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Chapter XVI. How it fared further with Huldbrand. Undine by by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1909)

CHAPTER XVI
HOW IT FARED FURTHER WITH HULDBRAND

Hereupon the story must again have some pause. All men know that sorrow is short-lived. But is it well or ill that it should be so? And by sorrow the writer means the deeper sort–that which springs from the very sources of life, which so unites itself with the lost objects of our love that they are no longer lost, and which consecrates their image as a sacred treasure, until that final bourn be reached which they have gained before us. Should such a sorrow as this be brief? Many men, it is true, preserve these sacred memories, but their feeling is no longer that of the first keen grief. Other new images have thronged between, and we end by learning how all earthly things are transitory, even grief itself. And for this reason must one say: "Alas! that our mourning should be of such short duration!"

Now the lord of Ringstetten had this experience sure enough–whether for his good the sequel of this story shall tell. At first he could do naught but weep, as bitterly as Undine had wept when he tore from her hand that bright trinket which was to mend all that was awry. And then he was fain to stretch out his hand as she had done, and weep again like her. It was his secret hope that his bodily frame might melt and dissolve in tears–and hath not a similar hope, God wot, appealed to many, with a sad sort of joy, what time their affliction is heavy? Nor was he alone in his grief. Bertalda wept with him, and they lived a long while quietly together at Castle Ringstetten, cherishing Undine's memory, and almost wholly for getting their former love. And because these things were so, the good Undine often visited Huldbrand in his dreams, caressing him with many tender kisses, and then going away silently and with tears. When he woke, he scarcely knew why his cheeks were wet; were they her tears or his own?

Nathless, as time passed, these dream-visions became rarer and the knight's grief grew less acute. Still it might well have been that he would have cherished no other wish than thus to think of Undine and talk of her, had not the old fisherman appeared of a sudden one day at the castle, and solemnly claimed Bertalda once more as his child. He had heard full soon of Undine's disappearance, and he straightway had resolved that no longer should Bertalda live at the castle, now that the knight had lost his wife. "Whether my daughter love me or no," quoth he, "concerneth me not; it is her honour that is at stake, and where that speaketh clear, there is naught further to be said."

Now when the knight learnt that the fisherman was thus minded, and when he bethought himself how lonely his life would be among the halls and galleries of the empty castle with Bertalda gone away, full soon he felt anew what until now he had forgotten in his grief for Undine–his love for the beautiful Bertalda. Certès, for a marriage thus suggested and proposed, the fisherman had but little inclination. Undine had been exceedingly dear to the old man, nor yet could he hold it for certain that she was dead. And if in sooth her body lay cold and stark at the bottom of the Danube, or had floated away with the current into the ocean, even so, on Bertalda's head for sure rested the blame for her death. How could it be seemly that she should step into the dead wife's shoes? Yet, for the knight, too, the fisherman had a strong liking; while to his daughter's prayers he must needs also pay some heed, now that she wept for the loss of Undine. For one cause or another his consent must have been given at the last, for he stayed on at the castle without making further ado. Moreover a messenger was sent for Father Heilmann. As he had made Huldbrand and Undine man and wife in happy days gone by, so now for the second marriage of the knight 'twere seemly that he should be summoned to the castle.

Howbeit the holy man was sore perplexed when the summons arrived. So great was his distemperature that no sooner had he read Huldbrand's letter, than he girt himself for his journey with far greater expedition than the messenger had used in his coming. What time his breath failed him or his aged limbs refused their service, he would say to himself, "Fail not, body of mine, fail not till the goal be reached! Perchance I may yet be soon enough to prevent a crime!" And thus with renewed strength he would press and urge himself on, without stop or stay, until late one evening he found himself at last in the shady courtyard of Ringstetten.

Now it chanced that the betrothed pair were sitting side by side under the trees, while the fisherman sate near, deep in many thoughts. Seeing Father Heilmann, they sprang up and pressed round him with warm welcome. But he was sparing of speech, only begging Huldbrand to go with him into the castle. When the knight hesitated and marvelled somewhat at the grave summons, the father spoke:

"My lord of Ringstetten," quoth he, "to speak to thee in private was my desire, but why should I persist in it any longer? What I have to say concerneth equally Bertalda and the fisherman, and what must be heard at some time had better be heard forthwith. Art thou then so sure, Knight Huldbrand, that thy first wife is dead? For myself, I cannot think so. Naught indeed will I say of the mystery that surroundeth her, for of that I know nothing certain. But that she was a faithful and God-fearing wife, of that at least there is no doubt. Now, for the last fortnight she hath stood in dreams at my bedside, wringing her hands in anguish and murmuring at my ear: 'Good Father, stay him from his purpose! I am yet living. Ah! Save his life! Save his soul!' What this night vision might mean passed my comprehension, until thy messenger came for me. Then I hurried hither with all imaginable speed–not to unite, but to separate, those who must on no account be joined. Leave her, Huldbrand! Leave him, Bertalda! For he belongs still to another. Dost thou not see how pale his cheek is through grief for his lost wife? He hath no bridegroom's air, and a voice telleth me that, an thou leave him not, thou wilt never be happy."

Now Father Heilmann spoke the truth, and the three listeners knew it in their innermost hearts; yet would they not believe it. Even the old fisherman was under a spell, for he thought that the issue must needs be what they had settled in their recent discussions. So they all set their wild and reckless haste against the priest's warnings in such sort that the holy father must perforce leave the castle with a sad heart. So little indeed was it in his heart to stay that he might not accept even a night's shelter, or take the refreshment offered to him. As for Huldbrand, he told himself that the priest was naught but a dreamer; and with the dawn of the following day he sent for a father from the nearest monastery, who, without hesitation, promised to perform the marriage ceremony in a few days.

Chapter XVI. The End. Undine by by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham (1909)

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