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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesManasseh: A Romance Of Transylvania - Chapter 19. A Midnight Council
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Manasseh: A Romance Of Transylvania - Chapter 19. A Midnight Council Post by :imthu Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :686

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Manasseh: A Romance Of Transylvania - Chapter 19. A Midnight Council


While blood was being shed on the banks of the Theiss, on the slopes of the Carpathians, and in the mountains of Transylvania, life at the Austrian capital went on much as usual. A grand ball given by the Marchioness Caldariva made its due claim on the attention of the fashionable world. After the last note of the orchestra had died away and the last guest had departed, Prince Cagliari led the fair hostess to her boudoir.

"How did it please you?" asked the prince, referring to the evening's entertainment.

"Not at all," replied the other, throwing her bracelets and fan down on the table. "Didn't you notice that not one member of the court circle was present? They all sent regrets."

"But the court is in mourning now, you know," was Cagliari's soothing reminder.

"And I am in mourning, too," returned Rozina, in a passion. "How long must I submit to this humiliation?" she demanded, compressing her lips and darting a wrathful look at her devoted slave.

"I swear to you," replied the latter, vehemently, "as soon as I get word of my divorced wife's death, our engagement shall be announced."

"And how long is that woman to live?" demanded the angry beauty, in a tone that startled the listener.

"As long as God wills," was all he could say in reply.

The fair Cyrene drew nearer and laid her cheek caressingly against his shoulder. "Do you know where your wife is now?" she asked softly, and when the other shook his head, she went on: "You see, I don't lose sight of her so easily. As for you, you could only shut her up in Rome and leave her there; but I knew how to go to work to rid ourselves of this obstruction. The dogs of Jezebel were howling under her very windows, when there came a man blundering on to the scene and spoiled everything,--a man who is a man, who is more than a prince, a man from top to toe, in short, who carried off the woman from Rome. I hoped they would take flight to some foreign land, whence we might have obtained an official announcement of her death. Of course it might not have been true, but the fugitives would have changed their names, in all probability, and an official certificate would have answered our purpose. Did you receive Blanka's letter,--the one she wrote you from Trieste in November?"

"No," replied the prince, much astonished at what he had just heard; "and I recently sent to her, by Vajdar, her allowance of fifteen thousand scudi for the current quarter."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the marchioness, "a most affectionate and devoted foster-son you have there! Your letters pass through his hands and are, according to your directions, opened by him. As to this last letter of Blanka's, however, he must have forgotten to deliver it, and he counts himself blameless if a remittance of fifteen thousand scudi, directed to a person whose address cannot be found, goes astray. Really he has a genius for roguery. But you needn't get angry with him. The money has not gone out of the family: he spent it on diamonds for me. I learned all about that letter, too, a month ago."

"And may I inquire what the princess wrote me?"

"She begs leave to discontinue the enjoyment of your bounty, and announces her intention of marrying again; and to that end she declares her purpose of embracing the religion of her betrothed."

"The most pleasing result of which will be the saving to me of sixty thousand scudi a year, which I will henceforth bestow on you." The speaker laid a caressing hand on the woman's shoulder.

"Don't touch me, sir!" cried the marchioness, drawing back. "If one woman has had the spirit to say to you, 'There is your coronet and your gold; pick them up. I need them no longer, for I am going to marry a _man_, who shall be my lord and king,'--why, you may find that another woman can do the same."

"But what would you have me do?" asked the other, helplessly; "follow Blanka Zboroy's example and turn Protestant with you, so that we might marry each other?"

"Really, I have a good mind to say yes. What you propose in jest, sinful as it is, may be more to your liking than what I have to suggest."

"You have a plan, Rozina?"

"Yes. Before our loving couple can gain their end they must first reach Toroczko. There, high up in the mountains, lies the dove-cote where they hope to do their billing and cooing. But the surrounding woods are at present full of birds of prey, and--"

"Do you dare to think of such a thing?" interrupted the prince, with a start. The old _roue had a dread of ghosts by night; he was full of all sorts of superstitions; he disliked to have a beautiful woman allude to certain unpleasant themes in his presence.

"I am only letting my fancy play a little," replied the marchioness, "but perhaps what I have in mind may come to pass. If not, then will be the time for action."

She fetched from her bookcase a military map of Transylvania. It gave in minute detail the mountains, hills, valleys, rivers, towns, and villages of the country.

"Here in this valley," she resumed, pointing with her finger, "lies Toroczko, and these positions that I have marked are held by the Wallachian insurgents. Have you heard about their doings?"

"Yes, frightful accounts."

"Well, then, what if our runaway couple should stumble upon the scene of some of these horrid deeds? Possibly your wife is even now lying in the bed of one of these mountain streams."


"Horrible only if it were really so and we had no proof of it. But I have guarded against that. The war office receives detailed reports of all that is going on in Transylvania, and a transcript of those reports is furnished me."

She produced a roll of manuscript and read a line or two, laughing as she did so. She might have been reading Sanskrit, for all the prince could understand of it. Then she nestled softly at her listener's side and began to stroke his chin with one velvet finger.

"If you wish to make me very happy--to make us both very happy," she murmured, "bring me from the war office the key to this mysterious manuscript. Then we will sit down and decipher it together; and if it contains the name I am so anxious to hear, you shall see how a lioness can kiss her tamer's feet."

The prince listened in silence. What effect her words were producing in his bosom, she could only conjecture. She threw herself back on her sofa with a smile on her face.

"What do you say?" she asked. "It is not yet too late to find some one at the war office to do your bidding. Indeed, the hour is well suited for a confidential mission of that sort. And when you come back, if you find me asleep, just whisper in my ear, 'News from Transylvania!'--and I will wake up at once. So good-bye for the present. I shall expect you back again soon."

Prince Cagliari took leave of the enchantress and made his way to the carriage that awaited him below. Entering it, he gave a direction to his coachman, and the carriage rolled rapidly down the street.

Soon after the fair Cyrene--or Rozina, to call her by her real name--found herself alone, the tall clock in her boudoir struck ten, although the hour was nearer two. She rose at once, and taking a little key from her bosom, unlocked and opened the door of the old-fashioned timepiece. But instead of hanging weights and a swinging pendulum, the opening revealed another open door beyond, through which stepped a young man,--Benjamin Vajdar.

"So you've come at last?" the marchioness exclaimed.

"Yes, and I have the key to the cipher despatches, too!"

All smiles and caresses, the siren led her visitor to the table on which lay the mysterious correspondence. But before the two begin their clandestine work, let us say a few words concerning the relations between them.

Months before, at a court ball to which Prince Cagliari's influence had procured the Marchioness Caldariva a much-coveted invitation, Benjamin Vajdar, who then occupied a subordinate government position, was also present. Struck with the beauty of the marchioness, he sought an introduction, and, to make a long story short, was soon enrolled among her willing slaves. Not long after this first meeting he threw up his modest position and became Prince Cagliari's private secretary. A day had already been set for his marriage with Anna Adorjan, but he had the hardihood to write and beg to be released from the engagement. He did not, however, think it necessary to announce in his letter that he had changed his religion and turned Roman Catholic.

A desire to shine in society, meanwhile, and the difficulty of doing so on a small salary, had led him to employ dishonest and criminal means for replenishing his purse. He had raised money on his friend Manasseh's forged signature. After entering the prince's service and finding himself amply supplied with means, he went to his broker to redeem the false note, but, to his consternation, was informed by the money-lender that, in a moment of financial embarrassment, although the note was not yet due he had presented it to Manasseh, who had promptly discounted it. Benjamin Vajdar felt capable of murdering the broker. A noose now seemed placed around his neck, and the end of the rope was held by the man whose sister he had just wronged so shamefully.

The new secretary's appearance in the prince's household served to hasten the impending outbreak between the recently married couple. One afternoon Blanka left the house and fled to a friend of hers in Hungary, whence her petition for a divorce soon led her, her friend, and her lawyer, as we have already seen, to Rome. The decree which was in due time issued from the Vatican, that, so long as his divorced wife lived, the prince might not marry again, was a serious check upon certain pet schemes cherished by the Marchioness Caldariva.

* * * * *

To return to the latter's boudoir, where she and her willing tool were bending over the cipher despatches, after long and fruitless search they came upon a name familiar to them both,--Adorjan. It appeared that a certain Adorjan of Toroczko had gone out to parley with the insurgent forces then besieging the town, and they had seized him and held him prisoner. A second Adorjan had followed to ransom his brother, but he too was detained. Finally there came a third brother,--Manasseh.

"Ah, at last!" cried the marchioness, eagerly.

It appeared that this third Adorjan was on his way home from Italy, and was accompanied by his fiancee, whom he left in care of his brother Aaron while he himself sought the insurgents' camp. He too was seized and imprisoned, and preparations were made for the execution of the three brothers; but in the morning, by some means or other, he succeeded in persuading his captors to release all three of their prisoners and to give the whole party, including the young lady, Princess Blanka Zboroy, a safe-conduct to Toroczko, while the insurgents themselves dispersed to their homes.

"But go on!" urged Rozina; "what occurred after that in Toroczko?"

"Nothing further is said about Toroczko," answered the other.

"Have you no spies there?" demanded the marchioness.

"No, there are no informers in Toroczko. There was one, but you have made him your slave."

"And you can sit there so calm and cool!" cried the woman, in a passion. "Just think, there is a man in that town in whose hand your good name and your freedom lie. If he but takes a fancy, he can drag you in the mud. You can count on no happiness, no security, without his consent. Remember, too, there is a woman with him who has smitten you in the face and made you recoil, who is perhaps even now laughing at you, who is the object of my deadly hatred, and during whose lifetime the door is closed to me into the world I wish to enter. So long as that woman lives the sun does not shine for me: I can show my face only at night. And can you sit there while those two are happy in each other's embraces? Oh, coward! How long are you going to let them live?"

Benjamin Vajdar did not venture to open his mouth. The marchioness drew a key from her bosom and held it before him. "Do you see that?" she whispered, while for an instant a smile lighted up her face. "This key belongs to the man who first brings me word of that woman's death." So saying, she kissed the little key and held it to the other's lips to kiss also. "What do you say?"

"I am wont only to think and to act, not to promise," was his reply.

"Very well. _Au revoir!_"

The marchioness pulled her bell-cord three times for her maid,--a signal for her visitor to retire. He hastened to the secret door, accordingly, and disappeared. Calling a cab, he ordered the driver to take him to the Cafe de l'Europe. The head waiter told him, in answer to his inquiries, that Prince Cagliari was there also,--was, in fact, taking supper with two ladies in a private room. The secretary asked to be shown thither.

"I knew you would turn up here before the night was over," cried the prince, with a laugh, as the young man entered. "I had a cover laid for you."

The two young women were costumed as _fleurs animees_,--the one as a violet, the other as a tulip. The remains of a generous meal were on the table. The newcomer held out his glass to the tulip and begged her to pour him some champagne.

"One moment!" interrupted the prince. "First let me ask a question. How much have you left of my wife's quarterly allowance that I sent her by you?"

"That is exactly what I was going to speak to you about," returned the young man. "I have to ask you for the next quarter's allowance also."

"Indeed! And must you have it immediately?"

"If you please."

"But haven't you already learned, from her letter which she wrote me in November, that she is about to change her religion and marry again, and that consequently she declines all further assistance from me? Didn't this letter come into your hands?"

Benjamin Vajdar shrugged his shoulders and calmly proceeded to squeeze lemon-juice on his oysters. "I assumed without question," he rejoined, "that a man of Prince Cagliari's chivalrous nature would merely reply to this letter: 'It is a matter of indifference to me how the princess orders her life; but so long as she bears my name she must not be forced to go on foot and soil her shoes.'"

"Bravo!" cried the prince. "And you would have me give her a dower for her second marriage, would you, and a quarter's allowance into the bargain?"

"Let us not discuss that at present," returned the other, "it would only spoil our evening. Time enough for serious matters to-morrow."

"But I wish to discuss it now."

"Very well. The truth of the matter is, the beautiful Princess Blanka is at this moment lying dead in the mountains of Transylvania."

The prince recoiled. "Young man, I forbid you to indulge in such ill-chosen jests."

Benjamin rose and made a low bow. "Such a lack of respect as a jest of that sort to my master and benefactor is an utter impossibility."

"Well, then, sit down, and let us have no play-acting. Where do you say this thing occurred?"

"Somewhere on the highway between Nagy-Enyed and Felvincz. She is lying there in the snow, transfixed with an insurgent's lance." The speaker therewith proceeded to relate several episodes in the bloody drama then enacting in Transylvania.

"But why are you so sure that the princess is one of the victims?" asked the listener.

"The names are all recorded," was the answer. "The first thing, therefore, for Prince Cagliari to do is to order the recovery of his wife's body, that it may receive proper interment in his family vault. If you wish to convince yourself of the truth of my statements, I will give you the key to the cipher despatches. The despatches themselves you will find in a place that is always open to you. Go and read for yourself."

"No, no," cried the prince, "I will not look at the papers. What you have said is enough for me."

"Very well," rejoined the secretary, quietly. "Then I will go and make ready to start at once for Transylvania. I am determined to find and bring back to you the remains of the Princess Blanka. It is a grim task, and calls for a heart of iron."

"And a purse of gold," added the other. "Here is my pocketbook to begin with, and I will open an account for you with a Czernovicz banker."

What was most important of all, the smooth-tongued secretary had entirely omitted,--namely, that the subject of his ingenious story was at that moment alive and well, and waiting to see the sun rise over the Toroczko hills.

After the prince had somewhat recovered from the effect produced upon him by Benjamin Vajdar's announcement, he gave himself up to the rapturous thought that now at last he could carry word to Rozina of his wife's death. He sought her presence without delay.

The marchioness, cosily ensconced on her sofa, was either asleep, or feigned to be, when Cagliari entered and whispered in her ear:

"Rozina, my wife is dead!"

Her eyes opened and a quick flush of pleasure overspread her face. "How? When? Where?" she asked eagerly.

"At Nagy-Enyed--killed by the insurgents."

"Nonsense!" cried the marchioness. "Who told you so?"

"My private secretary, your favourite, Benjamin Vajdar. He has just read it in the despatches received at the war office."

The listener's eyes flashed with scorn.

"I am telling you the truth," asserted the other, vehemently. "I give you my word of honour, it is as I say. I have this moment given Vajdar my purse and despatched him to Transylvania to bring the poor woman's body back to Vienna." The prince seated himself in an armchair opposite the marchioness, and continued: "I am even more eager than you to see her laid to rest in my family vault. My motives are deeper and stronger than yours. You have been longing for Blanka Zboroy's death because her existence meant humiliation to you. This thought has brought unrest to your pillow, but a legion of demons chases sleep from mine. Shall a Cagliari suffer any living woman to drag his name in the mire before all the world--to laugh to scorn the decree of the Roman Curia--to scratch out his name after her own and replace it with that of a Szekler peasant? That may be allowed to pass among common people, but the descendants of the Ferraras will find a way, or make one, to prevent such a scandal. It has become a necessity in my eyes that _she should not walk the same planet with me."

The marchioness was listening by this time with wide eyes, flushed cheeks, and parted lips.

"Of late I have suffered heavy losses," the speaker continued. "Formerly my income amounted to a million and a half; now it is barely half a million. My estates in the Romagna have been confiscated, my serfs in Hungary freed, and I have lost frightful sums by my investments. I know many a poor devil has been forced to wont himself to rags and poverty, but for one who has been a leader among men to debase himself and drag out a miserable existence in obscurity--never! Shall I, forsooth, suspend the erection of the votive church which I began at the seat of my ancestors twelve years ago? Or shall I, discarding the masterpieces of a Thorwaldsen, embellish the sacred edifice with the rude productions of a stone-cutter? Would you have me say to the woman I adore, 'My dear, hitherto we have lived in two palaces; henceforth we must be content with one'? But most impossible of all would it be to confess my pecuniary embarrassments to my banker and my major-domo, and to direct them to cut down my future expenditures by a third, to sell my picture-gallery, my museum, and two-thirds of my collection of diamonds. No, no! What I am now telling you has never passed my lips before, nor ever will again; for I know how to apply the remedy, and I will not submit to humiliation, even though it should cost human blood to prevent it."

The speaker bent forward and went on in a more guarded tone:

"Now as to the woman of whom we were speaking. When her brothers gave her to me in marriage, we entered into a contract which stipulated that the property of the one who died first should go to the survivor. She was young, I was old; the advantage was all on her side. Our divorce has not annulled this contract. If Blanka Zboroy dies, her brothers must deliver her property over to me."

"But her fortune is only a million."

"Don't you believe it. To be sure, her brothers paid her the interest on only a million, but her property really amounts to five times that sum. My part thus far has been simply to await the turn of events. In Rome, as it appears, this woman's fate hung by a thread; but all at once she took the insane notion of marrying again. However, that does not invalidate the contract between us, as the Roman Curia, though it granted her a divorce, did so on terms that will make it impossible to recognise her marriage with a Protestant. When death overtakes her, it will be as the Princess Cagliari that she leaves this world. One thing we must remember, however: the Protestant Church will require her to renounce her former faith in order to render her separation from her first husband valid. Yet, if she does this she will forfeit all claim to her property, which, by the testator's will, can descend only to Roman Catholic heirs."

With both hands Rozina drew the prince's head down and whispered in his ear:

"She must die before this second marriage takes place."

"I shall not meddle with destiny," returned the prince, straightening up again. "I shall be satisfied and ask no questions if Vajdar brings back a leaden casket containing the unhappy woman's remains. I shall render her the last honours with princely pomp, and shall then give orders to pursue and punish the insurgents who were responsible for her death."

Rozina burst out laughing. It is always too irresistibly funny to see the devil trying to wash himself clean. Even Cagliari himself was forced to smile.

"Yes," said he, "that is a joke we may laugh at, if you like. But now hear what I have to say further. If Blanka Zboroy renounces the faith of her fathers and marries again, it will not suffice for her only to die. The man she marries must die also, the parson who joined their hands at the altar, the witnesses of the ceremony, the whole family that received her in its midst, the schoolchildren that sang the bridal hymn, the guests who sat around the wedding-table, the people who looked out of their windows and saw the bridal procession pass,--yes, the whole town where this marriage took place must be destroyed, and I have it in my power to accomplish this. Now are you satisfied?"

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