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The Dancers

Source: Folk-lore And Legends: German

The Sabbath-day drew to a close in the summer-tide of the year of
grace one thousand and one, and the rustics of Ramersdorf amused
themselves with a dance, as was their wont to do, in the courtyard of
the monastery. It was a privilege that they had enjoyed time
immemorial, and it had never been gainsaid by the abbots who were dead
and gone, but Anselm von Lowenberg, the then superior of the convent,
an austere, ascetic man, who looked with disdain and dislike on all
popular recreations, had long set his face against it, and had,
moreover, tried every means short of actual prohibition to put an end
to the profane amusement. The rustics, however, were not to be
debarred by his displeasure from pursuing, perhaps, their only
pleasure; and though the pious abbot discountenanced their
proceedings, they acquiesced not in his views, and their enjoyment was
not one atom the less.

The day had been very beautiful, and the evening was, if possible,
more so. Gaily garbed maidens of the village and stalwart rustics
filled the courtyard of the convent. A blind fiddler, who had fiddled
three generations off the stage, sat in front of a group of elders of
either sex, who, though too old and too stiff to partake in the active
and exciting amusement, were still young enough to enjoy looking on. A
few shaven crowns peered from the latticed casements which looked out
on to the merry scene. The music struck up, the dance began. Who
approaches? Why are so many anxious glances cast in yonder direction?
It is the Abbot.

"Cease your fooling," he spake to them, in a solemn tone; "profane not
the place nor the day with your idle mirth. Go home, and pray in your
own homes for the grace of the Lord to govern ye, for ye are wicked
and wilful and hard of heart as the stones!"

He waved his hand as if to disperse them, but his words and his action
were equally unheeded by the dancers and the spectators.

"Forth, vile sinners!" he pursued. "Forth from these walls, or I will
curse ye with the curse."

Still they regarded him not to obey his behest, although they so far
noticed his words as to return menacing look for look, and muttered
threats for threat with him. The music played on with the same
liveliness, the dancers danced as merrily as ever, and the spectators
applauded each display of agility.

"Well, then," spake the Abbot, bursting with rage, "an ye cease not,
be my curse on your head--there may ye dance for a year and a day!"

He banned them bitterly; with uplifted hands and eyes he imprecated
the vengeance of Heaven on their disobedience. He prayed to the Lord
to punish them for the slight of his directions. Then he sought his
cell to vent his ire in solitude.

From that hour they continued to dance until a year and a day had
fully expired. Night fell, and they ceased not; day dawned, and they
danced still. In the heat of noon, in the cool of the evening, day
after day there was no rest for them, their saltation was without end.
The seasons rolled over them. Summer gave place to autumn, winter
succeeded summer, and spring decked the fields with early flowers, as
winter slowly disappeared, yet still they danced on, through coursing
time and changing seasons, with unabated strength and unimpaired
energy. Rain nor hail, snow nor storm, sunshine nor shade, seemed to
affect them. Round and round and round they danced, in heat and cold,
in damp and dry, in light and darkness. What were the seasons--what
the times or the hour or the weather to them? In vain did their
neighbours and friends try to arrest them in their wild evolutions; in
vain were attempts made to stop them in their whirling career; in vain
did even the Abbot himself interpose to relieve them from the curse he
had laid on them, and to put a period to the punishment of which he
had been the cause. The strongest man in the vicinity held out his
hand and caught one of them, with the intention of arresting his
rotation, and tearing him from the charmed circle, but his arm was
torn from him in the attempt, and clung to the dancer with the grip of
life till his day was done. The man paid his life as the forfeit of
his temerity. No effort was left untried to relieve the dancers, but
every one failed. The sufferers themselves, however, appeared quite
unconscious of what was passing. They seemed to be in a state of
perfect somnambulism, and to be altogether unaware of the presence of
any persons, as well as insensible to pain or fatigue. When the
expiration of their punishment arrived, they were all found huddled
together in the deep cavity which their increasing gyrations had worn
in the earth beneath them. It was a considerable time before sense and
consciousness returned to them, and indeed they never after could be
said to enjoy them completely, for, though they lived long, they were
little better than idiots during the remainder of their lives.

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