I awoke from profound sleep to find two black-swathed forms standing silently beside me, their faces pale blurs in the gloom. As I blinked to clear my sleep-dimmed eyes, one of them beckoned impatiently, and suddenly I realized the purpose of this midnight summons. For years I had been expecting it, ever since my father, the Baron Kralitz, had revealed to me the secret and the curse that hung over our ancient house. And so, without a word, I rose and followed my guides as they led me along the gloomy corridors of the castle that had been my home since birth.
As I proceeded there rose up in my mind the stern face of my father, and in my ears rang his solemn words as he told me of the legendary curse of the House of Kralitz, the unknown secret that was imparted to the eldest son of each generation—at a certain time.
"When?" I had asked my father as he lay on his death-bed, fighting back the approach of dissolution.
"When you are able to understand," he had told me, watching my face intently from beneath his tufted white brows. "Some are told the secret sooner than others. Since the first Baron Kralitz the secret has been handed down——"
He clutched at his breast and paused. It was fully five minutes before he had gathered his strength to speak again in his rolling, powerful voice. No gasping, death-bed confessions for the Baron Kralitz!
He said at last, "You have seen the ruins of the old monastery near the village, Franz. The first Baron burnt it and put the monks to the sword. The Abbot interfered too often with the Baron's whims. A girl sought shelter and the Abbot refused to give her up at the Baron's demand. His patience was at an end—you know the tales they still tell about him.
"He slew the Abbot, burned the monastery, and took the girl. Before he died the Abbot cursed his slayer, and cursed his sons for unborn generations. And it is the nature of this curse that is the secret of our house.
"I may not tell you what the curse is. Do not seek to discover it before it is revealed to you. Wait patiently, and in due time you will be taken by the warders of the secret down the stairway to the underground cavern. And then you will learn the secret of Kralitz."
As the last word passed my father's lips he died, his stern face still set in its harsh lines.(Franz continues his investigation at Project Gutenberg...)