Storys of The bewitched fiddler (1)/The Bewitched Fiddler

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Storys of The bewitched fiddler (1)  (1840-1850) 
The Bewitched Fiddler

The date is estimated

THE

BEWITCHED FIDDLER.


Matthew Wilmart was the best fiddler in the city of Hesdin. There was no village for ten miles round, where they would have enjoyed their dancing, if any one but Matthew Wilmart fingered the violin for them. He was a personage, consequently, of no little importance. He sat down with the relations at marriage feasts; and the bride, who waited upon the guests during the repast, according to a custom of the country, was always sure to give the titbits to Matthew. When he opened his lips, all listened to him, for there was nobody better at telling a story or singing a song.

One winter night, there was a marriage at Auffin. The dancing had been continued to a late hour, and it was already past midnight, when Matthew threw his violin over his shoulder, and announced his attention on taking leave.———They used every effort to prevail upon him to remain.

'Stay, father Mathew,' they say, 'the wind is north-east, and it is cold enough to split the very stones. The forest of Hedin, which you must pass through, has a bad name. It is haunted by wolves and robbers, not to mention the sorcerers who meet there.

'I have a good goblet of wine in me', said the old man, 'a fine fur cloak on my shoulders, and a good iron club in my hand. With all these, I defy the cold, wolves, and robbers. As to wizards and devils, if I meet any, they shall dance to the sound of my violin. They will tell me if the musicians in hell play a better fiddle than old Matthew Wilmart.'

In finishing these words, which made the young people laugh, and the old men shake their heads in displeasure, he enveloped himself in his cloak, and set out at a firm pace on the path which led through the forest to Hesdin.

He had not been more than a quarter of an hour on his way, when the sky, just before blue and starry, was suddenly covered with an immense cloud. The darkness became frightful. Our fiddler began to regret that he refused a good bed at Auffin. But it was too late to retrace his steps. Besides, after his bravadoes, they would not fail to laugh at him for his want of courage. He continued his course. To add to his chagrin, he discovered that he had lost the path.

What was to be done. To advance was only to loose his way still more effectually. To wrap himself in his cloak and lie down at the foot of a tree was altogether unsafe; the wolves would inevitably make a meal of him; though, if he escaped them he would perish of cold. His two hands resting on his staff, he remained some minutes in a painful anxiety, when a light suddenly appeared in the distance. 'It comes from some wood-cutters’ cottage,' said he, 'God be praised!' He was on the point of directing his steps towards it, but it had vanished. The anger of the fiddler knew no bounds. He struck the earth with his staff, and uttered the most shocking blasphemies. His lips were still pronouncing them, when the light re-appeared.

It was with the greatest difficulty, and after much time, that Matthew arrived at the spot from which the light had first proceeded. His surprise was extreme on finding there a magnificent chateau of which he had never before heard. Brilliant music was resounding from all parts of it, and the dancers who were passing every moment before the windows, cast their dark and rapid shadows upon the curtains, which a reddish light rendered transparent.

He went round and round this immense building several times to find an entrance, but in vain. He had given it up in despair, when an old man suddenly appeared and sounded a horn. A drawbridge which Matthew had not before observed, was immediately let down, and our fiddler, following the old man, entered the mansion.

He was astonished to find it filled by an inconceivable multitude of people. Some were taking part in a splendid repast; others were playing at games of chance; but the greatest number were dancing.

Matthew advanced with boldness to a man of elevated stature, whom he recognised as the master of the mansion, by the manner which he gave out his orders, and the respect which was generally paid to him. 'My lord governor,' said he to him. 'I am a poor fiddler who has been lost in the woods. Condescend to allow me to pass the night in a corner of your mansion, and I will depart to-morrow at break of day.' The personage who Matthew addressed answered only with a smile, and a sign of assent. At the order of his master, a page took the violin from the fiddler, and attached it to one of the golden nails which glittered, among the rich draperies in the hall. Whilst occupied with this service, the page grinned with an infernal grin, and the part of the instrument which his fingers touched grew black as if it had been burned.

Matthew now began to walk about on all sides and examine the strange place where he found himself, but he in vain endeavoured to recognise any of the strange people by whom he was surrounded. Every time that he fixed his eyes upon any one of them, a sort of thin mist shrouded his face, and baffled the old man’s curiosity. While he was seeking to account for this strange circumstance, he perceived a bass-viol hanging up of such exquisite beauty that he thought he should like to try his hand upon it, and display his skill to the other fiddlers. Raising his eyes to find the staircase leading to their gallery, what was his affright to recognise among them old Barnabas Matassart, who had been dead 30 years, and had given him his first lessons on the violin. 'Holy Virgin,' he cried, 'have pity on me!' At the same moment, musicians, dancers, and chateau, all disappeared before his eyes.

On the next day, the inhabitants of Auffin, who more prudent than the fiddler, had delayed their departure till morning, found the old man extended at length at the foot of a gibbet, with a white fiddlestick in his hand.

'Father Matthews,' says one of them, 'has chosen rather a queer place to sleep in.' 'And a still queerer nail to hang his fiddle in,' answered another, 'his violin and bow are both strung on the toe of a hanged man. 'He is not afraid that the carcase would be cold ?' added a third. 'The old man has covered his dry shoulders with his own cloak.'

'He is a prudent fellow, old father Matthew,' said a fourth, who was trying to bring the old musician to life; ‘why he carried two fiddles with him, so that if he broke one he should have another.'

When Matthew returned to himself by dint of the labours of the good folks about him, he attributed every thing to the cold, and took care not to say a single word of the infernal visions which had appeared to him.

But on entering his cottage, he carefully examined the instrument of which he had become possessed in so strange a manner. A thrill of horror was the result of this examination. The fiddle was nothing more than the bone of a dead man, wrought with exquisite skill; and he read upon its rich silver ornaments the name of an inhabitant of Hesdin, who passed there as a sorcerer and a wizard.

When the evening shades gathered, he repaired to the house of this ill-famed man:—

'Friend,' said he, with a low salutation, 'there is a fiddle which belongs to you, I believe. I have accidently found it, and thought I would bring it back to you.

His neighbour grew pale at these words, and stood for a moments in astonishment without uttering a word.

'Oh! oh! master Matthew,' he at length muttered, 'you have discovered strange things during the past night, and a word from you might do me much mischief.'

'God forbid, then, friend, that I should mutter it.'

'You are a brave man, Matthew, but you must keep your tongue well. If they burn me alive as they certainly will if they find out half of what you know, it will go hard with you friend Matthew.'

Matthew rose to go, but the owner of the strange fiddle stopped him, and, putting his mouth to his ear, muttered in a low voice—

'Neighbour, tell me your enemies; I will send a plague among their cattle this very night; or I will devise some means to get you entirely rid of them.'

'I have no enemies, neighbour, and God forbid that I should wish ill to any one.'

'In what manner, then, can I be useful to you?'

'In nothing,' replied our fiddler, who was in a hurry to be gone; 'in nothing, neighbour. I consider myself lucky in being able to restore to you so fine a fiddle.'

'A beautiful fiddle to be sure. But, neighbour Matthew, I must make you some present.'

'Give him this purse: take out of it as much as you will, and as often as you will, and there will yet he six livres left in it.'

These words are spoken by a man of sinister aspect, who certainly was not in the sorcerer’s cabinet when Matthew arrived. How had he entered? It was impossible to comprehend, for the doors had all been carefully closed by the master of the house, that none might hear his conversation with Matthew.

'It is some of the devil’s handywork, cried the fiddler, 'and I will not risk my salvation by accepting it.'

'It is a talisman,' replied the other, 'a talisman which a Christian can use without fear.' In pronouncing the word Christian, a shudder ran over all his limbs.

'If this purse is the work of the devil, then I am damned,' added he with a bitter smile.

Matthew, half convinced, yielded to the temptafion of becoming possessor of such a treasure.

He had recourse so frequently to the wonderful purse, that he became in a short time master of a pretty house, and lived in as splendid a style as the richest citizen in Hesdin.

Every day were feasts and fetes without end.—He continued however to play at weddings, but he had a good mule of a gentlestep to ride on, and a varlet to carry his fiddle.

This new manner of life of the fiddler occasioned a great deal of astonishment in the town of Hesdin, and gave rise to various surmises. The most general belief was that Matthew had discovered a hidden treasure.

Now Matthew had four nephews, rakish young men, whom he had never assisted on account of their ill conduct. They said one day among themselves, 'Our uncle Matthew has become rich, and we shall inherit all his wealth.’ They understood each other, and they all went out with weapons, to watch for Matthew at a crossway in the woods, where they knew he would pass that night.

The fiddler could not avoid his fate. Four arrows pierced the old man, while his more fortunate varlet escaped.

The four brothers, without thinking on this witness of their crime, ran towards the carcass for the purpose of despoiling it. They were prevented by a man of sinister aspect, who rushed upon the body, took from it a little purse, and ran away crying, 'Thus much good do my gifts!' A bitter smile followed these words.

While the assassins were standing dumb with horror, they were suddenly surrounded by the sheriff and other officers of justice. Matthew’s varlet had met them in his flight, and returned with them to arrest the assassins of his master.

Justice was not slow in following the proper proof of the crime. The sheriff had them all hung on the tree behind which they concealed themselves to commit the murder. This circumstance has given the spot the name which it still bears.—The Crossway Of The Four Brothers.

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This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.