Short Story

The Courageous Flute Player

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There lived once a gay-hearted musician, who played the flute in a masterly style, and earned his living by wandering about, and playing on his instrument in all the towns and villages he came to. One evening he arrived at a farm-house, and resolved to stay there, as he could not reach the next village before night-fall. The farmer gave him a very friendly reception, made him sit down at his own table, and after supper requested him to play him an air on his flute. When the musician had finished, he looked out of the window, and saw by the light of the moon, at no great distance from the farm, an ancient castle, which was partly in ruins.

“What old castle is that?” said the musician; “and to whom did it belong?”

The farmer then related to him, that many, many years ago, a count had dwelt there, who was very rich, but also very avaricious. He had been very harsh to his vassals, had never given any alms to the poor, and had finally died without heirs, as his avarice had deterred him from marrying. His nearest relations had then taken possession of the castle, but had not been able to discover any money whatever in it. It was, therefore, supposed that he must have buried the treasure, and that it must still be lying concealed in some part of the old castle. Many persons had gone into the castle in hopes of finding the treasure, but no one had ever appeared again; and on this account the authorities of the village had forbidden any access to it, and had seriously warned all people throughout the country against going there.

The musician listened attentively, and when the farmer had finished his narration, he expressed the most ardent desire to go into the castle, for he had a brave heart, and knew not fear. The farmer, however, entreated him earnestly, even on his knees, to have regard for his young life, and not to enter the castle. But prayers and entreaties were vain: the musician was not to be shaken in his resolution. Two of the farmer’s men were obliged to light a couple of lanterns and accompany the courageous musician to the old and dreaded castle. When he reached it, he sent them home again with one of the lanterns, and taking the other in his hand, he boldly ascended a long flight of steps. Arrived at the top, he found himself in a spacious hall, which had doors on all sides. He opened the first he came to, entered a chamber, and seating himself at an old-fashioned table, placed his light thereon, and began playing on his flute. Meanwhile, the farmer could not close his eyes all night, through anxiety for his fate, and often looked out of the window towards the tower, and rejoiced exceedingly when he heard each time his guest still making sweet music. But when, at length, the clock against the wall struck eleven, and the flute-playing ceased, he became dreadfully alarmed, believing no otherwise than that the ghost, or devil, or whoever it might be that inhabited the castle, had, doubtless, twisted the poor youth’s neck. The musician, however, had continued playing without fear until he was tired, and at length finding himself hungry, as he had not eaten much at the farmer’s, he walked up and down the room, and looked about him. At last he spied a pot full of uncooked lentils, and on another table stood a vessel full of water, another full of salt, and a flask of wine. He quickly poured the water over the lentils, added the salt, made a fire in the stove, as there was plenty of wood by the side of it, and began to cook soup. Whilst the lentils were stewing, he emptied the flask of wine, and began playing again on his flute. As soon as the lentils were ready, he took them off the fire, shook them into the plate that stood ready on the table, and eat heartily of them. He then looked at his watch, and saw it was about eleven o’clock. At that moment the door suddenly flew open, and two tall black men entered, carrying on their shoulders a bier, on which lay a coffin. Without uttering a word, they placed the bier before the musician, who did not interrupt himself in his meal on account of them, and then they went out again at the same door, as silently as they had come in. As soon as they were gone the musician hastily rose from his seat, and uncovered the coffin. A little old and shrivelled man, with grey hair and a grey beard, lay therein; but the young man felt no fear, and lifting him out of the coffin, placed him by the stove, and no sooner did the body become warm, than life returned to it. Then the musician became quite busy with the old man, gave him some of the lentils to eat, and even fed him as a mother does her child. At last the old man became quite animated, and said to him, “Follow me!”

The little old man led the way, and the young flutist, taking his lantern, followed without trepidation. They descended a long and dilapidated flight of steps, and at last arrived in a deep gloomy vault.

On the ground lay a great heap of money. Then the little man said to the youth, “Divide this heap for me into two equal portions; but mind that thou leave not anything over, for if thou dost I will deprive thee of life!”

The youth merely smiled in reply, and immediately began to count out the money upon two great tables, laying a piece alternately on each, and so in no long time he had separated the heap into two equal portions; but just at the last he found there was one kreutzer over. After a moment’s thought he drew out his pocket-knife, set the blade upon the kreutzer, and striking it with a hammer that was lying there, cut the coin in half. When he had thrown one half on each of the heaps, the little man became right joyous, and said: “Thou courageous man, thou hast released me! It is now already a hundred years that I have been doomed to watch my treasure, which I collected out of avarice, until some one should succeed in dividing the money into two equal portions. Not one of the many who have tried could do it; and I was obliged to strangle them all. One of the heaps of gold is thine; distribute the other among the poor. Thou happy man, thou hast released me!”

When he had uttered these words, the little old man vanished. The youth, however, re-ascended the steps, and began again to play in the same chamber as before, merry tunes on his flute.

Rejoiced was the farmer when he again heard the notes; and with the earliest dawn he went to the castle and joyfully met the youth. The latter related to him the events of the night, and then descended to his treasure, with which he did as the little old man had commanded him. He caused, however, the old castle to be pulled down, and there soon stood a new one in its place, where the musician, now become a rich man, took up his abode.

Hallie
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