Undine - George Upton

The Journey to Vienna

Life went on quietly at the castle for some time after these adventures. Huldbrand appreciated more and more the celestial goodness Undine had shown in hastening so nobly to their rescue in the Black Forest, where Kuhleborn again had power. Undine not only felt the peace of conscience which follows the performance of good deeds, but was encouraged by the reawakened love and confidence of her husband.

Bertalda showed a genuine feeling of gratitude and humility at last. When Huldbrand or Undine made reference to the closing of the fountain or mentioned the recent scenes in the forest, she begged them not to speak of those things, for the thought of the one filled her with shame and of the other with terror. Nothing more was said to her about them therefore; indeed, of what use would it have been? Quiet happiness now reigned in the castle of Ringstettin, and secure in present enjoyment the future seemed abundant in the brightest prospects. Thus the winter came and passed, and spring with its fresh buds and blossoms and bright blue skies smiled upon them. What wonder they grew light-hearted, and that, like the storks and swallows, the roving spirit awoke within them?

One day as they were wandering idly along the banks of the Danube, Huldbrand discoursed to his companions of the glories of that noble stream, and how, ever widening, it flowed on through the fertile country, gaining fresh beauty with every mile of its course.

"What a fine thing it would be to follow it down to Vienna!" broke out Bertalda; but relapsing at once into her newly acquired humility, she blushed and became silent.

This impressed Undine, and desiring to give her beloved friend pleasure, she said, "Why should we not do so?"

Bertalda was filled with joy, and they began at once to indulge in glowing fancies of the pleasure of such a journey.

Huldbrand readily agreed to the plan, but once he whispered anxiously to Undine, "Will not Kuhleborn again have power over us there?"

The Danube


"Let him come!" Undine replied, laughing. "I shall be with you, and he will not dare play any of his tricks."

The last obstacle now seemed to have been removed. Preparations for the journey were speedily made, and they set forth in high spirits and with bright anticipations. The first days on the Danube were full of enjoyment, and the farther they sailed along the noble river the finer was the view. As they reached a beautiful region and had just begun to admire the prospect, Kuhleborn gave evidence of his presence; but his tricks were harmless, for whenever the waves rose higher or the winds proved contrary, Undine would rebuke him and make him quiet. Soon, however, he would break out again, and again Undine would be obliged to restrain him, so that the pleasure of the little party was destroyed by anxiety. The boatmen also began to whisper among themselves and look askance at the travellers, whose servants even seemed to be suspicious of them. Huldbrand could not help thinking: "This comes of not wedding with one's own kind. It is an unnatural union, that of a man and a naiad." Then he would excuse himself, as most of us are fond of doing, and add: "But then, I did not know she was a naiad. It may be my misfortune that I am hampered and tormented at every step by the mad antics of her uncle, but it surely is not my fault!"

These reflections somewhat reassured him, but they also made him the more vexed with Undine, whom he soon began to regard with displeasure, the cause of which she understood but too well. Exhausted by grief at his angry looks and by her own constant efforts to avert the malice of Kuhleborn, she sunk toward evening into a deep slumber, lulled by the gentle motion of the boat. No sooner were her eyes closed than they seemed to see a horrible human head rising out of the waves, not like that of a swimmer, but erect, as if fixed on the surface of the water, and floating along with the boat. Each turned to point out to the others the cause of his alarm, and found the same terror stamped on every countenance, though all were looking and pointing in different directions wherever the half-grinning, half-scowling monster met their eyes. But as they tried to explain the matter to one another, exclaiming, "Look! look there!" "No, yonder!" each suddenly discerned the other's apparition, and the water

seemed to swarm with horrid heads. Their startled exclamations aroused Undine, and before the light of her clear eyes the distorted faces vanished. This was too much for Huldbrand. He started to his feet and was about to launch imprecations upon her, when Undine cried imploringly: "Be not angry with me, my lord. Remember we are on the water." The knight forbore, and sitting down again was soon lost in thought.

After a time Undine whispered, "Would it not be better for us to abandon this foolish journey, my love, and return to the quiet life of Ringstettin?"

But Huldbrand angrily replied: "So I must be a prisoner in my own castle, and not be able to breathe freely even there unless the fountain is closed up. Would that all your outlandish relations—"At this Undine softly placed her hand upon his lips. He said no more and subsided again into his reverie.

Bertalda meanwhile was indulging in all sorts of strange conjectures. She knew only a little about Undine's origin, while Kuhleborn still remained a terrifying and unfathomable mystery to her, nor had she even heard his name. While thinking over these things, she unconsciously loosened a golden necklace that Huldbrand had bought for her a few days before from a travelling merchant, and was playing with it close to the surface of the river, dreamily enjoying its bright reflection, when all at once a huge hand rose up, seized the necklace, and disappeared with it. Bertalda shrieked, and a scornful laugh reechoed from the depths below. At this the knight could no longer restrain his anger. Springing to his feet, he loudly cursed those beings who insisted on forcing themselves into his family and his private life, and dared them—nixies or sirens—to face his bright sword.

Bertalda continued to weep over the loss of her precious necklace, and her tears added fuel to his wrath; but Undine held her hand in the water over the side of the boat, murmuring softly to herself, only stopping her mysterious whispers now and then to entreat her husband: "Do not chide me here, dear lord! Say what you will, but not here, not here! You know why." Presently she drew her hand out of the water and held up a magnificent coral necklace that glittered so brightly it dazzled all eyes. "Take this," she said kindly to Bertalda, "to make up for the one you have lost, and be not troubled any longer, poor child."

But Huldbrand interposed, snatched the necklace from Undine's hand, and flung it back into the water, shouting wrathfully: "So you are still in league with them, are you? In the name of all the witches, go back to them with your trinkets and leave us mortals in peace, buffoon!"

Poor Undine looked at him with fixed but streaming eyes, and still holding out the hand which had offered the necklace to Bertalda. At last she sobbed faintly: "Farewell, farewell, dearest of friends! The sprites shall not harm you. Remain true to me and I will shield you from their tricks. But alas! I must leave you. The days of my young life are over. Woe, woe is me! What have you done? Oh, woe is me!" Suddenly she disappeared over the edge of the boat. Whether she sank into the depths or was carried away by the stream no one could say, but she was lost to sight in the waters of the Danube, and nothing was heard but the sad whispers of the wavelets as they washed against the boat, seeming to echo, "Woe, woe is me! Be true to me—woe—woe!"

Huldbrand fell prone in the bottom of the boat and lay there bathed in tears till a deep swoon left the unhappy man unconscious.