Undine - George Upton




How Huldbrand's Second Marriage was Celebrated

If I were to relate how the wedding festival at Ringstettin was celebrated, it would seem like a glittering mass, covered with black crape, through the folds of which the splendor would seem less a delight to the eye than a bitter mockery of the ceremony. It was not disturbed by apparitions, for, as we know, the earth was safe from the tricks of water-sprites; but to Huldbrand, to the fisherman, and even to the guests, it seemed as if the feast were without soul, for their gentle, beloved Undine was not there. Whenever the door opened, every one turned involuntarily to look for her; and when it proved to be only the steward with some new dish or an attendant bringing a fresh supply of wine, they would turn their eyes sadly away. The flashes of gayety, occasioned now and then by some stray jest, were extinguished in mournful recollections of the absent one.

Bertalda was the gayest and most thoughtless of them all, but at times it seemed strange even to her to be sitting at the head of the table, arrayed in her green wreath and gold-embroidered robes, while Undine's body was lying at the bottom of the Danube or floating with it out into the ocean. Ever since her father spoke these words they had rung continually in her ears, and to-day especially she could not banish them from her mind.

The company broke up before nightfall, not out of deference to the bridegroom's impatience to be alone with his bride, but dispersing gloomily as if oppressed by a foreboding of evil. Bertalda retired to her dressing-room followed only by her women, the knight by his pages. At this melancholy festival there was no gay and sportive train of youths and maidens to attend the wedded couple.

Bertalda struggled to shake off her gloomy feelings. She had her women lay out a magnificent set of jewels, Huldbrand's gift, with a rich array of robes and veils, that she might choose the richest and gayest of them to wear on the morrow. Her attendants improved this opportunity to wish all happiness to their young mistress, failing not to praise the beauty of the bride in the most glowing terms. They enlarged upon this theme, till Bertalda, looking at herself in the glass, sighed, "Only look at the freckles here on my neck!"

They insisted these were only beauty spots that heightened the fairness of her skin; but Bertalda dissented, declaring it was a blemish just the same. "And I could have removed it," she sighed, "had they not closed the fountain which used to furnish me with that delightful water. Oh, if I only had a jug of it to-day!"

"Is that all you need?" said an attendant, as she quickly left the apartment.

"Why, she will not be so rash," exclaimed Bertalda, feigning astonishment, "as to have the stone removed to-night!"

The sound of footsteps in the courtyard was soon heard, and from her window she beheld the servant leading men with levers on their shoulders to the fountain.

"Well, I wish it, anyway," she said to herself, "if only they are not too slow about it." Pleased that at last a mere hint of hers could accomplish what had so long been refused her, she watched the work by the bright moonlight.

The men tugged away at the great stone with all their strength, sighing now and then as they remembered that they were undoing the work their beloved lady had ordered. But the task was easier than they had expected. It almost seemed as if some power from within the fountain were aiding them to lift the stone.

"It feels as if there were a water-spout below," declared the astonished workmen to one an other. Higher and higher rose the stone till almost of itself it rolled heavily down upon the pavement with a hollow sound, while from the fountain there slowly arose what looked at first like a white column of water, but which they soon perceived to be the figure of a woman robed in white. She was weeping bitterly, and clasped her hands in anguish over her head as she moved toward the castle with slow and measured step. The servants fell back from the fountain aghast; while, transfixed with terror, the bride and her women still gazed from the window.

When the pale woman was directly beneath them, she looked up, and through the veil Bertalda seemed to recognize the wan features of Undine. The shadowy figure advanced slowly and hesitatingly, like one going to execution. Bertalda screamed for some one to call the knight; but none dared stir, and the bride herself relapsed into silence, as if afraid of the sound of her own voice. So they stood motionless as statues, while the strange figure entered the castle, ascended the staircase, and passed on through the familiar halls and passages, weeping silently. Alas! how differently had she entered in days gone by!

The knight had dismissed his attendants and was standing, partly undressed, before a large mirror, a candle burning dimly beside him, when suddenly he heard a gentle tapping at the door. Just so used Undine to knock when she meant to surprise him in sport.

"It is only a trick of fancy," he said to himself. "I must to bed."

"Ay, that thou must, but to a cold one," he heard a weeping voice whisper from without. And then in the mirror he saw the door open slowly, slowly, and the white figure enter, closing it softly behind her. "They have opened the fountain," she moaned; "now I am here, and thou, alas, must die!"

His heart wellnigh stopped beating as he felt this was so, but he pressed his hands over his eyes, exclaiming: "Do not overwhelm me with terror in the hour of my death. If that veil hides the frightful visage of a spectre, then do not lift it, but let me die in peace."

"Alas!" replied the figure, "wilt thou not look upon my face once more? I am still as fair as when thou didst woo me by the waters."

"Oh, that this were true," sighed Huldbrand, "and that I could die in thine arms!"

"It shall be so, my own beloved," she answered, and throwing back the veil, she revealed the angelic beauty of Undine's face. Trembling alike with love and the thought of approaching death, Huldbrand advanced. She greeted him with a celestial kiss but did not release him from her embrace. Nay rather, she pressed him more and more closely to her and wept as if her very soul were leaving her. Drowned in the flood of her tears that seemed to fill his heart with their bitter sweetness, his breath left him, and he sank out of her arms upon his couch, a corpse.

"My tears have been his death," said Undine to the attendants she met in the anteroom, and passing through the terrified groups, she disappeared in the fountain.