubt me, Anton?”

There was a little pause before he answered her — the slightest moment of hesitation. But had it been but half as much, Nina’s ear and Nina’s heart would have detected it. “No,” said Anton, “I am not saying that I doubt any one.”

“If you doubt me, you will kill me. I am at any rate true to you. What is it you want? What is it you think?”

“They tell me that the document is in the house in the Kleinseite.”

“Who are they? Who is it that tells you?”

“More than one. Your uncle and aunt said so — and Ziska Zamenoy came to me on purpose to repeat the same.”

“And would you believe what Ziska says? I have hardly thought it worth my while to tell you that Ziska —”

“To tell me what of Ziska?”

“That Ziska pretends to — to want that I should be his wife. I would not look at him if there were not another man in Prague. I hate him. He is a liar. Would you believe Ziska?”

“And another has told me.”

“Another?” said Nina, considering.

“Yes, another.”

“Lotta Luxa, I suppose.”

“Never mind. They say indeed that it is you who have the deed.”

“And you believe them?”

“No, I do not believe them. But why do they say so?”

“Must I explain that? How can I tell? Anton, do you not believe that the woman who loves you will be true to you?”

Then he paused again —“Nina, sometimes I think that I have been mad to love a Christian.”

“What have I been then? But I do love you, Anton — I love you better than all the world. I care nothing for Jew or Christian. When I think of you, I care nothing for heaven or earth. You are everything to me, because I love you. How could I deceive you?”

“Nina, Nina, my own one!” he said.

“And as I love you, so do you love me? Say that you love me also.”

“I do,” said he —“I love you as I love my own soul.”

Then they parted; and Nina, as she went home, tried to make herself happy with the assurance which had been given to her by the last words her lover had spoken; but still there remained with her that suspicion of a doubt which, if it really existed, would be so cruel an injury to her love.

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