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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The History Of My Friend
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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The History Of My Friend Post by :AnnMur Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :3325

Click below to download : Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The History Of My Friend (Format : PDF)

Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 4. The History Of My Friend

PART II CHAPTER IV. THE HISTORY OF MY FRIEND

As soon as I promised them a story, the two young girls sat down on a low bench beneath a jasmine bush, and I sat down on the bowling-green at their feet; or, rather, I kneeled there before them. Do not think that we were left without a proper guard, for we could be seen from the balcony of the house, and on the mountain-ash tree was an old missel-thrush that kept on chirruping and twittering, "Take care, you boy! take care!"

The young ladies had stripped a heap of the slender Pimprinpare stalks, from which they began to braid chains and other ornaments, while I related the following story:--

"My friend is a descendant of the noblest families of Hungary, and a count by birth. During the Revolution of 1848 he was one of the bravest and most heroic defenders of the national cause, and his great personal attractions, manly beauty, athletic strength, intellectual power, and high moral integrity, united with an iron will and the tender heart of a woman, made him distinguished above many. Of him it was said that, even as a man, he obeyed every command of his mother, but could never be made to obey that of any potentate of the world."

"Is that paragon of a man alive yet?" asked Cenni.

"He is. Only he is an old eagle now, for our friendship dates from the time when he gave me a ride on his knees, while I blew the whistle he had brought me. During our national struggle for liberty in 1848 he served as a captain of the ---- Hussars, and, after the Russian invasion, and the final overthrow of the national cause, he made good his escape to England. Of course, his lands and goods were seized, and he was sentenced to death; but, as he could not be caught and hanged in person, he was hanged in effigy--that is, his portrait was nailed to the gallows.

"The same high qualities which had distinguished him at home distinguished him abroad. A great many Hungarian refugees had found a home in England, especially in that gigantic metropolis, London; and it is said of them, in general, that of all political emigrants they behaved best. They never quarrelled, never grumbled, and never conspired. Everyone hastened to find a mode of earning a decent living for himself, and none of them were too proud or too lazy to work. Every one of them was honestly and diligently engaged in some business.

"My friend had some acquaintances among the English nobility, and he was soon introduced, and speedily became at home in English high life. Among those aristocratic families with which he had frequent intercourse was one in which there was a young girl, an orphan and an heiress. She was beautiful and intellectual, like Countess Diodora, and competition for her hand was naturally high among the young and old bachelors, and marriageable men of their set. Singularly enough, the young stranger, who never thought of such good fortune, at last felt compelled to believe that the open preference the lady showed him was more than common courtesy, and more than the friendly, even sisterly regard with which most ladies of his acquaintance honoured him. He could not but admire her beauty, her grace, and accomplishments, and he was ready and willing enough to fall in love with so much charm and loveliness. His courtship, if so it must be termed, although the lady was doing the greater part of the wooing, was short and successful, and they were married.

"The marriage took place on the Isle of Wight, at that time the favourite haunt of the Hungarian refugees. Two of the latter, the one a renowned politician, the other a famous general, were witnesses, and the wedding breakfast was quite an event. But when, after the bridal cake had been cut and the toasts drunk, the guests retired, and the young couple were left alone, the fair young bride said to the happy groom:--

"'I beg your pardon for leaving you to your own company, but I must retire to change my dress, for my yacht is waiting, and I shall start for France in two hours.'

"He gazed at her in utter amazement 'Why, dearest,' he said, 'don't you know that Louis Napoleon denies us Hungarians even the privilege of passing through France, and that for me to go there is equivalent to imprisonment, possibly death?'

"'I know it, and I do not ask you to accompany me. I shall go there alone. I yearned for independence and liberty, and for the coming years I could get it only as a married woman. I was in need of a husband, or of his name, and my choice fell upon you, because I did not dare to play this trick on one of our English Hotspurs. Of you I know that you are too gentle and too noble withal to injure a woman. So good-bye to you, count, for I do not think that we shall ever set eyes on each other again!'

"With that the fair goddess left her husband of two hours' standing, humiliated, stunned, without money, bereft of his former occupation, to which, as her husband, he could not return; left him for ever; and he was such a gentle fool that he did not even for a moment think of revenge upon the woman who had robbed him of the last and only treasure he possessed, his spotless name and honour, and had ruined him for ever.

"For twenty-five years the poor victim of the fair deceiver could not with decency extricate himself from the meshes of the net which she had thrown over him. After some years he found a good, pure, and true heart that was full to the brim with love for the unhappy man--so much so that she sacrificed position, family, and reputation for his sake, and accompanied him from country to country, through danger and poverty, sharing his cares and troubles, and consoling him with her love and fidelity. To this woman, who was his real wife, he could not give the legal name and position she merited, and the curse that had been laid on his own life was heavy upon his innocent children, for he could not carry them to the baptismal font, could not christen them as his own. In England he could not secure a divorce, to France he could not go, and home to Hungary he dared not come. For twenty-five years he dragged these heavy chains on his weary limbs, until Hungary had risen from her prostration, had become a constitutional state with a free Parliament, and had crowned her king, and called home her banished children from the nooks and corners of the world. Then only, when again at home and in full possession of his ancestral castle and estates, then only a legal divorce set him at liberty and left him free to bestow his name upon his faithful, loving companion and their children. But when that time had at last arrived, my friend was an old man with silvery beard and a bald head. The fairy that was the cause of so much suffering had taken nothing of him but his name, of which she was in need; but what is a name? Nothing but the lid, the tender coverlet of the beetle's wing. She did not kill the poor beetle, and she set him free; he was allowed to live with his winter wings."

During the recital of this story, Cenni's rosy countenance was crimsoned through and through, while Flamma's pale face was overspread with an almost deadly pallor, and, as I spoke the final words, the girls looked at each other in silence. "So, you see," I continued, "if such a thing could happen to a man like my friend, the bearer of a great name, noble, brave, accomplished, and handsome, what would be my fate if I should attempt to do what he did--marry a beauty and an heiress? I, that am nothing but a runaway doctor, an expelled Member of Parliament, and a Slav King! one who, from his appearance, is mistaken for his own subject."

"No! no!" said Cenni, taking hold of both my hands, "there you are mistaken, and--and I am sure you do not know your own worth!"

At that moment the jasmine-bush was parted, and Siegfried's voice asked, "May I take the liberty to interrupt these tender confessions?"

At the sound of Siegfried's voice we all sprang from our seats, and Cenni, throwing the chain she had braided on his neck, said, "You are a great, naughty, good-for-nothing fellow! What do you want?"

"This noble and gallant knight of yours. He is wanted by his executioners--that is, by the election leaders that are to be."

The two young girls laughed, and ran to the little lake for a boating trip, and I asked Siegfried, "What do these men want from me? What is their business with me?"

"Oh, nothing!" he said, coolly. "They have not come; it is I who have business to speak of with you, and quickly, too, for I may be too late already. My dear boy, even a friend has something that he wants to keep for himself and does not want to share with his dearest friend--his love! You are making love to Cenni, although you must have seen that I am over ears in love with her myself."

"I have seen nothing of the kind, and I give you my word that I never thought of making love to her."

"Possibly so; but then she makes love to you, and that renders matters worse yet."

"I assure you that your jealousy leads you into error."

"Oh! Do you think we have no telescopes in the house? I have witnessed the last interesting scene as if I were on the spot."

"Then I can only wish that your hearing might have been as much increased by some instrument as your vision by the telescope, so that you might have heard our discourse, and not guessed at it by sight."

"Did you not find a four-leaved clover, and offer it to Cenni?"

"Yes, here it is; take it, my boy, and marry your Cenni, with my blessing!"

"Take care! I may take you at your word!"

"And welcome! I'll be your best man."

"That's a bargain. And, now that I see that you are really not going to play the traitor with me, I'll tell you the whole truth. I am mad with love for Cenni; and then, too, she has a million florins from her grandfather, and this money would come in well to help me carry out my plans. But my aunt does not consent to give the girl to me. She says I am a libertine, a _frivol viveur_, etc., and she won't take the responsibility of trusting me with the dear child."

"Tell her you will reform, you will change after marriage."

"That I have repeatedly tried, but she refuses to believe me. Then there is that million. As long as the girl is unmarried and a minor, my aunt takes her revenues, and, among her other accomplishments, my aunt is a very fair accountant. She has found out that the girl cannot eat figs and candies in a year to the amount of sixty thousand florins, so she is not over-willing to part with her at all. But I am not going to play the Tantalus for years, and run the risk of having the girl snatched from me by some jackanapes or rascal or another. Pardon!"

"Never mind! I shan't pick up the 'jackanapes' or the 'rascal.' They do not belong to me."

"Then help me carry out my plan. Do you promise?"

"By all means."

"Thank you. But let me unfold my plan. Cenni and I will be married clandestinely behind Aunt Diodora's back. My aunt is sometimes subject to severe neuralgic attacks, and, as she never calls a physician and never takes any remedies for her pains, she suffers all day. During these paroxysms of her nerves she remains all day in a darkened room, and will not allow anybody to stay with her but Flamma. That kind soul is with her at such times, administering to her comforts, smoothing her pillows, etc., and in return she is allowed to read Flammarion, or one of Verne's harmless fictions, in the adjoining sitting-room. On such days Cenni is entirely at liberty, and not watched by anybody, because that sleepy governess the girls have is hardly worth mentioning. Now listen. I keep here, concealed in my shooting-box, a priest--a Capuchin monk--Father Paphuntius. He seems to be a jolly good fellow, and he has an open hand. In the park there is a little memorial chapel, erected by one of my ancestors in honour of St. Vincent de Paul. In that chapel we will exchange vows. You and Muckicza shall be my witnesses. Now you have given me your promise, will you stick to your word?"

"By all means! Only after the marriage is perfected give me leave to run away as fast as possible; for I should not dare to look your aunt in the face after such perfidy on my part."

"_Au contraire_, you shall not run, for you must stay and help me out further. I have chosen you in your capacity as physician to persuade Diodora to swallow this bitter medicine. She will take much if it comes from you, and I really believe you have magnetised her. It will be your mission to break the fact of the accomplished marriage to her, and persuade her to give her consent, since the matter is irreparable. You see, we cannot afford to quarrel with her, for she has four millions, and is not likely to marry at all."

I hesitated, but he begged and prayed--"My dear friend," "My own Nell," and so forth--until I gave way, and promised to do all that he wanted.

When I had finally promised him he pressed my hands, and then turned away and buried his face in his silk pocket-handkerchief. Was this to hide his tears or--his laughter? _O sancta simplicitas_!

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