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“And this was once the palatial residence of the Karnsteins!” said the old General
at length, as from a great window he looked out across the village, and saw the
wide, undulating expanse of forest. “It was a bad family, and here its blood-
stained annals were written,” he continued. “It is hard that they should, after
death, continue to plague the human race with their atrocious lusts. That is the
chapel of the Karnsteins, down there.”
He pointed down to the grey walls of the Gothic building partly visible through the
foliage, a little way down the steep. “And I hear the axe of a woodman,” he
added, “busy among the trees that surround it; he possibly may give us the
information of which I am in search, and point out the grave of Mircalla, Countess
of Karnstein. These rustics preserve the local traditions of great families, whose
stories die out among the rich and titled so soon as the families themselves
become extinct.”
“We have a portrait, at home, of Mircalla, the Countess Karnstein; should you like
to see it?” asked my father.
“Time enough, dear friend,” replied the General. “I believe that I have seen the
original; and one motive which has led me to you earlier than I at first intended,
was to explore the chapel which we are now approaching.”
“What! see the Countess Mircalla,” exclaimed my father; “why, she has been
dead more than a century!”
“Not so dead as you fancy, I am told,” answered the General.
“I confess, General, you puzzle me utterly,” replied my father, looking at him, I
fancied, for a moment with a return of the suspicion I detected before. But
although there was anger and detestation, at times, in the old General’s manner,
there was nothing flighty.
“There remains to me,” he said, as we passed under the heavy arch of the Gothic
church—for its dimensions would have justified its being so styled—“but one
object which can interest me during the few years that remain to me on earth,
and that is to wreak on her the vengeance which, I thank God, may still be
accomplished by a mortal arm.”
“What vengeance can you mean?” asked my father, in increasing amazement.
“I mean, to decapitate the monster,” he answered, with a fierce flush, and a
stamp that echoed mournfully through the hollow ruin, and his clenched hand
was at the same moment raised, as if it grasped the handle of an axe, while he
shook it ferociously in the air.
“What?” exclaimed my father, more than ever bewildered.
“To strike her head off.”
“Cut her head off!”
“Aye, with a hatchet, with a spade, or with anything that can cleave through her
murderous throat. You shall hear,” he answered, trembling with rage. And
hurrying forward he said:
“That beam will answer for a seat; your dear child is fatigued; let her be seated,
and I will, in a few sentences, close my dreadful story.”
The squared block of wood, which lay on the grass-grown pavement of the
chapel, formed a bench on which I was very glad to seat myself, and in the