The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne
SUCH things were not calculated to calm the terrors of the people of Werst. There could now be no doubt that the threats uttered by the “mouth of darkness,” as the poet said in the “King Mathias,” were to be taken seriously. Nic Deck, struck in this inexplicable manner, had been punished for his disobedience and temerity. Was not this a warning to all those who might be tempted to follow his example? Here, clearly enough, was a formal prohibition against entering the Castle of the Carpathians. Whoever tried it would risk his life. Most certainly if the forester had got within the wall he would never have returned to the village.
And so the fright was more complete than ever at Werst, and even at Vulkan, and also throughout the valley of the two Syls. Nothing less was spoken of than leaving the district, and a few gipsy families moved off rather than live in the vicinity of the castle. That it should be a refuge for supernatural and maleficent beings was more than the popular feeling could put up with. The only thing to do was to go into some other part of the country, unless the Hungarian Government decided to destroy this inaccessible haunt. But was the Castle of the Carpathians destructible by the only means man had at his disposal?
During the first week of June no one would venture out of the village, not even to work in the fields. Might not the least stroke of a spade provoke the apparition of some phantom buried in the ground? The coulter of the plough as it cut the furrow, might it not set in flight a flock of staffii or stryges? Where the seed of corn was sown, might not the seed of demons spring up?
“That could not fail to happen!” said the shepherd Frik in a tone of conviction.
And, as far as he was concerned, he took good care not to return with his sheep to the pastures of the Syl.
And so the village was in a state of terror. No one went to work in the fields. Every one remained at home with doors and windows closed. Master Koltz did not know what to do to restore confidence among those under his rule. Evidently the only way was to go to Kolosvar and invoke the intervention of the authorities.
And had the smoke reappeared at the top of the donjon chimney? Yes; many times the telescope had made it visible among the mists which swept the Orgall plateau.
And when night came, had the clouds assumed a rosy hue as if from the reflection of a fire? Yes; and it was said that fiery plumes could be seen curling and whirling over the castle.
And that roaring which had frightened Doctor Patak, was it heard from among the woods of Plesa, to the terror of the people of Werst? Yes; or at least, notwithstanding the distance, the north-west wind brought along fearful growlings which were augmented by the echoes of the hills.
According to some of the more terror-stricken, the ground was shaken by subterranean tremblings as if some ancient volcano had become active again in the Carpathian chain But possibly there was a good deal of exaggeration in what the Werstians thought they saw and heard and felt. Under any circumstances there were positive, tangible reasons, it will be admitted, why living in such a strangely troubled country was no longer possible.
The “King Mathias” remained deserted in consequence. A lazaretto in an epidemic could not have been more shunned. No one had the audacity to cross the threshold, and Jonas was asking himself if for want of customers he would not have to retire from trade, when the arrival of two travellers altered matters considerably.
In the evening of the month of June, about eight o’clock, the latch of the door was lifted from the outside; but the door, being bolted inside, could not be opened.
Jonas, who had already retired to his attic, hastily came down. To the hope of finding himself face to face with a customer was added the fear that the customer might be some evil-looking ghost, to whom he would be only too ready to refuse board and lodging.
Jonas proceeded to hold a parley through the door without opening it.
“Who is there?” he asked.
“Very much alive.”
“Are you sure of it?”
“As much alive as we can be, Mr. Innkeeper; but we shall die of hunger if you keep us outside.”
Jonas decided to draw back the bolts, and two men entered the room.
As soon as they were in, their first demand was for a room each, as they intended to stay a day at Werst.
By the light of the lamp Jonas examined the newcomers with great attention, and made sure that he had really to deal with human beings. How fortunate for the “King Mathias”!
The younger of the travellers might be about thirty-two years old, of tall stature, with a noble, handsome face, black eyes, dark-brown hair, a well-cut brown beard, a somewhat sad but proud look about him—in fact he was a gentleman, and an experienced innkeeper like Jonas could not be mistaken in such a matter.
Besides, when he asked what names he was to enter in his visitors' book, the younger man replied,—
“The Count Franz de Télek and his man Rotzko.”
“Of what place?”
Krajowa is one of the chief towns of the State of Roumania, which borders the Transylvanian provinces south of the Carpathian chain.
Franz de Télek was thus of Roumanian nationality, as Jonas had seen from the very first.
Rotzko was a man of about forty, solidly built and strong, with a thick moustache, bristly hair, and quite a military bearing. He carried a soldier’s knapsack strapped to his shoulders, and a valise small enough to be carried in his hand.
That was all the baggage of the young count, who travelled generally on foot, as could be seen from his costume—a cloak in a roll over his shoulder, a light cap on his head, a short jacket with a belt, from which hung the leather sheath of the Wallachian knife, and he wore the gaiters strapped down to the broad, thick-soled shoes.
These travellers were the two whom the shepherd Frik had met twelve days before on the road to the hills, when they were going to Retyezat. After seeing the country up to Maros, and making the ascent of the mountain, they had come for a little rest to Werst before exploring the valley of the two Syls.
“You have two rooms we can have?” asked Franz de Télek,
“Two—three—four—as many as the count pleases,” said Jonas.
“Two will do,” said Rotzko, “but they must be near each other.”
“Will these suit you?” asked Jonas, opening two doors at the end of the large saloon.
“Very well indeed,” said Franz de Télek.
Evidently Jonas had nothing to fear from his new customers. These were no supernatural beings, no phantoms who had assumed the shape of men. No! This gentleman was one of those personages of distinction whom an innkeeper is always honoured in welcoming, and who might perhaps bring the “King Mathias” into fashion again.
“How far are we from Kolosvar?” asked the count.
“About fifty miles, if you go by the road through Petroseny and Karlsburg,” replied Jonas.
“Is it a tiring sort of walk?”
“Yes, very tiring for walkers; and if I may be permitted to say so, the count would seem to require a rest of a few days before undertaking it—”
“Can we have anything to eat?” asked Franz de Télek, cutting short the innkeeper’s remarks.
“In half an hour’s time I shall have the honour of offering the count a repast worthy of him,”
“Bread, wine, eggs, and cold meat will be enough for to-night.”
“I will go and see about them."
“As soon as possible.”
And Jonas was hurrying off to the kitchen when a question stopped him,—
“You do not seem to have many people at your inn?” said Franz de Télek.
“No—not just at the moment, sir.”
“Is not this the time for people to come and have a drink and smoke a pipe?”
“It is too late now, sir. They go to bed with the chickens in the village of Werst.”
Never would he have said why the “King Mathias” was without a customer.
“Are there not three or four hundred people in this village?”
“About that, sir.”
“Why did we not meet a living soul as we came down the main street?”
“That is because—to-day—well, it is Saturday, you see—and the day before Sunday is—”
Franz de Télek did not persist, luckily for Jonas, who did not know what to reply. Nothing in the world would have induced him to reveal the true state of affairs. Strangers would learn that only too soon, and who could tell if they would not hasten to leave a village so deservedly suspected?
“It is to be hoped that that voice will not begin to chatter in the big room while they are at supper!” thought Jonas as he laid the table.
A few minutes afterwards the very simple meal ordered by the young count was neatly served on a clean white cloth. Franz de Télek sat down, and Rotzko seated himself facing him, as they usually did on their travels. Both of them ate with a good appetite; and when the repast was over they retired to their rooms.
As the young count and Rotzko had hardly spoken ten words during their meal, Jonas had not been able to take part in their conversation—to his great displeasure. Besides, Franz de Télek did not seem to be communicative. As to Rotzko, the innkeeper, after due survey, gathered that he would not be able to get anything out of him regarding his master’s family.
Jonas had, therefore, to content himself with bidding his visitors good-night. Before he went up to his attic he gave a good look around the room, and lent an anxious ear to the least noises within and without, saying to himself,—
“May that abominable voice not awake them from their sleep!”
The night passed tranquilly.
At daybreak next morning the news began to spread in the village that two travellers had arrived at the “King Mathias,” and a number of people gathered in front of the inn.
Franz de Télek and Rotzko were still sleeping, tired after their excursion the day before. There was little likelihood of their rising before seven or eight o’clock. And consequently there was great impatience among the spectators, who had none of them the courage to enter the room before the travellers.
At eight o’clock they came in together. Nothing regrettable had happened. They could be seen walking about in the inn. Then they sat down to breakfast. All of which was particularly reassuring.
Jonas stood at the front door and smiled amiably, inviting his old customers to give him another trial. The traveller who honoured the “King Mathias” with his presence was a gentleman—a Roumanian gentleman, if you please, and of one of the oldest Roumanian families—what was to be feared in such noble company?
In short, it happened that Master Koltz, thinking it his duty to set an example, took the risk of the first step.
About nine o’clock the biro entered the room in rather a hesitating way. Almost immediately he was followed by Magister Hermod and three or four other customers, as well as the shepherd Frik. As to Doctor Patak, it had been impossible to persuade him to accompany them.
“Set foot again in Jonas’s!” he said. “Never, until he pays me two florins a visit”
We may here remark, as it is a matter of some importance, that if Master Koltz had consented to return to the “King Mathias,” it was not solely with a view of satisfying his curiosity, nor with the intention of making the acquaintance of Count Franz de Télek. No! self-interest was his chief motive.
As a traveller the young count had become liable for a tax on self and man, and it must not be forgotten that these taxes went direct into the pocket of the chief magistrate of Werst.
The biro at once went forward and politely stated his demand, and Franz de Télek, although taken somewhat by surprise, immediately settled the claim.
He even begged the biro and the schoolmaster to be seated for a moment at his table, and the offer was so politely made that they could not refuse.
Jonas hastened to serve them with drinks, the best he had in his cellar, and then a few of the natives of Werst asked for a drink on their own account, and it seemed as though the old customers, for a moment dispersed, would soon be as plentiful as ever in the “King Mathias.”
Having paid the traveller’s tax, Franz de Télek wished to know if it were productive.
“Not as much as we wish,” replied Master Koltz.
“Do strangers only come here occasionally, then?”
“Very occasionally,” said the biro, “and yet the country is worth a visit.”
“So I think,” said the count. “What I have seen appeared to me to be well worth a traveller’s attention. From the top of the Retyezat I much admired the valley of the Syls, the villages away to the east, and the range of mountains which closes in the view.”
“It is very fine, sir, very fine!” said Magister Hermod; “and to complete your tour you should make the ascent of Paring.”
“I am afraid I shall not have the necessary time,” said the count.
“One day would be enough.”
“Probably; but I am going to Karlsburg, and I must start to-morrow morning.”
“What!” said Jonas with his most amiable air. “Does the count think of leaving us so soon?”
And he would not have been sorry if the visitors could have stayed some time at the “King Mathias.”
“It must be so,” said the Count de Télek. “Besides, what would be the use of my making a longer stay at Werst?”
“Believe me, our village is well worth a tourist’s making some stay at,” said Master Koltz.
“But it does not seem to be much frequented,” said the count, “and that is probably because its neighbourhood has nothing remarkable about it.”
“Quite so—nothing remarkable,” said the biro, thinking of the castle.
“No—nothing remarkable,” said the schoolmaster.
“Oh! ah!” said the shepherd Frik, the exclamation escaping involuntarily.
What looks he received from Master Koltz and the others, particularly from the innkeeper!
Was it then advisable to let the stranger into the secrets of the district? Should they reveal to him what had passed on the plateau of Orgall, and direct his attention to the Castle of the Carpathians? Would that not frighten him and make him anxious to leave the village? And in the future what travellers would come by the Vulkan road into Transylvania?
Truly the shepherd had shown no more intelligence than if he were one of his own sheep.
“Be quiet, you imbecile, be quiet!” said Master Koltz to him in a whisper.
But as the young count’s curiosity had been awakened, he addressed himself directly to Frik, and asked him what he meant by his “Oh! ah!”
The shepherd was not a man to retreat, and perhaps really thought that Franz de Télek might give some advice which the village might profitably adopt.
“I said, ‘Oh, ah!’” replied the shepherd, “and I will not go back on my word.”
“Is there any marvel, then, to visit in the neighbourhood of Werst?”
“Any marvel?” replied Master Koltz.
“No! no!” exclaimed the bystanders. And they were already in fear at the thought lest a fresh attempt at entering the castle would bring fresh misfortunes on them.
Franz de Télek, not without some surprise, took notice of those people whose faces were expressive of alarm in all sorts of ways, but all equally unmistakable.
“What is this all about?” he asked.
“What is it, sir?” replied Rotzko. “Well, it seems there is the Castle of the Carpathians.”
“The Castle of the Carpathians?”
“Yes! That is the name this shepherd has just whispered in my ear.”
And as he spoke Rotzko pointed to Frik, who nodded his head without daring to look at his master.
But a breach was now made in the wall of the private life of the superstitious village, and all its history could not help going forth through this breach.
In fact, Master Koltz, who had made up his mind how to act, resolved to explain matters himself to the count, and told him all he knew about the Castle of the Carpathians.
Naturally Franz de Télek could not hide the astonishment the story caused him, nor the feelings it suggested to him. Although he knew little of scientific matters, like other young people of his class who live in their castles in these Wallachian byways, he was a sensible man. He believed but little in apparitions and laughed at legend. A castle haunted by spirits merely excited his incredulity. In his opinion, in all that Master Koltz had told him there was nothing of the marvellous, but only a few' facts, more or lest proved, to which the people of Werst attributed a supernatural origin. The smoke from the donjon, the bell ringing violently, could be very easily explained, and the lightnings and roarings from within the wall might be purely imaginary.
Franz de Télek did not hesitate to say so, and to joke about it, to the great scandal of his listeners.
“But, count, there is something else,” said Master Koltz.
“What is that?”
“Well, it is impossible to get into this Castle of the Carpathians.”
“Our forester and our doctor tried to get in a few days ago, for the benefit of the village, and they paid dearly for their attempt.”
“What happened to them?” asked Franz de Télek, somewhat ironically.
Master Koltz related in detail the adventures of Nic Deck and Doctor Patak.
“And so,” said the count, “when the doctor wanted to get out of the ditch his feet were so stuck to the ground that he could not take a step forward?”
“Neither a step forward nor a step behind,” added Magister Hermod.
“Your doctor thought so," replied Franz de Télek. “But it was fear which stuck him by the heels.”
“Be it so,” replied Master Koltz. “But Nic Deck received a frightful shock when he put his hand on the ironwork of the drawbridge.”
“A terrible shock—”
“So terrible,” replied the biro, “that he has been in bed ever since.”
“Not in danger of his life, I hope?” said the count.
That was a fact, an undeniable fact, and Master Koltz waited for the explanation Franz de Télek would give.
“In all I have just heard there is nothing, I repeat, but what is very simple. I have no doubt but what somebody is now living in the castle—who, I know not. Anyhow, they are not spirits, but people who wish to lie hidden the-re after taking refuge there—criminals probably.”
“Criminals!” exclaimed Master Koltz.
“Probably; and as they do not want any one to hunt them out, they wish it to be believed that the castle is haunted by supernatural beings.”
“What!” said Magister Hermod. “You think—”
“I think you are very superstitious in these parts, that the people in the castle know it, and that they wish to keep off visitors in that way.”
That this was the true explanation was not unlikely, but we need not be astonished if nobody at Werst would admit it.
The young count saw that he had in no way convinced an audience who did not wish to be convinced, and so he contented himself with adding,—
“If you do not care to agree with me, gentlemen, you can continue to think what you please about the Castle of the Carpathians.”
“We believe what we have seen,” replied Master Koltz.
“And what is—” said the magister.
“Well. Really, I am sorry I have not a day to spare, for Rotzko and I would have paid a visit to your famous castle, and I assure you we would soon have found out—”
“Visit the castle!” exclaimed Master Koltz.
“Without hesitation, and the devil himself would not have stopped us from getting in.”
On listening to Franz de Télek express himself so positively, so ironically even, the villagers were seized with terror. In treating the spirits of the castle with such indifference, would he not bring some disaster on the village? Did not these spirits hear all that passed in the inn of the “King Mathias”? Would the voice be heard a second time in this room?
And thereupon Master Koltz told the young count of the circumstances under which the forester had been personally threatened when he decided on entering the Castle of the Carpathians.
Franz de Télek simply shrugged his shoulders; then he rose, saying that no voice had ever been heard in the room as they pretended. Whereupon some of the company made for the door, not caring to remain any longer in a place where a young sceptic dared say such things.
But Franz de Télek stopped them with a gesture.
“Assuredly, gentlemen,” he said, “I see that the village of Werst is under the empire of fear.”
“And not without reason,” replied Master Koltz.
“Well, there is a very simple way of putting a stop to the performances which according to you are going on at the Castle of the Carpathians. After to-morrow I shall be at Karlsburg, and if you like I will tell the town authorities. They will send you a few police, and I will answer for it that these brave fellows will know how to get into the castle and clear out the jokers who arc practising on your credulity, or arrest the scoundrels, who are perhaps preparing for some new iniquity.“’
Nothing could be more acceptable than this proposal, but yet it was not to the taste of the notables of Werst. In their opinion neither the police nor the army itself would succeed against these superhuman beings, who would know how to defend themselves by supernatural means.
“But I believe,” continued the young count, “that you have not yet told me to whom this Castle of the Carpathians belongs or belonged?”
“To an old country family, the family of the Barons of Gortz,” said Master Koltz.
“The family of Gortz!” exclaimed Franz de Télek.
“Is that the family to which Baron Rodolphe belonged?”
“And do you know what has become of him?”
“No; for the baron has not come back to the castle for years.”
Franz de Télek had become quite pale, and mechanically in an altered voice he repeated the name,—
“Rodolphe de Gortz!”