A year and a half passed away since Michael came home to the ownerless island. He had not left it for a single day.
Great events had occurred during this interval. Dodi had learned to write. What joy when the little dunce made his first attempt with chalk on a board: the letters are dictated to him —“write l and ó, and then pronounce them both together.” He was surprised that that meant ló (Hungarian for horse), and yet he had not drawn a horse. A year later he could address a birthday letter to his mother in beautiful copper-plate on white paper — it was a greater achievement than Cleopatra’s Needle, covered with hieroglyphics.
When Dodi’s first letter was fluttering in Noémi’s hand, she said, with a tear in her eye, to Michael, “He will write like you.”
“Where have you seen my handwriting?” asked Michael, in surprise.
“In the copies you set Dodi, to begin with; and then too in the contract by which you gave us the island. Have you forgotten?”
“Yes; it is so long ago.”
“And do you not write to any one now?”
“You have not left the island for a year and a half; have you nothing to do now out in the world?”
“No. And I shall never have anything to do there again.”
“What will become of your business then?”
“Would you like to know?”
“Yes, indeed. The thought troubles me that a clever man like you should be shut up here in the narrow bounds of this island, and only because you love us: if you have no other reason for staying here always except your great love for us, it pains me.”
“It is well, Noémi. I will tell you then who I was out there in the world, what I did there, and why I stay here. You shall know all: when you have put the boy to bed, come to me on the veranda and I will tell you everything. You will shudder and wonder over what you will hear; but in the end you will forgive me, as God forgave me when He sent me here.”
After supper Noémi put Dodi to bed, and then came out to Michael, sat beside him on the bench, and leaned on his breast. The full moon shone down on them between the leaves: it was now no longer the ghostly star, the ice-paradise of suicides, but a kind acquaintance and friend. And then Michael told Noémi all that had befallen him out in the world.
The sudden death of the mysterious passenger, the sinking of the ship and the concealed treasures: how he had married Timéa. He described her sorrow and her suffering; he spoke of Timéa to Noémi as of a saint; and when he described faithfully the nocturnal scene when he had watched Timéa from his hiding-place, and how the woman had defended her husband against evil report, against her own beloved, and against her own heart, how Noémi sobbed and how her tears flowed for Timéa!
And then Michael described to her what he had suffered in the fearful situation from which he could not free himself, having on one side the ties of his worldly position, his riches, and Timéa’s fidelity; while his love, his happiness, and every aspiration of his soul drew him in another direction. How sweetly Noémi consoled him with her soft kisses! . . .
When, finally, he told her of the awful night in which the adventurer appeared at his lonely castle, of how despair had led him to the brink of the grave, and how, as he looked down into the waves, instead of his own face mirrored in the water, the dead face of his enemy emerged from the depths, and God’s hand suddenly closed before his eyes the opening of the icy tomb — oh! how passionately Noémi pressed him to her breast, as if to hold him back from falling into the grave.
“Now you know what I have left behind in the world, and what I have found here. Can you forgive me for what you have suffered and for all my offenses against you?” Noémi’s tears and kisses replied.
The confession had lasted long: the short summer’s night was over, and it was daylight when Michael concluded the story of his life.
He was forgiven. “My guilt is obliterated,” said Michael. “Timéa had recovered her freedom and her wealth. The vagabond had on my clothes and carried my pocket-book away with him: they will bury his body as if it were mine, and Timéa is a widow. I have given you my soul, and you have accepted it. Now all is equal.”
Noémi took Michael’s arm and led him into the room where the boy was asleep. He awoke under their kisses, opened his eyes, and when he saw that it was morning, he knelt up in his little bed, and with folded hands offered his morning prayer: “Dear Lord, bless my good father and my dear mother!”
“All is forgiven, Michael! . . . One angel prays for you beside your bed, the other at your grave, that you may be happy.”
Noémi dressed little Dodi, and then her eyes rested thoughtfully on Michael. She wanted time to realize all she had heard from him, but women have quick perceptions.
Suddenly Noémi said to her husband, “Michael, you have still one duty to fulfill in the world.”
“What duty, and to whom?”
“You owe Timéa the secret that other woman revealed to you.”
“About the door which leads into her room from the secret passage. You must tell her of it. Some one might get in to her when she is asleep and alone.”
“But no one knows of this secret passage except Athalie.”
“Is that not enough?”
“What do you mean?”
“Michael, you little know us women. You don’t know what Athalie is, but I can guess. My tears flowed for Timéa, because she is so wretched, because she does not love you, and you are mine; but if she felt for you what she feels for that other man, and if you spurned me for her sake, as that man did Athalie, then may God keep me from ever seeing her asleep and in my power!”
“Noémi, you frighten me.”
“That is what women are. Did you never know it. Hasten to reveal this secret to Timéa. I want her to be happy.”
Michael kissed Noémi on the brow. “You darling child! I dare not write to Timéa, for she would recognize my writing; and then she could not be my widow, nor I your husband returned from the dead, and ascended into the paradise of your love.”
“Then I will write to her.”
“No, no, no! I won’t allow it. I have heaped gold and diamonds upon her, but she shall not have a word from you; that is one of my own treasures. I brought Noémi nothing of Timéa’s, and I will not give Timéa anything of Noémi’s. You shall not write her a word.”
“Well, then,” said Noémi, smiling, “I know another who can write to Timéa. Dodi shall write the letter.”
Timar burst out laughing. There was a world of humor, of child-like simplicity, happy pride, and deep emotion in the idea. Little Dodi will write to warn Timéa of her danger. Dodi to Timéa! . . . Timar smiled with tears in his eyes. But Noémi was in earnest; she wrote the copy, and Dodi wrote the important lines on ruled paper, without a mistake. Of course he had no idea what he was writing. Noémi gave him a lovely violet ink, a decoction of marsh-mallow, and sealed the letter with white wax; and as there was no seal in the house, nor even a coin which could serve for one, Dodi caught a pretty golden-green beetle, and stuck it on the wax, instead of a coat of arms. The letter was given to the fruit-dealer to take to the post.
Little Dodi’s letter went off to Timéa.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56