Dr. Dumany's Wife by Mór Jókai - HTML preview
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The same day our political friends and partisans came, and we held a conference. From that day on I was a daily guest in Vernoecze, and when occasionally I spent a night at home in my own house, next morning I was sure to feel restless and uneasy, and persuaded myself that political reasons required my presence in Vernoecze, and that I must make haste to go there.
A number of times the illustrious ladies of the Vernoecze castle descended from their lofty situation to pay a visit to my lowly house, and on these occasions I played the host, and set before them what my cellar and buttery afforded. Then I conducted them through the chambers in which were stored my late uncle's beloved curiosities, and I told them of the horrors of the olden time, and the history of this ancient seat of my family. There was the story of a walled-up wife and murdered lovers, and we had our "Woman in White" and our "Red Templar," who, at the stroke of midnight, duly stalked through locked rooms and corridors, and performed all the actions that could be expected of real and respectable ghosts. These phantoms the countess rather envied me, for Vernoecze could boast of no such token of old nobility; yet the Vernoeczys were counts and the Dumanys only plain gentry.
Of course, I was an ardent admirer of the three fairies, only I could not exactly tell which of the three I admired most. Countess Diodora's philosophical intellect impressed me as much as Countess Cenni's unruly activity; and Countess Flamma's pensive silence affected me none the less, and I looked at her with the reverential awe of the priest before the Holy Virgin.
Only one thing puzzled me. Here were three beautiful, gifted, high-born, and wealthy young women, and not one of them had a real, earnest, and sincere suitor. Of course, there were a number of young aristocrats paying court to them, and very much inclined to carry on a little bit of flirtation; but all in an easy-going, although certainly very respectful and distant way; but of a real, true attachment I could perceive no sign. Once I had ventured a remark to this effect in Siegfried's presence, whereupon he explained that the two younger countesses were mere school-girls yet, and nobody would have the audacity to think of a serious courtship in that quarter as yet, while, as to Countess Diodora, she would never marry at all. She repudiated the very idea of marriage, and would no doubt, sooner or later, enter a convent as abbess.
This explanation, to tell the truth, did not satisfy me. If the two young ladies were such forbidden fruit at present, why bring them in constant contact with young men? And, as to Countess Diodora's intention to become a nun, I had my strong doubts. True, she was religious, even to bigotry, but she was not averse to the pleasures of the world, and I did not believe in her inclination to give them up of her free will. I rather believed that men were afraid of her, for such learned and strong-minded women can be only the wives of yet wiser and more strong-minded men, or else of fools, who willingly become their slaves.
To me Countess Diodora was conspicuously kind, and showed me an exceptional preference--that is, she did me the honour to select me as her antagonist in debate.
When she supported one paradox, I would support the opposite, and we kept up a constant battle with intellectual weapons. She was a great reader; so was I. She had travelled a good deal; so had I, and, as it chanced, we had observed the same countries and scenes. On art, architecture, literature, I gave judgment with the same startling audacity as she, only that my opinions were in direct opposition to hers.
Still in matters of politics our views were harmonious. I had the same Conservative principles as she, and I heartily agreed with all that she uttered on that point. This was the first step to our mutual understanding. The second step was taken when we joined each other in defence of our principles against persons of opposing views; and the third step, which lifted me not only to a level with my new and beautiful ally, but even above her, was gained by me in a controversy on professional science, with especial relation to physicians. The countess, in a very spirited bit of banter, ridiculed the whole profession and its science, stating that, in her belief, our entire pathology, therapeutic, etc., was not worth the sand strewn over the prescriptions. She declared that in the treatment of internal maladies medical science has made no progress since Galen's time, and our most renowned professional celebrities are no wiser than Paracelsus. Our medicines, according to her opinion, were either baneful poisons, or of no higher sanative power, at the best, than the waters of Lourdes. She also was afflicted with bodily pain at times, but never yet had she submitted to any professional treatment. No physician had ever entered her bed-room or parted the tapestry hangings around her bed, and never yet had she tasted of any kind of medicine.I listened complacently to her talk, and did not interrupt her with a word. After she had finished, I said--
"Allow me to contradict, and, at the same time, convict you. You have never spoken of your special ailment to me up to this moment. I have never heard of it before this, and I need not put any questions either to you or to others in regard to it. Yet, by simply looking at you, I can tell you from what you are suffering--that you are a victim of occasional nervous attacks of greater or less severity, and I can tell you exactly how these paroxysms commence, what symptoms they show, and all the particulars of your ailment."
She stared at me, quite perplexed. "You are right!" she said at last, and there was not a man alive who could boast that she had ever said as much to him. She asked me how I came to know or to guess the nature of her sufferings, and I told her that I had had great experience in the treatment of nervous disorders, and that her case was by no means hopeless. That although it was impossible to entirely and permanently cure the disease and drive away its attacks, yet it might be greatly diminished. The paroxysms might be reduced in duration and violence, and that without administering any poisonous drugs--simply by proper massage."Then I am sorry that we have no female physicians as yet; for I would never submit to that treatment from a male physician." "And do you know that this shrinking is one of the symptoms of the malady, and at the same time its main foundation?" "How so?"
"Because, if your views of propriety were not distorted, you would apply for help in time, and not wait until you are past cure; but you grow up with the conviction that it is a shame and a degradation to confess your physical weaknesses to a male physician, yet you are by no means ashamed--nay, you consider it a duty and a virtue--to confess your mental and moral failings to a priest, although he is a man as well as the physician, and the sins you confess are sometimes more degrading and shameful than the sores of your body."She looked at me for quite a while. "Again you are right," she said, and with that broke off the conversation.
At that period, every day brought some political meeting or party conference, and the leaders of the coming elections, head-drummers, and subalterns swarmed into Vernoecze, bringing all sorts of news, asking for all sorts of information, and Countess Diodora was at the head of everything--presiding at the councils, assisting them all with her advice, never tired, never slackening in spirit or courage, and never forgetting her position as hostess--and a bountiful hostess, too.When the discussion approached the financial question, she said to me with rare delicacy-- "This is no affair of yours; leave that to us. You can meanwhile go and look for the girls in the park."
And I, in spite of my professional sagacity, in spite of the knowledge and experience I had gained, I was such a greenhorn--such a simple fool--that I actually believed in the existence of a fund raised for the especial purpose of sending such shining political stars, such rare celebrities, as the Honourable Cornelius Dumany, into Parliament, there to enlighten the minds of his compatriots, and to be a blessing to his country; although, if any one had asked me how I had deserved to be held in such high esteem, I could not have found an answer! Oh, vanity and conceit! How easily you are caught in the meshes of cunning deception!
The "girls," as they were invariably called, were on the lawn looking for four-leaved clovers, and the little blonde declared that she was bent on finding one, for whoever found it first was sure to be married first. I laughed, and, looking down, I saw one little quatrefoil just at my feet. I gathered it, and presented it to the little blonde countess, but she refused to accept it. "No," she said, "everybody must keep his own fortune. You have found the leaf, and you will get married first, and within the year.""Ought not I to know something of the coming happiness in advance?" I asked, smilingly. "Surely I can't get married without my own knowledge!" "Just you keep quiet. Mockery is not becoming to you; but tell us in good earnest, why don't you marry? You ought to."
"Why, then, in good faith, I do not marry because the girls that would not reject me I do not care for, and those that I might care for would not accept me.""How do you know? First tell us what qualities a girl must possess to make you care for her."
"Well, I suppose I must obey your ladyship's wishes. In the first place, then, she must be young and pretty; then she must be intellectual, prudent, and well educated; and, finally, she must have a kind heart and a sweet disposition; if she is merry and bright also, I shall like her the better. Yes, there is something else: I should like my future wife to be always elegant and stylish, and I should like to give her a splendid home and keep her in luxury; but, as my own little Slav kingdom is not sufficient for my notion of the term, therefore she must also have a fortune of her own. Yet, if a woman, or let me rather say a young girl, should possess all these qualities at once, which I think unlikely, I would not take her if I were not fully convinced that she married me for love. So, you see, with these pretensions I am likely to live and die a bachelor.""Not necessarily. I, for instance, know a lady who answers to your description as if you had drawn her portrait." "Indeed? You seem bent on proving that the four-leaved clover was a true prophet of marriage. You want to make the match?" "Why not? But, indeed, I am speaking in good faith. Why don't you marry Aunt Diodora?" "Because I have more sense than those poor birds who shatter their heads and beaks in flying against the reflected rays of the lighthouse." "I don't understand the simile." "Do you know the story of Turandot?"
"No. Novels and comedies I dare not read yet; but I should like to know, for Aunty Diodora is nicknamed 'Princess Turandot.' I have often heard her spoken of by that name. I think that Turandot must be a fictitious creature, who tortures all her suitors to death, for aunty is also very unkind to them. Only that is no fault of hers; it is her misfortune to have nobody sue for her hand except simpletons. All these sweet-spoken, flattering, aping, thought-snatching, cajoling, empty-headed wooers my aunt calls monkeys, and not men. A man must have the courage to oppose her, defend his own opinion against her and all the world, to gain her respect and her confidence. This you have done. Oh, we girls know well enough what impression a man has made on another girl!"
This was a startling confession. Here was a little girl, who was treated and spoken of as quite a baby; yet, in spite of her unacquaintance with novels and comedies, she seemed to be very well versed in all matters of love and matrimony.
"Yes," she continued, "I have noticed it plainly enough, and quite frequently. Whenever you are away she is gloomy, and melancholy, and out of spirits; but, as soon as she sees you or hears your voice, she brightens up and is good-humoured and pleasant. When, the other day, Flamma and I had made some remark about you--some light jest--she gave us such a sermon! telling us that men were all so different, and that you were, among them, like a real diamond among coloured glass. Oh, if I could tell you all! But you are proud and disdainful, I see. Perhaps you want to wait until Countess Diodora Vernoeczy makes you a humble offer of her hand, and then maybe you would be proud, and consider about it."
"Perhaps I should. Give me leave, ladies, to tell you a story--the history of a very intimate friend, and from beginning to the end true to the letter. I shall invent nothing."IV. THE HISTORY OF MY FRIEND.
As soon as I promised them a story, the two young girls sat down on a low bench beneath a jasmine bush, and I sat down on the bowling-green at their feet; or, rather, I kneeled there before them. Do not think that we were left without a proper guard, for we could be seen from the balcony of the house, and on the mountain-ash tree was an old missel-thrush that kept on chirruping and twittering, "Take care, you boy! take care!"
The young ladies had stripped a heap of the slender Pimprinpare stalks, from which they began to braid chains and other ornaments, while I related the following story:--
"My friend is a descendant of the noblest families of Hungary, and a count by birth. During the Revolution of 1848 he was one of the bravest and most heroic defenders of the national cause, and his great personal attractions, manly beauty, athletic strength, intellectual power, and high moral integrity, united with an iron will and the tender heart of a woman, made him distinguished above many. Of him it was said that, even as a man, he obeyed every command of his mother, but could never be made to obey that of any potentate of the world.""Is that paragon of a man alive yet?" asked Cenni.
"He is. Only he is an old eagle now, for our friendship dates from the time when he gave me a ride on his knees, while I blew the whistle he had brought me. During our national struggle for liberty in 1848 he served as a captain of the ---- Hussars, and, after the Russian invasion, and the final overthrow of the national cause, he made good his escape to England. Of course, his lands and goods were seized, and he was sentenced to death; but, as he could not be caught and hanged in person, he was hanged in effigy--that is, his portrait was nailed to the gallows.
"The same high qualities which had distinguished him at home distinguished him abroad. A great many Hungarian refugees had found a home in England, especially in that gigantic metropolis, London; and it is said of them, in general, that of all political emigrants they behaved best. They never quarrelled, never grumbled, and never conspired. Everyone hastened to find a mode of earning a decent living for himself, and none of them were too proud or too lazy to work. Every one of them was honestly and diligently engaged in some business.
"My friend had some acquaintances among the English nobility, and he was soon introduced, and speedily became at home in English high life. Among those aristocratic families with which he had frequent intercourse was one in which there was a young girl, an orphan and an heiress. She was beautiful and intellectual, like Countess Diodora, and competition for her hand was naturally high among the young and old bachelors, and marriageable men of their set. Singularly enough, the young stranger, who never thought of such good fortune, at last felt compelled to believe that the open preference the lady showed him was more than common courtesy, and more than the friendly, even sisterly regard with which most ladies of his acquaintance honoured him. He could not but admire her beauty, her grace, and accomplishments, and he was ready and willing enough to fall in love with so much charm and loveliness. His courtship, if so it must be termed, although the lady was doing the greater part of the wooing, was short and successful, and they were married.
"The marriage took place on the Isle of Wight, at that time the favourite haunt of the Hungarian refugees. Two of the latter, the one a renowned politician, the other a famous general, were witnesses, and the wedding breakfast was quite an event. But when, after the bridal cake had been cut and the toasts drunk, the guests retired, and the young couple were left alone, the fair young bride said to the happy groom:--
"'I beg your pardon for leaving you to your own company, but I must retire to change my dress, for my yacht is waiting, and I shall start for France in two hours.'
"He gazed at her in utter amazement 'Why, dearest,' he said, 'don't you know that Louis Napoleon denies us Hungarians even the privilege of passing through France, and that for me to go there is equivalent to imprisonment, possibly death?'
"'I know it, and I do not ask you to accompany me. I shall go there alone. I yearned for independence and liberty, and for the coming years I could get it only as a married woman. I was in need of a husband, or of his name, and my choice fell upon you, because I did not dare to play this trick on one of our English Hotspurs. Of you I know that you are too gentle and too noble withal to injure a woman. So good-bye to you, count, for I do not think that we shall ever set eyes on each other again!'
"With that the fair goddess left her husband of two hours' standing, humiliated, stunned, without money, bereft of his former occupation, to which, as her husband, he could not return; left him for ever; and he was such a gentle fool that he did not even for a moment think of revenge upon the woman who had robbed him of the last and only treasure he possessed, his spotless name and honour, and had ruined him for ever.
"For twenty-five years the poor victim of the fair deceiver could not with decency extricate himself from the meshes of the net which she had thrown over him. After some years he found a good, pure, and true heart that was full to the brim with love for the unhappy man--so much so that she sacrificed position, family, and reputation for his sake, and accompanied him from country to country, through danger and poverty, sharing his cares and troubles, and consoling him with her love and fidelity. To this woman, who was his real wife, he could not give the legal name and position she merited, and the curse that had been laid on his own life was heavy upon his innocent children, for he could not carry them to the baptismal font, could not christen them as his own. In England he could not secure a divorce, to France he could not go, and home to Hungary he dared not come. For twenty-five years he dragged these heavy chains on his weary limbs, until Hungary had risen from her prostration, had become a constitutional state with a free Parliament, and had crowned her king, and called home her banished children from the nooks and corners of the world. Then only, when again at home and in full possession of his ancestral castle and estates, then only a legal divorce set him at liberty and left him free to bestow his name upon his faithful, loving companion and their children. But when that time had at last arrived, my friend was an old man with silvery beard and a bald head. The fairy that was the cause of so much suffering had taken nothing of him but his name, of which she was in need; but what is a name? Nothing but the lid, the tender coverlet of the beetle's wing. She did not kill the poor beetle, and she set him free; he was allowed to live with his winter wings."
During the recital of this story, Cenni's rosy countenance was crimsoned through and through, while Flamma's pale face was overspread with an almost deadly pallor, and, as I spoke the final words, the girls looked at each other in silence. "So, you see," I continued, "if such a thing could happen to a man like my friend, the bearer of a great name, noble, brave, accomplished, and handsome, what would be my fate if I should attempt to do what he did--marry a beauty and an heiress? I, that am nothing but a runaway doctor, an expelled Member of Parliament, and a Slav King! one who, from his appearance, is mistaken for his own subject.""No! no!" said Cenni, taking hold of both my hands, "there you are mistaken, and--and I am sure you do not know your own worth!" At that moment the jasmine-bush was parted, and Siegfried's voice asked, "May I take the liberty to interrupt these tender confessions?"
At the sound of Siegfried's voice we all sprang from our seats, and Cenni, throwing the chain she had braided on his neck, said, "You are a great, naughty, good-for-nothing fellow! What do you want?""This noble and gallant knight of yours. He is wanted by his executioners--that is, by the election leaders that are to be."
The two young girls laughed, and ran to the little lake for a boating trip, and I asked Siegfried, "What do these men want from me? What is their business with me?"
"Oh, nothing!" he said, coolly. "They have not come; it is I who have business to speak of with you, and quickly, too, for I may be too late already. My dear boy, even a friend has something that he wants to keep for himself and does not want to share with his dearest friend--his love! You are making love to Cenni, although you must have seen that I am over ears in love with her myself.""I have seen nothing of the kind, and I give you my word that I never thought of making love to her." "Possibly so; but then she makes love to you, and that renders matters worse yet." "I assure you that your jealousy leads you into error." "Oh! Do you think we have no telescopes in the house? I have witnessed the last interesting scene as if I were on the spot."
"Then I can only wish that your hearing might have been as much increased by some instrument as your vision by the telescope, so that you might have heard our discourse, and not guessed at it by sight.""Did you not find a four-leaved clover, and offer it to Cenni?" "Yes, here it is; take it, my boy, and marry your Cenni, with my blessing!" "Take care! I may take you at your word!" "And welcome! I'll be your best man."
"That's a bargain. And, now that I see that you are really not going to play the traitor with me, I'll tell you the whole truth. I am mad with love for Cenni; and then, too, she has a million florins from her grandfather, and this money would come in well to help me carry out my plans. But my aunt does not consent to give the girl to me. She says I am a libertine, a _frivol viveur_, etc., and she won't take the responsibility of trusting me with the dear child.""Tell her you will reform, you will change after marriage."
"That I have repeatedly tried, but she refuses to believe me. Then there is that million. As long as the girl is unmarried and a minor, my aunt takes her revenues, and, among her other accomplishments, my aunt is a very fair accountant. She has found out that the girl cannot eat figs and candies in a year to the amount of sixty thousand florins, so she is not over-willing to part with her at all. But I am not going to play the Tantalus for years, and run the risk of having the girl snatched from me by some jackanapes or rascal or another. Pardon!""Never mind! I shan't pick up the 'jackanapes' or the 'rascal.' They do not belong to me." "Then help me carry out my plan. Do you promise?" "By all means."
"Thank you. But let me unfold my plan. Cenni and I will be married clandestinely behind Aunt Diodora's back. My aunt is sometimes subject to severe neuralgic attacks, and, as she never calls a physician and never takes any remedies for her pains, she suffers all day. During these paroxysms of her nerves she remains all day in a darkened room, and will not allow anybody to stay with her but Flamma. That kind soul is with her at such times, administering to her comforts, smoothing her pillows, etc., and in return she is allowed to read Flammarion, or one of Verne's harmless fictions, in the adjoining sitting-room. On such days Cenni is entirely at liberty, and not watched by anybody, because that sleepy governess the girls have is hardly worth mentioning. Now listen. I keep here, concealed in my shooting-box, a priest--a Capuchin monk--Father Paphuntius. He seems to be a jolly good fellow, and he has an open hand. In the park there is a little memorial chapel, erected by one of my ancestors in honour of St. Vincent de Paul. In that chapel we will exchange vows. You and Muckicza shall be my witnesses. Now you have given me your promise, will you stick to your word?"
"By all means! Only after the marriage is perfected give me leave to run away as fast as possible; for I should not dare to look your aunt in the face after such perfidy on my part."
"_Au contraire_, you shall not run, for you must stay and help me out further. I have chosen you in your capacity as physician to persuade Diodora to swallow this bitter medicine. She will take much if it comes from you, and I really believe you have magnetised her. It will be your mission to break the fact of the accomplished marriage to her, and persuade her to give her consent, since the matter is irreparable. You see, we cannot afford to quarrel with her, for she has four millions, and is not likely to marry at all."I hesitated, but he begged and prayed--"My dear friend," "My own Nell," and so forth--until I gave way, and promised to do all that he wanted.
When I had finally promised him he pressed my hands, and then turned away and buried his face in his silk pocket-handkerchief. Was this to hide his tears or--his laughter? _O sancta simplicitas_!V. HOW ROSES ARE INOCULATED.
The same day, after luncheon, Countess Flamma turned to me with the question--
"Would you mind teaching me the process of inoculation? I am greatly interested in roses, and should like to see how the scion is set into the stock."
"With ever so much pleasure," I said, pleased that the pale, silent girl showed an interest in my favourites, the roses, and turned to me for a favour. Countess Diodora gave the required permission for the lesson, which was to be given and taken while the others were playing lawn-tennis on the adjacent grounds. Flamma was a bad player, anyhow, so she might take to horticulture meanwhile.
When the whole company were on the grounds, Flamma and I stepped up to the rose-beds, and I began to explain to her how, in the first place, a T-shaped incision has to be made on the stock, when presently she said, in a low whisper, "Take care of yourself."
I thought she meant that I should cut my fingers with the knife, when she repeated her warning again, mid more explicitly, "Take care; they mean to play a bad joke on you."I looked up amazed. What could she mean? "Who?" I asked. "Don't look at me, but continue the explanation and demonstration. Never forget I am taking a lesson, for we are closely watched." "Thank you. So now we take a carefully chosen scion. Tell me, pray, who wants to play that jest on me?" "This scion is beautifully developed, let us take it--Siegfried." "Siegfried? What does he intend to do?"
"Keep your hands busy, and do not look surprised. That clandestine marriage, of which you are to be a witness, is a comedy. The Capuchin monk, who is to perform the ceremony, is Seestern, the famous German actor, who is here under an assumed name, as he does not want to be pestered to play or amuse the others."My hands trembled, but I kept on and said-- "Siegfried has sworn to me that he is madly in love with Countess Cenni, and that he will marry her, come what may." "What for?"
"What a question! For love, and--because--he wants the million florins of her grandfather's which the countess has."
"Hand me the knife, for you will assuredly cut your finger, and give me that scion, so that I may try to insert it. Cenni is no countess at all, but the niece of Leestern and daughter of an actress, who at one time did my aunt a great service, and, when dying, made Aunt Diodora promise to take care of her little girl. Aunt gave her at confirmation the name of Cenerentola, which we have shortened to Cenni. Her real name is Klara. She has no other money or dower but what Aunt Diodora will give her, which will not be much, for in money matters she is not very liberal, and Cenni is called 'comtesse' because it suits Aunt Diodora's whims. That million of which Siegfried spoke exists; but it is mine, and not Cenni's. Is this scion well inserted?"
"You show too much agitation. Show me how to cut out the germ properly. This is the plan. After the ceremony, on the day when Diodora is confined to her room and I am with her, a festival banquet will be spread in the shooting-box. It will be a noisy, dissolute company that meets there, and Siegfried will drink most, be the loudest and least well-behaved of the set. The bride will pretend to be afraid of the groom, and at last she will break away from his hands, and ask the protection of the only sober, sensible, and decent man present, namely, yourself. The bridegroom will have lost all self-control through drink. He will swear, and use all sorts of bad language, and the bride will sob and entreat you to take her away, protesting that she hated the sight of the vulgar wretch she had just married, but had been forced to do his will, although he knew well that in reality she loved you, and you alone. At last, growing desperate, she will attempt to leap out of the window to escape from this place, even at the risk of her life. You will take pity on her; her tears and charms will conquer your resistance, and you will tell her to dispose of you for ever, and take shelter in your own castle from the ruffian who was not worthy of the treasure he had obtained. You will order your carriage, and take Cenni with you; but, as soon as you have left, the fellow-plotters will mount their horses, and, by a short cross-cut, arrive there before you, discover the intended elopement of the bride, and carry off you and her as criminals. You will of course offer to fight every one of them, until all, the bride included, will burst out into Olympian laughter, and you stand stunned and bewildered. But, pray, show me how to insert the germ properly into the T-shape?"My whole frame trembled with excitement. "What is his object in all this?" I asked.
"To give you the usual 'jump,' as they call it in our set. If, for instance, a member of some other class of society--in your case a simple nobleman--is pushing his way into high aristocracy, he must be 'jumped,' each in his own different way. One is made to drink until he makes himself obnoxious even to his nearest friends; another is made to gamble until he either wins or loses a fortune, generally the latter; but all must 'jump,' and if they break their necks, well and good! It was proposed to 'jump' you in courtship; you refused to aspire to Diodora. In a duel you are not afraid of a fight, and so this course was decided on. You had been 'jumped' already--at the election--but the triumph and your downfall were not complete. Your vanity--don't start--was not yet wounded to death, and you will have to 'jump' once more--once in private and once at a second election. But this time you will not rise again. Hopp! Hopp! That's the design. Don't look at me--that's all!"
I was fairly choked with emotion. "But why do they play that trick on me? I did not want to enter their society; in fact, never valued it at all; but I cared for Siegfried, and he lured me on with protestations of friendship. What was his reason for that? What have I done to him to merit this?"
"What have you done? You have provoked him--called him out. You said you could not believe in the existence of a spiritual or corporal being who would do mischief without a material motive, simply for the sake of mischief and the pleasure he found in the despair of a fellow-being: you did not believe that there are men who will afflict the innocent with pain and sorrow, who will degrade, socially and morally humiliate you, and then laugh you in the face and make game of you. Stay here, move in our society, and you will find out your mistake! Why, what a sight it will be to have the great debater, the candidate-elect, the sage and learned doctor, and heir of old Diogenes caught in the act of robbing another man of his bride! They will have a painter there to take a sketch of the fine situation '_en plein air_.'"At that moment one of the lawn-tennis players throw the ball just in front of my feet, and Siegfried came running to fetch it.
"Well, have you profited at all by this lesson on inoculating?" he asked the girl, and he added a remark which was so vulgar and impertinent that he would not have dared to use the expression in a variety theatre or any other low place of common entertainment."I have," said the girl, with low emphasis, and laid down the knife.
I was in such a state of anguish that I did not know for certain whether the spot I was standing on belonged to this earth or was part of the infernal kingdom, for the soil actually burned my feet. Countess Mamma thanked me for the horticultural lesson I had given her, and I was so much embarrassed that I repeated her own words verbally, instead of giving her a courteous reply. Siegfried laughed."What an exemplary, bashful young fellow you are! Evidently you are not used to teach young ladies such delicate lessons. Come! come! Don't blush. Try your hand at lawn tennis." And I went with him and played. VI. MR. PARASITE.
I have never given way to paroxysms of temper; not exactly because I was naturally cool and collected, but because my profession had taught me presence of mind and self-control. Violent wrath, violent terror, and violent love could not attack me.
Countess Flamma's singular disclosure had made a twofold impression. My first feeling was a painful regret that my most intimate friend, in whom I had placed infinite trust and confidence, was a faithless deceiver; and my second emotion was that of a burning curiosity as to why that girl, a close relative of my cozening friend, had betrayed him to me--a stranger. What reason had the one to hurt me, and what was the motive of the other in warning me? For, as I refused to believe in evil spirits, I also refused to believe in protecting angels.
"My dear friend, take care!" said Siegfried, throwing the ball at me. The ball I did not catch, but the "dear" epithet I picked up; for it struck me that the same phrase was often attached to my name as well as to that of other less intimate acquaintances, and sometimes with a special, humorous playfulness. Now I caught it. Of course I was their "dear" friend, for did not I sit there and do nothing, and let them waste their money on my election?
In Hungarian society, and I think in most other societies as well, there is a certain person whom we call "Potya ur"--"Mr. Parasite." He feeds at every board, sleeps in other men's rooms, is served by other men's servants, uses other men's horses and carriages, and smokes other men's cigars. When playing cards, he has invariably left his money at home; so when he is a loser it does not matter, for he is not accustomed to pay his losses; but, when a winner, he complacently pockets his gains. He never pays for the flowers he sends to his hostess, never pays anything or anybody; yet he is well lodged, well fed, well clad, and in excellent spirits, for he needs them. His wit is his only resource, his sole capital.
Such a Mr. Parasite, I thought, was I to these men, and I determined that I would be so no longer. Surely I, who was formerly a physician in Vienna, had no right to accept a nomination for Parliament in Hungary--at other men's expense. They were right, and I had been an ass and a coxcomb. When Siegfried told me that the party had decided not to take a penny of me, but to secure my election out of party funds, I should have remembered Chinese etiquette. If two Chinamen meet on the street, Tsang will invariably invite Tsing home to dinner, and Tsing will invariably refuse. Tsang will use all possible persuasion, and finally fairly drag the invited one to his house, although the man protests and struggles as much as possible. And well he knows why; because if he should give way to the pressing invitation and go with Tsang, the moment he entered the house his host would call him a rude, unmannered peasant; for he must remember well that it becomes the one to courteously invite, and the other to respectfully refuse. This is the law of civilisation in China; and I had forgotten that law the second time.
So, about Siegfried's motive I felt pretty sure; but what was that girl's motive in betraying the whole plot? More! She had not only betrayed Siegfried, her own cousin, to me--a stranger: she had betrayed Cenni, her origin, her real name, and her kin; and, finally, what motive had she in informing me that the million of florins was her money, and not Cenni's? What was her motive in confiding to me such a secret in such a mysterious and secret manner? Was it only kindness, generosity, compassion, that prompted her, or--? No, I durst not go farther--as yet--only I knew now beyond a doubt that, from the first, of all the three fairies of the castle Flamma alone had aroused my interest and sympathy. Her clear, transparent, pale face, her deep, sea-tinted eyes, and her silent, cherry lips, so lovely when parted in speaking, had attracted me from the first.
We were called indoors to partake of some iced coffee, and strawberries with cream; but this time I had not forgotten Tsang and Tsing. I refused, saying that I had a letter from the Vice-Governor, and was expected by him; so I could not return until next day in the afternoon.
My excuse was accepted, and I took my leave. For a second the thought flashed through my mind that I ought not to return at all, and that this should be my last visit to the place; but, somehow, to that rose-scion which I had taught Flamma how to inoculate I had involuntarily and unconsciously tied that particular part of my being which is known as the "soul."Next morning I drove over to the county seat, and paid a visit to the Vice-Governor. Of course, he was as cordial as ever, and welcomed me as a dear friend. "Well, what have you brought me?" he asked finally. "This time a sensible resolution," I said. "I have come to give in my resignation as a candidate for Parliament."
The Vice-Governor embraced, nay, fairly hugged me in his arms. "My dear boy, that's a sensible thing, indeed: not from the view of the Government party only--I don't believe that your party could have carried the day with you--but in consideration of your own welfare. Just sit down, and let me inform the President of the Board of Elections of your resolution. I shall do that at once. Not for a world would I let you reconsider this excellent idea. Perhaps you might be over-persuaded, and 'jumped' again by your good friends."Again I heard the expression "jumped," and I sat down to meditate over it. "Have you told Siegfried yet?" asked the Vice-Governor. "Not yet," I said; "but I think he won't greatly object." "Who knows? But you will pledge your word that you will stick to your resignation against all persuasion?" "Certainly. I'll give you any oath you want, and--well, here is my hand on the promise. My resignation is final."
"Then allow me to congratulate you, and to convince you, by action, what a sensible conclusion you have come to. I should have withheld your property from you until after election, for I feared that generous nature of yours, and was afraid that, if you had free access to your uncle's iron chest, your companions would soon enough have their fists deep in it. But, now that you convince me of your good sense, here are the papers which make you lord of the real and personal property of your late uncle, and here is the package with the bank-bills. Pray open and count them over. The county sheriff will go over with you to take off the seals from everything, and put you in legal possession."
I thanked him, and put the money, uncounted, in my coat pocket. Then I returned to our former theme, and asked the Vice-Governor if he really thought that my nomination had put my party to very great expense.
"Think so?" he exclaimed, "of course, I think so! Why, my dear friend, you are a new man, and considered almost as a foreigner and a scholar, not a patriotic politician! But, if you are really interested in the question, you can find out the exact figure which your nomination has cost your party. Just go straight to the County Savings Bank here, and ask the amount which Siegfried has drawn on bills signed with his own name and that of his political friends as security."
I was stunned. "I never thought of such a thing," I said. "Siegfried told me that he had money at home which he did not want for himself at present, and could easily spare."
The official laughed. "Siegfried, and spare money! Why, what an innocent you are! If he had money at all, he would leave it on the card-table, he is such a gambler. The fact is, he is on such a sandbank, just at present, that it will be fortunate for him if his barque ever gets afloat again.""How is that possible? I thought him very well off."
"He is more than that; he is very rich. His domains are large and beautiful, and his income is princely; only he is of the opinion that it is mean to keep money, and he spends in six months the income of a year, and in this way he runs into debt. He has practised that for a considerable time, and it cannot go on that way much longer. His only resource is his maiden aunt, Countess Diodora. It is said--at least, Siegfried says--that she hates men, and will take the veil to become an abbess. In that case her estates will revert to him as next heir."
"H--m; and do you think Siegfried would feel insulted if I should go to the Savings Bank and pay those bills of his? Or do you believe that his friends would be offended if I took up all the bills, and paid all the expenses I have caused them?"
"No; although they would pretend to be so for a while, in reality I think they would be only too glad. But I will tell you something: you are just such a generous, large-hearted, noble, free-handed fool as your father was, and, if you go on the way you have begun, old Diogenes's hoard will go after your father's fortune. Do you know what the two Ms in the palm of your hands signify?""_Memento mori_," I said, smilingly. "No. Mind money. It means 'Always mind your own money.' It is the best advice I can give you, and the one you stand most in need of." I thanked him, and took my leave: no more Mr. Parasite, but on the way to earn the title he had given me--that of a fool. VII. A BRILLIANT GAME.
If I had had a particle of good judgment or common sense, I should have taken the bills I had paid for at the bank to the solicitor who acted both for Siegfried and myself, should have authorised that gentleman to pay the twenty thousand florins Siegfried had lent me when I came into possession of my house, and I myself should have written two pleasant letters--one to Countess Diodora, thanking her for her great and disinterested kindness and hospitality, and the other to Siegfried, notifying him formally of what I had done, and, at the same time, telling him that my resolution was firm, and that no persuasion on his part would shake it. Then I should have thanked him for his friendship, and finally have taken myself off with all possible speed to Heligoland, Ostend, or some other remote watering-place. After an election campaign, or, as in my case, nearly two campaigns, such an invigorating of the system is very commendable.
All this I should have done as a man of good judgment, but, alas! I was not such a man--at any rate, no longer. My judgment had left me, and it would need a whole pathologico-psychological dissertation to explain how the process of inserting a rose-scion into a stock can, in a period of hardly an hour, convert a cool, sensible, and collected man into a stark raving madman.
For a lunatic I was--no doubt about that. Now it was I who wanted to play the game to the end, and to show to those five companions of mine which of us could "jump" best. An angel had come to warn me, and had given me a weapon against my adversaries; now I was bound to show her that I could make proper use of the weapon. There was already a sweet secret bond between us--her warning, and I was burning to find out the cause, the fountain-head, of that significant partiality shown to me. Why was the angel an angel? The question was all-important to me.
On arriving at home with the sheriff I found a letter from Siegfried, and on the envelope the inscription, "_Ibi, ubi, cito, citissime_. N.B. Dr. Cornelius Dumany, Esquire."The contents of the letter were as follows:--
"DEAR FRIEND,--Aunt Diodora has her nervous attack, and is dangerously ill. Pray make haste! _Periculum, in mora_. Bring your electro-magnetic apparatus with you, and come at once.--SIEGFRIED."
The gamekeeper had brought the letter, and said that he had strict orders to wait for me, if it was until midnight. So I despatched my business with the sheriff, gave orders for refreshments for him, and, going into my museum, I took out a watch of the Apafy period, with which I presented him, and made him perfectly happy. Then I picked out an antique opal bracelet, which Cenni had found exceptionally beautiful, and put it into my pocket as a present for the bride. I would take the ceremony _bona fide_, and play my part as naturally as possible.
We drove through Siegfried's game-park, and at the cascades I was expected by Baron Muckicza, the other witness. "You are expected like the Messiah by the Jews," he cried, and leaped up to me without stopping the vehicle. "Cenni and Siegfried are in the chapel already."
On arriving in front of the chapel, an old Gothic edifice, situated in a large clearing in the park, we alighted, and I ordered my coachman not to unhitch the horses, but to drive about, and wait for me at the gate in about an hour or more.
We opened the little gate that led to a large stone crucifix in front of the chapel, and found the vestry-clerk and a boy ministrant waiting for us in the entry. Now they tolled the bell hurriedly and briefly, and gave way to us.
Siegfried and Cenni met us in the chapel. He pressed my hand in evident excitement, assuring me of eternal friendship and gratitude for standing by his side at this turning-point of his life, whereupon I returned his protestations with equal feeling. The bride, in a dove-coloured travelling-dress, with a wreath of orange flowers in her blonde locks, and a costly lace shawl as a bridal veil, was an exquisite image of love and modesty. On seeing me she bashfully hid her face in her hands, exclaiming, "Oh! what will you think of me?" and to Siegfried, imploringly, "Pray let me go back to the house! My God, what a step you have persuaded me to! Pray let me go back; oh, pray do!" But Siegfried tenderly held her hands, and persuaded her to go to the good Father Paphuntius, who was awaiting her in the shriving-pew to receive the confession of her sins; for, as a good Catholic, she could not marry unshriven. So she simpered and blushed a good deal, and went away to where the Father, with clean-shaven face--evidently a Ligorian, not a Capuchin--received her with a benediction.
It was a splendid farce, and admirably acted by almost all the parties. There were two bridesmaids with somewhat rural complexions, and hands which seemed to swell out of their number seven white gloves, as did their robust waists from the tightly-laced silk bodices. Of course, we called them "Milady," and spoke French to them, although it was easy to guess that they were dairy and garden wenches, and the only language they understood or spoke was the Slavonic. They blushed and giggled a good deal, and did not feel very much at ease on our arms.
The ceremony took place in the most solemn and decorous way. Father Paphuntius delivered a very impressive sermon on domestic virtues and the fear of God leading to earthly happiness and eternal bliss. Bride and groom kneeled down before the altar and exchanged their vows, whereupon the priest bound their hands together and gave them his benediction.
My hand itched, and I could hardly keep from loudly applauding the acting priest or the preaching actor; but I did not forget that at least the place of comedy was really sacred, although profaned by a parcel of blasphemous roysterers, and so I held my peace and looked on.
After the ceremony, of course, everybody congratulated the new couple, and I added the opal bracelet to my compliments, and received in return a sweet smile from the fair bride. "You have robbed your collection of its most precious treasure," she said, and "It will be made more precious by your ladyship's acceptance" was my answer.
We wrote our names in an old register which was in the vestry. I presented the excellent Father Paphuntius with six gold eagles, and the vestry clerk was made happy with as many brand-new and shining silver florins, while the boy received six glittering quarters--all in the fashion of a real wedding. After that, the new Benedict gave his arm to his bride. Baron Muckicza and I bowed to the red-faced damsels, with the German phrase, "_Darf ich Ihnen meinen Arm bieten, mein Fraeulein_," to which they answered in classic Slavonian, "_Gyekujem peknye mladi-pan_," which means, "Thank you very much, young master." Then we went, _per pedes apostolorum_, to the shooting-box, Father Paphuntius, of course, accompanying us, to feast at the wedding banquet.
The table fairly groaned under the sumptuous meal. The newly-wedded couple took the seat of honour. I was placed to the right of the bride, and Musinka, the dairy-wench, sat next to me, as became her position as bridesmaid. Next to the groom sat the priest, then Anyicska, the garden-wench and second bridesmaid, and at her side, between the two damsels (the table was round), sat Baron Muckicza.
We were in excellent humour and rather hilarious, and the affair was a very lively one. At all such revels I have the peculiarity of never drinking anything but champagne. All other wine I despise and scorn to drink. Siegfried knew this well, and had given orders that, after the trout, champagne should be served. The cork was drawn with a loud noise, the wine foamed and sparkled in the glasses, but, when the servant came to help me, I took the bottle from his hands to look at the label; for there is a difference in the fluid, and Roederer and Roederer is not always alike. There are certain symbolical marks on the bottles, well known to connoisseurs. On some is a bee, on others an ostrich or an elephant. On this particular bottle was a fly, and I threw the bottle to the wall with such force that it broke into shivers, and the foaming contents went splashing into the faces of the company. The reverend Father had just risen, glass in hand, to drink a toast to the happy couple, and Siegfried said, reproachfully--"My dear fellow, you begin it too early; the bottle-breaking business comes after the drinking, not before it."
"All right," said I, grumbling, "but if you have a physician as your marriage witness, don't treat your wedding company with wine marked with a fly. I know the effect of that poison."
He smiled mischievously, and, turning, he said in Hungarian, which the Father did not understand, "Don't spoil the game. You'll have another mark; this is for the Capuchin. I want to 'jump' him."
"Indeed!" I thought. "Well, I'll 'jump' you both." The mock priest was standing with his glass in hand to begin his toast, when I turned to him and asked--
"Is it not you, my dear Seestern, that plays the Capuchin in Schiller's _Wallenteins's Camp_?"
The man stared at me, and fell back into his chair, with the classical quotation "_Ha, ich bin erkannt_!" The bride shrieked, and, bounding from my side, ran out of the room. The rustic bridesmaids stared at each other, and asked, "_Csoeto_?" ("What does that mean?") and Siegfried's fist came down hard on the table. "_Sacre de Dieu_! This is treachery!" and taking hold of my arm, he asked, "Who was it? Who has betrayed this little joke?"
I looked him innocently in the face. "Why, my dear Siegfried, it would be unnatural if an old Vienna theatre-goer like me did not know Seestern, the famous comic actor. I am no country cousin to be cozened in that way."
"Well, evidently we have made the reckoning without our host," said he, grumblingly. "But it is a pity. Such a capital joke it would have been, and you would have laughed most. Still, it can't be helped, so we'll make the best of the spoiled game. I see the prima donna has thrown off her _role_, so you had better go after her, Seestern, and see her safe to the chateau. Your monk's cowl is a protection in itself. Don't look disconcerted; you can come back. Our revel does not end yet; it has hardly begun. You, Muckicza, my dear boy, go out and get in the boys. Tell them the hunt is over; the game has broken fence."
By this time one of the Slav girls had stuffed her pockets with French candies and confectionery from the table, and the other drank off the champagne from all the glasses near. Now Siegfried looked at them, and imperatively motioned to the door. They hurried out, and "my dear friend" Siegfried and I were face to face, alone. His face wore a gloomy expression, and he said, in a courtly manner--"Sir, I am at your service. Do you feel offended by this joke?" I laughed outright. "I offended? Why should I? Nothing has happened to me." "But it would have happened. We intended to give you a little 'jump.'" "And why?" "Oh, for nothing! Only you look so funny with that gorilla beard you wear on your face." "Indeed? And pray how should I 'jump' as your marriage witness?" "Has not the person who warned you betrayed the whole scheme?"
"Never you mind. I am not offended; quite the contrary. I like such practical jokes, and have taken my revenge beforehand. I have played you an equal trick: I have given my resignation as a candidate this morning.""You cannot mean it! Tell me, are you in earnest?" "Dear me, no! I am joking; I told you so! But the thing is irrevocably done, all the same."
"But how could you do it without consulting the party!--without telling me! Thunder and lightning! this is no child's play, but a high game; and there are thousands staked on it! How dare you play fast and loose with us, after all the expenses you have caused us?"
"Oh, if I have a hand in such a game, I generally play it in the proper way!" I said, taking out the wallet with Siegfried's bills, and putting them all in a row on the table. "You see, this is the way I ventured to do as I did."He tried to play the offended man. "Sir, it seems you do not know--"
"Oh, everything, my dear count!" I said, laughingly; "only don't let us make much ado about nothing. We have both had our joke, and now allow me to beg you for my piece of pasteboard, on which you had the kindness to lend me twenty thousand florins. Here, pray, let me hand you your money. I have it ready for you."He gave me my card, but refused the money. "It is paid already," he said. "The amount is included in these bills."
At that moment Countess Diodora's footman came in, and Siegfried asked if he had come to look for Countess Cenni. "No," said the man, "Countess Cenni is in the chateau"--("What a good runner she is!" I thought)--"but her ladyship, the Countess Vernoeczy--Diodora--is very ill, and begs his honour, the Dr. Dumany, to be kind enough to come and see her. The ranger has saddled his horse, and is waiting for the prescription to take it to town at once."
That was an honour indeed, and I lost no time in following the man, and left Siegfried utterly amazed. "Why, Nell," he said, "you can work miracles! You are a Cagliostro, and exercise some powerful, mysterious influence! You must be congratulated on this victory. Fancy Aunt Diodora consulting a physician! having a man enter her maiden sanctuary! It would not be believed if I told it!"
At the portal of the chateau I hesitated for a moment. I had grown suspicious, and suddenly it occurred to me that this might be some other little practical joke, and part of the programme; but I dismissed the thought as base. The countess was a woman--a sick woman; deception in that line was impossible, at least in my profession. I could not be "jumped."
In the chateau everybody went on tiptoe, as usual when Diodora had her nervous attacks, but I did not heed that. My step was as firm as ever; the reverberation of the physician's step is soothing to the patient, and fills him with hope and assurance.
The servant conducted me to the room in which Countess Flamma sat; the adjacent room was that of the sufferer. Flamma sat reading before the lamp when I entered. She laid down the book, got up, and extended her hand. "Diodora expects you impatiently. She is more excited than ever, and has just driven out Cenni because she smelt of wine.""So Cenni was here already, possibly for the sake of an _alibi_."
"Don't speak of that! She told me all that has occurred. Have you drunk wine also, or is your breath pure? Bend down a little, so. You are all right, and I'll take you to Diodora; only wait here a little."
She went in, but returned instantly, and beckoned me to follow her into a boudoir lighted by a lamp with a shade of green glass. Rich tapestry hangings divided the apartment. Flamma drew the hangings partly aside, motioned me to go near, and left the room, softly closing the entrance.
So I was here on that sacred spot, the first and only male being alive who had ever been granted the privilege of seeing the sublime Diodora on her couch. Only her head and arms were visible--such arms as might have been lost by the Venus of Milo and found by this, her divine sister. The thick tresses of raven hair were uncoiled and scattered in rich skeins on the pillows and the coverlet. One of the silken coils fell down heavily to the carpet, and another was thrown high over the sculptured ornaments of the mahogany bedstead. It was an _embarras de richesses_ rarely met with; and in the rich and precious braids the ivory fingers were clutched, dishevelling them, tearing at them, in the excess of pain. The beautiful face was pale and lustrous, the eyes bright and glittering, surrounded by broad, dark blue circles; the lips were parted, and the breath came short. Her hands were hot and dry, and the pulse beat intermittently. When I laid my hand on her head and my thumb pressed against the crown, she groaned--"Yes, there it is. Hell itself, with all its tortures!"
My hands went down on her neck, between the _musculus cucullaris_ and the _sternocleido mastoideus_. "Ah, that is the way the pain goes down," she sighed; and when I asked, "Will your ladyship give me leave to make use of my skill?" she answered, "Don't call me 'ladyship'! I am no countess now; I am nothing but a suffering animal, and you may call me what you please. Give me the title of dog, so you can help me."
"Then pray sit up first, and let me gather and secure your hair; it hinders my movements."
She obeyed; and, while I gathered the loose tresses and coiled them around the head, the coverlet slipped down unnoticed, and the lace nightgown, torn open by the restless fingers, revealed the marble bust and shoulders; but for the physician, in the execution of his professional duty, female charms do not exist. The warm, soft, creamy skin is nothing to him but epidermis, _stratum mucosum Malpighii_; the white, sculptured neck only the _regio nuchae_, and then comes the _regio scapularis_, the _deltoidea_, and then the _sacrospinalis_.
What a fuss they make about that ascetic who resisted the temptations of the flesh when tried by the evil spirit in the shape of Lilith! What would that famous saint have done, how would he have behaved, if he had been called to rub this soft, velvety, odorous flesh, the fascinating, peerless body, with his hands? Who knows if then the Catholic Church had not boasted of one saint less? Indeed, indeed, we modern physicians have more of the saint in our disposition--in general, of course.
The effect of the treatment appeared at once in soft, voluptuous sighs of relief, deep and long-drawn; in the magnetic showers of the body I recognised a sure token which that mysterious disorder in the veins, lymphs, and nerves reveals in the ganglia. A firm pressure of the biceps with full fist, a pressure of the thumb against the _rhomboideus_, made her exclaim, "Oh, that has done me good!" Then she began to shiver, the body ceased to be hot and dry, and perspiration set in. She laughed involuntarily, her teeth chattering with cold, and then she sighed again, and said, gratefully, "I feel as if you had saved me from drowning in an ocean of hot oil." I was at the _regio palmarum_, rubbing her hands and fingers, cracking each of them. "Thank you," said she; "that will do. I feel much better."
But I told her that my work was only half done as yet and had to be finished, or else the attack would return. The object was to gain regular circulation of the blood throughout the whole body. This is no witchcraft, but plain mechanical aid to the action of the live organism.
But now that her sense had returned, her bashfulness returned also. "Could not the remaining part of the treatment be executed by a woman?" she asked.
"Yes, if she has studied anatomy, visited the dissecting-room regularly, and knows every particle in the structure of the human body; otherwise, a quack may do just as much mischief with the pressure of her unskilled hands on the outside of your body as with a bottle of quack medicine to your inner system. It is hard to make you open your eyes to the fact that the organic structure of the human body is a more wonderful, much more admirable work of creation than the starry heaven. When, at a word, the muscles of your face move to a smile of pleasure, or your eyes are filled with tears of joy, sorrow, or compassion such a complicated machinery is set in motion that no mechanical iron structure on earth can be found half as involved or half as complete; and a person not thoroughly acquainted with the qualities and parts of this wonderful apparatus will prove a tormenting executioner, not a healing physician, to the sufferer. Be patient, milady, the physician at the bed of his patient is of the neuter gender--just as the angels are.""Then--be an angel!"
I did my duty. The _musculus risorius_ was moving already. A happy smile played on her face, the pale face regained its colour, and then the involuntary smile gave way to involuntary tears. After this she fell asleep; so deep, so peaceful was her sleep that the _aponeurosis plantaris_ did not disturb her, although there are few or none who are able to undergo the process of having the soles of their feet rubbed.
She slept, and there she lay in all her sublime beauty, like some wonderful marble statue, the image of a goddess. I took the coverlet, on which the Vernoeczy crest--a nymph rising out of a shell, holding apart her long, golden hair--was embroidered, and covered up the fair sleeper, folding the blanket well on the feet to prevent evil dreams. Then I let down the curtains to shut out the lamplight, and left the room.
On the thick, soft carpet, my step was noiseless, and Countess Flamma was not aware of my presence. I entered the room in which she sat before a little table, her palms clutched together, her pale, beautiful face bent over a book. It seemed to be a very interesting book, for she was entirely lost in the contents. I waited until she finished the page, but she did not turn the leaf, but re-read the same page again and again. "Countess!" I said, deferentially. She looked up and hastily closed the book. The silver filigree cross on the purple velvet cover betrayed the prayer-book. What prayer was that of which she did not tire, but read it over and over repeatedly?
She gazed at me in evident wonder, and her eyes sparkled like two shining orbs. "You have returned?" she exclaimed, as if in doubt of my bodily reality."Countess Diodora is asleep," I said, "and will not wake until the morning. Pray, take care not to disturb her." "And--you--you--did not remain--there?" pointing to the room I left. "I have done all I could, and my staying would be of no use to her. To watch her sleep would do no good to her and be tiresome to me." From the shooting-box shouts of revelry reverberated up to us. "You are going back to them?" she asked. "No. I have finished my business with Siegfried, and told him that I had revoked my nomination." "You have really done it?"
"Certainly. I have also paid the election expenses up to date, and thanked Siegfried for his good intentions. Henceforth we shall be friendly neighbours, but not friends. Now give me leave to say good-night to you. To-morrow morning I'll drive over to pay a professional visit to Countess Diodora."
"Don't go home now," she said, holding my hand; "the night is dark, and something might happen to you. I have prepared a room for you here in the chateau, with auntie's permission, and you will stay. Henceforth, whenever you come to Vernoecze, you will come straight here, not to the shooting-box."
The blood rushed up to my face, and then back to my heart with a throbbing sensation. A tingling noise like the sound of bells was in my ears, and for a moment the whole universe seemed to have but one real fixed star--the fair, pale face before me. "Will you stay?" she asked, with a sweet smile and a pressure of her hand; and I ask, Is there on earth a Cicero or a Demosthenes so eloquent as the pressure of a woman's hand when it speaks?
I thought I knew all. I had sounded the mystery of her warning to me, and in that moment of overwhelming bliss I do not know what I did. Had I kissed her hand? Had I said anything? given a promise or received one? I do not know; but that my head was dizzy, and my heart filled with a world of joy, that I remember.VIII. A BITING KISS.
The valet conducted me to the room assigned to me, and carried my orders to my coachman to unhitch the horses, and send up my necessaries. "Will it please your honour to take some tea?" asked the valet."Thanks," said I, "I won't take anything. But you will greatly oblige me if you will send me a bowl with warm water; I want to shave." "Certainly, sir. The chambermaid will fetch it at once."
I had resolved to shave. Good-bye to Chauvinism and national peculiarity! I wanted a smooth, clean face, as I had had before I had given way to vanity and political ambition. From this day on I ceased to be a clay figure in the hands of juggling quacks. I was Dr. Dumany again, and would remain so for life.
As I sat before the mirror, looking at my own face, I could not repress a smile. That beard of a few weeks' growth lent me an appearance that was nearly akin to that of a gorilla. I took a pair of scissors and clipped off the hair; then I prepared the soap and razor for shaving the bristles. A woman, whom I took to be the chambermaid, set a bowl of water before me, and, as I am not in the habit of looking closely at chambermaids, I said, "Thank you," prepared the lather, and commenced shaving.The woman was yet standing beside me, and, as I thought she was waiting for orders, I said, without turning-- "Much obliged, my dear; you need not wait. I shall not want anything this evening." "May I not send you a cup of tea?" I started, and the razor in my hand gave a great jerk, happily not into my face: the woman I had taken for a chambermaid was Cenni. "Oh," I said, "it is you!"
She laughed, and said, with a mock obeisance, "Yes, sir." But, looking at me in the mirror, she laughed again, and said--"Only go on. I am waiting for the Byron face to appear again, when these stalks are swept off. We can talk a little meanwhile."
"Indeed? But, you see, there is one more forbidden subject between us. There are four now: the step-ladder, the Sultan of Morocco, the sea-dove, and now Father Paphuntius.""It's astonishing how sharp you are; almost as keen as your razor. Only take care, you may cut your own skin!" "Not likely. My hand is skilled in using knives. Am I mistaken in supposing that you have come to ask for secrecy on my part?" "Not altogether. That was a part of my motive in coming." "You magnanimously promised me a kiss for keeping the other secrets. What will be my fee for this?"
"A bite, and yet a kiss. It will hurt you, and yet it is meant as a caress--like those biting kisses which some over-fond mothers bestow on their little ones, and make them cry."
"Thank you, I am ready to accept it, and shall do my best not to cry." "Don't be too sure of that. Take care of the blade in your hand! I half think I ought to postpone my revelations, because as long as this shaving process serves you as a pretext for making grimaces, I cannot clearly detect the real impression my words are making on you. Would you mind laying down that razor for a while, and leave off making faces and holding the tip of your own nose?"
"Impossible. I have heard of Janus having two different faces--one for peace, smooth and smiling sweetly; the other for war, frowning and threatening, and clothed with a grizzly beard. But I myself always show an honest impartiality to friend or foe."
"Oh, I daresay that you condemn and despise me, for, foolish and conceited as you are, you scarcely know how to distinguish between friend and foe. You think the misfortune that little pleasantry would have brought upon you highly important, whereas, if carried out as intended, it would have saved you from real harm and real degradation."
"What? If I had played that game to the end and had caused you, the pretended bride of another man, to elope with me, it would have been to my advantage? Is that the quintessence of cynicism, or sublime _naivete_?"
"No. It is plain truth, and you will find it out with a vengeance! Only then it will be too late for repentance. You have been told that I lent my aid to play a trick which would have made you the laughing-stock of all your acquaintances. I tell you if you had only gone on,
unforewarned, you would have come out a hero and the master of them all. Only then you would have known me as I truly am, and not as I choose to appear. I have been slandered to you, and you think me a she-devil at least, because I like a joke, and look everybody in the face, and not up to heaven like a saint, or down to earth like a sinner. I also look like a bold word, and am no more a hypocrite in words than I am in deeds; and, first of all, I never make use of calumny to gain my own ends. I know who has told you that I was a Satanella. Flamma, the--'angel.' Of course, everybody who is acquainted with us will tell you that she _is_ an _angel_, and that I am a devil at least, because I have cat's-eyes, a sharp tongue, and a quick temper, whereas she has the face of a Madonna, the disposition of a nun, and--she knows how to keep her own counsel. Her mouth is only opened when necessary to her own purposes; in such a case she does not recoil from the basest slander. Do you think I did not watch you two at that rose-bed? That I did not notice the glitter in your eye, the excited shaking of your hands? And do you know why she did it? Because the day before I had boldly told you to win Diodora. That she could not forgive me, and do you know why? You remember your answer. It was when you told us the tragic story of your friend and the moral, that you were wary of the caprices of aristocratic heiresses. Now--she thought--if this is so? Here is a girl without a penny of her own, with a mock title which does not belong to her; if he disbelieves in
heiresses, he may believe in her, and that is a state of things not to be endured. Let us spoil that little private game of Miss Nobody, because we have a reason for wanting the light-headed, easily-deceived fellow for ourselves. But do you know that reason? Can you guess it?"
"Ha! ha! You come from them. You have been called to the divinity to admire her in her sublime loveliness, and you have treated her as clay, and played the _role_ of the Messiah, Who drove out the demons by the touch of His hands. How she must despise you--nay, hate you--for that proof of your preference for Psyche over Anadyomene! How that sweet-winged creature, Psyche, must have pressed your hand, and looked up to you with a sweet, promissory smile as you kissed her hand and professed yourself her most obedient slave for ever after! Although you ought to remember your friend's story well enough! When you told it, you said, 'I am nothing but a runaway doctor, an expelled Member of Parliament, and a Slav king'; now you shave your face and say, 'I am a marvellously powerful man, and endowed with magical charms. I shall be a king of hearts!'"
My face was smooth and clean. I poured some _eau de Cologne_ in the bowl of water, dipped a sponge into it, and washed my face, drying it with a soft towel. "Oh, you are quite handsome enough!" she said, mockingly; "you can show your Byron face; 'I come, I see, I conquer,' is written on your forehead. But now I am not jesting; and listen to me, or repent it until your dying hour! If you succeed in winning the divinity you may be a slave, but a cherished slave. You will not know the blessing of love, but you will also be free of the pangs of jealousy and of shame. But beware of the angel! I tell you, if that rose-scion which you both inserted the other day germinates and comes to bloom, deadly despair will be your lot, and the angel's rose will kill you with foul poison! Beware, I say! Cut that scion while you have the opportunity, and then go to the end of the world to be safe from the angel's revenge! Remember, I have warned you!"She had gone to the door, but at the threshold she turned and said--"I have given you the biting kiss I promised. Much good it may do you!"
With that she went out, but her biting kiss had not hurt me. My heart was full of hope and joy. This girl's impotent jealousy had convinced me of the reality of my happiness. I was beloved, and I loved again; and could the venomous tongue of a jealous woman incense me against an angel like Flamma? True love is like pure gold, and the acid of calumny does not destroy it, but gives new proof of its value. I loved Flamma, and Flamma loved me. This was enough of bliss, enough to keep me all night in a waking dream, in a transport of exquisite joy.
I waited impatiently for the daybreak. At the first dawn I was up and dressed, and taking long strides on the garden path. How long would it be until the ladies were up, and willing to receive me? Even the servants were asleep yet. I strolled on aimlessly until I found myself unexpectedly at the dairy, which was quite a grand establishment, where twenty milch cows of the Aargau breed were milked daily, and a delicious cheese manufactured. Siegfried had told me some time before that, as soon as the railway was extended to the neighbouring town--a prospect which was expected to be realised shortly--he would have a branch laid on, at his own expense, to his dairy. Anyicska and Masinka, the two bridesmaids of last evening, met me at the gate, and were very officious in showing me in, and while Anyicska brought me a cup of excellent sweet milk, Masinka brought some spongy rye bread, fresh from the oven, upon a salver. Of course, this was offered as a bribe for my secrecy on the topic of last night, and I promised them not to tell Countess Diodora how they had been employed at the mock wedding. Poor things, why should I betray them for obeying orders? So I graciously accepted my hush-money, which was less subtle and more substantial than that offered by the fair bride herself; and they told me that the revelry had lasted almost until cock-crow. They all had capital fun. The Father had sung highly amusing songs. The girls had been called back after my departure, and then, with the other companions who were called in, the merry-making had reached a very high pitch. Of course, Cenni had not returned to them.
As I gave them my promise of silence they thanked me, and in return they told me that, with my smooth face, I was a much handsomer-looking fellow than last night, with that beard on my cheeks and chin; and I was conceited enough to pocket the compliment and believe in its truth.
Breakfast was served to me in my room. The ladies were up, but Countess Diodora was too weak to preside as usual at the breakfast-table. I requested the honour of paying her a professional visit, and was told that she would be glad to see the "doctor."
The room in which she received me was a magnificent _salon_, with a balcony in front. When I entered, the doors and windows were wide open; the rays of the sun darted through the filmy lace curtains; it was a "_tableau en plein air_" that met my eye. Countess Diodora, in a mauve-coloured silk dressing-gown, rested on a settee. Before her was a little Venetian mosaic table, and on it a tea-tray. Diodora seemed to be in excellent spirits, and looked beautiful; the suffering of last night had not told on her complexion the least bit. She wore a black lace scarf to conceal her hair, which was still in the state in which I had coiled and pinned it, except that a great ornamental tortoise-shell comb, of yellow hue, had been thrust into it. Opposite to the countess, on two embroidered stools, sat the two girls, engaged in finishing the Japanese sunbird; and in the balcony door stood Siegfried, smoking a cigarette, and blowing the smoke--in consideration of his aunt--out of the door. I thought it would have been more considerate still if he had not smoked at all. As I entered, the thought seemed to occur to him that the business of smoking would be best despatched on the balcony, so he escaped the difficulty of looking me in the face. Cenni also found a pretext for retiring; she took the tea-tray from the little table and left the room with it. Countess Diodora, Flamma, and myself remained in the room. I asked the countess how she felt, and whether she had enjoyed a peaceful sleep, and she answered, with rapture--
"I slept deliciously, as I never have before since my childhood; and I had such delightful dreams! I fancied I was a child again, and rambled in the garden chasing butterflies. You have worked miracles, and henceforth I shall believe in you as in an oracle. I revoke all I have said against your profession and science, and confide myself entirely into your hands. The first touch of your hand had a magic effect on me, and afterward I felt as if you had taken my vile body of clay from me, joint by joint, with the witchcraft of your fingers, and given me a new, better, and more perfect form. I felt as if you had lent me wings, and that now I could rise with you up above the clouds, captivated by your mesmeric influence upon me. Moon and stars seemed to remain far below me, and you were guiding me up to a strange world, full of unknown and eternal bliss. Oh, why cannot this transport of exquisite pleasure last for ever? Indeed, indeed, I do not know how to express the gratitude I owe you!"
Diodora said this to me in the presence of Flamma, and in the hearing of Siegfried, who, on the balcony, could hear every word through the open door; and, as she said it, her great Juno-like eyes rested on mine with an expression of enthusiastic admiration. Yes! such might have been the look which the goddess bestowed on poor, silly Ixion as she lured him on and then--left a cloud in his arms.
But do you know why that look failed to infect me as it had Ixion? Because I had been inoculated against the infection by another look last night--a look from the violet eyes of Flamma.I rose from my seat, and, throwing myself into an attitude befitting a ceremonious announcement, I said--
"Countess, to be of service to you is a happiness to me. Pray dispose of me. If I can convert your pains into pleasures, I shall consider the happy result as the highest reward. Your ladyship's gracious words at this moment inspire me with boldness; so much so that I feel encouraged to lay the hidden secret of my heart, the cherished wish of my life, in your hands. If you deign to accept my confession and grant my desire, you will bind me to your service for life, in attaching me to your family."
I shall never in life forget that proud, repellent lifting of her head as I spoke. Diana might have looked so at Actaeon, although, poor fellow, he had never come so near to the virgin charms of that Olympian lady as I to those of the queenly virgin before me on the preceding night. Her forehead seemed to gain in height, her eyes retreated behind the lashes, her lips were pressed together, and her nostrils dilated. In looking at me her chin doubled, and she seemed the personification of haughty disdain.
"My dear doctor," she said, with proud emphasis on the "doctor," "it seems you have misinterpreted my words. I have never thought of encouraging you in desires such as you this moment expressed."
I bent my head deeper still. "Dear countess, allow me to say that the misconstruction is on your side. I did not intend the bold request which you seem to impute to me; I simply beg leave to ask for the hand of your niece."
Her whole disposition seemed to change on hearing this, and she broke into a long, ringing, scornful laugh--the laugh of offended vanity, of angered pride; such a laugh as women use to mask their disappointment and jealousy, and the rising of their temper.
"Ha! ha! ha! Ah! ha! ha! The little Cenni! Ha! ha! So it is true, and I have guessed right? Ha! ha! ha! And the little fool has run out; she guessed the object of your visit. Ha! ha! ha! It's wonderful! My niece, the little Cenni--Countess Cenni! Oh, what a perfect match! Ha! ha! ha!"
I did not disturb the explosion of her mirth. As a physician I knew that it impaired the health of a nervous woman if she was interrupted in her vagaries. At the sound of her laughter Siegfried re-entered and asked, "What is it now?"Diodora explained, laughing hysterically, that their dear, common friend, Dr. Dumany, had just now asked for the hand of little Cenni. "Very well," said Siegfried, "serves him right. Let him have her, by all means!"
"I beg both your pardons," I said, "but it seems to me as if the misunderstanding between us is becoming chronic. I very much admire, but have no intention of marrying--Miss Klara.""Ah!" Like Semiramis she stood before me. "Who has told you that there was such a person--a Miss Klara--existing in this house?" Retreat was impossible. I looked at Flamma, and she answered with an encouraging nod; so I replied to the countess's imperious inquiries-- "Lady Flamma." "Yes, it was I," said Flamma, rising from her seat, and stepping to my side. "You shall pay dear to me for this!" cried Siegfried, with a threatening look; but I took her hand, and said--
"Pray compose yourself. This lady stands under my protection. I have done myself the honour to ask for her hand, and I wait for your decision."
"Show the Devil your finger, and he will take your hand; treat a peasant with kindness, and he will think himself your equal," said he, with a sneer.
"Siegfried!" said Diodora, "I beg you not to forget that this is my room, and that my guests are not to be insulted in my presence. This affair does not concern you in the least.""But if he is impertinent?" growled he.
"Perhaps the count might be more careful in his choice of language," said I, proudly, "if he would consider that a Dumany fought as a knight and a soldier under the national tricolour at Mount Thabor, while the first Vernoeczy was still serving as a humble shepherd on the Verhovina."
I was sorry for this as soon as I said it, for I had offended Flamma also; but the bitter pill had the desired effect, inasmuch as the whole aristocratic family regained their usual lymphatic composure."Flamma," said Diodora, coldly, "have you given this gentleman the right to claim your hand?" "Yes."
"Then--I do not object," and she motioned with her hand. I understood the gesture, and extended my hand to Flamma. She accepted it, and I bowed and kissed her hand. That was our betrothal. Siegfried took out a cigarette, lighted it, and blow the smoke at the chandelier.
"I had other intentions concerning Flamma's future," said Diodora again, "but, since her choice has fallen on you, I am satisfied--at least, I do not object. Only I beg of you not to delay your nuptials. Have them celebrated as soon as possible, for I intend to go to Heligoland--to try the baths."To Heligoland!--that was the place I should have gone to, if I had listened to good sense--and to Cenni.
"Certainly," I said; "I am only too happy in the prospect. If you will give me leave I shall hasten to Szepes-Varalja, to the bishop, for a dispensation, and, as soon as I am in possession of that document, I shall return, and we can have the ceremony performed the day after my return.""Then I should also wish," said Diodora again, "that the wedding might be altogether a simple family affair, with no strangers as witnesses." "Your ladyship expresses my own wishes." "If so, we might have the ceremony performed here, in our chapel." I remembered Father Paphuntius. "No, I'll have nothing to do with that chapel."
Siegfried smiled as he guessed the reason of my embarrassed silence, and then Flamma smiled, and Diodora also. At last, as a smile has a soothing effect on everybody, we all laughed. "No," said Diodora, "I was not speaking of the park hermitage. We have a chapel here in the chateau, and if we do not invite too many we shall have room enough.""I shall invite no one but a single witness as my best man." "But do not ask me to fill that position," said Siegfried; "for I am invited to go buffalo-hunting in Volhynia, and shall start to-morrow."
"There is something else," said Diodora. "After the wedding ceremony I shall hand you over Flamma's dowry, which she has inherited from her grandfather. It consists of a million of florins in good bonds."I bowed in silence, looking at Flamma.
"No; this is a matter which concerns you as well as her, and you must know that her grandfather laid down the condition that if she, guided by whatever motive, should release herself from the bonds of the Catholic religion, she should lose everything, and surrender the inheritance to collateral relatives.""I cannot think that such an event could take place at any time." "Time will show."
There was a long pause, and I thought best to take my leave. I turned first to Flamma, who laid both her hands in mine, and, looking up to me, asked me softly to return soon. Then Diodora languidly extended her hand to me, and I bowed over it with cool, studied politeness, and as I looked up I saw that Siegfried thought fit to shake my hand in honour of the new relation between us. He even went so far as to embrace me. "God bless you, my dear--cousin," he said, laughingly; but, thank God, he did not think it necessary to kiss me!
A week later Flamma and I were married. Everything went on in the regular way. No objection, no obstacle was raised. The ceremony was held in Vernoecze in the afternoon, and the same evening I was free to take my bride home to Dumanyfalva. From one of the great portals I drove with Flamma; from the other, Diodora and Cenni started on a trip to Heligoland. Siegfried had gone to Volhynia six days before.
If you think that with this marriage my story is at an end, you are mistaken; it has hardly begun. It is a strange story, and not pleasant to dwell on; but you shall judge for yourself.X. AFTER THE WEDDING.
So overwhelming was my happiness that I sometimes fancied that it was all a dream, and that I should wake to find myself in my former condition. In one short week I had had my old mansion refurnished in a style worthy of the high-born and gently-reared bride who was to inhabit it; and I thought what joy it would give me if she should walk through the halls and chambers of her new home, and find everything arranged to suit her own delicate and refined taste, and answering all her requirements as to beauty and comfort.
And then I had dreamt of the first supper we should eat at home at our own table; each dish an inviting delicacy, deliciously prepared; and yet we should hardly taste of it, our palates thirsting for different feasts.
And now this dream had become a reality, and I looked at my beloved, and tried to catch a glance of her beautiful, downcast eyes. I had as yet never enjoyed the privilege of a kiss from her lips, and I was longing for one; but when I tried to draw her close to me, she whispered, "Don't, we shall be observed by the servants!"At last the meal was over, and we rose from the table. "Pray lead me to your work-room. I have yet to hand you over my dowry."
I laughed. "Time enough for that a week or more hence. No? Well, any day you please; but not now." Still she persisted.
"It has to be done this evening. I can't keep it any longer. You did not accept of it from Diodora, so you must take it from me. It is no longer my own--it is yours."
"Dearest, there is no such distinction existing! Since this blessed morning neither of us can claim possession of anything that is not common to both alike. What is mine is all yours, and what is yours I claim all for myself! For the marriage tie has made us one for ever!""But pray come," she said again; "I have the chest with the securities here with me, and I should like to have it all over."
I sighed and obeyed. At the door of my study she left me for a moment, returning instantly with a rosewood chest, richly ornamented with silver. On one of her bracelets a tiny filigree key was dangling; with this key she opened the chest, and then, stepping back, she said--"Convince yourself. The contents must amount to exactly one million of florins." "I am quite convinced," I said, "and accept it as correct."
"That you shall not. Let us take out everything, and reckon up the amount." With that she took the papers out herself, and I had to sit down, take slate and pencil, while she dictated to me the value of each bond, its title, and, looking into every one, she satisfied herself that the coupons were attached to it.
In the abstract it may seem rather a pleasant occupation for a married couple to reckon up a million of money as their joint property; but, in this concrete instance, to spend the wedding-night in a study, making pecuniary computation, is the pinnacle of pedantry.At last it was done; and, as I computed it, I made the total to be one million and twenty-five thousand florins. "How is that possible?" she asked. I had to explain to her the fluctations of the market price in relation to the nominal value, which was the basis of our computation.
"Then let us look for the market-price of the bonds as it is at present. I know it is to be found in every newspaper," and with that she took one up from the table, looked for the exchange report, and dictated again, "Hungarian real estate bonds, 85; Lower-Austrian, 88; Transylvanian, 82, etc."This time we have thirty thousand florins less than the million. "How is that possible?" she asked again. "Dearest," said I, "let that be! What does it matter if--"
"But it does matter. My grandfather left me exactly one million; neither more nor less. So I must find out this balance of thirty thousand, also.""Maybe, at the time when he bequeathed this money to you the price of these securities was higher than at present," I suggested. "That is possible. But then there ought to be some list, or something else relating to it. Let me look it over again."
Great heavens! she took everything out again, and searched for a last year's exchange list. A crumbled yellow newspaper clipping was found, and then the whole process had to be repeated again; and now thank God, the million came out even! I drew a great sigh of relief; but I had triumphed too soon. She asked for pen and ink, and, as I got up from the seat before the writing-desk, she sat down and wrote on each of the bonds, deeds, obligations, mortgages, etc., her own name--"Flamma Maria Dumany of Dumanyfalva, _nee_ Countess Vernoeczy of Vranicsa," in a clear, almost masculine hand."What is the use of this, dearest?" I asked.
"You know," she replied, "all these papers, as yet, bear the name of my grandfather, and we could not realise upon them as they are. I must first write my own name upon each.""But we do not want to realise on them." "That you don't know--at present." "But there would be time for this on some future day." "No. Pray compose yourself. I have to finish this now."
And she did finish it. On two hundred different securities she wrote, in bold, large letters, her full name, and I stood there and looked on in helpless despair.
At last there was an end of it. She put the papers in the chest again, handed me the key, and begged me to lock everything up in the safe. I obeyed, in the ardent hope that at last I had done with papers and accounts.
"There is something else I have to hand over to you," said Flamma, as I stepped nearer; and, drawing from the pocket of her dress an envelope, she handed me an official-looking document, fastened with tri-coloured tape, with a large official seal upon it. It was a power of attorney from Flamma Maria, Countess Vernoeczy of Vranicsa, to her husband Dr. Cornelius Dumany of Dumanyfalva, giving him full authority over her dowry, consisting of real estate, bonds, etc., to the amount of one million of florins, and authorising him to sell or retain or use the aforesaid securities according to his own need or pleasure, and without previous consultation with any person, his wife included."Dearest," I said, "this is very generous of you; but there is no need of any such document to give me proof of your confidence." "I did not intend it as such a proof." "Then what was your intention?"
"To give you no cause to accuse me of meanness. You shall not say that I left you on your wedding-day without a shilling in your pocket, as your friend was left on the Isle of Wight."I gazed at her, at the pale face that was even paler than usual, and cold and inanimate as a block of ice. "Flamma!" I cried, "what does it mean? How am I to take this?" "As a confession. That other man has made me--his--wife." "Flamma!"
She stood there, pale, cold, statue-like, and her voice sounded like that of an automaton. I felt like one stupefied, like one who had meant to enter the gates of paradise and found himself in a sea of fire and brimstone."Who is the man?" I stammered. "Siegfried." "And why did he not marry you, if--" "Because he is married already. His wife lives in Egypt, and he cannot get a legal divorce from her." "And why have you married me? For we are married. The ceremony of this afternoon was real, not a comedy like that other?"
"No; we are married. When that--misfortune--happened to me Siegfried promised to marry me to some distinguished gentleman who might give me a good name and an acceptable position, so that the marriage should need no explanation.""When was that?" "Three months ago." "At the time I arrived from Vienna?" "Yes." "Was that the reason for his instantaneous proffer of friendship?" "Yes." "And for that reason I was nominated for Parliament?"
"Yes, but that also was the cause of your first failure. It was Siegfried who bribed the witnesses against you. He wanted to crush your pride, draw you closer to him, bring you into close connection with and dependence upon our homes and us.""So it was all a conspiracy?" "Yes." "And Cenni's mock-marriage and your betrayal of the scheme?" "Were meant to win your confidence." "So Cenni co-operated with you?"
"She had to. At first she opposed it, and meant to win you for herself. She is a poor girl, and dependent on Diodora's charity; and she had to give way.""And Diodora?"
"It was she who designed the whole plot. Her sickness that night was simulated in order to bring you near me, and to encourage you to the proposal."
This whole discourse, so closely resembling a cross-examination, had altogether the appearance of such an interrogatory as a magnetiser would address to his subject; and the answers I received were given with the plain, involuntary precision characteristic of hypnotised persons. She stood there before me, with her hands clasped in each other; that seraph-face of hers, that seemed the type of innocence and purity, without a tinge of colour, although her dreadful confession was enough to paint the cheeks of the most degraded woman with the colour of shame. She seemed to have no bashfulness, no sense of shame, and to be wholly incapable of realising her offence. And I had not believed in a Devil! Here he was before me, in the shape of this fair woman, who had tempted me with her angel's mien to sell my soul for her, and now she was dragging me down with her to eternal damnation! And the other one had warned me! She had told me with that "biting kiss" of hers that this seeming angel was no angel, but a Devil to kill me body and soul. She had told me that this fair rose was full of foul poison, and her warning had filled me with vain conceit and enhanced my love for my executioner. I saw it now. Cenni had meant to make that elopement real; and if I had taken her she would have given me her love, as this one had given me her accursed million. Money to pay for my honest name, money for my lost life and happiness, money to bribe me to the endurance of these hellish tortures!
Impossible! I cannot believe that human nature can be so vile, so miserably cunning and treacherous. This is some evil dream, some test, perhaps, of the sincerity of my love and trust in her.
"Flamma!" I said--"dearest! do not continue this ugly jest. I cannot hear foul words come out of your pure mouth;" and I tried to take her hand. But she drew back."I have told you the truth," she said, with a repellent gesture.
The truth! The truth! This shameful, horrid confession was the truth? Like an idiot or a lunatic I stared, gazing before me, with scarcely a thought in my stunned, aching head. A Calabrian dagger lay before me on the table. I had taken it from the museum, and used it for
paper-cutting. Upon the steel blade was graven, in golden letters, "_Buona notte_;" and "_Buona notte! buona notte_," I kept incoherently murmuring.
I shook my head, and pointed to the door, and, like a wooden puppet, she turned and disappeared through it. At the moment when her back was turned something like a flame flashed through my brain and body. For an instant I felt a mad impulse to rush after her, and with one bound bury this two-edged knife in her heart. Yes, in her heart; but from behind, just as they had stabbed me unawares, like assassins. My better self kept me back. My Uncle Diogenes rose before me. "Never quarrel with, never hurt a woman!" and my professional instinct was awakened. I should then have destroyed two lives; with the guilty I should have slain the innocent--a life which was in God's keeping as yet. Now the door closed behind her, and I had let the only opportunity for a deadly revenge upon the woman who had tricked me pass by neglected. Had I killed her at that moment I should have washed off the stain she had brought on my name in her own blood. "Look," I might have said, "she was led astray by another man, and I have killed her; it was my right and my duty!" This I could no longer do. She had escaped, and would live on safe and unharmed, and I should be dead and buried alive. I remembered now how confused they looked, Cenni and she, when I related to them the story of my friend, and how I had prided myself on my own prudence and good sense! And the trap was already laid for me, and I, who had thought myself safe from every such danger, here was I, on my wedding night, left alone, insulted, degraded as he was. No, not quite. He had had no money, and I had received a million. I had been paid for my disgrace, bribed for my infamy with money!
Great Jehovah, Whose vengeance is mighty, lend me Thine ear! No! Thou art too just and upright, I'll have nothing from Thee! Turn from me! I will none of Thy advice, none of Thy heavenly patience and magnanimous mercy! That marble-hearted woman had said to me, "If you deny God, He will forgive you, for He is infinitely good and merciful; but if you deny the Devil, he will be revenged on you!" and I had seen the devilish light in their eyes. I had shuddered and shunned them, and yet I had plunged headlong into the abyss which they had opened at my feet.
But now they had conjured up the Devil before me, I felt that in my own breast they had awakened a demon quite as cunning and wicked as their hoofed and horned idol; and we would see whose teachings would prove more destructive! Only, cool blood! Let me not betray myself; let me consider how to act, and then keep my own counsel. Shall I go to Volhynia after that man? Hold him to account, invite him to face the muzzle of my pistol or the edge of my sword? He is a ruffian and a notorious duellist. I am a bad shot and an indifferent fencer. He is perfect in both; it is his profession. Naturally, he would kill me, and where would be my revenge? Should I kill myself? Die the death of a suicide, and be spoken of as a lunatic who had crazy fancies because his fortune had turned his head? And what would be the result? Flamma would perhaps faint away for a few seconds, have bad dreams for a week, wear mourning for six months, and--would be none the worse for being a widow, whereas I should be laughed at as a silly fool. Shall I sue for a legal divorce? "_Si fuerit dolus_?" Had I not had enough of notoriety? Enough of laughter, calumny, and ridicule? Must I drag my honest and hitherto respected name through the mire, and become the laughing-stock of every fop throughout the country? No, anything but that! Help me, thou worser self, thou Devil in my own breast, help me to find some revenge worthy of a Devil's teaching! Give me death, for it is death I crave; but such a death as will give me peace and rest and honour in my grave, and to those others remaining here on earth, shame, sorrow, and remorse! I am a dead man from this accursed night forward, but I can, at least, choose the manner of my corporal death, and woe to her who has driven me to the choice!
When the morning dawned my scheme was complete, and it was a scheme that did honour to my special demon. I would die, but fame and glory should write my epitaph; and dead, I should be remembered by this woman with lifelong sorrow. She shall never be happy; and in remembering me, her soul shall be filled with bitter repentance for the misfortune she brought on me. She shall yearn for me, shed bitter tears for me, and fret away her life in despair. This should be my revenge.
Next morning I said to my wife--"We cannot stay here. Our next year must be spent in travelling in foreign parts, and we shall start for Paris in three days. You had better make arrangements accordingly.""My arrangements are made, for I have not unpacked my things yet. So everything is at your command," was her answer.
I left her, and drove over to the county town to my solicitor, and told him to borrow as much money on my property as he could possibly get from the financial institutions. As a pretext I told him that I had the intention of buying lands. He advised me to wait, for he had learned for certain that in a year's time Siegfried would have to sell out. His estates were mortgaged over and over, and matters were going very ill with him. If, then, I should add to the million my wife had brought me, the money I had and the money I could at any moment raise on my property, I should be able to purchase the Vernoeczy estates.
This was a revelation that for a moment made me hold my breath. It would be something to tear that water-nymph on the Vernoeczy crest from over the portals of the chateau into the mire, and erect the Dumany crest on the front of the proud old castle. But that feeling passed, and with it the temptation. It would be no revenge on her to let her live as mistress on the estates of her forefathers, and, first of all, I craved revenge on her. More than that scoundrel who had betrayed her and then flung her to me, I hated her, Lilith, the tempting devil in the guise of a seraph! But I said to the lawyer, "Very well"--that I would consider about it, and not buy anything at present; but that he should raise the money, all the same, and send it for me to Paris, as well as the funds I had inherited. Perhaps I might have use for the money there--at any rate, he must send it. Then I took the rosewood chest with my wife's dowry, and sent it by mail, and under the usual guarantee, to a well-known banking firm in Brussels as a deposit.
Three days after, we were on our journey to Paris. I had taken the Swiss route, for in those days it was the safest way to escape the obstacles and annoyances which on the road through Germany were thrown in the way of travellers to France. War was, so to speak, floating in the air, and was each moment expected to break upon the two leading nations of the Continent. At such a time the railroad termini are naturally the centres of exciting scenes and noisy demonstrations; but the Swiss republic was neutral, and the southern part of France was quiet. So we arrived in Paris unmolested; and the great crowds in the boulevards, and the multitude of detectives among the people, gave us the first notion that something extraordinary was occurring.
At first the demonstrations were all in favour of peace. Labourers in blue blouses were marching up in compact masses on the Place de la Concorde, carrying white flags and signs with the inscriptions "_A bas la guerre_" and "_Vive la paix_!" Public speakers delivered long orations on the horrors of war, and protested against the ambitious, fame-hunting tyrants who drove their innocent, peace-loving subjects into bloody combats to feed their own greed for glory and power. But their speeches were all blown to the winds. Bellona is a fair woman, and the more she is slandered to her admirers the more ardent and impassioned is their love for her. In vain did the orators protest that France was all for peace, and would not be dragged into the perils of war. The soil was thirsting for blood, and the day after our arrival in Paris the declaration of war which Napoleon had issued against Prussia was publicly announced.
I had been informed of these events long before they happened, and on them my whole scheme was built. When the public enthusiasm was highest, and the shouts "_A Berlin_!" loudest, when throngs of people crowded through the streets, singing the "_Marseillaise_" and "_Le Depart_," I mingled with them, bent on business.
During our journey I had shown my wife all those polite little attentions which are due to a bride on her wedding tour from her husband. Now I was looking for a residence for her. I found a handsome, palatial-looking house, exquisitely furnished, which had been hastily abandoned by a German diplomat at the first rumour of the war, and was now in the market, with its carriages and horses, servants, and everything. The bargain was made, and, as I took my wife to her temporary home, she seemed to be struck with the delicate consideration which I showed her. I saw by her face that she wished to protest against this excess of luxury, which was not in keeping with our means. But perhaps something in the expression of my face warned her to be silent; perhaps it occurred to her that as she had given me full power to do what I pleased with her dowry, I had acquired the right to squander it--if it suited my whims--on herself.
When she was comfortably established I said to her--"I have offered my services as an army physician to the French Government, and they have been accepted. I have received my commission from the Duke of Palikao, and shall start this evening for my destination."
"If it is your wish, I cannot oppose it," was her answer. What a meek, obedient wife she was! Whatever I said or did, it was, "Pray please yourself. Whatever you think best will satisfy me." She never showed the slightest increase of temper, never offered the least resistance to my arrangements. She was the same quiet, pale, silent, sylph-like being as she had been when I first knew her, and I wondered that she had not changed. We had been married only two weeks, but to me it seemed as if seven hard winters and seven fierce tropical summers had passed since that time, and had taken the marrow from my bones and every spark of hope and brightness from my soul.
"I have left you forty thousand francs in the safe; they will last you until the time of my return. You need not deny yourself anything you wish," I said."Thank you. I shall manage the money carefully, and shall not spend more than is strictly necessary. I am of a saving disposition."
These were our parting words, and we exchanged no others. I went to H----'s banking-house to draw the money my solicitor had sent me, and when they inquired whether I wanted checks or bills of exchange, I asked for the latter, because, as I said, in time of war the Government might bring in a _moratorium_. "What," they laughed, "the Napoleonic Government bring in _moratorium_? _Tete carree_!" The latter was meant as a compliment for me.[Footnote 4: A governmental act of mercy in regard to the payment of debts.]
By the next express train I went to Brussels, and then straight to the banker to whom I had sent Flamma's million. I opened the chest in his presence, and convinced him that it actually contained good security--bonds and deeds for the sum of one million and twenty-five thousand florins par--and asked him for an advance. The banker put seventy-five per cent of the nominal value at my disposal, and I handed him the power of attorney from my wife, and a written authorisation permitting him to sell the securities without notice in the event of my failure to repay the loan at a certain date.
This money, with a part of the funds which my solicitor had sent me, amounted to two millions of francs. With this sum I went to a well-known and trustworthy stockbroker, and instructed him to speculate with the whole amount in French Government bonds for a fall."Do you intend to throw this money in the gutter?" said the man, eyeing me critically. "That is my own business, I presume," said I, calmly. "Have you ever speculated on the Exchange before? Are you versed in these manipulations?" "No! Never!" "Do you know the situation of the Money Market at present?" "No."
"Then grant me leave to inform you by giving you a few data. All French securities are rising in value. Paris is enthusiastic for the war. The money-chests of the financial ring are open to the Government. The French military force is fully equipped, ready to begin hostilities, and stationed at the Rhone, whereas the Prussians are caught unprepared. Bavaria will remain neutral, and the Danes are preparing to break into Schleswig-Holstein. The sequel of the war can be foretold with such certainty that a Paris financier offers, to any one who will accept it, a wager of two hundred thousand francs against one hundred thousand that on August 15 the French will march into Berlin.""Well, you may take up that wager, also, for me."
The agent shrugged his shoulders, and accepted my offer for a bear speculation. We agreed that from time to time we should communicate with each other in cipher. Telegrams were to be forwarded through H----'s Bank.
From Brussels I returned to Paris, and procured all the necessary surgical instruments at my own expense. Next I bought three waggons with strong Trakene horses for my own transport and that of the invalids, furnished myself with all utensils requisite for camp hospitals, and then, under the protecting ensign of the Geneva Cross, I joined the regiment of the French army in which I had enlisted as volunteer camp-surgeon. My scheme was clear now. I was a dead man. I was seeking Death in his own realm, where he reigned supreme, and it was impossible not to find him there, if one really sought him. So I should die, but not the death of a suicide, despised, misjudged, forgotten, but a death on the field of honour and glory, as a hero and a martyr of science and philanthropy. And that accursed money which was given me as a fee for my disgrace would be blown to naught, as my body would be by a merciful Krupp shell. When the news of my death reaches that woman in Paris, she will try hard to discover what I have done with her fortune--and mine! But let her search ever so thoroughly, she would find--nothing! I had left no trace of my operations, nothing from which she could regain one penny. Then she would be compelled to come down from her height, return to Hungary, and live a lonely, miserable, poverty-stricken existence on my Slav kingdom, which I had mortgaged and ruined. She would have to struggle against poverty and want, and, by daily care and close economy, would have to pay from her scanty crops the heavy debts I had incurred. All day she would pine and toil, all night she would sigh and grieve. And in her dreams she would call me back, and ask me where I had buried the treasures. Her priests would fail to console her, and she would become superstitious, and resort to clairvoyants and mediums for the solution of the torturing mystery. But no prayer or curse will reach me, no incantation of conjurers or spirit-rappers will call me back. The dead do not return, either for promised kisses or for promised bites. XII.SEEKING FOR DEATH.
To tell the truth, on my arrival at the camp I felt like an apprentice in the presence of his masters. French surgery in general occupies a foremost place. French camp-surgeons have acquired skill and experience in their great military expeditions; there their studies receive the finishing-touch, whereas the little skill and practice which I had came entirely from the clinic and the dissecting-table.
But, nevertheless, I was very cordially received by the old, experienced masters of the profession, to whom I stated that I had come, as a voluntary apprentice, to aid in the work of philanthropy as best I could. My immediate superior was old Duval, who had served as camp-surgeon at Sebastopol, and I succeeded in acquiring his good graces. He asked me if I had ever been on a battle-field before, and I answered, a little ashamed, that I had never had that opportunity. In spite of my descent from the chivalrous Hungarian nation, I know the sound of the cannon only from hearing the salutes fired on our King's birthday, or other occasions equally peaceful.
"It does not matter," said the old man, encouragingly. "You will get over your first irritation at the noise, and then you will feel as much at home and as safe as in your own study. There is not the least danger for us. We hoist the Geneva flag with its red cross, and every civilised foe respects that ensign. After the battle is over, and the enemy has fled, beaten, shattered, and in disorder, we carry our ambulances to the gory field, and take up the wounded, friend and foe alike. The severely injured we attend to at once, dressing their wounds on the spot, and then we place them all on our beds, and take them to our hospital-tents for treatment."
This had been the old man's practice in many wars. The French had invariably been victors and masters of the field; the enemy had retreated, and then the French had taken up the wounded and nursed them faithfully, whether friend or foe. That a time could come when the French would be driven from the field, and the enemy would take up the wounded, was deemed preposterous and out of the question.
We were attached to Marshal Douay's corps, but, unfortunately, I did not receive the privilege of participating in the first battle at
Saarbruecken, where old Dr. Duval's experience was confirmed; the Prussian advance was repulsed, and the victorious French gathered up the wounded.
The first wounded soldiers whom we treated were foes; one an Englishman, the other a German from Baden. Both were officers in the German army. Three daring officers from the German camp, on horseback and in full uniform, had galloped into the heart of the French camp in broad daylight; there they had cut down the sentinel, ordered food and drink, taken notes as to the camp, the position and order of the forces, the number of the batteries, etc., until at last the French awoke from their illusion, and recognised them as foes. They retreated firing, cutting their way through the French lines, killing two French officers, one of whom, as he expires, finds strength enough to return the fire, and one of the three, the Englishman, falls shot in the abdomen. A second, the Badener, is hewn down from his horse; but the third escapes unhurt, and cuts his way back to the German camp.
This incident I regarded as a bad omen. The French were so confident, so presumptuous, that they neglected the outpost service. Next day the Germans attacked Marshal Douay at Weissenburg with three times his force. This was the fault of the French, who ought to have attacked the Germans with an overwhelming force, instead of waiting to be attacked by them.
The French fought heroically against the crushing superiority of the Germans, vainly hoping that the report of the cannonade would attract assistance from a corps stationed in the neighbourhood of the battle-field; but in this heroic fight their lines were sadly decimated. At first they fought in the village, then they were forced out by the Germans, and had to defend themselves among the vineyards and the thickets. The soil was saturated with blood, and the dead and wounded were lying about in ditches, copses, and everywhere.
"Sir," said I to Dr. Duval, "to-day the enemy will be master of the field, and he will gather up the wounded, unless we prevent this by picking them up while the fight lasts. Now, while the balls are flying about, is our chance! Give me leave to go there with the ambulance.""With all my heart! Try it if you have a mind to."
"If I had a mind to?" Why, of course, I had come for that; it was the opportunity I had craved, the chance for the immortalising cannon-ball to send me up to heaven and glory! So, taking the twelve men who were given me as aids, I started off with the ambulance to the scene of the battle.
There is not the slightest braggadocio about this. Soldiers, even in the hottest ardour of battle, will carefully avoid firing at the life-saving corps, which is distinguished by the sign of the red cross. But it is impossible to prevent an exploding shell from sending its splinters among them, and on that eventful day I had occasion to watch the course of these splinters.
The firing did not cease for a moment. The roar of the artillery, the cracking of the rifles created a deafening noise; the hoarse, grating sounds from the French mitrailleuses, in particular, made a horrible accompaniment to the dying groans of the wounded. But the French mitrailleuses had found their match in the Krupp cannon. These fire no balls, but some fiendish contrivances, longitudinal, cylindrical projectiles, which explode as they alight, and scatter their deadly fragments far and near.
All the injured men whom we took from the field were wounded by these splinters. As we toiled, the hellish projectiles were flying over our heads; but my experienced aids worked with the coolness of the harvester when he hastens to save his crops from the threatening rain. They knew well that these messages of death were not sent to them, but to the French artillery, which was opposing the advance of the Germans. All this while I felt that indescribable intoxication which is sure to overtake every novice. I stood there in the terrible realm of death, in the presence of the awful Moloch, Hamoves, the angel with the scythe. I felt a chill, a shudder, and I bowed down before the omnipotent Lord of life and death, the Almighty Ruler of the universe.
This short-lived sensation of terror every novice has to overcome. Nor is anyone spared the humiliation of this experience. The eye can hardly perceive anything of the effect of the shots, for the cannon-smoke envelopes the surrounding objects in a thick cloud of fog. The Prussian infantry were crouching down, and, while creeping and cringing thus, they were pressing forward. Nothing but the smoke of their rifles betrayed the level of their faces, and the French infantry were hidden in ditches, behind bushes and trees, and firing from these
vantage-grounds. Only the Zouaves and the Turcos might now and then be recognised by their red caps.
While the artillery was pealing, the bugle was sounding the commands. All at once a strange drumbeat was heard from beside us, and the veteran sergeant at my elbow said--"Sir, we must get out of this with our beds at once. Cavalry is advancing." "Cavalry of the enemy?" I asked.
"Brother and enemy is all one in such a case. If we are in their way they will crush us under their horses' hoofs, without observing what body we belong to."
So we hastily picked up our beds with the wounded, and retreated with all speed behind the line of battle. We had hardly reached security when, from both sides, the cavalry advanced, both friends and enemies. The earth shook with the stamping of the hoofs, "_Quadrupedante putrem crepitu quatit ungula campum_."
Avoiding our right wing, a regiment of Prussian hussars was galloping towards us; a regiment of French chasseurs on horseback, under command of the commander-in-chief, Marshal Douay, in person, was dashing from the hills to meet them. The strong west wind was blowing clouds of dust in the faces of the French, the backs of the Germans. All at once the Prussian regiment divided itself, wheeling to right and left; behind them a whole battery of artillery appeared, and a powerful discharge saluted the chasseurs.
The shells made a fearful gap in the French horsemen, but still they dashed bravely on, shouting wildly, and giving the enemy's artillery no time for a second shot. The Prussians wheeled swiftly, and hussars, battery and all, fled before the lines of the French chasseurs. We thought this wild retreat meant victory for the French, but we discovered that it was only a ruse.
When the clouds of dust had dispersed, we saw that on the battle-field horses, struggling in deadly convulsions, and men in the throes of death, were strewn thickly around. We hastened thither to save whom we could, but, oh! what an awful sight it was! Man and beast piled in confusion and crushing each other. The neighing of the wounded horse mingled with the last prayer, or the death-groan, of its rider. Maddened horses, with their dead or wounded riders hanging in the saddle, were galloping on, while the less-injured soldiers, who had been thrown from their slain horses, or were struggling to extricate themselves from beneath them, were cursing and swearing, and invoking God and Devil for vengeance on the Prussians.
Among those who were fatally injured was Marshal Douay himself. As the old sergeant drew him out from under his horse, the blood rushed from an awful gash on his neck. "_O, mon general_!" sobbed the old soldier, trying to close the gash with his pocket-handkerchief."Don't cry!" said the dying chief, hoarsely. "Go shout to them '_En avant_!' in my place."
It was a fatal command, this "_En avant_!" The French chasseurs had pursued the German hussars to a hop plantation, which proved to be full of concealed Prussian sharp-shooters. At this point the hussars attacked the chasseurs in the rear, while the sharp-shooters received them with a volley from their quick-firing rifles, and a general onslaught was begun upon the brave corps. The chasseurs endeavoured to break into the hop field, but such a plantation is a terrible
fortification, with its walls of vines fastened to other walls of stout poles, and behind each a hidden foe with a quick-slaying weapon. The whole fine corps of cavalry was destroyed then and there.
The fall of the commander-in-chief, Marshal Douay, had decided the fate of the battle. When finally, all too late, MacMahon arrived with his troops, Douay's unfortunate command was shattered, and the battle of Weissenburg lost.XIII. MY DISCHARGE.
In spite of this terrible disaster, the retreat of the French troops was accomplished in good order, and but few prisoners fell into the hands of the Prussians; even those few were mostly Zouaves and Turcos, not real French soldiers.
That we had really been beaten was not believed by anybody. Everybody was inspired by the conviction that the Weissenburg disaster was nothing but an incident. A comparatively small defensive force had been attacked by an overwhelmingly large force of Prussians, and was compelled to retreat for the moment; but the fight had been only a trifling prologue to the great battle to come, or else was part of a deep-laid plan which would secure to us the final victory. So it had been at Solferino, when Benedek had been allowed to attack and disperse the French-Italian troops on their left wing, while at Solferino itself the Austrian army was destroyed. So it would be here. It was supposed that this slight victory was allowed to the Prussians, so as to divert their attention from the movements of MacMahon and Bazaine, who were certain to crush them all at their first encounter.
Next day the Emperor himself and his young heir-apparent appeared among us, presenting to each of those who had distinguished themselves at the battle of the preceding day some badge of honour. At the recommendation of old Dr. Duval, the Chevalier Cross of the Legion of Honour was pinned to my breast, and the reporter of a Paris newspaper wrote a flourishing item about the heroic and self-sacrificing Hungarian surgeon. When I read it, I thought of that woman in Paris, and what she would think of these reports. Perhaps she would say to herself, "So he is not everywhere the same coward as he was here! He has some pluck, some physical courage at least."
But in vain did we wait for our revenge upon the Prussians. After Weissenburg came Spicheren, then Woerth. Everywhere the German force was stronger than the French, and it turned out that their artillery was better than ours. MacMahon was cut off from Bazaine, and in the gigantic battles at Bezonville and Gravelotte, Bazaine, with his force of one hundred and fifty thousand men, was driven back into Metz. Strasburg was besieged, and MacMahon cut off from the road to Paris.
In every battle that was fought the Prussians remained masters of the field, and it was always they who took charge of the wounded. Of course, each corps was in ignorance as to the fate of the others, and if one was beaten or repulsed, it was fully convinced that the other had meanwhile been victorious elsewhere. The Paris newspapers and the Bourse supported and increased that belief. One evening, after a forced march that very much resembled a regular flight, we arrived at a certain town. I entered a cafe, and being very curious to learn something of the present state of the Money Market, I looked for a newspaper, and here it was:--"Paris. Extraordinary Upward Movement! Rate of interest raised to 68-15, and rising rapidly. News of great victories!"
"Well," I thought, "my two millions are nicely exploded by this time." Underneath I read in large letters, "The Prussians severely beaten by MacMahon! The German Crown Prince captured and made prisoner by MacMahon!"
That very day we had been compelled to leave our entire baggage in the enemy's hands and run for our lives, so to speak, and here they are talking of the German Prince having been captured. That is how they create upward movements on 'Change. But could this last? Surely such lies would soon be exposed! How long was it possible to keep on in this way?How long? For ever.
After the massacre at Mars-la-Tour, MacMahon's forces were practically scattered to the winds, running aimlessly about, and, when coming into contact with the enemy, hardly thinking any longer of resistance. If a Prussian Uhlan was seen far off on the road every man took to his heels. The infantry threw down their rifles, the cuirassiers their helmets and breastplates; the gunners cut the traces of the horses, jumped upon their backs, and dashed on, without thinking of the fate of the rest. On horseback, with a loaded revolver in hand, I had to keep guard at the side of the ambulance carts, to keep the marauders away from the wounded. Once I had a narrow escape from being captured by the Bavarians. It was at a skirmish of artillery. A couple of French and a couple of German pieces were in position. The French were quickly disabled by the Germans, and even the head gunner was severely wounded. I took him on my shoulders, and got him out of the line of fire. The Bavarians sent another shrapnell shell after us, and, as the projectile burst over our heads, I felt a blow on the leather rim of my kepi. "A shrapnel splinter!" I thought, scornfully: "could it not have hit me a little more to the right, and have done with me?"
After I had hastily placed the wounded officer on the waggon, I jumped on horseback, and hastened after the flying troops. Upon a wooden bridge that led over a shallow rivulet the soldiers were crowded. I did not stop to consider, but dashed on with my waggons to the water. A detachment of Bavarian hussars, guessing at my intention, was there to prevent its execution. A young lieutenant of hussars was leading the detachment, and, placing the muzzle of his revolver to my forehead, he shouted: "_Rendez-vous: demande pardon_!"
"At last!" I thought, "here is my opportunity for the glorious end. This fellow is the man I want," and, turning my face full toward him, I looked coolly into the barrel of his weapon. "Shoot, comrade!" I said. "You'll get neither me, nor my charges, as long as I am alive."He gazed at me, as if scrutinising my features. "You are not French?" he asked. "I am a Hungarian," I answered.
"Kornel, and no doubt about it!" he exclaimed, taking hold of my hand and shaking it. "Don't you know me? I am Plessen." Sure enough, he was my favourite chum from the University; but we had not seen each other for years, and the last three months of camp-life had done more to change a man's outward appearance than whole years at home. "Go on, comrade," he said, with a farewell shake of the hand, "and may our next meeting be a pleasanter one! Good-bye!" With that he let me take my charges safely across the water and over the fields, avoiding the open roads, until finally, as night fell, I reached with my patients the camp at Chalons, and found my way to the camp hospital.
What a cursed, vile task old Duval had had all day! Nothing but sore heels and slight shrapnel scars in the rear!--and he embraced me and kissed me all over for bringing him now three cart-loads of real wounded men, with wounds got from sword-cuts, rifle-bullets, and gun-shots. "What an invaluable, brave fellow you are!" he said to me, handling each of my charges with the tenderness of a loving father; "but now you shall share the privilege of dressing their wounds, and assist me in the necessary operations." This was a privilege indeed, and for a while we were very busy. When we had finished, he put his hand into his pocket and said, "Now, my boy, I will also present you with something."
I thought he meant to give me one of his utterly wretched cigars; but no--it was a paper, and, on handing it over to me, Duval said, "It is your discharge, my boy; you are free.""My discharge?" I asked, offended, "and why, pray? Have I not done more than my duty? And if so, how have I merited this disgrace?"
"I am afraid that it was just your extraordinary ardour that brought it on you; that's it, you have done more than your duty; and as you are a foreigner, it is natural to ask, Why have you done it? Why have you exposed your own life, contrary to custom, picking up the wounded where the fight was the hottest and the balls flying thickest? True, you have by this course saved the lives of many that would have bled to death, or been otherwise lost; but it is a marvellous thing that you could do all that and escape unhurt. The fact is, you have always come back with a sound skin. Can you explain this miracle? Can you tell me, why you, a foreigner, took the risk of such imminent danger for--Hecuba--that is, for wounded French soldiers?"
The old man was right. I could not explain it, for I could not tell him that I had regarded their great national calamity as a means of carrying out my petty suicidal designs and giving them a decent cloak. I never thought of it before; but now I had to acknowledge that my conduct looked suspicious to strangers. What will be their suspicions, I thought, when they learn that I have talked German with a Prussian officer, and shaken hands with him? Would this not give new matter for their suspicions, and was it not natural in the vanquished to believe in treachery?
And then I thought what a self-conceited fool I had been to think I could command God Mars to afford me a disguise for self-murder. "Why," he said, "do you suppose these great national conflagrations are kindled to cook your meals on? What do I care for your family quarrels? If you are tired of life, take a rope and hang yourself on that willow, and there is an end of you and your paltry complaints."As I stood there musing, old Duval turned my face around and exclaimed--"Look! look! Your forehead is wounded."
"A mere scratch with a shrapnel splinter," I said, bitterly, "not worth plastering." I took from him the letter with my discharge, presented him with my camp outfit, instruments, horses, etc., and kept nothing but one of the waggons and a pair of horses for my journey homeward--that is, to Paris. This was now the speediest way of travelling, for the railways were all occupied with the transport of troops.
Before I left Chalons, I entered a cafe and drank a cupful of some black beverage that was called coffee, although I think it tasted of soot, and read one of the Paris newspapers--the last that had arrived the same day.
A dazzling glare of light was visible through the windows, arising from the valley. It was the burning camp. The Emperor had given orders to burn all tents, since there was not time enough to strike them and carry them off. So everything was left to be consumed by the flames, while the men fled for their lives.
The newspapers in the coffee-house were going from hand to hand, and were eagerly devoured. At last I obtained one. I found the following report in large letters--
"The Prussian army scattered! Two hundred Krupp guns remaining as captures in the hands of the French! Commander Moltke a prisoner! Bismarck fatally wounded! Price of rentes, 1 franc 25."
If this were true, one part of my scheme had succeeded. The two millions were annihilated. But what of the other part? I was still alive, and death would not come to me without disgrace and ridicule. What a position to be in!
It was damp, disagreeable, dirty weather when I arrived in Paris. It had rained for the last few days, for usually after great battles stormy weather sets in. The poets will have it that heaven washes away with tears the blood spilt by man. Scientists say that the gas freed by the combustion of so much gunpowder, together with the detonations at the explosions, brings on the rain. The fact is that after all great battles rain is sure to follow.
As I alighted from the one-horsed vehicle that had brought me to the door of my residence, my own porter asked me whom I was looking for at this house? I answered "Myself," but found it difficult to convince him that I was his master. At last he let me in, and rang the bell three times as a signal that the master of the house had arrived.
The valet met me at the ante-chamber, and stared at me with mouth and eyes wide open; but no wonder. I must have cut a handsome figure, with, that torn and perforated red kepi on my head, and the dirty, blood-smeared cotton handkerchief around my forehead. My face was blackened by exposure to the sun and wind, and had a grizzly beard of three months' growth upon it. My uniform was dirty and torn, and above it was a rubber cloak with a hood, while on my feet were a pair of rough, high top-boots, with spurs. By my side I had a sabre, a revolver, and a bag for bread and bacon--not a very gentlemanly appearance, by any means."Is madame at home?" I asked. "Yes, sir. Madame is in her boudoir." "Then tell her, monsieur has come home, and afterward see that a fire is kindled in my room. I am cold and damp."
The valet was a very humane and obliging fellow. He asked me to step into the _salon_, where a fire was burning already. I was forcibly struck by this proof of democratic condescension. Fancy his allowing a fellow with such a robber's look, who had unexpectedly intruded into the house, to enter the luxurious, polished, gilded _salon_ of--his own wife!
The fire was burning in the grate, and I went up to it to warm myself, when the door opened, and, with quick steps, there entered--my wife. She had entered hastily, but, on seeing me she faltered, and stood motionless at the door.
Well might she start at my strange appearance; but, if I looked dreadful to her, her appearance was positively loathsome to me. I had not seen her for three months, and she had visibly changed since then.
To another man his wife looks charming in that condition, but to me my wife seemed perfectly disgusting, horrid, abominable! I cannot find a phrase to express the detestation that filled me as I looked at her."You have come away from the camp?" she asked, in a low tone. "I have been discharged," I answered. "You? How could that be?" "They believed me to be a Prussian spy."
"Nonsense! I have read so much of your courage and daring, of the self-sacrifice which made you risk your own life to save that of others. The papers were full of praise of your magnanimous conduct.""That's it exactly. They think a respectable surgeon has no business to risk his hide or exhibit sentiment. So they told me to pack off." "But you are wounded!" she cried out, as I took off my kepi. "A mere scratch, and already closed. It's nothing." And, throwing the rubber cloak from my shoulders, I stepped nearer to the gate. "You have been decorated!" she said, pointing to the "_legion d'honneur_" on my breast. "Trash!" I said, tearing it off, and with an angry gesture throwing it almost into the fire.
She ran up to me, and held my hand. "No! no!" she said: "I shall not let you! Leave it on your breast!" and, snatching it out of my hand, she pinned it in its place again.
"Well, let it be," I thought. At least there would be one spot on my body that was honourable. But it was time to change the subject. For a soldier coming home from the gory field of honour might speak to his wife of his wounds and his deserts, but I? As I was no real soldier, so my wound was no real wound, this badge of merit not really merited, and--my wife--was not really my wife. So I changed the subject, and, like a conscientious family physician, I questioned her about her health. My questions were purely professional, and she gave her answers in confidence, as patients usually answer the questions of their _ordinarius_. I advised her as to the best way of avoiding
inconveniences connected with her present condition, and so on. After the consultation was over, I asked her if no letters had arrived for me during my absence.
"Ah!" I thought, "the communication from my agent to say that the millions have disappeared." But I did not show any impatience to get at the contents of the letter. I listened politely as she related to me the events of her life in my absence.
After a while the valet announced that my room was ready for me, and then she asked if I would not dine with her? "No, thank you!" said I, with an inward shudder; "I am quite unfamiliar with your civilised customs, and will thank you if you will permit me to retire to my room."
In my room I found the letter upon my writing-desk. As I had expected, it came from my agent in Brussels. The key to the cipher code was in my pocket, rolled up in a cigarette; so that in case of my death on the battle-field some soldier or nurse might smoke the cigarette and unwittingly destroy this last clue to the mystery which surrounded my money transactions. The letter ran as follows:--
"SIR,--The two millions which you entrusted to my care have doubled themselves, and I hold four millions of francs for you. The decline is continuous, and will hold good for a considerable time to come. The Paris Bourse created an enormous rise by fictitious reports of victories; but the decline was all the sharper in consequence. The French are beaten everywhere, and if you will consent to let me continue in the present course, I shall double your money again on short sales."
Camp life had taught me to swear, and I was furious. Fate was mocking me, tantalising me. Instead of taking from me the accursed money which I had received in exchange for my life, my soul's salvation, and my honour, it doubled that money, and threw it back at me. But I would see if I could not get the better of blind fortune. I did not want that money, and would have none of it.
I sat down and wrote an answer on the spot I gave the agent fixed instructions to speculate with the whole amount for a rise, and that immediately. As soon as I had translated this into cipher, I gave it to the valet to be posted.
Then I took out the rough fare I had been accustomed to during my camp life, the rye bread and bacon, and, slicing it up, I toasted it at the grate fire. Surely a man who had thrown four millions out at the window a few minutes before had a right to indulge in such luxuries.
But the cognac which I had been used to drink I could not relish at home. For three months I had drunk nothing but cognac. It is a powerful stimulant, good for fever and ague, hunger and thirst, influenza-cold, and, yes, the tremor before a battle. But here, at home, I wanted something I could not get there--a glass of clear, fresh water.
Oh, how I enjoyed it! How deliciously refreshing it was after so long a craving! Home had still a great treasure to offer me--a glass of clear, fresh water.What a precious, sweet, home it was! XV. VOX POPULI.
The street was very noisy, and a tumult of loud voices, shouts, etc., penetrated through the blinds, shutters, and doors into the room in which I sat. I took that to be the normal condition of a Paris street, for in large cities there is always some spectacle afoot to set the mob shouting. But I was mistaken. The valet, whom I had sent to the post-office to mail my letter to the broker at Brussels, entered hastily, his face livid with fear."Monsieur, save yourself!" he cried. "The mob is coming." "Coming where?"
"To this hotel. A German diplomat lived here before you, and the people think this is his house still. Someone has given them a hint, and they have taken it up, and they are coming to storm and plunder the house. The residences of two bankers have been demolished in this way, only because their names had a German sound."
"Let them alone," I said; "I will talk with their leaders. Now go to madame, and tell her I beg she will retire to the winter-garden, and not come out of it in any case or for any noise."The valet obeyed, and I girded on my sword again, put on my kepi, and went downstairs. The porter had locked the entrance, but a loud muttering and battering noise was heard from the outside.
"Open the door!" I said to the porter, and, sword in hand, I stepped out What I beheld was the usual spectacle upon such occasions. A mob of all classes; labourers in blouses, dandies in tall hats, college youths, street boys, market women, and veiled "ladies" in flashy dresses and with painted cheeks, all huddled pell-mell in picturesque disorder.
The man who was battering at the door was a gigantic locksmith, with hammer in hand, and I believe that the only object he had in his battering operations was to make use of his hammer. As I appeared, those who were near the door, retreated a little, and some of them called out, "See, see! An officer of the army."
"_Citoyens_!" said I, in a loud voice, "in this house there is a sick woman, and whoever tries to break into this house will have his skull split in two."
Most of the _gommeux_ retreated at these words, but the locksmith seemed to think resistance a provocation to an attack. "Ho, ho!" said he, beating his breast and swinging his hammer, inviting me to try the edge of my sword on his skull, while around him sticks and umbrellas were upraised against me with threatening gestures of all sorts of people, male and female.
I had to make an end of this, and that was only possible by showing them that I was not afraid of them, and, first of all, I had to silence that burly smith by a smart cut on the hand that held the hammer. I had just lifted my arm with the sword, when someone caught it from behind, seizing tight hold of both hand and sword.It was Flamma. "What do you want here? Why did you come out?" I asked her.
She stepped close to my side, and addressed the people. I could never have believed that that tiny, silent, shell-mouth of hers could be capable of such eloquence. "_Citoyens_!" she said, with a perfectly dramatic intonation and gesture, "you are mistaken in this house and in us. We are no Germans, no enemies, but Hungarians, and friends to the French. Look at my husband! He has just arrived from the battlefield, where he has served the French army. He has repeatedly risked his own life to save that of your brethren. Look at his forehead! That wound upon it he received in the service of your country! Look at his breast! It is decorated with the star of the Legion of Honour! He--"
I was furious. What business had this woman, who, in her heart of hearts, despised me as an abject, greedy, dishonourable coward, a base wretch, who had accepted the most degrading position on earth for a money consideration--what business, said I, had she to speak fair of me before this crowd?
"Madame," I shouted, "go into the house! I do not want your speeches! Let go my hand, I say! I want to drive this rabble away!" But she clung tightly to me, and, seeing that I could not free myself of her, I caught her up in my arms, and carried her to her room. There I threw her upon her couch and said--"Don't move from this bed. You are trifling with your life!""Then stay here with me," she said, beseechingly; "don't go back among them!"
"Nonsense, I am able to protect and save you from a drunken mob, but from an attack of convulsions I could not save you! This might cost you your life."
At this word I fancied I saw a smile of contempt on her lips, and it occurred to me that she thought I feared for her life, because, in case of her death, I should have to return her money. "I wish they would come and tear me to pieces in her very presence," I thought, in the bitterness of my heart; but, to my surprise, no one came. The next minute or two furnished an explanation. I heard the sound of a bugle, then the clatter of horse-hoofs; the Imperial Guard itself had cleared the street of the mob. In a few minutes the shouts and threats were silenced, and the crowd had moved on to other quarters. Immediately afterward I heard voices in the _salon_, and, telling the woman to keep quiet and not stir, I entered the _salon_.
A police officer was talking with the valet. I thanked him for ridding me of my unpleasant visitors, who would undoubtedly have done harm to the furniture of the house, if not to our persons."Oh, that is past," said he, "but there is something else amiss; and I may tell you at once, sir, something that is very serious!" "Serious to me?" I asked. "Yes, the police have certain knowledge of the fact that you keep up a cipher correspondence with somebody in Brussels. You have received a letter a day or two ago." "I know it. The letter had been opened by the police." "Exactly. You have answered that letter, also in cipher, and the letter was posted not quite an hour ago." "And the contents of this letter are already in the hands of the police?" "Yes. Will you have the kindness to give me the key to the cipher?" "Sir," said I, "you know well that every correspondence has secrets which cannot be disclosed to a stranger!"
"I assure you that the Police Department is just as silent with respect to the secrets that are entrusted to it, as the tongueless stone lions on St. Mark's Square in Venice.""And what will be the consequence if I refuse to give you the key?" "If they offer to shoot me," I thought, "I will not tell." "If you refuse, you will be conducted to the Belgian frontier without a moment's delay." "No, thank you," I thought; "I'll have none of that." So I invited him into my room, and together we solved the contents of both letters. The first was that of the agent, the second was my answer, which consisted of the following words:-- "The French will be victorious; invest my whole fortune, all the money you hold of mine, in buying for a rise."
The tears rushed down the cheeks of the police officer. That a foreigner had so much confidence in the French cause as to stake his whole fortune on it was completely overpowering to him. He pressed my hands in silent acknowledgment, when I could have laughed in his face, and was silently applauding myself on the comedy I had played.
"It is all right, sir," said he, taking his leave; "but since you are a true friend of the French, let me give you a bit of honest advice. Don't stay in Paris beyond to-day at the utmost. To-day we command; to-morrow, God knows who may fill our place. Go to-day, while you are free to go; to-morrow it is possible that I shall follow your example."
I thanked him heartily, and gave him my passport for revision. In an hour the passport was returned to me in proper order, and at daybreak we were sitting in a railway carriage. My wife confessed that she felt very happy in being able to leave Paris; she had been very uncomfortable and ill at ease there.XVI. DAME FORTUNE.
It took us two whole days to reach Brussels. All the railway trains were crowded with soldiers and refugees fleeing from Paris, and at every station there was some delay. Special trains had to be waited for, and at every town the passengers had to leave the carriage, show their passports, answer all questions, and open all trunks and valises for examination by the police.
For me this exasperating procedure was rendered more difficult still. The wound on my forehead betrayed me for a soldier of some sort, and a strict command of General Trochu expressly forbade soldiers to leave the country. Of course, I had my discharge; but, when I showed the document, it took them always a good while to consider which command of General Trochu should be respected--the one which bade me go, or the other which directed me to stay.
At the border I was detained for exactly four hours. Again my luggage was searched; again I had to convince them that I was no runaway soldier, no foreign spy, but a lawfully-discharged volunteer camp-surgeon of foreign birth; and I had to give my word of honour that the lady with me was really and legally my own wife.
When we finally arrived at Brussels, late at night, we could hardly find a lodging. All the hotels were crowded to the doors, and only with difficulty, and by the aid of a very liberal tip, was I enabled to procure a back room on the third storey. I took my wife to the elevator, to be carried to the room, gave orders for her supper, etc., and went down to the cafe to drink a glass of hot punch.
The place was crowded to suffocation, in spite of the lateness of the hour. Every newspaper was being read by five or six readers at once. Something very important seemed to have happened, but the noise was so deafening that it was utterly impossible to catch a word of the news.I begged the waiter to let me have one of the papers. "Never mind, sir," he said, smilingly; "these are all afternoon editions. If you will wait till your punch is ready, I will manage to get you a fresh paper moist from the press."
I rewarded his good offices with the expected money gratification, and some minutes later the hot punch and a moist copy of the morning _Independance_ were before me. The price of the copy was five francs.
As an experienced reader of Continental newspapers, I began my reading on the last page, devoted to the telegrams. I found one from Arlon, stating that MacMahon's position was very good. He was posted behind fortifications, which were stored with provisions for three hundred thousand men. Yesterday's engagement had ended in a triumph for the French.
Another telegram came from Mezieres, according to which yesterday's battle had ended fatally for the French, who had been forced to the Belgian frontier by the Prussians. The Emperor was with MacMahon. The line of battle extended from Bazille to La Chapelle. Three thousand French soldiers, with five hundred horses, had been driven across the Belgian frontier, and had there surrendered.
A gentleman sitting near me, evidently a Frenchman, politely begged me to show him the telegrams. "Oh," said he, "these are old ones, brought over from the evening papers. Let us look at the front page," and, turning the leaves, he pointed to a few lines printed in large letters, "Sedan, September 2, 8 p.m. MacMahon's army has surrendered and laid down its arms. MacMahon is severely wounded, and General Wimpffen has taken command in his place. The capitulation was signed by him. Napoleon has personally surrendered to the Prussian King."
The French gentleman had fallen from his chair in a swoon. He was carried out into the fresh air to recover. This incident caused a sensation in the room; everybody inquired for the cause of the swoon, and I gave them the newspaper, which was eagerly devoured, until one gentleman leaped upon a billiard-table and read the news aloud to all.
I went up to my wife. She had thrown herself on the bed, without undressing, for, as we had only this single apartment for both of us, she could not undress before the stranger who was--her husband. I begged her pardon for disturbing her, but I thought she would be interested in the important news. Of course she was! All the sleep was gone from her eyes in a moment. She sprang from the bed and came to me. "See how kind Providence has been!" she said. "If you had not been dismissed, you also would be a prisoner now. So what seemed an evil has been converted into a benefit."
At the first moment I felt inclined to share her views. For, indeed, it would have been a ludicrous end to my little private tragedy if, instead of the coveted death, I had experienced a few years of tedious inaction at Mainz or some other German fortress.
So that, considered from this point of view, I had indeed had a fortunate escape, and out of the fancied evil had come a certain good. "But if evil may change into good," I thought, "I wonder who can repair my marred and blackened life? Is there any Providence powerful enough to convert this evil into a benefit?"
I gazed at Flamma, and wondered how she would look if I were to tell her that her million had ceased to exist, that this catastrophe, which had dragged a monarch from his throne into captivity, had also cost her her sole fortune, the inheritance of her grandfather, and had thrown her upon my mercy? "Good-night!" I said to her. "Try to sleep a little. I will go and look for some private lodgings. We cannot stay in this place." She thanked me, and, if I remember rightly, she extended her hand to me; but I contrived to avoid taking it, and left her to her own company.
I descended again to the cafe. Nobody was there except the staff of waiters. Everybody else had gone to the Bourse, I learned. 'Change open at four o'clock in the morning! is not that extraordinary? Certainly, but so are the events which are occurring. The spacious halls and corridors of the Exchange were brilliantly lighted all night long, and were filled with a throng of brokers and "matadores." Curiosity took me there also; but I had literally to fight my way in. My fists had to procure admission for me. In the large hall this lighting for room was general; and as for the noise and uproar of voices, the blockade of Spicheren must have been a symphony in comparison.
I promised twenty francs to one of the servants of the establishment if he would fetch me Mr. X., my broker, from the _coulisses_. I handed him my card. It was an hour before the good man could emerge from the crowd. His silk hat was crushed, his coat-collar torn off, the bow of his necktie was dangling at the back of his neck, and his waistcoat had lost four buttons; but he was radiant. As he caught sight of me, he ran to meet me, shook my hands, embraced and kissed me, and fairly went into ecstasies over me. Was this man mad?
"Sir!" he cried. "My friend! my hero! You are a sage, a prophet! At the news of the catastrophe of Sedan a tremendous rise has set in on 'Change!""Rise!" I exclaimed, astonished.
"Certainly, and what a rise! If the French had simply been vanquished we should have had a tremendous fall, but at the news of the surrender values are rising enormously. You are a wonderful man! How you have scented it all! Let me go back to make millions! Your money is all invested for a rise. To-day we shall take lunch at Tortoni's at twelve o'clock sharp. I shall bring you home eight millions. Let me go, or I shall leave the lappet of my coat in your hands."
With that he ran back to the orgies around the golden calf. I let myself go with a crowd that was thronging out--possibly the beaten speculators--and was borne by the current into the street. I was completely stunned at the results of my determined efforts to lose that money, and felt for my head to make sure that I was not dreaming. Could all this be true? Could ice be kindled into flames, and could flames freeze to ice? How was I to believe that all my curses could be turned into blessings, and that out of misfortune Fortune herself should arise?
By this time the morning had dawned, and I went into a cafe to get some tea. With the tray a newspaper was laid before me, and, sure enough, I read--"General rise! French values mounting and greatly in demand! Money in abundance!"So it was no dream.
Until noon I sauntered about in order to kill time. At precisely twelve o'clock I was at Tortoni's, and found my broker already expecting me. He had ordered lunch: Four dozen oysters, woodcock, artichokes, giardinetto. Wines: Chablis, Chateau Lafitte, Grand Vin Mumm, etc.
"Wonderful victory!" said he, taking my hand. "_Ecrasant_ defeat of the _contremine_! Sir, Napoleon has capitulated before King William; I capitulate before you. You know more of the psychology of the Money Market than I!"I to know the psychology of the Money Market? was not that excessively absurd?
"It is easy to understand," he continued. "You are home from the French camp. Evidently you have not gone there to plaster sores or set broken bones, but to have an opportunity for watching the development of the situation, and the movements of the forces. Oh if all 'matadores' would only be as prudent! But this course requires pluck, courage, and perfect coolness. You already knew that MacMahon was hemmed in, and that the Emperor shared the same fate. It was easy to foresee the ensuing surrender, and you made use of the means provided for your escape. You gave me instructions; I have carried out your order, and here is the result. Four millions are the prize of this one day.""But how is it possible?" asked I.
"Pray don't try to play the simpleton before me. Of course, you had calculated that, with the capitulation and the capture of the Emperor, the war was at an end. The French have no organised armies left, and are, therefore, compelled to make peace. The Stock Market anticipates the conclusion of peace, and forces up French securities. What shall I do with your eight millions?"
What? I hardly knew. Throw it into the ocean; it would come back to me, like the ring of Polycrates. Nay, not like that, for it kept hatching, and came back like a hen with a brood of chickens--that is, millions. This odious money sticks to me like so many burs, and I cannot get rid of it. Fortune is called a goddess. To me she was a "She-devil;" her gold was choking me."Did you come from Paris alone?" asked the broker. "No; my wife is with me." "Have you found comfortable quarters to live in?" "A back room on the third storey. I am looking for private lodgings."
"Well, I will tell you something. A banker, who was on the bear side, offers his residence for sale, in order to pay his differences. His house cost him four hundred thousand francs. We could get it for half the amount, and you could move into it at once.""Take it, by all means." "But what shall I do with the balance of the money? This glass to the new landlord!"
We clinked glasses. What a powerful agent money was! Only last night I could not find a room to sleep in, and now I was practically the owner of a palatial residence in Brussels. But what should I do with the rest, the seven million eight hundred thousand francs?
"Speculate with the whole amount for a fall," said I to the agent, determined that this time the hateful money should be lost for ever. Mr. X. set down his glass and looked at me. "I beg pardon, sir, but--perhaps you are not accustomed to spirits? The champagne was rather strong.""Wine does not affect me. I am quite sober."
"Then, in all politeness, I would advise you to consult a specialist; perhaps you are suffering from the mania of contradiction or some other mental disease."
"This is my own affair. You do with my money as I instruct you. Put all the money left, after paying for the house, on a bear speculation at one week."
"Then, pray, give me permission to take out my percentage first; for in this transaction I take no share. You have pulled out the devil's forelock and shaved off his beard, but he won't give you his hoof and tail also. Give me my percentage, and handle your money yourself."
"Your percentage you may take when you please, but with the rest do as I tell you; speculate for a fall at the end of a week. I have no time to go on 'Change, as I must be off to Paris.""Paris? You are going back to Paris? Sir, your reason must be disturbed. Why, revolution has broken out in Paris. Don't you know of it?"
"That's exactly the reason for my going. My wife has left her whole wardrobe, her silver, jewellery, pictures, and tapestry in Paris, and I am going to take everything away before it is destroyed."
"But, sir, this is foolish! Here are eight millions. Surely you can buy a new wardrobe and jewellery for your wife with this money without carrying your head to the guillotine.""Will you allow me to judge of my own affairs?" said I, angrily. "I must know best what I ought to do." After that my man put the tip of his forefinger to his nose, and exclaimed: "Oh, so!" I looked at him with tight-shut lips, giving vent to a slight "H--m, h--m!"
At that he raised his eyebrows, lifted his fat finger with a warning gesture, and smiled mischievously; whereat I shrugged my shoulders, and the mutual understanding was perfect. Of course, it was natural in the owner of eight millions to have, besides his legal wife, another illegal wife, or mistress; and as in case of danger an honest man's first duty is to save his own wife, I had of course done so; but, like a real gentleman, I was returning to the place of danger in order to save my other wife as well.
That was the meaning of the mysterious winking and smiling and hemming, and I did not think it worth my while to undeceive him. Let him believe whatever he likes; what do I care for his opinion?
The same day I obtained possession of the house, and took my wife to it. She was greatly astonished at its splendour, but ventured no remark. I asked her if she had any money left out of the forty thousand francs, and she answered that she had only spent half of it. That showed good economy. Not to spend more than twenty thousand francs in three months was the quintessence of thriftiness. I told her that the house was at her disposal, and that she might arrange everything to please herself. I was compelled to leave her on urgent business. She did not ask me what business I had, nor where it would take me. Neither would she persuade me to stay.
I reached Paris much sooner than I had expected. As soon as I had passed the frontier I had donned my uniform again, and was very wise in doing so. All those who had hindered me when leaving the country were now very officious in assisting me to reach Paris. The sight of my uniform, my wounded forehead, and the _legion d'honneur_ was enough to put them entirely at my service. In Paris I was surprised at the change of the appearance in the public streets. Over every porch, on every house, a large tricolour flag was displayed; the military embraced and fraternised with the people. I saw the Imperial Guard hacking at the imperial eagle over the barrack-gate with their swords--the same swords which they used two days before to drive off and disperse the mob at my door.
My own residence had undergone a similar change. Like the caterpillar which has developed into a gay butterfly, it had put on wings, and from the balcony, above the porch, on all sides, great tricolours were hanging, with the legend "_Vive la Republique_!"
So it was already a Republic, and only the other day it had been an Empire. And all this had occurred without the shedding of a single drop of blood, without the least disorder! It was just as though a handsome widow should remarry the day after her husband's funeral. The new Government was already established, and the satisfaction over this performance was enough to sweeten the pang caused by the catastrophe of Sedan.
In the streets no policeman, no detective could be seen. The National Guard watched over the public order, and the foreigners, who, under Palikao's reign, had been the victims of so many molestations, were left in peace. Yes, large placards, in big red letters, invited all foreigners who were true friends of liberty to enter the volunteer corps, which was called into existence for defence against the tyrants. It was enough to show some exotic trait of dress or appearance to be literally embraced on the streets by fair ladies.
So it was in vain that I had come to this place to get rid of my head. There was no guillotine, no barricade, not the slightest opportunity for cheap martyrdom; and as for the volunteer legion, why, that was a veritable life insurance corps.
I could not get myself killed. But my millions had another chance of annihilation. The rise was lasting for days, and all Europe believed in a restoration of peace.
On the sixth day, the limit I had given to my broker, appeared that manifesto of the French Republican Government which proclaimed that the war would be continued until all resources were exhausted. France would never rest until she had driven her enemy from her soil.
This proclamation was a deathblow to all hopes of peace, and destroyed all calculations and expectations. That a tremendous decline in values was the consequence will be readily understood.
So my Hell-born millions had hatched again, and returned to me doubled. Dame Fortuna insulted me! She was a demon--a Devil!
"My dear little demon, I find you are a much more cunning little devil than I thought you to be, and I shall begin to listen to your advice. What the devil shall I kill myself for, when I have got sixteen million francs of ready money? Is there any need of my final surrender to you as yet? First, I'll see what services you'll do me still. The money I got by following your suggestions, but the suicide speculation was a failure. Evidently there are other devils more potent than you. Now let me see. If I judge correctly, I can spare you altogether, dismiss you with good references, such as, 'A fine little demon, very cunning, very devoted and submissive.' It would be easy for you to find another master, and I could well spare you. Why, with sixteen millions there is no need of my being unhappy, and giving way to despair; with so much ready money, I have Fortune at my command. She will come at my bidding. If every husband in France who is not beloved by his wife were to enlist against the Prussians, daring Death and Devil alike, the Prussians would very soon find their way home again. And if she has insulted, betrayed me with another man before she became my wife, I can revenge myself now, and why not? When Father Adam quarrelled with Mother Eve, he found consolation with Lilith, the dark-skinned Hashor, the almond-eyed Anaitio, the silent Mylitta. So, my dear little demon, I can't see of what use you can be to me any longer. I am tired of going death-hunting, and not fool enough to play a game of shuttlecock with a lump of gold. Then what's the use of my keeping you?"
"Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" laughed he. "Fancy your sending me off when you stand most in need of me and my advice. My dear boy, you were never so much my own as at this moment. You are tired of death-hunting? Very good; live on, drink deep of the fountain of life, drain it to the dregs, and much good may it do you! You have wealth and therefore power, and you will become just such a dare-devil villain as the man who has caused all this pother. You will betray innocent, confiding maidens, deceive loving friends, ruin families, and beget unfortunate, ill-starred beings. You will become a heartless libertine, a selfish sensualist. You will mock at God, mock at the Devil; and when you are all alone, you will dread and despise yourself. You will do evil for evil's sake, and rejoice at the despair of your brethren. Oh, you can't spare me now, my boy; you want me more than ever!"
I did not enter the Franc-tireur legion, although its captain was a countryman of mine, a chivalrous Hungarian: if I am not mistaken, his name was Varjassy. I returned to Brussels, and remained there.
My broker, Mr. X., came to me, quite submissive, doing penance in sackcloth and ashes. Again he called me sage and prophet, and finally asked me, "What next?""Nothing," I said. "We will not go near the Bourse again. We have made our booty; don't let us run the risk of losing it."
"You are certainly wise!" he said, admiringly. He took his own proportion, and bought property with it. The last time I had heard of him he had established a great dairy and was manufacturing an excellent cheese.
I had become a fashionable dandy. I was a member of the Jockey Club, was seen at the theatres and at all fashionable places of public
entertainment. I opened my palatial residence to fashionable society, and took my wife to all social amusements fitted to her station in life. I took pride in the elegance of her toilette, and was jealously careful that her equipage should outshine all others.
Still I cannot say that this constant, tender consideration and attention to her affected her in my favour. On the contrary, I found that of late her glance had a troubled, I may say, puzzled expression when it rested on me; and when occasionally I entered her room unexpectedly I saw that she hastily concealed in a drawer a small and well-worn note-book. I supposed she was calculating what this expensive rate of living might cost. If she only computed what I spent officially, so to speak--that is to say, on herself and the household--she must have made it some four hundred thousand francs. The income on her million of florins would amount, at the utmost, to one hundred thousand francs, so she must naturally have come to the conclusion that her securities were scattered to the winds.
At that time the rosewood chest with the bonds, in exactly the same condition as when she had given them to me on our wedding night, was in my own possession again, and locked up in my safe. It had been my first care to take it home from the banking-house where it had been deposited. I had repaid the amount of the loan, received the securities, and found them all in excellent order.
By this time the period of Flamma's confinement had arrived, and a son was born. I had made her a proposition to postpone the christening for a month, and only then to give our aristocratic family connections at home information of the happy event. She consented, and by the time the christening took place she had fully recovered her health and beauty, or, rather, she had become more beautiful than ever; for, from a girlish maiden, she had developed into a blooming woman.
The little boy we christened William James. He was a well-formed, healthy child, and I myself had conscientiously selected a nurse for him.
When at last no harm was to be feared from excitement, and Flamma's health was fully established, I wrote her a line that I should like to have some conversation with her on money matters that afternoon. She wrote me in reply that I had anticipated her own wishes, and that she would be ready to receive me.
At the appointed time I carried the rosewood chest with her dowry to her room. I found her engaged with the same worn-looking note-book that I had already noticed, but this time she did not hide it upon my entrance. She offered me a seat, but I set the chest on the table in front of her, and, looking her in the face, I said--
"Madame, to-day it is seven months since that eventful evening on which you made me certain confidential disclosures. At that time I did not make any remark on the subject, because the state of your health was such that, in my capacity as a physician, conscientious scruples prohibited me from creating in you any excitement which might prove fatal to yourself and to another being. You will not refuse to bear witness that I have paid you all the care and attention which your condition required, and that I have done everything that was possible, under the circumstances, to save you from emotions which might be injurious. I have nursed you conscientiously, and omitted nothing which I thought necessary to your health and that of your child. But now your health is fully established, your child is christened, and I have given him an honourable name and a good nurse, which is all that he requires for the present. Now the time has come when I may express my real sentiments to you. I shall even now forbear to reproach you. In this whole baneful connection between us the fault has been mine alone. It was my boundless vanity, my absurd conceit, which led me to believe that a beautiful, wealthy, and high-born young lady would choose me, of all men, for her husband, without any secret motive or hidden reason to prompt her. I ought to have known my own worthlessness better, and not yielded to a flattering self-conceit. You see, I acknowledge my fault fully, and I own that I have deserved my punishment. I have no accusation against you. You were desperate; you had to save your reputation, and you did not stop to consider what it might cost me so long as it served your purpose. Of course, the pride and honour of Countess Vernoeczy were of much higher importance than the life, the honour, of an insignificant fool like myself. Move over, you paid for the services you had procured with admirable magnanimity. You placed your whole dowry at my disposal. But now your honour and reputation are saved; so is that of your child. There is no need of my suffering longer for a fault for which I have bitterly atoned. Now, pray, let me restore to you the money which you placed in my hands on that memorable night. Let me beg you to take slate and pencil, and convince yourself of the entire correctness of the amount."
She looked at me as if mesmerised, and mechanically she obeyed me. I opened the chest, took out the papers, and, as she had done on the night of our wedding, I dictated to her the titles of the various deeds and securities, and she wrote as I dictated.
The amount was correct. "You see that the coupons are inside," I said; "those of last year and those of this year also. Not one has been touched.""And our household expenses?" asked she, breathlessly.
"Were liquidated by me with my own money. Now, pray, take the property out of my hands, for this is the last time that we shall ever speak with or behold each other as long as we live." She gazed up at me, trembling in every nerve. I continued--
"I shall leave you to-day, and you will never learn whither I have gone or where I am. Like the criminal escaping from jail, I shall change my name, and deny the term which I have served at your side. I shall possess no name, no home, no family. I shall be a stranger and an outcast, wandering to and fro for fear that the acquisition of a settled residence might betray my abode to you. And now, there are three roads open to you. You may return with your child to the old home of the Dumanys, my poor Slav kingdom. There you may live, secluded from the world, bringing up your child and teaching him virtue, honesty, and useful employments. You may dole out alms to the poor, and in this mournful solitude pray to God for happy oblivion or the still happier news of my death. This is one of the roads open to you; it is the stony path of virtue, dreary and tiresome. The second path is the flowery one. You may throw yourself upon the waves of life, drink deep of the cup of pleasure, not troubling yourself with scruples as to what is allowed and what forbidden. Your youth, beauty, and wealth will carry you up to the pinnacle of pleasure--only beware of the consequences! I, the husband, shall be separated from you by whole oceans perhaps, and shall not be here to legitimatise the result of a _faux pas_. There is still a third way--a divorce; and I authorise you to commence your suit. Only, you know, this way is tedious, and requires great sacrifices. Monetary sacrifices also, for we cannot get a divorce without being converted to Protestantism, and in that case, according to your grandfather's will, you are obliged to give up your dowry--this million. But you have also to give up the Church and the religion in which you were born and brought up, and which has given you consolation in despair, and the saints whom you are accustomed to invoke to your aid. Still, the road is open to you, and I will give you four hours to make your decision. If it should be for a divorce, I am ready to go with you to Transylvania to procure a divorce under the Unitarian laws."
As I finished she rose from her seat, her cheeks aglow, her eyes burning. "I know a fourth way," she said, catching her breath.
I broke out into a bitter, scornful laugh. "Countess," said I, "do you believe that there is in the world an interest, a sentiment, a spirit of magnanimity or of cowardice, which is powerful enough to hold me in jail now that the time for which I have sentenced myself has expired? That there is any power existing which could tie me to your side, if but for another day? Well, I have read the hate, the contempt, the scorn in your eyes, and you were justly entitled to those feelings; but you cannot wish me to endure these daily pangs and lacerations of my wounded self-esteem for ever. You cannot ask of me to live on at the side of a woman who hates me, despises me, and scorns me, simply because it would suit that woman to retain her present position. No, my lady! Even my ample stock of weak foolish indulgence is at an end. I go, and I go for ever! Not even in Paradise do I wish to meet you again. And if you go to salvation, I shall go to perdition to avoid you!"
The effect of my cruel, insulting words were marvellous. They did not seem to hurt or offend her; she seemed to delight in them, drink them in like some sweet, delicious nectar. Her face, her eyes, her attitude spoke of exultant admiration, of triumphant joy, of ecstatic delight.
"True!" she said, "it is all true that you have said. Only what I have felt for you was never hate; it was love warring against contempt, and contempt fighting against love. Yes, I have despised you; for I was told, and I believed it, that money was all that you cared for, and your own words have confirmed me in this opinion. Do you remember, after you had told Cenni and me the story of your friend, you spoke of the qualities of the girl whom you might marry? She must be young and beautiful, and wealthy and luxurious. Young and beautiful--I thought--to suit your vanity; wealthy and luxurious--because you loved wealth and luxury; and your conduct after our marriage hourly convinced me of the correctness of the supposition. You accepted your position without a murmur. I was burning with shame and humiliation, ready at a word to fall at your feet, and make you a confession which would cleanse me from the burning stigma, remove from me the brand of shame. But you accepted the money, and asked no questions, and I left you in despairing contempt. Our married life was much too luxurious to undeceive me, and I believed that you were making use of my money to feed your appetite for pleasure. When you protected me against danger, nursed me in my odious condition, I thought, 'All is well to him as long as he can keep the money. He fears for my life, because, in case of my death, he would have to restore the money.' The comfort, the splendour, the costly presents, dresses, and jewels which you bestowed upon me were so many accusations against yourself. And yet how I longed to be able to respect you! When the newspapers spoke of your undaunted courage, of your disinterested and indefatigable activity, your self-denial, generosity, and discreet modesty, how my heart yearned for you! How my soul cried out to you, 'Why are you not the same to me as to the world? Why are you brave, generous, disinterested, and self-denying to them, and not to me? Why am I, of all persons alive, condemned to know you for a cowardly, avaricious, and selfish man, when, in spite of all that, my heart burns for love of you?' And now you have thrown off the hideous mask you wore, have shown me your real face, shown me how much I have misjudged you, how I have sinned against you! You give me back that money untouched. You have not even spent the interest of it, and now I see how I have wronged you in accusing you of greed. All your tender care, your delicate attention, your patient indulgence were given to me out of your magnanimous sense of duty, the heavenly generosity of your soul! And now that I know you in all the glory of your goodness, now that I have found my ideal in you and my love has grown into worship, now you tell me that you are lost to me for ever, that you will not be mine, and I must choose the paths you point out to me. No, sir; that is impossible! You cannot cast me off, now that I love you! I have sinned against you, caused you insufferable pains, infinite tortures; but my whole life shall be given to atone for those sins by meek submission, dutiful obedience, ardent love. I cannot choose between those paths you have shown me. I do not want to be consumed by the fires of sinful love, nor to freeze in the ice of solitude and self-abnegation. I want to be happy, and to make you happy. I want to love, and I do love you!""You have a child."
"That child! That living stigma which was branded into my flesh by a miserable assassin! I hate it so much that I will never kiss it, never pray for it. Its very sight is loathsome to me! I have given birth to it, but shall never love it as a mother!"
After this tempest of her emotions she threw herself against the door, barring it against me as though to say: "The way through this door, the way that separates you from me, leads over my body."
I looked at her, and the sight of her deep and real agitation summoned me to a silent condemnation of my base hypocrisy. What was I but a cunning dissembler, coming here to play a great part before her, making believe that I had not touched her money, when I had time and again risked it in speculations? And the very house she lived in, the comfort and splendour that surrounded her, were the result of the profits her money had acquired. How dared I make a parade of my generosity, when all the time I had been scheming for her ruin and dreaming of revenge? Truth and sincerity were all on her side; the halo of virtue around my head was false.
And she loved me! She confessed that love with the frank truthfulness of her nature--confessed it in words that sent a thrill of delight through my whole frame! And I, who am burning for love of her, I stand here like a pagan idol, in stony indifference, looking down at the bleeding heart which is held up as a sacrifice to me. No, I am no stone! Avaunt, Hathor, Mylitta, Baaltis, I am none of yours! And thou too, vile, wretched Dissimulation, I cast thee forth! Depart from the presence of this true woman!
I went to her and took her hands. "If your boy is not to have the love of a mother, he shall have that of a father instead. I shall love him dearly and be a true father to him."As I said this, she broke into passionate sobbing, and, crouching down at my feet, she threw her arms around my knees and wept bitterly.
"No," said she, "do not lift me up, for my confessions are not yet ended. I have asked you for mercy heretofore. I now ask you for justice; for a righteous judgment! I have never been the degraded wretch you believed me to be, have never been the mistress of another man, never listened to his words of love, so help me God! Siegfried was not my betrayer, he was my assassin! He made use of Diodora's and Cenni's absence from the house, at a time when a slight illness had prevented me from accompanying them, to drug my wine at the table, and during the lethargy caused by the soporific potion he slew my soul! Devil as he is, he took a devilish revenge, because I had shown him my contempt and abhorrence."
Before this I was down on my knees, covering her eyes, her hair, her face, and her mouth with my kisses; weeping in the excess of my love and happiness. "Why did you not tell me this before? Why not on the night of our wedding?" I asked.
"I intended to! Do you remember that I asked you if you had no other question to address to me? You said 'No,' and pointed to the door. For a few moments only your eye had rested with a fiery glare on a two-edged dagger which lay upon the table. If you had carried out the wild promptings of your wrath, if your hand had raised the dagger against me, if only a single word or action had given me proof that you were the man I wished you to be, and not the wretch who accepts the money which is offered in return for his name and honour, I should have spoken. Oh, how I have longed to do it!"
I pressed her to my heart and kissed her again. "You are innocent," I said: "as innocent as that poor child himself. You have not sinned; others have sinned against you. And now that you have confessed to me, let me also confess to you, and, if you can, forgive me!" I told her all--my evil designs, the monetary speculations, my suicidal purposes, my moral cowardice. She listened, shuddering, but, when I had finished, she nestled close to my heart and kissed me passionately. She had forgiven.* * * * *
After this we decided to leave Europe and go to the New World--to America. My old Slav kingdom I did not care to keep; it was best to give up everything, and wipe out all memory of myself. So I left it to be sold in payment of the debts I had accumulated. In the New World fortune clung to me with the same persistence. Whatever I undertook was sure to succeed, and all my enterprises were fortunate. So, in course of time, I became the "Silver King." We came to Europe on account of little James, who all at once ceased speaking and became a mute. We tried American physicians, but to no purpose, and so we came to Europe in order to consult the best professional talent. Now you know all. You know how it was possible for the little son of a South American nabob, after regaining his lost speech, to speak Hungarian, and you know who taught him to speak that language. The child has never loved anyone but me, and no one has loved him but myself. And I love him truly and with all my heart. For to him I am indebted for all my present happiness; not only for my wealth, for wealth alone is not happiness. A man may be happy without wealth, and be very unhappy with it; but I owe him this.
He took a photograph from his pocket-book, and showed it to me--four laughing little cherub heads, peeping out of a bath-tub, like birds from the nest. "These my little James has brought me," he said, with tears of joy in his eyes; "if he had not come, these would not have come either. So, you see, my dear friend, I was thrown into Hell and fell into Paradise."* * * * *
"I beg your pardon," said I to Mr. Dumany, as he finished his story, "but I am curious to know what became of Siegfried? Would you mind telling me?"
"Oh, he is a very famous man at present, and fills a very honourable position. He is engaged as horse-tamer in the Paris Hippodrome, and they say that he is excellent in 'jumping.' I have not seen him yet, but I hear he has a good salary, and is a general favourite. He is very much praised and admired by those who have seen him. I think it highly creditable in a man when he lives honourably by means of his ability and talent."
By this time the dawn had greeted us. Through the chinks of the closed shutters the rising sun was stealing, decorating the wall-tapestry with rings of golden red, adding radiant circles to the smoke-wreaths of our cigarettes, and sending long glittering darts into all the corners and behind the curtains.
Presently, breaking the monotony of our voices, which punch and cognac had made hoarse, a sweet, silvery voice chimed in, "Apacska! Apacska!" ("Papa! Papa!") and a little unfledged cherub was peeping out from the bed-curtains. "You may come to me," said Mr. Dumany, smilingly, and, in an instant, little James was out of bed, and, barefooted, in his little nightgown as he was, he ran to his father, shouting with glee, climbing up into his lap, and throwing his little arms caressingly around his neck, laughing mischievously the while. At the noise of this babbling and laughter, similar sounds were heard in the next room, just as in a bird's nest when one little fledgeling chirps all the rest join in, lifting the little heads and trying the winglets."Reveille is sounded," said my friend, with a happy smile. "I have to go and muster my troops; this next chamber is their bedroom."
But the muster was postponed, for the commander-in-chief arrived--the mother. She was in a plain, dark dress, but her beautiful face bore a soft expression of happiness which I had not seen the day before. "You are up yet?" she asked."And you are up already?" asked her husband.
"Yes. I have been out to my confessor's. You have made a clean breast to your friend at home; I have done the same in the confessional, and I have come home much happier than I went, and I truly hope much better." With that she bent down to the child, and kissed it tenderly.
"I have been an unnatural and undutiful mother," she said, in a low, trembling voice, "and if you, in your generous pity, in the overflowing kindness of your nature, had not taken this poor innocent to your heart, it would not have known the tender love, the sweet care of a parent. Father Augustin has shown me the great, black sin in my breast. How can I hope for mercy from Heaven if I mercilessly lock my heart against my own innocent offspring? How can I hope for love and respect from my other children, if I withhold a mother's love from this one? Oh, my dearest husband! here in the presence of your friend, whom you have made cognisant of our past sorrows and trials, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the love you have borne my child!" And before he could prevent the action she had bent down and pressed her lips to his hand.
"Flamma! dearest!" he said, overcome by his emotion, "you have been the truest, the most considerate, most loving, and most dutiful of all wives and mothers; but this day you have filled my cup of happiness to the brim. This one drop, the mother's kiss to the sweet innocent, was wanting. This day shall henceforth be kept as a high holiday, as this little darling's real birthday, for it has given him a mother."
He held up the boy to her, and at the sweet, inviting smile and the opened arms the little one threw open his arms also; one of them he drew around his mother's, the other around his father's neck, and then he showered a volley of kisses and caresses on both. Never in all my life have I seen a picture more lovely and beautiful than this.
"Come, my little one," said the mother, after a while, to the child, "it is too early yet for you to rise. Come to your little brothers and sisters and sleep awhile longer," and, nodding sweetly to us, she disappeared, with the child on her arm, through the tapestry _portiere_ that led to the children's bedroom.The "Silver King" silently pressed my hand as I said-- "Sir, you are the happiest man on earth, nor can all the crowned monarchs of the world compare to you in wealth!"
"Yes," he said, after a while, "I am very happy. But I owe you an explanation, before I take leave of you. You may think it singular that a man who is the father of a family should disclose such intimate secrets to a friend of whom he knows beforehand that he will make public use of the disclosure, and relate to his readers the events he has learned. But, you see, so much has already been said about my wife and me--the fantastic imagination of one half of our fellow-creatures has invented so much to feed the idle curiosity of the other half, that the plain truth will serve in general as a cooling sedative. There are different versions afloat as to how we got our money. Some say that I was a general spy of the Prussians, and that my money was a fee for the information furnished, or, in plain words, the betrayal of the positions of the French forces. Others say that my wife had been the mistress of a King, and was enriched by him, and that she still draws a life-pension from the Civil List; while superstitious fools will have it that I have sold myself to the Devil, and am supplied by him with infernal lore. Against all of these the disclosure of the plain truth will be the best defence. Human I am and have been, and human have been the temptations and trials that have beset me. The only Devil to whom, for a time, I sold myself, was the demon in my own breast--a poor, feeble spirit, and long ago subdued by the more potent angel of love and peace."THE END. * * * * * * * Transcriber's Note: The following typographical errors in the original text have been corrected. In Part I, Chapter V, "religous monomania" has been changed to "religious monomania". In Part I, Chapter VIII, "Yes, I wan you immediately" has been changed to "Yes, I want you immediately". In Part I, Chapter XIII, "photograpers" has been changed to "photographers". In Part II, Chapter IV, "siezed" has been changed to "seized". In Part II, Chapter X, a missing quotation mark has been added to the sentence,
Upon the steel blade was graven, in golden letters, "_Buona notte_; and "_Buona notte! buona notte_," I kept incoherently murmuring.In Part II, Chapter XII, "distinguised" has been changed to "distinguished". In Part II, Chapter XV, an extra "are" has been deleted from "you are are mistaken in this house". In Part II, Chapter XVII, "Moveover" has been changed to "Moreover". In Part II, Chapter XVII, "infernal ore" has been changed to "infernal lore". ***END OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK DR. DUMANY'S WIFE*** ******* This file should be named 18708.txt or 18708.zip ******* This and all associated files of various formats will be found in: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/8/7/0/18708 Updated editions will replace the previous one--the old editions will be renamed.
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