The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne
HOW can we describe the anxiety to which the village of Werst had been a prey since the departure of the young forester and Doctor Patak? And it had constantly increased as the hours elapsed, and seemed interminable.
Master Koltz, the innkeeper Jonas, Magister Hermod, and a few others had remained all the time on the terrace, each of them keeping a constant watch on the distant castle to see if any wreath of smoke appeared over the donjon. No smoke showed itself—as was ascertained by means of the telescope, which was incessantly brought to bear in that direction Assuredly the two florins sunk in the acquisition of that instrument had been well invested. Never had the biro, although so much interested in the matter, betrayed the slightest regret at so opportune an expenditure.
At half-past twelve, when the shepherd Frik returned from the pasture, he was eagerly interrogated. Was there anything new, anything extraordinary, anything supernatural?
Frik replied that he had just come along the valley of the Wallachian Syl without seeing anything suspicious.
After dinner, about two o’clock, the people went back to their post of observation. No one dreamt of remaining at home, and no one would certainly have dreamt of setting foot within the grand saloon of the “King Mathias,” where comminatory voices made themselves heard. That walls have ears is all very well, it is a popular proverb—but a mouth!
And so the worthy innkeeper might well fear that his inn had been put into quarantine, and consequently his anxiety was extreme. Would he have to shut up shop, and drink his own stock for want of customers? And with a view of restoring confidence among the people of Werst, he had undertaken a lengthy search throughout the " King Mathias he had searched the rooms, under the beds, explored the cupboards and the sideboard, and every corner of the large saloon, the cellar, and the store-room, from which any ill-disposed practical joker might have worked the mystification.
Nothing could he find, not even along the side of the house overlooking the Nyad. The windows were too high for it to be possible for any one to climb to them along a perpendicular wall, the foundation of which went sheer down into the impetuous torrent. It mattered not! Fear does not reason, and considerable time would doubtless elapse before Jonas’s habitual guests would return to their confidence in his inn, his schnapps, and his rakiou.
Considerable time? That is a mistake, and, as we shall see, this gloomy prognostic was never realized.
In fact, a few days later, in a quite unexpected way, the village notables were to resume their daily conferences, varied with refreshments, in the saloon of the “King Mathias.”
But we must first return to the young forester and his companion, Doctor Patak.
It will be remembered that when he left Werst, Nic Deck had promised the disconsolate Miriota that he would make his visit to the Castle of the Carpathians as brief as possible. If no harm happened to him, if the threats fulminated against him were not realized, he expected to get back early in the evening. He was therefore waited for, and with what impatience! Neither the girl, nor her father, nor the schoolmaster could foresee that the difficulties of the road would prevent the forester from reaching the crest of the Orgall plateau before nightfall.
And, in consequence, the anxiety, which had been intense during the day, exceeded all bounds when eight o’clock struck in the Vulkan clock, which could be heard distinctly at Werst. What could have happened to prevent both Nic and the doctor from returning after a day’s absence? Nobody thought of going home before they came back. Every minute they were seen in imagination coming round some turning in the road or along some gap in the hills.
Master Koltz and his daughter had gone to the end of the road, where the shepherd had been placed on' the lookout. Many times they thought they saw somebody in the distance through the clearings among the trees. A pure illusion! The hillside was deserted, as usual, for it was not often that the frontier folk ventured there at night. And it was Thursday evening—the Thursday of evil spirits—and on that day the Transylvanian never willingly stirs abroad after sundown. It seemed that Nic Deck must have been mad to have chosen such a day for his visit to the castle; the truth being that the young forester had not given it a thought, as indeed had no one else in the village.
But Miriota was thinking a good deal about it now. And what terrible imaginings occurred to her! In imagination she had followed her lover hour by hour, through the thick forests of the Plesa as he made his way up to the Orgall plateau. And now that night had come she seemed to see him within the wall, endeavouring to escape from the spirits which haunted the Castle of the Carpathians. He had become the sport of their malevolence. He was the victim devoted to their vengeance. He was imprisoned in the depths of some subterranean gaol—dead, perhaps.
Poor girl, what would she not have given to throw herself on his track! And as she could not do that, at least she could wait all night in this place. But her father insisted on her going home, and, leaving the shepherd on the watch, returned with her to his house.
As soon as she was in her little room Miriota abandoned herself to tears. She loved him with all her heart, this brave Nic, and with a love all the more grateful owing to the young forester not having sought her under the conditions on which marriages are generally arranged in these Transylvanian countries.
Every year, at the feast of St. Peter, there opens “the fair of the betrothed.” On that day all the marriageable girls of the district are assembled. They come in their best carriages drawn by their best horses; they bring with them their dowry, that is to say, the clothes they have spun, and sewn, and embroidered with their hands, and these are all packed in gaudily coloured boxes; their relatives and women friends and neighbours accompanying them. And then the young men arrive dressed in their best clothes and girt with silken sashes; proudly they strut through the fair; they choose the girl they take a fancy to; they give her a ring and a handkerchief in token of betrothal, and the marriages take place at the close of the fair.
But it was not in one of these marriage fairs that Nic Deck had met Miriota Their acquaintanceship had not come about by chance. They had known each other from childhood; they had loved as soon as they were old enough to love. The young forester had not had to seek her out at a sale. But why was Nic Deck of so resolute a character? why was he so obstinate in keeping an imprudent promise? And yet he loved her, although she had not enough influence over him to stop his going to this wretched castle.
What a night the sorrowful Miriota had amid her terrors and her tears! She could not sleep. Stooping at her window, looking out on the rising road, she seemed to hear a voice that whispered,—
“Nicolas Deck has defied the warning. Miriota has no longer a lover,”
But that was but a mistake of her troubled senses. No voice came across the silence of the night. The phenomenon of the saloon of the “King Mathias” was not reproduced in the house of Master Koltz.
At dawn next morning the population of Werst were astir. From the terrace to the rise of the hill, some went one way, some another, along the main road—some asking for news, some giving it. They said that Frik the shepherd had gone off about a quarter of a mile from the village, not to enter the forest, but to skirt it, and that he had some reason for doing so.
The people were waiting for him, and in order to communicate more promptly with him, Master Koltz, Miriota, and Jonas went to the end of the village.
Half an hour afterwards Frik was observed a few hundred yards away up the rising road.
As he did not appear to be in a hurry, good news was not expected.
“Well, Frik,” said Master Koltz as soon as the shepherd came up, “what have you discovered?”
“I have seen nothing and discovered nothing,” said Frik.
“Nothing!” murmured the girl, whose eyes filled with tears.
“At daybreak,” continued the shepherd, “I saw two men about half a mile away. At first I thought it was Nic Deck accompanied by the doctor, but it was not.”
“Do you know who the men were?” asked Jonas.
“Two travellers who had crossed the frontier in the morning.”
“You spoke to them?”
“Were they coming towards the village?”
“No; they were going towards Retyezat, bound for the summit.”
“They looked like it, Master Koltz.”
“And as they crossed the Vulkan during the night, they saw nothing near the castle?”
“No—for they were then on the other side of the frontier,” replied Frik.
“Have you no news of Nic Deck?”
There was a sigh from poor Miriota.
“Besides,” said Frik, “you can have a talk to these travellers in a day or two, for they are thinking of staying at Werst before setting out for Kolosvar.”
“Provided some one does not speak evil of my inn!” thought Jonas. “They would never care to stay there!”
For the last thirty-six hours the excellent landlord had been possessed by this fear that no traveller dare henceforth eat and sleep at the “King Mathias.”
In short, these questions and answers between the shepherd and his master had in no way cleared matters up. And as neither the young forester nor Doctor Patak had reappeared by eight o’clock in the morning, could it be reasonably hoped that they would ever reappear? The Castle of the Carpathians was not to be approached with impunity.
Crushed by the emotions of that sleepless night, Miriota could bear up no longer. She almost fainted away, and hardly had strength to walk. Her father took her home. There her tears redoubled. She called Nic in a heartrending voice. She would have gone out to find him. And all pitied her and feared she was going to have a serious illness.
However, it was necessary and urgent to do something. Some one ought to go to the help of the forester and the doctor without losing a moment. That he would have to run into danger, in exposing himself to the attack of the beings, human ot otherwise, who occupied the castle, mattered little. The important thing was to know what had become of Nic and the doctor. This duty fell not only to their friends, but to every inhabitant of the village. The bravest could not refuse to cross the Plesa forests and ascend to the Castle of the Carpathians.
That was decided after many discussions. The bravest were found to consist of three: these were Master Koltz, the shepherd Frik, and the innkeeper Jonas—not one more. As for Magister Hermod he was suddenly seized with gout in the leg, and had to stretch himself out on two chairs while he taught in his school.
About nine o’clock Master Koltz and his companions, well armed in case of eventualities, took the road to the Vulkan. And at the very turning where Nic Deck had left it, they left it to plunge into the woods.
In fact they said to themselves, not without reason, that if the young forester and the doctor were on their way back to the village, this was the road by which they would come; and it would be easy to get on their track once the three were through the outer line of trees.
We will leave them, to relate what happened at Werst as soon as they were out of sight. If it had appeared indispensable that volunteers should go off to the rescue of Nic Deck and Patak, it was considered to be unreasonably imprudent now that they were gone. It would be a fine conclusion if the first catastrophe were to be doubled by a second! That the forester and the doctor had been the victims of their attempt, no one doubted; and what was the use of Master Koltz and Frik and Jonas exposing themselves to another disaster? They would indeed be getting on when the girl had to weep for her father as she had to weep for her betrothed; when the friends of the shepherd and the innkeeper had to reproach themselves with their loss!
The grief became general at Werst, and there was no sign that it would soon end. Even supposing that no harm happened to them, the return of Master Koltz and his two companions could not be reckoned upon before night had fallen on the heights of the Plesa.
What, then, was the surprise when they were sighted about two o’clock in the afternoon some distance along the road! With what eagerness did Miriota, who was at once told of their approach, run to meet them!
There were not three, there were four; and the fourth appeared in the shape of the doctor.
“Nic—my poor Nic!” exclaimed the girl, “Nic is not there?”
Yes—Nic Deck was there, stretched on a litter of boughs, which Jonas and the shepherd bore with difficulty.
Miriota rushed towards her betrothed, she stooped over him, she clasped him in her arms.
“He is dead!” she exclaimed, “he is dead!”
“No, he is not dead,” replied Doctor Patak, “but he deserves to be—and so do I!”
The truth is, the forester was unconscious. His limbs were stiffs his face bloodless, his respiration hardly moved his chest. As for the doctor, his face was not as colourless as his companion’s, owing to the walk having restored his usual brick-red tint.
Miriota’s voice, so tender, so heartrending, could not awake Nic Deck from the torpor in which he was plunged. When he had been brought into the village and laid in a room in Master Koltz’s house, he had not uttered a word. A few moments afterwards, however, his eyes opened, and when he saw the girl stooping over him, a smile played on his lips; but when he tried to raise himself he could not. A part of his body was paralyzed as if he had been struck with hemiplegia. At the same time, wishing to comfort Miriota, he said to her—in a very feeble voice, it is true,—
“It will be nothing, it will be nothing."
“Nic—my poor Nic!” said the girl.
“A little over-fatigue, dear Miriota, and a little excitement. It will be over soon, with your nursing.”
But the patient required calm and repose; and so Master Koltz went away, leaving Miriota near the young forester, who could not have wished for a more attentive nurse, and soon fell asleep.
Meanwhile, the innkeeper Jonas related to a numerous audience, and in a loud voice so as to be heard by all, what had happened after their departure.
Master Koltz, the shepherd, and himself, after finding the footpath cut by Nic Deck and the doctor, had gone on towards the Castle of the Carpathians. For two hours they made their way up the Plesa slopes, and the edge of the forest was not more than half a mile off, when two men appeared. These were the doctor and the forester, one quite helpless in his legs, the other just about to fall at the foot of a tree, owing to exhaustion.
To run to the doctor, to interrogate him, but without being able to obtain a single word, for he was too stupefied to reply; to make a litter with the branches, to lay Nic Deck on it, to put Patak on his feet,—did not take very long. Then Master Koltz and the shepherd, who relieved Jonas from time to time, resumed the road to Werst.
As to saying why Nic Deck was in such a state, and if he had entered the ruins of the castle, the innkeeper knew no more than Master Koltz or the shepherd Frik, and the doctor had not yet sufficiently recovered his spirits to satisfy their curiosity.
But if Patak had not yet spoken, it was necessary for him to speak now. He was in safety in the village, surrounded by his friends, and in the midst of his patients. He had nothing to fear from the things at the castle. And even if they had wrung from him an oath to be silent, to say nothing of what he had seen at the Castle of the Carpathians, the public interest required that he should ignore that oath.
“Compose yourself, doctor,” said Master Koltz, “and try and remember.”
“You wish me to speak?”
“In the name of the inhabitants of Werst, and for the sake of the safety of the village, I order you to do so.”
A large glass of rakiou, brought in by Jonas, had the effect of restoring to the doctor the use of his tongue, and in broken sentences he expressed himself in these terms:—
“We went off, both of us, Nic and I. Fools, fools! It took nearly all day to get through those wretched forests. We did not get up to the castle before it was getting dark. I still tremble at it—I will tremble at it all my life. Nic wanted to go in. Yes! He wanted to spend the night in the donjon, as much as to say to sleep in the bedroom of Beelzebub.”
Doctor Patak said these things in a voice so cavernous that all who heard him shuddered.
“I did not consent! he continued; “no, I did not consent. And what would have happened if I had yielded to Nic Deck’s desires? My hair stands on end to think of it.”
And if the doctor’s hair did not stand on end, it was because his hand wandered mechanically over his poll.
“Nic accordingly resigned himself to camping on the Orgall plateau. What a night! my friends, what a night! Try to rest when the spirits will not let you sleep an hour—no, not even one hour. Suddenly fiery monsters appeared in the clouds, regular balauris! They hurled themselves on to the plateau to devour us.”
Every look was turned towards the sky, to make sure that a few spectres were not there in full gallop.
And a few moments after,” continued the doctor, “the chapel bell began to clang!”
Every ear was stretched towards the horizon, and more than one of the crowd believed they could hear the distant ringing in the direction of the castle, so much had the doctor’s recital impressed his audience.
“Suddenly,” he went on, “fearful bellowings filled the air, or rather the roaring of wild beasts. Then a bright light darted from the windows of the donjon. An infernal flame illumined all the plateau up to the fir forest. Nic Deck and I looked at one another. Ah! the terrible vision! We were like two corpses—two corpses which the lurid light set making horrible grimaces at each other.”
And to look at Doctor Patak, with his convulsed face and his wild eyes, there really would have been some excuse for asking if he had not returned from that other world whither he had already sent so many of his kind.
He had to be left to recover his breath, for he was incapable of continuing his story. This cost Jonas a second glass of rakiou, which appeared to bring back to the doctor some portion of the senses which the other spirits had made him lose.
“But what happened to poor Nic Deck?” asked Master Koltz.
And, not without reason, the biro attached extreme importance to the doctor’s reply, for it was the young forester who had been personally threatened by the voice of the spirits in the saloon of the “King Mathias.”
“As far as I remember,” continued the doctor, “the daylight returned. I besought Nic Deck to abandon his projects. But you know him—he could not be more obstinate if he would. He went down into the ditch, and I was forced to follow him, for he dragged me along with him. Besides, I really do not know what I did. Nic went on up to the gate. He caught hold of the chain of the drawbridge, with which he pulled himself up the wall. At this moment the sense of our position occurred. There was still time to stop him, that rash—I say more—that sacrilegious young »man. For the last time I ordered him to come down, to come back on the road to Werst. ‘ No! ' he shouted to me. I would have run away—yes, my friends, I confess it—I would have fled, and there is not one of you who would not have had the same thought in my place! But it was in vain I tried to move from the ground. My feet were nailed, screwed, rooted. I tried to free them—it was impossible. I tried to struggle—it was useless!”
And Doctor Patak imitated the desperate movements of a man held by the legs, as a fox is held in a trap. Then, resuming his story, he said,—
“At this moment there was a cry—and such a cry! It was Nic Deck who uttered it. His hands had let go the chain, and he fell to the bottom of the ditch as if he had been struck by an invisible hand.”
The doctor, it is clear, had told what had happened, and his imagination had added nothing, excited though it might be. Just as he had described them, so had the prodigies appeared of which the Orgall plateau had been the scene during the preceding night.
What had happened after Nic Deck’s fall was as follows—The forester had fainted, and Doctor Patak was incapable of helping him, for his boots were stuck to the ground, and he could not get his swollen feet out of them. Suddenly the invisible force that detained him vanished. His legs were free. He rushed towards his companion, and, what must be considered a noble act of courage, he bathed Nic Deck’s face with his handkerchief, which he dipped in the water of the stream. The forester recovered consciousness, but his left arm and a part of his body were helpless after the frightful shock he had had. However, with the doctor’s aid he managed to get up and climb the slope of the counterscarp and regain the plateau. Then he set out for the village. After an hour’s progress the pain in his arm and side became so violent that he had to stop. And it was just as the doctor was about to start off alone in search of help from Werst, that Master Koltz and Jonas and Frik arrived most opportunely.
The doctor carefully avoided saying that the young forester had been seriously hurt, although he was generally very positive when consulted on medical matters.
“When the ailment is a natural ailment,” he said in a dogmatic tone, “it is serious. But when we have to deal with a supernatural ailment sent by the Chort, it is only the Chort who can cure it.”
In default of a diagnosis it cannot be said that this prognosis was reassuring for Nic Deck. There have, however, been many physicians since Hippocrates and Galen who have made mistakes, and these have been far better men than Doctor Patak. The young forester was a healthy lad; with his vigorous constitution there was reason to hope that without any diabolic intervention he would recover, on condition that he was not too careful to accept the advice of the old quarantine officer.