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Chapter 17


On taking leave of Carl at the gate over the Göttingen road, I felt tempted to bestow a malediction upon traveling, from its merciless breaking of all links, as soon as formed. It was painful to think we should meet no more. The tears started into his eyes, and feeling a mist gathering over mine, I gave his hand a parting pressure, turned my back upon Cassel and started up the long mountain, at a desperate rate. On the summit I passed out of Hesse into Hanover, and began to descend the remaining six miles. The road went down by many windings, but I shortened the way considerably by a foot-path through a mossy old forest. The hills bordering the Weser are covered with wood, through which I saw the little red-roofed city of Münden, at the bottom. I stopped there for the night, and next morning walked around the place. It is one of the old German cities that have not yet felt the effect of the changing spirit of the age. It is still walled, though the towers are falling to ruin. The streets are narrow, crooked, and full of ugly old houses, and to stand in the little square before the public buildings, one would think himself born in the sixteenth century. Just below the city the Werra and Fulda unito and form the Weser. The triangular point has been made into a public walk, and the little steamboat was lying at anchor near, waiting to start for Bremen.

In the afternoon I got into the omnibus for Göttingen. The ride over the wild, dreary, monotonous hills was not at all interesting. There were two other passengers inside, one of whom, a grave, elderly man, took a great interest in America, but the conversation was principally on his side, for I had been taken with a fever in Münden. I lay crouched up in the corner of the vehicle, trying to keep off the chills which constantly came over me, and wishing only for Göttingen, that I might obtain medicine and a bed. We reached it at last, and I got out with my knapsack and walked wearily through half a dozen streets till I saw an inn. But on entering, I found it so dark and dirty and unfriendly, that I immediately went out again and hired the first pleasant looking boy I met, to take me to a good hotel. He conducted me to the first one in the city. I felt a trepidation of pocket, but my throbbing head plead more powerfully, so I ordered a comfortable room and a physician. The host, Herr Wilhelm, sent for Professor Trefurt, of the University, who told me I had over-exerted myself in walking. He made a second call the next day, when, as he was retiring, I inquired the amount of his fee. He begged to be excused and politely bowed himself out. I inquired the meaning of this of Herr Wilhelm, who said it was customary for travellers to leave what they chose for the physician, as there was no regular fee. He added, moreover, that twenty groschen, or about sixty cents, was sufficient for the two visits!

I stayed in Göttingen two dull, dreary, miserable days, without getting much better. I took but one short walk through the city, in which I saw the outsides of a few old churches and got a hard fall on the pavement. Thinking that the cause of my illness might perhaps become its cure, I resolved to go on rather than remain in the melancholy--in spite of its black-eyed maidens, melancholy--Göttingen. On the afternoon of the second day, I took the post to Nordheim, about twelve miles distant. The Göttingen valley, down which we drove, is green and beautiful, and the trees seem to have come out all at once. we were not within sight of the Hartz, but the mountains along the Weser were visible on the left. The roads were extremely muddy from the late rains, so that I proceeded but slowly.

A blue range along the horizon told me of the Hartz, as I passed; although there were some fine side-glimpses through the hills, I did not see much of them till I reached Osterode, about twelve miles further. Here the country begins to assume a different aspect. The city lies in a narrow valley, and as the road goes down a steep hill towards it, one sees on each side many quarries of gypsum, and in front the gloomy pine mountains are piled one above another in real Alpine style. But alas! the city, though it looks exceedingly romantic from above, is one of the dirtiest I ever saw. I stopped at Herzberg, six miles farther, for the night. The scenery was very striking; and its effect was much heightened by a sky full of black clouds, which sent down a hail-storm as they passed over. The hills are covered with pine, fir and larch. The latter tree, in its first foliage, is most delicate and beautiful. Every bough is like a long ostrich plume, and when one of them stands among the dark pines, it seems so light and airy that the wind might carry it away. Just opposite Herzberg, the Hartz stands in its gloomy and mysterious grandeur, and I went to sleep with the pleasant thought that an hour's walk on the morrow would shut me up in its deep recesses.

The next morning I entered them. The road led up a narrow mountain valley, down which a stream was rushing--on all sides were magnificent forests of pine. It was glorious to look down their long aisles, dim and silent, with a floor of thick green moss. There was just room enough for the road and the wild stream which wound its way zigzag between the hills, affording the most beautiful mountain-view along the whole route. As I ascended, the mountains became rougher and wilder, and in the shady hollows were still drifts of snow. Enjoying every thing very much, I walked on without taking notice of the road, and on reaching a wild, rocky chasm called the "Schlucht," was obliged to turn aside and take a footpath over a high mountain to Andreasberg, a town built on a summit two thousand feet above the sea. It is inhabited almost entirely by the workmen in the mines.

The way from Andreasberg to the Brocken leads along the Rehberger Graben, which carry water about six miles for the oreworks. After going through a thick pine wood, I came out on the mountain-side, where rough crags overhung the way above, and through the tops of the trees I had glimpses into the gorge below. It was scenery of the wildest character. Directly opposite rose a mountain wall, dark and stern through the gloomy sky; far below the little stream of the Oder foamed over the rocks with a continual roar, and one or two white cloud-wreaths were curling up from the forests.

I followed the water-ditch around every projection of the mountain, still ascending higher amid the same wild scenery, till at length I reached the Oderteich, a great dam, in a kind of valley formed by some mountain peaks on the side of the Brocken. It has a breastwork of granite, very firm, and furnishes a continual supply of water for the works. It began to rain soon, and I took a foot-path which went winding up through the pine wood. The storm still increased, till everything was cloud and rain, so I was obliged to stop about five o'clock at Oderbruch, a toll-house and tavern on the side of the Brocken, on the boundary between Brunswick and Hanover--the second highest inhabited house in the Hartz. The Brocken was invisible through the storm and the weather forboded a difficult ascent. The night was cold, but by a warm fire I let the winds howl and the rain beat. When I awoke the next morning, we were in clouds. They were thick on every side, hiding what little view there was through the openings of the forest. After breakfast, however, they were somewhat thinner, and I concluded to start for the Brocken. It is not the usual way for travellers who ascend, being not only a bad road but difficult to find, as I soon discovered. The clouds gathered around again after I set out, and I was obliged to walk in a storm of mingled rain and snow. The snow lay several feet deep in the forests, and the path was, in many places, quite drifted over. The white cloud-masses were whirled past by the wind, continually enveloping me and shutting out every view. During the winter the path had become, in ninny places, the bed of a mountain torrent, so that I was obliged sometimes to wade kneedeep in snow, and sometimes to walk over the wet, spongy moss, crawling under the long, dripping branches of the stunted pines. After a long time of such dreary travelling, I came to two rocks called the Stag Horns, standing on a little peak. The storm, now all snow, blew more violently than ever, and the path became lost under the deep drifts.

Comforting myself with the assurance that if I could not find it, I could at least make my way back, I began searching, and after some time, came upon it again. Here the forest ceased; the way led on large stones over a marshy ascending plain, but what was above, or on either side, I could not see. It was solitude of the most awful kind. There was nothing but the storm, which had already wet me through, and the bleak gray waste of rocks. It grew sleeper and steeper; I could barely trace the path by the rocks which were worn, and the snow threatened soon to cover these. Added to this, although the walking and fresh mountain air had removed my illness, I was still weak from the effects of it, and the consequences of a much longer exposure to the storm were greatly to be feared. I was wondering if the wind increased at the same rate, how much longer it would be before I should be carried off, when suddenly something loomed up above me through the storm. A few steps more and I stood beside the Brocken House, on the very summit of the mountain! The mariner, who has been floating for days on a wreck at sea, could scarcely be more rejoiced at a friendly sail, than I was on entering the low building. Two large Alpine dogs in the passage, as I walked in, dripping with wet, gave notice to the inmates, and I was soon ushered into a warm room, where I changed my soaked garments for dry ones, and sat down by the fire with feelings of comfort not easily imagined. The old landlord was quite surprised, on hearing the path by which I came, that I found the way at all. The summit was wrapped in the thickest cloud, and he gave me no hope for several hours of any prospect at all, so I sat down and looked over the Stranger's Album.

I saw but two names from the United States--B.F. Atkins, of Boston, and C.A. Hay, from York, Pa. There were a great many long-winded German poems--among them, one by Schelling, the philosopher. Some of them spoke of having seen the "Spectre of the Brocken." I inquired of the landlord about the phenomenon; he says in winter it is frequently seen, in summer more seldom. The cause is very simple. It is always seen at sunrise, when the eastern side of the Brocken is free from clouds, and at the same time, the mist rises from the valley on the opposite side. The shadow of every thing on the Brocken is then thrown in grand proportions upon the mist, and is seen surrounded with a luminous halo. It is somewhat singular that such a spectacle can be seen upon the Brocken alone, but this is probably accounted for by the formation of the mountain, which collects the mist at just such a distance from the summit as to render the shadow visible.

Soon after dinner the storm subsided and the clouds separated a little. I could see down through the rifts on the plains of Brunswick, and sometimes, when they opened a little more, the mountains below us to the east and the adjoining plains, as far as Magdeburg. It was like looking on the earth from another planet, or from some point in the air which had no connection, with it; our station was completely surrounded by clouds, rolling in great masses around us, now and then giving glimpses through their openings of the blue plains, dotted with cities and villages, far below. At one time when they were tolerably well separated, I ascended the tower, fifty feet high, standing near the Brocken House. The view on three sides was quite clear, and I can easily imagine what a magnificent prospect it must be in fine weather. The Brocken is only about four thousand feet high, nearly the same as the loftiest peak of the Catskill, but being the highest mountain in Northern Germany, it commands a more extensive prospect. Imagine a circle described with a radius of a hundred miles, comprising thirty cities, two or three hundred villages and one whole mountain district! We could see Brunswick and Magdeburg, and beyond them the great plain which extends to the North Sea in one direction and to Berlin in the other, while directly below us lay the dark mountains of the Hartz, with little villages in their sequestered valleys. It was but a few moments I could look on this scene--in an instant the clouds swept together again and completely hid it. In accordance with a custom of the mountain, one of the girls made me a "Brocken nosegay," of heather, lichens and moss. I gave her a few pfennings and stowed it away carefully in a corner of my knapsack.

I now began descending the east side, by a good road over fields of bare rock and through large forests of pine. Two or three bare brown peaks rose opposite with an air of the wildest sublimity, and in many places through the forest towered lofty crags. This is the way by which Goethe brings Faust up the Brocken, and the scenery is graphically described in that part of the poem. At the foot of the mountain is the little village of Schiercke, the highest in the Hartz. Here I took a narrow path through the woods, and after following a tediously long road over the hills, reached Elbingerode, where I spent the night, and left the next morning for Blankenburg. I happened to take the wrong road, however, and went through Rubeland, a little village in the valley of the Bode. There are many iron works here, and two celebrated caves, called "Baumann's Höhle," and "Biel's Höhle." I kept on through the gray, rocky hills to Huttenrode, where I inquired the way to the Rosstrappe, but was directed wrong, and after walking nearly two hours in a heavy rain, arrived at Ludwigshütte, on the Bode, in one of the wildest and loneliest corners of the Hartz. I dried my wet clothes at a little inn, ate a dinner of bread and milk, and learning that I was just as far from the Rosstrappe as ever, and that the way was impossible to find alone, I hunted up a guide.

We went over the mountains through a fine old forest, for about two hours, and came out on the brow of a hill near the end of the Hartz, with a beautiful view of the country below and around. Passing the little inn, the path led through thick bushes along the summit, over a narrow ledge of rocks that seemed to stretch out into the air, for on either side the foot of the precipice vanished in the depth below.

Arrived at last at the end, I looked around me. What a spectacle! I was standing on the end of a line of precipice which ran out from the mountain like a wall for several hundred feet--the hills around rising up perpendicularly from the gorge below, where the Bode pressed into a narrow channel foamed its way through. Sharp masses of gray rock rose up in many places from the main body like pillars, with trees clinging to the clefts, and although the defile was near seven hundred feet deep, the summits, in one place, were very near to one another. Near the point at which I stood, which was secured by a railing, was an impression in the rock like the hoof of a giant horse, from which the place takes its name. It is very distinct and perfect, and nearly two feet in length.

I went back to the little inn and sat down to rest and chat awhile with the talkative landlady. Notwithstanding her horrible Prussian dialect, I was much amused with the budget of wonders, which she keeps for the information of travelers. Among other things, she related to me the legend of the Rosstrappe, which I give in her own words: "A great many hundred years ago, when there were plenty of giants through the world, there was a certain beautiful princess, who was very much loved by one of them. Now, although the parents of this princess were afraid of the giant, and wanted her to marry him, she herself hated him, because she was in love with a brave knight. But, you see, the brave knight could do nothing against the great giant, and so a day was appointed for the wedding of the princess. When they were married, the giant had a great feast and he and all his servants got drunk. So the princess mounted his black horse and rode away over the mountains, till she reached this valley. She stood on that square rock which you see there opposite to us, and when she saw her knight on this side, where we are, she danced for joy, and the rock is called the Tanzplatz, to this very day. But when the giant found she had gone, he followed her as fast as he might; then a holy bishop, who saw the princess, blessed the feet of her horse, and she jumped on it across to this side, where his fore feet made two marks in the rock, though there is only one left now. You should not laugh at this, for if there were giants then, there must have been very big horses too, as one can see from the hoofmark, and the valley was narrower then than it is now. My dear man, who is very old now, (you see him through the bushes, there, digging,) says it was so when he was a child, and that the old people living then, told him there were once four just such hoof-tracks, on the Tanzplatz, where the horse stood before he jumped over. And we cannot doubt the words of the good old people, for there were many strange things then, we all know, which the dear Lord does not let happen now. But I must tell you, lieber Herr, that the giant tried to jump after her and fell away down into the valley, where they say he lives yet in the shape of a big black dog, guarding the crown of the princess, which fell off as she was going over. But this part of the story is perhaps not true, as nobody, that I ever heard of, has seen either the black dog or the crown!"

After listening to similar gossip for a while, I descended the mountain-side, a short distance to the Bülowshöhe. This is a rocky shaft that shoots, upward from the mountain, having from its top a glorious view through the door which the Bode makes in passing out of the Hartz. I could see at a great distance the towers of Magdeburg, and further, the vast plain stretching away like a sea towards Berlin. From Thale, the village below, where the air was warmer than in the Hartz and the fruit-trees already in blossom, it was four hours' walk to Halberstadt, by a most tiresome road over long ranges of hills, all ploughed and planted, and extending as far as the eye could reach, without a single fence or hedge. It is pleasant to look over scenes where nature is so free and unshackled; but the people, alas! wear the fetters. The setting sun, which lighted up the old Brocken and his snowy top, showed me also Halberstadt, the end of my Hartz journey; but its deceitful towers fled as I approached, and I was half dead with fatigue on arriving there.

The ghostly, dark and echoing castle of an inn (the Black Eagle) where I stopped, was enough to inspire a lonely traveller, like myself, with unpleasant fancies. It looked heavy and massive enough to have been a stout baron's stronghold in some former century; the taciturn landlord and his wife, who, with a solemn servant girl, were the only tenants, had grown into perfect keeping with its gloomy character. When I groped my way under the heavy, arched portal into the guests' room--a large, lofty, cheerless hall--all was dark, and I could barely perceive, by the little light which came through two deep-set windows, the inmates of the house, sitting on opposite sides of the room. After some delay, the hostess brought a light. I entreated her to bring me something instantly for supper, and in half an hour she placed a mixture on the table, the like of which I never wish to taste again. She called it beer-soup! I found, on examination, it was beer, boiled with meat, and seasoned strongly with pepper and salt! My hunger disappeared, and pleading fatigue as an excuse for want of appetite, I left the table. When I was ready to retire, the landlady, who had been sitting silently in a dark corner, called the solemn servant girl, who took up a dim lamp, and bade me follow her to the "sleeping chamber." Taking up my knapsack and staff, I stumbled down the steps into the arched gateway; before me was a long, damp, deserted court-yard, across which the girl took her way. I followed her with some astonishment, imagining where the sleeping chamber could be, when she stopped at a small, one-story building, standing alone in the yard. Opening the door with a rusty key, she led me into a bare room, a few feet square, opening into another, equally bare, with the exception of a rough bed. "Certainly," said I, "I am not to sleep here!" "Yes," she answered, "this is the sleeping chamber," at the same time setting down the light and disappearing. I examined the place--it smelt mouldy, and the walls were cold and damp; there had been a window at the head of the bed, but it was walled up, and that at the foot was also closed to within a few inches of the top. The bed was course and dirty; and on turning down the ragged covers, I saw with horror, a dark brown stain near the pillow, like that of blood! For a moment I hesitated whether to steal out of the inn, and seek another lodging, late as it was; at last, overcoming my fears, I threw my clothes into a heap, and lay down, placing my heavy staff at the head of the bed. Persons passed up and down the courtyard several times, the light of their lamps streaming through the narrow aperture up against the ceiling, and I distinctly heard voices, which seemed to be near the door. Twice did I sit up in bed, breathless, with my hand on the cane, in the most intense anxiety; but fatigue finally overcame suspicion, and I sank into a deep sleep, from which I was gladly awakened by daylight. In reality, there may have been no cause for my fears--I may have wronged the lonely innkeepers by them; but certainly no place or circumstances ever seemed to me more appropriate to a deed of robbery or crime. I left immediately, and when a turn in the street hid the ill-omened front of the inn, I began to breathe with my usual freedom.

Bayard Taylor