Timar's Two Worlds, by Mór Jókai

Chapter v.

What has the Moon to Tell?

Timar could have killed the man — he had him in his power; and Timar felt a madman’s strength in his muscles: yet he did not kill him. Timar said to himself, the man is right; destiny must be fulfilled. Michael was not a miscreant who conceals one crime by another, but of that nobler sort which is willing to atone for past sin. He stepped out on to the balcony, and looked on with folded arms while the man left the castle and limped away toward the gate of the court-yard. The moon rose meanwhile over the Somogy hills, and illuminated the front of the castle.

The dark figure on the balcony would be a good mark for any one who wished to aim at it. Theodor Krisstyan walked underneath, and looked up: the half-closed wound on the brow had reopened in his fall, and was bleeding; the blood ran down over his face. Perhaps Timar had gone outside just because he expected the furious man would shoot him out of revenge. But he only stood still in front of him, and began to mutter words without sound — just like Athalie. How well those two would suit! Krisstyan only spoke by movements of the mouth. He limped, for he had hurt one foot in his fall. He struck his left hand on the gun, which he still held, then seemed to say “No,” shook his fist at Timar, and threatened him by gestures. This pantomime meant, “Not thus will I destroy you; I have another fate designed for you; just wait!” Timar looked after him as he left the yard, following him with his eyes along the snowy path as far as the ice-covered lake. He gazed after him till he could only see a black speck moving in the direction of the double towers on the high peak.

Storm-clouds were rising over the Zala range. Timar saw them not. Round the Platten See a hurricane often arises in calm weather without the slightest warning; the fishermen who hear from afar the rustling of the leaves have not time to get back to the shore: the bursting storm drives a snow-cloud before it, from which tiny crystals drift down, sharp as needle-points. The cloud only covered half of the great panorama, wrapping the Tihany side, the peninsula with its rocky ridge and its gloomy church, in darkness, while the eastern level lay bright in the moonlight. The storm roared howling through the tall forests of the Aracs valley; the vanes on the ancient castle groaned like the cries of accursed spirits; and as the furious wind swept across the ice, it drew from the frozen floes such an unearthly music that one could fancy one saw the spirits which uttered it chasing each other, and yelling in their flight.

Amidst the ghostly music it seemed to Timar as if he heard through the howling of the tempest an awful scream in the distance, such as only human lips can utter — a cry of anguish, despair, blasphemy, which would rouse the Seven Sleepers and make the stars shudder. After a few seconds it came again, but shorter and more feeble, and then only the music of the storm was audible.

That ceased too. The snow-shower swept across the landscape; the storm held only one snow-cloud; the trees were still; the tones of the wind moaning over the ice-flats faded away in the distance with dying chords; the sky cleared, and all was once more silence. Timar’s heart too was at rest; he had finished his career. No road lay open to him. He could go neither forward nor back; he had fled as long as life was possible; and now the abyss yawned in front of him which had no other shore. His whole life passed before him like a dream, and he knew that at last he was about to awake from it. His first desire for the possession of the rich and lovely girl was the origin of all these events; his life hung on it like the enigma of the Sphinx. When the riddle was solved, the Sphinx would fall into the abyss.

How could he live on, unmasked before the world, unmasked before Timéa, and before Noémi? Thrown down from the pedestal on which he had stood for years at home and abroad, under the halo of his sovereign’s favor and his compatriots’ veneration! How could he ever look again on the woman who had defended him in his rival’s presence with such holy sorrow, when she learned that he was the very opposite of all she had admired in her husband, and that his whole life was a lie? And how could he meet Noémi when she knew he was Timéa’s husband? or dare to take Dodi on his lap? Nowhere, nowhere in the wide world was there a place where he could hide. It was as that man had said: there was nothing for him but to turn his back on the civilized world — like him; to change his name — like him; to sneak like a thief from one town to another — like him; to wander homeless on the face of the earth. . . .

But Timar knew of another place; there is the moon’s icy countenance — what did Noémi say? There live those who cast their lives away because they have ceased to know desire; they go where nothing exists: if that man seeks out Noémi on the ownerless island and brings despair on the lonely creature by his news, she will follow him there — to the frozen star.

Timar felt so tranquilized by this reflection that he had the self-control to direct his telescope on to the waning moon, on whose sphere shining spaces alternated with large, crescent-shaped shadows, and there came to choose a monstrous ravine, and say, “That shall be my dwelling; there will I wait for Noémi!”

Then he went back to his room. The adventurer’s burned clothes still glowed red on the hearth, the ashes showing the texture of the charred cloth. Timar laid fresh logs on, so that the fire might destroy every remnant. Then he threw on his cloak and left the house. He bent his steps toward the Platten See. The moon lighted the great ice-floes, an icy sun shining over a world of ice. . . . “I come, I come!” cried Timar; “I shall soon know what you have to tell me — if you have called me I shall be there.” He went straight to the great chasm. The poles erected by the good fishermen, the sticks with straw bundles on the top, warned every wanderer from afar to keep away — Timar sought them out. When he reached one of these danger-signals he stopped, took off his hat, and looked up to heaven.

Years had passed away since last he prayed. In this dark hour the Great Being came to his mind who teaches the stars their courses and rides on the storm, and who has created only one creature which defies its Maker — man. In this hour he was impelled to uplift his soul to Him. “Eternal Might, I fly from Thee, yet to Thee I come. I come not to ask for mercy: Thou didst lead me, but I fled from Thy ways; Thou didst warn me, yet I would not hear. Now, with blind obedience, I depart for the hereafter: my soul will rest there in cold annihilation. I must atone for making so many miserable who have been mine and have loved me; take them into Thy protection, Thou Eternal Justice! I have sinned, and I give myself up to death and damnation — they are not guilty — I alone. Thou Everlasting Justice, who hast brought me to this, be just also to them. Protect, console these feeble women, the helpless child, and give me alone over to Thine avenging angels — I am judged and I am silent.”

He knelt down. Between the edges of the fissure the waves of the Balaton plashed softly. The gloomy lake often moans even in a dead calm, and when its surface is ice-bound it swells up in the clefts and roars like the sea. Timar bent down to kiss the waves, as one kisses his mother before he starts for a long journey — as one kisses the pistol before blowing out one’s brains with it.

And as he bent down to the water, a human head rose from the depths in front of him. Over the forehead of the upturned face was a black band covering the right eye; the other eye, bloodshot, glassy, and cold as stone, glared at him; through the open mouth the water ran out and in . . . the phantom sunk again.

Timar sprung, half crazed, from his kneeling position, and stared after the ghostly apparition: it was as if it called on him to follow. Between the frozen margins the living water splashed. And again in the distance resounded the organ-tones which are the precursors of the nocturnal storm: amidst the howling of the approaching gale were heard the shrieks and groans of the miserable spirits, and higher and higher swelled the ghostly song. Again the whole frozen mass gave out the unearthly music, like the strings of myriad harps, until the sound grew into a booming roar, as though the lightning lured an awful, deafening melody from the resounding waves. The voices of the storm bellowed below the surface. With a frightful crash the floes were set in motion, and the tremendous pressure of the atmosphere closed once more the chasm in the ice.

Timar fell trembling on his face upon the still quivering glassy mirror.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56