Copyright © 2009-2018 Ruwen Rouhs. All Rights Reserved.
You may ask if this story is real, a story that has really happened in 1948, if the persons had really lived or still are alive? I can assure you, the persons had lived and some are still alive. The village still exists and the dean’s residence and the building across the small square, where Berti’s smithy has been. If you like you can use Google Earth to find the village with the abbot’s former summer residence and all the places mentioned. It’s located at 49° 22´ North and 9° 36´ East.
Kalli’s name is not Kalli, but his real name sounds nearly like "Kalli". Berti’s was not Berti. But Kalli’s buddy’s names have been Nicco, Stani, Pepi, and Egon.
And in 1948 a black man was seen in the manse by the residents in the grey time between midnight and dawn on windless nights. But was it the ghost of the Vile Monk? And Gullible Annegret, the rosy-cheeked farm-girl, did she became a child murderer because she trusted the words of the bible? She did. The villagers say so. And Heinous Red Franz, the gambler, did he murder a good man, to get rid of his debts? People say so and the tavern he once owned, still exists.
All the other events reported here are fictitious, are dreams.
But now to the story of
The young blacksmith woke up. He woke up in his own bed, in his own room. Bright morning light filtered through the frail curtains and through the thin wall he could hear the rats scurrying around in last year’s straw in the barn. He relaxed. It was around six in the morning and he could still stay in bed. He was his own boss now!
For the last three years, he had to rise at four-thirty every morning, every day of the week, weekdays and Sundays. He had to leave the overcrowded barrack of the prisoner of war camp and march in lock-step with the other prisoners to the quarry five miles away. In summer he had been happy to leave the barrack and the plank bed he shared with 15 other prisoners of war. In winter he hated to leave the smelly, dark room and march to the quarry through the wet, grey snow and lever out the heavy blocks of stones frozen to the ground.
He was happy to be again in his old bed, to be alone in his own bed. How had he hated to share the narrow plank bed with the others! The plank bed was so narrow that if one of his comrades turned around, all the other had to turn also. He hated damp sticky air in the barrack saturated by the stench of unwashed men and the rotten smell of the dirty rags they were forced to wear. He hated the farts, the intimacy of more than 30 men of all ages sharing a singe room. He hated the latrines, where he was not able to relieve himself out of the view of others, he hated the open showers.
He was back now for the third day.
On the first day, the narrow gauge railway had carried him back to the village. With every turn, the wheels of the wagon had told him: "Don’t think back! Forget it all! Don’t think, back! Forget it all! Don’t think back! Forget it all!"
On the second day, he had visited his father’s grave, who had died after he had been drafted at the age of seventeen to fight for the final victory of the Third Reich. They, the Nazis, had lost this final victory, had lost this bloody war and he, the young blacksmith, had lost five years of his life.
And today? He was about to take over his father’s profession as the blacksmith of the village.
"Bertl, Bertl" his mother called from downstairs. The young blacksmith went downstairs, had long breakfast, and then went to the smithy. He took one of the scythes waiting for three years now to be sharpened. He began peening the edge of the blade on a flat anvil with his cross-peen hammer. And his hammer told him, "Don’t think back! Forget it all! Don’t think back! Forget it all! Don’t think back! Forget it all!"
Kalli woke up. An ever repeating tingling woke him up. "Chink!" "Chink!" "Chink!" "Chink!" Kalli slipped with his head under the cover, but the sharp noise cut through the thin duvet like a knife. He hopped out of bed, gave his woody a tug, "It’s late anyway! It’s the last week of the summer vacation and I’d better go swimming in the river!" In his outgrown nightshirt he rushed to the window bay, climbed up a footstep and then the shaky footstool to get a better look out of the window.
At 10 he was of average size, about 3´6 and lean. With his slate-blue eyes, he checked the houses around the small square for the source of the noise. Someone was peening a scythe. That he knew for sure of! But it was not Anton, the humped neighbor of the small house to the left. The barn’s gate was wide open, so was the door to the stable where Anton kept his old horse and four cows. Anna, his sister, was on the doorstep ranting and raving with Kathalle, her old crooked aunt, "Leave that chicken in peace! Don’t play around with it! It’s neither a puppet nor a baby! It’s a chicken and we raise her for eggs only!"
The "Chink!" "Chink!" "Chink!" didn’t come from the next house either. Nobbi, that dim-witted kid, who was about a year younger than Kalli, was nowhere to be seen. Probably he was out in the fields with his mother getting fodder for their livestock. Ottmar, Kalli´s schoolmate, and his bigger brother Sepp living in the next small farm weren’t home either. Ferdinand, the boy from the farm to the right was just trying to hitch up a horse and a treck ox to the large rack wagon, while his father was loading scythes, rakes and hay forks onto it.
Therefore someone else was creating the sharp "Chink", "Chink", "Chink!" But who was it? Kalli needed a minute and then he remembered. It had to be the young blacksmith, just back from war captivity. Kalli rushed to the door and stopped in the tracks. Running bare-assed through the manse? He slipped into trousers and shirt and hurried along the long hallway to the kitchen.
Two years ago Kalli and his family came to the village as expellees. After sizing his mother, his grandmother, his two sisters and him, the mayor decided and told his clerk "She’s a woman with three small kids, neither she nor her ailing mother nor one of the kids, are of use to any of the farmers. None of these will be able to do work in a stable or in the fields. They better put up in the priest’s residence. This building is big enough to accommodate five more people."
"Don’t cast prudence to the wind, Mayor. She is a fine looking woman, despite she is grown very thin! The preacher is living there too! Isn’t he a man?"
"Would you call a capon a rooster? His sister, the housekeeper, is keeping a wary eye on him!"
"Hell Mayor" the clerk interjected scratching his head, "Have you forgotten nuns living there? I don’t think those holy crows, excuse me Holy Mothers, would like to have a smart boy sneaking through the house and checking out what they are wearing underneath their habits!"
But the mayors just shrugged his shoulders.
That decided the future fate of Kalli, his mother, his two sisters and his granny. They were privileged to live in the priest’s residence. It was the most impressive building of the village, constructed in 1596 as the summer residence of the abbot of a nearby monastery. In a certain sense, Kalli was the only male living in this building and he was missing male company and a role model.
Coming from the bedroom he shared with the other family members, Kalli broke into the room used that was used by the five-member family as kitchen, living room and tailor shop at the same time. Yes, this other room was a tailor’s shop also, because his mother has started tailoring to earn some bread.
At the door, Kalli was stopped short, by the upset shriek of a fat peasant woman customer trying out a new dress. "Oh, what that boy doing in here!" the women protested.
"That’s just Kalli, my boy! He will not spy on you. He is just ten!" Kalli´s mother calmed down the blushing peasant woman.
Kalli gripped a piece of dry bread, picked up his boots and was gone the next moment. Bare-footed he tiptoed along the corridor, turned to the left to scurry by the nuns´ kitchen to the winding staircase in the tower attached to the main building. The upper part of the staircase was well lit by a window while the lower part was dark, cold and frightening. Sitting down on a step he put on his boots and rushed down the 28 steps to the ground level.
Kalli owned only a single pair of boots. He liked his boots because their soles were studded with fat nail-heads to prevent a wear off. Sure they were heavy but he loved the noise they produced when he pelted down the staircase to the cold murky ground level. This ear breaking noise was his protection, his safeguard.
Outside of the house, the August heat made Kalli shudder for a moment. Scarfing the last piece of bread into his mouth, he rushed to the wooden outhouse constructed especially for him, the only male, in the back of the big garden. While he aimed his pee through the hole in the wooden seat, he listened for the "Chink!" "Chink!" "Chink!". He could hear it anymore. "Faster! Pee faster! he ordered his woody "I have to hurry to catch my first view of the blacksmith."
After five years of absence, Berti’s attempted to sharpen the blade of a scythe not very successful. He had unlearned the skill of peening during the years as a soldier and prisoner of war. His second attempt of peening was almost acceptable and the third one turned out very satisfactory.
While Berti concentrated on hammering the cutting edge of the next scythe four boys appeared in the open entrance of the smithy. From the corner of his eyes, he saw them file in and lean against the workbench beside the door. Shyly they watched him, remaining nearly motionless. Outwardly uninterested but inwardly full of curiosity Berti observed the boys carefully. He couldn’t remember having ever seen three of them, one seemed faintly familiar. He immediately was sure the three were kids of war refugees, poor kids displaced by the war. Later he learned their names, funny names: Nicco, Stani, and Pepi. The name of the fourth was Egon.
Berti’s mother had told him about these refugees, these strangers, these have-nots, beggars, loafers, these peoples with the incomprehensible dialects as she called them. Nearly 200 strangers had been allotted to the small community of 550 villagers only. 200 too many, as she had told him. At the moment he didn’t know what to think of this situation. The boys didn’t look dangerous and they didn’t look like thieves. They looked just like many of the kids he had seen abroad in France or Poland during his time in the army. They were skin and bones only. Their faces, arms, and leg were dark. In the dim light of the smithy, he wasn’t sure if they were tanned or just dirty. He decided on tanned, because their rugged clothes seemed to be clean. On the first glance, their appearance did not differ strongly from the sons of his uncles he had met yesterday. But the farm boys had much more flesh on the bones.
Before Berti could decide what to do next, another boy appeared in the doorway. He checked the situation in the dark smithy curiously, entered hesitantly and then, before lining up with the others at the workbench, he greeted Berti with a bow and a shy grin.
Something seemed to be special with this boy, because as soon as he appeared at the entrance the other four boys came alive. Two of them moved aside to offer him a space in the middle of the row. All five stayed silent, listening to the "Chink!" "Chink!" "Chink!" of the cross-peen hammer dancing in turns on the blade and the anvil. However as soon Berti had finished sharpening the scythe, the biggest of the boys turned to a smaller one, "Come on Nicco! We have to go and to fetch some weeds for our coneys. Dad will get mad if the fodder is not around before noon!"
While the four boys coming first left, the one who came last walked up to Berti and asked nicely, "May I come back again later? Around late afternoon? When I am back from swimming?"
Berti looked surprised at the dark-hair boy. At first, he didn’t understand what the boy was asking for, because he did not use the local idiom. Then the young blacksmith realized the boy was using Standard German. He wrinkled his forehead, tried a smile and then nodded his consent. Berti called the boy back at the door, when he was about to leave the smithy, "What’s your name, boy?"
"Benedikt Kallmann is it. But call me Kalli, Sir!"
At the evening Kalli didn’t make it back to the smithy, because his mother asked him to deliver a dress to a customer. She told him, handing him over the new dress together with the invoice, "Kalli! That’s the invoice, don’t leave till she hands you the money. Tell her, we need the money, we need it for food!"
When Kalli arrived the peasant woman was in the stable milking cows. She tried to put him off, "Bring the dress into the bedroom, boy, put it on the bed. But be careful, not to soil it. It looks so beautiful!" When he asked her for the money, "I see your mother on Sunday in the church. I pay her on Sunday!" But Kalli knew he had to be firm. He set down at the step of the front door and waited. After a while, the farmer arrived, "What are you doing here boy? Aren’t you the dressmaker’s son? Waiting for the money for her new dress?" shaking his head in displeasure, he went inside and came back with the money, "She always wants new things, a new dress today, new shoes tomorrow, new tableware next week. I wouldn’t wonder if she wants a new man next month!"
Next morning Kalli was the first boy to show up in the smithy. Now he had more time to look around in the dark sooty shop. Opposite the entrance was the big anvil and to its left the coal forge with the wide hood. The coal was glowing in the hearth and its strong smell filled the shop. There was no work-piece in the fire and the electrically driven bellows was off. Besides the anvil, a slack tub filled to the top with dark water was waiting for the red-hot work-pieces. On the wall behind the anvil, an assortment of hammers, tongs, fuller, chisels and hardies were orderly arranged. In the back of the shop iron rims for haywains were piled up and in a half-broken basket, shoes for horses and cows were hoarded.
"Hi Kalli, up already? I waited for you last evening!" the young blacksmith welcomed his young visitor with a happy voice.
Kalli blushed and searched for an answer. Stuttering he began, "Sir…..Sir, Mr. Shultz. Yesterday evening…. I….I had to deliver a dress to a customer of my mother and she let me …."
"Don’t mind, boy. I tell you, wasn’t really waiting for you too long. I just waited till I got hungry and then closed the shop." Bowing down to the small boy, he stretched out his right hand, "Let’s shake hands. And," he emphasized, "Don’t call me Sir Kalli, don’t call me Mr. Shultz. I am Berti!"
The booming voice of a thick-bellied man interrupted the conversation, "Berti, I need your help! The wheel of my wagon is broken. It needs to be fixed immediately." Noticing Kalli, the farmer blared out, "These gypsies are everywhere!" turning to the boy, "Get lost! Get out of the way! "
Berti, looked more than surprised. Disregarding the scornful looks of his customer, Berti helped Kalli onto the working bench, "Stay if you want, Kalli. It’s my smithy."
In the final days of the summer vacation Kalli was spending every minute he could spare in the smithy. Mostly he took his place on top of the workbench. From his seat he watched carefully every action of the young blacksmith, how he heated up a piece of iron in the hearth to make it malleable, how he forged it into a horseshoe at the anvil, how he cooled it in the slack tub and how he bent straight iron bars into perfect rims for a wagon wheels or into hoops for cider barrels.
At first, Berti was irritated, because he remembered the guards in the prison camp. He suspected Kalli did spy on him like the guards had done. But soon he was convinced Kalli wasn’t spying on him. The boy just was watching him so intensely because he wanted to learn all the skills of a blacksmith. Soon Berti believed Kalli would be the perfect apprentice he needed. Kalli seemed to be able to learn the trade of a blacksmith just by watching. He was right. After a while, Kalli would bring him just the right tool he needed for a special operation. He didn’t even have to look at the tool and much less tell its name. They communicated by telepathy not by words.
Something else was new for Berti. With closed eyes, he was able to identify Kalli by his scent. Kalli always smelled of the sun, of water of the nearby stream and of herbs, while the other kids visiting the shop carried along the smell of pigpens or cowsheds or rabbit hutches. Every time Kalli handed him a tool or a work-piece this scent entered Berti’s nostrils and he loved this smell. After a while, the young blacksmith became addicted to Kalli´s scent and even checked the drugstore in the neighborhood for soap with this special scent. But in vain! It had to be Kalli’s special scent.
Berti began to miss Kalli after school started in September and his visits to the smithy became less frequent. Kalli showed up only once or twice a week and then just for a short time. The young blacksmith became even kind of edgy, especially when the other boys were around and Kalli wasn’t with them. The others were a nuisance to him. Berti missed his eager helper, his unobtrusive presence, and his scent. But the young blacksmith was much too busy to spend any thoughts on his feelings.
One rainy morning early in October Berti was very surprised when Kalli showed up. "Hi Berti, here I am again!" he announced at the entrance. When the young blacksmith looked up in surprise, Kalli added "Have you forgotten about the autumn holidays! Now I will show up every day again!"
"Hell yeah, I forgot about your holidays. Last Saturday I thought of you and was worried when you didn’t show up. In the service on Sunday morning, I looked for you, but I didn’t spot you between the other students in the front pews. I guessed you stayed at home, because you didn’t dare to climb down the spine-tingling winding staircase of the manse. Because of the …the app..appa..apparition!" he stuttered and then explained "The ghost!"
"I had a cold and mom decided I had to stay in bed." Blowing his nose, "Look my nose is still running!" then full of curiosity; "But what ghost? What are you talking about? What is this, an apparition?"
"An apparition, a wraith, a spook! The ghost in the manse!"
"There are no ghosts!" Kalli looked at Berti critically, "Haven’t I told you before I do not believe in ghosts. There is no black man hiding in the nook of the winding staircase of the manse. I searched the nook and nothing was there but rubbish, and the shivers running down my spine when I descend the winding staircase are from the cold draft!"
Berti wagged his head, "I remember our talk well, my little Doubting Thomas. But," he paused to increase tension, "But, didn’t a black man appear at the foot of Sister Scholastika`s bed around midnight last Friday? Didn’t the nuns tell you of the apparition?"
Kalli stared at Berti with wide open eyes, "A ghost in the bedroom of the nuns? You are kidding Berti! They are God-fearing women, and" glaring at Berti disapprovingly, "a ghost would never try to scare them! Besides that Mother Juvenalis, the nurse, is strong, has a sharp tongue and a loud voice. She would kick him in the ass and throw him out. She is fearless."
"Don’t be so sure, don’t be so pert, little Thomas! Didn’t they tell you that the priest’s residence is haunted? Didn’t anybody tell you the story of the skeleton found in a walled-up cabinet in the upper story about 80 years ago?"
When Kali wagged his head in disbelieve, Berti lifted the small boy on the workbench, turned down the lights in the smithy, took a place beside his little friend. As soon as the vast shop was only illuminated by the glowing coal on the forge, Berti began to recount the tale:
"Well, this is the story my grandma told me. Late in 1597, when the construction of the Abbot’s summer residence was nearly finished, the Abbot decided to appoint a monk to be the steward of this residence and the tithe collector of the villages all around. The monk, a scrawny, hook-nosed man had free rein for the next years and took his chances. Mercilessly he collected the tithes from the bondsmen, not taking into account bad harvests in the rain-swept years.
"When a farmer came to the tithe barn with less the due levy, he winked him aside and told him suggestively, ‘Come back next week with the rest of the levy or send someone of your family to work off part of the obligation. If not, I will impound your farmstead and you and your beloved will end up living on the street.’
"The peasants were shocked at first, but soon they figured out what the steward was talking about. If an ugly hag came to work off the liability the steward set his dog on her. If an old farm hand came, he thwacked him. In neither case, he did abate the debts. However if a young wife, a sweet maiden or a cute boy showed up to work off the missing part of the tithe, he kept them in his quarters for a while and then the debts were abated.
"What happened to the victims in the tithe barn or in the monastery didn’t come to light immediately. The bondswomen kept silent and if one of them came big with a child later in the year, nobody got suspicious because young peasant women were pregnant all the time anyway. But then the growing bellies of two girls became the gossip of the village, because one was just eleven years old, the other thirteen. The gossip ran even higher after tender boys came staggering out of the stewards quarters and were not able to sit down, because of their messed up behinds."
Despite the darkness of the room, Berti became aware of Kalli´s lack of understanding, "Well….." he hesitated not exactly knowing how to explain facts to a boy of ten, "well…." he stuttered, "The steward did bad things to the peasant-women and to the innocent maidens." Pondering how to tell Kalli, Berti continued, "The steward molested the small boys when he kept them for nights as his pawn."
Some of the scenes ahead may not be suitable for all readers. If you choose you may skip down to the End of Warning message
Kalli stayed silent for a moment. Then sniveled in distress and to Berti’s consternation, he said with a quiver in his voice, "The steward did rape them all!" he looked at Berti, "Did he?" and after a pause he stated kind of businesslike, "I know he raped them, like the foreign soldiers did with the women, the girls and the boys after the war."
Berti didn’t know what to answer Kalli and a long-lasting silence resulted in the dark smithy illuminated by the smoldering coals of the forge only. Finally, Berti decided to continue with his tale.
"In the end, there was one act of crime that infuriated the bondsmen to the point that provoked an act of revenge. There was a lithe, blond girl living in the village, little Lily, the bricklayer’s daughter. She was only eight years of age. When the craftsman wasn’t able to pay the tithe in time, the steward insisted on little Lily for payment of the debts. When little Lily came back to her parents after several nights in the stewards quarters, she could hardly walk and the lower body was smeared in blood. The bricklayer went crazy. He and his neighbors were appalled by this crime. The poor villagers got finally furious and brooded on revenge.
"The day of revenge came sooner than expected. In the upper story of the Abbot’s summer residence the wall cabinets worked into the thick walls had to be finished. The bricklayer was one of the three craftsmen ordered to do the work. His job was to build the dividing walls.
"The steward supervised the work, but all he did was ranting and raving, insulting and deriding the workers. He let them work all day long without food and only water for her thirst. He however consumed one mug of beer after the other and devoured roasted chickens and roast beef, while watching the work progress.
"The job started on Monday and the craftsmen stayed obedient all the week, till the very last day. When all the cabinets were finished with exception of the one in the southern corner room, they asked the steward for pay.
"You want to get paid for this lousy job? For the lousy job you did? The steward insulted the craftsmen. Taking a big sip of beer, he turned to the bricklayer. You will get paid only if you send me your little daughter again. Little Lily, that little wild cat! I like the way she was fighting back. I need to tame her!
"With this demand the steward went beyond the pale. The father of poor little Lily took the shovel he used for mixing the grout and knocked the steward over the head. The cruel monk fell immediately and passed out.
"But what to do now? The three workers were frozen in terror. He earns the death, little Lily’s father stated after a while. More than once he has earned the death! the second agreed and third added, He has raped my son! He is worse than the devil! The three picked up the unconscious steward, carried him to the unfinished wall cabinet, leaned him against the rear side of the hole in the wall and blocked up its opening with bricks.
"The steward regained consciousness just before the bricklayer set in the last stone into the dividing wall. He started to plead for his life. He promised them gold and silver, land and houses! But in vain! They closed the small air-hole with the last brick and sealed the vile monk in. While the wailing from inside the closed up cabinet grew lower and lower, they put roughcast on the wall and left because left the summer residence because it was Saturday evening. When the craftsmen came back on Monday there was no noise to be heard from the sealed wall cabinet and they put the softcast to the wall without feeling remorseful.
"When the disappearance of the steward came obvious, the monks of the monastery down the river started a big search. All the bondsmen of this village and the neighboring communities took part in the search. But no trace of the steward turned up. Finally, the search was aborted. But since that time, a man is seen walking through Abbot’s summer residence up and on. Noiselessly he is spooking through manse. He never says a single word to the ones he is passing. However, he is scary. His eyes are glowing like cinders. If he looks at you long enough, his eyes are burning holes into your soul."
With hot-burning ears, Kalli had listened to Berti’s tale leaning against the young blacksmith and breathing excitedly. At the end of the tale, he gasped for air and then stated explicitly "I don’t believe you, Berti. You are putting me on! There are no ghosts! Who told you this story? The craftsmen sure didn’t disclose the events. They would have been sent to the gallows by the Abbot, if the facts had come to his knowledge."
Berti giggled knowingly, "About eighty years ago the summer residence was remodeled into the manse. When the house was rebuilt, the craftsmen came upon a secret wall cabinet with an immured skeleton dressed in the habit of a monk. One of the craftsmen was the descendant of the bricklayer who had taken revenge for the crimes of the steward. He had heard about this act of revenge from his grandfather. He always had thought it was just a story, but now he knew the tale of the Vile Monk and his terrible death was true.
Just at that moment, the door from the living quarters of the building to the smithy opened and a band of light was shed upon the two, "Supper is ready, Bertl. Can’t you come upstairs in time?" his mother grumbled, "What are you doing anyway in the dark with that boy? I have told again and again not to socialize with this bloody refugee kid!"
Kalli, who was afraid of the prejudiced woman and disliked her whole-heartedly, jumped off the workbench and took off. At the door of the smithy he turned around, "Berti, you have been in war also. You have also been a soldier. Have you also raped girls and boys? Berti, I have to know!"
Berti had expected questions, but not this one. He turned pale, "No! No Kalli! I swear by the Almighty God! NO! Never!" He darted after the boy, caught him just outside the smithy and took him in a big hug. "No Kalli, no!" he repeated running his fingers through Kalli´s hair. "I never raped someone, not a girl not a boy, not a woman!"
Two days later Kalli turned up in the smithy as pleased as a sandboy, "Hey Berti, you are wrong. There are no wraiths, no bugbears, no spooks." When Berti looked surprised, "I asked Mother Juvenalis. Sister Scholastika had only had a bad dream. Mother Juvenalis even took me to the old boneyard behind the church and showed me the small casket in which the bones of the immured monk have been buried. In the dusk when nobody was around I withdrew the cover of the burial case and there they were. All the bones are present, the skull, the ribs, the bones of the arms and legs. Do you think a ghost can spook around without bones?"
"Ghosts are boneless, Kalli! Their body is like fog. You can walk through their bodies. It’s like walking through a cold mist. Some may have eyes, burning eyes like the ghost of the steward, others can have a voice, a voice like the whistling of mice in the cornfields or a voice like the autumn-wind going through the reeds down at the river or like the winter-wind shaking the branches of frozen trees in wintertime."
"You are putting me on again! I don’t believe you!"
"Has anybody told you the tale of Gullible Annegret, the grey maiden, the murderer her newborn boy, the spook down at the old bridge?" Berti waited for Kalli´s answer. When Kalli didn’t answer, he grinned. "So my boy, my Doubting Thomas, nobody told you about it? My mother calls you a gypsy, a stranger, an alien. If you want to become native to this village, you have to know all its tales also."
"Hey, Berti, who told you I want to become native to the village? I didn’t! I already know this village is just a waypoint on my way to ….." When Berti’s suddenly looked disillusioned, Kalli smiled at his big friend encouragingly, "But…..! But for the time being, I would like to be your good friend!" hugging the young blacksmith, "I would like to know the tale, please Berti tell me."
Suddenly Berti’s stomach tensed up, like the stomach of a child who had lost his favorite toy. He tried to gulp back a tear, "OK Kalli! I’ll tell you tonight." Sighing deeply, "It’s just the right time, because Gullible Annegret spooks around only in moonless nights when the mist is swirling at the riverside. In three days it will be the new moon. Then it’s just the right time for you to search for her at the river down by the bridge. Then you can disprove my believe in unearthly apparitions and at the same time prove your courageousness."
"I’ll be at the smithy at nightfall and you tell me the tale!"
"Yes I will, but only if the other boys are not around."
In the evening Kalli was back. His school-mates had left, the sooted smithy only was only illuminated by glowing coal on the forge and Berti was now ready to tell the tale:
Gullible Annegret was in service as a farm girl far away from home. When she came to the village at the age of nine she was spindly thin. Despite the hard work at the farm she grew to become a rosy-cheeked little beauty. At thirteen, when her bosom blossomed and her hips and her behind became full, all the swains had a crush on her. "Oh, rosy-cheeky Annegret, let’s have a date! It’s such a mild summer night!" dark-eyed Johann came cajoling. "Oh no, not with Hans!" the blond Alies, Johann’s buddy, tried to outdo his friend, "Look, I will ask my father for the carriage. I take you to the barn-dance two villages upriver." She took the chance and went along with Alies for her first barn-dance. Since that evening she was addicted to dancing.
When New Year ’s Eve came around and the carnival period began, she took every chance and went to every dance in the villages around. She danced the Polka, the Galop, the Scottish, the Waltz, the Landler, just every dance the bands played. Some nights, when the barn-dance didn’t end at midnight, she stayed with the boys in the barns, with Hans, Alies, Roby, and Sep. "Be a good girl, sleep rosy-cheeked Annegret, we will keep a close watch over you." Alies told to her and Hans supported him, "Go to sleep, we will guard you like brothers. Nobody will do you any harm!" Dupable Annegret slept like a log and never became aware of the boys' vicious intentions.
After Ash Wednesday, when the carnival was over, she often got sick in the morning while she was milking the cows and clearing away the dung. Then she got hungry for pickled cucumbers and of salty food. She wondered, because she had never liked pickled vegetables before. It didn’t last long till she realized she was with a child. Her bosom grew and became firm; her womb grew and soon was ball-shaped. Late in August, the baby started kicking. "It will be a strong baby, a real boy. It will be a prince! A beautiful little prince and later on he will become king!"
She didn’t tell anybody about her pregnancy and nobody suspected she was carrying a baby in her womb. As a farm girl, she knew that the bulls impregnated the cows and the boars the sows and the he-dogs the bitches, but she just couldn’t imagine who had impregnated her. Then she remembered the story of Virgin Mary and the birth of Jesus. Had this happened to her also?
Around new moon in October, when the time of delivery drew closer and closer, she got a little frightened. How could she explain the sudden motherhood to her master and his wife? They sure would chase her away like a mangy dog; throw her and her little boy to the dole. She resorted to prayers. One Sunday the priest preached about the birth of Moses, the danger he was in because of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Listening to the sermon, Annegret got possessed by a brilliant idea "I will make a small basket also, waterproof it, put my newborn prince into it, go down to the river and entrust the basket with its precious cargo to the wild waters." She smiled to herself! "I am sure a princess will find the basket, recover my baby, fall in love with him, he will grow up to become a beautiful prince and later a mighty king!"
In secret Gullible Annegret began to wattle a wicker-basket and stitch a beautiful bedroll of soft red fabric and embroidered it with laces.
When the day of delivery arrived, Gullible Annegret was lucky enough to be alone at the farm. The farmer and his wife had gone away to carry grain to the water mill further down the river to be ground into flour.
Annegret went to the warm pigpen to deliver the child. Bringing forth the baby was easy. It was out in second. "Oh, what a beautiful boy! Oh, what a beautiful and strong boy!" she repeated time and again. "Oh, my little prince!" She offered him her breast. The baby sniffled, then opened his tiny mouth and began to savior his mother’s first breast-milk with sweet ecstatic groans.
When the night fell Gullible Annegret wrapped her little prince in her softest scarf, she had warmed up before on the stove. She strapped the bundle with the sleeping baby to her back, took the water-proof basket and left the farm through the garden gate. The cold night air wrapped up the two like a shroud. The icy fog penetrated the garment. Gullible Annegret was happy and didn’t feel the cold air.
Just audible enough for her little boy she was singing:
My little prince!
My little prince
in the golden cradle!
In your golden float,
the waves will carry you
to a heavenly playground!
She danced through the night and the icy mist and chanted again and again:
My little prince!
My little prince
in the golden cradle!
In your golden float,
the waves will carry you
to a heavenly playground!
At the foot of the bridge, Gullible Annegret put down the basket. She suddenly felt tired and worn out, but when she began to sing:
My little prince!
My little prince!……
Her energy returned. She took the small bundle with the sleeping boy and put him to bed in the little basket, in his golden cradle and climbed down the steep bank to the water.
The water looked dark and cold. The swift running waves were hissing: "Hurry! Hurry! We don’t have time! We don’t have time! Let’s get the work done!"
When Gullible Annegret was about to launch the little ship and entrust her baby to the dark waters, she suddenly felt weak again: "I can’t do it! No, I can’t send him away. I can’t live without my baby, my sweet baby!"
But the waves said, "Hurry! Hurry! We don’t have time! We don’t have time! Let’s get the work done!"
Then she remembered the story of Moses and the princess! The princess and Moses! She said to herself. Closing her eyes firmly to keep the tears back, Gullible Annegret pushed the cradle with her little prince into the cold current of the dark river.
And the waves continued hissing, "Let’s the work get done! Let’s the work get done! We don’t have time! We don’t have time!"
On the way up the steep bank to the roadway, Gullible Annegret staggered, slipped and fell over into the cold grass. Her mind went blank. After she regained consciousness she dragged on to collapse again midway between the bridge and the garden gate of the farm.
Something tender and moist touched Annegret’s cheek. Soft puffs of air warmed cold forehead. Gullible Annegret tried to pry open her tired eyes, "My prince, my darling!" she muttered. Bewildered and shocked she closed them again. It was the black dog prowling the village streets for days now. It was a friendly dog, but homeless.
Later she was woken up again by familiar voices. "Poor Annegret, poor Annegret!" her mistress, the farmer’s wife, called her name. A strange face with pale and watery eyes was bending over her, trying to call her back to life. "Poor Annegret! Poor Annegret! Poor Annegret!" Then the voice addressed others gathered around the bed, "The girl got childbed fever. I am sure about this!"
"I thought so too, but there is no child, nowhere!" the farmer’s said.
"Let her rest!" a man’s voice ordered, the voice of the farmer.
Two days later, Gullible Annegret dragged herself down to the kitchen stricken by fever attacks. Seeking the warmth of the fireside, she witnessed a chat between her master and the hand of the millwright from the mill further down the river.
"Yesterday, a wicker-basket waterproofed with wax got caught at the weir." The hand told with a sad voice, "The basket was beautiful….. The miller’s little daughter saw it first and asked me to fish it out of the water. Luckily I opened first. Get your mom, get your mom, girl! I yelled at her and hurried into the barn behind the mill. Inside I opened the basket. It contained a gruesome surprise." the miller’s voice breathed distraughtly. "There was a baby inside. A beautiful dark haired little boy was inside. But cold he was cold as ice and dead. I hid the shocking present behind some …….."
Gullible Annegret didn’t get the end of the report. She collapsed beside the hearth. In the days following she refused to eat and drink. By day she moved around like a puppet. She did her work at the kitchen, the stables and the pigpen. However as soon as the night broke she vanished and did not reveal anybody where she went to. In the morning she was back again, doing her work. About a month later at the time of new moon, she didn’t show up in the morning. The farmer and his wife started a search, then all neighbors joined in, and finally then whole village looked for Gullible Annegret. Without success!
Around new moon a month later, Kalle, the neighbor’s young son, missed one of the ewes when he brought back his father’s small flock in the evening to the sheepfold. He penned the sheep up and went to look for the ewe. It was a calm evening and the valley was covered with mist. The fog was so dense that the boy could hardly see his hands in front of his face. The fog also absorbed all noises. Wandering nearly blind and deaf through the grassland he was unable to find the ewe at the pastures between the village and the bridge. From sheer fear of his father’s anger, he decided to look for the animal on the other side of the bridge. When he was about to cross the bridge little Kalle noticed a woman in a grey cloak on the bank below the bridge.
He called on her, "Hey you! Have you seen my ewe?" When the woman didn’t answer, he repeated a second time, "Hey you!" But she didn’t answer. He tried it a third time, "Hey you!"
Now she turned around and faced him. Her look made him feel as if she was looking through him. She began to sing:
My little prince!
My little prince
in the golden cradle!
In your golden float,
the waves will carry you
to a heavenly playground!
Then she addressed him: "Kalle, have you seen my little prince? Have you seen him, my dark haired darling? Kalle tell me!"
A cold shiver ran down Kalle’s spine. "Gullible Annegret! Gullible Annegret!" he yelled horrified, spinning around on his heels, he dashed along the dirt road back home. Pushing open the front door at his father’s farm, he broke down crying: "Gullible Annegret´s living! I saw her down by the river!"
Since then Gullible Annegret can be seen in misty autumn nights at the banks of the river. If someone passed by and addresses her, she has one question only: "Have you seen my little prince? Have you seen him, my dark haired darling?"
Kalli face was pale like the moon. He snuggled tightly to the young blacksmith. Sniveling and with tears in his eyes he asked: "Can she be relieved? Has anyone asked Gullible Annegret what is needed to relieve her soul?"
"I suppose not, little Kalli!" Berti answered, sniveling also. "So far nobody has been brave enough to ask Gullible Annegret!"
"Do you think I could do it? I am just a boy! But I am not afraid of ghosts."
"Your nickname Kalli sounds like Kalle, the name of the boy who saw the wraith first. May be you can do it." Berti answered, tussling Kalli´s hair. "But didn’t you tell me there are no ghosts, you are not believing I apparitions? "
"Yes, I told you! And I do not believe in ghosts!" after pondering over the question for a while, "But perhaps I am not be right." Wrapped into thoughts Kalli slid down from the workbench to leave the smithy. At the front door he turned to his big friend. "Tomorrow I go down to the river. If she is there I will ask her the question! I have to relieve her!"
Next night was the night of the new moon, the night between the waning and the waxing moon. The sky was cloud covered when Kalli slipped out of the manse. The light of the few street lamps was dimmed by wafts of mist creeping through the streets. Kalli didn’t meet single soul when he hurried down the Lower-Street to the western end of the village and turned south into the dirt road heading to the bridge.
As soon as he left the village he was engulfed by even thicker wafts of mist and when he crossed the railroad tracks the wet blanket covering the valley became finally non-permeable. He lost orientation for a moment and dropped into the roadside ditch. From now on he used the ditch for orientation. Halfway between village and river he was alarmed by the clopping of hoofs and the click-clack of the cartwheels. Just a moment later horse and cart emerged from out of the fog. Kalli as well as the horse were equally surprise. The horse shied away from him. He sidestepped and nearly dropped into the roadside ditch.
"Hey Kalli is it you?" a well known voice asked. It was hunchbacked Anton, his neighbor. "What are you doing here in the dark? Do you want to get lost in the mist? Come on join me on the box seat. I myself wouldn’t find the way home, but my horse, old Berta, does."
Kalli considered the offer. On the one hand it seemed to be the perfect night to meet Gullible Annegret, on the other hand the wet blanket covering the grassland scared him. Sitting on the box besides Anton he began to regret his decision. Anton was stinking like rotten. He probably hadn’t taken a bath since last Christmas. Anton did not only stink of sweat and shit, his breath also smelled of the booze. Anton liked booze more than women and was still a bachelor. Luckily the cart entered the village soon after and Kalli jumped from the box, giving Anton his thanks.
Next evening westerly winds moved away the screens of fog. When Kalli stepped onto the bridge stars were blinking and a small crescent announce the waxing moon. With hawk’s eyes he searched the banks left and right of fast moving water. They were empty. "No Gullible Annegret!" he stated disappointed and relieved at the same time. He was disappointed because he didn’t get the chance to relieve Gullible Annegret, the poor soul, and give her the chance to rest in peace. He was relieved, because the failure of Gullible Annegret to appear proved him to be right! "There are no ghosts, no wraith!" he said aloud, "No poor souls are lurking in the dark.
On his way back Kalli run into Berti just leaving "The Red Oxen", the oldest tavern of the village. "Hey Kalli, what are you doing outside in the dark so late? Even I am on my way home already. Aren’t you afraid of the night crow? This black bird likes to kidnap tender boys like you!" Giving him a good look; "Anyway, where are you coming from Kalli?"
"You have two guesses Berti!" when Berti didn’t answer straightaway, "I was at the bridge looking for poor Gullible Annegret. She wasn’t there!" then, happy as a lark, "I was right, if there is no Gullible Annegret, there are no ghosts either! You tried putting me on again!"
"I believe in ghosts, everyone in the village believes in ghosts!" Berti assured Kalli "Lets go, I walk you home! Remember the night crow!"
A little up the road, they turned to the right and took a short cut to the manse. The small alleyway was unlit and without thinking Kalli grabbed at Berti’s hand. He didn’t let it go, even when the young blacksmith tried to shake him off.
"Hi Kalli? Are you scared in the dark?" Then he started teasing, "Look over Kiddy, there is the night crow the barn’s hatch! He already sharpens his peak!"
"I am not scared Berti, I am not a yellow-belly! I just feel more comfortable to walk hand in hand with a friend, especially in the dark!"
The young blacksmith didn’t know what to answer. He hadn’t thought of Kalli as a friend. For Berti Kalli was the nicest boy around, but a friend? He liked Kalli, the way he talked, the way he behaved, the way he cared for others. Berti even like the way he smelled, but they were more than twelve years apart!
At the gate of the manse’s big court yard Kalli made his farewell with a bow, "Good night Berti! Thanks for walking me home!" He let go Berti’s hand. But on the spur of a moment, the young blacksmith took hold of the boy’s hand again, "I just can’t let you cross the dark yard of the manse all by yourself. Remember the night crow! Don’t you know what friends are supposed to be for?"
Next afternoon Berti was busy shoeing a horse. Anxiously the giant gelding was stamping with his hoofs, shaking his big head and snorting. "Get over there boy! Take hold of Big Burly’s reins, pet his head, ruffle his mane and feed him some carrots." Farmer Hold, the owner of the horse, called to Kalli. When Kali hesitated "He is big, but meek as a lamp. He just does not to like to get shoed! Bertl and I have to be busy with his hind legs."
Kalli breathed in hard, took the gelding’s reins, but stayed clear away from the horse. He did neither pet nor ruffle the gelding, only fed him the carrots with shaking fingers.
"Hi Kalli, he will not tread on your feet! Get closer!" Berti encouraged Kali, "You told me you are not afraid of ghosts, all the more there is not reason to be afraid of a living creature!" then, after a long intermission in which he trimmed the gelding’s hoof, he filled in, "I still do not believe that you are not scared of ghosts! Yesterday night it was impossible to meet Gullible Annegret. She never can be met in a clear night, under star studded sky and when there is no mist hovering in the valley."
"I am not scared!" Kalli forgot his fear of Big Burly for a moment, and provoked Berti, "Name me another apparition and I will prove that it is only a rampant superstition!"
"Slow down, slow little outlander!" the Farmer Hold challenged Kali, "Have you heard of "Red Franz", the murderer spooking on the Greut Heath? If you ever meet Red Franz he will teach you a lesson never to be forgotten!"
"I am not afraid of ghosts! I may be scared of big horses and vicious dogs, but not of ghosts!"
"Let’s make a bet! If Red Franz scares you to death and you run away from the cross at the Greut Heath then you have to muck my stables for a week."
"And what do I get if I win?" Kalli asked back.
"I buy you a new cap. Yours is pretty tattered!"
"That’s not enough farmer." Berti tossed in, "I add a pair of shoes, Kalli has outgrown his!"
"Well then I add a pair of trousers, the ones my youngest has outgrown!" checking Kalli´s outfit, "They are much better than the rags you are wearing today!"
Berti knew the Farmer Hold good enough to suspect a prank. The rich farmer was known for his clever coups. But he was a good-natured and did no naughty tricks.
"Today it’s the first time I have heard of Red Franz. Who is it? Why is it spooking and at what time of the year?"
"At what time of the year? Just on the day he committed this awful crime nearly 60 years ago." Farmer Hold grinned, "The anniversary of this bloody murder is at the first Sunday in Advent! Only at that day he shows up at the wooden cross at the Greut Heath after sundown. There he waits howling like a dog for someone with a pure soul to deliver him from the malediction his victim, the horse trader Shlomo, put on him." Looking sharply at Kalli, he added, "It must be someone with a pure soul. May be it’s you, little outlander! Relieve his soul and you will get a big reward, the missing treasure!"
The whole night Kalli bothered his head about what he had been told by the farmer. Yeah! He needed a new cap, stout trousers and rugged boots for the winter time and he needed money for the present he wanted to give to his mother for Christmas. He had already picked the present, a china coffee set decorated with pink roses. The set was on display in the window of the household supply store of the next village. It was 24.99 marks. He had only 2 Mark and 37 Pfennig and therefore he needed still 23 Mark and 62 Pfennig to buy it. If he got the reward and found the treasure, he reasoned, all this problems would be set. For Kalli it was more important to get the present for his mother than a pairs of shoes or the trousers for himself.
Early next morning Kalli visited his big friend in the smithy, "Dear Berti!" he urged him, giving him a hangdog look "Dear Berti! Please tell me the tale of Red Franz. Please, I have to know if Farmer Hold told me the truth about Red Franz or had just made fun of me. I need the money to buy the Christmas present for my mother." When Berti did not answer immediately, he added, "Berti, you know the china set with the roses I told you about!"
"I tell you the tale tonight after work, when we are by ourselves in the smithy." Dismissing him with a slap on the back, "The frightening story of Red Franz is true. My grandmother told it to me and she had it from her mother, who had been a playmate of Red Franz’s kids.
After sunset Berti closed the frontdor of the smithy to keep out the cold and unwanted visitors. He put some more coal on the forge and asked Kalli to join him on the worlbench. "Now my young friend", he began, "that is what I remember of the horrible ghost story":
"Did you know that the Tavern Red Oxen is as old as the manse?" Berti asked Kalli, while they were sitting side by side on top of the work bench in the dim light of the smoldering coal. "Red Franz was the last descendent of the founder of the tavern. When he was a boy of six, everybody loved the keen red-haired boy and he was spoiled not only by his parents, but also by his five sisters. At twelve he was the heartthrob of every girl in the village and at eighteen of all the girls in the county. At twenty-four he got married to the sole daughter of richest farmer in the county. At thirty-six after twelve years of marriage he still was without children.
His wife grieved over this misfortune, but not Red Franz. "So what?" he said to his friends, "I do not have children? So what? I have the best team of horses in the whole county! I have enough money to feast every night! I have enough luck to win every game of cards." Red Franz trusted his luck and soon spent every night at the gambling table. Gambling and drinking belong together; they fit like your hands in your gloves.
With that Berti took Kalli´s hands which were still covered with gloves and pulled off the gloves. "Your hands are soft, Kalli! What ever you do, your hands stay soft, unlike mine. Feel my hands." He asked the boy.
"Yours are calloused! I know it. But they are strong too. And that’s what I like." Kalli giggled, "But go on, I want to hear the whole story!"
"At forty-eight the luck had left Red Franz. His hair thinned as did his luck. But he couldn’t stop gambling and drinking. Bit by bit his gambling losses exceeded his winnings. Soon he had more gambling debts than a dog has fleas. At the end of the forty-eighth year of age Red Franz knew he had to get rid of his debts or his ancestral house and land were lost. He needed 1000 Thaler, at least."
"1000 Thaler, how much is this in Marks?" Kalli asked, "Would I be able to buy the china coffee set for my mother?"
"1000 Thaler? You could buy the coffee set, new shoes, new trousers and still have enough money left to buy my house and the one of hunchback Anton. You would be a rich boy!"
While Kalli shook his head in surprise and deliberated what he would do with such an amount of money, Berti continued, "Well, Red Franz wracked his brain without finding a loophole. Then one evening Shlomo, the horse dealer, asked for an overnight lodging for him and his 12 horses. "I am on my way to the garrison in Ellwenge, they have ordered horses and they pay well."
Red Franz perked up his ears, walked around the small herd. "Your horses are beautiful, Shlomo. How much are you expecting to get? 1000 Thaler? 2000 Thaler?"
"Don’t be kidding, Franz! I told you they pay well, but they do not splatter the Duke’s money around. I will ask for 1500 Thaler at the beginning of haggling, but if I get half of it in the end, I will not have lost money by the deal!"
Red Franz knew Shlomo did neither gamble nor drink. He was a Jew living in a Christian county. He was respected by all as a virtuous family man, a fair trader and a benefactor of the poor. No Christian did malign his character.
This night Red Franz stayed at home. He himself served Shlomo and behaved as a complaisant host. As he went to bed with his wife, what he didn’t do usually, she asked agreeably surprised, "What’s the matter with you? Has Shlomo’s righteousness rubbed off on you?"
But this was not the case. Red Franz tossed and turned sleeplessly in bed till dawn. Then he fell into a deep and dreamless slumber. He had made up a plan, how to get hold of Shlomo’s money. He was sure this plan would work and closed his eyes pleased with himself.
About a week later at the first Sunday in Advent, Red Franz saddled his black horse around noon, left the village and crossed the river. The shepherd, herding sheep on the scanty grass land of the valley, saw him take the road to the south-west. Some miles down the river Red Franz turned to the North, crossed the river on a shallow passage and vanished between the dense shrubs of a ravine.
About half an hour later Red Franz reached the hilly plateau at the edge of the harvested fields. Hidden by bushes he changed his flashy outfit to an dirty one and waited for the dusk to arrive. Dark clouds were sailing on the sky and blocked light from the waning moon and the blinking stars. He crossed the barren field without meeting a soul. Arriving at the road passing from Ellwenge to Ravenberg, Shlomo’s hometown, he took to the east to encounter the horse trader in a sunken road leading to the heath called Greut.
Time passed. The night-wind freshened and cleared the sky from clouds. Red Franz was chilled to the bones. To cope with the cold and his rising tension he took to hard liquor. He almost intended to abandon his plan, when faint hoof-beats rang out in the distance. He took up a stance in the mouth of a small path running into the sunken road. Unexpectedly fast the rider approached. As soon as Red Franz’s stallion picked up the smell of the other horse he neighed, rose on his hind-quarters and broke forth. Both horses clashed. Shlomo, half asleep on his horse, lost the stirrups and went over the horse’s head to the ground. His horse took off along the narrow sunken road.
Red Franz managed to steady his stallion, produced his pistol, pointing at the horse trader, "Your money pouch! Give it! Or you will die!"
Shlomo struggled to his feet. Despite the dizziness from the fall from his horse, he realized the imminent mortal peril. He spun around on his heel and tried to escape in the back way. Red Franz turned his horse and rode him down. Dismounting the horse Red Franz pointed with the gun on the trader’s head, "Your money or your life!"
"No, no! Have mercy! Have mercy! I do not have the money on me! Please have mercy Red Franz! Franz, I never treated you wrong! Franz! Have mercy!"
By using the name Red Franz, Shlomo had sealed his own fate. Realizing this he drew himself up and shouted, "Franz! Franz! You have run out of luck! Your end is nigh! Tonight….." The pistol shot blew the poor man’s head to pieces.
Red Franz searched the dead. In the coat’s pocket, Franz found a small pouch with a dozen Thaler only. On the edge of a break down, he began to ransack the pockets of Shlomo’s dress. No money! He ripped Shlomo’s clothes off, till the horse trader’s body was bare and the moon could shed his pale light on the dead body. All in vain!
Red Franz got panicky. He mounted his horse, clapped the spurs to it and started to look for Shlomo’s horse. He discovered it nearby browsing dry grass in the sunken road. In the pale moon light he saw a large knapsack tied to the horse. He was sure the money was there. But he could not come closer the horse. It took off as soon he approached on horseback. He tried to attract the horse by oats. In vain! He dismounted his stallion and tried to access the horse on foot. In vain again! He decided to hunt the horse down. But the fleeing horse, empty of his horseman, was speedier than the stallion carrying the big man. The chase along the sunken road lasted only a short time. Suddenly a shoal of wild boars barged into the small path. The startled horse shied, acted up and Red Franz’s coat became entangled by the pricky shrubs growing at the scarp of the sunken road. The thorns pulled him out of the saddle and he went off the horse. One of his riding boots got caught in the stirrup and he was not able to get free. The galloping stallion dragged his master along at full speed. When lumberjacks found the horse next morning, the head of Red Franz was smashed."
Kalli had listened big-eared to the tale. Breathless with excitement he tugged at Berti´s sleeve, "What happened to the poor horse trader? Did they find his dead body also, and the horse with knapsack?"
"Yes, they did! Next morning Shlomo’s small son went to the stable and found his father’s horse. He augured ill! "Mother, mother! Where is father?" he screamed in dismay. The neighbors organized a search party and at noon they found the corpse. Shlomo´s wife broke down. She and the three daughters and two sons began to intone the lament of death.
The Jewish community headed by the Rabbi and the Oldest decided on a grave at the site of the crime. You will not find a headstone indicating the grave but the old people know about the place. You will find it also. Just south of the Monk’s forest, close to the Greut Heath there is a barrow, a high tumulus of rocks, because everybody walking by adds a new stone to the grave."
"And Red Franz?"
"He was hastily buried where he was found about a mile from the barrow at the Greut Heath. Since that time the place is haunted, even after his grave was leveled years later and a wooden cross set up to do penance.
"And the money pouch with the treasure?"
"Nobody knows! Shlomo left the Duke’s garrison with 825 Thaler in a leather pouch but neither the pouch nor the money was ever recovered."
Next afternoon Kalli´s friends Pepi and Nicco dropped in and fooled around, later also Egon, but Kalli didn´t show up in the smithy. Berti tidied up the smithy because it was Saturday and was around to close the shop when Kalli finally appeared at the doorstep. "I have been waiting for you to help me tidy up."
"I had to help my mother and deliver some dresses and a coat. Winter is close and my mom is busy tailoring warm cloth."
"Got some tip, for bringing the cloth around?"
"Just 20 Pfennig, not enough for the china coffee set I want to put under the Christmas tree!" Giving Berti a curious look, "Do you really think, the Shlomo’s money bag is still somewhere at the Greut Heath?"
"Do you really want to go up there tomorrow night? Red Franz is still spooking. It’s dangerous to visit that place tomorrow night, especially tomorrow night, the anniversary of the crime!"
"I am not afraid of ghosts Berti and Mother Juvenalis told me today there aren’t any evil spirits. She only knows of angels."
"Should I come along with you Kalli? Together a night like this is less scary." when Kalli didn’t answer immediately, "I strong! I am much stronger than you, my little friend!"
"No Berti, thanks you so much for your offer!" Kalli replied polite but firm, "I have to go alone, if I want to have a chance to recover the missing treasure."
The following night a single question kept Berti wide-awake: "Can I take the responsibility for Kalli´s adventure?" He reasoned, "First of all I know Kalli is stubborn. He will venture to the Greut Heath and I can’t dissuade him from doing so. Secondly I know the Farmer Hold will play a prank on Kalli, even if he remembers the boys is just ten he will not be considerate! Thirdly December nights are cold and dark and it is more than an hour to reach the old wooden cross set up for penance. Fourthly Kalli may get frightened, run away, slip and fall, break a leg and nobody would be around to help him! And last not least nobody knows if Red Franz’s ghost still is hovering over that haunted place and it is said he kills everyone who addresses him!"
Racking his brain over and over again he finally fell into a deathlike slumber. When Berti woke up in the morning and now the solution was clear like spring water, "I have at least five reasons to follow Kalli secretly! I am responsible for Kalli. Yes I am!"
On the evening of the first Sunday in Advent Kalli slipped out of the house. Luckily his mother was visiting friends and neither his sisters nor his granny would care for him during the next few hours. The evening before, he had stashed away a small spade by the graveyard just where the dirt road left the village climbing up the hill to the Greut Heath. The December wind made him shiver when he left the windbreak of the village. Using the spade as a walking cane, he hurried up the steeply rising field road. The fast pace made him sweat. Soon the symphony of sounds from the village was replaced by the faint sounds of nocturnal animals in the field and hedges. He already had lost the track of time when the pinewood forest emerged ahead of him, a black wall in front of the dark sky.
From his summer hikes Kalli knew he was just steps away from the cross on the heath. Just one more turn of the road and the cross would arise in front of him. He stopped for a moment. This was his last chance to give up on his endeavor and run. Kalli closed his eyes! Twelve steps more, one turn more! He sought.
Kalli opened his eyes. The black cross materialized against the grey sky. He stopped dead in his tracks; he froze to a small statue. Encircling the foot of the cross tiny fires flared. At first the flickering lights blinded Kalli. After his eyes had accommodated he advanced slowly, trespassed the circle of light. He was drawn to the foot of the cross by a blue light. In front of the light he knelt down to study the source of light, a lantern. When he touched the lamp reluctantly with the finger of his right hand, the light inside went out and a cacophony of sounds filled the heath. The many-voiced sounds deafened his sense of hearing. He tried to seal his ears with his hands, but wasn’t successful. The howling of dogs, the neighing of horses and satanic laughter wormed their way into his brain and threatened to blow his head to pieces.
Kalli spun around and took off. When he reached the edge of the pinewood, the noise faded. He stopped and turned. The circle of light was still there, the noise had gone. Step by step he began to sneak back to the cross. When he reached the circle of lights one flame after the other went out. Darkness and silence filled the heath but only for a moment. Then the blue light went on and a shrieking voice requested: "Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!" The cries for mercy resounded from all around the Greut Heath.
Kalli took off, forgetting all his intentions and convictions. He raced through the dark, till he tripped over a crippled root and hit the ground.
"Stop beating around the bush, son!" Berti’s mother grumbled. "I know you are not interested in meeting Cousin Willy’s daughter. But I am. I need a help and you a spouse. You should not be hanging around with that little creep any more. Willy promised a fat dowry including the beech forest bordering to ours."
Annoyed Berti left the room. From the staircase he called back, "Mother! Not tonight mother! I am not ready to look for a wife tonight! I have a major problem to resolve tonight!"
Berti was afraid to be late. He had been on the lookout for Kalli since dusk, but had missed him. He decided to take his old bike and ride up to the Greut Heath, using a longer but slower rising road.
He already could spot the pinewood surrounding the heath outlined against the grey sky, when his bike got a flat tire. Swearing like a trooper, he dumped the bike into the road ditch and jogged the last kilometer to the heath. Still some hundred meters away he became aware of a bizarre phenomenon. Light, emitted from an unknown source, shed a blue glare onto the treetops of the pines surrounding the heath. Suddenly this light waned and the barking of dogs, the neighing of horses filled the air, interrupted by ear-splitting laughter. Berti stopped petrified with terror.
Moments later his responsibility for Kalli took over. He doubled his speed, took a brush covered short cut through the pinewood towards blue light on the heath. Suddenly the light went out abruptly and the wailing cries for mercy cut into his ears. Was it Kalli´s voice? No, it wasn’t the boy’s voice, not the voice of a boy before his voice broke. Just before he cut across the pinewood, the infernal noise died and the blue light flared up again. Blinded by the light and struggling for breath, Berti stumbled into the heath and into the dark.
The heath around the big wooden cross outlined against the grey sky was dark. On his way across the barren heath to the cross he overlooked the small dark bundle on the ground. Desperate, because there was no trace of Kalli, he got down on his haunches to stabilize his breath. After his heartbeat had returned to nearly normal a faint wailing attracted his attention.
The next moment Berti was kneeling besides Kalli who was on the ground in fetal position, his head covered by his arms. The boy was unconscious. "Kalli! Kalli!" he yelled. Kalli’s breath was shallow. The pulse was low and fast. Berti shook the boy gently. "Kalli! Kalli!" Berti called again, but Kalli didn´t react.
In despair he picked up the limp boy. "I have to carry Kalli back to the village." His experience as a former soldier told him. "Carry him back! Carry him back! Carry him back!……." his heart enforced this impulse again and again, while he was stumbling through the dark back down to the village. When Kalli didn’t regain his consciousness, another thought began to prey on Berti´s conscience, "It’s my fault only! It’s my fault only!" his heart was saying, "I told him about the treasure! It’s my fault only! It’s my entire fault only! I have told him all the ghost-stories! It’s my fault only if he dies!" and Berti increased his pace.
The up and down of being carried like a baby and Berti’s heavy breathing revived Kalli. First his limpness disappeared, then his body tensed and then he regained his consciousness and he put his arms around Berti’s neck. "That’s you Berti." He whispered happily clinging to Berti, "I can recognize you with closed eyes. You always smell of iron. Thanks for carrying me!"
Kalli and Berti never discussed what had happened at the Greut Heath that night. On occasion the young blacksmith asked the farmer Hold what he had done on the evening of the first Sunday in Advent. "I was at home, the whole night. I had to stay at home, because my best cow had trouble to get her calve. She nearly died. I even had to call the vet around midnight."
On Tuesday before Christmas, Berti asked Kalli to stay when the other boys, Kalli’s school-mates, left the smithy. He went to the backroom of the shop and returned with a package wrapped in a piece of newspaper. "That’s my Christmas present for you Kalli. It is just a small compensation, for the treasure, which wasn’t there!"
"Can I open the present?"
"Can’t you really guess what’s inside?" Berti smiled, "It’s something you really need. It’s is pair of boots, an old one, but nearly as good as new ones. They are probably too big, because I got them when I was fifteen."
"Thanks, that’s great Berti." and Kalli began to hop around like Rumpelstilskin, "I got big boots, I got seven-league boots! Thanks Berti! Thanks Berti! Now I have a pair of seven-league boots to go into the wide world!"
Suddenly he stopped dancing around and put on a sad face "But, but…. Berti. I do not have a present for you. And I don’t have money left to buy one! I spent all I had for my mother’s present"
"Oh boy! Oh Kalli, you already gave me the best present possible." When Kalli looked at Berti utterly surprised, the young blacksmith explained, "It was my fault three weeks ago,…….my fault that you nearly died up on Greut Heath! I told you all the ghost tales, the tale of the Vile monk, of poor Gullible Annegret, of Heinous Red Franz and the missing treasure! I wanted to check out if you are really as fearless as you pretended to be. I gambled with your life to prove you wrong!"
Kalli gave Berti blank look, "I never told you that I am fearless. However if a task has to be done, I try my best, even with shaky legs. And ghosts? I don’t know. I just don’t believe in ghosts."
"I know my little friend, I know now. You risked your life because you wanted to give a present to someone you love. I however nearly caused your death. But in the end I got the chance of redemption." the young blacksmith hugged Kalli, "That’s the present I am talking of."
Berti stayed in the village and got married. Did he have children? Did he try to teach his children freedom of fear and courage? Kalli doesn’t know because of the seven-league boots.
Kalli left the village, went to another town to attend middle school, to still another town to attend high school, graduated at a university in still another town, he became a scientist and teacher and wrapped up the seven-league boots Berti had bestowed on him and stored them in a safe place. Kalli is still trying to teach his students to attack problems full of enthusiasm and without fear and to be kind to others. But sometimes, only sometimes he remembers the village and contemplates to put on his seven-league boots again and……
I would like to say thanks to Brian for editing. Its great to have someone to give assistance to a non-native writer.
And I would like to add, thanks for reading.