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husband, was gone to bed. The old man blew the coals,
laid on dry wood, and by the light of the reviving flames


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64 Stories Every Child Should Know

he found a flagon of wine, which he put between himself
and his guest. "You are uneasy about that sifly wench,
Sir Knight," said he, "and we had better kill part of the
night chatting and drinking, than toss about in our beds,
trying to sleep in vain. Had not we ? "

Huldbrand agreed; the Fisherman made him sit in his
wife's empty arm-chair, and they both drank and talked
together, as a couple of worthy friends should do. When-
ever, indeed, there was the least stir outside the window,
or even sometimes without any, one of them would look
up and say, "There she comes." Then they would
keep silence for a few moments, and as nothing came,
resume their conversation, with a shake of the head and a

But as neither could think of much beside Undine, the
best means they could devise for beguiling the time was,
that the Fisherman should relate, and the Knight listen to,
the history of her first coming to the cottage. He began
as follows:

"One day, some fifteen years ago, I was carrying my
fish through that dreary wood to the town. My wife
stayed at home, as usual; and at that time she had a good
and pretty reason for it— the Lord had bestowed upon us
(old as we already were) a lovely babe. It was a girl; and
so anxious were we to do our best for the little treasure,
that we began to talk of leaving oiu: beautiful home, in order
to give our darling a good education among other hiunan
beings. With us poor folks, wishing is one thing, and
doing is quite another. Sir Knight; but what then? we can
only try oiu: best. Well then, as I plodded on, I turned
over the scheme in my head. I was loath to leave our own
dear nook, and it made me shudder to think, in the din
and brawls of the town, So it is here we shall soon live, or


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bk some place nearly as bad! Yet I never murmured against
our good God, but rather thanked Him in secret for His
last blessing; nor can I say that I met with anything ertraor-
dinary in the forest, either coming or going; indeed nothing
to frighten me has ever crossed my path. The Lord was
ever with me in the awful shades."

Here he uncovered his bald head, and sat for a time in
silent prayer; then putting his cap on again, he continued;
" On this side of the wood it was — on this side, that the sad
news met me. My wife came toward me with eyes stream-
ing like two fountains; she was in deep moiuning. *Oh,
good Heaven!' I called out, 'where is our dear child?
TeU me?'

" 'Gone, dear husband,' she replied; and we went into
our cottage together, weeping silently. I looked for the
little corpse, and then first heard how it had happened.
My wife had been sitting on the shore with the child, and
playing with it, all peace and happiness; when the babe
all at once leaned over, as if she saw something most beauti-
ful in the water; there she sat smiling, sweet angel! and
stretching out her little hands; but the next moment
she darted suddenly out of her arms, and down into the
smooth waters. I made much search for the poor little
corpse; but in vain; not a trace of her could I find.

"When evening was come, we childless parents were
sitting together in the hut, silent; neither of us had a mind
to speak, even if the tears had let us. We were looking
idly into the fire. Just then something made a noise at
the door. It opened, and a beautiful little maid, of three
or four years' old stood there gaily dressed, and smiling in
our faces. We were struck dimib with surprise, and at
first hardly knew if she were a little human being, or only
an empty shadow. But I soon saw that her golden hair


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66 Stories Every Child Should Know

and gay clothes were dripping wet, and it struck me the
little fairy must have been in the water and distressed for
help. 'Wife/ said I, 'our dear child had no friend to save
her; shall we not do for others what would have made our
remaining days so happy, if anyone had done it for us?'
We undressed the child, put her to bed, and gave her a
warm drink, while she never said a word, but kept smiling
at us with her sky-blue eyes.

''The next morning we found she had done herself no
harm; and I asked her who were her parents, and what
had brought here here; but she gave me a strange, confused
answer. I am sure she must have been bom far away,
for these fifteen years have we kept her, without ever finding
out where she came from; and besides, she is apt to let drop
such marvellous things in her talk, that you might think
she had lived in the moon. She will speak of golden
castles, of crystal roofs, and I can't tell what beside. The
only thing she has told us clearly, is, that as she was sailing
on the lake with her mother, she fell into the water, and
when she recovered her senses foimd herself lying under
these trees, in safety and comfort, upon our pretty shore.

"So now we had a serious, anxious charge thrown upon
upon us. To keep and bring up the foundling, instead of
our poor drowned child — ^that was soon resolved upon
but who should tell us if she had yet been baptised or no?
She knew how not how to answer the question. That she
was one of God's creatures, made for His glory and service,
that much she knew; and an3rthing that would glorify and
please Him, she was willing to have done. So my wife
and I said to each other: 'K she has never been baptised,
there is no doubt it should be done; and if she was, better
do too much than too little, in a matter of such consequence.'
We therefore began to seek a good name for the childt

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Undine 67

Dorothea seemed to us the best; for I had once heard that
meant God's gift; and she had indeed been sent us by
Him as a special blessing, to comfort us in our misery. But
she would not hear of that name. She said Undine was
what her parents used to call her, and Undine she would
still be. That, I thought, sounded like a heathen name,
and occurred in no Calendar; and I took counsel with a
priest in the town about it. He also objected to the name
Undine; and at my earnest request, came home with me,
through the dark forest, in order to baptise her. The
little creature stood before us, looking so gay and charming
in her holiday clothes, that the priest's heart warmed toward
her; and what with coaxing and wilfulness, she got the
better of him, so that he clean forgot all the objections he
had thought of to the name Undine. She was therefore so
christened and behaved particularly well and decently
during the sacred rite, wild and \mruly as she had always
been before. For, what my wife said just now was too
true — ^we have indeed foimd her the wildest littlq fairy!

If I were to tell you all "

Here the Knight interrupted the Fisherman, to call his
attention to a sound of roaring waters, which he had noticed
already in the pauses of the old man's speech, and which
now rose in fury as it rushed past the windows. They
both ran to the door. By the light of the newly risen moon,
they saw the brook which gushed out of the forest breaking
wildly over its banks, and whirling along stones and branches
in its eddying course. A storm, as if awakened by the
uproar, burst from the heavy clouds that were chasing
each other across the moon; the lake howled under the wings
erf the wind; the trees on the shore groaned from top to
bottom, and bowed themselves over the rushing waters.
** Undine 1 for God's sake, Undine!" cried the Knight, and


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68 Stories Every Child Should Knew

the old man. No answer was to be heard; and, heedless
now of any danger to themselves, they ran off in different
directions, calling her in frantic anxiety.


The longer -Huldbrand wandered in vain pursuit of
Undine, the more bewildered he became. The idea that
she might be a mere spirit of the woods, sometimes returned
upon him with double force; nay, amid the howling
waves and storm, the groaning of trees, and the wild com-
motion of the once-peaceful spot, he might have fancied the
whole promontory, its hut and its inhabitants, to be a de-
lusion of magic, but that he still heard in the distance
the Fisherman's piteous cries of "Undine!" and the old
housewife's loud prayers and hymns, above the whistling
of the blast.

At last he found himself on the margin of the overflowing
stream, and saw it by the moonlight rushing violently along,
close to the edge of the mysterious forest so as to make an
island of the peninsula on which he stood. "Gracious
Heaven!" thought he, "Undine may have ventured a step
or two into that awful forest — ^perhaps in her pretty way-
wardness, just because I would not tell her my story — and
the swollen stream has cut her off, and left her weeping
alone among the spectres!" A cry of terror escaped him,
and he clambered down the bank by means of some stones
and fallen trees, hoping to wade or swim across the flood,
and seek the fugitive beyond it. Fearful and unearthly
visions did indeed float before him, like those he had met
with in the morning, beneath these groaning, tossing
branches. Especially he was haunted by the appearance
of a tall white man, whom he remembered but too well,
grinning and nodding at him from the opposite bank;

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Undine 69

however, the thought of these grim monsters did but urge
him onwaxd as he recollected Undine, now perhaps in
deadly fear among them, and alone.

He had laid hold of a stout pine branch, and leaning on
it, was standing in the eddy, though scarcely able to stem
it, but he stepped boldly forward — ^when a sweet voice
exclaimed close behind him: "Trust him not — trust not!
The old fellow is tricksy — the stream!"

Well he knew those silver tones: the moon was just
disappearing behind a cloud, and he stood amid the deepen-
ing shades, made dizzy as the water shot by him with the
speed of an arrow. Yet he would not desist. "And if
thou art not truly there, if thou flittest before me an empty
shadow, I care not to live; I will melt into air like thee,
my beloved Undine!" This he cried aloud, and strode
further into the flood.

"Look round then — ^look round, fair youth!" he heard
just behind him, and looking round, he beheld by the
returning moonbeams, on a fair island left by the flood,
under some thickly interlaced branches, Undine all smiles
and loveliness, nestling in the flowery grass. How much
more joyfully than before did the young man use his pine
staff to cross the waters! A few strides brought him through
the flood that had parted them; and he found himself at
her side, on the nook of soft grass, securely sheltered under
the shade of the old trees. Undine half arose, and twined
her arms round his neck in the green arboiu:, making him
at down by her on the turf. "Here you shall tell me all,
my own friend," said she in a low whisper; "the cross old
folks cannot overhear us. And our pretty bower of leaves
is well worth their wretched hut."

"This is heaven!" cried Huldbrand, as he clasped in his
arms the beautiful flatterer.


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70 Stories Every Child Should Know

Meantime the old man had reached the banks of the
stream, and he called out: ''So, Sir Knight, when I had
made you welcome, as one honest man should another,
here are you making love to my adopted child — ^to say
nothing of your leaving me to seek her, alone and terrified,
aU night."

''I have but this moment found her, old man!" cried
the Knight in reply.

''Well, I am glad of that," said the Fisherman; "now
then bring her back to me at once."

But Undine would not hear of it. She had rather she
said, go quite away into the wild woods with the handsome
stranger, than return to the hut, where she had never had
her own way, and which the Knight must sooner or later
leave. Embracing Huldbrand, ^e sang with pecuh'ar
charm and grace:

"From misty cave the mountain wave
Leapt out and sought the maini
The Ocean's foam she made her home,
And ne'er returned again."

The old man wept bitterly as she sang, but this did not seem
to move her. She continued to caress her lover, till at
length he said: "Undine, the poor old man's grief goes to
my heart if not to yours. Let us go back to him."

Astonished, she raised her large blue eyes toward him,
and after a pause answered slowly and reluctantly: "To
please you, I will: whatever you like pleases me too. But
the old man yonder must first promise me that he will let
you tell me all you saw in the forest, and the rest we shall
see about."

"Only come back — do come!" cried the Fisherman, and
not another word could he say. At the same moment he
stretched his arms over the stream toward her, and nodded

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Undine 71

bis head by way of giving her the desired promise; and as
his white hair fell over his face, it gave him a strange look,
and reminded Huldbrand involimtarily of the nodding
white man in the woods. Determined, however, that
nothing should stop him, the young Knight took the fair
damsel in his arms, and carried her through the short space
of foaming flood, which divided the island from the main-
land. The old man fell upon Undine's neck, and rejoiced,
and kissed her in the fulness of his heart; his aged wife
also came up, and welcomed their recovered child Vnost
warmly. All reproaches were forgotten; the more so, as
Undine seemed to have left her sauciness behind, and over-
whelmed her foster parents with kind words and caresses.

When these transports of joy had subsided, and they
began to look about them, the rosy dawn was just shedding
its glow over the lake, the storm had ceased, and the birds
were singing merrily on the wet branches. As Undine
insisted upon hearing the story of the Knight's adventure,
both the old folks cheerfully indulged her. Breakfast was
set out under the trees between the cottage and the lake,
and they sat down before it with glad hearts, Undine placing
herself resolutely on the grass at the Kni'^ht's feet. Huld-
brand began his narrative as follows.


"About eight days ago, I rode into the imperial city beyond
this forest. A grand tournament and tilting was held there,
and I spared neither lance nor steed. As I stood still a
moment to rest myself, in a pause of the noble game, and
had just given my helmet in charge to a squire, my eye fell
upon a most beautiful woman, who stood, richly adorned,
m one of the i^alleries, looking on. I inquired her name^


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72 Stories Every Child Should Know

and found that this charming lady was Bertalda, the adopted
daughter of one of the principal lords in the neighbourhood.
I observed that her eye was upon me too, and as is the way
with us yoimg knights, I had not been slack before, but I
now fought more bravely still. That evening I was Bertal-
da's partner in the dance, and so I was again every evening
during the jousting."

Here a sudden pain in his left hand, which himg beside
him, checked the Knight in his tale, and he looked at his
hand. Undine's pearly teeth had bitten one of his fingers
sharply, and she looked very black at him. But the next
moment that look changed into an expression of tender
sadness, and she whispered low: "So you are faithless too!"
Then she hid her face in her hands, and the Knight pro-
ceeded with his tale, although staggered and perplexed.

"That Bertalda is a high-spirited, extraordinary maid.
On the second day she charmed me far less than the first,
and on the third, less still. But I remained with her,
because she was more gracious to me than to any other
knight, and so it fell out that I asked her in jest for one of
her gloves. 'You shall have it,' said she, *if you will visit
the haunted forest alone, and bring me an account of it.'
It was not that I cared much for her glove, but the words
had been spoken, and a knight that loves his fame does not
wait to be twice urged to such a feat."

"I thought she had loved you," interrupted Undine.

"It looked like it," he replied.

"Well," cried the maiden, laughing, "ishe must be a
fool indeed 1 To drive him away whom she loves! and into
a haimted forest besides! The forest and its mysteries
might have waited long enough, for me."

"I set out yesterday morning," continued the Knight,
smiling kindly at Undine. "The stems of the trees looked

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Undine 73

so bright in the morning sunshine, as it played upon the
green turf, and the leaves whispered together so pleasantly,
that I could not but laugh at those who imagined any evil
to lurk in such a beautiful place. I shall very soon have
ridden through it and back again, thought I, pushing on
cheerily, and before I was aware of it, I foimd myself in the
depths of its leafy shades, and the plains behind me far out
of sight. It then occurred to me that I was likely enough
to lose my way in this wilderness of trees, and that this
might be the only real danger to which the traveller was
here exposed. So I halted, and took notice of the course
of the sun; it was now high in the heavens.

" On looking up, I saw something black among the boughs
of a tall oak. I took it for a bear, and seized my rifle; but
it addressed me in a human voice, most hoarse and grating,
saying: *If I did not break off the twigs up here, what should
we do to-night for fuel to roast you with. Sir Simpleton ?'
And he gnashed his teeth, and rattled the boughs, so as to
startle my horse, which ran away with me before I could
make out what kind of a devil il was."

"You should not mention his name," said the Fisherman,
crossing himself; his wife silently did the same, while Undine
turned her beaming eyes upon her lover, and said —

"He is safe now; it is well they did not really roast him.
Go on, pretty youth."

He continued: "My terrified horse had almost dashed
me against many a trunk and branch; he was running
down with fright and heat, and yet there was no stopping
him. At length he rushed madly toward the brink of a
stony precipice; but here, as it seemed to me, a tall white
man threw himself across the plimging animal's path, and
made him start back, and stop. I then recovered the
control of him, and found that, instead of a white man.


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74 Stories Every Child Should Know

my preserver was no other than a bright sihreiy brook, which
gushed down from the hill beside me, checking and crossing
my horse in his course.**

** Thanks, dear brook ! " cried Undine, clapping her hands.
But the old man shook his head, and seemed lost in thought.

"Scarcely had I settled myself in the saddle, and got firm
hold of my reins again/' proceeded Huldbrand, "when an
extraordinary little man sprang up beside me, wizen and
hideous beyond measure; he Was of a yellow-brown hue,
and his nose almost as big as the whole of his body. He
grinned at me in the most fulsome way with his wide mouth,
bowing and scraping every moment. As I could not abide
these antics, I thanked him abruptly, pulled my still-
trembling horse another way, and thought I would seek
some other adventure, or perhaps go home; for during my
wild gallop the sun had passed his meridian, and was now
declining westward. But the little imp sprang round like
lightning, and stood in front of my horse again.

" 'Make wayl* cried I impatiently, 'the animal is unruly,
and may run over you.* **

" 'Oh,' snarled the imp, with a laugh more disgusting
than before, 'first give me a piece of coin for having caught
your horse so nicely; but for me, you and your pretty beast
would be l3dng in the pit down yonder: whew I'

" ' Only have done with yoiu: grimaces,' said I, 'and take
your money along with you, though it is all a lie: look there,
it was that honest brook that saved me, not you — ^you pitiful
wretch!' So sa3ring, I dropped a gold coin into his comical
cap, which he held out toward me like a beggar.

"I trotted on, but he still followed, screaming, and, vrith
inconceivable rapidity, whisked up to my side. I put my
horse into a gallop; he kept pace with me, though with
much difficulty, and twisted his body into various frightful

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Undine 75

and ridiculous attitudes, crying at each step as he held up
the money: 'Bad coinl bad gold! bad gold! bad coin!'
And this he shrieked in such a ghastly tone, that you would
have expected him to drop down dead after each cry.

"At last I stopped, much vexed, and asked, 'What do
you want, with your shrieks? Take another gold coin;
take two if you will, only let me alone.'

''He began his odious smirking again, and snarled, 'It'a
not gold, it's not gold that I want, young gentleman; I have
rather more of that than I can use: you shall see.'

"All at once the surface of the ground became transparent;
it looked like a smooth globe of green g^ass, and within it
I saw a crowd of goblins at play with silver and gold.
Tumbling about, head over heels they pelted each other
in sport, making a toy of the precious metals, and powdering
their faces with gold dust. My ugly companion stood
half above, half below the surface; he made the others
reach up to him quantities of gold, and showed it to me
laughing, and then fltmg it into the fathomless depths
beneath. He displayed the piece of gold I had given him
to the goblins below, who held their sides with laughing,
and hissed at me in scorn. At length all their bony ^gers
pointed at me together; and louder and louder, closer and
closer, wilder and wilder grew the timnoil, as it rose toward
me, till not my horse only, but I myself was terrified; I put
spurs into him, and cannot tell how long I may have scoured
the forest this time.

"When at last I halted, the shades of evening had closed
in. Through the branches I saw a white footpath gleaming
and hoped it must be a road out of the forest to the town.
I resolved to work my way thither; but lo! an indistinct,
dead-white face, with ever-changing features, peeped at
me through the leaves; I tried to avoid it,^ but wherever I


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76 Stories Every ChUd Should Know

went, there it was. Provoked, I attempted to push my
horse against it; then it splashed us both over with white
foam, and we turned away, blinded for the moment. So
it drove us, step by step, further and further from the foot-
path, and indeed never letting us go on imdisturbed but in
one direction. While we kept to this, it was close upon
our heels, but did not thwart us. Having looked round
once or twice, I observed that the white foaming head was
placed on a gigantic body, equally white. I sometimes
doubted my first impression, and thought it merely a water-
faU, but I never could satisfy m)rself that it was so. Wearily
did my horse and I precede this active white pursuer, who
often nodded at us, as if sa3dng, 'That's right! that's right!'
and it ended by our issuing from the wood here, where I
rejoiced to see your lawn, the lake, and this cottage, and
where the long white man vanished."

"Thank Heaven, he is gone," said the old man, and he
then proceeded to consider how his guest could best return
to his friends in the city. Upon this, Undine was heard
to laugh in a whisper.

Huldbrand observed it, and said: **I thought you had
wished me to stay; and now you seem pleased when we talk
of my going?"

** Because," replied Undine, "you cannot get away. Only
try to cross the swollen brook, in a boat, on horseback, or
on foot. Or rather, do not try, for you would be dashed
to pieces by the branches and stones that it hurls along.
And as to the lake, I know how that is: father never ventures
across it in his boat."

Huldbrand laughed, and got up to see whether she had
spoken true; the old man went with him, and the maiden
tripped along playfully by their side. They found she had
told them no worse than the truth and the Knight resigned

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Undine 77

Umself to staying in the island^ as it might now be called,
till the floods had subsided. As they returned homeward,
he whispered in his pretty companion's ear — "Well, my
little Undine! are you angry at my sta3ring?"

"Ah," said she, sullenly, "never mind. If I had not
bitten you, who knows what might have come out in your
story of Bertalda?'*


Has it ever befallen thee, gentle reader, after many ups
and downs in this troublesome world, to alight upon a spot
where thou foundest rest; where the love which is bom with

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Online LibraryHamilton Wright MabieFamous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... → online text (page 6 of 22)