IN SISTRANS, a village close to Innsbruck, there lived, some sixty years ago, a man who was noted in all the surrounding districts for his evil and quarrelsome disposition. He attended every Kermesse and village meeting at which it was the custom of the blackguards of the surrounding country to go and fight, but he never found one who could master him.
This superhuman strength was not his only distinguishing quality, for he was well up in other more doubtful arts, and was able to do rather more than “boil pears without wetting the stalk.” Should a fine fox or a fat hare be running in the forest close by, he set his traps just behind his stove, and in the morning the game was sure to be caught. Should anything have been stolen, people came to him, for he had means of compelling the stolen goods to be restored. For this purpose, he merely took a little book bound in pigskin out of his box, and began to read; and wherever the thief might be, he was forced by some irresistible power to take the stolen goods upon his back and bring them before the sorcerer, by whom the proprietor must always be present. This little book had such a power that, at each word read by the sorcerer from it, the thief was obliged to make a step; and three times woe to him who had stolen something which was heavy, or was obliged to bring his burden from a long distance, or over steep mountains, while the man was reading; from far off his pantings could be heard, and he was drenched in perspiration when he arrived at the spot.
One day the sorcerer made himself a footstool of nine different sorts of wood, upon which he knelt down close to the organ in the church, and looked down upon the people, and there saw all the old hags and witches as they stood at the lower end of the church. After the service was over, these old hags set upon him in herds, and would have torn him to pieces had not the priest come in time to his rescue, for the hags now discovered that he had found them out.
This man had once on Christmas Eve stolen the consecrated Host, while the priest held it up after the consecration, and carried it with him, wrapped in a little piece of cloth always hidden on his left arm. From this proceeded all his unsurpassable tricks and indomitable strength. But at last came the “Scythesman Death,” who cast him down upon the bed of sickness, and, in spite of all his strength and cleverness, he was bound to die; but that was a very hard thing for him. Three long days and nights the quarreller lay in the last agony without being able to die. Several times the priest came to him, and at last, after long exhortations and prayers, the dying man made a confession.
The Host, which had already grown into the arm, was cut out, and all the books and writings belonging to the art of sorcery which could be found were burnt; and as they were thrown into the flames it roared and thundered dreadfully, and there was such a terrific heat that the lead in the window-frames melted and ran down in streams, and during this hellish noise the sorcerer died.