When these transports of joy had subsided, and they began to look about them, the rosy dawn was just shedding its glow over the lake, the storm had ceased, and the birds were singing merrily on the wet branches. As Undine insisted upon hearing the story of the Knight’s adventure, both the old folks cheerfully indulged her. Breakfast was set out under the trees between the cottage and the lake, and they sat down before it with glad hearts, Undine placing herself resolutely on the grass at the Knight’s feet. Huldbrand began his narrative as follows.
IV.—OF WHAT HAD BEFALLEN THE KNIGHT IN THE FOREST
“About eight days ago, I rode into the imperial city beyond this forest. A grand tournament and tilting was held there, and I spared neither lance nor steed. As I stood still a moment to rest myself, in a pause of the noble game, and had just given my helmet in charge to a squire, my eye fell upon a most beautiful woman, who stood, richly adorned, in one of the galleries, looking on. I inquired her name, and found that this charming lady was Bertalda, the adopted daughter of one of the principal lords in the neighbourhood. I observed that her eye was upon me too, and as is the way with us young knights, I had not been slack before, but I now fought more bravely still. That evening I was Bertalda’s partner in the dance, and so I was again every evening during the jousting.”
Here a sudden pain in his left hand, which hung beside him, checked the Knight in his tale, and he looked at his hand. Undine’s pearly teeth had bitten one of his fingers sharply, and she looked very black at him. But the next moment that look changed into an expression of tender sadness, and she whispered low: “So you are faithless too!” Then she hid her face in her hands, and the Knight proceeded with his tale, although staggered and perplexed.
“That Bertalda is a high-spirited, extraordinary maid. On the second day she charmed me far less than the first, and on the third, less still. But I remained with her, because she was more gracious to me than to any other knight, and so it fell out that I asked her in jest for one of her gloves. ‘You shall have it,’ said she, ’if you will visit the haunted forest alone, and bring me an account of it.’ It was not that I cared much for her glove, but the words had been spoken, and a knight that loves his fame does not wait to be twice urged to such a feat.”
“I thought she had loved you,” interrupted Undine.
“It looked like it,” he replied.
“Well,” cried the maiden, laughing, “she must be a fool indeed! To drive him away whom she loves! and into a haunted forest besides! The forest and its mysteries might have waited long enough, for me.”