XIII.—HOW THEY LIVED IN THE CASTLE OF RINGSTETTEN
As he who relates this tale is moved to the heart by it, and hopes that it may affect his readers too, he entreats of them one favour; namely, that they will bear with him while he passes rapidly over a long space of time; and be content if he barely touches upon what happened therein. He knows well that some would relate in great detail, step by step, how Huldbrand’s heart began to be estranged from Undine, and drawn toward Bertalda; while she cared not to disguise from him her ardent love; and how between them the poor injured wife came to be rather feared than pitied—and when he showed her kindness, a cold shiver would often creep over him and send him back to the child of earth, Bertalda;—all this the author knows, might be dwelt upon; nay, perhaps it ought to be so. But his heart shrinks from such a task, for he has met with such passages in real life, and cannot even abide their shadows in his memory. Perhaps, gentle reader, such feelings are known to thee also, for they are the common lot of mortal man. Well is thee if thou hast felt, not inflicted, these pangs; in these cases it is more blessed to receive than to give. As such recollections wake up from their cells, they will but cast a soft shade over the past; and it may be the thought of thy withered blossoms, once so fondly loved, brings a gentle tear down thy cheek. Enough of this: we will not go on to pierce our hearts with a thousand separate arrows, but content ourselves with saying, that so it happened in the present instance.
Poor Undine drooped day by day, and the others were neither of them happy; Bertalda especially was uneasy, and ready to suspect the injured wife, whenever she fancied herself slighted by Huldbrand; meantime she had gradually assumed the command in the house, and the deluded Huldbrand supported her openly. Undine looked on, in meek resignation. To increase the discomfort of their lives, there was no end to the mysterious sights and sounds that haunted Huldbrand and Bertalda in the vaulted galleries of the castle; such as had never been heard of before. The long white man, too well known to him as Uncle Kuehleborn, and to her as the spirit of the fountain, often showed his threatening countenance to both; but chiefly to Bertalda, who had more than once been made ill by the fright, and thought seriously of leaving the castle. But her love for Huldbrand detained her, and she quieted her conscience by thinking, that it had never come to a declaration of love between them; and, besides, she would not have known which way to turn. After receiving the Lord of Ringstetten’s message, that Bertalda was with them, the old Fisherman had traced a few lines, scarcely legible, from infirmity and long disuse, saying, “I am now a poor old widower; for my dear good wife is dead. But, lonely as I am by my fireside, I had rather Bertalda stayed away than come here. Provided she does not harm my dear Undine! My curse be upon her if she does.” Bertalda scattered these last words to the winds, but treasured up her father’s command that she should not join him: as is the way with us selfish beings.