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Title: The Demon of the Hartz
Author: Thomas Peckett Prest
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606291.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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The Demon of the Hartz
Thomas Peckett Prest



THE solitudes of the Hartz forest in Germany, but especially the
mountains called Blockberg, or rather Blockenberg, are the chosen
scene for tales of witches, demons, and apparitions. The occupation of
the inhabitants, who are either miners or foresters, is of a kind that
renders them peculiarly prone to superstition, and the natural
phenomena which they witness in pursuit of their solitary or
subterraneous profession, are often set down by them to the
interference of goblins or the power of magic. Among the various
legends current in that wild country, there is a favourite one which
supposes the Hartz to be haunted by a sort of tutelar demon, in the
shape of a wild man, of huge stature, his head wreathed with oak
leaves, and his middle tinctured with the same, bearing in his hand a
pine torn up by the root. It is certain that many persons profess to
have seen such a man traversing, with huge strides, the opposite ridge
of a mountain, when divided from it by a narrow glen; and indeed the
fact of the apparition is so generally admitted, that modern
scepticism has only found refuge by ascribing it to optical deception.

In elder times, the intercourse of the demon with the inhabitants was
more familiar, and, according to the traditions of the Hartz, he was
wont, with the caprice usually ascribed to these earth--born powers to
interfere with the affairs of mortals, sometimes for their welfare.
But it was observed, that even his gifts often turned out, in the long
run, fatal to those on whom they were bestowed, and it was no uncommon
thing for the pastors, in their care for their flock, to compose long
sermons the burthen whereof was a warning against having any
intercourse, direct or indirect, with the Hartz demon. The fortunes of
Martin Waldeck have been often quoted by the aged to their giddy
children, when they were heard to scoff at a danger which appeared
visionary.

A travelling capuchin had possessed himself of the pulpit of the
thatched church at a little hamlet called Morgenbrodt, lying in the
Hartz district, from which he declaimed against the wickedness of the
inhabitants, their communication with fiends, witches, and fairies,
and particularly with the woodland goblin of the Hartz. The doctrines
of Luther had already begun to spread among the peasantry, for the
incident is placed under the reign of Charles V, and they laughed to
scorn the zeal with which the venerable man insisted upon his topic.
At length, as his vehemence increased with opposition, so their
opposition rose in proportion to his vehemence. The inhabitants did
not like to hear an accustomed demon, who had inhabited the
Brockenberg for so many ages, summarily confounded with Baal--peor,
Ashtaroth, and Beelzebub himself, and condemned without reprieve to
the bottomless Tophet. The apprehensions that the spirit might avenge
himself on them for listening to such an illiberal sentence, added to
the national interest in his behalf. A travelling friar, they said,
that is here today and away tomorrow, may say what he pleases, but it
is we the ancient and constant inhabitants of the country, that are
left at the mercy of the insulted demon, and must, of course, pay for
all. Under the irritation occasioned by these reflections the peasants
from injurious language betook themselves to stones, and having
pebbled the priest most handsomely, they drove him out of the parish
to preach against demons elsewhere.

Three young men, who had been present and assisting in the attack upon
the priest, carried on the laborious and mean occupation of preparing
charcoal for the smelting furnaces. On their return to their hut,
their conversation naturally turned upon the demon of the Hartz and
the doctrine of the capuchin. Maximilian and George Waldeck, the two
elder brothers, although they allowed the language of the capuchin to
have been indiscreet and worthy of censure, as presuming to determine
upon the precise character and abode of the spirit, yet contended it
was dangerous, in the highest degree, to accept his gifts, or hold any
communication with him. He was powerful they allowed, but wayward and
capricious, and those who had intercourse with him seldom came, to a
good end. Did he not give the brave knight, Echert of Rabenwald, that
famous black steed, by means of which he vanquished all the champions
at the great tournament at Bremen? and did not the same steed
afterwards precipitate itself wit its rider into an abyss so deep and
fearful, that neither horse nor man was ever seen more? Had he not
given to Dame Gertrude Trodden a curious spell for making butter come?
and was she not burnt for a witch by the grand criminal judge of the
Electorate, because she availed herself of his gift? But these, and
many other instances which they quoted, of mischance and ill--luck
ultimately attending upon the apparent benefits conferred by the Hartz
spirit, failed to make any impression on Martin Waldeck, the youngest
of the brothers.

Martin was youthful, rash, and impetuous; excelling in all the
exercises which distinguish a mountaineer, and brave and undaunted
from the familiar intercourse with the dangers that attend them. He
laughed at the timidity of his brothers. 'Tell me not of such folly,'
he said; 'the demon is a good demon--he lives among us as if he were a
peasant like ourselves--haunts the lonely crags or recesses of the
mountains like a huntsman or goatherd--and he who loves the Hartz--
forest and its wild scenes cannot be indifferent to the fate of the
hardy children of the soil. But if the demon were as malicious as you
make him, how should he derive power over mortals who barely avail
themselves of his gifts, without binding themselves to submit to his
pleasure? 'When you carry your charcoal to the furnace, is not the
money as good that is paid you by blaspheming Blaize, the old
reprobate overseer, as if you got it from the pastor himself? It is
not the goblin's gifts which can endanger you then, but it is the use
you shall make of them that you must account for. And were the demon
to appear at this moment, and indicate to me a gold or silver mine, I
would begin to dig away before his back were turned, and I would
consider myself as under protection of a much Greater than he, while I
made a good use of the wealth he pointed out tome.

To this the elder brother replied, that wealth ill won was seldom well
spent, while Martin presumptuously declared, that the possession of
all the Hartz would not make the slightest alteration on his habits,
morals, or character.

His brother entreated Martin to talk less wildly upon this subject,
and with some difficulty contrived to withdraw his attention, by
calling it to the consideration of an approaching boar chase, This
talk brought them to their hut, a wretched wigwam, situated upon one
side of a wild, narrow, and romantic dell in the recesses of the
Brockenberg. They released their sister from attending upon the
operation of charring the wood, which requires constant attention, and
divided among themselves the duty of watching it by night, according
to their custom, one always waking while his brothers slept.

Max Waldeck, the eldest, watched during the two first hours of night,
and was considerably alarmed, by observing upon the opposite bank of
the glen, or valley a huge fire surrounded by some figures that
appeared to wheel around it with antic gestures. Max at first
bethought him of calling up his brothers; but recollecting the daring
character of the youngest, and finding it impossible to wake the elder
without also disturbing him--conceiving also what he saw to be an
illusion of the demon, sent perhaps in consequence of the venturous
expressions used by Martin on the preceding evening, he thought it
best to betake himself to the safe--guard of such prayers as he could
murmur over, and to watch in great terror and annoyance this strange
and alarming apparition. After blazing for some time, the fire faded
gradually away into darkness, and the rest of Max's watch was only
disturbed by the remembrance of its terrors.

George now occupied the place of Max, who had retired to rest. The
phenomenon of a huge blazing fire, upon the opposite bank of the glen,
again presented itself to the eye of the watchman. It was surrounded
as before by figures, which, distinguished by their opaque forms,
being between the spectator and the red glaring light, moved and
fluctuated around it as if engaged in some mystical ceremonies.
George, though equally cautions, was of a bolder character than his
elder brother. He resolved to examine more nearly the object of his
wonder; and accordingly, after crossing the rivulet which divided the
glen, he climbed up the opposite bank, and approached within an
arrow's flight from the fire, which blazed apparently with the same
fury as when he first witnessed it.

The appearance of the assistants who surrounded it, resembled those
phantoms which are seen in a troubled dream, and at once confirmed the
idea he had entertained from the first, that they did not belong to
the human world. Amongst the strange unearthly forms, George Waldeck
distinguished that of a giant overgrown with hair, holding an uprooted
fir in his hand, with which, from time to time, he seemed to stir the
blazing fire and having no other clothing than a wreath of oak leaves
round his forehead and loins. George's heart sunk within him at
recognizing the well--known apparition of the Hartz demon, as he had
often been described to him by the ancient shepherds and huntsmen who
had seen his form traversing the mountains. He turned, and was about
to fly; but, upon second thoughts, blaming his own cowardice, he
recited mentally the verse of the Psalmist, 'All good angels praise
the Lord I' which is in that country supposed powerful as an exorcism
and turned himself once more towards the place where he had seen the
fire. But it was no longer visible.

The pale moon alone enlightened the side of the valley, and when
George, with trembling steps, a moist brow, and hair bristling upright
under his collier's cap, came to the spot where the fire had been so
lately visible, marked as it was by a scathed oak tree, there appeared
not on the heath the slightest vestiges of what he had seen. The moss
and wild flowers were unscorched, and the branches of the oak tree,
which had so lately appeared enveloped in wreaths of flame and smoke,
were moist with the dews of midnight.

George returned to his hut with trembling steps, and, arguing like his
elder brother, resolved to say nothing of what he had seen, lest he
should awake in Martin that daring curiosity which he almost deemed to
be allied with impiety.

It was now Martin's turn to watch. The household cock had given his
first summons, and the night was well nigh spent. On examining the
state of the furnace in which the wood was deposited in order to its
being coked, or charred, he was surprised to find that the fire had
nor been sufficiently maintained; for in his excursion and its
consequences, George had forgot the principal object of his watch.
Martin's first thought was to call up the slumberers, but observing
that both his brothers slept unwontedly deep and heavily, he respected
their repose, and set himself to supply their furnace with fuel,
without requiring their aid. What he heaped upon it was apparently
damp and unfit for the purpose, for the fire seemed rather to decay
than revive. Martin next went to collect some boughs from a stack
which had been carefully cut and dried for this purpose; but, when he
returned, he found the fire totally extinguished. This was a serious
evil, which threatened them with loss of their trade for more than one
day. The vexed and mortified watchman set about to strike a light in
order to rekindle the fire, but the tinder was moist, and his labour
proved in this respect also ineffectual. He was now about to call up
his brothers, for the circumstance seemed to be pressing, when flashes
of light glimmered not only through the window, but through every
crevice of the rudely built hut, and summoned him to behold the same
apparition which had before alarmed the successive watches of his
brethren. His first idea was, that the Muhllerhaussers, their rivals
in trade, and with whom they had had many quarrels, might have
encroached upon their bounds for the purpose of pirating their wood,
and he resolved to awake his brothers, and be revenged on them for
their audacity. But a short reflection and observation on the gestures
and manner of those who seemed 'to work in the fire', induced him to
dismiss this belief, and although rather sceptical in these matters,
to conclude that what he saw was a supernatural phenomenon. 'But be
they men or fiends,' said the undaunted forester, 'that busy
themselves with such fantastical rites and gestures, I will go and
demand a light to rekindle our furnace.' He relinquished, at the same
time, the idea of waking his brethren. There was a belief that such
adventures as he was about to undertake were accessible only to one
person at a time; he feared also that his brothers in their scrupulous
timidity, might interfere to prevent the investigation he had resolved
to commence; and therefore, snatching his boar--spear from the wall,
the undaunted Martin Waldeck set forth on the adventure alone.

With the same success as his brother George, but with courage far
superior, Martin crossed the brook, ascended the hill, and approached
so near the ghostly assembly that he could recognize, in the presiding
figure, the attributes of the Hartz demon. A cold shuddering assailed
him for the first time in his life, but the recollection that he had
at a distance dared and even courted the intercourse which was now
about to take place, confirmed his staggering courage, and pride
supplying what he wanted in resolution, he advanced with tolerable
firmness towards the fire; the figures which surrounded it appeared
more phantastical, and supernatural, the nearer he approached to the
assembly. He was received with a loud shout of discord and unnatural
laughter, which, to his stunned ears, seemed more alarming than a
combination of the most dismal and melancholy sounds which could be
imagined.----'Who art thou?' said the giant compressing his savage and
exaggerated features into a sort of forced gravity, while they were
occasionally agitated by the convulsion of the laughter which he
seemed to suppress.

'Martin Waldeck, the forester,' answered the hardy youth;----'And who
are you?'

The king of the wastes and of the mine,' answered the spectre;----'And
why hast thou dared to encroach on my mysteries?'

'I came in search of light to rekindle my fire,' answered Martin
hardily, and then resolutely asked in his turn, 'What mysteries are
these that you celebrate here?'

'We celebrate,' answered the demoniac being, 'the wedding of Hermes
with the Black Dragon.--But take thy fire that thou camest to seek,
and begone--No mortal may long look upon us and live.'

The peasant stuck his spear point into a large piece of blazing wood,
which he heaved with some difficulty, and then turned round to regain
his hut, the shouts of laughter being renewed behind him with treble
violence, and ringing far down the narrow valley. When Martin returned
to the hut, his first care, however much astonished with what he had
seen, was to dispose the kindled coal among the fuel so as might best
light the fire of his furnace, but after many efforts, and all
exertions of bellows and fire prong, the coal he had brought from the
demon's fire became totally extinct, without kindling any of the
others. He turned about and observed the fire still blazing on the
hill, although those who had been busied around it had disappeared. As
he conceived the spectre had been jesting with him, he gave way to the
natural hardihood of his temper, and determining to see the adventure
to the end, resumed the road to the fire, from which, unopposed by the
demon, he brought off in the same manner a blazing piece of charcoal
but still without being able to succeed in lighting his fire. Impunity
having increased his rashness, he resolved upon a third experiment,
and was as successful as before in reaching the fire; but, when he had
again appropriated a piece of burning coal, and had turned to depart,
he heard the harsh and supernatural voice which had before accosted
him, pronounce these word; 'Dare not to return hither a fourth time!'

The attempt to rekindle the fire with this last coal having proved as
ineffectual as on the former occasions, Martin relinquished the
hopeless attempt, and flung himself on his bed of leaves, resolving to
delay till the next morning the communication of his supernatural
adventure to his brothers. He was awakened from a heavy sleep into
which he had sunk, from fatigue of body and agitation of mind, by loud
exclamations of joy and surprise. His brothers, astonished at finding
the Are extinguished when they awoke, had proceeded to arrange the
fuel in order to renew it, when they found in the ashes three huge
metallic masses, which their skill, (for most of the peasants in the
Hartz are practised mineralogists,) immediately ascertained to be pure
gold.

It was some damp upon their joyful congratulations when they learned
from Martin the mode in which he had obtained this treasure, to which
their own experience of the nocturnal vision induced them to give full
credit. But they were unable to resist the temptation of sharing their
brother's wealth. Taking now upon him as head of the house, Martin
Waldeck bought lands and forests, built a castle, obtained a patent of
nobility, and greatly to the scorn of the ancient nobility of the
neighbourhood, was invested with all the privileges of a man of
family. His courage in public war, as well as in private feuds,
together with the number of retainers whom he kept in pay, sustained
him for some time against the odium which was excited by his sudden
elevation, and the arrogance of his pretensions. Now it was seen in
the instance of Martin Waldeck, as it has been in that of many others,
how little mortals can foresee the effect of sudden prosperity on
their own disposition. The evil dispositions in his nature, which
poverty had checked and repressed, ripened and bore their unhallowed
fruit under the influence of temptation and the means of indulgence.
As Deep calls unto Deep, one bad passion awakened another:--the fiend
of avarice invoked that of pride, and pride was to be supported by
cruelty and oppression. Waldeck's character, always bold and daring,
but rendered more harsh and assuming by prosperity, soon made him
odious, not to nobles only, but likewise to the lower ranks, who saw,
with double dislike, the oppressive rights of the feudal nobility of
the empire so remorselessly exercised by one who had risen from the
very dregs of the people. His adventure, although carefully concealed,
began likewise to be whispered, and the clergy already stigmatized as
a wizard and accomplice of fiends, the wretch, who, having acquired so
huge a treasure in so strange a manner had not sought to sanctify it
by dedicating a considerable portion to the use of the church.
Surrounded by enemies, public arid private, tormented by a thousand
feuds, and threatened by the church with excommunication, Martin
Waldeck, or, as we must now call him the Baron Von Waldeck, often
regretted bitterly the labours and sports of unenvied poverty. But his
courage failed him not under all these difficulties and seemed rather
to augment in proportion to the danger which darkened around him,
until an accident precipitated his fall.

A proclamation by the reigning Duke of Brunswick had invited to a
solemn tournament all German nobles of free and honourable descent,
and Martin Waldeck, splendidly armed, accompanied by his two brothers,
and a gallantly equipped retinue, had the arrogance to appear among
the chivalry of the province and demand permission to enter the lists.
This was considered as filling up the measure of his presumption. A
thousand voices exclaimed, 'we will have no cinder--sifter mingle in
our games of chivalry.' Irritated to frenzy, Martin drew his sword,
and hewed down the herald who, in compliance with the general outcry,
opposed his entrance into the list. A hundred swords were unsheathed
to avenge what was, in those days, regarded as a crime only inferior
to sacrilege, or regicide. Waldeck, after defending himself with the
fury of a lion, was seized, tried on the spot by the judges of the
lists, and condemned, as the appropriate punishment for breaking the
peace of his sovereign and violating the sacred person of a herald--
at--arms, to have his right hand struck from his body, to be
ignominiously deprived of the honour of nobility, of which he was
unworthy, and be expelled from the city. When he had been stripped of
his arms, and sustained the mutilation imposed by this severe
sentence, the unhappy victim of ambition was abandoned to the rabble,
who followed him with threats and outcries, levelled alternately
against the necromancer and oppressor, which at length ended in
violence. His brothers, (for his retinue had fled and dispersed) at
length succeeded in rescuing him from the hands of the populace, when,
satiated with cruelty, they had left him half dead through loss of
blood, through the outrages he had sustained. They were not permitted,
such was the ingenious cruelty of their enemies, to make use of any
other means of removing him, excepting such a collier's cart as they
had themselves formerly used, in which they deposited their brother on
a truss of straw, scarcely expecting to reach any place of shelter ere
death should release him from his misery.

When the Waldecks, journeying in this miserable manner, had approached
the verge of their native country, in a hollow way, between two
mountains, they perceived a figure advancing towards them, which at
first sight seemed to be an aged man. But as he approached, his limbs
and stature increased, the cloak fell from his shoulders, his
pilgrim's staff was changed into an uprooted pine tree, and the
gigantic figure of the Hartz demon passed before them in his terrors.
When he came opposite to the cart which contained the miserable
Waldeck, his huge features dilated into a grin of unutterable contempt
and malignity, as he asked the sufferer, 'How like you the fire MY
coals have kindled!' The power of motion, which terror suspended in
his two brothers, seemed to be restored to Martin by the energy of his
courage. He raised himself on the cart, bent his brows, and, clenching
his fist, shook it at the spectre with a ghastly look of hate and
defiance. The goblin vanished with his usual tremendous and explosive
laugh and left Waldeck exhausted with the effort of expiring nature.

The terrified brethren turned their vehicle towards the towers of a
convent which arose in a wood of pine trees beside the road. They were
charitably received by a bare--footed and long--bearded capuchin, and
Martin survived only to complete the first confession he had made
since the day of his sudden prosperity, and to receive absolution from
the very priest, whom, precisely that day three years, he had assisted
to pelt out of the hamlet of Morgenbrodt. The three years of
precarious prosperity were supposed to have a mysterious
correspondence with the number of his visits to the spectral fire upon
the hill.

The body of Martin Waldeck was interred in the convent where he
expired, in which his brothers, having assumed the habit of the order,
lived and died in the performance of acts of charity and devotion. His
lands, to which no one asserted any claim, lay waste until they were
reassumed by the emperor as a lapsed fief, and the ruins of the
castle, which Waldeck had called by his own name, are still shunned by
the miner and forester as haunted by evil spirits. Thus were the evils
attendant upon wealth, hastily attained and ill--employed, exemplified
in the fortunes of Martin Waldeck.



THE END



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