The River Inn lies in a mountain region. A river glides, leaps, bounds and hurries by there, plunging swiftly towards the Danube, which flows towards wider plains.
Above the inn is the old ruin of the Kufstein castle, a grim stronghold above the happy valley, and grey among the dark-green pinewoods on the hill sides.
How easy in former times to get into such a castle if one offended its owner; and how difficult to get out!
The train carries the traveller to the station, and he descends to find some comfortable hostel where he may rest and talk. He looks at such inviting inscriptions on the door as:
Grüss Gott! Tritt ein.
Jeder guti Gast
Then he makes his choice and, calling for a drink, goes on to chat with the landlord.
"Stories about that castle over there?" asks the host. "Why, sir, there are so many that to write them all down would fill a fat book as full as that glass is with wine, yes, and over the brim too.
"The castle is on a pretty spot. Some people say the Romans were the first to build a camp up there; but perhaps they only imitated others who had done the same long before their time.
"Since Roman days the history of the ruin over there has been one of numberless changes. Does not the place suggest to you a sort of cruelty, such as we see, now and again, in the faces of people we meet as we walk the streets - people we prefer to know at a distance! Gott in Himmel!
"The landlord of 'The Bear' in those days would have to be on his best behaviour with the count who ruled over there. But let me fill your glass. While you drink and the sun shines so pleasantly all around us, I will tell you a story of long ago. It has to do with that old castle of Kufstein, and a story of love that triumphed even over those grim old battlements."
The landlord told:
The Bavarians held these lands in the past, and they lorded it over the Tyrolese. They drove us here and there like goats. None of our leaders was strong enough to resist them. The Bavarians treated all alike, rich and poor: these old masters of ours hanged, tortured and looted great and small to their hearts' content, till the countryside was as quiet as a village when a funeral passes through the streets. Those they did not hang they cast into prison – over there" - and the host jerked his thumb towards the hoary stone ruins in the pine woods.
Now, among other people who tried to fight with these Bavarians was Leonhard, a young knight who lived not far from here. He was betrothed to Katharina, a somewhat humble maiden that he had chanced to see one day as he was passing her home. Scarcely had this little romance begun when war came like a black cloud, rolling over the mountains, and Leonhard had to leave the arms of his sweetheart and go to fight.
It was not long before Sir Leonhard found himself unhorsed, tied hand and foot, and carried up there to Kufstein, where they lodged him in a room at the top of one of the towers. There his only consolation was a wide and commanding view over the countryside. In such days as those, noblemen were shut within stone walls. His days were heavy and dull. The sight of the hills and valleys must have made his heart ache, yet it was surely better to be imprisoned up there than down in a smelling, harmful dungeon. At least he could see the sun shining in the sky and breathe the fresh air as it came bending the tree-tops in the woods.
So there was the knight in prison, and the lovely Katharina in her village home. Very soon she learnt that her love, Leonhard, was captured. Some girls would have sighed, wiped their eyes, and resigned themselves to Heaven's will. Perhaps a few prayers and so on would be added, and paying a priest to say masses too, but Katharina was of better stuff: she did more than that.
Katharina let a little time elapse, and then one day she packed up her belongings, left her home, and went tramping through the valley, till she reached this village of Kufstein. Soon she made her way to the main tower in the castle, and, although the men-at-arms mocked and gibed, the administrative officer in the castle hired her. She was given work in the kitchen in the castle. Her sweetheart was locked in his cell and thinking much of the time of his Katharina in her village home.
Long and trying weeks and months passed slowly by. The maiden was ever on the watch for a chance to get to her sweetheart. At last it came. The old soldier whose task it had been to take round the food for the prisoners in that part of the castle where Leonhard was imprisoned fell sick and died. There were only few soldiers left in the castle by then, and so the administrative officer decided that Katharina could take round the food for the same prisoners with a guard to accompany her.
The first time she came to her sweetheart with his food, she found way to signal to him to be quiet and not show he knew her, and it all went well.
Every day afterwards, when she dressed, she used to place within the waist of her corset some strands of hemp. As soon as the guard locked the door to her knight behind her and he was clattering away with knife, platter and flagon, the girl would hurriedly get the hemp and toss it behind the couch where her sweetheart slept.
One day she brought him a file and slipped it noiselessly into his hands. As soon as these promising and happy meals were over, Leonhard would get to work cautiously and in silence. Now weaving his hemp into a rope that daily grew longer, or again, in the dark of evening, filing away the strength of the solid bars that closed his windows.
In such ways each day passed by. Their hope was growing greater and more feverish, and each stolen kiss was burning sweetly.
Katharina had to go about her daily tasks, hiding her true feelings of her heart, while the hemp rope grew longer as the weeks sped by. So far as Katharina could judge, everything was going on well. The soldiers vied with one another in accompanying her on her rounds; for she was a very pretty girl.
However, the administrative officer in the castle had a son, a stalwart young fellow named Joachim, and he started to fix his eyes on her in a way she did not like at all, since her heart belonged to another. Every now and again, and by stealth, Joachim would encounter her in quiet spots. It was with great difficulty that she escaped from his undesired attentions.
One day, when she threatened to speak to his father about this unsolicited gallantry, he laughed a queer sort of laugh, and said cryptically: "I, too, could tell a tale." Then, with a meaning glance, he turned and left her to ponder over these words. She came to believe that Joachim had formed some suspicion about her. As a result, Katharina set a greater guard on herself and strove to act her part more warily. Further, she warned Leonhard in a few words as to the situation, and bade him hurry as much as he could.
Leonhard would have worked his fingers to the bone to get out of his prison and find himself in the open air with Katharina by his side.
One glorious day, when the maiden brought him his daily meal, he whispered: "Katharina, the rope is long enough. I tested it last night when all was still, and in the moonlight I saw clearly it reached near the ground. When shall we escape?"
"I will tell you tomorrow," whispered Katharina; and hurried from the room. Leonhard could hear her bantering jests with the soldier in attendance.
That day the girl thought hard. She found out when the moon rose. It was now past the full, and the earlier hours of the night were fairly dark. All the time she had served in the castle, she had kept a keen lookout, and by now she knew the castle and its walls very well. Under Leonhard's window was a rocky ledge. Leonhard would have to get down to the ledge, where there, were bushes and stunted trees to cover him and her as they went further, to a spot where they might easily climb down to a lower level, near the river. On this side of the river was a wood. Beyond the wood one could climb down to the river itself. There, beyond a stretch of shallow water, lay a ferryman's boat. Its oars were always placed under a bush close by when the ferryman did not use it. If they could reach that boat, all could turn out well.
That night she crept up to the place and hid a thin bar of iron under a rock. It was the only weapon she could safely get for her Leonhard.
As she returned from this task she passed the guard-room where the soldiers spent their spare time when they were off duty,. They were merry over their liquor, and she caught the sound of her own name; and one man, a festive soul, broke out into a song. The others joined with a deep growling chorus.
She was hurrying by when a hand touched her shoulder. It was Joachim!
"So," he said, you wander late at night. I wonder why?"
"There are things to do," she answered as calmly as she could.
"That is so," he responded; and all of your work is done by day."
"Katharina remained silent. She thought that was the wisest idea.
"Joachim tried to touch her arm; but she shrank back.
"No," he said, fear nothing now. I was only going to lead you to a quieter place. Come, I have something to say that you must hear."
He turned, knowing full well that the poor child must follow, and led her to a quieter spot.
"Katharina," he said, "you know that I love you: but you always repel me if I show my feelings. Why?"
"It is I don't love you," she answered, with a beating heart.
"And because you love another," was his cool retort. "I have long suspected it, and I tell you this: Pledge yourself to me, and your lover shall escape. Reject my offer, and his life is not worth a straw. I'll be watching you night and day. That is all."
"He turned and walked hastily away. Katharina went to bed with a heavy heart.
"The next day she told her lover the news. He sat for a moment in silence. Then he arose and took her in his arms.
"We have made our plans," said he. "We'll carry them out at once. Be at the foot of this tower at twelve o'clock tonight. Avoid this Joachim if you can; but, if he persists in being there, do all you can to give me a chance to slide down the rope to the ground. After that I must trust to my good fortune. Farewell! ' He pushed her gently towards the door. The guard closed it and locked it without, according to custom.
The remaining hours of that day were long for Katharina and Leonhard. Katharina, as soon as she was quit of her duties, stole from one passage to another, keeping her eyes open for the cunning Joachim. She did not see him, which made her all the more suspicious.
Having gained the open ground she took the iron bar from where she had hidden it and took cover under bushes and trees till near the appointed time. Then she crept to the ledge at the foot of the tower and waited in utter silence, scarcely daring to breathe.
After what seemed an age she heard a sound from above. She crept nearer the rope. It quivered. Her sweetheat was coming down it. She held the end of the rope, and at last she caught sight of Leonhard. Her heart beat fast. A few more feet and he would be down there.
At this moment a voice sounded close at her side in the darkness.
"This attempt to escape is mad folly. I am fully armed, and he has nothing. Either he dies at once, or you promise to be mine, woman! Then I will let him escape."
The rope trembled violently. With a rush Leonhard was on his feet on the ground.
"Beware! ' said Katharina, placing herself between the two men and thrusting the bar into her lover's hands.
"The three stood on the narrow ledge in the darkness of night. For a moment not a sound could be heard. Leonhard moved the girl to one side and faced his foe.
"Then, from a few paces off, the two men heard Katharina speaking slowly but with intense passion.
"Listen," she said. "You, Joachim, and you, Leonhard, my love. If Leonhard falls I have no further desire to live. I am standing now at the edge of the rock. I tell you plainly, Joachim, that if you either kill or wound my love, I shall fling myself over this edge. Therefore, take your choice. Kill my love, kill me; and in the morning explain the position to your father, the administrative officer in this castle."
Joachim considered it all in silence. His past record was bad, very bad. The men-at-arms knew more about him than was good, and his father had already saved him from the consequences of escapades in the village. Joachim did not like the idea of a dead girl after all in the castle had seen him with her on several occasions. He began to hedge.
"Katharina," he began, "Before I let you go, kiss me as a sign of your affection, and I will consider what can be done."
Sir Leonhard had kept silent until this point. He got angry.
"Stand on your guard," he hissed.
He raised his slender bar as he spoke, and in a moment the two men were in a deadly combat. But it was short. On that narrow ledge weapons proved almost useless, and so the two men grappled one another at close quarters. There followed a sound of a heavy body that fell crashing down among the bushes, and bounded from ledge to ledge until it came to rest somewhere in the depths below.
A gruesome silence followed. Katharina felt a strong arm round her waist.
"Come, dear," said Leonhard. "We have not a moment to lose."
They got safely away. No one discovered the escape until the morning, and by that time they had gone far away, leaving no traces that hounds could follow.
Eventually Katharina and her noble lover escaped to Italy, where they were married and remained until the Bavarians were driven from Tyrol. Then the two returned and took over Sir Leonhard's lands.
The landlord added: "I hope they lived happily since. – As for their escape, a common idea is that they used the boat first, set it adrift further, and then went on foot to a neighbouring village. There friends sheltered them until the hue and cry was over and they could escape more safely.
"And now, what may I get you for your dinner? It is time I set the maids to work. What do you say to a roasted hen?"
Who is good at stumbling does not fall. (Proverb from Tyrol)