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us for fireside comfort and domestic peace, revived in thee;
where thou couldst fancy thy early home with the blossoms
of childhood, its piu^, heartfelt affection, and the holy
influence breathed from thy fathers' graves, to be restored
to thee — and that it must indeed be "good for thee to be
here, and to build tabernacles?" The charm may have
been broken, the dream dispelled; but that has nothing to
do with our present picture; nor wilt thou care to dwell on
such bitter moments; but recall to mind that period of
unspeakable peace, that foretaste of angelic rest which was
granted thee, and thou wilt partly conceive what the Ejiight
Huldbrand felt, while he lived on the promontory. Often,
with secret satisfaction, did he mark the forest stream
rolling by more wildly every day; its bed became wider and
wider, and he felt the period of his seclusion from the world
must be still prolonged. Having found an old cross*
bow in a comer of the cottage, and mended it, he spent
part of his days roving about, waylaying the birds that flew
by, and bringing whatever he killed to the kitchen, as rare
jpime. When he came back laden with spoil, Undine


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78 Stories Every Child Should Know

wotild often scold him for taking the life of the dear little
joyous creatures, soaring in the blue depths of Heaven;
she would even weep bitterly over the dead Inrds. But
if he came home empty-handed, she found fault with his
aiiHiLwardness and laziness, which obliged them to be content
with fish and crabs for dinner. Either way, he took delight
in her pretty fits of anger; the more so as she rarely failed
to make up for them by the fondest caresses afterwards.
The old folks, having been in the 3^ung people's confidence
from the first, unconsciously looked upon them as a betrothed
or even married pair, shut out from the world with them in
this retreat, and bestowed upon them for comforts in their
old age. And this very seclusion helped to make the yoimg
Knight feel as if he were already Undine's bridegroom. It
seemed to him that the whole world was contained within
the surrounding waters, or at any rate, that he could never
more cross that charmed boundary, and rejoin other human
beings. And if at times the neighing of bis steed reminded
him of former feats of chivalry, and seemed to ask for
more; if his coat of arms, embroidered on the saddle and
trappings, caught his eye; or if his good sword fell from
the nail on which he had hung it and slipped out of its
scabbard, he would silence the misgivings that arose, by
thinking, Undine is not a fisherman's daughter, but most
likely sprung from some highly noble family in distant lands.
The only thing that ever ruffled him, was to hear the old
woman scolding Undine. The wa)rward girl only lauded
at her; but to him it seemed as if his own honour were
touched; and yet he could not blame the good wife, for
Undine mostly deserved ten times worse than she got, there-
fore he still felt kindly toward the old dame, and these little
rubs scarcely disturbed the even current of their lives.
At length, however, a grievance did arise. The Knight


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Undine 79

and the Fisherman were in the habit of sitting cheerfully
over a flask of wine, both at noon, and also at eventide while
the wind whistled around, as it generally did at night. But
they had now exhausted the whole stock which the Fisher-
man had, long since, brought from the town with him,
and they both missed it sadly. Undine laughed at them
all day for it, but they could not join in her mirth as heartily
as usual. Toward evening she left the cottage, saying she
could no longer bear such long dismal faces. As the twi-
light looked stormy, and the waters were beginning to moan
and heave, the Knight and the old man ran out anxiously
to fetch her back, remembering the agony of that
night when Huldbrand first came to the cottage. But
they were met by Undine, clapping her hands merrily.
"What will you give me if I get you some wine ? But, indeed,
I want no reward for it," she added; "I shall be satisfied if
you will but look brighter, and find more to say than you
have done all these tedious mornings. Come along; the
floods have washed a barrel ashore, and I will engage to
sleep a whole week through if it is not a barrel of wine!"

The men both followed her to a shady creek, and there
found a barrel, which did look as if it contained the generous
liquor which they loi^ed for. They rolled it toward the
hut as fast as they could, for a heavy storm seemed stalking
across the sky, and there was light enough left to show them
the waves of the lake tossing up their foaming heads, as if
looking out for the rain which would soon pour down upon
them. Undine lent a hand in the work, and presently,
when the shower threatened to break instantly over their
heads, she spoke to the big clouds in playful defiance: "You,
you there ! mind you do not give us a drenching; we are some
way from home yeV* The old man admonished her tha*
this was sinful presumption, but she laughed slyly to he*


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So Stones Every Child Should Know

self, and no harm came of it. Beyond their hopes, they all
three reached the comfortable fireside with their prize,
unhurt; and it was not till they had opened the barrel, and
foimd it to contain excellent wine, that the rain broke from
the heavy clouds in torrents, and they heard the storm
roaring among the trees, and over the lake's heaving billows.
A few bottles were soon filled from the great barrel,
enough to last them several days; and they sat sipping
and chatting over the bright fire, secure from the raging
tempest. But the old man's heart presently smote him.
"Dear me," said he, "here are we making merry over the
blessing of Providence, while the owner of it has perhaps
been carried away by the flood, and lost his life!" — "No,
that he has not," said Undine, smiling; and she filled the
Knight's glass again. He replied, "I give you my word,
good father, that if I knew how to find and save him, no
danger should deter me; I would not shrink from setting
out in this darkness. This much I promise you, if ever I
set foot in an inhabited country again, I will make inquiry
after him or his heirs, and restore to them twice or three
times the value of the wine." This pleased the old man;
he gave an approving nod to the Knight, and drained his
glass with a better conscience and a lighter heart. But
Undine said to Huldbrand, "Do as you like with your money,
you may make what compensation you please; but as to
setting out and wandering after him, thai was hastily said.
I should cry my heart out if we chanced to lose you; and
had not you rather stay with me and with the good wine?"
"Why, yes!" said Huldbrand, laughing. "Well then,"
rejoined Undine, "it was a foolish thing you talked of
doing; charity begins at home, you know." The old woman
turned away, shaking her head and sighing; her hus'-and
forgot his usual indulgence for the pretty lassie, and reiwroved

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Undine 8i

her sharply. "One would think," said he, "you had been
reared by Tiu*ks and heathens; God forgive you and us,
you perverse child." — "Ay but it is my way of thinking,"
pursued Undine, "whoever has reared me, so what is the
use of your talking?" — "Peace!" cried the Fisherman; and
she, who with all her wildness was sometimes cowed in a
moment, clung trembling to Huldbrand, and whispered,
"And are you angry with me, dear friend?" The Knight
pressed her soft hand, and stroked down her ringlets. Not
a word could he say; his distress at the old man's harshness
toward Undine had sealed his lips; and so each couple
remained sitting opposite the other, in moody silence and


A gentle tap at the door broke the silence, and made
them all start: it sometimes happens that a mere trifle,
coming quite unexpectedly, strikes the senses with terror.
They looked at each other hesitating; the tap was repeated,
accompanied by a deep groan, and the Knight grasped his
sword. But the old man muttered, "If it is what I fear, it
is not a sword that will help us ! " Undine, however, stepped
forward to the door, and said boldly and sharply, "If you
cire after any mischief, you spirits of earth, Kiihlebom shall
teach you manners."

The terror of the others increased at these strange words;
they looked at the maiden with awe, and Huldbrand was
just mustering courage to ask her a question, when a voice
answered her from without: "I am no spirit of earth; call
me, if you will, a spirit pent in mortal clay. If you fear
God, and will be charitable, you dwellers in the cottage,
#pen the door to me." Undine opened it b^ore he had


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82 stories Every Child Should Know

done speaking, and held out a lamp into the stonny night,
so as to show them the figure of an aged Priest, who started
back as the radiant beauty of Undine flashed upon his si^t
Well might he suspect magic and witchery, when so bright
a vision shone out of a mean-looking cottage; he accordingly
began a canticle, "All good spirits give praise to the Lord! "

"I am no ghost," said Undine, smiling; "am I so fri^tful
to behold? And you may see that a pious sa3dng has no
terrors for me. I worship God, too, and praise Him after
my own fashion; He has not created us all alike. Come in,
venerable father; you will find worthy folks here."

The holy man walked in, bowing and casting his eyes
around, and looking most mild and venerable. Every fold
of his dark garment was dripping with water, and so were
his long white beard and hoary locks. The Fisherman
and the Knight led him to a bedroom, and gave him change
of clothing, while the women dried his wet garments by the
hearth fire. The aged stranger thanked them with all
hmnility and gentleness, but would by no means accept of
the Knight's splendid mantle, which he offered him; he chose
himself an old gray wrapper of the Fisherman's instead.
So they returned to the kitchen; the dame up gave her
Dwn arm-chair to the Priest, and had no peace till he sat
\umself down on it: "For," said she, "you are old and
weary, and a priest besides." Undine pushed her little
footstool toward the good man's feet, and altogether behaved
to him quite properly and gracefully. Huldbrand took
notice of this, in a playful whisper; but she answered very
gravely: "Because he is a servant of the Maker of us all;
that is too serious for a jest."

Meantime the two men set meat and wine before their
guest, and when he had recruited his strength a little, he
began his story; Baying that the day before he had left his

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Undine 83

monastery, which was a good way off beyond the lake,
intending to visit the bishop at his palace, and report to him
the distress which these almost supernatural floods had
caused the monks and their poor tenantry. After going
roimd a long way, to avoid these floods, he had been obliged
toward evening to cross an arm of the overflowing lake, with
the help of two honest sailors. "But," added he, "no
sooner had our little vessel touched the waves, than we were
wrapped in the tremendous storm, which is still raging over
our heads now. It looked as if the waters had only awaited
our coming to give a loose to their fury. The oars were
soon dashed from the seamen's hands, and we saw their
broken fragments carried further and further from us by
the waves. We floated on the wave tops, helpless, driven
by the furious tempest toward yoiu* shores, which we saw
in the distance whenever the clouds parted, for a moment.
The boat was tossed about still more wildly and giddily;
and whether it upset, or I fell out, I cannot telL I floated
on, till a wave landed me at the foot of a tree, in this yowr

"Ay, island indeed!" said the Fisherman. "It was a
promontory but a short time ago. But, since the stream
and oiu* lake are gone raving mad together, everjrthing
about us is new and strange."

The Priest continued: "As I crept along the water-side
in the dark, with a wild uproar around me, something
caught my eye, and presently I descried a beaten pathway,
which was soon lost in the shades; I spied the light in your
cottage, and ventiured to come hither; and I cannot suffi-
ciently thank my heavenly Father, who has not only delivered
me from the waters, but guided me to such kind souls. I
feel this blessing the more, as it is very likely I may never
see any faces but yours again." — ^''How so?" asked the


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^4 Stories Every Child Should Know

Fisherman. **Can you guess how long this fury of the
elements may last?" replied the Priest. And I am an old
man. My stream of life may perhaps lose itself in the
earth, before these floods subside. And besides, it may
be the foaming waters will divide you from the forest more
and more, till you are unable to get across in your fishing
boat; and the people of the mainland, full of their own
concerns, would quite forget you in your' retreat."

Shuddering, and crossing herself, the Fisherman's wife
exclaimed, "God forbid!" But the old man smiled at her,
and said, "What creatmres we are. That would make no
difference, to you at least, my dear wife. How many years
is it since you have set foot within the forest? And have
you seen any face but Undine's and mine? Lately, indeed,
we have had the good Knight and Priest besides. But
they would stay with us; so that if we are forgotten in this
island, you will be the gainer."

"So I see," said the dame; "yet somehow, it is cheerless
to feel ourselves quite cut off from the rest of the world,
however seldom we had seen it before."

"Then you will stay with us!" murmured Undine in a
sweet voice, and she pressed closer to Huldbrand's side.
But he was lost in deep thought. Since the Priest had last
spoken, the land beyond the wild stream had seemed to his
fancy more dark and distant than ever; while the flowery
island he lived in — ^and his bride, the fairest flower in the
picture — bloomed and smiled more and more freshly in
his imagination. Here wa^ the Priest at hand to unite
them; — and, to complete his resolution, the old dame just
then darted a reproving look at Undine, for clinging to her
lover's side in the holy man's presence; an angry lecture
seemed on the point of beginning. He turned toward the
Priest, and these words burst from him: "You see before

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Undine 85

you a betrothed pair, reverend sir; if this damsel and the kind
old people will consent, you shall unite us this very evening."

The old folks were much surprised. Such a thought had
often crossed their minds, but they had never till this moment
heard it uttered; and it now fell upon their ears like an
unexpected thing. Undine had suddenly become quite grave,
and sat musing deeply, while the Priest inquired into
various circumstances, and asked the old couple's consent
to the deed. After some deJiberation, they gave it ; the dame
went away to prepare the yoimg people's bridal chamber,
and to fetch from her stores two consecrated tapers for the
wedding ceremony. Meanwhile the Knight was pulling
two rings off his gold chain for himself and his bride to
exchange. But this roused Undine from her reverie, and
she said: " Stay! my parents did not send me into the world
quite penniless; they looked forward long ago to this occasion
and provided for it.*' She quickly withdrew, and returned
bringing two costly rings, one of which she gave to her
betrothed and kept the other herself. This astonished the
old Fisherman, and still more his wife, who came in soon
after; for they neither of them had ever seen these jeweU
about the child. "My parents," said Undine, "had these
rings sewed into the gay dress which I wore, when first I
came to you. They charged me to let no one know of
them till my wedding-day came. Therefore I took them
secretly out of the dress, and have kept them hidden
till this evening."

Here the Priest put a stop to the conversation, by lighting
the holy tapers, placing them on the table, and calling the
young pair to him. With few and solemn words he joined
their hands; the aged couple gave their blessing, whUe the
bride leaned upon her husband, pensive and trembling.

When it was over, the Priest said: "You are strange


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86 Stories Every Child Should Know

people after all! What did you mean by sa3rmg you were
the only inhabitants of this island? Diuing the whole
ceremony there was a fine-looking tall man, in a white cloak,
standing just outside the window opposite me. He must
be near the door still, if you like to invite him in." — " Heaven
forbid!" said the dame shuddering; the old man shook his
head without speaking; and Huldbrand rushed to the win-
dow. He could fancy he saw a streak of white, but it was
soon lost in darkness. So he assiured the Priest he must
have been mistaken; and they all sat down comfortably
round the fire.


Undine had been perfectly quiet and well-behaved both
before and during the marriage ceremony; but now her wild
spirits seemed the more imcontrollable from the restraint
they had imdergone, and rose to an extravagant height.
She played all manner of childish tricks on her husband,
her foster parents, and even the venerable Priest, and when
the old woman began to check her, one or two words from
Huldbrand, who gravely called Undine "his wife," reduced
her to silence. The Knight himself, however, was far from
being pleased at Undine's childishness; but no hint or sign
would stop her. Whenever she perceived his disapproving
looks — ^which she occasionally did — ^it subdued her for the
moment; she would sit down by him, whisper something
playfully in his ear, and so dispel the frown as it gathered
on his brow. But the next instant some wild nonsense
would dart into her head, and set her off worse than ever;
At last the Priest said to her, in a kind but grave manner,
"My dear young lady, no one that beholds you can be
severe upon you, it is true; but remember, it is your duty to
keep watch over your soul, that it may be ever in harmony

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Undine 87

with that of your wedded husband." " Soul!'* cried Undine,
laughing; ** that sounds very fine, and for most people may
be very edif3dng and moral advice. But if one has no soid
at ally pray how is one to keep watch over it? And that is
my case." The Priest was deeply hint, and turned away
his face in mingled sorrow and anger. But she came up to
him beseechingly, and said, ''Nay, hear me before you are
angry, for it grieves me to see you displeased, and you would
not distress any creature who has done you no harm. Only
have patience with me, and I will tell you all, from the

They saw she was preparing to give them a regular history;
but she stopped short, appearing thriUed by some secret
recollection, and biu^t into a flood of gentle tears. They
were quite at a loss what to think of her, and gazed upon
her, distressed from various causes. At length dr3ring her
eyes, she looked at the Priest earnestly and said, "There
must be much to love in a soul, but much that is awful too.
For God's sake, holy father, tell me — ^were it not better
to be still without one?" She waited breathlessly for an
answer, restraining her tears. Her hearers had all risen
from their seats, and now stepped back from her, shud-
dering. She seemed to have no eyes but for the saintly
man; her countenance assumed an expression of anxiety
and awe which yet more alarmed the others. " Heavy must
be the burden of a soul," added she, as no one answered her
— ^" heavy indeed! for the mere approach of mine over-
shadows me with anxious melancholy. And ah! how
light-hearted, how joyous I used to be!" A fresh btu^t of
weeping overcame her, and she covered her face with her veil.

The Priest then approached her with much gravity, and
adjiU'ed her by the holiest names to confess the truth, if
any evQ lurked in her, unknown to them. But she fell on


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88 Stories Every Child Should Know

her knees before him, repeated after him all his words of
piety, gave praise to God, and declared she was in charity
with all the world. The Priest turned to the young Knight.
"Sir bridegroom," said he, "I leave you alone with her
whom I have made your wife. As far as I can discover,
there is no evil, although much that is mysterious, in her.
I exhort you to be sober, loving, and faithful." So he went
out; and the old people followed, crossing themselves.

Undine was still on her knees; she imcovered her face
and looked timidly at Huldbrand, saying, "Ah, thou wilt
surely cast me off now; and yet I have done nothing wrong,
poor, poor child that I am! " This she said with so touching
and gentle an expression, that her husband forgot all the
gloom and mystery that had chilled his heart; he hastened
toward, her and raised her in his arms. She smiled through
her tears — ^it was like the glow of dawn shining upon a clear
fountain. "Thou canst not forsake me!" whispered she,
in accents of the firmest reliance; and she stroked his cheeks
with her soft little hands. He tried to shake off the gloomy
thoughts which still lurked in a comer of his mind, suggesting
to him that he had married a fairy, or some shadowy being
from the world of spirits: one question, however, he could
not help asking: "My dear little Undine, just tell me one
thing: what was that you said about spirits of earth, and
Kiihlebom, when the Priest knocked at the door?" — "All
nonsense!" said Undine, laughing, with her usual gayety.
" First I frightened you with it, and then you frightened me.
And that is the end of the story, and of our wedding-day!'*


A bright morning light wakened the yoimg people; and
Huldbrand lay musing silently. As often as he had dropped
asleep, he had been scared by horrible dreams of spectres^

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Undine 89

who suddenly took the form of fair women, or of fair women
who were transformed into dragons. And when he started
up from these grim visions, and saw the pale, cold moonlight
streaming in at the window, he would turn an anxious look
toward Undine; she lay sliunbering in undisturbed beauty
and peace. Then he would compose himself to sleep again —
soon again to wake in terror. When he looked back upon
all this in broad daylight, he was angry with himself for
having let a suspicion, a shade of distrust of his beautiful
wife, enter his mind. He frankly confessed to her this
injustice; she answered him only by pressing his hand, and
sighing from the bottom of her heart. But a look, such as
her eyes had never before given, of the deepest and most
confiding tenderness, left him no doubt that she forgave
him. So he arose cheerfully, and joined the family in the
sitting-room. The three others were gathered round the
hearth looking uneasy, and neither of them having ventured
to speak his thoughts yet. The Priest seemed to be secretly
praying for deliverance from evil. But when the young
husband appeared, beaming with happiness, the care-worn
^ces brightened up; nay, the Fisherman ventured upon a
few courteous jokes with the Knight, which won a smile
even from the good housewife. Meanwhile Undine had
dressed herself, and now came in; they could not help rising
to meet her, and stood still, astonished; the young creature
was the same, yet so different. The Priest was the first
to address her, with an air of paternal kindness, and when
he raised his hands in benediction, the fair woman sank on
her knees, trembling with pious awe. In a few meek and
humble words, she begged him to forgive the folly of the day
before, and besought him, with great emotion, to pray for
the salvation of her soul. Then rising, she kissed her foster
t>arentSy and thanking them for all their kindness, she said:


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p Stories Every Child Should Know

** Oh, now I fed from the bottom of my heart how much you
have done for me, how deeply grateful I ought to be, dear,
dear people!" She seemed as if she could not caress them
enough; but soon, observing the dame glance toward the
breakfast, she went toward the hearth, busied herself arrang-
ing and preparing the meal, and would not suffer the good
woman to take the least trouble herself.

So she went on all day; at once a yoimg matron, and a
bashful, tender, delicate bride. The three who knew her
best were every moment expecting this mood to change,
and give place to one of her crazy fits; but they watched

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Online LibraryHamilton Wright MabieFamous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... → online text (page 7 of 22)