III.—HOW THEY FOUND UNDINE AGAIN
The longer Huldbrand wandered in vain pursuit of Undine, the more bewildered he became. The idea that she might be a mere spirit of the woods, sometimes returned upon him with double force; nay, amid the howling waves and storm, the groaning of trees, and the wild commotion of the once-peaceful spot, he might have fancied the whole promontory, its hut and its inhabitants, to be a delusion of magic, but that he still heard in the distance the Fisherman’s piteous cries of “Undine!” and the old housewife’s loud prayers and hymns, above the whistling of the blast.
At last he found himself on the margin of the overflowing stream, and saw it by the moonlight rushing violently along, close to the edge of the mysterious forest so as to make an island of the peninsula on which he stood. “Gracious Heaven!” thought he, “Undine may have ventured a step or two into that awful forest—perhaps in her pretty waywardness, just because I would not tell her my story—and the swollen stream has cut her off, and left her weeping alone among the spectres!” A cry of terror escaped him, and he clambered down the bank by means of some stones and fallen trees, hoping to wade or swim across the flood, and seek the fugitive beyond it. Fearful and unearthly visions did indeed float before him, like those he had met with in the morning, beneath these groaning, tossing branches. Especially he was haunted by the appearance of a tall white man, whom he remembered but too well, grinning and nodding at him from the opposite bank; however, the thought of these grim monsters did but urge him onward as he recollected Undine, now perhaps in deadly fear among them, and alone.
He had laid hold of a stout pine branch, and leaning on it, was standing in the eddy, though scarcely able to stem it, but he stepped boldly forward—when a sweet voice exclaimed close behind him: “Trust him not—trust not! The old fellow is tricksy—the stream!”
Well he knew those silver tones: the moon was just disappearing behind a cloud, and he stood amid the deepening shades, made dizzy as the water shot by him with the speed of an arrow. Yet he would not desist. “And if thou art not truly there, if thou flittest before me an empty shadow, I care not to live; I will melt into air like thee, my beloved Undine!” This he cried aloud, and strode further into the flood.