ERE THE KNIGHT interrupted the Fisherman, to call his attention to a sound of roaring waters, which he had noticed already in the pauses of the old man's speech, and which now rose in fury as it rushed past the windows. They both ran to the door. By the light of the newly risen moon, they saw the brook which gushed out of the forest breaking wildly over its banks, and whirling along stones and branches in its eddying course. A storm, as if awakened by the uproar, burst from the heavy clouds that were chasing each other across the moon; the lake howled under the wings of the wind; the trees on the shore groaned from top to bottom, and bowed themselves over the rushing waters. "Undine! for God's sake, Undine!" cried the Knight, and the old man. No answer was to be heard; and, heedless now of any danger to themselves, they ran off in different directions, calling her in frantic anxiety.
III.-HOW THEY FOUND UNDINE AGAIN
The longer Huldbrand wandered in vain pursuit of Undine, the more bewildered he became. The idea that she might be a mere spirit of the woods, sometimes returned upon him with double force; nay, amid the howling waves and storm, the groaning of trees, and the wild commotion of the once-peaceful spot, he might have fancied the whole promontory, its hut and its inhabitants, to be a delusion of magic, but that he still heard in the distance the Fisherman's piteous cries of "Undine!" and the old housewife's loud prayers and hymns, above the whistling of the blast.
At last he found himself on the margin of the overflowing stream, and saw it by the moonlight rushing violently along, close to the edge of the mysterious forest so as to make an island of the peninsula on which he stood. "Gracious Heaven!" thought he, "Undine may have ventured a step or two into that awful forest-perhaps in her pretty waywardness, just because I would not tell her my story-and the swollen stream has cut her off, and left her weeping alone among the spectres!" A cry of terror escaped him, and he clambered down the bank by means of some stones and fallen trees, hoping to wade or swim across the flood, and seek the fugitive beyond it. Fearful and unearthly visions did indeed float before him, like those he had met with in the morning, beneath these groaning, tossing branches. Especially he was haunted by the appearance of a tall white man, whom he remembered but too well, grinning and nodding at him from the opposite bank; however, the thought of these grim monsters did but urge him onward as he recollected Undine, now perhaps in deadly fear among them, and alone.
He had laid hold of a stout pine branch, and leaning on it, was standing in the eddy, though scarcely able to stem it, but he stepped boldly forward-when a sweet voice exclaimed close behind him: "Trust him not-trust not! The old fellow is tricksy-the stream!"
Well he knew those silver tones: the moon was just disappearing behind a cloud, and he stood amid the deepening shades, made dizzy as the water shot by him with the speed of an arrow. Yet he would not desist. "And if thou art not truly there, if thou flittest before me an empty shadow, I care not to live; I will melt into air like thee, my beloved Undine!" This he cried aloud, and strode further into the flood.
"Look round then-look round, fair youth!" he heard just behind him, and looking round, he beheld by the returning moonbeams, on a fair island left by the flood, under some thickly interlaced branches, Undine all smiles and loveliness, nestling in the flowery grass. How much more joyfully than before did the young man use his pine staff to cross the waters! A few strides brought him through the flood that had parted them; and he found himself at her side, on the nook of soft grass, securely sheltered under the shade of the old trees. Undine half arose, and twined her arms round his neck in the green arbour, making him sit down by her on the turf. "Here you shall tell me all, my own friend," said she in a low whisper; "the cross old folks cannot overhear us. And our pretty bower of leaves is well worth their wretched hut."
"This is heaven!" cried Huldbrand, as he clasped in his arms the beautiful flatterer.
Meantime the old man had reached the banks of the stream, and he called out: "So, Sir Knight, when I had made you welcome, as one honest man should another, here are you making love to my adopted child-to say nothing of your leaving me to seek her, alone and terrified, all night."
"I have but this moment found her, old man!" cried the Knight in reply.
"Well, I am glad of that," said the Fisherman; "now then bring her back to me at once."
But Undine would not hear of it. She had rather she said, go quite away into the wild woods with the handsome stranger, than return to the hut, where she had never had her own way, and which the Knight must sooner or later leave. Embracing Huldbrand, she sang with peculiar charm and grace:
"From misty cave the mountain wave Leapt out and sought the main! The Ocean's foam she made her home, And ne'er returned again."
The old man wept bitterly as she sang, but this did not seem to move her. She continued to caress her lover, till at length he said: "Undine, the poor old man's grief goes to my heart if not to yours. Let us go back to him."
Astonished, she raised her large blue eyes toward him, and after a pause answered slowly and reluctantly: "To please you, I will: whatever you like pleases me too. But the old man yonder must first promise me that he will let you tell me all you saw in the forest, and the rest we shall see about."
"Only come back-do come!" cried the Fisherman, and not another word could he say. At the same moment he stretched his arms over the stream toward her, and nodded his head by way of giving her the desired promise; and as his white hair fell over his face, it gave him a strange look, and reminded Huldbrand involuntarily of the nodding white man in the woods. Determined, however, that nothing should stop him, the young Knight took the fair damsel in his arms, and carried her through the short space of foaming flood, which divided the island from the mainland. The old man fell upon Undine's neck, and rejoiced, and kissed her in the fulness of his heart; his aged wife also came up, and welcomed their recovered child most warmly. All reproaches were forgotten; the more so, as Undine seemed to have left her sauciness behind, and overwhelmed her foster parents with kind words and caresses.
When these transports of joy had subsided, and they began to look about them, the rosy dawn was just shedding its glow over the lake, the storm had ceased, and the birds were singing merrily on the wet branches. As Undine insisted upon hearing the story of the Knight's adventure, both the old folks cheerfully indulged her. Breakfast was set out under the trees between the cottage and the lake, and they sat down before it with glad hearts, Undine placing herself resolutely on the grass at the Knight's feet. Huldbrand began his narrative as follows.
IV.-OF WHAT HAD BEFALLEN THE KNIGHT IN THE FOREST
"About eight days ago, I rode into the imperial city beyond this forest. A grand tournament and tilting was held there, and I spared neither lance nor steed. As I stood still a moment to rest myself, in a pause of the noble game, and had just given my helmet in charge to a squire, my eye fell upon a most beautiful woman, who stood, richly adorned, in one of the galleries, looking on. I inquired her name, and found that this charming lady was Bertalda, the adopted daughter of one of the principal lords in the neighbourhood. I observed that her eye was upon me too, and as is the way with us young knights, I had not been slack before, but I now fought more bravely still. That evening I was Bertalda's partner in the dance, and so I was again every evening during the jousting."