The book which he now has before him, and which is covered with oil-stains, because he has to hold it so close to the lanternthe book which is so awfully fine is entitled Count Matatskai; or, The Bandit with the Gray Beard: A Story of the Mountains.
Count Matatskai is a youthful nobleman who has fallen in love with a mountain maiden, the beautiful but fierce Krimhelia, daughter of a chamois-hunter. After various meetings on the rocks by moonlight, with a faithful old servitor incognito in the background, Krimhelia makes up her mind to accept the counts love, and fly with him to a distant country, where counts and the daughters of chamois-hunters stand precisely on the same social footing. But now a difficulty occurs, and it is this: Krimhelia has sworn an oath to avenge the death of her father, who has been killed in a fight with the band commanded by the gray-bearded brigand.
This is the point Jozef has reached in the story. Several of his audience have already dropped asleep, but the reader does not notice it; he is too much absorbed in his narrative, and continues in his first-rate manner, which, heard at a distance, reminds one of nothing so much as of the soft but continuous murmur of a babbling brookcommas and other stops being, in this method, so entirely left in the background, or else occurring in such remarkable places, that a reporter would have been forced to reproduce his text somewhat as follows:
Look at me count said she do you see this glittering dagger as sure as the moon, hangs yonder in heaven and illuminates my pale features so surely will I thrust this, dagger into the heart of the bandit, with the gray beard first and before I throw myself as your consort into your arms but why so pale count and why do you tremble so?
The count threw himself down on a, couch adorned with costly velvet, relieve me of my riding-bootsthus he spoke to the gray-headed old servant Gabario who, brought him a silver goblet with sparkling wine saying, that this was his favorite wine from the great vineyard south of the castle but, the count made a gesture of refusal with his left hand and said me liketh no wine Gabario avaunt and saddlemy horse!
The boatswain is beginning to feel sleepy, and would therefore like Jozef to tell him the end at once; but this Jozef is by no means inclined to do; so he goes ahead valiantly, and by degrees, though he does not observe it, his whole audience drops asleep. At last, when he has reached the closing scene, there is no one to listen to it but the master tailor, who can scarcely keep his small gray eyes open.
Just hear this, now! says Jozef, who, though he has read the book through twice before, is as enthusiastic over this passage as at the first perusal. Now you must listen! Now the count is sitting up alone in the rocks, in a cavern, they call it, and now he is the bandit with the gray beard; and the other robbers are sitting in the back of the cavern round a great big fire, and some of them are lying asleep, and the others are roasting great pieces of meat at the fire, and theyre drinking wine with it out of gold cups that theyve stolen. But the bandit with the gray beard, hes sitting all by himself, you see; and now Krimhelia comes inyou know, the young lady he thinks so much of.
And Jozef resumes his reading: how Krimhelia approaches cautiously, with the glittering dagger; how the gray-bearded bandit, looking up, suddenly sees her standing behind him; how Krimhelia seizes him by the beard and drives the dagger into his heart; and how, at the same moment, the long gray beard comes off in her hand, and she looks with horror on the pallid, dying countenance of Count Matatskai.
As Jozef reads, he bends over his book, leans his head on his hands, and sees the whole thing taking place before his eyes. He sees Krimhelia standing on the top of the rock. The day is breaking in the east. The robbers are pursuing her, and begin to climb the rock.
There she stood proudlylike a queen with her long, loose hair and her shining white face standing out sharply against the red sunrise-tinted sky with horrorshe saw in the unfathomable depth at her feet the bandits approaching. Already the foremost was stretching out his hand to seize her and she saw, the morning light falling on his horrible features when suddenly, her ear was struck by a sound of mens voices singing beneath her in the valley she listens, it is the morning song of her brothers, she lifts her hands skyward and looks up to the paling moon and the stars Iccome! she cries (all in one word) and with a HOARSE shriek she flings herself down into the abyss at the same moment the bandit chief drew his last breath and the Count Matatskai was no more THE END.