Again some days passed by without any meeting between Nina and her lover, and things were going very badly with the Balatkas in the old house. The money that had come from the jeweller was not indeed all expended, but Nina looked upon it as her last resource, till marriage should come to relieve her; and the time of her marriage seemed to be as far from her as ever. So the kreutzers were husbanded as only a woman can husband them, and new attempts were made to reduce the little expenses of the little household.
“Souchey, you had better go. You had indeed,” said Nina. “We cannot feed you.” Now Souchey had himself spoken of leaving them some days since, urged to do so by his Christian indignation at the abominable betrothal of his mistress. “You said the other day that you would do so, and it will be better.”
“But I shall not.”
“Then you will be starved.”
“I am starved already, and it cannot be worse. I dined yesterday on what they threw out to the dogs in the meat-market.”
“And where will you dine today?”
“Ah, I shall dine better today. I shall get a meal in the Windberg-gasse.”
“What! at my aunt’s house?”
“Yes; at your aunt’s house. They live well there, even in the kitchen. Lotta will have for me some hot soup, a mess of cabbage, and a sausage. I wish I could bring it away from your aunt’s house to the old man and yourself.”
“I would sooner fall in the gutter than eat my aunt’s meat.”
“That is all very fine for you, but I am not going to marry a Jewess. Why should I quarrel with your aunt, or with Lotta Luxa? If you would give up the Jew, Nina, your aunt’s house would be open to you; yes — and Ziska’s house.”
“I will not give up the Jew,” said Nina, with flashing eyes.
“I suppose not. But what will you do when he gives you up? What if Ziska then should not be so forward?”
“Of all those who are my enemies, and whom I hate because they are so cruel, I hate Ziska the worst. Go and tell him so, since you are becoming one of them. In doing so much you cannot at any rate do me harm.”
Then she took herself off, forgetting in her angry spirit the prudential motives which had induced her to begin the conversation with Souchey. But Souchey, though he was going to Madame Zamenoy’s house to get his dinner, and was looking forward with much eagerness to the mess of hot cabbage and the cold sausage, had by no means become “one of them” in the Windberg-gasse. He had had more than one interview of late with Lotta Luxa, and had perceived that something was going on, of which he much desired to be at the bottom. Lotta had some scheme, which she was half willing and half unwilling to reveal to him, by which she hoped to prevent the threatened marriage between Nina and the Jew. Now Souchey was well enough inclined to take a part in such a scheme — provided it did not in any way make him a party with the Zamenoys in things general against the Balatkas. It was his duty as a Christian — though he himself was rather slack in the performance of his own religious duties — to put a stop to this horrible marriage if he could do so; but it behoved him to be true to his master and mistress, and especially true to them in opposition to the Zamenoys. He had in some sort been carrying on a losing battle against the Zamenoys all his life, and had some of the feelings of a martyr, telling himself that he had lost a rich wife by doing so. He would go on this occasion and eat his dinner and be very confidential with Lotta; but he would be very discreet, would learn more than he told, and, above all, would not betray his master or mistress.
Soon after he was gone, Anton Trendellsohn came over to the Kleinseite, and, ringing at the bell of the house, received admission from Nina herself. “What! you, Anton?” she said, almost jumping into his arms, and then restraining herself. “Will you come up? It is so long since I have seen you.”
“Yes — it is long. I hope the time is soon coming when there shall be no more of such separation.”
“Is it? Is it indeed?”
“I trust it is.”
“I suppose as a maiden I ought to be coy, and say that I would prefer to wait; but, dearest love, sorrow and trouble have banished all that. You will not love me less because I tell you that I count the minutes till I may be your wife.”
“No; I do not love you less on that account. I would have you be true and faithful in all things.”
Though the words themselves were assuring, there was something in the tone of his voice which repressed her. “To you I am true and faithful in all things; as faithful as though you were already my husband. What were you saying of a time that is soon coming?”
He did not answer her question, but turned the subject away into another channel. “I have brought something for you,” he said — something which I hope you will be glad to have.”
“Is it a present? she asked. As yet he had never given her anything that she could call a gift, and it was to her almost a matter of pride that she had taken nothing from her Jew lover, and that she would take nothing till it should be her right to take everything.
“Hardly a present; but you shall look at it as you will. You remember Rapinsky, do you not?” Now Rapinsky was the jeweller in the Grosser Ring, and Nina, though she well remembered the man and the shop, did not at the moment remember the name. “You will not have forgotten this at any rate,” said Trendellsohn, bringing the necklace from out of his pocket.
“How did you get it?” said Nina, not putting out her hand to take it, but looking at it as it lay upon the table.
“I thought you would be glad to have it back again.”
“I should be glad if —”
“If what?” Will it be less welcome because it comes through my hands?”
“The man lent me money upon it, and you must have paid the money.”
“What if I have? I like your pride, Nina; but be not too proud. Of course I have paid the money. I know Rapinsky, who deals with us often. I went to him after you spoke to me, and got it back again. There is your mother’s necklace.”
“I am sorry for this, Anton.”
“We are so poor that I shall be driven to take it elsewhere again. I cannot keep such a thing in the house while father wants. But better he should want than —”
“Than what, Nina?”
“There would be something like cheating in borrowing money on the same thing twice.”
“Then put it by, and I will be your lender.”
“No; I will not borrow from you. You are the only one in the world that I could never repay. I cannot borrow from you. Keep this thing, and if I am ever your wife, then you shall give it me.”
“If you are ever my wife?”
“Is there no room for such an if? I hope there is not, Anton. I wish it were as certain as the sun’s rising. But people around us are so cruel! It seems, sometimes, as though the world were against us. And then you, yourself —”
“What of me myself, Nina?”
“I do not think you trust me altogether; and unless you trust me, I know you will not make me your wife.”
“That is certain; and yet I do not doubt that you will be my wife.”
“But do you trust me? Do you believe in your heart of hearts that I know nothing of that paper for which you are searching?” She paused for a reply, but he did not at once make any. “Tell me,” she went on saying, with energy, “are you sure that I am true to you in that matter, as in all others? Though I were starving — and it is nearly so with me already — and though I loved you beyond even all heaven, as I do, I do — I would not become your wife if you doubted me in any tittle. Say that you doubt me, and then it shall be all over.” Still he did not speak. “Rebecca Loth will be a fitter wife for you than I can be,” said Nina.
“If you are not my wife, I shall never have a wife,” said Trendellsohn.
In her ecstasy of delight, as she heard these words, she took up his hand and kissed it; but she dropped it again, as she remembered that she had not yet received the assurance that she needed. “But you do believe me about this horrid paper?”
It was necessary that she should be made to go again through the fire. In deliberate reflection he had made himself aware that such necessity still existed. It might be that she had some inner reserve as to duty towards her father. There was, possibly, some reason which he could not fathom why she should still keep something back from him in this matter. He did not, in truth, think that it was so, but there was the chance. There was the chance, and he could not bear to be deceived. He felt assured that Ziska Zamenoy and Lotta Luxa believed that this deed was in Nina’s keeping. Indeed, he was assured that all the household of the Zamenoys so believed. “If there be a God above us, it is there,” Lotta had said, crossing herself. He did not think it was there; he thought that Lotta was wrong, and that all the Zamenoys were wrong, by some mistake which he could not fathom; but still there was the chance, and Nina must be made to bear this additional calamity.
“Do you think it impossible,” said he, “that you should have it among your own things?”
“What! without knowing that I have it?” she asked.
“It may have come to you with other papers,” he said, “and you may not quite have understood its nature.”
“There, in that desk, is every paper that I have in the world. You can look if you suspect me. But I shall not easily forgive you for looking.” Then she threw down the key of her desk upon the table. He took it up and fingered it, but did not move towards the desk. “The greatest treasure there,” she said, “are scraps of your own, which I have been a fool to value, as they have come from a man who does not trust me.”
He knew that it would be useless for him to open the desk. If she were secreting anything from him, she was not hiding it there. “Might it not possibly be among your clothes?” he asked.
“I have no clothes,” she answered, and then strode off across the wide room towards the door of her father’s apartment. But after she had grasped the handle of the door, she turned again upon her lover. “It may, however, be well that you should search my chamber and my bed. If you will come with me, I will show you the door. You will find it to be a sorry place for one who was your affianced bride.”
“Who is my affianced bride,” said Trendellsohn.
“No, sir! — who was, but is so no longer. You will have to ask my pardon, at my feet, before I will let you speak to me again as my lover. Go and search. Look for your deed — and then you shall see that I will tear out my own heart rather than submit to the ill-usage of distrust from one who owes me so much faith as you do.”
“Nina” he said.
“I do trust you.”
“Yes — with a half trust — with one eye closed, while the other is watching me. You think you have so conquered me that I will be good to you, and yet cannot keep yourself from listening to those who whisper that I am bad to you. Sir, I fear they have been right when they told me that a Jew’s nature would surely shock me at last.”
The dark frowning cloud, which she had so often observed with fear, came upon his brow; but she did not fear him now. “And do you too taunt me with my religion?” he said.
“No, not so — not with your religion, Anton; but with your nature.”
“And how can I help my nature?”
“I suppose you cannot help it, and I am wrong to taunt you. I should not have taunted you. I should only have said that I will not endure the suspicion either of a Christian or of a Jew.”
He came up to her now, and put out his arm as though he were about to embrace her. “No,” she said; “not again, till you have asked my pardon for distrusting me, and have given me your solemn word that you distrust me no longer.”
He paused a moment in doubt, then put his hat on his head and prepared to leave her. She had behaved very well, but still he would not be weak enough to yield to her in everything at once. As to opening her desk, or going up-stairs into her room, that he felt to be quite impossible. Even his nature did not admit of that. But neither did his nature allow him to ask her pardon and to own that he had been wrong. She had said that he must implore her forgiveness at her feet. One word, however, one look, would have sufficed. But that word and that look were, at the present moment, out of his power. “Good-bye, Nina,” he said. “It is best that I should leave you now.”
“By far the best; and you will take the necklace with you, if you please.”
“No; I will leave that. I cannot keep a trinket that was your mother’s.”
“Take it, then, to the jeweller’s, and get back your money. It shall not be left here. I will have nothing from your hands.” He was so far cowed by her manner that he took up the necklace and left the house, and Nina was once more alone.
What they had told her of her lover was after all true. That was the first idea that occurred to her as she sat in her chair, stunned by the sorrow that had come upon her. They had dinned into her ears their accusations, not against the man himself, but against the tribe to which he belonged, telling her that a Jew was, of his very nature, suspicious, greedy, and false. She had perceived early in her acquaintance with Anton Trendellsohn that he was clever, ambitious, gifted with the power of thinking as none others whom she knew could think; and that he had words at his command, and was brave, and was endowed with a certain nobility of disposition which prompted him to wish for great results rather than for small advantages. All this had conquered her, and had made her resolve to think that a Jew could be as good as a Christian. But now, when the trial of the man had in truth come, she found that those around her had been right in what they had said. How base must be the nature which could prompt a man to suspect a girl who had been true to him as Nina had been true to her lover!
She would never see him again — never! He had left the room without even answering the question which she had asked him. He would not even say that he trusted her. It was manifest that he did not trust her, and that he believed at this moment that she was endeavouring to rob him in this matter of the deed. He had asked her if she had it in her desk or among her clothes, and her very soul revolted from the suspicion so implied. She would never speak to him again. It was all over. No; she would never willingly speak to him again.
But what would she do? For a few minutes she fell back, as is so natural with mortals in trouble, upon that religion which she had been so willing to outrage by marrying the Jew. She went to a little drawer and took out a string of beads which had lain there unused since she had been made to believe that the Virgin and the saints would not permit her marriage with Anton Trendellsohn. She took out the beads — but she did not use them. She passed no berries through her fingers to check the number of prayers said, for she found herself unable to say any prayer at all. If he would come back to her, and ask her pardon — ask it in truth at her feet — she would still forgive him, regardless of the Virgin and the saints. And if he did not come back, what was the fate that Lotta Luxa had predicted for her, and to which she had acknowledged to herself that she would be driven to submit? In either case how could she again come to terms with St John and St Nicholas? And how was she to live? Should she lose her lover, as she now told herself would certainly be her fate, what possibility of life was left to her? From day to day and from week to week she had put off to a future hour any definite consideration of what she and her father should do in their poverty, believing that it might be postponed till her marriage would make all things easy. Her future mode of living had often been discussed between her and her lover, and she had been candid enough in explaining to him that she could not leave her father desolate. He had always replied that his wife’s father should want for nothing, and she had been delighted to think that she could with joy accept that from her husband which nothing would induce her to accept from her lover. This thought had sufficed to comfort her, as the evil of absolute destitution was close upon her. Surely the day of her marriage would come soon.
But now it seemed to her to be certain that the day of her marriage would never come. All those expectations must be banished, and she must look elsewhere — if elsewhere there might be any relief. She knew well that if she would separate herself from the Jew, the pocket of her aunt would be opened to relieve the distress of her father — would be opened so far as to save the old man from perishing of want. Aunt Sophie, if duly invoked, would not see her sister’s husband die of starvation. Nay, aunt Sophie would doubtless so far stretch her Christian charity as to see that her niece was in some way fed, if that niece would be duly obedient. Further still, aunt Sophie would accept her niece as the very daughter of her house, as the rising mistress of her own establishment, if that niece would only consent to love her son. Ziska was there as a husband in Anton’s place, if Ziska might only gain acceptance.
But Nina, as she rose from her chair and walked backwards and forwards through her chamber, telling herself all these things, clenched her fist, and stamped her foot, as she swore to herself that she would dare all that the saints could do to her, that she would face all the terrors of the black dark river, before she would succumb to her cousin Ziska. As she worked herself into wrath, thinking now of the man she loved, and then of the man she did not love, she thought that she could willingly perish — if it were not that her father lay there so old and so helpless. Gradually, as she magnified to herself the terrible distresses of her heart, the agony of her yearning love for a man who, though he loved her, was so unworthy of her perfect faith, she began to think that it would be well to be carried down by the quick, eternal, almighty stream beyond the reach of the sorrow which encompassed her. When her father should leave her she would be all alone — alone in the world, without a friend to regard her, or one living human being on whom she, a girl, might rely for protection, shelter, or even for a morsel of bread. Would St Nicholas cover her from the contumely of the world, or would St John of the Bridges feed her? Did she in her heart of hearts believe that even the Virgin would assist her in such a strait? No; she had no such belief. It might be that such real belief had never been hers. She hardly knew. But she did know that now, in the hour of her deep trouble, she could not say her prayers and tell her beads, and trust valiantly that the goodness of heaven would suffice to her in her need.
In the mean time Souchey had gone off to the Windberg-gasse, and had gladdened himself with the soup, with the hot mess of cabbage and the sausage, supplied by Madame Zamenoy’s hospitality. The joys of such a moment are unknown to any but those who, like Souchey, have been driven by circumstances to sit at tables very ill supplied. On the previous day he had fed upon offal thrown away from a butcher’s stall, and habit had made such feeding not unfamiliar to him. As he walked from the Kleinseite through the Old Town to Madame Zamenoy’s bright-looking house in the New Town, he had comforted himself greatly with thoughts of the coming feast. The representation which his imagination made to him of the banquet sufficed to produce happiness, and he went along hardly envying any man. His propensities at the moment were the propensities of a beast. And yet he was submitting himself to the terrible poverty which made so small a matter now a matter of joy to him, because there was a something of nobility within him which made him true to the master who had been true to him, when they had both been young together. Even now he resolved, as he sharpened his teeth, that through all the soup and all the sausage he would be true to the Balatkas. He would be true even to Nina Balatka — though he recognised it as a paramount duty to do all in his power to save her from the Jew.
He was seated at the table in the kitchen almost as soon as he had entered the house in the Windberg-gasse, and found his plate full before him. Lotta had felt that there was no need of the delicacy of compliment in feeding a man who was so undoubtedly hungry, and she had therefore bade him at once fall to. “A hearty meal is a thing you are not used to,” she had said, “and it will do your old bones a deal of good.” The address was not complimentary, especially as coming from a lady in regard to whom he entertained tender feelings; but Souchey forgave the something of coarse familiarity which the words displayed, and, seating himself on the stool before the victuals, gave play to the feelings of the moment. “There’s no one to measure what’s left of the sausage,” said Lotta, instigating him to new feats.
“Ain’t there now?” said Souchey, responding to the sound of the trumpet. “I always thought she had the devil’s own eye in looking after what was used in the kitchen.”
“The devil himself winks sometimes,” said Lotta, cutting another half-inch off from the unconsumed fragment, and picking the skin from the meat with her own fair fingers. Hitherto Souchey had been regardless of any such niceness in his eating, the skin having gone with the rest; but now he thought that the absence of the outside covering and the touch of Lotta’s fingers were grateful to his appetite.
“Souchey,” said Lotta, when he had altogether done, and had turned his stool round to the kitchen fire, “where do you think Nina would go if she were to marry — a Jew?” There was an abrupt solemnity in the manner of the question which at first baffled the man, whose breath was heavy with the comfortable repletion which had been bestowed upon him.
“Where would she go to?” he said, repeating Lotta’s words.
“Yes, Souchey, where would she go to? Where would be her eternal home? What would become of her soul? Do you know that not a priest in Prague would give her absolution though she were on her dying bed? Oh, holy Mary, it’s a terrible thing to think of! It’s bad enough for the old man and her to be there day after day without a morsel to eat; and I suppose if it were not for Anton Trendellsohn it would be bad enough with them —”
“Not a gulden, then, has Nina ever taken from the Jew — nor the value of a gulden, as far as I can judge between them.”
“What matters that, Souchey? Is she not engaged to him as his wife? Can anything in the world be so dreadful? Don’t you know she’ll be — damned for ever and ever?” Lotta, as she uttered the terrible words, brought her face close to Souchey’s, looking into his eyes with a fierce glare. Souchey shook his head sorrowfully, owning thereby that his knowledge in the matter of religion did not go to the point indicated by Lotta Luxa. “And wouldn’t anything, then, be a good deed that would prevent that?”
“It’s the priests that should do it among them.”
“But the priests are not the men they used to be, Souchey. And it is not exactly their fault neither. There are so many folks about in these days who care nothing who goes to glory and who does not, and they are too many for the priests.”
“If the priests can’t fight their own battle, I can’t fight it for them,” said Souchey.
“But for the old family, Souchey, that you have known so long! Look here; you and I between us can prevent it.”
“And how is it to be done?”
“Ah! that’s the question. If I felt that I was talking to a real Christian that had a care for the poor girl’s soul, I would tell you in a moment.”
“So I am; only her soul isn’t my business.”
“Then I cannot tell you this. I can’t do it unless you acknowledge that her welfare as a Christian is the business of us all. Fancy, Souchey, your mistress married to a filthy Jew!”
“For the matter of that, he isn’t so filthy neither.”
“An abominable Jew! But, Souchey, she will never fall out with him. We must contrive that he shall quarrel with her. If she had a thing about her that he did not want her to have, couldn’t you contrive that he should know it?”
“What sort of thing? Do you mean another lover, like?”
“No, you gander. If there was anything of that sort I could manage it myself. But if she had a thing locked up — away from him, couldn’t you manage to show it to him? He’s very generous in rewarding, you know.”
“I don’t want to have anything to do with it,” said Souchey, getting up from his stool and preparing to take his departure. Though he had been so keen after the sausage, he was above taking a bribe in such a matter as this.
“Stop, Souchey, stop. I didn’t think that I should ever have to ask anything of you in vain.”
Then she put her face very close to his, so that her lips touched his ear, and she laid her hand heavily upon his arm, and she was very confidential. Souchey listened to the whisper till his face grew longer and longer. “’Tis for her soul,” said Lotta —“for her poor soul’s sake. When you can save her by raising your hand, would you let her be damned for ever?”
But she could exact no promise from Souchey except that he would keep faith with her, and that he would consider deeply the proposal made to him. Then there was a tender farewell between them, and Souchey returned to the Kleinseite.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01