In the archives of the Komorn Court, one of the most interesting trials is that of Athalie Brazovics. The woman’s defense was masterly; she denied everything, knew how to disprove everything, and when they thought they had caught her, she managed to throw such mystery over it all, that her judges knew not where to have her. Why should she murder Timéa? She was herself engaged, and had good prospects, while Timéa was her benefactress, and had promised her a rich dowry.
Then, too, no traces of the murder could be found except in Timéa’s room. Nowhere was a bloody rag or handkerchief to be found — not even the ashes of anything which could have been burned. Who had drugged the servants could not be ascertained. The household had supped together, and among the various sweets and foreign fruits there might have been something which stupefied them. Not a drop of the suspected punch was to be found; even the glasses which had held it were all washed out when the patrol entered.
Athalie maintained that she also had taken something that evening which tasted peculiar, and that she had fallen so fast asleep that she neither heard her mother’s cry nor the noises afterward, and only awoke when the major touched her hand. The one person who had found her bed empty half an hour before was her own mother, who could not give evidence against her. Her strongest point was that Timéa had locked all the doors, and was found insensible. How could a murderer get in and get out again? And if there had been an attempt to murder, why should she be suspected more than the rest?
The major remained with Timéa till late at night; perhaps if he left, some one might creep into the room again. They did not even know whether the assassin was man or woman. The only one who knew, Timéa, did not betray it, but kept to her assertion that she could not remember anything about it; her alarm had been so great that everything had faded from her memory like a dream.
She could not accuse Athalie, and was not even confronted with her.
Timéa was still crippled by her wounds, which healed slowly; but the shock to her nerves was more serious than the bodily injury, and she trembled for Athalie. Since that dreadful night she was never left alone — a doctor and a nurse watched her by turns. By day the major hardly left her side, and the magistrate often visited her in order to cross-examine her; but as soon as Athalie was mentioned. Timéa was silent, and not another word could be extracted from her.
The doctor advised at last that she should hear some amusing reading aloud. Timéa had left her bed, and sat up to receive visitors.
Herr Katschuka proposed to open the birthday letters which had been put aside on that eventful day. That would be as good as anything — the naïve congratulations of the god-children to the miraculously saved lady, which no one had yet read. Timéa’s hands were still bandaged. Herr Katschuka opened the letters and read them aloud. The magistrate, too, was present. The patient’s face brightened during the reading, which seemed to do her good.
“What a curious seal this is,” said the major, as he took up a letter which had a golden beetle stuck on the wax.
“Very odd,” said Timéa; “I noticed it too.”
The major opened it. After he had read the first line —“Gracious lady, there is in your room a picture of St. George”— the words stuck in his throat, his eyes rolled wildly, and while he read on, his lips turned blue, and cold sweat stood on his brow: suddenly he threw the letter from him, and rushed like a madman to the picture, burst it in with his fist, and tore it and its heavy frame from the wall. There behind it yawned the dark depths of the secret chamber.
The major dashed into the darkness, and returned in a moment with the evidence of the murder — Athalie’s bloody night-dress — in his hand. Timéa hid her face in horror. The magistrate picked up the letter, put it in his pocket, and took possession of the proofs.
Other things were found in this hiding-place: the box of poisons, and Athalie’s diary, with the frightful confessions which threw light on her soul’s dark abysses, as the phosphoric mollusks do in the coral forests of the sea. What monsters dwell there! Timéa forgets her wounds; with clasped hands she implores the gentlemen, the doctor, the magistrate, and her betrothed too, to tell no one, and keep the whole thing secret. But that would be impossible; the proofs are in the hands of justice, and there is no longer hope for Athalie except in God’s mercy. And Timéa can no longer disregard the legal summons: as soon as she can leave her room, she must appear in court and be confronted with Athalie. This was a cruel task. Even now she would only say that she remembered nothing about the murderous attack.
The marriage with the major had to be hurried on, for Timéa was to appear in court as Katschuka’s wife. As soon as her health allowed, the wedding took place quite privately, without any festivity, without guests or banquet. Only the clergyman and the witnesses, the magistrate and the doctor, were present. No other visitors were admitted.
Human justice would not spare her the painful scene: once again she had to be brought face to face with her murderess. Athalie had no dread of this meeting, but awaited with impatience the moment when her victim would appear. If with no other weapon, she wished by her eyes to inflict one more stab on Timéa’s heart. But she started when the official said —“Call Emerich Katschuka’s wife!”
Katschuka’s wife! Already married to him! But in spite of that she showed unconcealed satisfaction when Timéa entered, and Athalie saw the face paler than ever, the red line over the marble forehead, the scar from the murderous blow; this memento was from her. Her lovely bosom swelled with joy when Timéa was required to swear in the name of the living God that she would answer truly, and all she said was true, and when Timéa drew off her glove and raised her hand, so that the disfiguring scar of a frightful sword-cut was visible. That, too, was a wedding-present from Athalie. And Timéa swore with that maimed and trembling hand that she had forgotten everything, and could not even remember whether the murderer with whom she had struggled was a man or a woman.
“Fool!” muttered Athalie between her teeth. (Did they not struggle hand to hand?) “What I dared to do, you dare not even accuse me of.”
“We are not asking that,” said the president. “We only ask you, Did this letter, in a child’s writing, and sealed with a beetle, really come to you by post, and on the very day of the attack? Was it then sealed, and did no one know its contents?”
Timéa answered all these questions calmly with Yes or No.
Then the president turned to Athalie —“Now listen, Athalie Brazovics, to the contents of this letter:—
“‘GRACIOUS LADY — There is in your room a picture of St. George on the wall. This picture covers a hiding-place, to which the entrance lies through the lumber-room. Have this hole walled up, and watch over your valuable life. Long and happy may it be.
And then the president raised a cloth from the table. Under it lay the accusers of Athalie — the bloody night-dress, the box of poisons, and the diary.
Athalie uttered a scream like a mortally wounded animal, and covered her face with both hands, and when she took them away, that face was no longer pale, but fiery red. She had a narrow black ribbon round her neck; she tore it off now with her two hands, and threw it away, as if to bare the lovely neck for the headsman, or perhaps rather to utter more easily what now burst from her.
“Yes, it is true I tried to kill you, and I am only sorry I did not succeed. You have been the curse of my life, you pale-faced ghost! Through you I have incurred eternal damnation. I tried to kill you — I owed it to myself. See now, there was enough poison to send a whole wedding company into eternity; but I longed for your blood. You are not dead, but my thirst is quenched, and I can die now. But before the executioner’s ax severs my head from my body, I will give your heart one more stab, from which it will never be healed, and whose torture shall disturb your sweetest embraces. I swear! hear me, oh, God! hear me, ye saints and angels, and devils! all ye in heaven and earth! — be gracious to me only so far as I speak what is true.” And the raving woman sunk on her knees, and threw up her hands, calling heaven and earth to witness. “I swear! I swear that this secret — the secret of the hidden door — was only known to one person besides myself, and that one was MICHAEL TIMAR LEVETINCZY. The day after he learned this secret from me he disappeared. If any one has told this, then MICHAEL TIMAR LEVETINCZY DID NOT DIE NEXT DAY! He lives still, and you can look for your first husband’s return. So help me God, it is true that Timar lives! He whom we buried in his stead was a thief who had stolen his clothes. And now live on with this stab in your heart.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10