Lieutenant Katschuka went through the café and found Timar there gulping down a cup of black coffee. “I am soaked and frozen, and have a great deal still to do today,” he said to the officer, who hastened to press his hand.
“Come and have a glass of punch with me.”
“Many thanks, but I have no time now; I must go this instant to the insurance company, that they may help me with the salvage of the cargo; for the longer it remains under water the greater the damage. From there I must run to the magistrate, that he may be in time to send some one to Almas to receive the power of attorney; then I must go round to the cattle-dealers and carriers, to induce them to come to the auction; and later on I must go by the stage to Iotis to find out the starch manufacturers there: they can make the best use of the wet grain. Perhaps in this way some of the poor child’s property may be saved. But I have a letter to deliver to you which was given me in Orsova.”
Katschuka read the letter, and then said to Timar, “Very good, my friend. Do your business in the town, but afterward come to me for half an hour; I live near the Anglia — over the door hangs a shield with a large double eagle. While the diligence baits we will drink a glass of punch and have a sensible talk; be sure you come.”
Timar consented, and went off to look after his business. It might be about eleven o’clock when he entered the door under the double eagle, which was near the promenade called in Komorn the Anglia. Katschuka’s private servant waited for him there, and led him up to his master’s room. “Well, I expected,” began Timar, “you would have been already married to Athalie long before I came up from yonder.”
“Yes, comrade, but the affair doesn’t get on well; it is delayed by first one thing and then another. It seems to me as if one of us is not keen about it.”
“Oh! you may be sure Athalie is keen enough.”
“In this world you can’t be sure of anything, least of all a heart. I only say one thing, long engagements are bad. Instead of getting nearer to each other people only get further apart, and learn to know each other’s failings and weaknesses. If this occurs after marriage one thinks, in God’s name, we can not go back. Let me advise you, comrade, if you wish to marry and have fallen in love, don’t wait long to think about it; for if you begin to calculate it will only end in a breach.”
“With you I should fancy there is no danger in calculations about a girl who is so rich.”
“Riches are relative, my friend. Believe me, every woman knows how to get rid of the interest of her dowry; and then no one exactly knows the financial position of Herr Brazovics. A heap of money goes through his hands, but he does not like striking a proper business-like balance, so as to show what he has gained or lost by his dealings.”
“For my part I think he is very well off. And Athalie is a very pretty and clever young lady.”
“Yes, yes; but you need not praise Athalie to me like a horse you take to market. Let us rather talk of your affairs.”
If Katschuka had been able to look into Timar’s heart he would have found that what they had been talking of was his friend’s affair. Timar had turned the conversation to Athalie because — because he envied the officer the smile of Timéa’s face. It was as if he had said, “You have no right to Timéa’s smile — you are engaged; marry Athalie!”
“Now, let us talk of serious matters. My friend in Orsova writes me that I am to befriend you. Good; I will try. You are in a position anything but pleasant: the ship intrusted to you is wrecked. It is not your fault, but a great misfortune for you, for every one will now fear to intrust you with a vessel. Your principal seizes your caution-money, and who knows whether you can recover it by law. You would like to help the poor orphan — I see it in your eyes; that she should lose such a pretty fortune affects you more than any one else. How can we get out of this with one coup?”
“I know no way out of it.”
“But I do. Listen to me; next week the annual concentration of troops begins round Komorn. Twenty thousand of them will be maneuvering here for three weeks. A contract for the bread supply is on hand; large sums will be paid, and he who goes about it wisely will make a good haul. All the tenders go through my hands, and I can say beforehand who will get the contract, for it depends more on what is not contained in the offer than on what is. Till now Brazovics’ tender is the lowest. He is prepared to undertake the contract at 140,000 gulden, and promises ‘the officials concerned’ 20,000 gulden.”
“What do you mean? — the officials concerned?”
“Don’t be so stupid. It is the usual thing that whoever receives such a large contract should give a present to those who get it for him. It has always been so since the world began. What else do we live on? You know that well enough.”
“Certainly; but I never tried it in my own person.”
“Very foolish of you. You burn your fingers for other people, while you might get the chestnuts out of the fire for yourself, if you knew how to do it. Send in a tender to undertake the contract at 130,000 gulden, and promise 30,000 commission.”
“I can not do that for several reasons. First, I have not got the deposit, which must accompany the tender; then I have not the capital requisite to buy such quantities of grain and flour; next, I greatly object to bribery; and lastly, I am not such a bad reckoner as to persuade myself of the possibility of undertaking with only 130,000 gulden to complete the contract as well as pay the friendly commission.”
Katschuka laughed at him. “Oh, my dear Michael, you will never be a man of business. In our line that is always the way. Only to make a groschen on a gulden is peddler’s trade. The chief thing is to have interest, and you don’t want for that; that’s what I am good for. We have been good friends ever since our school days: rely on me. How do you mean you have no money to deposit? Hand over the receipt for your caution-money of 10,000 gulden which you left with Brazovics — it will be regarded as a sufficient security — and then I will tell you what to do next; go quickly to Almas, and bid yourself for the sunken cargo. The grain, which represents a value of 100,000 gulden, will certainly be knocked down to you for 10,000. Then you will possess 10,000 measures of corn. You will promise all the millers in Almas, Fuzito, and Izsaer double pay if they will grind your corn at once. Meanwhile you build ovens, in which the corn is immediately baked into bread. Within three weeks it will all be consumed, and if a bad part slips in, it will be the business of your ‘good friends’ to hush it up. At the end of three weeks you will have a clear gain of at least 70,000 gulden. Believe me, if I were to take such an affair to your principal, he would seize it with both hands. I wonder at your slowness.”
Timar thought it over. It was indeed a tempting offer. To make in three weeks 60,000 or 70,000 gulden — and without much trouble, in complete security. The first week the ration-bread would be rather sweeter than usual, the second week rather bitterer, and the third week rather musty. But soldiers do not look narrowly at such things; they are used to it.
But yet Timar turned with disgust from this bitter cup. “Oh, Emerich!” he said, laying his hand on his former schoolmate’s shoulder, “where have you learned such things?”
“Why,” answered the other, with a gloomy face, “there where they are taught. When I entered on the military career, I was full of romantic illusions. They are all in ashes now. Then I thought this was the school of chivalry, the heroic career, and my heart beat high at the thought: now I know that all in this world is speculation, and that public concerns are governed by private interests. In the engineers I had completed my studies, with remarkable, I may say distinguished results. When I was sent to Komorn, the prospect filled me with pride, at the opportunity I should have for the development of my capacities in military engineering. The first plan for the fortifications submitted by me was declared to be a masterpiece by good judges; but do not imagine that it was accepted: on the contrary, I received orders to prepare another, which was more costly, and involved the expropriation of whole streets in the town. Well, I prepared that too. You will remember that part of the town which is now an open space — this change cost half a million. Your principal had some ruinous houses there which he sold at the price of palaces. And they call that fortification! And for that I had studied engineering. Well, a man falls by degrees and finds his level. Perhaps you have heard the anecdote — it is in every mouth — how the Crown–Prince Ferdinand, when he visited us last year, said to the commandant of the fortress, ‘I thought this fortress was black?’ ‘Why should it be black, your imperial highness?’ ‘Because in the fortification accounts there are every year 10,000 gulden put down for ink. I thought the walls must be dyed with ink.’ Every one laughed, and that was the end of it. If nothing comes out, nothing is said; and if everything comes out, it only raises a laugh. You had better laugh too! Or will it please you better to be shoved out into the world from the threshold of the corn-dealer, and sell matches with two kreutzers profit a day? I have already come down from the ethereal regions. Off, my friend, to Almas, and buy the sunken wheat. Till ten tomorrow night you will have time to send in your tender. Listen, there is the diligence — be off, and see that you get back quickly.”
“I will think it over,” said Timar, slowly.
“Remember that you will do the poor orphan a good turn, if you give 10,000 gulden for her lost property. Otherwise she won’t have as many hundred when the salvage is paid.”
Those words rang in Timar’s ears. An invisible hand drove him on. “Fata nolentem trahunt!” says St. Augustine. Soon after, Timar sat again in the diligence, which galloped away with its four Neudorf horses. In the town every one slept. Only at the station-house sounded the night watchman’s call. No one has written on his brow what the next day will bring to him; but from the walls the sentries, wet through with the autumn rain, challenged in turn “Who goes there?”—“Patrol”—“Pass.”
What sort of bread have these fellows had?
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10