A young hunter was sitting in the heart of the Mountains, in a thoughtful mood, beside his fowling-floor, while the noise of the waters and the woods was sounding through the solitude. He was musing on his destiny; how he was so young, and had forsaken his father and mother, and accustomed home, and all his comrades in his native village, to seek out new acquaintances, to escape from the circle of returning habitude; and he looked up with a sort of surprise that he was here, that he found himself in this valley, in this employment. Great clouds were passing over him, and sinking behind the mountains; birds were singing from the bushes, and an echo was replying to them. He slowly descended the hill; and seated himself on the margin of a brook, that was gushing down among the rocks with foamy murmur. He listened to the fitful melody of the water; and it seemed to him as if the waves were saying to him, in unintelligible words, a thousand things that concerned him nearly; and he felt an inward trouble that he could not understand their speeches. Then again he looked aloft, and thought that he was glad and happy; so he took new heart, and sang aloud this hunting-song:
Blithe and cheery through the mountains
Goes the huntsman to the chase,
By the lonesome shady fountains,
Till he finds the red-deer's trace.
Hark! his trusty dogs are baying
Through the bright-green solitude;
Through the groves the horns are playing:
O, thou merry gay green wood!
In some dell, when luck hath blest him,
And his shot hath stretch'd the deer,
Lies he down, content, to rest him,
While the brooks are murmuring clear.
Leave the husbandman his sowing,
Let the shipman sail the sea;
None, when bright the morn is glowing,
Sees its red so fair as he,
Wood and wold and game that prizes,
While Diana loves his art;
And, at last, some bright face rises:
Happy huntsman that thou art!
Whilst he sung, the sun had sunk deeper, and broad shadows fell across the narrow glen. A cooling twilight glided over the ground; and now only the tops of the trees, and the round summits of the mountains, were gilded by the glow of evening. Christian's heart grew sadder and sadder: he could not think of going back to his birdfold, and yet he could not stay; he felt himself alone, and longed to meet with men. He now remembered with regret those old books, which he used to see at home, and would never read, often as his father had advised him to it: the habitation of his childhood came before him, his sports with the youth of the village, his acquaintances among the children, the school that had afflicted him so much; and he wished he were again amid these scenes, which he had wilfully forsaken, to seek his fortune in unknown regions, in the mountains, among strange people, in a new employment. Meanwhile it grew darker; and the brook rushed louder; and the birds of night began to shoot, with fitful wing, along their mazy courses. Christian still sat disconsolate, and immersed in sad reflection; he was like to weep, and altogether undecided what to do or purpose. Unthinkingly, he pulled a straggling root from the earth; and on the instant, heard, with affright, a stifled moan underground, which winded downwards in doleful tones, and died plaintively away in the deep distance. The sound went through his inmost heart; it seized him as if he had unwittingly touched the wound, of which the dying frame of Nature was expiring in its agony. He started up to fly; for he had already heard of the mysterious mandrake-root, which, when torn, yields such heartrending moans, that the person who has hurt it runs distracted by its wailing. As he turned to go, a stranger man was standing at his back, who looked at him with a friendly countenance, and asked him whither he was going. Christian had been longing for society, and yet he started in alarm at this friendly presence.
— Whither so fast? said the stranger again.
The young hunter made an effort to collect himself, and told how all at once the solitude had seemed so frightful to him, he had meant to get away; the evening was so dark, the green shades of the wood so dreary, the brook seemed uttering lamentations, and his longing drew him over to the other side of the hills.
— You are but young, said the stranger, and cannot yet endure the rigour of solitude: I will accompany you, for you will find no house or hamlet within a league of this; and in the way we may talk, and tell each other tales, and so your sad thoughts will leave you: in an hour the moon will rise behind the hills; its light also will help to chase away the darkness of your mind.
They went along, and the stranger soon appeared to Christian as if he had been an old acquaintance.
— Who are you? said the man; by your speech I hear that you belong not to this part.
— Ah! replied the other, upon this I could say much, and yet it is not worth the telling you, or talking of. There was something dragged me, with a foreign force, from the circle of my parents and relations; my spirit was not master of itself: like a bird which is taken in a net, and struggles to no purpose, so my soul was meshed in strange imaginations and desires. We dwelt far hence, in a plain, where all round you could see no hill, scarce even a height: few trees adorned the green level; but meadows, fertile corn-fields, gardens stretched away as far as the eye could reach; and a broad river glittered like a potent spirit through the midst of them. My father was gardener to a nobleman, and meant to breed me to the same employment. He delighted in plants and flowers beyond aught else, and could unweariedly pass day by day in watching them and tending them. Nay he went so far as to maintain, that he could almost speak with them; that he got knowledge from their growth and spreading, as well as from the varied form and colour of their leaves. To me, however, gardening was a tiresome occupation; and the more so as my father kept persuading me to take it up, or even attempted to compel me to it with threats. I wished to be a fisherman, and tried that business for a time; but a life on the waters would not suit me: I was then apprenticed to a tradesman in the town; but soon came home from this employment also. My father happened to be talking of the Mountains, which he had travelled over in his youth; of the subterranean mines and their workmen; of hunters and their occupation; and that instant there arose in me the most decided wish, the feeling that at last I had found out the way of life which would entirely fit me. Day and night I meditated on the matter; representing to myself high mountains, chasms and pine-forests; my imagination shaped wild rocks; I heard the tumult of the chase, the horns, the cry of the hounds and the game; all my dreams were filled with these things, and they left me neither peace nor rest any more. The plain, our patron's castle, and my father's little hampered garden, with its trimmed flowerbeds; our narrow dwelling; the wide sky which stretched above us in its dreary vastness, embracing no hill, no lofty mountain, all became more dull and odious to me. It seemed as if the people about me were living in most lamentable ignorance; that every one of them would think and long as I did, should the feeling of their wretchedness but once arise within their souls. Thus did I bait my heart with restless fancies; till one morning I resolved on leaving my father's house directly and forever. In a book I had found some notice of the nearest mountains, some charts of the neighbouring districts, and by them I shaped my course. It was early in spring, and I felt myself cheerful, and altogether light of heart. I hastened on, to get away the faster from the level country; and one evening, in the distance, I descried the dim outline of the Mountains, lying on the sky before me. I could scarcely sleep in my inn, so impatient did I feel to have my foot upon the region which I regarded as my home: with the earliest dawn I was awake, and again in motion. By the afternoon, I had got among my beloved hills; and here, as if intoxicated, I went on, then stopped a while, looked back; and drank, as in inspiring draughts, the aspect of these foreign yet well-known objects. Ere long, the plain was out of sight; the forest-streams were rushing down to meet me; the oaks and beeches sounded to me from their steep precipices with wavering boughs; my path led me by the edge of dizzy abysses; blue hills were standing vast and solemn in the distance. A new world was opened to me; I was never weary. Thus, after some days, having roamed over great part of the Mountains, I reached the dwelling of an old forester, who consented, at my urgent request, to take me in, and instruct me in the business of the chase. It is now three months since I entered his service. I took possession of the district where I was to live, as of my kingdom. I got acquainted with every cliff and dell among the mountains; in my occupation, when at dawn of day we moved to the forest, when felling trees in the wood, when practising my fowling-piece, or training my trusty attendants, our dogs, to do their feats, I felt completely happy. But for the last eight days I have stayed up here at the fowling-floor, in the loneliest quarter of the hills; and tonight I grew so sad as I never was in my life before; I seemed so lost, so utterly unhappy; and even yet I cannot shake aside that melancholy humour.
The stranger had listened with attention, while they both wandered on through a dark alley of the wood. They now came out into the open country, and the light of the moon, which was standing with its horns over the summit of the hill, saluted them like a friend. In undistinguishable forms, and many separated masses, which the pale gleam again perplexingly combined, lay the cleft mountain-range before them; in the background a steep hill, on the top of which an antique weathered ruin rose ghastly in the white light.
— Our roads part here, said the stranger; I am going down into this hollow; there, by that old mine-shaft, is my dwelling: the metal ores are my neighbours; the mine-streams tell me wonders in the night; thither thou canst not follow me. But look, there stands the Runenberg, with its wild ragged walls; how beautiful and alluring the grim old rock looks down on us! Wert thou never there?
— Never, said the hunter. Once I heard my old forester relating strange stories of that hill, which I, like a fool, have forgotten; only I remember that my mind that night was full of dread and unearthly notions. I could like to mount the hill some time; for the colours there are of the fairest, the grass must be very green, the world around one very strange; who knows, too, but one might chance to find some curious relic of the ancient time up there?
— You could scarcely fail, replied the stranger; whoever knows how to seek, whoever feels his heart drawn towards it with a right inward longing, will find friends of former ages there, and glorious things, and all that he wishes most.
With these words the stranger rapidly descended to a side, without bidding his companion farewell; he soon vanished in the tangles of the thicket, and after some few instants, the sound of his footsteps also died away. The young hunter did not feel surprised, he but went on with quicker speed towards the Runenberg: thither all things seemed to beckon him; the stars were shining towards it; the moon pointed out as it were a bright road to the ruins; light clouds rose up to them; and from the depths, the waters and sounding woods spoke new courage into him. His steps were as if winged; his heart throbbed; he felt so great a joy within him, that it rose to pain. He came into places he had never seen before; the rocks grew steeper; the green disappeared; the bald cliffs called to him, as with angry voices, and a low moaning wind drove him on before it. Thus he hurried forward without pause; and late after midnight he came upon a narrow footpath, which ran along by the brink of an abyss. He heeded not the depth which yawned beneath, and threatened to swallow him forever; so keenly was he driven along by wild imaginations and vague wishes. At last his perilous track led him close by a high wall, which seemed to lose itself in the clouds; the path grew narrower every step; and Christian had to cling by projecting stones to keep himself from rushing down into the gulf. Ere long, he could get no farther; his path ended underneath a window: he was obliged to pause, and knew not whether he should turn or stay. Suddenly he saw a light, which seemed to move within the ruined edifice. He looked towards the gleam; and found that he could see into an ancient spacious hall, strangely decorated, and glittering in manifold splendour, with multitudes of precious stones and crystals, the hues of which played through each other in mysterious changes, as the light moved to and fro; and this was in the hand of a stately female, who kept walking with a thoughtful aspect up and down the apartment. She seemed of a different race from mortals; so large, so strong was her form, so earnest her look; yet the enraptured huntsman thought he had never seen or fancied such surpassing beauty. He trembled, yet secretly wished she might come near the window and observe him. At last she stopped, set down the light on a crystal table, looked aloft, and sang with a piercing voice:
What can the Ancient keep
That they come not at my call?
The crystal pillars weep,
From the diamonds on the wall
The trickling tear-drops fall;
And within is heard a moan,
A chiding fitful tone:
In these waves of brightness,
Lovely changeful lightness,
Has the Shape been form'd,
By which the soul is charm 'd,
And the longing heart is warm'd.
Come, ye Spirits, at my call,
Haste ye to the Golden Hall;
Raise, from your abysses gloomy,
Heads that sparkle; faster
Come, ye Ancient Ones, come to me!
Let your power be master
Of the longing hearts and souls,
Where the flood of passion rolls,
Let your power be master!
On finishing the song, she began undressing; laying her apparel in a costly press. First, she took a golden veil from her head; and her long black hair streamed down in curling fulness over her loins: then she loosed her bosom-dress; and the youth forgot himself and all the world in gazing at that more than earthly beauty. He scarcely dared to breathe, as by degrees she laid aside her other garments: at last she walked about the chamber naked; and her heavy waving locks formed round her, as it were, a dark billowy sea, out of which, like marble, the glancing limbs of her form beamed forth, in alternating splendour. After a while, she went forward to another golden press; and took from it a tablet, glittering with many inlaid stones, rubies, diamonds and all kinds of jewels; and viewed it long with an investigating look. The tablet seemed to form a strange inexplicable figure, from its individual lines and colours; sometimes, when the glance of it came towards the hunter, he was painfully dazzled by it; then, again, soft green and blue playing over it, refreshed his eye: he stood, however, devouring the objects with his looks, and at the same time sunk in deep thought. Within his soul, an abyss of forms and harmony, of longing and voluptuousness, was opened: hosts of winged tones, and sad and joyful melodies flew through his spirit, which was moved to its foundations: he saw a world of Pain and Hope arise within him; strong towering crags of Trust and defiant Confidence, and deep rivers of Sadness flowing by. He no longer knew himself: and he started as the fair woman opened the window; handed him the magic tablet of stones, and spoke these words:
— Take this in memory of me!
He caught the tablet; and felt the figure, which, unseen, at once went through his inmost heart; and the light, and the fair woman, and the wondrous hall, had disappeared. As it were, a dark night, with curtains of cloud, fell down over his soul: he searched for his former feelings, for that inspiration and unutterable love; he looked at the precious tablet, and the sinking moon was imaged in it faint and bluish.
He had still the tablet firmly grasped in his hands when the morning dawned; and he, exhausted, giddy and half-asleep, fell headlong down the precipice.
The sun shone bright on the face of the stupefied sleeper; and, awakening, he found himself upon a pleasant hill. He looked round, and saw far behind him, and scarce discernible at the extreme horizon, the ruins of the Runenberg; he searched for his tablet, and could find it nowhere. Astonished and perplexed, he tried to gather his thoughts, and connect together his remembrances; but his memory was as if filled with a waste haze, in which vague irrecognisable shapes were wildly jostling to and fro. His whole previous life lay behind him, as in a far distance; the strangest and the commonest were so mingled, that all his efforts could not separate them. After long struggling with himself, he at last concluded that a dream, or sudden madness, had come over him that night; only he could never understand how he had strayed so far into a strange and remote quarter.
Still scarcely waking, he went down the hill; and came upon a beaten way, which led him out from the mountains into the plain country. All was strange to him: he at first thought that he would find his old home; but the country which he saw was quite unknown to him; and at length he concluded that he must be upon the south side of the Mountains, which, in spring, he had entered from the north. Towards noon, he perceived a little town below him: from its cottages a peaceful smoke was mounting up; children, dressed as for a holiday, were sporting on the green; and from a small church came the sound of the organ, and the singing of the congregation. All this laid hold of him with a sweet, inexpressible sadness; it so moved him, that he was forced to weep. The narrow gardens, the little huts with their smoking chimneys, the accurately-parted corn-fields, reminded him of the necessities of poor human nature; of man's dependence on the friendly Earth, to whose benignity he must commit himself; while the singing, and the music of the organ, filled the stranger's heart with a devoutness it had never felt before. The desires and emotions of the bygone night seemed reckless and wicked; he wished once more, in childlike meekness, helplessly and humbly to unite himself to men as to his brethren, and fly from his ungodly purposes and feelings. The plain, with its little river, which, in manifold windings, clasped itself about the gardens and meadows, seemed to him inviting and delightful: he thought with fear of his abode among the lonely mountains, amid waste rocks; he wished that he could be allowed to live in this peaceful village; and so feeling, he went into its crowded church.
The psalm was just over, and the preacher had begun his sermon. It was on the kindness of God in regard to Harvest; how His goodness feeds and satisfies all things that live; how marvellously He has, in the fruits of the Earth, provided support for men; how the love of God incessantly displays itself in the bread He sends us; and how the humble Christian may therefore, with a thankful spirit, perpetually celebrate a Holy Supper. The congregation were affected; the eyes of the hunter rested on the pious priest, and observed, close by the pulpit, a young maiden, who appeared beyond all others reverent and attentive. She was slim and fair; her blue eye gleamed with the most piercing softness; her face was as if transparent, and blooming in the tenderest colours. The stranger youth had never been as he now was; so full of charity, so calm, so abandoned to the stillest, most refreshing feelings. He bowed himself in tears, when the clergyman pronounced his blessing; he felt these holy words thrill through him like an unseen power; and the vision of the night drew back before them to the deepest distance, as a spectre at the dawn. He issued from the church; stopped beneath a large lime-tree; and thanked God, in a heartfelt prayer, that He had saved him, sinful and undeserving, from the nets of the Wicked Spirit.
The people were engaged in holding harvest-home that day, and every one was in a cheerful mood; the children, with their gay dresses, were rejoicing in the prospect of the sweetmeats and the dance; in the village square, a space encircled with young trees, the youths were arranging the preparations for their harvest sport; the players were seated, and essaying their instruments. Christian went into the fields again, to collect his thoughts and pursue his meditations; and on his returning to the village, all had joined in mirth, and actual celebration of their festival. The fair-haired Elizabeth was there, too, with her parents; and the stranger mingled in the jocund throng. Elizabeth was dancing; and Christian, in the mean time, had entered into conversation with her father, a farmer, and one of the richest people in the village. The man seemed pleased with his youth and way of speech; so, in a short time, both of them agreed that Christian should remain with him as gardener. This office Christian could engage with; for he hoped that now the knowledge and employments, which he had so much despised at home, would stand him in good stead.
From this period a new life began for him. He went to live with the farmer, and was numbered among his family. With his trade, he likewise changed his garb. He was so good, so helpful and kindly; he stood to his task so honestly, that ere long every member of the house, especially the daughter, had a friendly feeling to him. Every Sunday, when he saw her going to church, he was standing with a fair nosegay ready for Elizabeth; and then she used to thank him with blushing kindliness: he felt her absence, on days when he did not chance to see her; and at night, she would tell him tales and pleasant histories. Day by day they grew more necessary to each other; and the parents, who observed it, did not seem think it wrong; for Christian was the most industrious and handsomest youth in the village. They themselves had, at first sight, felt a touch of love and friendship for him. After half a year, Elizabeth became his wife. Spring was come back; the swallows and the singing-birds had revisited the land; the garden was standing in its fairest trim; the marriage was celebrated with abundant mirth; bride and bridegroom seemed intoxicated with their happiness. Late at night, when they retired to their chamber, the husband whispered to his wife:
— No, thou art not that form which once charmed me in a dream, and which I never can entirely forget; but I am happy beside thee, and blessed that thou art mine.
How delighted was the family, when, within a year, it became augmented by a little daughter, who was baptised Leonora. Christian's looks, indeed, would sometimes take a rather grave expression as he gazed on the child; but his youthful cheeriness continually returned. He scarcely ever thought of his former way of life, for he felt himself entirely domesticated and contented. Yet, some months afterwards, his parents came into his mind; and he thought how much his father, in particular, would be rejoiced to see his peaceful happiness, his station as husbandman and gardener; it grieved him that he should have utterly forgotten his father and mother for so long a time; his own only child made known to him the joy which children afford to parents; so at last he took the resolution to set out, and again revisit home.
Unwillingly he left his wife; all wished him speed; and the season being fine, he went off on foot. Already at the distance of a few miles, he felt how much the parting grieved him; for the first time in his life, he experienced the pains of separation; the foreign objects seemed to him almost savage; he felt as if he had been lost in some unfriendly solitude. Then the thought came on him, that his youth was over; that he had found a home to which he now belonged, in which his heart had taken root; he was almost ready to lament the lost levity of younger years; and his mind was in the saddest mood, when he turned aside into a village inn to pass the night. He could not understand how he had come to leave his kind wife, and the parents she had given him; and he felt dispirited and discontented, when he rose next morning to pursue his journey.
His pain increased as he approached the hills: the distant ruins were already visible, and by degrees grew more distinguishable; many summits rose defined and clear amid the blue vapour. His step grew timid; frequently he paused, astonished at his fear; at the horror which, with every step, fell closer on him.
— Madness! cried he, I know thee well, and thy perilous seductions; but I will withstand thee manfully. Elizabeth is no vain dream; I know that even now she thinks of me, that she waits for me, and fondly counts the hours of my absence. Do I not already see forests like black hair before me? Do not the glancing eyes look to me from the brook? Does not the stately form step towards me from the mountains?
So saying, he was about to lay himself beneath a tree, and take some rest; when he perceived an old man seated in the shade of it, examining a flower with extreme attention; now holding it to the sun, now shading it with his hands, now counting its leaves; as if striving in every way to stamp it accurately in his memory. On approaching nearer, he thought he knew the form; and soon no doubt remained that the old man with the flower was his father. With an exclamation of the liveliest joy, he rushed into his arms; the old man seemed delighted, but not much surprised, at meeting him so suddenly.
— Art thou with me already, my son? said he: I knew that I should find thee soon, but I did not think such joy had been in store for me this very day.
— How did you know, father, that you would meet me?
— By this flower, replied the old gardener; all my days I have had a wish to see it; but never had I the fortune; for it is very scarce, and grows only among the mountains. I set out to seek thee, for thy mother is dead, and the loneliness at home made me sad and heavy. I knew not whither I should turn my steps; at last I came among the mountains, dreary as the journey through them had appeared to me. By the road, I sought for this flower, but could find it nowhere; and now, quite unexpectedly, I see it here, where the fair plain is lying stretched before me. From this I knew that I should meet thee soon; and, lo, how true the fair flower's prophecy has proved!
They embraced again, and Christian wept for his mother; but the old man grasped his hand, and said:
— Let us go, that the shadows of the mountains may be soon out of view; it always makes me sorrowful in the heart to see these wild steep shapes, these horrid chasms, these torrents gurgling down into their caverns. Let us get upon the good, kind, guileless level ground again.
They went back, and Christian recovered his cheerfulness. He told his father of his new fortune, of his child and home: his speech made himself as if intoxicated; and he now, in talking of it, for the first time truly felt that nothing more was wanting to his happiness. Thus, amid narrations sad and cheerful, they returned into the village. All were delighted at the speedy ending of the journey; most of all, Elizabeth. The old father stayed with them, and joined his little fortune to their stock; they formed the most contented and united circle in the world. Their crops were good, their cattle throve; and in a few years Christian's house was among the wealthiest in the quarter. Elizabeth had also given him several other children. Five years had passed away in this manner, when a stranger halted from his journey in their village; and took up his lodging in Christian's house, as being the most respectable the place contained. He was a friendly, talking man; he told them many stories of his travels; sported with the children, and made presents to them: in a short time, all were growing fond of him. He liked the neighbourhood so well, that he proposed remaining in it for a day or two; but the days grew weeks, and the weeks months. No one seemed to wonder at his loitering; for all of them had grown accustomed to regard him as a member of the family. Christian alone would often sit in a thoughtful mood; for it seemed to him as if he knew this traveller of old, and yet he could not think of any time when he had met with him. Three months had passed away, when the stranger at last took his leave, and said:
— My dear friends, a wondrous destiny, and singular anticipations, drive me to the neighbouring mountains; a magic image, not to be withstood, allures me: I leave you now, and I know not whether I shall ever see you any more. I have a sum of money by me, which in your hands will be safer than in mine; so I ask you to take charge of it; and if within a year I come not back, then keep it, and accept my thanks along with it for the kindness you have shown me.
So the traveller went his way, and Christian took the money in charge. He locked it carefully up; and now and then, in the excess of his anxiety, looked over it; he counted it to see that none was missing, and in all respects took no little pains with it.
— This sum might make us very happy, said he once to his father; should the stranger not return, both we and our children were well provided for.
— Heed not the gold, said the old man; not in it can happiness be found: hitherto, thank God, we have never wanted aught; and do thou put away such thoughts far from thee.
Christian often rose in the night to set his servants to their labour, and look after everything himself: his father was afraid lest this excessive diligence might harm his youth and health; so one night he rose to speak with him about remitting such unreasonable efforts; when, to his astonishment, he found him sitting with a little lamp at his table, and counting, with the greatest eagerness, the stranger's gold.
— My son, said the old man, full of sadness, must it come to this with thee? Was this accursed metal brought beneath our roof to make us wretched? Bethink thee, my son, or the Evil One will consume thy blood and life out of thee.
— Yes, replied he; it is true, I know myself no more; neither day nor night does it give me any rest: see how it looks on me even now, till the red glance of it goes into my very heart! Hark how it clinks, this golden stuff! It calls me when I sleep; I hear it when music sounds, when the wind blows, when people speak together on the street; if the sun shines, I see nothing but these yellow eyes, with which it beckons to me, as it were, to whisper words of love into my ear: and therefore I am forced to rise in the night-time, though it were but to satisfy its eagerness; and then I feel it triumphing and inwardly rejoicing when I touch it with my fingers; in its joy it grows still redder and lordlier. Do but look yourself at the glow of its rapture!
The old man, shuddering and weeping, took his son in his arms; he said a prayer, and then spoke:
— Christel, thou must turn again to the Word of God; thou must go more zealously and reverently to church, or else, alas! my poor child, thou wilt droop and die away in the most mournful wretchedness.
The money was again locked up; Christian promised to take thought and change his conduct, and the old man was composed. A year and more had passed, and no tidings had been heard of the stranger: the old man at last gave in to the entreaties of his son; and the money was laid out in land, and other property. The young farmer's riches soon became the talk of the village; and Christian seemed contented and comfortable, and his father felt delighted at beholding him so well and cheerful; all fear had now vanished from his mind. What then must have been his consternation, when Elizabeth one evening took him aside; and told him, with tears, that she could no longer understand her husband; how he spoke so wildly, especially at night; how he dreamed strange dreams, and would often in his sleep walk long about the room, not knowing it; how he spoke strange things to her, at which she often shuddered. But what terrified her most, she said, was his pleasantry by day; for his laugh was wild and hollow, his look wandering and strange. The father stood amazed, and the sorrowing wife proceeded:
— He is always talking of the traveller, and maintaining that he knew him formerly, and that the stranger man was in truth a woman of unearthly beauty; nor will he go any more into the fields or the garden to work, for he says he hears underneath the ground a fearful moaning when he but pulls out a root; he starts and seems to feel a horror at all plants and herbs.
— Good God! exclaimed the father, is the frightful hunger in him grown so rooted and strong, that it is come to this? Then is his spell-bound heart no longer human, but of cold metal; he who does not love a flower, has lost all love and fear of God.
Next day the old man went to walk with his son, and told him much of what Elizabeth had said; calling on him to be pious, and devote his soul to holy contemplations.
— Willingly, my father, answered Christian; and I often do so with success, and all is well with me: for long periods of time, for years, I can forget the true form of my inward man, and lead a life that is foreign to me, as it were, with cheerfulness: but then on a sudden, like a new moon, the ruling star, which I myself am, arises again in my heart, and conquers this other influence. I might be altogether happy; but once, in a mysterious night, a secret sign was imprinted through my hand deep on my soul; frequently the magic figure sleeps and is at rest; I imagine it has passed away; but in a moment, like a poison, it darts up and lives over all its lineaments. And then I can think or feel nothing else but it; and all around me is transformed, or rather swallowed up, by this subduing shape. As the rabid man recoils at the sight of water, and the poison in him grows more fell; so too it is with me at the sight of any cornered figure, any line, any gleam of brightness; anything will then rouse the form that dwells in me, and make it start into being; and my soul and body feel the throes of birth; for as my mind received it by a feeling from without, she strives in agony and bitter labour to work it forth again into an outward feeling, that she may be rid of it, and at rest.
— It was an evil star that took thee from us to the Mountains, said the old man; thou wert born for calm life, thy mind inclined to peace and the love of plants; then thy impatience hurried thee away to the company of savage stones: the crags, the torn cliffs, with their jagged shapes, have overturned thy soul, and planted in thee the wasting hunger for metals. Thou shouldst still have been on thy guard, and kept thyself away from the view of mountains; so I meant to bring thee up, but it has not so been to be. Thy humility, thy peace, thy childlike feeling, have been thrust away by scorn, boisterousness and caprice.
— No, said the son; I remember well that it was a plant which first made known to me the misery of the Earth; never, till then, did I understand the sighs and lamentations one may hear on every side, throughout the whole of Nature, if one but give ear to them. In plants and herbs, in trees and flowers, it is the painful writhing of one universal wound that moves and works; they are the corpse of foregone glorious worlds of rock, they offer to our eye a horrid universe of putrefaction. I now see clearly it was this, which the root with its deep-drawn sigh was saying to me; in its sorrow it forgot itself, and told me all. It is because of this that all green shrubs are so enraged at me, and lie in wait for my life; they wish to obliterate that lovely figure in my heart; and every spring, with their distorted deathlike looks, they try to win my soul. Truly it is piteous to consider how they have betrayed and cozened thee, old man; for they have gained complete possession of thy spirit. Do but question the rocks, and thou wilt be amazed when thou shalt hear them speak.
The father looked at him a long while, and could answer nothing. They went home again in silence, and the old man was as frightened as Elizabeth at Christian's mirth; for it seemed a thing quite foreign; and as if another being from within were working out of him, awkwardly and ineffectually, as out of some machine.
The harvest-home was once more to be held; the people went to church, and Elizabeth, with her little ones, set out to join the service; her husband also seemed intending to accompany them, but at the threshold of the church he turned aside; and with an air of deep thought, walked out of the village. He set himself on the height, and again looked over upon the smoking cottages; he heard the music of the psalm and organ coming from the little church; children, in holiday dresses, were dancing and sporting on the green.
— How have I lost my life as in a dream! said he to himself: years have passed away since I went down this hill to the merry children; they who were then sportful on the green, are now serious in the church; I also once went into it, but Elizabeth is now no more a blooming childlike maiden; her youth is gone; I cannot seek for the glance of her eyes with the longing of those days; I have wilfully neglected a high eternal happiness, to win one which is finite and transitory.
With a heart full of wild desire, he walked to the neighbouring wood, and immersed himself in its thickest shades. A ghastly silence encompassed him; no breath of air was stirring in the leaves. Meanwhile he saw a man approaching him from a distance, whom he recognised for the stranger; he started in affright, and his first thought was, that the man would ask him for his money. But as the form came nearer, he perceived how greatly he had been mistaken; for the features, which he had imagined known to him, melted into one another; an old woman of the utmost hideousness approached; she was clad in dirty rags; a tattered clout bound up her few gray hairs; she was limping on a crutch. With a dreadful voice she spoke to him, and asked his name and situation; he replied to both inquiries, and then said:
— But who art thou?
— I am called the Wood woman, answered she; and every child can tell of me. Didst thou never see me before?
With the last words she whirled about, and Christian thought he recognised among the trees the golden veil, the lofty gait, the large stately form which he had once beheld of old. He turned to hasten after her, but nowhere was she to be seen.
Meanwhile something glittered in the grass, and drew his eye to it. He picked it up; it was the magic tablet with the coloured jewels, and the wondrous figure, which he had lost so many years before. The shape and the changeful gleams struck over all his senses with an instantaneous power. He grasped it firmly, to convince himself that it was really once more in his hands, and then hastened back with it to the village. His father met him.
— See, cried Christian, the thing which I was telling you about so often, which I thought must have been shown to me only in a dream, is now sure and true.
The old man looked a long while at the tablet, and then said:
— My son, I am struck with horror in my heart when I view these stones, and dimly guess the meaning of the words on them. Look here, how cold they glitter, what cruel looks they cast from them, bloodthirsty, like the red eye of the tiger! Cast this writing from thee, which makes thee cold and cruel, which will turn thy heart to stone:
See the flowers, when moon is beaming,
Waken in their dewy place;
And, like children roused from dreaming,
Smiling look thee in the face.
By degrees, that way and this,
To the golden Sun they're turning,
Till they meet his glowing kiss,
And their hearts with love are burning:
For, with fond and sad desire,
In their lover's looks to languish,
On his melting kisses to expire,
And to die of love's sweet anguish:
This is what they joy in most;
To depart in fondest weakness;
In their lover's being lost,
Faded stand in silent meekness.
Then they pour away the treasure
Of their perfumes, their soft souls,
And the air grows drunk with pleasure,
As in wanton floods it rolls.
Love comes to us here below,
Discord harsh away removing;
And the heart cries: Now I know
Sadness, Fondness, Pain of Loving.
— What wonderful incalculable treasures, said the other, must there still be in the depths of the Earth! Could one but sound into their secret beds and raise them up, and snatch them to one's-self! Could one but clasp this Earth like a beloved bride to one's bosom, so that in pain and love she would willingly grant one her costliest riches! The Woodwoman has called me; I go to seek for her. Near by is an old ruined shaft, which some miner has hollowed out many centuries ago; perhaps I shall find her there!
He hastened off. In vain did the old man strive to detain him; in a few moments Christian had vanished from his sight. Some hours afterwards, the father, with a strong effort, reached the ruined shaft: he saw footprints in the sand at the entrance, and returned in tears; persuaded that his son, in a state of madness, had gone in and been drowned in the old collected waters and horrid caves of the mine.
From that day his heart seemed broken, and he was incessantly in tears. The whole neighbourhood deplored the fortune of the young farmer. Elizabeth was inconsolable, the children lamented aloud. In half a year the aged gardener died; the parents of Elizabeth soon followed him; and she was forced herself to take charge of everything. Her multiplied engagements helped a little to withdraw her from her sorrow; the education of her children, and the management of so much property, left little time for mourning. After two years, she determined on a new marriage; she bestowed her hand on a young light-hearted man, who had loved her from his youth. But, ere long, everything in their establishment assumed another form. The cattle died; men and maid servants proved dishonest; barns full of grain were burnt; people in the town who owed them sums of money, fled and made no payment. In a little while, the landlord found himself obliged to sell some fields and meadows; but a mildew, and a year of scarcity, brought new embarrassments. It seemed as if the gold, so strangely acquired, were taking speedy flight in all directions. Meanwhile the family was on the increase; and Elizabeth, as well as her husband, grew reckless and sluggish in this scene of despair: he fled for consolation to the bottle, he was often drunk, and therefore quarrelsome and sullen; so that frequently Elizabeth bewailed her state with bitter tears. As their fortune declined, their friends in the village stood aloof from them more and more; so that after some few years they saw themselves entirely forsaken, and were forced to struggle on, in penury and straits, from week to week.
They had nothing but a cow and a few sheep left them; these Elizabeth herself, with her children, often tended at their grass. She was sitting one day with her work in the field, Leonora at her side, and a sucking child on her breast, when they saw from afar a strange-looking shape approaching towards them. It was a man with a garment all in tatters, barefoot, sunburnt to a black-brown colour in the face, deformed still farther by a long matted beard: he wore no covering on his head; but had twisted a garland of green branches through his hair, which made his wild appearance still more strange and haggard. On his back he bore some heavy burden in a sack, very carefully tied, and as he walked he leaned upon a young fir.
On coming nearer, he put down his load, and drew deep draughts of breath. He bade Elizabeth good-day; she shuddered at the sight of him, the girl crouched close to her mother. Having rested for a little while, he said:
— I am getting back from a very hard journey among the wildest mountains of the Earth; but to pay me for it, I have brought along with me the richest treasures which imagination can conceive, or heart desire. Look here, and wonder!
Thereupon he loosed his sack, and shook it empty: it was full of gravel, among which were to be seen large bits of chuck-stone, and other pebbles.
— These jewels, he continued, are not ground and polished yet, so they want the glance and the eye; the outward fire, with its glitter, is too deeply buried in their inmost heart; yet you have but to strike it out and frighten them, and show that no deceit will serve, and then you see what sort of stuff they are.
So saying, he took a piece of flinty stone, and struck it hard against another, till they gave red sparks between them.
— Did you see the glance? cried he. Ay, they are all fire and light; they illuminate the darkness with their laugh, though as yet it is against their will.
With this he carefully repacked his pebbles in the bag, and tied it hard and fast.
— I know thee very well, said he then, with a saddened tone; thou art Elizabeth.
The woman started.
— How comest thou to know my name? cried she, with a forecasting shudder.
— Ah, good God! said the unhappy creature, I am Christian, he that was a hunter: dost thou not know me, then?
She knew not, in her horror and deepest compassion, what to say. He fell upon her neck and kissed her. Elizabeth exclaimed:
— O Heaven! my husband is coming!
— Be at thy ease, said he; I am as good as dead to thee: in the forest, there, my fair one waits for me; she that is tall and stately, with the black hair and the golden veil. This is my dearest child, Leonora. Come hither, darling: come, my pretty child; and give me a kiss, too; one kiss, that I may feel thy mouth upon my lips once again, and then I leave you.
Leonora wept; she clasped close to her mother, who, in sobs and tears, half held her towards the wanderer, while he half drew her towards him, took her in his arms, and pressed her to his breast. Then he went away in silence, and in the wood they saw him speaking with the hideous Woodwoman.
— What ails you? said the husband, as he found mother and daughter pale and melting in tears. Neither of them answered.
The ill-fated creature was never seen again from that day.