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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nameless Castle - Part 6. Death And New Life In The Nameless Castle - Chapter 1
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The Nameless Castle - Part 6. Death And New Life In The Nameless Castle - Chapter 1 Post by :magicmanny Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :3133

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The Nameless Castle - Part 6. Death And New Life In The Nameless Castle - Chapter 1

PART VI. DEATH AND NEW LIFE IN THE NAMELESS CASTLE
CHAPTER I

Since Count Vavel had ceased to take outdoor exercise, he had renewed his fencing practice with Henry, who was also an expert swordsman.

In a room on the ground floor of the castle, whence the clashing of steel could not penetrate to Marie's apartments, the two men, master and man, would fight their friendly battles twice daily, and with such vigor that their bodies (as they wore no plastrons) were covered with scratches and bruises.

One morning the count waited in vain for Henry to make his appearance in the fencing-hall. It was long past the usual hour for their practice, and the count, becoming impatient, went in search of the old servant.

The groom's apartment was on the same floor with the kitchen, adjoining the room occupied by his wife Lisette, the cook.

The door of Henry's room which opened into the corridor was locked; the count, therefore, passed into the kitchen, where Lisette was preparing dinner.

"Where is Henry?" he asked of the unwieldy mountain of flesh, topped by a face as broad and round as the full moon.

"He is in bed," replied Lisette, without looking up from her work.

"Is he ill?"

"I believe he has had a stroke of apoplexy."

She said it with as little emotion as if she had spoken of an underdone pasty.

The count hastened through Lisette's room to Henry's bedside.

The poor fellow was lying among the pillows; his mouth and one eye were painfully distorted.

"Henry!" ejaculated the count, in a tone of alarm; "my poor Henry, you are very ill."

"Ye-es--your--lord-ship," he answered slowly, and with difficulty; "but--but--I shall soon--soon be--all right--again."

Ludwig lifted the sick man's hand from the coverlet, and felt the pulse.

"Yes, you are very ill indeed, Henry--so ill that I would not attempt to treat you. We must have a doctor."

"He--he won't come--here; he is--afraid. Besides, there is nothing--the matter with--any part of me but--but my--tongue. I can--can hardly--move--it."

"You must not die, Henry--you dare not!" in an agony of terror exclaimed Ludwig. "What would become of me--of Marie?"

"That--that is what--troubles--troubles me--most, Herr Count. Who will--take my--place? Perhaps--that old soldier--with the machine leg--"

"No! no! no! Oh, Henry, no one could take your place. You are to me what his arms are to a soldier. You are the guardian of all my thoughts--my only friend and comrade in this solitude."

The poor old servant tried to draw his distorted features into a smile.

"I am--not sorry for--myself--Herr Count; only for you two. I have earned--a rest; I have--lost everything--and have long ago--ceased to hope for--anything. I feel that--this is--the end. No doctor can--help me. I know--I am--dying." He paused to breathe heavily for several moments, then added: "There is--something--I should--like to have--before--before I--go."

"What is it, Henry?"

"I know you--will be--angry--Herr Count, but--I cannot--cannot die without--consolation."

"Consolation?" echoed Ludwig.

"Yes--the last consolation--for the--dying. I have not--confessed for--sixteen years; and the--multitude of my--sins--oppresses me. Pray--pray, Herr Count, send for--a priest."

"Impossible, Henry. Impossible!"

"I beseech you--in the name of God--let me see a priest. Have mercy--on your poor old servant, Herr Count. My soul feels--the torments of hell; I see the everlasting flames--and the sneering devils--"

"Henry, Henry," impatiently remonstrated his master, "don't be childish. You are only tormenting yourself with fancies. Does the soldier who falls in battle have time to confess his sins? Who grants him absolution?"

"Perhaps--were I in--the midst of the turmoil of battle--I should not feel this agony of mind. But here--there is so much time to think. Every sin that I have committed--rises before me like--like a troop of soldiers that--have been mustered for roll-call."

"Pray cease these idle fancies, Henry. Of what are you thinking? You want to tell a priest that you are living here under a false name--tell him that I, too, am an impostor? You would say to him: 'When the revolutionists imprisoned my royal master and his family, to behead them afterward, I clothed my own daughter in the garments belonging to my master's daughter, in order to save the royal child from death, I gave up my own child to danger, and carried my master's child to a place of safety. My own child I gave up to play the role of king's daughter, when kings and their offspring were hunted down like wild beasts; and made of the king's daughter a servant, that she might be allowed to go free. I counterfeited certificates of baptism, registers, passports, in order to save the king's daughter from her enemies. I bore false witness--committed perjury in order to hide her from her persecutors--'"

"Yes--yes," moaned the dying man, "all that have I done."

"And do you imagine that you will be allowed to breathe such a confession into a human ear?" sternly responded the count.

"I must--I must--to make my peace with God."

"Henry, if you knew God as He is you would not tremble before him. If you could realize the immeasurable greatness of His benevolence, His love, His mercy, you would not be afraid to appear before Him with the plea: 'Master, Thou sentest me forth; Thou hast summoned me to return. I came from Thee; to Thee I return. And all that which has happened to me between my going and my coming Thou knowest.'"

"Ah, yes, Herr Count, you have a great soul. It will know how to rise to its Creator. But what can my poor, ignorant little soul do when it leaves my body? It will not be able to find its way to God. I am afraid; I tremble. Oh, my sins, my sins!"

"Your sins are imaginary, Henry," almost irritably responded Count Vavel. "I swear to you, by the peace of my own soul, that the load beneath which you groan is not sin, but virtue. If it be true that human speech and thought are transmitted to the other world, and if there is a voice that questions us, and a countenance that looks upon us, then answer with confidence: 'Yes, I have transgressed many of Thy laws; but all my transgressions were committed to save one of Thy angels.'"

"Ah, yes, Herr Count, if I could talk like that; but I can't."

"And are not all your thoughts already known to Him who reads all hearts? It does not require the absolution of a priest to admit you to His paradise."

But Henry refused to be comforted; his eyes burned with the fire of terror as he moaned again and again:

"I shall be damned! I shall be damned!"

Count Vavel now lost all patience, and, forgetting himself in his anger, exclaimed:

"Henry, if you persist in your foolishness you will deserve damnation. Did not you say so yourself, when you pledged your word to me on that eventful day? Did you not say, 'The wretch who would become a traitor deserves to be damned'?"

With these words he rose and strode toward the door. But ere he reached it his feeling heart got the better of his anger. He turned and walked back to the bed, took the dying man's ice-cold hand in his, and said gently:

"My old comrade--my brave old companion in arms! we must not part in anger. Don't you trust me any more? Listen, my old friend, to what I say to you. You are going on before to arrange quarters; then I will follow. When I arrive at the gates of paradise, my first question to St. Peter will be, 'Is my good old comrade, the honest, virtuous Henry, within?' And should the sainted gatekeeper reply, 'No, he is not here; he is down below,' then I shall say to him, 'I am very much obliged to you, old fellow, for your friendliness, but a paradise from which my old friend Henry is excluded is no place for me. I am going down below to be with him.' That is what I shall say, so help me Heaven!"

The sufferer who stood on the threshold of death strove to smile. He could not return the pressure of his master's hand, but he slowly and with painful effort turned his head so that his cold lips rested against the count's hand.

"Yes--yes," he whispered, and his dim eyes brightened for an instant. "If we were down there together--you and I--we should not have to stop long there; some one with her prayers would very soon win our release."

Count Vavel suddenly beat his palm against his forehead, and exclaimed:

"I never once thought of her! Wait, my brave Henry. I will return immediately. I cannot allow you to have a priest, but I will bring an angel to your bedside."

He hastened to Marie's apartments.

"You have been weeping?" she exclaimed, looking up into his tear-stained eyes with deep concern.

"Yes, Marie; we are going to lose our poor old Henry."

"Oh, my God! How entirely alone we shall be then!"

"Will you come with me to his bedside? The sight of you will cheer his last moments."

"Yes, yes; come quickly."

A wonderful light brightened Henry's face when he saw his young mistress. She moved softly to the head of his bed, and with her delicate fingers gently stroked the cheeks of the trusty old servant.

He closed his eyes and sighed when her hand touched his face.

"Is he smiling?" whispered Marie to Ludwig, gazing with compassionate awe on the distorted countenance. Then she bent over him and said:

"Henry--my good Henry, would you like me to pray with you?"

She knelt beside the bed and in a feeling tone repeated the beautiful prayer which the good Pere Lacordaire composed for those who journey to the other world, pausing from time to time to let the dying man repeat the words after her.

Henry's tongue became heavier and heavier as he repeated, with visible effort, the soul-inspiring words.

Then Marie repeated the Lord's Prayer. Even Ludwig could not do otherwise than bend his knee upon the chair by which he stood, and bow his skeptical head, while the innocent maid and his dying servant prayed together.

When Marie rose from her knees, the painful smile had vanished from Henry's lips; his face was calm and peaceful; the distortion had disappeared from his countenance.

* * * * *

After Henry's death, life for the occupants of the Nameless Castle became still more uncomfortable. Ludwig Vavel had lost his only friend--the only one who had shared his cares and his confidences. He was obliged to hire a servant to assist Lisette, and, remembering what Henry had advised, took the old soldier with the wooden leg into the castle. For the old invalid, the change from hard labor to comfortable quarters and easy work was certainly an improvement. Instead of cutting wood all day long for a mere pittance, he had now nothing to do but brush clothes which were never dusty, polish the furniture, receive the supplies from and deliver orders to Frau Schmidt every morning, to place the newspapers on the library table, and convey the victuals from the kitchen to the dining-room.

But two weeks of this easy work and good wages, and the comforts of the castle, were all that the old soldier could endure. Then he took off his handsome livery, and begged to be allowed to return to his former life of hardship and poverty. Afterward he was heard to aver that not for the whole castle would he consent to live in it an entire year--where not one word was spoken all day long; even the cook never opened her lips. No, he could not stand it; he would rather, a hundred times over, cut wood for five groats the day.

No sooner did Baroness Katharina learn that Count Vavel was again without a man-servant than she sent to the castle Satan Laczi's son, who was then twelve years old, and a useful lad.

Two leading ideas now filled Count Vavel's entire soul.

One was an enthusiastic admiration for a high ideal, whose embodiment he believed he had found in the lovely person of his young charge. All the emotions that a man of deep and profound nature lavishes on his faithful love, his only offspring, his queen, his guardian saint, Count Ludwig now bestowed on this one woman, who endured with patience, renounced with meekness, forgave and loved with her whole heart, and who, even in her banishment, adored her native land which had repulsed and cruelly persecuted her.

The second idea encompassed all the emotions of an opposing passion: a boundless hatred for the giant who, with strides that covered kingdoms and empires, was marching over the entire eastern hemisphere, marking his every step with graves and human skeletons; an enmity toward the Titan who was using thrones as footstools, and who had made himself a god over a greater portion of Europe,

Count Vavel was not the only one who cherished a hatred of this sort; it was felt all over Europe. What was happening in those days could be learned only through the English newspapers. Liberty of speech was prohibited throughout the entire continent. Only an indiscreet correspondent would trust his secret to the post; and Ludwig Vavel only by the exercise of extreme caution could learn from his banker in Holland what was necessary for him to know. Through this medium he learned of the general discontent with the methods of the all-powerful one. He learned of the plans of the Philadelphia Club, which counted among its members renowned officers in the army of France. He heard that a number of distinguished Frenchmen had offered their services and swords to the foreign imperial army against their own hated emperor. He heard of the dissatisfied murmuring among the French people against the frightful waste of human life, the never-ending intrigues, the approaching shadows of the coalition.

All this he heard there in the Nameless Castle, while he waited for his watchword, ready when it came to reply: "Here!"

And while he waited he interested himself also in what was going on in the land in which he sojourned. He had two sources for acquiring information on this subject--Herr Mercatoris in Fertoeszeg, and the young attorney, who was now living in Pest. The count corresponded with both gentlemen,--personally he had never spoken to the pastor, and but once to his attorney,--and from their letters learned what was going on in that portion of the world in the vicinity of the Nameless Castle.

However, as there was a wide difference between the characters of his two correspondents, the count was often puzzled to which of them he should give credence. The pastor, who was a student and a philosopher, and a defender of the existing state of affairs, affirmed that there was not on the face of the globe a more contented and peace-loving folk than the Hungarians. The young lawyer, on the other hand, asserted that the existing system was all wrong; that general dissatisfaction prevailed throughout Hungary. His irony did not spare the great ones who swayed the destiny of the country. In a word, resentment against oppression, and discontent, might be read in every line of his epistles.

Count Vavel was rather inclined to believe that the younger man expressed the temper of the nation. In reality, however, it was only the discontent of a small social body, which found quite enough room for its meetings in the sleeping-chamber of one of the sympathizers. Within this circumscribed space, and amid a lively interchange of opinions, originated many a daring project that was never carried beyond the threshold of the hall of meeting.

Ludwig Vavel, on reading the young man's letters, had come to the conclusion that Hungary awaited his (Vavel's) enemy as its liberator.

The Diet, it is true, had authorized the "recruit contingent," but the recruits were not taken from those who were inspired with love for the fatherland, and who would do battle for an idea. The enlisted men were chiefly homeless wanderers. This "cannon-fodder" would go into battle without enthusiasm, would perform what was required of them like obedient machines.

Of what good would be such a crew against a host that had called into being a great national consciousness, a host that was made up of the best force of a vigorous people, a host whose every member was proud of his ensign with its eagle, and who held himself superior to every other soldier in the world?

Vavel well knew that the giant of the century could be conquered only by heroes and patriots. A hireling crew could not enter the field against him.

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