Now the story draweth to a close. As soon as the news of the lord of Ringstetten's death had been noised about the district, Father Heilmann returned to the castle; and it so chanced that his arrival timed with the speedy departure of the monk who had married the unhappy pair. The latter had, indeed, fled from the gates with some haste, for he was overwhelmed with fear and horror.
"It is well;" said Heilmann, when he was informed of this, "now my duties begin, and I need no associate." Thereupon, it was his first task to bring consolation to the widowed bride–albeit that little enough could his words avail for so worldly and so thoughtless a spirit. The old fisherman, on the contrary, he found deeply grieved, it is true, but far more resigned to the fate that had befallen his daughter and son-in-law; for, while Bertalda did not scruple to charge Undine with sorcery and murder, the old man was in far better case.
"It could be no other than it is," he said calmly; "I see in this naught but the judgment of God; nor hath any heart been more deeply riven by Huldbrand's death than that of her who was the cause–the poor, forsaken Undine!"
And now the funeral rites had to be arranged, such as might befit the rank of the dead lord. In the village churchyard, filled with the graves of his grandsires–the church itself having been endowed with many fair privileges and gifts by his ancestors and himself–Knight Huldbrand was to find burial. Already his shield and helmet lay on the coffin, to be lowered with it into the grave, for Sir Huldbrand of Ringstetten, you must know, was the last of his race; the mourners began their sorrowful march, singing requiems for the dead, under the calm blue canopy of heaven. Father Heilmann walked in advance, bearing a crucifix; last came the disconsolate Bertalda, supported by her old father. Of a sudden, among the black-robed attendants in the widows' train, lo, there was seen a snow-white figure, closely veiled, and wringing her hands in the deepest grief. Those near whom she walked were seized with terror and retreated either backward or to one side, and thus the alarm spread itself to others to whom the white stranger was now nearest, and it went hard with them to avoid a panic. Indeed, some of the soldiers, escorting the dead, ventured to address themselves to the figure, and were all for removing it from the procession. But it seemed to vanish from their hands, and yet the next moment it was seen again walking with slow and solemn step in the melancholy cortège. At the last, inasmuch as the company was for ever moving to the right or the left, it came close behind Bertalda, and walked so slow and quiet that the widow saw it not, and it was left undisturbed.
So at length they came to the churchyard, and round the open grave the procession formed a circle. Then it was that Bertalda saw her unbidden companion, and starting up, half in anger and half in fear, bade her leave the knight's last resting-place. But the veiled figure did not move. She gently shook her head, and raised her hands as if in humble entreaty to Bertalda, who, on her part, could not choose but think with how gentle a grace Undine had held out to her the coral necklace on the Danube. Then Father Heilmann made a sign and commanded silence so that all might pray with mute supplication over the body which was now being committed to the earth. Bertalda knelt in silence; and there was not a soul that knelt not; even the grave-diggers bending themselves on their knees, when their task was done. And when they rose again, the white stranger had vanished.
But, lo! a miracle; for on the spot where she had knelt there gushed out of the turf a little silver spring. It rippled on till it had all but encircled the knight's grave; then it ran further and fell into a lake which lay by the side of the burial-place. And even to this day the villagers show the spring, and cherish the firm belief that it is poor, rejected Undine herself, who thus holds in fast embrace her husband with her loving arms.
Thus endeth the story of Undine and of the Knight Huldbrand.