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“Ah! Excellent! Excellent!” exclaimed Wallache Gerhard Winifrith Sieffert, Graf von Ravensberg, as he continued to draw blood into the glass syringe. “So glossy.” He lifted the syringe, pulling on the tubing connecting it to the subject so that the afternoon sunlight struck it with full brilliance, making brass fittings, glass, and blood shine. A complicated apparatus stood on the low table at his side, a device of his own invention, one of a dozen littering this third-floor room that von Ravensberg called his laboratory. He took care not to brush his Turkish dressing-gown with the syringe, more to protect the blood than the fine damask silk.
Heinrich Thorbern was lying on a cot between von Ravensberg and the apparatus, his long, boiled-wool coat draped over the single chair and his shirt-sleeve rolled up to above his elbow; he gasped as the needle in his arm pulled. “Is that good?” he asked, becoming a bit worried as he watched von Ravensberg marvel at the blood in the glass syringe. He was a pleasant enough man in his late twenties, regular-featured and healthy, a successful independent farmer, able to read and write—all in all, an ideal subject for von Ravensberg: exactly the fine example of German yeomanry he sought.
“It is most . . . encouraging,” said von Ravensberg, scowling at Thorbern. “Do lie still, Herr Thorbern.”
“But it hurts when you pull.”
“Lie still,” von Ravensberg repeated. “You must not move about in that way.”
“But Baron—” Thorbern protested.
“I will not take much longer,” said von Ravensberg, annoyed that his exuberance was not shared. “I need to complete getting the sample, you understand. Then I will subject the blood to tests, and you may be on your way. With my gratitude.” This last was an afterthought.
Thorbern sighed and did his best to be comfortable. He was feeling a bit cold, attributing the chill to the coolness of the room; there was snow on the roof of the Schloss as befitted this January morning, and although a fire burned on the grate, the heat did not spread much past the hearth. “So long as it is useful, Baron.”
“All inquiry is useful, young man; you should appreciate that,” said von Ravensberg with finality. He made a point of putting his full attention on the man’s blood. “This rich, fine color and shine is an indication, I believe, of superior composition. You may be confident that I will examine it closely.”
“Because of its color?” Thorbern had slaughtered enough cattle, hogs, and sheep to have seen great quantities of blood: never had he noticed much difference in the color or characteristic of any of it.
“The color, the luminosity, the texture and composition of it, the characteristics present in its nature,” said von Ravensberg, mildly distracted. He indicated his fine microscope, its brass gleaming, with a wooden box filled with glass slides beside it. “Thanks to this wonderful device, we know there are many components to blood, and it is my belief that when we truly understand the whole nature of blood, we will have a definitive measure of all men.” He tapped the syringe, now almost full. “This will help me to uncover what the blood has hidden.”
Although this made little sense to Thorbern, he was too well-mannered to say so. “It sounds very complex.”
“That it is, that it is, far more complex than anyone would have thought, and possibly possessing many more mysteries than what is currently surmised,” said von Ravensberg, He tapped the syringe, watching the movement of the blood. “It is a daunting task, to discover all that blood has within it. Many other scholars would recoil at the demands of so ambitious an undertaking, but not I; no, I am determined to—” He broke off as he heard a rap on his door. “Who is it?” he demanded gruffly.
“It’s Hyacinthie, Uncle,” she called through the door. “A messenger has arrived. He brings you word from—”
“I’m almost done here. Have him wait in the library. Give him something to eat and a tankard of our beer. And see you don’t make a pest of yourself.” He resumed his work with the syringe.
“Do you wish to stop?” Thorbern asked.
“No. Not yet.” There was still a little room left in the syringe. “A minute more, or two, and it should be done.” He tried to offer an appreciative smile but without success. “You must know that I value your cooperation and your participation highly. Very highly. Many of the people in this region are ignorant, superstitious, and out-right fools. But not all countrymen are louts. You have enough education”—five years in the local school—“to grasp the implications of this study, why it must be done, how much it will change our—” He stopped. “The syringe is full. If you will lie still for a moment longer, I’ll remove the needle and you can sit up.”
Thorbern could not conceal his relief; his mouth quirked, but no smile emerged. He winced as von Ravensberg reached over and carefully drew the needle from the vein on the inside of his elbow. Taking his pocket kerchief, he pressed it to the welling of blood that followed; after a minute he lifted the corner of the handkerchief and scowled as his blood continued to run. “Will this be all, Graf?”
“For now,” he said, his attention focused on the blood in the syringe. “You are fortunate to have such fine blood, Herr Thorbern. Not many specimens look as fine as this one, or show such promise.”
“Pleased to be of service,” said Thorbern automatically. He sat up, feeling a bit queasy as he did; his head ached dully and he felt thirsty. “How much blood did you take, Graf, if I may ask?”
“Hum?” He turned, the syringe still in his hands. “Oh. You can see for yourself.”
The sight of his own blood in that shiny glass tube with the brass plunger and needle-casing made Thorbern’s stomach churn. “It would fill a cowmaid’s ladle,” he said in mild surprise, for it was more than von Ravensberg had taken in the past: it was less than would fill a beer-stein, but more than a cup. He nodded and turned away, doing his best to regain his composure. “Thank you, Graf. I—”
“You are advancing the cause of science; do not doubt it, Herr Thorbern.”
“I am pleased to be of service,” said Thorbern. He started to rise but thought better of it; he tucked his handkerchief back into his pocket and busied himself with rolling down his sleeve, although he noticed the blood had not completely stopped.
“And I thank you for it,” said von Ravensberg without any attempt at sincerity. “If you know any others like you—strong, healthy, young, German or Austrian—ask them if they would be willing to participate in my studies, would you? I would welcome all such specimens to my Schloss, rest assured. That would be most useful for my researches. No Czechs or Bohemians or Poles, mind: Germans and Austrians only.” He put the syringe into an aperture in his device, and slowly depressed the plunger. “If you’re feeling a bit unsteady, go down to the morning room and have my niece bring you a restorative dish for you to eat. Hyacinthie needs something to do. A tankard of beer should set you up, and some bread and sausage.”
Thorbern made another attempt at getting to his feet. This time he succeeded, though he lurched a little and his vision swayed. He reached for his coat as much to steady himself as to don the garment. His thoughts wandered and he blinked several times. “Would they have to be relatives, or would comrades do?”
Von Ravensberg gave this his serious consideration. “Both would be welcome,” he decided aloud. “Yes. Send me word if you find appropriate subjects.”
“Jawol, Graf. I will.” He struggled into his coat and took an unsteady step toward the door.
“Will you be able to let me take more blood next month?” Von Ravensberg knew he had asked this too quickly, but he could not hold himself in check. “The same arrangement as we have had before? So I may determine what impact the weather may have upon your blood.”
“Do you think it does?” Thorbern asked.
“I think it might,” said von Ravensberg carefully. “And for that reason, comparisons are necessary to make a full and accurate analysis. One set of analyses is not enough to demonstrate anything useful. It is the comparisons that matter. I will subject this sample to an electrical current. Surely you can see the value in that. I will do the same with the rest.” He finished shunting the contents of the syringe and turned to face his subject. “Think about it, Thorbern. You could be among the first men to have the mystery of his blood at last understood. It is a great honor.”
“A very great honor,” Thorbern echoed dubiously.
“You will come then?” von Ravensberg pursued.
“I suppose so, God willing, and there are no more avalanches.” He looked toward the window. “There will be more snow tonight, and if the storm lasts, it will be several days before the roads are safe to travel.”
“Even from four leagues away? Surely one of your strengthy cart horses could make the journey?” He was losing patience and was no longer willing to conceal it. “Without another four or five donations, I will not have sufficient information to—”
“I will try, Graf. I will try. It is the best I can promise you,” said Thorbern, making his teetery way toward the door. Just as he was about to lift the latch, he asked, “Will you be wanting more animals to test, Baron?”
“Animals?” He considered it. “No, I think not. At least not for the present. Later they may be useful.”
“Very good,” said Thorbern, as if agreeing to a difficult undertaking. “I may not have any to spare this year. After two hard winters, my livestock are doing poorly, as are everyone else’s. I have sows and ewes who may not manage to produce more than a few young this spring.”
“Lamentable,” said von Ravensberg flatly.
“Well, if you change your mind, Graf, send me word; I’ll try to find the best of the lambs and shoats for you.” Three years ago von Ravensberg had purchased nine animals from him: two shoats, two lambs, two kids, two calves, and a colt-foal; he had paid top prices for all of them: three of them were still alive.
“I will do. Danke.” He paid no more attention to Thorbern, his concentration fixed on the glass-and-metal box through which the blood was moving along a complex of tubes toward various vials.
Thorbern stepped out into the corridor. “Many thanks, Graf.” He said this without thought, more out of custom than intent; he received no answer, and after nearly a minute, he closed the door and went down the stairs, buttoning his jacket as he went. He had reached the landing between the first and second floors when he heard a merry shriek of delight.
“Herr Thorbern!” Hyacinthie Theresa Katerina Sieffert von Ravensberg cried out, clapping her hands together as she came tripping across the inlaid-marble floor in the entry-hall. “You are through for the day?”
“Yes, Fraulein von Ravensberg, I am,” he said, flattered and uncomfortable; the Baron’s niece was almost beautiful, and, awkward as it was for Thorbern, at seventeen she was becoming flirtatious; Thorbern suspected she had yet to realize the impact her prettiness had on men, thinking their attentions were games, not a prelude to something more. “Thank you for asking.”
“And you’re hungry and thirsty after everything my uncle has done to you?” She smiled winsomely, her face rosy from the morning’s chill, and gave her head a toss. She was as fashionably dressed as she could be in so cold a house as the Schloss was, in a high-waisted dress of iris-colored wool, long-sleeved and high-necked in concession to the winter weather. Around her shoulders she wore an Indian shawl of heavy silk twill; its gray-green color almost matched her eyes. Her dark-blond hair was done in a knot on her head, a few tendrils artlessly escaping around her face. She knew that Thorbern found her attractive, and that pleased her tremendously. “The morning room still has a fire lit, and you may be comfortable there.”
“Thank you, Fraulein,” he said, disturbingly aware of her intense femininity. He wondered if her uncle had noticed how much his ward had changed in the last year, and decided that the Graf would not notice such things.
“You know the way by now, don’t you, Herr Thorbern?” She lifted her chin and looked at him over her shoulder, her lower lip caught in her teeth as if trying to suppress a smile. “I would take you, but I am looking after the messenger, just come for my uncle, and must attend to him first.”
“Yes, danke, I do know the way.” He gave her a nod that was almost a bow, and hastened down the back half-flight that led to the rear of the Schloss, the east side of the building where the morning room was. Little as he wanted to admit it, he was glad to be away from Hyacinthie; the Graf had made him sufficiently uncomfortable for one day, and a round of Hyacinthie’s precocious coquettish attentions was more than he could endure in patience.
Untroubled by Thorbern’s distress and humming softly to herself, Hyacinthie hurried along toward the library where the messenger was waiting. He was, she thought, a strapping fellow, big-chested and heavy-armed, with a broad forehead and upswept eyebrows that hinted at Hungarian blood as well as Austrian. His four-caped coat was hung on a hook near the door, and she touched it as she entered the library. “Herr Haller?” she called, and saw him half-reclining on the old-fashioned divan in front of the fire.
“Fraulein?” There was a shine in his eyes that revealed his appreciation for the Graf’s niece.
“Has Werther brought you your refreshments yet?” She approached him demurely. “Not even a mug of hot brandy?”
“No, Fraulein. Not yet.” He stretched out, as if he might accidentally brush the skirt of her morning-dress.
“I will see why he has delayed,” she offered. “You will want to be warm.”
“Your company warms me very well,” said Haller boldly.
“You will be better for food and drink,” she said, and turned away to leave the room.
Haller sighed loudly, and leaned nearer to the fire.
On her way to the kitchen, Hyacinthie came upon Herr Arndt Lowengard, her uncle’s man-of-business, just emerging from the estate office. She offered him a pert good morning and a quick bob of a curtsy, then continued on, certain he was watching her as she went, for all men watched her. In the outer kitchen she found the under-cook, Werther, busy preparing trays for the guests of the house; he blushed as Hyacinthie came up to him. “The messenger still doesn’t have any food,” she said.
“And Herr Thorbern is in the morning room. My uncle has finished with him, so he is hungry and thirsty.” She leaned across the wide cutting-table, and twirling one pale tendril around her finger said, “Can I help with anything?”
“No, Fraulein. I am almost done.” He stared down intently at the sausage he was slicing. “I have beer and warm brandy for them both.”
“I’ll put them on the tray, shall I,” she suggested.
“It isn’t fitting,” said Werther, feeling dreadfully inadequate; he was so flustered he almost nicked his thumb with the heavy carving-knife.
Hyacinthie tittered. “You must be more careful, Werther.” She stopped playing with her hair and leaned toward Werther again. “But you better hurry, or my uncle will be angry.”
“Of course, Fraulein. And I’ll be quicker,” he added with the temerity of desperation, “if I may attend to it on my own.”
“If you like,” Hyacinthie said, a dangerous gleam in her eyes as she flounced to the door. “I won’t disturb you any longer.” It took her a few seconds to compose herself; when she was certain she had steadied her temper, she sauntered down the hall, her pace steady, her expression benign; she had managed to discomfit Werther, which she had intended to do, and her satisfaction increased. She knew what it was that men wanted. Her uncle had taught her all about it when she was seven, coming to her bedroom at night to show her how much he cared for her; he had been utterly entranced by her until she turned fourteen: in the last three years he had all but ignored her. Had she not seen the look in other men’s eyes she would have despaired. As it was, she knew how to find solace in the attention of those who desired her. With this reflection to guide her, she returned to Herr Haller, assuming a demureness that she suspected would intrigue him.
The messenger was still on the divan facing the fire, his big body almost dwarfing the furniture. He swung around to look at her. “No refreshments?”
“They are coming directly; things are a bit slow in the kitchen,” she said, making her way slowly over the fine Belgian carpet toward the crocodile-footed chair near the window; it was colder there than near the fire, but the light was particularly flattering, falling on her with the clear luminosity of a northern winter. “The cook is busy with baking, I think, and the under-cook doesn’t work with dispatch yet. He’ll have a tray ready shortly. I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Well, I don’t mind, to tell the truth. This room is very pleasant and warm. I’m in no hurry to be out in that cold, not with the wind picking up. You should see the drifts—and they’ll only get deeper. I’ll be lucky to make Bludenz tonight.”
“Is that where you are bound?” she asked.
“Eventually I will reach Zurich, and will carry private messages back to Salzburg. That’s my region: Zurich to Salzburg.”
“It must be very arduous,” she said, licking her lip delicately.
What a minx she is! he thought, but said, “Not so bad as you might think. I used to be a military courier—rode dispatches starting at Austerlitz my first time out. That was a baptism, I can tell you.”
“Were you in danger?” She sounded a bit breathless to encourage him.
“We were all in danger.” He made a shrug of dismissal. “After that—”
“Were you injured?”
“Nothing to speak of. A ball through the outside of my thigh.” He chuckled now, but at the time he had gasped and wept with the pain of it. “Not the kind of things for a well-bred young lady like yourself to be bothered with.” He fell silent, uncertain how to proceed.
“The winter is very hard,” she said wistfully.
“It was worse last year. Not that winter’s over.” He grinned at her, sure of himself once more. “A man likes to be all warm and cozy when there is so much snow.”
“So does your horse, no doubt,” she said with an exaggerated air of innocence.
“He’s a Holsteiner. He can take the cold. I put a sheepskin wrap on him, and he can get through a blizzard, if he has something worth reaching.” His boasting was more for effect than to convey any facts, an obvious ploy to encourage her coquetry; his gaze lingered on the rise of her bosom, although he knew if he were caught by the Graf in such a flagrant intrusion, he would be thrown out of the house with a blow to his shoulder for his outrageous behavior.
“A warm stall, perhaps?” She moved a little so that the clear winter sun could make a halo of her dark-blond hair.
“And a good brushing down,” Haller said, with unvarnished sexual implication; he was rarely so blatant with the women of the posting-inns he frequented—to be so forward with the niece of a man like Graf von Ravensberg was nearly as seductively gratifying as the girl herself. He was about to say something more when a discreet scratch at the door stopped him.
With a petulant little sigh, Hyacinthie called out, “Come in, Werther.”
The door opened and the young under-cook came in, his face rigidly expressionless, a tray with a stein, a cup, a plate of sliced sausage, a basket of bread, and a small tub of butter carried before him like a horizontal shield. “Sorry for the delay, Herr Haller.”
“No harm done,” said Haller, sitting up properly and pulling the end-table around to the side of the divan. “This is as good a place as any.”
Werther blinked as he set down the tray; he did his best not to look at Hyacinthie. “Will you require anything more, Herr Haller?”
“Not at the moment,” said Haller, preparing to eat. “I’m hungry. This will do me very well.”
“Then I will leave you to your repast,” said Werther, who ducked his head and all but bolted from the room.
Amused and annoyed at once, Hyacinthie moved her chair a little closer to the divan, smiling as she did. “The sausage has venison in it, as well as pork.”
“Fine,” said Haller, smearing butter on a thick slice of bread. “If you’ll excuse me, Fraulein?”
She glared at him, then rose and left the room, her eyes shining with anger. How dare he dismiss her! Her cheeks flamed as she hastened toward the morning room. Herr Thorbern would provide more sport, or he would answer for it! She had almost reached the door when Herr Lowengard appeared as if from out of the wood paneling, saying in his quiet, self-deprecatory way, “Frau Schale is looking for you, Fraulein.” He nodded his head. “She is in the—”
“—schoolroom, no doubt,” snapped Hyacinthie, her chin jutting out. The last thing she wanted just now was to do lessons—any lessons—with her impossible tutor. Her mouth turned into a thin, hard line.
“Your uncle wouldn’t approve of your tardiness,” said Herr Lowengard, and turned into the narrow stairway leading to the second floor.
Hyancinthie bit back a loud retort and did her best to bring her temper under control. She counted each step as she went to the kitchen, saying to Werther, “I will be in the schoolroom. Please send up some hot wine.” It was galling to have to admit that she was still a student, but so her uncle insisted; Hyacinthie would rather have spent the year in the city, acquiring beaux. “Frau Schale will probably want some, too.” Her expression dared him to say anything beyond acquiescence.
“I will. And perhaps a morning pastry?”
“That would be welcome,” said Hyacinthie, swallowing hard, trying not to give way to the outburst that welled within her. She waited the better part of a minute to compose herself before she left the kitchen and made her way to the schoolroom on the second floor, directly over the morning-room, where she much preferred to be; for the next two hours, she translated The Corsair into German and ten pages of Fichte’s Grundlage der gesammten Wissenschaftslehre into French, all the while longing for the opportunity to be revenged on her uncle for this latest humiliation. How dare he ignore me, she repeated silently as she attended to her schoolwork. How dare he. Text of a letter from Reinhart Olivier Kreuzbach, attorney at law and factor, at Speicher near the Kyll River, Rhenish Prussia, to Saint-Germain Ragoczy, Comte Franciscus at Château Ragoczy near Lake Geneva, Yvoire, Switzerland; carried by private courier and delivered ten days after being dispatched.
To the Honorable Comte Franciscus, Saint-Germain Ragoczy, my sincerest greetings on this, the 4th day of February, 1817;
My dear Comte,
I write to inform you that your castle above Zemmer has, as you feared, suffered damage thanks to all the years of fighting this region has sustained. It is not yet a ruin, but it is not truly habitable, except for rats and owls, and will not be until massive repairs are carried out. My information comes from Pasch Gruenerwald of Zemmer, who has visited the castle recently, and drafted an account of all he observed. I have consulted builders regarding the restoration of the castle, and when the winter is over, I will submit the reports they will provide. I have been told that it may be more prudent to tear down what remains and begin anew. If that is your decision, I will supervise the project, or I will, should you prefer, recommend someone to attend to that part of the enterprise. Whatever you choose to do, I am instructed to tell you that the building, as it stands now, cannot weather another hard winter without sustaining significant damage in addition to what has already occurred, and the longer repairs are delayed, the more catastrophic the damage becomes. If you wish to see the building made truly habitable, let me urge you to authorize the expenditure and the work at once.
I have already contracted for a timber-road to be installed once the snows have melted, and that will enable the wagons to climb the hill to the castle without being bogged in mud or risking broken axles. No matter what else is or is not done to the castle, such a road is a necessity, if only to remove the stones and the furnishings if you abandon the place in the end, and I will order the tree-cutting for the road to begin as soon as it is possible to do so. I have talked to three wood-cutters, and they are all certain they cannot begin until April, which would suggest that the earliest work could begin on the castle would be June. To have sufficient repairs completed in time for next winter, it may be necessary to pay for double work-crews, which can become very expensive. At least we will soon be part of the Zollverein, so the work will not have to be taxed beyond all reason, assuming that the plan is adopted throughout all German territory. Luxembourg may not support the act, but the Dutch will probably agree to the terms, as well. Until then, I will make every effort to secure as many of the items and services from our taxation region, to prevent any unnecessary additional costs.
I will conduct a full inspection once I can reach the castle without undue risks, and at that time, I will amend my report to something that is more truly comprehensive regarding the present state of the castle. I have no doubt you know for yourself how remote it is, though you have not visited for many years. I feel it my duty to tell you that I would not recommend selling the land at this time. Prices are low, and given the location and the condition of the castle, I believe you would not realize anything approaching its worth. In another two or three years the market should improve, and if the castle is in good condition, you could profit from it quite satisfactorily. If you can afford to restore it, then it might command a reasonable sum, but as it is, unless you must make such a sacrifice, I would be remiss in my duty if I did not inform you of the risks you would take if you decided to try to find a buyer at this time. Having said that, I will, naturally, carry out whatever instructions you give me to the full extent of my capabilities and the ethics of my profession.
Most truly at your service,
Reinhart Olivier Kreuzbach Attorney-at-law and factor Speicher, Rhenish Prussia
Copyright © 2007 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. All rights reserved.