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The Robber Bridegroom

The Robber Bridegroom

There was once a  miller who had  one beautiful daughter,  and as shewas grown up, he was anxious that she should be well married andprovided for. He said to himself, «I will give  her to the firstsuitable man who  comes and asks  for her  hand.» Not  long after  asuitor  appeared, and  as  he appeared to be  very rich and  the millercould see nothing  in him  with which to find fault, he  betrothed hisdaughter to  him. But the girl  did not care for the man  as a girlought to  care for her betrothed  husband. She did not feel that shecould trust  him, and she could not look at  him nor think of himwithout an inward  shudder. One day he said to her,  «You have not yetpaid  me a visit,  although we have  been betrothed for  some time.» «Ido not know where your house is,» she answered. «My house is out therein the dark forest,» he said. She tried to excuse herself by  sayingthat she would not  be able to  find the way  thither. Her betrothedonly replied, «You must  come and see  me next Sunday;  I have alreadyinvited guests for that day, and  that you may not mistake  the way, Iwill  strew ashes along the path.»

When Sunday came,  and it was  time for the  girl to start,  a feelingof dread came over her  which she could  not explain, and  that shemight  be able to find her path again, she filled her pockets with peasand  lentils to sprinkle on the ground as she  went along. On reachingthe entrance  to the forest she found the path strewed with ashes, andthese she  followed, throwing down some peas on either side of her atevery step she took.  She walked the whole day until  she came to thedeepest, darkest part of  the forest. There she saw a lonely house,looking so grim and mysterious, that it did not please her at all. Shestepped inside, but not a soul was to be seen, and a great silencereigned throughout. Suddenly a voice cried:

«Turn back, turn back, young maiden fair,    Linger not in this murderers» lair.»

The girl looked up and  saw that the voice came  from a bird hanging ina cage on the wall. Again it cried:

«Turn back, turn back, young maiden fair,    Linger not in this murderers» lair.»

The girl passed on, going  from room to room of  the house, but theywere all empty, and still she saw no one.  At last she came to thecellar,  and there sat  a very,  very  old woman,  who could  not  keepher  head  from shaking. «Can you tell me,» asked the girl, «if mybetrothed husband lives here?»

«Ah, you poor child,»  answered the old  woman, «what a  place for youto come to! This is  a murderers» den. You  think yourself a promisedbride, and that your marriage will soon take place, but it is with deaththat you will keep your  marriage feast. Look,  do you see  that largecauldron  of water which I am obliged to keep on the fire! As soon asthey have you  in their power they will kill  you without mercy, andcook and eat you,  for they are eaters of men. If  I did not take pityon you and save you,  you would be lost.»

Thereupon the old woman led her behind  a large cask, which quite hidher from view. «Keep as still as a mouse,» she said; «do not move orspeak, or it will be all over with you. Tonight, when the robbers areall asleep, we will flee  together.  I have  long  been  waiting for  anopportunity  to escape.»

The words were  hardly out of  her mouth when  the godless crewreturned, dragging another young girl along with them. They were alldrunk, and paid no heed to her cries and lamentations. They gave herwine to drink,  three glasses full, one of white wine, one  of red, andone of yellow, and  with that her  heart gave  way  and she  died. Thenthey  tore of  her  dainty clothing, laid her on a table, and cut herbeautiful body into pieces, and sprinkled salt upon it.

The poor betrothed girl crouched trembling and shuddering behind thecask, for she saw what a terrible fate had been intended for her by therobbers. One of them now noticed a gold  ring still remaining on thelittle  finger of the murdered girl, and  as he could not draw  it offeasily, he took  a hatchet and cut off the  finger; but the fingersprang into the air,  and fell behind the cask into  the lap of the girlwho was hiding there.  The robber took a light and  began looking forit, but  he could not find  it. «Have you looked behind the large cask?’said one of the others. But  the old woman called out,  «Come and eatyour suppers, and  let the thing  be till tomorrow; the finger won’t runaway.»

«The old woman is  right,» said the robbers,  and they ceased lookingfor the finger and sat down.

The old woman then  mixed a sleeping draught  with their wine, andbefore long they were  all lying  on the  floor of  the cellar,  fastasleep  and snoring. As soon as the girl was assured of this, she camefrom behind the cask. She was obliged to  step over the bodies  of thesleepers, who  were lying close together, and every moment  she wasfilled with renewed  dread lest she should awaken them. But God helpedher, so that she passed safely over them, and then she and the old womanwent upstairs, opened the  door, and hastened as fast as they could fromthe murderers» den. They found the ashes scattered by the  wind, but thepeas  and lentils had sprouted,  and grown sufficiently above theground, to guide them in the moonlight  along the path.  All night  longthey  walked, and  it was  morning before  they reached the mill. Thenthe girl told her father all that had happened.

The day came that had been fixed for the marriage. The bridegroomarrived and also a  large company  of guests,  for the  miller hadtaken care  to invite all his friends and relations. As they sat at thefeast, each guest in turn was asked to tell  a tale; the bride satstill and did not say  a word.

«And you, my love,» said the bridegroom, turning to her, «is there notale you know? Tell us something.»

«I will tell you a dream, then,»  said the bride. «I went alone througha forest and came at last to a house; not a soul could I find within,but  a bird that was hanging in a cage on the wall cried:

“Turn back, turn back, young maiden fair,    Linger not in this murderers» lair.”

and again a second time it said these words.»

«My darling, this is only a dream.»

«I went on through the house from  room to room, but they were allempty, and everything was  so grim and  mysterious. At  last I wentdown to  the cellar, and there sat a very, very old woman, who could notkeep her  head still. I asked her if my betrothed lived here, and sheanswered, “Ah,  you poor child, you are come to  a murderers» den; yourbetrothed does  indeed live here, but he will kill you without mercy andafterwards cook and  eat you.”»

«My darling, this is only a dream.»

«The old woman hid me behind a large cask, and scarcely had she donethis when the robbers  returned home, dragging  a young girl  along withthem. They gave her three kinds  of wine to drink,  white, red, andyellow,  and with that she died.»

«My darling, this is only a dream.»

«Then they tore off her dainty  clothing, and cut her beautiful bodyinto pieces and sprinkled salt upon it.»

«My darling, this is only a dream.»

«And one of the robbers saw that there  was a gold ring still left onher finger, and as it was difficult to draw off, he took a hatchet andcut off her finger; but the finger sprang into  the air and fell behindthe  great cask into my lap. And  here is the finger with  the ring.’and with  these words the  bride drew  forth the  finger and  shewed itto the  assembled guests.

The bridegroom, who  during this  recital had  grown deadly  pale, upand tried to  escape,  but the  guests  seized him  and  held him  fast.They delivered him  up to  justice, and  he  and all  his murderousband  were condemned to death for their wicked deeds.

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