The waves carried off Michael’s boat. That of the islanders, which had brought them here, had long rotted away, and they had never had another. The new-comer could not leave the island before the first fruit-dealers arrived. Before that time weeks and months must elapse.
Happy weeks, happy moons! Uncounted days of unbroken joy! The ownerless island was Timar’s home. There he found work and rest. After the flood had passed away, the work of getting rid of the water left in the hollows gave him plenty to do. The whole day he was busy digging canals to carry it away; his hands looked like a laborer’s from the blisters with which they were covered. When he threw spade and pick over his shoulder in the evening, and came back to the little cottage, he was met afar off, and lovingly welcomed. And when he had finished his canal and drawn off the marshy water, he looked upon his work as proudly as if it was the only one in all his life which could lay claim to be called a good action, and which he could confidently submit to his inward judge. The day of the opening of this canal was a festival on the little island. They had no church festivals and did not count Sundays: their saints’ days were those on which God gave them some special joy.
These islanders were sparing of words. What the holy David said in one hundred and fifty psalms, was by them expressed in a sign, and what the poets have sung of love in all their verses, one glance of the eye was sufficient to tell; they learned to read each other’s thoughts on the brow, they learned to think together.
Michael admired Noémi more every day. She was a faithful, grateful creature; she knew no care nor anxiety for the future; happy herself, she diffused happiness around. She never asked him, “What will become of me when you go? Will you leave me or take me? Is it good for me to love you? What church has given you its priestly blessing? Ought you to be mine? Has no other a right to you? What are you out there in the world? What sort of world do you live in?” Even in her face, her eyes, he never read a disquieting doubt — ever and only the one question “Lovest thou me?”
Frau Therese reminded Michael one day that he was tarrying long here; but he assured her that Master Fabula was looking after everything, and when Therese looked at Noémi, whose soft blue eyes ever turned like the sunflowers to the sun of Michael’s face, she could only sigh, “Oh, how she loves him!”
Timar found it very necessary to dig all day, to drive piles, and bind fascines, in order by hard bodily labor to calm his even more heavily tasked mind. What is going on in the world? Thirty of his ships float on the Danube, and a fleet on the sea: his whole wealth, a property of more than a million, all lies in the hands of a woman. And if this woman in some giddy mood squanders the whole and scatters it to the winds, ruining her husband and his house, could he reproach any one? Was it not by his own will? He was happy here at home, and yet would have liked to know what was going on over there. His spirit lived in two places, was torn in two parts: there, his money, his honor, his position in the world; here, his love held him fast. In truth he could have got away. The Danube is not a sea; he was a good swimmer, and could at any time have reached the opposite shore; no one would have detained him. They knew he had work to do out in the world. But when he was with Noémi he forgot again everything outside her arms; he was sunk in love, bliss, and wonder.
“Oh, do not love me so much!” whispered the girl to him.
And so day after day passed by. The time of fruit-ripening drew near, and the branches were weighed down by their sweet burden. It was a pleasure to watch the daily progress of the fruit, how every day it developed more. Pears and apples began to put on their distinctive colors; the green is tanned to a leathery yellow, or receives gold and red streaks. The brown tone colors purple on the sunny side. In the golden tint mingle carmine splashes, and in the carmine greenish specks; the scented fruit smiles at one like a merry childish face. Timar helped the women to gather it. They filled great baskets with this blessing of heaven. He counted every apple he threw into the basket, how many hundreds, how many thousands. What a treasure! Real gold!
One afternoon, when he was helping Noémi to carry a full basket to the apple-room, he saw strangers arrive at the cottage: the fruit-buyers had come, the first visitors for many months past, bringing tidings from the outer world.
They negotiated about the fruit with Therese — the usual system of barter. Frau Therese wanted as usual to have grain in exchange, but the peddlers would not give her as much as before. They said wheat had become very dear. The corn-merchants of Komorn had made large purchases and driven up the prices; they ground it themselves, and sent it over the seas. Therese would not believe this — it was only gossip of the fruit-hawkers; but Timar paid great attention to it. That was his idea; what had come of it since then? Now he had no more rest for thinking of business and the cares of property. This news was to him what the bugle call is to an old soldier, who at the sound wishes himself back in the battle-field, even from the arms of his beloved.
The islanders thought it quite natural that Michael should make preparations to leave them. His business called him; and then he would return the following spring. Noémi only begged him not to throw away the clothes she had spun and woven for him, and which he had worn while with her. He will preserve them like a jewel.
And then he must often think of his poor Noémi. To that he could not answer in words.
He bribed the fruit-women to stay a day longer. And all that day he did nothing but visit, arm in arm with Noémi, all the places which had been witnesses of his tranquil happiness; here he plucked from a tree, and there from a flowery cluster, some leaflet to keep as a memorial. On every leaf and petal whole romances were written which only two people could read.
The last day passed so quickly! The boatmen wanted to leave in the evening, so as to row while it was cool. Michael must say farewell. Noémi was sensible, and did not cry; she knew he would return, and was more occupied in making provision to fill his knapsack.
“It will be dark when you get to the other side,” she said, with tender anxiety. “Have you any arms?”
“No. No one will hurt me.”
“But yet — here is a pistol in your haversack,” said Noémi, and drew it out; and then her check paled, for she recognized Theodor’s pistol, with which he had often, when he came to the island, bragged and threatened that he would shoot Almira. “This is his weapon!” Timar was struck by the expression of her face.
“When you left here,” said the girl, who was all excitement, “he watched for you on the other side, and shot at you with this pistol.”
“What makes you think such a thing?”
“I heard two shots, and then yours. So it was this pistol that you took from him?” Timar was surprised that love can see what the eye can not reach. He could not tell a lie. “Did you kill him?” asked the girl.
“What has become of him?”
“You need fear him no longer. He is gone to Brazil; a hemisphere lies between us and him.”
“I wish there were only three feet of earth between us!” cried Noémi, impetuously, seizing Michael’s hand.
Michael looked in her face surprised. “You! you! with such murderous thoughts — you, who can not bear to see a chicken killed, who can not bring yourself to tread on a spider or to stick a butterfly on a pin!”
“But any one who would tear you from me, I could kill, were he a man, a devil, or an angel —!”
And she pressed the dearly beloved man to her breast in a passionate embrace. He trembled and glowed.
On reaching the other side, Michael again visited the fisherman’s hut.
Two things occupied his mind: the slender figure among the evening mists on the flower-crowned rock, waving to him its tender farewells; and then that other figure conjured up by his imagination as it looks at home in Komorn. Well, he will have time to picture this image to himself on the long journey from the Lower Danube up to Komorn.
When the old fisherman saw Michael, he began to sigh (fishing-folk do not swear). “Just think, my lord, some rascal of a thief has stolen your boat during the floods: he broke into the hut and carried off the oars. What thieves there are in the world, to be sure!”
It did Timar good that at last some one should call him a thief to his face; that was what he was — and if he had stolen nothing more than a boat! “We must not condemn the man,” said he to the fisherman. “Who knows what danger he was in, or how much he needed a boat. We will get another. But now, my friend, we will get into your boat and try to arrive at the ferry to-night.”
The fisherman was persuaded by a promise of liberal payment to undertake this, and by daylight they had reached the ferry where the ships generally took in their cargo. There were post-carriages at the inn on the bank, of which Timar engaged one to take him to Levetinczy. He thought he would there receive reports from the agent of what had passed during the last five months, so that when he got home to Komorn nothing new or surprising should greet him.
There was a one-storied residence on the estate at Levetinczy. In one wing lived the steward and his wife, while the other was given up to Timar. A staircase from this wing led to the park, and by this means he could gain access to the room which he had chosen as an office. Michael must pay attention to the trivial details if he wished to carry out his wearisome deceit consistently. He has been absent for five months, and has, of course, been a long way; but that hardly agrees with his arrival without luggage. In his knapsack there is only the suit of striped linen made for him by Noémi, for the suit in which he had gone to the island was intended for the cold season, and that, by now, was torn and worn out; his boots were patched. It would be difficult to account for his appearance. If he could get through the garden and by the outside steps into his office, the key of which he carries with him, he could there change his clothes quickly, get out his trunk, and when to all appearances he looked as though just come from a long journey, he could call in the steward.
All began well. Timar arrived without being seen, by the garden steps, at the door of his office.
But when he was going to open it with his private key, he made the disquieting discovery that another key was already in the lock. Some one was in the room! But his papers and ledgers were all there, and no one had any business inside. Who could the intruder be? He pulled the door open angrily and went in, and now it was his turn to be startled.
At his writing-table sat the last person he expected to find there. It was Timéa. Before her lay the great ledger, in which she was at work.
A storm of mingled feelings burst over Michael — alarm because the first person he met after his secret journey was his own wife, pleasure at finding her alone, and astonishment that this woman was at work here.
Timéa raised her eyes in surprise when she saw Michael enter; then hastening toward him, she offered him her hand in silence. This white face was still an unsolved enigma to her husband. He could not read in it whether she knew all — whether she guessed something or not. What lay under this cold indifference? restrained contempt or concealed love? Or was the whole only the indolence of a lymphatic race? He had nothing to say to Timéa.
His wife seemed not to remark that his clothes were torn — women can see without looking. “I am glad you have come,” said she gently. “I expected you any day. You will find your clothes in the next room; when you have dressed, will you please come back here? I shall have finished by that time.” And then she put her pen in her mouth.
Michael kissed Timéa’s hand. The pen between her teeth did not invite him to kiss her lips. He went into the adjoining room; there he found a basin of water, a clean shirt, and his clothes and house-shoes as at home. As Timéa could not know the day of his arrival, he must take for granted that she had made ready for him every day — and who knows for how long? But how comes this woman here, and what is she doing? He dressed quickly, hiding his cast-off clothes in a corner of his wardrobe. Some one might ask him what caused these holes in the coat-sleeves, which are quite through at the elbows. And this linen suit with the colored embroidery, would not a woman’s eye decipher something from it? — women understand the mysteries of needle-work. He must hide the clothes. He and the soap had hard work to wash his hands clean. Would he not be asked what he had done to make them so black and horny?
When he was ready he went back to the office, where Timéa was waiting for him at the door, and putting her hand on his arm, said, “Let us go to breakfast.”
From the office they passed through the dressing-room to get to the dining-room. Another surprise awaited Michael there; the round table was laid with three places — for whom were they intended? Timéa made a signal, and through one door came the servant, through the other Athalie. The third place was for her.
On Athalie’s face an unconcealed anger shone when she saw Timar. “Ah, Herr von Levetinczy, you have come home at last! It was a kind thought of yours to write to your wife, ‘Take my keys and books, and be so good, dear wife, as to do all my work for me,’ and then to leave us five months without news of your whereabouts.”
“Athalie!” said Timéa, sternly.
Michael sat down in silence at his place, which he recognized by his own silver drinking-cup. He had been daily awaited here, and the table laid for him. Athalie said no more, but whenever she looked at Timar he could read her vexation in her eyes. This was a satisfactory sign.
When they rose from table Timéa asked her husband to go with her to the office. Michael began to think what he could invent when she should ask him about his journey. But she never referred to it even remotely. She placed two chairs at the desk, and laid her hand on the open day-book. “Here, sir, is the account of your business since the time when you gave over its direction to me.”
“Have you carried it on yourself?”
“I understood that you desired me to do so. I found by your papers that you had undertaken a new and wholesale enterprise — the export of Hungarian flour. I saw that here not only your money, but also your credit and your mercantile honor, were at stake, and that on the good result of this affair hung the foundation of an important branch of trade. I did not understand this business, but I thought that it depended more on conscientious and faithful stewardship than on knowledge of affairs. I trusted this to no third person. Directly I received your letter I started for Levetinczy, and took, as you desired, the conduct of business into my own hands. I studied book-keeping and learned to deal with figures. I think you will find everything in order — the books and the cash balance.” Timar looked with admiration at this woman, who knew how to apply the millions passing through her hands with such calm good sense, to their right object, to receive and expend moneys, and with a skillful hand to withdraw endangered funds; and who knew even more than that. “Fortune has favored us this year,” continued Timéa, “and made up for my inexperience. The five months’ income amounted to five hundred thousand gulden. This sum has not lain idle. Taking advantage of the powers intrusted to me, I have made investments.”
What sort of investments are they likely to be which occur to a woman?
“Your first experiment with the export of flour succeeded entirely. Hungarian flour became at one stroke an article in request for the South American markets. So your agents write from Rio Janeiro, where all with one accord praise the ability and uprightness of your chief agent, Theodor Krisstyan.” Timar thought to himself, “Even when I do evil good comes of it, and the greatest folly I commit turns into wisdom — when will this end?” “After receiving this intelligence I began to consider what you would have done. One must seize an opportunity and occupy with all speed the newly opened markets. I hired immediately many mills, chartered more ships, had them laden, and at this moment a new cargo is on its way to South America, which will defy competition.”
Michael was astonished. In this woman there was more courage than in any man. Another woman would have locked up the money that it might not run away, and this one ventures to carry on her husband’s enterprise, only in tenfold measure. “I thought you would have acted thus,” said Timéa.
“Yes, indeed,” muttered Timar.
“My expectations, moreover, were justified by the fact that, as soon as we threw ourselves more openly into this undertaking, a whole herd of competitors appeared, who are grinding away for dear life, and packing off their good in barrels to America. But this need not cause you any anxiety — we shall beat them all. Not one of them knows the secret of the superiority of the Hungarian flour.”
“How is that?”
“If one of them asked his wife, perhaps she would have known — that is how I discovered it. Among all the samples of American wheat, I can find none as heavy as ours. We must, therefore, make flour of our heaviest kinds, so as to carry off the prize from the Americans. I selected our heaviest grain; our rivals here use lighter corn, and they will find their mistake, while we shall maintain our position.”
Michael kissed Timéa’s hand with the sacred awe with which we kiss our beloved dead, who no longer belong to us, but to the ground, and who can not feel our caress. Whenever during his life of happy forgetfulness on the island he had thought of Timéa at all, it was as amusing herself, traveling, going to watering-places, having plenty of money, and wasting it as she chose. Now he saw in what her amusement had consisted — keeping books, sitting at a desk, conducting a correspondence, and learning foreign idioms without the help of a master — and all this because her husband had desired it.
His wife gave him a report of all branches of his extensive business. It was now all as familiar to her as if she had known it from childhood, and everything was in perfect order. While Timar ran over the accounts, he acquired the conviction that if he himself had had to do it all in those few months, he would have been hard at work all day. What labor this must have cost a young woman who had to learn everything by experience! Indeed she must have had but little time for sleep.
“But, Timéa, this is a tremendous task which you have accomplished in my stead!”
“It is true, and at first I found it very difficult, but by degrees I got used to it, and then it was easy enough. Work is wholesome.”
What a sad reproach! — a young wife who finds consolation in work. Michael drew Timéa’s hand to him. Deep sadness clouded his brow, his heart was heavy. If only he knew what Timéa was thinking.
The key of the desk was constantly in Timar’s mind. If Timéa had discovered his secret, then her present conduct to her husband was only a fearful judgment held over him, to mark the difference between the accuser and the accused.
“Have you never been in Komorn since?” he asked Timéa.
“Only once, when I had to look in your desk for the contract with Scaramelli.”
Timar felt his blood run cold. Timéa’s face betrayed nothing.
“But now we will go back to Komorn,” said Timar; “the flour is in full swing; we must wait for news of the fate of the cargoes now at sea, and they will not arrive before the winter. Or would you rather make a tour in Switzerland and Italy? This is the best season for it.”
“No, Michael; we have been long enough apart, we will remain at home together.”
But no pressure of the hand explains why she would like to remain at home with him. Michael had not the courage to say a tender word to her. Should he lie to her? He would have to live a lie in her presence from morning to evening. His silence even was a falsehood.
Looking through all the papers took the whole time until late dinner, and to this meal two guests were invited — the bailiff and the reverend dean. The latter had begged to be at once informed of Herr von Levetinczy’s return, that he might call upon him immediately. As soon as he received the news he hastened to the castle, and of course put on his new decoration. The moment he entered he let off some oratorical fireworks, in which he lauded Timar as the benefactor of the place. He compared him to Noah who built the Ark, to Joseph who saved his people from famine, and to Moses who made manna fall from heaven. The flour trade which he had set on foot was pronounced the greatest enterprise Europe had ever seen. Long live the Columbus of flour export!
Timar had to answer this address of welcome. He stammered and talked great nonsense. He had to control himself that he might not laugh aloud, and say to the worthy preacher, “Ha, ha! do not fancy that I had this idea in order to make your fortune; it was only to get a young rascal out of reach of a certain pretty girl, and if any good came of it, it is only by means of this woman here near me. Laugh then, good people!”
At table good-humor reigned. The dean and the steward were neither of them despisers of the bottle. The wit and anecdotes of the two old men made Timar laugh too; but whenever he cast a glance on Timéa’s icy face, the laugh died on his lips. She had left her merriment elsewhere in pledge.
It was evening before they rose. The two old gentlemen reminded each other jocosely that it was quite time to leave, for the husband had returned to his young wife after a long absence, and they would have much to say to each other.
“Indeed you will do wisely to go soon,” whispered Athalie to Timar. “Timéa has such dreadful headaches every evening, that she can not sleep before midnight. See how pale she is!”
“Timéa, you are unwell?” asked Timar, tenderly.
“There is nothing the matter with me,” answered she.
“Don’t believe her; ever since we came to Levetinczy she has suffered from headache. It is neuralgia, which she contracted by overtaxing her brain, and by the bad air here. I found a white hair in her head the other day. But she conceals her suffering till she breaks down, and even then she never complains.”
Timar experienced in spirit the tortures of a criminal stretched on the rack. And he had not the courage to say to his wife, “If you are suffering, let me sleep in your room and take care of you.” No; he was afraid of uttering Noémi’s name in his sleep, and that his wife might hear it, as she was kept awake by pain half the night. He must shun his marriage-bed.
The next day they started for Komorn, and traveled by post, Michael sitting opposite the two ladies. It was a tedious journey: in the whole Banat the harvest was over; only the maize was still standing, otherwise they saw nothing but monotonous fields of stubble. None of them spoke; all three found it hard to keep awake. In the afternoon Timar could no longer endure the silent looks, the enigmatical expression of his wife; under pretense of wanting to smoke he took a seat by the driver in the open coupé, and remained there. When they got out at a post-house, Athalie grumbled at the bad roads, the dreadful heat, the annoying flies, the stifling dust, and all the rest of a traveler’s trials. The inns are dirty, the food disgusting, the beds hard, the wine sour, the water impure, and the countenances of all the people frightful. She feels so ill all through the journey, she is quite knocked up, she has fever, and her head will burst: what must Timéa be suffering, who is so nervous?
Timar had to listen to these lamentations all the way, but Timéa never uttered a complaint.
When they arrived at Komorn, Frau Sophie informed them that she had turned gray with loneliness. Gray indeed! She had been very happy — being able to go about all day from house to house to gossip to her heart’s content. Timar felt a painful anxiety. Home is either a heaven or a hell. Now at last he would know what lay behind the marble coldness of this silent face.
As he entered the room with his wife, she handed him the key of his desk. Michael knew she had opened it to get out the contract.
This writing-desk was an old and elaborate piece of furniture, whose upper part was closed by a rolled falling cover, under which were drawers of various sizes. In the large drawer lay the contracts, in the small ones notes and valuables; the lock was a puzzle one, which you might vainly turn if you did not know its secret.
Timéa was in the secret, and could have access to all the drawers. With an uneasily beating heart Timar drew out the drawer where those jewels were kept which it had been unadvisable to place on the market. These gems have their own experts, who recognize by certain marks where this stone or that gem came from; and then follows the question, how did he get it? Only the third generation from the finder can venture to show it, as to him it is all one in what way his grandfather came into its possession.
If Timéa had been inquisitive enough to open that drawer she must have seen these gems. And if so, one among them, the diamond locket with the portrait which is so like her, must have been recognized by her. It is her mother’s picture, and then she must know all. She knows that Timar has received her father’s treasures; it is hard to believe he came by them honestly. And by that dark, perhaps criminal road, they would lead to the fabulous riches which gained her hand for Timar, while he played the generous friend to her whom he had robbed. She may even think worse things of him than are true. Her father’s mysterious death, his secret burial, might awake in her the suspicion that Timar had a hand in it.
These doubts were unbearable. Timar must set them at rest, and call yet one more falsehood to his aid. He took out the medallion and went with it to Timéa. “Dear Timéa,” he said, sitting down beside his wife, “I have been living a long time in Turkey. What I did there you will learn later on. When I was in Scutari an Armenian jeweler offered me a diamond-framed picture, which is very like you. I bought it, and have brought you the ornament.”
When Timéa saw the portrait her face changed in an instant. An emotion which could neither be assumed nor concealed was visible in her sculptured features; she seized the picture with both hands and pressed it eagerly to her lips; her eyes filled with tears. This was true feeling; Timéa’s face began to live.
Michael was saved. The girl, overpowered by her long-suppressed feelings, began to sob violently. Athalie heard and came in; she was surprised — she had never known Timéa to sob. But when she saw Athalie she ran toward her like a child, and cried, in a tone of mingled laughter and tears, “See, see! my mother! It is my mother’s picture. . . . He has brought it to me!”
And then she hastened back to Michael, put both her arms round his neck, and whispered in a broken voice, “Thanks, oh, a thousand thanks!”
It seemed to Timar as if the time had come to kiss these grateful lips, and to kiss them on and on.
But alas! his heart said, “Thou shalt not steal.” Now a kiss on these lips would be a theft, after all that had passed on the ownerless island.
Another thought struck him. He went back to his room, and fetched all the hidden jewels which remained in the drawer.
A wonderful woman this, who, though she had the key in her hands, left the secret drawers untouched and only took out the one paper she required! Then he packed all the ornaments into the bag he had over his shoulder when he came home, and went back to his wife. “I have not told you all,” he said to Timéa. “Where I found the picture I discovered also these jewels, and bought them for you. Take them as a present from me.”
And then he laid the dazzling gems one after another in Timéa’s lap, until the sparkling heap quite covered her embroidered apron. It was like some magical gift from the thousand and one nights.
Athalie stood there pale with envy, with angrily clinched teeth. Perhaps these might all have been hers! But Timéa’s face darkened and grew marble-like again. She looked with indifference at the heap of jewels in her lap. The fire of diamonds and rubies could not warm her.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56