The faithful dog of Monreal
Monreal, in the Middle Ages a settlement protected by the town wall and two castles of the Counts of Virneburg, in the year of 1632 ravaged by the Swedes and in 1689 by the French, shortly thereafter managed the revival of the cloth making town. Imposing, lovingly renovated half-timbered houses from the 15th to the 18th century along the stream Elz witness this era.
Monreal is a popular meeting point for historically interested people, artists and hobby painters. Also a guided tour of the city is offered with interesting stories about the old dynasty of counts, the brothers’ dispute and the connection with the famous old Virneburg dynasty of Counts.
“Get away, you dirty mutt!” shouted the harsh voice of a servant in the castle courtyard of Monreal. You are in my way, you stupid dog!” Then he gave him a rough kick. Screaming with pain the animal arduously trudged away. Blood was penetrating through his fur, as the hard tip of the boot had ruptured a wound into his flank.
Indeed it was not a beautiful dog and looked quite scruffy and its slightly crossed eyes gave it an even uglier look. His fur was filthy. He always seemed to be in the way and was more often treated with contempt than anybody gave him some bread.
When the big dog now limped into a far corner, little Hilde, the Lord’s daughter, saw him. She felt sorry for him and without thinking twice she ran to the maltreated dog and wrapped her arms around his neck, stroked his shaggy fur and said comfortingly:
“Poor, poor wolf, did naughty Jacob hurt you?” The dog looked at her, gently licked her little hands and then carefully put its head into the girl’s lap, who had always treated it friendly and affectionately. The Lord saw them when he looked out of the window. “Hilde”, he snarled at her, “I want you to get away from the dirty dog immediately! Go and wash yourself and then get into your room!”
Then he called the stable lad and commanded: “I have enough now! This disgusting animal must get out of the way! I do not want my daughter to dirty herself or get some vermin! Take the dog and lead it down to the stream Elz! There you put a heavy stone around his neck and drown it in deep water!” Reluctantly the lad left and went a long way along the stream Elz without finding a suitable place. Because of the persistent drought during the last few weeks, the stream had only little water. When he was wandering along, looking for deep water, he met Jan. Jan was the son of the diligent woodcutter, who lived nearby in a small, crooked hut. Jan carried a light wicker basket in his hand, as he was catching crabs.
“Jan, could you show me a place, where the water is deep enough, to drown an ugly creature like this one here?” asked the stable lad and pointed on the black dog, which he pulled behind him on a rope. “About half an hour from here is a deep pond”, Jan answered. “I will show you the place! But tell me, why should the dog be drowned? What did he do?”
“Look at this horrible creature! Dirty and ugly! The Count is disgusted with it. Something like it does not belong into a noble castle!”
Both set off. After a few steps the stable lad stopped and said: “Jan, isn’t it stupid that we both go to the place. Could you not drown the wolf? I will give you a sugar pancake, if you do it!” Jan nodded approvingly. “I will do it. Give me the dog and the pancake and I will do your job.” Then he hasted downwards the stream, the black wolf trotting by his side with its tail tucked in. When they got to the deep pond, which was intended to be the dog’s grave, Jan sat down in the soft moss, broke off a piece of the sweet pancake and took a hearty bite. He gave the dog a small piece. It greedily took the treat. With his head inclined and trusting eyes it looked at Jan, who was a meek boy and now stroke the dog’s shaggy fur: “Poor thing! You had a bad life up to now. You come from a house where everybody lives in abundance and you are so thin that one could see through you. To drown a creature only because it is ugly is not right.” Wolf seemed to be another dog now, because his new master was so friendly towards him. For a long time he had not experienced something like this. It jumped up with joy, licked the lad’s hands and looked at him with its crossed eyes, deeply grateful for the rare fondling and the treat. “They expect me to drown you? No, I won’t do that, we will stay together. My father will not have anything against it and the few things we got we will confidently share with you.” Henceforth it stayed that way. When Jan told his father about the wolf’s fate, the woodcutter took the poor dog into his arms, despite of its ugliness, and fondled its ears.
It was one afternoon in next year’s spring, when terrible news spread on Castle Monreal: “Hilde, the little damsel, disappeared without trace!”
All searching had not been successful. In great excitement all servants, menials, maids and squires were running around, rummaged through every corner of the castle, looked in cellars, barns and in the tower, looked into deep castle wells and shouted her name until their voices got hoarse. There was no trace of Hilde. Everybody feared the worst. They even talked about kidnapping. Sobbing and wailing the Count kneeled down in the chapel in front of the picture of Christ. Suddenly his small son Hubert came near and said: “Mother, maybe Hilde went down to the stream Elz. She wanted to see the ice blocks on the stream and pick snowdrops for you.”
Immediately servants and maids were ordered to take rods and hooks and go and look for Hilde down in the village and along the Elz.
They had already looked around for a while when one man uttered a bloodcurdling yell. In the middle of the wild and raging water the little girl was sitting on a sheet of ice. She was trembling and cried bitterly. In her little hand she kept the snowdrops firmly pressed against her chest.
“Save my child!” shouted the Count in deep despair. “The one, who gets it to the bank, will be richly rewarded!” He was about to take off his clothes and throw himself into the water between the ice blocks. His servants, however, held him back with force: “Don’t do that master, it is useless! The icy water will be your death and the raging waves will smash you on the rocks! Think of the Countess and your son! Nobody can get to your daughter that way. We will try to pull the block over here with hooks and ropes.”
As much as the men made an effort, nothing worked out. Again and again the iron hooks slipped off the ice and could not get a hold to the slippery surface. The rods were too short and the sheet of ice, on which Hilde was crouching, was wedged between other blocks. Also it already floated downstream in direction of a waterfall, where the waves of the wild foaming cataract deep down broke on hard rocks.
“Lost!” groaned the Count and beside him the Countess collapsed loudly wailing. Suddenly a dog turned up between the people and stormed towards the water and with a daring leap it threw itself into the Elz, swam with powerful swimming movements of its legs and got to the sheet of ice where Hilde was sitting loudly crying out for help. The dog climbed up the ice block and Hilde welcomed her saviour now with a cry of joy!
“Hold on to him!” shouted the Count loudly and clearly. Hilde did so. She took a firm grip of the dog’s shaggy fur. Then the dog jumped into the water of the Elz and with powerful movements it soon reached the banks of the stream, where Count and Countess cheeringly took her daughter in their arms and wrapped her in warm blankets.
“You see, the wolf is a good one! May I now play with him?” asked Hilde shaking with cold. “Which wolf?” “Well, our dog! Don’t you recognize it? Wolf! Wolf! Come here!”
And Wolf, who had fearfully crawled away, came near trembling and stooping down, his crossed eyes full of fear directed towards the Count and his servants.
“We are very fortunate that my command had not been carried out correctly! Otherwise we would have lost our daughter. This dog will come with us and live on the castle!”
The count showed exceeding gratefulness to all those who had participated in the rescue of his daughter. Jan and his father got a large piece of land, which they could plough. The good Wolf was stroked by everybody and spoilt with treats. Henceforth he always stayed by damsel Hilde’s side.
At the place below Monreal, where the child was saved in a wondrous way, the Count built a small chapel, called Mettburg, in honour of God and as a sign of gratitude for the tremendous grace that was bestowed on him.
Source: Alois Mayer ,“Ritter, Burgen, Gold’ne Schätze: Burgensagen aus der Eifel“. Edition Eyfalia, P. 220-223