Early on the following morning — the morning of the Christian Sunday — Nina Balatka received a note, a very short note, from her lover the Jew. “Dearest, meet me on the bridge this evening at eight. I will be at your end on the right-hand pathway exactly at eight. Thine, ever and always, A. T.” Nina, directly she had read the words, rushed out to the door in order that she might give assurance to the messenger that she would do as she was bidden; but the messenger was gone, and Nina was obliged to reconcile herself to the prospect of silent obedience. The note, however, had made her very happy, and the prospect pleased her well. It was on this very day that she had intended to go to her lover; but it was in all respects much pleasanter to her that her lover should come to her. And then, to walk with him was of all things the most delightful, especially in the gloom of the evening, when no eyes could see her — no eyes but his own. She could hang upon his arm, and in this way she could talk more freely with him than in any other. And then the note had in it more of the sweetness of a love-letter than any written words which she had hitherto received from him. It was very short, no doubt, but he had called her “Dearest,” instead of “Dear Nina,” as had been his custom, and then he had declared that he was hers ever and always. No words could have been sweeter. She was glad that the note was so short, because there was nothing in it to mar her pleasure. Yes, she would be there at eight. She was quite determined that she would not keep him waiting.
At half-past seven she was on the bridge. There could be no reason, she thought, why she should not walk across it to the other side and then retrace her steps, though in doing so she was forced, by the rule of the road upon the bridge, to pass to the Old Town by the right-hand pathway in going, while he must come to her by the opposite side. But she would walk very quickly and watch very closely. If she did not see him as she crossed and recrossed, she would at any rate be on the spot indicated at the time named. The autumn evenings had become somewhat chilly, and she wrapped her thin cloak close round her, as she felt the night air as she came upon the open bridge. But she was not cold. She told herself that she could not and would not be cold. How could she be cold when she was going to meet her lover? The night was dark, for the moon was now gone and the wind was blowing; but there were a few stars bright in the heaven, and when she looked down through the parapets of the bridge, there was just light enough for her to see the black water flowing fast beneath her. She crossed quickly to the figure of St John, that she might look closely on those passing on the other side, and after a few moments recrossed the road. It was the figure of the saint, St John Nepomucene, who was thrown from this very bridge and drowned, and who has ever since been the protector of good Christians from the fate which he himself had suffered. Then Nina bethought herself whether she was a good Christian, and whether St John of the Bridge would be justified in interposing on her behalf, should she be in want of him. She had strong doubts as to the validity of her own Christianity, now that she loved a Jew; and feared that it was more than probable that St John would do nothing for her, were she in such a strait as that in which he was supposed to interfere. But why now should she think of any such danger? Lotta Luxa had told her to drown herself when she should find herself to have been jilted by her Jew lover; but her Jew lover was true to her; she had his dear words at that moment in her bosom, and in a few moments her hand would be resting on his arm. So she passed on from the statue of St John, with her mind made up that she did not want St John’s aid. Some other saint she would want, no doubt, and she prayed a little silent prayer to St Nicholas, that he would allow her to marry the Jew without taking offence at her. Her circumstances had been very hard, as the saint must know, and she had meant to do her best. Might it not be possible, if the saint would help her, that she might convert her husband? But as she thought of this, she shook her head. Anton Trendellsohn was not a man to be changed in his religion by any words which she could use. It would be much more probable, she knew, that the conversion would be the other way. And she thought she would not mind that, if only it could be a real conversion. But if she were induced to say that she was a Jewess, while she still believed in St Nicholas and St John, and in the beautiful face of the dear Virgin — if to please her husband she were to call herself a Jewess while she was at heart a Christian — then her state would be very wretched. She prayed again to St Nicholas to keep her from that state. If she were to become a Jewess, she hoped that St Nicholas would let her go altogether, heart and soul, into Judaism.
When she reached the end of the long bridge she looked anxiously up the street by which she knew that he must come, endeavouring to discover his figure by the glimmering light of an oil-lamp that hung at an angle in the street, or by the brighter glare which came from the gas in a shop-window by which he must pass. She stood thus looking and looking till she thought he would never come. Then she heard the clock in the old watch-tower of the bridge over her head strike three-quarters, and she became aware that, instead of her lover being after his time, she had yet to wait a quarter of an hour for the exact moment which he had appointed. She did not in the least mind waiting. She had been a little uneasy when she thought that he had neglected or forgotten his own appointment. So she turned again and walked back towards the Kleinseite, fixing her eyes, as she had so often done, on the rows of windows which glittered along the great dark mass of the Hradschin Palace. What were they all doing up there, those slow and faded courtiers to an ex-Emperor, that they should want to burn so many candles? Thinking of this she passed the tablet on the bridge, and, according to her custom, put the end of her fingers on it. But as she was raising her hand to her mouth to kiss it she remembered that the saint might not like such service from one who was already half a Jew at heart, and she refrained. She refrained, and then considered whether the bridge might not topple down with her into the stream because of her iniquity. But it did not topple down, and now she was standing beyond any danger from the water at the exact spot which Trendellsohn had named. She stood still lest she might possibly miss him by moving, till she was again cold. But she did not regard that, though she pressed her cloak closely round her limbs. She did not move till she heard the first sound of the bell as it struck eight, and then she gave a little jump as she found that her lover was close upon her.
“So you are here, Nina,” he said, putting his hand upon her arm.
“Of course I am here, Anton. I have been looking, and looking, and looking, thinking you never would come; and how did you get here?”
“I am as punctual as the clock, my love.”
“Oh yes, you are punctual, I know; but where did you come from?”
“I came down the hill from the Hradschin. I have had business there. It did not occur to your simplicity that I could reach you otherwise than by the direct road from my own home.”
“I never thought of your coming from the side of the Hradschin,” said Nina, wondering whether any of those lights she had seen could have been there for the use of Anton Trendellsohn. “I am so glad you have come to me. It is so good of you.”
“It is good of you to come and meet me, my own one. But you are cold. Let us walk, and you will be warmer.”
Nina, who had already put her hand upon her lover’s arm, thrust it in a little farther, encouraged by such sweet words; and then he took her little hand in his, and drew her still nearer to him, till she was clinging to him very closely. “Nina, my own one,” he said again. He had never before been in so sweet a mood with her. Walk with him? Yes; she would walk with him all night if he would let her. Instead of turning again over the bridge as she had expected, he took her back into the Kleinseite, not bearing round to the right in the direction of her own house, but going up the hill into a large square, round which the pathway is covered by the overhanging houses, as is common for avoidance of heat in Southern cities. Here, under the low colonnade, it was very dark, and the passengers going to and fro were not many. At each angle of the square where the neighbouring streets entered it, in the open space, there hung a dull, dim oil-lamp; but other light there was none. Nina, however, did not mind the darkness while Anton Trendellsohn was with her. Even when walking close under the buttresses of St Nicholas — of St Nicholas, who could not but have been offended — close under the very niche in which stood the statue of the saint — she had no uncomfortable qualms. When Anton was with her she did not much regard the saints. It was when she was alone that those thoughts on her religion came to disturb her mind. “I do so like walking with you,” she said. “It is the nicest way of talking in the world.”
“I want to ask you a question, Nina,” said Anton; “or perhaps two questions.” The tight grasping clasp made on his arm by the tips of her fingers relaxed itself a little as she heard his words, and remarked their altered tone. It was not, then, to be all love; and she could perceive that he was going to be serious with her, and, as she feared, perhaps angry. Whenever he spoke to her on any matter of business, his manner was so very serious as to assume in her eyes, when judged by her feelings, an appearance of anger. The Jew immediately felt the little movement of her fingers, and hastened to reassure her. “I am quite sure that your answers will satisfy me.”
“I hope so,” said Nina. But the pressure of her hand upon his arm was not at once repeated.
“I have seen your cousin Ziska, Nina; indeed, I have seen him twice lately; and I have seen your uncle and your aunt.”
“I suppose they did not say anything very pleasant about me.”
“They did not say anything very pleasant about anybody or about anything. They were not very anxious to be pleasant; but that I did not mind.”
“I hope they did not insult you, Anton?”
“We Jews are used as yet to insolence from Christians, and do not mind it.”
They shall never more be anything to me, if they have insulted you.”
“It is nothing, Nina. We bear those things, and think that such of you Christians as use that liberty of a vulgar tongue, which is still possible towards a Jew in Prague, are simply poor in heart and ignorant.”
“They are poor in heart and ignorant.”
“I first went to your uncle’s office in the Ross Markt, where I saw him and your aunt and Ziska. And afterwards Ziska came to me, at our own house. He was tame enough then.”
“To your own house?”
“Yes; to the Jews’ quarter. Was it not a condescension? He came into our synagogue and ferreted me out. You may be sure that he had something very special to say when he did that. But he looked as though he thought that his life were in danger among us.”
“But, Anton, what had he to say?”
“I will tell you. He wanted to buy me off.”
“Buy you off!”
“Yes; to bribe me to give you up. Aunt Sophie does not relish the idea of having a Jew for her nephew.”
“Aunt Sophie! — but I will never call her Aunt Sophie again. Do you mean that they offered you money?”
“They offered me property, my dear, which is the same. But they did it economically, for they only offered me my own. They were kind enough to suggest that if I would merely break my word to you, they would tell me how I could get the title-deeds of the houses, and thus have the power of turning your father out into the street.”
“You have the power. He would go at once if you bade him.”
“I do not wish him to go. As I have told you often, he is welcome to the use of the house. He shall have it for his life, as far as I am concerned. But I should like to have what is my own.”
“And what did you say?” Nina, as she asked the question, was very careful not to tighten her hold upon his arm by the weight of a single ounce.
“What did I say? I said that I had many things that I valued greatly, but that I had one thing that I valued more than gold or houses — more even than my right.”
“And what is that?” said Nina, stopping suddenly, so that she might hear clearly every syllable of the words which were to come. “What is that?” She did not even yet add an ounce to the pressure; but her fingers were ready.
“A poor thing,” said Anton; “just the heart of a Christian girl.”
Then the hand was tightened, or rather the two hands, for they were closed together upon his arm; and his other arm was wound round her waist; and then, in the gloom of the dark colonnade, he pressed her to his bosom, and kissed her lips and her forehead, and then her lips again. “No,” he said, “they have not bribed high enough yet to get from me my treasure — my treasure.”
“Dearest, am I your treasure?”
“Are you not? What else have I that I make equal to you?” Nina was supremely happy — triumphant in her happiness. She cared nothing for her aunt, nothing for Lotta Luxa and her threats; and very little at the present moment even for St Nicholas or St John of the Bridge. To be told by her lover that she was his own treasure, was sufficient to banish for the time all her miseries and all her fears.
“You are my treasure. I want you to remember that, and to believe it,” said the Jew.
“I will believe it,” said Nina, trembling with anxious eagerness. Could it be possible that she would ever forget it?
“And now I will ask my questions. Where are those title-deeds?”
“Where are they?” said she, repeating his question.
“Yes; where are they?”
“Why do you ask me? And why do you look like that?”
“I want you to tell me where they are, to the best of your knowledge.”
“Uncle Karil has them — or else Ziska.”
“You are sure of that?”
“How can I be sure? I am not sure at all. But Ziska said something which made me feel sure of it, as I told you before. And I have supposed always that they must be in the Ross Markt. Where else can they be?”
“Your aunt says that you have got them.”
“That I have got them?”
“Yes, you. That is what she intends me to understand.” The Jew had stopped at one of the corners, close under the little lamp, and looked intently into Nina’s face as he spoke to her.
“And you believe her?” said Nina.
But he went on without noticing her question. “She intends me to believe that you have got them, and are keeping them from me fraudulently! cheating me, in point of fact — that you are cheating me, so that you may have some hold over the property for your own purposes. That is what your aunt wishes me to believe. She is a wise woman, is she not? and very clever. In one breath she tries to bribe me to give you up, and in the next she wants to convince me that you are not worth keeping.”
“But, Anton —”
“Nay, Nina, I will not put you to the trouble of protestation. Look at that star. I should as soon suspect the light which God has placed in the heaven of misleading me, as I should suspect you.”
“Oh, Anton, dear Anton, I do so love you for saying that! Would it be possible that I should keep anything from you?”
“I think you would keep nothing from me. Were you to do so, you could not be my own love any longer. A man’s wife must be true to him in everything, or she is not his wife. I could endure not only no fraud from you, but neither could I endure falsehood.”
“I have never been false to you. With God’s help I never will be false to you.”
“He has given you His help. He has made you true-hearted, and I do not doubt you. Now answer me another question. Is it possible that your father should have the paper?”
Nina paused a moment, and then she replied with eagerness, “Quite impossible. I am sure that he knows nothing of it more than you know.” When she had so spoken they walked in silence for a few yards, but Anton did not at once reply to her. “You do not think that father is keeping anything from you, do you,” said Nina.
“I do not know,” said the Jew. “I am not sure.”
“You may be sure. You may be quite sure. Father is at least honest.”
“I have always thought so.”
“And do you not think so still?”
“Look here, Nina. I do not know that there is a Christian in Prague who would feel it to be beneath him to rob a Jew, and I do not altogether blame them. They believe that we would rob them, and many of us do so. We are very sharp, each on the other, dealing against each other always in hatred, never in love — never even in friendship.”
“But, for all that, my father has never wronged you.”
“He should not do so, for I am endeavouring to be kind to him. For your sake, Nina, I would treat him as though he were a Jew himself.”
“He has never wronged you; I am sure that he has never wronged you.”
“Nina, you are more to me than you are to him.”
“Yes. I am — I am your own; but yet I will declare that he has never wronged you.”
“And I should be more to you than he is.”
“You are more — you are everything to me; but, still, I know that he has never wronged you.”
Then the Jew paused again, still walking onwards through the dark colonnade with her hand upon his arm. They walked in silence the whole side of the large square. Nina waiting patiently to hear what would come next, and Trendellsohn considering what words he would use. He did suspect her father, and it was needful to his purpose that he should tell her so; and it was needful also, as he thought, that she should be made to understand that in her loyalty and truth to him she must give up her father, or even suspect her father, if his purpose required that she should do so. Though she were still a Christian herself, she must teach herself to look at other Christians, even at those belonging to herself, with Jewish eyes. Unless she could do so she would not be true and loyal to him with that troth and loyalty which he required. Poor Nina! It was the dearest wish of her heart to be true and loyal to him in all things; but it might be possible to put too hard a strain even upon such love as hers. “Nina,” the Jew said, “I fear your father. I think that he is deceiving us.”
“No, Anton, no! he is not deceiving you. My aunt and uncle and Ziska are deceiving you.”
“They are trying to deceive me, no doubt; but as far as I can judge from their own words and looks, they do believe that at this moment the document which I want is in your father’s house. As far as I can judge their thoughts from their words, they think that it is there.”
“It is not there,” said Nina, positively.
“That is what we must find out. Your uncle was silent. He said nothing, or next to nothing.”
“He is the best of the three, by far,” said Nina.
“Your aunt is a clever woman in spite her blunder about you; and had I dealt with her only I should have thought that she might have expressed herself as she did, and still have had the paper in her own keeping. I could not read her mind as I could read his. Women will lie better than men.”
“But men can lie too,” said Nina.
“Your cousin Ziska is a fool.”
“He is a fox,” said Nina.
“He is a fool in comparison with his mother. And I had him in my own house, under my thumb, as it were. Of course he lied. Of course he tried to deceive me. But, Nina, he believes that the document is here — in your house. Whether it be there or not, Ziska thinks that it is there.”
“Ziska is more fox than fool,” said Nina.
“Let that be as it may. I tell you the truth of him. He thinks it is here. Now, Nina, you must search for it.”
“It is not there, Anton. I tell you of my own knowledge, it is not in the house. Come and search yourself. Come tomorrow. Come to-night, if you will.”
“It would be of no use. I could not search as you can do. Tell me, Nina; has your father no place locked up which is not open to you?”
“Yes; he has his old desk; you know it, where it stands in the parlour.”
“You never open that?”
“No, never; but there is nothing there — nothing of that nature.”
“How can you tell? Or he can keep it about his person?”
“He keeps it nowhere. He has not got it. Dear Anton, put it out of your head. You do not know my cousin Ziska. That he has it in his own hands I am now sure.”
“And I, Nina, am sure that it is here in the Kleinseite — or at least am sure that he thinks it to be so. The question now is this: Will you obey me in what directions I may give you concerning it?” Nina could not bring herself to give an unqualified reply to this demand on the spur of the moment. Perhaps it occurred to her that the time for such implicit obedience on her part had hardly yet come — that as yet at least she must not be less true to her father than to her lover. She hesitated, therefore, in answering him. “Do you not understand me, Nina?” he said roughly. “I asked you whether you will do as I would have you do, and you make no reply. We two, Nina, must be one in all things, or else we must be apart — in all things.”
“I do not know what it is you wish of me,” she said, trembling.
“I wish you to obey me.”
“But suppose —”
“I know that you must trust me first before you can obey me.”
“I do trust you. You know that I trust you.”
“Then you should obey me.”
“But not to suspect my own father!”
“I do not ask you to suspect him.”
“But you suspect him?”
“Yes; I do. I am older than you, and know more of men and their ways than you can do. I do suspect him. You must promise me that you will search for this deed.”
Again she paused, but after a moment or two a thought struck her, and she replied eagerly, “Anton, I will tell you what I will do. I will ask him openly. He and I have always been open to each other.”
“If he is concealing it, do you think he will tell you?”
“Yes, he would tell me. But he is not concealing it.”
“Will you look?”
“I cannot take his keys from him and open his box.”
“You mean that you will not do as I bid you?”
“I cannot do it. Consider of it, Anton. Could you treat your own father in such a way?”
“I would cling to you sooner than to him. I have told him so, and he has threatened to turn me penniless from his house. Still I shall cling to you, because you are my love. I shall do so if you are equally true to me. That is my idea of love. There can be no divided allegiance.”
And this also was Nina’s idea of love — an idea up to which she had striven to act and live when those around her had threatened her with all that earth and heaven could do to her if she would not abandon the Jew. But she had anticipated no such trial as that which had now come upon her. “Dear Anton,” she said, appealing to him weakly in her weakness, “if you did but know how I love you!”
“You must prove your love.”
“Am I not ready to prove it? Would I not give up anything, everything, for you?”
“Then you must assist me in this thing, as I am desiring you.” As he said this they had reached the corner from whence the street ran in the direction of the bridge, and into this he turned instead of continuing their walk round the square. She said nothing as he did so; but accompanied him, still leaning upon his arm. He walked on quickly and in silence till they came to the turn which led towards Balatka’s house, and then he stopped. “It is late,” said he, “and you had better go home.”
“May I not cross the bridge with you?”
“You had better go home.” His voice was very stern, and as she dropped her hand from his arm she felt it to be impossible to leave him in that way. Were she to do so, she would never be allowed to speak to him or to see him again. “Good-night,” he said, preparing to turn from her.
“Anton, Anton, do not leave me like that.”
“How then shall I leave you? Shall I say that it does not matter whether you obey me or not? It does matter. Between you and me such obedience matters everything. If we are to be together, I must abandon everything for you, and you must comply in everything with me.” Then Nina, leaning close upon him, whispered into his ear that she would obey him.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01