But what could not be seen from the veranda of the manor was that a girlish form swam a little in advance of the boat.
Marie had proved an excellent scholar in the school of the hydriads. Already after the fourth lesson she could swim alone, and sped over the waves as lightly and gracefully as a swan.
She did not need to wear a hat on these evening swimming excursions; her long hair floated unbound after her on the waves. When the twilight shadows deepened, the swimmer would speed far ahead of the accompanying canoe. She had lost all fear of the water. The waves were her friends—they knew each other well. When she wished to rest, she would turn her face to the sky, fold her arms across her breast, and lie on the waves as among swelling cushions like a child in a rocking cradle. And here she was allowed the full privileges of a child. She shouted; called to the startled wild geese; teased the night-swallows, and the bats skimming along the surface of the lake in quest of water-spiders. Here she even ventured to sing, and gave voice to charming melodies, which floated over the water like the sounds of an AEolian harp.
Many hours were spent thus on the lake. The little maid never wearied of the water. The protecting element restored to her nerves the strength which the stepmotherly earth had taken from them. A promenade of a hundred steps would tire her so that she would have to stop and rest. She had become unused to walking. But here in the water she moved about like a Naiad; her whole being was transformed; she lived! Then, when her guardian would call her, she would swim back to the canoe, clamber into it, and spread her long hair over his knees to dry while they rowed back to the shore. Poor little maid! She declared she had found happiness in the water.
* * * * *
One evening, after the waning moon had risen, Ludwig’s canoe, as usual, followed Marie, who was swimming a considerable distance ahead. Among the peculiarities of Neusiedl Lake are its numerous islets, the shores of which are thickly grown with rushes, and covered with broom and tall trees. Such an island lay not far from the shore in front of the Nameless Castle; it had frequently aroused Marie’s curiosity.
The little maid was now permitted to swim as far out into the open world of waves as she desired, only now and again signaling her whereabouts through a clear-toned “Ho, ho!”
During this time Ludwig reclined in his boat, and while the waves gently rocked him, he gazed dreamily into the depths of the starry sky, and listened to the mysterious voices of the night—the moaning, murmuring, echoing voices floating across the surface of the water.
Suddenly a piercing scream mingled with the mysterious voices of the night. It was Marie’s voice.
Frantic with terror, Ludwig seized his oars, and the canoe shot through the water in the direction of the scream.