Baron Friedrich Heinrich Karl De la Motte Fouquâe (1777-1843)
In 1827 the German author Baron Friedrich la Motte Fouquae published a fantasy story called "The Goblin of the Field" or "The Field of Terror." It is an excellent scary story for the first half of the nineteenth century, but failed to reach the level of the tales I picked for 6a66le: The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1850. Enjoy!
IN A FERTILE district of Silesia [European region located primarily in Poland] situated at the foot of the Ogre mountains, [Eiger Mountain ofBernese Alps] a party of relations were collected together, a short time before the peace of Westphalia, [Series of Geman peace treaties that ended the Thrity Year War in 1648] for the purpose of dividing the property of a wealthy farmer, who had died without children, and whose large estates lay scattered about in the neighboring country. In furtherance of this object, the several claimants were assembled in the principal inn of the village, and the adjustment of their respective shares would soon have been brought to a conclusion, but for a small estate, which common report had endowed with singular qualities, and which was called the “Field of Terror.”
It lay amid the surrounding fields, covered with flowers, and an abundance of rank and luxuriant shrubs, which, while they bore ample testimony to the vigour and fertility of the soil, were equally indicative of the neglect, and desolation, to which it was abandoned. For a long seriesof years, no ploughshare had penetrated its surface, no seed had been cast on its furrows; or, if at intervals the attempt was made, the cattle had been invariably seized with phrenzy, had wildly broken from the yoke and the plough-men and hinds, had rushed from the spot in fright and alarm, affirming, that it was haunted by the most terrific phantoms, who followed the laborer in his duties with a kind of awful familiarity, looking over his shoulders in a manner which no human understanding could bear, and which nothing could prevent from producing delirium and madness.
The question now in dispute was, who should receive this more than suspicious field, as a part of his inheritance. Every man seemed to think, as is the common course of the world, that this self-same spot, which would be useless and of no possible value in his own care, might be extremely applicable, and even advantageous, to his neighbor; and thus the contest, for its right appropriation continued till a late hour of the evening. At length, one of the party proposed a remedy, which, though not directly benefitting any one present, seemed to promise a settlement ofthe dispute.
“By a codicil in the will,” he said, “we are enjoined to show some mark of kindness, to a poor relation of the testator, who lives hard by in the village. It is true, the girl is very distantly related to us; and there can be no doubt that portionless as she is, she will yet procure a warm man for her husband, for she is a clever, frugal lass, and the people call her the pretty Sabina. Suppose, we give up this Field of Terror to her. We will at once get rid of the testator’s injunction; and to say the truth, it is no inconsiderable gift, provided she gets a husband who knows how to go the right way to work with it.”
The others immediately consented to this proposal, and one of the relatives was dispatched to announce the gracious benefaction.
In the meantime, as the twilight began to descend, somebody had knocked at Sabina’s door, and to her question of “Who’s there?” a reply was given, which had the instant effect of withdrawing the bolt of her little bedroom window. It was a voice long and anxiously sighed for, the voice ofher faithful Constantine; who, poor as herself, had two years before joined a regiment on foreign service, in the hope of facilitating a union with his beloved Sabina, whose heart filled with the purest affection, was entirely devoted to him.
It was a beautiful sight to see the joy which lighted up the lovely countenance of Sabina, as her eyes diffused in tears, her face covered with smiles, appeared through the winding branches of columbine which grew before her cottage, and, as the erect and youthful soldier gazed upon her in modest silent bliss, and extended towards her his faithful hand.
“Oh! Constantine,” she exclaimed, in a low and bashful tone of voice, “heaven be praised, that it has sent you once more home again, and living. This has been the burden of all my evening and morning prayers, even when you may not have succeeded in obtaining the hoped for fortune.”
“As for fortune,” replied Constantine, as he shook his head and smiled, “that indeed wears but a very indifferent aspect. Still, it is better than when I went away, and if you but feel courage enough for the undertaking, I fancy we may yet be married, and manage to get through the world in tolerable decency.”
“Faithful Constantine!” ejaculated Sabina, “thus to connect your happiness, with the fortunes of a poor deserted orphan!”
“Come!” my love, said the ardent soldier, “if you can but trust me, say so. Give me at once your consent to our union. I assure you, things will not run so badly with us; we shall be happy in each other, and, with such a foundation, we may yet live like princes.”
“And have you obtained your discharge? Are you really no longer a soldier? Is the war at an end?”
“Why as for that,” rejoined her lover, “the matter, at present, is hardly decided in either way. The peace is not in fact concluded, but then, the war is quite at a stand; and on this account, my colonel has thought it right to disband his regiment.”
Sabina now extended her hand to her eager lover, in all the joy of youthful, ardent affection, and permitted her future bridegroom to enter the cottage. The youthful pair were speedily seated, and Constantine informed his mistress, that he had obtained his small stock of wealth from an Italian prisoner, whom he had captured on the field of battle, and who had paid this, as the price of his liberty and his life. Sabina, as she turned her wheel, listened with deep attention to her lover’s recital, bestowing, from time to time, a smile of fond approbation upon his conduct; and inwardly rejoicing, that no reproach could hereafter be thrown upon their slender means, thus honorably acquired.
Their conversation was now interrupted by the appearance of the messenger, dispatched by Sabina’s relations. Covered with blushes, and in a faltering voice, the modest girl presented her destined bridegroom to the stranger; and the latter replied:
“Why then, it would seem, as if I had been sent most opportunely; for if your betrothed lover has brought no very considerable share of wealth with him from the wars, the addition which I am commissioned to offer, in the name of the collected heirs to your relation’s property, cannot but be a welcome gift; and it was indeed enjoined us, by the testator’s will, that we should remember you in a handsome way.”
There was something too much of arrogance in the manner in which this piece of good fortune was tendered, to please the lofty spirit ofConstantine. But the humble Sabina, wholly ignorant of the mode in which her relatives had evinced their generosity, received the communication as a special interposition of Providence, and could only hold down her head, while her face was covered with a smile of heartfelt, grateful joy. But, as soon as she heard that the Field of Terror was the promised boon, with which her claim was to be liquidated, the base injustice of her relations pressed to her heart, with a painful sickening coldness; and she felt it impossible to restrain the overflowing tears of disappointed hope. Her relation, with a smile of half-suppressed contempt, expressed his regret, that she should have allowed herself to expect more than her friends had thought right to allot her.
“And indeed,” he observed, “this is a much larger proportion of the inheritance, than you could fairly hope to receive.”
With this speech, he was about to retire, but Constantine threw himself in his way; and with that intrepid coolness, which so frequently attends a mind conscious of its own superiority, he said: “Sir! I perceive, that you and your fellows, have been pleased to convert the benevolent intentions of the deceased, into mere derision and mockery; and that it is your joint resolve to withhold a single shilling of his property, from the worthy girl who is now my bride elect. We will still accept your proffered boon, in the full confidence, that, under the guidance of Heaven, this dreaded Field of Terror, may be productive of more advantages in the hands of an honest soldier, than can enter the imaginations of such a groveling, selfish set of poltroons.”
The messenger, who felt rather uneasy at the tone and manner assumed by the young soldier, did not hazard a reply; and with an altered countenance, hurried out of the cottage.
Constantine now kissed away the tears from Sabina’s cheeks, and hastened on the wings of joy, to fix with the curate, an early day of marriage.
After a few weeks, Constantine and Sabina were married; and entered upon their humble mode of house-keeping. The money brought from the wars was chiefly expended in the purchase of a fine yoke of oxen; part of the remainder was invested in seed and necessary articles of household furniture; and the rest reserved for daily expenditure to be doled out in the most economical manner, till the harvest of the succeeding year should replenish their stores. But, as Constantine drove his cattle and plough to the field of labour, he looked back on Sabina with a smiling countenance, and assured her, he was now going to sow the real seed of gold, which another year would restore with two-fold bounty. Sabina could only follow him with her anxious looks, and wish, in her heart, that he were once safely returned from the detested Field of Terror.
It is true, he returned home, and that long before the vesper-bell [Bell rang by Catholic priests to summon the congregation to church for prayers in the early evening] had sounded; but far from being so joyful, as in the native confidence of his heart, he had promised himself in the morning. He dragged laboriously after him the fragments of his shattered plough; before him paced with difficulty, one of his oxen sorely maimed; and marks of blood were seen on his own head and shoulder. But he bore up under his numerous misfortunes, with a sound and even cheerful heart; and consoled with undiminished spirit, the grief of his weeping Sabina.
“Come,” he said, with a smile, “get your pickling tubs in order; for the goblin who reigns in the Field of Terror, has made us a present of a large quantity of beef. The beast I brought home with me has so injured himself in his phrenzy, that he will never more be fit for labour; and, as for the other, he darted off into the mountains, where I had the joy of seeing him cast himself into the torrent, from whence he will never again make his appearance.”
“Oh, my relations! My wicked relatives,” sobbed the disconsolate Sabina. “They have not only deprived you, by their pernicious donation of the little property for which you so sorely travailed; but they have also covered you with wounds, and crippled your strength.”
“That is an affair of but little consequence,” rejoined the intrepid Constantine. “The beasts managed to get me between them, just as their fury had reached its summit; and I was determined not to relinquish my hold. But, Heaven be praised! Things might have gone a great deal worse with me; and in the morning, I will be in the field again.”
Sabina used every means in her power, to dissuade her husband from his resolution; but he only replied, by saying; that so long as he could move an arm or a leg, the field should not lie idle.
“If we cannot plough it, we will dig it; and I am no timid beast of labor, but a tried and dauntless soldier, over whom a goblin can have no power.” He now slaughtered the wounded ox; cut it in pieces; and, on the following morning, while Sabina was busied in preparing it for pickle, pursued his road of the previous day, scarcely less alert and cheerful than then, though now obliged to handle the hoe and spade, instead ofguiding his oxen, and well mounted plough.
This time, he returned rather late in the evening, rather pale and exhausted; but full of spirits, and soon capable of tranquilizing his agitated wife.
This kind of labour makes one weary,” he said, with a smile; “for there is a sort of goblin fellow who stands constantly beside me; sometimes in one form and sometimes in another, and mocks me both with word and deed; but he seems to feel no little surprise, that I give no heed to his pranks; and, it is this which fills me with fresh courage. Besides, these kind of creatures have no power over an honest man, who is laboring in his vocation.”
This continued for many days together. The persevering Constantine, pursued, without interruption, his daily labour of digging, sowing, and eradicating the weeds and useless plants which had overspread the field. It is true, the slow process of the spade, only enabled him to cultivate a small portion of the estate; but this served to make him the more zealous and industrious in his occupation; and he, at length, saw a crop spring up, which promised, and eventually produced, a sufficient, if not an abundant harvest. Even the toil of reaping, and transporting it from the fieldto the barn, was thrown entirely upon his own shoulders; for the laborers in the vicinity would not have engaged, for any consideration, in spending a day upon the dreaded Field of Terror; and he would, on no account, permit Sabina to lend her assistance, since her advanced state ofpregnancy, led him to hope for that increase of his family, with which she shortly presented him.
The child was born, and in three years an addition was made of two more, without any change in the worldly circumstances of Constantine. By perseverance and undiminished zeal, he continued to force from the fearful Field of Terror an annual extension of produce, and thus redeemed his pledge to Sabina of bringing her through all her difficulties like an honest man.
One evening in autumn, as the shade of night began to set in, and Constantine was still busied with his spade, a tall robust man, of unusual size of limb, black and sooty as a charcoalburner, and holding a furnace poker in his hand, appeared suddenly before him, and said: “Are there no cattle to be had in this part of the country that you labor away with your two hands? One would suppose, by the extent of your landmarks, that you were a wealthy farmer.”
Constantine was perfectly aware of the stranger’s character, and treated him in the same cool way with which he usually received the goblin ofthe field. He remained silent, endeavoured to withdraw his attention from the figure before him to his work, and labored on with double application.
But the swarthy visitor, instead of disappearing as was the usual practice of the goblin to present himself again in a more frightful and alarming form, remained where he stood, and in a friendly tone continued: “My good fellow, you are doing both yourself and me injustice by this line of conduct. Give me an honest and candid answer. Perhaps I may know of a remedy for your ills.”
“Well then,” rejoined Constantine, “in Heaven’s name be it so. If you should but cajole me with these friendly words, the fault will be at your door and not at mine.”
With this he began to relate the whole story of his adventures since he had taken possession of the field. He gave an undisguised recital of his first distress, a faithful representation of his just and honest indignation against the goblin who haunted his property, and detailed the difficulty he found under such continual interruption and provocation, of supporting his family by the mere application of his hoe and spade.
The stranger gave an attentive ear to the narrative, seemed lost in thought for a few minutes, and then broke forth in the following address:
“I see, my good fellow, that you know who I am; and I look upon it as a proof of your frank and manly disposition, that you have made no concealment, that you have spoken out boldly of the displeasure you entertain towards me. To say the truth, you certainly have had sufficient cause; but in thus putting your mettle to the test, I will make a proposal which may indemnify you for a good deal of the past. It sometimes happens that, when I have fairly exhausted myself in wild and fantastic tricks, through wood, and field, and mountain, I begin to fancy I should like to attach myself to some quiet family, that I may live for half a year or so, a peaceful orderly life. What do you say to taking me for six months as your servant?”
“It is not right, from people of your sort,” said Constantine, “to pass your jokes on an honest man, who reposes confidence in you.”
“No! No!” replied the other, “there is no joke in it. It is my serious intention. You will find in me a sturdy, active servant; and, as long as I live with you, not a single spirit or spectre will venture to show himself on the Field of Terror, so that you may admit whole herds of cattle to brouse on it.”
“I should like the thing well enough,” rejoined Constantine, “if I were but sure that you would keep your word; and above all, that I were doing right in making the engagement.”
“That must be your own affair,” said the stranger; “but I have never broken my word since these Ogre mountains have stood, and a mere creature of evil and malice I certainly am not. A little merry and wild and mischievous sometimes I own—but that is all!”
“Why I almost believe,” said Constantine, “that you are the celebrated Number-nip.” [Spirit of the Eiger Mountain in Silesia]
“Harkee!” cried the stranger, with a frown, “if that be your opinion, I would also have you to know, that the mighty spirit of the mountains cannot endure that name; and that he calls himself the Lord of the Hills.”
“That would be an odd sort of a servant whom I must call my Lord of the Hills;” said Constantine, in a tone of raillery.
“You may call me Forester then,” rejoined his companion. Constantine looked awhile on the earth, pondering on the course he should adopt, and at length exclaimed:
“Well! Agreed! I can hardly do amiss in accepting your services. I have often seen a poor senseless brute drilled into domestic use, by carrying parcels, turning spits and other household duties—why not a goblin?”
His new servant burst into a hearty laugh at this observation, and said: “I must acknowledge such an estimate was never before made of one ofmy family. But I am not the less pleased with it, so give me your hand my honoured master.”
Constantine made a further condition, that his new servant was, on no account, to inform Sabina or the children of his connexion with theField of Terror, or rather of his descent from the caverns and shafts of the Ogre mountains; nor was he, on any occasion, to exhibit any of his fearful goblin tricks about the house or courtyard; and, as Forester promised all that was required of him with every token of good faith, the bargain was soon at an end, and they now proceeded home.
Sabina, after a time, wondered at the increasing prosperity of their domestic economy; and was not wholly free from feelings of secret dread at their swarthy gigantic assistant. At first the children never ventured outside the door, when they perceived him at work in the yard or garden; but, by degrees, his friendly industrious habits gained upon them all; and when he occasionally indulged in a fit of fantastic merriment, by chasing the dog or the poultry round the house, it was considered more amusing than surprising; and a single look from Constantine was, at any time, sufficient to bring him within the proper limits of order.
In full reliance on the promises of the mountain spirit, Constantine applied the slender savings of many years to the purchase of a fresh yokeof oxen; and with his newly amended plough drove to the field in the highest glee. Sabina looked after him with an anxious sorrowful countenance, and with an equally anxious mind awaited his return in the evening, fearing a renewal of the same disaster, the same disappointed hopes, or that his personal injuries, this time, might be more dangerous and alarming than before. But with the sound of the vesper-bell, Constantine came singing through the village, driving his sleek well fed yoke before him, kissed his wife and children in the fulness of his joy, and shook his servant cordially by the hand.
Forester now frequently went to the field alone, while Constantine remained behind working in the yard or garden. A considerable piece of theField of Terror was cleared for cultivation; and, to the great astonishment of the village neighbors, and the equal discontent and envy of Sabina’s selfish relations, everything assumed an air of prosperity and comfort. It is true, Constantine, when alone, often reflected that all this could be butof short duration, “and Heaven knows” he exclaimed, “how I will manage with the harvest; for Forester’s time will then be out, and the goblin of thefield may choose to appear with replenished spirits.”
But he considered that the gathering in of the crop was a labor which, of itself, gave additional vigour to the workman’s arm and heart; and it was possible that Forester, for old acquaintance sake, might keep the land free from guests; as in fact, at times of cheerful relaxation, the latter seemed to imply.
In the course of time, the needful labors of the field were completed. Winter arrived, and Constantine daily drove to the forest for a stock of fuel and wood. On one of these days it so chanced that Sabina was entreated to visit a poor widow in the village, who lay dangerously ill; and whom, as far as their increasing means admitted, Constantine and his wife, had been accustomed to relieve. She was at a loss at what to do with the children during her absence, but Forester offering his services, with whose stories the children were always delighted, and with whom they were ever pleased to remain, she proceeded on her charitable purpose without further hesitation.
About an hour after her departure, Constantine returned from the forest; and having disposed of his waggon in the barn, and prepared the stall for his cattle; he proceeded towards the house to revive his numbed and frozen limbs by the blaze of a cheerful fire. On approaching the door, his ear was saluted by a cry of painful distress from his children. He darted into the house, and, on entering the sitting-room, found the children hidding behind the stove, and crying out for help, while Forester was wildly jumping about the room with shouts of violent laughter, making the most hideous and disgusting faces, and with a crown of sparks and fiery rays playing about his head.
“What is all this?” Constantine said, in a tone of indignant anger, and the supernatural decorations of Forester’s head disappeared; his fantastic merriment instantly ceased, and he began to excuse himself with great humility for thus trying to amuse the children. But the children ran towards their father, complaining that Forester had first of all told them a number of horrific stories, and then he assumed a variety of frightful disguises, sometimes appearing with the head of a ram, sometimes with that of a dog.
“Enough! Enough!” exclaimed Constantine. “Away, sir. Ah! You and I no longer remain under the same roof.” With this he seized Forester by the arm, and shoved him violently out of the house, desiring the children to remain quietly in the room, and to dismiss their fears.
Forester suffered all this without uttering a single word of expostulation; but, as soon as he found himself alone with Constantine in the open court, he said with a smiling countenance: “I hope, master, we will make the matter up. I know I have done a very foolish thing, but I assure you it will never happen again. Somehow or other the old mad fit came on me and I forgot myself.”
“For that very reason, because you can forget yourself,” rejoined Constantine, “we part. You might terrify my children into a frenzy, and, as I have said, our contract here terminates.”
“My time is not up,” said Forester, in a dogged tone. “I will go into the house.”
“Not a step further—at your peril!” cried Constantine. “You have broken the agreement by your cursed goblin tricks, and all that I can do is to pay you your full wages. Here, take it and pack yourself off.”
“My full wages?” said the mountain-spirit, with a sneer of bitter contempt. Have you never seen my stores of gold in the caverns of yonder hills?”
“I do this more on my own account than yours,” said Constantine. “No man will call me his debtor.” And so saying, he forced the money into his servant’s pocket.
“And what is to be done with the Field of Terror?” enquired Forester, in a solemn but almost ireful tone.
“That which it may please God,” rejoined Constantine. “Twenty fields of terror are of no importance to me in comparison with the safety of a single hair of my poor children’s heads. Take yourself away, or I will give you that, you will long have cause to remember!”
“Gently!” cried the mountain-spirit. “Gently! My friend. When any of my family condescend to assume a human form, they choose one of rather stern materials. You might chance to get an under birth in this same fray, and in that case Heaven be merciful unto you!”
“That it has ever been,” said Constantine, “and has also given me a frame of no slender power. Away to your mountains, disgusting monster! I now warn you for the last time.”
Excited by this reproach to a pitch of violent fury, Forester sprang on Constantine, and an obstinate fight ensued. They struggled about the yard for a considerable time, each using every means in his power to overthrow his adversary, without victory declaring herself upon either side; till at length Constantine, by his superior skill in wrestling, managed to bring his opponent to the earth, and having placed his knee on the chestof his fallen foe, began to pummel him most furiously, exclaiming: “I’ll teach you to attack your master, my precious Lord of the Hills.”
The Lord of the Hills, however, laughed so heartily at this address, that Constantine, conceiving his manly efforts to be the subject of derision, only laid on with redoubled vigour, till at length the former exclaimed: “For God’s sake, hold! I am not laughing at you, I am laughing at myself and I humbly beg your pardon!”
“That is another sort of affair,” said Constantine, as he rose up and assisted his conquered adversary to regain his legs.
“I have now learned what human life is, from the very foundation upwards,” said the latter, still continuing his noisy laughter. “I doubt if any ofmy kindred have ever pursued the study so profoundly. But harkee! My good fellow, you must admit that I carried on the war in an honorable way. For as you will see yourself, I might with ease have called in half a dozen mountain-spirits to my assistance, though amidst all this laughter, I know not how I should have set about it.”
Constantine with a serious air, now looked at the still laughing Number-nip, and said: “It is clear you must entertain a grudge against me, and this will not only be repaid me at the Field of Terror, but in many an evil chance elsewhere; still I cannot repent of what I have done. I have only exercised a paternal duty on behalf of my children, and were the thing to do over again, I should, on mature reflection, repeat it.”
“No, no!” said Number-nip laughingly, don’t make yourself uneasy. I have had quite enough for once. Cultivate the Field of Terror from year to year, at your own will and pleasure. I here pass my word that no fearful phantom will be seen on it from this day forwards, as long as the Ogre mountains stand. And so fare ye well, my honest, but rigid master!”With this he gave a friendly nod of adieu, and disappeared; nor was he ever more seen by Constantine. But Number-nip kept his word, and even more. An unusual degree of prosperity attended all the labours of his former employer, and Constantine soon became the richest farmer in the village. And when his children were permitted to play in the “Feld of Terror”—a spot which both they and Sabina now visited without the slightest dread, they sometimes related in the evening that Forester had come to see them, and told them some of his former amusing stories. On such occasions they generally found their pockets filled with either comfits, [Sugar-coated nuts and seeds] toys, or pieces of shiny money.