The Haunted Castle

Who has ever occupied himself seriously with the investigation of the “night-side of Nature,” or studied the works of Theophrastus Paracelsus and not become acquainted with the celebrated “Untersberg” (the “mountain of the lower world”) and its mysterious inhabitants, the fairies and gnomes? {2}

Like a gigantic outpost of the Austrian Alps, this snow-capped wing of the mountains stands on the frontier of Germany, overlooking the Bavarian plains, dotted with hills, forests, and lakes. Its summit, dwelling above the clouds, dominates the valley through which the Salzach river winds its way to the Inn and the Danube. Seen from the north side, where the city of Salzburg is nestled among the hills, the mountains looks tame enough, rising in undulating forest-covered lines up to a height of some seven thousand feet ; but on the south side it exhibits an almost endless variety of perpendicular walls, formed of marble rocks thousands of feet high, and interrupted by deep ravines and chasms, craggy cliffs, spurs, and precipices, over which in the time of spring, when the snow begins to melt, great avalanches come thundering down, and a sharp eye may detect in many an inaccessible spot mysterious caves, that seem to penetrate into {3} the bowels of that mysterious mountain. If you will take the trouble of climbing up to these dizzy heights, you will find yourself in a new world, for there the Untersberg appears not as one single mountain, but as a mountain chain, of which each separate link has its special aspect and character, being separated from its neighbour by deep chasms, through which the mountain streams rush. There is no end of waterfalls, caves and labyrinths of boulders, where the inexperienced wanderer may lose his way, especially if he is misled by the gnomes—which may easily occur if his intentions are not pure.

The Untersberg is known to be inhabited by certain kinds of elemental spirits of Nature, some of which are good and benevolent, others of a wicked and malicious nature, and inimical to mankind ; and there are innumerable tales circulating among the people in the neighbourhood, telling about the doings of the gnomes, fairies, wild women, and giants, {4} dwelling within caves and in gorgeous marble halls and grottoes filled with gold and precious stones that will turn dead leaves and stones when seen in the light of day. Some of the friendly tribes come out of the Untersberg on certain occasions, and they are said to have sometimes associated with the inhabitants of our plane of existence, partaking in the dances and amusements of the peasants, and even taking stray children with them into the Untersberg ; and, incredible as it may appear, it is even asserted by “those who know” that marriages have taken place between citizens of our world and the inhabi- tants of the kingdom of gnomes, and that these spirits of Nature, being themselves not immortal, seek to obtain immortality by their union with immortal man. The majority of the gnomes , therefore, also love plain, truthful, and unsophisticated human beings, such as posses a soul in which the light of the immortal spirit may be perceived, and with {5} these they are ready to associate ; but with soulless beings, such as sophisticated, sceptical, arrogant, short-sighted and opinionated scientists, whose hearts are dead, and whose brains are swollen with the products of their own fancy, they will have nothing to do ; to such they never show themselves, but love to play tricks upon them whenever they come with a view of invading their kingdom.

Of course it is known to everybody that within the mysterious depths of the Untersberg there dwells the soul of a great emperor in his astral form. There, together with his retinue, he sleeps an enchanted sleep, waiting for the liberation of his country. Sometimes very suddenly, even on a clear summer day, clouds are seen to issue from the sides of the mountain ; grotesquely-formed ghost-like mists arise from caverns and precipices, crawling and gliding slowly upwards toward the top, and from the neighbouring peaks also clouds of monstrous shapes and sometimes of gigantic {6} proportions come floating on, until the head of the Untersberg is surrounded by a surging sea of vapours growing dense and dark. Then a clap of thunder reverberates through the rocks, awakening hundreds of echoes, and forked streaks of lightning flash down into the valley ; the storm-king arises, howling dismally through the forest, breaking down old trees and hurling them into the precipices below. On such occasions the people in the valleys piously make the sign of the cross, and whisper to each other: “The great emperor has awakened and is reviewing his troops. He is angry because he sees that the black ravens are still flying around the top of the Untersberg.” This, of course, I hold to be a fable, and the “emperor in the Untersberg” is well known to the wise ; but as to the dark birds referred to, they are typified by certain black-robed and stiff-necked gentlemen, whom you may frequently meet. The liberation for which the emperor waits also seems to me not {7} that from any foreign yoke, but the redemption from selfishness with its consequent evils. Poor emperor You may have to wait still another thousand years in the world of the gnomes before you will be able to resume control over your kingdom. Sleep in peace The time will not seem to you long ; for it is not you who suffers, and there is no measurement of time during sleep or in eternity.

Owing to the increase of modern culture, and its accompanying sophistry and scepticism, visible intercourse with the gnomes has become of comparatively rare occurrence, especially because their kindness has often been abused and their services misapplied, as the following story will show, which I may be permitted to insert, as it is not without bearing upon the events told in the succeeding chapters.

A short distance from the city of Salzburg, and upon a hill covered by a forest of pines, there stood in ancient times the castle of {8} Tollenstein, of which now only some remnants are left. The walls are in ruins, but these go to show that formerly they were parts of a palatial building. One remnant composed of huge square stones still indicates the extent of the large banqueting-hall, where festivals took place; and it is said that on certain nights the orgies which these stones witnessed are spectrally repeated and enacted in the astral light by the ghost-like shapes of deceased ladies and knights; while not far off there is a dilapidated tower of massive structure, enclos ing a deep hole in the ground, where the subterranean dungeon was located—the “oublette“ or living tomb, in which poor wretches for some offence were buried alive and “forgotten,” left to starve or suffocate. It is said that, during the nights when the ghosts in the banqueting-hall hold gruesome carousals, cries and groans and wails may be heard coming from the bottom of that well. These things I do not find difficult to believe ; {9} for we often find similar instances of the proximity of luxury and misery among the living in this our material world.

In ancient times the owner of the castle was Burkhart von Tollenstein, a youthful and valorous knight, admired by all the ladies in the country on account of the voluminous mass of golden hair which adorned his head. This, together with his manliness and beauty, gained for him the hearts of all those fair ladies, except one, and this was the very one for whose possession he craved, namely, the very beautiful but proud Julia von Horst.

He had seen her only once, but that was enough to make him fall desperately in love with her face and figure. He had been happy enough until he was so unfortunate as to have the tranquillity of his heart destroyed by the sight of her dark and languishing eyes. From that time forward an image of the beautiful Julia was formed in his mind, whose contemplation absorbed him so that he thought {10} of nothing else; henceforth nothing but the thought of Julia had any attraction for him. He sought to woo and to win the ideal of his thoughts; but alas! his sighs and tears were all in vain, for his home was poor, and the proud Julia cared far more for money than for love She knew that Burkhart's fortune was too small to supply her with all the luxuries she desired; therefore, when he offered her his heart, she rejected it, and sneeringly said:

“Of what use will be your heart to me, if starvation waits for me in your home ?”

This offensive remark was more than a knight of these times was able to bear in patience, and Burkhart, cursing his poverty, went home in despair. From day to day he became more and more morose and melancholy, grieving on account of the insufficiency of his means. At last he determined to enrich himself by whatever means he might find, and resolved to rob the gnomes of the Untersberg of their treasures. {11}

In these times it was customary for almost everybody to have a wise and faithful steward ready to give good advice. Burkhart's steward did his best to dissuade the knight from this wicked and dangerous undertaking ; but in vain did old Bruno, for this was his name, entreat him to desist from evil thoughts, and to forget the proud Julia, as she was entirely unworthy of his affection. The knight would not listen.

“The Lord be merciful to you!” exclaimed Bruno. “Shake off this delusion, O noble knight; think of your high descent and what your ancestors would say. Look upwards, to where your salvation rests; the spirits of the lower world will mislead and ruin you.”

But the knight answered, “I am not a coward. I am not afraid of losing my life, which is worthless to me without the possession of Julia. More than once I have looked into the face of death while engaged in battle. I want the gold of the gnomes, and must have {12} it, let the consequences be what they may. If the gnomes are not willing to surrender their gold, I shall take it by force.”

Thus spurning good advice, the knight gave orders that his black war-horse be brought forth. This he bestrode, and trotted towards the Untersberg.

It was a gloomy evening in November; the leaves of the trees had turned yellow and red, and rustled in the wind, and their voices seemed to warn him not to proceed, while the waving boughs motioned to him to return. Soon the queen of the night began to spread her mantle over the face of the earth, and there arose in the gloom, like a gigantic shadow, the outlines of the mysterious Untersberg. For a moment fear overcame the youth, and he stopped; but his desire overcame his fear, and pronouncing an oath he spurred his horse, determined to push on. Just then the horse shied, and, looking up, Burkhart saw sitting by the roadside a dwarf clothed in a steel-blue {13} gown. The dwarf looked steadily with glittering eyes at the knight.

“Avaunt !“ exclaimed Burkhart angrily. “What are you sitting here and frightening my horse for ?”

“Ho! ho!” laughed the dwarf “ Know, you creeping worm of the earth, I am Pypo, the king of the gnomes. Mine is the Untersberg with its treasures. What have you to seek in my territory ?”

When Burkhart heard these words he deemed it prudent to speak politely to the king of the gnomes. He therefore explained to him his situation, and asked for the loan of a sum of money, for which he promised his everlasting gratitude.

The king groaned. “Confound your gratitude,” he said: “there would be plenty of wretches like you coming to borrow money from me, if it could be had at such a cheap price.”

“What then do you demand ?“ asked the {14} knight. “State your terms, and I will accept them, for I must have gold at any price !”

“Listen then,” said the gnome; “it is not much that I ask. Only one hair from your head for each thousand of florins.” Thus saying, his eyes rested searchingly upon the face of the knight.

“Only one hair from my head ?“ exclaimed Burkhart in great astonishment. “A whole lot of hair you shall have, and be welcome, if you only furnish me the money necessary for obtaining the favour of Julia.”

“I am putting no limits to the amount you may draw,” laughed the king, “For each thousand of florins which you receive from me you will have to leave me one hair from your head.”

“It is a bargain!” exclaimed the knight joyfully, and, drawing his dagger, he was about to proceed to cut a lock of hair from his forehead to offer it to the king. “Not so,” said Pypo. “Only one hair at a {15} time, and I will have to pull it out myself by the root.”

So the knight dismounted, and as he bent down the dwarf tore a single hair from his scalp, after which he threw a bag of gold at Burkhart's feet.

“Thanks!” exclaimed the knight, as he hugged the bag and gloated over its contents.

“No thanks are wanted,” replied the gnome; “see to it that the hairs upon your head will not become too few in time to purchase enough gold for satisfying the greed of your Julia.”

So saying the gnome vanished; but the knight returned with his bag of gold to the castle. He now at once began to enlarge and improve his house in exquisite style; he bought costly furniture and ornaments, hired servants and cooks, sent out invitations for dinners and balls, and every evening he went to the Untersburg for another bag of gold, leaving in return one of his hairs.

Soon the news of the riches of Burkhart von {16} Tollenstein began to spread, and everybody wondered and came to see and admire the luxury displayed by the knight. Now the consent of Julia was easily gained, and before many days the walls of the castle resounded with gay music, merry-making, and laughter; for the marriage of the valorous knight with the beautiful countess took place. All the nobility in the country were invited, and took part in the revel.

Henceforth the castle of Tollenstein became the scene of an uninterrupted succession of festivities of all kinds; there was a merry-go-round, and the doors of the house were open day and night to visitors. Parasites of all kinds peopled the castle. Dinners, dances, masquerades, tournaments, theatrical perform ances and hunting excursions followed each other without end, and the beautiful Julia had the sweet satisfaction of being surrounded by flatterers and admirers to her heart's content; but her desires grew in proportion as they {17} were gratified, her vanity in proportion as it was tickled : her whims were incalculable, but the resources of her husband seemed to be inexhaustible, and he was an object of envy to every One.

More and more frequent grew his visits to the Untersberg, from each of which he returned with a thousand florins in gold, but with one less hair from his head; and for all that, he seemed not to be happy, for he saw only too clearly that he had bought only the appear ance of love, and that his wife loved not him but only his money; and whenever he did not at once comply with her unreasonable and extravagant demands, she would treat him with contempt, so as to render life a burden to him. All this caused him a great deal of grief, which he sought to drown in the wine-cup. Thus he became at last a confirmed drunkard and an object of disgust. All the evil germs in his nature began to grow luxuriantly and to bear fruit. He became a weakling, a cruel tyrant {18} towards his subjects, an abject coward in the presence of his wife, who treated him as if he were a slave. His troubles caused him to grow prematurely old, and the hair upon his head grew thinner from day to day.

Thus a few years passed away in great misery, and at last poor Burkhart was entirely bald-headed. The last florin was gone; but the countess had ordered a great tournament and dinner, to which many noblemen and ladies of rank were invited. Once more Burkhart went to the Untersberg for the purpose of asking the king of the gnomes for money; but no more hair did he have to give in return. The gnome appeared, and the knight, removing his helmet, showed him the deplorable condition of his scalp, hoping to arouse the pity of the king.

“Ah, Burkhart !“ exclaimed Pypo: “ did I not tell you to beware that your hairs may not become too few ?”

“I now see my folly,” sighed the knight; {19} “but for pity's sake let me have only one more bag of gold, to save myself from disgrace.”

“Ha! ha! “laughed the gnome. “Nothing brings nothing. No hair, no money; our bargain is at a end !”

“Ask what you will!” cried the knight; “but hair I have no more to give. Take my soul; but give me only one bag of money. Only one bag of gold I am asking of you!”

But in vain Burkhart implored the gnome. Pypo was inexorable, and laughed at him. This exasperated Burkhart, and becoming enraged, he cried : “Hell-hound ! you have completed your devilish work. With each hair that you took from my head you robbed me of a part of my manhood. Now I recognise you as the fiend that you are. Give me back my lost energy. Give me back the beautiful golden hair of which you have despoiled me by means of your accursed gold. Give it back to me, or look out for the revenge of the Tollensteins !“ {20}

But the gnome laughed. “ Fool!” he said: “do you wish to frighten me? Would you now curse the one from whom you received all that you wanted? I laugh at you and your threats; but if you wish your hair returned, be it so !”

So saying the gnome drew forth a cord twisted from Burkhart's hair, and threw it at the feet of the knight. He then disappeared within the depths of the Untersberg, while from all sides a mocking laughter shook the air, as if coming from a multitude of invisible spectators; but the knight went home and locked himself up in his bedroom.

At the castle of Tollenstein everything was in readiness for the beginning of the great tournament. Knights in glittering armour and ladies in costly dresses were thronging the halls; while in the courtyard below richly decked steeds, attended by grooms in bright colours, neighed and stamped the ground, impatient for the opening of the sham fight; {21} for the beginning of which nothing was now needed but the presence of the host. The trumpets sounded, but nothing was seen of Burkhart. Repeatedly were messengers sent to his room, but they found the door locked and were not admitted. At last Julia, losing her patience, went up with clenched fists to inquire about the cause of this delay, but her knocks at the door elicited no reply. She therefore ordered the door to be forced open, and then a ghastly sight met her eyes. Burkhart von Tollenstein was lying dead on his bed, his features distorted as if he had died in great agony; around his neck was tied a cord of yellow human hair, with which he had been strangled ; his eyes were protruding as if starting from their sockets; while his fingers were spasmodically closed around a bag containing one thousand florins in gold. This was the end of the Tollensteins.

And now the excuses for writing the following tale: {22}

If this story of Burkhart of Tollenstein had never been exhumed from the archives containing the family histories of the ancient knights of the Duchy of Salzburg, the following chapters would never have been written; for it was the discovery of these reliable documents which recalled to my memory the history told to me by my now deceased friend, Mr Schneider, who was himself a participant in the adventure which I am about to describe.

It appears that, long after the death of Burkhart von Tollenstein, three very learned gentlemen, having heard of that story, arrived from some far-off country—presumably from the dark continent. Being of a very sceptical turn of mind, they did not believe in gnomes, and had undertaken their journey for the purpose of disproving the existence of the spirits of Nature. They belonged to a scientific Society, whose object was the abolition of the supernatural, and to sober up mankind {23} by drawing away their attention from all sorts of ideals, and bring them back to the dry and hard facts of material life. That Society had already accomplished a great deal of important work. They had by a certain system of logic disproved the existence of God, spirit and soul, and shown that all that is called life or consciousness is nothing else but the result of friction brought on by the mechanical motion of molecules of dead matter accidentally coming into contact with each other. The three gentlemen with whom we shall directly become acquainted were appointed by the Society for the Abolition of the Supernatural as a committee, for the purpose of giving the last death-blow to the superstitious belief in spirits and gnomes, and arrived for that purpose. They were firmly determined that the belief in anything that could not be seen by means of corporeal eyes, or grasped with fingers of flesh, should be relegated into the garret, where antiquated superstitions are stowed away. {24}

After due consultation, these gentlemen resolved to make a scientific expedition to one of the caves of the Untersberg, reported to be haunted; and Mr Schneider, being then a young and vigorous man, well acquainted with the topography of the mountain, was invited to accompany them. The excursion took place on the day preceding St John's, it being the 23rd of June; but the date of the year escaped my memory. The adventures which Mr Schneider experienced are told by him in the following pages. {25}

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