II.—HOW UNDINE FIRST CAME TO THE FISHERMAN
Huldbrand and the Fisherman sprang from their seats, and tried to catch the angry maiden; but before they could reach the house door, Undine had vanished far into the thick shades, and not a sound of her light footsteps was to be heard, by which to track her course. Huldbrand looked doubtfully at his host; he almost thought that the whole fair vision which had so suddenly plunged into the night, must be a continuation of the phantom play which had whirled around him in his passage through the forest. But the old man mumbled through his teeth: “It is not the first time she has served us so. And here are we, left in our anxiety with a sleepless night before us; for who can tell what harm may befall her, all alone out-of-doors till daybreak?”
“Then let us be after her, good father, for God’s sake!” cried Huldbrand eagerly.
The old man replied, “Where would be the use? It were a sin to let you set off alone in pursuit of the foolish girl, and my old legs would never overtake such a Will-with-the-wisp—even if we could guess which way she is gone.”
“At least let us call her, and beg her to come back,” said Huldbrand; and he began calling after her in most moving tones: “Undine! O Undine, do return!”
The old man shook his head, and said that all the shouting in the world would do no good with such a wilful little thing. But yet he could not himself help calling out from time to time in the darkness: “Undine! ah, sweet Undine! I entreat thee, come back this once.”
The Fisherman’s words proved true. Nothing was to be seen or heard of Undine; and as her foster-father would by no means suffer Huldbrand to pursue her, they had nothing for it but to go in again. They found the fire on the hearth nearly burnt out, and the dame, who did not take to heart Undine’s flight and danger so much as her husband, was gone to bed. The old man blew the coals, laid on dry wood, and by the light of the reviving flames he found a flagon of wine, which he put between himself and his guest. “You are uneasy about that silly wench, Sir Knight,” said he, “and we had better kill part of the night chatting and drinking, than toss about in our beds, trying to sleep in vain. Had not we?”
Huldbrand agreed; the Fisherman made him sit in his wife’s empty arm-chair, and they both drank and talked together, as a couple of worthy friends should do. Whenever, indeed, there was the least stir outside the window, or even sometimes without any, one of them would look up and say, “There she comes.” Then they would keep silence for a few moments, and as nothing came, resume their conversation, with a shake of the head and a sigh.
But as neither could think of much beside Undine, the best means they could devise for beguiling the time was, that the Fisherman should relate, and the Knight listen to, the history of her first coming to the cottage. He began as follows: