Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter 23

During the days that followed, Peter, in spite of his fervent longing, did not venture to go near the smith’s house. Torrents of rain fell, and it was this, no doubt, which confined his fair acquaintance to the house, for he did not once meet her on the short road down into the village. He was not comfortable in his own house: the musty rooms seemed gloomier and less homelike than ever, and he found the long evenings, during which he sat listening to the logs crackling in the Dutch oven, very depressing. Federspiel, too, did not visit him: perhaps he was still a little resentful. Notburga went quietly about her work, and it often seemed to him that she had been weeping. A vague feeling that his own indifferent demeanor towards her might be the cause of her secret tears led him to question her, but she shrank from him and spoke of violent toothache, a natural symptom of her condition. Sometimes, however, she remained standing in his room as if she were expecting some sign of affection from him, then would sigh and leave the room. One evening, after a long and embarrassing silence, she came over to him and caressed him awkwardly, overwhelmed with shame. With the cruel thoughtlessness of youth, he pushed her gently from him and sent her on some errand. And in order to avoid being along with her, but still more in order to have a view of the forge, he was now very often in The Rose, where every evening it was growing more lively and noisy.

 

Men under arms from all the neighboring valleys repaired thither, ordering meals, drinking hard and indulging in rude jests with screaming women. More than once, when he went in search of the absent barmaid, he found her outside with men; and one day he came upon Christian’s cousin, the young girl who had hitherto been so carefully looked after, in the embrace of a rough looking fellow. On the same day a wild crowd had invaded Sankt Marein, militia men on their way back from the Bavarian frontier; they drove cattle in front of them, amongst which were two fine Dutch cows. They had nothing but abuse for Zangerl, who had tried to stop them from plundering Schweiganger, an estate of the Bavarian king; and above all for Andreas Hofer, who had forbidden all robbery under penalty of death, and to whom Hornauss had been obliged to give up the watch he had looted. They heaped curses on the foreigners of South Tyrol, who refused to join them and paid no attention to the Archduke Johann, now advancing with the Imperial troops.

 

The few weeks during which this vagabond life had lasted had turned honest peasant lads and smallholders into a mob of wild and disreputable mercenaries, and these men, following in the wake of the militia, which was kept in fair order by the leaders, engaged in marauding adventures, appearing in isolated places as unwelcome visitors. Some of these wild men visited Zeitlanghof, and seemed inclined to use force, demanding admittance to the “aristocrats” rooms. Notburga’s quiet demeanor, however, appeared to subdue them, and they contented themselves with a drink from the celler before going on to the Scharnitz Pass.

 

On the evening of that day, a terrible storm raged over Sankt Marein, rattling among the shingles and bending the fir trees until they groaned. It whined in the stove, the windows shook, and the furniture about the study creaked.

 

Peter went out on the balcony, letting the wind blow in his hair, and gazed at the clouds flying across the last glimmer in the sky. He heard a shout over his head, “Yoho! Ho!” Black horses rushed past, whips were lashed, hounds bayed. The wild huntsmen were out, in pursuit of the phantom maidens, who crouched in the shelter of a tree on the trunk of which some pious women had carved three crosses. –

 

On swept the clouds, the storm shouting behind them, and left the heavens bare to the night. The stars sparkled.

 

Filled with an eager longing, Peter stretched out his arms. His heart burned with love for Julia, who, lonely like himself, must be sitting in her little room in the smith’s house. Courage! Courage! Enough courage to go down through the night and knock softly at her window, as peasant lads would do! He thought of letting himself down by one of the wooden pillars supporting the balcony and so leaving the house, unnoticed by Notburga. But he remembered in time that the hazard was too great. A thoughtless action might bring to nought all his hopes for ever. No, Julia was not one at whose chamber window one might knock in the night!

 

He closed the door and lit the lamp. A warm smell of oil diffused itself. Once more he caught up the mysterious book with the red markings, and the leaf on which stories of possessed persons were written in faded ink. Butz, who was reposing on the threadbare carpet, growled suddenly and barked towards the door. Federspiel entered.

 

“It’s you?” Exclaimed Peter in delight, and replaced the book in the drawer. “You have come at last! Here’s a glass for you, and you’ll find some good Terlaner in that jug; and there’s tobacco in the porcelain jar which I had from Voglsanger.”

 

The hunter took a chair and filled his pipe. His face was serious.

 

“Well,” said Peter moodily. “I noticed that you have something on your mind, my friend. Well, out with your prophecies of evil!”

 

“I am no prophet!” Returned Federspiel; “but bad news has come in. The Bavarians have seized the Strub Pass, and Deroy is hanging the peasants on the trees along the road at Kufstein. And that ass Chasteler is going to attack him.”

 

“Why, good heavens!” Exclaimed Peter, next in spite of himself, “is he to do nothing? Can you say in advance that he is going to fail? At all events, he has the heroes of Mount Isel with him…”

 

“Let us not quarrel, Herr Storck,” Federspiel answered gently. “I only answered your question. Who can tell what the result will be? We are out of the way here, in a corner of the world, and only hear something occasionally, so we may easily be deceived. I wanted to talk to you about another matter: something which relates to the fire spirits.”

 

“Anything new?” Peter gazed at him in suspense.

 

“Something worth making a note of, anyway. Well, listen. Since Anderl’s father went off to join Hofer the boy has been following me about. A good lad, except that he’s too pious for my taste, but I’ll make a hunter of him. Well, a few days ago, before the stormy weather began, I took him with me up the Schellbock. You know the road. We looked down into the Chamois’ garden when we reached the top, just as you and I did that morning. And as we were peering down, the lad said all at once, hoarse with excitement:

 

“Serafin, there’s somebody down there!”

 

And upon my soul, there down in the Chamois’ garden was a man, walking right through the herd, and the Chamois were feeding quietly just as if they were tame!”

 

He puffed his pipe and nodded, smiling at Peter’s amazement.

 

“No, no, we weren’t mistaken! It was a living man, walking quite at his ease through the herd, and he disappeared into the cavern behind the waterfall.”

 

“And who – who was it?”

 

“That’s the question. The boy said it was the rover, and I think it was. Of course, I may have been deceived by the distance. I have never seen the old man close!”

 

Confused impressions crowded on Peter, feelings of fascination and aversion, when he heard the name and remembered the old man who strange appearance had left with him one of his most vivid recollections of the day of his arrival in Sankt Marein. He had the feelings that this mysterious stranger was connected in some unaccountable way with the disappearance of his uncle, and that it was from him that he must obtain the answer to the riddle for which he had traveled into this remote region. Yet how could the old man have been able to reach the Chamois’ garden?

 

“How he got there I can’t say!” Said Federspiel, as if divining Peter’s thought. “But there is certainly a way there and I’m going to find it!” He added.

 

“Who can this rover be?” Peter asked. “I saw him once – it was the day I arrived here.”

 

“No one knows him and he goes near no one,” the hunter answered. “People suppose him to be a pitch gatherer from some other place, because he goes to Blasi’s hut. Strange fellows like him come to the mountains every year in search of ore or herbs and so forth, and then disappear. He must be someone of that sort. He turns up everywhere. It is for that reason they have given him his name. He must certainly be a good climber in spite of his age, when he is not deterred by the walls of the Schellbock. However, I will find out how he does it. If I could only once look into that old man’s eyes!”

 

“He looked me in the face on that first day. What has all this to do with the fire spirits?” Peter asked.

 

The other appeared somewhat disconcerted.

 

“Yes, you see – I can’t say. It’s only a feeling of my own.” He emptied his glass as if he wished to conceal a slight confusion. “It’s an idea that occurs to me. I know nothing more myself.”

 

He rose and held out his hand.

 

“Say nothing about this to anyone, Herr Storck. Absolutely no one!”

 

When Peter was going to bed and was on the landing, he heard a low voice singing: it was a sad folk melody. The singing came from Notburga’s room and rose up through the house in the quiet of the night. He was touched as he listened, and could make out the words:

 

“The hills and valleys mourn,

where often, night and morn,

I roamed apart;

thy face has made me sad,

that made me love thee, lad,

and broke my heart!”

 

“Julia! Lovely Julia!” He murmured. The girl singing down there seemed strange and remote to him.

 

This entry was posted in Bandel Books, German Authors, literature, Paul Busson, supernatural fiction, The Fire Spirits, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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