As he drew nearer, he discerned the black mouth of the cave. Now--is that a white figure? Yes. The plaintive song begins to well forth and float away over meadow and river--the cross-bow is slowly raised to position, a steady aim is taken, the bolt flies straight to the mark--the figure sinks down, still singing, the knight takes the wool out of his ears, and recognizes the old ballad--too late! Ah, if he had only not put the wool in his ears!
The Crusader went away to the wars again, and presently fell in battle, fighting for the Cross. Tradition says that during several centuries the spirit of the unfortunate girl sang nightly from the cave at midnight, but the music carried no curse with it; and although many listened for the mysterious sounds, few were favored, since only those could hear them who had never failed in a trust. It is believed that the singing still continues, but it is known that nobody has heard it during the present century.
CHAPTER XVI An Ancient Legend of the Rhine [The Lorelei]
The last legend reminds one of the "Lorelei"--a legend of the Rhine. There is a song called "The Lorelei."
Germany is rich in folk-songs, and the words and airs of several of them are peculiarly beautiful--but "The Lorelei" is the people's favorite. I could not endure it at first, but by and by it began to take hold of me, and now there is no tune which I like so well.
It is not possible that it is much known in America, else I should have heard it there. The fact that I never heard it there, is evidence that there are others in my country who have fared likewise; therefore, for the sake of these, I mean to print the words and music in this chapter. And I will refresh the reader's memory by printing the legend of the Lorelei, too. I have it by me in the LEGENDS OF THE RHINE, done into English by the wildly gifted Garnham, Bachelor of Arts. I print the legend partly to refresh my own memory, too, for I have never read it before.
Lore (two syllables) was a water nymph who used to sit on a high rock called the Ley or Lei (pronounced like our word LIE) in the Rhine, and lure boatmen to destruction in a furious rapid which marred the channel at that spot. She so bewitched them with her plaintive songs and her wonderful beauty that they forgot everything else to gaze up at her, and so they presently drifted among the broken reefs and were lost.
In those old, old times, the Count Bruno lived in a great castle near there with his son, the Count Hermann, a youth of twenty. Hermann had heard a great deal about the beautiful Lore, and had finally fallen very deeply in love with her without having seen her. So he used to wander to the neighborhood of the Lei, evenings, with his Zither and "Express his Longing in low Singing," as Garnham says. On one of these occasions, "suddenly there hovered around the top of the rock a brightness of unequaled clearness and color, which, in increasingly smaller circles thickened, was the enchanting figure of the beautiful Lore.
"An unintentional cry of Joy escaped the Youth, he let his Zither fall, and with extended arms he called out the name of the enigmatical Being, who seemed to stoop lovingly to him and beckon to him in a friendly manner; indeed, if his ear did not deceive him, she called his name with unutterable sweet Whispers, proper to love. Beside himself with delight the youth lost his Senses and sank senseless to the earth."
After that he was a changed person. He went dreaming about, thinking only of his fairy and caring for naught else in the world. "The old count saw with affliction this changement in his son," whose cause he could not divine, and tried to divert his mind into cheerful channels, but to no purpose. Then the old count used authority. He commanded the youth to betake himself to the camp. Obedience was promised. Garnham says:
"It was on the evening before his departure, as he wished still once to visit the Lei and offer to the Nymph of the Rhine his Sighs, the tones of his Zither, and his Songs.