Youre here: Home » Children's Stories » Other Stories » Famous Stories Every Child Should Know » Undine, Page 14



» Children's Bible Stories

» Ethnic Fairy Tales

» Fairy Tales

» Mother Goose

» Other Stories

Famous Stories Every Child Should Know

Page 14 of 15

SO IT WAS with the Lord of Ringstetten; whether for his weal or woe, the sequel of this story will show us. At first, he could do nothing but weep abundantly, as his poor kind Undine had wept when he snatched from her the beautiful gift, which she thought would have comforted and pleased them so much. He would then stretch out his hand as she had done, and burst into tears afresh, like her. He secretly hoped that he might end by altogether dissolving in tears: and are there not many whose minds have been visited by the same painfully pleasing thought, at some season of great sorrow? Bertalda wept with him, and they lived quietly together at Ringstetten a long while, cherishing the memory of Undine, and seeming to have forgotten their own previous attachment. Moreover, the gentle Undine often appeared to Huldbrand in his dreams; she would caress him meekly and fondly, and depart again with tearful resignation, so that when he awoke, he doubted whose tears they were that bedewed his face-were they hers, or only his own?
      But as time went on these visions became less frequent, and the Knight's grief milder; still he might perhaps have spent the rest of his days contentedly, devoting himself to the memory of Undine, and keeping it alive by talking of her, had not the old Fisherman unexpectedly made his appearance, and laid his serious commands upon Bertalda, his daughter, to return home with him. The news of Undine's disappearance had reached him, and he would no longer suffer Bertalda to remain in the castle alone with its lord. "I do not ask whether my daughter cares for me or not," said he; "her character is at stake, and where that is the case, nothing else is worth considering."
      This summons from the old man, and the prospect of utter loneliness amid the halls and long galleries of the castle after Bertalda's departure, revived in Huldbrand's heart the feeling that had lain dormant, and as it were buried under his mourning for Undine, namely, his love for the fair Bertalda. The Fisherman had many objections to their marriage; Undine had been very dear to the old man and he thought it hardly certain yet that his lost darling was really dead. But, if her corpse were indeed lying stiff and cold in the bed of the Danube, or floating down its stream to the distant ocean, then Bertalda ought to reproach herself for her death, and it ill became her to take the place of her poor victim. However, the Fisherman was very fond of Huldbrand also; the entreaties of his daughter, who was now grown much more gentle and submissive, had their effect, and it seems that he did yield his consent at last; for he remained peaceably at the castle, and an express was sent for Father Heilmann, who in earlier, happier days had blessed Undine's and Huldbrand's union, that he might officiate at the Knight's second marriage.
      No sooner had the holy man read the Lord of Ringstetten's letter than he set forth on his way thither, with far greater speed than the messenger had used to reach him. If his straining haste took away his breath, or he felt his aged limbs ache with fatigue, he would say to himself: "I may be in time to prevent a wicked deed; sink not till thou hast reached the goal, my withered frame!" And so he exerted himself afresh, and pushed on, without flagging or halting, till late one evening he entered the shady court of Ringstetten.
      The lovers were sitting hand in hand under a tree, with the thoughtful old man near them; as soon as they saw Father Heilmann, they rose eagerly and advanced to meet him. But he, scarcely noticing their civilities, begged the Knight to come with him into the castle. As he stared at this request, and hesitated to comply, the pious old Priest said, "Why, indeed, should I speak to you alone, my Lord of Ringstetten? What I have to say equally concerns the Fisherman and Bertalda; and as they must sooner or later know it, it had better be said now. How can you be certain, Lord Huldbrand, that your own wife is indeed dead? For myself, I can hardly think so. I will not venture to speak of things relating to her wondrous nature; in truth I have no clear knowledge about it. But a godly and faithful wife she proved herself, beyond all about. And these fourteen nights has she come to my bedside in dreams, wringing her poor hands in anguish, and sighing out, 'Oh stop him, dear father! I am yet alive! Oh save his life! Oh save his soul!' I understood not the meaning of the vision till your messenger came; and I have now hastened hither, not to join but to part those hands, which may not be united in holy wedlock. Part from her, Huldbrand! Part from him, Bertalda! He belongs to another; see you not how his cheek turns pale at the thought of his departed wife? Those are not the looks of a bridegroom, and the spirit tells me this. If thou leavest him not now, there is joy for thee no more." They all three felt at the bottom of their hearts that Father Heilmann's words were true but they would not yield to them. Even the old Fisherman was so blinded as to think that what had been settled between them for so many days, could not now be relinquished. So they resisted the Priest's warnings, and urged the fulfilment of their wishes with headlong, gloomy determination, till Father Heilmann departed with a melancholy shake of the head, without accepting even for one night their proffered hospitalities, or tasting any of the refreshments they set before him. But Huldbrand persuaded himself that the old Priest was a weak dotard; and early next morning he sent to a monk from the nearest cloister, who readily promised to come and marry them in a few days.
      The morning twilight was beginning to dawn, and the Knight lay half-awake on his couch. Whenever he dropped asleep he was scared by mysterious terrors, and started up as if sleep were peopled by phantoms. If he woke up in earnest, he felt himself fanned all around by what seemed like swans' wings, and soothed by watery airs, which lulled him back again into the half-unconscious, twilight state. At length he did fall asleep and fancied himself lifted by swans on their soft wings, and carried far away over lands and seas, all to the sound of their sweetest melody. "Swans singing! swans singing!" thought he continually; "is not that the strain of Death?" Presently he found himself hovering above a vast sea. A swan warbled in his ear that it was the Mediterranean; and as he looked down into the deep it became like clear crystal, transparent to the bottom. This rejoiced him much, for he could see Undine sitting in a brilliant hall of crystal.
      She was shedding tears, indeed, and looked sadly changed since the happy times which they had spent together at Ringstetten; happiest at first, but happy also a short time since, just before the fatal sail on the Danube. The contrast struck Huldbrand deeply; but Undine did not seem to be aware of his presence. Kuhleborn soon came up to her, and began rating her for weeping. She composed herself, and looked at him with a firmness and dignity, before which he almost quailed. "Though I am condemned to live under these deep waters," said she, "I have brought my soul with me; therefore my tears cannot be understood by thee. But to me they are blessings, like everything that belongs to a loving soul." He shook his head incredulously, and said, after a pause: "Nevertheless, niece, you are still subject to the laws of our element; and you know you must execute sentence of death upon him as soon as he marries again, and breaks faith with you."-"To this hour he is a widower," said Undine, "and loves and mourns me truly."-"Ah, but he will be bridegroom soon," said Kuhleborn with a sneer; "wait a couple of days only; and the marriage blessing will have been given, and you must go up and put the criminal to death."-"I cannot!" answered the smiling Undine. "I have had the fountain sealed up, against myself and my whole race." "But suppose he leaves his castle," said Kuhleborn, "or forgets himself so far as to let them set the fountain 'free,' for he thinks mighty little of those matters."-"And that is why," said Undine, still smiling through her tears, "that is why his spirit hovers at this moment over the Mediterranean, and listens to our conversation as in a dream. I have contrived it on purpose, that he may take warning." On hearing this Kuhleborn looked up angrily at the Knight, scowled at him, stamped, and then shot upward through the waves like an arrow. His fury seemed to make him expand into a whale. Again the swans began to warble, to wave their wings, and to fly; the Knight felt himself borne high over alps and rivers, till he was deposited in the Castle of Ringstetten, and awoke in his bed.
      He did awake in his bed, just as one of his squires entered the room, and told him that Father Heilmann was still lingering near the castle; for he had found him the evening before in the forest, living in a shed he had made for himself with branches and moss. On being asked what he was staying for since he had refused to bless the betrothed couple? He answered, "It is not the wedded only who stand in need of prayer, and though I came not for the bridal, there may yet be work for me of another kind. We must be prepared for everything. Sometimes marriage and mourning are not so far apart; and he who does not wilfully close his eyes may perceive it." The Knight built all manner of strange conjectures upon these words, and upon his dream. But if once a man has formed a settled purpose, it is hard indeed to shake it. The end of this was, that their plans remained unchanged.
      Were I to tell you how the wedding-day at Ringstetten passed, you might imagine yourself contemplating a glittering heap of gay objects, with a black crape thrown over them, through which the splendid pageant, instead of delighting the eye, would look like a mockery of all earthly joys. Not that the festive meeting was disturbed by any spectral apparitions: we have seen that the castle was safe from any intrusion of the malicious water-sprites. But the Knight, the Fisherman, and all the guests were haunted by a feeling that the chief person, the soul of the feast, was missing; and who was she but the gentle, beloved Undine? As often as they heard a door open, every eye turned involuntarily toward it, and when nothing ensued but the entrance of the steward with some more dishes, or of the cupbearer with a fresh supply of rich wine, the guests would look sad and blank, and the sparks of gayety kindled by the light jest or the cheerful discourse, were quenched in the damp of melancholy recollections. The bride was the most thoughtless, and consequently the most cheerful person present; but even she, at moments, felt it unnatural to be sitting at the head of the table, decked out in her wreath of green and her embroidery of gold, while Undine's corpse was lying cold and stiff in the bed of the Danube, or floating down its stream to the ocean. For, ever since her father had used these words, they had been ringing in her ears, and to-day especially they pursued her without ceasing.
      The party broke up before night had closed in; not, as usual, dispersed by the eager impatience of the bridegroom to be alone with his bride; but dropping off listlessly, as a general gloom spread over the assembly; Bertalda was followed to her dressing-room by her women only, and the Knight by his pages. At this gloomy feast, there was no question of the gay and sportive train of bridesmaids and young men, who usually attend the wedded pair.

Story continued:   Previous   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   Next

Next Story: The Story Of Ruth
Previous Story: The Snow-Image: A Childish Miracle

Privacy Policy
Copyright © 1999-2008 All rights reserved.