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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Nameless Castle - Part 6. Death And New Life In The Nameless Castle - Chapter 3
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The Nameless Castle - Part 6. Death And New Life In The Nameless Castle - Chapter 3 Post by :magicmanny Category :Long Stories Author :Maurus Jokai Date :May 2012 Read :1994

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The Nameless Castle - Part 6. Death And New Life In The Nameless Castle - Chapter 3

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

At last war was declared; but it brought only days of increased unhappiness and discontent to the tiger imprisoned in his cage at the Nameless Castle--as if burning oil were being poured into his open wounds.

The snail-like movements of the Austrian army had put an end to the appearance of the apocalyptic destroying angel.

Ludwig Vavel waited like the tiger crouched in ambush, ready to spring forth at the sound of his watchword, and heard at last what he had least expected to hear.

The single-headed eagle had not hesitated to take possession of that which the double-headed eagle had hesitated to grasp.

Napoleon had issued his memorable call to the Hungarian people to assert their independence and choose their king from among themselves.

Count Ludwig received a copy of this proclamation still damp from the press, and at once decided that the cause to which he had sacrificed his best years was wholly lost.

He was acquainted with but a few of the people among whom he dwelt in seclusion, but he believed he knew them well enough to decide that the incendiary proclamation could have no other result than an enthusiastic and far-reaching response. All was at an end, and he might as well go to his rest!

In one of his gloomiest, most dissatisfied hours, he heard the sound of a spurred boot in the silent corridor.

It was an old acquaintance, the vice-palatine. He did not remove his hat, which was ornamented with an eagle's feather, when he entered the count's study, and ostentatiously clinked the sword in its sheath which hung at his side. A wolfskin was flung with elaborate care over his left shoulder.

"Well, Herr Count," he began in a cheery tone, "I come like the gypsy who broke into a house through the oven, and, finding the family assembled in the room, asked if they did not want to buy a flue-cleanser. At last the watchword has arrived: 'To horse, soldier! To cow, farmer.' The militia law is no longer a dead letter. We shall march, _cum gentibus_, to repulse the invading foe. Here is the royal order, and here is the call to the nation."(3)

(Footnote 3: Written by Alexander Kisfalndy, by order of the palatine. A memorable document.)

Count Vavel's face at these words became suddenly transfigured--like the features of a dead man who has been restored to life. His eyes sparkled, his lips parted, his cheeks glowed with color--his whole countenance was eloquent; his tongue alone was silent.

He could not speak. He rushed toward his sword, which was hanging on the wall, tore it from its sheath, and pressed his lips to the keen blade. Then he laid it on the table, and dashed like a madman from the room--down the corridor to Marie's apartment. Without knocking, he opened the door, rushed toward the young girl, raised her in his arms as if she were a little child, and, carrying her thus, returned to his guest. "Here--here she is!" he cried breathlessly. "Behold her! Now you may look on her face--now the whole world may behold her countenance and read in it her illustrious descent. This is my idol--my goddess, for whom I have lived, for whom I would die!"

He had placed the maid on a sort of throne between the two bookcases, and alternately kissed the hem of her gown and his sword.

"Can you imagine a more glorious queen?" he demanded, in a transport of ecstasy, flinging one arm over the vice-palatine's shoulder, and pointing with the other toward the confused and blushing girl. "Is there anywhere else on earth so much love, so much goodness and purity, a glance so benevolent--all the virtues God bestows upon his favorites? Is not this the angel who has been called to destroy the Leviathan of the Apocalypse?"

The vice-palatine gazed in perplexity at the young girl, then said in a low tone:

"She is the image of the unfortunate Queen, Marie Antoinette, who looked just like that when she was a bride."

Involuntarily Marie lifted her hands and hid her face behind them. She had grown accustomed to the piercing rays of the sun, but not to the questioning glances from strange eyes.

"What--what does--this mean, Ludwig?" she stammered, in bewilderment. "I don't understand you."

Count Vavel stepped to the opposite side of the room, where a large map concealed the wall. He drew a cord, and the map rolled up, revealing a long hall-like chamber, which, large as it was, was filled to the ceiling with swords, firearms, saddles, and harness.

"I will equip a company of cavalry, and command it myself. The entire equipment, to the last cartridge, is ready here."

He conducted the vice-palatine into the arsenal, and exhibited his terrible treasures.

"Are you satisfied with my preparations for war?" he asked.

"I can only reply as did the poor little Saros farmer when his neighbor, a wealthy landowner, told him he expected to harvest two thousand yoke of wheat: 'That is not so bad.'"

"Now _I intend to hold a Lustration, Herr Vice-palatine," resumed the count. "Here are weapons. Are enough men and horses to be had for the asking?"

"I might answer as did the gypsy woman when her son asked for a piece of bread: 'You are always wanting what is not to be had.'"

"Do you mean that there are no men?"

"I mean," hastily interposed Herr Bernat, "that there are enough men, and horses, too; but the treasure-chest is empty, and the _Aerar has not yet sent the promised subsidy."

"What care I about the Aerar and its money!" ejaculated Count Vavel, contemptuously. "_I will supply the funds necessary to equip a company--and support them, into the bargain! And if the county needs money, my purse-strings are loose! I give everything that belongs to me--and myself, too--to this cause!"

He opened, as he spoke, a large iron chest that was fastened with iron bolts to the floor.

"Here, help yourself, Herr Vice-palatine!" he added, waving his hand toward the contents of the chest. It was a more wonderful sight than the arsenal itself. Rolls of gold coin, sacks of silver, filled the chest to the brim.

Herr Bernat could only stare in speechless amazement. He made no move to obey the behest to "help himself," whereupon Count Vavel himself thrust his hands into the chest, lifted what he could hold between them of gold and silver, and filled the vice-palatine's hat, which that worthy was holding in his hand.

"But--pray--I beg of you--" remonstrated Herr Bernat, "at least, let us count it."

"You can count it when you get home," interrupted Count Vavel.

"But I must give you a receipt for it."

"A receipt?" repeated his host. "A receipt between gentlemen? A receipt for money which is given for the defense of the fatherland?"

"But I certainly cannot take all this money without something to show from whom I received it, and for what purpose. Give me at least a few words with your signature, Herr Count."

"That I will gladly do," responded the count, turning toward his desk, and coming face to face with Marie, who had descended from her throne.

"What are you going to do?" she asked, laying her hand on his arm.

"Write."

"Are you going to let strangers see your writing, and perhaps betray who you are?"

"In a week the strokes from my hand will tell who I am," he replied, with double meaning.

"Oh, you are terrible!" murmured Marie, turning her face away.

"I am so for your sake, Marie."

"For my sake?" echoed the young girl, sorrowfully. "For my sake? Do you imagine that _I shall take pleasure in seeing you go into battle? Suppose you should fall?"

"Have no fear on that score, Marie," returned the young man, confidently. "I shall have a guiding star to watch over me; and if there be a God in heaven--"

"Then may He take me to Himself!" interposed the young girl in a fervent tone, lifting a transfigured glance toward heaven. "And may He grant that there be not on earth one other Frenchwoman who is forced to pray for the defeat of her own nation! May He grant that there be not another woman in the world who is waiting until a pedestal is formed of her countrymen's and kinsmen's skeletons, that she may be elevated to it as an idol from which many, many of her brothers will turn with a curse! May God take me to Himself now--now, while yet my two hands are white, while yet I cherish toward my nation nothing but love and tenderness, now when I forgive and forget everything, and desire none of this world's splendor for myself!"

Ludwig Vavel was filled with admiration by this outburst from the innocent girl heart.

"Your words, Marie, only increase the brilliancy of the halo which encircles your head. They legalize the rights of my sword. I, too, adore my native land--no one more than I! I, too, bow before the infinite judge and submit my case to His wise decision. O God, Thou who protecteth France, look down and behold him who rides yonder, his horse ankle-deep in the blood of his countrymen, who looks without pity on the dying legions and says, 'It is well!' Then, O God, look Thou upon this saint here, who prays for her persecutors, and pass judgment between the two: which of the two is Thy image on earth?"

"Oh, pray understand me," in a pleading voice interposed Marie, passing her trembling fingers over Ludwig's cheek. "Not one drop of heroic blood flows in my veins. I am not the offspring of those great women who crowned with their own hands their knights to send them into battle. I dread to lose you, Ludwig; I have no one in this wide world but you. On this whole earth there is not another orphan so desolate as I am! When you go to war, and I am left here all alone, what will become of me? Who will care for me and love me then?"

Vavel gently drew the young girl to his breast.

"Marie, you said once to me: 'Give me a mother--a woman whom I can love, one that will love me.' When I leave you, Marie, I shall not leave you here without some one to care for you. I will give you a mother--a woman you will love, and who will love you in return."

A gleam of sunshine brightened the young girl's face; she flung her arms around Ludwig's neck, and laughed for very joy.

"You will really, really do this, Ludwig?" she cried happily. "You will really bring her here? or shall I go to her? Oh, I shall be so happy if you will do this for me!"

"I am in earnest," returned Ludwig, seriously. "This is no time for jesting. My superior here"--turning toward the vice-palatine--"will see that I keep the promise I made in his presence."

"That he will!" promptly assented Herr Bernat. "I am not only the vice-palatine of your county: I am also the colonel of your regiment."

"And I want you to add still another office to the two you fill so admirably: that of matrimonial emissary!" added Count Vavel. "In this patriarchal land I find that the custom still obtains of sending an emissary to the lady one desires to marry. Will you, Herr Vice-palatine and Colonel, undertake this mission for me?"

"Of all my missions this will be the most agreeable!" heartily responded Herr Bernat.

"You know to whom I would have you go," resumed the count. "It is not far from here. You know who the lady is without my repeating her name. Go to her, tell her what you have seen and heard here,--I send her my secret as a betrothal gift,--and then ask her to send me an answer to the words she heard me speak on a certain eventful occasion."

"You may trust me!" with alacrity responded Herr Bernat. "Within half an hour I shall return with a reply: _Veni, vidi, vici!_"

After he had shaken hands with his client, the worthy emissary remembered that it was becoming for even so important a personage as a Hungarian vice-palatine to show some respect to the distinguished young lady under Count Vavel's protection. He therefore turned toward her, brought his spurred heels together, and was on the point of making a suitable speech, accompanying it with a deep bow, when the young lady frustrated his ceremonious design by coming quickly toward him and saying in her frank, girlish manner:

"He who goes on a matrimonial mission must wear a nosegay." With these words she drew the violets from her corsage, and fastened them in Herr Bernat's buttonhole.

Hereupon the gallant vice-palatine forgot his ceremonious intentions. He seized the maid's hand, pressed it against his stiffly waxed mustache, and muttered, with a wary glance toward Count Vavel: "I am sorry this pretty little hand belongs to those messieurs Frenchmen!"

Then he quitted the room, and in descending the stairs had all he could do to transfer without dropping them the coins from his hat to the pockets of his dolman.

Marie skipped, singing joyously, into the dining-room, where the windows faced toward the neighboring manor. She did not ask if she might do so, but flung open the sash, leaned far out, and waved her handkerchief to the vice-palatine, who was driving swiftly across the causeway.

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