The Robber Bridegroom (cont.)
One of them noticed on the little finger of their victim a golden ring, and as he could not draw it off easily, he took an axe and chopped it off, but the finger jumped away and fell behind the cask on the bride's lap. The robber took up a light to look for it, but he could not find it.
Then said one of the others, "Have you looked behind the great cask?"
But the old woman cried, "Come to supper and leave off looking till to-morrow; the finger cannot run away."
Then the robbers said the old woman was right, and they left off searching and sat down to eat, and the old woman dropped some sleeping stuff into their wine so that before long they stretched themselves on the cellar floor, sleeping and snoring.
When the bride heard that, she came from behind the cask and had to make her way among the sleepers lying all about on the ground, and she felt very much afraid lest she might awaken any of them. But by good luck she passed through, and the old woman with her, and they opened the door, and they made all haste to leave that house of murderers.
The wind had carried away the ashes from the path, but the peas and lentils had budded and sprung up, and the moonshine upon them showed the way. And they went on through the night till in the morning they reached the mill. Then the girl related to her father all that had happened to her.
When the wedding-day came, the friends and neighbours assembled, the miller having invited them, and the bridegroom also appeared. When they were all seated at table, each one had to tell a story.
But the bride sat still, and said nothing, till at last the bridegroom said to her, "Now, sweetheart, do you know no story? Tell us something."
She answered, "I will tell you my dream. I was going alone through a wood, and I came at last to a house in which there was no living soul, but by the wall was a bird in a cage, who cried,
Turn back, turn back, thou pretty bride,
Within this house thou must not bide,
For evil things do here betide.
"And then again it said it. Sweetheart, the dream is not ended.
"Then I went through all the rooms, and they were all empty, and it was so lonely and wretched. At last I went down into the cellar, and there sat an old old woman, nodding her head. I asked her if my bridegroom lived in that house, and she answered, 'Ah, poor child, you have come into a place of cut-throats; your bridegroom does live here, but he will kill you and cut you in pieces, and then cook and eat you.' Sweetheart, the dream is not ended.
"But the old woman hid me behind a great cask, and no sooner had she done so than the robbers came home, dragging with them a young woman, and they gave her to drink wine thrice, white, red, and yellow. Sweetheart, the dream is not yet ended.
"And then they killed her, and cut her in pieces. Sweetheart, my dream is not yet ended.
"And one of the robbers saw a gold ring on the finger of the young woman, and as it was difficult to get off, he took an axe and chopped off the finger, which jumped upwards and then fell behind the great cask on my lap.
"And here is the finger with the ring!"
At these words she drew it forth, and showed it to the company.
The robber, who during the story had grown deadly white, sprang up and would have escaped, but the folks held him fast and delivered him up to justice. And he and his whole gang were, for their evil deeds, condemned and executed.
Next: The Six Swans