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Title: Undine
Author: La Motte-Fouqué, Friedrich Heinrich Karl, Freiherr de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Undine" ***

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UNDINE

By Friedrich de la Motte Fouque

With foreword by Charlotte M Yonge



Introduction



Four tales are, it is said, intended by the Author to be appropriate to
the Four Seasons: the stern, grave “Sintram”, to winter; the tearful,
smiling, fresh “Undine”, to Spring; the torrid deserts of the “Two
Captains”, to summer; and the sunset gold of “Aslauga’s Knight”, to
autumn. Of these two are before us.

The author of these tales, as well as of many more, was Friedrich, Baron
de la Motte Fouque, one of the foremost of the minstrels or tale-tellers
of the realm of spiritual chivalry--the realm whither Arthur’s knights
departed when they “took the Sancgreal’s holy quest,”--whence Spenser’s
Red Cross knight and his fellows came forth on their adventures, and in
which the Knight of la Mancha believed, and endeavoured to exist.

La Motte Fouque derived his name and his title from the French Huguenot
ancestry, who had fled on the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. His
Christian name was taken from his godfather, Frederick the Great,
of whom his father was a faithful friend, without compromising his
religious principles and practice. Friedrich was born at Brandenburg on
February 12, 1777, was educated by good parents at home, served in the
Prussian army through disaster and success, took an enthusiastic part
in the rising of his country against Napoleon, inditing as many
battle-songs as Korner. When victory was achieved, he dedicated his
sword in the church of Neunhausen where his estate lay. He lived there,
with his beloved wife and his imagination, till his death in 1843.

And all the time life was to him a poet’s dream. He lived in a continual
glamour of spiritual romance, bathing everything, from the old deities
of the Valhalla down to the champions of German liberation, in an ideal
glow of purity and nobleness, earnestly Christian throughout, even in
his dealings with Northern mythology, for he saw Christ unconsciously
shown in Baldur, and Satan in Loki.

Thus he lived, felt, and believed what he wrote, and though his dramas
and poems do not rise above fair mediocrity, and the great number of his
prose stories are injured by a certain monotony, the charm of them is
in their elevation of sentiment and the earnest faith pervading all. His
knights might be Sir Galahad--


            “My strength is as the strength of ten,
             Because my heart is pure.”


Evil comes to them as something to be conquered, generally as a form of
magic enchantment, and his “wondrous fair maidens” are worthy of them.
Yet there is adventure enough to afford much pleasure, and often we have
a touch of true genius, which has given actual ideas to the world, and
precious ones.

This genius is especially traceable in his two masterpieces, Sintram and
Undine. Sintram was inspired by Albert Durer’s engraving of the “Knight
of Death,” of which we give a presentation. It was sent to Fouque by his
friend Edward Hitzig, with a request that he would compose a ballad
on it. The date of the engraving is 1513, and we quote the description
given by the late Rev. R. St. John Tyrwhitt, showing how differently it
may be read.

“Some say it is the end of the strong wicked man, just overtaken by
Death and Sin, whom he has served on earth. It is said that the tuft on
the lance indicates his murderous character, being of such unusual size.
You know the use of that appendage was to prevent blood running down
from the spearhead to the hands. They also think that the object under
the horse’s off hind foot is a snare, into which the old oppressor is
to fall instantly. The expression of the faces may be taken either way:
both good men and bad may have hard, regular features; and both good men
and bad would set their teeth grimly on seeing Death, with the sands of
their life nearly run out. Some say they think the expression of Death
gentle, or only admonitory (as the author of “Sintram”); and I have to
thank the authoress of the “Heir of Redclyffe” for showing me a fine
impression of the plate, where Death certainly had a not ungentle
countenance--snakes and all. I think the shouldered lance, and quiet,
firm seat on horseback, with gentle bearing on the curb-bit, indicate
grave resolution in the rider, and that a robber knight would have his
lance in rest; then there is the leafy crown on the horse’s head; and
the horse and dog move on so quietly, that I am inclined to hope the
best for the Ritter.”

Musing on the mysterious engraving, Fouque saw in it the life-long
companions of man, Death and Sin, whom he must defy in order to reach
salvation; and out of that contemplation rose his wonderful romance,
not exactly an allegory, where every circumstance can be fitted with an
appropriate meaning, but with the sense of the struggle of life, with
external temptation and hereditary inclination pervading all, while
Grace and Prayer aid the effort. Folko and Gabrielle are revived from
the Magic Ring, that Folko may by example and influence enhance all
higher resolutions; while Gabrielle, in all unconscious innocence,
awakes the passions, and thus makes the conquest the harder.

It is within the bounds of possibility that the similarities of
folk-lore may have brought to Fouque’s knowledge the outline of the
story which Scott tells us was the germ of “Guy Mannering”; where a boy,
whose horoscope had been drawn by an astrologer, as likely to encounter
peculiar trials at certain intervals, actually had, in his twenty-first
year, a sort of visible encounter with the Tempter, and came off
conqueror by his strong faith in the Bible. Sir Walter, between
reverence and realism, only took the earlier part of the story, but
Fouque gives us the positive struggle, and carries us along with the
final victory and subsequent peace. His tale has had a remarkable power
over the readers. We cannot but mention two remarkable instances at
either end of the scale. Cardinal Newman, in his younger days, was
so much overcome by it that he hurried out into the garden to read it
alone, and returned with traces of emotion in his face. And when Charles
Lowder read it to his East End boys, their whole minds seemed engrossed
by it, and they even called certain spots after the places mentioned.
Imagine the Rocks of the Moon in Ratcliff Highway!

May we mention that Miss Christabel Coleridge’s “Waynflete” brings
something of the spirit and idea of “Sintram” into modern life?

“Undine” is a story of much lighter fancy, and full of a peculiar grace,
though with a depth of melancholy that endears it. No doubt it
was founded on the universal idea in folk-lore of the nixies or
water-spirits, one of whom, in Norwegian legend, was seen weeping
bitterly because of the want of a soul. Sometimes the nymph is a wicked
siren like the Lorelei; but in many of these tales she weds an earthly
lover, and deserts him after a time, sometimes on finding her diving
cap, or her seal-skin garment, which restores her to her ocean kindred,
sometimes on his intruding on her while she is under a periodical
transformation, as with the fairy Melusine, more rarely if he becomes
unfaithful.

There is a remarkable Cornish tale of a nymph or mermaiden, who thus
vanished, leaving a daughter who loved to linger on the beach rather
than sport with other children. By and by she had a lover, but no sooner
did he show tokens of inconstancy, than the mother came up from the sea
and put him to death, when the daughter pined away and died. Her name
was Selina, which gives the tale a modern aspect, and makes us wonder
if the old tradition can have been modified by some report of Undine’s
story.

There was an idea set forth by the Rosicrucians of spirits abiding in
the elements, and as Undine represented the water influences, Fouque’s
wife, the Baroness Caroline, wrote a fairly pretty story on the sylphs
of fire. But Undine’s freakish playfulness and mischief as an elemental
being, and her sweet patience when her soul is won, are quite
original, and indeed we cannot help sharing, or at least understanding,
Huldbrand’s beginning to shrink from the unearthly creature to something
of his own flesh and blood. He is altogether unworthy, and though in
this tale there is far less of spiritual meaning than in Sintram, we
cannot but see that Fouque’s thought was that the grosser human nature
is unable to appreciate what is absolutely pure and unearthly.

C. M. YONGE.



UNDINE

by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque



TO UNDINE


Undine! thou fair and lovely sprite, Since first from out an ancient lay
I saw gleam forth thy fitful light, How hast thou sung my cares away!

How hast thou nestled next my heart, And gently offered to impart Thy
sorrows to my listening ear, Like a half-shy, half-trusting child, The
while my lute, in wood-notes wild, Thine accents echoed far and near!

Then many a youth I won to muse With love on thy mysterious ways, With
many a fair one to peruse The legend of thy wondrous days.

And now both dame and youth would fain List to my tale yet once again;
Nay, sweet Undine, be not afraid! Enter their halls with footsteps
light, Greet courteously each noble knight, But fondly every German
maid.

And should they ask concerning me, Oh, say, “He is a cavalier, Who truly
serves and valiantly, In tourney and festivity, With lute and sword,
each lady fair!”



CHAPTER 1



On a beautiful evening, many hundred years ago, a worthy old fisherman
sat mending his nets. The spot where he dwelt was exceedingly
picturesque. The green turf on which he had built his cottage ran far
out into a great lake; and this slip of verdure appeared to stretch into
it as much through love of its clear waters as the lake, moved by a like
impulse, strove to fold the meadow, with its waving grass and flowers,
and the cooling shade of the trees, in its embrace of love. They seemed
to be drawn toward each other, and the one to be visiting the other as a
guest.

With respect to human beings, indeed, in this pleasant spot, excepting
the fisherman and his family, there were few, or rather none, to be
met with. For as in the background of the scene, toward the west and
north-west, lay a forest of extraordinary wildness, which, owing to its
sunless gloom and almost impassable recesses, as well as to fear of the
strange creatures and visionary illusions to be encountered in it, most
people avoided entering, unless in cases of extreme necessity. The pious
old fisherman, however, many times passed through it without harm, when
he carried the fine fish which he caught by his beautiful strip of land
to a great city lying only a short distance beyond the forest.

Now the reason he was able to go through this wood with so much ease may
have been chiefly this, because he entertained scarcely any thoughts but
such as were of a religious nature; and besides, every time he crossed
the evil-reported shades, he used to sing some holy song with a clear
voice and from a sincere heart.

Well, while he sat by his nets this evening, neither fearing nor
devising evil, a sudden terror seized him, as he heard a rushing in the
darkness of the wood, that resembled the tramping of a mounted steed,
and the noise continued every instant drawing nearer and nearer to his
little territory.

What he had fancied, when abroad in many a stormy night, respecting
the mysteries of the forest, now flashed through his mind in a moment,
especially the figure of a man of gigantic stature and snow-white
appearance, who kept nodding his head in a portentous manner. And when
he raised his eyes towards the wood, the form came before him in perfect
distinctness, as he saw the nodding man burst forth from the mazy
web-work of leaves and branches. But he immediately felt emboldened,
when he reflected that nothing to give him alarm had ever befallen him
even in the forest; and moreover, that on this open neck of land the
evil spirit, it was likely, would be still less daring in the exercise
of his power. At the same time he prayed aloud with the most earnest
sincerity of devotion, repeating a passage of the Bible. This inspired
him with fresh courage, and soon perceiving the illusion, and the
strange mistake into which his imagination had betrayed him, he could
with difficulty refrain from laughing. The white nodding figure he had
seen became transformed, in the twinkling of an eye, to what in reality
it was, a small brook, long and familiarly known to him, which ran
foaming from the forest, and discharged itself into the lake.

But what had caused the startling sound was a knight arrayed in
sumptuous apparel, who from under the shadows of the trees came riding
toward the cottage. His doublet was violet embroidered with gold, and
his scarlet cloak hung gracefully over it; on his cap of burnished gold
waved red and violet-coloured plumes; and in his golden shoulder-belt
flashed a sword, richly ornamented, and extremely beautiful. The white
barb that bore the knight was more slenderly built than war-horses
usually are, and he touched the turf with a step so light and elastic
that the green and flowery carpet seemed hardly to receive the slightest
injury from his tread. The old fisherman, notwithstanding, did not feel
perfectly secure in his mind, although he was forced to believe that no
evil could be feared from an appearance so pleasing, and therefore, as
good manners dictated, he took off his hat on the knight’s coming near,
and quietly remained by the side of his nets.

When the stranger stopped, and asked whether he, with his horse, could
have shelter and entertainment there for the night, the fisherman
returned answer: “As to your horse, fair sir, I have no better stable
for him than this shady meadow, and no better provender than the grass
that is growing here. But with respect to yourself, you shall be welcome
to our humble cottage, and to the best supper and lodging we are able to
give you.”

The knight was well contented with this reception; and alighting from
his horse, which his host assisted him to relieve from saddle and
bridle, he let him hasten away to the fresh pasture, and thus spoke:
“Even had I found you less hospitable and kindly disposed, my worthy old
friend, you would still, I suspect, hardly have got rid of me to-day;
for here, I perceive, a broad lake lies before us, and as to riding back
into that wood of wonders, with the shades of evening deepening around
me, may Heaven in its grace preserve me from the thought.”

“Pray, not a word of the wood, or of returning into it!” said the
fisherman, and took his guest into the cottage.

There beside the hearth, from which a frugal fire was diffusing its
light through the clean twilight room, sat the fisherman’s aged wife in
a great chair. At the entrance of their noble guest, she rose and gave
him a courteous welcome, but sat down again in her seat of honour,
not making the slightest offer of it to the stranger. Upon this the
fisherman said with a smile:

“You must not be offended with her, young gentleman, because she has not
given up to you the best chair in the house; it is a custom among poor
people to look upon this as the privilege of the aged.”

“Why, husband!” cried the old lady, with a quiet smile, “where can your
wits be wandering? Our guest, to say the least of him, must belong to
a Christian country; and how is it possible, then, that so well-bred
a young man as he appears to be could dream of driving old people from
their chairs? Take a seat, my young master,” continued she, turning to
the knight; “there is still quite a snug little chair on the other side
of the room there, only be careful not to shove it about too roughly,
for one of its legs, I fear, is none of the firmest.”

The knight brought up the seat as carefully as she could desire, sat
down upon it good-humouredly, and it seemed to him almost as if he must
be somehow related to this little household, and have just returned home
from abroad.

These three worthy people now began to converse in the most friendly and
familiar manner. In relation to the forest, indeed, concerning which the
knight occasionally made some inquiries, the old man chose to know and
say but little; he was of opinion that slightly touching upon it at
this hour of twilight was most suitable and safe; but of the cares and
comforts of their home, and their business abroad, the aged couple
spoke more freely, and listened also with eager curiosity as the knight
recounted to them his travels, and how he had a castle near one of
the sources of the Danube, and that his name was Sir Huldbrand of
Ringstetten.

Already had the stranger, while they were in the midst of their talk,
heard at times a splash against the little low window, as if some one
were dashing water against it. The old man, every time he heard the
noise, knit his brows with vexation; but at last, when the whole sweep
of a shower came pouring like a torrent against the panes, and bubbling
through the decayed frame into the room, he started up indignant, rushed
to the window, and cried with a threatening voice--

“Undine! will you never leave off these fooleries?--not even to-day,
when we have a stranger knight with us in the cottage?”

All without now became still, only a low laugh was just audible, and
the fisherman said, as he came back to his seat, “You will have the
goodness, my honoured guest, to pardon this freak, and it may be a
multitude more; but she has no thought of evil or of any harm. This
mischievous Undine, to confess the truth, is our adopted daughter, and
she stoutly refuses to give over this frolicsome childishness of hers,
although she has already entered her eighteenth year. But in spite of
this, as I said before, she is at heart one of the very best children in
the world.”

“YOU may say so,” broke in the old lady, shaking her head; “you can give
a better account of her than I can. When you return home from fishing,
or from selling your fish in the city, you may think her frolics very
delightful, but to have her dancing about you the whole day long, and
never from morning to night to hear her speak one word of sense; and
then as she grows older, instead of having any help from her in the
family, to find her a continual cause of anxiety, lest her wild humours
should completely ruin us, that is quite another thing, and enough at
last to weary out the patience even of a saint.”

“Well, well,” replied the master of the house with a smile, “you have
your trials with Undine, and I have mine with the lake. The lake often
beats down my dams, and breaks the meshes of my nets, but for all that I
have a strong affection for it, and so have you, in spite of your mighty
crosses and vexations, for our graceful little child. Is it not true?”

“One cannot be very angry with her,” answered the old lady, as she gave
her husband an approving smile.

That instant the door flew open, and a fair girl, of wondrous beauty,
sprang laughing in, and said, “You have only been making a mock of me,
father; for where now is the guest you mentioned?”

The same moment, however, she perceived the knight also, and continued
standing before the young man in fixed astonishment. Huldbrand was
charmed with her graceful figure, and viewed her lovely features with
the more intense interest, as he imagined it was only her surprise that
allowed him the opportunity, and that she would soon turn away from his
gaze with increased bashfulness. But the event was the very reverse of
what he expected; for, after looking at him for a long while, she became
more confident, moved nearer, knelt down before him, and while she
played with a gold medal which he wore attached to a rich chain on his
breast, exclaimed,

“Why, you beautiful, you kind guest! how have you reached our poor
cottage at last? Have you been obliged for years and years to wander
about the world before you could catch one glimpse of our nook? Do you
come out of that wild forest, my beautiful knight?”

The old woman was so prompt in her reproof as to allow him no time to
answer. She commanded the maiden to rise, show better manners, and go to
her work. But Undine, without making any reply, drew a little footstool
near Huldbrand’s chair, sat down upon it with her netting, and said in a
gentle tone--

“I will work here.”

The old man did as parents are apt to do with children to whom they have
been over-indulgent. He affected to observe nothing of Undine’s strange
behaviour, and was beginning to talk about something else. But this the
maiden did not permit him to do. She broke in upon him, “I have asked
our kind guest from whence he has come among us, and he has not yet
answered me.”

“I come out of the forest, you lovely little vision,” Huldbrand
returned; and she spoke again:

“You must also tell me how you came to enter that forest, so feared and
shunned, and the marvellous adventures you met with in it; for there is
no escaping without something of this kind.”

Huldbrand felt a slight shudder on remembering what he had witnessed,
and looked involuntarily toward the window, for it seemed to him that
one of the strange shapes which had come upon him in the forest must be
there grinning in through the glass; but he discerned nothing except the
deep darkness of night, which had now enveloped the whole prospect. Upon
this he became more collected, and was just on the point of beginning
his account, when the old man thus interrupted him:

“Not so, sir knight; this is by no means a fit hour for such relations.”

But Undine, in a state of high excitement, sprang up from her little
stool and cried, placing herself directly before the fisherman: “He
shall NOT tell his story, father? he shall not? But it is my will:--he
shall!--stop him who may!”

Thus speaking, she stamped her little foot vehemently on the floor,
but all with an air of such comic and good-humoured simplicity, that
Huldbrand now found it quite as hard to withdraw his gaze from her wild
emotion as he had before from her gentleness and beauty. The old man,
on the contrary, burst out in unrestrained displeasure. He severely
reproved Undine for her disobedience and her unbecoming carriage towards
the stranger, and his good old wife joined him in harping on the same
string.

By these rebukes Undine was only excited the more. “If you want to
quarrel with me,” she cried, “and will not let me hear what I so much
desire, then sleep alone in your smoky old hut!” And swift as an arrow
she shot from the door, and vanished amid the darkness of the night.

Huldbrand and the fisherman sprang from their seats, and were rushing to
stop the angry girl; but before they could reach the cottage-door, she
had disappeared in the stormy darkness without, and no sound, not so
much even as that of her light footstep, betrayed the course she had
taken. Huldbrand threw a glance of inquiry towards his host; it almost
seemed to him as if the whole of the sweet apparition, which had so
suddenly plunged again amid the night, were no other than a continuation
of the wonderful forms that had just played their mad pranks with him in
the forest. But the old man muttered between his teeth,

“This is not the first time she has treated us in this manner. Now must
our hearts be filled with anxiety, and our eyes find no sleep for the
whole night; for who can assure us, in spite of her past escapes, that
she will not some time or other come to harm, if she thus continue out
in the dark and alone until daylight?”

“Then pray, for God’s sake, father, let us follow her,” cried Huldbrand
anxiously.

“Wherefore should we?” replied the old man. “It would be a sin were I
to suffer you, all alone, to search after the foolish girl amid the
lonesomeness of night; and my old limbs would fail to carry me to this
wild rover, even if I knew to what place she has betaken herself.”

“Still we ought at least to call after her, and beg her to return,” said
Huldbrand; and he began to call in tones of earnest entreaty, “Undine!
Undine! come back, come back!”

The old man shook his head, and said, “All your shouting, however loud
and long, will be of no avail; you know not as yet, sir knight, how
self-willed the little thing is.” But still, even hoping against hope,
he could not himself cease calling out every minute, amid the gloom of
night, “Undine! ah, dear Undine! I beseech you, pray come back--only
this once.”

It turned out, however, exactly as the fisherman had said. No Undine
could they hear or see; and as the old man would on no account consent
that Huldbrand should go in quest of the fugitive, they were both
obliged at last to return into the cottage. There they found the fire
on the hearth almost gone out, and the mistress of the house, who took
Undine’s flight and danger far less to heart than her husband, had
already gone to rest. The old man blew up the coals, put on dry wood,
and by the firelight hunted for a flask of wine, which he brought and
set between himself and his guest.

“You, sir knight, as well as I,” said he, “are anxious on the silly
girl’s account; and it would be better, I think, to spend part of the
night in chatting and drinking, than keep turning and turning on our
rush-mats, and trying in vain to sleep. What is your opinion?”

Huldbrand was well pleased with the plan; the fisherman pressed him to
take the empty seat of honour, its late occupant having now left it for
her couch; and they relished their beverage and enjoyed their chat as
two such good men and true ever ought to do. To be sure, whenever the
slightest thing moved before the windows, or at times when even nothing
was moving, one of them would look up and exclaim, “Here she comes!”
 Then would they continue silent a few moments, and afterward, when
nothing appeared, would shake their heads, breathe out a sigh, and go on
with their talk.

But, as neither could think of anything but Undine, the best plan they
could devise was, that the old fisherman should relate, and the knight
should hear, in what manner Undine had come to the cottage. So the
fisherman began as follows:

“It is now about fifteen years since I one day crossed the wild forest
with fish for the city market. My wife had remained at home as she was
wont to do; and at this time for a reason of more than common interest,
for although we were beginning to feel the advances of age, God had
bestowed upon us an infant of wonderful beauty. It was a little girl;
and we already began to ask ourselves the question, whether we ought
not, for the advantage of the new-comer, to quit our solitude, and, the
better to bring up this precious gift of Heaven, to remove to some more
inhabited place. Poor people, to be sure, cannot in these cases do all
you may think they ought, sir knight; but we must all do what we can.

“Well, I went on my way, and this affair would keep running in my head.
This slip of land was most dear to me, and I trembled when, amidst
the bustle and broils of the city, I thought to myself, ‘In a scene of
tumult like this, or at least in one not much more quiet, I must soon
take up my abode.’ But I did not for this murmur against our good God;
on the contrary, I praised Him in silence for the new-born babe. I
should also speak an untruth, were I to say that anything befell me,
either on my passage through the forest to the city, or on my returning
homeward, that gave me more alarm than usual, as at that time I had
never seen any appearance there which could terrify or annoy me. The
Lord was ever with me in those awful shades.”

Thus speaking he took his cap reverently from his bald head, and
continued to sit for a considerable time in devout thought. He then
covered himself again, and went on with his relation.

“On this side the forest, alas! it was on this side, that woe burst upon
me. My wife came wildly to meet me, clad in mourning apparel, and her
eyes streaming with tears. ‘Gracious God!’ I cried, ‘where’s our child?
Speak!’

“‘With Him on whom you have called, dear husband,’ she answered, and we
now entered the cottage together, weeping in silence. I looked for the
little corpse, almost fearing to find what I was seeking; and then it
was I first learnt how all had happened.

“My wife had taken the little one in her arms, and walked out to the
shore of the lake. She there sat down by its very brink; and while she
was playing with the infant, as free from all fear as she was full
of delight, it bent forward on a sudden, as if seeing something very
beautiful in the water. My wife saw her laugh, the dear angel, and try
to catch the image in her tiny hands; but in a moment--with a motion
swifter than sight--she sprang from her mother’s arms, and sank in the
lake, the watery glass into which she had been gazing. I searched
for our lost darling again and again; but it was all in vain; I could
nowhere find the least trace of her.

“The same evening we childless parents were sitting together by our
cottage hearth. We had no desire to talk, even if our tears would have
permitted us. As we thus sat in mournful stillness, gazing into the
fire, all at once we heard something without,--a slight rustling at the
door. The door flew open, and we saw a little girl, three or four years
old, and more beautiful than I can say, standing on the threshold,
richly dressed, and smiling upon us. We were struck dumb with
astonishment, and I knew not for a time whether the tiny form were a
real human being, or a mere mockery of enchantment. But I soon perceived
water dripping from her golden hair and rich garments, and that the
pretty child had been lying in the water, and stood in immediate need of
our help.

“‘Wife,’ said I, ‘no one has been able to save our child for us; but let
us do for others what would have made us so blessed could any one have
done it for us.’

“We undressed the little thing, put her to bed, and gave her something
to drink; at all this she spoke not a word, but only turned her eyes
upon us--eyes blue and bright as sea or sky--and continued looking at us
with a smile.

“Next morning we had no reason to fear that she had received any other
harm than her wetting, and I now asked her about her parents, and how
she could have come to us. But the account she gave was both confused
and incredible. She must surely have been born far from here, not only
because I have been unable for these fifteen years to learn anything
of her birth, but because she then said, and at times continues to say,
many things of so very singular a nature, that we neither of us know,
after all, whether she may not have dropped among us from the moon; for
her talk runs upon golden castles, crystal domes, and Heaven knows what
extravagances beside. What, however, she related with most distinctness
was this: that while she was once taking a sail with her mother on the
great lake, she fell out of the boat into the water; and that when she
first recovered her senses, she was here under our trees, where the gay
scenes of the shore filled her with delight.

“We now had another care weighing upon our minds, and one that caused us
no small perplexity and uneasiness. We of course very soon determined
to keep and bring up the child we had found, in place of our own darling
that had been drowned; but who could tell us whether she had been
baptized or not? She herself could give us no light on the subject. When
we asked her the question, she commonly made answer, that she well knew
she was created for God’s praise and glory, and that she was willing to
let us do with her all that might promote His glory and praise.

“My wife and I reasoned in this way: ‘If she has not been baptized,
there can be no use in putting off the ceremony; and if she has been, it
still is better to have too much of a good thing than too little.’

“Taking this view of our difficulty, we now endeavoured to hit upon a
good name for the child, since, while she remained without one, we were
often at a loss, in our familiar talk, to know what to call her. We at
length agreed that Dorothea would be most suitable for her, as I had
somewhere heard it said that this name signified a gift of God, and
surely she had been sent to us by Providence as a gift, to comfort us
in our misery. She, on the contrary, would not so much as hear Dorothea
mentioned; she insisted, that as she had been named Undine by her
parents, Undine she ought still to be called. It now occurred to me that
this was a heathenish name, to be found in no calendar, and I resolved
to ask the advice of a priest in the city. He would not listen to the
name of Undine; and yielding to my urgent request, he came with me
through the enchanted forest in order to perform the rite of baptism
here in my cottage.

“The little maid stood before us so prettily adorned, and with such an
air of gracefulness, that the heart of the priest softened at once in
her presence; and she coaxed him so sweetly, and jested with him so
merrily, that he at last remembered nothing of his many objections to
the name of Undine.

“Thus, then, was she baptized Undine; and during the holy ceremony she
behaved with great propriety and gentleness, wild and wayward as at
other times she invariably was; for in this my wife was quite right,
when she mentioned the anxiety the child has occasioned us. If I should
relate to you--”

At this moment the knight interrupted the fisherman, to direct his
attention to a deep sound as of a rushing flood, which had caught his
ear during the talk of the old man. And now the waters came pouring on
with redoubled fury before the cottage-windows. Both sprang to the door.
There they saw, by the light of the now risen moon, the brook which
issued from the wood rushing wildly over its banks, and whirling onward
with it both stones and branches of trees in its rapid course. The
storm, as if awakened by the uproar, burst forth from the clouds, whose
immense masses of vapour coursed over the moon with the swiftness of
thought; the lake roared beneath the wind that swept the foam from its
waves; while the trees of this narrow peninsula groaned from root to
topmost branch as they bowed and swung above the torrent.

“Undine! in God’s name, Undine!” cried the two men in an agony. No
answer was returned. And now, regardless of everything else, they
hurried from the cottage, one in this direction, the other in that,
searching and calling.



CHAPTER 2



The longer Huldbrand sought Undine beneath the shades of night, and
failed to find her, the more anxious and confused he became. The
impression that she was a mere phantom of the forest gained a new
ascendency over him; indeed, amid the howling of the waves and the
tempest, the crashing of the trees, and the entire change of the once
so peaceful and beautiful scene, he was tempted to view the whole
peninsula, together with the cottage and its inhabitants, as little
more than some mockery of his senses. But still he heard afar off the
fisherman’s anxious and incessant shouting, “Undine!” and also his aged
wife, who was praying and singing psalms.

At length, when he drew near to the brook, which had overflowed its
banks, he perceived by the moonlight, that it had taken its wild course
directly in front of the haunted forest, so as to change the peninsula
into an island.

“Merciful God!” he breathed to himself, “if Undine has ventured a step
within that fearful wood, what will become of her? Perhaps it was all
owing to her sportive and wayward spirit, because I would give her no
account of my adventures there. And now the stream is rolling between
us, she may be weeping alone on the other side in the midst of spectral
horrors!”

A shuddering groan escaped him; and clambering over some stones and
trunks of overthrown pines, in order to step into the impetuous current,
he resolved, either by wading or swimming, to seek the wanderer on the
further shore. He felt, it is true, all the dread and shrinking awe
creeping over him which he had already suffered by daylight among the
now tossing and roaring branches of the forest. More than all, a tall
man in white, whom he knew but too well, met his view, as he stood
grinning and nodding on the grass beyond the water. But even monstrous
forms like this only impelled him to cross over toward them, when the
thought rushed upon him that Undine might be there alone and in the
agony of death.

He had already grasped a strong branch of a pine, and stood supporting
himself upon it in the whirling current, against which he could
with difficulty keep himself erect; but he advanced deeper in with a
courageous spirit. That instant a gentle voice of warning cried near
him, “Do not venture, do not venture!--that OLD MAN, the STREAM, is too
full of tricks to be trusted!” He knew the soft tones of the voice; and
while he stood as it were entranced beneath the shadows which had now
duskily veiled the moon, his head swam with the swelling and rolling
of the waves as he saw them momentarily rising above his knee. Still he
disdained the thought of giving up his purpose.

“If you are not really there, if you are merely gambolling round me like
a mist, may I, too, bid farewell to life, and become a shadow like you,
dear, dear Undine!” Thus calling aloud, he again moved deeper into
the stream. “Look round you--ah, pray look round you, beautiful young
stranger! why rush on death so madly?” cried the voice a second time
close by him; and looking on one side he perceived, by the light of
the moon, again cloudless, a little island formed by the flood; and
crouching upon its flowery turf, beneath the branches of embowering
trees, he saw the smiling and lovely Undine.

O how much more gladly than before the young man now plied his sturdy
staff! A few steps, and he had crossed the flood that was rushing
between himself and the maiden; and he stood near her on the little spot
of greensward in security, protected by the old trees. Undine half rose,
and she threw her arms around his neck to draw him gently down upon the
soft seat by her side.

“Here you shall tell me your story, my beautiful friend,” she breathed
in a low whisper; “here the cross old people cannot disturb us; and,
besides, our roof of leaves here will make quite as good a shelter as
their poor cottage.”

“It is heaven itself,” cried Huldbrand; and folding her in his arms, he
kissed the lovely girl with fervour.

The old fisherman, meantime, had come to the margin of the stream, and
he shouted across, “Why, how is this, sir knight! I received you with
the welcome which one true-hearted man gives to another; and now you
sit there caressing my foster-child in secret, while you suffer me in my
anxiety to wander through the night in quest of her.”

“Not till this moment did I find her myself, old father,” cried the
knight across the water.

“So much the better,” said the fisherman, “but now make haste, and bring
her over to me upon firm ground.”

To this, however, Undine would by no means consent. She declared
that she would rather enter the wild forest itself with the beautiful
stranger, than return to the cottage where she was so thwarted in her
wishes, and from which the knight would soon or late go away. Then,
throwing her arms round Huldbrand, she sang the following verse with the
warbling sweetness of a bird:

     “A rill would leave its misty vale,
     And fortunes wild explore,
     Weary at length it reached the main,
     And sought its vale no more.”

The old fisherman wept bitterly at her song, but his emotion seemed to
awaken little or no sympathy in her. She kissed and caressed her new
friend, who at last said to her: “Undine, if the distress of the old man
does not touch your heart, it cannot but move mine. We ought to return
to him.”

She opened her large blue eyes upon him in amazement, and spoke at last
with a slow and doubtful accent, “If you think so, it is well, all is
right to me which you think right. But the old man over there must first
give me his promise that he will allow you, without objection, to
relate what you saw in the wood, and--well, other things will settle
themselves.”

“Come--only come!” cried the fisherman to her, unable to utter another
word. At the same time he stretched his arms wide over the current
towards her, and to give her assurance that he would do what she
required, nodded his head. This motion caused his white hair to fall
strangely over his face, and Huldbrand could not but remember the
nodding white man of the forest. Without allowing anything, however, to
produce in him the least confusion, the young knight took the beautiful
girl in his arms, and bore her across the narrow channel which the
stream had torn away between her little island and the solid shore.
The old man fell upon Undine’s neck, and found it impossible either to
express his joy or to kiss her enough; even the ancient dame came up and
embraced the recovered girl most cordially. Every word of censure was
carefully avoided; the more so, indeed, as even Undine, forgetting her
waywardness, almost overwhelmed her foster-parents with caresses and the
prattle of tenderness.

When at length the excess of their joy at recovering their child had
subsided, morning had already dawned, shining upon the waters of the
lake; the tempest had become hushed, the small birds sung merrily on the
moist branches.

As Undine now insisted upon hearing the recital of the knight’s promised
adventures, the aged couple readily agreed to her wish. Breakfast was
brought out beneath the trees which stood behind the cottage toward the
lake on the north, and they sat down to it with contented hearts;
Undine at the knight’s feet on the grass. These arrangements being made,
Huldbrand began his story in the following manner:--

“It is now about eight days since I rode into the free imperial city
which lies yonder on the farther side of the forest. Soon after my
arrival a splendid tournament and running at the ring took place there,
and I spared neither my horse nor my lance in the encounters.

“Once while I was pausing at the lists to rest from the brisk exercise,
and was handing back my helmet to one of my attendants, a female figure
of extraordinary beauty caught my attention, as, most magnificently
attired, she stood looking on at one of the balconies. I learned, on
making inquiry of a person near me, that the name of the young lady
was Bertalda, and that she was a foster-daughter of one of the powerful
dukes of this country. She too, I observed, was gazing at me, and the
consequences were such as we young knights are wont to experience;
whatever success in riding I might have had before, I was now favoured
with still better fortune. That evening I was Bertalda’s partner in the
dance, and I enjoyed the same distinction during the remainder of the
festival.”

A sharp pain in his left hand, as it hung carelessly beside him, here
interrupted Huldbrand’s relation, and drew his eye to the part affected.
Undine had fastened her pearly teeth, and not without some keenness
too, upon one of his fingers, appearing at the same time very gloomy
and displeased. On a sudden, however, she looked up in his eyes with an
expression of tender melancholy, and whispered almost inaudibly,--

“It is all your own fault.”

She then covered her face; and the knight, strangely embarrassed and
thoughtful, went on with his story.

“This lady, Bertalda, of whom I spoke, is of a proud and wayward spirit.
The second day I saw her she pleased me by no means so much as she
had the first, and the third day still less. But I continued about her
because she showed me more favour than she did any other knight, and
it so happened that I playfully asked her to give me one of her gloves.
‘When you have entered the haunted forest all alone,’ said she; ‘when
you have explored its wonders, and brought me a full account of them,
the glove is yours.’ As to getting her glove, it was of no importance
to me whatever, but the word had been spoken, and no honourable knight
would permit himself to be urged to such a proof of valour a second
time.”

“I thought,” said Undine, interrupting him, “that she loved you.”

“It did appear so,” replied Huldbrand.

“Well!” exclaimed the maiden, laughing, “this is beyond belief; she must
be very stupid. To drive from her one who was dear to her! And worse
than all, into that ill-omened wood! The wood and its mysteries, for all
I should have cared, might have waited long enough.”

“Yesterday morning, then,” pursued the knight, smiling kindly upon
Undine, “I set out from the city, my enterprise before me. The early
light lay rich upon the verdant turf. It shone so rosy on the slender
boles of the trees, and there was so merry a whispering among the
leaves, that in my heart I could not but laugh at people who feared
meeting anything to terrify them in a spot so delicious. ‘I shall soon
pass through the forest, and as speedily return,’ I said to myself, in
the overflow of joyous feeling, and ere I was well aware, I had entered
deep among the green shades, while of the plain that lay behind me I was
no longer able to catch a glimpse.

“Then the conviction for the first time impressed me, that in a forest
of so great extent I might very easily become bewildered, and that this,
perhaps, might be the only danger which was likely to threaten those
who explored its recesses. So I made a halt, and turned myself in the
direction of the sun, which had meantime risen somewhat higher, and
while I was looking up to observe it, I saw something black among the
boughs of a lofty oak. My first thought was, ‘It is a bear!’ and I
grasped my weapon. The object then accosted me from above in a human
voice, but in a tone most harsh and hideous: ‘If I, overhead here, do
not gnaw off these dry branches, Sir Noodle, what shall we have to roast
you with when midnight comes?’ And with that it grinned, and made such a
rattling with the branches that my courser became mad with affright,
and rushed furiously forward with me before I had time to see distinctly
what sort of a devil’s beast it was.”

“You must not speak so,” said the old fisherman, crossing himself. His
wife did the same, without saying a word, and Undine, while her eye
sparkled with delight, looked at the knight and said, “The best of the
story is, however, that as yet they have not roasted you! Go on, now,
you beautiful knight.”

The knight then went on with his adventures. “My horse was so wild, that
he well-nigh rushed with me against limbs and trunks of trees. He was
dripping with sweat through terror, heat, and the violent straining of
his muscles. Still he refused to slacken his career. At last, altogether
beyond my control, he took his course directly up a stony steep, when
suddenly a tall white man flashed before me, and threw himself athwart
the way my mad steed was taking. At this apparition he shuddered with
new affright, and stopped trembling. I took this chance of recovering my
command of him, and now for the first time perceived that my deliverer,
so far from being a white man, was only a brook of silver brightness,
foaming near me in its descent from the hill, while it crossed and
arrested my horse’s course with its rush of waters.”

“Thanks, thanks, dear brook!” cried Undine, clapping her little hands.
But the old man shook his head, and looked down in deep thought.

“Hardly had I well settled myself in my saddle, and got the reins in my
grasp again,” Huldbrand pursued, “when a wizard-like dwarf of a man was
already standing at my side, diminutive and ugly beyond conception, his
complexion of a brownish-yellow, and his nose scarcely smaller than the
rest of him together. The fellow’s mouth was slit almost from ear to
ear, and he showed his teeth with a grinning smile of idiot courtesy,
while he overwhelmed me with bows and scrapes innumerable. The farce now
becoming excessively irksome, I thanked him in the fewest words I could
well use, turned about my still trembling charger, and purposed either
to seek another adventure, or, should I meet with none, to take my way
back to the city; for the sun, during my wild chase, had passed the
meridian, and was now hastening toward the west. But this villain of
a dwarf sprang at the same instant, and, with a turn as rapid as
lightning, stood before my horse again. ‘Clear the way there!’ I cried
fiercely; ‘the beast is wild, and will make nothing of running over
you.’

“‘Ay, ay,’ cried the imp with a snarl, and snorting out a laugh still
more frightfully idiotic; ‘pay me, first pay what you owe me. I stopped
your fine little nag for you; without my help, both you and he would be
now sprawling below there in that stony ravine. Hu! from what a horrible
plunge I’ve saved you!’

“‘Well, don’t make any more faces,’ said I, ‘but take your money and
be off, though every word you say is false. It was the brook there, you
miserable thing, and not you, that saved me,’ and at the same time I
dropped a piece of gold into his wizard cap, which he had taken from his
head while he was begging before me.

“I then trotted off and left him, but he screamed after me; and on a
sudden, with inconceivable quickness, he was close by my side. I started
my horse into a gallop. He galloped on with me, though it seemed with
great difficulty, and with a strange movement, half ludicrous and
half horrible, forcing at the same time every limb and feature into
distortion, he held up the gold piece and screamed at every leap,
‘Counterfeit! false! false coin! counterfeit!’ and such was the strange
sound that issued from his hollow breast, you would have supposed that
at every scream he must have tumbled upon the ground dead. All this
while his disgusting red tongue hung lolling from his mouth.

“I stopped bewildered, and asked, ‘What do you mean by this screaming?
Take another piece of gold, take two, but leave me.’

“He then began again his hideous salutations of courtesy, and snarled
out as before, ‘Not gold, it shall not be gold, my young gentleman. I
have too much of that trash already, as I will show you in no time.’

“At that moment, and thought itself could not have been more
instantaneous, I seemed to have acquired new powers of sight. I could
see through the solid green plain, as if it were green glass, and the
smooth surface of the earth were round as a globe, and within it I saw
crowds of goblins, who were pursuing their pastime and making themselves
merry with silver and gold. They were tumbling and rolling about, heads
up and heads down; they pelted one another in sport with the precious
metals, and with irritating malice blew gold-dust in one another’s eyes.
My odious companion ordered the others to reach him up a vast quantity
of gold; this he showed to me with a laugh, and then flung it again
ringing and chinking down the measureless abyss.

“After this contemptuous disregard of gold, he held up the piece I had
given him, showing it to his brother goblins below, and they laughed
immoderately at a coin so worthless, and hissed me. At last, raising
their fingers all smutched with ore, they pointed them at me in scorn;
and wilder and wilder, and thicker and thicker, and madder and madder,
the crowd were clambering up to where I sat gazing at these wonders.
Then terror seized me, as it had before seized my horse. I drove my
spurs into his sides, and how far he rushed with me through the forest,
during this second of my wild heats, it is impossible to say.

“At last, when I had now come to a dead halt again, the cool of evening
was around me. I caught the gleam of a white footpath through the
branches of the trees; and presuming it would lead me out of the forest
toward the city, I was desirous of working my way into it. But a face,
perfectly white and indistinct, with features ever changing, kept
thrusting itself out and peering at me between the leaves. I tried to
avoid it, but wherever I went, there too appeared the unearthly face. I
was maddened with rage at this interruption, and determined to drive my
steed at the appearance full tilt, when such a cloud of white foam came
rushing upon me and my horse, that we were almost blinded and glad to
turn about and escape. Thus from step to step it forced us on, and ever
aside from the footpath, leaving us for the most part only one direction
open. When we advanced in this, it kept following close behind us, yet
did not occasion the smallest harm or inconvenience.

“When at times I looked about me at the form, I perceived that the white
face, which had splashed upon us its shower of foam, was resting on a
body equally white, and of more than gigantic size. Many a time, too, I
received the impression that the whole appearance was nothing more than
a wandering stream or torrent; but respecting this I could never attain
to any certainty. We both of us, horse and rider, became weary as we
shaped our course according to the movements of the white man, who
continued nodding his head at us, as if he would say, ‘Quite right!’ And
thus, at length, we came out here, at the edge of the wood, where I saw
the fresh turf, the waters of the lake, and your little cottage, and
where the tall white man disappeared.”

“Well, Heaven be praised that he is gone!” cried the old fisherman; and
he now began to talk of how his guest could most conveniently return to
his friends in the city. Upon this, Undine began laughing to herself,
but so very low that the sound was hardly perceivable. Huldbrand
observing it, said, “I thought you were glad to see me here; why, then,
do you now appear so happy when our talk turns upon my going away?”

“Because you cannot go away,” answered Undine. “Pray make a single
attempt; try with a boat, with your horse, or alone, as you please, to
cross that forest stream which has burst its bounds; or rather, make no
trial at all, for you would be dashed to pieces by the stones and trunks
of trees which you see driven on with such violence. And as to the lake,
I know that well; even my father dares not venture out with his boat far
enough to help you.”

Huldbrand rose, smiling, in order to look about and observe whether the
state of things were such as Undine had represented it to be. The old
man accompanied him, and the maiden went merrily dancing beside them.
They found all, in fact, just as Undine had said, and that the knight,
whether willing or not willing, must submit to remaining on the island,
so lately a peninsula, until the flood should subside.

When the three were now returning to the cottage after their ramble, the
knight whispered in the ear of the little maiden, “Well, dear Undine,
are you angry at my remaining?”

“Ah,” she pettishly replied, “do not speak to me! If I had not bitten
you, who knows what fine things you would have put into your story about
Bertalda?”



CHAPTER 3



It may have happened to thee, my dear reader, after being much driven to
and fro in the world, to reach at length a spot where all was well with
thee. The love of home and of its peaceful joys, innate to all, again
sprang up in thy heart; thou thoughtest that thy home was decked with
all the flowers of childhood, and of that purest, deepest love which had
grown upon the graves of thy beloved, and that here it was good to live
and to build houses. Even if thou didst err, and hast had bitterly to
mourn thy error, it is nothing to my purpose, and thou thyself wilt
not like to dwell on the sad recollection. But recall those unspeakably
sweet feelings, that angelic greeting of peace, and thou wilt be able
to understand what was the happiness of the knight Huldbrand during his
abode on that narrow slip of land.

He frequently observed, with heartfelt satisfaction, that the forest
stream continued every day to swell and roll on with a more impetuous
sweep; and this forced him to prolong his stay on the island. Part of
the day he wandered about with an old cross-bow, which he found in a
corner of the cottage, and had repaired in order to shoot the waterfowl
that flew over; and all that he was lucky enough to hit he brought home
for a good roast in the kitchen. When he came in with his booty, Undine
seldom failed to greet him with a scolding, because he had cruelly
deprived the happy joyous little creatures of life as they were sporting
above in the blue ocean of the air; nay more, she often wept bitterly
when she viewed the water-fowl dead in his hand. But at other times,
when he returned without having shot any, she gave him a scolding
equally serious, since, owing to his carelessness and want of skill,
they must now put up with a dinner of fish. Her playful taunts ever
touched his heart with delight; the more so, as she generally strove to
make up for her pretended ill-humour with endearing caresses.

The old people saw with pleasure this familiarity of Undine and
Huldbrand; they looked upon them as betrothed, or even as married, and
living with them in their old age on their island, now torn off from the
mainland. The loneliness of his situation strongly impressed also
the young Huldbrand with the feeling that he was already Undine’s
bridegroom. It seemed to him as if, beyond those encompassing floods,
there were no other world in existence, or at any rate as if he could
never cross them, and again associate with the world of other men; and
when at times his grazing steed raised his head and neighed to him,
seemingly inquiring after his knightly achievements and reminding him
of them, or when his coat-of-arms sternly shone upon him from the
embroidery of his saddle and the caparisons of his horse, or when his
sword happened to fall from the nail on which it was hanging in the
cottage, and flashed on his eye as it slipped from the scabbard in its
fall, he quieted the doubts of his mind by saying to himself, “Undine
cannot be a fisherman’s daughter. She is, in all probability, a native
of some remote region, and a member of some illustrious family.”

There was one thing, indeed, to which he had a strong aversion: this
was to hear the old dame reproving Undine. The wild girl, it is true,
commonly laughed at the reproof, making no attempt to conceal the
extravagance of her mirth; but it appeared to him like touching his own
honour; and still he found it impossible to blame the aged wife of
the fisherman, since Undine always deserved at least ten times as
many reproofs as she received; so he continued to feel in his heart an
affectionate tenderness for the ancient mistress of the house, and his
whole life flowed on in the calm stream of contentment.

There came, however, an interruption at last. The fisherman and the
knight had been accustomed at dinner, and also in the evening when the
wind roared without, as it rarely failed to do towards night, to enjoy
together a flask of wine. But now their whole stock, which the fisherman
had from time to time brought with him from the city, was at last
exhausted, and they were both quite out of humour at the circumstance.
That day Undine laughed at them excessively, but they were not disposed
to join in her jests with the same gaiety as usual. Toward evening she
went out of the cottage, to escape, as she said, the sight of two such
long and tiresome faces.

While it was yet twilight, some appearances of a tempest seemed to be
again mustering in the sky, and the waves already heaved and roared
around them: the knight and the fisherman sprang to the door in terror,
to bring home the maiden, remembering the anguish of that night when
Huldbrand had first entered the cottage. But Undine met them at the same
moment, clapping her little hands in high glee.

“What will you give me,” she cried, “to provide you with wine? or
rather, you need not give me anything,” she continued; “for I am already
satisfied, if you look more cheerful, and are in better spirits, than
throughout this last most wearisome day. Only come with me; the forest
stream has driven ashore a cask; and I will be condemned to sleep
through a whole week, if it is not a wine-cask.”

The men followed her, and actually found, in a bushy cove of the shore,
a cask, which inspired them with as much joy as if they were sure it
contained the generous old wine for which they were thirsting. They
first of all, and with as much expedition as possible, rolled it toward
the cottage; for heavy clouds were again rising in the west, and they
could discern the waves of the lake in the fading light lifting their
white foaming heads, as if looking out for the rain, which threatened
every instant to pour upon them. Undine helped the men as much as she
was able; and as the shower, with a roar of wind, came suddenly sweeping
on in rapid pursuit, she raised her finger with a merry menace toward
the dark mass of clouds, and cried:

“You cloud, you cloud, have a care! beware how you wet us; we are some
way from shelter yet.”

The old man reproved her for this sally, as a sinful presumption;
but she laughed to herself softly, and no mischief came from her wild
behaviour. Nay more, what was beyond their expectation, they reached
their comfortable hearth unwet, with their prize secured; but the cask
had hardly been broached, and proved to contain wine of a remarkably
fine flavour, when the rain first poured down unrestrained from the
black cloud, the tempest raved through the tops of the trees, and swept
far over the billows of the deep.

Having immediately filled several bottles from the cask, which promised
them a supply for a long time, they drew round the glowing hearth; and,
comfortably secured from the tempest, they sat tasting the flavour of
their wine and bandying jests.

But the old fisherman suddenly became extremely grave, and said: “Ah,
great God! here we sit, rejoicing over this rich gift, while he to
whom it first belonged, and from whom it was wrested by the fury of the
stream, must there also, it is more than probable, have lost his life.”

“No such thing,” said Undine, smiling, as she filled the knight’s cup to
the brim.

But he exclaimed: “By my unsullied honour, old father, if I knew where
to find and rescue him, no fear of exposure to the night, nor any peril,
should deter me from making the attempt. At least, I can promise you
that if I again reach an inhabited country, I will find out the owner of
this wine or his heirs, and make double and triple reimbursement.”

The old man was gratified with this assurance; he gave the knight a nod
of approbation, and now drained his cup with an easier conscience and
more relish.

Undine, however, said to Huldbrand: “As to the repayment and your gold,
you may do whatever you like. But what you said about your venturing
out, and searching, and exposing yourself to danger, appears to me far
from wise. I should cry my very eyes out, should you perish in such a
wild attempt; and is it not true that you would prefer staying here with
me and the good wine?”

“Most assuredly,” answered Huldbrand, smiling.

“Then, you see,” replied Undine, “you spoke unwisely. For charity begins
at home; and why need we trouble ourselves about our neighbours?”

The mistress of the house turned away from her, sighing and shaking
her head; while the fisherman forgot his wonted indulgence toward the
graceful maiden, and thus rebuked her:

“That sounds exactly as if you had been brought up by heathens and
Turks;” and he finished his reproof by adding, “May God forgive both me
and you--unfeeling child!”

“Well, say what you will, that is what I think and feel,” replied
Undine, “whoever brought me up; and all your talking cannot help it.”

“Silence!” exclaimed the fisherman, in a voice of stern rebuke; and she,
who with all her wild spirit was extremely alive to fear, shrank from
him, moved close up to Huldbrand, trembling, and said very softly:

“Are you also angry, dear friend?”

The knight pressed her soft hand, and tenderly stroked her locks. He
was unable to utter a word, for his vexation, arising from the old man’s
severity towards Undine, closed his lips; and thus the two couples sat
opposite to each other, at once heated with anger and in embarrassed
silence.

In the midst of this stillness a low knocking at the door startled them
all; for there are times when a slight circumstance, coming unexpectedly
upon us, startles us like something supernatural. But there was the
further source of alarm, that the enchanted forest lay so near them, and
that their place of abode seemed at present inaccessible to any human
being. While they were looking upon one another in doubt, the knocking
was again heard, accompanied with a deep groan. The knight sprang to
seize his sword. But the old man said, in a low whisper:

“If it be what I fear it is, no weapon of yours can protect us.”

Undine in the meanwhile went to the door, and cried with the firm voice
of fearless displeasure: “Spirits of the earth! if mischief be your aim,
Kuhleborn shall teach you better manners.”

The terror of the rest was increased by this wild speech; they looked
fearfully upon the girl, and Huldbrand was just recovering presence
of mind enough to ask what she meant, when a voice reached them from
without:

“I am no spirit of the earth, though a spirit still in its earthly body.
You that are within the cottage there, if you fear God and would afford
me assistance, open your door to me.”

By the time these words were spoken, Undine had already opened it; and
the lamp throwing a strong light upon the stormy night, they perceived
an aged priest without, who stepped back in terror, when his eye fell on
the unexpected sight of a little damsel of such exquisite beauty. Well
might he think there must be magic in the wind and witchcraft at work,
when a form of such surpassing loveliness appeared at the door of so
humble a dwelling. So he lifted up his voice in prayer:

“Let all good spirits praise the Lord God!”

“I am no spectre,” said Undine, with a smile. “Do I look so very
frightful? And you see that I do not shrink from holy words. I too have
knowledge of God, and understand the duty of praising Him; every one, to
be sure, has his own way of doing this, for so He has created us. Come
in, father; you will find none but worthy people here.”

The holy man came bowing in, and cast round a glance of scrutiny,
wearing at the same time a very placid and venerable air. But water was
dropping from every fold of his dark garments, from his long white beard
and the white locks of his hair. The fisherman and the knight took him
to another apartment, and furnished him with a change of raiment, while
they gave his own clothes to the women to dry. The aged stranger thanked
them in a manner the most humble and courteous; but on the knight’s
offering him his splendid cloak to wrap round him, he could not be
persuaded to take it, but chose instead an old grey coat that belonged
to the fisherman.

They then returned to the common apartment. The mistress of the house
immediately offered her great chair to the priest, and continued urging
it upon him till she saw him fairly in possession of it. “You are old
and exhausted,” said she, “and are, moreover, a man of God.”

Undine shoved under the stranger’s feet her little stool, on which at
all other times she used to sit near to Huldbrand, and showed herself
most gentle and amiable towards the old man. Huldbrand whispered some
raillery in her ear, but she replied, gravely:

“He is a minister of that Being who created us all; and holy things are
not to be treated with lightness.”

The knight and the fisherman now refreshed the priest with food and
wine; and when he had somewhat recovered his strength and spirits, he
began to relate how he had the day before set out from his cloister,
which was situated far off beyond the great lake, in order to visit the
bishop, and acquaint him with the distress into which the cloister and
its tributary villages had fallen, owing to the extraordinary floods.
After a long and wearisome wandering, on account of the rise of the
waters, he had been this day compelled toward evening to procure the
aid of a couple of boatmen, and cross over an arm of the lake which had
burst its usual boundary.

“But hardly,” continued he, “had our small ferry-boat touched the waves,
when that furious tempest burst forth which is still raging over our
heads. It seemed as if the billows had been waiting our approach only to
rush on us with a madness the more wild. The oars were wrested from the
grasp of my men in an instant; and shivered by the resistless force,
they drove farther and farther out before us upon the waves. Unable to
direct our course, we yielded to the blind power of nature, and seemed
to fly over the surges toward your distant shore, which we already saw
looming through the mist and foam of the deep. Then it was at last that
our boat turned short from its course, and rocked with a motion that
became more wild and dizzy: I know not whether it was overset, or the
violence of the motion threw me overboard. In my agony and struggle at
the thought of a near and terrible death, the waves bore me onward, till
I was cast ashore here beneath the trees of your island.”

“Yes, an island!” cried the fisherman; “a short time ago it was only a
point of land. But now, since the forest stream and lake have become all
but mad, it appears to be entirely changed.”

“I observed something of it,” replied the priest, “as I stole along the
shore in the obscurity; and hearing nothing around me but a sort of wild
uproar, I perceived at last that the noise came from a point exactly
where a beaten footpath disappeared. I now caught the light in your
cottage, and ventured hither, where I cannot sufficiently thank my
Heavenly Father that, after preserving me from the waters, He has also
conducted me to such pious people as you are; and the more so, as it is
difficult to say whether I shall ever behold any other persons in this
world except you four.”

“What mean you by those words?” asked the fisherman.

“Can you tell me, then, how long this commotion of the elements will
last?” replied the priest. “I am old; the stream of my life may easily
sink into the ground and vanish before the overflowing of that forest
stream shall subside. And, indeed, it is not impossible that more and
more of the foaming waters may rush in between you and yonder forest,
until you are so far removed from the rest of the world, that your small
fishing-canoe may be incapable of passing over, and the inhabitants of
the continent entirely forget you in your old age amid the dissipation
and diversions of life.”

At this melancholy foreboding the old lady shrank back with a feeling of
alarm, crossed herself, and cried, “God forbid!”

But the fisherman looked upon her with a smile and said, “What a strange
being is man! Suppose the worst to happen; our state would not be
different; at any rate, your own would not, dear wife, from what it is
at present. For have you, these many years, been farther from home than
the border of the forest? And have you seen a single human being beside
Undine and myself? It is now only a short time since the coming of the
knight and the priest. They will remain with us, even if we do become a
forgotten island; so after all you will be a gainer.”

“I know not,” replied the ancient dame; “it is a dismal thought, when
brought fairly home to the mind, that we are for ever separated from
mankind, even though in fact we never do know nor see them.”

“Then YOU will remain with us--then you will remain with us!” whispered
Undine, in a voice scarcely audible and half singing, while she nestled
closer to Huldbrand’s side. But he was immersed in the deep and strange
musings of his own mind. The region, on the farther side of the
forest river, seemed, since the last words of the priest, to have been
withdrawing farther and farther, in dim perspective, from his view; and
the blooming island on which he lived grew green and smiled more freshly
in his fancy. His bride glowed like the fairest rose, not of this
obscure nook only, but even of the whole wide world; and the priest was
now present.

Added to which, the mistress of the family was directing an angry glance
at Undine, because, even in the presence of the priest, she leant
so fondly on the knight; and it seemed as if she was on the point
of breaking out in harsh reproof. Then burst forth from the mouth of
Huldbrand, as he turned to the priest, “Father, you here see before you
an affianced pair; and if this maiden and these good old people have no
objection, you shall unite us this very evening.”

The aged couple were both exceedingly surprised. They had often, it is
true, thought of this, but as yet they had never mentioned it; and now,
when the knight spoke, it came upon them like something wholly new and
unexpected. Undine became suddenly grave, and looked down thoughtfully,
while the priest made inquiries respecting the circumstances of their
acquaintance, and asked the old people whether they gave their consent
to the union. After a great number of questions and answers, the affair
was arranged to the satisfaction of all; and the mistress of the house
went to prepare the bridal apartment of the young couple, and also,
with a view to grace the nuptial solemnity, to seek for two consecrated
tapers, which she had for a long time kept by her, for this occasion.

The knight in the meanwhile busied himself about his golden chain,
for the purpose of disengaging two of its links, that he might make
an exchange of rings with his bride. But when she saw his object, she
started from her trance of musing, and exclaimed--

“Not so! my parents by no means sent me into the world so perfectly
destitute; on the contrary, they foresaw, even at that early period,
that such a night as this would come.”

Thus speaking she went out of the room, and a moment after returned with
two costly rings, of which she gave one to her bridegroom, and kept the
other for herself. The old fisherman was beyond measure astonished at
this; and his wife, who was just re-entering the room, was even more
surprised than he, that neither of them had ever seen these jewels in
the child’s possession.

“My parents,” said Undine, “sewed these trinkets to that beautiful
raiment which I wore the very day I came to you. They also charged me
on no account whatever to mention them to any one before my wedding
evening. At the time of my coming, therefore, I took them off in secret,
and have kept them concealed to the present hour.”

The priest now cut short all further questioning and wondering, while he
lighted the consecrated tapers, placed them on a table, and ordered the
bridal pair to stand opposite to him. He then pronounced the few solemn
words of the ceremony, and made them one. The elder couple gave the
younger their blessing; and the bride, gently trembling and thoughtful,
leaned upon the knight.

The priest then spoke out: “You are strange people, after all; for why
did you tell me that you were the only inhabitants of the island? So far
is this from being true, I have seen, the whole time I was performing
the ceremony, a tall, stately man, in a white mantle, standing opposite
to me, looking in at the window. He must be still waiting before the
door, if peradventure you would invite him to come in.”

“God forbid!” cried the old lady, shrinking back; the fisherman shook
his head, without opening his lips; and Huldbrand sprang to the window.
It seemed to him that he could still discern a white streak, which soon
disappeared in the gloom. He convinced the priest that he must have
been mistaken in his impression; and they all sat down together round a
bright and comfortable hearth.



CHAPTER 4



Before the nuptial ceremony, and during its performance, Undine had
shown a modest gentleness and maidenly reserve; but it now seemed as if
all the wayward freaks that effervesced within her burst forth with
an extravagance only the more bold and unrestrained. She teased her
bridegroom, her foster-parents, and even the priest, whom she had just
now revered so highly, with all sorts of childish tricks; but when the
ancient dame was about to reprove her too frolicsome spirit, the knight,
in a few words, imposed silence upon her by speaking of Undine as his
wife.

The knight was himself, indeed, just as little pleased with Undine’s
childish behaviour as the rest; but all his looks and half-reproachful
words were to no purpose. It is true, whenever the bride observed the
dissatisfaction of her husband--and this occasionally happened--she
became more quiet, placed herself beside him, stroked his face with
caressing fondness, whispered something smilingly in his ear, and in
this manner smoothed the wrinkles that were gathering on his brow.
But the moment after, some wild whim would make her resume her antic
movements; and all went worse than before.

The priest then spoke in a kind although serious tone: “My fair young
maiden, surely no one can look on you without pleasure; but remember
betimes so to attune your soul that it may produce a harmony ever in
accordance with the soul of your wedded bridegroom.”

“SOUL!” cried Undine with a laugh. “What you say has a remarkably
pretty sound; and for most people, too, it may be a very instructive and
profitable caution. But when a person has no soul at all, how, I pray
you, can such attuning be then possible? And this, in truth, is just my
condition.”

The priest was much hurt, but continued silent in holy displeasure, and
turned away his face from the maiden in sorrow. She, however, went up to
him with the most winning sweetness, and said:

“Nay, I entreat you first listen to me, before you are angry with me;
for your anger is painful to me, and you ought not to give pain to a
creature that has not hurt you. Only have patience with me, and I will
explain to you every word of what I meant.”

It was evident that she had come to say something important; when she
suddenly faltered as if seized with inward shuddering, and burst into
a passion of tears. They were none of them able to understand the
intenseness of her feelings; and, with mingled emotions of fear and
anxiety, they gazed on her in silence. Then, wiping away her tears, and
looking earnestly at the priest, she at last said:

“There must be something lovely, but at the same time something most
awful, about a soul. In the name of God, holy man, were it not better
that we never shared a gift so mysterious?”

Again she paused, and restrained her tears, as if waiting for an answer.
All in the cottage had risen from their seats, and stepped back from her
with horror. She, however, seemed to have eyes for no one but the holy
man; an awful curiosity was painted on her features, which appeared
terrible to the others.

“Heavily must the soul weigh down its possessor,” she pursued, when no
one returned her any answer--“very heavily! for already its approaching
image overshadows me with anguish and mourning. And, alas, I have till
now been so merry and light-hearted!” and she burst into another flood
of tears, and covered her face with her veil.

The priest, going up to her with a solemn look, now addressed himself
to her, and conjured her, by the name of God most holy, if any spirit of
evil possessed her, to remove the light covering from her face. But
she sank before him on her knees, and repeated after him every sacred
expression he uttered, giving praise to God, and protesting “that she
wished well to the whole world.”

The priest then spoke to the knight: “Sir bridegroom, I leave you
alone with her whom I have united to you in marriage. So far as I can
discover, there is nothing of evil in her, but assuredly much that is
wonderful. What I recommend to you is--prudence, love, and fidelity.”

Thus speaking, he left the apartment; and the fisherman, with his wife,
followed him, crossing themselves.

Undine had sunk upon her knees. She uncovered her face, and exclaimed,
while she looked fearfully round upon Huldbrand, “Alas! you will now
refuse to look upon me as your own; and still I have done nothing evil,
poor unhappy child that I am!” She spoke these words with a look so
infinitely sweet and touching, that her bridegroom forgot both the
confession that had shocked, and the mystery that had perplexed him;
and hastening to her, he raised her in his arms. She smiled through her
tears; and that smile was like the morning light playing upon a small
stream. “You cannot desert me!” she whispered confidingly, and stroked
the knight’s cheeks with her little soft hands. He turned away from the
frightful thoughts that still lurked in the recesses of his soul,
and were persuading him that he had been married to a fairy, or some
spiteful and mischievous being of the spirit-world. Only the single
question, and that almost unawares, escaped from his lips.

“Dearest Undine, tell me this one thing: what was it you meant by
‘spirits of earth’ and ‘Kuhleborn,’ when the priest stood knocking at
the door?”

“Tales! mere tales of children!” answered Undine, laughing, now quite
restored to her wonted gaiety. “I first frightened you with them, and
you frightened me. This is the end of the story, and of our nuptial
evening.”

“Nay, not so,” replied the enamoured knight, extinguishing the tapers,
and a thousand times kissing his beautiful and beloved bride; while,
lighted by the moon that shone brightly through the windows, he bore her
into their bridal apartment.

The fresh light of morning woke the young married pair: but Huldbrand
lay lost in silent reflection. Whenever, during the night, he had fallen
asleep, strange and horrible dreams of spectres had disturbed him; and
these shapes, grinning at him by stealth, strove to disguise themselves
as beautiful females; and from beautiful females they all at once
assumed the appearance of dragons. And when he started up, aroused by
the intrusion of these hideous forms, the moonlight shone pale and cold
before the windows without. He looked affrighted at Undine, in whose
arms he had fallen asleep: and she was reposing in unaltered beauty and
sweetness beside him. Then pressing her rosy lips with a light kiss, he
again fell into a slumber, only to be awakened by new terrors.

When fully awake, he had thought over this connection. He reproached
himself for any doubt that could lead him into error in regard to his
lovely wife. He also confessed to her his injustice; but she only gave
him her fair hand, sighed deeply, and remained silent. Yet a glance of
fervent tenderness, an expression of the soul beaming in her eyes, such
as he had never witnessed there before, left him in undoubted assurance
that Undine bore him no ill-will.

He then rose joyfully, and leaving her, went to the common apartment,
where the inmates of the house had already met. The three were sitting
round the hearth with an air of anxiety about them, as if they feared
trusting themselves to raise their voice above a low, apprehensive
undertone. The priest appeared to be praying in his inmost spirit, with
a view to avert some fatal calamity. But when they observed the young
husband come forth so cheerful, they dispelled the cloud that remained
upon their brows: the old fisherman even began to laugh with the
knight till his aged wife herself could not help smiling with great
good-humour.

Undine had in the meantime got ready, and now entered the room; all
rose to meet her, but remained fixed in perfect admiration--she was so
changed, and yet the same. The priest, with paternal affection beaming
from his countenance, first went up to her; and as he raised his hand to
pronounce a blessing, the beautiful bride sank on her knees before him
with religious awe; she begged his pardon in terms both respectful and
submissive for any foolish things she might have uttered the evening
before, and entreated him with emotion to pray for the welfare of her
soul. She then rose, kissed her foster-parents, and, after thanking them
for all the kindness they had shown her, said:

“Oh, I now feel in my inmost heart how much, how infinitely much, you
have done for me, you dear, dear friends of my childhood!”

At first she was wholly unable to tear herself away from their
affectionate caresses; but the moment she saw the good old mother busy
in getting breakfast, she went to the hearth, applied herself to cooking
the food and putting it on the table, and would not suffer her to take
the least share in the work.

She continued in this frame of spirit the whole day: calm, kind
attentive--half matronly, and half girlish. The three who had been
longest acquainted with her expected every instant to see her capricious
spirit break out in some whimsical change or sportive vagary. But their
fears were quite unnecessary. Undine continued as mild and gentle as an
angel. The priest found it all but impossible to remove his eyes from
her; and he often said to the bridegroom:

“The bounty of Heaven, sir, through me its unworthy instrument,
entrusted to you yesterday an invaluable treasure; cherish it as you
ought, and it will promote your temporal and eternal welfare.”

Toward evening Undine was hanging upon the knight’s arm with lowly
tenderness, while she drew him gently out before the door, where the
setting sun shone richly over the fresh grass, and upon the high,
slender boles of the trees. Her emotion was visible: the dew of sadness
and love swam in her eyes, while a tender and fearful secret seemed to
hover upon her lips, but was only made known by hardly-breathed sighs.
She led her husband farther and farther onward without speaking. When he
asked her questions, she replied only with looks, in which, it is true,
there appeared to be no immediate answer to his inquiries, but a whole
heaven of love and timid devotion. Thus they reached the margin of the
swollen forest stream, and the knight was astonished to see it gliding
away with so gentle a murmuring of its waves, that no vestige of its
former swell and wildness was now discernible.

“By morning it will be wholly drained off,” said the beautiful wife,
almost weeping, “and you will then be able to travel, without anything
to hinder you, whithersoever you will.”

“Not without you, dear Undine,” replied the knight, laughing; “think,
only, were I disposed to leave you, both the Church and the spiritual
powers, the Emperor and the laws of the realm, would require the
fugitive to be seized and restored to you.”

“All this depends on you--all depends on you,” whispered his little
companion, half weeping and half smiling. “But I still feel sure that
you will not leave me; I love you too deeply to fear that misery. Now
bear me over to that little island which lies before us. There shall
the decision be made. I could easily, indeed, glide through that mere
rippling of the water without your aid, but it is so sweet to lie in
your arms; and should you determine to put me away, I shall have rested
in them once more,... for the last time.”

Huldbrand was so full of strange anxiety and emotion, that he knew not
what answer to make her. He took her in his arms and carried her over,
now first realizing the fact that this was the same little island from
which he had borne her back to the old fisherman, the first night of his
arrival. On the farther side, he placed her upon the soft grass, and
was throwing himself lovingly near his beautiful burden; but she said to
him, “Not here, but opposite me. I shall read my doom in your eyes, even
before your lips pronounce it: now listen attentively to what I shall
relate to you.” And she began:

“You must know, my own love, that there are beings in the elements which
bear the strongest resemblance to the human race, and which, at the
same time, but seldom become visible to you. The wonderful salamanders
sparkle and sport amid the flames; deep in the earth the meagre and
malicious gnomes pursue their revels; the forest-spirits belong to the
air, and wander in the woods; while in the seas, rivers, and streams
live the widespread race of water-spirits. These last, beneath
resounding domes of crystal, through which the sky can shine with its
sun and stars, inhabit a region of light and beauty; lofty coral-trees
glow with blue and crimson fruits in their gardens; they walk over the
pure sand of the sea, among exquisitely variegated shells, and amid
whatever of beauty the old world possessed, such as the present is no
more worthy to enjoy--creations which the floods covered with their
secret veils of silver; and now these noble monuments sparkle below,
stately and solemn, and bedewed by the water, which loves them, and
calls forth from their crevices delicate moss-flowers and enwreathing
tufts of sedge.

“Now the nation that dwell there are very fair and lovely to behold,
for the most part more beautiful than human beings. Many a fisherman has
been so fortunate as to catch a view of a delicate maiden of the waters,
while she was floating and singing upon the deep. He would then spread
far the fame of her beauty; and to such wonderful females men are wont
to give the name of Undines. But what need of saying more?--You, my dear
husband, now actually behold an Undine before you.”

The knight would have persuaded himself that his lovely wife was under
the influence of one of her odd whims, and that she was only amusing
herself and him with her extravagant inventions. He wished it might be
so. But with whatever emphasis he said this to himself, he still could
not credit the hope for a moment: a strange shivering shot through his
soul; unable to utter a word, he gazed upon the sweet speaker with a
fixed eye. She shook her head in distress, sighed from her full heart,
and then proceeded in the following manner:--“We should be far superior
to you, who are another race of the human family,--for we also call
ourselves human beings, as we resemble them in form and features--had
we not one evil peculiar to ourselves. Both we and the beings I have
mentioned as inhabiting the other elements vanish into air at death and
go out of existence, spirit and body, so that no vestige of us remains;
and when you hereafter awake to a purer state of being, we shall remain
where sand, and sparks, and wind, and waves remain. Thus we have no
souls; the element moves us, and, again, is obedient to our will, while
we live, though it scatters us like dust when we die; and as we
have nothing to trouble us, we are as merry as nightingales, little
gold-fishes, and other pretty children of nature.

“But all beings aspire to rise in the scale of existence higher than
they are. It was therefore the wish of my father, who is a powerful
water-prince in the Mediterranean Sea, that his only daughter should
become possessed of a soul, although she should have to endure many of
the sufferings of those who share that gift.

“Now the race to which I belong have no other means of obtaining a soul
than by forming with an individual of your own the most intimate union
of love. I am now possessed of a soul, and my soul thanks you, my best
beloved, and never shall cease to thank you, if you do not render my
whole future life miserable. For what will become of me, if you avoid
and reject me? Still, I would not keep you as my own by artifice. And
should you decide to cast me off, then do it now, and return alone to
the shore. I will plunge into this brook, where my uncle will receive
me; my uncle, who here in the forest, far removed from his other
friends, passes his strange and solitary existence. But he is powerful,
as well as revered and beloved by many great rivers; and as he brought
me hither to the fisherman a light-hearted and laughing child, he will
take me home to my parents a woman, gifted with a soul, with power to
love and to suffer.”

She was about to add something more, when Huldbrand, with the most
heartfelt tenderness and love, clasped her in his arms, and again bore
her back to the shore. There, amid tears and kisses, he first swore
never to forsake his affectionate wife, and esteemed himself even more
happy than Pygmalion, for whom Venus gave life to his beautiful statue,
and thus changed it into a beloved wife. Supported by his arm, and in
the confidence of affection, Undine returned to the cottage; and now
she first realized with her whole heart how little cause she had for
regretting what she had left--the crystal palace of her mysterious
father.



CHAPTER 5



Next morning, when Huldbrand awoke from slumber, and perceived that his
beautiful wife was not by his side, he began to give way again to
his wild imaginations--that his marriage, and even the lovely Undine
herself, were only shadows without substance--only mere illusions of
enchantment. But she entered the door at the same moment, kissed him,
seated herself on the bed by his side, and said:

“I have been out somewhat early this morning, to see whether my uncle
keeps his word. He has already restored the waters of the flood to
his own calm channel, and he now flows through the forest a rivulet as
before, in a lonely and dreamlike current. His friends, too, both of
the water and the air, have resumed their usual peaceful tenor; all will
again proceed with order and tranquillity; and you can travel homeward,
without fear of the flood, whenever you choose.”

It seemed to the mind of Huldbrand that he must be in some waking dream,
so little was he able to understand the nature of his wife’s strange
relative. Notwithstanding this he made no remark upon what she had
told him, and her surpassing loveliness soon lulled every misgiving and
discomfort to rest.

Some time afterwards, while he was standing with her before the door,
and surveying the verdant point of land, with its boundary of bright
waters, such a feeling of bliss came over him in this cradle of his
love, that he exclaimed:

“Shall we, then, so early as to-day, begin our journey? Why should
we? It is probable that abroad in the world we shall find no days more
delightful than those we have spent in this green isle so secret and so
secure. Let us yet see the sun go down here two or three times more.”

“Just as my lord wills,” replied Undine meekly. “Only we must remember,
that my foster-parents will, at all events, see me depart with pain; and
should they now, for the first time, discover the true soul in me, and
how fervently I can now love and honour them, their feeble eyes would
surely become blind with weeping. As yet they consider my present
quietness and gentleness as of no better promise than they were
formerly--like the calm of the lake just while the air remains
tranquil--and they will learn soon to cherish a little tree or flower as
they have cherished me. Let me not, then, make known to them this newly
bestowed, this loving heart, at the very moment they must lose it for
this world; and how could I conceal what I have gained, if we continued
longer together?”

Huldbrand yielded to her representation, and went to the aged couple to
confer with them respecting his journey, on which he proposed to set out
that very hour. The priest offered himself as a companion to the young
married pair; and, after taking a short farewell, he held the bridle,
while the knight lifted his beautiful wife upon his horse; and with
rapid steps they crossed the dry channel with her toward the forest.
Undine wept in silent but intense emotion; the old people, as she
moved away, were more clamorous in the expression of their grief. They
appeared to feel, at the moment of separation, all that they were losing
in their affectionate foster-daughter.

The three travellers had reached the thickest shades of the forest
without interchanging a word. It must have been a fair sight, in that
hall of leafy verdure, to see this lovely woman’s form sitting on the
noble and richly-ornamented steed, on her left hand the venerable priest
in the white garb of his order, on her right the blooming young knight,
clad in splendid raiment of scarlet, gold, and violet, girt with a sword
that flashed in the sun, and attentively walking beside her. Huldbrand
had no eyes but for his wife; Undine, who had dried her tears of
tenderness, had no eyes but for him; and they soon entered into the
still and voiceless converse of looks and gestures, from which, after
some time, they were awakened by the low discourse which the priest
was holding with a fourth traveller, who had meanwhile joined them
unobserved.

He wore a white gown, resembling in form the dress of the priest’s
order, except that his hood hung very low over his face, and that the
whole drapery floated in such wide folds around him as obliged him every
moment to gather it up and throw it over his arm, or by some management
of this sort to get it out of his way, and still it did not seem in the
least to impede his movements. When the young couple became aware of his
presence, he was saying:

“And so, venerable sir, many as have been the years I have dwelt here in
this forest, I have never received the name of hermit in your sense of
the word. For, as I said before, I know nothing of penance, and I think,
too, that I have no particular need of it. Do you ask me why I am so
attached to the forest? It is because its scenery is so peculiarly
picturesque, and affords me so much pastime when, in my floating white
garments, I pass through its world of leaves and dusky shadows;--and
when a sweet sunbeam glances down upon me at times unexpectedly.”

“You are a very singular man,” replied the priest, “and I should like to
have a more intimate acquaintance with you.”

“And who, then, may you be yourself, to pass from one thing to another?”
 inquired the stranger.

“I am called Father Heilmann,” answered the holy man; “and I am from the
cloister of Our Lady of the Salutation, beyond the lake.”

“Well, well,” replied the stranger, “my name is Kuhleborn; and were I
a stickler for the nice distinctions of rank, I might, with equal
propriety, require you to give me the title of noble lord of Kuhleborn,
or free lord of Kuhleborn; for I am as free as the birds in the forest,
and, it may be, a trifle more so. For example, I now have something to
tell that young lady there.” And before they were aware of his purpose,
he was on the other side of the priest, close to Undine, and stretching
himself high into the air, in order to whisper something in her ear. But
she shrank from him in terror, and exclaimed:

“I have nothing more to do with you.”

“Ho, ho,” cried the stranger with a laugh, “you have made a grand
marriage indeed, since you no longer know your own relations! Have you
no recollection, then, of your uncle Kuhleborn, who so faithfully bore
you on his back to this region?”

“However that may be,” replied Undine, “I entreat you never to appear in
my presence again. I am now afraid of you; and will not my husband fear
and forsake me, if he sees me associate with such strange company and
kindred?”

“You must not forget, my little niece,” said Kuhleborn, “that I am with
you here as a guide; otherwise those madcap spirits of the earth, the
gnomes that haunt this forest, would play you some of their mischievous
pranks. Let me therefore still accompany you in peace. Even the old
priest there had a better recollection of me than you have; for he just
now assured me that I seemed to be very familiar to him, and that I must
have been with him in the ferry-boat, out of which he tumbled into
the waves. He certainly did see me there; for I was no other than the
water-spout that tore him out of it, and kept him from sinking, while I
safely wafted him ashore to your wedding.”

Undine and the knight turned their eyes upon Father Heilmann; but he
appeared to be moving forward, just as if he were dreaming or walking
in his sleep, and no longer to be conscious of a word that was spoken.
Undine then said to Kuhleborn: “I already see yonder the end of the
forest. We have no further need of your assistance, and nothing now
gives us alarm but yourself. I therefore beseech you, by our mutual love
and good-will, to vanish, and allow us to proceed in peace.”

Kuhleborn seemed to become angry at this: he darted a frightful look at
Undine, and grinned fiercely upon her. She shrieked aloud, and called
her husband to protect her. The knight sprang round the horse as quick
as lightning, and, brandishing his sword, struck at Kuhleborn’s head.
But instead of severing it from his body, the sword merely flashed
through a torrent, which rushed foaming near them from a lofty cliff;
and with a splash, which much resembled in sound a burst of laughter,
the stream all at once poured upon them and gave them a thorough
wetting. The priest, as if suddenly awakening from a trance, coolly
observed: “This is what I have been some time expecting, because the
brook has descended from the steep so close beside us--though at first
sight, indeed, it appeared to resemble a man, and to possess the power
of speech.”

As the waterfall came rushing from its crag, it distinctly uttered these
words in Huldbrand’s ear: “Rash knight! valiant knight! I am not angry
with you; I have no quarrel with you; only continue to defend your
lovely little wife with the same spirit, you bold knight! you valiant
champion!”

After advancing a few steps farther, the travellers came out upon open
ground. The imperial city lay bright before them; and the evening sun,
which gilded its towers with gold, kindly dried their garments that had
been so completely drenched.

The sudden disappearance of the young knight, Huldbrand of Ringstetten,
had occasioned much remark in the imperial city, and no small concern
amongst those who, as well on account of his expertness in tourney and
dance, as of his mild and amiable manners, had become attached to him.
His attendants were unwilling to quit the place without their master,
although not a soul of them had been courageous enough to follow him
into the fearful recesses of the forest. They remained, therefore, at
the hostelry, idly hoping, as men are wont to do, and keeping the fate
of their lost lord fresh in remembrance by their lamentations.

Now when the violent storms and floods had been observed immediately
after his departure, the destruction of the handsome stranger became
all but certain; even Bertalda had openly discovered her sorrow, and
detested herself for having been the cause of his taking that fatal
excursion into the forest. Her foster-parents, the duke and duchess, had
meanwhile come to take her away; but Bertalda persuaded them to remain
with her until some certain news of Huldbrand should be obtained,
whether he were living or dead. She endeavoured also to prevail upon
several young knights, who were assiduous in courting her favour, to
go in quest of the noble adventurer in the forest. But she refused
to pledge her hand as the reward of the enterprise, because she still
cherished, it might be, a hope of its being claimed by the returning
knight; and no one would consent, for a glove, a riband, or even a kiss,
to expose his life to bring back so very dangerous a rival.

When Huldbrand now made his sudden and unexpected appearance, his
attendants, the inhabitants of the city, and almost every one rejoiced.
This was not the case with Bertalda; for although it might be quite
a welcome event to others that he brought with him a wife of such
exquisite loveliness, and Father Heilmann as a witness of their
marriage, Bertalda could not but view the affair with grief and
vexation. She had, in truth, become attached to the young knight with
her whole soul; and her mourning for his absence, or supposed death, had
shown this more than she could now have wished.

But notwithstanding all this, she conducted herself like a wise maiden
in circumstances of such delicacy, and lived on the most friendly
terms with Undine, whom the whole city looked upon as a princess that
Huldbrand had rescued in the forest from some evil enchantment. Whenever
any one questioned either herself or her husband relative to surmises of
this nature, they had wisdom enough to remain silent, or wit enough
to evade the inquiries. The lips of Father Heilmann had been sealed
in regard to idle gossip of every kind; and besides, on Huldbrand’s
arrival, he had immediately returned to his cloister: so that people
were obliged to rest contented with their own wild conjectures; and even
Bertalda herself ascertained nothing more of the truth than others.

For the rest, Undine daily felt more love for the fair maiden. “We must
have been before acquainted with each other,” she often used to say to
her, “or else there must be some mysterious connection between us,
for it is incredible that any one so perfectly without cause--I mean,
without some deep and secret cause--should be so fondly attached to
another as I have been to you from the first moment of our meeting.”

And even Bertalda could not deny that she felt a confiding impulse,
an attraction of tenderness toward Undine, much as she deemed this
fortunate rival the cause of her bitterest disappointment. Under the
influence of this mutual regard, they found means to persuade, the
one her foster-parents, and the other her husband, to defer the day of
separation to a period more and more remote; nay, more, they had already
begun to talk of a plan for Bertalda’s accompanying Undine to Castle
Ringstetten, near one of the sources of the Danube.

Once on a fine evening they happened to be talking over their scheme
just as they passed the high trees that bordered the public walk.
The young married pair, though it was somewhat late, had called upon
Bertalda to invite her to share their enjoyment; and all three proceeded
familiarly up and down beneath the dark blue heaven, not seldom
interrupted in their converse by the admiration which they could not but
bestow upon the magnificent fountain in the middle of the square, and
upon the wonderful rush and shooting upward of its waters. All was sweet
and soothing to their minds. Among the shadows of the trees stole in
glimmerings of light from the adjacent houses (sic). A low murmur as
of children at play, and of other persons who were enjoying their walk,
floated around them--they were so alone, and yet sharing so much of
social happiness in the bright and stirring world, that whatever had
appeared rough by day now became smooth of its own accord. All the three
friends could no longer see the slightest cause for hesitation in regard
to Bertalda’s taking the journey.

At that instant, while they were just fixing the day of their departure,
a tall man approached them from the middle of the square, bowed
respectfully to the company, and spoke something in the young bride’s
ear. Though displeased with the interruption and its cause, she walked
aside a few steps with the stranger; and both began to whisper, as it
seemed, in a foreign tongue. Huldbrand thought he recognized the strange
man of the forest, and he gazed upon him so fixedly, that he neither
heard nor answered the astonished inquiries of Bertalda. All at
once Undine clapped her hands with delight, and turned back from the
stranger, laughing: he, frequently shaking his head, retired with
a hasty step and discontented air, and descended into the fountain.
Huldbrand now felt perfectly certain that his conjecture was correct.
But Bertalda asked:

“What, then, dear Undine, did the master of the fountain wish to say to
you?”

Undine laughed within herself, and made answer: “The day after
to-morrow, my dear child, when the anniversary of your name-day returns,
you shall be informed.” And this was all she could be prevailed upon to
disclose. She merely asked Bertalda to dinner on the appointed day, and
requested her to invite her foster-parents; and soon afterwards they
separated.

“Kuhleborn?” said Huldbrand to his lovely wife, with an inward shudder
when they had taken leave of Bertalda, and were now going home through
the darkening streets.

“Yes, it was he,” answered Undine; “and he would have wearied me
with his foolish warnings. But, in the midst, quite contrary to his
intentions, he delighted me with a most welcome piece of news. If you,
my dear lord and husband, wish me to acquaint you with it now, you
need only command me, and I will freely and from my heart tell you all
without reserve. But would you confer upon your Undine a very, very
great pleasure, wait till the day after to-morrow, and then you too
shall have your share of the surprise.”

The knight was quite willing to gratify his wife in what she had asked
so sweetly. And even as she was falling asleep, she murmured to herself,
with a smile: “How she will rejoice and be astonished at what her master
of the fountain has told me!--dear, dear Bertalda!”



CHAPTER 6



The company were sitting at dinner. Bertalda, adorned with jewels and
flowers without number, the presents of her foster-parents and friends,
and looking like some goddess of spring, sat beside Undine and Huldbrand
at the head of the table. When the sumptuous repast was ended, and the
dessert was placed before them, permission was given that the doors
should be left open: this was in accordance with the good old custom in
Germany, that the common people might see and rejoice in the festivity
of their superiors. Among these spectators the servants carried round
cake and wine.

Huldbrand and Bertalda waited with secret impatience for the promised
explanation, and hardly moved their eyes from Undine. But she still
continued silent, and merely smiled to herself with secret and heartfelt
satisfaction. All who were made acquainted with the promise she had
given could perceive that she was every moment on the point of revealing
a happy secret; and yet, as children sometimes delay tasting their
choicest dainties, she still withheld the communication. Bertalda and
Huldbrand shared the same delightful feeling, while in anxious hope they
were expecting the unknown disclosure which they were to receive from
the lips of their friend.

At this moment several of the company pressed Undine to sing. This she
seemed pleased at; and ordering her lute to be brought, she sang the
following words:--


                   “Morning so bright,
                    Wild-flowers so gay,
                    Where high grass so dewy
                    Crowns the wavy lake’s border.

                    On the meadow’s verdant bosom
                    What glimmers there so white?
                    Have wreaths of snowy blossoms,
                    Soft-floating, fallen from heaven?

                    Ah, see! a tender infant!--
                    It plays with flowers, unwittingly;
                    It strives to grasp morn’s golden beams.
                    O where, sweet stranger, where’s your home?
                    Afar from unknown shores
                    The waves have wafted hither
                    This helpless little one.

                    Nay, clasp not, tender darling,
                    With tiny hand the flowers!
                    No hand returns the pressure,
                    The flowers are strange and mute.

                    They clothe themselves in beauty,
                    They breathe a rich perfume:
                    But cannot fold around you
                    A mother’s loving arms;--
                    Far, far away that mother’s fond embrace.

                    Life’s early dawn just opening faint,
                    Your eye yet beaming heaven’s own smile,
                    So soon your tenderest guardians gone;
                    Severe, poor child, your fate,--
                    All, all to you unknown.

                    A noble duke has crossed the mead,
                    And near you checked his steed’s career:
                    Wonder and pity touch his heart;
                    With knowledge high, and manners pure,
                    He rears you,--makes his castle home your own.

                    How great, how infinite your gain!
                    Of all the land you bloom the loveliest;
                    Yet, ah! the priceless blessing,
                    The bliss of parents’ fondness,
                    You left on strands unknown!”


Undine let fall her lute with a melancholy smile. The eyes of Bertalda’s
noble foster-parents were filled with tears.

“Ah yes, it was so--such was the morning on which I found you, poor
orphan!” cried the duke, with deep emotion; “the beautiful singer is
certainly right: still


                        ‘The priceless blessing,
                    The bliss of parents’ fondness,’


it was beyond our power to give you.”

“But we must hear, also, what happened to the poor parents,” said
Undine, as she struck the chords, and sung:--


                  “Through her chambers roams the mother
                     Searching, searching everywhere;
                   Seeks, and knows not what, with yearning,
                     Childless house still finding there.

                   Childless house!--O sound of anguish!
                     She alone the anguish knows,
                   There by day who led her dear one,
                     There who rocked its night-repose.

                   Beechen buds again are swelling,
                     Sunshine warms again the shore;
                   Ah, fond mother, cease your searching!
                     Comes the loved and lost no more.

                   Then when airs of eve are fresh’ning,
                     Home the father wends his way,
                   While with smiles his woe he’s veiling,
                     Gushing tears his heart betray.

                   Well he knows, within his dwelling,
                     Still as death he’ll find the gloom,
                   Only hear the mother moaning,--
                     No sweet babe to SMILE him home.”


“O, tell me, in the name of Heaven tell me, Undine, where are my
parents?” cried the weeping Bertalda. “You certainly know; you must have
discovered them, you wonderful being; for, otherwise you would never
have thus torn my heart. Can they be already here? May I believe it
possible?” Her eye glanced rapidly over the brilliant company,
and rested upon a lady of high rank who was sitting next to her
foster-father.

Then, bending her head, Undine beckoned toward the door, while her eyes
overflowed with the sweetest emotion. “Where, then, are the poor parents
waiting?” she asked; and the old fisherman, hesitating, advanced with
his wife from the crowd of spectators. They looked inquiringly, now at
Undine, and now at the beautiful lady who was said to be their daughter.

“It is she! it is she there before you!” exclaimed the restorer of their
child, her voice half choked with rapture. And both the aged parents
embraced their recovered daughter, weeping aloud and praising God.

But, terrified and indignant, Bertalda tore herself from their arms.
Such a discovery was too much for her proud spirit to bear, especially
at the moment when she had doubtless expected to see her former
splendour increased, and when hope was picturing to her nothing less
brilliant than a royal canopy and a crown. It seemed to her as if her
rival had contrived all this on purpose to humble her before Huldbrand
and the whole world. She reproached Undine; she reviled the old
people; and even such offensive words as “deceiver, bribed and perjured
impostors,” burst from her lips.

The aged wife of the fisherman then said to herself, in a low voice:
“Ah, my God, she has become wicked! and yet I feel in my heart that she
is my child.”

The old fisherman had meanwhile folded his hands, and offered up a
silent prayer that she might NOT be his daughter.

Undine, faint and pale as death, turned from the parents to Bertalda,
from Bertalda to the parents. She was suddenly cast dawn from all that
heaven of happiness in which she had been dreaming, and plunged into an
agony of terror and disappointment, which she had never known even in
dreams.

“Have you, then, a soul? Have you indeed a soul, Bertalda?” she cried
again and again to her angry friend, as if with vehement effort she
would arouse her from a sudden delirium or some distracting dream of
night, and restore her to recollection.

But when Bertalda became every moment only more and more enraged--when
the disappointed parents began to weep aloud--and the company, with much
warmth of dispute, were espousing opposite sides--she begged, with
such earnestness and dignity, for the liberty of speaking in this
her husband’s hall, that all around her were in an instant hushed to
silence. She then advanced to the upper end of the table, where, both
humbled and haughty, Bertalda had seated herself, and, while every eye
was fastened upon her, spoke in the following manner:--

“My friends, you appear dissatisfied and disturbed; and you are
interrupting, with your strife, a festivity I had hoped would bring joy
to you and to me. Ah! I knew nothing of your heartless ways of thinking;
and never shall understand them: I am not to blame for the mischief this
disclosure has done. Believe me, little as you may imagine this to be
the case, it is wholly owing to yourselves. One word more, therefore, is
all I have to add; but this is one that must be spoken:--I have
uttered nothing but truth. Of the certainty of the fact, I give you the
strongest assurance. No other proof can I or will I produce, but this
I will affirm in the presence of God. The person who gave me this
information was the very same who decoyed the infant Bertalda into the
water, and who, after thus taking her from her parents, placed her on
the green grass of the meadow, where he knew the duke was to pass.”

“She is an enchantress!” cried Bertalda; “a witch, that has intercourse
with evil spirits. She acknowledges it herself.”

“Never! I deny it!” replied Undine, while a whole heaven of innocence
and truth beamed from her eyes. “I am no witch; look upon me, and say if
I am.”

“Then she utters both falsehood and folly,” cried Bertalda; “and she
is unable to prove that I am the child of these low people. My noble
parents, I entreat you to take me from this company, and out of this
city, where they do nothing but shame me.”

But the aged duke, a man of honourable feeling, remained unmoved; and
his wife remarked:

“We must thoroughly examine into this matter. God forbid that we should
move a step from this hall before we do so.”

Then the aged wife of the fisherman drew near, made a low obeisance to
the duchess and said: “Noble and pious lady, you have opened my heart.
Permit me to tell you, that if this evil-disposed maiden is my daughter,
she has a mark like a violet between her shoulders, and another of the
same kind on the instep of her left foot. If she will only consent to go
out of the hall with me--”

“I will not consent to uncover myself before the peasant woman,”
 interrupted Bertalda, haughtily turning her back upon her.

“But before me you certainly will,” replied the duchess gravely. “You
will follow me into that room, maiden; and the old woman shall go with
us.”

The three disappeared, and the rest continued where they were, in
breathless expectation. In a few minutes the females returned--Bertalda
pale as death; and the duchess said: “Justice must be done; I therefore
declare that our lady hostess has spoken exact truth. Bertalda is the
fisherman’s daughter; no further proof is required; and this is all of
which, on the present occasion, you need to be informed.”

The princely pair went out with their adopted daughter; the fisherman,
at a sign from the duke, followed them with his wife. The other guests
retired in silence, or suppressing their murmurs; while Undine sank
weeping into the arms of Huldbrand.

The lord of Ringstetten would certainly have been more gratified, had
the events of this day been different; but even such as they now were,
he could by no means look upon them as unwelcome, since his lovely wife
had shown herself so full of goodness, sweetness, and kindliness.

“If I have given her a soul,” he could not help saying to himself, “I
have assuredly given her a better one than my own;” and now he only
thought of soothing and comforting his weeping wife, and of removing
her even so early as the morrow from a place which, after this cross
accident, could not fail to be distasteful to her. Yet it is certain
that the opinion of the public concerning her was not changed. As
something extraordinary had long before been expected of her, the
mysterious discovery of Bertalda’s parentage had occasioned little or no
surprise; and every one who became acquainted with Bertalda’s story, and
with the violence of her behaviour on that occasion, was only disgusted
and set against her. Of this state of things, however, the knight and
his lady were as yet ignorant; besides, whether the public condemned
Bertalda or herself, the one view of the affair would have been as
distressing to Undine as the other; and thus they came to the conclusion
that the wisest course they could take, was to leave behind them the
walls of the old city with all the speed in their power.

With the earliest beams of morning, a brilliant carriage for Undine
drove up to the door of the inn; the horses of Huldbrand and his
attendants stood near, stamping the pavement, impatient to proceed. The
knight was leading his beautiful wife from the door, when a fisher-girl
came up and met them in the way.

“We have no need of your fish,” said Huldbrand, accosting her; “we are
this moment setting out on a journey.”

Upon this the fisher-girl began to weep bitterly; and then it was that
the young couple first perceived it was Bertalda. They immediately
returned with her to their apartment, when she informed them that, owing
to her unfeeling and violent conduct of the preceding day, the duke and
duchess had been so displeased with her, as entirely to withdraw from
her their protection, though not before giving her a generous portion.
The fisherman, too, had received a handsome gift, and had, the evening
before, set out with his wife for his peninsula.

“I would have gone with them,” she pursued, “but the old fisherman, who
is said to be my father--”

“He is, in truth, your father, Bertalda,” said Undine, interrupting her.
“See, the stranger whom you took for the master of the water-works gave
me all the particulars. He wished to dissuade me from taking you with me
to Castle Ringstetten, and therefore disclosed to me the whole mystery.”

“Well then,” continued Bertalda, “my father--if it must needs be so--my
father said: ‘I will not take you with me until you are changed. If you
will venture to come to us alone through the ill-omened forest, that
shall be a proof of your having some regard for us. But come not to me
as a lady; come merely as a fisher-girl.’ I do as he bade me, for since
I am abandoned by all the world, I will live and die in solitude, a poor
fisher-girl, with parents equally poor. The forest, indeed, appears
very terrible to me. Horrible spectres make it their haunt, and I am so
fearful. But how can I help it? I have only come here at this early hour
to beg the noble lady of Ringstetten to pardon my unbecoming behaviour
of yesterday. Sweet lady, I have the fullest persuasion that you meant
to do me a kindness, but you were not aware how severely you would
wound me; and then, in my agony and surprise, so many rash and frantic
expressions burst from my lips. Forgive me, ah, forgive me! I am in
truth so unhappy, already. Only consider what I was but yesterday
morning, what I was even at the beginning of your yesterday’s festival,
and what I am to-day!”

Her words now became inarticulate, lost in a passionate flow of tears,
while Undine, bitterly weeping with her, fell upon her neck. So powerful
was her emotion, that it was a long time before she could utter a word.
At length she said:

“You shall still go with us to Ringstetten; all shall remain just as
we lately arranged it; but say ‘thou’ to me again, and do not call me
‘noble lady’ any more. Consider, we were changed for each other when
we were children; even then we were united by a like fate, and we will
strengthen this union with such close affection as no human power shall
dissolve. Only first of all you must go with us to Ringstetten. How we
shall share all things as sisters, we can talk of after we arrive.”

Bertalda looked up to Huldbrand with timid inquiry. He pitied her in her
affliction, took her hand, and begged her tenderly to entrust herself to
him and his wife.

“We will send a message to your parents,” continued he, “giving them the
reason why you have not come;”--and he would have added more about his
worthy friends of the peninsula, when, perceiving that Bertalda shrank
in distress at the mention of them, he refrained. He took her under
the arm, lifted her first into the carriage, then Undine, and was soon
riding blithely beside them; so persevering was he, too, in urging
forward their driver, that in a short time they had left behind them the
limits of the city, and a crowd of painful recollections; and now the
ladies could take delight in the beautiful country which their progress
was continually presenting.

After a journey of some days, they arrived, on a fine evening, at Castle
Ringstetten. The young knight being much engaged with the overseers and
menials of his establishment, Undine and Bertalda were left alone. They
took a walk upon the high rampart of the fortress, and were charmed with
the delightful landscape which the fertile Suabia spread around them.
While they were viewing the scene, a tall man drew near, who greeted
them with respectful civility, and who seemed to Bertalda much
to resemble the director of the city fountain. Still less was the
resemblance to be mistaken, when Undine, indignant at his intrusion,
waved him off with an air of menace; while he, shaking his head,
retreated with rapid strides, as he had formerly done, then glided among
the trees of a neighbouring grove and disappeared.

“Do not be terrified, Bertalda,” said Undine; “the hateful master of the
fountain shall do you no harm this time.” And then she related to her
the particulars of her history, and who she was herself--how Bertalda
had been taken away from the people of the peninsula, and Undine left in
her place. This relation at first filled the young maiden with amazement
and alarm; she imagined her friend must be seized with a sudden
madness. But from the consistency of her story, she became more and more
convinced that all was true, it so well agreed with former occurrences,
and still more convinced from that inward feeling with which truth
never fails to make itself known to us. She could not but view it as an
extraordinary circumstance that she was herself now living, as it were,
in the midst of one of those wild tales which she had formerly heard
related. She gazed upon Undine with reverence, but could not keep from a
shuddering feeling which seemed to come between her and her friend;
and she could not but wonder when the knight, at their evening repast,
showed himself so kind and full of love towards a being who appeared to
her, after the discoveries just made, more to resemble a phantom of the
spirit-world than one of the human race.



CHAPTER 7



The writer of this tale, both because it moves his own heart and he
wishes it to move that of others, asks a favour of you, dear reader.
Forgive him if he passes over a considerable space of time in a few
words, and only tells you generally what therein happened. He knows well
that it might be unfolded skilfully, and step by step, how Huldbrand’s
heart began to turn from Undine and towards Bertalda--how Bertalda met
the young knight with ardent love, and how they both looked upon the
poor wife as a mysterious being, more to be dreaded than pitied--how
Undine wept, and her tears stung the conscience of her husband, without
recalling his former love; so that though at times he showed kindness
to her, a cold shudder soon forced him to turn from her to his
fellow-mortal Bertalda;--all this, the writer knows, might have been
drawn out fully, and perhaps it ought to have been. But it would have
made him too sad; for he has witnessed such things, and shrinks from
recalling even their shadow. Thou knowest, probably, the like feeling,
dear reader; for it is the lot of mortal man. Happy art thou if thou
hast received the injury, not inflicted it; for in this case it is
more blessed to receive than to give. Then only a soft sorrow at such a
recollection passes through thy heart, and perhaps a quiet tear trickles
down thy cheek over the faded flowers in which thou once so heartily
rejoiced. This is enough: we will not pierce our hearts with a thousand
separate stings, but only bear in mind that all happened as I just now
said.

Poor Undine was greatly troubled; and the other two were very far from
being happy. Bertalda in particular, whenever she was in the slightest
degree opposed in her wishes, attributed the cause to the jealousy and
oppression of the injured wife. She was therefore daily in the habit of
showing a haughty and imperious demeanour, to which Undine yielded with
a sad submission; and which was generally encouraged strongly by the now
blinded Huldbrand.

What disturbed the inmates of the castle still more, was the endless
variety of wonderful apparitions which assailed Huldbrand and Bertalda
in the vaulted passages of the building, and of which nothing had ever
been heard before within the memory of man. The tall white man, in
whom Huldbrand but too plainly recognized Undine’s uncle Kuhleborn, and
Bertalda the spectral master of the waterworks, often passed before them
with threatening aspect and gestures; more especially, however, before
Bertalda, so that, through terror, she had several times already fallen
sick, and had, in consequence, frequently thought of quitting the
castle. Yet partly because Huldbrand was but too dear to her, and she
trusted to her innocence, since no words of love had passed between
them, and partly also because she knew not whither to direct her steps,
she lingered where she was.

The old fisherman, on receiving the message from the lord of Ringstetten
that Bertalda was his guest, returned answer in some lines almost too
illegible to be deciphered, but still the best his advanced life and
long disuse of writing permitted him to form.

“I have now become,” he wrote, “a poor old widower, for my beloved and
faithful wife is dead. But lonely as I now sit in my cottage, I prefer
Bertalda’s remaining where she is, to her living with me. Only let her
do nothing to hurt my dear Undine, else she will have my curse.”

The last words of this letter Bertalda flung to the winds; but the
permission to remain from home, which her father had granted her, she
remembered and clung to--just as we are all of us wont to do in similar
circumstances.

One day, a few moments after Huldbrand had ridden out, Undine called
together the domestics of the family, and ordered them to bring a large
stone, and carefully to cover with it a magnificent fountain, that was
situated in the middle of the castle court. The servants objected that
it would oblige them to bring water from the valley below. Undine smiled
sadly.

“I am sorry, my friends,” replied she, “to increase your labour; I would
rather bring up the water-vessels myself: but this fountain must indeed
be closed. Believe me when I say that it must be done, and that only by
doing it we can avoid a greater evil.”

The domestics were all rejoiced to gratify their gentle mistress; and
making no further inquiry, they seized the enormous stone. While they
were raising it in their hands, and were now on the point of adjusting
it over the fountain, Bertalda came running to the place, and cried,
with an air of command, that they must stop; that the water she used,
so improving to her complexion, was brought from this fountain, and that
she would by no means allow it to be closed.

This time, however, Undine, while she showed her usual gentleness,
showed more than her usual resolution: she said it belonged to her, as
mistress of the house, to direct the household according to her best
judgment; and that she was accountable in this to no one but her lord
and husband.

“See, O pray see,” exclaimed the dissatisfied and indignant Bertalda,
“how the beautiful water is curling and curving, winding and waving
there, as if disturbed at being shut out from the bright sunshine, and
from the cheerful view of the human countenance, for whose mirror it was
created.”

In truth the water of the fountain was agitated, and foaming and hissing
in a surprising manner; it seemed as if there were something within
possessing life and will, that was struggling to free itself from
confinement. But Undine only the more earnestly urged the accomplishment
of her commands. This earnestness was scarcely required. The servants
of the castle were as happy in obeying their gentle lady, as in opposing
the haughty spirit of Bertalda; and however the latter might scold
and threaten, still the stone was in a few minutes lying firm over the
opening of the fountain. Undine leaned thoughtfully over it, and wrote
with her beautiful fingers on the flat surface. She must, however,
have had something very sharp and corrosive in her hand, for when she
retired, and the domestics went up to examine the stone, they discovered
various strange characters upon it, which none of them had seen there
before.

When the knight returned home, toward evening, Bertalda received him
with tears, and complaints of Undine’s conduct. He cast a severe glance
of reproach at his poor wife, and she looked down in distress; yet she
said very calmly:

“My lord and husband, you never reprove even a bondslave before you hear
his defence; how much less, then, your wedded wife!”

“Speak! what moved you to this singular conduct?” said the knight with a
gloomy countenance.

“I could wish to tell you when we are entirely alone,” said Undine, with
a sigh.

“You can tell me equally well in the presence of Bertalda,” he replied.

“Yes, if you command me,” said Undine; “but do not command me--pray,
pray do not!”

She looked so humble, affectionate, and obedient, that the heart of the
knight was touched and softened, as if it felt the influence of a ray
from better times. He kindly took her arm within his, and led her to his
apartment, where she spoke as follows:

“You already know something, my beloved lord, of Kuhleborn, my
evil-disposed uncle, and have often felt displeasure at meeting him in
the passages of this castle. Several times has he terrified Bertalda
even to swooning. He does this because he possesses no soul, being a
mere elemental mirror of the outward world, while of the world within
he can give no reflection. Then, too, he sometimes observes that you
are displeased with me, that in my childish weakness I weep at this, and
that Bertalda, it may be, laughs at the same moment. Hence it is that he
imagines all is wrong with us, and in various ways mixes with our circle
unbidden. What do I gain by reproving him, by showing displeasure, and
sending him away? He does not believe a word I say. His poor nature has
no idea that the joys and sorrows of love have so sweet a resemblance,
and are so intimately connected that no power on earth is able to
separate them. A smile shines in the midst of tears, and a smile calls
forth tears from their dwelling-place.”

She looked up at Huldbrand, smiling and weeping, and he again felt
within his heart all the magic of his former love. She perceived it, and
pressed him more tenderly to her, while with tears of joy she went on
thus:

“When the disturber of our peace would not be dismissed with words, I
was obliged to shut the door upon him; and the only entrance by which
he has access to us is that fountain. His connection with the other
water-spirits here in this region is cut off by the valleys that border
upon us; and his kingdom first commences farther off on the Danube, in
whose tributary streams some of his good friends have their abode. For
this reason I caused the stone to be placed over the opening of the
fountain, and inscribed characters upon it, which baffle all the efforts
of my suspicious uncle; so that he now has no power of intruding either
upon you or me, or Bertalda. Human beings, it is true, notwithstanding
the characters I have inscribed there, are able to raise the stone
without any extraordinary trouble; there is nothing to prevent them. If
you choose, therefore, remove it, according to Bertalda’s desire; but
she assuredly knows not what she asks. The rude Kuhleborn looks with
peculiar ill-will upon her; and should those things come to pass that he
has predicted to me, and which may happen without your meaning any evil,
ah! dearest, even you yourself would be exposed to peril.”

Huldbrand felt the generosity of his gentle wife in the depth of
his heart, since she had been so active in confining her formidable
defender, and even at the very moment she was reproached for it by
Bertalda. He pressed her in his arms with the tenderest affection, and
said with emotion:

“The stone shall remain unmoved; all remains, and ever shall remain,
just as you choose to have it, my sweetest Undine!”

At these long-withheld expressions of tenderness, she returned his
caresses with lowly delight, and at length said:

“My dearest husband, since you are so kind and indulgent to-day, may I
venture to ask a favour of you? See now, it is with you as with
summer. Even amid its highest splendour, summer puts on the flaming and
thundering crown of glorious tempests, in which it strongly resembles a
king and god on earth. You, too, are sometimes terrible in your rebukes;
your eyes flash lightning, while thunder resounds in your voice; and
although this may be quite becoming to you, I in my folly cannot but
sometimes weep at it. But never, I entreat you, behave thus toward me
on a river, or even when we are near any water. For if you should, my
relations would acquire a right over me. They would inexorably tear me
from you in their fury, because they would conceive that one of their
race was injured; and I should be compelled, as long as I lived, to
dwell below in the crystal palaces, and never dare to ascend to you
again; or should THEY SEND me up to you!--O God! that would be far worse
still. No, no, my beloved husband; let it not come to that, if your poor
Undine is dear to you.”

He solemnly promised to do as she desired, and, inexpressibly happy and
full of affection, the married pair returned from the apartment. At this
very moment Bertalda came with some work-people whom she had meanwhile
ordered to attend her, and said with a fretful air, which she had
assumed of late:

“Well, now the secret consultation is at an end, the stone may be
removed. Go out, workmen, and see to it.”

The knight, however, highly resenting her impertinence, said, in brief
and very decisive terms: “The stone remains where it is!” He reproved
Bertalda also for the vehemence that she had shown towards his wife.
Whereupon the workmen, smiling with secret satisfaction, withdrew; while
Bertalda, pale with rage, hurried away to her room.

When the hour of supper came, Bertalda was waited for in vain. They sent
for her; but the domestic found her apartments empty, and brought back
with him only a sealed letter, addressed to the knight. He opened it in
alarm, and read:

“I feel with shame that I am only the daughter of a poor fisherman. That
I for one moment forgot this, I will make expiation in the miserable hut
of my parents. Farewell to you and your beautiful wife!”

Undine was troubled at heart. With eagerness she entreated Huldbrand to
hasten after their friend, who had flown, and bring her back with him.
Alas! she had no occasion to urge him. His passion for Bertalda again
burst forth with vehemence. He hurried round the castle, inquiring
whether any one had seen which way the fair fugitive had gone. He
could gain no information; and was already in the court on his horse,
determining to take at a venture the road by which he had conducted
Bertalda to the castle, when there appeared a page, who assured him that
he had met the lady on the path to the Black Valley. Swift as an arrow,
the knight sprang through the gate in the direction pointed out, without
hearing Undine’s voice of agony, as she cried after him from the window:

“To the Black Valley? Oh, not there! Huldbrand, not there! Or if you
will go, for Heaven’s sake take me with you!”

But when she perceived that all her calling was of no avail, she ordered
her white palfrey to be instantly saddled, and followed the knight,
without permitting a single servant to accompany her.

The Black Valley lies secluded far among the mountains. What its present
name may be I am unable to say. At the time of which I am speaking, the
country-people gave it this appellation from the deep obscurity produced
by the shadows of lofty trees, more especially by a crowded growth of
firs that covered this region of moorland. Even the brook, which bubbled
between the rocks, assumed the same dark hue, and showed nothing of that
cheerful aspect which streams are wont to wear that have the blue sky
immediately over them.

It was now the dusk of evening; and between the heights it had become
extremely wild and gloomy. The knight, in great anxiety, skirted the
border of the brook. He was at one time fearful that, by delay, he
should allow the fugitive to advance too far before him; and then again,
in his too eager rapidity, he was afraid he might somewhere overlook
and pass by her, should she be desirous of concealing herself from his
search. He had in the meantime penetrated pretty far into the valley,
and might hope soon to overtake the maiden, provided he were pursuing
the right track. The fear, indeed, that he might not as yet have gained
it, made his heart beat with more and more of anxiety. In the stormy
night which was now approaching, and which always fell more fearfully
over this valley, where would the delicate Bertalda shelter herself,
should he fail to find her? At last, while these thoughts were darting
across his mind, he saw something white glimmer through the branches on
the ascent of the mountain. He thought he recognized Bertalda’s robe;
and he directed his course towards it. But his horse refused to go
forward; he reared with a fury so uncontrollable, and his master was so
unwilling to lose a moment, that (especially as he saw the thickets were
altogether impassable on horseback) he dismounted, and, having fastened
his snorting steed to an elm, worked his way with caution through the
matted underwood. The branches, moistened by the cold drops of the
evening dew, struck against his forehead and cheeks; distant thunder
muttered from the further side of the mountains; and everything put on
so strange an appearance, that he began to feel a dread of the white
figure, which now lay at a short distance from him upon the ground.
Still, he could see distinctly that it was a female, either asleep or
in a swoon, and dressed in long white garments such as Bertalda had worn
the past day. Approaching quite near to her, he made a rustling with the
branches and a ringing with his sword; but she did not move.

“Bertalda!” he cried, at first low, then louder and louder; yet she
heard him not. At last, when he uttered the dear name with an energy yet
more powerful, a hollow echo from the mountain-summits around the valley
returned the deadened sound, “Bertalda!” Still the sleeper continued
insensible. He stooped down; but the duskiness of the valley, and the
obscurity of twilight would not allow him to distinguish her features.
While, with painful uncertainty, he was bending over her, a flash of
lightning suddenly shot across the valley. By this stream of light he
saw a frightfully distorted visage close to his own, and a hoarse voice
reached his ear:

“You enamoured swain, give me a kiss!” Huldbrand sprang upon his feet
with a cry of horror, and the hideous figure rose with him.

“Go home!” it cried, with a deep murmur: “the fiends are abroad. Go
home! or I have you!” And it stretched towards him its long white arms.

“Malicious Kuhleborn!” exclaimed the knight, with restored energy; “if
Kuhleborn you are, what business have you here?--what’s your will, you
goblin? There, take your kiss!” And in fury he struck his sword at the
form. But it vanished like vapour; and a rush of water, which wetted
him through and through, left him in no doubt with what foe he had been
engaged.

“He wishes to frighten me back from my pursuit of Bertalda,” said he to
himself. “He imagines that I shall be terrified at his senseless tricks,
and resign the poor distressed maiden to his power, so that he can wreak
his vengeance upon her at will. But that he shall not, weak spirit of
the flood! What the heart of man can do, when it exerts the full force
of its will and of its noblest powers, the poor goblin cannot fathom.”

He felt the truth of his words, and that they had inspired his heart
with fresh courage. Fortune, too, appeared to favour him; for, before
reaching his fastened steed, he distinctly heard the voice of Bertalda,
weeping not far before him, amid the roar of the thunder and the
tempest, which every moment increased. He flew swiftly towards the
sound, and found the trembling maiden, just as she was attempting to
climb the steep, hoping to escape from the dreadful darkness of this
valley. He drew near her with expressions of love; and bold and proud as
her resolution had so lately been, she now felt nothing but joy that the
man whom she so passionately loved should rescue her from this frightful
solitude, and thus call her back to the joyful life in the castle. She
followed almost unresisting, but so spent with fatigue, that the knight
was glad to bring her to his horse, which he now hastily unfastened from
the elm, in order to lift the fair wanderer upon him, and then to lead
him carefully by the reins through the uncertain shades of the valley.

But, owing to the wild apparition of Kuhleborn, the horse had become
wholly unmanageable. Rearing and wildly snorting as he was, the knight
must have used uncommon effort to mount the beast himself; to place
the trembling Bertalda upon him was impossible. They were compelled,
therefore, to return home on foot. While with one hand the knight drew
the steed after him by the bridle, he supported the tottering Bertalda
with the other. She exerted all the strengths in her power in order to
escape speedily from this vale of terrors. But weariness weighed her
down like lead; and all her limbs trembled, partly in consequence
of what she had suffered from the extreme terror which Kuhleborn had
already caused her, and partly from her present fear at the roar of the
tempest and thunder amid the mountain forest.

At last she slid from the arm of the knight; and sinking upon the moss,
she said: “Only let me lie here, my noble lord. I suffer the punishment
due to my folly; and I must perish here through faintness and dismay.”

“Never, gentle lady, will I leave you,” cried Huldbrand, vainly trying
to restrain the furious animal he was leading, for the horse was all
in a foam, and began to chafe more ungovernably than before, till the
knight was glad to keep him at such a distance from the exhausted maiden
as to save her from a new alarm. But hardly had he withdrawn five steps
with the frantic steed when she began to call after him in the most
sorrowful accents, fearful that he would actually leave her in this
horrible wilderness. He was at a loss what course to take. He would
gladly have given the enraged beast his liberty; he would have let him
rush away amid the night and exhaust his fury, had he not feared that
in this narrow defile his iron-shod hoofs might come thundering over the
very spot where Bertalda lay.

In this extreme peril and embarrassment he heard with delight the
rumbling wheels of a waggon as it came slowly descending the stony way
behind them. He called out for help; answer was returned in the deep
voice of a man, bidding them have patience, but promising assistance;
and two grey horses soon after shone through the bushes, and near them
their driver in the white frock of a carter; and next appeared a great
sheet of white linen, with which the goods he seemed to be conveying
were covered. The greys, in obedience to a shout from their master,
stood still. He came up to the knight, and aided him in checking the
fury of the foaming charger.

“I know well enough,” said he, “what is the matter with the brute.
The first time I travelled this way my horses were just as wilful and
headstrong as yours. The reason is, there is a water-spirit haunts this
valley--and a wicked wight they say he is--who takes delight in mischief
and witcheries of this sort. But I have learned a charm; and if you will
let me whisper it in your horse’s ear, he will stand just as quiet as my
silver greys there.”

“Try your luck, then, and help us as quickly as possible!” said the
impatient knight.

Upon this the waggoner drew down the head of the rearing courser close
to his own, and spoke some words in his ear. The animal instantly stood
still and subdued; only his quick panting and smoking sweat showed his
recent violence.

Huldbrand had little time to inquire by what means this had been
effected. He agreed with the man that he should take Bertalda in his
waggon, where, as he said, a quantity of soft cotton was stowed, and
he might in this way convey her to Castle Ringstetten. The knight could
accompany them on horseback. But the horse appeared to be too much
exhausted to carry his master so far. Seeing this, the man advised him
to mount the waggon with Bertalda. The horse could be attached to it
behind.

“It is down-hill,” said he, “and the load for my greys will therefore be
light.”

The knight accepted his offer, and entered the waggon with Bertalda.
The horse followed patiently after, while the waggoner, sturdy and
attentive, walked beside them.

Amid the silence and deepening obscurity of the night, the tempest
sounding more and more remote, in the comfortable feeling of their
security, a confidential conversation arose between Huldbrand and
Bertalda. He reproached her in the most flattering words for her
resentful flight. She excused herself with humility and feeling; and
from every tone of her voice it shone out, like a lamp guiding to the
beloved through night and darkness, that Huldbrand was still dear to
her. The knight felt the sense of her words rather than heard the words
themselves, and answered simply to this sense.

Then the waggoner suddenly shouted, with a startling voice: “Up,
my greys, up with your feet! Hey, now together!--show your
spirit!--remember who you are!”

The knight bent over the side of the waggon, and saw that the horses
had stepped into the midst of a foaming stream, and were, indeed, almost
swimming, while the wheels of the waggon were rushing round and flashing
like mill-wheels; and the waggoner had got on before, to avoid the swell
of the flood.

“What sort of a road is this? It leads into the middle of the stream!”
 cried Huldbrand to his guide.

“Not at all, sir,” returned he, with a laugh; “it is just the contrary.
The stream is running in the middle of our road. Only look about you,
and see how all is overflowed!”

The whole valley, in fact, was in commotion, as the waters, suddenly
raised and visibly rising, swept over it.

“It is Kuhleborn, that evil water-spirit, who wishes to drown us!”
 exclaimed the knight. “Have you no charm of protection against him,
friend?”

“I have one,” answered the waggoner; “but I cannot and must not make use
of it before you know who I am.”

“Is this a time for riddles?” cried the knight. “The flood is every
moment rising higher; and what does it concern ME to know who YOU are?”

“But mayhap it does concern you, though,” said the guide; “for I am
Kuhleborn.”

Thus speaking he thrust his head into the waggon, and laughed with a
distorted visage. But the waggon remained a waggon no longer; the grey
horses were horses no longer; all was transformed to foam--all sank
into the waters that rushed and hissed around them; while the
waggoner himself, rising in the form of a gigantic wave, dragged the
vainly-struggling courser under the waters, then rose again huge as a
liquid tower, swept over the heads of the floating pair, and was on the
point of burying them irrecoverably beneath it. Then the soft voice of
Undine was heard through the uproar; the moon emerged from the clouds;
and by its light Undine was seen on the heights above the valley.
She rebuked, she threatened the floods below her. The menacing and
tower-like billow vanished, muttering and murmuring; the waters gently
flowed away under the beams of the moon; while Undine, like a hovering
white dove, flew down from the hill, raised the knight and Bertalda,
and bore them to a green spot, where, by her earnest efforts, she soon
restored them and dispelled their terrors. She then assisted Bertalda
to mount the white palfrey on which she had herself been borne to the
valley; and thus all three returned homeward to Castle Ringstetten.



CHAPTER 8



After this last adventure they lived at the castle undisturbed and in
peaceful enjoyment. The knight was more and more impressed with the
heavenly goodness of his wife, which she had so nobly shown by her
instant pursuit and by the rescue she had effected in the Black Valley,
where the power of Kuhleborn again commenced. Undine herself enjoyed
that peace and security which never fails the soul as long as it
knows distinctly that it is on the right path; and besides, in the
newly-awakened love and regard of her husband, a thousand gleams of hope
and joy shone upon her.

Bertalda, on the other hand, showed herself grateful, humble, and timid,
without taking to herself any merit for so doing. Whenever Huldbrand or
Undine began to explain to her their reasons for covering the fountain,
or their adventures in the Black Valley, she would earnestly entreat
them to spare her the recital, for the recollection of the fountain
occasioned her too much shame, and that of the Black Valley too much
terror. She learnt nothing more about either of them; and what would
she have gained from more knowledge? Peace and joy had visibly taken up
their abode at Castle Ringstetten. They enjoyed their present blessings
in perfect security, and now imagined that life could produce nothing
but pleasant flowers and fruits.

In this happiness winter came and passed away; and spring, with its
foliage of tender green, and its heaven of softest blue, succeeded to
gladden the hearts of the three inmates of the castle. The season was in
harmony with their minds, and their minds imparted their own hues to the
season. What wonder, then, that its storks and swallows inspired them
also with a disposition to travel? On a bright morning, while they were
wandering down to one of the sources of the Danube, Huldbrand spoke of
the magnificence of this noble stream, how it continued swelling as it
flowed through countries enriched by its waters, with what splendour
Vienna rose and sparkled on its banks, and how it grew lovelier and more
imposing throughout its progress.

“It must be glorious to trace its course down to Vienna!” Bertalda
exclaimed, with warmth; but immediately resuming the humble and modest
demeanour she had recently shown, she paused and blushed in silence.

This much moved Undine; and with the liveliest wish to gratify her
friend, she said, “What hinders our taking this little voyage?”

Bertalda leapt up with delight, and the two friends at the same
moment began painting this enchanting voyage on the Danube in the most
brilliant colours. Huldbrand, too, agreed to the project with pleasure;
only he once whispered, with something of alarm, in Undine’s ear--

“But at that distance Kuhleborn becomes possessed of his power again!”

“Let him come, let him come,” she answered with a laugh; “I shall be
there, and he dares do none of his mischief in my presence.”

Thus was the last impediment removed. They prepared for the expedition,
and soon set out upon it with lively spirits and the brightest hopes.

But be not surprised, O man, if events almost always happen very
differently from what you expect. That malicious power which lies in
ambush for our destruction delights to lull its chosen victim asleep
with sweet songs and golden delusions; while, on the other hand, the
messenger of heaven often strikes sharply at our door, to alarm and
awaken us.

During the first days of their passage down the Danube they were
unusually happy. The further they advanced upon the waters of this proud
river, the views became more and more fair. But amid scenes otherwise
most delicious, and from which they had promised themselves the purest
delight, the stubborn Kuhleborn, dropping all disguise, began to show
his power of annoying them. He had no other means of doing this, indeed,
than by tricks--for Undine often rebuked the swelling waves or the
contrary winds, and then the insolence of the enemy was instantly
humbled and subdued; but his attacks were renewed, and Undine’s reproofs
again became necessary, so that the pleasure of the fellow-travellers
was completely destroyed. The boatmen, too, were continually whispering
to one another in dismay, and eying their three superiors with distrust,
while even the servants began more and more to form dismal surmises, and
to watch their master and mistress with looks of suspicion.

Huldbrand often said in his own mind, “This comes when like marries not
like--when a man forms an unnatural union with a sea-maiden.” Excusing
himself, as we all love to do, he would add: “I did not, in fact, know
that she was a maid of the sea. It is my misfortune that my steps are
haunted and disturbed by the wild humours of her kindred, but it is not
my crime.”

By reflections like these, he felt himself in some measure strengthened;
but, on the other hand, he felt the more ill-humour, almost dislike,
towards Undine. He would look angrily at her, and the unhappy wife but
too well understood his meaning. One day, grieved by this unkindness, as
well as exhausted by her unremitted exertions to frustrate the artifices
of Kuhleborn, she toward evening fell into a deep slumber, rocked and
soothed by the gentle motion of the bark. But hardly had she closed
her eyes, when every person in the boat, in whatever direction he might
look, saw the head of a man, frightful beyond imagination: each head
rose out of the waves, not like that of a person swimming, but quite
perpendicular, as if firmly fastened to the watery mirror, and yet
moving on with the bark. Every one wished to show to his companion what
terrified himself, and each perceived the same expression of horror on
the face of the other, only hands and eyes were directed to a different
quarter, as if to a point where the monster, half laughing and half
threatening, rose opposite to each.

When, however, they wished to make one another understand the site,
and all cried out, “Look, there!” “No, there!” the frightful heads all
became visible to each, and the whole river around the boat swarmed with
the most horrible faces. All raised a scream of terror at the sight, and
Undine started from sleep. As she opened her eyes, the deformed visages
disappeared. But Huldbrand was made furious by so many hideous visions.
He would have burst out in wild imprecations, had not Undine with the
meekest looks and gentlest tone of voice said--

“For God’s sake, my husband, do not express displeasure against me
here--we are on the water.”

The knight was silent, and sat down absorbed in deep thought. Undine
whispered in his ear, “Would it not be better, my love, to give up this
foolish voyage, and return to Castle Ringstetten in peace?”

But Huldbrand murmured wrathfully: “So I must become a prisoner in
my own castle, and not be allowed to breathe a moment but while the
fountain is covered? Would to Heaven that your cursed kindred--”

Then Undine pressed her fair hand on his lips caressingly. He said no
more; but in silence pondered on all that Undine had before said.

Bertalda, meanwhile, had given herself up to a crowd of thronging
thoughts. Of Undine’s origin she knew a good deal, but not the whole;
and the terrible Kuhleborn especially remained to her an awful, an
impenetrable mystery--never, indeed, had she once heard his name. Musing
upon these wondrous things, she unclasped, without being fully conscious
of what she was doing, a golden necklace, which Huldbrand, on one of
the preceding days of their passage, had bought for her of a travelling
trader; and she was now letting it float in sport just over the
surface of the stream, while in her dreamy mood she enjoyed the bright
reflection it threw on the water, so clear beneath the glow of evening.
That instant a huge hand flashed suddenly up from the Danube, seized the
necklace in its grasp, and vanished with it beneath the flood. Bertalda
shrieked aloud, and a scornful laugh came pealing up from the depth of
the river.

The knight could now restrain his wrath no longer. He started up, poured
forth a torrent of reproaches, heaped curses upon all who interfered
with his friends and troubled his life, and dared them all,
water-spirits or mermaids, to come within the sweep of his sword.

Bertalda, meantime, wept for the loss of the ornament so very dear to
her heart, and her tears were to Huldbrand as oil poured upon the flame
of his fury; while Undine held her hand over the side of the boat,
dipping it in the waves, softly murmuring to herself, and only at times
interrupting her strange mysterious whisper to entreat her husband--

“Do not reprove me here, beloved; blame all others as you will, but not
me. You know why!” And in truth, though he was trembling with excess of
passion, he kept himself from any word directly against her.

She then brought up in her wet hand, which she had been holding under
the waves, a coral necklace, of such exquisite beauty, such sparkling
brilliancy, as dazzled the eyes of all who beheld it. “Take this,” said
she, holding it out kindly to Bertalda, “I have ordered it to be brought
to make some amends for your loss; so do not grieve any more, poor
child.”

But the knight rushed between then, and snatching the beautiful ornament
out of Undine’s hand, hurled it back into the flood; and, mad with rage,
exclaimed: “So, then, you have still a connection with them! In the
name of all witches go and remain among them with your presents, you
sorceress, and leave us human beings in peace!”

With fixed but streaming eyes, poor Undine gazed on him, her hand still
stretched out, just as when she had so lovingly offered her brilliant
gift to Bertalda. She then began to weep more and more, as if her heart
would break, like an innocent tender child, cruelly aggrieved. At last,
wearied out, she said: “Farewell, dearest, farewell. They shall do you
no harm; only remain true, that I may have power to keep them from you.
But I must go hence! go hence even in this early youth! Oh, woe, woe!
what have you done! Oh, woe, woe!”

And she vanished over the side of the boat. Whether she plunged into the
stream, or whether, like water melting into water, she flowed away with
it, they knew not--her disappearance was like both and neither. But she
was lost in the Danube, instantly and completely; only little waves were
yet whispering and sobbing around the boat, and they could almost be
heard to say, “Oh, woe, woe! Ah, remain true! Oh, woe!”

But Huldbrand, in a passion of burning tears, threw himself upon the
deck of the bark; and a deep swoon soon wrapped the wretched man in a
blessed forgetfulness of misery.

Shall we call it a good or an evil thing, that our mourning has no
long duration? I mean that deep mourning which comes from the very
well-springs of our being, which so becomes one with the lost objects
of our love that we hardly realize their loss, while our grief devotes
itself religiously to the honouring of their image until we reach that
bourne which they have already reached!

Truly all good men observe in a degree this religious devotion; but yet
it soon ceases to be that first deep grief. Other and new images throng
in, until, to our sorrow, we experience the vanity of all earthly
things. Therefore I must say: Alas, that our mourning should be of such
short duration!

The lord of Ringstetten experienced this; but whether for his good,
we shall discover in the sequel of this history. At first he could do
nothing but weep--weep as bitterly as the poor gentle Undine had wept
when he snatched out of her hand that brilliant ornament, with which
she so kindly wished to make amends for Bertalda’s loss. And then he
stretched his hand out, as she had done, and wept again like her, with
renewed violence. He cherished a secret hope, that even the springs of
life would at last become exhausted by weeping. And has not the like
thought passed through the minds of many of us with a painful pleasure
in times of sore affliction? Bertalda wept with him; and they lived
together a long while at the castle of Ringstetten in undisturbed quiet,
honouring the memory of Undine, and having almost wholly forgotten their
former attachment. And therefore the good Undine, about this time, often
visited Huldbrand’s dreams: she soothed him with soft and affectionate
caresses, and then went away again, weeping in silence; so that when he
awoke, he sometimes knew not how his cheeks came to be so wet--whether
it was caused by her tears, or only by his own.

But as time advanced, these visions became less frequent, and the sorrow
of the knight less keen; still he might never, perhaps, have entertained
any other wish than thus quietly to think of Undine, and to speak of
her, had not the old fisherman arrived unexpectedly at the castle, and
earnestly insisted on Bertalda’s returning with him as his child. He had
received information of Undine’s disappearance; and he was not willing
to allow Bertalda to continue longer at the castle with the widowed
knight. “For,” said he, “whether my daughter loves me or not is at
present what I care not to know; but her good name is at stake: and
where that is the case, nothing else may be thought of.”

This resolution of the old fisherman, and the fearful solitude that, on
Bertalda’s departure, threatened to oppress the knight in every hall and
passage of the deserted castle, brought to light what had disappeared in
his sorrow for Undine,--I mean, his attachment to the fair Bertalda; and
this he made known to her father.

The fisherman had many objections to make to the proposed marriage. The
old man had loved Undine with exceeding tenderness, and it was doubtful
to his mind that the mere disappearance of his beloved child could be
properly viewed as her death. But were it even granted that her corpse
were lying stiff and cold at the bottom of the Danube, or swept away
by the current to the ocean, still Bertalda had had some share in her
death; and it was unfitting for her to step into the place of the poor
injured wife. The fisherman, however, had felt a strong regard also for
the knight: this and the entreaties of his daughter, who had become much
more gentle and respectful, as well as her tears for Undine, all exerted
their influence, and he must at last have been forced to give up his
opposition, for he remained at the castle without objection, and a
messenger was sent off express to Father Heilmann, who in former and
happier days had united Undine and Huldbrand, requesting him to come and
perform the ceremony at the knight’s second marriage.

Hardly had the holy man read through the letter from the lord of
Ringstetten, ere he set out upon the journey and made much greater
dispatch on his way to the castle than the messenger from it had made in
reaching him. Whenever his breath failed him in his rapid progress, or
his old limbs ached with fatigue, he would say to himself:

“Perhaps I shall be able to prevent a sin; then sink not, withered body,
before I arrive at the end of my journey!” And with renewed vigour he
pressed forward, hurrying on without rest or repose, until, late one
evening, he entered the shady court-yard of the castle of Ringstetten.

The betrothed were sitting side by side under the trees, and the aged
fisherman in a thoughtful mood sat near them. The moment they saw Father
Heilmann, they rose with a spring of joy, and pressed round him with
eager welcome. But he, in a few words, asked the bridegroom to return
with him into the castle; and when Huldbrand stood mute with surprise,
and delayed complying with his earnest request, the pious preacher said
to him--

“I do not know why I should want to speak to you in private; what I have
to say as much concerns Bertalda and the fisherman as yourself; and what
we must at some time hear, it is best to hear as soon as possible. Are
you, then, so very certain, Knight Huldbrand, that your first wife is
actually dead? I can hardly think it. I will say nothing, indeed, of the
mysterious state in which she may be now existing; I know nothing of
it with certainty. But that she was a most devoted and faithful wife is
beyond all dispute. And for fourteen nights past, she has appeared to me
in a dream, standing at my bedside wringing her tender hands in anguish,
and sighing out, ‘Ah, prevent him, dear father! I am still living! Ah,
save his life! Ah, save his soul!’

“I did not understand what this vision of the night could mean, then
came your messenger; and I have now hastened hither, not to unite, but,
as I hope, to separate what ought not to be joined together. Leave her,
Huldbrand! leave him, Bertalda! He still belongs to another; and do you
not see on his pale cheek his grief for his lost wife? That is not the
look of a bridegroom; and the spirit says to me, that ‘if you do not
leave him you will never be happy!’”

The three felt in their inmost hearts that Father Heilmann spoke the
truth; but they would not believe it. Even the old fisherman was so
infatuated, that he thought it could not be otherwise than as they
had latterly settled amongst themselves. They all, therefore, with a
determined and gloomy eagerness, struggled against the representations
and warnings of the priest, until, shaking his head and oppressed with
sorrow, he finally quitted the castle, not choosing to accept their
offered shelter even for a single night, or indeed so much as to taste a
morsel of the refreshment they brought him. Huldbrand persuaded himself,
however, that the priest was a mere visionary; and sent at daybreak to a
monk of the nearest monastery, who, without scruple, promised to perform
the ceremony in a few days.



CHAPTER 9



It was between night and dawn of day that Huldbrand was lying on his
couch, half waking and half sleeping. Whenever he attempted to compose
himself to sleep, a terror came upon him and scared him, as if his
slumbers were haunted with spectres. But he made an effort to rouse
himself fully. He felt fanned as by the wings of a swan, and lulled as
by the murmuring of waters, till in sweet confusion of the senses he
sank back into his state of half-consciousness.

At last, however, he must have fallen perfectly asleep; for he seemed to
be lifted up by wings of the swans, and to be wafted far away over land
and sea, while their music swelled on his ear most sweetly. “The music
of the swan! the song of the swan!” he could not but repeat to himself
every moment; “is it not a sure foreboding of death?” Probably, however,
it had yet another meaning. All at once he seemed to be hovering over
the Mediterranean Sea. A swan sang melodiously in his ear, that this
was the Mediterranean Sea. And while he was looking down upon the waves,
they became transparent as crystal, so that he could see through them to
the very bottom.

At this a thrill of delight shot through him, for he could see Undine
where she was sitting beneath the clear crystal dome. It is true she was
weeping very bitterly, and looked much sadder than in those happy days
when they lived together at the castle of Ringstetten, both on their
arrival and afterward, just before they set out upon their fatal passage
down the Danube. The knight could not help thinking upon all this
with deep emotion, but it did not appear that Undine was aware of his
presence.

Kuhleborn had meanwhile approached her, and was about to reprove her for
weeping, when she drew herself up, and looked upon him with an air so
majestic and commanding, that he almost shrank back.

“Although I now dwell here beneath the waters,” said she, “yet I have
brought my soul with me. And therefore I may weep, little as you can
know what such tears are. They are blessed, as everything is blessed to
one gifted with a true soul.”

He shook his head incredulously; and after some thought, replied, “And
yet, niece, you are subject to our laws, as a being of the same nature
with ourselves; and should HE prove unfaithful to you and marry again,
you are obliged to take away his life.”

“He remains a widower to this very hour,” replied Undine, “and I am
still dear to his sorrowful heart.”

“He is, however, betrothed,” said Kuhleborn, with a laugh of scorn;
“and let only a few days wear away, and then comes the priest with his
nuptial blessing; and then you must go up to the death of the husband
with two wives.”

“I have not the power,” returned Undine, with a smile. “I have sealed up
the fountain securely against myself and all of my race.”

“Still, should he leave his castle,” said Kuhleborn, “or should he once
allow the fountain to be uncovered, what then? for he thinks little
enough of these things.”

“For that very reason,” said Undine, still smiling amid her tears,
“for that very reason he is at this moment hovering in spirit over the
Mediterranean Sea, and dreaming of the warning which our discourse gives
him. I thoughtfully planned all this.”

That instant, Kuhleborn, inflamed with rage, looked up at the knight,
wrathfully threatened him, stamped on the ground, and then shot like an
arrow beneath the waves. He seemed to swell in his fury to the size of
a whale. Again the swans began to sing, to wave their wings and fly; the
knight seemed to soar away over mountains and streams, and at last to
alight at Castle Ringstetten, and to awake on his couch.

Upon his couch he actually did awake; and his attendant entering at the
same moment, informed him that Father Heilmann was still lingering in
the neighbourhood; that he had the evening before met with him in the
forest, where he was sheltering himself under a hut, which he had formed
by interweaving the branches of trees, and covering them with moss and
fine brushwood; and that to the question “What he was doing there, since
he would not give the marriage blessing?” his answer was--

“There are many other blessings than those given at marriages; and
though I did not come to officiate at the wedding, I may still officiate
at a very different solemnity. All things have their seasons; we must
be ready for them all. Besides, marrying and mourning are by no means so
very unlike; as every one not wilfully blinded must know full well.”

The knight made many bewildered reflections on these words and on his
dream. But it is very difficult to give up a thing which we have
once looked upon as certain; so all continued as had been arranged
previously.

Should I relate to you how passed the marriage-feast at Castle
Ringstetten, it would be as if you saw a heap of bright and pleasant
things, but all overspread with a black mourning crape, through whose
darkening veil their brilliancy would appear but a mockery of the
nothingness of all earthly joys.

It was not that any spectral delusion disturbed the scene of festivity;
for the castle, as we well know, had been secured against the mischief
of water-spirits. But the knight, the fisherman, and all the guests were
unable to banish the feeling that the chief personage of the feast was
still wanting, and that this chief personage could be no other than the
gentle and beloved Undine.

Whenever a door was heard to open, all eyes were involuntarily turned in
that direction; and if it was nothing but the steward with new dishes,
or the cupbearer with a supply of wine of higher flavour than the last,
they again looked down in sadness and disappointment, while the flashes
of wit and merriment which had been passing at times from one to
another, were extinguished by tears of mournful remembrance.

The bride was the least thoughtful of the company, and therefore the
most happy; but even to her it sometimes seemed strange that she
should be sitting at the head of the table, wearing a green wreath and
gold-embroidered robe, while Undine was lying a corpse, stiff and cold,
at the bottom of the Danube, or carried out by the current into the
ocean. For ever since her father had suggested something of this
sort, his words were continually sounding in her ear; and this day, in
particular, they would neither fade from her memory, nor yield to other
thoughts.

Evening had scarcely arrived, when the company returned to their homes;
not dismissed by the impatience of the bridegroom, as wedding parties
are sometimes broken up, but constrained solely by heavy sadness and
forebodings of evil. Bertalda retired with her maidens, and the knight
with his attendants, to undress, but there was no gay laughing company
of bridesmaids and bridesmen at this mournful festival.

Bertalda wished to awaken more cheerful thoughts; she ordered her
maidens to spread before her a brilliant set of jewels, a present from
Huldbrand, together with rich apparel and veils, that she might select
from among them the brightest and most beautiful for her dress in the
morning. The attendants rejoiced at this opportunity of pouring forth
good wishes and promises of happiness to their young mistress, and
failed not to extol the beauty of the bride with the most glowing
eloquence. This went on for a long time, until Bertalda at last, looking
in a mirror, said with a sigh--

“Ah, but do you not see plainly how freckled I am growing? Look here on
the side of my neck.”

They looked at the place, and found the freckles, indeed, as their fair
mistress had said; but they called them mere beauty spots, the faintest
touches of the sun, such as would only heighten the whiteness of her
delicate complexion. Bertalda shook her head, and still viewed them as a
blemish. “And I could remove them,” she said at last, sighing. “But
the castle fountain is covered, from which I formerly used to have that
precious water, so purifying to the skin. Oh, had I this evening only a
single flask of it!”

“Is that all?” cried an alert waiting-maid, laughing as she glided out
of the apartment.

“She will not be so foolish,” said Bertalda, well-pleased and surprised,
“as to cause the stone cover of the fountain to be taken off this very
evening?” That instant they heard the tread of men passing along the
court-yard, and could see from the window where the officious maiden was
leading them directly up to the fountain, and that they carried levers
and other instruments on their shoulders.

“It is certainly my will,” said Bertalda with a smile, “if it does not
take them too long.” And pleased with the thought, that a word from her
was now sufficient to accomplish what had formerly been refused with
a painful reproof, she looked down upon their operations in the bright
moonlit castle-court.

The men raised the enormous stone with an effort; some one of the number
indeed would occasionally sigh, when he recollected they were destroying
the work of their former beloved mistress. Their labour, however, was
much lighter than they had expected. It seemed as if some power from
within the fountain itself aided them in raising the stone.

“It appears,” said the workmen to one another in astonishment, “as if
the confined water had become a springing fountain.” And the stone rose
more and more, and, almost without the assistance of the work-people,
rolled slowly down upon the pavement with a hollow sound. But an
appearance from the opening of the fountain filled them with awe, as it
rose like a white column of water; at first they imagined it really to
be a fountain, until they perceived the rising form to be a pale female,
veiled in white. She wept bitterly, raised her hands above her head,
wringing them sadly as with slow and solemn step she moved toward the
castle. The servants shrank back, and fled from the spring, while the
bride, pale and motionless with horror, stood with her maidens at the
window. When the figure had now come close beneath their room, it looked
up to them sobbing, and Bertalda thought she recognized through the
veil the pale features of Undine. But the mourning form passed on,
sad, reluctant, and lingering, as if going to the place of execution.
Bertalda screamed to her maids to call the knight; not one of them dared
to stir from her place; and even the bride herself became again mute, as
if trembling at the sound of her own voice.

While they continued standing at the window, motionless as statues,
the mysterious wanderer had entered the castle, ascended the well-known
stairs, and traversed the well-known halls in silent tears. Alas, how
different had she once passed through these rooms!

The knight had in the meantime dismissed his attendants. Half-undressed
and in deep dejection, he was standing before a large mirror, a wax
taper burned dimly beside him. At this moment some one tapped at his
door very, very softly. Undine had formerly tapped in this way, when she
was playing some of her endearing wiles.

“It is all an illusion!” said he to himself. “I must to my nuptial bed.”

“You must indeed, but to a cold one!” he heard a voice, choked with
sobs, repeat from without; and then he saw in the mirror, that the door
of his room was slowly, slowly opened, and the white figure entered, and
gently closed it behind her.

“They have opened the spring,” said she in a low tone; “and now I am
here, and you must die.”

He felt, in his failing breath, that this must indeed be; but covering
his eyes with his hands, he cried: “Do not in my death-hour, do not make
me mad with terror. If that veil conceals hideous features, do not lift
it! Take my life, but let me not see you.”

“Alas!” replied the pale figure, “will you not then look upon me once
more? I am as fair now as when you wooed me on the island!”

“Oh, if it indeed were so,” sighed Huldbrand, “and that I might die by a
kiss from you!”

“Most willingly, my own love,” said she. She threw back her veil;
heavenly fair shone forth her pure countenance. Trembling with love and
the awe of approaching death, the knight leant towards her. She kissed
him with a holy kiss; but she relaxed not her hold, pressing him more
closely in her arms, and weeping as if she would weep away her soul.
Tears rushed into the knight’s eyes, while a thrill both of bliss and
agony shot through his heart, until he at last expired, sinking softly
back from her fair arms upon the pillow of his couch a corpse.

“I have wept him to death!” said she to some domestics, who met her
in the ante-chamber; and passing through the terrified group, she went
slowly out, and disappeared in the fountain.



CHAPTER 10



Father Heilmann had returned to the castle as soon as the death of the
lord of Ringstetten was made known in the neighbourhood; and he arrived
at the very hour when the monk who had married the unfortunate couple
was hurrying from the door, overcome with dismay and horror.

When Father Heilmann was informed of this, he replied, “It is all well;
and now come the duties of my office, in which I have no need of an
assistant.”

He then began to console the bride, now a widow though with little
benefit to her worldly and thoughtless spirit.

The old fisherman, on the other hand, though severely afflicted, was
far more resigned to the fate of his son-in-law and daughter; and while
Bertalda could not refrain from accusing Undine as a murderess and
sorceress, the old man calmly said, “After all, it could not happen
otherwise. I see nothing in it but the judgment of God; and no one’s
heart was more pierced by the death of Huldbrand than she who was
obliged to work it, the poor forsaken Undine!”

He then assisted in arranging the funeral solemnities as suited the
rank of the deceased. The knight was to be interred in the village
church-yard, in whose consecrated ground were the graves of his
ancestors; a place which they, as well as himself, had endowed with rich
privileges and gifts. His shield and helmet lay upon his coffin, ready
to be lowered with it into the grave, for Lord Huldbrand of Ringstetten
had died the last of his race. The mourners began their sorrowful march,
chanting their melancholy songs beneath the calm unclouded heaven;
Father Heilmann preceded the procession, bearing a high crucifix, while
the inconsolable Bertalda followed, supported by her aged father.

Then they suddenly saw in the midst of the mourning females in the
widow’s train, a snow-white figure closely veiled, and wringing its
hands in the wild vehemence of sorrow. Those next to whom it moved,
seized with a secret dread, started back or on one side; and owing to
their movements, the others, next to whom the white stranger now came,
were terrified still more, so as to produce confusion in the funeral
train. Some of the military escort ventured to address the figure, and
attempt to remove it from the procession, but it seemed to vanish from
under their hands, and yet was immediately seen advancing again, with
slow and solemn step, among the followers of the body. At last, in
consequence of the shrinking away of the attendants, it came close
behind Bertalda. It now moved so slowly, that the widow was not aware of
its presence, and it walked meekly and humbly behind her undisturbed.

This continued until they came to the church-yard, where the procession
formed a circle round the open grave. Then it was that Bertalda
perceived her unbidden companion, and, half in anger and half in terror,
she commanded her to depart from the knight’s place of final rest. But
the veiled female, shaking her head with a gentle denial, raised her
hands towards Bertalda in lowly supplication, by which she was greatly
moved, and could not but remember with tears how Undine had shown such
sweetness of spirit on the Danube when she held out to her the coral
necklace.

Father Heilmann now motioned with his hand, and gave order for all to
observe perfect stillness, that they might breathe a prayer of silent
devotion over the body, upon which earth had already been thrown.
Bertalda knelt without speaking; and all knelt, even the grave-diggers,
who had now finished their work. But when they arose, the white stranger
had disappeared. On the spot where she had knelt, a little spring, of
silver brightness, was gushing out from the green turf, and it kept
swelling and flowing onward with a low murmur, till it almost encircled
the mound of the knight’s grave; it then continued its course,
and emptied itself into a calm lake, which lay by the side of the
consecrated ground. Even to this day, the inhabitants of the village
point out the spring; and hold fast the belief that it is the poor
deserted Undine, who in this manner still fondly encircles her beloved
in her arms.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Undine" ***

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