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کتاب های فوق متوسط

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Metzengerstein

Strange and terrible events can happen at any time. Why, then, should I give a date to this story? It is enough to say that, at that time, the country people of Hungary held strong beliefs about the human soul. They believed that a soul lived once only in a human body; and that, after death, it passed into the living body of an animal.

The old families of Berlifitzing and Metzengerstein had been enemies for centuries. The origin of the quarrel seems to be found in the words of an old saying:’A great name shall have a fearful fall when Metzengerstein shall defeat and be defeated by Berlifitzing.’

The words themselves had little or no meaning - but equally eventful results have come from more foolish origins than this.

The two families were close neighbours, and they had, for a long time, taken opposite sides in the affairs of a busy government. The high towers of the Castle Berlifitzing, home of the younger and less wealthy family, looked directly into the windows of the Palace of Metzengerstein. One might say that the quarrel was kept alive, and the two houses kept apart, mainly by their nearness to each other.

William von Berlifitzing was, at the time of this story, a sick and stupid old man. Two feelings kept him alive: a deep hatred for the Metzengerstein name, and a great love of horses and of hunting.

Neither sickness, great age, nor weakness of mind prevented him from taking part, every day, in the dangers of the hunt.

Frederick von Metzengerstein was, on the other hand, not yet twenty-one years of age. His father, the Minister G—, died young. His mother, Lady Mary, followed him quickly. Frederick was at that time eighteen years old. In a city, eighteen years are nothing; but in the wild countryside — in so grand a country as this one — time has a deeper meaning.

The Metzengerstein possessions were the richest in Hungary.

The borders of the largest park stretched more than fifty miles, and there were many castles, of which the Palace of

Metzengerstein was the grandest. When his father died and Frederick arrived at the Palace to take control of his property, he soon showed his trembling servants, and the quiet country people of the area, that he was as bad as he was wild. For three days and nights the wine flowed freely. The shameful behaviour and terrible cruelty of the new master reached its lowest point in the evening of the fourth day, when the stables of the Castle Berlifitzing were found to be on fire.

While they burned, Frederick sat alone deep in thought in one of the upper rooms of the Palace. Great pictures of his ancient family looked down on him. Here, a group of richly dressed priests, sitting with one of the Metzengersteins, shook a warning finger at a king, or laughed in the face of a threatening Berlifitzing. There, the tall, dark figures of the Metzengerstein princes, on their warhorses, stood in victory over the bodies of their enemies.

As Frederick listened to the noises of the fire, his eyes turned by chance to the picture of a great red horse. The animal seemed to fill the picture; its rider, who appeared only in the background, had fallen by the sword of a Metzengerstein. The dying horseman, whose killer stood over him was, Frederick knew, a member of the other family.

An evil expression came to the young man’s face, as he looked at the scene. After a while he tried to look away, but for some reason his eyes refused to obey him. A feeling of great anxiety came over him, and the longer he looked, the more anxious he became. The noise outside grew suddenly more violent.

Frederick forced himself to look at the bright light of the fire which was shining through the windows.

But only for a moment; his eyes then returned immediately to the picture on the wall. To his surprise and fear, he noticed that the head of the great horse had changed its position. Before, it had been lowered, as if in pity, over the body of its rider; now it was stretched at full length towards Frederick himself. The large red eyes wore an almost human expression, and the whole appearance of the animal suggested strong anger.

Shaking with fear, the young man ran to the door. As he threw it open, a flash of red light from the window threw his own shadow onto the picture — and it exactly covered the figure of that ancient Metzengerstein prince, the victorious killer of the Berlifitzing horseman.

Frederick rushed into the open air. At the palace gates he met three servants who, with much difficulty and at great risk, were struggling to control the wild movements of a great red horse.

‘Whose horse? Where did you get him?’ cried the young man, as he saw immediately that it was exactly like the horse in the picture.

‘He is your own property, sir,’ replied one of the men;’at least, no one else claims him. We caught him flying, blowing and smoking with anger, from the burning stables of the Castle Berlifitzing. Thinking that he belonged to the old man, we led him back there. But they say that he is not one of theirs; which is strange, for he bears clear marks of a narrow escape from the flames. The letters W V B are burnt on to his head, and of course I thought that they meant William von Berlifitzing - but no one at the castle has any knowledge of the horse.’

‘Very strange,’ said the young man. ‘He is, though, a fine horse and an unusual one. Let him be mine, then. Perhaps a rider like Frederick von Metzengerstein can drive out even the devil from the stables of Berlifitzing.’

At that moment another servant stepped quickly out of the doorway of the Palace. He whispered in his master’s ear an account of the sudden disappearance of a large part of one of the pictures in an upper room. Frederick felt the return of all the strange anxieties that had troubled him earlier, and once again a look of the deepest evil came over his face. He gave orders that the room should be locked up immediately, and the key handed to him.

‘Have you heard of the unhappy death of the old hunter Berlifitzing?’ said one of the men, as the servant went back into the Palace, and the great horse- was led away to Frederick’s stable.

‘No!’ said the young lord, turning quickly towards the speaker.

‘Dead, you say?’

‘It is true, sir; and, to someone with your name, the news will not be unwelcome, I think.’

A quick smile appeared on Frederick’s face. ‘How did he die?’

‘In a foolish attempt to save one of his favourite horses. He died in the flames.’

‘Well, well!’ said the young man, as if the truth of an exciting idea was slowly entering his mind. ‘Terrible!’ said the youth calmly, and turned quietly into the Palace.

From that time a noticeable change was seen in the behaviour of the young Frederick von Metzengerstein. He never went beyond the borders of his own land. He kept none of his old friends, and made no new ones — unless that wild, unnatural red horse, which he was always riding, could be called a friend. He refused to attend social events in the neighbourhood, and took no interest in local affairs. After a time, the invitations that were sent to him became less friendly and less frequent. In the end they stopped altogether.

The more generous people thought that young Frederick was unhappy because of the early death of his parents; they forgot his terrible behaviour of the first few days. Others believed that he was too proud to mix with his less wealthy neighbours. The family doctor spoke of an unhealthy sadness, from which other members of the family had suffered. There were a few who thought the young man was crazy, and certainly Frederick’s strange love for the great red horse showed a very unhealthy state of mind. This love seemed to grow stronger as the animal gave fresh proof of its wild nature. In the heat of midday — at the darkest hour of night — in sickness or in health - in calm or in storm — the young Metzengerstein was for ever on the back of that immense creature.

The speed of the animal, said the villagers, was twice that of any other horse. It was a strange thing that no one — except the young lord — had ever touched the body of the animal. Even the three men who had caught him, as he ran from the burning stables, had done so by means of a long chain around his neck.

No one, except the master, was allowed to look after the horse, whose stable was some distance from the rest. And no one minded this, because people said that Metzengerstein himself turned pale, and stepped back, when the eyes of the horse shone with a bright and terrible light — a human light, deep and searching.

Among all the servants at the Palace, none doubted the great love which existed between their master and this nameless animal; none, that is, except a young boy, whose opinions were not at all important. This boy was foolish enough to say that Metzengerstein never climbed onto the horse without a slight trembling of the body. The boy also said that when his master returned from every long ride, a look of victorious evil twisted every feature of his face.

One stormy night Metzengerstein woke from a heavy sleep and rushed from his room to the stables. He lumped onto the horse and raced away into the depths of the forest. This sort of behaviour was quite common and attracted no particular attention, but when he had been absent for several hours, the servants discovered that the Palace of Metzengerstein was on fire.

Soon the great walls were cracking and falling in a heat which was impossible to control. A large part of the building had already been destroyed by the time the flames were first seen. And now the local people could do nothing but stand and watch in silence.

Suddenly, up the long drive which led from the forest to the main entrance of the Palace, a horse and rider flew at a speed never before seen on earth. The horseman struggled with all his strength to control the animal. His face was a picture of pain; but no sound came from his lips, which were bitten through in his terrible fear. One moment the sound of the horse’s feet rang out above the noise of the flames and the crashing of the storm; the next, both horse and rider rushed into the flaming building, and far up the staircase into the white heat of the fire.

The wind immediately grew calm. The building still burned, and suddenly a stream of light shot up into the quiet air. A cloud of smoke settled over the Palace in the clear, immense figure of— a horse.

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