The Lover's Ghost

: The Folk-tales Of The Magyars

Somewhere, I don't know where, even beyond the Operencian Seas, there

was once a maid. She had lost her father and mother, but she loved the

handsomest lad in the village where she lived. They were as happy

together as a pair of turtle-doves in the wood. They fixed the day of

the wedding at a not very distant date, and invited their most intimate

friends to it; the girl, her godmother--the lad, a dear old friend of


Time went on, and the wedding would have taken place in another week,

but in the meantime war broke out in the country. The king called out

all his fighting-men to march against the enemy. The sabres were

sharpened, and gallant fellows, on fine, gaily-caparisoned horses,

swarmed to the banners of the king, like bees. John, our hero, too, took

leave of his pretty fiancee; he led out his grey charger, mounted, and

said to his young bride: "I shall be back in three years, my dove; wait

until then, and don't be afraid; I promise to bring you back my love and

remain faithful to you, even were I tempted by the beauty of a thousand

other girls." The lass accompanied him as far as the frontier, and

before parting solemnly promised to him, amidst a shower of tears, that

all the treasures of the whole world should not tempt her to marry

another, even if she had to wait ten years for her John.

The war lasted two years, and then peace was concluded between the

belligerents. The girl was highly pleased with the news, because she

expected to see her lover return with the others. She grew impatient,

and would sally forth on the road by which he was expected to return, to

meet him. She would go out often ten times a day, but as yet she had no

tidings of her John. Three years elapsed; four years had gone by, and

the bridegroom had not yet returned. The girl could not wait any longer,

but went to see her godmother, and asked for her advice, who (I must

tell you, between ourselves) was a witch. The old hag received her well,

and gave her the following direction: "As it will be full moon to-morrow

night, go into the cemetery, my dear girl, and ask the gravedigger to

give you a human skull. If he should refuse, tell him that it is I who

sent you. Then bring the skull home to me, and we shall place it in a

huge earthenware pot, and boil it with some millet, for, say, two hours.

You may be sure it will let you know whether your lover is alive yet or

dead, and perchance it will entice him here." The girl thanked her for

her good advice, and went to the cemetery next night. She found the

gravedigger enjoying his pipe in front of the gate.

"Good evening to you, dear old father."

"Good evening, my lass! What are you doing here at this hour of the


"I have come to you to ask you to grant me a favour."

"Let me hear what it is; and, if I can, I will comply with your


"Well, then, give me a human skull!"

"With pleasure; but what do you intend to do with it?"

"I don't know exactly, myself; my godmother has sent me for it."

"Well and good; here is one, take it."

The girl carefully wrapped up the skull, and ran home with it. Having

arrived at home, she put it in a huge earthenware pot with some millet,

and at once placed it on the fire. The millet soon began to boil and

throw up bubbles as big as two fists. The girl was eagerly watching it

and wondering what would happen. When, all of a sudden, a huge bubble

formed on the surface of the boiling mass, and went off with a loud

report like a musket. The next moment the girl saw the skull balanced on

the rim of the pot. "He has started," it said, in a vicious tone. The

girl waited a little longer, when two more loud reports came from the

pot, and the skull said, "He has got halfway." Another few moments

elapsed, when the pot gave three very loud reports, and the skull was

heard to say, "He has arrived outside in the yard." The maid thereupon

rushed out, and found her lover standing close to the threshold. His

charger was snow-white, and he himself was clad entirely in white,

including his helmet and boots. As soon as he caught sight of the girl,

he asked: "Will you come to the country where I dwell?" "To be sure, my

dear Jack; to the very end of the world." "Then come up into my saddle."

The girl mounted into the saddle, and they embraced and kissed one

another ever so many times.

"And is the country where you live very far from here?"

"Yes, my love, it is very far; but in spite of the distance it will not

take us long to get there."

Then they started on their journey. When they got outside the village,

they saw ten mounted men rush past, all clad in spotless white, like to

the finest wheat flour. As soon as they vanished, another ten appeared,

and could be very well seen in the moonlight, when suddenly John said:

"How beautifully shines the moon, the moon;

"How beautifully march past the dead.

"Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?"

"I am not afraid while I can see you, my dear Jack."

As they proceeded, the girl saw a hundred mounted men; they rode past in

beautiful military order, like soldiers. So soon as the hundred vanished

another hundred appeared and followed the others. Again her lover said:

"How beautifully shines the moon, the moon;

"How beautifully march past the dead.

"Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?"

"I am not afraid while I can see you, my darling Jack."

And as they proceeded the mounted men appeared in fast increasing

numbers, so that she could not count them; some rode past so close that

they nearly brushed against her. Again her lover said:

"How beautifully shines the moon, the moon;

"How beautifully march past the dead.

"Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?"

"I am not afraid while I see you, Jack, my darling."

"You are a brave and good girl, my dove; I see that you would do

anything for me. As a reward, you shall have everything that your heart

can wish when we get to my new country."

They went along till they came to an old burial-ground, which was

inclosed by a black wall. John stopped here and said to his sweetheart:

"This is our country, my little Judith, we shall soon come to our

house." The house to which John alluded was an open grave, at the bottom

of which an empty coffin could be seen with the lid off. "Go in, my

darling," said the lad. "You had better go first, my love Jack," replied

the girl, "you know the way." Thereupon the lad descended into the grave

and laid down in the coffin; but the lass, instead of following him, ran

away as fast as her feet would carry her, and took refuge in a mansion

that was situated a couple of miles from the cemetery. When she had

reached the mansion she shook every door, but none of them would open to

her entreaties, except one that led to a long corridor, at the end of

which there was a dead body laid out in state in a coffin. The lass

secreted herself in a dark corner of the fire-place.

As soon as John discovered that his bride had run away he jumped out of

the grave and pursued the lass, but in spite of all his exertions could

not overtake her. When he reached the door at the end of the corridor he

knocked and exclaimed: "Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man."

The corpse inside began to tremble at the sound of these words. Again

said Jack, "Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man." Now the

corpse sat up in the coffin, and as Jack repeated a third time the words

"Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man," the corpse walked to the

door and opened it.

"Is my bride here?"

"Yes, there she is, hiding in the corner of the fire-place."

"Come and let us tear her in pieces." And with this intention they both

approached the girl, but just as they were about to lay hands upon her

the cock in the loft began to crow, and announced daybreak, and the two

dead men disappeared.

The next moment a most richly attired gentleman entered from one of the

neighbouring rooms. Judging by his appearance one would have believed it

was the king himself, who at once approached the girl and overwhelmed

her with his embraces and kisses.

"Thank you so much. The corpse that you saw here laid out in state was

my brother. I have already had him buried three hundred and sixty-five

times with the greatest pomp, but he has returned each time. As you have

relieved me of him, my sweet, pretty darling, you shall become mine and

I yours; not even the hoe and the spade shall separate us from one


The girl consented to the proposal of the rich gentleman, and they got

married and celebrated their wedding-feast during the same winter.

This is how far the tale goes. This is the end of it.