Husband! He had never thought of that. Suddenly a cold sweat appeared on his brow. He went out and roamed until dawn around the quiet, moonlit lake, filled with the reflection of bright stars which resembled greenish sparkling fireflies.
He was just about to lie down, when a tap, tap, tap sounded on the window pane. His charming neighbor appeared, just like the dawn, golden and blushing, rose-like and white, in a lace morning gown, her lovely blue eyes still heavy with sleep. She held a little finger to her red, sinful lips, luscious and sanguine, as a sign of silence.
“I found no peace throughout the night,” he whispered, pale and weary.
“Do not fear. I understand you. Do not fear, Peter; I am true to you alone!”
And only the trembling of a flower from her breath remained, as Tkalac extended his hungry arms towards the quiet, blooming window, lit by the first rays of the sun, while from above was heard the unpleasant voice of a man, severely rolling his r’s.
This was repeated daily for two weeks.
Valentina was very much surprised when Tkalac disappeared with-out leaving a trace. She became ill from worry and torment. One rainy evening her husband told her in a puzzling way that he was awaiting a very important guest and that they would remain alone. She thought it would be some tiresome business matter, some tedious signing of papers; and while at supper, she almost fainted on hearing Peter’s steps on the upper floor. Notwithstanding all her questioning, her husband refused to explain this unexpected visit.
Like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, the servant announced that “Monsieur Kalak” sends his card and wishes to enter.
She did not recognize him at first; so emaciated had he become in the few days. Her husband arose, changed the expression on his bloated, otherwise quite pleasing face adorned with spectacles and a blond mustache, wiped his bald head and wheezed harshly, like one suffering from asthma. The visitor bowed courteously and in military fashion, kissed with visible embarrassment the hand of his hostess, sat down, and, after a brief, unpleasant silence, addressed his host.
“I am very glad Monsieur Colignon, that you received me so gallantly, and, as I see, you have not advised madame regarding my coming. If there still exists some knighthood these days, it consists in that honorable and sensible people eliminate every unpleasantness with as little trouble as possible.”
“Very well, very well,” broke in the host, breathing heavily. “I have thoroughly inquired and learned all about you to-day, and I know that your affairs are in good condition and that you have a glorious future before you, though, relatively, very difficult. As a man of affairs and business, I guess your intention and the cause for your presence. You have no acquaintance here nor any countrymen of yours; in your native country you have no reason, presumably, to look for help. Therefore, as your neighbor, you wish to turn to me, offering no more security than your energy and your indubitable honesty. You have begged me for the presence of my wife to show me that in such a delicate matter you fear not even such a—pardon!—embarrassing witness. I have, sir, no children from heaven, and although a man of means, I sympathize with everything young and fit for life.”
“But pardon me.”
“Allow me, allow me, my dear ‘Kalak.’ I am really not as wealthy as they say, but I will always have enough to help you in your eventual establishment. It is known to me that your institution prospers excellently, and I feel proud that you should, notwithstanding your great acquaintance with foreign, especially, Slavic, aristocracy, turn to me, an ordinary citizen and business man.”
“You are absolutely wrong, my dear neighbor,” the young man gasped with difficulty, and paled as though he were going to fall from his chair.
Deep, asthmatic breathing. The ticking of a clock mingled with the wild, loud throbbing of hearts. Valentina’s eyes became glassy.
“From your words, dear neighbor, I see that you are better than I ever dreamed, and my mission, therefore, is so much more painful and distressing. If I had known this, I never would have determined to undertake this step,” came from Tkalac as from a tomb, and Colignon began to look around fearfully, thinking that he must deal with a dangerous, gorilla-like lunatic.
“Well, what is it? What is it?” he breathed with great effort, meantime kicking his petrified wife under cover of the table to convey his alarm. She did not feel his nudges, so paralyzed was her moral and physical strength.
“No, sir, I have not come for money, but I came for her, for your wife, for Valentina, for my dear ”
“Are you sane?” sighed the host, rushing towards the window as if wanting to cry “Fire.” Tkalac almost brought him back to his chair with his burning, feverish gaze.
“Yes, sir, you have spoken correctly. I am an honest man, so honest that I am unable to lie, and I would kill and I would die before stealing another man’s wife, robbing the love that belongs to another, especially of such a sympathetic man as you. I love your wife, your wife loves me, and I came to-night to tell you this honestly and openly, and to take her with me,” continued Tkalac, placing a revolver on the table. “Here, sir, do not fear! I am not a lunatic, I am not a criminal, and you may, if you find no other exit, take this gun and shoot me here like an ordinary vagabond and burglar.”
And again there was a painful, grievous, fatal silence; difficult, asthmatic breathing, then the ticking of watches as of hearts, and the beating of hearts as of watches.
“Why, what do I hear? Is all this possible; tell me, tell me, Valentina? Why, it is not, it is not, it cannot be true; say it isn’t, Valentina, my dear little Valentina,” sobbed the husband.
“Peter Tkalac, peer of Zvesaj castle, is poor, has no more a uniform, but he remains an officer and never tells lies!” The young man, with his chest expanded, spoke energetically, as if commanding his troops. Valentina’s glassy eyes revived; slowly, as if awakening, she arose and stepped toward Peter and said, looking at him from head to foot:
“Whether you are an Austrian, Hungarian, Slovak, or what not, you should know that I am a Frenchwoman, and that in France it is not customary for lovers to denounce their sweethearts to their husbands. Monsieur Colignon, I have in fact liked his type, although I have not given myself to him; but from now on I hate him deeply and let that foreigner consider himself slapped. Good-bye, gentlemen!”— And she swept from the room.
“Noble sir, Monsieur ‘Kalak,’ do you need any help? I am at your service,” said Colignon to the young man, who staggered out of the room as though he were drunk and feeling like a whipped cur.
The servant ran after him into the hallway.
“Pardon, sir, you have forgotten your revolver!”Neighbor