One bud after another opened on the rose-tree. Timar did nothing but watch the development and blossoming of these rosebuds. When one of them opened he broke it off, put it in his pocket-book, and dried it there on his breast. This was a melancholy task. All the tenderness lavished on him by Noémi could not cure his sadness. The woman’s sweet caresses were burdensome to him. And yet Noémi could have comforted him at the cost of a single word; but modest reserve kept back that word, and it never occurred to Michael to question her.
It is characteristic of those whose mind is diseased to occupy themselves only with the past.
At last Noémi said to Timar, “Michael, it would be good for you to go away from here — out into the world. Everything here arouses mournful memories in you; you must go away to get well. I have done your packing, and the fruit-dealers will fetch you away tomorrow.”
Michael did not answer, but expressed his assent by a nod. The dangerous illness he had passed through had affected his nerves; and the situation he had brought upon himself, the blow which had struck him, had worked on those nerves so painfully, that he was forced to acknowledge that a longer stay would lead to madness or suicide.
Suicide? There is no easier road out of a difficult position: failure, despair, mental conflict, blasted hopes, heart-pangs, fantastic bugbears, the memory of losses, phantoms of the beloved dead — all these are parts of a bad dream. One touch on the trigger of the pistol, and one awakes. Those who remain behind can go on with the dream.
On the last evening, Michael, Noémi, and Therese sat all three after supper on the little bench outside, and Michael remembered that they had once been four together there.
“What can that moon really be?” asked Noémi.
Michael’s hand, which Noémi held in hers, was clinched with sudden violence.
“My evil star,” he thought to himself. “Oh, if I had never seen it, that red crescent!”
Therese answered her daughter’s question: “It is a burned-out and chilled world, on which neither trees, flowers, nor animals, no air or water, no sounds or colors exist. When I was a girl at school, we used often to look through a telescope at the moon; it is full of mountains, and we were told they were the craters of extinct volcanoes. No telescope is powerful enough to show people on it, but learned men know with certainty that neither air nor water exists there. Without air and water nothing can live that has a human body, so no mortal can possibly be there.”
“But what if something did really live in it?”
“What could do so?”
“I will tell you what I think. Often in the old times, when I was still alone, I could not rid myself of one engrossing thought — especially when I sat by myself on the beach, and looked into the water. I felt as if something were drawing me into it, and calling to me that it was good to be down below there, and that there all was peace. Then I said to myself — Good! the body would rest at the bottom of the Danube; but where would the soul go? — it must find a dwelling somewhere. Then the thought arose that the soul which wrenched itself so forcibly and by its own will from its mortal shell could only soar to the moon. I believe that now even more firmly. If neither trees nor flowers, neither water nor air, neither colors nor sounds, can there exist — well, it is all the better fitted for those who did not wish to be encumbered with a body: there they will find a world where there is nothing to trouble them, nor anything to give them pleasure.”
Therese and Michael both rose with a start from beside Noémi, who could not understand what had moved them. She did not know that her own father was a suicide, and that he whose hand she held was ready to become one. Michael said the night was cool, they had better go in. One more haunting thought was now linked with the sight of the moon. The first he inherited from Timéa, the other from Noémi. What a fearful penalty — that the man should continually see before him in the heavens that shining witness, eternally recalling him to his first sin, the first fateful error of his ruined life!
The next day Michael left the island: he passed by the unfinished walnut-wood house without even glancing at it.
“You will return with the spring flowers,” whispered Noémi tenderly in his ear. The poor thing thought it quite natural that for half of the year Michael should not belong to her. “But to whom does he then belong?” That question never occurred to her.
When Michael arrived at Komorn, the long journey had still more exhausted him. Timéa was frightened when she saw him, and could hardly recognize him; even Athalie was alarmed, and with good reason.
“You have been ill?” said Timéa, leaning on her husband’s breast.
“Very ill, for many weeks.”
“On your journey?”
“Yes,” answered Timar, to whom this seemed like a cross-examination. He must be on his guard at every question.
“Good God! and had you anyone to nurse you there among those strangers?”
The words had almost escaped him, “Oh, yes, an angel!” but he caught himself up and answered, “You can get anything for money.” Timéa did not know how to show her sympathy, and so Michael could detect no change in the always apathetic face. She was always the same, and the frigid kiss of welcome drew them no closer together.
Athalie whispered in his ear, “For God’s sake, sir, take care of your life!”
Timar felt the poisoned sting hidden beneath this tender consideration. He must live that Timéa might suffer; for if she became a widow, nothing would stand in the way of her happiness. And that would be a hell to Athalie.
It seemed to Timar as if the demon who hated both him and his wife was now praying for the prolongation of his detested life, so that their mutual suffering might last the longer. Every one remarked the great change which had taken place in him. In the spring he was a strong man in the prime of life; now he was like a feeble, voiceless shadow.
He withdrew to his office as soon as he arrived, and spent the whole day there. His secretary found the ledger lying on the desk just as he had opened it; he had not even looked at it. His agents were informed of his return, and hastened to present yards of reports. He said to them all, “Very good,” and signed what they required, sometimes in the wrong place, sometimes twice over. At last he shut himself up from every one in his room, under pretense of requiring sleep. But his servants heard him walking up and down for hours together.
When he went to the ladies to dine in their company, he looked so gloomy and stern that no one had the courage to address him. He hardly touched food, and never tasted wine. But an hour after dinner he rang for the servant, and asked angrily whether they were ever going to get the meal ready — he had forgotten that it was over. In the evening he could not sit up, so tired was he; when he sat down he dozed off at once; as soon, however, as he was undressed and in bed, slumber fled suddenly from his eyes. “Oh, how cold this bed is — everything in the house is cold!” Every piece of furniture, the pictures on the walls, even the old frescoes on the ceiling, seemed to cry to him, “What have you come here for? This is not your home! You are a stranger here!” How cold is this bed!
The man who came to call him to supper found him already in bed. On hearing this, Timéa came to him and asked whether he would have something.
“Nothing — no, nothing at all,” answered Timar. “I am only overtired by the journey.”
“Shall I send for the doctor?”
“Pray don’t. I am not ill.”
Timéa wished him good-night, and went away after again feeling his forehead with her hand. But Timar was not in a condition to sleep. He heard every noise in the house; he heard them whispering and creeping on tiptoe past his door, so as not to disturb him. He was thinking where a man could best flee from himself. Into the realm of dreams? That would be good, indeed, if only one could find the way there as easily as into the kingdom of death. But one can not force one’s self to dream. Opium? That is one way — the suicide of sleep. Gradually he noticed that it was growing darker in the room: the shades of night veiled closely every object, the light grew dim. At last he was surrounded by a darkness like that of a thick, motionless mist, like subterranean gloom, or the night of the blind: such an obscurity one “sees” even in sleep. Michael knew he was asleep, and the blindness lying over his eyes was that of slumber. Yes, he now had full consciousness of his position. He was lying in his own bed in his Komorn house — a table beside him with an antique bronze lamp-stand, and a painted lamp-shade with Chinese figures on it; over his head hung a large clock with a chime; the silken curtains were let down. The curious old bed had a sort of drawer below it, which could be drawn out and used as a second bed. It was beautifully made — one of those beds only found in fine old houses, in which a whole family might find room to sleep. Timar knew that he had not bolted his door; any one could come in who chose. How if some one came to murder him? And what difference would there be between sleep and death? This puzzled him in his dreams.
Once he dreamed that the door opened softly and some one entered: a woman’s steps. The curtain rustled, and something leaned over him: a woman’s face. “Is it you, Noémi?” Michael thought in his dream, and started. “How came you here? If some one saw you?” It was dark, he could see nothing; but he heard the person sit down by his bed and listen to his breathing. Thus had Noémi done many a night in the little hut. “Oh, Noémi, will you watch again all through the night? When will you sleep?”
The female figure, as if in answer, knelt down and drew out the shelf below the bed. Michael felt a mixture of fear and rapture in his breast. “You will lie down beside me; oh, how I love you, but I tremble for you!” and then the figure prepared a bed on the shelf and lay down. The dreamer in the bed longed to bend over her, to embrace and kiss her, and would have called again to her, “Go, hasten away from here, you will be seen;” but he could move neither limbs nor tongue, they were heavy as lead; and then the woman slept too. Michael sunk deeper into dreamland. His fancy flew through past and future, soared into the region of the impossible, and returned to the sleeping woman. He dreamed that he was awake, and yet the phantom was beside him.
At last it began to dawn, and the sun shone through the window with more wonderful radiance than ever before. “Awake, awake!” whispered Michael in his dream. “Go home — the daylight must not find you here. Leave me now!” He struggled with the dream. “But you are not really here — it is only a delusion!”
He forced himself to sever the bonds in which sleep held him, and awoke completely. It was really morning, the sunlight streamed through the curtains, and on the shelf below the bed lay a sleeping woman with her head on her arm.
“Noémi!” cried Michael. The slumbering form awoke at the call and looked up. It was Timéa —
“Do you want anything?” asked the woman, rising hastily from her couch. She had heard the tone but not the name. Her husband was still under the influence of his dream. “Timéa!” he stammered sleepily, astonished at the metamorphosis of Noémi into Timéa.
“Here I am,” said she, laying her hand on the bed.
“How is it possible?” cried he, drawing up the quilt to his chin as if afraid of the face leaning over him.
“I was anxious about you, I was afraid you might have some attack in the night, and I wanted to be near you.” In the tone of her voice, in her look, lay such sincere and natural tenderness as could not be assumed: a woman’s instinct is fidelity.
Michael collected himself. His first feeling was alarm, his second self-reproach. This poor woman lying by his bed was the widow of a living man. She had never known a joy in common with her husband; now when he was in pain, she came to share it with him; and then followed the eternal falsehood — he must not accept this tenderness, he must repulse it.
Michael said with forced composure, “Timéa, I beg you not to do this again; do not come into my room. I have been suffering from an infectious illness; I caught the plague on my journey, and I tremble for your life if you approach me. Keep far from me, I adjure you; I wish to be alone, both by day and night. There is nothing the matter with me now, but I feel that I must, for prudence’ sake, avoid all those belonging to me; so I beg you earnestly not to do this again, never again.” Timéa sighed deeply, cast down her eyes, and left the room. She had not even undressed, but had only lain down in her clothes at her husband’s feet.
When she was gone, Michael got up and dressed; his mind was much disturbed. The longer he continued this dual life, the more he felt the conflict of the double duties he had taken on himself. He was responsible for the fate of two noble, self-sacrificing souls. He had made both miserable, and himself more unhappy than either.
What outlet could he find? If only one or other were an every-day creature, so that he could hate and despise her or buy her off! But both were equally nobly gifted: the fate of both was so heavy a charge against the author of it, that no excuse existed. How could he tell Timéa who Noémi was, or Noémi about Timéa? Suppose he were to divide all his wealth between the two, or if he gave his money to one and his heart to the other? But either was alike impossible, for neither was faithless or gave him a right to reject them.
Living at home made Michael yet more ill.
He never left his room all day, spoke to no one, and sat till evening in one place, without doing anything. At last Timéa resorted to a physician. The result of the consultation was that Michael was ordered to the seaside, that the water might restore to him what the land had taken from him. To this advice he replied, “I will not go where there is company.” Then they suggested that he should choose some place where the season was over and the visitors gone; there he would find solitude. The cold baths were the important point. He now remembered that in one of the valleys near the Platten See he had a summer villa, which he had bought years ago when he hired the fishing of the Balaton lake, and he had only been there two or three times since. There, said he, would he spend the end of the autumn.
The doctors approved his choice. The districts of Zala and Vessprimer on the banks of the lake are like the Vale of Tempe. Fourteen miles of unbroken garden-land form a charming chain of landscapes, with country-seats strewn here and there. The splendid lake is a sea in miniature, full of loveliness and romance; here is soft Italian air, the people are kind and cordial, the mineral springs curative; nothing could be better for a depressed invalid than to spend the autumn here. So the doctors sent Michael to the Platten See. But they had forgotten that toward the end of the summer hail-storms had laid waste the whole district; and nothing is more depressing than a place ruined by hail. The vineyards, which usually resound during the vintage with joyous cries, now stand deserted: the leaves of the fruit-trees are coppery-green or rusty brown; they take their leave until the coming spring: all is silent and sad; even the roads are overgrown with moss, for no one uses them. In the cornfields, instead of the sheaves of grain, ineradicable weeds abound, and instead of the golden heads, thistles, burdock, and nightshade are rampant, for no one comes to cut them down.
At such a season Michael arrived at his villa on the Balaton. It was an ancient pile. Some noble family had built it as a summer residence, because the view had pleased them and they had money enough to afford themselves this luxury. It had but one low story within massive walls, a veranda looking over the lake, and trellises with large fig-trees. The heirs of the first owners had got rid of the lonely château for a nominal price, as it had no value except to a person bitten with the misanthropic desire to live there in solitude.
No human dwelling is to be found within two miles of it, and even beyond that distance most of the houses are uninhabited. The presses and cellars are not open on account of the failure of the vintage. At Fured all the blinds are down and the last invalid has left; even the steamers no longer ply; the pump-room at the baths stands empty, and on the promenade the fallen leaves rustle round the feet of the passer-by — no one thinks it worth while to sweep them away. Not a man nor even a stork is left in the place — only the majestic Balaton murmurs mysteriously as it tosses its waves, and no one knows why it is angry. In its midst rises a bare rock, on whose top stands a convent with two towers, in which live seven monks — a crypt full of princely bones from top to bottom.
And here Timar came to seek for health.
Michael only brought one servant with him, and after a few days sent him back under pretense that the people of the house sufficed for his service. But there was only one old man, and he quite deaf.
Round the villa no human voice was heard, not even the sound of a bell, only the haunting murmur of the great lake.
Timar sat all day on the shore, and listened to the voices of the water. Often, when there was not a breath of air stirring, the lake began to roar, then the color of its surface changed to an emerald green as far as the eye could see: over the dark mirror of the waves not one sail, not a single ship, barge, or boat was visible; it might have been the Dead Sea.
This lake possesses the double quality of strengthening the body and depressing the mind. The chest expands, the appetite increases, but the mind is inclined to a melancholy and sentimental state which carries one back to fairyland.
Timar floated for hours on the gently rocking waves; he wandered whole days on the shore, and could hardly tear himself away when night fell. He sought no distraction from shooting or fishing. Once he took out his gun, and forgot it somewhere by the trunk of a tree: another time he caught a pike, but let it get away with his fly. He could fix his attention on nothing.
He had taken a powerful retracting telescope with him, through which he gazed at the starry heavens during the long nights; at the planets with their moons and rings, on which in winter white spots are visible, while in summer a red light surrounds them; and then at that great enigma of the firmament, the moon, which when looked at through the glass appears like a shining ball of lava, with its transparent ridges, its deep craters, bright plains and dark shadows. It is a world of emptiness. Nothing is there except the souls of those who violently separated themselves from their body to get rid of its load. There they are at peace; they feel nothing, do nothing, know neither sorrow nor joy, gain nor loss; there is neither air nor water, winds nor storms, no flowers or living creatures, no war, no kisses, no heart-throbs — neither birth nor death; only “nothing,” and perhaps memory.
That would be worse than hell, to live in the moon as a disembodied soul in the realm of nothingness, and to remember the earth, where are green grass and red blood, where the air echoes with the roll of the thunder and the kisses of lovers, where life and death exist. And yet something whispered to Michael that he must take refuge among the exiles to that region of annihilation. There was no other way of escape from his miserable existence.
The nights of autumn grew longer and the days shorter, and with the waning daylight the water in the lake grew colder and colder. But Timar enjoyed bathing in it even more. His frame had regained its former elasticity, all traces of his illness had vanished, nerves and muscles were as steel; but his mental agony increased.
The nights were always clear and the skies thickly sown with stars: Timar sat by his open window and studied the shining points in boundless space through his glass, but never until the moon had set. He detested the moon, as we grow to hate a place we know too well, and with whose inhabitants we have quarreled.
During his observations of the starry heavens he had the exceptional good fortune to witness one of those celestial phenomena which are all but unique in the annals of astronomy. A comet returning after centuries of absence appeared in the sky. Timar said to himself, “This is my star; it is as lost as my soul; its coming and going are as aimless as mine, and its whole existence as empty and vain a show as is my life.” Jupiter and his four moons were moving in the same direction as the comet; their orbits must cross. When the comet approached the great planet, its tail seemed to divide; the attraction of Jupiter began to take effect. The great star was trying to rob its lord, the sun, of this vaporous body. The next night the comet’s tail was split in two. Then the largest and most distant of Jupiter’s moons drew rapidly near.
“What has become of my star?” asked Timar.
The third night the nucleus of the comet had grown dull and began to disperse, and Jupiter’s moon was close to it. The fourth night the comet had been divided into two parts; there were two heads and two tails, and both the starry phantoms began in separate parabolic curves their aimless flight through space. So “this” occurs in the heavens as well as on earth?
Timar followed this marvelous phenomenon with his telescope till it was lost in impenetrable space. This sight made the deepest impression on his mind; now he had done with the world. There are hundreds of motives for suicide, but the most urgent are to be found among those who give themselves up to scientific research.
Keep a watchful eye on those who seek to fathom the secrets of nature without a technical education. Hide away the knife and the pistol every night, and search their pockets lest they carry poison about them.
Yes, Timar was determined to kill himself. This idea does not come to strong characters all at once, but it ripens in them by degrees. They grow used to it as the years go by, and carefully provide for its execution. The thought had now ripened in Timar, and he went systematically to work.
When the severe weather set in, he left the Platten See and returned to Komorn. He made his will. His whole property he left to Timéa and the poor, and with such careful foresight that he provided a separate fund out of which Timéa, in case she married again, or her heirs if they stood in need of it, would receive a pension of a hundred thousand gulden.
The following was his plan. As soon as the season permitted he would go away, ostensibly to Egypt, but really to the ownerless island. There he would die.
If he could induce Noémi to die with him, then in death they would be united. Oh, Noémi would consent! What would she do in this world without Michael? What worth would the world have for such a one as she?
Both there by Dodi’s side.
Timar spent the winter partly in Komorn, partly in Raab and Vienna; everywhere his life was a burden to him. He thought he read in every face, “This man is melancholy mad.” He noticed people whispering and making signs when he appeared — women were shy of him, and men tried to look unconscious; and he fancied that in his distraction he did and said things which gave evidence of his mental disease, and wondered people did not laugh. Perhaps they were afraid of laughing.
But they had no reason to fear. He was not lively to throw pepper in the eyes of the people near him, though odd fancies did now and then occur to him; as, for instance, when Johann Fabula came to make him an oration as curator of the church, and stood as stiff before him as if he had swallowed the spit, an impulse seized Timar, almost irresistibly, to put both hands on the curator’s shoulders and turn a somersault over his head.
Something lay in Michael’s expression which made the blood run cold.
Athalie met this glance; often, as they sat at meals, Timar’s eyes were fixed on her. She was a wonderfully beautiful woman; Michael’s eyes rested on her lovely snowy neck, so that she felt uneasy at this silent homage to her charms.
Michael was thinking —“If only I had you in my power for once, you lovely white throat, so as to crush the life out of you with my iron hand!” This was what he longed for when he admired the splendid Bacchante form of Athalie.
Only Timéa was not afraid of him — she had nothing to fear. At last it seemed impossible to Timar to wait for the tardy spring. What does he want with the springing flowers who will soon be at rest under the turf?
The day before his departure he gave a great banquet, and invited every one, including even slight acquaintances. The house was crowded with guests. Before sitting down he said to Fabula, “My brother, sit near me, and if I get drunk toward morning and lose my senses, see that I am carried into my traveling-chaise, and put me on the seat; then harness the horses and send me off.” He wished to leave his house and home while unconscious.
But when the guests toward morning had sunk one here and another there under the table, our Herr Johann Fabula was snoring comfortably in his arm-chair, and only Timar had kept his head. Mad people are like King Mithridates and the poison — wine does not affect them. So he had to get his carriage himself and start on his journey. In his head reality and dreams, imagination, memory, and hallucination were in a whirl. It seemed to him as if he had stood by the couch of a sleeping saint with a marble face, and as if he had kissed the lips of the white statue, and it had not awoke under his kiss. Perhaps it was only a vision. Then he thought he remembered that behind the door of a dark recess, as he passed, a lovely Mænad’s head looked out, framed in rich tresses. She had sparkling eyes and red lips, between which shone two rows of pearls, as she held the candle and asked the sleep-walker, “Where are you going, sir?”
And he had whispered in the witch’s ear, “I am going to make Timéa happy.”
Then the ideal face had turned to a Medusa head, and the curls to snakes. Perhaps this was hallucination too.
Timar awoke toward noon in his carriage, when the post-horses were changed. He was already far from Komorn, and his intention was unchanged. Late at night he arrived on the Danube shore, where the little boat he had ordered awaited him; he went over in the night to the island.
A thought came into his head. “How if Noémi were dead already?” Why should not this be possible? What a burden it would free him from — that of persuading her to the dreadful step. He who has one fixed idea expects of fate that everything should happen as he has planned.
Near the white rose-bush no doubt a second already stands, which will bloom red in spring — on Noémi’s grave. Soon there will be a third with yellow blossoms, the flower of the man of gold.
Occupied with these thoughts, he landed on the island shore. It was still night and the moon shone. The unfinished house stood like a tomb on the grass-grown field; the windows and door-ways were hung with matting to keep out snow and rain. Michael hastened to the old dwelling. Almira met him and licked his hand; she did not bark, but took a corner of his cloak in her teeth and drew him to the window. The moon shone through the lattice, and Michael looked into the little room, which was quite light.
He could clearly perceive that only one bed was in the room, the other was gone. On this bed slept Therese; it was as he had thought — Noémi was already at rest under the rose-bush. It is well.
He knocked at the window. “It is I, Therese.” At this the woman came out on the veranda. “Are you sleeping alone, Therese?” said Timar.
“Has Noémi gone up to Dodi?”
“Not so. Dodi has come down to Noémi.”
Timar looked inquiringly in her face. Then the woman grasped his hand, and led him with a smile to the back of the house, where the window of the other little room looked out. This room was light, for a night-lamp was burning there. Timar looked in and saw Noémi on the white bed, with her arm round a golden-haired cherub which lay on her breast. “What is this?” Timar faltered out.
Therese smiled gently. “Do you not see? Little Dodi longed to come back to us; it was better here, he thought, than up in heaven. He said to the dear Lord, ‘Thou hast angels enough; let me return to those who had only me’— and the Lord allowed it.”
“How can it be?”
“H’m! h’m! The old story. A poor woman again who died, and we have adopted the poor orphan. You are not angry?” Timar trembled in every limb as if with ague. “Pray do not wake the sleepers before morning,” said Therese, “It is bad for babies to be waked: children’s lives are so precarious. You will be patient, won’t you?”
It never occurred to Timar to protest. He threw off his cap and cloak, drew off his coat, and turned up his shirt-sleeves. Therese thought he was mad. And why not? He ran out to the walnut-house, tore the mattings down, drew out his carpenter’s bench, placed the unfinished door-panel on it, took his chisel and began to work.
It was just growing light. Noémi dreamed that some one was at work in the new house; the plane grated over the hard wood, and the busy workman sung —
“For all the gold the world could hold,
I would not give my Dodi’s curl.”
And when she opened her eyes she still heard the plane and the song.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52