The Devil Fiddler

Evil Stone
Stone at the intake of the Lake of the Maix

In the novel, THE DESTINY OF THE DROP OF HEAVEN, Martin played his violin in the shadow of the chapel at Lake de la Maix. Furious that a celebration commemorated the memory of a witch, Bishop Michel started a legend that it was, in fact, the devil playing the violin at the lake.

This is his version:

High up in the mountains and pine forests of the Vosges, there was a break in the trees where the sun shone brightly on a peaceful meadow. Tall grass and wildflowers covered the area. Soft breezes wafted their perfume in the air. A single oak tree towered above the meadow. Its sturdy boughs arched toward the heavens and spread a cover of dappled shade through its branches. Its age-old roots weaved as tentacles deep into the earth.

“Notre-Dame de la Bonne Aventure” by Benjamin PREYRE Photography is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

At the edge of the meadow, a little chapel housed a beautiful statue of the Virgin where a hermit monk lived. Peasants brought bouquets of flowers in spring and asked the Virgin for the blessing of rain if the summer was too dry.

Each year on Trinity Sunday, pilgrims from Salm and all the surrounding hamlets and villages of the Vosges, gathered before dawn to commemorate the chapel and give thanks for the abundant blessings the Virgin had bestowed upon them. They began by processing to the chapel where the monk celebrated Mass, after which the pilgrims held an all-day celebration in the shade of the oak tree. At Vespers, another ceremony ended the celebration and everyone returned home in the twilight.

One year, the Mass seemed very long to the pilgrims, and it was midday before they were able to gather in the clearing for the festivities. After their meal, and maybe a little too much wine, the musicians pulled out their lutes and the young people began dancing. The monk, realizing his homily may have been a little too long, merely watched from his step.

Devil Fiddler
Photo clipped and reduced. “Tartini’s Dream” by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845). Illustration of the legend behind Giuseppe Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill Sonata”. public domain

After a while, a new musician appeared. Dressed simply, he carried himself with an air of confidence. His smile glistened brightly and his eyes sparkled as if a fire burned within him. He played a melody that the simple folk of the Vosges had never heard. The sound came from a violin. Even the other musicians quieted their instruments to listen.

Attentive to the captivated audience, the newcomer smiled charmingly and bowed. He brought the bow to the string, and began to play. As if mesmerized, young and old clapped with delight. The violinist’s eyes began to blaze as he played faster and faster. The peasants danced, whirling for hours without becoming fatigued.

“Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Peasant Wedding Dance” by f_snarfel is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

When the evening drew near, the monk rang the bells of the chapel for the concluding service at Vespers. The pilgrims hesitated, knowing it was time to end the celebration, but the violinist played an even more beautiful melody and the pilgrims could not pull away from the trance. Surprised that the peasants ignored their tolls, the monk rang the bells again, but the pilgrims were so intoxicated by the melody, they could not stop dancing.

God became angry!

The sound of the tolling bells of the chapel, the swell of laughter and shouts of joy of the pilgrims, and the melody of the violin filled the air with a deafening roar, so loud that nobody noticed the black clouds gathering above them or the earth begin to quake.

Suddenly the great oak split in two, as if struck by lightning. Water began to bubble up, and before they realized it, the earth began to sink. The joyous tumult became ear-shattering screaming and wailing as a pit opened. The beautiful meadow collapsed bringing the great oak with it. The monk watched in horror as the black void grew, completely swallowing the revelers. Waves burst forth from the chasm, and within minutes, the entire meadow was gone.

“L.B.” ; Sous le trait carré, à gauche : “L. Boulanger” et à droite “Lith. de Frey” ; dans la marge inférieure, au centre : “CHASSE INFERNALE / Salon de 1835” Public Domain Dedication

The groans and wails of the pilgrims quieted. The sky cleared and the sun shone brightly on the newly formed Lake de la Maix. The monk fell to his knees, praying for the salvation of the lost souls, when he heard the sound.

At first, he thought it was just the wind rustling through the pines surrounding the lake. Then the echo became louder and louder. The sunshine blazed off the water, boring into his eyes, into his brain. In the brilliance, he could see the blazing eyes of the stranger. From those eyes came the sound of the violin, and the cries of the pilgrims, now prisoners in the depths of the lake, damned to dance until the end of time. As the sound grew louder, the melody changed into the rising of laughter, mocking laughter.

The laughter of the Devil.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
[email protected] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

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