What induced Noémi to throw herself on Timar’s breast and acknowledge openly that she loved him? Did she wish thus to banish forever the man whose presence was hateful to her, and make it impossible for him any longer to desire her as his wife? Had this child of solitude no idea of the etiquette which demands that such feelings should be concealed in a maiden’s breast? Or did she confuse love with the gratitude she could not help feeling toward the man who had freed her and her mother from anxiety, and won for their lifelong enjoyment the possession of this little paradise? Perhaps she was alarmed when she saw her tormentor feeling for a weapon, and had instinctively thrown herself on her benefactor’s breast to protect him from attack. She might have thought that this poor ship’s captain, whose mother was as poor as her mother, had said that he had “no one” in the world; why should she not be “some one” to him? Would he have returned here if something had not attracted him, and if he cared for her why should she not love him?
No, no; no explanation, no reason, no excuse was needed; here was nothing but pure, unselfish love.
She did not know why, she asked for no reason — she only loved. She loved without inquiring whether it was allowed by God and man, whether it would bring her joy or sorrow. She did not long to be happy or great, her lord’s liege lady, crowned with the silver crown, and blessed by the Triune God — she only loved. She never thought of humiliation with bent head, she asked neither the protection of a husband nor the pity and forgiveness of God — she only loved. Such was Noémi.
Poor Noémi! what you must suffer for this! . . . Michael had for the first time in his life heard it said that some one loved him. From real inclination, as a poor ship’s captain in another man’s service, without selfish interest, for his own sake alone. A miraculous warmth overflowed his heart, the warmth which will awake the dead from their long sleep at the resurrection. He raised his hands timidly and trembling to the shoulders of the girl, and asked, with softly whispering voice, “And that is really true?”
The maiden moved the head which lay on his heart and nodded to him. “Yes; it is true.”
Michael looked at Therese. She came toward them, and laid her hand on Noémi’s head, as if to say, “Well, then, love him!” It was a solemn and silent scene, in which each could hear the heart-beats of the other.
Therese broke the silence first. “If only you knew,” she said to Timar, “how many tears the girl has shed for you. If you had seen her go daily up the rock, and look for hours over the quiet landscape, where you vanished from her sight. If you had heard her whisper your name in her dreams!”
Noémi made a deprecating gesture with her hand, as if to entreat her mother to betray no more. But Michael only noticed it by drawing her closer to himself. See, here at last is one being in the wide world who knows how to love him; who in the “Man of Gold” loves the man and not the gold. And it seemed to him as if he had been in banishment, as long as he had walked through the world, and only now had found a new earth and new heaven, and in them a new life. He bent to kiss the girl’s brow, and felt her heart throb against his.
And around him were only springing flowers, fragrant shrubs, humming bees, and singing birds, which all proclaimed “Thou shalt love!” Speechless bliss led them out into the air, and when they looked into each other’s eyes, both thought, “How wonderful! thine eyes are the same color as mine.” The brilliant sky and the fragrant earth had agreed to inthrall them — their own inclination completed the spell. When a child who has never loved, and a man who has never been loved, meet each other, how is it likely to be with them?
The day drew to a close, but they had not yet been satisfied with joy. The evening fell, the moon rose. Noémi led Michael to the top of the rock, whence she had once looked after the departing guest with tears. There Timar sat down among the sweet lavender; Noémi placed herself beside him, and leaned her curly golden head on the arm of the man, whose enraptured face was raised to the sky. Therese stood behind them and looked down smiling. The silver moon shone radiant from the golden-dusky vault, and the tempting phantom spoke, “Behold this treasure! it belongs to you. You found it; it gave itself to you and is yours. You had obtained all except love, only that was wanting, and now you have found that too. Take, enjoy to the dregs the cup which the Almighty has given you. You will become a new man! The man whom a woman loves becomes a demi-god. You are happy; you are beloved.” . . . Only the inner voice whispered, “You are a thief!”
With the first kiss a new world had arisen for Michael; a wonderful change had taken place in his soul. The first feeling which overpowered him was a secret dread, a fear of happiness; should he submit to it or fly from it? Does a blessing or a curse rest on it? does it bring life or death? what follows on it? What deity will answer these questions? The flower is answered when it unfolds its cup, the butterfly when it opens its wings, the bird when it builds its nest; but not the man when he asks, “Is it good or evil to follow the call of my heart?”
And his heart said, “Look in her eyes!” It is not sinful to be transported by a glance of the eye, and this intoxication lasts. Michael forgot the whole world when he looked in her eyes; a new creation arose for him, full of bliss and joy and earthly happiness. The exquisite presentiment stupefied him.
Since his youth no one had loved him. He had once hoped for affection, struggled for it with might and main, and when he thought he was at the goal, his joy was turned to ashes by crushing disappointment. And here to his face he is told that he is beloved. Everything tells him so; the animals which lick his hand, the lips which betray the heart’s secret, the blush and the glance which tell more than the mouth. Even she who ought to guard the secret jealousy, the mother of the loving girl, even she betrays it —“She loves so passionately that it will be her death!”
No; that it shall not be. . . .
Timar passed on the island one of those days which outweigh an eternity. A day full of endless feeling — a day of self-forgetfulness and waking dreams, when what a man has longed for in visions of the night actually stands before him.
But when on the third night, after a season of ideally rapturous intercourse, he returned from the moonlit world of enchantment to his solitary dark bedroom, the inward accuser, who would not be silenced or lulled to sleep, called him to account.
This voice would not let him sleep. He was restless all night, and dawn found him out under the trees; his decision was made — he would go away and not come back for a long time, till he was forgotten. Till he also had forgotten that he had lived three days in Elysium, that he had been permitted to know happiness.
When the sun rose, he had been round the whole island, and when he got back he found Frau Therese and her daughter busy preparing breakfast.
“I must go away today,” said Michael to Therese.
“So soon,” whispered Noémi.
“He has a great deal to do,” said Therese to her daughter.
This was only natural enough. A captain is only a servant who must look after his affairs, and not waste the time for which he must account to his employer.
He was not pressed to stay — it was quite right that he should leave. He will come back, and they have plenty of time to wait for him — one year, two years, till the hour of death, till eternity. But Noémi did not touch her glass of new milk: she could not have swallowed a drop. He must not be detained; if he has business he must go and attend to it. Therese herself brought out his gun and knapsack, and said to Noémi, “You carry the gun, that Almira may not hurt it. Go with him to the boat.”
Timar walked silently beside Noémi; the girl’s hand rested in his; suddenly she stood still. Michael did so too, and looked in her eyes. “You want to ask me something?” he said. The girl thought awhile, then she said, “No; nothing.” Timar had learned to read her eyes; he guessed her thoughts. Noémi wanted to ask him, “Tell me, my beloved, my all; what has become of the white-faced girl who once came with you to the island, and was called Timéa?”
But she said nothing, only walked on silently with his hand in hers.
Michael’s heart was heavy when they said good-bye. When Noémi gave him his gun she whispered to him, “Take care of yourself, that no harm may come to you;” and when she pressed his hand, she looked at him once more with those heavenly blue and soulful eyes, and said, with a voice of entreaty, “You will return?”
Michael was fascinated by the entreating voice. He pressed the child to him and murmured —“Why don’t you say ‘Wilt not thou return?’ Why am I never to hear thou?”
The girl cast down her eyes and gently shook her head. “Do say ‘thou,’” he begged once more. She hid her face on Michael’s breast, but would not do his will.
“So you can not, or will not, call me ‘thou?’— one single word — are you afraid?” The maiden covered her face with both hands, and was silent. “Noémi, I beg of thee say that one little word and make me happy. Do not let me go without it.”
But she shook her head silently and could not utter it.
“Then farewell to you, dear Noémi,” faltered Michael, and sprung into his boat. The rushes of the marsh soon hid the island from his gaze. But as long as he could distinguish its woods, he still saw the girl leaning on an acacia-tree, sadly gazing out with her head on her hand; but she did not call after him the desired word.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52