E SOLEMNLY PROMISED to do as she asked him, and they returned to the saloon, quite restored to comfort and peace. They met Bertalda, followed by a few labourers whom she had sent for, and she said in a tone of bitterness that had grown common with her of late, "So, now your private consultation is over, and we may have the stone taken up. Make haste, you people, and do it for me." But Huldbrand, incensed at her arrogance, said shortly and decidedly, "The stone shall not be touched," and he then reproved Bertalda for her rudeness to his wife; upon which the labourers walked off, exulting secretly, while Bertalda hurried away to her chamber, pale and disturbed.
The hour of supper came, and they waited in vain for Bertalda. A message was sent to her; the servants found her room empty, and brought back only a sealed letter directed to the Knight. He opened it with trepidation and read, "I feel with shame that I am only a fisherman's daughter. Having forgotten it a moment, I will expiate my crime in the wretched hut of my parents. Live happy with your beautiful wife!"
Undine was sincerely grieved; she entreated Huldbrand to pursue their friend at once, and bring her back with him. Alas! there was little need of entreaty. His passion for Bertalda returned with fresh violence; he searched the castle all over, asking everyone if they could tell him in what direction the fair one had fled. He could discover nothing; and now he had mounted his horse in the court, and stood ready to set forth, and try the route by which he had brought Bertalda to the castle. A peasant boy just then came up, saying that he had met the lady riding toward the Black Valley. Like a shot the Knight darted through the gate, and took that direction, without heeding Undine's anxious cries from a window: "To the Black Valley? oh, not there! Huldbrand, not there! Or take me with you for God's sake!" Finding it vain to cry, she had her white palfrey saddled in all haste, and galloped after her husband, without allowing anyone to attend her.
XIV.-HOW BERTALDA DROVE HOME WITH THE KNIGHT
The Black Valley lay among the deepest recesses of the mountains. What it is called now none can tell. In those times it bore that name among the countrymen, on account of the deep gloom shed over it by many high trees, mostly pines. Even the brook which gushed down between the cliffs was tinged with black, and never sparkled like the merry streams from which nothing intercepts the blue of heaven. Now, in the dusk of twilight, it looked darker still as it gurgled between the rocks. The Knight spurred his horse along its banks, now fearing to lose ground in his pursuit, and now again, that he might overlook the fugitive in her hiding-place, if he hurried past too swiftly. He presently found himself far advanced in the valley, and hoped he must soon overtake her, if he were but in the right track. Then again, the thought that it might be a wrong one roused the keenest anxiety in his breast. Where was the tender Bertalda to lay her head, if he missed her in this bleak, stormy night, which was setting in, black and awful, upon the valley? And now he saw something white gleaming through the boughs, on the slope of the mountain; he took it for Bertalda's robe and made for it. But the horse started back, and reared so obstinately that Huldbrand, impatient of delay, and having already found him difficult to manage among the brambles of the thicket, dismounted, and fastened the foaming steed to a tree; he then felt his way through the bushes on foot. The boughs splashed his head and cheeks roughly with cold wet dew; far off, he heard the growl of thunder beyond the mountains, and the whole strange scene had such an effect upon him, that he became afraid of approaching the white figure, which he now saw lying on the ground at a short distance. And yet he could distinguish it to be a woman, dressed in long white garments like Bertalda's, asleep or in a swoon. He came close to her, made the boughs rustle, and his sword ring-but she stirred not. "Bertalda!" cried he; first gently, then louder and louder-in vain. When at length he shouted the beloved name with the whole strength of his lungs, a faint mocking echo returned it from the cavities of the rocks-"Bertalda!" but the sleeper awoke not. He bent over her; but the gloom of the valley and the shades of night prevented his discerning her features. At length, though kept back by some boding fears, he knelt down by her on the earth, and just then a flash of lightning lighted up the valley. He saw a hideous distorted face close to his own, and heard a hollow voice say, "Give me a kiss, thou sweet shepherd!" With a cry of horror Huldbrand started up, and the monster after him. "Go home!" it cried, "the bad spirits are abroad-go home! or I have you!" and its long white arm nearly grasped him. "Spiteful Kuhleborn," cried the Knight, taking courage, "what matters it, I know thee, foul spirit! There is a kiss for thee!" And he raised his sword furiously against the figure. But it dissolved, and a drenching shower made it sufficiently clear to the Knight what enemy he had encountered. "He would scare me away from Bertalda," said he aloud to himself; "he thinks he can subdue me by his absurd tricks, and make me leave the poor terrified maiden in his power, that he may wreak his vengeance upon her. But that he never shall-wretched goblin! What power lies in a human breast when steeled by firm resolve, the contemptible juggler has yet to learn." And he felt the truth of his own words, and seemed to have nerved himself afresh by them. He thought, too, that fortune now began to aid him, for before he had got back to his horse again, he distinctly heard the piteous voice of Bertalda as if near at hand, borne toward him on the winds as their howling mingled with the thunder. Eagerly did he push on in that direction, and he found the trembling damsel was just attempting to climb the mountain's side, in order, at any risk, to get out of these awful shades.
He met her affectionately and however proudly she might before have determined to hold out, she could not but rejoice at being rescued by her much-loved Huldbrand from the fearful solitude, and warmly invited to return to his cheerful home in the castle. She accompanied him with scarcely a word of reluctance, but was so exhausted, that the Knight felt much relieved when they had reached the horse in safety; he hastened to loose him, and would have placed his tender charge upon him, and walked by her side to guide her carefully through the dangerous shades. But Kuhleborn's mad pranks had driven the horse quite wild. Hardly could the Knight himself have sprung upon the terrified plunging creature's back: to place the trembling Bertalda upon him was quite impossible; so they made up their minds to walk home. With his horse's bridle over one arm, Huldbrand supported his half-fainting companion on the other. Bertalda mustered what strength she could, in order the sooner to get beyond this dreaded valley, but fatigue weighed her down like lead, and every limb shook under her; partly from the recollection of all she had already suffered from Kuhleborn's spite, and partly from terror at the continued crashing of the tempest through the mountain forests.
At length she slid down from her protector's arm, and sinking on the moss, she said: "Leave me to die here, noble Huldbrand; I reap the punishment of my folly, and must sink under this load of fatigue and anguish."-"Never, my precious friend, never will I forsake you," cried Huldbrand, vainly striving to curb his raging steed, who was now beginning to start and plunge worse than ever: the Knight contrived to keep him at some distance from the exhausted maiden, so as to save her the terror of seeing him near her. But no sooner had he withdrawn himself and the wild animal a few steps, than she began to call him back in the most piteous manner, thinking he was indeed going to desert her in this horrible wilderness. He was quite at a loss what to do: gladly would he have let the horse gallop away in the darkness and expend his wild fury, but that he feared he might rush down upon the very spot where Bertalda lay.
In this extremity of distress, it gave him unspeakable comfort to descry a wagon slowly descending the stony road behind him. He called out for help: a man's voice replied telling him to have patience, but promising to come to his aid; soon two white horses became visible through the thicket, and next the white smock-frock of the wagoner, and a large sheet of white linen that covered his goods inside. "Ho, stop!" cried the man, and the obedient horses stood still. "I see well enough," said he, "what ails the beast. When first I came through these parts my horses were just as troublesome; because there is a wicked water-sprite living hard by, who takes delight in making them play tricks. But I know a charm for this; if you will give me leave to whisper it in your horse's ear, you will see him as quiet as mine yonder in a moment."-"Try your charm, if it will do any good!" said the impatient Knight. The driver pulled the unruly horse's head toward him, and whispered a couple of words in his ear. At once the animal stood still, tamed and pacified, and showed no remains of his former fury but by panting and snorting, as if he still chafed inwardly. This was no time for Huldbrand to inquire how it had been done. He agreed with the wagoner that Bertalda should be taken into the wagon, which by his account was loaded with bales of soft cotton, and conveyed to the Castle of Ringstetten, while the Knight followed on horseback. But his horse seemed too much spent by his former violence to be able to carry his master so far, and the man persuaded Huldbrand to get into the wagon with Bertalda. The horse was to be fastened behind. "We shall go down hill," said the man, "and that is light work for my horses." The Knight placed himself by Bertalda, his horse quietly followed them, and the driver walked by steadily and carefully.
In the deep stillness of night, while the storm growled more and more distant, and in the consciousness of safety and easy progress, Huldbrand and Bertalda insensibly got into confidential discourse. He tenderly reproached her for having so hastily fled; she excused herself with bashful emotions, and through all she said it appeared most clearly that her heart was all his own. Huldbrand was too much engrossed by the expression of her words to attend to their apparent meaning, and he only replied to the former. Upon this, the wagoner cried out in a voice that rent the air, "Now my horses, up with you; show us what you are made of, my fine fellows." The Knight put out his head and saw the horses treading or rather swimming through the foaming waters, while the wheels whirled loudly and rapidly like those of a water-mill, and the wagoner was standing upon the top of his wagon, overlooking the floods. "Why, what road is this? It will take us into the middle of the stream," cried Huldbrand. "No, sir," cried the driver laughing; "it is just the other way. The stream is coming into the middle of the road. Look round, and see how it is all flooded."