The Witch of Prague by F. Marion Crawford
The Wanderer glanced at Unorna's face and saw the expression of relentless hatred which had settled upon her features. He neither understood it nor attempted to account for it. So far as he knew, Israel Kafka was mad, a man to be pitied, to be cared for, to be controlled perhaps, but assuredly not to be maltreated. Though the memories of the last half hour were confused and distorted, the Wanderer began to be aware that the young Hebrew had been made to suffer almost beyond the bounds of human endurance. So far as it was possible to judge, Israel Kafka's fault consisted in loving a woman who did not return his love, and his worst misdeed had been his sudden intrusion upon an interview in which the Wanderer could recall nothing which might not have been repeated to the whole world with impunity.
During the last month he had lived a life of bodily and mental indolence, in which all his keenest perceptions and strongest instincts had been lulled into a semi-dormant state. Unknown to himself, the mainspring of all thought and action had been taken out of his existence together with the very memory of it. For years he had lived and moved and wandered over the earth in obedience to one dominant idea. By a magic of which he knew nothing that idea had been annihilated, temporarily, if not for ever, and the immediate consequence had been the cessation of all interest and of all desire for individual action. The suspension of all anxiety, restlessness and mental suffering had benefited the physical man though it had reduced the intelligence to a state bordering upon total apathy.
But organisations, mental or physical, of great natural strength, are never reduced to weakness by a period of inactivity. It is those minds and bodies which have been artificially developed by a long course of training to a degree of power they were never intended to possess, which lose that force almost immediately in idleness. The really very strong man has no need of constant gymnastic exercise; he will be stronger than other men whatever he does. The strong character needs not be constantly struggling against terrible odds in the most difficult situations in order to be sure of its own solidity, nor must the deep intellect be ever plodding through the mazes of intricate theories and problems that it may feel itself superior to minds of less compass. There is much natural inborn strength of body and mind in the world, and on the whole those who possess either accomplish more than those in whom either is the result of long and well- regulated training.
The belief in a great cruelty and a greater injustice roused the man who throughout so many days had lived in calm indifference to every aspect of the humanity around him. Seeing that Israel Kafka could not be immediately restored to consciousness, he rose to his feet again and stood between the prostrate victim and Unorna.
"You are killing this man instead of saving him," he said. "His crime, you say, is that he loves you. Is that a reason for using all your powers to destroy him in body and mind?"
"Perhaps," answered Unorna calmly, though there was still a dangerous light in her eyes.
"No. It is no reason," answered the Wanderer with a decision to which Unorna was not accustomed. "Keyork tells me that the man is mad. He may be. But he loves you and deserves mercy of you."
"Mercy!" exclaimed Unorna with a cruel laugh. "You heard what he said --you were for silencing him yourself. You could not have done it. I have--and most effectually."
"Whatever your art really may be, you use it badly and cruelly. A moment ago I was blinded myself. If I had understood clearly while you were speaking that you were making this poor fellow suffer in himself the hideous agony you described I would have stopped you. You blinded me, as you dominated him. But I am not blind now. You shall not torment him any longer.
"And how would you have stopped me? How can you hinder me now?" asked Unorna.
The Wanderer gazed at her in silence for some moments. There was an expression in his face which she had never seen there. Towering above her he looked down. The massive brows were drawn together, the eyes were cold and impenetrable, every feature expressed strength.
"By force, if need be," he answered very quietly.
The woman before him was not of those who fear or yield. She met his glance boldly. Scarcely half an hour earlier she had been able to steal away his senses and make him subject to her. She was ready to renew the contest, though she realised that a change had taken place in him.
"You talk of force to a woman!" she exclaimed, contemptuously. "You are indeed brave!"
"You are not a woman. You are the incarnation of cruelty. I have seen it."
His eyes were cold and his voice was stern. Unorna felt a very sharp pain and shivered as though she were cold. Whatever else was bad and cruel and untrue in her wild nature, her love for him was true and passionate and enduring. And she loved him the more for the strength he was beginning to show, and for his determined opposition. The words he had spoken had hurt her as he little guessed they could, not knowing that he alone of men had power to wound her.
"You do not know," she answered. "How should you?" Her glance fell and her voice trembled.
"I know enough," he said. He turned coldly from her and knelt again beside Israel Kafka.
He raised the pale head and supported it upon his knee, and gazed anxiously into the face, raising the lids with his finger as though to convince himself that the man was not dead. Indeed there seemed to be but little life left in him as he lay there with outstretched arms and twisted fingers, scarcely breathing. In such a place, without so much as the commonest restorative to aid him, the Wanderer saw that he had but little chance of success.
Unorna stood aside, not looking at the two men. It was nothing to her whether Kafka lived or died. She was suffering herself, more than she had ever suffered in her life. He had said that she was not a woman-- she whose whole woman's nature worshiped him. He had said that she was the incarnation of cruelty--and it was true, though it was her love for him that made her cruel to the other. Could he know what she had felt, when she had understood that Israel Kafka had heard her passionate words and seen her eager face, and had laughed her to scorn? Could any woman at such a time be less than cruel? Was not her hate for the man who loved her as great as her love for the man who loved her not? Even if she possessed instruments of torture for the soul more terrible than those invented in darker ages to rack the human body, was she not justified in using them all? Was not Israel Kafka guilty of the greatest of all crimes, of loving when he was not loved, and of witnessing her shame and discomfiture? She could not bear to look at him, lest she should lose herself and try to thrust the Wanderer aside and kill the man with her hands.
Then she heard footsteps on the frozen path, and turning quickly she saw that the Wanderer had lifted Kafka's body from the ground and was moving rapidly away, towards the entrance of the cemetery. He was leaving her in anger, without a word. She turned very pale and hesitated. Then she ran forward to overtake him, but he, hearing her approach, quickened his stride, seeming but little hampered in his pace by the burden he bore. But Unorna, too, was fleet of foot and strong.
"Stop!" she cried, laying her hand upon his arm. "Stop! Hear me! Do not leave me so!"
But he would not pause, and hurried onward towards the gate, while she hung upon his arm, trying to hinder him and speaking in desperate agitation. She felt that if she let him go now, he would leave her for ever. In that moment even her hatred of Kafka sank into insignificance. She would do anything, bear anything, promise anything rather than lose what she loved so wildly.
"Stop!" she cried again. "I will save him--I will obey you--I will be kind to him--he will die in your arms if you do not let me help you-- oh! for the love of Heaven, wait one moment! Only one moment!"
She so thrust herself in the Wanderer's path, hanging upon him and trying to tear Kafka from his arms, that he was forced to stand still and face her.
"Let me pass!" he exclaimed, making another effort to advance. But she clung to him and he could not move.
"No,--I will not let you go," she murmured. "You can do nothing without me, you will only kill him, as I would have done a moment ago--"
"And as you will do now," he said sternly, "if I let you have your way."
"By all that is Holy in Heaven, I will save him--he shall not even remember--"
"Do not swear. I shall not believe you."
"You will believe when you see--you will forgive me--you will understand."
Without answering he exerted his strength and clasping the insensible man more firmly in his arms he made one or two steps forward. Unorna's foot slipped on the frozen ground and she would have fallen to the earth, but she clung to him with desperate energy. Seeing that she was in danger of some bodily hurt if he used greater force, the Wanderer stopped again, uncertain how to act; Unorna stood before him, panting a little from the struggle, her face as white as death.
"Unless you kill me," she said, "you shall not take him away so. Hold him in your arms, if you will, but let me speak to him."
"And how shall I know that you will not hurt him, you who hate him as you do?"
"Am I not at your mercy?" asked Unorna. "If I deceive you, can you not do what you will with me, even if I try to resist you, which I will not? Hold me, if you choose, lest I should escape you, and if Israel Kafka does not recover his strength and his consciousness, then take me with you and deliver me up to justice as a witch--as a murderess, if you will."
The Wanderer was silent for a moment. Then he realised that what she said was true. She was in his power.
"Restore him if you can," he said.
Unorna laid her hands upon Kafka's forehead and bending down whispered into his ear words which were inaudible even to the man who held him. The mysterious change from sleep to consciousness was almost instantaneous. He opened his eyes and looked first at Unorna and then at the Wanderer. There was neither pain nor passion in his face, but only wonder. A moment more and his limbs regained their strength, he stood upright and passed his hand over his eyes as though trying to remember what had happened.
"How came I here?" he asked in surprise. "What has happened to me?"
"You fainted," said Unorna quietly. "You remember that you were very tired after your journey. The walk was too much for you. We will take you home."
"Yes--yes--I must have fainted. Forgive me--it comes over me sometimes."
He evidently had complete control of his faculties at the present moment, when he glanced curiously from the one to the other of his two companions, as they all three began to walk towards the gate. Unorna avoided his eyes, and seemed to be looking at the irregular slabs they passed on their way.
The Wanderer had intended to free himself from her as soon as Kafka regained his senses, but he had not been prepared for such a sudden change. He saw, now, that he could not exchange a word with her without exciting the man's suspicion, and he was by no means sure that the first emotion might not produce a sudden and dangerous effect. He did not even know how great the change might be, which Unorna's words had brought about. That Kafka had forgotten at once his own conduct and the fearful vision which Unorna had imposed upon him was clear, but it did not follow that he had ceased to love her. Indeed, to one only partially acquainted with the laws which govern hypnotics, such a transition seemed very far removed from possibility. He who in one moment had himself been made to forget utterly the dominant passion and love of his life, was so completely ignorant of the fact that he could not believe such a thing possible in any case whatsoever.
In the dilemma in which he found himself there was nothing to be done but to be guided by circumstances. He was not willing to leave Kafka alone with the woman who hated him, and he saw no means of escaping her society so long as she chose to impose it upon them both. He supposed, too, that Unorna realized this as well as he did, and he tried to be prepared for all events by revolving all the possibilities in his mind.
But Unorna was absorbed by very different thoughts. From time to time she stole a glance at his face, and she saw that it was stern and cold as ever. She had kept her word, but he did not relent. A terrible anxiety overwhelmed her. It was possible, even probable, that he would henceforth avoid her. She had gone too far. She had not reckoned upon such a nature as his, capable of being roused to implacable anger by mere sympathy for the suffering of another. Then, understanding it at last, she had thought it would be enough that those sufferings should be forgotten by him upon whom they had been inflicted. She could not comprehend the horror he felt for herself and for her hideous cruelty. She had entered the cemetery in the consciousness of her strong will and of her mysterious powers certain of victory, sure that having once sacrificed her pride and stooped so low as to command what should have come of itself, she should see his face change and hear the ring of passion in that passionless voice. She had failed in that, and utterly. She had been surprised by her worst enemy. She had been laughed to scorn in the moment of her deepest humiliation, and she had lost the foundations of friendship in the attempt to build upon them the hanging gardens of an artificial love. In that moment, as they reached the gate, Unorna was not far from despair.
A Jewish boy, with puffed red lips and curving nostrils, was loitering at the entrance. The Wanderer told him to find a carriage.
"Two carriages," said Unorna, quickly. The boy ran out. "I will go home alone," she added. "You two can drive together."
The Wanderer inclined his head in assent, but said nothing. Israel Kafka's dark eyes rested upon hers for a moment.
"Why not go together?" he asked.
Unorna started slightly and turned as though about to make a sharp answer. But she checked herself, for the Wanderer was looking at her. She spoke to him instead of answering Kafka.
"It is the best arrangement--do you not think so?" she asked.
"Quite the best."
"I shall be gratified if you will bring me word of him," she said, glancing at Kafka.
The Wanderer was silent as though he had not heard.
"Have you been in pain? Do you feel as though you had been suffering?" she asked of the younger man, in a tone of sympathy and solicitude.
"No. Why do you ask?"
Unorna smiled and looked at the Wanderer, with intention. He did not heed her. At that moment two carriages appeared and drew up at the end of the narrow alley which leads from the street to the entrance of the cemetery. All three walked forward together. Kafka went forward and opened the door of one of the conveyances for Unorna to get in. The Wanderer, still anxious for the man's safety, would have taken his place, but Kafka turned upon him almost defiantly.
"Permit me," he said. "I was before you here."
The Wanderer stood civilly aside and lifted his hat. Unorna held out her hand, and he took it coldly, not being able to do otherwise.
"You will let me know, will you not?" she said. "I am anxious about him."
He raised his eyebrows a little and dropped her hand.
"You shall be informed," he said.
Kafka helped her to get into the carriage. She drew him by the hand so that his head was inside the door and the other man could not hear her words.
"I am anxious about you," she said very kindly. "Make him come himself to me and tell me how you are."
"Surely--if you have asked him--"
"He hates me," whispered Unorna quickly. "Unless you make him come he will send no message."
"Then let me come myself--I am perfectly well--"
"Hush--no!" she answered hurriedly. "Do as I say--it will be best for you--and for me. Good-bye."
"Your word is my law," said Kafka, drawing back. His eyes were bright and his thin cheek was flushed. It was long since she had spoken so kindly to him. A ray of hope entered his life.
The Wanderer saw the look and interpreted it rightly. He understood that in that brief moment Unorna had found time to do some mischief. Her carriage drove on, and left the two men free to enter the one intended for them. Kafka gave the driver the address of his lodgings. Then he sank back into the corner, exhausted and conscious of his extreme weakness. A short silence followed.
"You are in need of rest," said the Wanderer, watching him curiously.
"Indeed, I am very tired, if not actually ill."
"You have suffered enough to tire the strongest."
"In what way?" asked Kafka. "I have forgotten what happened. I know that I followed Unorna to the cemetery. I had been to her house, and I saw you afterwards together. I had not spoken to her since I came back from my long journey this morning. Tell me what occurred. Did she make me sleep? I feel as I have felt before when I have fancied that she has hypnotised me."
The Wanderer looked at him in surprise. The question was asked as naturally as though it referred to an everyday occurrence of little or no weight.
"Yes," he answered. "She made you sleep."
"Why? Do you know? If she has made me dream something, I have forgotten it."
The Wanderer hesitated a moment.
"I cannot answer your question," he said, at length.
"Ah--she told me that you hated her," said Kafka, turning his dark eyes to his companion. "But, yet," he added, "that is hardly a reason why you should not tell me what happened."
"I could not tell you the truth without saying something which I have no right to say to a stranger--which I could not easily say to a friend."
"You need not spare me--"
"It might save you."
"Then say it--though I do not know from what danger I am to be saved. But I can guess, perhaps. You would advise me to give up the attempt to win her."
"Precisely. I need say no more."
"On the contrary," said Kafka with sudden energy, "when a man gives such advice as that to a stranger he is bound to give also his reasons."
The Wanderer looked at him calmly as he answered.
"One man need hardly give a reason for saving another man's life. Yours is in danger."
"I see that you hate her, as she said you did."
"You and she are both mistaken in that. I am not in love with her and I have ceased to be her friend. As for my interest in you, it does not even pretend to be friendly--it is that which any man may feel for a fellow-being, and what any man would feel who had seen what I have seen this afternoon."
The calm bearing and speech of the experienced man of the world carried weight with it in the eyes of the young Moravian, whose hot blood knew little of restraint and less of caution; with the keen instinct of his race in the reading of character he suddenly understood that his companion was at once generous and disinterested. A burst of confidence followed close upon the conviction.
"If I am to lose her love, I would rather lose my life also, and by her hand," he said hotly. "You are warning me against her. I feel that you are honest and I see that you are in earnest. I thank you. If I am in danger, do not try to save me. I saw her face a few moments ago, and she spoke to me. I cannot believe that she is plotting my destruction."
The Wanderer was silent. He wondered whether it was his duty to do or say more. Unorna was a changeable woman. She might love the man to-morrow. But Israel Kafka was too young to let the conversation drop. Boy-like he expected confidence for confidence, and was surprised at his companion's taciturnity.
"What did she say to me when I was asleep?" he asked, after a short pause.
"Did you ever hear the story of Simon Abeles?" the Wanderer inquired by way of answer.
Kafka frowned and looked round sharply.
"Simon Abeles? He was a renegade Hebrew boy. His father killed him. He is buried in the Teyn Kirche. What of him? What has he to do with Unorna, or with me? I am myself a Jew. The time has gone by when we Jews hid our heads. I am proud of what I am, and I will never be a Christian. What can Simon Abeles have to do with me?"
"Little enough, now that you are awake."
"And when I was asleep, what then? She made me see him, perhaps?"
"She made you live his life. She made you suffer all that he suffered--"
"What?" cried Israel Kafka in a loud and angry tone.
"What I say," returned the other quietly.
"And you did not interfere? You did not stop her? No, of course, I forgot that you are a Christian."
The Wanderer looked at him in surprise. It had not struck him that Israel Kafka might be a man of the deepest religious convictions, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, and that what he would resent most would be the fact that in his sleep Unorna had made him play the part and suffer the martyrdom of a convert to Christianity. This was exactly what took place. He would have suffered anything at Unorna's hands, and without complaint, even to bodily death, but his wrath rose furiously at the thought that she had been playing with what he held most sacred, that she had forced from his lips the denial of the faith of his people and the confession of the Christian belief, perhaps the very words of the hated Creed. The modern Hebrew of Western Europe might be indifferent in such a case, as though he had spoken in the delirium of a fever, but the Jew of the less civilised East is a different being, and in some ways a stronger. Israel Kafka represented the best type of his race, and his blood boiled at the insult that had been put upon him. The Wanderer saw, and understood, and at once began to respect him, as men who believe firmly in opposite creeds have been known to respect each other even in a life and death struggle.
"I would have stopped her if I could," he said.
"Were you sleeping, too?" asked Kafka hotly.
"I cannot tell. I was powerless though I was conscious. I saw only Simon Abeles in it all, though I seemed to be aware that you and he were one person. I did interfere--so soon as I was free to move. I think I saved your life. I was carrying you away in my arms when she waked you."
"I thank you--I suppose it is as you tell me. You could not move--but you saw it all, you say. You saw me play the part of the apostate, you heard me confess the Christian's faith?"
"Yes--I saw you die in agony, confessing it still."
Israel Kafka ground his teeth and turned his face away. The Wanderer was silent. A few moments later the carriage stopped at the door of Kafka's lodging. The latter turned to his companion, who was startled by the change in the young face. The mouth was now closely set, the features seemed bolder, the eyes harder and more manly, a look of greater dignity and strength was in the whole.
"You do not love her?" he asked. "Do you give me your word that you do not love her?"
"If you need so much to assure you of it, I give you my word. I do not love her."
"Will you come with me for a few moments? I live here."
The Wanderer made a gesture of assent. In a few moments they found themselves in a large room furnished almost in Eastern fashion, with few objects, but those of great value. Israel Kafka was alone in the world and was rich. There were two or three divans, a few low, octagonal, inlaid tables, a dozen or more splendid weapons hung upon the wall, and the polished wooden floor was partly covered with extremely rich carpets.
"Do you know what she said to me, when I helped her into the carriage?" asked Kafka.
"No, I did not attempt to hear."
"She did not mean that you should hear her. She made me promise to send you to her with news of myself. She said that you hated her and would not go to her unless I begged you to do so. Is that true?"
"I have told you that I do not hate her. I hate her cruelty. I will certainly not go to her of my own choice."
"She said that I had fainted. That was a lie. She invented it as an excuse to attract you, on the ground of her interest in my condition."
"She hates me with an extreme hatred. Her real interest lay in showing you how terrible that hatred could be. It is not possible to conceive of anything more diabolically bad than what she did to me. She made me her sport--yours, too, perhaps, or she would at least have wished it. On that holy ground where my people lie in peace she made me deny my faith, she made me, in your eyes and her own, personate a renegade of my race, she made me confess in the Christian creed, she made me seem to die for a belief I abhor. Can you conceive of anything more devilish? A moment later she smiles upon me and presses my hand, and is anxious to know of my good health. And but for you, I should never have known what she had done to me. I owe you gratitude, though it be for the worst pain I have ever suffered. But do you think I will forgive her?"
"You would be very forgiving if you could," said the Wanderer, his own anger rising again at the remembrance of what he had seen.
"And do you think that I can love still?"
Israel Kafka walked the length of the room and then came back and stood before the Wanderer and looked into his eyes. His face was very calm and resolute, the flush had vanished from his thin cheeks, and the features were set in an expression of irrevocable determination. Then he spoke, slowly and distinctly.
"You are mistaken. I love her with all my heart. I will therefore kill her."
The Wanderer had seen many men in many lands and had witnessed the effects of many passions. He gazed earnestly into Israel Kafka's face, searching in vain for some manifestation of madness. But he was disappointed. The Moravian had formed his resolution in cold blood and intended to carry it out. His only folly appeared to lie in the announcement of his intention. But his next words explained even that.
"She made me promise to send you to her if you would go," he said. "Will you go to her now?"
"What shall I tell her? I warn you that since--"
"You need not warn me. I know what you would say. But I will be no common murderer. I will not kill her as she would have killed me. Warn her, not me. Go to her and say, 'Israel Kafka has promised before God that he will take your blood in expiation, and there is no escape from the man who is himself ready to die.' Tell her to fly for her life, and that quickly."
"And what will you gain by doing this murder?" asked the Wanderer, calmly. He was revolving schemes for Unorna's safety, and half amazed to find himself forced in common humanity to take her part.
"I shall free myself of my shame in loving her, at the price of her blood and mine. Will you go?"
"And what is to prevent me from delivering you over to safe keeping before you do this deed?"
"You have no witness," answered Kafka with a smile. "You are a stranger in the city and in this country, and I am rich. I shall easily prove that you love Unorna, and that you wish to get rid of me out of jealousy."
"That is true," said the Wanderer, thoughtfully. "I will go."
"Go quickly, then," said Israel Kafka, "for I shall follow soon."
As the Wanderer left the room he saw the Moravian turn toward the place where the keen, splendid Eastern weapons hung upon the wall.