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
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
"This is heaven!" cried Huldbrand, as he clasped in his arms the
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
"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
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
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."
Here a sudden pain in his left hand, which hung beside him, checked
the Knight in his tale, and he looked at his hand. Undine's pearly
teeth had bitten one of his fingers sharply, and she looked very black
at him. But the next moment that look changed into an expression of
tender sadness, and she whispered low: "So you are faithless too!"
Then she hid her face in her hands, and the Knight proceeded with his
tale, although staggered and perplexed.
"That Bertalda is a high-spirited, extraordinary maid. On the second
day she charmed me far less than the first, and on the third, less
still. But I remained with her, because she was more gracious to me
than to any other knight, and so it fell out that I asked her in jest
for one of her gloves. 'You shall have it,' said she, 'if you will
visit the haunted forest alone, and bring me an account of it.' It was
not that I cared much for her glove, but the words had been spoken,
and a knight that loves his fame does not wait to be twice urged to
such a feat."
"I thought she had loved you," interrupted Undine.
"It looked like it," he replied.
"Well," cried the maiden, laughing, "she must be a fool indeed! To
drive _him_ away whom she loves! and into a haunted forest besides!
The forest and its mysteries might have waited long enough, for me."
"I set out yesterday morning," continued the Knight, smiling kindly at
Undine. "The stems of the trees looked so bright in the morning
sunshine, as it played upon the green turf, and the leaves whispered
together so pleasantly, that I could not but laugh at those who
imagined any evil to lurk in such a beautiful place. I shall very soon
have ridden through it and back again, thought I, pushing on cheerily,
and before I was aware of it, I found myself in the depths of its
leafy shades, and the plains behind me far out of sight. It then
occurred to me that I was likely enough to lose my way in this
wilderness of trees, and that this might be the only real danger to
which the traveller was here exposed. So I halted, and took notice of
the course of the sun; it was now high in the heavens.
"On looking up, I saw something black among the boughs of a tall oak.
I took it for a bear, and seized my rifle; but it addressed me in a
human voice, most hoarse and grating, saying: 'If I did not break off
the twigs up here, what should we do to-night for fuel to roast you
with, Sir Simpleton?' And he gnashed his teeth, and rattled the
boughs, so as to startle my horse, which ran away with me before I
could make out what kind of a devil it was."
"You should not mention _his_ name," said the Fisherman, crossing
himself; his wife silently did the same, while Undine turned her
beaming eyes upon her lover, and said -
"He is safe now; it is well they did not really roast him. Go on,
He continued: "My terrified horse had almost dashed me against many a
trunk and branch; he was running down with fright and heat, and yet
there was no stopping him. At length he rushed madly toward the brink
of a stony precipice; but here, as it seemed to me, a tall white man
threw himself across the plunging animal's path, and made him start
back, and stop. I then recovered the control of him, and found that,
instead of a white man, my preserver was no other than a bright
silvery brook, which gushed down from the hill beside me, checking and
crossing my horse in his course."
"Thanks, dear brook!" cried Undine, clapping her hands. But the old
man shook his head, and seemed lost in thought.
"Scarcely had I settled myself in the saddle, and got firm hold of my
reins again," proceeded Huldbrand, "when an extraordinary little man
sprang up beside me, wizen and hideous beyond measure; he was of a
yellow-brown hue, and his nose almost as big as the whole of his body.
He grinned at me in the most fulsome way with his wide mouth, bowing
and scraping every moment. As I could not abide these antics, I
thanked him abruptly, pulled my still-trembling horse another way, and
thought I would seek some other adventure, or perhaps go home; for
during my wild gallop the sun had passed his meridian, and was now
declining westward. But the little imp sprang round like lightning,
and stood in front of my horse again.
"'Make way!' cried I impatiently, 'the animal is unruly, and may run
"'Oh,' snarled the imp, with a laugh more disgusting than before,
'first give me a piece of coin for having caught your horse so nicely;
but for me, you and your pretty beast would be lying in the pit down
"'Only have done with your grimaces,' said I, 'and take your money
along with you, though it is all a lie: look there, it was that honest
brook that saved me, not you - you pitiful wretch!' So saying, I
dropped a gold coin into his comical cap, which he held out toward me
like a beggar.
"I trotted on, but he still followed, screaming, and, with
inconceivable rapidity, whisked up to my side. I put my horse into a
gallop; he kept pace with me, though with much difficulty, and twisted
his body into various frightful and ridiculous attitudes, crying at
each step as he held up the money: 'Bad coin! bad gold! bad gold! bad
coin!' And this he shrieked in such a ghastly tone, that you would
have expected him to drop down dead after each cry.
"At last I stopped, much vexed, and asked, 'What do you want, with
your shrieks? Take another gold coin; take two if you will, only let
"He began his odious smirking again, and snarled, 'It's not gold, it's
not gold that I want, young gentleman; I have rather more of that than
I can use: you shall see.'
"All at once the surface of the ground became transparent; it looked
like a smooth globe of green glass, and within it I saw a crowd of
goblins at play with silver and gold. Tumbling about, head over heels
they pelted each other in sport, making a toy of the precious metals,
and powdering their faces with gold dust. My ugly companion stood half
above, half below the surface; he made the others reach up to him
quantities of gold, and showed it to me laughing, and then flung it
into the fathomless depths beneath. He displayed the piece of gold I
had given him to the goblins below, who held their sides with laughing
and hissed at me in scorn. At length all their bony fingers pointed at
me together; and louder and louder, closer and closer, wilder and
wilder grew the turmoil, as it rose toward me, till not my horse only,
but I myself was terrified; I put spurs into him, and cannot tell how
long I may have scoured the forest this time.
"When at last I halted, the shades of evening had closed in. Through
the branches I saw a white footpath gleaming and hoped it must be a
road out of the forest to the town. I resolved to work my way thither;
but lo! an indistinct, dead-white face, with ever-changing features,
peeped at me through the leaves; I tried to avoid it, but wherever I
went, there it was. Provoked, I attempted to push my horse against
it; then it splashed us both over with white foam, and we turned away,
blinded for the moment. So it drove us, step by step, further and
further from the footpath, and indeed never letting us go on
undisturbed but in one direction. While we kept to this, it was close
upon our heels, but did not thwart us. Having looked round once or
twice, I observed that the white foaming head was placed on a gigantic
body, equally white. I sometimes doubted my first impression, and
thought it merely a waterfall, but I never could satisfy myself that
it was so. Wearily did my horse and I precede this active white
pursuer, who often nodded at us, as if saying, 'That's right! that's
right!' and it ended by our issuing from the wood here, where I
rejoiced to see your lawn, the lake, and this cottage, and where the
long white man vanished."
"Thank 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
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, Kühleborn 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;