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The Nine on the Weather-vane
Hans Winkelman, poacher and outlaw, had for some time carried on his depredations on the lands belonging to the city of Frankfort, and had given more annoyance to the worthy citizens than any ten such scamps. After a long pursuit Hans however was captured, and as he had shot down one of the rangers who tried to apprehend him he was condemned to the gallows. The miserable wretch now lay in the citadel gloomily watching the flight of his last hours on earth.
In the gray light of morning a priest entered the cell to give Hans some spiritual advice, but found him sulky and impenitent. That the bullet had pierced the heart of his pursuer, instead of the leg as he intended, seemed to him an accident in a fair fight, and by no means a crime for which he ought to die.
The Capuchin friar rebuked Hans for his sinful obduracy, and pointed out to him, that every child in Frankfort knew that Hans Winkelman was a godless Freischütz who had sold his soul to the evil one, and that it was well known that Satan himself guided the bullets so that every one found its billet. Then the gallant freebooter swore a sacred oath maintaining that this was a falsehood, and that he owed his great accuracy of aim to no Prince of Hell, but merely to his own skill. Further, he offered to demonstrate this before the magistrates, by any test of his skill they might suggest. With reluctance the friar agreed to aid him by presenting his strange petition to the authorities. "All right!" said Hans, "give me my musket, as a last act of grace, and allow me three times three shots at that creaking weathercock up there on the tower, and if you do not then find the number nine wrought in it artistically, as if by the hand of an artificer, I'll willingly submit to be hanged."
When the friar related this to the worthy city fathers they received the request favourably, and it was agreed that should Hans Winkelman accomplish what he proposed to do, then the sentence of death should not be carried out.
A large crowd had collected to witness the execution of the notorious freebooter, and great was the astonishment when Hans appeared at the side of the gallows and levelled his rifle at the weathercock which creaked in the autumn wind on the top of the lofty tower. Bang went the musket, and amidst the breathless stillness of the throng other eight shots resounded in rapid succession. Then. a great shout of approbation broke the oppressive silence – up there on the weather-vane was a large nine wrought as perfectly as if by an artificer's hand.
Calmly the freebooter delivered up his rifle to the executioner, while a magistrate stepped forward and announced to the amazed crowd that the condemned man had gained his freedom, and turning to Hans he offered him the Post of head-ranger to the Free City of Frankfort. But Hans shook his shaggy head and thanked the magistrate for the honourable position offered to him. Then, after thanking the city fathers for pardon, he slipped through the crowd and soon disappeared into the woods which had now become his home. To himself he made a vow that never again would the people of Frankfort lay hands on him. And so it was. The nine can be seen to this day on the weather-vane of the high tower which rises over the citadel of Frankfort.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine