The Story of the Stag-Florin (Сказка про Лесную Монету)
IN Upper Swabia there stand to this day the walls of the Castle of Hohenzollern, once the finest in the land.
It was built on the top of a high round hill, and from its look-out tower you could see all the length and breadth of the land.
And far and near the brave deeds of the Hohenzollerns were admired, and the name was known and honoured all through the kingdom of Germany.
About four hundred years ago, almost before gunpowder was invented, there lived in this castle a Zollern, who was a most peculiar man.
No one could remember ever having heard him speak like other men;
for if when he was riding through the valley any one greeted him and doffed his cap, or stopped and said, "Good evening, noble Count;
it is lovely weather," all the answer the Count would give would be:
"Stupid nonsense !"
or, "I know that !"
And if by chance any one did not make way for him and his horse, or if a peasant with a cart blocked the path, so that he could not gallop as fast as he chose, he gave vent to his anger in a torrent of curses;
but he was never known to thrash a peasant.
And all through the land he was known as "the Stormy Knight of Zollern."
The Stormy Knight of Zollern had a wife who was as different from him as could be, amiable and gentle as an angel.
And when people had been upset by their lord’s harsh words, her sweet voice and kindly looks won them back to their allegiance.
To the poor she was always a good friend, and in the summer heat and winter cold might be seen going down the steep hill to visit some sick child, or some family needing help.
And if the Count met her on her way he would growl, "Stupid nonsense !
Don’t I know it ?"
and ride on.
Many wives would have fretted or frightened themselves over this disagreeable temper.
One might have said, "What do the poor people’s trouble matter to me ?
My husband says it’s ‘Stupid nonsense."
Another might have let her love for such a gloomy husband get cold.
But the Lady Hedwig von Zollern was not like this.
She loved him as much as ever, and with her small white hand would stroke the frowns from his forehead, and would soothe and caress him.
And though after they had been married a year and a day, God sent them a little son, she did not love her husband less, but tried, in spite of her many duties, to be a wise and tender mother to her boy.
Three years went by, and only every Sunday at dinner-time did the Count see his son and take him from the nurse’s arms.
He would look at the child, mutter something in his beard, and give it back to the nurse.
When the boy could say "Father," the Count gave the nurse a florin, but took no kindly notice of the child.
When Kuno was three years old the Count ordered the child to be dressed in trunk hose and a doublet of velvet and satin;
then he called for his own black horse and two others, took the boy in his arms, and descended the staircase jingling his spurs.
The Countess Hedwig was amazed.
She was not in the habit of asking her husband where he went, or what he was going to do, but anxiety for her child made her inquire:
"Are you going for a ride, my lord ?"
The Count did not answer.
"What are you doing with the boy ?"
"Kuno was going out with me."
"I know that," answered the Stormy Knight of Zollern, and strode on, and when he reached the courtyard he took the boy by the foot, lifted him into the saddle, tied him fast with a handkerchief, and mounting his own horse rode through the Castle gates holding the bridle of his little son’s horse.
The child was delighted to go a-riding with his father, and clapped his hands, and pulled the horse’s mane to make it go faster, and the Count was delighted, and cried more than once, "He will be a fine youth one day !"
When they came to the open country, and instead of trotting the Count put the horse to a gallop, the boy lost his nerve;
he begged his father to ride slower;
but the Count quickened his pace, and the wind took the boy’s breath away, and he began to cry, softly at first, but screaming at last with the full power of his lungs.
"Stupid nonsense !"
his father exclaimed.
"The youngster cries over his first ride — Be quiet or —" But just as he was beginning to swear at poor Kuno, his horse reared, the reins of the other slipped from his hand, and it took him a few moments to quiet his steed;
when this was done, he looked anxiously for his son, and saw the horse galloping up the hill without his little rider.
Hard and stern as the Count of Zollern was, his heart seemed to stand still for a moment.
He believed the child must be lying dead upon the road.
He pulled his beard and groaned aloud.
But as while he slowly rode back he could find no trace of his son, he came to the conclusion that the startled horse had thrown him into the river which ran near, and that the little one had found a watery grave.
All at once he heard a childish voice calling him, and as he turned round, lo !
there sat an old woman beneath a tree on the other side of the road, nursing the boy on her knee.
"What are you doing with my son, old witch ?"
cried the Count in angry tones.
"Bring him to me directly !"
"Not so fast !
Not so fast !
your Highness," laughed the ugly old woman, "or some misfortune may happen to your proud head !
You want to know how it is I have the boy ?
Well, the horse passed me, with its little rider hanging by one foot, with his hair brushing the ground, and I just caught him in my apron."
"Just so !"
cried the Count of Zollern impatiently.
"Give him to me;
I cannot dismount;
the horse is fresh and might kick him."
"Give me a stag-florin, then," said the old woman.
"Stuff and nonsense !"
said the Count, and threw her some copper pieces.
I want a stag-florin !"
said she again.
"You are not worth so much," blustered the Count.
"Give me the boy quickly, or I will set the dogs on you !"
I am not worth a stag-florin, then ?"
answered the old woman, laughing maliciously.
"Well, we shall see which of your heirs is worth a stag-florin.
Here, keep your pennies for yourself !"
And so saying, she threw the little copper coins to the Count, and with such dexterity that they all fell at once into the purse he held in his hand.
The Count was too astonished to speak;
but at last his temper burst forth.
He seized his crossbow, bent it, and aimed at the old woman, who kissed and cuddled the boy on her lap, and said as she held him between herself and the weapon:
"Be a good child;
keep still and he will not hurt you !"
Then she set him down, and shaking her finger at the Count and crying:
"Zollern, Zollern, you owe me a stag-florin," disappeared among the beech-trees in the forest.
Conrad, the groom, got down trembling from his horse, lifted the little master into his saddle, mounted behind him, and followed his lord to the Castle.
This was the first and last time that the Stormy Knight of Zollern took his son for a ride;
for he set him down as a cowardly boy who would never be worth much in the way of manly exercise;
and took such a dislike to him that when Kuno, who really loved his father, would run laughing and smiling into his arms, the Count would push him away, saying:
"Stuff and nonsense !
Stuff and nonsense !"
The Countess Hedwig could bear with her husband’s unkindness to herself, but his treatment of her little son grieved her so much that she fell ill, more from fright because the Count had cruelly beaten the boy for some slight fault, than from any disease, and died after a few days’ suffering, and was deeply mourned by her servants and the whole population, and bitterly by her poor little Kuno.
From this moment the Count set his face against Kuno, and gave the care of him entirely to the nurse and the chaplain, and scarcely troubled to see him.
Shortly afterwards he married a very rich woman, who bore him twin sons.
Kuno’s favourite walk was to the cottage of the old woman who had saved his life.
She told him all about his dear, dead mother, and how good and kind she was to all.
The boys and girls warned him about going to see Dame Feldheim so often, telling him that it was well known she was a witch;
but the boy was not afraid, for the chaplain had assured him that there were no witches, and that the stories told of how they flew through the air on broomsticks and danced on the bracken were false.
It is true he could not quite understand all he saw and heard at Dame Feldheim’s.
The trick of the three pennies which she threw into his father’s purse he remembered well;
her skill, too, in preparing healing drinks from herbs for sick people and cattle was great;
but it was not true, as people said, that she had a weather-vane, and that when she hung it over the fire thunderstorms arose.
She taught the little Count many things that were very useful to him;
for instance, how to make several nostrums for sick horses;
and how to prepare a dose to cure hydrophobia;
how to make bait for fishing, and many other useful things.
The old woman was almost his only companion, for his nurse was dead and the chaplain did not trouble much about him.
While his brothers were growing up, Kuno had even a duller life than before.
They were so fortunate as to keep their seat in the saddle the first time they went out riding, and the Stormy Knight of Zollern thought them plucky little fellows, and made a great fuss over them, taking them out every day, and teaching them all he knew.
This did not, however, amount to much;
for he could neither read nor write, and would not allow them to waste their time in study;
but while they were quite young they could both swear as well as their father, and at the least difference of opinion would fight like cats and dogs, and it was only when they had a mutual grudge against Kuno that they ever agreed.
Their mother did not mind their quarrels, for she thought it was a sign of health and strength when boys fought.
An old servant, however, called the Count’s attention to their fighting one day, and although all the Stormy Knight said was, "Stuff and nonsense !
Don’t I know it ?"
he began to think it must be stopped before one killed the other, for he could not get out of his head the saying of the old witch, as he called her:
"Well, we shall see which of your heirs is worth a stag-florin !"
One day, as he was riding to his Castle, he noticed two hills which seemed just the place for castles, and decided to build them.
He did so, and called one "The Castle of Schalksberg," because he had nick-named the smaller of the twins "Little Schalk," and the other castle he had intended to call "Hischguldenberg," to annoy the witch who had said his heirs would not be worth a stag-florin.
He called it, however, by the simpler name, "Hirschberg," and so they are called to this day, as any one can prove who journeys so far as the Elbe.
The Stormy Knight of Zollern had always intended to give his eldest son Zollern Castle, to little Schalk, Schalksberg, and to the other twin, Hirschberg;
but his wife would not rest till he altered his will.
"That stupid Kuno," said she, "is quite rich enough, what with his mother’s fortune;
shall he have this beautiful Castle of Hohenzollern too ?
And are my sons to inherit nothing but a Castle each, and no land except the forest near by ?"
Although the Count told her that no one might dare to rob Kuno of his birthright, she cried and scolded so that the Stormy Knight for the sake of peace and quietness gave way, and in his will left little Schalk, Schalksberg;
to the elder twin, Zollern;
and to Kuno, Hirschberg and the neighbouring village of Balingen.
Soon after he fell suddenly ill.
To the doctor, who told him he was about to die, he said, "I know that," and to the chaplain, who would fain have prepared him for his end, he said, "Stuff and nonsense !"
and cursed and swore and died as he had lived, a great sinner.
But the breath was hardly out of his body, when the Countess brought in the will and said spitefully to Kuno that he might as well have the opportunity of seeing for himself that he had no right to the Castle of Zollern;
and she and her sons were congratulating each other on the fine property and the two castles they had taken from the firstborn son.
Kuno accepted the terms of his dead father’s will without grumbling;
but took leave with tears of the Castle where he was born, and where his dear mother was buried;
where the good old chaplain prayed, and near which Dame Feldheim, his only friend, lived.
The Castle of Hirschberg was a fine, handsome building, but it was too lonely and dull, and he soon fell ill from sheer longing for his old home.
The Countess and the twin-brothers, who were just eighteen years old, sat one evening on the balcony and looked towards the Castle hill;
and saw a handsome knight riding on horseback and a splendid litter carried by twelve men, and many boys following behind.
They wondered whoever it could be, and at last little Schalk cried:
"It is no other than our elder brother from the Castle of Hirschberg !"
"That stupid Kuno ?"
said the Countess, much surprised.
He no doubt means to invite us to come to see him, and that lovely litter is for my use.
Really I did not credit Kuno with so much good feeling.
One compliment deserves another.
Let us go down to the Castle door to receive him;
put on pleasant looks, perhaps he will make you some presents;
to one a horse, to the other a set of harness;
as for me, I have long wanted his mother’s jewels !"
"I don’t want Kuno’s presents," said Wolf, "nor will I put on a pleasant look to greet him.
Let him die soon, like our father, and then we shall inherit the Castle of Hirschberg, and we will sell you the Countess’s jewels cheap, my dear mother."
"Oh, you ungrateful boy !"
cried his mother.
"So I am to buy the jewels ?
Is this your gratitude to me for getting Zollern for you ?
Little Schalk, I shall certainly have the jewels for nothing, shall I not ?"
"Nothing is certain but death, my dear mother," answered the younger twin, laughing;
"and if it be true that the jewels are worth as much :as many a castle, we should not be such fools as to hang them round your neck.
As soon as Kuno dies, we shall ride over and divide everything, and l shall sell my share of the jewels.
If you will give me more for them than the Jews will, you shall have them, mother mine !"
They were now standing by the great entrance door, and the Countess had hardly time to attempt a smile ere Kuno rode over the drawbridge.
As he wished to be polite to his step-mother and brothers, he reined up his horse and dismounted, greeting them with courtesy.
And although they had never treated him well, he remembered that these were his brothers, and that this wicked woman had loved his father.
"Now it is really good of you to come and see us," said the Countess in a soft voice and with a flattering smile.
"How are things at Hirschberg ?
Is it a nice place to live in ?
And what a lovely litter !
Surely an empress might be proud to travel in it.
Now you must look out for a wife, so that she may use it."
"I have not thought yet of marrying, gracious lady," answered Kuno;
"I am going to give myself a little company, and that is why I have brought the litter."
"You are very kind and thoughtful," said the Countess as she nodded and smiled.
"I have come for Father Joseph, the chaplain, who is too old to sit a horse," said Kuno quietly.
"I mean to take my old tutor back with me, and arranged this with him when I was leaving Zollern.
I am also taking Dame Feldheim home with me.
She is very old and feeble, and I can never forget she saved my life, the first time I ever rode out with my late father.
There is room and to spare in Hirschberg, and there she shall end her days."
And so saying he went through the courtyard to find Father Joseph.
The Countess was yellow with rage, Wolf was biting his lips, and little Schalk was laughing.
"How much will you give me for my horse ?
Brother Wolf, give me your set of harness for it.
he is taking back with him the chaplain and the old witch.
What a pretty pair !
He can study Greek before dinner with Father Joseph, and magic in the afternoon with Dame Feldheim.
what a funny fellow Kuno is !"
"He is a nasty mean thing," replied the Countess, "and you ought not to be laughing, Schalk.
It is a disgrace to the family that it should be said that the Count of Zollern has taken the chaplain and the old witch to his Castle in that splendid litter, and that they are to live there with him.
He is his own mother’s son.
She was always so much with sick and sorry people.
His father would turn in his coffin if he only knew;
and never would he rest in his grave !"
"Yes," said Schalk, "my father would grumble out ‘Stuff and nonsense !
Don’t tell me !
"Look — there Kuno comes with old Father Joseph, and even lets him take his arm," cried the Countess indignantly.
"Come away, I do not wish to meet him again."
They went away from the hail, and Kuno led his old tutor across the drawbridge and helped him into the litter, and halfway down the hill they stopped at Dame Feldheim’s cottage, and found her waiting with a bundle of glasses and pots and potions and draughts, and her beech wand in her hand.
But things did not turn out quite as the angry Countess hoped.
No one in the country round thought unkindly of Kuno;
on the contrary, they respected and liked him for his kindness to the old woman in her last years, and praised him for his conduct towards his old tutor.
The only people who were disagreeable and unpleasant to him were his two step-brothers and the Countess.
But such unnatural behaviour was not approved of, and a report was spread that the Countess and her two sons did not live on good terms, and that they quarrelled with each other every day.
Count Kuno of Zollern-Hirschberg made many attempts to be friendly with his brothers, and it seemed strange to him that they often came to his fetes, but never spoke if they met him in the woods or in the fields, and greeted him more coldly than if he were a stranger.
But his advances met with no encouragement, and he gave up further attempts at friendship.
One day he suddenly bethought himself of a way to win their hearts, for he knew they were greedy and grasping.
There was a large pond almost equally distant from the three Castles, but really Kuno’s property.
In this pond were the finest pike and carp in the whole neighbourhood;
and the two brothers, who were very fond of fishing, thought it unfair that their father had not left them this piece of water.
They were too proud to fish there without their brother’s leave, and too bitter to ask his permission.
So one day Kuno asked them, knowing how they envied him the pond, to meet him there.
It was a lovely spring morning, and the three brothers arrived almost at the same moment.
"Well," said Schalk, "this is capital.
I left home on the stroke of seven."
"So did I."
"So did I," exclaimed his brothers.
"Then the pond must lie exactly between our three estates," said Schalk.
"It is a fine piece of water !"
"It is," said Kuno;
"and I have an offer to make you.
I know you both are fond of fishing, and I too love the sport;
there is enough fish for the three families, and enough room on the bank for us all, even if we all come at the same time.
So I have decided that this pond shall be common property, and that each of us has an equal right to fish here."
"How good and gracious our brother is !"
said little Schalk, laughing spitefully, "to give six days’ fishing and two hundred little fishes.
And now — we must give him something in exchange;
that is as certain as death."
"It is certain that I mean what I say," said Kuno in a vexed tone.
"I have often wished to talk to you about this pond.
Are we not the sons of one father ?"
"That may be," said Schalk;
"but fishing in company is no good;
we shall simply chase the fish from one to another.
Let us have each certain days.
You, Kuno, take Monday and Thursday;
you, Wolf, Tuesday and Friday;
and I will have Wednesday and Saturday.
That will be best.
"That will not suit me," cried Wolf.
"I do not want a favour, and will not take a part.
It was right of Kuno to make the offer, but we each have an equal right to the pond, so let us gamble for it;
and if I have the luck to win you can always ask my leave to fish."
"I will not gamble for it," said Kuno, distressed at the behaviour of his brothers.
" No !
he is too good and right-minded, this wonderful brother of ours !"
cried little Schalk.
"He thinks gambling is one of the deadly sins.
But I have a plan to propose which he cannot object to.
We will fetch our rods and bait, and whoever has caught the most fish by twelve this morning, shall be the winner of the pond."
"I was certainly a fool," said Kuno, "to argue about what is my own property by right.
But that you shall see I was in earnest, I will fetch my fishing-tackle."
They each rode back to their Castles.
The twins sent servants in all directions to turn up the large stones, and hunt beneath them for worms for bait.
Kuno, however, took his usual rod and the bait which Widow Feldheim had prepared for him, and was first back at the appointed spot.
He allowed his brothers to choose the best and most convenient places, and then threw his line out.
It really seemed as if the fish knew who was their real master.
A whole shoal of carp and pike came round and nibbled at his bait.
The older and stronger ones pulled the younger fish away;
every moment he caught something, and as he threw fresh bait into the water, it was surrounded by twenty or thirty fish, each eager to seize the hook.
He had only been fishing two hours when the grass around him was covered with his splendid spoil.
So he left off, and went to see what luck his brothers had had.
Schalk had caught one little carp and two small perch.
Wolf had three barbel and two little gudgeon;
and both looked despondently at the pond, for they could see from where they stood what a number of fish Kuno had caught.
As Kuno approached, his brother Wolf sprang up, fuming with rage;
broke his rod, destroyed the tackle, and threw it altogether in the pond.
"I wish I had a thousand hooks to throw in there instead of one, and that each one might strike a fish," cried he.
"But honest ways never succeed;
unless it is by magic and witchcraft, how could you, you stupid Kuno, catch more fish in an hour than I could in a year ?"
"Of course," said Schalk;
"now I remember.
It was the old woman, that old witch, who taught Kuno to fish, and we were idiots to angle with him;
he will soon be a magician himself."
"You wretched youths," said Kuno quietly.
"This morning I have had a good opportunity to see your greed, your shamelessness, and your ill-manners.
Now go home, and never come here again, and, believe me, it were better for you if your hearts were as good and pure as that of the old woman you call the witch."
"No, she is no true witch," said Schalk sneeringly.
"A real witch speaks the truth, but Dame Feldheim is about as much a witch as a goose is a swan.
Did she not tell my father that his heir would not be worth a stag-florin ?
yet at his death his property reached as far as eye could see.
Dame Feldheim is nothing but a lying old woman, and you — you are stupid old Kuno."
After this speech Schalk hastened away, for he was afraid of their brother’s mighty arm;
and Wolf followed him, cursing as heartily as ever his father did.
In saddest mood Kuno went back to the Castle, for he knew all friendship with his brothers was quite at an end.
He took their harsh words so much to heart, that he became quite ill, and only the kindness of Father Joseph and the skilful treatment of Dame Feldheim saved his life.
But when the brothers heard that Kuno was dangerously ill, they gave a banquet, and in their wine-cups agreed that, if that stupid Kuno died, whoever heard the news first should fire off a cannon as a sign, and whoever fired first should have the very best bottle of wine in Kuno’s cellar.
Wolf sent one of his servants to wait about as near to the Castle of Hirschberg as possible, and little Schalk bribed one of Kuno’s servants to let him know directly his master’s end came.
But this man was, however, more faithful to his kind-hearted master than to the wicked Count of Schalksberg.
He asked Dame Feldheim one evening how the Count his master was, and as she said he was fast getting well, he told her about the plot of the two brothers, and that they had planned great rejoicings if Kuno died.
This disgusted the old woman.
She told the Count, and as he could not believe in such heartlessness on the part of his brothers, she asked him to test her story by letting a report be spread that he was dead, so that they could hear if the guns were fired or not.
The Count sent for the servant whom his brother had bribed, and asked him all about it, and told him to ride to Schalksberg and say Count Kuno was dying.
But as the servant was hurrying down the hill, Count Wolf’s servant saw him, and stopping him, asked why he was in such a hurry.
said the man, "my poor master cannot last through the night;
his life is despaired of."
is that it ?"
cried the other, and springing on his horse he rode with such speed to Zollern and up the Castle hill that his horse fell down at the door, and he could only gasp out, "Count Kuno is dying !"
before he fainted right away.
Then the cannon roared from the walls of Castle Zollern;
and Count Wolf and his mother were delighted to think that they would get the fine flask of wine, the property, the pond, besides the jewels;
and above all were they pleased with the echoing sound of the cannon.
But what they thought was the echo was the Schalksberg cannon, and Wolf said laughingly to his mother:
"What is this ?
Schalk evidently had a spy too, and we shall have to divide the wine as well as the inheritance."
Then he ordered his swiftest horse to be saddled, and rode to Hirschberg, for he was afraid little Schalk would get there first and take away some of the treasures belonging to the dying man.
But just by the fishpond the two brothers met, and reddened with shame at the thought that each had been trying to reach the Castle first.
They did not speak of Kuno as they continued their ride, but discussed as brothers their future intentions, and to whom Hirschberg should belong.
As they rode over the draw-bridge and into the courtyard, they looked up and saw their brother, hale and well, looking out of the windows at them.
The brothers were thoroughly frightened, thinking it must be his ghost, and crossed themselves devoutly;
but when they saw he really was alive Wolf cried:
"How glad I am !
I believed you were dead !"
"Never mind, a sick man is not a sound man," said Schalk, looking spitefully at his brother.
Then Kuno spoke with a voice of thunder.
"From this hour all ties of blood and relationship are severed between us.
I have heard your salvoes of joy;
but, as you see, I have fine field guns here in the courtyard, and have had them ready loaded.
So you had better get out of their range as soon as possible, or you shall have an opportunity of judging how we here at Hirschberg can aim."
They did not wait to be told twice, for they could see he was in earnest.
They dug their spurs into their horses and raced down the hill, and their brother sent a shot after them which flew above their heads;
for he only wanted to give them a good fright, not to hurt them.
"Why did you fire off your cannon, you stupid ?"
asked little Schalk angrily.
"I fired mine because I heard yours."
"On the contrary, you fired first," said Wolf.
"Ask our mother.
You know you fired first, and have brought us to this plight, you stupid little idiot !"
The younger brother had nothing more to say in self-defence, and as they had reached the fishpond they parted company, each proving himself a worthy son of the old Stormy Knight of Zollern in the matter of cursing and swearing, and parting from each other in thorough ill-feeling.
Two or three days afterwards Kuno made his will, and Dame Feldheim said to Father Joseph:
"I will answer for it, Kuno has not left much to the gunnery-knights !"
But her curiosity was such that she often begged her darling boy to let her read the document;
but he always refused, and it happened that a year later the good old woman died, not from any illness except her eighty-ninth year, and none of her potions or lotions were any help in prolonging her life.
Count Kuno gave her such a funeral as was worthy of his mother rather than a poor old peasant;
and many people besides himself and Father Joseph followed her to the grave.
Strangely enough, the good Count Kuno died rather suddenly when he was only twenty-eight years old, and people said that the wicked Schalk had poisoned him.
However that might be, a few hours after his death the thunder of cannon was heard again, and both from Zollern and Schalksberg.
"This time it is no false alarm," said Schalk to Wolf.
As they rode towards the Castle, a knight, accompanied by followers, a stranger to them, sought their company.
They thought he might be a friend of their brother’s come like themselves to assess the property.
So they began to mourn Count Kuno, and spoke in his praise, regretted his early death, and little Schalk managed to squeeze out a few crocodile tears.
The knight did not reply to their remarks, but rode silently by their side until they reached the Castle.
"Now let us make ourselves at home !
Bring wine, cellarman, and the best !"
cried Wolf as he dismounted.
They mounted the winding staircase which led into the dining-room, followed by the silent knight;
and when the twins had seated themselves comfortably at the table, the strange guest drew a piece of silver out of his waistcoat pocket and threw it on the table so that it rolled and jingled, and said:
"Now you have your inheritance at last;
and it is exactly one stag-florin !"
The two brothers laughed and stared and asked what he meant.
The knight drew out a parchment roll, with hanging seals, on which "Stupid Kuno" had written down all the maliciousness of his brothers during his life, and at the end had ordered that his whole property, only excepting his mother’s jewels, should be sold to Wurtemberg at his death for a couple of stag-florins.
But with the value of the jewels some almshouses were to be built and endowed in Balingen.
The brothers were surprised and bit their lips with rage, for they could not interfere with the bequest to Wurtemberg, and so after all they had lost the Castle, the estate, the money, the village of Balingen, and even the fishpond, and all they inherited was a stag-florin each.
Wolf put his in his waistcoat pocket, and without saying one word they put their caps on their heads, and saying neither "Good-bye," nor "Au revoir," to the Wurtemberg official, mounted their horses and rode back to Zollern.
On the following morning Wolf’s mother teased him with so many questions, as to his legacy and the jewels, that he rode over to Schalksberg and said to his brother:
"Shall we gamble or drink away our inheritance ?"
"Let us drink it away," said Schalk, "then we shall at least have the wine !
We will go to Balingen and bear ourselves boldly, even if we have lost the village."
"And at the ‘Lamb’ there is good red wine," said Wolf.
"Even the Emperor has none better."
So they rode together to the "Lamb," and asked how much the best red wine was, and drank their stag-florin’s worth.
Then Wolf stood up, and drew the coin with the leaping stag out of his pocket, threw it on the table and cried:
"There is your gulden, that is your fee !"
The host took the money, looked first at one side, then at the other, and laughed.
"Yes, but there are no more stag-florins in circulation !
Only last night there came a messenger from Stuttgart, and early this morning a trumpeter read a proclamation in the name of the Count of Wurtemberg, who now owns the village, to say that they were called in to the mint, and giving me other money instead."
The two brothers turned pale.
"Pay up," said one.
"Have you no change ?"
said the other, and, to be brief, they had to owe the money to the "Lamb" at Balingen.
They rode silently and sadly home, but when they came to the cross-roads, where the way to Zollern lay to the right and that to Schalksberg to the left, Schalk said:
"How now !
we are poorer than ever, and the wine was bad."
"It was !"
answered his brother.
"But what the old witch said has come true.
Do you see ?
Neither of us is worth a stag-florin.
We could not even pay for a flask of wine."
"A pretty kettle of fish !"
"Stupid nonsense !"
said Wolf, and rode sulkily towards his Castle.
So this is the story of the Stag-florin, and it is true.
The host in Durrwangen, which is not far from the three Castles, told the tale to a trusty friend, and oft did he repeat it to the travellers who visited Swabia, and returned home by Durrwangen.