HEY WERE TALKING of this one fine evening, as they sauntered by starlight round the market-place, which was surrounded by high trees; the young couple had invited Bertalda to join their evening stroll, and they now paced backward and forward in pleasant talk, with the dark blue sky over their heads, and a beautiful fountain before them in the centre, which, as it bubbled and sprang up into fanciful shapes, often caught their attention, and interrupted the conversation. All around them was serene and pleasant; through the foliage gleamed the light of many a lamp from the surrounding houses; and the ear was soothed by the hum of children at play, and of sauntering groups like themselves; they enjoyed at once the pleasure of solitude, and the social happiness of being near the cheerful haunts of men. Every little difficulty that had occurred to their favourite plan, seemed to vanish upon nearer examination, and the three friends could not imagine that Bertalda's consent to the journey need be delayed a moment. But as she was on the point of naming a day for joining them and setting out, a very tall man came forward from the middle of the place, bowed to them respectfully, and began whispering in Undine's ear. She though apparently displeased with the interruption and with the speaker, stepped aside with him, and they began a low discourse together, in what sounded like a foreign language. Huldbrand thought he knew this strange man's face, and fixed his attention upon him so earnestly, that he neither heard nor answered the astonished Bertalda's questions. All at once Undine clapped her hands joyfully, and turned her back, laughing, upon the stranger; he shook his head and walked off in an angry, hurried manner, and stepped into the fountain. This confirmed Huldbrand in his guess; while Bertalda inquired, "My dear Undine, what business had that man of the fountain with you?" Her friend smiled archly and replied, "On your birthday, the day after to-morrow, I will tell you, my sweet girl;" and she would say no more. She only pressed Bertalda to come and dine with them on that day, and bring her foster parents; after which they separated.
"Kuhleborn?" said Huldbrand to his wife with a suppressed shudder, as they walked home through the dark streets. "Yes, it was he," replied Undine "and he tried to put all sorts of nonsense into my head. However, without intending it he delighted me by one piece of news. If you wish to hear it, now, my kind lord, you have but to say so, and I will tell you every word. But if you like to give your Undine a very great delight, you will wait two days, and then have your share in the surprise."
The Knight readily granted her what she had asked so meekly and gracefully; and as she dropped asleep she murmured, "How it will delight her! how little she expects such a message from the mysterious man-dear, dear Bertalda!"
The guests were now assembled at table; Bertalda sat at the top, adorned with flowers like the goddess of spring, and flashing with jewels, the gifts of many friends and relations. Undine and Huldbrand were on either side of her. When the sumptuous meal was ended, and the dessert served, the doors were opened-according to the good old German custom-to let the common people look in and have their share in the gaiety of the rich. The attendants offered wine and cake to the assembled crowd. Huldbrand and Bertalda were eagerly watching for the promised disclosure, and both kept their eyes fixed upon Undine. But she was still silent; her cheeks dimpled occasionally with a bright, conscious smile. Those that knew what she was about to do, could perceive that her interesting secret was ready to burst from her lips, but that she was playfully determined to keep it in, as children sometimes will save their daintiest morsels for the last. Her silent glee communicated itself to the other two, who watched impatiently for the happy news that was about to gladden their hearts. Some of the company now asked Undine for a song. She seemed to be prepared with one, and sent for her lute, to which she sang as follows:-
The sun gilds the wave,
The flowers are sweet,
And the ocean doth lave
The grass at our feet!
What lies on the earth
So blooming and gay?
Doth a blossom peep forth
And greet the new day?
Ah, 'tis a fair child!
She sports with the flowers,
So gladsome and mild,
Through the warm sunny hours
O sweet one, who brought thee?
From far distant shore
Old Ocean he caught thee,
And many a league bore.
Poor babe, all in vain
Thou dost put forth thy hand
None clasp it again,
'Tis a bleak foreign land:
The flowers bloom brightly,
And soft breathes the air,
But all pass thee lightly:
Thy mother is far!
Thy life scarce begun,
Thy smiles fresh from heaven,
Thy best treasure is gone,
To another 'tis given.
A gallant charger treads the dell,
His noble rider pities thee;
He takes thee home, he tends thee well,
And cares for thee right gen'rously.
Well thou becom'st thy station high,
And bloom'st the fairest in the land;
And yet, alas! the purest joy
Is left on thine own distant strand.
Undine put down her lute with a melancholy smile and the eyes of the Duke and Duchess filled with tears: "So it was when I found you, my poor innocent orphan!" said the Duke with great emotion "as the fair singer said, your best treasure was gone and we have been unable to supply its place."
"Now let us think of the poor parents," said Undine and she struck the chords and sang:-
Mother roves from room to room
Seeking rest, she knows not how,
The house is silent as the tomb,
And who is there to bless her now?
Silent house! Oh words of sorrow!
Where is now her darling child?
She who should have cheered the morrow,
And the evening hours beguiled?
The buds are swelling on the tree,
The sun returns when night is o'er;
But, mother, ne'er comes joy to thee,
Thy child shall bless thine eyes no more.
And when the evening breezes blow,
And father seeks his own fireside,
He smiles, forgetful of his woe,
But ah! his tears that smile shall hide.
Father knows that in his home
Deathlike stillness dwells for aye;
The voice of mirth no more shall come,
And mother sighs the livelong day.
"O Undine, for God's sake, where are my parents?" cried Bertalda, weeping. "Surely you know, you have discovered it, most wonderful woman; else how could you have stirred my inmost heart as you have done? They are perhaps even now in the room-can it be?"-and her eyes glanced over the gay assembly, and fixed upon a reigning Princess who sat next to the Duke. But Undine bent forward to the door, her eyes overflowing with the happiest tears. "Where are they, the poor anxious parents?" said she; and the old Fisherman and his wife came out from the crowd of bystanders. They turned an inquiring eye upon Undine, and then upon the handsome lady whom they were to call daughter. "There she is," faltered the delighted Undine, and the aged couple caught their long-lost child in their arms, thanking God, and weeping aloud.