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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 4. The Nabob
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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 4. The Nabob Post by :redeagle Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :676

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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 1 - Chapter 4. The Nabob

PART I CHAPTER IV. THE NABOB

The train from Zuerich arrived at the Eastern Railway Station at seven o'clock in the morning. In Paris the day has at that early hour not yet begun, and but very few persons, mostly travelling foreigners and labourers, are seen on the streets. Since it has become the fashion to use the moving train for suicidal purposes, the perron is locked, and only those travellers admitted whose luggage is undergoing examination by the customs officials.

I was lucky enough to have sent my luggage one day ahead of me to Paris, and so it had not been lost in the accident. I had nothing with me but a small satchel, which I had saved, but which contained nothing to interest the custom-house officers, and so, taking my little charge in hand, I stepped out into the hall. I had hardly gone two paces, when the child dropped my hand, and crying, "Papa! dear, darling papa!" ran to a gentleman who, with a lady at his side, stood by the turnstile.

I had never before seen the lady, yet I recognised her at once as the mother of my little charge, so striking was the resemblance between them. She had the same large, dark-blue eyes, the same dimpled chin, aquiline nose, and pretty, shell-shaped, little mouth as he, and she could hardly have been more than four-and-twenty, so young and girlish did she look. The husband was a large-made, well-shaped, and distinguished-looking gentleman. His bronze complexion had a healthy flush, and he wore side whiskers, but no moustache. His head was covered with a round soft beaver, and a long, rich fur coat was thrown lightly over his shoulder. In his scarf I saw a large solitaire. The lady at his side was very plainly attired in black, and wore no jewellery at all. The age of the gentleman was, according to my judgment, about forty.

As the child ran toward him, with both his little arms stretched out, and crying, in Hungarian, "Apam! Drago edes apam!" ("Papa! dear darling papa!") the gentleman hastened to meet him, caught the boy up in his arms, and covered the little face, hands, eyes, and hair with a shower of kisses. The father sobbed in his joy, while the child laughed, caressed his father's cheeks, and called him "Edes jo apam!" ("My good, sweet father!") in Hungarian, and the father called him, crying and laughing, "My dear little fool"--in English.

Then I saw the father whisper something to the child, and in an instant the whole little face became rigid and dull, all child-like mirth and sweetness had vanished. He looked around, and then clung tightly to his father, as if in dread of something, and I saw his lips move in appeal. The father kissed him again and carried him to the lady, who all the while had given no sign of animation or interest, but had looked on, cool and indifferent.

"Look, my pet, here is your mama!" said the gentleman to the boy, approaching the lady and holding the boy toward her. Now, according to the law of nature, according to all human sentiment and experience, we should expect a mother who receives back her own offspring, saved from a fate too horrible even to contemplate, her own child who had gone from her mute and comes back to her speaking, I say we should think it natural in such a mother to seize this child, and, in the ecstasy of her love and joy, half suffocate it with her kisses and caresses. Not so here. I could see no glad tear in the lady's eye, no smile of welcome on her face. Her hands were snugly stowed away in a costly little muff, and she did not think it necessary to extend them to her child. She breathed a cold, lifeless kiss upon the boy's pale forehead, and the tiny hand of the child caressed the fur trimming on her jacket, just as he had done with the astrachan lapel of my coat. What a strange behaviour in mother and child after such a reunion!

I had watched this family scene out of a strange curiosity, which was wholly involuntary. Presently I recollected the situation, and turned to leave the perron. Perhaps, if I had saved some honest cockney's son from a like danger, I should not have avoided him, but, with a friendly pressure of the hand, expressed my pleasure at having been able to be of service to him. Then we should have parted good friends. But to introduce myself to an American nabob as the rescuer of his child was impossible! Why, the man was capable of offering me a remuneration!

No, I would have nothing to do with aristocrats like these. They have their child; it is safe; and so good-bye to them!

However, as I turned to leave, I was surprised to hear some one pronounce my name, and, to my astonishment, I found that it was Mr. Dumany. He still held the child on his arm, and, coming toward me, he said in French, "Oh, sir! you do not mean to run away from us, surely?"

"Indeed I must!" said I, bowing. "But, pray, how is it that you know my name? You cannot know me personally?"

"Well, that is a question which must remain to be answered later on. At present it is sufficient to tell you that the telegraph service has been very full and exact, even in personal description. However, I beg you to revoke that 'I must,' for indeed I cannot allow you to depart. To the great favour you have done me, you must add the additional favour of being my guest for the time of your sojourn in Paris. Promise me to accept of my hospitality--nay, to regard my house as your own. I shall be ever so happy! Come, pray, do not hesitate, and give me leave to introduce you to my wife!"

With that he took my arm, and holding it tight, as if in fear I might break loose and run off, he led me to the turnstile, where the lady was standing as quiet and composed as before. He introduced me to her by my proper name and title, naming even the district which I represented in the Hungarian Parliament; and all these he pronounced perfectly and correctly, as I never heard them pronounced by a foreigner before. How could he know all that? True, I had shown my passport to the frontier officials; but were these also subject to the Silver King?

The lady bowed politely as her husband said, "This gentleman has saved our little James from being consumed by the flames at the Rossberg catastrophe"; and for a moment I felt the slight pressure of a little gloved hand in mine. It was a very slight pressure, the faintest possible acknowledgment of a duty, and if I had saved her little pet monkey or dog, instead of her child, she might well have afforded me a warmer recognition. Indeed, I had seen women go into raptures on account of such animals before this, but never before had I seen a mother value the life of her own child so cheap. She did not hold it worthy of a single expression of gratitude; she had not a word to spare for him or me. Was this woman a human monstrosity and void of all natural feeling? or else was it part of the American etiquette to suppress all outward signs of emotion?

What puzzled me most was the boy. He was so different from the happy, talkative little fellow he had been with me and with his father some minutes ago, and he looked just as dull and inanimate as when I had seen him first on the railway. Was it because he could only speak Hungarian? But then, how could he speak to his father? Who had taught the boy to speak that peculiar language, dear to me and my compatriots, but wholly unintelligible and of very little use or advantage to the world at large?

I observed that Mr. Dumany held a short conversation with a tall liveried footman behind him, and I understood that he ordered him to take out my luggage. I protested and tried to escape. I like hospitality at home; but when I come into a foreign country, I prefer the simplest inn or the obscurest hotel to the most magnificent apartments of a palace of a prince of the Bourse, because independence goes with the former, and of all slavery I fear that of etiquette the worst.

But Mr. Dumany did not mean to give way to my polite protestations. "Just surrender nicely, pray!" he said, smilingly. "It saves you trouble. Look! If you insist upon going to some hotel, I promise you that all the reporters of every paper we have, daily and weekly, will be sure to pester you day and night with interviews, besides the reporters of foreign papers here, of which we also have an abundance. Every word you speak will by each reporter be turned into a different meaning, and by to-morrow the papers will be full of your intimations, although you do not say anything at all. And then the photographers: how will you escape them? Don't you know that every penny paper will appear with your picture in front to-morrow, and, wherever you go, it will be thrust before your eyes? You will hear your name pronounced in all languages, and in every way, and you will not know how to escape this unsought-for and unwelcome notoriety. But if you accept my invitation, nobody will be able to stare at you or interrogate you, and you shall live as quietly and peacefully as if you were in some herdsman's hovel in Hortobagy at home."

I stared at him quite stunned. How, in the name of all that was wonderful, could he have learned of the existence of a herdsman's hovel in Hortobagy? How could he know that it was my favourite spot? And how he pronounced that Hortobagy! Just as I myself! He smiled at my astonishment, but offered no explanation. But now he had caught me in my weak point--a writer's curiosity--and I gave in, willingly enough.

Mr. Dumany ordered the carriages. In one magnificent landau Mrs. Dumany was to go with little James, in the other Mr. Dumany and myself. But the child obstinately refused to leave his father's arms, and clung to him more tightly than ever. So the lady was obliged to go alone, and we two men took the boy with us.

I confess that the gentleman puzzled and interested me very much. Not because people had given him the name of "Silver King." I do not covet, and I do not admire wealth alone, pure and simple. I know how to describe a vine-embowered cottage, or even a thatch-roofed hut, with a garland of gourd blossoms around its small windows, and I can appreciate the beauties of a picturesque church or castle. But all my descriptive faculties desert me before the marble and gold luxury of a modern palace, and its gorgeous splendour has no charm for me. The interest I felt was due to the man himself, and, most of all, to the connection existing between him and my own home. How came this American Croesus to be acquainted with the nomenclature, customs, and topography of my own country and language? How came the latter upon the lips of his five-year-old boy? In my childhood I had known a five-year-old boy, the son of a count, who could speak only Latin, and not a word except Latin. But, then, Latin is taught throughout the world, and no education is considered as finished without a more or less perfect knowledge of Latin. But where in a foreign country is the professor who teaches the Ugro-Finnish tongue, even if there were some whimsical parent who wished that his son should learn to speak it?

During the drive Mr. Dumany acquainted me with some particulars regarding the customs of his house. He told me that the hour for breakfast was nine, and that for lunch one o'clock. Dinner was invariably served at six, and I was entirely at liberty to put in my appearance or stay away. They would not wait for me, but my place at the table would be kept reserved; and if I was late, I should be served afresh. The cook should be entirely at my disposal. If the excitement and fatigue of the journey should make me wish for a day's rest, I was free to retire to my rooms at once, and should not be disturbed by anybody.

In answer to all this I said that I had no habits whatever; that I was able to eat, drink, and sleep at will; was never fatigued, and would with pleasure put in my appearance at his breakfast-table that very morning.

"That will be nice, indeed!" he said. "But I must beg your pardon in advance for my wife. On ordinary days she is up and presides at breakfast; but to-day she bade me apologise. She has been up all night from excitement, and now I have told her to lie down and rest a few hours. After that she usually spends some time in the nursery, superintending the children's ablutions, prayers, and breakfast, and only when all these matters are accomplished is she ready for her duties as hostess and mistress of the household."

"So little James is not your only child?" I ventured to ask.

"Not by many; we have two more boys and two beautiful little girls--quite a houseful."

"But the lady looks almost too young to be the mother of so many children. Little James is the eldest, of course?"

"Yes, he is her first-born, and she is not yet twenty-four. We have been married six years, so christening has been an annual event with us."

Well, I was more puzzled than ever. I had met with a good many English and American gentlemen before, but all had been rather reserved in speech and manner, quite different from this Croesus; and, regarding the lady, I was altogether at a loss, as all my conjectures were entirely at fault. She was not without feeling; she was apparently a good mother, and little James was her own child and not a stepson, as I had guessed. Her behaviour at the station was still an enigma to me.

At last we arrived at the Silver King's residence--a large, well-built, and rather comfortable than brilliant mansion, filled with a host of servants, of whom each knew and fulfilled his particular duty. A _valet de chambre showed me into a very splendid and comfortable suite of rooms, consisting of a reception-room, sitting-room, work-room, bed-, dressing-, and bathroom, all furnished in the choicest and most practical way, and I was delighted to see that, although all was rich and costly, none of the offensive and pretentious pomp of the ordinary millionaire's house met my eye.

The valet, an Alsacian, who talked to me in German--perhaps with the notion of paying me a compliment--informed me that he was entirely at my own service. He showed me a beautiful escritoire in the work-room, with everything ready for writing purposes, and told me that, in the reading-room attached, I should find an assortment of newspapers. He then quickly and skilfully prepared me a bath, unpacked and arranged my things, and helped me to dress. He was altogether a wonderfully nice fellow.

When the valet left me, I went into the reading-room, and looked at the newspapers. I found quite a number of them--French, English, Italian, and one German; but still I was a little disappointed. I had half expected to find a Hungarian paper, and there was none.

The library contained a choice collection of books; works of science, philosophy, history, poetry, and fiction--of the latter, only a small and select number. Here also was no Hungarian author to be found; not even the translation of a Hungarian book could I detect, although I looked into every one--French, German, English, and Italian, and even some Spanish and Danish ones.

From the reading-room opened the billiard-room, a handsome apartment. Its walls were covered with beautiful frescoes, betraying the French school of art in the delicate colours, and in the Norman, Basque, Breton, and Kabyle scenes and types represented. Of Hungary I could see nothing. The Hortobagy herdsman's hovel, of which my host had spoken, was not to be found.

In another room I found a sort of ethnographical museum, full of relics and rarities from all countries except Hungary; and yet, if that man had ever been in my country, he would certainly have brought some token of remembrance with him. Hungary is more rich in curiosities than a good many of the countries represented here.

Mr. Dumany came in to see if I was ready for breakfast, and I followed him into the tea-room, passing a little, semi-circular, ship-cabin-like apartment, with small, round windows, between which, in beautifully-sculptured, round frames, of the size of the windows, hung very handsome landscapes, apparently American.

In the breakfast-room I recognised a tiny Meissonier, in a gold frame of twice its size, and an Alma Tadema. Mr. Dumany, observing my interest in the pictures, informed me that these two were there only temporarily, pending their shipment to New York. There, in Mr. Dumany's real home, was his picture gallery, containing works of art of the highest standard.

I ventured to observe that we Scythians, barbarians as we were held to be, had also some painters worthy the interest of a Maecenas, and not without fame, too.

"I should think so," he said, smiling. "And in my New York gallery you will find Munkacsy _genres_, Zichy _aquarelles_, a Benczur, and some other equally fine Hungarian pictures. Here I keep only French and German pictures of lesser value."

Our conversation turned to art in general, and Mr. Dumany surprised me again by an allusion to the Hungarian witticism that when we speak of Hungarian art we cannot omit Liszt (for the name of the great musician is also the Hungarian word for _flour_); and Mr. Dumany remarked that Americans travelling abroad have learned to appreciate both the Hungarian specialties. The great artist, and the product of the soil and mill converted into fine cake, are equally esteemed by them.

We talked about commerce and exports, and he observed that although American wheat was sure to inundate the European market, yet Hungarian flour was unrivalled in quality, and would increase in consumption throughout the world. Then we spoke of financial matters, and here Mr. Dumany was completely at home. The Hungarian rente had at that time just been introduced into the market, and Mr. Dumany predicted for it a fair success. He prophesied the rente conversion scheme and the four per cent. bonds, and from this topic we diverged to politics. He was a very fair politician, and I was pleasantly impressed by the apparent interest which he took in Hungary. He admired Andrassy, and spoke well of his Bosnian policy. Of Tisza he entertained great hopes, and he felt sorry for Apponyi, because he had allied his great talents with the Opposition. He spoke of Kossuth, and said it was a pity to see the grand old man's name misused by the extreme faction. I tried to turn the conversation to Hungarian literature, but on this point I met with but little interest. Still, I noticed that he knew more about us than foreigners in general do. He did not think the Gypsies the ruling race in Hungary, and he did not believe us to be a sort of chivalrous brigands, as some foreigners consider us; but he did not show any particular sympathy with either the country or the people, and certainly used no flattery on the subject of our special virtues.

Our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Dumany's valet, who handed his master two letters. "Will you give me leave to read them at once?" he asked, turning to me. "They are of some importance, being answers to two dinner invitations I sent out this morning."

"Certainly," I answered; "pray do as you wish."

He opened and read the letters, and, replacing them again on the silver salver upon which the servant had brought them, he ordered him to hand them over to the chambermaid so that Mrs. Dumany might receive and read them.

After the valet had left, Mr. Dumany said to me--

"I have invited these two gentlemen to meet you at dinner. One of them is secretary of the Department of the Interior, the other an old Catholic priest, the parson of St. Germain l'Auxerrois. It is very nice and pleasant that both of them accepted, and so I hope you will not object to make the acquaintance of two whole-souled and intelligent gentlemen."

"Quite the contrary," I hastened to say; "I shall be very happy to meet them."

Just then the valet returned, and, deferentially bowing, he said to me--

"Madame la Comtesse begs to inform monsieur that she would be grateful if monsieur would be kind enough to see madame in her apartments."

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