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The Owl’s Ear
by [?]

On the 29th of July, 1835, Kasper Boeck, a shepherd of the little village of Hirschwiller, with his large felt hat tipped back, his wallet of stringy sackcloth hanging at his hip, and his great tawny dog at his heels, presented himself at about nine o’clock in the evening at the house of the burgomaster, Petrus Mauerer, who had just finished supper and was taking a little glass of kirchwasser to facilitate digestion.

This burgomaster was a tall, thin man, and wore a bushy gray mustache. He had seen service in the armies of the Archduke Charles. He had a jovial disposition, and ruled the village, it is said, with his finger and with the rod.

“Mr. Burgomaster,” cried the shepherd in evident excitement.

But Petrus Mauerer, without awaiting the end of his speech, frowned and said:

“Kasper Boeck, begin by taking off your hat, put your dog out of the room, and then speak distinctly, intelligibly, without stammering, so that I may understand you.”

Hereupon the burgomaster, standing near the table, tranquilly emptied his little glass and wiped his great gray mustachios indifferently.

Kasper put his dog out, and came back with his hat off.

“Well!” said Petrus, seeing that he was silent, “what has happened?”

“It happens that the spirit has appeared again in the ruins of Geierstein!”

“Ha! I doubt it. You’ve seen it yourself?”

“Very clearly, Mr. Burgomaster.”

“Without closing your eyes?”

“Yes, Mr. Burgomaster–my eyes were wide open. There was plenty of moonlight.”

“What form did it have?”

“The form of a small man.”

“Good!”

And turning toward a glass door at the left:

“Katel!” cried the burgomaster.

An old serving woman opened the door.

“Sir?”

“I am going out for a walk–on the hillside–sit up for me until ten o’clock. Here’s the key.”

“Yes, sir.”

Then the old soldier took down his gun from the hook over the door, examined the priming, and slung it over his shoulder; then he addressed Kasper Boeck:

“Go and tell the rural guard to meet me in the holly path, and tell him behind the mill. Your spirit must be some marauder. But if it’s a fox, I’ll make a fine hood of it, with long earlaps.”

Master Petrus Mauerer and humble Kasper then went out. The weather was superb, the stars innumerable. While the shepherd went to knock at the rural guard’s door, the burgomaster plunged among the elder bushes, in a little lane that wound around behind the old church.

Two minutes later Kasper and Hans Goerner, whinger at his side, by running overtook Master Petrus in the holly path.

All three made their way together toward the ruins of Geierstein.

These ruins, which are twenty minutes’ walk from the village, seem to be insignificant enough; they consist of the ridges of a few decrepit walls, from four to six feet high, which extend among the brier bushes. Archaeologists call them the aqueducts of Seranus, the Roman camp of Holderlock, or vestiges of Theodoric, according to their fantasy. The only thing about these ruins which could be considered remarkable is a stairway to a cistern cut in the rock. Inside of this spiral staircase, instead of concentric circles which twist around with each complete turn, the involutions become wider as they proceed, in such a way that the bottom of the pit is three times as large as the opening. Is it an architectural freak, or did some reasonable cause determine such an odd construction? It matters little to us. The result was to cause in the cistern that vague reverberation which anyone may hear upon placing a shell at his ear, and to make you aware of steps on the gravel path, murmurs of the air, rustling of the leaves, and even distant words spoken by people passing the foot of the hill.

Our three personages then followed the pathway between the vineyards and gardens of Hirschwiller.

“I see nothing,” the burgomaster would say, turning up his nose derisively.

“Nor I either,” the rural guard would repeat, imitating the other’s tone.