Undine - George Upton

How they Departed from the Imperial City

The Lord of Ringstettin was not altogether pleased with the issue of the events of this day, yet he could not but be proud of the truth and generosity of heart displayed by his lovely wife. "If her soul was indeed my gift," he was forced to own to himself, "it was a far better one than my own, at all events"; and he resolutely banished every thought except of how to soothe her grief. He resolved to take her away the following morning from a place that must now be so painful to her and where recent events must have prejudiced the people against her.

In this he was mistaken, however. They were so accustomed to finding something mysterious about her that her strange discovery of Bertalda's birth did not greatly surprise them; on the other hand, all who heard of that damsel's history and her outrageous behavior were indignant at her. But the knight and his wife knew nothing of this as yet, nor would it have proved any comfort to Undine if she had; so it seemed best to leave the walls of the town behind them as speedily as might be.

With the first streak of dawn a splendid coach stood waiting at the door of the inn for Undine, the steeds of Huldbrand and his squire pawing the ground impatiently beside it. As the knight appeared leading his fair bride, a fisher girl approached them.

"We do not want any of your fish," said Huldbrand to her; "we are just going away."

At this the girl began to weep bitterly, and they saw to their surprise that it was Bertalda. They turned back with her into the house at once, and she told them that the Duke and Duchess had been so angry with her for the pride and violence she had shown the day before, that they had withdrawn their protection from her entirely, though not without first making her a handsome allowance. The fisherman, too, had been well repaid and had set out with his wife the evening before to return home.

"I would have gone with them," she continued, "but the old man who is said to be my father —"

"He really is your father, Bertalda," interposed Undine; "the person whom you called the man of the fountain told me all about it. He was trying to persuade me not to take you with us to the castle of Ringstettin, and the secret escaped him."

"Well, my father, if you will have it so," said Bertalda,—"my father said: 'You shall not stay with us till you become a different creature. When you choose to make your way to us alone through the haunted forest, it will be a proof that you wish to belong to us. But come only as a fisher girl, not as a fine lady.' I must do as he says, for the whole world has forsaken me, and there is nothing left for me but to live and die in the lowly hut of my parents as a humble fisherman's child. The thought of the forest fills me with fear. They say it is full of frightful spectres, and I am so timid! But what else is there for me? I came here only to implore the Lady of Ringstettin's pardon for my unseemly behavior yesterday. I am sure you meant well, noble lady, but you little knew how it would pain me. Then in my distress wicked words escaped me. Forgive me, forgive me! I am already so unhappy! Think what I was even yesterday morning, and what I am now!"

A burst of tears checked her utterance, and Undine, similarly moved, fell upon her neck, weeping also. It was long before she could control herself, but at length she said: "You shall go to Ringstettin with us, and all shall be as we had planned before; only call me Undine again, not 'Dame' and 'Noble Lady.' Since we were exchanged as children, let us share each other's fortunes and live so unitedly that no human power can ever part us. Come, then, with us to Ringstettin. There we will arrange to share everything like sisters."

Bertalda glanced timidly at Huldbrand. The sight of the beautiful forsaken damsel filled his heart with pity, and giving her his hand he urged her kindly to confide herself to them. "We will send word to your parents," he said, "to let them know why you do not come." He was about to add much more concerning the good old people, but seeing that Bertalda shrank from the thought of them, he said no more. Taking her arm, he placed first her and then Undine in the coach, and rode cheerfully beside them, urging the driver on so stoutly that the imperial city with all its painful recollections soon lay behind them, and the ladies could now enjoy with better heart the beautiful country through which they passed.

After a journey of several days they came one fair evening to the castle of Ringstettin. The young lord had many matters to arrange with his steward and men, and Undine was left alone with Bertalda. They were walking on the high ramparts of the castle, admiring the charming landscape that lay stretched before them through the fertile Swabian country, when a tall man approached and greeted them courteously. He looked to Bertalda like the man of the fountain she had seen in the imperial city, and the resemblance seemed all the more striking when at an angry gesture of dismissal from Undine he went away with the same rapid step and ominous shake of the head as before and disappeared in a neighboring thicket.

"Do not be afraid, dear Bertalda," said Undine, "this time that hateful man shall do you no harm," And therewith she told her the whole history of her own origin, and how Bertalda had disappeared from the fisher folk and she had come to them in her place. At first Bertalda was greatly alarmed at this tale and thought her friend must have become suddenly mad, but she gradually became convinced of the truth of Undine's lucid narrative, which so well accounted for the strange events that had occurred of late, and which moreover bore the unmistakable stamp of that truth which never fails to awaken a responsive echo in the heart. She was bewildered at finding herself living in the midst of a fairy tale such as she had hitherto only heard related, and gazed at Undine with awe; yet nevertheless she could not help feeling a chill come over her affection, and wondered that evening at supper how the knight could love a being whom she now regarded more as a spirit than human.