THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER 615
undergo through thee,' said the Viking's wife ; ' my heart is full of more compassion for thee than I myself believed : great is the love of a mother ! But love "never entered into thy heart—thy heart that is like the wet, cold moorland plants. From whence have you come into my house ? '
Then the miserable form trembled, and it was as though these words touched an invisible bond between body and soul, and great tears came into her eyes.
' Thy hard time will come,' said the Viking's wife ; ' and it will be terrible to me too. It had been better if thou hadst been set out by the high road, and the night wind had lulled thee to sleep.'
And the Viking's wife wept bitter tears, and went away full of wrath and bitterness of spirit, disappearing behind the curtain of furs that hung over the beam and divided the hall.
The wrinkled frog crouched in the corner alone. A deep silence reigned all around, but at intervals a half-stifled sigh escaped from its breast, from the breast of Helga. It seemed as though a painful new life were arising in her inmost heart. She came forward and listened; and, stepping forward again, grasped with her clumsy hands the heavy pole that was laid across before the door. Silently she pushed back the pole, silently drew back the bolt, and took up the flickering lamp which stood in the ante-chamber of the hall. It seemed as if a strong will gave her strength. She drew back the iron bolt from the closed cellar door, and crept in to the captive. He was asleep ; she touched him with her cold, clammy hand, and when he awoke and saw the hideous form, he shuddered as though he had beheld a wicked apparition. She drew her knife, cut his bonds, and beckoned him to follow her.
He uttered some holy names and made the sign of the cross ; and when the form remained unchanged, he said,
' Who art thou ? Whence this animal shape that thou bearest, while yet thou art full of gentle mercy %'
The frog-woman beckoned him to follow, and led him through passages shrouded with curtains, into the stables, and there pointed to a horse. He mounted on its back, and she also sprang up before him, holding fast by the horse's mane. The prisoner understood her meaning, and