Mór Jókai.

The Nameless Castle online

. (page 17 of 21)
Online LibraryMór JókaiThe Nameless Castle → online text (page 17 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


will have an excellent excuse for leaving the manor. Our troops are
approaching Steiermark, and have already crossed the Hungarian
border. Thus it will seem as if she fell by accident into the hands
of the enemy.

Vavel's heart almost ceased to beat. The letter shook in his trembling
hands.

"I shall not, however," he continued to read, "depend on the fickle
mood of a woman, who may be swayed by a tear or a love-letter. If
Themire does not appear with the maid and the documents at the
designated spot to-morrow evening, then I shall ride with my troop
to the manor. My troop, as you know, belongs to the 'Legion of
Demons,' and they do not know the definition of the word
'impossible'! If Themire of her own free will delivers the
treasures into my hands, I shall thank her becomingly. If, however,
she fails to meet me, I shall take the maid and the documents by
force."

Vavel did not notice that the firelight by which he was reading the
letter had begun to grow dim; he believed the characters on the page
before him were swimming in a blood-red mist.

"And now," the letter went on, "I come to my instructions to you,
general. You will move with your division toward the southern
shore of Lake Neusiedl, and cut off the way of our fugitives toward
the Tyrol. There is also another task which you must undertake. The
mysterious maid, once she is in our hands, must be treated with the
utmost courtesy and respect. A remarkable destiny awaits her. You
know the emperor is going to separate from Josephine. A new palace
will be built for the new empress. Who is the fortunate lady? As
yet, no one can tell. A royal maid who can bring as her dowry the
crown of a sovereign. A marriage that would unite the imperial
crown with the crown of Hugo Capet would firmly establish
Napoleon's throne. The legitimate dynasty would then be satisfied
with the sovereign chosen by the people. This fugitive maid is, I
hear, lovely, amiable, generous, pure, as only the ideal of a
sovereign can be."

Vavel stamped his foot in a paroxysm of fury. Had this miscreant written
that Marie was to be imprisoned in a convent, he could have borne it.
But to suggest that his idol, his pure, adored image of a saint, might
become the consort of the man on whom all the savage hatred of his
nature was concentrated - this was more horrible than all the torments of
hell. But he must calm himself and read the letter to the end.

"With this probability in view, I request that you send your wife
and daughter, with a proper escort, of course, to meet me in one of
the border cities, say Friedberg, where the ladies will be prepared
to take charge of the maid. You will understand that a lady of her
exalted position must travel only in company with distinguished
persons. Countess Themire Dealba's rôle is concluded. She must not
be allowed, in any character, to accompany our presumptive
sovereign to Paris. She will receive her five millions of francs,
as promised, and that will conclude our business transactions with
her. Pray communicate my desire to your wife and daughter, and bid
them prepare for the journey.

"Very truly,

"MARQUIS DE FERVLANS."

Not for one instant did Ludwig Vavel deliberate as to his course of
action.

He could not leave his post. For a soldier to quit his post before the
enemy is treason. He hurried back to his tent. Satan Laczi was stretched
on the bare ground, sleeping soundly.

Ludwig shook him vigorously.

"Awake - awake! You must depart at once."

Satan Laczi sprang to his feet.

"Take my own horse, and ride for your life the shortest way to
Fertöszeg."

"And what am I to do there?"

"Do you remember that an officer once asked you to steal the treasure I
kept concealed in the Nameless Castle?"

"Yes; but I did n't do it."

"Well, I want you to do it now for me."

"Which do you want, the maid or the casket?"

"Both, if possible; the maid in any case. But you must be sure that she
is alone when you approach her. Then say merely the name 'Sophie Botta,'
and she will listen quietly to what you have to say. Then show her this
ring, - here, put it on your left thumb" - he drew the steel ring from his
own thumb and slipped it on to Satan Laczi's, - "and say, 'The person who
wears this ring sent me to fetch you away from here. You are to come
with me at once.'"

"And where am I to take her?"

"You will have a carriage with four swift horses at the park gate
nearest the cemetery, and must drive with the maid to Raab. - Don't stop
on any account until you get there. In Raab you will inquire for the
house of Dr. Tromfszky, who is our army physician. He will have been
advised of your coming, and will take charge of the maid. Then you will
return to me here, and report what you have done. Here is a passport; if
you are stopped at our lines show it to the guard. And here is a purse;
don't spare the contents. And do not speak to a living soul about your
mission."

"Your orders shall be obeyed," responded Satan Laczi, as he turned to
leave the tent.

Vavel did not go back to the officers' tent. He went out into the night,
and stood with folded arms, gazing with unseeing eyes into the darkness.




PART VIII

KATHARINA OR THEMIRE?


CHAPTER I


It was a delightful May evening. Marie was practising diligently her
piano lesson, in order to surprise Ludwig with her progress when he
should return from the war. That he would return Marie was quite
certain.

Katharina had gone into the park for a solitary promenade. She had
complained all day of a headache - a headache that began to trouble her
after she had read the letter she had received that morning from the
Marquis de Fervlans. She held the letter in her hand now, and read it
again for the hundredth time.

Yes, she had accomplished her mission successfully; the fugitive maid
and the important documents were in her possession; and yet her
trembling hand refused to grasp the promised reward. A fortune awaited
her for the comedy she had played with such success - a comedy in which
she had acted the part of the charitable lady of the manor.

And what if there had been something of reality in the farce? Suppose
her heart had learned to thrill with emotions hitherto unknown to it?
Suppose it had learned to know the true meaning of gratitude - of love?

But five millions of francs!

If she were alone in the world! But there was Amélie, her dear little
daughter, who was now almost fifteen years old - almost a young lady.
Should she leave Amélie in her present disagreeable position, a member
of "Cythera's Brigade," or should she send for her, and confess to the
man whose respect she desired to retain that the child was her daughter,
and that she was a widow? Could she tell him what she had once been?
Would he continue to respect, to love her?

Five millions of francs!

It was an enormous sum, and would become hers if she should order the
carriage, and, taking Marie and the casket with her, drive leisurely
along the highway until stopped by a troop of soldiers that would
suddenly surround the carriage. A politely smiling face would then
appear at the window of the carriage, and a courteous voice would say:

"Don't be alarmed, ladies. You are with friends. We are Frenchmen."

But to renounce the love and respect so hardly won! Ah, how very dearly
she loved the man to whom she had betrothed herself in jest! In jest?
No, no; it was not a jest!

But five millions of francs!

Would all the millions in the world buy one faithful heart?

Katharina was suffering for her transgressions. She had intended to play
with the heart of another, and had lost her own. Besides, she could not
bear to think of betraying the innocent girl who loved and trusted her
and called her "mother."

But time pressed. Three times already Jocrisse had interrupted her
meditations to inquire if her answer to the marquis's letter was ready.
And still she struggled with herself. When Jocrisse appeared again, she
said to him:

"My letter is of such importance that I cannot think of intrusting it
to the hands of a stranger. You yourself, Jocrisse, must take it to the
marquis."

"I am ready to depart at once, madame."

Katharina wrote her reply, sealed it carefully, and gave it to Jocrisse,
who set out at once on his errand.

In the letter he carried were but three words:

"_Io non posso_" ("I cannot").

Katharina locked herself in the pavilion in the park, and gave orders to
the servants not to admit any visitors, whether acquaintances or
strangers.

An hour or more had passed when she heard a timid knock at the door, and
an apologetic voice said:

"A strange gentleman is here. I told him your ladyship would see no one;
then he bade me give your ladyship this, which he said he had brought
from Paris."

Katharina opened the door wide enough to receive the object. It was a
small ivory locket, yellow with age. Katharina's hand shook violently as
she pressed the spring to open it. She cast a hasty glance at the
miniature, - the likeness of her daughter Amélie, - then said in a
faltering voice: "You may tell the gentleman I will see him."

In a few minutes the visitor entered the pavilion.

"M. Cambray!" exclaimed the baroness.

"Yes, madame; I am Cambray, with my other name, Marquis Richard
d'Avoncourt. I am he to whom you once said: 'I shall be grateful to you
so long as I live.'"

"How - how came you here?" gasped the baroness.

"I managed to escape from my prison at Ham, went to Paris, where I saw
your daughter - "

"You saw my daughter?" interrupted the baroness, excitedly. "Did you
speak to her? Oh, tell me - tell me what you know about her."

"You shall hear all directly, madame. I told the countess that I
intended to search for her mother, and asked if she had any message to
send to her."

"Did she send a letter with you?" again interrupted the baroness.

"She did, madame. But before I give it to you I should like to have a
shovel of hot coals and a bit of camphor."

"But why - why?" demanded the baroness.

"I will tell you. Do you know what Napoleon brought home with him from
the bloody battle of Eilau?"

"I have not heard."

"The 'influenza.' I dare say you have never even heard the name; but you
will very soon hear it often enough! It is a pestilential disease that
is rather harmless where it originated, but when it takes hold of a
strange region it becomes a deadly pestilence - as in Paris, where a
special hospital has been established for patients with the disease. It
was in this hospital I found your daughter as a nurse."

"_Jesu Maria!_" shrieked the mother, in a tone of agony. "A nurse in
that pest-house?"

"Yes," nodded the marquis. Then he took from his pocket a letter, and
added: "She wrote this to you from there."

The baroness eagerly extended her hand to take the letter.

"Would it not be better to fumigate it first?" said the marquis.

"No, no; I am not afraid! Give it to me, I beg of you!"

She caught the letter from his hand, tore it open, and read:

"DEAR LITTLE MAMA: What sort of a life are you leading out yonder
in that strange land? Do you never get weary or feel bored? Have
you anything to amuse you? _I_ have become satiated with my
life - lying, cheating, deceiving every day in order to live! While
I was a little girl I was proud of the praises heaped upon me for
my cleverness. But a day came when everything disgusted me. It is
an infamous trade, this of ours, little mama, and I have given it
up. I have begun to lead a different life - one with which I am
satisfied; and if you will take the advice of one who wishes you
well, you, too, will quit the old ways. You can embroider
beautifully and play the piano like a master. You could earn a
livelihood giving lessons in either. Do not trouble any further
about me, for I can take care of myself. If only you knew how much
happier I am now, you would rejoice, I know! Let me beg you to
become honest and truthful, and think often of your old friend and
little daughter,

"AMÉLIE (now SOEUÉR AGNES)."

Katharina's nerveless hands dropped to her lap. This sharp rebuke from
her only child was deserved.

Then she sprang suddenly toward her visitor, grasped his arm, and cried:

"Tell me - tell me about my daughter, my little Amélie! How does she look
now? Is she much changed? Has she grown? Oh, M. Cambray! in pity tell
me - tell me about her!"

"I have brought you a portrait of her as she looked when I saw her
last."

He drew from his pocket a small case, and, opening it, disclosed a
pallid face with closed eyes. A wreath of myrtle encircled the head,
which rested on the pillow of a coffin.

"She is dead!" screamed the horror-stricken mother, staring with wild
eyes at the sorrowful picture.

"Yes, madame, she is dead," assented the marquis. "This portrait is sent
by your daughter as a remembrance to the mother who exposed her on the
streets, one stormy winter night, in order that she might spy upon
another little child - a persecuted and homeless little child."

The baroness cowered beneath the merciless words as beneath a stinging
lash: but the man knew no pity; he would not spare the heartbroken
woman.

"And now, madame," he continued in a sharp tone, "you can go back to
your home and take possession of your reward. You have worked hard to
earn the blood-money."

Here the baroness sat suddenly upright, tore from her bosom a small gold
note-case, in which was the order for the five millions of francs. She
opened the case, took out the order, and tore it into tiny bits. Then
she flung them from her, crying savagely:

"Curse him who brought me to this! God's curse be upon him who brought
this on me!"

"Madame," calmly interposed the marquis, "you have not yet completed the
task you were set to do."

"No, no; I have not - I have not," was the excited response, "and I never
will. Come - come with me! The maid and what belongs to her are
here - safe, unharmed. Take her - fly with her and hers whithersoever you
choose to go; I shall not hinder you."

"That I cannot do, madame. I am a stranger in a strange land. I know not
who is my friend or who is my foe. _You_ must save the maid. If
atonement is possible for you, that is the way you may win it. You know
best where the maid will be safe from her persecutors. Save her, and
atone for your transgression against her. Ludwig Vavel gave you his love
and, more than that, his respect. Would you retain both, or will you
tear them to tatters, as you have the order for the five million francs?
Will you let me advise you?" he asked, suddenly.

"Advise me, and I will follow it to the letter!"

"Then disguise yourself as a peasant, hide the steel casket in a hamper,
and take it to Ludwig Vavel, wherever he may be."

"And Marie?"

"You cannot with safety take her with you. The maid and the casket must
not remain together. You must conceal Marie somewhere until you return
from the camp."

"Will you not stay here and keep watch over her until I return?"

"I thank you, madame, for your hospitality, but I must not accept it. I
come direct from the influenza hospital. I feel that the disease has
laid hold of me. I have comfortable quarters at the Nameless Castle,
where my old friend Lisette will take care of me. Don't let Marie come
to see me; and if I should not recover from this illness, which I feel
will be a severe one, let me be buried down yonder on the shore of the
lake."

When the Marquis d'Avoncourt left the pavilion he was shaking with a
violent chill, and as he took his way with tottering steps toward the
Nameless Castle, Katharina, broken-hearted and filled with anguish, wept
out her heart in bitter tears.




CHAPTER II


Marie had finished practising her lesson, and hastened to join Katharina
in the park. She found her in the pavilion, and was filled with alarm
when she saw her "little mama" kneeling among the fragments of her
fortune. Katharina's tear-stained eyes, swollen face, and drawn lips
betrayed how terribly she was suffering.

"My dearest little mama!" exclaimed Marie, hastening toward the kneeling
woman, and trying to lift her from the floor, "what is the matter? What
has happened?"

"Don't touch me," moaned the baroness. "Don't come near me. I am a
murderess. I murdered her who called me mother."

She held the ivory locket toward Marie, and added: "See, this is what
she was like when I deserted her - my little daughter Amélie!"

"Your daughter?" repeated Marie, wonderingly. "You have been married?
Are you a widow?"

"I am."

Katharina now held toward the young girl the portrait M. Cambray had
given her. "And this," she explained in a hollow tone, "is what she is
like now - now, when I wanted her to come to me."

"Good heaven!" ejaculated Marie, gazing in terror at the miniature, "she
is dead?"

"Yes - murdered - as you, too, will be if you stay with me! You must
fly - fly at once!"

"Katharina!" interposed the young girl, "why do you speak so?"

"I say that you must leave me. Go - go at once! Go down to the parsonage,
and ask Herr Mercatoris to give you shelter. Tell him to clothe you in
rags; and when you hear the tramp of horses, hide yourself, and don't
venture from your concealment until they are gone. I, too, am going away
from here."

"But why may not I come with you?" asked Marie, in a troubled tone.

"Where I go you cannot accompany me. I am going to steal through the
lines of Ludwig's camp."

"You are going to Ludwig?" interrupted the young girl.

"Yes, to deliver into his hands the casket containing your belongings.
After that I - I don't know what will become of me."

"Katharina! Don't frighten me so! Do you imagine that Ludwig will cease
to love you when he learns you are a widow, and that you had a
daughter?"

"Oh, no; he will not hate me because I had a daughter," returned
Katharina, shaking her head sadly, "but because my wickedness destroyed
her."

"Don't talk so, Katharina," again expostulated Marie.

"Why, don't you see that she is dead? Look at these closed eyes, the
white face! Ask these closed lips to open and tell you that I did not
murder her!"

"Katharina, this is not true! Your enemies have told you this to grieve
you. Look at these two pictures! There is not the least resemblance
between them. This pale one is not your daughter. He who told you so
lied cruelly."

Katharina sighed mournfully.

"He who told me so does not lie. It was your old friend Cambray."

"Cambray?" echoed Marie, with mingled delight and astonishment. "Cambray
is here? My deliverer, my second father! Where is he?"

"He is gone. He accomplished that for which he came, - to crush me to the
earth, and to serve you, - and has gone away again."

"Gone away?" repeated Marie, incredulously. "Gone away? Impossible!
Cambray would not go away without seeing me! Which way did he go? I will
run after him and overtake him."

"No; stay where you are!" commanded Katharina, seizing her arm. "You
must not follow him."

"Why not?"

"Listen, and I will tell you. Cambray brought these pictures and this
letter from Paris. The letter was written by my daughter in the
hospital, where she caught the dreadful disease which caused her death.
She had been nursing the sick, like a heroine, and died like a saint. It
is well with her now, for she is in heaven. If I weep, it is not for
her, but for myself. The deadly disease Amélie died of has seized upon
your friend Cambray; and the noble old man is unselfish even in dying.
He does not want you to come near him, lest you, too, become affected by
the pestilence. He is gone to the Nameless Castle, where Lisette will
take care of him - "

"Lisette?" interrupted Marie, excitedly. "Lisette, who was afraid to go
near her own husband when he lay dying!"

"Well, what would you? Shall I send some one to nurse him?"

"No - no. _I_ am the one to take care of him! He was a father to me. For
my sake he was imprisoned, persecuted, buried alive all these years! And
I am to let him die over yonder - alone, without a friend near him! No; I
am going to him. That which your other daughter had the courage to do,
this one also will do!"

"Marie! Think of Ludwig! Do you wish to drive him to despair?"

"God watches over us. He will do what is well for all of us!"

"Marie" - Katharina made a last effort to detain the young girl - "Marie,
do you wish to go to Cambray to learn from him that I am the curse-laden
creature who was sent after you to capture you and deliver you into the
hands of your enemies?"

Marie turned at these desperate words, held out her hand, and said
gently:

"And if he were to tell me that, Katharina, I should say to him that,
instead of destroying me you liberated me, and instead of hating me you
love me as I love you."

She made as if she would kiss Katharina; but the excited woman turned
away her face, and held toward Marie the letter Cambray had given her.

"Read this, and learn to know me as I am," she said in a choking voice.

While Marie was reading the letter, Katharina covered her burning face
with both hands; but they were gently drawn away and held in the young
girl's warm clasp, while she spoke:

"A reply must be sent to this letter, little mother. I shall say to her,
through the soul now on the eve of departure to the better land where
she dwells: 'Little sister, your mother will wear the pure white
garment, as you desired, in mourning for you. Instead of you, she will
have me, and will love me, as I shall love her, in your stead. Bless us
both, and be happy.' Shall I not send this message to your Amélie with
my good friend Cambray?"

"Go, then; go - go," convulsively sobbed Katharina, and fell upon her
face on the floor as Marie hastened from the pavilion.




CHAPTER III


When her grief had exhausted itself, Katharina stole back to the manor,
where she removed the steel casket from its hiding-place, wrapped it in
her shawl, and, passing noiselessly and unseen down a staircase that was
rarely used, crossed the park to the farmer's cottage.

Here she told the farmer's wife that she was going to play a trick on
her betrothed, that she wanted to borrow a gown and a kerchief. She bade
the farmer saddle the mule which his wife rode when she went to the
village, and to hang the hampers, as usual, from the pommel. In one of
these she placed the steel casket, in the other a pistol, and filled
them both with all sorts of provisions. Thus disguised, she mounted the
quadruped, and set out alone on her way toward the camp.

Almost at the same moment that Ludwig Vavel had learned of the deceit of
the woman he loved, he became convinced that his ambitious designs had
come to naught. The rising of the German patriots against Napoleon had
ended in their defeat, and not a trace was left of the uprising among
the French people themselves.

It was the third day after the battle of Aspern when Master Matyas
entered Count Vavel's tent.

The jack of all trades had proved himself a useful member of the
army - not, indeed, where there was any fighting, for he much preferred
looking on, when a battle was in progress, to taking an active part in
the fray. But as a spy he was invaluable.

"I have seen everything," he announced. "I saw the balloon in which a
French engineer made an ascent to the clouds, to reconnoiter the
Austrian camp. He went up as high as a kite, and they held on to the
rope below, down which he sent his messages - observations of the
Austrians' movements. I saw the bridge, which is two hundred and forty
fathoms long, which can be transported from place to place, and reaches
from one bank of the Danube to the other. And I saw that demi-god flying
on his white horse. He was pale, and trembled."

"And how came you to see all these sights, Master Matyas?" interrupted
Vavel.

"I allowed the Frenchmen to capture me; then I was set to work in the
intrenchments with the other prisoners."

"And did you manage to deliver my letter?"

"Oh, yes. The Philadelphians are easily recognized from the silver arrow
they wear in their ears. When I whispered the password to one of them,
he gave it back to me, whereupon I handed him your letter. I came away
as soon as he brought me the answer. Here it is."

This letter by no means lightened Vavel's gloomy mood. Colonel Oudet,
the secret chief of the Philadelphians in the French army, heartily


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21

Online LibraryMór JókaiThe Nameless Castle → online text (page 17 of 21)