The Enchanted Knights/The Chronicle of the Three Sisters
A certain rich count, whose name many noble houses would not care to see here, lived like a king, squandered away all his property and possessions, kept open house to all who came to see him, and entertained them in the most sumptuous manner for three days. His guests reeled away highly delighted with the hospitality of their noble entertainer. He was fond of backgammon and dice; his court was full of golden-curled pages, runners, and heiduques, in brilliant liveries; in his stables were stalled innumerable horses, and in his kennels kept hounds of the highest breed. This extravagance melted his treasures away. He mortgaged town after town, sold his jewels and plate, dismissed the servants and shot the dogs, so that nothing was left him but an old hunting castle, a virtuous wife, and three most beautiful daughters. In this castle he lived, after the decay of his fortune, abandoned by the whole world. The countess and her three daughters attended the kitchen themselves, but, as they were ignorant of the culinary art, they could prepare nothing but potatoes. These frugal repasts did not much suit the taste of the lord of the manor; he became surly and morose, hallood and swore through the large empty building, till the bare walls re-echoed his ill humour.
One beautiful summer’s morning, impelled by spleen, he took his hunting spear, and went into the forest to kill some game to procure a dainty for his dinner. This forest was said to be haunted, many a traveller had been led astray, and some had never returned, having been strangled by wicked gnomes or torn to pieces by wild beasts. The count neither believed nor feared any thing from invisible powers; he marched stoutly over hill and dale, crept through bush and thorn, but without finding his hoped-for prey. Tired at last he sat down under a large oak tree to take his dinner, consisting of boiled potatoes and salt, the sole contents of his pouch, when, by chance lifting his eyes, he beheld—what a sight!—a most ferocious bear striding straight towards him. The poor count was very much frightened at the apparition; he could not escape, nor was he armed to encounter a bear; yet, at all hazards, he took the spear in his hands to defend himself as well as he could. The monster approaching closely, stopped and growled these words distinctly:—“Robber! thou plunderest my honey tree! and shalt pay for thy misdeed with thy life.” “Alas! my lord bear,” supplicated the count, “do not devour me—I do not covet your honey—I am an honest knight. If you feel an appetite, pray content yourself with my humble repast, and be my guest.” Thereupon he presented to the bear all the potatoes in the pouch, but the beast disdained his offer and angrily replied, “Wretch! thou canst not redeem thy life at that price; promise me instantly thy eldest daughter, Wulfield, for a wife, or I devour thee.” The count, in his fright, would have promised to the enamoured bear his three daughters, and his spouse into the bargain, if he had asked for them, for necessity knows no law. “She shall be your’s, my lord bear,” said he, beginning to recover from his fright, “but,” added he cunningly, “on condition that you redeem the bride and come yourself to take her away, as the country’s custom requires.” “It is a bargain—your hand,” exclaimed the bear, stretching out his rough paw, “in seven days I redeem my love with an hundred weight of gold, and take her home.” “Let it be so settled,” said the count,” upon the word of a man!” They then separated in peace, the bear trotting to his den; the count, who did not tarry long in the terrible forest, arrived, by the glimmer of the stars, tired and harrassed, at his castle.
A bear who can speak and act like a man, every one knows, is not a natural, but a bewitched one. This the count easily conceived, and therefore tried to outdo his shaggy son-in-law, and to barricade himself in his fortified castle in such a way as to make it impossible for the brute to get in on the appointed day, and carry off his bride. If ever speech and sense, he reasoned, are given to a bear, he is after all but a bear, and possesses no more than the qualities of a natural one. I hope he will not be able to fly, like a bird through the air nor, pass through the keyhole like a ghost.
The next morning he related his adventure in the forest to his spouse and the young ladies. Wulfield, hearing that she was to be wedded to a hideous bear, was frightened into a swoon; the mother wrung her hands and lamented aloud; the sisters despaired and trembled with fear and alarm; but the count examined the walls and ditches which surrounded the castle, and took care to see that the iron gate was bolted and locked, wound up the draw-bridge, and, after securing every accessible passage, went to the watch tower, and found there a strongly mured closet under the pinnacle, in which he confined the young lady who in her distress tore her soft flaxen hair, and nearly wept her azure eyes out. Six days had now elapsed and the seventh began to dawn, when from the forest a loud noise was heard, as though Arthur’s chase were coming that way;—whips cracked, bugles sounded, horses stamped, wheels rattled, and a splendid state carriage, surrounded by horsemen, was seen rolling rapidly over the plain towards the castle. All the bolts unfastened without effort, the gates flew open, the draw-bridge went down, and a young prince, beautiful as a summer’s morning, dressed in velvet embroidered with silver descended from the carriage. Around his neck was a triple chain of gold twice the length of a man; his hat was encircled with a string of pearls and diamonds which dazzled the eyes, and the clasps which fastened an ostrich feather was worth a duchy. Quick as lightning he went up the winding stairs of the turret, and a moment afterwards the affrighted bride descended trembling in his arms. The noise awakened the count from his morning slumber, and when, opening the window of his bed room, he saw coaches and horses, knights and men at arms in the court yard—his daughter in the arms of a stranger, who after lifting her into the wedding carriage, left with the whole train by the castle gate, his heart sank within him, and he began to lament loudly. “Adieu, my dear daughter! Adieu, thou bride of a bear!” Wulfield heard the voice of her father, and waived an adieu with her handkerchief from the carriage window.
The parents were saddened by the loss of their daughter, and looked at each other in silent consternation. The countess did not believe her own eyes, and thought the abduction of her daughter nothing but a trick of the devil. Taking a bunch of keys she ran up to the watch tower, and opened the cell in the hope of finding Wulfield there, but she saw neither her daughter nor anything belonging to her. On the table she perceived a silver key, and looking through the dormer distinguished at a distance a cloud of dust ascending towards the east, and heard the shouts and huzzas of the wedding party just entering the forest. Sorrowfully she descended from the tower, put on a mourning dress, strewed her head with ashes, and wept for three days, her husband and daughters joining in her lament. On the fourth day the count left his mourning room to take an airing, and whilst crossing the yard he perceived a fine chest of solid ebony securely locked. He easily guessed the contents; the countess gave him the key which she had found in Wulfield’s room, he opened the chest with it, and found to his delight a hundred-weight of doubloons of the same coinage. Rejoiced at the sight, he forgot all his woes, bought falcons and horses, fine dresses for his wife and the pretty young ladies, took servants in his pay, and began again to riot and squander till the last doubloon was drawn from the chest. The treasure gone, he again fell into debt, and his impatient creditors plundered the castle so completely, that they left nothing but one old falcon. The countess and her daughter again boiled potatoes, and the count, with the falcon on his arm, rove daily through the fields, driven to this exercise by the monotony of his life. Once, as he cast the falcon, the bird flew high in the air, and would not return to the hand of its master, although he lured it. He followed its flight as well as he could through the large plain till the bird approached the calamitous forest, which the count would not any more dare to enter, and therefore gave up the chase. Suddenly an enormous eagle ascended above the forest, and pursued the falcon, which, on seeing so far superior an enemy, returned with the swiftness of an arrow to its master for shelter, but the eagle, darting from the sky, struck one of his heavy talons into the count’s shoulder, and with the other crushed the faithful falcon. The alarmed count endeavoured to disengage himself from the feathered monster by blows and thrusts with his spear. The eagle however seized the weapon, broke it like a reed, and screamed in his ear with a loud voice:—“Audacious man! why disturbest thou my airy dominion with thy bird hunting—the crime thou hast committed will cost thee thy life.” This speech of the bird made the count aware of the nature of the adventure that had befallen him, so, taking courage, he said:—Patience, my lord eagle, patience! What have I done to you? my falcon has suffered for his offence—I leave him to you to satisfy your appetite.” “No,” said the eagle, “I feel to day an appetite for human flesh, and thou seemest to me a fat morsel.” “Pardon,” my lord eagle,” shrieked the count in agony, “Ask what you like from me, and I will give it to you—only spare my life.” “Well,” said the murderous bird, “I take thee at thy word—thou hast two handsome daughters—I want a consort—promise me thy daughter Adelaide for a wife, and thou mayest return in peace, and I shall redeem her with two bars of gold, each weighing an hundred pounds. In seven weeks I come to take my lady-love home.” Upon this the bird arose and disappeared in the clouds.
Necessity makes a man part with everything. When the father saw the traffic with his daughters so profitable to him, he consoled himself upon their loss. Thus he came home in very good temper, carefully concealing his adventure, partly to avoid the reproaches which he feared from the countess, and partly not to afflict too soon the heart of his beloved daughter. For appearance sake, he complained of the loss of his falcon, which, he said, had flown away.
Adelaide was a spinner superior to any in the country, as well as a skilful weaver, and at that moment she took a most beautiful piece from the loom, as fine as cambric, which she bleached on a grass plot not far from the castle. Six weeks and six days had now passed away; the handsome spinner had no presentiment of her impending fate, though the father, who became more melancholy as the time of the visit approached, threw out several hints, by narrating fictitious dreams, or by alluding to the fate of long-forgotton Wulfield. Still Adelaide was in high spirits, and believed that the state of her father’s health was the cause of his whimsical fancies. On the appointed day, she capered towards the bleaching turf, and spread her linen to imbibe the morning dew. After having attended to her bleaching, she looked leisurely around and saw a most beautiful train of knights and sqiures approaching. Not having yet made her morning toilet, she hid behind a rose-bush in full bloom, and peeped through its branches to see the magnificent cavalcade. The handsomest of the number, a tall and slender knight, with an open helmet, gallopped to the bush, addressing her in a soft voice:—“I see you—I am looking for you, my pretty love—do not hide yourself. Quickly mount with me, my pretty eagle’s bride.” Adelaide was thunderstruck at hearing these words. The amiable knight had pleased her very much, but the words “eagle’s bride” made her blood freeze in her veins. She sunk upon the grass, her senses departed, and on awakening she found herself on the breast of the charming knight on the road to the forest. Her mother in the mean time prepared the breakfast, and Adelaide’s absence being noticed, she sent her youngest daughter to seek her, who went out and did not return. The mother’s heart foreboded nothing good, and, wanting to learn what had made her daughter stay away so long, she also went. The count knew well what had occurred, and his heart beat violently in his breast; he followed to the grass plot where his wife and daughter still sought for Adelaide, calling her by name; he, too, called aloud, though he well knew that all calling and searching was vain. On his way he passed the rose-bush, where he saw something glitter, and when he looked closely found it to be two golden eggs, each weighing an hundred pounds. Now he could not any longer conceal from his wife what had really befallen his daughter.
“Infamous soul vendor! Do you thus sacrifice to Moloch your own flesh and blood?” The count, not generally very eloquent, exculpated himself as he best could by detailing the imminent danger of his life, but the disconsolate mother ceased not to overwhelm him with bitter reproaches. To terminate her upbraidings he employed the most infallible remedy—that is, to be silent and let his lady talk as long as she liked. Meanwhile he rolled the golden eggs to a place of safety. After that he wore three days’ mourning for decency’s sake, thinking only how to re-commence his former life. In a short time the castle was again the habitation of joy, and the Elysium of greedy guests. Balls, tournaments, and splendid feasts were alternately given. Bertha, the remaining daughter, attracted at the court of her father the eyes of all the stately knights, like the silvery moon, the gaze of sentimental wanderers in a clear summer’s night. It was she who used to award the prizes at the knightly sports, and to lead the dance with the conquering knight. The hospitality of the count and the beauty of the daughter allured the most noble knights from the remotest parts of the country. Many wooed the rich heiress, but among so many competitors choice was not an easy matter for Bertha all of them excelling in nobility, beauty, and grace. The lovely girl was selecting and choosing till the golden eggs upon which the count had not spared the file, had dwindled away to the size of a hazel nut. The count’s finances now soon relapsed into their former state, the tournaments discontinued, the knights and squires disappeared, the castle fell into its pristine appearance and solitude, and the noble family once more resumed their frugal potatoe meals. The count, again ill humoured, took to the fields, wishing for new adventures, but shunning the bewitched forest found none. Following once a covey of partridges, he advanced farther than usual, and arrived close to the dreaded forest; not daring to enter it, he went along its borders, and perceived an immense fish pond, which he had never seen before, and through whose crystal waters he saw innumerable trout disporting in the limpid wave. He was much pleased at the discovery, and as the pond had a very innocent exterior, he hurried home to make a net to ensnare its mute imhabitants. Next morning at an early hour he reached the pond and chanced to find a little boat lying on the rushes—he jumped into it, rowed merrily about, cast the net, caught at one draught more trout than he could carry, and then delighted with his prize, made for the shore. When about a stone’s throw from the bank, the boat suddenly stopped and became immoveable, as if fastened to the ground. The count believed that it had stranded, and worked with all his force to set it afloat, but in vain. The water flowed around, and the boat far above the water, was as if hanging upon a rock. The inexperiencd fisherman felt not at all at his ease, and though the boat were as though nailed to a bank, the shore appeared to recede, the pond to swell to the size of a sea, waves began to mount, billows to foam and roar, and to his alarm he discovered that a fish of most enormous proportions was carrymg him and his boat away upon its back. He resigned himself to his fate, awaiting what would next occur. All at once the fish dived, and the boat was again afloat, but a moment afterwards this prodigy of the sea was visible above the water, and then opening its horrid jaws, like the gates of hell, the following words sounded distinctly from the dark abyss:—“Audacious fisherman! what art thou doing here? Thou art murdering my subjects.—thou shalt forfeit thy life for this crime.” The count was already so well used to similar adventures that he knew how to conduct himself. Seeing that the fish could be sensibly spoken to, he soon recovered from his first surprise, and boldly said:—“My lord Behemoth, do not violate hospitality, but grant me a dish from your watery domains—if you came to visit me, my kitchen and cellar should be entirely at your service.” “We are not yet so intimate,” answered the monster—“Knowest thou not it is the right of the stronger to devour the weaker? Thou hast stolen my subjects to swallow them, and I shall do the same to thee!” On this the fish opened its jaws still wider, as if he were about to engulph the boat, man and mouse. “Alas! spare my life,” shrieked the count—“You see I would make but a poor breakfast for your shark-like belly.” The monstrous fish pondered for a moment—“Well,” said he, “I know thou hast a handsome daughter—promise her to me in marriage, and take thy life as a boon.” The count seeing the fish’s thoughts turned into that channel, dismissed all fear. “She is at your service—you are a valiant son-in-law, to whom an honest father cannot refuse his child—but how will you redeem the bride according to custom?” “I have,” said the fish, “neither gold nor silver; but at the bottom of this sea is an immense treasure of pearls of the finest grain—ask and thou shalt have.” “In that case,” said the count, “three bushels of the finest will not be too much for a lovely bride.” “They are thine,” said the fish, concluding, “and the bride is mine—in seven months I carry my lady love home.” He then, by wagging his tail, quickly drove the boat ashore. The count took his trout home, had them boiled, and, as well as the countess and the handsome Bertha, found this Carthusian dinner very much to their taste. The young lady did not know how dearly she would have to pay for her dinner. Meanwhile the moon had waned six times, and the count nearly forgotten his adventure, but when the horned Aster began to fill for the seventh time, he became thoughtful upon the impending catastrophe, and, unwilling to be a spectator of the coming scene, undertook a short journey into the country. In the sultry hour of noon, the day when Luna was at her full, a troop of stately horsemen approached the castle. The countess, astonished at seeing so many visitors, knew not whether she ought to open the gate or not, but as a well known knight announced himself she no longer hesitated. At the time when tournaments were held at the castle, the season of the count’s wealth and prosperity, this knight had many times fought in the lists, received the reward of his valour from the finely moulded hands of Bertha, and led the dance with her. Since the change in the fortunes of the family he had disappeared as well as the other knights. The good countess blushed at her poverty—not having anything with which to entertain the knight and his suite. But as he never drank wine, he only went to beg a draught of water from the cool well of the castle, as he used to do on former visits, and from which habit he was by his friends jocosely called the “Water Knight.” Bertha sped, on a sign of her mother, to the well, filled a pitcher and poured the water into a crystal cup for the knight. He took it from her pretty little hand, put it to his mouth at the same place where she had previously kissed it with her purple lips, and pledged her in a bumper. During this occurence the countess found herself in great perplexity at her inability to present any refreshment to her guests, but bethinking herself that there was in the castle garden a ripe water melon, she instantly went and plucked it, then placing it on an earthen plate which she decked with vine leaves, surrounding it with the prettiest and most odorous flowers. When hastening to present it to her guests, she found the castle yard deserted—neither man at arms nor horses were to be seen, no knight, no squire was there. She called for her daughter Bertha but no reply—she searched for her all over the castle, but in vain. In the vestibule were three sacks, made of new linen, which she did not perceive at first, because of her surprise, and which when touched seemed to be filled with dried peas. Her sorrow did not then allow her a closer inspection. The good mother abandoned herself entirely to despair, and wept continually till the evening, when her husband returned and beheld her in the utmost wretchedness. She could not conceal from him the event of the day, although she would fain have done so, dreading to incur his anger for having allowed a strange knight to enter the castle, and rob them of their beloved daughter. The count consoled her affectionately, and only asked for the sacks of peas, of which she had spoken, and went with her to look at them. Opening them in her presence, what was the surprize of the afflicted countess on seeing real pearls, large as garden peas, finely drilled, of beautiful form, and of the finest grain rolling out. She saw that the robber of her daughter had paid her each tear with a real pearl, conceived a very high idea of his riches and station, and consoled herself by thinking that this son-in-law was not a monster, but a stately knight—an opinion which the count took good care not to shake.Now the parents had lost all their daughters, but in lieu they possessed an immense treasure. The count soon turned part of it into money. From morning till evening the castle was thronged with jews and merchants who bargained for the costly jewels. The count redeemed his towns, gave his hunting castle in lease to one of his feoffers, went to inhabit his former residence, re-established his court, and lived thenceforth not a spendthrift, but a good husbandman, perhaps because he had no other daughter to sell. The noble pair would have found themselves in a very comfortable state, were it not that the countess was unable to console herself for the loss of her, daughters, for whom she wept in silence and always wore mourning. For some time she hoped again to see her Bertha and the pearl knight return, and as often as a stranger was announced at court she expected to see her son-in-law. At last the count could not let her any longer languish in vain hopes, and in the confidential bed-room, where many a man’s secrets are divulged, he confessed to her, that her splendid son-in-law was but a horrible fish. “Alas,” exclaimed she in agony, “have I borne children that they may become the prey of disgusting monsters! What is earthly happiness? what are treasures to a childless mother!” “Dear wife,” answered the count, “be consoled—it cannot be remedied—if it depended on me you should not be childless.” The countess, misconstruing the meaning of those words, took them to heart. She thought her husband was reproaching her on her increasing age and barrenness, when as yet he was a strong and vigorous man. It greived her so much that she fell into a deep melancholy—friend Hein would have been a welcome guest had he then called upon her.
All the ladies at court shared the sufferings of the countess, lamented and cried with her, and tried sometimes to dispel the lady’s affliction by singing and playing on the harp, but her heart was inaccessible to joy. Every maid of honour gave some good advice, and suggested a remedy to banish the thoughts which oppressed her, still nothing was found that could diminish her grief. The young maiden whose office it was to present her with water was the most modest and discreet of them all, and much beloved by her mistress. Within her breast beat a feeling heart, and her lady’s sorrow brought frequent tears into her eyes. Not liking to appear forward, she had till then always preserved silence, but at last she could not resist her inward urging to propose a remedy as a balm to the wounded feelings of the countess. “Noble dame,” spoke she, “if you listened to me, I could tell you the means whereby your suffering heart would be relieved.” The countess replied, “Speak freely.” “Not far from this palace,” replied the maiden, “lives a pious hermit, in a solitary cavern, to whom many sufferers pilgrimate in the hope of finding an alleviation to their various calamities. What if you were to ask the saintly man’s aid and holy advice? If nothing else, his prayers would at least recall your former tranquillity.” The countess favoured this proposal. Wrapping herself in pilgrim’s weed, she went to see the godly anchoret, told him her sorrows, and, presenting him with a rosary of fine pearls, implored his benediction. The blessing she received was so effectual, that before the closing of the year the countess was completely released from her melancholy, and cheered by an heir. The birth of the pretty boy made the whole county the scene of bliss and rejoicing. The father gave him for name, “Reginald, the Child of Wonder.” He was beautiful as the god of love himself, and his education was attended with such care, that it would lead to the belief that the aurora of philanthropic institutions had already shed its lustre upon the horizon of Germany. He grew merrily, to the joy of his father and consolation of his mother, who guarded him as carefully as the pupil of her eye; but although he being the favourite of her heart, she did not lose the remembrance of her three daughters. Many times, when pressing the little smiling Reginald to her breast, a tear fell upon his cheeks; and when the lovely boy advanced in age he often dolefully inquired:—“Why, dear mama, do you cry?” But the countess wisely abstained from letting him know the cause of her secret sorrows, for, besides her husband, none knew what had become of the three young countesses. Many speculative persons pretended that they had eloped with errant knights—a circumstance at that time far from uncommon; others knew them to be hid in a nunnery; while others had seen them in the suite of the Queen of Burgundy or the Countess of Flanders. Yet at last Reginald obtained, by caressing, the secret from his mother. She narrated to him the adventures of the three sisters, with all the particulars, and not a single word of those miraculous stories was lost to his attentive mind. Henceforth he had no other desire than to become able to bear arms and go forth upon adventures, to discover his sisters in the enchanted forest, and to disenchant them. As soon as he was knighted, he asked his father’s leave to depart, as he pretended, upon an expedition into Flanders. The count was pleased to see the chivalrous spirit of his son, gave him horses and armour, squires, and men-at-arms, and, with a blessing, dispatched him, in spite of his mother’s objections. The joyous knight had scarcely turned his back upon his native town, when he left the high road, and with knightly ardour gallopped towards the hunting castle. There he demanded the hospitality of his vassal, who received and treated him with proper courtesy and respect. At the first rays of the sun, the inhabitants of the castle being yet under the all-conquering power of Morpheus, he saddled his horse, left his suite behind, and hurried, full of spirits and courage, towards the enchanted forest. The farther he entered, the thicker grew the copse. All around him was solitary and desolate, and the densely grown trees seemed to bar the young adventurer’s steps. He dismounted, left his horse to graze, and, sword in hand, hewed his way through the thicket, climbed steep rocks, and glided down precipices. After much trouble he arrived in a sinuous vale, through which a clear brook wound its way. Following its serpentine course, he perceived in the distance a grotto in a rock opening its subterranean throat, and before it something moving in the shape of a human being. The audacious youth quickened his pace, forced his way through the trees, and stopping opposite the grotto, peeped from behind the large oaks, and lo! he discovered a lady sitting on the grass, caressing a young mis-shapen bear in her lap whilst one of a larger size was gambolling around—now standing upright, then again throwing a summersault—a performance which the young lady seemed very much to enjoy. Reginald, from the description his mother had given him of his sister Wulfield, at once recognized her, sprang quickly from the thicket to make himself known; but as soon as the young lady saw the youth, she screamed aloud, threw the young bear upon the grass, and running towards the new comer, addressed him in a melancholy voice, thus:—“O youth—what unfortunate star brings you hither? Here dwells a savage bear which devours every human being that approaches his abode—fly and save yourself!” He inclined himself modestly towards the beauteous lady, and answered:—“Fear nought, beautiful mistress! I know this forest and all the events connected with it, and came to break the spell that keeps you here a captive.” “Young fool,” said she, “who are you, to pretend to untie this powerful enchantment—how can you accomplish this?” “With this arm and sword,” said he. “I am Reginald, the Child of Wonder, the son of the count whom this enchanted forest has deprived of three most beautiful daughters. Are you not Wulfield, his first born?” At these words the lady became still more frightened, and looked at the youth in silent amazement. He made use of this pause to prove his right to call her sister so clearly, that she could no longer doubt him to be her brother. She embraced him tenderly, whilst her knees trembled with fear for his endangered life. Thereupon Wulfield conducted her beloved guest into the grotto to seek a place to conceal him. In this large and sombre vault was a heap of moss, serving the bear and his cubs for a couch. Opposite stood a magnificent bed, with gold-laced damask curtains, for the lady. Reginald was obliged to accommodate himself hastily under it, and await his further destiny. The slightest noise was interdicted, on penalty of forfeiting his life; the anxious sister recommended him chiefly neither to sneeze nor cough. Scarcely was the young adventurer in his place of refuge before the atrocious bear entered the cavern grumbling, and snuffling every where about with his blood-smeared muzzle: he had espied in the forest the knight’s cream-coloured horse and torn it to pieces. Wulfield sat on her state bed as though upon thorns—her heart was sad and oppressed, because she easily perceived that her lord and master was in his bear temper by suspecting a strange guest in his cavern. She did not therefore forget to fondle him tenderly, to stroke his back with her soft hand, and to tickle him behind his ears; but the sullen brute paid little attention to her caresses. “I scent human flesh,” growled the devourer. “Beloved bear,” said the lady, “you are mistaken—what would bring a human being to this desolate spot?” “I scent human flesh,” he repeated, prying round the silken bed. The knight did not feel very comfortable, and, in spite of his courage, a cold perspiration broke out upon his forehead. The perplexing position in which Wulfield found herself endued her with firmness and courage. “Friend bear,” said she, “you begin to be too tiresome—away from my couch, or fear my anger!” The uncouth bear cared little for this threat, and did not cease to bustle about the bed hangings; yet, however much of a bear, he still was henpecked, for as soon as he intended to force his large head under the bedstead, Wulfield took courage and gave him so effectual a kick in the side, that he crept humbly to his couch, squatted in the corner, sucked his paws, and licked his young ones. Soon afterwards he fell asleep, and snored as a bear only can snore. As soon as good Wulfield perceived it she refreshed her brother with a cup of sack and biscuits, and exhorted him to be of good cheer, as the greatest danger had already passed. Reginald was so tired by the events of the day that shortly he fell into a deep slumber, and snored as if he wished to outdo his brother-in-law, the bear. On awakening he found himself on a splendid couch, in a silk-tapestried room; the morning sun shone brilliantly through the drawn curtains; on a velvet-covered stool close to the bed lay his dress, with his knightly armour, and a silver bell to ring for the servants. He could not imagine how he happened to be transported from the awful cavern to this splendid palace, and doubted if he were dreaming now—or whether his adventure had been a dream. To ascertain the truth he rang the bell—a well dressed valet-de-chambre entered, asked for orders, and announced that his sister, Wulfield, and her husband, Albert the bear, ardently desired to see him. The young count could not overcome his surprize; and, though at the mention of the bear a shudder ran through his frame, he quickly dressed and stepped into the outer room—there pages, runners, and heiduques were awaiting him. With this suite he traversed many most splendid apartments and ante-chambers, and at last arrived at the audience hall, where his sister received him with the air and grace of a princess. With her were two lovely children—a young prince seven years old, and a sweet little princess yet unable to walk. A moment afterwards entered Albert;—nothing of the terrible countenance or form of a bear was to be seen upon him, but he appeared the most amiable of princes. Wulfield presented her brother to him, and Albert embraced his brother-in-law with fraternal tenderness and affection.
The prince and his whole court were for certain days enchanted by an inimical power. They possessed, however, the privilege of returning to their natural state every seventh day, from sunrise to sunrise, till the silvery stars on the horizon began to grow pale; then the spell spread with the falling of the morning dew over the land,—the castle changed into a steep inaccessible rock—the beautiful park into a dismal solitude—the fountains and cascades into dim and muddy pools—the lord of the castle became a shaggy bear—the knights and squires badgers and martens—the ladies of honour and chambermaids owls and bats, which cooed and wailed all day and night. It was on such a day of disenchantment that Albert bore his bride home. The lovely Wulfield, who had wept for six days at the thought of becoming the prey of a shaggy bear, dismissed her sorrow when she found herself in the arms of a gay young knight, conveying her to a splendid palace, where a brilliant bridal was awaiting them. She was received with song and music by pretty young girls crowned with myrtles, who took off her country dress and attired her in regal splendour. Though not vain by nature, she still could not suppress the secret pleasure she felt on admiring her beauty reflected by the crystal mirrors which met her gaze on every side. A splendid banquet followed the marriage ceremony, and a brilliant ball concluded the festivities of the day. The charming bride felt happy in her love, whose symptoms for the first time quickened the pulsations of her virgin heart, according to the custom of our chaste ancestry, and the repugnant image of a bear consort was completely banished from her imagination. At midnight her fond husband led her to the bridal bedroom, and when they entered the apartment the gods of love (painted on the ceiling) seemed to move their wings in token of their joy.
The young bride’s most pleasant morning dream had just vanished, when she awoke, and, with a kiss, intended breaking her husband’s slumber also—not finding him by her side, she raised the bed-curtains, and what a surprise! found herself transported into a sombre cave, the rays of day pouring dimly through its mouth scarcely throwing sufficient light to make visible a fright-inspiring bear who crept out of a corner, glancing dolefully towards her. The unhappy bride sunk insensible on her couch, and remained in that state for a considerable time; at length, recovering from her swoon and regaining strength, she loudly bewailed her hard destiny, and, from without the cavern, a hundred screeching owls responded to her lament. The sentimental bear could no longer remain a spectator of this heart-rending scene. To give vent to the feelings which overwhelmed him, he left his couch, moved slowly into the forest, and did not return till the close of the seventh day. The joy on the wedding day had been so universal, that no one had thought of placing victuals and refreshments on the bed of the bride, to sustain her during the days of enchantment, for the spell had no power over any thing in immediate contact with her, except her husband, who would have become a bear in the hour of metamorphosis, even though in her arms. Wulfield’s distress was such, that for two days nothing approached her lips; but Nature at last asserted her rights, for craving hunger compelled her to leave the cave in search of sustenance—the hollow of her hand served her as a cup to moisten her parched lips at a neighbouring rill—she plucked some blackberries and acorns, instinctively swallowed them, and carried an apron full home, more by natural impulse than by any regard for her existence; death to her would have been a blessing. Hoping for an early release from her troubles she, on the eve of the sixth day, fell asleep, and awoke the following morning in the same splendid apartment into which she had been led on the bridal night, finding every thing in the same order as before. The handsomest and most loving of husbands was by her side, representing in moving and eloquent language his sympathy for the deplorable state to which his irresistible love had reduced her, beseeching her pardon with tears in his eyes. He explained the nature of the enchantment, and how its influence ceased every seventh day, and gave to all their natural form. Wulfield was moved by the tenderness and eloquence of her husband, who had convinced her that a matrimonial state in which one day out of seven is cloudless and happy, may be considered as very tolerable, for only the best assorted marriages can glory in such a blessing;—in short, she became resigned to her fate, returned love for love, and rendered Albert the happiest bear under the sun. Not to be any more exposed to hunger, she took care to provide herself always with oranges, almonds, and the most delicate confectionary, and fruits; nor did she forget to put into her bed several flasks of wine, so that her kitchen and cellar contained every thing necessary during the metamorphosis.
Twenty-one years had now elapsed since Wulfield first came to inhabit the enchanted forest, and none of her youthful charms had suffered from the influence of time, nor did their mutual love feel the flight of years; for Mother Nature, in spite of all the charms disturbing her dominions, still maintains her authority; and as long as things are withdrawn by magic from her control, she carefully watches over her rights, and prevents time from exercising its influence over them. So, according to the testimony of holy writings, the seven sleepers, after their sleep of an hundred years, arose as fresh and vigorous from the Roman catacombs as when they had entered, and their age had in fact only increased by a single night. Wulfield, following the calculations of good dame Nature, had lived but three years, and was still in the flower of age; it was the same with her husband and the whole enchanted court.
All this the noble pair explained to the gallant knight, in a bower of jasmine and honeysuckle, during a morning walk in the park. The happy day passed too fleetly in the midst of splendor and festivities. After the banquet, a drawing-room was held. Some of the courtiers promenaded the park with the ladies, till the trumpet’s call summoned them to the evening banquet, in a large gallery surrounded with mirrors, and lighted by countless wax candles, where the company made merry till the midnight hour tolled. Wulfield filled her pockets and advised her brother to do the same. When the cloth was removed Albert appeared agitated, and whispered something to his wife, whereupon she took her brother Reginald aside, and said in a sad voice:—“Dear brother, we must part, the hour of metamorphosis is not distant, when all the pleasures of the palace will vanish. Albert fears, lest he should not be able to resist his brutal instinct, to tear you in pieces, upon meeting you after the approaching change. Leave this unlucky forest, never to return.” “Alas, replied Reginald, “happen what may, I cannot depart from you, my friends; I came to find you, and since you are discovered, I mean to quit this forest but in your company.—Say, how can I break the powerful spell?” “Alas,” said she, “no mortal can help us.” Here Albert approached, and learning the hazardous resolution of the young man, exhorted him so earnestly, that at last, moved by the tears of his sister, and the friendly expostulation of the knight, he decided upon leaving the amiable pair.
Prince Albert affectionately embraced the brave youth, who, after having taken a cordial leave of his sister, wished to depart, but Albert took out of his pocket book three hairs of a bear, and rolling them up in a piece of paper, presented them to Albert as if jestingly for a token in remembrance of his adventures in the forest, “but,” added he, earnestly, “do not despise this trifle; and should you ever require help, rub these three hairs between your hands, and await the result.”
In the castle yard stood a splendid phæton, drawn by six black horses, surrounded by a multitude of horsemen and servants, which Reginald entered. “Adieu,” my brother, responded Reginald, the Child of Wonder; and the carriage rolling over the draw-bridge, was in a moment out of sight. The silvery stars were still glittering on the heavens; the train the train flew through forests and deserts, over steppes, over plains, over mountains and rocks, through vallies and rivers, without cease, without rest, galloping full speed. Having thus proceeded for an hour, dark night began to lift her sombre veil, the heavenly lights, already pale, then slowly disappeared; all on a sudden now, as if through magic power, the child of wonder found himself thrown on Nature’s verdant carpet, and horse and man and equipage were gone—he knew not how—not where, but, by the glimmer of the morning sun, he saw six coal-black ants drawing an empty nut-shell to a neigbouring ant-hill.
The manly knight knew very well how to explain this venture, and took good care to crush none of the ants. He quietly awaited sun-rise, and, being still close to the forest decided upon seeing his younger sisters, and should he fail in breaking the spell that bound them, he would at least enjoy the pleasure of the meeting.
He was erring for three days in the forest without encountering adventure, and had just consumed the last morsel of the food from Albert’s banquet, when he heard a sound high in the air, resembling that of a ship with spread sails ploughing the foaming main. He looked up, and lo! a powerful eagle was descending on a nest built upon a millenary oak. Reginald, greatly rejoiced at the discovery, hid among the bushes to await till the eagle would again resume its flight, and, after seven hours of anxious expectation, he saw the bird depart, then stepping out, he loudly hallooed:—“Adelaide, dear sister! If you dwell upon this lofty oak answer me! I am Reginald, the child of wonder! your loving brother, who seeks you, endeavouring to break the potent spell that keeps you captive.” As he ceased to speak a soft female voice answered as from the cloud above:—“If you are Reginald, the child of wonder, be welcome to your sister Adelaide, ascend the tree to clasp the sorrowing in your arms.” The knight joyfully tried to mount the tree, but in vain; its compass was far too large to be spanned, and the branches too high to be reached; he therefore went around searching for the means of accomplishing his purpose, when a silken ladder descended from the tree by whose assistance he soon reached the eagle’s nest—it was spacious and firmly built, like a balcony erected on a lime tree. He found his sister sitting under a canopy, covered on the exterior with cere-cloth, and its interior lined with rose-coloured satin. On her lap lay an eagle’s egg, which she was fondling. The meeting was very affectionate on either side. Adelaide had information of all that had occurred in her father’s house, and knew Reginald to be her after-born brother. Her husband, Edgar, was under the influence of the enchantment during six weeks, and was himself again on the seventh. In one of those weeks he had visited, in cognito, the court of his father-in-law, and so reported, from time to time, what passed there. Adelaide invited her brother to await the next metamorphosis, and though it would not take place for six weeks he joyfully agreed to her proposal. She secreted him in a hollow tree, daily providing him with such food from the magazine in her sofa as would remain untainted for six weeks. She dismissed him with the well-meant exhortation:—“Do not, as you value life, expose yourself to the glance of Edgar’s eagle eye. If he sees you within his range you are lost—he tears out your eyes, and plucks out your heart, as he did yesterday to three of your squires then seeking you in this forest.” Reginald shuddered at the fate of his squires, promised to be careful, and stopped for the six weeks in the Patmos of the hollow tree; but, from time to time, he enjoyed the conversation of his sister when my lord eagle was abroad. This proof of patience was sufficiently rewarded by the enjoyment of seven blissful days. The reception of his brother, the eagle, was not less friendly than that of his brother, the bear.
The castle, court, and all, were here as splendid as there, and the moment of the fatal transformation was advancing but too quickly. On the evening of the seventh day, Edgar took leave of his guest in the most friendly manner, exhorting him not to trespass within his range. “Shall I then for ever separate from you?” said Reginald, dolefully. Is it then indeed impossible to break the spell that binds you? If I had an hundred lives, I would risk them all to set you free!” Edgar cordially pressing his hand, said:—“Thanks, noble youth, for your love and friendship—think no more of this hazardous undertaking. It is possible to untie this enchantment, but you shall not, must not do it. He who undertakes the trial, must pay with life its failure, and I will not see you sacrificed for us.” Through this speech, Reginald’s heroic courage was only the more inflamed—his eyes sparkled with desire to venture in the exploit—his cheeks were flushed with a ray of hope—and he pressed Edgar to relate to him the secret of the enchantment, but he abstained however from telling him anything, lest his life should be endangered. “All I can tell you, my dear brother, is, that you must find the key of the enchantments if you want to undo them. If destiny has chosen you for our liberator, the stars will guide you, if not, all you might undertake would be folly.” Thereupon, he took from his pocket book, three eagle’s feathers—presenting them as a keepsake—enjoining him to rub them in his hands if he should require aid. They then parted, highly pleased with each other. Edgar’s chamberlain conducted him through a long alley planted with pines and yews to the outskirts of the grove, and when he passed them the grated gate was quickly shut, the time of transformation being close at hand.
Reginald sat down under a lime tree, to be a witness of the wondrous change; the moon shone clear and bright; and he saw the castle distinctly towering above the trees. At the dawn of morning he was completely enveloped in an impenetrable mist, and when the rising sun had dispersed it, castle, park, grated gate, and all had disappeared!—he himself sat upon a rock on the verge of a deep abyss.
The young adventurer looking around to find a road leading ito the valley, perceived in the distance a lake, whose surface was gilded by the reflection of the sun-beams. With toil and labour he forced his way through the densely grown forest, his whole attention bent upon the lake where he supposed his sister Bertha to dwell; but the farther he penetrated the wild wood, the more obstacles he encountered. At times the intervening brushwood hid the lake from his sight, and then he began to despair of finding his sister. Towards evening, he again saw the water-plain shining through the trees, as the forest became less dense; still he was unable to reach its shores before night fall. Overcome by fatigue, he quartered himself under a tree in the plain, and did not awake till the sun was high in the heavens. He rose, refreshed by his slumbers, and walked along the shore pondering how he could reach his sister in the lake. It was in vain that he called aloud:—“Bertha, dear sister, if you reside in this water, answer me! I am Reginald, the child of wonder, thy brother, who seeks thee, to untie the enchantment of thy watery prison!” The many voiced echo of the forest alone responded to the words. “O you dear fish,” continued he, as he saw numbers of red-spotted trout swimming to the margin of the lake, gaping at the stranger—“tell your mistress that her brother is anxious to meet her”—and he threw all the crumbs that he found in his pockets to win the fishes over, but the trout voraciously swallowed the bread without heeding the prayer of their benefactor. Reginald saw at last that he could gain nothing by preaching to the fish, he therefore endeavoured to obtain his ends by other means. As a well-trained knight, he was expert at all gymnastic exercises, and could swim like a water rat. He was soon determined; casting off his armour, and drawing his sword, he threw himself into the water not having perceived any boat, (as formerly his father did) to seek his brother-in-law, the Behemoth. “He will not,” thought he, “swallow me at once, but listen, I suppose, to the voice of reason, as of yore to my father.” He purposely splashed the water with his hands to attract the attention of the Sea Wonder, and swam upon the blue wave towards the centre.
As long as his muscular force remained, he stoically pursued his aquatic path, but when his strength began to fail, he looked for ‘’terra firma’’, and saw at a little distance a mist arise, as if proceeding from behind a block of ice. He swam quickly towards the phenomenon, and found a short hollow column of chrystal rising above the water, and emitting a very odorous perfume, borne by the winds in small clouds of steam over the watery element. The bold swimmer suspected it to be the chimney leading to the sub-aquatic abode of his sister. He hazarded a descent by the spiral column, and found his supposition verified. The chimney led straight to the bed-room of pretty sister Bertha, who, in the most charming of morning dresses, was engaged in preparing her breakfast on a little fire of sandal wood. When the lady heard the noise in the chimney, and all at once saw the legs of a man moving in the fire-grate, her spirits were so shaken, that in her fright she threw her chocolate pot on the ground, and fell fainting in an arm chair. Reginald tried to restore her, and, as soon as she had recovered her senses, she feebly said:—“Whoever you are, unfortunate mortal! how can you dare to enter this sub-aquatic habitation. Is it unknown to you that this daring act may cost you your life?” “Do not fear anything, I am Reginald, your brother, the Wondrous Child, whom neither danger nor death can prevent from seeking his beloved sister, and breaking the spell that keeps her in fetters.” Bertha imprinted a kiss upon his cheeks, whilst her slender frame trembled with fear.
Ufo, the dolphin, her husband, had several times privately visited her father’s castle, and on the last occasion, heard that Reginald had gone to seek his sisters. He had often lamented the daring act of the youth, saying:—“If brother bear does not devour him, and brother eagle does not pick his eyes out, I am afraid I shall not be able to resist my brutal craving to sip him down, and if you should try to hide him in your arms from my passion and anger, I should break your chrystal abode, that the entering flood might drown you, and he should find his grave in my sharkish belly—you know well that, during the time of the enchantment, admittance to our habitation is forbidden to every stranger.” Bertha did not conceal this from her brother, but Reginald said:—“can you not hide me from the eyes of your husband, as your sisters did, that I may remain here till the day of transformation?” “Alas!” responded she, “how can I conceal you—do you not see that all the walls of this crystal habitation are transparent like the air of heaven?” “Is there not a single corner in the house impenetrable to sight, or are you the only woman in the world who cannot deceive the eyes of a husband?” retorted he. The handsome Bertha was quite inexperienced in that art (it may be excused as she lived under the water)—she thought and pondered, and at last remembered, fortunately, the wood cellar where she might conceal her brother. He at once agreed, and entrenched himself as well in the transparent room as the beaver in its subterranean hole. The lady then hastened to her toilet, attired herself to the best advantage, in a dress which set off all the beauties of her fine proportions, and went into the audience room to await her husband’s return; there she stood as lovely as one of the three graces in the imagination of a poet. Ufo, the dolphin, could not otherwise enjoy the company of his spouse during the epoch of his enchantment than by every day paying her a visit, looking through the vitreous house, and rejoicing in the sight of her beauty.
Bertha had scarcely entered her parlour before the enormous fish came forcibly cleaving the wave, while yet at a distance the water began to boil and foam and the flood to whirl around the crystal palace. The monster remained before the apartment, gulping streams of water, and rejecting them from his spacious throat, glaring at the handsome lady with his fascinating eyes. Though the young lady endeadeavoured to appear unconcerned, her heart palpitated feverishly, and a stranger to dissimulation and deceit, her bosom heaved strangely and quickly, her lips and cheeks, glowing a moment before, now all at once grew of a deadly hue. The dolphin notwithstanding his fishy nature, was still physiognomist enough to perceive by those symptoms that there was something wrong, he made wry grimaces, and departed with the swiftness of an arrow, compassed the palace three times, and made such an ado that the crystal building was shaken, and the trembling Bertha believed that he would instantly crash it, but, with all his prying, finding nought to strengthen his suspicion, and having fortunately by his capers so dimmed the water that he was unable to see the state of his terrified spouse, he began to grow cooler, and swam away. Bertha recovered from her anxiety, and Reginald remained quietly in the wood cellar till the time of the transformation arrived, and, although my lord dolphin did not appear to have dismissed all suspicion (as he never forgot to make the round of the house three times a day), he behaved no more in so furious a manner as at first. The hour of transformation at last arrived to deliver the patient prisoner from his solitary dwelling.
On awakening one morning he found himself in a kingly palace on a small island—houses, gardens, markets, all seemed to glide upon the water—a hundred gondolas floated up and down the channels, and pleasure and gaiety beamed upon the face of the concourse crowding the public squares—in short the residence of brother dolphin was Venice in miniature. The reception the young knight met with was as cordial and welcome as at the courts of the other enchanted knights. The spell that bound Ufo, the dolphin, continued always for six months—the seventh was one of repose when the influence of the enchantment ceased, and every thing relapsed into its natural state. Reginald’s stay being of longer duration here than at the former places he became more intimate with his brother-in-law Ufo. Although curiosity for a long time tormented him as he desired to know by what chance the three princes were forced under the bondage of witchcraft, and though he had many times entreated Bertha to make him acquainted with the circumstances he learned nothing—his sister being ignorant, and Ufo keepmg an obdurate silence upon all respecting it. The days flew on the wings of joy, and the moon was fast filling her pale disk.
After a romantic evening’s walk Ufo announced to his brother-in-law, Reginald, that the hour of separation would soon strike, and advising him to return to his parents who were in deep grief at his absence; his mother was inconsolable since it was known that, instead of going to Flanders, he had sought adventures in the enchanted forest. Reginald enquired if there were yet any enterprize to be encountered in the forest, and was informed that there remained one—to find the key of the enchantment and destroy the powerful talisman, for as long as it worked there was no deliverance for the princes:—“But,” added Ufo, the dolphin, “follow my advice, young man, and rest satisfied with the glorious deeds you have already achieved, for it is only owing to the translunarian powers, and the protection of the ladies, your sisters, that you have not fallen a victim to your audacious intrepidity in the enchanted forest. Go hence, and report to your parents all you have seen and heard and prevent, by your return, your mother from falling into an untimely grave, where grief and anxiety on your account would shortly carry her. Reginald hesitatingly promised to do so. Ufo perceived that it was but a vain promise, and that the young man was bent upon following his bold career, he therefore took three fish scales from his pocket-book, and making a present of them to the young knight, said:—If you are in need of assistance rub these in your hands till they become warm, and await the result.”Reginald then stepped into the gilded gondola, and was rowed by two Gondoliers to the shore. Scarcely had he touched it when the gondola, palace, gardens, and squares disappeared—nothing remained but an enormous fish-pond overgrown with sea-weed agitated by the cool morning breeze. The knight saw himself again on the same place from whence three months ago, he had so bravely plunged into the water; his shield and armour were at the same spot, and the spear stood planted in the ground as he had left it. There he made a vow not to take rest till the key of the enchantment was in his hand.
“Who can tell me the straight road, and guide my foot into the path that leads to the most wondrous adventure in this boundless forest? O ye translunarian powers look kindly upon me, and, if it be the destiny of an earth-born to rend this mighty spell, let it fall to my share!”
Thus spoke Reginald, lost in thought, proceeding on the unbeaten road towards the forest. For seven days he pursued his way along the interminable wilderness without dread or fear, and passed seven nights under heavens’ canopy, on the dew-dripping grass, so that his armour became rusted. On the eighth day he ascended the pinnacle of a rock from which he could look down upon inhospitable plains as if from Saint Gotthard’s mountain. On one side a valley, covered with green sward, opened upon his view surrounded by blocks of granite overgrown with firs and cypresses. In the distance he saw something resembling a monument. Two gigantic marble columns, with brazen pedestals, supported a Doric entablature, leaning against a granite wall, and shadowing a steel portal bound with brass hoops, and provided with iron bolts; to make assurance doubly sure, a mound of earth prevented its opening. Not far from the portal, a black bull grazed in the meadow, his sparkling eyes spying around as though it were his duty to guard the entrance.
Reginald did not doubt for a moment to have met with the sought-for adventure, and deciding upon encountering it immediately, descended from the rock. He approached the bull till within an hundred yards, apparently without being noticed by the beast, but then it suddenly started up, and ran backwards and forwards preparing for the contest; it snorted like one of the Andalusian breed, till clouds of dust were blown from the ground, stamped its feet till the earth trembled, and beat its horns against the rocks so as to make pieces fly off. The knight put himself into a posture of attack, and when the bull darted upon him, by a skilful turn he avoided the formidable horn and dealt him such a tremendous blow on the neck with his sword, that he thought he had severed the head from the shoulder, as the valiant Skanderbeg had formerly done. But alas! the neck of the brute was invulnerable to steel and iron; the knight’s sword shivered into pieces, and only the hilt remained in his hand. Nothing was now left for his defence but an acorn lance with double-edged point of steel, but that also split like a straw. The bull then tossed the youth as easily as a shuttlecock, watching beneath to catch him in his descent, or to trample upon him. Fortunately he fell among the branches of a wild pear tree, and although all his ribs cracked he possessed sufficient presence of mind to cling to the tree, for the enraged beast knocked with his iron front so violently against the trunk that its roots began to yield. When the murderous bull turned to make a new start, Reginald called to mind the presents of his brothers-in-law. Chance placed the paper containing the bear’s hairs in his hands; he rubbed them and in a moment a grim bear trotted towards the bull to engage him in deadly conflict. Master Bruin soon overcame his horned antagonist, strangled and tore him into pieces, and out of the belly of the beast flew a wild duck, loudly quacking. Reginald had a presentiment that this new stroke of magic defeated the victory that the bear had gained, and carried off the spoils; he therefore quickly rubbed the three feathers between his hands. A gigantic eagle appeared in the air, at whose sight the timorous duck hid itself in the bushes, whilst the eagle towered at a great height above. When the knight saw this, he frightened the duck to cause its flight, and followed its course through the forest, but the duck being unable to hide any longer, flew towards the pond, when the eagle darted down from the sky, and seized and tore it with its large talons. The dying duck dropped a golden egg into the pond. The attentive Reginald knew also how to defeat this new deceit; rubbing the fish scales between his hands, a whale like dolphin immediately appeared on the surface of the water, caught the egg in his mouth, and spat it upon the shore. The knight, pleased at what had occured, broke open the golden egg with a stone, when lo! a little key fell out, which he triumphantly recognised as the key of the enchantment. Rapidly he returned to the steel portal; the dwarfish key did not seem to fit the gigantic padlock, yet still he thought it best to try, and scarcely had the key touched the lock, when behold! it flew asunder, the heavy iron bolts unshot themselves, and the steel gates flew open. In high glee he entered the sombre grotto, from which several doors opened into as many subterranean rooms, each of them most magnificently adorned with oriental riches, and illuminated with spermacetti tapers.
Reginald passed through all, and from the last, he entered a chamber, where lying upon a couch, was a young lady in an irresistible magic slumber. The charming sight of so lovely a form kindled in his breast the spark of love. Motionless and amazed he gazed at her without being able to avert his eyes.
Knight Reginald having looked around saw opposite to the slumbering lady an alabaster tablet, covered with hieroglyphic characters. He supposed that upon this tablet was engraved the talisman which held all the enchantments, and in his just anger, he struck it with his clenched hand covered with an iron gauntlet, with all his might, and immediately the beautiful sleeper started, cast a glance at the tablet, and sank back into insensible slumber. Reginald repeated the blow, and the same occurrence took place. He now considered how to destroy the talisman, but he had neither sword nor spear, nought but two sound arms, wherewith he then took the magic tablet, and threw it down upon the marble ground. It shivered to pieces. The sound caused the lady to awake as if from death, and she only then beheld the knight before her who bent his knee in honour of her charms. But before he began to speak, she covered her angelic face with a Corinthian veil, and angrily exclaimed, “Begone, infamous monster! although you take the form of a beautiful youth, you shall not deceive my eyes nor delude my heart; you know my disposition, leave me in the death slumber in which your cabalistic art has locked me.”
Reginald, seeing the lady’s error, replied, with calmness:—“Heavenly maiden, be not angry. I am not the dreaded monster who keeps you here a captive. I am count Reginald, the Child of Wonder! Look! the spell that veiled your senses is broken!” The young lady glancing from beneath her veil, and seeing the alabaster tablet destroyed, was struck at the hazardous deed of the young stranger, regarded him affectionately, and was pleased with his noble bearing. She raised him from the ground, and presenting her hand, said in a kind tone, “If it be as you say, noble knight, accomplish the work you have begun, and release me from this direful abode, that I may again see the glorious sun, or, if it be night, the silvery stars.”
Reginald offered his arm to lead her through the splendid apartments along which he came. He opened the door, but outside all was Egyptian darkness, as in the beginning of the world before the electric ray had dispelled palpable darkness, and dispersed night by its benign influence. All the candles were extinguished, and the crystal chandeliers no longer reflected their soft light upon the cupolas of the basaltic chambers. The noble pair lost no time in making their egress from the labyrinthic corridors through the distant entrance of a misshapen crag in the rock. The disenchanted maiden now felt the cordial and balsamic power of all-vivifying nature, and rapturously inhaled the fragrance of the flowers, wafted towards her by a soft zephyr over the blooming meadow. They sat down upon a neighbouring hill, where he had full leisure to admire her excessive beauty, uniting in one person all the charms bestowed upon the three graces, and he naturally felt an ardent desire to know who the stranger was, and how she became enchanted in the forest. He begged her to tell him all concerning herself, and the young lady imparting the utmost grace to her discourse, spoke thus:—
“I am Hildegarde, the daughter of Radbod, Prince of Pomerania. Zornebock, Prince of Servia, asked me in marriage from my father, but being a disgusting giant and a pagan, and having the reputation of dealing in the black art, he was refused, on pretence of my too tender youth. Upon this refusal, the heathen was so violently enraged, that he made war against my good father, killed him in battle, and seized his lands. I had flown in the meantime to my aunt, the countess of Vohburg, as my three brothers, all knights, were engaged in chivalrous errantry. The sorcerer could not long remain ignorant of my abode, and as soon as he had taken possession of my father’s lands, determined upon carrying me away, which, considering his magic power, was easy. My uncle, the count, was fond of the chase, and I used to accompany him: on such occasions all the knights of his court emulated in offering me the best caparisoned horse. One day an unknown equerry approached with a splendid grey palfrey, and, in the name of his master, begged me to mount, and receive it as a gift. I asked for the name of his master, but he replied that he could not answer any question before I had tried the horse, and had declared on my return from the chase that I would not disdain his present. I could not well refuse the offer, and the horse was so beautifully caparisoned, that it attracted the eyes of the whole court; gold, gems, and the richest embroideries were lavished on the saddle-cloth, a red silken bridle reached from the bit to the neck, and the stirrups were of solid gold, thickly studded with rubies. I mounted the horse, and had the vanity to be proud of my appearance in the cavalcade. The pace of the steed was so even and correct that it seemed barely to touch the ground, lightly leaping over ditches and hedges, with such speed that the most expert horsemen could not follow me. Meeting a white hart, during the chase, I followed it, and entering deeply into the forest separated from my companions. My palfrey refused then to obey, pranced, shook its mane and grew wild. I tried to curb it, but at this moment I perceived with horror, that the horse was suddenly transformed into a feathered monster; its fore legs changed into a pair of wings, its neck grew longer, and to its head a long beak was added. I saw myself upon a long-legged hippogriph, who soared in the air, and in less than an hour descended with me in this forest at the steel gate of an old castle.
“My fright increased when I beheld the same equerry, who had presented me with the palfrey, respectfully approaching to assist me in dismounting. Bewildered by fear and anger I allowed myself to be conducted in silence through a multitude of state rooms to a company of ladies in full dress. All of them endeavoured to assist and to please me, but none would tell me in whose power or where I was. In mute sorrow, a prey to tears, I was soon interrupted by the sorcerer Zornebock, who in the form of a Bohemian threw himself at my feet, and begged my love. I replied as my heart bade me answer the murderer of my father. The manners of the villain were uncouth; he was easily excited, but notwithstanding his rage, and although struggling with despair I resisted his menaces which I dared him to perform, imploring him to shatter the palace, and bury me in its ruins; but the fiend upon hearing my prayer, left me, saying he would grant me time to reflect upon his suit.
“After seven days he renewed his hateful proposal, and with scorn I bade him begone. He left the room trembling with rage, and shortly afterwards I felt the ground quaking under my feet, the castle seemed to roll into an abyss, I sunk upon my couch, bereft of sense. From this death-like slumber, the sorcerer’s fearful voice once awoke me:—‘Awake, thou sleeper,’ said he, ‘from thy seven years, sleep, and tell me has not beneficent Time diminished thy hate towards thy faithful Palatine. Rejoice my heart with the slightest ray of hope, and this sorrowful grotto shall be changed into a temple of joy.’ I did not condescend to honor the villainous sorcerer by look or answer, but covered my face with a veil, and gave free vent to my tears. My melancholy seemed to move him; he begged and prayed, loudly lamented, and crouched at my feet. At last, his patience was tired, he sprung quickly up, and said:—‘Be it so, in seven years I shall see thee again.’ Upon this, he lifted the alabaster tablet upon the pedestal, and an irresistible sleep fell upon my eyelids, till the cruel man again broke my repose. ‘Unfeeling woman!’ spoke he, ‘if thou continuest cruel towards me, at least be not so towards thy three brothers. My treacherous equerry has discovered thy fate to them, but the traitor is punished. The unfortunate victims came at the head of an army to deliver thee from my hands, but this arm was too powerful for them, and they expiate their indiscretion under several forms in this forest.’ So miserable a falsehood, by which the villain attempted to triumph over my resistance, only served to inflame my hatred the more strongly against him; disdain curled my lips, scorn sparkled within my eye. ‘Wretch!’ screamed the raving pagan, ‘thy fate is decided! sleep as long as the invisible powers obey this talisman!’ At once he replaced the alabaster tablet, and the magic giddiness deprived me of life and sensation. You, my gallant knight, have, by annihilating the spell, brought me back to life; but I know not by what power, you have performed this deed, nor do I know what has prevented the sorcerer from resisting you. Zornebock must be among the dead, or you would not have profaned his talisman.”
The charming Hildegarde judged correctly; the sorcerer had marched with the Servians into Bohemia, where, at that time, the Princess Libussa, a descendant of the fairy race, governed; and had found in her his mistress, as formerly the powerful Cyrus in the Scythian queen, Tomyris. Zornebock was, in comparison with the Bohemian princess, only a novice in sorcery; she had conquered him by her art, and he was slain whilst retreating from the field of battle, by the hand of a powerful knight to whom she had given magic arms, not to be resisted by the sorcerer. As lovely Hildegarde ceased her narrative, Reginald in return recounted his adventures. On mentioning his three brothers-in-law, the enchanted princes in the forest, she was greatly astonished, for now she perceived Zornebock’s tale to have been no fabrication. The knight was just concluding his narration, when joyous and triumphant shouts were heard proceeding from the mountain. Soon afterwards three cavalcades were seen advancing from the forest, at whose head, Hildegarde instantly recognized her brothers, and Reginald his sisters.
The spell of the enchantment was broken.
The mutual embraces and pledges of joy and happiness over, the whole assembly of the disenchanted left the frightful solitude, and hastened to the old hunting castle. Messengers on horseback were galloping towards the residence of the count to announce the arrival of the long lost children. The court had just gone into mourning on account of the young heir, who was bewailed as dead, the parents believing that the enchanted forest had engulphed him for ever. The sorrowing mother had no other consolation than to assist at the mourning ceremonies, which then commenced with the requiem for Reginald. The famous Nicolini could not more quickly transform his pantomimic scene, than the residence of the count changed its aspect upon the rejoicing news; all now breathed anew with joy and life. In a few days the venerable parents had the fecility of embracing their children and grandchildren.. Adelaide’s egg, had in the meantime, metamorphosed into a beautiful girl, who stretched her little hands towards her grandfather, and when taken by him did not forget to pull and dishevel his silvery curls. Among all the festivities given in honour of the happy return, ranked the wedding of Reginald and Hildegarde, his lovely bride. A whole year had passed ere they ceased their various amusements and festivities.
The princes at last considered that so long an enjoyment of pleasure would destroy the manly courage and activity of their knights and squires. The residence of the count was also too small for so many different courts, and they prepared for departure. Reginald, heir of the county, always remained with his parents, and closed their eyes, as a dutiful son ought. Albert, the Bear, bought the county Askania, and founded the town of Bearborough. Edgar, the Eagle, went into Helvetia, where in the shadow of the high Alps, he founded the town of Eagleborough, upon a river, at that time without a name, but afterwards called the Eagle, from the town which it watered. Ufo, the Dolphin, went with an army into Burgundy, conquered part of the country, and called the conquered province the Dolphinate. And as the three princes had given names to their towns and dynasties in remembrance of their enchantment they took also the forms of the beasts as symbols in their coats of arms. Therefore it is that the town of Bearsborough has for its coat of arms a bear; the town of Eagleborough, an eagle; and the Dolphinate, a dolphin. The precious pearls worn on gala days by the terrestrian goddesses in the Courts of Europe, and generally believed of oriental origin, are none other than those taken from the pond in the enchanted forest, and were once upon a time, in the linen sacks of the old hunting castle.
END OF THE ENCHANTED KNIGHTS,
CHRONICLE OF THE THREE SISTERS.
↑ Runners and Heiduques. Heiduques were Hungarian and Sclavonian servants, dressed in the costume of their country. In some of the great houses of Germany, where a vestige of feudal manners yet exists, they may still be found, as well as runners, who, as the name implies, run before their master’s carriages.
↑ Honey, as the reader may know, is a dainty with the bear.
↑ To redeem the bride. It was customary, in ancient Germany, for the bridegroom to appear in person at the residence of his intended, to make a present to his future father-in-law, and bear away the bride.
↑ Arthur’s Chase. Certain sounds heard in the air, supposed, by superstitious people, to be made by a hunting party of the condemned souls of the guilty, led by an evil spirit.
↑ Behemoth. For an explanation of this monster, we refer our readers to the Scriptures.
↑ Man and Mouse. A familiar expression in Germany, signifying all together.
↑ Friend Hein. A German name for Death.
↑ Whose office it was to present her with water. It was the duty of one of the court ladies to present the sovereign with water.
↑ Our chaste ancestry. In Germany, as in other countries, at an early period, love before marriage was held indecorous.
↑ The history of the Seven Sleepers is known everywhere. See the Holy Writings of the Patriarchs.
↑ Pathmos, instead of cavity. Pathmos is one of the Icarian, islands, where, in a cavern, St. John wrote the Apocalypse. From that cavern, which is also called Pathmos, it is usual in Germany, to call a cavern, or a hollow, a Pathmos. Oriential travellers, if visiting the island, may still see the cavern.
↑ St. Gothard’s Mountain. A high mountain in Switzerland, from which may be seen one of the most awfully grand spectacles in nature.
↑ “The valiant Skanderbeg.” The surname of George Castriot, king of Albania, a province of Turkey, in Europe, dependant on the Ottoman Empire. He was delivered up, with his three sons, as hostages, by their father to Amurath the Second, Sultan of the Turks, who poisoned his brothers, but spared him on account of his youth, being likewise pleased with his juvenile wit and amiable person. In a short time he became one of the most renowned generals of the age, and, revolting from Amurath, he joined Huniad Corvin, a most formidable enemy to the Ottoman Power. He defeated the Sultan’s army, took Amurath’s secretary prisoner, obliged him to sign and seal an order to the governor of Croia, the capital of Albania, to deliver up the citadel and city to the bearer of that order, in the name of the Sultan. With this forged order he repaired to Croia; and thus recovered the throne of his ancestors, and maintained the independency of his country against the numerous armies of Amurath and his successor Mahommed the Second, who was obliged to make peace with this hero in 1460. He then went to the assistance of Ferdinand of Arragon, at the request of Pope Pius the second, and by his assistance Ferdinand gained a complete victory over his enemy, the Count of Anjou.
This redoutable Prince is said to have performed one of the most astonishing deeds of prowess on record; once, by a single stroke, he severed the head from the neck of an infuriated bull.
↑ See Herodotus.
↑ The town of Bearborough (Bernburg). The capital of the principality of Anhalt. Bernburg, on the river Lata, five leagues from Dessau, and four from Magdeburg, The river separates the ancient and stately castle from the town.
↑ Eagleborough. Aarburg, in German, is a town in Helvetia, on the river Aar, (Eagle) which unites with the Rhine, equalling it in size, at the junction. The town is situate in the canton of Berne, nine leagues from Basle. It has a fortress erected on the summit of a steep and lofty rock.
↑ The Dolphinate. (Le Dauphiné) The Dolphinate is a province of France, forty-two leagues in length. thirty-four broad. Udo Guignes, called the Dolphin, seized the province in the year 879, From him, the first born son of his successors was called the Dolphin, in French, (Le Dauphin), which title was transferred to the eldest son of the kings of France, when they obtained possession of the Dolphinate.