Mór Jókai.

The Nameless Castle online

. (page 16 of 21)
Online LibraryMór JókaiThe Nameless Castle → online text (page 16 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


militia has its uniforms!"

"Well, a man can fight without a uniform. If only these men have horses
under them and weapons in their hands - "

"Two of these requisites we already have; but the escapement announces
that arms of the latest improvements cannot be furnished, because the
government has not got them."

"Well, the old ones will answer."

"They _would_ if we had enough flints; but they are not to be had,
because the insurrectionary Poles have captured the flint depot in
Lemberg."

"Each man certainly could get a flint for himself."

"Even then there are only enough guns for about one half of the men. The
escapement suggested that to those who had no arms it would
furnish - halberds!"

"What? Halberds!" cried Vavel, losing all patience. "Halberds against
Bonaparte? Halberds against the legions who have broken a path from one
end of Europe to the other with their bayonets, and with them carved
their triumphs on the pyramids? Halberds against them? Do you take me to
be a fool, Herr Vice-palatine?"

He sprang to his feet and began to pace the floor excitedly, his guest
meanwhile eying him with a roguish glance.

"There!" at last exclaimed Herr Bernat, "I will not tease you any
longer. Fortunately, there is a clock-repairer who, so soon as he
perceived how tardily the hands performed their task, with his finger
twirled them around the entire dial, whereupon the clock struck the
hour. This able repairer is our king, who at once advanced from his own
exchequer enough money to equip the militia companies, distributed six
thousand first-class cavalry sabers and sixteen cannon, and loaned the
entire Hungarian life-guard to drill the newly formed regiments. And
now, I will wager that our noble militia host will be ready for the
field in less than thirty days, and that they will fight as well as the
good Lord permitted them to learn how!"

"Why in the world did you not tell me this at once?" demanded Count
Vavel.

"Because it is not customary to put the fire underneath the tobacco in
the pipe! The king's example inspired our magnates. Those whom the law
compelled to equip ten horsemen sent out whole companies, and placed
themselves in command."

"As I shall do!" appended Count Vavel. "I hope, Herr Vice-palatine, that
you will not forget the amnesty for Satan Laczi and his men. They will
be of special value as spies."

"I have a knot in my handkerchief for that, Herr Count, and shall be
sure to remember. The company to be commanded by Count Ludwig Fertöszeg
will be complete in a week."

"Why do you call me Fertöszeg?"

"Because a Hungarian name is better for your ensign than your own
foreign one. Our people have an antipathy to everything foreign - and we
have cause to complain of the Frenchmen who served in our army. Most of
them were spies - tools of Napoleon's. Generals Moiselle and Lefebre
surrendered fortified Laibach, together with its entire brigade, without
discharging a gun. And even our quondam friend, the gallant Colonel
Barthelmy, has taken Dutch leave and gone back to the enemy."

"What? Gone back to the enemy!" repeated Ludwig, springing from his
chair, and laughing delightedly.

"The news seems to rejoice you," observed Herr Bernat.

"I shout for very joy! The thought that we might have to fight side by
side annoyed me. Now, however, we shall be adversaries, and when we
meet, the man who did not steal Ange Barthelmy will send her husband to
the devil! And now, Herr Vice-palatine, I think it is time to say good
night. It will be the first night in six years that I shall sleep
quietly."

They shook hands, and separated for the night.




CHAPTER II


From early morning until evening the enrolment of names went on at the
Nameless Castle, while from time to time a squad of volunteers,
accompanied by Count Vavel himself, would depart amid the blare of
trumpets for the drill-ground.

The count made a fine-looking officer, with the crimson shako on his
head, his mantle flung over one shoulder, his saber in his hand. When he
saluted the ladies on their balconies, his spirited horse would rear and
dance proudly. His company, the "Volons," had selected black and crimson
as the colors for their uniform. The shako was ornamented in front with
a white death's-head, and one would not have believed that a skull could
be so ornamental.

The Volons' ensign was not yet finished, but pretty white hands were
embroidering gold letters on the silken streamers; lead would very soon
add further ornamentation!

When Ludwig Vavel opened the door of his castle to the public, he very
soon became acquainted with a very different life from that of the past
six years. For six years he had dwelt among a people whom he imagined he
had learned to know and understand through his telescope, and from the
letters he had received from a clergyman and a young law student.

The reality was quite different.

Every man that was enrolled in his volunteer corps Count Vavel made an
object of special study. He found among them many interesting
characters, who would have deserved perpetuation, and made of all of
them excellent soldiers. The men very soon became devoted to their
leader. When the troop was complete - three hundred horsemen in handsome
uniforms, on spirited horses - their ensign was ready for them. Marie
thought it would have been only proper for Katharina, the betrothed of
the leader, to present the flag; but Count Vavel insisted that Marie
must perform the duty. The flag was hers; it would wave over the men who
were going to fight for her cause.

It was an inspiriting sight - three hundred horsemen, every one of noble
Hungarian blood. There were among them fathers of families, and
brothers; and all of them soldiers of their own free will. Of such
material was the troop of Volons, commanded by "Count Vavel von
Fertöszeg."

Count Vavel had a second volunteer company, composed of Satan Laczi and
his comrades. This company, however, had been formed and drilled in
secret, as the noble Volons would not have tolerated such vagabonds in
their ranks. There were only twenty-four men in Satan Laczi's squad, and
they were expected to undertake only the most hazardous missions of the
campaign.

Ah, how Marie's hand trembled when she knotted the gay streamers to the
flag Ludwig held in his hands! She whispered, in a tone so low that only
he could hear what she said:

"Don't go away, Ludwig! Stay here with us. Don't waste your precious
blood for me, but let us three fly far away from here."

Those standing apart from the count and his fair ward fancied that the
whispered words were a blessing on the ensign. She did not bless it in
words, but when she saw that Ludwig would not renounce his undertaking,
she pressed her lips to the standard which bore the _patrona Hungaria_.
That was her blessing! Then she turned and flung herself into
Katharina's arms, sobbing, while hearty cheers rose from the Volons:

"Why don't _you_ try to prevent him from going away from us? Why don't
you say to him, 'To-morrow we are to be wedded. Why not wait until
then?'"

But there was no time now to think of marriage. There was one who was in
greater haste than any bridegroom or bride. The great leader of armies
was striding onward, whole kingdoms between his paces. From the
slaughter at Ebersburg he passed at once to the walls of Vienna, to the
square in front of the Cathedral of St. Stephen. From the south, also,
came Job's messengers, thick and fast. Archduke John had retreated from
Italy back into Hungary, the viceroy Eugene following on his heels.

General Chasteler had become alarmed at Napoleon's proclamation
threatening him with death, and had removed his entire army from the
Tyrol. His divisions were surrendering, one after another, to the
pursuing foe.

Thus the border on the south and west was open to the enemy; and to
augment the peril which threatened Hungary, Poland menaced her from the
north, from the Carpathians; and Russia at the same time sent out
declarations of war.

The countries which had been on friendly terms with one another suddenly
became enemies - Poland against Hungary, Russia against Austria. Prussia
waited. England hastened to seize an island from Holland. The patriotic
calls of Gentz and Schlegel failed to inspire Germany. The heroic
attempts of Kalt, Dörnberg, Schill, and Lützow fell resultless on the
indifference of the people. Only Turkey remained a faithful ally, and
the assurance that the Mussulman would protect Hungary in the rear
against an invasion on the part of Moldavia was the only ray of light
amid the darkness of those days.

Then came a fresh Job's messenger.

General Jelachich, with his five thousand men, had laid down his arms in
the open field before the enemy. Now, indeed, it might be said: "The
time is come to be up and doing, Hungary!"

He who had neglected to celebrate his nuptials yesterday would have no
time for marriage feasts to-morrow. Hannibal was at the gates! The noble
militia host was set in motion. The Veszprime and Pest regiments moved
toward the Marczal to join Archduke John's forces. The primatial troops
joined the main body of the army on the banks of the March, and what
there was of soldiery on the farther side of the Danube hastened to
concentrate in the neighborhood of the Raab - only half equipped, muskets
without flints, without cartridges, without saddles, with halters in
lieu of bridles!

Under such circumstances a fully equipped troop like that commanded by
"Count Fertöszeg," with sabers, pistols, carbines, and a leader trained
in the battle-field, was of some value.

The days which followed the flag presentation were certainly not
calculated to whispers of happy love, while the nights were illumined
only by the light of watch-fires, and the glare over against the horizon
of cannonading. Count Ludwig had so many demands on his time that he
rarely found a few minutes free to visit his dear ones at the manor.
Sometimes he came unexpectedly early in the morning, and sometimes late
in the evening. And always, when he came, like the insurgent who dashes
unceremoniously into your door, there was a confusion and a bustling to
conceal what he was not yet to see - Marie's first attempts at drawing,
her piano practices, or the miniature portrait Katharina was painting of
her. Sometimes, too, he came when they were at a meal; and then, despite
his protests that he had already dined or supped in camp, he would be
compelled to take his seat between the two ladies at the table. Hardly
would he have taken up his fork, however, when a messenger would arrive
in great haste to summon him for something or other - some question he
alone could decide; then all attempts to detain him would prove futile.

The day he received his orders to march, he was forced to take enough
time to speak on some very important matters to his betrothed wife. He
delivered into her hands the steel casket, of which so much has been
written. When he entered the room where the two ladies were sitting,
Marie discreetly rose and left the lovers alone; but she did not go very
far: she knew that she would be sent for very soon. Why should she stop
to hear the exchange of lovers' confidences, hear the mutual confessions
which made _them_ so happy? She did not want to see the tears which _he_
would kiss away.

"May God protect you," sobbed Katharina, reflecting at the same moment
that it would be a great pity were a bullet to strike the spot on the
noble brow where she pressed her farewell kiss.

"You will guard my treasure, Katharina? Take good care of my palladium
and of yourself. Before I go, let me show you what this casket which you
must guard with unceasing care contains."

He drew the steel ring from his thumb, and pushed to one side the crown
which formed the seal, whereupon a tiny key was revealed. With it he
unlocked the casket.

On top lay a packet of English bank-notes of ten thousand pounds each.

"This sum," explained Ludwig, "will defray the expenses of our
undertaking. When I shall have attained my object, I shall be just so
much the poorer. I am not a rich man, Katharina; I must tell you this
before our marriage."

"I should love you even were you a beggar," was the sincere response.

A kiss was her reward.

Underneath the bank-notes were several articles of child's clothing,
such as little girls wear.

"Her mother embroidered the three lilies on these with her own hands,"
said Ludwig, laying the little garments to one side. Then he took from
the casket several time-stained documents, and added: "These are the
certificate of baptism, the last lines from the mother to her daughter,
and the deposition of the two men who witnessed the exchange of the
children. This," taking up a miniature-case, "contains a likeness of
Marie, and one of the other little girl who exchanged destinies with
her. The Marquis d'Avoncourt, who is now a prisoner in the Castle of
Ham, - if he is still alive! - is the only one besides ourselves who knows
of the existence of these things. And now, Katharina, let me beg of you
to take good care of them; no matter what happens, do not lose sight of
this casket."

He locked the casket, and returned the ring to his thumb.

The baroness placed the treasure intrusted to her care in a secret
cupboard in the wall of her own room.

And now, one more kiss!

The girl waiting in the adjoining room was doubtless getting weary.
Suddenly Ludwig heard the tones of a piano. Some one was playing, in the
timid, uncertain manner of a new beginner, Miska's martial song. Ludwig
listened, and turned questioningly toward his betrothed. Katharina did
not speak; she merely smiled, and walked toward the door of the
adjoining room, which she opened.

Marie sprang from the piano toward Ludwig, who caught her in his arms
and rewarded her for the surprise. And thus it happened that Marie,
after all, was the one to receive Ludwig's last kiss of farewell.




CHAPTER III


The camp on the bank of the Rabcza was shared by the troop from
Fertöszeg and by a militia company of infantry from Wieselburg.

The parole had been given out for the night. Count Vavel had completed
his round of the outposts, and had returned to the officers' tent. Here
he found awaiting him two old acquaintances - the vice-palatine and the
young attorney from Pest, each of them wearing the light-blue dolman.

The youthful attorney, whose letters to the count had voiced the
national discontent, had at once girded on his sword when the call to
arms had sounded throughout the land, and was now of one mind with his
quondam patron: if he got near enough to a Frenchman to strike him, the
result would certainly be disastrous - for the Frenchman. Bernat bácsi
also found himself at last in his element, with ample time and
opportunity for anecdotes. Seated on a clump of sod the root side up,
with both hands clasping the hilt of his sword, the point of which
rested on the ground, he repeated what he had heard from the palatine's
own lips, while dining with that exalted personage in the camp by the
Raab.

At a very interesting point in his recital he was unceremoniously
interrupted by the challenging call of the outposts:

"Halt! who comes there?"

Vavel hastened from the tent, flung himself on his horse, and galloped
in the direction of the call. The patrol had stopped an armed man who
would not give the password, but insisted that he had a right to enter
the camp.

Vavel recognized Satan Laczi, and said to the guard:

"Release him; he is a friend of mine." Then to the ex-robber: "Come with
me."

He led the way to his own private tent, where he bade his companion rest
himself on a pallet of straw.

"I dare say you are tired, my good fellow."

"Not very," was the reply. "I have come only from Kapuvar to-day."

"On foot?"

"Part of the way, and part of the way swimming."

"What news do you bring?"

"We captured a French courier in the marshes near Vitnyed just as he was
about to ride into the stream."

"Where is he?"

"Well, you see, one of my fellows happened to grasp him a little too
tightly by the collar, because he resisted so obstinately - and, besides,
it must have been a very weak cord that fastened his soul to his body."

"You have not done well, Satan Laczi," reproved the count. "Another time
you must bring the prisoner to me alive, for I may learn something of
importance from him. Did not I tell you that I would pay a reward for a
living captive?"

"Yes, your lordship, and we shall lose our reward this time. But we
did n't capture the fellow for nothing, after all. We searched his
pockets, and found this sealed letter addressed to a general in the
enemy's army."

Vavel took the letter, and said: "Rest here until I return. You will
find something to eat and drink in the corner there. I may want you to
ride farther to-night."

"If I am to go on a horse, that will rest me sufficiently," was the
response.

Vavel quitted the tent to read the letter by the nearest watch-fire. It
was addressed to "General Guillaume."

That the general commanded a brigade of the viceroy of Italy's troops,
Vavel knew.

The letter was a long one - four closely written pages. Before reading it
Vavel glanced at the signature: "Marquis de Fervlans." The name seemed
familiar, but he could not remember where he had heard it. He was fully
informed when he read the contents:

"M. GENERAL: The intrigue has been successfully carried out.
Themire has found the fugitives! They are hidden in a secluded nook
on the shore of Lake Neusiedl in Hungary, where their extreme
caution has attracted much attention. Themire's first move was to
take up her abode in the same neighborhood, which she did in a
masterly manner. The estate she bought belonged to a Viennese baron
who had ruined himself by extravagance. Themire bought the
property, paying one hundred thousand guilders for it, on condition
that she might also assume the baron's name; such transfers are
possible, I believe, in Austria. In this wise Themire became the
Baroness Katharina Landsknechtsschild, and, as she thoroughly
understands the art of transformation, became a perfect German
woman before she took possession of her purchase. In order not to
arouse suspicion on the part of the fugitives, she carefully
avoided meeting either of them, and played to perfection the rôle
of a lady that had been jilted by her lover.

"Themire learned that our fugitive owned a powerful telescope with
which he kept himself informed of everything that happened in the
neighborhood, and this prompted her to adopt a very amusing plan of
action. _I_ wanted to put an end at once to the matter, and had
gone to Vienna for the purpose of so doing. I entered the Austrian
army as Count Leon Barthelmy, in order to be near my chosen
emissary. But my scheme was without result. I had planned that a
notorious robber of that region should steal the girl and the
documents from the Nameless Castle, - as the abode of the fugitives
is called, - but my robber proved unequal to the task. Consequently
I was forced to accept Themire's more tedious but successful plan.
The difficulty was for Themire to become acquainted with our
fugitive without arousing his suspicions. An opportunity offered.
One night, when we knew to a certainty that the hermit in the
Nameless Castle would be in his observatory because of an eclipse
of the moon, Themire put her plan into operation. The hermit, who
is only a man, after all, found a lovely woman more attractive than
all the planets in the universe; he was captured in the net laid
for him! When the moon entered the shadow, four masked robbers
(Jocrisse was their leader!) climbed into the Baroness
Landsknechtsschild's windows. The hermit in his observatory beheld
this incursion, and, being a knight as well as a recluse, what else
could he do but rush to the rescue of his fair neighbor? His
telescope had told him she was fair. Jocrisse played his part
admirably. At the approach of the deliverer the "robbers" took to
their heels, and the brave knight unbound the fettered and charming
lady he had delivered from the ruffians. As Themire had prepared
herself for the meeting, you may guess the result: the hermit was
captured!"

Oh, how every drop of blood in Vavel's veins boiled and seethed! His
face was crimsoned with shame and rage. He read further:

"Themire was perfectly certain that the mysterious hermit of the
Nameless Castle had fallen in love with her; and _I_ am not so sure
but Themire has ended by falling in love with the knight! Women's
hearts are so impressionable.

"I managed to have my regiment sent to her neighborhood, and took
up my quarters in her house. I sought by every means to lure the
hermit from his den; but he is a cunning fox, is this protector of
fair ladies! I could not get a sight of him. I decided at last to
waylay him (when he would be out driving with the veiled lady), to
pretend that I was a betrayed husband in search of his errant wife,
and ask to see the face of his veiled companion. This, naturally,
he would refuse. A duel would be the result; and as he has not for
years had a weapon in his hand, and as I am a dead shot, you can
guess the result - a hermit against a Spadassin! With a bullet in
his brain, the mysterious maid would become my property."

Here an icy chill shook Vavel's frame. He read on:

"That was my intention. But something on which I had not counted
prevented me from carrying it out. When I insisted on seeing the
face of the veiled lady, after telling him I believed her to be my
wife, Ange Barthelmy (I need not tell you that that entire story
was an invention of my own; I published it in a provincial
newspaper, whence it spread all over Europe), my brave hermit
showed a very bold front, and we were on the point of exchanging
blows, when the lady suddenly flung back her veil and revealed the
face of - Themire! You may believe that I was dumfounded for an
instant; then I began to believe that my faith in this woman had
been misplaced. Could it be possible that she had been caught in
her own trap - that she had found this Vavel's eyes more alluring
than the fortune we promised her, and that instead of betraying him
to us she would do the very opposite - betray us to him? It may be
that she has woven a more delicate web than I can detect with which
to entangle her romantic victim the more securely. At all events,
when I asked Vavel what relation the lady at his side bore to him,
he replied: 'She is my betrothed wife.'

"I confess I am puzzled. But I have the means of compelling Themire
to keep her promise. Her daughter is in my power!"

("Her daughter?" gasped Vavel. "Her daughter? Then Katharina is a
married woman!")

"But," he continued to read, "it might happen that a woman who is
in love would sacrifice her child. So soon as this war broke out,
Vavel threw off his hermit's mask, and is now leading a company of
troopers - which he equipped at his own expense - against us.

"From Jocrisse's letters I learn that Vavel's treasures are now in
Themire's hands. That which our fair emissary was commissioned to
find is in her possession. Now, however, the question is, What will
she do with it?

"Jocrisse also informs me that Themire is quite bewitched with the
amiability of the maid who has been intrusted to her care. If this
be true, then matters are in a bad way. If this is not another of
Themire's schemes, but actual sympathy, if this girl, whose
remarkable loveliness of character (even Jocrisse is compelled to
praise her) has won the piquant little Amélie's place in her
mother's heart, then it will be more difficult to separate Themire
from the girl than to win her from her lover."

This was a solitary ray of sunshine amid the threatening clouds which
enveloped Ludwig. He continued to read with rapidly beating heart:

"I must know to a certainty what Themire proposes to do. To-day I
sent her a message by a trusty courier, informing her that I should
be at a certain place at an appointed time - that I wanted her to
meet me and deliver into my hands the treasures she now holds. She


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryMór JókaiThe Nameless Castle → online text (page 16 of 21)