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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 9. Who Is The Visitor?
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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 9. Who Is The Visitor? Post by :AnnMur Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :783

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Dr. Dumany's Wife - Part 2 - Chapter 9. Who Is The Visitor?

PART II CHAPTER IX. WHO IS THE VISITOR?

I waited impatiently for the daybreak. At the first dawn I was up and dressed, and taking long strides on the garden path. How long would it be until the ladies were up, and willing to receive me? Even the servants were asleep yet. I strolled on aimlessly until I found myself unexpectedly at the dairy, which was quite a grand establishment, where twenty milch cows of the Aargau breed were milked daily, and a delicious cheese manufactured. Siegfried had told me some time before that, as soon as the railway was extended to the neighbouring town--a prospect which was expected to be realised shortly--he would have a branch laid on, at his own expense, to his dairy. Anyicska and Masinka, the two bridesmaids of last evening, met me at the gate, and were very officious in showing me in, and while Anyicska brought me a cup of excellent sweet milk, Masinka brought some spongy rye bread, fresh from the oven, upon a salver. Of course, this was offered as a bribe for my secrecy on the topic of last night, and I promised them not to tell Countess Diodora how they had been employed at the mock wedding. Poor things, why should I betray them for obeying orders? So I graciously accepted my hush-money, which was less subtle and more substantial than that offered by the fair bride herself; and they told me that the revelry had lasted almost until cock-crow. They all had capital fun. The Father had sung highly amusing songs. The girls had been called back after my departure, and then, with the other companions who were called in, the merry-making had reached a very high pitch. Of course, Cenni had not returned to them.

As I gave them my promise of silence they thanked me, and in return they told me that, with my smooth face, I was a much handsomer-looking fellow than last night, with that beard on my cheeks and chin; and I was conceited enough to pocket the compliment and believe in its truth.

Breakfast was served to me in my room. The ladies were up, but Countess Diodora was too weak to preside as usual at the breakfast-table. I requested the honour of paying her a professional visit, and was told that she would be glad to see the "doctor."

The room in which she received me was a magnificent _salon_, with a balcony in front. When I entered, the doors and windows were wide open; the rays of the sun darted through the filmy lace curtains; it was a "_tableau en plein air_" that met my eye. Countess Diodora, in a mauve-coloured silk dressing-gown, rested on a settee. Before her was a little Venetian mosaic table, and on it a tea-tray. Diodora seemed to be in excellent spirits, and looked beautiful; the suffering of last night had not told on her complexion the least bit. She wore a black lace scarf to conceal her hair, which was still in the state in which I had coiled and pinned it, except that a great ornamental tortoise-shell comb, of yellow hue, had been thrust into it. Opposite to the countess, on two embroidered stools, sat the two girls, engaged in finishing the Japanese sunbird; and in the balcony door stood Siegfried, smoking a cigarette, and blowing the smoke--in consideration of his aunt--out of the door. I thought it would have been more considerate still if he had not smoked at all. As I entered, the thought seemed to occur to him that the business of smoking would be best despatched on the balcony, so he escaped the difficulty of looking me in the face. Cenni also found a pretext for retiring; she took the tea-tray from the little table and left the room with it. Countess Diodora, Flamma, and myself remained in the room. I asked the countess how she felt, and whether she had enjoyed a peaceful sleep, and she answered, with rapture--

"I slept deliciously, as I never have before since my childhood; and I had such delightful dreams! I fancied I was a child again, and rambled in the garden chasing butterflies. You have worked miracles, and henceforth I shall believe in you as in an oracle. I revoke all I have said against your profession and science, and confide myself entirely into your hands. The first touch of your hand had a magic effect on me, and afterward I felt as if you had taken my vile body of clay from me, joint by joint, with the witchcraft of your fingers, and given me a new, better, and more perfect form. I felt as if you had lent me wings, and that now I could rise with you up above the clouds, captivated by your mesmeric influence upon me. Moon and stars seemed to remain far below me, and you were guiding me up to a strange world, full of unknown and eternal bliss. Oh, why cannot this transport of exquisite pleasure last for ever? Indeed, indeed, I do not know how to express the gratitude I owe you!"

Diodora said this to me in the presence of Flamma, and in the hearing of Siegfried, who, on the balcony, could hear every word through the open door; and, as she said it, her great Juno-like eyes rested on mine with an expression of enthusiastic admiration. Yes! such might have been the look which the goddess bestowed on poor, silly Ixion as she lured him on and then--left a cloud in his arms.

But do you know why that look failed to infect me as it had Ixion? Because I had been inoculated against the infection by another look last night--a look from the violet eyes of Flamma.

I rose from my seat, and, throwing myself into an attitude befitting a ceremonious announcement, I said--

"Countess, to be of service to you is a happiness to me. Pray dispose of me. If I can convert your pains into pleasures, I shall consider the happy result as the highest reward. Your ladyship's gracious words at this moment inspire me with boldness; so much so that I feel encouraged to lay the hidden secret of my heart, the cherished wish of my life, in your hands. If you deign to accept my confession and grant my desire, you will bind me to your service for life, in attaching me to your family."

I shall never in life forget that proud, repellent lifting of her head as I spoke. Diana might have looked so at Actaeon, although, poor fellow, he had never come so near to the virgin charms of that Olympian lady as I to those of the queenly virgin before me on the preceding night. Her forehead seemed to gain in height, her eyes retreated behind the lashes, her lips were pressed together, and her nostrils dilated. In looking at me her chin doubled, and she seemed the personification of haughty disdain.

"My dear doctor," she said, with proud emphasis on the "doctor," "it seems you have misinterpreted my words. I have never thought of encouraging you in desires such as you this moment expressed."

I bent my head deeper still. "Dear countess, allow me to say that the misconstruction is on your side. I did not intend the bold request which you seem to impute to me; I simply beg leave to ask for the hand of your niece."

Her whole disposition seemed to change on hearing this, and she broke into a long, ringing, scornful laugh--the laugh of offended vanity, of angered pride; such a laugh as women use to mask their disappointment and jealousy, and the rising of their temper.

"Ha! ha! ha! Ah! ha! ha! The little Cenni! Ha! ha! So it is true, and I have guessed right? Ha! ha! ha! And the little fool has run out; she guessed the object of your visit. Ha! ha! ha! It's wonderful! My niece, the little Cenni--Countess Cenni! Oh, what a perfect match! Ha! ha! ha!"

I did not disturb the explosion of her mirth. As a physician I knew that it impaired the health of a nervous woman if she was interrupted in her vagaries. At the sound of her laughter Siegfried re-entered and asked, "What is it now?"

Diodora explained, laughing hysterically, that their dear, common friend, Dr. Dumany, had just now asked for the hand of little Cenni.

"Very well," said Siegfried, "serves him right. Let him have her, by all means!"

"I beg both your pardons," I said, "but it seems to me as if the misunderstanding between us is becoming chronic. I very much admire, but have no intention of marrying--Miss Klara."

"Ah!" Like Semiramis she stood before me. "Who has told you that there was such a person--a Miss Klara--existing in this house?"

Retreat was impossible. I looked at Flamma, and she answered with an encouraging nod; so I replied to the countess's imperious inquiries--

"Lady Flamma."

"Yes, it was I," said Flamma, rising from her seat, and stepping to my side.

"You shall pay dear to me for this!" cried Siegfried, with a threatening look; but I took her hand, and said--

"Pray compose yourself. This lady stands under my protection. I have done myself the honour to ask for her hand, and I wait for your decision."

"Show the Devil your finger, and he will take your hand; treat a peasant with kindness, and he will think himself your equal," said he, with a sneer.

"Siegfried!" said Diodora, "I beg you not to forget that this is my room, and that my guests are not to be insulted in my presence. This affair does not concern you in the least."

"But if he is impertinent?" growled he.

"Perhaps the count might be more careful in his choice of language," said I, proudly, "if he would consider that a Dumany fought as a knight and a soldier under the national tricolour at Mount Thabor, while the first Vernoeczy was still serving as a humble shepherd on the Verhovina."

I was sorry for this as soon as I said it, for I had offended Flamma also; but the bitter pill had the desired effect, inasmuch as the whole aristocratic family regained their usual lymphatic composure.

"Flamma," said Diodora, coldly, "have you given this gentleman the right to claim your hand?"

"Yes."

"Then--I do not object," and she motioned with her hand. I understood the gesture, and extended my hand to Flamma. She accepted it, and I bowed and kissed her hand. That was our betrothal. Siegfried took out a cigarette, lighted it, and blow the smoke at the chandelier.

"I had other intentions concerning Flamma's future," said Diodora again, "but, since her choice has fallen on you, I am satisfied--at least, I do not object. Only I beg of you not to delay your nuptials. Have them celebrated as soon as possible, for I intend to go to Heligoland--to try the baths."

To Heligoland!--that was the place I should have gone to, if I had listened to good sense--and to Cenni.

"Certainly," I said; "I am only too happy in the prospect. If you will give me leave I shall hasten to Szepes-Varalja, to the bishop, for a dispensation, and, as soon as I am in possession of that document, I shall return, and we can have the ceremony performed the day after my return."

"Then I should also wish," said Diodora again, "that the wedding might be altogether a simple family affair, with no strangers as witnesses."

"Your ladyship expresses my own wishes."

"If so, we might have the ceremony performed here, in our chapel."

I remembered Father Paphuntius. "No, I'll have nothing to do with that chapel."

Siegfried smiled as he guessed the reason of my embarrassed silence, and then Flamma smiled, and Diodora also. At last, as a smile has a soothing effect on everybody, we all laughed. "No," said Diodora, "I was not speaking of the park hermitage. We have a chapel here in the chateau, and if we do not invite too many we shall have room enough."

"I shall invite no one but a single witness as my best man."

"But do not ask me to fill that position," said Siegfried; "for I am invited to go buffalo-hunting in Volhynia, and shall start to-morrow."

"There is something else," said Diodora. "After the wedding ceremony I shall hand you over Flamma's dowry, which she has inherited from her grandfather. It consists of a million of florins in good bonds."

I bowed in silence, looking at Flamma.

"No; this is a matter which concerns you as well as her, and you must know that her grandfather laid down the condition that if she, guided by whatever motive, should release herself from the bonds of the Catholic religion, she should lose everything, and surrender the inheritance to collateral relatives."

"I cannot think that such an event could take place at any time."

"Time will show."

There was a long pause, and I thought best to take my leave. I turned first to Flamma, who laid both her hands in mine, and, looking up to me, asked me softly to return soon. Then Diodora languidly extended her hand to me, and I bowed over it with cool, studied politeness, and as I looked up I saw that Siegfried thought fit to shake my hand in honour of the new relation between us. He even went so far as to embrace me. "God bless you, my dear--cousin," he said, laughingly; but, thank God, he did not think it necessary to kiss me!

A week later Flamma and I were married. Everything went on in the regular way. No objection, no obstacle was raised. The ceremony was held in Vernoecze in the afternoon, and the same evening I was free to take my bride home to Dumanyfalva. From one of the great portals I drove with Flamma; from the other, Diodora and Cenni started on a trip to Heligoland. Siegfried had gone to Volhynia six days before.

If you think that with this marriage my story is at an end, you are mistaken; it has hardly begun. It is a strange story, and not pleasant to dwell on; but you shall judge for yourself.

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