“Fritz,” said he, “don’t let us be in too great a hurry; we have plenty of time; the fowls won’t fly away. Your boots must hurt you. After eight hours on horseback it is pleasant to take off one’s boots, that’s my principle. Now sit down, put your boot between my knees; there goes one off, now the other, that’s the way; now put your feet into these slippers, take off your cloak and throw this lighter coat over your shoulders. Now we are ready.”
And with his cheery summons I sat down with him to work, one on each side of the table, remembering the German proverb—“Thirst comes from the evil one, but good wine from the Powers above.”
We ate with the vigorous appetite which ten hours in the snows of the Black Forest would be sure to provoke.
Sperver making indiscriminate attacks upon the kid, the fowls, and the fish, murmured with his mouth full—
“The woods, the lakes and rivers, and the heathery hills are full of good things!”
Then he leaned over the back of his chair, and laying his hand on the first bottle that came to hand, he added—
“And we have hills green in spring, purple in autumn when the grapes ripen. Your health, Fritz!”
We were a wonder to behold. We reciprocally admired each other.
The fire crackled, the forks rattled, teeth were in full activity, bottles gurgled, glasses jingled, while outside the wintry blast, the high moaning mountain winds, were mournfully chanting the dirge of the year, that strange wailing hymn with which they accompany the shock of the tempest and the swift rush of the grey clouds charged with snow and hail, while the pale moon lights up the grim and ghastly battle scene.
But we were snug under cover, and our appetite was fading away into history. Sperver had filled the “wieder komm,” the “come again,” with old wine of Brumberg; the sparkling froth fringed its ample borders; he presented it to me, saying—
“Drink the health of Yeri-Hans, lord of Nideck. Drink to the last drop, and show them that you mean it!”
Which was done.
Then he filled it again, and repeating with a voice that re-echoed among the old walls, “To the recovery of my noble master, the high and mighty lord of Nideck,” he drained it also.
Then a feeling of satisfied repletion stole gently over us, and we felt pleased with everything.
I fell back in my chair, with my face directed to the ceiling, and my arms hanging lazily down. I began dreamily to consider what sort of a place I had got into.
It was a low vaulted ceiling cut out of the live rock, almost oven-shaped, and hardly twelve feet high at the highest point. At the farther end I saw a sort of deep recess where lay my bed on the ground, and consisting, as I thought I could see, of a huge bear-skin above, and I could not tell what below, and within this yet another smaller niche with a figure of the Virgin Mary carved out of the same granite, and crowned with a bunch of withered grass.