Select Popular Tales from the German of Musaeus/Richilda

Published in German as "Richilde" in Volksmärchen der Deutschen (vol. 1, 1782). For other versions, see Richilda.



ICHILDA, the beautiful daughter of Gunderich, Count of Brabant, was an only child; and at her birth, great feasts and rejoicings were held, and persons from all parts were present and partook of the entertainments. Among others, a famous philosopher, by name Albert, was present, and took much interest in the little stranger. When he was about to take his departure the Countess begged of him a token of remembrance for her daughter.

Albert struck his forehead and said, “You remind me well, noble Lady, that I have omitted to present your little one with a gift; but let me alone a little, and tell me at what hour the baby was born.” Then he shut himself up for nine days in a solitary apartment, that he might produce a curious performance, by which the little Richilda might remember him. When this skilful person had concluded his work, and observed that it had succeeded well, he brought it in secret to the Countess, and disclosed to her all the virtues and secret effects of his work, and how it was to be made use of; and desired her to teach her daughter when she grew up, its use and profit; he then took a friendly farewell and rode off. The Countess, overjoyed at this gift, took the magic secret, and concealed it in the drawer, where she kept her jewels. The Count soon after died, and it was not long before his good Countess followed him; and as she observed her latter hour approaching, she called her daughter aside, bade her dry her tears, and thus spoke her farewell: “I leave thee, beloved Richilda, at a time when motherly assistance is most needful to thee; but grieve not! the loss of a good mother shall be compensated to thee by a faithful friend and counsellor, who, if thou art wise and prudent, will guide thy steps. In the drawer, where my jewels are kept, is to be found a wonderful secret, which thou shalt receive after my decease. A highly learned philosopher, who sympathized greatly in the joy at thy birth, has composed it under a certain constellation, and confided it to me, to teach thee the use of it. This master-work is a metallic mirror set in a frame of solid gold. It has, as is evident, the properties of a common mirror, faithfully to give back all the figures which it receives. But for thee it also possesses this gift; all that thou askest it will disclose in clear and living forms, as soon as thou hast uttered the words. But, take care not to ask counsel of it out of mere curiosity, or to please thy vanity; nor thoughtlessly demand of it the future fate of thy life. Guard this wonderful mirror as a friend worthy of regard, whom one would be afraid of tiring with useless questions, but in whom one would always find a faithful counsellor, in the most important affairs of life. Therefore, be wise and cautious in its use, and walk in the ways of piety and virtue; then the polished mirror will not be clouded before thy face, by the poisoned breath of vice. When the dying mother had ended her swan’s song, she embraced the lamenting Richilda, and expired.

The maiden felt deep in her heart the loss of her tender mother, clothed herself in mourning, and passed one of the most beautiful years of life in weeping, between the walls of a narrow convent, in the society of the worthy Canoness and the pious sisterhood, without once examining the temporal property of her mother, or looking into the secret mirror. By degrees, time softened this childish feeling of sorrow, her tears ceased, and as the maiden’s heart could find no more occupation in the overflow of sorrow, she felt herself oppressed by weariness in her lonely cell. She often sought the audience-chamber, and found great pleasure in chatting with the friends and kinsmen of the nuns; and the latter were so eager to see the innocent novice, that they pressed in troops to the grating, whenever the beautiful Richilda was in the audience-chamber. There were many stately knights among them, who made fine speeches to the unveiled boarder, and in these flatteries laid the first seeds of vanity, which here fell on no unfertile soil, but soon took root, and grew up. Richilda thought that she would be better outside in the open air, than in the cage behind the iron lattice; she hastily forsook the cloister; fixed the place of her court; appointed, for propriety, a matron as a guardian, and entered with much splendour into the great world.

The fame of her beauty and modesty spread itself towards the four winds of Heaven. Many princes and counts came from distant lands to make their court to her. The Tagus, the Seine, the Po, the Thames, and father Rhine, sent their heroic sons to Brabant, to do homage to the beautiful Richilda. Her palace seemed to be a fairy’s castle; strangers enjoyed there the best reception, and failed not to requite the politeness of the charming possessor with the finest flatteries. No day passed in which the tilting course was not occupied by some well-armed knights, who caused their challenges to be proclaimed by their kings-at-arms, in the market-place and corner houses of the city; whoever would not acknowledge the Countess of Brabant as the most beautiful woman among her contemporaries, or ventured to maintain the contrary, was challenged to appear in the lists, and support his assertion with weapons, against the champion of the beautiful Richilda. Usually no one replied to this; or if they wished to fight on a festival-day, and any knight allowed himself to be persuaded to accept the challenge, and to dispute the prize for the beauty of the lady of his heart, it only ended in show; the politeness of the knights never permitted them to throw the Countess’ champion from the saddle; they broke their lances, acknowledged themselves defeated, and the prize of beauty was awarded to the fair Richilda; an offering which the Countess always received with ladylike modesty.

As yet she had never asked anything of her magic mirror; she only used it as a common looking-glass, to examine her head-dress, and to see if her tirewoman had put it on becomingly. She had not hitherto allowed herself to put any question, either because no critical circumstance had yet happened, which required a counsellor; or because she was too timid, and feared that her question might be impertinent and silly, and thereby the polished mirror become clouded. The voice of flattery, however, constantly increased her vanity, and produced in her heart the wish to be indeed, what report daily sounded loudly in her ears, she was. To a blooming and accomplished maiden, the question of her pleasing or disagreeable form is as weighty a problem, as that of the four last things to an orthodox preacher. Therefore it was not to be wondered at, that the beautiful Richilda desired information on a matter so interesting to her; and from whom could she expect such secure and indubitable information, as from her incorruptible friend the mirror? After some reflection, she found this inquiry so just and reasonable, that she hesitated not to use her proper authority. She shut herself up one day in her room, stood before the magic mirror, and repeated this speech:—

Mirror shining, mirror bright,
Golden mirror on the wall,
Within the land of wide Brabant,
Show me the fairest maid of all.”

Quickly she drew back the curtain, looked on the wall, and saw with delight her own figure, which the mirror had so often shown her unasked. Then her soul was highly rejoiced, her cheeks coloured deeper and her eyes sparkled with glee; but, alas, her heart was hard, proud, and arrogant, as the heart of Queen Vashti.

The praises of her pleasing form, which she had before received with modesty and soft blushes, she now demanded as a tribute; she looked down on all the maidens of the land with pride and arrogance, and if sometimes their beauty was praised, it went to her heart, and she pursed up her mouth, and fell into a bad humour. The courtiers, who soon discovered their mistress’s weakness, flattered and dissembled shamelessly, calumniated the whole world of women, and declared that no lady beside their mistress was worth a doit in regard to beauty. Even the famed beauties of former ages, who bloomed many hundred years ago, were not spared, and were most unjustly and severely criticised.

The beautiful Richiida was acknowledged in her court as the only and highest image of womanly beauty, and because by the testimony of the magic mirror she was indeed the most beautiful woman in Brabant, and possessed great wealth, even many cities and castles, high-born suitors were not wanting. She counted as many of them as did formerly Dame Penelope, and wished to encourage them with sweet hope as cunningly and artfully, as in later times did the British Queen Elizabeth. All the wishes that Henry’s daughter in our days used to dream;—to be admired, flattered, adored, to stand foremost in the ranks of her companions, and to shine above all, like the lovely moon among the little stars; to have a circle of admirers and worshippers around her, who were ready, according to the old fashions, to orler up their life for their lady, in the lists, to seek adventures at her command, and to conquer giants and dwarfs for her,—or, according to modern usage, to weep, to moan, to look up mournfully at the moon, to rave, to throw themselves from precipices, to rush into water, &c. &c.;—all these dreams of giddy maidens took place in reality at the Countess Richilda’s. Her charms had cost many young knights their lives, and the enthusiasm of secret love had reduced many unhappy princes to mere skin and bone. The cruel beauty was secretly delighted at these victims, whom her vanity daily slew, and the torments of these unfortunates pleased her more than the soft feelings of happy and virtuous love: her heart had till now only been sensible of a slight impression of a superficial passion; she did not properly know to what this belonged; each sighing Damon stood before her, but according to the rules of hospitality, usually not longer than three days. When a new comer took possession, the former inhabitant of her heart was coldly dismissed. The Counts of Artois, of Flanders, of Hennegan, of Namur, of Gelder, of Gröningen, in short, all the seventeen Counts of the Netherlands (with some exceptions, of those who were already married, or who were quite grey-headed) courted the heart of the beautiful Richilda and desired her for a wife.

The wise Aja found that her young mistress could not long continue such coquetry: her good reputation seemed to diminish, and it was to be feared that the deceived suitors would revenge their insult on the beautiful prude. She therefore represented this to Richiida, and extorted from her a promise to choose a husband within three days. At this resolution, which was soon made openly known in the court, all the wooers were greatly rejoiced. Each candidate hoped the chance of love would favour him; they agreed together to sanction the choice (whoever was favoured with it), and to maintain it with united hands.

The strict Aja, by her well-intentioned importunity, had only succeeded in giving to the beautiful Richilda, three sleepless nights; without the maiden,—when the third morning dawned,—being nearer to her choice than in the first hour. She had, within the term of three days, unceasingly mused on her list of wooers, examined, compared, separated, selected, rejected, selected again, again rejected, and ten times made her choice and ten times altered her mind; and by all these thoughts and meditations she got nothing but a pale countenance, and a pair of melancholy eyes. In affairs of the heart, the understanding is always a poor prattler, who, with its cold reasonings, as little warms the heart as a stove without a fire heats a room. The maiden’s heart took no part in the deliberation, and refused its assent to all the motions of the speakers in the upper house, the head; therefore no choice could stand good. With great attention she weighed the birth, merits, possessions, and honour of her suitors; but none of these honourable qualities interested her, and her heart was silent. As soon as she took into consideration the pleasing forms of her wooers, it gave a soft accord. Human nature has not altered a hair’s breadth in the half thousand years which have elapsed from the time of the beautiful Richilda to ours. Give a maiden of the eighteenth or of the thirteenth century a wise, clever man, in a word a Socrates, for a lover; place beside him a handsome man, an Adonis, Ganymede, or Endymion, and give her the choice; you may lay a hundred to one, that she will turn coldly away from the former, and foolishly choose one of the latter. Just so the beautiful Richilda! Among her lovers were many handsome men; it then remained to choose the handsomest; time slipped away in these consultations, the court assembled in the drawing-room, the Counts and noble Knights came in full dress, awaiting with beating of heart the determination of their fate.

The maiden found herself in no little embarrassment; her heart refused (notwithstanding the sacredness of her promise) to decide. At last she thought there must be a path out of the wood; she sprang hastily from her sofa, stood before the mirror, and asked it—

Mirror shining, mirror bright,
Golden mirror on the wall,
Within the land of wide Brabant,
Show me the finest knight of all.”

This question was not of the best, that is of the most virtuous, the most noble and faithful man, out only of the handsomest. The mirror answered as it had been asked; as she drew back the silken curtain, there was presented to her view, on the surface as smooth as water, the figure of a stately knight, in full armour, but without his helmet. His hair waved in chestnut-coloured locks from the top of his head; his small and thick eyebrows imitated the form of the rainbow; in his fiery eyes shone boldness and heroic courage, his cheeks, tinged with manly brown and red, glowed with warmth and health. As soon as the maiden looked on this noble knight, all the sleeping feelings of love were awakened in her soul; she drank from his eyes delight and rapture, and took a solemn vow, to give her hand to no other man. Now great wonder seized her, that the figure of this handsome knight should be quite unknown and strange to her; she had never seen him at her court, although there was not a young cavalier in Brabant who had not sought her. She therefore carefully inspected the marks of his armour and livery, stood a whole hour before the mirror, without turning her eyes from the attractive form which she looked at in it; every feature, the whole attitude, and the least peculiarity, which she observed, were fixed in her memory.

In the mean time, the suitors became impatient in the antechamber; the ayah and the maiden’s attendants waited till their mistress should come forth from her chamber. The maiden at last unwillingly drew down the curtain, opened the door, and when she saw the ayah, she embraced the worthy dame, and said with loving demeanour, “I have found him, the man of my heart;—congratulate me, your loved one,—the handsomest man in Brabant is mine! The holy Bishop Medardus, my patron, has appeared to me in a dream, and has shown me this husband, appointed for me by Heaven.” This falsehood the cunning Richilda invented; for she would not disclose the secret of the magic mirror, and beside her, no mortal knew it. The governess, highly rejoiced at the resolution of her young mistress, eagerly asked who the happy prince was, chosen by Heaven to lead home the beautiful bride. All the noble maidens of the court pricked up their ears; they soon turned over in their minds this and that valiant knight, and one might be heard whispering, somewhat loudly, in the ear of another, the name of the intended husband. But the beautiful Richilda, when she had somewhat recovered her spirits, opened her mouth and said, “It is not in my power to inform you of my betrothed’s name, nor to say where he dwells; he is not among the princes and nobles of my court, nor have I ever seen him; but his form is imprinted on my soul, and when he comes to lead me home, I will not refuse him.

At this speech, the wise ayah and all the ladies wondered not a little; they supposed that the maiden had contrived this invention, to evade the necessary choice of a husband; but she persisted in her resolution, to have no other spouse forced on her, than he to whom the Bishop Medardus had married her in her dream. The knights had, during this controversy, waited long in the antechamber, and would now be admitted to learn their fate. The beautiful Richilda stepped forward, made a speech with much dignity and courtesy, and concluded thus: “Suppose not, noble lords, that I speak to you with deceitful words; I will inform you of the figure and form of the unknown knight,—in case any one can give me notice who he is, and where he may be found.” Hereupon she described the figure, from top to toe, and added;—“His armour is golden, painted with azure; on his shield is a black lion in silver, on a field strewn with red hearts; and the livery of his sash and sword-belt is the colour of the morning dawn, peach-blossom and orange.

When she was silent, the Count of Brabant, heir of her lands, took up the word and said, “We are not here, beloved cousin, to contend with you; you have the power and will to do what you please; it is enough for us to know your intention honourably to dismiss us, and not further to deceive us with false hopes; for this we pay you just thanks. But what relates to the noble knight, whom you have seen in a dream, and of whom you fancy that he is intended by Heaven for your husband, I may not conceal from you. He is well known to me, and is my vassal; for by your description of the marks of his armour and livery, he can be no other than Count Gombald of the Lion; but he is already married, and, therefore, cannot be yours.”

At these words the Countess grew so faint, that she thought she should have fallen down; she had not supposed that her mirror would play her this trick, and show her a man whose lawful love she could not share; also, she could not bear that the handsomest man in Brabant should wear any fetters but hers. Still the Countess asserted that her dream might, perhaps, have a concealed interpretation; at least, it seemed to indicate that she should not give her hand, at present, in any contract of marriage. The wooers all left together, some went this way, some that, and the Countess’s court was at once solitary and desolate.

Hundred-tongued fame, in the meanwhile, spread the strange news of the wonderful dream in every highway; and it came to the ears of Count Gombald himself. This count was a son of Theobald, called the Brother-heart, because he was attached to his younger brother, Botho, with such sincere love, that he lived with him in constant concord, and allowed to his posterity all the prerogatives and possessions of a first-born. Both brothers dwelt together in one castle; their wives loved each other like sisters, and, because the elder brother had only one son, and the younger a daughter, the parents thought to bequeath their friendship to their children, and betrothed them in the cradle. The young pair were educated together, and as death early divided these heirs from the side of their parents, they found it written in their parents’ last will, that no other choice remained to them but to marry. For three years they had been married, and lived after the example of their peaceful parents, in a happy marriage, when Count Gombald heard of the wonderful dream of the beautiful Richilda. Fame, which exaggerates everything, added, that she loved him so passionately, that she had taken a vow to go into the cloister, because she could not share his affections. Count Gombald had, until now, known the quiet joys of domestic happiness in a peaceful family, and with a wife worthy of his love. But, suddenly, strange desires arose in his heart; quiet and content disappeared from it; it produced in him foolish wishes, which he secretly nourished, in the sinful hope that death might, perhaps, relieve him of his wife, and set him at liberty.

In a short time, the image of the beautiful Richilda changed a once good and virtuous man, and made him capable of every vice. Wherever he went, the form of the Countess of Brabant hovered before his eyes; it flattered his pride to be the only man who had moved this proud beauty; and these heated fantasies painted the possession of her in such high colours, that his wife was thrown quite into the shade; he lost all love and affection for her, and only wished to be free from her. She soon perceived the coldness of her lord, and, in consequence, redoubled her tenderness; but she could do nothing more to please him; he was morose, sulky, and peevish; left her on every occasion, and travelled about between his castles, and in the woods, whilst the solitary one wept and moaned at home, so that it might have moved a very stone.

One day he surprised her in a fit of overwhelming sorrow: “Wife,” cried he, “why dost thou weep and groan? What is this owl-screeching about, which so much displeases me, and which can be of no use either to thee or me?”—“Beloved lord,” answered the gentle sufferer, “permit me my sorrow, since I have lost your love and favour, and do not know how I have deserved this dislike. If I have found grace in your sight, make known to me the cause of your displeasure, that I may see if I can amend it.” Gombald found it was now time to act his part; so, taking her hand with pretended cordiality, “My good wife,” said he, “you have not offended; still, I will not conceal from you what oppresses my heart, and this must not surprise you. I have scruples about our marriage; I think it is a sin which will not go unpunished, in this world or the next. We are married in a forbidden relationship, that of first cousins; which is almost a marriage between brother and sister, for which no absolution or dispensation is of any avail: this troubles my conscience night and day, and eats into my very soul.”

The good lady might oppose and object as much as she pleased, to quiet her lord’s conscience; it was useless trouble. “Ah! beloved husband,” said she. “if you have no pity for your unhappy wife, pity our innocent babe!” A flood of bitter tears followed these words. But the iron breast of the wicked man felt not the seven-fold sorrow of his wife; he hastily left her, took his horse and rode off; bought a divorce with hard gold, and shut up his good faithful wife and her daughter in a cloister, where she grieved and mourned, until, at last, the angel of death released her from her sufferings. The Count rode to the nunnery, took the child, put it under the charge of the superintendent of one of his castles, and gave her seven court dwarfs to wait upon her; but he armed himself magnificently, for all his thoughts and cares were to obtain the beautiful Brabantine.

With a joyful heart, he went to the court of the Countess Richilda; intoxicated with delight, he threw himself at her feet; and when she looked on the splendid man, for whom her heart had so long sighed, she felt indescribable pleasure, and from that hour swore to the knight the vow of fidelity. In the sweet passion of joy, in the choicest delights, days and years passed along, like a happy day-dream. But this luxurious pair possessed too little philosophy to comprehend that a too great enjoyment of pleasure is the tomb of pleasure, and that the relish of life, taken in too strong doses, deprives it of refined taste and of charms. Imperceptibly the sensibility of the organs for the joys of life relax, all enjoyments become monotonous, and the most refined variety will at last become tame. Only virtuous joys are lasting, and of these they knew nothing.

The Lady Richilda, according to her fickle temper, first felt this change, grew peevish, imperious, cold, and even jealous. Her lord no longer found comfort in his married state; a certain spleen pressed on his soul, the gleams of love had faded from his eyes, and his conscience, of which he had formerly made a hypocritical jest, began now to sting him in earnest. A scruple came over him for having so cruelly injured his first wife; he often thought of her with melancholy and even with affection, and, according to the saying,—“it bodes no happiness to the second marriage, when the late wife is often spoken of,”—disputes often arose between him and Lady Richilda, and he sometimes told her to her face, that she bred mischief.

“We can no longer dwell together,” he said one day to his wife, after a conjugal difference;—“my conscience urges me to expiate my guilt; I will make a pilgrimage to the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem, and try if I can there again find peace of heart.” Richilda only faintly opposed this resolution, Count Gombald armed himself for the pilgrimage, made his will, took a lukewarm farewell, and departed.

Before a year had passed away, news came to Brabant, that the Count had died in Syria, of the plague, without having had the consolation of confessing his sins at the holy sepulchre. The Countess received these tidings with great indifference, but, nevertheless, outwardly observed the rules of good society, mourned, wept, clothed herself in mourning weeds, according to the precepts of etiquette, and caused a splendid monument to be erected to her departed lord. An old spy on men has well observed, that young widows resemble a piece of green wood, which burns at one end while water drops out of the other. The heart of the Countess Richilda could not long remain unoccupied; her morning dress set off her charms so well, that every one pressed to see the beautiful widow. Many knight-errants came to her court to try their fortune, and to seize on the rich prize; she found worshippers and admirers in crowds; and the court flatterers were again, as regards the praise of her beauty, in full swell. This pleased the vain lady uncommonly well; but because she wished to be convinced with greater certainty that the finger of time had diminished none of her charms, during fifteen years, she took counsel of her friend the mirror, with the usual speech. A shudder of horror passed over her, as she drew back the silken curtain, and her eyes fell on a strange form, beautiful as one of the graces, an angel in woman’s form, full of loveliness and sweetest innocence; but the form had no trace of resemblance to her. At first she found it difficult to believe that some misapprehension did not exist between the question and answer; but this last hope soon vanished, and vexation and bitter disappointment filled her heart.

The Lady Richilda, inconsolable at this discovery, formed a deadly hatred against the innocent beauty, who was in possession of the qualities she had arrogated to herself. She fixed the lovely Madonna face in her memory, and sought, with great eagerness, after its possessor. The discovery of this gave her little trouble, she learned very soon that, according to her description, her stepdaughter Blanche, so called from her complexion, had taken from her the prize of beauty. Satan immediately put it into her heart to destroy this charming plant, which would have been an ornament to the garden of Eden. The cruel one, with this design, called her court physician Sambul to her, gave him a preserved pomegranate, put fifteen gold pieces into his hand, and said, “Prepare this apple for me, so that one half may be quite harmless, but the other endued with deadly poison, so that whoever eats of it shall die in a few hours.” The Jew joyfully stroked his beard, put the gold into his pocket, and promised to do what the wicked woman desired. He took a pointed needle, made three little holes in the pomegranate, poured into it a certain liquid; and when the Countess had received the pomegranate, she mounted her horse, and trotted, with a few attendants, to her daughter Blanche, in the solitary castle where the maiden lived. She sent a messenger on before, to give notice that the Countess Richilda was advancing, to visit the maiden, and to weep with her over her father’s loss.

This message put the whole castle in an uproar. The fat duenna waddled up and down stairs, put all the brooms in motion, had everything hastily cleaned, cobwebs destroyed, the best chambers adorned, the kitchens prepared, scolded and urged the lazy servants to diligence and labour, bawled and commanded with a loud voice, like a pirate who perceives a merchantman in the distance; but the maiden adorned herself modestly, dressed in the colour of innocence; and when she heard the trampling of horses, she flew to her mother, and received her respectfully, and with open arms. At the first glance, the Countess perceived that the maiden was seven times handsomer than the copy, which she had seen in the mirror, and withal discreet, gentle, and intelligent. This oppressed her envious heart; but the serpent concealed her viper’s poison deep in her bosom, talked hypocritically with her, complained of the hard-hearted father, who, all the time that he lived, had refused her the pleasing sight of the maiden, and promised, for the future, to embrace her with a mother’s love. Soon the seven little dwarfs prepared the table, and spread a lordly repast. For dessert, the superintendent placed before them the most costly fruits out of the garden. Richilda tasted them, found them not sufficiently pleasant, and asked her servants for a pomegranate, with which, as she said, she was accustomed to end each meal. The servants immediately handed it her on a silver waiter; she cut it up neatly, and begged the beautiful Blanche to take half as a token of her kind disposition towards her. As soon as the pomegranate was eaten, the mother, with her attendants, set off, and rode home. Soon after their departure, the maiden had a pain at her heart, her rosy cheeks faded, all the limbs of her tender body shook, all her nerves were convulsed, her lovely eyes grew dim, and at last slumbered in the sleep of death.

Ah! what sorrow and heart-grief arose within the walls of the palace at the death of the beautiful Blanche, who was plucked like a hundred-leaved rose, by a thievish hand, in its most beautiful bloom, because it was the ornament of the garden. The fat duenna shed torrents of tears, like a swelled sponge, which, by a hard squeeze, gives out its hidden moisture all at once. But the ingenious dwarfs prepared for her a wooden coffin with silver plates and handles, and, that they might not at once be robbed of the sight of their beloved mistress, they made a glass window to it; the servants prepared a shroud of the finest Brabant linen, wrapped the corpse up in it, put the maiden’s crown, and a wreath of fresh myrtle on her head, and carried the coffin, with much sorrow, into the chapel of the castle, where father Messner performed the requiem, and the little bell tolled the mournful funeral knell, from morning till midnight.

In the mean time Lady Richilda, well pleased, reached her home. The first thing she did was to repeat her question to the mirror, and nimbly she drew back the curtain. With inward joy, and a look of triumph, she again saw her own image reflected; but on the metallic surface, great marks of rust, the plague-spots of sin, were here and there to be seen, which disfigured the clear polish as much as smallpox scars do a young lady’s face. “What a pity!” thought the Countess to herself; “it is better it should happen to the mirror than to my skin; it is still useful, and has again assured me of my property.” In danger of losing a good, one commonly first learns to prize its worth. The beautiful Richilda had formerly often allowed years to pass without taking counsel of the mirror with regard to her beauty, now she let no day pass without doing so. She enjoyed, several times, the pleasure of bringing her figure as an offering to the idol; but one day, on drawing back the curtain,—oh! wonder upon wonder!—again there stood before her eyes in the mirror the form of the charming Blanche. At this sight, the jealous woman fell into a fainting-fit; but she quickly collected her energies, in order to investigate whether a false fancy had not deceived her; but she again received ocular demonstration.

She immediately brooded over a new wickedness. Sambul, the physician, was summoned, to whom the Countess said, in an angry tone, “Oh, thou shameful deceiver! thou rascally Jew! Dost thou despise my commands, that thou darest to mock me? Did I not command thee to prepare a pomegranate, that its enjoyment should kill, and thou hast put into it vital power and the balsam of health? Thy Jew’s beard and ears shall atone to me for this.” Sambul, the physician, terrified at this speech of his enraged mistress, answered and said, “Oh woe is me! What has happened? I know not, worshipful lady, how I have deserved your anger. What you commanded me I carefully performed; if the power has failed, I know not the reason.” The lady seemed somewhat softened, and continued, “This time I forgive thy failing, on condition that thou preparest a sweet-scented soap, which shall certainly accomplish what the pomegranate failed to do.” The physician promised to do his best, and she again put fifteen gold pieces into his pouch, and left him.

After the course of some days, the physician brought to the Countess the murderous composition; she immediately dressed her nurse, an old woman, as a pedler with hardware, gave her fine thread, needles, sweet-scented pomatums, smelling-bottles, and marble soap balls, with red and blue veins, in her box; bade her go to her daughter Blanche, put the poisoned ball into her hand; and for this she promised her great reward. This false woman came to the maiden, who suspected no deceit, allowed herself to be persuaded by the wicked talker to handle the soap, which would preserve the beauty of her skin to old age, and to make a trial of it without the knowledge of the duenna. The wicked stepmother, in the mean while, eagerly consulted the rusty mirror, and expected, from its condition, that her plot must have succeeded; the rust-spots had in one night spread themselves over the surface of the mirror, so that, at her inquiries, only an obscure shadow appeared on the surface, of which it was impossible to distinguish the form. The loss of the mirror went to her heart; still she believed what fame reported, that she was the first beauty in the land, and she did not think she had purchased it too dearly.

For some time the vain widow enjoyed this imaginary pleasure with secret content, till a strange knight came to her court, who, on the way, had called at the Countess Blanche’s castle, and had found her not in the grave, but at her toilet, and, struck with her beauty, had chosen her for the lady of his heart. Because he was very much attached to the young Countess of Brabant, and wished to fight for her in a tournament, (not knowing that the mother was jealous of the daughter,) heated with wine, at a feast, he threw his iron gauntlet on the table, and said, “Whoever does not acknowledge the Lady Blanche of the Lion as the most beautiful woman in Brabant shall take up this gauntlet as a token that he will break a lance with me the next day.” At this thoughtlessness of the Gascon, the whole court was highly scandalized; they secretly reproached him as Master Dunce and Sir Greatloaf. Richilda grew pale at the news that Blanche still lived; the challenge was a stab to her heart; yet she forced herself to a gracious smile, and approved of the match, hoping that the knights of her court would take up the gauntlet for her. But when no one stepped forward to espouse the quarrel—for the stranger had a bold look, and was very strongly made—her face became so sorrowful, that displeasure and affliction were easily read in it. This moved her faithful master of the horse so much, that he picked up the iron gauntlet. But when the combat began, the following day, the Gascon gained the victory, after a valiant course, and received knightly thanks from the Countess Richilda, who, however, was ready to die of indignation.

In the first place, she made the physician Sambul feel her displeasure. He was thrown into prison, put into chains, and, without farther examination, the severe woman had his venerable beard plucked out, hair by hair, and both ears cut off. After the first storm had blown over, and the cruel one remembered that her daughter Blanche would still triumph over her if she did not succeed in putting her to death by stratagem, (for the father’s will had deprived her of all power over the daughter,) she wrote a letter to the daughter, so tenderly, and rejoiced so like a mother at her recovery, that her heart seemed to have dictated every word. This letter she gave to her confidant, the nurse, to take to the imprisoned physician, with a small piece of paper, on which these words were written: “Shut up death and destruction in this letter for the hand that opens it. Take care not to deceive me the third time, as thou lovest thy life.” Sambul, the Jew, long deliberated on what he should do. At last the love of life prevailed, and he promised to obey. The Countess sent the letter by a messenger on horseback, who, on his arrival, was to make many grimaces, as if the letter contained wonderful things, and also he was not to say whence he came. The maiden, desirous to learn the contents, broke open the seal, read a few lines, and fell back on the sofa, shut her light blue eyes, and expired. From that time the murderous stepmother heard no more of her daughter; and although she often sent spies, they brought her back no other message than that the maiden had not again awoke from her death-slumber.

Thus was the beautiful Blanche, by the artifices of this hateful woman, three times dead and three times buried. After the faithful dwarfs had buried her the first time, and masses had been performed, they, with the weeping servants, kept constant watch by the grave, and often looked through the window into the coffin, to enjoy the sight of their beloved mistress, till corruption should destroy her form. But, with wonder, they perceived, that after a few days, her white cheeks were tinted with a faint blush, the purple of life again began to glow on her faded lips, and soon the maiden opened her eyes. When the watchful servants observed this, they joyfully took the lid off the coffin; the lovely Richilda sat up, and wondered to see herself in a grave, and her attendants in mourning around her. She quickly left this horrible place, and returned, like Eurydice, from the realm of shades, with tottering knees, to the reviving light of day. Instead of the poison, which he ought to have put into the pomegranate, Sambul had only tinged the half with a narcotic essence, which deprived of sensation, without destroying the body. The second time he did the same with the soap-ball, only that he increased the portion of opium, so that the maiden did not awake at the same time as before, and the dwarfs fancied that she was really dead; but after watching for some days with great anxiety, she, to the joy of all her faithful attendants, again awoke.

The maiden’s guardian angel saw the danger which menaced the life of her ward, as the fear of death might make the physician resolve really to accomplish the knavish trick of poisoning her. Therefore, he slipped invisibly into the prison, and began a powerful contest in the Jew’s soul, conquered him, after a severe strife, and extorted from him the resolution to devote his neck to his conscience, as he had formerly done his beard and both ears. By means of his chemical knowledge, he concentrated his sleepy liquor into a volatile salt, which was dissolved in the open air, and spread abroad; with this he strewed the letter to the beautiful Blanche, and as she read it the atmosphere received a stunning property, and she inhaled the refined spirit of poppies. The effect of it was so powerful, that the torpidity of the body lasted longer than before, and the impatient duenna, quite despairing of the reanimation of her young mistress, insisted on having the requiem performed.

Whilst the attendants were occupied with this mournful solemnity, a young pilgrim approached, went into the chapel, knelt before the altar at matins, and performed his devotions. He was called Godfrey of Ardennes, who, in performance of a vow, visited many holy places and churches, and was now on his way through Brabant. When the pious pilgrim had performed his devotions, and, according to his custom, placed a small gift in the alms-box, he asked the Brother Sacristan why the chapel was hung with black, and what the grief of the whole castle meant? The latter related to him all that had happened to the beautiful Blanche through the wicked hatred of her stepmother. At this Godfrey was much surprised, and said, “Is it permitted to see the corpse of the maiden? Lead me to the grave. If God will, I can call her back to life, if indeed her soul still be in her. I carry with me a relic from our holy father at Rome, which destroys enchantment, and resists all other attacks but those of nature.

The Sacristan quickly called the watchful dwarfs; and when they heard the pilgrim’s words, they rejoiced very much, led him to the grave, and Godfrey was charmed at the face of the lovely alabaster form, which he saw through the window in the coffin. The lid was taken off, he bade the sorrowful servants, except the dwarfs, go out, brought forth his relic, and laid it on the heart of the corpse. In a few moments the torpidity disappeared, and soul and life returned into the body. The maiden wondered at the handsome youth who was near her; and the rejoiced dwarfs considered the wonder-worker as a very angel from heaven. Godfrey told the restored one who he was, and she informed him of her fate, and of the persecutions of her cruel stepmother. “You will not,” said Godfrey, “escape the efforts of the poisoner if you do not follow my counsel. Abide still, a short time, in this grave, that it may not be rumoured about that you live. I will accomplish my pilgrimage, and soon come back, to take you to my mother in Ardennes, and then I will finish by avenging you on your murderess.”

This advice pleased the lovely Blanche well; the noble pilgrim left her, and spoke without, to the attendants who crowded around him, with feigned words,—“The corpse of your mistress will never again arise; the fountain of life is dried up; all is lost—all is dead.” But the faithful dwarfs, who knew the truth, kept the secret, privately provided the maiden with food and drink, watched round the grave as before, and awaited the return of the pious pilgrim. Godfrey made haste to reach Ardennes, embraced his tender mother, and, as he was tired with his journey, he early retired to rest, and quickly fell asleep, with pleasant thoughts of the maiden Blanche. Early the next morning, Godfrey armed himself like a knight, assembled his horsemen, took leave of his mother, and set off. When he had accomplished his journey, and at midnight heard the bell toll in the castle of the beautiful Blanche, he jumped from his horse, put his pilgrim’s dress over his armour, and went into the chapel. The watchful dwarfs had no sooner perceived the kneeling pilgrim at the altar, than they hastened to the grave, to make known the good news to their mistress. She threw off her shroud; and, as soon as the mass was over, and sacristan and clerks had hastened from the cold church to their warm beds, the charming maiden jumped up out of the grave, with a joyous heart. But when she found herself in the arms of a young man, who wished to lead her thence, fear and terror came over her, and she said, with a bashful countenance, “Think well of what you do, young man; ask your heart if your intentions be pure and sincere; if you disappoint the confidence that I place in you, know, that the vengeance of Heaven will pursue you.” The knight answered discreetly, “The holy Virgin be witness to the purity of my intentions, and may the curse of Heaven strike me, if there be a guilty thought in my soul!”

Then the maiden sprang with confidence on a horse, and Godfrey led her safe to Ardennes to his mother, who received her with the tenderest affection, and took as much care of her as if she had been her own beloved daughter. The soft sympathetic feelings of love were soon awakened in the hearts of the young knight and the lovely Blanche; the wishes of the good mother and of the whole court conspired in wishing the union of this noble pair, sealed by the holy rite of marriage.

But Godfrey, in the midst of the preparations for marriage, left his residence, and went to Brabant, to the Countess Richilda, who was still occupied with her second choice; and, as she now had no mirror of which to take counsel, she had never come to any conclusion. As soon as Godfrey of Ardennes appeared at the court, his fine figure so drew on him the eyes of the Countess, that she gave him the preference above all the other nobles. He called himself the Knight of the Grave, and this was the only thing Lady Richilda found to object to; she wished he had a more pleasing surname, for life had still many charms for her, and she always, with horror, cast away all thoughts of the grave. She explained it to herself that the surname of the knight of Ardennes meant the holy grave, and signified that he had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and was a knight of the Holy Sepulchre; and so she acquiesced in it without farther inquiry. When she had held a consultation with her heart, she found that, among the assembled knights who came and went, Knight Godfrey held the first rank. She knew how, by art, to revive her charms, and to conceal those that were faded, and to adorn her head with the finest Brabant tissues. She omitted not to make the most alluring advances to her favourite, and to charm him by every art in her power.

With feigned enthusiasm, Godfrey, one day, kneeling at her feet, addressed the Countess and said, “Cease, beloved cruel one, to tear my heart by your powerful charms, and to awake sleeping wishes, that confuse my brain; love without hope is worse than death.” Sweetly smiling, Richilda raised him with her swan-white arms, and answered him with mild persuasion; “Poor hopeless one, what disheartens you? Are you so unlearned in the sympathies of love, which agitate my heart, as not to perceive or care for them? If the language of the heart is unintelligible to you, take the confession of love from my mouth. What hinders us for the future to unite the fate of our lives?”—“Ah!” sighed Godfrey, “your goodness enraptures me; but you know not the vow which binds me, to receive no wife but from the hand of my mother, and not to leave this good mother, till I have performed a child’s last duties, and closed her eyes. Could you resolve to quit your court and follow me to Ardennes, my lot would be the happiest on earth.”

The Countess did not take long to consider; she agreed to all that he desired. The proposal to leave Brabant did not much please her, nor the stepmother either, whom she thought a troublesome addition; but love overcame all. With great celerity was the procession prepared, the persons of the glittering train appointed, among whom appeared the court physician Sambul, although his beard and both ears were wanting. The cunning Richilda had loosened his fetters, and again graciously accorded to him the former honour of favourite; for she thought to make use of him, to send the stepmother quickly out of the world, and then to return with her husband to Brabant.

The worthy mother received her son and the supposed daughter-in-law, with courtly etiquette, seemed highly to approve the choice of the Knight of the Grave, and everything was put in readiness for a marriage festival. The appointed day arrived, and the Lady Richilda, arrayed like the queen of the fairies, entered the hall, and wished that the hours had wings. Then came a page, and with a sorrowful air whispered into the bridegroom’s ear. Godfrey clasped his hands, and said with a loud voice, “Unhappy youth! who will on thy wedding-day stand for thee in the row of brides, since thy beloved has been murdered by a cruel hand?” Then he turned to the countess and said, “Know, beautiful Richilda, that I have portioned twelve maidens, who should go up to the altar with me, and the most beautiful has been murdered by the jealousy of an unnatural mother; say, what revenge does this crime deserve?” Richilda, angry at an event which would delay her wishes, or at least diminish the joy of the day, said with indignation, “Oh! the horrid deed! The cruel mother deserves to stand in the row of brides, with the unhappy youth, in the place of the murdered, in red-hot iron slippers, which will be a balsam for his wounded heart, for revenge is sweet as love.”—“You decide aright,” replied Godfrey. “It shall be so.” The whole court approved the righteous sentence of the Countess, and the wits presumed to say, that the queen of rich Arabia, who had travelled to Solomon to fetch wisdom, could not have have spoken better.

At this moment, the folding doors of the next chamber, where the altar was prepared, flew open; there stood the innocent angel form, Lady Blanche, adorned with costly bridal ornaments. She leant on one of the twelve maidens, when she perceived the dreaded stepmother, and timidly cast down her eyes. Richilda’s blood froze in her veins; she sank on the ground as if struck by lightning, her eyes grew dim, and she fell down in a deep swoon. But, by the exertions of the courtiers and ladies, she again returned to consciousness against her will. Then the Knight of the Grave, read her a lecture, every word of which smote her soul, and he then led the beautiful Blanche to the altar, where the Bishop, in his pontifical robes, married the noble pair, and afterwards the twelve dowered maidens to their beloved. When the ceremony was over, the bridal procession went into the dancing-hall. The skilful dwarfs had in the mean time, with great care, prepared a pair of steel slippers, put them in the fire, and made them hot. Then Gunzalin, the strong Gascon knight, stepped forward, and asked the poisoner to dance, to begin the bridal festival, and though she would willingly have declined, neither prayers nor resistance were of any avail. He embraced her with his powerful arm, the dwarfs put on the red-hot slippers, and Gunzalin dragged her down the hall, in so rapid a dance, that the very floor smoked, and the musicians blew so heartily that all her groans and cries of pain were drowned in the noisy music. After endless twirls and circles, the active knight turned the heated dancer out of the hall, down the staircase, into a well-guarded prison, where the wicked sufferer had time and leisure for repentance. But Godfrey of Ardennes and Blanche, his fair and innocent bride, lived in peace and happiness to a good old age, and their descendants long flourished prosperously after them.