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Jan and Griet
Jan und Griet
Nach einem Aquarell von Josef Passavanti
"There lived at Cologne on the old farm of Kümpchenshof a peasant who had a maid called Griet and a man-servant called Jan."
Thus begins the old well-known Rhenish song of "Jan van Werth," the celebrated general of the imperial cavalry at the time when the Swedes and French were taking advantage of the civil war in Germany. But nobody except the inhabitants of the holy City of Cologne, knows that Jan van Werth was originally a simple labourer, and that he was indebted for his luck in life to his bad luck in love.
Jan was an industrious farmer-boy with an upright character and a handsome face.
Many a girl would not have rejected him as a sweetheart, but Jan's tender heart had long been captivated by the good looks of pretty Griet, the comely maid of the Kümpchenshof. His love could not long remain a secret. One day he confessed to her with sobs that he loved her dearly, and would with pleasure work and toil for her twice as much as he then did for his master. He spoke long and earnestly, and taking courage with every word he uttered, he at last put to her the all-important question – would she become his wife?
Laughingly the pretty girl put her round arms akimbo, tossed her head back and looked at her honest suitor with a mocking twinkle in her eyes. Then she shook her head energetically and said: "You are only a farmer's labourer, my dear boy, and will remain one most probably all your life. True, it is not your fault, but all the same I should prefer to marry a rich farmer with cows and oxen and horses."
Bitter anger rose in Jan's breast on hearing her talk so heartlessly, but he controlled himself. "Just as you like," he said sadly, and turned away from the haughty maid.
From that day he could not endure any longer the life at the farm, and pocketing his wages, he said good-bye for ever to the Kümpchenshof and became a soldier.
It was a furious war in which the German Emperor was engaged against the enemies of his country, and brave soldiers were rare. Any valiant warrior might distinguish himself and become an officer at that time.
The farmer-boy, Jan, soon won by his bravery and intrepidity the esteem of his superiors, and was promoted to the rank of colonel. Once when fighting against the Swedish troops he showed such determination and courage that he won the battle. After this brilliant act he was made a general. But the name of Jan van Werth became even more famous when he beat the French in a skirmish at Tüttlingen.
In another way also his good luck reconciled him to the first bitter disappointment caused for by Griet's scornful answer. He married a lovely and noble young lady, who was very proud of becoming the wife of such a celebrated general.
Let us now look back and see what happened in the meantime to Griet. She had waited month after month and year after year for the rich farmer. But the longed-for suitor never made his appearance. Even in those by-gone days red cheeks and bright eyes were much less thought of than ducats and glittering gold.
As time went on Griet grew old, and though she would now have been content with a simple man for her sweetheart, not even such a one condescended to ask her to become his wife.
Little by little Griet gave up all hopes of ever marrying, and had to look out for a living to keep her in her old age from starving. Therefore she started a fruit stall at one of the large gateways of Cologne.
One day the good inhabitants of this town were in great excitement, and crowded in their best Sunday-clothes round the gate of St. Severin, where Griet sat at her apple-stall. They had come to meet Jan van Werth, the celebrated general, who was returning victorious at the head of his regiment.
There he was sitting on a powerful charger which was gorgeously covered with gilded trappings. On his fine head Jan wore a broad-brimmed hat with a flowing feather. Behind him rode his splendid soldiers. The body-guard of the town beat the drum enthusiastically, and the Cologne people called out: "Long live our Jan van Werth!"
When the celebrated general passed the gate, he stopped his horse just in front of Griet's apple baskets, .and looking down upon the old wrinkled woman, met her questioning glance with an odd smile. "Ah Griet," said he slowly, "whoever would have thought it?" At the sound of his voice an expression of sudden recognition passed over her worn features, and she muttered sorrowfully, but still audibly to the proud rider, "Oh, Jan, if I had only known it!"
A magnificent monument in the form of the statue of Jan van Werth now stands in the centre of the old market of Cologne.
It was erected there in memory not only of the heroic deeds of the brave general, but also as a warning to all Cologne maidens not to reject their suitors because they are poor, for one day, like Jan van Werth, they may become famous, and then they will not, like Griet, have to sigh over things that "might have been."Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine