In honour of the day, and in order to write about something other than hiking, I bring you an installment of View of the Marching Fishes Irregular Digressions into Alsation Folklore Hour.
Our story happened many centuries ago, during the terrible years of the Swedish War.* During the Swedish invasion of Alsace, a regiment of soldiers was stationed in the village of Obersteinbach. The regimental drummer was a romantic young man, who was quartered in the home of a local farmer. The farmer, as farmers in these stories are wont, had a lovely young daughter.
Our percussive friend fell in love with the comely young lass and – happy day! – she with he. However, being as how he had his regimental drumming duties to attend to, and she her family, they were never able to be alone, to do whatever it is that young couples in love did in the days before they invented sex.**
Our young drummer found himself walking off his frustrations, stalking the village and the surrounding fields. At the stroke of midnight, he found himself near in a place called “Teufeltisch” – or the Devil’s Table. Evidently not realizing he was in a cautionary folktale, he cried out: “My body and my soul for just a kiss of this woman.”***
To no one’s surprise but the drummer’s, a sardonic laugh came out of the darkness from the direction of the Devil’s Table. A tall man stepped out of the gloom. Frightened, the drummer asked what he wanted.
“You called me. I am at your service.”****
The drummer, perhaps catching on that he might be in a bit over his head, wisely said nothing. But for naught, for our Mephistolian friend said “Ah – I understand all. You want a woman. Good, take these drumsticks.**** If you play your instrument with these, she will have no choice but to march to your beat. All I need is for you to sign this paper.”
I need not recount what happened next – Army life having afforded our dim hero no opportunity to learn that sulfurous strangers seeking sanguinary signatures are generally bad news, he proferred his finger, signed in blood, and found himself the proud owner of a brand new pair of drumsticks.
Dazed, he returned to the farmers house. Tentatively, he hit his drum once, then twice. The farmer’s daughter appeared at the door.****** As the boy continued to play, she drew nearer, and he began to walk away. She followed, drawn forward even as her family tried to hold her back.
The couple disappeared into the forest. The following night, screams, demonic laughter and wild drumming filled the darkness. Neither of the doomed lovers was ever seen again, but on certain nights, a faint drumming may still be heard in the forests around the village, and will be until the end of days.********
(In case anyone is wondering, when I was drumming, I preferred Vic Firth 5B’s and I couldn’t even get my bandmates to follow my beat, let alone our largely imaginary groupies).
* I am not making this war up. The Swedes were right nasty back before they discovered nationalized medical care and Volvos.
*** Though presumably he cried this out in Swedish.
**** Technically, no one called him, but hey – how good would you expect the Devil’s Swedish comprehension to be?
***** Which are, no word of a lie, “baguettes” in my little book of Satanic Tales. Unless they actually played drums with bread back then.
****** I suspect that, given that it was probably 1 AM, and Obersteinbach is tiny even today, everbody in the village appeared at their door at this point.
******* I’ve totally lost count of how many asterixes I’m supposed to have by now. The story was taken from “Les Legendes du Diable en Alsace” by Gérard Leser. The translation is obviously mine.