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There was something in this reply and the tone in which it was uttered that made the Baron's heart misgive him; but he rallied his forces, and repeated his hospitable entreaties. The stranger shook his head silently but positively at every offer; and wav. ing his farewell to the company, stalked slowly out of the hall. The maiden aunts were absolutely petrified-the bride hung her head, and a tear stole to her eye.
The Baron followed the stranger to the great court of the castle, where the black charger stood pawing the earth, and snorting with impatience. When they had reached the portal, whose deep arch way was dimly lighted by a cresset, the stranger paused, and addressed the Baron in a hollow tone of voice which the vaulted roof rendered still more sepulchral. “Now that we are alone,” said he, “I will impart to you the reason of my going. I have a solemn and indispensable engagement—"
“Why,” said the Baron, “cannot you send some one in your place ?"
“It admits of no substitute-I must attend it in person-I must away to Wurtzburg cathedral — "
“Ay," said the Baron, plucking up spirit, “but not until to-morrow-to-morrow you shall take your bride there."
“No! no!" replied the stranger, with ten-fold solemnity, “my engagement is with no bride-the worms! the worms expect me! I am a dead manI have been slain by robbers—my body lies at Wurtzburg—at midnight I am to be buried-the grave is waiting for me-I must keep my appointment!"
He sprang on his black charger, dashed over the drawbridge, and the clattering of his horse's hoofs was lost in the whistling of the night-blast.
The Baron returned to the hall in the utmost consternation, and related what had passed. Two ladies fainted outright; others sickened at the idea of having banqueted with a specter. It was the opinion of some that this might be the wild huntsman famous in German legend. Some talked of mountain sprites, of wood-demons, and of other supernatural beings, with which the good people of Germany have been so grievously harassed since time immemorial. One of the poor relations ventured to suggest that it might be some sportive evasion of the young cavalier, and that the very gloominess of the caprice seemed to accord with so melancholy a personage. This, however, drew on him the indignation of the whole company, and especially of the Baron, who looked upon him as little better than an infidel; so that he was fain to abjure his heresy as speedily as possible, and come into the faith of the true believers.
But whatever may have been the doubts entertained, they were completely put to an end by the arrival, next day, of regular missives, confirming the intelligence of the young Count's murder and his interment at Wurtzburg cathedral.
The dismay at the castle may well be imagined. The Baron shut himself up in his chamber. The guests who had come to rejoice with him could not think of abandoning him in his distress. They wandered about the courts, or collected in groups in the hall, shaking their heads and shrugging their shoul
ders, at the troubles of so good a man; and sat longer than ever at table, and ate and drank more stoutly than ever, by way of keep up their spirits. But the situation of the widowed bride was the most pitiable. To bave lost a husband before she had even embraced him--and such a husband! if the very specter could be so gracious and noble, what must have been the living man? She filled the house with lamentations.
On the night of the second day of her widowhood, she had retired to her chamber, accompanied by one of her aunts, who insisted on sleeping with her. The aunt, who was one of the best tellers of ghost stories in all Germany, had just been recounting one of her longest, and had fallen asleep in the very midst of it. The chamber was remote, and overlooked a small garden. The niece lay pensively gazing at the beams of the rising moon, as they trembled op the leaves of an aspen tree before the lattice. The castle clock had just told midnight, when a soft strain of music stole up from the garden. She rose hastily from her bed, and stepped lightly to the window. A tall figure stood among the shadows of the trees. As it raised its head, a beam of moonlight fell upon the countenance. Heaven and earth ! she beheld the Specter Bridegroom! A loud shriek at that moment burst upon her ear, and her aunt, who had been awak. ened by the music, and had followed her silently to the window, fell into her arms. When she looked again the speeter had disappeared.
Of the two females, the aunt now required the most soothing, for she was perfectly beside herself
with terror. As to the young lady, there was something, even in the specter of her lover, that seemed endearing. There was still the semblance of manly beauty; and though the shadow of a man is but little calculated to satisfy the affections of a love-sick girl, yet, where the substance not to be had, even that is consoling The aunt declared she would never sleep iu that chamber again; the niece, for once, was refractory, and declared as strongly that she would sleep in no other in the castle: the consequence was that she had to sleep in it alone; but she drew a promise from her aunt not to relate the story of the specter, lest she should be denied the only melancholy pleasure left her on earth—that of inhabiting the chamber over which the guardian shade of her lover kept its nightly vigils.
How long the good old lady would have observed this promise is uncertain, for she dearly loved to talk of the marvelous, and there is a triumph in being the first to tell a frightful story; it is, however, still quoted in the neighborhood as a memorable in. stance of female secresy that she kept it to herself for a whole week; when she was suddenly absolved from all further restraint, by intelligence brought to the breakfast-table one morning that the young lady was not to be found. Her room was empty-the bed had not been slept in-the window was open-and the bird had flown!
The astonishment and concern with which the in. telligence was received can only be imagined by those who have witnessed the agitation which the mishaps of a great man cause among his friends. Even the
poor relations paused for a moment from the indefatigable labors of the trencher; when the aunt, who had at first been struck speechless, wrung her hands and shrieked out, “The goblin! the goblin! she's carried away by the goblin!”
In a few words she related the fearful scenes of the garden, and concluded that the specter must have carried off his bride. Two of the domestics corrob. orated the opinion, for they had heard the clattering of a horse's hoofs down the mountain about midnight, and had no doubt that it was the specter on his black charger, bearing her away to the tomb. All present were struck with the direful probability; for events of the kind are extremely common in Germany, as many well-authenticated histories bear witness.
What a lamentable situation was that of the poor Baron! What a heart-rending dilemma for a fond father, and a member of the great family of Katzenellenbogen! His only daughter had either been wrapped away to the grave, or he was to have some wood-demon for a son-in-law, and, perchance, a troop of goblin grandchildren. As usual, he was completely bewildered, and all the castle in an uproar. The men were ordered to take horse, and scour every road and path and glen of the Odenwald. The Baron himself had just drawn on his jack-boots, girded on his sword, and was about to mount his steed to sally forth on the doubtful quest, when he was brought to a pause by a new apparition. A lady was seen approaching the castle, mounted on a palfrey attended by a cavalier on horseback. She gal