The White Maiden

: 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.