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   Chapter 3 SOME CHARACTERISTIC LEGENDS, CUSTOMS, AND SPORTS

Tyrol and its People By Clive Holland Characters: 35072

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Just as is the case with Switzerland so in Tyrol the land itself, its history, even its geological evolution, seem in a measure reflected in the character and disposition of its people. One cannot indeed be any long time in Tyrol without becoming aware of and appreciating this fact. In the kindliness and hospitality of the Tyrolese one has reflected the characteristics of aloofness from the outer world, and dependence upon one another, which the position of their "land within the mountains" typifies-characteristics which have grown (and fortunately have not yet become, at least in the more remote parts, to any large extent tainted by considerations of self-interest) from the circumstances of former days, when individual hospitality had to serve for the absence of inns and commercial conveniences of the kind. So, too, in the rugged, patriotic, and sturdy natures of the people one can trace a parallel with the configuration of their beloved land; as one can also trace in their single-heartedness, piety, poetic traits, and simplicity, the frugal and laborious lives which the majority lead, unvexed in former times by the fret of small things, and through succeeding ages strengthened by the great needs of patriotism and self-sacrifice which the political crises outside their own borders often brought home to them by invasion and attempted subjection.

A DELIGHTFUL LAND

It is not at all wonderful, then, that a people dwelling in a land of such surpassing beauty, where flower-bedecked upper pastures melt away into rocky peaks, glaciers, and snow-clad heights; where the music of tinkling brooks trickling down the mountain side and the roar of greater torrents are ever with them; with the eternal silence of great heights surrounding them and, as it were, shutting them in from the outer world, should be gifted with an appreciation of romantic beauty, legend, and poetry beyond the common run of mortals.

As we have already shown, much history and many stirring events have been enacted within the mountain-girdled borders of Tyrol. And, nowadays, when the country is coming slowly but surely to her own as a delightful holiday ground for weary dwellers in Western cities, many of her valleys bring to the minds of those who know something of the country's story dramatic and romantic memories of the stirring events and legends which have through past ages become associated with their names.

Scarcely a valley, village, or townlet, whether set high or low in this enticing land, but has its own legend or story. And in almost all of the less travelled corners one finds strange, and to most travellers incomprehensible, dialects still lingering amongst the peasantry, notwithstanding the fact that gradually the Germanization of even the southern portion of Tyrol is being brought about. In one or other of these dialects which so survive, scholars and philologists of former times have thought the key to the ancient language of Etruria might be discovered; and in more modern days there has been the same hope expressed, but as yet it is unfulfilled. Müller,[7] for one, thought that in some secluded valley of the Tyrol or Grisons the key to the riddle in the form of "a remnant of the old Rh?tian dialect might be discovered." Müller's hope has since then in a measure been realized through the efforts and researches of Steub, who, whilst travelling in Tyrol in Alpine districts in 1842, found some fragmentary remains of a dialect approaching very nearly Etruscan, though not sufficiently full to form any very important or extended key to the tongue. His book[8] contains the results of the inquiries, tests, and deductions which he was at first led to undertake by the strange names of the towns and villages which he came across in his travels. Then he collected these, and we are told set to work "testing them with Celtic, but discovering no analogy he tried other tests, and with the Etruscan met with some considerable success," which was chiefly valuable, however, as confirming the theory and ancient traditions of a Rh?to-Etruria. Many of his conclusions, however, have never been accepted by philologists either of his own day or of later times; and some of the word examples he gives as having analogies are quite incomprehensible to the ordinary student.

THE LANGUAGE

To all intents and purposes German and Italian are the languages spoken throughout Tyrol, a knowledge of which will be sufficient for all ordinary purposes of travel. The former prevailing in the Vorarlberg and North Tyrol; the latter in South Tyrol and W?lsch Tyrol, though German is found in both of these districts, and in South Tyrol very considerably.

In the Vorarlberg, however, one comes across numerous words and expressions which are undoubtedly of Italian origin, and are remaining evidences of the periods when the Venetian Republic ruled over a district now a part of Tyrol. The Italian word gútto, a can or feeding-bottle, for example, has its counterpart in guttera; whilst from fazzolétto, a handkerchief, one has fazanedle; and from gaudio, joy, we have gaude; and from cappéllo, a hat, has probably come schapel.

A VIEW OF THE TYROL ALPS

A very considerable number of words of French origin or of marked similarity to French words are found in parts of the Vorarlberg. Gespousa, a bride, has a distinct philological affinity to épouse; and au, water, pronounced very similarly, can be traced to eau, and is found common to both North Tyrol and the Vorarlberg. Shesa, a trap or gig, bears a marked resemblance to the French chaise.

Even England appears to have contributed a considerable number of words to the vocabulary of certain districts of Tyrol, though perhaps they are, more strictly speaking, words similarly derived from German or Norman French which have become common to both. In gulla, a gulley; gompa, to jump; datti, daddy; witsch, witch; and many others this is traceable. It will be gathered from these few examples that the language and dialects of Tyrol are composite of several tongues, as is almost always the case in countries which have seen many vicissitudes of occupation and development.

FOLK TALES

In Tyrol, which has experienced these and possesses such a large share of romantic beauty, and even nowadays some "solitary places," there need be little wonder that legends, superstitions, and myths are found nearly everywhere. Almost every village has its own, whose origin has been lost in the mists of antiquity, and whose date can only be traced uncertainly by its analogy to some other similar, more widely known, and more easily dated legend, tale, or superstition. Many of them enshrine actual events recorded and re-recorded with poetic license and varying accuracy, so that at last what was originally founded upon fact has in process of time become overlaid with much poetic imagery and fiction. To most of these tales and accounts of events each teller added something of himself suggested by his knowledge, imagination, or art; and thus ultimately what had once been facts became legends common to all throughout the length and breadth of the land till some one set them down in permanent form by writing or printing. Then the variations in a measure ceased.

Tyrol is full of these legendary tales, superstitions, and myths, to which, indeed, the geological situation of the land and the simple habits of the people conduce. When we remember that in ancient times it was the universal custom to ascribe all manifestations of Nature's laws which could not be easily traced and understood to the supernatural, it is little wonder that the simple, unsophisticated, and uneducated Tyrolese should have so attributed many of the wonders amid which they lived. One very noticeable feature of the Tyrolese character is demonstrated by the fact that, notwithstanding the centuries of evolution during which superstition played so important a part in the life of the people, and the existence of an unreflecting belief in the supernatural, their many virtues, especially those of patriotism, industry, frugality of living, morality, hospitality, and religion, have not, as with some other nations, become impaired.

Amongst the many legends of a startling and supernatural character which are found throughout Tyrol, is one connected with the pretty little village of Taur in the Innthal. It has to do with a hermit who lived in the seventeenth century in a cell overlooking the Wildbach. He is often said by the countryfolk to have been St. Romedius himself, though this, of course, could not be the case. One night, whilst the holy man was engaged in his usual meditation and prayer, a tapping was heard against the little window of his retreat. Upon opening the door, what was his amazement to see, not the benighted traveller he expected to find craving his hospitality and shelter, but the spirit of his friend the priest of Taur who had recently died. The latter entreated the holy man to have compassion upon him, saying, "Have pity upon me, Father, for my sufferings are terrible. Once when three Masses had been ordered and the fees paid I forgot to say them, and now for this sin I am being punished more than I can bear."

Then the legend goes on to say that he laid his hand upon the low-pitched roof of the little porch outside the hermit's cell, and the holy man afterwards found that the wood was charred and the impression of the tortured priest's hand was left indelibly in the wood. The poor suppliant begged his old friend the hermit to say the Masses, and to pray and fast for him. This the holy man promised faithfully to do; and keeping his promise, a year and a day afterwards the spirit once more rapped upon the casement and told him that he was now free of purgatory. In the chapel there hung at least a few years ago, and we believe now hangs, the tile with the mark of the priest's hand branded into it, beneath which is written an account of the miracle, with the date February, 1660.

In W?lsch Tyrol, especially, there are many folk-lore tales having a distinctly Biblical origin or suggestion. Possibly they are oral versions of Bible incidents handed down from generation to generation in the early years of Christianity and during the Middle Ages, until they have gradually in process of time and varied repetition lost their strictly Biblical character. One of the most usually met with (it is told by most W?lsch Tyrol mothers to their children, and is a favourite on account of its dramatic end, and because virtue triumphs) bears a very strong resemblance to the story of Joseph and his Brethren. The story runs thus: "Once long ago there lived a king who had three sons. Two were quite grown up, but the third was a child, and was his father's joy and favourite. One day the king, who had been out upon a hunting expedition, returned home from the chase of the bear and chamois fatigued, and dispirited because of the loss of a favourite feather[9] which he was accustomed to wear in his cap. There was a hue and cry raised, but no one could find the lost article. At length little (Joseph) came to his father and urged him to grieve no more but to refresh himself and then rest, "for," said the child, "either I myself or one of my brothers will find the feather."

Then the king, pleased with the child, and doubtless hopeful that he would be the one to find the missing plume, said, "To whomsoever finds the feather will I leave my kingdom."

The three brothers set out on their search, and after much trouble the youngest suddenly espied the object for which they were looking. But the two elder men, consumed by jealousy at the thought of Joseph's inheriting the kingdom, led him away into a wood and killed him, and, taking the feather to their father the king, told him that they both found it and thus jointly claimed the reward. Regarding the missing (Joseph) they said that whilst searching for the feather they missed him, and suddenly looked up to see him being borne away by a bear into the recesses of the woods, and as they were unarmed it was impossible for them to attempt to rescue him. The king was consumed by grief; search was made, but the body was not discovered; and it was not until the proverbial year and a day afterwards that a shepherd boy came across (Joseph's) bones, and, taking one of them, fashioned it into a primitive flute or shepherd's pipe. The wonderful part of the story is still to come. No sooner had the shepherd commenced to play upon the pipe than it told, in the voice of the poor child victim of jealousy, the whole story. The shepherd took the pipe to the king and played upon it before him. The king listened, and, accepting the miraculous tale it told, ordered his two sons, who were present and struck with amazement and fear, to be instantly put to death.

There are scores of other stories of a similar character told during the winter evenings around the fire in Tyrolese huts and houses. Some have a family likeness to tales of our own land, such as Cinderella, Puss in Boots, Jack and the Beanstalk (only the giant is often replaced by an immense toad who guards fabulous wealth, that is only to be obtained by killing the toad in single combat, which feat is, of course, performed by the poor boy who wishes to marry the Princess), Red Riding Hood, etc. An account of these, however, rightly belongs to a volume of comparative folk-lore, and for detailed description we have no space in the present one.

SOME QUAINT CUSTOMS

Of the many quaint customs which still prevail in different parts of Tyrol, those relating to Christmas and to All Souls are amongst the most tender and picturesque. In North Tyrol, more especially perhaps in the district of the Unter-Innthal, Christmas, which is called Christnacht and Weihnacht, is celebrated by the gift of Klaubabrod, a strange cake-like compound made of dough, almonds, slices of pears, and other preserved fruits and nuts, which, at least with the generality of foreigners, must, we think from personal experience, be "an acquired taste." The Zillerthal maidens are specially well-instructed in the making of Klaubabrod, and the one prepared for the family consumption, if the maker be engaged, must have the first slice cut out of it by her betrothed, who then kisses her and at the same time gives her some little present as a mark of his affection. In former days it was the custom of the Bishops of Brixen to make presents of fish to members of their household and to all in their employ. The fish came from Lake Garda, and was allowed by custom to pass through the dominions of the reigning Count of Tyrol and the Prince Bishop of Trent exempt from the toll which would otherwise have been levied.

In W?lsch Tyrol there is a curious Christmas custom still to be met with which consists of the arrangement, by the father of the family, of a number of heaps of flour upon a table or shelf. In these are hidden various little presents, and when the children and other members of the household have been admitted they take their heap according to the drawing of lots, or the result of some contest or competition.

The belief that animals have the gift of speech, which has during past ages been prevalent throughout Christendom, still prevails in some parts of the more remote districts and valleys of Tyrol; and strange stories are told of things said by beasts and over-heard by human beings which have come true, so that animals evidently are accredited also with the gift of prophecy.

At Epiphany, in many parts of Tyrol, performances very similar in character to the English old-time "mummers" are given. Generally three of the village boys dressed up to represent kings, one having his face blacked, go from house to house singing. Sometimes a Herod will appear at the window of the house and reply to their songs in rhyming couplets. After which the singers stand in turn and sing, and end with a chorus which contains broad hints that they would not refuse some refreshment were it offered them! They seldom or never fail to receive this, as usually some provision has been made by the hospitable village folk for the purpose.

The blessing of cattle on the Eve of Epiphany was at one time an almost universal practice with the Tyrolese. This, however, has been largely discontinued, although still extant in some hamlets of the remote valleys.

As showing the almost universal prevalence of certain ideas underlying customs, though often varying in details, one may quote the observance of All Souls in W?lsch Tyrol, which bears a marked resemblance to the beautiful and even more pathetic ceremonials connected with the Feast of Bon Matsuri in far-off Japan. In parts of W?lsch Tyrol, although the graves of the departed are not decorated nowadays, as is so much the practice in Germany, the parish priests gather their parishioners together in the churchyards and recite the Rosary whilst kneeling amidst the graves. In many parts loaves, called cuzza, are given to the poor with small doles of money, and sometimes bean soup. In former times, however, these doles, which are for the refreshment of the souls of the departed, were actually laid upon the graves themselves, apparently in the belief that the souls would come forth and partake of the food so lovingly provided. Pitchers, cups, and other vessels containing fresh water were also placed so that the souls might slake their purgatorial thirst. It is in this latter and ancient, and not in the l

ess symbolic modern observance that the analogy to the Bon Matsuri of Japan is so distinctly traceable.

MARRIAGE IN TYROL

Of the curious customs which once prevailed very widely, and are even now to be found in the more remote districts, those relating to marriage are amongst the most quaint. The month of May is, strangely enough, unpopular; with us the opposite appears to be the case. The favourite day is a Thursday. In fact, one writer ventures to say, "throughout Tyrol a Thursday is chosen." Monday, however, is the favourite in one of the smaller valleys of the Windisch-Matrei district.

On the night before the wedding there is usually a great dance given, and in towns often a hall is hired for the purpose, where the contracting parties are well known, in a good position, and have a large circle of friends and acquaintances; and in villages where the same circumstances occur an elaborately decorated barn is often used for the merry-making.

From the time the wedding is announced or the "banns" published the betrothed maiden is known as the "Pulpit Bride" or Kansel-Braut. These village wedding festivities are often rendered picturesque and even medi?val in effect, as the peasants frequently wear the costumes of former times, and the barn is lighted by pine torches or equally primitive methods. The dancing is kept up till early morning, in fact often until sunrise; and not till then do the guests disperse, some of the more favoured going on to the bride's house for a substantial breakfast, or, as it is called, Morgensuppe. Whilst this is in progress the bride is usually attired by her girl friends (quite a number of them frequently sharing in this interesting and even exciting ceremony), and those who have not come in to breakfast may continue the dancing. One of the special adornments worn by brides is a knot of long ribbons or scarlet leather worked with gold thread, whilst blue bands, worn round the arm, and the hat ribbons are of the same colour. These were anciently thought, and are indeed still so, to have special powers to preserve the wearer from goitre and other complaints.

The bride's procession, which forms usually at about ten or eleven in the morning, is headed by musicians. But before starting the guests assemble round the table in the living room and drink the good health of the happy couple out of a large bowl from which the latter themselves have drunk first. The nearest relatives and friends of the bride usually form a kind of guard of honour, being known as "train bearers," although we fancy a "train" is seldom worn by a peasant, or by one of the lower middle class. These "train bearers" surround the bride, and, except in inclement weather, walk with their hats in their hand, and sometimes bear garlands of flowers. In some districts it is the custom for the priest to accompany the bride to church, not as with us to await her arrival there, walking on one side of her whilst the parents walk on the other. Orange blossom is seldom worn, save by the rich; peasant girls wearing as a substitute a spray or wreath of Rosemary, which it is also a common practice for them to do in Italy and Spain. The plant is considered emblematic of the purity of the Virgin, and for that reason highly valued.

COSTUMES

Very frequently a Tyrolese bride wears no special bridal dress, but her holiday or fête dress, which has perhaps been retrimmed or additionally embellished for the occasion. This was the case at a wedding at which we were present in the Unter-Innthal, where the bridesmaids also wore their picturesque festal attire, with broad-brimmed velvet hats, elaborately embroidered bolero-shaped bodices, snowy linen sleeves, short velvet skirts, and handsome aprons. Their shoes were mostly of black leather, some of those worn by the well-to-do girls being adorned by huge silver buckles.

On this occasion the bridegroom was scarcely less gay in attire than the bride. Clad in short black velvet knee-breeches, and wearing a green velvet double-fronted waistcoat, a black jacket, thick brown knitted woollen hose, a crown or head ornament of silver filigree work, and a massive silver belt with heavy bosses, he was not only a conspicuous, but also an almost theatrical figure of the procession. A priest also accompanied him, followed by the village innkeeper, who is not seldom the richest man of the community, owner of the largest amount of land, and the holder of a position somewhat analogous to that of a mayor. It is generally agreed that the Tyrolese village innkeeper is a man of superior calibre to his English counterpart. Usually he is a man of upright character, and superior intelligence to the average villager; and carrying on, as he frequently does, several other businesses besides that of innkeeper, he is less interested than in some other countries in the excessive consumption of drink.

At many weddings singers from neighbouring villages and hamlets will come into the bride's native place to assist with the singing and music which form a prominent feature of the ceremony. Lighted tapers are sometimes carried by the bridal party in church; and candles that will not burn well are always avoided and thrown aside by the younger and unmarried members of the company on account of the belief prevailing that to hold such is a sure sign that the bearers will not be married within the year. At the conclusion of the ceremony a cup of spiced wine mixed with water is sometimes handed round by the priest after he has blessed it, out of which the guests all drink to the health of the bride and bridegroom to be. In the old name given to this Johannis segen (literally John's blessing) some authorities are inclined to trace a symbolism having its origin in the miracle performed at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.

After the ceremony has been performed the wedding-party leaves the church, and, as is the case on similar occasions in Brittany and other countries, dancing almost immediately commences. It is sometimes, indeed, started almost at the church door, and thus the wedding-party proceeds to the village inn accompanied by musicians. In former times it was the almost universal custom in several valleys of Tyrol to proceed in turn to every inn within a radius of some miles after refreshments had been partaken of at the first. A very fatiguing custom one would imagine. Refreshments, we were told, generally marked each visit, and yet the real business of the day, the wedding feast, was still to come!

In ancient times-the custom has now fallen into disuse so far as we have been able to discover-it was also the practice to slaughter a fatted calf, which had been reserved for that particular purpose. Every possible joint and portion of the animal was served up in turn even to the head and feet.

A TYROLESE WEDDING

At the end of a feast which even nowadays lasts hours, and formerly, so one old writer says, "consumed much time so that the whole day was frequently given over to feasting till few who sat down to the board were capable of much exertion," the best man or some prominent groomsman rises and asks the guests whether they are satisfied with the fare provided. It is needless to say that such a question is invariably received with rounds of appreciative applause. Then, in former times more frequently than nowadays, the speaker proceeded to preach a little sermonette which generally ran something in the following style, and was little varied from occasion to occasion, or even from one generation to another. "The good gifts of which we have partaken are from the hand of God. Therefore should thanks be given to Him. And yet more should this be done for His mercy in making us in His image and reasonable beings, and not as the wild beasts of the field or crawling things, or unbelievers. We have but to thank Him and turn ourselves to Him in the spirit of humbleness and gratitude, and He will abide and go with us as with those at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee."

Other duties in life and aspirations were usually touched upon, and coming from one of themselves we can well believe the speech was listened to with additional attention by a race of people distinguished for simple piety and homely religion. The exhortation was usually followed by a loud saying of a Paternoster and a "Hail Mary" by all present.

Often this address is followed by other refreshments of a lighter kind than those of the feast proper. Some are of special design, and in their shapes and decorations have symbolic meaning, as is sometimes the case of wedding dishes and decorations in other countries. After this the guests bring forth the gifts they have for the young couple. Coming from a naturally generous and warm-hearted people these are often not only useful but valuable, and prove a great help to the newly established housekeepers.

Then, when the most exigent appetites have been more than satisfied, the musicians, who have played at intervals throughout the proceedings, strike up dance tunes, and the younger-and often older, too-members of the party indulge in their favourite indoor pastime-dancing.

Tyrolese peasant dances are many of them exceedingly picturesque and quaint, if somewhat boisterous and lively in their performance. Both the men and the girls in one or two of them beat time not only with their feet but also by means of resounding thwacks on their thighs and hips. And whilst the young men, clad in gay waistcoats, black velvet or leather knee-breeches and high-crowned hats often of a delightful shade of green felt, are getting more energetic, their partner's short, full skirts during their top-like revolutions often ascend waistward until the extent of shapely and sturdy limbs displayed almost rivals that of a conventional ballet girl. Other dances of the waltz, dreher, and allemande type are more graceful, and less "romping" in character. Dancing is carried on far into the night, and it is a notable circumstance that although there is a good deal of eating there is not often excessive drinking on these occasions, and cases of actual drunkenness are very few and far between.

Several of the valleys-the Zillerthal, Iselthal, and Gr?denerthal in particular-have their own peculiar wedding customs. And in several, as in parts of Germany, the old custom of stealing one of the garters of the bride whilst she is seated at the wedding feast for the purpose of cutting it up into mascots or souvenirs still obtains.

TYROLESE SPORTS

A love of sport of all kinds seems inherent to the Tyrolese nature; and this in conjunction with the pure air and bracing climate in which the people live, the strenuous struggle for existence with the forces of Nature which is always going on amidst the higher valleys, not only serves to keep the Tyrolese a hardy and vigorous race, but has much to do with the special qualities of industry, religiousness, morality, frugality, and straight-forwardness for which they have long been distinguished.

Their athletic festivals parallel those of Westmorland, Cumberland, and the Highland gatherings of our own land and the sports are to a considerable extent similar in character. The most popular, however, are undoubtedly shooting at a mark, or Scheibenschiessen as they are called, and wrestling.

The Tyrolese gun, usually a short-barrelled rifle, known as stutz, has played an important part not only in the history of the nation, but also in the domestic life of the people. In many of the more remote valleys, in the past at least, it has deserved its name of the bread-winner, for upon the game shot with it many a household has largely subsisted; whilst from the skins of the deer, chamois and other animals killed, articles of clothing are made. To the constant use of the gun in all its evolutionary stages, from the flint-lock musket down to the more modern rifle of to-day, the Tyrolese owe their renown as being amongst the finest marksmen in Europe, a characteristic which has counted so tremendously in their various struggles with the invaders of their country.

Wrestling is popular throughout the Tyrolese valleys, but nowhere more so than in the picturesque and romantic Zillerthal. The champion wrestler of a village, as used to be the village "bruiser" with us, is a person of importance who would not barter the distinction for love nor money. The wrestlers are divided into three kinds, the "Roblar," "Mairraffer," and "Haggler," who follow the rules of different schools of wrestling. In former times this love of the sport, or perhaps one should say supremacy in it, frequently led to scenes of crime and bloodshed. Often in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries noted robbers and freebooters were those who had acquired great physical powers as wrestlers, and in consequence took to brigandage as a means of livelihood. Indeed, there are stories told of fair maidens in past ages having been carried off from their betrothed by force, when the rejected suitor (or perhaps the unknown rival who had set his heart on a particular girl) had killed his rival in a wrestling bout. To prove murderous intent under such circumstances was not only extremely difficult but also somewhat against the "sporting" instinct of the race, and the primeval idea that the woman should fall to the strongest.

Bowling and the game of skittles are also favourite pastimes, and to the latter especially several romantic stories attach. Indeed, even at the present day one can find traces of the belief that the game is also popular with the elves, gnomes, goblins, and "little folk" who are supposed to dwell in or haunt certain mountains, woods, and streams, only these supernatural folk mostly play with gold and silver balls and skulls in the legends and folk tales one hears around the firesides in Tyrolese chalets.

A GHOSTLY LEGEND

There is a strange story in connection with this game and the spirit players attached to the now ruined and once strong and famous castle of Starkenberg, which was destroyed by Frederick with the Empty Purse in the fifteenth century.

Once, so the story goes, a pedlar was overtaken by darkness upon the mountain side, and losing his way, he came to the ancient schloss, in which he decided to take shelter for the night. He lay down on the grassy floor of the ruined hall, and placing his pack beneath his head went off to sleep. He slept for some hours and then was awakened by the clock of a neighbouring village striking midnight. As the last stroke reverberated amongst the rocks of the hillside he was astonished to see twelve spectral figures clad in complete armour file into the hall, and set to work to play a game of bowls, using skulls in place of balls.

THE ORTLER FROM THE MALSER HEIDE

Now it happened that the pedlar was not only a fine wrestler and a man of great physical strength and courage (otherwise he would scarcely perhaps have chosen a haunted ruin in which to pass the night), but was the champion bowler of his native village. So he offered to pit his skill against that of the spectral knights. His challenge was accepted, and in the end he beat them all, and to his astonishment, instead of disgust being shown at his victory, his prowess was hailed with shouts of joy, and one of the spirits speaking to him said that now they were released from purgatory, and then they all vanished. Much mystified, the pedlar turned to see where they had disappeared to, when his eyes were greeted by the sight of ten more men in armour, who entered the hall by separate doors. After having carefully locked the latter they all brought the keys to the pedlar, and entreated him to try and discover the right one for each door. Nothing abashed he undertook the task which was a difficult one owing to the fact that each key, door, and ghostly visitant were exactly alike. He managed, however, to accomplish his task successfully, and was overwhelmed by the thanks of the spirits, who told him, as had their bowl-playing counterparts, that he had by this feat released them from torment.

As was to be quite expected, it was now the devil's turn to appear upon the scene, which he immediately did, roundly upbraiding the pedlar for having thus robbed him of some of his victims, and declaring that he (the devil) would now inevitably manage to gain the pedlar's soul instead. The latter was not to be so easily disposed of, however, and he offered to stake his soul upon a game of bowls to be played between himself and the Evil One. Needless to say that the latter was beaten, and when dawn came at length he fled away with a horrible rushing of his bat-like wings, and his hot sulphurous breath tainting the air, so that the grass was withered in places.

The pedlar was not likely to keep such an interesting experience to himself, and so when in due course he came to the village, towards which he was making his way when overtaken by nightfall, he told the tale. The villagers amazed went to the ruined castle, and lo and behold there was the scorched grass as the pedlar had declared.

It would be easy to quote other equally quaint and romantic stories which are told in connection with the sports and pastimes of Tyrol, but that of the pedlar and the ghostly knights or men-at-arms must suffice. It will, at all events, serve to demonstrate how inextricably interwoven are the threads of legendary lore and romance, even with the commonplace daily life and amusements of this interesting people.

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