by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque
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Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3 | Ch. 4 | Ch. 5 | Ch. 6 | Ch. 7 | Ch. 8 | Ch. 9 | Ch. 10
Undine! thou fair and lovely sprite,
Since first from out an ancient lay
I saw gleam forth thy fitful light,
How hast thou sung my cares away!
How hast thou nestled next my heart,
And gently offered to impart
Thy sorrows to my listening ear,
Like a half-shy, half-trusting child,
The while my lute, in wood-notes wild,
Thine accents echoed far and near!
Then many a youth I won to muse
With love on thy mysterious ways,
With many a fair one to peruse
The legend of thy wondrous days.
And now both dame and youth would fain
List to my tale yet once again;
Nay, sweet Undine, be not afraid!
Enter their halls with footsteps light,
Greet courteously each noble knight,
But fondly every German maid.
And should they ask concerning me,
Oh, say, "He is a cavalier,
Who truly serves and valiantly,
In tourney and festivity,
With lute and sword, each lady fair!"
On a beautiful evening, many hundred years ago, a worthy old
fisherman sat mending his nets. The spot where he dwelt was
exceedingly picturesque. The green turf on which he had built his
cottage ran far out into a great lake; and this slip of verdure
appeared to stretch into it as much through love of its clear waters
as the lake, moved by a like impulse, strove to fold the meadow, with
its waving grass and flowers, and the cooling shade of the trees, in
its embrace of love. They seemed to be drawn toward each other, and
the one to be visiting the other as a guest.
With respect to human beings, indeed, in this pleasant spot,
excepting the fisherman and his family, there were few, or rather
none, to be met with. For as in the background of the scene, toward
the west and north-west, lay a forest of extraordinary wildness,
which, owing to its sunless gloom and almost impassable recesses, as
well as to fear of the strange creatures and visionary illusions to
be encountered in it, most people avoided entering, unless in cases
of extreme necessity. The pious old fisherman, however, many times
passed through it without harm, when he carried the fine fish which
he caught by his beautiful strip of land to a great city lying only
a short distance beyond the forest.
Now the reason he was able to go through this wood with so much ease
may have been chiefly this, because he entertained scarcely any
thoughts but such as were of a religious nature; and besides, every
time he crossed the evil-reported shades, he used to sing some holy
song with a clear voice and from a sincere heart.
Well, while he sat by his nets this evening, neither fearing nor
devising evil, a sudden terror seized him, as he heard a rushing in
the darkness of the wood, that resembled the tramping of a mounted
steed, and the noise continued every instant drawing nearer and
nearer to his little territory.
What he had fancied, when abroad in many a stormy night, respecting
the mysteries of the forest, now flashed through his mind in a
moment, especially the figure of a man of gigantic stature and snow-
white appearance, who kept nodding his head in a portentous manner.
And when he raised his eyes towards the wood, the form came before
him in perfect distinctness, as he saw the nodding man burst forth
from the mazy web-work of leaves and branches. But he immediately
felt emboldened, when he reflected that nothing to give him alarm had
ever befallen him even in the forest; and moreover, that on this open
neck of land the evil spirit, it was likely, would be still less
daring in the exercise of his power. At the same time he prayed
aloud with the most earnest sincerity of devotion, repeating a
passage of the Bible. This inspired him with fresh courage, and soon
perceiving the illusion, and the strange mistake into which his
imagination had betrayed him, he could with difficulty refrain from
laughing. The white nodding figure he had seen became transformed,
in the twinkling of an eye, to what in reality it was, a small brook,
long and familiarly known to him, which ran foaming from the forest,
and discharged itself into the lake.
But what had caused the startling sound was a knight arrayed in
sumptuous apparel, who from under the shadows of the trees came
riding toward the cottage. His doublet was violet embroidered with
gold, and his scarlet cloak hung gracefully over it; on his cap of
burnished gold waved red and violet-coloured plumes; and in his
golden shoulder-belt flashed a sword, richly ornamented, and
extremely beautiful. The white barb that bore the knight was more
slenderly built than war-horses usually are, and he touched the turf
with a step so light and elastic that the green and flowery carpet
seemed hardly to receive the slightest injury from his tread. The
old fisherman, notwithstanding, did not feel perfectly secure in his
mind, although he was forced to believe that no evil could be feared
from an appearance so pleasing, and therefore, as good manners
dictated, he took off his hat on the knight's coming near, and
quietly remained by the side of his nets.
When the stranger stopped, and asked whether he, with his horse,
could have shelter and entertainment there for the night, the
fisherman returned answer: "As to your horse, fair sir, I have no
better stable for him than this shady meadow, and no better provender
than the grass that is growing here. But with respect to yourself,
you shall be welcome to our humble cottage, and to the best supper
and lodging we are able to give you."
The knight was well contented with this reception; and alighting from
his horse, which his host assisted him to relieve from saddle and
bridle, he let him hasten away to the fresh pasture, and thus spoke:
"Even had I found you less hospitable and kindly disposed, my worthy
old friend, you would still, I suspect, hardly have got rid of me
to-day; for here, I perceive, a broad lake lies before us, and as to
riding back into that wood of wonders, with the shades of evening
deepening around me, may Heaven in its grace preserve me from the
"Pray, not a word of the wood, or of returning into it!" said the
fisherman, and took his guest into the cottage.
There beside the hearth, from which a frugal fire was diffusing its
light through the clean twilight room, sat the fisherman's aged wife
in a great chair. At the entrance of their noble guest, she rose and
gave him a courteous welcome, but sat down again in her seat of
honour, not making the slightest offer of it to the stranger. Upon
this the fisherman said with a smile:
"You must not be offended with her, young gentleman, because she has
not given up to you the best chair in the house; it is a custom among
poor people to look upon this as the privilege of the aged."
"Why, husband!" cried the old lady, with a quiet smile, "where can
your wits be wandering? Our guest, to say the least of him, must
belong to a Christian country; and how is it possible, then, that so
well-bred a young man as he appears to be could dream of driving old
people from their chairs? Take a seat, my young master," continued
she, turning to the knight; "there is still quite a snug little chair
on the other side of the room there, only be careful not to shove it
about too roughly, for one of its legs, I fear, is none of the
The knight brought up the seat as carefully as she could desire, sat
down upon it good-humouredly, and it seemed to him almost as if he
must be somehow related to this little household, and have just
returned home from abroad.
These three worthy people now began to converse in the most friendly
and familiar manner. In relation to the forest, indeed, concerning
which the knight occasionally made some inquiries, the old man chose
to know and say but little; he was of opinion that slightly touching
upon it at this hour of twilight was most suitable and safe; but of
the cares and comforts of their home, and their business abroad, the
aged couple spoke more freely, and listened also with eager curiosity
as the knight recounted to them his travels, and how he had a castle
near one of the sources of the Danube, and that his name was Sir
Huldbrand of Ringstetten.
Already had the stranger, while they were in the midst of their talk,
heard at times a splash against the little low window, as if some one
were dashing water against it. The old man, every time he heard the
noise, knit his brows with vexation; but at last, when the whole
sweep of a shower came pouring like a torrent against the panes, and
bubbling through the decayed frame into the room, he started up
indignant, rushed to the window, and cried with a threatening voice--
"Undine! will you never leave off these fooleries?--not even to-day,
when we have a stranger knight with us in the cottage?"
All without now became still, only a low laugh was just audible, and
the fisherman said, as he came back to his seat, "You will have the
goodness, my honoured guest, to pardon this freak, and it may be a
multitude more; but she has no thought of evil or of any harm. This
mischievous Undine, to confess the truth, is our adopted daughter,
and she stoutly refuses to give over this frolicsome childishness of
hers, although she has already entered her eighteenth year. But in
spite of this, as I said before, she is at heart one of the very best
children in the world."
"YOU may say so," broke in the old lady, shaking her head; "you can
give a better account of her than I can. When you return home from
fishing, or from selling your fish in the city, you may think her
frolics very delightful, but to have her dancing about you the whole
day long, and never from morning to night to hear her speak one word
of sense; and then as she grows older, instead of having any help
from her in the family, to find her a continual cause of anxiety,
lest her wild humours should completely ruin us, that is quite
another thing, and enough at last to weary out the patience even of
"Well, well," replied the master of the house with a smile, "you have
your trials with Undine, and I have mine with the lake. The lake
often beats down my dams, and breaks the meshes of my nets, but for
all that I have a strong affection for it, and so have you, in spite
of your mighty crosses and vexations, for our graceful little child.
Is it not true?"
"One cannot be very angry with her," answered the old lady, as she
gave her husband an approving smile.
That instant the door flew open, and a fair girl, of wondrous beauty,
sprang laughing in, and said, "You have only been making a mock of
me, father; for where now is the guest you mentioned?"
The same moment, however, she perceived the knight also, and
continued standing before the young man in fixed astonishment.
Huldbrand was charmed with her graceful figure, and viewed her lovely
features with the more intense interest, as he imagined it was only
her surprise that allowed him the opportunity, and that she would
soon turn away from his gaze with increased bashfulness. But the
event was the very reverse of what he expected; for, after looking at
him for a long while, she became more confident, moved nearer, knelt
down before him, and while she played with a gold medal which he wore
attached to a rich chain on his breast, exclaimed,
"Why, you beautiful, you kind guest! how have you reached our poor
cottage at last? Have you been obliged for years and years to wander
about the world before you could catch one glimpse of our nook? Do
you come out of that wild forest, my beautiful knight?"
The old woman was so prompt in her reproof as to allow him no time to
answer. She commanded the maiden to rise, show better manners, and
go to her work. But Undine, without making any reply, drew a little
footstool near Huldbrand's chair, sat down upon it with her netting,
and said in a gentle tone--
"I will work here."
The old man did as parents are apt to do with children to whom they
have been over-indulgent. He affected to observe nothing of Undine's
strange behaviour, and was beginning to talk about something else.
But this the maiden did not permit him to do. She broke in upon him,
"I have asked our kind guest from whence he has come among us, and he
has not yet answered me."
"I come out of the forest, you lovely little vision," Huldbrand
returned; and she spoke again:
"You must also tell me how you came to enter that forest, so feared
and shunned, and the marvellous adventures you met with in it; for
there is no escaping without something of this kind."
Huldbrand felt a slight shudder on remembering what he had witnessed,
and looked involuntarily toward the window, for it seemed to him that
one of the strange shapes which had come upon him in the forest must
be there grinning in through the glass; but he discerned nothing
except the deep darkness of night, which had now enveloped the whole
prospect. Upon this he became more collected, and was just on the
point of beginning his account, when the old man thus interrupted
"Not so, sir knight; this is by no means a fit hour for such
But Undine, in a state of high excitement, sprang up from her little
stool and cried, placing herself directly before the fisherman: "He
shall NOT tell his story, father? he shall not? But it is my will:--
he shall!--stop him who may!"
Thus speaking, she stamped her little foot vehemently on the floor,
but all with an air of such comic and good-humoured simplicity, that
Huldbrand now found it quite as hard to withdraw his gaze from her
wild emotion as he had before from her gentleness and beauty. The
old man, on the contrary, burst out in unrestrained displeasure. He
severely reproved Undine for her disobedience and her unbecoming
carriage towards the stranger, and his good old wife joined him in
harping on the same string.
By these rebukes Undine was only excited the more. "If you want to
quarrel with me," she cried, "and will not let me hear what I so much
desire, then sleep alone in your smoky old hut!" And swift as an
arrow she shot from the door, and vanished amid the darkness of the
Huldbrand and the fisherman sprang from their seats, and were rushing
to stop the angry girl; but before they could reach the cottage-door,
she had disappeared in the stormy darkness without, and no sound, not
so much even as that of her light footstep, betrayed the course she
had taken. Huldbrand threw a glance of inquiry towards his host; it
almost seemed to him as if the whole of the sweet apparition, which
had so suddenly plunged again amid the night, were no other than a
continuation of the wonderful forms that had just played their mad
pranks with him in the forest. But the old man muttered between his
"This is not the first time she has treated us in this manner. Now
must our hearts be filled with anxiety, and our eyes find no sleep
for the whole night; for who can assure us, in spite of her past
escapes, that she will not some time or other come to harm, if she
thus continue out in the dark and alone until daylight?"
"Then pray, for God's sake, father, let us follow her," cried
"Wherefore should we?" replied the old man. "It would be a sin were
I to suffer you, all alone, to search after the foolish girl amid the
lonesomeness of night; and my old limbs would fail to carry me to
this wild rover, even if I knew to what place she has betaken
"Still we ought at least to call after her, and beg her to return,"
said Huldbrand; and he began to call in tones of earnest entreaty,
"Undine! Undine! come back, come back!"
The old man shook his head, and said, "All your shouting, however
loud and long, will be of no avail; you know not as yet, sir knight,
how self-willed the little thing is." But still, even hoping against
hope, he could not himself cease calling out every minute, amid the
gloom of night, "Undine! ah, dear Undine! I beseech you, pray come
back--only this once."
It turned out, however, exactly as the fisherman had said. No Undine
could they hear or see; and as the old man would on no account
consent that Huldbrand should go in quest of the fugitive, they were
both obliged at last to return into the cottage. There they found
the fire on the hearth almost gone out, and the mistress of the
house, who took Undine's flight and danger far less to heart than her
husband, had already gone to rest. The old man blew up the coals,
put on dry wood, and by the firelight hunted for a flask of wine,
which he brought and set between himself and his guest.
"You, sir knight, as well as I," said he, "are anxious on the silly
girl's account; and it would be better, I think, to spend part of the
night in chatting and drinking, than keep turning and turning on our
rush-mats, and trying in vain to sleep. What is your opinion?"
Huldbrand was well pleased with the plan; the fisherman pressed him
to take the empty seat of honour, its late occupant having now left
it for her couch; and they relished their beverage and enjoyed their
chat as two such good men and true ever ought to do. To be sure,
whenever the slightest thing moved before the windows, or at times
when even nothing was moving, one of them would look up and exclaim,
"Here she comes!" Then would they continue silent a few moments, and
afterward, when nothing appeared, would shake their heads, breathe
out a sigh, and go on with their talk.
But, as neither could think of anything but Undine, the best plan
they could devise was, that the old fisherman should relate, and the
knight should hear, in what manner Undine had come to the cottage.
So the fisherman began as follows:
"It is now about fifteen years since I one day crossed the wild
forest with fish for the city market. My wife had remained at home
as she was wont to do; and at this time for a reason of more than
common interest, for although we were beginning to feel the advances
of age, God had bestowed upon us an infant of wonderful beauty. It
was a little girl; and we already began to ask ourselves the
question, whether we ought not, for the advantage of the new-comer,
to quit our solitude, and, the better to bring up this precious gift
of Heaven, to remove to some more inhabited place. Poor people, to
be sure, cannot in these cases do all you may think they ought, sir
knight; but we must all do what we can.
"Well, I went on my way, and this affair would keep running in my
head. This slip of land was most dear to me, and I trembled when,
amidst the bustle and broils of the city, I thought to myself, 'In a
scene of tumult like this, or at least in one not much more quiet, I
must soon take up my abode.' But I did not for this murmur against
our good God; on the contrary, I praised Him in silence for the new-
born babe. I should also speak an untruth, were I to say that
anything befell me, either on my passage through the forest to the
city, or on my returning homeward, that gave me more alarm than
usual, as at that time I had never seen any appearance there which
could terrify or annoy me. The Lord was ever with me in those awful
Thus speaking he took his cap reverently from his bald head, and
continued to sit for a considerable time in devout thought. He then
covered himself again, and went on with his relation.
"On this side the forest, alas! it was on this side, that woe burst
upon me. My wife came wildly to meet me, clad in mourning apparel,
and her eyes streaming with tears. 'Gracious God!' I cried, 'where's
our child? Speak!'
"'With Him on whom you have called, dear husband,' she answered, and
we now entered the cottage together, weeping in silence. I looked for
the little corpse, almost fearing to find what I was seeking; and
then it was I first learnt how all had happened.
"My wife had taken the little one in her arms, and walked out to the
shore of the lake. She there sat down by its very brink; and while
she was playing with the infant, as free from all fear as she was
full of delight, it bent forward on a sudden, as if seeing something
very beautiful in the water. My wife saw her laugh, the dear angel,
and try to catch the image in her tiny hands; but in a moment--with a
motion swifter than sight--she sprang from her mother's arms, and
sank in the lake, the watery glass into which she had been gazing.
I searched for our lost darling again and again; but it was all in
vain; I could nowhere find the least trace of her.
"The same evening we childless parents were sitting together by our
cottage hearth. We had no desire to talk, even if our tears would
have permitted us. As we thus sat in mournful stillness, gazing into
the fire, all at once we heard something without,--a slight rustling
at the door. The door flew open, and we saw a little girl, three or
four years old, and more beautiful than I can say, standing on the
threshold, richly dressed, and smiling upon us. We were struck dumb
with astonishment, and I knew not for a time whether the tiny form
were a real human being, or a mere mockery of enchantment. But I
soon perceived water dripping from her golden hair and rich garments,
and that the pretty child had been lying in the water, and stood in
immediate need of our help.
"'Wife,' said I, 'no one has been able to save our child for us; but
let us do for others what would have made us so blessed could any one
have done it for us.'
"We undressed the little thing, put her to bed, and gave her
something to drink; at all this she spoke not a word, but only turned
her eyes upon us--eyes blue and bright as sea or sky--and continued
looking at us with a smile.
"Next morning we had no reason to fear that she had received any
other harm than her wetting, and I now asked her about her parents,
and how she could have come to us. But the account she gave was both
confused and incredible. She must surely have been born far from
here, not only because I have been unable for these fifteen years to
learn anything of her birth, but because she then said, and at times
continues to say, many things of so very singular a nature, that we
neither of us know, after all, whether she may not have dropped among
us from the moon; for her talk runs upon golden castles, crystal
domes, and Heaven knows what extravagances beside. What, however,
she related with most distinctness was this: that while she was once
taking a sail with her mother on the great lake, she fell out of the
boat into the water; and that when she first recovered her senses,
she was here under our trees, where the gay scenes of the shore
filled her with delight.
"We now had another care weighing upon our minds, and one that caused
us no small perplexity and uneasiness. We of course very soon
determined to keep and bring up the child we had found, in place of
our own darling that had been drowned; but who could tell us whether
she had been baptized or not? She herself could give us no light on
the subject. When we asked her the question, she commonly made
answer, that she well knew she was created for God's praise and
glory, and that she was willing to let us do with her all that might
promote His glory and praise.
"My wife and I reasoned in this way: 'If she has not been baptized,
there can be no use in putting off the ceremony; and if she has been,
it still is better to have too much of a good thing than too little.'
"Taking this view of our difficulty, we now endeavoured to hit upon a
good name for the child, since, while she remained without one, we
were often at a loss, in our familiar talk, to know what to call her.
We at length agreed that Dorothea would be most suitable for her, as
I had somewhere heard it said that this name signified a gift of God,
and surely she had been sent to us by Providence as a gift, to
comfort us in our misery. She, on the contrary, would not so much as
hear Dorothea mentioned; she insisted, that as she had been named
Undine by her parents, Undine she ought still to be called. It now
occurred to me that this was a heathenish name, to be found in no
calendar, and I resolved to ask the advice of a priest in the city.
He would not listen to the name of Undine; and yielding to my urgent
request, he came with me through the enchanted forest in order to
perform the rite of baptism here in my cottage.
"The little maid stood before us so prettily adorned, and with such
an air of gracefulness, that the heart of the priest softened at once
in her presence; and she coaxed him so sweetly, and jested with him
so merrily, that he at last remembered nothing of his many objections
to the name of Undine.
"Thus, then, was she baptized Undine; and during the holy ceremony
she behaved with great propriety and gentleness, wild and wayward as
at other times she invariably was; for in this my wife was quite
right, when she mentioned the anxiety the child has occasioned us.
If I should relate to you--"
At this moment the knight interrupted the fisherman, to direct his
attention to a deep sound as of a rushing flood, which had caught his
ear during the talk of the old man. And now the waters came pouring
on with redoubled fury before the cottage-windows. Both sprang to
the door. There they saw, by the light of the now risen moon, the
brook which issued from the wood rushing wildly over its banks, and
whirling onward with it both stones and branches of trees in its
rapid course. The storm, as if awakened by the uproar, burst forth
from the clouds, whose immense masses of vapour coursed over the moon
with the swiftness of thought; the lake roared beneath the wind that
swept the foam from its waves; while the trees of this narrow
peninsula groaned from root to topmost branch as they bowed and swung
above the torrent.
"Undine! in God's name, Undine!" cried the two men in an agony. No
answer was returned. And now, regardless of everything else, they
hurried from the cottage, one in this direction, the other in that,
searching and calling.
The longer Huldbrand sought Undine beneath the shades of night, and
failed to find her, the more anxious and confused he became. The
impression that she was a mere phantom of the forest gained a new
ascendency over him; indeed, amid the howling of the waves and the
tempest, the crashing of the trees, and the entire change of the once
so peaceful and beautiful scene, he was tempted to view the whole
peninsula, together with the cottage and its inhabitants, as little
more than some mockery of his senses. But still he heard afar off
the fisherman's anxious and incessant shouting, "Undine!" and also
his aged wife, who was praying and singing psalms.
At length, when he drew near to the brook, which had overflowed its
banks, he perceived by the moonlight, that it had taken its wild
course directly in front of the haunted forest, so as to change the
peninsula into an island.
"Merciful God!" he breathed to himself, "if Undine has ventured a
step within that fearful wood, what will become of her? Perhaps it
was all owing to her sportive and wayward spirit, because I would
give her no account of my adventures there. And now the stream is
rolling between us, she may be weeping alone on the other side in the
midst of spectral horrors!"
A shuddering groan escaped him; and clambering over some stones and
trunks of overthrown pines, in order to step into the impetuous
current, he resolved, either by wading or swimming, to seek the
wanderer on the further shore. He felt, it is true, all the dread
and shrinking awe creeping over him which he had already suffered by
daylight among the now tossing and roaring branches of the forest.
More than all, a tall man in white, whom he knew but too well, met
his view, as he stood grinning and nodding on the grass beyond the
water. But even monstrous forms like this only impelled him to cross
over toward them, when the thought rushed upon him that Undine might
be there alone and in the agony of death.
He had already grasped a strong branch of a pine, and stood
supporting himself upon it in the whirling current, against which he
could with difficulty keep himself erect; but he advanced deeper in
with a courageous spirit. That instant a gentle voice of warning
cried near him, "Do not venture, do not venture!--that OLD MAN, the
STREAM, is too full of tricks to be trusted!" He knew the soft tones
of the voice; and while he stood as it were entranced beneath the
shadows which had now duskily veiled the moon, his head swam with the
swelling and rolling of the waves as he saw them momentarily rising
above his knee. Still he disdained the thought of giving up his
"If you are not really there, if you are merely gambolling round me
like a mist, may I, too, bid farewell to life, and become a shadow
like you, dear, dear Undine!" Thus calling aloud, he again moved
deeper into the stream. "Look round you--ah, pray look round you,
beautiful young stranger! why rush on death so madly?" cried the
voice a second time close by him; and looking on one side he
perceived, by the light of the moon, again cloudless, a little island
formed by the flood; and crouching upon its flowery turf, beneath the
branches of embowering trees, he saw the smiling and lovely Undine.
Oh how much more gladly than before the young man now plied his sturdy
staff! A few steps, and he had crossed the flood that was rushing
between himself and the maiden; and he stood near her on the little
spot of greensward in security, protected by the old trees. Undine
half rose, and she threw her arms around his neck to draw him gently
down upon the soft seat by her side.
"Here you shall tell me your story, my beautiful friend," she
breathed in a low whisper; "here the cross old people cannot disturb
us; and, besides, our roof of leaves here will make quite as good a
shelter as their poor cottage."
"It is heaven itself," cried Huldbrand; and folding her in his arms,
he kissed the lovely girl with fervour.
The old fisherman, meantime, had come to the margin of the stream,
and he shouted across, "Why, how is this, sir knight! I received you
with the welcome which one true-hearted man gives to another; and now
you sit there caressing my foster-child in secret, while you suffer
me in my anxiety to wander through the night in quest of her."
"Not till this moment did I find her myself, old father," cried the
knight across the water.
"So much the better," said the fisherman, "but now make haste, and
bring her over to me upon firm ground."
To this, however, Undine would by no means consent. She declared
that she would rather enter the wild forest itself with the beautiful
stranger, than return to the cottage where she was so thwarted in her
wishes, and from which the knight would soon or late go away. Then,
throwing her arms round Huldbrand, she sang the following verse with
the warbling sweetness of a bird:
"A rill would leave its misty vale,
And fortunes wild explore,
Weary at length it reached the main,
And sought its vale no more."
The old fisherman wept bitterly at her song, but his emotion seemed
to awaken little or no sympathy in her. She kissed and caressed her
new friend, who at last said to her: "Undine, if the distress of the
old man does not touch your heart, it cannot but move mine. We ought
to return to him."
She opened her large blue eyes upon him in amazement, and spoke at
last with a slow and doubtful accent, "If you think so, it is well,
all is right to me which you think right. But the old man over there
must first give me his promise that he will allow you, without
objection, to relate what you saw in the wood, and--well, other
things will settle themselves."
"Come--only come!" cried the fisherman to her, unable to utter
another word. At the same time he stretched his arms wide over the
current towards her, and to give her assurance that he would do what
she required, nodded his head. This motion caused his white hair to
fall strangely over his face, and Huldbrand could not but remember
the nodding white man of the forest. Without allowing anything,
however, to produce in him the least confusion, the young knight took
the beautiful girl in his arms, and bore her across the narrow
channel which the stream had torn away between her little island and
the solid shore. The old man fell upon Undine's neck, and found it
impossible either to express his joy or to kiss her enough; even the
ancient dame came up and embraced the recovered girl most cordially.
Every word of censure was carefully avoided; the more so, indeed, as
even Undine, forgetting her waywardness, almost overwhelmed her
foster-parents with caresses and the prattle of tenderness.
When at length the excess of their joy at recovering their child had
subsided, morning had already dawned, shining upon the waters of the
lake; the tempest had become hushed, the small birds sung merrily on
the moist branches.
As Undine now insisted upon hearing the recital of the knight's
promised adventures, the aged couple readily agreed to her wish.
Breakfast was brought out beneath the trees which stood behind the
cottage toward the lake on the north, and they sat down to it with
contented hearts; Undine at the knight's feet on the grass. These
arrangements being made, Huldbrand began his story in the following
"It is now about eight days since I rode into the free imperial city
which lies yonder on the farther side of the forest. Soon after my
arrival a splendid tournament and running at the ring took place
there, and I spared neither my horse nor my lance in the encounters.
"Once while I was pausing at the lists to rest from the brisk
exercise, and was handing back my helmet to one of my attendants, a
female figure of extraordinary beauty caught my attention, as, most
magnificently attired, she stood looking on at one of the balconies.
I learned, on making inquiry of a person near me, that the name of
the young lady was Bertalda, and that she was a foster-daughter of
one of the powerful dukes of this country. She too, I observed, was
gazing at me, and the consequences were such as we young knights are
wont to experience; whatever success in riding I might have had
before, I was now favoured with still better fortune. That evening I
was Bertalda's partner in the dance, and I enjoyed the same
distinction during the remainder of the festival."
A sharp pain in his left hand, as it hung carelessly beside him, here
interrupted Huldbrand's relation, and drew his eye to the part
affected. Undine had fastened her pearly teeth, and not without some
keenness too, upon one of his fingers, appearing at the same time
very gloomy and displeased. On a sudden, however, she looked up in
his eyes with an expression of tender melancholy, and whispered
"It is all your own fault."
She then covered her face; and the knight, strangely embarrassed and
thoughtful, went on with his story.
"This lady, Bertalda, of whom I spoke, is of a proud and wayward
spirit. The second day I saw her she pleased me by no means so much
as she had the first, and the third day still less. But I continued
about her because she showed me more favour than she did any other
knight, and it so happened that I playfully asked her to give me one
of her gloves. 'When you have entered the haunted forest all alone,'
said she; 'when you have explored its wonders, and brought me a full
account of them, the glove is yours.' As to getting her glove, it
was of no importance to me whatever, but the word had been spoken,
and no honourable knight would permit himself to be urged to such a
proof of valour a second time."
"I thought," said Undine, interrupting him, "that she loved you."
"It did appear so," replied Huldbrand.
"Well!" exclaimed the maiden, laughing, "this is beyond belief; she
must be very stupid. To drive from her one who was dear to her!
And worse than all, into that ill-omened wood! The wood and its
mysteries, for all I should have cared, might have waited long
"Yesterday morning, then," pursued the knight, smiling kindly upon
Undine, "I set out from the city, my enterprise before me. The early
light lay rich upon the verdant turf. It shone so rosy on the
slender boles of the trees, and there was so merry a whispering among
the leaves, that in my heart I could not but laugh at people who
feared meeting anything to terrify them in a spot so delicious.
'I shall soon pass through the forest, and as speedily return,'
I said to myself, in the overflow of joyous feeling, and ere I was
well aware, I had entered deep among the green shades, while of the
plain that lay behind me I was no longer able to catch a glimpse.
"Then the conviction for the first time impressed me, that in a
forest of so great extent I might very easily become bewildered, and
that this, perhaps, might be the only danger which was likely to
threaten those who explored its recesses. So I made a halt, and
turned myself in the direction of the sun, which had meantime risen
somewhat higher, and while I was looking up to observe it, I saw
something black among the boughs of a lofty oak. My first thought
was, 'It is a bear!' and I grasped my weapon. The object then
accosted me from above in a human voice, but in a tone most harsh and
hideous: 'If I, overhead here, do not gnaw off these dry branches,
Sir Noodle, what shall we have to roast you with when midnight
comes?' And with that it grinned, and made such a rattling with the
branches that my courser became mad with affright, and rushed
furiously forward with me before I had time to see distinctly what
sort of a devil's beast it was."
"You must not speak so," said the old fisherman, crossing himself.
His wife did the same, without saying a word, and Undine, while her
eye sparkled with delight, looked at the knight and said, "The best
of the story is, however, that as yet they have not roasted you! Go
on, now, you beautiful knight."
The knight then went on with his adventures. "My horse was so wild,
that he well-nigh rushed with me against limbs and trunks of trees.
He was dripping with sweat through terror, heat, and the violent
straining of his muscles. Still he refused to slacken his career.
At last, altogether beyond my control, he took his course directly up
a stony steep, when suddenly a tall white man flashed before me, and
threw himself athwart the way my mad steed was taking. At this
apparition he shuddered with new affright, and stopped trembling.
I took this chance of recovering my command of him, and now for the
first time perceived that my deliverer, so far from being a white
man, was only a brook of silver brightness, foaming near me in its
descent from the hill, while it crossed and arrested my horse's
course with its rush of waters."
"Thanks, thanks, dear brook!" cried Undine, clapping her little
hands. But the old man shook his head, and looked down in deep
"Hardly had I well settled myself in my saddle, and got the reins in
my grasp again," Huldbrand pursued, "when a wizard-like dwarf of a
man was already standing at my side, diminutive and ugly beyond
conception, his complexion of a brownish-yellow, and his nose
scarcely smaller than the rest of him together. The fellow's mouth
was slit almost from ear to ear, and he showed his teeth with a
grinning smile of idiot courtesy, while he overwhelmed me with bows
and scrapes innumerable. The farce now becoming excessively irksome,
I thanked him in the fewest words I could well use, turned about my
still trembling charger, and purposed either to seek another
adventure, or, should I meet with none, to take my way back to the
city; for the sun, during my wild chase, had passed the meridian, and
was now hastening toward the west. But this villain of a dwarf
sprang at the same instant, and, with a turn as rapid as lightning,
stood before my horse again. 'Clear the way there!' I cried
fiercely; 'the beast is wild, and will make nothing of running over
"'Ay, ay,' cried the imp with a snarl, and snorting out a laugh still
more frightfully idiotic; 'pay me, first pay what you owe me. I
stopped your fine little nag for you; without my help, both you and
he would be now sprawling below there in that stony ravine. Hu! from
what a horrible plunge I've saved you!'
"'Well, don't make any more faces,' said I, 'but take your money and
be off, though every word you say is false. It was the brook there,
you miserable thing, and not you, that saved me,' and at the same
time I dropped a piece of gold into his wizard cap, which he had
taken from his head while he was begging before me.
"I then trotted off and left him, but he screamed after me; and on a
sudden, with inconceivable quickness, he was close by my side. I
started my horse into a gallop. He galloped on with me, though it
seemed with great difficulty, and with a strange movement, half
ludicrous and half horrible, forcing at the same time every limb and
feature into distortion, he held up the gold piece and screamed at
every leap, 'Counterfeit! false! false coin! counterfeit!' and such
was the strange sound that issued from his hollow breast, you would
have supposed that at every scream he must have tumbled upon the
ground dead. All this while his disgusting red tongue hung lolling
from his mouth.
"I stopped bewildered, and asked, 'What do you mean by this
screaming? Take another piece of gold, take two, but leave me.'
"He then began again his hideous salutations of courtesy, and snarled
out as before, 'Not gold, it shall not be gold, my young gentleman.
I have too much of that trash already, as I will show you in no
"At that moment, and thought itself could not have been more
instantaneous, I seemed to have acquired new powers of sight. I
could see through the solid green plain, as if it were green glass,
and the smooth surface of the earth were round as a globe, and within
it I saw crowds of goblins, who were pursuing their pastime and
making themselves merry with silver and gold. They were tumbling and
rolling about, heads up and heads down; they pelted one another in
sport with the precious metals, and with irritating malice blew gold-
dust in one another's eyes. My odious companion ordered the others
to reach him up a vast quantity of gold; this he showed to me with a
laugh, and then flung it again ringing and chinking down the
"After this contemptuous disregard of gold, he held up the piece I
had given him, showing it to his brother goblins below, and they
laughed immoderately at a coin so worthless, and hissed me. At last,
raising their fingers all smutched with ore, they pointed them at me
in scorn; and wilder and wilder, and thicker and thicker, and madder
and madder, the crowd were clambering up to where I sat gazing at
these wonders. Then terror seized me, as it had before seized my
horse. I drove my spurs into his sides, and how far he rushed with
me through the forest, during this second of my wild heats, it is
impossible to say.
"At last, when I had now come to a dead halt again, the cool of
evening was around me. I caught the gleam of a white footpath
through the branches of the trees; and presuming it would lead me out
of the forest toward the city, I was desirous of working my way into
it. But a face, perfectly white and indistinct, with features ever
changing, kept thrusting itself out and peering at me between the
leaves. I tried to avoid it, but wherever I went, there too appeared
the unearthly face. I was maddened with rage at this interruption,
and determined to drive my steed at the appearance full tilt, when
such a cloud of white foam came rushing upon me and my horse, that we
were almost blinded and glad to turn about and escape. Thus from
step to step it forced us on, and ever aside from the footpath,
leaving us for the most part only one direction open. When we
advanced in this, it kept following close behind us, yet did not
occasion the smallest harm or inconvenience.
"When at times I looked about me at the form, I perceived that the
white face, which had splashed upon us its shower of foam, was
resting on a body equally white, and of more than gigantic size.
Many a time, too, I received the impression that the whole appearance
was nothing more than a wandering stream or torrent; but respecting
this I could never attain to any certainty. We both of us, horse and
rider, became weary as we shaped our course according to the
movements of the white man, who continued nodding his head at us, as
if he would say, 'Quite right!' And thus, at length, we came out
here, at the edge of the wood, where I saw the fresh turf, the waters
of the lake, and your little cottage, and where the tall white man
"Well, Heaven be praised that he is gone!" cried the old fisherman;
and he now began to talk of how his guest could most conveniently
return to his friends in the city. Upon this, Undine began laughing
to herself, but so very low that the sound was hardly perceivable.
Huldbrand observing it, said, "I thought you were glad to see me
here; why, then, do you now appear so happy when our talk turns upon
my going away?"
"Because you cannot go away," answered Undine. "Pray make a single
attempt; try with a boat, with your horse, or alone, as you please,
to cross that forest stream which has burst its bounds; or rather,
make no trial at all, for you would be dashed to pieces by the stones
and trunks of trees which you see driven on with such violence. And
as to the lake, I know that well; even my father dares not venture
out with his boat far enough to help you."
Huldbrand rose, smiling, in order to look about and observe whether
the state of things were such as Undine had represented it to be.
The old man accompanied him, and the maiden went merrily dancing
beside them. They found all, in fact, just as Undine had said, and
that the knight, whether willing or not willing, must submit to
remaining on the island, so lately a peninsula, until the flood
When the three were now returning to the cottage after their ramble,
the knight whispered in the ear of the little maiden, "Well, dear
Undine, are you angry at my remaining?"
"Ah," she pettishly replied, "do not speak to me! If I had not
bitten you, who knows what fine things you would have put into your
story about Bertalda?"
It may have happened to thee, my dear reader, after being much driven
to and fro in the world, to reach at length a spot where all was well
with thee. The love of home and of its peaceful joys, innate to all,
again sprang up in thy heart; thou thoughtest that thy home was
decked with all the flowers of childhood, and of that purest, deepest
love which had grown upon the graves of thy beloved, and that here it
was good to live and to build houses. Even if thou didst err, and
hast had bitterly to mourn thy error, it is nothing to my purpose,
and thou thyself wilt not like to dwell on the sad recollection. But
recall those unspeakably sweet feelings, that angelic greeting of
peace, and thou wilt be able to understand what was the happiness of
the knight Huldbrand during his abode on that narrow slip of land.
He frequently observed, with heartfelt satisfaction, that the forest
stream continued every day to swell and roll on with a more impetuous
sweep; and this forced him to prolong his stay on the island. Part
of the day he wandered about with an old cross-bow, which he found in
a corner of the cottage, and had repaired in order to shoot the
waterfowl that flew over; and all that he was lucky enough to hit he
brought home for a good roast in the kitchen. When he came in with
his booty, Undine seldom failed to greet him with a scolding, because
he had cruelly deprived the happy joyous little creatures of life as
they were sporting above in the blue ocean of the air; nay more, she
often wept bitterly when she viewed the water-fowl dead in his hand.
But at other times, when he returned without having shot any, she
gave him a scolding equally serious, since, owing to his carelessness
and want of skill, they must now put up with a dinner of fish. Her
playful taunts ever touched his heart with delight; the more so, as
she generally strove to make up for her pretended ill-humour with
The old people saw with pleasure this familiarity of Undine and
Huldbrand; they looked upon them as betrothed, or even as married,
and living with them in their old age on their island, now torn off
from the mainland. The loneliness of his situation strongly
impressed also the young Huldbrand with the feeling that he was
already Undine's bridegroom. It seemed to him as if, beyond those
encompassing floods, there were no other world in existence, or at
any rate as if he could never cross them, and again associate with
the world of other men; and when at times his grazing steed raised
his head and neighed to him, seemingly inquiring after his knightly
achievements and reminding him of them, or when his coat-of-arms
sternly shone upon him from the embroidery of his saddle and the
caparisons of his horse, or when his sword happened to fall from the
nail on which it was hanging in the cottage, and flashed on his eye
as it slipped from the scabbard in its fall, he quieted the doubts of
his mind by saying to himself, "Undine cannot be a fisherman's
daughter. She is, in all probability, a native of some remote
region, and a member of some illustrious family."
There was one thing, indeed, to which he had a strong aversion: this
was to hear the old dame reproving Undine. The wild girl, it is
true, commonly laughed at the reproof, making no attempt to conceal
the extravagance of her mirth; but it appeared to him like touching
his own honour; and still he found it impossible to blame the aged
wife of the fisherman, since Undine always deserved at least ten
times as many reproofs as she received; so he continued to feel in
his heart an affectionate tenderness for the ancient mistress of the
house, and his whole life flowed on in the calm stream of
There came, however, an interruption at last. The fisherman and the
knight had been accustomed at dinner, and also in the evening when
the wind roared without, as it rarely failed to do towards night, to
enjoy together a flask of wine. But now their whole stock, which the
fisherman had from time to time brought with him from the city, was
at last exhausted, and they were both quite out of humour at the
circumstance. That day Undine laughed at them excessively, but they
were not disposed to join in her jests with the same gaiety as usual.
Toward evening she went out of the cottage, to escape, as she said,
the sight of two such long and tiresome faces.
While it was yet twilight, some appearances of a tempest seemed to be
again mustering in the sky, and the waves already heaved and roared
around them: the knight and the fisherman sprang to the door in
terror, to bring home the maiden, remembering the anguish of that
night when Huldbrand had first entered the cottage. But Undine met
them at the same moment, clapping her little hands in high glee.
"What will you give me," she cried, "to provide you with wine? or
rather, you need not give me anything," she continued; "for I am
already satisfied, if you look more cheerful, and are in better
spirits, than throughout this last most wearisome day. Only come
with me; the forest stream has driven ashore a cask; and I will be
condemned to sleep through a whole week, if it is not a wine-cask."
The men followed her, and actually found, in a bushy cove of the
shore, a cask, which inspired them with as much joy as if they were
sure it contained the generous old wine for which they were
thirsting. They first of all, and with as much expedition as
possible, rolled it toward the cottage; for heavy clouds were again
rising in the west, and they could discern the waves of the lake in
the fading light lifting their white foaming heads, as if looking out
for the rain, which threatened every instant to pour upon them.
Undine helped the men as much as she was able; and as the shower,
with a roar of wind, came suddenly sweeping on in rapid pursuit, she
raised her finger with a merry menace toward the dark mass of clouds,
"You cloud, you cloud, have a care! beware how you wet us; we are
some way from shelter yet."
The old man reproved her for this sally, as a sinful presumption; but
she laughed to herself softly, and no mischief came from her wild
behaviour. Nay more, what was beyond their expectation, they reached
their comfortable hearth unwet, with their prize secured; but the
cask had hardly been broached, and proved to contain wine of a
remarkably fine flavour, when the rain first poured down unrestrained
from the black cloud, the tempest raved through the tops of the
trees, and swept far over the billows of the deep.
Having immediately filled several bottles from the cask, which
promised them a supply for a long time, they drew round the glowing
hearth; and, comfortably secured from the tempest, they sat tasting
the flavour of their wine and bandying jests.
But the old fisherman suddenly became extremely grave, and said: "Ah,
great God! here we sit, rejoicing over this rich gift, while he to
whom it first belonged, and from whom it was wrested by the fury of
the stream, must there also, it is more than probable, have lost his
"No such thing," said Undine, smiling, as she filled the knight's cup
to the brim.
But he exclaimed: "By my unsullied honour, old father, if I knew
where to find and rescue him, no fear of exposure to the night, nor
any peril, should deter me from making the attempt. At least, I can
promise you that if I again reach an inhabited country, I will find
out the owner of this wine or his heirs, and make double and triple
The old man was gratified with this assurance; he gave the knight a
nod of approbation, and now drained his cup with an easier conscience
and more relish.
Undine, however, said to Huldbrand: "As to the repayment and your
gold, you may do whatever you like. But what you said about your
venturing out, and searching, and exposing yourself to danger,
appears to me far from wise. I should cry my very eyes out, should
you perish in such a wild attempt; and is it not true that you would
prefer staying here with me and the good wine?"
"Most assuredly," answered Huldbrand, smiling.
"Then, you see," replied Undine, "you spoke unwisely. For charity
begins at home; and why need we trouble ourselves about our
The mistress of the house turned away from her, sighing and shaking
her head; while the fisherman forgot his wonted indulgence toward the
graceful maiden, and thus rebuked her:
"That sounds exactly as if you had been brought up by heathens and
Turks;" and he finished his reproof by adding, "May God forgive both
me and you--unfeeling child!"
"Well, say what you will, that is what I think and feel," replied
Undine, "whoever brought me up; and all your talking cannot help it."
"Silence!" exclaimed the fisherman, in a voice of stern rebuke; and
she, who with all her wild spirit was extremely alive to fear, shrank
from him, moved close up to Huldbrand, trembling, and said very
"Are you also angry, dear friend?"
The knight pressed her soft hand, and tenderly stroked her locks.
He was unable to utter a word, for his vexation, arising from the old
man's severity towards Undine, closed his lips; and thus the two
couples sat opposite to each other, at once heated with anger and in
In the midst of this stillness a low knocking at the door startled
them all; for there are times when a slight circumstance, coming
unexpectedly upon us, startles us like something supernatural.
But there was the further source of alarm, that the enchanted forest
lay so near them, and that their place of abode seemed at present
inaccessible to any human being. While they were looking upon one
another in doubt, the knocking was again heard, accompanied with a
deep groan. The knight sprang to seize his sword. But the old man
said, in a low whisper:
"If it be what I fear it is, no weapon of yours can protect us."
Undine in the meanwhile went to the door, and cried with the firm
voice of fearless displeasure: "Spirits of the earth! if mischief be
your aim, Kuhleborn shall teach you better manners."
The terror of the rest was increased by this wild speech; they looked
fearfully upon the girl, and Huldbrand was just recovering presence
of mind enough to ask what she meant, when a voice reached them from
"I am no spirit of the earth, though a spirit still in its earthly
body. You that are within the cottage there, if you fear God and
would afford me assistance, open your door to me."
By the time these words were spoken, Undine had already opened it;
and the lamp throwing a strong light upon the stormy night, they
perceived an aged priest without, who stepped back in terror, when
his eye fell on the unexpected sight of a little damsel of such
exquisite beauty. Well might he think there must be magic in the
wind and witchcraft at work, when a form of such surpassing
loveliness appeared at the door of so humble a dwelling. So he
lifted up his voice in prayer:
"Let all good spirits praise the Lord God!"
"I am no spectre," said Undine, with a smile. "Do I look so very
frightful? And you see that I do not shrink from holy words. I too
have knowledge of God, and understand the duty of praising Him; every
one, to be sure, has his own way of doing this, for so He has created
us. Come in, father; you will find none but worthy people here."
The holy man came bowing in, and cast round a glance of scrutiny,
wearing at the same time a very placid and venerable air. But water
was dropping from every fold of his dark garments, from his long
white beard and the white locks of his hair. The fisherman and the
knight took him to another apartment, and furnished him with a change
of raiment, while they gave his own clothes to the women to dry. The
aged stranger thanked them in a manner the most humble and courteous;
but on the knight's offering him his splendid cloak to wrap round
him, he could not be persuaded to take it, but chose instead an old
grey coat that belonged to the fisherman.
They then returned to the common apartment. The mistress of the
house immediately offered her great chair to the priest, and
continued urging it upon him till she saw him fairly in possession of
it. "You are old and exhausted," said she, "and are, moreover, a man
Undine shoved under the stranger's feet her little stool, on which at
all other times she used to sit near to Huldbrand, and showed herself
most gentle and amiable towards the old man. Huldbrand whispered
some raillery in her ear, but she replied, gravely:
"He is a minister of that Being who created us all; and holy things
are not to be treated with lightness."
The knight and the fisherman now refreshed the priest with food and
wine; and when he had somewhat recovered his strength and spirits, he
began to relate how he had the day before set out from his cloister,
which was situated far off beyond the great lake, in order to visit
the bishop, and acquaint him with the distress into which the
cloister and its tributary villages had fallen, owing to the
extraordinary floods. After a long and wearisome wandering, on
account of the rise of the waters, he had been this day compelled
toward evening to procure the aid of a couple of boatmen, and cross
over an arm of the lake which had burst its usual boundary.
"But hardly," continued he, "had our small ferry-boat touched the
waves, when that furious tempest burst forth which is still raging
over our heads. It seemed as if the billows had been waiting our
approach only to rush on us with a madness the more wild. The oars
were wrested from the grasp of my men in an instant; and shivered by
the resistless force, they drove farther and farther out before us
upon the waves. Unable to direct our course, we yielded to the blind
power of nature, and seemed to fly over the surges toward your
distant shore, which we already saw looming through the mist and foam
of the deep. Then it was at last that our boat turned short from its
course, and rocked with a motion that became more wild and dizzy: I
know not whether it was overset, or the violence of the motion threw
me overboard. In my agony and struggle at the thought of a near and
terrible death, the waves bore me onward, till I was cast ashore here
beneath the trees of your island."
"Yes, an island!" cried the fisherman; "a short time ago it was only
a point of land. But now, since the forest stream and lake have
become all but mad, it appears to be entirely changed."
"I observed something of it," replied the priest, "as I stole along
the shore in the obscurity; and hearing nothing around me but a sort
of wild uproar, I perceived at last that the noise came from a point
exactly where a beaten footpath disappeared. I now caught the light
in your cottage, and ventured hither, where I cannot sufficiently
thank my Heavenly Father that, after preserving me from the waters,
He has also conducted me to such pious people as you are; and the
more so, as it is difficult to say whether I shall ever behold any
other persons in this world except you four."
"What mean you by those words?" asked the fisherman.
"Can you tell me, then, how long this commotion of the elements will
last?" replied the priest. "I am old; the stream of my life may
easily sink into the ground and vanish before the overflowing of that
forest stream shall subside. And, indeed, it is not impossible that
more and more of the foaming waters may rush in between you and
yonder forest, until you are so far removed from the rest of the
world, that your small fishing-canoe may be incapable of passing
over, and the inhabitants of the continent entirely forget you in
your old age amid the dissipation and diversions of life."
At this melancholy foreboding the old lady shrank back with a feeling
of alarm, crossed herself, and cried, "God forbid!"
But the fisherman looked upon her with a smile and said, "What a
strange being is man! Suppose the worst to happen; our state would
not be different; at any rate, your own would not, dear wife, from
what it is at present. For have you, these many years, been farther
from home than the border of the forest? And have you seen a single
human being beside Undine and myself? It is now only a short time
since the coming of the knight and the priest. They will remain with
us, even if we do become a forgotten island; so after all you will be
"I know not," replied the ancient dame; "it is a dismal thought, when
brought fairly home to the mind, that we are for ever separated from
mankind, even though in fact we never do know nor see them."
"Then YOU will remain with us--then you will remain with us!"
whispered Undine, in a voice scarcely audible and half singing, while
she nestled closer to Huldbrand's side. But he was immersed in the
deep and strange musings of his own mind. The region, on the farther
side of the forest river, seemed, since the last words of the priest,
to have been withdrawing farther and farther, in dim perspective,
from his view; and the blooming island on which he lived grew green
and smiled more freshly in his fancy. His bride glowed like the
fairest rose, not of this obscure nook only, but even of the whole
wide world; and the priest was now present.
Added to which, the mistress of the family was directing an angry
glance at Undine, because, even in the presence of the priest, she
leant so fondly on the knight; and it seemed as if she was on the
point of breaking out in harsh reproof. Then burst forth from the
mouth of Huldbrand, as he turned to the priest, "Father, you here see
before you an affianced pair; and if this maiden and these good old
people have no objection, you shall unite us this very evening."
The aged couple were both exceedingly surprised. They had often, it
is true, thought of this, but as yet they had never mentioned it; and
now, when the knight spoke, it came upon them like something wholly
new and unexpected. Undine became suddenly grave, and looked down
thoughtfully, while the priest made inquiries respecting the
circumstances of their acquaintance, and asked the old people whether
they gave their consent to the union. After a great number of
questions and answers, the affair was arranged to the satisfaction of
all; and the mistress of the house went to prepare the bridal
apartment of the young couple, and also, with a view to grace the
nuptial solemnity, to seek for two consecrated tapers, which she had
for a long time kept by her, for this occasion.
The knight in the meanwhile busied himself about his golden chain,
for the purpose of disengaging two of its links, that he might make
an exchange of rings with his bride. But when she saw his object,
she started from her trance of musing, and exclaimed--
"Not so! my parents by no means sent me into the world so perfectly
destitute; on the contrary, they foresaw, even at that early period,
that such a night as this would come."
Thus speaking she went out of the room, and a moment after returned
with two costly rings, of which she gave one to her bridegroom, and
kept the other for herself. The old fisherman was beyond measure
astonished at this; and his wife, who was just re-entering the room,
was even more surprised than he, that neither of them had ever seen
these jewels in the child's possession.
"My parents," said Undine, "sewed these trinkets to that beautiful
raiment which I wore the very day I came to you. They also charged
me on no account whatever to mention them to any one before my
wedding evening. At the time of my coming, therefore, I took them
off in secret, and have kept them concealed to the present hour."
The priest now cut short all further questioning and wondering, while
he lighted the consecrated tapers, placed them on a table, and
ordered the bridal pair to stand opposite to him. He then pronounced
the few solemn words of the ceremony, and made them one. The elder
couple gave the younger their blessing; and the bride, gently
trembling and thoughtful, leaned upon the knight.
The priest then spoke out: "You are strange people, after all; for
why did you tell me that you were the only inhabitants of the island?
So far is this from being true, I have seen, the whole time I was
performing the ceremony, a tall, stately man, in a white mantle,
standing opposite to me, looking in at the window. He must be still
waiting before the door, if peradventure you would invite him to come
"God forbid!" cried the old lady, shrinking back; the fisherman shook
his head, without opening his lips; and Huldbrand sprang to the
window. It seemed to him that he could still discern a white streak,
which soon disappeared in the gloom. He convinced the priest that he
must have been mistaken in his impression; and they all sat down
together round a bright and comfortable hearth.
Before the nuptial ceremony, and during its performance, Undine had
shown a modest gentleness and maidenly reserve; but it now seemed as
if all the wayward freaks that effervesced within her burst forth
with an extravagance only the more bold and unrestrained. She teased
her bridegroom, her foster-parents, and even the priest, whom she had
just now revered so highly, with all sorts of childish tricks; but
when the ancient dame was about to reprove her too frolicsome spirit,
the knight, in a few words, imposed silence upon her by speaking of
Undine as his wife.
The knight was himself, indeed, just as little pleased with Undine's
childish behaviour as the rest; but all his looks and half-
reproachful words were to no purpose. It is true, whenever the bride
observed the dissatisfaction of her husband--and this occasionally
happened--she became more quiet, placed herself beside him, stroked
his face with caressing fondness, whispered something smilingly in
his ear, and in this manner smoothed the wrinkles that were gathering
on his brow. But the moment after, some wild whim would make her
resume her antic movements; and all went worse than before.
The priest then spoke in a kind although serious tone: "My fair young
maiden, surely no one can look on you without pleasure; but remember
betimes so to attune your soul that it may produce a harmony ever in
accordance with the soul of your wedded bridegroom."
"SOUL!" cried Undine with a laugh. "What you say has a remarkably
pretty sound; and for most people, too, it may be a very instructive
and profitable caution. But when a person has no soul at all, how, I
pray you, can such attuning be then possible? And this, in truth, is
just my condition."
The priest was much hurt, but continued silent in holy displeasure,
and turned away his face from the maiden in sorrow. She, however,
went up to him with the most winning sweetness, and said:
"Nay, I entreat you first listen to me, before you are angry with me;
for your anger is painful to me, and you ought not to give pain to a
creature that has not hurt you. Only have patience with me, and I
will explain to you every word of what I meant."
It was evident that she had come to say something important; when she
suddenly faltered as if seized with inward shuddering, and burst into
a passion of tears. They were none of them able to understand the
intenseness of her feelings; and, with mingled emotions of fear and
anxiety, they gazed on her in silence. Then, wiping away her tears,
and looking earnestly at the priest, she at last said:
"There must be something lovely, but at the same time something most
awful, about a soul. In the name of God, holy man, were it not
better that we never shared a gift so mysterious?"
Again she paused, and restrained her tears, as if waiting for an
answer. All in the cottage had risen from their seats, and stepped
back from her with horror. She, however, seemed to have eyes for no
one but the holy man; an awful curiosity was painted on her features,
which appeared terrible to the others.
"Heavily must the soul weigh down its possessor," she pursued, when
no one returned her any answer--"very heavily! for already its
approaching image overshadows me with anguish and mourning. And,
alas, I have till now been so merry and light-hearted!" and she
burst into another flood of tears, and covered her face with her
The priest, going up to her with a solemn look, now addressed himself
to her, and conjured her, by the name of God most holy, if any spirit
of evil possessed her, to remove the light covering from her face.
But she sank before him on her knees, and repeated after him every
sacred expression he uttered, giving praise to God, and protesting
"that she wished well to the whole world."
The priest then spoke to the knight: "Sir bridegroom, I leave you
alone with her whom I have united to you in marriage. So far as I
can discover, there is nothing of evil in her, but assuredly much
that is wonderful. What I recommend to you is--prudence, love, and
Thus speaking, he left the apartment; and the fisherman, with his
wife, followed him, crossing themselves.
Undine had sunk upon her knees. She uncovered her face, and
exclaimed, while she looked fearfully round upon Huldbrand, "Alas!
you will now refuse to look upon me as your own; and still I have
done nothing evil, poor unhappy child that I am!" She spoke these
words with a look so infinitely sweet and touching, that her
bridegroom forgot both the confession that had shocked, and the
mystery that had perplexed him; and hastening to her, he raised her
in his arms. She smiled through her tears; and that smile was like
the morning light playing upon a small stream. "You cannot desert
me!" she whispered confidingly, and stroked the knight's cheeks with
her little soft hands. He turned away from the frightful thoughts
that still lurked in the recesses of his soul, and were persuading
him that he had been married to a fairy, or some spiteful and
mischievous being of the spirit-world. Only the single question, and
that almost unawares, escaped from his lips.
"Dearest Undine, tell me this one thing: what was it you meant by
'spirits of earth' and 'Kuhleborn,' when the priest stood knocking at
"Tales! mere tales of children!" answered Undine, laughing, now quite
restored to her wonted gaiety. "I first frightened you with them,
and you frightened me. This is the end of the story, and of our
"Nay, not so," replied the enamoured knight, extinguishing the
tapers, and a thousand times kissing his beautiful and beloved bride;
while, lighted by the moon that shone brightly through the windows,
he bore her into their bridal apartment.
The fresh light of morning woke the young married pair: but Huldbrand
lay lost in silent reflection. Whenever, during the night, he had
fallen asleep, strange and horrible dreams of spectres had disturbed
him; and these shapes, grinning at him by stealth, strove to disguise
themselves as beautiful females; and from beautiful females they all
at once assumed the appearance of dragons. And when he started up,
aroused by the intrusion of these hideous forms, the moonlight shone
pale and cold before the windows without. He looked affrighted at
Undine, in whose arms he had fallen asleep: and she was reposing in
unaltered beauty and sweetness beside him. Then pressing her rosy
lips with a light kiss, he again fell into a slumber, only to be
awakened by new terrors.
When fully awake, he had thought over this connection. He reproached
himself for any doubt that could lead him into error in regard to his
lovely wife. He also confessed to her his injustice; but she only
gave him her fair hand, sighed deeply, and remained silent. Yet a
glance of fervent tenderness, an expression of the soul beaming in
her eyes, such as he had never witnessed there before, left him in
undoubted assurance that Undine bore him no ill-will.
He then rose joyfully, and leaving her, went to the common apartment,
where the inmates of the house had already met. The three were
sitting round the hearth with an air of anxiety about them, as if
they feared trusting themselves to raise their voice above a low,
apprehensive undertone. The priest appeared to be praying in his
inmost spirit, with a view to avert some fatal calamity. But when
they observed the young husband come forth so cheerful, they
dispelled the cloud that remained upon their brows: the old fisherman
even began to laugh with the knight till his aged wife herself could
not help smiling with great good-humour.
Undine had in the meantime got ready, and now entered the room; all
rose to meet her, but remained fixed in perfect admiration--she was
so changed, and yet the same. The priest, with paternal affection
beaming from his countenance, first went up to her; and as he raised
his hand to pronounce a blessing, the beautiful bride sank on her
knees before him with religious awe; she begged his pardon in terms
both respectful and submissive for any foolish things she might have
uttered the evening before, and entreated him with emotion to pray
for the welfare of her soul. She then rose, kissed her foster-
parents, and, after thanking them for all the kindness they had shown
"Oh, I now feel in my inmost heart how much, how infinitely much, you
have done for me, you dear, dear friends of my childhood!"
At first she was wholly unable to tear herself away from their
affectionate caresses; but the moment she saw the good old mother
busy in getting breakfast, she went to the hearth, applied herself to
cooking the food and putting it on the table, and would not suffer
her to take the least share in the work.
She continued in this frame of spirit the whole day: calm, kind
attentive--half matronly, and half girlish. The three who had been
longest acquainted with her expected every instant to see her
capricious spirit break out in some whimsical change or sportive
vagary. But their fears were quite unnecessary. Undine continued as
mild and gentle as an angel. The priest found it all but impossible
to remove his eyes from her; and he often said to the bridegroom:
"The bounty of Heaven, sir, through me its unworthy instrument,
entrusted to you yesterday an invaluable treasure; cherish it as you
ought, and it will promote your temporal and eternal welfare."
Toward evening Undine was hanging upon the knight's arm with lowly
tenderness, while she drew him gently out before the door, where the
setting sun shone richly over the fresh grass, and upon the high,
slender boles of the trees. Her emotion was visible: the dew of
sadness and love swam in her eyes, while a tender and fearful secret
seemed to hover upon her lips, but was only made known by hardly-
breathed sighs. She led her husband farther and farther onward
without speaking. When he asked her questions, she replied only with
looks, in which, it is true, there appeared to be no immediate answer
to his inquiries, but a whole heaven of love and timid devotion.
Thus they reached the margin of the swollen forest stream, and the
knight was astonished to see it gliding away with so gentle a
murmuring of its waves, that no vestige of its former swell and
wildness was now discernible.
"By morning it will be wholly drained off," said the beautiful wife,
almost weeping, "and you will then be able to travel, without
anything to hinder you, whithersoever you will."
"Not without you, dear Undine," replied the knight, laughing; "think,
only, were I disposed to leave you, both the Church and the spiritual
powers, the Emperor and the laws of the realm, would require the
fugitive to be seized and restored to you."
"All this depends on you--all depends on you," whispered his little
companion, half weeping and half smiling. "But I still feel sure
that you will not leave me; I love you too deeply to fear that
misery. Now bear me over to that little island which lies before us.
There shall the decision be made. I could easily, indeed, glide
through that mere rippling of the water without your aid, but it is
so sweet to lie in your arms; and should you determine to put me
away, I shall have rested in them once more,....for the last time."
Huldbrand was so full of strange anxiety and emotion, that he knew
not what answer to make her. He took her in his arms and carried her
over, now first realizing the fact that this was the same little
island from which he had borne her back to the old fisherman, the
first night of his arrival. On the farther side, he placed her upon
the soft grass, and was throwing himself lovingly near his beautiful
burden; but she said to him, "Not here, but opposite me. I shall
read my doom in your eyes, even before your lips pronounce it: now
listen attentively to what I shall relate to you." And she began:
"You must know, my own love, that there are beings in the elements
which bear the strongest resemblance to the human race, and which, at
the same time, but seldom become visible to you. The wonderful
salamanders sparkle and sport amid the flames; deep in the earth the
meagre and malicious gnomes pursue their revels; the forest-spirits
belong to the air, and wander in the woods; while in the seas,
rivers, and streams live the widespread race of water-spirits. These
last, beneath resounding domes of crystal, through which the sky can
shine with its sun and stars, inhabit a region of light and beauty;
lofty coral-trees glow with blue and crimson fruits in their gardens;
they walk over the pure sand of the sea, among exquisitely variegated
shells, and amid whatever of beauty the old world possessed, such as
the present is no more worthy to enjoy--creations which the floods
covered with their secret veils of silver; and now these noble
monuments sparkle below, stately and solemn, and bedewed by the
water, which loves them, and calls forth from their crevices delicate
moss-flowers and enwreathing tufts of sedge.
"Now the nation that dwell there are very fair and lovely to behold,
for the most part more beautiful than human beings. Many a fisherman
has been so fortunate as to catch a view of a delicate maiden of the
waters, while she was floating and singing upon the deep. He would
then spread far the fame of her beauty; and to such wonderful females
men are wont to give the name of Undines. But what need of saying
more?--You, my dear husband, now actually behold an Undine before
The knight would have persuaded himself that his lovely wife was
under the influence of one of her odd whims, and that she was only
amusing herself and him with her extravagant inventions. He wished
it might be so. But with whatever emphasis he said this to himself,
he still could not credit the hope for a moment: a strange shivering
shot through his soul; unable to utter a word, he gazed upon the
sweet speaker with a fixed eye. She shook her head in distress,
sighed from her full heart, and then proceeded in the following
"We should be far superior to you, who are another race of the human
family,--for we also call ourselves human beings, as we resemble them
in form and features--had we not one evil peculiar to ourselves.
Both we and the beings I have mentioned as inhabiting the other
elements vanish into air at death and go out of existence, spirit and
body, so that no vestige of us remains; and when you hereafter awake
to a purer state of being, we shall remain where sand, and sparks,
and wind, and waves remain. Thus we have no souls; the element moves
us, and, again, is obedient to our will, while we live, though it
scatters us like dust when we die; and as we have nothing to trouble
us, we are as merry as nightingales, little gold-fishes, and other
pretty children of nature.
"But all beings aspire to rise in the scale of existence higher than
they are. It was therefore the wish of my father, who is a powerful
water-prince in the Mediterranean Sea, that his only daughter should
become possessed of a soul, although she should have to endure many
of the sufferings of those who share that gift.
"Now the race to which I belong have no other means of obtaining a
soul than by forming with an individual of your own the most intimate
union of love. I am now possessed of a soul, and my soul thanks you,
my best beloved, and never shall cease to thank you, if you do not
render my whole future life miserable. For what will become of me,
if you avoid and reject me? Still, I would not keep you as my own by
artifice. And should you decide to cast me off, then do it now, and
return alone to the shore. I will plunge into this brook, where my
uncle will receive me; my uncle, who here in the forest, far removed
from his other friends, passes his strange and solitary existence.
But he is powerful, as well as revered and beloved by many great
rivers; and as he brought me hither to the fisherman a light-hearted
and laughing child, he will take me home to my parents a woman,
gifted with a soul, with power to love and to suffer."
She was about to add something more, when Huldbrand, with the most
heartfelt tenderness and love, clasped her in his arms, and again
bore her back to the shore. There, amid tears and kisses, he first
swore never to forsake his affectionate wife, and esteemed himself
even more happy than Pygmalion, for whom Venus gave life to his
beautiful statue, and thus changed it into a beloved wife. Supported
by his arm, and in the confidence of affection, Undine returned to
the cottage; and now she first realized with her whole heart how
little cause she had for regretting what she had left--the crystal
palace of her mysterious father.
Next morning, when Huldbrand awoke from slumber, and perceived that
his beautiful wife was not by his side, he began to give way again to
his wild imaginations--that his marriage, and even the lovely Undine
herself, were only shadows without substance--only mere illusions of
enchantment. But she entered the door at the same moment, kissed
him, seated herself on the bed by his side, and said:
"I have been out somewhat early this morning, to see whether my uncle
keeps his word. He has already restored the waters of the flood to
his own calm channel, and he now flows through the forest a rivulet
as before, in a lonely and dreamlike current. His friends, too, both
of the water and the air, have resumed their usual peaceful tenor;
all will again proceed with order and tranquillity; and you can
travel homeward, without fear of the flood, whenever you choose."
It seemed to the mind of Huldbrand that he must be in some waking
dream, so little was he able to understand the nature of his wife's
strange relative. Notwithstanding this he made no remark upon what
she had told him, and her surpassing loveliness soon lulled every
misgiving and discomfort to rest.
Some time afterwards, while he was standing with her before the door,
and surveying the verdant point of land, with its boundary of bright
waters, such a feeling of bliss came over him in this cradle of his
love, that he exclaimed:
"Shall we, then, so early as to-day, begin our journey? Why should
we? It is probable that abroad in the world we shall find no days
more delightful than those we have spent in this green isle so secret
and so secure. Let us yet see the sun go down here two or three
"Just as my lord wills," replied Undine meekly. "Only we must
remember, that my foster-parents will, at all events, see me depart
with pain; and should they now, for the first time, discover the true
soul in me, and how fervently I can now love and honour them, their
feeble eyes would surely become blind with weeping. As yet they
consider my present quietness and gentleness as of no better promise
than they were formerly--like the calm of the lake just while the air
remains tranquil--and they will learn soon to cherish a little tree
or flower as they have cherished me. Let me not, then, make known to
them this newly bestowed, this loving heart, at the very moment they
must lose it for this world; and how could I conceal what I have
gained, if we continued longer together?"
Huldbrand yielded to her representation, and went to the aged couple
to confer with them respecting his journey, on which he proposed to
set out that very hour. The priest offered himself as a companion to
the young married pair; and, after taking a short farewell, he held
the bridle, while the knight lifted his beautiful wife upon his
horse; and with rapid steps they crossed the dry channel with her
toward the forest. Undine wept in silent but intense emotion; the
old people, as she moved away, were more clamorous in the expression
of their grief. They appeared to feel, at the moment of separation,
all that they were losing in their affectionate foster-daughter.
The three travellers had reached the thickest shades of the forest
without interchanging a word. It must have been a fair sight, in
that hall of leafy verdure, to see this lovely woman's form sitting
on the noble and richly-ornamented steed, on her left hand the
venerable priest in the white garb of his order, on her right the
blooming young knight, clad in splendid raiment of scarlet, gold, and
violet, girt with a sword that flashed in the sun, and attentively
walking beside her. Huldbrand had no eyes but for his wife; Undine,
who had dried her tears of tenderness, had no eyes but for him; and
they soon entered into the still and voiceless converse of looks and
gestures, from which, after some time, they were awakened by the low
discourse which the priest was holding with a fourth traveller, who
had meanwhile joined them unobserved.
He wore a white gown, resembling in form the dress of the priest's
order, except that his hood hung very low over his face, and that the
whole drapery floated in such wide folds around him as obliged him
every moment to gather it up and throw it over his arm, or by some
management of this sort to get it out of his way, and still it did
not seem in the least to impede his movements. When the young couple
became aware of his presence, he was saying:
"And so, venerable sir, many as have been the years I have dwelt here
in this forest, I have never received the name of hermit in your
sense of the word. For, as I said before, I know nothing of penance,
and I think, too, that I have no particular need of it. Do you ask
me why I am so attached to the forest? It is because its scenery is
so peculiarly picturesque, and affords me so much pastime when, in my
floating white garments, I pass through its world of leaves and dusky
shadows;--and when a sweet sunbeam glances down upon me at times
"You are a very singular man," replied the priest, "and I should like
to have a more intimate acquaintance with you."
"And who, then, may you be yourself, to pass from one thing to
another?" inquired the stranger.
"I am called Father Heilmann," answered the holy man; "and I am from
the cloister of Our Lady of the Salutation, beyond the lake."
"Well, well," replied the stranger, "my name is Kuhleborn; and were I
a stickler for the nice distinctions of rank, I might, with equal
propriety, require you to give me the title of noble lord of
Kuhleborn, or free lord of Kuhleborn; for I am as free as the birds
in the forest, and, it may be, a trifle more so. For example, I now
have something to tell that young lady there." And before they were
aware of his purpose, he was on the other side of the priest, close
to Undine, and stretching himself high into the air, in order to
whisper something in her ear. But she shrank from him in terror, and
"I have nothing more to do with you."
"Ho, ho," cried the stranger with a laugh, "you have made a grand
marriage indeed, since you no longer know your own relations! Have
you no recollection, then, of your uncle Kuhleborn, who so faithfully
bore you on his back to this region?"
"However that may be," replied Undine, "I entreat you never to appear
in my presence again. I am now afraid of you; and will not my
husband fear and forsake me, if he sees me associate with such
strange company and kindred?"
"You must not forget, my little niece," said Kuhleborn, "that I am
with you here as a guide; otherwise those madcap spirits of the
earth, the gnomes that haunt this forest, would play you some of
their mischievous pranks. Let me therefore still accompany you in
peace. Even the old priest there had a better recollection of me
than you have; for he just now assured me that I seemed to be very
familiar to him, and that I must have been with him in the ferry-
boat, out of which he tumbled into the waves. He certainly did see
me there; for I was no other than the water-spout that tore him out
of it, and kept him from sinking, while I safely wafted him ashore to
Undine and the knight turned their eyes upon Father Heilmann; but he
appeared to be moving forward, just as if he were dreaming or walking
in his sleep, and no longer to be conscious of a word that was
spoken. Undine then said to Kuhleborn: "I already see yonder the end
of the forest. We have no further need of your assistance, and
nothing now gives us alarm but yourself. I therefore beseech you, by
our mutual love and good-will, to vanish, and allow us to proceed in
Kuhleborn seemed to become angry at this: he darted a frightful look
at Undine, and grinned fiercely upon her. She shrieked aloud, and
called her husband to protect her. The knight sprang round the horse
as quick as lightning, and, brandishing his sword, struck at
Kuhleborn's head. But instead of severing it from his body, the
sword merely flashed through a torrent, which rushed foaming near
them from a lofty cliff; and with a splash, which much resembled in
sound a burst of laughter, the stream all at once poured upon them
and gave them a thorough wetting. The priest, as if suddenly
awakening from a trance, coolly observed: "This is what I have been
some time expecting, because the brook has descended from the steep
so close beside us--though at first sight, indeed, it appeared to
resemble a man, and to possess the power of speech."
As the waterfall came rushing from its crag, it distinctly uttered
these words in Huldbrand's ear: "Rash knight! valiant knight! I am
not angry with you; I have no quarrel with you; only continue to
defend your lovely little wife with the same spirit, you bold knight!
you valiant champion!"
After advancing a few steps farther, the travellers came out upon
open ground. The imperial city lay bright before them; and the
evening sun, which gilded its towers with gold, kindly dried their
garments that had been so completely drenched.
The sudden disappearance of the young knight, Huldbrand of
Ringstetten, had occasioned much remark in the imperial city, and no
small concern amongst those who, as well on account of his expertness
in tourney and dance, as of his mild and amiable manners, had become
attached to him. His attendants were unwilling to quit the place
without their master, although not a soul of them had been courageous
enough to follow him into the fearful recesses of the forest. They
remained, therefore, at the hostelry, idly hoping, as men are wont to
do, and keeping the fate of their lost lord fresh in remembrance by
Now when the violent storms and floods had been observed immediately
after his departure, the destruction of the handsome stranger became
all but certain; even Bertalda had openly discovered her sorrow, and
detested herself for having been the cause of his taking that fatal
excursion into the forest. Her foster-parents, the duke and duchess,
had meanwhile come to take her away; but Bertalda persuaded them to
remain with her until some certain news of Huldbrand should be
obtained, whether he were living or dead. She endeavoured also to
prevail upon several young knights, who were assiduous in courting
her favour, to go in quest of the noble adventurer in the forest.
But she refused to pledge her hand as the reward of the enterprise,
because she still cherished, it might be, a hope of its being claimed
by the returning knight; and no one would consent, for a glove, a
riband, or even a kiss, to expose his life to bring back so very
dangerous a rival.
When Huldbrand now made his sudden and unexpected appearance, his
attendants, the inhabitants of the city, and almost every one
rejoiced. This was not the case with Bertalda; for although it might
be quite a welcome event to others that he brought with him a wife of
such exquisite loveliness, and Father Heilmann as a witness of their
marriage, Bertalda could not but view the affair with grief and
vexation. She had, in truth, become attached to the young knight
with her whole soul; and her mourning for his absence, or supposed
death, had shown this more than she could now have wished.
But notwithstanding all this, she conducted herself like a wise
maiden in circumstances of such delicacy, and lived on the most
friendly terms with Undine, whom the whole city looked upon as a
princess that Huldbrand had rescued in the forest from some evil
enchantment. Whenever any one questioned either herself or her
husband relative to surmises of this nature, they had wisdom enough
to remain silent, or wit enough to evade the inquiries. The lips of
Father Heilmann had been sealed in regard to idle gossip of every
kind; and besides, on Huldbrand's arrival, he had immediately
returned to his cloister: so that people were obliged to rest
contented with their own wild conjectures; and even Bertalda herself
ascertained nothing more of the truth than others.
For the rest, Undine daily felt more love for the fair maiden. "We
must have been before acquainted with each other," she often used to
say to her, "or else there must be some mysterious connection between
us, for it is incredible that any one so perfectly without cause--
I mean, without some deep and secret cause--should be so fondly
attached to another as I have been to you from the first moment of
And even Bertalda could not deny that she felt a confiding impulse,
an attraction of tenderness toward Undine, much as she deemed this
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.
Oh 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!--Oh 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."
"Oh, 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, Oh 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!--Oh 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, Oh 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.