Mór Jókai.

The Nameless Castle online

. (page 20 of 21)
Online LibraryMór JókaiThe Nameless Castle → online text (page 20 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


them. This was their daily pleasure and consolation.

Then came the bloody days of Karako, Papa, Raab, and Acs. The militia
troops took active part in all these battles, and proved themselves
valiant warriors.

Vavel with his Volons had been assigned to Mesko's brigade, and had
shared its adventurous march from Abda, around Lake Balaton to Veszprim.
Here he found his spy and scout, Master Matyas, awaiting him.

For weeks he had not had a word from his loved ones. When he had sent
them to Raab he believed he had selected a secure haven for them, but
the course which events had taken proved that he had made a mistake in
his calculations. Katharina and Marie were now surrounded on all sides
by the enemy.

It was while he was oppressed with these gloomy thoughts that his spy
and scout suddenly appeared before him. Noah in his ark had not looked
more longingly for the dove than had he for his brave Matyas.

"Well, Master Matyas, what news?"

"All sorts, Herr Count."

"Good or bad?"

"Well, mixed. Both good and bad. I will leave the good till the last. To
begin: Poor Satan Laczi was buried yesterday - may God have mercy on his
sinful soul! They fired three salvos over his grave, and the primate
himself said the prayers for his soul. If Satan Laczi himself could have
seen it all, he could hardly have believed that so much honor would be
shown to his dead body. Poor Laczi! His last words were a greeting to
his kind patron."

"His life closed well!" observed the count. "He got what he longed
for - a soldier's death. But tell me what you know about Raab."

"I know all about it. I come from there."

"Ah, did you see them? Has not the enemy besieged the city?"

"Yes; the city as well as the fortress is in the hands of the enemy, and
the baroness and the princess are both in it."

"Who told you to call her a princess?" demanded Count Vavel, his face
darkening.

"I will come to that all in good time," composedly replied Matyas, who
was not to be hurried. "Colonel Pechy," he went on, "bravely defended
the fortress for ten days against the Frenchmen; but he had to yield at
last - "

"Where are Katharina and Marie?" impatiently interrupted Vavel. "What
became of them when the city capitulated?"

"All in good time, Herr Count, all in good time! I can tell you all
about them, for I am just come from them."

"Were they in any danger?"

"Danger? No, indeed! When the city surrendered they were concealed in a
house where they passed as the nieces of the Herr Vice-palatine
Görömbölyi."

"Is the vice-palatine with them now?"

"Certainly. He has surrendered, too."

"Excellent man! Who commands the Frenchmen at Raab?"

"General Guillaume - "

"General Guillaume?" excitedly interrupted Vavel.

"Yes, certainly; Guillaume - that is his name. And he is a very polite
gentleman. He does not ill-treat the citizens; on the contrary, the very
next day after he entered the city he gave a ball in the large hotel,
and invited all the distinguished citizens with their wives and
daughters. The Herr Count's dear ones also received an invitation."

"As the nieces of the vice-palatine, of course?"

"Not exactly! I saw the invitation-card, and it was to 'Madame la
Comtesse de Alba, avec la Princesse Marie.'"

"Princess Marie?" echoed Vavel.

"As I tell you; and that is how I come to know she is a princess."

Vavel's brain seemed paralyzed. He could not even think.

"The vice-palatine," nonchalantly continued Matyas, "protested that a
mistake had been made; but the French general replied that he knew very
well who the ladies were, and that he had received instructions how to
treat them. From that day, two French grenadiers began to guard the
baroness's door, day and night, just exactly as if they were standing
guard over a potentate."

Vavel paced the floor, mute with rage and fear.

"Why did I desert them!" he exclaimed at last, in desperation. "Why did
I not do as Marie wished - flee with her and Katharina into the wide
world - we three alone!"

"Well, you see you did n't, and this is the way matters stand now,"
responded Master Matyas. "The general's adjutant visits the house twice
every day to inquire after the ladies; then he reports to his superior."

"If only Cambray had not died!" ejaculated the count.

"Yes, but I helped to bury him, too," added Matyas, shaking his head.

"Yes, so I was told. How did you manage to get the body from behind the
metal screen?"

"Oh, that was easy enough. You know the spring is connected with the
bell in your study; when the screen unrolled, the bell rang. It was only
necessary to reverse the operation: by pulling the bell-wire in the
Herr Count's study the screen was rolled up."

"A very simple arrangement, indeed," observed Count Vavel, smiling in
spite of his gloom. "Ah, Master Matyas, if only you were clever enough
to open for me the locks which now imprison my dear ones! That would be
a masterpiece, indeed!"

"I can do that easily enough," was the confident rejoinder.

"You can? How?"

"Did n't I say I would leave the good news until the last?"

"Yes, yes. Tell me what you have in view."

"I must whisper the secret in your ear; I have often overheard important
secrets listening at the keyhole or while hiding under a bed, and what I
have done another may be doing."

Vavel bent his head so that Master Matyas might whisper the important
information in his ear.

The words were few, but they served to restore Vavel to a cheerful mood.

He laughed heartily, slapped Master Matyas on the shoulder, and
exclaimed:

"You are truly a wonderful fellow!" Then he took a roll of bank-notes
from his pocket, and pressed it into Matyas's hand. "Here - take these,
and buy what is necessary. We will make the attempt at once."

Master Matyas thrust the money into his own pocket, and darted from the
room as if he had stolen it. Ludwig hastened to his general, to beg for
leave of absence.




CHAPTER II


"Everything is ready," said Master Matyas to Vavel, pointing toward
three covered luggage-wagons, which the Volons had captured from the
Frenchmen at Klein-Zell.

The "Death-head troop," as Vavel's Volons were designated, marched in
the rear of the brigade; consequently they could drop out from it any
time without attracting special notice.

To-day the brigade marched toward Palota, and the Volons turned into the
road which led to Zircz. They seemed, however, to have been swallowed up
by the Bakonye forest, for nothing was seen again of them after they
entered it. The inhabitants of Ratota still repeat tales of the handsome
troopers - every man of them a true Magyar! - who rode through their
village to the sound of the trumpet, nodding to the pretty girls, and
paying gold coin for their refreshment at the inn. But the dwellers in
Zircz complained that, instead of Magyar troopers, a squad of hostile
cavalry passed through their village - Frenchmen in blue mantles, with
cocks' feathers in their helmets, with a commandant who had given all
sorts of orders that no one could understand. Luckily, the prior of the
Premonstrants could speak French, and he acted as interpreter for the
French commandant. And everybody felt relieved when he marched farther
with his troop.

These were the transformed Volons. They had exchanged their crimson
shakos in the dense forest for the French helmets, and wrapped
themselves in the blue mantles taken from the luggage-wagons. No one
would have doubted that they were French _chasseurs_ - even the trumpeter
sounded the calls according to the regulations in the armies of France.

Master Matyas hurried on in advance of the troop to learn if the way was
clear. It would have been equally unpleasant to have met either
Hungarian or French soldiery. They encountered neither, however; and at
daybreak on the second day arrived at the village of Börcs, on the
Rabcza, where is an interesting monument of times long past - a redoubt
of considerable extent, in the center of which stands the village
church.

Vavel's troop camped within this redoubt, where they could escape
attracting attention. The country about them, for a long distance, was
occupied by French troops.

The highway which led to Raab might be seen from the steeple of the
church, and here Vavel took up his station with a field-glass.

He had not been long in his tower of observation when he saw a heavy
cloud of dust moving along the highway, and very soon was able to
distinguish a body of horsemen. It was a company of cuirassiers, whose
polished breastplates glittered in the sunlight like stars. The company
was divided into two squads: one rode in front of a four-horse
traveling-coach, the other in the rear of it.

There were two ladies in the coach. The elder of the two shielded her
face from the dust with a heavy veil; the younger lady wore no veil over
her pale face, but held in front of it a fan, from behind which she took
an occasional look at the variegated plain, where the ripening grain,
blended with the green of the meadows, formed a rich, carpet on either
side of the road.

The young officer riding beside the coach sought to entertain the elder
lady with observations on the country through which they were passing,
and from time to time exchanged tender glances with the younger. These
ladies were the wife and daughter of General Guillaume. They were on
their way to Raab, where they expected an addition to their party in the
person of _la Princesse Marie_, whom they were going to accompany to
Paris. The troop of cuirassiers was their escort.

"There come some _chasseurs_ on a foraging expedition," observed the
young officer, pointing toward a body of horsemen that was approaching
across the green plain.

And, judging from the appearance of the riders, he was right; for the
Volons, in order to deceive the Frenchmen, were bringing with them a
couple of loaded hay-wagons, which they were dragging through the middle
of the highway.

While yet a considerable distance away from the approaching _chasseurs_,
the postilions began to blow their horns for a clear way.

The hay-wagons were turned, in obedience to the signal, but, in turning,
the second one ran into the one in advance with such force that the pole
was broken clean off.

In front of the barricade thus formed Vavel halted his men, and
commanded them to throw off their French cloaks and helmets. In a second
the order was obeyed; the crimson shakos with their grim death-heads
were donned, and the troop dashed forward upon the escort accompanying
the coach.

The astonished cuirassiers, who were wholly unprepared for the assault,
were soon overpowered by the Volons, who also outnumbered them.

The youthful leader had at once placed himself in front of the coach,
ready for combat with the leader of the attacking foe, and Vavel was
obliged to exercise all his skill to disarm without injuring him.

At the moment when the young French champion's sword flew from his hand,
the younger lady, forgetting all ceremony, cried in terror:

"_Oh mon Dieu, ne tuez pas Arthur!_"

Ludwig Vavel turned toward her, bowed courteously, and said in Talma's
most exquisite French:

"Do not be alarmed, ladies. You are perfectly safe. We are Hungarian
gentlemen!"

"But what do you want of us?" demanded the elder lady, haughtily
surveying the count. "What business have we with you? We do not belong
to the combatants."

"I will tell this brave young chevalier what I want," replied Vavel,
turning toward the youthful leader. "First, let me restore your sword,
monsieur. You handle it admirably, only you need to grasp it more
firmly. Then, let me beg of you to mount your horse - a beautiful animal!
And third, I beg you to ride as quickly as possible to Raab, and give
General Guillaume this message: 'I, Count Vavel de Versay, have this day
taken captive the wife and daughter of General Guillaume. The general
holds as prisoners my betrothed wife, Countess Themire Dealba, and my
adopted daughter, Sophie Botta, or, if he prefers, _la Princess Marie_.
I demand my loved ones in exchange for Madame and Mademoiselle
Guillaume.' I have no further demands, monsieur, and the sooner you
return the better. I shall await you in yonder redoubt, where you see
the church-steeple. Adieu."

The younger lady, with hands clasped pleadingly, mutely besought the
youthful officer to assent. As if he would not do everything in his
power to urge the general to consent to the exchange! The young
Frenchman galloped down the road toward Raab. Count Vavel took his place
beside the coach, and ordered the postilions to drive to Börcs. At
first, the general's wife heaped reproaches on her captor.

"This is a violation of national courtesies," she exclaimed irately. "It
is brigandage, to waylay and take as prisoners two distinguished women."

"Madame's husband has also detained as prisoners two distinguished
women," in a respectful tone responded Vavel.

"But my daughter is so nervous."

"There is not a more timid creature in the world than my poor little
Marie."

"At all events, monsieur, you are a Frenchman, and know what is due to
ladies of our station."

"In that respect, madame, I shall follow General Guillaume's example."

They were now among the gardens of Börcs, where the cherry-trees,
heavily laden with fruit, rose above the tall hedges; and very soon they
turned into a beautiful street shaded by walnut-trees, which led to the
redoubt. The parsonage was the only house of importance in the village.
The pastor was standing at his door when Vavel ordered the coach to
stop. He assisted the ladies to alight, and begged the pastor to grant
them the hospitality of his roof. The request was not refused, and the
ladies were made as comfortable as possible.

"Do you care to see the sights of the village, madame?" asked Vavel of
the mother, after they had partaken of the lunch prepared by the
pastor's housekeeper. The young lady, who was exhausted by the journey,
had gone to her room. "There is a very old church here which is
interesting."

"Are there any fine pictures in it?" inquired madame.

"There is one, - a very touching scene, - 'The Samaritan.'"

"Ancient or modern?" queried the lady.

"The subject is old - it dates back to the first years of Christianity,
madame. The execution is modern."

"Is it the work of a celebrated artist?"

"No; it is the work of our clerical host."

The lady shook her head; she was uncertain whether Count Vavel was
making sport of her or of the pastor.

But she understood him when she entered the church. The house
consecrated to the service of God had become a hospital, and was crowded
with wounded French soldiers. The women of the village, as volunteer
nurses, were taking care of them, and performed the task as faithfully
as if the invalids were their own sons and brothers. The pastor himself
supplied the necessary medicines from his own cupboard; for no army
surgeon came here at a time when twenty thousand wounded Frenchmen lay
at Aspern, and twenty-two thousand at Wagram.

"Is it not an affecting tableau, madame?" said Count Vavel. "It would be
a suitable altar-piece for Notre Dame - and the name of its creator
deserves perpetuation!"




CHAPTER III


Monsieur le Capitaine Descourcelles rode an excellent horse, was a
capital rider, and was plainly very much in love. These three
circumstances combined brought back the gallant soldier from Raab by
five o'clock in the afternoon.

The captain of the cuirassiers was not a little surprised to find the
general's wife playing cards with the hostile leader.

"General Guillaume agrees to everything," he announced immediately, on
entering the room. "He will release the ladies he has been holding as
prisoners."

Vavel hastened to shake hands with the bearer of these glad tidings, who
was, however, more eager to kiss the hand of Vavel's partner, and to
inquire:

"I hope I find the ladies perfectly comfortable?"

"Very comfortable indeed," replied madame. "_Messieurs les Cannibales_
are very polite, and _leur Catzique_ plays an excellent hand at piquet."

"And where is mademoiselle? I trust she is not suffering from the
fatigue of the journey?"

"Oh, no; she is very well. She is making her toilet, and will soon join
us. I hope we shall leave here very soon."

Madame now rose, and left the two soldiers alone in the room.

"Here," observed the French captain, handing Vavel a paper, "is the
_sauf conduit_."

The pass contained the information that "Vavel de Versay, expatriated
French nobleman and magnate of Hungary, together with the Countess
Themire Dealba (alias Baroness Katharina Landsknechtsschild) and Sophie
Botta (pretended Princess Marie Charlotte Capet), with attendants, were
to be allowed to travel unmolested by any French troops they might
chance to meet."

Ludwig Vavel looked at this document a long time.

"Do you doubt the assurance of a French officer, monsieur?" asked the
captain.

"No; I was just unable to understand why a word had been used here. I
dare say it is a mistake. But no matter. I am greatly obliged to you."

"Pray don't speak of it," responded the Frenchman, cordially shaking the
hand Vavel extended toward him. "I must not forget to tell you that a
four weeks' armistice was agreed upon to-day."

The ladies now entered the room, prepared to continue their journey. The
face of the younger one wore a more cheerful expression than on her
arrival at the parsonage. Madame thanked Vavel for his courtesy, then,
with her daughter, entered the carriage and drove away.

Madame Guillaume was forgetful: she neglected to take leave of her host
the pastor, and of her wounded countrymen in the church.

Vavel communicated the news of the armistice to his adjutant, and
commanded him to return at once with the Volons to Fertöszeg, there to
quarter themselves in the Nameless Castle, and await further orders.
Then he mounted his horse, and, accompanied by Master Matyas, galloped
out of the village.

Twilight had deepened into night when the two men arrived at Raab. The
clocks were striking eight, and the French trumpets were sounding the
retreat at every gate. Vavel, therefore, would not be allowed to enter
the city until the next morning; but Master Matyas, who did not stop to
inquire which was the proper way when he wanted to go anywhere, knew of
a little garden that belonged to a certain tanner, and very soon found
an entrance along a rather circuitous route among the tan-vats.

Vavel had already seen battered walls, and dwellings ruined by bombs and
flames, yet the thought that he should find his loved ones amid these
smoke-blackened ruins oppressed his heart.

The two men attracted no attention. In the last days there had been many
strangers in the city, deputations from the militia camps, to assist in
establishing the line of demarcation. Master Matyas, without difficulty,
led the way among the ruins to the neat little abode where the worthy
vice-palatine had established his protégés. When they came within sight
of the house Matyas observed:

"The two Frenchmen with their bearskin caps are not on guard to-day. The
vice-palatine's servant seems to be doing sentry-duty."

Vavel applied his spurs and cantered briskly toward the house, but
moderated his speed when he came nearer. He remembered how easily Marie
was frightened by the clatter of horse-hoofs.

At the corner of the street he alighted, and cautioning Matyas to
exercise slowly the fatigued horses, proceeded on foot to the house.

The servant on guard at the door saluted in military fashion with drawn
sword. Ludwig hurried into the house. In the hall he encountered the
little Laczko, who, at sight of the visitor, dropped the boot and brush
he held in his hands, and disappeared through a door at the end of the
hall. Vavel followed him, and found himself in the kitchen, where the
widow of Satan Laczi also dropped to the floor the cooking-utensil she
had in her hand.

The count did not stop to question her, but went on into the adjoining
room, whence proceeded the sound of voices, and here he found three
acquaintances - the vice-palatine, Dr. Tromfszky, and the surveyor, Herr
Doboka. The three started in alarm when they beheld Vavel. The doctor
even made as if he would rush from the room - as when in the Nameless
Castle the furious invalid had seized his groom by the throat.

The expressions on the three startled countenances brought a sudden fear
to Ludwig's heart.

"Is any one ill here?" he asked.

The vice-palatine and the doctor looked at each other, but did not
speak; the surveyor began to stammer:

"I say - I say that - "

"Is Marie ill?" interrupted Vavel, excitedly.

Herr Bernat silently nodded assent, and pointed toward the door leading
into the next room.

Vavel did not stop to inquire further, but strode into the adjoining
chamber.

What a familiar little room it was, another fairy-like retreat like that
of the Nameless Castle! Here were Marie's toys, her furniture; the four
cats were purring in the window-seat, and the two pugs lay dozing on the
sofa.

A canopy-bed stood in the alcove, and among the pillows lay Marie.
Katharina was sitting by the bedside.

"Oh, God!" cried Vavel, in a tone so full of anguish that every one who
heard it, man, woman, and child, burst into tears. The invalid among the
pillows alone laughed - laughed aloud for joy.

And had she not cause to rejoice? Ludwig - _her_ Ludwig - did not hasten
first to embrace and kiss his betrothed wife. No, _she_, his little
Marie, was the first!

He flung himself on his knees by the bed and covered the pale face with
kisses and tears.

"Oh, my dearest! My adored saint! My idol!" he sobbed, while Marie's
face glowed with the purest earthly happiness.

She pressed Ludwig's head to her breast and whispered soothingly:

"Don't grieve, Ludwig; I am not going to die. I have not got that horrid
influenza poor papa Cambray brought with him from Paris. I took a little
cold the night we ran away from the bombs; but I shall soon be well
again, now that you are come. I want to live, Ludwig, and you, who
rescued me from death once before, will know how to do it again."

Katharina laid her hand tenderly on the maid's head, and said gently:

"Don't talk any more now, dearest; you know you must not excite
yourself."

Marie grasped the white hand and drew it down to Ludwig's lips.

"Kiss it, Liadwig; kiss this dear, good hand. Oh, she has been a good
little mother to me! She has wept so much because of me. If only you
knew what she had planned to do when they were going to tear me away
from her! But that danger is past, and now that you are come everything
will be well. We have been reading about you, Ludwig. What a hero you
are - our knight, St. George! I have n't been really ill, you know,
Ludwig; it was only anxiety about you. I shall soon be well again.
Please tell the doctor I don't need any more medicine. I want to get
up - I feel strong already. I want to put on my gown; then I will take
your arm and Katharina's, and we three will promenade to the window. I
want to see the evening star. Please send Frau Satan to me; she can lift
me more easily than Katharina, for I am very heavy. Ludwig, take
Katharina into the next room while I am dressing. I know you have much
to say to each other."

Frau Satan now entered in answer to the summons. The doctor had ordered
that the invalid's wishes must be obeyed.

Ludwig and Katharina went into the next room. They looked long into each
other's eyes, and in the gaze lay many of the thoughts which, if they
cannot be told to the one person on earth, are never heard by any one
else. Suddenly Katharina, without word of warning, dropped on her knees
at her lover's feet, seized his hand, and laid her face against it.

"You are my guardian angel," she whispered (the invalid in the next room
must not be disturbed by the sound of voices); "you have rescued that
saint from her enemies and saved me from perdition. Oh, Ludwig, if only
you knew what I have suffered! Marie's every sigh, the feverish words
uttered in her delirium, have been so many accusations oppressing my
heart. These have been terrible days! To be compelled hourly to dread
either of two horrible blows, and to have to pray to God that, if both
could not be averted, to let the milder one fall! Death would have been
welcome, indeed, compared to the other one. To listen tremblingly, hour
after hour, for the knock at the door which would announce the messenger
sent to bear Marie to Paris, or death with his scythe to bear her to the
grave! And then to have to look on her sufferings, and hear her pray for


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20

Online LibraryMór JókaiThe Nameless Castle → online text (page 20 of 21)