Mór Jókai.

The Nameless Castle online

. (page 14 of 21)
Online LibraryMór JókaiThe Nameless Castle → online text (page 14 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Count Ludwig received a copy of this proclamation still damp from the
press, and at once decided that the cause to which he had sacrificed his
best years was wholly lost.

He was acquainted with but a few of the people among whom he dwelt in
seclusion, but he believed he knew them well enough to decide that the
incendiary proclamation could have no other result than an enthusiastic
and far-reaching response. All was at an end, and he might as well go to
his rest!

In one of his gloomiest, most dissatisfied hours, he heard the sound of
a spurred boot in the silent corridor.

It was an old acquaintance, the vice-palatine. He did not remove his
hat, which was ornamented with an eagle's feather, when he entered the
count's study, and ostentatiously clinked the sword in its sheath which
hung at his side. A wolfskin was flung with elaborate care over his left

"Well, Herr Count," he began in a cheery tone, "I come like the gypsy
who broke into a house through the oven, and, finding the family
assembled in the room, asked if they did not want to buy a
flue-cleanser. At last the watchword has arrived: 'To horse, soldier! To
cow, farmer.' The militia law is no longer a dead letter. We shall
march, _cum gentibus_, to repulse the invading foe. Here is the royal
order, and here is the call to the nation."[3]

[Footnote 3: Written by Alexander Kisfalndy, by order of the palatine. A
memorable document.]

Count Vavel's face at these words became suddenly transfigured - like the
features of a dead man who has been restored to life. His eyes sparkled,
his lips parted, his cheeks glowed with color - his whole countenance was
eloquent; his tongue alone was silent.

He could not speak. He rushed toward his sword, which was hanging on the
wall, tore it from its sheath, and pressed his lips to the keen blade.
Then he laid it on the table, and dashed like a madman from the
room - down the corridor to Marie's apartment. Without knocking, he
opened the door, rushed toward the young girl, raised her in his arms as
if she were a little child, and, carrying her thus, returned to his
guest. "Here - here she is!" he cried breathlessly. "Behold her! Now you
may look on her face - now the whole world may behold her countenance and
read in it her illustrious descent. This is my idol - my goddess, for
whom I have lived, for whom I would die!"

He had placed the maid on a sort of throne between the two bookcases,
and alternately kissed the hem of her gown and his sword.

"Can you imagine a more glorious queen?" he demanded, in a transport of
ecstasy, flinging one arm over the vice-palatine's shoulder, and
pointing with the other toward the confused and blushing girl. "Is there
anywhere else on earth so much love, so much goodness and purity, a
glance so benevolent - all the virtues God bestows upon his favorites? Is
not this the angel who has been called to destroy the Leviathan of the

The vice-palatine gazed in perplexity at the young girl, then said in a
low tone:

"She is the image of the unfortunate Queen, Marie Antoinette, who looked
just like that when she was a bride."

Involuntarily Marie lifted her hands and hid her face behind them. She
had grown accustomed to the piercing rays of the sun, but not to the
questioning glances from strange eyes.

"What - what does - this mean, Ludwig?" she stammered, in bewilderment. "I
don't understand you."

Count Vavel stepped to the opposite side of the room, where a large map
concealed the wall. He drew a cord, and the map rolled up, revealing a
long hall-like chamber, which, large as it was, was filled to the
ceiling with swords, firearms, saddles, and harness.

"I will equip a company of cavalry, and command it myself. The entire
equipment, to the last cartridge, is ready here."

He conducted the vice-palatine into the arsenal, and exhibited his
terrible treasures.

"Are you satisfied with my preparations for war?" he asked.

"I can only reply as did the poor little Saros farmer when his
neighbor, a wealthy landowner, told him he expected to harvest two
thousand yoke of wheat: 'That is not so bad.'"

"Now _I_ intend to hold a Lustration, Herr Vice-palatine," resumed the
count. "Here are weapons. Are enough men and horses to be had for the

"I might answer as did the gypsy woman when her son asked for a piece of
bread: 'You are always wanting what is not to be had.'"

"Do you mean that there are no men?"

"I mean," hastily interposed Herr Bernat, "that there are enough men,
and horses, too; but the treasure-chest is empty, and the _Aerar_ has
not yet sent the promised subsidy."

"What care I about the Aerar and its money!" ejaculated Count Vavel,
contemptuously. "_I_ will supply the funds necessary to equip a
company - and support them, into the bargain! And if the county needs
money, my purse-strings are loose! I give everything that belongs to
me - and myself, too - to this cause!"

He opened, as he spoke, a large iron chest that was fastened with iron
bolts to the floor.

"Here, help yourself, Herr Vice-palatine!" he added, waving his hand
toward the contents of the chest. It was a more wonderful sight than the
arsenal itself. Rolls of gold coin, sacks of silver, filled the chest to
the brim.

Herr Bernat could only stare in speechless amazement. He made no move to
obey the behest to "help himself," whereupon Count Vavel himself thrust
his hands into the chest, lifted what he could hold between them of gold
and silver, and filled the vice-palatine's hat, which that worthy was
holding in his hand.

"But - pray - I beg of you - " remonstrated Herr Bernat, "at least, let us
count it."

"You can count it when you get home," interrupted Count Vavel.

"But I must give you a receipt for it."

"A receipt?" repeated his host. "A receipt between gentlemen? A receipt
for money which is given for the defense of the fatherland?"

"But I certainly cannot take all this money without something to show
from whom I received it, and for what purpose. Give me at least a few
words with your signature, Herr Count."

"That I will gladly do," responded the count, turning toward his desk,
and coming face to face with Marie, who had descended from her throne.

"What are you going to do?" she asked, laying her hand on his arm.


"Are you going to let strangers see your writing, and perhaps betray who
you are?"

"In a week the strokes from my hand will tell who I am," he replied,
with double meaning.

"Oh, you are terrible!" murmured Marie, turning her face away.

"I am so for your sake, Marie."

"For my sake?" echoed the young girl, sorrowfully. "For my sake? Do you
imagine that _I_ shall take pleasure in seeing you go into battle?
Suppose you should fall?"

"Have no fear on that score, Marie," returned the young man,
confidently. "I shall have a guiding star to watch over me; and if there
be a God in heaven - "

"Then may He take me to Himself!" interposed the young girl in a fervent
tone, lifting a transfigured glance toward heaven. "And may He grant
that there be not on earth one other Frenchwoman who is forced to pray
for the defeat of her own nation! May He grant that there be not
another woman in the world who is waiting until a pedestal is formed of
her countrymen's and kinsmen's skeletons, that she may be elevated to it
as an idol from which many, many of her brothers will turn with a curse!
May God take me to Himself now - now, while yet my two hands are white,
while yet I cherish toward my nation nothing but love and tenderness,
now when I forgive and forget everything, and desire none of this
world's splendor for myself!"

Ludwig Vavel was filled with admiration by this outburst from the
innocent girl heart.

"Your words, Marie, only increase the brilliancy of the halo which
encircles your head. They legalize the rights of my sword. I, too, adore
my native land - no one more than I! I, too, bow before the infinite
judge and submit my case to His wise decision. O God, Thou who
protecteth France, look down and behold him who rides yonder, his horse
ankle-deep in the blood of his countrymen, who looks without pity on the
dying legions and says, 'It is well!' Then, O God, look Thou upon this
saint here, who prays for her persecutors, and pass judgment between the
two: which of the two is Thy image on earth?"

"Oh, pray understand me," in a pleading voice interposed Marie, passing
her trembling fingers over Ludwig's cheek. "Not one drop of heroic blood
flows in my veins. I am not the offspring of those great women who
crowned with their own hands their knights to send them into battle. I
dread to lose you, Ludwig; I have no one in this wide world but you. On
this whole earth there is not another orphan so desolate as I am! When
you go to war, and I am left here all alone, what will become of me? Who
will care for me and love me then?"

Vavel gently drew the young girl to his breast.

"Marie, you said once to me: 'Give me a mother - a woman whom I can
love, one that will love me.' When I leave you, Marie, I shall not leave
you here without some one to care for you. I will give you a mother - a
woman you will love, and who will love you in return."

A gleam of sunshine brightened the young girl's face; she flung her arms
around Ludwig's neck, and laughed for very joy.

"You will really, really do this, Ludwig?" she cried happily. "You will
really bring her here? or shall I go to her? Oh, I shall be so happy if
you will do this for me!"

"I am in earnest," returned Ludwig, seriously. "This is no time for
jesting. My superior here" - turning toward the vice-palatine - "will see
that I keep the promise I made in his presence."

"That he will!" promptly assented Herr Bernat. "I am not only the
vice-palatine of your county: I am also the colonel of your regiment."

"And I want you to add still another office to the two you fill so
admirably: that of matrimonial emissary!" added Count Vavel. "In this
patriarchal land I find that the custom still obtains of sending an
emissary to the lady one desires to marry. Will you, Herr Vice-palatine
and Colonel, undertake this mission for me?"

"Of all my missions this will be the most agreeable!" heartily responded
Herr Bernat.

"You know to whom I would have you go," resumed the count. "It is not
far from here. You know who the lady is without my repeating her name.
Go to her, tell her what you have seen and heard here, - I send her my
secret as a betrothal gift, - and then ask her to send me an answer to
the words she heard me speak on a certain eventful occasion."

"You may trust me!" with alacrity responded Herr Bernat. "Within half
an hour I shall return with a reply: _Veni, vidi, vici!_"

After he had shaken hands with his client, the worthy emissary
remembered that it was becoming for even so important a personage as a
Hungarian vice-palatine to show some respect to the distinguished young
lady under Count Vavel's protection. He therefore turned toward her,
brought his spurred heels together, and was on the point of making a
suitable speech, accompanying it with a deep bow, when the young lady
frustrated his ceremonious design by coming quickly toward him and
saying in her frank, girlish manner:

"He who goes on a matrimonial mission must wear a nosegay." With these
words she drew the violets from her corsage, and fastened them in Herr
Bernat's buttonhole.

Hereupon the gallant vice-palatine forgot his ceremonious intentions. He
seized the maid's hand, pressed it against his stiffly waxed mustache,
and muttered, with a wary glance toward Count Vavel: "I am sorry this
pretty little hand belongs to those messieurs Frenchmen!"

Then he quitted the room, and in descending the stairs had all he could
do to transfer without dropping them the coins from his hat to the
pockets of his dolman.

Marie skipped, singing joyously, into the dining-room, where the windows
faced toward the neighboring manor. She did not ask if she might do so,
but flung open the sash, leaned far out, and waved her handkerchief to
the vice-palatine, who was driving swiftly across the causeway.


When Herr Bernat Görömbölyi, in his character of emissary, arrived at
the manor, he proceeded at once to state his errand:

"My lovely sister Katinka, I am come a-wooing - as this nosegay on my
breast indicates. I ask your hand for a brave, handsome, and young

"Thank you very much for the honor, my dear Bernat bácsi, but I intend
to remain faithful to my vow never to marry."

"Then you send me out of your house with a mitten, Katinka hugom?"

"I should prefer to detain you as a welcome guest."

"Thanks; but I cannot stop to-day. I am invited to a betrothal feast
over at the Nameless Castle. The count intends to wed in a few weeks."

He had been watching, while speaking, the effect of this announcement on
the lovely face before him.

Baroness Katharina, however, acted as if nothing interested her so much
as the letter she was embroidering with gold thread on a red streamer
for a militia flag.

"The count is in a hurry," continued Herr Bernat, "for he may have to
ride at the head of a company of militia to the war in less than three

Here the cruel needle thrust its point into the fair worker's rosy

Herr Bernat smiled roguishly; and said:

"Would n't you like to hear the name of the bride, my pretty sister

"If it is no secret," was the indifferent response.

"It is no secret for me, and I am allowed to repeat it. The charming
lady Count Vavel intends to wed is - Katharina Landsknechtsschild!"

The baroness suddenly dropped her embroidery, sprang to her feet, and
surveyed the smiling emissary with her brows drawn into a frown.

"It is quite true," continued Herr Bernat. "Count Vavel sent me here to
beg you to answer the words he spoke to you on an eventful occasion. Do
you remember them?"

The lady's countenance did not brighten as she replied:

"Yes, I remember the words; but between them and my reply there is a
veil that separates the two."

"The veil has been removed."

"Ah! Then you saw the lady of the castle without her veil? Is she

"More than pretty!"

"And who is she? What is she to Count Vavel?"

"She is not your rival, my pretty sister Katinka; she is neither wife
nor betrothed to Count Vavel - nor yet his secret love."

"Then she must be his sister - or daughter."

"No; she is neither sister nor daughter."

"Then what is she? Not a servant?"

"No; she is his mistress."

"His mistress?"

"Yes, his mistress - as my queen is my mistress."

"Ah!" There was a peculiar gleam in the lovely baroness's eyes. Then she
came nearer to Herr Bernat, and asked with womanly shyness: "And you
believe the count - loves _me_?"

"That I do not know, baroness, for he did not tell me; but I think you
know that he loves you. That he deserves your love I can swear! No one
can become thoroughly acquainted with Count Vavel and not love him. I
went to the castle to ask him to join the noble militia, and he let me
see the lady about whom so much has been said. She had excellent
reasons, baroness, for veiling her lovely face, for whoever had seen her
mother's pictures would have recognized her at once. When Count Vavel
goes into battle to help defend our fatherland, he must leave the royal
maid in a mother's hands. Will you fill that office? Will you take the
desolate maid to your heart? And now, Katinka hugom, give me your answer
to the Count's words."

With sudden impulsiveness the baroness extended both hands to Herr
Bernat, and said earnestly:

"With all my heart I consent to be Count Vavel's betrothed wife!"

"And I may fly to him with this answer?"

"Yes - on condition that you take me with you."

"What, baroness? You wish to go to the castle - now?"

"Yes, now - this very moment - in these clothes! I have no one to ask what
I should or should not do, and - _he_ needs me."

When his emissary had departed, Count Vavel began to reflect whether he
had not been rather hasty. Had he done right in giving to the world his
zealously guarded secret?

But there lay the royal manifesto on the table; there was no doubting
that. The venture must be made now or never. If only d'Avoncourt were
free! How well he would know what to do in this emergency!

He seated himself at the table to write to his friends abroad; but he
could accomplish nothing; his hand trembled so that he could hardly
guide the pen. And why should he tremble? Was he afraid to hear
Katharina's answer? It is by no means a wise move for a man to make on
the same day a declaration of war and one of love.

His meditations were interrupted by Marie, who came running into his
study, laughing and clapping her hands. She snatched the pen from his
fingers, and flung it on the floor.

"She is coming! She is coming!" she cried in jubilant tones.

"Who is coming?" asked Ludwig, surveying the young girl in surprise.

"Who? Why, the lady who is to be my mother - the beautiful lady from the

"What nonsense, Marie! How can you give voice to such impossible

"But the vice-palatine would not be returning to the castle in _two_
carriages!" persisted the maid. "Come and see them for yourself!"

She drew him from his chair to the window in the dining-room, where his
own eyes convinced him of the truth of Marie's announcement.

Already the two vehicles were crossing the causeway, and the baroness's
rose-colored parasol gleamed among the trees. Deeply agitated, Count
Vavel hastened to meet her.

"May I come with you?" shyly begged Marie, following him.

"I beg that you will come," was the reply; and the two, guardian and
ward, hand in hand, descended to the entrance-hall.

Baroness Katharina's countenance beamed with a magical charm - the result
of the union of opposite emotions; as when shame and courage, timidity
and daring, love and heroism, meet and are blended together in a
wonderful harmony - a miracle seen only in the magic mirror of a woman's

While yet several paces distant, she held out her hand toward Count
Vavel, and, with a charming mixture of embarrassment and candor, said:

"Yes, I am."

This was her confirmation of the words Vavel had spoken in the forest in
the presence of the three dragoon officers: "She is my betrothed."

Vavel lifted the white hand to his lips. Then Katharina quickly passed
onward toward Marie, who had timidly held back.

The baroness grasped the young girl's hands in both her own, and looked
long and earnestly into the fair face lifted shyly toward her. Then she

"It was not for his sake I came so precipitately. He could have waited.
They told me your heart yearned for a mother's care, and it must not be
kept waiting."

After this speech the two young women embraced. Which was the first to
sob, which kiss was the warmer, cannot be known; but that Marie was the
happier was certain. For the first time in years she was permitted to
embrace a woman and tell her she loved her. Ludwig Vavel looked with
delight on the meeting between the two, and gratefully pressed the hand
of his successful emissary.

When the two young women had sobbed out their hearts to each other, they
began to laugh and jest. Was not the mother still a girl, like the

"You must come with me to the manor?" said Katharina, as, with arms
entwined about each other, they entered the castle. "I shall not allow
you to stop longer in this lonely place."

"I wish you would take me with you," responded Marie. "I shall be very
obedient and dutiful. If I do anything that displeases you, you must
scold me, and praise me when I do what is right."

"And I am not to be asked if I consent to this abduction of my ward?"
here smilingly interposed Count Vavel.

"Why can't you come with us?" innocently inquired Marie.

The other young woman laughed merrily.

"He may come for a brief visit; later we will let him come to stay
always." Then she added in a more serious tone: "Count Vavel, you may
rest perfectly content that your treasure will be safe with me. My house
is prepared for assault. My people are brave and well armed. There is no
possible chance of another attack from robbers like that from which you
delivered me."

"Ludwig delivered you from robbers?" repeated Marie, in astonishment.
"When? How?"

"Then he did not tell you about his adventure? What a singular man!"

Here the vice-palatine interposed with: "What is this I hear? Robbers? I
heard nothing about robbers."

"The baroness herself asked me not to speak of the affair," explained
the count.

"Yes, but I did not forbid you to tell Marie, Herr Count," responded

"'Baroness' - 'Herr Count'?" repeated Marie, turning questioningly from
her guardian to their fair neighbor. "Why don't you call each other by
your Christian names?"

They were spared an explanation by Herr Bernat, who again observed:

"Robbers? I confess I should like to hear about this robbery?"

"I will tell you all about it," returned the baroness; "but first, I
must beg the vice-palatine not to make any arrests. For," she added,
with an enchanting smile, "had it not been for those valiant knights of
the road I should not have become acquainted with my brave Ludwig."

"That is better!" applauded Marie, hurrying her "little mother" into the
reception-room, where the wonderful story of the robbery was repeated.

And what an attentive listener was the fair young girl! Her lips were
pressed tightly together; her eyes were opened to their widest
extent - like those of a child who hears a wonderful fairy tale. Even the
vice-palatine from time to time ejaculated:

"_Darvalia_!" "_Beste karaffia_!" - which, doubtless, were the proper
terms to apply to marauding rascals.

But when the baroness came to that part of her story where Count Vavel,
with his walking-stick, put to flight the four robbers, Marie's face
glowed with pride. Surely there was not another brave man like her
Ludwig in the whole world!

"That was our first meeting," concluded Katharina laughingly, laying her
hand on that of her betrothed husband, who was leaning against the arm
of her chair.

"I should like to know why you both thought it best to keep this robbery
a secret?" remarked Herr Bernat.

"The real reason," explained Count Vavel, "was because the baroness did
not want her protégé, Satan Laczi's wife, persecuted."

"Hum! if everybody was as generous as you two, then robbery would become
a lucrative business!"

"You must remember," Katharina made haste to protest, "that all this has
been told to the matrimonial emissary, and not to the vice-palatine. On
no account are any arrests to be made!"

"I will suggest a plan to the Herr Vice-palatine," said Count Vavel.
"Grant an amnesty to the robbers; not to the four who broke into the
manor, - for they are merely common thieves, - but to Satan Laczi and his
comrades, who will cheerfully exchange their nefarious calling for the
purifying fire of the battle-field. I myself will undertake to form them
into a company of foot-soldiers."

"But how do you know that Satan Laczi and his comrades will join the
army?" inquired Herr Bernat.

"Satan Laczi told me so himself - one night here in the castle. He opened
all the doors and cupboards, while I was in the observatory, and waited
for me in my study."

It was the ladies' turn now to exhibit the liveliest interest. Each
seized a hand of the speaker, and listened attentively to his
description of the robber's midnight visit to the castle.

"Good!" was Herr Bernat's comment, when the count had concluded. "An
amnesty shall be granted to Satan Laczi and his crew if they will submit
themselves to the Herr Count's military discipline."


The little servant, Satan Laczi, junior, interrupted the conversation.
He came to announce dinner. Lisette had not needed any instructions. She
knew what was expected of her when a visitor happened to be at the
castle at meal-times. Besides, she wanted to show the lady from the
manor what she could do. Not since the count's arrival at the Nameless
Castle had there been so cheerful a meal as to-day. Marie sparkled with
delight; the baroness was wit personified; and the vice-palatine bubbled
over with anecdotes. When the roast appeared he raised his glass for a
serious toast:

"To our beloved fatherland. Vivat! To our revered king. Vivat! To our
adored queen. Vivat!"

Count Vavel promptly responded, as did also the ladies. Then the count
refilled the glasses, and, raising his own above his head, cried:

"And now, another vivat to _my_ queen! Long may she reign, and

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryMór JókaiThe Nameless Castle → online text (page 14 of 21)