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A Real German Mystery.
On the 14th of November 1853, a young woman, apparently about twentytwo years of age, was observed wandering to and fro near the village of Weisskirchen, in Hesse Darmstadt. She entered a cottage, and addressed the inmates in a jargon, of which the word “Bertha" was alone intelligible. On her being detained and examined, it appeared that she had no passport, or, except a neckerchief marked “ Carolina B.," any thing calculated to assist in the discovery of her identity. She was accordingly taken care of during the night, and brought before the magistrates of the neighbouring town of Offenbach on the following day, the police-sheet describing her as follows:
" Apparently from twenty-two to twenty-four years of age ; five feet four inches Rhenish in height; stout, fair-haired, forehead high and broad, eyes between green and blue, nose aquiline, countenance oval, cheek-bones prominent, complexion healthy; dressed in a striped cotton gown, a particoloured cotton apron, a gray petticoat, and two shifts, the under of coarse linen, the upper of shirting. Had a little bag concealed on her person, containing a thimble, thread, a comb, and a piece of soap."
It was long impossible to communicate with the stranger, till at last it was discovered that she could speak a very corrupt Hungarian. Enough of this could be understood to elicit a story to the effect that she had, in her fifth year, been taken away from her mother by a man called Eleazar, and confined for many years in a subterranean dwelling in a wood. Here her constant companion had been a woman named Bertha, who, rather more than three weeks before her discovery at Weisskirchen, had taken her out of her cell, carried her for many days and nights in a coach, and ultimately abandoned her in a forest. This story was not believed, and the magistrates, at a loss what to do with the foundling, solved the problem by sending her to gaol. The prison of Offenbach, it would appear, has the advantage of being paternally and maternally administered by good Christian people,Herr Lemser, the governor, and his wife. These from the first conceived a warm interest in Caroline, whom they found the image of neatness, gentleness, and bashfulness, besides being, as the official report naively says, " although quite ignorant of religion, a very good hand at knitting.” To clench the matter, she fell ill, and Madame Lemser's maternal sympathies impelled her to receive the patient into her own house. Here she was nursed tenderly for several weeks, her behaviour continuing to plead most strongly in her favour, and her gratitude to her “German mamma,” as she called Madame Lemser, to distinguish her from her natural mother, apparently without bounds. After her recovery she remained in the house, knitting with amazing perseverance. She seemed quite unversed in every other kind of household employment, but displayed great aptitude in comprehending and applying the instructions of Madame Lemser. Her disposition was extremely mild and obliging; but she was shy, and easily disconcerted by the curiosity of strangers. Among her peculiarities was a remarkable softness of voice, attended by an extreme horror of noise of any sort. She was an especial favourite with children, and took great delight in playing with them.
The fame of Caroline's virtues spread, and much interest for her was excited in Offenbach. On April 19th, 1854, it was determined that, until she could procure a livelihood for herself, she should be maintained at the expense of the town. It may strike the reader that this had been the case all along; but the stigma of imprisonment was removed from her; and the house of the most respectable of gaolers naturally appearing an undesirable abode for innocence and orphanhood, she was transferred to · another family. This part of the arrangement afforded her little satisfac
tion. She testified the most decided repugnance to quit “Gernian mamma;” but being kindly treated in her new residence, and allowed to visit her old friends as often as she pleased, she gradually became reconciled, and appeared to feel at home. Herr Eck, the public schoolmaster, was appointed to give her instruction; and, as her powers of expression increased, he was enabled to compile a narrative* of her adventures, the leading points of which we proceed to detail.
She had been brought up, she said, in a large house, the arrangements of which are described with extraordinary and suspicious minuteness. The family, besides herself, consisted of her mother, her uncle, and the latter's little son, about three years older than Caroline. She speaks of her mother with great affection; not so of her uncle. Of her father she recollects nothing, beyond having seen his portrait, which, to judge from her description, must have been that of an officer in the Austrian service. One morning, when Caroline was about five years old, her mother, as had frequently been the case, quitted the house in a carriage, accompanied by her maid. A few hours later, but before noon, her uncle told her to go into the garden. She asked that Henry might accompany her, which was refused, her uncle observing that the boy must stay in and learn his lessons. She accordingly went alone, and sat down on the grass near a piece of water. Scarcely had she done so, when a tall black-bearded man, whom she had never seen before, came suddenly upon her, took her in his arms, and carried her away. She cried and struggled; he covered her face with a cloth; exhausted, she ultimately fell asleep in his arms. How long, and in what direction, she may have been carried, she has no idea. At length she was brought into a subterranean cavern in a great wood, and there given into the charge of the only inmate, a woman ap
* The Prolonged Subterranean Imprisonment of Two Children. Compiled from the oral communications of one of them, and published as a contribution and invitation towards the unveiling of this dark secret. By Friedrich Eck. (Die langjährige unterirdische Haft, &c.) Frankfort, 1856.
- www smaller, and furnished much in the
from the tra or household purphe vault, and Care that of O
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parently about forty years old, who called herself Bertha, and addressed the man as Eleasser (Eleazar).
According to the captive's account, access to this cavern was obtained by a trap-door, lifted from the outside by a rope. Down from this door a flight of some fifteen or eighteen steps led to a passage, about ten or twelve feet (Hessian measure, we presume) in height, of sufficient breadth to allow of two persons walking abreast, and the end of which Caroline never saw. On each side were apartments of corresponding height, each having a wooden door, but the sides and flooring of plain earth. Bertha's room was on the right, provided with a stove, a table, and several chairs, and containing a looking-glass, and the portrait of Caroline's father, already mentioned. Such, at least, was Bertha's assertion respecting it. Caroline's room was smaller, and furnished much in the same manner. Next to it were the kitchen and cellar. Light was admitted to these rooms through small glazed apertures in the ceiling, so enveloped in grass as to be hardly discernible from the outside. About fifty or sixty paces from the trap-door was a well, from which Bertha was accustomed to fetch water for household purposes; beyond this stood three apple-trees. Rain found no entrance into the vault, and Caroline does not recollect having seen snow. The climate was warmer than that of Offenbach; the winter usually lasted from eight to ten weeks.
Here, if we can believe her, Caroline lived sixteen years with Bertha, who invariably treated her with great kindness. At first it occasioned her much grief that Bertha would not speak her mother's language, which must have been Hungarian. The idiom Bertha did employ seems to have been also Hungarian, but grievously corrupt and mutilated, and intermingled with foreign words, mostly belonging to the non-Magyar tongues spoken in Hungary, but many pure gibberish, as prachicham, a chair. Whatever Bertha's offences against Caroline, she was perfectly successful in gaining the latter's affection. Caroline never wanted for meat, drink, or clothing, nor had she ever to complain of the least unkindness. Great care was taken that she should always be neat and clean; and she was taught to knit. On the other hand, she was never allowed to assist in any domestic labour, unless the cramming of live geese with Indian corn may be considered as such. These birds were brought by Eleazar, who was accustomed to make his appearance with provisions, fuel, &c., at intervals of from five to twelve days. Bertha seemed to stand in awe of this man. While he remained in the cavern, as he occasionally did for two or three days at a time, Caroline was confined to her room, and the key turned upon her; neither would Bertha allow her to knit. All this time she hardly distinguished a sound, and only inferred Eleazar's presence from finding her door locked. He visited her, indeed, sometimes; but these apparitions were exceedingly brief, nor did he seem to understand the language in which she and Bertha conversed, any more than she could herself comprehend the remarks he occasionally addressed to the latter. Sometimes, sitting alone in her room, she heard
his voice raised as if in anger; and on one occasion, Bertha accounted for a fit of weeping by saying that he had been scolding her. As soon as he had departed, Caroline was liberated, but enjoined not to let him discover that this was the case. Every afternoon, if the day were fine, she accompanied Bertha on a stroll into the wood, each carrying her knitting with her. This promenade extended for about a hundred paces, when they would sit down upon a flat stone. No human creature ever approached, but there were many birds and small quadrupeds, apparently rabbits and squirrels. It only remains to be added that she rose and went to bed betimes; that her diet consisted of black bread, meat, and water, all unlimited as to quantity; and that as evening came on, the small windows were covered up with wooden shutters, and ar oil-lamp lit.
So matters continued for seven or eight years, when a great event occurred; no other than the addition of a new member to the society of the cavern. One morning Bertha entered Caroline's room, bringing with her a male child, perhaps two or three months old. In reply to Caroline's questions, she said it had been fetched “out of the water," which assertion Caroline received with unquestioning faith. Bertha called it Adolf, and bestowed the same care upon it as upon Caroline. It was fed on milk and meal, and slept in a cradle (subsequently exchanged for a bed) in Caroline's room. As it grew up, it accompanied Bertha and Caroline in their afternoon strolls, being carefully taught to walk, and, in a word, its treatment and the tenor of its existence differed in no material respect from Caroline's own.
During all this time, not the slightest attempt was made to give Caroline instruction, or develop her mental faculties in any way. She remained in a state of entire ignorance respecting the origin and nature of the objects she saw around her—an ignorance, indeed, so complete, as to appear irreconcilable with her estimate of her age at the period of her abduction. On one subject, however, she was continually inquisitive, the time when she might hope to rejoin her mother. This, Bertha constantly assured her, would certainly come to pass. Once, however, when asked where mamma was, and what she was doing, she burst into tears, and left the room. Caroline, alarmed and perplexed, never ventured to repeat the question. From the remarks which Bertha occasionally let fall, she gleaned the following particulars, which we give in her own words:
“Bertha was with the mamma of my mamma, and has carried my mamma, when my mamma was a little girl. Bertha was with my mamma's mamma till my mamma was sixteen years old. Before my mamma was sixteen years old, Bertha has gone with my mamma in a carriage to Temewar” (Temeswar?)," where my papa and my papa's mamma were. Eleazar was there too. My mamma's papa was ' katana?" (Hungarian, katona, a soldier); “and while Bertha was still with my mamma's mamma, he had to go where there were many bad men. The papa
of my mamma came back again, and had a bad leg, and must stay till it was well. When my mamma was sixteen years old, Bertha went to Eleazar."
For eight years more, after Adolf's arrival, did Caroline continue to sit and knit, and take her walks abroad with the mysterious Bertha ; but the time had arrived when she had become troublesome to her gaolers, and these determined to get rid of her.
The first token of a change was given by Bertha's proceeding to cut her hair, which had hitherto remained untouched by the scissors. Six or eight weeks afterwards she laid a new suit of clothes in Caroline's room, and desired the latter to assume them on rising on the following morning. The whole of the next day Caroline and Adolf remained locked up in their room, whence, though no other indication of it transpired, they inferred the presence of Eleazar. Next morning, long before daybreak, Bertha knocked at her door, and bade her get up. She was hardly dressed, when Bertha entered, carrying a lamp; “Come, dear Carlinka,” she said, "we are going to mamma."
They went a long way through the wood, and some time after sunrise arrived at a large solitary house, in front of which several unyoked carriages were standing. They entered the house, and went into one of the rooms, which they quitted after a while without having partaken of any refreshment. A pair of horses had in the mean time been put to one of the carriages; they took their seats, a coachman mounted the box, and they drove away. All day long they continued their journey, once stopping for a short time to bait at an inn. On this occasion Bertha went alone into the house to procure refreshment, of which they partook in the vehicle. At night they halted “under a roof," as Caroline expresses it. The horses were led away, and Bertha and the coachman also disappeared for a few hours. During this time Caroline remained in the carriage, wrapped comfortably in furs, and not venturing to sleep till Bertha's return. Thirteen days passed in this manner. Caroline thinks that the same horses were employed throughout, and persists in declaring that she has no recollection of having seen two houses together.
At length, about nightfall, the carriage drew up by a wood. Bertha and Caroline got out, the carriage continued in the direction it had been pursuing, and Bertha, after giving Caroline a folded cloth, kissed her, told her to await her return, and, apparently in a very sorrowful mood, proceeded after the carriage. Caroline waited long and fruitlessly, advanced a little way into the wood, returned to her post, repeated this several times, and at length, calling Bertha's name as loud as she could, plunged into the intricacies of the forest. She soon became completely bewildered, and wandered about nearly all the night in a state of indescribable distress. At length, wearied out, she lay down and fell asleep.. Neither Bertha nor the carriage were ever seen again.
At daybreak Caroline arose and resumed her wanderings, which lasted, according to her assertion, three days and four nights before she en