“We might be happier than our human fellow-creatures (for we call you fellow-creatures, as our forms are alike), but for one great evil. We, and the other children of the elements, go down to the dust, body and spirit; not a trace of us remains and when the time comes for you to rise again to a glorified existence, we shall have perished with our native sands, flames, winds, and waves. For we have no souls; the elements move us, obey us while we live, close over us when we die; and we light spirits live as free from care as the nightingale, the gold-fish, and all such bright children of Nature. But no creatures rest content in their appointed place. My father, who is a mighty prince in the Mediterranean Sea, determined that his only child should be endowed with a soul, even at the cost of much suffering, which is ever the lot of souls. But a soul can be infused into one of our race, only by being united in the closest bands of love to one of yours. And now I have obtained a soul; to thee I owe it, O best beloved! and for that gift I shall ever bless thee, unless thou dost devote my whole futurity to misery. For what is to become of me should thou recoil from me, and cast me off? Yet I would not detain thee by deceit. And if I am to leave thee, say so now; go back to the land alone. I will plunge into this brook; it is my uncle, who leads a wonderful, sequestered life in this forest, away from all his friends. But he is powerful, and allied to many great rivers; and as he brought me here to the Fisherman, a gay and laughing child, so he is ready to take me back to my parents, a loving, suffering, forsaken woman.”
She would have gone on; but Huldbrand, full of compassion and love, caught her in his arms, and carried her back. There, with tears and kisses, he swore never to forsake his beloved wife; and said he felt more blessed than the Greek sculptor Pygmalion, whose beautiful statue dame Venus transformed into a living woman. Hanging on his arm in peaceful reliance, Undine returned; and she felt from her inmost heart, how little cause she had to regret the crystal palaces of her father.
IX.—HOW THE KNIGHT AND HIS YOUNG BRIDE DEPARTED
When Huldbrand awoke from sleep the next morning, he missed his fair companion; and again he was tormented with a doubt, whether his marriage, and the lovely Undine, might not be all a fairy dream. But she soon reappeared, came up to him, and said, “I have been out early, to see if my uncle had kept his word. He has recalled all the straying waters into his quiet bed, and now takes his lonely and pensive course through the forest as he used to do. His friends in the lake and the air are gone to rest also; all things have returned to their usual calmness; and you may set out homeward on dry land, as soon as you please.” Huldbrand felt as if dreaming still, so little could he understand his wife’s wonderful relations. But he took no notice of this, and his sweet Undine’s gentle attentions soon charmed every uneasy thought away.