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"And yet," broke in the young gentleman, "after all, I would not altogether put aside what he has said. Remember the rumours about those people who have all of a sudden disappeared in this forest without leaving a trace. Several of them had said they would remain over-night at this inn. And when, after the lapse of two or three weeks, nothing was heard of them, and their track was followed up, and inquiries were made in this inn, yet not one of them was ever seen; it is, after all, suspicious."
"By heavens!" exclaimed the compass-maker, "if that is so, we should act more prudently to take up our quarters for the night under the nearest tree, than here within these four walls, where escape is out of the question, if once the door is held against us, for the windows are barred."
They had become thoughtful whilst talking. It did not seem at all unlikely, that this forest inn, willingly or unwillingly, was in league with the robbers. Night to them therefore seemed dangerous; how many tales they had heard of travellers being attacked and murdered in their sleep; and even if their lives were not in danger, yet, so poorly off were some of the guests of the forest that a robbery of even part of their belongings would have been keenly felt. They gazed sadly and gloomily into their glasses. The young gentleman wished he were trotting upon his horse through a safe and wide valley; the compass-maker wished for twelve of his sturdy comrades armed with sticks as body-guards; Felix, the goldsmith, was more afraid for the ornaments of his benefactress than for his life; the carrier, however, who had several times blown away reflectively the smoke of his pipe, quietly said, "Gentlemen, they shall not surprise us at any rate in our sleep. I for my part will remain awake all night, if only one of you will keep me company."
"So will I." "I too," exclaimed the other three; "I should not be able to sleep, after all," added the young gentleman.
"Well, let us do something to keep us awake," said the carrier ; "I think as there are just four of us we might play at cards; that keeps us awake, and whiles away the time."
"I never play cards," replied the young gentleman; "so that I at least cannot join you."
"And I know nothing about cards," added Felix.
"What can we do if we do not play?" said the compassmaker. "Sing? that will not do, and would only attract those scoundrels; ask each other riddles and conundrums? that too does not last long. I will tell you what; how would it be to tell stories? Amusing or serious, true or feigned, it will at any rate keep us awake, and while away the time as well as playing at cards."
66 agree to it if you will begin," said the young gentleman, smiling. "You men of business travel into all lands, and can surely tell something, for each town has its own legends and stories."
'Ay, ay, one hears many things," replied the compassmaker; as a set-off against that, gentlemen like you study diligently in books, where all sorts of wonderful stories are written; surely you know some cleverer and finer tale to tell, than a plain apprentice lad such as one of us. I must be very much mistaken if you are not a student and a learned man.”
"Not a learned man," smiled the young gentleman, "but a student, and am on my way homewards for my holidays; but what is written in our books is less suitable for story-telling than what you hear here and there. So do you begin, if those over there are willing to listen."
"I prize a fine story more than a game at cards," replied the carrier. "Often have I preferred driving along at a wretched pace, in order to listen to a fellow at my side telling me a nice story; many a man have I taken up in my cart in bad weather on condition he would tell me a story; and I believe I only like one of my comrades because he knows stories which last seven hours and longer."
"It is just the same with me," added the young goldsmith. I like nothing better for the life of me than to hear a good story, and my master in Würzburg had to forbid me books outright, lest I should read too many stories, and neglect my work in consequence. So let us have some of your fine stories, compass-maker; I know you could go on telling them from now till daybreak, without
your stock being exhausted." The compass-maker took a draught to strengthen himself for his story, and then commenced as follows:
THE STORY OF THE FLORIN.*
IN Upper Suabia stand, even in these days, the ruins of a castle, formerly the most stately of the neighbourhoodHohenzollern. It rises on a round steep hill, from whose rugged height one gets a wide view of the country. The brave race of Zollern was feared as far and even further than this castle could be seen from the country around, and their name known and honoured in all German lands. Now, many centuries ago, I believe when gunpowder was just invented, there lived in this stronghold a Zollern who was by nature an extraordinary individual. It could not be said that he cruelly oppressed his subjects, or that he had lived at enmity with his neighbours, but still no one dared approach him, owing to his gloomy looks, his knitted brow, and his laconic surly manner. There were few people besides those belonging to the castle who had ever heard him speak civilly, like other men; for, whenever he rode through the valley, if any one met him and took off his hat quickly, stopped, and said: "Good evening, Count, it is fine weather to-day," he would reply: "Stupid nonsense!" or "I know that!" But if any one had not done his work properly for the Count, or had neglected his horses or if a peasant with his cart met him in the narrow part of the road, so that he could not pass quickly enough on his horse-then his rage would burst out in a thunder of oaths; it has, however, never been reported that on such occasions he had ill-treated a peasant. In the neighbourhood he was called the "Thunder-Storm von Zollern."
Thunder-Storm von Zollern had a wife, who was quite the reverse of him, and as mild and friendly as a day in May. She had frequently reconciled, by her kind words and pleasant looks, people whom her husband had offended by
*Hirschgulden, an obsolete silver coin impressed with the figure of a stag (Hirsch).
his ferocity; but to the poor, she showed what kindness she could, and did not hesitate either in hot summer or in the most terrible snowstorm to go down the steep hill and visit the poor or sick children. When she met the Count on these journeys he would say morosely: "I know! Stupid nonsense!" and ride on.
These surly manners would have frightened or intimidated any other woman; one perhaps might have thought, "What are the poor to me, if my husband considers them as nonsense?" Another perhaps might have, through pride, or disdain, allowed her love to grow cold towards such a sullen husband; but not so with Lady Hedwig von Zollern. She loved him as much as ever; endeavoured with her beautiful white hands to smooth the wrinkles of his dark brow, and honoured him. When, after a very long time, Heaven presented them with a young count, her love for her husband did not diminish, whilst she lavished on her little son all the tender duties of a mother. Three years passed away, during which time the Count von Zollern only saw his son on Sundays, after dinner, when he was brought to him by the nurse. He would then stare at him; mutter something in his beard, and return him to his nurse. When, however, the little one was able to say "Father," the Count presented the nurse with a florin; but he did not make a more cheerful face to the child.
When three years old, the Count had his son dressed in his first little breeches, and splendidly arrayed in velvet and silk; he then ordered his own horse, and another beautiful one to be brought, and taking the little one in his arms, descended with rattling spurs the spiral staircase.
Lady Hedwig was surprised at seeing this. She was not accustomed to ask at any other time, "Where are you going, and when will you come back again?" when he rode out; but on this occasion anxiety for her child made her speak.
"Are you going for a ride, Count?" said she. He made no reply. Why have you got the little one?" she continued. "Cuno will go for a walk with me."
"I know!" replied the Thunder-Storm von Zollern, and went on; and when he reached the courtyard, he took
the boy by one of his little feet, raised him quickly up into the saddle, tied him on firmly with his scarf, flung himself on his steed, and trotted out of the castle gate, taking the reins of his little son's horse in his hand.
At first it seemed to give great pleasure to the little one to ride down the hill with his father. He clapped his hands, laughed, and pulled his little horse by the mane in order to make it go faster; so that the Count was delighted with him, and said several times, "You are likely to become a brave fellow."
But when they reached the plain, and the Count changed his pace to a canter, the little fellow was terrified. He at first begged his father quite gently not to ride so fast; but when he went on faster and faster, and the strong wind nearly took away poor Cuno's breath, he then began to cry silently, grew still more impatient, and cried at last as loud as he could.
"I know! Stupid nonsense!" now began his father. "The youngster crying at his first ride. Be quiet
However, just at the moment he was going to cheer up his little boy with an oath, his horse shied; the reins of the other one slipped from his hand; he tried hard to master his own, and when he had quieted it, he turned round anxiously to look for his child, but he saw his horse bare, and galloping without the little rider up to the castle.
However hard-hearted and gloomy the Count of Zollern was on any other occasion, yet this sight overcame his feelings. He thought nothing less than that his child lay mangled on the road; he pulled his beard and lamented. Nowhere, however, as far as he rode back, could he see a trace of the boy; he made sure that the runaway horse had thrown him into a ditch beside the road. Then he heard behind him a child's voice calling him by name, and turning quickly round— behold! there sat an old woman under a tree not far from the road, rocking the child on her knees.
"Where did you find the cried the Count in a great rage. once,"
boy, you old witch?"
Bring him to me at