LITTLE WHILE after, as they stood at the door together, looking over the fair scene with its boundary of clear waters, his heart yearned so toward this cradle of his love that he said: "But why should we go away so soon? we shall never spend happier days in yonder world, than we have passed in this peaceful nook. Let us at least see two or three more suns go down here."-"As my Lord wishes," answered Undine, with cheerful submission; "but, you see, the old people will be grieved at parting with me, whenever it is; and if we give them time to become acquainted with my soul, and with its new powers of loving and honouring them, I fear that when I go, their aged hearts will break under the load of sorrow. As yet, they take my gentle mood for a passing whim, such as they saw me liable to formerly, like a calm on the lake when the winds are lulled; and they will soon begin to love some favourite tree or flower in my place. They must not learn to know this newly obtained, affectionate heart, in the first overflowings of its tenderness, just at the moment when they are to lose me for this world; and how could I disguise it from them, if we remained together longer?"
Huldbrand agreed with her; he went to the old couple and finding them ready to consent, he resolved upon setting out that very hour. The Priest offered to accompany them; after a hasty farewell, the pretty bride was placed on the horse by her husband, and they crossed the stream's dry bed quickly, and entered the forest. Undine shed silent but bitter tears, while the old folks wailed after her aloud. It seemed as if some foreboding were crossing their minds, of how great their loss would prove.
The three travellers reached the deepest shades of the forest, without breaking silence. It was a fair sight to behold, as they passed through the leafy bowers: the graceful woman sitting on her noble steed, guarded on one side by the venerable Priest in the white habit of his order; on the other, by the youthful Knight, with his gorgeous attire and glittering sword. Huldbrand had no eyes but for his precious wife; Undine, who had dried her duteous tears, no thought but for him; and they soon fell into a noiseless interchange of glances and signs, which at length was interrupted by the sound of a low murmur, proceeding from the Priest and a fourth fellow-traveller, who had joined them unobserved. He wore a white robe, very like the Priest's dress, except that the hood almost covered his face, and the rest of it floated round him in such large folds that he was perpetually obliged to gather up, throw it over his arm, or otherwise arrange it; yet it did not seem to impede him at all in walking; when the young people saw him he was saying, "And so, my worthy father, I have dwelt in the forest for many a year, yet I am not what you commonly call a hermit. For, as I told you, I know nothing of penance, nor do I think it would do me much good. What makes me so fond of the woods is, that I have a very particular fancy for winding through the dark shades and forest walks, with my loose white clothes floating about me; now and then a pretty sunbeam will glance over me as I go."-"You seem to be a very curious person," replied the Priest "and I should like to know more about you."-"And pray who are you, to carry on the acquaintance?" said the stranger. "They call me Father Heilmann," answered the Priest, "and I belong to St. Mary's monastery, beyond the lake."-"Ay, ay!" rejoined the other. "My name is Kuhleborn, and if I stood upon ceremony, I might well call myself Lord of Kuhleborn, or Baron (Freiherr) Kuhleborn; for free I am, as the bird of the air, or a trifle more free. For instance, I must now have a word with the young woman there." And before they could look round, he was on the other side of the Priest, close to Undine, and stretching up his tall figure to whisper in her ear. But she turned hastily away, saying, "I have nothing more to do with you now."-"Heyday!" said the stranger, laughing, "what a prodigiously grand marriage yours must be, if you are to cast off your relations in this way! Have you forgotten Uncle Kuhleborn, who brought you all the way here on his back so kindly?"
"But I entreat you," said Undine, "never come to me again. I am afraid of you now; and will not my husband become afraid of me, if he finds I have so strange a family?"-"My little niece," said Kuhleborn, "please to remember that I am protecting you all this time; the foul Spirits of Earth might play you troublesome tricks if I did not. So you had better let me go on with you, and no more words. The old Priest there has a better memory than yours, for he would have it he knew my face very well, and that I must have been with him in the boat, when he fell into the water. And he may well say so, seeing that the wave which washed him over was none but myself, and I landed him safe on the shore, in time for your wedding."
Undine and the Knight looked at Father Heilmann, but he seemed to be plodding on in a waking dream, and not listening to what was said. Undine said to Kuhleborn, "There, I can see the end of the wood; we want your help no longer, and there is nothing to disturb us but you. So in love and kindness I entreat you, begone, and let us go in peace." This seemed to make Kuhleborn angry; he twisted his face hideously, and hissed at Undine, who cried aloud for help. Like lightning the Knight passed round her horse, and aimed a blow at Kuhleborn's head with his sword. But instead of the head, he struck into a waterfall, which gushed down a high cliff near them, and now showered them all with a splash that sounded like laughter, and wetted them to the bone. The Priest, seeming to wake up, said, "Well, I was expecting this, because that brook gushed down the rock so close to us. At first I could not shake off the idea that it was a man, and was speaking to me." The waterfall whispered distinctly in Huldbrand's ear, "Rash youth, dashing youth, I chide thee not, I shame thee not; still shield thy precious wife safe and sure, rash young soldier, dashing Knight!"
A little further on they emerged into the open plains. The city lay glittering before them, and the evening sun that gilded her towers, lent its grateful warmth to dry their soaked garments.
X.-OF THEIR WAY OF LIFE IN THE TOWN
The sudden disappearance of the young Knight Huldbrand of Ringstetten had made a great stir in the city, and distressed the inhabitants, with whom his gallantry in the lists and the dance, and his gentle, courteous manners, had made him very popular. His retainers would not leave the place without their master, but yet none had the courage to seek him in the haunted forest. They therefore remained in their hostelry, idly hoping, as men are so apt to do, and keeping alive the remembrance of their lost lord by lamentations. But soon after, when the tempest raged and the rivers overflowed, few doubted that the handsome stranger must have perished. Bertalda, among others, mourned him for lost, and was ready to curse herself, for having urged him to the fatal ride through the forest. Her ducal foster parents had arrived to take her away, but she prevailed upon them to wait a little, in hope that a true report of Huldbrand's death or safety might reach them. She tried to persuade some of the young knights who contended for her favour, to venture into the forest and seek for the noble adventurer. But she would not offer her hand as the reward, because she still hoped to bestow it some day on the wanderer himself; and to obtain a glove, a scarf, or some such token from her, none of them cared to expose his life to bring back so dangerous a rival.
Now, when Huldbrand unexpectedly reappeared, it spread joy among his servants, and all the people generally, except Bertalda; for while the others were pleased at his bringing with him such a beautiful wife, and Father Heilmann to bear witness to their marriage, it could not but grieve her: first, because the young Knight had really won her heart; and next, because she had betrayed her feelings by so openly lamenting his absence, far more than was now becoming. However, she behaved like a prudent woman and suited her conduct to the circumstances, by living in the most cordial intimacy with Undine-who passed in the town for a princess, released by Huldbrand from the power of some wicked enchanter of the forest. If she or her husband were questioned about it, they gave evasive answers; Father Heilmann's lips were sealed on all such idle topics, beside which, he had left them soon after they arrived, and returned to his cloister: so the citizens were left to their own wondering conjectures, and even Bertalda came no nearer the truth than others.
Meanwhile, Undine grew daily more fond of this winning damsel. "We must have known each other before," she would often say, "or else some secret attraction draws us toward each other; for without some cause, some strange, mysterious cause, I am sure nobody would love another as I have loved you from the moment we met." Bertalda, on her part, could not deny that she felt strongly inclined to like Undine, notwithstanding the grounds of complaint she thought she had against this happy rival. The affection being mutual, the one persuaded her parents, the other her wedded lord, to defer the day of departure repeatedly; they even went so far as to propose that Bertalda should accompany Undine to the castle of Ringstetten, near the source of the Danube.