Bohemian legends and other poems/Legend of the Lady in White
LEGEND OF THE LADY IN WHITE.[*]
The whirlwind is howling—the night it is dark—
The mountains like giants frown down on the scene.
The hall from whose windows a flickering light shines,
Is the only shelter for miles to be seen.
The whirlwind is raging through turrets and eaves,
It shrieks by the windows, it howls at the door.
Near by in the forest the trees creak and moan,
As the wind rushes through, with terrible roar.
“God be with the stranger that wanders to-night,
Amidst our wild mountains,” the servant said low,
And lit the red light at the Crucifix’s feet.
“God bless us, and keep us, and save us from woe.”
There’s a knock at the door—the servant turns pale,
And crosses himself, ere he opens the gate.
Two strangers are standing, he sees their long robes,
And blesses himself, and the strangers that wait.
“In the name of the Lord, whose servants we are,
We beseech thee, shelter us but for to-night.
Our way we have lost, and the tempest is great,
Let us stay here, I pray thee, till the dawn’s light.”
The servant bows. “Reverend fathers,” he said,
“Our master ne’er sent a poor monk from his door,
And though he is absent, I bid you come in,
Come in, worthy fathers, be fed from his store.”
“God bless now thy master, his house and his field!
The Lord will reward him for what he has done;
Not a mouthful of food have we had to-day,
We were lost in the mountains and woods, my son.”
The servant led on, and the monks came behind,
“Reverend fathers,” he said, “the kitchen is warm;
Come sit by the fire, and eat to your fill—
’Tis better than straying without in the storm.
Were our master at home, you would sup in the hall,
But gladly we’ll give you the best that we can.”
“My son,” said the monk, “we are easy to please,
Who follow the footsteps of ‘The Son of Man.’”
They sit in the kitchen, one young and one old,
And eat of the food that the servants have brought.
The wind down the chimney howls dreary and wild,
Like the souls of the lost who evil have wrought.
“’Tis a terrible night,” said the wan old monk,
“It reminds me indeed of a night long past,
Of a terrible night when our Domherr died—
Ah, years ago in the beginning of fast.
The whirlwind was howling—the night it was dark.
I sat by his bed, and I counted my beads.
He knew he must die, for a ghost had appeared,
A ghost of his family in deep widow’s weeds.”
“A ghost, reverend father! and how could that be?”
“I know not, my children, the legend is old,
And awful indeed, as the whirlwind to-night,
I can but relate you the tale I was told.
The daughter of a noble line,
In Neuhausen she saw the light,
Where all her childish years were spent,
In innocent and pure delight.
Beloved of all, with maiden grace,
She grew up like a flower fair,
And many were the youths who came,
And praised her face, and praised her hair.
On one alone her father smiled,
A goodly youth, John Lichtenstein.
And when she reached her nineteenth year,
He told the youth, the girl is thine.
Ah, merry rang the wedding bells—
And many were the guests that came,
And gathered round the festive board
Were not a few of noble name.
The first few years they lived in peace,
As well befits a married pair,
Then John of Lichtenstein grew cold,
And left his wife to her despair.
The devil jealousy took room
Within his heart, and he would fain
Have walled his wife within her room,
So burning was his jealous pain.
They lived indeed a dreadful life,
Which every day grew worse and worse.
He kept her like the meanest born,
Without a home, without a purse.
For years she bore her wretched lot.
And wifelike tried to smile through tears,
Till life became to her a hell.
And death for her lost all its fears.
At length endurance had an end,
Ill-treatment drove her from her home;
She left her lord, and fled at night,
To her old childhood’s home alone.
Her brother took her, eased her pain,
And would have played the kinsman’s part,
Made peace—or dueled with her lord,
And stabbed him through his wicked heart,
But Bertha said, “Let him alone—
God may forgive him, but not I.
Since I am safe with you at home,
Oh, wherefore, brother, should he die?”
Long years she lived with him in peace,
There where her childish feet had strayed.
Was mother to his orphaned brood,
When he in his low grave was laid.
Her time she passed in works of love,
The naked clothed, the poor one fed,
Was loved and honored through the land,
And blessings fell upon her head,
So years passed on, her husband died;
But unforgiving still, she said,
“God may forgive him, but not I.
’Tis well indeed that he is dead.”
At length she also fell asleep,
Was buried with all solemn state;
But lo! her spirit, found no rest,
And very dreadful was her fate.
In the cold moonlight she was seen,
Dressed in her bridal dress and veil,
Pacing the halls she knew in life,
With features very calm and pale.
She came to one, she came to all,
That had her blood within their veins;
She came at morn, she came at noon—
They met her in familar lanes;
She gazed upon them with sad eyes,
Then slowly faded from their sight;
Before their death she came in black,
But otherwise was dressed in white.
In every castle of her race,
Her sad white face was seen at times;
She followed them from place to place,
And she was seen in many climes;
She stood beside the new-born babe,
The dying gazed upon her face;
In vain were masses for her soul,
Said by the righteous of her race.
In Neuhausen she made her home,
If ghosts, indeed, a home can make,
And it was there her soul found rest,
Found rest at length for Jesus’ sake.
Our Domherr[**] was a righteous man,
A godly priest who loved the truth;
But he was of her haunted race,
And had to die for her, forsooth.
Once to Neuhausen he was called,
And in a stately room was led,
Where many family paintings hung,
There they had made for him a bed.
’Twas evening and the candle’s light
Half hid the portraits hanging low.
And one was of a wedded pair,
It seemed to him he ought to know;
The bridegroom had a scowling look,
The bride was very fair and pale;
Dressed in her bridal robes, she stood
With myrtle wreath and long white veil.
Long time our Domherr stood and prayed
Her tortured spirit might find rest;
Then laid him down to sleep in peace,
With holy feelings in his breast.
At midnight, at the stroke of twelve,
He woke up with a sudden fear;
The moonlight flooded all his room,
And lo! poor Bertha’s ghost was near.
He felt the blood rush to his heart,
While horror numbed his very brain;
He could not move, he scarce could breathe,
And so he laid there in his pain.
She stepped from out the portrait’s frame,
Her white dress glimmered in the light;
He saw her dark eyes on him rest,
And almost fainted at the sight;
She came and stood beside his bed—
He felt the coldness of the grave
Waft on him from her garments white,
Then shrieked in horror, “Oh, Christ, save!”
And with the name of Christ all fear
Was banished from our Domherr’s soul.
“All righteous spirits praise the Lord,”
He said. “How can I ease thy dole?
Speak now, poor spirit, I entreat,
Or sleep in peace within thy grave!
What unforgiven sins are thine,
That maketh thee the devil’s slave?”
“Alas!” she said, “Oh, kinsman, hear!
I of my husband ever said,
God may forgive him, but not I;
'Tis well, indeed, that he is dead.
I cannot enter Heaven’s rest
Till I have made my peace on earth.
Now thou wert chosen for this act,
From the first hour of thy birth.
My husband, for the ill he wrought,
In purgatorial pains must burn—
He also would be reconciled
To ease his torments long and stern.
Long years we waited for this hour—
If thou art willing, lo, we meet,
All three to-morrow, to make peace,
Before God’s holy mercy seat.”
The Domherr said, “Oh, wretched pair,
Most gladly I will join your hands;
Come but to-morrow, as you say,
And we will break the devil’s bands.”
The spirit faded from his sight—
New horror tilled his trembling fame.
What was this vision he had seen?
And would his kindred come again?
All day he fasted, thought and prayed,
And when the evening shadows came,
Built a high altar in his room,
And knelt in prayer before the same.
Wax candles burnt before the shrine,
And incense filled the heavy air,
When on the stroke of twelve o’clock,
Before him stood the troubled pair.
“What will you?” asked the godly priest.
“We seek forgiveness,” both they said;
And then our Domherr took their hands,
And joined them as when they were wed.
The room was filled with heavenly light
An unseen chorus sang God’s praise;
The Domherr and the wretched ones
Acknowledged now God’s wondrous ways;
By unknown hands were censers swung,
The room was filled with perfume sweet,
All three fell down upon their knees
In prayer before the mercy seat.
Angelic voices sang God’s praise,
So loud the castle rang with song.
The Domherr knelt before the shrine—
He never knew himself how long—
At length a voice broke on his ear,
The voice of one he knew so well.
“Oh, blessed kinsman, in a year,
Thou too will come with us to dwell.
Who can repay what thou hast done,
But He who chose you for His own.
This day a year hence I will come,
To lead thee to the heavenly throne.”
And it was so—in one short year.
Our Domherr slept amidst the dead;
But ere he died, he told us all
That Bertha stood beside his bed;
She held a palm branch in her hand,
Her face was lit with heavenly light.
“I’ve come for thee,” she softly said,
“To lead thee to the Lord’s delight.”
Our Domherr smiled, and stretched his hand,
“Oh, lead me to my Lord,” he said.
A rapturous light shown on his face,
And when it faded he was dead.
He ended. The whirlwind raged on in the night,
It howled by the windows, it shrieked at the door,
The terrified servants with horror it filled,
The thought of the demon as never before;
The spiritual world with its weal and its woe,
Seemed near them; they trembled to think they might see
The form of some being no more of this world,
And seeing be powerless even to flee.
“Oh, father,” they said, “’tis a terrible tale.
And had you not told us, who would have believed?
Though all of us know the dead can arise,
They generally only the wicked deceive.”
“My children,” the monk said, “the living and dead
Are all in the hands of the Lord we adore.
Oh, pray that your sins be forgiven on earth,
Be nailed to the cross that our dear Saviour bore.”
The servant now led them to where they might rest
And sleep, if they chose, till the coming of day,
And when the sun rose, and the storm had been stilled,
With blessings and thanks the two monks went their way.
^ * This celebrated ghost is one of the most historical in Europe. She was born 1430, baptized Bertha (Perchta), married Hans von Licktenstein (of the steirischen Linie von Muran). She died in April, 1476, and was buried in Vienna in the vault to “den Shotten.” During the last part of her life she lived with her brother, Heinrich von Neuhausen. There are still many of her letters that can be seen and read, also letters from others who declare that they saw her. She was seen in Berlin by the Burggrafen von Zollern, also in Lyons, Paris, London, Stockholm and Copenhagen, where members of the Rosenbergs (now princes of Schwartzenberg) had wandered. Johann of the house of Liechtenstein, Domherr (canon or prebendary), was the last who saw her. He is said to have made peace, with saying mass and joining their hands. The same day next year he died.—Chronik of Böhmen, Prague, 1852.