Works of Maurus Jokai Hungarian Edition
DR. DUMANY'S WIFE
Translated from the Hungarian by F. STEINITZ
New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1891
This, the latest story from the pen of Hungary's great man of letters, Maurus Jokai, was translated directly from the manuscript of the author by Mme. F. Steinitz, who resides in Buda-Pest, and was selected by him for that purpose.
Maurus Jokai is now sixty-six years of age, having been born at Komarom, in 1825. He was intended for the law, that having been his father's profession but at twelve years of age the desire to write seized him. Some of his stories fell into the hands of the lawyer in whose office he was studying, who read them, and was so struck by their originality and talent that he published them at once at his own expense. The public was as well pleased with the book as the lawyer had been with the manuscripts, and from that tender age to the present Jokai has devoted himself to writing, and is the author of several hundred successful volumes. At the age of twenty-three he laid down his pen long enough to get married, his bride being Rosa Laborfalvi, the then leading Hungarian actress. At the end of a year he joined the Revolutionists, and buckled on the sword of the patriot. He was taken prisoner and sentenced to be shot, when his bride appeared upon the scene with her pockets full of the money she had made by the sale of her jewels, and, bribing the guards, escaped with her husband into the birch woods, where they hid in caves and slept on leaves, all the time in danger of their lives, until they finally found their way to Buda-Pest and liberty. This city Jokai has made his home; in the winter he lives in the heart of the town, in the summer just far enough outside of it to have a house surrounded by grounds, where he can sit out of doors in the shade of his own trees. He is probably the best-known man in Hungary to-day, for he is not only an author, but a financier, a statesman, and a journalist as well.
I. THE DUMB CHILD II. THE DARK GOD III. THE ENGLISHMAN IV. THE NABOB V. A REPUBLICAN COUNTESS VI. DUMANY KORNEL VII. THE DEAD MAN'S VOTE VIII. MY UNCLE DIOGENES IX. A SLAVONIC KINGDOM X. "DEAD" XI. MY DEAR FRIEND SIEGFRIED XII. THE DEVIL'S HOOF XIII. THE VALKYRS
I. THE SEA-DOVE II. "WHAT IS THE DEVIL LIKE?" III. THE FOUR-LEAVED CLOVER IV. THE HISTORY OF MY FRIEND V. HOW ROSES ARE INOCULATED VI. MR. PARASITE VII. A BRILLIANT GAME VIII. A BITING KISS IX. WHO IS THE VISITOR? X. AFTER THE WEDDING XI. MY SCHEME XII. SEEKING FOR DEATH XIII. MY DISCHARGE XIV. HOME! SWEET HOME XV. VOX POPULI XVI. DAME FORTUNE XVII. LIGHT AT LAST
DR. DUMANY'S WIFE.
THE DUMB CHILD.
It was about the close of the year 1876 when, on my road to Paris, I boarded the St. Gothard railway-train. Travellers coming from Italy had already taken possession of the sleeping-car compartments, and I owed it solely to the virtue of an extraordinarily large tip that I was at last able to stretch my weary limbs upon the little sofa of a half-coupe. It was not a very comfortable resting-place, inasmuch as this carriage was the very last in an immensely long train, and one must be indeed fond of rocking to enjoy the incessant shaking, jostling, and rattling in this portion of the train. But still it was much preferable to the crowded carriages, peopled with old women carrying babies, giggling maidens, snoring or smoking men, and hilarious children; so I made the best of it, and prepared for a doze.
The guard came in to look at my ticket, and, pitying my lonely condition, he opened a conversation. He told me that the son of an immensely wealthy American nabob, with an escort well-nigh princely, was travelling on the same train to Paris. He had with him an attendant physician, a nursery governess, a little playfellow, a travelling courier, and a huge negro servant to prepare his baths, besides several inferior servants. These all occupied the parlour-car and the sleeping compartments; but the little fellow had a parlour, a bedroom, and a dressing-room all to himself.
I did not pay much attention to the talk of the gossiping guard, and so he departed, and at last I could sleep. On the road I am like a miller in his mill. So long as the wheel turns, I sleep on; but the moment it is stopped, I start up and am instantly wide awake. We had reached a smaller station where the train usually stops for a few minutes only, when, to my surprise, there was a great deal of pushing and sliding of the cars backward and forward, and we halted for an extraordinarily long time. I was just getting up to learn what was going on, when the guard entered, lantern in hand.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but there is something amiss. The linch-pin of the parlour-car has become over-heated, and we had to uncouple the car and leave it behind. Now we are obliged to find a convenient place for the little American, until we reach some main station, where another parlour-car can be attached to the train. I am really sorry for you, sir, but this is the only suitable place we have, and the little fellow and his governess must be your travelling companions for a while."
"Well, when a thing can't be helped, grumbling is unreasonable, so good-bye sleep and quiet, and let us prepare to pay homage to the illustrious youth and his lady attendant," said I, smiling at the guard's earnestness. But still he hesitated.
"And pray, sir, what is your religion?" stammered he; "I have to tell the governess."
"Indeed!" My good-humour was rising still, and I continued smiling. "Tell the lady that I am a Swiss Protestant, and I hope she will not object, as I shall not try to convert her or her charge if they are of a different creed. Is there anything else you want to inquire into?"
"Yes, sir. The little gentleman's physician would also like to accompany his charge, and stay at his side."
"But there is only room for three."
"I know; but, sir, the doctor is a very liberal gentleman, and he told me that if anybody would be willing to exchange places with him, he would gladly repay his whole travelling expenses."
"That's liberal, certainly, and I have no doubt the fireman of the engine will thankfully accept his offer. You can tell him as much. And now go!"
The man went out, but right after him came the doctor—a very pleasant and distinguished-looking young man. He apologised for the guard's bluntness and his misinterpretation of his message. He had not meant to offend a gentleman, and so forth. He introduced himself as Dr. Mayer, family physician at the house of the so-called "Silver King," Mr. Dumany, the father of the little "Silver Prince." After learning that I did not smoke, and had no objection to children, he inquired my nationality. My astrachan fur cap and coat-collar made him take me for a Russian, but, thanking him for his good opinion, I stated that as yet I was merely a Hungarian. He did not object; but asked if we were free from small-pox, diphtheritis, croup, measles, scarlet-fever, whooping-cough, and such like maladies in our country at present. After I had satisfied him that even the foot-and-mouth disease had by this time ceased, he finally quitted me, but immediately returned, assisting a lady with both hands full of travelling necessaries to climb up into the carriage. After the lady came a grand stately-looking negro servant, with gold-braided cap and overcoat of white bear's fur, and on his arm, bundled up in rich velvet and costly fur, he carried a beautiful five-year-old boy, who looked like some waxen image or big doll.
The lady seemed very lively and talkative, and had a host of languages at command. With the doctor she conversed in German; to the guide she spoke French; the negro she questioned in English, and to a maid who brought in some rugs and air-pillows she spoke Italian. All these languages she spoke excellently, and I am certain that if a dozen persons of different nationalities had been present she could have talked to them in their various dialects with the same ease and fluency. Of her beauty I could not judge, for she wore a bonnet with a thick veil, which covered her face to the chin.
Taking her seat at the opposite window, she placed the child between us. He was a pale, quiet little boy, with very red, thin, tightly-compressed lips, and great, melancholy dark-blue eyes. As long as the negro was occupied in arranging the rugs and pillows, he looked wholly unconcerned, and the smiles from the great black shining face did not impress him at all; but when the swarthy giant caught the two fair little hands in his own great black palm and wanted to kiss them, the boy withdrew his hands with a quick gesture and struck the ebony forehead with his tiny fist.
At last we were seated. The negro was gone, the guide went out and locked the door after him. Seeing that the open window was disagreeable to the lady, I volunteered to close it. She accepted gratefully, and at the same time expressed her regrets that, in consequence of the accident to the parlour-car, she had been compelled to disturb me. Of course, I hastened to say that I was not in the least incommoded, and only regretted that it was not in my power to make her more comfortable. She then told me that she was an American, and pretty well used to railroad accidents of a more or less serious character. Three times she had been saved by a miracle in railway collisions at home, and she assured me that in America about 30,000 persons were every year injured in railway accidents, while some 4,000 were killed outright.
We conversed in German, and, as the lady became more and more communicative, talk turned upon the subject of the child between us. She told me that Master James was deaf and dumb, and could not understand a word of our conversation; hence restraint was unnecessary. I asked her if he was born with this defect, and she said, "No; until the age of three he could speak very nicely, but at that age he was thrown out of his little goat-carriage, and in consequence of the shock and concussion lost his power of speech."
"Then he will possibly recover it," I said. "I knew a young man who lost his speech in the same manner at the age of five, and could not speak up to his tenth year; then he recovered, and now he has graduated from college as senior wrangler."
"Yes," she said. "But Mr. Dumany is impatient, and he has sent the boy to all the deaf-and-dumb boarding-schools in Europe. Even now we are coming from such an institution in Italy; but none of all these different masters has been able to teach more than sign-talk, and that is insufficient. Mr. Dumany wants to give the German Heinicke method a trial. That professes to teach real conversation, based on the observations of the movements of the lips and tongue."
Of this method I also knew examples of success. I was acquainted with a deaf and dumb type-setter, who had learned to talk intelligibly and fluently, could read aloud, and take part in conversation, but in a piping voice like that of a bird.
"Even that would be a great success," she said. "At any rate, little James will be taken to the Zuerich Institute, and remain there until he acquires his speech."
During this whole conversation the little fellow had sat between us, mute, and, to all appearance, wholly indifferent. His little pale face was dull, and his great eyes half closed. I felt sorry for him, and with a sigh of real compassion I muttered in my own native Hungarian tongue, "Szegeny fincska!" ("Poor little boy!") At this I saw a thrill of surprise run through the child's little frame; the great blue eyes opened wide in wonder and delight, and the closed cherry lips opened in a smile of joy.
I was struck with surprise, and did not believe my own eyes. The lady had not noticed anything, since she still kept her bonnet on and the thick veil tightly drawn over her face.
I took pity on her, and offered to go out into the corridor to smoke a cigarette, so that she might make herself a little more comfortable until we arrived at some large station, where she would enter another parlour-car.
She accepted thankfully, and, to my utter astonishment, the little boy raised his tiny hand, and caressingly stroked the fur collar of my coat. I bent down to kiss him, and he smiled sweetly on me; and when I got up and signed to him that he could now occupy both seats and stretch himself upon the little sofa, he shook his head, and crept into the corner which I had quitted. And there, as often as in my walk up and down the corridor I threw a glance into his corner, I could see the child's large dark-blue eyes following all my movements with an eager curiosity; the white little face pressed to the window-pane and the tiny hand never losing hold of the edge of the curtain, which he had purposely lifted, for the governess had pulled the curtain down the moment I left, possibly to take off her bonnet.
Mine was not a very pleasant situation in that corridor. I watched the rising and sinking of the moon, which phenomenon repeated itself about twice every hour, according to the serpentine windings of the road. I looked at the milky mist which surrounded the icy pinnacles of the great mountains, and grumbled over the intense darkness in the many tunnels, in which the roar and noise of the train is tremendously increased, thundering as if Titans were breaking out of their prisons below Mount Pelion.
As if they had not broken through long, long ago! What if the old Grecian gods should come to life? should leave their marble temples, and gaze about on the world as it is at present? If Pallas Athene were told of America? If Helios Apollo could listen to Wagner's operas, and Zeus Jupiter might look into the great tube of the London Observatory, wondering what had become of that milky way which had been formed out of the milk spilled by Amalthea? If we could show him that we had caught and harnessed his heavenly lightning to draw our vehicles and carry our messages, and that, with the help of fire-eyed leviathans, we break through the rocky womb of his great mountains? And yet, how easy it would be for them, with a simple sneeze of their most illustrious and omnipotent noses, to raise such a tempest that earth and sea would rise and destroy man and his pigmy works at one fell stroke! I wonder if they never awake? I rather think they sometimes get up and shake their mighty fists at us. These cyclones look very suspicious to me!
The huge iron leviathan turns and twists itself like a Gordian knot; disappears and reappears, almost on the same spot, but higher up on the mountain, and then glides rapidly on along the brinks of fearful abysses, over long iron bridges looking like some fanciful filigree work, some giant spider's web, extending across great valleys, chasms, and precipices, over which great mountain rivers splash down, roaring and foaming in gigantic falls. What giant power has cleft the way for these waters—Vulcan or Neptune? Or was it laid down in Euclid's adventurous age, when the Titans went into bankruptcy?
The train increases its speed to regain the time lost in uncoupling the disabled parlour-car, and this increased speed is chiefly felt at the tail of the great iron dragon. I have to cling tightly to the brass rod in front of the windows. We pass the central station without stopping, the locomotive whistles, the lamps of the little watch-houses fly past like so many jack-o'-lanterns, and all at once we are enveloped by a thick fog rising from beneath, where it had rested above the sea, and when the train has twice completed the circle around the valley, the noxious, dangerous mist surrounds us entirely.
But once more the creation of human hands conquers the spectre, and, puffing and whistling, the locomotive breaks through the dark haze. Once again the iron serpent disappears into the bowels of the rock, and as it emerges it crosses another valley and is greeted by a clear heaven and a multitude of brightly-glistening stars.
We are on the Rossberg. A devastated tract of the globe it seems. Our eyes rest on barren soil devoid of vegetation. Beneath a large field of huge boulders, imbedded in snow and ice, the Alpine vegetation thrives. The whole valley is one immense graveyard, and the great rocks are giant tombstones, encircled by wreaths of white flowers meet for adorning graves. At the beginning of the present century one of the ridges of the Rossberg gave way, and in the landslide four villages were buried. This happened at night, when the villagers were all asleep, and not a single man, women, or child escaped. This valley is their resting-place. Was I not right to call it a graveyard?
Above this valley of destruction the train glides on. Upon the side of the mountain is a little watch-house, built into the rock; a narrow flight of steps hewn in the stone leads up to it like a ladder. The moon, which had lately seemed fixed to the crest of the mountain, now plays hide-and-seek among the peaks. A high barricade on the side of the Rossberg serves to protect the railroad track against another landslide.
On the high ridges of the mountain goats were pasturing, and not far from them a shepherd's fire was blazing, and the shepherd himself sat beside it. I remember all these accessories as well as if they were still before my eyes. I can see the white goats climbing up and pulling at the broom-plants. I can see the shepherd's black form, encircled by the light of the fire, and the white watch-house with its black leaden roof, the high signal-pole in front of it, above which all at once a great flaming star arises.
THE DARK GOD.
I was gazing at that shining red light, when all at once I felt a concussion, as if the train had met with some impediment. I heard the jolting of the foremost cars, and had time to prepare for the shock which was sure to follow; but when it did come, it was so great that it threw me to the opposite wall of the corridor.
Yet the train moved on as before, so that it could not have been disabled, as I at first thought. I heard the guards run from carriage to carriage, opening the doors, and I could see great clouds of steam arise from the puffing and blowing engines. The friction of the wheels made a grating noise, and I leaned out of the window to ascertain the nature of the danger. Was another train approaching, and a collision inevitable? I could see nothing, but suddenly I beheld the figure of the shepherd, and saw him raise his staff aloft. I followed the motion of his hand, and with a thrill of horror I saw a great ledge of rock sliding downward with threatening speed, while at the same time a shower of small stones crashed on the roof of the cars.
I did not wait for the guards to open my door. I had it open in an instant. From the other carriages passengers were jumping out at the risk of life and limb, for the train was running at full speed.
I hastily ran into the coupe to awaken my travelling companions, but found them up. "Madam," I said, "I am afraid that we are in danger of a serious accident. Pray come out quickly!"
"Save the child!" she answered; and I caught the little boy, took him in my arms, and ran out.
The train was gliding perpetually on, and I bethought myself of the recommendation of one who is jumping from a running vehicle, to leap forward, because in jumping sideways or backward he invariably falls under the wheels. So I followed the recommendation and leaped. Fortunately, I reached the ground, although my knees doubled up under me, and I struck the knuckles of my right hand a hard blow. The child had fainted in my arms, but only from fright; otherwise he had received no harm. I laid him on the ground in a safe place, and ran with all my might after the train to help the lady out. She was standing on the steps, already prepared for the jump. I extended my hand to her, impatiently crying "Quick!" But instead of taking my proffered hand she exclaimed, "Oh! I have forgotten my bonnet and veil," and back she ran into the coupe, never again to come forth.
At that moment I felt a tremendous shock, as if the earth had quaked and opened beneath me, and this was followed by a deafening uproar, the clashing of stones, the cracking of wood and glass, the grating and crushing of iron, and the pitiful cries of men, women, and children. The great mass of rock broke through the protecting barricade and rushed right upon the engine. The huge, steam-vomiting leviathan was crushed in an instant, and the copper and steel fragments scattered everywhere. Three of the wheels were shattered, and with that the iron colossus came to a dead stop, the suddenness of which threw the carriages crashing on top of each other. This fearful havoc was not all. Through the breach which the great rock had made in the barricade, an incessant avalanche of stones, from the size of a cannon-ball to that of a wheelbarrow, descended upon the train, crushing everything beneath into fragments, pushing the unhappy train into the chasm below, into the valley of death and destruction. Like a huge serpent it slid down, the great glowing furnace with its feeding coals undermost, and then the whole wrecked mass of carriages tumbled after, atop of each other, while cries of despair were heard on every side. Then I saw the rear car—that in which I had been sitting—stand up erect on top of the others, while on its roof fell, with thunderous violence, the awful shower of stones. Mutely I gazed on, until a large stone struck the barricade just where I stood, and then I realised that the danger was not over, and ran for shelter.
The stones were falling fast to left and to right, and I hastened to gain the steps which led to the little watch-house. Then I bethought me of the boy. I found him still insensible, but otherwise unharmed, and I took him up, covering him with a furred coat. I ran up the steps with him, so fast that not a thought of my asthma and heart disease slackened my speed.
There was nobody in the house but a woman milking a goat. In one corner of the room stood a bed, in the middle was a table, and on one of the walls hung a burning coal-oil lamp.
As I opened the door the woman looked up, and said in a dull piteous moaning—
"It is none of Joerge's fault. Joerge had shown the red light in good season, and yesterday he specially warned the gentlemen, and told them that a ridge of the Gnippe was crumbling, and would soon break down; but they did not listen to him, and now that the accident has come, they will surely visit their own carelessness upon him. It is always the poor dependent that is made to suffer for the fault of his superiors. But I will not stand it; and if Joerge is discharged and loses his bread, then—"
"All right, madam!" I said, "I saw the red light in time, and I shall testify for Joerge in case of need. Only keep quiet now, and come here. You must try to restore this child. He has fainted. Give him water or something; you will know best what to do."
In recalling these words to my memory and writing them down, I am not quite certain that I really spoke them; I am not certain of a single word or action of mine on that fearful night. But I think that I said the words I am relating, although I was so confused that it is possible I did not utter a word. I had come out of the house again, and saw a man running up and down on the narrow rocky plateau, like one crazy. It was Joerge the watchman; he was looking for the signal-post, and could not find it.
"Here it is, look!" I said, turning his face toward the high pole right in front of him. He gazed up wistfully, and then all at once he blubbered out—
"See! See, the red light! I gave the warning. They cannot blame me; they dare not punish me for it. It is not my fault!"
Of course, he thought of nothing but himself, and the misfortune of the others touched him only in so far as he was concerned.
"Don't blubber now!" I said. "There will be time enough to think of ourselves. Now let us learn what has happened to the others. The whole train has been swept down into the abyss below. What has become of the people in it?"
"God Almighty have mercy on their souls!"
"Yet perhaps we could save some of them. Come along!"
"I can't go. I dare not leave my post, else they will turn against me."
"Well then, I shall go alone," said I, and hastened down the steps.
I heard no screams, no cries, not a sound of human voices. The poor victims of the catastrophe were exhausted or frightened out of their wits, and gave no utterance to the pain they felt. Only the never-ceasing clatter of the falling stones was heard, nothing else. Awful is the voice of the elements, and dreadful their revenge on their human antagonists! The thundering heavens, the roaring sea, are awful to behold and to listen to; but most fearful of all is the voice of the earth, when, quivering in wrath, she opens her fiery mouth or hurls her rocky missiles at pigmy men.
From the wrecked train a great many travellers had jumped like myself; but not all with the same happy result. They had mostly reached the ground more or less bruised, but at the moment of escape from the clutch of death we do not much feel our hurts. These unhappy victims, frightened as they were, had managed to creep and hide behind the untouched portion of the bulwark, and happy to have escaped from immediate death, sheltered from the tremendous cataract of stones, they remained quiet, trembling, awaiting the end of the catastrophe and the ultimate rescue. But what had meanwhile become of those who had stayed in the falling carriages?
There came a terrible answer to that question, and out of the old horror arose a new and still more terrible spectre. A demon with a cloudy head, rising from the darkness below, and with a swift and fearful growth, mounting up to the sky—a demon with a thousand glistening, sparkling eyes and tongues, a smoke-fiend!
The great boiler of the locomotive had gone down first. There it fell, not on the ground, but on a large fragment of rock, which pierced it completely, so that the air had free access to the fire. Upon the top of both boiler and tender, the coal-van had been turned upside down, and these had pulled all the carriages one on top of the other in the same way, so that the whole train stood upright, like some huge steeple. This dreadful structure had become a great funeral pile, the altar of a black pagan idol whose fiery tongues were greedily thrusting upward to devour their prey.
Then, as the smoke became blacker and blacker, a heart-rending, almost maddening sound of shrieking and crying rang out from that devilish wreck, so loud and piercing that it drowned the clatter of stones, the crackling of the fast-kindling coals, and the crushing noise of the metals. At the cry for aid of the doomed victims, all who had escaped and hidden behind the bulwark came forth, creeping or running, shrieking and gesticulating, forgetful of their own danger and pitiful condition, thinking only of those dear lost ones there in that abode of hell, and maddened at the impossibility of rescuing them. It was a wild hurly-burly of voices and of tongues, of despairing yells, hysterical sobs, heart-rending prayers; and as I stumbled over the twisted and broken rails, that stood upright like bent wires, and stooped over the bulwark, I beheld a spectacle so terrible that every nerve of my body, every heart-string, revolted at it. Even now they quiver at the ghastly recollection.
As the fire lighted up the horrible pile I could see that the first carriage atop of the coals was a shattered mass, the second crushed flat, while the third stood with wheels uppermost, and so forth to the top, and out of all of them human heads, limbs, faces, bodies, were thrust forward. Two small gloved female hands, locked as in prayer, were stretched out of a window, and above them two strong, muscular, masculine arms tried with superhuman force to lift the iron weight above, to break a way at the top, until the blood flowed from the nails, and even these strong arms dropped down exhausted. Half-seen forms, mutilated, bleeding, were tearing with teeth and nails at their dreadful prison. Then for a while the smoky cloud involved everything in darkness. A moment after, the red fiery tongues came lapping upward, and a red, glowing halo encircles the fatal wreck. The first and second carriages were already burned. How long would it take the flames to reach the top? How many of the sufferers were yet alive? What power in heaven or earth could save them, and how?
The hollow into which the train had fallen was so deep that, in spite of the erect position of the ill-fated pile, the topmost car—that containing the poor foolish American governess, who had lost her life in running back for her bonnet—was ten metres below us, and we had not even a single rope or cord with which to hazard the experiment of descending. A young man, one of those few who had come forth unharmed, ran up and down the embankment, shouting madly for a rope, offering a fortune for belts, shawls, and cords. His newly-married bride was in one of those carriages, and hers were the tiny gloved hands that were stretched out of the window. "A rope!" cried he; "give me anything to make a rope!" But who heeded him?
A young mother sat on the tracks, fondly hugging a plaid shawl in her arms. Her babe was there in that burning pyre, but horror had overpowered her reason. There she sat, caressing the woollen bundle, and in a low voice singing her "Eia Popeia" to the child of her fantasy.
An aged Polish Jew lay across the barricade wall. His two hands were stretched downward, and there he muttered the prayers and invocations of his ancient liturgy, which no one there understood but himself and his God. The ritual prayer-bands were upon his thumbs and wrists, and encircling his forehead. His forked beard and greasy side-locks dangled as he chanted his hymns, while his eyes, starting almost out of their sockets, were fixed upon one of the carriages. What did that car contain? His wife? His children? Or his worldly goods, the fortune hoarded up through a life-time of cunning and privation? Who knows? Forth he chants his prayers, loudly yelling, or muttering low, as the ghastly scene before him vanishes in smoke and darkness, or glows out again in fearful distinctness.
Every one shrieks, cries, prays, swears, raves.
No; not every one! There, on the barricade, his logs doubled up Turk-fashion, sits a young painter with Mephisto beard and grey eyes. His sketch-book is open, and he is making a vivid sketch of the sensational scene. The illustrated papers are grateful customers, and will rejoice at receiving the sketch.
But this young draughtsman is not the only sensible person in the place. There is another, a long-legged Englishman, standing with watch in hand, reckoning up the time lost by the accident, and eyeing the scene complacently.
Some noisy dispute attracts my attention, and, turning, I behold a man, trying with all his might to overcome a woman, who attacks him with teeth and nails, biting his hands and tearing at his flesh, as he drags her close to him. At last he succeeds in joining both of her hands behind her back, she foaming, writhing, and cursing. I ask indignantly, "What do you want with the woman? Let her alone!"
"Oh, sir!" he said, showing me a sorrowful and tear-stained face, "for Heaven's sake, help me! I cannot bear with her any more. She wants to leap down and kill herself. Pray help me to tie her hands, and carry her off from here!"
By his speech I knew him for a Pole, and the woman's exclamations were also uttered in the Polish language. She was his wife; her children were there in that infernal pile, and she wanted to die with them.
"Quick! quick!" gasped the man. "Take my necktie and fasten her hands behind her." I obeyed; and as I wound the silken strip tight around the unhappy woman's wrist, her despairing gaze fixed itself in deadly hate upon my face, and her foaming lips cursed me for keeping her away from her children. As her husband carried her away, her curses pierced the air; and although I could not understand the words, I understood that she spoke of the "Czrny Bog," or, as the Russians say, "Cserny Boh," the "Black God" of the Slavs—Death.
By this time the horrible tower was burning brightly, and the night was all aglow with the glaring light, and still those terrible shrieks from human voices resounded to and fro.
The young artist had a picturesque scene for his pencil, and kept making sketch after sketch. The burning wreck, the flying cinders, the red mist around the black pine woods on the rocky wall of the mountain, and that small span of star-lit heaven above; all those frightened, maddened, running, crouching, creeping men and women around, with the chanting Jew, in his long silken caftan and dangling locks, in the midst of them, made a picture of terrible sublimity.
But still the god of destruction was unsatisfied, and his fiery maw opened for more victims. The unhappy young husband had succeeded in tearing up his clothes and knotting the strips together. A compassionate woman had given him a shawl, which he fastened to the bushes. On this he descended into that mouth of hell. The perilous attempt succeeded so far that, with one mad leap, he landed on the top of the uppermost car with its pile of stones, and then, with cat-like dexterity and desperate daring, he scrambled downward to the third carriage. Quickly he reached the spot, and the poor little gloved hands of his darling were thrown in ecstasy around his neck. Someone had drawn up the cord on which he had let himself down, fastened a stout iron rod to it, and suspended it carefully. Happily it reached him, and with its aid he made a good-sized breach, widening the opening of the window; he worked with desperate strength, and we gazed breathlessly on. Now we saw him drop the rod again. The tender arms of his bride were around his neck, a fair head was thrust out, the whole form was emerging, when with a tremendous crash, and a hissing, spluttering, crackling noise, the whole fabric shook and trembled, and husband and wife were united in death.
The great boiler had burst; the explosion had changed the scene again, and the young painter might draw still another sketch.
That long-legged son of Albion whom I had previously observed, strolled up to my side and asked—
"Do you understand German, sir?"
"Yes, sir, I do."
"Then call for that shepherd. I want him."
I obeyed, and the shepherd, who had complacently eyed the scene as something that was of no consequence to him, came slowly and wonderingly up.
He was in no hurry, and my coaxing "Dear friend" and "Good friend" did not impress him at all; but when the Englishman showed him a handful of gold coins he came on quickly enough.
"Tell him," said the Englishman, "to run to the next railway station, give notice of the accident, and return with a relief train for succour. Tell him to be quick, and when he returns I will give him two hundred francs."
"Yes," said the man; "but who will take care of my goats meanwhile?"
"How many goats have you?"
"And what is the average price of a goat?"
"Well, here is the price of your goats in cash. I give you one hundred francs—ten more than your goats are worth. Now run! How far is it?"
"A good running distance, not very far." The man pocketed his money and turned, when an idea struck him. "Could you not take care of my goats anyhow, till I return?" he asked.
Smart fellow! He kept the money for his goats, and tried to keep the goats into the bargain.
"All right," said the Englishman, "I will take care of them. Never fear. Go!"
"But you must take my stick and my horn; the goats will get astray when they do not hear the horn."
"Then give it to me, and I will blow it," said the Englishman, with admirable patience, and, taking the shepherd's crook and horn, he gave the man his red shawl to use as a signal-flag.
As the shepherd at length trotted on and disappeared, that unique, long-legged example of phlegm and good sense sat down by the shepherd's fire, on exactly the same spot where the shepherd had sat, and began watching the goats.
I returned to the mournful scene which I had quitted when the Englishman came up to me. It was a terrible one, and no marvel that even the painter had closed his sketch-book to gaze upon it in silent awe. The entire valley below showed like a giant furnace, or some flaming ocean of hell. Huge fiery serpents came hissing and snarling up to the barricade, and great flakes of fire were flying about everywhere, scorching and kindling as they fell. The chill, keen, mountain air had become heavy and warm in spite of the winter, and a loathsome, penetrating odour arose and drove us away from the horrible place. No one remained but the Polish Jew. He did not move away. He had risen to his knees on the barricade wall, and his hands, with their prayer-bands, were uplifted to heaven. Louder and louder he chanted his hymns, raising his voice above the thundering roar of the crackling fire, the rolling stones, and the last despairing cries of the doomed ones. The fur on his cap, his forked beard and dangling locks were singed by the falling cinders, and his skin scorched and blistered, yet still he chanted on. But when at last he saw that his prayer was in vain, all at once he sprang up, and seemed to strike at the flames with both palms; then, spitting into the fire "pchi!" he fell down senseless.
By this time the heat was so oppressive that it was dangerous to stand anywhere near the barricade, and even for the sake of saving a man's life from such a horrid fate, it was impossible to venture among the falling cinders and rolling stones. All that the few of us who had escaped with sound limbs and bodies could do was to carry our less fortunate, wounded or maimed fellow-travellers up into the little watch-house.
This we did, and then came those seemingly endless minutes in which we waited for the relief train. Once the Englishman blew the horn for the goats, and we thought it was the whistling of the expected train. How terribly that disappointment was felt! and what sinful, subtle, and sophistical thoughts crowded into our heads, burdened our hearts, and oppressed our spirits in those awful minutes!
What terrible thing had these poor victims done to deserve such fearful punishment? What heinous crime had they committed to be sentenced to death and destruction by such a painful, torturing process? Whose sin was visited on the guileless heads of little infants and innocent children who had perished in those flames? Could not they have been spared? or that loving and beautiful young couple, just on the brink of life and happiness, and now sent to eternity together by such a fearful road, into the mouth of hell when they had thought themselves before the open gate of Paradise? What had that unhappy mother done? or all these old and young men and women, in full health and spirits, enjoying life and happiness, surrounded by happy relatives, full of happy plans and hopes? What had they done to deserve this fate, those poor servants of the public convenience, the guards, the engineer, and the other officials, who could have saved their own lives easily, and in good time, if they had abandoned their fatal posts, and had not preferred to die in doing their duty? Why had not these been saved for the sake of their wives and children, now widows and orphans, abandoned to the charities of a merciless world? Who and where is that awful Deity into whose altar-fire that conjuring Jew had spat, because He would not listen to his invocations? What dreadful Power is it which has pushed down that rock-colossus to destroy so many human lives? Is it the Czrny Bog of the Samaritans, the Lord of Darkness and Doer of Mischief, whose might is great in harm, whose joy is human despair, and who is adored with oaths and curses?
But if such a power exists—if there is a Czrny Bog, indeed—then his deeds are befitting his name—dark and black. But why should I, who am human myself, and have a heart for my brethren and a sense of their wrongs, why should I in this fatal instant, although full of pity and commiseration, yet inwardly rejoice that this misfortune has fallen upon others and not upon me? Why should I feel that although others have perished, all is well as long as I am safe?
Is this not shameful? Is it not an everlasting stain and disgrace upon my inner self? What right have I to think myself the chosen ward of some guardian angel or tutelary spirit? In what am I different from those lost ones? In what better, worthier than they? And if not, why had I been saved and not they? Here! Here was the Czrny Bog, the dark god, in my own breast.
At last day was dawning, and, in the grey morning light, the horrible picture looked ghastlier still, when, to our intense relief, the long-expected train came, and physicians with their assistants, firemen with their manifold implements, police, and all kinds of labourers, arrived upon it. The train stopped at a safe distance, and then the work of rescue began. Wounds were dressed, the insensible restored, watchmen and travellers were interrogated by officials. Ropes and rope-ladders were fastened and suspended, and brave men, magnanimously forgetful of the threatening danger, went down into the flames, although the hope of success was small. True, the two or three uppermost cars had not as yet caught fire; but who could breathe amid that suffocating smoke, that lurid loathsome atmosphere, and yet live?
The labourers set to work at the breaches of the barricade and the line of rails. The engineers discussed the best way in which a protecting barrier ought to be built so as to shut out every possibility of such an accident; and from the plateau before the watch-house some men were incessantly calling for a "Monsieur d'Astrachan."
At last one of the labourers called my attention to these repeated shouts, and, turning in their direction, I observed that this title was intended for me. The watchman's wife, not knowing my name, had described me as wearing an astrachan cap and coat-collar, and accordingly I was called "Monsieur d'Astrachan." Now for the first time I remembered the child I had carried thither. I had completely forgotten it, and the occurrence seemed such an age away that I should not have been surprised to hear that the boy had grown to be a man.
I hastened up the steps, and observed that some official personage in showy uniform was expecting me quite impatiently. "Come up, sir," he said; "we cannot converse with your little boy."
"To be sure you can't!" said I, smiling, in spite of the dreadful situation. "Neither can I, for the boy is deaf and dumb; but I have to correct you, sir. The boy is not my own, although I took him out of the carriage."
"That boy deaf and dumb? About as much as we are, I judge. Why, he is talking incessantly, only we can't make anything out of his prattle, as we do not understand the language," said the officer.
"Well, that's certainly a miracle!" I exclaimed, "and it bears witness to the truth of the old proverb, 'It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.' Assuredly, the shock of the accident restored his power of speech. What is he saying?"
"I told you we can't make it out. It's a language that none of us understand."
"Then I hardly suppose that I shall be cleverer than all of you."
"Whose child is it, if not yours?"
"Some rich nabob's. I can't at the moment recall his name, although the governess told me, poor soul! We were thrown together by chance, and the poor woman perished in the flames. Has no one of his many attendants and servants escaped?"
"It seems not. But pray come in and listen to him; perhaps you will understand him."
I went in, and found my practical Englishman beside the child, but incapable of arriving at a mutual understanding. The injured travellers and the hysterical women passengers were already snugly stowed away in the ambulance carriages and well taken care of. The goats were again under the protection of their legitimate shepherd, and that temporary official, the long-legged son of Albion, was addressing all kinds of questions in English to an obstinate little boy.
As I entered, and the child caught sight of me, the little face lit up at once. He extended both his little arms in joy. "Please come," he said; "I will be a good boy. I will speak!"
It is marvellous enough when a dumb child speaks; but what was my surprise when I recognised these words, uttered in my own native Hungarian tongue! Just imagine the five-year-old son of a wealthy American, whose entire cortege had been German, French, Italian, and English, speaking Hungarian!
I took the little fellow up in my arms, and he put both his little arms around my neck, and, leaning his soft cheek on my bearded face, he said again, "I will be good, very good; but please take me to my papa. I am afraid!"
"Who is your father, my child?" I asked. "What is his name?"
As I uttered these questions in Hungarian, he clapped his hands in gladness, and then, after a little meditation, he answered—
"My father is called the 'Silver King,' and his name is Mr. Dumany. Do you know him?"
"Oh!" said the Englishman, as he heard the name, "Mr. Kornel Dumany, the Silver King; I know him very well. He is an American, and very rich. He lives mostly in Paris. If it is more convenient for you to get rid of the child, I can take care of him and bring him to his father."
"No, no!" protested the little one, clinging tightly to me. "Please, do not give me to him! I want to stay with you; I want to go with you to my papa!"
So he knew English well enough, since he understood every word of the Englishman's. In this case he could not have been deaf at all, but obstinate, hearing and refusing to talk. Was not such unheard-of obstinacy in a child of such tender age some malady of the mind or soul?
"I wonder how this child comes to speak Hungarian?" said I, turning to the Englishman. "Ours is not a language generally spoken by foreigners, least of all by the young children of American nabobs."
"I never wonder at anything," said he, coolly. "At any rate, I should advise you at the first station to telegraph to Mr. Dumany; I will give you his address. So you will be expected when you arrive in Paris, and have no further trouble. Since you are the only person able to talk to the boy, it will be certainly the best thing for him to remain with you. Now I think it is time for us to take our seats in the carriage, or else the train will start and leave us behind. Come on, gentlemen!"
The train from Zuerich arrived at the Eastern Railway Station at seven o'clock in the morning. In Paris the day has at that early hour not yet begun, and but very few persons, mostly travelling foreigners and labourers, are seen on the streets. Since it has become the fashion to use the moving train for suicidal purposes, the perron is locked, and only those travellers admitted whose luggage is undergoing examination by the customs officials.
I was lucky enough to have sent my luggage one day ahead of me to Paris, and so it had not been lost in the accident. I had nothing with me but a small satchel, which I had saved, but which contained nothing to interest the custom-house officers, and so, taking my little charge in hand, I stepped out into the hall. I had hardly gone two paces, when the child dropped my hand, and crying, "Papa! dear, darling papa!" ran to a gentleman who, with a lady at his side, stood by the turnstile.
I had never before seen the lady, yet I recognised her at once as the mother of my little charge, so striking was the resemblance between them. She had the same large, dark-blue eyes, the same dimpled chin, aquiline nose, and pretty, shell-shaped, little mouth as he, and she could hardly have been more than four-and-twenty, so young and girlish did she look. The husband was a large-made, well-shaped, and distinguished-looking gentleman. His bronze complexion had a healthy flush, and he wore side whiskers, but no moustache. His head was covered with a round soft beaver, and a long, rich fur coat was thrown lightly over his shoulder. In his scarf I saw a large solitaire. The lady at his side was very plainly attired in black, and wore no jewellery at all. The age of the gentleman was, according to my judgment, about forty.
As the child ran toward him, with both his little arms stretched out, and crying, in Hungarian, "Apam! Drago edes apam!" ("Papa! dear darling papa!") the gentleman hastened to meet him, caught the boy up in his arms, and covered the little face, hands, eyes, and hair with a shower of kisses. The father sobbed in his joy, while the child laughed, caressed his father's cheeks, and called him "Edes jo apam!" ("My good, sweet father!") in Hungarian, and the father called him, crying and laughing, "My dear little fool"—in English.
Then I saw the father whisper something to the child, and in an instant the whole little face became rigid and dull, all child-like mirth and sweetness had vanished. He looked around, and then clung tightly to his father, as if in dread of something, and I saw his lips move in appeal. The father kissed him again and carried him to the lady, who all the while had given no sign of animation or interest, but had looked on, cool and indifferent.
"Look, my pet, here is your mama!" said the gentleman to the boy, approaching the lady and holding the boy toward her. Now, according to the law of nature, according to all human sentiment and experience, we should expect a mother who receives back her own offspring, saved from a fate too horrible even to contemplate, her own child who had gone from her mute and comes back to her speaking, I say we should think it natural in such a mother to seize this child, and, in the ecstasy of her love and joy, half suffocate it with her kisses and caresses. Not so here. I could see no glad tear in the lady's eye, no smile of welcome on her face. Her hands were snugly stowed away in a costly little muff, and she did not think it necessary to extend them to her child. She breathed a cold, lifeless kiss upon the boy's pale forehead, and the tiny hand of the child caressed the fur trimming on her jacket, just as he had done with the astrachan lapel of my coat. What a strange behaviour in mother and child after such a reunion!
I had watched this family scene out of a strange curiosity, which was wholly involuntary. Presently I recollected the situation, and turned to leave the perron. Perhaps, if I had saved some honest cockney's son from a like danger, I should not have avoided him, but, with a friendly pressure of the hand, expressed my pleasure at having been able to be of service to him. Then we should have parted good friends. But to introduce myself to an American nabob as the rescuer of his child was impossible! Why, the man was capable of offering me a remuneration!
No, I would have nothing to do with aristocrats like these. They have their child; it is safe; and so good-bye to them!
However, as I turned to leave, I was surprised to hear some one pronounce my name, and, to my astonishment, I found that it was Mr. Dumany. He still held the child on his arm, and, coming toward me, he said in French, "Oh, sir! you do not mean to run away from us, surely?"
"Indeed I must!" said I, bowing. "But, pray, how is it that you know my name? You cannot know me personally?"
"Well, that is a question which must remain to be answered later on. At present it is sufficient to tell you that the telegraph service has been very full and exact, even in personal description. However, I beg you to revoke that 'I must,' for indeed I cannot allow you to depart. To the great favour you have done me, you must add the additional favour of being my guest for the time of your sojourn in Paris. Promise me to accept of my hospitality—nay, to regard my house as your own. I shall be ever so happy! Come, pray, do not hesitate, and give me leave to introduce you to my wife!"
With that he took my arm, and holding it tight, as if in fear I might break loose and run off, he led me to the turnstile, where the lady was standing as quiet and composed as before. He introduced me to her by my proper name and title, naming even the district which I represented in the Hungarian Parliament; and all these he pronounced perfectly and correctly, as I never heard them pronounced by a foreigner before. How could he know all that? True, I had shown my passport to the frontier officials; but were these also subject to the Silver King?
The lady bowed politely as her husband said, "This gentleman has saved our little James from being consumed by the flames at the Rossberg catastrophe"; and for a moment I felt the slight pressure of a little gloved hand in mine. It was a very slight pressure, the faintest possible acknowledgment of a duty, and if I had saved her little pet monkey or dog, instead of her child, she might well have afforded me a warmer recognition. Indeed, I had seen women go into raptures on account of such animals before this, but never before had I seen a mother value the life of her own child so cheap. She did not hold it worthy of a single expression of gratitude; she had not a word to spare for him or me. Was this woman a human monstrosity and void of all natural feeling? or else was it part of the American etiquette to suppress all outward signs of emotion?
What puzzled me most was the boy. He was so different from the happy, talkative little fellow he had been with me and with his father some minutes ago, and he looked just as dull and inanimate as when I had seen him first on the railway. Was it because he could only speak Hungarian? But then, how could he speak to his father? Who had taught the boy to speak that peculiar language, dear to me and my compatriots, but wholly unintelligible and of very little use or advantage to the world at large?
I observed that Mr. Dumany held a short conversation with a tall liveried footman behind him, and I understood that he ordered him to take out my luggage. I protested and tried to escape. I like hospitality at home; but when I come into a foreign country, I prefer the simplest inn or the obscurest hotel to the most magnificent apartments of a palace of a prince of the Bourse, because independence goes with the former, and of all slavery I fear that of etiquette the worst.
But Mr. Dumany did not mean to give way to my polite protestations. "Just surrender nicely, pray!" he said, smilingly. "It saves you trouble. Look! If you insist upon going to some hotel, I promise you that all the reporters of every paper we have, daily and weekly, will be sure to pester you day and night with interviews, besides the reporters of foreign papers here, of which we also have an abundance. Every word you speak will by each reporter be turned into a different meaning, and by to-morrow the papers will be full of your intimations, although you do not say anything at all. And then the photographers: how will you escape them? Don't you know that every penny paper will appear with your picture in front to-morrow, and, wherever you go, it will be thrust before your eyes? You will hear your name pronounced in all languages, and in every way, and you will not know how to escape this unsought-for and unwelcome notoriety. But if you accept my invitation, nobody will be able to stare at you or interrogate you, and you shall live as quietly and peacefully as if you were in some herdsman's hovel in Hortobagy at home."
I stared at him quite stunned. How, in the name of all that was wonderful, could he have learned of the existence of a herdsman's hovel in Hortobagy? How could he know that it was my favourite spot? And how he pronounced that Hortobagy! Just as I myself! He smiled at my astonishment, but offered no explanation. But now he had caught me in my weak point—a writer's curiosity—and I gave in, willingly enough.
Mr. Dumany ordered the carriages. In one magnificent landau Mrs. Dumany was to go with little James, in the other Mr. Dumany and myself. But the child obstinately refused to leave his father's arms, and clung to him more tightly than ever. So the lady was obliged to go alone, and we two men took the boy with us.
I confess that the gentleman puzzled and interested me very much. Not because people had given him the name of "Silver King." I do not covet, and I do not admire wealth alone, pure and simple. I know how to describe a vine-embowered cottage, or even a thatch-roofed hut, with a garland of gourd blossoms around its small windows, and I can appreciate the beauties of a picturesque church or castle. But all my descriptive faculties desert me before the marble and gold luxury of a modern palace, and its gorgeous splendour has no charm for me. The interest I felt was due to the man himself, and, most of all, to the connection existing between him and my own home. How came this American Croesus to be acquainted with the nomenclature, customs, and topography of my own country and language? How came the latter upon the lips of his five-year-old boy? In my childhood I had known a five-year-old boy, the son of a count, who could speak only Latin, and not a word except Latin. But, then, Latin is taught throughout the world, and no education is considered as finished without a more or less perfect knowledge of Latin. But where in a foreign country is the professor who teaches the Ugro-Finnish tongue, even if there were some whimsical parent who wished that his son should learn to speak it?
During the drive Mr. Dumany acquainted me with some particulars regarding the customs of his house. He told me that the hour for breakfast was nine, and that for lunch one o'clock. Dinner was invariably served at six, and I was entirely at liberty to put in my appearance or stay away. They would not wait for me, but my place at the table would be kept reserved; and if I was late, I should be served afresh. The cook should be entirely at my disposal. If the excitement and fatigue of the journey should make me wish for a day's rest, I was free to retire to my rooms at once, and should not be disturbed by anybody.
In answer to all this I said that I had no habits whatever; that I was able to eat, drink, and sleep at will; was never fatigued, and would with pleasure put in my appearance at his breakfast-table that very morning.
"That will be nice, indeed!" he said. "But I must beg your pardon in advance for my wife. On ordinary days she is up and presides at breakfast; but to-day she bade me apologise. She has been up all night from excitement, and now I have told her to lie down and rest a few hours. After that she usually spends some time in the nursery, superintending the children's ablutions, prayers, and breakfast, and only when all these matters are accomplished is she ready for her duties as hostess and mistress of the household."
"So little James is not your only child?" I ventured to ask.
"Not by many; we have two more boys and two beautiful little girls—quite a houseful."
"But the lady looks almost too young to be the mother of so many children. Little James is the eldest, of course?"
"Yes, he is her first-born, and she is not yet twenty-four. We have been married six years, so christening has been an annual event with us."
Well, I was more puzzled than ever. I had met with a good many English and American gentlemen before, but all had been rather reserved in speech and manner, quite different from this Croesus; and, regarding the lady, I was altogether at a loss, as all my conjectures were entirely at fault. She was not without feeling; she was apparently a good mother, and little James was her own child and not a stepson, as I had guessed. Her behaviour at the station was still an enigma to me.
At last we arrived at the Silver King's residence—a large, well-built, and rather comfortable than brilliant mansion, filled with a host of servants, of whom each knew and fulfilled his particular duty. A valet de chambre showed me into a very splendid and comfortable suite of rooms, consisting of a reception-room, sitting-room, work-room, bed-, dressing-, and bathroom, all furnished in the choicest and most practical way, and I was delighted to see that, although all was rich and costly, none of the offensive and pretentious pomp of the ordinary millionaire's house met my eye.
The valet, an Alsacian, who talked to me in German—perhaps with the notion of paying me a compliment—informed me that he was entirely at my own service. He showed me a beautiful escritoire in the work-room, with everything ready for writing purposes, and told me that, in the reading-room attached, I should find an assortment of newspapers. He then quickly and skilfully prepared me a bath, unpacked and arranged my things, and helped me to dress. He was altogether a wonderfully nice fellow.
When the valet left me, I went into the reading-room, and looked at the newspapers. I found quite a number of them—French, English, Italian, and one German; but still I was a little disappointed. I had half expected to find a Hungarian paper, and there was none.
The library contained a choice collection of books; works of science, philosophy, history, poetry, and fiction—of the latter, only a small and select number. Here also was no Hungarian author to be found; not even the translation of a Hungarian book could I detect, although I looked into every one—French, German, English, and Italian, and even some Spanish and Danish ones.
From the reading-room opened the billiard-room, a handsome apartment. Its walls were covered with beautiful frescoes, betraying the French school of art in the delicate colours, and in the Norman, Basque, Breton, and Kabyle scenes and types represented. Of Hungary I could see nothing. The Hortobagy herdsman's hovel, of which my host had spoken, was not to be found.
In another room I found a sort of ethnographical museum, full of relics and rarities from all countries except Hungary; and yet, if that man had ever been in my country, he would certainly have brought some token of remembrance with him. Hungary is more rich in curiosities than a good many of the countries represented here.
Mr. Dumany came in to see if I was ready for breakfast, and I followed him into the tea-room, passing a little, semi-circular, ship-cabin-like apartment, with small, round windows, between which, in beautifully-sculptured, round frames, of the size of the windows, hung very handsome landscapes, apparently American.
In the breakfast-room I recognised a tiny Meissonier, in a gold frame of twice its size, and an Alma Tadema. Mr. Dumany, observing my interest in the pictures, informed me that these two were there only temporarily, pending their shipment to New York. There, in Mr. Dumany's real home, was his picture gallery, containing works of art of the highest standard.
I ventured to observe that we Scythians, barbarians as we were held to be, had also some painters worthy the interest of a Maecenas, and not without fame, too.
"I should think so," he said, smiling. "And in my New York gallery you will find Munkacsy genres, Zichy aquarelles, a Benczur, and some other equally fine Hungarian pictures. Here I keep only French and German pictures of lesser value."
Our conversation turned to art in general, and Mr. Dumany surprised me again by an allusion to the Hungarian witticism that when we speak of Hungarian art we cannot omit Liszt (for the name of the great musician is also the Hungarian word for flour); and Mr. Dumany remarked that Americans travelling abroad have learned to appreciate both the Hungarian specialties. The great artist, and the product of the soil and mill converted into fine cake, are equally esteemed by them.
We talked about commerce and exports, and he observed that although American wheat was sure to inundate the European market, yet Hungarian flour was unrivalled in quality, and would increase in consumption throughout the world. Then we spoke of financial matters, and here Mr. Dumany was completely at home. The Hungarian rente had at that time just been introduced into the market, and Mr. Dumany predicted for it a fair success. He prophesied the rente conversion scheme and the four per cent. bonds, and from this topic we diverged to politics. He was a very fair politician, and I was pleasantly impressed by the apparent interest which he took in Hungary. He admired Andrassy, and spoke well of his Bosnian policy. Of Tisza he entertained great hopes, and he felt sorry for Apponyi, because he had allied his great talents with the Opposition. He spoke of Kossuth, and said it was a pity to see the grand old man's name misused by the extreme faction. I tried to turn the conversation to Hungarian literature, but on this point I met with but little interest. Still, I noticed that he knew more about us than foreigners in general do. He did not think the Gypsies the ruling race in Hungary, and he did not believe us to be a sort of chivalrous brigands, as some foreigners consider us; but he did not show any particular sympathy with either the country or the people, and certainly used no flattery on the subject of our special virtues.
Our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Dumany's valet, who handed his master two letters. "Will you give me leave to read them at once?" he asked, turning to me. "They are of some importance, being answers to two dinner invitations I sent out this morning."
"Certainly," I answered; "pray do as you wish."
He opened and read the letters, and, replacing them again on the silver salver upon which the servant had brought them, he ordered him to hand them over to the chambermaid so that Mrs. Dumany might receive and read them.
After the valet had left, Mr. Dumany said to me—
"I have invited these two gentlemen to meet you at dinner. One of them is secretary of the Department of the Interior, the other an old Catholic priest, the parson of St. Germain l'Auxerrois. It is very nice and pleasant that both of them accepted, and so I hope you will not object to make the acquaintance of two whole-souled and intelligent gentlemen."
"Quite the contrary," I hastened to say; "I shall be very happy to meet them."
Just then the valet returned, and, deferentially bowing, he said to me—
"Madame la Comtesse begs to inform monsieur that she would be grateful if monsieur would be kind enough to see madame in her apartments."
A REPUBLICAN COUNTESS.
"Madame la Comtesse!" A Peruvian or Argentine countess? Or have these plutocrats of the great republic some special distinguishing titles, such as "Silver King," "Railway Prince," etc., and was this exotic countess the daughter of some such lord of the money market? At any rate, I had to obey her polite commands, so, throwing away my cigar, I bowed to Mr. Dumany and followed the lead of the valet.
In crossing a long suite of tastefully-furnished rooms, I noticed the entire absence of family pictures. They had no ancestors, or did not boast of them. No farthingaled, white-wigged ladies in hooped skirts and trailing brocade robes; no mail-clad, chivalrous-looking gentlemen, with marshals' staffs, keys, and like emblems of rank and high station; or else these, too, had gone over to New York to subdue with their haughty grandeur the eyes of less high-born mortals.
There was something else I missed in these beautiful chambers—the usual obtrusive, caressed and pampered pet animal of a great lady. No paroquet, no monkey, no little, silken-haired lap-dog, no St. Bernard or Newfoundland dog, no cat, not even a little canary bird, was to be met with; and not a single flower, real or artificial, greeted the eye.
At last we came to a room with beautiful heavy brocaded draperies, evidently veiling the entrance into some other apartment. As the servant stepped up and drew the hanging aside, I could not suppress an exclamation of admiration and surprise; and for a moment I stood transfixed at the lovely and exquisite scene, deeming that fairyland had opened to me, and that Queen Mab was expecting me in her own enchanting bower.
The room which I now entered resembled to some extent the Blue Grotto of Capri. It was flooded with a magic blue light. Just opposite to the entrance was some kind of bower, with honeysuckle, woodbine, and other blooming and fragrant vines intertwined. This bower was prolonged in the rear into a spacious and seemingly endless tropical garden, with wonderful blooming exotic plants and trees; and in this East Indian paradise, gaily-plumed, sweet-voiced birds of different size and colour were chirping, hopping, and hovering above their nests, among evergreen bushes and glorious flowers. The whole winter-garden received its light from above, and this light, falling through large panes of blue glass, threw that peculiar, fairy, grotto-like hue over the little boudoir in front.
To prevent the luscious odour of the winter-garden from pervading the air of the boudoir and becoming oppressive, a fine, translucent film separated the bower from the garden. But this film was not of glass or any other transparent but solid substance; it consisted of a beautiful, clear waterfall, transparent as a veil, and noiseless as a fine summer rain. At the touch of a spring, this softly-pouring waterfall might be shut off and the entrance into the winter-garden thrown wide.
In the little boudoir, at the opening of the bower, stood a couch, and opposite this a little settee and two small gilded and embroidered chairs; while two large sculptured frames, one containing a splendid mirror, the other a life-size portrait of Mr. Dumany, completed the appointments.
Mrs. Dumany, or, as she was called, the countess, wore a loose morning-dress of raw silk, with rich embroidery. Her rich, dark hair was uncovered and wound around her head in three thick coils, like a tiara.
Her graceful figure was as slender as that of a girl, and she looked so young and childlike that no living man would have supposed her to be the mother of five children.
In the peculiar blue light of the boudoir her naturally fair face appeared so white that I was almost startled. It was just as though some marble or alabaster statue had moved, looked at me with those large dark-blue eyes, spoken to me with those finely-chiselled, ruby-coloured lips.
"Pray pardon me for troubling you to call on me," she said, in fluent and precise French, although with a somewhat foreign accent and manner of speech; "I should not have done it were you not the only trustworthy person from whom I can learn the necessary particulars of the terrible Rossberg accident. My husband, as perhaps you already know, has invited two gentlemen to dine with us. One is a government officer of high rank, the other a kind and benevolent priest. My husband's intention is to spend a considerable sum of money for distribution among those who were injured in the Rossberg catastrophe, or their destitute relatives. They shall at least not suffer actual want, and although I daresay that money is a poor compensation for a lost or crippled husband and father, or son and brother, still it is the only possible consolation we can offer them, and in providing for their own future and that of their dependents, we at least relieve their hearts of one burden. Of this my husband wants to talk to the government official. The priest was invited by me, and I want him to hold a requiem for the souls of those who perished, and to superintend the erection of a memorial chapel at the place of the terrible accident. Mr. Dumany is ungrudging in his charity, and ready for any sacrifice of money; but, you see, we know really nothing about the particulars. How many were lost, and how many died afterward in consequence of their injuries? Who were they? Of what nation, faith, quality, and circumstances? How many were saved, and in what condition? Have they somebody to attend to them, to support them in case of need? And then those belonging to ourselves, our dutiful servants, I might call them our true and faithful friends, has not one of them escaped? Have they all perished together? You can tell me best, and therefore I made bold to call you to me. Do not hesitate, pray, but tell me all that happened, and in what manner it happened, from the dreadful beginning to the pitiful end—the whole catastrophe, with all the particulars you can recall to memory."
"Madam," said I, "pray do not wish that. These particulars are much too dreadful to relate—much too horrible for the ear of a lady. It requires strong nerves and an iron heart to listen to such a tale as that."
"And what that?" she replied. "True, my nerves are not a bit less sensitive than those of any other woman, but I have learned to suppress them—to hold them down. Never fear me! Never spare me! If the scourge hurts me, I shall think it a penance. Go on! You hold the scourge—strike! Go on, I say!"
There was an impatient, almost fierce resolution in her voice, and I obeyed.
If this woman regarded the act of listening to the dreadful tale I had to tell as a penance, then, indeed, she allowed it to become a torture. I was obliged to recount the smallest incident of the ghastly event, and she drank in every word, shuddering as at some deadly poison. Again and again she questioned me with the skill and zeal of a professional cross-examiner. Nor would she let me omit a syllable. And when at the most fearful and heartrending point, her soft, dimpled chin sunk down on her breast, and her fair, babyish hand knocked at the tender bosom "Mea culpa! Oh, mea culpa!"
When she heard that the uncoupling of the parlour car had caused a delay, she groaned. "Then all this terrible mishap is due to our own vanity?" she cried. "A consequence of our own presumptuous pride! If our dependents had sat with the boy in a common carriage with other decent travellers, the train would have passed the fatal spot long before the landslide was in motion! But, of course, the Silver King's son is far too precious a creature to breathe the same air with other creatures of God's making. He must needs have a separate parlour to himself! And this sinful, detestable vanity of ours must cost the lives of so many good, brave, happy, and useful persons. Oh, hell itself must mock at our folly!"
Now this commination, unexpected as it was from a lady of wealth and position, was not altogether unwarranted, and so I went on.
As I drew near to the catastrophe I could hear the beating of her heart, and her breath came short and gasping. When I related how I had caught hold of the governess's hand, she was trembling, and an almost deadly pallor overspread her white face. "Alice! oh, Alice!" she cried; and when I told her how the lady ran back to the coupe for her bonnet, just at the last moment for escaping, she broke out into a painful hysterical laugh. "Just like her! Her bonnet! Yes; ha! ha! She would have come down to dinner in her bonnet, the foolish pride! She was so afraid to show her bare ears to a man! Oh! oh! Alice!"
At last the tears came to her relief, and she sobbed pitifully. "If you had only known her goodness," she cried, "her self-sacrificing devotion, her pure, kind heart! She was the best friend I ever had, and how she loved that unhappy boy! She was more his mother than I, for she gave him all a mother's love and all a mother's care and attention. Why did I let her go with him? Why did I not keep her back from him?"
I told her how the poor woman's first thought had been the safety of the child.
"And you have not seen her again? You do not know what has become of her?"
I denied having seen her again. I could not describe to her the horrid spectacle of the poor woman as I had seen her last, when taken by the brave firemen from that infernal pile; for, strong as she forced herself to appear, this would have been more than she could bear; so I told her that the relief train started with the rescued before we could learn anything of the rest; but of the certainty of their death there could not be the slightest doubt.
"What a misfortune!" she sighed, wringing her hands. "Why, that boy had an escort with him like a prince royal! The honest Dr. Mayer, such a refined, generous young man; and Tom, the negro, my best servant, and the truest! He saved me from an alligator once, and killed him with an iron bar. He was severely wounded by the ferocious reptile, yet he laughed at his pains."
I remembered the grin on his broad black face in the moment of death, as I had seen him at the carriage window. He had laughed then also.
"And poor little Georgie?" she asked again, "James's playfellow and foster-brother? Georgie's mother was James's nurse. How she begged of me to take care of her darling, to bring him up well, to make a priest of him! And how well I have kept that promise! I have made more of him than a priest: he is a saint, and a martyr. Oh, mea culpa! mea culpa!"
When I had explained to her the circumstances which had made all attempts at rescue impossible for us, and afterward futile, she nodded. "I know it," she said. "On that evening I had not said my prayers. We dined out late, and spent the evening there. I could not come home to pray with my children, and I could not say my prayers there. I felt the heavy load on my heart, and once for a moment, when I was not observed by anybody, I heaved a sigh and said, 'God bless us!' It must have been at the moment of the catastrophe, for my heart ached with some vague and gloomy presentiment. Oh, me! our neglected prayer, and such a fearful chastisement! Tell me! Who is that terrible being that watches us so relentlessly, and if he catches us napping but once, hurls down those we love into death and destruction?"
Her marble-white face, her large wide-open eyes, gave her the look of a spirit.
"Perhaps," said I, "the single blessing you asked saved the life of your dear child. Let this thought comfort you."
"James?" she said. "This child of sin and misfortune? Why, it was because he was on that train that all those pure and good people had to die! Oh, accursed was the hour of his birth! No, no; he is not accursed. I—I, his mother, that gave birth to him, I am guilty! He is innocent; he could not help it. Oh, mea culpa! mea culpa!"
She was beating her breast, and rocking herself to and fro, uttering her incessant "Mea culpa!" "Tell me more," she said again, presently; "show me more dreadful sights, that I may suffer more. I yearn for it; it will do my soul good—it is like purgatory. Go on!"
I took good care not to feed this religious frenzy further. On the contrary, I spoke of the practical Englishman and his performances, and of the artist who had sat there among all the terrible havoc and had drawn sketch after sketch.
"That picture we must secure, at whatever cost," she said, eagerly. "It shall be the altar-piece of the chapel which we are about to raise in memory of the tragic event and of the souls of the slain."
I had formed my own opinion of Mrs Dumany's state of mind. No doubt she was mentally deranged, and her special craze was religious monomania. From this arose the deep melancholy which held her own innocent babe responsible for the misfortune of others. This made the child repugnant to the mother, and, no doubt, this was at the bottom of that remarkable mutual estrangement between mother and child.
I tried to quiet her. I told her that in a very short period a great many serious catastrophes, such as frequent earthquakes, great inundations, and similar unfortunate and most terrible events, had shocked the world and buried whole cities, destroyed the lives and fortunes of thousands upon thousands of happy and innocent persons. Even this Rossberg catastrophe had been preceded by another at the same spot, about the beginning of the present century. Such catastrophes were by no means to be considered as a punishment from God Almighty, Who is far too magnanimous to visit the sins of the guilty upon the heads of the innocent, but simply as the outcome of geological and meteorological phases of our globe, depending upon natural laws. If anybody was really to be blamed for the present misfortune, it must be the engineer who had planned and erected that insufficient barrier instead of a strong bastion.
Mr. Dumany's entrance interrupted our painful conversation. He came on the pretence that letters and newspapers had arrived for me, and with that he handed me a copy of the Hon.
"But I had them addressed to the Hotel d'Espagne," I said.
"They have been already informed that you are here," he answered; and then, turning to his wife, he said—
"Have you drunk deep enough of the bitter cup? or do you thirst for more of its contents?"
His voice was soft and tender, and the wife threw both her arms around the husband's neck, and, burying her face on his breast, she wept bitterly.
I took my journal, and, without making my excuses to the lady, I silently stole out of the room.
At dinner I was punctual, but nevertheless the two gentlemen of whom Mr. Dumany and his wife had spoken were already present and discussing the question of Mr. Dumany's munificent offer. After a hurried introduction I was soon informed of all that had been agreed on. The Secretary of State had received bonds for 1,000,000 francs, to be taken by the two Governments, the French and the Swiss, for distribution among the injured or maimed of the Rossberg catastrophe and the poor dependents of the slain. The old railroad watchman, who had been discharged by the company, and the canny shepherd, who both sold and kept his goats when he ran for the relief train, each received 10,000 francs, and a considerable sum went to the officials of the relief train as a remuneration for their services. The rest of the million francs was set aside for a memorial chapel on the site of the accident, and for the celebration of masses and a grand requiem in the church of St Germain l'Auxerrois on the following day—a ceremony which was to be repeated annually.
I have forgotten to mention that although the dinner was sumptuous, and the dishes and wines were excellent, yet it was as stately, solemn, and unsociable a meal as a funeral banquet, and Mrs. Dumany presided in deep mourning. The only jewel she wore was a large cross studded with dark-blue diamonds, only recognisable as such by the rays of blue, yellow, red, and green light which darted from them. This cross was suspended on a chain of black beads resembling a rosary, and giving to the black-robed figure the appearance of an abbess. The Spanish lace mantilla which she had thrown over her beautiful hair served as the veil, and made the resemblance perfect.
At nine o'clock the government official and the priest took their leave, and Mrs. Dumany retired, to put her babes to bed, as she said—a duty which she always fulfilled herself, saying her prayers with them, and watching them until they slept. After the lady had retired, Mr. Dumany told me that even when he and his wife dined out, or were going to the opera, my lady invariably went home at nine o'clock to put her children to bed—a duty which she never omitted; but on the evening of the catastrophe she had been compelled to stay by the company present, and this had given rise to her self-accusations. She was nowhere happy but in the company of her children, who afforded her the greatest delight and amusement. I sighed, and, yes—I think I was actually guilty of the remark that Hungarian ladies of quality were equally good and dutiful mothers.
We went over to Mr. Dumany's bedroom for a cup of tea and a cigar. It was a grand room, lofty and spacious as a church, and if I had been a Chauvinist, I should have said that the rays of light in this room composed a tricolour of the same hues as the Hungarian flag. The beautiful hanging-lamp shed a green light, the glowing coals in the grate threw a reddish tint over the surrounding objects, and the large, richly-sculptured bed-canopy was all ablaze with white electric lights, arranged like a chain of diamonds above the heavy purple velvet hangings which encircled the couch and gave it a cosy and well-shaded effect.
We had hardly finished our first cigar, when Mrs. Dumany, or, as I should call her, the countess, came in. She wore a white wrapper, covered with costly lace and leaving her beautiful arms bare below the loose lace-trimmed sleeves. She led little James into the room, and, turning to her husband, she said—"This boy obstinately refuses to sleep anywhere but with his father, just as before we sent him to the Institute."
The little fellow was simpering, and tottered drowsily to and fro. He was evidently very sleepy. Mr. Dumany took him up on his lap, unbuttoned his little boots, and pulled off the tiny socks. The mother stood there, looking on unconcerned, and presently she said, "Good-night!" and went out of the room.
The father undressed the child, and put him to bed; then he drew the curtains aside; the child knelt in bed, folded his little hands, and evidently said his prayers, for I saw his lips move; but I could not hear a word. After he had finished, his father kissed him tenderly, covered him up with the angora rug, and, letting down the curtains, returned to me.
He had hardly sat down, when the bed-curtains moved, and the cherubic little head peeped out. "Papa! Papa!" said the child.
"What is it, darling?" his father asked, going back to him.
"I want you to kiss me again," he said, with a little mischievous smile.
After the boy had had his wish, he crept below the covering, and was soon fast asleep. Mr. Dumany observed that my cigar had expired, and that I looked rather drowsy. "You are tired," he said; "let me lead you to your room."
"I have not slept for the last two nights," I replied; "but I shall not trouble you, as I can find my room easily, or else I can ask the valet. Pray stay and rest yourself."
"Well then, good-night and sleep well!"
But however sleepy I had been the moment before, these few words were enough to drive sleep from my eyes for ten nights to come, and to raise my curiosity to the highest pitch, for they were spoken in clear, well-pronounced Hungarian.
I gazed at him in utter astonishment, and he smiled. "You did not recognise me," he said, "but I knew you at once. I knew you very well, too—at one time: we have been colleagues once."
"Indeed? And how is that possible? Pray where was that?"
"In Budapest, in the Sandor Uteza Palace, the House of Commons."
"You have been a member of the Hungarian Parliament? When? And what name did you then bear?"
"The name I bear now, which is my own. Only I used to write it in Hungarian, Dumany Kornel."
"Still I don't remember. Neither your name, nor yet your face is familiar to me."
"Naturally enough. I was in Parliament for only one day; the next day they conducted me out again."
"Ah, now I know you! You were the dead man's candidate."
"Yes, you have hit it; I was the man."
Well, this was indeed a surprise. All the drowsiness had entirely gone from me, and, turning back into the room, I asked, eagerly—
"Sir, have I some claim on your generosity?"
"Oh sir! my dear friend!" he cried, extending both hands to me, "I am your most grateful and obedient servant for ever. I hand you a blank sheet, and, whatever you may be pleased to write upon it, I shall most willingly subscribe to."
"Then tell me how the right honourable Dumany Kornel, a member of the Hungarian landed gentry, and also of the medical profession, if I rightly remember, a rather fast-living bachelor, and rejected Commoner, has been metamorphosed into Cornelius Dumany, the Silver King, the South American nabob, the matador of the Bourse, husband of a beautiful countess, and father of five children, within such a short period. Tell me this, for it is the only gratification I shall accept."