Undine - George Upton

How they Lived in the City

The sudden disappearance of the young Knight of Ringstettin had made a great commotion among the people of the town, with whom he was universally popular, not only for his gallantry in the lists and in the dance, but also for his kindly ways. His followers refused to stir from the place without their master, though not one had been brave enough to follow him into the haunted forest. They remained at their inn, therefore, indolently hoping, as men are wont to do, and keeping his memory alive by their regrets. When, soon after his departure, however, the great storm arose and the floods came, there seemed no doubt that the handsome stranger must have perished. Bertalda made no attempt to conceal her grief, and cursed herself for having urged him to that fatal ride into the forest. Her ducal foster-parents had come to take her home, but she persuaded them to stay on till there was some definite news of Huldbrand's fate. She even tried to induce some of the young knights who eagerly sought her favor to go and search for the bold adventurer in the forest, but would not pledge her hand as a reward for the venture, since she still hoped to bestow it on the absent knight, should he return; while, as for a glove or ribbon or even a kiss, no one was willing to risk his life for such a trifle in order to bring back such a dangerous rival.

Huldbrand's sudden appearance was therefore hailed with general rejoicing, and all the more so at his bringing back a beautiful young wife with Father Heilmann as witness to their marriage. The only one not pleased was Bertalda, who could not help being grieved, partly because she really loved the young knight with all her heart, and partly because she had displayed her sorrow over his prolonged absence more openly than was now becoming. She behaved with prudence, however, and accommodated herself to circumstances cheerfully, living on most friendly terms with Undine, who was generally supposed to be a princess whom Huldbrand had delivered from the power of some vile wizard of the forest. When she or her spouse was questioned about it, they were either silent or replied evasively. Father Heilmann's lips were sealed on all such idle matters; and as he had returned to his monastery soon after their arrival, people were forced to content themselves with their own conjectures. Even Bertalda knew no more of the real truth than any one else.



Undine, meanwhile, grew fonder every day of this charming maiden. "We must have known each other before this," she would often say, "or else there must be some secret attraction between us; for unless there were some such deep and mysterious cause no one could love another as I have loved you from the very first." Bertalda, too, could not deny that she felt disposed to like and trust Undine, whatever reason for complaint she may have thought she had against her more fortunate rival. This mutual fondness led the one to persuade her husband, the other her parents, to defer the day of departure repeatedly; indeed it was even suggested that Bertalda should go with Undine for a visit to the castle of Ringstettin, at the source of the Danube.

They were speaking of this one beautiful evening while strolling about the market-place, which was surrounded by lofty trees. The young couple had brought Bertalda out with them for a little walk and were sauntering up and down in the starlight, often pausing in their conversation to admire a beautiful fountain that bubbled and sparkled in the middle of the square. The lights of neighboring houses shone through the trees. They heard the hum of voices of children at play and of other pleasure-seekers like themselves. They were alone, yet part of the cheerful, living world. The difficulties of the day seemed to vanish of themselves, and the three friends could no longer understand why there should have been the least doubt as to Bertalda's accompanying them on their homeward journey.

Just as they were about to fix a day for departure, a tall man came toward them from the centre of the market-place, bowed respectfully and whispered something to the young wife. Though apparently displeased with the interruption and with the speaker, she stepped a little to one side with him, and they began to whisper together in what sounded like some foreign tongue. Huldbrand thought he recognized the stranger, and watched him so intently that he paid no heed to Bertalda's wondering questions. All at once Undine clapped her hands

joyfully and turned away, laughing, from her companion, who walked off shaking his head angrily and stepped into the fountain. This assured Huldbrand he was right in his conjecture; but Bertalda asked, "What did that man of the fountain want with you, dear Undine?"

The young wife laughed softly to herself. "The day after to-morrow, on your birthday, you shall know, sweet child!" was all she would say, but she invited Bertalda and her foster-parents to come and dine with them on that day. Then they parted.

"Was it Kuhleborn?" asked Huldbrand, with a secret shudder, as they walked home alone through the darkening streets.

"Yes, it was he," replied Undine, "and he tried to put all sorts of stupid nonsense into my head; but in the midst of it he unintentionally delighted me with a most welcome piece of news. If you wish to hear it now, dear lord and husband, you have only to speak and I will tell you all; but if you would give your Undine the greatest happiness, you will wait till the day after to-morrow and share in the surprise."

The knight gladly granted a request so winningly made. As Undine was falling asleep, she murmured happily to herself, "How surprised and pleased you will be over the message from the man of the fountain, dear, dear Bertalda!"