Nina Balatka, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter VI

Anton Trendellsohn had learned from his father that Nina had spoken to her aunt about the title-deeds of the houses in the Kleinseite, and that thus, in a roundabout way, a demand had been made for them. “Of course, they will not give them up,” he had said to his father. “Why should they, unless the law makes them? They have no idea of honour or honesty to one of us.” The elder Jew had then expressed his opinion that Josef Balatka should be required to make the demand as a matter of business, to enforce a legal right; but to this Anton had replied that the old man in the Kleinseite was not in a condition to act efficiently in the matter himself. It was to him that the money had been advanced, but to the Zamenoys that it had in truth been paid; and Anton declared his purpose of going to Karil Zamenoy and himself making his demand. And then there had been a discussion, almost amounting to a quarrel, between the two Trendellsohns as to Nina Balatka. Poor Nina need not have added another to her many causes of suffering by doubting her lover’s truth. Anton Trendellsohn, though not given to speak of his love with that demonstrative vehemence to which Nina had trusted in her attempts to make her friends understand that she could not be talked out of her engagement, was nevertheless sufficiently firm in his purpose. He was a man very constant in all his purposes, whom none who knew him would have supposed likely to jeopardise his worldly interests for the love of a Christian girl, but who was very little apt to abandon aught to which he had set his hand because the voices of those around him might be against him. He had thought much of his position as a Jew before he had spoken of love to the penniless Christian maiden who frequented his father’s house, pleading for her father in his poverty; but the words when spoken meant much, and Nina need not have feared that he would forget them. He was a man not much given to dalliance, not requiring from day to day the soft sweetness of a woman’s presence to keep his love warm; but his love could maintain its own heat, without any softness or dalliance. Had it not been so, such a girl as Nina would hardly have surrendered to him her whole heart as she had done.

“You will fall into trouble about the maiden,” the elder Trendellsohn had said.

“True, father; there will be trouble enough. In what that we do is there not trouble?”

“A man in the business of his life must encounter labour and grief and disappointment. He should take to him a wife to give him ease in these things, not one who will be an increase to his sorrows.”

“That which is done is done.”

“My son, this thing is not done.”

“She has my plighted word, father. Is not that enough?”

“Nina is a good girl. I will say for her that she is very good. I have wished that you might have brought to my house as your wife the child of my old friend Baltazar Loth; but if that may not be, I would have taken Nina willingly by the hand — had she been one of us.”

“It may be that God will open her eyes.”

“Anton, I would not have her eyes opened by anything so weak as her love for a man. But I have said that she was good. She will hear reason; and when she shall know that her marriage among us would bring trouble on us, she will restrain her wishes. Speak to her, Anton, and see if it be not so.”

“Not for all the wealth which all our people own in Bohemia! Father, to do so would be to demand, not to ask. If she love me, could she refuse such a request were I to ask it?”

“I will speak a word to Nina, my son, and the request shall come from her.”

“And if it does, I will never yield to it. For her sake I would not yield, for I know she loves me. Neither for my own would I yield; for as truly as I worship God, I love her better than all the world beside. She is to me my cup of water when I am hot and athirst, my morsel of bread when I am faint with hunger. Her voice is the only music which I love. The touch of her hand is so fresh that it cools me when I am in fever. The kiss of her lips is so sweet and balmy that it cures when I shake with an ague fit. To think of her when I am out among men fighting for my own, is such a joy, that now, methinks now, that I have had it belonging to me, I could no longer fight were I to lose it. No. father; she shall not be taken from me. I love her, and I will keep her.”

Oh that Nina could have heard him! How would all her sorrows have fled from her, and left her happy in her poverty! But Anton Trendellsohn, though he could speak after this manner to his father, could hardly bring himself to talk of his feelings to the woman who would have given her eyes, could she for his sake have spared them, to hear him. Now and again, indeed, he would say a word, and then would frown and become gloomy, as though angry with himself for such outward womanly expression of what he felt. As it was, the words fell upon ears which they delighted not. “Then, my son, you will live to rue the day in which you first saw her,” said the elder Jew. “She will be a bone of contention in your way that will separate you from all your friends. You will become neither Jew nor Christian, and will be odious alike to both. And she will be the same.”

“Then, father, we will bear our sorrows together.”

“Yes; and what happens when sorrows come from such causes? The man learns to hate the woman who has caused them, and ill-uses her, and feels himself to be a Cain upon the earth, condemned by all, but by none so much as by himself. Do you think that you have strength to bear the contempt of all those around you?”

Anton waited a moment or two before he answered, and then spoke very slowly. “If it be necessary to bear so much, I will at least make the effort. It may be that I shall find the strength.”

“Nothing then that your father says to you avails aught?”

“Nothing, father, on that matter. You should have spoken sooner.”

“Then you must go your own way. As for me, I must look for another son to bear the burden of my years.” And so they parted.

Anton Trendellsohn understood well the meaning of the old man’s threat. He was quite alive to the fact that his father had expressed his intention to give his wealth and his standing in trade and the business of his house to some younger Jew, who would be more true than his own son to the traditional customs of their tribes. There was Ruth Jacobi, his granddaughter — the only child of the house — who had already reached an age at which she might be betrothed; and there was Samuel Loth, the son of Baltazar Loth, old Trendellsohn’s oldest friend. Anton Trendellsohn did not doubt who might be the adopted child to be taken to fill his place. It has been already explained that there was no partnership actually existing between the two Trendellsohns. By degrees the son had slipt into the father’s place, and the business by which the house had grown rich had for the last five or six years been managed chiefly by him. But the actual results of the son’s industry and the son’s thrift were still in the possession of the father. The old man might no doubt go far towards ruining his son if he were so minded.

Dreams of a high ambition had, from very early years, flitted across the mind of the younger Trendellsohn till they had nearly formed themselves into a settled purpose. He had heard of Jews in Vienna, in Paris, and in London, who were as true to their religion as any Jew of Prague, but who did not live immured in a Jews’ quarter, like lepers separate and alone in some loathed corner of a city otherwise clean. These men went abroad into the world as men, using the wealth with which their industry had been blessed, openly as the Christians used it. And they lived among Christians as one man should live with his fellow-men — on equal terms, giving and taking, honouring and honoured. As yet it was not so with the Jews of Prague, who were still bound to their old narrow streets, to their dark houses, to their mean modes of living, and who, worst of all, were still subject to the isolated ignominy of Judaism. In Prague a Jew was still a Pariah. Anton’s father was rich — very rich. Anton hardly knew what was the extent of his father’s wealth, but he did know that it was great. In his father’s time, however, no change could be made. He did not scruple to speak to the old man of these things; but he spoke of them rather as dreams, or as distant hopes, than as being the basis of any purpose of his own. His father would merely say that the old house, looking out upon the ancient synagogue, must last him his time, and that the changes of which Anton spoke must be postponed — not till he died — but till such time as he should feel it right to give up the things of this world. Anton Trendellsohn, who knew his father well, had resolved that he would wait patiently for everything till his father should have gone to his last home, knowing that nothing but death would close the old man’s interest in the work of his life. But he had been content to wait — to wait, to think, to dream, and only in part to hope. He still communed with himself daily as to that House of Trendellsohn which might, perhaps, be heard of in cities greater than Prague, and which might rival in the grandeur of its wealth those mighty commercial names which had drowned the old shame of the Jew in the new glory of their great doings. To be a Jew in London, they had told him, was almost better than to be a Christian, provided that he was rich, and knew the ways of trade — was better for such purposes as were his purposes. Anton Trendellsohn believed that he would be rich, and was sure that he knew the ways of trade; and therefore he nursed his ambition, and meditated what his action should be when the days of his freedom should come to him.

Then Nina Balatka had come across his path. To be a Jew, always a Jew, in all things a Jew, had been ever a part of his great dream. It was as impossible to him as it would be to his father to forswear the religion of his people. To go forth and be great in commerce by deserting his creed would have been nothing to him. His ambition did not desire wealth so much as the possession of wealth in Jewish hands, without those restrictions upon its enjoyment to which Jews under his own eye had ever been subjected. It would have delighted him to think that, by means of his work, there should no longer be a Jews’ quarter in Prague, but that all Prague should be ennobled and civilised and made beautiful by the wealth of Jews. Wealth must be his means, and therefore he was greedy; but wealth was not his last or only aim, and therefore his greed did not utterly destroy his heart. Then Nina Balatka had come across his path, and he was compelled to shape his dreams anew. How could a Jew among Jews hold up his head as such who had taken to his bosom a Christian wife?

But again he shaped his dreams aright — so far aright that he could still build the castles of his imagination to his own liking. Nina should be his wife. It might be that she would follow the creed of her husband, and then all would be well. In those far cities to which he would go, it would hardly in such case be known that she had been born a Christian; or else he would show the world around him, both Jews and Christians, how well a Christian and a Jew might live together. To crush the prejudice which had dealt so hardly with his people — to make a Jew equal in all things to a Christian — this was his desire; and how could this better be fulfilled than by his union with a Christian? One thing at least was fixed with him — one thing was fixed, even though it should mar his dreams. He had taken the Christian girl to be part of himself, and nothing should separate them. His father had spoken often to him of the danger which he would incur by marrying a Christian, but had never before uttered any word approaching to a personal threat. Anton had felt himself to be so completely the mainspring of the business in which they were both engaged — was so perfectly aware that he was so regarded by all the commercial men of Prague — that he had hardly regarded the absence of any positive possession in his father’s wealth as detrimental to him. He had been willing that it should be his father’s while his father lived, knowing that any division would be detrimental to them both. He had never even asked his father for a partnership, taking everything for granted. Even now he could not quite believe that his father was in earnest. It could hardly be possible that the work of his own hands should be taken from him because he had chosen a bride for himself! But this he felt, that should his father persevere in the intention which he had expressed, he would be upheld in it by every Jew of Prague. “Dark, ignorant, and foolish,” Anton said to himself, speaking of those among whom he lived; “it is their pride to live in disgrace, while all the honours of the world are open to them if they chose to take them!”

He did not for a moment think of altering his course of action in consequence of what his father had said to him. Indeed, as regarded the business of the house, it would stand still altogether were he to alter it. No successor could take up the work when he should leave it. No other hand could continue the webs which were of his weaving. So he went forth, as the errands of the day called him, soon after his father’s last words were spoken, and went through his work as though his own interest in it were in no danger.

On that evening nothing was said on the subject between him and his father, and on the next morning he started immediately after breakfast for the Ross Markt, in order that he might see Karil Zamenoy, as he had said that he would do. The papers, should he get them, would belong to his father, and would at once be put into his father’s hands. But the feeling that it might not be for his own personal advantage to place them there did not deter him. His father was an old man, and old men were given to threaten. He at least would go on with his duty.

It was about eleven o’clock in the day when he entered the open door of the office in the Ross Markt, and found Ziska and a young clerk sitting opposite to each other at their desks. Anton took off his hat and bowed to Ziska, whom he knew slightly, and asked the young man if his father were within.

“My father is here,” said Ziska, “but I do not know whether he can see you.”

“You will ask him, perhaps,” said Trendellsohn.

“Well, he is engaged. There is a lady with him.”

“Perhaps he will make an appointment with me, and I will call again. If he will name an hour, I will come at his own time.”

“Cannot you say to me, Herr Trendellsohn, that which you wish to say to him?”

“Not very well.”

“You know that I am in partnership with my father.”

“He and you are happy to be so placed together. But if your father can spare me five minutes, I will take it from him as a favour.”

Then, with apparent reluctance, Ziska came down from his seat and went into the inner room. There he remained some time, while Trendellsohn was standing, hat in hand, in the outer office. If the changes which he hoped to effect among his brethren could be made, a Jew in Prague should, before long, be asked to sit down as readily as a Christian. But he had not been asked to sit, and he therefore stood holding his hat in his hand during the ten minutes that Ziska was away. At last young Zamenoy returned, and, opening the door, signified to the Jew that his father would see him at once if he would enter. Nothing more had been said about the lady, and there, when Trendellsohn went into the room, he found the lady, who was no other than Madame Zamenoy herself. A little family council had been held, and it had been settled among them that the Jew should be seen and heard.

“So, sir, you are Anton Trendellsohn,” began Madame Zamenoy, as soon as Ziska was gone — for Ziska had been told to go — and the door was shut.

“Yes, madame; I am Anton Trendellsohn. I had not expected the honour of seeing you, but I wish to say a few words on business to your husband.”

“There he is; you can speak to him.”

“Anything that I can do, I shall be very happy,” said Karil Zamenoy, who had risen from his chair to prevent the necessity of having to ask the Jew to sit down.

“Herr Zamenoy,” began the Jew, “you are, I think, aware that my father has purchased from your friend and brother-inlaw, Josef Balatka, certain houses in the Kleinseite, in one of which the old man still lives.”

“Upon my word, I know nothing about it,” said Zamenoy —“nothing, that is to say, in the way of business;” and the man of business laughed. “Mind I do not at all deny that you did so — you or your father, or the two together. Your people are getting into their hands lots of houses all over the town; but how they do it nobody knows. They are not bought in fair open market.”

“This purchase was made by contract, and the price was paid in full before the houses were put into our hands.”

“They are not in your hands now, as far as I know.”

“Not the one, certainly, in which Balatka lives. Motives of friendship —”

“Friendship!” said Madame Zamenoy, with a sneer.

“And now motives of love,” continued Anton, “have induced us to leave the use of that house with Josef Balatka.”

“Love!” said Madame Zamenoy, springing from her chair; love indeed! Do not talk to me of love for a Jew.”

“My dear, my dear!” said her husband, expostulating.

“How dares he come here to talk of his love? It is filthy — it is worse than filthy — it is profane.”

“I came here, madame,” continued Anton, “not to talk of my love, but of certain documents or title-deeds respecting those houses, which should be at present in my father’s custody. I am told that your husband has them in his safe custody.”

“My husband has them not,” said Madame Zamenoy.

“Stop, my dear — stop,” said the husband.

“Not that he would be bound to give them up to you if he had got them, or that he would do so; but he has them not.”

“In whose hands are they then?”

“That is for you to find out, not for us to tell you.”

“Why should not all the world be told, so that the proper owner may have his own?”

“It is not always so easy to find out who is the proper owner,” said Zamenoy the elder.

“You have seen this contract before, I think, said Trendellsohn, bringing forth a written paper.

“I will not look at it now at any rate. I have nothing to do with it, and I will have nothing to do with it. You have heard Madame Zamenoy declare that the deed which you seek is not here. I cannot say whether it is here or no. I do not say — as you will be pleased to remember. If it were here it would be in safe keeping for my brother-inlaw, and only to him could it be given.”

“But will you not say whether it is in your hands? You know well that Josef Balatka is ill, and cannot attend to such matters.”

“And who has made him ill, and what has made him ill?” said Madame Zamenoy. “Ill! of course he is ill. Is it not enough to make any man ill to be told that his daughter is to marry a Jew?”

“I have not come hither to speak of that,” said Trendellsohn.

“But I speak of it; and I tell you this, Anton Trendellsohn — you shall never marry that girl.”

“Be it so; but let me at any rate have that which is my own.”

“Will you give her up if it is given to you?”

“It is here then?”

“No; it is not here. But will you abandon this mad thought if I tell you where it is?”

“No; certainly not.”

“What a fool the man is!” said Madame Zamenoy. “He comes to us for what he calls his property because he wants to marry the girl, and she is deceiving him all the while. Go to Nina Balatka, Trendellsohn, and she will tell you who has the document. She will tell you where it is, if it suits her to do so.”

“She has told me, and she knows that it is here.”

“She knows nothing of the kind, and she has lied. She has lied in order that she may rob you. Jew as you are, she will be too many for you. She will rob you, with all her seeming simplicity.”

“I trust her as I do my own soul,” said Trendellsohn.

“Very well; I tell you that she, and she only, knows where these papers are. For aught I know, she has them herself. I believe that she has them. Ziska,” said Madame Zamenoy, calling aloud —“Ziska, come hither;” and Ziska entered the room. “Ziska, who has the title-deeds of your uncle’s houses in the Kleinseite?” Ziska hesitated a moment without answering. “You know, if anybody does,” said his mother; “tell this man, since he is so anxious, who has got them.”

“I do not know why I should tell him my cousin’s secrets.”

“Tell him, I say. It is well that he should know.”

“Nina has them, as I believe,” said Ziska, still hesitating.

“Nina has them!” said Trendellsohn.

“Yes; Nina Balatka,” said Madame Zamenoy. “We tell you, to the best of our knowledge at least. At any rate, they are not here.”

“It is impossible that Nina should have them,” said Trendellsohn. “How should she have got them?”

“That is nothing to us,” said Madame Zamenoy. “The whole thing is nothing to us. You have heard all that we can tell you, and you had better go.”

“You have heard more than I would have told you myself,” said Ziska, “had I been left to my opinion.”

Trendellsohn stood pausing for a moment, and then he turned to the elder Zamenoy. “What do you say, sir? Is it true that these papers are at the house in the Kleinseite?”

“I say nothing,” said Karil Zamenoy. “It seems to me that too much has been said already.”

“A great deal too much,” said the lady. “I do not know why I should have allowed myself to be surprised into giving you any information at all. You wish to do us the heaviest injury that one man can do another, and I do not know why we should speak to you at all. Now you had better go.”

“Yes; you had better go,” said Ziska, holding the door open, and looking as though he were inclined to threaten. Trendellsohn paused for a moment on the threshold, fixing his eyes full upon those of his rival; but Ziska neither spoke nor made any further gesture, and then the Jew left the house.

“I would have told him nothing,” said the elder Zamenoy when they were left alone.

“My dear, you don’t understand; indeed you do not,” said his wife. “No stone should be left unturned to prevent such a horrid marriage as this. There is nothing I would not say — nothing I would not do.”

“But I do not see that you are doing anything.”

“Leave this little thing to me, my dear — to me and Ziska. It is impossible that you should do everything yourself. In such a matter as this, believe me that a woman is best.”

“But I hate anything that is really dishonest.”

“There shall be no dishonesty — none in the world. You don’t suppose that I want to get the dirty old tumble-down houses. God forbid! But you would not give up everything to a Jew! Oh, I hate them! I do hate them! Anything is fair against a Jew.” If such was Madame Zamenoy’s ordinary doctrine, it may well be understood that she would scruple at using no weapon against a Jew who was meditating so great an injury against her as this marriage with her niece. After this little discussion old Zamenoy said no more, and Madame Zamenoy went home to the Windberg-gasse.

Trendellsohn, as he walked homewards, was lost in amazement. He wholly disbelieved the statement that the document he desired was in Nina’s hands, but he thought it possible that it might be in the house in the Kleinseite. It was, after all, on the cards that old Balatka was deceiving him. The Jew was by nature suspicious, though he was also generous. He could be noble in his confidence, and at the same time could become at a moment distrustful. He could give without grudging, and yet grudge the benefits which came of his giving. Neither he nor his father had ever positively known in whose custody were the title-deeds which he was so anxious to get into his own hands. Balatka had said that they must be with the Zamenoys, but even Balatka had never spoken as of absolute knowledge. Nina, indeed, had declared positively that they were in the Ross Markt, saying that Ziska had so stated in direct terms; but there might be a mistake in this. At any rate he would interrogate Nina, and if there were need, would not spare the old man any questions that could lead to the truth. Trendellsohn, as he thought of the possibility of such treachery on Balatka’s part, felt that, without compunction, he could be very cruel, even to an old man, under such circumstances as those.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01