“I set out yesterday morning,” continued the Knight, smiling kindly at Undine. “The stems of the trees looked so bright in the morning sunshine, as it played upon the green turf, and the leaves whispered together so pleasantly, that I could not but laugh at those who imagined any evil to lurk in such a beautiful place. I shall very soon have ridden through it and back again, thought I, pushing on cheerily, and before I was aware of it, I found myself in the depths of its leafy shades, and the plains behind me far out of sight. It then occurred to me that I was likely enough to lose my way in this wilderness of trees, and that this might be the only real danger to which the traveller was here exposed. So I halted, and took notice of the course of the sun; it was now high in the heavens.
“On looking up, I saw something black among the boughs of a tall oak. I took it for a bear, and seized my rifle; but it addressed me in a human voice, most hoarse and grating, saying: ’If I did not break off the twigs up here, what should we do to-night for fuel to roast you with, Sir Simpleton?’ And he gnashed his teeth, and rattled the boughs, so as to startle my horse, which ran away with me before I could make out what kind of a devil it was.”
“You should not mention his name,” said the Fisherman, crossing himself; his wife silently did the same, while Undine turned her beaming eyes upon her lover, and said—
“He is safe now; it is well they did not really roast him. Go on, pretty youth.”
He continued: “My terrified horse had almost dashed me against many a trunk and branch; he was running down with fright and heat, and yet there was no stopping him. At length he rushed madly toward the brink of a stony precipice; but here, as it seemed to me, a tall white man threw himself across the plunging animal’s path, and made him start back, and stop. I then recovered the control of him, and found that, instead of a white man, my preserver was no other than a bright silvery brook, which gushed down from the hill beside me, checking and crossing my horse in his course.”
“Thanks, dear brook!” cried Undine, clapping her hands. But the old man shook his head, and seemed lost in thought.
“Scarcely had I settled myself in the saddle, and got firm hold of my reins again,” proceeded Huldbrand, “when an extraordinary little man sprang up beside me, wizen and hideous beyond measure; he was of a yellow-brown hue, and his nose almost as big as the whole of his body. He grinned at me in the most fulsome way with his wide mouth, bowing and scraping every moment. As I could not abide these antics, I thanked him abruptly, pulled my still-trembling horse another way, and thought I would seek some other adventure, or perhaps go home; for during my wild gallop the sun had passed his meridian, and was now declining westward. But the little imp sprang round like lightning, and stood in front of my horse again.