Nina Balatka was a maiden of Prague, born of Christian parents, and herself a Christian—but she loved a Jew; and this is her story.
Nina Balatka was the daughter of one Josef Balatka, an old merchant of Prague, who was living at the time of this story; but Nina's mother was dead. Josef, in the course of his business, had become closely connected with a certain Jew named Trendellsohn, who lived in a mean house in the Jews' quarter in Prague—habitation in that one allotted portion of the town having been the enforced custom with the Jews then, as it still is now. In business with Trendellsohn, the father, there was Anton, his son; and Anton Trendellsohn was the Jew whom Nina Balatka loved. Now it had so happened that Josef Balatka, Nina's father, had drifted out of a partnership with Karil Zamenoy, a wealthy Christian merchant of Prague, and had drifted into a partnership with Trendellsohn. How this had come to pass needs not to be told here, as it had all occurred in years when Nina was an infant. But in these shiftings Balatka became a ruined man, and at the time of which I write he and his daughter were almost penniless. The reader must know that Karil Zamenoy and Josef Balatka had married sisters. Josef's wife, Nina's mother, had long been dead, having died—so said Sophie Zamenoy, her sister—of a broken heart; of a heart that had broken itself in grief, because her husband had joined his fortunes with those of a Jew. Whether the disgrace of the alliance or its disastrous result may have broken the lady's heart, or whether she may have died of a pleurisy, as the doctors said, we need not inquire here. Her soul had been long at rest, and her spirit, we may hope, had ceased to fret itself in horror at contact with a Jew. But Sophie Zamenoy was alive and strong, and could still hate a Jew as intensely as Jews ever were hated in those earlier days in which hatred could satisfy itself with persecution. In her time but little power was left to Madame Zamenoy to persecute the Trendellsohns other than that which nature had given to her in the bitterness of her tongue. She could revile them behind their back, or, if opportunity offered, to their faces; and both she had done often, telling the world of Prague that the Trendellsohns had killed her sister, and robbed her foolish brother-in-law. But hitherto the full vial of her wrath had not been emptied, as it came to be emptied afterwards; for she had not yet learned the mad iniquity of her niece. But at the moment of which I now speak, Nina herself knew her own iniquity, hardly knowing, however, whether her love did or did not disgrace her. But she did know that any thought as to that was too late. She loved the man, and had told him so; and were he gipsy as well as Jew, it would be required of her that she should go out with him into the wilderness. And Nina Balatka was prepared to go out into the wilderness. Karil Zamenoy and his wife were prosperous people, and lived in a comfortable modern house in the New Town. It stood in a straight street, and at the back of the house there ran another straight street. This part of the city is very little like that old Prague, which may not be so comfortable, but which, of all cities on the earth, is surely the most picturesque. Here lived Sophie Zamenoy; and so far up in the world had she mounted, that she had a coach of her own in which to be drawn about the thoroughfares of Prague and its suburbs, and a stout little pair of Bohemian horses—ponies they were called by those who wished to detract somewhat from Madame Zamenoy's position. Madame Zamenoy had been at Paris, and took much delight in telling her friends that the carriage also was Parisian; but, in truth, it had come no further than from Dresden. Josef Balatka and his daughter were very, very poor; but, poor as they were, they lived in a large house, which, at least nominally, belonged to old Balatka himself, and which had been his residence in the days of his better fortunes. It was in the Kleinseite, that narrow portion of the town, which lies on the other side of the river Moldau—the further side, that is, from the so-called Old and New Town, on the western side of the river, immediately under the great hill of the Hradschin. The Old Town and the New Town are thus on one side of the river, and the Kleinseite and the Hradschin on the other. To those who know Prague, it need not here be explained that the streets of the Kleinseite are wonderful in their picturesque architecture, wonderful in their lights and shades, wonderful in their strange mixture of shops and palaces— and now, alas! also of Austrian barracks—and wonderful in their intricacy and great steepness of ascent. Balatka's house stood in a small courtyard near to the river, but altogether hidden from it, somewhat to the right of the main street of the Kleinseite as you pass over the bridge. A lane, for it is little more, turning from the main street between the side walls of what were once two palaces, comes suddenly into a small square, and from a corner of this square there is an open stone archway leading into a court. In this court is the door, or doors, as I may say, of the house in which Balatka lived with his daughter Nina. Opposite to these two doors was the blind wall of another residence. Balatka's house occupied two sides of the court, and no other window, therefore, besides his own looked either upon it or upon him. The aspect of the place is such as to strike with wonder a stranger to Prague—that in the heart of so large a city there should be an abode so sequestered, so isolated, so desolate, and yet so close to the thickest throng of life. But there are others such, perhaps many others such, in Prague; and Nina Balatka, who had been born there, thought nothing of the quaintness of her abode. Immediately over the little square stood the palace of the Hradschin, the wide-spreading residence of the old kings of Bohemia, now the habitation of an ex- emperor of the House of Hapsburg, who must surely find the thousand chambers of the royal mansion all too wide a retreat for the use of his old age. So immediately did the imperial hill tower over the spot on which Balatka lived, that it would seem at night, when the moon was shining as it shines only at Prague, that the colonnades of the palace were the upper storeys of some enormous edifice, of which the broken merchant's small courtyard formed a lower portion. The long rows of windows would glimmer in the sheen of the night, and Nina would stand in the gloom of the archway counting them till they would seem to be uncountable, and wondering what might be the thoughts of those who abode there. But those who abode there were few in number, and their thoughts were hardly worthy of Nina's speculation. The windows of kings' palaces look out from many chambers. The windows of the Hradschin look out, as we are told, from a thousand. But the rooms within have seldom many tenants, nor the tenants, perhaps, many thoughts. Chamber after chamber, you shall pass through them by the score, and know by signs unconsciously recognised that there is not, and never has been, true habitation within them. Windows almost innumerable are there, that they may be seen from the outside—and such is the use of palaces. But Nina, as she would look, would people the rooms with throngs of bright inhabitants, and would think of the joys of happy girls who were loved by Christian youths, and who could dare to tell their friends of their love. But Nina Balatka was no coward, and she had already determined that she would at once tell her love to those who had a right to know in what way she intended to dispose of herself. As to her father, if only he could have been alone in the matter, she would have had some hope of a compromise which would have made it not absolutely necessary that she should separate herself from him for ever in giving herself to Anton Trendellsohn. Josef Balatka would doubtless express horror, and would feel shame that his daughter should love a Jew—though he had not scrupled to allow Nina to go frequently among these people, and to use her services with them for staving off the ill consequences of his own idleness and ill-fortune; but he was a meek, broken man, and was so accustomed to yield to Nina that at last he might have yielded to her even in this. There was, however, that Madame Zamenoy, her aunt—her aunt with the bitter tongue; and there was Ziska Zamenoy, her cousin—her rich and handsome cousin, who would so soon declare himself willing to become more than cousin, if Nina would but give him one nod of encouragement, or half a smile of welcome. But Nina hated her Christian lover, cousin though he was, as warmly as she loved the Jew. Nina, indeed, loved none of the Zamenoys— neither her cousin Ziska, nor her very Christian aunt Sophie with the bitter tongue, nor her prosperous, money-loving, acutely mercantile uncle Karil; but, nevertheless, she was in some degree so subject to them, that she knew that she was bound to tell them what path in life she meant to tread. Madame Zamenoy had offered to take her niece to the prosperous house in the Windberg-gasse when the old house in the Kleinseite had become poor and desolate; and though this generous offer had been most fatuously declined—most wickedly declined, as aunt Sophie used to declare—nevertheless other favours had been vouchsafed; and other favours had been accepted, with sore injury to Nina's pride. As she thought of this, standing in the gloom of the evening under the archway, she remembered that the very frock she wore had been sent to her by her aunt. But I in spite of the bitter tongue, and in spite of Ziska's derision, she would tell her tale, and would tell it soon. She knew her own courage, and trusted it; and, dreadful as the hour would be, she would not put it off by one moment. As soon as Anton should desire her to declare her purpose, she would declare it; and as he who stands on a precipice, contemplating the expediency of throwing himself from the rock, will feel himself gradually seized by a mad desire to do the deed out of hand at once, so did Nina feel anxious to walk off to the Windberg-gasse, and dare and endure all that the Zamenoys could say or do. She knew, or thought she knew, that persecution could not go now beyond the work of the tongue. No priest could immure her. No law could touch her because she was minded to marry a Jew. Even the people in these days were mild and forbearing in their usages with the Jews, and she thought that the girls of the Kleinseite would not tear her clothes from her back even when they knew of her love. One thing, however, was certain. Though every rag should be torn from her—though some priest might have special power given him to persecute her—though the Zamenoys in their wrath should be able to crush her—even though her own father should refuse to see her, she would be true to the Jew. Love to her should be so sacred that no other sacredness should be able to touch its sanctity. She had thought much of love, but had never loved before. Now she loved, and, heart and soul, she belonged to him to whom she had devoted herself. Whatever suffering might be before her, though it were suffering unto death, she would endure it if her lover demanded such endurance. Hitherto, there was but one person who suspected her. In her father's house there still remained an old dependant, who, though he was a man, was cook and housemaid, and washer-woman and servant-of-all-work; or perhaps it would be more true to say that he and Nina between them did all that the requirements of the house demanded. Souchey—for that was his name—was very faithful, but with his fidelity had come a want of reverence towards his master and mistress, and an absence of all respectful demeanour. The enjoyment of this apparent independence by Souchey himself went far, perhaps, in lieu of wages.
"Nina," he said to her one morning, "you are seeing too much of Anton Trendellsohn."
"What do you mean by that, Souchey?" said the girl, sharply.
"You are seeing too much of Anton Trendellsohn," repeated the old man.
"I have to see him on father's account. You know that. You know that, Souchey, and you shouldn't say such things."
"You are seeing too much of Anton Trendellsohn," said Souchey for the third time. "Anton Trendellsohn is a Jew."
Then Nina knew that Souchey had read her secret, and was sure that it would spread from him through Lotta Luxa, her aunt's confidential maid, up to her aunt's ears. Not that Souchey would be untrue to her on behalf of Madame Zamenoy, whom he hated; but that he would think himself bound by his religious duty—he who never went near priest or mass himself—to save his mistress from the perils of the Jew. The story of her love must be told, and Nina preferred to tell it herself to having it told for her by her servant Souchey. She must see Anton. When the evening therefore had come, and there was sufficient dusk upon the bridge to allow of her passing over without observation, she put her old cloak upon her shoulders, with the hood drawn over her head, and, crossing the river, turned to the left and made her way through the narrow crooked streets which led to the Jews' quarter. She knew the path well, and could have found it with blindfolded eyes. In the middle of that close and densely populated region of Prague stands the old Jewish synagogue—the oldest place of worship belonging to the Jews in Europe, as they delight to tell you; and in a pinched-up, high-gabled house immediately behind the synagogue, at the corner of two streets, each so narrow as hardly to admit a vehicle, dwelt the Trendellsohns. On the basement floor there had once been a shop. There was no shop now, for the Trendellsohns were rich, and no longer dealt in retail matters; but there had been no care, or perhaps no ambition, at work, to alter the appearance of their residence, and the old shutters were upon the window, making the house look as though it were deserted. There was a high-pitched sharp roof over the gable, which, as the building stood alone fronting upon the synagogue, made it so remarkable, that all who knew Prague well, knew the house in which the Trendellsohns lived. Nina had often wished, as in latter days she had entered it, that it was less remarkable, so that she might have gone in and out with smaller risk of observation. It was now the beginning of September, and the clocks of the town had just struck eight as Nina put her hand on the lock of the Jew's door. As usual it was not bolted, and she was able to enter without waiting in the street for a servant to come to her. She went at once along the narrow passage and up the gloomy wooden stairs, at the foot of which there hung a small lamp, giving just light enough to expel the actual blackness of night. On the first landing Nina knocked at a door, and was desired to enter by a soft female voice. The only occupant of the room when she entered was a dark-haired child, some twelve years old perhaps, but small in stature and delicate, and, as appeared to the eye, almost wan. "Well, Ruth dear," said Nina, "is Anton at home this evening?"
"He is up-stairs with grandfather, Nina. Shall I tell him?"
"If you will, dear," said Nina, stooping down and kissing her.
"Nice Nina, dear Nina, good Nina," said the girl, rubbing her glossy curls against her friend's cheeks. "Ah, dear, how I wish you lived here!"
"But I have a father, as you have a grandfather, Ruth."
"And he is a Christian."
"And so am I, Ruth."
"But you like us, and are good, and nice, and dear—and oh, Nina, you are so beautiful! I wish you were one of us, and lived here. There is Miriam Harter—her hair is as light as yours, and her eyes are as grey."
"What has that to do with it?"
"Only I am so dark, and most of us are dark here in Prague. Anton says that away in Palestine our girls are as fair as the girls in Saxony."
"And does not Anton like girls to be dark?"
"Anton likes fair hair—such as yours—and bright grey eyes such as you have got. I said they were green, and he pulled my ears. But now I look, Nina, I think they are green. And so bright! I can see my own in them, though it is so dark. That is what they call looking babies."
"Go to your uncle, Ruth, and tell him that I want him—on business."
"I will, and he'll come to you. He won't let me come down again, so kiss me, Nina; good-bye."
Nina kissed the child again, and then was left alone in the room. It was a comfortable chamber, having in it sofas and arm-chairs—much more comfortable, Nina used to think, than her aunt's grand drawing-room in the Windberg-gasse, which was covered all over with a carpet, after the fashion of drawing-rooms in Paris; but the Jew's sitting-room was dark, with walls painted a gloomy green colour, and there was but one small lamp of oil upon the table. But yet Nina loved the room, and as she sat there waiting for her lover, she wished that it had been her lot to have been born a Jewess. Only, had that been so, her hair might perhaps have been black, and her eyes dark, and Anton would not have liked her. She put her hand up for a moment to her rich brown tresses, and felt them as she took joy in thinking that Anton Trendellsohn loved to look upon fair beauty.
After a short while Anton Trendellsohn came down. To those who know the outward types of his race there could be no doubt that Anton Trendellsohn was a very Jew among Jews. He was certainly a handsome man, not now very young, having reached some year certainly in advance of thirty, and his face was full of intellect. He was slightly made, below the middle height, but was well made in every limb, with small feet and hands, and small ears, and a well-turned neck. He was very dark—dark as a man can be, and yet show no sign of colour in his blood. No white man could be more dark and swarthy than Anton Trendellsohn. His eyes, however, which were quite black, were very bright. His jet-black hair, as it clustered round his ears, had in it something of a curl. Had it been allowed to grow, it would almost have hung in ringlets; but it was worn very short, as though its owner were jealous even of the curl. Anton Trendellsohn was decidedly a handsome man; but his eyes were somewhat too close together in his face, and the bridge of his aquiline nose was not sharply cut, as is mostly the case with such a nose on a Christian face. The olive oval face was without doubt the face of a Jew, and the mouth was greedy, and the teeth were perfect and bright, and the movement of the man's body was the movement of a Jew. But not the less on that account had he behaved with Christian forbearance to his Christian debtor, Josef Balatka, and with Christian chivalry to Balatka's daughter, till that chivalry had turned itself into love.
"Nina," he said, putting out his hand, and holding hers as he spoke, "I hardly expected you this evening; but I am glad to see you—very glad."
"I hope I am not troubling you, Anton?"
"How can you trouble me? The sun does not trouble us when we want light and heat."
"Can I give you light and heat?"
"The light and heat I love best, Nina."
"If I thought that—if I could really think that—I would be happy still, and would mind nothing."
"And what is it you do mind?"
"There are things to trouble us, of course. When aunt Sophie says that all of us have our troubles—even she—I suppose that even she speaks the truth."
"Your aunt Sophie is a fool."
"I should not mind if she were only a fool. But a fool can sometimes be right."
"And she has been scolding you because—you—prefer a Jew to a Christian."
"No—not yet, Anton. She does not know it yet; but she must know it."
"Sit down, Nina." He was still holding her by the hand; and now, as he spoke, he led her to a sofa which stood between the two windows. There he seated her, and sat by her side, still holding her hand in his. "Yes," he said, "she must know it of course—when the time comes; and if she guesses it before, you must put up with her guesses. A few sharp words from a foolish woman will not frighten you, I hope."
"No words will frighten me out of my love, if you mean that—neither words nor anything else."
"I believe you. You are brave, Nina. I know that. Though you will cry if one but frowns at you, yet you are brave."
"Do not you frown at me, Anton."
"I am one of those that do frown at times, I suppose; but I will be true to you, Nina, if you will be true to me."
"I will be true to you—true as the sun."
As she made her promise she turned her sweet face up to his, and he leaned over her, and kissed her.
"And what is it that has disturbed you now, Nina? What has Madame Zamenoy said to you?"
"She has said nothing—as yet. She suspects nothing—as yet."
"Then let her remain as she is."
"But, Anton, Souchey knows, and he will talk."
"Souchey! And do you care for that?"
"I care for nothing—for nothing; for nothing, that is, in the way of preventing me. Do what they will, they cannot tear my love from my heart."
"Nor can they take you away, or lock you up."
"I fear nothing of that sort, Anton. All that I really fear is secrecy. Would it not be best that I should tell father?"
"What!—now, at once?"
"If you will let me. I suppose he must know it soon."
"You can if you please."
"Souchey will tell him."
"Will Souchey dare to speak of you like that?" asked the Jew.
"Oh, yes; Souchey dares to say anything to father now. Besides, it is true. Why should not Souchey say it?"
"But you have not spoken to Souchey; you have not told him?"
"I! No indeed. I have spoken never a word to anyone about that—only to you. How should I speak to another without your bidding? But when they speak to me I must answer them. If father asks me whether there be aught between you and me, shall I not tell him then?"
"It would be better to be silent for a while."
"But shall I lie to him? I should not mind Souchey nor aunt Sophie much; but I never yet told a lie to father."
"I do not tell you to lie."
"Let me tell it all. Anton, and then, whatever they may say, whatever they may do, I shall not mind. I wish that they knew it, and then I could stand up against them. Then I could tell Ziska that which would make him hold his tongue for ever."
"Ziska! Who cares for Ziska?"
"You need not, at any rate."
"The truth is, Nina, that I cannot be married till I have settled all this about the houses in the Kleinseite. The very fact that you would be your father's heir prevents my doing so."
"Do you think that I wish to hurry you? I would rather stay as I am, knowing that you love me."
"Dear Nina! But when your aunt shall once know your secret, she will give you no peace till you are out of her power. She will leave no stone unturned to make you give up your Jew lover."
"She may as well leave the turning of such stones alone."
"But if she heard nothing of it till she heard that we were married—"
"Ah! but that is impossible. I could not do that without telling father, and father would surely tell my aunt."
"You may do as you will, Nina; but it may be, when they shall know it, that therefore there may be new difficulty made about the houses. Karil Zamenoy has the papers, which are in truth mine—or my father's—which should be here in my iron box." And Trendellsohn, as he spoke, put his hand forcibly on the seat beside him, as though the iron box to which he alluded were within his reach.
"I know they are yours," said Nina.
"Yes; and without them, should your father die, I could not claim my property. The Zamenoys might say they held it on your behalf—and you my wife at the time! Do you see, Nina? I could not stand that—I would not stand that."
"I understand it well, Anton."
"The houses are mine—or ours, rather. Your father has long since had the money, and more than the money. He knew that the houses were to be ours."
"He knows it well. You do not think that he is holding back the papers?"
"He should get them for me. He should not drive me to press him for them. I know they are at Karil Zamenoy's counting-house; but your uncle told me, when I spoke to him, that he had no business with me; if I had a claim on him, there was the law. I have no claim on him. But I let your father have the money when he wanted it, on his promise that the deeds should be forthcoming. A Christian would not have been such a fool."
"Oh, Anton, do not speak to me like that."
"But was I not a fool? See how it is now. Were you and I to become man and wife, they would never give them up, though they are my own—my own. No; we must wait; and you—you must demand them from your uncle."
"I will demand them. And as for waiting, I care nothing for that if you love me."
"I do love you."
"Then all shall be well with me; and I will ask for the papers. Father, I know, wishes that you should have all that is your own. He would leave the house to-morrow if you desired it."
"He is welcome to remain there."
"And now, Anton, good-night."
"When shall I see you again?"
"When you please, and as often. Have I not said that you are light and heat to me? Can the sun rise too often for those who love it?" Then she held her hand up to be kissed, and kissed his in return, and went silently down the stairs into the street. He had said once in the course of the conversation—nay, twice, as she came to remember in thinking over it—that she might do as she would about telling her friends; and she had been almost craftily careful to say nothing herself, and to draw nothing from him, which could be held as militating against this authority, or as subsequently negativing the permission so given. She would undoubtedly tell her father—and her aunt; and would as certainly demand from her uncle those documents of which Anton Trendellsohn had spoken to her.
Nina, as she returned home from the Jews' quarter to her father's house in the Kleinseite, paused for a while on the bridge to make some resolution—some resolution that should be fixed—as to her immediate conduct. Should she first tell her story to her father, or first to her aunt Sophie? There were reasons for and against either plan. And if to her father first, then should she tell it to-night? She was nervously anxious to rush at once at her difficulties, and to be known to all who belonged to her as the girl who had given herself to the Jew. It was now late in the evening, and the moon was shining brightly on the palace over against her. The colonnades seemed to be so close to her that there could hardly be room for any portion of the city to cluster itself between them and the river. She stood looking up at the great building, and fell again into her trick of counting the windows, thereby saving herself a while from the difficult task of following out the train of her thoughts. But what were the windows of the palace to her? So she walked on again till she reached a spot on the bridge at which she almost always paused a moment to perform a little act of devotion. There, having a place in the long row of huge statues which adorn the bridge, is the figure of the martyr St John Nepomucene, who at this spot was thrown into the river because he would not betray the secrets of a queen's confession, and was drowned, and who has ever been, from that period downwards, the favourite saint of Prague—and of bridges. On the balustrade, near the figure, there is a small plate inserted in the stone-work and good Catholics, as they pass over the river, put their hands upon the plate, and then kiss their fingers. So shall they be saved from drowning and from all perils of the water—as far, at least, as that special transit of the river may be perilous. Nina, as a child, had always touched the stone, and then touched her lips, and did the act without much thought as to the saving power of St John Nepomucene. But now, as she carried her hand up to her face, she did think of the deed. Had she, who was about to marry a Jew, any right to ask for the assistance of a Christian saint? And would such a deed that she now proposed to herself put her beyond the pale of Christian aid? Would the Madonna herself desert her should she marry a Jew? If she were to become truer than ever to her faith—more diligent, more thoughtful, more constant in all acts of devotion—would the blessed Mary help to save her, even though she should commit this great sin? Would the mild-eyed, sweet Saviour, who had forgiven so many women, who had saved from a cruel death the woman taken in adultery, who had been so gracious to the Samaritan woman at the well—would He turn from her the graciousness of His dear eyes, and bid her go out for ever from among the faithful? Madame Zamenoy would tell her so, and so would Sister Teresa, an old nun, who was on most friendly terms with Madame Zamenoy, and whom Nina altogether hated; and so would the priest, to whom, alas! she would be bound to give faith. And if this were so, whither should she turn for comfort? She could not become a Jewess! She might call herself one; but how could she be a Jewess with her strong faith in St Nicholas, who was the saint of her own Church, and in St John of the River, and in the Madonna? No; she must be an outcast from all religions, a Pariah, one devoted absolutely to the everlasting torments which lie beyond Purgatory—unless, indeed, unless that mild- eyed Saviour would be content to take her faith and her acts of hidden worship, despite her aunt, despite that odious nun, and despite the very priest himself! She did not know how this might be with her, but she did know that all the teaching of her life was against any such hope.
But what was—what could be the good of such thoughts to her? Had not things gone too far with her for such thoughts to be useful? She loved the Jew, and had told him so; and not all the penalties with which the priests might threaten her could lessen her love, or make her think of her safety here or hereafter, as a thing to be compared with her love. Religion was much to her; the fear of the everlasting wrath of Heaven was much to her; but love was paramount! What if it were her soul? Would she not give even her soul for her love, if, for her love's sake, her soul should be required from her? When she reached the archway, she had made up her mind that she would tell her aunt first, and that she would do so early on the following day. Were she to tell her father first, her father might probably forbid her to speak on the subject to Madame Zamenoy, thinking that his own eloquence and that of the priest might prevail to put an end to so terrible an iniquity, and that so Madame Zamenoy might never learn the tidings. Nina, thinking of all this, and being quite determined that the Zamenoys should know what she intended to tell them, resolved that she would say nothing on that night at home.
"You are very late, Nina," said her father to her, crossly, as soon as she entered the room in which they lived. It was a wide apartment, having in it now but little furniture—two rickety tables, a few chairs, an old bureau in which Balatka kept, under lock and key, all that still belonged to him personally, and a little desk, which was Nina's own repository.
"Yes, father, I am late; but not very late. I have been with Anton Trendellsohn."
"And what have you been there for now?"
"Anton Trendellsohn has been talking to me about the papers which uncle Karil has. He wants to have them himself. He says they are his."
"I suppose he means that we are to be turned out of the old house."
"No, father; he does not mean that. He is not a cruel man. But he says that—that he cannot settle anything about the property without having the papers. I suppose that is true."
"He has the rent of the other houses," said Balatka.
"Yes; but if the papers are his, he ought to have them."
"Did he send for them?"
"No, father; he did not send."
"And what made you go?"
"I am so of often going there. He had spoken to me before about this. He thinks you do not like him to come here, and you never go there yourself."
After this there was a pause for a few minutes, and Nina was settling herself to her work. Then the old man spoke again.
"Nina, I fear you see too much of Anton Trendellsohn." The words were the very words of Souchey; and Nina was sure that her father and the servant had been discussing her conduct. It was no more than she had expected, but her father's words had come very quickly upon Souchey's speech to herself. What did it signify? Everybody would know it all before twenty-four hours had passed by. Nina, however, was determined to defend herself at the present moment, thinking that there was something of injustice in her father's remarks. "As for seeing him often, father, I have done it because your business has required it. When you were ill in April I had to be there almost daily."
"But you need not have gone to-night. He did not send for you."
"But it is needful that something should be done to get for him that which is his own." As she said this there came to her a sting of conscience, a thought that reminded her that, though she was not lying to her father in words, she was in fact deceiving him; and remembering her assertion to her lover that she had never spoken falsely to her father, she blushed with shame as she sat in the darkness of her seat.
"To-morrow father," she said, "I will talk to you more about this, and you shall not at any rate say that I keep anything from you."
"I have never said so, Nina."
"It is late now, father. Will you not go to bed?"
Old Balatka yielded to this suggestion, and went to his bed; and Nina, after some hour or two, went to hers. But before doing so she opened the little desk that stood in the corner of their sitting-room, of which the key was always in her pocket, and took out everything that it contained. There were many letters there, of which most were on matters of business—letters which in few houses would come into the hands of such a one as Nina Balatka, but which, through the weakness of her father's health, had come into hers. Many of these she now read; some few she tore and burned in the stove, and others she tied in bundles and put back carefully into their place. There was not a paper in the desk which did not pass under her eye, and as to which she did not come to some conclusion, either to keep it or to burn it. There were no love-letters there. Nina Balatka had never yet received such a letter as that. She saw her lover too frequently to feel much the need of written expressions of love; and such scraps of his writing as there were in the bundles, referred altogether to small matters of business. When she had thus arranged her papers, she too went to bed. On the next morning, when she gave her father his breakfast, she was very silent. She made for him a little chocolate, and cut for him a few slips of white bread to dip into it. For herself, she cut a slice from a black loaf made of rye flour, and mixed with water a small quantity of the thin sour wine of the country. Her meal may have been worth perhaps a couple of kreutzers, or something less than a penny, whereas that of her father may have cost twice as much. Nina was a close and sparing housekeeper, but with all her economy she could not feed three people upon nothing. Latterly, from month to month, she had sold one thing out of the house after another, knowing as each article went that provision from such store as that must soon fail her. But anything was better than taking money from her aunt whom she hated—except taking money from the Jew whom she loved. From him she had taken none, though it had been often offered. "You have lost more than enough by father," she had said to him when the offer had been made. "What I give to the wife of my bosom shall never be reckoned as lost," he had answered. She had loved him for the words, and had pressed his hand in hers—but she had not taken his money. From her aunt some small meagre supply had been accepted from time to time—a florin or two now, and a florin or two again—given with repeated intimations on aunt Sophie's part, that her husband Karil could not be expected to maintain the house in the Kleinseite. Nina had not felt herself justified in refusing such gifts from her aunt to her father, but as each occasion came she told herself that some speedy end must be put to this state of things. Her aunt's generosity would not sustain her father, and her aunt's generosity nearly killed herself. On this very morning she would do that which should certainly put an end to a state of things so disagreeable. After breakfast, therefore, she started at once for the house in the Windberg-gasse, leaving her father still in his bed. She walked very quick, looking neither to the right nor the left, across the bridge, along the river-side, and then up into the straight ugly streets of the New Town. The distance from her father's house was nearly two miles, and yet the journey was made in half an hour. She had never walked so quickly through the streets of Prague before; and when she reached the end of the Windberg-gasse, she had to pause a moment to collect her thoughts and her breath. But it was only for a moment, and then the bell was rung.
Yes; her aunt was at home. At ten in the morning that was a matter of course. She was shown, not into the grand drawing-room, which was only used on grand occasions, but into a little back parlour which, in spite of the wealth and magnificence of the Zamenoys, was not so clean as the room in the Kleinseite, and certainly not so comfortable as the Jew's apartment. There was no carpet; but that was not much, as carpets in Prague were not in common use. There were two tables crowded with things needed for household purposes, half-a-dozen chairs of different patterns, a box of sawdust close under the wall, placed there that papa Zamenoy might spit into it when it pleased him. There was a crowd of clothes and linen hanging round the stove, which projected far into the room; and spread upon the table, close to which was placed mamma Zamenoy's chair, was an article of papa Zamenoy's dress, on which mamma Zamenoy was about to employ her talents in the art of tailoring. All this, however, was nothing to Nina, nor was the dirt on the floor much to her, though she had often thought that if she were to go and live with aunt Sophie, she would contrive to make some improvement as to the cleanliness of the house.
"Your aunt will be down soon," said Lotta Luxa as they passed through the passage. "She is very angry, Nina, at not seeing you all the last week."
"I don't know why she should be angry, Lotta. I did not say I would come."
Lotta Luxa was a sharp little woman, over forty years of age, with quick green eyes and thin red-tipped nose, looking as though Paris might have been the town of her birth rather than Prague. She wore short petticoats, clean stockings, an old pair of slippers; and in the back of her hair she still carried that Diana's dart which maidens wear in those parts when they are not only maidens unmarried, but maidens also disengaged. No one had yet succeeded in drawing Lotta Luxa's arrow from her head, though Souchey, from the other side of the river, had made repeated attempts to do so. For Lotta Luxa had a little money of her own, and poor Souchey had none. Lotta muttered something about the thoughtless thanklessness of young people, and then took herself down- stairs. Nina opened the door of the back parlour, and found her cousin Ziska sitting alone with his feet propped upon the stove.
"What, Ziska," she said, "you not at work by ten o'clock!"
"I was not well last night, and took physic this morning," said Ziska. "Something had disagreed with me."
"I'm sorry for that, Ziska. You eat too much fruit, I suppose."
"Lotta says it was the sausage, but I don't think it was. I'm very fond of sausage, and everybody must be ill sometimes. She'll be down here again directly;" and Ziska with his head nodded at the chair in which his mother was wont to sit.
Nina, whose mind was quite full of her business, was determined to go to work at once. "I'm glad to have you alone for a moment, Ziska," she said.
"And so am I very glad; only I wish I had not taken physic, it makes one so uncomfortable."
At this moment Nina had in her heart no charity towards her cousin, and did not care for his discomfort. "Ziska," she said, "Anton Trendellsohn wants to have the papers about the houses in the Kleinseite. He says that they are his, and you have them."
Ziska hated Anton Trendellsohn, hardly knowing why he hated him. "If Trendellsohn wants anything of us," said he, "why does he not come to the office? He knows where to find us."
"Yes, Ziska, he knows where to find you; but, as he says, he has no business with you—no business as to which he can make a demand. He thinks, therefore, you would merely bid him begone."
"Very likely. One doesn't want to see more of a Jew than one can help."
"That Jew, Ziska, owns the house in which father lives. That Jew, Ziska, is the best friend that—that—that father has."
"I'm sorry you think so, Nina."
"How can I help thinking it? You can't deny, nor can uncle, that the houses belong to him. The papers got into uncle's hands when he and father were together, and I think they ought to be given up now. Father thinks that the Trendellsohns should have them. Even though they are Jews, they have a right to their own."
"You know nothing about it, Nina. How should you know about such things as that?"
"I am driven to know. Father is ill, and cannot come himself."
"Oh, laws! I am so uncomfortable. I never will take stuff from Lotta Luxa again. She thinks a man is the same as a horse."
This little episode put a stop to the conversation about the title- deeds, and then Madame Zamenoy entered the room. Madame Zamenoy was a woman of a portly demeanour, well fitted to do honour by her personal presence to that carriage and horses with which Providence and an indulgent husband had blessed her. And when she was dressed in her full panoply of French millinery—the materials of which had come from England, and the manufacture of which had taken place in Prague—she looked the carriage and horses well enough. But of a morning she was accustomed to go about the house in a pale-tinted wrapper, which, pale- tinted as it was, should have been in the washing-tub much oftener than was the case with it—if not for cleanliness, then for mere decency of appearance.
And the mode in which she carried her matutinal curls, done up with black pins, very visible to the eye, was not in itself becoming. The handkerchief which she wore in lieu of cap, might have been excused on the score of its ugliness, as Madame Zamenoy was no longer young, had it not been open to such manifest condemnation for other sins. And in this guise she would go about the house from morning to night on days not made sacred by the use of the carriage. Now Lotta Luxa was clean in the midst of her work; and one would have thought that the cleanliness of the maid would have shamed the slatternly ways of the mistress. But Madame Zamenoy and Lotta Luxa had lived together long, and probably knew each other well.
"Well, Nina," she said, "so you've come at last?"
"Yes; I've come, aunt. And as I want to say something very particular to you yourself, perhaps Ziska won't mind going out of the room for a minute." Nina had not sat down since she had been in the room, and was now standing before her aunt with almost militant firmness. She was resolved to rush at once at the terrible subject which she had in hand, but she could not do so in the presence of her cousin Ziska.
Ziska groaned audibly. "Ziska isn't well this morning," said Madame Zamenoy, "and I do not wish to have him disturbed."
"Then perhaps you'll come into the front parlour, aunt."
"What can there be that you cannot say before Ziska?"
"There is something, aunt," said Nina.
If there were a secret, Madame Zamenoy decidedly wished to hear it, and therefore, after pausing to consider the matter for a moment or two, she led the way into the front parlour.
"And now, Nina, what is it? I hope you have not disturbed me in this way for anything that is a trifle."
"It is no trifle to me, aunt. I am going to be married to—Anton Trendellsohn." She said the words slowly, standing bolt-upright, at her greatest height, as she spoke them, and looking her aunt full in the face with something of defiance both in her eyes and in the tone of her voice. She had almost said, "Anton Trendellsohn, the Jew;" and when her speech was finished, and admitted of no addition, she reproached herself with pusillanimity in that she had omitted the word which had always been so odious, and would now be doubly odious—odious to her aunt in a tenfold degree.
Madame Zamenoy stood for a while speechless—struck with horror. The tidings which she heard were so unexpected, so strange, and so abominable, that they seemed at first to crush her. Nina was her niece—her sister's child; and though she might be repudiated, reviled, persecuted, and perhaps punished, still she must retain her relationship to her injured relatives. And it seemed to Madame Zamenoy as though the marriage of which Nina spoke was a thing to be done at once, out of hand—as though the disgusting nuptials were to take place on that day or on the next, and could not now be avoided. It occurred to her that old Balatka himself was a consenting party, and that utter degradation was to fall upon the family instantly. There was that in Nina's air and manner, as she spoke of her own iniquity, which made the elder woman feel for the moment that she was helpless to prevent the evil with which she was threatened.
"Anton Trendellsohn—a Jew," she said, at last.
"Yes, aunt; Anton Trendellsohn, the Jew. I am engaged to him as his wife."
There was a something of doubtful futurity in the word engaged, which gave a slight feeling of relief to Madame Zamenoy, and taught her to entertain a hope that there might be yet room for escape. "Marry a Jew, Nina," she said; "it cannot be possible!"
"It is possible, aunt. Other Jews in Prague have married Christians."
"Yes, I know it. There have been outcasts among us low enough so to degrade themselves—low women who were called Christians. There has been no girl connected with decent people who has ever so degraded herself. Does your father know of this?"
"Your father knows nothing of it, and you come and tell me that you are engaged—to a Jew!" Madame Zamenoy had so far recovered herself that she was now able to let her anger mount above her misery. "You wicked girl! Why have you come to me with such a story as this?"
"Because it is well that you should know it. I did not like to deceive you, even by secrecy. You will not be hurt. You need not notice me any longer. I shall be lost to you, and that will be all."
"If you were to do such a thing you would disgrace us. But you will not be allowed to do it."
"But I shall do it."
"Yes, aunt. I shall do it. Do you think I will be false to my troth?"
"Your troth to a Jew is nothing. Father Jerome will tell you so."
"I shall not ask Father Jerome. Father Jerome, of course, will condemn me; but I shall not ask him whether or not I am to keep my promise—my solemn promise."
"And why not?"
Then Nina paused a moment before she answered. But she did answer, and answered with that bold defiant air which at first had disconcerted her aunt.
"I will ask no one, aunt Sophie, because I love Anton Trendellsohn, and have told him that I love him."
"I have nothing more to say, aunt. I thought it right to tell you, and now I will go."
She had turned to the door, and had her hand upon the lock when her aunt stopped her. "Wait a moment, Nina. You have had your say; now you must hear me."
"I will hear you if you say nothing against him."
"I shall say what I please."
"Then I will not hear you." Nina again made for the door, but her aunt intercepted her retreat. "Of course you can stop me, aunt, in that way if you choose."
"You bold, bad girl!"
"You may say what you please about myself."
"You are a bold, bad girl!"
"Perhaps I am. Father Jerome says we are all bad. And as for boldness, I have to be bold."
"You are bold and brazen. Marry a Jew! It is the worst thing a Christian girl could do."
"No, it is not. There are things ten times worse than that."
"How you could dare to come and tell me!"
"I did dare, you see. If I had not told you, you would have called me sly."
"You are sly."
"I am not sly. You tell me I am bad and bold and brazen."
"So you are."
"Very likely. I do not say I am not. But I am not sly. Now, will you let me go, aunt Sophie?"
"Yes, you may go—you may go; but you may not come here again till this thing has been put an end to. Of course I shall see your father and Father Jerome, and your uncle will see the police. You will be locked up, and Anton Trendellsohn will be sent out of Bohemia. That is how it will end. Now you may go." And Nina went her way.
Her aunt's threat of seeing her father and the priest was nothing to Nina. It was the natural course for her aunt to take, and a course in opposition to which Nina was prepared to stand her ground firmly. But the allusion to the police did frighten her. She had thought of the power which the law might have over her very often, and had spoken of it in awe to her lover. He had reassured her, explaining to her that, as the law now stood in Austria, no one but her father could prevent her marriage with a Jew, and that he could only do so till she was of age. Now Nina would be twenty-one on the first of the coming month, and therefore would be free, as Anton told her, to do with herself as she pleased. But still there came over her a cold feeling of fear when her aunt spoke to her of the police. The law might give the police no power over her; but was there not a power in the hands of those armed men whom she saw around her on every side, and who were seldom countrymen of her own, over and above the law? Were there not still dark dungeons and steel locks and hard hearts? Though the law might justify her, how would that serve her, if men—if men and women, were determined to persecute her? As she walked home, however, she resolved that dark dungeons and steel locks and hard hearts might do their worst against her. She had set her will upon one thing in this world, and from that one thing no persecution should drive her. They might kill her, perhaps. Yes, they might kill her; and then there would be an end of it. But to that end she would force them to come before she would yield. So much she swore to herself as she walked home on that morning to the Kleinseite.
Madame Zamenoy, when Nina left her, sat in solitary consideration for some twenty minutes, and then called for her chief confidant, Lotta Luxa. With many expressions of awe, and with much denunciation of her niece's iniquity, she told to Lotta what she had heard, speaking of Nina as one who was utterly lost and abandoned. Lotta, however, did not express so much indignant surprise as her mistress expected, though she was willing enough to join in abuse against Nina Balatka.
"That comes of letting girls go about just as they please among the men," said Lotta.
"But a Jew!" said Madame Zamenoy. "If it had been any kind of a Christian, I could understand it."
"Trendellsohn has such a hold upon her, and upon her father," said Lotta.
"But a Jew! She has been to confession, has she not?"
"Regularly," said Lotta Luxa.
"Dear, dear! what a false hypocrite! And at mass?"
"Four mornings a-week always."
"And to tell me, after it all, that she means to marry a Jew. Of course, Lotta, we must prevent it."
"But how? Her father will do whatever she bids him."
"Father Jerome would do anything for me."
"Father Jerome can do little or nothing if she has the bit between her teeth," said Lotta. "She is as obstinate as a mule when she pleases. She is not like other girls. You cannot frighten her out of anything."
"I'll try, at least," said Madame Zamenoy.
"Yes, we can try," said Lotta.
"Would not the mayor help us—that is, if we were driven to go to that?"
"I doubt if he could do anything. He would be afraid to use a high hand. He is Bohemian. The head of the police might do something, if we could get at him."
"She might be taken away."
"Where could they take her?" asked Lotta. "No; they could not take her anywhere."
"Not into a convent—out of the way somewhere in Italy?"
"Oh, heaven, no! They are afraid of that sort of thing now. All Prague would know of it, and would talk; and the Jews would be stronger than the priests; and the English people would hear of it, and there would be the very mischief."
"The times have come to be very bad, Lotta."
"That's as may be," said Lotta as though she had her doubts upon the subject. "That's as may be. But it isn't easy to put a young woman away now without her will. Things have changed—partly for the worse, perhaps, and partly for the better. Things are changing every day. My wonder is that he should wish to many her."
"The men think her very pretty. Ziska is mad about her," said Madame Zamenoy.
"But Ziska is a calf to Anton Trendellsohn. Anton Trendellsohn has cut his wise teeth. Like them all, he loves his money; and she has not got a kreutzer."
"But he has promised to marry her. You may be sure of that."
"Very likely. A man always promises that when he wants a girl to be kind to him. But why should he stick to it? What can he get by marrying Nina—a penniless girl, with a pauper for a father? The Trendellsohns have squeezed that sponge dry already."
This was a new light to Madame Zamenoy, and one that was not altogether unpleasant to her eyes. That her niece should have promised herself to a Jew was dreadful, and that her niece should be afterwards jilted by the Jew was a poor remedy. But still it was a remedy, and therefore she listened.
"If nothing else can be done, we could perhaps put him against it," said Lotta Luxa.
Madame Zamenoy on that occasion said but little more, but she agreed with her servant that it would be better to resort to any means than to submit to the degradation of an alliance with the Jew.
On the third day after Nina's visit to her aunt, Ziska Zamenoy came across to the Kleinseite on a visit to old Balatka. In the mean time Nina had told the story of her love to her father, and the effect on Balatka had simply been that he had not got out of his bed since. For himself he would have cared, perhaps, but little as to the Jewish marriage, had he not known that those belonging to him would have cared so much. He had no strong religious prejudice of his own, nor indeed had he strong feeling of any kind. He loved his daughter, and wished her well; but even for her he had been unable to exert himself in his younger days, and now simply expected from her hands all the comfort which remained to him in this world. The priest he knew would attack him, and to the priest he would be able to make no answer. But to Trendellsohn, Jew as he was, he would trust in worldly matters, rather than to the Zamenoys; and were it not that he feared the Zamenoys, and could not escape from his close connection with them, he would have been half inclined to let the girl marry the Jew. Souchey, indeed, had frightened him on the subject when it had first been mentioned to him; and Nina, coming with her own assurance so quickly after Souchey's suspicion, had upset him; but his feeling in regard to Nina had none of that bitter anger, no touch of that abhorrence which animated the breast of his sister-in-law. When Ziska came to him he was alone in his bedroom. Ziska had heard the news, as had all the household in the Windberg-gasse, and had come over to his uncle's house to see what he could do, by his own diplomacy, to put an end to an engagement which was to him doubly calamitous. "Uncle Josef," he said, sitting by the old man's bed, have you heard what Nina is doing?"
"What she is doing!" said the uncle. "What is she doing?" Balatka feared all the Zamenoys, down to Lotta Luxa; but he feared Ziska less than he feared any other of the household.
"Have you heard of Anton Trendellsohn?"
"What of Anton Trendellsohn? I have been hearing of Anton Trendellsohn for the last thirty years. I have known him since he was born."
"Do you wish to have him for a son-in-law?"
"For a son-in-law?"
"Yes, for a son-in-law—Anton Trendellsohn, the Jew. Would he be a good husband for our Nina? You say nothing, uncle Josef."
"What am I to say?"
"You have heard of it, then? Why can you not answer me, uncle Josef? Have you heard that Trendellsohn has dared to ask Nina to be his wife?"
"There is not so much of daring in it, Ziska. Among you all the poor girl is a beggar. If some one does not take pity on her, she will starve soon."
"Take pity on her! Do not we all take pity on her?"
"No," said Josef Balatka, turning angrily against his nephew; "not a scrap of pity—not a morsel of love. You cannot rid yourself of her quite—of her or me—and that is your pity."
"You are wrong there."
"Very well; then let me be wrong. I can understand what is before my eyes. Look round the house and see what we are coming to. Nina at the present moment has not got a florin in her purse. We are starving, or next to it, and yet you wonder that she should be willing to marry an honest man who has plenty of money."
"But he is a Jew!"
"Yes; he is a Jew. I know that."
"And Nina knows it."
"Of course she does. Do you go home and eat nothing for a week, and then see whether a Jew's bread will poison you."
"But to marry him, uncle Josef!"
"It is very bad. I know it is bad, but what can I do? If she says she will do it, how can I help it? She has been a good child to me—a very good child; and am I to lie here and see her starve? You would not give to your dog the morsel of bread which she ate this morning before she went out."
All this was a new light to Ziska. He knew that his uncle and cousin were very poor, and had halted in his love because he was ashamed of their poverty; but he had never thought of them as people hungry from want of food, or cold from want of clothes. It may be said of him, to his credit, that his love had been too strong for his shame, and that he had made up his mind to marry his cousin Nina in spite of her poverty. When Lotta Luxa had called him a calf she had not inappropriately defined one side of his character. He was a good- looking well-grown young man, not very wise, quickly susceptible to female influences, and gifted with eyes capable of convincing him that Nina Balatka was by far the prettiest woman whom he ever saw. But, in connection with such calf-like propensities, Ziska was endowed with something of his mother's bitterness and of his father's persistency; and the old Zamenoys did not fear but that the fortunes of the family would prosper in the hands of their son. And when it was known to Madame Zamenoy and to her husband Karil that Ziska had set his heart upon having his cousin, they had expressed no displeasure at the prospect, poor as the Balatkas were. "There is no knowing how it may go about the houses in the Kleinseite," Karil Zamenoy had said. "Old Trendellsohn gets the rent and the interest, but he has little or nothing to show for them—merely a written surrender from Josef, which is worth nothing." No hindrance, therefore was placed in the way of Ziska's suit, and Nina might have been already accepted in the Windberg-gasse had Nina chosen to smile upon Ziska. Now Ziska was told that the girl he loved was to marry a Jew because she was starving, and the tidings threw a new light upon him. Why had he not offered assistance to Nina? It was not surprising that Nina should be so hard to him—to him who had as yet offered her nothing in her poverty but a few cold compliments.
"She shall have bread enough, if that is what she wants," said Ziska.
"Bread and kindness," said the old man.
"She shall have kindness too, uncle Josef. I love Nina better than any Jew in Prague can love her."
"Why should not a Jew love? I believe the man loves her well. Why else should he wish to make her his wife?"
"And I love her well—and I would make her my wife."
"You want to marry Nina!"
"Yes, uncle Josef. I wish to marry Nina. I will marry her to-morrow— or, for that matter, to-day—if she will have me."
"You! Ziska Zamenoy!"
"I, Ziska Zamenoy."
"And what would your mother say?"
"Both father and mother will consent. There need be no hindrance if Nina will agree. I did not know that you were so badly off. I did not indeed, or I would have come to you myself and seen to it."
Old Balatka did not answer for a while, having turned himself in his bed to think of the proposition which had been made to him. "Would you not like to have me for a son-in-law better than a Jew, uncle Josef?" said Ziska, pleading for himself as best he knew how to plead.
"Have you ever spoken to Nina?" said the old man.
"Well, no; not exactly to say what I have said to you. When one loves a girl as I love her, somehow—I don't know how—But I am ready to do so at once.
"Ah, Ziska, if you had done it sooner!"
"But is it too late? You say she has taken up with this man because you are both so poor. She cannot like a Jew best."
"But she is true—so true!"
"If you mean about her promise to Trendellsohn, Father Jerome would tell her in a minute that she should not keep such a promise to a Jew."
"She would not mind Father Jerome."
"And what does she mind? Will she not mind you?"
"Me; yes—she will mind me, to give me my food."
"Will she not obey you?"
"How am I to bid her obey me? But I will try, Ziska."
"You would not wish her to marry a Jew?"
"No, Ziska; certainly I should not wish it."
"And you will give me your consent?"
"Yes, if it be any good to you."
"It will be good if you will be round with her, telling her that she must not do such a thing as this. Love a Jew! It is impossible. As you have been so very poor, she may be forgiven for having thought of it. Tell her that, uncle Josef; and whatever you do, be firm with her."
"There she is in the next room," said the father, who had heard his daughter's entrance. Ziska's face had assumed something of a defiant look while he was recommending firmness to the old man; but now that the girl of whom he had spoken was so near at hand, there returned to his brow the young calf-like expression with which Lotta Luxa was so well acquainted. "There she is, and you will speak to her yourself now," said Balatka.
Ziska got up to go, but as he did so he fumbled in his pocket and brought forth a little bundle of bank-notes. A bundle of bank-notes in Prague may be not little, and yet represent very little money. When bank-notes are passed for two-pence and become thick with use, a man may have a great mass of paper currency in his pocket without being rich. On this occasion, however, Ziska tendered to his uncle no two- penny notes. There was a note for five florins, and two or three for two florins, and perhaps half-a-dozen for a florin each, so that the total amount offered was sufficient to be of real importance to one so poor as Josef Balatka.
"This will help you awhile," said Ziska, "and if Nina will come round and be a good girl, neither you nor she shall want anything; and she need not be afraid of mother, if she will only do as I say." Balatka had put out his hand and had taken the money, when the bedroom door was opened, and Nina came in.
"What, Ziska," said she, "are you here?"
"Why not? why should I not see my uncle?"
"It is very good of you, certainly; only, as you never came before—"
"I mean it for kindness, now I have come, at any rate," said Ziska.
"Then I will take it for kindness," said Nina.
"Why should there be quarrelling among relatives?" said the old man from among the bed-clothes.
"Why, indeed?" said Ziska.
"Why, indeed," said Nina, "—if it could be helped?"
She knew that the outward serenity of the words spoken was too good to be a fair representation of thoughts below in the mind of any of them. It could not be that Ziska had come there to express even his own consent to her marriage with Anton Trendellsohn; and without such consent there must of necessity be a continuation of quarrelling. "Have you been speaking to father, Ziska, about those papers?" Nina was determined that there should be no glozing of matters, no soft words used effectually to stop her in her projected course. So she rushed at once at the subject which she thought most important in Ziska's presence.
"What papers?" said Ziska.
"The papers which belong to Anton Trendellsohn about this house and the others. They are his, and you would not wish to keep things which belong to another, even though he should be a—Jew."
Then it occurred to Ziska that Trendellsohn might be willing to give up Nina if he got the papers, and that Nina might be willing to be free from the Jew by the same arrangement. It could not be that such a girl as Nina Balatka should prefer the love of a Jew to the love of a Christian. So at least Ziska argued in his own mind. "I do not want to keep anything that belongs to anybody," said Ziska. "If the papers are with us, I am willing that they should be given up—that is, if it be right that they should be given up."