Hamilton Wright Mabie.

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at the mention of them, and therefore dropped the subject
He gave her his arm, placed first her and then Undine in
the carriage, and rode cheerfully after them; he urged the
drivers on so effectually, that thev very soon found them-

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Undine 109

selves out of sight of the city, and beyond the reach of sad
recollections — and the two ladies could fully enjoy the
beautiful country through which the road wound along.

After a few days' travelling, they arrived, one sunny even-
ing, at the Castle of Ringstetten. Its young lord had much
business with his steward and labourers to occupy him, so
that Undine was left alone with Bertalda. They took a
walk on the high ramparts of the castle, and admired the
rich Swabian landscape, which lay far and wide around
them. A tall man suddenly came up, with a courteous
obeisance; and Bertalda could not help thinking him very
like the ominous man of the foimtain. The likeness struck
her still m«re, when, upon an impatient and even menacing
gesture of Undine's, he went away with the same hasty step
and shake of the head as before.

"Do not be afraid, dear Bertalda," said Undine, "the
ugly man shall not harm you this time." After which she
told her whole history, beginning from her birth, and how
they had been exchanged in their earliest childhood. At
first her friend looked at her with serious alarm; she thought
Undine was possessed by some delirium. But she became
convinced it was all true, as she listened to the well-connected
narrative, which accoimted so well for the strange events
of the last months; besides which, there is something in
genuine truth which finds an answer in every heart, and
can hardly be mistaken. She was bewildered, when she
found herself one of the actors in a living fairy tale, and
as wild a tale as any she had read. She gazed upon Undine
with reverence; but could not help feeling a chill thrown
over her affection for her; and that evening at supper time,
she wondered at the Knight's fond love and familiarity
toward a being, whom she now looked upon as rather a
spirit than a human creature.

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As he who relates this tale is moved to the heart by it,
and hopes that it may affect his readers too, he entreats of
them one favour; namely, that they will bear with him while
he passes rapidly over a long space of time; and be content
if he barely touches upon what happened therein. He
knows well that some would relate in great detail, step by
step, how Huldbrand's heart began to be estranged from
Undine, and drawn toward Bertalda; while she cared not
to disguise from him her ardent love; and how between them
the poor injured wife came to be rather feared than pitied —
and when he showed her kindness, a cold shiver would
often creep over him and send him back to the child of
earth, Bertalda; — all this the author knows, might be dwelt
upon; nay, perhaps it ought to be so. But his heart shrinks
from such a task, for he has met with such passages in real
life, and cannot even abide their shadows in his memory.
Perhaps, gentle reader, such feelings are known to thee
also, for they are the common lot of mortal man. Well
is thee if thou hast felt, not inflicted, these pangs; in these
cases it is more blessed to receive than to give. As such
recollections wake up from their cells, they will but cast
a soft shade over the past; and it may be the thought of
thy withered blossoms, once so fondly loved, brings a gentle
tear down thy cheek. Enough of this: we will not go on
to pierce oiu: hearts with a thousand separate arrows, but
content o\u-selves with saying, that so it happened in the
present instance.

Poor Undine drooped day by day, and the others were
neither of them happy; Bertalda especially was uneasy,
and ready to suspect the injured wife, whenever she fancied
herself slighted by Huldbrand; meantime she had gradually

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Undine xii

assumed the command in the house, and the deluded Huld*
brand supported her openly. Undine looked on, in me^
resignation. To increase the discomfort of their lives,
there was no end to the mysterious sights and sounds that
haimted Huldbrand and Bertalda in the vaulted galleries
of the castle; such as had never been heard of before. The
long white man, too well known to him as Uncle Kiihlebom,
and to her as the spirit of the foimtain, often showed his
threatening countenance to both; but chiefly to Bertalda,
who had more than once been made ill by the fright, and
thought seriously of leaving the castle. But her love for
Huldbrand detained her, and she quieted her conscience
by thinking, that it had never come to a declaration of love
between them; and, besides, she would not have known
which way to turn. After receiving the Lord of Ring-
stetten's message, that Bertalda was with them, the old
Fisherman had traced a few lines, scarcely legible, from
infirmity and long disuse, sa)dng, "I am now a poor old
widower; for my dear good wife is dead. But, lonely as
I am by my fireside, I had rather Bertalda stayed away
than come here. Provided she does not harm my dear
Undine! My curse be upon her if she does." Bertalda
scattered these last words to the winds, but treastired upi
her father's conunand that she should not join him: as is
the way with us selfish beings.

One day, when Huldbrand had just ridden out. Undine
sent for her servants and desired them to fetch a large stone
and carefully to stop up the mouth of the magnificent foim-
tain, which played in the centre of the court. The men
objected, that they must then always go down the valley to
a great distance fOT water. Undine smiled mournfully.
** It grieves me to add to your burdens, my good friends,"
said she, "I had rather go and fill my pitcher myself; but


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XI3 Stories Every Child Should Knew

this fountain must be sealed up. Trust me, nothing else
will do, and it is our only way of escaping a much worse

The servants rejoiced at any oppcutunity of plea^g
their gentle mbtress; not a word more was said, and they
lifted the huge stone. They had raised it, and were about
to let it down on the mouth of the spring, when Bertalda
ran up, calling out to them to stop: the water of this fountain
was the best for her comjdexion, and she never would
consent to its being stopped. But Undine, instead of
3rielding as usual, kept firmly, though gendy, to her reso-
lution; she said that it behooved her, as mistress of the
house, to c^der all such matters as appeared best to her,
and none but her lord and husband should call her to
account. ''Look, oh look!" cried Bertalda, eagerly and
angrily, ''how the poor bright water curis and writhes,
because you would deprive it of every gleam of stmshine,
and of the cheerful faces of men, whose mirror it was
created to be!" In truth, the spring did writhe and bubble
up wonderfully, just as if someone were trying to force his
way through; but Undine pressed them the more to dis-
patch the work. Nor was there much need to repeat her
commands. The household people were too glad at once
to obey theu: gende lady, and to mwtify the pride of Ber-
talda, in spite of whose threats and wrath, the stone was
soon firmly fastened down on the mouth of the spring.
Undine bent over it thoughtfully, and wrote on its surface
with her delicate fingers. Something very hard and sharp
must have been hidden in her hand; for when she walked
away, and the others came up, they foimd all manner of
strange characters on the stone, none of which were there

When the Elni^t came home that evening, Bertalda

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Undine 113

received him with tears and complaints of Undine. He
looked sternly at his poor wife, who mournfully cast down
her eyes, saying, however, with finnness, "My lord and
husband would not chide the meanest of his vassals, without
giving him a hearing, much less his wedded wife." —
"Speak, then; what was your reason for this strange
proceeding?" said the Knight with a frown. "I would
rather tell it you quite alone!" sighed Undine. "You can
5ay it just as well in Bertalda's presence," replied he. " Yes,
if thou requurest it," said Undine, " but reqxiire it not." She
looked so humble, and so submissive in her touching beauty,
that the Knight's heart was melted, as by a sunbeam from
happier days. He took her affectionately by the hand,
and led her to his own room, where she spoke to him as

"You know that wicked Uncle KUhlebom, my dearest
lord, and have often been provoked at meeting him about
the castle Bertalda, too, has been often terrified by him.
No wonder; he is soulless, shallow, and unthinking as a
mirror, in whom no feeling can pierce the surface. He has
two or three times seen that you were displeased with me,
that I in my childishness could not help weeping, and that
Bartalda might chance to laugh at the same moment. And
upon this he builds all manner of unjust suspicions, and
interferes, unasked, in our concerns. What is the use oi
my reproaching him, or repulsing, him with angry words?
He believes nothing that I say. A poor cold life is his!
How should he know, that the sorrows and the joys of love
are so sweedy alike, so dosely linked, that it is not in himian
power to part them. When a tear gushes out, a smile lies
beneath; and a smile will draw the tears from their secret

She smiled through her tears in Huldbrand's face, and


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114 Stones Every Child Should Know

a warm ray of his former love shot through his heart SIk.
perceived this, pressed closer to him, and with a few tears
of joy she went on.

''As I found it impossible to get rid of our tormentor
by words, I had nothing for it, but to shut the door against
him. And his only access to us was that fountain. He
has quarrelled with the other fountain spirits in the sur-
rounding valleys, and it is much lower down the Danube,
below the junction of some friends with the great river, that
his power b^ins again. Therefore I stopped the mouth
of eur fountain, and inscribed the stone with characters
which cripple the might of my resdess tmcle; so that he
can no longer cross your path, or mine, or Bertalda's. Men
can indeed lift the stone off as easily as ever; the inscription
has no power over them. So you are free to comply with
Bertalda's wish; but indeed, she little knows what she
asks. Against her the wild Kiihlebom has a most particular
spite, and if some of his forebodings were to come true,
(as they might, without her intending any harm ) O, dearest,
even thou wert not free from danger!"

Huldbrand deeply felt the generosity of his noble-minded
wife, in so zealously shutting out her formidable protector,
even when reviled by Bertalda for so doing. He clasped
her fondly in his arms, and said with much emotion, ** The
stone shall remain; and everything shall be done as thou
wishest, now and hereafter, my sweetest Undine."

Scarce could she trust these words of love, after so dreaiy
an estrangement; she returned his caresses with joyful
but timid gratitude, and at length said, '' My own dear love,
as you are so exceedingly kind to me to-day, may I ask
you to promise one thing ? Herein you are like the summer:
is he not most glc»ious when he decks his brows with thun-
ders, and frowns upon us from his throne of clouds? So

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Undine 115

It is when jour eyes flash Ughtning; it becomes you well^
although in my weakness I may often shed a tear at it.
Only — if you would promise to refrain from it when we are
sailing, or even near any water. For there, you see, my
relations have a right to control me. They mi^t relent-
lessly tear me from you in their wrath, fancying that there
is an insult offered to one of their race; and I should be
doomed to spend the rest of my life in the crystal palaces
below, without ever coming to you; or if they did send me
up again — oh Heaven, that would be far worse! No, no,
my best beloved; you will not let it come to that, if you
love your poor Undine."

He solemnly promised to do as she asked him, and they
returned to the saloon, quite restored to comfort and peace.
They met Bertalda, followed by a few labourers whom she
had sent for, and she said in a tone of bitterness that had
grown conmion with her of late, "So, now your private
consultation is over, and we may have the stone taken up.
Make haste, you people, and do it for me." But Huld-
brand, incensed at her arrogance, said shortly and decidedly,
"The stone shall not be touched," and he then reproved
Bertalda for her rudeness to his wife; upon which the
labourers walked off, exulting secretly, while Bertalda
hiuried away to her chamber, pale and disturbed.

The hour of supper came, and they waited in vain for
Bertalda. A message was sent to her; the servants found
her room empty, and brought back only a sealed letter
directed to the Knight. He opened it with trepidation and
read, "I feel with shame that I am ©nly a fisherman's
daughter. Having forgotten it a moment, I wiD expiate
my crime in the wretched hut of my parents. Live happy
with your beautiful wife!"

Undine was sincerely grieved; she entreated Huldbrand


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to pursue their faiend at once, and bring her back with him.
Alas! there was little need of entreaty. His passion for
Bertalda returned with fresh violence; he searched the
casde all over, asking everyone if they could tell him in
what direction the fair one had fled. He could discover
nothing; and now he had mounted his horse in the court,
and stood ready to set forth, and try the route by which he
had brought Bertalda to the castle. A peasant boy just
then came up, saying that he had met the lady riding toward
the Black Valley. Like a shot the Knight darted through
the gate, and took that direction, without heeding Undine's
anxious cries from a window: "To the Black Valley? oh,
not therel Huldbmnd, not there! Or take me with you,
for God's sake!" Finding it vain to cry, she had her white
palfrey saddled in all haste, and galloped after her husband,
without allowing anyone to attend her.


The Black Valley lay among the deepest recesses of the
mountains. What it is called now none can tell. In those
times it bore that name among the coimtrymen, on account
of the deep gloom shed ova: it by many high trees, mosdy
pines. Even the brook which gushed down between the
cliffs was tinged with black, and never sparkled like the
merry streams from which nothing intercepts the blue of
heaven. Now, in the dusk of twilight, it looked darker
still as it gur^ed between the rocks. The Knight spurred
his horse along its banks, now fearing to lose ground in his
pursuit, and now again, that he might overlook the fugitive
in her hiding-place, if he hurried past too swifdy. He
presendy found himself far advanced in the valley, and
hoped he must soon overtake her, if he were but in the ri^it
tmck. Then again, the thought that it might be a wrong

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Undine 117

one roused the keenest anxiety in his breast. Where was
the tender Bertalda to lay her head, if he missed her in this
bleak, stormy ni^t, which was setting in, black and awful,
upon the valley ? And now he saw something white gleam-
ing through the boughs, on the slope of the mountain; he
took it for Bertalda's robe and made for it. But the horse
started back, and reared so obstinately that Huldbrand,
impatient of delay, and having already found him difficult
to manage among the brambles of the thicket, dismotrnted^
and fastened the foaming steed to a tree; he then felt hisp
way through the bushes on foot. The bou^s splashed his
head and cheeks roughly with cold wet dew; far off, he
heard the growl of thunder beyond the mountains, and the
whole strange scene had such an effect upon him, that he
became afraid of approaching the white figure, which he
now saw lying on the ground at a short distance. And yet
he coul4 distinguish it to be a woman, dressed in long white
garments like Bertalda's, asleep or in a swoon. He came
close to her, made the boughs rusde, and his sword ring-—
but she stirred not. ''Bertalda!'' cried he; first gendy,
then louder and louder — ^in vain. When at length he
shouted the beloved name with the whole strength of his
lungs, a faint mocking echo returned it from the cavities
of the rocks — "Bertalda!" but the sleeper awoke not. He
bent over her; but the gloom of the valley and the shades
of night prevented his discerning her features. At length,
though kept back by some boding fears, he knelt down by
her on the earth, and just then a flash of lightning lighted
up the valley. He saw a hideous distorted face dose to
his own, and heard a hollow voice say, " Give me a kiss^
thou sweet shepherd!" With a cry of horror Huldbrand
started up, and the monster after him. "Go home!" it
cried, " the bad ^irits are abroad — go home! or I have youP


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and its long white arm nearly grasped him. ''Spiteful
Kilhlebom/' cried the Knight, taking courage, ''what
matters it, I know thee, foul spirit! There is a kiss for thee! "
And he raised his sword furiously against the figure. But
it dissolved, and a drenching shower made it sufficiently
clear to the Knight what enemy he had encountered. '^ He
would scare me away trom Bertalda," said he aloud to him-
sdf; "he thinks he can subdue me by his absurd tricks,
and make me leave the poor terrified maiden in his power,
that he may wreak his veng^nce upon her. But thai he
never shaU — wretched goblin ! What power lies in a human
iNreast when steeled by firm resolve, the contemptible jug-
^er has yet to learn." And he felt the truth of his own
words, and seemed to have nerved himself afresh by them.
He thought, too, that fortune now began to aid him, for
before he had got back to his horse again, he distinctly
heard the piteous voice of Bertalda as if near at hand,
borne toward him on the winds as their howling mingled
with the thunder. Eageriy did he push on in that direction,
and he found the trembling damsel was just attempting
to climb the mountain's side, in order, at any risk, to get
out of these awful shades.

He met her affectionately and however proudly she
might before have determined to hold out, she could not but
rejoice at being rescued by her much-loved Huldbrand
from the fearful solitude, and warmly invited to return to
his cheerful home in the castle. She accompanied him
with scarcely a word of reluctance, but was so exhausted,
that the Knight felt much relieved when they had reached
the horse in safety; he hastened to loose him, and wotild
have placed his tender charge upon him, and walked by
her side to guide h^ carefully through the dangerous shades.
But Kfttilebom's mad pranks had driven the horse quite


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Undine X19

wild. Hardly could the Knight himself have sprung upon
the terrified plunging creature's back: to place the trembling
Bertalda upon him was quite impossible; so they m^^de up
their minds to walk home. With his horse's bridle over
one arm, Huldbrand supported his half-fainting companion
on the other. Bertalda mustered what strength she could,
in order the sooner to get beyond this dreaded valley, but
fatigue weighed her down like lead, and every limb shook
under her; partly from the recollection of all she had
already suffered from Ktihlebom's spite, and partly fo>m
terror at the continued crashing of the tempest through
the moimtain forests.

At length she slid down from her protector's arm, and
sinking on the moss, she said: '* Leave me to die here, noble
Huldbrand; I reap the pimishment of my folly, and must
sink under this load of fatigue and anguish." — "Never,
my precious friend, never will I forsake you," cried Huld-
brand, vainly striving to curb his raging steed, who was now
beginning to start and plimge worse than ever: the Knight
contrived to keep him at some distance from the exhausted
maiden, so as to save her the terror of seeing him near her.
But no sooner had he withdrawn himself and the wild animal
a few steps, than she began to call him back in the most
piteous manner, thinking he was indeed going to desert her
in this horrible wilderness. He was quite at a loss what
to do: ^dly would he have let the horse gallop away in the
darimess and expend his wild fury, but that he feared he
might rush down upon the very spot where Bertalda lay.

In this extremity of distress, it gave him unspeakable
comfort to descry a wagon slowly descending the stony
road behind him. He called out for help: a man's voice
replied telling him to have patience, but promising to come
to his aid; soon two white horses became visible through


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the thicket, and next the white smock-firock of die
wagoner, and a large sheet of white linen that covered his
goods inside. '' Ho, stop! " cried the man, and the obedient
horses stood stilL '^ I see well enough," said he, " what ails
the beast When first I came through these parts my
hurses were just as troublesome; because there is a wicked
water-sprite living hard by, who takes delight in making
them play tricks. But I know a charm for this; if you will
give me leave to whisper it in your horse's ear, you will see
him as quiet as mine yonder in a moment." — "Try your
charm, if it will do any good!" said the impatient Knight.
The driver pulled the unruly horse's head toward him, and
whispered a couple of words in his ear. At once the animal
stood still, tamed and pacified, and showed no remains of
his former fury but by panting and snorting, as if he still
chafed inwardly. This was no time for Huldbrand to
inquire how it had been done. He agreed with the wagons
that Bertalda should be taken into the wagon, which by
his accoimt was loaded with bales of soft cotton, and con-
veyed to the Castle of Ringstetten, while the Knight followed
on horseback. But his horse seemed too much spent by
his former violence to be able to carry his master so far,
and the man persuaded Huldbrand to get into the wagon
with Bertalda. The horse was to be fastened behind.
"We shall go down hill," said the man, **and that is light
work for my horses." The Knight placed himself by
Bertalda, his horse qiuetly followed them, and the driver
walked by steadily and carefully.

In the deep stillness of night, while the storm growled
more and more distant, and in the consciousness of safety
and easy progress, Huldbrand and Bertalda insensibly
got into confidential discourse. He tenderly reproached
her for having so hastily fled; she excused herself with

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Undine i3z

bashful emotions, and through all she said it appeared
most clearly that her heart was all his own. Huldbrand
was too much engrossed by the expression of her words
to attend to their apparent meaning, and he only replied to
the former. Upon this, the wagoner cried out in a voice
that rent the air, "Now my horses, up with you; show us
what you are made of, my fine fellows." The Knight put
out his head and saw the horses treading or rather swimming
through the foaming waters, while the wheels whirled loudly
and rapidly like those of a water-mill, and the wagoner
was standing Uj^n the top of his wagon, overlooking the
floods. "Why, what road is this? It will take us into the
middle of the stream," cried Huldbrand. " No, sir," cried
the driver laughing; " it is just the other way. The stream
is coming into the middle of the road. Look round, and
see how it is all flooded."

In feet, the whole valley was now heaving with waves,
that had swollen rapidly to a great height. "This must
be Kiihleborn, the wicked sprite, trying to drown us!"
cried the Knight. "Have you no charm to keep him off,
friend?" — "I do know of one," said the driver, "but I
can't and won't make use of it, till you know who I am."
— "Is this a time for riddles?" shouted the Knight; "the
flood is rising every moment, and what care I to know who
you are?" — ^"It rather concerns you, however, to know,"
said the driver, "for I am Kiihleborn." And he grinned
hideously into the wagon — ^which was now a wagon no
longer, nor were the horses horses; but all dissolved into
foaming waves; the wagoner himself shot up into a giant
waterspout, bore down the struggling horse into the flood,
and, towering o'"^ the heads of the hapless pan:, till he had

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Online LibraryHamilton Wright MabieFamous stories every child should know: a selection of the best stories of ... → online text (page 9 of 22)