Undine - George Upton

Departure of the Knight and his Young Bride

When Huldbrand awoke the next morning, he found his fair companion missing and began again to wonder whether his marriage, and the lovely Undine herself, had not all been a delusion of magic. But she soon came in, kissed him, and seating herself on the bed beside him, said: "I was up early and went out to see whether my uncle had kept his word. He has already called the waters back into their quiet bed, and now takes his solitary, thoughtful course through the forest as before. His comrades in the air and in the lake have also betaken themselves to rest. All is peaceful hereabouts once more, and you may set out on your homeward way dry-footed whenever it pleases you."

The knight felt as if he must still be dreaming, so little could he reconcile himself to the idea of his wife's strange relations; but he said nothing of this, and Undine's beauty and devotion soon banished his secret misgivings. Later, as they stood together in the doorway, looking out over the verdant headland and its encircling waters, he felt such a fondness for this cradle of his love that he said to her: "Why need we leave so early as to-day? Surely we shall find no happier days in all the world than we have spent in this secluded spot. Let us watch the sunset two or three times more at least, before we go."

"As my lord wishes," replied Undine, with sweet humility; "but it will grieve the old people sorely to part with me at any time, and if they learn that I now have a soul with which to love and honor them as they deserve, their feeble spark of life may be extinguished by their grief. At present they take my gentleness and piety for a passing mood only, like the calmness of the lake when the winds are still; they will soon become as attached to some flower or tree as they have been to me. They must not discover this new-found gift just as they are about to lose me forever in this world; but how am I to conceal it from them if we are together any longer?

Huldbrand was of like mind. He went to the old couple to arrange with them about the departure of himself and Undine, and it was decided they should set out without delay. The priest accompanied them. After a hasty farewell, Huldbrand lifted his lovely bride to the horse's back, and having quickly crossed the dry bed of the stream, they entered the forest. Undine wept silently but bitterly, while the fisherman and his wife were loud in their lamentations, seeming to feel a foreboding of the loneliness that would follow the loss of their lovely Undine.

The travellers soon reached the depths of the forest. They made a charming picture in these green shades,—the graceful figure seated on the noble, richly caparisoned steed, and attended on one side by the priest in the white robes of his order, on the other by the gallant young knight with his bright costume and flashing sword. The young couple had no eyes but for each other; they soon fell into a wordless exchange of glances, from which they were presently aroused by the murmur of conversation between the priest and a travelling companion who had joined them unperceived.

The stranger was clad in a white garment something like that of the priest, but the hood was drawn down closely over his face, and it fell in such voluminous folds about him that he was continually forced to gather it up and throw it over his arm, though apparently not impeded by it in the least in his walk. When the young people first became aware of his presence, he was saying: "And so I have lived in the forest here for many a year, good father; nor yet can I be called a hermit in your sense of the word, for I know nothing of penance, nor do I feel myself in any need of it. The reason I am so fond of the forest is that it is pretty in its way and amuses me as I wander through its leafy glades, with now and then an unexpected sunbeam glancing down upon me."

"You are a singular person," replied the priest, "and I would gladly know more of you."

"And who are you, pray, if I may be so bold?" asked the stranger.

"They call me Father Heilmann," answered the holy man, "and I come from Saint Mary's monastery, on the other side of the lake."

"So?" said the other. "My name is Kuhleborn, and if it comes to ceremony, I might as well be called Lord or Freiherr Kuhleborn, for I am as free as the birds of the air or even a little more so. For example, I am now going to have a word with the damsel yonder." And in a trice he was close at Undine's side and reaching up to whisper in her ear. But she shrank from him in terror, saying, "I have nothing more to do with you now."

"Ho, ho!" laughed the stranger, "what a very grand marriage you must have made, no longer to recognize your own relations! Have you forgotten your uncle Kuhleborn, who brought you here so carefully upon his back?"

"But I entreat you," pleaded Undine, "trouble me no more. I fear you now, and my husband will become suspicious of me if he finds I have such strange relations."

"Do not forget, little niece," said Kuhleborn, "that I am here to protect you lest those foul earth-spirits play stupid tricks on you. Let me accompany you without more ado. The old priest yonder seems to have a better memory than you, for he declares my face is familiar to him and thinks I must have been with him in the boat when he fell into the water. And he is right, forsooth, for I was the waterspout that washed him out of it and landed him safe on shore in time for your wedding."

Undine and the knight looked at Father Heilmann, but he was walking on as if in a dream and apparently oblivious of all that was said. At last Undine turned to Kuhleborn. "We are coming to the edge of the forest now," she said, "and shall no longer need your protection. Nothing can harm us now but you; so begone in love and kindness, I beseech you, and let us depart in peace i "

This seemed to enrage Kuhleborn. He made a horrible grimace and showed his teeth at Undine, who shrieked aloud to her companion for help. Like lightning, Huldbrand leaped to the other side of the horse and aimed a blow of his sharp sword at Kuhleborn's head; but instead of that he struck into a waterfall dashing down from a high cliff near by, which suddenly, with a splash and a sound like laughter, drenched them to the skin and awakened the priest from his reverie. The latter remarked: "I have been expecting this for some time; that brook dashed down the hill so close to us. At first I almost thought it was human and could speak."

But the waterfall whispered these words distinctly in Huldbrand's ear:

"Rash youth, bold youth,

I chide thee not! I hate thee not!

So thou guard thy bride with ruth,

Valiant soldier! reckless youth!"

A few more steps and they were in the open plain. The imperial city lay before them, and the evening sun which was gilding its turrets soon dried the wet garments of the travellers.