Undine - George Upton

What Further Befell Huldbrand

Shall we mourn or rejoice that grief is so seldom lasting? I mean the grief which has its source in the springs of life, which is so bound up with the lost beloved one that he seems no longer lost to us, and which keeps his image enshrined until the same fate overtakes us. Good men keep the shrine sacred, and yet the first bitterness of sorrow does not remain. New images will intervene. We learn the frailness of all earthly things, and acknowledge to ourselves that even grief at last will disappear.

It was thus with the master of Ringstettin. At first he could only weep as his poor loving Undine had done when he snatched away from her the shining trinket which she thought would give Bertalda so much pleasure. He would stretch out his hand like her and weep anew, and cherished a secret hope he might be lost in tears. Who has not felt the same in times of overwhelming sorrow?

Bertalda mingled her tears with his, and they lived quietly at Ringstettin for a long time, preserving the beloved memory of Undine and almost forgetting their former attachment to each other. Undine often appeared to Huldbrand in his dreams; she would caress him softly and tenderly and depart again, weeping quietly, so that sometimes on awaking he doubted whether his cheeks were wet with her tears or his own. But as time went on these appearances became less frequent, and the knight's grief softened. He might possibly have lived the rest of his life with no other desire than to dwell on Undine's memory and talk of her, had not the old fisherman appeared unexpectedly at the castle one day, and insisted upon taking Bertalda home with him as his child. He had heard of Undine's disappearance and would no longer consent to Bertalda's remaining in the castle alone with Huldbrand.

"I do not care to know whether my daughter loves me or not, at present," he said; "but her honor is at stake, and in such a case there is nothing else to be considered!'

The old man's demand and the prospect of utter loneliness that threatened Huldbrand in the castle revived the affection for Bertalda that in his grief for Undine he had quite forgotten. The fisherman opposed many objections to their proposed marriage. Undine had been very dear to him, and he doubted, though hardly knowing why, whether the lost one was really dead. But if Undine indeed lay at the bottom of the Danube or had been carried out into the ocean by it, then Bertalda should be reproaching herself for having been the cause of her death, instead of desiring to step into her poor victim's place. But the knight was also dear to the fisherman. The entreaties of his daughter, who had grown much gentler, and her tears over the loss of Undine, could not but have their effect. He gradually yielded, staying on at the castle without demur, so that at last a messenger was sent to fetch Father Hellmann, who in earlier, happier days had blessed the union of Huldbrand and Undine, to officiate at the knight's second marriage.

No sooner had the pious man read the master of Ringstettin's letter than he set out for the castle at much greater speed than the messenger had come to him. Whenever the rapid pace deprived him of breath, or his aged limbs ached with fatigue, he would say to himself: "The wrong may yet be prevented. Fail not, my wasted powers, till I have reached the goal!" He pushed on with renewed vigor, neither stopping nor resting, till late one evening he entered the courtyard at Ringstettin.

The betrothed couple were sitting hand in hand beneath the trees, the old fisherman near them, lost in thought. They started up eagerly at sight of the priest and advanced to meet him; but scarcely heeding their words of welcome, he begged the knight to retire with him into the castle. As Huldbrand hesitated, surprised and indignant at this request, the old man added: "But why should I speak with you in private, Lord of Ringstettin? What I have to say concerns Bertalda and the fisherman as well, and as they must hear it some time, the sooner the better. Are you so certain, then, Knight Huldbrand, that your first wife is really dead? I can hardly believe it myself. I do not care to speak of the mysteries concerning her, nor have I in truth any real knowledge of them; but that she was a pure, loving wife is beyond doubt. For fourteen nights now she has appeared at my bedside in dreams, wringing her poor hands in anguish and sighing: 'Oh, dissuade him, dear Father! For I am still alive. Oh, save him! save his life and soul!' I knew not what this vision portended till your message came, and I have hastened hither, not to wed but rather to stay those who may not be united in holy wedlock. Leave her, Huldbrand! Leave him, Bertalda! He is still another's. See you not how his cheek blanches even now at the thought of his lost wife? It is not thus a bridegroom should look, and the spirit tells me that never shall you again know joy if you leave him not."

In their inmost hearts they all felt that Father Heilmann's words were true, but they would not accept his advice. Even the old fisherman would not consent to any change from what had already come to be looked upon as settled within the last few days. So they persisted in their determination in spite of the warnings of the priest, who finally left the castle with a mournful shake of the head, without even accepting its shelter for one night or tasting of the refreshments they offered him. Huldbrand declared that Father Hellmann was only a whimsical old dotard, and sent at daybreak to the nearest cloister for a monk, who readily promised to come in a few days and perform the ceremony for them.