The stars glittered in heaven and sparkled from their frozen mirror: no breath disturbed the silence of the night. Then Michael heard behind him a voice which greeted him with “Good-evening, sir.”
At the door of the bedroom stood, between the two lights of the lamp and the fire, a figure, at sight of which Timar’s blood ran cold. In the bitter midnight, through the dense fog, he had fled from this specter across the frozen Danube.
The man’s dress was that of a naval officer, whose uniform had, however, visibly suffered from storms and weather. The green cloth had altogether faded on the shoulders, and some buttons were gone. The shoes, too, were in sad condition. The soles had worn away at the tip so that the naked toes were visible; over one shoe a piece of carpet was tied. The wearer was suited to his ragged dress. A sunburned face with a neglected beard; in place of the shaven mustache, a few bristly hairs; across the forehead a black handkerchief covering one eye. This was the figure which had wished Timar a good-evening.
“Krisstyan!” said Timar, very low.
“Yes, to be sure; your dear Theodor — your dear adopted son, Theodor Krisstyan! How good of you to recognize me!”
“What do you want?”
“First, I want to have that gun in my own hands, lest it should remind you of the words with which we parted last time —‘If I ever appear before you again, shoot me down.’ Since then I have changed my mind.” So saying he seized Timar’s gun, which leaned against the wall, threw himself into a chair by the fire, and laid the gun across his knee. “There, now we can talk quietly. I have come a long way, and I am dreadfully tired. My equipage left me in the lurch, and I had to travel part of the way on foot.”
“What do you want here?” said Timar.
“First, a respectable suit, for what I am wearing bears signs of the severity of the weather.” Timar went to the closet, took out his pelisse trimmed with astrakhan, and the rest of the suit, laid them on the ground between himself and Krisstyan, and pointed to them in silence. The vagrant held the gun in one hand, keeping his finger on the trigger, lifted the clothes one by one with the other, and looked them over with the air of a connoisseur.
“Very good — but there is something wanting to this coat. What do you think it is? Why, of course, the purse.”
Timar took his pocket-book from a drawer, and threw it over. The vagabond caught it with one hand, opened it with the help of his teeth, and counted the notes inside.
“We are getting on,” he said, placing the pocket-book in the pocket of the pelisse. “Might I ask for some linen? I have worn mine for a week, and I fear it is hardly fit for company.” Timar handed him a shirt out of the wardrobe. “Now, I have got far enough to proceed to the toilet. But first I have a few explanations to make in order to explain one or two things to his honor the privy councilor. But why the devil should we bother with titles! We are old friends, and can talk openly.”
Timar sat down speechless by the table.
“So then, my dear fellow,” said the fugitive, “you will remember that you sent me some years ago to Brazil. How affected I was! I adopted you as a father, and swore to be an honest man. But you did not send me over there to make an honest man of me, but in order that I might not stand in your way in this hemisphere. You calculated that a worthless youth, without a good fiber in him, is sure to come to grief in that part of the world. He either turns thief, or gets drowned, or somebody shoots him — anyway, he would be got rid of. But you intrusted me with a large sum of money. What was that to you? Only a stalking-horse. You reckoned on my robbing you, so that you might arrest and imprison me; and so it turned out. Once or twice I nearly did you the favor of dying of some native plague, but unluckily for you I pulled through. And then I devoted my whole energy to business; I robbed you of ten million reis. Ha! ha! Spanish thieves reckon in half-kreutzers, so that the sum may sound larger — it is not more than a hundred thousand gulden. If only you knew what lovely necks the women there have, you would not think it too much; and they will only wear real pearls. But your stupid agent, the Spaniard, looked at it from a different point of view; he had me arrested and tried, and the rascal of a judge sentenced me — just for a foolish boyish trick — only think, to fifteen years at the galleys! Now, just say, was it not barbarous?”
“They took off my fine clothes, and in order that they might not lose me, they branded me on the arm with a hot iron.” The felon threw off his uniform-coat as he spoke, drew his dirty shirt from his left shoulder, and showed Timar, with a bitter laugh, the mark still fiery red on his arm. “Look you, it was on your account that they branded me like a foal or a calf, lest I should go astray. Don’t be afraid — I would not run away from you, even without that.”
With morbid curiosity Timar gazed at the burn on the miserable wretch, and could not turn his eyes away.
“After that, they dragged me to the galleys, and riveted one of my feet to the bench with a ten-pound chain.” With that he threw his torn shoe from his foot, and showed Timar a deep wound on his raw ankle. “That also I carry as a remembrance of you,” sneered the escaped criminal.
Timar’s eyes rested as if fascinated on the disfigured foot.
“But just think, comrade, how kind fate can be! The ways of Providence are wonderful by which an unhappy sufferer is led to the arms of his friends. On the same bench where they had been good enough to fasten me, sat a respectable old man with a bushy beard. He was to be my bed-fellow for fifteen years. It is natural to take a good look at a man who is wedded to you for so long a time. I stared at him awhile, and then said in Spanish, ‘It seems to me, señor, as if I had met you before.’ ‘Your eyes do not deceive you — may you be struck blind!’ replied the amiable individual. Then I addressed him in Turkish, ‘Effendi, have you not been in Turkey?’ ‘I have been there; what’s that to you?’ Then I said in Hungarian, ‘Were you not originally called Krisstyan?’ The old fellow was much surprised, and said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Then, I am your son Theodor, your dear Theodor, your only offspring!’ Ha! ha! Thanks to you, friend, I found my father, my long lost father, over there in the New World on the galley-slave’s bench. Providence in its wonderful way had united the long-divided father and son! But may I beg you to give me a flask of wine and something to eat, for I am thirsty and hungry, and have many interesting things to tell you, which will amuse you intensely.”
Timar did as he asked, and gave him bread and wine. The visitor sat at the table, took the gun between his knees, and began to eat. He devoured like a starved dog, and drank eagerly: at every draught he smacked his lips, like an epicure who has dined well. And then he went on, with his mouth full:
“After we had got over the first joy of the unexpected meeting, my dear papa said, while he thumped me on the head, ‘Now tell me, you gallows-bird, how you got here?’ Naturally my filial respect had prevented me from addressing the like question to my parent. I told him that I had defrauded a Hungarian gentleman named Timar of ten million reis. ‘And where did he steal all that?’ was my old man’s remark. I explained that he never stole — that he was a rich landowner, merchant, and trader. But that did not alter my father’s opinion: ‘All the same, whoever has money stole it. He who has much stole much, and he who has little stole little: if he did not steal it himself, his father or grandfather did so. There are a hundred and thirty-three ways of stealing, and only twenty-two of them lead to the galleys.’ As I saw it was useless to try and change my old man’s opinion, I no longer disputed the point. Then he asked me, ‘How the devil did you come in contact with this Timar?’
“I told him the circumstances. ‘I knew this Timar when he was a poor skipper, and had to wash his own potatoes in the ship’s galley. Once I was sent by the Turkish police to track an escaped pasha who had fled on one of Timar’s ships to Hungary.’ ‘What was his name?’ growled my father. ‘Ali Tschorbadschi.’ ‘What!’ he exclaimed, striking me on the knee. He leaped up so that I thought he would jump overboard. Ha! ha! he forgot the chain. . . . ‘Did you know him too!’ Then the old man shook his head and said, ‘Go on; what became of Ali Tschorbadschi?’ ‘I detected him at Ogradina: I hurried on in front of the ship to Pancsova, where every preparation was made to arrest him. But the vessel arrived without the pasha. He had died on the way, and as he was not allowed burial on shore they had thrown the corpse overboard. All this Timar proved by documentary evidence.’ ‘And Timar was then quite poor?’ ‘No richer than myself.’ ‘But now he has millions?’ ‘Of which I was lucky enough to secure ten million reis.’
“‘Now, you fool, you see I was right — he stole his wealth. From whom? he killed the pasha and hid his money. I knew Ali Tschorbadschi — well. He was a thief too, like every other man, especially like every other rich man. He belonged to the 122d and 123d class of thieves. Under those numbers we reckon governors and treasurers. He was in charge of the treasures of another thief — the sultan himself, No. 133.
“‘Once I found out that thief No. 132, the grand vizier, wished to twist the treasurer’s neck, to get back what he had stolen. I too was then in the Turkish secret police; only a sort of No. 10, simply a fraudulent bankrupt. I had a good idea: now if I could manage to push on into the ranks of the No. 50 thieves! I went to the pasha, and revealed the secret that he was on the list of rich men whom the minister meant to strangle as conspirators, in order to secure their property. What would he give me if I saved both him and his treasures? Ali Tschorbadschi promised me a quarter of his wealth when once we should both be in safety. “Yes,” said I, “but I should like to know first how much the whole comes to, for I will do nothing with my eyes shut. I am a family man — I have a son whom I should like to settle in life.”’ Ha! ha! The old man said it so seriously that it makes me laugh now to think of it. ‘You have a son?’ said the pasha to my father. ‘That is well; if I escape I will give my only daughter to your son, and so the whole property will remain in the family: send me your son that I may know him.’ By God! if I had only known then that the lovely lady with the white face and meeting brows was destined for me! Do you hear, comrade? — but I must have another drink, to drown my grief. . . . You will permit me to empty my glass to the health of your spouse, the loveliest of ladies?”
The galley-slave rose with the courtesy of a prince and drank the toast. Then he threw himself back in his chair, and drew breath through his teeth like a man who has dined well. “My father agreed to the bargain. ‘We decided,’ said he, ‘that Ali Tschorbadschi should pack his jewels in a leather bag, which I was to take with me in an English ship, which would convey me as an unsuspected person, with all my luggage, to Malta. There I was to await Ali Tschorbadschi, who was to leave Stamboul as if on a pleasure trip, with his daughter, but without any luggage, make his way to the Piræus, and thence by a Greek trader to Malta. The pasha showed great confidence in me. He left me alone in the treasure-chamber, so that his own visits there should not be noticed, and commissioned me to select the most precious objects and pack them in the leather bag. I could describe now all the jewels I chose. The antique gems, the girdles of pearls, rings, agraffes, a casket full of diamonds —’
“‘Could you not hide a few away?’ asked I.
“‘You ass’s head!’ he replied, ‘why should I take a single diamond and become thief No. 18, when it was in my power to steal them all?’
“Aha! my old father was a clever fellow! ‘The devil I was! I was a moon-calf. I ought to have done as you say. I stuffed my bag full, and brought it to the pasha without arousing suspicion. He put a few rouleaux of louis d’or among the jewels in the bag, closed it with a puzzle-lock, and fastened lead seals to the four corners: then he sent me for a caïque, that I might get quietly away. I was back in a quarter of an hour. He handed me the bag with the English steel puzzle-lock and the four lead weights. I took it under my cloak and slipped through the garden door to the boat; on the way I handled the bag and felt the agraffes, the casket, and the rouleaux. In an hour I was on board an English ship, the anchor was weighed, and we left the Golden Horn.’ ‘And you never took me,’ said I, with child-like reproach to my papa, ‘who was to marry the pasha’s lovely daughter?’ ‘You fool!’ cried the old man, ‘I didn’t want you or your pasha or his lovely daughter; I never meant to wait for you at Malta: with the money given me for the journey I embarked direct for America, and the leather bag went with me. But, confound it! when I got to a safe place I took out my knife and slit the bag, and what do you think fell out of it? — copper buttons, rusty horse-shoes, and instead of the casket full of diamonds, a stone inkstand — in the rouleaux, instead of louis d’or were heavy paras, the sort the corporals use for paying the private soldiers. The rascally thief had robbed me! In all my 133 classes this had never occurred; there was no number for it. While I went for the boat, the thief had prepared another identical bag filled with all sorts of rubbish, and sent me with it across the ocean, while he fled in another direction with the real jewels. But look you, there is justice not only on land but by water, for the great thief ran into the net of a still greater, who robbed and murdered him.’ And this tip-top thief, who deprived the other of his property and his life was — you — brother of my heart — Michael Timar Levetinczy, the man of gold!” said the fugitive, as he rose and bowed mockingly.
Timar answered not a word.
“And now we will talk in a different way,” said Theodor Krisstyan, “but still at three paces’ distance, and without forgetting that the gun is aimed at you.”
Timar looked indifferently down the muzzle of the gun. He had himself loaded it with ball.
“This discovery considerably increased the sufferings of my slavery,” continued the adventurer. “Instead of living comfortably on Ali’s treasure, I had to drag out a miserable existence on the hateful sea. And why? Because Michael Timar had smuggled the treasures which were intended for me from under my nose, and also the girl I should have married, the fair little savage who had grown up for me on the desolate island. Of her too Timar must needs defraud me, for he could not be happy with the wife whose father he had killed; he must needs have a mistress as well. Fy! Herr Timar. So it was for that you sent me to the galleys for fifteen years.”
Blow after blow fell on Timar’s shame-stricken face. No doubt many of these accusations were false — they were not all true. He had not “killed” Timéa’s father, had not “stolen” his treasures; he had not “defrauded” him of Noémi, nor “got rid of” Theodor, but on the whole he could not entirely deny the charges. He had played a false game, and thereby got mixed up in every sort of crime.
The deserter continued: “When we were lying in the Gulf of Rio Grande do Sul, yellow fever broke out on board our ship. My father caught it, and lay in the death agony beside me on the bench — no one removed him. It is not the custom; a galley-slave must die where he is chained. This was a horrible situation for me. The old man shivered with ague the whole day, he swore and gnashed his teeth. He was unbearable with his continual curses on the Blessed Virgin, which he always uttered in Hungarian. Why did he not swear in Spanish? It sounds so fine, and then the rest would have understood; and why should he swear at the Madonna? I could not put up with it — there were plenty of other saints he could have maligned; it is not the thing for an educated man, a gentleman, to speak ill of the ladies. This caused a coolness between me and my old man. Not his deadly fever, which I might catch, merely his insufferable language. Strong as were the ties which united father and son, I decided to sever them, and succeeded in escaping in company with two others. We filed our chains at night, struck down the overseer, who had seen our proceedings, and threw him into the sea; then we launched the small boat and set off. It was very rough and our boat was swamped; one of my companions could not swim, and got drowned; the other could swim, but not so well as the shark which pursued him. I only knew by his shrieks that the sea-devil had caught him and bitten him in two. I swam ashore. How I obtained this naval uniform and the arms and money requisite for my passage, I will tell you some other day over a glass of wine, when we have plenty of time. But now let us conclude our business; for you know we have to settle our account together.”
The outcast put his hand up to the handkerchief over his eye. The slowly healing wound seemed to be an unpleasant reminder. The severe cold to which he had been exposed had not done it any good.
“I tried to get to Komorn, where I knew you had your permanent home, and went to visit you. They said in your office that you had not yet come from abroad; what country you were in no one knew. Very well, thought I, then I will wait till he returns. To pass the time, I went to the cafés, and made acquaintance with officers to whom my uniform was an introduction, and then I visited the theaters. There I saw that exquisitely beautiful lady with the marble face and the melancholy eyes — you can guess whom I mean. With her was always another fair lady — oh! what murderous eyes that one has; she is a corsair in petticoats. I began to feel my way. Once I contrived to get a seat close by the wicked angel, and paid her attentions which she received graciously: when I asked leave to wait upon her, she referred to her mistress, on whom everything depended. I spoke admiringly of that awe-inspiring Madonna, and remarked that I had known her family in Turkey, and that she resembled her mother very strongly.
“‘What,’ said the lovely lady, ‘you knew her mother? she died very young.’ ‘I have only seen her portrait,’ said I. ‘It portrayed just such a pale, sad face, surrounded with a double row of diamonds of great value.’ ‘You too have seen the splendid ornament then?’ said she. ‘My mistress showed it me when Herr Timar von Levetinczy gave it to her.’”
Timar clinched his fists in impotent rage.
“Aha! now we know all about it,” continued the adventurer, turning to the tortured man with a cruel smile. “You gave Ali Tschorbadschi’s daughter the treasures you stole from her father. In that case the rest of the jewels must have fallen into your hands, for they were with the picture. You can no longer deny it. . . . And now we are on a level: we need not scruple to talk openly.”
Timar sat there paralyzed before the man into whose hands fate had delivered him. It was unnecessary to keep his gun from him: Timar had not strength to stand.
“You kept me waiting a long time, my friend, and I began to get anxious about you; besides, my pocket-money was coming to an end. My rich aunt’s remittances, the advices from my steward, my bankers, and the admiralty, for which I daily inquired at the post-office, failed to arrive — for excellent reasons. You were highly respected wherever I went: an upright merchant, a great genius, a benefactor to the poor. Your exemplary private life was described; you were the model husband; wives would burn your body when you died and dose their husbands with your ashes. Ha! ha!”
Timar turned away his face.
“But perhaps I weary you? Well, I am coming to business. One day I was in a bad temper, because you would not come home, and when some one mentioned you at the officers’ café, I could not refrain from casting a doubt on the possibility of one man’s uniting so many good qualities. Then a ruffian replied with a slap in the face: I confess I was not prepared for this; but my cheek deserved it — why had it not kept my tongue quiet? I was as sorry as a dog that I ventured to let fall a disrespectful word, and took the lesson to heart. I will never slander you again. If the box on the ear had been all, I should not so much have cared — I’m used to that; but the insolent fellow forced me to go out with him, because I had attacked your good name. As I soon learned, this madman was a lover of your Madonna when she was a girl, and now he was fighting for the honor of the Madonna’s husband. That is a piece of good luck which could only happen to you, you man of gold. But I owe you no thanks for your good fortune; again it was I who had to pay for it: I got a cut over the head right down to the eyebrow. Look!”
He thrust aside the silken bandage, under which was visible a long scar with a dirty plaster over it, the inflamed skin showing that the wound was not healed. Timar looked at it with a shudder.
Krisstyan drew the bandage over it again, and said with cynical humor, “That is souvenir number three which your friendship has bestowed on me. Well, there is all the more standing to my credit. I could not remain any longer in Komorn after this; but ‘Stay,’ said I—‘I know where to have him; I know where the foreign country is whither he goes in the interest of his fatherland: it is not in any unknown land — it is none other than the ownerless island. I will follow him there.’”
At this Timar cried furiously, “What! you went to the island?” He trembled with rage and fear.
“Don’t jump up, young friend!” said the felon, soothingly. “This gun is loaded; if you move it might go off, and I could not answer for the consequences. Besides, calm yourself. It did you no harm for me to go there, only myself; I always have to pay the piper when you go to the ball — it’s as certain as if it were one of the ten commandments — you dance and I pay. You get into my bed, and it’s me that they throw out of window. Why did I go to the ownerless island? only to look for you. But when I got there you had left, and I found no one but Noémi and a little brat . . . oh, fy, friend Michael! who would have thought it of you? . . . but hush! we mustn’t tell anybody. . . . Dodi he’s called, isn’t he? A fine, forward boy; but how frightened he was of me, because I had my eye bound up! It is true that Noémi was startled too, for the two were quite alone on the island. It grieved me to hear that good Mamma Therese was dead; she was so kind, she would have received me differently. Just fancy — this Noémi would not even let me come in and sit down: she said she was afraid of me, and Dodi still more so, because they were alone. ‘That’s just why I have come, that you may have a man in the house to protect you.’ By the bye, what potion have you given the girl that she has grown so pretty? Really she has become a splendid creature — it makes one’s heart laugh to look at her; I never stopped telling her so. Then she tried to make ugly faces at me; I began to jest with her. ‘Is it right,’ said I, ‘to make grimaces at your bridegroom?’ That did not answer; she called me a vagrant, and turned me out. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I would go and take her with me,’ and then I put my arm round her waist.” Timar’s eyes flashed fire. “Sit still, comrade; you need not jump up, but I had to, for the girl fetched me a box on the ear — just about twice as hard as the one I got from the major. To be accurate, I must acknowledge that she chose the other cheek, so as to make it equal.”
Timar’s face brightened.
“Then I did get angry. I am well known to be an admirer of the fair sex, but this insult demanded satisfaction. ‘Well, I will just show you that you will come with me, if you don’t allow me to stop here. You will follow me of your own accord’— and with that I took little Dodi’s hand to lead him away.
“Devil!” cried Timar.
“Gently, gently, we can’t both speak at once; your turn will come, and then you can talk as much as you like — but hear me out. I was not quite right when I said there were only two on the island — there were three; that confounded beast Almira was there. The dog had been lying under the bed, and seemed not to notice me, but when the child began to cry, the great brute flew out at me without being asked. I had my eye on her, drew out my pistol quickly, and shot her through the body.”
“Murderer!” groaned Timar.
“Nonsense! If I had no more on my conscience than that dog’s blood! and the beast was not even crippled by the ball; she made nothing of it. She only flew at me more furiously than ever, bit me in the arm, threw me down, and held me so that I could not move: in vain I tried to get at my second pistol — she held my arm in her teeth like a tiger. At last I entreated Noémi to set me free; she tried to get the beast away, but the raging fiend only sent her teeth deeper in. Then Noémi said, ‘Ask the child — the dog will obey him.’ I begged Dodi’s help. The boy is kind-hearted; he had pity on me, and put his arms round Almira; then the dog let go, and the child kissed her.” A tear ran down Timar’s cheek. “So I was provided with another memento,” said Theodor Krisstyan, as he pushed his dirty, blood-stained shirt-sleeve down from his shoulder. “Look at the mark of the dog’s bite; all three fangs went to the bone: that is memorial number four, for which I have to thank you. I bear on my skin a whole album of wounds which I owe to you: the brand, the chain-sore, the sword-cut, and the dog’s bite — all are remembrances of your friendship. And now say, what shall I do to you that our account may be balanced?”
As the escaped prisoner said to Timar, “And now say what shall I do to you?” he stood entirely undressed before him, and Timar had to look at all the horrible wounds with which he was scarred from head to foot . . . and naked, too, the wretch’s soul stood there, and it too was full of loathsome wounds inflicted by Timar’s hand.
The man knew that Timar had played a bold game with him; and now he was at his mercy: even physically he had not power to cope with him; his limbs were as feeble as those of a man overcome with sleep. The sight of the scarred form had the unnerving effect of an evil spell. The adventurer knew it, and no longer took precautions against him. Rising from his chair, he leaned the gun in the corner and spoke over his shoulder to Timar, “Now, then, for the toilet; while I dress you you can think over your answer to my question, what I shall do with you.”
With that he tossed his ragged clothes one after another into the fire, where they flared crackling up, so that the flame rushed up the chimney. Then he began to put on Timar’s clothes in a leisurely way. On the mantel-piece he found Timar’s watch: this he put in his waistcoat-pocket, and inserted Timar’s studs in his shirt-front, finding time to arrange his hair in the glass. When he was quite ready, he threw up his head, and placed himself before the fire with outstretched legs and folded arms. “Well; now then, comrade.”
Timar began to speak. “What do you require of me?”
“Aha! at last I have loosed your tongue! How if I were to say an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth? go and have a gallows-brand burned on you; wander by land and sea among sharks, Indians, jaguars, rattlesnakes, and secret police; be cut over the head by your wife’s lover, be bitten by your mistress’s dog — and then we shall begin to share alike. But you see I am not so hard on you; I won’t talk about my wounds — a dog’s bones soon mend — I will be kinder than you. I must disappear for a time; for I am wanted not only because of your money — my escape from the galleys, and the overseer I threw overboard, are not yet forgiven. Your money will do me no good till I get rid of the burn and the scar on the chin. I shall get rid of the one with vitriol, and for the other mineral baths will be of service. I am not afraid of your putting my pursuers on my track — you are too wise for that; but foresight is the mother of wisdom. In spite of our close friendship, it might happen that some one should give me a knock on the head in the dark, or some convenient brigands might shoot me, or a friendly glass of wine might send me the same road as Ali Tschorbadschi. No, my dear fellow, I would not even venture to ask you to fill me this wine-flask again, not even if you drank first. I shall always be on my guard.”
“What do you want then?”
“How formally you talk! my company is too low for you. But first let us ask what the noble lord wants on his side. Probably that I should hold my tongue over all the secrets I have got hold of. The noble lord would perhaps not be disinclined to settle on me in return an income of a hundred thousand francs in government stock.”
Timar without hesitation replied, “Yes.”
The vagabond laughed. “I require no such heavy sacrifice, your honor. I told you money was no use to me at present. Such a gallows-bird, with so many bad habits, would be arrested anywhere, and then what good should I get of my income? What I want is, as I said, rest, and a place where I can remain hidden for a considerable time, and where I should meanwhile enjoy a comfortable, easy life; that is reasonable enough surely?”
With that he took the gun up again, sat down on the chair, and held the gun before him in both hands, so as to be ready to fire at any moment. “I do not ask the hundred thousand francs at present; I only demand — the ownerless island.”
Timar felt as if struck by lightning; these words roused him from his stupor. “What do you want with it?”
“Illustrissimo! See now. The air of the island is excellent, and most necessary to the reestablishment of my health, which suffered much in South America. I have heard from that dear departed saint, Frau Therese, that healing herbs grow there which are good for wounds; in botany books I have read that they will even make boiled flesh sound again. Then, too, I long for a quiet, contemplative life after all my trials; after the sybarite existence I have led, I long for the rustic joys of the golden age. Give me the ownerless island, excellency — serene highness.”
The fellow begged so mockingly with the gun in his hand.
“You are a fool,” said Timar, whom these jeers enraged, and then he turned his chair round and showed Theodor his back.
“Oh, don’t turn your back on me, noble sir — señor, eccelenza, my lord, durchlaucht, mynheer, pan volkompzsnye, monsieur, gospodin, effendi. In what language shall I address you, to persuade you to grant the poor fugitive’s request?”
This unseemly mockery did not do the assailant any good, but lessened the effect of the spell which lay on Timar, who began to recover from his stupefaction, and to recollect that he had to deal with a condemned man who was really in mortal danger. He spoke angrily. “Have done! Name any sum — you shall have it! if you want an island, go and buy one in the Greek Archipelago, or in China; if you are afraid of pursuit, go to Rome, Naples, or Switzerland: give yourself out as a marquis, get on terms with the Camorra, and no one will touch you; I will give you money — but you won’t get the island.”
“Indeed? Your lordship is going to talk to me like that?” cried Krisstyan. “The drowning man has risen again, and is going to swim ashore — now just wait till I push you in again. You think to yourself, ‘Very well, booby, tell any one what you know; the first result will be that you will be arrested, clapped into jail, and forgotten there like a dog; you will soon be too dumb to tell anything more — or something else may happen.’ I see what you think. But don’t mistake the man you have to deal with. Now learn that you are tied hand and foot, and that you lie at my mercy like a miser gagged and bound by robbers, who must bear thorns thrust under his nails, his beard plucked out hair by hair, and boiling oil dropped on his skin, till he tells where his money is hidden. I shall do the same with you; and when you can bear no more, then cry ‘enough.’”
Timar listened with the deadly interest of a man on the rack to the words of the galley-slave. “Till now I have told not a soul what I know, on my honor. Except the few words which escaped me at Komorn, I have never spoken of you, and what I said then was neither fish nor flesh; but all I know of you is written down — I have it here in my pocket, and in four different documents, with different addresses. One is a denunciation to the Turkish Government, in which I reveal what Ali Tschorbadschi took from Stamboul, and what, as the confiscated property of a traitor, is due to the sultan. Even the jewels described to me by my father are enumerated there, piece by piece, with the account of their present possessors, and of how they came by them. In the second letter I inform the Viennese authorities of your murder of the pasha, and your theft of his property. My third letter is directed to Frau von Levetinczy at Komorn. I tell her what you did to her father, and how you came into possession of her mother’s picture and the other treasures you presented to her. But I have told her something else besides — the place you go to when you are not at home — the secret joys of the ownerless island — the intrigue with another woman — the deceit you practice on her. I tell her about Noémi and little Dodi. Now shall I drive another thorn under your nails?”
Timar’s breast heaved with heavy panting sobs.
“Well, as you say nothing, we will proceed,” said the cruel torturer. “The fourth letter is to Noémi. I tell her in it all she does not yet know: that you have a lawful wife out in the world — that you are a gentleman who has dishonored her, and can never be her husband; who only sacrificed her to his base lusts, and who is a murderer besides. What! you don’t ask for mercy yet? Do you see those two towers? That is Tihany; there live pious monks, for it is a monastery; there I shall deposit the four letters, and beg the prior, if I do not return within a week, to forward them to their addresses. It would be no use for you to put me out of the way, for the letters would still reach their destination, and then you could not stay any longer in this country. You can not go home; for even if your wife forgave you her father’s death, she would never forgive you Noémi. Justice would make inquiries, and then you would have to let out how you came by your riches.
“The Turkish Government would bring you to trial, and the Austrian too. The whole world would soon learn to know you, and those who looked on you as a man of gold, would see in you the very scum of humanity. You could not even take refuge in the ownerless island, for there Noémi would shut the door against you; she is a proud woman, and her love would turn to hatred. No, there is nothing left to you but to fly from the world, like me; change your name, like me; slink secretly from town to town, and tremble when steps approach your door, like me. Now, shall I go or stay?”
“Stay!” groaned the sufferer.
“Oho! you give in!” cried the rascal; “then let us sit down again. First, will you give me the ownerless island?”
A feeble subterfuge occurred to Timar’s heart, which he used to gain time. “But the island belongs to Noémi, not to me.”
“A very true observation; but my request is not altered by that fact. The island belongs to Noémi, but Noémi belongs to you.”
“What do you mean?” asked Timar, wildly.
“Now don’t roll your eyes; don’t you know you are fast bound? Let us take it all as it comes. The thing can be arranged. You write a letter to Noémi, which I will carry; meanwhile that fierce black brute will have died, and I can land safely. In the letter you will take leave of her; you will say that you cannot marry her, because unavoidable family complications stand in the way; that you have a wife, the beautiful Timéa, whom Noémi will remember: you will write that you have taken care to provide for her suitably; that you have recalled her former betrothed from the New World, who is a fine handsome fellow, and ready to marry her and shut his eyes to the past. You will promise to provide for them both handsomely in the future, and give them your blessing and good wishes for a happy life together!”
“You want Noémi too?”
“Why, what the devil! Do you think I want your stupid island in order to live there like Robinson Crusoe? I shall want something to sweeten my life in that desert. Over there I have reveled in a surfeit of embraces from black-eyed, sable-tressed women; now, after seeing Noémi’s golden locks and blue eyes, I am quite mad about her. And then she struck me in the face, and drove me away; I must have payment for that. Is there a nobler revenge than to give a kiss for a blow? I will be the master of the refractory witch; that is my fancy. And by what right do you deny her to me? Am I not Noémi’s betrothed, who would make her my legal wife and bring her to honor, while you can never marry her, and can only make her unhappy?”
The man drops boiling oil on Timar’s heart: he wrung his hands in agony.
“Will you write to Noémi, or shall I take these four letters over to the cloister?”
In Timar’s torture the words escaped him, “Oh, my little Dodi!”
The fugitive laughed with a knavish grin. “I’ll be his father, a very good sort of father —”
At that instant Michael sprung from his seat, threw himself with a leap like a jaguar’s on the convict, seized him by both arms before he could use his weapon, dragged him forward, gave him a blow in the back and a shove which sent him flying through the open door on to the landing, tumbling over and over: there he got up with difficulty, still giddy with his fall, stumbled over the first step, and limped groaning and swearing down the stairs. All below was darkness and silence. The only man besides these two in this winter castle was deaf, and sleeping off a carouse.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56