The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne
FRANZ was thoroughly astounded. As he had feared, the faculty of thinking, of comprehending matters, the intelligence necessary for him to reason on them, was gradually leaving him. The only feeling that remained was the remembrance of La Stilla, the impression of the song he had just heard, and which the echoes of this gloomy crypt no longer repeated.
Had he been the sport of an illusion? No, a thousand times no! It was indeed La Stilla he bad just heard, it was indeed her he had seen on the castle bastion.
Then the thought returned to him, the thought that she was deprived of reason, and this horrible blow struck him as if he were about to go out of his mind a second time.
“Mad!” he repeated. “Yes! Mad—for she did not recognize my voice—mad—mad!”
And that seemed to be only too likely. Ah! if he could only rescue her from this place, take her to his Castle of Krajowa, devote himself entirely to her, his care and love would soon restore her to sanity.
So said Franz, a prey to a terrible delirium, and many hours went by before he was himself again.
Then he tried to reason coolly, to collect himself amid the chaos of his thoughts.
“I must get away from here,” he said. “How? As soon as they reopen that door! Yes! During my sleep they come and renew this food. I will wait—I will pretend to sleep.”
A suspicion occurred to him. The water in the jug must contain some soporific substance. If he had been plunged in this heavy sleep, in this complete unconsciousness, the duration of which he did not know, it was because he had drunk this water. Well, he would drink no more of it. He would not even touch the food on the table. Somebody would come soon and then—
Then! What did he know of it? At this moment was the sun mounting towards the zenith or sinking on the horizon? Was it day or night?
Then Franz listened for the sound of footsteps at either door. But no sound reached him. He crept along the walls of the crypt, his head burning, his eyes glaring, his ears throbbing, his breath panting amid this heavy atmosphere, which was only just renewed through the chink around the doors.
Suddenly near the angle of one of the columns on the right he felt a fresher breath than usual' reach his lips.
Was there an opening here through which air came in from the outside?
Yes; there was a passage he had not noticed in the shade of the column.
To glide between the wails, to make for an indistinct clearness which seemed to come from above, was what Franz did in an instant.
There was a small court five or six yards across, with the walls a hundred feet high. It seemed to be a well which served as an outer court for this subterranean cell, and gave it a little air and light.
Franz could see it was still day. At the top of the well was a small angle of light which just shone on the upper margin.
The sun had accomplished at least half its diurnal course, for this luminous angle was slowly decreasing.
It must be about five o’clock in the afternoon.
Consequently Franz must have slept for at least forty hours, and he had no doubt this must have been due to a soporific draught. As he and Rotzko had left Werst on the nth of June, this must be the 13th which was about to finish in a few hours.
So humid was the air at the bottom of this court, that Franz breathed it deeply and felt all the better for it. But if he had hoped that an escape was possible up this long stone tube he was soon undeceived. To try and climb that smooth, lofty wall, was impracticable.
Franz returned to the interior of the crypt. As he could only get out through one of the doorways, he came to see what state they were in.
The first door—that by which he had come—was very solid and very thick, and was kept in its place on the other side by bolts working into iron staples; it was, therefore, useless to try and force it.
The second door—behind which he had heard La Stilla’s voice—did not seem to be so well preserved. The boards were rotten in places, and it might be possible to clear a way through them.
“Yes—this is the way!” said Franz, who had recovered his coolness; “this is the way!”
But he had no time to lose, as it was probable some one would enter the crypt as soon as he was supposed to be asleep under the influence of the soporific draught.
The work went on more quickly than he had expected. The moisture had eaten into the wood around the metal clasp which held the bolts against the embrasure. With his knife Franz managed to get the round part off, working noiselessly, and stopping now and then to listen and make sure that nothing was moving on the other side.
Three hours afterwards the bolts were free and the door opened with a scroop on its hinges.
Franz then returned to the little court so as to breathe a less stifling air.
At this moment the sun no longer shone across the opening of the well, and consequently must have sunk behind Retyezat. The court was in complete darkness. A few stars gleamed above, as if they were seen through the tube of a long telescope. A few small clouds drifted along in the intermittent breath of the night breeze. A peculiar haze in the atmosphere showed that the moon must have risen above the eastern mountains. It was evidently about nine o’clock at night.
Franz went back to the crypt, where he ate some of the food and quenched his thirst from the spring, after throwing away the liquid in the jug. Then, with his knife at his belt, he went out by the door, which he shut behind him.
And now would he meet the unfortunate La Stilla wandering in these subterranean galleries? At the thought his heart beat almost ready to burst.
As soon as he had made a few steps he stumbled. As he had thought, there was a flight of stairs, of which he counted the steps; sixty only instead of the seventy-seven he had come down to the threshold of the crypt. Consequently he was about eight feet below the level of the ground.
Having nothing better to do than to follow the dark corridor, the sides of which he could touch with his outstretched hands, he hurried on in that direction.
And he went on for half an hour without being stopped by door or railing. But the large number of turns had prevented him from knowing in what direction he was going with regard to the wall which faced the Orgall plateau.
After halting a few minutes to get his breath, Franz continued his advance, and it seemed as though the corridor were to be interminable, when an obstacle stopped him.
This was a wall of bricks.
Tapping it at different heights, he could find no sign of an opening.
This was the only way out from the corridor.
Franz could not help exclaiming. All his hopes were shattered against this obstacle. His knees bent, his legs gave way, and he fell at the foot of the wall.
But just on the ground the wall had a narrow crack in it, and the bricks, being rather loose, shook as he touched them.
“That is the way!” said Franz. “Yes! that is the way!”
And he began to pull out the bricks one by one, when there was a noise of something metallic on the other side.
The noise had not ceased, and at the same time a ray of light swept across the hole.
Franz looked through.
It was the old chapel that he saw. To what a lamentable state of dilapidation time and neglect had reduced it!—the roof half fallen in, a few only of the ribs perfect on their swelling columns, two or three pointed arches threatening to fall, a window-frame with flamboyant mullions thrust out of place; here and there a dusty tomb beneath which slept some ancestor of the family of Gortz, and at the end a fragment of an altar with the reredos still showing traces of sculpture; then the remains of the roof still over the apse which had been spared by the storms, and then over the ridge above the entrance the shaking belfry from which hung a rope to the ground—the rope of the bell which occasionally rang to the terror of the people of Werst.
Into this chapel, deserted for so long, open to all the rigours of the Carpathian climate, a man had just entered, holding in his hand a lantern, the brilliant light of which shone full on his face.
Franz instantly recognized him. It was Orfanik, that eccentric individual whom the baron had made his only companion during his sojourn in the large Italian towns, that oddity he had seen along the streets gesticulating and talking to himself, that incomprehensible scientist, that inventor ever in search of some chimera, and who doubtless put all his inventions at the service of Rodolphe de Gortz.
If Franz had retained any doubt as to the presence of the baron at the Castle of the Carpathians, even after the apparition of La Stilla, this doubt was changed to certainty when he saw Orfanik.
What was he going to do in this ruined chapel at this advanced hour of the night?
Franz tried to discover, and this is what he saw.
Orfanik, stooping over the ground, was lifting up a few iron cylinders to which he was attaching a line, which he unrolled from a reel placed in one of the corners of the chapel. And such was the attention he gave to his work, that he would not even have seen the young count if he had been able to get near him.
Ah! why was not the hole Franz had begun to enlarge sufficient to let him pass? He would have entered the chapel, he would have hurled himself on Orfanik, he would have compelled him to lead him to the donjon.
But perhaps it was as well that he could not do so, for if the attempt failed, the Baron de Gortz would have doubtless made him pay with his life for the secrets he had discovered.
A few minutes after the arrival of Orfanik another man entered the chapel.
It was Baron Rodolphe de Gortz. The never-to-be- forgotten physiognomy of this personage had not changed. He did not even seem to have aged, with his pale, long face, which the lantern illuminated from top to bottom, his long grey hair thrown back behind his ears, and his look glittering from the depths of his black orbits.
Rodolphe de Gortz went near to examine the work on which Orfanik was engaged.
And this was the conversation exchanged between the men in short, sharp tones.