A Christmas Story.


Each midnight from the farthest Thule, to isles the South Sea laves, To exercise themselves awhile the dead forsake their graves; But when it is the Christmas time they stay much longer out, And may in the churchyard be seen, then, wandering about; And as they dance their merry rounds, the rattling of their bones Produces, 'midst the wintry blasts, somewhat unearthly tones. Poor things! For them there's neither wine, nor punch, nor supper there, The icicles are all they have, and a mouthful of fresh air. When shines the moon strange forms are seen, tall spectral giants some: Such sights as these might even strike a chattering Frenchman dumb. Scoff not at my poor hero, then, though once in a sad fright-- He is a most discreet young man, and Morten Langè hight.

One Christmas night the fates ordained a journey he must make, So, for despatch, 'twas his resolve a horse and sledge to take. Dark was the hour, and in the skies the ranks of stars looked pale, While from a tower near hooted owls, as in a German tale. And Morten Langè, by-the-by, was not unlearned, for About Molboerne's exploits--also the Trojan war, 'Octavianus,' Nisses, Trolls, Hobgoblins well he knew, And all about 'the spectre white,' whose story is so true. Too soon the sledge stood at the door, with many a jingling bell; But ah! these sounds to his sad ears seemed like his funeral knell. Yet, though the snow-flakes fell around, of them he took no heed, But like a British runaway pair, he started at full speed. He passed a regiment of old trees, whitened from top to toe, And soon he gained an open plain, where nought he saw but snow. Like Matthison's 'Gedichte,' 'twas very, very cold, But still our hero tried to think that he was warm and bold. He did not care to gaze about, and so half-closed his eyes; Yet, spite of this precaution--lo! a curious sight he spies: A muster of the Elfin-folk enjoying a gay spree, The men were just five inches high, the women only three; And though 'twas at the chill Yule-time, when cold reigns over all, In clothes of flimsy cobwebs made, they capered at their ball; The ancient dames, however, wore some more substantial gear, For of bats' wings their shawls were formed--but, softly--what comes here?

Twelve harnessed mice, with trappings grand, fit for a monarch's own, They draw a car of fairy work, where a lady sits alone. It stops, and Morten Langè sees the lady getting out-- 'Heav'n help me now! Heav'n help me now!' he sighed, for he dared not shout. 'I'm no poltroon, and yet I feel the blood within my veins Is freezing fast.' In mortal fear, his cold hand dropped the reins; Then stooping to recover them out of the sledge he fell, And with it scampered off the horse, whither he could not tell. He felt that his last hour was come, all helpless as he lay-- And with such thoughts upon his mind he fainted quite away.

At length, when consciousness returned, and when his swoon was o'er, He heard a fearful buzzing sound, that frightened him still more. What had he done to be exposed that night to such alarms? A troop of demons round him thronged--one imp secured his arms. Another seized his lanky legs, another caught his head-- And powerless to resist them then, away with him they sped. They carried him to some strange place, flames shone upon the walls, Into another fainting-fit, half-dead with fright, he falls, But when the pains of death seemed past, and trembling he looked round, He saw that in the other life a sad fate he had found. The vaulted roof was black with smoke, and awful was the heat; The devils stood with naked arms--he dared not scan their feet. One held a hammer in his hand, and threatening, waved it nigh, And in a burning furnace there, red flames were flashing high. Soon guessed our hero where he was, and set himself to kneel, And lustily for mercy prayed--but they laughed at his appeal.

Then to his side an angel came, benignant was her smile, And holding out her small white hand, she said to him the while; 'Well, Heaven be praised, you're better now! But why are you afraid?' Shaking with fear in every limb, in a faint voice he said: 'Oh, angel! 'tis not death I dread, but help me out of hell!' The angel laughed: 'You're in good hands--you ought to know us well. This is the smithy--from your sledge thrown out upon the ground, Lying alone amidst the snow half-frozen you were found; And I'm no angel, bless your heart! I'm Annie, don't you see?' Rubbing his eyes, and staring round, up Morten jumped in glee; And that he soon forgot his fright 'tis needless to declare-- The roasted goose, the foaming ale, and other Christmas fare, As might be guessed, put all to rights--and Annie by his side At supper sat, that Christmas night, as Morten Langè's bride.

Note by the Translator.

The ghost-story alluded to--'Den hvide Qvinde' (The White Woman)--is to be found in Thiele's collection of Danish 'Folkesagn.' This spectre is said to haunt some old ruins near Flensborg. Two soldiers, long, long ago, were keeping their night-watch on the ramparts of the castle; one of them left his post for a short time, and when he was gone the other sentry was approached by a tall female figure in white, who accosted him thus:--'I am an unblessed spirit, who have wandered here for many hundred years, and have never found rest in the grave.' She then informed him that under the walls was buried an immense treasure, which could only be found by three men in the world, and that he was one of the three. The soldier, fancying his fortune made, promised to obey her in all things, and received her command to be on the spot the following midnight. In the meantime the other sentinel had returned to his post, and had overheard what the spectre had related to his comrade. He said not a word, however, but the next night he went to the appointed place, and concealed himself in some recess close by. When the soldier who was to dig for the treasure arrived, with his spade and other implements, the white spectre appeared to him, but knowing that he was watched, she put off the digging till another night. The man who had intended to act as a spy was taken suddenly ill as soon as he got home; and feeling that he was about to die, he sent for his comrade, confessed that he had watched him, implored him to avoid witchcraft and supernatural beings, and recommended him to consult the priest, who was a wise and good man.

The soldier took his advice, and laid the matter before the priest, who directed him to do the spectre's bidding, only taking care that she should be the first to touch the treasure. The man accordingly met the ghost at the appointed time and place, and she showed him the spot where the treasure was deposited; but before taking it up, she told him that one half would be for him, and the other half must be divided between the church and the poor. But the demon of avarice had entered into his heart, and he exclaimed: 'What! shall I not have the whole of it?' Scarcely had these words passed his lips, than the spirit uttered a fearful thrilling cry, and disappeared in a blue flame over the castle moat. The soldier was taken ill, and died three days afterwards. The story became noised about, and a poor student determined to try his luck. He repaired to the old castle at midnight, saw the wandering 'White Woman,' told her his errand and offered his services. But she informed him that he was not one of the chosen three, and could not assist her, and that the walls would thenceforth stand so firmly, that hand of man should never overthrow them. However, she promised at some future time to reward him for his good intentions.

One day, long after, when he happened to be loitering near the old castle, and thinking with compassion of the fate of the restless spirit who haunted it, he stumbled over something; and, on stooping to see what it was, he discovered a large heap of gold, of which he forthwith took possession. As foretold by the spectre, the walls of the castle are still standing, and the story goes, that whenever any portion of them has been overthrown, it has always been raised again by invisible agents during the night. Matter-of-fact people assert that the locality of this ghost tradition is a hill, not a castle.