Undine - George Upton




Huldbrand's Dream

The dawn was just beginning to break, and Huldbrand lay half sleeping, half waking, upon his couch. In his sleep his dreams were haunted by spectres, and he awoke in terror; yet if he tried to rouse himself in earnest, he felt himself gently fanned apparently by swans' wings, and heard the caressing sound of waves that soothed him back again into half-consciousness.

At length he did fall asleep really and seemed to be suddenly lifted on the rushing pinions of the swans and borne far over land and sea, to the sound of sweetest singing. Swan's song—the swan's song," he thought to himself—that must betoken death." But evidently that was not its significance in this case, for all at once he seemed to be floating over a great sea, which a swan warbled in his ear was the Mediterranean. As he looked down, the water became transparent to the bottom, and there greatly to his joy he saw Undine sitting in her crystal halls. She was weeping bitterly, it is true, and looked far sadder than in those happy days when they first lived together at Ringstettin, or even before they began that fatal journey down the Danube. The change impressed the knight deeply; but Undine did not seem to be aware he was near. Kuhleborn now approached and rebuked her for her tears; whereupon she composed herself and gazed at him so firmly and proudly that he almost quailed before her as she said: "Even though I am doomed to dwell here beneath the waters, my soul is with me, and I may well weep. Little can you know of what such tears are to me, or how blessed is all that belongs to a loving, faithful human heart."

The Swan Dream.

THE KNIGHT'S SWAN DREAM.


Kuhleborn shook his head incredulously and mused for a space; then he continued: "Nevertheless, little niece, you are still subject to the rules of the elements and must pronounce the death sentence should he prove faithless to you and marry again.

"Nay, he is still a widower," replied Undine, "and loves me and mourns for me."

"Yet he will soon be a bridegroom also," said Kuhleborn, with a scornful laugh. "Wait but a few days. Then the nuptial benediction will have been spoken, and you must go to earth and put the faithless one to death!"

"That I cannot do," said Undine, smiling, "for I have had the fountain tightly closed against me and all my race."

"But what if he leave the castle?" replied Kuhleborn. "Or supposing he should have the fountain opened?—for he thinks little of such matters."

"That is why his spirit is now hovering above the Mediterranean," said Undine, still smiling through her tears. "I have arranged it purposely, so that he should hear our conversation as a warning."

At this Kuhleborn looked up angrily at the knight, stamped his foot, and then shot away like an arrow through the waves, seeming to swell in his fury to the size of a whale. The swans began to fly singing once more, and the knight felt himself borne away again high over mountain and stream till he was wafted at last into the castle of Ringstettin, where he awoke to find himself in his bed.

This time he really was awake, for one of his squires at that moment entered and told him that Father Heilmann was still stopping in the neighborhood. He had seen him the evening before in a hut he had built for himself in the forest, out of branches, covered with moss and brushwood. When asked why he tarried, after having refused to sanction the union of the betrothed couple, he answered: "It is not only the wedded that have need of benedictions; and though I came not to a marriage, there may yet be other work for me to do—one must be prepared for all. Nor are mournings and marriages always very far distant from each other, as he who does not wilfully deceive himself may soon discover."

Huldbrand pondered deeply over these words and also over his dream. But it is hard to stay a man who has once resolved upon a fixed course of action, and the plans remained unchanged.