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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesManasseh: A Romance Of Transylvania - Chapter 1. Fellow-Travellers
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Manasseh: A Romance Of Transylvania - Chapter 1. Fellow-Travellers Post by :miscreed Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :1507

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Manasseh: A Romance Of Transylvania - Chapter 1. Fellow-Travellers

CHAPTER I. FELLOW-TRAVELLERS

Our story opens in an Italian railway station, in the spring of 1848. From a train that had just arrived, the passengers were hastening to secure their places in another that stood waiting for them. A guard had succeeded in crowding a party of two ladies and a gentleman into one of these itinerant prison-cells, which already contained seven occupants, before the newcomers perceived that they were being imposed upon. A vigorous protest followed. The elder of the two ladies, seizing the guard by the arm, addressed him in an angry tone, first in German, then in French.

With the calm indifference of an automaton, the uniformed official pointed to a placard against the wall. _Per dieci persone was the inscription it bore. Ten persons, it seemed, were expected to find places here.

"But we have first-class tickets," protested the lady, producing a bit of yellow pasteboard in proof of her assertion.

The guard glanced at it with as little interest as he would have bestowed on a scarab from the tomb of the Pharaohs. Shrugging his shoulders, he merely indicated, with a wave of his hand, places where the three passengers might, perhaps, find seats,--one in this corner, a second yonder, and, if its owner would kindly transfer a greasy bundle to his lap, a third over there.

This arrangement, however, was not at all to the liking of either the ladies or their escort. The latter was altogether disinclined to accept a seat between two fat cattle-dealers, being of no meagre dimensions himself.

"We'll see about this!" he exclaimed, and left the compartment in quest of the station-master.

That dignitary was promenading the platform in military uniform, his hands behind his back. The complainant began to explain the situation to him and to demand that consideration to which his first-class ticket entitled him. But the _illustrissimo merely opened his eyes and surveyed the gentleman in silence, much as a cuttlefish might have done if similarly addressed.

"_Partenza-a-a!_" shouted the guards, in warning.

The indignant gentleman hurried back to his compartment, only to find that, in his absence, three additional passengers had been squeezed into the crowded quarters, so that he himself now raised the total to thirteen,--a decidedly unlucky number. The ladies were in despair, and their attendant had begun to express his mind vigorously in his native Hungarian, when he felt himself touched on the elbow from behind, and heard a voice accosting him, in the same tongue.

"My fellow-countryman, don't heat yourself. Not eloquence, but backsheesh, is needed here. While you were wasting your breath I had a guard open for me a reserved first-class compartment. It cost me but a trifle, and if you and your ladies choose to share it with me, it is at your service."

"Thank you," was the reply, "but we shall not have time to change; we had only two minutes here in all."

"Never fear," rejoined the stranger, reassuringly. "The _due minute is a mere form with which to frighten the inexperienced. The train won't start for half an hour yet."

The two ladies were no less grateful to their deliverer than was Andromeda of old to the gallant Perseus. They gladly accepted the comfortable seats offered them, while their escort took a third, leaving the fourth for their benefactor, who lingered outside to finish his cigar. At the second ringing of the bell, he gave his half-smoked Havana to a passing porter, mounted the running-board of the moving train, and entered his compartment.

Seating himself, the young man removed his travelling-cap and revealed a broad, arched forehead, surmounted by a luxuriant growth of hair. Thick eyebrows, bright blue eyes, and a Greek nose were the striking characteristics of his face, which seemed to combine the peculiarities of so many types and races, that an observer would have been at a loss to classify it.

The other gentleman of the party was of genuine Hungarian stock, stout in figure and ruddy of countenance, with a pointed moustache, which he constantly twirled. The younger of the two ladies was veiled, so that only the graceful outlines of a face, evidently classic in its modelling, were revealed to the eye. But the elder had thrown back her veil, exposing to full view an honest, round face, blond hair, lively eyes, and lips that manifestly found it irksome to maintain that silence which good breeding imposes in the presence of a stranger.

The ladies' escort was a very uneasy travelling companion. First he complained that he could not sit with his back toward the engine, as he was sure to be car-sick. The young stranger accordingly changed places with him. Then he found fault with his new seat, because it was exposed to a draught which blew the cinders into his eyes. Thereupon the young man promptly volunteered to close the window for him; but this only made matters worse, for fresh air was indispensable. At this, the blond lady gave up her place to the gentleman, and he, at last, appeared satisfied. Not so, however, the lady herself; she was now seated opposite the stranger, to whom she and her companions were so greatly indebted, and the feeling of indebtedness is always somewhat irksome.

Women on a journey are inclined to regard a stranger's approach with some suspicion, and to be ever on the alert against adventurers. A vague mistrust of this sort concerning the young stranger may have been aroused by the mere fact that, Hungarian though his language indicated him to be, he and the ladies' escort indulged in no interchange of courtesies so natural among fellow-countrymen meeting by chance in a foreign land. Nevertheless the blond lady strove to assume an air that, on her part, should signify an entire absence of interest in all things relating to her _vis-a-vis_. Even when the sun shone in her face and annoyed her, she seemed determined to adjust the window-shade without any help from the stranger, until he courteously prevailed on her to accept his aid.

"Oh, what helpless creatures we women are!" she exclaimed as she sank back into her seat.

"You have yourselves to blame for it," was the other's rejoinder.

If he had simply offered some vapid compliment, protesting, for example, that women were by no means helpless creatures, but, on the contrary, the rulers of the stronger sex, and so of the world,--then she would have merely smiled sarcastically and relapsed into silence; but there was something like a challenge in his unexpected retort.

"_Par exemple?_" she rejoined, with an involuntary show of interest.

"For example," he continued, "a lady voluntarily surrenders the comfortable seat assigned to her, and exchanges with a man who occupies an uncomfortable one."

The lady coloured slightly. "A free initiative," said she, "is seldom possible with a woman. She is ever subject to a stronger will."

"Yet she need not be," was the reply; "with the fascination which she exerts over men she is in reality the stronger."

"Ah, yes; but suppose that fascination is employed over a man by women that have no right thus to use their power?"

"Then the legitimate possessor of that right is still at fault. If fascination is the bond by which the man can be held, why does she not make use of it herself? A face of statuesque beauty that knows not how to smile has often been the cause of untold unhappiness."

At these words the younger of the two ladies threw back her veil, perhaps to gain a better view of the speaker, and thus revealed just such a face as the young man had referred to,--a face with large blue eyes and silent lips.

"Would you, then," the elder lady continued the discussion with some warmth, "have a wife employ the wiles of a coquette toward her own husband, in order to retain his love?"

"I see no reason why she should not if circumstances demand it."

"Very good. But you must admit that a wife is something more than a sweetheart; maternal duties and cares also enter into her life, and when, by reason of her exalted mission as a mother, anxieties and fears will, in spite of her, depict themselves on her face, what then becomes of your pretty theory?"

The attack was becoming too warm for the young stranger, and he hastened to capitulate with a good grace. "In that case, madam," he admitted, "the husband is bound to show his wife nothing but the purest devotion and affection. The Roman lictors were, by the consul's orders, required to lower their fasces before a Roman matron; she was undisputed mistress in her sphere. The man who refuses to render the humblest of homage to the mother of his children deserves to have a millstone hung about his neck and to be cast into the sea."

The blond lady seemed softened by this unconditional surrender. "Are you on your way to Rome, may I ask?" she presently inquired, her question being apparently suggested by the other's reference to ancient Roman customs.

"Yes, that is my destination," he replied.

"You go to witness the splendid ceremonies of Holy Week, I infer."

"No; they do not interest me."

"What!" exclaimed the lady; "the sublimest of our Church observances, that which symbolises the very divinity of our Saviour, does not interest you?"

"No; because I do not believe in his divinity," was the calm reply.

The lady raised her eyebrows in involuntary token of surprise at this most unexpected answer. She suddenly felt a strong desire to fathom the mysterious stranger. "I believe the Vatican is seeking an unusually large loan just now," she remarked, half-interrogatively.

The stranger could not suppress a smile. He read the other's surmise that he might be of Hebrew birth and faith. "It is not the papal loan, madam," he returned, "that takes me to Rome; it is a divorce case."

"A divorce case?" The blond lady could not disguise her interest at these words, while even the statuesque beauty at the other end of the compartment turned her face fully upon the speaker, and her lips parted slightly, like the petals of an opening rosebud.

"Yes," resumed the young man, "a separation from one who has denied and rejected me for the sake of another; one whom I must for ever shun in the future, and yet cannot cease to love; one whose loss can never be made good to me. I am going to Rome because it is a dead city and belongs equally to all and to none."

The train halted at a station, and the young man alighted. After a few words to the guard he disappeared from sight.

"Do you know that gentleman?" asked the blond lady of her escort.

"Very well," was the reply.

"And yet you two hardly exchanged a word."

"Because we were neither of us so disposed."

"Are you enemies?"

"Not enemies, and yet in a certain sense opponents."

"Is he a Jew or an atheist?"

"Neither; he is a Unitarian."

"And what is a Unitarian, pray tell me?"

"The Unitarians form one of the recognised religious sects of Hungary," explained the man. "They are Christians who believe in the unity of God."

"It is strange I never heard of them before," said the lady.

"They live chiefly in Transylvania," added the other; "but the great body of them, taken the world over, are found in England and America, where they possess considerable influence. Their numbers are not large, but they hold together well; and, though they are not increasing rapidly, they are not losing ground."

The younger lady lowered her veil again and crossed herself beneath its folds; but her companion turned and looked out of the window with a curious desire to scrutinise the wicked heretic more closely. Both the ladies, as the reader will have conjectured, were strictly orthodox in their faith.

The train soon started again, after the customary ringing and whistling and the guards' repeated warning of "_partenza!_" But the young heretic seemed to put as little faith in bells and whistles and verbal warnings as in the dogma of the Trinity; for he failed to appear as the train moved away from the station. The ladies who owed so much to his kindness could not deny a certain feeling of relief at being freed from the company of one who cherished such heterodox religious convictions.

"You say you are well acquainted with the young man?" the blond lady resumed.

"Yes, I know him well enough," was the answer. "His name is Manasseh Adorjan, he is of good old Szekler descent, and he has seven brothers and a twin sister. They all live at home in their ancestral castle. Some of the brothers have married, but all live together peacefully under one roof and form one household. Manasseh seems to have been recognised by the family as the gifted one,--his brothers are nothing more than honest and intelligent Szeklers,--and for his education and advancement in the world all worked in unison. When he was only twenty years old this young genius became a candidate for the council. In Transylvania it is the custom to make the higher government appointments from all four of the recognised religious sects,--Roman Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, and Unitarian. From that time dates our mutual hostility."

"Then you are enemies, after all."

"In politics, yes. However, I must not bore you ladies with political questions. Suffice it to say, then, in regard to Manasseh Adorjan, that a sudden change of government policy, and the defeat of his party, gave the young man a fall from his proud eminence and led him to turn his back, for a time at least, on his native land; for he scorned to seek the preferment that was so easily within his reach by renouncing his principles and joining the opposite party."

"Now I understand," interposed the blond lady, "what he meant by his 'divorce case,' and his parting with one who had denied and rejected him, but whom he could never cease to love. Those were his words, and they referred to his country."

"Yes, probably," assented the other; "for the young man is unmarried."

At the next station the subject of this conversation suddenly reappeared.

"Ah, we thought you were lost," exclaimed the elder of the two ladies, with a not unfriendly smile.

"Oh, no, not lost," returned Manasseh; "what belongs nowhere and to no one cannot be lost. I merely took a seat on the imperial. Come, friend Gabriel,"--turning to the ladies' escort,--"will you not join me there? The view is really fine, and we can smoke also."

The one thus familiarly addressed, and whose name was Gabriel Zimandy, accepted the invitation after a moment's demur. The ladies were left to themselves.

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