"Heavens!"/Chapter 19

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XIX.

The baroness did not die. They recalled her to life. But the right side of her body was, and remained, paralyzed. Memory and will returned to her slowly; but her condition was pitiable in the extreme, and it would have been better for her if she had expired immediately after the first attack. She could still see well, but heard badly, and spoke so inarticulately that only a word here and there of what she said could be understood. And even that little no one was able to make out but Mundy, who never left her, but had even his bed moved into her room, and nursed her day and night with truly filial affection. Physicians had been summoned, too, from Prague and other places, but none of them could give any hope of recovery, and they all approved of the measures taken by the castle doctor.

Only one single person in Labutín Castle cherished hopes of a better future, and that was the baroness herself. Her strong mind and will rose up day by day, and hour by hour, in spite of the passive resistance of the helpless diseased body. The state of her mind was a continual torture to her. She felt, thought, and desired; but she could not make her feelings, thoughts, or desires known to the outside world. If she only could speak, or at least write! But neither tongue nor right hand would obey her will, in spite of all the nursing, in spite of all the scientific treatment!

The baroness endured and suffered with a manly, even heroic, spirit; never for a moment giving up the hope of eventual recovery. She was like a lion in a cage, that dreamt of palms, giraffes, antelopes, and moonlight nights in the wild deserts, hoping to regain once more his golden freedom.

The first month passed. In the castle and on the estate people got used to the sad condition of the old baroness. Her son took the reins into his own hands, and everybody breathed more freely; just as when the fresh breath of spring comes into the close atmosphere of shut-up rooms.

The young baron was a general favourite: he was more kindly and generous to the poor, and less supercilious to the farmers, than his mother, who always kept in her mind the former times of bondage; and he did not embitter every hardly earned morsel of bread to the under officials with the wormwood of pride and haughtiness.

Shortly after the misfortune which befell his mother, he summoned all the persons employed on his estate, and said to them simply, “Gentlemen, work honestly for the benefit of my estate, and attend conscientiously to my interests, and I shall honestly take care of you and your families.”

This principle was generally approved of, and the management of the estate was by no means less successful than in his mother’s time; on the contrary, all those employed, feeling themselves no longer held down with an iron hand, became freer, more at ease and less depressed, and more ready to work energetically for the employer’s profit.

Greatest of all was the relief to Cvok and spinster Naninka. There was no fear now for Pepíc̓ek; no necessity for removing him from the house. The castle doctor was unboundedly trusted by Father Cvok, and he had told him that there was no more idea that the old baroness could ever recover again than that “tiles could be burnt of snow.” The same opinion was held by the experienced farm-manager Rambousek, who said, “If you brought herbs to her from nine mountains, it would do no good; the baroness will remain a cripple, and never hear the cuckoo again till the day of her death.”

In the priest’s house at Záluz̓í life went on as monotonously as clock-work. Pepíc̓ek throve to their hearts content, and Heavens and his housekeeper all but ate him up with love.

“I do not doubt,” said Cvok one day,

“that after his mother’s death Baron Mundy will make Jenny his lawful wife—but you have always something to say against it, he added, seeing Naninka shake her head.

“I am a woman, you see, your reverence, and I just think as a woman. From that letter that came with Pepíc̓ek, I don’t think it will go as smoothly as you imagine. Please fetch that letter, sir, and read to me what there is in it about the young baron.”

Heavens humoured her, and read the letter.

“Do you see—do you see,” Naninka said, growing warm, “she does not merely say that she cast off Mundy for ever, and threw the money he offered her at his feet, she says that she showed him the door, that he might not desecrate her child by even a look. That is very much for a woman to say, your reverence; and surely it means, leastways, so much, that even if the old baroness was carried on the men’s shoulders to hear her last Mass, and if the baron did not mind his rank, but asked Jenny to be his wife, it will not be done so very easily. The baron acted shamefully. An honest man in his place would have given Jenny the written contract. Even if he is a baron, what matter? Ulrich was a prince, and took Boz̓ena the peasant girl; and in the Tyrol there was an archduke that married the daughter of a postmaster. And, if it comes to that, Jenny’s father was not born behind a hedge either.”

Heavens scratched his left arm above the elbow. He did not like Naninka’s arguments, and all the less because he could not refute them.

After a while he said, “But think, Naninka, of the riches; think of the high rank! Baroness Poc̓ernická of Poc̓ernic! That is something! Jenny can’t reject that!”

“True, and she would not reject it if the baron had not showed his real colours in a decisive hour. But I don’t want to set up my opinion; it may be that I am mistaken.”

They said good night, and parted for the time being. Friend Cvok could not sleep, thinking of what Naninka had said; a secret voice told him that the old housekeeper saw further in this matter than he did, and cares for Pepíc̓ek’s and Jenny’s future troubled his kind heart. Early in the morning, after Mass, the post-messenger brought him a letter, together with the advice of a money-order for fifty florins to sign. The letter was from Father Neducha; the money evidently came from Jenny. He signed the receipt and sent to the post-office immediately to receive the money, and then opened Neducha’s letter. His hand trembled; he shook all over with anxiety, and began to read eagerly. And as he read, his eye brightened with joy. Upright old Mathew made his peace with him—even begged his pardon for having been so foolish as to let himself be deceived by the lying gossip. But Cvok should not have forgotten, he said, that he was a priest, and should not have taken the infant into his house.

“Heavens!” cried Cvok; “my dear good Mathew. How glad I am that all is cleared up between us, and that I have my old place in his heart!”

Soon after dinner the messenger came back from the post with Jenny’s letter enclosing the money-order. Naninka sat down opposite the priest, when he had opened it, and listened while he read it aloud. And it was long and wonderful to listen to; for besides the fifty florin banknote, there were exactly eight closely written pages in it.

Jenny was a governess in a rich commoner’s family in the south of Bohemia. She was much more contented there than she had ever been with the baroness at Labutín, and wanted nothing except little Pepíc̓ek.

“That I can easily believe,” observed Miss Naninka wiping her tearful eyes with her apron.

Pepíc̓ek, indeed, was the chief theme of the letter, and from the many traces of tears, it was to be seen how heavy the mother’s heart was at being obliged to be separated from her child. Her thoughts all turned to him, as flowers shut up in a room turn to the light and sun.

“If I could only see him for five minutes, or even for one minute, to kiss him all over,” Jenny wrote, “it would give me strength for a whole year of long bitter troubles.”

She described the circumstances of the family where she lived at present concisely and clearly, dwelling rather more upon the characteristics of the mistress of the house, whom she praised as a lady of uncommon accomplishments, with rare gentleness and delicacy of feeling—a perfect character, in fact—rewarding her efforts with the two children by ready acknowledgment and hearty confidence. The master of the house, she said, was a matter-of-fact merchant, but an excellent, devoted father, and a warm-hearted, loving husband.

Jenny was altogether very happy there, and felt like be of the family, and she added, “It is no mere mockery to say that aristocrats have a different sort of blood from other people, for if I compare the family Opolský with the Poc̓ernickýs, I feel as if I were reading a poem of Burns after a formal birthday ode.”

Furthermore, she wrote that there was only one thing that disturbed her, and caused her some anxiety for the future. A nephew of the master of the house was a partner in the firm. He was the stepson of an elder sister of Mr. Opolský’s, and was already past forty; but a very fine-looking man, with most agreeable manners, and a pleasant voice that spoke directly to the heart. He was very well off; had lost his wife about twelve years ago, and had never married again. On Sundays and holidays, or on any particular occasions, he was generally guest at the Opolskýs’ table, and always showed a partiality for her society, though, of course, in no ostentatious or obtrusive manner. Jenny saw plainly, she wrote, that she was not indifferent to him, and though Mr. Doubek bebaved with great delicacy, still his attentions troubled her with fears, which she thought could be easily understood in her present circumstances.

I know I should act unwisely,” she added, “if I judged all men by Baron Poc̓ernický; still for the time my heart is filled to overflowing with little Pepíc̓ek, and if there is any room in it beside him, it all belongs to you, my dear and reverend father, and to our dear Miss Naninka, who takes such motherly care of my child, which I shall never, never forget.”

“Now, that is what I call something!” said Naninka.

Father Cvok looked at her inquiringly.

“She has good luck with the men, indeed,” Naninka went on. “What you do not covet comes to you of itself. We shall be going, after all, to a wedding one of these days that we never even dreamt of.”

“I don’t think any rain will come from that cloud,” Heavens replied. “There is nothing in the letter about her favouring Mr. Doubek at all.”

“What’s not in the letter may be in her heart, and what’s not perhaps yet in her heart may be in it later.”

“You have come to speak like a book of late, Naninka, and are upsetting all my preconceived ideas of you!”

The housekeeper shrugged her shoulders, and indulged secretly in a pinch of snuff.

“If you please, read on, your reverence. What more does Miss Jenny say?”

Jenny wrote further that she had got Father Cvok’s letter through her aunt Knír̓ová, and thanked him for all his news of little Pepíc̓ek. She excused herself for not having written to him for so many weeks, by explaining that, having been so used to the almost police-like supervision of the baroness at Labutín, she was at first very anxious and careful at the Opolskýs’, lest any suspicion might arise against her, and she said she still felt like one who had done an ignoble thing in secret, and knew well that if it came out her whole existence would be ruined. Therefore, for the sake of Pepíc̓ek, she delayed writing, that Mrs. Opolská might not suspect her real circumstances. She allowed it was a hateful dissimulation, and whenever she thought of it, she felt a pain at her heart; but, alas! she could not help it, unless she was satisfied to let her stained past spoil and destroy the hope of, at least, a bearable future for herself and her child.

Another thing that delayed her letter was, that she eanted to send some money for Pepíc̓ek, and was not able to do so before.

As the last thing, she announced that she would come to Prague with Mrs. Opolská and the children towards the end of October, to spend the winter in town.

“Some of these days,” she concluded, “I shall either ask for a short holiday, or Miss Naninka will have to come with my darling to Prague; but I shall settle all the particulars later by letter. I am even now counting the days until I shall be able to see Pepíc̓ek and to clasp him to my hungry heart.”

The reading was done. The never-failing apron of Miss Naninka was again on the way to her eyes. The “hungry heart” had taken effect, and she winked as she had just been grating horse-radish.

A photograph was also enclosed in the letter, and father Cvok looked at it very minutely. The picture was very well done, and had been taken lately. Jenny looked still prettier in it than when she had been at Labutín. A tender, touching melancholy rested on the delicate oval face, such as we sometimes see in Raphael’s pictures, and her pensive eyes seemed to tell the story of her unhappiness.

“The binding is worthy of the book,” said Cvok to himself; “only about that Doubek she ought not to have written; it makes me feel as if a spider was sitting on a nice picture. There is again a new care and anxiety for me. But there is no end of them, as soon as one begins to meddle with women and their affairs. One might as well hope to look through the clouds as expect to see into their hearts.”

At that moment there was a knock at the gate. Miss Naninka went to open it. A servant from the castle brought a note from Baron Mundy, announcing that his mother had just expired. A fresh but not quite unexpected attack of apoplexy had ended her life. The baron begged Father Cvok to come to Labutín that day as he wished to consult him about various matters. The priest sent word he would do what the baron wished, and the servant went away.

“What fresh news is this, again?” asked Naninka full of curiosity.

“Indeed, there is no end to all the news to-day, seems,” Cvok answered. “The old baroness is with the Lord.”

“May God give her rest and peace!” said Naninka piously; adding, “which is more than she gave anybody as long as she lived.

“If he wants to take Pepíc̓ek away,” Naninka continued, “tell him plainly, reverend sir, that we cannot and will not give the child up.”

“I shall tell him so. Brush my best coat for me.”

Half an hour later Heavens was on the way to Labutín stepping out to-day like a schoolboy going home for the holidays.