The Ghosty Bridegroom (3)
The news of the count's death at the hands of robbers shocked everyone in the castle. The baron locked himself away in his room. His guests, who'd come to celebrate with him, couldn't think of leaving him now in his time of trouble. They walked around the castle or met in the hall in groups, talking and shaking their heads. And they ate and drank more than ever, to try and make themselves feel more cheerful.
But for the bride things were even worse. Just think of losing the man of your dreams before you've even taken him in your arms - and what a man he had been!
'The ghost of him was so polite and so fine-looking,' she said to herself. 'And I'm sure when he was alive, he was even politer and finer than that!'
She filled the castle with her moans and sighs. On the second night after she'd met - and lost - the love of her life, she went to her room. One of her aunts - the fatter one - went with her. She didn't want the girl to sleep alone. This aunt, who was one of the best tellers of ghost stories in Germany, was telling one of her longest stories when she fell asleep in the middle of it.
The room looked out on a garden.
Lying in bed, the young woman watched the moon shining on the leaves of the tree that stood outside her window.
As she listened, the bell of the castle clock sounded twelve times. It was midnight!
Suddenly she heard soft guitar music coming from the garden. She left her bed and went to the window. A tall figure stood below, among the shadows of the trees. It looked up at her and just then, the silvery light of the moon shone down on it. She recognized the face. It was her ghostly bridegroom!
Suddenly she heard a loud scream in her ear, and her aunt - who'd woken up and followed her niece to the window - fell into her arms. When she looked down at the garden again, the ghost had disappeared.
It was now the aunt that needed the most looking after. She was really terrified. The young woman, on the other hand, felt that there was something even in the ghost of her lover that touched her heart. He seemed to her so manly. And - although the shadow of a man is not really enough to please a girl who's sick with love - a manly ghost is better than no man at all.
The aunt said, 'I'm never want to sleep in this room again.'
The niece answered, 'And I'll never sleep in any other room in the castle except this one.'
So the niece decided to sleep in the room alone.
'Promise me faithfully you won't tell anyone about the ghost,' she asked her aunt.
'I promise,' the aunt replied.
The niece didn't want to lose the only happiness she had in the world. She didn't want to leave the room near that garden which her lover's ghost haunted at night.
I'm not sure if the aunt kept her promise or not. She loved telling stories, and it's fun to be the first person who learns about a piece of news and can then inform others. People say she kept her promise for over six days, but she didn't have to keep things secret for longer than that.
While she was sitting at the breakfast table on the seventh day, a servant came in, saying, 'Nobody can find the young lady. Her room's empty, she hasn't slept in her bed, and her window's open. She's gone!'
Everyone at the breakfast table was shocked at the news. Even the poorer relatives stopped eating for a moment. Then the fat aunt - who could say nothing when she first heard the news - suddenly began telling the story of what she'd seen in the garden, adding, 'The goblin's taken her!'
Two of the servants added, 'It's true! We heard a horse hurrying down the mountain road at about midnight. It was surely the ghostly bridegroom on his black horse, taking his bride away to the grave!'
All strongly believed what they said was true because awful things like this often happen in Germany, as you'll see if you read all the reports about them.
What a terrible thing to happen to the baron! Both as a father and as part of the great Katzenellenbogen family it was unspeakably awful.
'Has a ghost taken my only daughter to the grave, or am I going to have a wild hunter as a son-in-law, or maybe half-goblin grandchildren?'
As usual he began running around worriedly and everyone in the castle became nervous.
He gave orders to his men, 'Take your horses and ride through the Odenwald forest at once. Look for my daughter on every hill, in every valley, and along every road.'
The baron himself had just pulled on his boots and was ready to get on his horse's back when he saw something that made him stop.
A young lady was riding towards the castle on a white horse, and a young man on a black horse was riding beside her.
She rode up to the gate and jumped down from the horse. At once she fell at the baron's feet and put her arms round his legs. It was his lost daughter, and her friend was - the ghostly bridegroom!
The baron was very surprised. He looked first at his daughter and then at the ghost and almost couldn't believe his eyes.
The ghost seemed in much better health since his visit to the land of the dead. His clothes were rich and fine, and he looked strong and manly in them. He was no longer white-faced and miserable. His face was pink and full of life, and happiness shone from his large brown eyes.
The mystery was at an end. The young man (as I'm sure you've guessed already) introduced himself to the baron as Herman von Starkenfaust.
He explained about his adventure with the young count, and told of how he'd hurried to the castle to bring the sad news, but that the baron had stopped him speaking again and again.
'When I saw the bride, she won my heart,' he went on, 'So I decided to stay for a while as the count in order to spend a few hours at her side. I was thinking about how I could say goodbye and go when suddenly your story about the goblin, Baron, gave me the idea for the strange way in which I left. Because you and my father are enemies, I knew later visits of mine wouldn't meet with your approval,' he added. 'So I came back in secret, haunting the garden below your daughter's window. There I met her, talked to her, won her heart, and carried her off with me to church where we've just celebrated our wedding.'
Normally the baron was a hard man. He liked his daughter to obey him, and his ancestors' enemies were his enemies, too. But he also loved his daughter, and he'd believed he would never see her again. Now he was happy to see her alive. And, although her husband was the son of his enemy, at least he wasn't a goblin!
'Young man,' he began, 'I have to say there's something not quite honest and true about the way you told me you were dead.'
But one of his friends, who was an old army man, said, 'Everything's fair in the name of love.'
Another old soldier added, 'Von Starkenfaust has recently been in the army, and what he's done needs to be seen in a different light because of that.'
So everything ended happily. The baron told his daughter and son-in-law there and then, 'I'm ready to forget what's happened and to welcome you both into my home with open arms.'
Everyone in the castle began celebrating again. The poor relatives made the young man's ears burn red with all the nice things they said to him:
'You're so brave.'
'You're so kind.'
And so rich!'
The aunts, it was true, were a little shocked at the way their niece had forgotten so quickly everything that they'd tried to teach her.
'It was a serious mistake not to have metal bars put across her window,' said the thinner of the two, and her sister agreed.
The fatter aunt was very annoyed.
'I can't tell my wonderful story of the ghost in the garden any more,' she thought. 'Because the only ghost I've ever seen wasn't real after all.'
But the niece seemed very happy indeed to find out that her ghostly bridegroom was in fact a living husband in the end.
- THE END -