“I should be sorry if you had,” responded the marquis. “I am convinced that it was my little monster. I taught him to strike fire; and he was evidently attracted by the light of our camp-fire.”
Perhaps it would have been better had the guard shot the amphibious dwarf. Hardly had De Fervlans returned to his seat when the adjutant called his attention to a suspicious flashing in the morass a short distance from the hill on which they were resting. Suddenly, while they were watching the flashes of light, a column of flame rose toward the sky, then another, and another—the morass was on fire in a dozen places.
“Hell, and all devils!” shouted De Fervlans, springing toward his horse. “The little monster has set the marsh-grass on fire, and it was I who taught the devil’s spawn how to use touchwood! Give chase to the creature!”
But the order for a chase came too late. In ten minutes the reeds growing about the hill were burning, and the demons were compelled to use their spurs in order to speed their horses from the dangerous conflagration.
They did not stop until they had reached the Valla plain—driven to their mad gallop by the caricature of the “militiaman”!
“This is a pretty state of affairs!” grumbled De Fervlans. “Mire first, then flames, bar our way. Quis quid peccat, in eo punitur—he who sins will be punished by his sin! I sinned in teaching that monster to strike fire. It has made us lose four more hours.”
The four hours were of some consequence to the fugitive maid and Ludwig Vavel.
Dawn broke before the demons found the road between the groups of hills, and when they reached it, they still had before them that half of the Hansag which is formed by a series of small lakes.
De Fervlans now became anxious to shorten their route. A lakelet of fifty or sixty paces in width is not an impassable hindrance for a horseman. Therefore it was not necessary to ride perhaps a thousand paces in making a detour of the lakelets—the demons must ride through them. How often had he, when following a deer, swam with his horse through just such a body of water. Only then it was autumn, and now it was spring.
The flora of this marsh country has many species which hide underneath the water, and in the springtime send their long stems and tendrils toward the surface. De Fervlans was yet to learn that even plants may become foes. Those of his demons who were the first to plunge into the water suddenly began to call for help. Neither man nor beast can swim through a network of growing plants; at every movement they become entangled among the clinging tendrils and swaying stems, and sink to the bottom unless promptly rescued. The men on shore were obliged to grasp the tails of the struggling horses and draw them back to land. De Fervlans, who could not be convinced that it was impossible to swim across the narrow stretch of water, came very near losing his life among the aquatic growths. There was now no likelihood of their reaching the highway before sunrise.