Part 2 out of 2
fortunate rival the cause of her bitterest disappointment. Under the
influence of this mutual regard, they found means to persuade, the
one her foster-parents, and the other her husband, to defer the day
of separation to a period more and more remote; nay, more, they had
already begun to talk of a plan for Bertalda's accompanying Undine to
Castle Ringstetten, near one of the sources of the Danube.
Once on a fine evening they happened to be talking over their scheme
just as they passed the high trees that bordered the public walk.
The young married pair, though it was somewhat late, had called upon
Bertalda to invite her to share their enjoyment; and all three
proceeded familiarly up and down beneath the dark blue heaven, not
seldom interrupted in their converse by the admiration which they
could not but bestow upon the magnificent fountain in the middle of
the square, and upon the wonderful rush and shooting upward of its
waters. All was sweet and soothing to their minds. Among the
shadows of the trees stole in glimmerings of light from the adjacent
houses (sic). A low murmur as of children at play, and of other
persons who were enjoying their walk, floated around them--they were
so alone, and yet sharing so much of social happiness in the bright
and stirring world, that whatever had appeared rough by day now
became smooth of its own accord. All the three friends could no
longer see the slightest cause for hesitation in regard to Bertalda's
taking the journey.
At that instant, while they were just fixing the day of their
departure, a tall man approached them from the middle of the square,
bowed respectfully to the company, and spoke something in the young
bride's ear. Though displeased with the interruption and its cause,
she walked aside a few steps with the stranger; and both began to
whisper, as it seemed, in a foreign tongue. Huldbrand thought he
recognized the strange man of the forest, and he gazed upon him so
fixedly, that he neither heard nor answered the astonished inquiries
of Bertalda. All at once Undine clapped her hands with delight, and
turned back from the stranger, laughing: he, frequently shaking his
head, retired with a hasty step and discontented air, and descended
into the fountain. Huldbrand now felt perfectly certain that his
conjecture was correct. But Bertalda asked:
"What, then, dear Undine, did the master of the fountain wish to say
Undine laughed within herself, and made answer: "The day after to-
morrow, my dear child, when the anniversary of your name-day returns,
you shall be informed." And this was all she could be prevailed upon
to disclose. She merely asked Bertalda to dinner on the appointed
day, and requested her to invite her foster-parents; and soon
afterwards they separated.
"Kuhleborn?" said Huldbrand to his lovely wife, with an inward
shudder when they had taken leave of Bertalda, and were now going
home through the darkening streets.
"Yes, it was he," answered Undine; "and he would have wearied me with
his foolish warnings. But, in the midst, quite contrary to his
intentions, he delighted me with a most welcome piece of news. If
you, my dear lord and husband, wish me to acquaint you with it now,
you need only command me, and I will freely and from my heart tell
you all without reserve. But would you confer upon your Undine a
very, very great pleasure, wait till the day after to-morrow, and
then you too shall have your share of the surprise."
The knight was quite willing to gratify his wife in what she had
asked so sweetly. And even as she was falling asleep, she murmured
to herself, with a smile: "How she will rejoice and be astonished at
what her master of the fountain has told me!--dear, dear Bertalda!"
The company were sitting at dinner. Bertalda, adorned with jewels
and flowers without number, the presents of her foster-parents and
friends, and looking like some goddess of spring, sat beside Undine
and Huldbrand at the head of the table. When the sumptuous repast
was ended, and the dessert was placed before them, permission was
given that the doors should be left open: this was in accordance with
the good old custom in Germany, that the common people might see and
rejoice in the festivity of their superiors. Among these spectators
the servants carried round cake and wine.
Huldbrand and Bertalda waited with secret impatience for the promised
explanation, and hardly moved their eyes from Undine. But she still
continued silent, and merely smiled to herself with secret and
heartfelt satisfaction. All who were made acquainted with the
promise she had given could perceive that she was every moment on the
point of revealing a happy secret; and yet, as children sometimes
delay tasting their choicest dainties, she still withheld the
communication. Bertalda and Huldbrand shared the same delightful
feeling, while in anxious hope they were expecting the unknown
disclosure which they were to receive from the lips of their friend.
At this moment several of the company pressed Undine to sing. This
she seemed pleased at; and ordering her lute to be brought, she sang
the following words:--
"Morning so bright,
Wild-flowers so gay,
Where high grass so dewy
Crowns the wavy lake's border.
On the meadow's verdant bosom
What glimmers there so white?
Have wreaths of snowy blossoms,
Soft-floating, fallen from heaven?
Ah, see! a tender infant!--
It plays with flowers, unwittingly;
It strives to grasp morn's golden beams.
0 where, sweet stranger, where's your home?
Afar from unknown shores
The waves have wafted hither
This helpless little one.
Nay, clasp not, tender darling,
With tiny hand the flowers!
No hand returns the pressure,
The flowers are strange and mute.
They clothe themselves in beauty,
They breathe a rich perfume:
But cannot fold around you
A mother's loving arms;--
Far, far away that mother's fond embrace.
Life's early dawn just opening faint,
Your eye yet beaming heaven's own smile,
So soon your tenderest guardians gone;
Severe, poor child, your fate,--
All, all to you unknown.
A noble duke has crossed the mead,
And near you checked his steed's career:
Wonder and pity touch his heart;
With knowledge high, and manners pure,
He rears you,--makes his castle home your own.
How great, how infinite your gain!
Of all the land you bloom the loveliest;
Yet, ah! the priceless blessing,
The bliss of parents' fondness,
You left on strands unknown!"
Undine let fall her lute with a melancholy smile. The eyes of
Bertalda's noble foster-parents were filled with tears.
"Ah yes, it was so--such was the morning on which I found you, poor
orphan!" cried the duke, with deep emotion; "the beautiful singer is
certainly right: still
'The priceless blessing,
The bliss of parents' fondness,'
it was beyond our power to give you."
"But we must hear, also, what happened to the poor parents," said
Undine, as she struck the chords, and sung:--
"Through her chambers roams the mother
Searching, searching everywhere;
Seeks, and knows not what, with yearning,
Childless house still finding there.
Childless house!--0 sound of anguish!
She alone the anguish knows,
There by day who led her dear one,
There who rocked its night-repose.
Beechen buds again are swelling,
Sunshine warms again the shore;
Ah, fond mother, cease your searching!
Comes the loved and lost no more.
Then when airs of eve are fresh'ning,
Home the father wends his way,
While with smiles his woe he's veiling,
Gushing tears his heart betray.
Well he knows, within his dwelling,
Still as death he'll find the gloom,
Only hear the mother moaning,--
No sweet babe to SMILE him home."
"0, tell me, in the name of Heaven tell me, Undine, where are my
parents?" cried the weeping Bertalda. "You certainly know; you must
have discovered them, you wonderful being; for, otherwise you would
never have thus torn my heart. Can they be already here? May I
believe it possible?" Her eye glanced rapidly over the brilliant
company, and rested upon a lady of high rank who was sitting next to
Then, bending her head, Undine beckoned toward the door, while her
eyes overflowed with the sweetest emotion. "Where, then, are the
poor parents waiting?" she asked; and the old fisherman, hesitating,
advanced with his wife from the crowd of spectators. They looked
inquiringly, now at Undine, and now at the beautiful lady who was
said to be their daughter.
"It is she! it is she there before you!" exclaimed the restorer of
their child, her voice half choked with rapture. And both the aged
parents embraced their recovered daughter, weeping aloud and praising
But, terrified and indignant, Bertalda tore herself from their arms.
Such a discovery was too much for her proud spirit to bear,
especially at the moment when she had doubtless expected to see her
former splendour increased, and when hope was picturing to her
nothing less brilliant than a royal canopy and a crown. It seemed to
her as if her rival had contrived all this on purpose to humble her
before Huldbrand and the whole world. She reproached Undine; she
reviled the old people; and even such offensive words as "deceiver,
bribed and perjured impostors," burst from her lips.
The aged wife of the fisherman then said to herself, in a low voice:
"Ah, my God, she has become wicked! and yet I feel in my heart that
she is my child."
The old fisherman had meanwhile folded his hands, and offered up a
silent prayer that she might NOT be his daughter.
Undine, faint and pale as death, turned from the parents to Bertalda,
from Bertalda to the parents. She was suddenly cast dawn from all
that heaven of happiness in which she had been dreaming, and plunged
into an agony of terror and disappointment, which she had never known
even in dreams.
"Have you, then, a soul? Have you indeed a soul, Bertalda?" she
cried again and again to her angry friend, as if with vehement effort
she would arouse her from a sudden delirium or some distracting dream
of night, and restore her to recollection.
But when Bertalda became every moment only more and more enraged--
when the disappointed parents began to weep aloud--and the company,
with much warmth of dispute, were espousing opposite sides--she
begged, with such earnestness and dignity, for the liberty of
speaking in this her husband's hall, that all around her were in an
instant hushed to silence. She then advanced to the upper end of the
table, where, both humbled and haughty, Bertalda had seated herself,
and, while every eye was fastened upon her, spoke in the following
"My friends, you appear dissatisfied and disturbed; and you are
interrupting, with your strife, a festivity I had hoped would bring
joy to you and to me. Ah! I knew nothing of your heartless ways of
thinking; and never shall understand them: I am not to blame for the
mischief this disclosure has done. Believe me, little as you may
imagine this to be the case, it is wholly owing to yourselves. One
word more, therefore, is all I have to add; but this is one that must
be spoken:--I have uttered nothing but truth. Of the certainty of
the fact, I give you the strongest assurance. No other proof can I
or will I produce, but this I will affirm in the presence of God. The
person who gave me this information was the very same who decoyed the
infant Bertalda into the water, and who, after thus taking her from
her parents, placed her on the green grass of the meadow, where he
knew the duke was to pass."
"She is an enchantress!" cried Bertalda; "a witch, that has
intercourse with evil spirits. She acknowledges it herself."
"Never! I deny it!" replied Undine, while a whole heaven of
innocence and truth beamed from her eyes. "I am no witch; look upon
me, and say if I am."
"Then she utters both falsehood and folly," cried Bertalda; "and she
is unable to prove that I am the child of these low people. My noble
parents, I entreat you to take me from this company, and out of this
city, where they do nothing but shame me."
But the aged duke, a man of honourable feeling, remained unmoved; and
his wife remarked:
"We must thoroughly examine into this matter. God forbid that we
should move a step from this hall before we do so."
Then the aged wife of the fisherman drew near, made a low obeisance
to the duchess and said: "Noble and pious lady, you have opened my
heart. Permit me to tell you, that if this evil-disposed maiden is
my daughter, she has a mark like a violet between her shoulders, and
another of the same kind on the instep of her left foot. If she will
only consent to go out of the hall with me--"
"I will not consent to uncover myself before the peasant woman,"
interrupted Bertalda, haughtily turning her back upon her.
"But before me you certainly will," replied the duchess gravely.
"You will follow me into that room, maiden; and the old woman shall
go with us."
The three disappeared, and the rest continued where they were, in
breathless expectation. In a few minutes the females returned--
Bertalda pale as death; and the duchess said: "Justice must be done;
I therefore declare that our lady hostess has spoken exact truth.
Bertalda is the fisherman's daughter; no further proof is required;
and this is all of which, on the present occasion, you need to be
The princely pair went out with their adopted daughter; the
fisherman, at a sign from the duke, followed them with his wife.
The other guests retired in silence, or suppressing their murmurs;
while Undine sank weeping into the arms of Huldbrand.
The lord of Ringstetten would certainly have been more gratified, had
the events of this day been different; but even such as they now
were, he could by no means look upon them as unwelcome, since his
lovely wife had shown herself so full of goodness, sweetness, and
"If I have given her a soul," he could not help saying to himself,
"I have assuredly given her a better one than my own;" and now he
only thought of soothing and comforting his weeping wife, and of
removing her even so early as the morrow from a place which, after
this cross accident, could not fail to be distasteful to her. Yet it
is certain that the opinion of the public concerning her was not
changed. As something extraordinary had long before been expected of
her, the mysterious discovery of Bertalda's parentage had occasioned
little or no surprise; and every one who became acquainted with
Bertalda's story, and with the violence of her behaviour on that
occasion, was only disgusted and set against her. Of this state of
things, however, the knight and his lady were as yet ignorant;
besides, whether the public condemned Bertalda or herself, the one
view of the affair would have been as distressing to Undine as the
other; and thus they came to the conclusion that the wisest course
they could take, was to leave behind them the walls of the old city
with all the speed in their power.
With the earliest beams of morning, a brilliant carriage for Undine
drove up to the door of the inn; the horses of Huldbrand and his
attendants stood near, stamping the pavement, impatient to proceed.
The knight was leading his beautiful wife from the door, when a
fisher-girl came up and met them in the way.
"We have no need of your fish," said Huldbrand, accosting her; "we
are this moment setting out on a journey."
Upon this the fisher-girl began to weep bitterly; and then it was
that the young couple first perceived it was Bertalda. They
immediately returned with her to their apartment, when she informed
them that, owing to her unfeeling and violent conduct of the
preceding day, the duke and duchess had been so displeased with her,
as entirely to withdraw from her their protection, though not before
giving her a generous portion. The fisherman, too, had received a
handsome gift, and had, the evening before, set out with his wife for
"I would have gone with them," she pursued, "but the old fisherman,
who is said to be my father--"
"He is, in truth, your father, Bertalda," said Undine, interrupting
her. "See, the stranger whom you took for the master of the water-
works gave me all the particulars. He wished to dissuade me from
taking you with me to Castle Ringstetten, and therefore disclosed to
me the whole mystery."
"Well then," continued Bertalda, "my father--if it must needs be so--
my father said: 'I will not take you with me until you are changed.
If you will venture to come to us alone through the ill-omened
forest, that shall be a proof of your having some regard for us. But
come not to me as a lady; come merely as a fisher-girl.' I do as he
bade me, for since I am abandoned by all the world, I will live and
die in solitude, a poor fisher-girl, with parents equally poor. The
forest, indeed, appears very terrible to me. Horrible spectres make
it their haunt, and I am so fearful. But how can I help it? I have
only come here at this early hour to beg the noble lady of
Ringstetten to pardon my unbecoming behaviour of yesterday. Sweet
lady, I have the fullest persuasion that you meant to do me a
kindness, but you were not aware how severely you would wound me; and
then, in my agony and surprise, so many rash and frantic expressions
burst from my lips. Forgive me, ah, forgive me! I am in truth so
unhappy, already. Only consider what I was but yesterday morning,
what I was even at the beginning of your yesterday's festival, and
what I am to-day!"
Her words now became inarticulate, lost in a passionate flow of
tears, while Undine, bitterly weeping with her, fell upon her neck.
So powerful was her emotion, that it was a long time before she could
utter a word. At length she said:
"You shall still go with us to Ringstetten; all shall remain just as
we lately arranged it; but say 'thou' to me again, and do not call me
'noble lady' any more. Consider, we were changed for each other when
we were children; even then we were united by a like fate, and we
will strengthen this union with such close affection as no human
power shall dissolve. Only first of all you must go with us to
Ringstetten. How we shall share all things as sisters, we can talk
of after we arrive."
Bertalda looked up to Huldbrand with timid inquiry. He pitied her in
her affliction, took her hand, and begged her tenderly to entrust
herself to him and his wife.
"We will send a message to your parents," continued he, "giving them
the reason why you have not come;"--and he would have added more
about his worthy friends of the peninsula, when, perceiving that
Bertalda shrank in distress at the mention of them, he refrained.
He took her under the arm, lifted her first into the carriage, then
Undine, and was soon riding blithely beside them; so persevering was
he, too, in urging forward their driver, that in a short time they
had left behind them the limits of the city, and a crowd of painful
recollections; and now the ladies could take delight in the beautiful
country which their progress was continually presenting.
After a journey of some days, they arrived, on a fine evening, at
Castle Ringstetten. The young knight being much engaged with the
overseers and menials of his establishment, Undine and Bertalda were
left alone. They took a walk upon the high rampart of the fortress,
and were charmed with the delightful landscape which the fertile
Suabia spread around them. While they were viewing the scene, a tall
man drew near, who greeted them with respectful civility, and who
seemed to Bertalda much to resemble the director of the city
fountain. Still less was the resemblance to be mistaken, when
Undine, indignant at his intrusion, waved him off with an air of
menace; while he, shaking his head, retreated with rapid strides, as
he had formerly done, then glided among the trees of a neighbouring
grove and disappeared.
"Do not be terrified, Bertalda," said Undine; "the hateful master of
the fountain shall do you no harm this time." And then she related
to her the particulars of her history, and who she was herself--how
Bertalda had been taken away from the people of the peninsula, and
Undine left in her place. This relation at first filled the young
maiden with amazement and alarm; she imagined her friend must be
seized with a sudden madness. But from the consistency of her story,
she became more and more convinced that all was true, it so well
agreed with former occurrences, and still more convinced from that
inward feeling with which truth never fails to make itself known to
us. She could not but view it as an extraordinary circumstance that
she was herself now living, as it were, in the midst of one of those
wild tales which she had formerly heard related. She gazed upon
Undine with reverence, but could not keep from a shuddering feeling
which seemed to come between her and her friend; and she could not
but wonder when the knight, at their evening repast, showed himself
so kind and full of love towards a being who appeared to her, after
the discoveries just made, more to resemble a phantom of the spirit-
world than one of the human race.
The writer of this tale, both because it moves his own heart and he
wishes it to move that of others, asks a favour of you, dear reader.
Forgive him if he passes over a considerable space of time in a few
words, and only tells you generally what therein happened. He knows
well that it might be unfolded skilfully, and step by step, how
Huldbrand's heart began to turn from Undine and towards Bertalda--how
Bertalda met the young knight with ardent love, and how they both
looked upon the poor wife as a mysterious being, more to be dreaded
than pitied--how Undine wept, and her tears stung the conscience of
her husband, without recalling his former love; so that though at
times he showed kindness to her, a cold shudder soon forced him to
turn from her to his fellow-mortal Bertalda;--all this, the writer
knows, might have been drawn out fully, and perhaps it ought to have
been. But it would have made him too sad; for he has witnessed such
things, and shrinks from recalling even their shadow. Thou knowest,
probably, the like feeling, dear reader; for it is the lot of mortal
man. Happy art thou if thou hast received the injury, not inflicted
it; for in this case it is more blessed to receive than to give.
Then only a soft sorrow at such a recollection passes through thy
heart, and perhaps a quiet tear trickles down thy cheek over the
faded flowers in which thou once so heartily rejoiced. This is
enough: we will not pierce our hearts with a thousand separate
stings, but only bear in mind that all happened as I just now said.
Poor Undine was greatly troubled; and the other two were very far
from being happy. Bertalda in particular, whenever she was in the
slightest degree opposed in her wishes, attributed the cause to the
jealousy and oppression of the injured wife. She was therefore daily
in the habit of showing a haughty and imperious demeanour, to which
Undine yielded with a sad submission; and which was generally
encouraged strongly by the now blinded Huldbrand.
What disturbed the inmates of the castle still more, was the endless
variety of wonderful apparitions which assailed Huldbrand and
Bertalda in the vaulted passages of the building, and of which
nothing had ever been heard before within the memory of man. The
tall white man, in whom Huldbrand but too plainly recognized Undine's
uncle Kuhleborn, and Bertalda the spectral master of the waterworks,
often passed before them with threatening aspect and gestures; more
especially, however, before Bertalda, so that, through terror, she
had several times already fallen sick, and had, in consequence,
frequently thought of quitting the castle. Yet partly because
Huldbrand was but too dear to her, and she trusted to her innocence,
since no words of love had passed between them, and partly also
because she knew not whither to direct her steps, she lingered where
The old fisherman, on receiving the message from the lord of
Ringstetten that Bertalda was his guest, returned answer in some
lines almost too illegible to be deciphered, but still the best his
advanced life and long disuse of writing permitted him to form.
"I have now become," he wrote, "a poor old widower, for my beloved
and faithful wife is dead. But lonely as I now sit in my cottage, I
prefer Bertalda's remaining where she is, to her living with me.
Only let her do nothing to hurt my dear Undine, else she will have my
The last words of this letter Bertalda flung to the winds; but the
permission to remain from home, which her father had granted her, she
remembered and clung to--just as we are all of us wont to do in
One day, a few moments after Huldbrand had ridden out, Undine called
together the domestics of the family, and ordered them to bring a
large stone, and carefully to cover with it a magnificent fountain,
that was situated in the middle of the castle court. The servants
objected that it would oblige them to bring water from the valley
below. Undine smiled sadly.
"I am sorry, my friends," replied she, "to increase your labour; I
would rather bring up the water-vessels myself: but this fountain
must indeed be closed. Believe me when I say that it must be done,
and that only by doing it we can avoid a greater evil."
The domestics were all rejoiced to gratify their gentle mistress; and
making no further inquiry, they seized the enormous stone. While
they were raising it in their hands, and were now on the point of
adjusting it over the fountain, Bertalda came running to the place,
and cried, with an air of command, that they must stop; that the
water she used, so improving to her complexion, was brought from this
fountain, and that she would by no means allow it to be closed.
This time, however, Undine, while she showed her usual gentleness,
showed more than her usual resolution: she said it belonged to her,
as mistress of the house, to direct the household according to her
best judgment; and that she was accountable in this to no one but her
lord and husband.
"See, 0 pray see," exclaimed the dissatisfied and indignant Bertalda,
"how the beautiful water is curling and curving, winding and waving
there, as if disturbed at being shut out from the bright sunshine,
and from the cheerful view of the human countenance, for whose mirror
it was created."
In truth the water of the fountain was agitated, and foaming and
hissing in a surprising manner; it seemed as if there were something
within possessing life and will, that was struggling to free itself
from confinement. But Undine only the more earnestly urged the
accomplishment of her commands. This earnestness was scarcely
required. The servants of the castle were as happy in obeying their
gentle lady, as in opposing the haughty spirit of Bertalda; and
however the latter might scold and threaten, still the stone was in a
few minutes lying firm over the opening of the fountain. Undine
leaned thoughtfully over it, and wrote with her beautiful fingers on
the flat surface. She must, however, have had something very sharp
and corrosive in her hand, for when she retired, and the domestics
went up to examine the stone, they discovered various strange
characters upon it, which none of them had seen there before.
When the knight returned home, toward evening, Bertalda received him
with tears, and complaints of Undine's conduct. He cast a severe
glance of reproach at his poor wife, and she looked down in distress;
yet she said very calmly:
"My lord and husband, you never reprove even a bondslave before you
hear his defence; how much less, then, your wedded wife!"
"Speak! what moved you to this singular conduct?" said the knight
with a gloomy countenance.
"I could wish to tell you when we are entirely alone," said Undine,
with a sigh.
"You can tell me equally well in the presence of Bertalda," he
"Yes, if you command me," said Undine; "but do not command me--pray,
pray do not!"
She looked so humble, affectionate, and obedient, that the heart of
the knight was touched and softened, as if it felt the influence of a
ray from better times. He kindly took her arm within his, and led
her to his apartment, where she spoke as follows:
"You already know something, my beloved lord, of Kuhleborn, my evil-
disposed uncle, and have often felt displeasure at meeting him in the
passages of this castle. Several times has he terrified Bertalda
even to swooning. He does this because he possesses no soul, being a
mere elemental mirror of the outward world, while of the world within
he can give no reflection. Then, too, he sometimes observes that you
are displeased with me, that in my childish weakness I weep at this,
and that Bertalda, it may be, laughs at the same moment. Hence it is
that he imagines all is wrong with us, and in various ways mixes with
our circle unbidden. What do I gain by reproving him, by showing
displeasure, and sending him away? He does not believe a word I say.
His poor nature has no idea that the joys and sorrows of love have so
sweet a resemblance, and are so intimately connected that no power on
earth is able to separate them. A smile shines in the midst of
tears, and a smile calls forth tears from their dwelling-place."
She looked up at Huldbrand, smiling and weeping, and he again felt
within his heart all the magic of his former love. She perceived it,
and pressed him more tenderly to her, while with tears of joy she
went on thus:
"When the disturber of our peace would not be dismissed with words, I
was obliged to shut the door upon him; and the only entrance by which
he has access to us is that fountain. His connection with the other
water-spirits here in this region is cut off by the valleys that
border upon us; and his kingdom first commences farther off on the
Danube, in whose tributary streams some of his good friends have
their abode. For this reason I caused the stone to be placed over
the opening of the fountain, and inscribed characters upon it, which
baffle all the efforts of my suspicious uncle; so that he now has no
power of intruding either upon you or me, or Bertalda. Human beings,
it is true, notwithstanding the characters I have inscribed there,
are able to raise the stone without any extraordinary trouble; there
is nothing to prevent them. If you choose, therefore, remove it,
according to Bertalda's desire; but she assuredly knows not what she
asks. The rude Kuhleborn looks with peculiar ill-will upon her; and
should those things come to pass that he has predicted to me, and
which may happen without your meaning any evil, ah! dearest, even you
yourself would be exposed to peril."
Huldbrand felt the generosity of his gentle wife in the depth of his
heart, since she had been so active in confining her formidable
defender, and even at the very moment she was reproached for it by
Bertalda. He pressed her in his arms with the tenderest affection,
and said with emotion:
"The stone shall remain unmoved; all remains, and ever shall remain,
just as you choose to have it, my sweetest Undine!"
At these long-withheld expressions of tenderness, she returned his
caresses with lowly delight, and at length said:
"My dearest husband, since you are so kind and indulgent to-day, may
I venture to ask a favour of you? See now, it is with you as with
summer. Even amid its highest splendour, summer puts on the flaming
and thundering crown of glorious tempests, in which it strongly
resembles a king and god on earth. You, too, are sometimes terrible
in your rebukes; your eyes flash lightning, while thunder resounds in
your voice; and although this may be quite becoming to you, I in my
folly cannot but sometimes weep at it. But never, I entreat you,
behave thus toward me on a river, or even when we are near any water.
For if you should, my relations would acquire a right over me. They
would inexorably tear me from you in their fury, because they would
conceive that one of their race was injured; and I should be
compelled, as long as I lived, to dwell below in the crystal palaces,
and never dare to ascend to you again; or should THEY SEND me up to
you!--0 God! that would be far worse still. No, no, my beloved
husband; let it not come to that, if your poor Undine is dear to
He solemnly promised to do as she desired, and, inexpressibly happy
and full of affection, the married pair returned from the apartment.
At this very moment Bertalda came with some work-people whom she had
meanwhile ordered to attend her, and said with a fretful air, which
she had assumed of late:
"Well, now the secret consultation is at an end, the stone may be
removed. Go out, workmen, and see to it."
The knight, however, highly resenting her impertinence, said, in
brief and very decisive terms: "The stone remains where it is!" He
reproved Bertalda also for the vehemence that she had shown towards
his wife. Whereupon the workmen, smiling with secret satisfaction,
withdrew; while Bertalda, pale with rage, hurried away to her room.
When the hour of supper came, Bertalda was waited for in vain. They
sent for her; but the domestic found her apartments empty, and
brought back with him only a sealed letter, addressed to the knight.
He opened it in alarm, and read:
"I feel with shame that I am only the daughter of a poor fisherman.
That I for one moment forgot this, I will make expiation in the
miserable hut of my parents. Farewell to you and your beautiful
Undine was troubled at heart. With eagerness she entreated Huldbrand
to hasten after their friend, who had flown, and bring her back with
him. Alas! she had no occasion to urge him. His passion for
Bertalda again burst forth with vehemence. He hurried round the
castle, inquiring whether any one had seen which way the fair
fugitive had gone. He could gain no information; and was already in
the court on his horse, determining to take at a venture the road by
which he had conducted Bertalda to the castle, when there appeared a
page, who assured him that he had met the lady on the path to the
Black Valley. Swift as an arrow, the knight sprang through the gate
in the direction pointed out, without hearing Undine's voice of
agony, as she cried after him from the window:
"To the Black Valley? Oh, not there! Huldbrand, not there! Or if
you will go, for Heaven's sake take me with you!"
But when she perceived that all her calling was of no avail, she
ordered her white palfrey to be instantly saddled, and followed the
knight, without permitting a single servant to accompany her.
The Black Valley lies secluded far among the mountains. What its
present name may be I am unable to say. At the time of which I am
speaking, the country-people gave it this appellation from the deep
obscurity produced by the shadows of lofty trees, more especially by
a crowded growth of firs that covered this region of moorland. Even
the brook, which bubbled between the rocks, assumed the same dark
hue, and showed nothing of that cheerful aspect which streams are
wont to wear that have the blue sky immediately over them.
It was now the dusk of evening; and between the heights it had become
extremely wild and gloomy. The knight, in great anxiety, skirted the
border of the brook. He was at one time fearful that, by delay, he
should allow the fugitive to advance too far before him; and then
again, in his too eager rapidity, he was afraid he might somewhere
overlook and pass by her, should she be desirous of concealing
herself from his search. He had in the meantime penetrated pretty
far into the valley, and might hope soon to overtake the maiden,
provided he were pursuing the right track. The fear, indeed, that he
might not as yet have gained it, made his heart beat with more and
more of anxiety. In the stormy night which was now approaching, and
which always fell more fearfully over this valley, where would the
delicate Bertalda shelter herself, should he fail to find her? At
last, while these thoughts were darting across his mind, he saw
something white glimmer through the branches on the ascent of the
mountain. He thought he recognized Bertalda's robe; and he directed
his course towards it. But his horse refused to go forward; he
reared with a fury so uncontrollable, and his master was so unwilling
to lose a moment, that (especially as he saw the thickets were
altogether impassable on horseback) he dismounted, and, having
fastened his snorting steed to an elm, worked his way with caution
through the matted underwood. The branches, moistened by the cold
drops of the evening dew, struck against his forehead and cheeks;
distant thunder muttered from the further side of the mountains; and
everything put on so strange an appearance, that he began to feel a
dread of the white figure, which now lay at a short distance from him
upon the ground. Still, he could see distinctly that it was a
female, either asleep or in a swoon, and dressed in long white
garments such as Bertalda had worn the past day. Approaching quite
near to her, he made a rustling with the branches and a ringing with
his sword; but she did not move.
"Bertalda!" he cried, at first low, then louder and louder; yet she
heard him not. At last, when he uttered the dear name with an energy
yet more powerful, a hollow echo from the mountain-summits around the
valley returned the deadened sound, "Bertalda!" Still the sleeper
continued insensible. He stooped down; but the duskiness of the
valley, and the obscurity of twilight would not allow him to
distinguish her features. While, with painful uncertainty, he was
bending over her, a flash of lightning suddenly shot across the
valley. By this stream of light he saw a frightfully distorted
visage close to his own, and a hoarse voice reached his ear:
"You enamoured swain, give me a kiss!" Huldbrand sprang upon his
feet with a cry of horror, and the hideous figure rose with him.
"Go home!" it cried, with a deep murmur: "the fiends are abroad.
Go home! or I have you!" And it stretched towards him its long white
"Malicious Kuhleborn!" exclaimed the knight, with restored energy;
"if Kuhleborn you are, what business have you here?--what's your
will, you goblin? There, take your kiss!" And in fury he struck his
sword at the form. But it vanished like vapour; and a rush of water,
which wetted him through and through, left him in no doubt with what
foe he had been engaged.
"He wishes to frighten me back from my pursuit of Bertalda," said he
to himself. "He imagines that I shall be terrified at his senseless
tricks, and resign the poor distressed maiden to his power, so that
he can wreak his vengeance upon her at will. But that he shall not,
weak spirit of the flood! What the heart of man can do, when it
exerts the full force of its will and of its noblest powers, the poor
goblin cannot fathom."
He felt the truth of his words, and that they had inspired his heart
with fresh courage. Fortune, too, appeared to favour him; for,
before reaching his fastened steed, he distinctly heard the voice of
Bertalda, weeping not far before him, amid the roar of the thunder
and the tempest, which every moment increased. He flew swiftly
towards the sound, and found the trembling maiden, just as she was
attempting to climb the steep, hoping to escape from the dreadful
darkness of this valley. He drew near her with expressions of love;
and bold and proud as her resolution had so lately been, she now felt
nothing but joy that the man whom she so passionately loved should
rescue her from this frightful solitude, and thus call her back to
the joyful life in the castle. She followed almost unresisting, but
so spent with fatigue, that the knight was glad to bring her to his
horse, which he now hastily unfastened from the elm, in order to lift
the fair wanderer upon him, and then to lead him carefully by the
reins through the uncertain shades of the valley.
But, owing to the wild apparition of Kuhleborn, the horse had become
wholly unmanageable. Rearing and wildly snorting as he was, the
knight must have used uncommon effort to mount the beast himself; to
place the trembling Bertalda upon him was impossible. They were
compelled, therefore, to return home on foot. While with one hand
the knight drew the steed after him by the bridle, he supported the
tottering Bertalda with the other. She exerted all the strengths in
her power in order to escape speedily from this vale of terrors. But
weariness weighed her down like lead; and all her limbs trembled,
partly in consequence of what she had suffered from the extreme
terror which Kuhleborn had already caused her, and partly from her
present fear at the roar of the tempest and thunder amid the mountain
At last she slid from the arm of the knight; and sinking upon the
moss, she said: "Only let me lie here, my noble lord. I suffer the
punishment due to my folly; and I must perish here through faintness
"Never, gentle lady, will I leave you," cried Huldbrand, vainly
trying to restrain the furious animal he was leading, for the horse
was all in a foam, and began to chafe more ungovernably than before,
till the knight was glad to keep him at such a distance from the
exhausted maiden as to save her from a new alarm. But hardly had he
withdrawn five steps with the frantic steed when she began to call
after him in the most sorrowful accents, fearful that he would
actually leave her in this horrible wilderness. He was at a loss
what course to take. He would gladly have given the enraged beast
his liberty; he would have let him rush away amid the night and
exhaust his fury, had he not feared that in this narrow defile his
iron-shod hoofs might come thundering over the very spot where
In this extreme peril and embarrassment he heard with delight the
rumbling wheels of a waggon as it came slowly descending the stony
way behind them. He called out for help; answer was returned in the
deep voice of a man, bidding them have patience, but promising
assistance; and two grey horses soon after shone through the bushes,
and near them their driver in the white frock of a carter; and next
appeared a great sheet of white linen, with which the goods he seemed
to be conveying were covered. The greys, in obedience to a shout
from their master, stood still. He came up to the knight, and aided
him in checking the fury of the foaming charger.
"I know well enough," said he, "what is the matter with the brute.
The first time I travelled this way my horses were just as wilful and
headstrong as yours. The reason is, there is a water-spirit haunts
this valley--and a wicked wight they say he is--who takes delight in
mischief and witcheries of this sort. But I have learned a charm;
and if you will let me whisper it in your horse's ear, he will stand
just as quiet as my silver greys there."
"Try your luck, then, and help us as quickly as possible!" said the
Upon this the waggoner drew down the head of the rearing courser
close to his own, and spoke some words in his ear. The animal
instantly stood still and subdued; only his quick panting and smoking
sweat showed his recent violence.
Huldbrand had little time to inquire by what means this had been
effected. He agreed with the man that he should take Bertalda in his
waggon, where, as he said, a quantity of soft cotton was stowed, and
he might in this way convey her to Castle Ringstetten. The knight
could accompany them on horseback. But the horse appeared to be too
much exhausted to carry his master so far. Seeing this, the man
advised him to mount the waggon with Bertalda. The horse could be
attached to it behind.
"It is down-hill," said he, "and the load for my greys will therefore
The knight accepted his offer, and entered the waggon with Bertalda.
The horse followed patiently after, while the waggoner, sturdy and
attentive, walked beside them.
Amid the silence and deepening obscurity of the night, the tempest
sounding more and more remote, in the comfortable feeling of their
security, a confidential conversation arose between Huldbrand and
Bertalda. He reproached her in the most flattering words for her
resentful flight. She excused herself with humility and feeling; and
from every tone of her voice it shone out, like a lamp guiding to the
beloved through night and darkness, that Huldbrand was still dear to
her. The knight felt the sense of her words rather than heard the
words themselves, and answered simply to this sense.
Then the waggoner suddenly shouted, with a startling voice: "Up, my
greys, up with your feet! Hey, now together!--show your spirit!--
remember who you are!"
The knight bent over the side of the waggon, and saw that the horses
had stepped into the midst of a foaming stream, and were, indeed,
almost swimming, while the wheels of the waggon were rushing round
and flashing like mill-wheels; and the waggoner had got on before, to
avoid the swell of the flood.
"What sort of a road is this? It leads into the middle of the
stream!" cried Huldbrand to his guide.
"Not at all, sir," returned he, with a laugh; "it is just the
contrary. The stream is running in the middle of our road. Only
look about you, and see how all is overflowed!"
The whole valley, in fact, was in commotion, as the waters, suddenly
raised and visibly rising, swept over it.
"It is Kuhleborn, that evil water-spirit, who wishes to drown us!"
exclaimed the knight. "Have you no charm of protection against him,
"I have one," answered the waggoner; "but I cannot and must not make
use of it before you know who I am."
"Is this a time for riddles?" cried the knight. "The flood is every
moment rising higher; and what does it concern ME to know who YOU
"But mayhap it does concern you, though," said the guide; "for I am
Thus speaking he thrust his head into the waggon, and laughed with a
distorted visage. But the waggon remained a waggon no longer; the
grey horses were horses no longer; all was transformed to foam--all
sank into the waters that rushed and hissed around them; while the
waggoner himself, rising in the form of a gigantic wave, dragged the
vainly-struggling courser under the waters, then rose again huge as a
liquid tower, swept over the heads of the floating pair, and was on
the point of burying them irrecoverably beneath it. Then the soft
voice of Undine was heard through the uproar; the moon emerged from
the clouds; and by its light Undine was seen on the heights above the
valley. She rebuked, she threatened the floods below her. The
menacing and tower-like billow vanished, muttering and murmuring; the
waters gently flowed away under the beams of the moon; while Undine,
like a hovering white dove, flew down from the hill, raised the
knight and Bertalda, and bore them to a green spot, where, by her
earnest efforts, she soon restored them and dispelled their terrors.
She then assisted Bertalda to mount the white palfrey on which she
had herself been borne to the valley; and thus all three returned
homeward to Castle Ringstetten.
After this last adventure they lived at the castle undisturbed and in
peaceful enjoyment. The knight was more and more impressed with the
heavenly goodness of his wife, which she had so nobly shown by her
instant pursuit and by the rescue she had effected in the Black
Valley, where the power of Kuhleborn again commenced. Undine herself
enjoyed that peace and security which never fails the soul as long as
it knows distinctly that it is on the right path; and besides, in the
newly-awakened love and regard of her husband, a thousand gleams of
hope and joy shone upon her.
Bertalda, on the other hand, showed herself grateful, humble, and
timid, without taking to herself any merit for so doing. Whenever
Huldbrand or Undine began to explain to her their reasons for
covering the fountain, or their adventures in the Black Valley, she
would earnestly entreat them to spare her the recital, for the
recollection of the fountain occasioned her too much shame, and that
of the Black Valley too much terror. She learnt nothing more about
either of them; and what would she have gained from more knowledge?
Peace and joy had visibly taken up their abode at Castle Ringstetten.
They enjoyed their present blessings in perfect security, and now
imagined that life could produce nothing but pleasant flowers and
In this happiness winter came and passed away; and spring, with its
foliage of tender green, and its heaven of softest blue, succeeded to
gladden the hearts of the three inmates of the castle. The season
was in harmony with their minds, and their minds imparted their own
hues to the season. What wonder, then, that its storks and swallows
inspired them also with a disposition to travel? On a bright
morning, while they were wandering down to one of the sources of the
Danube, Huldbrand spoke of the magnificence of this noble stream, how
it continued swelling as it flowed through countries enriched by its
waters, with what splendour Vienna rose and sparkled on its banks,
and how it grew lovelier and more imposing throughout its progress.
"It must be glorious to trace its course down to Vienna!" Bertalda
exclaimed, with warmth; but immediately resuming the humble and
modest demeanour she had recently shown, she paused and blushed in
This much moved Undine; and with the liveliest wish to gratify her
friend, she said, "What hinders our taking this little voyage?"
Bertalda leapt up with delight, and the two friends at the same
moment began painting this enchanting voyage on the Danube in the
most brilliant colours. Huldbrand, too, agreed to the project with
pleasure; only he once whispered, with something of alarm, in
"But at that distance Kuhleborn becomes possessed of his power
"Let him come, let him come," she answered with a laugh; "I shall be
there, and he dares do none of his mischief in my presence."
Thus was the last impediment removed. They prepared for the
expedition, and soon set out upon it with lively spirits and the
But be not surprised, 0 man, if events almost always happen very
differently from what you expect. That malicious power which lies in
ambush for our destruction delights to lull its chosen victim asleep
with sweet songs and golden delusions; while, on the other hand, the
messenger of heaven often strikes sharply at our door, to alarm and
During the first days of their passage down the Danube they were
unusually happy. The further they advanced upon the waters of this
proud river, the views became more and more fair. But amid scenes
otherwise most delicious, and from which they had promised themselves
the purest delight, the stubborn Kuhleborn, dropping all disguise,
began to show his power of annoying them. He had no other means of
doing this, indeed, than by tricks--for Undine often rebuked the
swelling waves or the contrary winds, and then the insolence of the
enemy was instantly humbled and subdued; but his attacks were
renewed, and Undine's reproofs again became necessary, so that the
pleasure of the fellow-travellers was completely destroyed. The
boatmen, too, were continually whispering to one another in dismay,
and eying their three superiors with distrust, while even the
servants began more and more to form dismal surmises, and to watch
their master and mistress with looks of suspicion.
Huldbrand often said in his own mind, "This comes when like marries
not like--when a man forms an unnatural union with a sea-maiden."
Excusing himself, as we all love to do, he would add: "I did not, in
fact, know that she was a maid of the sea. It is my misfortune that
my steps are haunted and disturbed by the wild humours of her
kindred, but it is not my crime."
By reflections like these, he felt himself in some measure
strengthened; but, on the other hand, he felt the more ill-humour,
almost dislike, towards Undine. He would look angrily at her, and
the unhappy wife but too well understood his meaning. One day,
grieved by this unkindness, as well as exhausted by her unremitted
exertions to frustrate the artifices of Kuhleborn, she toward evening
fell into a deep slumber, rocked and soothed by the gentle motion of
the bark. But hardly had she closed her eyes, when every person in
the boat, in whatever direction he might look, saw the head of a man,
frightful beyond imagination: each head rose out of the waves, not
like that of a person swimming, but quite perpendicular, as if firmly
fastened to the watery mirror, and yet moving on with the bark.
Every one wished to show to his companion what terrified himself, and
each perceived the same expression of horror on the face of the
other, only hands and eyes were directed to a different quarter, as
if to a point where the monster, half laughing and half threatening,
rose opposite to each.
When, however, they wished to make one another understand the site,
and all cried out, "Look, there!" "No, there!" the frightful heads
all became visible to each, and the whole river around the boat
swarmed with the most horrible faces. All raised a scream of terror
at the sight, and Undine started from sleep. As she opened her eyes,
the deformed visages disappeared. But Huldbrand was made furious by
so many hideous visions. He would have burst out in wild
imprecations, had not Undine with the meekest looks and gentlest tone
of voice said--
"For God's sake, my husband, do not express displeasure against me
here--we are on the water."
The knight was silent, and sat down absorbed in deep thought. Undine
whispered in his ear, "Would it not be better, my love, to give up
this foolish voyage, and return to Castle Ringstetten in peace?"
But Huldbrand murmured wrathfully: "So I must become a prisoner in my
own castle, and not be allowed to breathe a moment but while the
fountain is covered? Would to Heaven that your cursed kindred--"
Then Undine pressed her fair hand on his lips caressingly. He said
no more; but in silence pondered on all that Undine had before said.
Bertalda, meanwhile, had given herself up to a crowd of thronging
thoughts. Of Undine's origin she knew a good deal, but not the
whole; and the terrible Kuhleborn especially remained to her an
awful, an impenetrable mystery--never, indeed, had she once heard his
name. Musing upon these wondrous things, she unclasped, without
being fully conscious of what she was doing, a golden necklace, which
Huldbrand, on one of the preceding days of their passage, had bought
for her of a travelling trader; and she was now letting it float in
sport just over the surface of the stream, while in her dreamy mood
she enjoyed the bright reflection it threw on the water, so clear
beneath the glow of evening. That instant a huge hand flashed
suddenly up from the Danube, seized the necklace in its grasp, and
vanished with it beneath the flood. Bertalda shrieked aloud, and a
scornful laugh came pealing up from the depth of the river.
The knight could now restrain his wrath no longer. He started up,
poured forth a torrent of reproaches, heaped curses upon all who
interfered with his friends and troubled his life, and dared them
all, water-spirits or mermaids, to come within the sweep of his
Bertalda, meantime, wept for the loss of the ornament so very dear to
her heart, and her tears were to Huldbrand as oil poured upon the
flame of his fury; while Undine held her hand over the side of the
boat, dipping it in the waves, softly murmuring to herself, and only
at times interrupting her strange mysterious whisper to entreat her
"Do not reprove me here, beloved; blame all others as you will, but
not me. You know why!" And in truth, though he was trembling with
excess of passion, he kept himself from any word directly against
She then brought up in her wet hand, which she had been holding under
the waves, a coral necklace, of such exquisite beauty, such sparkling
brilliancy, as dazzled the eyes of all who beheld it. "Take this,"
said she, holding it out kindly to Bertalda, "I have ordered it to be
brought to make some amends for your loss; so do not grieve any more,
But the knight rushed between then, and snatching the beautiful
ornament out of Undine's hand, hurled it back into the flood; and,
mad with rage, exclaimed: "So, then, you have still a connection with
them! In the name of all witches go and remain among them with your
presents, you sorceress, and leave us human beings in peace!"
With fixed but streaming eyes, poor Undine gazed on him, her hand
still stretched out, just as when she had so lovingly offered her
brilliant gift to Bertalda. She then began to weep more and more, as
if her heart would break, like an innocent tender child, cruelly
aggrieved. At last, wearied out, she said: "Farewell, dearest,
farewell. They shall do you no harm; only remain true, that I may
have power to keep them from you. But I must go hence! go hence even
in this early youth! Oh, woe, woe! what have you done! Oh, woe,
And she vanished over the side of the boat. Whether she plunged into
the stream, or whether, like water melting into water, she flowed
away with it, they knew not--her disappearance was like both and
neither. But she was lost in the Danube, instantly and completely;
only little waves were yet whispering and sobbing around the boat,
and they could almost be heard to say, "Oh, woe, woe! Ah, remain
true! Oh, woe!"
But Huldbrand, in a passion of burning tears, threw himself upon the
deck of the bark; and a deep swoon soon wrapped the wretched man in a
blessed forgetfulness of misery.
Shall we call it a good or an evil thing, that our mourning has no
long duration? I mean that deep mourning which comes from the very
well-springs of our being, which so becomes one with the lost objects
of our love that we hardly realize their loss, while our grief
devotes itself religiously to the honouring of their image until we
reach that bourne which they have already reached!
Truly all good men observe in a degree this religious devotion; but
yet it soon ceases to be that first deep grief. Other and new images
throng in, until, to our sorrow, we experience the vanity of all
earthly things. Therefore I must say: Alas, that our mourning should
be of such short duration!
The lord of Ringstetten experienced this; but whether for his good,
we shall discover in the sequel of this history. At first he could
do nothing but weep--weep as bitterly as the poor gentle Undine had
wept when he snatched out of her hand that brilliant ornament, with
which she so kindly wished to make amends for Bertalda's loss. And
then he stretched his hand out, as she had done, and wept again like
her, with renewed violence. He cherished a secret hope, that even
the springs of life would at last become exhausted by weeping. And
has not the like thought passed through the minds of many of us with
a painful pleasure in times of sore affliction? Bertalda wept with
him; and they lived together a long while at the castle of
Ringstetten in undisturbed quiet, honouring the memory of Undine, and
having almost wholly forgotten their former attachment. And
therefore the good Undine, about this time, often visited Huldbrand's
dreams: she soothed him with soft and affectionate caresses, and then
went away again, weeping in silence; so that when he awoke, he
sometimes knew not how his cheeks came to be so wet--whether it was
caused by her tears, or only by his own.
But as time advanced, these visions became less frequent, and the
sorrow of the knight less keen; still he might never, perhaps, have
entertained any other wish than thus quietly to think of Undine, and
to speak of her, had not the old fisherman arrived unexpectedly at
the castle, and earnestly insisted on Bertalda's returning with him
as his child. He had received information of Undine's disappearance;
and he was not willing to allow Bertalda to continue longer at the
castle with the widowed knight. "For," said he, "whether my daughter
loves me or not is at present what I care not to know; but her good
name is at stake: and where that is the case, nothing else may be
This resolution of the old fisherman, and the fearful solitude that,
on Bertalda's departure, threatened to oppress the knight in every
hall and passage of the deserted castle, brought to light what had
disappeared in his sorrow for Undine,--I mean, his attachment to the
fair Bertalda; and this he made known to her father.
The fisherman had many objections to make to the proposed marriage.
The old man had loved Undine with exceeding tenderness, and it was
doubtful to his mind that the mere disappearance of his beloved child
could be properly viewed as her death. But were it even granted that
her corpse were lying stiff and cold at the bottom of the Danube, or
swept away by the current to the ocean, still Bertalda had had some
share in her death; and it was unfitting for her to step into the
place of the poor injured wife. The fisherman, however, had felt a
strong regard also for the knight: this and the entreaties of his
daughter, who had become much more gentle and respectful, as well as
her tears for Undine, all exerted their influence, and he must at
last have been forced to give up his opposition, for he remained at
the castle without objection, and a messenger was sent off express to
Father Heilmann, who in former and happier days had united Undine and
Huldbrand, requesting him to come and perform the ceremony at the
knight's second marriage.
Hardly had the holy man read through the letter from the lord of
Ringstetten, ere he set out upon the journey and made much greater
dispatch on his way to the castle than the messenger from it had made
in reaching him. Whenever his breath failed him in his rapid
progress, or his old limbs ached with fatigue, he would say to
"Perhaps I shall be able to prevent a sin; then sink not, withered
body, before I arrive at the end of my journey!" And with renewed
vigour he pressed forward, hurrying on without rest or repose, until,
late one evening, he entered the shady court-yard of the castle of
The betrothed were sitting side by side under the trees, and the aged
fisherman in a thoughtful mood sat near them. The moment they saw
Father Heilmann, they rose with a spring of joy, and pressed round
him with eager welcome. But he, in a few words, asked the bridegroom
to return with him into the castle; and when Huldbrand stood mute
with surprise, and delayed complying with his earnest request, the
pious preacher said to him--
"I do not know why I should want to speak to you in private; what I
have to say as much concerns Bertalda and the fisherman as yourself;
and what we must at some time hear, it is best to hear as soon as
possible. Are you, then, so very certain, Knight Huldbrand, that
your first wife is actually dead? I can hardly think it. I will say
nothing, indeed, of the mysterious state in which she may be now
existing; I know nothing of it with certainty. But that she was a
most devoted and faithful wife is beyond all dispute. And for
fourteen nights past, she has appeared to me in a dream, standing at
my bedside wringing her tender hands in anguish, and sighing out,
'Ah, prevent him, dear father! I am still living! Ah, save his
life! Ah, save his soul!'
"I did not understand what this vision of the night could mean, then
came your messenger; and I have now hastened hither, not to unite,
but, as I hope, to separate what ought not to be joined together.
Leave her, Huldbrand! leave him, Bertalda! He still belongs to
another; and do you not see on his pale cheek his grief for his lost
wife? That is not the look of a bridegroom; and the spirit says to
me, that 'if you do not leave him you will never be happy!'"
The three felt in their inmost hearts that Father Heilmann spoke the
truth; but they would not believe it. Even the old fisherman was so
infatuated, that he thought it could not be otherwise than as they
had latterly settled amongst themselves. They all, therefore, with a
determined and gloomy eagerness, struggled against the
representations and warnings of the priest, until, shaking his head
and oppressed with sorrow, he finally quitted the castle, not
choosing to accept their offered shelter even for a single night, or
indeed so much as to taste a morsel of the refreshment they brought
him. Huldbrand persuaded himself, however, that the priest was a
mere visionary; and sent at daybreak to a monk of the nearest
monastery, who, without scruple, promised to perform the ceremony in
a few days.
It was between night and dawn of day that Huldbrand was lying on his
couch, half waking and half sleeping. Whenever he attempted to
compose himself to sleep, a terror came upon him and scared him, as
if his slumbers were haunted with spectres. But he made an effort to
rouse himself fully. He felt fanned as by the wings of a swan, and
lulled as by the murmuring of waters, till in sweet confusion of the
senses he sank back into his state of half-consciousness.
At last, however, he must have fallen perfectly asleep; for he seemed
to be lifted up by wings of the swans, and to be wafted far away over
land and sea, while their music swelled on his ear most sweetly.
"The music of the swan! the song of the swan!" he could not but
repeat to himself every moment; "is it not a sure foreboding of
death?" Probably, however, it had yet another meaning. All at once
he seemed to be hovering over the Mediterranean Sea. A swan sang
melodiously in his ear, that this was the Mediterranean Sea. And
while he was looking down upon the waves, they became transparent as
crystal, so that he could see through them to the very bottom.
At this a thrill of delight shot through him, for he could see Undine
where she was sitting beneath the clear crystal dome. It is true she
was weeping very bitterly, and looked much sadder than in those happy
days when they lived together at the castle of Ringstetten, both on
their arrival and afterward, just before they set out upon their
fatal passage down the Danube. The knight could not help thinking
upon all this with deep emotion, but it did not appear that Undine
was aware of his presence.
Kuhleborn had meanwhile approached her, and was about to reprove her
for weeping, when she drew herself up, and looked upon him with an
air so majestic and commanding, that he almost shrank back.
"Although I now dwell here beneath the waters," said she, "yet I have
brought my soul with me. And therefore I may weep, little as you can
know what such tears are. They are blessed, as everything is blessed
to one gifted with a true soul."
He shook his head incredulously; and after some thought, replied,
"And yet, niece, you are subject to our laws, as a being of the same
nature with ourselves; and should HE prove unfaithful to you and
marry again, you are obliged to take away his life."
"He remains a widower to this very hour," replied Undine, "and I am
still dear to his sorrowful heart."
"He is, however, betrothed," said Kuhleborn, with a laugh of scorn;
"and let only a few days wear away, and then comes the priest with
his nuptial blessing; and then you must go up to the death of the
husband with two wives."
"I have not the power," returned Undine, with a smile. "I have sealed
up the fountain securely against myself and all of my race."
"Still, should he leave his castle," said Kuhleborn, "or should he
once allow the fountain to be uncovered, what then? for he thinks
little enough of these things."
"For that very reason," said Undine, still smiling amid her tears,
"for that very reason he is at this moment hovering in spirit over
the Mediterranean Sea, and dreaming of the warning which our
discourse gives him. I thoughtfully planned all this."
That instant, Kuhleborn, inflamed with rage, looked up at the knight,
wrathfully threatened him, stamped on the ground, and then shot like
an arrow beneath the waves. He seemed to swell in his fury to the
size of a whale. Again the swans began to sing, to wave their wings
and fly; the knight seemed to soar away over mountains and streams,
and at last to alight at Castle Ringstetten, and to awake on his
Upon his couch he actually did awake; and his attendant entering at
the same moment, informed him that Father Heilmann was still
lingering in the neighbourhood; that he had the evening before met
with him in the forest, where he was sheltering himself under a hut,
which he had formed by interweaving the branches of trees, and
covering them with moss and fine brushwood; and that to the question
"What he was doing there, since he would not give the marriage
blessing?" his answer was--
"There are many other blessings than those given at marriages; and
though I did not come to officiate at the wedding, I may still
officiate at a very different solemnity. All things have their
seasons; we must be ready for them all. Besides, marrying and
mourning are by no means so very unlike; as every one not wilfully
blinded must know full well."
The knight made many bewildered reflections on these words and on his
dream. But it is very difficult to give up a thing which we have
once looked upon as certain; so all continued as had been arranged
Should I relate to you how passed the marriage-feast at Castle
Ringstetten, it would be as if you saw a heap of bright and pleasant
things, but all overspread with a black mourning crape, through whose
darkening veil their brilliancy would appear but a mockery of the
nothingness of all earthly joys.
It was not that any spectral delusion disturbed the scene of
festivity; for the castle, as we well know, had been secured against
the mischief of water-spirits. But the knight, the fisherman, and
all the guests were unable to banish the feeling that the chief
personage of the feast was still wanting, and that this chief
personage could be no other than the gentle and beloved Undine.
Whenever a door was heard to open, all eyes were involuntarily turned
in that direction; and if it was nothing but the steward with new
dishes, or the cupbearer with a supply of wine of higher flavour than
the last, they again looked down in sadness and disappointment, while
the flashes of wit and merriment which had been passing at times from
one to another, were extinguished by tears of mournful remembrance.
The bride was the least thoughtful of the company, and therefore the
most happy; but even to her it sometimes seemed strange that she
should be sitting at the head of the table, wearing a green wreath
and gold-embroidered robe, while Undine was lying a corpse, stiff and
cold, at the bottom of the Danube, or carried out by the current into
the ocean. For ever since her father had suggested something of this
sort, his words were continually sounding in her ear; and this day,
in particular, they would neither fade from her memory, nor yield to
Evening had scarcely arrived, when the company returned to their
homes; not dismissed by the impatience of the bridegroom, as wedding
parties are sometimes broken up, but constrained solely by heavy
sadness and forebodings of evil. Bertalda retired with her maidens,
and the knight with his attendants, to undress, but there was no gay
laughing company of bridesmaids and bridesmen at this mournful
Bertalda wished to awaken more cheerful thoughts; she ordered her
maidens to spread before her a brilliant set of jewels, a present
from Huldbrand, together with rich apparel and veils, that she might
select from among them the brightest and most beautiful for her dress
in the morning. The attendants rejoiced at this opportunity of
pouring forth good wishes and promises of happiness to their young
mistress, and failed not to extol the beauty of the bride with the
most glowing eloquence. This went on for a long time, until Bertalda
at last, looking in a mirror, said with a sigh--
"Ah, but do you not see plainly how freckled I am growing? Look here
on the side of my neck."
They looked at the place, and found the freckles, indeed, as their
fair mistress had said; but they called them mere beauty spots, the
faintest touches of the sun, such as would only heighten the
whiteness of her delicate complexion. Bertalda shook her head, and
still viewed them as a blemish. "And I could remove them," she said
at last, sighing. "But the castle fountain is covered, from which I
formerly used to have that precious water, so purifying to the skin.
Oh, had I this evening only a single flask of it!"
"Is that all?" cried an alert waiting-maid, laughing as she glided
out of the apartment.
"She will not be so foolish," said Bertalda, well-pleased and
surprised, "as to cause the stone cover of the fountain to be taken
off this very evening?" That instant they heard the tread of men
passing along the court-yard, and could see from the window where the
officious maiden was leading them directly up to the fountain, and
that they carried levers and other instruments on their shoulders.
"It is certainly my will," said Bertalda with a smile, "if it does
not take them too long." And pleased with the thought, that a word
from her was now sufficient to accomplish what had formerly been
refused with a painful reproof, she looked down upon their operations
in the bright moonlit castle-court.
The men raised the enormous stone with an effort; some one of the
number indeed would occasionally sigh, when he recollected they were
destroying the work of their former beloved mistress. Their labour,
however, was much lighter than they had expected. It seemed as if
some power from within the fountain itself aided them in raising the
"It appears," said the workmen to one another in astonishment, "as if
the confined water had become a springing fountain." And the stone
rose more and more, and, almost without the assistance of the work-
people, rolled slowly down upon the pavement with a hollow sound.
But an appearance from the opening of the fountain filled them with
awe, as it rose like a white column of water; at first they imagined
it really to be a fountain, until they perceived the rising form to
be a pale female, veiled in white. She wept bitterly, raised her
hands above her head, wringing them sadly as with slow and solemn
step she moved toward the castle. The servants shrank back, and fled
from the spring, while the bride, pale and motionless with horror,
stood with her maidens at the window. When the figure had now come
close beneath their room, it looked up to them sobbing, and Bertalda
thought she recognized through the veil the pale features of Undine.
But the mourning form passed on, sad, reluctant, and lingering, as if
going to the place of execution. Bertalda screamed to her maids to
call the knight; not one of them dared to stir from her place; and
even the bride herself became again mute, as if trembling at the
sound of her own voice.
While they continued standing at the window, motionless as statues,
the mysterious wanderer had entered the castle, ascended the well-
known stairs, and traversed the well-known halls in silent tears.
Alas, how different had she once passed through these rooms!
The knight had in the meantime dismissed his attendants. Half-
undressed and in deep dejection, he was standing before a large
mirror, a wax taper burned dimly beside him. At this moment some one
tapped at his door very, very softly. Undine had formerly tapped in
this way, when she was playing some of her endearing wiles.
"It is all an illusion!" said he to himself. "I must to my nuptial
"You must indeed, but to a cold one!" he heard a voice, choked with
sobs, repeat from without; and then he saw in the mirror, that the
door of his room was slowly, slowly opened, and the white figure
entered, and gently closed it behind her.
"They have opened the spring," said she in a low tone; "and now I am
here, and you must die."
He felt, in his failing breath, that this must indeed be; but
covering his eyes with his hands, he cried: "Do not in my death-hour,
do not make me mad with terror. If that veil conceals hideous
features, do not lift it! Take my life, but let me not see you."
"Alas!" replied the pale figure, "will you not then look upon me once
more? I am as fair now as when you wooed me on the island!"
"Oh, if it indeed were so," sighed Huldbrand, "and that I might die
by a kiss from you!"
"Most willingly, my own love," said she. She threw back her veil;
heavenly fair shone forth her pure countenance. Trembling with love
and the awe of approaching death, the knight leant towards her. She
kissed him with a holy kiss; but she relaxed not her hold, pressing
him more closely in her arms, and weeping as if she would weep away
her soul. Tears rushed into the knight's eyes, while a thrill both
of bliss and agony shot through his heart, until he at last expired,
sinking softly back from her fair arms upon the pillow of his couch a
"I have wept him to death!" said she to some domestics, who met her
in the ante-chamber; and passing through the terrified group, she
went slowly out, and disappeared in the fountain.
Father Heilmann had returned to the castle as soon as the death of
the lord of Ringstetten was made known in the neighbourhood; and he
arrived at the very hour when the monk who had married the
unfortunate couple was hurrying from the door, overcome with dismay
When Father Heilmann was informed of this, he replied, "It is all
well; and now come the duties of my office, in which I have no need
of an assistant."
He then began to console the bride, now a widow though with little
benefit to her worldly and thoughtless spirit.
The old fisherman, on the other hand, though severely afflicted, was
far more resigned to the fate of his son-in-law and daughter; and
while Bertalda could not refrain from accusing Undine as a murderess
and sorceress, the old man calmly said, "After all, it could not
happen otherwise. I see nothing in it but the judgment of God; and
no one's heart was more pierced by the death of Huldbrand than she
who was obliged to work it, the poor forsaken Undine!"
He then assisted in arranging the funeral solemnities as suited the
rank of the deceased. The knight was to be interred in the village
church-yard, in whose consecrated ground were the graves of his
ancestors; a place which they, as well as himself, had endowed with
rich privileges and gifts. His shield and helmet lay upon his
coffin, ready to be lowered with it into the grave, for Lord
Huldbrand of Ringstetten had died the last of his race. The mourners
began their sorrowful march, chanting their melancholy songs beneath
the calm unclouded heaven; Father Heilmann preceded the procession,
bearing a high crucifix, while the inconsolable Bertalda followed,
supported by her aged father.
Then they suddenly saw in the midst of the mourning females in the
widow's train, a snow-white figure closely veiled, and wringing its
hands in the wild vehemence of sorrow. Those next to whom it moved,
seized with a secret dread, started back or on one side; and owing to
their movements, the others, next to whom the white stranger now
came, were terrified still more, so as to produce confusion in the
funeral train. Some of the military escort ventured to address the
figure, and attempt to remove it from the procession, but it seemed
to vanish from under their hands, and yet was immediately seen
advancing again, with slow and solemn step, among the followers of
the body. At last, in consequence of the shrinking away of the
attendants, it came close behind Bertalda. It now moved so slowly,
that the widow was not aware of its presence, and it walked meekly
and humbly behind her undisturbed.
This continued until they came to the church-yard, where the
procession formed a circle round the open grave. Then it was that
Bertalda perceived her unbidden companion, and, half in anger and
half in terror, she commanded her to depart from the knight's place
of final rest. But the veiled female, shaking her head with a gentle
denial, raised her hands towards Bertalda in lowly supplication, by
which she was greatly moved, and could not but remember with tears
how Undine had shown such sweetness of spirit on the Danube when she
held out to her the coral necklace.
Father Heilmann now motioned with his hand, and gave order for all to
observe perfect stillness, that they might breathe a prayer of silent
devotion over the body, upon which earth had already been thrown.
Bertalda knelt without speaking; and all knelt, even the grave-
diggers, who had now finished their work. But when they arose, the
white stranger had disappeared. On the spot where she had knelt, a
little spring, of silver brightness, was gushing out from the green
turf, and it kept swelling and flowing onward with a low murmur, till
it almost encircled the mound of the knight's grave; it then
continued its course, and emptied itself into a calm lake, which lay
by the side of the consecrated ground. Even to this day, the
inhabitants of the village point out the spring; and hold fast the
belief that it is the poor deserted Undine, who in this manner still
fondly encircles her beloved in her arms.