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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Last Appearance of Undine
By Friedrich, Baron de La Motte-Fouqué (1777–1843)
 
From ‘Undine’

SHOULD I relate to you how passed the marriage feast at Castle Ringstetten, it would be as if you saw a heap of bright and pleasant things, but all overspread with a black mourning crape, through whose darkening veil their brilliancy would appear but a mockery of the nothingness of all earthly joys.  1
  It was not that any spectral delusion disturbed the scene of festivity; for the castle, as we well know, had been secured against the mischief of the water spirits. But the knight, the fisherman, and all the guests were unable to banish the feeling that the chief personage of the feast was still wanting, and that this chief personage could be no other than the gentle and beloved Undine.  2
  Whenever a door was heard to open, all eyes were involuntarily turned in that direction; and if it was nothing but the steward with new dishes, or the cup-bearer with a supply of wine of higher flavor than the last, they again looked down in sadness and disappointment, while the flashes of wit and merriment which had been passing at times from one to another were extinguished by tears of mournful remembrance.  3
  The bride was the least thoughtful of the company, and therefore the most happy; but even to her it sometimes seemed strange that she should be sitting at the head of the table, wearing a green wreath and gold-embroidered robe, while Undine was lying a corpse, stiff and cold, at the bottom of the Danube, or carried out by the current into the ocean. For ever since her father had suggested something of this sort, his words were continually sounding in her ear; and this day in particular, they would neither fade from her memory nor yield to other thoughts.  4
  Evening had scarcely arrived when the company returned to their homes; not dismissed by the impatience of the bridegroom, as wedding parties are sometimes broken up, but constrained solely by heavy sadness and forebodings of evil. Bertalda retired with her maidens, and the knight with his attendants, to undress; but there was no gay laughing company of bridesmaids and bridesmen at this mournful festival.  5
  Bertalda wished to awake more cheerful thoughts: she ordered her maidens to spread before her a brilliant set of jewels, a present from Huldbrand, together with rich apparel and veils, that she might select from among them the brightest and most beautiful for her dress in the morning. The attendants rejoiced at this opportunity of pouring forth good wishes and promises of happiness to their young mistress, and failed not to extol the beauty of the bride with the most glowing eloquence. This went on for a long time, until Bertalda at last, looking in a mirror, said with a sigh:—  6
  “Ah, but do you not see plainly how freckled I am growing? Look here on the side of my neck.”  7
  They looked at the place and found the freckles indeed, as their fair mistress had said; but they called them mere beauty-spots, the faintest touches of the sun, such as would only heighten the whiteness of her delicate complexion. Bertalda shook her head, and still viewed them as a blemish.  8
  “And I could remove them,” she said at last, sighing. “But the castle fountain is covered, from which I formerly used to have that precious water, so purifying to the skin. Oh, had I this evening only a single flask of it!”  9
  “Is that all?” cried an alert waiting-maid, laughing as she glided out of the apartment.  10
  “She will not be so foolish,” said Bertalda, well pleased and surprised, “as to cause the stone cover of the fountain to be taken off this very evening?” That instant they heard the tread of men already passing along the court-yard, and could see from the window where the officious maiden was leading them directly up to the fountain, and that they carried levers and other instruments on their shoulders.  11
  “It is certainly my will,” said Bertalda with a smile, “if it does not take them too long.” And pleased with the thought that a word from her was now sufficient to accomplish what had formerly been refused with a painful reproof, she looked down upon their operations in the bright moonlit castle court.  12
  The men raised the enormous stone with an effort; some one of the number indeed would occasionally sigh, when he recollected that they were destroying the work of their former beloved mistress. Their labor, however, was much lighter than they had expected. It seemed as if some power from within the fountain itself aided them in raising the stone.  13
  “It appears,” said the workmen to one another in astonishment, “as if the confined water had become a springing fountain.” And the stone rose more and more, and almost without the assistance of the workpeople, rolled slowly down upon the pavement with a hollow sound. But an appearance from the opening of the fountain filled them with awe, as it rose like a white column of water; at first they imagined it really to be a fountain, until they perceived the rising form to be a pale female, veiled in white. She wept bitterly, raised her hands above her head, wringing them sadly as with slow and solemn step she moved toward the castle. The servants shrank back, and fled from the spring, while the bride, pale and motionless with horror, stood with her maidens at the window. When the figure had now come close beneath their room, it looked up to them sobbing, and Bertalda thought she recognized through the veil the pale features of Undine. But the mourning form passed on, sad, reluctant, and lingering, as if going to the place of execution. Bertalda screamed to her maids to call the knight; not one of them dared to stir from her place; and even the bride herself became again mute, as if trembling at the sound of her own voice.  14
  While they continued standing at the window, motionless as statues, the mysterious wanderer had entered the castle, ascended the well-known stairs, and traversed the well-known halls, in silent tears. Alas, how differently had she once passed through these rooms!  15
  The knight had in the mean time dismissed his attendants. Half undressed and in deep dejection, he was standing before a large mirror; a wax taper burned dimly beside him. At this moment some one tapped at his door very, very softly. Undine had formerly tapped in this way, when she was playing some of her endearing wiles.  16
  “It is all an illusion!” said he to himself. “I must to my nuptial bed.”  17
  “You must indeed, but to a cold one!” he heard a voice, choked with sobs, repeat from without; and then he saw in the mirror that the door of his room was slowly, slowly opened, and the white figure entered, and gently closed it behind her.  18
  “They have opened the spring,” said she in a low tone; “and now I am here, and you must die.”  19
  He felt in his failing breath that this must indeed be; but covering his eyes with his hands, he cried:—“Do not in my death-hour, do not make me mad with terror. If that veil conceals hideous features, do not lift it! Take my life, but let me not see you.”  20
  “Alas!” replied the pale figure, “will you not then look upon me once more? I am as fair now as when you wooed me on the island!”  21
  “Oh, if it indeed were so,” sighed Huldbrand, “and that I might die by a kiss from you!”  22
  “Most willingly, my own love,” said she. She threw back her veil; heavenly fair shone forth her pure countenance. Trembling with love and the awe of approaching death, the knight leant towards her. She kissed him with a holy kiss; but she relaxed not her hold, pressing him more closely in her arms, and weeping as if she would weep away her soul. Tears rushed into the knight’s eyes, while a thrill both of bliss and agony shot through his heart, until he at last expired, sinking softly back from her fair arms upon the pillow of his couch a corpse.  23
  “I have wept him to death!” said she to some domestics who met her in the ante-chamber; and passing through the terrified group, she went slowly out, and disappeared in the fountain.  24
 
 
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