This Christmas I thought I’d share a wonderful story, unedited, discovered years ago in a holiday book I received as a gift. It was written by an American author and poet of the 19th century by the name of Henry Cuyler Bunner who held the prestigious position as editor of the east coast periodical Puck for nearly two decades. His best known poem The Way to Arcady is quite famous. Despite all its non-fatal literary flaws, Casperl is a classic but is not well known. I know why this story impressed me but I’ll let you figure out why once you’re in the thick of it. It’s in two installments because it’s actually a rather long story. Fair enough ? Enjoy ! – The Castle Lady
Casperl was a wood-chopper and the son of a wood-chopper and although he was only eighteen when his father died, he was so strong and active that he went on chopping and hauling wood for the whole neighborhood and people said he did it quite as well as his father, while he was a great deal more pleasant in his manner and much more willing to oblige others.
It was a poor country, however, for it was right in the heart of the Black Forest, and there were more witches and fairies and goblins there than healthy human beings. So Casperl scarcely made a living, for all he worked hard and rose up early in the morning, summer and winter. His friends often advised him to go to some better place, where he could earn more money; but he only shook his head and said that the place was good enough for him.
He never told any one, though, why he loved his poor hut in the depths of the dark forest, because it was a secret which he did not wish to share with strangers. For he had discovered, a mile or two from his home, in the very blackest part of the woods, an enchanted mountain. It was a high mountain, covered with trees and rocks and thick, tangled undergrowth, except at the very top, where there stood a castle surrounded by smooth, green lawns and beautiful gardens, which were always kept in the neatest possible order, although no gardener was ever seen.
This enchanted mountain had been under a spell for nearly two hundred years. The lovely princess who lived there had once ruled the whole country. But a powerful and wicked magician disguised himself as a prince, and made love to her. At first the princess loved her false suitor; but one day she found out that he was not what he pretended to be and she told him to leave her and never to come near her again.
“For you are not a prince,” she said. “you are an imposter and I will never wed any but a true prince.”
“Very well,” said the magician, in a rage. “You shall wait for your true prince, if there is such a thing as a true prince; and you shall marry no one till he comes.”
And then the magician cast a spell upon the beautiful castle on the top of the mountain, and the terrible forest sprang up about it. Rocks rose up out of the earth and piled themselves in great heaps among the tree trunks. Saplings and brush and twisted, poisonous vines came to fill up every crack and crevice, so that no mortal man could possibly go to the summit, except by one path, which was purposely left clear. And in that path there was a gate that the strongest man could not open, it was so heavy. Farther up the mount slope, the trunk of a tree lay right across the way,- a magic tree, that no one could climb over or crawl under or cut through. And beyond the gate and the tree was a dragon with green eyes that frightened away every man that looked at it.
And there the beautiful princess was doomed to live until the true prince should arrive and overcome these three obstacles.
Now, although none of the people in the forest, except Casperl, knew of the mountain or the princess, the story had been told in many distant countries and year after year young princes came from all parts of the earth to try to rescue the lovely captive and win her for a bride. But. one after the other, they all tried and failed,- the best of them could not so much as open the gate.
And so there the princess remained, as the years went on. But she did not grow any older, or any less beautiful, for she was still waiting for the True Prince, and she believed that some day he would come.
This was what kept Casperl from leaving the Black Forest. He was sorry for the princess and he hoped some day to see her rescued and wedded to the true prince.
Every evening, when his work was done, he would walked to the foot of the mountain and sit down on a great stone and look up to the top where the princess was walking in her garden. And as it was an enchanted mountain, he could see her clearly, although she was so far away. yes, he could see her face as well as though she were close by him, and he thought it was truly the loveliest face in the world
There he would sit and sadly watch the princes who tried to climb the hill. There was scarcely a day that some prince from a far country did not come to make the attempt. One after another, they would arrive with gorgeous trains of followers, mounted on fine horses and dressed in costumes so magnificent that a plain cloth-of-gold suit looked shabby among them. They would look up to the mountain top and see the princess walking there and they would praise her beauty so warmly that Casperl, when he heart them, felt sure he was quite right in thinking her the loveliest woman in the world.
But every prince had to make the trial by him self. That was one of the conditions which the magician made when he laid the spell upon the castle; although Casperl did not know it.
And each prince would throw off his cloak and shoulder a silver or gold-handled ax and fasten his sword by his side, and set out to climb the hill and open the gate and cut through the fallen tree, and slay the dragon and wed the princess.
Up he would go, bright and hopeful and tug away at the gate until he found that he could do nothing with it and then he would plunge into the tangled thickets of underbrush and try his best to fight his way through to the the summit.
But every one of them came back after a while with his fine clothes torn and his soft skin scratched, all tired and disheartened and worn out. And then he would look spitefully up at the mountain and say he didn’t care so much about wedding the princess, after all; that she was only a common enchanted princess, just like any other enchanted princess and really not worth so much trouble.
This would grieve Casperl, for he couldn’t help thinking that it was impossible that any other woman could be as lovely as his princess. You see, he called her his princess, because he took such an interest in her and he didn’t think there could be any harm in speaking of her in that way, just to himself. For he never supposed she could even know that here was such a humble creature as poor young Casperl, the wood-chopper, who sat at the foot of the hill and looked up at her.
And so the days went on and the unlucky princes came and went and Casperl watched them all. Sometimes he saw his princess look down from over the castle parapets and eagerly follow with her lovely eyes the struggles of some brave suitor through the thickets until the poor prince gave up the job in despair. Then she would look sad and turn away. But generally she paid no attention to the attempts that were made to reach her. That kind of thing had been going on so long that she was quite used to it.
By and by, one summer evening, as Casperl sat watching, there came a little prince with a small train of attendants. He was rather undersized for a prince; he didn’t look strong and he did look as though he slept too much in the morning and too little at night. He slipped off his coat, however, and climbed up the road, and began to push and pull at the gate.
Casperl watched him carelessly for a while, and then happening to look up, he saw that the princess was gazing sadly down on the poor little prince as he tugged and toiled.
And then a bold idea came to Casperl. Why shouldn’t he help the prince? He was young and strong; he had often thought that, if he were a prince, a gate like that should not keep him away from the princess. Why, indeed, should he not give his strength to help to free the princess? And he felt a great pity for the poor little prince, too.
So he walked modestly up the hill and offered his service to the prince.
End of Part One