Early in the following year, while the ground was yet bound with frost, and the great plains of Bohemia were still covered with snow, a Jew and his wife took their leave of Prague, and started for one of the great cities of the west. They carried with them but little of the outward signs of wealth, and but few of those appurtenances of comfort which generally fall to the lot of brides among the rich; the man, however, was well to do in the world, and was one who was not likely to bring his wife to want. It need hardly be said that Anton Trendellsohn was the man, and that Nina Balatka was his wife.
On the eve of their departure, Nina and her friend the Jewess had said farewell to each other. “You will write to me from Frankfort?” said Rebecca.
“Indeed I will,” said Nina; “and you, you will write to me often, very often?”
As often as you will wish it.”
“I shall wish it always,” said Nina; and you can write; you are clever. You know how to make your words say what there is in your heart.”
“But you have been able to make your face more eloquent than any words.”
“Rebecca, dear Rebecca! Why was it that he did not love such a one as you rather than me? You are more beautiful.”
“But he at least has not thought so.”
“And you are so clever and so good; and you could have given him help which I never can give him.”
“He does not want help. He wants to have by his side a sweet soft nature that can refresh him by its contrast to his own. He has done right to love you, and to make you his wife; only, I could wish that you were as we are in religion.” To this Nina made no answer. She could not promise that she would change her religion, but she thought that she would endeavour to do so. She would do so if the saints would let her. “I am glad you are going away, Nina,” continued Rebecca. “It will be better for him and better for you.”
“Yes, it will be better.”
“And it will be better for me also.” Then Nina threw herself on Rebecca’s neck and wept. She could say nothing in words in answer to that last assertion. If Rebecca really loved the man who was now the husband of another, of course it would be better that they should be apart. But Nina, who knew herself to be weak, could not understand that Rebecca, who was so strong, should have loved as she had loved.
“If you have daughters,” said Rebecca, “and if he will let you name one of them after me, I shall be glad.” Nina swore that if God gave her such a treasure as a daughter, that child should be named after the friend who had been so good to her.
There were also a few words of parting between Anton Trendellsohn and the girl who had been brought up to believe that she was to be his wife; but though there was friendship in them, there was not much of tenderness. “I hope you will prosper where you are going,” said Rebecca, as she gave the man her hand.
“I do not fear but that I shall prosper, Rebecca.”
“No; you will become rich, and perhaps great — as great, that is, as we Jews can make ourselves.”
“I hope you will live to hear that the Jews are not crushed elsewhere as they are here in Prague.”
“But, Anton, you will not cease to love the old city where your fathers and friends have lived so long?”
“I will never cease to love those, at least, whom I leave behind me. Farewell, Rebecca;” and he attempted to draw her to him as though he would kiss her. But she withdrew from him, very quietly, with no mark of anger, with no ostentation of refusal. “Farewell,” she said. “Perhaps we shall see each other after many years.”
Trendellsohn, as he sat beside his young wife in the post-carriage which took them out of the city, was silent till he had come nearly to the outskirts of the town; and then he spoke. “Nina,” he said, “I am leaving behind me, and for ever, much that I love well.”
“And it is for my sake,” she said. “I feel it daily, hourly. It makes me almost wish that you had not loved me.”
“But I take with me that which I love infinitely better than all that Prague contains. I will not, therefore, allow myself a regret. Though I should never see the old city again, I will always look upon my going as a good thing done.” Nina could only answer him by caressing his hand, and by making internal oaths that her very best should be done in every moment of her life to make him contented with the lot he had chosen.
There remains very little of the tale to be told — nothing, indeed, of Nina’s tale — and very little to be explained. Nina slept in peace at Rebecca’s house that night on which she had been rescued from death upon the bridge — or, more probably, lay awake anxiously thinking what might yet be her fate. She had been very near to death — so near that she shuddered, even beneath the warmth of the bed-clothes, and with the protection of her friend so close to her, as she thought of those long dreadful minutes she had passed crouching over the river at the feet of the statue. She had been very near to death, and for a while could hardly realise the fact of her safety. She knew that she was glad to have been saved; but what might come next was, at that moment, all vague, uncertain, and utterly beyond her own control She hardly ventured to hope more than that Anton Trendellsohn would not give her up to Madame Zamenoy. If he did, she must seek the river again, or some other mode of escape from that worst of fates. But Rebecca had assured her of Anton’s love, and in Rebecca’s words she had a certain, though a dreamy, faith. The night was long, but she wished it to be longer. To be there and to feel that she was warm and safe was almost happiness for her after the misery she had endured.
On the next day, and for a day or two afterwards, she was feverish and she did not rise, but Rebecca’s mother came to her, and Ruth — and at last Anton himself. She never could quite remember how those few days were passed, or what was said, or how it came to be arranged that she was to stay for a while in Rebecca’s house; that she was to stay there for a long while — till such time as she should become a wife, and leave it for a house of her own. She never afterwards had any clear conception, though she very often thought of it all, how it came to be a settled thing among the Jews around her, that she was to be Anton’s wife, and that Anton was to take her away from Prague. But she knew that her lover’s father had come to her, and that he had been kind, and that there had been no reproach cast upon her for the wickedness she had attempted. Nor was it till she found herself going to mass all alone on the third Sunday that she remembered that she was still a Christian, and that her lover was still a Jew. “It will not seem so strange to you when you are away in another place,” Rebecca said to her afterwards. “It will be good for both of you that you should be away from Prague.”
Nor did Nina hear much of the attempts which the Zamenoys made to rescue her from the hands of the Jews. Anton once asked her very gravely whether she was quite certain that she did not wish to see her aunt. “Indeed, I am,” said Nina, becoming pale at the idea of the suggested meeting. “Why should I see her? She has always been cruel to me.” Then Anton explained to her that Madame Zamenoy had made a formal demand to see her niece, and had even lodged with the police a statement that Nina was being kept in durance in the Jews’ quarter; but the accusation was too manifestly false to receive attention even when made against a Jew, and Nina had reached an age which allowed her to choose her own friends without interposition from the law. “Only,” said Anton, “it is necessary that you should know your own mind.”
“I do know it,” said Nina, eagerly.
And she saw Madame Zamenoy no more, nor her uncle Karil, nor her cousin Ziska. Though she lived in the same city with them for three months after the night on which she had been taken to Rebecca’s house, she never again was brought into contact with her relations. Lotta she once saw, when walking in the street with Ruth; and Lotta too saw her, and endeavoured to address her; but Nina fled, to the great delight of Ruth, who ran with her; and Lotta Luxa was left behind at the street corner.
I do not know that Nina ever had a more clearly-defined idea of the trick that Lotta had played upon her, than was conveyed to her by the sight of the deed as it was taken from her desk, and the knowledge that Souchey had put her lover upon the track. She soon learned that she was acquitted altogether by Anton, and she did not care for learning more. Of course there had been a trick. Of course there had been deceit. Of course her aunt and Lotta Luxa and Ziska, who was the worst of them all, had had their hands in it! But what did it signify? They had failed, and she had been successful. Why need she inquire farther?
But Souchey, who repented himself thoroughly of his treachery, spoke his mind freely to Lotta Luxa. “No,” said he, “not if you had ten times as many florins, and were twice as clever, for you nearly drove me to be the murderer of my mistress.”
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01