EANTIME THE TWO men set meat and wine before their guest, and when he had recruited his strength a little, he began his story; saying that the day before he had left his monastery, which was a good way off beyond the lake, intending to visit the bishop at his palace, and report to him the distress which these almost supernatural floods had caused the monks and their poor tenantry. After going round a long way, to avoid these floods, he had been obliged toward evening to cross an arm of the overflowing lake, with the help of two honest sailors. "But," added he, "no sooner had our little vessel touched the waves, than we were wrapped in the tremendous storm, which is still raging over our heads now. It looked as if the waters had only awaited our coming to give a loose to their fury. The oars were soon dashed from the seamen's hands, and we saw their broken fragments carried further and further from us by the waves. We floated on the wave tops, helpless, driven by the furious tempest toward your shores, which we saw in the distance whenever the clouds parted for a moment. The boat was tossed about still more wildly and giddily: and whether it upset, or I fell out, I cannot tell. I floated on, till a wave landed me at the foot of a tree, in this your island."
"Ay, island indeed!" said the Fisherman. "It was a promontory but a short time ago. But, since the stream and our lake are gone raving mad together, everything about us is new and strange."
The Priest continued: "As I crept along the water-side in the dark, with a wild uproar around me, something caught my eye, and presently I descried a beaten pathway, which was soon lost in the shades; I spied the light in your cottage, and ventured to come hither; and I cannot sufficiently thank my heavenly Father, who has not only delivered me from the waters, but guided me to such kind souls. I feel this blessing the more, as it is very likely I may never see any faces but yours again."-"How so?" asked the fisherman. "Can you guess how long this fury of the elements may last?" replied the Priest. "And I am an old man. My stream of life may perhaps lose itself in the earth, before these floods subside. And besides, it may be the foaming waters will divide you from the forest more and more, till you are unable to get across in your fishing boat; and the people of the mainland, full of their own concerns, would quite forget you in your retreat."
Shuddering, and crossing herself, the Fisherman's wife exclaimed, "God forbid!" But the old man smiled at her, and said, "What creatures we are. That would make no difference, to you at least, my dear wife. How many years is it since you have set foot within the forest? And have you seen any face but Undine's and mine? Lately, indeed, we have had the good Knight and Priest besides. But they would stay with us; so that if we are forgotten in this island, you will be the gainer."
"So I see," said the dame; "yet somehow, it is cheerless to feel ourselves quite cut off from the rest of the world, however seldom we had seen it before."
"Then you will stay with us!" murmured Undine in a sweet voice, and she pressed closer to Huldbrand's side. But he was lost in deep thought. Since the Priest had last spoken, the land beyond the wild stream had seemed to his fancy more dark and distant than ever; while the flowery island he lived in-and his bride, the fairest flower in the picture-bloomed and smiled more and more freshly in his imagination. Here was the Priest at hand to unite them;-and, to complete his resolution, the old dame just then darted a reproving look at Undine, for clinging to her lover's side in the holy man's presence; an angry lecture seemed on the point of beginning. He turned toward the Priest, and these words burst from him: "You see before you a betrothed pair, reverend sir; if this damsel and the kind old people will consent, you shall unite us this very evening."
The old folks were much surprised. Such a thought had often crossed their minds, but they had never till this moment heard it uttered; and it now fell upon their ears like an unexpected thing. Undine had suddenly become quite grave, and sat musing deeply, while the Priest inquired into various circumstances, and asked the old couple's consent to the deed. After some deliberation, they gave it; the dame went away to prepare the young people's bridal chamber, and to fetch from her stores two consecrated tapers for the wedding ceremony. Meanwhile the Knight was pulling two rings off his gold chain for himself and his bride to exchange. But this roused Undine from her reverie, and she said: "Stay! my parents did not send me into the world quite penniless; they looked forward long ago to this occasion and provided for it." She quickly withdrew, and returned bringing two costly rings, one of which she gave to her betrothed and kept the other herself. This astonished the old Fisherman, and still more his wife, who came in soon after; for they neither of them had ever seen these jewels about the child. "My parents," said Undine, "had these rings sewed into the gay dress which I wore, when first I came to you. They charged me to let no one know of them till my wedding-day came. Therefore I took them secretly out of the dress, and have kept them hidden till this evening."
Here the Priest put a stop to the conversation, by lighting the holy tapers, placing them on the table, and calling the young pair to him. With few and solemn words he joined their hands; the aged couple gave their blessing, while the bride leaned upon her husband, pensive and trembling.
When it was over, the Priest said: "You are strange people after all! What did you mean by saying you were the only inhabitants of this island? During the whole ceremony there was a fine-looking tall man, in a white cloak, standing just outside the window opposite me. He must be near the door still, if you like to invite him in."-"Heaven forbid!" said the dame shuddering; the old man shook his head without speaking; and Huldbrand rushed to the window. He could fancy he saw a streak of white, but it was soon lost in darkness. So he assured the Priest he must have been mistaken; and they all sat down comfortably round the fire.
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.