Now, both before the marriage ceremony commenced, and while it was in progress, Undine had shown herself as quiet and gentle as might be. But now that the ceremony was over, it seemed as if all the strange and untoward humours that were in her burst forth wholly without restraint or shame. Childish she was, and childish were the tricks with which she teased both her wedded lord and her foster-parents. Nay, she even went so far as to spite and annoy the holy man to whom lately she had shown such reverent obeisance. When the foster-mother was all for reproving her, the knight stayed her with a few grave words, "for," saith he, "Undine is now my wife." Nathless, the knight was no better pleased with Undine's waywardness than were the others. It irked him sore that she should play the child; but no signs and no warning words were of any avail. Yet it seemed that at times the bride took note of her husband's discomfiture, and then at once she became more quiet, sitting down by his side, caressing him with her hands, and whispering something smilingly into his ear, so that the wrinkles on his forehead would all be smoothed away. And then again the tender mood would pass, and some wild freak of temper would make her yet more perverse and froward; so that matters would be worse than they were before.
At last the priest addressed her with kind and serious words. "Lady," quoth he, "no man can look at thee without delight, for thou art fair and young to behold, and the eye of mortal man must needs yield to thy beauty. And yet I bid thee beware and take heed to thy ways, so that thy soul may be attuned and brought into harmony with that of thy wedded husband."
"What is this thou sayest?" answered Undine. "Thou talkest of my soul. And, indeed, it may well be that for most of the sons of men thou mayest utter a wise and seasonable caution. But I pray you, if I have no soul at all, what is it that I may do? In such case the task of harmony that thou prescribest seemeth to be difficult."
Now the priest turned him away and was silent when Undine spake thus. But she came over to him, and addressed him in more reverent sort. "Sir Priest," quoth she, "thou art angry with me, and I know well the cause. Yet thou painest me with thine angry look; and thou must not pain any creature that liveth without due cause. Listen to me, I pray thee, and have patience with me; and for my part I will seek to tell thee plainly what I mean."
Thereupon it was clear that she had bent herself to give a full and plain account of something that had hitherto been concealed. But suddenly she hesitated, as though some secret hand of restraint had been laid upon her, and with a quick shudder she burst into a flood of tears. Not a person there knew what to make of her in this case. They gazed at her in silence, filled with dim and vague apprehension. For a moment or two she rested thus, and then, wiping away her tears, she looked gravely and earnestly at the holy man, and spake as follows:
"Meseemeth that there is something strange and difficult to understand about the soul. It hath a beauty of its own, hath it not? And yet to me it appeareth full of dread and awe. I ask thee, Sir Priest, might we not all of us be in better case if we never shared so beautiful and so perilous a gift?" Once again Undine was silent, as though waiting for some reply, and her tears had ceased to flow. All those in the cottage had started from their seats at her strange words, and had stepped back from her with something akin to horror in their eyes. Nathless, she looked neither to right nor to left, but only bent her gaze on the holy man, with a yearning of curiosity on her face, as though she waited for some message of terrible import. And once more she spake.
"It must be a burden right heavy to bear, this soul of which thou speakest, for even the shadow of its approach filleth me with sadness and dread. And yet, God knoweth, I had pleasure and happiness enough in my life till now." Thereupon Undine burst into a fresh flood of tears, and covered her face with the raiment that she wore. And the priest went up to her with a solemn air, and spoke to her weighty words, conjuring her, by the name of the Most Holy, to rend and cast aside the veil that enveloped her, if so be that any spirit of evil possessed her. She meanwhile sank on her knees before him, saying after him all the sacred words he uttered, praising God, and protesting that in her heart she wished well to the whole world. At the last the priest turned him towards the knight.
"Sir Bridegroom," quoth he, "I will leave thee alone with her to whom I have united thee in holy wedlock. So far as my wisdom may lead me, I find nothing of evil in her, though much that is strange and mysterious. I commend to thee three things wherewith thou mayest bear thyself well in thy future life–Prudence, Love, and Faithfulness." With these words the priest left the room, and the fisherman and his wife followed him, crossing themselves as they passed Undine.
Undine herself had sunk on her knees. She took the raiment from her face, and, looking humbly and timidly on Huldbrand, spake as follows: "Woe be it to me, for thou wilt surely refuse to keep me as thine own! And yet no evil have I done, God wotteth, and am naught but an unhappy child." And as she said these words her face had on it a look so tender and so wistful in its humility and beauty that her bridegroom clean forgot all the horror he had felt, and all the mystery that surrounded her, and, hastening to her side, he raised her in his arms. She smiled through her tears. It was a smile like the light of dawn playing on a little stream.
"Ah, thou canst not leave me," she whispered, stroking the knight's cheek with her tender hand.
Sir Huldbrand did his best to banish the thoughts of fear and dread that lurked in the background of his mind, persuading him that some fairy or some malicious and mischievous being of the spirit world had come to be his wife. Only the single question, half unawares, passed his lips: "Undine, my little Undine," quoth he, "tell me at least this one thing. What was all thy talk of spirits of the earth, and of Kühleborn, what time the priest was knocking at the door?"
"Naught but fairy-tales," answered Undine merrily, "children's fairy-tales. At the first I frighted you with them, and then you frighted me. And that is the end of our story, and of our wedding-night."
"Nay, God be my witness," quoth the knight, "certès, it is not the end." Saying thus, he blew out the tapers, and by the light of the moon, which shone softly in at the window, he bore, with a thousand eager kisses, his beloved to her room.
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