“Have you a soul? Have you indeed a soul, Bertalda?” she exclaimed once or twice, trying to recall her angry friend to reason, from what she took for a fit of madness, or a kind of nightmare. But Bertalda only stormed the louder; the repulsed parents wailed piteously, and the company began to dispute angrily and to side with one or the other; when Undine stepped forward, and asked with so much earnest gentleness to be listened to in her husband’s house that all was hushed in a moment. She took the place which Bertalda had left, at the head of the table, and as she stood there in modest dignity, the eyes of all turned toward her, and she said: “You all that cast such angry looks at each other, and so cruelly spoil the joy of my poor feast, alas! I little knew what your foolish angry passions were, and I think I never shall understand you. What I had hoped would do so much good has led to all this; but that is not my fault, it is your own doing, believe me; I have little more to say, but one thing you must hear: I have told no falsehood. Proofs I have none to give, beyond my word, but I will swear to the truth of it. I heard it from him who decoyed Bertalda from her parents into the water, and then laid her down in the meadow where the Duke was to pass.”
“She is a sorceress,” cried Bertalda, “a witch who has dealings with evil spirits! she has acknowledged it.”
“I have not,” said Undine, with a heaven of innocence and guilelessness in her eyes. “Nor am I a witch—only look at me!”
“Then she lies,” cried Bertalda, “and she dares not assert that I was born of these mean people. My noble parents, I beseech you take me out of this room, and this town, where they are leagued together to insult me.”
But the venerable Duke stood still, and his lady said, “We must first sift this matter to the bottom. Nothing shall make me leave the room till my doubts are satisfied.”
Then the old woman came up, made a deep obeisance to the Duchess, and said, “You give me courage to speak, my noble, worthy lady. I must tell you, that if this ungodly young woman is my daughter, I shall know her by a violet mark between her shoulders, and another on the left instep. If she would but come with me into another room—”
“I will not uncover myself before that country-woman,” said Bertalda, proudly turning away.
“But before me, you will,” rejoined the Duchess gravely. “You shall go with me into that room, young woman, and the good dame will accompany us.” They withdrew together, leaving the party in silent suspense. In a few minutes they came back; Bertalda was deadly pale, and the Duchess said, “Truth is truth, and I am bound to declare that our Lady Hostess has told us perfectly right. Bertalda is the Fisherman’s daughter; more than that, it concerns nobody to know.” And the princely pair departed, taking with them their adopted child, and followed (upon a sign from the Duke) by the Fisherman and his wife. The rest of the assembly broke up, in silence or with secret murmurs, and Undine sank into Huldbrand’s arms, weeping bitterly.