Herr Brazovics usually drank coffee after dinner, and had it served in the ladies’ sitting-room, which he filled unmercifully with clouds of Latakia tobacco.
Katschuka sat whispering with Athalie at a little table, at the corner of which Frau Sophie pretended to be busy sewing. (For years this table had been ostentatiously spread with needle-work and knitting, so that visitors might imagine they were occupied with the trousseau.)
Herr Katschuka almost lived in the house; he came in the forenoon, was pressed to stay to dinner, and only found his way home late in the evening.
It would appear that the fortifications of Komorn were complete, as the engineer officer had the whole day to spend with Fraülein Athalie. But the fortifications of Herr Katschuka’s own fortress could not hold out any longer — the time was come for his marriage. He resisted like a second Zriny. When driven from the outworks, he retreated to the citadel. He always had some plausible pretext for delaying the marriage. Now, however, the last mine had been exploded. His deposit was indorsed by the Brazovics firm, and the council of war had accepted their receipt instead of money down; a house had been found for the young couple, and besides all this Katschuka had received his promotion to the rank of captain. This removed his last excuse; the last cartridge of the besieged had been expended, and nothing remained but to capitulate, and take the rich and beautiful girl home.
Herr Brazovics became more and more venomous every day when he drank his coffee with the ladies; and the man by whom his coffee was poisoned was always Timar.
This was his daily delenda est Carthago.
“What confounded tricks that fellow is up to! While other honest dealers are glad to rest in winter from their labors, he is busy with things that no cat would think of. He has hired the Platten–See now, and fishes under the ice: a little while ago his people caught three hundredweight of fish in one haul. It is a theft! Before the spring comes he will have cleared the Platten–See, so that not a single perch, not a shad nor a roach, not a garfish, let alone a fogasch,1 will be left in it. And he sends them all to Vienna. As if that was what fogasch swam in the Balaton lake for — that those Germans might eat them! The damned scoundrel! The government ought to set a price on his head. Sooner or later I will get rid of him, that’s certain. When he goes over the bridge I will get a couple of fishermen to throw him into the Danube; I will pay a sentry a couple of gulden to shoot him by accident when he passes in the dark; I’ll turn a mad dog into his yard, that it may bite him when he comes out in the morning. They ought to hang the rascal! I’ll set his house on fire, that he may burn with it! And they ennoble such a fellow! In the town council they make him assessor, and the good-for-nothing sits at the green table with me. I, whose grandfather was of ancient Hungarian nobility, must suffer him near me, this runaway rogue!
1 Leucia perca.
“But just let him attempt to come near this café. I’ll set a band upon him who will throw him out of the window and break his neck! If ever I sat down to table with him I would season his soup so that he would soon be on his back like a dead fish! And this vagabond pays visits to ladies! This Timar, this former supercargo, who used to be a mud-lark! If he happened to be in the company of a brave officer who would call him out, and spit him like a frog — so!”
Herr Brazovics threw a meaning glance on Herr Katschuka, who seemed as if he had heard nothing. He had heard well enough; but what had principally struck him in the monologue of his future father-in-law was that the new millionaire must have made a great breach in the riches of Herr Brazovics, and that this rage was caused by the threatened ruin of the firm. A thought not calculated to increase the officer’s joy at the approaching wedding-day.
“No; I will not wait for some one else to get rid of him!” said Brazovics at last, and stood up, laid aside his chibouque, and fetched his bamboo cane from its corner. “I have a dagger. I bought it since the fellow settled here, on purpose for him” (and that he might be believed he drew the sharp blade out of his sword-stick). “There it is! The first time we meet alone, I will stick it into him and nail him to the wall like a bat. And that I swear!”
And he tried by rolling his bloodshot eyes to give emphasis to his threat. He drank the rest of his coffee standing, drew on his overcoat, and said he was going to business.
He would come home early (that is, early in the morning). Every one was glad when he went.
Just as Herr Brazovics went carefully down the steps to the street — for his corpulence prevented his running down-stairs — who should come to meet him but — Timar!
Now is his chance; at striking distance, and in a dark place where no one can see them. We know by history that most murders are committed on the stairs. Timar had no weapon with him, not even a walking-stick; but Herr Athanas had a stiletto two feet long.
When he saw Timar, he put his sword-stick under his arm, and cried aloud as he took off his hat, “Your obedient servant! good-day to you, Herr von Levetinczy!”
Timar answered with a “Servant, Nazi — off to business again?”
“He! he! he!” laughed Herr Brazovics jovially, like a boy who is caught in a bit of mischief. “Now then, Michael, won’t you keep us company?”
“Shouldn’t think of it. If you want to win a couple of hundred gulden from me, I had better pay them now; but to sit the whole night gambling and drinking, no, thank you.”
“He! he! he! Well, go up to the ladies then; they are upstairs. A pleasant evening to you. I sha’n’t see you again today.”
And they parted with a hearty shake of the hand, for Herr Athanas does not mean anything by his threats. No one is afraid of him, in spite of his frightful voice and imposing appearance, not even his wife — especially his wife. He knows well enough that Timar goes regularly to his house, and arranges to be away when he comes. Frau Sophie has not concealed her opinion that the visits are doubtless owing to the fine eyes of Athalie. Well, that is Katschuka’s affair: if he does not spit his rival like a frog it is his own fault; he has been warned. But he does not seem inclined to do it, though Timar and Athalie are often together.
And why the devil should the captain challenge Timar? They are as good friends as ever they were.
Herr Brazovics guessed — indeed he had means of knowing — that it was no other than Captain Katschuka who had opened the door through which Timar had attained his riches. Why he had done so was easy to imagine. He wanted to get rid of Athalie, and it would suit him very well if Brazovics intervened and forbid him the house.
But that was just what he did not do, but overflowed with tenderness for the captain — his son-in-law. There was no way out of it: he must marry Athalie. The captain has long been betrothed to Athalie, to whom a dangerous rival pays daily court — a rich man whom he ought to hate, because he left him in the lurch in the quarrel between the treasury and the war office, and yet the captain is so fond of his old friend that he is capable of forgiving him if he ran away with his bride.
Athalie despises Timar, once her father’s clerk, but treats him nevertheless in a friendly way. She is passionately in love with the captain, but pays attention to Timar in his presence to make him jealous.
Sophie hates Timar, but receives him with honeyed words, as if it were her dearest wish to have him for her son-in-law, and live under the same roof with him.
Timar, on the other hand, means to ruin the whole of them — the master, the mistress, the young lady, and the bridegroom; all of them he would like to turn into the street, and yet he visits at the house, kisses the ladies’ hands, and endeavors to make himself agreeable.
They are all civil to him. Athalie plays the piano to him. Frau Sophie keeps him to supper, and offers him coffee and preserved fruits. Timar drinks the coffee with the thought that perhaps there is rat-poison in it.
When the supper-table is brought, Timéa appears, and helps to lay it. Then Timar hears no more of Athalie’s words or music; he has eyes only for Timéa. It was a pleasure to see the pretty creature. She was fifteen and already almost a woman, but her expression and naïve awkwardness were those of a child. She could speak Hungarian, though with a curious accent, and sometimes with a wrong word or phrase — ridiculous, of course, but not wholly unknown even in Parliament, and during the most serious debates.
Athalie had made an acquisition in Timéa: she had now some one to make fun of. The poor child served her as a toy. She gave her old clothes to wear which had been fashionable years ago. At one time people wore a high comb turned backward, over which the hair was drawn, and on the top rose a gigantic bow of colored ribbon. They wore crinoline round their shoulders instead of their waists, having huge sleeves stuffed and padded. This dress looked well when in fashion; but a few years after the vogue had passed, its revival suggested a masquerade.
Athalie found it amusing to dress up Timéa thus. In taste the poor child, never having seen European fashions, stood on a par with a wild Indian: the more remarkable the dress the better she liked it. She was charmed when Athalie dressed her in the queer old silk gowns, and struck the high comb and bright ribbon in her hair. She thought she looked lovely, and took the smiles of the people whom she met in the street for admiration, hastening on so as not to be stared at. In the town she was always called “the mad Turkish girl.”
And it was easy to make fun of her without her taking it ill. Athalie took special delight in making the poor child an object of ridicule before gentlemen. If young men were present, she encouraged them to pay court to Timéa, and it amused her highly when she saw that Timéa accepted these attentions seriously; how pleased she was to be treated like a grown-up lady, to be asked to dance at balls, or when some pretended admirer offered her a faded bouquet, and extracted some quaint expression of thanks in reply, which caused the company to burst into fits of laughter. How Athalie’s laugh resounded on these occasions!
Frau Sophie took a more serious view of Timéa. She scolded her continually; all she did was wrong. Adopted children are often awkward, and the more Timéa was scolded the more awkward she became. Then Fraülein Athalie defended her. “But, mamma, don’t be always scolding the girl! You treat her like a servant. Timéa is not a servant, and I won’t have you always going on at her!”
Timéa kissed Sophie’s hand that she might cease to be angry, and Athalie’s out of gratitude for taking her part, and then the hands of both that they might not quarrel. She was an humble, thankful creature. Frau Sophie only waited till she had left the room to say to her daughter what was on the tip of her tongue, in order that the other guests, Timar and Katschuka, might hear. “We ought to get her used to being a servant. You know her misfortune: the money which Timar — I mean Herr von Levetinczy — saved for her was invested in an insurance company. It has failed and the money is gone. She has nothing but what she stands up in.”
(So they have already brought her to beggary, thought Timar, and felt his heart lighter, like a student who is let off a year before his time.)
“It annoys me,” said Athalie, “that she is so unimpressionable. You may scold her or laugh at her, it is all the same. She never blushes.”
“That is a peculiarity of the Greek race,” remarked Timar.
“Nonsense!” said Athalie, contemptuously. “It is a sign of sickliness. That artificial white complexion could be attained by any school-girl who chose to eat chalk and burned coffee-berries.”
She spoke to Timar, but looked toward Herr Katschuka. He, however, was glancing at the large mirror in which one could see when Timéa came back. Athalie saw it, and it did not escape Timar’s notice.
Timéa now came in, carrying a large tray of clinking glasses, her whole attention concentrated on preventing one from falling.
When Frau Sophie shrieked at her, “Take care not to drop them!” she did let the whole tray fall. Fortunately the glasses fell on the soft carpet, and did not break, but rolled about.
The mistress would have burst out in a storm, but Athalie silenced her with the words, “That was your fault; why did you scream at her? Remain here with me, Timéa; the servant shall bring the coffee.”
That made Sophie angry, and she went out and brought it all in herself. But at the instant when Timéa let the glasses fall, Katschuka, with military promptitude, sprung up, collected the glasses, and put them all on the tray, still held by Timéa’s trembling fingers. The girl cast a grateful look on him out of her large dark eyes, which was seen by both Athalie and Timar.
“Captain Katschuka,” whispered Athalie to her fiancé, “just for a joke make the little thing fall in love with you; pretend to pay court to her; it will be great fun. Timéa, you sup with us to-night; come and sit down here by the captain.”
This might be a cruel joke, or perhaps scornful raillery; or was it an ironical outbreak of awakened jealousy, or was it pure wickedness? We shall see what comes of it.
With feverish excitement and ill-concealed delight, the girl sat down opposite Athalie secure in conquering charms, who, while encouraging her fiancé to pay compliments to Timéa, did it like a queen who throws a gold piece to a beggar. The child is made happy by the gift for a day, and she herself does not feel its loss.
The captain offered the sugar-basin to Timéa; she could not manage the tongs.
“Take the sugar with your pretty little white hand,” said he to the girl, who was so confused that she put the lump into the tumbler instead of the coffee cup. No one had ever told her that she had a pretty white hand. These words remained on her mind, and she looked often privately at her hands to see if they were really white and pretty. Athalie could hardly suppress a smile. She found it amusing to carry on the jest —“Timéa, offer the cakes to the captain.”
The girl lifted the glass dish from its silver stand, and handed it to Katschuka.
“Now then, choose one for him.”
By accident she chose one in the shape of a heart. She certainly did not know that it represented a heart, nor what it meant.
“Oh, that is too much for me!” laughed the captain; “I can only take it, if pretty Miss Timéa divides it with me.” And with that he broke the heart in two and gave part to Timéa.
The girl left it on her plate; she would not have eaten it for the world. Jealously guarding it with her eyes, she did not wait till Frau Sophie or the servant should change the plates, but hastened to remove the dish of cakes herself and to vanish with them from the room. No doubt she will keep this half-heart, and it will be found in her possession. That will be droll! There is nothing easier than to turn the head of a girl of fifteen, who takes everything in earnest and believes the first man who tells her that she has pretty hands.
And Herr Katschuka was just the man not to forgive himself if he came near a pretty girl without paying her attention. He paid court even to older women; that he could do without scruple. But even to the house-maid, when she lighted him to the door, he could not resist paying compliments. His ambition was to make every girl’s heart beat higher at the sight of his blue uniform.
Still Athalie was certain that she was the ruling planet. But it was, of course, worth his while to take a little trouble for Timéa. She was only a child; but one could see she would be a beauty. Then she was an orphan, and a Turkish girl, not baptized, and not quite right in her head — all reasons for flattering her without compunction. Herr Katschuka let no chance escape him, and thereby gave great amusement to his bride.
One evening Athalie said to Timéa, as she was going to bed, “I say, Timéa, the captain has proposed for you. Will you accept him?”
The child looked at Athalie quite frightened, ran to her couch, and drew the covering over her head, so that no one should see her.
Athalie was highly entertained that the girl could not sleep on account of these words — that she should toss restlessly on her bed, and sigh wakefully all night. The delicate jest had succeeded.
The next day Timéa was unusually quiet. She laid aside her childish manner; thoughtful melancholy lay on her features; and she became monosyllabic. The philter had done its work.
Athalie let the whole household into the secret. They were to treat Timéa henceforward as a future bride — as the betrothed of Herr Katschuka. The servants, the mistress, all took part in the comedy.
Let no one say this was a heathenish jest; on the contrary, it was a Christian one.
Athalie said to Timéa:
“Here, see, the captain has sent you an engagement-ring; but you must not put it on your finger as long as you are a heretic. You must first become a Christian. Will you be baptized?”
Timéa crossed her hands on her breast and bowed her head.
“Then you shall be baptized first. That this may be done, you must learn the articles of faith, the catechism, the Bible history, psalms, and prayers; you must go to the priest and to the schoolmaster to be instructed. Will you do that?”
Timéa only nodded. And now she went every day to be taught, with her books under her arm like a little school-girl; and late at night, when the rest were in bed, she went to the empty sitting-room, and sat half the night learning by heart the ten plagues of Egypt, and the highly moral histories of Samson and Delilah, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Learning was difficult to her, as she was not used to it. But what would she not have done to be baptized?
“You see,” said Athalie, often in Timar’s presence, “without this hope in her mind we should never have induced her to be converted and to study in order to be baptized.”
So it was quite a pious work to turn the child’s head, and make her fancy she was already betrothed. And Timar must look on at the cruel trick played on the girl without moving a finger to prevent it. What could he say? She would never understand. And his coming to the house made it worse, for it justified the fable in her eyes. She was often told that the rich Herr von Levetinczy visited them on Athalie’s account, which seemed to her quite natural. The rich man woos a rich girl. They suit each other. Who should suit the poor Hungarian officer better than the poor daughter of a Turkish officer? Nothing more natural. She studied day and night, and when she had finished with the catechism and the psalter, they found a new trick to play upon her. They said the wedding-day was fixed, but there was still much to be done to the trousseau. On account of the dresses, linen, and other details, the day could not be a very early one. And then her wedding-dress! That the bride herself must embroider. This is also a Turkish custom and suited Timéa, who knew how to work beautifully in gold and silver, for the harems are all instructed in that art.
She was given Athalie’s dress, in order to execute upon it the beautiful designs which had been taught her at home. Of course they told her it was her own. Timéa drew lovely arabesques upon it, and began to embroider them. A perfect masterpiece grew under her fingers; she worked at it from early morning till late evening, and did not even lay it aside when visitors came, with whom she conversed without looking up, and that was fortunate, as then she could not see how they made fun of her. Timar, who had to look on at all this, often left the house with such bitterness in his heart that he struck the two marble pillars at the door with all his force. He would have liked to do as Samson did, and pull the house of the Philistines down on his head.
How long will he allow it to stand?
The day to which Timéa looked forward with secret alarm was really fixed for Herr Katschuka’s marriage — but with Fraülein Athalie. Only that various hinderances stood in the way of its arrival. Not in the stars, nor in the hearts of the lovers, but in the financial position of Herr Brazovics.
When the captain asked Athanas for his daughter’s hand, he told him plainly that he could only marry if the wife’s dowry was sufficient to keep house upon.
Herr Brazovics made no objection. He was not going to be stingy about it: he meant to give his daughter a hundred thousand gulden on her wedding-day, and they could do as they liked with it. And at the time when he made this promise, he was in a position to carry it out. But since then Timar had put a spoke in his wheel. He had in many ways thrown Herr Brazovics’ speculations into confusion, upset his safest combination, run him up in the corn-market, outbid him in contracts, and barred his road to influential quarters where before he had had interest, so that it was no longer possible to pay the dowry down. It was well known that his affairs were in confusion, and whoever had a claim to his money would be wise to ask for it today rather than tomorrow.
And Herr Katschuka was a wise man.
His future father-in-law tried to persuade him that it would be much better to leave the money at interest with him; but the engineer would not allow his last redoubt to be taken. He charged the mines, and threatened to blow the whole marriage citadel into the air if he did not have the money down before the wedding-day.
Then a brilliant idea shot into the head of Athanas. Why not marry Athalie to Timar? The exchange would not be a bad one. It is true that he hated him and would like to poison him in a spoonful of soup. But if he married Athalie his opposition would cease, he would be a member of the firm and have its interests at heart.
Timar comes to the house regularly — if only he were not so modest! He must be helped.
One afternoon Herr Athanas poured a double dose of anisette into his black coffee (a capital way of encouraging one’s self), and had it brought into his office, giving orders that if Timar came, the ladies were to send him into his room.
There he lighted his chibouque, and surrounded himself with such an atmosphere of smoke, that as he walked up and down he appeared and disappeared alternately, with his great starting, bloodshot eyes, like a huge cuttle-fish lying in wait for its prey.
The prey did not keep him waiting long.
As soon as Timar heard from Frau Sophie that Athanas wished to speak to him, he hastened to his room. The great cuttle-fish swam toward him through the smoke, with his horrible fishy eyes fixed upon him, and fell upon him just like the sea-monster, while he cried, “Listen to me, sir; what is the meaning of your visits to this house? What are your intentions with regard to my daughter?”
That is the best way to bring these poltroons to their senses; they get startled, their head swims, and before they can turn round they fall into the net of holy matrimony. It is no joke to answer such a question as that.
The first thing Timar remarked from the speech of Herr Athanas was that he had again taken too much anisette. Thence this courage.
“Sir,” he replied, quietly, “I have no intentions whatever with regard to your daughter. So much the less because your daughter is engaged, and the bridegroom is a good old friend of mine. I will tell you why I come to your house. If you had not asked me, I should have kept silence longer, but as you inquire I will tell you. I visit your house because I swore to your dead friend and kinsman, who came to such a dreadful end, that I would look after his orphan child. I come here to see how the orphan committed to your care was treated. She is shamefully treated, Herr Brazovics, disgracefully! I say it to your face in your own house. You have made away with the whole of the girl’s property — defrauded her; yes, that is the word. And your whole family carries on a shameful game with the poor child. Her mind is being poisoned for her whole life. May God’s curse light on you for it! And now, Herr Brazovics, we two have met for the last time in your house, and you had better pray that you may never see the day when I come into it again.”
Timar turned on his heel and slammed the door behind him. The cuttle-fish drew back into the dusky depths of its smoky lair, poured down another glass of anisette, and considered that some answer ought to have been given. But what?
For my own part I don’t know what he could have said.
Timar went back to the reception-room, not only to get his hat, which he had left there, but for something else.
In the room there was no one but Timéa; Athalie and her fiancé were in the next room.
In Timar’s face, flushed with anger, Timéa saw a great change. His generally soft and gentle countenance looked proud, and was roused into emotion which made it beautiful. Many faces are beautified by passion’s flame.
He went straight to Timéa, who was working golden roses and silver leaves on the bridal dress.
“Fraülein Timéa,” he said to her in deeply moved tones, “I come to take leave of you. Be happy, remain a child for a long time; but if ever an hour comes in which you are unhappy, do not forget that there is some one who would — for you —”
He could not speak, his voice failed, his heart contracted. Timéa completed the interrupted phrase —“Thrice!”
He pressed her hand and stammered brokenly, “Always.”
Then he bowed and went, without troubling those in the next room.
No “God be with you!” came from his lips. At this moment he was only conscious of the wish that God would withdraw His hand from this house.
Timéa let the work fall, and gazed before her, sighing again, “Thrice!”
The gold thread slipped out of the needle’s eye.
As Timar went down the path, he came once more to the two marble pillars which supported the veranda. With what rage he struck them! Did those above feel the shock! Did not the tottering walls warn them to pray, because the roof was falling in on them?
But they were laughing at the mystified child, who worked so diligently at her wedding-dress.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56