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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nameless Castle - Part 3. The Mistress Of The Cats - Chapter 4
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The Nameless Castle - Part 3. The Mistress Of The Cats - Chapter 4 Post by :olecram Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :636

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The Nameless Castle - Part 3. The Mistress Of The Cats - Chapter 4

PART III. THE MISTRESS OF THE CATS
CHAPTER IV

Dr. Tromfszky had just returned from a _visum repertum in a criminal case, and had concluded that he would go to bed so soon as he had finished his supper. The rain fell in torrents on the roof, and rushed through the gutters with a roaring noise.

"Now just let any one send again for me this night!" he exclaimed, when his housekeeper came to remove the remnants of cheese from the supper-table. "I would n't go--not if the primate himself got a fish-bone fast in his throat; no, not for a hundred ducats. I swear it!"

At that moment there came a knock at the street door, and a very peremptory one, too.

"There! did n't I know some one would take it into his head to let the devil fetch him to-night? Go to the door, Zsuzsa, and tell them that I have a pain in my foot--that I have just applied a poultice, and can't walk."

Frau Zsuzsa, with the kitchen lamp in her hand, waddled into the corridor. After inquiring the second time through the door, "Who is it?" and the one outside had answered: "It is I," she became convinced, from the musical feminine tone, that it was not the notorious robber, Satan Laczi, who was seeking admittance.

Then she opened the door a few inches, and said:

"The Herr Doctor can't go out any more to-night; he has gone to bed, and is poulticing his foot."

The door was open wide enough to admit a delicate feminine hand, which pressed into the housekeeper's palm a little heap of money. By the light of the lamp Frau Zsuzsa recognized the shining silver coins, and the door was opened its full width.

When she saw before her the veiled lady she became quite complaisant. Curiosity is a powerful lever.

"I humbly beg your ladyship to enter."

"Please tell the doctor the lady from the Nameless Castle wishes to see him."

Frau Zsuzsa placed the lamp on the kitchen table, and left the visitors standing in the middle of the floor.

"Well, what were you talking about so long out yonder?" demanded the doctor, when she burst into his study.

"Make haste and put on your coat again; the veiled lady from the Nameless Castle is here."

"What? Well, that is an event!" exclaimed the doctor, hurriedly thrusting his arms into the sleeves of his coat. "Is the count with her?"

"No; the groom accompanied her."

These magic words, "the veiled lady," had more influence on the doctor than any imaginable number of ducats.

At last he was to behold the mythological appearance--yes, and even hear her voice!

"Show her ladyship into the guest-chamber, and take a lamp in there," he ordered, following quickly, after he had adjusted his cravat in front of the looking-glass.

Then she stood before him--the mysterious woman. Her face was veiled as usual. Behind her stood the groom, with whose appearance every child in the village was familiar.

"Herr Doctor," stammered the young girl, so faintly that it was difficult to tell whether it was the voice of a child, a young or an old woman, "I beg that you will come with me at once to the castle; the gentleman is very seriously ill."

"Certainly; I am delighted!--that is, I am not delighted to hear of the worshipful gentleman's illness, but glad that I am fortunate enough to be of service to him. I shall be ready in a few moments."

"Oh, pray make haste."

"The carriage will take us to the castle in five minutes, your ladyship."

"But we did not come in a carriage; we walked."

Only now the doctor noticed that the lady's gown was thickly spattered with mud.

"What? Came on foot in such weather--all the way from the Nameless Castle? and your ladyship has a carriage and horses?"

"Cannot you come with us on foot, Herr Doctor?"

"I should like very much to accompany your ladyship; but really, I have _rheumatismus acutus in my foot, and were I to get wet I should certainly have an _ischias_."

Marie lifted her clasped hands in despair to her lips, but the beseeching expression on her face was hidden by the heavy veil. Could the doctor have seen the tearful eyes, the trembling lips!

Seeing that her voiceless petition was in vain, Marie drew from her bosom a silken purse, and emptied the contents, gold, silver, and copper coins, on the table.

"Here," she exclaimed proudly. "I have much more money like this, and will reward you richly if you will come with me."

The doctor was amazed. There on the table lay more gold than the whole county could have mustered in these days of paper notes. Truly these people were not to be despised.

"If only it did not rain so heavily--"

"I will let you take my umbrella."

"Thanks, your ladyship; I have one of my own."

"Then let us start at once."

"But my foot--it pains dreadfully."

"We can easily arrange that. Henry, here, is a very strong man; he will take you on his shoulders, and bring you back from the castle in the carriage."

There were no further objections to be offered when Henry, with great willingness, placed his broad shoulders at the doctor's service.

The doctor hastily thrust what was necessary into a bag, locked the money Marie had given him in a drawer, bade Frau Zsuzsa remain awake until he returned, and clambered on Henry's back. In one hand he held his umbrella, in the other the lantern; and thus the little company took their way to the castle--the "double man" in advance, the little maid following with her umbrella.

The doctor had sufficient cause to be excited. What usurious gossip-interest might be collected from such a capitol! Dr. Tromfszky already had an enviable reputation in the county, but what would it become when it became known that he was physician in ordinary to the Nameless Castle?

The rain was not falling so heavily when they arrived at the castle.

Marie and Henry at once conducted the doctor to Ludwig's chamber. Henry first thrust his head cautiously through the partly open door, then whispered that his master was still tossing deliriously about on the bed; whereupon the doctor summoned courage to enter the room. His first act was to snuff the candle, the wick having become so charred it scarcely gave any light. He could now examine the invalid's face, which was covered with a burning flush. His eyes rolled wildly. He had not removed his clothes, but had torn them away from his breast.

"H'm! h'm!" muttered the doctor, searching in his bag for his bloodletting instruments. Then he approached the bed, and laid his fingers on the invalid's pulse.

At the touch of his cold hand the patient suddenly sat upright and uttered a cry of terror:

"Who are you?"

"I am the doctor--the county physician--Dr. Tromfszky. Pray, Herr Count, let me see your tongue."

Instead of his tongue, the count exhibited a powerful fist.

"What do you want here? Who brought you here?" he demanded.

"Pray, pray be calm, Herr Count," soothingly responded the doctor, who was inclined to look upon this aggressive exhibition as a result of the fever. "Allow me to examine your pulse. We have here a slight paroxysm that requires medical aid. Come, let me feel your pulse; one, two--"

The count snatched his wrist from the doctor's grasp, and cried angrily:

"But I don't need a doctor, or any medicine. There is nothing at all the matter with me. I don't want anything from you, but to know who brought you here."

"Beg pardon," retorted the offended doctor. "I was summoned, and came through this dreadful storm. I was told that the Herr Count was seriously ill."

"Who said so? Henry?" demanded the count, rising on one knee.

Henry did not venture to move or speak.

"Did you fetch this doctor, Henry?" again demanded the invalid, with expanded nostrils, panting with fury.

The doctor, fancying that it would be well to tell the truth, now interposed politely:

"Allow me, Herr Count! Herr Henry did not come alone to fetch me, but he came with the gracious countess; and on foot, too, in this weather."

"What? Marie?" gasped the invalid; and at that moment his face looked as if he had become suddenly insane. An involuntary epileptic convulsion shook his limbs. He fell from the bed, but sprang at the same instant to his feet again, flung himself like an angry lion upon Henry, caught him by the throat, and cried with the voice of a demon:

"Wretch! Betrayer! What have you dared to do? I will kill you!"

The doctor required nothing further. He did not stop to see the friendly promise fulfilled, but, leaving his lances, elixirs, and plasters behind him, he flew down the staircase, four steps at a time, and into the pouring rain, totally forgetting the ischias which threatened his leg. Nor did he once think of a carriage, or of a human dromedary,--not even of a lantern, or an umbrella,--as he galloped down the dark road through the thickest of the mud.

When the count seized Henry by the throat and began to shake him, as a lion does the captured buffalo, Marie stepped suddenly to his side, and in a clear, commanding tone cried:

"Louis!"

At this word he released Henry, fell on his knees at Marie's feet, clasped both arms around her, and, sobbing convulsively, pressed kiss after kiss on the little maid's wet and muddy gown.

"Why--why did you do this for me?" he exclaimed, in a choking voice.

The doctor's visit had, after all, benefited the invalid. The spontaneous reaction which followed the violent fit of passion caused a sudden turn in his illness. The salutary crisis came of its own accord during the outburst of rage, which threw him into a profuse perspiration. The brain gradually returned to its normal condition.

"You will get well again, will you not?" stammered the little maid shyly, laying her hand on the invalid's brow.

"If you really want me to get well," returned Ludwig, "then you must comply with my request. Go to your room, take off these wet clothes, and go to bed. And you must promise never again to go on another errand like the one you performed this evening. I hope you may sleep soundly."

"I will do whatever you wish, Ludwig--anything to prevent your getting angry again."

The little maid returned to her room, took off her wet clothes, and lay down on the bed; but she could not sleep. Every hour she rose, threw on her wrapper, thrust her feet into her slippers, and stole to the door of Ludwig's room to whisper: "How is he now, Henry?"

"He is sleeping quietly," Henry would answer encouragingly. The faithful fellow had forgotten his master's anger, and was watching over him as tenderly as a mother over her child.

"He did not hurt you very much, did he, Henry?"

"No; it did not hurt, and I deserved what I got."

The little maid pressed the old servant's hand, whereupon he sank to his knees at her feet, and, kissing her pretty fingers, whispered:

"This fully repays me."

The next morning Ludwig was entirely recovered. He rose, and, as was his wont, drank six tumblerfuls of water--his usual breakfast.

Of the events of the past night he spoke not one word.

At ten o'clock the occupants of the Nameless Castle were to be seen out driving as usual--the white-haired groom, the stern-visaged gentleman, and the veiled lady.

That same morning Dr. Tromfszky received from the castle a packet containing his medical belongings, and an envelop in which he found a hundred-guilder bank-note, but not a single written word.

Meanwhile the days passed with their usual monotony for the occupants of the Nameless Castle, and September, with its delightfully warm weather drew on apace. In Hungary the long autumn makes ample amends for the brief spring--like the frugal mother who stores away in May gifts with which to surprise her children later in the season.

Down at the lake, a merry crowd of naked children disported in the water; their shouts and laughter could be heard at the castle. Ludwig fully understood the deep melancholy which had settled on Marie's countenance. Her sole amusement, her greatest happiness, had been taken from her. Other high-born maidens had so many ways of enjoying themselves; she had none. No train of admirers paid court to her. No strains of merry dance-music entranced her ear. Celebrated actors came and went; she did not delight in their performances--she had never even seen a theater. She had no girl friends with whom to exchange confidences--with whom to make merry over the silly flatterers who paid court to them; no acquaintances whose envy she could arouse by the magnificence of her toilets--one of the greatest pleasures in life!

She had no other flatterers but her cats; no other confidantes but her cats; no other actors but her cats. The world of waves had been her sole enjoyment. The water had been her theater, balls, concert--the great world. It was her freedom. The land was a prison.

Again it was the full of the moon, and quite warm. The tulip-formed blossoms of the luxuriant water-lilies were in bloom along the lake shore. Ludwig's heart ached with pity for the little maid when he saw how sorrowfully she gazed from her window on the glittering lake.

"Come, Marie," he said, "fetch your bathing-dress, and let us try the lake again. I will stay close by you, and take good care that nothing frightens you. We will not go out of the cove."

How delighted the child was to hear these words! She danced and skipped for joy; she called him her dear Ludwig. Then she hunted up the discarded Melusine costume, and hastened with such speed toward the shore that Ludwig was obliged to run to keep up with her. But the nearer she approached to the bath-house, the less quickly she walked; and when she stood in the doorway she said:

"Oh, how my heart beats!"

When Ludwig appeared with the canoe from behind the willows, the charming Naiad stepped from the bath-house. The rippling waves bore the moonlight to her feet, where she stood on the narrow platform which projected into the lake. She knelt and, bending forward, kissed the water; it was her beloved! After a moment's hesitation she dropped gently from the platform, as she had been wont to do; but when she felt the waves about her shoulders, she uttered a cry of terror, and grasped the edge of the canoe with both hands.

"Lift me out, Ludwig! I cannot bear it; I am afraid!"

With a sorrowful heart the little maid took leave of her favorite element. The hot tears gushed from her eyes, and fell into the water; it was as if she were bidding an eternal, farewell to her beloved. From that hour the child became a silent and thoughtful woman.

* * * * *

Then followed the stormy days of autumn, the long evenings, the weeks and months when nothing could be done but stay in doors and amuse one's self with books--Dante, Shakspere, Horace. To these were occasionally added learned folios sent from Stuttgart to Count Ludwig, who seemed to find his greatest enjoyment in perusing works on philosophy and science. Meanwhile the communication by letter between the count and the erudite shepherd of souls in the village was continued.

One day Herr Mercatoris sent to the castle a brochure on which he had proudly written, "With the compliments of the author." The booklet was written in Latin, and was an account of the natural wonder which is, to this day, reckoned among the numerous memorable peculiarities of Lake Neusiedl,--a human being that lived in the water and ate live fishes.

A little boy who had lost both parents, and had no one to care for him, had strayed into the morass of the Hansag, and, living there among the wild animals, had become a wild animal himself, an inhabitant of the water like the otters, a dumb creature from whose lips issued no human sound.

The decade of years he had existed in the water had changed his skin to a thick hide covered with a heavy growth of hair. The phenomenon would doubtless be accepted by many as a convincing proof that the human being was really evolved from the wild animal.

Accompanying the description was an engraved portrait of the natural wonder.

The new owner of Fertoeszeg, Baroness Katharina Landsknechtsschild, had been told that a strange creature was frightening the village children who bathed in the lake. She had given orders to some fishermen to catch the monster, which they had been fortunate enough to do while fishing for sturgeon. The boy-fish had been taken to the manor, where he had been properly clothed, and placed in the care of a servant whose task it was to teach the poor lad to speak, and walk upright instead of on all fours, as had been his habit. Success had so far attended the efforts to tame the wild boy that he would eat bread and keep on his clothes. He had also learned to say "Ham-ham" when he wanted something to eat; and he had been taught to turn the spit in the kitchen. The kind-hearted baroness was sparing no pains to restore the lad to his original condition. No one was allowed to strike or abuse him in any way.

This brochure had a twofold effect upon the count. He became convinced that the monster which had frightened Marie was not an assassin hired by her enemies, not an expert diver, but a natural abnormity that had acted innocently when he pursued the swimming maid. Second, the count could not help but reproach himself when he remembered that _he would have destroyed the irresponsible creature whom his neighbor was endeavoring to transform again into a human being.

How much nobler was this woman's heart than his own! His fair neighbor began to interest him.

He took the pamphlet to Marie, who shuddered when her eyes fell on the engraving.

"The creature is really a harmless human being, Marie, and I am sorry we became so excited over it. Our neighbor, the lovely baroness, is trying to restore the poor lad to his original condition. Next summer you will not need to be afraid to venture into the lake again."

The little maid gazed thoughtfully into Ludwig's eyes for several moments; evidently she was pondering over something.

There had risen in her mind a suspicion that Ludwig himself had written the pamphlet, and had had the monster's portrait engraved, in order to quiet her fears and restore her confidence in the water.

"Will you take me sometime to visit the baroness?" she asked suddenly.

"And why?" inquired Ludwig, in turn, rising from his seat.

"That I, too, may see the wonderful improvement in the monster."

"No," he returned shortly, and taking up the pamphlet, he quitted the room. "No!"

"But why 'No'?"

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