Sad, sad and drooping, looked the little white maiden, as she stood
on the hearth-rug, with the hot blast of the stove striking through
her like a pestilence. Once, she threw a glance wistfully toward the
windows, and caught a glimpse, through its red curtains, of the
snow-covered roofs, and the stars glimmering frostily, and all the
delicious intensity of the cold night. The bleak wind rattled the
window-panes, as if it were summoning her to come forth. But there
stood the snow-child, drooping, before the hot stove!
But the common-sensible man saw nothing amiss.
"Come, wife," said he, "let her have a pair of thick stockings and a
woollen shawl or blanket directly; and tell Dora to give her some warm
supper as soon as the milk boils. You, Violet and Peony, amuse your
little friend. She is out of spirits, you see, at finding herself in a
strange place. For my part, I will go around among the neighbours, and
find out where she belongs."
The mother, meanwhile, had gone in search of the shawl and stockings;
for her own view of the matter, however subtle and delicate, had given
way, as it always did, to the stubborn materialism of her husband.
Without heeding the remonstrances of his two children, who still kept
murmuring that their little snow-sister did not love the warmth, good
Mr. Lindsey took his departure, shutting the parlour-door carefully
behind him. Turning up the collar of his sack over his ears, he
emerged from the house, and had barely reached the street-gate when he
was recalled by the screams of Violet and Peony, and the rapping of a
thimbled finger against the parlour window.
"Husband! husband!" cried his wife, showing her horror-stricken face
through the window-panes. "There is no need of going for the child's
"We told you so, father!" screamed Violet and Peony, as he re-entered
the parlour. "You would bring her in; and now our
poor - dear - beau-ti-ful little snow-sister is thawed!"
And their own sweet little faces were already dissolved in tears; so
that their father, seeing what strange things occasionally happen in
this every-day world, felt not a little anxious lest his children
might be going to thaw too! In the utmost perplexity, he demanded an
explanation of his wife. She could only reply, that, being summoned to
the parlour by the cries of Violet and Peony, she found no trace of
the little white maiden, unless it were the remains of a heap of snow,
which, while she was gazing at it, melted quite away upon the
"And there you see all that is left of it!" added she, pointing to a
pool of water, in front of the stove.
"Yes, father," said Violet, looking reproachfully at him, through her
tears, "there is all that is left of our dear little snow-sister!"
"Naughty father!" cried Peony, stamping his foot, and - I shudder to
say - shaking his little fist at the common-sensible man. "We told you
how it would be! What for did you bring her in?"
And the Heidenberg stove, through the isinglass of its door, seemed to
glare at good Mr. Lindsey, like a red-eyed demon, triumphing in the
mischief which it had done!
This, you will observe, was one of those rare cases, which yet will
occasionally happen, where common-sense finds itself at fault. The
remarkable story of the snow-image, though to that sagacious class of
people to whom good Mr. Lindsey belongs it may seem but a childish
affair, is, nevertheless, capable of being moralised in various
methods, greatly for their edification. One of its lessons, for
instance, might be that it behooves men, and especially men of
benevolence, to consider well what they are about, and, before acting
on their philanthropic purposes, to be quite sure that they comprehend
the nature and all the relations of the business in hand. What has
been established as an element of good to one being may prove absolute
mischief to another; even as the warmth of the parlour was proper
enough for children of flesh and blood, like Violet and Peony - though
by no means very wholesome, even for them - involved nothing short of
annihilation to the unfortunate snow-image.
But, after all, there is no teaching anything to wise men of good Mr.
Lindsey's stamp. They know everything - O, to be sure! - everything that
has been, and everything that is, and everything that, by any future
possibility, can be. And should some phenomenon of nature or
providence transcend their system, they will not recognise it, even if
it come to pass under their very noses.
"Wife," said Mr. Lindsey, after a fit of silence, "see what a quantity
of snow the children have brought in on their feet! It has made quite
a puddle here before the stove. Pray tell Dora to bring some towels
and sop it up!"
I. - HOW THE KNIGHT CAME TO THE FISHERMAN'S COTTAGE
Once - it may be some hundreds of years ago - there lived a good old
Fisherman, who, on a fine summer's evening, was sitting before the
door mending his nets. He dwelt in a land of exceeding beauty. The
green slope, upon which he had built his hut, stretched far out into a
great lake; and it seemed either that the cape, enamoured of the
glassy blue waters, had pressed forward into their bosom, or that the
lake had lovingly folded in its arms the blooming promontory, with her
waving grass and flowers, and the refreshing shade of her tall trees.
Each bade the other welcome, and increased its own beauty by so doing.
This lovely nook was scarcely ever visited by mankind, except by the
Fisherman and his family. For behind the promontory lay a very wild
forest, which, beside being gloomy and pathless, had too bad a name as
the resort of wondrous spirits and goblins, to be crossed by anyone
who could help it. Yet the pious old Fisherman went through it without
being molested, whenever he walked to a large city beyond the forest,
to dispose of the costly fish that he caught in the lake. For him,
indeed, there was little danger, even in that forest; for his thoughts
were almost all thoughts of devotion, and his custom was to carol
forth to Heaven a loud and heartfelt hymn, on first setting foot
within the treacherous shades.
As he sat this evening most peacefully over his nets, he was startled
in an unwonted manner by a rustling sound in the forest, like that of
a man and horse; and the noise came nearer and nearer. The dreams he
had had in many a stormy night of the spirits of the forest started up
before his mind, particularly the image of a gigantic long snow-white
man, who kept nodding his head mysteriously. Nay, as he raised his
eyes and looked into the forest, he could fancy he saw, through the
thick screen of leaves, the nodding creature advance toward him. But
he soon composed himself, recollecting that even in the heart of the
woods nothing had ever befallen him; much less here, in the open air,
could the bad spirits have power to touch him. He moreover repeated a
text from the Bible aloud and earnestly, which quite restored his
courage, and he almost laughed to see how his fancy had misled him.
The white nodding man suddenly resolved himself into a little brook he
knew of old, which gushed bubbling out of the wood, and emptied itself
into the lake. And the rustling had been caused by a horseman in
gorgeous attire, who now came forward toward the hut from beneath the
He wore a scarlet mantle over his purple, gold-embroidered jerkin; a
plume of red and purple feathers waved over his gold-coloured
barret-cap; and from his golden belt hung a glittering jewelled sword.
The white courser which carried him was of lighter make than the
generality of chargers, and trod so airily, that the enamelled turf
seemed scarcely to bend under him. The aged Fisherman could not quite
shake off his uneasiness, although he told himself that so noble a
guest could bring him no harm, and accordingly doffed his hat
courteously, and interrupted his work when he approached.
The Knight reined in his horse, and asked whether they could both
obtain one night's shelter.
"As to your horse, good sir," answered the Fisherman, "I have no
better stable to offer him than the shady meadow, and no provender
but the grass which grows upon it. But you shall yourself be heartily
welcome to my poor house, and to the best of my supper and night
The stranger seemed quite content; he dismounted, and they helped each
other to take off the horse's girth and saddle, after which the Knight
let him graze on the flowery pasture, saying to his host, "Even if I
had found you less kind and hospitable, my good old man, you must have
borne with me till to-morrow; for I see we are shut in by a wide lake
and Heaven forbid that I should cross the haunted forest again at
"We will not say much about that," replied the Fisherman; and he led
his guest into the cottage.
There, close by the hearth, from whence a scanty fire shed its
glimmering light over the clean little room, sat the Fisherman's old
wife. When their noble guest came in, she rose to give him a kind
welcome, but immediately resumed her place of honour, without offering
it to him; and the Fisherman said with a smile: "Do not take it amiss,
young sir, if she does not give up to you the most comfortable place;
it is the custom among us poor people that it should always belong to
"Why, husband!" said his wife, quietly, "what are you thinking of? Our
guest is surely a Christian gentleman, and how could it come into his
kind young heart to turn old people out of their places? Sit down, my
young lord," added she, turning to the Knight; "there stands a very
comfortable chair for you; only remember it must not be too roughly
handled, for one leg is not so steady as it has been." The Knight drew
the chair carefully forward, seated himself sociably, and soon felt
quite at home in this little household, and as if he had just returned
to it from a far journey.
The three friends began to converse openly and familiarly together.
First the Knight asked a few questions about the forest, but the old
man would not say much of that; least of all, said he, was it fitting
to talk of such things at nightfall; but, on household concerns, and
their own way of life, the old folks talked readily; and were pleased
when the Knight told them of his travels, and that he had a castle
near the source of the Danube, and that his name was Lord Huldbrand of
Ringstetten. In the middle of their discourse, the stranger often
observed a noise outside a small window, as if someone were dashing
water against it. The old man knit his brows and looked grave whenever
this occurred; at last, when a great splash of water came full against
the panes, and some found its way into the room, he could bear it no
longer, but started up, crying, "Undine! will you never leave off
these childish tricks - when we have a stranger gentleman in the house
too!" This produced silence outside, all but a sound of suppressed
giggling, and the Fisherman said as he came back; "My honoured guest,
you must put up with this, and perhaps with many another piece of
mischief; but she means no harm. It is our adopted child Undine; there
is no breaking her of her childish ways, though she is eighteen years
old now. But as I told you she is as good a child as ever lived at
"Ay, so you may say!" rejoined his wife, shaking her head. "When you
come home from fishing, or from a journey, her playful nonsense may be
pleasant enough. But, to be keeping her out of mischief all day long,
as I must do, and never get a word of sense from her, nor a bit of
help and comfort in my old age, is enough to weary the patience of a
"Well, well," said the good man, "you feel toward Undine as I do
toward the lake. Though its waves are apt enough to burst my banks
and my nets, yet I love them for all that, and so do you love our
pretty wench, with all her plaguey tricks. Don't you?"
"Why, one cannot be really angry with her, to be sure," said the dame,
Here the door flew open, and a beautiful fair creature tripped in, and
said, playfully: "Well, father, you made game of me; where is your
guest?" The next moment she perceived the Knight, and stood fixed in
mute admiration; while Huldbrand gazed upon her lovely form, and tried
to impress her image on his mind, thinking that he must avail himself
of her amazement to do so, and that in a moment she would shrink away
in a fit of bashfulness. But it proved otherwise. After looking at him
a good while, she came up to him familiarly, knelt down beside him,
and playing with a golden medal that hung from his rich chain, she
said: "So, thou kind, thou beautiful guest! hast thou found us out in
our poor hut at last? Why didst thou roam the world so many years
without coming near us? Art come through the wild forest, my handsome
friend?" The old woman allowed him no time to answer. She desired her
to get up instantly, like a modest girl, and to set about her work.
But Undine, without replying, fetched a footstool and put it close to
Huldbrand's chair, sat down there with her spinning, and said
cheerfully - "I will sit and work here." The old man behaved as parents
are apt to do with spoiled children. He pretended not to see Undine's
waywardness, and was beginning to talk of something else; but she
would not let him. She said, "I asked our visitor where he came from,
and he has not answered me yet."
"From the forest I came, you beautiful sprite," answered Huldbrand;
and she continued:
"Then you must tell me how you came there, and what wonderful
adventures you had in it, for I know that nobody can escape without
Huldbrand could not help shuddering on being reminded of his
adventures, and involuntarily glanced at the window, half expecting to
see one of the strange beings he had encountered in the forest
grinning at him through it; but nothing was to be seen except the deep
black night, which had now closed in. He recollected himself, and was
just beginning his narrative, when the old man interposed: "Not just
now, Sir Knight; this is no time for such tales."
But Undine jumped up passionately, put her beautiful arms akimbo, and
standing before the Fisherman, exclaimed: "What! may not he tell his
story, father - may not he? But I will have it; he must. He shall
indeed!" And she stamped angrily with her pretty feet, but it was all
done in so comical and graceful a manner, that Huldbrand thought her
still more bewitching in her wrath, than in her playful mood.
Not so the old man; his long-restrained anger burst out uncontrolled.
He scolded Undine smartly for her disobedience, and unmannerly conduct
to the stranger, his wife chiming in.
Undine then said: "Very well, if you will be quarrelsome and not let
me have my own way, you may sleep alone in your smoky old hut!" and
she shot through the door like an arrow, and rushed into the dark
II. - HOW UNDINE FIRST CAME TO THE FISHERMAN
Huldbrand and the Fisherman sprang from their seats, and tried to
catch the angry maiden; but before they could reach the house door,
Undine had vanished far into the thick shades, and not a sound of her
light footsteps was to be heard, by which to track her course.
Huldbrand looked doubtfully at his host; he almost thought that the
whole fair vision which had so suddenly plunged into the night, must
be a continuation of the phantom play which had whirled around him in
his passage through the forest. But the old man mumbled through his
teeth: "It is not the first time she has served us so. And here are
we, left in our anxiety with a sleepless night before us; for who can
tell what harm may befall her, all alone out-of-doors till daybreak?"
"Then let us be after her, good father, for God's sake!" cried
The old man replied, "Where would be the use? It were a sin to let you
set off alone in pursuit of the foolish girl, and my old legs would
never overtake such a Will-with-the-wisp - even if we could guess which
way she is gone."
"At least let us call her, and beg her to come back," said Huldbrand;
and he began calling after her in most moving tones: "Undine! O
Undine, do return!"
The old man shook his head, and said that all the shouting in the
world would do no good with such a wilful little thing. But yet he
could not himself help calling out from time to time in the darkness:
"Undine! ah, sweet Undine! I entreat thee, come back this once."
The Fisherman's words proved true. Nothing was to be seen or heard of
Undine; and as her foster-father would by no means suffer Huldbrand to
pursue her, they had nothing for it but to go in again. They found the
fire on the hearth nearly burnt out, and the dame, who did not take to
heart Undine's flight and danger so much as her husband, was gone to
bed. The old man blew the coals, laid on dry wood, and by the light of
the reviving flames he found a flagon of wine, which he put between
himself and his guest. "You are uneasy about that silly 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. Whenever, 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 sigh.
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 our beautiful home, in order to give our darling a
good education among other human beings. With us poor folks, wishing
is one thing, and doing is quite another, Sir Knight; but what then?
we can only try our 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 in 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
extraordinary 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
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 streaming like two fountains; she was in deep mourning. 'Oh,
good Heaven!' I called out, 'where is our dear child? Tell 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 beautiful
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 dumb 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 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 her here; but she gave
me a strange, confused answer. I am sure she must have been born 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 found herself lying under
these trees, in safety and comfort, upon our pretty shore.
"So now we had a serious, anxious charge thrown 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 anything that would glorify and please Him, she was
willing to have done. So my wife and I said to each other: 'If 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 child.
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 unruly as she had
always been before. For, what my wife said just now was too true - we
have indeed found her the wildest little 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 of the wind; the trees on the shore groaned
from top to bottom, and bowed themselves over the rushing waters.
"Undine! for God's sake, Undine!" cried the Knight, and 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
III. - HOW THEY FOUND UNDINE AGAIN
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 commotion
of the once-peaceful spot, he might have fancied the whole promontory,