HotFreeBooks.com
Peter the Priest
by Mr Jkai
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

PETER THE PRIEST

by

MAURUS JOKAI

Author of "Black Diamonds," "Timar's Two Worlds,"

Translated by S. L. and A. V. Waite



New York R. F. Fenno & Company 9 and 11 East 16th Street

Copyright, 1897 by R. F. Fenno & Company Peter the Priest



TABLE OF CONTENTS

I IN THE MONASTERY. 5 II THE FOOLS OF THE CASTLE. 22 III THE LORDS OF MADOCSANY. 33 IV YAW DEREVOCSID EHT. 40 V THE LORDS OF MITOSIN. 53 VI THE PICTURE OF SAINT ANTHONY. 67 VII VENUS AND HER SON. 80 VIII THE BISHOP'S WEDDING. 96 IX THE TEMPTATION. 117 X THE FEAST. 125 XI UNDERGROUND. 134 XII THE ICE-BLOCKED FLOOD. 159 XIII IN THE GHOST'S HOUR. 165 XIV THE BEAUTIFUL WOMAN'S REVENGE. 176 XV THE GRAVE OF GOLD. 187 XVI THE FEAST OF DEATH. 196 XVII ALL IS OVER. 201



PETER THE PRIEST.

CHAPTER I.

IN THE MONASTERY.

There were six of them besides the Prior and Abbot. The seventh was away in the village, collecting the gifts of charity.

"Benedicite," began the Prior. "Here is a message from our most gracious patroness." With that he laid upon the table a sealed letter in Latin, which the others passed from hand to hand. All understood it, but it was evident that not one of them liked the letter, for they turned up their noses, pursed their lips and knit their eyebrows.

"One of us is bidden to the court of our most munificent patroness to educate her only son."

"He is a little devil!" exclaimed the Abbot.

"He talks and whistles in church," cried another.

"He reviles the saints and the souls of the departed."

"He torments animals." Each one had something to say; especially the last.

"He is the accursed child of a mad mother."

"She is the destruction of all men," continued the Abbot. "She sins against all the commandments."

"She tramples under foot all the sacraments."

"She is a raging fury and a sacrilegious witch."

"She sent her husband to his grave with a deadly drink."

The Prior met all these horrible comments with a stoical calm. "Still she is our gracious patroness, and her son also will one day be our patron. We must drink the bitter cup to its dregs. Let us choose."

Still all shook their heads.

"I have the fever in my bones," said one, rubbing his leg.

"I have trouble with my liver," said another, and as proof he put out his tongue to the opposite brother, who hastened to say:

"It is my vocation to heal the sick."

Now all three looked at the fourth, who felt very confident of having the best excuse:

"And I am not acquainted with the Scythian speech, neither the Hungarian nor the Slavic."

The fifth was embarrassed what excuse to give:

"I have taken a vow never to speak to a woman."

Evidently no one cared for the office.

"Then let us send Peter," said the Prior calmly.

At this all five cried out: "He is too young," said one.

"But he is stern of character," replied the Prior.

"He will meet with very great temptations," threw in a second.

"The greater will be his triumph," returned the Prior.

"But he is still only a brother," a third protested.

"We can make him a father," the Prior answered. An answer which brought them all to their feet, opposing it loudly:

"That cannot be! that cannot be! our rules are against it."

"Then let some one else go," said the Prior coldly.

Silence fell upon the group: they shrugged their shoulders, fell back into their large richly carved arm-chairs, and murmured:

"Then let Peter be made father, and let father Peter go."

* * * * *

It was the student John's week in the bake-house, and from there he had heard every word; and now that the worthy fathers had gone away, he came out of the bake-house and hobbled off to the kitchen. The master of the kitchen was not there, but Samuel, a fellow-student, hung over the edge of a large two-handled tub. John was lank, and Samuel was thickset; both were in rags, out of respect to the golden saying, "In rags is a student at his best." It was the daily duty of these two students to carry to the pigs this large tub full of kitchen refuse. As soon as John saw that the kitchen master was not there, he began rummaging in the tub among the crusts of bread, apple parings, and scraps of mouldy cheese, selecting with an experienced eye.

"Leave some for Peter," growled Samuel, without raising his head from his knees.

John could not answer, for both cheeks were full. Samuel sprang up full of envy that John should be enjoying his feast with such gusto.

"Stop, you rascal! Leave some for the pigs." Then John looked for the pole to put through the handles of the tub.

"Take hold of the other end."

"I won't. Peter will be here soon and he carries it out alone."

"Peter will not be here."

"I hear his cart creaking now."

"All the same, he won't carry that tub out again. I heard what they said when I was in the bake-house."

"What did they say?" And the two sat down together on the edge of the tub for a gossip.

"The mistress of the castle sends for an instructor for her son, and they say that he a small devil."

"That's true, he's equal to twelve."

"He whistles in church."

"He puts sulphur in the incense when he assists at mass!"

"He curses and reviles the saints and the souls of the departed."

"He torments animals."

"You're right he does! He put a lighted sponge in my donkey's ear, and the poor beast smashed my cart."

"They said that he is as wild as his mother; and the Abbot said of her that she was the ruin of every man. Is that so?"

"Yes, she is a witch, who bridles men and rides them off to the devils' dance."

"They did say that she was a witch, and and that she broke all the ten commandments, and put the sacraments under her feet; and listen,—they said that she mixed poison in her husband's drink, and he died of it!"

"That's like her! Once they sent me to her with a letter, and she ordered a cup of mead that had something in it that made me feel all night long as if I must crawl up the wall."

"But the Prior said that she was our gracious patroness, and that her son would one day be our patron, and that we must drink the bitter cup."

"I can see how they all trembled!"

"One said that he had fever in his bones, another had trouble with his liver, a third said he was busy healing the sick, a fourth that he did not know either Hungarian or Slavic, and the fifth was bound by a holy vow not to speak to a woman."

"And so in the end they send Peter."

"The Devil's in you! You've guessed it!"

"It may turn out well for him."

"One thought he was still too young, and the Prior said, but he is of strong character; another that he would be exposed to great temptations; several objected that Peter was still a brother. Then the Prior said, we'll make him a father. Then all objected, and the Prior said, Then one of you must go. Then they all gave in and said, well, make Peter a father, and let Father Peter be the one to go."

And then both the students began to laugh. "Peter will be in the right place there!" In the mean time, the creaking of the cartwheels stopped at the rear door; then came a knock; through this rear gate was an entrance into the court, but the duty of door-tender was limited to the main entrance.

"Do you hear? Peter's knocking."

"You hear him, yourself."

"Go open the gate."

"You can do it as well as I."

"I can't find my feet, I don't know which of the four they are." At that John struck the four bare legs with his birch broom, and his fellow scholar at once discovered his own; then they seized each other by the hair; the question was which should throw the other out of the kitchen; the vanquished one was to open the gate. During this struggle, they upset the tub and the contents streamed over the floor. Then, indeed, they separated, thoroughly pommeled and frightened.

"Get out, you overturned it."

"You pushed me into it."

"When the kitchen-master sees us, he'll beat you well." Neither one would set things to rights; meanwhile their brother, tired of knocking at the rear gate, had gone around to the main gate, been let in there, and now opened the rear gate for himself to bring in what he had collected in the villages.

It was a lumbering cart; its wobbling wheels described the letter S in their course, and as they had been long ungreased, creaked dismally. A one-eared donkey drew the cart filled with all kinds of provisions, which the begging monk had collected in the villages; this was called "temporizing." The steward was already waiting in the court, slate in hand to note down the receipts. He did not fail at each item to make severe criticisms and to look sharply at the collector. Everything he found poor; picking out the bad eggs, he said, "You can have those yourself, Peter." The meal was very coarse. "Go sift it, and make yourself a cake out of the bran." On the head of the brother rained down the thanks, "Do-nothing," "Bread-consumer," "Donkey;" he endured all with bowed head. The hood of his black cowl covered his face to his eyebrows, and from his beard hung large raindrops; under his cowl, which was fastened by a cord, could be seen his bare feet, covered with mud to the ankle; his sandals he carried on his staff, so that they should not be worn out on the rough road. There was no rest for the wet and weary monk. The kitchen-master at once called through the vaulted porch, "Petre, Petre, hue acceleras: ad culinam!" (Peter, Peter, come to the kitchen, quick!)

It was a fine kitchen; now when we look at its ruins, we might believe it a chapel and a tower; but it really was only a kitchen and a chimney. For Peter this roomy kitchen had the disadvantage that he had to put it in order.

The contents of the overturned tub had spread over the marble floor, and those who had been the cause of this condition could not repair the mischief, because the Abbot was at that moment investigating their case in a corner by means of the lash. The two students knelt before him; and so somebody else must clean up the floor, and that somebody was Peter. He went obediently to work; threw off his coarse black cowl; and as he rolled up his sleeves, one could see from the fine white skin that he had not from childhood been accustomed to such slave's work. His face was still young, his features regular, and, through the dulling discipline of self-denial, immovable. He was only a brother, so the monk's tonsure had not taken the place of his blond hair; and though his eyes filled with tears, it was clearly caused only by coming suddenly from the cold into the heated kitchen. Without a word, he knelt down to clean the floor with shovel, broom, and whisk of straw.

Meanwhile, the Abbot questioned the two rascals to find out who had done the mischief. It stood to reason neither one had. According to an old proverb, Mischief has no master. That they had scuffled, their faces bore evidence; John had a black and blue spot under the eye, and Samuel a bloody scratch on his brow, but both denied any scuffle.

"Then how came this black and blue spot under your eye?" The same story suggested itself to John which Baron de Manx was to use later in a critical situation.

"When I tried to light the fire I could not find the flint, so I struck myself in the eyes with one fist and with the other I held the match to it, so when my eyes saw sparks I lighted the match by them."

The Abbot said nothing, but turned to the other: "How did you get that wound on your forehead?" Samuel, encouraged by John's example, was also ready with an excuse:

"I bit myself."

"How could you bite yourself in the forehead?"

"In the looking-glass."

"But you could not reach it!"

"Yes I could, I climbed up on the bench."

The Abbot compressed his lips till his fat cheeks stood out from each other, and then pronounced the sentence:—"Joannes quia bene mentitus est, accipiat viginti verbera; Samuel, quia male mentitus est, accipiet triginta." (John, because he has lied well, shall have twenty lashes; Samuel, because he has lied badly, shall have thirty.)

The two lads gave themselves up to weeping and howling and wiping away the tears with their fists; but in secret, while the Abbot turned away, they winked at each other slily, and this meant, I'll not strike hard, if you won't. But the Abbot had eyes that could see without looking.

"Peter," he said to the working monk who had just finished his cleaning, "come here."

Peter obeyed. "Take these two delinquents in charge; they would handle each other with sly consideration, and avoid their punishment, your hand will let the rods fall more heavily;" and he handed him a bundle of birch rods, dipped in salt water.

Now the two lads began to howl lustily and to crawl about on their knees, in their fear. But Peter did not reach out his hand for the bundle of rods. The demon of pride had stirred his blood to insurrection; his countenance glowed; his eyes blazed; he tossed back the lock of hair from his brow, clenched his fists, and advanced one foot. He emboldened himself to speak, although he had not been questioned. "I am no hangman's slave, I never learned to beat men with a besom; lock up the culprits, and I will do their work as long as they are confined, but I do not like to whip boys."

"Petre!" said the Abbot in even tones, "Putasve quod adhuc sis dux equitum nobilium? Es servus servorum." (Do you think you are still at the head of noble knights? You are the slave of slaves.) And in order to let him feel how completely he was under the rod, he laid the bundle of sticks on the head of the defiant youth. Under this frightful burden, the uplifted head gradually sank and the lids closed over the blazing eyes. He unclenched his fists and crossed them on his breast. The handsome knight was changed again to the humble monk. He reached tremblingly for the bundle of rods, which he raised to his speechless lips:

"Parce, pater." (Spare me, father.)

But as he laid hold of the instrument of shame, whose work it is to disgrace that masterpiece of creation, man; to reduce to an animal him whom God had created in his own likeness, then once again his pride reasserted itself; he raised that noble hand, accustomed to grasp the sword hilt, whose greatest pleasure was to cut through with sharp steel helmet and armor; and which was now compelled with a jailer's scourge to belabor the bare skin of unmannerly clowns.

He was only a novice, and had not yet learned that there are seventy-seven devils in the body, and that the body receives as many blows as there are devils. He had learned that we must regard the nail-studded belt and the hooked lash as our benefactors, and that to scourge the body at night until the blood flowed was an equivalent for a day of prayer. But to beat howling students was still a horror to him. Soon he will become accustomed to that too. At this moment was heard in the hall the voice of the Prior. "Petre ad me tendas." ("Peter, come to me.") Peter sighed with lightened heart and handed back the bunch of rods to the Abbot. "The Prior calls me."

"He commands you; hasten to him."

Peter wanted to lay aside his wet cowl and put on his coarse sandals. "Go just as you are," said the Abbot, "either you will come back here barefooted, or you will go hence in another garb."

The Jesuit Brother dared not inquire concerning what he did not understand, he knew only to obey, so Peter went barefooted to the Prior.

"Dearly beloved son," said the Prior to him, "it is now two years that you have practised obedience. You have learned to be poor, to beg, to take care of the sick, and to do the work of a day laborer. You have six years yet, before you can be numbered among the fathers. Three years you must pass in the library, must learn Saint Augustine by heart, and also the Turkish, Arabic, Greek, and Russian languages; for it is possible that when you are through your studies you may be sent into the desert of Arabia to convert the heathen, or to Russia to encourage to steadfastness the faithful of the Church who are persecuted by Ivan the Terrible. So then you must spend three years among your books, keeping awake night and day, and forcing your way into learning as yet unknown to you. The next three years, you must wander about among hostile peoples, where crucified martyrs and impaled saints will mark your way. The seventh year, you must make a pilgrimage into Spain to endure the test of your fidelity. If you endure all these tests, and all these temptations, then may you be numbered among the fathers. All this long way you can put behind you with one step, and out of all this learning you need only the one word, I will. This day you may lay down your novitiate, and tomorrow arise Father Peter, if you will voluntarily and obediently undertake this mission. Read!" And he handed him the letter of the Patroness.

When the young monk glanced at the hand-writing, (he must have known it before) his whole countenance expressed sudden horror; he held the letter in his hand as if afraid to read it; then he took it, and as he read, his brow wrinkled, his face expressed contempt, and through his open lips, one could see his tightly closed teeth. He read the letter through and let his hand fall listlessly.

"We have chosen you," said the Prior. "To-morrow you will become Father Peter, and need only to say, 'I will'."

The youth looked steadfastly at the ground.

"Have you become speechless?"

The youth raised his head; his face had regained its manly calm. "Give me time for consideration, my father," he said, with a sweetly ringing voice, in which was heard the sincere vibration of a naive nature. "Let me compare the beginning and the end of this course. Surely it is not so far for me to the desert of Bab-el-Mandeb, or to the ice-sea of Siberia, as from the threshold of this monastery to the gate of the Madocsany castle. Neither the raging of Ivan the Terrible at his gory banquets, nor the nightly howl of the hyena, prowling after the dead through the desert of sand, is to me so terrible as one whisper of this woman. More rapidly can I learn Turkish and Arabic, Greek and Russian, and, if necessary, Sanskrit and Mongolian, than the one word, 'I will,' Grant me until to-morrow early to think of this."

"Very well. Take this letter to your cell, and pray God that He give you light. For it is true that the mission we lay upon you is more difficult than any into the land of the Scythian or Hyperborean. Omnia ad majorem Dei gloriam."

Peter went to his cell. It was a small narrow room, five feet long and two feet wide, with only a bed, and on the wall a crucifix. Yet the whole night long, he did not lie down on his bed, but, like a lion in a cage, he went back and forth over the five feet of space. There on the bed lay the letter, and on the bed where that letter lay, he could not lay his head. Toward morning, his decision became strong. He pushed the letter off the bed and threw himself down, and then weariness overpowered him; he slept so soundly that even the matin bell did not rouse him; and he first wakened when the Abbot shook him by the arm. He sprang up.

"Well, Peter, what is your decision?"

"This," replied Peter, treading under foot the letter as it lay on the floor.

"Very well, then get up and follow me; the two delinquents are awaiting their punishment."

"Wait; the Prior told me that the two years of the novitiate in which I was to do menial service were over. Now follow three years of study; then three years more of pilgrimage among hostile people. The Prior did not say anything about such hangman's service as this."

"Oh, yes, he did, Peter; recollect, he said, finally you are to go to Spain: that meant that you are to spend a year in the service of the Holy Inquisition. Come and begin your practice now."

Peter's nerves quivered with horror. Tightly did he press his arms to his sides and his face grew deadly pale. He raised his eyes to Heaven and his mouth opened.

A vision passed before him of human wisdom in dog's shape, and of canine rage in man's shape—of Ivan the Terrible—of the Saracens—of the torture-chamber of Arbucs. It was more than his mind could bear. His knees gave way under him; he sank down; took up the letter trodden under foot and folded it together; concealed it in his bosom, and said, "I will go."



CHAPTER II.

THE FOOLS OF THE CASTLE.

That very day went forth from the Convent the answer to the letter of the Baroness. It read: "For the high office of instructing our future baron, Father Peter has been chosen. He will install himself to-morrow at the castle."

For this new role, Father Peter received a new costume. No one would have recognized the beggar-monk of yesterday in this figure of to-day, clad in silken robe with buckled shoes; as, with a large book under his arm, he turned from the highway into the entrance of the Madocsany castle, barely a thousand paces distant from the monastery.

This castle was formerly shunned by everybody. In the first place, the court swarmed with hunting dogs of every kind, which dashed out at every arrival, and fairly tore the travellers from their carriages; then the young lord had a custom of lying in wait with a few intimates, and shooting at passers-by with an air gun, on a wager; then inside the court was a peacock, which flew at everybody's head and tried to peck out his eyes. Man and beast were trained here to harass the stranger. The day when the arrival of Father Peter was expected, the mistress took care to have her beloved child's air gun put away, for the round Jesuit hat would be altogether too convenient a target; she had had part of the pack of hounds driven into the poultry yard, leaving out only the blood-hounds and pointers; but she could not herself take care that a respectful reception should await the pious father, for just at the time of his arrival, the forester brought word that the night before the lord of Mitosin, with a troop of hunters, had crossed the Waag and shot down deer and other game; and when the gamekeepers tried to withstand this mad chase, they had been bound to trees, and the game had been dragged away.

The mistress of the castle fell into an ungovernable rage; sent at once for her stewards and agent, and prepared for a frightful retaliation by the most violent means.

Between the castles of Madocsany and Mitosin was an ancient feud that each lord took care to settle with his own hand. But when one of these domains passed into the hands of a woman, the situation became worse; for woman is less yielding than man. The preparations for revenge caused the mistress of the castle to forget entirely the arrival of Father Peter; so he was received by nobody but the dogs and the fools, in which latter class must be counted the young lord.

Nine blood-hounds and pointers plunged for the monk when his sable figure appeared in the gateway. But the monk did not act like those people who in their fright run this way and that, throwing out their arms, and provoking the spectator to laughter, but he remained standing quietly before the dogs—he had owned a fine pack once himself—and when they came baying around him, opened his large book and closed it noisily.

The dogs thought he had shot, and dashed off in every direction to hunt for the game, while the monk walked calmly into the castle court. The young Lord, the haiduk, the master of the hounds, and the fool were entertaining themselves playing ball.

"See, here comes the instructor," cried Matyi, the haiduk. "What a marvel that the dogs have not eaten him," said Petyko, the master of the hounds, greatly astonished. "Hit the monk in the back with the ball," the young Lord called out to the fool, who had the ball in his hand, and if he hit him it was bound to leave a big spot on the silken robe.

Hirsko, the fool, did as bidden. The monk caught the ball, and threw it back at the Fool with such force that his bearskin cap flew off his head. This pleased the young Lord greatly.

"That's a fine monk! Come here, Monk. So you know how to play ball! How the devil is that? I thought monks knew only how to pray. Can you throw a ball as far as Matyi? He is a strong fellow. See how far the ball has gone; he almost hit the window. See what you can do."

Father Peter took the bat and struck the ball with such force into the air that it flew over the roof of the castle. All were carried away with admiration.

"That's a rare monk!" said the young Lord. "I can learn to play 'Longa' and 'Meta' with him."

"Does your Honor know Latin already?" asked Father Peter of the boy.

"Latin! What's that got to do with this?"

"Why, 'Longa' means long, and 'Meta' means a goal. So in playing we add to learning."

"Really?"

"We make a kite out of what is to be learned, and while we let the kite go, the learning remains."

"So you understand kite-flying, do you? Have you ever seen a kite as large as mine? See how stout the cord is to hold by. Matyi can break this the first time trying. Show us, Matyi."

"That's nothing," said Father Peter, and with that he put the cord together three times and broke it.

"My, that's a strong monk! What's the Latin for kite?"

"Draco."

"And paper?"

"Charta."

"And the frame?"

"Arcus."

"I know all that. That's quite easy, Hirsko."

"It's got to be easy," said the Fool, an ugly dwarf, with a monstrously large head and hideous countenance. "The gracious Lady has given orders that the instructor shall teach the young Lord everything within one year, in such a manner that the young Lord shall not have to study anything."

"That is always the way, you know," said Father Peter. "Every young Lord keeps a small boy to be whipped, and when the young Lord does not know his lesson, the boy receives the punishment in his stead."

"You shall be this boy," said the young Lord, laughingly, to the Fool.

This system of pedagogics pleased the young Lord very much, and the monk by this means had won his favor in the highest measure. The Fool was the shrewdest of the company, for he saw that this new man would throw the old favorites out of the saddle, for he knew better how to manage the hounds than the master of hounds, was stronger than the haiduk, and a better joker than the Fool. He wanted to bring the monk to confusion. "What did you bring that great, stupid book with you for?" he asked, opening the folio, which bristled with a strange handwriting, terrible to him. "Is the young Lord to learn the book by heart."

"No, my son; with this book I drive out devils."

"Then you have come just at the right time. Go up to our gracious Lady; she has three thousand devils; you can test your art with her."

All four burst out laughing.

"Yes, do go, monk," teased the young Lord, "let us see whether you dare appear before my lady mother. She understands Latin when she tries. Do go, monk."

And all four crowded around the spiritual director. One shoved him, another pulled him, and so they dragged him through the entrance hall, hall-ways, and saloons, in the direction from which came the loudest noise; but when suddenly a door opened and through this unexpectedly appeared the Lady herself, all four ran away, to crawl behind the stove, the table, or the highest chest, leaving Father Peter standing alone in the middle of the saloon before this fire-breathing dragon. The gracious lady had pushed open the door with the heel of her yellow riding boot, and when she saw the monk's figure standing in the dark background, she stamped violently with her foot.

"The Devil could not have brought a monk here, more opportunely." With that she turned toward the threshold with her back to the monk, and began to scold her retinue in the adjoining room. "What are you staring at there! Off with you, and do as I order! The peasants are to arm themselves with scythes and pitchforks, and the halberdiers are to mount their horses. Haiduks, hunters, peasants, off with you to Mitosin! Set the red cock on their roof. If they have other game, they shall have fire for it. Fall upon them while they are drunk; throw them into the water to sober them; set fire to their towers on all four sides, even if the dead Florian himself should rise from his grave to beg for them. But if you catch the master alive, swing him up on the cross bar over the well. Now off with you! I'll go too; saddle my horse. Where's that miserable priest? What the devil does he want? Let him show his face."

The Lady's face was flaming red with anger; even on her brow blazed the red spots; her nostrils quivered; her eyes flashed so that she could not see; her lips drawn into very ugly shape. Then too, her hair was disordered, her brown locks changing into red, gleamed on her temples in small bright red curls, and above them a high cap was fastened with four pins that gave the appearance of four horns. Her stately figure showed strength and passion, still further heightened by her costume. Her bodice, extending below the hips, was of brown and yellow stripes two fingers wide, a true tiger's skin, and instead of the stiff ruffle around the neck was a border of feathers. Below the hips hung a dagger from a Turkish girdle; and the skirt of heavy flowered brocade was festooned with strings of gold and silver coins that rattled as she walked; the skirt, made short in front, as she stamped her foot, showed the leg above the yellow riding boots, in bright red trousers. This was her appearance when she cried: "Now let that cringing priest come here!"

Father Peter came near, and said gently: "May peace and blessing rest upon this house." At this voice, the lady let fall her dagger and raised her hands to her brow, either to shade her eyes for better sight, or to conceal her face. The monk came nearer to her, and said in friendly tones: "Anger ruins beauty. Cleopatra was never angry, and so remained always beautiful. Rage disfigures the countenance, draws lasting wrinkles, and leaves its imprint on the skin." In one instant the rage had vanished from the lady's face, the blazing red became white, her brow relaxed, and her lips resumed their lines of beauty. Her flashing eyes remained fixed, like those of a sleep-walker, on the countenance of the speaker. An instant had sufficed to effect this change; at the last words of the Father, the Lady even tried to smile. Now the monk came still nearer, so that he could say in a whisper: "What unseemly revenge have you planned, gracious Lady? Who will consent to quarrels and firebrands? You are only preparing a new enjoyment for the one who has wronged you. A sword wound does not hurt a man. If you really want to take vengeance on this man, have a quantity of game shot and send it to him as a present. In this way you will shame him."

Like the sun beneath a heavy cloud, gleamed a smile on the face of the Lady. "True, true," she said, with a look of joy. "I will revenge myself that way. Steward, treasurer, forester; go at once into the forest; kill as much game as you can put in a wagon, and take it to Mitosin. Say to the lord of the castle, I send him my greetings, and since he is so desperately hungry for my game, I send him still more of it, that he may have enough."

Every one was astonished at this sudden change, including those in hiding behind the furniture, who were now quite convinced that the monk knew how to drive out the Devil with the aid of the large book he carried under his arm.

"Mother, don't give in to him," cried the young Lord, dashing out and seeking shelter beside his mother. Then happened to the young man what he had never experienced before; his dear mother gave him a box on the ear. Yes, the spoiled darling, the only son, the child of her heart, who never in his life before had heard the word, "Don't," received his first box on the ear.

Stunned and amazed, he quite forgot he ought to cry. "Off with you. Treat him as your Father. Kiss his hand." And his mother's half-raised boot made the boy understand that she was quite ready to use her heel as a stimulus. But the monk intervened.

"Gracious Lady, treat him as your child." With these words he leaned forward, and enveloped him in his robe and the child sought refuge in the arm of his protector, and began to cry bitterly. "Do not cry, my little one, have confidence in your mother; she loves you. A mother's chastisement brings blessing to the child. Now take the book, and carry it to the room designed for me."

This commission so surprised the child that he forgot to cry. Curiosity overcame sorrow. He was delighted to take into his hand the wonderful book whose contents the devils themselves feared, as if they had themselves to spell it out, or take a whipping. Off he ran with his book, and the three fools after him. As soon as they could, they stopped to study the strange characters painted in gay colors on the parchment.



CHAPTER III.

THE LORDS OF MADOCSANY.

When they were left alone, the Lady began to laugh. Her pleasure was as passionately violent as her anger; she clapped her hands and pressed them to her head.

"Aha! So you're here, are you? At last! You are not dead! You did not go out into the wild world! You have come to me! A hundred times I have called you; a thousand times I have waited for you; but always in vain. When I did not expect you, you are before me! Ha ha! And in what a masquerade have you slunk in, Tihamer Csorbai!"

And with that she laid both hands on the monk's shoulders, rested her dimpled chin on her arm, and laughed in his face with her sparkling eyes.

"My name is Father Peter," said the monk calmly. And without change of countenance, he suffered the Lady to press him to her breast with all her might.

"That's not true!" she cried, seizing violently the monk's rough garment over his breast. "It's only a disguise," and she tore open the coarse cowl on his breast, expecting to see a gold-trimmed, buckled cloak of velvet. In its stead was a coarse shirt of unbleached linen, such as all Jesuits wore, down to the humblest begging monk; and where this coarse shirt parted on his breast, could be seen around his neck a chain of steel with iron cross. The points on the links of the chain and the sharp edges of the cross had left bloody prints on his neck, from her violent embrace. But he endured both the embrace and the torture without a smile, without a word.

"I am what I seem to be," he said coldly. The tone of his voice was so cold, his glance so steely hard, that from the face of the Lady suddenly vanished the smile, and with it every charm. With dignity she drew herself to her full height, rubbed her hands, gazed with her black eyes in terror at the cross, her whole body quivered; then she clasped both hands to her brow, throwing back her head. "'Tis a dream! Waken me! Give me water."

"We are awake, my Lady," said the monk, "What you see is the reality."

"Tihamer——"

"—is dead."

"But not in the struggle against the Turks?"

"No, only in the struggle against self."

"'Tis two years since we have heard anything of you."

"Yes, since that unfortunate duel, in which I killed somebody with whom I would gladly exchange my rest every night. You know the cause."

"Do not call it to mind. Rage fills my whole body."

"Every night his ghost comes to me."

"Why didn't you make more thorough work of it? His ghost leaves me in peace." And with that she smiled seductively. The man understood the words and understood the smile. This woman was a queen of sinners; all heart, and yet heartless. If she were to go to Hell, she would seduce the Devil, and instead of being among the damned, would take her place at Beelzebub's side as his wife.

"The Lord of Mitosin has cursed me," said the monk.

"How often has he cursed me! Every word he speaks is a curse. If all took effect, there would be no thunder left in Heaven or devil in Hell. I laugh at his curse."

"But he really has cursed me. At the funeral feast of his son, he hurled after me the words, that if he ever caught sight of my face again, he would put his daughter in a boat, push her out on the sea in the black night, and leave her to perish."

"And your love for her was so great that for this reason you went out into the wide world,—nay, more, you went out of the world—you became a monk! And yet you could not free yourself from her. Her charm brought you back again, that you might be near her, might even see her again. Am I not right?"

Envy and jealousy blazed in her glance.

"No. I made a pilgrimage to Rome, and was received into the Jesuit order. The Provincial, finding that I was of this vicinity ordered me to the monastery of Madocsany."

"Whither you never wanted to come."

"I had to obey. And since then, I have been spending my years of penance here. I have done the most menial work. Begged from village to village, and tortured my body and my soul."

"Just to see her once more!"

"To avoid her."

"What! Have you not yet seen her? Not heard of her? She is more beautiful than ever and still unmarried. She waits for you."

"She waits in vain! Even in prayer, I do not venture to approach her. I am what I have become—a rigid, unfeeling monk. Only in my hands do I carry the rose-wreath, not on my brow. Its fragrance is no more sweet; its thorns give no more pain."

"And you are the one the Jesuit convent selected to send to me!"

"The rest were all afraid of you."

"On account of my bad reputation; and yet they do not know me at all. You had most cause to fear, for you know me, and yet you came—to the woman whom you hate, whom you despise, at whose warm whisper you shudder, whom you have so often thrust aside, and of whom you know that she clings to you so madly that she will never give you up to God, or Devil, or angel! Whose windows are written all over with your name, who when she is silent, and when she speaks, and when she dreams, thinks only of you! And yet you came!"

"The command was given and I obeyed."

"And why are you here?"

"To fulfil a sacred mission."

"Ha, ha! What mission?"

"To instruct your son in the true faith, and in worldly knowledge."

"I understand. They are afraid that if I get angry, I will take my son with me to Saros-Patak, and make a Calvinist of him; and will my wealth to that college; they have a holy dread of that."

"Possibly."

"But you have still another sacred mission. As I understand from their letter, the Jesuits never send an instructor into a family except with the title of Father Confessor. You are to be my Father Confessor."

"I know it."

"You know it. And do not suspect that what I shall whisper in your ear day after day, will be not only my curse, but also yours. That you who must absolve my soul of the sin, if sin it is, renew that sin day by day; that when you lay your hand upon my head in blessing, every one of your five fingers will burn in my red hair as in glowing coals. Do you know that?"

"I know it."

"And yet you venture to incline your ear when I kneel before you and venture to hear me when I whisper, 'Father I have sinned;' I love a man with a maddening love that sets my brain on fire; I cannot pray, for his name ever rushes to my lips; I cannot look to the saints above, for everywhere I see his face; I cannot do penance, for I love my sin, and am ever returning to it; I had a good, true husband who was as gentle as a lamb; this good and gentle husband I tortured to death—perhaps I even caused his death—I exulted and rejoiced in my widow's veil for I thought, Now he whom I seek can be mine; ah, my sin, my sin! But his heart would not incline to me for he loved another,—a more beautiful, a better, an innocent maiden; and I disturbed their union, I roused her father and brother against him, I sowed enmity between them, and he killed the brother of his betrothed, and so I tore them from each other. My sin! My sin! Hear me, God in Heaven! I did not come to you to pray, but I will contend with you. This man I love more than my soul's salvation, the man to whom I pray rather than to Heaven, whose heart Thou first didst take from me, and now dost take him too. Thou hast chained him to Thine altar, but I will not leave him to Thee, I will tear him from Thine altar, and if Thou wilt not permit me to be happy on earth, to be blessed in Heaven with him, then will I be damned in Hell with him. Father, I will sin!"

The woman rocked on her knees in the dust before the man, kissing his feet, and with her hand beating her unrepentant breast.

A deep sigh was wrung from the heart of Father Peter. He turned his face away, and laying a trembling hand on the woman's head, sobbed with stifled voice, "May God pity you your sins, poor wretched woman!" And then he let her lie sobbing on the ground, and let her drag herself along the marble floor, following his footsteps and kissing them, one after the other.



CHAPTER IV.

YAW DEREVOCSID EHT.

That good-sized book that Father Peter had brought to the Castle with him was no book of magic to exorcise devils, but rather a book that had had some man-tormenting devil for composer: it had moulded already for two centuries in the Madocsany Monastery library before the Jesuit order was founded by Ignatius Loyola; at that time the Carmelite fathers were in the abbey; the contents of this book must have caused them, too, many a headache, for they wrote many pages of Latin commentaries to explain this text of a few leaves which nobody understood yet. This much had the investigators already worked out; that the characters were the same that the Arabs employed in their secret correspondence, and the alphabet was that known among Orientalists as "Lijakah." On the other hand, the words which the letters formed were not to be found in any speech of any known people on the whole globe. One linguist insisted that he recognized the Arabic, another the Coptic, and a third the Mongolian in some one of its forms. The words that most frequently appeared were explained by all kinds of philological cunning. The title of the book was YAW DEREVOCSID EHT. One word sounded like Arabic, and another was evidently of Turkish origin; but what the whole meant no human understanding could decide. Whole sheets were written over, with desperate and useless effort. It seemed as if everybody must go mad who attempted its investigation. The Jesuits later adopted the custom, whenever a monk ventured to demur against a task assigned, of putting into his hand this book, YAW DEREVOCSID EHT, and telling him that he might spend his time in quiet linguistic studies, that he might acquire the language in which these few pages were written, and when he had accomplished this, he might go as a missionary to the people who wrote and spoke this language. But this secret had never yet been penetrated throughout all the years in which it had vexed and tormented students. And so to Father Peter, this book had been given for a companion; in case he wished to escape from the hard service in the castle, this book would be welcome in gaining his exit through the closed door, and for that reason, Father Peter spent whole nights over the thick book, and studied in succession the writings of those who had gone astray before him.

The little son of the mistress of the castle slept with the monk in one room, but beside the monk, the child must have the Fool too; for he could not go to sleep unless the Fool told him fairy stories, and the Fool well knew how. Often he sat until midnight by the boy's bedside, weaving garlands of the Thousand and One Nights; this gave the monk a chance to study the secrets of the Arabic writing. The young Lord had very bad dreams. He dreamed of the fairies and witches in the fairy tales, and would waken screaming. Often he dreamed with wide open eyes, tried to escape, howled and wept, so that the monk and the Fool had all they could do to quiet him and lull him back to sleep again. And this was continued until early morning, when the boy fell into a deep sleep, and the monk and the Fool could give themselves to rest.

The monk found his Arabic book of sufficient service in these night watches, but for the Fool wine was furnished as a means of keeping awake. And so they sat through the still nights beside each other at a table; in front of the monk lay the open book and the large inkstand of lead, and before the Fool stood a large pitcher and a tin mug.

"What would a man say, Monk," said the Fool once, "if he should see us together this way every night? Which would he call the Fool and which the wise man?"

"He would call you wise, and me a fool."

"If you would like, I could share my wisdom with you, for my pitcher is full; there is wine in it."

"I do not drink wine."

"What have you there in front of you?"

"Ink."

"And I do not drink ink, but I'll taste your drink; give me some."

"Ink is not to drink."

"What is it for?"

"You see. Men dip quills in it, and write letters with it, and what is in the letters causes greater delight to the human soul than your wine to the human throat."

"Give me a swallow of it that I may learn its taste."

"Nobody can give of this drink."

"Is it frozen?"

"Yes, just that. It is written in a foreign language that I do not myself understand."

"You do not understand! and you follow with your finger along the line of those bird-tracks! Then this magic book is of no more value to you than to me. I might just as well sit in your place, and follow with my finger."

"You are quite right, Fool."

"Now I'll tell you a thing, and you can make two of it. If I can swallow a little of your drink which you cannot pour out for your own self, then will you taste mine which I do not begrudge you?"

"I can easily agree to that."

"Now then, wait a little. Before you came I had a student for companion in these night-watches, who used to work there busily, just where you sit. He was to have taught the young Lord to read and write, but every day he got hit in the head with the inkstand. I watched this foolish student carefully from the other end of the table, and saw that when he took his goosequill in his hand, and began to make all kinds of flourishes that he always worked from left to right, but as I observe your finger you go from right to left, and in that way get everything wrong end to. Now listen, and I will recite you a sweet song:

'Wolb sdniw hguor eht nehw neve, Skaerc kao tuots eht nehw neve, Woleb ssarg eht ni terewolf eht, Skaerw yruf rieht tahw ton sraef.'

Did you understand? Arabic, isn't it? Now just read it backward and you will understand at once.

'Even when the rough winds blow, Even when the stout oak creaks, The floweret in the grass below Fears not what their fury wreaks.'"

"Quite right, Fool, but this is written in Arabic, and Arabic, like all Eastern languages, is written from right to left."

"What is the title of your book?"

"YAW DEREVOCSID EHT."

The Fool burst into a loud laugh. "Didn't I tell you that I would drink of your cup first? Now read from left to right just as you have done:

"YAW DEREVOCSID EHT means simply, The Discovered Way."

Father Peter's eyes and mouth stood wide open with astonishment. What fifty wise men had not been able to guess in two hundred years, a fool had found out in two minutes! Now Father Peter began to read as the Fool had instructed him. He read two, three lines, a whole page; and the more he read, the more his countenance lifted up, his eyes beamed, the ascetic hardness of his features melted under the glow of an indescribable fire; he began to pound on the table with his right hand.

"See, see!" cried the Fool, "The monk is drunk with his own wine."

At this the monk sprang up and closed the book.

"This book does not drive away the Devil, it summons him."

"Didn't I tell you I knew how to drink your wine? Now drink mine." And he poured the beaker full and reached it to the monk. Oh, how well Father Peter had once known this fiery drink, when he was not a slave of slaves, but leader of the knights; then no wine was too strong for him; he could drink on a wager with German or Polish cavaliers; but for two years his lips had not touched wine. Wine is the foam of that fiery stream that flows toward Hell. As thick as fish in the river, large and small, so thick are sins, large and small in the wine. There must have been in the book some kind of hidden fire, for as soon as the monk had let one page of it steal into his soul, the torments of a burning thirst were manifest in his countenance.

"Pass me your mug." His hand still trembled as he took the mug. At first his dry lips just sipped the wine; it could not have been especially good; but after two years of abstinence, the monk experienced a magic effect, and the wine exhilarated him as if he tasted it for the first time in his life. He sank back into his armchair, and in his upturned face were mirrored visions of ecstacy. His far-gazing eyes beamed, and on his half-opened lips trembled a smile. Where might his soul be wandering now? Involuntarily his hand reached for the book and opened its covers.

"Oh, woe, woe! Dromo the Devil is here! oh, woe, he will throw me into the fire!" So screamed the restless, dreaming boy, tossing on his couch, with his head hanging off.

The monk was roused, and shuddered, then ran to the boy, raised him, laid him back on his pillow and quieted him with caressing words:

"Don't be afraid, little one, I am here beside you." The child stared at him with wide-open eyes.

"Are you my father?"

"Yes, your spiritual father."

"My father, whom the Devil carried off to Hell? That's what my mother said. Leave me, leave me! I will not go with you. Your hand is fire, and your fingers burn me."

And yet the monk's hand was as cold as ice, as he stroked the child's silken hair. By the bed stood a silver pitcher with a small gold cup: the boy raised it to his lips and at once became quiet, as the terrifying visions vanished. He wound both arms around the neck of the monk and whispered to him, while still under the spell of the dream:

"Beautiful Knight, brave Knight! When you lift my mother into the saddle with you, you'll take me with you, won't you, my handsome Knight, my golden, diamond hero!" With that he fell into a gentle sleep.

"Just see what a good nurse you would make," said the Fool to his friend, "Sometimes I have to spend a good half-hour rubbing his feet and singing to him, and he is asleep at once. Have another mugful?"

"I don't like your wine."

"It's true you ought to drink yours, not mine." Father Peter saw with horror that the large book was open again. He thought it was magic.

"Did you touch this book?" he asked the Fool.

"No, not if you were to give me this castle, and its handsome mistress with it, would I open that book; it opened itself."

The red and blue letters were oh, so enticing! It was no sealed secret now that they contained; for they were all familiar. The monk leaned back in his chair and read the leaves of the secret writing until he had read them to the end. And the farther he read, the more intense grew that expression of unquenchable thirst, like that of a sick man who dreams that he is in a desert and longs for a cataract to drink. Every leaf of the book was a new catastrophe, the whole one unbroken delirium; he did not look up until he had finished the last line of the last page. Then he called to the Fool: "Bring me a whole bucket of wine."

The morning sun, which streamed in through the painted window, found them both in the same place; the Fool was under the table: the monk sat before his book, his head on his hands, his eyes wide open:—he did not read, he did not sleep, but yet he dreamed.

In YAW DEREVOCSID EHT was no cabalistic writing. The writer at the very first gave his reasons for employing this device. He had chosen the Arabic letters so that all would try to read it from right to left, and so fail to discover its meaning. In case it occurred to anybody to read it from left to right, still, as the people of that vicinity rarely knew more than Hungarian, no meaning would appear. In case anybody understood English, it was hardly probable the Arabic text would be familiar too. Only by rare chance could this mysterious book be deciphered. What it contained was the description of a secret passage or tunnel that led from the Madocsany Castle to the turreted walls of Mitosin. Midway was the river Waag, which was here quite wide, but the tunnel passed under the river bed, thus anticipating the Thames tunnel by about four hundred years. If any one shakes his head at this, and begins to doubt that our story is true, we will point out to such a doubter the secret way that leads from a certain castle to a distant village, a veritable catacomb which in a straight line would be fully a mile long, a work of the Hussites. The vaulted passage-way is covered with mould, from which in one place shines out two memorial tablets; one of stone bears the symbol of the cooper's trade, as peculiar to the Hussite monks as the trowel and the triangle to the Freemasons. In the stone vaulting, above is seen a goose, the Hussite symbol; what purpose this tunnel served the Hussites is yet to be discovered; but the object for which the Madocsany-Mitosin tunnel was made, was clearly set forth in this YAW DEREVOCSID EHT. Both castles belonged to Czech robbers and bandits in the days when the Hungarian regent, John Hunyadi, with all the military forces of the land, wore himself out trying to drive back the monstrous host of the Turkish Sultan. He who fights with a bear has no time to brush wasps from his face. The Czech could ravage the country at pleasure, and when sometimes bands of noblemen, led by Hungarian Counts, rose up against them to take vengeance for their plundering and reckless deeds, suddenly every trace of the pursued would be lost. The larger robber-hordes would withdraw to their strongholds and defy every attack; the lesser ones, led by impecunious noblemen, left their drawbridges down before the pursuing bands, and let them seek at will what they so eagerly pursued. The enemy searched everywhere, in every corner, cellar, loft, chapel, and crypt; and when they could find nothing more, still lingered on, days and weeks, and then cleared out the storehouses, and withdrew in unsatisfied rage. The entire robber-band meantime, with all their stolen wealth and beautiful Slavic maidens, passed down into this secret tunnel, and made their way to the other castle. And the freebooters who guarded the Waag was ready to swear that not one of them had passed over the river. It was true; they had gone under. But once Mathias Corvinus ordered the two castles attacked at one and the same time; the robbers fled first from Mitosin through the tunnel, only to find themselves surrounded in Madocsany. It was at this time that the monk wrote YAW DEREVOCSID EHT. He described in detail to whom the two castles belonged, and where the entrances and exits of the tunnel were. The book was intended to be a guide to the treasure which the robbers had concealed in a chamber in the tunnel. Every point of the chamber was clearly defined, all the small bags of gold and silver coin were numbered, there were also given names of human beings, or beautiful women as precious as jewels; the name of each individual was given, and the families were enumerated from which they had been stolen. A description was set down of the coat, cap, and even the finger-rings that each one wore; who were of the Catholic, and who of the Lutheran faith. If any one ten or twenty years later should discover them in the subterranean dungeon, where, together with the stolen treasure, they had been hidden away, he would know at once in which consecrated ground to bury each one, what name to inscribe on each cross, what prayer to have said for each soul's weal. The monk had faithfully cared for all, and left the book in the archives of the convent. What happened to the robbers, the chronicles do not tell: probably the same that happened to the bandits of Dzuela. In a night attack, they were cut down by the royal troops and any who were taken alive were at once hung. The victors probably carried off enough gold with them so that they were satisfied no more remained. The two entrances of the tunnel were so well concealed, that six generations followed each other in both castles without anybody's having a suspicion of the common mystery that bound them. The YAW DEREVOCSID EHT, said everybody who looked at the writing. But no one understood the words until they came to Father Peter.



CHAPTER V.

THE LORDS OF MITOSIN.

Opposite the Madocsany Castle gleams forth the Mitosin. Its four towers are covered with tin, and when the setting sun shines on them, all four blaze like sheaves of fire. They are round and dome-topped in Russian style. There is still a fifth tower that would gladly show itself above the silver poplars; this one runs up into a spire and cross, while the others end in a star. What the tower with the cross could find inside the inclosure of the Mitosin Castle, where neither its former lords, the Hussite Knights, nor its present lord, a Lutheran magnate, were of the Catholic faith—this is explained by a curious history that one can learn piecemeal; here and there a fragment is kept back, and only at the very close is the whole truth known. Now one can fully believe that the little church was built in honor of Saint Anthony, though in reality a Hussite church. The purpose of this was to conceal from the Count Von Treuesin, or from Count Von Tipsen, that the builders were Hussites, by pointing to the church with its cross and picture as Roman Catholic. The present lord of the castle, Grazian Likovay, had inherited his estate from his mother, Susanna Szuhoy, a zealous Catholic, who had left this to her son on condition that the church of Mitosin Castle should always be maintained in its present condition: and a legacy had been deposited with the neighboring Dean of Tepla, to insure the reading of mass once a week in this church, whether there was anybody present or not. The lord of the castle was enjoined to maintain the church in good condition, not to coin its bell into counterfeit money, and to allow the sacristan of Tepla to ring the bell at the customary hours; furthermore, he was not to appropriate the church to the Lutherans. If he opposed these conditions, Mitosin with all its appurtenances, was to go to the public treasury. Had the pious lady ever seen the interior of this church, she would not have left this legacy, which was of no use whatever; for while there was a bell in the tower, there was no rope; and there was neither ladder, stairs, nor any other way of reaching the bell. And even if it had been rung by the hour, no honest Christian would have entered the church, on account of the altar picture. Whoever made that had not taken into consideration the temper of these people, or else had purposely set it aside. From an artistic point of view, the picture was a masterpiece. It represented the Temptation of Saint Anthony in the Wilderness, and had been painted by an Italian master.

The ascetic was the true ideal of a holy hermit who withstands all the temptations and seductions of Hell; yet the people of this vicinity could not enjoy the monsters from Hell in such frightful forms as can be conjured up only in the fancy of a melancholy painter. But apart from these terrifying monsters, the temptress, in whose form Satan surprises the pious hermit, had been painted with such striking boldness that at the first sight of the same from the threshold of the door, every good Christian would turn and run. Such may pass in Italy, but in our mountainous highland it is too cold for such a garb, so that even the priest himself took no pleasure in reading the liturgy in the presence of such an altar-picture. If, however, in spite of everything, any one could take pleasure in saying his prayers in this church, if an innocent soul could be found that took exceptions to nothing, that saw only what was godly in this church, and was not conscious of the painted devil, either in the form of a monster or of a beautiful woman; for any such provision was made.

Now you must know that there was just such an innocent creature in Mitosin Castle. The Lord's daughter, Magdalene, was the only Papist in the whole house, yes, in the whole village. According to the Hungarian laws, the children of a Protestant father and a Papist mother were divided for the Heavenly Kingdom as follows,—the sons followed the religion of their father, and the daughters of their mother. If anybody made objections, a terrible storm fell upon his head. The Lord of Mitosin was a stiff-necked Protestant, who persecuted priest and monk in every possible way. He would not allow his daughter to bring a Catholic prayer-book or a rosary into the house. If anybody wished to pray, he could do it in the church; it was not far away. From the rear gate of the castle straight to the church ran a beautiful path bordered by poplars a hundred years old; only a beautiful grove separated church from castle; and yet the way from the castle door to the church door was so luxuriantly overgrown with grass that it could have been mown; for the space between church and castle was the bear-den.

Grazian Likovay owned two great overgrown bears, for which he had had pits dug in the garden, and there they could roam freely; their growls came up over the walls. Now you can understand why the way to the church was grown with grass,—no one would go to church who did not want to meet those monsters. When the watchman of the tower blew his evening horn, a window on the balcony would open, and a whistle blow from within, then would come forth with much noise the two bears. The thicket of the poplar-grove opened before them as they made their way straight through; a hoarse, rasping voice would call them by name, and some one would throw a bloody bone from the window; as soon as they had finished that, would follow a whole quarter of mutton; the two bears were twins, a division of the meat must be made, and so there would be a quarrel. When all had been devoured, neither one felt that he had had his share, and so they kept on quarrelling the whole night through; but the window was closed, and garden, church and beasts left to themselves.

Gradually as darkness fell, the nightly mists rose from the river; no light was to be seen, yet night after night a girl's figure slipped out by the door leading into the garden, and glided along like the vision of a dream. A long white mantle covered her slender form, and a black veil was over her head; she looked about, shuddered and stepped out into the darkness; she came alone without a lantern; her step did not betray her, for the grass was thick, but her white robe showed her figure. With a loud growl, both black monsters plunged at her, and their white teeth and blazing eyes shone out of the thicket. The maiden uttered no cry, but right and left threw something from her apron; it was honey-cakes, tid-bits for the bears. With a joyous growl they fell upon their honey-cakes; meanwhile the maiden slipped away over the grass to the church door, and before the beasts could plunge after her, she had closed the door behind her. The bears now began to strike against the heavy iron-bound door with their paws; they climbed up the posts and snuffled and finally dropped down, one on one side, the other on the other, licking their paws and listening for every rustle that came from the church.

What could this white vision do in the church in the darkness, alone, and, at night?

Herr Grazian had received many guests to-day. It was a memorial with him; the anniversary of the death of his only son, Casimir. This was the third anniversary. At the funeral feast, Grazian had informed his good friends, boon companions, clergy, scholars, singers, and buffoons, that every year this festival of mourning would be celebrated in Mitosin Castle, just as when the bier still stood in the hall, and the comrades came one by one to offer the dead a beaker and then drink the same to his happy resurrection; for mourning mingles in Hungary's rejoicings, so that one may mourn joyously.

"Now you can go pray for the soul of your brother," growled Grazian to Magdalene, as he closed the window after feeding the bears.

He was tall and broad-shouldered, and limped with the gout; his face was copper-colored, and his eyes were dark set, with bloated lids, and eyebrows bushy as his beard; his head was close shaven behind in Turkish fashion, and he wore a cap night and day, and over his brow hung a braided lock of hair. The hide of his bull-neck rose above his stiff collar; his fat chin covered his neckerchief, tied in a knot; he wore his cloak thrown over his shoulders, and his shirt-sleeves fastened at the wrist. He cared little for outward appearance. He wanted his clasps of gold, but it did not matter if the stuff did shine with grease, or the trimming was moth-eaten. From his broad Turkish girdle no sword hung, but behind was stuck a battle hammer, and above his boot-tops appeared a knife-hilt, studded with turquoises. In all his motions, there was an arrogance that brooked no contradiction, and expressed an immoderate love of fighting. Whoever met him was in peril, since a mere glance at his face was enough to give offence,—speaking was entirely out of the question; what another said, he neither listened to, nor answered; what he himself said, he said only for himself; if he spoke directly to any one, it was a command to which it was not customary to reply, as that provoked a blow from his crooked stick.

"Go, child, go to church," he said to himself, and limped away.

Yet there was one who heard him; his inseparable companion, Master Mathias; the strong body needed the support of somebody's shoulder, and the soul too needed a support: it was not so large as the body, but found room in a very small space, and could not fill this great form. Master Mathias had to think for his lord, in whose soul no smallest thought originated, only instinct roused him, and passion swept him along.

Master Mathias directed the memorial feast. He assembled the guests appropriate for such an occasion; carousers, buffoons, mendicants, and travelling scholars, persecuted clergy, beggarly nobility, outlaws, who carried their house on their back and their bread in the folds of their cloak, Slavic fiddlers and Polish Jews all together; all that seemed ready to celebrate the day of mourning in eating and drinking and outdoing one another in follies. Knife, fork and spoon each guest brought with him in his boot. Three long tables were spread in the vaulted halls, with places for two hundred guests. There were tin plates for the food, wooden pitchers for the beer, tin cups for the wine, and narrow-throated flasks for the brandy, which was a great delicacy, and only the masters could drink it. At the end of the carouse went around the "Bratina," the glass that nobody must set down, and that every one must drain to the bottom. Then, too, there must be some entertainment for the revellers; the bagpiper begins it with a gay song to dispel care; not only piping, but dancing at the same time; then follow two tall students, barefooted in outgrown clothes, with unkempt, disordered hair; these begin to sing, at first pious Latin songs of past events, and of the differences between Heaven and Hell; the guests give them beer, wine, and mead, and they begin to sing more wantonly, mixing Slavic and Hungarian with their Latin; the entire company join in; only the Lord of the Castle mutters to himself, "He would have understood these songs best of any of them; it was he who taught these fellows." "He" was the son, whose funeral feast they were now celebrating.

The scholars were almost ready to drop with drinking, when Master Mathias sent for three Galician Jews, who were shoved into the hall, bound together by their forelocks, their beards sprinkled with pepper. Whenever one of them sneezed violently, and so jerked the heads of the other two, everybody laughed, but the master, whose eyes filled with tears. "In this too, he was master, he knew how to joke with the Jews; ah, he was a wit!" So the feast went on; it was already midnight, and the guests began to sing alone and to tumble against one another; then they brought in the final cup which each one was to empty at a single draught. There was great laughter, for its capacity was beyond any of them. The Lord again murmured to himself; "Ah, worthless set! He could out-drink them all. Nobody knows how, now."

Then at the drinking of this last cup, all the guests recalled some incident of the dead, and toasts were given, one as foolish as another. "All good for nothing. He was the only one who knew how to drink to the dead. The departed souls must have roared with laughter when they heard him. Sit down there, you can't come up to him." The sport ended with a wrestling match. Two or three of the befuddled lords strove together; the stronger was to throw the other under the table; but there was one martial youth whom all together could not drive out of his corner. "Oh, if he were only here; he would master you! He was not afraid of any two! He could even knock my arm down. How many times I've seen him drive out the whole company with a loaded cane." When the scuffling became general, pitchers and plates flew, tables and chairs were overturned, benches broken, canes whizzed through the air, and men with bruised heads groaned and swore; then suddenly a door opened, and in came the procession.

In front, disguised as a woman, came Bajozzo, and behind him a company in monks' cowls, and priestly garb, and all began to sing the familiar song of mockery, which scoffs at monks, imitates the litany of the pilgrim, and ends with a wild dance. That rouses those of the drunken company who can still stand up to join the pilgrims and follow on, through the halls and corridors of the castle, and out of doors, that the people may enjoy the sport. In the great banquet hall remain only those entirely overcome by drunkenness, or by blows, who lie stretched out on the floor; one and another tries to solve the problem how a four-footed beast can stand on two feet, and failing in his experiment, returns to all four. Only the House-Lord sits quietly in his place, with his flask of Polish brandy before him; strong as it was, it was none too strong for him. He gazed fixedly into the glowing wicks of burned-out candles, and let fall sentences that no one heeded. "How many jokes he knew! Even when I scolded him, he would make me laugh. I could not do anything with him, he was so strong. If I tried to beat him, he beat me.—If I wouldn't give him money, he would catch my Jews on the street, and take it from them.—He had a great mind!—He might have been a candidate for the Palatinate—He might have lived to be a hundred years old—He was only twenty-five—and three, that makes twenty-eight,—true, but those three don't count—for he has been dead since then—but why is he dead? because his horse made a mis-step in battle, otherwise he would have killed the other man—is that justice?—A fine world this where the four feet of a horse are the judge—that donkey of a priest says he will turn to dust—my son, dust! It's a lie.—More likely it'll be gold—to-morrow I'll have his coffin opened.—There he lies in the vault of a papist church.—What's that? What did they put him there for? Because he wanted it—he wanted it, himself.—So he could torment the saints after his death—I wonder if he does!—I wonder if he goes and hits Saint Anthony in the nose—I wonder if he gets up in the ghostly hours to hit the bell—What's that!—Is that the sound of a bell? Who heard it?—Anybody else?—Here, Master Mathias, where are you? Did you hear anything?" Nobody answered. The sleeping and drunken snored, the carousers had quartered themselves in the cellar and begun drinking afresh. In the great banquet hall, only the House-Lord was still awake, and he thought that he was dreaming.

The little bell in the church tower rang! Grazian sprang out of his arm-chair—seized his cane—steadying himself against the wall, he made his way out to the north tower, from which he could get a clear view of the church. The moon, just ready to set, lighted up the tower windows, and one could still see the bell swaying back and forth; it had stopped ringing, but the reverberation still trembled in the air.

"What's that? Who's there?" stammered Grazian, and leaned far out of the window. "Stop that noise down there, so I can hear." Another instant, and he could see, too. One of the long Gothic windows of the church suddenly blazed with light. "See there! What's that!" Against the bright window stood out the shadows of human figures. They vanished, appeared again and raised their hands. Grazian gathered all his strength that he might shout in the fulness of his rage at the ghosts—"Who are you? Away with you!" He fell, and the next morning was found stretched out before the open window: it was with difficulty they could bring him back to life.



CHAPTER VI.

THE PICTURE OF SAINT ANTHONY.

Magdalene knelt in prayer at the tomb of her brother. She too celebrated the anniversary of this sad day, when the blood of her beloved brother had been shed, and shed on her account. At one blow, she had lost brother and betrothed; for the hand that killed her brother could not lead her to the marriage altar, and yet both brother and betrothed had loved her. For this twofold love she had exchanged her father's hatred, for the father saw in his daughter only the murderer of his son. And what was the maiden's prayer? Both were dead, and prayer could not bring them back. Her happiness for this world was over, and she had no suspicion of the hand that had destroyed it.

Deep stillness reigned throughout the church. Any other maiden would have been afraid to kneel here. The moon shone through the window, and lighted up the carving on the altar, the figure of the martyr, that bound to a tree and pierced through with arrows, writhed in his pain; lighted up, too, the dragon trampled under foot by the victorious archangel, the heavy candelabra, with their wax candles burned down, and finally the altar picture itself, with the figure of the Saint, with the monsters and the seductive woman. The moonlight crept in farther, and lighted up the marble slab under which her brother rested—a prostrate figure, with hands folded on the breast. In the tower hooted the owls, and the death-bird screamed. In the garden outside, the two bears growled to show that they were still on watch. From the castle hall, from time to time, sounded the noise of the drunken revellers. Magdalene would have gladly entered a convent, where her broken heart could have found most peace, but her father would not listen to it. He wanted to marry her, but no suitor came; the young nobility shunned the castle, they pitied the maiden for her sad fate, but they shrunk before the evil nature of her father. The mourning bride and raging father-in-law alike repelled them, and the more mournful the maiden, the more raging became Grazian Likovay. Amid all terrors for the maiden, the most frightful were these wild banquets. It was from these that she sought refuge in the darkness of the church. She knew well that such a revel was nothing but a wild chorus of blasphemy. A hundred throats at once derided Heaven, the future state, and the departed souls,—and this was the way in which the dead brother's memory was celebrated. She tried with her prayers to crowd out the drunken yells on their upward path; while the revellers wandered to the cellars, and their wild cries sounded on the air as if they came from the very bowels of the earth. The maiden trembled as if in fever. The moonlight had left the windows; the church now lay in darkness: only high up on the tower the moon yet shone on the lonely bell. She gazed upwards. Suddenly it seemed to her as if the bell were in motion. Was it an hallucination? Did her dream make visions so real? The bell rang! Then it tolled as for the welfare of a dying soul. And yet the bell had no rope, and there was no one to pull it if it had. In her astonishment new marvels followed. The darkness in the church began to give way to a twilight; 'twas the twilight that comes in dreams. The altar picture shone; around the brow of the saint gleamed an aureole, while the form of the seductive woman grew black. Before this marvel, the maiden sank trembling on her knees. "O God, my Lord!" she murmured. The last notes of the bell were dying away, and at the same moment dropped down with a rolling sound the picture of Saint Anthony of Padua with all its terrifying adjuncts, and in the space thus left vacant stood a living figure. Again it was Anthony of Padua in monk's cowl, barefooted, with tonsured head, a lighted torch in his hand. The maiden in terror clasped both hands to her breast. Did this vision bring death for her? Would that it might be so! The living figure stepped down from the frame of the altar picture, and striding over books and stools came nearer. With a gentle cry of terror the maiden sprang up, stretched out both hands in entreaty, and turned away her face. She heard her name, "Magdalene." Everything swam around her,—she fell in a swoon to the ground. When she recovered consciousness, she saw those eyes beaming upon her, whose glow was more wonderful than that of the sun. Perhaps dreams come in a swoon. Dreams are deceivers; who knows how many worlds her soul had wandered through in this short dream, how many eternities she had lived through; she feared the phantom no more. With his name on her lips she awoke, "Tihamer." To her he was always only "Tihamer." "Have you come down from Heaven to me?" The young monk shook his head sadly. He might with assurance have said that he came down from the realms of the dead, so pallid was his countenance, so cold his hands. The wax candle that he had brought with him now stood in a candlestick on the altar and lighted up their faces. The young man spoke in a subdued and gentle voice. "Be not astounded, I am no marvel, nor ghost, nor spirit from the other world. I am a living, miserable man. The rumor of my death was false. It was not my head that the Turks cut off in prison, but my servant's, who had changed clothes with me."

"And this dress of yours?" whispered Magdalene, touching his rough monk's cowl.

"This is my mourning garb for you, and for the whole world lost to me. My name is Father Peter. I belong to the order of Jesuits. No longer your beloved and betrothed—no longer the hope of your future, nor your support in misfortune. No longer your defender against men, but only your mediator between Heaven and earth, Father Peter."

The maiden knelt before him and fervidly kissed his hand.

"Father!"

The youth sighed deeply.

"You could not belong to me, so I give you to the Lord, you could not be my bride, so you shall be Heaven's bride. I am come to make smooth the way, to prepare the way whither you long to go."

"To a convent? Then you know! Is it true, you have talked with me in my dreams?"

"Not in your dreams. I will not deceive you. Sound reason has brought me to the knowledge that after this staggering blow that has fallen on your heart, you must long to enter a convent. Your father will not allow it; he intends to marry you to the Pole Berezowsky."

"I do not know him at all."

"I know him; this bridegroom intended for you is an ugly decrepit old drunkard, who has already buried six wives, and furthermore is a Socinian."

"What! deny his God!"

"Denies the Trinity, believes Christ only a good man, and the Holy Ghost only a white dove; nothing more."

"But you will free me from him, won't you?" entreated the maiden, clasping the young man's knees.

"With your assent."

"How could you get here? Whence did you come?"

"Truly, I have taken my way through the lower regions to come to you; a long underground passage, that men worse than the devil planned for the destruction of mankind, and that is still filled with evidences of their deeds of terror. It is frightful to wander there. The secret of this hidden way, I learned from an old yellowed book, which had made ten wise men fools, and whose secret was finally revealed by a Fool. This book too was a work of the Devil, but the real Hell and the genuine Devil, Fate has shown me in another form. The inexorable rules of our order compel me to serve as instructor and confessor in the house of that woman, who, in my opinion, is worse than Belial and all his demons. I am at the castle of the Lady of Madocsany."

The maiden put her hand on her heart and caught her breath.

"This is my Hell and my Devil; day after day to see the woman whom I have hated since our first acquaintance. Offensive is the woman, however beautiful she may be, who is ever eager to disclose to a man the feelings of her heart, which ought to be a secret to divine, a prize to win, a treasure to guard for their possessor. Still more ought this woman to have concealed her secret, for every one of her thoughts was inspired by sin; her husband still lived. How she became a widow was a burden on her conscience. How she treated me—may she answer for it to God! Her secrets told in confession rest in my breast under the seal of the sacrament. I must in God's name absolve her from sins that my human heart cannot forgive. Day after day must I look upon that face whose accursed smile destroyed our fortunes. I must lend an ear to her diabolical words of enticement, which she whispers to me under the mantle of confession. Is not that worse than Hell?"

The maiden pressed his hand, and said in soothing tones, "You are right; yours is the greater suffering. I will not complain."

"Your sufferings too are well known to me. This demon entertains me daily with bad news about you. She knows everything that happens in your house, and she takes special delight when she can distress me with such tales. But let us not waste our time in complaining. We must part. I have a long way to go underground and must arrive while it is still dark, so no one can mark the entrance by which I go. Answer me one question. Do you wish to go into a convent?"

"It is my one wish."

"It shall be fulfilled. I must first tell your decision to the Abbess of a convent, so that when I take you away through the underground passage to the Madocsany Castle, a nun may be waiting for you there with a closed carriage. Great prudence and careful preparations are necessary. We must agree upon the day for meeting here again."

"Next Sunday."

"Well, then, any Sunday after midnight. I cannot get away earlier, for it is so late before the spoiled child who is entrusted to my care falls asleep, and the Fool who keeps vigils with me becomes drunk."

"But tell me," asked the maiden, "How could you guess that you would find me here at this hour? Did vision tell you?"

"Even if I deceive the whole world, I will tell you only the truth. I have had no visions; neither ecstacy nor second-sight revealed this to me. I had certainty. To-day is the anniversary of your brother's death, and to-night it is celebrated in your castle with a carouse. You could not remain in the house, where every nook and corner was filled with their disgusting gluttony. Here only, could you find protection—at your brother's grave, where you could pray through the frightful night. You must pray, first for the soul of your brother, and then for his murderer's—the whole litany from beginning to end. Finally, I decided that if I did not find you here, I would pass through the church door into the castle. Many buffoons are there now, disguised in monk's cowl, and it would not have been difficult for me to join them and look for you."

The young man saw a look of terror on Magdalene's face, and she seized him by the hand.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

She said nothing; she only thought what if her beloved had been torn to pieces by the bears in his attempt to pass to the castle. But she would not say this to him, lest she waken his fears for her, a weak woman; she must always pass to the church through such perils.

"I was thinking," she said, with a constrained, distressed smile, "what if you had found the door locked when you tried to go out of the church?"

"I knew for a fact that the door of the church is never locked. Your father has given orders that it shall always remain open. Every corner of this church has its sad history, but none more sad than the history of the door."

"You know it?"

"I heard it from the tormentor of my soul. It will be better for you not to know it; you have enough in your misfortune."

"I beg of you, tell me this story. The knowledge that another has suffered still more gives me consolation. Who was it?"

"Your older sister, Sophie."

"I remember her; she was tall and beautiful, with large dark eyes. How often I stroked her beautiful rosy cheeks, when she took me in her lap, for I was still a child. And then I remember when they laid her in her coffin, I stroked her cheeks again, but they were marble-white and cold."

"There she rests," said the young man, pointing to the wall, where two marble tablets were in sight, one large, one small; on one was a large cross, on the other a small one; then the date. On the smaller tablet one year more than on the larger, and that was all the inscription.

"Why is there neither name nor inscription?" asked Magdalene, stunned.

"There are two of them, mother and child."

"And why are their names not on the tablets?"

"They had no names."

"I do not understand you."

"You ought not to. It is a sad story. They too loved one another, more passionately than we. They too suffered, still more than we. They too were disturbed by your father in their love. Shame was to him preferable to a son-in-law. His daughter died the day her child was born, and was buried here; a year later the child followed; and when they brought her here to bury her beside her mother and opened the church door, your father stumbled over the body of his daughter; the unhappy girl had been buried in a trance, had wakened, struggled to the church door, found it locked, and so perished pitiably at its threshold."

"Frightful!" stammered the maiden, shuddering, and glancing with a look of terror at the two tablets.

"That is why there are no names inscribed. Since then, Grazian Likovay never has this church door locked."

"Let us hurry away from here," said the maiden, trembling. "Will you come here next Sunday about midnight?"

"I will come; but you must hurry away now."

They parted with a pressure of the hand.

Father Peter had to pass through the hiding-place behind the altar picture, which with all its demons resumed its place. For some time the face of Saint Anthony was surrounded with a halo of light from the torch of the departing monk. The small bell in the tower rang again, for it was connected by hidden clock-work with the secret passage-way. Formerly, when the castle had been held by the Hussites, this bell rung, by its secret clock-work, had given warning when any one was approaching from Madocsany. When the bell stopped ringing, the altar picture was again in darkness. It was two minutes past midnight; outside the cock crowed. The maiden, as she went toward the church door, looked timidly before and behind to see if her sister Sophie were present; outside a still greater terror waited. One bear lay across the threshold asleep. She needed only to summon all her courage and climb over him; but the other was awake, grimly gnawing a bone that he could not crush in his teeth. "Help me, God," sighed the maiden, and ran past the creature, throwing her honey-cakes as she went. The wild beasts let her pass unharmed, but it would have been better for her had they torn her to pieces, then would she have been a beautiful martyr and saint in Paradise.



CHAPTER VII.

VENUS AND HER SON.

Idalia was the baptismal name of the Lady of Madocsany; her other name was Venus. This name is often found in calendars even at the present day, and was quite customary in this part of the country. With this name at her baptism, a fatal ban was pronounced upon her. The Lady did not know that she had inherited not only the beauty of the goddess, but also her nature too. When she loved, she loved with mad passion, and when she ceased to love, she hated in the same way, and her hate was deadly. "Venus armicida." Her passion never cooled. It only changed its flame, but always burned in one way or another. She had married early the man of her choice, a handsome hero when he married her, a broken-down old man when he left her a widow, though the number of years between was only eight. It was said he had drunk himself to death. Perhaps there was a magic drink mingled with his wine.

Idalia had so thrown herself into the Olympic life her name justified that she had her little son baptized Cupid. The poor Slavic priest was made to believe that this was only the childish name for Cupa, who was known to be a national saint and martyr. In one house lived Venus and Cupid. The lady cherished her son with truly animal love; everything was allowed him. She never let him out of her sight even in her love adventures. The child could remember several such instances when they had galloped off three in the saddle,—the knight, the child, and the mother. Lady Idalia had run away from her husband, but every time had cajoled her way back. Tihamer Csorbai was the last object of her passion, and because this remained unanswered, she had been most furious. She destroyed every hindrance between the two. Blood must flow to separate Tihamer from his first beloved. Idalia's husband must sink into his grave that Tihamer might be more closely united to her, and now the whole plan had been made futile; she had found Tihamer again, but as Father Peter. The man she had adored was now a permanent guest within her house, but farther from her than ever before. Not earthly hands, but heavenly fields, separated them; and how many projects of insurrection did her heated brain plan against hated Heaven. In the warm, starlit nights of summer, from the room of the monk below, rang forth the mournful psalms with which he stormed Heaven. At the same time, the lady sat in her balcony and struck her harp and sang enticing songs, telling all the secrets of a passion-torn soul. The song was intended for a confession of love. Did Father Peter hear? He must have heard them. Is every feeling in his heart turned to stone that he cannot feel nor awake?

"Sit down on the edge of my bed, Father Peter," whispered the child, uneasily tossing about on his sleepless couch "I have something to say to you. Either the devils or the good spirits brought you here."

"Why do you say that, my child?"

"Before you came, my mother was very fond of me; she always called me, 'my diamond,' 'my ruby,' 'my saint,' 'my little dove,' or 'my little angel.' When she took me in her lap, she kissed me to the very finger tips; whatever I asked her for, she gave me at once, or if she did not, I pulled her hair, and then she would laugh and kiss me again. She never looked cross at me, but now that you are here, I am of no further value to her. I am no more her 'diamond' or 'golden treasure;' when she looks at me, she makes such a face that I have to run away. If I ask my prettiest for something, she puts out her tongue at me. If I make the smallest mistake, she whips me with rods and threatens me with the lash. If I try to kiss her, she spits like a cat. This makes me think that the devils brought you here."

The monk answered nothing, but stroked the boy's head with his hands, and the child prattled on.

"But when I stop to think how good you are to me, that you won't let my mother abuse me, that you make excuses for me when she scolds me, that you take the lash right out of her hand; when I make a mistake, you don't tell her anything about it; when she gets angry with me, you soothe her with gentle words; that you never hurt me, never get angry at me, always entreat me kindly, and warn me gently; then I think it must be the good spirits brought you to this house."

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse