At present she is a great lady, an elegant, intellectual woman, a celebrated actress; but in the year 1847, when our story begins, she was a beautiful, but not very moral girl, and then it was that the young, talented Hungarian poet, who was the first to discover her gifts for the stage, made her acquaintance.
The slim, ardent girl, with her bright, brown hair and her large blue eyes, attracted the careless poet, and he loved her, and all that was good and noble in her nature, put forth fresh buds and blossoms in the sunshine of his poetic love.
They lived in an attic in the old Imperial city on the Danube, and she shared his poverty, his triumphs and his pleasures, and she would have become his true and faithful wife, if the Hungarian revolution had not torn him from her arms.
The poet became the soldier of freedom, and followed the Magyar tricolor, and the Honved drums, while she was carried away by the current of the movement in the capital, and she might have been seen discharging her musket, like a brave Amazon, at the Croats, who were defending the town against Görgey’s assaulting battalions.
But at last Hungary was subdued, and was governed as if it had been a conquered country.
It was said that the young poet had fallen at Temesvar, and his mistress wept for him, and married another man, which was nothing either new or extraordinary. Her name was now Frau von Kubinyi, but her married life was not happy; and one day it occurred to her that her lover had told her that she had talent for the stage, and whatever he said, had always proved correct, so she separated from her husband, studied a few parts, appeared on the stage, and the public, the critics, actors and literature were lying at her feet.
She obtained a very profitable engagement, and her reputation increased with every part she played; and before the end of a year after her first appearance, she was the lioness of society. Everybody paid homage to her, and the wealthiest men tried to obtain her favors; but she remained cold and reserved, until the General commanding the district, who was a handsome man of noble bearing, and a gentleman in the highest sense of the word, approached her.
Whether she was flattered at seeing that powerful man, before whom millions trembled, and who had to decide over the life and death, the honor and happiness of so many thousands, fettered by her soft curls, or whether her enigmatical heart for once really felt what true love was, suffice it to say, that in a short time she was his acknowledged mistress, and her princely lover surrounded her with the luxury of an Eastern queen.
But just then a miracle occurred — the resurrection of a dead man. Frau von Kubinyi was driving through the Corso in the General’s carriage; she was lying back negligently in the soft cushions, and looking carelessly at the crowd on the pavement. Then, she caught sight of a common Austrian soldier and screamed out aloud.
Nobody heard that cry, which came from the depths or a woman’s heart, nobody saw how pale and how excited that woman was, who usually seemed made of marble, not even the soldier who was the cause of it. He was a Hungarian poet, who, like so many other Honveds1, now wore the uniform of an Austrian soldier.
1 A Hungarian word, meaning literally, Defender of the Fatherland. The term Honved is applied to the Hungarian Landnehr, or Militia. — Translator.]
Two days later, to his no small surprise he was told to go to the General in command, as orderly, and when he reported himself to the adjutant, he told him to go to Frau von Kubinyi’s, and to await her orders.
Our poet only knew her by report, but he hated and despised the beautiful woman, who had sold herself to the enemy of the country, most intensely; he had no choice, however, but to obey.
When he arrived at her house, he seemed to be expected, for the porter knew his name, took him into his lodge, and without any further explanation, told him immediately to put on the livery of his mistress, which was lying there ready for him. He ground his teeth, but resigned himself without a word to his wretched, though laughable fate; it was quite clear that the actress had some purpose in making the poet wear her livery. He tried to remember whether he could formerly have offended her by his notices as a theatrical critic, but before he could arrive at any conclusion, he was told to go and show himself to Frau von Kubinyi.
She evidently wished to enjoy his humiliation.
He was shown into a small drawing-room, which was furnished with an amount of taste and magnificence such as he had never seen before, and was told to wait. But he had not been alone many minutes, before the door-curtains were parted and Frau von Kubinyi came in, calm but deadly pale, in a splendid dressing gown of some Turkish material, and he recognized his former mistress.
“Irma!” he exclaimed.
The cry came from his heart, and it also affected the heart of the woman, who was surfeited with pleasure, so greatly that the next moment she was lying on the breast of the man whom she had believed to be dead, but only for a moment, and then he freed himself from her.
“We are fated to meet again thus!” she began.
“Not through any fault of mine,” he replied bitterly.
“And not through mine either,” she said quickly; “everybody thought that you were dead, and I wept for you; that is my justification.”
“You are really too kind,” he replied sarcastically. “How can you condescend to make any excuses to me? I wear your livery, and you have to order, and I have to obey; our relative positions are clear enough.”
Frau von Kubinyi turned away to hide her tears.
“I did not intend to hurt your feelings,” he continued: “but I must confess that it would have been better for both of us, if we had not met again. But what do you mean by making me wear your livery? It is not enough that I have been robbed of my happiness? Does it afford you any pleasure to humiliate me as well?”
“How can you think that?” the actress exclaimed. “Oh! Ever since I have discovered your unhappy lot, I have thought of nothing but the means of delivering you from it, and until I succeed in doing this, however, I can at least make it more bearable for you.”
“I understand,” the unhappy poet said with a sneer. “And in order to do this, you have begged your present worshiper, to turn your former lover into a footman.”
“What a thing to say to me!”
“Can you find any other plea?”
“You wish to punish me for having loved you, idolized you, I suppose?” the painter continued. “So exactly like a woman! But I can perfectly well understand that the situation promises to have a fresh charm for you . . . ”
Before he could finish what he was saying, the actress quickly left the room; he could hear her sobbing, but he did not regret his words, and his contempt and hatred for her only increased, when he saw the extravagance and the princely luxury with which she was surrounded. But what was the use of his indignation? He was wearing her livery, he was obliged to wait upon her and to obey her, for she had the corporal’s cane at her command, and it really seemed as if he incurred the vengeance of the offended woman; as if the General’s insolent mistress wished to make him feel her whole power; as if he were not to be spared the deepest humiliation.
The General and two of Frau von Kubinyi’s friends, who were servants of the Muses like she was, for one was a ballet dancer, and the two others were actresses, had come to tea, and he was to wait on them.
While it was getting ready, he heard them laughing in the next room, and the blood flew to his head, and when the butler opened the door Frau von Kubinyi appeared on the General’s arm; she did not, however, look at her new footman, her former lover, triumphantly or contemptuously, but she gave him a glance of the deepest commiseration.
Could he after all have wronged her?
Hatred and love, contempt and jealousy were struggling in his breast, and when he had to fill the glasses, the bottle shook in his hand.
“Is this the man?” the General said, looking at him closely.
Frau von Kubinyi nodded.
“He was evidently not born for a footman,” the General added.
“And still less for a soldier,” the actress observed.
These words fell heavily on the unfortunate poet’s heart, but she was evidently taking his part, and trying to rescue him from his terrible position.
Suspicion, however, once more gained the day.
“She is tired of all pleasures, and satisfied with enjoyment,” he said to himself; “she requires excitement and it amuses her to see the man whom she formerly loved, and who, as she knows, still loves her, tremble before her. And when she pleases she can see me tremble; not for my life, but for fear of the disgrace which she can inflict upon me at the moment if it should give her any pleasure.”
But suddenly the actress gave him a look which was so sad and so imploring, that he looked down in confusion.
From that time he remained in her house without performing any duties, and without receiving any orders from her; in fact he never saw her, and did not venture to ask after her, and two months had passed in this way, when the General unexpectedly sent for him. He waited, with many others, in the ante-room, and when the General came back from parade, he saw him and beckoned him to follow, and as soon as they were alone, he said:
“You are free, as you have been allowed to purchase your discharge.”
“Good heavens!” the poet stammered, “how am I to . . . ”
“That is already done,” the General replied. “You are free.”
“How is it possible? How can I thank your Excellency!”
“You owe me no thanks,” he replied; “Frau von Kubinyi bought you out.”
The poor poet’s heart seemed to stop; he could not speak, nor even stammer a word; but with a low bow, he rushed out and tore wildly through the streets, until he reached the mansion of the woman whom he had so misunderstood, quite out of breath; he must see her again, and throw himself at her feet.
“Where are you going to?” the porter asked him.
“To Frau von Kubinyi’s.”
“She is not here.”
“She has gone away.”
“Gone away? Where to?”
“She started for Paris two hours ago.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53