The lovely widow was in the deepest mourning. She went nowhere, and received no visitors.
More than a year had passed since her husband’s burial.
Timéa had another name in the calendar — Susanna. Her first name came from her mother, who was a Greek; but the second she had received at her baptism. This she used when she had to sign documents, and St. Susanna’s day was considered her fête.
In provincial towns the fête-days are scrupulously kept. Relations and friends come without invitation, as a matter of course, to visit the person whose fête it is, and meet with a hospitable reception. Some noble families, however, have adopted the custom of sending invitations to these family-parties, by which it is made evident that those who do not receive cards may keep their congratulations to themselves.
There are two St. Susannas in the year. Timéa chose the one whose fête fell in winter, because then her husband used to be at home, and invitations were sent out a week beforehand. Of the other name no notice was taken. Timéa was not in the calendar of Komorn, nor even in the national Pesth calendar, and at that time there were no others in the province; so he who wanted to know Timéa’s own fête-day must search far and wide.
It fell in the merry month of May. At that season Herr Timar would have been long away on his journeys; nevertheless, Timéa received every May a lovely bouquet of white roses on the day of St. Timéa. Who sent it was not stated; it came by post, packed in a box.
As long as Timar lived, Herr Katschuka had invariably received invitations to the Sunday receptions, which he as regularly answered by depositing his card at the door: he never came to the parties. This year the fête-day party had been omitted, as the faithful Susanna was in mourning. On the morning of the lovely May day on which Timéa’s beautiful white-rose bouquet usually arrived, a servant in mourning livery brought a letter to Katschuka. On opening the envelope the major found a printed invitation-card inside, which bore the name, not of Susanna, but of Timéa Levetinczy, and had reference to that very day. Herr Katschuka was puzzled. What a curious notion of Timéa! To draw the attention of all Komorn to the fact that Susanna, a good Calvinist, was keeping the day of the Greek saint Timéa, and the more because she only sent out her invitations the same morning! It was an outrageous breach of etiquette. Herr Katschuka felt that this time he must accept. In the evening he took care not to be among the earliest arrivals. The time named was half past eight; he waited till half past nine, and then went. As he laid aside his cloak and sword in the anteroom, he asked the servant whether many visitors had arrived. The servant said no one had come yet. The major was startled. Probably the other guests had taken the shortness of the invitation badly, and decided not to appear; and he was confirmed in this idea when, on entering the saloon, he found the chandeliers lighted and all the rooms brilliantly illuminated — a sign that a large assembly was expected. The servant informed him that his mistress was in the inner room.
“Who is with her?”
“She is alone. Fraülein Athalie has gone with her mamma to Herr Fabula’s house — there is a great fish-dinner there.”
Herr Katschuka did not know what to think: not only were there no other guests, but even the people of the house had left the mistress alone. Timéa awaited him in her own sitting-room.
And for this grand party, amid all this splendor, Timéa was dressed entirely in black. She celebrated her fête-day in mourning: amid the radiance of the golden lusters and the silver candelabra a black mourning-dress, which, however, was not suited to the face of its wearer. On her lips hovered a charming smile, and a soft color lay on her cheeks. She received her single guest most cordially. “Oh, how late you are,” she said, as she gave him her hand.
The major pressed upon it a respectful kiss. “On the contrary, I fear I am the first.”
“Not at all. All I invited have already arrived.”
“Where?” asked the major, in astonishment.
“In the dining-room — they are at table, and only waiting for you.” With these words she took the arm of the wondering man, led him to the folding-doors, and threw them open; and then, indeed, the major knew not what to think. The dining-room was brilliantly lighted with wax candles; a long table was spread with places for eleven, and the same number of chairs were placed round it, but no one was there — not a single creature. But as the major threw a glance round he began to comprehend, and the clearer the riddle grew, the more his eyes were dimmed with tears. Before each of nine of the places stood a white-rose bouquet under a glass shade — the last of freshly gathered flowers; the roses of the others were dry, faded, and yellow.
“Look, they are all there which greeted me on Timéa’s fête-day year after year — these are my birthday guests. There are nine of them. Will you be the tenth? Then all whom I have invited will have assembled.”
The major, in speechless delight, pressed the lovely hand to his lips. “My poor roses —”
Timéa did not refuse him that privilege — possibly she would have allowed even more; but the widow’s cap stood in the way, and Timéa felt it.
“Do you want me to exchange this cap for another?”
“From that day I shall begin to live again.”
“Let us set apart for it my own fête-day, which every one knows.”
“Oh, but that is so far off.”
“Don’t be alarmed, there is a St. Susanna in the summer; we will keep her day.”
“But that is distant too.”
“It is not an eternity to wait till then. Have you not learned patience? Remember, I want time to get used to happiness — it does not come all at once; and we can see each other every day till then — at first for a minute, and then for two, and then forever. Is it agreed?”
The major could not refuse, she begged so sweetly.
“And now the banquet is over,” whispered Timéa; “the other guests are going to sleep, and you must go home too. But wait a moment — I will give you back a word from your last birthday congratulations.” She took from the fresh rose-bouquet one bud, touched it hardly perceptibly with her lips, and placed it in the major’s button-hole; but he pressed the rose, this “one word,” to his lips and kissed it. . . .
When the major had gone, and looked up from the street at the windows of the Levetinczy house, all was dark. He was the last to leave.
Timéa learned gradually the art of growing used to hope and happiness — she had a good teacher. Thenceforward, Herr Katschuka came every day to the house; but the major did not keep to the prescribed arithmetical progression — first one minute, then two. The wedding was fixed for the day of St. Susanna, in August. Athalie too, it appeared, had resigned herself to her fate. Herr Fabula’s wife was dead, and she accepted his hand; it is not unusual for a pretty girl to give herself to a rich widower — one knows how he treats his wife, and one runs less risk in taking him than some young dandy who has not yet sown his wild oats. Heaven bless their union!
Timéa proposed to give Athalie, as a dowry, the sum which Michael had offered her, and which she had refused. Every one thought she was trying to become a suitable wife for Herr Fabula. But Katschuka was not deceived; he saw through her black heart. He knew what he had done to Athalie, and the reckoning she had against Timéa, and destiny never leaves such a score unsettled. Have you forgotten, you lovely white woman, that this other girl was mistress here when you came; that she was a rich and honored bride, wooed by men and envied by women? And from the moment when the water cast you on these shores, misfortune followed her — she was made a beggar, brought to shame, spurned by her betrothed. It was not your fault, but it was owing to you — you brought bad luck; it sat on your forehead, between your meeting eyebrows, and brought the ship to destruction, and the house in which you set foot; it ruins those who injure you, as well as those who set you free. And you are not afraid to sleep under the same roof with Athalie — this roof!
Since Katschuka came to the house, Athalie had controlled herself, and treated even her mother kindly. She made tea for her which Frau Sophie liked, especially with plenty of rum in it — she made it herself; and was very good to the servants too, treating them also to tea, which, for the men-servants, almost might have been called punch; they could not say enough for her. Frau Sophie guessed the reason of all this kindness — those servile natures always look for a reason if they receive a favor, and repay it with suspicion.
“My daughter is currying favor with me, that I may go with her when she marries; she knows nothing of housekeeping — she can’t even make milk-soup. That’s why I am ‘Dear mamma’ all over the place, and get tea every night; as if I did not know what is in my daughter Athalie’s mind!” She will soon know even more.
Athalie carried her submissiveness to servility, in the presence of Timéa and the major. Neither by look nor manner did she betray her former claims. When he came, she opened the door with a smile, showed him in to Timéa, politely took part in the conversation, and, when she left the room, she might be heard singing next door. She had adopted the manners of a maid-servant.
Once Timéa asked her to play a duet, on which Athalie said, modestly, that she had forgotten her music — the only instrument she could play on now was the chopping-board. Since the great catastrophe, Athalie only played the piano when she knew no one could hear.
Do not your nerves shudder when this woman looks you in the face? does not your blood run cold when she stoops to kiss your hand? when she laces your boots, is it not as if a snake wound round your foot? and when she fills your glass, does it not occur to you to look what may be in it? No, no. Timéa has no suspicions; she is so kind, she treats Athalie like a sister; she has prepared a dowry of a hundred thousand gulden, and told Athalie so. She wished to make her happy, and thought she could console her for the loss of her first betrothed. And why should she not think so? Athalie herself refused him. When Timar offered her the money she said, “I will never have anything to do with the man again, either in this world or the next.” Timéa did not know of the visit Athalie had paid by night to her betrothed, when she was sent away by him alone and rejected; and Timéa did not know that a woman will give up the man she hates to another woman, even less willingly than the one she loves; that a woman’s hate is only love turned to poison, but still remains love. Katschuka, however, well remembered that nocturnal meeting; and therefore he trembled for Timéa, but dared not tell her so.
Only one day was wanting to the fête of St. Susanna. Timéa had gradually laid aside her mourning, as if it was hard to separate from it entirely, and as if she wished to learn gladness slowly. First she allowed white lace at her neck; then she changed black for dark gray, and silk for wool; then white stripes appeared in the gray; and at last only the cap remained of the mourning for Michael Levetinczy. This also will disappear on the fête-day; the beautiful Valenciennes cap of the young wife is already made, and must be tried on.
An unlucky fit of vanity induced Timéa to wait to do this till the major arrived. For a young widow the lace cap is what the orange-blossoms are to a girl. But the major was late because the white-rose bouquet was late in arriving from Vienna: this was the second fête-day bouquet in one year. A whole shoal of letters and notes of congratulation had arrived for Timéa, who had many acquaintances far and near. Timéa had not opened a single one; they lay in a heap in a silver basket on the table, many of them directed by children, for Timéa had a hundred and forty god-children in the town among the orphan boys and girls. She would have enjoyed these naïve letters, but her thoughts were otherwise occupied.
“Look what a comical one this is!” said Athalie, taking up one of the letters; “instead of a seal, there is a beetle stuck on the wax.”
“And what curious ink it is!” remarked Timéa. “Put it with the others — we will read it tomorrow.”
Some secret voice whispered to Timéa that she had better read it today. It was Dodi’s letter which was put aside.
But see, here comes the major; then all the hundred and forty god-children and their letters were forgotten, and Timéa ran to meet him. Nine years ago the fortunate bridegroom had brought a splendid red-rose bouquet to another bride.
And she too was present; and possibly the great mirror into which Athalie had cast her last glance on her bridal dress was the same which now stood there.
Timéa took the lovely white bouquet from the major’s hand, put it in a splendid Sèvres vase, and whispered to him, “Now I will give you something: it will never be yours, but always mine, and yet it is a present for you.” The pretty enigma issued from its box — it was the lace cap.
“Oh, how charming!” cried the major, taking it in his hand. “Shall I try it on you?” The major’s words died on his lips — he looked at Athalie.
Timéa stood before the glass with childish pleasure, and took off her widow’s cap; then she grew grave, put it to her lips and kissed it, while she said low and brokenly, “Poor Michael!”— and so she laid aside the last token of her widowhood.
Herr Katschuka was holding the white cap.
“Give it me that I may try it on.”
“Can I help you?”
The hair was then dressed very high, so that Timéa required assistance.
“You don’t know how; Athalie will be so good.”
Timéa spoke quite simply, but the major shuddered at the pallor which overflowed Athalie’s face at the words: he remembered how Athalie had once said to Timéa, “Come and put on my bridal veil!” And perhaps even she had not then thought what venom lay in the words. Athalie came to Timéa to help her with the cap, which required to be fastened with pins on both sides. Athalie’s hand trembled — and she pricked Timéa’s head with one of the pins.
“Oh, you stupid creature!” cried Timéa, jerking her head aside.
The same words, before the same man!
Timéa did not notice, but Herr Katschuka saw what a flash flew over Athalie’s face — a volcanic outburst of diabolical rage, a glow of flaming spite, a dark cloud of purple shame; the muscles quivered as if the face was a nest of snakes stirred up by a rod. What murderous eyes! What compressed lips! What a bottomless depth of passion in that single look. Timéa regretted her hasty word almost before it had passed her lips, and hastened to atone for it. “Don’t be angry, dear ‘Thaly; I forgot myself,” she said, turning to kiss her. “You’ll forgive me — you are not angry?”
The next moment Athalie was as humble as a maid who has done some damage, and began in a flattering tone, “Oh, my dear pretty Timéa, don’t you be angry; I would not hurt your dear little head for the world. How sweet you look in your cap, just like a fairy!” And she kissed Timéa’s shoulder.
A shudder ran through the major’s nerves.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52