University of Virginia Library


Page 276


Spite of remonstrance on my part, the imperative countess,
who had asserted her authority more than once on our way to
Laybach, insisted on the company of Miss Cunegunda Von Krakenpate,
in an evening walk around the town. Fearing that Percie's
masculine stride would betray him, and objecting to lend
myself to a farce with my valet, I opposed the freak as long as it
was courteous—but it was not the first time I had learned that a
spoiled woman would have her own way, and too vexed to laugh,
I soberly promenaded the broad avenue of the capital of Styria,
with a valet en demoiselle, and a dame en valet.

It was but a few hours hence to Planina, and Iminild, who
seemed to fear no risk out of a walled city, waited on Percie to
the carriage the following morning, and in a few hours we drove
up to the rural inn of this small town of Littorale.

I had been too much out of humor to ask the countess a second
time what errand she could have in so rustic a neighborhood. She
had made a mystery of it, merely requiring of me that I should defer
all arrangements for the future, as far as she was concerned, till
we had visited a spot in Littorale, upon which her fate in many
respects depended. After twenty fruitless conjectures, I abandoned
myself to the course of circumstances, reserving only the
determination, if it should prove a haunt of Yvian's troop, to
separate at once from her company and await her at Trieste.

Our dinner was preparing at the inn, and tired of the embarrassment
Percie exhibited in my presence I walked out and
seated myself under an immense linden, that every traveller will


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remember, standing in the centre of the motley and indescribable
clusters of buildings, which serve the innkeeper and blacksmith of
Planina for barns, forge, dwelling, and out-houses. The tree
seems the father of the village. It was a hot afternoon, and I
was compelled to dispute the shade with a congregation of cows
and double-jointed post-horses; but finding a seat high up on the
root, at last I busied myself with gazing down the road, and conjecturing
what a cloud of dust might contain, which in an opposite
direction from that which we had come, was slowly creeping
onward to the inn.

Four roughly-harnessed horses at length appeared, with their
traces tied over their backs—one of them ridden by a man in a
farmer's frock. They struck me at first as fine specimens of the
German breed of draught-horses, with their shaggy fetlocks and
long manes; but while they drank at the trough which stood in
the shade of the linden, the low tone in which the man checked
their greedy thirst, and the instant obedience of the well-trained
animals, awakened at once my suspicions that we were to become
better acquainted. A more narrow examination convinced me
that, covered with dust and disguised with coarse harness as they
were, they were four horses of such bone and condition, as were
never seen in a farmer's stables. The rider dismounted at the
inn door, and very much to the embarrassment of my suppositions,
the landlord, a stupid and heavy Boniface, greeted him
with the familiarity of an old acquaintance, and in answer, apparently
to an inquiry, pointed to my carriage, and led him into
the house.

“Monsieur Tyrell,” said Iminild, coming out to me a moment
after, “a servant whom I had expected has arrived with my


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horses, and with your consent, they shall be put to your carriage

“To take us where?”

“To our place of destination.”

“Too indefinite, by half, countess! Listen to me! I have
very sufficient reason to fancy that, in leaving the post-road to
Trieste, I shall leave the society of honest men. You and your
`minions of the moon' may be very pleasant, but you are not
very safe companions; and having really a wish to die quietly in
my bed—”

The countess burst into a laugh.

“If you will have the character of the gentleman you are
about to visit from the landlord here—”

“Who is one of your ruffians himself, I'll be sworn!”

“No, on my honor! A more innocent old beer-guzzler lives
not on the road. But I will tell you thus much, and it ought to
content you. Ten miles to the west of this dwells a country gentleman,
who, the landlord will certify, is as honest a subject of
his gracious majesty as is to be found in Littorale. He lives
freely on his means, and entertains strangers occasionally from
all countries, for he has been a traveller in his time. You are
invited to pass a day or two with this Mynheer Krakenpate (who,
by the way, has no objection to pass for the father of the young
lady you have so kindly brought from Laybach), and he has sent
you his horses, like a generous host, to bring you to his door.
More seriously, this was a retreat of Yvain's, where he would
live quietly and play bon citoyen, and you have nothing earthly to
fear in accompanying me thither. And now will you wait and
eat the greasy meal you have ordered, or will you save your appetite


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for la fortune de pot at Mynheer Krakenpate's, and get
presently on the road?”

I yielded rather to the seducing smile and captivating beauty of
my pleasing ward, than to any confidence in the honesty of Mynheer
Krakenpate; and Percie being once more ceremoniously handed
in, we left the village at the sober trot becoming the fat steeds of a
landholder. A quarter of a mile of this was quite sufficient for
Iminild, and a word to the postillion changed, like a metamorphosis,
both horse and rider. From a heavy unelastic figure, he rose
into a gallant and withy horseman, and, with one of his lowspoken
words, away flew the four compact animals, treading
lightly as cats, and with the greatest apparent ease, putting us
over the ground at the rate of fourteen miles in the hour.

The dust was distanced, a pleasant breeze was created by the
motion, and when at last we turned from the main road, and sped
off to the right at the same exhilarating pace, I returned Iminild's
arch look of remonstrance with my best-humored smile and an
affectionate je me fie à vous! Miss Krakenpate, I observed, echoed
the sentiment by a slight pressure of the countess's arm, looking
very innocently out of the window all the while.

A couple of miles, soon done, brought us round the face of a
craggy precipice, forming the brow of a hill, and with a continuation
of the turn, we drew up at the gate of a substantial-looking
building, something between a villa and a farm-house, built
against the rock, as if for the purpose of shelter from the north
winds. Two beautiful Angora hounds sprang out at the noise,
and recognized Iminild through all her disguise, and presently,
with a look of forced courtesy, as if not quite sure whether he
might throw off the mask, a stout man of about fifty, hardly a
gentleman, yet above a common peasant in his manners, stepped


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forward from the garden to give Miss Krakenpate his assistance
in alighting.

“Dinner in half an hour!” was Iminild's brief greeting, and,
stepping between her bowing dependent and Percie, she led the
way into the house.

I was shown into a chamber, furnished scarce above the common
style of a German inn, where I made a hungry man's dispatch
of my toilet, and descended at once to the parlor. The doors
were all open on the ground floor, and, finding myself quite alone,
I sauntered from room to room, wondering at the scantiness of
the furniture and general air of discomfort, and scarce able to
believe that the same mistress presided over this and the singular
paradise in which I had first found her at Vienna. After
visiting every corner of the ground floor with a freedom which I
assumed in my character as guardian, it occurred to me that I
had not yet found the dining-room, and I was making a new
search, when Iminild entered.

I have said she was a beautiful woman. She was dressed now
in the Albanian costume, with the additional gorgeousness of
gold embroidery, which might distinguish the favorite child of a
chief of Suli. It was the male attire, with a snowy white juktanilla
reaching to the knee, a short jacket of crimson velvet, and a close-buttoned
vest of silver cloth, fitting admirably to her girlish bust,
and leaving her slender and pearly neck to rise bare and swan-like
into the masses of her clustering hair. Her slight waist was defined
by the girdle of fine linen edged with fringe of gold, which was tied
coquettishly over her left side and fell to her ankle, and below the
embroidered leggin appeared the fairy foot, which had drawn upon
me all this long train of adventure, thrust into a Turkish slipper
with a sparkling emerald on its instep. A feronière of the yellowest


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gold sequins bound her hair back from her temples, and
this was the only confinement to the dark brown meshes which,
in wavy lines and in the richest profusion, fell almost to her feet.
The only blemish to this vision of loveliness was a flush about her
eyes. The place had recalled Yvain to her memory.

“I am about to disclose to you secrets,” said she, laying her
hand on my arm, “which have never been revealed but to the
most trusty of Yvain's confederates. To satisfy those whom you
will meet you must swear to me on the same cross which he
pressed to your lips when dying, that you will never violate, while
I live, the trust we repose in you.”

“I will take no oath,” I said; “for you are leading me blind-folded.
If you are not satisfied with the assurance that I can betray
no confidence which honor would preserve, hungry as I am,
I will yet dine in Planina.”

“Then I will trust to the faith of an Englishman. And now
I have a favor, not to beg, but to insist upon—that from this
moment you consider Percie as dismissed from your service, and
treat him, while here at least, as my equal and friend.”

“Willingly!” I said; and as the word left my lips, enter Percie
in the counterpart dress of Iminild, with a silver-sheathed
ataghan at his side, and the bluish muzzles of a pair of Egg's
hair-triggers peeping from below his girdle. To do the rascal
justice, he was as handsome in his new toggery as his mistress,
and carried it as gallantly. They would have made the prettiest
tableau as Juan and Haidée.

“Is there any chance that these `persuaders' may be necessary,”
I asked, pointing to his pistols, which awoke in my mind a
momentary suspicion.

“No—none that I can foresee—but they are loaded. A favorite,


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among men whose passions are professionally wild,” she continued
with a meaning glance at Percie; “should be ready to lay
his hand on them, even if stirred in his sleep!”

I had been so accustomed to surprises of late, that I scarce
started to observe, while Iminild was speaking, that an old-fashioned
clock, which stood in a niche in the wall, was slowly swinging
out upon hinges. A narrow aperture of sufficient breadth to
admit one person at a time, was disclosed when it had made its
entire revolution, and in it stood, with a lighted torch, the stout
landlord Von Krakenpate. Iminild looked at me an instant as
if to enjoy my surprise.

“Will you lead me in to dinner, Mr. Tyrell?” she said, at last,
with a laugh.

“If we are to follow Mynheer Von Krakenpate,” I replied,
“give me hold of the skirt of your juktanilla, rather, and let me
follow! Do we dine in the cellar?”

I stepped before Percie, who was inclined to take advantage of
my hesitation to precede me, and followed the countess into the
opening, which, from the position of the house, I saw must lead
directly into the face of the rock. Two or three descending steps
convinced me that it was a natural opening enlarged by art; and
after one or two sharp turns, and a descent of perhaps fifty feet,
we came to a door which, suddenly flung open by our torch-bearer,
deluged the dark passage with a blaze of light which the eye-sight
almost refused to bear. Recovering from my amazement, I
stepped over the threshold of the door, and stood upon a carpet
in a gallery of sparkling stalactites, the dazzling reflection of
innumerable lamps flooding the air around, and a long snow-white
vista of the same brilliancy and effect stretching downward
before me. Two ridges of the calcareous strata running almost


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parallel over our heads, formed the cornices of the descending
corridor, and from these, with a regularity that seemed like design,
the sparkling pillars, white as alabaster, and shaped like
inverted cones, dropped nearly to the floor, their transparent
points resting on the peaks of the corresponding stalagmites,
which, of a darker hue and coarser grain, seemed designed as
bases to a new order of architectural columns. The reflection
from the pure crystalline rock gave to this singular gallery a
splendor which only the palace of Aladdin could have equalled.
The lamps were hung between in irregular but effective ranges,
and in our descent, like Thalaba, who refreshed his dazzled eyes
in the desert of snow by looking on the green wings of the spirit
bird, I was compelled to bend my eyes perpetually for relief upon
the soft, dark masses of hair which floated upon the lovely shoulders
of Iminild.

At the extremity of the gallery we turned short to the right,
and followed an irregular passage, sometimes so low that we could
scarce stand upright, but all lighted with the same intense brilliancy,
and formed of the same glittering and snow-white substance.
We had been rambling on thus far perhaps ten minutes,
when suddenly the air, which I had felt uncomfortably chill, grew
warm and soft, and the low reverberation of running water fell
delightfully on our ears. Far ahead we could see two sparry
columns standing close together, and apparently closing up the

“Courage! my venerable guardian!” cried Iminild, laughing
over her shoulder; “you will see your dinner presently. Are you
hungry, Percie?”

“Not while you look back, Madame la Comtesse!” answered


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the callow gentleman, with an instinctive tact at his new

We stood at the two pillars which formed the extremity of the
passage, and looked down upon a scene of which all description
must be faint and imperfect. A hundred feet below ran a broad
subterraneous river, whose waters, sparkling in the blaze of a
thousand torches, sprang into light from the deepest darkness,
crossed with foaming rapidity the bosom of the vast illuminated
cavern, and disappeared again in the same inscrutable gloom.
Whence it came or whither it fled was a mystery beyond the
reach of the eye. The deep recesses of the cavern seemed darker
for the intense light gathered about the centre.

After the first few minutes of bewilderment, I endeavored to
realize in detail the wondrous scene before me. The cavern was
of an irregular shape, but all studded above with the same sparry
incrustations, thousands upon thousands of pendent stalactites
glittering on the roof, and showering back light upon the clusters
of blazing torches fastened every where upon the shelvy sides.
Here and there vast columns, alabaster white, with bases of gold
color, fell from the roof to the floor, like pillars left standing in
the ruined aisle of a cathedral, and from corner to corner ran
thin curtains of the same brilliant calcareous spar, shaped like
the sharp edge of a snow-drift, and almost white. It was like
laying bare the palace of some king wizard of the mine to gaze
down upon it.

“What think you of Mynheer Krakenpate's taste in a dining-room,
Monsieur Tyrell?” asked the countess, who stood between
Percie and myself, with a hand on the shoulder of each.

I had scarce found time, as yet, to scrutinize the artificial portion
of the marvellous scene, but, at the question of Iminild, I


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bent my gaze on a broad platform, rising high above the river on
its opposite bank, the rear of which was closed in by perhaps
forty irregular columns, leaving between them and the sharp precipice
on the river-side, an area, in height and extent of about
the capacity of a ball-room. A rude bridge, of very light construction,
rose in a single arch across the river, forming the only
possible access to the platform from the side where we stood,
and, following the path back with my eye, I observed a narrow
and spiral staircase, partly of wood and partly cut in the rock,
ascending from the bridge to the gallery we had followed hither.
The platform was carpeted richly, and flooded with intense light,
and in its centre stood a gorgeous array of smoking dishes, served
after the Turkish fashion, with a cloth upon the floor, and surrounded
with cushions and ottomans of every shape and color.
A troop of black slaves, whose silver anklets, glittered as they
moved, were busy bringing wines and completing the arrangements
for the meal.

Allons, mignon!” cried Iminild, getting impatient and seizing
Percie's arm, “let us get over the river, and perhaps Mr.
Tyrell will look down upon us with his grands yeux while we
dine. Oh, you will come with us! Suivez donc!

An iron door, which I had not hitherto observed, let us out
from the gallery upon the staircase, and Mynheer Von Krakenpate
carefully turned the key behind us. We crept slowly down
the narrow staircase and reached the edge of the river, where the
warm air from the open sunshine came pouring through the cavern
with the current, bringing with it a smell of green fields and
flowers, and removing entirely the chill of the cavernous and con
fined atmosphere I had found so uncomfortable above. We
crossed the bridge, and stepping upon the elastic carpets piled


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thickly on the platform, arranged ourselves about the smoking
repast, Mynheer Von Krakenpate sitting down after permission
from Iminild, and Percie by order of the same imperative dictatress,
throwing his graceful length at her feet.