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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nameless Castle - Part 4. Satan Laczi - Chapter 3
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The Nameless Castle - Part 4. Satan Laczi - Chapter 3 Post by :Shannon_Herod Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :2630

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The Nameless Castle - Part 4. Satan Laczi - Chapter 3


And why should not Baroness Landsknechtsschild take observations with a telescope, as well as her neighbor at the Nameless Castle?

She could very easily do so unnoticed. From the outside of a house, when it is light, one cannot see what is going on in a dark room.

This question Count Vavel was given an opportunity to decide.

The astronomical calendar had announced a total eclipse of the moon on a certain night in July. The moon would enter the shadow at ten o'clock, and reach full obscuration toward midnight.

Ludwig had persuaded Marie to observe the phenomenon with him; and the young girl was astonished beyond measure when she beheld for the first time the full moon through the telescope.

Ludwig explained to her that the large, brilliant circles were extinct craters; the dark blotches, seas. At that time scientists still accepted the theory of oceans on the moon. What interested Marie most of all, however, was the question, "Were there people on the moon?" Ludwig promised to procure for her the fanciful descriptions of a supposed journey made to the moon by some naturalists in the preceding century. Innocent enough reading for a girl of sixteen!

"I wonder what the people are like who live on the moon?"

And Ludwig's mental reply was: "One of them stands here by your side!"

After a while Marie wearied of the heavenly phenomena, and when the hour came at which she usually went to bed she was overcome by sleep.

In vain Ludwig sought to keep her awake by telling her about the Imbrian Ocean, and relating the wonders of Mount Aristarchus. Marie could not keep from nodding, and several times she caught herself dreaming.

"I shall not wait to see the end of the eclipse," she said to Ludwig. "It is very pretty and interesting, but I am sleepy."

She was yet so much a child that she would not have given up her sweet slumbers for an eclipse of all the planets of the universe.

Ludwig accompanied her to the door of her apartments, bade her good night, and returned to the observatory.

Already the disk of the moon was half obscured. Ludwig removed the astronomical eye-piece from the telescope, and inserted the tellurian glass instead; then he turned the object-glass toward the neighboring manor instead of toward the moon. Now, if ever, was the time to find out if his fair neighbor possessed a telescope. If she had one, she would certainly be using it now.

It was sufficiently light to enable him to see quite distinctly the baroness sitting, with two other women, on the veranda. She was observing the eclipse, but with an opera-glass--a magnifier that certainly could not reveal very much.

Of this Count Ludwig might rest satisfied. And yet, in spite of the satisfaction this decision had given him, he continued to observe the disappearance of the moonlight from the veranda of the manor with far more attention than he bestowed upon the gradual darkening of the heavenly luminary itself. Then there happened to the baroness's companions what had happened to Marie: the women began to nod, whereupon the baroness sent them to bed. There remained now only the count and his fair neighbor to continue the astronomical observations. The lady looked at the moon; the count looked at the lady.

The baroness, as was evident, was thorough in whatever she undertook. She waited for the full obscuration--until the last vestige of moonlight had vanished, and only a strange-looking, dull, copper-hued ball hung in the sky.

The baroness now rose and went into the house. The astronomer on the castle tower observed that she neglected to close the veranda door.

It was now quite dark; the silence of midnight reigned over everything.

Count Vavel waited in his observatory until the moon emerged from shadow.

Instead of the moon, something quite different came within the field of vision.

From the shrubbery in the rear of the manor there emerged a man. He looked cautiously about him, then signaled backward with his hand, whereupon a second man, then a third and a fourth, appeared.

Dark as it was, the count could distinguish that the men wore masks, and carried hatchets in their hands. He could not see what sort of clothes they wore.

They were robbers.

One of the men swung himself over the iron trellis of the veranda; his companions waited below, in the shadow of the gate.

The count hastened from his observatory.

First he wakened Henry.

"Robbers have broken into the manor, Henry!"

"The rascals certainly chose a good time to do it; now that the moon is in shadow, no one will see them," sleepily returned Henry.

"I saw them, and I am going to scare them away."

"We can fire off our guns from here; that will scare them," suggested Henry.

"Are you out of your senses, Henry? We should frighten Marie; and were she to learn that there are robbers in the neighborhood, she would want to go away from here, and you know we are chained to this place."

"Yes; then I don't know what we can do. Shall I go down and rouse the village?"

"So that you may be called on to testify before a court, and be compelled to tell who you are, what you are, and how you came here?" impatiently interposed the count.

"That is true. Then I can't raise an alarm?"

"Certainly not. Do as I tell you. Stop here in the castle, take your station in front of Marie's door, and I will go over to the manor. Give me your walking-stick."

"What? You are going after the robbers with a walking-stick?"

"They are only petty thieves; they are not real robbers. Men of this sort will run when they hear a footstep. Besides, there are only four of them."

"Four against one who has nothing but a cudgel!"

"In which is concealed a sharp poniard--a very effective weapon at close quarters," supplemented the count. "But don't stop here talking, Henry. Fetch the stick, and my driving-coat, into the pocket of which put my bloodletting instruments. Some one might faint over yonder, and I should need them."

Henry brought the stick and coat. Only after he had gone some distance from the castle did Count Vavel notice that some heavy object kept thumping against his side. The faithful Henry had smuggled a double-barreled pistol into the pocket of his coat, in addition to the bloodletting instruments. The count did not take the road which ran around the cove to the manor, but hurried to the shore, where he sprang into his canoe, and with a few powerful strokes of the oars reached the opposite shore. A few steps took him to the manor. His heart beat rapidly. He had a certain dread of the coming meeting--not the meeting with the robbers, but with the baroness.

The gates of the manor were open, as was usual in Hungarian manors day and night. The count crossed the court, and as he turned the corner of the house there happened what he had predicted: the masked man who was on watch at the door gave a shrill whistle, then dashed into the shrubbery. Count Vavel did not give chase to the fleeing thief, but, swinging his cudgel around his head, ran through the open door into the hall. Here a lamp was burning. He hurried into the salon, and saw, as he entered, two more of the robbers jump from the window into the garden.

Count Ludwig hurried on toward the adjoining room, whence came the faint light of a lamp. The light came from another room still farther on. It was the sleeping-chamber of the lady of the house. There were no robbers here, but on the table lay jewelry and articles of silver which had been emptied from the cases lying about the floor. In an arm-chair which stood near the bed-alcove reclined a female form, the arms and hands firmly bound with cords to the chair.

What a beautiful creature! The clinging folds of her dressing-robe revealed the perfect proportions of her figure. Her hair fell like a golden cataract to the floor. Modest blushes and joy at her deliverance made the lovely face even more enchanting when the knightly deliverer entered the room--a hero who came with a cudgel to do battle against a band of robbers, and conquered!

"I am Count Vavel," he hastened to explain, cudgel in hand, that the lady might not think him another robber and fall into a faint.

"Pray release me," in a low tone begged the lady, her cheeks crimsoning with modest shame when he bent over her to untie the cords.

The task was quickly performed; the count took a knife from his pocket and cut the cords; then he turned to look for a bell.

"Please don't ring," hastily interposed the baroness. "Don't rouse my people from their slumbers. The robbers are gone, and have taken nothing. You came in good time to help me."

"Did the rascals ill-treat you, baroness?"

"They only tied me to this chair; but they threatened to kill me if I refused to give them money--they were not content to take only my jewelry. I was about to give them an order to the steward, who has charge of my money, when your arrival suddenly ended the agreement we had made."

"Agreement?" repeated the count. "A pretty business, truly!"

"Pray don't speak so loudly; I don't want any one to be alarmed--and please go into the next room, where you will find my maid, who is also bound."

Count Vavel went into the small chamber which communicated with that of the baroness, and saw lying on the bed a woman whose hands and feet were bound; a handkerchief had been thrust into her mouth. He quickly released her from the cords and handkerchief; but she did not stir: she had evidently lost consciousness.

By this time the baroness had followed with a lighted candle. She had flung a silken shawl about her shoulders, thrust her feet into Turkish slippers, and tucked her hair underneath a becoming lace cap.

"Is she dead?" she asked, lifting an anxious glance to Ludwig's face.

"No, she is not dead," replied the count, who was attentively scanning the unconscious woman's face.

"What is the matter with her?" pursued the baroness, with evident distress.

The count now recognized the woman's face. He had seen her with the lad who had been his protege, and who was now a member of the baroness's household. It was the wife of Satan Laczi.

"No, she is not dead," he repeated; "she has only fainted."

The baroness hastily fetched her smelling-salts, and held them to the unconscious woman's nostrils.

"Peasant women have strong constitutions," observed the count. "When such a one loses consciousness a perfume like that will not restore her; she needs to be bled."

"But good heavens! What are we to do? I can't think of sending for the doctor now! I don't want him to hear of what has happened here to-night."

"I understand bloodletting," observed Vavel.

"You, Herr Count?"

"Yes; I have studied medicine and surgery."

"But you have no lance."

"I brought my chirurgic instruments with me."

"Then you thought you might find here some one who had fainted?" exclaimed the baroness, wonderingly.

"Yes. I shall require the assistance of a maid to hold the woman's arm while I perform the operation."

"I don't want any of the servants wakened. Can't I--help you?" she suggested hesitatingly.

"Are not you afraid of the sight of blood, baroness?"

"Of course I am; but I will endure that rather than have one of my maids see you here at this hour."

"But this one will see me when she recovers consciousness."

"Oh, I can trust this one; she will be silent."

"Then let us make an attempt."

The result of the attempt was, the fainting maid was restored to consciousness by the skilfully applied lance, while the face of the assisting lady became deathly pale. Her eyes closed, her lips became blue. Fortunately, she had a more susceptible nature than her maid. A few drops of cold water sprinkled on her face, and the smelling-salts, quickly restored her to consciousness. During these few moments her head had rested on the young man's shoulder, her form had been supported on his arm.

"Don't trouble any further about me," she murmured, when she opened her eyes and saw herself in Vavel's arms; "but attend to that poor woman"; and she hastily rose from her recumbent position.

The woman was shivering with a chill--or was it the result of extreme terror? If the former, then a little medicine would soon help her; but if it was terror, there was no remedy for it.

To all questions she returned but the one answer: "Oh, my God! my God!"

The baroness and Count Vavel now returned to the outer room.

"I regret very much, baroness, that you have had an unpleasant experience like this--here in our peaceful neighborhood, where every one is so honest that you might leave your purse lying out in the court; no one would take it."

The baroness laughingly interrupted him:

"The robber adventure amused more than it frightened me. All my life I have wanted to see a real Hungarian robber, of whom the Viennese tell such wonderful tales. My wish has been gratified, and I have had a real adventure--the sort one reads in romances."

"Your romance might have had a sorrowful conclusion," responded Count Ludwig, seriously.

"Yes--if Heaven had not sent a brave deliverer to my rescue."

"You may well say Heaven sent him," smilingly returned the count; "for if there had not been an eclipse of the moon to-night, which I was observing through my telescope, and at the same time taking a look about the neighborhood, I should not have seen the masked men enter the manor."

"What!" in astonishment exclaimed the baroness; "you saw the men through a telescope? Truly, _I shall have to be on my guard in future! But," she added more seriously, lifting from the table the count's walking-stick, toward which he had extended his hand, "before you go I want to beg a favor. Please do not mention the occurrence of this night to any one. I don't want the authorities to make any inquiries concerning the attempted robbery."

"That favor I grant most willingly," replied Count Vavel, who had not the least desire for a legal examination which would require him to tell who he was, what he was, whence he came, and what he was doing here.

"I can tell you why I don't want the affair known," continued the baroness. "The woman in yonder is the one of whom I wrote you some time ago--the wife of Ladislaus Satan, or, as he is called, Satan Laczi. Should it become known that a robbery was attempted here, the villagers will say at once, 'It was the wife of the robber Satan Laczi who helped the men to rob her mistress,' and the poor woman will be sent back to prison."

"And do you really believe her innocent?"

"I can assure you that she knew nothing about this matter. I shall not send her away, but, as a proof that I trust her entirely, shall let her sleep in the room next to mine, and let her carry all my keys!" To emphasize her declaration, she thumped the floor vigorously with Vavel's iron-ferruled stick.

Involuntarily the count extended his hand to her. She grasped it cordially, and, shaking it, added: "Don't speak of our meeting to-night to any one; I shall not mention it, I can promise you! And now, I will give you your stick; I am certain some one at home is anxious about you. God be with you!"

At home Count Vavel found Henry on guard at the door of Marie's room, his musket cocked, ready for action.

"Did anything happen here?" asked the count. "Did Marie waken?"

"No; but she called out several times in her sleep, and once I heard her say quite distinctly: 'Ludwig, take care; she will bite!"

* * * * *

Count Vavel could not deny that his fair neighbor had made a very favorable impression on him. In astronomy she had taken the place of the moon, in classic literature that of an ideal, and in metaphysics that of the absolutely good.

He had sufficient command of himself, however, to suppress the desire to see her again. From that day he did not again turn his telescope toward the neighboring manor. But to prevent his thoughts from straying there was beyond his power. These straying thoughts after a while began to betray themselves in his countenance and in his eyes; and there are persons who understand how to read faces and eyes.

"Are you troubled about anything, Ludwig?" one day inquired Marie, after they had been sitting in silence together for a long while.

Ludwig started guiltily.

"Ye-es; I have bad news from abroad."

Such a reply, however, cannot deceive those who understand the language of the face and eyes.

One afternoon Marie stole noiselessly up to the observatory, and surprised Ludwig at the telescope.

"Let me see, too, Ludwig. Are you looking at something pretty?"

"Very pretty," answered Ludwig, giving place to the young girl.

Marie looked through the glass, and saw a farm-yard overgrown with weeds. On an inverted tub near the door of the cottage sat a little old grandmother teaching her grandchildren how to knit a stocking.

"Then you were not looking at our lovely neighbor," said Marie. "Why don't you look at her?"

"Because it is not necessary for me to know what she is doing."

Marie turned the telescope toward the manor, and persisted until she had found what she was looking for.

"How sad she looks!" she said to Ludwig.

But he paid no attention to her words.

"Now it seems as though she were looking straight into my eyes; now she clasps her hands as if she were praying."

Ludwig said, with pedagogic calmness:

"If you continue to gaze with such intensity through the telescope your face will become distorted."

Marie laughed. "If I had a crooked mouth, and kept one eye shut, people would say, 'There goes that ugly little Marie!' Then I should not have to wear a veil any more."

She distorted her face as she had described, and turned it toward Ludwig, who said hastily: "Don't--don't do that, Marie."

"Is it not all the same to you whether I am ugly or pretty?" she retorted. Then, as if to soften the harshness of her words, she added: "Even if I were ugly, would you love me--as the fakir loves his Brahma?"

* * * * *

Ludwig continued his correspondence with the learned Herr Mercatoris. He always dictated his letters to Marie. No one in the neighborhood had yet seen his own writing. Therefore, it would have been impossible for him to ask the pastor anything relating to the baroness without Marie knowing it. In one of his letters, however, he inquired how the mother of the lad he had once had in his care was conducting herself at the manor, and was informed that the woman had disappeared--and without leaving any explanation for her conduct--a few days after the eclipse of the moon. The baroness had been greatly troubled by the woman's going, but would not consent to having a search made for her, as she had taken nothing from the manor.

This incident made Count Vavel believe that the woman had secretly joined the band of robbers, and that there would be another attempt made sometime to break into the manor.

From that time the count slept more frequently in his observatory than he did in his bedchamber, where an entire arsenal of muskets and other firearms were always kept in readiness.

One evening, when he approached the door of his room, he was surprised to see a light through the keyhole; some one was in the room.

He entered hastily. On the table was a lighted candle, and standing with his back toward the table was a strange man, clad in a costume unlike that worn by the dwellers in that neighborhood.

For an instant Count Vavel surveyed the stranger, who was standing between him and his weapons; then he demanded imperiously:

"Who are you? How came you here, and what do you want?"

"I am Satan Laczi," coolly replied the man.

On hearing the name, Count Vavel sprang suddenly toward the robber, and seized him by the arms. The fellow's arms were like the legs of a vulture--nothing but bone and sinew. Count Vavel was an athletic man, strong and powerful; but had the room been filled with men as strong and powerful as he, and had they every one hurled themselves upon Satan Laczi, he would have had no difficulty in defending himself. He had performed such a feat more than once. This evening, however, he made no move to defend himself, but looked calmly at his assailant, and said: "The Herr Count can see that I have no weapons; and yet, there are enough here, had I wanted to arm myself against an attack. I am not here for an evil purpose."

The count released his hold on the man's arms, and looked at him in surprise.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

"First, because I want to tell the Herr Count that it was not I who attempted to rob the baroness, nor were those thieves comrades of mine. I know that the people around here say it was Satan Laczi; but it was n't, and I came to tell you so. I confess I have robbed churches; but the house which has given shelter and food to my poor little lad is more sacred to me than a church. The people insist that I was guilty of such baseness because I am Satan Laczi; but the Herr Count, who has doubtless read a description of my person, can say whether or no it was I he saw at the manor."

With these words he turned his face toward the light. It was a very repulsive countenance.

"Do you think there is another face that the description of mine would fit, Herr Count?" he asked, a certain melancholy softening the repulsiveness of his features. "But what is the use of such senseless chatter?" he added hastily. "I am not silly enough to come here seeking honor and respect--though it does vex me when people say that one man with a cudgel put to flight Satan Laczi and three of his comrades. I came here to-night because the Herr Count rescued my poor little lad from the morass, gave him shelter and food, and even condescended to teach him. For all this I owe you, Herr Count, and I am come to return favor for favor. You are thinking: 'How can this robber repay me what he owes?' I will tell you: by giving you a robber's information. I want to prove to the Herr Count that the robber--the true robber who understands his trade--can enter this securely barred castle whenever he is so minded. The locks on the doors, the bolts on the windows, are no hindrance to the man who understands his business, and the way _I came in another can come as well. It is said that the Herr Count guards a great treasure here in this castle. I don't know, and I don't ask, what this treasure is. If I should find it, I would n't take it from the Herr Count, and if any one else took it I should try to get it back for him. But some one may steal in here, as I did, while the Herr Count is looking at the stars up in the tower, and carry off his carefully guarded treasure."

Count Vavel gave utterance to a groan of terror; his knees gave way beneath him; a chill shook his entire frame.

"Marie!" he gasped, forgetting himself.

Then, hastily snatching the candle from the table, he rushed frantically toward the young girl's sleeping-chamber, leaving Satan Laczi alone in his room.

Since he had ceased guarding Marie's door at night by sleeping on the lounge in her room, he had cautioned her to lock the door before retiring. Now he found the door open.

Breathless with fear, the count sprang toward the alcove and flung back the bed-curtains. The little maid was sleeping peacefully, her face resting against her arm. Her favorite cat was lying at her feet, and on the floor by the bedside lay the two pugs. But the door of the wall-cupboard in which was hidden the steel casket stood wide open, and on the casket was a singular toy--a miniature human figure turning a spinning-wheel.

For an instant Count Vavel's heart ceased beating. Here was sufficient proof that the maid, together with the steel casket, might have been carried away during his absence.

He took the curious image, which was molded of black bread, and returned to his room.

As he crossed the threshold, Satan Laczi pointed to the toy and said:

"I left it on the casket as a remembrance in exchange for the little stockings some one in this house knit for my little lad. We learn to make such things in prison, where time hangs heavily on one's hands."

"But how did you manage to open the door when it was locked and the key inside?" inquired the count.

Satan Laczi showed him the tools which he used to turn keys from the outside.

"Any burglar can open a door from the outside if the key is left in the lock, Herr Count. Only those doors can be securely locked which have no keyholes outside."

"I have no idea how that could be arranged," said Count Vavel.

"I am acquainted with a jack of all trades here in the neighborhood who could make such a door for you if I told him how to make it. He is a carpenter, locksmith, and clock-maker, all in one person."

The count shook his head wonderingly. The robber was to direct the locksmith how to fashion a lock that no one could open!

"Shall I send the man to the castle?" asked Satan Laczi.

"Yes; if the fellow is sensible, and does not chatter."

"But he is a fool that never knows when to stop talking. But he talks only on one subject, so you need not be afraid to employ him. He understands everything you tell him, will do just as you say, but will not talk about what he is doing for you. There is only one subject on which he will chatter, and that is, how Napoleon might be beaten. He is continually talking about stratagems, infernal machines, and how to win a battle. On this subject he is crazy. He will make doors for the Herr Count that can't be opened, and tell everybody else only how to make infernal machines, and how to build fortifications."

"Very good; then send him to me."

"But--I must say something else, Herr Count--no matter how secure your locks may be, that treasure is best guarded against robbers which is kept in the room you sleep in. A man of courage is worth a hundred locks. I am not talking without a purpose when I say the Herr Count must look after his treasure. I know more than I say, and Satan Laczi is not the greatest robber in the world. Be on your guard!"

"I thank you."

"Does the Herr Count still believe that it was I and my comrades who broke into the manor?"

"No; I am convinced that it was not you."

"Then my mission here is accomplished--"

"Not yet," interposed the count, stepping to a cupboard, and taking from it a straw-covered bottle and a goblet. "Here,"--filling the goblet and handing it to the robber,--"he who comes to my house as a guest must not quit it without a parting glass."

"A strange guest, indeed!" responded the robber, taking the proffered glass. "I came without knocking for admittance. But I performed a masterpiece to-day; the Herr Count will find it out soon enough! I do not drink to your welfare Herr Count, for my good wishes don't go for much in heaven!"

The count seated himself at the table, and said: "Don't go just yet, my friend; I want to give you a few words of advice. I believe you are a good man at heart. Quit your present mode of life, which will ultimately lead you--"

"Yes, I know--to the gallows and to hell," interposed the robber.

"Take up some trade," pursued the count. "I will gladly assist you to become an honest man. I will lend you the money necessary to begin work, and you can pay me when you have succeeded. Surely honest labor is the best."

"I thank you for the good advice, Herr Count, but it is too late. I know very well what would be best for me; but, as I said, it is too late now. There was a time when I would gladly have labored at my trade,--for I have one,--but no one would tolerate me because of my repulsive face. From my childhood I have been an object of ridicule and abuse. My father was well-born, but he died in a political prison, and I was left destitute with this hideous face. No one would employ me for anything but swine-herd; and even then luck was against me, for if anything went wrong with a litter of pigs, I was always blamed for the mishap, and sent about my business. Count Jharose gave me a job once; it was a ridiculous task, but I was glad to get any kind of honest work. I had to exercise the count's two tame bears--promenade with them through the village. The bears' fore paws were tied about their necks, so that they were obliged to walk on their hind feet, and I had to walk between them, my hands resting on a fore leg of each animal, as if I were escorting two young women. When we promenaded thus along the village street, the people would laugh and shout: 'There go Count Jharose's three tame bears.' At last I got out of the way of doing hard work, and got used to being ridiculed by all the world. But I had not yet learned to steal. The bears grew fat under my care. I was given every day two loaves of bread to feed to them. One day I saw, in a wretched hut at the end of the village, a poor woman and her daughter who were starving. From that day the bears began to grow thin; for I stole one of the loaves of bread and gave it to the poor women, who were glad enough to get it, I can tell you! But the steward found out my theft, and I was dismissed from the count's service. The poor women were turned out of their miserable hut. The mother froze to death,--for it was winter then,--and the daughter was left on my hands. We got a Franciscan monk, whom we met in the forest, to marry us--which was a bad move for the girl, for no one would employ her, because she was my wife. So the forest became our home, hollow trees our shelter; and what a friend an old tree can become! Well, to make a long story short, necessity very soon taught me how to take what belonged to others. I got used to the vagrant life. I could not sleep under a roof any more. I could n't live among men, and pull off my hat to my betters. When the little lad came into the world, I said to my wife: 'Do you quit the forest, and look for work in some village. Don't let the little one grow up to become a thief.' She did as I bade her; but the people who hired her always found out that she was the wife of Satan Laczi, and then they would not keep her, and she would have to come back to me in the forest. And that is where I shall end my days--in the forest. I am not good for anything any more; I could n't even plow a furrow any more. I shall end on the gallows--I feel it. I should have liked the life of a soldier, but they never would take me; they always said I would disgrace any regiment to which I might belong. Yes, I would rather have been a soldier than anything else; but what is not to be will not be! I shall keep to my forest. I am obliged to the Herr Count for his good wishes and this delicious brandy."

The robber placed the empty glass on the table, took up his hat, and walked with heavy steps toward the door. Here he halted to say:

"I must tell you that the touch-holes of all your firearms are filled with wax. Have them cleaned, or you will not be able to shoot with them."

The count rose, and hastened to convince himself that this statement was true. He found that his firearms had indeed been rendered useless; the robber had taken good care to protect himself from an attack. When Vavel looked around again, Satan Laczi had disappeared.

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