On the third day after Nina’s visit to her aunt, Ziska Zamenoy came across to the Kleinseite on a visit to old Balatka. In the mean time Nina had told the story of her love to her father, and the effect on Balatka had simply been that he had not got out of his bed since. For himself he would have cared, perhaps, but little as to the Jewish marriage, had he not known that those belonging to him would have cared so much. He had no strong religious prejudice of his own, nor indeed had he strong feeling of any kind. He loved his daughter, and wished her well; but even for her he had been unable to exert himself in his younger days, and now simply expected from her hands all the comfort which remained to him in this world. The priest he knew would attack him, and to the priest he would be able to make no answer. But to Trendellsohn, Jew as he was, he would trust in worldly matters, rather than to the Zamenoys; and were it not that he feared the Zamenoys, and could not escape from his close connection with them, he would have been half inclined to let the girl marry the Jew. Souchey, indeed, had frightened him on the subject when it had first been mentioned to him; and Nina, coming with her own assurance so quickly after Souchey’s suspicion, had upset him; but his feeling in regard to Nina had none of that bitter anger, no touch of that abhorrence which animated the breast of his sister-inlaw. When Ziska came to him he was alone in his bedroom. Ziska had heard the news, as had all the household in the Windberg-gasse, and had come over to his uncle’s house to see what he could do, by his own diplomacy, to put an end to an engagement which was to him doubly calamitous. “Uncle Josef,” he said, sitting by the old man’s bed, have you heard what Nina is doing?”
“What she is doing!” said the uncle. “What is she doing?” Balatka feared all the Zamenoys, down to Lotta Luxa; but he feared Ziska less than he feared any other of the household.
“Have you heard of Anton Trendellsohn?”
“What of Anton Trendellsohn? I have been hearing of Anton Trendellsohn for the last thirty years. I have known him since he was born.”
“Do you wish to have him for a son-inlaw?”
“For a son-inlaw?”
“Yes, for a son-inlaw — Anton Trendellsohn, the Jew. Would he be a good husband for our Nina? You say nothing, uncle Josef.”
“What am I to say?”
“You have heard of it, then? Why can you not answer me, uncle Josef? Have you heard that Trendellsohn has dared to ask Nina to be his wife?”
“There is not so much of daring in it, Ziska. Among you all the poor girl is a beggar. If some one does not take pity on her, she will starve soon.”
“Take pity on her! Do not we all take pity on her?”
“No,” said Josef Balatka, turning angrily against his nephew; “not a scrap of pity — not a morsel of love. You cannot rid yourself of her quite — of her or me — and that is your pity.”
“You are wrong there.”
“Very well; then let me be wrong. I can understand what is before my eyes. Look round the house and see what we are coming to. Nina at the present moment has not got a florin in her purse. We are starving, or next to it, and yet you wonder that she should be willing to marry an honest man who has plenty of money.”
“But he is a Jew!”
“Yes; he is a Jew. I know that.”
“And Nina knows it.”
“Of course she does. Do you go home and eat nothing for a week, and then see whether a Jew’s bread will poison you.”
“But to marry him, uncle Josef!”
“It is very bad. I know it is bad, but what can I do? If she says she will do it, how can I help it? She has been a good child to me — a very good child; and am I to lie here and see her starve? You would not give to your dog the morsel of bread which she ate this morning before she went out.”
All this was a new light to Ziska. He knew that his uncle and cousin were very poor, and had halted in his love because he was ashamed of their poverty; but he had never thought of them as people hungry from want of food, or cold from want of clothes. It may be said of him, to his credit, that his love had been too strong for his shame, and that he had made up his mind to marry his cousin Nina in spite of her poverty. When Lotta Luxa had called him a calf she had not inappropriately defined one side of his character. He was a good-looking well-grown young man, not very wise, quickly susceptible to female influences, and gifted with eyes capable of convincing him that Nina Balatka was by far the prettiest woman whom he ever saw. But, in connection with such calf-like propensities, Ziska was endowed with something of his mother’s bitterness and of his father’s persistency; and the old Zamenoys did not fear but that the fortunes of the family would prosper in the hands of their son. And when it was known to Madame Zamenoy and to her husband Karil that Ziska had set his heart upon having his cousin, they had expressed no displeasure at the prospect, poor as the Balatkas were. “There is no knowing how it may go about the houses in the Kleinseite,” Karil Zamenoy had said. “Old Trendellsohn gets the rent and the interest, but he has little or nothing to show for them — merely a written surrender from Josef, which is worth nothing.” No hindrance, therefore was placed in the way of Ziska’s suit, and Nina might have been already accepted in the Windberg-gasse had Nina chosen to smile upon Ziska. Now Ziska was told that the girl he loved was to marry a Jew because she was starving, and the tidings threw a new light upon him. Why had he not offered assistance to Nina? It was not surprising that Nina should be so hard to him — to him who had as yet offered her nothing in her poverty but a few cold compliments.
“She shall have bread enough, if that is what she wants,” said Ziska.
“Bread and kindness,” said the old man.
“She shall have kindness too, uncle Josef. I love Nina better than any Jew in Prague can love her.”
“Why should not a Jew love? I believe the man loves her well. Why else should he wish to make her his wife?”
“And I love her well — and I would make her my wife.”
“You want to marry Nina!”
“Yes, uncle Josef. I wish to marry Nina. I will marry her tomorrow — or, for that matter, today — if she will have me.”
“You! Ziska Zamenoy!”
“I, Ziska Zamenoy.”
“And what would your mother say?”
“Both father and mother will consent. There need be no hindrance if Nina will agree. I did not know that you were so badly off. I did not indeed, or I would have come to you myself and seen to it.”
Old Balatka did not answer for a while, having turned himself in his bed to think of the proposition which had been made to him. “Would you not like to have me for a son-inlaw better than a Jew, uncle Josef?” said Ziska, pleading for himself as best he knew how to plead.
“Have you ever spoken to Nina?” said the old man.
“Well, no; not exactly to say what I have said to you. When one loves a girl as I love her, somehow — I don’t know how — But I am ready to do so at once.
“Ah, Ziska, if you had done it sooner!”
“But is it too late? You say she has taken up with this man because you are both so poor. She cannot like a Jew best.”
“But she is true — so true!”
“If you mean about her promise to Trendellsohn, Father Jerome would tell her in a minute that she should not keep such a promise to a Jew.”
“She would not mind Father Jerome.”
“And what does she mind? Will she not mind you?”
“Me; yes — she will mind me, to give me my food.”
“Will she not obey you?”
“How am I to bid her obey me? But I will try, Ziska.”
“You would not wish her to marry a Jew?”
“No, Ziska; certainly I should not wish it.”
“And you will give me your consent?”
“Yes, if it be any good to you.”
“It will be good if you will be round with her, telling her that she must not do such a thing as this. Love a Jew! It is impossible. As you have been so very poor, she may be forgiven for having thought of it. Tell her that, uncle Josef; and whatever you do, be firm with her.”
“There she is in the next room,” said the father, who had heard his daughter’s entrance. Ziska’s face had assumed something of a defiant look while he was recommending firmness to the old man; but now that the girl of whom he had spoken was so near at hand, there returned to his brow the young calf-like expression with which Lotta Luxa was so well acquainted. “There she is, and you will speak to her yourself now,” said Balatka.
Ziska got up to go, but as he did so he fumbled in his pocket and brought forth a little bundle of bank-notes. A bundle of bank-notes in Prague may be not little, and yet represent very little money. When bank-notes are passed for two-pence and become thick with use, a man may have a great mass of paper currency in his pocket without being rich. On this occasion, however, Ziska tendered to his uncle no two-penny notes. There was a note for five florins, and two or three for two florins, and perhaps half-a-dozen for a florin each, so that the total amount offered was sufficient to be of real importance to one so poor as Josef Balatka.
“This will help you awhile,” said Ziska, “and if Nina will come round and be a good girl, neither you nor she shall want anything; and she need not be afraid of mother, if she will only do as I say.” Balatka had put out his hand and had taken the money, when the bedroom door was opened, and Nina came in.
“What, Ziska,” said she, “are you here?”
“Why not? why should I not see my uncle?”
“It is very good of you, certainly; only, as you never came before —”
“I mean it for kindness, now I have come, at any rate,” said Ziska.
“Then I will take it for kindness,” said Nina.
“Why should there be quarrelling among relatives?” said the old man from among the bed-clothes.
“Why, indeed?” said Ziska.
“Why, indeed,” said Nina, “— if it could be helped?”
She knew that the outward serenity of the words spoken was too good to be a fair representation of thoughts below in the mind of any of them. It could not be that Ziska had come there to express even his own consent to her marriage with Anton Trendellsohn; and without such consent there must of necessity be a continuation of quarrelling. “Have you been speaking to father, Ziska, about those papers?” Nina was determined that there should be no glozing of matters, no soft words used effectually to stop her in her projected course. So she rushed at once at the subject which she thought most important in Ziska’s presence.
“What papers?” said Ziska.
“The papers which belong to Anton Trendellsohn about this house and the others. They are his, and you would not wish to keep things which belong to another, even though he should be a — Jew.”
Then it occurred to Ziska that Trendellsohn might be willing to give up Nina if he got the papers, and that Nina might be willing to be free from the Jew by the same arrangement. It could not be that such a girl as Nina Balatka should prefer the love of a Jew to the love of a Christian. So at least Ziska argued in his own mind. “I do not want to keep anything that belongs to anybody,” said Ziska. “If the papers are with us, I am willing that they should be given up — that is, if it be right that they should be given up.”
“It is right,” said Nina.
“I believe the Trendellsohns should have them — either father or son,” said old Balatka.
“Of course they should have them,” said Nina; “either father or son — it makes no matter which.”
“I will try and see to it,” said Ziska.
“Pray do,” said Nina; “it will be only just; and one would not wish to rob even a Jew, I suppose.” Ziska understood nothing of what was intended by the tone of her voice, and began to think that there might really be ground for hope.
“Nina,” he said, “your father is not quite well. I want you to speak to me in the next room.”
“Certainly, Ziska, if you wish it. Father, I will come again to you soon. Souchey is making your soup, and I will bring it to you when it is ready.” Then she led the way into the sitting-room, and as Ziska came through, she carefully shut the door. The walls dividing the rooms were very thick, and the door stood in a deep recess, so that no sound could be heard from one room to another. Nina did not wish that her father should hear what might now pass between herself and her cousin, and therefore she was careful to shut the door close.
“Ziska,” said she, as soon as they were together, “I am very glad that you have come here. My aunt is so angry with me that I cannot speak with her, and uncle Karil only snubs me if I say a word to him about business. He would snub me, no doubt, worse than ever now; and yet who is there here to speak of such matters if I may not do so? You see how it is with father.”
“He is not able to do much, I suppose.”
“He is able to do nothing, and there is nothing for him to do — nothing that can be of any use. But of course he should see that those who have been good to him are not — are not injured because of their kindness.”
“You mean those Jews — the Trendellsohns.”
“Yes, those Jews the Trendellsohns! You would not rob a man because he is a Jew,” said she, repeating the old words.
“They know how to take care of themselves, Nina.”
“They have managed to get all your father’s property between them.”
“I don’t know how that is. Father says that the business which uncle and you have was once his, and that he made it. In these matters the weakest always goes to the wall. Father has no son to help him, as uncle Karil has — and old Trendellsohn.”
“You may help him better than any son.”
“I will help him if I can. Will you and uncle give up those papers which you have kept since father left them with uncle Karil, just that they might be safe?”
This question Ziska would not answer at once. The matter was one on which he wished to negotiate, and he was driven to the necessity of considering what might be the best line for his diplomacy. “I am sure, Ziska,” continued Nina, “you will understand why I ask this. Father is too weak to make the demand, and uncle would listen to nothing that Anton Trendellsohn would say to him.”
“They say that you have betrothed yourself to this Jew, Nina.”
“It is true. But that has nothing to do with it.”
“He is very anxious to have the deeds?”
“Of course he is anxious. Father is old and poorly; and what would he do if father were to die?”
“Nina, he shall have them — if he will give you up.”
Nina turned away from her cousin and looked out from the window into the little court. Ziska could not see her face; but had he done so he would not have been able to read the smile of triumph with which for a moment or two it became brilliant. No; Anton would make no such bargain as that! Anton loved her better than any title-deeds. Had he not told her that she was his sun — the sun that gave to him light and heat? “If they are his own, why should he be asked to make any such bargain?” said Nina.
“Nina,” said Ziska, throwing all his passion into his voice, as he best knew how, “it cannot be that you should love this man.”
“Why not love him?”
“Yes — a Jew! I do love him.”
“What have you to say, Ziska? Whatever you say, do not abuse him. It is my affair, not yours. You may think what you like of me for taking such a husband, but remember that he is to be my husband.”
“Nina, let me be your husband.”
“No, Ziska; that cannot be.”
“I love you. I love you fifty times better than he can do. Is not a Christian’s love better than a Jew’s?”
“Because I do not love you. Can there be any other reason in such a matter? I do not love you. I do not care if I never see you. But him I love with all my heart. To see him is the only delight of my life. To sit beside him, with his hand in mine, and my head on his shoulder, is heaven to me. To obey him is my duty; to serve him is my pleasure. To be loved by him is the only good thing which God has given me on earth. Now, Ziska, you will know why I cannot be your wife.” Still she stood before him, and still she looked up into his face, keeping her gaze upon him even after her words were finished.
“Accursed Jew!” said Ziska.
“That is right, Ziska; curse him; it is so easy.”
“And you too will be cursed — here and hereafter. If you marry a Jew you will be accursed to all eternity.”
“That, too, is very easy to say.”
“It is not I who say it. The priest will tell you the same.”
“Let him tell me so; it is his business, but it is not yours. You say it because you cannot have what you want yourself; that is all. When shall I call in the Ross Markt for the papers?” In the Ross Markt was the house of business of Karil Zamenoy, and there, as Nina well knew, were kept the documents which she was so anxious to obtain. But the demand at this moment was made simply with the object of vexing Ziska, and urging him on to further anger.
“Unless you will give up Anton Trendellsohn, you had better not come to the Ross Markt.”
“I will never give him up.”
“We will see. Perhaps he will give you up after a while. It will be a fine thing to be jilted by a Jew.”
“The Jew, at any rate, shall not be jilted by the Christian. And now, if you please, I will ask you to go. I do not choose to be insulted in father’s house. It is his house still.”
“Nina, I will give you one more chance.”
“You can give me no chance that will do you or me any good. If you will go, that is all I want of you now.”
For a moment or two Ziska stood in doubt as to what he would next do or say. Then he took up his hat and went away without another word. On that same evening some one rang the bell at the door of the house in the Windberg-gasse in a most humble manner — with that weak, hesitating hand which, by the tone which it produces, seems to insinuate that no one need hurry to answer such an appeal, and that the answer, when made, may be made by the lowest personage in the house. In this instance, however, Lotta Luxa did answer the bell, and not the stout Bohemian girl who acted in the household of Madame Zamenoy as assistant and fag to Lotta. And Lotta found Nina at the door, enveloped in her cloak. “Lotta,” she said, “will you kindly give this to my cousin Ziska?” Then, not waiting for a word, she started away so quickly that Lotta had not a chance of speaking to her, no power of uttering an audible word of abuse. When Ziska opened the parcel thus brought to him, he found it to contain all the notes which he had given to Josef Balatka.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14