18. How The Knight Huldbraid Is Married
If I were to tell you how the marriage-feast passed at castle Ringstetten, it would seem to
you as if you saw a heap of bright and pleasant things, but a gloomy veil of mourning
spread over them all, the dark hue of which would make the splendor of the whole look
less like happiness than a mockery of the emptiness of all earthly joys. It was not that any
spectral apparitions disturbed the festive company, for we know that the castle had been
secured from the mischief of the threatening water-spirits. But the knight and the
fisherman and all the guests felt as if the chief personage were still lacking at the feast,
and that this chief personage could be none other than the loved and gentle Undine.
Whenever a door opened, the eyes of all were involuntarily turned in that direction, and if
it was nothing but the butler with new dishes, or the cup-bearer with a flask of still richer
wine, they would look down again sadly, and the flashes of wit and merriment which had
passed to and fro, would be extinguished by sad remembrances. The bride was the most
thoughtless of all, 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 attire, while Undine was lying at the bottom of the Danube, a cold and
stiff corpse, or floating away with the current into the mighty ocean. For, ever since her
father had spoken of something of the sort, his words were ever ringing in her ear, and
this day especially they were not inclined to give place to other thoughts.
The company dispersed early in the evening, not broken up by the bridegroom himself,
but sadly and gloomily by the joyless mood of the guests and their forebodings of evil.
Bertalda retired with her maidens, and the knight with his attendants; but at this mournful
festival there was no gay, laughing train of bridesmaids and bridesmen.
Bertalda wished to arouse more cheerful thoughts; she ordered a splendid ornament of
jewels which Huldbrand had given her, together with rich apparel and veils, to be spread
out before her, in order that from these latter she might select the brightest and most
beautiful for her morning attire. Her attendants were delighted at the opportunity of
expressing their good wishes to their young mistress, not failing at the same time to extol
the beauty of the bride in the most lively terms. They were more and more absorbed in
these considerations, till Bertalda at length, looking in a mirror, said with a sigh: "Ah, but
don't you see plainly how freckled I am growing here at the side of my neck?"
They looked at her throat, and found the freckles as their fair mistress had said, but they
called them beauty-spots, and mere tiny blemishes only, tending to enhance the whiteness
of her delicate skin. Bertalda shook her head and asserted that a spot was always a defect.
"And I could remove them," she sighed a last, "only the fountain is closed from which I
used to have that precious and purifying water. Oh! if I had but a flask of it to-day!"
"Is that all? "said an alert waiting-maid, laughing, as she slipped from the apartment.