Hamilton Wright Mabie.

Famous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... online

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in vain. There was still the same angelic mildness and
sweetness. The Priest could not keep his eyes away from
her, and he said more than once to the bridegroom, " Sir,
it was a great treasure which Heaven bestowed upon you
yesterday, by my poor ministration; cherish her worthily,
and she will be to you a blessing in time and eternity."

Toward evening, Undine clasped the Kiiight's arm with
modest tenderness, and gently led him out before the door,
where the rays of the setting sim were lighting up the fresh
grass, and the tall, taper stems of trees. The young wife's
face wore a melting expression of love and sadness, and her
lips quivered with some anxious, momentous secret, which
as yet betrayed itself only by scarce audible sighs. She
silently led her companion onward; if he spoke, she replied
by a look which gave him no direct answer, but revealed a
whole heaven of love and timid submission. So they
reached the banks of the stream which had overflowed, and
the Knight started on finding the wild torrent changed into
a gentle rippling brook, without a trace of its former violence
left. "By to-morrow it will have dried up completely,"
vaid the bride, in a faltering voice, "and thou mayest begpne
whither thou wilt."— "Not without thee, my Undine," said

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Undine 91

the Knight, playfully; ''consider, if I had a mind to forsake
thee, the Church, the Emperor, and his ministers might
step in, and bring thy truant home." — "No, no, you are
free; it shall be as you please!" murmured Undine, half
tears, half smiles. "But I think thou wilt not cast me
away; is not my heart bound up in thine? Carry me over
to that little island opposite. There I will know my fate.
I could indeed easily step through the little waves; but I
love to rest in thine arms! and thou may est cast me off; this
may be the last time." Huldbrand, full of anxious emotion,
knew not how to answer. He took her up in his arms, and
carried her over, now recollecting that from this very island
he had borne her home to the Fisherman, on the night
of his arrival. When there, he placed his fair burden on
the turf, and was going to sit down beside her; but she said,
" No, sit there, opposite me — ^I will read my doom in
your eyes, before your lips have spoken it. Now listen,
and I will tell you all." And she began: —

"You must know, my own love, that in each element
exists a race of beings, whose form scarcely differs from
yours, but who very seldom appear to mortal sight. In the
flames, the wondrous Salamanders glitter and disport them-
selves; in the depths of earth dwell the dry, spiteful race of
Gnomes; the forests are peopled by Wood-nymphs, who
are also spirits of air; and the seas, the rivers and brooks
contain the numberless tribes of Water-sprites. Their
echoing halls of crystal, where the light of heaven potirs in,
with its sun and stars, are glorious to dwell in; the gardens
contain beautiful coral plants, with blue and red fruits; they
wander over bright sea-sands, and gay-coloured shells,
among the hidden treasures of the old world, too precious
to be bestowed on these latter days, and long since covered
by the silver mantle of the deep: many a noble monimient


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still ^eams there below, bedewed by the tears of Ocean,
who garlands it with flowery sea- weeds and wreaths of shells.
Those that dwell there below, are noble and lovely to behold,
far more so than mankind Many a fisherman has had a
passing glimpse of some fair water-nymph, rising out of the
sea with her song; he would then spread the report of her
apparition, and these wonderful beings came to be called
Undines. And you now see before you, my love, an

The Knight tried to persuade himself that his fair wife
was in one of her wild moods, and had invented this strange
tale in sport. But though he said this to himself, he could
not for a moment believe it; a mysterious feeling thrilled
him; and, unable to utter a word, he kept his eyes rivetted
on the beautiful speaker. She shook her head sadly,
heaved a deep sigh, and went on: —

" We might be happier than our human fellow-creatures
(for we call you fellow-creatures, as our forms are alike),
but for one great evil. We, and the other children of the
elements, go down to the dust, body and spirit; not a trace
of us remains and when the time comes for you to rise again
to a glorified existence, we shall have perished with our
native sands, flames, winds, an4 waves. For we have no
souls; the elements move us, obey us while we live, close
over us when we die; and we light spirits live as free from
care as the nightingale, the gold-fish, and all such bright
children of Nature. But no creatures rest content in their
appointed place. My father, who is a mighty prince in the
Mediterranean Sea, determined that his only child should
be endowed with a soul, even at the cost of much suffering,
which is ever the lot of souls. But a soul can be infused
into one of our race, only by being united in the closest
Viands of love to one of yours. And now I have obtained

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Undine 93

a soul; to thee I owe it, O best beloved! and for that gift
I shall ever bless thee, unless thou dost devote my whole
futurity to misery. For what is to become of me should
thou recoil from me, and cast me off? Yet I would not
detain thee by deceit. And if I am to leave thee, say so
now; go back to the land alone. I will plunge into this
brook; it is my uncle, who leads a wonderful, sequestered
life in this forest, away from all his friends. But he is power-
ful, and allied to many great rivers; and as he brought me
here to the Fisherman, a gay and laughing child, so he is
ready to take me back to my parents, a loving, suffering,
forsaken woman."

She would have gone on; but Huldbrand, full of com-
passion and love, caught her in his arms, and carried her
back. There, with tears and kisses, he swore never to
forsake his beloved wife; and said he felt more blessed than
the Greek sculptor Pygmalion, whose beautiful statue dame
Venus transformed into a living woman. Hanging on his
arm in peaceful reliance. Undine returned; and she felt
from her inmost heart, how little cause she had to regret
the crystal palaces of her father.


When Huldbrand awoke from sleep the next morning,
he missed his fair companion; and again he was tormented
with a doubt, whether his marriage, and the lovely Undine,
might not be all a fairy dream. But she soon reappeared,
came up to him, and said, " I have been out early, to see if
my uncle had kept his word. He has recalled all the stray-
ing waters into his quiet bed, and now takes his lonely and
pensive course through the forest as he used to do. His
friends in the lake and the air are gone to rest also: all


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things have returned to their usual caknness; and you may
set out homeward on dry land, as soon as you please."
Huldbrand felt as if dreaming still, so little could he under-
stand his wife's wonderful relations. But he took no notice
of this, and his sweet Undine's gentle attentions soon
charmed every vuieasy thought away.

A little while after, as they stood at the door together,
looking over the fair scene with its boundary of clear waters,
his heart yearned so toward this cradle of his love that he
said: "But why should we go away so soon? we shall never
spend happier days in yonder world, than we have passed
in this peaceful nook. Let us at least see two or three more
suns go down here." — "As my Lord wishes," answered
Undine, with cheerful submission; "but, you see, the old
people will be grieved at parting with me, whenever it is;
and if we give them time to become acquainted with my
soul, and with its new powers of loving and honouring them,
I fear that when I go, their aged hearts will break under
the load of sorrow. As yet, they take my gentle mood for
a passing whim, such as they saw me liable to formerly, like
a calm on the lake when the winds are lulled; and they will
soon begin to love some favourite tree or flower in my place.
They must not learn to know this newly obtained, affection*
ate heart, in the first overflowings of its tenderness, just at
the moment when they are to lose me for this world; and
how could I disguise it from them, if we remained together

Huldbrand agreed with her; he went to the old couple,
and finding them ready to consent, he resolved upon setting
out that very hoiu*. The Priest offered to accompany them;
after a hasty farewell, the pretty bride was placed on the
horse by her husband, and they crossed the stream's dry
bed quickly, and entered the forest. Undine shed sflent


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Undine 95

but bitter tears, while the old folks wailed after her aloud*
It seemed as if some foreboding were crossing their minds»
of how great their loss would prove.

The three travellers reached the deepest shades of the
forest, without breaking silence. It was a fair sight to
behold, as they passed through the leafy bowers: the grace-
ful woman sitting on her noble steed, guarded on one side
by the venerable Priest in the white habit of his order; on
the other, by the youthful Knight, with his gorgeous attire
and glittering sword. Huldbrand had no ^es but for his
precious wife; Undine, who had dried her duteous tears,
no thought but for him; and they soon fell into a noiseless
interchange of glances and .signs, which at length was inter-
rupted by the sound of a low murmur, proceeding from the
Priest and a fourth fellow-traveller, who had joined them
unobserved. He wore a white robe, very like the Priest's
dress, except that the hood almost covered his face, and the
rest of it floated round him in such large folds that he was
perpetually obliged to gather up, throw it over his arm, or
otherwise arrange it; yet it did not seem to impede him at
all in walking; when the young people saw him he was
sapng, "And so, my worthy father, I have dwelt in the
forest for many a year, yet I am not what you commonly
call a hermit. For, as I told you, I know nothing of pen-
ance, nor do I think it would do me much good. What
makes me so fond of the woods is, that I have a very par-
ticular fancy for winding through the dark shades and
forest walks, with my loose white clothes floating about me;
now and then a pretty simbeam will glance over me as I
go." — " You seem to be a very curious person," repKed the
Priest "and I should like to know more about you." — "And
pray who are you, to carry on the acquaintance?" said the
Stranger* "They call me Father Heilmann," answered


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96 Stories Every Child Should Know

the Priest, "and I belong to St. Mary's monastery, beyond
the lake." — "Ay, ay!" rejoined the other. "My name is
KUhlebom, and if I stood upon ceremony, I might well call
myself Lord of KUhleborn, or Baron (Freiherr) Kiihlebom;
for free I am, as the bird of the air, or a trifle more free.
For instance, I must now have a word with the young woman
there." And before they could look round, he was on the
other side of the Priest, close to Undine, and stretching up
his tall figure to whisper in her ear. But she turned hastily
away, saying, " I have nothing more to do with you now."
— "Heyday!" said the stranger, laughing, "what a prodig-
iously grand marriage yours must be, if you are to cast oflE
your relations in this way! Have you forgotten Uncle
Kiihlebom, who brought you all the way here on his back
so kindly?"

"But I entreat you," said Undine, "never come to me
again. I am afraid of you now; and will not my husband
become afraid of me, if he finds I have so strange a family?"
— "My little niece," said Kiihlebom, "please to remember
that I am protecting you all this time; the foul Spirits of
Earth might play you troublesome tricks if I did not. So
you had better let me go on with you, and no more words.
The old Priest there has a better memory than yours, for
he would have it he knew my face very well, and that I
must have been with him in the boat, when he fell into the
water. And he may well say so, seeing that the wave which
washed him over was none but myself, and I landed him
safe on the shore, in time for your wedding."

Undine and the Knight looked at Father Heilmann, but
he seemed to be plodding on in a waking dream, and not
listening to what was said. Undine said to Kiihlebom,
"There, I can see the end of the wood; we want your help
DO longer, and there is nothing; to disturb us but you. So^


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Undine 97

in love and kindness I entreat you, begone, and kt us go
in peace." This seemed to make Kiihlebom angry; he
twisted his face hideously, and hissed at Undine, who cried
aloud for help. Like lightning the Knight passed roimd
her horse, and aimed a blow at Kiihlebom's head with his
sword. But instead of the head, he struck into a water-
fall, which gushed down a high cliff near them, and now
showered them all with a splash that sounded like laughter,
and wetted them to the bone. The Priest, seeming to wake
up, said, ''Well, I was expecting this, because that brook
gushed down the rock so close to us. At first I could not
shake off the idea that it was a man, and was speaking to
me." The waterfall whispered distinctly in Huldbrand's
ear, " Rash youth, dashing youth, I chide thee not, I shame
thee not; still shield thy precious wife safe and siure, rash
young soldier, dashing Knight I"

A little further on they emerged into the open plains.
The city lay glittering before them, and the evening sun
that gilded her towers, lent its grateful warmth to dry their
soaked garments.


The sudden disappearance of the young Knight Huld-
brand of Ringstetten had made a great stir in the city, and
distressed the inhabitants, with whom his gallantry in the
lists and the dance, and his gentle, courteous manners, had
made him very popular. His retainers would not leave
the place without their master, but yet none had the courage
to seek him in the haunted forest. They therefore remained
in their hostelry, idly hoping, as men are so apt to do, and
keeping alive the remembrance of their lost lord by lamen-
tations. But soon after, when the tsmpest raged and the


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98 Stories Every Child Should Know

rivers overflowed, few doubted that the handsome stranget
must have perished. Bertalda, among others, mourned
him for lost, and was ready to curse herself, for having
urged him to the fatal ride through the forest Her ducal
foster parents had arrived to take her away, but she pre-
vailed upon them to wait a little, in hope that a true report
of Huldbrand's death or safety might reach them. She
tried to persuade some of the young knights who contended
for her favour, to venture into the forest and seek for the
noble adventurer. But she would not offer her hand as the
reward, because she still hoped to bestow it some day on
the wanderer himself; and to obtain a glove, a scarf, or
some such token from her, none of them cared to expose
his life to bring back so dangerous a rival.

Now, when Huldbrand unexpectedly reappeared, it
spread joy among his servants, and all the people generally,
except Bertalda; for while the others were pleased at his
bringing with him such a beautiful wife, and Father Heil-
mann to bear witness to their marriage, it could not but
grieve A^; first, because the young Kuight had really won
her heart; and next, because she had betrayed her feelings
by so openly lamenting his absence, far more than was now
becoming. However, she behaved like a prudent woman,
and suited her conduct to the circumstances, by living in
the most cordial intimacy with Undine — ^who passed in
the town for a princess, released by Huldbrand from the
power of some wicked enchanter of the forest If she gl
her husband were questioned about it, they gave eva^ve
answers; Father Heilmann's lips were sealed on all such
idle topics, beside which, he had left them soon after they
arrived, and returned to his cloister: so the citizens were
left to their own wondering conjectures, and even Bertalda
came no nearer the truth than others.

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Undine 99

Meanwhile, Undine grew daily more fond of this winning
damsel. "We must have known each other before," she
would often say, "or else some secret attraction draws us
toward each other; for without some cause, some strange,
mysterious cause, I am sure nobody would love another as
I have loved you from the moment we met." Bertalda,
on her part, could not deny that she felt strongly inclined
to like Undine, notwithstanding the groimds of complaint
she thought she had against this happy rival. The affec-
tion being mutual, the one persuaded her parents, the other
her wedded lord, to defer the day of departure repeatedly;
they even went so &x as to propose that Bertalda should
accompany Undine to the castle of Ringstetten, near the
source of the Danube.

They were talking of this one fine evening, as they saun-
tered by starlight roimd the market-place, which was
surrounded by high trees; the yoimg couple had invited
Bertalda to join their evening stroll, and they now paced
backward and forward in pleasant talk, with the dark blue
sky over theu: heads, and a beautiful fountain before them
in the centre, which, as it bubbled and sprang up into fanci-
ful shapes, often caught their attention, and interrupted
the conversation. All around them was serene and pleasant ;
through the foliage gleamed the light of many a lamp from
the surrounding houses; and the ear was soothed by the hum
of children at play, and of saimtering groups like themselves;
they enjoyed at once the pleasiu*e of solitude, and the social
happiness of being near the cheerful haunts of men. Every
little difficulty that had occurred to their favourite plan,
seemed to vanish upon nearer examination, and the three
friends could not imagine that Bertalda's consent to the
jomney need be delayed a moment. But as she was on the
point of naming a day for joining them and setting out»


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a verj tall man came forward from the middle of the place,
bowed to them respectfully, and began whispering in Un-
dine's ear. She though apparently displeased with the
interruption and with the speaker, stepped aside with him,
and they began a low discourse together, in what sounded
like a foreign language. Huldbrand thought he knew
this strange man's face, and fixed his attention upon him
BO earnestly, that he neither heard nor answered the aston-
ished Bertalda's questions. All at once Undine clapped
her hands joyfully, and turned her back, laughing, upon the
stranger; he shook his head and walked off in an angry,
hiuried manner, and stepped into the fountain. This
confirmed Huldbrand in his guess; while Bertalda inquired,
** My dear Undine, what business had that man of the
foimtain with you ?" Her friend smiled archly and replied,
" On your birthday, the day after to-morrow, I will tell you,
my sweet girl;" and she would say no more. She only
pressed Bertalda to come and dine with them on that day,
and bring her foster parents; after which they separated.

"Kiihlebom?" said Huldbrand to his wife with a sup-
pressed shudder, as they walked home through the dark
streets. "Yes, it was he," replied Undine "and he tried to
put all sorts of nonsense into my head. However, without
intending it he delighted me by one piece of news. If you
wish to hear it, now, my kind lord, you have but to say so,
and I will tell you every word. But if you like to give your
Undine a very great delight, you will wait two days, and
then have your share in the surprise."

The Knight readily granted her what she had asked so
meeUy and gracefully; and as she dropped asleep she
mdeparted, taking
with them their adopted child, and followed (upon a sign
brom the Duke) by Uie Fisherman and his wife. The rest
of the assembly broke up, in silence or with secret murmurs,
and Undine sank into Huldbrand's arms, weeping bitterly.


There was certainly much to displease the Lord of Ring-
stetten in the events of this day; yet he could not look back
upon them, without feeling proud of the guileless truth and
the generosity of heart shown by his lovely wife. "K
indeed her soul was my gift," thought he, " it is nevertheless
much better than my own;" and he devoted himself to the
task of soothing her grief, and determined he would take
her away the next morning from a spot now so full of bitter

They were mistaken, however, in thinking that she had
lost in the eye^ of the world by this adventure. So prepared
were the minds of the people to find something m3rsterioiis
in her, that her strange discovery of Bertalda's origin scarcely
surprised them; while, on the other hand, everyone that
heard of Bertalda^s history and of her passionate behaviour.

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Undine 107

was moved with indignation. Of this, the Knight and
Undine were not aware; nor would it have given them any
comfort, for she was still as jealous of Bertalda's good name
as of her own. Upon the whole, they had no greater wish
than to leave the town without delay.

At daybreak next morning, Undine's chariot was in
readiness at the door, and the steeds of Huldbrand and of
his squires stood aroimd it, pawing the groimd with impa-
tience. As the Knight led his fair bride to the door, a
fishing girl accosted them. "We want no fish," said Huld-
brand; "we are just going away." The girl began to sob
bitterly, and they then recognised her as Bertalda. They
immediately turned back into the house with her; and she
said that the Duke and Duchess had been so incensed at her
violence the day before, as to withdraw th^ir protection
from her, though not without giving her a handsome allow-
ance. The Fisherman too had received a liberal gift, and
had departed that evening with his wife, to return to the
promontory. "I woidd have gone with them," she con-
tinued, "but the old Fisherman, whom they call my
father »

"And so he is, Bertalda," interrupted Undine. "He
is your father. For the man you saw at the fountain told
me how it is. He was trying to persuade me that I
had better not take you to Ringstetten, and he let drop the

"Well then," said Bertalda, "my father — ^if so it must be
— my father said, *You shall not live with us tiD you are an
altered creatiure. Take courage and come across the
haunted forest to us; that will show that you sincerely wish
to belong to yoiu* parents. But do not come in your finen;
be like what you are, a fisherman's daughter.* And I will
do as he bids me; for the whole world has forsaken me, and


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xo8 Stories Every Chile Should Know

I have nothing lef t, but to live and die humbly in a poor hut,
alone with my lowly parents. I do dread the forest very
much. They say it is full of grim q)ectreSy and I am so
timid! But what can I do? I came here only to implore
the Lady of Ringstetten's pardon for my rude language
3resterday. I have no doubt you meant what you did
kindly, noble Dame; but you litde knew what a trial your
vfords would be to me, and I was so alarmed and bewildered,
that many a hasty, wicked word escaped my lips. Ah for-
give me, forgive me! I am unhappy enough already. Only
consider what I was yesterday morning, even at the begin-
ning of your feast, and what I am now."

Her words were lost in a flood of bitter tears, and Undine,
equally affected, fell weeping on her neck. It was long
before her emotion would let her speak: at length she said,
''You shall go to Ringstetten with us; all shall be as we
had settled it before; only call me Undine again, and not
'lady' and 'noble Dame.' You see, we began by being
exchanged in our cradles; our lives have been linked from
that hour, and we will try to bind them so closely that no
human power shall sever us. Come with us to Ringstetten,
and all will be well. We will live like sisters there, trust
me for arranging that." Bertalda looked timidly at Huld-
brand. The sight of this beautiful, forsaken maiden
affected him; he gave her his hand and encouraged her
kindly to trust herself to him and his wife. ''As to your
parents," said he, " we will let them know why you do not
appear;" and he would have said much more concerning
the good old folks, but he observed that Bertalda shuddered

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Online LibraryHamilton Wright MabieFamous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... → online text (page 8 of 22)