Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Tale of Barbara of Mníšek (II/II)

     Sixty years later she took lively interest in whether Franz Josef was going to marry Elisabeth, and asked every person who went through the woods about it. "She'll be unlucky with him," she claimed, "she should stay in Bavaria; pretty dresses aren't everything. I'd rather walk in these," and she pointed at her own clothes, which were already quite shabby and tattered, even having patches in places, for it had been eighty years since the time she had died. Once, when she met the forester of the time and told him about young Elisabeth's misfortune, the forester, perhaps from allegiance to his lord and employer, dared to express doubts, and at that she supposedly smiled and said: "Just so you know, young man, today your cows won't yield anything," and quickly disappeared into her cairn, and truly that day the forester's cows did not even produce a liter of milk and the forester decided: "Better not to argue with her and anger her." When, almost fifty years later, Elisabeth was assassinated, she was still walking about in her veil, and saying: "My words have come to pass; she should have stayed in Bavaria. She shouldn't have gotten on a boat or had her twenty-five year old son...” She feared the Prussians, and even hated them when they invaded the country; she said that no such thing would have been possible under Maria Theresa.

     When Kaiser Franz Josef died and the world war ended, Barbara of Mníšek sat by the stream and pondered what was next. According to some she was supposedly quite angry that everything was over and failed and she said that it would never have happened so under Maria Theresa; according to others she merely pointed at her clothes, which were even more rotten and tattered, but that she wished for a republic. She stopped travelers much more frequently than before, especially at twilight, and asked about what was going on in the world, for news of the world, and how the money was holding out. When anyone told her that there were carriages without horses going along the highways, and others along rails that were similar, but much longer and shrieking with steam, she would shake her head and say that no such things were possible under Maria Theresa. She would sometimes hear rumbles and roars over the forest, which seemed to be getting more frequent and more terrifying in recent years, and she would ask people what sort of huge birds they were; those had not existed, as far as she could recall, under Maria Theresa at all. "Those are aeroplanes, which fly under their own power," someone particularly daring told her, and she just shook her head and sighed. In recent years people in and around the village claimed that Barbara of Mníšek went through the woods with something strange on her shoulder, some sort of stick or rifle, basket or something, and that her skirts were so shabby after a hundred and seventy years that they were almost disintegrating...

     But after the second world war her cairn collapsed in the woods outside of Mníšek. In its place today there are only a few stones overgrown with moss, wild brambles and raspberries. Barbara has lost her grave. Still, though, poor Barbara of Mníšek was quite the prophet. Birds now come to rest on the wreckage of her cairn and feed themselves from the wild bushes.

     God only knows if she still appears to anyone in the ravaged forests today...



Elisabeth of Bavaria. Her assassination is a sad tale of how extremely tight corsets can keep you from realizing you've been stabbed in the heart.

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