Prosperity is the measure or touchstone of virtue, for it is less difficult to bear misfortune than to remain uncorrupted by pleasure. — Tacitus

Undine - George Upton




What Further Befell on the Wedding Evening

All through the ceremony Undine had been perfectly quiet, but now her wild spirits seemed to overflow, and she became more capricious and freakish than ever, tormenting her husband, her foster-parents, and even the venerable priest with all sorts of elfish pranks; but whenever the old woman was about to reprove her, a few serious words from Huldbrand referring significantly to Undine as his wife would silence her. In reality the knight himself was little pleased with his bride's childish behavior, but nothing could stop her. Whenever she noticed his disapproval, as sometimes happened, she would become subdued for the moment, and seating herself beside him, would avert his displeasure with smiles and caresses. But the next moment she would break out again with some mad prank and be wilder than ever. At length the priest said to her, in a serious but kindly way, "My dear child, one cannot but be charmed with you; but remember it is now your duty to keep your soul in harmony with that of your husband."

"Soul!" cried Undine, laughing, "that sounds well, and your advice might be useful and necessary for most people, but supposing one has no soul at all—what then, pray? And that is the case with me."

Deeply wounded, the priest was turning away from her in righteous indignation, but she came close to him and said appealingly: "Nay, father, hear me before you are cross with me, for it would grieve me to have you so, and besides you should not be angry with a creature who has never done you any harm. Only be patient with me and I will explain all."

She was evidently on the point of relating something, when suddenly some secret terror seemed to seize her and she burst into tears, while her companions, not knowing what to think, gazed at her in anxious silence. At length, drying her eyes and looking earnestly at the priest, she went on: "It must be a beautiful and yet a terrible thing too, to have a soul. I implore you, holy father, tell me, would it not be better to remain without one?"

Undine paused as if waiting for his reply, keeping back her tears and gazing at the priest with such a look of awe and apprehension that the others started from their seats in alarm and shrank away from her. "Heavy must be a soul's burden," she continued, as no one spoke; "heavy indeed, for its approaching shadow already fills me with grief and terror; and alas! I was wont to be so happy and light-hearted!" She again burst into tears and buried her face in her hands.

At this the priest approached and adjured her solemnly to confess all. She fell on her knees before him, repeating after him all the pious words he spoke; and praising God, she declared herself at peace with the world. At last he turned to the knight. "Sir bridegroom," he said, "I leave you alone with her whom I have given to you. I can find no evil in her, but much that is strange and mysterious. I charge you to be prudent, loving, and faithful." So saying, he left the room, and the old people followed him, crossing themselves.

Undine was still kneeling, but she uncovered her face and said, glancing timidly at Huldbrand: "Alas! you will have nothing more to do with me now; and yet I have done nothing bad. I am only a poor child." She looked so sweet and piteous, as she spoke, that her husband quite forgot all his mystification, and hastening to her clasped her to his heart. Undine smiled through her tears (it was like the glow of sunrise reflected on a sparkling brook), and stroked the knight's cheek with her soft hand, whispering gently, "You cannot leave me, beloved!"

Huldbrand resolutely shook off the dark thoughts that still lingered in his mind, and the suspicion that he had married some sprite or creature from the spirit world, but he could not refrain from asking one question:

"Only tell me, dear little Undine, what it was you were saying about earth-spirits and Kuhleborn when the priest knocked at the door."

"Oh, that was only a child's foolish story," she replied, laughing. "First, I frightened you, and then you frightened me. And that is the end of the romance of our wedding-day!"

Nay, not so!" said the enamoured knight. Extinguishing the candles, he clasped his lovely bride in his arms and covered her with kisses in the bright moonlight which now poured in through the window.