The Witch-dancer's Doom





A BRETON LEGEND.





I.



LONG, long ago, in the days of good King Arthur, Count Morriss dwelt in

the old chateau of La Roche Morice, near Landerneau, in Brittany. With

him lived his beautiful niece, Katel. Although charming in face and

figure, this maiden had a somewhat uncanny reputation. For it was

said--and with reason--that she was a witch.



The Count had often urged Katel to marry, but in vain. The lady had no

mind to lose her freedom. Dancing was the one passion of her life.

"When," said she, "I can find a knight who shall be able to dance

continuously with me for twelve hours, with no break, to him I promise

to give my hand!"



This scornful challenge was proclaimed by heralds in every neighbouring

town and hamlet. In response came many wooers to attempt the impossible

task. Those whom Katel favoured she made her partners at the rustic

fetes and open-air dances which were then in vogue. In the soft-swarded

meadows, by sunlight or starlight, the dancers would meet, and, to the

dreamy music of the pipes, eager couples would whirl until the hills

around began to blush in the light of the early dawn. The wildest,

giddiest, yet most graceful of the throng was Katel, who danced madly on

until one by one her partners sank fainting upon the ground, and death

released them from the heartless sorceress who had lured them into her

toils.



Thus perished many suitors, until the cruel maiden became an object of

general hatred and horror. When her doings came to the ears of the

Count, he sternly forbade her to attend any more of the dances. In order

to enforce her obedience, he shut her up in a tower, where, said he, she

was to remain until she should choose a husband from among such suitors

as still persisted in offering her marriage.



Now, Katel had a wizened little page, no bigger than a leveret, and as

black as a raven's wing. This creature she summoned to her one morning

before dawn, and, with her finger at her lips, she said to him: "Be

swift and silent! My uncle still slumbers. Get thee gone by the ladder,

and his thee to the castle of Salauen, who is waiting for a message from

her he loves. The guards will allow thee to pass; take horse, ride like

the wind, and tell Salauen that Katel calls him to deliver her from this

tower before the day dawns."






The infatuated young knight obeyed the summons immediately. In an

hour's time he was assisting the lady to mount his horse, after having

got her in safety down the rope-ladder. As, from the window of the

donjon, the dwarf watched them ride away, he chuckled to himself:



"Ha! ha! And so they are off to the great ball held to-day in the

Martyrs' Meadow! Ah, my dear Salauen! before another sun shall rise your

death-knell will be tolled!"





II.



When Katel and her gallant cavalier arrived at the Martyrs' Meadow, they

excited general surprise and admiration. Some, however, shook their

heads forebodingly, as they heard that Salauen, now Katel's affianced

lover, was to be her partner, for they knew that the brave young knight

must needs fall a victim to her spell.



The ball began. Some of the most skilful pipers in the land had been

engaged for the occasion, and they played gavottes, rondes, courantes,

and many other dances, without intermission. But Katel waited until

night came and the torches were lit. Then she took Salauen's hand and

they began to dance together.



"Round again! Once more! Ha! ha!" laughed the witch-maiden, as they spun

along. "What! are you tired already? Do you give in so soon as this?"



"Never--while I am with you!" was the fervent reply. The fatal spell

had begun to work.



Thus on they whirled, yet more swiftly than before, so that the other

dancers stood aside to watch them. After a time, however, Katel observed

that her partner was gradually becoming weaker, and that he would soon

be unable to keep pace with her.



"Courage!" exclaimed she, in a bantering tone. "We cannot stop yet; it

wants but a very short time to midnight, and then I shall be yours!"



Salauen, although almost exhausted, strained every nerve and muscle in a

frantic, final effort to continue the dance. Round the field they flew,

at lightning speed; but it was for the last time. The knight's knees

shook--his breath came more quickly--then with difficulty he gasped out

the words:



"Oh, Katel! have mercy! I can do no more! Katel, my love, have I not won

you yet?"



But as he sank lifeless upon the grass Katel turned coldly away. His

fate was nothing to her. At that moment the clock in a neighbouring

tower struck twelve. All the lights flickered and expired; darkness

reigned supreme. And through the darkness, shrilling high above every

other sound, rang the mocking laugh of the impish dwarf.





III.



"What!" exclaimed Katel derisively, glancing angrily at the worn-out

pipers, who had at last paused in their wild music, "exhausted already

by such slight exertions? I wish the Evil One would send me some

musicians and dancers worthy of me! Of what use are these miserable,

puny creatures?"



As she uttered the words, stamping her foot in her fury, a weird, red

light gleamed in the sky; there was a terrible peal of thunder, and a

strange stir in the trees. Then suddenly, in the centre of the field,

appeared two phantom forms, at the sight of whom the panic-stricken

by-standers would fain have fled. To their horror, however, they found

flight impossible; they were rooted to the spot!



One of the phantoms was attired in a red garment, covered with a black

cloak. Beneath his arm he held a large double pipe, coiled around which

were five hissing, writhing serpents. The other stranger, who was

exceedingly tall, was dressed in a tightly fitting black suit, and

heavy, red mantle, while upon his head waved an imposing tuft of

vultures' plumes.



The ghostly piper began at once to play an unearthly dance-tune, so wild

and maddening that it made all the hearers tremble. His tall, grim

companion seized Katel by the waist, and the couple whirled round to the

mad measure, which grew ever faster and more furious. In an instant the

torches were relit. A few others joined in the dance; not for long,

however. Katel and her phantom were soon the only dancers. Shriller

still shrieked the pipes, faster yet grew the music, more and more

swiftly spun the feet. Ere long the witch-maiden felt that her strength

was deserting her; the torches swam before her eyes, and, in the last

extremity of terror, she struggled to release herself from the iron grip

which held her so relentlessly.



"What! so soon tired?" cried the spectre, jeering at her. "Do you give

in so soon as this? Come! round once more! Ha! ha!"






Thus was Katel treated as she had treated others. She had no breath

left wherewith to answer; her last hour had come. She made one more

wild, despairing bound, then fell to the ground in the throes of death.

At the same moment, the phantoms vanished. There was a vivid

lightning-blaze, a terrific crash of thunder; then fell black darkness

hiding everything. A tempestuous wind arose, and rain fell in torrents.



* * * * *



When the storm had cleared, and the morning sun shone out, those who

found courage to visit the spot beheld the forms of Katel and her lover

Salauen lying dead upon the shrivelled turf.



Ever since that time, the spot has been shunned by all, and still, by

their firesides on the winter nights, the peasants tell the tale of

Katel, the witch-dancer, and her fearful fate.





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