The more Madame Zamenoy thought of the terrible tidings which had reached her, the more determined did she become to prevent the degradation of the connection with which she was threatened. She declared to her husband and son that all Prague were already talking of the horror, forgetting, perhaps, that any knowledge which Prague had on the subject must have come from herself. She had, indeed, consulted various persons on the subject in the strictest confidence. We have already seen that she had told Lotta Luxa and her son, and she had, of course, complained frequently on the matter to her husband. She had unbosomed herself to one or two trusty female friends who lived near her, and she had applied for advice and assistance to two priests. To Father Jerome she had gone as Nina’s confessor, and she had also applied to the reverend pastor who had the charge of her own little peccadilloes. The small amount of assistance which her clerical allies offered to her had surprised her very much. She had, indeed, gone so far as to declare to Lotta that she was shocked by their indifference. Her own confessor had simply told her that the matter was in the hands of Father Jerome, as far as it could be said to belong to the Church at all; and had satisfied his conscience by advising his dear friend to use all the resources which female persecution put at her command. “You will frighten her out of it, Madame Zamenoy, if you go the right way about it,” said the priest. Madame Zamenoy was well inclined to go the right way about it, if she only knew how. She would make Nina’s life a burden to her if she could only get hold of the girl, and would scruple at no threats as to this world or the next. But she thought that her priest ought to have done more for her in such a crisis than simply giving her such ordinary counsel. Things were not as they used to be, she knew; but there was even yet something of the prestige of power left to the Church, and there were convents with locks and bars, and excommunication might still be made terrible, and public opinion, in the shape of outside persecution, might, as Madame Zamenoy thought, have been brought to bear. Nor did she get much more comfort from Father Jerome. His reliance was placed chiefly on operations to be carried on with the Jew; and, failing them, on the opposition which the Jew would experience among his own people. “They think more of it than we do,” said Father Jerome.
“How can that be, Father Jerome?”
“Well, they do. He would lose caste among all his friends by such a marriage, and would, I think, destroy all his influence among them. When he perceives this more fully he will be shy enough about it himself. Besides, what is he to get?”
“He will get nothing.”
“He will think better of it. And you might manage something with those deeds. Of course he should have them sooner or later, but they might be surrendered as the price of his giving her up. I should say it might be managed.”
All this was not comfortable for Madame Zamenoy; and she fretted and fumed till her husband had no peace in his house, and Ziska almost wished that he might hear no more of the Jew and his betrothal. She could not even commence her system of persecution, as Nina did not go near her, and had already told Lotta Luxa that she must decline to discuss the question of her marriage any further. So, at last, Madame Zamenoy found herself obliged to go over in person to the house in the Kleinseite. Such visits had for many years been very rare with her. Since her sister’s death and the days in which the Balatkas had been prosperous, she had preferred that all intercourse between the two families should take place at her own house; and thus, as Josef Balatka himself rarely left his own door, she had not seen him for more than two years. Frequent intercourse, however, had been maintained, and aunt Sophie knew very well how things were going on in the Kleinseite. Lotta had no compunctions as to visiting the house, and Lotta’s eyes were very sharp. And Nina had been frequently in the Windberg-gasse, having hitherto believed it to be her duty to attend to her aunt’s behests. But Nina was no longer obedient, and Madame Zamenoy was compelled to go herself to her brother-inlaw, unless she was disposed to leave the Balatkas absolutely to their fate. Let her do what she would, Nina must be her niece, and therefore she would yet make a struggle.
On this occasion Madame Zamenoy walked on foot, thinking that her carriage and horses might be too conspicuous at the arched gate in the little square. The carriage did not often make its way over the bridge into the Kleinseite, being used chiefly among the suburbs of the New Town, where it was now well known and quickly recognised; and she did not think that this was a good opportunity for breaking into new ground with her equipage. She summoned Lotta to attend her, and after her one o’clock dinner took her umbrella in her hand and went forth. She was a stout woman, probably not more than forty-five years of age, but a little heavy, perhaps from too much indulgence with her carriage. She walked slowly, therefore; and Lotta, who was nimble of foot and quick in all her ways, thanked her stars that it did not suit her mistress to walk often through the city.
“How very long the bridge is, Lotta!” said Madame Zamenoy.
“Not longer, ma’am, than it always has been,” said Lotta, pertly.
“Of course it is not longer than it always has been; I know that; but still I say it is very long. Bridges are not so long in other places.”
“Not where the rivers are narrower,” said Lotta. Madame Zamenoy trudged on, finding that she could get no comfort from her servant, and at last reached Balatka’s door. Lotta, who was familiar with the place, entered the house first, and her mistress followed her. Hanging about the broad passage which communicated with all the rooms on the ground-floor, they found Souchey, who told them that his master was in bed, and that Nina was at work by his bedside. He was sent in to announce the grand arrival, and when Madame Zamenoy entered the sitting-room Nina was there to meet her.
“Child,” she said, “I have come to see your father.”
“Father is in bed, but you can come in,” said Nina.
“Of course I can go in,” said Madame Zamenoy, “but before I go in let me know this. Has he heard of the disgrace which you purpose to bring upon him?”
Nina drew herself up and made no answer; whereupon Lotta spoke. “The old gentleman knows all about it, ma’am, as well as you do.”
“Lotta, let the child speak for herself. Nina, have you had the audacity to tell your father — that which you told me?”
“I have told him everything,” said Nina; “will you come into his room?” Then Madame Zamenoy lifted up the hem of her garment and stepped proudly into the old man’s chamber.
By this time Balatka knew what was about to befall him, and was making himself ready for the visit. He was well aware that he should be sorely perplexed as to what he should say in the coming interview. He could not speak lightly of such an evil as this marriage with a Jew; nor when his sister-inlaw should abuse the Jews could he dare to defend them. But neither could he bring himself to say evil words of Nina, or to hear evil words spoken of her without making some attempt to screen her. It might be best, perhaps, to lie under the bed-clothes and say nothing, if only his sister-inlaw would allow him to lie there. “Am I to come in with you, aunt Sophie?” said Nina. “Yes child,” said the aunt; “come and hear what I have to say to your father.” So Nina followed her aunt, and Lotta and Souchey were left in the sitting-room.
“And how are you, Souchey?” said Lotta, with unusual kindness of tone. “I suppose you are not so busy but you can stay with me a few minutes while she is in there?”
“There is not so much to do that I cannot spare the time,” said Souchey.
“Nothing to do, I suppose, and less to get?” said Lotta.
“That’s about it, Lotta; but you wouldn’t have had me leave them?”
“A man has to look after himself in the world; but you were always easy-minded, Souchey.”
“I don’t know about being so easy-minded. I know what would make me easy-minded enough.”
“You’ll have to be servant to a Jew now.”
“No; I’ll never be that.”
“I suppose he gives you something at odd times?”
“Who? Trendellsohn? I never saw the colour of his money yet, and do not wish to see it.”
“But he comes here — sometimes?”
“Never, Lotta. I haven’t seen Anton Trendellsohn within the doors these six months.”
“But she goes to him?”
“Yes; she goes to him.”
“That’s worse — a deal worse.”
“I told her how it was when I saw her trotting off so often to the Jews’ quarter. ‘You see too much of Anton Trendellsohn,’ I said to her; but it didn’t do any good.”
“You should have come to us, and have told us.”
“What, Madame there? I could never have brought myself to that; she is so upsetting, Lotta.”
“She is upsetting, no doubt; but she don’t upset me. Why didn’t you tell me, Souchey?”
“Well, I thought that if I said a word to her, perhaps that would be enough. Who could believe that she would throw herself at once into a Jew’s arms — such a fellow as Anton Trendellsohn, too, old enough to be her father, and she the bonniest girl in all Prague?”
“Handsome is that handsome does, Souchey.”
“I say she’s the sweetest girl in all Prague; and more’s the pity she should have taken such a fancy as this.”
“She mustn’t marry him, of course, Souchey.”
“Not if it can be helped, Lotta.”
“It must be helped. You and I must help it, if no one else can do so.”
“That’s easy said, Lotta.”
“We can do it, if we are minded — that is, if you are minded. Only think what a thing it would be for her to be the wife of a Jew! Think of her soul, Souchey!”
Souchey shuddered. He did not like being told of people’s souls, feeling probably that the misfortunes of this world were quite heavy enough for a poor wight like himself, without any addition in anticipation of futurity. “Think of her soul, Souchey,” repeated Lotta, who was at all points a good churchwoman.
“It’s bad enough any way,” said Souchey.
“And there’s our Ziska would take her tomorrow in spite of the Jew.”
“Would he now?”
“That he would, without anything but what she stands up in. And he’d behave very handsome to anyone that would help him.”
“He’d be the first of his name that ever did, then. I have known the time when old Balatka there, poor as he is now, would give a florin when Karil Zamenoy begrudged six kreutzers.”
“And what has come of such giving? Josef Balatka is poor, and Karil Zamenoy bids fair to be as rich as any merchant in Prague. But no matter about that. Will you give a helping hand? There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you, Souchey, if we could manage this between us.”
“Would you now?” And Souchey drew near, as though some closer bargain might be practicable between them.
“I would indeed; but, Souchey, talking won’t do it.”
“What will do it?”
Lotta paused a moment, looking round the room carefully, till suddenly her eyes fell on a certain article which lay on Nina’s work-table. “What am I to do?” said Souchey, anxious to be at work with the prospect of so great a reward.
“Never mind,” said Lotta, whose tone of voice was suddenly changed. “Never mind it now at least. And, Souchey, I think you’d better go to your work. We’ve been gossiping here ever so long.”
“Perhaps five minutes; and what does it signify?”
“She’d think it so odd to find us here together in the parlour.”
“Not odd at all.”
“Just as though we’d been listening to what they’d been saying. Go now, Souchey — there’s a good fellow; and I’ll come again the day after tomorrow and tell you. Go, I say. There are things that I must think of by myself.” And in this way she got Souchey to leave the room.
“Josef,” said Madame Zamenoy, as she took her place standing by Balatka’s bedside —“Josef, this is very terrible.” Nina also was standing close by her father’s head, with her hand upon her father’s pillow. Balatka groaned, but made no immediate answer.
“It is terrible, horrible, abominable, and damnable,” said Madame Zamenoy, bringing out one epithet after the other with renewed energy. Balatka groaned again. What could he say in reply to such an address?
“Aunt Sophie,” said Nina, “do not speak to father like that. He is ill.”
“Child,” said Madame Zamenoy, “I shall speak as I please. I shall speak as my duty bids me speak. Josef, this that I hear is very terrible. It is hardly to be believed that any Christian girl should think of marrying — a Jew.”
“What can I do?” said the father. “How can I prevent her?”
“How can you prevent her, Josef? Is she not your daughter? Does she mean to say, standing there, that she will not obey her father? Tell me. Nina, will you or will you not obey your father?”
“That is his affair, aunt Sophie; not yours.”
“His affair! It is his affair, and my affair, and all our affairs. Impudent girl! — brazen-faced, impudent, bad girl! Do you not know that you would bring disgrace upon us all?”
“You are thinking about yourself, aunt Sophie; and I must think for myself.”
“You do not regard your father, then?”
“Yes, I do regard my father. He knows that I regard him. Father, is it true that I do not regard you?”
“She is a good daughter,” said the father.
“A good daughter, and talk of marrying a Jew!” said Madame Zamenoy. “Has she your permission for such a marriage? Tell me that at once, Josef, that I may know. Has she your sanction for — for — for this accursed abomination?” Then there was silence in the room for a few moments. “You can at any rate answer a plain question, Josef,” continued Madame Zamenoy. “Has Nina your leave to betroth herself to the Jew, Trendellsohn?”
“No, I have not got his leave,” said Nina.
“I am speaking to your father, miss,” said the enraged aunt.
“Yes; you are speaking very roughly to father, and he is ill. Therefore I answer for him.”
“And has he not forbidden you to think of marrying this Jew?”
“No, he has not,” said Nina.
“Josef, answer for yourself like a man,” said Madame Zamenoy. “Have you not forbidden this marriage? Do you not forbid it now? Let me at any rate hear you say that you have forbidden it.” But Balatka found silence to be his easiest course, and answered not at all. “What am I to think of this?” continued Madame Zamenoy. “It cannot be that you wish your child to be the wife of a Jew!”
“You are to think, aunt Sophie, that father is ill, and that he cannot stand against your violence.”
“Violence, you wicked girl! It is you that are violent.”
“Will you come out into the parlour, aunt?”
“No, I will not come out into the parlour. I will not stir from this spot till I have told your father all that I think about it. Ill, indeed! What matters illness when it is a question of eternal damnation!” Madame Zamenoy put so much stress upon the latter word that her brother-inlaw almost jumped from under the bed-clothes. Nina raised herself, as she was standing, to her full height, and a smile of derision came upon her face. “Oh, yes! I daresay you do not mind it,” said Madame Zamenoy. “I daresay you can laugh now at all the pains of hell. Castaways such as you are always blind to their own danger; but your father, I hope, has not fallen so far as to care nothing for his religion, though he seems to have forgotten what is due to his family.”
“I have forgotten nothing,” said old Balatka.
“Why then do you not forbid her to do this thing?” demanded Madame Zamenoy. But the old man had recognised too well the comparative security of silence to be drawn into argument, and therefore merely hid himself more completely among the clothes. “Am I to get no answer from you, Josef?” said Madame Zamenoy. No answer came, and therefore she was driven to turn again upon Nina.
“Why are you doing this thing, you poor deluded creature? Is it the man’s money that tempts you?”
“It is not the man’s money. If money could tempt me, I could have it elsewhere, as you know.”
“It cannot be love for such a man as that. Do you not know that he and his father between them have robbed your father of everything?”
“I know nothing of the kind.”
“They have; and he is now making a fool of you in order that he may get whatever remains.”
“Nothing remains. He will get nothing.”
“Nor will you. I do not believe that after all he will ever marry you. He will not be such a fool.”
“Perhaps not, aunt; and in that case you will have your wish.”
“But no one can ever speak to you again after such a condition. Do you think that I or your uncle could have you at our house when all the world shall know that you have been jilted by a Jew?”
“I will not trouble you by going to your house.”
“And is that all the satisfaction I am to have?”
“What do you want me to say?”
I want you to say that you will give this man up, and return to your duty as a Christian.”
“I will never give him up — never. I would sooner die.”
“Very well. Then I shall know how to act. You will not be a bit nearer marrying him; I can promise you that. You are mistaken if you think that in such a matter as this a girl like you can do just as she pleases.” Then she turned again upon the poor man in bed. “Josef Balatka, I am ashamed of you. I am indeed — I am ashamed of you.”
“Aunt Sophie,” said Nina, “now that you are here, you can say what you please to me; but you might as well spare father.”
“I will not spare him. I am ashamed of him — thoroughly ashamed of him. What can I think of him when he will lie there and not say a word to save his daughter from the machinations of a filthy Jew?”
“Anton Trendellsohn is not a filthy Jew.”
“He is a robber. He has cheated your father out of everything.”
“He is no robber. He has cheated no one. I know who has cheated father, if you come to that.”
“Whom do you mean, hussey?”
“I shall not answer you; but you need not tell me any more about the Jews cheating us. Christians can cheat as well as Jews, and can rob from their own flesh and blood too. I do not care for your threats, aunt Sophie, nor for your frowns. I did care for them, but you have said that which makes it impossible that I should regard them any further.”
“And this is what I get for all my trouble — for all your uncle’s generosity!” Again Nina smiled. “But I suppose the Jew gives more than we have given, and therefore is preferred. You poor creature — poor wretched creature!”
During all this time Balatka remained silent; and at last, after very much more scolding, in which Madame Zamenoy urged again and again the terrible threat of eternal punishment, she prepared herself for going. “Lotta Luxa,” she said, “— where is Lotta Luxa?” She opened the door, and found Lotta Luxa seated demurely by the window. “Lotta,” she said, “I shall go now, and shall never come back to this unfortunate house. You hear what I say; I shall never return here. As she makes her bed, so must she lie on it. It is her own doing, and no one can save her. For my part, I think that the Jew has bewitched her.”
“Like enough,” said Lotta.
“When once we stray from the Holy Church, there is no knowing what terrible evils may come upon us,” said Madame Zamenoy.
“No indeed, ma’am,” said Lotta Luxa.
“But I have done all in my power.”
“That you have, ma’am.”
“I feel quite sure, Lotta, that the Jew will never marry her. Why should a man like that, who loves money better than his soul, marry a girl who has not a kreutzer to bless herself?”
“Why indeed, ma’am! It’s my mind that he don’t think of marrying her.”
“And, Jew as he is, he cares for his religion. He will not bring trouble upon everybody belonging to him by taking a Christian for his wife.”
“That he will not, ma’am, you may be sure,” said Lotta.
“And where will she be then? Only fancy, Lotta — to have been jilted by a Jew!” Then Madame Zamenoy, without addressing herself directly to Nina, walked out of the room; but as she did so she paused in the doorway, and again spoke to Lotta. “To be jilted by a Jew, Lotta! Think of that.”
“I should drown myself,” said Lotta Luxa. And then they both were gone.
The idea that the Jew might jilt her disturbed Nina more than all her aunt’s anger, or than any threats as to the penalties she might have to encounter in the next world. She felt a certain delight, an inward satisfaction, in giving up everything for her Jew lover — a satisfaction which was the more intense, the more absolute was the rejection and the more crushing the scorn which she encountered on his behalf from her own people. But to encounter this rejection and scorn, and then to be thrown over by the Jew, was more than she could endure. And would it, could it, be so? She sat down to think of it; and as she thought of it terrible fears came upon her. Old Trendellsohn had told her that such a marriage on his son’s part would bring him into great trouble; and old Trendellsohn was not harsh with her as her aunt was harsh. The old man, in his own communications with her, had always been kind and forbearing. And then Anton himself was severe to her. Though he would now and again say some dear, well-to-be-remembered happy word, as when he told her that she was his sun, and that he looked to her for warmth and light, such soft speakings were few with him and far between. And then he never mentioned any time as the probable date of their marriage. If only a time could be fixed, let it be ever so distant, Nina thought that she could still endure all the cutting taunts of her enemies. But what would she do if Anton were to announce to her some day that he found himself, as a Jew, unable to marry with her as a Christian? In such a case she thought that she must drown herself, as Lotta had suggested to her.
As she sat thinking of this, her eyes suddenly fell upon the one key which she herself possessed, and which, with a woman’s acuteness of memory, she perceived to have been moved from the spot on which she had left it. It was the key of the little desk which stood in the corner of the parlour, and in which, on the top of all the papers, was deposited the necklace with which she intended to relieve the immediate necessities of their household. She at once remembered that Lotta had been left for a long time in the room, and with anxious, quick suspicion she went to the desk. But her suspicions had wronged Lotta. There, lying on a bundle of letters, was the necklace, in the exact position in which she had left it. She kissed the trinket, which had come to her from her mother, replaced it carefully, and put the key into her pocket.
What should she do next? How should she conduct herself in her present circumstances? Her heart prompted her to go off at once to Anton Trendellsohn and tell him everything; but she greatly feared that Anton would not be glad to see her. She knew that it was not well that a girl should run after her lover; but yet how was she to live without seeing him? What other comfort had she? and from whom else could she look for guidance? She declared to herself at last that she, in her position, would not be stayed by ordinary feelings of maiden reserve. She would tell him everything, even to the threat on which her aunt had so much depended, and would then ask him for his counsel. She would describe to him, if words from her could describe them, all her difficulties, and would promise to be guided by him absolutely in everything. “Everything,” she would say to him, “I have given up for you. I am yours entirely, body and soul. Do with me as you will.” If he should then tell her that he would not have her, that he did not want the sacrifice, she would go away from him — and drown herself. But she would not go to him today — no, not today; not perhaps tomorrow. It was but a day or two as yet since she had been over at the Trendellsohns’ house, and though on that occasion she had not seen Anton, Anton of course would know that she had been there. She did not wish him to think that she was hunting him. She would wait yet two or three days — till the next Sunday morning perhaps — and then she would go again to the Jews’ quarter. On the Christian Sabbath Anton was always at home, as on that day business is suspended in Prague both for Christian and Jew.
Then she went back to her father. He was still lying with his face turned to the wall, and Nina, thinking that he slept, took up her work and sat by his side. But he was awake, and watching. “Is she gone?” he said, before her needle had been plied a dozen times.
“Aunt Sophie? Yes, father, she has gone.”
“I hope she will not come again.”
“She says that she will never come again.”
“What is the use of her coming here? We are lost and are perishing. We are utterly gone. She will not help us, and why should she disturb us with her curses?”
“Father, there may be better days for us yet.”
“How can there be better days when you are bringing down the Jew upon us? Better days for yourself, perhaps, if mere eating and drinking will serve you.”
“Have you not ruined everything with your Jew lover? Did you not hear how I was treated? What could I say to your aunt when she stood there and reviled us?”
“Father, I was so grateful to you for saying nothing!”
“But I knew that she was right. A Christian should not marry a Jew. She said it was abominable; and so it is.”
“Father, father, do not speak like that! I thought that you had forgiven me. You said to aunt Sophie that I was a good daughter. Will you not say the same to me — to me myself?”
“It is not good to love a Jew.”
“I do love him, father. How can I help it now? I cannot change my heart.”
“I suppose I shall be dead soon,” said old Balatka, “and then it will not matter. You will become one of them, and I shall be forgotten.”
“Father, have I ever forgotten you?” said Nina, throwing herself upon him on his bed. “Have I not always loved you? Have I not been good to you? Oh, father, we have been true to each other through it all. Do not speak to me like that at last.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01