Read SATAN AND DEMON : CHAPTER I of The Nameless Castle, free online book, by Maurus Jokai, on ReadCentral.com.

There was a notorious troop with Napoleon’s army, the sixth Italian regiment, which was called the “Legion of Demons.”

The troop was made up of worthless members of society idlers, highwaymen, outcasts, and desperate characters, who had lost all sense of respectability and morality. The majority of them had sought the asylum of the battle-field to escape imprisonment or worse.

When their commander led his “demons” to an attack, he was wont to urge them thus:

Avanti, avanti, Signori briganti! Cavalieri ladroni, avanti!” ("Forward, forward, Messieurs Highwaymen! My chivalrous footpads, forward!”)

A division of this legion of demons had made its way with the vice-king of Italy thus far through the belt-line, and had been intrusted with the mission mentioned in De Fervlans’s letter to General Guillaume. The marquis commanded this body of the demons, he having, as Colonel Barthelmy in the Austrian army, become thoroughly familiar with that part of Hungary.

Lisette and Satan Laczi’s little son were living alone at the Nameless Castle.

When Marie, who was come in quest of her friend Cambray, rang the bell, the door was opened by the lad.

“Is there a strange gentleman here?” she asked.

“I don’t know. He went to see Lisette, and I did not see him come away,” was the reply.

“Then let me come in,” said the young girl. “I want to speak to Lisette, too.”

“She will beat me if I let you come in,” returned the boy, opening the door after a moment’s hesitation.

The fumes of camphor were perceptible even in the vestibule; and when Marie’s little conductor knocked at the door of the kitchen, a heaping shovelful of hot and smoking coals was thrust toward him, and a scolding voice demanded irritably:

“What do you want again? Why do you keep annoying me, you little torment!”

“Excuse me, Lisette,” humbly apologized the lad, “but our young mistress from the manor is here.”

At this announcement Lisette hastily shut the door again, and opened a small loophole in an upper panel, through which she spoke in a sharp tone:

“Why do you come here? Has the Lord forsaken you over yonder, that you come back to this pest-house? Get out of it as quickly as you can. Go down and hide yourself in the Schmidt’s cottage perhaps they will not betray you. Anyway, you can’t stop here with us.”

“That is just what I mean to do, Lisette, stop here with you,” smilingly responded Marie. “Where is my friend Cambray?”

“How should I know where he is? A pretty question to ask me! He is n’t anywhere. He has gone to bed, and you can’t see him.”

“I shall hunt till I find him, Lisette.”

“Well, you will do as you like, of course; but you will not find M. Cambray, for he does n’t want to see you.”

“Very well,” returned Marie. Then to the lad by her side, “Come with me, Laczko; we will hunt for the gentleman.”

Lisette was beside herself with terror at the danger which threatened Marie; but before she could utter another word, the young girl and her little escort had disappeared down the corridor.

There was a great change everywhere in the castle. The floors were covered with muddy foot-tracks; huge nails had been driven into the varnished walls, and great heaps of dust, straw, and hay lay about on the inlaid floors of the halls and salon. Marie hardly recognized her former immaculate asylum.

She called, with her clear, soft-toned voice, into every room, “Cambray! father! art thou here?” but received no reply.

Then she mounted the staircase to her own apartment. The door was open like all the rest, but a first glance told Marie that the room had not been used until now. Lisette, beyond a doubt, had lodged her respected guest in this only habitable chamber.

Marie entered and looked about her. The metal screen was down!

She hastened toward it. There was a light burning in the alcove, and she could see through the links by placing her eyes close to them. The noble old knight was lying on the bare floor, with his hands forming a pillow for his head. His glassy eyes were fixed and staring, and burning with a startling brightness. His parched lips were half-open, as if he were speaking.

“Cambray! father!” called Marie; in a tone of distress.

“Who calls? Marie?” gasped the fever-stricken man, making a vain attempt to rise. He fell back with a deep groan, but flung out his hand as if to ward off her approach.

“Let me come in, Cambray. It is I, your little Marie. Please let me come in. There, close to your right hand, is a button in the floor. Press it, and this screen will rise.”

The sick man began to laugh; only his face showed that he was laughing, no sound came from his parched throat. He was laughing because he had prevented his favorite from coming to his pestilential resting-place.

Marie deliberated a moment, then decided to resort to stratagem:

“If you will not let me come in to you, papa Cambray,” she called, simulating a petulant tone, “I shall go away, and not come back again. If you should want anything there will be a little boy here, outside; you can summon him by pressing that button. Good night, dear papa Cambray!”

The sick man turned his face toward the screen and listened in dreamy ecstasy to the sweet voice. He raised his hand, waved it weakly toward the speaker, then clasped it with the other on his breast, while his lips moved as if in prayer.

“Go fetch candles, and the tinder-box,” whispered Marie to the little Laczko. “Place them here by the sofa, then light the lamp in the corridor.”

“May I fetch my gun, too?” asked the boy.

“Your gun? What for?”

“I should n’t be afraid if I had it with me.”

“Then fetch it; but don’t come into the room with it, for I am dreadfully afraid of guns. Leave it just outside the door.”

It was quite dark when Laczko returned with the candles and a heavy double-barreled fowling-piece. He carefully placed the latter in the corner, then asked:

“Shall I light the candles now?”

“Certainly not. I don’t want the gentleman to know that I am here. Maybe he may want something, and open the screen. I am going to lie down on this sofa, and you are to stand close by the alcove and watch the gentleman. If he should lift the screen, and I have fallen asleep, you must waken me at once.”

Marie wrapped herself in her shawl, and lay down on the leather couch. Laczko took up his station as directed, close by the metal screen, through which he peered from time to time.

But there was no danger of Marie falling asleep. She could not even keep her eyes closed. Every few moments she would sit up and ask in a cautious whisper:

“What is he doing now?”

“He is tossing from side to side.”

This reply was repeated several times.

At last the answer came that the invalid was perfectly quiet, whereupon
Marie decided not to inquire again for an hour.

Suddenly she heard the lad say, in a trembling voice:

“I am dreadfully frightened.”

“What of?” whispered Marie.

“The gentleman lies so still. He has n’t stirred for a long time.”

“He is asleep, I dare say.”

“If he were sleeping his breast would rise and fall; but he is perfectly still.”

Marie rose, and hastened to the screen. The smoking wick in the night-lamp near Cambray’s head illumined his ghastly face. Marie had already seen one such pallid countenance that of the old servant Henry when he lay dead on his bier.

She shuddered, and retreated with trembling limbs, drawing the lad with her.

“You may light the candle now,” she whispered; “then we will go back to Lisette.”

Laczko lighted the candle, then shouldered his gun, and preceded his young mistress down the staircase to the lower story.

They had almost reached the door of Lisette’s room when Marie, who had been peering sharply ahead, stopped abruptly, and exclaimed in a startled tone:

“There is a man!”

Even as she spoke a dark form stepped from a doorway into the corridor in front of them. Marie retreated several steps; but her little escort proved that he was made of sterner stuff. He placed himself valiantly in front of his young mistress, laid his gun against his cheek, and aiming directly for the stranger’s breast, said, in a brave tone:

“Halt, or I will shoot you.”

“That’s my brave lad,” commented the stranger. “But don’t shoot. It is I, your father.”

“Don’t come any nearer, I tell you!” responded the lad, threateningly.

“Why, I am not moving a muscle, lad; don’t be foolish.”

“What do you want here?” demanded Laczko. “I will not let you do any harm to my mistress.”

Here Marie, who had recovered from her alarm, came forward, and laid her hand over her small defender’s eyes.

“Take down your gun, Laczko,” she commanded. Then turning to the stranger asked: “What do you want, my good man?”

For answer the man merely pronounced a name:

“Sophie Botta.”

Without an instant’s hesitation, and although she shuddered involuntarily when her eyes fell on the stranger’s repulsive countenance, the young girl went close to his side, and said calmly:

“What do you wish me to do?”

Satan Laczi held the thumb-ring toward her, and said:

“The person who wears this sent me to fetch you away from here. Are you ready to come with me at once?”

“I am,” replied Marie, who seemed unable to remove her eyes from the hideously ugly face before her.

“My master,” continued the ex-robber, “also bade me fetch a little steel casket. Do you know where it is hidden?”

“The person who had it in her care has already taken it to your master,” was Marie’s response.

“Ah, she has taken it to him?” repeated Satan Laczi. “Then it is all right. I know now what I have to do. My master bade me convey you to a place of concealment; but my face is not exactly the sort to win anybody’s confidence. Besides, I know some one who can perform this errand as well as I. The way to Raab is clear. Instead of taking you there myself, my wife will go with you. I think you would rather have her for a companion?”

“Yes, I think I would rather go with a woman,” diplomatically assented Marie.

“As an additional protection, take this little lad with you.” Here the ex-robber laid his hand on his son’s shoulder, and looked proudly down on him. “His heart is already in the right place. And then he is not a wicked rascal like his father.”

He was silent a moment, then added: “But I intend to reform. When my master has spoken with the woman to whom he intrusted his treasures, and if she has not betrayed him, then I know where he will be to-morrow. And Satan Laczi will be there, too! Then I and my comrades will show them what we can do. But come, we must make haste, and get on as far as possible while the moon is shining.”

“But I am not properly clad for a journey,” interposed Marie.

“My wife brought a nice warm bunda to wrap you in; it is in the carriage out yonder,” returned the ex-robber.

“One word first: you are acquainted with the man who made the metal screen in my apartments. Could you see him?”

“He is in Count Vavel’s service, and I can see him when I return to the camp.”

“Then tell him to come to the Nameless Castle at once. He understands the secret spring of the screen, behind which he will find a dead man. This man was a very good friend, and I want him properly buried.”

“I will give Master Matyas your order.”

Marie now took leave of the Nameless Castle, feeling that she would never again come back to it. But she had not the courage to enter her apartments again.

The four-horse coach waited at the park gate. Marie entered it, wrapped the warm sheep-skin around her, and tied a cotton kerchief over her head in peasant fashion. Satan Laczi’s wife took a seat by her side; the little Laczko climbed to the coachman’s box, where he sat with his gun between his knees. Then the coachman cracked his whip, and the vehicle rattled down the road amid a cloud of dust. Satan Laczi looked after the coach until it disappeared around a turn in the road. Then he blew a shrill blast on his whistle, whereupon a number of wild-looking men, each armed to the teeth, emerged from the shrubbery and came toward him. Whispered orders were given, then the men in a body moved toward the willow-copse on the shore of the lake. Here were two flatboats drawn up on the beach. These were pushed into the water; the men entered them, each took an oar, and the unwieldy vessels were propelled along the shore toward the marshes.

The Marquis de Fervlans had camped with his company of demons on the shore of Neusiedl Lake. The marquis himself had taken quarters at the inn in the nearest village, where, assisted by two companions of questionable respectability but of undoubted valor, he was testing the quality of the fiery wine of the region, when a peasant cart, drawn by three horses, drew up before the inn, and Jocrisse, Baroness Katharina’s messenger, alighted.

“Ah, here comes a sensible fellow,” exclaimed the marquis. “I wonder what news he brings.”

He was very soon enlightened.

“Hum! ‘Io non posso!’” he repeated, after reading the brief message Jocrisse delivered to him. “Very well, madame, I think I shall know what to do if you ‘cannot’! Jocrisse, how is the country around Odenburg garrisoned?”

“A division of militia cavalry occupies every town,”

“That is exasperating! Not that I fear these militiamen might give my demons too much work; but I am afraid I may alarm them; then they will scamper in all directions, and frighten the entire Neusiedl region, so that when I arrive at Fertoeszeg I shall find the birds flown and the nest empty. We must take them by surprise. Have you ever before been in this part of the country, Jocrisse?”

“I accompanied the county surveyor once as far as Frauenkirchen.”

“Is the road practicable for wheels?”

“To Frauenkirchen it is good for wagons; but beyond the city it is in a wretched condition.”

“Very well. You will engage a post-chaise here, and follow us to Frauenkirchen, where you will wait for further orders. What time did you leave Fertoeszeg?”

“About noon.”

“Listen. I suspect that your mistress will try to escape with the maid. If that is the case, we must bestir ourselves. But women are afraid to travel by night; and even if they have already left the manor, they cannot have gone very far. The water in the Danube was unusually high on the day of the battle at Aspern; that would cause the Raab to rise, and overflow the bridges crossing it. I shall doubtless overtake the fugitives at Vitnyed.”

“It will be rather risky crossing the Hansag at night,” observed Jocrisse, “and no amount of money would induce one of these natives about here to act as guide. They are a peculiar folk.”

“Yes; but I shall not need a guide. I have an excellent map of the neighborhood, which I used when I was in garrison here. I used to hunt all over this region after wild boars and turkeys, and never had any difficulty finding my way, even at night.”

De Fervlans now sent orders to his troop to break camp at once, with as little stir as possible; and before twilight shadows fell upon the land, the demons were riding toward the Hansag.

If we assume that Marie left the Nameless Castle in company with the wife of Satan Laczi at midnight, we can easily see that she would have but a few hours’ advantage of the demons, who broke camp at sunset. If the latter met with no hindrance on their way, they would overtake the coach of the fugitives at the crossing of the Raab. As it was after midnight when Ludwig Vavel learned of the danger which threatened Marie, he could not, even if he had set out at once, have reached the Hansag before noon of the following day, by which time De Fervlans and his demons would have accomplished their errand. Therefore nothing short of a miracle could save the maid.