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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 1. The Sea-Dove
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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 1. The Sea-Dove Post by :AnnMur Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :3045

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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 1. The Sea-Dove


From Dumanyfalva to Vernoecze the high-road makes a circuit of a two hours' ride, but we took a short cut by a cross-road through Siegfried's deer-park, which is about ten thousand acres in extent. The whole park was fenced in with high iron railings, and this fence alone had cost the neat little sum of one hundred and fifty thousand florins. Yet it was worth its cost, for, before its erection, the Vernoeczys had to pay yearly about twenty-five thousand florins for damage done by their game upon the crops in the neighbouring fields. At the big iron gate a ranger with two loaded rifles was waiting for us. He handed the rifles to the two servants, and then took his seat on the box with the coachman.

It was a beautiful wood through which we drove--all of giant larch trees of a century's growth, perfuming the air with ambrosial odours. The bright rays from our lanterns attracted the deer, and they stood gazing at us with their glittering eyes. One of the bucks bellowed at us, and one of the little fawns came almost under the wheels. Pheasants, startled from sleep by the noise of our wheels, soared above our heads. From the depths of the forest mysterious voices met our ears: the woodcock's hoarse call, the roebuck's deep bellow, the wild boar's grunt, the squirrel's chatter, and the shrill cries which announce the presence of the wild peacock. What a difference between this lordly forest and my small twenty-acre park! Red squirrels, gray squirrels, gambolling among the boughs, playing with acorns and hazelnuts; thrushes, blackbirds, nightingales, and greenfinches, chirruping and twittering, were all the game I had.

In vain we endeavour to bring high nobility and plain gentry into one class. They are divided by the game-park. We are only visitors there, kindly invited, kindly received, but visitors still, and we can never repay the compliment. Therefore I consider we should always think twice before we accept the invitation.

It was past midnight when we finally arrived at Siegfried's shooting-box, a beautiful pavilion in the Swiss style, with a large verandah to the east, facing the magnificent chateau. Between the two buildings extended a clear, broad lake, with silvery willows on the nearer side, and grand old lime-trees on the side toward the mansion. Graceful white and black swans swam on the lake, and two tiny little wherries lay ready for a boating excursion. The south side of the shooting-box had "altdeutsch" windows of coloured glass, and wooden shutters with heart-shaped perforations on the outside. On the nearer side of the lodge was a beautiful green lawn and a few somewhat neglected rose-beds.

The shooting-box was a comfortably large and luxuriously-furnished building, and afforded accommodation for thirty guests. The couches in the different sleeping apartments were all covered with deerskin spreads, and the furniture was all in harmony with the purpose and style of the building.

I left my window ajar for the night, so as to be up early, and my plan succeeded. The dew still glittered upon the tender petals of the roses when I was up and sauntering among the flowers. I had brought my "Malmaison" and "Sultan of Morocco" roses with me, and also my budding-knife and the sap for budding. "What a surprise for them," I thought, "when they find these beautiful flowers instead of the wild suckers." I had put my roses into a glass of water, and was now preparing for the performance by cutting off the collateral shoots and removing the inconvenient thorns. Just as I had taken one of the "Sultan of Morocco" roses out of the water, I heard steps on the gravel, and a musical voice cried--

"Gardener, do you hear?"

I turned around, and beheld two beautiful young girls hurrying toward me. One of them, a tiny little creature, was of the blonde type, with long, golden curls and a face of cream and roses. One startling, bewitching little black mole was seen on one of the dimpled cheeks. Her eyebrows were dense, of a golden-brown, and arched over a pair of large, glittering brown eyes. The corners of her little mouth curved upward in a smile, and the cherry lips were always open and moving. Her little hands were busy gesticulating, explaining, acting, and never at rest; a picture of the entire little personage.

The other girl was a tall, slender, willow-like figure, with raven hair pushed high above the marble forehead. Her skin was clear and transparent, but with hardly a tinge of colour. Her straight, black brows and long black lashes overhung a pair of deep blue, or rather sea-green, eyes, and her little coral mouth was so small that the idea struck me that it must hurt her to speak, and therefore she liked to hold her peace.

Both were in morning dress, appropriate to the country. The blonde wore a dress of some sort of light Japanese silk, covered with a pattern of great painted birds and flowers. The dark girl had a Nile-blue gown of some light material, and in style somewhat resembling the Greek.

The verandah had prevented me from perceiving their approach. Now they hastened toward me with the easy composure with which we meet some old friend, or--a servant. Of course, I had no difficulty in recognising the equestrian amateurs of the previous day, and it was easy to guess that they repeated their mistake of that afternoon, by taking me for a gardener. I had no intention of undeceiving them, and did not take off my hat, but stood with the "Sultan of Morocco" between my teeth, and my hands engaged with the budding-knife.

"Do you hear?" said the little blonde, now coming near; "cut me a bud of these 'Gloire de Dijons.' No! one of these 'Marshal Niels'; not this, the other, that is just opening!"

I was correctly dressed for the occasion, and quite in proper style for a country visit: tanned shoes, knickerbocker jacket, Pepita waistcoat, Madapolam shirt-collar, Bismarck _en colere scarf, Panama hat. "My darling, does not that content you?" Still these girls took me for a servant. Well, let it pass!

I cut off one of the roses, and began to pare off the thorns with my knife, when she angrily stamped her little foot on the grass. "What are you paring the thorns off for? I don't like a rose without thorns, I want a rose with thorns; this looks stripped!" and, pulling the rose out of my hand, she held it over to her companion.

"_Tiens! Ca m'embete_!"

To her she spoke French; to me, German. The girl took the rose without a word; for her it was good enough without the thorns. I prepared to cut another bud for the capricious fair one, when she asked, "What rose is that in your mouth?"

"A Sultan of Morocco," I said, taking the rose from my lips.

"Give me this," with an imperative gesture.

"This is for grafting," I tried to explain.

"But I want it!" was the haughty reply, and she impatiently held out her bit of a hand for the rose. I handed it to her, and for a moment she buried her little nose in it and then tried to fasten it to her dress. Presently a thought seemed to strike her, for she lifted the rose to her lips, and then, turning to me again, asked--

"Has the Count returned home?"

"He has," I answered.

"He did not come alone? A gentleman came with him, did he not?"

I answered in the affirmative.

"Are they asleep yet, do you think? Which is his window?"

"Whose? The Count's?"

"No, that I know! The stranger's?"

"The one that is open," I said, wondering what she meant. She looked around, and observed a double step-ladder standing in front of a tree. "Bring that ladder," she said to me, "and put it in front of that window."

I began to perceive her intention, and, much amused, I fetched the ladder. "Shall I hold it?" I asked, with seeming innocence.

"No. Go back to your work!"

I submitted, and went back to my roses, where the other girl was still standing. The little blonde vixen, as Siegfried had called her, went up the ladder, throwing me a haughty glance because I had the impertinence to watch her movements.

As I prepared for work again, I noticed that in the chalice of each flower, two or more green cetonias were to be found. The cetonia beetle is the deadliest foe of the rose, destroying it entirely, and since my boyhood, when I used to practise gardening at home, and was taught to kill a cetonia wherever I found it, I could not bear the sight of the glittering, green beetle. I was just crushing one under my foot, when the dark-haired girl near me cried out--

"Why do you kill that poor cetonia?"

"Because it injures the roses," I said.

"Well, let them alone! Who cares for the roses?"

"Who cares for the roses?" Is not that strange? A young girl taking the side of the harmful destroyer against the innocent victim!

The blonde descended the ladder, and her face, her hands, and her walk betrayed that she was vexed. I was very much amused. Was it not a joke that she had climbed up to my window to present me with my own rose, the rose she had taken out of my mouth? And was it not amusing to see her angry, because I had had the sauciness to watch the movements of those tiny slippered feet in pink stockings as they mounted the ladder and revealed a bewitching little ankle?

The black-haired girl turned to her and complained--"See, he kills our cetonias!" Whereupon the little one, with a queenly mien, stepped in front of me and said--

"I forbid you to do that! Do not dare to hurt my cetonias!"

I could not repress a smile, as I answered, "I shall duly obey. I had no right to interfere, as these cetonias do not belong to me."

"I really think that fellow is laughing at us!" said the little one, with arching brows, when the other, who had been watching me for some moments, made some whispered remark, and then the fair head and the dark one were put close together in earnest consultation.

On one of my hands I wore an antique carnelian seal-ring, with my family crest, and a large solitaire, the gift of a grateful patient. These rings, rather unusual upon the finger of a common gardener, had caught the eye of the dark-haired girl, and she could not but notice that my hands and nails were not those of a labourer. For a while they looked shyly at me, while they busied themselves in gathering into their garden hats all the cetonias they could, as if afraid that, after their departure, I should avenge myself by a general onslaught on their _protegees_. Presently the blonde stepped up to me, and, touching the carnelian on my hand with her finger, she said--

"Are you a nobleman?"

I answered by an anecdote.

"A German journalist had to translate an item on sea-turtles from an English paper. He did not exactly understand what a turtle was; but he know of turtle-doves, which are in German called _Turtel-tauben_, and, as he did not want to trouble himself to look for the expression in a dictionary, _turtle-doves it remained. He wrote of the bird, that it comes out of the sea to the sand of the shore, lays its eggs in that sand, carefully and safely scratching them in, and smoothing the surface with its front paws. These front paws of a turtle-dove perplexed him, and he did what he ought to have done before: he looked in the dictionary and found that the sea-turtle was no dove at all."

"Hem!" said the little one, looking with charming astonishment at the other girl; and then she turned to me again, and, lifting a threatening little finger at me, she said--

"Now, don't you go and betray us to anybody. Promise!"

"You have my knightly word," I said; "_parole d'honneur_!" But, unable to suppress my mirth any longer, I broke into a ringing laugh, and both girls fled as fast as they could.

On returning to my room, I found Siegfried there. "My aunt's footman has already been here to invite us to breakfast," he said. "When in the country she is always an early riser, and so are the children. I wonder they have not been running about yet. They used to."

I did not tell him that they had been running about already; but, stepping up to the window, I found the rose which the fair girl had laid upon the sill, and, fastening it in the button-hole of my jacket, made ready to follow up the invitation for breakfast.

"Wouldn't you rather shave before going down?" asked Siegfried, with a disapproving look at my face. "My valet has an easy hand, and is very reliable."

"No, thank you!" I said, and with that I took his arm and we went down.

Near the lake was a mass of beautiful dolomite rock, a forerunner of the high mountains further on. The face of the rock was all overgrown with birch trees, and wild roses and other flowers were peeping out of the thick moss and bush. At the foot of the rock was a clearing, surrounded with pines, their drooping foliage forming a shady roof above the little circuit of ground. In the wall of the rock was a grotto, overrun with henna leaves, hedge-plant, and other creepers. Out of one of the walls of the grotto broke, murmuring and rippling, a clear mountain spring, which, meeting with another and uniting with it to form a rivulet, flowed across the flowery plain, emptying itself into the lake by a series of cascades.

In the centre of this space the breakfast-table was set--the shining silver, the glittering crystal, and the creamy china forming a pleasant contrast to the rural simplicity of the chairs and table and the green roof and walls above and around.

Countess Diodora was already there, expecting us. The two girls were in the grotto, pretending to be busy with the preparations for breakfast.

Countess Diodora was strikingly handsome. Tall of stature and fully developed, her movements had all the elasticity of youth and all the majesty of a goddess. Her Creole complexion was in harmony with the great almond-shaped eyes, the Minerva forehead, Grecian nose, and shell-shaped mouth with its coral-red lips. Her head was crowned with a tiara of heavy black tresses, more precious and beautiful than any artificial ornament.

Siegfried led me to her and presented me with the following words--

"At last I am able to introduce my hitherto invisible friend. Do not be amazed at his present resemblance to our common progenitors, the Simians--that is, if we believe the evolutionists; but our friend here has no intention of claiming that affinity. His sprouting moustache and beard are a token of patriotic zeal, and a sacrifice upon the altar of national idiosyncrasy. Henceforth he will be known as a Hungarian in appearance also, and nobody will be justified in calling him an Austrian."

The lady smiled at the humorous introduction, and extended both her hands, which were somewhat large, but magnificently shaped. Could I do less than kiss both? The smile that flitted over her queenly features gave her the appearance of a veritable goddess.

"Is it not odd," she asked, "that we know each other so well, yet have never met until this moment?" Her voice was a rich, deep contralto, and very sweet.

"I have already enjoyed the happiness of seeing your ladyship," said I, smiling.

"Indeed? And where?"

"In my own garden. If I am not greatly mistaken, your ladyship and the two young ladies, your cousins, were yesterday at the pains to immortalise me by taking my photograph."

"Impossible!" she cried. "It could not have been you! With the spade in hand, and--oh, it is too odd!" And she broke into a loud laugh.

A laughing Pallas! The two girls ran but of the grotto to see what the staid Diodora was laughing at. "Come on, Cenni," said the lady to the little blonde: "here is the gardener of yesterday; the one you have photographed along with his garden."

But by that time the little one knew me well enough; she had recognised the rose in my button-hole, and, with pretended anger, she ran toward me, took hold of the collar of my jacket, and gave it a hearty pull.

"You are an artful and dangerous cheat and deceiver--that is what you are!" she said. "Why did you deceive us this morning, and make sport of us? Let us treat you as a gardener, and send you on errands? Why did not you tell us who you were?"

Siegfried came to my help. "How could he? He did not know you; maybe he took you for your own maids. If you had told him who you were, he would have returned the compliment."

"But you won't betray us to anybody?" she said, holding up, as if in prayer, her little hands, that looked like the delicate petals of the white lily. "You won't tell anybody of our conversation at the rose bushes? If you promise, I'll give you a kiss; I will, indeed!"

"But, Cenni!" cried Countess Diodora, shocked, "what expression is that again?"

The little one looked like a scolded school-girl, who does not know what crime she has been punished for, and said, poutingly--

"But I want him to keep the secret, and I must give him a reward."

"You always forget that you are no longer a little girl of twelve years, but a grown-up young lady, although, God knows, you do not look like it!" said the countess, with a humorous shake of the head.

"Now you great debater and future lawgiver, what do you say to this offered reward? Answer _ex tripode_!" said Siegfried, laughingly.

"I say that I am no usurer, and cannot take unlawful interest," I replied.

"Bravo! bravissimo! A usurer! Unlawful interest he calls a kiss! Oh, what a moral fellow!" cried Siegfried; but Countess Diodora observed that breakfast was waiting, and that we had time enough for ventilating academic questions afterward.

At the table I sat between Countess Diodora and Countess Flamma. The latter turned to me, and said in her quiet and sober way--

"But I discovered soon enough that the sea-turtle was not a sea-dove, did I not?"

"What are you talking about sea-doves?" asked the countess; "it seems you have secrets in common already."

I opened my mouth to answer, when the little blonde opposite to me sprang up and put her little shell-coloured hand to my lips. "No betrayal, if you please! You have given your knightly word!"

"I am mute!" I said, bowing to her with a smile.

"I declare!" said the countess, "knightly word, turtle-dove! Why, what mystery is this? Flamma was complaining something about the cetonias."

"Oh, that is nothing," said Cenni, lightly, "and that may be spoken of; but the 'step-ladder,' the 'Sultan of Morocco,' and the 'sea-dove' are strict secrets, and never to be mentioned anywhere."

Siegfried clapped his hands in surprise. "Riddle after riddle! and to think that I myself have brought this boy to the house only last night for the first time in his life, and introduced him not an hour ago, and--talk of his being shy in the company of ladies!--he is head over ears in conspiracy with both of the girls, when I thought he had never seen them, and they did not know him at all!"

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