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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 3. The Four-Leaved Clover
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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 3. The Four-Leaved Clover Post by :AnnMur Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :3104

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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 3. The Four-Leaved Clover


The same day our political friends and partisans came, and we held a conference. From that day on I was a daily guest in Vernoecze, and when occasionally I spent a night at home in my own house, next morning I was sure to feel restless and uneasy, and persuaded myself that political reasons required my presence in Vernoecze, and that I must make haste to go there.

A number of times the illustrious ladies of the Vernoecze castle descended from their lofty situation to pay a visit to my lowly house, and on these occasions I played the host, and set before them what my cellar and buttery afforded. Then I conducted them through the chambers in which were stored my late uncle's beloved curiosities, and I told them of the horrors of the olden time, and the history of this ancient seat of my family. There was the story of a walled-up wife and murdered lovers, and we had our "Woman in White" and our "Red Templar," who, at the stroke of midnight, duly stalked through locked rooms and corridors, and performed all the actions that could be expected of real and respectable ghosts. These phantoms the countess rather envied me, for Vernoecze could boast of no such token of old nobility; yet the Vernoeczys were counts and the Dumanys only plain gentry.

Of course, I was an ardent admirer of the three fairies, only I could not exactly tell which of the three I admired most. Countess Diodora's philosophical intellect impressed me as much as Countess Cenni's unruly activity; and Countess Flamma's pensive silence affected me none the less, and I looked at her with the reverential awe of the priest before the Holy Virgin.

Only one thing puzzled me. Here were three beautiful, gifted, high-born, and wealthy young women, and not one of them had a real, earnest, and sincere suitor. Of course, there were a number of young aristocrats paying court to them, and very much inclined to carry on a little bit of flirtation; but all in an easy-going, although certainly very respectful and distant way; but of a real, true attachment I could perceive no sign. Once I had ventured a remark to this effect in Siegfried's presence, whereupon he explained that the two younger countesses were mere school-girls yet, and nobody would have the audacity to think of a serious courtship in that quarter as yet, while, as to Countess Diodora, she would never marry at all. She repudiated the very idea of marriage, and would no doubt, sooner or later, enter a convent as abbess.

This explanation, to tell the truth, did not satisfy me. If the two young ladies were such forbidden fruit at present, why bring them in constant contact with young men? And, as to Countess Diodora's intention to become a nun, I had my strong doubts. True, she was religious, even to bigotry, but she was not averse to the pleasures of the world, and I did not believe in her inclination to give them up of her free will. I rather believed that men were afraid of her, for such learned and strong-minded women can be only the wives of yet wiser and more strong-minded men, or else of fools, who willingly become their slaves.

To me Countess Diodora was conspicuously kind, and showed me an exceptional preference--that is, she did me the honour to select me as her antagonist in debate.

When she supported one paradox, I would support the opposite, and we kept up a constant battle with intellectual weapons. She was a great reader; so was I. She had travelled a good deal; so had I, and, as it chanced, we had observed the same countries and scenes. On art, architecture, literature, I gave judgment with the same startling audacity as she, only that my opinions were in direct opposition to hers.

Still in matters of politics our views were harmonious. I had the same Conservative principles as she, and I heartily agreed with all that she uttered on that point. This was the first step to our mutual understanding. The second step was taken when we joined each other in defence of our principles against persons of opposing views; and the third step, which lifted me not only to a level with my new and beautiful ally, but even above her, was gained by me in a controversy on professional science, with especial relation to physicians. The countess, in a very spirited bit of banter, ridiculed the whole profession and its science, stating that, in her belief, our entire pathology, therapeutic, etc., was not worth the sand strewn over the prescriptions. She declared that in the treatment of internal maladies medical science has made no progress since Galen's time, and our most renowned professional celebrities are no wiser than Paracelsus. Our medicines, according to her opinion, were either baneful poisons, or of no higher sanative power, at the best, than the waters of Lourdes. She also was afflicted with bodily pain at times, but never yet had she submitted to any professional treatment. No physician had ever entered her bed-room or parted the tapestry hangings around her bed, and never yet had she tasted of any kind of medicine.

I listened complacently to her talk, and did not interrupt her with a word. After she had finished, I said--

"Allow me to contradict, and, at the same time, convict you. You have never spoken of your special ailment to me up to this moment. I have never heard of it before this, and I need not put any questions either to you or to others in regard to it. Yet, by simply looking at you, I can tell you from what you are suffering--that you are a victim of occasional nervous attacks of greater or less severity, and I can tell you exactly how these paroxysms commence, what symptoms they show, and all the particulars of your ailment."

She stared at me, quite perplexed. "You are right!" she said at last, and there was not a man alive who could boast that she had ever said as much to him. She asked me how I came to know or to guess the nature of her sufferings, and I told her that I had had great experience in the treatment of nervous disorders, and that her case was by no means hopeless. That although it was impossible to entirely and permanently cure the disease and drive away its attacks, yet it might be greatly diminished. The paroxysms might be reduced in duration and violence, and that without administering any poisonous drugs--simply by proper massage.

"Then I am sorry that we have no female physicians as yet; for I would never submit to that treatment from a male physician."

"And do you know that this shrinking is one of the symptoms of the malady, and at the same time its main foundation?"

"How so?"

"Because, if your views of propriety were not distorted, you would apply for help in time, and not wait until you are past cure; but you grow up with the conviction that it is a shame and a degradation to confess your physical weaknesses to a male physician, yet you are by no means ashamed--nay, you consider it a duty and a virtue--to confess your mental and moral failings to a priest, although he is a man as well as the physician, and the sins you confess are sometimes more degrading and shameful than the sores of your body."

She looked at me for quite a while. "Again you are right," she said, and with that broke off the conversation.

At that period, every day brought some political meeting or party conference, and the leaders of the coming elections, head-drummers, and subalterns swarmed into Vernoecze, bringing all sorts of news, asking for all sorts of information, and Countess Diodora was at the head of everything--presiding at the councils, assisting them all with her advice, never tired, never slackening in spirit or courage, and never forgetting her position as hostess--and a bountiful hostess, too.

When the discussion approached the financial question, she said to me with rare delicacy--

"This is no affair of yours; leave that to us. You can meanwhile go and look for the girls in the park."

And I, in spite of my professional sagacity, in spite of the knowledge and experience I had gained, I was such a greenhorn--such a simple fool--that I actually believed in the existence of a fund raised for the especial purpose of sending such shining political stars, such rare celebrities, as the Honourable Cornelius Dumany, into Parliament, there to enlighten the minds of his compatriots, and to be a blessing to his country; although, if any one had asked me how I had deserved to be held in such high esteem, I could not have found an answer! Oh, vanity and conceit! How easily you are caught in the meshes of cunning deception!

The "girls," as they were invariably called, were on the lawn looking for four-leaved clovers, and the little blonde declared that she was bent on finding one, for whoever found it first was sure to be married first. I laughed, and, looking down, I saw one little quatrefoil just at my feet. I gathered it, and presented it to the little blonde countess, but she refused to accept it. "No," she said, "everybody must keep his own fortune. You have found the leaf, and you will get married first, and within the year."

"Ought not I to know something of the coming happiness in advance?" I asked, smilingly. "Surely I can't get married without my own knowledge!"

"Just you keep quiet. Mockery is not becoming to you; but tell us in good earnest, why don't you marry? You ought to."

"Why, then, in good faith, I do not marry because the girls that would not reject me I do not care for, and those that I might care for would not accept me."

"How do you know? First tell us what qualities a girl must possess to make you care for her."

"Well, I suppose I must obey your ladyship's wishes. In the first place, then, she must be young and pretty; then she must be intellectual, prudent, and well educated; and, finally, she must have a kind heart and a sweet disposition; if she is merry and bright also, I shall like her the better. Yes, there is something else: I should like my future wife to be always elegant and stylish, and I should like to give her a splendid home and keep her in luxury; but, as my own little Slav kingdom is not sufficient for my notion of the term, therefore she must also have a fortune of her own. Yet, if a woman, or let me rather say a young girl, should possess all these qualities at once, which I think unlikely, I would not take her if I were not fully convinced that she married me for love. So, you see, with these pretensions I am likely to live and die a bachelor."

"Not necessarily. I, for instance, know a lady who answers to your description as if you had drawn her portrait."

"Indeed? You seem bent on proving that the four-leaved clover was a true prophet of marriage. You want to make the match?"

"Why not? But, indeed, I am speaking in good faith. Why don't you marry Aunt Diodora?"

"Because I have more sense than those poor birds who shatter their heads and beaks in flying against the reflected rays of the lighthouse."

"I don't understand the simile."

"Do you know the story of Turandot?"

"No. Novels and comedies I dare not read yet; but I should like to know, for Aunty Diodora is nicknamed 'Princess Turandot.' I have often heard her spoken of by that name. I think that Turandot must be a fictitious creature, who tortures all her suitors to death, for aunty is also very unkind to them. Only that is no fault of hers; it is her misfortune to have nobody sue for her hand except simpletons. All these sweet-spoken, flattering, aping, thought-snatching, cajoling, empty-headed wooers my aunt calls monkeys, and not men. A man must have the courage to oppose her, defend his own opinion against her and all the world, to gain her respect and her confidence. This you have done. Oh, we girls know well enough what impression a man has made on another girl!"

This was a startling confession. Here was a little girl, who was treated and spoken of as quite a baby; yet, in spite of her unacquaintance with novels and comedies, she seemed to be very well versed in all matters of love and matrimony.

"Yes," she continued, "I have noticed it plainly enough, and quite frequently. Whenever you are away she is gloomy, and melancholy, and out of spirits; but, as soon as she sees you or hears your voice, she brightens up and is good-humoured and pleasant. When, the other day, Flamma and I had made some remark about you--some light jest--she gave us such a sermon! telling us that men were all so different, and that you were, among them, like a real diamond among coloured glass. Oh, if I could tell you all! But you are proud and disdainful, I see. Perhaps you want to wait until Countess Diodora Vernoeczy makes you a humble offer of her hand, and then maybe you would be proud, and consider about it."

"Perhaps I should. Give me leave, ladies, to tell you a story--the history of a very intimate friend, and from beginning to the end true to the letter. I shall invent nothing."

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