How the Knight Fared on the Peninsula
N OW my story hath a pause. Perchance, thou too, who readest these lines, may, after many a buffet in this rude world, have reached at length some haven where all was well with thee. Home and the peace of home, which all must needs desire, appeal strongly to thy heart: and here thou thinkest is a home where the flowers of childhood may bloom—ay, and that pure deep love which resteth on the graves of our dead may encircle thee. 'Tis good thou sayest to be here, and here will I build me an habitation. Nay, an thou mayest have erred and have had afterwards to do bitter penance for thine error, that mattereth not to thee now, nor wilt thou sadden thyself with unwelcome memories. But call up again in thee thy sweet hopes of future joy which no tongue may utter, bring back again to thy mind that heavenly sense of peace, and then, methinks, thou shalt know somewhat of how it was with Huldbrand while he lived on the peninsula.
Full oft he saw, and it pleasured him right well, how every day the forest stream rolled along more wildly; how it made its bed ever wider and wider, and so prolonged his stay on the island. Part of the day it was his wont to ramble with an old crossbow which he had found in a corner of the cottage and had repaired; and watching for the waterfowl, he shot all he could for the cottage kitchen. When he brought back his booty, Undine would oft upbraid him for his cruelty in robbing the happy birds of their life; yea, she would shed bitter tears at the sight. But, an it chanced that he brought nothing home, then she would scold him no less earnestly, for that now, through his carelessness and want of skill, they must needs be content with a fare of fish alone. Nathless, her pretty scoldings pleased him right well; the more so as she made amends for her angry reproaches by the sweetest caresses.
Now the old people saw how it was with the young pair, and they were well content; they looked upon them as betrothed or as already married, so that they might still live on in this isolation, and be a succour and a help to them in their old age. Nay, to Huldbrand himself the loneliness of the place seemed to suggest the thought that he was already Undine's accepted suitor. To him it appeared as if there were no world beyond these encircling waters, and no other men with whom he might mingle if he recrossed them. When at times his horse might chance to neigh to remind him of knightly deeds, or the coat of arms on his saddle and horsegear confront him with a frown, or his sword of a sudden fall from its nail on the wall, slipping from its scabbard as it fell: he would stay his uneasiness by murmuring to himself, "Undine, certès, is no fisherman's daughter: she is sprung more likely from a princely house in some foreign land." But one matter irked him sore. It was when the old dame scolded Undine in his presence. Not that the maiden cared a jot, she was wont to laugh and took no pains to hide her mirth. But his own honour seemed concerned therein, albeit that he could not blame the fisherman's wife, for Undine ever deserved ten times the reproof that she received. In his heart he could not but feel that the balance was in the old woman's favour. And so his life flowed on in happiness and peace.
There came, however, a break at last. It was the habit of the fisherman and the knight when they sate them down to their midday meal, or in the evening when the wind, as it commonly did, roared without, to share together a flask of wine. But now the store that the old man had brought from time to time in his visits to the city was exhausted, and the two men were quite out of humour in consequence. Undine laughed gaily at them all day, but for their part they were neither of them merry enough to join in her jests as usual. Towards evening she left the cottage to avoid, as she said, faces so long and so dismal. As night fell, there were again signs of a storm and the waters began to rush and roar. Full of fear, the knight and the fisherman sprang to the door to bring home the maiden, for they bethought them of the anxiety of that night when Huldbrand first came to the cottage. But Undine swiftly came up to them, clapping her little hands with joy. "What will ye give me," quoth she, "if I provide some wine? or rather, give me nothing, for it will content me well if ye look merrier and be of better cheer than throughout this dismal day. Only come with me, the stream has thrown a cask ashore. 'Tis a winecask for certain, or else let me pay the penalty with a week's sleep!" The men followed her forthwith, and sure enough in a sheltered creek they found a cask which they ardently hoped might contain the generous liquor for which they thirsted.
With as much haste as possible they rolled the cask towards the cottage, for the western sky was overcast with heavy storm-clouds, and they might see in the twilight the waves of the lake lifting their foamy crests as if looking for the rain which must shortly come down. Undine helped the men all she might, and when the storm threatened to burst on their heads, she uttered a laughing reproof to the clouds. "Come, come," saith she, "look to it that ye wet us not; we are still some way from shelter."
The old man warned her that she might suffer for such presumption; but she laughed softly to herself, and no evil came of it to any one. Nay more, to their surprise they reached the hearth with their prize perfectly dry; and not till they had opened the cask and found that it contained a most exquisite wine, did the rain burst from the dark cloud and the storm sweep through the tree-tops and over the heaving waves of the lake.
Full soon a score of bottles were filled from the cask, promising a supply for many days, and they sate them round the glowing fire, drinking with many a merry jest and comfortably secure against the raging storm without. Of a sudden, however, the fisherman became grave. "Ah, great God," saith he, "here we be, rejoicing over this rich treasure and, mayhap, he to whom it once belonged hath lost his life in the waters that robbed him of his possession."
"Nay, that he hath not," returned Undine, and she filled the knight's cup to the brim with a smile.
But Huldbrand answered, "By my honour, old father, an I knew where to find and rescue him, no task of peril by night would I shirk. This much, however, I can promise. If ever it be my lot to return to places where my fellows live, I will seek out the owner of this wine or his heirs, and pay for it twofold or threefold." The speech pleased the old man full well; he nodded approvingly and drained his cup with greater pleasure and a clearer conscience.
But Undine was not so pleased. "Do as thou wilt," quoth she, "with thy gold and thy repayment, but about thy venturing out in search, thou spakest foolishly. I should weep full sore if thou wert lost in the attempt; and is it not truth that thou wouldest fain stay with me and the good wine?"
"Ay, in sooth," quoth Huldbrand, with a smile.
"Then," saith Undine, "thy words were foolish. For charity, it is said, beginneth at home, and in what do other people concern us?"
The old woman turned away with a sigh, shaking her head, while the fisherman forgot for the nonce his love for the maiden and scolded her. "Thy speech," saith he, as he finished his reproof, "soundeth as though Turks and heathen had brought thee up. May Heaven forgive both me and thee, thou mannerless girl!"
"Well," returned Undine,
"Be silent," cried the fisherman; and Undine, who in spite of her petulance, was very timid, shrank from him. Trembling she nestled close to Huldbrand's side, and softly murmured, "Art thou also wroth with me, dear friend!" The knight for answer pressed her hand and stroked her hair. Naught could he say, for it irked him that the old people should be so severe against Undine. But he kept his lips closed, and thus they all sat opposite to each other for a while in embarrassed silence with anger in their hearts.