On his return home, Michael found Timéa somewhat unwell. This induced him to call in two celebrated doctors from Vienna in order to consult them about his wife’s health. They agreed that a change of climate was necessary, and advised a winter sojourn in Meran; so Michael accompanied thither his wife and Athalie. In the sheltered valley, he chose for Timéa a villa in whose garden stood a pavilion built like a Swiss châlet. He knew that Timéa would like it. In the course of the winter he often visited her, generally in the company of an elderly man, and found that, as he expected, the châlet was her favorite resort.
When he returned to Komorn he set to work to build just such another châlet as the one at Meran. The cabinet-maker he had brought with him was a master of his art. He copied the châlet and its furniture in the minutest detail; then he installed a large workshop in Timar’s one-storied house in the Servian Street, and there set to work. No one was to know anything about it — it was to be a surprise. But the architect required an apprentice to help him, and it was difficult to find one who could hold his tongue. There was nothing for it but to turn Timar himself into an apprentice, and he now vied with his master from morning to night with chisel and gimlet, in carving, planing, polishing, and turning. But as to the cabinet-maker himself, if you had closed his mouth with Solomon’s seal, you could not have made him discreet enough to refrain from letting out the secret to his Sunday evening boon companions, of the surprise Herr von Levetinczy was preparing for his wife. First they made the different parts and fitted them together: then the whole, as fast as it was ready, was set up in the beautiful park on the Monostor. He himself, a regular Crœsus, does not shrink from working all day like a laborer, and is as good at the tools as if he were a foreman. He does not trouble about his own affairs, he leaves them to his agents, and saws and carves the whole day long in the workshop. But they must not let it go further, for the gracious lady was to have a surprise when she came home. Naturally the whole town heard of it, and so did Frau Sophie, who wrote to Athalie, who told Timéa, so that Timéa knew beforehand that Michael, when she came home in the spring, would drive with her some fine day to the Monostor hill, where they had a large orchard: there, on the side overlooking the Danube, she would find her dear Meran pavilion exactly copied, her work-basket at the window, her favorite books on the birchwood shelves, her cane chair on the veranda. All this to surprise her; and she must smile as if much pleased, and when she praised the maker, she would hear from him, “You must not compliment me, gracious lady, but my apprentice.” “Who executed the best carvings, who made the footstool, these elegant balustrades, these columns and capitals?” “My apprentice.” “And who was he?” “The noble lord of Levetinczy himself. All this is his work, gracious lady.”
And then Timéa would smile and try to find words to express her thanks. Only words: for he may heap treasures on his wife, or give her black bread that he had earned by his labor; he can not purchase her affection.
And so it was. In the spring Timéa came back. The Monostor surprise was skillfully planned, with a splendid banquet and a troop of guests. On Timéa’s face hovered a melancholy smile; on Timar’s, reserved kindness; and on those of the guests, envious congratulation. The ladies said no woman was worthy of such a husband as Timar, he was an ideal husband; but the men said it was not a good sign when a husband tried to win his wife’s favor by presents and attentions.
Only Athalie said nothing: she sought a clew to the mystery and found none. What had come to Timar? His countenance betrayed something like happiness; what was he concealing under his care for Timéa? In company he was bright and cheerful, unconstrained and at ease with Athalie, sometimes even taking her for a turn in the cotillon. Was he really happy, or was he indifferent? It was vain for him to try and win Timéa’s heart; Athalie knew that by her own experience. She had found plenty of wooers, but refused them all — all men were alike to her; she had only loved one, whom now she hated. She alone understood Timéa.
But Michael she could not fathom. He was a man of pure gold, without a speck of rust upon him.
When spring came, Timar again called in the physicians to pronounce on Timéa’s health. This time she was advised to try the sea-bathing at Biarritz. Michael took her there, arranged her apartments, took care that she should be able to compete in dress and equipages with English peeresses and Russian princesses, and left a heavy purse with her, begging her to bring it back empty. He was generous to Athalie, put her down as Timéa’s cousin in the visitor’s list, and she too was to change her dress five times a day, like Timéa. Could any one better fulfill the duties of the head of a family?
Then he hurried away, not homeward, but to Vienna; there he bought the whole furniture of a workshop, and had it sent in chests to Pancsova.
Here he had to invent some pretense to get the boxes over to the island. Caution was most necessary. The fishermen, who often saw him go round the Ostrova Island in a boat, and not return for months, had puzzled their heads as to who he was and what brought him here. When the cases arrived, he had them conveyed to the poplar-groves of the left bank of the Danube, and there unloaded. Then he called in the fishermen, and said they must get them over to the lonely island — they contained arms.
That one word was enough to sink the secret to the bottom of the sea. Henceforward he could go backward and forward by day or night, no one would ever mention his name. They all knew now that he was an agent of the Servian and Montenegrin heroes of the insurrection, and the rack would not have extorted information from them. He became a sacred personage in their eyes. In this way, in order to hide himself in darkness, he deceived every one with whom he exchanged a word. The fishermen ferried over the cases at night, and Timar with them; they looked out for a place on the shore where the thickest bushes grew, and carried the boxes there, and when Michael would have paid them, they would not accept a groschen from him, only grasping his hand.
He remained on the island, and the fishermen left him. It was a splendid moonlight night; the nightingale sung on its nest. Michael went along the bank till he came to the path, and passed the place where he had left off his work last year; the trunks were carefully covered with rushes to keep the wet off.
He approached the little dwelling on tiptoe. It was a good sign that he heard no noise. Almira does not bark, because she is sleeping in the kitchen so as not to wake the child. All is well in the house.
How should he announce himself, and surprise Noémi? He stood before the little window, half covered by climbing roses, and began to sing —
“For all the gold the world could hold,
I would not give my Dodi’s curl.”
He was not disappointed; a moment later the window opened, and Noémi looked out with a face radiant with joy. “My Michael,” whispered the poor child.
“Yes, thy Michael,” he murmured, clasping the dear head in both arms. “And Dodi?”
“He is asleep; hush, we must not wake him.” And still the lips murmured tenderly, “Come in.”
“He might wake and cry.”
“Oh, he is no longer a crying child. Just think, he is a year old.”
“What! a year already! He is quite a big fellow.”
“He can say your name already.”
“Does he really talk?”
“And he is learning to walk.”
“He eats anything now.”
“Impossible; that is too soon.”
“What do you know about it? wait till you see him.”
“Push the curtain aside that I may see him by the moonlight.”
“No; that would not do. If the moon shines on a sleeping child it makes it ill.”
“There are all sorts of wonderful things about children, and one must have plenty of faith; that is why women have charge of children, because they believe everything. Come in and look at him.”
“I will not go in as long as he is asleep — I might wake him; you come out.”
“I can not do that; he would wake if I left him, and mother is asleep.”
“Well, then, you go back to him, and I will remain outside.”
“Won’t you lie down?”
“It is almost day-break. Go back to him, and leave the window open.”
And he remained standing by the window, looking into the little room, on whose floor the moon painted silver patterns, and trying to distinguish the tones which came from the quiet chamber — a little whimper of an awakened child, then a low song like a dreamy lullaby, “For all the gold . . .” Then the sound of a kiss, which a good baby gets as a reward for going to sleep. With his elbows on the window-sill, and listening to the breaths of the sleepers, Timar awaited the dawn, which filled the little house with light. The red sunrise awoke the child, and there was no more sleep for the others. The baby crowed and babbled; what it said only those two understood — itself and Noémi.
When at last Michael got it into his arms he said, “I shall stay here, Dodi, till I have finished your house.”
The child said something which Noémi interpreted to mean, “That is just what I wish.”
These were the happiest days of Timar’s dual life. Nothing troubled the serenity of his happiness, except the thought of that other life to which he must return. If he could find ways and means to sever himself from that, he might live on here in peace. Nothing would be easier; he simply had to stay here. He would be sought for during the first year, for two or three more he would be remembered from time to time; then the world would forget him and he it, and Noémi would remain to him. And what a jewel she was! Whatever was lovable in woman was combined in her, and every feminine defect was wanting. Her beauty was not of the kind which satiates by its monotony: with every change of expression arose a new charm. Tenderness, gentleness, and fire were united in her disposition. The virgin, the fairy, the woman were harmoniously blended in her. Her love was never selfish; her whole being went out to him whom she loved: his sorrows and joys were hers, she knew no others. At home she thought of every trivial detail which could conduce to his comfort; she helped him in his work with an untiring hand. Ever bright and fresh, if she felt unwell a kiss from him drove away the pain. She was submissive to him, who worshiped her. And when she took the child on her lap, it was a sight to drive the man mad who had made her his own — and yet not really his.
But Timar had not yet made up his mind. He still played with Fate. The price was too high even for such a treasure as a lovely woman with a smiling child in her arms.
The cost was — a whole world! a property amounting to millions; his position in society; his rank and noble friends; the enterprise of world-wide influence, on whose result hung the future of a great national branch of trade! and besides — Timéa. He might have reconciled himself to the idea of treading his riches under foot: they came from the submarine depths, and might return thither.
But his vanity refused to contemplate the notion that that woman with the white face, which no glow from her husband could animate, might be happy in this life — with another man. Perhaps he hardly knew himself what a fiend was hidden in his breast. The woman who could not love him was fading away before his eyes, while he could live through happy days where he was well beloved. And during this time the house-building made rapid progress, and was already being put together by the workman’s skillful hand; the roof was on, and covered with wide planks formed like fish-scales to overlap each other. The carpentry was done, and now came the cabinet-work. Michael completed it without any assistance, and might be seen from morn to eve in the workshop he had arranged in the new house, where he sung all day as he planed and sawed. Like the steadiest of day-laborers, he never left off his work before dark; then he returned to the hut where an appetizing supper awaited him. After the meal he sat down on the bench outside the house, and lighted his clay pipe. Noémi sat by him and took Dodi on her knees, who was now expected to exhibit what he had learned during the day. A new word! And is not this one word a greater acquirement than all the wisdom of the world? “What would you sell Dodi for?” Noémi asked him once in jest. “For the whole earth full of diamonds?”
“Not for the whole heaven full of angels.”
Little Dodi happened that day to be full of spirits. In a mischievous mood he caught hold with his little hand of the pipe Michael had in his mouth, and pulled till he got it out of his hold, when he at once threw it on the ground; as it was made of clay, of course it was broken into atoms. Timar was rather hasty in his exercise of justice, and bestowed a little tap on the child’s hand as a punishment for the damage done. The boy looked at him, then hid his head in his mother’s breast, and began to cry.
“See now,” said Noémi, sadly, “you would give him away for a pipe, and this one was only of clay.”
Michael was very sorry to have slapped Dodi’s hand. He tried to make it up by coaxing words, and kissed the little hand, but the child was shy of him, and crept under Noémi’s shawl. All night he was restless, wakeful, and crying. Timar got angry, and said the child was of a willful nature, his obstinacy must be overcome. Noémi cast a gently reproachful glance on him.
The next day Timar left his bed earlier than usual, and went to his work, but he was never heard to sing all day. He left off early in the afternoon, and when he came home he could see by Noémi’s face that she was quite alarmed at his appearance. His complexion was quite altered. “I am not well,” he said to Noémi, “my head is so heavy, my feet will hardly carry me, and I have pain in all my limbs. I must lie down.”
Noémi hastened to make up a bed for him in the inner room, and helped him to undress. With anxiety she noticed that Michael’s hands were cold and his breath burning. Frau Therese felt his forehead, and advised him to cover himself well, for he was going to have ague. But Michael had the sensation that something worse was at hand. In this district typhus was raging, for the spring floods had swelled the Danube in an unusual degree, and left malaria behind them. When he laid his head on the pillow he was still sensible enough to think of what would happen if a serious illness attacked him; no doctor was near to help. He might die here, and no one would know what had become of him. What would become of Timéa, and above all, of Noémi? Who would care for the forsaken one, a widow without being a wife? Who would bring up Dodi, and what fate awaited him when he should be grown up, and Michael underground? Two women’s lives would be wrecked by his death!
And then he began to think of the revelations of his delirium before the two women who would be with him day and night — of his stewards, his palaces, and of his pale wife — of how he would see Timéa before him, call her by name, and speak of her as his wife — and Noémi knows that name.
Besides his bodily pain, another thing tormented him — that he had struck Dodi yesterday. This trifle lay heavy as a crime on his soul. After he was in bed he wanted the child brought to him that he might kiss it, and whispered “Noémi,” with hot breath.
“What is it?” she answered.
But already he know not what he had asked. Directly he was in bed the fever broke out with full force. He was a strong man, and such are the first to succumb to this “aid-decamp” of death, and suffer the most from it. Thenceforward he wandered continually; and Noémi heard every word he spoke. The sick man knew no one, not even himself. He who spoke through his lips was a stranger — a man who had no secrets, and told all he knew. The visions are akin to the delusions of madness; they turn on one fixed idea, and however the detail may change, the central figure returns ever and again to the surface.
In Timar’s wandering there was one of these dominating figures — a woman. Not Timéa, but Noémi — of her he continually spoke. Timéa’s name never passed his lips — she did not fill his soul.
For Noémi it was horror and rapture combined to listen to this unconscious babble — horror, because it spoke of such strange things, and took her with him to such unknown regions, that she trembled at a fever which compelled him to look on at such marvels — and yet it was bliss to hear him, for he always talked of her, and her only.
Once he was in a princely palace and talking with some great man. “To whom should his excellency give this decoration? I know a girl on the ownerless island — no one is more worthy of it than she. Give her the order. She is called Noémi; her other name? Do queens have another name? The first. Noémi the first, by the grace of God queen of the ownerless island and the rose-forest.”
He carried his idea further. “If I become king of the ownerless island, I shall form a ministry. Almira will be inspector of meat, and Narcissa will be appointed to the dairy department. I shall demand security from them, and name them as confidential advisers.” Then he talked of his palaces. “How do you like these saloons, Noémi? Does the gilding of this ceiling please you? Those children dancing on the golden background are like Dodi — are they not like him? A pity they are so high up. Are you cold in these great halls? So am I— come, let us go away. It is better by the fire in our little hut. I do not love these high palaces; and this town is often visited by earthquakes — I fear the vault may fall in on us. There! behind that little door some one is spying on us — an envious woman. Do not look, Noémi! Her malicious glance might do you harm. This house once belonged to her, and now she wanders through it like a ghost. See, she has a dagger in her hand, and wants to murder you; let us run away!”
But there was a hinderance in the way of escape — the frightful mass of gold. “I can not stand up, the gold drags me down. It is all on my breast; take it away! Oh, I am drowning in gold! The roof has fallen in, and gold is rolling down on me. I am suffocating. Noémi, give me your hand; pull me from under this horrible mountain of gold.”
His hand lay in Noémi’s all the time, and she thought, trembling, what a fearful power it was which tortured a poor sailor with such dreams of money. Then he began again: “You don’t care for diamonds, Noémi? You little fool! Do you think their fire burns? Don’t be afraid. Ha! you are right, it does burn — I did not know that — it is hell-fire. Even the names are alike — Diamond, Demon. We will throw them into the water — throw them from you. I know where they came from, and I will throw them back into the water. Don’t be afraid, I will not remain long under water. Hold your breath and pray. As long as you can stay without taking breath I shall be down below; I am only going to dive into the cabin of the sunken ship. Ah! who is lying on this bed?”
Such a shudder seized him that he sprung from his couch and would have rushed away. Noémi was hardly able to get him back to bed. “Some one is lying there, but I must not say the name. See how the red moon shines in at the window. Shut the light out. I will not have it on my face. How near it is coming! Draw the curtain across!”
But the curtains were drawn, and besides, it was pitch-dark outside. When the fever-fit passed, he murmured, “Oh, how lovely you are without diamonds, Noémi!”
Then a fantasy seized him. “That man stands at our antipodes on the other side of the earth. If the earth were of glass he could look down upon us. But he can see me just as well as I see him. What is he doing? He is catching rattlesnakes, and when he comes back he will let them loose on the island. Don’t let him land; don’t let him come back! Almira! Almira! At him! tear him! Aha! now a giant snake has got him; it is strangling him. How frightful his face is! If only I need not see the snake swallow him! Will he look at me? Now there is only his head out, and he keeps looking at me. Oh, Noémi, cover my face that I may not see him!”
Again the dream-scene changes. “A whole fleet floats on the sea. What are the ships laden with? With flour. Now comes a whirlwind, a tornado seizes the ships, carries them into the clouds and tears them into splinters. The flour is all spilled: the whole world is white with it, white is the sea, white the heavens, and white the air. The moon peeps from the clouds, and only look how the wind covers its face with flour! It looks like some red-nosed old toper who has powdered his face. Laugh then, Noémi!” But she wrung her hands and shuddered. The poor creature was by his bed day and night. By day she sat on a chair at his side; by night she pulled her bed close to his and slept beside him: careless of the infection, she laid her head on Michael’s pillow, pressed his perspiring brow to her cheek, and kissed away the burning fever-breaths from his parched lips.
Frau Therese tried by harmless remedies to reduce the fever, and took out the glass casements that the fresh air — the best medicine in fever cases — might freely penetrate the little room. She said to Noémi, that by her calculation the crisis would set in on the thirteenth day, when the illness would either take a turn for the better or terminate fatally.
How long Noémi knelt during these days by the sick man’s bed and prayed to God, who had tried her so heavily, to have mercy on her poor heart! If only He would give Michael back to life — and then if the grave must have a sacrifice, there was she ready to die in his stead.
Providence delights in what one might call the irony of fate — Noémi offered to cruel death the whole world and her own self, in exchange for Michael’s life. She fancied she had to do with a good fellow who might be bargained with. The destroying angel accepted her challenge.
On the thirteenth day the fever and delirium ceased: the previous nervous excitement gave place to intense exhaustion, which is a symptom of improvement, and permits a hope that with the greatest care the patient may be given back to life, if his mind is kept calm and he is preserved from anxiety or emotion: sick people are so easily excited at this stage of convalescence. His recovery hung on perfect tranquillity; any violent excitement would kill him. Noémi stayed all night by Timar’s sick-bed: she never even went out once to see little Dodi; he slept in the outer room with Frau Therese. On the morning of the fourteenth day, while Michael lay sound asleep, Therese whispered in Noémi’s car, “Little Dodi is very ill.” The child now! Poor Noémi! Her little Dodi had the croup, the most dangerous of all childish maladies, against which all the skill of the physician is often powerless.
Mortally terrified, Noémi rushed to her child. The face of the innocent creature was quite changed. It was not crying — this disease has no characteristic cry, but so much the more dreadful is the suffering. How terrible, a child who can not complain, whom men can not help! Noémi looked blankly at her mother as if to ask, “And have you no cure for this?” Therese could hardly bear this look. “So many miserable sick and dying people have been helped by you, and for this one you know of no remedy!”
“None!” Noémi knelt down beside the child’s little bed, pressed her lips on his, and murmured softly, “What is it, my darling, my little one, my angel? Look at me with thy pretty eyes.”
But the little one would not lift up the pretty eyes, and when at last, after many kisses and entreaties, it opened the heavy lids, its expression was terrible — the look of a child which has already learned to fear death. “Oh, don’t look so! not so!” The child never cried, but only gave utterance to a hoarse cough.
If only the other invalid in there does not hear it! Noémi held her child trembling in her arms, and listened to hear if the sleeper close by was yet awake. When she heard his voice she left the child and went to Michael. He was suffering from great exhaustion, irritable and peevish.
“Where had you gone?” he questioned Noémi. “The window is open; a rat might get in while I was asleep. Don’t you see a rat about?” It is a constant delusion of typhus patients to see rats everywhere.
“They can’t get in, my darling; there is a grating over the window.”
“Ah! and where is the cold water?” Noémi gave him some to drink. But he was very angry with it. “That is not fresh cold water, it is quite warm. Do you want me to die of thirst?”
Noémi bore his crossness patiently. And when Michael fell asleep again, she ran out to Dodi. The two women replaced each other, so that as long as Michael slept, Therese sat by him, and when he awoke she gave Noémi a sign to leave her sick child and take her place by Michael’s bed. And this went on through the long night. Noémi passed constantly from one sick-bed to the other, and she had to keep excuses always ready for her husband if he should ask where she had been.
The child grew worse. Therese could do nothing, and Noémi dared not weep for fear of Michael seeing her tearful eyes and asking the reason. The next morning Timar felt easier, and wished for some soup. Noémi hastened out to fetch it, as it was kept ready. The invalid swallowed it, and said he felt the better for it. Noémi seemed delighted at the good news.
“Well, and what is Dodi doing?” asked Michael.
Noémi trembled lest he should see the throbs of her heart at the question.
“He is asleep,” she replied, gently.
“Asleep? But why asleep now? He is not ill?”
“Oh, no; he is all right.”
“And why do you not bring him to me when he is awake?”
“Because then you are asleep.”
“That is true; but when we are both awake together, you must bring him in and let me see him.”
“I will do so, Michael.”
The child sunk gradually. Noémi had to conceal from Timar that Dodi was ill, and constantly to invent stories about him, for his father constantly asked for him. “Does Dodi play with his little man?”
“Oh, yes, he is always playing with him” ( . . . with that fearful skeleton!).
“Does he talk of me?”
“He loves to talk of you” ( . . . he will do so soon when he is with the good God).
“Take him this kiss from me;” and Noémi bore to her child the parting kiss of his father.
Another day dawned. The awakening invalid found himself alone in the room. Noémi had watched all night by her child: she had looked on his death-struggle, and pressed her tears back into her heart; why had it not burst? When she went in to Michael she smiled again.
“Were you with Dodi?” asked the sick man.
“Yes, I have been with him.”
“Is he asleep now?”
“Yes, he is asleep.”
“Truly, he sleeps well.”
Noémi has just closed his eyes — for his last sleep. And she dared not betray her agony. She must show a smiling face. In the afternoon Michael was much excited again: as the day drew on, his nervous irritation increased. He called to Noémi, who was in the next room; she hastened in and looked lovingly at him. The invalid was peevish and suspicious. He noticed that a needle was sticking in Noémi’s dress, with a thread of silk in it.
“Ah, you are beginning to work again! Have you time for that? What finery are you making?”
Noémi looked at him silently, and thought, “I am making Dodi’s shroud;” and then aloud, “I am making myself a collar.”
“Vanity, thy name is woman!” sighed Michael.
Noémi found a smile for him, and answered, “You are quite right.”
Again the morning broke. Michael now suffered from sleeplessness; he could not close his eyes. And the thought troubled him as to what Dodi was doing. He sent Noémi out often to see if he wanted anything. And whenever she did so she kissed the little dead child on the bier, and spoke caressing words for Michael to hear: “My little Dodi! my darling sweet, asleep again! Tell mother you love her;” and then she came back to say that Dodi wanted for nothing.
“The boy sleeps too much,” said Michael; “why don’t you wake him?”
“I must wake him soon,” said Noémi, gently.
Michael dozed a little, only a few minutes, and woke with a start. He did not know he had been asleep. “Noémi,” he cried, “Dodi was singing; I heard him: how sweetly he sings!”
Noémi pressed both her hands to her heart, and drove back the outward expression of her agony with superhuman courage. Yes, he is already singing in heaven, amidst the angelic choir — among the innumerable seraphim! that was the song he joined in.
Toward evening Michael sent Noémi out. “Go and put Dodi to bed, and give him a kiss for me.”
She did so. “What did Dodi say?” he asked her. Noémi could not speak; she bent over Michael and pressed a kiss on his lips.
“That was his message, the treasure!” cried Michael, and the kiss sent him to sleep. The child sent it to him from his own slumber.
The next morning he asked again about the boy. “Take Dodi out into the air; it is bad for him to be in the house; carry him into the garden.”
They were about to do so. Therese had dug a grave during the night at the foot of a weeping-willow.
“You go too; and stay out there with him. I shall doze, I think, I feel so much better,” Michael told Noémi.
Noémi left the sick-room and turned the key: then they carried God’s recovered angel out, and committed him to the care of the universal mother — earth. Noémi would not have a mound raised over him; Michael would be so sad when he saw it, and it would retard his recovery. They made a flower-bed there, and planted in its midst a rose-tree — one of those Timar had grafted — with white flowers, whose purity was unstained. Then she went back to the sick man.
His first words were, “Where have you left Dodi?”
“Out in the garden.”
“What has he on?”
“His white frock and blue ribbons.”
“That suits him so well. Is he well wrapped up?”
“Oh, yes, very well” (with three feet of earth).
“Bring him in when you go out again.”
At this Noémi could not stop in the room; she went out and threw herself on Therese’s breast, but even then she could not shed a tear. She must not. Then she tottered on into the garden, went to the willow, broke off a bud from the rose-tree, and went back to Michael.
“Well, where’s Dodi?” he said, impatiently.
But Noémi knelt down by his bed and held out to him — the white rose. Michael took it and smelled it. “How curious!” he said; “this flower has no scent — as if it had grown on a grave.”
She rose and went out. “What is the matter?” asked Timar, turning to Therese.
“Don’t be angry,” said she in a gentle, soothing tone. “You were so dangerously ill. Thank Heaven, you are getting over it. But this illness is infectious, and particularly during convalescence. I told Noémi that until you were quite well she must not bring the child near you. Perhaps I was wrong, but I meant it for the best.”
Michael pressed her hand. “You did quite right. Stupid that I was, not to have thought of it myself. Perhaps he is not even in the next room?”
“No. We have made him a little house out in the garden.” Poor thing, she told the truth.
“You are very good, Therese. Go to Dodi and send Noémi to me. I will not ask her again to bring him to me. Poor Noémi! But as soon as I can get up and go out, you will let me go to him, won’t you?”
“Yes, Michael.” By this pious fraud it was possible to satisfy him till he was out of bed and on the road to recovery. He was still very weak, and could hardly walk. Noémi helped him to dress. Leaning on her shoulder, he left his room, and she led him to the little seat before the house, sat beside him, put her arm in his, and supported his head on her shoulder. It was a lovely warm summer afternoon. Michael felt as if the murmuring trees were whispering in his ears, as if the humming bees brought him a message, and the grass made music at his feet. His head swam.
One thought grew on him. When he looked at Noémi, a painful suspicion awoke in his breast. There was something in her expression which he could not understand; he must know it. “Noémi.”
“What is it, my Michael?”
“Darling Noémi, look at me.” She raised her eyes to his. “Where is little Dodi?”
The poor creature could no longer hide her grief. She raised her martyr face to heaven, stretched up both hands, and faltered, “There! . . . there!”
“He is dead!” Michael could hardly utter the words. Noémi sunk on his breast. Her tears were no longer to be controlled; she sobbed violently.
He put his arm round her and let her weep on. It would have been sacrilege not to let these tears have free course.
He had no tears — no. He was all wonder; he was amazed at the greatness of soul which raised the poor despised creature so far above himself. That she should have been able to conceal her sorrow so long out of tender consideration for him whom she loved! How great that love must be! When the paroxysm was over she looked smiling at Timar, like the sun through the rainbow.
“And you could keep this from me?”
“I feared for your life.”
“You dared not weep lest I should see traces of tears.”
“I waited for the time when I might weep.”
“When you were not with me, you nursed the sick child, and I was angry with you.”
“You were never unkind, Michael.”
“When you took my kiss to him you knew it was a farewell; when I reproached you with your vanity you were sewing his shroud; when you showed me a cheerful face your heart was pierced with the seven wounds of the Blessed Virgin! Oh, Noémi, I worship you!”
But the poor thing only asked him to love her. Michael drew her on to his knee. The leaves, the grass, the bees, whispered now so clearly that he began to understand the swimming in his head.
After a long and gloomy silence he spoke again. “Where have you laid him? Take me to him, Noémi.”
“Not today,” said Noémi. “It is too far for you — tomorrow.”
But neither tomorrow nor the next day would she take him there.
“You would sit by the grave and make yourself ill again: that is why I have made no mound over him, nor raised a cross, that you may not go there and grieve.”
Timar, however, was sad at this. When he was strong enough to walk alone, he went about seeking for what they would not show him.
One day he came back to the house with a cheerful face. In his hand he held a half-blown rosebud, one of those white ones which have no scent. “Is it this?” he asked Noémi.
She nodded: it could no longer be concealed. The white rose had put him on the track, and he noticed that it had been newly transplanted. And then he was tranquil, like one who has done with all that had given an object to life. He sat all day on the little bench near the house, drew on the gravel with his stick, and muttered to himself, “You would not exchange him for the whole earth full of diamonds, nor the whole heaven full of angels; . . . but for a miserable pipe you could strike his hand.”
The beautiful walnut-wood house stood half finished, and the great convolvulus had crept over its four walls. Michael never set foot in it.
The only thing that kept up his half-recovered strength and his broken spirit was Noémi’s love.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10