The wedding was to be in three days’ time.
On Sunday afternoon Athalie went to pay visits in turn to all her school friends. It is one of the bride’s privileges to pay these visits without her mother; they have so much to say to each other the last time in all their girlhood.
Frau Sophie was delighted to be allowed to stay at home one day in the year, and neither pay nor receive calls — not to act as chaperon to her daughter and listen to conversation in German, of which she did not understand a word. She could remain at home and think of her happy parlor-maid times — the days when on an idle Sunday like this she could fill her apron with ears of Indian corn, and sit down on the bench before the door picking out the grains one by one and cracking them, while she chatted and gossiped with her companions. To-day the leisure time and the boiled ears of maize were at hand, but the friends and the gossip on the bench were wanting. Frau Sophie had allowed the maid-servants and the cook to go out, that she might have the kitchen to herself; for you can not eat corn in the parlor on account of the husks which get strewn about. In the end she found suitable company. Timéa came creeping up to her. She also had no work to do. The embroidery was finished, and the dress had gone to the needle-woman, who would send it home at the last moment. Timéa was quite suited to the kitchen bench beside Frau Sophie. They were both only on sufferance in the house. The difference was that Timéa felt herself a lady, though every one looked on her as a servant; while all the world knew that Frau Sophie was the mistress of the house, and yet she felt like a servant. So Timéa perched herself on the little bench near Frau Sophie, as the nursery-maid and the cook do after quarreling all the week, when they make it up on Sunday and have a chat together.
Only three days and then the marriage!
Timéa looked cautiously round to see if any listeners were near to overhear, and then in a low voice asked, “Mamma Sophie, do tell me what is a wedding like?”
Frau Sophie drew her shoulders up and shook like a person who laughs internally, looking with half-shut eyes at the inquiring child. With the malicious delight old servants take in deceiving young ones, she encouraged the laughable simplicity of the girl. “Yes, Timéa,” in the important tone of a story-teller, “that is a wonderful sight. You will see it.”
“I tried once to listen at the church door,” confessed Timéa, frankly; “I had crept in when a wedding was going on, but all I could see was that the bride and bridegroom stood before a lovely golden shrine.”
“That was the altar.”
“Then a naughty boy saw me and drove me away, calling out, ‘Be off, you Turkish brat!’ Then I ran away.”
“You must know,” began Sophie, while she took out a grain at a time and put them in her mouth, “that then comes the venerable pope, with a golden cap on his head, on his shoulders a robe of rustling silk worked with gold, and carrying a great book with clasps in his hand. He reads and sings most beautifully, and then the bridal pair kneel on the steps of the altar. The pope asks them both whether they love each other.”
“And are they obliged to answer?”
“Of course, silly; and not only that, but the priest reads out of the big book an oath to the bridegroom and then afterward to the bride, that they will love and keep to each other till death divides them. They swear it by the Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin and all the saints, forever and ever, Amen; and the whole choir repeats the Amen. Then the priest takes the two rings from a silver dish and puts one on each of their third fingers, makes them clasp hands and winds a golden girdle round them, while the precentor and the choir sing to the organ ‘Gospodi Pomiluj.’"2
2 Lord have mercy on us.
The melancholy sound of the words “Gospodi Pomiluj” pleased Timéa. That must be some magic blessing.
“Then they cover the bridegroom and also the bride with a flowered-silk veil from head to foot, and while the pope blesses them the two witnesses hold a silver crown over each.”
When Frau Sophie noticed the deep interest of the girl she got warmer and warmer, and tried to inflame her fancy with the splendors of the Greek ritual. “The choir goes on singing, and the pope takes one crown and makes the bridegroom kiss it, then places it on his head and says, ‘I crown thee as servant of God and husband of this handmaid of the Lord.’ Then he takes the other crown, gives it to the bride to kiss, and says to her, ‘I crown thee as handmaid of the Lord, and wife of this servant of God.’ The deacon begins to pray for the young pair, and meanwhile the priest leads them three times round the altar, and the witnesses take off the veil which covered them. The church is full of people, who all look and whisper, ‘That is a bride to be kissed. What a beautiful pair!’”
Timéa nodded her head with girlish delight, as if to say, “That is delightful; it must be lovely.”
“Then the pope brings out a golden cup of wine, and the bride and bridegroom drink from it.”
“Is there really wine in it?” asked Timéa in alarm. Her fear of wine came partly from the recollection of the prohibition in the Koran.
“Of course there is — real wine. Then the bride-maids and groomsmen throw maize baked in honey over them; that brings luck. It is lovely, I can tell you.”
Timéa’s eyes shone with the prophetic fire of a magnetic dream. She pictured these mysterious proceedings to herself as partly a rite, partly an enigma of the heart, and trembled all over. Sophie laughed in her sleeve and found this most amusing; a pity she should be disturbed in it. Manly steps approached the kitchen door, and some one came in.
What a surprise! it was Herr Katschuka.
The mistress of the house was horrified, for she had only slippers on, and her apron full of maize. Which should she hide first? But Timéa was more frightened, though she had nothing to hide.
“Excuse me,” said Katschuka, with familiar ease; “I found the doors all shut on the other side, so I came round by the kitchen.”
“You see,” screeched Frau Sophie, “my daughter has gone to visit her friends. I sent the maids to church, and we two are the only ones at home; so we just sat down in the kitchen. Pray excuse our négligée, Herr Captain.”
“Don’t disturb yourself, I will remain here with you.”
“Oh, no, I could not allow it. Here in the kitchen! We have not even a chair for the captain.”
But Herr Katschuka knew what to do in any emergency. “Don’t make a stranger of me, Mamma Sophie. Here, this can will do for a seat,” and he sat down opposite Timéa on a pail, and even set the hostess at ease with respect to the ears of maize. “That is excellent for dessert; give me a handful in my cap. I like it very much.”
Frau Sophie was on the broad grin when she saw that the captain did not disdain to take the vulgar sweets in his military cap, and eat a quantity without even shelling them. It made him very popular with his mother-in-law. “I was in the midst of an interesting conversation with Timéa,” began Sophie; “she was asking me about — a baptism.”
Timéa was on the point of rushing away, if Frau Sophie had told the truth; but she would not have been the mother of a marriageable daughter if she had not possessed the art of turning the conversation at the entrance of an unexpected visitor.
“I was describing a baptism to her. She is quite frightened at it. Just look how she is trembling; for I was telling her that she would have to be wrapped up like a baby and carried in arms, and that she must cry like one. Don’t be alarmed, you little fool. It is not true; I was only joking. Her greatest trouble is that her hair will be all spoiled.”
This requires explanation. Timéa had splendid long, thick hair. Athalie amused herself by making the hairdresser execute on it the most surprising coiffures. Sometimes all the hair was combed up and built into a tower, again it was frizzed into wings on each side over the ear; in short, the girl had to appear in the most ridiculous head-dresses, such as no one had ever worn, and which required unsparing use of tongs, pincers, brushes, and pomade. Athalie pretended to do this out of affection for her cousin, and the poor child had no idea how she was disfigured by it.
Herr Katschuka undeceived her. “Fraülein Timéa, you need not regret this coiffure. It would suit you much better if you wore your hair quite plain; you have such lovely hair, that it is a sin to burn it with irons and smear it with pomade. Do not allow it; it is a shame to lose any of your magnificent hair, and it is soon ruined by the ill-treatment which ladies call hairdressing — it loses its brilliancy, splits at the points, breaks easily, and falls early. You do not require all that artificial structure. Your hair is so beautiful that you need only plait it plainly, to possess the finest of all coiffures.” It is possible that Herr Katschuka only said this out of a humane sympathy with the ill-treated head of hair, and meant merely to free it from the tortures inflicted on it. But his words had a deeper effect than he expected: From that moment Timéa had a feeling as if the comb in her hair was splitting her head, and could hardly bear it till the captain had gone. He did not stay long, for he took pity on Frau Sophie, who was struggling continually to hide her feet in their torn and down-trodden slippers. Herr Katschuka promised to look in again in the evening, and took his leave. He kissed Frau Sophie’s hand, but made a low bow to Timéa.
Hardly was he out of the door before Timéa snatched the large comb from her hair, tore down the heaped-up plaits, destroyed the whole edifice, then went to the basin and began to wash her hair and her whole head.
“What are you doing there, girl?” said Frau Sophie, angrily. “Will you leave off this moment! Let your hair alone. Athalie will be fine and angry when she comes home and sees you.”
“Let her be angry, for all I care,” replied the girl, defiantly; and she wrung her locks out, sat down behind Frau Sophie, and began to put up her loosened hair into a simple threefold plait. Pride was awakened in her heart; she began to be less timid; the word of the captain infused courage into her — his wish, his taste, were laws to her. She coiled the plait simply into a knot, and wound it round her head as he had suggested. The mistress laughed to herself: this child has been made a fool of certainly!
While Timéa was plaiting her hair, Sophie came nearer and tried to wheedle her again.
“Let me tell you more about the wedding. Where did that stupid Katschuka interrupt us? If he had only known what we were talking about! Yes, I stopped where the bride and bridegroom drink from the cup, the choir and the deacon sing ‘Gospodi Pomiluj.’ Then the pope reads the Gospel, and the witnesses hold the crowns over the heads of the couple. The pope receives them back, lays them on the silver dish, and says to the bridegroom, ‘Be praised like Abraham, and blessed like Isaac, and increase like unto Jacob;’ and to the bride, ‘Be praised like Sara, happy like Rebecca, and increase like Rachel’— and after this blessing the bride and bridegroom kiss each other three times before the altar and before the wedding-guests.”
Timéa shut her eyes at the thought of the scene.
Athalie was not a little surprised when she came home and saw Timéa with plaited hair.
“Who allowed you to turn up your hair? Where is your giraffe comb and your bow? Put it on at once.”
Timéa pressed her lips together and shook her head.
“Will you do what I tell you instantly?”
Athalie was staggered at this resistance. It was unheard of that any one should contradict her. And this from an adopted child, who ate the bread of charity, who had always been so submissive, and once even kissed her foot. “No!” said she, going toward Timéa, and bringing her face, red with anger, as close to the other’s alabaster cheek as if she would set it on fire.
Frau Sophie looked on with malicious joy from her corner, and said, “Didn’t I say you would catch it when Athalie returned?”
But Timéa looked straight into Athalie’s flaming eyes, and repeated her “No!”
“And why not?” screamed Athalie, whose voice was now like her mother’s, while her eyes were exactly like her father’s.
“Because I am prettier thus,” answered Timéa.
“Who told you that?”
Athalie crooked her fingers like eagles’ claws, and her teeth shone clinched between her red lips. It was as if she would tear the girl in pieces. Then her unbridled rage suddenly turned into scornful laughter. She left Timéa and went to her room.
Herr Katschuka paid another visit the same evening. At table Athalie overwhelmed Timéa with unwonted kindness.
“Do you not think, Herr Captain, that Timéa is much prettier with her hair dressed in this simple way?”
The captain assented. Athalie smiled. Now it was no longer a joke, but a punishment which was to be inflicted on the girl.
Only two days to the marriage. During that time Athalie overflowed with attention and tenderness to Timéa. She must not go out to the kitchen, and the servants were told to kiss her hand on entering the room. Frau Sophie often called her “little lady.” The dress had come home finished, and what child-like delight it gave Timéa! She danced round it and clapped her hands.
“Come and try on your wedding costume,” said Athalie, with a cruel smile.
Timéa let them put on the splendid dress she had herself embroidered. She wore no stays, and was already well formed for her age, and the dress fitted her very fairly. With what shy pleasure she looked at herself in the great mirror! Ah! how lovely she will be in her wedding finery! Perhaps she thought, too, that she would inspire love! Perhaps she felt her heart beat; and possibly a flame was already alight there which would cause her grief and pain.
But that was no matter to those who were carrying on the shameful jest. The maid who dressed her bit her lips so as not to laugh aloud. Athalie brought out the bridal wreath, and tried it on Timéa’s head. The myrtle and the white jasmine became her well.
“Oh, how beautiful you will be tomorrow!”
Then they took the dress off Timéa; and Athalie said, “Now I will try it on; I should like to see how it would suit me.”
She required the help of the stays to squeeze her waist into the dress, which gave her splendid figure an even more magnificent “contour.” She also put on the wreath and looked at herself in the glass. Timéa sighed deeply, and whispered to Athalie, in tones of undisguised admiration, “How lovely, how lovely you are!”
It might, perhaps, have been time now to make an end of this deception. But no — she must drain the cup. First, because she is so forward; and then, because she is so stupid. She must be punished. So the contemptuous farce was carried on the whole day by all the household. The poor child’s head swam with all the congratulations. She listened for Herr Katschuka, and ran away when she saw him coming.
Did he know what was going on? Quite possibly. Did it vex him? Perhaps it did not even vex him. Very likely he knew things of which the laughers did not dream, and awaited the important day with perfect indifference.
On the last morning before the marriage, Athalie said to Timéa, “To-day you must fast entirely. To-morrow is a very solemn day for you. You will be led to the altar, and there first baptized and then married; so you must fast the whole of the day before, in order to go purified to the altar.”
Timéa obeyed this direction, and ate not a morsel for the entire day.
It is well known that all these adopted children have excellent appetites. Nature demands its rights; and the love of good things is the only desire which they have a chance of satisfying. But Timéa conquered that appetite. She sat at dinner and supper without touching anything, and yet they had purposely prepared her favorite dishes.
In the anteroom the maids and the cook tried to persuade her to eat secretly the delicacies which they had put aside for her, telling her she might break her fast if no one knew it. She would not be persuaded, and controlled her hunger. She helped to prepare the tarts and jellies for the wedding feast; a mass of tempting and luscious cakes lay before her, but she never touched one. And yet Athalie’s example, who also was busy with the preparations for the next day, showed her that it is quite permissible to take a taste when one has a chance. She must keep her fast. She went early to bed, saying she felt chilly. And so she was, and trembled with cold even under her quilt and could not sleep. Athalie heard her teeth chattering, and was cruel enough to whisper in her ear, “To-morrow at this time where will you be?”
How should the poor child sleep, when all the slumbering feeling which at this age lie in the chrysalis stage were being prematurely scared into life?
Timéa lay till dawn in a fever, and slumber never closed her eyes. Toward day-break she slept heavily; a leaden hand lay on her limbs, and even the noise which went on around her in the morning did not rouse her.
And this was the marriage-day!
Athalie ordered the servants to let Timéa sleep on; she herself let down the window curtains that the room might be dark: Timéa was only to be awakened when Athalie was already dressed in all her bridal array. That required much time, for she wished to appear today in the whole panoply of her beauty. From far and near numerous relations and friends had arrived to assist at the marriage of the rich Brazovics’ only daughter, the prettiest girl for seven parishes round.
The guests were already beginning to assemble in the house of the bride. Her mother, Frau Sophie, had been squeezed into her new dress, and into her even more uncomfortable new shoes, by which her desire to get the day over was much increased.
The bridegroom had also arrived, with a beaming countenance, and polite as usual; but this cheerful aspect did not mean much — it was only part of his gala uniform. He had brought the bouquet for the bride. At that time camellias were unknown; the bouquet was composed of various colored roses. Herr Katschuka said as he presented it that he offered roses to the rose. As a reward, he received a proud smile from the radiant face.
Only two were wanting — Timéa and Herr Brazovics.
Timéa was not missed; no one asked after her. But every one waited most impatiently for Herr Brazovics. It was said that he had gone very early to the castle to see the governor, and his return was impatiently expected. Even the bride went several times to the window and looked out for papa’s carriage.
Only the bridegroom showed no anxiety. But where could Herr Brazovics be? Yesterday evening he had been in a very good temper. He had been amusing himself with his friends, and invited all his acquaintances to the wedding. Late in the night he had knocked at Herr Katschuka’s window, and called to him, instead of “Good-night,” “The hundred thousand gulden will be all ready tomorrow.” And he had good reason to be in such a merry mood. The governor of the fortress had informed him that the plans had been accepted to their full extent by the war department: the expropriation was arranged. Even the money had been paid for that part which lay on the ground between the two river branches; and the others concerned had received notice that this very night they would obtain the signature of the minister. It was as good as having the money in one’s pocket. The next morning, Herr Brazovics could hardly await the usual hour of reception, and arrived so early in the ante-chamber of the governor, that no one else was there. The governor did not keep him waiting, but called him in at once.
“A little misfortune,” said he.
“Well, if it is not a great one —”
“Have you ever heard of the privy council?”
“Nor I. For fifteen years I never heard it spoken of. But it does exist, and has just given a sign of life. As I told you, the minister had agreed to the execution of the fortifications and the necessary purchase of land. Then from some unknown source evidence was brought forward by which many disadvantageous circumstances were discovered. It would not do to compromise the minister, so they called the council together, which had not been heard of for fifteen years, except when its members drew their salary and had their band to play. The council, when this questionable affair was submitted to it, found a wise solution: it agreed to the decision in principle, but divided its execution into two parts. The fortifications on the river-side are to be provided for at once, but the Monostor section is only to be begun when the other is finished. So the owners of the Monostor land will have the pleasure of waiting eighteen or twenty years for their money. Good-morning, Herr Brazovics.”
Herr Athanas could not utter a syllable. There was no help for it. The profit so certainly counted on was gone — gone also those other hundred thousand gulden which were buried in vineyards of no value, which are now worthless. He saw all his castles in the air destroyed: his beautiful house, his cargo-ships on the Danube, the lighted church with the brilliant company, they were only a fata morgana, blown away with the mirage of the Monostor forts by the first puff of wind — melted into nothing, like the light cloud which obscures the sun.
Ah! here comes Timéa!
At last she had had her sleep out. In the twilight of the curtained room it had taken her long to rouse herself; she dressed like one in a feverish dream, and groped sleepily through the adjoining rooms, all empty, till she came to the one where Athalie had dressed. When she entered the bright room full of flowers and presents, she remembered for the first time that this was her wedding-day.
When she saw Herr Katschuka with the bouquet in his hand, the thought shot across her that this was the bridegroom; and when she cast a glance on Athalie she thought, “That is my wedding-dress.” As she stood there in her astonishment, with wide eyes and open mouth, she was a sight for laughing and weeping.
The servants, the guests, Frau Sophie, could not contain their merriment.
But Athalie stepped forward majestically, took hold of the little thing’s delicate chin with her white-gloved hand, and said, smiling, “To-day, my little treasure, you must allow me to be the one to go to the altar. You, my child, must go to school and wait five years before you are married, if indeed any one proposes to you.”
Timéa stood as if petrified, and let her folded hands fall into her lap. She did not blush or become paler. There was no name for what she felt.
Perhaps Athalie knew that this cruel jest was not calculated to enhance her charms, and tried to lessen its effect. “Come, Timéa,” she said; “I only waited for you. Come and put on my veil.”
The bridal veil!
Timéa took the veil with stiffened fingers, and went toward Athalie. It was to be fastened to her hair with a golden arrow.
Timéa’s hand trembled, and the arrow was heavy: it would not go through the thick hair. At an impatient movement of Athalie’s its blunt point pricked the lovely bride’s head slightly.
“You are too stupid for anything!” cried Athalie, angrily, and struck Timéa on the hand. Her eyebrows contracted. Scolded, struck, on such a day, and in the presence of that man! Two heavy drops formed in her eyes and rolled down her white cheek. I trow those two drops turned the scale held by the Great Judge’s hand, from which happiness and misery are measured out to man.
Athalie tried to excuse her hastiness by her feverish excitement. A bride may be pardoned if she is nervous and irritable at the last moment. The witnesses, the bride-maids, are ready, and the bride’s father has not yet arrived.
Every one was uneasy; only the bridegroom was quite composed.
A message had come from the church that the pope was ready and waiting for the bridal pair. Already the bells are ringing, as is the custom at grand weddings. Athalie’s heart beats high with vexation that her father does not come. One messenger after another is sent for him. At last his glass coach is seen approaching. Here he is at last!
The bride steps up to the mirror once more, to see if her veil falls in the right folds. She puts her bracelets and necklace straight.
Meanwhile, a curious sound is heard below, as if many people were rushing upstairs together. Mysterious noises and smothered exclamations are heard in the next room; every one presses thither; the bride-maids and friends run out to see what it is; but it is remarkable that none of them return.
Athalie hears her mother scream. Well, she generally screams even when she is talking quietly.
“Do see what has happened,” says Athalie to her bridegroom.
The captain goes out, and Athalie remains alone with Timéa, the suppressed whispering grows louder. At last even Athalie becomes uneasy.
The bridegroom returns. He remains standing at the open door, and says thence to his bride, “Herr Brazovics is dead.”
The bride throws her arms into the air and falls swooning backward. If Timéa had not caught her in her arms, she would have struck her head on the marble table behind her. The lovely, haughty face of the bride is whiter even than Timéa’s; and Timéa, while she holds Athalie’s head on her breast, thinks, “See how the beautiful wedding-dress lies in the dust!”
The bridegroom stands at the door and looks at Timéa, then turning away suddenly, he leaves the house amid the universal confusion.
He does not even take the trouble to lift his bride from the ground.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10