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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.
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!"
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 passions, only the old ancestral dignity was visible in every feature.[Pg 357]
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.
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 Kárpátfalva 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[Pg 358] maintained that she embraced and protected the child as tenderly as if she were really its mother.
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.