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Bwelled into a watery fountain, he would have swallowed
them up the next moment.


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122 Stories Every Child Should Know

But now the sweet voice of Undine was heard above the
wild uproar; the moon shone out between the clouds, and
at the same instant Undine came into sight, upon the high
grounds above them. She addressed Kiihlebom in a com-
manding tone, the huge wave laid itself down, muttering
and miumuring; the waters rippled gently away in the
moon's soft light, and Undine alighted like a white dove
from her airy height, and led them to a soft green spot
on the hillside, where she refreshed their jaded spirits with
choice food. She then helped Bertalda to mount her own
white palfrey, and at length they all three reached the
Castle of Ringstetten in safety.


For some time after this adventure they led a quiet and
peaceful life in the castle. The Knight was deeply touched
by his wife's angelic goodness, so signally displayed by her
pursuing and saving them in the Black Valley, where their
lives were threatened by Kiihlebom. Undine herself was
happy in the peace of an approving conscience; besides
that, many a gleam of hope now brightened her path, as
her husband's love and confidence seemed to revive; Ber-
talda meanwhile was grateful, modest, and timid, without
claiming any merit for being so. If either of her compan-
ions alluded to the sealing up of the fountain, or the adven-
tures in the Black Valley, she would implore them to spare
her on those subjects, because she could not think of the
fountain without a blush, nor the valley without a shudder.
She was therefore told nothing further; indeed, what would
have been the use of enlightening her? Nothing could add
to the peace and happiness which had taken up their abode
in the Castle of Ringstetten; they enjoyed the present in

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Undine xaj

full security, and the future lay before them, all blooming
with fair fruits and flowers.

The winter had gone by without any interruption to their
social comfort; and spring, with her young green shoots
and bright blue skies, began to smile upon men; their
hearts felt light, like the young season, and from its returning
birds of passage, they caught a fancy to travel. One day
as they were walking together near the sources of the
Danube, Huldbrand fell into talk about the glories of that
noble river, how proudly he flowed on, through fruitful
lands, to the spot where the majestic city of Vienna crowned
his banks, and how every mile of his course was marked
by fresh grandeur and beauty. " How delightful it would be
to follow his course down to Vienna!" cried Bertalda;
but instantly relapsing into her timid, chastened manner,
she blushed and was silent. This touched Undine, and
in her eagerness to give her friend pleasure, she said: ** And
why should we not take the trip?" Bertalda jumped for
joy, and their fancy began to paint this pleasant recreation
in the brighest colours. Huldbrand encouraged them
cheerfully, but whispered once to Undine: "But, should
not we get within Kiihlebom's power again, down there?" —
"Let him come," said she, laughing; " I shall be with you,
and in my presence he durst not attempt any mischief."

So the only possible objection seemed removed and they
prepared for departure, and were soon sailing along, full
of spirit and of gay hopes. But, O Man! it is not for thee
to wonder when the coiu-se of events differs widely from the
paintings of thy fancy. The treacherous foe, that lures
us to our ruin, lulls his victim to rest with sweet music and
golden dreams. ^ Our guardian angel, on the contrary,
will often rouse us by a sharp and awakening blow.

The first days they spent on the Danube were days of


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124 Stories Every Child Should Know

extraordinary enjoyment. The further they floated down
the proud stream the nobler and fairer grew the prospect
But, just as they had reached a most lovely district, the first
sight of which had promised them great delight, the unruly
Kiihlebom began openly to give signs of his presence and
power. At first they were only sportive tricks, because,
whenever he ruffled the stream and raised the wind. Undine
repressed him by a word or two, and made him again sub-
side at once; but his attempts soon began again, and again,
Undine was obliged to warn him off; so that the pleasure
of the little party was grievously disturbed. To make
things worse, the watermen would mutter many a dark
siurmise into each other's ears, and cast strange looks at the
three gentlefolks, whose very servants began to feel sus-
picion, and to show distrust of their lord. Huldbrand
said to himself more than once, "This comes of uniting
with other than one's like: a son of earth may not marry
a wondrous maid of ocean." To justify himself (as we all
love to do) he would add, "But I did not know she was
a maid of ocean. If I am to be pursued and fettered
wherever I go by the mad freaks of her relations, mine
is the misfortune, not the fault." Such reflections some-
what checked his self-reproaches; but they made him the
more disposed to accuse, nay, even to hate Undine. Already
he began to scowl upon her, and the poor wife understood
but too well his meaning. Exhausted by this, and by her
constant exertions against Kiihlebom, she sank back one
evening in the boat, and was lulled by its gentle motion
into a deep sleep.

But no sooner were her eyes closed, than everyone in the
boat thought he saw, just opposite his own eyes, a terrific
human head rising above the water; not like the head of a
swimmer, but planted upright on the surface of the river,

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Undine 12$

and keepmg pace with the boat. Each turned to his
neighbour to show him the cause of his terror, and found him
looking equally frightened, but pointing in a different
direction,^ where the half-laughing, half-scowling goblin met
his ^es. When at length they tried to explain the mat-
ter to each other, crying out, "Look there; no, there!"
each of them suddenly perceived the other's phantom,
and the water round the boat appeared all alive with
ghastly monsters. The cry which burst from every mouth
awakened Undine. Before the light of her beaming eyes
the horde of misshapen faces vanished. But Huldbrand
was quite exasperated by these fiendish tricks and would
have burst into loud imprecations, had not Undine whis-
pered in the most beseeching manner, " For God's sake,
my own lord, be patient now; remember we are on the
water." The Knight kept down his anger, and soon
sank into thought. Presently Undine whispered to him:
"My love, had not we better give up the foolish journey,
and go home to Ringstetten in comfort?" But Huld-
brand muttered angrily, "Then I am to be kept a
prisoner in my own castle? and even there I may not
breathe freely unless the fountain is sealed up? Would
to Heaven the absurd connection" — ^But Undine pressed
her soft hand gently upon his lips. And he held his peace,
and mused upon all she had previously told him.

In the meantime, Bertalda had 3delded herself up to
many and strange refleaions. She knew something of
Undine's origin, but not all! and Kiihlebom in particular
was only a fearful but vague image in her mind; she had
not even once heard his name. And as she pondered these
wonderful subjects, she half unconscioudy took off a golden
necklace which Huldbrand had bought for her of a travel-
ling jeweller a few days before; she held it dose to the


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ia6 Stariii Eviry Child Should Kfuw

surface of the river playing with it, and dreamily watching
the golden gleam that it shed on the glassy water. Suddenly
a large hand came up out of the Danube, snatched the neck-
lace, and ducked under with it. Bertalda screamed aloud,
and was answered by a laugh of scorn from the depths
below. And now the Knight could contain himself no
longer. Starting up, he gave loose to his fury, loading
with imprecations those who chose to break into his family
and private life, and challenging them — were they goblins
or sirens— to meet his good sword. Bertalda continued to
weep over the loss of her beloved jewel, and her tears were
as oil to the flames of his wrath, while Undine kept her
hand dipped into the water with a ceaseless low murmur,
only once or twice interrupting her mysterious whispers
to say to her husband in tones of entreaty, " Dearest love,
speak not roughly to me here; say whatever you will, only
spare me here; you know why!" and he still restrained his
tongue (which stammered with passion) from saying a
word directly against her. She soon drew her hand from
under the water, bringing up a beautiful coral necklace
whose glitter dazzled them all. "Take it," said she,
offering it kindly to Bertalda ; " I have sent for this, instead
of the one you lost ; do not grieve any more, my poor child."
But Huldbrand darted forward, snatched the shining gift
from Undine's hand, hurled it again into the water, and
roared furiously, " So you still have intercourse with them ?
In the name of sorcery, go back to them with all your
baubles, and leave us men in peace, witch as you are!"
With eyes aghast, yet streaming with tears, poor Undine
gazed at him, still holding out the hand which had so
lovingly presented to Bertalda the bright jewel. Then
she wept more and more, like a sorely injured, innocent
child. And at length she said faintly. " Farewell, my dearest?

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Undine 127

farewell! They shall not lay a finger on thee; only be
true to me, that I may still guard thee from them. But
I, alas! I must be gone; all this bright morning of life is
over. Woe, woe is me! what hast thou done? woe, woe!"
And she slipped out of the boat and passed away. Whether
she went down into the river, or flowed away with it, none
could tell; it was like both and yet like neither. She soon
mingled with the waters of the Danube, and nothing was
to be heard but the sobbing whispers of the stream as it
washed against the boat, seeming to say distinctly, "Woe,
woe! Oh be true to me! woe, woe!"

Huldbrand lay flat in the boat, drowned in tears, till a
deep swoon (^me to the imhappy man's relief, and steeped
him in oblivion.


Shall we say, Alas, or thank God, that oiu: grief is so often
transient ? I speak of such grief as has its soiurce in the well-
springs of life itself, and seems so identified with oiu: lost
friend, as almost to fill up the void he has left; and his
hallowed image seems fixed within the sanctuary of our
soul, until the signal of oiu: release comes, and sets us free
to I'oin him! In truth, a good man will not suffer this
sanctuary to be disturbed; yet even with him, it is not the
first, the all-engrossing sorrow which abides. New objects
will intermingle, and we are compelled to draw from oiur
grief itself a fresh proof of the perishableness of eaithly
things: alas, then, that our grief is transient!

So it was with the Lord of Ringstetten; whether for his
weal or woe, the sequel of this story will show us. At first,
he could do nothing but weep abimdantly, as his poor kind
Undine had wq)t when he snatched from her the beautiful
gift, which she thought would have comforted and pleased


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128 Stories Every Child Should Know

them so much. He would then stretch out his hand as she
had done, and burst into tears afresh, like her. He secretly
hoped that he might end by altogether ditsolving in tears:
and are there not many whose minds hare been visited by
the same painfully pleasing thought, at soMe season of great
sorrow? Bertalda wept with him, and they lived quietly
together at Ringstetten a long while, cherishing the memory
of Undine, and seeming to have forgotten their own previous
attachment. Moreover, the gentle Undine often appeared
to Huldbrand in his dreams; she would caress him meekly
and fondly, and depart again with tearful resignation, so
that when he awoke, he doubted whose tears they were that
bedewed his face — ^were they hers, or only his own?

But as time went on these visions became less frequent,
and the Knight's grief milder ; still he might perhaps have
spent the rest of his days contentedly, devoting himself to
the memory of Undine, and keeping it alive by talking of
her, had not the old Fisherman unexpectedly made his
appearance, and laid his serious commands upon Bertalda,
his daughter, to return home with him. The news of
Undine's disappearance had reached him, and he would
no longer suffer Bertalda to remain in the castle alone with
its lord. " I do not ask whether my daughter cares for me
or not," said he; "her character is at stake, and where that
is the case, nothing else is worth considering."

This summons from the old man, and the prospect of
utter loneliness amid the halls and long galleries of the
castle after Bertalda's departure, revived in Huldbrand's
heart the feeling that had lain dormant, and as it were
buried under his mourning for Undine, namely, his love
for the fair Bertalda. The Fisherman had many objections
to their marriage; Undine had been very dear to the old man
and he thought it hardly certain yet that his lost darling


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Undine 129

was really dead. But, if her corpse were indeed lying
stiff and cold in the bed of the Danube, or floating down
its stream to the distant ocean, then Bertalda ought to re-
proach herself for her death, and it ill became her to take
the place of her poor victim. However, the Fisherman
was very fond of Huldbrand also, the entreaties of his
daughter, who was now grown much more gentle and sub-
missive, had their effect, and it seems that he did yield his
consent at last; for he remained peaceably at the castle,
and an express was sent for Father Heilmann, who in earh'er,
happier days had blessed Undine's and Huldbrand's union,
that he might officiate at the Knight's second marriage.

No sooner had the holy man read the Lord of Ringstetten's
letter than he set forth on his way thither, with far greater
speed than the messenger had used to reach him. If his
straining haste took away his breath, or he felt his aged limbs
ache with fatigue, he would say to himself: "I may be in
time to prevent a wicked deed; sink not till thou hast reached
the goal, my withered frame!" And so he exerted himself
afresh, and pushed on, without flagging or halting, till
late one evening he entered the shady court of Ringstetten.

The lovers were sitting hand in hand under a tree, with
the thoughtful old man near them; as soon as they saw
Father Heilmann, they rose eagerly and advanced to meet
him. But he, scarcely noticing their civilities, begged the
Knight to come with him into the castle. As he stared at
this request, and hesitated to comply, the pious old Priest
said, "Why, indeed, should I speak to you alone, my Lord
of Ringstetten? What I have to say equally concerns the
Fisherman and Bertalda; and as they must sooner or later
know it, it had better be said now. How can you be cer-
tain, Lord Huldbrand, that your own wife is indeed dead?
For myself I can hardly think so. I irill not venture t^


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I30 Stories Every Child Should Know

speak of things relating to her wondrous nature; in truth
I have no clear knowledge about it. But a godly and faith-
ful wife she proved herself, beyond all about. And these
fourteen nights has she come to my bedside in dreams,
wringing her poor hands in anguish, and sighing out, ' Oh
stop him, dear father! I am yet alive! Oh save his life!
Oh save his soul!* I understood not the meaning of the
vision till your messenger came; and I ha/e now hastened
hither, not to join but to part those hands, which may not
be imited in holy wedlock. Part from her, Huldbrand!
Part from him, Bertalda! He belongs to another; see you
not how his cheek turns pale at the thought of his departed
wife? Those are not the looks of a bridegroom, and the
spirit tells me this. If thou leavest him not now, there is
joy for thee no more.'' They all three felt at the bottom
of their hearts that Father Heilmann's words were true but
they would not )deld to them. Even the old Fisherman
was so blinded as to think that what had been settled
between them for so many days, could not now be relin-
quished. So they resisted the Priest's warnings, and urged
the fulfilment of their wishes with headlong, gloomy deter-
mination, till Father Heilmann departed with a melancholy
shake of the head, without accepting even for one night their
proffered hospitalities, or tasting any of the refreshments
they set before him. But Huldbrand persuaded himself
that the old Priest was a weak dotara; and early next
morning he sent to a monk from the nearest cloister, who
readily promised to come and marry them in a few days.

xvn. — ^THE knight's dream

The morning twilight was beginning to dawn, and the
Knight lay half-awake on his couch. Whenever he dropped
asleep he was scared by mysterious terrors, and started up

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Undine X3C

as if sleep were peopled by phantoms. K he woke up in
earnest, he felt himself fanned all around by what seemed
like swans' wings, and soothed by watery airs, which lulled
him back again into the half-unconscious, twilight state.
At length he did fall adeep and fancied himself lifted by
swans on their soft wings, and carried far away over lands
and seas, all to the soimd of their sweetest melody. " Swans
singing! swans singing!" thought he continually ; " is not
that the strain of Death?" Presently he found himself
hovering above a vast sea. A swan warbled in his ear that
it was the Mediterranean; and as he looked down into the
deep it became like clear crystal, transparent to the bottom.
This rejoiced him much, for he could see Undine sitting
in a brilliant hall of crystal.

She was shedding tears, indeed, and looked sadly changed
since the happy times which they had spent together at
Ringstetten; happiest at first, but happy also a short time
since, just before the fatal sail on the Danube. The con-
tost struck Huldbrand deeply; but Undine did not seem
to be aware of his presence. Klihlebom soon came up to
her, and began rating her for weeping. She composed
herself, and looked at him with a firmness and dignity,
before which he almost quailed. "Though I am con-
demned to live under these deep waters," said she, " I have
brought my soul with me; therefore my tears cannot be
understood by thee. But to me they are blessings, like
everything that belongs to a loving soul." He shook his
head incredulously, and said, after a pause: "Neverthe-
less, niece, you are still subject to the laws of our element;
and you know you must execute sentence of death upon
him as soon as he marries again, and breaks faith with you."
— ^**To this hour he is a widower," said Undine, "and loves
and mourns me truly."— '^ Ah, but he will be brid^room

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132 stories Every Child Should Know

soon," said Kiihlebom with a sneer; '* wait a couple of days
only, and the marriage blessing will have been given, and
you must go up and put the criminal to death." — " I can-
not I" answered the smiling Undine. "I have had the
fountain sealed up, against myself and my whole race.**
*'But suppose he leaves his castle," said Kiihlebom, "or
forgets himself so far as to let them set the fountain 'free,*
for he thinks mighty little of those matters." — "And that
is why," said Undine, still smiling through her tears, " that
is why his spirit hovers at this moment over the Mediter-
ranean, and listens to oiu: conversation as in a dream. I
have contrived it on purpose, that he may take warning."
On hearing this Kiihlebom looked up angrily at the Knight,
scowled at him, stamped, and then shot upward through
the waves like an arrow. His fury seemed to make him
expand into a whale. Again the swans began to
warble, to wave their wings, and to fly; the Elnight felt
himself home high over alps and rivers, till he was de-
posited in the Castle of Ringstetten, and awoke in
his bed.

He did awake in his bed, just as one of his squires entered
the room, and told him that Father Heilmann was still
lingering near the castle; for he had foimd him the evening
before in the forest, living in a shed he had made for him-
self with branches and moss. On being asked what he
was staying for since he had refused to bless the
betrothed couple ? He answered, " It is not the wedded
only who stand in need of prayer, and though I came
not for the bridal, there may yet be work for me of
another kind. We must be prepared for ever3rthing. Some-
times marriage and mourning are not so far apart; and
he who does not wilfully close his eyes may perceive it."
'yhe Knight built all manner of strange conjectures upon

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U fid lite 133

these words, and upon his dream. But if once a man has
formed a settled purpose, ft is hard indeed to shake it.
The end of this was, that their plans remained un-


Were I to tell you how the wedding-day at Ringstetten
passed, you might imagine yourself contemplating a glitter-
ing heap of gay objects, with a black crape thrown over
them, through which the splendid pageant, instead of
delighting the eye, would look like a mockery of all earthly
joys. Not that the festive meeting was disturbed by any
spectral apparitions: we have seen that the castle was safe
from any intrusion of the malicious water-sprites. But
the Knight, the Fisherman, and all the guests were haunted
by a feeling that the chief person, the soul of the feast,
was missing; and who was she but the gentle, beloved
Undine? As often as they heard a door open, every
eye turned involuntarily toward it, and when nothing
ensued but the entrance of the steward with some more
dishes, or of the cupbearer with a fresh supply of rich
wine, the guests would look sad and blank, and the
sparks of gayety kindled by the light jest or the cheer-
ful discourse, were quenched in the damp of melancholy
recollections. The bride was the most thoughtless,
and consequently the most cheerful person present; but
even she, at moments, felt it unnatural to be sitting at
the head of the table, decked out in her wreath of green
and her embroidery of gold, while Undine's corpse was
lying cold and stiff in the bed of the Danube, or floating
down its stream to the ocean. For, ever since her father
had used these words^ they had been ringing in her

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134 Stories Every Child Should Know

earsy and to-day especially they pursued her without

The party broke up before night had closed in; not, as
usual, dispersed by the eager impatience of the bridegroom
to be alone with his bride; but dropping off listlessly, as a
general gloom spread over the assembly; Bertalda was
followed to her dressing-room by her women only, and the
Knight by his pages. At this gloomy feast, there was no
question of the gay and sportive train of bridesmaids and
young men, who usually attend the wedded pair.

Bertalda tried to call up brighter thoughts; she bade her
women display before her a splendid set of jewels, the gift
of Huldbrand, together with her richest robes and veils,
that she might select the gayest and handsomest dress for
the morrow. Her maids seized the opportunity of wishing
their young mistress all manner of joy, nor did they fail
to extol the beauty of the bride to the skies. Bertalda,
however, glanced at herself in the glass, and sighed: "Ah,
but look at the freckles just here, on my throat!" They
looked and found it was indeed so, but called them beauty
spots that would only enhance the fairness of her deUcate
skin. Bertalda shook her head, and replied, "Still it is a
blemish, and I once might have cured it!" said she with a
deep sigh. "But the fountain in the court is stopped up —
that fountain which used to supply me with precious, beau-
tifying water. If I could but get one jugful to-day!" — ^"Is
that all?" cried an obsequious attendant, and slipped out
of the room. "Why, she will not be so mad," asked Ber-
talda in a tone of complacent surprise, "as to make them
raise the stone this very night?" And now she heard
men's footsteps crossing the court; and on looking down
from her window, she saw the officious handmaid conduct-
ing them straight to the fountain; they carried levers and

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Undine 135

other tools upon their shoulders. ''Well, it is my will to
be sure," said Bertalda, smiling, "provided they are not

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Online LibraryHamilton Wright MabieFamous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... → online text (page 10 of 22)