618 THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER
but a standing marsh, round which likewise they were obliged to ride. There was strength and refreshment in the cool forest breeze ; and no small power lay in the gentle words which were spoken in faith and in Christian love, from a strong inward yearning to lead the poor lost one into the way of light and life.
They say the rain-drops can hollow the hard stone, and the waves of the sea can smooth and round the sharp edges of the rocks. Thus did the dew of mercy, that dropped upon Helga, smooth what was rough and penetrate what was hard in her. The effects did not yet appear, nor was she aware of them herself ; but doth the seed in the bosom of earth know, when the refreshing dew and the quickening sunbeams fall upon it, that it hath within itself the power of growth and blossoming ?* As the song of the mother penetrates into the heart of the child, and it babbles the words after her, without understanding their import, until they afterwards engender thought, and come forward in due time clearer and more clearly, so here also did the Word take effect, that is powerful to create.
They rode forth from the dense forest, across the heath, and then again through pathless woods ; and towards evening they encountered a band of robbers.
' Where hast thou stolen that beauteous maiden ? ' cried the robbers ; and they seized the horse's bridle and dragged the two riders from its back. The priest had no weapon save the knife he had taken from Helga, and with this he tried to defend himself. One of the robbers lifted his axe, but the young priest sprang aside, otherwise he would have been struck, and now the edge of the axe went deep into the horse's neck, so that the blood spurted forth, and the creature sank down on the ground. Then Helga seemed suddenly to wake up from her long reverie, and threw herself hastily upon the gasping animal. The priest stood before her to protect and defend her, but one of the robbers swung his iron hammer over the Christian's head, and brought it down with such a crash that blood and brains were scattered around, and the priest sank to the earth, dead.
Then the robbers seized little Helga by her white arms ; but the sun went down, and its last ray disappeared at