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The Seven Maidens
The scattered ruins of an old knight's tower are still to be seen on one of the heights near Oberwesel. The castle was called Schönberg, after the seven virgins who once lived there, and whose beauty was renowned throughout all the Rhine countries.
Their father had died early, some say of grief, because Heaven had denied him a son, and an elderly aunt had striven in vain to guide the seven wild sisters; but her influence had not been sufficiently strong to lead them in the right way. After the death of this relative the seven beautiful maidens were left to themselves, and now their longing after liberty and the pleasures of the world broke out even stronger than before.
Many a tale was told about them, how they used to ride out hunting and hawking, how many a magnificent banquet was given by them, and how their beauty, their riches, and the gay and joyous life led by them attracted many knights from near and far; how many a stately noble came to their castle to woo one of the sisters, and how these maidens at first ensnared and enchanted him with a thousand attractive charms, only in the end to reject the enamoured suitor with scorn and mockery.
Ashamed and very wrathful many a great knight had left the castle, and with indignation and disdain had blotted out of his memory the names of these bewitching sirens who at first had listened with deceitful modesty to his honest wooing, only afterwards to declare with scornful laughter that their liberty was so dear to them, that they would not give it up for the sake of any man.
Alas! there were always youths to be found who put no faith in such speeches and, trusting to their great names and peculiar merits, sought their happiness among these maidens. But all the trials ended in the same mournful manner; no suitor succeeded in winning the heart !of these seductive beings. Thus they continued their dangerous and contemptible life for some years.
Once again there was a great banquet and feasting in the hails of the castle. A circle of knightly figures sat round the brilliant board among the seven sisters, who were quite conscious of their charms, one rivaling the other in gaiety and liveliness.
The joyous scene was disturbed for a short time by two knights who were disputing about one of the sisters, and had angered each other by their growing jealousy.
The scene excited general attention and was looked on at first as a most amusing one, but when the youths were about to draw their swords, it was thought necessary to separate them.
Seizing this opportunity one of the other knights proposed, that to guard against further discord, the castle maidens should be urged to make a final decision, so that each suitor – they all recognised one another as such – might know what he had to expect.
The proposal met with general applause, only the sisters showed discontentment, declaring they could not agree to such a presumptuous plan. However the wooers tried every imaginable means of persuading them, and at last one of the sisters wavered, a second followed her example, and the remaining ones, after whispering to each other for some time, declared with laughing countenances that they would decide the fate of their suitors the next day.
The expected hour arrived, and the knights in great suspense assembled in the large hall. Every eye was riveted on the door through which these Graces should enter, bringing a sweet surprise to some or a bitter disappointment to others.
The folding-doors were suddenly thrown open, and an attendant announced that the mistresses of the castle were waiting to receive the knights in the garden near the river.
The numerous suitors all hurried out. To their great astonishment they saw the fair ones all seated in a boat on the Rhine. With a peculiar smile they beckoned the knights to approach, and the eldest sister, standing up in her seat, made the following speech.
"You may all throw your hopes to the winds, for not one of us would dream of falling in love with you, much less of marrying you. Our liberty is much too precious to us, and we shall not sacrifice it for any man. We are going to sail down to Cologne to the property of a relation, and there we shall disappoint other suitors, just as we have misled you, my noble lords. Good-bye, good-bye!"
The scornful speech was accompanied by a scoffing laugh which was re-echoed by the other sisters, and the boat set sail.
The rejected suitors stood speechless with shame and anger.
Suddenly a terrible storm arose, the boat was agitated violently, and the laughter of the seven sisters was turned to cries for help. But the roaring of the waves drowned their voices, and the billows rushed over the boat, burying it and the seven sisters in the depths below.
Just on the spot where these stony-hearted maidens met their deaths, seven pointed rocks appeared above the surface of the water, which up to the present day are still to be seen, a salutary warning to all the young maidens of the country.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine