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The White Maiden

Source: Folk-lore And Legends: German

It is now centuries since a young noble of the neighbourhood was
hunting in the valleys which lie behind the hills that skirt the Rhine
opposite the ancient town of St. Goar. In the heat of the pursuit he
followed the game to the foot of the acclivity on which are seated the
ruins of Thurnberg, and there it disappeared all at once from his
view. It was the noon of a midsummer day, and the sun shone down on
him with all its strength. Despairing of being able to find the object
of his pursuit, he determined to clamber up the steep hillside, and
seek shelter and repose in the shadow of the old castle, or, mayhap,
in one of its many crumbling chambers. With much labour he succeeded
in reaching the summit, and there, fatigued with his toil, and parched
with a burning thirst, he flung himself on the ground beneath one of
the huge towers, some of whose remains still rear their heads on high,
and stretched out his tired limbs in the full enjoyment of rest.

"Now," said he, as he wiped the perspiration from his brow,--"now
could I be happy indeed, if some kind being would bring me a beaker of
the cool wine, which, they say, is ages old, down there in the cellars
of this castle."

He had scarce spoken the words when a most beautiful maiden stepped
forth from a cleft in the ivy-covered ruin, bearing in one hand a huge
silver beaker of an antique form, full to the very brim of foaming
wine. In her other hand she held a large bunch of keys of all sizes.
She was clad in white from head to foot, her hair was flaxen, her skin
was like a lily, and she had such loving eyes that they at once won
the heart of the young noble.

"Here," said she, handing him the beaker, "thy wish is granted. Drink
and be satisfied."

His heart leaped within him with joy at her condescension, and he
emptied the contents of the goblet at a single draught. All the while
she looked at him in such a manner as to intoxicate his very soul, so
kindly and confidential were her glances. The wine coursed through his
veins like liquid fire, his heart soon burned with love for the
maiden, and the fever of his blood was by no means appeased by the
furtive looks which ever and anon she cast upon him. She apparently
read his state of mind, and when his passion was at its highest pitch,
and all restraint seemed put an end to by the potent effects of love
and wine, she disappeared in a moment by the way she came. The noble
rushed after her in the hope of detaining the fugitive, or, at least,
of catching a parting glimpse of her retreating form, but the
ivy-encircled cleft, through which she seemed to have flitted, looked
as though it had not been disturbed for centuries, and as he tried to
force his way to the gloomy cavern below, a crowd of bats and owls and
other foul birds of evil omen, aroused from their repose, rose
upwards, and, amidst dismal hootings and fearful cries, almost flung
him backward with the violence of their flight. He spent the remainder
of the afternoon in search of the lost one, but without success. At
the coming of night he wended his way homeward, weary, heart-sick, and
overwhelmed with an indefinable sensation of sadness.

From that day forth he was an altered man--altered in appearance as
well as in mind and in manners. Pleasure was a stranger to his soul,
and he knew no longer what it was to enjoy peace. Wherever he went,
whatever pursuit he was engaged in, whether in the chase, in the hall,
in lady's bower, or in chapel, his eye only saw one object--the White
Maiden. At the board she stood in imagination always before him,
offering to his fevered lips the cool, brimming beaker; and in the
long-drawn aisles of the chapel she was ever present, beckoning him
from his devotions to partake of the generous beverage which she still
bore in her right hand. Every matron or maiden he met seemed by some
wondrous process to take her shape, and even the very trees of the
forest all looked to his thought like her.

Thenceforward he commenced to haunt the ruins in which she had
appeared to him, still hoping to see, once again, her for whom he felt
he was dying, and living alone in that hope. The sun scorched him, but
it was nothing to the fever that burned within him. The rain drenched
him, but he cared not for it. Time and change and circumstance seemed
all forgotten by him, everything passed by him unheeded. His whole
existence was completely swallowed up in one thought--the White Maiden
of the ruined castle, and that, alas! was only vexation of spirit. A
deadly fever seized him. It was a mortal disease. Still he raved, in
his delirium, but of her. One morn a woodman, who occasionally
provided him with food, found him a corpse at the entrance of the
crevice in the wall whence the maiden had seemed to come, and where
she had disappeared. It was long rumoured that he had struggled
bravely with death--or rather that he could not die, because the curse
was upon him--until the maiden, garbed in white as usual, appeared to
him once more. That then he stretched forth his hands--she stooped
over him. He raised his head--she kissed his lips--and he died.

The White Maiden, tradition says, has not since been seen in the ruins
of Thurnberg.

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