The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne


CHAPTER IX.

THE family of the Counts of Télek was one of the most ancient and illustrious in Roumania, having been of considerable importance there before the country conquered its independence in the beginning of the sixteenth century. With all the political movements which abound in the history of these provinces the name of the family is gloriously connected.

Less favoured than the famous beech of the Castle of the Carpathians, which still possessed three branches, the house of Telek was now reduced to one, that of Télek of Krajowa, whose last offspring was the young gentleman who had just arrived at the village of Werst.

During his infancy he had never left the patrimonial castle where the Count and Countess of Télek lived. The descendants of the family were held in great esteem in the country, where they spent their wealth generously. Living the liberal, easy life of the country nobility, it was seldom that they left their estate at Krajowa more than once a year, and that when business took them to the town of that name, which was only a few miles away.

This kind of life had of necessity an influence on the education of their only son, and for long afterwards Franz felt the effects of the surroundings amid which his childhood was passed. His only tutor was an old Italian priest, who could only teach him what he knew, and he did not know much. And so when the boy had become a young man he had but a very inadequate knowledge of science or art or contemporary literature. To be an enthusiastic sportsman, afoot night and day through the forests and on the plains, hunting the stag and the wild boar, and attacking the wild beasts of the mountains, knife in hand, such were the ordinary pastimes of the young count, who, being very brave and very resolute, accomplished wonders in these rough occupations.



Attacking the wild beasts of the mountains


The Countess of Télek died when her son was scarcely fifteen, and he was only one-and-twenty when his father died in a hunting accident.

The grief of young Franz was extreme. As he had wept for his mother he wept for his father, who had just been taken from him, one after the other, within these few years. All his tender feelings, all the affectionate impulses of his heart, were then centred in this filial love which had been sufficient for him during his childhood and youth. But when this love failed him, having no friends and his tutor being dead, he found himself alone in the world.

For three years the young count remained at the Castle of Krajowa. He could not make up his mind to leave it. He lived there without seeking to make any acquaintances outside. Once or twice he had been to Bucharest, but that was because certain matters obliged him to go there; and these -were but short absences, for he was in haste to return to his domain.

This life could not, however, last for ever, and Franz began to feel the want of enlarging the horizon which was so restricted by the Roumanian mountains; and he wished to fly beyond it.

The young count was about twenty-three years old when he made up his mind to travel. His wealth enabled him to fully gratify his wishes. One day he left the Castle of Krajowa to his old servants and left the Wallachian country. He took with him Rotzko, an old Roumanian soldier, who had been for ten years in the family, and who had been the young count’s companion in all his hunting expeditions. He was a man of courage and resolution, entirely devoted to his master.

The young count’s intention was to visit Europe and to stay a few months in the capitals and important towns of the Continent. He considered, not without cause, that his education, which had been only begun at the Castle of Krajowa, might be completed by what he learnt on a carefully planned tour.

It was to Italy that Franz de Télek wished to go first, for he could speak Italian fairly well, the old priest having taught him. The attraction of this country, so rich in memories, was such that he stayed there four years. He only left Venice to go to Florence, he left Rome bat to go to Naples, constantly returning to these artistic centres, from which he could not tear himself away. France, Germany, Spain, Russia, England, he would see later on; he would even study them to better advantage—so it seemed to him—when age had matured his ideas. On the other hand, he must be in all the effervescence of youth to enjoy the charms of the great Italian cities.

Franz de Télek was twenty-seven when he went to Naples for the last time. He intended to spend only a few hours there before leaving for Sicily. By the exploration of the ancient Trinacria he purposed to end his tour, and then return to his Castle of Krajowa and have a year’s rest.

An unexpected circumstance not only changed his plans* but decided his life and changed its course.

During the few years he had lived in Italy the young count had not learned much of the sciences, for which he felt no aptitude, but the sense of the beautiful had been revealed to him like light to a blind man. With his mind widely opened to the splendours of art, he had become enthusiastic over the masterpieces of painting, in visiting the galleries of Naples, Rome, and Florence. At the same time the theatres had made him acquainted with the lyric works of the time, and he became powerfully interested in their interpretation by the great artistes.

It was during his last stay at Naples, and under circumstances we are about to relate, that a sentiment of a more personal character, of more intensive penetration, took possession of his heart.

There was then at the theatre of San Carlo a celebrated singer whose pure voice, finished method, and dramatic ability had won the admiration of all the dilettanti. Up to then La Stilla had never sought the applause of foreigners, and had never sung any other music than Italian, which then held the first place in the art of composition. The Carignan Theatre at Turin, the Scala at Milan, the Fenice, at Venice, the Alfieri at Florence, the Apollo at Rome, the San Carlo at Naples, introduced her in turn, and her triumphs left her no room for regret that she had not appeared at the other theatres of Europe.

La Stilla, then aged five-and-twenty, was a woman of ideal beauty, with her long golden hair, the ardour of her deep-black eyes, the purity of her complexion, and a figure which the chisel of a Praxiteles could not have made more perfect. And this woman had become a sublime artiste, another Malibran, of whom Musset could also say,—

“And thy songs in the skies bore away sorrow.”

But this voice which the most adored of poets has celebrated in his immortal stanzas, “that voice of the heart which only finds the heart,” that voice was La Stilla’s in all its inexpressible magnificence.

However, this incomparable prima donna, who reproduced with such perfection the accents of tenderness, the fury of the passions, the most powerful feelings of the soul, had never, so they said, experienced their effect. Never had she loved, never had her eyes responded to the thousand looks which were concentrated on her on the stage. It seemed that she lived but for her art and only for her art.

The first time he saw La Stilla, Franz experienced that irresistible ardour which is the essence of a first love. And he gave up his plan of leaving Italy, after visiting Sicily, and resolved to remain at Naples until the close of the season As if some invisible bond he could not break had attached him to the singer, he was at all the performances, which the enthusiasm of the public converted into veritable triumphs. Many times, incapable of mastering his passion, he had tried to obtain access to her house; but La Stilla’s door remained as pitilessly closed against him as against so many other fanatic admirers.

And so it came about that the young count became the most to be pitied of men. Always in sight of his love, thinking only of the great artiste, living but to see her and hear her, he sought no longer to make friends in the world to which his name and fortune called him.

Soon this excitement so increased with Franz that his health was in danger. We can imagine what he might have suffered if he had had to bear the tortures of jealousy, if La Stilla’s heart had belonged to another. But the young count had no rival, as he knew, and none could give him umbrage—not even a certain peculiar personage, of whose appearance and character our story requires more notice.

He was a man between fifty and fifty-five at the time Franz de Télek last went to Naples. This incommunicative individual apparently strove to live outside the social conventionalities that prevail in the higher circles. Nothing was known of his family, his position, his past life. He was met with to-day at Rome, to-morrow at Florence, provided that La Stilla was at Florence or at Rome. In fact, he lived but to listen to the renowned singer, who then occupied the foremost place in the art of song.

If Franz de Télek had lived only in the delirium of his idolatry for La Stilla since the day he had applauded her, or rather had seen her on the stage at Naples, this eccentric dilettante had been following her about for six years. But he was not like the young count; in his case it was not the woman but the voice which had become so necessary to his life as the air he breathed. Never had he sought to see her except on the stage, never had he called at her house or attempted to write to her. But every time La Stilla appeared, in no matter what theatre of Italy, there passed in among the audience a man of tall stature, wrapped in a long dark overcoat, and wearing a large hat which hid his face. This man would hurry to his seat in a private box previously engaged for him, and there he would remain, silent and motionless, throughout the performance. But as soon as La Stilla had finished her last air, he would go away furtively, and no other singer would detain him—he had not even heard them.

Who was this spectator, so strangely assiduous at these performances? La Stilla had in vain sought to know; and, being of a very impressionable nature, she had become quite frightened at this curious man—an unreasonable terror, but still a very real one. Although she could not see him in the back of his box, she knew he was there, she felt his look imperiously fixed on her, and, greatly troubled by his presence, she no longer heard the cheers with which the public welcomed her appearance on the scene.

We have said that this personage had never approached La Stilla. Nothing could be truer. But if he had not tried to make her acquaintance—and we must particularly insist on this point—all that could remind him of the artiste had been the object of his constant attention. Thus he possessed the finest of the portraits which the great painter, Michel Gregorio, had made of the singer. This was, indeed, La Stilla impassioned, vibrating, sublime, incarnate in one of her finest characters, and the portrait acquired for its price in gold was well worth the price her wealthy admirer had paid for it.

If this eccentric individual was invariably alone when he occupied his box during La Stilla’s performances, if he never went out of his rooms but to go to the theatre, it must not be supposed that he lived in absolute isolation. No; a companion no less eccentric shared his existence.



A companion no less eccentric


This individual was known as Orfanik. How old was he? whence came he? where was he born? No one could have answered those three questions. To listen to him—for he was only too glad to talk—he was one of those unrecognized geniuses who have taken an aversion to the world; and it was supposed, and not without reason, that he was some poor devil of an inventor who was chiefly supported by the purse of his protector.

Orfanik was of middle height, thin, sickly, consumptive, and pale. He was remarkable for a black patch over his right eye, which he had lost in some experiment; and on his nose was a pair of spectacles, the only lens being that over his left eye, which glowed with a greenish look. During his solitary walks, he gesticulated as if he were talking to some invisible being who listened without ever answering.

These two characters, the strange melomaniac and the no less strange Orfanik, were known, at least as much as they wished to be, in all the towns of Italy to which the theatrical season regularly took them. They had the privilege of exciting public curiosity; and although the admirer of La Stilla had always repulsed the reporters and their indiscreet interviews, they had at last discovered his name and nationality. He was of Roumanian birth, and the first time Franz de Télek asked who he was, they told him,—

“The Baron Rodolphe de Gortz.”

Such was the state of affairs when the young count arrived at Naples. For two months the theatre of San Carlo had been full, and the success of La Stilla grew greater every evening. Never had she done herself more justice in her different characters, never had she called forth more enthusiastic ovations.

At each performance, while Franz occupied his orchestra stall, the Baron de Gortz sat at the back of his box, absorbed in this ideal song, impregnated with this divine voice, without which it seemed he could not live.

It was then that a rumour spread at Naples—a rumour the public refused to believe, but which eventually alarmed the dilettanti.

It was said that at the close of the season La Stilla was going to retire from the stage. What! In all the possession of her talent, in all the plenitude of her beauty, in the apogee of her artistic career, was it possible she thought of retiring?

Unlikely as it seemed, it was true, and undoubtedly the Baron de Gortz had something to do with her resolve.

This spectator with his mysterious proceedings, always there, although invisible behind the railing of his box, had at length provoked in La Stilla a nervous, persistent emotion which she could not overcome. Whenever she came on the stage she felt an influence come over her, and the excitement, which was apparent enough to the public, had gradually injured her health.

To leave Naples, to fly to Rome, to Venice, or to some other town of the peninsula, would not, she knew, deliver her from the presence of Baron de Gortz. She would not even escape him by abandoning Italy for Germany, Russia, or France. He would follow her wherever she made herself heard; and to deliver herself from this besetting importunity, her only chance was to abandon the stage.

Two months before the rumour of her retirement had been heard, Franz de Télek had taken a step with regard to the singer, the consequences of which were to be an irreparable catastrophe.

Free to do as he liked, and master of an immense fortune, he had succeeded in obtaining admission to La Stilla’s house, and had made her the offer of becoming Countess of Télek.

La Stilla had long known of the feelings with which she had inspired the young count. She had said to herself that he was a gentleman to whom any woman, even of the highest rank, would be happy to trust her life and happiness. And in the state of mind she then was, when Franz de Télek offered her his name, she received the offer with a sympathy she took no pains to hide. She felt herself loved in such a way that she consented to become the wife of Count Télek, and without regret abandon her dramatic career.

The news was then true; La Stilla would not appear again on any stage, as soon as the San Carlo season came to an end. In fact, her marriage, of which there had been some suspicions, was announced as certain.

This, as may be imagined, caused considerable excitement not only in the professional world, but in the fashionable world of Italy. After refusing to believe in the realization of this project, they had to admit it. Hatred and jealousy arose against the young count who was to take her away from her art, her success, the idolatry of the dilettanti, the greatest singer of her age. Even personal threats were directed against Franz de Télek—which threats in no way troubled him.

But if it was thus with the public, we can imagine what Rodolphe de Gortz felt at the thought of losing La Stilla, and that he would lose with her all that was life to him. There was a rumour that he was about to commit suicide. It was certain that from this day Orfanik was not seen in the streets of Naples. He never left Baron Rodolphe. Many times he was with him in the box which the baron occupied at every performance—and that he had never done before, being, like other learned men, absolutely refractory to the sensual charm of music.

The days, however, went by; the excitement did not subside, and it was at its height the last time La Stilla was to appear on the stage. It was in the superb character of Angelica in “Orlando,” the masterpiece of Arconati, that she was to bid her farewell to the public.

That night San Carlo was but a tenth large enough to hold the people who crowded at its doors and for the most part remained outside. It was feared that there would be a manifestation against Count de Télek, if not while La Stilla was on the stage, at least when the curtain fell on the last act.

The Baron de Gortz. had taken his place in his box, and this time Orfanik was again with him.

La Stilla appeared, more agitated than she had ever been. She recovered herself, however; she abandoned herself to her inspiration, and sang with such perfection, such ineffable talent, that the indescribable enthusiasm she excited among the audience rose almost to delirium.

During the performance the young count waited at the wing, impatient, nervous, feverish, cursing the length of the scenes, and angry at the delays provoked by the applause and recalls. Ah! how they hindered him from carrying off from this theatre her who was to be the Countess of Télek; the adored woman he would take far, far away, so far that she would belong but to him, to him alone.



The young count waited at the wing


At last came the final most dramatic scene, in which the heroine of Orlando dies. Never had the admirable music of Arconati appeared more impressive, never had La Stilla interpreted it with more impassioned emphasis. All her soul seemed to distil itself through her lips. And yet one would have said that this voice was about to break, for it was to be no longer heard.

At this moment the railing of the Baron de Gortz’s box was lowered. Over it there appeared that strange head with the long grizzly hair and the eyes of flame. It showed itself, that ecstatic face, frightful in its pallor, and from the wing Franz saw it in the light for the first time.

La Stilla was then revelling in the full power of that ravishing stretto of the final air, She had just repeated that phrase with the sublime sentiment,—

“Inamorata, mio cuore tremante
Voglio morire.”

Suddenly she stopped.

Baron de Gortz’s face terrified her. An inexplicable terror paralyzed her. She put her hand to her mouth; it reddened with blood. She staggered; she fell—

The audience rose, trembling, bewildered, distracted.

A cry escaped from Baron de Gortz’s box.

Franz rushed on to the stage; he took La Stilla in his arms; he lifted her, he looked at her, he called her.

“Dead! dead!” he cried. “She is dead!”

Yes! La Stilla was dead. A blood-vessel had broken. Her song died with her last sigh.

The young count was taken back to his hotel in such a state that his reason was despaired of. He was unable to be present at La Stilla’s funeral, which took place amid an immense crowd of the Neapolitan population.

It was at the cemetery of Campo Santo Nuovo that the singer was buried, and all that could be read on the marble was—

“STILLA.”

The night of the funeral a man went to the Campo, Santo Nuovo. There with haggard eyes, bowed head, and lips clenched as if they had been sealed by death, he looked for a long time at the spot where La Stilla lay; and he seemed to listen as if the voice of the great artiste was to be heard for the last time from her grave

It was Rodolphe de Gortz.

That very night the Baron de Gortz, accompanied by Orfanik, left Naples, and no one knew what became of him. But the next morning a letter was received by the young count. The letter contained but these words:—

“It is you who have killed her. Woe to you, Count de Télek!”

                                                “RODOLPHE LE GORTZ.”