Benjamin Farjeon.

Self-Doomed. A Novel



скачать книгу бесплатно

The latter part of the journey was by no means so enjoyable as the first. The familiar scenes and signs which had afforded me so much pleasure on my outward journey presented themselves in quite a different aspect. They appeared to have grown suddenly much older, to have become faded. What had happened to them? Had they, also, met with a bitter disappointment that they should so swiftly have lost the greater part of their beauty? The innkeeper's wife was scolding her baby, who was crying and kicking like a little demon; the woman herself was very plain-looking, and there was a sour expression on her face; the orchards were dusty, the ducks seemed discontented, as though they had eaten something which disagreed with them, the brooks and streams were not so bright, the pigeons flew with heavy wings, the children were listless in their movements, the hedges had lost their fragrance, the fir-trees on the heights bent sadly towards me. Thus do we gain and convey impressions according to our moods. A joyous heart can see the sun behind the clouds, and there is gladness in the brightest day. Yes, yes-a cheerful and contented spirit is man's best possession.

CHAPTER XI
RELATES HOW GIDEON WOLF LEFT MASTER FINK'S EMPLOYMENT

I arrived home a little before noon on Saturday, and took down my shutters and examined my stock. Nothing was missing or disturbed; everything was as I had left it, except that some of the brooches and chains had been brightened. That was my old Anna's doings, though she said nothing about it till I asked her. The delight evinced by this faithful servant at my return moved me deeply. Her hands hovered about me with exceeding tenderness. She trotted up and down stairs briskly, really as if she were a young girl, and before I had been half an hour in the house she set before me a meal that did the heart good only to look at it. The bright knives and forks and spoons, the snowy table-cloth and napkins, the shining glasses, the sweetness and cleanliness all around-let me tell you that there lies in these things a medicine for the soul: it is not only the body that benefits by their influence. And when Anna removed the covers-ah, then! The delicious aroma floated into my inner being as it were, attacked by melancholy, vanquished it, and sent it to the rightabout. I was myself again. I rubbed my hands, and Anna rubbed hers. She was as pleased as I was.

Gideon Wolf came in before I had finished my meal. His nostrils twitched; he sniffed the fragrance.

"It smells good, Master Fink," he said.

"It eats better," I said.

I did not ask him to join me after what I had heard it was not possible for me to sit at the same table with him.

"Did you enjoy your holiday?" he asked.

I did not answer him I went on with my meal.

"But it was not a real holiday, was it?" he continued. "You went partly on business. Did you do a good stroke? You had fine weather. Which road did you take?"

"You want to know too much," I said, and I rose from the table and went into the shop.

He followed me there.

I had made up my mind as to the course I should pursue towards him. I would get rid of him as quickly as possible. To have a treacherous creature continually in my sight would have made my life unbearable. He should go; he had done mischief enough I would have nothing more to do with him.

He felt the coldness of my reception; I wished him to feel it.

"You do not seem glad to see me," he said.

"There is no special reason for joy," I replied.

"I shall not trouble myself, however," he said. "Here are the watches you gave me to repair."

I laid them aside and paid him. He counted the money discontentedly.

"It will barely pay for my week's board and lodging," he said. I made no remark. Then he opened fire in real earnest. "You do not forget the conversation we had last Saturday, Master Fink?"

"Surely not," I replied; "it is fixed in my memory."

"Do you still refuse the offer I made you?"

"I still refuse it."

"Once is enough. I have nothing more to say on the subject. Perhaps it will be for my good that you do not take me into partnership."

"Perhaps it will."

My laconic answers angered him.

"I should be a fool to waste the best years of my life in a service so unprofitable."

"Very likely, very likely."

"You have lately frequently complained of my work."

"With good cause. In spite of all my endeavors to teach you, I never saw a watch-maker handle a watch more clumsily than you do."

"It proves that I was made for higher things."

"Or lower."

"At all events I am going to better myself."

"I am rejoiced to hear it. You give me notice to leave?"

"If it pleases you, Master Fink."

"It pleases me well. When is the affliction to fall upon me?"

"As soon as convenient. Next week, or earlier, if it is acceptable."

"It is quite acceptable. Go, Gideon, not next week, but this; not on Monday, but to-day-now, this very hour. I will not delay your prosperity by a single movement of a pendulum."

He was disturbed, not expecting so cheerful an acquiescence. Did the rascal think I should beg him to stay?

"When I pay for the food I have had this week," he whined, "I shall have nothing left."

"Do I owe you anything? I thought it was the other way-or have I been dreaming all these years?"

"You do not strictly owe me anything but you surely do not wish to thrust me on the world in a state of beggary!"

"It is not I who thrust you on the world it is your own deliberate act, my worthy Gideon, and your plans to better yourself are already laid. However, your appeal shall not be made in vain. I will deal, not justly, but generously, towards you." I opened my safe, and took therefrom a packet containing coins. "I am going to make you a present of twenty-eight florins." His eyes glistened, and he held out his eager hand. "All bad ones, Gideon, every one of them! But I am not responsible for that, it is your affair. Among them you will find, with a date scratched on them, two false florins you brought to me this day four weeks as having been paid to you by Strauss the butcher, for repairs done to his watch."

"He gave them to me!" cried Gideon, turning very white. His limbs trembled; he was in mortal fear, "With his own hands he gave them to me."

"And you gave them to me. Go to Strauss, and inform him that he deals in bad money, for you will find in this packet three other false florins which you brought to me from him four months ago-you will see the date on them-in payment for a pair of silver ear-rings he bought for his little daughter. Go to Strauss, Gideon, go to him. He was never known to rob even the rich, and if you succeed in convincing him that he gave you the five bad florins, he will give you five good ones in exchange for them. He will do it, Gideon, without a murmur, for naturally he will be desirous to keep such a transaction very quiet. There is also another bad coin you brought to me from Rosenblatt the clothes-mender. Perhaps he found it in an old coat he was patching. There are seven others in a batch-mere bits of lead, Gideon-which you brought to me from Philip Adler the rabbi, in payment of a long-standing account. Philip Adler is a charitable man, and much loved. Go to him, and acquaint him with this sad business; he will not see you wronged."

"It is a plot!" gasped Gideon. "You wish to ruin me; you wish to take away my character."

"Let us not speak of plots," I said, and here my voice grew stern. "Let us not speak of taking characters away. Every florin in this packet I received direct from your hands, and I have kept a faithful record of them. You will be glad to receive them back, for it is not a pleasant matter; it is, indeed, as you are well aware, a most dangerous matter. We live in evil times, Gideon, and one needs to be very, very careful in his dealings. Beware of rogues and backbiters; avoid bad company; speak always the truth; do not malign your benefactors; do not play cards with the devil; and do not betray the innocent. Fare you well, Gideon Wolf."

His tongue was afflicted with a kind of St. Vitus's dance as he endeavored to explain that he was innocent of this dangerous passing of bad money for good. I sat back in my chair, and did not assist him out of his tangle of words, I listened in silence, and when his tongue had run itself down, like an ill-regulated watch, I bade him farewell once more, and shut my door upon him.

It was a happy release. Old Anna was overjoyed.

"Now I can sleep in peace," she said.

CHAPTER XII
MASTER FINK ENDEAVORS TO RESCUE KATRINE LOEBEG FROM THE EVIL INFLUENCE OF PRETZEL THE MISER

I did not entirely lose sight of Gideon. It is not easy in a town like this for a man to hide himself and his doings from the knowledge of his neighbors, and it was very soon known to everybody that Gideon Wolf and I had parted company. The question now was what he would do, how he intended to live. I devoutly hoped that he would leave the town and seek his fortune elsewhere, but my hope was not fulfilled. Old Anna, womanlike, was more curious about him than I, and she made it her business to find out all she could concerning his movements. Thus for some time all the information I received with reference to him came through her. On one day it was,

"Gideon Wolf called this morning upon Peterson the tanner, to collect some money he owes Miser Pretzel."

On another day,

"They were walking together this afternoon, Pretzel and Gideon."

And at length,

"Gideon Wolf has gone to live in the Temple, in the garret of the house immediately opposite Miser Pretzel's."

There have been great changes in the town these last few years. The Temple has been pulled down to make room for the new railway-station which is to bring confusion into our quiet lives. That demon, Steam, will no longer permit us to live in peace and quietness. The young may rejoice in these changes; to the old they are an affliction.

It was certainly time the Temple was destroyed, for it was a disgrace. Long, long since, hundreds of years ago, it had been used as a refuge for monks and priests, and it was then that it got to be called the Temple. The houses, I have no doubt, were grand places in those days, but now they were so old and rickety that timid people had a fear of them. As for honest and virtuous folk, on no account would they reside there. It bore a dreadful reputation, and was given up entirely to vile and desperate characters, jailbirds, loose women, desperadoes, and adventurers. Nevertheless, there it was that Gideon Wolf took up his quarters, at the top of a house four stories high, the roof of which nearly touched the clouds. To save it from tumbling down, a heavy beam had been fixed high in the air, in between it and the rotten old house on the opposite side, in which Pretzel lived. These decrepit, worn-out tenements leaned towards each other from sheer weakness, and could not stand without support, like human beings who in their old age require a prop to save them from falling to the earth. The crossbeam between the two houses was fixed, on the left, just below the top window of Miser Pretzel's house, and, on the right, immediately below the window of the garret in which Gideon Wolf slept. The lower portion of this house was occupied by people of bad character, the second and third floors were empty, and only Gideon lived in the garret. In Miser Pretzel's house no one resided but himself; it was his own property, and he would not admit a tenant. Dwelling for years among lawless people, and keeping always, as was currently reported, a large sum of money in his rooms, it was wonderful that he was not robbed. But he seemed to be protected by a charm, for no ill befell him, and he was able to carry on his usurious practices without check or hindrance. It was understood that Pretzel had taken Gideon into his employ, for the young man was now regularly engaged in collecting debts owing to the miser by poor people who had been drawn into his web.

But if appearances went for anything, Gideon Wolf did not thrive in his new vocation. Miser Pretzel, who loved his money with a closer love than men have for their children, was not likely to pay liberal wages to those who worked for him, and Gideon grew shabbier and poorer week by week. I had opportunities of observing this, for he sometimes passed my shop; but between us not a word was exchanged.

"Miser Pretzel will get Gideon well into his clutches," said Anna, "and then the devil will fly away with the pair of them."

The autumn waned, and winter came on. A bitter, cheerless winter, always remembered because of its heavy snowfalls, the like of which had never been seen in the town. In the first week of November Anna burst in upon me with the words,

"What do you think? Katrine Loebeg has left her situation, and has gone to attend upon Miser Pretzel."

"That is bad news indeed," I said.

"The child!" cried Anna, in deep distress. "The foolish, foolish child! She will come quickly now to shame and ruin! Will no one stretch out a helping hand to her-will no one save her?"

"How can it be done?" I asked. "Heaven knows I would sacrifice much to save the poor girl, but you remember how she received us when we spoke to her before. She is her own mistress, and can do as she pleases; no person has any legal authority over her. Were I her grandfather, or her uncle, or even a distant relative of her dead mother, I might have some right to interfere-although it would be useless, Anna, quite useless; of that I am certain. She does not see Gideon Wolf with our eyes, and it is he, no doubt, who has been instrumental in getting her into Miser Pretzel's house."

"Master Fink," said Anna, "you have a solemn duty before you, and you must not shrink from it. You must save that sweet child from life-long grief. It is in your power. All the town will bless you for the deed."

"I don't want all the town to bless me," I said, somewhat testily I must own. "I am content to do what is right for right's sake, and for the sake of my conscience. In Heaven's Dame enlighten me how it is in my power to save Katrine!"

Old Anna spoke now very earnestly. " There is no one in the world who is so thoroughly acquainted as yourself with the vile nature of that scorpion, Gideon Wolf. To stand tamely by, and allow him to drag the innocent soul of Katrine down to perdition would be a heavy sin. Oh, Master Fink, I think there is a way. You have no wife, you have no child-"

"Ah," I exclaimed, "I see! you wish me to adopt Katrine as my child. Thank you, Anna, thank you; you have a kind heart. It is a noble idea. I will do it-yes, Anna, I will do it, if Katrine will consent. I will be a father unto her, and as God is my judge I will deal tenderly and lovingly by her. It will be a beautiful thing to have a fresh young being like her in the house. And in course of time she shall forget that rascal, Gideon Wolf, and set her heart upon some fine honest young fellow who will make her happy." I glowed with pleasurable excitement; I could not keep my seat; I walked up and down the room, rubbing my hands.

"Master Fink," said Anna, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand, "I bless the day I first took service with you."

"Never mind that, never mind that," I cried; "it is a waste of time to talk of such things. We must see her at once-we must not lose a moment. She is in danger, in positive danger." And then, all in a moment, my spirits fell. "Are you sure, Anna, that she lives with Miser Pretzel?"

"Yes, there is no doubt of it, and we must go to his house, and speak to her there."

"Speak to her in Pretzel's house! Do you forget the enmity he bears to me? He will not admit us; he will laugh at us, and shut the door in our faces. He has been waiting for years to spite me; old as he is he would walk a hundred miles to do me an injury."

"We go to see Katrine, not to see him, Master Fink. There is nothing to be afraid of; he will not eat us, and if he won't admit us into the house we will call Katrine out, and speak to her in the streets. Because it is unpleasant to do, you must not shrink from it."

"I will not," I said, firmly. "Come, Anna, you shall accompany me. What is right to be done should be done without delay."

In less than three minutes I had locked up my shop, and Anna and I were on our way to the Temple and in due time we paused before the door of Pretzel's house.

It was years since I had visited the Temple, and I was struck by the ruined appearance of the habitations. Dirt and filth, rotting timbers, broken windows stuffed with rags to keep out wind and rain, crumbling stones, and signs of dilapidation, met my eye whichever way I turned. One house had shrunk in the middle, just as if it had a pain in its stomach, and there was not a dwelling that did not bear some strange resemblance to a drunkard in the last days of his evil life. The signs of animation were quite as deplorable. The cats were skinny, vicious, fiery-eyed; fowls I should have fled from in horror had their emaciated bodies been placed on my table were pecking in the gutters; and a dog, a very skeleton of a dog, whose ribs were almost breaking through its skin, barked and snapped at my heels as I knocked at Miser Pretzel's door. Katrine herself opened it. She turned pale when she saw us, and made a motion as though she would shut the door in our faces; but I held it back, and said, in a gentle tone,

"Katrine, we have come in perfect friendship, Anna and I. We wish to speak to you in love and honest friendship-"

"Who is there-who is there?" cried Miser Pretzel, from the lower part of the house. "What is keeping you so long, Katrine?"

"It is Master Fink and Anna," replied Katrine.

He was up in an instant, and glided before Katrine and faced us.

"What an honor-what an honor!" he exclaimed, surveying us with his sly eyes. "Now, whoever would have thought that honest Master Fink, upright Master Fink, who wastes young men's lives, and ruins them, and treats them like dirt under his feet-whoever would have thought that he would make a friendly visit to poor old Pretzel! And handsome Anna, too, with her beautiful white teeth close shut over her malicious old tongue-she has come to see the poor old man! Katrine, my child," and Pretzel drew the girl, who was now looking at us in anger, close to him, "how shall we receive these worthy people who take away a young girl's character, and lay cunning plots to ensnare a faithful, generous-hearted, hard-working young man whom they have robbed of his rights? How shall we receive them, eh?" And he patted the young girl's hand, which he had placed on his arm, and smiled at us malevolently.

I sighed. The power the old villain exercised over the innocent girl was apparent; every word he spoke struck home, and increased the dislike with which she regarded us. I was afraid that the mischief had gone too far for me to repair it but I would not leave without making the attempt. I had some difficulty in preventing Anna from reviling Pretzel; she had not my prudence or self-control.

"I have not come to see you, Pretzel; my visit is to Katrine."

"Ah, ah," he rejoined, "you have not come to see me; but who is to believe a liar? I had a notion that you wished to borrow another three thousand florins of me for two years without interest. That is what I did for this old fellow once, Katrine-ask him to deny it. He cannot, you see. He was on the point of ruin, and because I did this good deed out of pure compassion, because I lent him three thousand florins without interest, and so saved him from beggary and the gutter, he has gone on ever since speaking ill of me, and maligning me behind my back, as he has maligned his confiding, unfortunate apprentice. It is how he serves everybody. First he pretends to be kind to them, and when he has got them in his power he bites them and blackens their reputations. He is a wolf in sheep's clothing. His appearance is quite benevolent, is it not, Katrine, my child? But never trust a man with such a face as that never, never, or you will rue the day. Now I would lay a wager that he has some evil intention in his mind as he stands there looking at you with pretended sadness. Ask him what it is he wants to say to you?"

"What do you want of me?" asked Katrine, in a tone of deep resentment.

By a great effort I controlled myself. "Katrine Loebeg," I said, "this is no place for you. None but bad people live in this neighborhood-"

Pretzel interrupted me. "What did I tell you, Katrine? And here stand I, Pretzel, Gideon Wolf's best friend, the friend who is going one day to make him rich and in the opposite house lives Gideon himself. Oh, what bad people live here-what bad, bad people!"

"I have come with a fatherly intention, Katrine," I said, "and old Anna is with me-old Anna, who loves you, and wishes you nothing but good."

"First a kiss, and then a scratch," sneered Pretzel. "Think of old Anna loving you so dearly-she who said to you what she did about Gideon, who would not sleep in the same house with him, and who would not cook a meal for him for all the money that could be offered her! Dear me, dear me-what a benevolent, kind-hearted, backbiting old woman!"



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9