The Castle of the Carpathians by Jules Verne
THE catastrophe was imminent. Franz could only prevent it by rendering the baron incapable of executing his plan.
It was then eleven o’clock at night. With no further fear of being discovered, Franz resumed his work. The bricks were easily taken out of the wall, but its thickness was such that half an hour elapsed before the opening was large enough to admit him through.
As soon as he set foot in this chapel, open to all the winds that blew, he felt himself refreshed by the night air. Through the gaps in the roof and window-frames the sky could be seen, with the light clouds driving before the breeze. Here and there were a few stars, which were growing pale in the light of the moon now rising on the horizon.
Franz’s object was to find the door which opened at the end of the chapel, by which the Baron de Gortz and Orfanik had gone out; and, crossing the nave obliquely, he advanced towards the apse.
This was in the darkness where none of the moonlight penetrated, and his foot stumbled against the ruins of the tombs and the fragments fallen from the roof.
At last, at the very end of the apse, behind the reredos, in a dark corner Franz felt a mouldy door yield before his hand.
This door opened on a gallery which apparently traversed the outer wall.
By it the baron and Orfanik had entered the chapel, and by it they had just departed.
As soon as Franz was in the gallery, he again found himself in complete darkness. After winding about a good deal without either a rise or a fall, he was certain that he was now on a level with the interior courts.
Half an hour later the darkness did not seem to be so deep; a kind of half-light glided through several lateral openings in the gallery.
Franz was able to walk faster, and reached a large casemate contrived under the platform of the bastion which flanked the left angle of the outer wall.
This casemate was pierced with narrow loopholes, through which streamed the rays of the moon.
In the opposite wall was an open door.
Franz’s first care was to place himself at one of the loopholes so as to breathe the fresh night breeze for a few seconds.
But just as he was moving away he thought he saw two or three shadowy shapes moving at the lower end of the Orgall plateau, which was now full in the moonlight up to the sombre masses of the pine-forest.
Franz looked again.
A few men were moving about on the plateau just in front of the tree—doubtless the Karlsburg police brought by Rotzko. Had they, then, decided to attack that night in the hope of surprising the occupants of the castle, or were they waiting for daybreak?
It required considerable effort on Franz’s part not to shout and call Rotzko, who would have heard and recognized his voice. But the shout might reach the donjon, and before the police had scaled the wall Rodolphe de Gortz would have had time to put his device in action and escape by way of the tunnel.
Franz succeeded in restraining himself and moved away from the loophole. Crossing the casemate, he went out at the other door and continued along the gallery.
Five hundred yards farther on he arrived at the foot of a staircase which rose in the thickness of the walls.
Had he, then, at last arrived at the donjon, in the centre of the place of arms? It seemed so.
But this staircase might not be the principal one giving access to the different floors. It was composed of a series of circular steps, arranged like the thread of a screw, within a dark, narrow cage.
Franz went up quietly, listening but hearing nothing, and after twenty steps reached a landing.
There a door opened on to the terrace which surrounded the donjon at the height of the first floor.
Franz glided along this terrace, and, taking care to keep in shelter behind the parapet, looked out over the Orgall plateau.
Several men were still on the edge of the fir-wood, and there was no sign of their coming nearer the castle.
Resolved to meet the baron before he fled through the tunnel, Franz went round the terrace, and reached another door where the staircase resumed its upward course.
He put his foot on the first step, rested both his hands against the wall, and began to ascend.
All was silent.
The room on the first floor was not inhabited.
Franz hurried on up to the landings which gave access to the higher floors.
When he reached the third landing his foot found no further steps. There the staircase ended at the highest floor of the donjon, that which was crowned by the crenellated parapet from which formerly floated the standard of the Barons of Gortz.
In the wall to the left of the landing there was a door which was shut.
Through the keyhole filtered a ray of light.
Franz listened and heard no sound inside the apartment.
Looking through the keyhole he could see only the left side of the room, which was in a bright light, the rest being in darkness.
Franz gently opened the door.
A spacious apartment occupied the whole of this upper floor. On its circular walls rested a panelled roof, the ribs of which met in a heavy boss in the centre. Thick tapestry with figure subjects covered the walls. Some old furniture, cupboards, sideboards, armchairs, and stools, were scattered about in artistic disorder. At the windows hung thick curtains which prevented any of the light within from shining without. On the floor was a thick woollen carpet on which no footstep made a sound.
The arrangement of the room was at least peculiar, and as he entered it Franz was struck with the contrast between its light and dark portions.
To the right of the door its end was invisible in the deep gloom.
To the left, on the contrary, was a sort of platform, the black draping of which received a powerful light, due to some apparatus of concentration so placed in front of it as to be unseen.
About twelve feet from this platform, from which it was separated by a screen about breast-high, was an ancient, long-backed armchair, which the screen kept in a half-light.
Near the chair was a little table with a cloth on it, and on this was a rectangular box.
This box was about twelve or fifteen inches long and five or six wide, and the cover, encrusted with jewels, was raised, showing that it contained a metallic cylinder.
As he entered the room Franz saw that the armchair was occupied.
Its occupant did not move, but sat with his head leant against the back of the chair, his eyes closed, his right arm extended on the table, his hand resting against the box.
It was Rodolphe de Gortz.
Was it to abandon himself to sleep for a few hours that the baron desired to pass this last night on the upper floor of the donjon?
No; that could not be after what Franz had heard him say to Orfanik.
The Baron de Gortz was alone in this room, and, conformably to the orders he had received, there could be no doubt that Orfanik had already escaped along the tunnel.
And La Stilla? Had not Rodolphe de Gortz said that he would hear her for a last time in this Castle of the Carpathians before it was destroyed by the explosion? And for what other reason would he have come back to this room, where doubtless she came each evening to fascinate him with her song?
Where, then, was La Stilla?
Franz saw her not, heard her not.
After all, what did it matter, now that Rodolphe de Gortz was at his mercy? Franz restrained himself from speaking. But in his present state of excitement, would he not throw himself on this man he hated as he was hated, this man who had carried off La Stilla—La Stilla living and mad—mad for him? Would he not kill him?
Franz stole up stealthily to the armchair. He had but to make a step to seize the baron, and he had already raised his hand—
Suddenly La Stilla appeared.
Franz let his knife fall on the carpet.
La Stilla was standing on the platform in the full blaze of the light, her hair undone, her arms stretched out, supremely lovely in the white costume of Angelica in “Orlando,” just as she had appeared on the bastion of the castle. Her eyes, fixed on the young count, gazed to the very depths of his soul.
It was impossible that Franz could not be seen by her, and yet she made no gesture to call him to her, she opened not her lips to speak to him. Alas! she was mad.
Franz was about to rush on to the stage, to seize her in his arms, to carry her off.
La Stilla had begun to sing. Without stirring from his chair, Baron de Gortz had leant forward to listen. In the paroxysm of ecstasy, the dilettante breathed her voice as if it were a perfume. Such as he had been at the performances in the theatres of Italy, so was he now in this room, in infinite solitude, at the summit of this donjon which towered over Transylvania!
Yes, La Stilla sang! She sang for him—only for him! It was as though a breath exhaled from her lips, which seemed to remain without a movement. But if reason had left her, at least her artist soul remained in its plenitude.
Franz also stood intoxicated with the charm of this voice he had not heard for five long years. He was absorbed in the ardent contemplation of this woman he had thought he should never see again, and who was there, alive, as if some miracle had resuscitated her before his eyes!
And the song she sang, was it not one of those which would ever make his heart-strings vibrate? Yes! It was the finale of the tragic scene in “Orlando,” the finale in which the singer’s heart breaks in the final phrase,—
This ineffable phrase Franz followed note by note. And he said to himself that it would not be interrupted as it had been at the San Carlo Theatre! No! It would not die between La Stilla’s lips as it had done at her farewell.
Franz hardly breathed. His whole life was bound up in the music.
A few measures more and it would end in all its incomparable purity.
But the voice began to fail. It seemed as though La Stilla hesitated as she repeated the words of poignant grief,—
Would she fall on this stage as she had done on the other?
She did not fall, but her song fell silent on the very same note it had done at San Carlo. She uttered a cry, and it was the same cry Franz had heard on that night.
And yet La Stilla still stood there, with her adored look, the look that awoke all the deepest feelings of the young man’s heart.
Franz leapt towards her. He would carry her away from this room, away from this castle.
And he found himself face to face with the baron, who had just risen.
“Franz de Télek!” exclaimed Rodolphe de Gortz. “Franz de Télek, escaped—”
But Franz did not answer, and, running towards the stage, he cried,—
“Stilla, my dear Stilla! Here I find you—alive!”
“Alive! La Stilla alive!” exclaimed Baron de Gortz.
And the ironical phrase ended in a shout of laughter in which was apparent all the fury of revenge.
“Alive!” continued Rodolphe de Gortz. “Well, then, Franz de Télek, try and take her away from me!”
Franz stretched out his arms to her. whose eyes were ardently fixed on his.
At the same instant Rodolphe stooped, picked up the knife that Franz had let fall, and rushed at the motionless figure.
Franz threw himself on him to turn away the blow with which she was threatened.
He was too late, and the knife struck her to the heart.
And as the blow was given there was a crash of breaking glass, and with the fragments which flew to all parts of the room. La Stilla vanished.
Franz remained as if lifeless. He could not understand Had he also gone mad?
And then Rodolphe de Gortz cried,—
“La Stilla again escapes, Franz de Télek! But her voice—her voice remains to me! Her voice is mine mine alone, and will never belong to another.”
Franz would have thrown himself on the baron, but his strength failed him, and he fell unconscious at the foot of the stage.
Rodolphe de Gortz did not even notice the young count. He took the box from the table, he rushed from the room down to the first terrace of the donjon, and was running round it to gain the other door when there was the report of a gun.
It was Rotzko who, from the slope of the counterscarp, had just shot at the Baron de Gortz.
The baron was unhurt, but the bullet shattered the box he held in his arms.
He uttered a terrible cry.
“Her voice—her voice!” he repeated. “Her soul—La Stilla’s soul—it is ruined—ruined—ruined!”
And then with his hair bristling and his hands clenched, he was seen to run along the terrace, shouting,—
“Her voice—her voice! They have taken away from me her voice! Curse them!”
And he disappeared through the door at the moment Rotzko and Nic Deck were, without waiting for the police striving to scale the wall.
Almost immediately a tremendous explosion shook the whole extent of Plesa. Sheaves of flame sprang to the clouds, and an avalanche of stones fell on the Vulkan road.
Bastions, curtain, donjon, chapel, were nothing but a pile of ruins scattered over the Orgall plateau.