Escape! But where? That is the question.
The church clocks in the town struck ten: the barriers were down by now across the wooden bridge over the narrow part of the river to the island, from which the ice formed the only road across the rest of the Danube. It was impossible to get past without alarming the sentries, who had orders from the commandant of the garrison to let no one go on the ice between eight in the evening and seven in the morning — not even the pope himself. It is true that a couple of bank-notes of Herr Levetinczy’s might compass what a papal bull could not procure, but then it would be reported next day all over the town that the “man of gold” had fled in haste and alone, at dead of night, across the dangerous ice. That would be a good sequel to the gossip which had arisen from the duel. It would at once be said, “There, you see he is already thinking of escaping to America,” and Timéa would hear it too.
Timéa! oh, how hard it is to evade that name; it follows him everywhere. He can do nothing but return home and wait for daylight. As cautiously as a thief he opened his door. At this hour all the other inhabitants were asleep.
When he got to his room, he lighted no lamp, and threw himself on the sofa. But the phantoms which pursued him found him quite as easily in the dark.
How that marble face blushed!
So there is life there under the ice, only the sun is wanting. Marriage is for her eternal winter — a polar winter. The wife is faithful; and the rival is a true friend. He breaks his sword over the skull of him who dared to slander the husband of the beloved woman. And Timéa loves the man, and is as unhappy as he. The misery of both comes from Timar’s imputation as an honest man; those who love him idealize him; no one ventures to think of deceiving or robbing or disgracing him — of breaking a splinter from the diamond of his honor: they guard it like a jewel.
Why do they all respect him? Because no one knows him.
If Timéa knew, if she discovered what he really was, would she still say, “I would share the shame of his name, as I have shared its glory!” Yes; she would still say so. Timéa will never leave him: she would say, “You have made me unhappy; now suffer with me.” It is an angel’s cruelty, and that is Timéa’s nature.
But how about Noémi? What is she doing on the lonely island which she can never leave, thanks to Timéa’s high principle? Alone during the gloomy monotony of winter, with a helpless child at her knee! What is she thinking of? No one can take her a word of consolation. She may be trembling in that desert for fear of bad men, ghosts, wild beasts! How her heart must sink when she thinks of her absent darling, and wonders where he may be! If she knew! If both those women knew what a thorough scoundrel was the man who had caused them so much sorrow — if any one was found to tell them!
Who can the stranger be who has already said enough to deserve a blow in the face, and a cut of the major’s sword? A naval officer. Who can this enemy be? It is impossible to discover; he has disappeared with his wound from the town. Something told Timar it would be wise to fly from this man. Fly! his whole mind was set upon it — there was nothing he dreaded so much as being obliged to remain in one spot. As soon as he left the ownerless island, no place was a home to him. When he stopped for dinner on a journey, he could not wait till the horses were fed, but walked on ahead. Something always drove him onward.
And sleep had fled from his eyes. The clock struck twelve; seven more long hours till morning! He determined at last to kindle a light. For mental anxiety there is a remedy more effectual than opium or digitalis — prosaic work. Whoever has plenty to do, finds no time to dwell on love troubles. Merchants seldom commit suicide for love. Cares of business are a wholesome counter-irritant to draw the blood from the nobler parts.
Michael opened and read his letters in turn: all contained good news. He remembered Polycrates, with whom everything succeeded, and who began at last to be afraid of his luck.
And what was the foundation of this monstrous success? A secret unknown to all but himself. Who had seen Ali Tschorbadschi’s treasure spread out in the cabin? Only himself — and the moon. But that is an accomplice, and has seen other things too. It is the “Hypomochlion” of creation, to prevent crimes from coming to light. Michael was too deeply sensitive by nature not to feel that such overwhelming good fortune, springing from so foul a root, must eventually fall into dust — for there is justice under the sun. He would joyfully have looked on at the loss of half his wealth, or even given up all, if so he could have hoped to close his account with Heaven. But he felt that his penance consisted in the fact that his riches, influence, the renown of his name, his supposed home-happiness, were only a cruel irony of fate. They buried him, and he could not extricate himself to live the only happy life, whose center was Noémi — and Dodi. When the first Dodi died, he learned what he had been to him. Now, with the second, he felt it still more; and yet he could not make them his own. He lay buried under a mountain of gold which he could not shake off. What he had seen in the delirium of fever, he now really felt. He lay buried alive in a grave full of gold. Above his head stood on the grave-stone a marble statue which never moved — Timéa. A beggar-woman with a little child came to gather thyme on his tomb — Noémi. And the man buried alive vainly strove to cry out, “Give me your hand, Noémi, and pull me out of this golden tomb!”
Timar went on with his correspondence. One letter was from the Brazilian agents. His favorite scheme — the export of Hungarian flour — had been brilliantly successful. Timar had gained by it honor and wealth. As he ran through the letters, it occurred to him that when he left home in the morning he had received a registered letter with a foreign stamp. He found the letter in his coat pocket. It was from the same correspondent whose favorable report he had just read, and ran thus:
“SIR — Since my last, a great misfortune has occurred. Your protégé, Theodor Krisstyan, has cheated us shamefully and brought disgrace on us. We are blameless in the matter. This man has for years past seemed so trustworthy and active, that we put the most perfect confidence in him; his salary and commission were so large that he could not only live comfortably, but could save money, which he invested in our house. While he left his avowable savings to grow to a small capital in our hands, he robbed us frightfully — intercepted money, forged bills, and made false claims on the firm, which was easy, as he had your power of attorney — so that our loss already amounts to some ten million reis. But what makes it more serious is the discovery that during the last few years he has been mixing the imported flour with some of inferior quality from Louisiana, and by this Yankee trick has seriously impaired the credit of the Hungarian article for years to come — even if we are ever able to restore it.”
“This is the first blow,” thought Timar; and on the most tender point for a great financier. It touched him in what he was most proud of, and what had obtained for him the rank of a privy councilor. And so falls the brilliant fabric erected by Timéa — Timéa again!
Timar read on hurriedly —
“Bad company has led the young criminal astray: this is a dangerous temptation in this climate. We had him arrested at once, but none of the stolen money was found in his possession. He had lost part at the gambling-table, and got rid of the rest with the help of the Creoles; but it is quite possible that the rogue has managed to conceal considerable sums, in the hope of being able to get at them when again at liberty. However, he must wait some time, for the court here has sentenced him to fifteen years at the galleys.”
Timar could read no further. He let the letter fall on the table; then he stood up and began to pace the room restlessly.
Fifteen years at the galleys! Fifteen years chained to the bench, and nothing to look at all that time but sky and sea! Fifteen years to endure the sickening noonday heat, without hope or comfort — to endure life on the ever-restless sea, and curse unmerciful man! He will be an old man before he gets his freedom. And why? In order that Herr Michael Timar, Baron von Levetinczy, may live undisturbed in his forbidden joys on the ownerless island — that no one may betray Noémi to Timéa, nor Timéa to Noémi. You never thought of this when you sent Theodor to Brazil, and yet you did count on the chance of opportunity making him into a thief. You did not lay him dead on the spot with a bullet, as a man kills in a duel him who stands in the way of his love. You pretended to a paternal affection for him, and sent him on a three-thousand miles’ voyage; and now you will look on at this slow decay through fifteen horrible years — for you will see him, though all the earth and all her oceans lie between!
The stove had gone out. It was cold in the room, whose windows were covered with frost-flowers. And yet sweat dropped from Timar’s brow, as he strode up and down the narrow space. So, then, every one is consecrated to misfortune to whom he gives his hand — on that hand is a curse.
Oh, what an awful night this is! Will it never be day? He felt as if this room were a dungeon or a tomb.
But the terrible letter had a postscript. Timar came back to the table to read it. The postscript was dated a day later, and ran thus: “I have just received a letter from Port-au-Prince, in which we are informed that three slaves have escaped from the galley on which our prisoner was placed. I fear our man is among them.”
After the perusal of these lines, Timar was a prey to indescribable anxiety. Though he had been perspiring before, he began to shiver now. Had the fever returned? He looked round fearfully. What was he afraid of? He was alone in the room, and as frightened as a child who has been hearing ghost stories. He could not endure the room any longer. He took out his pocket-pistol and looked to its priming; then he tried his dagger, whether it was loose in its sheath.
Away! It was still night — not yet two o’clock; but he could not await the morning light here. And could he not get across to the Uj–Szöny side without a bridge? Above the island the ice would bear. It only required a man who was less afraid of darkness and danger than of the flickering candle and the outspread letter. He held that over the light and burned it; then he blew out the candle and crept out of the window.
Only when he was in the street did he feel his heart lighter: here he was a man again. Meanwhile fresh snow had fallen, which he heard crackling under his feet while he hurried to the shore, along the whole Servian Street right up to the harbor.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56