A Hungarian Nabob Part 49

"And now, committing my soul to G.o.d and my body to the earth, I await with resignation my dissolution, and, putting my whole trust in G.o.d, I look forward to the hour when I shall turn to dust."

These last words were also written down. The lawyer then read the will; and then, first Karpathy and then all the witnesses present subscribed and sealed it. And the same night a fair copy of it was made and sent to Rudolf, as the chief magistrate of the county.

Then Karpathy bade the priest send in the s.e.xton.

He entered accordingly, and a golden goblet with wine in it and a golden patten with a thin slice of bread on it were placed on a little round ebony table. It was the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the last supper such as the sick unto death partake of.

The priest stood in front of the table on which the wine and the bread were. Karpathy, with Christian humility, approached the sacred elements, the others stood around in silence. Then the priest communicated him in their presence, and, after the simple ceremony was over, the old man said to the priest--

"In no very long time, I shall see the happier country face to face. If you hear that I am sick, say no prayers in church for my recovery,--it would be useless; pray rather for my new life. And now let us go to my son."

"To my son!" What feeling, what pathos was in that one phrase: "To my son!"

All who were present followed him, and surrounded the child's cradle.

The little thing looked gravely at all those serious manly faces, as if it also would have made one of them. The squire lifted him in his arms.

The child looked at him with such big wise eyes, as if he were taking it all in; and the old man kissed his little lips again and again.

Then he was pa.s.sed round among all the other old fellows, and he looked at them all so gravely, as if he knew very well that they were all of them honourable men; but when Rudolf took him in his arms the child began to kick and crow, and fight with his little hands, and make a great fuss, as children are wont to do when they are in a good humour--who knows why?--and Rudolf kissed the child's forehead.

"How glad he is," said the Nabob, "just as if he knew that from henceforth you will be his father."

A few hours later the whole company sat down to supper.

They noticed that the Squire ate and drank nothing, but he explained that, after taking the holy bread and wine, he would not sit down to ordinary food, and meant to eat nothing till the morrow.

And the old servant waiting upon them whispered to Rudolf that his master had not touched a thing since yesterday evening.

CHAPTER XXII.

LEAVE-TAKING.

Every one in the castle retired to rest early except Rudolf, who remained up for a long time. The fire burnt cosily on the hearth, and there he sat before the fire till past midnight, reflecting on the past and on the future. To speak of his thoughts would be treachery. There are secrets which are better left at the bottom of men's hearts.

Towards midnight a great hubbub arose in the castle, and servants began rushing up and down stairs. Rudolf, who was still half dressed, went out into the corridor, and came face to face with old Paul.

"What is the matter?" said he.

The old servant would have spoken, but his lips were sealed; he shivered convulsively, like one who would fain cry and cannot. At last he came out with it, and there were tears on his cheek and in his eyes--

"He is dead!"

"Impossible!" cried Rudolf; and he hastened to the Squire's bedroom.

There lay the Nabob with closed eyes, his hands folded across his breast, in front of him his wife's portrait that he might gaze upon it to the last. That countenance looked so venerable after death, it seemed to have been purified from all disturbing pa.s.sions, only the old ancestral dignity was visible in every feature.

He had died so quietly that even the faithful old servant, who slept in the same room with him, had not been aware of it: only when, struck by the extraordinary stillness, he had gone to see if his master wanted anything, did he perceive that he was dead.

Rudolf at once sent for the doctor, although one glance at the quiet face a.s.sured him that there was no need of doctors here.

By the time everything was ready for the funeral--for indeed everything necessary therefor was already at hand in the bedroom, the coffin, the pall, the escutcheons, the torches--he had no longer had that fear of a coffin which he had felt on his birthday. Everything was done as he had planned it.

They attired him in his wedding garments, and so placed him in the coffin. They sent for the very same youths who had sung the dirges over his wife so sweetly, and they sang the selfsame hymns for the dead over his coffin likewise.

The news of his death had spread all over the county, and the courtyard of Karpatfalva was thronged once more with the bizarre mob which had filled it before on that day of rejoicing, except that sad faces came now instead of merry ones. Not one of his old acquaintances remained away; every one hastened to see him once more, and every one said that they could not recognize him, so greatly had death changed him.

A tremendous crowd followed the coffin to the grave. The most eminent men in the kingdom carried torches before it, the most distinguished ladies in the land were among the mourners that followed after it.

Custom demanded that the heir, the eldest son, should accompany his father's coffin. But as the heir was only six months old, he had to be carried, and it was Lady Szentirmay who carried him in her bosom. And every one who saw it maintained that she embraced and protected the child as tenderly as if she were really its mother.

Happy child!

The good old Nabob was committed to his last resting-place by the selfsame priest who had spoken such consolatory words over the body of his wife. There was much weeping, but the one who wept the most was the priest himself, who ought to have comforted the others.

Then they lowered him down into those silent mansions where the dead have their habitation, and they laid him by the side of his departed wife as he had desired. The last hymns sounded so ghostly down in the vault there as the wailing chant ascended up through the earth, even those who wept made haste to depart from thence and get into the light of day once more. And the heavy iron door clanged thunderously on its hinges behind them.

And the Nabob? Ah, now he is happy indeed, happy for evermore!

THE END.

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