Read CONCLUSION : CHAPTER III of The Nameless Castle, free online book, by Maurus Jokai, on ReadCentral.com.

Monsieur Capitaine Descourcelles rode an excellent horse, was a capital rider, and was plainly very much in love. These three circumstances combined brought back the gallant soldier from Raab by five o’clock in the afternoon.

The captain of the cuirassiers was not a little surprised to find the general’s wife playing cards with the hostile leader.

“General Guillaume agrees to everything,” he announced immediately, on entering the room. “He will release the ladies he has been holding as prisoners.”

Vavel hastened to shake hands with the bearer of these glad tidings, who was, however, more eager to kiss the hand of Vavel’s partner, and to inquire:

“I hope I find the ladies perfectly comfortable?”

“Very comfortable indeed,” replied madame. “Messieurs les Cannibales are very polite, and leur Catzique plays an excellent hand at piquet.”

“And where is mademoiselle? I trust she is not suffering from the fatigue of the journey?”

“Oh, no; she is very well. She is making her toilet, and will soon join us. I hope we shall leave here very soon.”

Madame now rose, and left the two soldiers alone in the room.

“Here,” observed the French captain, handing Vavel a paper, “is the sauf conduit.”

The pass contained the information that “Vavel de Versay, expatriated French nobleman and magnate of Hungary, together with the Countess Themire Dealba (alias Baroness Katharina Landsknechtsschild) and Sophie Botta (pretended Princess Marie Charlotte Capet), with attendants, were to be allowed to travel unmolested by any French troops they might chance to meet.”

Ludwig Vavel looked at this document a long time.

“Do you doubt the assurance of a French officer, monsieur?” asked the captain.

“No; I was just unable to understand why a word had been used here. I dare say it is a mistake. But no matter. I am greatly obliged to you.”

“Pray don’t speak of it,” responded the Frenchman, cordially shaking the hand Vavel extended toward him. “I must not forget to tell you that a four weeks’ armistice was agreed upon to-day.”

The ladies now entered the room, prepared to continue their journey. The face of the younger one wore a more cheerful expression than on her arrival at the parsonage. Madame thanked Vavel for his courtesy, then, with her daughter, entered the carriage and drove away.

Madame Guillaume was forgetful: she neglected to take leave of her host the pastor, and of her wounded countrymen in the church.

Vavel communicated the news of the armistice to his adjutant, and commanded him to return at once with the Volons to Fertoeszeg, there to quarter themselves in the Nameless Castle, and await further orders. Then he mounted his horse, and, accompanied by Master Matyas, galloped out of the village.

Twilight had deepened into night when the two men arrived at Raab. The clocks were striking eight, and the French trumpets were sounding the retreat at every gate. Vavel, therefore, would not be allowed to enter the city until the next morning; but Master Matyas, who did not stop to inquire which was the proper way when he wanted to go anywhere, knew of a little garden that belonged to a certain tanner, and very soon found an entrance along a rather circuitous route among the tan-vats.

Vavel had already seen battered walls, and dwellings ruined by bombs and flames, yet the thought that he should find his loved ones amid these smoke-blackened ruins oppressed his heart.

The two men attracted no attention. In the last days there had been many strangers in the city, deputations from the militia camps, to assist in establishing the line of demarcation. Master Matyas, without difficulty, led the way among the ruins to the neat little abode where the worthy vice-palatine had established his proteges. When they came within sight of the house Matyas observed:

“The two Frenchmen with their bearskin caps are not on guard to-day. The vice-palatine’s servant seems to be doing sentry-duty.”

Vavel applied his spurs and cantered briskly toward the house, but moderated his speed when he came nearer. He remembered how easily Marie was frightened by the clatter of horse-hoofs.

At the corner of the street he alighted, and cautioning Matyas to exercise slowly the fatigued horses, proceeded on foot to the house.

The servant on guard at the door saluted in military fashion with drawn sword. Ludwig hurried into the house. In the hall he encountered the little Laczko, who, at sight of the visitor, dropped the boot and brush he held in his hands, and disappeared through a door at the end of the hall. Vavel followed him, and found himself in the kitchen, where the widow of Satan Laczi also dropped to the floor the cooking-utensil she had in her hand.

The count did not stop to question her, but went on into the adjoining room, whence proceeded the sound of voices, and here he found three acquaintances the vice-palatine, Dr. Tromfszky, and the surveyor, Herr Doboka. The three started in alarm when they beheld Vavel. The doctor even made as if he would rush from the room as when in the Nameless Castle the furious invalid had seized his groom by the throat.

The expressions on the three startled countenances brought a sudden fear to Ludwig’s heart.

“Is any one ill here?” he asked.

The vice-palatine and the doctor looked at each other, but did not speak; the surveyor began to stammer:

“I say I say that

“Is Marie ill?” interrupted Vavel, excitedly.

Herr Bernat silently nodded assent, and pointed toward the door leading into the next room.

Vavel did not stop to inquire further, but strode into the adjoining chamber.

What a familiar little room it was, another fairy-like retreat like that of the Nameless Castle! Here were Marie’s toys, her furniture; the four cats were purring in the window-seat, and the two pugs lay dozing on the sofa.

A canopy-bed stood in the alcove, and among the pillows lay Marie. Katharina was sitting by the bedside.

“Oh, God!” cried Vavel, in a tone so full of anguish that every one who heard it, man, woman, and child, burst into tears. The invalid among the pillows alone laughed laughed aloud for joy.

And had she not cause to rejoice? Ludwig her Ludwig did not hasten first to embrace and kiss his betrothed wife. No, she, his little Marie, was the first!

He flung himself on his knees by the bed and covered the pale face with kisses and tears.

“Oh, my dearest! My adored saint! My idol!” he sobbed, while Marie’s face glowed with the purest earthly happiness.

She pressed Ludwig’s head to her breast and whispered soothingly:

“Don’t grieve, Ludwig; I am not going to die. I have not got that horrid influenza poor papa Cambray brought with him from Paris. I took a little cold the night we ran away from the bombs; but I shall soon be well again, now that you are come. I want to live, Ludwig, and you, who rescued me from death once before, will know how to do it again.”

Katharina laid her hand tenderly on the maid’s head, and said gently:

“Don’t talk any more now, dearest; you know you must not excite yourself.”

Marie grasped the white hand and drew it down to Ludwig’s lips.

“Kiss it, Liadwig; kiss this dear, good hand. Oh, she has been a good little mother to me! She has wept so much because of me. If only you knew what she had planned to do when they were going to tear me away from her! But that danger is past, and now that you are come everything will be well. We have been reading about you, Ludwig. What a hero you are our knight, St. George! I have n’t been really ill, you know, Ludwig; it was only anxiety about you. I shall soon be well again. Please tell the doctor I don’t need any more medicine. I want to get up I feel strong already. I want to put on my gown; then I will take your arm and Katharina’s, and we three will promenade to the window. I want to see the evening star. Please send Frau Satan to me; she can lift me more easily than Katharina, for I am very heavy. Ludwig, take Katharina into the next room while I am dressing. I know you have much to say to each other.”

Frau Satan now entered in answer to the summons. The doctor had ordered that the invalid’s wishes must be obeyed.

Ludwig and Katharina went into the next room. They looked long into each other’s eyes, and in the gaze lay many of the thoughts which, if they cannot be told to the one person on earth, are never heard by any one else. Suddenly Katharina, without word of warning, dropped on her knees at her lover’s feet, seized his hand, and laid her face against it.

“You are my guardian angel,” she whispered (the invalid in the next room must not be disturbed by the sound of voices); “you have rescued that saint from her enemies and saved me from perdition. Oh, Ludwig, if only you knew what I have suffered! Marie’s every sigh, the feverish words uttered in her delirium, have been so many accusations oppressing my heart. These have been terrible days! To be compelled hourly to dread either of two horrible blows, and to have to pray to God that, if both could not be averted, to let the milder one fall! Death would have been welcome, indeed, compared to the other one. To listen tremblingly, hour after hour, for the knock at the door which would announce the messenger sent to bear Marie to Paris, or death with his scythe to bear her to the grave! And then to have to look on her sufferings, and hear her pray for her betrayer! Oh, it was terrible, terrible! Ludwig, you are just as God is just. I have suffered as any woman in the Bible suffered. You have taken my load of sorrow from me, have released my heart from the tortures of perdition. All the evil I have done, you have made good. Therefore, do you pronounce judgment on me. Condemn me or forgive me. I deserve both; I will accept either at your hands.”

Without a word Ludwig Vavel raised the woman to her feet, clasped her in his arms, and pressed his lips to hers in a long, long kiss. In it were forgiveness, love, union.

From the adjoining room came the sounds of a piano. Some one was playing the hymn of the Hungarian militia.

Ludwig and Katharina hurried into the room. Marie was seated at the piano, arrayed in her favorite blue gown. Her transparent hands hovered over the ivory keys, and lured from them the melancholy air, to which she sang, in a voice that seemed to come from the distant clouds:

“Was kleinliche Bosheit ausgedacht,
Hat unserer Liebe ein Ende gemacht.”

At the last word her arms sank to her sides; the exertion had completely exhausted her. But she struggled bravely to overcome her weakness. She smiled brightly at Ludwig and Katharina, and said:

“This melancholy song was not intended for you two. It was only to show Ludwig how I have improved. You two will love each other very dearly, won’t you? And you will go far, far away from here, and leave ‘Marie’ buried in her tomb. I don’t mean myself; I mean the troublesome girl who has made so much ill feeling in the world, because of whom so many people have suffered; the girl whose ashes rest there in the steel casket, and whose life was so sad that she had no desire to live longer. But ‘Sophie’ is going with you out into the world. She will see how happy you two can be. And now, help me to the window; I want to look at the evening star,”

They rolled her arm-chair to the window, and Vavel opened the sash to admit the fresh air from the garden.

Marie clasped Ludwig’s and Katharina’s hands in both her own, and whispered in a faint voice:

“You will forget the past, will you not? or think of it only as a dream a disagreeable dream. And don’t go back to the Nameless Castle. The veiled woman, the locked doors, the silent man, the telescope, the lonely promenades in the garden all, all were dreams. Don’t think of them! Forget them all! The clanking swords, the thunder of cannons all these were not. We only dreamed it. We never lived under the shadow of a throne. Who was Marie? A sovereign of cats, and crown princess in the realm of little dogs and birds a nursery tale to tell naughty little children who will not go to sleep! But Sophie Botta will be here to-morrow, and the next day, and always; she will be with you, the silly, stupid little maid, who can do nothing but obey those whom she loves with all her heart.”

Vavel with difficulty refrained from giving voice to his overwhelming grief.

“Just see,” Marie continued in a gay tone, “how much better I am! Heretofore, when the hour came for the evening star to appear, the fever would come too, and to-day it has failed to come with the star. Joy has cured me. Don’t take your hands away from me, Ludwig Katharina. They will hold me hold me fast.”

But they did not “hold her fast.”

And why should such a being remain on this earth a being that could do naught else but love and renounce, adoring her nation even when it persecuted her?

A dark thunder-cloud rose above the horizon out over the Hansag. The sky looked like a vaulted ceiling hung with mourning draperies. From time to time a distant flash of lightning illumined the cloud-curtain, then would be heard the rumbling of thunder, like the deep tones of a distant organ.

Under the threatening sky lay the glittering lake. Its surface of quicksilver was streaked here and there with black shadows the track of the wind-gusts racing across it. The trees were rustling in the wind, making a sound like a distant choral.

On the shore of Lake Neusiedl stood the Volons in rank and file. They were waiting for something that was coming from the farther shore of the little cove.

Presently the glistening surface of the water was ruffled by a black object that pushed out from the shore. It was a boat. Six men were rowing, a seventh held the rudder. There was a coffin in the boat, covered with a simple pall. No ostentatious trappings ornamented the coffin; only a myrtle wreath lay on it. A woman, sat at the head of it, another at the foot the former a lady, the latter a peasant wife.

The six men, with even and powerful strokes, sent the craft through the ripples which occasionally leaped into the boat, as if they would salute her who had so often toyed with them.

At the moment the boat touched the shore the storm burst. Vivid lightning illumined the heavy downpour of rain, and it seemed as if the black-robed forms bore the coffin to its grave amid a flood of harpstrings that reached from heaven to earth.

The two weeping women followed the coffin; at a little distance they seemed two shadows. The helmsmen of the funeral boat now stepped to the head of the grave and opened his lips to speak, but a heavy peal of thunder drowned his voice. When it had ceased he said:

“My brave comrades, you are here to pay a last honor to your patroness. There is nothing left for us to fight for. Peace has been proclaimed. The conqueror takes from you a plot of ground twenty-four hundred square miles in extent. The one lying here takes from you only six feet of earth. To you remain your tattered flag and your wounds. Return to your homes. My sword has finished its work, and will accompany the saint for whom it was drawn!”

As he spoke he broke the keen blade in twain and cast the pieces into the grave, adding impressively, “May God give us forgetfulness, and may we be forgotten!”

The Volons fired three salvos over the grave, the reverberating thunder and the flashing lightning mingling with the noise of the muskets.

When the storm had passed the moon rose in a cloudless sky. Only the waves, which had been stirred by the tempest, continued to murmur to their favorite who was sleeping peacefully in her grave on the shore.

Marie had asked to be buried on the grassy slope by the side of her old friend the Marquis d’Avoncourt, and that no other monument should mark her resting-place save the imperishable tree which turns to stone after it dies.

And what could have been graven on her tomb? A name that was not hers? A history that was not true?

Or would it have been well to carve on the marble her true life-history, that those who would not believe it might wage a lawsuit against an epitaph?

No; it was better so. No one would ever learn what had become of her.

Vavel had prayed for forgetfulness that he might be forgotten.

His prayer was granted.

For a few years afterward tales were repeated about Sophie Botta, and some of her kinsfolk came from a distance to claim the sum of money Vavel had placed in the hands of the authorities for the young girl’s heirs. But none of the claimants could produce satisfactory proofs of kinship, and after a while Sophie Botta was forgotten by all the world, as were Count Vavel and Katharina.

The Nameless Castle as well vanished from the face of the earth, as have entire villages which once stood on the treacherous shores of Lake Neusiedl.

Gradually, imperceptibly, the castle disappeared; gradually, imperceptibly, bastion after bastion vanished, until not even the stone hand which held aloft the sword in the noble escutcheon, or the towering weathervane, could be seen above the placid waters of the lake.