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Peter Klaus

Source: Folk-lore And Legends: German

Peter Klaus, a goatherd of Sittendorf, who tended herds on the
Kyffhauser mountain, used to let them rest of an evening in a spot
surrounded by an old wall, where he always counted them to see if they
were all right. For some days he noticed that one of his finest goats,
as they came to this spot, vanished, and never returned to the herd
till late. He watched him more closely, and at length saw him slip
through a rent in the wall. He followed him, and caught him in a cave,
feeding sumptuously upon the grains of oats which fell one by one from
the roof. He looked up, shook his head at the shower of oats, but,
with all his care, could discover nothing further. At length he heard
overhead the neighing and stamping of some mettlesome horses, and
concluded that the oats must have fallen from their mangers.

While the goatherd stood there, wondering about these horses in a
totally uninhabited mountain, a lad came and made signs to him to
follow him silently. Peter ascended some steps, and, crossing a
walled court, came to a glade surrounded by rocky cliffs, into which a
sort of twilight made its way through the thick-leaved branches. Here
he found twelve grave old knights playing at skittles, at a
well-levelled and fresh plot of grass. Peter was silently appointed to
set up the ninepins for them.

At first his knees knocked together as he did this, while he marked,
with half-stolen glances, the long beards and goodly paunches of the
noble knights. By degrees, however, he grew more confident, and looked
at everything about him with a steady gaze--nay, at last, he ventured
so far as to take a draught from a pitcher which stood near him, the
fragrance of which appeared to him delightful. He felt quite revived
by the draught, and as often as he felt at all tired, received new
strength from application to the inexhaustible pitcher. But at length
sleep overcame him.

When he awoke, he found himself once more in the enclosed green space,
where he was accustomed to leave his goats. He rubbed his eyes, but
could discover neither dog nor goats, and stared with surprise at the
height to which the grass had grown, and at the bushes and trees,
which he never remembered to have noticed. Shaking his head, he
proceeded along the roads and paths which he was accustomed to
traverse daily with his herd, but could nowhere see any traces of his
goats. Below him he saw Sittendorf; and at last he descended with
quickened step, there to make inquiries after his herd.

The people whom he met at his entrance to the town were unknown to
him, and dressed and spoke differently from those whom he had known
there. Moreover, they all stared at him when he inquired about his
goats, and began stroking their chins. At last, almost involuntarily,
he did the same, and found to his great astonishment that his beard
had grown to be a foot long. He began now to think himself and the
world altogether bewitched, and yet he felt sure that the mountain
from which he had descended was the Kyffhauser; and the houses here,
with their fore-courts, were all familiar to him. Moreover, several
lads whom he heard telling the name of the place to a traveller called
it Sittendorf.

Shaking his head, he proceeded into the town straight to his own
house. He found it sadly fallen to decay. Before it lay a strange
herd-boy in tattered garments, and near him an old worn-out dog, which
growled and showed his teeth at Peter when he called him. He entered
by the opening, which had formerly been closed by a door, but found
all within so desolate and empty that he staggered out again like a
drunkard, and called his wife and children. No one heard; no voice
answered him.

Women and children now began to surround the strange old man, with
the long hoary beard, and to contend with one another in inquiring of
him what he wanted. He thought it so ridiculous to make inquiries of
strangers, before his own house, after his wife and children, and
still more so, after himself, that he mentioned the first neighbour
whose name occurred to him, Kirt Stiffen. All were silent, and looked
at one another, till an old woman said--

"He has left here these twelve years. He lives at Sachsenberg; you'll
hardly get there to-day."

"Velten Maier?"

"God help him!" said an old crone leaning on a crutch. "He has been
confined these fifteen years in the house, which he'll never leave

He recognised, as he thought, his suddenly aged neighbour; but he had
lost all desire of asking any more questions. At last a brisk young
woman, with a boy of a twelvemonth old in her arms, and with a little
girl holding her hand, made her way through the gaping crowd, and they
looked for all the world like his wife and children.

"What is your name?" said Peter, astonished.


"And your father?"

"God have mercy on him, Peter Klaus. It is twenty years since we
sought him day and night on the Kyffhauser, when his goats came home
without him. I was only seven years old when it happened."

The goatherd could no longer contain himself.

"I am Peter Klaus," he cried, "and no other," and he took the babe
from his daughter's arms.

All stood like statues for a minute, till one and then another began
to cry--

"Here's Peter Klaus come back again! Welcome, neighbour, welcome,
after twenty years; welcome, Peter Klaus!"

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