“The diploma of nobility shall be sent to you,” said the great man with a gracious smile.
Timar signed his name, with the addition of his new title, to the contract.
“Do not be in a hurry,” said his excellency, “I have something more to say. It is a duty of the government to distinguish those who have deserved it by their services to the nation. Especially in regard to such as have won universal recognition in the regions of commerce and political economy. Could you name any one whom I could recommend in the highest quarters for the decoration of the Iron Crown?”
His excellency was quite prepared to receive for answer —“Here is my own button-hole, sir; you can find no better place for your order of merit. If you only want an honest man, here am I.” And the offer was made with this idea.
So much the greater was the astonishment of the minister when Michael Timar–Levetinczy after a brief pause replied —“Yes, sir, I will make so free as to point out a person who has long enjoyed universal respect, who has secretly been the benefactor of the district where he lives; it is no other than the Dean of Plesscovacz, Cyril Sandorovics, who deserves this distinction in an imminent degree.”
The minister started back. An individual had never before come under his notice who, on being asked —“To whom shall I give this order,” had not turned to the mirror, and pointing to himself, replied —“Give it to this worthy man!” but who instead of that had indicated with his finger the furthest limit of the national map, and there seeking out a country priest, not his brother-in-law or godfather, not even a priest of his own church, had said —“This is a better man than I.” Indeed this is a man of pure gold. A gold worker would have to mix at least three carats of silver with him before he would be malleable. But as the question has been asked, it must be seriously considered. “Good, good,” replied the great man, “but the bestowal of an order involves certain formalities. The sovereign can not contemplate the eventuality of a refusal: the person to whom such a distinction falls must go through the form of personally applying for it.”
“His reverence is a very modest man, and would only, if I know him, decide on such a step on receiving an invitation from high quarters.”
“Indeed? I understand. A line from my hand would suffice? Good. As it is recommended by you, it shall be done. Yes; the state must reward modest merit.”
And the great man wrote with his own hand a few lines to the Rev. Dean Cyril Sandorovics, with the assurance that, if he desired it, he should receive the decoration of the Iron Crown in return for services. Timar thanked his excellency warmly for this favor, and was assured of his high protection for all future time. And, further, Timar had the pleasure of finding that in the whole office, where one generally has to go through every kind of tiresome formality, here every one was at his service, so that he only required an hour to get through his business, while it would have taken any one else weeks before he could get out of this official labyrinth. The water-jug of the Orsova purifier was there in an invisible shape!
It was night before he had packed all the documents relative to his completed contract in his portmanteau. And now for speed! He neither supped nor slept, but hastened to the Golden Lamb, where the mail-cart put up. In the bar he bought a roll and a smoked sausage, which he put in his pocket; he could eat them on the journey. Then he called to the driver, “We must be off at once — spare neither whip nor horses. I will give you a gulden an hour for yourself, and pay double price for my place.” It was needless to say more.
Two minutes later the mail-cart was dashing through the streets of Vienna with great cracking of whips, the police in vain calling out that it was forbidden in Vienna. The courier-posts, which at that time took the place of railways, formed one connected chain between Vienna and Semlin. The horses stood harnessed day and night, and as soon the crack of the whip at one end of the village announced the approach of the post, the postmaster brought out the new team from the stable, and in two minutes the cart with the fresh horses rolled away over hill and dale at a gallop. If two post-carts met on the road they changed horses and drivers, who then had only half the distance to go back. The speed of the journey was regulated by the amount of the pay.
Timar sat in the cart two days and nights without getting down for a meal, let alone a night’s rest. He was quite used to sleeping in the carriage, in spite of shaking and rolling and knocking about.
On the evening of the second day he was in Semlin, whence he drove all night to the first village on the Levetinczy estate.
It was fine mild weather for the first of December. He drove to the little town hall, and sent for the village judge; he told him he was the new tenant of the estate, and requested him to make known to the farmers that they could rent the land in shares as in former years. During the two last years the fields which bore no fruit had lain as good as fallow, so that there would be a prospect of a rich harvest for the next season. The weather was favorable, the autumn lasting long; by setting to work at once there was still time to plow and sow.
That was all very well, they replied; plowing could be managed if the principal thing, seed-corn, were not wanting. It was not to be got for love or money. The landowners had only with the greatest difficulty secured any for themselves; poor people would have to live on maize all the winter.
Timar gave the consoling assurance that he would take care that they did not want for seed-corn, and so he went through the other villages whose inhabitants farmed as subtenants, and who, on his permission, got out their plows and went to turn over the fields which had been allowed to lie fallow a whole year. But where was the seed to come from? It was too late to get grain from Wallachia, and there was none in the neighborhood. But Timar knew where to get it. On the 2d December he reached Plesscovacz, whence a short time before he had almost been driven by force, and sought out his reverence, Cyril Sandorovics, who had then turned him out of his house.
“Aha! my son, are you here again?” This was his reception by the venerable gentleman, that friend and benefactor of the people who ought long ago to have received the order of the Iron Crown if he had not been so retiring. “What do you want now? To buy grain? I told you two months ago I had none, and could not sell any. It is no use talking! You will lie in vain, for I don’t believe a word you say. You have a Greek name and a long mustache. I don’t trust your face.”
Timar smiled. “Well, this time nothing but truth shall pass my lips.”
“Tell that to the other people. You dealers from the upper country are always deceiving us. You pretend there was a poor harvest in your parts and drive our prices down. When you wanted to buy hay from us, you spread the report that the government was going to sell all its horses. You are a rascally lot.”
“But now I tell you the truth. I am here with a commission from the government to beg your reverence in their name to open your granaries. The government having heard that the people are in need of seed-corn, wishes to divide among them some supplies of grain. This is a sacred purpose, a great benefit to be conferred on the people, and whoever assists them in this renders them a great service. I am not to receive the grain, but it is to be delivered to the farmers, who will use it for seed-corn.”
“My son, that is all very true, and I am very sorry for the poor people, but I have no grain. Where should I get it? I had no harvest. There is my great stupid barn, but all three floors are empty.”
“It is not empty, reverend sir. I know very well that three years’ harvest is stored away there: I could get at least ten thousand measures out of it.”
“You would get trash. Spare yourself the trouble. I would not sell for five gulden a measure; in the spring it will be seven gulden, and then I will sell. You lie in your throat when you say the government sends you; you only want to make your own profit, and not a grain will you get from me. Much the government knows about you and me; we might as well be in the moon for all it cares!”
Till now the fortress had held out bravely against small arms. But Timar put his hand in his pocket and brought out a four-and-twenty pounder, the minister’s letter. When the reverend gentleman had read it he could hardly believe his own eyes.
The great seal on the envelope with the imperial double eagle, the stamp of the exchequer on the paper, left no room for doubt. It was no deception but the absolute truth.
To wear that brilliant cross upon his breast had long been the ne plus ultra of his dreams. Timar knew of this weakness of the dean’s, who often, as they sat over their wine, had bitterly complained of the injustice of the government in heaping decorations on the patriarch at Carlovitz. Why give all to one and send the other empty away? Now he had attained his greatest desire — how the peasants will gape at him when he has attached this order to his breast, and how the Tschaikiss captain will envy him, having none of his own! Even the patriarch will be a degree more condescending in future. Meanwhile, his own manner to Timar had suddenly undergone a great change.
“Sit down, little brother!” (until now he had not even offered a seat)—“tell me, how did you get to know their excellencies? Why did they intrust the letter to you?”
Timar told him some story or other, and lied like print. He had given up his post under Brazovics and taken service under government. He had great influence with the minister, and it was he who had recommended his reverence for this distinction, as a good old friend of his own.
“I knew you were not such a fool as you look; that’s why I have always liked you so much. Now, my son, because you have such a beautiful Greek name, and such an honest face, you shall have the grain. How much do you want? Ten, twelve thousand measures? I will sell you all I have. Not to please the minister, no, indeed! but for the sake of your own honest face, and to do good to the poor people. What price did I say? Five gulden? I will tell you what, I will give it to you for four gulden nineteen kreutzers. You pay cash down? Or shall I get the money in Vienna? I shall be going there, and can do it at the same time. I must thank his excellency in person for this honor. You will come and introduce me? Or if you want to have nothing to do with it, tell me at any rate what sort of a man he is. Is he big or little, friendly or haughty? Will he give me the cross himself? Does he like good Carlovitz and Vermuth? Now then, you shall taste some yourself.”
In vain Timar assured him he must go back that night to Levetinczy, to give orders to the steward to send the tenants for the seed-corn. The friendly host would not part with his guest, but placed the servant at his disposal, who could ride to Levetinczy and deliver the instructions. Michael must remain overnight with him. The reverend gentleman had glasses with rounded bottoms, which when they were filled could not be laid down till they were empty. He gave one to Timar, took another himself, and so they caroused till morning. And Timar showed no signs of drink; he had lived in that district and had got used to it. Early in the morning the farmers came with their wagons to the dean’s court-yard. When they saw that the doors of the three-storied granary were really open, they said to Timar he was the right sort of saint and could work miracles. In the barn were supplies for three years, more than was required for all their winter seed.
Timar never left the estate he had rented until the winter frosts set in, which stopped field-work for the season. But it was enough for the present. The remaining acres would do for spring-sowing, or as fallows, or for pasture. On the whole estate of thirty thousand acres there were only a few hundred acres of meadow-land, all the rest was arable and of the first class. If the next year should be favorable, the harvest would be superabundant.
It was sown at exactly the right time. October remained dry and windy to the end. Those who had sown before that might be sure of a bad crop, for the legions of marmots had scratched out the seed before it sprung up. Those who sowed during the wet November were no better off, for it had snowed early, and in the warm ground, under the snow-covering, the seed rotted; but when the snow had melted, a long mild spell set in which lasted till Christmas. Whoever had sown then could congratulate himself; the marmots were gone; frost now came before snow, and under the beautiful white covering the treasure intrusted to the soil lay safely hidden till spring. Farming is a game of chance. Six or nothing! Timar threw six.
Then followed such a fruitful year that whoever had profited by the favorable season in Banat received twenty-fold in crops.
In this year Timar brought thirty cargoes of the finest wheat to Komorn and Raab, and these thirty had cost him no more than three to another person. It depended on himself whether to make half a million of profit or a hundred thousand more or less — either to make poor people’s bread cheaper, or to hold a knife to the throat of his competitors.
It lay with him to drive prices down as low as he chose. In Brazovics’ café there was angry talk every evening among the assembled corn-dealers. He scatters money like chaff, and squanders his goods as if they were stolen. If only he would come among them they would get him by the throat!
But he does not come; he goes nowhere and seeks no acquaintances. He takes care to tell no one what he is going to do, and all he undertakes turns into gold. Many new industries are called into being by him, which might have occurred to anyone else: they lay, so to speak, in the street, and only wanted picking up; but they were only noticed by others when this man had already got hold of them. He is always in movement, traveling here and there, and people wonder why he goes on living in this town; why he does not move to Vienna; why he, who is so rich, has his headquarters in Komorn, though it was certainly then an important commercial center.
Timar knows what keeps him there. He knows why he lives in a town where all his mercantile colleagues are his sworn enemies, where the people sitting before Brazovics’ café send a curse after him every time he passes. That house too he means to get into his clutches, with all that therein is. This it was which kept him in Komorn, when already he was the owner of a million and a half; he remained where they still called him Timar, and had not got used to his noble title of Levetinczy.
Yet he knew how to suit noble deeds to his noble name. He founded an hospital for the poor of the town, he endowed the Protestant schools; even the chalice turned to gold in his hands. Instead of the silver one he presented a golden one to the church. His door was always open to the poor, and every Friday a long line of beggars went through the streets to his house, where each received a piece of money, the largest copper coin in existence, the so-called “schuster-thaler.” People said that when a sailor was drowned, Timar maintained his orphans and gave a pension to his widow. A heart of gold indeed! A man of gold!
But in his heart a voice continually whispered, “It is not true! It is all false!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56