Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION | Annotated Tale

Lover's Ghost, The

SOMEWHERE, I don't know where, even beyond the Operencian Seas, there was once a maid. She had lost her father and mother, but she loved the handsomest lad in the village where she lived. They were as happy together as a pair of turtle-doves in the wood. They fixed the day of the wedding at a not very distant date, and invited their most intimate friends to it; the girl, her godmother--the lad, a dear old friend of his.

               Time went on, and the wedding would have taken place in another week, but in the meantime war broke out in the country. The king called out all his fighting-men to march against the enemy. The sabres were sharpened, and gallant fellows, on fine, gaily-caparisoned horses, swarmed to the banners of the king, like bees. John, our hero, too, took leave of his pretty fiancée; he led out his grey charger, mounted, and said to his young bride: "I shall be back in three years, my dove; wait until then, and don't be afraid; I promise to bring you back my love and remain faithful to you, even were I tempted by the beauty of a thousand other girls." The lass accompanied him as far as the frontier, and before parting solemnly promised to him, amidst a shower of tears, that all the treasures of the whole world should not tempt her to marry another, even if she had to wait ten years for her John.

               The war lasted two years, and then peace was concluded between the belligerents. The girl was highly pleased with the news, because she expected to see her lover return with the others. She grew impatient, and would sally forth on the road by which he was expected to return, to meet him. She would go out often ten times a day, but as yet she had no tidings of her John. Three years elapsed; four years had gone by, and the bridegroom had not yet returned. The girl could not wait any longer, but went to see her godmother, and asked for her advice, who (I must tell you, between ourselves) was a witch. The old hag received her well, and gave her the following direction: "As it will be full moon to-morrow night, go into the cemetery, my dear girl, and ask the gravedigger to give you a human skull. If he should refuse, tell him that it is I who sent you. Then bring the skull home to me, and we shall place it in a huge earthenware pot, and boil it with some millet, for, say, two hours. You may be sure it will let you know whether your lover is alive yet or dead, and perchance it will entice him here." The girl thanked her for her good advice, and went to the cemetery next night. She found the gravedigger enjoying his pipe in front of the gate.

               "Good evening to you, dear old father."

               "Good evening, my lass! What are you doing here at this hour of the night?"

               "I have come to you to ask you to grant me a favour."

               "Let me hear what it is; and, if I can, I will comply with your request."

               "Well, then, give me a human skull!"

               "With pleasure; but what do you intend to do with it?"

               "I don't know exactly, myself; my godmother has sent me for it."

               "Well and good; here is one, take it."

               The girl carefully wrapped up the skull, and ran home with it. Having arrived at home, she put it in a huge earthenware pot with some millet, and at once placed it on the fire. The millet soon began to boil and throw up bubbles as big as two fists. The girl was eagerly watching it and wondering what would happen. When, all of a sudden, a huge bubble formed on the surface of the boiling mass, and went off with a loud report like a musket. The next moment the girl saw the skull balanced on the rim of the pot. "He has started," it said, in a vicious tone. The girl waited a little longer, when two more loud reports came from the pot, and the skull said, "He has got halfway." Another few moments elapsed, when the pot gave three very loud reports, and the skull was heard to say, "He has arrived outside in the yard." The maid thereupon rushed out, and found her lover standing close to the threshold. His charger was snow-white, and he himself was clad entirely in white, including his helmet and boots. As soon as he caught sight of the girl, he asked: "Will you come to the country where I dwell?" "To be sure, my dear Jack; to the very end of the world." "Then come up into my saddle."

               The girl mounted into the saddle, and they embraced and kissed one another ever so many times.

               "And is the country where you live very far from here?"

               "Yes, my love, it is very far; but in spite of the distance it will not take us long to get there."

               Then they started on their journey. When they got outside the village, they saw ten mounted men rush past, all clad in spotless white, like to the finest wheat flour. As soon as they vanished, another ten appeared, and could be very well seen in the moonlight, when suddenly John said:

"How beautifully shines the moon, the moon;     
"How beautifully march past the dead.     
"Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?"

                "I am not afraid while I can see you, my dear Jack."

               As they proceeded, the girl saw a hundred mounted men; they rode past in beautiful military order, like soldiers. So soon as the hundred vanished another hundred appeared and followed the others. Again her lover said:

"How beautifully shines the moon, the moon;     
"How beautifully march past the dead.     
"Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?"

                "I am not afraid while I can see you, my darling Jack."

               And as they proceeded the mounted men appeared in fast increasing numbers, so that she could not count them; some rode past so close that they nearly brushed against her. Again her lover said:

"How beautifully shines the moon, the moon;     
"How beautifully march past the dead.     
"Are you afraid, my love, my little Judith?"

                "I am not afraid while I see you, Jack, my darling."

               "You are a brave and good girl, my dove; I see that you would do anything for me. As a reward, you shall have everything that your heart can wish when we get to my new country."

               They went along till they came to an old burial-ground, which was inclosed by a black wall. John stopped here and said to his sweetheart: "This is our country, my little Judith, we shall soon come to our house." The house to which John alluded was an open grave, at the bottom of which an empty coffin could be seen with the lid off. "Go in, my darling," said the lad. "You had better go first, my love Jack," replied the girl, "you know the way." Thereupon the lad descended into the grave and laid down in the coffin; but the lass, instead of following him, ran away as fast as her feet would carry her, and took refuge in a mansion that was situated a couple of miles from the cemetery. When she had reached the mansion she shook every door, but none of them would open to her entreaties, except one that led to a long corridor, at the end of which there was a dead body laid out in state in a coffin. The lass secreted herself in a dark corner of the fire-place.

               As soon as John discovered that his bride had run away he jumped out of the grave and pursued the lass, but in spite of all his exertions could not overtake her. When he reached the door at the end of the corridor he knocked and exclaimed: "Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man." The corpse inside began to tremble at the sound of these words. Again said Jack, "Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man." Now the corpse sat up in the coffin, and as Jack repeated a third time the words "Dead man, open the door to a fellow dead man," the corpse walked to the door and opened it.

               "Is my bride here?"

               "Yes, there she is, hiding in the corner of the fire-place."

               "Come and let us tear her in pieces." And with this intention they both approached the girl, but just as they were about to lay hands upon her the cock in the loft began to crow, and announced daybreak, and the two dead men disappeared.

               The next moment a most richly attired gentleman entered from one of the neighbouring rooms. Judging by his appearance one would have believed it was the king himself, who at once approached the girl and overwhelmed her with his embraces and kisses.

               "Thank you so much. The corpse that you saw here laid out in state was my brother. I have already had him buried three hundred and sixty-five times with the greatest pomp, but he has returned each time. As you have relieved me of him, my sweet, pretty darling, you shall become mine and I yours; not even the hoe and the spade shall separate us from one another!"

               The girl consented to the proposal of the rich gentleman, and they got married and celebrated their wedding-feast during the same winter.

               This is how far the tale goes. This is the end of it.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Lover's Ghost, The
Tale Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Book Title: Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Book Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Publisher: Elliot Stock
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1889
Country of Origin: Hungary

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