VII.—HOW THE REST OF THE EVENING PASSED AWAY
Undine had been perfectly quiet and well-behaved both before and during the marriage ceremony; but now her wild spirits seemed the more uncontrollable from the restraint they had undergone, and rose to an extravagant height. She played all manner of childish tricks on her husband, her foster parents, and even the venerable Priest, and when the old woman began to check her, one or two words from Huldbrand, who gravely called Undine “his wife,” reduced her to silence. The Knight himself, however, was far from being pleased at Undine’s childishness; but no hint or sign would stop her. Whenever she perceived his disapproving looks—which she occasionally did—it subdued her for the moment; she would sit down by him, whisper something playfully in his ear, and so dispel the frown as it gathered on his brow. But the next instant some wild nonsense would dart into her head, and set her off worse than ever. At last the Priest said to her, in a kind but grave manner, “My dear young lady, no one that beholds you can be severe upon you, it is true; but remember, it is your duty to keep watch over your soul, that it may be ever in harmony with that of your wedded husband.” “Soul!” cried Undine, laughing; “that sounds very fine, and for most people may be very edifying and moral advice. But if one has no soul at all, pray how is one to keep watch over it? And that is my case.” The Priest was deeply hurt, and turned away his face in mingled sorrow and anger. But she came up to him beseechingly, and said, “Nay, hear me before you are angry, for it grieves me to see you displeased, and you would not distress any creature who has done you no harm. Only have patience with me, and I will tell you all, from the beginning.”
They saw she was preparing to give them a regular history; but she stopped short, appearing thrilled by some secret recollection, and burst into a flood of gentle tears. They were quite at a loss what to think of her, and gazed upon her, distressed from various causes. At length drying her eyes, she looked at the Priest earnestly and said, “There must be much to love in a soul, but much that is awful too. For God’s sake, holy father, tell me—were it not better to be still without one?” She waited breathlessly for an answer, restraining her tears. Her hearers had all risen from their seats, and now stepped back from her, shuddering. She seemed to have no eyes but for the saintly man; her countenance assumed an expression of anxiety and awe which yet more alarmed the others. “Heavy must be the burden of a soul,” added she, as no one answered her—“heavy indeed! for the mere approach of mine over-shadows me with anxious melancholy. And ah! how light-hearted, how joyous I used to be!” A fresh burst of weeping overcame her, and she covered her face with her veil.