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The Robber Bridegroom

There was once a miller who had one beautiful daughter, and as shewas grown up, he was anxious that she should be well m...

The Robber Bridegroom

There was once a miller who had one beautiful daughter, and as shewas grown up, he was anxious that she should be well married andprovided for. He said to himself, «I will give her to the firstsuitable man who comes and asks for her hand.» Not long after asuitor appeared, and as he appeared to be very rich and the millercould see nothing in him with which to find fault, he betrothed hisdaughter to him. But the girl did not care for the man as a girlought to care for her betrothed husband. She did not feel that shecould trust him, and she could not look at him nor think of himwithout an inward shudder. One day he said to her, «You have not yetpaid me a visit, although we have been betrothed for some time.» «Ido not know where your house is,» she answered. «My house is out therein the dark forest,» he said. She tried to excuse herself by sayingthat she would not be able to find the way thither. Her betrothedonly replied, «You must come and see me next Sunday; I have alreadyinvited guests for that day, and that you may not mistake the way, Iwill strew ashes along the path.»

When Sunday came, and it was time for the girl to start, a feelingof dread came over her which she could not explain, and that shemight be able to find her path again, she filled her pockets with peasand lentils to sprinkle on the ground as she went along. On reachingthe entrance to the forest she found the path strewed with ashes, andthese she followed, throwing down some peas on either side of her atevery step she took. She walked the whole day until she came to thedeepest, darkest part of the forest. There she saw a lonely house,looking so grim and mysterious, that it did not please her at all. Shestepped inside, but not a soul was to be seen, and a great silencereigned throughout. Suddenly a voice cried:

«Turn back, turn back, young maiden fair, Linger not in this murderers» lair.»

The girl looked up and saw that the voice came from a bird hanging ina cage on the wall. Again it cried:

«Turn back, turn back, young maiden fair, Linger not in this murderers» lair.»

The girl passed on, going from room to room of the house, but theywere all empty, and still she saw no one. At last she came to thecellar, and there sat a very, very old woman, who could not keepher head from shaking. «Can you tell me,» asked the girl, «if mybetrothed husband lives here?»

«Ah, you poor child,» answered the old woman, «what a place for youto come to! This is a murderers» den. You think yourself a promisedbride, and that your marriage will soon take place, but it is with deaththat you will keep your marriage feast. Look, do you see that largecauldron of water which I am obliged to keep on the fire! As soon asthey have you in their power they will kill you without mercy, andcook and eat you, for they are eaters of men. If I did not take pityon you and save you, you would be lost.»

Thereupon the old woman led her behind a large cask, which quite hidher from view. «Keep as still as a mouse,» she said; «do not move orspeak, or it will be all over with you. Tonight, when the robbers areall asleep, we will flee together. I have long been waiting for anopportunity to escape.»

The words were hardly out of her mouth when the godless crewreturned, dragging another young girl along with them. They were alldrunk, and paid no heed to her cries and lamentations. They gave herwine to drink, three glasses full, one of white wine, one of red, andone of yellow, and with that her heart gave way and she died. Thenthey tore of her dainty clothing, laid her on a table, and cut herbeautiful body into pieces, and sprinkled salt upon it.

The poor betrothed girl crouched trembling and shuddering behind thecask, for she saw what a terrible fate had been intended for her by therobbers. One of them now noticed a gold ring still remaining on thelittle finger of the murdered girl, and as he could not draw it offeasily, he took a hatchet and cut off the finger; but the fingersprang into the air, and fell behind the cask into the lap of the girlwho was hiding there. The robber took a light and began looking forit, but he could not find it. «Have you looked behind the large cask?’said one of the others. But the old woman called out, «Come and eatyour suppers, and let the thing be till tomorrow; the finger won’t runaway.»

«The old woman is right,» said the robbers, and they ceased lookingfor the finger and sat down.

The old woman then mixed a sleeping draught with their wine, andbefore long they were all lying on the floor of the cellar, fastasleep and snoring. As soon as the girl was assured of this, she camefrom behind the cask. She was obliged to step over the bodies of thesleepers, who were lying close together, and every moment she wasfilled with renewed dread lest she should awaken them. But God helpedher, so that she passed safely over them, and then she and the old womanwent upstairs, opened the door, and hastened as fast as they could fromthe murderers» den. They found the ashes scattered by the wind, but thepeas and lentils had sprouted, and grown sufficiently above theground, to guide them in the moonlight along the path. All night longthey walked, and it was morning before they reached the mill. Thenthe girl told her father all that had happened.

The day came that had been fixed for the marriage. The bridegroomarrived and also a large company of guests, for the miller hadtaken care to invite all his friends and relations. As they sat at thefeast, each guest in turn was asked to tell a tale; the bride satstill and did not say a word.

«And you, my love,» said the bridegroom, turning to her, «is there notale you know? Tell us something.»

«I will tell you a dream, then,» said the bride. «I went alone througha forest and came at last to a house; not a soul could I find within,but a bird that was hanging in a cage on the wall cried:

“Turn back, turn back, young maiden fair, Linger not in this murderers» lair.”

and again a second time it said these words.»

«My darling, this is only a dream.»

«I went on through the house from room to room, but they were allempty, and everything was so grim and mysterious. At last I wentdown to the cellar, and there sat a very, very old woman, who could notkeep her head still. I asked her if my betrothed lived here, and sheanswered, “Ah, you poor child, you are come to a murderers» den; yourbetrothed does indeed live here, but he will kill you without mercy andafterwards cook and eat you.”»

«My darling, this is only a dream.»

«The old woman hid me behind a large cask, and scarcely had she donethis when the robbers returned home, dragging a young girl along withthem. They gave her three kinds of wine to drink, white, red, andyellow, and with that she died.»

«My darling, this is only a dream.»

«Then they tore off her dainty clothing, and cut her beautiful bodyinto pieces and sprinkled salt upon it.»

«My darling, this is only a dream.»

«And one of the robbers saw that there was a gold ring still left onher finger, and as it was difficult to draw off, he took a hatchet andcut off her finger; but the finger sprang into the air and fell behindthe great cask into my lap. And here is the finger with the ring.’and with these words the bride drew forth the finger and shewed itto the assembled guests.

The bridegroom, who during this recital had grown deadly pale, upand tried to escape, but the guests seized him and held him fast.They delivered him up to justice, and he and all his murderousband were condemned to death for their wicked deeds.

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