The Volksmärchen of Musäus 2/3
The Chronicles of the Three Sisters, Part 2 of 3
Excerpt from the German of Musäus: “The Legend of Rubezahl and Other Stories.” Editor C.M. Wieland. The 1845 William Hazlitt translation.
“All is fish that comes to net for poor people. When Papa found that the trade in his daughters was so profitable, he consoled himself for their loss. This time he went home in capital spirits, and carefully concealed his adventure, partly to avoid the reproaches which he dreaded from the Countess, and partly not to afflict his dear girl before the time came. For appearance sake, he made a great lamentation about the lost falcon, which he said had flown away. Miss Adelheid was the cleverest spinster in all the land. She was also an excellent weaver, and had just then cut from the loom a valuable piece of linen, as fine as cambric, which she bleached on a grass plat not far from the castle. Six weeks and six days flew by without the beautiful spinster having the slightest misgiving of the fate that awaited her.
Her father, indeed, who began to be somewhat downhearted as the time fixed for fetching her away drew nigh, but privately given her many a hint of it, either relating some ominous dream he had had, or reminding her of the long since forgotten Wulfild; but Adelheid, who was of a light joyous turn of mind, only thought it was her father’s heavy temperament that put these hypochondriacal whimsies into his head. And so, on the seventh day of the seventh week, she slipped away as usual, at early dawn, light as air, to the bleaching ground, and spread out her piece of linen, that it might get saturated with the dew. When she had arranged this matter, and was looking about her a little, she perceived a splendid procession of knights and pages prancing along towards the castle.
As her toilet was incomplete, she hid herself behind a wild rosebush that was in full bloom, whence she peeped out to see the gorgeous cavalcade as it passed. The handsomest knight of the whole throng, a slim young man with open vizer, bounded towards the rosebush, and said in a very gentle voice: “I seek thee, I see thee, beautiful beloved; hide not thyself, but haste , that I may put thee behind me on the horse, thou lovely Eagle’s bride.”
Adelheid knew not what in the world to think when she heard these words. The handsome knight pleased her well enough, but the title “Eagle’s bride,” made the blood freeze in her veins; she sank fainting to the ground, and when she came to her senses, she found herself in the arms of the amiable knight on her road to the forest.
Meantime, Mamma had prepared breakfast; and, as Adelheid did not make her appearance , she sent her youngest daughter to see where she was. As the messenger did not return, Mamma thought this boded no good, and went to see why her daughter stayed so long; but Mamma did not return either. Papa perceived what was going on; his heart went thump! thump! and he slunk off to the grass plat where both Mamma and daughter were still looking for Adelheid; and anxiously calling out her name; and he, too, set to work shouting at the top of his voice, though he knew perfectly well that all shouting and seeking were equally fruitless. By and by, his road took him near the wild rosebush where he perceived some objects glittering which, on examining them more closely, he found to be a couple of golden eggs, each of a hundred weight. He could now no longer help telling his wife their daughter’s adventure.
“O shameless soul kidnapper!” she cried; “O vile daughter murderer! Is it thus thou infamously sacrifice thine own flesh and blood to Moloch, for the sake of filthy lucre?”
The Count, who had, however, but an indifferent stock of eloquence, defended himself for awhile as best he might, offering as an excuse for his conduct the pressing danger her life was in at the time. The inconsolable mother would not hear a word he had to say, but continued heaping the bitterest reproaches upon him. He therefore adopted the most infallible method of putting an end to all contests — he held his tongue, and let his lady talk as long as she pleased, and meantime proceeded to secure the golden eggs by rolling them slowly before him to the castle. Then he wore family mourning for three days, for decency’s sake; after which he thought of nothing else than resuming his former life.
In a short time, the castle again became the abode of pleasure. the Elysium of hungry, sponging parasites. Balls, tourniquets and splendid feasts became every-day events. Miss Bertha shown as brightly in the eyes of the stately knights who repaired to her father’s court, as the silver moon does to the sentimental rambler on a serene summer’s night. It was she who bestowed the prize at every tournament, and led off the dance in the evening with the victorious knight. The noble hospitality of the Count, and the rare beauty of his daughter, brought to their balls knights of noble birth, from the most distant lands. Of these a dozen at the least essayed to win the heart of the rich heiress; but amongst so many suitors the choice was difficult, where each new comer seemed to surpass his predecessor in nobility and good looks.
The beautiful Bertha chose and doubted, chose and doubted so long that at last the golden ingots , to which the Count had by no means applied the file sparingly, had dwindled down from the size of roc’s eggs to mere hazel nuts.
The Count’s finances having thus again fallen into their former low estate, the tournaments were given up, knights and squires disappeared, the castle again became a desert, and the distinguished family again returned to their potato diet. The Count once more wandered the fields, in doleful dumps, longing for a fresh adventure, but meeting with none for a long time, though he went as near the forest as he dared.
One day he followed a covey of partridges so far that he came close upon the enchanted wood, and although he did not venture in, he kept walking along its skirts for some way, till, lo and behold! he saw before him an immense piece of water he had never set eyes on before, beneath whose clear silver surfaces countless trout were swimming about. The discovery delighted him very much, for the pond had a most unauspicious appearance; he, therefore, hastened home and made a net, and the next morning, betimes, there stood he on the shore, ready for fishing. To complete his good fortune, what should he see among the reeds but a little boat with an oar. Jumping into this, he rowed vigorously about the pond, and then casting his net caught more trout at one draught than he could possibly carry, with which he made for the shore, delighted with his prize.
About a stone’s throw from land, however, the boat suddenly stopped in its course, and remained immovable as if it had stuck to the bottom of the pond. The Count thought this must be the case as he tugged with all his might to set it afloat again, but in vain. The waters barred its progress on every side, above whose surface the vessel seemed to be lifted high, higher, as though it were perched on a rock. The poor fisherman could not at all tell what to make of it, and felt excessively uncomfortable. Although the boat was as if nailed to the spot, the banks appeared to recede on each side, the pond extended itself out into a great lake, the waves began to swell and roar and foam, and he perceived to his amazement and alarm that he and his boat were upon the back of an enormous fish. He resigned himself to his fate, though of course not a little anxious to see what turn things would take.”
To be continued…
The Volksmärchen of Musäus