The Story of Undine
By Friedrich de la Motte Fouque – Translated from German by Edmund Gosse (condensed)
Friedrich de la Motte Fouque published a quarterly magazine for romantic literature called “Die Jahreszeiten” (The Seasons) and in this magazine appeared the story “Undine” in 1811. It was also published in the same year as a book.
How the Knight Came to the Fisherman:
Hundreds of years ago, one beautiful evening, a good old fisherman was sitting at his door mending his nets. The green turf on which his cottage was built stretched far out onto a great lake. Save the fisherman and his family, however, few or no human being were ever to meet within this lovely place. Behind the strip of land there lay a very wild forest, so dark and so impassable, so full of weird creatures and strange apparitions, that most folks must be driven by a great necessity before they would adventure within it. The aged pious fisherman, however, would cross it again and again with a light heart when he had occasion to carry his fine fish which he caught from his lovely strip of land to a certain great city which lay not far behind the great forest. It was, moreover, made easy for him to pass through the woodland, because he harbored none but pious thoughts and because it was his habit whenever the evil shadows clustered about him, to break out into singing of holy psalm with clear throat and upright heart.
So, as he sat this evening, quite innocently by his nets, a sudden fear came upon him at the sound of rustlings in the gloom of the forest. The noise was caused by a Knight, beautifully appareled, who came riding towards the cottage. It was Sir Huldbrand of Ringstetten. “I gladly welcome you to my small cottage”, said the fisherman “and will give you supper and lodging, as good as we have”. He led his guest into the cottage.
There, by the hearth, from which a scanty fire lighten up the clean twilit room, the fisherman’s aged wife was sitting in a large chair. With this distinguished guest entered, she rose to her feet with an amiable gesture of welcome but sank again into her seat of honor, without offering it to the stranger. Upon which the fisherman said with a smile “Take it not ill, young sir, that she has not given up to you the most comfortable chair in the house – such is the way among poor folks – it is the exclusive right of age to keep the best place”.
Then the three good folks began to chat to one another. Of the forest, a subject to which the Knight again and again returned, the old man would not confess that he knew much. While this talk was going on, now and again the stranger noticed a noise at the bottom of the little window, as though someone was splashing water on it. The old man knitted his brow whenever he heard this sound, but when at length a whole stream gushed against the pane and sputtered into the room, he rose indignantly, and in a menacing voice cried out through the window – “Undine, have done with these childish tricks. Don’t you know a strange gentleman is here with us in the cottage?”. The fisherman then said to the Knight “I am afraid you will have to excuse her, she meant no harm by it. I must explain she is our foster daughter Undine, and that she cannot cure herself of these childish ways, although she has already reached her eighteenth year. However, she is a very good girl at heart.”
“Well, well smiled the good man, “your trial is Undine, and mine is the lake.”
A little latter, a beautiful girl, glided laughingly into the room. It was Undine. She stood fixed with astonishment before the handsome youth. Huldbrand was struck with her charming appearance and dwelt earnestly on her lovely features. Said Undine to Huldbrand “You handsome guest, how have you come to our poor cottage?” “I came from the forest, you beautiful little vision” replied Huldbrand. “Then you must tell me how you came there.” Said Undine. “Not so, Sir Knight,” said the fisherman, “this is no fit evening for such things.” Undine demanded that he tell his story and was upbraided by the old fisherman. Undine relied “If you do not do what I wish, then sleep alone in your smoky hut,” and swift as an arrow she fled from the room and into the dark night.
How Undine Had Come to the Fisherman:
Huldbrand and the fisherman sprang from their seats. Before the reached the door, Undine had long vanished into the shadowy darkness. No Undine was to be heard or seen and the returned to the cottage where the fisherman told Huldbrand the following story.
Fifteen years and more have gone by since, once upon a time, I was traveling through the forest with my wares, bound for the city. My wife had stayed at home, as usual, and at that time there was another reason why she should, for God had been gracious enough at our somewhat advanced years to bestow upon us a child of wonderful beauty. It was a little maiden, and we were just discussing whether we ought to abandon our lovely tongue of land and transfer God’s dear gift to some place where she might better thrive. But poor folks cannot act so freely as you, Sir Knight, might fancy.
The old man lifted his cap from his bald head, and remained awhile buried in thoughts of prayer. The he covered his brows again and went on. “It was on this side of the forest that sorrow came to meet me. My wife had come to meet me, she had put on mourning garments. “Oh, dear God,” I moaned “where is our beloved child? Tell me.” “With Him on whose name are you calling, dear husband,” she answered, and silently weeping we passed together into the cottage. My wife had been sitting by the shore of the lake with the child, and as she played with it, suddenly the little thing bent forward, just as though she saw some lovely object in the water. My wife saw her laughing but the next moment, with a sudden movement, she had leaped out of her arms and into the mirror of the lake.
The same evening, as we sat gazing into the fire on the hearth, the door flew open and a beautiful little girl, three or four years old, stood on the threshold, smiling at us. The water was dripping from he golden hair and rich garments. Her eyes, which reflected the blue of the lake, smiled at us. We decided to keep her in place of our lost Dorothea. We were at a lost to call her. We agreed to call he Dorothea, a gift of God, but she would not hear of it. She said her name was Undine, and so we baptized her. She told a strange bewildered story. She had come from some distanced place for, during the fifteen years that have since elapsed, not a trace of her past life have I been able to discover. She prattles about golden castles with crystal roofs, and God knows what else. But the clearest part of her story used to be that with her mother she had gone out upon the great lake and had fallen overboard and remembered nothing more till she found herself under the trees, and felt quite happy upon the pleasant shore.
The story was interrupted by a severed storm and a rushing flow of waters, caused by the brook overflowing its banks. They both sprang o the door. “Undine, for heaven’s sake, Undine” cried the men. No answer was returned and they ran, one in this direction and the other in that, searching and calling for Undine. Huldbrand became more and more anxious and distressed, the thought that Undine might after all be no more than a mere apparition of the forest came over him with fresh force. Yet, at a distance he could still hear the anxious voice of the fisherman crying to Undine.
How He Found Undine Again:
The longer Huldbrand sought Undine beneath the shades of night and failed to find her, the more anxious and confused did he become. At length he came close to the brink of the swollen stream and saw in the moonlight how it had changed the peninsula into an island.
Just then a gentle voice exclaimed near him, “Venture not, old man, the stream is full of tricks.” He knew the sweet voice of Undine. Looking close, he perceived under the intertwined branches of the overhanging trees, Undine, smiling and happy, nestling in the flowery grass. With a few steps he was standing beside her. Undine half raised herself and threw her arms around his neck and drew him down beside her on her soft seat.
“It is heaven itself” said Huldbrand, embracing the beautiful girl and kissing her fervently. When at last they had recovered from the excess of their joy, the day had already dawned. Breakfast was brought out under the trees which screened the cottage from the lake, and they sat down to it with contented hearts. Undine was on the grass at the knight’s feet, the place chosen by herself. “You shall tell me your story here, beautiful prince” said she in a low whisper. Huldbrand then proceeded with his story.
Of That Which The Knight Encountered in the Woods:
It must be some eight days since I rode into that free city beyond the forest. I had scarcely arrived when there was a fair gathering for the tourney and running at the ring, wherein I spared neither my steed nor my lance. One day , as I was standing quietly at the lists resting and was handing my helmet back to one of my squires, I suddenly perceived the figure of an exquisite woman who stood in magnificent attire on one of the balconies and gazed at me. I asked my neighbor who she was and was told her name was Bertalda and that she was the foster-daughter of one of the great dukes who live in these parts. At the Ball that evening it chanced that I was Bertalda’s partner, and so it continued as long as the festival lasted. At that moment a sharp pain in his left hand interrupted Huldbrand’s narrative. Undine had set her pearly teeth hard in his finger and looked thoroughly angry and spiteful. But in another instant she was gazing affectionately up into his eyes and was softly whispering “It is your fault.” The she hid her face and the knight continued his story. “This Bertalda is a proud, strange girl. On the second day she did not attract me so much and the third day she please me still less. But I kept with her and at length in jest I asked her for one of her gloves. When you bring me news of the ill-famed forest, I will give you one” she said. “I cared not some much to gain her glove but a word is a word and no honorable knight will let himself be called on twice to undertake such an adventure. “I think she loved you,” Undine interrupted, “she must be a fool to send away the man she loves — and into a dangerous forest too!” I would have let the forest keep its secret long enough before I did so.
Huldbrand then related some of the strange adventures that befell him in the mysterious forest. It occurred to me that I might very well go astray in the mighty forest, and that this perhaps was the one danger threatened a man who crossed it. I paused and looked around to see the position of the sun. As I did so, I became aware of a black object on the bough of a lofty oak tree. I thought it was a bear and I was feeling for my blade when it said in a human voice, but in a very rough and hateful way, “If I did not nibble off the twigs up here, where would be roasted at midnight Mr. Imprudence?” Then it grinned and made such a rustling in the branches that my steed grew restive and galloped away with me before I had time really to see what kind of devil’s beast it was”. The knight continued: “My frightened horse carried me swiftly past tress and branches, it was wet with freight and heat and still not be prevailed upon to stop. Then it suddenly seemed to me that a tall white man threw himself in front of the maddened steed and so startled it that it stood still. I mastered it and perceived that what had saved me was no white man but the silvery brightness of a cascade. Suddenly there rose up at my side a strange little man, dwarf and ugly with a nose no smaller than the rest of him put together. He grinned and bowed which displeased me very much. I thanked him quite curtly, turned my trebly steed around and thought I would undertake some other adventure or that I would make my way home. Suddenly the little fellow was standing again in front of my horse. “Give me some money for I stopped your horse, it had not been for me, you and your horse would be sprawling down there in the chasm.” So I let a piece of gold drop into his queer cap but he continued to follow. I gave him more gold but he snarled “not gold”, it shall not be gold, I have too much of that trash of my own, wait till I show you.” I put both spurs into my steed and for a second time I was whirled in a mad gallop through the woodland.” And so at last we came out at the end of the woodland and the waters of the lake and your little cottage.
How the Knight Lived by the Lake:
Huldbrand’s abode on the little promontory was filled with inexpressibly sweet foreboding and angelic sense of peace. He delighted heartily in Undine’s gracefully little scoldings all the more as she generally strove to compensate for all her ill humor by the sweetest caresses
The old people took pleasure in the intimacy of the young pair and regarded them as betrothed. Huldbrand felt he was Undine’s accepted one. “Undine is no fisherman’s daughter” he said to himself, “she belongs in all probability to some illustrious family abroad.”
A low knocking was heard at the cottage door, accompanied by a deep groan. They were all startled as the enchanted forest lay so near and the little promontory seemed just now inaccessible to human beings. Undine opened the door and held a lamp out in the stormy night, and perceived standing there an aged priest. “Come in venerable Father” said Undine “You come among good people.” The holy person entered, water dropping from his garments and his white beard and gray locks. They took him into another room, furnished him with other clothes and refreshed him with food and wine. The priest then told how the day before he had set out from his cloister to visit the bishop, but the small craft in which he was being conducted had been upset by the ragging storm and that a wave had cast him here under the trees of the island, where he had seen the light in the cottage and ventured hither.
Turning to the priest Huldbrand said “Venerable Father, you see before you a pair pledged to each other and if this maiden has no objections, you shall unite us this very evening.” After much discussion the old people gave their consent. The old dame went to arrange the bridal chamber and to look for two consecrated tapers which she had in her possession for some time, and which she thought essential to the nuptial ceremony. The priest lighted the tapers that he placed upon a table and summoned the bridal pair to stand opposite him. He then gave them to each other with a few solemn words and the bride, trembling and thoughtful. Leaned upon the knight.
“Why did you tell me you were the only people here on the island” said the priest, “for during the whole ceremony, a stately man in a white mantle, has been looking through the window opposite. He must still standing before the door to see if you will invite him in. “God forbid” said the old dame with a start; the fisherman shook his head in silence and Huldbrand sprang to the window. It seemed even to him as if he could still see a white streak, but it soon completely disappeared in the darkness. He persuaded the priest that he must have made a complete mistake and they all sat down quietly around the hearth.
What Further Happened on the Evening of the Wedding:
Both before and during the ceremony, Undine had shown herself gentle and quite; but it now seemed as if all the wayward humors that rioted within her, burst forth. She teased her bridegroom and foster parents and even the holy person whom she had so lately reverenced, with all sorts of childish tricks. Reproachful words were of no avail. At length the priest said in a kind tone, “My fair young maiden, remember so to attune your soul that it may ever harmonize with that of your wedded husband.” “But”, said Undine laughing, “When one has not a soul at all, what is there to attune then, and that is my case.” The priest with holy displeasure turned his face from the girl. She, however went up to him caressingly. It was evident that she was preparing herself to explain something but hesitated and burst into a flood of tears. Then the priest said to Huldbrand “Sir, bridegroom, I will leave you alone with her. There is nothing of evil in her but much indeed that is mysterious.” Huldbrand tried to dismiss the fearful thoughts that lurked in his mind persuading him that he was married to fairy or to some mischievous being of the spirit world. But, intoxicated with love and extinguishing the tapers, he bore his beautiful beloved to the bridal chamber by the light of the moon which shone brightly through the windows.
The Day After the Wedding:
The young couple were awakened by the clear light of morning. Undine shrank bashfully underneath the cover-lid while Huldbrand lay quietly staring before him. Whenever he had fallen asleep during the night he had been disturbed by strange and horrible dreams of phantoms, who endeavored with horrible grins to disquiet themselves as fair women, or else fair women whose faces suddenly became the masks of dragons. And when he awakened in the grip of these hideous visions, the pale cold light of the moon would be streaming through the windows. He would glance in terror at Undine, on whose bosom he had fallen asleep, and who now lay by him in unruffled beauty and sweetness. Then he would press a fugitive kiss on the rosy lips and would fall asleep again, only to be aroused by a fresh horrors. But now, completely awakened, every doubt was completely removed.
He cheerfully arose and went forth to their housemates — in the common room. And now, Undine was ready al last, and stood in the doorway. She cooked and arranged breakfast and was quiet, kind and attentive all through the day.
When evening came, Undine hung with a tender meekness on the knight’s arm, and gently drew him to the door, where the setting sun was lighting up the grass and gleaming round the tall tender stems of the trees. In the eyes of the young wife there swam, as it were, a dew of melancholy and of love, a tender sorrowful secret seem hanging on her lips. Silently she led her young lover further away; when he spoke, she replied only with looks in which there lay a whole heaven of love and shy devotion. So they reached the banks of the swollen forest torrent and they found that its waters had become so quite that no trace of their former rage and volume.
“By tomorrow” said the lovely wife with a tear in her voice “it will not have subsided, and then no can prevent you from riding off, wither you will.” “Not without you, little Undine.” “It all depends on you” whispered the girl, half weeping, “but I think you will want to keep me, for I am so fond of you. Now take me over to the little island, it shall be decided there.”
“I could very easily slip through the wavelets by myself, but it is so delightful to rest in your arms, and, if you cast me off, at all events I shall have been resting sweetly there for the last time.”
Huldbrand, strangely agitated and alarmed, knew not what to reply. He took her in his arms and carried her over. He laid her down on the soft grass and would have seated himself caressingly beside her but she said “No! Over there, opposite me, I wish to read your eyes before your lips can speak. Listen attentively to what I am going to tell you.” And then she began;
“You must know, my sweet darling, that in the elements there exist beings whose outer semblance is almost the same as your own. They but seldom allow you to gaze upon them. In the flames glitter and sparkle the marvelous salamanders; deep within the earth, the lean spiteful gnomes have their dwelling; through the woodlands flit the wood-folk whose home is in the air; and in the lakes and streams there moves the endless race of spirits of the water. In ringing vaults of crystal, through which heaven looks down with sun and stars, these have their abode. The inhabitants walk on pure sea sand, or over fair and variegated shells. Many a fisherman has rejoiced to surprise a delicate water girl, rising from the floods and singing. Of her beauty, he has told his fellows, and men have come to name such strange maidens Undines. You, my dearest, are at this moment gazing upon just such an Undine”.
“We should be far better off than you other human beings – for human beings we considered ourselves, having the semblance of body and humanity – but for one great disadvantage. We and those who resemble us in the other elements, we vanish and are gone, breath and body, so that no trace of us remains behind, and when you others on some future day shall wake to a purer life, we shall be what sand and smoke and winds and waves are made of. For no souls have we; it is the element that moves us, often, so long as we live, obey us, and when we die, turns us to dust and we rejoice, without a peevish sigh, as do nightingales and little golden fishes and other pretty children of nature. Yet all creatures desire to rise to higher things. So my father, who is a mighty prince of waters in the Mediterranean Sea, desired that his daughter should in measure possess a soul, and in consequence should share many of the sufferings of those in whom souls are born. But one of us can only win a soul by the most intimate union in love with one of your race. Now I do possess a soul; to you I owe this soul, O inexpressibly beloved one, and I will be grateful to you for it if you will not that my whole life through should be made wretched. For what would become of me, if you were to avoid and repulse me? But I could not deceive even to retain you. And if you are going to repulse me, o it now, and pass back alone to yonder shore. I will plunge into this cascade which is my father’s brother, and lead a strange hermit’s life here in the woodland, far from all old comrades. But strong is he, and more worth than many fisherman, me a gay and laughing child, he will lead me back again to my parents — I with my soul, a loving, suffering woman.”
She would have said more but Huldbrand cast his arms about her, full of the most tender agitation and love, and bore her back again to shore. Then, with tears and kisses, he swore that he would never leave his darling wife. In sweet contentment Undine hung upon his arm as they wandered back to cottage, and now she realized from the depths of her heart how little need she had to regret having deserted the crystal mansions of her wondrous father.
How the Knight Took His Young Wife With Him:
When Huldbrand awoke the next morning he missed his lovely companion at his side. But she entered at the door, kissed him, sat down on he bedside and said; “I went out rather early to see whether Uncle would keep his word. He has already drawn all the waters back into his peaceful channel, and now is flowing through the woodland like the sober hermit that he used to be. His comrades have all gone to rest and everything is peaceful around us and you can journey homeward dry-foot as soon as you will.”
It seemed to Huldbrand he must be dreaming with his eyes wide open, so little sense could he find in this strange relation to his wife. As he was standing a little while afterwards with her at the door, he felt so happy in this cradle of his love that he said:- “Why must we start today? In the world outside we shall find no days more delicious than those we have lived through in this our secret hiding place. Let us al least see the sun go down from here two or three times more.” “As my Lord would have it!” replied Undine in a graceful humility. “The only thing is that the old folks could be in no circumstance have parted from me without pain, and that if we give them time to observe in me the workings of a real soul, and the springs of genuine love and honor, their poor eyes will certainly go blind with the multitude of tears. At present they suppose my quietness to be no more than is the restfulness of the lake when the air is tranquil. Do not make me chose the very moment when a heart agitated with love has newly been bestowed upon me to take it from them forever; and yet how could I hide from them the new conditions should we continue to stay here together?”
Huldbrand agreed that she was right. He went to the old man and made arrangements for the journey, proposing to start immediately. The priest offered himself as a companion and they mounted the young wife on horseback and set forth with her across the dries-up bed of the woodland torrent into the forest. Undine wept silently but bitterly.
The three travelers had entered in silence into the deepest shadows of the woodland. Huldbrand had no eyes saved for his fair bride. Undine, who had dried her gentle tears, had only eyes for him, and their looks conversed in a quite speech without words, which was first interrupted by a slight interchange of greeting between the priest and a fourth fellow-traveler whom they now observed for the first time.
He wore a white garment exactly like the priest’s except that the hood was pulled far down over his eyes. When the young couple had perceived him, he said “And so I have been living many years here in the woodland without ever imaging that any one would call me a hermit. For, as I said, of penance know I nothing, and have no idea that I require it. The fact merely is that I am fond of the woodland because it looks so curiously pretty, and amuses me so much.”
“You are a strange individual,” replied the priest “and I should like to know more about you.” “And who then are you, to change the subject?” asked the stranger. “They call me Father Heinemann” said the holy man “and I come from the other side of the lake.” “Ah: indeed” replied the stranger. “My own name is Kuhleborn, and as a matter of courtesy I might add Her Von Kuhleborn or Baron Kuhleborn; for I am free as the birds. By the way I have something to tell that young woman over there.” Before any one knew what he was doing he was on the other side of the priest, close beside Undine and was stretching up to whisper something in her ear. But she withdrew in alarm, saying “I have nothing more to do with you.”
“Ho: ho: laughed he stranger “What a monstrous grand marriage you must have made to have nothing more to do with your own relations: What, not a word for Uncle Kuhleborn, who carried you to this spot on his back?” “I must ask you,” replied Undine “to let me see no more of you, I am afraid of you now, and if my husband sees me in such strange company and with such old relations, will he not be startled?”
“Nonsense!” said Kuhleborn. “You must not forget that I am your guardian here. If it were not for me the riotous earth-spirits might play stupid practical jokes with you so let me accompany you in this quite way; the old priest there seems to recollect me much better than you do for he just assured me that my face seemed very familiar to him, and that I really must have been near him when he fell into the water. It is true I was for I was the identical sheet of water which shipped him out and on which in process of time he swam safe to shore.
Undine and the knight looked at Father Heinemann but he seemed to be walking in a dream, and no longer to understand what was said to him. Then Undine said to Kuhleborn “I see already before us the end of the woodland. We need your help no more, and nothing can frighten us as much as you do. Therefore, in the name of mercy be so good as to disappear and let us go our way in peace.”
Kuhleborn seemed very unwilling to do this. He made an ugly face and grinned at Undine who screamed out loudly and turned towards her husband for help. Like a flash the knight was on the other side of the horse, swinging his sharp blade against Kuhleborn’s head. But it struck a torrent which came streaming down from the lofty rock and suddenly poured over them in a splashing that sounded almost like laughter and drenched them to the skin. The priest, as though suddenly awaken said: “I have long been expecting that, the brook ran so close beside us on the on the hill-side. At first it almost seemed to me as though it was a human being and could speak. In Huldbrand’s ear the waterfall distinctly sounded these words “Brisk knight, stout knight, I might rage not, I wrangle not. Guard always just as well your lovely bride.” A few steps more and they were in the open. The imperial city lay sparkling before them, and the evening sun that gilded it roofs, dried the soaked raiment of the wanderers.
How They Lived in the City:
The sudden disappearance of the young Knight Huldbrand Von Ringstetten from the imperial city had caused great solicitude. When he now suddenly appeared every one rejoiced, except Bertalda. She, however, conducted herself as a wise maiden and lived on the most friendly terms with Undine. Day by day Undine felt her affection increase for the fair maiden and Bertalda also could not deny the fact that she felt herself drawn to Undine. It was proposed that Bertalda should accompany Undine for a time to Castle Ringstetten, near the source of the Danube.
Just as they were fixing the day for their departure, a tall man approached them from the middle of the square and said something in the ear of the young wife. She stepped a little aside with the stranger and both began to whisper together. All at once Undine, clapping her hands, quitted the stranger’s side, who retired discontentley and vanished in the fountain. Bertalda asked “what did the master of the fountain want with you, dear Undine?” Undine replied “The day after tomorrow, on the anniversary of your name-day, you shall know it.”
She invited Bertalda and sent an invitation to her foster parents to dine with them on the appointed day and soon after the parted.
“Kuhleborn? Was it Kuhleborn” said Huldbrand. “Yes, it was he” replied Undine, “And if you will wait until the day after tomorrow, you will then have your share too in the surprise.” And just as she fell asleep, Undine murmured “Dear Bertalda, how she will rejoice and be astonished at what her master of the fountain told me.”
The company were sitting at dinner; Bertalda looking like some goddess of spring with her flowers and jewels, was placed between Undine and Huldbrand. Huldbrand and Bertalda were waiting with impatience for the promised explanation from Undine. “Oh, Undine where are my parents?” cried Bertalda “can it be that they are here.” Her eyes passed over the brilliant company and lingered on a lady of high rank who was sitting next to her foster father. At the sign from Undine the old fisherman and his wife entered the room. “It is she” said Undine, pointing to Bertalda and the two old people hung around the neck of their recovered child. But, indignant, Bertalda tore herself from their embrace. It seemed to her that Undine had devised all this to humbled her before Huldbrand. Undine turned to Bertalda and said “I received my information from the very person who allured Bertalda into the water away from her parents and who afterward placed her on the green meadow in the duke’s path.” “She cannot prove that I am the child of these low people” said Bertalda. Then the fisherman’s wife said “If this evil disposed young lady is my daughter, she has a mark like a violet between her shoulders and another like it on the instep of her left foot. If she would only go out into the hall with me.” “I shall not uncover myself before a peasant woman,” exclaimed Bertalda. “But before me you will” rejoiced the duchess. “Follow me into that room, girl, and the good old woman shall come with us.” After a short time they returned. Bertalda was pale as death. “Bertalda is the fisherman’s daughter” said the duchess.
How They Journeyed From the Imperial City:
The Lord of Ringstetten would have been well pleased if all the events of this day could have been prevented. But, as it turned out, he could not but be gratified to find his exquisite wife so pious, gracious and dignified. “If indeed I have given her a soul, it must be admitted that I have given her a better one than my own.” And so he began to console the weeping Undine, and to arrange to leave a place which, after such an incident, could not but be distasteful to her. Yet it is certain that popular opinion about her had not altered. As something extraordinary had always been anticipated, the strange discovery of Bertalda’s parentage occasioned little surprise, and everyone was set against that young lady by the unseemly violence of her behavior. But of that the knight and his lady knew nothing and so there was nothing to do but to leave the walls of that ancient city behind them as soon as possible. At daybreak a neat carriage was waiting for Undine in front of the door of their inn. The knight was conducting his beautiful lady from the door when a fisher-maiden stepped across their path. “We do not need your wares,” said Huldbrand, “we are on the point of departure.” The fisher girl began to weep bitterly and they perceived that it was Bertalda. She told them her foster parents had withdrew their protection from her, though not without giving her a rich portion, that her father would not take her with him until she changed and suggested that she return through the haunted forest not as a lady, but as a fisher-girl, but that she had a terrible dread of the forest which was said to be haunted.
“You shall go with us to Ringstetten” said Undine. “You see we were changed for each other as children. We shall discuss there how we shall share things as sisters.” After a journey of some days they arrived some exquisite evening at the Castle Ringstetten. Huldbrand had much to hear from his vassals so that Undine and Bertalda were left alone.
They climbed on to the high wall of the stronghold and enjoyed the view that expanded on every side. Then a tall man stepped up to them who almost reminded Bertalda of the fountain-man in the imperial city. Undine glanced back at him with displeasure, almost threatening, aspect and he disappeared. But Undine said “Don’t be alarmed, dear little Bertalda; this time the ugly fountain-man shall do us no harm.” And with that she told the story from beginning to end, who she herself was and in what circumstances Bertalda had left the fisher-folk, and she, Undine, had come to them. At first the girl was startled and thought her friend had gone out of her mind. But she became persuaded more and more that all was true in Undine’s plausible narrative. She gazed at Undine with respect but could no longer resist a shudder which seemed to pass between herself and her friend and wondered how the knight could have so loved and attached himself to a being, which since these latest revelations, could not but appear to her more like a ghost than a woman.
How They Lived at Castle Ringstetten:
With the passage of time Huldbrand’s heart began to turn from Undine to Bertalda and Bertalda ever more glowing passion came forward to meet the young man. He and she began to dread the poor wife. Undine wept and her tears were like gnawing of conscience in the heart of the knight without ever waking the old love he bore for her. Sometimes he was kind to her, yet he would soon turn away from her with a cold shudder and seek the human maid, Bertalda.
A variety of wonderful apparitions met Huldbrand and Bertalda in the vaulted galleries of Castle Ringstetten. The tall white man in whom Huldbrand recognized only too plainly as Uncle Kuhleborn, and Bertalda, the ghostly fountain-man. Often rose menacing before them both but particularly in front of Bertalda, so that once or twice she had become quite ill with the terror of it and often determined that she would quite the castle. But she stayed on, partly because she was so very fond of Huldbrand and partly because, as they had never come to any definite understanding, she thought her innocence would protect her, partly too because she did not know whither to turn her steps.
The old fisherman, on receiving the message from the lord of Ringstetten that Bertalda was his guest wrote “my dear wife is dead. However lonely I now sit in my cottage, Bertalda is better with you than with me. Only let her do nothing to harm my beloved Undine. She will have my curse it be so.”
On day when Huldbrand had just ridden out, Undine ordered the domestics to bring a large stone and cover with it the magnificent fountain which stood in the middle of the castle yard. The servant’s objected but Undine said “Believe me, that it cannot be otherwise, and only by so doing can we avoid a greater evil.” Bertalda came running up and called to them to stop as it was from this fountain that the water was brought up was good for her complexion and she would never consent to it being closed. The water indeed wonderful, agitated and hissing, it seems as if something within it were struggling to free itself. Undine was firm and soon the stone was firmly lying over the opening of the fountain. She leaned thoughtfully over it and wrote with her beautiful fingers on its surface. She must have concealed something very sharp and biting in her hand for when she turned away and the others approached, they found inscribed upon the stone all sorts of strange characters which none of them had ever seen before.
In the evening Bertalda received the knight on his return home with tears and complaints of Undine’s conduct. He looked sternly at his wife and she said with great composure “My lord and husband dooms none of his vassals until he had given him a hearing. How much less then, his wedded wife?” “Say then, what drove you to this strange act?” said the knight. “I must be quite alone with you to tell you,” sighed Undine. “You can tell me just as well in the presence of Bertalda” he replied. “Yes, if you order me to do so,” said Undine, “but do not order it, I pray and beseech you.” She looked so humble and kind as she said this that the knight’s heart was invades by a sunbeam out of the past happier days. He took her affectionately by the arm and led her to his chamber where she spoke as follows:
“You know our wicked Uncle Kuhleborn, do you not my lord, and have often been vexed to meet him in the passages of this castle? He has sometimes frighten Bertalda so much as to make her ill. It seems he has no soul, he is nothing but an elemental mirror of the outer world, which can never flash back the inner one. Well he sees from time to time that you are displeased with me, that in my childish ways I weep on account of it, that Bertalda chooses that very moment for laughter. He wants to be interfering in our affairs. What would be the use of my being cross with him and telling him to go away? He does not believe a word I say. His poor nature has no conception of the fact that the pains and pleasures of love are so closely intermingled. Smile break forth out of the heart of tears, and tears out of eyes that are in the very act of smiling.” She looked up at Huldbrand, smiling and weeping, and all of the old love leaped back into his heart. She felt it and amidst tears of joy continued: “As the destroyer of our peace would not listen to words, I was obliged to bar the door against him, and the only door by which he reaches us is the fountain. He is at enmity with the other water-spirits of this neighborhood; from the next valley’s and beyond the Danube, if some of his good friends have flowed into that river, his empire begins again. That is why I allowed the slab to be poised above the fountain, and wrote runes upon it, so that he should never interfere again with you or with me or with Bertalda. It is true that with a very slight exercise of strength human beings could remove the slab; there is nothing to hinder that. If you desire it, do as Bertalda wishes, but be sure that she does not know what is she asks. Naughty Kuhleborn has specially aimed at her and suppose that should happen which he is always trying to prophesy to me, and what might very well happen without your meaning any harm by it.
Huldbrand was deeply conscious of the magnanimity of his charming wife, who had set about so diligently to deprive herself of her terrible protector, and had even in so doing been actuated by generous thought of Bertalda. He caught her tenderly in his arms as said with emotion: “The slab shall stay there, and all shall be, now and forever, as you desire it to be, my sweetest little Undine.” She modestly caressed him, happy once more to hear the words of love which had so long been unspoken, and at last she said; “My dearest, since you are so very sweet and kind today, may I venture to ask you for a favor? Only see, you are like the summertime. Even at its highest splendor it put on the flaming and thundering crown of a magnificent storm, in which its aspect is that of a real monarch and earth-deity. So, every now and then, you lighten with your tongued your eyes, and it becomes you well, even though, in my poor folly, it sometimes make me weep. But don’t be angry with me on a piece of water, or even when you are near any waters, for then my relations would regain authority over me. They would snatch me from you, because they would think that one of their race was being injured, and for all the rest of my days I should have to live down in the halls of crystal and should never have leave to come up to you again, or, if they did send me up to you – Oh! God: that would be infinitely the worst of all. Don’t let that happen, as you love your poor Undine.” He solemnly promised to do what she desired and husband and wife left the chamber happy and full of mutual love. At that moment Bertalda appeared and said “I suppose the secret conference is at a end and now the stone may be removed.” But Huldbrand reproved her and Bertalda pale with rage, hurried to her room. The evening repast appeared and Bertalda did not appear. Her apartment was empty and in it was found a sealed letter which Huldbrand opened with alarm and read “I will return to the miserable cottage of my parents, farewell to you and your beautiful wife.” Just then a page appeared who said he had met the lady on the path to the Black Valley. Like an arrow, Huldbrand sprang on his horse to proceed in the direction indicated, while Undine followed on her white palfrey.
How Bertalda Went Home With the Knight:
The Black Valley lies sequestered in the mountains. At that time the country folk gave it its name from its deep obscurity, buried in the shadow of lofty trees. Even the rivulet which pores down from the cliffs looked quite black, and as thought less pleased than waters are that have the blue heaven immediately over them. Now, as twilight was approaching it look wild and gloomy between the heights. The knight stepped long the banks of the rivulet, he was now in terror lest, by pushing on so quickly, he might have passed the fugitive; now ready to hasten on with greater speed in case she was concealed somewhere in front of him. The suspicion that he might have missed her made his heart beat in anguish. If he should not find the tender Bertalda, what would be her fate in the threatening storm which now hung ominously over the valley? At last he saw a white object on the slope of the mountain and he thought he recognized the dress of Bertalda, and made straight for it. But his steed would not obey, it reared so violently that he dismounted and, tying the snorting horse to a maple, carefully worked his way on foot through the bushes. A distant thunder rumbled beyond the mountains, everything looked so sinister that he began to feel a species of awe as he approached the white shape which now lay near him on the ground. He stepped close to her, rustled the branches, clashed his sword – she did not move. “Bertalda” he said softly, the louder and louder – she did not hear him. At last, as he shouted the beloved name with all his might, a dull echo came faintly to him from the caverns of the valley but the sleeper awaken not. He bowed down to her but the darkness of the valley forbade him to distinguish her features. Now, with a sad uncertainty he pressed close beside her on the ground, a flash of lighting illuminated the valley. He saw quite close to him a hideous and wasted countenance and a dull voice said “Give me a kiss you love sick shepherd:. Shrieking with terror Huldbrand fled up the heights, the hideous figure pursuing him. “Go home!” it murmured, “the monsters are awake! Go home! I have you now!” And it clawed at him with long white arms. “Spiteful Kuhleborn!” cried the knight, summoning his confidence, “so, ’tis you, is it? There’s a kiss for you!” And so with that he smote him in the face with his sword. But it vanished away and a drenching stream of water left the knight in no doubt of the nature of the enemy which whom he had contended.
“He wants to frighten me away fro Bertalda” he said to himself aloud, “he thinks that he will frighten my by his silly tricks into abandoning the poor distressed maiden to him, to bear the whole brunt of his revenge. But that shall he not, miserable elemental spirit that he is. The imprudent goblin does not realize what the heart of a man can do, when that man throws into his doing the best forces of his life.” He felt the truth of his own words, and that he had spoken under the influence of his manly courage. Accordingly, fortune seemed once more to smile upon him, for scarcely had he got back to the spot where his horse was tied, there he heard quite plainly the voice of Bertalda lamenting; she was so close to him that he could hear her weeping through the tumult of the thunderstorm. He flew towards the sound and discovered the shivering lady trying to climb the heights, in order by any means to escape the obscurity of the valley. He stepped lovingly in her path, and bold as her resolve had been she now felt keenly the delight that the friend she so passionately loved should rescue her and that the joyous life in Castle Ringstetten should be open again to her.
Huldbrand unfastened his horse in order to lift the fair fugitive upon it, but it had become unmanageable from the wild apparitions of Kuhleborn. The determine to return home on foot. But Bertalda’s strength all exerts she sank down on the moss, exclaiming “Let me lie here, my noble lord.” In the midst of his perplexity he heard the sound of a vehicle driving slowly down the stony road behind them. He called for help and soon after, two gray horses appeared through the bushes, and beside them the driver in the white smock of a carter. The horses stood still and the driver came up to the knight and helped him subdue the foaming animal. “I’ll see” he said “what it is that the beast wants.” The first time I went this way my horses were just as troublesome. I must tell you that a wicked water-goblin lives here and these jokes are what he enjoys. But I have learned a charm, and if you like me to whisper it into your horses ear, you will find he will stand as quietly as my grays do.” Then the carter bent the head of the rearing steed down to him and muttered some words in his ear. In a instant the horse stood appeased and quite, while nothing but a certain heat and panting was left to show how extremely agitated it had been. Huldbrand had not much time to inquire for the reason for the change. He made a bargain with the carter to take Bertalda up among the soft bales of cotton in his wagon, and to bring her to Ringstetten Castle, while the knight should accompany her on horseback. But his horse now appeared exhausted and had not the power to carry his master so far,. The knight then climbed into the wagon beside Bertalda, having fasten his horse behind.
In the quietness of the night, as they left the thunderstorm more and more completely behind them, in a happy sense of security, Huldbrand and Bertalda talked confidently to one another. Then the carter suddenly shouted with his screaming voice “Up: you grays, up with your feet: pull yourselves together, grays. Remember what you are!” The knight leaned out of the wagon and saw the horses were positively swimming in the midst of a rush of water; the wheels of the cart were whirling around like mill-wheels, and the carter had climbed upon the vehicle to escape the rising flood. “What kind of road is this? It seems to go along the bed of a river” cried Huldbrand to the driver. “No sir! He answered laughing “it is the other way about, it is the river that is running along the middle of the road.” “See for yourself what a flood there is.” It was true; the whole valley was moving and rushing with the waters that had so suddenly gushed out and were still visibly rising.
“That is Kuhleborn, the wicked water goblin, trying to drown us!” cried the knight. Don’t you know any other charms to suite him my friend?” “I know one,” cried the driver “but I cannot and must not use it until you know who I am.” “Is this the time to ask riddles?” screamed the knight. “The flood is rising every moment and what do I care who you may be?” “You ought to care said the driver, “for I am Kuhleborn.” So saying, he thrust his withered face, laughing, into the wagon, but the wagon was a wagon no longer, the grays were grays no longer; everything vanished and the driver himself was drawn up into a gigantic wave, which forced the vainly struggling horse under the tide and grew like a tower of moisture ready to topple onto the heads of Huldbrand and Bertalda and bury them forever under the ruin of its waters. But at that moment the sweet voice of Undine reached them through the turmoil, the moon stepped from a cloud and Undine became visible on the heights above the valley. She commanded the floods, the ominous tower of waters shrank away muttering and murmuring, the streams ran gently in the moonlight and like a white dove Undine was seen to dive downwards from the heights , to seize Huldbrand and Bertalda, and to carry them up to a fresh green lawn on the heights where she dispelled their weakness and terror by her assiduous cordials and caresses. Then Huldbrand helped Bertalda to mount the white palfray, which had carried her, and so all three proceeded back to Ringstetten Castle.
The Journey to Vienna:
After the events we have just recorded, life went quietly at the castle. The knight became more and more conscious of his wife’s saintly sweetness which had been so splendidly displayed by her saving them from the power of Kuhleborn in the Black Valley. Undine herself enjoyed that peace and security and many a gleam of hope and love came to her from the reawakening love and esteem of her husband. Bertalda was grateful and modest. Whenever the husband or wife proposed to discuss with her either the closing of the fountain or the adventure in the Black Forest, she begged to be excused as the subject embarrassed her and terrified her too much. Nothing, therefore, was said about either. Peace and joy had visible taken up their abode in Ringstetten Castle. In this delicious way winter had come and gone. The mood of spring seemed their mood and brought them journeying thoughts. Huldbrand discoursed about the splendor of the noble Danube, how it flowed through hallowed countries gathering volume as it went, and how costly wines were grown upon it banks. “How glorious it must be to follow it course as far as to Vienna!” exclaimed Bertalda. “What is there to prevent us from taking this journey” said Undine. Bertalda leaped for joy and the two ladies instantly began to paint the charming voyage down the Danube in the liveliest colors. Huldbrand offered no opposition, except that he whispered in Undine’s ear; “But if we go so far, shall we not be once more in Kuhleborn’s power?” “Let him come, I shall be there and he can’t do any harm in my presence.”
So they prepared for the voyage and started in the best of spirits. Is it not strange that things invariably turn out other than what we expected them to be? The malignant power, which lies in wait to deceive us, loves to lull its chosen victim to sleep with sweet songs and golden stories. On the other hand the messenger that brings salvation from heaven often raps gently at our door.
During their earlier days of the Danube voyage they were delighted. But at one exquisite spot, from the beauty of which they had anticipated peculiar pleasure, that unruly fellow Kuhleborn gave a wholly unexpected proof of his encroaching power. It amount at first to no more than a trick of teasing because Undine shouted into the rebellious floods or contrary winds and instantly subdued the power of the enemy but the opposition would arise again and again and it would be needful for Undine to check it so that their comfort was entirely destroyed. Soon the boatmen began to whisper to one another and to realize that something was taking place. Huldbrand often said to himself in the depths of his heart; “This comes of like not being matched with like; it is a strange bond that a man makes with a mermaid.” He would often think :I did not know in the least that she was a mermaid… It is a wretched thing for me that every step that I take is cursed and spoiled by her absurd relations, but it is no fault of mine.” By thoughts such as these he could fortify himself for the moment, these reflections always left him more fretful and more imicical to Undine. Already he looked at her with a surly expression and the poor lady well understood what he meant by it.
Exhausted with the distress of this, but not less with the constant effort to subdue the vivacity of Kuhleborn, towards evening as the boat glided gently along, she fell into a deep sleep. Scarcely had she closed her eyes, when everyone saw a hideous head, which rose out of the waves, not as the head of a swimmer does but as if it was impaled on the surface of the water, yet proceeding at the same rate of speed as the boat did. Each person was terrified, the awful apparitions were everywhere. The shrieks of terror awakened Undine. As her eyelids opened, all the trope of wicked phantoms vanished. Huldbrand rose in revolt to such ugly jesting. He would have broken out into wild curses if Undine had not said “For God’s sake, my husband: We are on the waters, do not be angry with me.” The knight sat down and Undine whispered into his ear: “Would it be not better, my darling, to resign this foolish expedition and go back in peace to Ringstetten Castle?”
But Huldbrand murmur angrily “So I am to be a prisoner in my own castle, and only to breath, so long as the fountain is closed? I wish then that your crazy kindred ——.” But with that Undine carressingly pressed her lovely hand to his lips. He was silent again and mediated on what Undine had said.
Meanwhile Bertalda had abandoned herself to all sorts of fugitive ideas. She knew much of Undine’s origin and in particular the fearful Kuhleborn had remained a terrible riddle to her, to such an extent that she was ignorant of his name. While reflecting on all these extraordinary things, and without being conscious what she was doing, she unfastened a golden necklace which Huldbrand had lately bought for her from a wandering peddler, and let it wave just above the surface of the river, diverting herself, half in a dream, with the bright shimmer it gave. A huge hand suddenly rose out of the Danube, snatched at the necklace and dragged it down. Bertalda screamed out loud, and a scornful sound of laughter echoed from the depths of the river. The anger of the knight now broke all bounds. He cursed all who would foresee themselves into relation with him and his life, and caller upon whomever it might be to rise and face his naked sword. Bertalda wept for the loss of an ornament that she had so much valued and with her tears poured oil on the flame of the knights anger while Undine continued kept her hand in the water, which continued half to push upwards, while she said to her husband — “My darling, don’t scold me here; scold whom and what you will, but not me. You know why.”
By great effort he contrived to restrain himself. Then with her wet hand she produced a magnificent coral necklace which flashed so brilliantly that all eyes were dazzled by it. “Take this” she said, holding it out pleasantly to Bertalda. “I have had this brought as a compensation to you and do not by unhappy any longer, poor child.” But the knight sprang between them. He tore the lovely trinket out of Undine’s hand and flung it back into the river, and shouted in a frenzy of rage – “Then you are still in communication with them, are you? Stay with hem and their gifts in the name of all witchcraft, and let us mortals be at peace.”
Undine gazed at him with eyes streaming with tears, still holding out the hand with which she had so kindly endeavored to pass her pretty gift to Bertalda. She went on weeping bitterly, like a gentle child that had been cruelly wounded through no fault of hers. At last she said quite wearily – “Ah: sweet friend, ah: farewell: You ought not to have done that; but be loyal, so that I may be able to advert it from you. Ah: but now I must go, out of your life, what have you done?” And with that she vanished over the edge of the boat. It was impossible to tell whether she stepped into the river or was swept into it, both seem true and yet neither. In a moment she was wholly engulfed in the Danube; only little waves kept sobbing round the bark. But Huldbrand flung himself in burning tears upon the deck of the vessel and a deep swoon soon drew a merciful veil over his anguish.
What Happened Next to Huldbrand:
Are we to grieve or rejoice that our sense of affliction makes no abiding stay? I mean that of affliction which springs from so deep in the heart of life that it is so made one with the idea of the lost beloved that all the passage of life is but a priestly initiation into the worship of one vanished form, until the moment when the bolt that fell on him crushes us also. Many good men do remain priests of this order, but yet it is not the real affliction any longer. Other extraneous images have forced their way across us; the mutability of all earthly things affects even our anguish and accordingly I can say: I grieve, that our sense of affliction has no abiding hold on us.
The Lord of Ringstetten experienced this too. Whether it was too his welfare, this tale shall shortly tell us. At first he could do nothing but weep bitterly as the poor kind Undine had wept when he tore the bright necklace out of the hand with which she had sought to restore the happiness and peace. And then he would stretch out his own hand, as she had done, and would weep anew, as she had. He nourished the secret hope that he might wholly waste away in tears. And have not similar thoughts pierced us all with their painful pleasure when we have been in deep distress? Bertalda wept with him and they lived very quietly side by side in Ringstetten Castle, honoring Undine’s memory and having almost forgotten their previous inclination for one another. And the sweet Undine now often passed into the dreams of Huldbrand. She caressed him gently and tenderly and then disappeared still weeping, so that oftentimes when he wakened he knew not why his cheeks were so wet; were they her tears, or his own?
As time went by these visionary dreams grew rarer, the sorrow of the knight less poignant and yet perhaps in his life he would not ever nourish another wish than to think of Undine and to talk about her, had it not been that the old fisherman unexpectedly made his appearance at the castle and demanded that Bertalda return with him as his daughter. He had heard of the vanishing of Undine and he would not consent any longer to allow Bertalda to stay at the castle of an unmarried nobleman. “For” he said “whether my daughter is fond of me or not I will not inquire, but her reputation is at stake, and when that is the case there is nothing more to be said.”
The sentiment of the old fisherman and the solitude which threatened to confront the knight when once Bertalda should have departed, brought to a crisis that inclination of Huldbrand’s to the beautiful person of Bertalda which had hitherto been slumbering and quite forgotten in the midst of his affection for Undine. But the fisherman had much to urged against the proposed marriage. The old man had been deeply attached to Undine, and he considered that nobody could be positively sure that the dear vanished one was really dead. Even if her corpse should lie stark and cold on the bed of the Danube, or had been carried out to the ocean by the river, still Bertalda was responsible for her death, and it was not seemly that she should occupy the place of the dear supplanted one.
But the fisherman was also very much attached to the knight; the prayers of his daughter, who had become much more gentle, as also her tears about Undine, had to be taken into consideration, and the end of it was that he had to give his consent. There was then no opposition, and a messenger was sent of in a haste to Father Heilmann, begging him to come to the castle to celebrate a second weeding. But the holy man had scarcely read through the letter from the Lord of Ringstetten than he sent out in much greater haste towards the castle than the messenger had which came to fetch him. When on the step path his breath failed him, or when his old limbs ached with weariness, we was wont to say to himself “Perhaps there is still evil to prevent! Sink not, thou withered body, till thy goal be reached.” And with renewed vigor, he would resume his labor without resting or halting, until late one evening he entered the lofty courtyard of the Castle.
The bridal pair sat arm in arm under the trees, the old fisherman at their side. Scarcely had they recognized Fate Heilmann, when they leaped up to welcome him. But he, without further speech, prayed the bridegroom to pass with him into the castle. As the knight paused and delayed the holy priest said “Why should I insist upon speaking to you in private, Herr von Ringstetten? What I have to say concerns Bertalda and the fisherman no less than it does you, and if one has to hear a certain thing it is best to hear it as soon as possible. Are you then, Knight Huldbrand, so absolute certain that your first wife is actually dead? I am scarcely of that opinion. I will not dwell on what may have been the extraordinary circumstances of her disappearance, for I know nothing certain about them. But she was a most faithful and loyal wife to you, there is no question about that. And for fourteen nights past, she has stood in dreams beside my bed, wringing her tender little hands in an agony and softly sighing, “Oh, prevent it, dear Father; I am still alive: Ah, save his body; Ah; save his soul; I knew not what this vision of the night desired. Then came your messenger, and I hurried hither, not to wed you but to separate those who must not be together. Leave her, Huldbrand! Leave him, Bertalda! He belongs to another. And is not grief for a vanished wife still painted on his pallid checks. No bridegroom looks like that, and the spirit says to me, either you must quite him, or you will never be blessed.”
In their heart of hearts the trio acknowledged the truth of what Father Heilmann said, but they refused to believe it. Even the old fisherman was now so befooled that he thought nothing else could come to pass than what in these last days they so often discussed. In a wild and melancholy precipitation they combated the warnings of the priest, until, with a sad air, shaking his head, he departed from he castle, without even consenting to put up there for a single night. Huldbrand, however, persuaded himself that the priest was a creature of caprice, and sent at break of day to the neighboring cloister for one of the fathers, who agreed, without making any objection, to celebrate the marriage in the course of a few days.
The Knight’s Dream:
It was between the darkness and the dawn of day that the knight lay half awake, half asleep, on his bed. When tried to fall wholly asleep again, it seemed to him as though a horror stood and thrust him back, because there were ghosts in the land of sleep. But if he thought completely to rouse himself there seemed to blow about him a noise of the wings of swans and caressing sounds of pleasure, which sent his brain wheeling back into its doubtful state. At last he must had fallen asleep for it seemed to him as if the rustling of swans seized him on soft pions and bore him away, singing all the while in a most delightful melody. More and more definitely he kept saying to himself “Perhaps this is death?” Suddenly it seemed to him that he was being borne over the Mediterranean Sea and while he looked down on the waters they became transparent crystal, so that he could see through them down to the bed of the sea. He was glad of that for he could see Undine, where she was sitting under the clear vault of crystal. She was weeping and looked much more sad than she did in happier hours, when he and she lived together in Ringstetten Castle, especially at first, and towards the last too, a little while before that luckless voyage down the Danube began. The knight could reflect on all this very thoroughly and deeply but it did not seem that Undine was aware of his presence. Meanwhile Kuhleborn had stepped up to her and proposed to reprove her for weeping. Then she drew herself together and gazed at him with a mien so majestic in entreaty that it almost frighten him. “If I do live here under the waters,” she said “I have yet brought my soul with me. Therefore I must weep, even if you cannot divine what such tears can be. And they are blessed as everything is blessed to one in whom a faithful soul resides.” He shook his head incredulously, and said after some reflection, “and yet, my niece, you are subjected to the laws of our elements, and his life must be forfeited to you if he should wed again and be to you unfaithful.”
“Until this hour he remains a widower,” said Undine, “and bears me in love upon his aching heart.” “Yet he is a bridegroom also” laughed Kuhleborn scornfully, “and in a day or two the priestly benedictions will be uttered, and then you must slay the husband of two wives.” “But I can not,” Undine smiled back. “I have sealed up the fountain, and closed it against my like and me.” “But if he quits his castle” said Kuhleborn “or if one of these days he should have the fountain opened? For you may be sure he takes little heed of all these things.” “For that very reason,” said Undine, and smiled once more through her tears, “he is now poised in spirit over the Middle Sea, and in a wandering dream listens to our speech. I have deliberately so arranged it.” Then Kuhleborn looked up spitefully at the knight, menaced him, stamped his foot, and as swiftly as an arrow darted under the waves.
The knight awoke upon his bed and his squire came and told him that Father Heilmannn was still lingering in the neighborhood; he had meet him in the forest the night before under the shelter of a hut which he had constructed of the stem of trees. When he asked him what he was doing there, since he could not give the benediction, he answered “there are other benedictions than that which is given at the marriage-altar, and, if I am not to come to the wedding, it may be I shall be needed for some other ceremony. We must be ready for all chances. Besides, there is no great difference between weddings and weeping, and he who does not willfully blind himself, has to recognized that.”
The knight fell into all manner of speculation with regard to these words and to his dream but no change was made in his plans.
How Huldbrand Celebrated His Wedding:
When I tell what happened at the wedding festival in Ringstetten Castle, you will have the same impression as you would if you saw a multitude of brilliant and joyful objects heaped together, but black crepe spread over them, out of the obscurity of which the whole splendor should appear less like something agreeable than like a conscious mockery of all earthly felicity. No special horror disturbed the festal gaiety, for the castle was fully protected from the tricks of the menacing tricks of the waters. But the knight and the fisherman and all the guests felt as though the leading personage at the feast was missing and as if this leading personage could be none other than kind Undine, the universally beloved. No door could open but all eyes turned in its direction, and when it proved to be nobody but the master of the ceremonies with a new bunch of keys, or the cup-bearer with a draught of still more excellent wine, everybody looked before him with a disappointed air. The bride was the most lighthearted person present, and the most contented, but even over there came from time to time a sense of wonder that it should be she who was sitting at the top of that table in a green garland and gold-embroider garments, while the corpse of Undine lay stark and cold on the bed of the Danube.
Night had scarcely fallen when the company broke up. Bertalda passed away with her ladies, the knight with his servants, to disrobe. Bertalda wished to change the current of her thoughts so she bade them spread out before her a magnificent ornament which Huldbrand had given her, as well as rich robes and veils that she might choose those which would most enhance her morning toilette. The maids took advantage of the occasion to chat gaily with their young mistress. At length Bertalda, glancing in a mirror, sighed; “Ah, but don’t you see these freckles coming on the side of my neck?” They looked and really did notice what their beautiful mistress had referred to, though they called it nothing but a beauty spot. Bertalda shook her head, and thought it would always be a blemish. “And I could get rid of it” she sighed, “but the castle fountain is closed, out of which they used to draw water for me that had so rare a power to cleanse. Oh; if I could only get a bottle of it.”
“Is that all,” laughed a nimble maid and slipped out of the room. “She is not going to be so rash,” said Bertalda, no lest pleased than astonished, “as to have the fountain slab rolled away this very evening?” But they presently heard me crossing the courtyard, and could see from the window that the maid was leading them straight to the fountain and that they were carrying levers and other tools on their shoulders. “I really do wish it” said Bertalda, “if it does not last too long.” And, secretly gratified that a hint from her could now carry so much weight, she looked down at the work as it proceeded in the moonlit courtyard of the castle. The men heaved with all their strength at the great slab sighing at the thought that the work of their dear late mistress was being undone. It seemed that a force within the fountain was helping them to lift the stone and they fancied that the water inside had turned into a gushing spring. Without much help the stone rolled with a dull thud upon the placement and there rose from the opening of the fountain a white pillar of water high into the air. They thought the fountain had turned into a spring, until they noticed that the soaring stream took the shape of a pale women veiled in white. It wept bitterly, it wrung its hands in anguish about its head, and slowly stepped toward the castle building. The bride stood pale and stark with terror at the window with her maidens. When the figure was close underneath her chamber, it gazed plaintively at her, and Bertalda fancied that beneath the veil she could perceive the pale lineaments of Undine. But the figure went by, slowly, as if to a place of execution. Bertalda screamed at them to call the knight, but not a menial stirred from her place, and the bride herself was dumb again, as though the sound of her own voice affrighted her.
While they were still standing in horror at the window, the dreadful visitant had reached the castle, mounted the well known steps, passed through the well known hall, weeping all the while. Ah; in what a different guise she came there for the first time.
The knight had dismissed his servants. Half undressed, he stood in painful mediation before a great mirror; the taper burned dimly at his side. Then there came a finger at the door, lightly tapping. “That’s is how Undine would have tapped, had she pleasantly whispered to call him to her. It is all nothing but fancy,” he said to himself, “I must enter my bridal bed.”
“Yes, you must, but a cold one.” He heard a weeping voice reply outside the room and in the mirror he saw the door open, slowly, and the white wandering figure enter and carefully shut the door behind it. “They have opened the fountain” she said softly “and now I am here, and you must die.”
He felt his heart stop beating and knew that it was inevitable, yet covered his eyes with his hands and said “Do not darken the hour of my death with terror. If you bear a horrid countenance behind that veil, then lift it not, and slay me without my having seen you.” “Ah, replied the wander, “will you not look once more upon me? I am as fair as when you found me first upon the borders of the lake.” “Oh, if it might be so” sighed Huldbrand, “and if I might only die upon a kiss of thine!” “And so you shall my darling,” she said. And she flung back her veil, and her sweet face smiled out of it in all its heavenly beauty. Quivering with love and the approach of death, the knight bowed to meet her, she kissed him with a heavenly kiss, but she released him not, she pressed him ever closer to her and wept as though she would weep away her soul. The tears flooded the eyes of the knight and in a sweet agony of woe they so whelmed his bosom that at length the bore his breath away, and he sank back a corpse out of those lovely arms on to the cushions of the bed of rest. “I have wept him to death” she said to a servant who met her in the antechamber, and though the midst of the terror stricken retainers she glided slowly out into the fountain.
How the Knight Huldbrand Was Buried:
Father Heilmannn arrived at the castle as soon as the death of the Lord of Ringstetten was reported in the neighborhood, and he made his appearance at the very moment when the monk who had married the luckless pair, overwhelmed with terror and horror, had fled from the gates.
“It is well.” Replied Father Heilmannn, when they told him of this fact; the office now falls on me, and I need no consort.” He thereupon began to bestow his consolations on the widow-bride, however little effect they might have had on her essentially worldly mind. The old fisherman took the fate which had befallen his daughter and son-in-law in much better part, grieved to the soul as he was, and while Bertalda persisted in denouncing Undine as a murderess, and a witch, the old man said with resignation “It could not have turned out otherwise. I see naught in it but God’s judgment, and certainly no one could suffer more anguish from the death of Huldbrand than she whose duty to was ordained to execute it, our poor Undine.” Thereupon he set about arranging the funeral ceremonies, in due accord with the rank of the deceased. He was to be buried in a village in whose churchyard stood the graves of all his ancestors. Shield and helmet lay already on the coffin, ready to lowered into the grave, for Lord Huldbrand of Ringstetten had been the last of his race; the mourners started on their melancholy way and Father Heillmann stepped in front with a lofty crucifix, and the inconsolable Bertalda followed, supported by her aged father. They were all suddenly aware in the midst of the raiment of the women in attendance on the window, a snow-white figure closely veiled, and wringing her hands in the extremity of lamentation. A secret horror seized those by whose side she walked, they drew backward or aside, by this movement, so that agitation and confusion began to disturb the whole funeral. Certain soldiers were so courageous as to accost the figure and endeavor to thrust her from the train but she melted under their hands, and was discovered still with slow and solemn steps sweeping onward with the funeral procession. At last the maid-servants having all slipped out of her path, she found herself close behind Bertalda. But with that gait became extremely slow, so that the widow was not aware of her presence, and very humbly and modestly the figure proceeded, no longer disturbed, to step on behind her.
This continued until the arrived at the churchyard, and the procession formed a circle around the open grave. Then Bertalda perceived the uninvited guest, and, half in anger, half in terror, she started back, and desired her to quit the king’s place of rest. The veiled figure, however, gently shook her head, refusing, and raised her hands toward Bertalda as though in humble entreaty; this deeply moved the widow, and she could not but think how Undine had so kindly desired to present to her the coral necklace on the Danube. But now Father Heilmannn gave a glance and commanded silence, that all might join in a silent prayer above the corpse, over which a hillock began to rise. Bertalda was silent, sank to her knee, and then the others knelt, even the gravediggers, whose labor with the shovel was now done. But when they rose to their feet again, the white stranger had vanished; at the spot where she had knelt there gushed out of the sod a little spring, as bright as silver, that rippled away until it had almost wholly encircled the hillock of the knight’s grave; then it ran on and flowed into a pool that lay beside the churchyard. In after ages, the dwellers in the village used to point to this spring and were confident in the belief that this poor Undine in her banishment, who had contrived in this way to fold her kind arms forever about the man she loved.
Additional translation available online through Project Gutenberg.