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The Ghost's Visit on the Feldberg - The Atlantic

Hark ye, fellows o' Todtnau, if ever I told you the Scythe-Ghost[C] Was a spirit of Evil, I've now got a different story. Out of the town am I,?yes, that I'll honestly own to,? Related to merchants, at seven tables free to take pot-luck. But I'm a Sunday's child; and wherever the ghosts at the cross-roads Stand in the air, in vaults, and cellars, and out-o'-way places,? Guardin' hidden money with eyes like fiery sauce-pans, Washin' with bitter tears the spot where somebody's murdered, Shovellin' the dirt, and scratchin' it over with nails all so bloody,? Clear as day I can see, when it lightens. Ugh! how they whimper! Also, whenever with beautiful blue eyes the heavenly angels, Deep in the night, in silent, sleepin' villages wander, Peekin' in at the windows, and talkin' together so pleasant, Smilin' one at the t'other, and settin' outside o' the house-doors, So that the pious folks shall take no harm while they're sleepin': Then ag'in, when in couples or threes they walk in the grave-yard, Talkin' in this like: "There a faithful mother is layin'; And here's a man that was poor, but took no advantage o' no one: Take your rest, for you're tired,?we'll waken ye up when the time comes!" Clearly I see by the light o' the stars, and I hear them a-talkin'. Many I know by their names, and speak to, whenever I meet 'em, Give 'em the time o' day, and ask 'em, and answer their questions. "How do ye do?" "How's y'r watch?" "Praise God, it's tolerable, thank you!" Believe it, or not! Well, once on a time my cousin, he sent me Over to Todtnau, on business with all sorts o' troublesome people, Where you've coffee to drink, and biscuit they give you to soak in 't. "Don't you stop on the road, nor gabble whatever comes foremost," Hooted my cousin at startin', "nor don't you let go o' your snuff-box, Leavin' it round in the tavern, as gentlemen do, for the next time." Up and away I went, and all that my cousin he'd ordered Fairly and squarely I fixed. At the sign o' the Eagle in Todtnau Set for a while; then, sure o' my way, tramped off ag'in, home'ards, Nigh by the village, I reckoned,?but found myself climbin' the Feldberg, Lured by the birdies, and down by the brooks the beautiful posies: That's a weakness o' mine,?I ran like a fool after such things. Now it was dusk, and the birdies hushed up, settin' still on the branches. Hither and yonder a starlie stuck its head through the darkness, Peekin' out, as oncertain whether the sun was in bed yet,? Whether it mightn't come, and called to the other ones: "Come now!" Then I knowed I was lost, and laid myself down,?I was weary: There, you know, there's a hut, and I found an armful o' straw in 't. "Here's a go!" I thinks to myself, "and I wish I was safely Cuddled in bed to home,?or 't was midnight, and some little spirit Somewhere popped out, as o' nights when it's twelve they're accustomed, Passin' the time with me, friendly, till winds that blow early o' mornin's Blow out the heavenly lights, and I see the way back to the village." Now, as thinkin' in this like, I felt all over my watch-face,? Dark as pitch all around,?and felt with my finger the hour-hand, Found it was nigh onto 'leven, and hauled my pipe from my pocket, Thinkin': "Maybe a bit of a smoke'll keep me from snoozin'": Thunder! all of a sudden beside me was two of 'em talkin', Like as they'd business together! You'd better believe that I listened. "Say, a'n't I late a-comin'? Because there was, over in Mambach, Dyin', a girl with pains in the bones and terrible fever: Now, but she's easy! I held to her mouth the drink o' departure, So that the sufferin' ceased, and softly lowered the eyelids, Sayin': 'Sleep, and in peace,?I'll waken thee up when the time comes!' Do me the favor, brother: fetch in the basin o' silver Water, ever so little: my scythe, as you see, must be whetted." "Whetted?" says I to myself, "and a spirit?" and peeked from the window. Lo and behold, there sat a youngster with wings that was golden; White was his mantle, white, and his girdle the color o' roses, Fair and lovely to see, and beside him two lights all a-burnin'. "All the good spirits," says I, "Mr. Angel, God have you in keepin'!" "Praise their Master, the Lord," said the angel; "God thank you, as I do!" "Take no offence, Mr. Ghost, and by y'r good leave and permission, Tell me, what have you got for to mow?" "Why, the scythe!" was his answer. "Yes," says I, "for I see it; and that is my question exackly, What you're goin' to do with the scythe." "Why, to mow!" was his answer. Then I ventur'd to say: "And that is my question exackly, What you're goin' to mow, supposin' you're willin' to tell me." "Grass! And what is your business so late up here in the night-time?" "Nothin' special," I answered; "I'm burnin' a little tobacco. Lost my way, or most likely I'd be at the Eagle, in Todtnau. But to come to the subject, supposin' it isn't a secret, Tell me, what do you make o' the grass?" And he answered me: "Fodder!" "Don't understand it," says I; "for the Lord has no cows up in heaven." "Not precisely a cow," he remarked, "but heifers and asses. Seest, up yonder, the star?" and he pointed one out with his finger. "There's the ass o' the Christmas-Child, and Fridolin's heifers,[D] Breathin' the starry air, and waitin' for grass that I bring 'em: Grass doesn't grow there,?nothin' grows but the heavenly raisins, Milk and honey a-runnin' in rivers, plenty as water: But they're particular cattle,?grass they must have every mornin', Mouthfuls o' hay, and drink from earthly fountains they're used to. So for them I'm a-whettin' my scythe, and soon must be mowin': Wouldn't it be worth while, if politely you'd offer to help me?" So the angel he talked, and this way I answered the angel: "Hark ye, this it is, just: and I'll go wi' the greatest o' pleasure. Folks from the town know nothin' about it: we write and we cipher, Reckon up money,?that we can do!?and measure and weigh out, Unload, and on-load, and eat and drink without any trouble. All that we want for the belly, in kitchen, pantry, and cellar, Comes in lots through every gate, in baskets and boxes, Runs in every street, and cries at every corner: 'Buy my cherries!' and 'Buy my butter!' and 'Look at my salad!' 'Buy my onions!' and 'Here's your carrots!' and 'Spinage and parsley!' 'Lucifer matches! Lucifer matches!' 'Cabbage and turnips!' 'Here's your umbrellas!' 'Caraway-seed and juniper-berries! Cheap for cash, and all to be traded for sugar and coffee!' Say, Mr. Angel, didst ever drink coffee? how do you like it?" "Stop with y'r nonsense!" then he said, but he couldn't help laughin'; "No, we drink but the heavenly air, and eat nothin' but raisins, Four on a day o' the week, and afterwards five on a Sunday. Come, if you want to go with me, now, for I'm off to my mowin', Back o' Todtnau, there on the grassy holt by the highway." "Yes, Mr. Angel, that will I truly, seein' you're willin': Seems to me that it's cooler: give me y'r scythe for to carry: Here's a pipe and a pouch,?you're welcome to smoke, if you want to." While I was talkin', "Poohoo!" cried the angel. A fiery man stood, Quicker than lightnin', beside me. "Light us the way to the village!" Said he. And truly before us marched, a-burnin', the Poohoo, Over stock and rock, through the bushes, a travellin' torch-light. "Handy, isn't it?" laughin', the angel said. ?"What are ye doin'? Why do you nick at y'r flint? You can light y'r pipe at the Poohoo. Use him whenever you like: but it seems to me you're a-frightened,? You, and a Sunday's-child, as you are: do you think he will bite you?" "No, he ha'n't bit me; but this you'll allow me to say, Mr. Angel,? Half-and-half I mistrust him: besides, my tobacco's a-burnin'. That's a weakness o' mine,?I'm afeard o' them fiery creeturs: Give me seventy angels, instead o' this big burnin' devil!" "Really, it's dreadfle," the angel says he, "that men is so silly, Fearful o' ghosts and spectres, and skeery without any reason. Two of 'em only is dangerous, two of 'em hurtful to mankind: One of 'em's known by the name o' Delusion, and Worry the t'other. Him, Delusion, 's a dweller in wine: from cans and decanters Up to the head he rises, and turns your sense to confusion. This is the ghost that leads you astray in forest and highway: Undermost, uppermost, hither and yon the ground is a-rollin', Bridges bendin', and mountains movin', and everything double. Hark ye, keep out of his way!" "Aha!" I says to the angel, "There you prick me, but not to the blood: I see what you're after. Sober am I, as a judge. To be sure, I emptied my tankard Once, at the Eagle,?once,?and the landlord 'll tell you the same thing, S'posin' you doubt me. And now, pray, tell me who is the t'other?" "Who is the t'other? Don't know without askin'?" answered the angel. "He's a terrible ghost: the Lord forbid you should meet him! When you waken early, at four or five in the mornin', There he stands a-waitin' with burnin eyes at y'r bed-side, Gives you the time o' day with blazin switches and pinchers: Even prayin' don't help, nor helps all your Ave Marias! When you begin 'em, he takes your jaws and claps 'em together; Look to heaven, he comes and blinds y'r eyes with his ashes; Be you hungry, and eat, he pizons y'r soup with his wormwood; Take you a drink o' nights, he squeezes gall in the tankard; Run like a stag, he follows as close on y'r trail as a blood-hound; Creep like a shadow, be whispers: 'Good! we had best take it easy'; Kneels at y'r side in the church, and sets at y'r side in the tavern. Go wherever you will, there's ghosts a-hoverin' round you. Shut your eyes in y'r bed, they mutter: 'There 's no need o' hurry; By-and-by you can sleep, but listen! we've somethin' to tell you: Have you forgot how you stoled? and how you cheated the orphans? Secretly sinned?'?and this, and t'other; and when they have finished, Say it over ag'in, and you get little good o' your slumber." So the angel he talked, and, like iron under the hammer, Sparked and spirited the Poohoo. "Surely," I says to the angel, "Born on a Sunday was I, and friendly with many a preacher, Yet the Father protect me from these!" Says he to me, smilin': "Keep y'r conscience pure; it is better than crossin' and blessin'. Here we must part, for y'r way turns off and down to the village. Take the Poohoo along, but mind! put him out, in the meadow, Lest he should run in the village, settin' fire to the stables. God be with you and keep you!" And then says I: "Mr. Angel, God, the Father, protect you! Be sure, when you come to the city, Christmas evenin', call, and I'll hold it an honor to see you: Raisins I'll have at your service, and hippocras, if you like it. Chilly 's the air, o' evenin's, especially down by the river." Day was breakin' by this, and right there was Todtnau before me! Past, and onward to Basle I wandered, i' the shade and the coolness. When into Mambach I came, they bore a dead girl to the grave-yard, After the Holy Cross, and the faded banner o' Heaven, With the funeral garlands upon her, with sobbin' and weepin'. Ah, but she 'd heard what he said! he'll waken her up when the time comes. Afterwards, Tuesday it was, I got safely back to my cousin; But it turned out as he said,?I'd somewhere forgotten my snuff-box!

[Footnote C: Dengle-Geist, literally, "Whetting-Spirit." The exact meaning of dengeln is to sharpen a scythe by hammering the edge of the blade, which was practised before whetstones came in use.]

[Footnote D: According to an old legend, Fridolin (a favorite saint with the Catholic population of the Black Forest) harnessed two young heifers to a mighty fir-tree, and hauled it into the Rhine near S?kingen, thereby damming the river and forcing it to take a new course, on the other side of the town.]