IN THE Wattenserthal, which is about twenty miles in length, and where at its end the Hochlizum Alp stands, lies on the right of the mountain the beautiful Wotz Mountain, belonging to the farmer of Zotta-Hof, which stands at its foot. Upon that mountain, during the winter time, a “Kaser-Manndl” (a sort of ghost) is said to reside. This spirit inhabits a hut which is situated on the top of the mountain, from whence he makes a terrific noise, which is heard for miles around; but towards Christmas he becomes more quiet and goes off again in the spring. Before his departure a blackbird sings during many days, from a pine which stands on the mountain, so beautifully that one could listen to her for hours together.
Now it happened that in the house of the Zotta peasant a poor servant girl was employed whose mother was very ill. As Christmas Day approached she had to clean up the whole house, and on the Eve the farmer divided the Christmas-cake between his family and servants; and while he enjoyed his portion in company with his friends and neighbours, one of them asked: “What is the Kaser-Manndl about to-day? I wonder whether he is fêting Christmas as well?” The farmer, who had been drinking considerably, shouted in good humour: “I will give the best cow out of my herd to whomever has the courage to go up the mountain to-night and find out what the Kaser-Manndl is doing, and brings me back in proof his milking-bucket and foot-warmer.”
But all heard this proposition in silence, for none of them dared risk so much danger to gain the cow, because the Kaser-Manndl was noted for his ferocity, and many a one had returned from his neighbourhood with a head almost smashed to pieces. But the poor servant girl collected her courage and thought to herself: “I will undertake it in God’s name. Should I gain the cow, I shall be able to help my poor sick mother, and as I have not the intention of going out of curiosity, Heaven will protect me.” So she agreed with the Zotta farmer, and set off up the Alp, which is a constant ascent of six miles, battling with bitter wind and snow as she went.
Far above her she saw the Kaser, or hut, brilliantly lighted. Everything in it was clean to perfection, and the Kaser-Manndl was sitting in his Sunday clothes at the hearth, his nose-warmer smoked in his mouth, and he was cooking in a pan a coal-black meal. On entering the hut the girl made as fine a curtsey as a peasant girl is able to do, and the Manndl signed to her to approach the fire and join him at his supper; but the girl was terrified at the sight of the compound, and when the Manndl noticed this he said, “Do not be frightened, girl; make only a ‘Krizl Krazl’ (a sign of the Cross) over the pan.” The girl did this, and to her great astonishment the pan became full of the most beautiful cakes, which they both set to work to eat.
After a little while the Kaser-Manndl said, “I know the request you wish to ask. You have come to carry off my milking-bucket and foot-warmer. You shall have them without the asking, for you are a brave girl, and when you arrive at the farm you will claim of the peasant his cow together with the calf as punishment for having allowed you to come up in such fearful weather.”
The Zotta peasant was just setting out for the midnight mass as his servant returned from the Alp with her proofs, and when she claimed the cow he called her a stupid fool for having gone up the Alp and taken his joke as reality, and he would not give her one pfennig, much less the cow.
On the following morning there was a grievous Christmas-gift at the Zotta-Hof: the Robblerin, the finest cow, lay dead in the stable, and the farmer nearly tore off all his hair with grief, for this cow had been his favourite and had carried the first prize at every show, for which reason he had given her the name of “Robblerin,” or champion. “Had you given the cow to me,” said the poor injured girl to her master, “she would not have died. Will you now keep your word and give me another?” But the farmer savagely refused this demand.
On the following morning they found that another beautiful cow, named “Maierin,” had strangled herself with her chain. On the next day a third cow was found dead, and only now the peasant’s hard heart began to melt, for he was fearful lest he might lose his whole herd, and therefore he gave the finest remaining cow to the girl, who directly drove her off home; and from that moment poverty came to an end in the house of the courageous servant girl, who prayed day and night for the redemption of the Kaser-Manndl of the Wotz-Alm.