I turned in the direction in which she was gazing....
At the very edge of the sky, beyond the low line of the fields, a golden cross was blazing like a spark of fire on the white belfry of a Christian church.... The goddess had caught sight of that cross.
I heard behind me a long, uneven sigh, like the throbbing of a broken harp-string,—and when I turned round again, no trace of the nymphs remained.... The broad forest gleamed green as before, and only in spots, athwart the close network of the branches, could tufts of something white be seen melting away. Whether these were the tunics of the nymphs, or a vapour was rising up from the bottom of the valley, I know not.
But how I regretted the vanished goddesses!
A captive condemned to perpetual incarceration broke out of prison and started to run at a headlong pace.... After him, on his very heels, darted the pursuit.
He ran with all his might.... His pursuers began to fall behind.
But lo! in front of him was a river with steep banks,—a narrow, but deep river.... And he did not know how to swim!
From one shore to the other a thin, rotten board had been thrown. The fugitive had already set foot upon it.... But it so happened that just at this point, beside the river, his best friend and his most cruel enemy were standing.
The enemy said nothing and merely folded his arms; on the other hand, the friend shouted at the top of his voice:—“Good heavens! What art thou doing? Come to thy senses, thou madman! Dost thou not see that the board is completely rotten?—It will break beneath thy weight, and thou wilt infallibly perish!”
“But there is no other way of crossing ... and hearest thou the pursuit?” groaned in desperation the unhappy wight, as he stepped upon the board.
“I will not permit it!... No, I will not permit thee to perish!”—roared his zealous friend, snatching the plank from beneath the feet of the fugitive.—The latter instantly tumbled headlong into the tumultuous waters—and was drowned.
The enemy smiled with satisfaction, and went his way; but the friend sat down on the shore and began to weep bitterly over his poor ... poor friend!
“He would not heed me! He would not heed me!” he whispered dejectedly.
“However!” he said at last. “He would have been obliged to languish all his life in that frightful prison! At all events, he is not suffering now! Now he is better off! Evidently, so had his Fate decreed!
“And yet, it is a pity, from a human point of view!”
And the good soul continued to sob inconsolably over his unlucky friend.
I saw myself as a youth, almost a little boy, in a low-ceiled country church.—Slender wax tapers burned like red spots in front of the ancient holy pictures.