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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nameless Castle - Part 3. The Mistress Of The Cats - Chapter 1
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The Nameless Castle - Part 3. The Mistress Of The Cats - Chapter 1 Post by :olecram Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :741

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The Nameless Castle - Part 3. The Mistress Of The Cats - Chapter 1

PART III. THE MISTRESS OF THE CATS
CHAPTER I

When they heard the call, "Puss, puss!" they scampered down the roof, leaped from the eaves, and vanished, one after the other, between the curtains of the open window. It was quite an ethnographic, so to speak, collection of cats; a panther-like French pussy from Dund, a Caucasian with long pointed ears, one from China with wavy silken fur and drooping ears. Then the window was closed, for the company were all assembled--four cats, two pug-dogs, and a sparrow, and the hostess, a young girl.

The girl, to judge from her figure, was perhaps fifteen years old; but her manner and speech were those of a much younger child. With her arched brow and rainbow-formed eyebrows, she might have served as a model for a saint, had not the roguish smile about the corners of her red lips betrayed an earthly origin. The sparkling dark eyes, delicately chiseled nostrils, and rounded chin gave to her face certain family characteristics which many persons would have recognized at a first glance.

Her clothing was richly adorned with lace and embroidery, which was not the fashion for girls of her age; at the same time, there was about her attire a peculiar negligence, as if she had no one to advise her what was proper to wear, or how to wear it.

Her room was furnished with luxurious elegance. Satin hangings covered the walls; the furniture was upholstered with rare gobelin tapestry. Gilded cabinets veneered with tortoise-shell held, behind glass doors, all sorts of costly toys, and dolls in full costume. On a Venetian table with mosaic top lay a pack of cards and three heaps of money--one of gold, one of silver, the third of copper. On a low, three-legged table was a something shaped like an organ, with a long row of metal and wooden pipes. Near the window stood a drawing-table, on which were sheets of drawing-board, and glasses containing pulverized colors. There was also a bookcase; on the shelves were volumes of Vertuch's "Orbis pictus," the "Portefeuille des enfants," the "History of Robinson Crusoe," and several numbers of a fashion magazine, the "Album des salons," the illustrations of which lay scattered about on tables and chairs.

The guests were all assembled; not one was missing. The little hostess inquired after the health of each one in turn, and how they had enjoyed their outing. They all had names. The cats were Hitz, Mitz, Pani, and Miura. They were introduced to the two pugs, Phryxus and Helle. Then the little maid fetched a porcelain basin, and with a sponge washed each nose and paw. Only after this operation had been thoroughly performed were the guests allowed to take their places at the breakfast-table--the four cats opposite the two pugs.

Then a clean napkin was tied about the neck of each guest,--that their jabots might not get soiled with milk,--and a cup of bread and milk placed in front of each one.

No complaints were allowed (the one that broke this rule was severely lectured), while all of them had patiently to submit when the sparrow helped himself from whichever cup he chose. The breakfast over, the guests bow-wowed and miaued their thanks, and were dismissed to their morning nap.

The musical clock now began to play its shepherd's song; the brass Cyclops standing on the dial struck the hour; the cuckoo called, and the halberdier saluted. Then the little maid changed her toilet. She had a whole wardrobe full of clothes; she might select what she chose to wear. There was no one to tell her what to put on, or to help her attire herself. When her toilet was completed, a bell outside rang once, whereupon she donned her hat and tied over her face a heavy lace veil that effectually concealed her features. After a few minutes the bell rang a second time, and the sound of wheels in the courtyard was heard. Then three taps sounded on the door, and in answer to the little maid's clear-voiced "Come in!" a gentleman in promenade toilet entered the room and bowed respectfully. First he satisfied himself that the veil was securely fastened around the young girl's hat; then, drawing her hand through his arm, he led her to the carriage.

On the box was seated the broad-shouldered groom, now clad in coachman's costume. The gentleman assisted the little maid into the carriage, took his seat by her side, and the black horses set off over the same road they had traversed a thousand times, in the regulation trot, avoiding the main thoroughfare of the village. Those persons whom they chanced to meet did not salute, for they knew that the occupants of the carriage from the Nameless Castle did not wish to be spoken to; and any of the villagers who were standing idly at their doors stepped inside until they had passed; no inquisitive woman face peered after them. And thus the carriage passed on its way, as if it had been invisible. When it arrived at the forest, the horses knew just where they had to halt. Here the gentleman assisted his veiled companion to alight, gave her his left arm, because he held in his right hand a heavy walking-stick, in the center of which was concealed a long, three-edged poniard, an effective weapon in the hands of him who knew how to wield it.

In silence the man and the maid promenaded along the green sward in the shade of the trees. A campanula had just opened its blue eye at the foot of one of the trees, and pale-blue forget-me-nots grew along the path. Blue was the little maid's favorite color; but she was not permitted to pluck the flowers herself. She had never been told why she must not do this; perhaps it was because the flowers belonged to some one else.

Sometimes the little maid's steps were so light and elastic, as if a fairy were gliding over the dewy grass; and sometimes she walked so slowly, so wearily, as if a little old grandmother came limping along, hunting for lichens on the mossy ground.

After the promenade, they seated themselves again in the carriage, which returned to the Nameless Castle, and the gates were closed again.

The man conducted the maid to her room, and the serious occupation of the day began. Books were produced, and the man proceeded to explain the classics. They were his own favorites; he could not give her any others. She had not yet seen or heard of romances, and she was still too young to begin the study of history. The man could teach the maid only what he himself knew; a strange tutor or governess was not allowed to enter the castle.

Because her instructor could not play the piano, the little maid had not learned. But in order that she might enjoy listening to music, a hand-organ had been bought for her, and new melodies were inserted in it every four months.

When the little maid wearied of her organ and her picture-making, she seated herself at the card-table, and played _l'hombre_, or _tarok_, with two imaginary adversaries, enjoying the manner in which the copper coins won the gold ones.

At noon, when the bell rang a third time, the man tapped at the door again, offered his gloved hand to the maid, and conducted her to the dining-room. At either end of a large table was a plate. The maid took her place at the head; the man seated himself at the foot. They conversed during the meal. The maid talked about her cats and dogs; the man told her about his books. When the maid wanted anything, she called the man Ludwig; and when the man addressed his companion, he called her simply Marie.

After dinner, they went to the library to look at the late newspapers. Ludwig himself made the coffee, after which he read the papers, and dictated his comments and criticisms on certain articles to Marie, who wrote them out in her delicate hair-line chirography.

When Ludwig and Marie separated for the afternoon, he touched his lips to her hand and brow. Marie then returned to her own apartments, played the hand-organ for her pets, changed her dolls' toilets, counted her gains or losses at cards, colored with her paints a few of the illustrations in the magazines, looked through her "Orbis pictus," reading without difficulty the text which was printed in four languages, and read for the hundredth time her favorite "Robinson Crusoe."

And thus passed day after day, from spring until autumn, from autumn until spring.

Evenings, when Marie prepared for bed, before she undressed herself, she spread a heavy silken coverlet over the leather lounge which stood near the door. She knew very well that the some one she called Ludwig slept every night on the lounge, but he came in so late, and went away so early in the morning, that she never heard his coming or his going.

The little maid was a sound sleeper, and the pugs never barked at the master of the house, who gave them lumps of sugar.

Often the little maid had determined that she would not go to sleep until she heard Ludwig come into the room. But all her attempts to remain awake were in vain. Her eyelids closed the moment her head touched the pillow. Then she tried to waken early, in order to wish him good morning; but when she thrust her little head from between the bed-curtains, and called cheerily, "Good morning, dear Ludwig!" there was no one there.

Ludwig never slept more than four hours of the twenty-four, and his slumber was so light that he woke at the slightest noise. Then, too, he slept like a soldier in the field--always clothed, with his weapons beside him.

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