It was between night and the dawn of day that a vision came to Huldbrand as he lay on his bed, half waking and half sleeping. Whensoe'er he composed himself to full slumber, lo, a terror crept over him and scared away his rest, so fearful were the spectres that haunted him. Yet, if he tried to rouse himself in good earnest, behold, swans' wings seemed to fan his head, and waters softly murmured at his ear, until he sank back again into half-conscious dreaminess and delusion. At length deep sleep must have overcome him, for it seemed as though he were borne on the wings of many swans far over land and sea, they ever singing most sweetly the while.
"The music of the swan! the music of the swan!" so the words rang in his brain–"doth it not ever presage death?" But it would seem that it had another meaning. He appeared to be floating over the Mediterranean, and a swan was singing in his ear: "This is the Mediterranean Sea." And whilst he gazed down upon the waters below, lo, they became as clear as crystal so that he might see to the depths. Full pleased was he, for he could see Undine sitting beneath the crystal vault. Tears, it is true, were in her eyes, and much sadder was her look than in the happy days when first they had lived in Castle Ringstetten, and afterwards too, just before the ill-starred voyage on the Danube. And the knight must needs ponder these things in his mind very deeply and intently. Undine, it would appear, did not perceive him. But he saw Kühleborn come up to her with intent to reprove her for her tears. Whereat she drew herself up, and faced him with such dignity that he almost shrank back before her look.
"I know full well," quoth she, "that beneath the waters is my home; but my soul is still mine, and therefore I may well weep, albeit that thou canst not know what such tears mean. They, too, are blessed, as all is blessed to one who hath a true soul."
He shook his head, for he believed her not; then, bethinking himself of somewhat, he spoke:
"Nathless, the laws of our element hold thee bound, my niece; an he marrieth again and break his troth, thou must needs take away his life."
"A widower he is," saith Undine, "to this very hour, and his sad heart holdeth me dear."
"Nay, but at the same time he hath already exchanged vows with another;" and Kühleborn laughed right scornfully. "Wait but a day or two, and the priest will have given his blessing on the pair, and then–it is thy duty to go up to earth and give death to the twice-wedded!"
"That may not be;" and Undine laughed in her turn, "for with my own hands have I sealed up the fountain against myself and my race."
"Ah, but what if he leave his castle," said Kühleborn, "or have the fountain opened? He thinketh but little of such things."
"'Tis for this very reason," Undine replied, smiling through her tears, "that he is now hovering in spirit over the Mediterranean, and is hearing this talk of ours, in a warning and bodeful dream. With manifest intent have I arranged it all."
Then Kühleborn looked up at the knight; muttering threats and stamping his feet in furious rage, he shot like an arrow beneath the waters. And so wild was his anger that he seemed to swell and grow to the size of some huge whale. And now again did the swans commence their song, flapping their wings for flight; and the knight soared, or so it appeared to him, over mountains and streams till once more he was in the Castle Ringstetten and awoke on his bed.
In truth 'twas on his bed that he opened his eyes, and his servant, coming in, told him that Father Heilmann still lingered in the neighbourhood. He had found him, said he, the evening before in a hut which he had built for himself of branches and covered with moss and brushwood. When the priest was asked what he did there, since he refused to give the marriage-blessing, the answer came in strange fashion:
"There are other blessings," said he, "than those at the marriage-altar. I go not to the bridals; but mayhap, at some other rite I shall be present. For all things alike must we hold ourselves prepared. Marrying and mourning are not so diverse–as all may see who do not wilfully shut their eyes."
Now words like these and his strange dream gave the knight much reason for anxious thought. But it is not an easy thing, God wot, to break off a matter that a man hath once regarded as certain. And so all remained as before.
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