Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XI. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER XI. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 5: W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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Edward went with the count to his room. They continued talking, and he was easily prevailed upon to stay a little time longer there. The count lost himself in old times, spoke eagerly of Charlotte’s beauty, which, as a critic, he dwelt upon with much warmth.
“A pretty foot is a great gift of nature,” he said. “It is a grace which never perishes. I observed it to-day, as she was walking. I should almost have liked to have kissed her shoe, and repeat that somewhat barbarous but significant practice of the Sarmatians, who know no better way of showing reverence for any one they love or respect, than by using his shoe to drink his health out of.”
The point of the foot did not remain the only subject of praise between two old acquaintances; they went from the person back upon old stories and adventures, and came on the hindrances which at that time people had thrown in the way of the lovers’ meetings—what trouble they had taken, what arts they had been obliged to devise, only to be able to tell each other that they loved.
“Do you remember,” continued the count, “an adventure in which I most unselfishly stood your friend when their high mightinesses were on a visit to your uncle, and were all together in that great, straggling castle. The day went in festivities and glitter of all sorts; and a part of the night at least in pleasant conversation.”
“And you, in the meantime, had observed the back-way which led to the court ladies’ quarter,” said Edward, “and so managed to effect an interview for me with my beloved.”
“And she,” replied the count, “thinking more of propriety than of my enjoyment, had kept a frightful old duenna with her. So that, while you two, between looks and words, got on extremely well together, my lot, in the meanwhile, was far from pleasant.”
“It was only yesterday,” answered Edward, “when we heard that you were coming, that I was talking over the story with my wife, and describing our adventure on returning. We missed the road, and got into the entrance-hall from the garden. Knowing our way from thence so well as we did, we supposed we could get along easily enough. But you remember our surprise on opening the door. The floor was covered over with mattresses, on which the giants lay in rows stretched out and sleeping. The single sentinel at his post looked wonderingly at us; but we, in the cool way young men do things, strode quietly on over the outstretched boots, without disturbing a single one of the snoring children of Anak.”
“I had the strongest inclination to stumble,” the count said, “that there might be an alarm given. What a resurrection we should have witnessed.”
At this moment the castle clock struck twelve.
“It is deep midnight,” the count added, laughing, “and just the proper time; I must ask you, my dear baron, to show me a kindness. Do you guide me to-night, as I guided you then. I promised the baroness that I would see her before going to bed. We have had no opportunity of any private talk together the whole day. We have not seen each other for a long time, and it is only natural that we should wish for a confidential hour. If you will show me the way there, I will manage to get back again; and in any case, there will be no boots for me to stumble over.”
“I shall be very glad to show you such a piece of hospitality,” answered Edward; “only the three ladies are together in the same wing. Who knows whether we shall not find them still with one another, or make some other mistake, which may have a strange appearance?”
“Do not be afraid,” said the count; “the baroness expects me. She is sure by this time to be in her own room, and alone.”
“Well, then, the thing is easy enough,” Edward answered.
He took a candle, and lighted the count down a private staircase leading into a long gallery. At the end of this he opened a small door. They mounted a winding flight of stairs, which brought them out upon a narrow landing-place; and then, putting the candle in the count’s hand, he pointed to a tapestried door on the right, which opened readily at the first trial, and admitted the count, leaving Edward outside in the dark.
Another door on the left led into Charlotte’s sleeping-room. He heard her voice, and listened. She was speaking to her maid. “Is Ottilie in bed?” she asked. “No,” was the answer; “she is sitting writing in the room below.” “You may light the night-lamp,” said Charlotte; “I shall not want you any more. It is late. I can put out the candle, and do whatever I may want else myself.”
It was a delight to Edward to hear that Ottilie was writing still. She is working for me, he thought triumphantly. Through the darkness, he fancied he could see her sitting all alone at her desk. He thought he would go to her, and see her; and how she would turn to receive him. He felt a longing, which he could not resist, to be near her once more. But, from where he was, there was no way to the apartments which she occupied. He now found himself immediately at his wife’s door. A singular change of feeling came over him. He tried the handle, but the bolts were shot. He knocked gently. Charlotte did not hear him. She was walking rapidly up and down in the large dressing-room adjoining. She was repeating over and over what, since the count’s unexpected proposal, she had often enough had to say to herself. The captain seemed to stand before her. At home, and everywhere, he had become her all in all. And now he was to go; and it was all to be desolate again. She repeated whatever wise things one can say to one’s self; she even anticipated, as people so often do, the wretched comfort, that time would come at last to her relief; and then she cursed the time which would have to pass before it could lighten her sufferings—she cursed the dead, cold time when they would be lightened. At last she burst into tears; they were the more welcome, since tears with her were rare. She flung herself on the sofa, and gave herself up unreservedly to her sufferings. Edward, meanwhile, could not take himself from the door. He knocked again; and a third time rather louder; so that Charlotte, in the stillness of the night, distinctly heard it, and started up in fright. Her first thought was,—it can only be, it must be the captain; her second, that it was impossible. She thought she must have been deceived. But surely she had heard it; and she wished, and she feared to have heard it. She went into her sleeping-room, and walked lightly up to the bolted tapestry-door. She blamed herself for her fears. “Possibly it may be the baroness wanting something,” she said to herself; and she called out quietly and calmly, “Is anybody there?” A light voice answered, “It is I.” “Who?” returned Charlotte, not being able to make out the voice. She thought she saw the captain’s figure standing at the door. In a rather louder tone, she heard the word “Edward!” She drew back the bolt, and her husband stood before her. He greeted her with some light jest. She was unable to reply in the same tone. He complicated the mysterious visit by his mysterious explanation of it.
“Well, then,” he said at last, “I will confess, the real reason why I am come is, that I have made a vow to kiss your shoe this evening.”
“It is long since you thought of such a thing as that,” said Charlotte.
“So much the worse,” he answered; “and so much the better.”
She had thrown herself back in an armchair, to prevent him from seeing the slightness of her dress. He flung himself down before her, and she could not prevent him from giving her shoe a kiss. And when the shoe came off in his hand, he caught her foot and pressed it tenderly against his breast.
Charlotte was one of those women who, being of a naturally calm temperament, continue in marriage, without any purpose or any effort, the air and character of lovers. She was never expressive towards her husband; generally, indeed, she rather shrank from any warm demonstration on his part. It was not that she was cold, or at all hard and repulsive, but she remained always like a loving bride, who draws back with a kind of shyness even from what is permitted. And so Edward found her this evening, in a double sense. How sorely did she not long that her husband would go; the figure of his friend seemed to hover in the air and reproach her. But what should have had the effect of driving Edward away only attracted him the more. There were visible traces of emotion about her. She had been crying; and tears, which with weak persons detract from their graces, add immeasurably to the attractiveness of those whom we know commonly as strong and self-possessed.
Edward was so agreeable, so gentle, so pressing; he begged to be allowed to stay with her. He did not demand it, but half in fun, half in earnest, he tried to persuade her; he never thought of his rights. At last, as if in mischief, he blew out the candle.
In the dim lamplight, the inward affection, the imagination, maintained their rights over the real;—it was Ottilie that was resting in Edward’s arms; and the captain, now faintly, now clearly, hovered before Charlotte’s soul. And so, strangely intermingled, the absent and the present flowed in a sweet enchantment one into the other.
And yet the present would not let itself be robbed of its own unlovely right. They spent a part of the night talking and laughing at all sorts of things, the more freely, as the heart had no part in it. But when Edward awoke in the morning, on his wife’s breast, the day seemed to stare in with a sad, awful look, and the sun to be shining in upon a crime. He stole lightly from her side; and she found herself, with strange enough feelings, when she awoke, alone.