After the concentration of troops in Komorn, Timar had suddenly become a wealthy man. He had bought a house in the Servian Street, the “City” of the Komorn merchants. No one was surprised. The phrase once uttered by the Emperor Francis I. to a contractor who had remained poor, was, “The ox stood at the manger, why did he not eat?” These golden words have, I fancy, been written by every contractor in his memorandum-book.
How much Timar made by his bread contract it is impossible to say; but that he has suddenly become a great personage it is easy to see. He is always on the spot when there is a large undertaking on hand, and has money in abundance. This is not surprising to merchants or speculators; the first stage is the difficult one. If once the first hundred thousand gulden are made, the rest follows of itself — he has credit.
On one point Herr Brazovics had no doubt whatever. He guessed rightly that Timar had offered the officials a larger commission than he himself usually did, and that he had thus obtained the profitable bread contract by which Brazovics usually enriched himself. But that he should have made so large a profit out of it — on that point he shook his head incredulously. Since Timar had risen in the world, and become his own master, Brazovics cultivated the friendship of his former supercargo, and invited him to his evening receptions, which Timar accepted willingly enough. He met Timéa there very often, who had already learned a little colloquial Hungarian.
Timar was now welcome even to Sophie, who once half whispered and half screamed to Athalie that it would do no harm if she was rather more friendly to him, for he was now a rich man, a far from despicable parti, worth more than three officers put together, who have nothing but their smart uniform and their debts. To which Fraülein Athalie replied, “It does not follow that I should take my father’s servant for a husband.” Frau Sophie could finish the sentence for herself —“Because my papa married his maid-servant”— in which lay a well-earned reproach to Frau Sophie. How could she have dared to intrude herself in the capacity of mother upon such a grand young lady!
Toward the end of supper one evening, as the two sat alone at table, Herr Brazovics began to incite Timar to drink, by repeatedly taking wine with him. His own head was pretty strong from constant practice, but this poor devil could never have been used to the bottle.
When they were well on the road, he cunningly brought up the subject. “You, Michael, out with the truth now — how did you contrive to profit so much by the commissariat contract? I have tried it myself, and I know what can be got out of it. I also have mixed feldspar, bran, and millers’ dust with the dough; I understand how to get acorns ground instead of corn, and know the difference between rye and wheat flour; but to make such a coup as you have done has never happened to me. Confess now! What trick were you up to? You are already wealthy — you have found a gold mine.”
Timar put on the look of a tipsy man who required six horse-power to raise his eyelids, and began with drunken fluency and a stammering tongue to explain. “Well, you must know, sir —”
“No sir to me! How often have I told you! Call me by my name.”
“Well, then, you must know, Nazi, it was no trick. You remember that I bought in the soaked grain-cargo of the ‘St. Barbara’ at a nominal price, a gulden a measure. I did not get rid of it, as people fancied, to the millers and farmers, with a profit of a couple of groschen; but I had it baked into bread at once, which did not cost me half so much as if I had bought the very cheapest flour.”
“Oh, you prodigy! I ought to go to school to you in my old age. You arch-rascal! Was the ration-bread very bad, then?”
Michael laughed so that the wine almost ran out of his mouth again. “I should just think it was bad — bad beyond words.”
“And were no complaints laid before the commissariat committee?”
“What use would that have been, when I had the whole lot of them in my pocket?”
“But the commandant of the fortress, the inspector of ordnance?”
“I squared them too,” cried Michael, proudly, striking his pocket, in which so many great men had found room. The eyes of Herr Brazovics shone in a curious way, as if they were even redder than usual. “And did you give the bread made of soaked wheat to the soldiers to eat?”
“Why not? Bread once swallowed tells no tales.”
“Quite true, Michael, quite true; but you be careful not to tell any one yourself. You can tell me, of course — I am your true friend; but if one of your enemies got wind of it, it might go badly with you. Your house in the Servian Street might go too. Hold your tongue before other people.”
On this Timar began, like one who has suddenly come to his senses, to entreat Herr Brazovics not to betray his secret and make him miserable; he even kissed his hands. Brazovics pacified him, he need not be uneasy about him, he must not let out his secret to others. Then he called the servant and ordered him to take a lantern and go home with Herr Timar, and take good care of him that he should come to no harm, and if he were unable to walk, to take his arm. When the servant returned, he related what trouble it had cost him to get Timar home; he had not known his own door, and had begun to sing in the street. They had at last got him to bed, and there the good gentleman had instantly gone to sleep. But when Brazovics’ servant had gone, Timar left his bed, and wrote letters until morning.
He had not been in the least tipsy. Timar was as certain that his dear friend would at once give information of the whole affair as that Monday comes after Sunday; and he also knew to whom.
It was therefore no surprise to him that, a few days later, after an evening spent with Brazovics, he was cited to appear at the fortress, where a gentleman entitled “Financial Privy Counselor” gave him to understand that he was to remain for the present under strict observation, and demanded his keys, in order to lay an embargo on his books and papers.
This will be a big thing. Timar’s secret had been denounced to the general chamber of finance, which was in rivalry with the leaders of the council of war. Here was an opportunity to reveal in the most conspicuous way the scandals which took place in the bosom of this community, and to remove from it the control of the commissariat. The accusation was supported by the three high courts — only the police department was on the side of the council of war. At last the chamber gave its decision, and a commission was appointed, with strict injunctions to spare no one, to suspend the whole department of supply, to request the commandant to arrest the contractor, commence a criminal suit, and discover everything. If one morsel of musty bread should appear against Timar, woe to him!
But nothing of the sort was found. For eight days the commission worked day and night. They heard witnesses, took oaths, inquired, had the provost up — all in vain, no one could say anything against Timar. From the whole inquiry it was proved that he had divided the spoiled cargo among millers, country people, and manufacturers; that not one single handful had been mixed with the bread baked for the troops. They had even the soldiers up to give evidence. They said they had never eaten better bread than during the two weeks when it was provided by Timar. No complaint, no adverse witness appeared against him, much less could the officials be accused of corruption; they had given the contract to him who offered the best and lowest terms. At last they boiled over; they felt insulted by the inquiry, stormed and rattled their swords; the commission, driven into a corner, got alarmed, revoked, rehabilitated, and tried to get away from Komorn as quickly as possible. Timar was set free with many excuses, and with the assurance that he was a thoroughly honest man.
At his acquittal Herr Katschuka was the first who hastened to congratulate him, and shook his hand demonstratively in public. “My friend, you must not put up with this quietly; you must have satisfaction for it. Just fancy, they suspected me of being bribed! Go to Vienna and demand reparation; the informer must have an exemplary punishment. And in future,” he added aside, “you may be sure no one will ever get us out of the saddle. Strike while the iron is hot.”
Timar promised to do so, and mentioned his intention to Brazovics when he next met him. The latter seemed furious at the ill-treatment his friend Michael had received. Who could the scoundrel be who had so libeled him?
“Whoever it may be,” Timar declared, “shall rue it dearly; and if he has a house in Komorn, I’ll lay my head that this joke will cost him his home. I am going tomorrow morning to Vienna, to demand satisfaction from the treasury.”
“Yes, do so, by all means,” said Brazovics; and thought to himself, “Just as well that I know it; I shall be there too.”
And he happened to get there a day sooner than Timar. There, with the assistance of his old connections, he so prepared the way (which cost him a mint of money) that if once Timar set his foot in this labyrinth, he would never get out again. From the treasury he will be sent to the high court; there the affair will be given over to the judicial office, thence to the superintendent of police, and from there to the secret department of finance.
The unfortunate plaintiff at last loses patience, gets angry, and says a few impudent words — even possibly gets them printed. Then the censor gets hold of him, and at last he begs to be let go, and swears never again to pull the bell at any public office. He will be a fool for his pains if he tries to get justice. But Timar was not a fool; he was far cleverer than either of his advisers — than both put together. He had grown cunning from the time when he let himself be persuaded to take the first wrong step: he knew already that you should never tell any one the real thing you are going to do. At Pancsova, when he snapped his fingers at the authorities, he had shown what talents lay undiscovered in him. Then he had done in another’s interest what could be of no use to himself: he did what he was told to do, and humbugged the pursuers; now he was doing it in his own interest. Being in possession of the treasure-trove, he must find some excuse for appearing as a rich man before the public. He must pretend to be a speculator who had been lucky in his business. In his very first affair he must be reputed to have made large sums. If people imagined he had made his money by corrupt means, that was the lesser evil; and it could not be proved, for it was not true. He had been put to such great expense by the contract, that hardly any profit was left; but he was in a position to buy houses and ships, and pay in gold, and every one thought the money at his disposal came from his successful tender. He required a pretext, a title, a visible ground, in order to go quietly forward with the help of Tschorbadschi’s wealth.
What, then, did he do in Vienna?
He must ask for compensation from the exchequer, and could reckon on the support of the war department. From his friends at Komorn he had received letters of recommendation to the most influential officials. He left all these letters at the bottom of his trunk, and went direct to the chancellor himself, of whom he requested an audience. The minister was pleased that this man did not try to get in by backstairs influence, but came direct by the front entrance. He admitted him. The minister was a tall man with a clean-shaven face, an imposing double chin, severe brows, and very bald. On his breast shone numerous orders. He had stuck both hands under his coat-tails when this poor individual with the big mustache was shown in. Timar wore a simple black Hungarian costume.
The first question of his excellency to Timar was, “Why do you not wear a sword when you come to an audience?”
“I am not a noble, gracious sir.”
“Indeed! I suppose you have come to me to ask for compensation for your arrest and the injury which was inflicted on you?”
“Far from it,” answered Timar. “The government only did its duty in proceeding against greater men than I, as well as myself, on the ground of apparently well-founded information. As I am not of nobility, it is of no consequence to me to lay damages on account of my injured honor. Indeed, I owe gratitude to the informer as well as to the court, for having by their strict inquiry made it perfectly clear that my hands were clean all through my contract.”
“Oh, then, you have no intention of demanding satisfaction from the informer?”
“On the contrary, I should think it unadvisable to do so, for many an honest man might be prevented from revealing real abuses. My honor is established: it is not my nature to revenge myself. Besides, I have neither time nor desire for it. Forgive and forget.”
While Timar spoke, his excellency had already taken one hand from under his coat-tails in order to clap Timar on the shoulder.
“That is a very practical way of looking at it. You can do better than losing time by running about after vengeance. A very sensible idea. What brings you, then, to me?”
“A tender for which I need your excellency’s protection.”
The excellency stuck his hand behind him again.
“The crown has a property on the frontier, in Levetincz.”
“H’m!” grumbled the great man, and frowned. “What do you want with it?”
“In my business as a wholesale dealer, I have often been there, and know the local circumstances. The crown lands extend to thirty thousand acres, and are let to Silbermann, the Vienna banker, at forty kreutzers an acre. The conclusion of this contract lies within the province of the treasury; but the disposal of the income belongs to the military department. This income amounts to a hundred thousand gulden. Silbermann divided the estate into three parts, and let to subtenants at a gulden an acre.”
“Of course he wanted to make something out of it.”
“Naturally. The subtenants let the land in smaller parcels to the peasantry for a certain percentage of the crops. But now, after two bad harvests, the land in the Banat has not even grown enough for seed-corn. The peasants got nothing, and could not give any percentage to the subtenants, who paid nothing to the crown lessee; and he, in order to get rid of his contract, went bankrupt, and paid no rent to the government.”
Now both hands of the great official came out and began to gesticulate. “Yes; because he lived in princely luxury, the rascal! Just imagine, he kept horses which cost eight thousand gulden, and drove them about. Now they are up for sale. I am an ‘excellency,’ but I am not in a position to keep such costly horses as those.”
Timar took no notice, and continued his remarks: “The treasury now is defrauded of its rent, for there is nothing to seize. The tenant and the subtenants are married; their whole property belongs to their wives under the name of dowry. The hundred thousand gulden are lost to the military department, which, I have been told, will claim the sum from the exchequer.”
The chancellor opened his snuff-box, and while he put his two fingers in for a pinch, he threw an inquiring look on the speaker with one eye.
“My humble offer therefore is,” continued Timar, laying a folded paper on the table, “to rent the Levetincz estate for ten years at the price paid by the sub-lessees — namely, a gulden an acre.”
“The new tenant will already have lost a year, for it is November, and all the fields are lying fallow. But in spite of that, I offer not only to include the past year in the term, but also to be responsible for the irrecoverable rent.”
His excellency tapped twice on the lid of his gold snuff-box, and pursed his lips together. Well, thought he, this is a man of gold. He is not such a fool as he looks. He guesses that the treasury would like to take the commissariat out of the hands of the war office, and that all this was mixed up with the inquiry at Komorn. Then, after that horrible fiasco, the clattering swords are at the top of the tree, and would be very glad to get the manipulation of the lands on the military frontier into their own hands. They think it would be a good milch-cow, and the deficit caused by the bankruptcy of the Levetincz tenant gives them a pretext. And now this fellow does not combine with the enemies of the treasury which persecuted him, but comes over to us, and will improve our position and help us out of our difficulty. A man of gold indeed, and to be properly appreciated! “Good!” said his excellency; “I see you are an honest man. You had some cause to complain of us, but abstained: you will see that this is the right way for a good citizen to act. Just to show you that the state knows how to reward patriotic subjects, I guarantee you the acceptance of your offer. Come to my office to-night. I pledge you my word as to the result.”
Timar presented his offer in writing, and took leave with low bows. His excellency was pleased with this man. In the first place, he is wise enough to look over the injustice done to him, which if he had followed it up would have brought unpleasant scandal on the department. Secondly, he offers the government an advantageous rent, fifty per cent higher than the last. Thirdly, he comes to the aid of the exchequer with a generous offer, and enables them victoriously to repel the attack of the war department. He is a threefold man of gold — no, fourfold — but of that his excellency knows nothing as yet. He was to learn it for the first time when he went home to dinner at his palace, and his stud-groom informed him that the gentleman from Hungary who had been commissioned by his excellency to bid for the eight thousand gulden horses had brought them home, and would personally report particulars of their price to his excellency.
A four-fold treasure!
When Timar visited the great man in his office that evening, he saw on every face a polite smile — the reflection of gold. His excellency met him at the door, and led him to the table. There lay the contract outspread; complete with all signatures, with the greater and lesser seals affixed. “Read — I hope you will be satisfied.”
The first thing which surprised Timar was that the lease ran for twenty years instead of ten.
“Well, are you satisfied with the term.”
Was he satisfied! The second surprising thing was his own name, “Michael Timar, Baron von Levetinczy.”
“Do you like your title?”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10