It has often happened that a man has found his wife’s heart to be devoid of all inclination toward him.
And no doubt many have looked for a cure in course of time. What can one do in winter, except look forward to spring? As the daughter of Mohammedan parents, Timéa had been brought up not to see the face of the man who was to be her husband until the wedding-day. There no one asks, “Do you, or do you not, love him?” neither her parents, the priest, nor the man himself. The husband will be good to her, and if he should find her out in infidelity, he will kill her. The principal thing is that she should have a pretty face, bright eyes, fine hair, and a sweet breath — no one asks about her heart. But Timéa had learned in a different school in the house of Brazovics. There she learned that among the Christians love was allowed, and every opportunity given for it; but that any one who did fall in love was not cured like a sick person, but punished like a criminal. She had expiated her crime.
When Timéa became Timar’s wife, she had schooled herself strictly, and forbidden every drop of her blood to speak to her of anything except her duties as a wife; for if she had allowed them to talk of her secret fancies, then each drop of blood would have persuaded her to go the same road on which that other girl had twice, in the darkness of the night, stumbled over the body of the sleeping woman, and that stumble would have killed her soul. She crushed and buried the feeling, and gave her hand to a man whom she respected, to whom she owed gratitude, and whose life-companion she was to remain.
This story is repeated every day. And those who meet with it console themselves with the idea that soon the spring will come and the ice will melt.
Michael went with his young wife to travel, and visited Italy and Switzerland. They returned as they went. Neither the romantic Alpine valleys nor the fragrant orange-groves brought balm to his heart. He overwhelmed his wife with all that women like, dress and jewels; he introduced her to the gayeties of great cities. All in vain: moonlight gives no heat, even through a burning glass. His wife was gentle, attentive, grateful, obedient; but her heart was never open to him, neither at home nor abroad, neither in joy nor sorrow. Her heart was buried.
Timar had married a corpse.
With this knowledge he returned from his travels. At one time he thought of leaving Komorn and settling in Vienna. Perhaps a new life might begin there. But then he thought of another plan: he decided to remain in Komorn and move into the Brazovics’ house. There he would live with his wife, and arrange his own house as an office, so that business people might have nothing to do with the house his wife lived in. In this way he could be absent from home all day, without its being noticed that he left his wife alone.
In public they always appeared together. She went into society with him, reminded him when it was time to leave, and departed leaning on his arm. Every one envied his lot; a lucky man to have such a lovely and faithful wife! If she were not so true and good! If he could only hate her! But no scandal could touch her.
This spring brings no melting of her ice-bound heart. The glaciers grow every day. Michael cursed his fate. With all his treasures he can not buy his wife’s love. It is all the worse for him that he is rich; splendor and great wealth widen the rift between them. Poverty binds close within its four walls those who belong to each other; laborers and fishermen, who have only one room and one bed, are more fortunate than he. The woodman, whose wife holds the other end of the saw when he is at work, is an enviable man: when they have finished they sit down on the ground, eat their bean-porridge out of one bowl, and kiss each other afterward.
Let us become poor people!
Timar began to hate his riches, and tried to get rid of them. If he was unfortunate and became poor, he would get nearer to his wife, he thought.
He could not succeed in impoverishing himself. Fortune pursues those who despise it. Everything he touched, which with another would certainly have failed, became a brilliant success. In his hands the impossible turned to reality — the die always threw six; if he tried to lose his money by gambling, he broke the bank — gold streamed in upon him; if he ran away or hid, it rolled after him and found him out.
And all this he would have joyfully given for a kiss from his wife’s sweet lips.
And yet they say money is almighty. Everything is to be had for money. Yes — false; lying love, bright smiles on the charming lips of such as feel it not — forbidden, sinful love, which must be concealed — but not the love of one who can love truly and faithfully.
Timar almost wished he could hate his wife. He would have liked to believe that she loved another, that she was faithless and forgot her wifely duty; but he could not find any cause for hatred. No one saw his wife anywhere but on her husband’s arm. In society she knew how to preserve a bearing which compelled respect, and kept bold advances at a distance. She did not dance at balls, and gave as a reason that when a girl she had not been taught to dance, and as a woman she no longer wished to learn. She sought the company of older women. If her husband went on a journey, she never left the house. But what did she at home? For reception-rooms in society are transparent, but not the walls of one’s house. To this question Michael had a most convincing reply.
In this house Athalie lived with Timéa.
Athalie was — not the guardian angel but the guardian devil of Timéa’s honor. Every step, every word, every thought of his wife, every sigh she uttered, every tear she shed, even the unconscious mutterings of her dreams, were spied upon by another woman, who hated him as well as his wife, and certainly would hasten to make both miserable, if a shadow of guilt could be found on the walls of the house.
If Timéa, at the moment when she begged Michael to allow Athalie and Frau Sophie to continue living in the same house, had listened to anything but the voice of her kind and feeling heart, she could not have invented a better protection for herself than keeping with her the girl who had once been the bride of the man she ought never to meet again.
These pitiless and malicious eyes follow her everywhere; as long as the guardian devil is silent, Timéa is not condemned even by God. Athalie is silent.
Athalie was a real dragon to Timéa, in small things as well as great. No circumstance, ever so trifling, escaped her attention if it afforded her a chance of playing Timéa a trick. She pretended that Timéa wished to show her generosity by treating the quondam young lady of the house as a sister, or like a lady visitor, which was enough to make Athalie behave in company as if she were a servant. Every day Timéa took the broom out of her hand by force when she came in to clean the room; she constantly caught her cleaning “her mistress’s” clothes, and if visitors came to dinner, she could not be induced to leave the kitchen. Athalie had received back from Timéa her whole arsenal of ornaments and toilet necessaries. She had wardrobes full of silk and merino dresses; but she chose to wear her shabbiest and dirtiest gowns, which formerly she had put on only when the hairdresser was busy with her coiffure; and she was glad if she could burn a hole in her dress in the kitchen, or drop oil on it when she trimmed the lamp. She knew how much this hurt Timéa. All her jewels too, worth thousands, had been restored to her: she did not wear them, but bought herself a paste brooch for ten kreutzers, and put it on. Timéa took the brooch away quietly, and had a real opal put into it; the faded old dresses she burned, and had others made for Athalie of the stuff she was herself wearing.
Oh, yes, one could grieve Timéa, but not make her angry.
Even in her way of speaking, Athalie made a parade of an insufferable humility, although, or rather because, she knew it hurt Timéa. If the latter asked for anything, Athalie rushed to fetch it with an alacrity like that of a black slave who fears the whip. She never spoke in a natural tone, but annoyed Timéa by always lowering her voice to the thin whining sound which gives an impression of servility; she stammered with affected weakness, and could not pronounce the letter s.
She never let herself be surprised into forgetfulness or familiarity; but her most refined cruelty consisted in her unseasonable praises of the husband and wife to each other.
When she was alone with Timéa she sighed, “Oh, how happy you are, Timéa, in having such a good husband who loves you so much!” If Timar came home, she received him with naïve reproaches. “Is it right to stay away so long? Timéa is quite desperate, she awaits you with such longing; go in gently and surprise your wife. Hold your hands over her eyes, and make her guess who it is.”
Both had to bear the derision which, under the mask of a tender, flattering sympathy, wounded their hearts. Athalie knew only too well that neither of them was happy.
But when she was alone, how completely she threw off the mask with which she tormented the others, and gave vent to her suppressed rage. If alone in her room she threw the broom Timéa had tried to take away furiously on the ground; then again beat the chairs and sofas with the handle, in order, as she said, to shake the dust out, but really to work off her anger on them. If in going out or in her dress caught in the door, or the sleeve on the handle, she wrenched it away with her teeth clinched, so that either the dress was torn or the handle dragged off, and then she was satisfied.
Broken crockery, chipped glasses, mutilated furniture, bore witness in quantities to the disastrous hours they passed in her company. Poor Mamma Sophie avoided her own daughter, and was afraid to be left alone with her. She was the only person in the house who ever heard Athalie’s natural voice, and to whom she showed the bottomless depths of the gulf her hatred had dug. Frau Sophie was frightened of sleeping in the same room with her, and in a confidential moment showed her faithful cook the black bruises which her daughter’s hand had left on her arms. When Athalie came into her mother’s room in the evening, she would pinch her, and scream in her ear, “Why did you ever give me birth?”
And when at last she went to bed, after finishing her day’s work with pretended gentleness and hidden fury, she required no one to help her. She tore off her clothes, dragged the knotted strings asunder, ill-treated her hair with hands and comb as if it was some one’s else; then stamped on her clothes, blew out the candle, leaving a long wick to smolder and fill the room with its evil odor, and threw herself on her bed; there she bit the pillow, and tore at it with her teeth while she brooded over the torture she had to endure. Sleep only came to her after she had heard a door shut — the door of the lonely chamber of the master; then she was glad — then she could sleep.
It could be no secret to her that the young husband and wife were not happy. She waited with malicious joy to see what mischief could be developed from it.
Neither of them seemed to notice it. No quarrel ever took place; no complaint, not even an involuntary sigh, ever escaped either of them. Timéa remained unchanged, only the husband grew more gloomy every day. He sat for hours by his wife, often holding her hands in his, but he did not look into her eyes, and rose to go away without a word. Men can not keep a secret as women can. Timar got into the habit of going away and fixing the day of his return, and then returning sooner than he was expected. Another time he surprised his wife at a moment when he was not looked for; he pretended a chance had brought him home, and would not say what he wanted. But suspicion was written on his brow. Jealousy left him no peace.
One day Michael said at home that he had to go to Levetinczy, and could hardly get back in less than a month. All his preparations were made for a long absence. When the married couple took leave of each other with a kiss — a cool, conventional kiss — Athalie was present.
Athalie smiled. Another would hardly have noticed the smile, or at any rate would not, like Michael, have marked the derision which lay in it — the malicious mockery at one who little knows what goes on behind his back. It was as if she said, “When you are once gone, you fool —!”
Michael took the sting of this spiteful smile with him on his journey. He carried it on his heart half-way to Levetinczy; then he made his carriage turn round, and by midnight he was back in Komorn. In his house there were two extra entrances to his room, whose keys he always carried about with him, so that he could get in without any one knowing of his return. From his room he could reach Timéa’s through the several anterooms. His wife was not in the habit of locking her bedroom door. She was accustomed to read in bed, and the maid generally had to come and see whether she had not fallen asleep without putting out the light. On the other side, the room in which Athalie and her mother slept adjoined his wife’s bedroom. Michael approached the door noiselessly and opened it cautiously. All was still; every one slept. The room was dimly lighted by the shaded light of a night-lamp.
Michael drew the curtain aside: the same statue of a sleeping saint lay before him which he had once aroused to life in the cabin of the “St. Barbara.” She seemed to be fast asleep; she did not feel his neighborhood; she did not see him through her downcast lashes. But a slumbering woman can see the man she loves even in her sleep, and with closed eyes. Michael bent over her breast and counted her heart-beats. Her heart beat with its normal calm. No suspicious symptom to be found — nothing to feed the hungry monster which seeks a victim.
He stood long and gazed on the slumbering form. Then suddenly he started. Athalie stood before him, dressed, and with a candle in her hand. Again that insulting smile of mockery lay on her lips. “Have you forgotten something?” she asked in a whisper.
Michael trembled like a thief caught in the act.
“Hush!” said he, pointing to the sleeper, and hurried away from the bed. “I forgot my papers.”
“Shall I wake Timéa that she may get them out?”
Timar was angry at being detected for the first time in his life in a direct lie.
His papers were not kept by Timéa, but in his own room.
“No, do not wake my wife; the papers are in my room — I only wanted the key.”
“And you have already found it?” asked Athalie, seriously, who then lighted the candles and officiously conducted Michael to his room.
Here she put down the candle and did not go away. Michael turned over his papers with confusion; he could not find what he sought — naturally — for he knew not what to look for. At last he shut his desk without taking anything out. Again he was met by the hateful smile which from time to time played round Athalie’s lips. “Do you wish for anything?” said Athalie, in answer to his inquiring looks.
Michael remained silent.
“Do you wish me to speak?”
Michael felt at these words as if the world was falling on him. He dared not answer.
“Shall I tell you of Timéa?” whispered Athalie, bending nearer to him, and holding the stupefied man under the spell of her beautiful serpent-eyes.
“What do you know?” asked Michael, hotly.
“Everything — do you wish me to tell you?”
Michael was undecided.
“But I can tell you beforehand that you will be very unhappy when you learn what I know.”
“Very well — listen. I know as well as you do that Timéa does not love you. But one thing I know which you do not — namely, that Timéa is as true to you as an angel.”
Timar started violently.
“You did not expect that from me? It would have been welcome news to hear from me that your wife deserved your contempt, so that you might be able to hate and reject her. No, sir; the marble statue you have taken to wife does not love you, but does not deceive you. This I only know, but with absolute certainty — oh, your honor is well guarded. If you had engaged the hundred-eyed Argus of the legend as a watchman, she could not be better guarded than by me. Nothing of what she does, says, thinks, escapes me: in the deepest recesses of her heart she can have no feeling hidden from me. You acted wisely in the interests of your honor when you took me into your house. You will not drive me out of it, though you hate me; for you know well that as long as I am here, the man whom you fear can never approach your sanctuary. I am the diamond lock of your house. You shall know all: when you leave town, your house is a cloister while you are absent; no visitors are received, neither man nor woman; the letters which come to your wife, you will find unopened on your writing-table; you can give them to her to read or throw them into the fire, just as you choose. Your wife never sets foot in the streets, she only drives out with me; her only walk is on the island, and I am always with her; I see her suffer, but I never hear her complain. How could she complain to me, who suffer the same torment, and on her account? For from the time when that ghostly face appeared in the house my misery began; till then I was happy and beloved. Do not be afraid of my bursting into tears; I love no longer — now I only hate, and with my whole soul. You can trust your house to me; you can ride through the world in peace; you leave me at home, and as long as you find your wife alive on your return you may be sure that she is faithful to you. For know, sir, that if she ever exchanges a friendly word with that man, or responds to his smile, or reads a letter from him, I would not wait for you, I would kill her myself, and you would only come home to her funeral. Now you know what you leave behind — the polished dagger which the madness of jealousy holds aimed at your wife’s heart; and under the shadow of that dagger you will daily lay your head down to sleep, and although I inspire you with loathing, you will be forced to cling to me with desperation.”
Timar felt all his mental energy crippled under this outburst of demoniac passion.
“I have told you all I know about Timéa, about you and myself; I repeat once more, you have taken to wife a girl who loves another, and this other was once mine. It was you who took this house from me; under your hand my father and my property sunk into dust; and then you made Timéa the mistress of this house. You see now what you did. Your wife is not a woman, but a martyr. It is not enough that you should suffer; you must also acquire the certainty that you have made her, for whose possession you strove, miserable, and that there can be no happiness for Timéa as long as you live. With this sting in your breast you may leave your house, Herr Levetinczy, and you will nowhere find a balm for your smarting wound, and I rejoice at it with all my heart!”
With glowing cheeks, gnashing teeth, and glaring eyes, Athalie bowed to Timar, who sunk exhausted into a chair. But the girl clinched her fist as if to thrust an invisible dagger into his heart.
“And now — turn me out of your house if you dare!” All womanhood was quenched in the girl’s face. Instead of a hypocritical submission, it was dominated by the fury of unbridled passion. “Drive me away from here if you dare!”
And proud as a triumphant demon she left Michael’s room. She had taken the lighted candle which was on the table away with her, and left the wretched husband in darkness. She had told him that she was not the humble servant, but the guardian devil of the house. As Timar saw the girl with the light in her hand go toward the door of Timéa’s bedroom, something whispered to him to spring up, seize Athalie’s arm, and setting his foot before the threshold, to cry to her, “Remain then yourself in this accursed house, as I am bound by the promise I gave; but not with us!”
And then to rush into Timéa’s room, as on the eventful night when the ship went down, to lift her in his arms from the bed, and with the cry, “This house is falling in, let us save ourselves!” to fly from it with her, and take her to some place where no one spies on her . . . this thought darted through his head . . . that was what he ought to have done.
The door of the bedroom opened, and Athalie looked back once more; then she went in, the door shut, and Michael remained alone in the darkness.
Oh, in what darkness!
Then he heard the key turn twice in the lock. His fate was sealed; he arose and felt round in the dark for his traveling-bag. He kindled no light, made no noise, so that no one should awake and report that he had been here. When he had collected all his things, he crept softly to the door, shut it gently behind him, and left his own house cautiously and noiselessly, like a thief, like a fugitive. That girl had driven him away from it.
Out in the street he was met by a snow shower. That is good weather for one who does not wish to be seen. The wind whistled through the streets, and drove the snowflakes into his face; Michael Timar, however, went on his way in an open carriage, in weather in which one would not turn a dog into the street.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56