Dr. Dumany's Wife by Mór Jókai - HTML preview
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This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.orgTitle: Dr. Dumany's Wife Author: Mór Jókai Release Date: June 28, 2006 [eBook #18708] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII) ***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK DR. DUMANY'S WIFE*** E-text prepared by Steven desJardins and Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders Works of Maurus Jokai Hungarian Edition DR. DUMANY'S WIFE Translated from the Hungarian by F. STEINITZ New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1891 PUBLISHERS' NOTE.
This, the latest story from the pen of Hungary's great man of letters, Maurus Jokai, was translated directly from the manuscript of the author by Mme. F. Steinitz, who resides in Buda-Pest, and was selected by him for that purpose.
Maurus Jokai is now sixty-six years of age, having been born at Komarom, in 1825. He was intended for the law, that having been his father's profession but at twelve years of age the desire to write seized him. Some of his stories fell into the hands of the lawyer in whose office he was studying, who read them, and was so struck by their originality and talent that he published them at once at his own expense. The public was as well pleased with the book as the lawyer had been with the manuscripts, and from that tender age to the present Jokai has devoted himself to writing, and is the author of several hundred successful volumes. At the age of twenty-three he laid down his pen long enough to get married, his bride being Rosa Laborfalvi, the then leading Hungarian actress. At the end of a year he joined the Revolutionists, and buckled on the sword of the patriot. He was taken prisoner and sentenced to be shot, when his bride appeared upon the scene with her pockets full of the money she had made by the sale of her jewels, and, bribing the guards, escaped with her husband into the birch woods, where they hid in caves and slept on leaves, all the time in danger of their lives, until they finally found their way to Buda-Pest and liberty. This city Jokai has made his home; in the winter he lives in the heart of the town, in the summer just far enough outside of it to have a house surrounded by grounds, where he can sit out of doors in the shade of his own trees. He is probably the best-known man in Hungary to-day, for he is not only an author, but a financier, a statesman, and a journalist as well.CONTENTS. PART I. I. THE DUMB CHILD II. THE DARK GOD III. THE ENGLISHMAN IV. THE NABOB V. A REPUBLICAN COUNTESS VI. DUMANY KORNEL VII. THE DEAD MAN'S VOTE VIII. MY UNCLE DIOGENES
IX. A SLAVONIC KINGDOM X. "DEAD"
XI. MY DEAR FRIEND SIEGFRIED
XII. THE DEVIL'S HOOF
XIII. THE VALKYRS
I. THE SEA-DOVE
II. "WHAT IS THE DEVIL LIKE?" III. THE FOUR-LEAVED CLOVER
IV. THE HISTORY OF MY FRIEND V. HOW ROSES ARE INOCULATED
VI. MR. PARASITE
VII. A BRILLIANT GAME
VIII. A BITING KISS
IX. WHO IS THE VISITOR?
X. AFTER THE WEDDING
XI. MY SCHEME
XII. SEEKING FOR DEATH
XIII. MY DISCHARGE
XIV. HOME! SWEET HOME
XV. VOX POPULI
XVI. DAME FORTUNE
XVII. LIGHT AT LAST
It was about the close of the year 1876 when, on my road to Paris, I boarded the St. Gothard railway-train. Travellers coming from Italy had already taken possession of the sleeping-car compartments, and I owed it solely to the virtue of an extraordinarily large tip that I was at last able to stretch my weary limbs upon the little sofa of a half-coupe. It was not a very comfortable resting-place, inasmuch as this carriage was the very last in an immensely long train, and one must be indeed fond of rocking to enjoy the incessant shaking, jostling, and rattling in this portion of the train. But still it was much preferable to the crowded carriages, peopled with old women carrying babies, giggling maidens, snoring or smoking men, and hilarious children; so I made the best of it, and prepared for a doze.
The guard came in to look at my ticket, and, pitying my lonely condition, he opened a conversation. He told me that the son of an immensely wealthy American nabob, with an escort well-nigh princely, was travelling on the same train to Paris. He had with him an attendant physician, a nursery governess, a little playfellow, a travelling courier, and a huge negro servant to prepare his baths, besides several inferior servants. These all occupied the parlour-car and the sleeping compartments; but the little fellow had a parlour, a bedroom, and a dressing-room all to himself.
I did not pay much attention to the talk of the gossiping guard, and so he departed, and at last I could sleep. On the road I am like a miller in his mill. So long as the wheel turns, I sleep on; but the moment it is stopped, I start up and am instantly wide awake. We had reached a smaller station where the train usually stops for a few minutes only, when, to my surprise, there was a great deal of pushing and sliding of the cars backward and forward, and we halted for an extraordinarily long time. I was just getting up to learn what was going on, when the guard entered, lantern in hand.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but there is something amiss. The linch-pin of the parlour-car has become over-heated, and we had to uncouple the car and leave it behind. Now we are obliged to find a convenient place for the little American, until we reach some main station, where another parlour-car can be attached to the train. I am really sorry for you, sir, but this is the only suitable place we have, and the little fellow and his governess must be your travelling companions for a while."
"Well, when a thing can't be helped, grumbling is unreasonable, so good-bye sleep and quiet, and let us prepare to pay homage to the illustrious youth and his lady attendant," said I, smiling at the guard's earnestness. But still he hesitated."And pray, sir, what is your religion?" stammered he; "I have to tell the governess."
"Indeed!" My good-humour was rising still, and I continued smiling. "Tell the lady that I am a Swiss Protestant, and I hope she will not object, as I shall not try to convert her or her charge if they are of a different creed. Is there anything else you want to inquire into?""Yes, sir. The little gentleman's physician would also like to accompany his charge, and stay at his side." "But there is only room for three."
"I know; but, sir, the doctor is a very liberal gentleman, and he told me that if anybody would be willing to exchange places with him, he would gladly repay his whole travelling expenses."
"That's liberal, certainly, and I have no doubt the fireman of the engine will thankfully accept his offer. You can tell him as much. And now go!"
The man went out, but right after him came the doctor--a very pleasant and distinguished-looking young man. He apologised for the guard's bluntness and his misinterpretation of his message. He had not meant to offend a gentleman, and so forth. He introduced himself as Dr. Mayer, family physician at the house of the so-called "Silver King," Mr. Dumany, the father of the little "Silver Prince." After learning that I did not smoke, and had no objection to children, he inquired my nationality. My astrachan fur cap and coat-collar made him take me for a Russian, but, thanking him for his good opinion, I stated that as yet I was merely a Hungarian. He did not object; but asked if we were free from small-pox, diphtheritis, croup, measles, scarlet-fever,
whooping-cough, and such like maladies in our country at present. After I had satisfied him that even the foot-and-mouth disease had by this time ceased, he finally quitted me, but immediately returned, assisting a lady with both hands full of travelling necessaries to climb up into the carriage. After the lady came a grand stately-looking negro servant, with gold-braided cap and overcoat of white bear's fur, and on his arm, bundled up in rich velvet and costly fur, he carried a beautiful five-year-old boy, who looked like some waxen image or big doll.
The lady seemed very lively and talkative, and had a host of languages at command. With the doctor she conversed in German; to the guide she spoke French; the negro she questioned in English, and to a maid who brought in some rugs and air-pillows she spoke Italian. All these languages she spoke excellently, and I am certain that if a dozen persons of different nationalities had been present she could have talked to them in their various dialects with the same ease and fluency. Of her beauty I could not judge, for she wore a bonnet with a thick veil, which covered her face to the chin.
Taking her seat at the opposite window, she placed the child between us. He was a pale, quiet little boy, with very red, thin,
tightly-compressed lips, and great, melancholy dark-blue eyes. As long as the negro was occupied in arranging the rugs and pillows, he looked wholly unconcerned, and the smiles from the great black shining face did not impress him at all; but when the swarthy giant caught the two fair little hands in his own great black palm and wanted to kiss them, the boy withdrew his hands with a quick gesture and struck the ebony forehead with his tiny fist.
At last we were seated. The negro was gone, the guide went out and locked the door after him. Seeing that the open window was disagreeable to the lady, I volunteered to close it. She accepted gratefully, and at the same time expressed her regrets that, in consequence of the accident to the parlour-car, she had been compelled to disturb me. Of course, I hastened to say that I was not in the least incommoded, and only regretted that it was not in my power to make her more comfortable. She then told me that she was an American, and pretty well used to railroad accidents of a more or less serious character. Three times she had been saved by a miracle in railway collisions at home, and she assured me that in America about 30,000 persons were every year injured in railway accidents, while some 4,000 were killed outright.
We conversed in German, and, as the lady became more and more communicative, talk turned upon the subject of the child between us. She told me that Master James was deaf and dumb, and could not understand a word of our conversation; hence restraint was unnecessary. I asked her if he was born with this defect, and she said, "No; until the age of three he could speak very nicely, but at that age he was thrown out of his little goat-carriage, and in consequence of the shock and concussion lost his power of speech."
"Then he will possibly recover it," I said. "I knew a young man who lost his speech in the same manner at the age of five, and could not speak up to his tenth year; then he recovered, and now he has graduated from college as senior wrangler."
"Yes," she said. "But Mr. Dumany is impatient, and he has sent the boy to all the deaf-and-dumb boarding-schools in Europe. Even now we are coming from such an institution in Italy; but none of all these different masters has been able to teach more than sign-talk, and that is insufficient. Mr. Dumany wants to give the German Heinicke method a trial. That professes to teach real conversation, based on the observations of the movements of the lips and tongue."
Of this method I also knew examples of success. I was acquainted with a deaf and dumb type-setter, who had learned to talk intelligibly and fluently, could read aloud, and take part in conversation, but in a piping voice like that of a bird.
"Even that would be a great success," she said. "At any rate, little James will be taken to the Zuerich Institute, and remain there until he acquires his speech."
During this whole conversation the little fellow had sat between us, mute, and, to all appearance, wholly indifferent. His little pale face was dull, and his great eyes half closed. I felt sorry for him, and with a sigh of real compassion I muttered in my own native Hungarian tongue, "Szegeny fincska!" ("Poor little boy!") At this I saw a thrill of surprise run through the child's little frame; the great blue eyes opened wide in wonder and delight, and the closed cherry lips opened in a smile of joy.
I was struck with surprise, and did not believe my own eyes. The lady had not noticed anything, since she still kept her bonnet on and the thick veil tightly drawn over her face.
I took pity on her, and offered to go out into the corridor to smoke a cigarette, so that she might make herself a little more comfortable until we arrived at some large station, where she would enter another parlour-car.
She accepted thankfully, and, to my utter astonishment, the little boy raised his tiny hand, and caressingly stroked the fur collar of my coat. I bent down to kiss him, and he smiled sweetly on me; and when I got up and signed to him that he could now occupy both seats and stretch himself upon the little sofa, he shook his head, and crept into the corner which I had quitted. And there, as often as in my walk up and down the corridor I threw a glance into his corner, I could see the child's large dark-blue eyes following all my movements with an eager curiosity; the white little face pressed to the window-pane and the tiny hand never losing hold of the edge of the curtain, which he had purposely lifted, for the governess had pulled the curtain down the moment I left, possibly to take off her bonnet.
Mine was not a very pleasant situation in that corridor. I watched the rising and sinking of the moon, which phenomenon repeated itself about twice every hour, according to the serpentine windings of the road. I looked at the milky mist which surrounded the icy pinnacles of the great mountains, and grumbled over the intense darkness in the many tunnels, in which the roar and noise of the train is tremendously increased, thundering as if Titans were breaking out of their prisons below Mount Pelion.
As if they had not broken through long, long ago! What if the old Grecian gods should come to life? should leave their marble temples, and gaze about on the world as it is at present? If Pallas Athene were told of America? If Helios Apollo could listen to Wagner's operas, and Zeus Jupiter might look into the great tube of the London Observatory, wondering what had become of that milky way which had been formed out of the milk spilled by Amalthea? If we could show him that we had caught and harnessed his heavenly lightning to draw our vehicles and carry our messages, and that, with the help of fire-eyed leviathans, we break through the rocky womb of his great mountains? And yet, how easy it would be for them, with a simple sneeze of their most illustrious and omnipotent noses, to raise such a tempest that earth and sea would rise and destroy man and his pigmy works at one fell stroke! I wonder if they never awake? I rather think they sometimes get up and shake their mighty fists at us. These cyclones look very suspicious to me!
The huge iron leviathan turns and twists itself like a Gordian knot; disappears and reappears, almost on the same spot, but higher up on the mountain, and then glides rapidly on along the brinks of fearful abysses, over long iron bridges looking like some fanciful filigree work, some giant spider's web, extending across great valleys, chasms, and precipices, over which great mountain rivers splash down, roaring and foaming in gigantic falls. What giant power has cleft the way for these waters--Vulcan or Neptune? Or was it laid down in Euclid's adventurous age, when the Titans went into bankruptcy?
The train increases its speed to regain the time lost in uncoupling the disabled parlour-car, and this increased speed is chiefly felt at the tail of the great iron dragon. I have to cling tightly to the brass rod in front of the windows. We pass the central station without stopping, the locomotive whistles, the lamps of the little watch-houses fly past like so many jack-o'-lanterns, and all at once we are enveloped by a thick fog rising from beneath, where it had rested above the sea, and when the train has twice completed the circle around the valley, the noxious, dangerous mist surrounds us entirely.
But once more the creation of human hands conquers the spectre, and, puffing and whistling, the locomotive breaks through the dark haze. Once again the iron serpent disappears into the bowels of the rock, and as it emerges it crosses another valley and is greeted by a clear heaven and a multitude of brightly-glistening stars.
We are on the Rossberg. A devastated tract of the globe it seems. Our eyes rest on barren soil devoid of vegetation. Beneath a large field of huge boulders, imbedded in snow and ice, the Alpine vegetation thrives. The whole valley is one immense graveyard, and the great rocks are giant tombstones, encircled by wreaths of white flowers meet for adorning graves. At the beginning of the present century one of the ridges of the Rossberg gave way, and in the landslide four villages were buried. This happened at night, when the villagers were all asleep, and not a single man, women, or child escaped. This valley is their resting-place. Was I not right to call it a graveyard?
Above this valley of destruction the train glides on. Upon the side of the mountain is a little watch-house, built into the rock; a narrow flight of steps hewn in the stone leads up to it like a ladder. The moon, which had lately seemed fixed to the crest of the mountain, now plays hide-and-seek among the peaks. A high barricade on the side of the Rossberg serves to protect the railroad track against another landslide.
On the high ridges of the mountain goats were pasturing, and not far from them a shepherd's fire was blazing, and the shepherd himself sat beside it. I remember all these accessories as well as if they were still before my eyes. I can see the white goats climbing up and pulling at the broom-plants. I can see the shepherd's black form, encircled by the light of the fire, and the white watch-house with its black leaden roof, the high signal-pole in front of it, above which all at once a great flaming star arises.II. THE DARK GOD.
I was gazing at that shining red light, when all at once I felt a concussion, as if the train had met with some impediment. I heard the jolting of the foremost cars, and had time to prepare for the shock which was sure to follow; but when it did come, it was so great that it threw me to the opposite wall of the corridor.
Yet the train moved on as before, so that it could not have been disabled, as I at first thought. I heard the guards run from carriage to carriage, opening the doors, and I could see great clouds of steam arise from the puffing and blowing engines. The friction of the wheels made a grating noise, and I leaned out of the window to ascertain the nature of the danger. Was another train approaching, and a collision inevitable? I could see nothing, but suddenly I beheld the figure of the shepherd, and saw him raise his staff aloft. I followed the motion of his hand, and with a thrill of horror I saw a great ledge of rock sliding downward with threatening speed, while at the same time a shower of small stones crashed on the roof of the cars.
I did not wait for the guards to open my door. I had it open in an instant. From the other carriages passengers were jumping out at the risk of life and limb, for the train was running at full speed.
I hastily ran into the coupe to awaken my travelling companions, but found them up. "Madam," I said, "I am afraid that we are in danger of a serious accident. Pray come out quickly!""Save the child!" she answered; and I caught the little boy, took him in my arms, and ran out.
The train was gliding perpetually on, and I bethought myself of the recommendation of one who is jumping from a running vehicle, to leap forward, because in jumping sideways or backward he invariably falls under the wheels. So I followed the recommendation and leaped. Fortunately, I reached the ground, although my knees doubled up under me, and I struck the knuckles of my right hand a hard blow. The child had fainted in my arms, but only from fright; otherwise he had received no harm. I laid him on the ground in a safe place, and ran with all my might after the train to help the lady out. She was standing on the steps, already prepared for the jump. I extended my hand to her, impatiently crying "Quick!" But instead of taking my proffered hand she exclaimed, "Oh! I have forgotten my bonnet and veil," and back she ran into the coupe, never again to come forth.
At that moment I felt a tremendous shock, as if the earth had quaked and opened beneath me, and this was followed by a deafening uproar, the clashing of stones, the cracking of wood and glass, the grating and crushing of iron, and the pitiful cries of men, women, and children. The great mass of rock broke through the protecting barricade and rushed right upon the engine. The huge, steam-vomiting leviathan was crushed in an instant, and the copper and steel fragments scattered everywhere. Three of the wheels were shattered, and with that the iron colossus came to a dead stop, the suddenness of which threw the carriages crashing on top of each other. This fearful havoc was not all. Through the breach which the great rock had made in the barricade, an incessant avalanche of stones, from the size of a cannon-ball to that of a wheelbarrow, descended upon the train, crushing everything beneath into fragments, pushing the unhappy train into the chasm below, into the valley of death and destruction. Like a huge serpent it slid down, the great glowing furnace with its feeding coals undermost, and then the whole wrecked mass of carriages tumbled after, atop of each other, while cries of despair were heard on every side. Then I saw the rear car--that in which I had been sitting--stand up erect on top of the others, while on its roof fell, with thunderous violence, the awful shower of stones. Mutely I gazed on, until a large stone struck the barricade just where I stood, and then I realised that the danger was not over, and ran for shelter.
The stones were falling fast to left and to right, and I hastened to gain the steps which led to the little watch-house. Then I bethought me of the boy. I found him still insensible, but otherwise unharmed, and I took him up, covering him with a furred coat. I ran up the steps with him, so fast that not a thought of my asthma and heart disease slackened my speed.
There was nobody in the house but a woman milking a goat. In one corner of the room stood a bed, in the middle was a table, and on one of the walls hung a burning coal-oil lamp.As I opened the door the woman looked up, and said in a dull piteous moaning--
"It is none of Joerge's fault. Joerge had shown the red light in good season, and yesterday he specially warned the gentlemen, and told them that a ridge of the Gnippe was crumbling, and would soon break down; but they did not listen to him, and now that the accident has come, they will surely visit their own carelessness upon him. It is always the poor dependent that is made to suffer for the fault of his superiors. But I will not stand it; and if Joerge is discharged and loses his bread, then--"
"All right, madam!" I said, "I saw the red light in time, and I shall testify for Joerge in case of need. Only keep quiet now, and come here. You must try to restore this child. He has fainted. Give him water or something; you will know best what to do."
In recalling these words to my memory and writing them down, I am not quite certain that I really spoke them; I am not certain of a single word or action of mine on that fearful night. But I think that I said the words I am relating, although I was so confused that it is possible I did not utter a word. I had come out of the house again, and saw a man running up and down on the narrow rocky plateau, like one crazy. It was Joerge the watchman; he was looking for the signal-post, and could not find it.
"Here it is, look!" I said, turning his face toward the high pole right in front of him. He gazed up wistfully, and then all at once he blubbered out--"See! See, the red light! I gave the warning. They cannot blame me; they dare not punish me for it. It is not my fault!" Of course, he thought of nothing but himself, and the misfortune of the others touched him only in so far as he was concerned.
"Don't blubber now!" I said. "There will be time enough to think of ourselves. Now let us learn what has happened to the others. The whole train has been swept down into the abyss below. What has become of the people in it?""God Almighty have mercy on their souls!" "Yet perhaps we could save some of them. Come along!" "I can't go. I dare not leave my post, else they will turn against me." "Well then, I shall go alone," said I, and hastened down the steps.
I heard no screams, no cries, not a sound of human voices. The poor victims of the catastrophe were exhausted or frightened out of their wits, and gave no utterance to the pain they felt. Only the never-ceasing clatter of the falling stones was heard, nothing else. Awful is the voice of the elements, and dreadful their revenge on their human antagonists! The thundering heavens, the roaring sea, are awful to behold and to listen to; but most fearful of all is the voice of the earth, when, quivering in wrath, she opens her fiery mouth or hurls her rocky missiles at pigmy men.
From the wrecked train a great many travellers had jumped like myself; but not all with the same happy result. They had mostly reached the ground more or less bruised, but at the moment of escape from the clutch of death we do not much feel our hurts. These unhappy victims, frightened as they were, had managed to creep and hide behind the untouched portion of the bulwark, and happy to have escaped from immediate death, sheltered from the tremendous cataract of stones, they remained quiet, trembling, awaiting the end of the catastrophe and the ultimate rescue. But what had meanwhile become of those who had stayed in the falling carriages?
There came a terrible answer to that question, and out of the old horror arose a new and still more terrible spectre. A demon with a cloudy head, rising from the darkness below, and with a swift and fearful growth, mounting up to the sky--a demon with a thousand glistening, sparkling eyes and tongues, a smoke-fiend!
The great boiler of the locomotive had gone down first. There it fell, not on the ground, but on a large fragment of rock, which pierced it completely, so that the air had free access to the fire. Upon the top of both boiler and tender, the coal-van had been turned upside down, and these had pulled all the carriages one on top of the other in the same way, so that the whole train stood upright, like some huge steeple. This dreadful structure had become a great funeral pile, the altar of a black pagan idol whose fiery tongues were greedily thrusting upward to devour their prey.
Then, as the smoke became blacker and blacker, a heart-rending, almost maddening sound of shrieking and crying rang out from that devilish wreck, so loud and piercing that it drowned the clatter of stones, the crackling of the fast-kindling coals, and the crushing noise of the metals. At the cry for aid of the doomed victims, all who had escaped and hidden behind the bulwark came forth, creeping or running, shrieking and gesticulating, forgetful of their own danger and pitiful condition, thinking only of those dear lost ones there in that abode of hell, and maddened at the impossibility of rescuing them. It was a wild hurly-burly of voices and of tongues, of despairing yells, hysterical sobs, heart-rending prayers; and as I stumbled over the twisted and broken rails, that stood upright like bent wires, and stooped over the bulwark, I beheld a spectacle so terrible that every nerve of my body, every heart-string, revolted at it. Even now they quiver at the ghastly recollection.
As the fire lighted up the horrible pile I could see that the first carriage atop of the coals was a shattered mass, the second crushed flat, while the third stood with wheels uppermost, and so forth to the top, and out of all of them human heads, limbs, faces, bodies, were thrust forward. Two small gloved female hands, locked as in prayer, were stretched out of a window, and above them two strong, muscular, masculine arms tried with superhuman force to lift the iron weight above, to break a way at the top, until the blood flowed from the nails, and even these strong arms dropped down exhausted. Half-seen forms, mutilated, bleeding, were tearing with teeth and nails at their dreadful prison. Then for a while the smoky cloud involved everything in darkness. A moment after, the red fiery tongues came lapping upward, and a red, glowing halo encircles the fatal wreck. The first and second carriages were already burned. How long would it take the flames to reach the top? How many of the sufferers were yet alive? What power in heaven or earth could save them, and how?
The hollow into which the train had fallen was so deep that, in spite of the erect position of the ill-fated pile, the topmost car--that
containing the poor foolish American governess, who had lost her life in running back for her bonnet--was ten metres below us, and we had not even a single rope or cord with which to hazard the experiment of descending. A young man, one of those few who had come forth unharmed, ran up and down the embankment, shouting madly for a rope, offering a fortune for belts, shawls, and cords. His newly-married bride was in one of those carriages, and hers were the tiny gloved hands that were stretched out of the window. "A rope!" cried he; "give me anything to make a rope!" But who heeded him?
A young mother sat on the tracks, fondly hugging a plaid shawl in her arms. Her babe was there in that burning pyre, but horror had overpowered her reason. There she sat, caressing the woollen bundle, and in a low voice singing her "Eia Popeia" to the child of her fantasy.
An aged Polish Jew lay across the barricade wall. His two hands were stretched downward, and there he muttered the prayers and invocations of his ancient liturgy, which no one there understood but himself and his God. The ritual prayer-bands were upon his thumbs and wrists, and encircling his forehead. His forked beard and greasy side-locks dangled as he chanted his hymns, while his eyes, starting almost out of their sockets, were fixed upon one of the carriages. What did that car contain? His wife? His children? Or his worldly goods, the fortune hoarded up through a life-time of cunning and privation? Who knows? Forth he chants his prayers, loudly yelling, or muttering low, as the ghastly scene before him vanishes in smoke and darkness, or glows out again in fearful distinctness.Every one shrieks, cries, prays, swears, raves.
No; not every one! There, on the barricade, his logs doubled up Turk-fashion, sits a young painter with Mephisto beard and grey eyes. His sketch-book is open, and he is making a vivid sketch of the sensational scene. The illustrated papers are grateful customers, and will rejoice at receiving the sketch.
But this young draughtsman is not the only sensible person in the place. There is another, a long-legged Englishman, standing with watch in hand, reckoning up the time lost by the accident, and eyeing the scene complacently.
Some noisy dispute attracts my attention, and, turning, I behold a man, trying with all his might to overcome a woman, who attacks him with teeth and nails, biting his hands and tearing at his flesh, as he drags her close to him. At last he succeeds in joining both of her hands behind her back, she foaming, writhing, and cursing. I ask indignantly, "What do you want with the woman? Let her alone!"
"Oh, sir!" he said, showing me a sorrowful and tear-stained face, "for Heaven's sake, help me! I cannot bear with her any more. She wants to leap down and kill herself. Pray help me to tie her hands, and carry her off from here!"
By his speech I knew him for a Pole, and the woman's exclamations were also uttered in the Polish language. She was his wife; her children were there in that infernal pile, and she wanted to die with them.
"Quick! quick!" gasped the man. "Take my necktie and fasten her hands behind her." I obeyed; and as I wound the silken strip tight around the unhappy woman's wrist, her despairing gaze fixed itself in deadly hate upon my face, and her foaming lips cursed me for keeping her away from her children. As her husband carried her away, her curses pierced the air; and although I could not understand the words, I understood that she spoke of the "Czrny Bog," or, as the Russians say, "Cserny Boh," the "Black God" of the Slavs--Death.
By this time the horrible tower was burning brightly, and the night was all aglow with the glaring light, and still those terrible shrieks from human voices resounded to and fro.
The young artist had a picturesque scene for his pencil, and kept making sketch after sketch. The burning wreck, the flying cinders, the red mist around the black pine woods on the rocky wall of the mountain, and that small span of star-lit heaven above; all those frightened, maddened, running, crouching, creeping men and women around, with the chanting Jew, in his long silken _caftan_ and dangling locks, in the midst of them, made a picture of terrible sublimity.
But still the god of destruction was unsatisfied, and his fiery maw opened for more victims. The unhappy young husband had succeeded in tearing up his clothes and knotting the strips together. A compassionate woman had given him a shawl, which he fastened to the bushes. On this he descended into that mouth of hell. The perilous attempt succeeded so far that, with one mad leap, he landed on the top of the uppermost car with its pile of stones, and then, with cat-like dexterity and desperate daring, he scrambled downward to the third carriage. Quickly he reached the spot, and the poor little gloved hands of his darling were thrown in ecstasy around his neck. Someone had drawn up the cord on which he had let himself down, fastened a stout iron rod to it, and suspended it carefully. Happily it reached him, and with its aid he made a good-sized breach, widening the opening of the window; he worked with desperate strength, and we gazed breathlessly on. Now we saw him drop the rod again. The tender arms of his bride were around his neck, a fair head was thrust out, the whole form was emerging, when with a tremendous crash, and a hissing, spluttering, crackling noise, the whole fabric shook and trembled, and husband and wife were united in death.The great boiler had burst; the explosion had changed the scene again, and the young painter might draw still another sketch. III. THE ENGLISHMAN. That long-legged son of Albion whom I had previously observed, strolled up to my side and asked-- "Do you understand German, sir?" "Yes, sir, I do." "Then call for that shepherd. I want him."
I obeyed, and the shepherd, who had complacently eyed the scene as something that was of no consequence to him, came slowly and wonderingly up.
He was in no hurry, and my coaxing "Dear friend" and "Good friend" did not impress him at all; but when the Englishman showed him a handful of gold coins he came on quickly enough.
"Tell him," said the Englishman, "to run to the next railway station, give notice of the accident, and return with a relief train for succour. Tell him to be quick, and when he returns I will give him two hundred francs.""Yes," said the man; "but who will take care of my goats meanwhile?" "How many goats have you?" "Six." "And what is the average price of a goat?"
"Fifteen francs." "Well, here is the price of your goats in cash. I give you one hundred francs--ten more than your goats are worth. Now run! How far is it?"
"A good running distance, not very far." The man pocketed his money and turned, when an idea struck him. "Could you not take care of my goats anyhow, till I return?" he asked.Smart fellow! He kept the money for his goats, and tried to keep the goats into the bargain. "All right," said the Englishman, "I will take care of them. Never fear. Go!" "But you must take my stick and my horn; the goats will get astray when they do not hear the horn."
"Then give it to me, and I will blow it," said the Englishman, with admirable patience, and, taking the shepherd's crook and horn, he gave the man his red shawl to use as a signal-flag.
As the shepherd at length trotted on and disappeared, that unique, long-legged example of phlegm and good sense sat down by the shepherd's fire, on exactly the same spot where the shepherd had sat, and began watching the goats.
I returned to the mournful scene which I had quitted when the Englishman came up to me. It was a terrible one, and no marvel that even the painter had closed his sketch-book to gaze upon it in silent awe. The entire valley below showed like a giant furnace, or some flaming ocean of hell. Huge fiery serpents came hissing and snarling up to the barricade, and great flakes of fire were flying about everywhere, scorching and kindling as they fell. The chill, keen, mountain air had become heavy and warm in spite of the winter, and a loathsome, penetrating odour arose and drove us away from the horrible place. No one remained but the Polish Jew. He did not move away. He had risen to his knees on the barricade wall, and his hands, with their prayer-bands, were uplifted to heaven. Louder and louder he chanted his hymns, raising his voice above the thundering roar of the crackling fire, the rolling stones, and the last despairing cries of the doomed ones. The fur on his cap, his forked beard and dangling locks were singed by the falling cinders, and his skin scorched and blistered, yet still he chanted on. But when at last he saw that his prayer was in vain, all at once he sprang up, and seemed to strike at the flames with both palms; then, spitting into the fire "pchi!" he fell down senseless.
By this time the heat was so oppressive that it was dangerous to stand anywhere near the barricade, and even for the sake of saving a man's life from such a horrid fate, it was impossible to venture among the falling cinders and rolling stones. All that the few of us who had escaped with sound limbs and bodies could do was to carry our less fortunate, wounded or maimed fellow-travellers up into the little watch-house.
This we did, and then came those seemingly endless minutes in which we waited for the relief train. Once the Englishman blew the horn for the goats, and we thought it was the whistling of the expected train. How terribly that disappointment was felt! and what sinful, subtle, and sophistical thoughts crowded into our heads, burdened our hearts, and oppressed our spirits in those awful minutes!
What terrible thing had these poor victims done to deserve such fearful punishment? What heinous crime had they committed to be sentenced to death and destruction by such a painful, torturing process? Whose sin was visited on the guileless heads of little infants and innocent children who had perished in those flames? Could not they have been spared? or that loving and beautiful young couple, just on the brink of life and happiness, and now sent to eternity together by such a fearful road, into the mouth of hell when they had thought themselves before the open gate of Paradise? What had that unhappy mother done? or all these old and young men and women, in full health and spirits, enjoying life and happiness, surrounded by happy relatives, full of happy plans and hopes? What had they done to deserve this fate, those poor servants of the public convenience, the guards, the engineer, and the other officials, who could have saved their own lives easily, and in good time, if they had abandoned their fatal posts, and had not preferred to die in doing their duty? Why had not these been saved for the sake of their wives and children, now widows and orphans, abandoned to the charities of a merciless world? Who and where is that awful Deity into whose altar-fire that conjuring Jew had spat, because He would not listen to his invocations? What dreadful Power is it which has pushed down that rock-colossus to destroy so many human lives? Is it the Czrny Bog of the Samaritans, the Lord of Darkness and Doer of Mischief, whose might is great in harm, whose joy is human despair, and who is adored with oaths and curses?
But if such a power exists--if there is a Czrny Bog, indeed--then his deeds are befitting his name--dark and black. But why should I, who am human myself, and have a heart for my brethren and a sense of their wrongs, why should I in this fatal instant, although full of pity and commiseration, yet inwardly rejoice that this misfortune has fallen upon others and not upon me? Why should I feel that although others have perished, all is well as long as I am safe?
Is this not shameful? Is it not an everlasting stain and disgrace upon my inner self? What right have I to think myself the chosen ward of some guardian angel or tutelary spirit? In what am I different from those lost ones? In what better, worthier than they? And if not, why had I been saved and not they? Here! Here was the Czrny Bog, the dark god, in my own breast.
At last day was dawning, and, in the grey morning light, the horrible picture looked ghastlier still, when, to our intense relief, the long-expected train came, and physicians with their assistants, firemen with their manifold implements, police, and all kinds of labourers, arrived upon it. The train stopped at a safe distance, and then the work of rescue began. Wounds were dressed, the insensible restored, watchmen and travellers were interrogated by officials. Ropes and rope-ladders were fastened and suspended, and brave men, magnanimously forgetful of the threatening danger, went down into the flames, although the hope of success was small. True, the two or three uppermost cars had not as yet caught fire; but who could breathe amid that suffocating smoke, that lurid loathsome atmosphere, and yet live?
The labourers set to work at the breaches of the barricade and the line of rails. The engineers discussed the best way in which a protecting barrier ought to be built so as to shut out every possibility of such an accident; and from the plateau before the watch-house some men were incessantly calling for a "Monsieur d'Astrachan."
At last one of the labourers called my attention to these repeated shouts, and, turning in their direction, I observed that this title was intended for me. The watchman's wife, not knowing my name, had described me as wearing an astrachan cap and coat-collar, and accordingly I was called "Monsieur d'Astrachan." Now for the first time I remembered the child I had carried thither. I had completely forgotten it, and the occurrence seemed such an age away that I should not have been surprised to hear that the boy had grown to be a man.
I hastened up the steps, and observed that some official personage in showy uniform was expecting me quite impatiently. "Come up, sir," he said; "we cannot converse with your little boy."
"To be sure you can't!" said I, smiling, in spite of the dreadful situation. "Neither can I, for the boy is deaf and dumb; but I have to correct you, sir. The boy is not my own, although I took him out of the carriage."
"That boy deaf and dumb? About as much as we are, I judge. Why, he is talking incessantly, only we can't make anything out of his prattle, as we do not understand the language," said the officer.
"Well, that's certainly a miracle!" I exclaimed, "and it bears witness to the truth of the old proverb, 'It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.' Assuredly, the shock of the accident restored his power of speech. What is he saying?""I told you we can't make it out. It's a language that none of us understand." "Then I hardly suppose that I shall be cleverer than all of you." "Whose child is it, if not yours?"
"Some rich nabob's. I can't at the moment recall his name, although the governess told me, poor soul! We were thrown together by chance, and the poor woman perished in the flames. Has no one of his many attendants and servants escaped?""It seems not. But pray come in and listen to him; perhaps you will understand him."
I went in, and found my practical Englishman beside the child, but incapable of arriving at a mutual understanding. The injured travellers and the hysterical women passengers were already snugly stowed away in the ambulance carriages and well taken care of. The goats were again under the protection of their legitimate shepherd, and that temporary official, the long-legged son of Albion, was addressing all kinds of questions in English to an obstinate little boy.
As I entered, and the child caught sight of me, the little face lit up at once. He extended both his little arms in joy. "Please come," he said; "I will be a good boy. I will speak!"
It is marvellous enough when a dumb child speaks; but what was my surprise when I recognised these words, uttered in my own native Hungarian tongue! Just imagine the five-year-old son of a wealthy American, whose entire _cortege_ had been German, French, Italian, and English, speaking Hungarian!
I took the little fellow up in my arms, and he put both his little arms around my neck, and, leaning his soft cheek on my bearded face, he said again, "I will be good, very good; but please take me to my papa. I am afraid!""Who is your father, my child?" I asked. "What is his name?" As I uttered these questions in Hungarian, he clapped his hands in gladness, and then, after a little meditation, he answered-- "My father is called the 'Silver King,' and his name is Mr. Dumany. Do you know him?"
"Oh!" said the Englishman, as he heard the name, "Mr. Kornel Dumany, the Silver King; I know him very well. He is an American, and very rich. He lives mostly in Paris. If it is more convenient for you to get rid of the child, I can take care of him and bring him to his father."
"No, no!" protested the little one, clinging tightly to me. "Please, do not give me to him! I want to stay with you; I want to go with you to my papa!"
So he knew English well enough, since he understood every word of the Englishman's. In this case he could not have been deaf at all, but obstinate, hearing and refusing to talk. Was not such unheard-of obstinacy in a child of such tender age some malady of the mind or soul?
"I wonder how this child comes to speak Hungarian?" said I, turning to the Englishman. "Ours is not a language generally spoken by foreigners, least of all by the young children of American nabobs."
"I never wonder at anything," said he, coolly. "At any rate, I should advise you at the first station to telegraph to Mr. Dumany; I will give you his address. So you will be expected when you arrive in Paris, and have no further trouble. Since you are the only person able to talk to the boy, it will be certainly the best thing for him to remain with you. Now I think it is time for us to take our seats in the carriage, or else the train will start and leave us behind. Come on, gentlemen!"IV. THE NABOB.
The train from Zuerich arrived at the Eastern Railway Station at seven o'clock in the morning. In Paris the day has at that early hour not yet begun, and but very few persons, mostly travelling foreigners and labourers, are seen on the streets. Since it has become the fashion to use the moving train for suicidal purposes, the perron is locked, and only those travellers admitted whose luggage is undergoing examination by the customs officials.
I was lucky enough to have sent my luggage one day ahead of me to Paris, and so it had not been lost in the accident. I had nothing with me but a small satchel, which I had saved, but which contained nothing to interest the custom-house officers, and so, taking my little charge in hand, I stepped out into the hall. I had hardly gone two paces, when the child dropped my hand, and crying, "Papa! dear, darling papa!" ran to a gentleman who, with a lady at his side, stood by the turnstile.
I had never before seen the lady, yet I recognised her at once as the mother of my little charge, so striking was the resemblance between them. She had the same large, dark-blue eyes, the same dimpled chin, aquiline nose, and pretty, shell-shaped, little mouth as he, and she could hardly have been more than four-and-twenty, so young and girlish did she look. The husband was a large-made, well-shaped, and distinguished-looking gentleman. His bronze complexion had a healthy flush, and he wore side whiskers, but no moustache. His head was covered with a round soft beaver, and a long, rich fur coat was thrown lightly over his shoulder. In his scarf I saw a large solitaire. The lady at his side was very plainly attired in black, and wore no jewellery at all. The age of the gentleman was, according to my judgment, about forty.
As the child ran toward him, with both his little arms stretched out, and crying, in Hungarian, "Apam! Drago edes apam!" ("Papa! dear darling papa!") the gentleman hastened to meet him, caught the boy up in his arms, and covered the little face, hands, eyes, and hair with a shower of kisses. The father sobbed in his joy, while the child laughed, caressed his father's cheeks, and called him "Edes jo apam!" ("My good, sweet father!") in Hungarian, and the father called him, crying and laughing, "My dear little fool"--in English.
Then I saw the father whisper something to the child, and in an instant the whole little face became rigid and dull, all child-like mirth and sweetness had vanished. He looked around, and then clung tightly to his father, as if in dread of something, and I saw his lips move in appeal. The father kissed him again and carried him to the lady, who all the while had given no sign of animation or interest, but had looked on, cool and indifferent.
"Look, my pet, here is your mama!" said the gentleman to the boy, approaching the lady and holding the boy toward her. Now, according to the law of nature, according to all human sentiment and experience, we should expect a mother who receives back her own offspring, saved from a fate too horrible even to contemplate, her own child who had gone from her mute and comes back to her speaking, I say we should think it natural in such a mother to seize this child, and, in the ecstasy of her love and joy, half suffocate it with her kisses and caresses. Not so here. I could see no glad tear in the lady's eye, no smile of welcome on her face. Her hands were snugly stowed away in a costly little muff, and she did not think it necessary to extend them to her child. She breathed a cold, lifeless kiss upon the boy's pale forehead, and the tiny hand of the child caressed the fur trimming on her jacket, just as he had done with the astrachan lapel of my coat. What a strange behaviour in mother and child after such a reunion!
I had watched this family scene out of a strange curiosity, which was wholly involuntary. Presently I recollected the situation, and turned to leave the perron. Perhaps, if I had saved some honest cockney's son from a like danger, I should not have avoided him, but, with a friendly pressure of the hand, expressed my pleasure at having been able to be of service to him. Then we should have parted good friends. But to introduce myself to an American nabob as the rescuer of his child was impossible! Why, the man was capable of offering me a remuneration!
No, I would have nothing to do with aristocrats like these. They have their child; it is safe; and so good-bye to them!
However, as I turned to leave, I was surprised to hear some one pronounce my name, and, to my astonishment, I found that it was Mr. Dumany. He still held the child on his arm, and, coming toward me, he said in French, "Oh, sir! you do not mean to run away from us, surely?"
"Well, that is a question which must remain to be answered later on. At present it is sufficient to tell you that the telegraph service has been very full and exact, even in personal description. However, I beg you to revoke that 'I must,' for indeed I cannot allow you to depart. To the great favour you have done me, you must add the additional favour of being my guest for the time of your sojourn in Paris. Promise me to accept of my hospitality--nay, to regard my house as your own. I shall be ever so happy! Come, pray, do not hesitate, and give me leave to introduce you to my wife!"
With that he took my arm, and holding it tight, as if in fear I might break loose and run off, he led me to the turnstile, where the lady was standing as quiet and composed as before. He introduced me to her by my proper name and title, naming even the district which I represented in the Hungarian Parliament; and all these he pronounced perfectly and correctly, as I never heard them pronounced by a foreigner before. How could he know all that? True, I had shown my passport to the frontier officials; but were these also subject to the Silver King?
The lady bowed politely as her husband said, "This gentleman has saved our little James from being consumed by the flames at the Rossberg catastrophe"; and for a moment I felt the slight pressure of a little gloved hand in mine. It was a very slight pressure, the faintest possible acknowledgment of a duty, and if I had saved her little pet monkey or dog, instead of her child, she might well have afforded me a warmer recognition. Indeed, I had seen women go into raptures on account of such animals before this, but never before had I seen a mother value the life of her own child so cheap. She did not hold it worthy of a single expression of gratitude; she had not a word to spare for him or me. Was this woman a human monstrosity and void of all natural feeling? or else was it part of the American etiquette to suppress all outward signs of emotion?
What puzzled me most was the boy. He was so different from the happy, talkative little fellow he had been with me and with his father some minutes ago, and he looked just as dull and inanimate as when I had seen him first on the railway. Was it because he could only speak Hungarian? But then, how could he speak to his father? Who had taught the boy to speak that peculiar language, dear to me and my compatriots, but wholly unintelligible and of very little use or advantage to the world at large?
I observed that Mr. Dumany held a short conversation with a tall liveried footman behind him, and I understood that he ordered him to take out my luggage. I protested and tried to escape. I like hospitality at home; but when I come into a foreign country, I prefer the simplest inn or the obscurest hotel to the most magnificent apartments of a palace of a prince of the Bourse, because independence goes with the former, and of all slavery I fear that of etiquette the worst.
But Mr. Dumany did not mean to give way to my polite protestations. "Just surrender nicely, pray!" he said, smilingly. "It saves you trouble. Look! If you insist upon going to some hotel, I promise you that all the reporters of every paper we have, daily and weekly, will be sure to pester you day and night with interviews, besides the reporters of foreign papers here, of which we also have an abundance. Every word you speak will by each reporter be turned into a different meaning, and by to-morrow the papers will be full of your intimations, although you do not say anything at all. And then the photographers: how will you escape them? Don't you know that every penny paper will appear with your picture in front to-morrow, and, wherever you go, it will be thrust before your eyes? You will hear your name pronounced in all languages, and in every way, and you will not know how to escape this unsought-for and unwelcome notoriety. But if you accept my invitation, nobody will be able to stare at you or interrogate you, and you shall live as quietly and peacefully as if you were in some herdsman's hovel in Hortobagy at home."
I stared at him quite stunned. How, in the name of all that was wonderful, could he have learned of the existence of a herdsman's hovel in Hortobagy? How could he know that it was my favourite spot? And how he pronounced that Hortobagy! Just as I myself! He smiled at my astonishment, but offered no explanation. But now he had caught me in my weak point--a writer's curiosity--and I gave in, willingly enough.
Mr. Dumany ordered the carriages. In one magnificent landau Mrs. Dumany was to go with little James, in the other Mr. Dumany and myself. But the child obstinately refused to leave his father's arms, and clung to him more tightly than ever. So the lady was obliged to go alone, and we two men took the boy with us.
I confess that the gentleman puzzled and interested me very much. Not because people had given him the name of "Silver King." I do not covet, and I do not admire wealth alone, pure and simple. I know how to describe a vine-embowered cottage, or even a thatch-roofed hut, with a garland of gourd blossoms around its small windows, and I can appreciate the beauties of a picturesque church or castle. But all my descriptive faculties desert me before the marble and gold luxury of a modern palace, and its gorgeous splendour has no charm for me. The interest I felt was due to the man himself, and, most of all, to the connection existing between him and my own home. How came this American Croesus to be acquainted with the nomenclature, customs, and topography of my own country and language? How came the latter upon the lips of his five-year-old boy? In my childhood I had known a five-year-old boy, the son of a count, who could speak only Latin, and not a word except Latin. But, then, Latin is taught throughout the world, and no education is considered as finished without a more or less perfect knowledge of Latin. But where in a foreign country is the professor who teaches the Ugro-Finnish tongue, even if there were some whimsical parent who wished that his son should learn to speak it?
During the drive Mr. Dumany acquainted me with some particulars regarding the customs of his house. He told me that the hour for breakfast was nine, and that for lunch one o'clock. Dinner was invariably served at six, and I was entirely at liberty to put in my appearance or stay away. They would not wait for me, but my place at the table would be kept reserved; and if I was late, I should be served afresh. The cook should be entirely at my disposal. If the excitement and fatigue of the journey should make me wish for a day's rest, I was free to retire to my rooms at once, and should not be disturbed by anybody.
In answer to all this I said that I had no habits whatever; that I was able to eat, drink, and sleep at will; was never fatigued, and would with pleasure put in my appearance at his breakfast-table that very morning.
"That will be nice, indeed!" he said. "But I must beg your pardon in advance for my wife. On ordinary days she is up and presides at breakfast; but to-day she bade me apologise. She has been up all night from excitement, and now I have told her to lie down and rest a few hours. After that she usually spends some time in the nursery, superintending the children's ablutions, prayers, and breakfast, and only when all these matters are accomplished is she ready for her duties as hostess and mistress of the household.""So little James is not your only child?" I ventured to ask. "Not by many; we have two more boys and two beautiful little girls--quite a houseful." "But the lady looks almost too young to be the mother of so many children. Little James is the eldest, of course?" "Yes, he is her first-born, and she is not yet twenty-four. We have been married six years, so christening has been an annual event with us."
Well, I was more puzzled than ever. I had met with a good many English and American gentlemen before, but all had been rather reserved in speech and manner, quite different from this Croesus; and, regarding the lady, I was altogether at a loss, as all my conjectures were entirely at fault. She was not without feeling; she was apparently a good mother, and little James was her own child and not a stepson, as I had guessed. Her behaviour at the station was still an enigma to me.
At last we arrived at the Silver King's residence--a large, well-built, and rather comfortable than brilliant mansion, filled with a host of servants, of whom each knew and fulfilled his particular duty. A _valet de chambre_ showed me into a very splendid and comfortable suite of rooms, consisting of a reception-room, sitting-room, work-room, bed-, dressing-, and bathroom, all furnished in the choicest and most practical way, and I was delighted to see that, although all was rich and costly, none of the offensive and pretentious pomp of the ordinary millionaire's house met my eye.
The valet, an Alsacian, who talked to me in German--perhaps with the notion of paying me a compliment--informed me that he was entirely at my own service. He showed me a beautiful escritoire in the work-room, with everything ready for writing purposes, and told me that, in the reading-room attached, I should find an assortment of newspapers. He then quickly and skilfully prepared me a bath, unpacked and arranged my things, and helped me to dress. He was altogether a wonderfully nice fellow.
When the valet left me, I went into the reading-room, and looked at the newspapers. I found quite a number of them--French, English, Italian, and one German; but still I was a little disappointed. I had half expected to find a Hungarian paper, and there was none.
The library contained a choice collection of books; works of science, philosophy, history, poetry, and fiction--of the latter, only a small and select number. Here also was no Hungarian author to be found; not even the translation of a Hungarian book could I detect, although I looked into every one--French, German, English, and Italian, and even some Spanish and Danish ones.
From the reading-room opened the billiard-room, a handsome apartment. Its walls were covered with beautiful frescoes, betraying the French school of art in the delicate colours, and in the Norman, Basque, Breton, and Kabyle scenes and types represented. Of Hungary I could see nothing. The Hortobagy herdsman's hovel, of which my host had spoken, was not to be found.
In another room I found a sort of ethnographical museum, full of relics and rarities from all countries except Hungary; and yet, if that man had ever been in my country, he would certainly have brought some token of remembrance with him. Hungary is more rich in curiosities than a good many of the countries represented here.
Mr. Dumany came in to see if I was ready for breakfast, and I followed him into the tea-room, passing a little, semi-circular, ship-cabin-like apartment, with small, round windows, between which, in beautifully-sculptured, round frames, of the size of the windows, hung very handsome landscapes, apparently American.
In the breakfast-room I recognised a tiny Meissonier, in a gold frame of twice its size, and an Alma Tadema. Mr. Dumany, observing my interest in the pictures, informed me that these two were there only temporarily, pending their shipment to New York. There, in Mr. Dumany's real home, was his picture gallery, containing works of art of the highest standard.
I ventured to observe that we Scythians, barbarians as we were held to be, had also some painters worthy the interest of a Maecenas, and not without fame, too.
"I should think so," he said, smiling. "And in my New York gallery you will find Munkacsy _genres_, Zichy _aquarelles_, a Benczur, and some other equally fine Hungarian pictures. Here I keep only French and German pictures of lesser value."
Our conversation turned to art in general, and Mr. Dumany surprised me again by an allusion to the Hungarian witticism that when we speak of Hungarian art we cannot omit Liszt (for the name of the great musician is also the Hungarian word for _flour_); and Mr. Dumany remarked that Americans travelling abroad have learned to appreciate both the Hungarian specialties. The great artist, and the product of the soil and mill converted into fine cake, are equally esteemed by them.
We talked about commerce and exports, and he observed that although American wheat was sure to inundate the European market, yet Hungarian flour was unrivalled in quality, and would increase in consumption throughout the world. Then we spoke of financial matters, and here Mr. Dumany was completely at home. The Hungarian rente had at that time just been introduced into the market, and Mr. Dumany predicted for it a fair success. He prophesied the rente conversion scheme and the four per cent. bonds, and from this topic we diverged to politics. He was a very fair politician, and I was pleasantly impressed by the apparent interest which he took in Hungary. He admired Andrassy, and spoke well of his Bosnian policy. Of Tisza he entertained great hopes, and he felt sorry for Apponyi, because he had allied his great talents with the
Opposition. He spoke of Kossuth, and said it was a pity to see the grand old man's name misused by the extreme faction. I tried to turn the conversation to Hungarian literature, but on this point I met with but little interest. Still, I noticed that he knew more about us than foreigners in general do. He did not think the Gypsies the ruling race in Hungary, and he did not believe us to be a sort of chivalrous brigands, as some foreigners consider us; but he did not show any particular sympathy with either the country or the people, and certainly used no flattery on the subject of our special virtues.
Our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Dumany's valet, who handed his master two letters. "Will you give me leave to read them at once?" he asked, turning to me. "They are of some importance, being answers to two dinner invitations I sent out this morning.""Certainly," I answered; "pray do as you wish."
He opened and read the letters, and, replacing them again on the silver salver upon which the servant had brought them, he ordered him to hand them over to the chambermaid so that Mrs. Dumany might receive and read them.After the valet had left, Mr. Dumany said to me--
"I have invited these two gentlemen to meet you at dinner. One of them is secretary of the Department of the Interior, the other an old Catholic priest, the parson of St. Germain l'Auxerrois. It is very nice and pleasant that both of them accepted, and so I hope you will not object to make the acquaintance of two whole-souled and intelligent gentlemen.""Quite the contrary," I hastened to say; "I shall be very happy to meet them." Just then the valet returned, and, deferentially bowing, he said to me-- "Madame la Comtesse begs to inform monsieur that she would be grateful if monsieur would be kind enough to see madame in her apartments." V. A REPUBLICAN COUNTESS.
"Madame la Comtesse!" A Peruvian or Argentine countess? Or have these plutocrats of the great republic some special distinguishing titles, such as "Silver King," "Railway Prince," etc., and was this exotic countess the daughter of some such lord of the money market? At any rate, I had to obey her polite commands, so, throwing away my cigar, I bowed to Mr. Dumany and followed the lead of the valet.
In crossing a long suite of tastefully-furnished rooms, I noticed the entire absence of family pictures. They had no ancestors, or did not boast of them. No farthingaled, white-wigged ladies in hooped skirts and trailing brocade robes; no mail-clad, chivalrous-looking gentlemen, with marshals' staffs, keys, and like emblems of rank and high station; or else these, too, had gone over to New York to subdue with their haughty grandeur the eyes of less high-born mortals.
There was something else I missed in these beautiful chambers--the usual obtrusive, caressed and pampered pet animal of a great lady. No paroquet, no monkey, no little, silken-haired lap-dog, no St. Bernard or Newfoundland dog, no cat, not even a little canary bird, was to be met with; and not a single flower, real or artificial, greeted the eye.
At last we came to a room with beautiful heavy brocaded draperies, evidently veiling the entrance into some other apartment. As the servant stepped up and drew the hanging aside, I could not suppress an exclamation of admiration and surprise; and for a moment I stood transfixed at the lovely and exquisite scene, deeming that fairyland had opened to me, and that Queen Mab was expecting me in her own enchanting bower.
The room which I now entered resembled to some extent the Blue Grotto of Capri. It was flooded with a magic blue light. Just opposite to the entrance was some kind of bower, with honeysuckle, woodbine, and other blooming and fragrant vines intertwined. This bower was prolonged in the rear into a spacious and seemingly endless tropical garden, with wonderful blooming exotic plants and trees; and in this East Indian paradise, gaily-plumed, sweet-voiced birds of different size and colour were chirping, hopping, and hovering above their nests, among evergreen bushes and glorious flowers. The whole winter-garden received its light from above, and this light, falling through large panes of blue glass, threw that peculiar, fairy, grotto-like hue over the little boudoir in front.
To prevent the luscious odour of the winter-garden from pervading the air of the boudoir and becoming oppressive, a fine, translucent film separated the bower from the garden. But this film was not of glass or any other transparent but solid substance; it consisted of a beautiful, clear waterfall, transparent as a veil, and noiseless as a fine summer rain. At the touch of a spring, this softly-pouring waterfall might be shut off and the entrance into the winter-garden thrown wide.
In the little boudoir, at the opening of the bower, stood a couch, and opposite this a little settee and two small gilded and embroidered chairs; while two large sculptured frames, one containing a splendid mirror, the other a life-size portrait of Mr. Dumany, completed the appointments.
Mrs. Dumany, or, as she was called, the countess, wore a loose morning-dress of raw silk, with rich embroidery. Her rich, dark hair was uncovered and wound around her head in three thick coils, like a tiara.
Her graceful figure was as slender as that of a girl, and she looked so young and childlike that no living man would have supposed her to be the mother of five children.
In the peculiar blue light of the boudoir her naturally fair face appeared so white that I was almost startled. It was just as though some marble or alabaster statue had moved, looked at me with those large dark-blue eyes, spoken to me with those finely-chiselled, ruby-coloured lips.
"Pray pardon me for troubling you to call on me," she said, in fluent and precise French, although with a somewhat foreign accent and manner of speech; "I should not have done it were you not the only trustworthy person from whom I can learn the necessary particulars of the terrible Rossberg accident. My husband, as perhaps you already know, has invited two gentlemen to dine with us. One is a government officer of high rank, the other a kind and benevolent priest. My husband's intention is to spend a considerable sum of money for distribution among those who were injured in the Rossberg catastrophe, or their destitute relatives. They shall at least not suffer actual want, and although I daresay that money is a poor compensation for a lost or crippled husband and father, or son and brother, still it is the only possible consolation we can offer them, and in providing for their own future and that of their dependents, we at least relieve their hearts of one burden. Of this my husband wants to talk to the government official. The priest was invited by me, and I want him to hold a requiem for the souls of those who perished, and to superintend the erection of a memorial chapel at the place of the terrible accident. Mr. Dumany is ungrudging in his charity, and ready for any sacrifice of money; but, you see, we know really nothing about the particulars. How many were lost, and how many died afterward in consequence of their injuries? Who were they? Of what nation, faith, quality, and circumstances? How many were saved, and in what condition? Have they somebody to attend to them, to support them in case of need? And then those belonging to ourselves, our dutiful servants, I might call them our true and faithful friends, has not one of them escaped? Have they all perished together? You can tell me best, and therefore I made bold to call you to me. Do not hesitate, pray, but tell me all that happened, and in what manner it happened, from the dreadful beginning to the pitiful end--the whole catastrophe, with all the particulars you can recall to memory."
"Madam," said I, "pray do not wish that. These particulars are much too dreadful to relate--much too horrible for the ear of a lady. It requires strong nerves and an iron heart to listen to such a tale as that."
"And what that?" she replied. "True, my nerves are not a bit less sensitive than those of any other woman, but I have learned to suppress them--to hold them down. Never fear me! Never spare me! If the scourge hurts me, I shall think it a penance. Go on! You hold the
scourge--strike! Go on, I say!"
There was an impatient, almost fierce resolution in her voice, and I obeyed.
If this woman regarded the act of listening to the dreadful tale I had to tell as a penance, then, indeed, she allowed it to become a torture. I was obliged to recount the smallest incident of the ghastly event, and she drank in every word, shuddering as at some deadly poison. Again and again she questioned me with the skill and zeal of a professional cross-examiner. Nor would she let me omit a syllable. And when at the most fearful and heartrending point, her soft, dimpled chin sunk down on her breast, and her fair, babyish hand knocked at the tender bosom "_Mea culpa_! Oh, _mea culpa_!"
When she heard that the uncoupling of the parlour car had caused a delay, she groaned. "Then all this terrible mishap is due to our own vanity?" she cried. "A consequence of our own presumptuous pride! If our dependents had sat with the boy in a common carriage with other decent travellers, the train would have passed the fatal spot long before the landslide was in motion! But, of course, the Silver King's son is far too precious a creature to breathe the same air with other creatures of God's making. He must needs have a separate parlour to himself! And this sinful, detestable vanity of ours must cost the lives of so many good, brave, happy, and useful persons. Oh, hell itself must mock at our folly!"Now this commination, unexpected as it was from a lady of wealth and position, was not altogether unwarranted, and so I went on.
As I drew near to the catastrophe I could hear the beating of her heart, and her breath came short and gasping. When I related how I had caught hold of the governess's hand, she was trembling, and an almost deadly pallor overspread her white face. "Alice! oh, Alice!" she cried; and when I told her how the lady ran back to the coupe for her bonnet, just at the last moment for escaping, she broke out into a painful hysterical laugh. "Just like her! Her bonnet! Yes; ha! ha! She would have come down to dinner in her bonnet, the foolish pride! She was so afraid to show her bare ears to a man! Oh! oh! Alice!"
At last the tears came to her relief, and she sobbed pitifully. "If you had only known her goodness," she cried, "her self-sacrificing devotion, her pure, kind heart! She was the best friend I ever had, and how she loved that unhappy boy! She was more his mother than I, for she gave him all a mother's love and all a mother's care and attention. Why did I let her go with him? Why did I not keep her back from him?"I told her how the poor woman's first thought had been the safety of the child. "And you have not seen her again? You do not know what has become of her?"
I denied having seen her again. I could not describe to her the horrid spectacle of the poor woman as I had seen her last, when taken by the brave firemen from that infernal pile; for, strong as she forced herself to appear, this would have been more than she could bear; so I told her that the relief train started with the rescued before we could learn anything of the rest; but of the certainty of their death there could not be the slightest doubt.
"What a misfortune!" she sighed, wringing her hands. "Why, that boy had an escort with him like a prince royal! The honest Dr. Mayer, such a refined, generous young man; and Tom, the negro, my best servant, and the truest! He saved me from an alligator once, and killed him with an iron bar. He was severely wounded by the ferocious reptile, yet he laughed at his pains."I remembered the grin on his broad black face in the moment of death, as I had seen him at the carriage window. He had laughed then also.
"And poor little Georgie?" she asked again, "James's playfellow and foster-brother? Georgie's mother was James's nurse. How she begged of me to take care of her darling, to bring him up well, to make a priest of him! And how well I have kept that promise! I have made more of him than a priest: he is a saint, and a martyr. Oh, _mea culpa_! _mea culpa_!"
When I had explained to her the circumstances which had made all attempts at rescue impossible for us, and afterward futile, she nodded. "I know it," she said. "On that evening I had not said my prayers. We dined out late, and spent the evening there. I could not come home to pray with my children, and I could not say my prayers there. I felt the heavy load on my heart, and once for a moment, when I was not observed by anybody, I heaved a sigh and said, 'God bless us!' It must have been at the moment of the catastrophe, for my heart ached with some vague and gloomy presentiment. Oh, me! our neglected prayer, and such a fearful chastisement! Tell me! Who is that terrible being that watches us so relentlessly, and if he catches us napping but once, hurls down those we love into death and destruction?"Her marble-white face, her large wide-open eyes, gave her the look of a spirit. "Perhaps," said I, "the single blessing you asked saved the life of your dear child. Let this thought comfort you."
"James?" she said. "This child of sin and misfortune? Why, it was because he was on that train that all those pure and good people had to die! Oh, accursed was the hour of his birth! No, no; he is not accursed. I--I, his mother, that gave birth to him, I am guilty! He is innocent; he could not help it. Oh, _mea culpa_! _mea culpa_!"
She was beating her breast, and rocking herself to and fro, uttering her incessant "_Mea culpa_!" "Tell me more," she said again, presently; "show me more dreadful sights, that I may suffer more. I yearn for it; it will do my soul good--it is like purgatory. Go on!"
I took good care not to feed this religious frenzy further. On the contrary, I spoke of the practical Englishman and his performances, and of the artist who had sat there among all the terrible havoc and had drawn sketch after sketch.
"That picture we must secure, at whatever cost," she said, eagerly. "It shall be the altar-piece of the chapel which we are about to raise in memory of the tragic event and of the souls of the slain."
I had formed my own opinion of Mrs Dumany's state of mind. No doubt she was mentally deranged, and her special craze was religious monomania. From this arose the deep melancholy which held her own innocent babe responsible for the misfortune of others. This made the child repugnant to the mother, and, no doubt, this was at the bottom of that remarkable mutual estrangement between mother and child.
I tried to quiet her. I told her that in a very short period a great many serious catastrophes, such as frequent earthquakes, great inundations, and similar unfortunate and most terrible events, had shocked the world and buried whole cities, destroyed the lives and fortunes of thousands upon thousands of happy and innocent persons. Even this Rossberg catastrophe had been preceded by another at the same spot, about the beginning of the present century. Such catastrophes were by no means to be considered as a punishment from God Almighty, Who is far too magnanimous to visit the sins of the guilty upon the heads of the innocent, but simply as the outcome of geological and meteorological phases of our globe, depending upon natural laws. If anybody was really to be blamed for the present misfortune, it must be the engineer who had planned and erected that insufficient barrier instead of a strong bastion.
Mr. Dumany's entrance interrupted our painful conversation. He came on the pretence that letters and newspapers had arrived for me, and with that he handed me a copy of the _Hon_."But I had them addressed to the Hotel d'Espagne," I said. "They have been already informed that you are here," he answered; and then, turning to his wife, he said-- "Have you drunk deep enough of the bitter cup? or do you thirst for more of its contents?"
His voice was soft and tender, and the wife threw both her arms around the husband's neck, and, burying her face on his breast, she wept bitterly.I took my journal, and, without making my excuses to the lady, I silently stole out of the room. VI. DUMANY KORNEL.
At dinner I was punctual, but nevertheless the two gentlemen of whom Mr. Dumany and his wife had spoken were already present and discussing the question of Mr. Dumany's munificent offer. After a hurried introduction I was soon informed of all that had been agreed on. The Secretary of State had received bonds for 1,000,000 francs, to be taken by the two Governments, the French and the Swiss, for distribution among the injured or maimed of the Rossberg catastrophe and the poor dependents of the slain. The old railroad watchman, who had been discharged by the company, and the canny shepherd, who both sold and kept his goats when he ran for the relief train, each received 10,000 francs, and a considerable sum went to the officials of the relief train as a
remuneration for their services. The rest of the million francs was set aside for a memorial chapel on the site of the accident, and for the celebration of masses and a grand requiem in the church of St Germain l'Auxerrois on the following day--a ceremony which was to be repeated annually.
I have forgotten to mention that although the dinner was sumptuous, and the dishes and wines were excellent, yet it was as stately, solemn, and unsociable a meal as a funeral banquet, and Mrs. Dumany presided in deep mourning. The only jewel she wore was a large cross studded with dark-blue diamonds, only recognisable as such by the rays of blue, yellow, red, and green light which darted from them. This cross was suspended on a chain of black beads resembling a rosary, and giving to the black-robed figure the appearance of an abbess. The Spanish lace mantilla which she had thrown over her beautiful hair served as the veil, and made the resemblance perfect.
At nine o'clock the government official and the priest took their leave, and Mrs. Dumany retired, to put her babes to bed, as she said--a duty which she always fulfilled herself, saying her prayers with them, and watching them until they slept. After the lady had retired, Mr. Dumany told me that even when he and his wife dined out, or were going to the opera, my lady invariably went home at nine o'clock to put her children to bed--a duty which she never omitted; but on the evening of the catastrophe she had been compelled to stay by the company present, and this had given rise to her self-accusations. She was nowhere happy but in the company of her children, who afforded her the greatest delight and amusement. I sighed, and, yes--I think I was actually guilty of the remark that Hungarian ladies of quality were equally good and dutiful mothers.
We went over to Mr. Dumany's bedroom for a cup of tea and a cigar. It was a grand room, lofty and spacious as a church, and if I had been a Chauvinist, I should have said that the rays of light in this room composed a tricolour of the same hues as the Hungarian flag. The beautiful hanging-lamp shed a green light, the glowing coals in the grate threw a reddish tint over the surrounding objects, and the large, richly-sculptured bed-canopy was all ablaze with white electric lights, arranged like a chain of diamonds above the heavy purple velvet hangings which encircled the couch and gave it a cosy and well-shaded effect.
We had hardly finished our first cigar, when Mrs. Dumany, or, as I should call her, the countess, came in. She wore a white wrapper, covered with costly lace and leaving her beautiful arms bare below the loose lace-trimmed sleeves. She led little James into the room, and, turning to her husband, she said--"This boy obstinately refuses to sleep anywhere but with his father, just as before we sent him to the Institute."
The little fellow was simpering, and tottered drowsily to and fro. He was evidently very sleepy. Mr. Dumany took him up on his lap, unbuttoned his little boots, and pulled off the tiny socks. The mother stood there, looking on unconcerned, and presently she said, "Good-night!" and went out of the room.
The father undressed the child, and put him to bed; then he drew the curtains aside; the child knelt in bed, folded his little hands, and evidently said his prayers, for I saw his lips move; but I could not hear a word. After he had finished, his father kissed him tenderly, covered him up with the angora rug, and, letting down the curtains, returned to me.He had hardly sat down, when the bed-curtains moved, and the cherubic little head peeped out. "Papa! Papa!" said the child. "What is it, darling?" his father asked, going back to him. "I want you to kiss me again," he said, with a little mischievous smile.
After the boy had had his wish, he crept below the covering, and was soon fast asleep. Mr. Dumany observed that my cigar had expired, and that I looked rather drowsy. "You are tired," he said; "let me lead you to your room."
"I have not slept for the last two nights," I replied; "but I shall not trouble you, as I can find my room easily, or else I can ask the valet. Pray stay and rest yourself."
"Well then, good-night and sleep well!" But however sleepy I had been the moment before, these few words were enough to drive sleep from my eyes for ten nights to come, and to raise my curiosity to the highest pitch, for they were spoken in clear, well-pronounced Hungarian.
I gazed at him in utter astonishment, and he smiled. "You did not recognise me," he said, "but I knew you at once. I knew you very well, too--at one time: we have been colleagues once.""Indeed? And how is that possible? Pray where was that?" "In Budapest, in the Sandor Uteza Palace, the House of Commons." "You have been a member of the Hungarian Parliament? When? And what name did you then bear?" "The name I bear now, which is my own. Only I used to write it in Hungarian, Dumany Kornel." "Still I don't remember. Neither your name, nor yet your face is familiar to me." "Naturally enough. I was in Parliament for only one day; the next day they conducted me out again." "Ah, now I know you! You were the dead man's candidate." "Yes, you have hit it; I was the man." Well, this was indeed a surprise. All the drowsiness had entirely gone from me, and, turning back into the room, I asked, eagerly-- "Sir, have I some claim on your generosity?"
"Oh sir! my dear friend!" he cried, extending both hands to me, "I am your most grateful and obedient servant for ever. I hand you a blank sheet, and, whatever you may be pleased to write upon it, I shall most willingly subscribe to."
"Then tell me how the right honourable Dumany Kornel, a member of the Hungarian landed gentry, and also of the medical profession, if I rightly remember, a rather fast-living bachelor, and rejected Commoner, has been metamorphosed into Cornelius Dumany, the Silver King, the South American nabob, the matador of the Bourse, husband of a beautiful countess, and father of five children, within such a short period. Tell me this, for it is the only gratification I shall accept."
"And let me tell you, dear friend, it is the highest I could give," was his reply. "In fact, you have presented me such a draft that, in spite of all my wealth, I am unable to pay it at sight. I have to ask my wife's permission first. The story you want me to tell is but one half my own, the other half belongs to my wife, and you must allow me to ask her leave;" and, bowing to me, he left the room.
I was alone. No, not alone. From behind the bed-curtains issued a heavy groaning, as if the little sleeper were troubled with bad dreams. I went to him and lifted the hangings. The glare of the light awakened him, and he cried out, "Apa!" ("Papa!")"Papa will come presently, my little one," I said in Hungarian, and he smiled happily. "Oh, the Hungarian uncle!" he said, "that's nice;" and, taking hold of my hand, he caressingly laid his little, soft cheek on it. "Have you been troubled in your sleep?" I asked.
"Yes," he said; "I was dumb again, although I wanted to speak and tried very hard. A snake was coiled around my neck, and choked me. There is no snake in this room? Or is there?""No. Don't be afraid of anything. Try to sleep again." "You will stay with me?" "Yes, until your papa comes back."
"Stay always. Papa would like it. He always used to say, 'Speak to me, my boy, only to me! I have nobody but thee to speak to me in our own Hungarian;' and now he has you also. How glad he must be of it! You will stay?--promise!"I promised him to stay a long time, and, holding fast to my hand, he fell asleep again.
When Mr. Du Many, or rather Dumany, returned to me, I was sitting before the grate, musing over what the child's innocent prattle had revealed to me--the tender, loving recollection this man had of his home and the sweet sounds of our beloved mother tongue.
He came in with an animated face. "My wife has consented," he said. "She told me that it was confession-time. To-morrow she will confess to Father Augustin, and this evening I shall make you my confessor. Now that I have made up my mind to it, I really think that, even from a practical point of view, it would be much better if the truth should be known about us, rather than those wild, fanciful stories reported by gossiping American newspapers."
With that he rang the bell for the servant, and gave his orders for the night. Tea with mandarin liqueur at once, at twelve o'clock punch and fruits, at two in the morning coffee _a la Turque_, and at five o'clock a cold woodcock and champagne, were to be served."I hope you will be able to stand being up all night?" he asked. "I think so. I am chief of the campaign committee at home."
"I beg your pardon. Then I know your quality. But it will possibly interest you to learn that the bill of fare I have issued consists entirely of products of my own raising. The tea comes from my own garden in Hong Kong. The mandarin is decocted from the crop of oranges grown in my Borneo orchard. The coffee comes from my Cuban plantation, as well as the 'gizr' spirit, obtained from the coffee bean. The woodcock is from my own park; and it is only the flour for the cakes that I have to buy, for that comes from Hungary, and there I own nothing.""How is that? If I remember rightly, you had a handsome property there." "Have you not heard that it was sold to pay my debts?" "And you consented to that?"
"Well, first hear my story. However, I have told you an untruth. I am yet a landed proprietor at home; I own a cabbage-garden in the rear of my former castle. That garden is the only bit of soil I kept, and in this garden fine cabbages grow. Year after year the whole crop is sliced up, put into great barrels, and converted into sauer-kraut. This they send after me, wherever I happen to be--whether at New York, Rio de Janeiro, Palermo, or Paris--and from this, after a sleepless night, my wife prepares me a delicious 'Korhely-leves'" (a broth made from the juice, and some slices of cabbage, with sour cream and fresh and smoked ham, and sausages. This broth is in Hungary frequently served after a night of dissipation; hence its name, "Korhely-leves," which means "Scamp's-broth")."And the countess understands how to prepare the old-fashioned Hungarian delicacy?" I asked.
He laughed. "Ha-ha-ha! Why, she is as good a Hungarian as you or I. If she speaks French, she only imitates our ladies at home, who think themselves so much more refined when they speak bad French instead of good Hungarian."
This was another revelation, and upset the other half of my fictitious combination. I had imagined that my countryman had won the love of some South American magnate's daughter, and in this way had become the possessor of his innumerable millions. Mr. Dumany might have read my thoughts in my face, for he smiled and said--
"You will presently understand that I did not rob, did not cheat, and did not marry for money, and yet I did not acquire my present great wealth by my own good sense and management, either. I'll show you by what road I have reached it, as a warning to others. May no other man ever do as I did! But I do not believe that such events are ever likely to happen again. I do not believe that there can ever be born another such a pair of thick-skinned, iron-nerved human beings as the heroes of this story, or two other persons able to endure what we endured. I will venture to say that the worldly wealth I have won is not worth the price I paid for it; but I have gained another prize, whose value can never be expressed in figures."
Thereupon we sat down at the little tea-table. Mr. Dumany threw a few logs of odorous cedar wood upon the fire and began his tale. So, from this point, the present romance is not written by me, but by him.MR DUMANY'S STORY. VII. THE DEAD MAN'S VOTE.
I do not think it necessary to particularly describe the borough for which I was nominated as a candidate for Parliament. If you know one, you know all. There were factions, of course, ranged into parties, one of which drank deep, while the other drank deeper still. There are a good many nationalities in this particular district, and they are distinguished by the liquor they prefer. The Slavs drink whiskey; the Suabians or Germans, beer; the Ugro-Fins or Hungarians, wine; and the more intelligent and cultivated of all the races show their agreement in matters of taste by drinking, alternately, wine, beer, or whiskey, with equal relish. Jehovah's own chosen people, considering it much more prudent and hospitable to serve the liquid to others than to drink it themselves, furnish all parties with the wished-for fluid, according to individual taste, and find the transaction even more satisfactory and profitable than drinking in itself.If Dante had visited Hungary, and had seen my particular borough in election-time, he would not have omitted it in his description of hell.
Yet the highly respectable voters expect a substantial confirmation of their patriotic convictions, and some of them are not fully persuaded until four or five angels (golden, of course) come to enlighten their minds. Others refuse to listen even to the sweet voices of these angels, and wait obstinately for the mightier spirits, emblazoned on fifty and one hundred florin bank-bills. Others, again, are to be had only _en bloc_--that is, in company with their friends and connections, and only just at the last moment, when the bidding is highest; and so tender is their conscience that they listen to the persuasions of all parties with equal earnestness, and it takes much to convince and win them over.
It is a matter of course that the nominated candidate of each party is far above such negotiations, and, although he owns that it has come to his knowledge that his antagonist actually stooped to bribery in order to defend his weak cause, yet he himself will never condescend to meet the man on that ground. If his own moral integrity, the lofty standing of his party, and his party's principles, will not secure the victory for him, why, then there is no honesty and patriotism in this decayed age, and the patriotic cause is lost!
At every election, as you well know, are a number of kind, disinterested, active, and zealous party members, indefatigably busy in securing and collecting votes, or, what is more essential, trying to win over the votes of the enemy. These very useful and highly respectable gentlemen are leaders or drum-majors, and they have a number of subalterns, not less useful, painstaking, and persuasive, only a little less gentlemanlike and less scrupulous, and perhaps not wholly disinterested as regards pecuniary gain. These are the election drummers, plain and simple.
Now at the election of which I am speaking there were two factions. I, as the champion of the Clerical-National-Conservative party, stood in opposition to the champion of the Panslavonic-Liberal-Reform party, and you may believe that we did all that was possible to defeat the opposing faction. My own party emblem was the red feather, that of my adversary the green feather; the national cockade we sported in common.
At six o'clock p.m. the green feathers were one vote ahead of us. "This is not to be endured!" shouted my head drummers, and "This is not to be endured!" was the war-cry of the subordinate drummers. But how could they help it? The lists were scrutinised again, and it was found that Toth Janos, the potter, had not voted. "Where is Toth Janos, the potter? and why did he not vote?" added my chief drummer. "Beg pardon," said one of the subalterns, "but the man was buried the other day.""Well, that was a calamity. Is there no other Toth Janos in the village? The name is rather a common one."
"There is indeed, and he happens to live in the same house with the deceased, only he is not a voter, as he does not pay taxes; he is only a poor poultry-dealer. Still he is on the list as a carter, and the thing could be managed."
Toth Janos, the poultry-dealer, was sent for, but his voting in his own right was out of the question. So the drummers talked with him a long time, and they had glib tongues, and the aid of the ever-welcome angels. Toth Janos the poultry-dealer, who could not vote in his own name, voted as Toth Janos, the potter, but he had a great sacrifice to make. The deceased potter was nick-named the "gap-toothed," because he had lost his front teeth in a brawl. Now the poultry-dealer's front teeth were as sound as ivory, yet so great and effective were the persuasions of the "angels" that, in half an hour's time, Toth Janos, the poultry-dealer, so closely resembled Toth Janos, the potter, in outward appearance that no question concerning his identity was raised, and his vote was recorded.
Still, this was insufficient. True, we were now even with the foe, but we were compelled to show a majority, even if it consisted only of a single vote. If Richard III could offer "a kingdom for a horse," why should not we offer "1,000 florins for a vote?"
Somebody made the discovery that on the outskirts of the village, in an old tumble-down shanty of his own, lived a poor Jew with a lot of half-starved, forlorn-looking children, and a half-crazed, careworn, hard-working wife. The husband and father had been laid up with consumption for the last few months, and was daily expected to die. This poor wretch, who never in all his life had been the owner of an entire suit of decent clothes--for when he had a hat, he invariably lacked shoes, or when in possession of a coat, he was in sore want of a pair of trousers--this poor fellow had yet a fortune at his call, for he could bequeath to his family the 1,000 florins which we were willing to pay for his vote. All his life he had been as honest as he was poor, earning a miserable livelihood by setting glass panes in the village windows. Nobody had ever thought of getting his vote, still less had he himself thought of attaching any importance to the right he possessed as a taxpayer. Our drummers found the poor fellow just in the act of taking leave of this vale of care and sorrow; but they would not have been the smart fellows they were if they had not succeeded in defeating Death himself, and robbing him of his prey for as long as they needed. The dying man stared vacantly into their faces when they offered him this enormous sum of ready money, while his wife and children broke into a howl of despair that the offer had not come earlier, for how could a dying man leave his bed to vote? But my drummers were not to be beaten. They caught up the bedstead with the sufferer on it, and hastened with it to the tent where the votes were collected. The dying man had been made to understand that the bill of 1,000 florins which he saw would be given to his wife, if he would only pronounce my name when asked to whom he gave his vote, and he hold tight to his wife's hand, and met her appealing glance with something like assurance. Happily, he was still alive when brought to the urn, and the drummers announced that "the poor man was troubled in his conscience, and could not die unless the opportunity of fulfilling his patriotic duty was afforded him, so that he had begged them to bring him to the tent and allow him to vote." This touching little piece of news was received in the spirit in which it had been given, and just as the poor fellow in his agony was asked the name of his chosen candidate, Death came to claim his own. With a last look of sorrow and affection at his wife he sighed with his dying breath, "Du mein liebel" ("Thou, my love!"), and expired.[Footnote 1: The Jews in Hungary usually speak German among themselves.]
"'Nelly Dumany! Dumany Nelly!' he said," cried my drummers--"Nelly" being an abbreviation of Kornel, my Christian name--and since the "Du meine" really sounded like "Dumany" and not at all like "Belacsek," the candidate of the other party, and since the dead man could not be made to repeat his vote, whereas my drummers were ready to take their oath of the correctness of their assertion, the vote was credited to me, and I was declared elected by a majority of one vote, my suffrages being 1,501 in number, whereas my adversary had received only 1,500.
The case was afterward contested, and some witnesses endeavoured to prove that the dying man had not said, "Dumany Nelly," but "Du mein liebe"; yet there was the sworn statement of my drummers to the contrary, as well as the evidence of his wife and children that the man had been a devout and religious Jew, incapable of offending Jehovah by uttering German words with his last breath. He had simply pronounced my name in Jewish fashion, and eased his patriotic heart by voting for me. Itzig Maikaefer's vote was as sound as a nut and could not be rejected.
Not quite so sound, however, was the other dead man's vote--that of Toth Janos, the potter. We had sent his substitute, the poultry-dealer, with a cartload of odds and ends to Galicia, just to have him out of the way. We managed to make it difficult to prove which of the two men named Toth Janos had been buried two days before election-day by providing for the dead man's family, and sending them off to a remote place; and as the poultry-dealer (who was a widower without any family) did not return from Galicia for many weeks to come, everything seemed secure. But we had reckoned without our host, and did not take into consideration a possible treachery. The barber, a miserable wretch, whom we thought to be a true red-feather man, and who had been more than liberally paid for extracting the poultry-dealer's front teeth, and trimming his hair and beard into the semblance of those of the dead potter, went and blabbed of his work. A strict examination followed, the body of the potter was exhumed, and his identity proved to a certainty. Of course, no one dared to accuse me of foul play, but a new election was found necessary, and the day after I had first taken my seat as a member of the Hungarian Parliament, I was politely but firmly given to understand that I had no legal right to its possession, and had better go. This is the story of how I became to be called "the dead man's representative," and how I was a colleague of yours for a single day.
Yet this story I have told you cannot give anyone a fair or true estimate of me, or my character, or ability. Anybody who heard or read this story would suppose me to have been a vain, good-for-nothing sort of fellow, who had missed his degree at college and lacked the ability to fill any decent position, and therefore plunged into politics to make his living, or perhaps to squander the inheritance he had received from his ancestors. But, in reality, I had already, at the age of
six-and-twenty, occupied the position of a well-qualified assistant physician, and at two-and-thirty the newspapers spoke of me as a famous specialist and a great light of the profession. As I was established in Vienna, where the competition is great, and Hungarians are pushed into the rear if possible, my reputation could not have been without some foundation at least. I was respectable and respected, very much in love with my profession, and did not care a straw for politics. So, in order to make you understand the change--nay, the entire revolution--which my outward and inward man, my entire existence, had experienced, I must acquaint you with a portion of my family troubles and domestic relations, and I shall have to speak of my Uncle Diogenes.
First of all, I must inform you that my father was a very zealous patriot, and mingled largely in state and political affairs. Of course, in the great insurrection of the year 1848 he took an active share, and after the catastrophe of Vilagos he was seized and imprisoned at Olmuetz. At that time I was a lean, overgrown youngster of sixteen. I was compelled to take charge of the household, and behave as head of the family, for which dignity I had no inclination and but little talent. Study was the great object of my life. After my father's release from prison I was just of an age to decide as to my future career; but that, at the time, was rather a difficult thing for a Hungarian youth, all offices and positions being filled by Germans and Bohemians. I did not wish to follow in my father's footsteps, for I saw that what with his neglect of business matters, what with his liberality in furnishing all patriotic enterprises out of his own pocket with the necessary means, and in extending a wide hospitality to all political refugees, our own circumstances were getting worse and worse, and we were deeply in debt.So one day I took courage to speak to my father upon the subject, and told him that I thought it was time for me to select a profession. "Oh! you are going to hunt for some paltry office in the district courts?" he said, with a snarl. "No! I am going to study as a physician," I replied.
"What? Do you want to be a barber or a veterinary surgeon, or one of those curs who pretend to look after the wounded so that they themselves may keep out of danger when their betters fight? Imagine a scion of the Dumanys, and the last one, too, wanting to be a sick nurse instead of a man! I have a notion to shoot you on the spot!"
"That you can't, for our present ingenious Government takes precious good care that such dangerous persons as my father shall not be left in possession of a rifle or any other shooting-iron; and surely you will not butcher me? Come, father, be reasonable! You know well what I mean to become, and that the calling I have selected is honourable and respected."
"It is not fit for the son of a gentleman and a Dumany. If you dare to follow such an insane course, you may be sure of my malediction, and, besides that, I'll discard you--disinherit you!"
"I am very much afraid, papa, that if our present course lasts awhile longer, there will not be much left to bequeath to your heirs. So I am not afraid of that threat; and as to maledictions, you are much too kind and good-natured to utter such stuff; and, besides, curses are just as harmless and useless as blessings. The Frauenhofer lines tell us all the secrets of hell, and so I am not at all afraid of them. But I am terribly afraid, dear father, that the road which you have pursued will lead us to ruin in a very short time."
I had taken precise accounts of all that we possessed and all that we owed. I had computed these accurately, and showed him the result, which was rather alarming; but he waved the document away with his hands, and said, "Don't be foolish; don't worry about these little inconveniences, which can't be helped, and will soon cease to trouble us. Why, there is your uncle Dion, with eighty-seven winters on his head (may God rest him!) and not a soul to leave his large fortune to, but you, his only nephew! Bless my soul! what a nuisance is this boy! Instead of going to this paragon of an uncle, and trying to get into his good graces, as his next of blood and kin, he talks of becoming an apothecary, smearing plasters, mixing poisons, and setting sprained joints. Go to thy uncle, I say, like a dutiful nephew, and doctor him, if doctor you must!""I have been to him already, and have told him of my intentions." "'Pon my word! And then?" "He gave me the money to pay my preliminary expenses, and I hope to get along afterward by myself." "Well, to think of Dion giving away anything but advice! It's a treat! And what did he say?" "That I was right and sensible in providing against the future; for he knows of your difficulties."
"Stuff and nonsense! He can't last for ever, and then where is the need for your troubling yourself about my difficulties or studying for a profession?""You are mistaken: he will not leave us a penny; neither do I care for his money. All I wanted of him I have got, and there is an end of it."
"Then don't say that I am an unnatural or unfeeling father. I'll give you thir--no, twenty florins!" But he never said whether these twenty florins were meant to be given monthly, or only once for good and all. However, as I did not ask for them, I never got a penny, and soon learned to do without my father's money by giving lessons, coaching less diligent and capable fellow-students, and contriving to live upon almost nothing.
But I wanted to speak to you of my Uncle Diogenes, as he was generally called, although his Christian name was Dion. He was my father's brother, but by no means like him. Rather an odd sort of a fellow, and as keen as a razor. He went even beyond the old classical types; he was more cynical and more of a philosopher than they. Not the oldest inhabitant remembered the time when the cloak that covered his stooping shoulders on the street was new. Daily he went to church, never into church. There, on the sacred threshold, among the beggars and outcasts, he paid his homage to his Maker, and then returned to his desolate home. There was a large public well in the village. To this he himself went with a large pitcher for his drinking-water. This water he poured into a large boiler, boiled and strained it, and then drank it, because then he was sure of the bacilli. He kept no attendant or housekeeper, for fear of being murdered; and he was so much in dread of poison that he never ate cooked food or anything made of flour, not even bread. He lived on baked potatoes, nuts, honey, raw fresh eggs, and all sorts of fruits and vegetables which might be eaten raw, and which grew in his own orchard and garden. Out of his large herd of cattle he selected a cow for his stall. This cow he attended to with his own hand, carefully examining each stalk or haulm she ate, in order that no poisonous weed might be consumed by her, and thus poison the milk. Each morning and evening his own hands milked her, and he churned all his butter, and made all his cheese himself. He never ate anything but what I have mentioned, and he never went out without two loaded double-barrelled pistols in his boots. He never read any other newspaper than the Slavonic _Narodne Novine_, which he got from the village parson; but, before reading it, he held it over a charcoal fire, on which he had thrown some juniper berries, to kill possible malarial germs. His land was all farmed out, and the rent had to be paid to him in gold or silver, which he locked away in a great old iron chest. Occasionally, through auctioning off some poor debtor's effects, he came into possession of bank bills, 50, 100, 1,000 florin notes. These he rolled up separately, and pushed one by one into a hollow reed. Of those stuffed reeds he made bundles, which he stowed away in a corner of his room. He never lent a penny of his money; he never put a penny into any savings-bank, for he called them all humbugs; and he never gave a penny for charity or friendship. Such was my Uncle Diogenes or Dion; and now I will tell you what he had given me. You remember I told my father that my Uncle Dion had furnished me with the means of paying my preliminary expenses. That was true, but I had earned the money, little as it was, in ciphering, writing, and riding about to my uncle's tenants at a time when he was ill with a cold, and would have been obliged to pay a stranger for the work which I did for him. I said it was little he gave me. I have not told the whole truth, for he gave me his advice, and put his own example before me, and that made a small sum go a long way.
Well, to make a long story short, let me tell you that I was an established physician when my father died, and immediately after his death his estate was seized in bankruptcy proceedings.
I did not care. I was satisfied with my position in Vienna, and as I had no mother nor sisters or dependent younger brothers, and had long ago relinquished the hope of coming into possession of our family estate, I tried to forget my former home and live only for my profession.
After my efforts had made me a name as a clever and skilful specialist, I was occasionally called to visit some wealthy patient in Hungary, and then the papers gave accounts of the diagnosis I had given, and mentioned the generous fee I had received. I did not approve of this sort of advertisement, but I found that it could not be checked, and so grew indifferent to it. One day I received a registered letter containing money. It was stamped all over with the cheapest kind of sealing-wax, and, on opening the envelope, I was surprised to find a letter from my Uncle Dion, with an old, crumpled hundred-florin bill, of a kind that had long gone out of circulation, and which showed every mark of having issued from one of the hollow reeds. The letter ran about as follows:--
"MY DEAR NEPHEW, DR. DUMANY,--Knowing well that physicians will not move a step without being well paid, I send you the enclosed bank-bill, and pray you to take the trouble to visit me for a few days here in my house."DUMANY DION." I took the bank-bill, put it into a fresh envelope, and wrote the following lines:--
"MY DEAR UNCLE,--One hundred florins will not induce me to leave my patients, and so I return the bill; but if you are really in need of a physician, and want me in that capacity, then please let me know, without enclosing money, for I should consider it my duty as a near blood-relation to give you my professional assistance without delay.--Yours,"DUMANY KORNEL." By return of post came the answer--"Yes, I want you immediately."
I went at once. It was ten years since I had seen him last. He was eighty-seven then; he must be ninety-seven now. A rare age, indeed! When last I saw him, his long and thick white hair had reached to the middle of his back, and his long untrimmed beard flowed down to his girdle, and was the colour of hemp. His eyes were as sharp as those of any young man, and he did his reading and writing without an eye-glass. Even his grafting he did without an artificial help to his vision. I remembered well the old custom for guests arriving at his house: coach and servants had to be left at the inn, and dinner had to be ordered there. Whoever came to visit the lord of the chateau, quite a magnificent old-fashioned country seat, had to enter through a narrow garden-gate, just wide enough to admit a single person. The great gate was never opened, no vehicle of any kind was admitted to pass through it, and a thick growth of horse-sorrel, both without and within the great oaken wings, bore witness to the fact. There was a turnkey at the little gate, and an old man--the only servant my uncle ever kept, who served for porter, gardener, and all other purposes--opened the door.
There was yet one tender spot in my uncle's heart, one sprinkle of poetry in his nature. He adored flowers, especially roses, and he did not even grudge money to secure rare specimens. His flower-garden was a real fairy bower, and the old man, with the flowing snow-white hair and beard, pruning and grafting continually, resembled some sorcerer who, with a single touch of his withered hands, could create or destroy all the beauty around him.
I found him there among his roses when I came. He recognised me at once, although the last ten years had considerably changed my appearance. He was looking just the same as he did ten years ago; not altered in the least. He was as dry, as wrinkled, and as white as when I had last seen him, and his eyes appeared by no means less sharp than at the time I speak of."Happy to see you, my dear fellow!" he said. "I should have known you wherever I met you. You look like the old boy you were."
"So I do, because of my clean-shaven face, uncle. I do not care for the manly beauty of a moustache and beard. But I must return your compliment. You have not aged in the least, and I can hardly believe in your wanting a physician at all. You do not look like it."
He chuckled. "Well, well, I don't think you are much mistaken; but sit down here in the bower: my room is not quite so pleasant and orderly a place. I must call the gardener--"
"Don't take the least trouble, uncle," I said. "I shall not stay with you, as I ordered a room at the inn and also my dinner. I had a hearty lunch half an hour ago, and so you need not worry about my comfort. Now tell me what ails you, pray, and then I'll see what I can do for you."
"Nothing in the least with regard to my health, for I am not a bit worse than I was ten years ago, and far better than most others at my age. I am ninety-seven, as you know, and that's no trifle. It would be foolish to expect anything better, and you could not prevent my dying about this time next year."
"Oh! you are hypochondriac, I see, and give way to fancies! Come in, and let me examine you professionally, for such fancies are always the result of some serious disorder."
"There you are mistaken, my boy. My heart, lungs, liver, and the rest of it are all right, and I am not melancholy. Neither am I weak-minded or nervous, and you need not look into my eyes or feel my pulse. I have known these four years that I am to die at the time I mentioned, although I am sure, when I tell you how I came to know it, you will call me superstitious. For you fellows of the present day are so sceptical and matter-of-fact that you refuse to believe in anything that cannot be proved by optical inspection or by evidence. It was, as I said, just four years ago, on my ninety-third birthday, when St. John the Nepomuc appeared to me in a dream, and said--'Dionysius, my good fellow, make the best of your time! There are only five more years for you in store, and then you must die! no help for it!' Since that time he comes to me every year regularly on the night of my birthday, and repeats his warning, each time giving me one year less. Last week was my birthday, and he gave me the last warning. Next time he comes I shall have to go. So--"
"But, my dear uncle," I said, rather vexed, "if you are so much convinced of the certainty of your death, then it was not at all necessary for me to come. You want the priest, and not the physician. I can cure bodily diseases, and release you from the clutches of cholera, or sometimes even of death; but if the saints have got hold of you, and such a tight hold, too, then you had better go to your confessor, for it is his business to be in close connection with all of them. I give you up. Good-bye! I have patients in Vienna, and cannot afford to waste my time on a pleasure trip."
"Good God! what a hot-tempered fellow, and what admirable rudeness! Stay, you unmannerly specimen of honesty, who don't think it worth your while to cajole an old fool for the sake of his money! What do you think that I summoned you for? But none of your impudence, if you please!"
I was amazed, and must have looked so, for the old man broke into a merry laugh, that sounded like two pieces of cracked iron rubbing together. There was a merry twinkle in his eye even after his laugh, and he regarded me with a humorous expression which was entirely new to me. "Well," he said, "I see that you are somewhat slow of apprehension; not at all as sharp as others of the family. So I must help you out. I am going to make my will. There!""Well then, you had better consult a lawyer or a notary. I am neither of the two, and cannot be of the least use to you."
"That's gospel truth. But as you are the only sensible person of the whole family, the only one who is not a prodigal, and have made shift to live decently upon your own earnings, I rather think that I may be of use to you. I like you, because you browbeat me and do not flatter me, and I will tell you the truth; that bank-bill which you returned to me strongly interested me in your favour. There was a time when I was not the shrewd hard fellow that I am, but a true Dumany and a spendthrift. I can show you a heap of signatures from nearly all the members of our family--that is, the elder members--every one given me as security for money I have lent them; but that money was never returned to me, and although I have always believed that spirits will break their bonds and return to their former home, I never believed in a bank-note's return until you showed me the miracle. Therefore I have decided to make you my heir, and I have called you to witness the will and--"
"Not a word more," I said. "I never speculated upon anybody's death, and do not intend to change my habit. I never took the trouble to inquire how much of my poor father's fortune was swallowed by the lawyers, although I know that, after paying all of his debts, there must have been a handsome penny left, and I could have recovered that money if I had cared to see about it. I have earned for myself a respected position and a decent living, and I expect to do better yet. So thanks to you for your kind intention, but I am not the man you want."
"Yes, you are, and the more so because you do not worship the golden calf, and do not want to hurry me into my grave as the others do. To tell you all: I wish to settle everything on you while I live, the estate, the house, the money, and all--no, don't run away! I am not crazy, and you need not be afraid that I want you to live here with me in this old hall as it is, mouldy and dirty and desolate. Neither do I want you to share my diet of fruits and raw vegetables, eggs and milk, and baked potatoes. On the contrary, I want you to come to me and live like a gentleman, as a Dumany should, and let me enjoy life with you."IX. A SLAVONIC KINGDOM.
"You see, my dear boy," continued the old man, fondly taking my hand and pressing it, "it is a princely domain that I offer you, and a princely income. The station I invest you with is that of a king in its way, and not a small way, either. Now listen to me! For a great number of years I have lived here on this spot, like one of those hermits of bygone times, living on roots and other primitive food, and never tasting of a decent cooked meal, because I have never ceased to fear that those who wished to get my money would try to poison me in order to get it sooner. This fear I know no longer. I know well that my time expires next year; but of this one year of life I am assured, and I am resolved to make the best of it. I want to eat nice roasts, good cakes, and other delicate dishes, and I want to drink wine. I have not tasted wine since 1809, when I was studying law and attached as juratus to the Personal. For many years I did not seem to care about it; but now I long for it, and I remember how delicious it used to taste.""But, my dear uncle, this would not be wise. Such a change would absolutely kill you."
"Tut! tut! Never fear! I am sure of the one year, and am not going to bargain with Death for more. Give me the one year, and let me enjoy it according to my wishes--that is all I ask for. But for a safeguard against extravagances, should not I have a skilled and renowned physician living with me and looking after me daily? Don't you see that your professional attendance will prevent all evil results, so that I shall be perfectly safe? I could not have lighted upon a better plan than making you my heir, and letting you live with me. Of course, I could have taken a housekeeper; but I know womankind. In less than half a year she would have persuaded me to marry her and settle all my belongings on her, and this would not do for a Dumany. But if you come to live with me, everything will be different. I'll let you have the whole mansion, and keep nothing but my old room, of which I am fond, because I am used to it and to the old, dingy, broken furniture that's in it. You should marry, and bring your pretty little wife into the house, and she would sing to me and play the piano or the organ, and would keep pretty little chambermaids that I could pat on the cheeks, and your little wife would let me kiss her fair, soft little hands; it would be delicious! Then I should hear a little scolding and quarrelling in the house, and you would take care that your little lady-wife should not spoil me by too much fondness, and you would order my dinners and select my wearing apparel according to my health. Perhaps I might sleep a little after meals at the open window--a luxury I always longed for, but did not dare to indulge in. This would be life for me, and a slow and sweet transit from the cares and troubles of this world into heaven."
The old man became quite excited over this ideal picture of happiness. "I speak of heaven," he continued, "and this reminds me of the church. Do you know why I say my prayers outside among the beggars, and never go into the church? Not out of humility, but because at present there is only a simple Slav minister here, and I am not over-anxious to listen to his orations. Besides, the church is always so full of the Slav peasants that you cannot breathe inside of it, such an infernal odour is diffused by them. But if you would come to live here, and bring a gentle little Hungarian lady with you, perhaps the bishop could be induced to send some nice Hungarian priest to preach to us; and I am very fond of a good sermon, especially if I could listen to it comfortably in my pew, as you may wager that not one of these burly peasants would go inside the church if the service were held in Hungarian. And then just fancy the happiness if there should be a christening in the family, and I should be godfather to your son! Would not that be glorious? Oh, if I could live to see it! You must make haste and marry, or I'll put speed into you, you may rely on that!"
I was ready with my diagnosis by the time he had finished his last sentence. Hallucinations born of religious frenzy; idiosyncrasies with allotriophagical symptoms, a consequence of his ascetical mode of living; nymphomania of old age; hypochondriacal fancies: all symptoms that are frequently found together. To second his morbid intention of changing his diet and habits would be sheer lunacy; nay, worse, it would be actual murder. Yet first I must win his confidence as a physician, so that he may trust me and take my advice. I embraced him, and thanked him most heartily and tenderly for his kind intentions, which I should never forget and should always feel grateful for; but I said, brilliant and splendid as it was, I could not accept his proposition, I could not give up the career I had entered, the profession I had embraced and which I loved, and the independent and honoured position I was proud of. My calling was everything to me--life, happiness, fortune, and ambition; and to give up my profession in order to till my farm, to exchange my study, laboratory, and dissecting-table for the petty cares and troubles of a country squire and a county member, would be physical and mental death to me.
The old man smiled. "You talk so because you cannot comprehend the importance of the position you will fill as the lord of my Slavic kingdom, because you cannot guess the amount of the wealth I offer you. You shall know it, and you are the only person alive to whom I have ever spoken, or shall ever speak about it. You think this old mansion looks as dreary and rotten inside as out; but you are mistaken. This residence of the so-called Slav King is a princely seat, and it hides treasures that monarchs and potentates would be proud to possess. If any one of the family calls on me, he finds me in my dingy little hole of a room, which, with an old rotten table, broken chairs, mutilated chest of drawers, and coarse bed with bear-skin coverlet, looks poor and inhospitable enough, and my visitors are generally glad to escape into the open air again, thinking that the whole house resembles this room in appearance; whereas, were I to throw the doors open, and show them the splendour of the rooms and halls, they would stare in amazement. Every one of the rooms is a perfect museum, and contains precious rarities. One is full of carved furniture of costly woods, inlaid with ivory, mother-of-pearl, gold and silver, and rich stones of the time of 'Ulaszlo.' The next contains all sorts of pottery of past
centuries--Roman and Etruscan, Chinese and Japanese, Sevres and Dresden, old Hungarian, and so forth. The third room is full of weapons of all ages--panoplies, coats of mail, shields, bucklers, saddles. In the fourth room are gowns and trains and coats of brocade, and artistic embroidery and tapestry. The fifth room is a picture-gallery of
unlimited value; and then comes a library that has not its equal on this continent, nor, I may say, on any other. High up to the ceiling the large hall is filled with precious and rare old products; books with clasps that are themselves curiosities of rare beauty. But those books! If your medical colleagues had the privilege of entering this library and peeping into those books, I doubt if they would be willing to part with them ever after. Why, there is actually a book to invoke the devil with! I did not dare to look into it, but you young fellows are such sceptics that you will deny the existence of God and Devil presently, and you will take the risk of reading that book.
"All these treasures were hoarded together by my father--may God bless and rest his soul! He was called a miser throughout his life, and he denied himself all comfort in order to spend his income in replenishing his collection of rarities. Shortly after the birth of his second son, your father, our mother grew tired of his mania and the sacrifices she had daily to make, and left him, taking us boys with her, while he remained alone among his beloved curiosities, which became dearer to him on account of the high price he had to pay for them. When we boys--your father and I--grew up, your father grew daily more like our mother, while I became strangely infatuated with the old man and his store of curiosities. He was also fond of me, showed me all his treasures, dwelling upon the particular beauty of each. Miser as our father was, he occasionally gave money to his younger son, but he never gave any to me, and I had to consider this as an especial favour, for had I not the privilege of sharing the main interest of his life?
"When my father died, there was hardly enough ready money in his desk to pay his funeral expenses, and he had left a very strange will. He had kept minute accounts of the amount he had spent each day and year for different objects. All the money he had given to my mother and my younger brother was reckoned up and subtracted from their share under his will. He wrote that, as he knew that his wife was well provided for, having a considerable fortune of her own, he left her a life-estate in such one of his many domains as she might select. With regard to his two sons, one had never shown him any love, and visited him only when in want of spending-money; the other had never asked for a penny, although he had received less from his mother than her favourite, the younger. Yet, as a dutiful father, he did not wish to be partial; therefore his sons were to divide his lands, goods, and chattels in the following manner:--One was to take all his ready money, bonds, and objects of gold, silver, and jewellery of recent workmanship (meaning the present century), besides his horses and cattle, and the wine in the cellars; while the other was to take possession of all the lands and the residuary estate, on condition that he should reside in this particular mansion and take charge of the museum therein, that he should never marry, never accept any public office, in order that the treasures under his care might receive the full benefit of his resources. He was required to pledge himself to live in exactly the same secluded and frugal way as his father, and to take his oath that during his lifetime and stewardship he would not sell or give away one particle of the estate, whether real or personal, which he received under the will. Further, he must give up all claim on his mother's estate for ever, and must relinquish all that she might give or bequeath him to his brother.
"To say that your father was furious would hardly express his state of mind. I have already said that the whole amount of cash left was barely enough for the funeral expenses. The bonds which were found proved to be so many worthless pieces of parchment. The jewellery of recent workmanship consisted of a set of valueless shirt-studs and a watch that would not have fetched ten florins at auction. Of silver there was a tablespoon, a teaspoon, a ladle, and two or three pieces of tableware, bent, crooked, and broken, hardly worth the mentioning. Of horses there were two lean and decrepit-looking animals, and the cattle consisted of a diminutive black cow and her calf, neither of much value, yet forming no doubt the most valuable part of the whole bequest. This was your father's portion, for as to his taking the other part, giving up the prospect of our mother's goodly store of money and other property, and living a secluded life as guardian of a museum, that was entirely out of the question.
"To tell that I felt pleased or glad on taking possession of the immense wealth my father had left me would be a falsehood. I was young, and not altogether devoid of the passions and inclinations pertaining to that age. But I had interpreted the true spirit of my father's will, and I knew that all this seeming spite and injustice was really a token of his great love for me and of his great wisdom. Had he not stipulated such hard conditions, my brother would have taken and squandered these lands and goods as he squandered our mother's fortune, and I should not have been able now to say to his only son, 'Stay with me, and receive at my hands the undiminished fortune which your grandfather entrusted to my care.' How immense that fortune is you may guess, when I tell you that one year's income, large as it is, was not sufficient to pay the legacy-taxes. But come, let me show you everything, and give you an idea of the Slavic kingdom to which I invite you."
We entered the mansion, an old chateau built in the time of King Albert, under the dynasty of the Mazures. Strong walls of cut stone, like the ramparts of a fortress; great projecting, mullioned oriel windows; everywhere the Dumany coat-of-arms hewn in stone, wrought in iron, carved in wood. The main entrance was walled up; the middle portion of the building contained but one storey; the wings, too, were low, but in the rear of the house there was a large, high turret.
A heavy oaken door, beautifully carved, gave access to this turret, and as this was at present the only approach to the interior of the house, we had to cross halls and corridors until we reached the floor of the main building. As we entered, my uncle locked the massive portal and put the key in his pocket. When, in order to do this, he lifted the lapel of his long zrinyi dolmany (old-fashioned Hungarian coat), I could see the butts of his pistols, which were always loaded and ready to his hands. He noticed the smile on my lips, and said testily, shrugging his shoulders, "What can I do? I have to think of my personal safety at all times. Wickedness has not died out of the world, and a poor lone old man is rather a temptation to robbers. To keep a manservant for protection would not do. He would be the very person to kill me, having me at his mercy all the time; and as to keeping a dog for the purpose, I could not think of it. A dog may bite, and there is danger in that; and, besides, his keep costs just as much as a man's. He will eat up a fortune in time. But when you are here, you will have servants and dogs, and all the rest, and there will be no more need of my pistols."
My uncle took me directly to his treasures. With all he had said to excite my curiosity, he had not said enough. For here were treasures indeed, and I could readily believe that in these luxurious creations of long-forgotten ages and races a strong witchcraft was pent, and that a man might grow to give his heart and soul to them. My uncle could give me the date of every object. This statuette is a Praxiteles; this picture a Guido Reni; Benvenuto Cellini was the owner of this goblet; and this sword was that of Sultan Soliman.
It was dusk, and the shadows of night were falling fast when I quitted the museum. My uncle and I returned to the narrow turret-room in which he had taken up his abode for the last seventy years and more. This room of itself was a sight to see, and I was slightly faint and dizzy from bewilderment at what I had already beheld. "You see, my boy," said the old man again, "I have not lied to you; and when you are once established here, and open these rooms to your visitors, all the barons, and counts, and princes will stare at them with open mouth, and will cajole you, flatter you, and bring their handsomest daughters for you to choose a wife from; for such is the power of wealth. But do not believe that the rarities I have shown you are all that I can give. For what would be the good of the offer if I gave you nothing else? You would have to lead a miserable existence like mine, for you could not soil those things--no, not to save your life. If once you come to take possession of them, you will find that you belong to them as much as they to you. You will cling to them and neglect the present, only to live in the forgotten past. The beauty of women you will admire in these pictures only; the beauty of Nature in these stones and minerals. For politics you will not care, and home will mean to you this mansion, which encloses your treasure. Oh, the air of these rooms is poisonous to youth, and mirth, and love!"
"Yes, uncle," I said, earnestly, "and to ambition and independence, and all good and right purposes, also; and therefore I cannot stay with you, for I have chosen my path in life, and I will adhere to it in spite of these powerful temptations."
"Oh, you are afraid that they will convert you into a miser and a hermit, as I have become! But I can give you a potent antidote, which was never given to me; that is, ready money. Come, and I'll show you what you have never seen, and assuredly never dreamed of. You see this large iron chest, itself a rare piece of workmanship, and stronger and safer than any of your new inventions? Come, let me show you how to unlock it, for it is difficult; and one who was unacquainted with the secret of this lock might try until Doomsday to force it open, and all to no purpose. See, it turns this way, and at this point you must stop. If in all three locks the keys have been turned to this point, the chest will open. The contents will rebuild this old castle, will buy you horses and carriages, and all the home luxuries of modern times, and will enable you to keep up with the richest and the noblest of them all. Keep up, I say--nay, go ahead of them; and still you will have what money cannot buy for them--your museum. Oh, the Dumanys shall be a powerful race once more, and I shall live to see it!"
He lifted the heavy lid of the chest, and I saw a number of linen bags and an equally large number of bladders. The linen bags, my uncle explained, were full of silver coins, the bladders of gold coins.
"You see," he continued, "there are fourteen hundred acres of ground belonging to this estate--rather a handsome piece of property in this part of the country. It has all been leased out to farmers for many, many years, almost a century, and it has greatly deteriorated. But this money will help you to improve the soil also, and it will yield you more than the twelve thousand acres of Count Vernoeczy's estate can do, for half of that land has been turned into a deer-park, and the other half is imperfectly cultivated. Look at the bundles of reeds there in the corner. You have wondered at them, no doubt; and at all those pipes on the shelf yonder. You asked me if I was a smoker. I am, but I do not smoke out of those pipe-stems. Both they and the reeds are money-boxes, every one of them. In them I keep the bank-notes which I have had to take during the last seventy years. They represent a fortune in themselves. I hardly know myself how much money they contain. You can split them, and find out when you come to live with me. I'll settle it all on you in legal fashion, and keep nothing but my own room. You can do with the rest as you please; build and rebuild, buy and furnish, to suit your fancy. Only let me live the one year that remains to me pleasantly and in plenty, and promise me three things: Never to till your acres after the ideas you will get from the text-books; never to do a kindness to a great lord; and never to quarrel or get vexed with a woman."
"I promise you whatever you wish, dear uncle," said I; "but, since I have listened to you for quite a while, you must now listen to me. You have called me in the capacity of a doctor, and as such I must speak to you.""Do you know a remedy for old age?" was his sarcastic inquiry.
"I do, to grow older still. You do not look a bit older or feebler than you did ten years ago, and there is no positive reason why you should not live for ten years longer, or even more, provided you do not change your course of living in the least degree. The slightest change of habits, of diet, or of dress, may prove fatal at your age. I know that you are not afraid of death, and that you also have taken St. John the Nepomuc's word for the remaining year. But, my dear uncle, saints are sometimes ambiguous, and there is something that resembles a living death, a prospect too horrible to dwell upon, yet dreadfully near. A single meal of some heavy, unwonted food, one glass of liquor, may bring it on. It is called paralysis, and when it comes, St. Nepomuc may stick to his word and give you a year, but what a year that would be!"
He looked at me with a troubled face, and I pressed his hands and said, "Yes, dear uncle; you have to stick to the old, long-travelled road, and then I may hope to see you ten years hence as hearty as you are now, or as you were ten years ago. For you are in perfect health otherwise, and there is no need whatever of my staying with you. Only beware of indigestion, and you will be all right. As for myself, I shall never cease to remember your kindness and to feel grateful for it, but to accept your offer would be moral death to me. I have to go back to my profession, and if you, dear uncle, dislike our other relatives, and do not want to leave them your property, then give it to such patriotic and charitable institutions as deserve patronising, and you may be sure that your memory will be blessed by thousands. Of me you need not think. I am not the man to speculate on another man's death, and build my future on a grave."
The old man looked curiously at me; then he sighed, and embraced me. "Thank you, my dear fellow!" he said; "I see you are a truly honest man and no hypocrite. I won't offer you any money: on the contrary, I'll ask a further favour. Before you leave, I'll give you a letter, which you will personally hand to the Prefect at his residence at the county seat, which is on your way to Vienna. I am afraid to entrust this letter to the mail, as there are very valuable papers in it, and you will have to take a receipt for it from the magistrate. This receipt you need not send me, but keep it safe; and if you come to this house again, you may bring it with you."
With that the old man showed me out into the garden, carefully unlocking and re-locking the door, and securing the key. "Thank you for coming to me, my dear fellow," he said. "And since you decline to take anything of actual value from me, let me offer you something that has only fanciful value, yet is dearer to me than all the treasures within the house. See these Remontan roses in their second bloom--for instance, this Sultan of Morocco, the most perfect specimen of its kind? I gave a _Napoleon d'or_ for the scion, and this is its first year of flowering. Here, take it!"
With that he actually cut the blossom from the stalk, and handed it to me. It was a magnificent flower, and almost black, with but a slight purple tinge. It was the darkest-hued rose known at that time. Later on the "Deuil d'Alsace" came out of Pandora's box. At the time I speak of, that box was in Benedetti's pocket, and more is the pity that the pocket held it so tight.X. "DEAD."
Hardly three months after I had taken a tender and affectionate farewell from my Uncle Dion a newspaper item informed me of his death. My prediction that a fit of indigestion would prove fatal to him had come true. His confidence in St. John of Nepomuc had been greater than his prudence, and it was a mercy that the stroke of apoplexy had killed him outright, instead of making a living corpse of him, as is so often the case.
About a fortnight after I had read of the death of the celebrated Slav King, I received a package by mail, containing an official and a private letter. The official letter informed me that the Honourable Dionysius Dumany had recorded a last will and testament in the county archives, in which last will and testament he nominated me, Dr. Kornel Dumany, as his sole heir, upon condition that I should take possession of the property and live in Dumany Castle. But if I should stubbornly refuse to fulfil that condition, lands, goods, and chattels should forthwith pass over to the "Maticza" (Slavic and ecclesiastical literary fund, employed for Panslavonic ends).
The private letter came from the Governor of the county, and referred to the same subject. The Governor declared that it was my unmistakable duty, as a Dumany and a son of Hungary, to take possession of the home of my ancestors, and not to allow such an anti-patriotic and dangerous institution as the "Maticza" to do her a mischief on the strength of Hungarian funds, and to turn the ancient halls of my patriotic forefathers into a meeting-place of daring conspirators.
I shrugged my shoulders, but had not the faintest notion of accepting. I did not care for politics, and knew of the "Maticza" as a purely Slavonic literary society. If this society was to hold future meetings in my uncle's museums, I could bear it; there was very little of Chauvinism or even patriotism left in me. I was rather cosmopolitan in tendency; and as to giving up my profession and becoming a country squire, that was simply ridiculous.
This happened to be the very period when, after years of degradation and suffering, the Hungarian national spirit was first allowed to lift its head and show its colours. Germans and Bohemians, who for many years had filled all the public offices in Hungary, were compelled either to learn the Hungarian language or surrender their places to natives. In most cases the latter was unavoidable, and these aliens, furious at being driven from their prescriptive sinecures, went up to Vienna and did their best to make it hot for the Hungarians. As every war has its origin in an inkstand, students are, naturally, the greatest
Chauvinists, and I was to find that out with a vengeance. All my friends and colleagues became more and more averse to me, and even went so far as to take my patients from me by incensing them against me in every possible manner. Soon they began to drag my name into professional polemics, into professional newspapers; and when I had defeated and silenced them in one place, they began to annoy me in another. At home, in Hungary, the reorganisation of the counties was begun. For twenty years constitutional life in Hungary had been extinct, and now it had to be resuscitated. This was a hard task, and at first it was not even known who were entitled to vote at the meetings.
And now I received another letter from the Governor, again reminding me of my duty, clearly describing the situation of affairs, and telling me how much good every honest and right-minded man could effect, and how much mischief I should be able to prevent. "But," he closed, "if you stubbornly and positively adhere to your unpatriotic resolution, and finally decline to accept your deceased uncle's legacy, I must trouble you to come down in person and give a definite renunciation, with the necessary affidavit, such being your uncle's strict demand."
There was no help. I had to go to get rid of the annoyance. Arriving at the county seat, I paid my respects to the Vice-Governor, the same dignitary to whom I had given the letter which my uncle had entrusted to my care, and which, as I now learned, proved to be the very will in question. I announced my firm resolution to adhere to my principles, and the magistrate replied that that was all right, but before we talked further on the subject, I had better go to the county meeting, which was to be held that day."But what right have I to be there?" I asked. "Why, as the present head of the ancient Dumany family, of course," was the reply. "There is not one of us provided with a better claim."
So I let myself be persuaded, and went. The great Hall of Meetings was crowded to suffocation, and among the local celebrities I recognised a few of those compatriots who had kindly assisted my poor father to get rid of his money by feeding them and keeping their pockets full. There were others who were quite young men, old schoolfellows of mine; somewhat bad students at the time, but, since Providence had furnished them with strong voices, they had taken advantage of the gift so as to make a noise in the world, and played the _role_ of leading partisans. One of them in particular, a good-for-nothing sort of fellow who had never come near his degree in any school, was recognised as a bright particular star, and quite too smart for anything. If I remember rightly, he was the head of the Radical wing.
After much deliberation and a good deal of talk, of which I did not comprehend anything, it was decided to read the names of the present county members. A long list was handed to an official, who was instructed to pronounce each name clearly; and each name, as it was read, was followed by a loud cheer "Eljen!" All at once there came, instead of the "Eljen!" after one of the names, the unanimous shout "Dead!" and the person named had to rise from his seat and leave the room, and his name was erased from the list. This was repeated a number of times, and behind me stood a Slav nobleman, who after each of these utterances of "Dead," added the Slavonic word "Smrt"--a beautiful word, as bony as the spectre "death" itself.[Footnote 2: "Dead."]
There was a priest, with a broad red sash, who made himself especially obnoxious to me; for, as often as the "dead" sentence was pronounced, he laughed, and pointed conspicuously with his fat fingers at the expelled man, who, with bent head, made his way to the door. I inquired the reason of these demonstrations, and was told that these men were traitors, who had filled offices under the absolutist government of the Austrians.
Immediately after one of these shouts of "Dead," an old gentleman who sat just in front of me, and of whom I had up to this moment seen nothing but his bald head, which showed an immense scar, evidently an old sword-cut, got up from his seat at the green-covered table, and as he turned I beheld an aged and careworn but honest face, with two big tears slowly rolling down the furrowed cheeks. "That is for the seven wounds I received at Nagy Sarlo!" said he, with choking voice; and raising his trembling hand to his eyes, he moved away.
"Seven children the poor fellow has at home, and he had to earn daily bread for them, somehow, so he served as surveyor, and that was his treachery," said one of my neighbours in an undertone. As the banished man passed out, I sat down on the seat he quitted. "It is ill luck to sit in a traitor's chair," said a well-meaning man at my elbow; but I smiled and kept my seat.
"Who may that smooth-faced stranger be? and how comes it that he is here?" I heard some of the bystanders ask, referring, of course, to my clean-shaven visage. Nobody in the whole congregation knew or recognised me, except the Vice-Governor, and the fellow-student of whom I have spoken. But, of course, he kept at a distance. Presently my own name, "Dumany Kornel," was pronounced, and "Dead! Dead! Smrt!" was the shout of all around. I had caught the infection, and as the red-sashed priest smilingly and playfully raised a threatening fat finger at me and said, "He is turned into a German, an Austrian," down came my fist upon the green cloth of the table. Philosophy, _sang-froid_, and political indifference were blown to the winds, carrying forethought and resolution with them. I jumped up, pushed the chair away from behind me, and shouted--
"He is not dead! He is here! And what is more, here he shall stay! I am a landed gentleman, as well as the best of you, and as pure a Hungarian as any in this meeting, or in this country either. I am that Dumany Kornel whose name has been read, and I am not dead, but alive, as you shall soon find out!"
There was a dead silence at these words, and some heads were nodded in acknowledgment that I was right. Then there was a whispering and consulting and questioning, until the honourable Vice-Governor said, "Silence, gentlemen! the honourable Dumany Kornel has the floor upon a personal question."
"Hear! hear!" shouted all, some in good earnest, some in order to embarrass me, and the red-sashed parson said, maliciously, "If you are a Hungarian, sir, as you claim, where is your moustache?""Out hunting for yours, your reverence," said I, with a grin.
"I am a priest!" was the haughty reply; but that was just what I expected, and looking around at the portraits upon the walls of the room, portraits representing the most celebrated heroes of our national history, I gave them then and there such a barbological sermon, _ex tripode_, that they listened to me in mute astonishment. I told them that the great national high-priests and patriots, Peter Pazmany, Prince Cardinal Esterhazy, and Thomas Bakacs, there portrayed, had worn moustaches, although they were priests; whereas Mathias Corvinus, our glorious, never-to-be-forgotten hero-king, wore a clean-shaven face like mine. The famous Palatinus Illeshazy had pronounced Hungary free and independent with smooth hairless lips, and Thomas Nadasdy had carried the Hungarian tricolour to immortal triumphs although his face was as beardless as mine, as everybody might see by his portrait there present. I told them that I did not speak for myself, as I did not care a straw for their opinion, and felt sufficiently strong in my own self-respect and clear conscience, which, perhaps, was more than a good many present could say of themselves. But I was not going to look on when patriotism was made the monopoly of certain people, whereas decent and deserving men were hooted at because they had dared to earn their own bread and that of their family, instead of living upon the bounty of friends and driving them to ruin and death. And then I told them that it was not a time to inaugurate a policy of jealousy and persecution. We had had enough of that under the absolutist government; what we wanted was honest, energetic co-operation for a common purpose, the welfare of country and nation.
I had spoken with all the bravery of a simpleton, who has no idea that if he throws a glowing tinder into a barrel of gunpowder he may blow the house up and himself also. For some seconds I ran the risk of being thrown out of doors, or of getting my hands full of private quarrels and duels, but the concluding sentences met with such unanimous applause that I was heartily congratulated on the success of my maiden speech, and had the additional satisfaction of seeing the majority of those formerly pronounced "dead" restored to the list again, and I was able to give back the seat which I occupied to its former owner, the old gentleman with the seven scars and as many children.
Among those who had congratulated me was one conspicuously handsome and distinguished-looking young man. He fairly embraced me, and said, "You are the man we wanted! Let me welcome you, and consider me your friend; I am Count Vernoeczy. Siegfried Vernoeczy is my name!"
The Vice-Governor invited me to dinner, and just as we were pushing our way out of the hall, I heard the red-sashed priest and the Slav nobleman, who had always added his "Smrt" to the cry of "Dead!" speaking together in Slav, of which language they supposed me ignorant. The nobleman said to the priest--
"What folly it was of you to vex and excite this blockhead by pronouncing him dead! Had you left him alone, he would have gone off, and left the Maticza in possession of the old miser's fortune. Now we may go and hunt for other fools; this one has escaped us for ever.""Well, how could I know that the milksop had turned into a fighting bull?" was the reply.
The reverend gentleman was wrong. I was not a bull, but an ox; and a moment's excitement had made me give up fame and ambition, profession and independence, and here I was in the kingdom of Swatopluk, taking possession of my Uncle Diogenes's legacy. It was very foolish, but if I had to do it again--why, I should do it. I was a Hungarian and a Dumany, in spite of my cosmopolitan tendencies and in spite of modern equality.XI.
MY DEAR FRIEND SIEGFRIED. So I must needs call him, for dear was his friendship to me; at least, I have paid for it dearly. At our first meeting he told me that henceforth we should stick to each other like the Siamese twins. And the man whom he thought worth catching was clever indeed if he could extricate himself from the meshes which encircled him. He was altogether a wonderful fellow. Of athletic build, striking beauty, great agility and versatility in all bodily exercises, an unrivalled fencer, and a perfect marksman. What a soldier he would have made! But Mr. Schmerling knew a good many fine tricks, and one of the prettiest was the prevention of Hungarian youths from entering the army. He took advantage of the prevalent Chauvinistic sentiments, and put them forward as a bait. One thousand florins, paid down, protected a Hungarian youth from serving in the hated army, and he was free to ride his own horses instead of the king's. Yet what a general that Siegfried might have been! He was born to command and direct other people. All who adhered to him and did his bidding were his soldiers; all who declined to follow his lead, he regarded as enemies. The former he compelled to serve him, the latter he defeated and slew. He was sometimes high-spirited to eccentricity. At other times he was discreetly prudent. He spoke almost every existing language, and was a brilliant orator. His addresses were admirably delivered, and he took an independent and imperative tone. His talk was always fluent; and if a Hungarian or a German word failed him, he substituted for it a French, English, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Turkish, or other foreign phrase, never stopping for a moment to consider or even to explain. His Hungarian speeches were rhetorical gems, yet they could hardly be styled Hungarian, for they were delivered in a perfect Volapuek--that is, in a medley of all possible languages. He was a strong personality, and a "grand seigneur." His purse was always open, and he spent his money with a liberal hand. He must have been a very rich man, for I never knew him in even a momentary embarrassment for money. When I first felt the pressure of his iron arm, I knew at once that he would dominate me. But such was the fascination he exercised that I submitted at once.
It was at the close of that memorable meeting, and after he told me to consider him my friend. The Vice-Governor had invited me to dine with him, and I wanted to go to my rooms for a change of attire, or at least a white tie and a pair of light gloves. "Nonsense!" he said, "these rustics will take you as you are, _en plein parade_. Come at once. We will order them to lose no time, but to take up your status in your new domain to-morrow, and have you put in possession of your rights and privileges without delay.""But to-morrow I shall not be here," I remonstrated; "I have to go to Vienna and provide for my patients."
"What would you provide for them? _Qu'ils attendent, les pauvres betes_; death will not escape them. 'We can wait,' is the Austrian parole; don't worry about them. To-morrow you will have the board of commissioners meet on your new premises, and put you in possession of your inheritance, so that you may be placed on the list of voters. This must not be postponed, for if you miss that you are dead indeed--'Smrt,' as that honest Maticza champion said."Siegfried lost no time, and the Vice-Governor said that he was right. "Yes," he said, "to-morrow you shall have the keys of your castle." "And that of the famous iron chest," said Siegfried.
"No, that cannot be yet," replied the officer; "the iron chest is under an official lock as yet, for the 'Maticza' has put in a claim to the inheritance. The Slav parish priest in Dumanyfalva, as well as his housekeeper and his sacristan, affirm that your deceased uncle, on the eve of his death, dined with them (in parentheses, the fat pork he partook of and the strong wine he drank brought on the fatal stroke), and there at the table he declared that, even in case you, his nephew, should accept of the inheritance, the Maticza should not be left empty-handed, but should receive all the ready money found on the premises.""Franca, franca! It's all a lie!" said Siegfried.
"So I think, too. But we have no evidence to prove it. It all depends on the decision of the court, because the Maticza has no documentary evidence, and so the court will decide the question.""And where is the chest at present?" "There at the castle, under guard." "And why did you let it remain there? It ought to be here under your own care." "Yes; but it is so riveted to the wall that we could not remove it without tearing up the wall also." "Then why have you not taken the money into your own custody? Some unknown person or persons may force the lock."
"That lock? Why, we tried it in every way, for the tax-commissioner would have liked to examine its contents to make sure as to the amount of taxes due. But we could not find a locksmith capable of using the three keys belonging to the locks in the proper way."
At this I spoke out. "If," I said, "my uncle has indeed willed away his ready money to the Maticza, he must assuredly have instructed them how to get at their money. To me, at least, he disclosed the secret of the lock, and I know how to apply the keys properly.""Bravissimo! That settles the question. A clearer piece of evidence cannot exist. The court cannot decide otherwise than in your favour." "Then try to expedite the formalities. You can do it."
"I can't. The parties must be informed at what time the court holds its session; they have to appear before the court, and introduce testimony. All this takes a month at least.""And how is he to manage until then? Is there nothing in old Diogenes's casket to make money out of?" "Oh yes, a lot of old rubbish! I daresay it would bring something at least. We have taken an inventory of it, and taxed it; here it is."
With that he took from the shelf an official-looking document, and handed it to me. I was curious to know at what they had appraised my uncle's precious treasures, and looked at the inventory. I was more than surprised--I was amused beyond everything. The contents of the two large halls, ante-chamber, and five chambers were valued at three hundred and seventy-nine florins and forty-five kreutzers. The kreutzers were for an old Gobelin hanging--a rare piece of tapestry.
"Why, this is ludicrous!" said I laughingly. The Vice-Governor smiled knowingly, and Siegfried took the paper out of my hand, and read the items. A Palissy-cabinet was described as a wooden chest, worth three florins; precious old majolica as old earthenware, the suits of armour as old iron, and so forth. "Now this is a masterpiece!" said Siegfried; but I was indignant. "It is hyper-barbarism!" I said. "This inventory enumerates the contents of some dime museum--not of my uncle's valuable collections. If you had looked for it, you might have found an exact schedule, made by my uncle, with the name of each object, statement of cost, etc."
"We could not find anything of the kind," said the Vice-Governor. "But I forgot. Attached to the will was a package, sealed; and addressed to you--'Dr. Cornelius Dumany.' Here it is."
I took the package, opened it, found the inventory within, and handed it to the official. "Here it is. You see I was right! Here you can see the actual worth of my uncle's museum."
"I have no curiosity whatever," said the Vice-Governor; "this is a private document addressed to you, and, therefore, I have no business to inquire into it.""But--"
"But it is time for you to go," said Siegfried, slapping me on the shoulder; "never mind that old inventory of your uncle's." "But I do mind it," I insisted. "I can't have something that is actually worth two hundred thousand florins appraised at three hundred, all in all."
"But can't you see that on the three hundred florins the amount of tax would be seventeen florins, and on the two hundred thousand you will have to pay nine thousand florins as legacy taxes?""Is that the law?" "Of course it is, clear and distinct." "Then I shall pay according to law. I do not intend to cheat the Treasury."
The Vice-Governor broke into a laugh, and Siegfried took hold of both my ears and gave them a hard pull. "Oh! you, you, you doctor!" He would have said you fool, or you simpleton, but he found the "doctor" more explanatory, and a good deal more to the purpose. Why, did I not understand that it was the patriotic duty of a Hungarian citizen to cheat the Treasury whenever an opportunity to do so was offered?
"Just you let him alone," said the Vice-Governor, laughing. "He is an innocent, honest fellow, with a tender conscience, and nothing so tough and hardened as you. Come, friend Kornel! tell me, what do you think of the rate at which the other things are estimated? For instance, your uncle's private room? The whole furniture is valued at twenty-three florins. Do you think that underestimated? No? Well, here are his pipes--old clay pipes, stuck into cane stems. They are valued at ninety kreutzers."
I laughed. "The pipes are hardly worth more, but the stems would be well worth the money, for they and the old reeds in my uncle's room were his bank-note receptacles, and for all I know they may be full of hundred- or even thousand-florin bills."
"Well, if you are not the greatest ass in Christendom, then I am--and no doubt about it," said Siegfried, vexed. "Here is this fellow actually denouncing his own money to the police. If you are such an imbecile, and really do not care for your own profit, then at least do not talk without being asked.""Hadn't you better use more civil language?" I asked. "I really am not used to such strong expressions."
"Oh, of course; I beg your pardon! Only I should like to know what you will do without ready money? Because you have compelled our friend, the Vice-Governor here, to take all the money on the premises, that is, all the contents of the reeds and pipe-stems, of which you blabbed, into his own custody, whereas you might have kept your own counsel, and culled the money out at your leisure, without anybody having an idea of its existence."
"Yes; but that would not be honest. If anybody finds a pocket-book full of money he cannot keep it for himself, but must give it up to the authorities.""Not if it is his own pocket-book, I should think. But, as you have done it, it is too late to quarrel about the policy of the act."
The Vice-Governor called in one of his office clerks, and drew up a statement containing all I had said about the reeds and pipes, and the actual value of the museum. I had to put my signature at the foot of the document, and then I was allowed to go.
Next day Siegfried took me out in his own chaise, to which four beautiful horses were attached, to Dumanyfalva, and there, with all the ceremony belonging to the occasion, I was inducted into my legal rights as landlord. I was conducted into the mansion, the keys were put into my hands, then they took me out into the field and gave me a handful of soil of each individual plot, or meadow, or pasture. After that they split the reeds and pipe-stems, and ten bills of one thousand florins apiece, two hundred bills of one hundred florins, and sixty-four fifty-florin bills were found, flattened out, made into a package, upon which each of the persons present put a seal, with his own name. Then the Vice-Governor wrote on its cover, "Legacy of the Late Honourable Dionysius Dumany," and handed it over to the trustee."Now you see what has come of your blabbing," said Siegfried. "How will you manage now?" "Well enough. I have some money in Vienna, and I am going to fetch it. I have to go up to Vienna, anyhow, to arrange my belongings there." "And I'll go with you, for, thorough AEsculapius as you are, there is danger of your escaping us yet."
He kept his word, and we went by his own chaise and four to Nagy Szombat, where we took the train for Vienna. In Vienna he never moved from my side, hardly allowing me time for any business transactions, but taking me to theatres, dinners, cafes, and all sorts of variety-shows and music-halls. I had lived soberly and industriously up to this time, rarely going to the opera or to private entertainments; but I was young and naturally jovial, and did not object to a few days of dissipation, enjoying the manifold diversions which the Austrian metropolis offered.
On the last day, Siegfried helped to pack and send off my furniture to Dumanyfalva, and, as I could not sleep in my empty rooms, he carried me off to a hotel; but not to sleep, for we never closed our eyes that night, and it was with a dizzy head and a confused brain that I found myself in the railway carriage, travelling homeward. Happily, my faithful old servant had gone with the furniture ahead of me, and, on my arrival at home, I found that the practical old fellow had made the best of his time. A bedroom and sitting-room had already been furnished and the old dining-room made serviceable. He had also procured a cook, and for the first time in my life I enjoyed the sensation of sitting at my own table and playing the host, for that Siegfried did not leave me yet will be readily understood.
While at dinner, Siegfried laid down a plan of how the old mansion might be renovated without and within, and I had to acknowledge that his taste was perfect; but--very expensive, as I remarked."How much ready money have you?" he asked. "Something over four thousand florins," I replied.
"That is almost nothing--hardly sufficient to furnish a few rooms, and what becomes of the building? Then there is the grange, the stable, etc., and then you will want to buy two pair of horses; one for your chaise, the other for work. You will have to buy cattle, and grain, and hay, and a good many other necessaries, and you will have to take the distillery away from the lessee, for what will you do with your cattle? What you want is at least twenty thousand florins, and these you have fooled away. It will take months to get hold of them again, and then half of them will be gone, and the time for making all necessary arrangements will have passed. I'll tell you what, you cannot sit here and do nothing, and I am not going to let you waste time. I'll lend you these twenty thousand florins." I was surprised at the offer. "Yes," he said, "I have the money ready, for I intended to buy a piece of property, but could not make a bargain with the owner. Now the money is of no use to me at present, and you may have it until your money is restored to you. Happily, I have the money with me now. Here it is!"
With that he took out a portfolio, and handed me twenty bank-notes of one thousand florins each. I wanted to give him a bond, but he would not hear of it "The idea!" he said; "why, we are no Jews, but gentlemen. Just write upon your card: 'Good for twenty thousand florins, which I will pay upon receipt of my legacy.' Here, take my lead-pencil; that will do."
I was rather embarrassed, but his face showed so much sincere friendship and regard that I did not venture to refuse the offer, and, considering the circumstances, he was right, and he had behaved nobly. Still, I did not like the obligation he had put me under, and should have preferred to pay interest on the sum even to a common usurer. I had some faint presentiment that the interest on such a loan as this would be much higher than the usual percentage taken by the professional money-lender; but I had done it, and could not undo it, as you might say.
With the money in hand I attended to business. Siegfried, indefatigable in his endeavours to be of use in me, assisted me with his practical versatility in business matters, and with his good taste in the domestic sphere. He purchased the horses for my carriage, he bargained with the mason about the buildings, he made the contracts with my tenants, and he bought my grain and other household necessaries. I could never have got on without his help--at least, not so profitably--and I was naturally very grateful to him.
"You can't pay any visits to your neighbours until you have made your own house fit to receive company; but, as it would be rather hard upon you to live like a hermit until that time, you might drive over to the county town and put in an appearance at the casino. I'll introduce you to the whole set."
The county town was two hours' drive from Dumanyfalva. Siegfried drove me over, and my own brand-new and very "pshutt"-looking cab was to wait for me at the casino door. In the casino Siegfried introduced me to about a dozen of young and old local celebrities, and one or two great lights of national reputation. Party divisions there were none; all parties agreed harmoniously, and played with each other their whist, their games of chess or dominoes. I was very cordially received, and in the ensuing conversation I took a very lively and active share, and stood my ground without any of the usual bashfulness of a novice. Siegfried seconded me in all my remarks with an occasional nod and a "Very true, my friend," or "You have hit it exactly," or "You have expressed my own opinion;" "My friend, you are an excellent debater," and other observations of the kind, and soon we were unanimously called "the Dioscuri," for we were never found apart.
At a county banquet Siegfried spoke of me, in a brilliant toast-speech, as of a newly risen star, or rather "a great shining planet," and there was a universal "Eljen!" and shouts of acclamation. It was wonderful how many friends I found, and how much I was sought after! I had a dozen different invitations at once. One invited me to his shooting-box in the mountains, another to inspect his model farm and dairy, a third invited me on a fishing excursion, and so forth.
While driving home from the casino, Siegfried said to me--"I wonder you are not vexed at my never inviting you over to Vernoecze, but I must tell you the truth. I am not the master of my own house and home at present. An aunt of mine is here with my two cousins, half-grown young girls, staying until the bathing-season begins. So the lady has control of the house, and I live in a little pavilion in the park. My aunt will be very much pleased to make your acquaintance--too much pleased, I should say, for she is one of those spirited women who have an opinion of their own, and let you know it. She is never tired of arguing, and you are the very person for her. I verily believe that the two little girls have caught the infection from her, and you would be surprised to hear what a flow of nonsense issues from the aristocratic little mouths. And the number of questions they ask is astonishing! Sometimes I give them an answer in language such as I would not venture to use to a variety singer; but the little innocents stare at me, and laugh without the faintest blush; they do not understand the hidden impertinence. I'll some day introduce you to all of them, my aunt and the two girls; but your house must first be put in order. For I find it hard, even now, to keep them from rushing in upon you unawares, and introducing themselves. They are positively dying for a peep at you and your museum. Well, I have done enough to excite that curiosity. I am incessantly talking of you."
"Then it will be your fault if their ladyships are shocked at finding out the deception. I am too commonplace a fellow not to disappoint them cruelly.""Vederemo!" he said. "The Devil is never at rest!" INTERMEZZO. The Devil? "Do you believe, then, in the existence of a personal Devil?" you ask.
"Has not this story been terribly dull and tedious up to this moment? You have not shown us a single Devil as yet. No, not even a woman.""Well, I'll show you three of the latter species presently--a strong-minded, argumentative aunt, and two little nieces."
"You won't say that these two little countesses or their aristocratic aunt, or either of them, is an incarnation of the Evil One? Or are you speaking of your dear friend, Siegfried? Why, he is a perfect guardian angel, the personification of goodness and benevolence!"
"Do you know the story of St. Anthony? How he was tempted by the Devil in the semblance of a lovely sylph, until all at once he saw the fiend's hoof appear from under the robe?"
That night, as Siegfried took leave of me, to drive home to Vernoecze, he embraced me and kissed me on the cheek. It is many years since that night, but many a night since then I have lain sleepless in my bed and rubbed that eternally burning and smarting spot, and felt an almost unconquerable temptation to take the operating-knife and cut out the part which had been contaminated by that foul kiss.
One morning my dear friend, Siegfried, came. "My dear Nell," he said, "we held a party meeting yesterday, and it was decided that you should be a candidate for Parliament. In fact, we have nominated you already.""You are in a jocular mood, I suppose?" said I. "I do not understand an atom of legislation and politics."
"Neither do I; yet I fill my place in the House of Lords, so will you fill yours in the House of Commons. You need not stare at me, for I am not joking. I am fully in earnest, and, now that the chalice is set to your lips, you are bound to drain it."
"But I can't see why," said I. "I am not in the least fit for the position, and am not going to make a fool of myself. I am a doctor of medicine, not a legislator."
"And what does that matter, pray? The department of public health is very much in need of a radical reform, and you are the very man to advocate sanitary measures in Parliament. But this is all nonsense. Hungary is not yet in a position to have all departments represented by experts; what she wants at present is firmness to principle, strict party fealty. The demagogues, the heretics, and the Panslavonians of our country are preparing for a strong contest at the coming electoral struggle, and we Conservatives must strain every nerve to defeat them, and cause patriotism, religion, and aristocratic rights to triumph. Our party believes that you are the man to represent these principles, and you can't decline to accept such an honourable mission. Do you not love your country? Do you want her to become a prey to infidels, or Panslavonic conspirators, or to the mob? You would not have the descendants of the Hussites dominate Hungary? Are you not a Catholic Christian? You are brave; you have strong principles, and you are an excellent orator. You are the man we want, and there is an end of arguing.""Very good! But there is a practical side to the question."
"Yes. If the other parties come off victorious, the agrarian movement will grow too fast for us. The Socialist rabble is preaching the assessment of all land, the abolition of the congrua taxes, and the abolition of our feudal privileges. This is the prose or practical side of the question, my friend."
[Footnote 3: Congrua taxes are the taxes paid by the parish members to their curates or priests.]
"There is another still," I persisted, "and I must speak plainly. You know that I have no money for political enterprises. My own money is in official custody; but, even if it were not, and I had so much money at my disposal that I did not know what to set about in order to get rid of it, I should not waste it in buying myself a seat in Parliament. I remember well what politics did for my father, and how much it cost him. But, besides this recollection, the idea of corrupting the minds of the electors and of making drunken animals out of decent and intelligent labourers for two or three weeks is repulsive to me. It is entirely against my conscience."
"Now listen to me. In the first place, no one asks for a penny of your money, so it is no business of yours to inquire or care about it. What is the use of party funds, I might ask? Then, what have you to do with the details of the campaign? I am head-drummer, manager of the canvass. You need not give a single bottle of wine to anybody, unless you want to regale your friends here in your house; but that is quite a different thing, and has nothing to do with the election. There is one thing you must remember. If you offer venison and champagne to your electors, it is called a banquet, and the papers speak admiringly of your bountiful hospitality; but if you boil a sheep and open a barrel of sixpenny wine or beer for them, then you are bribing voters, and corrupting the minds of the innocent. So never trouble your head with a thought about these things. I have made a bargain with every hotel-keeper or inn-keeper in the whole county for that one day, and the voters may revel as they please--at their own expense; that is, a dinner may be had for two kreutzers, a supper for three, and the wine will be included in that price. Who can forbid an inn-keeper to sell cheap viands? You will have nothing to do with the whole business. Only, if some decent elector gets his head broken in the spree, you will plaster him up, or sew him up, as may be necessary. Up to the day of election you will not show yourself, and only put in your appearance when they come to fetch you with music and flags and all that flummery, and beg you to come and kindly accept the mandate, which the chairman of the party is dying to hand over to you. Then at the banquet you offer a toast to his Majesty the King, and afterward you will accept of the torchlight serenade, which your voters will give you, and perhaps speak a few gracious words; but that is not essential, and you may hold your peace. At any rate, with that serenade all your duties are ended."
"I should think they began with that--at least, according to my notion. No, I can't accept. I can't afford to loiter about in Budapest, and have everything here go to the dogs."
"What a greenhorn you are! You need not live in Budapest at all. If the chief of the party telegraphs you that some great division is coming on with respect to some important question, you go up, find the seat with your name on it, sit down, and, when your name is called, you shout 'yes' or 'no,' according to the party's views, and then you travel home again, and make your famous 'Lipto cheese.'"
"I have no intention of becoming a voting machine."
"There you are right. You are too spirited and much too talented for that. You will deliver your maiden speech amid universal applause, and become famous at once. You will be hated by the opposite parties, hated and feared, and that will only stimulate your courage. You will be a great man, and a blessing to your country. You can engage a trustworthy man to manage your estate, and do well under such an arrangement; and you will give your talent and your faculties to your country and your party. It is your duty, and you are not the man to shrink from an acknowledged duty. Besides, out of friendship for me, you cannot refuse. I have positively staked my word on your acceptance; and then there is a request from the party, with a hundred and twenty signatures. Look here!"
He showed me a sheet of writing, with a long list of badly-scrawled names underneath a few lines of writing. I still hesitated, when Siegfried smiled, and, taking from his pocket a little bit of a letter, perfumed with heliotrope, handed it to me."My aunt sends you this."
I broke the rose-coloured wax, and drew out a tiny piece of bristol-board with the signature of Countess Diodora Vernoeczy. Its contents were as follows:--"Pray accept the nomination."
That was all. But what all the persuasions, all the allusions to country, race, patriotism, and religion had not effected, these few Hungarian words, written in a fine, aristocratic hand, did at once. They persuaded me, and I accepted. Yet I had never seen the lady who had written these words, and did not even know whether she was young or old, beautiful or ugly! She was a woman, and that sufficed. No! the Devil is not dead; here is his hoof.
How I triumphed and how I fell I have told you already. If I had the gift of Virgilius Maro, and could speak or write in hexameters, in such verses I would compose the "AEneid" of my career as a belligerent. As it is, you can read it all, described in somewhat unflattering language, in the Hungarian newspapers of the period. There is a whole history of bribery, corruption, intimidation, and similar crimes committed in my name, related in those papers, and you may read of the horrible fraud that was practised in offering the vote of a dead man. The epithets "cheat," "deceiver," "liar," and so forth were freely and frequently attached to my name; and then followed the shameful annulment of the election, and I was sent home--a broken, disgraced, snuffed-out wretch--a dead man, indeed!
There is something fearful, something terribly cruel and unjust, in such a moral cudgelling to death, for those who cast the stones are not a whit better than their victim. A common criminal, murderer, counterfeiter, or forger may procure a pardon, and rehabilitate himself in time; but a man that has furnished society with amusement and been laughed to death is never again allowed to hold up his head and show his face. I was nearly mad with shame and disgrace. What should I do with myself now--now that I was nothing but a broken tool--I, who might have been a scientific celebrity, a light in the profession? I could not go back to Vienna for very shame. A flouted, ridiculed man cannot be a doctor. A doctor must be respected, trusted, even revered, like a priest. For me there was nothing but to hide myself in my own house, shut the doors against everybody, and live the life of a hermit--the life of my Uncle Diogenes.
I need not have shut my doors; not a soul demanded admittance. I really think my dear friends made a circuit around my chateau when they had to pass through my village.
The first day I remained shut up in my room; the second I paced the garden walks in a furious rage; the third I noticed that I had
shamefully neglected my uncle's dearly-cherished garden since I had abandoned myself to the mania of politics. The carefully tended Isabella grapes wound their tender twigs up and around an apple tree; the roses were full of water shoots; the American lilies choked up with dead nettles. Wasps' nests were hanging from the branches of the trees, and giant ants had built their pyramids on the foot-path; and the hedgehogs boldly invaded the lawn as I passed. As I strolled, my eye fell upon a little flower which I recognised as a favourite from my dear mother's garden; I observed a glowing alkermes, an Oriental corn-rose, then again an artichoke, overgrown with vile weeds. All at once I found myself working away with garden-knife, shovel, and spade, pruning, weeding, and tying up the twigs and branches, just as Uncle Diogenes had done.
By night I had smoked out the wasps, put the little bower to rights, and, hardly knowing how or why, I had gone into my uncle's
turret-chamber instead of my own bedroom. And why not be as he had been? I asked myself. Here at least I could meet with no shame, no
disappointment, and no deception. All was well. I should be a gardener in summer and a museum-keeper in winter, and so the time would pass with me as it passed with him. No doubt, in time, this solitary, secluded life would not be so irksome to me as now. The social instinct would die out; and, left to rural pleasures and occupations, the polish would be rubbed off me, and in appearance also I should be as my Uncle Diogenes had been. I gave up shaving, dressed shabbily, and ordered a dinner of pork and potatoes, which disgusted me. I ceased to drink wine, because I was no toper to enjoy drinking alone, and in the course of two or three days I had a hearty indigestion, which at least recalled me from my self-tormenting course so far as my inward man was concerned. In outward appearance I had a beard of a week's growth, wore a pair of coarse breeches and high top-boots, because in low boots I could not ramble about in garden and field as I did.
My valet was in despair; the good old man had known me for years, and was very faithful to me. Of course, he dared not ask questions, but he threw me such appealing glances that I was strongly tempted to pour out all my burning shame and rage to him, since I had nobody else to make a confidant of. It was a very, very miserable time, and it lasted something more than a week--a week, I say! I thought it a century at the least.XIII. THE VALKYRS.
It was about ten or twelve days after my discomfiture, and a beautiful afternoon. I was standing in my front garden, attired, as I usually had been of late, in coarse breeches, muddy top-boots, a not very clean linen blouse, and a broad, rough straw hat on my head. My face was rough and adorned with bristles. I do not think that anybody coming upon me unawares would have taken me for anything but a Slav garden labourer.
Presently I heard the gallop of horses, and, looking through the new and very handsome iron trellis in front of the building, I saw three Amazons riding up to the house. I did not know them, and supposed them to be strangers in the country, approaching in order to admire the curious old building. They wore long black riding-habits, all three alike, with blue veils tied around their high beavers and entirely concealing their faces. One of them was a real Zenobia figure: tall of stature, regal in gait, a magnificent creature! The second was tall and slender, and slow and stately in movement. The third was a tiny little figure, but full of nervous vitality and energy. Opposite to the verandah of my house they checked their horses, and looked through the trellis at me as if they expected me to run out, and give them the desired information. The tall, slender lady rode nearer to the gate and looked haughtily in, while the little girl-rider cried out:
"_Tu y serais_!" Then she beckoned the groom, who was waiting behind them, to come nearer and hand her a little wooden case with a round glass set in at the front--a little photograph-apparatus.
"Well," thought I, "these are amateur photographers, and Dumany Castle has apparently pleased their eye, and they want to immortalise it in the pages of their albums--an interesting object!"
I was standing near the fence, by the side of a flowering rose-bush. I held a spade in my hand, and was just in the act of putting it to its proper use when the lady directed her camera toward me. I thought it was rather a clever performance for a person on horseback.
"_Ne remuez pas, mon cher_!" cried the lady, as I lifted the spade. Of course the Slav gardener, whom I resembled, was bound to understand her French prattle. So there I stood, with uplifted spade in hand, until the lady had finished her picture, and then she released me with a "_Merci, mon garcon_!" and I, hardly able to keep my composure, answered in Slav, "_Dobri nocz, mladi panyicska_," which means "Good night, miss!"
The ladies broke out into a merry laugh, returned the apparatus to the groom, and rode off, laughing because the slender lady had been included in the picture. I laughed also as I looked after them, and I said to myself, "Now I shall not utterly die, '_non omnis moriar_.' The Valkyrs have come to pick up the fallen hero and carry him into their Walhalla, which in all probability is bound in morocco leather with silver clasps."
The same evening I had another surprise. My friend Siegfried drove up to my house, sprang from his barouche, and, seeing me, he ran up and embraced me tenderly."So you know me still?" asked I.
"Know you? It would be no wonder if I had not recognised you as you look now! Do you know that with a week's growth of beard and moustache a man looks like a gorilla?""Well then, I look like the progenitor of mankind, if Darwin is to be believed."
"I say, it's high time I came! otherwise you would cease to be a Christian, and become one of those detestable naturalists." With that Siegfried ordered his coachman to walk the horses about, feed them, water them, and prepare for the drive home after supper. So I had to give orders for a supper, and remember that I was not yet my Uncle Diogenes, but his nephew and a gentleman, and this friend of mine a veritable Count, who expected me to give him a good supper. "After supper you must come with me," said Siegfried, decidedly."I! Where?" "To Vernoecze, to visit me! Have you not got my letter?" "I received a letter. I have it in my blouse-pocket yet, but--" "You have not opened it, nor looked at it yet?"
"No. I thought that if anybody wrote to me now, he either wanted to insult me or call me to some kind of a reckoning. I thought there was time for both.""Oh, you stupid fellow! Where is that letter? I want you to read it at once!" I took out the letter, opened it, and read:--
"DEAR NELL,--Our party decided at yesterday's meeting to support your name at all odds against the ensuing new election, and carry you through at any cost. My aunt wants to inform you of some very serious matter, so she begs you to pay her a visit on Wednesday next.--Yours, as ever,"SIGID."
The previous day had been Wednesday, and the letter had been in my pocket for the last four days. I confess that I felt a glow after reading these lines. Something like joy, like exultation, filled me, that after all I was not dead and buried there in that house, not an utter laughing-stock, and that my name was not hooted by friend and enemy alike. I still had noble friends. They remembered me, acted for me, endeavoured to avenge me, and rehabilitate me. It was an intense feeling of relief, of pride, of happiness; but I tried to hide my sensations and play the Cincinnatus a little longer. When Siegfried said, "We expected you all day yesterday; but as you did not come I concluded to come over and look after you," I replied, "I had not read the letter; but if I had, it would hardly have been otherwise. I cannot go from home at present."
"Why! what is the matter with you? You are not going to play Uncle Diogenes, are you? Simple civility might have induced you to come over to Vernoecze. You are due there for ever so long."
"You are very kind; but, you see, the Vice-Governor does not send his sentinels to guard the iron chest with the money, and so I have to guard it myself; and then, you see, I am busy budding my 'Marshal Niel' and 'Sultan of Morocco' roses--it is their season."
Siegfried broke into a merry laugh. "The dear boy is actually trying to live after the pattern of that exemplary old uncle of his. Now, don't make a fool of yourself, old fellow, and don't make believe that you like baked potatoes and curds. I tell you I want a good supper, and after that I'll take you with me. You can take your rose-scions with you. My gardener will be thankful for them. We have a lot of water-shoots in our garden."
We had a good supper, and after the first glass of wine I felt the gloom vanish from me entirely. Siegfried had brought me good news. The new election was to take place in twenty days. Our party was firm as a rock, and the enemy was disheartened and short of money, as the Maticza Society, which had given up all hope of driving me away from the estate, would not furnish them with more funds. Now they had reunited to a last desperate method, and their candidate was about to unfold the anti-Semitic flag, in this way driving all intelligent, Liberal
voters--or those at least who assumed the name, and all the Jews with their money, influence, and keenness--straight into our arms, so that our success was undoubted. In order to silence all accusations of bribery, of feasting the voters, and so forth, Countess Diodora, Siegfried's aunt, was ready to keep open house in Vernoecze for our political friends, and so there would be no need of engaging any public restaurants or wine-shops. Siegfried told me that Countess Diodora was a very active champion of our party, and very influential, too. Besides, she was very much interested in me personally.
"I am sure I am very grateful to her ladyship, and shall take the liberty of telling her so, to-morrow," I said--"the more grateful, as I really do not know how I could have merited such an interest."
He smiled. "Merit is not everything," he said. "But Aunt Diodora is a little vexed at your want of politeness. You should have come and paid your homage long ago. Her ladyship really threatened the other day that some day she would come over with the two little ones and fetch you, if not personally, at least in effigy. They have photographic apparatus, and are very clever amateur photographers."
I could not suppress an exclamation, and then I related the little adventure of the afternoon. He laughed. "Oh, no question as to their identity! Sure enough, it was my aunt and the girls! That queenly Amazon is my aunt, Countess Diodora. You are surprised? I see, you supposed that an aunt must necessarily be some aged, corpulent lady, fond of her game of 'patience,' and secretly indulging in a sip. My aunt is but one year my senior, and I am barely thirty. My aunt is a classical beauty, highly intellectual, and very talented; quite a female phenomenon. That tall, slender girl is Countess Flamma, a miracle of beauty and virtue; and that tiny creature was the little Kobold, Puck, or whatever else you may call her, Cousin Cenni. She is the most skilful photographer of the three, and it was she who told you not to move, and took you with spade in hand. That's the best joke I ever heard! How vexed Countess Cenni will feel on discovering the mistake! She is a little vixen, and full of mischief. If any of the young dandies tries to court her, she bids him go bear-hunting with her and show his valour. My woods are full of bears. I have shot three, but there are a lot of them alive still, and they do a deal of damage. So, if Cenni invites you, which no doubt she will, you need not be afraid of want of game."
I was dazzled, flattered, and surprised. What a difference between these ladies of the high aristocracy and the daughters of our country gentry! As if they really belonged to a different world, lived on a different planet. One of them assuming the lead in politics, another bear-hunting and photographing. The third, that tall, slender, somewhat haughty, but modest girl, who had approached to admire my roses, pleased me best; and then, too, their names--"Diodora! Cenni! Flamma!" The first domineering, imposing; the second with a touch of the Bohemian or the gipsy; the third bewitching, enticing, a flame! Oh, what a moth I should make!
I did not show much further resistance, but was willing enough to go with Siegfried. I did not even take the trouble of locking the turret-chamber, in which the precious iron chest stood, with my own hands, but ordered my valet to perform that duty and take care of the key. I went out into the garden, and cut all the blooming "Sultan of Morocco" roses and carefully wrapped them up with wet moss; and all the way I held them in my hand for fear of injuring them.So the Valkyrs were indeed taking away the fallen hero to Walhalla, their own abode. "Where is Walhalla, and what is it like? Does anybody know? If only somebody might return and tell us!" "Well, I have been there, and I have returned, and I will tell you." Part II. I. THE SEA-DOVE.
From Dumanyfalva to Vernoecze the high-road makes a circuit of a two hours' ride, but we took a short cut by a cross-road through Siegfried's deer-park, which is about ten thousand acres in extent. The whole park was fenced in with high iron railings, and this fence alone had cost the neat little sum of one hundred and fifty thousand florins. Yet it was worth its cost, for, before its erection, the Vernoeczys had to pay yearly about twenty-five thousand florins for damage done by their game upon the crops in the neighbouring fields. At the big iron gate a ranger with two loaded rifles was waiting for us. He handed the rifles to the two servants, and then took his seat on the box with the coachman.
It was a beautiful wood through which we drove--all of giant larch trees of a century's growth, perfuming the air with ambrosial odours. The bright rays from our lanterns attracted the deer, and they stood gazing at us with their glittering eyes. One of the bucks bellowed at us, and one of the little fawns came almost under the wheels. Pheasants, startled from sleep by the noise of our wheels, soared above our heads. From the depths of the forest mysterious voices met our ears: the woodcock's hoarse call, the roebuck's deep bellow, the wild boar's grunt, the squirrel's chatter, and the shrill cries which announce the presence of the wild peacock. What a difference between this lordly forest and my small twenty-acre park! Red squirrels, gray squirrels, gambolling among the boughs, playing with acorns and hazelnuts; thrushes, blackbirds, nightingales, and greenfinches, chirruping and twittering, were all the game I had.
In vain we endeavour to bring high nobility and plain gentry into one class. They are divided by the game-park. We are only visitors there, kindly invited, kindly received, but visitors still, and we can never repay the compliment. Therefore I consider we should always think twice before we accept the invitation.
It was past midnight when we finally arrived at Siegfried's shooting-box, a beautiful pavilion in the Swiss style, with a large verandah to the east, facing the magnificent chateau. Between the two buildings extended a clear, broad lake, with silvery willows on the nearer side, and grand old lime-trees on the side toward the mansion. Graceful white and black swans swam on the lake, and two tiny little wherries lay ready for a boating excursion. The south side of the shooting-box had "altdeutsch" windows of coloured glass, and wooden shutters with heart-shaped perforations on the outside. On the nearer side of the lodge was a beautiful green lawn and a few somewhat neglected rose-beds.
The shooting-box was a comfortably large and luxuriously-furnished building, and afforded accommodation for thirty guests. The couches in the different sleeping apartments were all covered with deerskin spreads, and the furniture was all in harmony with the purpose and style of the building.
I left my window ajar for the night, so as to be up early, and my plan succeeded. The dew still glittered upon the tender petals of the roses when I was up and sauntering among the flowers. I had brought my "Malmaison" and "Sultan of Morocco" roses with me, and also my budding-knife and the sap for budding. "What a surprise for them," I thought, "when they find these beautiful flowers instead of the wild suckers." I had put my roses into a glass of water, and was now preparing for the performance by cutting off the collateral shoots and removing the inconvenient thorns. Just as I had taken one of the "Sultan of Morocco" roses out of the water, I heard steps on the gravel, and a musical voice cried--"Gardener, do you hear?"
I turned around, and beheld two beautiful young girls hurrying toward me. One of them, a tiny little creature, was of the blonde type, with long, golden curls and a face of cream and roses. One startling, bewitching little black mole was seen on one of the dimpled cheeks. Her eyebrows were dense, of a golden-brown, and arched over a pair of large, glittering brown eyes. The corners of her little mouth curved upward in a smile, and the cherry lips were always open and moving. Her little hands were busy gesticulating, explaining, acting, and never at rest; a picture of the entire little personage.
The other girl was a tall, slender, willow-like figure, with raven hair pushed high above the marble forehead. Her skin was clear and transparent, but with hardly a tinge of colour. Her straight, black brows and long black lashes overhung a pair of deep blue, or rather sea-green, eyes, and her little coral mouth was so small that the idea struck me that it must hurt her to speak, and therefore she liked to hold her peace.
Both were in morning dress, appropriate to the country. The blonde wore a dress of some sort of light Japanese silk, covered with a pattern of great painted birds and flowers. The dark girl had a Nile-blue gown of some light material, and in style somewhat resembling the Greek.
The verandah had prevented me from perceiving their approach. Now they hastened toward me with the easy composure with which we meet some old friend, or--a servant. Of course, I had no difficulty in recognising the equestrian amateurs of the previous day, and it was easy to guess that they repeated their mistake of that afternoon, by taking me for a gardener. I had no intention of undeceiving them, and did not take off my hat, but stood with the "Sultan of Morocco" between my teeth, and my hands engaged with the budding-knife.
"Do you hear?" said the little blonde, now coming near; "cut me a bud of these 'Gloire de Dijons.' No! one of these 'Marshal Niels'; not this, the other, that is just opening!"
I was correctly dressed for the occasion, and quite in proper style for a country visit: tanned shoes, knickerbocker jacket, Pepita waistcoat, Madapolam shirt-collar, Bismarck _en colere_ scarf, Panama hat. "My darling, does not that content you?" Still these girls took me for a servant. Well, let it pass!
I cut off one of the roses, and began to pare off the thorns with my knife, when she angrily stamped her little foot on the grass. "What are you paring the thorns off for? I don't like a rose without thorns, I want a rose with thorns; this looks stripped!" and, pulling the rose out of my hand, she held it over to her companion."_Tiens! Ca m'embete_!"
To her she spoke French; to me, German. The girl took the rose without a word; for her it was good enough without the thorns. I prepared to cut another bud for the capricious fair one, when she asked, "What rose is that in your mouth?"
"A Sultan of Morocco," I said, taking the rose from my lips.
"But I want it!" was the haughty reply, and she impatiently held out her bit of a hand for the rose. I handed it to her, and for a moment she buried her little nose in it and then tried to fasten it to her dress. Presently a thought seemed to strike her, for she lifted the rose to her lips, and then, turning to me again, asked--"Has the Count returned home?" "He has," I answered. "He did not come alone? A gentleman came with him, did he not?" I answered in the affirmative. "Are they asleep yet, do you think? Which is his window?" "Whose? The Count's?" "No, that I know! The stranger's?"
"The one that is open," I said, wondering what she meant. She looked around, and observed a double step-ladder standing in front of a tree. "Bring that ladder," she said to me, "and put it in front of that window."I began to perceive her intention, and, much amused, I fetched the ladder. "Shall I hold it?" I asked, with seeming innocence. "No. Go back to your work!"
I submitted, and went back to my roses, where the other girl was still standing. The little blonde vixen, as Siegfried had called her, went up the ladder, throwing me a haughty glance because I had the impertinence to watch her movements.
As I prepared for work again, I noticed that in the chalice of each flower, two or more green cetonias were to be found. The cetonia beetle is the deadliest foe of the rose, destroying it entirely, and since my boyhood, when I used to practise gardening at home, and was taught to kill a cetonia wherever I found it, I could not bear the sight of the glittering, green beetle. I was just crushing one under my foot, when the dark-haired girl near me cried out--
"Why do you kill that poor cetonia?"
The blonde descended the ladder, and her face, her hands, and her walk betrayed that she was vexed. I was very much amused. Was it not a joke that she had climbed up to my window to present me with my own rose, the rose she had taken out of my mouth? And was it not amusing to see her angry, because I had had the sauciness to watch the movements of those tiny slippered feet in pink stockings as they mounted the ladder and revealed a bewitching little ankle?
The black-haired girl turned to her and complained--"See, he kills our cetonias!" Whereupon the little one, with a queenly mien, stepped in front of me and said--"I forbid you to do that! Do not dare to hurt my cetonias!" I could not repress a smile, as I answered, "I shall duly obey. I had no right to interfere, as these cetonias do not belong to me."
"I really think that fellow is laughing at us!" said the little one, with arching brows, when the other, who had been watching me for some moments, made some whispered remark, and then the fair head and the dark one were put close together in earnest consultation.
On one of my hands I wore an antique carnelian seal-ring, with my family crest, and a large solitaire, the gift of a grateful patient. These rings, rather unusual upon the finger of a common gardener, had caught the eye of the dark-haired girl, and she could not but notice that my hands and nails were not those of a labourer. For a while they looked shyly at me, while they busied themselves in gathering into their garden hats all the cetonias they could, as if afraid that, after their departure, I should avenge myself by a general onslaught on their _protegees_. Presently the blonde stepped up to me, and, touching the carnelian on my hand with her finger, she said--"Are you a nobleman?" I answered by an anecdote.
"A German journalist had to translate an item on sea-turtles from an English paper. He did not exactly understand what a turtle was; but he know of turtle-doves, which are in German called _Turtel-tauben_, and, as he did not want to trouble himself to look for the expression in a dictionary, _turtle-doves_ it remained. He wrote of the bird, that it comes out of the sea to the sand of the shore, lays its eggs in that sand, carefully and safely scratching them in, and smoothing the surface with its front paws. These front paws of a turtle-dove perplexed him, and he did what he ought to have done before: he looked in the dictionary and found that the sea-turtle was no dove at all."
"Hem!" said the little one, looking with charming astonishment at the other girl; and then she turned to me again, and, lifting a threatening little finger at me, she said--"Now, don't you go and betray us to anybody. Promise!"
"You have my knightly word," I said; "_parole d'honneur_!" But, unable to suppress my mirth any longer, I broke into a ringing laugh, and both girls fled as fast as they could.
On returning to my room, I found Siegfried there. "My aunt's footman has already been here to invite us to breakfast," he said. "When in the country she is always an early riser, and so are the children. I wonder they have not been running about yet. They used to."
I did not tell him that they had been running about already; but, stepping up to the window, I found the rose which the fair girl had laid upon the sill, and, fastening it in the button-hole of my jacket, made ready to follow up the invitation for breakfast.
"Wouldn't you rather shave before going down?" asked Siegfried, with a disapproving look at my face. "My valet has an easy hand, and is very reliable.""No, thank you!" I said, and with that I took his arm and we went down.
Near the lake was a mass of beautiful dolomite rock, a forerunner of the high mountains further on. The face of the rock was all overgrown with birch trees, and wild roses and other flowers were peeping out of the thick moss and bush. At the foot of the rock was a clearing, surrounded with pines, their drooping foliage forming a shady roof above the little circuit of ground. In the wall of the rock was a grotto, overrun with henna leaves, hedge-plant, and other creepers. Out of one of the walls of the grotto broke, murmuring and rippling, a clear mountain spring, which, meeting with another and uniting with it to form a rivulet, flowed across the flowery plain, emptying itself into the lake by a series of cascades.
In the centre of this space the breakfast-table was set--the shining silver, the glittering crystal, and the creamy china forming a pleasant contrast to the rural simplicity of the chairs and table and the green roof and walls above and around.
Countess Diodora was already there, expecting us. The two girls were in the grotto, pretending to be busy with the preparations for breakfast.
Countess Diodora was strikingly handsome. Tall of stature and fully developed, her movements had all the elasticity of youth and all the majesty of a goddess. Her Creole complexion was in harmony with the great almond-shaped eyes, the Minerva forehead, Grecian nose, and shell-shaped mouth with its coral-red lips. Her head was crowned with a tiara of heavy black tresses, more precious and beautiful than any artificial ornament.Siegfried led me to her and presented me with the following words--
"At last I am able to introduce my hitherto invisible friend. Do not be amazed at his present resemblance to our common progenitors, the Simians--that is, if we believe the evolutionists; but our friend here has no intention of claiming that affinity. His sprouting moustache and beard are a token of patriotic zeal, and a sacrifice upon the altar of national idiosyncrasy. Henceforth he will be known as a Hungarian in appearance also, and nobody will be justified in calling him an Austrian."
The lady smiled at the humorous introduction, and extended both her hands, which were somewhat large, but magnificently shaped. Could I do less than kiss both? The smile that flitted over her queenly features gave her the appearance of a veritable goddess.
"Is it not odd," she asked, "that we know each other so well, yet have never met until this moment?" Her voice was a rich, deep contralto, and very sweet."I have already enjoyed the happiness of seeing your ladyship," said I, smiling. "Indeed? And where?"
"In my own garden. If I am not greatly mistaken, your ladyship and the two young ladies, your cousins, were yesterday at the pains to immortalise me by taking my photograph.""Impossible!" she cried. "It could not have been you! With the spade in hand, and--oh, it is too odd!" And she broke into a loud laugh.
A laughing Pallas! The two girls ran but of the grotto to see what the staid Diodora was laughing at. "Come on, Cenni," said the lady to the little blonde: "here is the gardener of yesterday; the one you have photographed along with his garden."But by that time the little one knew me well enough; she had recognised the rose in my button-hole, and, with pretended anger, she ran toward me, took hold of the collar of my jacket, and gave it a hearty pull.
"You are an artful and dangerous cheat and deceiver--that is what you are!" she said. "Why did you deceive us this morning, and make sport of us? Let us treat you as a gardener, and send you on errands? Why did not you tell us who you were?"
Siegfried came to my help. "How could he? He did not know you; maybe he took you for your own maids. If you had told him who you were, he would have returned the compliment."
"But you won't betray us to anybody?" she said, holding up, as if in prayer, her little hands, that looked like the delicate petals of the white lily. "You won't tell anybody of our conversation at the rose bushes? If you promise, I'll give you a kiss; I will, indeed!""But, Cenni!" cried Countess Diodora, shocked, "what expression is that again?" The little one looked like a scolded school-girl, who does not know what crime she has been punished for, and said, poutingly-- "But I want him to keep the secret, and I must give him a reward."
"You always forget that you are no longer a little girl of twelve years, but a grown-up young lady, although, God knows, you do not look like it!" said the countess, with a humorous shake of the head."Now you great debater and future lawgiver, what do you say to this offered reward? Answer _ex tripode_!" said Siegfried, laughingly. "I say that I am no usurer, and cannot take unlawful interest," I replied.
"Bravo! bravissimo! A usurer! Unlawful interest he calls a kiss! Oh, what a moral fellow!" cried Siegfried; but Countess Diodora observed that breakfast was waiting, and that we had time enough for ventilating academic questions afterward.At the table I sat between Countess Diodora and Countess Flamma. The latter turned to me, and said in her quiet and sober way-- "But I discovered soon enough that the sea-turtle was not a sea-dove, did I not?" "What are you talking about sea-doves?" asked the countess; "it seems you have secrets in common already." I opened my mouth to answer, when the little blonde opposite to me sprang up and put her little shell-coloured hand to my lips. "No betrayal, if you please! You have given your knightly word!" "I am mute!" I said, bowing to her with a smile. "I declare!" said the countess, "knightly word, turtle-dove! Why, what mystery is this? Flamma was complaining something about the cetonias."
"Oh, that is nothing," said Cenni, lightly, "and that may be spoken of; but the 'step-ladder,' the 'Sultan of Morocco,' and the 'sea-dove' are strict secrets, and never to be mentioned anywhere."
Siegfried clapped his hands in surprise. "Riddle after riddle! and to think that I myself have brought this boy to the house only last night for the first time in his life, and introduced him not an hour ago, and--talk of his being shy in the company of ladies!--he is head over ears in conspiracy with both of the girls, when I thought he had never seen them, and they did not know him at all!"II. "WHAT IS THE DEVIL LIKE?" "We not know him?" asked the little one. "Why, we have his photograph in our album! Only he looks much nicer there. Such a Lord Byron face!"
"Well, this is really audacious!" cried Siegfried, "with such a face to appear before ladies! Coarse and stubby like that of a Slav field-labourer, and yet such a young lady as that calls it a Lord Byron face! Now I see that the old proverb is right, and a man has to be but one shade handsomer than the Devil, for women will find him handsome enough.""Only that the proverb is a paradox in itself. The Evil One is not ugly; on the contrary, he is beautiful!" said Diodora.
"_Quien sabe_?" answered Siegfried. "I have seen his portrait in the Greek churches, in a large wall-painting, and there he is represented as a bandy-legged, ox-tailed, black-faced monster, with a pair of big horns on his forehead. Then, again, I have seen the Devil in the opera, as Goethe and Gounod's creation of Mephistopheles in _Faust_, and there he wore a goat's-beard and red-feathered cap, was a little lame in one leg, and had a baritone voice. He was not in the least beautiful."
"You ought to read Klopstock, then, and Milton," said Countess Diodora. "Their Devils are enchantingly handsome men, with pale faces, and deep, sorrowful eyes; and that is the real demon-type as given by the classics: for, originally, the Devil was not known as an evil spirit, but was an angel. Only he was haughty and ambitious, and tried to rival and dethrone the Almighty. It was after he was defeated, and due punishment was dealt to him, that he became the representative of Evil, and, after the creation of man, the tempter and seducer.""So part of the Devil's corruption is due to man kind," said Siegfried, ironically.
"If you read the Cabalists and Gnostics you will learn how sinful pride had its downfall, and the angel fell. Still, in all his humiliation and his banishment from grace and glory, he never lost his beauty, and this is natural; for who would listen to the temptations of an ugly monster? A seducer must needs be handsome. In the old Jewish Scripture, from before Moses' time, the Evil Spirit is represented by a woman, Lilith, the ideal beauty. In the same manner Menander has painted Sybaris, and of Socrates it is said that he lived in intimate friendship with the demon."Siegfried had made a desperate onslaught on the sandwiches; now he turned in comical vexation to me, and said--
"Friend, brother, help! for this learned woman is slaying me with pandects, and, if the Devil has such a champion, what can poor I do against him?"
It was a difficult task. If I said that she was right, she would scorn me as a simple, empty-headed flatterer. If, on the other hand, I tried to contradict her, she was sure to conquer me with arguments. So I thought I would plead scepticism.
"Indeed, I can't," was my reply. "All I have to say is that I do not believe in the existence of an actual Devil at all. I positively deny the existence of evil spirits or devils."
"Ah!" said the countess, astonished and seemingly dismayed, "do you know that such a negation includes a denial of the fundamental truths of all religion also? Turn wherever you will, and you will find that the Roman Catholic faith expressly commands us to believe in the Devil. The Protestants, with Martin Luther at the head, have in speech and writing gone so far as to compose a whole Shamanism of the Devil's special qualities; and so on in all positive religions. Are you an infidel, a so-called Freethinker, and not a Christian?"
At first I smilingly referred her to Becker's "Bewitched World," which made all belief in an actual Devil completely ridiculous, showing to demonstration that such a being is simply impossible. She answered me with Spinoza. I again spoke of Thomasius, whereupon the countess declared me a Rationalist.
Siegfried smiled, and smoked his cigarette complacently, and the two girls listened innocently and wonderingly to the strange dispute.
"You see, my lady," said I at last, "I am a physician, and I know of no bodily or mental ailment that is without some foundation or reason. I know of miasmata, spores, bacilli, as sources of bodily diseases, of inherited or fancied maladies, infections, contagions, and their proper remedies: vaccination, disinfection, prophylactics; but an invisible, immaterial spirit, which we ought to know by the title of Devil, has nothing to do with any of these. All evil-doers, murderers, etc., are prompted to the mischief they do by some abnormity in their brains, or by some powerful egotistic motive, as jealousy, revenge, greed, ambition, etc.; but the temptation is always material--a benefit they want to secure by their crime--never a spiritual Devil. We may fairly say that all crimes committed without a visible motive are founded upon lunacy, a disorder of the brain. I do not believe in one being, either corporal or spiritual, that would do mischief purely for mischief's sake, out of evil principle, of pure malice. I do not believe that any being exists which would inflict sorrow on others just in order to rejoice at the despair of the victims. The so-called hellish passions and inclinations in man are really created by that which is beneath him, the animal part of him, the material element, and it is superfluous to look to that which is above him, a spirit, for a motive."
As I pronounced this conviction, the four persons present looked at each other and then at me, in wonder and defiance, but without a word. For a moment a chilly presentiment crept over me--a shadowy warning that the declaration I had just made would prove the _fatum_ of my life.
As a physician, I had given very much attention to disturbances of the mind; nervous distractions, diseases of the brain. In lunatic asylums I had had frequent opportunity of observing the different manifestations of extravagances of the mind diseased. There are cases in which simulation is identical with the symptoms of actual insanity, others in which it is mistaken for such; but still the simulator is never quite sane. I had speculated about the hidden motives of apparently motiveless crimes. I had seen a gallant youth, whose noble, manly features inspired love and confidence, and who yet had murdered many victims of his bestial desires; had lured them on, and killed them.
I had seen a tender, innocent, pleasant-looking young girl, with a winning smile on her ruby lips, after she had poisoned all the members of her family in turn; and I had known a miracle-working virgin, who had for years and years befooled and deceived aged and experienced men. All these and more I had seen, but all had possessed one common peculiarity which betrayed them as belonging to that large and unhappy class we term lunatics, and their mental disorder was revealed in a clear, glittering glance, cold and keen as a steel blade. The moment that unlucky assertion had escaped me, I saw my companions stare at each other and then at me, and in the eyes of all four of them I clearly discerned and recognised the same cold, keen, and gloomy expression. I felt a shock of terror, and then I laughed at my own folly. A professional habit of mentally examining and distinguishing all persons as sane and healthy, or diseased, I thought, and I tried to joke the matter away.
"Let us make a bargain, countess! We will leave the demon to those who cannot spare him; for there are people who would greatly protest against being robbed of their devils--as, for instance, some Western nations who worship him instead of God. They say God is good, and won't hurt them, anyhow, but the Devil must be bribed by compliments to keep him from doing mischief. Therefore they raise altars to him, and set up his images with many ceremonies. The Yakoots and Chuckches believe in a double creation, and think that all good things are created by God, and all bad things by the Devil.""It would not hurt you to be of the same creed," said Countess Diodora. "For instance, to believe that the rose was created by God and the cetonia by the Devil," I replied, smilingly.
"And why those?" she asked. "My niece has complained to me that you crush these beautiful little beetles to death. In what have they offended you?"
"Offended me? Do you hold me capable of such petty malice? I kill the cetonias because they are the deadliest foes of the rose; or, rather, as they love the rose, and in loving destroy the flower, I must call the cetonia the most dangerous friend of the rose.""However, the beetles are necessary to my nieces, and therefore they must live." "Necessary?" I cried. "How so?"
The blonde girl went into the grotto and, returning, brought with her a large teak board, upon which a Chinese sun-bird was enamelled. The bird was only half finished as yet, but it was the most artistic, tasteful, and delightful enamel-work I had ever seen, and all of it was composed of the delicate lids of the beetle-wings. The cetonias vary in colour: some of them are red with a tinge of gold; others green and gold; others again the colour of darkened copper, and still others in a metallic blue, like steel. All these were carefully arranged and pasted upon the teak board in a wonderful mosaic, the sun-bird's head and wings consisting of red, its neck of blue, and its breast of green
cetonia-wings. I looked admiringly at the work. So, then, they had not protected the cetonias out of some sentimental fancy for them, but for industrial purposes. This changed my conception of the matter entirely; for the better in some respects--in some for the worse.
"These are only their winter wings which we take off; their summer wings they keep, and we give them their liberty again. It is summer now; they have no need of their winter wings at present."
Well, this was girlish logic and philosophy: I have taken what I wanted, you must make the best of what I have left you. Rather a striking piece of egotism!"Do you know that the cetonia contains poison?" asked I. "What kind of poison?" was the inquiring response, given with great quickness. "The poison," I said, evasively, "that gives the motive to the Bank-Ban tragedy."
At these words Siegfried puffed a whole cloud of tobacco-smoke full in my face, and at any other time I should have strongly resented the insult; but this time he was right. The explanation was, even as an allusion, objectionable in the presence of girls. Nevertheless I could perceive through the cloud of smoke that the pale face of Flamma had coloured violently, and that Cenni pouted and pushed the sun-bird away. The innocents were not so very innocent, after all."Is not this beetle identical with the holy scarabaeus of the Egyptians?" asked Countess Diodora.
"No. Because the cetonia lives on roses; and of the holy scarabaeus Herodotus tells us that he dies of the odour of roses. As soon as the roses begin to bloom the scarabaeus vanishes."
This interested the girls, and we continued the subject. I told them of the South American Hercules-beetle, that is as fond of liquor as any human tippler, and I really thought that I had succeeded in turning the conversation from the horned devil to the horned beetle, when Countess Diodora said--
"You are too much of a naturalist. This won't do, and you must try to amend. To deny God is bad enough, but He is kind and forgiving, and the infidel may yet be saved; but to deny the Devil is sure destruction, for the Devil knows no mercy, and he takes his revenge on the insulter."I looked up astonished and met her eyes. Again I detected that bewildering cold glitter, and with an involuntary shiver I turned away. III. THE FOUR-LEAVED CLOVER.