“If you are not really there, if you are merely gambolling round me like a mist, may I, too, bid farewell to life, and become a shadow like you, dear, dear Undine!” Thus calling aloud, he again moved deeper into the stream. “Look round you—ah, pray look round you, beautiful young stranger! why rush on death so madly?” cried the voice a second time close by him; and looking on one side he perceived, by the light of the moon, again cloudless, a little island formed by the flood; and crouching upon its flowery turf, beneath the branches of embowering trees, he saw the smiling and lovely Undine.
O how much more gladly than before the young man now plied his sturdy staff! A few steps, and he had crossed the flood that was rushing between himself and the maiden; and he stood near her on the little spot of greensward in security, protected by the old trees. Undine half rose, and she threw her arms around his neck to draw him gently down upon the soft seat by her side.
“Here you shall tell me your story, my beautiful friend,” she breathed in a low whisper; “here the cross old people cannot disturb us; and, besides, our roof of leaves here will make quite as good a shelter as their poor cottage.”
“It is heaven itself,” cried Huldbrand; and folding her in his arms, he kissed the lovely girl with fervour.
The old fisherman, meantime, had come to the margin of the stream, and he shouted across, “Why, how is this, sir knight! I received you with the welcome which one true-hearted man gives to another; and now you sit there caressing my foster-child in secret, while you suffer me in my anxiety to wander through the night in quest of her.”
“Not till this moment did I find her myself, old father,” cried the knight across the water.
“So much the better,” said the fisherman, “but now make haste, and bring her over to me upon firm ground.”
To this, however, Undine would by no means consent. She declared that she would rather enter the wild forest itself with the beautiful stranger, than return to the cottage where she was so thwarted in her wishes, and from which the knight would soon or late go away. Then, throwing her arms round Huldbrand, she sang the following verse with the warbling sweetness of a bird:
“A rill would leave its misty vale,
And fortunes wild explore,
Weary at length it reached the main,
And sought its vale no more.”
The old fisherman wept bitterly at her song, but his emotion seemed to awaken little or no sympathy in her. She kissed and caressed her new friend, who at last said to her: “Undine, if the distress of the old man does not touch your heart, it cannot but move mine. We ought to return to him.”
She opened her large blue eyes upon him in amazement, and spoke at last with a slow and doubtful accent, “If you think so, it is well, all is right to me which you think right. But the old man over there must first give me his promise that he will allow you, without objection, to relate what you saw in the wood, and—well, other things will settle themselves.”