What does habitual smile mean?

Author page

 << zurück weiter >> 

II.
Count Mathias Sandorf.

The Hungarians or Magyars came to the country around the ninth century of the Christian era. They form the third part of the whole population of Hungary - more than five million souls. Whether they are of Spanish origin, Egyptian or barbaric, whether they come from the Huns of Attila or from the Nordic Finns - the opinions are harshly opposed - it matters little. The only thing to note is that the Hungarians are not Slaves, but neither are they Germans.

They also knew how to preserve their religion and have shown themselves to be zealous Catholics since the eleventh century - at that time they received the new faith. They also speak their old language, the soft, harmonious mother tongue that adorns every object with the charms of poetry; it is not as rich as German, but it is more closed, more energetic, a language which from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries supplanted Latin in laws and ordinances and saw a future as the language of the people.

On January 21, 1699, Hungary and Transylvania came to Austria through the Treaty of Carlowitz.

Twenty years later the pragmatic sanction solemnly declared that the states of Austria-Hungary were inseparable. In the absence of a son, the crown should also be able to pass on to the daughter, according to the law of primogeniture. Thanks to this new statute, Maria Theresa ascended the throne of her father Charles VI in 1749, the last member of the male line of the House of Austria.

The Hungarians had to submit to violence.

At the time when our story begins, there was a high-born Hungarian whose life was devoted only to the hope of restoring its former independence to his country. He had known Kossuth in his youth, and although his parentage and upbringing prevented him from pulling in the same direction on important political issues, he still had to admire the great heart of this patriotic friend.

Count Mathias Sandorf lived in one of the Comitate of Transylvania, in the Fogaras district, in an old castle of feudal origin. This castle, built on one of the northern points of the eastern Carpathians, which separate Transylvania from Wallachia, rose in all its wild beauty on this rugged mountain range, like one of such last places of refuge in which conspirators can hold themselves to the utmost.

Neighboring mines, whose iron and copper ore contents were carefully exploited, formed a very important source of income for the owner of Artenak Castle. This domain comprised part of the district of Fogaras, the total population of which is at least 72,000 inhabitants. These, townspeople and peasants, made no secret of the fact that they were immaculately loyal to the count; They thanked him with boundless devotion for the benefits he had done to the country. Therefore this castle was the subject of a very special surveillance, which had been arranged by the Hungarian chancellery in Vienna, which works completely independently of the other ministries of the Reich. The views of Herr von Artenak were known in high places and were therefore uneasy, if not because of the personality of the Count himself.

Mathias Sandorf was 35 years old at the time. His figure, which was slightly above average, indicated considerable muscle strength. A head with a noble and proud bearing rested on broad shoulders. The somewhat angular face, the color of which was a touch of warmth, showed the Magyar type in full purity. The liveliness of his movements, the brevity of his speech, the steady and measured gaze of his eye, the lively circulation of his blood, which communicated through the nostrils, a faint twitching at the corners of the mouth, a habitual smile on the lips, the unmistakable sign of kindness, a certain tidiness in conversation and in gestures - all of this heralded a frank and generous nature.

One of the most outstanding traits of Count Sandorf's character was that he had never forgiven an insult and could never forgive an insult to which his friends fell victim, while he was very unconcerned for his own sake and, on occasion, even for an injustice inflicted on him was able to look good. He had a highly developed sense of justice and hated all unfaithfulness. This gave him a personal implacability. He was by no means one of those who leave God alone to worry about distributing the punishments in this world.

It must be emphasized here that Mathias Sandorf had a very serious upbringing. Instead of indulging in the leisure offered by his ability, he followed his hobbies, which led him to study the physical and medical sciences. He would have become a very talented doctor if the necessity of living on it had given him sick people for treatment. He was therefore content with being a chemist highly valued by scholars. The Pest University, the Academy of Sciences in Pressburg, the Royal Mining Academy in Schemnitz, the normal school in Temesvar had consecutively counted him among their most talented students. This study-filled life completed and strengthened his natural dispositions. It made him a man in the broadest sense of the word. He was regarded as such by all who knew him, and especially by his professors in the various schools and universities of the kingdom who had remained his friends.

Once upon a time, there was serenity, life and movement in the Castle of Artenak. The hunters of Transylvania liked to meet on the rough ridge there. Great and dangerous driven hunts were held there, in which the count's lustful instincts for battle found their complete satisfaction, for in the field of politics they probably had no practice to expect. He stayed to one side and watched the course of events close by. He seemed to care only for himself, dividing his attention between his studies and that great life which his handsome fortune allowed him to lead. Countess Réna Sandorf was still alive then. She was the soul of all social associations at Artenak Castle. Fifteen months before our story began, however, death had carried her off in full youth and beauty; the count had only one little daughter left, who was now two years old.

Count Sandorf was terribly hit by this stroke of fate. For a long time he was closed to any consolation. It became quiet and lonely in the castle. His master lived there under the impression of deep pain as in a monastery. His whole concern was for his child, who was entrusted to the hands of the Count's Intendant's wife, Rosena Landeck. This still young, excellent creature was devoted exclusively to the service of the Sandorf's only heiress;

During the first months of his widowhood, Count Sandorf did not leave Artenak Castle. He drew collection from the memories of the past and lived from them. Then the thought of the subordinate position of his fatherland in Europe got the upper hand in him.

The Franco-Italian War of 1859 dealt a violent blow to Austrian power.

Seven years later, in 1866, this misfortune was compounded by the defeat of Sadowa. Hungary still saw itself tied to this Austria, which had lost its Italian possessions, to this Austria defeated on two sides. In the eyes of the Hungarians, the victories of Custozza and Lissa had not been able to erase Sadowa's defeat.

During the following year Count Sandorf had carefully surveyed the political terrain and realized that a movement aimed at partitioning the empire might perhaps succeed.

So the time to act had come. On May 3rd of the same year, 1867, he hugged his little daughter, left her to the careful care of Mrs. Rosena Landeck, and left his Artenak castle. He had traveled to Pest, where he got in touch with friends and party comrades and made preparatory orders; a few days later he had arrived in Trieste to await events there.

This is where the central office of the conspiracy should be. From here all threads, which all Count Sandorf had in hand, should run out. In this city the leaders of the conspiracy, perhaps because they were less watched, could work with greater security, but at least with more freedom, to bring this patriotic work to a happy ending.

Two of the Count's most intimate friends lived in Trieste. Imbued with the same thought, they were determined to stay true to this venture to the end. Count Ladislaus Zathmar and Professor Stephan Bathory were also Hungarians and of distinguished descent. Both of them, probably ten years older than the count, stood there with almost no assets. One of them received some meager income from a small country estate in the Comitate of Lipto, which belongs to the district across the Danube; the other taught physics in Trieste and lived only on the income from the lessons given.

Ladislaus Zathmar lived in the house discovered by Sarcany and Zirone in Acquedotto, a modest home that he had made available to Count Mathias Sandorf for the whole time that he would spend away from his Castle Artenak, that is, until the end of the decided movement, whatever this might turn out to be. A fifty-five-year-old Hungarian named Borik introduced all the house staff. He was a man who was as devoted to his master as Landeck was to Count Sandorf.

Stephan Bathory had a no less modest apartment in the Corsia Stadion, almost in the same part of town as Count Zathmar. All his interests revolved around his wife and son Peter, who was then eight years old.

Bathory did not belong in a straight line, but demonstrably to the tribe of those Magyar princes who held the throne of Transylvania in the sixteenth century. The family had split up and since then lost in numerous branches, and one would certainly have been astonished to find one of the last descendants in a modest professor at the Pressburg Academy. That being said, Stephan Bathory was a scholar of the first order, one of those who lived in seclusion and who became famous for their work. "", This motto given to the silk worm could also have been his. One day his political views, from which he made no secret, compelled him to demand his dismissal, and it was then when he settled in Trieste as an independent professor with his wife, who had stood by his side in his exams.

Since the arrival of Count Sandorf, the three friends had reunited in Ladislaus Zathmar's residence, although the latter had deliberately insisted on renting an apartment in the Palazzo Modello - or, more correctly, Hotel Delorme - on the Piazza Grande. The police had no idea that the house in the Acquedotto was the center of a conspiracy which had numerous supporters in the largest cities of the empire.

Ladislaus Zathmar and Stephan Bathory had confessed to being devoted allies of Count Sandorf. Like him, they had also seen that the circumstances could very well serve a movement which would restore Hungary to the position of power in Europe which it was ambitiously striving for. This plan might cost them their lives, they knew it well, but it did not stop them from doing their thing. The house in the Acquedotto thus became the meeting place of the most eminent leaders of the conspiracy. A large number of partisans, sent here from various parts of the country, took their orders from here. A pigeon service, which was set up to deliver communications, established a fast and secure connection between Trieste, the most important cities of Hungary and Transylvania, when instructions began to be given which could not be entrusted to either the post or the telegraph. In short, the precautionary measures were so well taken that by then not the slightest suspicion had fallen on the conspirators.

Incidentally, as is well known, the correspondence was only conducted in encrypted language, and indeed according to a method which, because it required secrecy, guaranteed absolute security.

Three days after the arrival of the carrier pigeon whose ticket had been caught by Sarcany, on May 21st, around eight o'clock in the evening, Ladislaus Zathmar and Stephan Bathory were in the work cabinet, awaiting the return of Mathias Sandorf. His personal affairs had recently compelled him to return to Transylvania and to his Artenak castle; The trip was useful to him in so far as it enabled him to confer with his friends in Cluj-Napoca, the capital of the province, and now he was to return from there on the day in question, after he had informed them of the contents of the despatch. from which Sarcany had taken a copy.

Since Count Sandorf's departure, other letters had been exchanged between Trieste and Budapest, and several encrypted tickets had been delivered by pigeons. At this very moment Ladislaus Zathmar was busy putting the secret script into understandable words with the help of the facility known as the "grid".

In truth, these dispatches had been devised according to a very simple system, that of changing the letters. In this system every letter retains its alphabetical value, so b also means b, o means o and so on. But the letters are rearranged one after the other according to the empty or occupied fields of the grid, which, placed on the despatch, only lets the letters appear in the order in which they are to be read and covers the rest. These bars have been in use for a long time, but have recently been very much completed according to Colonel Fleissner's system; up to now they are still considered the best and safest method when it comes to obtaining an indecipherable cipher. All other inversion methods - regardless of whether they are systems with an immutable base or simple key systems, in which each letter of the alphabet is always indicated by the same letter or by the same sign, or whether systems with a variable base or double key systems, in which one is indicated with each letter changes with the alphabets - do not guarantee exclusive security. Individual skilled decipherers are able to perform marvelous things in this kind of investigation by operating with a probability calculation or with a mere fumbling around. They are based on nothing more than the letters, the more frequent use of which also results in a more numerous occurrence in the whole - in French, English and German, in Spanish, in Russian and in Italian - and so come to that, to underlay the letters in the encrypted text with the meaning they have in the transmitted wording. There are few dispatches encrypted according to these methods, which can ignore their clever calculations.

It does seem that the lattices or the enciphered dictionaries - that is, those in which certain common words which mean closed phrases are indicated by numbers - offer the most perfect guarantees for the impossibility of decipherment. But these two systems have one serious drawback: they require absolute secrecy, or rather the obligation, wherever one may be, never to let the preparations or books fall into the hands of strangers. While one can never get to read these despatches without a grid or dictionary, everyone can understand them as soon as the dictionary or grid has been stolen.

The correspondences of Count Sandorf and his comrades were made with the help of a grid or a cut-out made of cardboard, which was perforated in several places; but an excess of caution could not cause them any inconvenience even if the bars which he and his friends used were lost or stolen; for every dispatch was immediately destroyed after one or the other part had read it. There could never be a trace of this plot, for which the noblest gentlemen, the magnates of Hungary, together with the representatives of the citizenship and the people, put their heads up.

Just as Ladislaus Zathmar was about to burn the last dispatches, there was a soft knock on the door of the cabinet.

It was Borik who brought in Count Sandorf, who had come on foot from the nearby train station.

Ladislaus Zathmar immediately rushed to him:

“The success of your trip, Mathias? he asked with the haste of a man who above all wants to be reassured.

- It was a success, Zathmar, replied Count Sandorf. I could not doubt the attitudes of my Transylvanian friends and we can be sure of their help.

- Did you inform them of the contents of the dispatch that we received from Budapest three days ago? said Bathory, whose friendship with the Count extended to the confidential address.

- Yes, Stephan, you have been informed. You are ready too. They break loose at the first signal. Within two hours we will be the masters of Budapest, in half a day the masters of the largest comitate on both sides of the Tisza, in one day Transylvania and the area of ​​the military border will be ours. Then eight million Hungarians will have regained their independence!

- What about the government? asked Bathory.

- Our partisans are in the majority, replied Mathias Sandorf. They will also form the new government which will take over the running of business. Everything will go smoothly and without difficulty, since the Comitate hardly depend on the Crown for their administration and their chiefs have police powers.

- But the deputy council of the kingdom, presided over by the paladin in Budapest ...? interjected Ladislaus Zathmar.

- The paladin and the council are deprived of the opportunity to intervene ...

- And also the possibility of correspondence with the Hungarian law firm in Vienna?

- Yes! All measures are taken in such a way that the simultaneity of our movements also ensures success.

- The success! shouted Stephan Bathory.

- Yes, the success! replied Count Sandorf. In the army everything that is in our blood, Hungarian blood, is for us! Where is there a descendant of the old Magyars whose heart doesn't beat faster at the sight of the flags of Rudolf and Corvin? "

Mathias Sandorf spoke these words with the most noble enthusiasm.

“But until then, he went on, let's not neglect anything to avoid suspicion. Let us be wise, the stronger we will be! - Did you not hear anything suspicious in Trieste?

- No, replied Ladislaus Zathmar. We are only talking about the work that the state has carried out in Pola. "

For fifteen years the Austrian government, fearful of a possible loss of Veneto - which has in fact occurred - had the intention of having enormous arsenals and a naval port docked from here in Pola, i.e. at the southernmost end of Istria to be able to control the whole inner part of the Adriatic. Despite the objections of Trieste, whose port had become inferior as a result of this project, the work was carried on with a feverish haste. Mathias Sandorf and his friends could therefore assume that the Triestines would be inclined to follow them if the separation movement were to extend to them.

In any case, the secret of this conspiracy in favor of Hungarian independence was well guarded. Nothing could arouse the suspicion in the police that the most distinguished conspirators were meeting in the modest house on Acquedotto-Allee.

So it seemed as if everything had been planned to make the movement succeed and as if it was just a matter of waiting for the right moment to act. The encrypted correspondence between Trieste and the major cities of Hungary and Transylvania was presumably conducted very rarely from now on, or not at all, unless unforeseen events occurred. The feathered messengers probably had no more dispatches to deliver for the episode, since the final measures had been agreed. As a precautionary measure, their refuge in Zathmar's house had been closed with excessive caution.

It must be noted that money is as much the lifeblood of conspiracies as that of wars. It is important that the conspirators not fail in the hour of their revolt. On this occasion it could not fail our acquaintances.

We know that Ladislaus Zathmar and Stephan Bathory could sacrifice their lives for the independence of their country, but not their wealth because they had very weak personal sources of income. Count Sandorf, however, was incredibly rich and ready, at the same time as his life, to sacrifice all his belongings for the needs of his cause. A few months ago, through the mediation of his Intendant Landeck, he had raised a considerable sum as a loan on his possessions - more than two million guilders.

It was, however, necessary that this sum should always be kept available and that he should be able to receive it from one day to the next. That is why it was deposited in Trieste in his name at a bank whose honesty and solidity were untouched up to the hour, beyond any doubt. This house was that of the banker Toronthal, of which Sarcany and Zirone had just spoken while resting in the churchyard of the upper town.

This fortuitous circumstance was to have serious consequences, as will be seen from the course of this story.

In response to urgent questions from Count Zathmar and Stephan Bathory about this money, occasionally in their recent conversation, Mathias Sandorf replied that he intended to pay a brief visit to the banker Silas Toronthal and to ask him to keep his funds at his disposal as soon as possible want.

Certain events really seemed to prompt Count Sandorf to give the expected signal from Trieste, all the more so as one could assume that Zathmar's house had been the subject of an observation that evening, which could be alarming.

When Count Sandorf and Stephan Bathory left around eight o'clock, one to his apartment in the Corsia Stadion and the other to go to the Hotel Delorme, they thought they saw two men in the dark of the trees who followed them a short distance away and so on Maneuver so as not to be seen.

Mathias Sandorf and his companion wanted to know where they were and did not hesitate to approach these people, who rightly appeared suspicious; but they saw them coming and disappeared around the corner of the Church of San Antonio at the end of the great canal before they were overtaken.


 << zurück weiter >>