Timar had succeeded in robbing every one.
From Timéa he stole first her father’s million, then the manly ideal of her heart, and kept for himself her wifely troth. From Noémi he stole her loving heart, her womanly tenderness, her whole being. Therese he robbed of her trust, the last belief of her misanthropic mind in the possible goodness of a man; then he took the island, in order to restore it to her, and so to obtain her gratitude. Theodor Krisstyan he defrauded of half a world — for he exiled him to another hemisphere. From Athalie he took father, mother, home, and bridegroom, her whole present and future happiness. He robbed his friend Katschuka of the hope of a blissful life. The respect shown to him by the world, the tears of the poor, the thanks of the orphan, the decorations bestowed by his king, were they not all thefts? By deceit he obtained from the smugglers, the fidelity with which they guarded his secret — a thief who steals from other thieves! He even robbed the good God of a little angel. His soul was not his; he had pledged it to the moon, and had not kept his promise: he had not paid what he owed. The poison was ready which was to transport him to that distant star of night — the devils were already rejoicing and stretching out their claws to receive the poor soul. He took them in too; he did not kill himself, but defrauded even death. He laid hands on a paradise in the midst of the world, and took the forbidden fruit from the tree while the watching archangel turned his back, and in that hidden Eden he defied all human law: the clergy, the king, the judge, the general, the tax-collector, the police — all were deceived and defrauded by him.
And everything succeeded with him. How long would he go unpunished?
He could deceive every one but himself. He was always sad, even when he outwardly smiled. He knew what he ought to be called, and would gladly have shown himself in his true character.
But that was impossible. The boundless, universal respect — the rapturous love — if only one of these were really due to his true self! Honor, humanity, self-sacrifice were the original principles of his character, the atmosphere of his being. Unheard-of temptations had drawn him in the opposite direction; and now he was a man whom every one loved, honored, and respected, and who was only hated and despised by himself. Fate had blessed him since his last illness with such iron strength that now nothing hurt him, and instead of aging he seemed to renew his youth.
He was busy all through the summer with manual labor. The little house he had erected the year before he now had to finish, and to add the carver’s and turner’s work to it. He borrowed from the Muses their creative genius: a great artist was lost in Timar. Every pillar in the little house was of a different design: one was formed of two intwining snakes, whose heads made the capital; another, of a palm-tree with creepers climbing up it; the third showed a vine with squirrels and woodpeckers half hidden in its branches; and the fourth a clump of bulrushes rising from their leaves. The internal panels of the walls were a fanciful mosaic of carving; every table and chair was a work of art, and exquisitely inlaid with light-colored woods to make a pleasant contrast with the dark walnut. Each door and window betrayed some original invention; some disappeared in the wall, some slid up into the roof, and all were opened and shut by curious wooden bolts — for as Timar had declared that no nail should be put into the whole house which was not made by himself, not a morsel of iron was used in it.
What delight when the house was ready and he conducted his dear ones into it, and could say, “See, all this is my handiwork! A king could not give his queen such a present.”
But it had taken years to complete it, and four winters had Timar spent in Komorn and four summers in the island, before Dodi the second had his house ready for him.
Then Michael had another task before him; he must teach Dodi to read. Dodi was a lively, healthy, good-tempered boy, and Timar said he would teach him everything himself — reading, writing, swimming, also gardening and mason’s and carpenter’s work. He who knows these trades can always earn his bread. Timar fancied things would always go on thus, and he could live this life to the end of his days. But suddenly fate cried “Halt!”
Or rather not fate, but Therese. Eight years had passed since Timar had found his way to the little island. Then Noémi and Timéa were both children: now Noémi was twenty-two, Timéa twenty-one, Athalie would soon be twenty-five; but Therese was over forty-five, Timar himself nearly forty, and little Dodi was in his fifth year.
One of them must prepare to go hence, for her time was come, and her cup of suffering was full enough for a long life: that one was Therese.
One summer afternoon when her daughter was out with the child, she said to Timar, “Michael, I have something to tell you — this autumn will be my last. I know that death is near. For twenty years I have suffered from the disease which will kill me; it is heart complaint. Do not look on this as a figure of speech; it is a fatal disease, but I have always concealed it, and never complained. I have kept it under by patience, and you have helped me by the love you showed and the joys you prepared for me. If you had not done so, I should long have lain beneath the sod. But I can bear it no longer. For a year past sleep has fled from my eyes, and I hear my heart beat all day. It throbs quickly three or four times, as if frightened, then comes a sort of half-beat; then it stops entirely for a few moments, till it begins pulsating again rapidly after one or two slow throbs, followed by short beats and long pauses. This must soon come to an end. I often turn faint, and only keep up by an effort of will; this will not last through the summer — and I am content it should be so. Noémi has now another object for her affection. I will not trouble you, Michael, with questions, nor require of you any promise; spoken words are vain and empty — only what we feel is true. You feel what you are to Noémi, and she to you. What is there to disquiet me? I can die without even troubling the merciful God with my feeble prayers. He has given me all I could have asked of Him. Is it not so, Michael?”
Michael’s head sunk. This had often of late destroyed his sleep. It had not escaped him that Therese’s health was failing rapidly, and he had thought with trembling that she might be suddenly overtaken by death. What would then become of Noémi? How could he leave the delicate creature here alone the whole winter with her little child? Who would help and protect her? He had often put the question aside, but now it confronted him, and must be considered.
Therese was right. The same afternoon a friendly fruit-woman came to the island, and while Therese was counting out her baskets of peaches, she suddenly fell down in a swoon. She recovered quickly, and three days later the woman came again, Therese was determined to serve her, and fainted once more. The fruit-dealer sighed heavily; the next time she came Noémi and Michael would not let her go in to Therese, but served her themselves. The woman remarked that the good lady would do well to see the priest, as she seemed so seriously ill.
Noémi did not yet know that her mother was dangerously ill; her frequent fainting-fits were put down to the hot weather. Therese said that many women suffered in the same way as they grew older. Timar was very attentive to her; he would not let her be troubled with household work, took care that she should rest, and made the child be quiet if he was noisy, but Therese’s sleeplessness could not be cured.
One day all four sat together at dinner in the outer room, when Almira’s barks announced the approach of strangers. Therese looked out, and said in great alarm, “Go inside quickly, that no one may see you.”
Timar looked out, and he too saw that it would not be advisable for him to meet the new-comer, for it was none other than his Reverence Herr Sandorovics, the dean who had received the order, who would not fail to recognize Herr von Levetinczy, and would have some pleasant things to say to him. “Push the table away and leave me alone,” said Frau Therese, making Noémi and Dodi rise too. And as if all her strength had returned, she helped to carry the table into the next room, so that when his reverence knocked at the door she was alone, and had drawn her bedstead across the door-way so as to prevent access to the inner apartment.
The dean’s beard was longer and grayer since we last saw him; but his cheeks were rosy, and his figure that of a Samson. His deacon and acolyte, who had come with him, had remained in the veranda, and were trying to make friends with the great dog.
The reverend gentleman came in alone, with his hand out as if to give any one a chance of kissing it. As Therese showed no inclination to avail herself of the opportunity, the visitor was at once in a bad temper. “Well, don’t you know me again, you sinful woman?”
“Oh, I know you well enough, sir, and I know I am a sinner — what brings you here?”
“What brings me, you old gossip? You ask me that, you God-forsaken heathen! It is clear you don’t know me.”
“I told you before that I knew you. You are the priest who would not bury my poor husband.”
“No — because he left the world in an unauthorized way, without confession or absolution. Therefore it befell him to be put under ground like a dog. If you don’t wish to be buried like a dog too, look to it: repent and confess while there is yet time. Your last hour may come today or tomorrow. Pious women brought me the news of your being near death, and begged me to come here and give you absolution — you have to thank them for my presence.”
“Speak low, sir; my daughter is in the next room, and she would be alarmed.”
“Indeed! your daughter? and a man and a child too?”
“And the man is your daughter’s husband?”
“Who married them?”
“He who married Adam and Eve — God.”
“Foolish woman! That was when there were no priests nor altars. But now things are not managed so easily, and there is a law to govern them.”
“I know it: the law drove me to this island; but that law has no jurisdiction here.”
“So you are an absolute heathen?”
“I wish to live and die in peace.”
“And you have permitted your daughter to live in shame?”
“What is shame?”
“Shame? The contempt of all respectable people.”
“Does that make me warm or cold?”
“Unfeeling clod! You only care for your bodily weal. You never think of the salvation of your soul. I come to show you the way to heaven, and you prefer the road to hell! Do you believe in the resurrection, or in eternal life?”
“Hardly — at any rate, I am not longing for it. I do not want to awake to another life; I want to sleep peacefully under the trees. I shall fall into dust, and the roots will feed on it, and leaves will grow from it: and I want no other life. I shall live in the sap of the green trees I planted with my own hands. I do not believe in your cruel God who makes His wretched creatures live on to suffer beyond the grave. Mine is a merciful God, who gives rest to animals, trees, and men when they are dead.”
“Could there be a more obstinate sinner! You will go to hell-fire — to the tortures of the damned!”
“Show me where the Bible says that God created hell, and I will believe you.”
“Oh, you pagan! You will be denying the existence of the devil next,” cried the priest in a rage.
“I do deny that God ever created such a devil as you believe in: you invented one for yourselves, and did that badly, for your devil has horns and cloven feet, and such creatures as that eat grass and not men.”
“The earth will open and swallow you up like Dathan and Abiram. Do you bring up the little child in this belief?”
“He is taught by the man who has adopted him.”
“He whom the child calls father.”
“And what is his name?”
“What is his surname?”
“I never asked him.”
“What! you never asked his name? What do you know of him?”
“I know he is an honest man, and loves Noémi.”
“But what is he? A gentleman, a peasant, a workman, a sailor, or a smuggler?”
“He is a poor man, suited to us.”
“And what else? I must know, for it is part of my duty. What faith does he confess? Is he Papist, Calvinist, Lutheran, Socinian, or perhaps a Jew?”
“I have not troubled myself about it.”
“Do you keep the fasts of the Church?”
“Once for two years I never touched meat — because I had none.”
“Who baptized the child?”
“God — with a shower of rain, while He sat on high on His rainbow throne.”
“Oh, you heathen!”
“Why heathen?” asked Therese, bitterly. “God’s hand was heavy on me; from the height of bliss I fell into the deepest misery. One day made me a widow and a beggar. I did not deny God, nor cast His gift of life away. I came to this desert, sought God and found Him here. My God requires no sacrifice of song and bell, only a devout heart. I do my penance, not by telling my beads, but by work. Men left me nothing in the world, and I formed a blooming garden from a desert wilderness. All deceived, robbed, and scorned me; the tribunal condemned me, my friends defrauded me, the Church despised me, and yet I did not hate my kind. I am the refuge of the stranger and the destitute; I feed and heal those who come to me for aid, and sleep with open doors winter and summer; I fear no one. Oh, sir, I am no heathen!”
“What sort of rubbish you talk, you chattering woman! I never asked you all that, but I ask you about the man who lives in this hut, whether he is a Christian or a heretic, and why the child is not baptized? It is impossible that you should not know his name.”
“Be it so; I will not tell a lie. I know his name, but nothing more. His life may have secrets in it, as mine had: he may have good reasons for hiding himself. But I know him only as a kind good man, and harbor no suspicions of him. Those were ‘friends’ who took my all from me, noblemen of high station, who left me nothing but my weeping child. I brought up the little child, and when she was my only treasure, my life, my all, I gave her to a man of whom I knew only that he loved her and she loved him. Is not that to have faith in God?”
“Don’t talk to me of faith. For such a belief as that, witches in the good old time were brought to the stake and burned, all over the Christian world.”
“It is lucky that I possess this island by right of a Turkish firman.”
“A Turkish firman!” cried the dean, in astonishment. “And who procured it for you?”
“The man whose name you want to know.”
“And I will know it on the spot, and in a summary way. I shall call the sacristan and the acolyte in, make them push away the bed, and go in at that door, which I see has no lock.”
Timar heard every word in the next room. The blood rushed to his head at the thought that the ecclesiastical dignitary would walk in and exclaim, “Aha! it is you, Herr Privy Councilor Michael von Levetinczy!”
The dean opened the outer door, and called in his two sturdy companions. Therese, in her extremity, drew the bright Turkish quilt over her up to the chin. “Sir,” she said in an imploring tone to the dean, “listen to just one word which will convince you of the strength of my faith, and show you that I am no heathen. Look, this woolen quilt I have over me came from Broussa. A traveling peddler gave it to me. See now, so great is my trust in God that I cover myself with it every night; and yet it is well known that the oriental plague has been raging in Broussa this month past. Which of you has faith enough to dare to touch this bed?”
When she looked round, no one was there to answer. At the discovery that this quilt came from the plague-infected districts round Broussa, all had rushed away, leaving the lonely island and its death-stricken inhabitants as a prey to all the devils of hell. The accursed island was now the richer by one more evil report, which would keep away people who valued their lives.
Therese let out the refugees. Timar kissed her hand and called her “Mother!”
“My son!” whispered Therese, and looked steadily into his eyes. With that look she said to him, “Remember what you have heard. And now it is time to get ready for the journey.” Therese spoke of her approaching death as of a journey.
Leaning on Timar and Noémi, she was led out to the green field, and chose the place for her grave.
“Here in the middle,” she said to Timar, taking his spade from his hand and marking out the oblong square. “You made a house for Dodi; make mine here. And build no mound over my grave, and plant no cross upon it; plant there neither tree nor shrub; cover it all with fresh turf, so that it may be like the rest. I wish it; so that no one, when in a cheerful mood, may stumble over my grave and be saddened by it.”
One evening she fell asleep, to awake no more. And they buried her as she desired. They wrapped her in fine linen, and spread for her a bed of aromatic walnut leaves. And then they made the grave look like the rest, and covered it with turf, so that it was the same as before. When on the next morning Timar and Noémi, leading little Dodi by the hand, went into the field, no sign could be seen on the smooth surface. The autumn spiders had covered it with a silvery pall, and on the glistening veil the dewdrops sparkled in the sun like myriads of diamonds.
But yet they found the spot in this silver-broidered green plain. Almira went in front; at one place she lay down and put her head on the ground: that was the spot.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56