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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 3. The Englishman
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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 3. The Englishman Post by :redeagle Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :1762

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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 3. The Englishman

PART I CHAPTER III. THE ENGLISHMAN

That long-legged son of Albion whom I had previously observed, strolled up to my side and asked--

"Do you understand German, sir?"

"Yes, sir, I do."

"Then call for that shepherd. I want him."

I obeyed, and the shepherd, who had complacently eyed the scene as something that was of no consequence to him, came slowly and wonderingly up.

He was in no hurry, and my coaxing "Dear friend" and "Good friend" did not impress him at all; but when the Englishman showed him a handful of gold coins he came on quickly enough.

"Tell him," said the Englishman, "to run to the next railway station, give notice of the accident, and return with a relief train for succour. Tell him to be quick, and when he returns I will give him two hundred francs."

"Yes," said the man; "but who will take care of my goats meanwhile?"

"How many goats have you?"

"Six."

"And what is the average price of a goat?"

"Fifteen francs."

"Well, here is the price of your goats in cash. I give you one hundred francs--ten more than your goats are worth. Now run! How far is it?"

"A good running distance, not very far." The man pocketed his money and turned, when an idea struck him. "Could you not take care of my goats anyhow, till I return?" he asked.

Smart fellow! He kept the money for his goats, and tried to keep the goats into the bargain.

"All right," said the Englishman, "I will take care of them. Never fear. Go!"

"But you must take my stick and my horn; the goats will get astray when they do not hear the horn."

"Then give it to me, and I will blow it," said the Englishman, with admirable patience, and, taking the shepherd's crook and horn, he gave the man his red shawl to use as a signal-flag.

As the shepherd at length trotted on and disappeared, that unique, long-legged example of phlegm and good sense sat down by the shepherd's fire, on exactly the same spot where the shepherd had sat, and began watching the goats.

I returned to the mournful scene which I had quitted when the Englishman came up to me. It was a terrible one, and no marvel that even the painter had closed his sketch-book to gaze upon it in silent awe. The entire valley below showed like a giant furnace, or some flaming ocean of hell. Huge fiery serpents came hissing and snarling up to the barricade, and great flakes of fire were flying about everywhere, scorching and kindling as they fell. The chill, keen, mountain air had become heavy and warm in spite of the winter, and a loathsome, penetrating odour arose and drove us away from the horrible place. No one remained but the Polish Jew. He did not move away. He had risen to his knees on the barricade wall, and his hands, with their prayer-bands, were uplifted to heaven. Louder and louder he chanted his hymns, raising his voice above the thundering roar of the crackling fire, the rolling stones, and the last despairing cries of the doomed ones. The fur on his cap, his forked beard and dangling locks were singed by the falling cinders, and his skin scorched and blistered, yet still he chanted on. But when at last he saw that his prayer was in vain, all at once he sprang up, and seemed to strike at the flames with both palms; then, spitting into the fire "pchi!" he fell down senseless.

By this time the heat was so oppressive that it was dangerous to stand anywhere near the barricade, and even for the sake of saving a man's life from such a horrid fate, it was impossible to venture among the falling cinders and rolling stones. All that the few of us who had escaped with sound limbs and bodies could do was to carry our less fortunate, wounded or maimed fellow-travellers up into the little watch-house.

This we did, and then came those seemingly endless minutes in which we waited for the relief train. Once the Englishman blew the horn for the goats, and we thought it was the whistling of the expected train. How terribly that disappointment was felt! and what sinful, subtle, and sophistical thoughts crowded into our heads, burdened our hearts, and oppressed our spirits in those awful minutes!

What terrible thing had these poor victims done to deserve such fearful punishment? What heinous crime had they committed to be sentenced to death and destruction by such a painful, torturing process? Whose sin was visited on the guileless heads of little infants and innocent children who had perished in those flames? Could not they have been spared? or that loving and beautiful young couple, just on the brink of life and happiness, and now sent to eternity together by such a fearful road, into the mouth of hell when they had thought themselves before the open gate of Paradise? What had that unhappy mother done? or all these old and young men and women, in full health and spirits, enjoying life and happiness, surrounded by happy relatives, full of happy plans and hopes? What had they done to deserve this fate, those poor servants of the public convenience, the guards, the engineer, and the other officials, who could have saved their own lives easily, and in good time, if they had abandoned their fatal posts, and had not preferred to die in doing their duty? Why had not these been saved for the sake of their wives and children, now widows and orphans, abandoned to the charities of a merciless world? Who and where is that awful Deity into whose altar-fire that conjuring Jew had spat, because He would not listen to his invocations? What dreadful Power is it which has pushed down that rock-colossus to destroy so many human lives? Is it the Czrny Bog of the Samaritans, the Lord of Darkness and Doer of Mischief, whose might is great in harm, whose joy is human despair, and who is adored with oaths and curses?

But if such a power exists--if there is a Czrny Bog, indeed--then his deeds are befitting his name--dark and black. But why should I, who am human myself, and have a heart for my brethren and a sense of their wrongs, why should I in this fatal instant, although full of pity and commiseration, yet inwardly rejoice that this misfortune has fallen upon others and not upon me? Why should I feel that although others have perished, all is well as long as I am safe?

Is this not shameful? Is it not an everlasting stain and disgrace upon my inner self? What right have I to think myself the chosen ward of some guardian angel or tutelary spirit? In what am I different from those lost ones? In what better, worthier than they? And if not, why had I been saved and not they? Here! Here was the Czrny Bog, the dark god, in my own breast.

At last day was dawning, and, in the grey morning light, the horrible picture looked ghastlier still, when, to our intense relief, the long-expected train came, and physicians with their assistants, firemen with their manifold implements, police, and all kinds of labourers, arrived upon it. The train stopped at a safe distance, and then the work of rescue began. Wounds were dressed, the insensible restored, watchmen and travellers were interrogated by officials. Ropes and rope-ladders were fastened and suspended, and brave men, magnanimously forgetful of the threatening danger, went down into the flames, although the hope of success was small. True, the two or three uppermost cars had not as yet caught fire; but who could breathe amid that suffocating smoke, that lurid loathsome atmosphere, and yet live?

The labourers set to work at the breaches of the barricade and the line of rails. The engineers discussed the best way in which a protecting barrier ought to be built so as to shut out every possibility of such an accident; and from the plateau before the watch-house some men were incessantly calling for a "Monsieur d'Astrachan."

At last one of the labourers called my attention to these repeated shouts, and, turning in their direction, I observed that this title was intended for me. The watchman's wife, not knowing my name, had described me as wearing an astrachan cap and coat-collar, and accordingly I was called "Monsieur d'Astrachan." Now for the first time I remembered the child I had carried thither. I had completely forgotten it, and the occurrence seemed such an age away that I should not have been surprised to hear that the boy had grown to be a man.

I hastened up the steps, and observed that some official personage in showy uniform was expecting me quite impatiently. "Come up, sir," he said; "we cannot converse with your little boy."

"To be sure you can't!" said I, smiling, in spite of the dreadful situation. "Neither can I, for the boy is deaf and dumb; but I have to correct you, sir. The boy is not my own, although I took him out of the carriage."

"That boy deaf and dumb? About as much as we are, I judge. Why, he is talking incessantly, only we can't make anything out of his prattle, as we do not understand the language," said the officer.

"Well, that's certainly a miracle!" I exclaimed, "and it bears witness to the truth of the old proverb, 'It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.' Assuredly, the shock of the accident restored his power of speech. What is he saying?"

"I told you we can't make it out. It's a language that none of us understand."

"Then I hardly suppose that I shall be cleverer than all of you."

"Whose child is it, if not yours?"

"Some rich nabob's. I can't at the moment recall his name, although the governess told me, poor soul! We were thrown together by chance, and the poor woman perished in the flames. Has no one of his many attendants and servants escaped?"

"It seems not. But pray come in and listen to him; perhaps you will understand him."

I went in, and found my practical Englishman beside the child, but incapable of arriving at a mutual understanding. The injured travellers and the hysterical women passengers were already snugly stowed away in the ambulance carriages and well taken care of. The goats were again under the protection of their legitimate shepherd, and that temporary official, the long-legged son of Albion, was addressing all kinds of questions in English to an obstinate little boy.

As I entered, and the child caught sight of me, the little face lit up at once. He extended both his little arms in joy. "Please come," he said; "I will be a good boy. I will speak!"

It is marvellous enough when a dumb child speaks; but what was my surprise when I recognised these words, uttered in my own native Hungarian tongue! Just imagine the five-year-old son of a wealthy American, whose entire _cortege had been German, French, Italian, and English, speaking Hungarian!

I took the little fellow up in my arms, and he put both his little arms around my neck, and, leaning his soft cheek on my bearded face, he said again, "I will be good, very good; but please take me to my papa. I am afraid!"

"Who is your father, my child?" I asked. "What is his name?"

As I uttered these questions in Hungarian, he clapped his hands in gladness, and then, after a little meditation, he answered--

"My father is called the 'Silver King,' and his name is Mr. Dumany. Do you know him?"

"Oh!" said the Englishman, as he heard the name, "Mr. Kornel Dumany, the Silver King; I know him very well. He is an American, and very rich. He lives mostly in Paris. If it is more convenient for you to get rid of the child, I can take care of him and bring him to his father."

"No, no!" protested the little one, clinging tightly to me. "Please, do not give me to him! I want to stay with you; I want to go with you to my papa!"

So he knew English well enough, since he understood every word of the Englishman's. In this case he could not have been deaf at all, but obstinate, hearing and refusing to talk. Was not such unheard-of obstinacy in a child of such tender age some malady of the mind or soul?

"I wonder how this child comes to speak Hungarian?" said I, turning to the Englishman. "Ours is not a language generally spoken by foreigners, least of all by the young children of American nabobs."

"I never wonder at anything," said he, coolly. "At any rate, I should advise you at the first station to telegraph to Mr. Dumany; I will give you his address. So you will be expected when you arrive in Paris, and have no further trouble. Since you are the only person able to talk to the boy, it will be certainly the best thing for him to remain with you. Now I think it is time for us to take our seats in the carriage, or else the train will start and leave us behind. Come on, gentlemen!"

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