N FACT, THE whole valley was now heaving with waves, that had swollen rapidly to a great height. "This must be Kuhleborn, the wicked sprite, trying to drown us!" cried the Knight. "Have you no charm to keep him off, friend?"-"I do know of one," said the driver, "but I can't and won't make use of it, till you know who I am."-"Is this a time for riddles?" shouted the Knight; "the flood is rising every moment, and what care I to know who you are?"-"It rather concerns you, however, to know," said the driver, "for I am Kuhleborn." And he grinned hideously into the wagon-which was now a wagon no longer, nor were the horses horses; but all dissolved into foaming waves; the wagoner himself shot up into a giant Waterspout, bore down the struggling horse into the flood, and, towering over the heads of the hapless pair, till he had swelled into a watery fountain, he would have swallowed them up the next moment.
But now the sweet voice of Undine was heard above the wild uproar; the moon shone out between the clouds, and at the same instant Undine came into sight, upon the high grounds above them. She addressed Kuhleborn in a commanding tone, the huge wave laid itself down, muttering and murmuring; the waters rippled gently away in the moon's soft light, and Undine alighted like a white dove from her airy height, and led them to a soft green spot on the hillside, where she refreshed their jaded spirits with choice food. She then helped Bertalda to mount her own white palfrey, and at length they all three reached the Castle of Ringstetten in safety.
XV.-THE TRIP TO VIENNA
For some time after this adventure they led a quiet and peaceful life in the castle. The Knight was deeply touched by his wife's angelic goodness, so signally displayed by her pursuing and saving them in the Black Valley, where their lives were threatened by Kuhleborn. Undine herself was happy in the peace of an approving conscience; besides that, many a gleam of hope now brightened her path, as her husband's love and confidence seemed to revive; Bertalda meanwhile was grateful, modest, and timid, without claiming any merit for being so. If either of her companions alluded to the sealing up of the fountain, or the adventures in the Black Valley, she would implore them to spare her on those subjects, because she could not think of the fountain without a blush, nor the valley without a shudder. She was therefore told nothing further; indeed, what would have been the use of enlightening her? Nothing could add to the peace and happiness which had taken up their abode in the Castle of Ringstetten; they enjoyed the present in full security, and the future lay before them, all blooming with fair fruits and flowers.
The winter had gone by without any interruption to their social comfort; and spring, with her young green shoots and bright blue skies, began to smile upon men; their hearts felt light, like the young season, and from its returning birds of passage, they caught a fancy to travel. One day as they were walking together near the sources of the Danube, Huldbrand fell into talk about the glories of that noble river, how proudly he flowed on, through fruitful lands, to the spot where the majestic city of Vienna crowned his banks, and how every mile of his course was marked by fresh grandeur and beauty. "How delightful it would be to follow his course down to Vienna!" cried Bertalda; but instantly relapsing into her timid, chastened manner, she blushed and was silent. This touched Undine, and in her eagerness to give her friend pleasure, she said: "And why should we not take the trip?" Bertalda jumped for joy, and their fancy began to paint this pleasant recreation in the brightest colours. Huldbrand encouraged them cheerfully, but whispered once to Undine: "But, should not we get within Kuhleborn's power again, down there?"-"Let him come," said she, laughing; "I shall be with you, and in my presence he durst not attempt any mischief."
So the only possible objection seemed removed and they prepared for departure, and were soon sailing along, full of spirit and of gay hopes. But, O Man! it is not for thee to wonder when the course of events differs widely from the paintings of thy fancy. The treacherous foe, that lures us to our ruin, lulls his victim to rest with sweet music and golden dreams. Our guardian angel, on the contrary, will often rouse us by a sharp and awakening blow.
The first days they spent on the Danube were days of extraordinary enjoyment. The further they floated down the proud stream the nobler and fairer grew the prospect. But, just as they had reached a most lovely district, the first sight of which had promised them great delight, the unruly Kuhleborn began openly to give signs of his presence and power. At first they were only sportive tricks, because, whenever he ruffled the stream and raised the wind, Undine repressed him by a word or two, and made him again subside at once; but his attempts soon began again, and again, Undine was obliged to warn him off; so that the pleasure of the little party was grievously disturbed. To make things worse, the watermen would mutter many a dark surmise into each other's ears, and cast strange looks at the three gentlefolks, whose very servants began to feel suspicion, and to show distrust of their lord. Huldbrand said to himself more than once, "This comes of uniting with other than one's like: a son of earth may not marry a wondrous maid of ocean." To justify himself (as we all love to do) he would add, "But I did not know she was a maid of ocean. If I am to be pursued and fettered wherever I go by the mad freaks of her relations, mine is the misfortune, not the fault." Such reflections somewhat checked his self-reproaches; but they made him the more disposed to accuse, nay, even to hate Undine. Already he began to scowl upon her, and the poor wife understood but too well his meaning. Exhausted by this, and by her constant exertions against Kuhleborn, she sank back one evening in the boat, and was lulled by its gentle motion into a deep sleep.
But no sooner were her eyes closed, than everyone in the boat thought he saw, just opposite his own eyes, a terrific human head rising above the water; not like the head of a swimmer, but planted upright on the surface of the river, and keeping pace with the boat. Each turned to his neighbour to show him the cause of his terror, and found him looking equally frightened, but pointing in a different direction, where the half-laughing, half-scowling goblin met his eyes. When at length they tried to explain the matter to each other, crying out, "Look there; no, there!" each of them suddenly perceived the other's phantom, and the water round the boat appeared all alive with ghastly monsters. The cry which burst from every mouth awakened Undine. Before the light of her beaming eyes the horde of misshapen faces vanished. But Huldbrand was quite exasperated by these fiendish tricks and would have burst into loud imprecations, had not Undine whispered in the most beseeching manner, "For God's sake, my own lord, be patient now; remember we are on the water." The Knight kept down his anger, and soon sank into thought. Presently Undine whispered to him: "My love, had not we better give up the foolish journey, and go home to Ringstetten in comfort?" But Huldbrand muttered angrily, "Then I am to be kept a prisoner in my own castle? and even there I may not breathe freely unless the fountain is sealed up? Would to Heaven the absurd connection"-But Undine pressed her soft hand gently upon his lips. And he held his peace, and mused upon all she had previously told him.
In the meantime, Bertalda had yielded herself up to many and strange reflections. She knew something of Undine's origin, but not all! and Kuhleborn in particular was only a fearful but vague image in her mind; she had not even once heard his name. And as she pondered these wonderful subjects, she half unconsciously took off a golden necklace which Huldbrand had bought for her of a travelling jeweller a few days before; she held it close to the surface of the river playing with it, and dreamily watching the golden gleam that it shed on the glassy water. Suddenly a large hand came up out of the Danube, snatched the necklace, and ducked under with it. Bertalda screamed aloud, and was answered by a laugh of scorn from the depths below. And now the Knight could contain himself no longer. Starting up, he gave loose to his fury, loading with imprecations those who chose to break into his family and private life, and challenging them-were they goblins or sirens-to meet his good sword. Bertalda continued to weep over the loss of her beloved jewel, and her tears were as oil to the flames of his wrath, while Undine kept her hand dipped into the water with a ceaseless low murmur, only once or twice interrupting her mysterious whispers to say to her husband in tones of entreaty, "Dearest love, speak not roughly to me here; say whatever you will, only spare me here; you know why!" and he still restrained his tongue (which stammered with passion) from saying a word directly against her. She soon drew her hand from under the water, bringing up a beautiful coral necklace whose glitter dazzled them all. "Take it," said she, offering it kindly to Bertalda; "I have sent for this, instead of the one you lost; do not grieve any more, my poor child." But Huldbrand darted forward, snatched the shining gift from Undine's hand, hurled it again into the water, and roared furiously, "So you still have intercourse with them? In the name of sorcery, go back to them with all your baubles, and leave us men in peace, witch as you are!" With eyes aghast, yet streaming with tears, poor Undine gazed at him, still holding out the hand which had so lovingly presented to Bertalda the bright jewel. Then she wept more and more, like a sorely injured, innocent child. And at length she said faintly, "Farewell, my dearest; farewell! They shall not lay a finger on thee; only be true to me, that I may still guard thee from them. But I, alas! I must be gone; all this bright morning of life is over. Woe, woe is me! what hast thou done? woe, woe!" And she slipped out of the boat and passed away. Whether she went down into the river, or flowed away with it, none could tell; it was like both and yet like neither. She soon mingled with the waters of the Danube, and nothing was to be heard but the sobbing whispers of the stream as it washed against the boat, seeming to say distinctly, "Woe, woe! Oh be true to me! woe, woe!"
Huldbrand lay flat in the boat, drowned in tears, till a deep swoon came to the unhappy man's relief, and steeped him in oblivion.
XVI.-OF WHAT BEFELL HULDBRAND AFTERWARDS
Shall we say, Alas, or thank God, that our grief is so often transient? I speak of such grief as has its source in the wellsprings of life itself, and seems so identified with our lost friend, as almost to fill up the void he has left; and his hallowed image seems fixed within the sanctuary of our soul, until the signal of our release comes, and sets us free to join him! In truth, a good man will not suffer this sanctuary to be disturbed; yet even with him, it is not the first, the all-engrossing sorrow which abides. New objects will intermingle, and we are compelled to draw from our grief itself a fresh proof of the perishableness of earthly things: alas, then, that our grief is transient!