The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne
The count awoke at dawn, his mind still troubled with the visions of the night.
In the morning he was to leave the village of Werst on the road to Kolosvar.
After visiting the manufacturing towns of Petroseny and Livadzel, Franz’s intention was to stay an entire day at Karlsburg, before stopping some time in the capital of Transylvania. From there the railway would take him across the provinces of Central Hungary, where his journey would end.
Franz had left the inn, and, walking on the terrace with his field-glass at his eyes, he was examining with deep emotion the outlines of the castle, which the sun was showing up so clearly on the Orgall plateau.
And his reflections bore on this point:—When he reached Karlsburg, would he keep the promise he had made to the people of Werst? Would he inform the police of what had happened at the Castle of the Carpathians?
When the young count had undertaken to restore peace to the village, he had no doubt but that the castle was the refuge of some gang of criminals, or, at least, of people of doubtful repute, who having some interest in not being sought after, had taken steps to prevent any one approaching them.
But since the previous day Franz had been thinking the matter over. A change had come over his thoughts, and he now hesitated.
For five years the last descendant of the family of Gortz, Baron Rodolphe, had disappeared, and what had become of him no one knew. Doubtless rumour had said he was dead, a short time after his departure from Naples. But was that true? What proof had they of his death? Perhaps the Baron de Gortz was alive, and if he lived, why should he not have returned to the castle of his ancestors? Why should not Ortanik, his only familiar friend, have accompanied him, and why should not this strange physician be the author and manager of these phenomena which caused such terror in the country?
It will be admitted that this hypothesis appeared somewhat plausible; and if Baron Rodolphe de Gortz and Orfanik had taken refuge in the castle, it was natural that they would try and make it unapproachable, so as to live that life of isolation which was in accordance with their habits and characters.
If this were the case, what ought the count to do? Was it desirable that he should interfere in the private affairs of the Baron de Gortz? This he was asking himself, weighing the pros and cons of the question, when Rotzko came to rejoin him on the terrace.
When he had told him of what he had been thinking,—
“Master,” replied Rotzko, “it is possible that this may be the Baron de Goltz who is giving himself over to every diabolic imagination. Well, if that is so, my advice is not to mix ourselves up with his affairs. The poltroons of Werst will get out of their difficulty in their own way—that is their business, and we have no reason for troubling ourselves about bringing peace to this village.”
“Quite so,” said Franz; “and all things considered, I think you are right, my brave Rotzko.”
“I think so,” said Rotzko simply.
“As to Master Koltz and the others, they now know what to do to finish up with the pretended spirits at the castle.”
“Undoubtedly. All they have to do is to tell the Karlsburg police.”
“We will start after breakfast.”
“All will be ready,”
“But before we return down the valley of the Syl, we will go round towards Plesa.”
“I wish to see this Castle of the Carpathians a little nearer, if possible.”
“For what purpose?”
“Fancy, Rotzko; a mere fancy, which will not delay us half a day.”
Rotzko was much annoyed at this decision, which he looked upon as useless. All it could do would be to recall the memory of the past, which he tried his best to avoid. This time he tried in vain, and he had to yield to his master’s inflexible resolution.
Franz, as if he had become subject to some irresistible influence, felt himself drawn towards the castle. Without his being aware of it, this attraction might be due to the dream in which he had heard the voice of La Stilla murmur the plaintive melody of Stefano.
But had he been dreaming? Yes, that is what he was asking himself now that he remembered that in this same room of the “King Mathias” a voice had already made itself heard—that voice which Nic Deck had so imprudently defied. In the count’s mental condition there was nothing surprising in his forming the plan of going to the castle, to the foot of its wall, without any thought of entering.
Franz de Télek had, of course, no intention of telling the inhabitants of Werst of his journey. These people would doubtless have joined Rotzko in dissuading him from approaching the castle, and he had ordered his man to be silent regarding it. When they saw him descending the village towards the valley of the Syl, everybody imagined they were on their way to Karlsburg. But from the terrace he had remarked that another road skirted the base of Retyezat up to the Vulkan. It would thus be possible to climb the ridge of Plesa towards the castle without passing again through the village, and consequently without being seen by Master Koltz or the others.
About noon, having settled without discussion the somewhat inflated bill which Jonas presented to the accompaniment of his best smile, Franz prepared to leave Werst.
Master Koltz, the fair Miriota, Magister Hermod, Doctor Patak, the shepherd Frik, and a number of the other inhabitants had come to bid him farewell.
The young forester had even left his room, and it was clear enough would soon be on his legs again—for which the doctor took all the honour to himself.
“I congratulate you, Nic Deck,” said Franz co him, “both you and your betrothed.”
“We are much obliged to you,” said the girl, radiant with happiness.
“May your journey be fortunate!” added the forester.
“Yes—may it be so!” replied Franz, though his forehead was a little clouded.
“Monsieur le Comte,” said Master Koltz, “we beg that you will not forget the information you promised to give at Karlsburg.”
“I will not forget it, Master Koltz,” replied Franz; “but should I be delayed on my journey, you know the very simple means of disembarrassing yourselves of your troublesome neighbours, and the castle will soon inspire no fear among the brave people of Werst.”
“That is easily said,” murmured the magister.
“And easily done,” replied Franz. “Before forty-eight hours, if you like, the police will have settled up with whoever is hiding in the castle.”
“Except in the very probable case that they are spirits,” said the shepherd Frik.
“Even then,” said Franz, slightly shrugging his shoulders.
“Monsieur le Comte,” said Doctor Patak, “if you had accompanied me and Nic Deck, you might not talk about them as you do!”
“I should be astonished if I did not,” replied Franz, “even if, like you, I had been so strangely detained by the feet in the castle ditch.”
“By the feet—yes, count, or rather by the boots! Unless you suppose that in my state of mind I dreamt—”
“I suppose nothing,” said Franz, “and will not try to explain what appears inexplicable. But be assured that if the gendarmes come to visit the Castle of the Carpathians, their boots, which are accustomed to discipline, will not take root like yours.”
And with that parting shot at the doctor the count received for the last time the respects of the innkeeper of the “King Mathias”—so honoured to have had the honour of the honourable Franz de Télek, etc. After a salute to Master Koltz, Nic Deck, his betrothed, and the inhabitants in the road, he made a sign to Rotzko, and both set out at a good pace down the road.
In less than an hour Franz and his man had reached the right bank of the river which flowed round the southern base of Retyezat.
Rotzko had made up his mind to make no observation to his master; it would have been useless to have done so. Accustomed to obey him in military style, if the young count met with some perilous adventure he would know how to get him out of it.
After two hours' walking Franz and Rotzko stopped for a short rest.
At this place the Wallachian Syl, which had been curving gently towards the right, approached the road by rather a sharp turn. On the other side was the Plesa and the Orgall plateau, at the distance of about a league. Franz then had to leave the Syl if he wished to cross the hill in the direction of the castle.
Evidently this roundabout way, chosen for the purpose of avoiding a return through Werst, must have doubled the distance which separated the castle from the village. Nevertheless it was still broad daylight when Franz and Rotzko reached the crest of the Orgall plateau. The young count would thus have time to see the castle from the outside. Then he could wait until evening before going back towards Werst, and it would be easy to follow the road without being seen. Franz’s intention was to pass the night at Livadzel, a little town situated at the confluence of the Syls, and to resume the road to Karlsburg in the morning.
The halt lasted half an hour. Franz, deep in his remembrances, much agitated at the thought that Baron de Gortz had perhaps concealed his existence in this castle, said not a word.
And Rotzko had to make a great effort to keep from saying to him,—
“It is useless to go further, master! Turn your back on this cursed castle and let us be off.”
They began to follow the thalweg of the valley; but first they had to cross a thicket in which there was no footpath. Patches of the ground had been deeply cut into, for in the rainy season the Syl frequently overflows, and flows in tumultuous torrents over the ground, which it converts into marsh. This caused some difficulty in the advance, and consequently some delay; and it took an hour to get back on the Vulkan road, which was reached about five o’clock.
The right flank of Plesa is not covered with the forest such as Nic Deck had to cut his way through with an axe; but its difficulties were of another kind. There were heaps of moraines, among which they could not venture without caution; sudden changes of level, deep excavations, great blocks dangerously unsettled on their bases and standing up like the seracs of Alpine regions, all the confusion of the piles of enormous stones which avalanches had precipitated from the summit of the mountain—in fact, a veritable chaos in all its horror.
To climb a slope like this took a good hour’s hard work. It seemed indeed that the Castle of the Carpathians was sufficiently defended by the impracticability of its approaches. And perhaps Rotzko hoped that there would be obstacles it would be impossible to surmount, although there were none.
Beyond the zone of blocks and hollows, the outer crest of the Orgall plateau was eventually reached. From there the outline of the castle was clear enough in the midst of this mournful desert, from which for so many years fear had kept away the natives of the district.
It should be noticed that Franz and Rotzko had approached the castle on its northern face; Nic Deck and Doctor Patak had attacked it on the east by taking the left of the Plesa and leaving the torrent of Nyad to the right. The two directions formed a somewhat wide angle, of which the apex was the central donjon. On the northern side it was impossible to obtain admittance, for there was neither gate nor drawbridge, and the wall, in following the irregularities of the plateau, ran to a considerable height.
But it mattered little that access was impossible on this side, for the young count had no intention of entering within the walls.
It was half-past seven when Franz de Télek and Rotzko stopped at the extreme end of the Orgall plateau. Before them rose this barbaric pile of buildings spread out in the gloom, and of much the same colour as that of the Plesa rocks. To the left, the wall made a sudden bend, flanked by the bastion at the angle. There, on the platform above the crenellated parapet, stood the beech whose twisted branches bore witness to the violent south-westerly breezes at this height.
The shepherd Frik was not deceived; the legend gave but three more years of life to the old castle of the Barons of Gortz.
Franz in silence looked at the mass of buildings dominated by the stumpy donjon in the centre. There, without doubt, under that confused mass, were still hidden vaulted chambers long and sonorous, long dædalian corridors, and redoubts concealed in the ground such as the old Magyar fortresses still possess. No dwelling could have been more fit for the last descendant of the family of Gortz to bury himself in oblivion, of which none knew the secret. And the more the young count thought, the more he clung to the idea that Rodolphe de Gortz had taken refuge in the isolation of his Castle of the Carpathians.
But there was nothing to show that the donjon was inhabited. No smoke rose from its chimneys, no sound came from its closed windows. Nothing—not even the cry of a bird—troubled the silence of the gloomy dwelling
For some minutes Franz eagerly gazed at this ring of wall, which once was full of the tumult of festival and the clash of arms. But he said nothing, for his mind was laden with oppressive thoughts and his heart with remembrances.
Rotzko, who respected the young count’s mournful silence, took care to keep away from him, and did not interrupt him by a single remark. But when the sun went down behind the shoulder of the Plesa, and the valley of the two Syls began to be bathed in shadow, he did not hesitate to approach him.
“Master,” he said, “the evening has come. It will soon be eight o’clock.”
Franz did not appear to hear.
“It is time to start,” said Rotzko, “if we are to reach Livadzel before the inns close.”
“Rotzko—in a minute—yes—in a minute I will go with you,” said Franz.
“It will take us quite an hour, master, to return to the hill road, and as the night will then have fallen, we shall run no risk of being seen.”
“A few minutes more/’ said Franz, “and we will go down towards the village.”
The count had not moved from the spot he had stopped at when he reached the plateau,
“Do not forget, master,” continued Rotzko, “that in the dark it will be difficult to pass among those rocks. We could hardly do it in broad daylight. You must excuse me if I insist—”
“Yes—we will go, Rotzko. I am with you.”
And it seemed as though Franz was helplessly detained before the castle, perhaps by one of those secret presentiments which the heart cannot account for. Was he, then, chained to the ground like Doctor Patak said he had been in the ditch at the foot of the curtain? No; his feet were free from every fetter. He could move about on the plateau as he chose, and, if he wished, nothing could have prevented him from going round the walls, skirting the edge of the counterscarp.
Perhaps he would do so?
So thought Rotzko, who said for the last time,—
“Are you coming, master?”
“Yes, yes!” replied Franz.
And he remained motionless.
The Orgall plateau was already in darkness. The shadow of the hills had spread over the buildings, whose outlines were all vague and misty. Soon nothing would be visible if no light shone from the windows of the donjon.
“Come, master, come!” said Rotzko. And Franz was about to follow him, when on the platform of the bastion, where stood the legendary beech, there appeared an indistinct shape.
Franz stopped, looking at the shape, whose outline gradually became clearer.
It was a woman with her hair undone, her hands stretched out, enveloped in a long white robe.
But this costume, was it not that which La Stilla wore in that final scene in “Orlando” in which Franz de Télek had seen her for the last time?
Yes! And it was La Stilla; motionless, with her arms stretched out towards the young count, her penetrating gaze fixed on him.
“She!” he cried.
And rushing towards the ditch he would have rolled to the foot of the wall if Rotzko had not stopped him.
But the apparition suddenly faded, and La Stilla was hardly visible for a minute.
Little did it matter. A second would have sufficed for Franz to recognize her, and these words escaped him:
“She! and alive!”