The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne
SUCH had been this lamentable history.
For a month Franz de Télek’s life was in danger. He recognized nobody—not even his man Rotzko. In the height of his fever but one name escaped his lips, which were ready to part with their last breath: it was that of La Stilla.
The young count did not die. The skill of the doctors, the incessant care of Rotzko, together with his own youth and constitution, saved Franz de Télek. His reason emerged uninjured from this terrible struggle. But when memory returned to him, when he recalled the final tragic scene in “Orlando,” in which the soul of the artiste had left her,—
“Stilla! my Stilla!” he cried, stretching out his hands as if he were applauding.
As soon as his master could leave his bed, Rotzko persuaded him to leave this accursed town, and allow himself to be carried home to the Castle of Krajowa. But before he left Naples the young count wished to go and pray over the grave of the dead, and bid her a last and eternal farewell.
Rotzko accompanied him to Campo Santo Nuovo. There Franz threw himself on the cruel ground—he would have torn it up with his finger-nails to bury himself by her side. Rotzko at last managed to get him away from the grave, where he had left all his life and all his happiness.
A few days afterwards Franz de Télek had returned to Krajowa5 to his old family estate. Here he lived for four years in absolute retirement, never leaving the castle. Neither time nor distance could alleviate his grief. He would have forgotten, but it was impossible. The remembrance of La Stilla, vivid as on the first day. was bound up with his life, and the wound would close only with death.
At the time our story begins the young count had left the castle for some weeks. What long and pressing arguments Rotzko had had to prevail on his master to abandon the solitude in which he was wasting away! Consolation might be impossible, but an attempt at distraction might at least be made.
A plan of a tour was then decided on, which consisted in first visiting the Transylvanian provinces. Later, Rotzko hoped that the young count would agree to resume the European journey which had been interrupted by the sad events at Naples.
Franz de Télek had set out for only a short exploration. He and Rotzko had crossed the Wallachian plains up to the imposing mass of the Carpathians; they had been among the Vulkan defiles, and after an ascent of Retyezat and an excursion across the valley of the Maros, they had come for a rest to the village of Werst, to the “King Mathias” inn.
We know the state of affairs when Franz de Télek arrived, and how he had been informed of the incomprehensible occurrences of which the castle had been the scene. We also know how he had ascertained that the castle belonged to Baron Rodolphe de Gortz.
The effect produced by this name was too apparent for Master Koltz and the other notables not to notice it. And Rotzko would have cheerfully sent to the devil this Master Koltz, who had so inopportunely uttered it, and his stupid stories. Why should some ill-chance have brought Franz de Télek to this very village of Werst, in the neighbourhood of the Castle of the Carpathians!
The young count had become silent. His look, wandering from one to the other, only too clearly indicated the deep trouble of his mind, which he was seeking in vain to calm.
Master Koltz and his friends understood that some mysterious tie must exist between the Count de Télek and the Baron de Gortz; but, inquisitive as they were, they maintained a seemly reserve, and did not seek to take an advantage. Later on they would see what they could do.
A few minutes afterwards every one had left the “King Mathias,” much perplexed at this extraordinary chain of adventures, which foreboded no good to the village.
And now that the young count knew to whom the Castle of the Carpathians belonged, would he keep his promise? If he went to Karlsburg, would he report the matter to the authorities and demand their intervention? That was what the biro, the schoolmaster, Doctor Patak, and others were asking. If he did not do so, Master Koltz had resolved to do so. The police being informed of what had occurred, they would visit the castle, they would see if it were haunted by spirits or inhabited by criminals, for the village could remain no longer under such a state of affairs.
This would, it is true, be quite useless in the opinion of most of the inhabitants. To attack the spirits! The swords of the gendarmes would be broken like glass, and their guns would miss fire each time.
Franz de Télek, left alone in the large room of the “King Mathias,” abandoned himself to the recollections which the name of Baron de Gortz had so unhappily evoked.
After remaining in an armchair for an hour, as if he were quite exhausted, he rose, left the saloon, and went out to the end of the terrace and looked away in the distance.
On the Plesa ridge, bounded by the Orgall plateau, rose the Castle of the Carpathians.
There had lived that strange personage, the frequenter of San Carlo, the man who had inspired such insurmountable terror in the unfortunate La Stilla. But at present the castle was deserted, and Baron de Gortz had not returned to it since he had fled from Naples. None knew what had become of him, and it was possible he had put an end to his existence after the death of the great artiste.
Franz wandered in this way across the field of supposition, knowing not where to stop. On the other hand, the adventure of the forester Nic Deck to a certain extent troubled him, and he would have liked to have unravelled the mystery, if it were only to reassure the people of Werst.
Added to this, the young count had no doubt that it was a band of thieves who had taken refuge in the castle, and he had resolved to keep his promise, and put a stop to the manœuvres of these sham ghosts by giving information to the police at Karlsburg.
But before taking steps in the matter, Franz resolved to have the most circumstantial details of the affair. For this object the best thing to do was to apply to the young forester in person; and about three o’clock in the afternoon, before returning to the inn, he presented himself at the biro’s house.
Master Koltz showed that he was much honoured to receive a gentleman like the Count de Télek, this descendant of a noble Roumanian race, to whom the village of Werst would be indebted for the recovery of its peace and prosperity, for then travellers would return to visit the country, and pay the customary tolls, without having to fear the malevolent spirits of the Castle of the Carpathians, etc., etc.
Franz de Télek thanked Master Koltz for his compliments, and asked to be allowed to see Nic Deck if there were no objection.
“None at all, count,” replied the biro. “The gallant Nic is going on as well as possible, and will soon return to his work.”
And turning to his daughter, who had just entered the room, he said,—
“Is that not true, Miriota?”
“May Heaven grant it so, my father!” replied Miriota in an agitated voice.
Franz was charmed by the girl’s graceful greeting. And seeing she was still anxious regarding the state of her betrothed, he hastened to ask her for some explanation on the subject.
“From what I have heard,” he said, “Nic Deck has not been seriously hurt.”
“No, count,” said Miriota, “and Heaven be praised for it.”
“You have a physician at Werst?”
“Hum!” said Master Koltz in a tone that was not very flattering to the old quarantine man.
“We have Doctor Patak,” replied Miriota.
“He who accompanied Nic Deck to the Castle of the Carpathians?”
“I should like to see your betrothed for his own sake, and obtain the most precise details of this adventure.”
“He will be glad to give you them, even though it may fatigue him a little.”
“Oh! I will not abuse the opportunity, and I will do nothing that can injure Nic Deck.”
“I know that.”
“When is your marriage to take place?”
“In a fortnight,” said the biro.
“Then I shall have the pleasure of being present, if Master Koltz will give me an invitation—”
“Such an honour, count—”
“In a fortnight, then, it is understood; and I am sure that Nic Deck will be well again as soon as he can take a walk with his good-looking betrothed.”
“God protect him!” replied the girl as she blushed.
And her charming face betrayed such apparent anxiety that Franz asked her the reason.
“Yes, may God protect him!” replied Miriota; “for in endeavouring to enter the castle in spite of the prohibition, Nic has defied the spirits. And who knows if they may not set themselves to injure him all his life—”
“Oh! as for that,” replied Franz, “we will have it all put straight, I promise you.”
“Nothing will happen to my poor Nic?”
“Nothing; and, thanks to the police, you will be able to visit the castle in a few days, and be quite as safe as in the street at Werst.”
The young count, thinking it inopportune to discuss the question of the supernatural, asked Miriota to show him the way to the forester’s room.
This the girl hastened to do, and then she left him alone with her betrothed.
Nic Deck had been informed of the arrival of the two travellers at the “King Mathias” inn. Seated in an old armchair as large as a sentry-box, he rose to receive his visitor. As he now suffered but little from the paralysis with which he had been momentarily struck, he was sufficiently well to reply to the count’s questions.
“Nic Deck,” said Franz, after a friendly shake of the hand, “I would first ask you if you really believe in the presence of evil spirits at the Castle of the Carpathians?”
“I am compelled to believe it,” replied Nic Deck.
“And it was they who kept you from getting over the castle wall?”
“I have no doubt of it.”
“And why, if you please?”
“Because if they were not spirits, what happened to me would be inexplicable.”
“Will you have the goodness to tell me, without omitting anything, what really did happen?”
Nic Deck told his story item by item. He could only confirm the facts which Franz had heard in his conversation with the guests at the “King Mathias”—facts on which, as we know, the young count put a purely natural interpretation.
In short, the occurrences of this night of adventure could be easily explained if human beings, criminal or otherwise, occupied the castle, and had the machinery capable of producing these phantasmal effects. As to Doctor Patak’s peculiar assertion that he was chained to the ground by some force, it could only be supposed that he had been the sport of some illusion. What was most likely was that his limbs had failed him simply because he was mad with terror, and that Franz declared to the young forester.
“What!” said Nic Deck, “would it be at the moment he wanted to run that his "legs would fail the coward? That is hardly likely, you must admit.”
“Well,” continued Franz, “let us admit that his legs were caught in some trap, probably hidden under the grass at the bottom of the ditch.”
“When a trap closes,” said the forester, “it hurts you cruelly, it tears your flesh, and Doctor Patak’s legs have no trace of a wound.”
“Your observation is correct, Nic Deck; but if it be true that the doctor could not get away, it must be that his legs were caught in some snare.”
“Then I will ask you how this snare could open of itself to set the doctor at liberty?”
Franz was too much puzzled to reply.
“But, count, I leave to you all that concerns Doctor Patak. After all, I can only speak of what I know of myself.”
“Yes, let us leave the doctor, and speak of what happened to you, Nic Deck.”
“What happened to me was clear enough. There is no doubt I received a terrible shock, and that in a way that is unnatural.”
“There is no appearance of a wound on your body?” asked Franz.
“None; and yet I was struck with terrible violence.”
“Was it just when you put your hand on the ironwork of the drawbridge?”
“Yes; just as I touched it, I seemed as if I were paralyzed. Fortunately my hand which held the chain did not leave go, and I slipped down into the bottom of the ditch, where the doctor found me senseless.”
Franz shook his head with the air of a man whom these explanations left incredulous.
“You see,” continued Nic Deck, “what I have told you is no dream; and if for eight days I remained full length on the bed, without the use of arms or legs, it is not reasonable to say I must have imagined it all.”
“I do not attempt to do that,” said the count; “it is only too certain you received a brutal shock.”
“Brutal and diabolic.”
“No—and in that we differ, Nic Deck. You believe you were struck by some supernatural being, and I do not believe there are supernatural beings, either good or evil—”
“Will you then explain what happened to me?”
“I cannot do that yet, Nic Deck, but rest assured all will be explained, and in a most simple manner.”
“May God grant it so!”
“Tell me,” said Franz, “has this castle belonged all along to the Gortz family?”
“Yes; and it belongs to it now, although the last descendant of the family, Baron Rodolphe, disappeared and no one has heard of him since.1’
“When did he disappear?”
“About twenty years ago.”
“Yes. One day Baron Rodolphe left the castle, of which the last servant died a few months after his departure; and no one has seen him since.”
“And since then no one has set foot in the castle?”
“And what is thought about him in the neighbourhood?”
“It is supposed that Baron Rodolphe died abroad a short time after he disappeared.”
“Then it is supposed wrong, Nic Deck. The baron is still alive—at least he was so five years ago.”
“He is alive?”
“Yes, in Italy—at Naples.”
“You have seen him?”
“I have seen him?”
“And during the five years?”
“I have heard nothing about him.”
The young forester thought for a moment or so. An idea had occurred to him, an idea he hesitated to formulate. At length he made up his mind, and, raising his head and knitting his brow, he said,—
“It is not supposable that Baron de Gortz has returned to the country with the intention of shutting himself up in the castle?”
“No—it is not supposable, Nic Deck.”
“What object would he have in hiding himself, in never letting anybody come near him?”
“None,” replied Franz de Télek.
And yet this was the thought which had begun to take shape in the mind of the young count. Was it not possible that this personage, whose existence had always been so enigmatic, had taken refuge in the castle after he left Naples? There, thanks to superstitious beliefs skilfully acted upon, would it not be easy for him to live in isolation, to defend himself against every unwelcome search, it being understood that he knew the state of mind that prevailed in the surrounding country?
But yet Franz thought it useless to launch the Werstians on this hypothesis. It would have been necessary to have put them in possession of facts which were too personal to him. Besides, he would have convinced nobody, and that he saw clearly enough when Nic Deck added,—
“If it is Baron Rodolphe who is in the castle, we shall have to believe that Baron Rodolphe is the Chort, for only the Chort could have treated me in that way.”
Desirous of not returning over the same ground, Franz changed the course of the conversation. After employing every means to reassure the young forester as to the consequences of his attempt, he made him promise not to renew it. That was not his affair, it was the business of the authorities, and the Karlsburg police would know how to discover the mystery of the Castle of the Carpathians.
The young count then took leave of Nic Deck, recommending him to get well as quickly as possible, so as not to delay his marriage with the fair Miriota, at which he promised to be present.
Absorbed in his reflections, Franz returned to the “King Mathias” and did not go out again that day.
At six o’clock Jonas served his dinner in the large room, when by a praiseworthy feeling of reserve neither Master Koltz nor any of the villagers came to trouble his solitude.
About eight o’clock Rotzko said to the young count,—
“You have no further need of me, master?”
“Then I will go and smoke my pipe on the terrace/'
“Go, Rotzko, go.”
Lounging in an armchair, Franz again began to think of all that had passed. He was at Naples during the last performance at the San Carlo Theatre. He saw the Baron de Gortz at the moment when, for the first time, this man appeared to him, his head out of the box, his look ardently fixed on the artiste as if he would fascinate her.
Then his thoughts recurred to the letter signed by this strange personage, which accused him, Franz de Télek, of having killed La Stilla.
Lost in his recollections, Franz felt sleep come over him little by little. But he was still in that transition state when one can perceive the least noise, when a surprising phenomenon took place.
It seemed that a voice sweet and modulated made itself heard in this room where Franz was alone, quite alone.
Without knowing whether he dreamt or not. Franz rose and listened.
Yes! It seemed as though a mouth came close to his ear, and invisible lips gave forth the expressive melody of Stefano inspired by these words,—
This romance Franz knew. This romance of ineffable sweetness La Stilla had sung in the concert she had given at the San Carlo Theatre before her farewell performance.
Unconsciously Franz abandoned himself to the charm of hearing it once again.
Then the phrase ended, and the voice, gradually growing fainter, died away with the last vibrations of the air.
But Franz roused himself from his torpor. He straightened himself up abruptly. He held his breath to seize some distant echo of this voice which went to his heart.
All was silent within and without.
“Her voice!” he murmured. “Yes! it was really her voice—the voice I loved so much.”
Then returning to himself he said,—
“I was asleep, and I dreamed.”