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The Hunter and the Baroness

There was a rich and powerful baron who owned a lot, Baron di Valle. He was one of the richest and the happiest men in South Tirol, for he had the prettiest and most sensible woman of Tirol for his bride. The brief days were all too short for the pleasure they found in each other's company and they were scarcely ever apart the whole day through.

Once, however, the baron went on a hunting party through a part of the country that was too rough for the baroness to follow him. The day was splendid, the air was filled with good scents and the baron was full of enthusiasm for his favourite sport. But what egged him on most, was the sight of a strange, bold hunter who climbed a tall mount and dashed through brake and briar and over hill and rock.

Baron di Valle used to think he was the boldest hunter in the country-side. Eager to outstrip the other, he spurred his horse on so that he might but pass him somewhere; but the other always kept ahead. Though the baron kept close to his heels, he was never able to pass him by.

They had long outstripped all the others of the baron's company. All this time the baron had taken no note of where he went; now he found himself in the middle of a thick forest of tall fir-trees. The other stopped and turned to the baron, exclaiming fiercely with glaring eyes:

"What do you want here? How dare you invade my domain!" With that, he blew on his hunting-hor, and in a few moments a troop of fiery-eyed huntsmen were surrounding the baron.

"Stand back!" cried the baron in a commanding tone as the huntsmen prepared to seize him.

"No one commands here but I," said the hunter the baron had tried to compete with. Then he said to his men, "Seize him and carry him off!"

"Halt!" said the count. "I have wronged you in nothing and meant no offence. I admired your brave riding and I thought what one brave man might do, another might."

"Since you take that tone," said the other hunter, "I will let you get away from here at a price you yourself set. It's not you I want; I lured you here to get hold of the baroness. Now, I can also appreciate courtesy. So instead of keeping you in chains while I marry her, I permit you to return to your wife and tell her that I have won her for my own and she belongs to me. If she tries to escape it will be useless, for as you see, I have many people to carry out my orders. But I prefer not to do anything to alarm her so long as she does not resist me foolishly.

"But the ransom? You spoke of a ransom just now," interposed the baron, hastily;.

"All in good time," answered the other. "Give a fellow time to speak. The only way to pay me off instead of letting me have your wife is the let her guess my name. I give her three guesses of three words each. But if she doesn't succeed within a month, she is mine, and then I will come to you and claim her. But if in the next moth she thinks she has found out what may name is, she has only to come to the holly grove on the border of this forest which marks the frontier between your territory and mine. If she stands there, beside the centre holly tree and blows this little gold horn I give you, I may come to her there."

The baron was hoping that in a month he and his men could help his wife to find out what the other hunter was named, or at least be with her one more month.

So he took the horn and stuck it in his belt without a word. The whole troop of huntsmen disappeared, and he was left alone.

He found his way back on the path he had come. He hurried on to get home without losing time to be with his wife and set his men at work to find out what was the name of the hunter who said his territory was next to the baron's. Although he rode as fast as he could, it took him three days to get back to the holly grove that marked the boundary of his own territory, and from there he rode for half a day to get to his castle. His loving wife came out to meet him, full of joy to see him again. After the rest of the hunting party had come home without him, she had done very little but watch for him from the highest turret of the castle.

But on meeting her the baron turned his head away, as if he dared not look at her and wept silently. He could hardly bear to render the message he had got for her, but after a while he had told her all.

She was much less cast down than he had expected. She did not even upbraid and remind him that it was his vanity had brought them to this plight. The baron blamed himself for it anyway.

Still no solution came to mind, nobody that the baron knew or employed could tell these names. Even the baroness began almost to lose heart. The baron abandoned the hunt and sports and sat brooding, day after day, in the seat of his ancestors. The baroness sat among the flowers of her bay window. Her mind was far away over the tops of the dark green trees. Ten days went by and no good thought had come. But suddenly she rose and clapped her hands and her ringing laughter brought the baron bounding to her side.

"I have found it, Heinrich!" she exclaimed; "I am sure I have found the name! Doesn't the other hunter live among the tall fir-trees?"

"Yes."

"And didn't he speak of three names?"

"Yes; he said your guess must include three names."

"Then I have it, Heinrich! What more natural than that he should be called from the names of the trees he lives among? As I was gazing over the tops of the high dark trees the words came into my mind, 'Tree, Fir, Pine' – those could be the three words. Come and let us go out to the holly grove and do what we can!"

The baron ordered horses to be saddled, for it was still early morning. They rode together to the holly grove which was the boundary of his territory.

The baroness was the first to reach the grove; in fact, she had ridden on a good way in advance, that she might have it out with the other hunter before her husband came, so that she might greet him on his arrival with the news that she was free.

Merrily she sounded the jewelled horn. Its sound had scarcely died away the other hunter was at her side. He no longer looked dusty, wild and fierce, but was dressed in a becoming green hunting-suit. The baroness looked astonished at him.< p class="i"> The hunter bowed towards her and said:

"Your eyes are clever, fair baroness, that I fear you are going to say what my name is. Spare me; don't say it, but come with me into the shady pine-forest, the noblest palace, the widest domain and unlimited command; retainers without number, and wishes fulfilled!"

He came nearer as he spoke. His eyes sparkled. For a moment the baroness almost forgot her sincere husband's love, but it was only for a moment. Sje stepped back against the friendly holly.

"I did not come to hear such words," she said, "but to say words that would free me for good from you."

"Oh, don't say them!" said the hunter,

"My love is another's already,," said the baroness, "so there is no love to be won from me. But don't interrupt me any more. Let me say what your name is. "

The hunter entreated her not to say it, but she went on, with a clear, confident voice:

"Tree! Fir! Pine!"

The hunter looked up as if he did not quite understand what she meant.

"Now, me pass, for I am free!" she said, resolutely.

"'Free,' say you?" said the handsome hunter, astonished. "Free? did you mean you thought that was my unknown name?" [120]

"Well . . .," answered the lady, in a voice of conviction.

"Oh, dear, it is nothing like it!" he answered, "and it is not likely you should ever arrive at it. So days of happiness are before us yet." He was at her feet.

The baroness, tried to tear herself away. "I'm too happy with Heinrich. If I have failed now, still there is more time to find the word."

The baron came as she finished speaking. She looked so sad that he drew his sword. The hunter blew his horn, and an instant he was surrounded, as before, by the hunter's folks. They unarmed him and held him bound on the ground, while the hunter was about to seize the hand of the baroness. The baron was powerless to defend his wife by force, so he once more controlled his anger and reminded the hunter of his promise to leave them at peace for a month.

The hunter left the side of the baroness, saying: "When you behave with due consideration, so will I." At a sign from him his folks loosed the baron's bonds, gave him back his sword and held his stirrup while he mounted his horse.

"Leave unharmed, then," said the hunter, "I have given my word. And what is more, I give the lady not only three guesses, but as many as she likes - for she is as little likely to guess it in thirty as in three, and every time she chooses to guess it here,, it gives me the happiness of seeing her." He turned away and disappeared with his folks. The baron and his wife rode sadly home. They spent the rest of the evening in the castle and the next evening and the next, but no likely name of the hunter popped up, and they feared she must so soon say goodbye

Thus ten days passed. Suddenly she rose and clapped her hands; and her silvery laugh brought her husband bounding to her side.

"I have it this time, Heinrich!" she said.

The baron listened anxiously.

"You said the hunter lived in a dense forest of tall, dark trees?"

"Yes," answered her husband.

"But I saw patches of ripe golden grain in the forest. Didn't you?"

"The first time I rode too fast to notice much, but I think on this last journey I saw such patches here and there by the wayside."

His lady went on: "I guess he takes his name from these small patches of golden grain, as they are more worth than all the vast forests. Order the horses, for I may have guessed his name! It came to my mind as I looked over the harvest-fields stretched out over there. 'Wheat, Oats, Maize - that could well be his name!"

The baron knew her counsel had often proved right when he least expected. He ordered the horses round, for it was yet early morning and they rode to the holly grove.

The baroness rode ahead of the gloomy baron to do her guessing before he came. She sounded ne note of the jewelled horn, and very, very soon the hunter was beside her. He said:

"So! Once again. Well, be assured I mean it well with you. Know I shall never treat you otherwise than with honour." She pulled herself together, for he was very handsome and attractive, and said: "Listen to my guess and remember your promise to leave me at peace till the month is out. And now for your name – 'Wheat! Oats! Maize!'said the baroness, with a positive air.

"Dear no, that's not at all like it!" said the hunter.

The baroness hung her head in despair; then, drawing herself up again, she said:

"You are not deceiving me now, are you?" "I will not do anything like that," he said. "For noble ends, noble means. Crookery won't do."

The baron rode up while he was saying this. Without a word with the hunter, he lifted his wife on to her light saddle and rode away with her in silence. Back home she sat silently wWith her head sunk upon her breast among the lovely flowers in her bay window, and hardly noticed them.

The days went by and now the last but one had come. The baroness trembled when she pictured the hunter coming to carry her off. But her courage did not forsake her, and she proposed to go out into the forest to guess anew. The baron agreed listlessly. A good guess could save her still.

The next morning they set out with heavy hearts. The flowers bloomed beneath their feet and the sun shone warm overhead, the birds sang, blithe and merry – nature was bright and fresh. As they came to the borders of the forest, however, the baroness heard someone cry in distress. Forgetting for the moment her own agony. She asked her husband to turn aside with her and find out who criedd so piteously. In a little time they found one of the hunter's men tied in front of a lately lighted fire. In a few minutes more the heaped-up wood would have been all in flames and then the other would have been slowly roasted! At a word from the baroness, the baron cut his bonds; and then they asked why he was punished in this way. "Oh, it does not take much to be punished by the hunter you have met!" was the answer. "If he is out of humour he spares no one - so violent fearful and arbitrary! Although I fear to tell his name, I may still help you in return for saving my life. Here is the solution: If you happen to overhear his name, I shan't have told you and yet it will save you." With that he walked on close in front of them, singing carelessly as he went.

"How are we to overhear it, Heinrich?" said the baroness to her husband after a bit.

"He seems to have forgotten us," answered the baron.

They walked on in silence; and the fellow kept on close in front of them, singing the same verse. The baroness listened and at last made out what he was repeating:

The hunter loves a fair lady,
Driven to despair.
If she only knew he's named Burzinigala!"

"'Burzinigala!' exclaimed the baroness with her ringing laugh. "I have got the right name this time, Heinrich!" and she laughed again.

The baron was too delighted to speak, and embraced his wife. When they turned to thank their helper, he was already gone.

The baron and baroness hasted to the holly grove. Once again the baroness sounded the gold horn, and the hunter came as quickly as before.

"Well, lady fair," he said, "have you guessed my name this time?" He was convinced she had not.

"Well, is it Burzinigala?"

"Who told you?" Sparks flew from his eyes.

"I just overheard it," she said.

And in a wink he was gone!

It only remained for the baron and baroness to ride home. They went on loving each other to the end of their days.

[Retold]

⚶ ⚶ ⚶

Let a woman talk and water flow. (Tyrolean Proverb)

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