HANK HEAVEN, HE is gone," said the old man, and he then proceeded to consider how his guest could best return to his friends in the city. Upon this, Undine was heard to laugh in a whisper.
Huldbrand observed it, and said: "I thought you had wished me to stay; and now you seem pleased when we talk of my going?"
"Because," replied Undine, "you cannot get away. Only try to cross the swollen brook, in a boat, on horseback, or on foot. Or rather, do not try, for you would be dashed to pieces by the branches and stones that it hurls along. And as to the lake, I know how that is: father never ventures across it in his boat."
Huldbrand laughed, and got up to see whether she had spoken true; the old man went with him, and the maiden tripped along playfully by their side. They found she had told them no worse than the truth and the Knight resigned himself to staying in the island, as it might now be called till the floods had subsided. As they returned homeward, he whispered in his pretty companion's ear-"Well, my little Undine! are you angry at my staying?"
"Ah," said she sullenly, "never mind. If I had not bitten you, who knows what might have come out in your story of Bertalda?"
V.-OF THE LIFE WHICH THE KNIGHT LED ON THE ISLAND
Has it ever befallen thee, gentle reader, after many ups and downs in this troublesome world, to alight upon a spot where thou foundest rest; where the love which is born with us for fireside comfort and domestic peace, revived in thee; where thou couldst fancy thy early home with the blossoms of childhood, its pure, heartfelt affection, and the holy influence breathed from thy fathers' graves, to be restored to thee-and that it must indeed be "good for thee to be here, and to build tabernacles?" The charm may have been broken, the dream dispelled; but that has nothing to do with our present picture; nor wilt thou care to dwell on such bitter moments; but recall to mind that period of unspeakable peace, that foretaste of angelic rest which was granted thee, and thou wilt partly conceive what the Knight Huldbrand felt, while he lived on the promontory. Often, with secret satisfaction, did he mark the forest stream rolling by more wildly every day; its bed became wider and wider, and he felt the period of his seclusion from the world must be still prolonged. Having found an old crossbow in a corner of the cottage, and mended it, he spent part of his days roving about, waylaying the birds that flew by, and bringing whatever he killed to the kitchen, as rare game. When he came back laden with spoil, Undine would often scold him for taking the life of the dear little joyous creatures, soaring in the blue depths of Heaven; she would even weep bitterly over the dead birds. But if he came home empty-handed, she found fault with his awkwardness and laziness, which obliged them to be content with fish and crabs for dinner. Either way, he took delight in her pretty fits of anger; the more so as she rarely failed to make up for them by the fondest caresses afterwards. The old folks, having been in the young people's confidence from the first, unconsciously looked upon them as a betrothed or even married pair, shut out from the world with them in this retreat, and bestowed upon them for comforts in their old age. And this very seclusion helped to make the young Knight feel as if he were already Undine's bridegroom. It seemed to him that the whole world was contained within the surrounding waters, or at any rate, that he could never more cross that charmed boundary, and rejoin other human beings. And if at times the neighing of his steed reminded him of former feats of chivalry, and seemed to ask for more; if his coat of arms, embroidered on the saddle and trappings, caught his eye; or if his good sword fell from the nail on which he had hung it and slipped out of its scabbard, he would silence the misgivings that arose, by thinking, Undine is not a fisherman's daughter, but most likely sprung from some highly noble family in distant lands. The only thing that ever ruffled him, was to hear the old woman scolding Undine. The wayward girl only laughed at her; but to him it seemed as if his own honour were touched; and yet he could not blame the good wife, for Undine mostly deserved ten times worse than she got, therefore he still felt kindly toward the old dame, and these little rubs scarcely disturbed the even current of their lives.
At length, however, a grievance did arise. The Knight and the Fisherman were in the habit of sitting cheerfully over a flask of wine, both at noon, and also at eventide while the wind whistled around, as it generally did at night. But they had now exhausted the whole stock which the Fisherman had, long since, brought from the town with him and they both missed it sadly. Undine laughed at them all day for it, but they could not join in her mirth as heartily as usual. Toward evening she left the cottage, saying she could no longer bear such long dismal faces. As the twilight looked stormy, and the waters were beginning to moan and heave, the Knight and the old man ran out anxiously to fetch her back, remembering the agony of that night when Huldbrand first came to the cottage. But they were met by Undine, clapping her hands merrily. "What will you give me if I get you some wine? But, indeed, I want no reward for it," she added; "I shall be satisfied if you will but look brighter, and find more to say than you have done all these tedious mornings. Come along; the floods have washed a barrel ashore, and I will engage to sleep a whole week through if it is not a barrel of wine!"
The men both followed her to a shady creek, and there found a barrel, which did look as if it contained the generous liquor which they longed for. They rolled it toward the hut as fast as they could, for a heavy storm seemed stalking across the sky, and there was light enough left to show them the waves of the lake tossing up their foaming heads, as if looking out for the rain which would soon pour down upon them. Undine lent a hand in the work, and presently, when the shower threatened to break instantly over their heads, she spoke to the big clouds in playful defiance: "You, you there! mind you do not give us a drenching; we are some way from home yet." The old man admonished her that this was sinful presumption, but she laughed slyly to herself, and no harm came of it. Beyond their hopes, they all three reached the comfortable fireside with their prize, unhurt; and it was not till they had opened the barrel, and found it to contain excellent wine, that the rain broke from the heavy clouds in torrents, and they heard the storm roaring among the trees, and over the lake's heaving billows.
A few bottles were soon filled from the great barrel, enough to last them several days; and they sat sipping and chatting over the bright fire, secure from the raging tempest. But the old man's heart presently smote him. "Dear me," said he, "here are we making merry over the blessing of Providence, while the owner of it has perhaps been carried away by the flood, and lost his life!"-"No, that he has not," said Undine, smiling; and she filled the Knight's glass again. He replied, "I give you my word, good father, that if I knew how to find and save him, no danger should deter me; I would not shrink from setting out in this darkness. This much I promise you, if ever I set foot in an inhabited country again, I will make inquiry after him or his heirs, and restore to them twice or three times the value of the wine." This pleased the old man, he gave an approving nod to the Knight, and drained his glass with a better conscience and a lighter heart. But Undine said to Huldbrand, "Do as you like with your money, you may make what compensation you please; but as to setting out and wandering after him, that was hastily said. I should cry my heart out if we chanced to lose you; and had not you rather stay with me and with the good wine?" "Why, yes!" said Huldbrand, laughing. "Well then," rejoined Undine, "it was a foolish thing you talked of doing; charity begins at home, you know." The old woman turned away, shaking her head and sighing; her husband forgot his usual indulgence for the pretty lassie, and reproved her sharply. "One would think," said he, "you had been reared by Turks and heathens; God forgive you and us, you perverse child."-"Ay but it is my way of thinking," pursued Undine, "whoever has reared me, so what is the use of your talking?"-"Peace!" cried the Fisherman; and she, who with all her wildness was sometimes cowed in a moment, clung trembling to Huldbrand, and whispered, "And are you angry with me, dear friend?" The Knight pressed her soft hand, and stroked down her ringlets. Not a word could he say; his distress at the old man's harshness toward Undine had sealed his lips; and so each couple remained sitting opposite the other, in moody silence and constraint.
VI.-OF A BRIDAL
A gentle tap at the door broke the silence, and made them all start: it sometimes happens that a mere trifle, coming quite unexpectedly, strikes the senses with terror. They looked at each other hesitating; the tap was repeated, accompanied by a deep groan, and the Knight grasped his sword. But the old man muttered, "If it is what I fear, it is not a sword that will help us!" Undine, however, stepped forward to the door, and said boldly and sharply, "If you are after any mischief, you spirits of earth, Kuhleborn shall teach you manners."
The terror of the others increased at these strange words; they looked at the maiden with awe, and Huldbrand was just mustering courage to ask her a question, when a voice answered her from without: "I am no spirit of earth; call me, if you will, a spirit pent in mortal clay. If you fear God, and will be charitable, you dwellers in the cottage, open the door to me." Undine opened it before he had done speaking, and held out a lamp into the stormy night, so as to show them the figure of an aged Priest, who started back as the radiant beauty of Undine flashed upon his sight. Well might he suspect magic and witchery, when so bright a vision shone out of a mean-looking cottage; he accordingly began a canticle, "All good spirits give praise to the Lord!"
"I am no ghost," said Undine, smiling; "am I so frightful to behold? And you may see that a pious saying has no terrors for me. I worship God, too, and praise Him after my own fashion; He has not created us all alike. Come in, venerable father; you will find worthy folks here."
The holy man walked in, bowing and casting his eyes around, and looking most mild and venerable. Every fold of his dark garment was dripping with water, and so were his long white beard and hoary locks. The Fisherman and the Knight led him to a bedroom, and gave him change of clothing, while the women dried his wet garments by the hearth fire. The aged stranger thanked them with all humility and gentleness, but would by no means accept of the Knight's splendid mantle, which he offered him; he chose himself an old gray wrapper of the Fisherman's instead. So they returned to the kitchen; the dame up gave her own arm-chair to the Priest, and had no peace till he sat himself down on it: "For," said she, "you are old and weary, and a priest besides." Undine pushed her little footstool toward the good man's feet, and altogether behaved to him quite properly and gracefully. Huldbrand took notice of this, in a playful whisper; but she answered very gravely: "Because he is a servant of the Maker of us all; that is too serious for a jest."