Maria Felicia/Chapter 3
MARIA FELICIA, galloping ahead of her chivalrous attendants, dashed up the precipitous “Deep Road” and out of the city through the Imperial Gate. She did not look around to see if the rest were following or were satisfied with the direction she was taking; it seemed that she either had forgotten them entirely or that she did not care whether they were pleased or not. Leaving her escorts to entertain themselves, she rode forward, regardless of all that was going on around her, even of the beautiful morning just awakening. The little skylark soaring above her head and pouring forth his melody, the budding bushes and flowers sparkling with dew, the gold-tinted cloud in the pale blue sky—all the charms of a spring morning had not the power to arouse her. Quietly, with downcast eyes, she sat in the saddle, and her face, which had beamed with happy blushes in the ball-room, was now veiled with thoughtful pallor.
Probably the Countess, lost in her reverie, would have gone on and returned to Prague without favoring her attendants with one word or look, had not her horse, frightened by a dog whose master was herding sheep in the distance, suddenly reared up. Aroused from her dreams, she looked up, and while the cavaliers anxiously surrounded her to see if she was hurt, she looked about as though she had yet to recollect where she was, how she came to be there, and who was talking to her. Her eyes wandered to the horizon, girded by a mountain belt, and with that scene her life and usual sprightliness suddenly returned. Her eyes beamed, the blood tingled in her veins, a strong desire pulsated within her to fly over those green meadows, budding forests, clear rivers glittering in the transparent atmosphere, to rise to the peaks of those lofty mountains, and from there still higher until she penetrated the clouds surrounding them. Unconsciously she stretched out her hand toward the clouds, and to give some relief to her feelings, she exclaimed in a voice louder than the song of the finch in a bush near by:
“Gentlemen, let us race here a while, if you please,” and at the same time she answered their anxious questions as to whether or not she was hurt, or at least severely frightened. Before she had finished speaking, she turned from the “Deep Road” to a fallow over which a flock of sheep with their curly guard and his master were running away affrighted before her.
Just as the young nobles started to race with the Countess, the Emperor and the Count overtook the company. Joseph II. stopped his horse and hid behind a bush, so as not to disturb the racers, as it seemed, but instead of that, it was to gaze upon the Countess. She was in that moment really dazzling. Her father confessed to himself in a fever of hope and fear that he had never seen her so beautiful before.
Maria Felicia left the racers far behind. In the airy gallop the cap slipped off her head, and the diamond star above her forehead glittered in all the colors of the rainbow. In the fearful speed she bowed over the neck of her black horse, and her hair flowed with his long mane in one waving, silky mass. The wind blowing in the folds of her dark blue velvet gown, puffed them out until they shone like the wings of a swallow. The noble horse and its beautiful rider looked like one being, a winged mythical being, bravely flying in the air over the dewy grass.
One racer after another, tired out, abandoned the race. Maria Felicia was left alone. Noticing this, she laughed gayly, and leaping down from the breathless horse, twisted the reins over her shoulder, threw over him a cover that was brought by the equerry, and carefully led the horse around to cool.
The Emperor at the same time sprang from his horse and looked at his hands, but they were destitute of rings; he felt in his lace vest, but there was no clasp in it. He sorrowfully exclaimed:
“I should like to bestow a gift on the Countess, but lo! I have no suitable jewelry at hand.” The Count turned to a servant who held a basket of bottles filled with wines, and taking from it a goblet intended for the Emperor’s use, silently handed it to his royal friend. His hand trembled as much as his eyes glowed with excitement. Joseph anxiously reached for the gold cup, and quickly went to the Countess.
“To the victor,” he exclaimed, handing the cup to her with a pleasant dignity, yet the dignity of a sovereign.
Maria Felicia, surprised by his sudden appearance, thanked him with a silent bow. It was not so profound as it should have been; neither did she repeat it three times; but it was so graceful and respectful that it satisfied even the Count, who watched her with the greatest anxiety. She took the cup from the Emperor, and her eyes, with the same questioning clearness that he had noted before, sought his eyes, then dropped on the gold cup and remained there with a sad and peculiar expression.
“Why do you look so gravely at the token from my hand?” the Emperor asked with surprise.
“Because it seems to be the emblem of my life,” she pensively replied.
“How can I understand that?”
“The cup is gold, but—empty.”
“That your life is empty?” said the Emperor astonished. “That is what you say, so beautiful, so honored, so admired by all who come near you?”
“‘hat is the gold of the empty cup.”
“Only on you depends the filling of it with sweetly flowing love.”
“Would my Emperor advise the same to my brother?”
The Emperor hesitated.
“If your brother complained of the emptiness of life, I should advise him to become useful to his country, to bind himself to some office and honorably attend to it.”
“Office?” she quietly repeated. “Is that something more than collecting taxes, dues, settling the quarrels of people over estates or a handful of money, condemning the guilty to prison or to death?”
“Well, if he did not like the life of a civil officer,” he continued, “I should ask him to go to the army, gain merit and honors as a soldier.”
“Soldier?” the young lady repeated more quietly and slowly. “Is that something more than to shoot men and to command others to do the same?”
The Emperor looked up.
“Strange, really strange, are your ideas of life. I am amazed to think how they could have originated in your mind.”
“Is it really strange if some one tries to look at the world without prejudice, and call everything in it by its proper name? Then, my father must be right. I am getting to be unpleasantly peculiar, because I scorn lies and try to get at the truth everywhere, be it ever so bitter.”
“Felicia,” the Count exclaimed, “in your childish confidence in our sovereign’s benignity you forget the respect due him.”
“In what, father? Because I do not hide my thoughts before him? You yourself have told me that he declares war against all dissimulation; why, then, should I fear to speak frankly? You have also told me that he knows no higher duty than to promote the welfare of his subjects, and for that reason I believed you that he was the greatest of monarchs. Why, then, do you not let him make me happy by leading me out of the labyrinth of doubt into which I have come, not even knowing how, and out of which you cannot lead me? He alone will be able to do so, being the most enlightened—that is, the most righteous and the best of men.”
The Emperor’s face flushed. Nothing had ever flattered him so much as these words spoken with the fervor of deep conviction.
“Let the young lady have her way,” he said to the Count, “and when-you talk to her about me in the future tell her that above all virtues I respect the truth, and request her in my name never to exchange it for any other quality more pleasing and agreeable to people.”
The Countess thanked the Emperor with a smile.
“I regret,” warmly added the Emperor, “really regret, that without having had time to become fully acquainted with Miss Felsenburk, I must say adieu. My time just now is very closely measured; in half an hour I must be on my way to Vienna, I confess that today for the first time it is hard for me to do what I have laid out as my duty.”
“Shall I, then, carry away the cup empty?” the young lady sadly replied.
“Just for to-day, Miss Felsenburk; we are not talking together for the last time. I hope we shall soon meet again; meet we must. Till then I shall think about your words, and will try to answer to your satisfaction all your questions. In return for that, you shall again tell me openly your opinions about what I may ask you. You need to learn of me, and I of you. Oh, do not shake your head so doubtingly, as if it were impossible; my words are not mere words of courtesy. You, of course, do not and cannot know how invaluable to a ruler are two clear, unprejudiced human eyes which earnestly want to serve him.”'
And Joseph II. parted with the Countess as with a princess of the blood.
The Count escorted the Emperor back to his palace, where the Emperor’s traveling carriage was waiting. On their way Joseph did not say a word, and yet the Count, because of what he read in his master’s clear face, was not displeased or dissatisfied.
Count Felsenburk felt that he had never loved his daughter so much as he did just now. Had he prepared her in the most careful way for her meeting with the Emperor she could not have made a more favorable impression upon him; she could not have played her part more successfully than she had done unconsciously and on the inspiration of the moment. Strange that he did not anticipate that Maria Felicia would interest Joseph. But it was well that he did not, for he would then not have prepared him so well for her eccentricities. Some peculiar good luck ruled even in that, for just because he so much feared their meeting and frankly confessed it to the Emperor, he awakened in Joseph a greater interest in his daughter. Yes, everything favored the Count. He said to himself that little had he suspected that what a few hours ago he so bitterly reproached in his daughter might become the source of unequaled glory for her and her family.
“I do not know a more unjust father than you,” the Emperor said to him as they were parting. “You have wronged your daughter in every respect. It is impossible to think of anything more delightful than her childlike frankness, or more noble than her courageous ways. Only in one thing you were right, and that is, that her nature is more that of a young man than of a young lady, but even that is to her credit.”
“Your majesty again speaks with your customary kindness to my family,” objected the Count, with a profound bow, that the Emperor might not see how he flushed with high expectations for the future.
“Expressing my opinion of your daughter according to her merit, I am not thinking of you or your faithfulness; I have nothing on my mind but her rare personality. When will you introduce her at the court?”
“Can I hope ever to think of such a thing as introducing a daughter who has such a nature?” the Count sighed with much hypocrisy, for he had thought of it several times, but his daughter had always decidedly objected. She did not wish to follow him where she knew the trammels of conventionality threatened her independent ways. In Prague it was different; her family enjoyed so many rights, so many privileges and such high esteem that much was overlooked and forgiven.
“Just because of her rare nature you must introduce her as soon as possible,” said the Emperor, kindly reproving the Count. “Let the rest of the ladies see her and imitate her precious qualities. Your daughter is a jewel whose value you refuse to acknowledge.”
“Your majesty is forgetting what the illustrious Empress would say to such a teacher of the court ladies.”
The Emperor laughed.
“That, of course, I do not know,” he said, shrugging his shoulders; “but let us hope that the Empress will be more patient with her than you think. But if she should be strict with her, I will be near—I will become the young lady’s knight and bravely take her part, that for once healthful breezes may blow at the court and spread from there over the rest of Europe. It will be a natural thing if I become her ally, for I share the same lot with her. My mother and I agree about as well as you and the Countess. The Empress continually complains about me, misjudges me, disapproves of my ambition, and reprimands me for my world-conquering plans about as often as you do your daughter for her independent ways.” And the Emperor, glancing once more to the windows of the proud Felsenburk Palace, rode away in his very best mood.
In the afternoon the Countess, reclining in an armchair, was resting in her chamber. The room looked more like an art gallery than the private apartment of a young lady. Its walls were covered with paintings representing all the castles, mansions, estates and cities which at that time the Felsenburk family had in their possession, and whose mistress she was to become after her father’s death. The Count had the paintings hung there that his daughter, as she rose and retired, might have her enormous wealth before her and take delight in looking at it. On a table by the Countess stood the goblet which the Emperor had given her. Thoughtfully she looked at it.
Quite unexpectedly her father came in; he never came to see her at that hour. His step and manner were prouder than ever. Quietly he seated himself before his daughter, first taking a long, significant look at her and then at the cup.
“What is the matter with you, father?” the young lady asked, fearing that something unusual had happened, and that he was ill, for his face was flaming.
“Do you love me?” he asked, instead of answering her question.
The young Countess sprang up, and clasping her arms closely around his neck heartily kissed him. The daughter did not suspect that she was giving her father the last kiss; the father did not know that he was enjoying with his daughter the last moments of mutual love.
“If you really love your father you surely will do something to please him, though you have not overjoyed him in that respect lately.”
She looked at him penitently; well she knew that her father was often dissatisfied with her.
“I am very sorry that I do not please you as I used to,” she sadly replied. “Your dissatisfaction often grieves me. But tell me how to avoid thoughts that rise in my mind involuntarily; what to do that their echo may never tremble in my words, and their reflection never appear on my face. Oh, believe that it is impossible for me to keep away from them! I know that in my mind terrible chasms open, on whose edge my soul trembles and whose depth I must measure with horrified eyes, but it is impossible for me to avoid them. There are times when it seems to me that everything I do and see lacks reality, that there is no truth in anything, that we are all wrong, that things should be entirely different—and yet I should not know how to change them or whether it would be best to change them, for people are satisfied with what the world bestows. I comprehend your ill-feeling toward me for my sighing and turning my eyes in all directions to investigate something that perhaps is not, was not, and never will be. I wanted to ask the Emperor about it, for in him is said to be centered the wisdom of our age; he probably feels a similar dissatisfaction, for he is constantly changing, destroying and reversing. He would at least have told me whether I was justified in thinking and feeling as I do, or whether I was overloaded with wealth and luxury, as you say, willful or over-sensitive, as I so often think, or worn out by that neverceasing storm within me where boisterous joy and painful longing so quickly alternate. But I did not succeed in having a confidential conversation with him. Oh, papa, will you ever come to me again with something besides a reprimand for my ungratefulness?”
“I am beginning to-day.”
“I have said that I wish to convince myself whether you love me as well as you sometimes assure me—as a daughter should love her father.”
“How can I prove it to you? Speak!”
“By getting ready, without the usual opposition, for a trip.”
“Where do you intend to take me so suddenly?”
“I will take you to your godmother.”
“Papa, you are forgetting that I have begged you many times not to take me there.”
“The Emperor at his departure asked me most courteously and decidedly to do so; it will be an insult to him if we do not come. A wish so urgently spoken by a sovereign is equal to a command. And besides that, only a little while ago you expressed a desire to speak to him; you could then do so at will.”
“I should provoke both you and myself at the court.”
“That shall not happen. If the honor of our family is concerned, then I understand no jesting, and will not allow any. I should not like to doubt that in that respect Miss Felsenburk is of the same opinion as her father.”
The Count emphasized the words with more severity than his daughter had ever before heard him use. Trembling all over, she sank into the chair from which, only a moment before, she had sprung joyfully to embrace him.
The Count, seeing that he had frightened his daughter, now tried to console her.
“Mind your father, Felicia, quietly and sensibly,” he said; “do not interrupt his words with nonsense, and do not provoke him with childish objections. You, being young and inexperienced, do not anticipate how important a period has begun in your life; that in your hand lies the power of adding to the Felsenburk name a new luster and undying glory. For that reason I speak to you urgently. I shall not try to persuade you by cajolery to do what duty requires. You know that I did not enjoy much pleasure as a husband; it is your duty to make up for the wrong which your mother inflicted upon me with her stubbornness and nearsightedness, and not sin against our family honor as she did.”
The young Countess, wide-awake, listened attentively. “I felt certain that with your behavior and appearance you would make an unfavorable impression on the Emperor, but I was mistaken. Joseph II. found in your character traits in harmony with his, qualities like his own, opinions and thoughts with which he agrees. He said that if you would come to the court he would become your knight, and with your help and example undertake many reforms. As you see, he has assigned you a duty, important and honorable.”
The Count paused. He had expected his daughter to assent, but she, steadily gazing at him with her clear blue eyes, uttered not one sound. That silence and that rigid look the father did not like, and he continued more sternly: “That, of course, is not all—the most important part is this: Joseph II. is not happy in love, either family or matrimonial; very little sincere love has he yet enjoyed. His mother favors his younger brother Leopold, and Leopold and his sisters do not love Joseph because he is the oldest and the heir to the crown. His first wife, Isabel, to whom he was devoted with the fervor of first love, had no affection for him; she felt unhappy by his side. His sister, noticing how he grieved over her death, revealed the fact to him with good intentions, and thus wounded him deeply. He would not listen to love and marriage after that. Only for political reasons, and to satisfy his mother, he married the second time. Josephine of Bavaria did not satisfy him in any respect; he never tried to conceal his indifference to her. He coldly turns away from the foremost beauties gracing his court. You are the first one since Isabel that has surprised him, impressed him, won him. Yes, you have won the Emperor; there is no doubt about it; he went away charmed by you. His complete surrender and your elevation now depend only on your own efforts and tact. If you become not only his sweetheart, but also his friend; if you show yourself worthy not only of his love, but also of his confidence; if you convince him that you can comprehend all his plans and inspire new ones, become helpful and indispensable to him, then I am sure you can easily persuade him to marry you secretly— yes, I am sure that he himself will offer you his hand.”
Maria Felicia turned pale as death. The Count went on, as though he did not notice her emotion.
“In four weeks you can be ready for the journey. It is unnecessary for me to tell you not to spare expense, to get the most beautiful and costly outfit possible to procure. I will look around for material and jewelry myself, that you may be the first at the court, not only in beauty, but in dress and jewelry,” the Count added, rising as if everything were settled and it were unnecessary to prolong the interview.
“I am not going a step,” finally escaped the lips of the struggling Countess.
The veins on the Count’s forehead swelled.
“I have said—you are going!”
“I am not going!”
“I hope you will not force me to go?”
“Yes, I decidedly will.”
“Such, then, is your pride. Count Felsenburk,” exclaimed Maria Felicia. “That is why you appealed to your daughter’s love, tested her heart, talked about family honor— that she might let you quietly take her to the man into whose heart you command her to sneak; and for it you would have him favor her, make of her his unacknowledged wife, disliked and persecuted by his family, scorned by queens who would never recognize her as their peer, ridiculed by the nobility from whose circle she had haughtily elevated herself, unrecognized by nations which would not know what to call her, for she would give up the right to her family name and gain no other from the position of her husband. She would be something that hangs between heaven and earth, claimed by neither, repelled by both; something that can spread its roots nowhere, belongs to no one, something that is neither truth nor lie. Oh, how could I have ever dreamed that you were preparing such a lot for me? Hypocrisy, selfishness, malice—such are then the virtues of the nobility; such qualities would please you; through them I should bestow new and undying glory upon our family! Oh, indeed, they are worthy of the position that you think so desirable for your only child!”
“Hush!” the Count exclaimed, and now he became as pale as death; “hush, not another word! With shame I realize that you do not see an inch before you, that I have overestimated your sense and your qualifications—that you are nothing but a foolish, overbearing, headstrong girl, a real daughter of your mother. Remember where she drove me with her folly and obstinacy, and do not provoke me to deal with the undutiful child as I dealt with the insolent mother!”
Maria Felicia coldly straightened herself before her father.
“Oh, allow me not to interfere in the manifestation of your fatherly love,” proudly she said to him. “I suspect it closely resembles your family pride.”
“You will have the pleasure of convincing yourself of that fact,” the Count answered in the same way. “You shall not leave your chamber, nor shall any one come to see you, until you let me know by your maid that you are ready for the journey.”
“Then as long as I live, I shall never leave these rooms.”
“And yet, young lady,” said the Count, maliciously, “you shall leave these rooms when I have you taken to the convent to your mother, that you may not be in the way of your uncle, Hypolit of Felsenburk, who from this day is my son, and to whom I shall give all legal rights and titles to my estates and my rank. I have said four weeks—that is long enough for you to decide your fate.”
And the Count, leaving his daughter’s boudoir, turned the key in the last door. Giving it to the horrified maid, he told her to watch the Countess closely, not to let her go anywhere, not to admit any one to her, and not to dare deliver any letters from her to any one except to himself, and he warned her that if she did otherwise she would sadly repent of it.
Maria Felicia, as if struck by lightning, stood long on the spot where her father had left her. She thought it was a dream deluding her, that what had happened was not real, that she had fallen into a fever and some illusion was mocking her. Was it possible that she had fallen from such a height into an abyss, and lost everything, even hope? Could it be that there was no choice left her but a low, mean act or a convent? Overcome by the thought, she fell on the rug like a birch tree suddenly cut down.
“Oh, the cup of my life is being filled with wormwood, and in its golden shell an extremely bitter kernel is forming itself,” she exclaimed, and wept. “Do not think, father, that your severity will subdue me, or that you will incline me to your aims. A hundred times rather will I rot in my living grave than simulate love to any man, vilely beg for the paltry glitter of earthly power, sneak into his heart, and through his sincere affection for me gratify your ambition. What you call glory I call shame. We have comprehended each other, and we part forever; peace is not possible between us. No, no; what my father wishes I will not do for myself nor against you, my Emperor, who have never been treated by your friends with candor, and who were the first to praise it in me as a virtue.”
Day after day passed, and the Count did not receive the desired answer from his daughter, nor did he receive a supplication or one repentant word. And Maria Felicia expected no sign of relenting from her father. She knew him, and was convinced that her fate was sealed, that he would not alter one word of his sentence. Either to Vienna she must go and act according to his desire, or to her mother, to that mother who left her without any regard or feeling.
The Countess felt that there was no one in the whole world so forsaken and unhappy as she.
Several times she thought she would write to the Emperor. She knew of one trustworthy friend who would deliver the message to him. This friend was the only one who dared to defy her father’s command and constantly show his devotion to her. She heard him every day in the ante-chamber asking the maid about her and begging to be allowed to see her. The devoted maid would certainly have admitted him had the Countess directed her to do so. This friend was her music teacher, the son of her old nurse, who was only a little older than herself and who had grown up in the palace with her. In public he was known as her servant, in private he was her companion; the hours that she spent with him at the harp she counted among the most beautiful moments of her life. She knew that he would undertake the trip to Vienna for her, even though he were thus to lose the favor of the Count and endanger his own life. But what was she to write to the Emperor? Tell him everything, beg for his protection, make a complaint against her father, and thus lower him in the estimation of the Emperor, whose friendship he so highly valued? Would it not be to him a fatal blow? Would she not by such a confession lower not only him, but also herself? She must be patient and bear the burden that was laid upon her. She had hoped that Joseph would become her benefactor, that he would make clear to her the problems of life, and alas—he had become the innocent cause of her ruin. How, thought she, will the Count justify himself when the Emperor asks him why he banished me to the convent? Well she knew that he would ask about her, that he would not forget her very soon, for she also had noticed what her father noticed—she knew how deeply she had impressed him. To justify himself her father would undoubtedly tell him that she had committed something terrible, for which even the Emperor would dislike her and cease to think kindly of her. How often her father had reproached her for thinking that something was faulty or wrong! The whole world was faulty and wrong. It was not the skillful work of a kind Creator; it was the imperfect production of some malicious being, who now mocked her misery and pain. Father’s love, mother’s care, truth, honor, sincerity, all were fables, lies. * * * She had always suspected it, but did not know that she would so soon convince herself of the fact. Her mind tossed about with terrible thoughts, her head bowed down, her hands crossed on her heaving breast, for whole days and nights Maria Felicia paced the floor. Before this fatal interview with her father, when her mind was over-burdened, she had been accustomed to go to her harp for consolation. She pressed it to her bosom as her dearest friend, and life in its most beautiful aspect opened before her. At her magical touch every sound revealed a charming picture from some mysterious depth, and these floated around her head like fairies. But now she never touched the harp.
Maria Felicia feared the convent bars, the life awaiting her behind them, that terrible living death, that giving up of will, activity, conviction, that dull devotion and blind obedience—and yet not for one moment did she falter or succumb. For her, just for her, such a lot was meted out—for her, whose blood ran so rapidly, in whom was such an abundance of strength, such a strong instinct and love of liberty. At some moments her heart beat as strongly as if ten lives instead of one circled within her body, and every drop of that mighty stream revolted when she thought that she would have to stagnate and rot in idleness. But with a deep and strong determination she constantly repeated:
“Rather a gradual death of a hundred years in the convent than a life of luxury and splendor against my conviction of duty.”
And when bodily weakness abated the struggle, she sadly gazed about the room in which she had been born and brought up, and whose walls lied about her glorious future. Her eyes, wandering from one picture to another, were not bidding farewell to her enormous wealth, but to liberty and nature; and then Maria Felicia wept bitterly. She wept not because she was not to dwell in those castles and cities as their mighty mistress, but because she never more would see the spring on the meadows, hear the grove rustle, the rivers murmur, see the golden harvest on the fields, and because autumn, beautiful autumn, would nevermore see her ride through the purple and golden woods.
Before this she had never examined the pictures on the walls; she had only glanced at them casually; but now they began to interest her. One especially attracted her attention. It was the smallest and most insignificant of them all, hung in the gloomiest corner of the roam. She stood before it for hours, silently buried in thought.
The picture represented an old castle surrounded by a lonely forest. Flocks of daws flitted around its battlements, and in the crevices overgrown with ivy, wild pigeons nestled. She dreamed about the moonlight in its ancient chambers and dark corridors; she imagined the rising sun reproducing on the floor the colors of the glass in the stately windows; she galloped through the forest on her fiery black steed, breathed freely the fresh, sweet-scented air, greeted the weeping flowers in the moss, fondled the pet deer, and listened to the bubbling springs below the rocks. Oh, if she only could be there to cool her feverish brow!
In the frame below the picture was engraved:
Old Hlohov Castle, proud and gloomy, stood on a high, steep cliff. Hills covered with dense forests surrounded it, and on the north side peaks of lofty mountains, covered even in summer with snow, rose above them like hoary giants.
Like a never-ceasing storm roared the hungry mountain torrent around the rocky cliff. Every storm aroused it to new fury. Its water, transparent and cold as ice, then overflowed its rocky bed and thence poured down over the woody slopes, here madly destroying and undermining; there raising with deposits taken from other places. A one-arch stone bridge, ancient and covered with lichen—for it was under the water oftener than above it—connected the two lower parts of the cliff on which the castle was built. Beginning at it and leading up to the first castle gate was a steep winding path. The arch of this gate served as a support to a great high tower, which was supplied with many loopholes. From that gate, over a deep moat, another bridge stretched to a second tower, a twin to the first, and a walk led from it into the bastion. Formerly it was a drawbridge; the bulwarks surrounding the castle were impregnable, and the moat was filled with water. But now the posts and the chains were rusty, the moat was dry to the bottom, the bulwarks were partly caved in, and the towers from which the wardens formerly announced the nightly hours, now echoed with the hooting of owls and the croaking of jackdaws dwelling with bats in the loopholes.
The castle in the midst of the slowly waving trees, resembled a dying hermit with a scarred face and tattered garments, crippled with the burden of age and bowed by the adversity of fate, meditating on the latter end of his life and the changes and inconstancy of the world.
It was once a young hero, strong, wealthy, powerful, and famous over all Bohemia for chivalry and valor. It was the strongest defender of justice and of the nation; to it as to a fearless avenger fled all who were oppressed or persecuted as heretics. Formerly every child in the vicinity knew its name, but now only woodmen and wanderers overtaken by storms sought the road leading to it. Formerly all the main roads centered there. Royal guests, knights, and merchants met there. During the sessions of the state legislature Hlohov was especially lively. The whole nobility occasionally met there to discuss whether war should be declared or peace preserved, and how large an allowance from the state treasury the king should receive. More than once the fate of the nation and of the neighboring countries was decided in such meetings. In magnificence of construction Hlohov ranked next to Hradchin, the royal palace in Prague. Formerly all over the surrounding forests there were clearings, which were afterwards changed into rich estates and populous villages. In course of time trees and shrubs again covered the cleared places, and now there was nothing left of the lively villages except here and there a collection of miserable huts in which only the poorest classes of people corroded, managing in some way to exist upon the products of goat-rearing and coal-digging.
The castle fell in the storms of the Thirty Years’ War, and at the same time the ancient, famous family of the Hlohovskys, its founders and lords, disappeared. For valuable services Ferdinand II. presented the castle to the knight of Skalnicky, conferring upon him at the same time the title of Count Felsenburk.
The appearance of Hlohov Castle was now so sad that even winds sweeping through it seemed to moan with sympathy, and the forests answered the mournful wail. Even the hard rock on whose bosom it was slowly falling to ruin, grieved, and poured from its bosom, like streams of sympathy, a luxuriant green, with which it wreathed the ancient walls. The banks of the moat were emerald green, and from them grew luxuriously all kinds of wild plants, branching in all directions, straying over the bastion to the inside of the castle, and there covering the cracks and crevices. Vines, running through the garden, covered the chapel, under which was the family crypt of the Felsenburks, twined over wild beds and rough trees and transformed the sad deserted corner into a beautiful thicket resembling an immense bouquet. During the summer months there was not a scar in the wall over which did not hang a thick drapery of ivy; not a pillar around which it did not twine in dark rings; not a stone without a mossy cushion, nor a roof without a mossy fleece. A thousand buds were scattered over the dark ruins, a thousand leaves glistened in the morning dew, and a thousand red and white blossoms draped the wall in beauty. A beam of youth smiled on the hermit’s face.
The old ruin not only bloomed all summer long, but also rang more loudly and sweetly with music than all the surrounding forests. Whole flocks of birds nestled there, and as many little throats poured forth their melodies as there were budding twigs. Among the blossoms there was constant warbling, chirping, twittering and cooing. The nightingale had hardly finished her night psalm when the lark began his morning lay. But in the frosty nights of winter different sounds were heard around the castle, and different was its appearance. Like the skeleton of a giant in a snowy pall it stood out in bold relief against the dark heavens; fierce winds raged in its recesses, and the howlings of wild animals were echoed through the gloom.
The castle had formerly been one undivided structure, but after the bastion partly caved in it was divided into two parts. The grander portion was left in its original condition to fall gradually into ruin. This part was called “Hlohov Castle.” The other part, called the “Palace,” was separated from the Castle by a garden.
Count Felsenburk’s grandfather, in order to be near his wife, who was buried there, had the Palace comfortably, though in a limited and modest way, rebuilt and furnished, and he spent there many years of prayer and penitence over the ashes of his beloved wife. After his death a handful of old servants were left there as guards over the crypt of the Felsenburks; they lived in the Palace, eating the bread of charity, and paying no attention to the Castle.
The Castle extended to the edge of a rock which projected over a stream. For a whole century it had been uninhabited, and now a hundred dangers, such as plaster falling from the ceilings, loose floors, sinking stairways and falling chimneys threatened whoever might venture to go inside. To an observer it still appeared in the form designed by its founders. The rooms were large and high, the ceilings were arched, the winding stairways were made of marble, the walls were decorated with sculptures, and the windows were of many-colored glass. A great battlement adorned it like a crown on the head of a monarch, and over the ruin waved a tall fir tree, like a mourning banner.
The Palace was a real contrast to the Castle. In its renewed and modernized form everything was incommodious, narrow and contracted. The rooms were well furnished, but they were small; the stairways were narrow, and the windows nearly square. A great unshapely roof with many gables burdened the building.
In the upper stories of the Palace were chambers prepared for guests; on the first floor all the servants had their little rooms, except the porter, who lived in the tower by the bridge. The center of the social life of the servants was the kitchen, a large room, always comfortably warmed, and lighted bya strong flame on the hearth, where the stewardess, in accordance with the good old ways, cooked for all the servants.
Sometimes whole weeks passed by, and in winter even months, during which the Hlohov people never saw a strange face, unless they themselves started out on a journey. A hilly road of many miles led to a village which was their official center, and two hours’ walk over mountains and valleys and through dense forests led to a hamlet which contained a chapel anda parsonage. To the priest of that place, who was called the Hlohov chaplain, was assigned the duty of serving holy mass in the chapel of the Palace on the first Sunday of each month, for the peace and rest of the ancestors of Count Francis Václav, and also the duty of teaching the gospel to the servants’ children.
Only a few were they who knew that in the center of those black woods stretching from the boundary line far into the interior, there was concealed an old ruin, and it seemed that even its owners had forgotten it. Count Francis Václav had been at Hlohov for the last time when his father was placed in the crypt, and after that no member of the Count’s family had been seen there. The lonely situation of the Castle touched the worldly Count so deeply that he shuddered at the thought of awaiting resurrection in that wilderness. He therefore built another vault on one of his estates near Prague, in the midst of a beautiful park; and thus did he deprive Hlohov of its last distinction. Since his last visit to Hlohov nothing had been repaired or changed at the Palace, and when any of the servants died or became incapable of doing their work they were no longer replaced by their children, as was the custom in other castles. The places remained vacant, and the children of the deceased were placed elsewhere. The porter, who was a cripple, was the only exception. His son became his successor, but not on account of the father’s decrepitude, as many believed. Behind the apparent kindness there was concealed real injustice.
The porter’s son. Andrew, had shown in his earliest childhood great strength of mind and desire for learning, which the Hlohov chaplain, an old philanthropist, soon noticed during his monthly visits at the Palace. He liked the boy so much that he often took him to the parsonage, and for many weeks taught him there. He was surprised at the boy’s progress, brightness and industry, and when he had prepared him for a Latin school in Prague, he sent a humble request to the Count, describing the boy’s uncommon ability, pleading that he might be allowed to enter the higher school, and urging that the Count would never regret having spent money for his education, for the boy would become a faithful priest or a teacher.
But the supplication was very ungraciously received. Count Felsenburk impatiently made known to the chaplain that he needed his servants for himself, that he did not intend to part with them in the interests of religion or education. At the same time he asked the chaplain to be more careful in the future, that the minds of the people in his service, who were made for work and obedience, might not be infected with harmful ideas, and not to cultivate foolish ambition in them. The porter’s son, then, remained at the Palace, where he had been born and brought up. He had to learn to sweep well in all the corners and take care of his father; no other duty was imposed on him.
The porter had long been ill; he mourned over the death of his wife and the loss of his grown-up children, and other misfortunes troubled him. The news of how the chaplain’s petition had been received and how their master had decided the future of his only child, condemning him for life to the lowest kind of work, inflicted on him the last wound. He became dangerously sick, and when after many months he arose, his body was partially paralyzed and his mind even more. This thoughtful man who, for sound reason and judgment, had been named “the prophet,” now dragged himself along, with a childish smile on his face, an object of ridicule and pity. Every one teased him, provoked him, and was glad to see him thrown into a passion. No one cared how the son suffered when mean jokes were played on his father, how his eyes filled with tears of shame and grief, how melancholy and quiet he became. No one noticed how it grieved him to see his father reduced to imbecility, and even if some had noticed it, they perhaps would have teased the old man, and thus grieved the son all the more. What regard should they have for people who fell into disgrace with the nobility on account of their presumption? Surely the Count would have been pleased to see his servants teaching humbleness and modesty to the porter’s son, who proudly tried to elevate himself above his fellow-servants, and from his childhood had had something eccentric and aristocratic about him. He had never played with the rest of the children, but had sat alone, dreaming in the shadiest places of the orchard, or reading old books in some corner of the Palace. Andrew, now doing his work so faithfully and conscientiously that his bitterest enemy could find nothing for which to reproach him, never allowing himself to be seen with a book, behaving as the least among the last, doing for others all the coarse and difficult work when he saw that they lacked either the inclination or the ability to do it, yet failed to overcome the hatred of his companions.
By tormenting the father and degrading the son, the Hlohov servants gave vent to their inveterate spite against the porter’s family. No one could with justice say anything against the family; its members had always been modest and industrious, but they were retiring, avoided merry-makings, and were always sad. It was just because of their high moral tone, though they were never ostentatious in it, that they were disliked; their virtue became a reproach to those in whom it was conspicuously absent. It was, then, no small delight for the enemies of the porter to see him so mentally enfeebled that he did, when provoked by them, many foolish things and talked all kinds of nonsense. They laughed at him most when, on his beginning to declare the near approach of the judgment day for sins committed in this world, which God could endure no longer, he recited in a very confused way the Psalms of David or the Revelation of St. John; or when he confided to them in whispers and with mysterious gestures that the Felsenburks were not the real owners of Hlohov Castle, but that it belonged to his family; that he was the descendant of those Hlohovskys who founded the castle; that Andrew, and not Countess Felsenburk, was the lawful heir.
After supper it was customary for the people of the Palace to sit around the fireplace; the women spun and the men smoked. The butler plunged into the cellar by the kitchen and reappeared with two pewter pitchers full of foaming black beer, which he and the stewardess had made. The beverage went around, and, warming the heads of the group, untied their tongues. In the flushed brains recollections then awoke. One thought of this, another of that; so the long winter evenings passed by almost in a twinkling. Only Andrew, sitting somewhere in a remote corner, never knew anything with which to amuse others, and besides he was never asked to do so. In that way the Hlohov people showed their indifference to his wisdom. If the fire on the hearth blazed up brightly, and the light strayed to his corner, it illuminated a face always melancholy, always deathly pale. Buried in his thoughts, he sat, giving almost no sign of life; he moved only when some trick of more than usual harshness was played on his father.
Among the talkers of the evening, the steward occupied the foremost place, being considered not only as the highest dignitary at the Palace, but also as a man of superior knowledge. He had been for many years a hostler in the Felsenburk Palace at Prague, and remembered many public events that occurred when he was a young man. These he loved to relate as fully as possible, but during his narrations his audience sometimes took a nap.
The steward remembered well the coronation of Charles VI., which took place in Prague amid general rejoicing. It was just sixty-seven years since an Emperor of Austria had been crowned in Prague as King of Bohemia. The Bohemian nobility, the steward said, already had much anxiety lest Charles should do as had been done by his brother, Joseph I., who reigned without being crowned as King of Bohemia. The nobility thought that he intended in many things to curtail their rights and privileges, and for that reason would refuse to be crowned as their king. The steward asserted that the Bohemian nobles, for that cause, had instigated some one, most likely the Emperor’s confessor, to relate to Charles the old Bohemian tradition, that the Emperor who ruled Bohemia without being anointed at St. Vitus’s Cathedral as the king of that country, would never have any male heirs. Some said that Charles really believed the tradition, and for that reason, after the death of his infant son Leopold, decided to be crowned there. Others asserted that he did so on account of his daughters, Maria Theresa and Maria Anna, for whom he thus confirmed the right to the throne after his death. And a few said he did so on account of his wife, that she might not, should he die suddenly, be deprived of part of her domains. Chrudim, Trutnov and other prominent cities belonged to the crown, and these might easily have been denied her had she not been anointed as the Queen of Bohemia. The coronation of the Empress, the steward said, was even more magnificent than that of the Emperor. It took place three days after his, and was attended by Charles himself in the robe of a Roman Emperor. But the Bohemian noblewomen contributed to the celebration even more magnificence than the Emperor with his suite. The steward had counted one thousand carriages in which the women, glittering with pearls, gold and diamonds, came with their husbands, fathers and brothers. The Bohemian nobles at that time were immensely wealthy, and were famed for their wealth over all Europe.
The steward also told his listeners how, after the death of Charles VI., who was the last male descendant of the House of Hapsburg, great storms swept over Bohemia, what course they took and how they ended. The Emperor died in October, 1740, and in December of the same year, Frederick the Great of Prussia invaded the Austrian countries and denied Maria Theresa the right to the Bohemian crown. Nor was he the only invader; the Elector of Saxony and the Kings of Sardinia, Spain and France combined their forces with those of the Elector of Bavaria, whom these rulers wanted to have on the Bohemian throne. They maintained that he had more right to the throne than Maria Theresa, because he was a descendant of Anna Jagelonka, the wife of Ferdinand I., who was the last daughter of the Bohemian kings, and that the Hapsburg dynasty ended with the death of Charles VI.
The armies of these allies besieged Prague, and took it in one night. The regiments which Francis of Lorraine, Maria Theresa’s husband, led against them were defeated near Čáslavi. But the Prague people could not complain against the victorious armies, for they were not allowed to plunder. They were ordered to deal kindly with the people and to demand only what was necessary for immediate use. The very first day a frightful warning was given. A soldier who had stolen a woman’s dress and sold it, was immediately hanged.
The second day after Prague was taken the Bavarian Elector came to the city, assuming the office of King of Bohemia, and ordering the people to prepare for his coronation. At his command a herald was sent out to proclaim his accession to the throne. Richly dressed and magnificently decorated, this herald rode through Prague with the Bohemian lion hoisted on a pole, and shouted before every public hall that from that day the Elector of Bavaria was King of Bohemia. Once the lion fell into a mud-pool, and the people considered it a bad omen and prophesied that the reign would not last long. The nobility and the upper middle class had at once to pay homage to the new King or leave Prague. Those who left were Counts Kinsky̌, Šafgačov, Šlikov, Vrbnov, Kokořov and Galasov. Count Felsenburk was in Vienna long before the command was given. He went to offer his services as soon as he heard that enemies were approaching the Bohemian boundary. About four hundred of the noblemen remained in Prague, among whom were the Chotkovs, Černins, Bouquois, Šternberks, and at their head Archbishop Prince Arnošt Mandršeid. These acknowledged the Elector as their king, and granted him at a Diet, called directly after his coronation, a subsidy of six million florins that he might go to Frankfort and there work for his election to the German throne.
At the same time Charles of Lorraine, the Empress’s brother-in-law, advanced with his army toward Prague, and guarded the city so closely that no provisions could be brought to the market. To ward off hunger from the garrison, its commander gave orders to kill the horses, and the French soldiers had thus to be content with horseflesh. But even then, said the steward, such exemplary discipline was maintained among the soldiers that the Prague people might have left their doors open all night and nothing would have been stolen. But the unaccustomed diet caused sickness, and they died in great numbers. On that account the commander, Count Bellisle, received orders to give up the city. He left with his remaining troops secretly in the night of December 17, 1742, and went to Eger.
The steward had to laugh heartily every time he thought of the alarm that prevailed after the departure of the French troops, among those who had done homage to the Bavarian Elector. Those who could do so packed up and followed him to Bavaria. But all went unexpectedly well with them; the Empress did not intend to enforce her right to the throne by any harsh measures. She made, however, a very emphatic proclamation to the fugitives to return within six weeks and present themselves at the court. Privately it was known that she did not intend to punish them severely for their disloyalty, but that the guilty would be punished only by fines. The majority of them returned, and their punishment really was very light.
When everything was settled. Maria Theresa came to Prague to be crowned. She behaved as pleasantly as if nothing had happened. The Bishop of Olmutz, Count Lichtenstejn, placed the crown on her head, because the Archbishop of Prague, on account of his allegiance to the Bavarian Elector, had received orders to stay away from the court.
But after the departure of the Empress some punishment had to be inflicted on those who were found to be most guilty. Among them was a citizen who, at the French invasion, said that he would submit to be whipped if Maria Theresa ever sat upon the Bohemian throne. Being asked about it at the court, he confessed that he never could have expected such a miracle as was her success. He really was whipped—whipped out of the city for the rest of his days. Of the upper class, only Charles, a district commissioner from Davids, was arrested. Being a man of uncommon abilities, he had been chosen to go among the country people to persuade them to do homage to the new king, and as a reward for his services he had been made a district captain and knighted by the Elector. He was the only one sentenced to death. The steward went with the procession that accompanied him to the scaffold where he was to be beheaded as a traitor. Dressed in a beautiful gold-trimmed suit and silk stockings, he walked proudly to meet his death. He would not let any one bandage his eyes; he did it himself. But when he kneeled down and the headsman raised the sword, one of the judges exclaimed, “Mercy!” and his life was spared.
Frederick of Prussia, as the steward assured his listeners, could not become reconciled to the fact that the army of the Empress everywhere defeated the Elector’s regiments. He promised to win Bohemia back for him if in return the Elector would give him the portion between Silesia and the Elbe. On the first day of September, 1744, he was again before Prague, and stormed it so desperately that the commander of the garrison, General Hars, rather than see the city devastated, at once surrendered. But the Prussians, notwithstanding the promise they had given to Hars, ravaged unmercifully, and the damage done was estimated at millions. The people of Prague often thought of the French who had treated them so mildly. For ten weeks the Prussians sacked the city, till at last hearing from their spies that Charles of Lorraine was approaching, they gathered in wild confusion and rushed out of the city through Jesuit street. But in spite of their great haste, their last lines were overtaken by the Emperor’s hussars, whom the people joined, and the whole body pursued the enemy, hurling volleys of stones at them, till they were far out of the city. On their way back the pursuers fell on the Jewish settlement, and ravaged and plundered there fully thirty hours, wreaking vengeance on the Jews for the trials they themselves had just endured, feeling convinced that they were the main cause of the conflict. The steward firmly believed the suspicion, and as a proof, explained that during the siege, when cannon-balls rained over the city, not one fell into the Jewish quarter, although shooting was done from a hill opposite that part of the city; and when every one had to work on the fortifications, the Jews were exempted from the duty. It was rumored that the Jews had offered the Prussian King fifteen thousand florins that their settlement might be spared. But it was not only then that the people had reason to complain; it had long vexed them that the Jews enjoyed privileges which were not granted to the Christians. The Jews had always enjoyed the protection of the upper classes; if they ever got into trouble the nobility interposed and helped them out, because they willingly submitted to be the instruments of all their intrigues.
Even the Empress, the steward assured the Hlohov people, knew that the Jews were planning some intrigues with the Prussians, for she issued a decree in which she strictly ordered the Jews to move out of Prague and not to settle in any of her dominions. This was no small treat for the Prague people, who at once expressed their feelings in anti-Jewish songs. The songs, however, did not live very long; their composers were captured, and many of them were punished. The steward still knew many of these songs, and when he spoke of the event he always sang them. The Jews, with great lamentations and sobs, moved out of Prague, but for the time being settled in the surrounding villages. They excused themselves on the ground that it was impossible for them to leave the country so suddenly without causing great loss to themselves or to the societies to which they belonged. But this was a mere pretext, made in strong hopes that their intercessors, as usual, might help them out of their difficulties. And they were not disappointed. Their friends interceded with the Empress so earnestly that she passed a second decree, allowing them to remain in Bohemia till her further commands. The people, now seeing that they would not get rid of the hated race, lost all patience. In the night bills were posted throughout the city inciting the citizens of Prague to do on their own responsibility what the Empress had intended to do—that is, to drive the Jews away from their homes. But against this legal measures were passed; and the Empress, after considering the loss that her country would sustain by a complete removal of the race, decided to allow them to return, and everything remained as of old.
In 1757 Frederick of Prussia once more invaded the country, and gave rise to the Seven Years’ War. Again he laid siege to Prague; for three whole months he kept up a bombardment. The shooting from Zizkov was so severe that a large part of the city, including some of the finest buildings, was destroyed. The Cathedral of St. Vitus took fire thirty times. Great was the narration of these events by the steward. Finally a powerful army was collected and marched against Frederick. A decisive battle was fought at Kolin, in which the Prussians were defeated; Frederick with his army fled in the wildest confusion, and Prague was free.
One evening a heavy pounding on the iron gate disturbed the steward in the most interesting part of his story. The whole company were startled; if a visit in the daytime was an uncommon occurrence, a visit in the night was an unheard-of thing. While Andrew lighted a piece of pine and hurried out to see who so loudly demanded admittance, the rest agreed that it was some benighted traveler, who had turned from the public highway into the woods to shorten his route and gotten deeper into the forest until by a lucky chance he arrived at Hlohov.
But it was no belated traveler with whom Andrew returned; it was an official messenger from the city. Without greeting any one, he stepped to the center of the room, pulled off his hat, folded his hands, and solemnly announced:
“Three days ago our gracious master, the mighty and great Count Francis Václav Felsenburk, while sitting at the table, was struck with paralysis. He was carried to bed unconscious, and in half an hour died, in the name of the Lord.”
All jumped up with affright.
“The funeral will take place next Sunday, in Prague; all whose duties do not prevent them are to be present,” the messenger added. “Every servant will be entertained at the Count’s palace, and the expenses of his journey will be paid.”
The stewardess was the first to regain self-possession. At her signal all kneeled down by her side, reverently clasped their hands, and repeated the Lord’s Prayer three times, for peace and rest to the deceased. Only the porter and his son did not pray for the Count, but because of the general excitement no one noticed this. The porter, somewhat agitated, remained in his chair; the son drew back into the darkest corner of the kitchen. When praying was over, they surrounded the messenger. He had to sit in their midst and tell all that he knew about the sudden death of the Count, what was being said about it at the court, what consequences were likely to follow, and whether servitude under new rule might not be worse than it had been during his life.
The messenger did not know much more than he had already told, but he confirmed the news which the chaplain brought to the Palace, that on account of serious disputes between the father and the daughter the Count had imprisoned Maria Felicia in her chamber and threatened, if she would not submit to his desires, to take her to a convent, disinherit her, and bequeath her inheritance to his cousin’s son.
“So it is not yet decided who the real master of Hlohov is?” the stewardess said.
At these words the porter, still stupidly gazing, fiercely broke out:
“How dare you talk so before me? The master of this castle is my Andrew, and you all, as you stand here, are his dependents and his servants. You should have long been obeying him, and not he you; he should have long been commanding you, and not you him.”
Notwithstanding the solemnity of the moment, unstifled laughter broke out. The old man had been for some time more irritable and cross than usual, and so, according to their views, more amusing.
But their laughter for once provoked and infuriated him. He screamed, waved his hands, stamped his feet—and finally did something which he had never done before. He swore and cursed the Felsenburks, declared that they were descendants of thieves, traitors and murderers who lived and fattened by the crimes of hangmen; that through him they had obtained estates and wealth, and that their greatness sprang from the blood of the Hlohovskys, whom they had murdered.
Andrew, pale as wax, with trembling lips in vain begged his father to go to the tower with him, urging that it was late, and necessary for him to go to rest; the old man, who had always worshiped his son, now obstinately resisted, continued his terrible cursing, and finally hit Andrew in the face.
Those who had thoughtlessly provoked his passion now stopped laughing and began to soothe him, but in vain. The old man was too excited to control himself; his confused mind had wholly deserted him. His veins swelled, his eyes became bloodshot, and his mouth foamed. In wild exclamations he called down God’s judgments upon the false, revengeful, murderous race of the Felsenburks, till the blood almost froze in the veins of the Hlohov people. With both hands threateningly raised to heaven, he suddenly sank down into his chair. Instead of words, only harsh rattling sounds struggled from his lips, his body writhed with pain, his eyes stood still.
Andrew, wildly lamenting, leaned over his father, called him tender names, smoothed his face, and kissed his forehead, which was covered with cold perspiration. The stewardess quickly brought some anodyne drops, the steward began to rub his body, the rest frightened and excited, ran back and forth for this and that; all were anxious to comfort him, all wanted to help him now, but the poor old man was dead. Almost at the same time and in the same way, the mighty master and his humblest servant passed to eternity.
The whole of Prague witnessed the Count’s funeral procession as it proceeded through the streets in royal splendor, and, indeed, almost the whole of Prague followed his body to its resting place. All grades of citizens, all the lodges, guilds and societies marched with their badges, flags and banners, and even the convents and monasteries were represented.
The steward, as a delegate from Hlohov, marched in a crowd of several hundred servants in front of the coffin. They all carried wax candles, to which was fastened the escutcheon of the Felsenburks. Following them were the Count’s officials, bearing torches. The foremost land-owners held the tassels of the pall, which was sprinkled with tears of pearl, and in its center glittered a costly silver-embroidered cross, the mourning gift of his wife, whom death had reconciled to her husband and moved to present him with a cross—her first gift. Six pages, arrayed in ancient costumes, carried, on black velvet cushions trimmed with silver fringe, laurel wreaths, in the centers of which were numerous ensigns of the official dignities of the deceased. Behind them the equerries led the Count’s riding horses, covered with mourning; and according to the ancient custom, veins in their legs were opened, that streams of blood might increase the mournful effect. The Empress sent out her highest courtier, and the Emperor his first chamberlain to represent them at the funeral. The courtier led the old Countess, and Maria Felicia, refusing an escort, walked by her mother’s side.
Both the ladies were covered from head to foot with veils so thick that it was impossible to see their faces. This, undoubtedly, was done to save the people the painful sight that their faces presented. For the same reason the men related to the deceased Count had their faces covered with black silk masks. Behind the Felsenburk family marched the whole nobility of Prague. The procession was ended by a knight in black armor, who scattered, from two leather bags fastened to the saddle, coins which had been struck for the occasion with the Count’s portrait.
Maria Felicia interested the Prague people almost more than the magnificence of the procession. Rumor of the disagreement between the father and the daughter, until then famed over the city for mutual love, had been quickly spread by the servants. It was known that the Count had threatened-his daughter with imprisonment in a convent and with disinheritance. What had the father, always so indulgent, demanded thus sternly of his daughter? What had his only child, always clinging to him with deep affection, refused so obstinately? What terrible secret was it that separated them? Would he have fulfilled his threat had not death so suddenly overtaken him? Did the daughter mourn over his death, had she intended to submit, or was she glad that his death had liberated her? Did it concern some marriage to which she would not consent, or some love which she refused to give up? Much was said about the young harper, her teacher, with whom she was more friendly than with any one else. Was he the cause of the trouble? Much was also conjectured about the Emperor—that ardent love for him had seized her during the evening when he moved incognito among her father’s guests. Had she insulted the proud father by recklessly confessing her love?
No one found out the truth, not even the stewardess of Hlohov, when with her bone “specks” on her nose, a few days after her husband’s return from Prague, while mending his homely jacket in the little room behind the kitchen, she contemplated the mysteries of the Felsenburk family and wondered how things were likely to be settled. She claimed in this case even more right to express her weighty opinions than in other matters where she was used to having the last word. She had served in the Felsenburk Palace at Prague as a cook before she retired with her husband to Hlohov, and for that reason she thought she was nearer to the Felsenburks than others who had filled less important positions.
The old servant, her assistant in the kitchen, appearing angry and breathless on the doorstep, suddenly disturbed her in her important work and meditation. She came to tell the stewardess that a harper had just come into the servants’ hall, and at her kind offer of a seat at the fireplace until she would warm up the leavings from dinner for him, he had proudly commanded her to bring the steward, and if he was not at home, his wife. When she, astonished at such conduct, hesitated to obey him, he repeated his command as haughtily as if he were accustomed to grant favors instead of receiving them; and so she had to obey him, whether she wanted to or not.
Hearing the news, the stewardess got as angry as her servant. Such a person as a traveling musician to dare behave so haughtily was really an unheard-of thing! Whenever a trafficker, a cymbalist, or any other wanderer had strayed to the lonely Palace he had always behaved decently and modestly, gratefully accepting the hospitality offered him.
“Why did not Andrew stop the rude man right at the gate?” she angrily said, laying aside her work, “But he probably did not see him, and does not know that a stranger is here. He is undoubtedly sitting in his closet with his head lying on the table, unconscious of himself and the world about him. A whole tribe of robbers might break in now, and he would not notice them. Truly, he sins against the Lord in grieving so over his father’s death; he should thank the Almighty for calling the old man without long illness; he was a burden to all of us, and most of all to him.”
With this reasoning the stewardess marched with an important air into the servants’ hall to tell the wandering musician just what he deserved. But she had hardly stepped inside the hall and cast a glance at the newcomer, when the flow of words not flattering to him disappeared from her lips and the sharp question on her ready tongue turned into a quiet, polite address.
Instead of the shabby, bold-faced fellow she had expected to see, she beheld a young man of as grave and earnest a countenance as if he had the experience of a long lifetime behind him. And at the same time his appearance was so aristocratic that she was no longer surprised at her servant’s obedience to him. A harp hung on his shoulder more as an ornament than as the instrument with which he earned his daily bread. He wore a coat of black velvet, dusty but not at all shabby; in his hand he held a gray felt hat. Dark hair circled in curls around his face, which was handsome, but from long illness or mental suffering somewhat thin and yellow. His eyes evinced scorn for his surroundings; his lips were compressed in apparent effort to stifle pain.
Glancing at the stewardess and answering her with a quiet nod, he reached into his vest pocket for a thin, white paper, handed it to her indifferently, and again looked out of the window from which he had partially turned at her appearance. Through the window, latticed with vines, he gazed on the mighty, dark ruin of the old Castle behind the garden.
The stewardess cautiously opened the letter, and, glancing at the signature, uttered an exclamation of surprise, and bowed profoundly, for she saw the signature of Countess Maria Felicia Felsenburk. It was a long time before she succeeded in spelling out the hastily written note and in comprehending its contents. As she had long been relieved of the duty of writing and examining kitchen bills, the stewardess of Hlohov was now weak in the art of reading and writing.
The Countess briefly announced in her letter that she had become, as her gracious father had ordained, the mistress of all his estates, and as the present owner of Hlohov she requested that the harper who presented the letter be received and entertained in the Palace with the same regard as would be paid to herself. He was her former teacher of music, she said, who wished to recover from illness in the forest air.
The face of the stewardess, while reading the letter, changed its expression several times. It pleased her to know that she was the first person in Hlohov to find out who was the owner of the castle; it flattered her to think that the Countess had thought of Hlohov, and sent there a man in whom she was so greatly interested; she rejoiced in the thought of the profits which he might bring her; but above all it tickled her that the Countess should have commended the handsome young man to her and her husband’s care as warmly as she would her own person. There was no doubt that the interesting harper had caused the disagreement between the Countess and her father; for her, at least, the mystery concerning the young lady’s love and the father’s anger was now solved.
With a second bow and a hypocritical glance at the thoughtful harper, she folded the letter and respectfully laid it on a table.
“May God grant our gracious mistress constant health and a long rule over us,” she sighed, reverently folding her hands, and turning her eyes to heaven. “How pleased my husband will be when he hears what a kind and beautiful mistress we now have, and how graciously she surprised us by sending such a precious guest to our Palace. I wonder where he is staying so long; perhaps he went to the woods to get a roast for Sunday. But first I must beg pardon if the young gentleman does not find things here as he is used to having them in Prague. Of all forgotten and forsaken places, ours is the last; if we send any one to town, he does not come back till the next day, and what he brings is seldom fit to use. I fear that our guest cannot endure our hospitality very long.”
“Give yourself no trouble in that respect,” indifferently replied the harper, still gazing at the old ruin. “I shall ask for nothing uncommon. I shall be satisfied with the simplest kind of food, and will need no care. I wish nothing more than peace and rest; do you understand? Peace and rest! Do not notice me, do not spy when I take a walk or a ride, do not come to me with any news, and ask none of me—in short, act as if I were not here. In that way you will please me most. Do not mention my name in the presence of strangers, and admit no one to me under any pretext whatever.”
To the stewardess it seemed that even Count Felsenburk could not have expressed his wish more precisely and briefly than the harper had done.
“It would have been just as the young gentleman wishes even if he had not asked it,” she sensitively replied. “We are mostly old people here; our minds are no longer turned to worldly things, and we no longer crave for earthly news. No one here would have troubled you in that way.”
“If you please, first of all, give me something to eat and then a room. I am very tired,” replied the harper, caring little that he had offended the stewardess. “I’ve come to your mountains from Prague on horseback, without stopping on the way; valise behind me, harp before me. A delightful trip it was,” he added, more to himself than to her, and for the first time something trembled on his face that resembled a smile. “Only the sun or the stars above me, the wide, wide world before me, and unlimited space all around.”
“Where did the young gentleman leave his horse? I must see that it gets into good hands.”
“I left him at the parsonage, where I had my dinner; he will be brought here to-morrow. The horse was tired, even more tired than his rider. I had to finish the journey accompanied only by my harp.”
And the harper, turning to his instrument, ran lightly over its strings. A sweet trilling sound poured forth as if the harp were repaying the compliment.
“Did the young gentleman come alone from the parsonage?” said the astonished stewardess, turning from the fireplace, where she had just thrown a few eggs into a pot of boiling water, to the table, which she started to cover with a coarse cloth. “How could our chaplain let you travel without an escort? What if you had lost your way in this dense forest? To-day, for the first time, I don’t know what to think of him. At other times he is so particular and careful.”
“I refused the escort he offered me. They showed me the direction of the Palace, and I started out alone. As you see, I have found the way,” the harper shortly answered, evidently not being anxious for any conversation.
“Straying off is not the only thing to fear, but also meeting with bad company,” continued the old woman. “Last year’s poor crop caused so much hunger that tribes of beggars now rove through the neighborhood.”
“Not a shadow of a person did I meet,” the young man impatiently replied, shrugging his shoulders. “And yet I did, but the meeting was in no way unpleasant. In a forest meadow, under an old larch tree, sat an aged man. Gray hair hung from his temples, like the whitish moss hanging over his head from the branches of the tree. On his lap he held an old book, from which he was carefully reading. Unconsciously I stopped. Looking at the group, it seemed to me that time for once had neglected to sweep away some things into his rapacious current—that trio, the man, the tree, the book. The old man looked up, saw me, and thinking, I suppose, that I was afraid to pass, he kindly said: ‘Pass on, pass on, young man. He who travels with a harp is safe in the promised land.’”
The stewardess, just bringing the cooked eggs, quickly set the plate with them and the salt cup on the table, and signed herself with the cross.
“Take care, young man; great is the misfortune if we unexpectedly meet a heretic—and if that old man was nota heretic, I will at once have my little finger cut off. The book in which you caught him reading was a Bible. Those people are always digging into it. I can tell a heretic by his greeting. Their sleeves are full of proverbs, with which they mix the Holy Scriptures in a sinful way, constantly perverting and degrading them.”
“Heretic?” the harper carefully repeated. “What do you mean by that word?”
“What else than a heretic in religion?’ The stewardess laughed at the ignorance of her guest. “Why, has not the young man heard about people who turn away from our religion and blindly fall into the infernal abyss? To be sure, gentlemen like you have other things on their minds than to care that our Holy Religion might not be corrupted by weak-minded and ignorant people. But such indifference is hardly to be wondered at since a shameful example is given in the very court. Our future sovereign has no more regard for a priest than for any other man; limits his privileges in every way, lightens the respect for him among the people, and calls religious convent life indolence. Why, then, should not malicious persons, mockers of the Holy Word of God, stick out their horns once more and think of the times when they were allowed to confess their shameful faith openly, forgetting the well-deserved punishment which was inflicted upon them in Bydžov, with the approval of our religious Empress, to whom the infidel son gives no happiness? Let me see; how long ago was it? I believe I had been married a few years when it happened. It is a pity that my husband is not here; he knows it exactly, and knows how everything ended. He can tell a story; it is a pleasure to listen to him. Oh, he is a living chronicle! The den of the heretics was accidentally discovered, and as a frightful warning a whole crowd of them were burned, and the rest were sentenced to life imprisonment, or some other punishments were inflicted upon them. Before the execution they all recanted and expressed their penitence, except one woman—Ludmila Boura; she would not recall her heresies; she died obstinately adhering to her faith. She was beheaded and thrown into a funeral pile.”
“Enough!” exclaimed the harper, pushing aside the plate of victuals untouched, and jumping up flushed with excitement. “Do not continue; I cannot hear such terrible things. What heretics they must have been, if people who themselves are filled with heresies felt it their duty to punish them so cruelly! But who knows whether the condemned were not less guilty than their judges!”
The young man’s passion and excitement frightened the stewardess.
“I’ll say no more about it,” she said, in a soothing tone. “I did not think that you were as excitable as a woman. But this I must tell you yet: That Ludmila Boura was born in Hlohov. She was the daughter of a heretic who at that time was the porter of Hlohov, and so an aunt to the present porter. Of course, the porter’s family did not tell me; they never talk about it, but when I came here with my husband the gardener’s wife, who is now dead, confided the secret to me. She saw the beheading, and told me all about it. As far as I am concerned, I don’t much believe in that family, anyhow—and you really will not eat? Had I known that I should spoil your appetite, of course I would have kept quiet.”
“Show me my room,” the harper shortly broke off her apology, and his eyes again turned to the old Castle. He was now so stern and determined that she dared not say another word, but quietly proceeded to obey him.
Inwardly thanking God that she always kept the spare chambers in good order, and that she could now take her guest to one of them without hesitation, she lighted the earthen lamp, and requesting the harper to follow, started with him to the first story.
The harper, seeing where she was leading him, stopped on the doorstep.
“Where to? I hope you do not intend to lodge me here in this close box? Is this Hlohov? There, beyond the garden, that majestic building rising to the heavens, that is Hlohov—not this miserable hut. There stands the hero with whom I want to make friends; him I wish to ask for hospitality. This is only a dwarf, in whose crippled arms I could not rest. I should choke in his embrace.”
The stewardess almost signed herself with the cross.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked, trembling from head to foot. “Do you not know that everything in the old Castle is ready to tumble, that no one has slept there for ages? It is impossible to start a fire there on account of smoking chimneys; the walls are sinking, the windows are broken, the furniture is old and shaky.”
“In the short time that I shall stay here the Castle will not tumble down,” impatiently objected the harper; “and, further, you need not fear that the wind will carry me off through broken windows or falling chimneys.”
“I tell you that in other respects the place is not in order and prepared for occupancy.”
“For to-night my coat will serve for a pillow, and to-morrow you can prepare a bed for me there.”
“You will not close your eyes there.”
“I am not squeamish; lack of comfort does not frighten me.”
“It is not only for the lack of comfort. Strange things appear in the old Castle, which it is best not to see and know of.”
“I am not cowardly——”
The stewardess wrung her hands at the harper’s obstinacy.
“A white woman with a lute in her arms promenades through the halls. She is a descendant of the family that ruled here before our gracious master, and whoever catches the sound of her mournful song dies within a year,” sadly she added. “What will our gracious mistress say if you come to some harm here?”
“Oh, is it possible to think of a more suitable couple than a lutanist and a harper? Give me the keys to her residence; I thirst to meet her.”
“The Castle has not been locked for ages.”
And the harper, taking the lamp from the horrified stewardess, quickly proceeded to the Castle, through a dusky garden, over which the evening star was twinkling.