The winter had gone by without any interruption to their social comfort; and spring, with her young green shoots and bright blue skies, began to smile upon men; their hearts felt light, like the young season, and from its returning birds of passage, they caught a fancy to travel. One day as they were walking together near the sources of the Danube, Huldbrand fell into talk about the glories of that noble river, how proudly he flowed on, through fruitful lands, to the spot where the majestic city of Vienna crowned his banks, and how every mile of his course was marked by fresh grandeur and beauty. “How delightful it would be to follow his course down to Vienna!” cried Bertalda; but instantly relapsing into her timid, chastened manner, she blushed and was silent. This touched Undine, and in her eagerness to give her friend pleasure, she said: “And why should we not take the trip?” Bertalda jumped for joy, and their fancy began to paint this pleasant recreation in the brightest colours. Huldbrand encouraged them cheerfully, but whispered once to Undine: “But, should not we get within Kuehleborn’s power again, down there?”—“Let him come,” said she, laughing; “I shall be with you, and in my presence he durst not attempt any mischief.”
So the only possible objection seemed removed and they prepared for departure, and were soon sailing along, full of spirit and of gay hopes. But, O Man! it is not for thee to wonder when the course of events differs widely from the paintings of thy fancy. The treacherous foe, that lures us to our ruin, lulls his victim to rest with sweet music and golden dreams. Our guardian angel, on the contrary, will often rouse us by a sharp and awakening blow.
The first days they spent on the Danube were days of extraordinary enjoyment. The further they floated down the proud stream the nobler and fairer grew the prospect. But, just as they had reached a most lovely district, the first sight of which had promised them great delight, the unruly Kuehleborn began openly to give signs of his presence and power. At first they were only sportive tricks, because, whenever he ruffled the stream and raised the wind, Undine repressed him by a word or two, and made him again subside at once; but his attempts soon began again, and again, Undine was obliged to warn him off; so that the pleasure of the little party was grievously disturbed. To make things worse, the watermen would mutter many a dark surmise into each other’s ears, and cast strange looks at the three gentlefolks, whose very servants began to feel suspicion, and to show distrust of their lord. Huldbrand said to himself more than once, “This comes of uniting with other than one’s like: a son of earth may not marry a wondrous maid of ocean.” To justify himself (as we all love to do) he would add, “But I did not know she was a maid of ocean. If I am to be pursued and fettered wherever I go by the mad freaks of her relations, mine is the misfortune, not the fault.” Such reflections somewhat checked his self-reproaches; but they made him the more disposed to accuse, nay, even to hate Undine. Already he began to scowl upon her, and the poor wife understood but too well his meaning. Exhausted by this, and by her constant exertions against Kuehleborn, she sank back one evening in the boat, and was lulled by its gentle motion into a deep sleep.