Charles James Lever.

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into this room here. So this man has been talking of us ? "
cried she, as soon as we liad passed into the adjoining room.
*' Has he told you how he has requited all my father's kindness ?
how he has repaid his trustfulness and faith in him ? Speak
freely if you wish me to regard you as a friend."

" I would that you might, Friiulein. There is no name I
would do so much to win."

" But you are a gentleman, and with noble blood. Could
you stoop to be the friend of" — here she hesitated, and, after an
effort, added, "a Jew?"

" Try me, prove me," said I, stooping till my lips touched
her hand.

She did not withdraw her hand, but left it in mine, as I
pressed it again and again to my lips.


" He told you, then," said she, in a half whisper, " that our
house was on the brink of ruin ; that in a few weeks, or even
less, my father would not face the exchange — did he not say
this ? "

" I will tell you all," said I; " for I know you will forgive
me when I repeat what will oflend you to hear ; but what it is
safer you should hear." And, in the fewest words I could, I
related what Marsac had told me of the house and its difficulties.
When I came to that part which represented Oppovich as the
mere agent of the great Parisian banker — whose name I was not
quite sure of — I faltered and hesitated.

" Go on," said she, gently. " He told you that Baron
Nathanheimer was about to withdraw his protection fi-om us ? "

I slightly bent my head in affirmation.

" But did he say why ? "

" Something there was of rash enterprise, of speculation
unauthorized — of ' '

"Of an old man with failing faculties," said she, in the
same low tone ; " and of a young girl, little versed in business,
but self-confident and presumptuous enough to think herself
equal to supply his place. I have no doubt he was very frank
on this head. He wrote to Baron Elias, who sent me his letter
— the letter he wrote of us while eating our bread. It was not
handsome of him — was it, sir ? "

I can give no idea, not the faintest, of the way she said these
few words, nor of the inefiable scorn of her look, while her voice
remained calm and gentle as ever.

"No. It was not handsome."

She nodded to me to proceed, and I continued, —


" I have told you nearly everything ; for of himself and his
boastfulness "

" Oh ! do not tell me of that. I am in no laughing mood,
and I would not like to hear of it. What did he say of the
Hunyadi affair ? "

" Nothing, or next to nothing. He offered me letters of
introduction to Count Hunyadi ; but beyond that there was no
mention of him."

She arose as I said this, and walked slowly up and down the
room. I saw she was deep in thought, and was careful not to
disturb or distract her. At last she opened a writing-desk, and
took out a roll of papers fastened by a tape.

" These," said she, " you will take with you, and carefully
read over. They are the records of a transaction that is now
involving us in great trouble, and which may j)rove more than
trouble. M. Marsac has been induced — how, we shall not stop
to inquire — to contract for the purchase of an extensive wood
belonging to Graf Hunyadi ; the price, half a million of francs.
We delayed to ratify an agreement of such moment, until more
fully assured of the value of the timber ; and, while we deliberated
on the choice of the person to send down to Hungary, we have
received from our correspondent at Vienna certain bills for
acceptance in payment of this purchase. You follow me,
don't you ?"

" Yes. As I understand it, the bargain was assumed to be
ratified ? "
"Just so."

She paused ; and, after a slight struggle with herself, went
on, —


" The contract, legally drawn up and complete in every way,
tvas signed ; not, however, by my father, but by my brother. You
have heard, perhaps, that I have a brother. Bad companionship,
and a yielding disposition, have led him into evil, and for some
years we have not seen him. Much misfortune has befallen him ;
but none greater, perhaps, than his meeting with Marsac ; for,
though Adolf has done many things, he would not have gone
thus far without the promptings of this bad man."

" Was it his own name he wrote ? " asked I.

" No. It was my father's," and she faltered at the word ; and
as she spoke it her head fell heavily forward, and she covered her
face with her hands.

She rallied, however, quickly, and went on. " We now know
that the timber is not worth one-fourth of this large sum. Baron
Elias himself has seen it, and declares that we have been duped
or — worse. He insists that we rescind the contract, or accept all
its consequences. The one is hopeless — the other ruin. Mean-
while, the Baron suspends farther relations with us, and heavy
acceptances of ours will soon press for payment. I must not go
into this," said she, hurriedly. "You are very young to charge
with such a mission ; but I have great faith in your loyalty. You
will not wrong our trust ? "

" That I will not."

" You will go to Graf Hunyadi, and speak with him. If he
be — as many of his countrymen are — a man of high and generous
feeling, he will not bring ruin upon us, when our only alternative
would be to denounce our own. You are very young ; but you
have habits of the world and society. Nay — I am not seeking to
learn a secret ; but you know enough to make you companionable


and acceptable, where any others in our employ would be
inadmissible. . At all events, you will soon see the sort of man we
have to deal with, and you will report to me at once."

" I am not to tell him how this signature has been obtained ? "
asked I, awaiting the reply.

" That would be to denounce the contract at once," cried she,
as though this thought had for the first time struck her. " You
know the penalty of a forgery here. It is the galleys for life.
He must be saved at all events. Don't you see," cried she,
eagerly, " I can give you no instructions. I have none to give.
When I say, I trust you — I have told you all."

" Has Herr Ignaz not said how he would wish me to act ? "

" My father knows nothing of it all ! Nothing. You have
seen him, and you know how little he is able now to cope with a
difficulty. The very sense that his faculties are not what they
were overcomes him, even to tears.

Up to this she had spoken with a calm firmness that had lent
a touch of almost sternness to her manner, but at the mention of
her poor father's condition, her courage gave way, and she turned
away and hid her face, but her convulsed shoulders showed how
her emotion was overcoming her. I went towards her, and took
her hand in both my own. She left it to me while I kissed it
again and again.

" Oh, Sara," I whispered, rather than spoke, "if you knew
how devoted I am to you, if you knew how willingly I would give
my very life for you, you would not think yourself friendless at
this hour. Your trust in me has made me forget how lonely I
am, and how humble — to forget all that separates us, even
to telling that I love you. Give me one word — only one — of


hope ; or if not that, let your dear hand but close on mine, and I
am yours for ever."

She never spoke, however, and her cold fingers returned no
pressure to mine.

" I love you ; I love you ! " I muttered, as I covered her
hand with kisses.

" There ! Do you not hear ? " cried she, suddenly. " My
father is calling me."

" Sara, Sara ! Where is Sara ? " cried the old man, in a
weak, reedy voice.

" I am coming, dear father," said she. " Good-by, Digby ;
remember that I trust you ! "

She waved me a farewell, and, with a faint, sad smile, she
moved away. As she reached the door, however, she turned,
and, with a look of kindly meaning, said, " Trust you in all

I sprang forward to clasp her to my heart, but the door
closed on her, and I was alone !




I PASSED half the night that followed in writing to my mother.
It was a very long epistle, hut, in my fear lest, like so many
others, it should not ever reach her, it was less expansive and
candid than I could have wished. Sara's name did not occur
throughout, and yet it was Sara's image was before me as I
wrote, and to connect my mother in interest for Sara was my
uppermost thought. Without touching on details that might
awaken pain, I told how I had been driven to attempt something
for my own support, and had not failed.

"I am still," I wrote, "where I started, but in so far a
different position that I am now well looked on and trusted, and
at this moment about to set out on a mission of importance. If
I should succeed in doing what I am charged with, it will go far
to secure my future, and then, dearest mother, I will go over to
fetch you, for I will no longer live without you."

I pictured the place I was living in, and its climate, as
attractively as I was able, and said, what I verily believed, that I
hoped never to leave it. Of my father I did not venture to speak,
but I invited her, if the course of our correspondence should


prove assured, to tell me freely all about her present condition,
and where and how she was.

" You will see, dear mother," said I, in conclusion, " that I
write in all the constraint of one who is not sure who may read
him. Of the accident by which the address I now give this
letter reached me, I will tell when I write again. Meanwhile,
though I shall not be here to receive it at once, write to
me, to the care of Hodnig and Oppovich, and add, ' to be
forwarded.' "

I enclosed a little photogi-aph of the town, as seen from the
bay, and though ill done and out of drawing, it still conveyed
some notion of the pretty spot with its mountain framework.

I had it in my head to write another letter, and, indeed, made
about a dozen attempts to begin it. It was to Pauline. Nothing
but very boyishness could have ever conceived such a project, but
I thought — it was very simple of me ! — I thought I owed it to
her, and to my own loyalty, to declare that my heart had
wandered from its first allegiance, and fixed its devotion on
another. I believed — I was young enough to believe it — that I
had won her affections, and I felt it would be dishonourable in
me to deceive her as to my own. I suppose I was essaying a
task that would have puzzled a more consummate tactician than
myself, for certainly nothing could be more palpable than my
failures ; and though I tried, with all the ingenuity I possessed,
to show that, in my altered fortunes, I could no longer presume
to retain any hold on her afiections, somehow it would creep out
that my heart had opened to a sentiment far deeper and more
enthralling than that love which began in a polka, and ended at
the railway.


I must own I am now grateful to my stupidity and ineptness,
which saved me from committing this great blunder, though, at
the time, I mourned over my incapacity, and bewailed the dulness
that destroyed every attempt I made to express myself gracefully.
I abandoned the task, at length, in despair, and set to work to
pack up for my journey. I was to start at daybreak for Agram,
where some business would detain me a couple of days. Thence
I was to proceed to a small frontier town in Hungary, called
Ostovitz, on the Drave, where we owned a forest of oak scrub,
and which I was empowered to sell, if an advantageous offer
could be had. If such should not be forthcoming, my instructions
were to see w^hat water-power existed in the neighbourhood to
work saw-mills, and to report fully on the price of labour, and
the means of conveyance to the coast. If I mention these
details, even passingly, it is but to show the sort of work that
was entrusted to me, and how naturally my pride was touched at
feeling how great and important were the interests confided to
my judgment. In my own esteem, at least, I was somebody.
This sentiment, felt in the freshness of youth, is never equalled
by anything one experiences of triumph in after life, for none of
our later successes come upon hearts joyous in the day-spring
of existence, hopeful of all things, and, above all, hearts
that have not been jarred by envy, and made discordant by
ungenerous rivalry.

There was an especial charm, too, in the thought that my
life was no every-day common-place existence, but a strange
series of ups and downs, changes and vicissitudes calling for
continual watchfulness, and no small amount of energy; in a
word, I was a hero to myself, and it is wonderful what a degree


of interest can be imparted to life simply by that delusion. My
business at Agram was soon despatched. No news of the
precarious condition of our " house " had reached this place, and
I was treated with all the consideration due to the confidential
agent of a great firm. I passed an evening in the society of the
town, and was closely questioned whether Carl Bettmeyer had
got over his passion for the Frliulein Sara ; or was she showing
any disposition to look more favourably on his addresses. What
fortune Oppovich could give his daughter, and what sort of
marriage he aspired to for her, were aU discussed. There was
one point, however, all were agreed upon, that nothing could be
done without the consent of the " Baron," as they distinctively
called the great financier of Paris, whose sway, it appeared,
extended not only to questions of trade and money, but to every
relation of domestic life.

*' They say," cried one, " that the Baron likes Bettmeyer,
and has thrown some good things in his way of late."

'' He gave him a share in that new dock contract at Pola."
" And he means to give him the directorship of the Viecovar
line, if it ever be made."

" He'll give him Sara Oppovich for a wife," said a third,
" and that's a better speculation than them all. Two millions of
florins at least."

" She's the richest heiress in Croatia."

" And doesn't she know it ! " exclaimed another. " The
last time I was up at Fiume, old Ignaz apologised for not
presenting me to her, by saying, — -'Yesterday was her recep-
tion day, if you are here next Wednesday I'll introduce
you.' "


" I thought it was only the nohles had the custom of
reception days ? "

" Wealth is nohility, now-a-days, and if Ignaz Oppovich
was not a Jew he might have the best Jplood of Austria for a

The discussion soon waxed warm as to whether Jews did or
did not aspire to marriage with Christians of rank, the majority
opining to believe that they placed title and station above even
riches, and that no people had such an intense appreciation of
the value of condition as the Hebrew.

" That Frenchman who was here the other day, Marsac, told
me that the man who could get the Stephen Cross for old
Oppovich, and the title of Chevalier, would be sure of his
daughter's hand in marriage."

" And does old Ignaz really care for such a thing ? "

" No, but the girl does ; she's the haughtiest and the vainest
damsel in the province."

It may be believed that I found it very hard to listen to such
words as these in silence, but it was of the last importance that I
should not make what is called an eclat, or bring the name of
Oppovich needlessly forward for town talk and discussion ; I
therefore repressed my indignation and appeared to take Little
interest in the conversation.

" You've seen the Friiulein, of course ? " asked one of me.

" To be sure he has, and has been permitted to kneel and
kiss her hand on her birthday," broke in another.

And while some declared that this was mere exaggeration and
gossip, others averred that they had been present and witnessed
this act of homage themselves.


" What has this young gentleman seen of this hand kissing ? "
said a lady of the party, turning to me.

" That it was always an honour conferred even more than a
homage rendered, Madam," said I, stepping forward and kissing
her hand, and a pleasant laughter greeted this mode of concluding
the controversy.

"I have got a wager about you," said a young man to
me, " and you alone can decide it. Are you or are you not from
Upper Austria ? "

" And are you a Jew ? " cried another.

" If you'll promise to ask me no more questions, I'll answer
both of these — I am neither Jew nor Austrian."

It was not, however, so easy to escape my questioners,
but as their curiosity seemed curbed by no reserves of delicacy,
I was left free to defend myself as best I might, and that
I had not totally failed, I gathered from hearing an old fellow
whisper to another : —

"You'll get nothing out of him: if he's not a Jew by
birth, he has lived long enough with them to keep his mind
to himself."

Having finished all I had to do at Agram, I started for
Ostovitz. I could find no purchaser for our wood, indeed every
one had timber to sell, and forests were offered me on all sides.
It was just at that period in Austria when the nation was first
waking to thoughts of industrial enterprise, and schemes of
money-getting were rife everywhere ; but such was the ignorance
of the people, so little versed were they in affairs, that they
imagined wealth was to pour down upon them for the wishing,
and that Fortune asked of her votaries neither industry nor thrift.


Perhaps I should not have been led into these reflections here
if it were not that I had embodied them, or something very like
them, in a despatch I sent off to Sara, — a despatch on which I
had expended all my care to make it a masterpiece of fine writing
and acute observation. I remember how I expatiated on the
disabilities of race, and how I dwelt upon the vices of those
lethargic temperaments of Eastern origin which seemed so
wanting in all that energy and persistence which form the life of

This laborious essay took me an entire day to write, but
when I had posted it at night I felt I had done a very grand
thing, not only as an intellectual effort, but as a proof to the
Frtlulein how well I knew how to restrict myself within the limits
of my duties ; for not a sentence, not a syllable, had escaped me
throughout to recall thoughts of anything but business. I had
asked for certain instructions about Hungary, and on the third
day came the following, in Sara's hand : —

" Here Digby, — There is no mention in your esteemed letter of
the 4th November of Kraus's acceptance, nor have you explained
to what part of Heydager's contract Hauser now objects.
Freights are still rising here, and it would be imprudent to
engage in any operations that involve exportation. Gold is also
rising, and the Bank discount goes daily higher. I am obliged
to you for your interesting remarks on ethnology, though, I am
low-minded enough to own, I could have read with more pleasure
whether the floods in the Drave have interfered with the rafts,
and also whether these late rains have damaged the newly-
sown crops.


" If you choose to see Pesth and Buda, you will have time, for
Count Hunyadi will not be at his chateau till nigh Christmas ;
but it is important you should see him immediately on his
arrival, for his intendant writes to say that the Graf has'invited a
large party of friends to pass the festival with him, and will not
attend to any business matters while they remain. Promptitude
will be therefore needful. I have nothing to add to your
instructions already given. Although I have not been able to
consult my father, whose weakness is daily greater, I may say
that you are empowered to make a compromise, if such should
seem advisable, and your drafts shall be duly honoured, if,
time pressing, you are not in a position to acquaint us with

" The weather here is fine now. I passed yesterday at
Abazzia, and the place was looking well. I believe the archduke
will purchase it, and though sorry on some accounts, I shall
be glad on the whole,

" For Hodnig and Oppovich,

" Sara Oppovich.

" Of course if Count Hunyadi will not transact business on
his arrival, you will have to await his convenience. Perhaps the
interval could be profitably passed in Transylvania, where, it is
said, the oak-bark is both cheap and good. See to this, if
opportunity serves. Bieli's book and maps are worth con-

If I read this epistle once, I read it fifty times, but I will not
pretend to say with what strange emotions. All the dry reference
to business I could bear well enough, but the little passing sneer



at what she called my ethnology piqued me painfully. Why
should she have taken such pains to tell me that nothing that
did not lend itself to gain could have any interest for her ? or
was it to say that these topics alone were what should be
discussed between us ? Was it to recall me to my station, to
make me remember in what relation I stood to her, she wrote
thus ? These were not the natures I had read of in Balzac ! the
creatures all passion, and soul, and sentiment ; women whose
atmosphere was positive enchantment, and whose least glance,
or word, or gesture, would inflame the heart to very madness ;
and yet, was it not in Sara to become all this ? Were those
deep lustrous eyes, that looked away into space longingly,
dreamfully, dazingly, — were they meant to pore over wearisome
columns of dry arithmetic, or not rather to give back in recog-
nition what they had got in rapture, and to look as they were
looked into ?

Was it, as a Jewess, that my speculations about race had
offended her ? had I expressed myself carelessly or ill ? I had
often been struck by a smile she would give, not scornful, nor
slighting, but something that seemed to say, " These thoughts
are not our thoughts, nor are these ways our ways ; " but in her
silent fashion she would make no remark, but be satisfied to
shadow forth some half dissent by a mere trembling of the lip.

She had passed a day at Abazzia — of course, alone, — wandering
about that delicious spot, and, doubtless, recalling memories, for
any one of which I had given my life's blood. And would she
not bestow a word — one word — on these ? Why not say, she as
much as remembered me ; that it was there we first met ! Sure,
so much might have been said, or, at least, hinted at, in all


harmlessness ? I had done nothing, written nothing, to bring
rebuke upon me. I had taken no liberty ; I had tried to
make the dry detail of a business letter less wearisome, by a little
digression : not wholly out of apropos ; that was all.

Was then the Hebrew heart bent solely on gain ? And yet
what grand things did the love of these women inspire in olden
times ! and what splendid natures were theirs ! How true and
devoted, how self-sacrificing ! Sara's beautiful face, in all its calm
loveliness, rose before me as I thought these things, and I felt
that I loved her more than ever.




It still wanted several weeks of Christmas, and so I hastened off
to Pesth and tried to acquire some little knowledge of Hungarian,
and some acquaintance with the habits and ways of Hungarian
life. I am not sure that I made much progress in anything but
the " Csardas " — the national dance — in which I soon became a
proficient. Its stately solemnity suddenly changing for a lively
movement ; its warlike gestures and attitudes ; its haughty tramp
and defiant tone ; and, last of all, its whirlwind impetuosity and
passion, — all emblems of the people who practise it, — possessed
a strange fascination for me ; and I never missed a night of those
public balls where it was danced.

Towards the middle of December, however, I bethought me
of my mission, and set out for Gross Wardein, which lay a long
distance ofi", near the Transylvanian frontier. I had provided
myself with one of the mcker carriages of the country, and
travelled post, usually having three horses harnessed abreast ; or,
where there was much up-hill, a team of five.

I mention this, for I own that the exhilaration of speeding
along at the stretching gallop of these splendid "juckers,"
tossing their wild manes madly, and ringing out their myi'iads of


bells, was en ecstasy of delight almost maddening. Over and
over, as the excited driver would urge his beasts to greater speed
by a wild shrill cry, have I yelled out in concert with him,

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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThat boy of Norcott's → online text (page 13 of 17)