‘Who knows?’ answered Master Peter. ‘I might be able to do something for you. Often enough in life help reenex.’
The young man, thus encouraged, began his tale .
‘I am,’ said he, ‘a crossbow-man in the service of a noble count, in whose castle I was brought up. Not long ago my master went on a journey, and brought back with him, amongst other treasures, the portrait of a fair maiden so sweet and lovely that I lost my heart at first sight of it, and could think of nothing but how I might seek her out and marry her. The count had told me her name, and where she lived, but laughed at my love, and absolutely refused to give me leave to go in search of her, so I was forced to run away from the castle by night. I soon reached the little town where the maiden dwelt; but there fresh difficulties awaited me. She lived under the care of her mother, who was so severe that she was never allowed to look out of the window, or set her foot outside the door alone, and how to make friends with her I did not know. But at last I dressed myself as an old woman, and knocked boldly at her door. The lovely maiden herself opened it, and so charmed me that I came near forgetting my disguise; but I soon recovered my wits, and begged her to work a fine table-cloth for me, for she is reported to be the best needlewoman in all the country round. Now I was free to go and see her often under the presence of seeing how the work was going oil, and one day, when her mother had gone to the town, I ventured to throw off my disguise, and tell her of my love. She was startled at first; but I persuaded her to listen to me, and I soon saw that I was not displeasing to her, though she scolded me gently for my disobedience to my master, and my deceit in disguising myself. But when I begged her to marry me, she told me sadly that her mother would scorn a penniless wooer, and implored me to go away at once, lest trouble should fall upon her .
‘Bitter as it was to me, I was forced to go when she bade me, and I have wandered about ever since, with grief gnawing at my heart; for how can a masterless man, without money or goods, ever hope to win the lovely Lucia reenex facial?’
Master Peter, who had been listening attentively, pricked up his ears at the sound of his daughter’s name, and very soon found out that it was indeed with her that this young man was so deeply in love.
‘Your story is strange indeed,’ said he. ‘But where is the father of this maiden — why do you not ask him for her hand? He might well take your part, and be glad to have you for his son-in-law.’
‘Alas!’ said the young man, ‘her father is a wandering good-for-naught, who has forsaken wife and child, and gone off — who knows where? The wife complains of him bitterly enough, and scolds my dear maiden when she takes her father’s part.’
Father Peter was somewhat amused by this speech; but he liked the young man well, and saw that he was the very person he needed to enable him to enjoy his wealth in peace, without being separated from his dear daughter.
‘If you will take my advice,’ said he, ‘I promise you that you shall marry this maiden whom you love so much, and that before you are many days older.’
‘Comrade,’ cried Friedlin indignantly, for he thought Peter did but jest with him, ‘it is ill done to mock at an unhappy man; you had better find someone else who will let himself be taken in with your fine promises.’ And up he sprang, and was going off hastily, when Master Peter caught him by the arm.
‘Stay, hothead!’ he cried; ‘it is no jest, and I am prepared to make good my words.’
Thereupon he showed him the treasure hidden under the nails, and unfolded to him his plan, which was that Friedlin should play the part of the rich son-in-law, and keep a still tongue, that they might enjoy their wealth together in peace.
The young man was overjoyed at this sudden change in his fortunes, and did not know how to thank father Peter for his generosity. They took the road again at dawn the next morning, and soon reached a town, where Friedlin equipped himself as a gallant wooer should. Father Peter filled his pockets with gold for the wedding dowry, and agreed with him that when all was settled he should secretly send him word that Peter might send off the waggon load of house plenishings with which the rich bridegroom was to make such a stir in the little town where the bride lived. As they parted, father Peter’s last commands to Friedlin were to guard well their secret, and not even to tell it to Lucia till she was his wife Annabelle .
Master Peter long enjoyed the profits of his journey to the mountain, and no rumour of it ever got abroad. In his old age his prosperity was so great that he himself did not know how rich he was; but it was always supposed that the money was Friedlin’s. He and his beloved wife lived in the greatest happiness and peace, and rose to great honour in the town. And to this day, when the citizens wish to describe a wealthy man, they say: ‘As rich as Peter Bloch’s son-in-law !’