Front Page Titles (by Subject) Part Two. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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Part Two. - 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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THERE often happens to us in common life what, in an epic poem, we are accustomed to praise as a stroke of art in the poet; namely, that when the chief figures go off the scene, conceal themselves or retire into inactivity, some other or others, whom hitherto we have scarcely observed, come forward and fill their places. And these putting out all their force, at once fix our attention and sympathy on themselves, and earn our praise and admiration.
Thus, after the captain and Edward were gone, the architect, of whom we have spoken, appeared every day a more important person. The ordering and executing of a number of undertakings depended entirely upon him, and he proved himself thoroughly understanding and businesslike in the style in which he went to work; while in a number of other ways he was able also to make himself of assistance to the ladies, and find amusement for their weary hours. His outward air and appearance were of the kind which win confidence and awake affection. A youth in the full sense of the word, well-formed, tall, perhaps a little too stout; modest without being timid, and easy without being obtrusive, there was no work and no trouble which he was not delighted to take upon himself; and as he could keep accounts with great facility, the whole economy of the household soon was no secret to him, and everywhere his salutary influence made itself felt. Any stranger who came he was commonly set to entertain, and he was skilful either at declining unexpected visits, or at least so far preparing the ladies for them as to spare them any disagreeableness.
Among others, he had one day no little trouble with a young lawyer, who had been sent by a neighboring nobleman to speak about a matter which, although of no particular moment, yet touched Charlotte to the quick. We have to mention this incident because it gave occasion for a number of things which otherwise might perhaps have remained long untouched.
We remember certain alterations which Charlotte had made in the churchyard. The entire body of the monuments had been removed from their places, and had been ranged along the walls of the church, leaning against the string-course. The remaining space had been levelled, except a broad walk which led up to the church, and past it to the opposite gate; and it had been all sown with various kinds of trefoil, which had shot up and flowered most beautifully.
The new graves were to follow one after another in a regular order from the end, but the spot on each occasion was to be carefully smoothed over and again sown. No one could deny that on Sundays and holidays when the people went to church the change had given it a most cheerful and pleasant appearance. At the same time the clergyman, an old man and clinging to old customs, who at first had not been especially pleased with the alteration, had become thoroughly delighted with it, all the more because when he sat out like Philemon with his Baucis under the old linden trees at his back door, instead of the humps and mounds he had a beautiful clean lawn to look out upon; and which, moreover, Charlotte having secured the use of the spot to the parsonage, was no little convenience to his household.
Notwithstanding this, however, many members of the congregation had been displeased that the means of marking the spots where their forefathers rested had been removed, and all memorials of them thereby obliterated. However well preserved the monuments might be, they could only show who had been buried, but not where he had been buried, and the where, as many maintained, was everything.
Of this opinion was a family in the neighborhood, who for many years had been in possession of a considerable vault for a general resting-place of themselves and their relations, and in consequence had settled a small annual sum for the use of the church. And now this young lawyer had been sent to cancel this settlement, and to show that his client did not intend to pay it any more, because the condition under which it had been hitherto made had not been observed by the other party, and no regard had been paid to objection and remonstrance. Charlotte, who was the originator of the alteration herself, chose to speak to the young man, who in a decided, though not a violent manner, laid down the grounds on which his client proceeded, and gave occasion in what he said for much serious reflection.
“You see,” he said, after a slight introduction, in which he sought to justify his peremptoriness; “you see, it is right for the lowest as well as for the highest to mark the spot which holds those who are dearest to him. The poorest peasant, who buries a child, finds it some consolation to plant a light wooden cross upon the grave, and hang a garland upon it, to keep alive the memorial, at least as long as the sorrow remains; although such a mark, like the mourning, will pass away with time. Those better off change the cross of wood into iron, and fix it down and guard it in various ways; and here we have endurance for many years. But because this too will sink at last, and become invisible, those who are able to bear the expense see nothing fitter than to raise a stone which shall promise to endure for generations, and which can be restored and made fresh again by posterity. Yet this stone it is not which attracts us; it is that which is contained beneath it, which is intrusted, where it stands, to the earth. It is not the memorial so much of which we speak, as of the person himself; not of what once was, but of what is. Far better, far more closely, can I embrace some dear departed one in the mound which rises over his bed, than in a monumental writing which only tells us that once he was. In itself, indeed, it is but little; but around it, as around a central mark, the wife, the husband, the kinsman, the friend, after their departure, shall gather in again; and the living shall have the right to keep far off all strangers and evil-wishers from the side of the dear one who is sleeping there.
“And, therefore, I hold it quite fair and fitting that my principal shall withdraw his grant to you. It is, indeed, but too reasonable that he should do it, for the members of his family are injured in a way for which no compensation could be even proposed. They are deprived of the sad sweet feelings of laying offerings on the remains of their dead, and of the one comfort in their sorrow of one day lying down at their side.”
“The matter is not of that importance,” Charlotte answered, “that we should disquiet ourselves about it with the vexation of a lawsuit. I regret so little what I have done, that I will gladly myself indemnify the church for what it loses through you. Only I must confess candidly to you, your arguments have not convinced me; the pure feeling of an universal equality at last, after death, seems to me more composing than this hard determined persistence in our personalities and in the conditions and circumstances of our lives. What do you say to it?” she added, turning to the architect.
“It is not for me,” replied he, “either to argue, or to attempt to judge in such a case. Let me venture, however, to say what my own art and my own habits of thinking suggest to me. Since we are no longer so happy as to be able to press to our breasts the in-urned remains of those we have loved, since we are neither wealthy enough, nor of cheerful heart enough to preserve them undecayed in large elaborate sarcophagi; since, indeed, we cannot even find place any more for ourselves and ours in the churches, and are banished out into the open air, we all, I think, ought to approve the method which you, my gracious lady, have introduced. If the members of a common congregation are laid out side by side, they are resting by the side of, and among their kindred; and, if the earth be once to receive us all, I can find nothing more natural or more desirable than that the mounds, which, if they are thrown up, are sure to sink slowly in again together, should be smoothed off at once, and the covering, which all bear alike, will press lighter upon each.”
“And is it all, is it all to pass away,” said Ottilie, “without one token of remembrance, without anything to call back the past?”
“By no means,” continued the architect; “it is not from remembrance, it is from place that men should be set free. The architect, the sculptor, are highly interested that men should look to their art—to their hand, for a continuance of their being; and, therefore, I should wish to see well-designed, well-executed monuments; not sown up and down by themselves at random, but erected all in a single spot, where they can promise themselves endurance. Inasmuch as even the good and the great are contented to surrender the privilege of resting in person in the churches, we may, at least, erect there or in some fair hall near the burying-place, either monuments or monumental writings. A thousand forms might be suggested for them, and a thousand ornaments with which they might be decorated.”
“If the artists are so rich,” replied Charlotte, “then tell me how it is that they are never able to escape from little obelisks, dwarf pillars, and urns for ashes? Instead of your thousand forms of which you boast, I have never seen anything but a thousand repetitions.”
“It is very generally so with us,” returned the architect, “but it is not universal; and very likely the right taste and the proper application of it may be a peculiar art. In this case especially we have this great difficulty, that the monument must be something cheerful and yet commemorate a solemn subject; while its matter is melancholy, it must not itself be melancholy. As regards designs for monuments of all kinds, I have collected numbers of them, and I will take some opportunity of showing them to you: but at all times the fairest memorial of a man remains some likeness of himself. This, better than anything else, will give a notion of what he was; it is the best text for many or for few notes, only it ought to be made when he is at his best age, and that is generally neglected; no one thinks of preserving forms while they are alive, and if it is done at all, it is done carelessly and incompletely: and then comes death; a cast is taken swiftly off the face; this mask is set upon a block of stone, and that is what is called a bust. How seldom is the artist in a position to put any real life into such things as these!”
“You have contrived,” said Charlotte, “without perhaps knowing it or wishing it, to lead the conversation altogether in my favor. The likeness of a man is quite independent; everywhere that it stands, it stands for itself, and we do not require it to mark the site of a particular grave. But I must acknowledge to you to having a strange feeling; even to likenesses I have a kind of disinclination. Whenever I see them they seem to be silently reproaching me. They point to something far away from us,—gone from us; and they remind me how difficult it is to pay right honor to the present. If we think how many people we have seen and known, and consider how little we have been to them and how little they have been to us, it is no very pleasant reflection. We have met a man of genius without having enjoyed much with him,—a learned man without having learned from him,—a traveller without having been instructed,—a man to love without having shown him any kindness.
“And, unhappily, this is not the case only with accidental meetings. Societies and families behave in the same way towards their dearest members, towns towards their worthiest citizens, people towards their most admirable princes, nations towards their most distinguished men.
“I have heard it asked why we heard nothing but good spoken of the dead, while of the living it is never without some exception. It should be answered, because from the former we have nothing any more to fear, while the latter may still, here or there, fall in our way. So unreal is our anxiety to preserve the memory of others,—generally no more than a mere selfish amusement; and the real, holy, earnest feeling, would be what should prompt us to be more diligent and assiduous in our attentions toward those who still are left to us.”
Under the stimulus of this accident, and of the conversations which arose out of it, they went the following day to look over the burying-place, for the ornamenting of which and relieving it in some degree of its sombre look, the architect made many a happy proposal. His interest too had to extend itself to the church as well; a building which had caught his attention from the moment of his arrival.
It had been standing for many centuries, built in old German style, the proportions good, the decorating elaborate and excellent; and one might easily gather that the architect of the neighboring monastery had left the stamp of his art and of his love on this smaller building also; it worked on the beholder with a solemnity and a sweetness, although the change in its internal arrangements for the Protestant service, had taken from it something of its repose and majesty.
The architect found no great difficulty in prevailing on Charlotte to give him a considerable sum of money to restore it externally and internally, in the original spirit, and thus, as he thought, to bring it into harmony with the resurrection-field which lay in front of it. He had himself much practical skill, and a few laborers, who were still busy at the lodge, might easily be kept together, until this pious work too should be completed.
The building itself, therefore, with all its environs, and whatever was attached to it, was now carefully and thoroughly examined; and then showed itself, to the greatest surprise and delight of the architect, a little side chapel, which nobody had thought of, beautifully and delicately proportioned, and displaying still greater care and pains in its decoration. It contained at the same time many remnants, carved and painted, of the implements used in the old services, when the different festivals were distinguished by a variety of pictures and ceremonies, and each was celebrated in its own peculiar style.
It was impossible for him not at once to take this chapel into his plan; and he determined to bestow especial pains on the restoring of this little spot, as a memorial of old times, and of their taste. He saw exactly how he would like to have the vacant surfaces of the walls ornamented, and delighted himself with the prospect, of exercising his talent for painting upon them; but of this, at first, he made a secret to the rest of the party.
Before doing anything else, he fulfilled his promise of showing the ladies the various imitations of, and designs from, old monuments, vases and other such things which he had made; and when they came to speak of the simple barrow-sepulchres of the northern nations, he brought a collection of weapons and implements which had been found in them. He had got them exceedingly nicely and conveniently arranged in drawers and compartments, laid on boards cut to fit them, and covered over with cloth; so that these solemn old things, in the way he treated them, had a smart dressy appearance, and it was like looking into the box of a trinket merchant.
Having once begun to show his curiosities, and finding them prove serviceable to entertain our friends in their loneliness, every evening he would produce one or other of his treasures. They were most of them of German origin—pieces of metal, old coins, seals and such like. All these things directed the imagination back upon old times; and when at last they came to amuse themselves with the first specimens of printing, woodcuts, and the earliest copper-plate engraving, and when the church, in the same spirit, was growing out, every day, more and more in form and color like the past, they had almost to ask themselves whether they really were living in a modern time, whether it were not a dream, that manners, customs, modes of life, and convictions were all really so changed.
After such preparation, a great portfolio, which at last he produced, had the best possible effect. It contained indeed principally only outlines and figures, but as these had been traced upon original pictures, they retained perfectly their ancient character, and most captivating indeed this character was to the spectators. All the figures breathed only the purest feeling; every one, if not noble, at any rate was good; cheerful composure, ready recognition of One above us, to whom all reverence is due; silent devotion, in love and tranquil expectation, was expressed on every face, on every gesture. The old bald-headed man, the curly-pated boy, the light-hearted youth, the earnest man, the glorified saint, the angel hovering in the air, all seemed happy in an innocent, satisfied, pious expectation. The commonest object had a trait of celestial life; and every nature seemed adapted to the service of God, and to be, in some way or other, employed upon it.
Towards such a region most of them gazed as towards a vanished golden age, or on some lost paradise; only perhaps Ottilie had a chance of finding herself among beings of her own nature. Who could offer any opposition when the architect asked to be allowed to paint the spaces between the arches and the walls of the chapel in the style of these old pictures, and thereby leave his own distinct memorial at a place where life had gone so pleasantly with him?
He spoke of it with some sadness, for he could see, in the state in which things were, that his sojourn in such delightful society could not last forever; indeed, that perhaps it would now soon be ended.
For the rest, these days were not rich in incidents; yet full of occasion for serious entertainment. We therefore take the opportunity of communicating something of the remarks which Ottilie noted down among her manuscripts, to which we cannot find a fitter transition than through a simile which suggested itself to us on contemplating her exquisite pages.
There is, we are told, a curious contrivance in the service of the English marine. The ropes in use in the royal navy, from the largest to the smallest, are so twisted that a red thread runs through them from end to end, which cannot be extracted without undoing the whole; and by which the smallest pieces may be recognized as belonging to the crown.
Just so is there drawn through Ottilie’s diary, a thread of attachment and affection which connects it all together, and characterizes the whole. And thus these remarks, these observations, these extracted sentences, and whatever else it may contain, were, to the writer, of peculiar meaning. Even the few separate pieces which we select and transcribe will sufficiently explain our meaning.
FROM OTTILIE’S DIARY.
“To rest hereafter at the side of those whom we love is the most delightful thought which man can have when once he looks out beyond the boundary of life. What a sweet expression is that—‘He was gathered to his fathers!’ ”
“Of the various memorials and tokens which bring nearer to us the distant and the separated—none is so satisfactory as a picture. To sit and talk to a beloved picture, even though it be unlike, has a charm in it, like the charm which there sometimes is in quarrelling with a friend. We feel, in a strange sweet way, that we are divided and yet cannot separate.”
“We entertain ourselves often with a present person as with a picture. He need not speak to us, he need not look at us, or take any notice of us; we look at him, we feel the relation in which we stand to him; such relation can even grow without his doing anything towards it, without his having any feeling of it: he is to us exactly as a picture.”
“One is never satisfied with a portrait of a person that one knows. I have always felt for the portrait-painter on this account. One so seldom requires of people what is impossible, and of them we do really require what is impossible; they must gather up into their picture the relation of everybody to its subject, all their likings and all dislikings; they must not only paint a man as they see him, but as everyone else sees him. It does not surprise me if such artists become by degrees stunted, indifferent, and of but one idea; and indeed it would not matter what came of it, if it were not that in consequence we have to go without the pictures of so many persons near and dear to us.”
“It is too true, the architect’s collection of weapons and old implements, which were found with the bodies of their owners, covered in with great hills of earth and rock, proves to us how useless is man’s so great anxiety to preserve his personality after he is dead; and so inconsistent people are! the architect confesses to have himself opened these barrows of his forefathers, and yet goes on occupying himself with memorials for posterity.”
“But after all why should we take it so much to heart? Is all that we do, done for eternity? Do we not put on our dress in the morning, to throw it off again at night? Do we not go abroad to return home again? And why should we not wish to rest by the side of our friends, though it were but for a century?”
“When we see the many grave-stones which have fallen in, which have been defaced by the footsteps of the congregation, which lie buried under the ruins of the churches, that have themselves crumbled together over them, we may fancy the life after death to be as a second life, into which a man enters in the figure, or the picture, or the inscription, and lives longer there than when he was really alive. But this figure also, this second existence, dies out too, sooner or later. Time will not allow himself to be cheated of his rights with the monuments of men or with themselves.”
It causes us so agreeable a sensation to occupy ourselves with what we can only half do, that no person ought to find fault with the dilettante, when he is spending his time over an art which he can never learn; nor blame the artist if he chooses to pass out over the border of his own art, and amuse himself in some neighboring field. With such complacency of feeling we regard the preparation of the architect for the painting the chapel. The colors were got ready, the measurements taken; the cartoons designed. He had made no attempt at originality, but kept close to his outlines; his only care was to make a proper distribution of the sitting and floating figures, so as tastefully to ornament his space with them.
The scaffoldings were erected. The work went forward; and as soon as anything had been done on which the eye could rest, he could have no objection to Charlotte and Ottilie coming to see how he was getting on.
The life-like faces of the angels, their robes waving against the blue sky-ground, delighted the eye, while their still and holy air calmed and composed the spirit, and produced the most delicate effect.
The ladies ascended the scaffolding to him, and Ottilie had scarcely observed how easily and regularly the work was being done, than the power which had been fostered in her by her early education at once appeared to develop. She took a brush, and with a few words of direction, painted a richly folding robe, with as much delicacy as skill.
Charlotte, who was always glad when Ottilie would occupy or amuse herself with anything, left them both in the chapel, and went to follow the train of her own thoughts, and work her way for herself through her cares and anxieties which she was unable to communicate to a creature.
When ordinary men allow themselves to be worked up by common every-day difficulties into fever-fits of passion, we can give them nothing but a compassionate smile. But we look with a kind of awe on a spirit in which the seed of a great destiny has been sown, which must abide the unfolding of the germ, and neither dare nor can do anything to precipitate either the good or the ill, either the happiness or the misery, which is to arise out of it.
Edward had sent an answer by Charlotte’s messenger, who had come to him in his solitude. It was written with kindness and interest, but it was rather composed and serious than warm and affectionate. He had vanished almost immediately after, and Charlotte could learn no news about him; till at last she accidentally found his name in the newspaper, where he was mentioned with honor among those who had most distinguished themselves in a late important engagement. She now understood the method which he had taken; she perceived that he had escaped from great danger; only she was convinced at the same time that he would seek out greater; and it was all too clear to her that in every sense he would hardly be withheld from any extremity.
She had to bear about this perpetual anxiety in her thoughts, and turn which way she would, there was no light in which she could look at it that would give her comfort.
Ottilie, never dreaming of anything of this, had taken to the work in the chapel with the greatest interest, and she had easily obtained Charlotte’s permission to go on with it regularly. So now all went swiftly forward, and the azure heaven was soon peopled with worthy inhabitants. By continual practice both Ottilie and the architect had gained more freedom with the last figures; they became perceptibly better. The faces, too, which had been all left to the architect to paint, showed by degrees a very singular peculiarity. They began all of them to resemble Ottilie. The neighborhood of the beautiful girl had made so strong an impression on the soul of the young man, who had no variety of faces preconceived in his mind, that by degrees, on the way from the eye to the hand, nothing was lost, and both worked in exact harmony together. Enough; one of the last faces succeeded perfectly; so that it seemed as if Ottilie herself was looking down out of the spaces of the sky.
They had finished with the arching of the ceiling. The walls they proposed to leave plain, and only to cover them over with a bright brown color. The delicate pillars and the quaintly-moulded ornaments were to be distinguished from them by a dark shade. But as in such things one thing ever leads on to another, they determined at least on having festoons of flowers and fruit, which should as it were unite together heaven and earth. Here Ottilie was in her element. The gardens provided the most perfect patterns; and although the wreaths were as rich as they could make them, it was all finished sooner than they had supposed possible.
It was still looking rough and disorderly. The scaffolding poles had been run together, the planks thrown one on the top of the other; the uneven pavement was yet more disfigured by the particolored stains of the paint which had been spilled over it.
The architect begged that the ladies would give him a week to himself, and during that time would not enter the chapel; at the end of it, one fine evening, he came to them, and begged them both to go and see it. He did not wish to accompany them, he said, and at once took his leave.
“Whatever surprise he may have designed for us,” said Charlotte, as soon as he was gone, “I cannot myself just now go down there. You can go by yourself, and tell me all about it. No doubt he has been doing something which we shall like. I will enjoy it first in your description, and afterwards it will be the more charming in the reality.”
Ottilie, who knew well that in many cases Charlotte took care to avoid everything which could produce emotion, and particularly disliked to be surprised, set off down the walk by herself, and looked round involuntarily for the architect, who however was nowhere to be seen, and must have concealed himself somewhere. She walked into the church, which she found open. This had been finished before; it had been cleaned up, and service had been performed in it. She went on to the chapel door; its heavy mass, all overlaid with iron, yielded easily to her touch, and she found an unexpected sight in a familiar spot.
A solemn beautiful light streamed in through the one tall window. It was filled with stained glass, gracefully put together. The entire chapel had thus received a strange tone, and a peculiar genius was thrown over it. The beauty of the vaulted ceiling and the walls was set off by the elegance of the pavement, which was composed of peculiarly shaped tiles, fastened together with gypsum, and forming exquisite patterns as they lay. This and the colored glass for the windows the architect had prepared without their knowledge, and a short time was sufficient to have it put in its place.
Seats had been provided as well. Among the relics of the old church some finely carved chancel chairs had been discovered, which now were standing about at convenient places along the walls.
The parts which she knew so well now meeting her as an unfamiliar whole, delighted Ottilie. She stood still, walked up and down, looked and looked again; at last she seated herself in one of the chairs, and it seemed, as she gazed up and down, as if she was, and yet was not—as if she felt and did not feel—as if all this would vanish from before her, and she would vanish from herself; and it was only when the sun left the window, on which before it had been shining full, that she awoke to possession of herself, and hastened back to the castle.
She did not hide from herself the strange epoch at which this surprise had occurred to her. It was the evening of Edward’s birthday. Very differently she had hoped to keep it. How was not everything to be dressed out for this festival? and now all the splendor of the autumn flowers remained ungathered. Those sunflowers still turned their faces to the sky; those asters still looked out with quiet, modest eye; and whatever of them all had been wound into wreaths had served as patterns for the decorating a spot which, if it was not to remain a mere artist’s fancy, was only adapted as a general mausoleum.
And then she had to remember the impetuous eagerness with which Edward had kept her birthday-feast. She thought of the newly-erected lodge, under the roof of which they had promised themselves so much enjoyment. The fireworks flashed and hissed again before her eyes and ears; the more lonely she was, the more keenly her imagination brought it all before her. But she felt herself only the more alone. She no longer leaned upon his arm, and she had no hope ever any more to rest herself upon it.
FROM OTTILIE’S DIARY.
“I have been struck with an observation of the young architect.
“In the case of the creative artist, as in that of the artisan, it is clear that man is least permitted to appropriate to himself what is most entirely his own. His works forsake him as the birds forsake the nest in which they were hatched.
“The fate of the architect is the strangest of all in this way. How often he expends his whole soul, his whole heart and passion, to produce buildings into which he himself may never enter. The halls of kings owe their magnificence to him; but he has no enjoyment of them in their splendor. In the temple he draws a partition line between himself and the Holy of Holies; he may never more set his foot upon the steps which he has laid down for the heart-thrilling ceremonial; as the goldsmith may only adore from far off the monstrance whose enamel and whose jewels he has himself set together. The builder surrenders to the rich man, with the key of his palace, all pleasure and all right there, and never shares with him in the enjoyment of it. And must not art in this way, step by step, draw off from the artist, when the work, like a child who is provided for, has no more to fall back upon its father? And what a power there must be in art itself, for its own self-advancing, when it has been obliged to shape itself almost solely out of what was open to all, only out of what was the property of everyone, and therefore also of the artist!”
“There is a conception among old nations which is awful, and may almost seem terrible. They pictured their forefathers to themselves sitting round on thrones, in enormous caverns, in silent converse; when a new-comer entered, if he were worthy enough, they rose up, and inclined their heads to welcome him. Yesterday, as I was sitting in the chapel, and other carved chairs stood round like that in which I was, the thought of this came over me with a soft, pleasant feeling. Why cannot you stay sitting here? I said to myself; stay here sitting meditating with yourself long, long, long, till at last your friends come, and you rise up to them, and with a gentle inclination direct them to their places. The colored window panes convert the day into a solemn twilight; and some one should set up for us an ever-burning lamp, that the night might not be utter darkness.”
“We may imagine ourselves in what situation we please, we always conceive ourselves as seeing. I believe men only dream that they may not cease to see. Some day, perhaps, the inner light will come out from within us, and we shall not any more require another.
“The year dies away, the wind sweeps over the stubble, and there is nothing left to stir under its touch. But the red berries on yonder tall tree seem as if they would still remind us of brighter things; and the stroke of the thrasher’s flail awakes the thought how much of nourishment and life lies buried in the sickled ear.”
How strangely, after all this, with the sense so vividly impressed on her of mutability and perishableness, must Ottilie have been affected by the news which could not any longer be kept concealed from her, that Edward had exposed himself to the uncertain chances of war! Unhappily, none of the observations which she had occasion to make upon it escaped her. But it is well for us that man can only endure a certain degree of unhappiness; what is beyond that, either annihilates him, or passes by him, and leaves him apathetic. There are situations in which hope and fear run together, in which they mutually destroy one another, and lose themselves in a dull indifference. If it were not so, how could we bear to know of those who are most dear to us being in hourly peril, and yet go on as usual with our ordinary everyday life?
It was therefore as if some good genius was caring for Ottilie, that, all at once, this stillness, in which she seemed to be sinking from loneliness and want of occupation, was suddenly invaded by a wild army, which, while it gave her externally abundance of employment, and so took her out of herself, at the same time awoke in her the consciousness of her own power.
Charlotte’s daughter, Luciana, had scarcely left the school and gone out into the great world; scarcely had she found herself at her aunt’s house in the midst of a large society, than her anxiety to please produced its effect in really pleasing; and a young, very wealthy man, soon experienced a passionate desire to make her his own. His large property gave him a right to have the best of everything for his use, and nothing seemed to be wanting to him except a perfect wife, for whom, as for the rest of his good fortune, he should be the envy of the world.
This incident in her family had been for some time occupying Charlotte. It had engaged all her attention, and taken up her whole correspondence, except so far as this was directed to the obtaining news of Edward; so that latterly Ottilie had been left more than was usual to herself. She knew, indeed, of an intended visit from Luciana. She had been making various changes and arrangements in the house in preparation for it; but she had no notion that it was so near. Letters, she supposed, would first have to pass, settling the time, and then unsettling it; and then a final fixing: when the storm broke suddenly over the castle and over herself.
Up drove, first, lady’s maids and men-servants, their carriage loaded with trunks and boxes. The household was already swelled to double or to treble its size, and then appeared the visitors themselves. There was the great aunt, with Luciana and some of her friends; and then the bridegroom with some of his friends. The entrance-hall was full of things—bags, portmanteaus, and leather articles of every sort. The boxes had to be got out of their covers, and that was infinite trouble; and of luggage and of rummage there was no end. At intervals, moreover, there were violent showers, giving rise to much inconvenience. Ottilie encountered all this confusion with the easiest equanimity, and her happy talent showed in its fairest light. In a very little time she had brought things to order, and disposed of them. Every one found his room,—every one had his things exactly as he wished, and all thought themselves well attended to, because they were not prevented from attending on themselves.
The journey had been long and fatiguing, and they would all have been glad of a little rest after it. The bridegroom would have liked to pay his respects to his mother-in-law, express his pleasure, his gratitude, and so on. But Luciana could not rest. She had now arrived at the happiness of being able to mount a horse. The bridegroom had beautiful horses, and mount they must on the spot. Clouds and wind, rain and storm, they were nothing to Luciana, and now it was as if they only lived to get wet through, and to dry themselves again. If she took a fancy to go out walking, she never thought what sort of dress she had on, or what her shoes were like, she must go and see the grounds of which she had heard so much; what could not be done on horseback she ran through on foot. In a little while she had seen everything, and given her opinion about everything; and with such rapidity of character it was not easy to contradict or oppose her. The whole household had much to suffer, but most particularly the lady’s maids, who were at work from morning to night, washing, and ironing, and stitching.
As soon as she had exhausted the house and the park, she thought it was her duty to pay visits all round the neighborhood. As they rode and drove very fast, all round the neighborhood was a considerable distance. The castle was flooded with return visits, and that they might not miss one another, it soon came to days being fixed for them.
Charlotte, in the meantime, with her aunt, and the man of business of the bridegroom, were occupied in determining about the settlements, and it was left to Ottilie, with those under her, to take care that all this crowd of people were properly provided for. Game-keepers and gardeners, fishermen and shop-dealers were set in motion, Luciana always showing herself like the blazing nucleus of a comet with its long tail trailing behind it. The ordinary amusements of the parties soon became too insipid for her taste. Hardly would she leave the old people in peace at the card-table. Whoever could by any means be set moving (and who could resist the charm of being pressed by her into service?) must up, if not to dance, then to play at forfeits, or some other game, where they were to be victimized and tormented. Notwithstanding all that, however, and although afterwards the redemption of the forfeits had to be settled with herself, yet of those who played with her, never anyone, especially never any man, let him be of what sort he would, went quite empty-handed away. Indeed, some old people of rank who were there she succeeded in completely winning over to herself, by having contrived to find out their birthdays or christening days, and marking them with some particular celebration. In all this she showed a skill not a little remarkable. Every one saw himself favored, and each considered himself to be the one most favored, a weakness of which the oldest person of the party was the most notably guilty.
It seemed to be a sort of pride with her, that men who had anything remarkable about them—rank, character, or fame—she must and would gain for herself. Gravity and seriousness she made give way to her, and, wild strange creature as she was, she found favor even with discretion itself. Not that the young were at all cut short in consequence. Everybody had his share, his day, his hour, in which she contrived to charm and to enchain him. It was therefore natural enough that before long she should have had the architect in her eye, looking out so unconsciously as he did from under his long black hair, and standing so calm and quiet in the background. To all her questions she received short sensible answers; but he did not seem inclined to allow himself to be carried away further, and at last, half provoked, half in malice, she resolved that she would make him the hero of a day, and so gain him for her court.
It was not for nothing that she had brought that quantity of luggage with her. Much, indeed, had followed her afterwards. She had provided herself with an endless variety of dresses. When it took her fancy she would change her dress three or four times a day, usually wearing something of an ordinary kind, but making her appearance suddenly at intervals in a thorough masquerade dress, as a peasant girl or a fish maiden, as a fairy or a flower-girl; and this would go on from morning till night. Sometimes she would even disguise herself as an old woman, that her young face might peep out the fresher from under the cap; and so utterly in this way did she confuse and mix together the actual and the fantastic, that people thought they were living with a sort of drawing-room witch.
But the principal use which she had for these disguises were pantomimic tableaux and dances, in which she was skilful in expressing a variety of character. A cavalier in her suite had taught himself to accompany her action on the piano with the little music which was required; they needed only to exchange a few words and they at once understood one another.
One day, in a pause of a brilliant ball, they were called upon suddenly to extemporize (it was on a private hint from themselves) one of these exhibitions. Luciana seemed embarrassed, taken by surprise, and contrary to her custom let herself be asked more than once. She could not decide upon her character, desired the party to choose, and asked, like an improvisatore, for a subject. At last her piano-playing companion, with whom it had been all previously arranged, sat down at the instrument, and began to play a mourning march, calling on her to give them the Artemisia which she had been studying so admirably. She consented; and after a short absence reappeared, to the sad tender music of the dead march, in the form of the royal widow, with measured step, carrying an urn of ashes before her. A large black tablet was borne in after her, and a carefully cut piece of chalk in a gold pencil case.
One of her adorers and adjutants, into whose ear she whispered something, went directly to call the architect, to desire him, and if he would not come to drag him up, as master-builder, to draw the grave for the mausoleum, and to tell him at the same time that he was not to play the statist, but enter earnestly into his part as one of the performers.
Embarrassed as the architect outwardly appeared (for in his black, closefitting, modern civilian’s dress, he formed a wonderful contrast with the gauze crape fringes, tinsel tassels, and crown), he very soon composed himself internally, and the scene became all the more strange. With the greatest gravity he placed himself in front of the tablet, which was supported by a couple of pages, and drew carefully an elaborate tomb, which indeed would have suited better a Lombard than a Carian prince; but it was in such beautiful proportions, so solemn in its parts, so full of genius in its decoration, that the spectators watched it growing with delight, and wondered at it when it was finished.
All this time he had not once turned towards the queen, but had given his whole attention to what he was doing. At last he inclined his head before her, and signified that he believed he had now fulfilled her commands. She held the urn out to him, expressing her desire to see it represented on the top of the monument. He complied, although unwillingly, as it would not suit the character of the rest of his design. Luciana was now at last released from her impatience. Her intention had been by no means to get a scientific drawing out of him. If he had only made a few strokes, sketched out something which should have looked like a monument, and devoted the rest of his time to her, it would have been far more what she had wished, and would have pleased her a great deal better. His manner of proceeding had thrown her into the greatest embarrassment. For although in her sorrow, in her directions, in her gestures, in her approbation of the work as it slowly rose before her, she had tried to manage some sort of change of expression, and although she had hung about close to him, only to place herself in some sort of relation to him, yet he had kept himself throughout too stiff, so that too often she had been driven to take refuge with her urn; she had to press it to her heart and look up to heaven, and at last, a situation of that kind having a necessary tendency to intensify, she made herself more like a widow of Ephesus than a Queen of Caria. The representation had to lengthen itself out and became tedious. The pianoforte player, who had usually patience enough, did not know into what tune he could escape. He thanked God when he saw the urn standing on the pyramid, and fell involuntarily as the queen was going to express her gratitude, into a merry air; by which the whole thing lost its character, the company however being thoroughly cheered up by it, who forthwith divided, some going up to express their delight and admiration of the lady for her excellent performance, and some praising the architect for his most artist-like and beautiful drawing.
The bridegroom especially paid marked attention to the architect. “I am vexed,” he said, “that the drawing should be so perishable; you will permit me however to have it taken to my room, where I should much like to talk to you about it.”
“If it would give you any pleasure,” said the architect, “I can lay before you a number of highly finished designs for buildings and monuments of this kind, of which this is but a mere hasty sketch.”
Ottilie was standing at no great distance, and went up to them. “Do not forget,” she said to the architect, “to take an opportunity of letting the baron see your collection. He is a friend of art and of antiquity. I should like you to become better acquainted.”
Luciana was passing at the moment. “What are they speaking of?” she asked.
“Of a collection of works of art,” replied the baron, “which this gentleman possesses, and which he is good enough to say that he will show us.”
“Oh, let him bring them immediately,” cried Luciana; “you will bring them, will you not?” she added, in a soft and sweet tone, taking both his hands in hers.
“The present is scarcely a fitting time,” the architect answered.
“What!” Luciana cried, in a tone of authority; “you will not obey the command of your queen!” and then she begged him again with some piece of absurdity.
“Do not be obstinate,” said Ottilie, in a scarcely audible voice.
The architect left them with a bow, which said neither yes nor no.
He was hardly gone, when Luciana was flying up and down the saloon with a greyhound. “Alas!” she exclaimed, as she ran accidentally against her mother, “am I not an unfortunate creature? I have not brought my monkey with me. They told me I had better not; but I am sure it was nothing but the laziness of my people, and it is such a delight to me. But I will have it brought after me; somebody shall go and fetch it. If I could only see a picture of the dear creature, it would be a comfort to me; I certainly will have his picture taken, and it shall never be out of my sight.”
“Perhaps I can comfort you,” replied Charlotte. “There is a whole volume full of the most wonderful ape faces in the library, which you can have fetched if you like.”
Luciana shrieked for joy. The great folio was produced instantly. The sight of these hideous creatures, so like to men, and with the resemblance even more caricatured by the artist, gave Luciana the greatest delight. Her amusement with each of the animals was to find some one of her acquaintance whom it resembled. “Is that not like my uncle?” she remorselessly exclaimed; “and here, look, here is my milliner M., and here is Parson S., and here the image of that creature — bodily! After all, these monkeys are the real incroyables, and it is inconceivable why they are not admitted into the best society.”
It was in the best society that she said this, and yet no one took it ill of her. People had become accustomed to allow her so many liberties in her prettinesses, that at last they came to allow them in what was unpretty.
During this time, Ottilie was talking to the bridegroom; she was looking anxiously for the return of the architect, whose serious and tasteful collection was to deliver the party from the apes; and in the expectation of it, she had made it the subject of her conversation with the baron, and directed his attention on various things which he was to see. But the architect stayed away, and when at last he made his appearance, he lost himself in the crowd, without having brought anything with him, and without seeming as if he had been asked for anything.
For a moment Ottilie became—what shall we call it?—annoyed, put out, perplexed. She had been saying so much about him—she had promised the bridegroom an hour of enjoyment after his own heart; and with all the depth of his love for Luciana, he was evidently suffering from her present behavior.
The monkeys had to give place to a collation. Round games followed, and then more dancing; at last, a general uneasy vacancy, with fruitless attempts at resuscitating exhausted amusements, which lasted this time, as indeed they usually did, far beyond midnight. It had already become a habit with Luciana to be never able to get out of bed in the morning or into it at night.
About this time, the incidents noticed in Ottilie’s diary become more rare, while we find a larger number of maxims and sentences drawn from life and relating to life. It is not conceivable that the larger proportion of these could have arisen from her own reflection, and most likely some one had shown her varieties of them, and she had written out what took her fancy. Many, however, with an internal bearing, can be easily recognized by the red thread.
FROM OTTILIE’S DIARY.
“We like to look into the future, because the undetermined in it, which may be affected this or that way, we feel as if we could guide by our silent wishes in our own favor.”
“We seldom find ourselves in a large party without thinking, the accident which brings so many here together should bring our friends to us as well.”
“Let us live in as small a circle as we will, we are either debtors or creditors before we have had time to look round.”
“If we meet a person who is under an obligation to us, we remember it immediately. But how often may we meet people to whom we are ourselves under obligation without its even occurring to us!”
“It is nature to communicate one’s self; it is culture to receive what is communicated as it is given.”
“No one would talk much in society, if he only knew how often he misunderstands others.”
“One alters so much what one has heard from others in repeating it, only because one has not understood it.”
“Whoever indulges long in monologue in the presence of others, without flattering his listeners, provokes ill-will.”
“Every word a man utters provokes the opposite opinion.”
“Argument and flattery are but poor elements out of which to form a conversation.”
“The pleasantest society is when the members of it have an easy and natural respect for one another.”
“There is nothing in which people more betray their character than in what they find to laugh at.”
“The ridiculous arises out of a moral contrast, in which two things are brought together before the mind in an innocent way.”
“The foolish man often laughs where there is nothing to laugh at. Whatever touches him, his inner nature comes to the surface.”
“The man of understanding finds almost everything ridiculous; the man of thought scarcely anything.”
“Some one found fault with an elderly man for continuing to pay attention to young ladies. ‘It is the only means,’ he replied, ‘of keeping one’s self young, and everybody likes to do that.’ ”
“People will allow their faults to be shown them; they will let themselves be punished for them; they will patiently endure many things because of them; they only become impatient when they have to lay them aside.”
“Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality. We should not be pleased, if old friends were to lay aside certain peculiarities.”
“There is a saying, ‘He will die soon,’ when a man acts unlike himself.”
“What kind of defects may we bear with and even cultivate in ourselves? Such as rather give pleasure to others than injure them.”
“The passions are defects or excellencies only in excess.”
“Our passions are true phœnixes: as the old burn out, the new straight rise up out of the ashes.”
“Violent passions are incurable diseases; the means which will cure them are what first make them thoroughly dangerous.”
“Passion is both raised and softened by confession. In nothing, perhaps, were the middle way more desirable than in knowing what to say and what not to say to those we love.”
So swept on Luciana in the social whirlpool, driving the rush of life along before her. Her court multiplied daily, partly because her impetuosity roused and attracted so many, partly because she knew how to attach the rest to her by kindness and attention. Generous she was in the highest degree; her aunt’s affection for her and her bridegroom’s love, had heaped her, with beautiful and costly presents, but she seemed as if nothing which she had was her own, and as if she did not know the value of the things which had streamed in upon her. One day she saw a young lady looking rather poorly dressed by the side of the rest of the party, and she did not hesitate a moment to take off a rich shawl which she was wearing and hang it over her—doing it, at the same time, in such a humorous, graceful way that no one could refuse such a present so given. One of her courtiers always carried about a purse, with orders, whatever place they passed through, to inquire there for the most aged and most helpless persons, and give them relief, at least for the moment. In this way she gained for herself all round the country a reputation for charitablness which caused her not a little inconvenience, attracting about her far too many troublesome sufferers.
Nothing, however, so much added to her popularity as her steady and consistent kindness towards an unhappy young man, who shrank from society because, while otherwise handsome and well-formed, he had lost his right hand, although with high honor, in action This mutilation weighed so heavily upon his spirits, it was so annoying to him that every new acquaintance he made had to be told the story of his misfortune, that he chose rather to shut himself up altogether, devoting himself to reading and other studious pursuits, and once for all would have nothing more to do with society.
She heard of the state of this young man. At once she contrived to prevail upon him to come to her, first to small parties, then to greater, and then out into the world with her. She showed more attention to him than to any other person; particularly she endeavored, by the services which she pressed upon him, to make him sensible of what he had lost in laboring herself to supply it. At dinner, she would make him sit next to her; she cut up his food for him, that he might only have to use his fork. If people older or of higher rank prevented her from being close to him, she would stretch her attention across the entire table, and the servants were hurried off to make up to him what distance threatened to deprive him of. At last she encouraged him to write with his left hand. All his attempts he was to address to her, and thus, whether far or near, she always kept herself in correspondence with him. The young man did not know what had happened to him, and from that moment a new life opened out before him.
One may perhaps suppose that such behavior must have caused some uneasiness to her bridegroom. But, in fact, it was quite the reverse. He admired her exceedingly for her exertions, and he had the more reason for feeling entirely satisfied about her, as she had certain features in her character almost in excess, which kept anything in the slightest degree dangerous utterly at a distance. She would run about with anybody, just as she fancied; no one was free from danger of a push or a pull, or of being made the object of some sort of freak. But no person ever ventured to do the same to her; no person dared to touch her, or return, in the remotest degree, any liberty which she had taken herself. She kept every one within the strictest barriers of propriety in their behavior to herself, while she, in her own behavior, was every moment overleaping them.
On the whole, one might have supposed it had been a maxim with her to expose herself indifferently to praise or blame, to regard or to dislike. If in many ways she took pains to gain people, she commonly herself spoiled all the good she had done, by an ill tongue, which spared no one. Not a visit was ever paid in the neighborhood, not a single piece of hospitality was ever shown to herself and her party among the surrounding castles or mansions, but what on her return her excessive recklessness let it appear that all men and all human things she was only inclined to see on the ridiculous side.
There were three brothers who, purely out of compliment to each other, which should marry first, had been overtaken by old age before they had got the question settled; here was a little young wife with a great old husband; there, on the other hand, was a dapper little man and an unwieldy giantess. In one house, every step one took one stumbled over a child; another, however many people were crammed into it, never would seem full, because there were no children there at all. Old husbands (supposing the estate was not entailed) should get themselves buried as quickly as possible, that such a thing as a laugh might be heard again in the house. Young married people should travel: housekeeping did not sit well upon them. And as she treated the persons, so she treated what belonged to them; their houses, their furniture, their dinner-services—everything. The ornaments of the walls of the rooms most particularly provoked her saucy remarks. From the oldest tapestry to the most modern printed paper; from the noblest family pictures to the most frivolous new copperplate: one as well as the other had to suffer—one as well as the other had to be pulled in pieces by her satirical tongue, so that, indeed, one had to wonder how, for twenty miles round, anything continued to exist.
It was not, perhaps, exactly malice which produced all this destructiveness; wilfulness and selfishness were what ordinarily set her off upon it: but a genuine bitterness grew up in her feelings towards Ottilie.
She looked down with disdain on the calm, uninterrupted activity of the sweet girl, which everyone had observed and admired, and when something was said of the care which Ottilie took of the garden and of the hothouses, she not only spoke scornfully of it, in affecting to be surprised, if it were so, at there being neither flowers nor fruit to be seen, not caring to consider that they were living in the depth of winter, but every faintest scrap of green, every leaf, every bud which showed, she chose to have picked every day and squandered on ornamenting the rooms and tables, and Ottilie and the gardener were not a little distressed to see their hopes for the next year, and perhaps for a longer time, destroyed in this wanton recklessness.
As little would she be content to leave Ottilie to her quiet work at home, in which she could live with so much comfort. Ottilie must go with them on their pleasure-parties and sledging-parties; she must be at the balls which were being got up all about the neighborhood. She was not to mind the snow, or the cold, or the night-air, or the storm; other people did not die of such things, and why should she? The delicate girl suffered not a little from it all, but Luciana gained nothing. For although Ottilie went about very simply dressed, she was always, at least so the men thought, the most beautiful person present. A soft attractiveness gathered them all about her; no matter whereabouts in the great rooms she was, first or last, it was always the same. Even Luciana’s bridegroom was constantly occupied with her; the more so, indeed, because he desired her advice and assistance in a matter with which he was just then engaged.
He had cultivated the acquaintance of the architect. On seeing his collection of works of art, he had taken occasion to talk much with him on history and other matters, and especially from seeing the chapel had learned to appreciate his talent. The baron was young and wealthy. He was a collector; he wished to build. His love for the arts was keen, his knowledge small. In the architect he thought that he had found the man he wanted; that with his assistance there was more than one aim at which he could arrive at once. He had spoken to his bride of what he wished. She praised him for it, and was infinitely delighted with the proposal. But it was more, perhaps, that she might carry off this young man from Ottilie (for whom she fancied she saw in him a kind of inclination), than because she thought of applying his talents to any purpose. He had shown himself, indeed, very ready to help at any of her extemporized festivities, and had suggested various resources for this thing and that. But she always thought she understood better than he what should be done, and as her inventive genius was usually somewhat common, her designs could be as well executed with the help of a tolerably handy domestic as with that of the most finished artist. Further than to an altar on which something was to be offered, or to a crowning, whether of a living head or of one of plaster of Paris, the force of her imagination could not ascend, when a birthday, or other such occasion, made her wish to pay some one an especial compliment.
Ottilie was able to give the baron the most satisfactory answer to his inquiries as to the relation of the architect with their family. Charlotte had already, as she was aware, been exerting herself to find some situation for him; had it not been indeed for the arrival of the party, the young man would have left them immediately on the completion of the chapel; the winter having brought all building operations to a standstill; and it was, therefore, most fortunate if a new patron could be found to assist him, and to make use of his talents.
Ottilie’s own personal position with the architect was as pure and unconscious as possible. His agreeable presence, and his industrious nature, had charmed and entertained her, as the presence of an elder brother might. Her feelings for him remained at the calm unimpassioned level of blood relationship. For in her heart there was no room for more; it was filled to overflowing with love for Edward; only God, who interpenetrates all things, could share with him the possession of that heart.
Meantime the winter sank deeper; the weather grew wilder, the roads more impracticable, and therefore it seemed all the pleasanter to spend the waning days in agreeable society. With short intervals of ebb, the crowd from time to time flooded up over the house. Officers found their way there from distant garrison towns; the cultivated among them being a most welcome addition, the ruder the inconvenience of every one. Of civilians too there was no lack; and one day the count and the baroness quite unexpectedly came driving up together.
Their presence gave the castle the air of a thorough court. The men of rank and character formed a circle about the baron, and the ladies yielded precedence to the baroness. The surprise at seeing both together, and in such high spirits was not allowed to be of long continuance. It came out that the count’s wife was dead, and the new marriage was to take place as soon as ever decency would allow it.
Well did Ottilie remember their first visit, and every word which was then uttered about marriage and separation, binding and dividing, hope, expectation, disappointment, renunciation. Here were these two persons, at that time without prospect for the future, now standing before her, so near their wished-for happiness, and an involuntary sigh escaped out of her heart.
No sooner did Luciana hear that the count was an amateur of music, than at once she must get up something of a concert. She herself would sing and accompany herself on the guitar. It was done. The instrument she did not play without skill; her voice was agreeable: as for the words one understood about as little of them as one commonly does when a German beauty sings to the guitar. However, everyone assured her that she had sung with exquisite expression, and she found quite enough approbation to satisfy her. A singular misfortune befell her, however, on this occasion. Among the party there happened to be a poet, whom she hoped particularly to attach to herself, wishing to induce him to write a song or two, and address them to her. This evening, therefore, she produced scarcely anything except songs of his composing. Like the rest of the party he was perfectly courteous to her, but she had looked for more. She spoke to him several times, going as near the subject as she dared, but nothing further could she get. At last, unable to bear it any longer, she sent one of her train to him, to sound him and find out whether he had not been delighted to hear his beautiful poems so beautifully executed.
“My poems?” he replied, with amazement; “pray excuse me, my dear sir,” he added, “I heard nothing but the vowels, and not all of those; however, I am in duty bound to express all gratitude for so amiable an intention.” The dandy said nothing and kept his secret; the other endeavored to get himself out of the scrape by a few well-timed compliments. She did not conceal her desire to have something of his which should be written for herself.
If it would not have been too ill-natured. he might have handed her the alphabet, to imagine for herself, out of that, such laudatory poem as would please her, and set it to the first melody that came to hand; but she was not to escape out of this business without mortification. A short time after, she had to learn that the very same evening he had written, at the foot of one of Ottilie’s favorite melodies, a most lovely poem, which was something more than complimentary.
Luciana, like all persons of her sort, who never can distinguish between where they show to advantage and where to disadvantage, now determined to try her fortune in reciting. Her memory was good, but, if the truth must be told, her execution was spiritless, and she was vehement without being passionate. She recited ballad stories, and whatever else is usually delivered in declamation. At the same time she had contracted an unhappy habit of accompanying what she delivered with gestures, by which, in a disagreeable way, what is purely epic and lyric is more confused than connected with the dramatic.
The count, a keen-sighted man, soon saw through the party, their inclinations, dispositions, wishes and capabilities, and by some means or other contrived to bring Luciana to a new kind of exhibition, which was perfectly suited to her.
“I see here,” he said, “a number of persons with fine figures, who would surely be able to imitate pictorial emotions and postures. Suppose they were to try, if the thing is new to them, to represent some real and well-known picture. An imitation of this kind, if it requires some labor in arrangement, has an inconceivably charming effect.”
Luciana was quick enough in perceiving that here she was on her own ground entirely. Her fine shape, her well-rounded form, the regularity and yet expressiveness of her features, her light-brown braided hair, her long neck—she ran them all over in her mind, and calculated on their pictorial effects, and if she had only known that her beauty showed to more advantage when she was still than when she was in motion, because in the last case certain ungracefulnesses continually escaped her, she would have entered even more eagerly than she did into this natural picture-making.
They looked out the engravings of celebrated pictures, and the first which they chose was Van Dyk’s Belisarius. A large well-proportioned man, somewhat advanced in years, was to represent the seated blind general. The architect was to be the affectionate soldier standing sorrowing before him, there really being some resemblance between them. Luciana, half from modesty, had chosen the part of the young woman in the background, counting out some large alms into the palm of his hand, while an old woman beside her is trying to prevent her, and representing that she is giving too much. Another woman who is in the act of giving him something, was not forgotten. Into this and other pictures they threw themselves with all earnestness. The count gave the architect a few hints as to the best style of arrangement, and he at once set up a kind of theatre, all necessary pains being taken for the proper lighting of it. They were already deep in the midst of their preparations, before they observed how large an outlay what they were undertaking would require, and that in the country, in the middle of winter, many things which they required it would be difficult to procure; consequently, to prevent a stoppage, Luciana had nearly her whole wardrobe cut in pieces, to supply the various costumes which the original artist had arbitrarily selected.
The appointed evening came, and the exhibition was carried out in the presence of a large assemblage, and to the universal satisfaction. They had some good music to excite expectation, and the performance opened with the Belisarius. The figures were so successful, the colors were so happily distributed, and the lighting managed so skilfully, that they might really have fancied themselves in another world, only that the presence of the real instead of the apparent produced a kind of uncomfortable sensation.
The curtain fell, and was more than once raised again by general desire. A musical interlude kept the assembly amused while preparation was going forward, to surprise them with a picture of a higher stamp; it was the well-known design of Poussin, Ahasuerus and Esther. This time Luciana had done better for herself. As the fainting, sinking queen she had put out all her charms, and for the attendant maidens who were supporting her, she had cunningly selected pretty well-shaped figures, not one among whom, however, had the slightest pretension to be compared with herself. From this picture, as from all the rest, Ottilie remained excluded. To sit on the golden throne and represent the Zeus-like monarch, Luciana had picked out the finest and handsomest man of the party, so that this picture was really of inimitable perfection.
For a third they had taken the so-called “Father’s Admonition” of Terburg, and who does not know Wille’s admirable engraving of this picture? One foot thrown over the other, sits a noble knightly-looking father; his daughter stands before him, to whose conscience he seems to be addressing himself. She, a fine striking figure, in a folding drapery of white satin, is only to be seen from behind, but her whole bearing appears to signify that she is collecting herself. That the admonition is not too severe, that she is not being utterly put to shame, is to be gathered from the air and attitude of the father, while the mother seems as if she were trying to conceal some slight embarrassment—she is looking into a glass of wine, which she is on the point of drinking.
Here was an opportunity for Luciana to appear in her highest splendor. Her back hair, the form of her head, neck and shoulders, were beyond all conception beautiful; and the waist, which in the modern antique of the ordinary dresses of young ladies is hardly visible, showed to the greatest advantage in all its graceful slender elegance in the really old costume. The architect had contrived to dispose the rich folds of the white satin with the most exquisite nature, and, without any question whatever, this living imitation far exceeded the original picture, and produced universal delight.
The spectators could never be satisfied with demanding a repetition of the performance, and the very natural wish to see the face and front of so lovely a creature, when they had done looking at her from behind, at last became so decided, that a merry impatient young wit cried out aloud the words one is accustomed to write at the bottom of a page, “Tournez, s’il vous plait,” which was echoed all round the room.
The performers, however, understood their advantage too well, and had mastered too completely the idea of these works of art to yield to the most general clamor. The daughter remained standing in her shame, without favoring the spectators with the expression of her face. The father continued to sit in his attitude of admonition, and the mother did not lift nose or eyes out of the transparent glass, in which, although she seemed to be drinking, the wine did not diminish.
We need not describe the number of smaller after-pieces; for which had been chosen Flemish public-house scenes and fair and market days.
The count and the baroness departed, promising to return in the first happy weeks of their approaching union. And Charlotte now had hopes, after having endured two weary months of it, of ridding herself of the rest of the party at the same time. She was assured of her daughter’s happiness, as soon as the first tumult of youth and betrothal should have subsided in her; for the bridegroom considered himself the most fortunate person in the world. His income was large, his disposition moderate and rational, and now he found himself further wonderfully favored in the happiness of becoming the possessor of a young lady with whom all the world must be charmed. He had so peculiar a way of referring everything to her, and only to himself through her, that it gave him an unpleasant feeling when any newly-arrived person did not devote himself heart and soul to her, and was far from flattered if, as occasionally happened, particularly with elderly men, he neglected her for a close intimacy with himself. Everything was settled about the architect. On New Year’s day he was to follow him, and spend the Carnival at his house in the city, where Luciana was promising herself infinite happiness from a repetition of her charmingly successful pictures, as well as from a hundred other things; all the more as her aunt and her bridegroom seemed to make so light of the expense which was required for her amusements.
And now they were to break up. But this could not be managed in an ordinary way. They were one day making fun of Charlotte aloud, declaring that they would soon have eaten out her winter stores, when the nobleman who had represented Belisarius, being fortunately a man of some wealth, carried away by Luciana’s charms, to which he had been so long devoting himself, cried out unthinkingly, “Why not manage then in the Polish fashion? you come now and eat up me, and then we will go on round the circle.” No sooner said than done. Luciana willed that it should be so. The next day they all packed up and the swarm alighted on a new property. There indeed they found room enough, but few conveniences and no preparations to receive them. Out of this arose many contretemps, which entirely enchanted Luciana; their life became ever wilder and wilder. Huge hunting-parties were set on foot in the deep snow, attended with every sort of disagreeableness; women were not allowed to excuse themselves any more than men, and so they trooped on, hunting and riding, sledging and shouting, from one place to another, till at last they approached the residence, and there the news of the day and the scandals and what else forms the amusement of people at courts and cities gave the imagination another direction, and Luciana with her train of attendants (her aunt had gone on some time before) swept at once into a new sphere of life.
FROM OTTILIE’S DIARY.
“We accept every person in the world as that for which he gives himself out, only he must give himself out for something. We can put up with the unpleasant more easily than we can endure the insignificant.
“We venture upon anything in society except only what involves a consequence.
“We never learn to know people when they come to us: we must go to them to find out how things stand with them.
“I find it almost natural that we should see many faults in visitors, and that directly they are gone we should judge them not in the most amiable manner. For we have, so to say, a right to measure them by our own standard. Even cautious, sensible men can scarcely keep themselves in such cases from being sharp censors.
“When, on the contrary, we are staying at the houses of others, when we have seen them in the midst of all their habits and environments among those necessary conditions from which they cannot escape, when we have seen how they affect those about them, and how they adapt themselves to their circumstances, it is ignorance, it is worse, it is ill-will, to find ridiculous what in more than one sense has a claim on our respect.
“That which we call politeness and good breeding effects what otherwise can only be obtained by violence, or not even by that.
“Intercourse with women is the element of good manners.
“How can the character, the individuality of a man co-exist with polish of manner?
“The individuality can only be properly made prominent through good manners. Everyone likes what has something in it, only it must not be a disagreeable something.
“In life generally, and in society no one has such high advantages as a well-cultivated soldier.
“The rudest fighting people at least do not go out of their character, and generally behind the roughness there is a certain latent good humor, so that in difficulties it is possible to get on even with them.
“No one is more intolerable than an underbred civilian. From him one has a right to look for a delicacy, as he has no rough work to do.
“When we are living with people who have a delicate sense of propriety, we are in misery on their account when anything unbecoming is committed. So I always feel for and with Charlotte, when a person is tipping his chair She cannot endure it.
“No one would ever come into a mixed party with spectacles on his nose, if he did but know that at once we women lose all pleasure in looking at him or listening to what he has to say.
“Free-and-easiness, where there ought to be respect, is always ridiculous. No one would put his hat down when he had scarcely paid the ordinary compliments if he knew how comical it looks.
“There is no outward sign of courtesy that does not rest on a deep moral foundation. The proper education would be that which communicated the sign and the foundation of it at the same time.
“Behavior is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image.
“There is a courtesy of the heart. It is akin to love. Out of it arises the purest courtesy in the outward behavior.
“A freely offered homage is the most beautiful of all relations. And how were that possible without love?
“We are never further from our wishes than when we imagine that we possess what we have desired.
“No one is more a slave than the man who thinks himself free while he is not.
“A man has only to declare that he is free, and the next moment he feels the conditions to which he is subject. Let him venture to declare that he is under conditions, and then he will feel that he is free.
“Against great advantages in another, there are no means of defending ourselves except love.
“There is something terrible in the sight of a highly-gifted man lying under obligations to a fool.
“ ‘No man is a hero to his valet,’ the proverb says. But that is only because it requires a hero to recognize a hero. The valet will probably know how to value the valet-hero.
“Mediocrity has no greater consolation than in the thought that genius is not immortal.
“The greatest men are connected with their own century always through some weakness.
“One is apt to regard people as more dangerous than they are.
“Fools and modest people are alike innocuous. It is only your half-fools and your half-wise who are really and truly dangerous.
“There is no better deliverance from the world than through art; and a man can form no surer bond with it than through art.
“Alike in the moment of our highest fortune and our deepest necessity, we require the artist.
“The business of art is with the difficult and the good.
“To see the difficult easily handled, gives us the feeling of the impossible.
“Difficulties increase the nearer we are to our end.
“Sowing is not so difficult as reaping.”
The very serious discomfort which this visit had caused to Charlotte was in some way compensated to her through the fuller insight which it had enabled her to gain into her daughter’s character. In this, her knowledge of the world was of no slight service to her. It was not the first time that so singular a character had come across her, although she had never seen any in which the unusual features were so largely developed; and she had had experience enough to show her that such persons after having felt the discipline of life, after having gone through something of it, and been in intercourse with older people, may come out at last really charming and amiable; the selfishness may soften and eager restless activity find a definite direction for itself. And therefore, as a mother, Charlotte was able to endure the appearance of symptoms which for others might perhaps have been unpleasing, from a sense that where strangers only desire to enjoy, or at least not to have their taste offended, the business of parents is rather to hope.
After her daughter’s departure, however, she had to be pained in a singular and unlooked-for manner, in finding that, not so much through what there really was objectionable in her behavior, as through what was good and praiseworthy in it, she had left an ill report of herself behind her. Luciana seemed to have prescribed it as a rule to herself not only to be merry with the merry, but miserable with the miserable; and in order to give full swing to the spirit of contradiction in her, often to make the happy, uncomfortable, and the sad, cheerful. In every family among whom she came, she inquired after such members of it as were ill or infirm, and unable to appear in society. She would go to see them in their rooms, enact the physician, and insist on prescribing powerful doses for them out of her own travelling medicine-chest, which she constantly took with her in her carriage; her attempted cures, as may be supposed, either succeeding or failing as chance happened to direct.
In this sort of benevolence she was thoroughly cruel, and would listen to nothing that was said to her, because she was convinced that she was managing admirably. One of these attempts of hers on the moral side failed very disastrously, and this it was which gave Charlotte so much trouble, inasmuch as it involved consequences and everyone was talking about it. She never had heard of the story till Luciana was gone; Ottilie, who had made one of the party present at the time, had to give her a circumstantial account of it.
One of several daughters of a family of rank had the misfortune to have caused the death of one of her younger sisters; it had destroyed her peace of mind, and she had never been properly herself since. She lived in her own room, occupying herself and keeping quiet; and she could only bear to see the members of her own family when they came one by one. If there were several together, she suspected at once that they were making reflections upon her, and upon her condition. To each of them singly she would speak rationally enough, and talk freely for an hour at a time.
Luciana had heard of this, and had secretly determined with herself, as soon as she got into the house, that she would forthwith work a miracle, and restore the young lady to society. She conducted herself in the matter more prudently than usual, managed to introduce herself alone to the poor sick-souled girl, and, as far as people could understand, had wound her way into her confidence through music. At last came her fatal mistake; wishing to make a scene, and fancying that she had sufficiently prepared her for it, one evening she suddenly introduced the beautiful pale creature into the midst of the brilliant glittering assembly; and perhaps, even then, the attempt might not have so utterly failed, had not the crowd themselves, between curiosity and apprehension, conducted themselves so unwisely, first gathering about the invalid, and then shrinking from her again; and with their whispers and shaking their heads together, confusing and agitating her. Her delicate sensibility could not endure it. With a dreadful shriek, which expressed, as it seemed, a horror at some monster that was rushing upon her, she fainted. The crowd fell back in terror on every side, and Ottilie had been one of those who had carried back the sufferer utterly insensible to her room.
Luciana meanwhile, just like herself, had been reading an angry lecture to the rest of the party, without reflecting for a moment that she herself was entirely to blame, and without letting herself be deterred by this and other failures, from going on with her experimentalizing.
The state of the invalid herself had since that time become more and more serious; indeed, the disorder had increased to such a degree, that the poor thing’s parents were unable to keep her any longer at home, and had been forced to confide her to the care of a public institution. Nothing remained for Charlotte, except, by the delicacy of her own attention to the family, in some degree to alleviate the pain which had been occasioned by her daughter. On Ottilie, the thing had made a deep impression. She felt the more for the unhappy girl, as she was convinced, she did not attempt to deny it to Charlotte, that by a careful treatment the disorder might have been unquestionably removed.
So there came, too, as it often happens that we dwell more on past disagreeables than on past agreeables, a slight misunderstanding to be spoken of, which had led Ottilie to a wrong judgment of the architect, when he did not choose to produce his collection that evening, although she had so eagerly begged him to produce it. His practical refusal had remained ever since hanging about her heart, she herself could not tell why. Her feelings about the matter were undoubtedly just; what a young lady like Ottilie could desire, a young man like the architect ought not to have refused. The latter, however, when she took occasion to give him a gentle reproof for it, had a very valid excuse to offer for himself.
“If you knew,” he said, “how roughly even cultivated people allow themselves to handle the most valuable works of art, you would forgive me for not producing mine among the crowd. No one will take the trouble to hold a medal by the rim. They will finger the most beautiful impressions, and the smoothest surfaces; they will take the rarest coins between the thumb and forefinger, and rub them up and down, as if they were testing the execution with the touch. Without remembering that a large sheet of paper ought to be held in two hands, they will lay hold, with one, of an invaluable proof-engraving of some drawing which cannot be replaced, like a conceited politician laying hold of a newspaper, and passing judgment by anticipation, as he is cutting the pages, on the occurrences of the world. Nobody cares to recollect that if twenty people, one after the other, treat a work of art in this way, the one-and-twentieth will not find much to see there.”
“Have not I often vexed you in this way?” asked Ottilie. “Have not I, through my carelessness, many times injured your treasures?”
“Never once,” answered the architect, “never. For you it would be impossible. In you the right thing is innate.”
“In any case,” replied Ottilie, “it would not be a bad plan, if in the next edition of the book of good manners, after the chapters which tell us how we ought to eat and drink in company, a good circumstantial chapter were inserted, how to behave among works of art and in museums.”
“Undoubtedly,” said the architect; “and then curiosity-collectors and amateurs would be better contented to show their valuable treasures to the world.”
Ottilie had long, long forgiven him; but as he seemed to have taken her reproof sorely to heart, and assured her again and again that he would gladly produce everything—that he was delighted to do anything for his friends—she felt that she had wounded his feelings, and that she owed him some compensation. It was not easy for her, therefore, to give an absolute refusal to a request which he made her in the conclusion of this conversation, although when she called her heart into counsel about it, she did not see how she could allow herself to do what he wished.
The circumstances of the matter were these: Ottilie’s exclusion from the picture-exhibition by Luciana’s jealousy had irritated him in the highest degree; and at the same time he had observed with regret, that at this, the most brilliant part of all the amusements at the castle, ill health had prevented Charlotte from being more than rarely present; and now he did not wish to go away, without some additional proof of his gratitude, and, for the honor of one and the entertainment of the other, preparing a far more beautiful exhibition than any of those which had preceded it. Perhaps, too, unknown to himself, another secret motive was working on him. It was so hard for him to leave the house, and to leave the family. It seemed impossible to him to go away from Ottilie’s eyes, under the calm, sweet, gentle glance of which the latter part of the time he had been living almost entirely alone.
The Christmas holidays were approaching; and it became at once clear to him that the very thing which he wanted was a representation with real figures of one of those pictures of the scene in the stable,—a sacred exhibition such as at this holy season good Christians delight to offer to the divine Mother and her Child, of the manner in which she, in her seeming lowliness, was honored first by the shepherds and afterwards by kings.
He had thoroughly brought before himself how such a picture should be contrived. A fair, lovely child was found, and there would be no lack of shepherds and shepherdesses. But without Ottilie the thing could not be done. The young man had exalted her in his design to be the mother of God, and if she refused, there was no question but the undertaking must fall to the ground. Ottilie, half embarrassed at the proposal, referred him and his request to Charlotte. The latter gladly gave her permission, and lent her assistance in overcoming and overpersuading Ottilie’s hesitation in assuming so sacred a personality. The architect worked day and night, that by Christmas-eve everything might be ready.
Day and night, indeed, in the literal sense. At all times he was a man who had but few necessities; and Ottilie’s presence seemed to be to him in the place of all delicacies. When he was working for her, it was as if he required no sleep; when he was busy about her, as if he could do without food. Accordingly by the hour of the evening solemnity all was completed. He had found the means of collecting some well-toned wind instruments to form an introduction, and produce the desired temper of thought and feeling. But when the curtain rose, Charlotte was taken completely by surprise. The picture which presented itself to her had been repeated so often in the world, that one could scarcely have expected any new impression to be produced. But here, the reality as representing the picture had its especial advantages. The whole space was the color rather of night than of twilight, and there was nothing even of the details of the scene which was obscure. The inimitable idea that all the light should proceed from the child, the artist had contrived to carry out by an ingenious method of illumination which was concealed by the figures in the foreground, who were all in shadow. Bright looking boys and girls were standing round, their fresh faces sharply lighted from below; and there were angels too, whose own brilliancy grew pale before the divine, whose ethereal bodies showed dim and dense, and needing other light in the presence of the body of the divine humanity. By good fortune the infant had fallen asleep in the loveliest attitude, so that nothing disturbed the contemplation when the eye rested on the seeming mother, who with infinite grace had lifted off a veil to reveal her hidden treasure. At this moment the picture seemed to have been caught, and there to have remained fixed. Physically dazzled, mentally surprised, the people round appeared to have just moved to turn away their half-blinded eyes, to be glancing again towards the child with curious delight, and to be showing more wonder and pleasure than awe and reverence,—although these emotions were not forgotten, and were to be traced upon the features of some of the older spectators.
But Ottilie’s figure, expression, attitude, glance, excelled all which any painter has ever represented. A man who had true knowledge of art, and had seen this spectacle, would have been in fear lest any portion of it should move; he would have doubted whether anything could ever so much please him again Unluckily, there was no one present who could comprehend the whole of this effect. The architect alone, who, as a tall, slender shepherd, was looking in from the side over those who were kneeling, enjoyed, although he was not in the best position for seeing, the fullest pleasure. And who can describe the mien of the new-made queen of heaven? The purest humility, the most exquisite feeling of modesty, at the great honor which had undeservedly been bestowed upon her, with indescribable and immeasurable happiness, was displayed upon her features, expressing as much her own personal emotion as that of the character which she was endeavoring to represent.
Charlotte was delighted with the beautiful figures; but what had most effect on her was the child. Her eyes filled with tears, and her imagination presented to her in the liveliest colors that she might soon hope to have such another darling creature on her own lap.
They had let down the curtain, partly to give the exhibitors some little rest, partly to make an alteration in the exhibition. The artist had proposed to himself to transmute the first scene of night and lowliness into a picture of splendor and glory; and for this purpose had prepared a blaze of light to fall in from every side, which this interval was required to kindle.
Ottilie, in the semi-theatrical position in which she found herself, had hitherto felt perfectly at her ease, because, with the exception of Charlotte and a few members of the household, no one had witnessed this devout piece of artistic display. She was, therefore, in some degree annoyed when in the interval she learned that a stranger had come into the saloon, and had been warmly received by Charlotte. Who it was no one was able to tell her. She therefore made up her mind not to produce a disturbance, and to go on with her character. Candles and lamps blazed out, and she was surrounded by splendor perfectly infinite. The curtain rose. It was a sight to startle the spectators. The whole picture was one blaze of light; and instead of the full depth of shadow, there now were only the colors left remaining, which, from the skill with which they had been selected, produced a gentle softening of tone. Looking out under her long eyelashes, Ottilie perceived the figure of a man sitting by Charlotte. She did not recognize him; but the voice she fancied was that of the assistant at the school. A singular emotion came over her. How many things had happened since she last heard the voice of that her kind instructor! Like a flash of forked lightning the stream of her joys and her sorrow rushed swiftly before her soul, and the question rose in her heart, Dare you confess, dare you acknowledge it all to him? If not, how little can you deserve to appear before him under this sainted form; and how strange must it not seem to him who has only known you as your natural self to see you now under this disguise? In an instant, swift as thought, feeling and reflection began to clash and gain within her. Her eyes filled with tears, while she forced herself to continue to appear as a motionless figure, and it was a relief, indeed, to her when the child began to stir,—and the artist saw himself compelled to give the sign that the curtain should fall again.
If the painful feeling of being unable to meet a valued friend had, during the last few moments, been distressing Ottilie in addition to her other emotions, she was now in still greater embarrassment. Was she to present herself to him in this strange disguise? or had she better change her dress? She did not hesitate—she did the last; and in the interval she endeavored to collect and to compose herself; nor did she properly recover her self-possession until at last, in her ordinary costume, she had welcomed the new visitor.
In so far as the architect desired the happiness of his kind patronesses, it was a pleasure to him, now that at last he was obliged to go, to know that he was leaving them in good society with the estimable assistant. At the same time, however, when he thought of their goodness in its relation to himself, he could not help feeling it a little painful to see his place so soon, and as it seemed to his modesty, so well, so completely supplied. He had lingered and lingered, but now he forced himself away; what, after he was gone, he must endure as he could, at least he could not stay to witness with his own eyes.
To the great relief of this half-melancholy feeling, the ladies at his departure made him a present of a waistcoat, upon which he had watched them both for some time past at work, with a silent envy of the fortunate unknown, to whom it was by-and-by to belong. Such a present is the most agreeable which a true-hearted man can receive; for while he thinks of the unwearied play of the beautiful fingers at the making of it, he cannot help flattering himself that in so long-sustained a labor the feeling could not have remained utterly without an interest in its accomplishment.
The ladies had now a new visitor to entertain, for whom they felt a real regard, and whose stay with them it would be their endeavor to make as agreeable as they could. There is in all women a peculiar circle of inward interests, which remain always the same, and from which nothing in the world can divorce them. In outward social intercourse, on the other hand, they will gladly and easily allow themselves to take their tone from the person with whom at the moment they are occupied; and thus by a mixture of impassiveness and susceptibility, by persisting and by yielding, they continue to keep the government to themselves, and no man in the cultivated world can ever take it from them.
The architect, following at the same time his own fancy and his own inclination, had been exerting himself and putting out his talents for their gratification and for the purposes of his friends; and business and amusement, while he was with them, had been conducted in this spirit, and directed to the ends which most suited his taste. But now in a short time, through the presence of the assistant, quite another sort of life was commenced. His great gift was to talk well, and to treat in his conversation of men and human relations, particularly in reference to the cultivation of young people. Thus arose a very perceptible contrast to the life which had been going on hitherto, all the more as the assistant could not entirely approve of their having interested themselves in such subjects so exclusively.
Of the impersonated picture which received him on his arrival, he never said a single word. On the other hand, when they took him to see the church and the chapel with their new decorations, expecting to please him as much as they were pleased themselves, he did not hesitate to express a very contrary opinion about it.
“This mixing up of the holy with the sensuous,” he said, “is anything but pleasing to my taste; I cannot like men to set apart certain especial places, consecrate them, and deck them out, that by so doing they may nourish in themselves a temper of piety. No ornaments, not even the very simplest, should disturb in us that sense of the Divine Being which accompanies us wherever we are, and can consecrate every spot into a temple. What pleases me is to see a home-service of God held in the saloon where people come together to eat, where they have their parties, and amuse themselves with games and dances. The highest, the most excellent in men, has no form; and one should be cautious how one gives it any form except noble action.”
Charlotte, who was already generally acquainted with his mode of thinking, and in the short time he had been at the castle had already probed it more deeply, found something also which he might do for her in his own department; and she had her garden children, whom the architect had reviewed shortly before his departure, marshalled up into the great saloon. In their bright, clean uniforms, with their regular orderly movement, and their own natural vivacity, they looked exceedingly well. The assistant examined them in his own way, and by a variety of questions, and by the turns which he gave them, soon brought to light the capacities and dispositions of the children; and without its seeming so, in the space of less than one hour he had really given them important instruction and assistance.
“How did you manage that?” said Charlotte, as the children marched away. “I listened with all my attention. Nothing was brought forward except things which were quite familiar, and yet I cannot tell the least how I should begin, to bring them to be discussed in so short a time so methodically, with all this questioning and answering.”
“Perhaps,” replied the assistant, “we ought to make a secret of the tricks of our own handicraft. However, I will not hide from you one very simple maxim, with the help of which you may do this, and a great deal more than this. Take any subject, a substance, an idea, whatever you like; keep fast hold of it; make yourself thoroughly acquainted with it in all its parts, and then it will be easy for you, in conversation, to find out, with a mass of children, how much about it has already developed itself in them; what requires to be stimulated, what to be directly communicated. The answers to your questions may be as unsatisfactory as they will, they may wander wide of the mark; if you only take care that your counter-question shall draw their thoughts and senses inwards again; if you do not allow yourself to be driven from your own position—the children will at last reflect, comprehend, learn only what the teacher desires them to learn, and the subject will be presented to them in the light in which he wishes them to see it. The greatest mistake which he can make is to allow himself to be run away with from the subject; not to know how to keep fast to the point with which he is engaged. Do you try this on your own account the next time the children come; you will find you will be greatly entertained by it yourself.”
“That is very good,” said Charlotte. “The right method of teaching is the reverse, I see, of what we must do in life. In society we must keep the attention long upon nothing, and in instruction the first commandment is to permit no dissipation of it.”
“Variety, without dissipation, were the best motto for both teaching and life, if this desirable equipoise were easy to be preserved,” said the assistant, and he was going on further with the subject, when Charlotte called out to him to look again at the children, whose merry troop were at the moment moving across the court. He expressed his satisfaction at seeing them wearing a uniform. “Men,” he said, “should wear a uniform from their childhood upwards. They have to accustom themselves to work together; to lose themselves among their equals; to obey in masses, and to work on a large scale. Every kind of uniform, moreover, generates a military habit of thought, and a smart, straightforward carriage. All boys are born soldiers, whatever you do with them. You have only to watch them at their mock fights and games, their storming parties and scaling parties.”
“On the other hand, you will not blame me,” replied Ottilie, “if I do not insist with my girls on such unity of costume. When I introduce them to you, I hope to gratify you by a party-colored mixture.”
“I approve of that entirely,” replied the other. “Women should go about in every sort of variety of dress; each following her own style and her own likings, that each may learn to feel what sits well upon her and becomes her. And for a more weighty reason as well—because it is appointed for them to stand alone all their lives, and work alone.”
“That seems to me to be a paradox,” answered Charlotte. “Are we then to be never anything for ourselves?”
“Oh, yes!” replied the assistant. “In respect of other women assuredly. But observe a young lady as a lover, as a bride, as a housewife, as a mother. She always stands isolated. She is always alone, and will be alone. Even the most empty-headed woman is in the same case. Each one of them excludes all others. It is her nature to do so; because of each one of them is required everything which the entire sex have to do. With a man it is altogether different. He would make a second man if there were none. But a woman might live to an eternity, without even so much as thinking of producing a duplicate of herself.”
“One has only to say the truth in a strange way,” said Charlotte, “and at last the strangest thing will seem to be true. We will accept what is good for us out of your observations, and yet as women we will hold together with women, and do common work with them too; not to give the other sex too great an advantage over us. Indeed, you must not take it ill of us, if in future we come to feel a little malicious satisfaction when our lords and masters do not get on in the very best way together.”
With much care, this wise, sensible person went on to examine more closely how Ottilie proceeded with her little pupils, and expressed his marked approbation of it. “You are entirely right,” he said, “in directing these children only to what they can immediately and usefully put in practice. Cleanliness, for instance, will accustom them to wear their clothes with pleasure to themselves; and everything is gained if they can be induced to enter into what they do with cheerfulness and self-reflection.”
In other ways he found to his great satisfaction, that nothing had been done for outward display; but all was inward, and designed to supply what was indispensably necessary. “In how few words,” he cried, “might the whole business of education be summed up, if people had but ears to hear!”
“Will you try whether I have any ears?” said Ottilie, smiling.
“Indeed I will,” answered he; “only you must not betray me. Educate the boys to be servants, and the girls to be mothers, and everything is as it should be.”
“To be mothers?” replied Ottilie. “Women would scarcely think that sufficient. They have to look forward, without being mothers, to going out into service. And, indeed, our young men think themselves a great deal too good for servants. One can see easily, in every one of them, that he holds himself far fitter to be a master.”
“And for that reason we should say nothing about it to them,” said the assistant. “We flatter ourselves on into life; but life flatters not us. How many men would like to acknowledge at the outset, what at the end they must acknowledge whether they like it or not? But let us leave these considerations, which do not concern us here.
“I consider you very fortunate in having been able to go so methodically to work with your pupils. If your very little ones run about with their dolls, and stitch together a few petticoats for them; if the elder sisters will then take care of the younger, and the whole household know how to supply its own wants, and one member of it help the others, the further step into life will not then be great, and such a girl will find in her husband what she has lost in her parents.
“But among the higher ranks the problem is a sorely intricate one. We have to provide for higher, finer, more delicate relations; especially for such as arise out of society. We are, therefore, obliged to give our pupils an outward cultivation. It is indispensable, it is necessary, and it may be really valuable, if we do not overstep the proper measure in it. Only it is so easy, while one is proposing to cultivate the children for a wider circle, to drive them out into the indefinite, without keeping before our eyes the real requisites of the inner nature. Here lies the problem which more or less must be either solved or blundered over by all educators.
“Many things, with which we furnish our scholars at the school, do not please me; because experience tells me of how little service they are likely to be in after-life. How much is not at once stripped off; how much is not at once committed to oblivion, as soon as the young lady finds herself in the position of a housewife or a mother!
“In the meantime, since I have devoted myself to this occupation, I cannot but entertain a devout hope that one day, with the companionship of some faithful helpmate, I may succeed in cultivating purely in my pupils that, and that only, which they will require when they pass out into the field of independent activity and self-reliance; that I may be able to say to myself, in this sense is their education completed. Another education there is indeed which will again speedily recommence, and work on well nigh through all the years of our life—the education which circumstances will give us, if we do not give it to ourselves.”
How true Ottilie felt were these words! What had not a passion, little dreamed of before, done to educate her in the past year! What trials did she not see hovering before her if she looked forward only to the next—to the very next, which was now so near!
It was not without a purpose that the young man had spoken of a helpmate—of a wife; for with all his diffidence, he could not refrain from thus remotely hinting at his own wishes. A number of circumstances and accidents, indeed, combined to induce him on this visit to approach a few steps towards his aim.
The lady superior of the school was advanced in years. She had been already for some time looking about among her fellow-laborers, male and female, for some person whom she could take into partnership with herself, and at last had made proposals to the assistant in whom she had the highest ground for feeling confidence. He was to conduct the business of the school with herself. He was to work with her in it, as if it was his own; and after her death, as her heir, to enter upon it as sole proprietor.
The principal thing now seemed to be, that he should find a wife who would co-operate with him. Ottilie was secretly before his eyes and before his heart. A number of difficulties suggested themselves, and yet again there were favorable circumstances on the other side to counterbalance them. Luciana had left the school; Ottilie could therefore return with the less difficulty. Of the affair with Edward, some little had transpired. It passed, however, as many such things do, as a matter of indifference, and this very circumstance might make it desirable that she should leave the castle. And yet, perhaps, no decision would have been arrived at, no step would have been taken, had not an unexpected visit given a special impulse to his hesitation. The appearance of remarkable people, in any and every circle, can never be without its effects.
The count and the baroness, who often found themselves asked for their opinion, almost everyone being in difficulty about the education of their children, as to the value of the various schools, had found it desirable to make themselves particularly acquainted with this one, which was generally so well spoken of; and under their present circumstances, they were more easily able to carry on these inquiries in company.
The baroness, however, had something else in view as well. While she was last at the castle, she had talked over with Charlotte the whole affair of Edward and Ottilie. She had insisted again and again that Ottilie must be sent away. She tried every means to encourage Charlotte to do it, and to keep her from being frightened by Edward’s threats. Several modes of escape from the difficulty were suggested. Accidentally the school was mentioned, and the assistant and his incipient passion, which made the baroness more resolved than ever to pay her intended visit there.
She went; she made acquaintance with the assistant; looked over the establishment, and spoke of Ottilie. The count also spoke with much interest of her, having in his recent visit learned to know her better. She had been drawn towards him; indeed, she had felt attracted by him; believing that she could see, that she could perceive in his solid, substantial conversation, something to which hitherto she had been an entire stranger. In her intercourse with Edward, the world had been utterly forgotten; in the presence of the count, the world appeared first worth regarding. The attraction was mutual. The count conceived a liking for Ottilie; he would have been glad to have had her for a daughter. Thus a second time, and worse than the first time, she was in the way of the baroness. Who knows what, in times when passions ran hotter than they do now-a-days, this lady might not have devised against her? As things were, it was enough if she could get her married, and render her more innocuous for the future to the peace of mind of married women. She therefore artfully urged the assistant, in a delicate, but effective manner, to set out on a little excursion to the castle; where his plans and his wishes, of which he made no secret to the lady, he might forthwith take steps to realize.
With the fullest consent of the superior he started off on his expedition, and in his heart he nourished good hopes of success. He knew that Ottilie was not ill-disposed towards him; and although it was true there was some disproportion of rank between them, yet distinctions of this kind were fast disappearing in the temper of the time. Moreover, the baroness had made him perceive clearly that Ottilie must always remain a poor portionless maiden. To be related to a wealthy family, it was said, could be of service to nobody. For even with the largest property, men have a feeling that it is not right to deprive of any considerable sum, those who, as standing in a nearer degree of relationship, appear to have a fuller right to possession; and really it is a strange thing, that the immense privilege which a man has of disposing of his property after his death, he so very seldom uses for the benefit of those whom he loves, out of regard to established usage only appearing to consider those who would inherit his estate from him supposing he made no will at all.
Thus, while on his journey, he grew to feel himself entirely on a level with Ottilie. A favorable reception raised his hopes. He found Ottilie indeed not altogether so open with him as usual, but she was considerably matured, more developed, and, if you please, generally more conversible than he had known her. She was ready to give him the fullest insight into many things which were in any way connected with his profession; but when he attempted to approach his proper object, a certain inward shyness always held him back.
Once, however, Charlotte gave him an opportunity for saying something. In Ottilie’s presence she said to him, “Well now, you have looked closely enough into everything which is going forward in my circle. How do you find Ottilie? you had better say while she is here.”
Hereupon the assistant signified, with a clear perception and composed expression, how that, in respect of a freer carriage, of an easier manner in speaking, of a higher insight into the things of the world, which showed itself more in actions than in words, he found Ottilie altered much for the better; but that he still believed it might be of serious advantage to her if she would go back for some little time to the school, in order methodically and thoroughly to make her own forever what the world was only imparting to her in fragments and pieces, rather perplexing her than satisfying her, and often too late to be of service. He did not wish to be prolix about it. Ottilie herself knew best how much method and connection there was in the style of instruction out of which, in that case, she would be taken.
Ottilie had nothing to say against this; she could not acknowledge what it was which these words made her feel, because she was hardly able to explain it to herself. It seemed to her as if nothing in the world was disconnected so long as she thought of the one person whom she loved: and she could not conceive how, without him, anything could be connected at all.
Charlotte replied to the proposal with a wise kindness. She said that she herself, as well as Ottilie, had long desired her return to the school. At that time, however, the presence of so dear a companion and helper had become indispensable to herself; still she would offer no obstacle at some future period, if Ottilie continued to wish it, to her going back there for such a time as would enable her to complete what she had begun, and to make entirely her own what had been interrupted.
The assistant listened with delight to this qualified assent. Ottilie did not venture to say anything against it, although the very thought made her shudder. Charlotte, on her side, thought only how to gain time. She hoped that Edward would soon come back and find himself a happy father, then she was convinced all would go right; and one way or another they would be able to settle something for Ottilie.
After an important conversation which has furnished matter for after-reflection to all who have taken part in it, there commonly follows a sort of pause, which in appearance is like a general embarrassment. They walked up and down the saloon. The assistant turned over the leaves of various books, and came at last on the folio of engravings which had remained lying there since Luciana’s time. As soon as he saw that it contained nothing but apes, he shut it up again.
It may have been this, however, which gave occasion to a conversation of which we find traces in Ottilie’s diary.
FROM OTTILIE’S DIARY.
“It is strange how men can have the heart to take such pains with the pictures of those hideous monkeys. One lowers one’s self sufficiently when one looks at them merely as animals, but it is really wicked to give way to the inclination to look for people whom we know behind such masks.”
“It is a sure mark of a certain obliquity, to take pleasure in caricatures and monstrous faces and pigmies. I have to thank our kind assistant that I have never been vexed with natural history; I could never make myself at home with worms and beetles.”
“Just now he acknowledged to me, that it was the same with him. ‘Of nature,’ he said, ‘we ought to know nothing except what is actually alive immediately around us. With the trees which blossom and put out leaves and bear fruit in our own neighborhood, with every shrub which we pass by, with every blade of grass on which we tread, we stand in a real relation. They are our genuine compatriots. The birds which hop up and down among our branches, which sing among our leaves, belong to us; they speak to us from our childhood upwards, and we learn to understand their language. But let a man ask himself whether or not every strange creature, torn out of its natural environment, does not at first sight make a sort of painful impression upon him, which is only deadened by custom. It is a mark of a motley, dissipated sort of life, to be able to endure monkeys and parrots and black people about one’s self.”
“Many times when a certain longing curiosity about these strange objects has come over me, I have envied the traveller who sees such marvels in living, every-day connection with other marvels. But he, too, must have become another man. Palm trees will not allow a man to wander among them with impunity; and doubtless his tone of thinking becomes very different in a land where elephants and tigers are at home.”
“The only inquirers into nature whom we care to respect, are such as know how to describe and to represent to us the strange wonderful things which they have seen in their proper locality, each in its own especial element. How I should enjoy once hearing Humboldt talk!”
“A cabinet of natural curiosities we may regard like an Egyptian burying-place, where the various plant gods and animal gods stand about embalmed. It may be well enough for a priest-caste to busy itself with such things in a twilight of mystery. But in general instruction, they have no place or business; and we must beware of them all the more, because what is nearer to us, and more valuable, may be so easily thrust aside by them.”
“A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action, for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he who fills our memory with rows on rows of natural objects, classified with name and form. For what is the result of all these, except what we know as well without them, that the human figure pre-eminently and peculiarly is made in the image and likeness of God?”
“Individuals may be left to occupy themselves with whatever amuses them, with whatever gives them pleasure, whatever they find useful; but the proper study of mankind is man.”
There are but few men who care to occupy themselves with the immediate past. Either we are forcibly bound up in the present, or we lose ourselves in the long gone-by, and seek back for what is utterly lost, as if it were possible to summon it up again, and rehabilitate it. Even in great and wealthy families who are under large obligations to their ancestors, we commonly find men thinking more of their grandfathers than their fathers.
Such reflections as these suggested themselves to our assistant, as, on one of those beautiful days in which the departing winter is accustomed to imitate the spring, he had been walking up and down the great old castle garden, and admiring the tall avenues of the lindens, and the formal walks and flower-beds which had been laid out by Edward’s father. The trees had thriven admirably, according to the design of him who had planted them, and now when they ought to have begun to be valued and enjoyed, no one ever spoke of them. Hardly any one even went near them, and the interest and the outlay was now directed to the other side, out into the free and the open.
He remarked upon it to Charlotte on his return; she did not take it unkindly. “While life is sweeping us forwards,” she replied, “we fancy that we are acting out our own impulses; we believe that we choose ourselves what we will do, and what we will enjoy. But in fact, if we look at it closely, our actions are no more than the plans, and the desires of the time which we are compelled to carry out.”
“No doubt,” said the assistant. “And who is strong enough to withstand the stream of what is round him? Time passes on, and in it, opinions, thoughts, prejudices and interests. If the youth of the son falls in the era of revolution, we may feel assured that he will have nothing in common with his father. If the father lived at a time when the desire was to accumulate property, to secure the possession of it, to narrow and to gather one’s self in, and to base one’s enjoyment in separation from the world, the son will at once seek to extend himself, to communicate himself to others, to spread himself over a wide surface, and open out his closed stores.”
“Entire periods,” replied Charlotte, “resemble this father and son whom you have been describing. Of the state of things when every little town was obliged to have its walls and moats, when the castle of the nobleman was built in a swamp, and the smallest manor-houses were only accessible by a draw-bridge, we are scarcely able to form a conception. In our days, the largest cities take down their walls, the moats of the princes’ castles are filled in; cities are no more than great places, and when one travels and sees all this, one might fancy that universal peace was just established, and the golden age was before the door. No one feels himself easy in a garden which does not look like the open country. There must be nothing to remind him of form and constraint; we choose to be entirely free, and to draw our breath without sense of confinement. Do you conceive it possible, my friend, that we can ever return again out of this into another, into our former condition?”
“Why should we not?” replied the assistant. “Every condition has its own burden along with it, the most relaxed as well as the most constrained. The first presupposes abundance, and leads to extravagance. Let want reappear, and the spirit of moderation is at once with us again. Men who are obliged to make use of their space and their soil, will speedily enough raise walls up round their gardens to be sure of their crops and plants. Out of this will arise by degrees a new phase of things: the useful will again gain the upper hand; and even the man of large possessions will feel at last that he must make the most of all which belongs to him. Believe me, it is quite possible that your son may become indifferent to all which you have been doing in the park, and draw in again behind the solemn walls and the tall lindens of his grandfather.”
The secret pleasure which it gave Charlotte to have a son foretold to her, made her forgive the assistant his somewhat unfriendly prophecy of how it might one day fare with her lovely, beautiful park. She therefore answered without any discomposure: “You and I are not old enough yet to have lived through very much of these contradictions; and yet when I look back into my own early youth, when I remember the style of complaints which I used then to hear from older people, and when I think at the same time of what the country and the town then were, I have nothing to advance against what you say. But is there nothing which one can do to remedy this natural course of things? Are father and son, parents and children, to be always thus unable to understand each other? You have been so kind as to prophesy a boy to me. Is it necessary that he must stand in contradiction to his father? Must he destroy what his parents have erected, instead of completing it, instead of following on upon the same idea, and elevating it?”
“There is a rational remedy for it,” replied the assistant. “But it is one which will be but seldom put in practice by men. The father should raise his son to a joint ownership with himself. He should permit him to plant and to build; and allow him the same innocent liberty which he allows to himself. One form of activity may be woven into another, but it cannot be pieced on to it. A young shoot may be readily and easily grafted with an old stem, to which no grown branch admits of being fastened.”
The assistant was glad to have had the opportunity, at the moment when he saw himself obliged to take his leave, of saying something agreeable to Charlotte, and thus making himself a new link to secure her favor. He had been already too long absent from home, and yet he could not make up his mind to return there, until after a full conviction that he must allow the approaching epoch of Charlotte’s confinement first to pass by, before he could look for any decision from her in respect to Ottilie. He therefore accommodated himself to the circumstances, and returned with these prospects and hopes to the superior.
Charlotte’s confinement was now approaching; she kept more in her own room. The ladies who had gathered about her were her closest companions. Ottilie managed all domestic matters, hardly able, however, the while, to think what she was doing. She had indeed utterly resigned herself; she desired to continue to exert herself to the extent of her power for Charlotte, for the child, for Edward. But she could not see how it would be possible for her. Nothing could save her from utter distraction, except patiently to do the duty which each day brought with it.
A son was brought happily into the world, and the ladies declared, with one voice, it was the very image of its father. Only Ottilie, as she wished the new mother joy, and kissed the child with all her heart, was unable to see the likeness. Once already Charlotte had felt most painfully the absence of her husband, when she had to make preparations for her daughter’s marriage. And now the father could not be present at the birth of his son. He could not have the choosing of the name by which the child was hereafter to be called.
The first among all Charlotte’s friends who came to wish her joy was Mittler. He had placed expresses ready to bring him news the instant the event took place. He was admitted to see her, and, scarcely able to conceal his triumph even before Ottilie, when alone with Charlotte he broke fairly out with it; and was at once ready with means to remove all anxieties, and set aside all immediate difficulties. The baptism should not be delayed a day longer than necessary. The old clergyman, who had one foot already in the grave, should leave his blessing, to bind together the past and the future. The child should be called Otto; what name would he bear so fitly as that of his father and of his father’s friend?
It required the peremptory resolution of this man to set aside the innumerable considerations, arguments, hesitations, difficulties; what this person knew, and that person knew better; the opinions, up and down, and backwards and forwards, which every friend volunteered. It always happens on such occasions that when one inconvenience is removed, a fresh inconvenience seems to arise; and in wishing to spare all sides we inevitably go wrong on one side or the other.
The letters to friends and relations were all undertaken by Mittler, and they were to be written and sent off at once. It was highly necessary, he thought, that the good fortune which he considered so important for the family, should be known as widely as possible through the ill-natured and misinterpreting world. For indeed these late entanglements and perplexities had got abroad among the public, which at all times has a conviction that whatever happens, happens only in order that it may have something to talk about.
The ceremony of the baptism was to be observed with all due honor, but it was to be as brief and as private as possible. The people came together; Ottilie and Mittler were to hold the child as sponsors. The old pastor, supported by the servants of the church, came in with slow steps; the prayers were offered. The child lay in Ottilie’s arms, and as she was looking affectionately down at it, it opened its eyes and she was not a little startled when she seemed to see her own eyes looking at her. The likeness would have surprised anyone. Mittler, who next had to receive the child, started as well; he fancying he saw in the little features a most striking likeness to the captain. He had never seen a resemblance so marked.
The infirmity of the good old clergyman had not permitted him to accompany the ceremony with more than the usual liturgy.
Mittler, however, who was full of his subject, recollected his old performances when he had been in the ministry, and indeed it was one of his peculiarities that on every sort of occasion, he always thought what he would like to say, and how he would express himself about it.
At this time he was the less able to contain himself, as he was now in the midst of a circle consisting entirely of well-known friends. He began therefore towards the conclusion of the service, to put himself quietly into the place of the clergyman; to make cheerful speeches aloud, expressive of his duty and his hopes as godfather, and to dwell all the longer on the subject, as he thought he saw in Charlotte’s gratified manner that she was pleased with his doing so.
It altogether escaped the eagerness of the orator, that the good old man would gladly have sat down; still less did he think that he was on the way to occasion a more serious evil. After he had described with all his power of impressiveness the relation in which every person present stood toward the child, thereby putting Ottilie’s composure sorely to the proof, he turned at last to the old man with the words, “And you, my worthy father, you may now well say with Simeon, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen the saviour of this house.’ ”
He was now in full swing towards a brilliant peroration, when he perceived the old man, to whom he held out the child, first appear a little to incline towards it, and immediately after to totter and sink backwards. Hardly prevented from falling, he was lifted to a seat; but, notwithstanding the instant assistance which was rendered, he was found to be dead.
To see thus side by side birth and death, the coffin and the cradle, to see them and to realize them, to comprehend, not with the eye of imagination, but with the bodily eye, at one moment these fearful opposites, was a hard trial to the spectators; the harder, the more utterly it had taken them by surprise. Ottilie alone stood contemplating the slumberer, whose features still retained their gentle sweet expression, with a kind of envy. The life of her soul was killed; why should the bodily life any longer drag on in weariness?
But though Ottilie was frequently led by melancholy incidents which occurred in the day to thoughts of the past, of separation and of loss, at night she had strange visions given her to comfort her, which assured her of the existence of her beloved, and thus strengthened hers, and gave her life for her own. When she laid herself down at night to rest, and was floating among sweet sensations between sleep and waking, she seemed to be looking into a clear but softly illuminated space. In this she would see Edward with the greatest distinctness, and not in the dress in which she had been accustomed to see him, but in military uniform; never in the same position, but always in a natural one, and not the least with anything fantastic about him, either standing or walking, or lying down or riding. The figure, which was painted with the utmost minuteness, moved readily before her without any effort of hers, without her willing it or exerting her imagination to produce it. Frequently she saw him surrounded with something in motion, which was darker than the bright ground; but the figures were shadowy, and she could scarcely distinguish them—sometimes they were like men, sometimes they were like horses, or like trees, or like mountains. She usually went to sleep in the midst of the apparition, and when, after a quiet night, she woke again in the morning, she felt refreshed and comforted; she could say to herself, Edward still lives, and she herself was still remaining in the closest relation towards him.
The spring was come; it was late, but it therefore burst out more rapidly and more exhilaratingly than usual. Ottilie now found in the garden the fruits of her carefulness. Everything shot up and came out in leaf and flower at its proper time. A number of plants which she had been training up under glass frames and in hotbeds, now burst forward at once to meet, at last, the advances of nature; and whatever there was to do, and to take care of, it did not remain the mere labor of hope which it had been, but brought its reward in immediate and substantial enjoyment.
There was many a chasm however among the finest shoots produced by Luciana’s wild ways, for which she had to console the gardener, and the symmetry of many a leafy coronet was destroyed. She tried to encourage him to hope that it would all be soon restored again, but he had too deep a feeling, and too pure an idea of the nature of his business, for such grounds of comfort to be of much service with him. Little as the gardener allowed himself to have his attention dissipated by other tastes and inclinations, he could the less bear to have the peaceful course interrupted which the plant follows towards its enduring or its transient perfection. A plant is like a self-willed man, out of whom we can obtain all which we desire, if we will only treat him his own way. A calm eye, a silent method, in all seasons of the year, and at every hour, to do exactly what has then to be done, is required of no one perhaps more than of a gardener. These qualities the good man possessed in an eminent degree, and it was on that account that Ottilie liked so well to work with him; but for some time past he had not found himself able to exercise his peculiar talent with any pleasure to himself. Whatever concerned the fruit-gardening or kitchen-gardening, as well as whatever had in time past been required in the ornamental gardens, he understood perfectly. One man succeeds in one thing, another in another; he succeeded in these. In his management of the orangery, of the bulbous flowers, in budding shoots and growing cuttings from the carnations and auriculas, he might challenge nature herself. But the new ornamental shrubs and fashionable flowers remained in a measure strange to him. He had a kind of shyness of the endless field of botany, which had been lately opening itself, and the strange names humming about his ears made him cross and ill-tempered. The orders for flowers which had been made by his lord and lady in the course of the past year, he considered so much useless waste and extravagance. All the more, as he saw many valuable plants disappear; and as he had ceased to stand on the best possible terms with the nursery gardeners, who he fancied had not been serving him honestly.
Consequently, after a number of attempts, he had formed a sort of a plan, in which Ottilie encouraged him the more readily, because its first essential condition was the return of Edward, whose absence in this, as in many other matters, every day had to be felt more and more seriously.
Now that the plants were ever striking new roots, and putting out their shoots, Ottilie felt herself even more fettered to this spot. It was just a year since she had come there as a stranger, as a mere insignificant creature. How much had she not gained for herself since that time! but, alas! how much had she not also since that time lost again! Never had she been so rich, and never so poor. The feelings of her loss and of her gain alternated momentarily one with another, chasing each other through her heart; and she could find no other means to help herself, except always to set to work again at what lay nearest to her, with such interest and eagerness as she could command.
That everything which she knew to be dear to Edward received especial care from her may be supposed. And why should she not hope that he himself would now soon come back again; and that when present, he would show himself grateful for all the care and pains which she had taken for him in his absence?
But there was also a far different employment which she took upon herself in his service; she had undertaken the principal charge of the child, whose immediate attendant it was all the easier for her to be, as they had determined not to put it into the hands of a nurse, but to bring it up themselves by hand with milk and water. In the beautiful season it was much out of doors, enjoying the free air, and Ottilie liked best to take it out herself, to carry the unconscious sleeping infant among the flowers and blossoms which should one day smile so brightly on its childhood,—among the young shrubs and plants, which, by their youth, seemed designed to grow up with the young lord to their after stature. When she looked about her, she did not hide from herself to what a high position that child was born: far and wide, wherever the eye could see, all would one day belong to him. How desirable, how necessary it must therefore be, that it should grow up under the eyes of its father and its mother, and renew and strengthen the union between them!
Ottilie saw all this so clearly, that she represented it to herself as conclusively decided, and for herself, as concerned with it, she never felt at all. Under this fair heaven, by this bright sunshine, at once it became clear to her, that her love, if it would perfect itself, must become altogether unselfish; and there were many moments in which she believed it was an elevation which she had already attained. She only desired the well-being of her friend. She fancied herself able to resign him, and never to see him any more, if she could only know that he was happy. The one only determination which she formed for herself was never to belong to another.
They had taken care that the autumn should be no less brilliant than the spring. Sunflowers were there, and all the other plants which are never tired of blossoming in autumn, and continue boldly on into the cold; asters especially were sown in the greatest abundance, and scattered about in all directions, to form a starry heaven upon the earth.
FROM OTTILIE’S DIARY.
“Any good thought which we have read, anything striking which we have heard, we commonly enter in our diary; but if we would take the trouble, at the same time, to copy out of our friends’ letters the remarkable observations, the original ideas, the hasty words so pregnant in meaning, which we might find in them, we should then be rich indeed. We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverably for ourselves and for others. I intend to make amends in future for such neglect.”
“So, then, once more the old story of the year is being repeated over again. We are come now, thank God, again to its most charming chapter. The violets and the may-flowers are as its superscriptions and its vignettes. It always makes a pleasant impression on us when we open again at these pages in the book of life.”
“We find fault with the poor, particularly with the little ones among them, when they loiter about the streets and beg. Do we not observe, that they begin to work again, as soon as ever there is anything for them to do? Hardly has nature unfolded her smiling treasures, than the children are at once upon her track to open out a calling for themselves. None of them beg any more; they have each a nosegay to offer you; they were out and gathering it before you had awakened out of your sleep, and the supplicating face looks as sweetly at you as the present which the hand is holding out. No person ever looks miserable who feels that he has a right to make a demand upon you.”
“How is it that the year sometimes seems so short, and sometimes is so long? How is it that it is so short when it is passing, and so long as we look back over it? When I think of the past (and it never comes so powerfully over me as in the garden), I feel how the perishing and the enduring work one upon the other, and there is nothing whose endurance is so brief as not to leave behind it some trace of itself, something in its own likeness.”
“We are able to tolerate the winter. We fancy that we can extend ourselves more freely when the trees are so spectral, so transparent. They are nothing, but they conceal nothing; but when once the germs and buds begin to show, then we become impatient for the full foliage to come out, for the landscape to put on its body, and the tree to stand before us as a form.”
“Everything which is perfect in its kind, must pass out beyond and transcend its kind. It must be an inimitable something of another and a higher nature. In many of its tones the nightingale is only a bird; then it rises up above its class, and seems as if it would teach every feathered creature what singing really is.”
“A life without love, without the presence of the beloved, is but poor comédie à tiroir. We draw out slide after slide, swiftly tiring of each, and pushing it back to make haste to the next. Even what we know to be good and important hangs but wearily together; every step is an end, and every step is a fresh beginning.”
Charlotte meanwhile was well and in good spirits. She was happy in her beautiful boy, whose fair promising little form every hour was a delight to both her eyes and heart. In him she found a new link to connect her with the world and with her property. Her old activity began anew to stir in her again.
Look which way she would, she saw how much had been done in the year that was past, and it was a pleasure to her to contemplate it. Enlivened by the strength of these feelings, she climbed up to the summer-house with Ottilie and the child, and as she laid the latter down on the little table, as on the altar of her house, and saw the two seats still vacant, she thought of gone-by times, and fresh hopes rose out before her for herself and for Ottilie.
Young ladies, perhaps, look timidly round them at this or that young man, carrying on a silent examination, whether they would like to have him for a husband; but whoever has a daughter or a female ward to care for, takes a wider circle in her survey. And so it fared at this moment with Charlotte, to whom, as she thought of how they had once sat side by side in that summer-house, a union did not seem impossible between the captain and Ottilie. It had not remained unknown to her, that the plans for the advantageous marriage, which had been proposed to the captain, had come to nothing.
Charlotte went on up the cliff, and Ottilie carried the child. A number of reflections crowded upon the former. Even on the firm land there are frequent enough shipwrecks, and the true wise conduct is to recover ourselves, and refit our vessel as fast as possible. Is life to be calculated only by its gains and losses? Who has not made arrangement on arrangement, and has not seen them broken in pieces? How often does not a man strike into a road and lose it again! How often are we not turned aside from one point which we had sharply before our eye, but only to reach some higher stage! The traveller, to his greatest annoyance, breaks a wheel upon his journey, and through this unpleasant accident makes some charming acquaintance, and forms some new connection, which has an influence on all his life. Destiny grants us our wishes, but in its own way, in order to give us something beyond our wishes.
Among these and similar reflections they reached the new building on the hill, where they intended to establish themselves for the summer. The view all round them was far more beautiful than could have been supposed; every little obstruction had been removed; all the loveliness of the landscape, whatever nature, whatever the season of the year had done for it, came out in its beauty before the eye; and already the young plantations, which had been made to fill up a few openings, were beginning to look green, and to form an agreeable connecting link between parts which before stood separate.
The house itself was nearly habitable; the views, particularly from the upper rooms, were of the richest variety. The longer you looked round you, the more beauties you discovered. What magnificent effects would not be produced here at the different hours of day—by sunlight and by moonlight? Nothing could be more delightful than to come and live there, and now that she found all the rough work finished, Charlotte longed to be busy again. An upholsterer, a tapestry-hanger, a painter, who could lay on the colors with patterns, and a little gilding, were all which were required, and these were soon found, and in a short time the building was completed. Kitchen and cellar stores were quickly laid in; being so far from the castle, it was necessary to have all essentials provided; and the two ladies with the child went up and settled there. From this residence, as from a new centre point, unknown walks opened out to them; and in these high regions the free fresh air and the beautiful weather were thoroughly delightful.
Ottilie’s favorite walk, sometimes alone, sometimes with the child, was down below, towards the plane trees; along a pleasant footpath, leading directly to the point where one of the boats was kept chained in which people used to go across the water. She often indulged herself in an expedition on the water, only without the child, as Charlotte was a little uneasy about it. She never missed, however, paying a daily visit to the castle garden and the gardener, and going to look with him at his show of greenhouse plants, which were all out now, enjoying the free air.
At this beautiful season, Charlotte was much pleased to receive a visit from an English nobleman, who had made acquaintance with Edward abroad, having met him more than once, and who was now curious to see the laying out of his park, which he had heard so much admired. He brought with him a letter of introduction from the count, and introduced at the same time a quiet but most agreeable man as his travelling companion. He went about seeing everything, sometimes with Charlotte and Ottilie, sometimes with the gardeners and the foresters, often with his friend, and now and then alone; and they could perceive clearly from his observations that he took an interest in such matters, and understood them well; indeed, that he had himself probably executed many such.
Although he was now advanced in life, he entered warmly into everything which could serve for an ornament to life, or contribute anything to its importance.
In his presence, the ladies came first properly to enjoy what was round them. His practised eye received every effect in its freshness, and he found all the more pleasure in what was before him, as he had not previously known the place, and was scarcely able to distinguish what man had done there from what nature had presented to him ready made.
We may even say that through his remarks the park grew and enriched itself; he was able to anticipate in their fulfilment the promises of the growing plantations. There was not a spot where there was any effect which could be either heightened or produced, but what he observed it.
In one place he pointed to a fountain which, if it was cleaned out, promised to be the most beautiful spot for a picnic party. In another, to a cave which had only to be enlarged and swept clear of rubbish to form a desirable seat. A few trees might be cut down, and a view would be opened from it of some grand masses of rock, towering magnificently against the sky. He wished the owners joy that so much was still remaining for them to do, and he besought them not to be in a hurry about it, but to keep for themselves for years to come the pleasures of shaping and improving.
At the hours which the ladies usually spent alone he was never in the way, for he was occupied the greatest part of the day in catching such views in the park as would make good paintings, in a portable camera obscura, and drawing from them, in order to secure some desirable fruits from his travels for himself and others. For many years past he had been in the habit of doing this in all remarkable places which he visited, and had provided himself by it with a most charming and interesting collection. He showed the ladies a large portfolio which he had brought with him, and entertained them with the pictures and with descriptions. And it was a real delight to them, here in their solitude, to travel so pleasantly over the world, and see sweep past them, shores and havens, mountains, lakes and rivers, cities, castles, and a hundred other localities which have a name in history.
Each of the two ladies had an especial interest in it—Charlotte the more general interest in whatever was historically remarkable; Ottilie dwelling in preference on the scenes of which Edward used most to talk,—where he liked best to stay, and which he would most often revisit. Every man has somewhere, far or near, his peculiar localities which attract him; scenes which, according to his character, either from first impressions, or from particular associations, or from habit, have a charm for him beyond all others.
She, therefore, asked the earl which, of all these places, pleased him best, where he would like to settle, and live for himself, if he might choose. There was more than one lovely spot which he pointed out, with what had happened to him there to make him love and value it; and the peculiar accentuated French in which he spoke, made it most pleasant to listen to him.
To the further question, which was his ordinary residence, which he properly considered his home; he replied, without any hesitation, in a manner quite unexpected by the ladies.
“I have accustomed myself by this time to be at home everywhere, and I find, after all, that it is much more agreeable to allow others to plant and build, and keep house for me. I have no desire to return to my own possessions, partly on political grounds, but principally because my son, for whose sake alone it was any pleasure to me to remain and work there,—who will, by-and-by, inherit it, and with whom I hoped to enjoy it,—took no interest in the place at all, but has gone out to India, where, like many other foolish fellows, he fancies he can make a higher use of his life. He is more likely to squander it.
“Assuredly we spend far too much labor and outlay in preparation for life. Instead of beginning at once to make ourselves happy in a moderate condition, we spread ourselves out wider and wider, only to make ourselves more and more uncomfortable. Who is there now to enjoy my mansion, my park, my gardens? Not I, nor any of mine,—strangers, visitors, or curious, restless travellers.
“Even with large means, we are ever but half and half at home, especially in the country, where we miss many things to which we have become accustomed in town. The book for which we are most anxious is not to be had, and just the thing which we most wanted is forgotten. We take to being domestic, only again to go out of ourselves; if we do not go astray of our own will and caprice, circumstances, passions, accidents, necessity, and one does not know what besides, manage it for us.”
Little did the earl imagine how deeply his friend would be touched by these random observations. It is a danger to which we are all of us exposed when we venture on general remarks in a society the circumstances of which we might have supposed were well enough known to us. Such casual wounds, even from well-meaning, kindly-disposed people, were nothing new to Charlotte. She so clearly, so thoroughly knew and understood the world, that it gave her no particular pain if it did happen that through somebody’s thoughtlessness or imprudence she had her attention forced into this or that unpleasant direction. But it was very different with Ottilie. At her half-conscious age, at which she rather felt than saw, and at which she was disposed, indeed was obliged, to turn her eyes away from what she should not or would not see, Ottilie was thrown by this melancholy conversation into the most pitiable state. It rudely tore away the pleasant veil from before her eyes, and it seemed to her as if everything which had been done all this time for house and court, for park and garden, for all their wide environs, were utterly in vain, because he to whom it all belonged could not enjoy it; because he, like their present visitor, had been driven out to wander up and down in the world—and, indeed, in the most perilous paths of it—by those who were nearest and dearest to him. She was accustomed to listen in silence, but on this occasion she sat on in the most painful condition; which, indeed, was made rather worse than better by what the stranger went on to say, as he continued with his peculiar, humorous gravity:
“I think I am now on the right way. I look upon myself steadily as a traveller, who renounces many things in order to enjoy more. I am accustomed to change; it has become, indeed, a necessity to me; just as in the opera, people are always looking out for new and new decorations, because there have already been so many. I know very well what I am to expect from the best hotels, and what from the worst. It may be as good or it may be as bad as it will, but I nowhere find anything to which I am accustomed, and in the end it comes to much the same thing whether we depend for our enjoyment entirely on the regular order of custom, or entirely on the caprices of accident. I have never to vex myself now, because this thing is mislaid, or that thing is lost; because the room in which I live is uninhabitable, and I must have it repaired; because somebody has broken my favorite cup, and for a long time nothing tastes well out of any other. All this I am happily raised above. If the house catches fire about my ears, my people quietly pack my things up, and we pass away out of the town in search of other quarters. And considering all these advantages, when I reckon carefully, I calculate that, by the end of the year, I have not sacrificed more than it would have cost me to be at home.”
In this description Ottilie saw nothing but Edward before her; how he too was now amidst discomfort and hardship, marching along untrodden roads, lying out in the fields in danger and want, and in all this insecurity and hazard growing accustomed to be homeless and friendless, learning to fling away everything that he might have nothing to lose. Fortunately, the party separated for a short time. Ottilie escaped to her room, where she could give way to her tears. No weight of sorrow had ever pressed so heavily upon her as this clear perception (which she tried, as people usually do, to make still clearer to herself), that men love to dally with and exaggerate the evils which circumstances have once begun to inflict upon them.
The state in which Edward was, came before her in a light so piteous, so miserable, that she made up her mind, let it cost her what it would, that she would do everything in her power to unite him again with Charlotte, and she herself would go and hide her sorrow and her love in some silent scene, and beguile the time with such employment as she could find.
Meanwhile the earl’s companion, a quiet, sensible man and a keen observer, had remarked the mistake in the conversation, and spoke to his friend about it. The latter knew nothing of the circumstances of the family; but the other being one of those persons whose principal interest in travelling lay in gathering up the strange occurrences which arose out of the natural or artificial relations of society, which were produced by the conflict of the restraint of law with the violence of the will, of the understanding with the reason, of passion with prejudice—had some time before made himself acquainted with the outline of the story, and since he had been in the family he had learned exactly all that had taken place, and the present position in which things were standing.
The earl, of course, was very sorry, but it was not a thing to make him uneasy. A man must hold his tongue altogether in society if he is never to find himself in such a position; for not only remarks with meaning in them, but the most trivial expressions, may happen to clash in an inharmonious key with the interest of somebody present.
“We will set things right this evening,” said he, “and escape from any general conversation; you shall let them hear one of the many charming anecdotes with which your portfolio and your memory have enriched themselves while we have been abroad.”
However, with the best intentions, the strangers did not, on this next occasion, succeed any better in gratifying their friends with unalloyed entertainment. The earl’s friend told a number of singular stories—some serious, some amusing, some touching, some terrible—with which he had roused their attention and strained their interest to the highest tension, and he thought to conclude with a strange but softer incident, little dreaming how nearly it would touch his listeners.
THE TWO STRANGE CHILDREN.
TWO children of neighboring families, a boy and a girl, of an age which would suit well for them at some future time to marry, were brought up together with this agreeable prospect, and the parents on both sides, who were people of some position in the world, looked forward with pleasure to their future union.
“It was too soon observed, however, that the purpose seemed likely to fail; the dispositions of both children promised everything which was good, but there was an unaccountable antipathy between them. Perhaps they were too much like each other. Both were thoughtful, clear in their wills, and firm in their purposes. Each separately was beloved and respected by his or her companions, but whenever they were together they were always antagonists. Forming separate plans for themselves, they only met mutually to cross and thwart one another; never emulating each other in pursuit of one aim, but always fighting for a single object. Good-natured and amiable everywhere else, they were spiteful and even malicious whenever they came in contact.
“This singular relation first showed itself in their childish games, and it continued with their advancing years. The boys used to play at soldiers, divide into parties, and give each other battle, and the fierce haughty young lady set herself at once at the head of one of the armies, and fought against the other with such animosity and bitterness that the latter would have been put to a shameful flight, except for the desperate bravery of her own particular rival, who at last disarmed his antagonist and took her prisoner; and even then she defended herself with so much fury that to save his eyes from being torn out, and at the same time not to injure his enemy, he had been obliged to take off his silk handkerchief and tie her hands with it behind her back.
“This she never forgave him: she made so many attempts, she laid so many plans to injure him, that the parents, who had been long watching these singular passions, came to an understanding together and resolved to separate these two hostile creatures, and sacrifice their favorite hopes.
“The boy shot rapidly forward in the new situation in which he was placed. He mastered every subject which he was taught. His friends and his own inclination chose the army for his profession, and everywhere, let him be where he would, he was looked up to and beloved. His disposition seemed formed to labor for the well-being and the pleasure of others; and he himself, without being clearly conscious of it, was in himself happy at having got rid of the only antagonist which nature had assigned to him.
“The girl, on the other hand, became at once an altered creature. Her growing age, the progress of her education, above all, her own inward feelings, drew her away from the boisterous games with boys in which she had hitherto delighted. Altogether she seemed to want something; there was nothing anywhere about her which could deserve to excite her hatred, and she had never found anyone whom she could think worthy of her love.
“A young man, somewhat older than her previous neighbor-antagonist, of rank, property and consequence, beloved in society, and much sought after by women, bestowed his affections upon her. It was the first time that friend, lover, or servant had displayed any interest in her. The preference which he showed for her above others who were older, more cultivated, and of more brilliant pretensions than herself, was naturally gratifying; the constancy of his attention, which was never obtrusive, his standing by her faithfully through a number of unpleasant incidents, his quiet suit, which was declared indeed to her parents, but which as she was still very young he did not press, only asking to be allowed to hope; all this engaged him to her, and custom and the assumption in the world that the thing was already settled, carried her along with it. She had so often been called his bride that at last she began to consider herself so, and neither she nor anyone else ever thought any further trial could be necessary before she exchanged rings with the person who for so long a time had passed for her bridegroom.
“The peaceful course which the affair had all along followed was not at all precipitated by the betrothal. Things were allowed to go on both sides just as they were; they were happy in being together, and they could enjoy to the end the fair season of the year as the spring of their future more serious life.
“The absent youth had meanwhile grown up into everything which was most admirable. He had obtained a well-deserved rank in his profession, and came home on leave to visit his family. Towards his fair neighbor he found himself again in a natural but singular position. For some time past she had been nourishing in herself such affectionate family feelings as suited her position as a bride; she was in harmony with everything about her; she believed that she was happy, and in a certain sense she was so. Now first for a long time something again stood in her way. It was not to be hated—she had become incapable of hatred. Indeed the childish hatred, which had in fact been nothing more than an obscure recognition of inward worth, expressed itself now in a happy astonishment, in pleasure at meeting, in ready acknowledgments, in a half willing, half unwilling, and yet irresistible attraction; and all this was mutual. Their long separation gave occasion for longer conversations; even their old childish foolishness served, now that they had grown wiser, to amuse them as they looked back; and they felt as if at least they were bound to make good their petulant hatred by friendliness and attention to each other—as if their first violent injustice to each other ought not to be left without open acknowledgment.
“On his side it all remained in a sensible, desirable moderation. His position, his circumstances, his efforts, his ambition, found him so abundant an occupation, that the friendliness of this pretty bride he received as a very thankworthy present; but without, therefore, even so much as thinking of her in connection with himself, or entertaining the slightest jealousy of the bridegroom, with whom he stood on the best possible terms.
“With her, however, it was altogether different. She seemed to herself as if she had awakened out of a dream. Her fightings with her young neighbor had been the beginnings of an affection; and this violent antagonism was no more than an equally violent innate passion for him, first showing under the form of opposition. She could remember nothing else than that she had always loved him. She laughed over her martial encounter with him with weapons in her hand; she dwelt upon the delight of her feelings when he disarmed her. She imagined that it had given her the greatest happiness when he bound her; and whatever she had done afterwards to injure him, or to vex him, presented itself to her as only an innocent means of attracting his attention. She cursed their separation. She bewailed the sleepy state into which she had fallen. She execrated the insidious lazy routine which had betrayed her into accepting so insignificant a bridegroom. She was transformed—doubly transformed, forwards or backwards, whichever way we like to take it.
“She kept her feelings entirely to herself; but if anyone could have divined them and shared them with her, he could not have blamed her: for indeed the bridegroom could not sustain a comparison with the other as soon as they were seen together. If a sort of regard to the one could not be refused, the other excited the fullest trust and confidence. If one made an agreeable acquaintance, the other we should desire for a companion; and in extraordinary cases, where higher demands might have to be made on them, the bridegroom was a person to be utterly despaired of, while the other would give the feeling of perfect security.
“There is a peculiar innate tact in women which discovers to them differences of this kind; and they have cause as well as occasion to cultivate it.
“The more the fair bride was nourishing all these feelings in secret, the less opportunity there was for anyone to speak a word which could tell in favor of her bridegroom, to remind her of what her duty and their relative position advised and commanded—indeed, what an unalterable necessity seemed now irrevocably to require; the poor heart gave itself up entirely to its passion.
“On one side she was bound inextricably to the bridegroom by the world, by her family, and by her own promise; on the other, the ambitious young man made no secret of what he was thinking and planning for himself, conducting himself towards her no more than a kind but not at all a tender brother, and speaking of his departure as immediately impending; and now it seemed as if her early childish spirit woke up again in her with all its spleen and violence, and was preparing itself in its distemper, on this higher stage of life, to work more effectively and destructively. She determined that she would die to punish the once hated, and now so passionately loved, youth for his want of interest in her; and as she could not possess himself, at least she would wed herself forever to his imagination and to his repentance. Her dead image should cling to him, and he should never be free from it. He should never cease to reproach himself for not having understood, not examined, not valued her feelings toward him.
“This singular insanity accompanied her wherever she went. She kept it concealed under all sorts of forms; and although people thought her very odd, no one was observant enough or clever enough to discover the real inward reason.
“In the meantime, friends, relations, acquaintances had exhausted themselves in contrivances for pleasure parties. Scarcely a day passed, but something new and unexpected was set on foot. There was hardly a pretty spot in the country round which had not been decked out and prepared for the reception of some merry party. And now our young visitor before departing wished to do his part as well, and invited the young couple, with a small family circle, to an expedition on the water. They went on board a large beautiful vessel dressed out in all its colors,—one of the yachts which had a small saloon and a cabin or two besides, and are intended to carry with them upon the water the comfort and conveniences of land.
“They set out upon the broad river with music playing. The party had collected in the cabin, below deck, during the heat of the day, and were amusing themselves with games. Their young host, who could never remain without doing something, had taken charge of the helm, to relieve the old master of the vessel, and the latter had lain down and was fast asleep. It was a moment when the steerer required all his circumspectness, as the vessel was nearing a spot where two islands narrowed the channel of the river, while shallow banks of shingle stretching off, first on one side and then on the other, made the navigation difficult and dangerous. Prudent and sharp-sighted as he was, he thought for a moment that it would be better to wake the master; but he felt confident in himself, and he thought he would venture and make straight for the narrows. At this moment his fair enemy appeared upon deck with a wreath of flowers in her hair. ‘Take this to remember me by,’ she cried out. She took it off and threw it to the steerer. ‘Don’t disturb me,’ he answered quickly, as he caught the wreath; ‘I require all my powers and all my attention now.’ ‘You will never be disturbed by me any more,’ she cried; ‘you will never see me again.’ As she spoke, she rushed to the forward part of the vessel, and from thence she sprang into the water. Voice upon voice called out, ‘Save her, save her, she is sinking!’ He was in the most terrible difficulty. In the confusion the old shipmaster woke, and tried to catch the rudder, which the young man bid him take. But there was no time to change hands. The vessel stranded; and at the same moment, flinging off the heaviest of his upper garments, he sprang into the water and swam towards his beautiful enemy. The water is a friendly element to a man who is at home in it, and who knows how to deal with it; it buoyed him up, and acknowledged the strong swimmer as its master. He soon overtook the beautiful girl, who had been swept away before him; he caught hold of her, raised her and supported her, and both of them were carried violently down by the current, till the shoals and islands were left far behind, and the river was again open and running smoothly. He now began to collect himself; they had passed the first immediate danger, in which he had been obliged to act mechanically without time to think; he raised his head as high as he could to look about him; and then swam with all his might to a low bushy point, which ran out conveniently into the stream. There he brought his fair burden to dry land, but he could find no signs of life in her; he was in despair, when he caught sight of a trodden path leading among the bushes. Again he caught her up in his arms, hurried forward, and presently reached a solitary cottage. There he found kind, good people—a young married couple; the misfortunes and the dangers explained themselves instantly; every remedy he could think of was instantly applied; a bright fire blazed up: woollen blankets were spread on a bed, counterpane, cloaks, skins, whatever there was at hand which would serve for warmth, were heaped over her as fast as possible. The desire to save life overpowered, for the present, every other consideration. Nothing was left undone to bring back to life the beautiful half-torpid, naked body. It succeeded; she opened her eyes! her friend was before her; she threw her heavenly arms about his neck. In this position she remained for a time; and then a stream of tears burst out and completed her recovery. ‘Will you forsake me,’ she cried, ‘now when I find you again thus?’ ‘Never,’ he answered, ‘never:’ hardly knowing what he said or did. ‘Only consider yourself,’ she added; ‘take care of yourself, for your sake and for mine.’
“She now began to collect herself, and for the first time recollected the state in which she was; she could not be ashamed before her darling, before her preserver; but she gladly allowed him to go, that he might take care of himself; for the clothes which he still wore were wet and dripping.
“Their young hosts considered what could be done. The husband offered the young man, and the wife offered the fair lady, the dresses in which they had been married, which were hanging up in full perfection, and sufficient for a complete suit, inside and out, for two people. In a short time our pair of adventurers were not only equipped, but in full costume. They looked most charming, gazed at one another, when they met, with admiration, and then with infinite affection, half laughing at the same time at the quaintness of their appearance, they fell into each other’s arms.
“The power of youth and the quickening spirit of love in a few moments completely restored them; and there was nothing wanted but music to have set them both off dancing.
“To have found themselves brought from the water on dry land, from death into life, from the circle of their families into a wilderness, from despair into rapture, from indifference to affection and to love, all in a moment: the head was not strong enough to bear it; it must either burst, or go distracted: or if so distressing an alternative were to be escaped, the heart must put out all its efforts.
“Lost wholly in each other, it was long before they recollected the alarm and anxiety of those who had been left behind; and they themselves, indeed, could not well think, without alarm and anxiety, how they were again to encounter them. ‘Shall we run away? shall we hide ourselves?’ said the young man. ‘We will remain together,’ she said, as she clung about his neck.
“The peasant having heard them say that a party was aground on the shoal, had hurried down, without stopping to ask another question, to the shore. When he arrived there, he saw the vessel coming safely down the stream. After much labor it had been got off; and they were now going on in uncertainty, hoping to find their lost ones again somewhere. The peasant shouted and made signs to them, and at last caught the attention of those on board; then he ran to a spot where there was a convenient place for landing, and went on signalling and shouting till the vessel’s head was turned towards the shore; and what a scene there was for them when they landed. The parents of the two betrothed first pressed on the banks; the poor loving bridegroom had almost lost his senses. They had scarcely learned that their dear children had been saved, when in their strange disguise the latter came forward out of the bushes to meet them. No one recognized them till they were come quite close. ‘Who do I see?’ cried the mothers. ‘What do I see?’ cried the fathers. The preserved ones flung themselves on the ground before them. ‘Your children,’ they called out; ‘a pair.’ ‘Forgive us!’ cried the maiden. ‘Give us your blessing!’ cried the young man. ‘Give us your blessing!’ they cried both, as all the world stood still in wonder. ‘Your blessing!’ was repeated the third time; and who would have been able to refuse it?”
The narrator made a pause, or rather he had already finished his story, before he observed the emotion into which Charlotte had been thrown by it. She got up, uttered some sort of an apology, and left the room. To her it was a well-known history. The principal incident in it had really taken place with the captain and a neighbor of her own; not exactly, indeed, as the Englishman had related it. But the main features of it were the same. It had only been more finished off and elaborated in its details, as stories of that kind always are, when they have passed first through the lips of the multitude, and then through the fancy of a clever and imaginative narrator; the result of the process being usually to leave everything and nothing as it was.
Ottilie followed Charlotte, as the two friends begged her to do; and then it was the earl’s turn to remark, that perhaps they had made a second mistake, and that the subject of the story had been well known to or was in some way connected with the family. “We must take care,” he added, “that we do no more mischief here; we seem to bring little good to our entertainers for all the kindness and hospitality which they have shown us; we will make some excuse for ourselves, and then take our leave.”
“I must confess,” answered his companion, “that there is something else which still holds me here, which I should be very sorry to leave the house without seeing cleared up or in some way explained. You were too busy yourself yesterday when we were in the park with the camera, in looking for spots where you could make your sketches, to have observed anything else which was passing. You left the broad walk, you remember, and went to a sequestered place on the side of the lake. There was a fine view of the opposite shore which you wished to take. Well, Ottilie, who was with us, got up to follow; and then proposed that she and I should find our way to you in the boat. I got in with her, and was delighted with the skill of my fair conductress. I assured her that never since I had been in Switzerland, where the young ladies so often fill the place of the boatmen, had I been so pleasantly ferried over the water. At the same time I could not help asking her why she had shown such an objection to going the way which you had gone, along the little by-path. I had observed her shrink from it with a sort of painful uneasiness. She was not at all offended. ‘If you will promise not to laugh at me,’ she answered, ‘I will tell you as much as I know about it; but to myself it is a mystery which I cannot explain. There is a particular spot in that path which I never pass without a strange shiver passing over me, which I do not remember ever feeling anywhere else, and which I cannot the least understand. But I shrink from exposing myself to the sensation, because it is followed immediately after by a pain on the left side of my head, from which at other times I suffer severely.’ We landed. Ottilie was engaged with you, and I took the opportunity of examining the spot, which she pointed out to me as we went by on the water. I was not a little surprised to find there distinct traces of coal, in sufficient quantities to convince me that at a short distance below the surface there must be a considerable bed of it.
“Pardon me, my lord; I see you smile; and I know very well that you have no faith in these things about which I am so eager, and that it is only your sense and your kindness which enable you to tolerate me. However, it is impossible for me to leave this place without trying on that beautiful creature an experiment with the pendulum.”
The earl, whenever these matters came to be spoken of, never failed to repeat the same objections to them over and over again; and his friend endured them all quietly and patiently, remaining firm, nevertheless, to his own opinion, and holding to his own wishes. He, too, again repeated, that there was no reason, because the experiment did not succeed with everyone, that they should give them up, as if there was nothing in them but fancy. They should be examined into all the more earnestly and scrupulously; and there was no doubt that the result would be the discovery of a number of affinities of inorganic creatures for one another, and of organic creatures for them, and again for each other, which at present were unknown to us.
He had already spread out his apparatus of gold rings, markasites, and other metallic substances, a pretty little box of which he always carried about with himself; and he suspended a piece of metal by a string over another piece, which he placed upon the table. “Now, my lord,” he said, “you may take what pleasure you please (I can see in your face what you are feeling), at perceiving that nothing will set itself in motion with me, or for me. But my operation is no more than a pretence; when the ladies come back, they will be curious to know what strange work we are about.”
The ladies returned. Charlotte understood at once what was going on. “I have heard much of these things,” she said; “but I never saw the effect myself. You have everything ready there. Let me try whether I can succeed in producing anything.”
She took the thread in her hand, and as she was perfectly serious, she held it steady, and without any agitation. Not the slightest motion, however, could be detected. Ottilie was then called upon to try. She held the pendulum still more quietly and unconsciously over the plate on the table. But in a moment the swinging piece of metal began to stir with a distinct rotatory action, and turned as they moved the position of the plate, first to one side and then to the other; now in circles, now in ellipses; or else describing a series of straight lines; doing all the earl’s friend could expect, and far exceeding, indeed, all his expectations.
The earl himself was a little staggered; but the other could never be satisfied, from delight and curiosity, and begged for the experiment again and again with all sorts of variations. Ottilie was good-natured enough to gratify him; till at last she was obliged to desire to be allowed to go, as her headache had come on again. In further admiration and even rapture, he assured her with enthusiasm that he would cure her forever of her disorder, if she would only trust herself to his remedies. For a moment they did not know what he meant; but Charlotte, who comprehended immediately after, declined his well-meant offer, not liking to have introduced and practised about her a thing of which she had always had the strongest apprehensions.
The strangers were gone, and, notwithstanding their having been the inadvertent cause of strange and painful emotions, left the wish behind them, that this meeting might not be the last. Charlotte now made use of the beautiful weather to return visits in the neighborhood, which, indeed, gave her work enough to do, seeing that the whole country round, some from a real interest, some merely from custom, had been most attentive in calling to inquire after her. At home her delight was the sight of the child, and really it well deserved all love and interest. People saw in it a wonderful, indeed a miraculous child; the brightest, sunniest little face; a fine, well-proportioned body, strong and healthy; and what surprised them more, the double resemblance, which became more and more conspicuous. In figure and in the features of the face, it was like the captain; the eyes every day it was less easy to distinguish from the eyes of Ottilie.
Ottilie herself, partly from this remarkable affinity, perhaps still more under the influence of that sweet woman’s feeling which makes them regard with the most tender affection the offspring, even by another, of the man they love, was as good as a mother to the little creature as it grew, or rather, she was a second mother of another kind. If Charlotte was absent, Ottilie remained alone with the child and the nurse. Nanny had for some time past been jealous of the boy for monopolizing the entire affections of her mistress; she had left her in a fit of crossness, and gone back to her mother. Ottilie would carry the child about in the open air, and by degrees took longer and longer walks with it. She took her bottle of milk to give the child its food when it wanted any. Generally, too, she took a book with her; and so with the child in her arms, reading and wandering, she made a very pretty Penserosa.
The object of the campaign was attained, and Edward, with crosses and decorations, was honorably dismissed. He betook himself at once to the same little estate, where he found exact accounts of his family waiting for him, on whom all this time, without their having observed it or known of it, a sharp watch had been kept under his orders. His quiet residence looked most sweet and pleasant when he reached it. In accordance with his orders, various improvements had been made in his absence, and what was wanting to the establishment in extent, was compensated by its internal comforts and conveniences. Edward, accustomed by his more active habits of life, to take decided steps, determined to execute a project which he long had sufficient time to think over. First of all, he invited the major to come to him. This pleasure in meeting again was very great to both of them. The friendships of boyhood, like relationship of blood, possess this important advantage, that mistakes and misunderstandings never produce irreparable injury; and the old regard after a time will always re-establish itself.
Edward began with inquiring about the situation of his friend, and learned that fortune had favored him exactly as he most could have wished. He then half-seriously asked whether there was not something going forward about a marriage; to which he received a most decided and positive denial.
“I cannot and will not have any reserve with you,” he proceeded. “I will tell you at once what my own feelings are, and what I intend to do. You know my passion for Ottilie; you must long have comprehended that it was this which drove me into the campaign. I do not deny that I desired to be rid of a life which, without her, would be of no further value to me. At the same time, however, I acknowledge that I could never bring myself utterly to despair. The prospect of happiness with her was so beautiful, so infinitely charming, that it was not possible for me entirely to renounce it. Feelings, too, which I cannot explain, and a number of happy omens, have combined to strengthen me in the belief, in the assurance, that Ottilie will one day be mine. The glass with our initials cut upon it, which was thrown into the air when the foundation-stone was laid, did not go to pieces; it was caught, and I have it again in my possession. After many miserable hours of uncertainty, spent in this place, I said to myself, ‘I will put myself in the place of this glass, and it shall be an omen whether our union be possible or not. I will go; I will seek for death; not like a madman, but like a man who still hopes that he may live. Ottilie shall be the prize for which I fight. Ottilie shall be behind the ranks of the enemy; in every intrenchment, in every beleaguered fortress, I shall hope to find her, and to win her. I will do wonders, with the wish to survive them; with the hope to gain Ottilie, not to lose her.’ These feelings have led me on; they have stood by me through all dangers; and now I find myself like one who has arrived at his goal, who has overcome every difficulty and who has nothing more left in his way. Ottilie is mine, and whatever lies between the thought and the execution of it, I can only regard as unimportant.”
“With a few strokes you blot out,” replied the major, “all the objections that we can or ought to urge upon you, and yet they must be repeated. I must leave it to yourself to recall the full value of your relation with your wife; but you owe it to her, and you owe it to yourself, not to close your eyes to it. How can I so much as recollect that you have had a son given to you, without acknowledging at once that you two belong to one another forever; that you are bound, for this little creature’s sake, to live united, that united you may educate it, and provide for its future welfare?”
“It is no more than the blindness of parents,” answered Edward, “when they imagine their existence to be of so much importance to their children. Whatever lives, finds nourishment and finds assistance; and if the son who has early lost his father does not spend so easy, so favored a youth, he profits, perhaps, for that very reason, in being trained sooner for the world, and comes to a timely knowledge that he must accommodate himself to others, a thing which sooner or later we are all forced to learn. Here, however, even these considerations are irrelevant; we are sufficiently well off to be able to provide for more children than one, and it is neither right nor kind to accumulate so large a property on a single head.”
The major attempted to say something of Charlotte’s worth, and Edward’s long-standing attachment to her; but the latter hastily interrupted him. “We committed ourselves to a foolish thing, that I see all too clearly. Whoever, in middle age, attempts to realize the wishes and hopes of his early youth, invariably deceives himself. Each ten years of a man’s life has its own fortunes, its own hopes, its own desires. Woe to him who, either by circumstances or by his own infatuation, is induced to grasp at anything before him or behind him. We have done a foolish thing. Are we to abide by it all our lives? Are we, from some respect of prudence, to refuse to ourselves what the customs of the age do not forbid? In how many matters do men recall their intentions and their actions; and shall it not be allowed to them here, here, where the question is not of this thing or of that, but of everything; not of our single condition of life, but of the whole complex life itself?”
Again the major powerfully and impressively urged on Edward to consider what he owed to his wife, what was due to his family, to the world, and to his own position; but he could not succeed in producing the slightest impression.
“All these questions, my friend,” he returned, “I have considered already again and again. They have passed before me in the storm of battle, when the earth was shaking with the thunder of the cannon, with the balls singing and whistling round me, with my comrades falling right and left, my horse shot under me, my hat pierced with bullets. They have floated before me by the still watch-fire under the starry vault of the sky. I have thought them all through, felt them all through. I have weighed them, and I have satisfied myself about them again and again, and now forever. At such moments why should I not acknowledge it to you? you too were in my thoughts, you too belonged to my circle; as, indeed, you and I have long belonged to one another. If I have ever been in your debt I am now in a position to repay it with interest; if you have been in mine you have now the means to make it good to me. I know that you love Charlotte, and she deserves it. I know that you are not indifferent to her, and why should she not feel your worth? Take her at my hand and give Ottilie to me, and we shall be the happiest beings upon the earth.”
“If you choose to assign me so high a character,” replied the major, “it is the more reason for me to be firm and prudent. Whatever there may be in this proposal to make it attractive to me, instead of simplifying the problem, it only increases the difficulty of it. The question is now of me as well as of you. The fortunes, the good name, the honor of two men, hitherto unsullied with a breath, will be exposed to hazard by so strange a proceeding, to call it by no harsher name, and we shall appear before the world in a highly questionable light.”
“Our very characters being what they are,” replied Edward, “give us a right to take this single liberty. A man who has borne himself honorably through a whole life, makes an action honorable which might appear ambiguous in others. As concerns myself, after these last trials which I have taken upon myself, after the difficult and dangerous actions which I have accomplished for others, I feel entitled now to do something for myself. For you and Charlotte, that part of the business may, if you like it, be given up; but neither you nor any one shall keep me from doing what I have determined. If I may look for help and furtherance, I shall be ready to do everything which can be wished; but if I am to be left to myself, or if obstacles are to be thrown in my way, some extremity or other is sure to follow.”
The major thought it his duty to combat Edward’s purposes as long as it was possible; and now he changed the mode of his attack and tried a diversion. He seemed to give way, and only spoke of the form of what they would have to do to bring about this separation, and these new unions; and so mentioned a number of ugly, undesirable matters, which threw Edward into the worst of tempers.
“I see plainly,” he cried at last, “that what we desire can only be carried by storm, whether it be from our enemies or from our friends. I keep clearly before my own eyes what I demand, what, one way or another, I must have; and I will seize it promptly and surely. Connections like ours, I know very well, cannot be broken up and reconstructed again without much being thrown down which is standing, and much having to give way which would be glad enough to continue. We shall come to no conclusion by thinking about it. All rights are alike to the understanding, and it is always easy to throw extra weight into the ascending scale. Do you make up your mind, my friend, to act, and act promptly, for me and for yourself. Disentangle and untie the knots, and tie them up again. Do not be deterred from it by nice respects. We have already given the world something to say about us. It will talk about us once more; and when we have ceased to be a nine days’ wonder, it will forget us as it forgets everything else, and allow us to follow our own way without further concern with us.” The major had nothing further to say, and was at last obliged to sit silent; while Edward treated the affair as now conclusively settled, talked through in detail all that had to be done, and pictured the future in every most cheerful color, and then he went on again seriously and thoughtfully: “If we think to leave ourselves to the hope, to the expectation, that all will go right again of itself, that accident will lead us straight, and take care of us, it will be a most culpable self-deception. In such a way it would be impossible for us to save ourselves, or re-establish our peace again. I who have been the innocent cause of it all, how am I ever to console myself? By my own importunity I prevailed on Charlotte to write to you to stay with us, and Ottilie followed in consequence. We have had no more control over what ensued out of this, but we have the power to make it innocuous; to guide the new circumstances to our own happiness. Can you turn away your eyes from the fair and beautiful prospects which I open to us? Can you insist to me, can you insist to us all, on a wretched renunciation of them? Do you think it possible? Is it possible? Will there be no vexations, no bitterness, no inconvenience to overcome, if we resolve to fall back into our old state? and will any good, any happiness whatever, arise out of it? Will your own rank, will the high position which you have earned, be any pleasure to you, if you are to be prevented from visiting me, or from living with me? And after what has passed, it would not be anything but painful. Charlotte and I, with all our property, would only find ourselves in a melancholy state. And if, like other men of the world, you can persuade yourself that years and separation will eradicate our feelings, will obliterate impressions so deeply engraved; why, then the question is of these very years, which it would be better to spend in happiness and comfort than in pain and misery. But the last and most important point of all which I have to urge is this: supposing that we, our outward and inward condition being what it is, could nevertheless make up our minds to wait at all hazards, and bear what is laid upon us, what is to become of Ottilie? She must leave our family; she must go into society where we shall not be to care for her, and she will be driven wretchedly to and fro in a hard, cold world. Describe to me any situation in which Ottilie, without me, without us, could be happy, and you will then have employed an argument which will be stronger than every other; and if I will not promise to yield to it, if I will not undertake at once to give up all my own hopes, I will at least reconsider the question, and see how what you have said will affect it.”
This problem was not so easy to solve; at least, no satisfactory answer to it suggested itself to his friend, and nothing was left to him except to insist again and again, how grave and serious, and in many senses how dangerous, the whole undertaking was; and at least that they ought maturely to consider how they had better enter upon it. Edward agreed to this, and consented to wait before he took any steps; but only under the condition that his friend should not leave him until they had come to a perfect understanding about it, and until the first measures had been taken.
Men who are complete strangers, and wholly indifferent to one another, if they live a long time together, are sure both of them to expose something of their inner nature, and thus a kind of intimacy will arise between them. All the more was it to be expected that there would soon be no secrets between our two friends, now that they were again under the same roof together, and in daily and hourly intercourse. They went over again the earlier stages of their history, and the major confessed to Edward that Charlotte had intended Ottilie for him at the time at which he returned from abroad, and hoped that some time or other he might marry her. Edward was in ecstasies at this discovery; he spoke without reserve of the mutual affection of Charlotte and the major, which, because it happened to fall in so conveniently with his own wishes, he painted in very lively colors.
Deny it altogether, the major could not; at the same time, he could not altogether acknowledge it. But Edward only insisted on it the more. He had pictured the whole thing to himself not as possible, but as already concluded; all parties had only to resolve on what they all wished; there would be no difficulty in obtaining a separation; the marriages should follow as soon after as possible, and Edward could travel with Ottilie.
Of all the pleasant things which imagination pictures to us, perhaps there is none more charming than when lovers and young married people look forward to enjoying their new relation to each other in a fresh, new world, and test the endurance of the bond between them in so many changing circumstances. The major and Charlotte were in the meantime to have unrestricted powers to settle all questions of money, property, and other such important worldly matters; and to do whatever was right and proper for the satisfaction of all parties. What Edward dwelt the most upon, however, what he seemed to promise himself the most advantage from was this:—as the child would have to remain with the mother, the major would charge himself with the education of it; he would train the boy according to his own views, and develop what capacities there might be in him. It was not for nothing that he had received in his baptism the name of Otto, which belonged to them both.
Edward had so completely arranged everything for himself, that he could not wait another day to carry it into execution. On their way to the castle, they arrived at a small town, where Edward had a house, and where he was to stay to await the return of the major. He could not, however, prevail upon himself to alight there at once, and accompanied his friend through the place. They were both on horseback, and falling into some interesting conversation, rode on further together.
On a sudden they saw, in the distance, the new house on the height, with its red tiles shining in the sun. An irresistible longing came over Edward; he would have it all settled that very evening; he would remain concealed in a village close by. The major was to urge the business on Charlotte with all his power; he would take her prudence by surprise; and oblige her by the unexpectedness of his proposal to make a free acknowledgment of her feelings. Edward had transferred his own wishes to her; he felt certain that he was only meeting her half-way, and that her inclinations were as decided as his own; and he looked for an immediate consent from her, because he himself could think of nothing else.
Joyfully he saw the prosperous issue before his eyes; and that it might be communicated to him as swiftly as possible, a few cannon shots were to be fired off, and, if it was dark, a rocket or two sent up.
The major rode to the castle. He did not find Charlotte there; he learned that for the present she was staying at the new house; at that particular time, however, she was paying a visit in the neighborhood, and she probably would not have returned till late that evening. He walked back to the hotel, to which he had previously sent his horse.
Edward, in the meantime, unable to sit still from restlessness and impatience, stole away out of his concealment along solitary paths only known to foresters and fishermen, into his park; and he found himself towards evening in the copse close to the lake, the broad mirror of which he now for the first time saw spread out in its perfectness before him.
Ottilie had gone out that afternoon for a walk along the shore. She had the child with her, and read as she usually did while she went along. She had gone as far as the oak tree by the ferry. The boy had fallen asleep; she sat down; laid it on the ground at her side, and continued reading. The book was one of those which attract persons of delicate feeling, and afterwards will not let them go again. She forgot the time and the hours; she never thought what a long way round it was by land to the new house; but she sat lost in her book and in herself, so beautiful to look at, that the trees and the bushes round her ought to have been alive, and to have had eyes given them to gaze upon her and admire her. The sun was sinking; a ruddy streak of light fell upon her from behind, tingeing with gold her cheek and shoulder. Edward, who had made his way to the lake without being seen, finding his park desolate, and no trace of human creature to be seen anywhere, went on and on. At last he broke through the copse behind the oak tree, and saw her. At the same moment she saw him. He flew to her, and threw himself at her feet. After a long, silent pause, in which they both endeavored to collect themselves, he explained in a few words why and how he had come there. He had sent the major to Charlotte; and perhaps at that moment their common destiny was being decided. Never had he doubted her affection, and she assuredly had never doubted his. He begged for her consent; she hesitated; he implored her. He offered to resume his old privilege, and throw his arms around her, and embrace her; she pointed down to the child.
Edward looked at it, and was amazed. “Great God!” he cried; “if I had cause to doubt my wife and my friend, this face would witness fearfully against them. Is not this the very image of the major? I never saw such a likeness.”
“Indeed!” replied Ottilie; “all the world say it is like me.”
“Is it possible?” Edward answered; and at the moment the child opened its eyes—two large, black, piercing eyes, deep and full of love; already the little face was full of intelligence. He seemed as if he knew both the figures which he saw standing before him. Edward threw himself down beside the child, and then knelt a second time before Ottilie. “It is you,” he cried; “the eyes are yours! ah, but let me look into yours; let me throw a veil over that ill-starred hour which gave its being to this little creature. Shall I shock your pure spirit with the fearful thought, that man and wife who are estranged from each other, can yet press each other to their heart, and profane the bonds by which the law unites them by other eager wishes? Oh, yes! As I have said so much; as my connection with Charlotte must now be severed; as you will be mine, why should I not speak out the words to you? This child is the offspring of a double adultery. It should have been a tie between my wife and myself, but it severs her from me, and me from her. Let it witness, then, against me. Let these fair eyes say to yours, that in the arms of another I belonged to you. You must feel, Ottilie, oh! you must feel, that my fault, my crime, I can only expiate in your arms.
“Hark!” he called out, as he sprang up and listened. He thought that he had heard a shot, and that it was the sign which the major was to give. It was the gun of a forester on the adjoining hill. Nothing followed. Edward grew impatient.
Ottilie now first observed that the sun was down behind the mountains; its last rays were shining on the windows of the house above. “Leave me, Edward,” she cried; “go. Long as we have been parted, much as we have borne, yet remember what we both owe to Charlotte. She must decide our fate; do not let us anticipate her judgment. I am yours if she will permit it to be so. If she will not, I must renounce you. As you think it is now so near an issue, let us wait. Go back to the village, where the major supposes you to be. Is it likely that a rude cannon-shot will inform you of the results of such an interview? Perhaps at this moment he is seeking for you. He will not have found Charlotte at home; of that I am certain. He may have gone to meet her; for they knew at the castle where she was. How many things may have happened! Leave me! she must be at home by this time; she is expecting me with the baby above.”
Ottilie spoke hurriedly; she called together all the possibilities. It was too delightful to be with Edward; but she felt that he must now leave her. “I beseech, I implore you, my beloved,” she cried out, “go back and wait for the major.”
“I obey your commands,” cried Edward. He gazed at her for a moment with rapturous love, and then caught her close in his arms. She wound her own about him, and pressed him tenderly to her breast. Hope streamed away, like a star shooting in the sky, above their heads. They thought then, they believed, that they did indeed belong to one another. For the first time they exchanged free, genuine kisses, and separated with pain and effort.
The sun had gone down. It was twilight, and a damp mist was rising about the lake. Ottilie stood confused and agitated. She looked across to the house on the hill, and she thought she saw Charlotte’s white dress on the balcony. It was a long way round by the end of the lake; and she knew how impatiently Charlotte would be waiting for the child. She saw the plane trees just opposite her, and only a narrow interval of water divided her from the path which led straight up to the house. Her nervousness about venturing on the water with the child vanished in her present embarrassment. She hastened to the boat; she did not feel that her heart was beating; that her feet were tottering; that her senses were threatening to fail her.
She sprang in, seized the oar, and pushed off. She had to use force; she pushed again. The boat shot off, and glided, swaying and rocking, into the open water. With the child in her left arm, the book in her left hand, and the oar in her right, she lost her footing, and fell over the seat; the oar slipped from her on one side, and as she tried to recover herself, the child and the book slipped on the other, all into the water. She caught the floating dress, but lying entangled as she was herself, she was unable to rise. Her right hand was free, but she could not reach round to help herself up with it; at last she succeeded. She drew the child out of the water; but its eyes were closed, and it had ceased to breathe.
In a moment she recovered all her self-possession; but so much the greater was her agony; the boat was driving fast into the middle of the lake; the oar was swimming far away from her. She saw no one on the shore; and, indeed, if she had, it would have been of no service to her. Cut off from all assistance, she was floating on the faithless, unstable element.
She sought for help from herself; she had often heard of the recovery of the drowned; she had herself witnessed an instance of it on the evening of her birthday; she took off the child’s clothes, and dried it with her muslin dress; she threw open her bosom, laying it bare for the first time to the free heaven. For the first time she pressed a living being to her pure, naked breast. Alas! and it was not a living being. The cold limbs of the ill-starred little creature chilled her to the heart. Streams of tears gushed from her eyes, and lent a show of life and warmth to the outside of the torpid limbs. She persevered with her efforts; she wrapped it in her shawl, she drew it close to herself, stroked it, breathed upon it, and with tears and kisses labored to supply the help which, cut off as she was, she was unable to find.
It was all in vain; the child lay motionless in her arms; motionless the boat floated on the glassy water. But even here her beautiful spirit did not leave her forsaken. She turned to the Power above. She sank down upon her knees in the boat, and with both arms raised the unmoving child above her innocent breast, like marble in its whiteness; alas, too like marble, cold; with moist eyes she looked up and cried for help, where a tender heart hopes to find it in its fulness, when all other help has failed.
The stars were beginning one by one to glimmer down upon her; she turned to them and not in vain; a soft air stole over the surface, and wafted the boat under the plane trees.
She hurried to the new house, and called the surgeon and gave the child into his hands. It was carried at once to Charlotte’s sleeping-room. Cool and collected from a wide experience, he submitted the tender body to the usual process. Ottilie stood by him, through it all. She prepared everything, she fetched everything, but as if she were moving in another world; for the height of misfortune, like the height of happiness, alters the aspect of every object. And it was only when after every resource had been exhausted, the good man shook his head, and to her questions, whether there was hope, first was silent, and then answered with a gentle No! that she left the apartment, and had scarcely entered the sitting-room, when she fell fainting, with her face upon the carpet, unable to reach the sofa.
At that moment Charlotte was heard driving up. The surgeon implored the servants to keep back, and allow him to go to meet her and prepare her. But he was too late; while he was speaking she had entered the drawing-room. She found Ottilie on the ground, and one of the girls of the house came running and screaming to her open-mouthed. The surgeon entered at the same moment, and she was informed of everything. She could not at once, however, give up all hope. She was flying up-stairs to the child, but the physician besought her to remain where she was. He went himself, to deceive her with a show of fresh exertions, and she sat down upon the sofa. Ottilie was still lying on the ground; Charlotte raised her, and supported her against herself, and her beautiful head sank down upon her knee. The kind medical man went backwards and forwards; he appeared to be busy about the child; his real care was for the ladies; and so came on midnight, and the stillness grew more and more deathly. Charlotte did not try to conceal from herself any longer that her child would never return to life again. She desired to see it now. It had been wrapped up in warm woollen coverings. And it was brought down as it was, lying in its cot, which was placed at her side on the sofa. The little face was uncovered; and there it lay in its calm sweet beauty.
The report of the accident soon spread through the village; everyone was roused, and the story reached the hotel. The major hurried up the well-known road; he went round and round the house; at last he met a servant who was going to one of the out-buildings to fetch something. He learned from him in what state things were, and desired him to tell the surgeon that he was there. The latter came out, not a little surprised at the appearance of his old patron. He told him exactly what had happened, and undertook to prepare Charlotte to see him. He then went in, began some conversation to distract her attention, and led her imagination from one object to another, till at last he brought it to rest upon her friend, and the depth of feeling and of sympathy which would surely be called out in him. From the imaginative she was brought at once to the real. Enough! she was informed that he was at the door, that he knew everything and desired to be admitted.
The major entered. Charlotte received him with a miserable smile. He stood before her; she lifted off the green silk covering under which the body was lying; and by the dim light of a taper, he saw before him, not without a secret shudder, the stiffened image of himself. Charlotte pointed to a chair, and there they sat opposite to one another, without speaking, through the night. Ottilie was still lying motionless on Charlotte’s knee; she breathed softly, and slept or seemed to sleep.
The morning dawned, the lights went out; the two friends appeared to awake out of a heavy dream. Charlotte looked towards the major, and said quietly: “Tell me through what circumstances you have been brought hither, to take part in this mourning scene.”
“The present is not a time,” the major answered, in the same low tone as that in which Charlotte had spoken, for fear lest she might disturb Ottilie; “this is not a time, and this is not a place for reserve. The condition in which I find you is so fearful that even the earnest matter on which I am here, loses its importance by the side of it.” He then informed her, quite calmly and simply, of the object of his mission, in so far as he was the ambassador of Edward: of the object of his coming, in so far as his own free will and his own interests were concerned in it. He laid both before her, delicately but uprightly; Charlotte listened quietly, and showed neither surprise nor unwillingness.
As soon as the major had finished, she replied, in a voice so light that to catch her words he was obliged to draw his chair closer to her: “In such a case as this I have never before found myself; but in similar cases I have always said to myself, how will it be to-morrow? I feel very clearly that the fate of many persons is now in my hands, and what I have to do is soon said without scruple or hesitation. I consent to the separation; I ought to have made up my mind to it before; by my unwillingness and reluctance I have destroyed my child. There are certain things on which destiny obstinately insists. In vain may reason, may virtue, may duty, may all holy feelings place themselves in its way. Something shall be done which to it seems good, and which to us seems not good; and it forces its own way through at last, let us conduct ourselves as we will.
“And, indeed, what am I saying? It is but my own desire, my own purpose, against which I acted so unthinkingly, which destiny is again bringing in my way? Did I not long ago, in my thoughts, design Edward and Ottilie for one another? Did I not myself labor to bring them together? And you, my friend, you yourself were an accomplice in my plot. Why, why, could I not distinguish mere man’s obstinacy from real love? Why did I accept his hand, when I could have made him happy as a friend, and when another could have made him happy as a wife? And now, look here on this unhappy slumberer. I tremble for the moment when she will recover out of this half death sleep into consciousness. How can she endure to live? How shall she ever console herself, if she may not hope to make good that to Edward, of which, as the instrument of the most wonderful destiny, she has deprived him? And she can make it all good again by the passion, by the devotion with which she loves him. If love be able to bear all things, it is able to do yet more; it can restore all things: of myself at such a moment I may not think.
“Do you go quietly away, my dear major; say to Edward that I consent to the separation; that I leave it to him, to you, and to Mittler, to settle whatever is to be done. I have no anxiety for my own future condition; it may be what it will; it is nothing to me. I will subscribe whatever paper is submitted to me, only he must not require me to join actively. I cannot have to think about it, or give advice.”
The major rose to go. She stretched out her hand to him across Ottilie. He pressed it to his lips, and whispered gently: “And for myself, may I hope anything?”
“Do not ask me now!” replied Charlotte. “I will tell you another time. We have not deserved to be miserable; but neither can we say that we have deserved to be happy together.”
The major left her, and went, feeling for Charlotte to the bottom of his heart, but not being able to be sorry for the fate of the poor child. Such an offering seemed necessary to him for their general happiness. He pictured Ottilie to himself with a child of her own in her arms, as the most perfect compensation for the one of which she had deprived Edward. He pictured himself with his own son on his knee, who should have better right to resemble him than the one which was departed.
With such flattering hopes and fancies passing through his mind, he returned to the hotel, and on his way back he met Edward, who had been waiting for him the whole night through in the open air, since neither rocket nor report of cannon would bring him news of the successful issue of his undertaking. He had already heard of the misfortune; and he too, instead of being sorry for the poor creature, regarded what had befallen it, without being exactly ready to confess it to himself, as a convenient accident, through which the only impediment in the way of his happiness was at once removed.
The major at once informed him of his wife’s resolution, and he therefore easily allowed himself to be prevailed upon to return again with him to the village, and from thence to go for a while to the little town, where they would consider what was next to be done, and make their arrangements.
After the major had left her, Charlotte sat on, buried in her own reflections; but it was only for a few minutes. Ottilie suddenly raised herself from her lap, and looked full with her large eyes in her friend’s face. Then she got up from off the ground, and stood upright before her.
“This is the second time,” began the noble girl, with an irresistible solemnity of manner, “this is the second time that the same thing has happened to me. You once said to me that similar things often befall people more than once in their lives in a similar way, and if they do, it is always at important moments. I now find that what you said is true, and I have to make a confession to you. Shortly after my mother’s death, when I was a very little child, I was sitting one day on a footstool close to you. You were on the sofa, as you are at this moment, and my head rested on your knees. I was not asleep, I was not awake: I was in a trance. I knew everything which was passing about me. I heard every word which was said with the greatest distinctness, and yet I could not stir, I could not speak; and if I had wished it, I could not have given a hint that I was conscious. On that occasion you were speaking about me to one of your friends; you were commiserating my fate, left as I was a poor orphan in the world. You described my dependent position, and how unfortunate a future was before me, unless some very happy star watched over me. I understood well what you said. I saw, perhaps too clearly, what you appeared to hope of me, and what you thought I ought to do. I made rules to myself, according to such limited insight as I had, and by these I have long lived; by these, at the time when you so kindly took charge of me, and had me with you in your house, I regulated whatever I did, and whatever I left undone.
“But I have wandered out of my course; I have broken my rules; I have lost the very power of feeling them. And now, after a dreadful occurrence, you have again made clear to me my situation, which is more pitiable than the first. While lying in a half torpor on your lap, I have again, as if out of another world, heard every syllable which you uttered. I know from you how all is with me. I shudder at the thought of myself; but again, as I did then, in my half sleep of death, I have marked out my new path for myself.
“I am determined, as I was before, and what I have determined I must tell you at once. I will never be Edward’s wife. In a terrible manner God has opened my eyes to see the sin in which I was entangled. I will atone for it, and let no one think to move me from my purpose. It is by this, my dearest, kindest friend, that you must govern your own conduct. Send for the major to come back to you. Write to him that no steps must be taken. It made me miserable that I could not stir or speak when he went;—I tried to rise,—I tried to cry out. Oh, why did you let him leave you with such unlawful hopes!”
Charlotte saw Ottilie’s condition, and she felt for it; but she hoped that by time and persuasion she might be able to prevail upon her. On her uttering a few words, however, which pointed to a future,—to a time when her sufferings would be alleviated, and when there might be better room for hope, “No!” Ottilie cried, with vehemence, “do not endeavor to move me; do not seek to deceive me. At the moment at which I learn that you have consented to the separation, in that same lake I will expiate my errors and my crimes.”
Friends and relations, and all persons living in the same house together, are apt, when life is going smoothly and peacefully with them, to make what they are doing, or what they are going to do, even more than is right or necessary, a subject of constant conversation. They talk to each other of their plans and their occupations, and, without exactly taking one another’s advice, consider and discuss together the entire progress of their lives. But this is far from being the case in serious moments; just when it would seem men most require the assistance and support of others, they all draw singly within themselves everyone to act for himself, every one to work in his own fashion; they conceal from one another the particular means which they employ, and only the result, the object, the thing which they realize, is again made common property.
After so many strange and unfortunate incidents, a sort of silent seriousness had passed over the two ladies, which showed itself in a sweet mutual effort to spare each other’s feelings. The child had been buried privately in the chapel. It rested there as the first offering to a destiny full of ominous foreshadowings.
Charlotte, as soon as ever she could, turned back to life and occupation, and here she first found Ottilie standing in need of her assistance. She occupied herself almost entirely with her, without letting it be observed. She knew how deeply the noble girl loved Edward. She had discovered by degrees the scene which had preceded the accident, and had gathered every circumstance of it, partly from Ottilie herself, partly from the letters of the major.
Ottilie, on her side, made Charlotte’s immediate life much more easy for her. She was open, and even talkative, but she never spoke of the present, or of what had lately passed. She had been a close and thoughtful observer. She knew much, and now it all came to the surface. She entertained, she amused Charlotte, and the latter still nourished a hope in secret to see her married to Edward after all.
But something very different was passing in Ottilie. She had disclosed the secret of the course of her life to her friend, and she showed no more of her previous restraint and submissiveness. By her repentance and her resolution she felt herself freed from the burden of her fault and her misfortune. She had no more violence to do to herself. In the bottom of her heart she had forgiven herself solely under condition of the fullest renunciation, and it was a condition which would remain binding for all time to come.
So passed away some time, and Charlotte now felt how deeply house and park, and lake and rocks and trees, served to keep alive in them all their most painful reminiscences. They wanted change of scene, both of them, it was plain enough; but how it was to be effected was not so easy to decide.
Were the two ladies to remain together? Edward’s previously-expressed will appeared to enjoin it,—his declarations and his threats appeared to make it necessary; only it could not be now mistaken that Charlotte and Ottilie, with all their goodwill, with all their sense, with all their efforts to conceal it, could not avoid finding themselves in a painful situation towards one another. In their conversation there was a constant endeavor to avoid doubtful subjects. They were often obliged only half to understand some allusion; more often, expressions were misinterpreted, if not by their understandings, at any rate by their feelings. They were afraid to give pain to one another, and this very fear itself produced the evil which they were seeking to avoid.
If they were to try change of scene, and at the same time (at any rate for a while) to part, the old question came up again, where Ottilie was to go? There was the grand, rich family, who still wanted a desirable companion for their daughter, their attempts to find a person whom they could trust having hitherto proved ineffectual. The last time the baroness had been at the castle, she had urged Charlotte to send Ottilie there, and she had been lately pressing it again and again in her letters. Charlotte now a second time proposed it; but Ottilie expressly declined going anywhere, where she would be thrown into what is called the great world.
“Do not think me foolish or self-willed, my dear aunt,” she said; “I had better tell you what I feel, for fear you should judge hardly of me; although in any other case it would be my duty to be silent. A person who has fallen into uncommon misfortunes, however guiltless he may be, carries a frightful mark upon him. His presence, in everyone who sees him and is aware of his history, excites a kind of horror. People see in him the terrible fate which has been laid upon him, and he is the object of a diseased and nervous curiosity. It is so with a house, it is so with a town, where any terrible action has been done; people enter them with awe; the light of day shines less brightly there, and the stars seem to lose their lustre.
“Perhaps we ought to excuse it, but how extreme is the indiscretion with which people behave towards such unfortunates, with their foolish importunities and awkward kindness! You must forgive me for speaking in this way, but that poor girl whom Luciana tempted out of her retirement, and with such mistaken good nature tried to force into society and amusement, has haunted me and made me miserable. The poor creature, when she was so frightened and tried to escape, and then sank and swooned away, and I caught her in my arms, and the party came all crowding round in terror and curiosity! little did I think, then, that the same fate was in store for me. But my feeling for her is as deep and warm and fresh as ever it was; and now I may direct my compassion upon myself, and secure myself from being the object of any similar exposure.”
“But, my dear child,” answered Charlotte, “you will never be able to withdraw yourself where no one can see you; we have no cloisters now: otherwise, there, with your present feelings, would be your resource.”
“Solitude would not give me the resource for which I wish, my dear aunt,” answered Ottilie. “The one true and valuable resource is to be looked for where we can be active and useful; all the self-denials and all the penances on earth will fail to deliver us from an evil-omened destiny, if it be determined to persecute us. Let me sit still in idleness and serve as a spectacle for the world, and it will overpower me and crush me. But find me some peaceful employment, where I can go steadily and unweariedly on doing my duty, and I shall be able to bear the eyes of men, when I need not shrink under the eyes of God.”
“Unless I am much mistaken,” replied Charlotte, “your inclination is to return to the school.”
“Yes,” Ottilie answered; “I do not deny it. I think it a happy destination to train up others in the beaten way, after having been trained in the strangest myself. And do we not see the same great fact in history? some moral calamity drives men out into the wilderness; but they are not allowed to remain as they had hoped in their concealment there. They are summoned back into the world, to lead the wanderers into the right way; and who are fitter for such a service than those who have been initiated into the labyrinths of life? They are commanded to be the support of the unfortunate; and who can better fulfil that command than those who have no more misfortunes to fear upon earth?”
“You are selecting an uncommon profession for yourself,” replied Charlotte. “I shall not oppose you, however. Let it be as you wish; only I hope it will be but for a short time.”
“Most warmly I thank you,” said Ottilie, “for giving me leave at least to try to make the experiment. If I am not flattering myself too highly, I am sure I shall succeed: wherever I am, I shall remember the many trials which I went through myself, and how small, how infinitely small they were compared to those which I afterwards had to undergo. It will be my happiness to watch the embarrassments of the little creatures as they grow; to cheer them in their childish sorrows, and guide them back with a light hand out of their little aberrations. The fortunate is not the person to be of help to the fortunate; it is in the nature of man to require ever more and more of himself and others, the more he has received. The unfortunate who has himself recovered, knows best how to nourish, in himself and them, the feeling that every moderate good ought to be enjoyed with rapture.”
“I have but one objection to make to what you propose,” said Charlotte, after some thought, “although that one seems to me of great importance. I am not thinking of you, but of another person: you are aware of the feelings towards you of that good, right-minded, excellent assistant. In the way in which you desire to proceed, you will become every day more valuable and more indispensable to him. Already he himself believes that he can never live happily without you, and hereafter, when he has become accustomed to have you to work with him, he will be unable to carry on his business if he loses you; you will have assisted him at the beginning only to injure him in the end.”
“Destiny has not dealt with me with too gentle a hand,” replied Ottilie; “and whoever loves me has perhaps not much better to expect. Our friend is so good and so sensible, that I hope he will be able to reconcile himself to remaining in a simple relation with me; he will learn to see in me a consecrated person, lying under the shadow of an awful calamity, and only able to support herself and bear up against it by devoting herself to that Holy Being who is invisibly around us, and alone is able to shield us from the dark powers which threaten to overwhelm us.”
All this, which the dear girl poured out so warmly, Charlotte privately reflected over; on many different occasions, although only in the gentlest manner, she had hinted at the possibility of Ottilie’s being brought again in contact with Edward; but the slightest mention of it, the faintest hope, the least suspicion, seemed to wound Ottilie to the quick. One day when she could not evade it, she expressed herself to Charlotte clearly and peremptorily on the subject.
“If your resolution to renounce Edward,” returned Charlotte, “is so firm and unalterable, then you had better avoid the danger of seeing him again. At a distance from the object of our love, the warmer our affection, the stronger is the control which we fancy that we can exercise on ourselves; because the whole force of the passion, diverted from its outward objects, turns inwards on ourselves. But how soon, how swiftly is our mistake made clear to us, when the thing which we thought that we could renounce stands again before our eyes as indispensable to us! You must now do what you consider best suited to your circumstances. Look well into yourself; change, if you prefer it, the resolution which you have just expressed. But do it of yourself, with a free consenting heart. Do not allow yourself to be drawn in by an accident; do not let yourself be surprised into your former position. It will place you at issue with yourself and will be intolerable to you. As I said, before you take this step, before you remove from me, and enter upon a new life, which will lead you no one knows in what direction, consider once more whether really, indeed, you can renounce Edward for the whole time to come. If you have faithfully made up your mind that you will do this, then will you enter into an engagement with me, that you will never admit him into your presence; and if he seeks you out and forces himself upon you, that you will not exchange words with him?”
Ottilie did not hesitate a moment; she gave Charlotte the promise, which she had already made to herself.
Now, however, Charlotte began to be haunted with Edward’s threat, that he would only consent to renounce Ottilie, as long as she was not parted from Charlotte. Since that time, indeed, circumstances were so altered, so many things had happened, that an engagement which was wrung from him in a moment of excitement might well be supposed to have been cancelled. She was unwilling, however, in the remotest sense to venture anything or to undertake anything which might displease him, and Mittler was therefore to find Edward, and inquire what, as things now were, he wished to be done.
Since the death of the child, Mittler had often been at the castle to see Charlotte, although only for a few moments at a time. The unhappy accident which had made her reconciliation with her husband in the highest degree improbable, had produced a most painful effect upon him. But ever, as his nature was, hoping and striving, he rejoiced secretly at the resolution of Ottilie. He trusted to the softening influence of passing time; he hoped that it might still be possible to keep the husband and the wife from separating; and he tried to regard these convulsions of passion only as trials of wedded love and fidelity.
Charlotte, at the very first, had informed the major by letter of Ottilie’s declaration. She had entreated him most earnestly to prevail on Edward to take no further steps for the present. They should keep quiet and wait, and see whether the poor girl’s spirits would recover. She had let him know from time to time whatever was necessary of what had more lately fallen from her. And now Mittler had to undertake the really difficult commission of preparing Edward for an alteration in her situation. Mittler, however, well knowing that men can be brought more easily to submit to what is already done, than to give their consent to what is yet to be done, persuaded Charlotte that it would be better to send Ottilie off at once to the school.
Consequently, as soon as Mittler was gone, preparations were at once made for the journey. Ottilie put her things together; and Charlotte observed that neither the beautiful box, nor anything out of it, was to go with her. Ottilie had said nothing to her on the subject; and she took no notice, but let her alone. The day of the departure came; Charlotte’s carriage was to take Ottilie the first day as far as a place where they were well known, where she was to pass the night, and on the second she would go on in it to the school. It was settled that Nanny was to accompany her, and remain as her attendant.
This capricious little creature had found her way back to her mistress after the death of the child, and now hung about her as warmly and passionately as ever; indeed she seemed, with her loquacity and attentiveness, as if she wished to make good her past neglect, and henceforth devote herself entirely to Ottilie’s service. She was quite beside herself now for joy at the thought of travelling with her, and of seeing strange places, when she had hitherto never been away from the scene of her birth; and she ran from the castle to the village to carry the news of her good fortune to her parents and her relations, and to take leave. Unluckily for herself, she went among other places into a room where a person was who had the measles, and caught the infection, which came out upon her at once. The journey could not be postponed. Ottilie herself was urgent to go. She had travelled once already the same road. She knew the people of the hotel where she was to sleep. The coachman from the castle was going with her. There could be nothing to fear.
Charlotte made no opposition. She, too, in thought, was making haste to be clear of present embarrassments. The rooms which Ottilie had occupied at the castle she would have prepared for Edward as soon as possible, and restored to the old state in which they had been before the arrival of the captain. The hope of bringing back old happy days burns up again and again in us, as if it never could be extinguished. And Charlotte was quite right; there was nothing else for her except to hope as she did.
When Mittler was come to talk the matter over with Edward, he found him sitting by himself, with his head supported on his right hand, and his arm resting on the table. He appeared in great suffering.
“Is your headache troubling you again?” asked Mittler.
“It is troubling me,” answered he; “and yet I cannot wish it were not so, for it reminds me of Ottilie. She too, I say to myself, is also suffering in the same way at this same moment, and suffering more perhaps than I; and why cannot I bear it as well as she? These pains are good for me. I might almost say that they were welcome; for they serve to bring out before me with the greater vividness her patience and all her other graces. It is only when we suffer ourselves, that we feel really the true nature of all the high qualities which are required to bear suffering.”
Mittler, finding his friend so far resigned, did not hesitate to communicate the message with which he had been sent. He brought it out piecemeal, however; in order of time, as the idea had itself arisen between the ladies, and had gradually ripened into a purpose. Edward scarcely made an objection. From the little which he said, it appeared as if he was willing to leave everything to them; the pain which he was suffering at the moment making him indifferent to all besides.
Scarcely, however, was he again alone, than he got up, and walked rapidly up and down the room; he forgot his pain, his attention now turning to what was external to himself. Mittler’s story had stirred the embers of his love, and awakened his imagination in all its vividness. He saw Ottilie by herself, or as good as by herself, travelling on a road which was well known to him—in a hotel with every room of which he was familiar. He thought, he considered, or rather he neither thought nor considered; he only wished—he only desired. He would see her; he would speak to her. Why, or for what good end that was to come of it, he did not care to ask himself; but he made up his mind at once. He must do it.
He summoned his valet into his council, and through him he made himself acquainted with the day and hour when Ottilie was to set out. The morning broke. Without taking any person with him, Edward mounted his horse, and rode off to the place where she was to pass the night. He was there too soon. The hostess was overjoyed at the sight of him; she was under heavy obligations to him for a service which he had been able to do for her. Her son had been in the army, where he had conducted himself with remarkable gallantry. He had performed one particular action of which no one had been a witness but Edward; and the latter had spoken of it to the commander-in-chief in terms of such high praise, that notwithstanding the opposition of various ill-wishers, he had obtained a decoration for him. The mother, therefore, could never do enough for Edward. She got ready her best room for him, which indeed was her own wardrobe and store-room, with all possible speed. He informed her, however, that a young lady was coming to pass the night there, and he ordered an apartment for her at the back, at the end of the gallery. It sounded a mysterious sort of affair; but the hostess was ready to do anything to please her patron, who appeared so interested and so busy about it. And he, what were his sensations as he watched through the long, weary hours till evening? He examined the room round and round in which he was to see her; with all its strangeness and homeliness it seemed to him to be an abode for angels. He thought over and over what he had better do; whether he should take her by surprise, or whether he should prepare her for meeting him. At last the second course seemed the preferable one. He sat down and wrote a letter which she was to read:
EDWARD TO OTTILIE.
“While you read this letter, my best beloved, I am close to you. Do not agitate yourself; do not be alarmed; you have nothing to fear from me. I will not force myself upon you. I will see you or not, as you yourself shall choose.
“Consider, oh! consider your condition and mine. How must I not thank you, that you have taken no decisive step! But the step which you have taken is significant enough. Do not persist in it. Here, as it were, at a parting of the ways, reflect once again. Can you be mine?—will you be mine? Oh, you will be showing mercy on us all if you will; and on me, infinite mercy.
“Let me see you again!—happily, joyfully see you once more! Let me make my request to you with my own lips; and do you give me your answer your own beautiful self, on my breast, Ottilie! where you have so often rested, and which belongs to you forever!”
As he was writing, the feeling rushed over him that what he was longing for was coming—was close—would be there almost immediately. By that door she would come in; she would read that letter; she in her own person would stand there before him as she used to stand; she for whose appearance he had thirsted so long. Would she be the same as she was?—was her form, were her feelings changed? He still held the pen in his hand; he was going to write as he thought, when the carriage rolled into the court. With a few hurried strokes he added: “I hear you coming. For a moment, farewell!”
He folded the letter, and directed it. He had no time for sealing. He darted into the room through which there was a second outlet into the gallery, when the next moment he recollected that he had left his watch and seals lying on the table. She must not see these first. He ran back and brought them away with him. At the same instant he heard the hostess in the antechamber showing Ottilie the way to her apartments. He sprang to the bedroom door. It was shut. In his haste, as he had come back for his watch, he had forgotten to take out the key, which had fallen out, and lay the other side. The door had closed with a spring, and he could not open it. He pushed at it with all his might, but it would not yield. Oh, how gladly would he have been a spirit, to escape through its cracks! In vain. He hid his face against the panels. Ottilie entered, and the hostess, seeing him, retired. From Ottilie herself, too, he could not remain concealed for a moment. He turned towards her; and there stood the lovers once more, in such strange fashion, in one another’s presence. She looked at him calmly and earnestly, without advancing or retiring. He made a movement to approach her, and she withdrew a few steps towards the table. He stepped back again. “Ottilie!” he cried aloud, “Ottilie! let me break this frightful silence! Are we shadows, that we stand thus gazing at each other? Only listen to me; listen to this at least. It is an accident that you find me here thus. There is a letter on the table, at your side there, which was to have prepared you. Read it, I implore you—read it—and then determine as you will!”
She looked down at the letter; and after thinking a few seconds, she took it up, opened it, and read it: she finished it without a change of expression; and she laid it lightly down; then joining the palms of her hands together, turning them upwards, and drawing them against her breast, she leaned her body a little forward, and regarded Edward with such a look, that, eager as he was, he was compelled to renounce everything he wished or desired of her. Such an attitude cut him to the heart; he could not bear it. It seemed exactly as if she would fall upon her knees before him, if he persisted. He hurried in despair out of the room, and leaving her alone, sent the hostess in to her.
He walked up and down the antechamber. Night had come on, and there was no sound in the room. At last the hostess came out and drew the key out of the lock. The good woman was embarrassed and agitated, not knowing what it would be proper for her to do. At last as she turned to go, she offered the key to Edward, who refused it; and putting down the candle, she went away.
In misery and wretchedness. Edward flung himself down on the threshold of the door which divided him from Ottilie, moistening it with his tears as he lay. A more unhappy night had been seldom passed by two lovers in such close neighborhood!
Day came at last. The coachman brought round the carriage, and the hostess unlocked the door and went in. Ottilie was asleep in her clothes; she went back and beckoned to Edward with a significant smile. They both entered and stood before her as she lay; but the sight was too much for Edward. He could not bear it. She was sleeping so quietly that the hostess did not like to disturb her, but sat down opposite her, waiting till she woke. At last Ottilie opened her beautiful eyes, and raised herself on her feet. She declined taking any breakfast, and then Edward went in again and stood before her. He entreated her to speak but one word to him; to tell him what she desired. He would do it, be it what it would, he swore to her; but she remained silent. He asked her once more, passionately and tenderly, whether she would be his. With downcast eyes, and with the deepest tenderness of manner she shook her head to a gentle No. He asked if she still desired to go to the school. Without any show of feeling she declined. Would she then go back to Charlotte? She inclined her head in token of assent, with a look of comfort and relief. He went to the window to give directions to the coachman, and when his back was turned she darted like lightning out of the room, and was down the stairs and in the carriage in an instant. The coachman drove back along the road which he had come the day before, and Edward followed at some distance on horseback.
It was with the utmost surprise that Charlotte saw the carriage drive up with Ottilie, and Edward at the same moment ride into the courtyard of the castle. She ran down to the hall. Ottilie alighted, and approached her and Edward. Violently and eagerly she caught the hands of the wife and husband, pressed them together, and hurried off to her own room. Edward threw himself on Charlotte’s neck and burst into tears. He could not give her any explanation; he besought her to have patience with him, and to go at once to see Ottilie. Charlotte followed her to her room, and she could not enter it without a shudder. It had been all cleared out. There was nothing to be seen but the empty walls, which stood there looking cheerless, vacant and miserable. Everything had been carried away except the little box, which from an uncertainty what was to be done with it, had been left in the middle of the room. Ottilie was lying stretched upon the ground, her arm and head leaning across the cover. Charlotte bent anxiously over her, and asked what had happened; but she received no answer.
Her maid had come with restoratives. Charlotte left her with Ottilie, and herself hastened back to Edward. She found him in the saloon, but he could tell her nothing. He threw himself down before her; he bathed her hands with tears; he flew to his own room, and she was going to follow him thither, when she met his valet. From this man she gathered as much as he was able to tell. The rest she put together in her own thoughts as well as she could, and then at once set herself resolutely to do what the exigencies of the moment required. Ottilie’s room was put to rights again as quickly as possible; Edward found his, to the last paper, exactly as he had left it.
The three appeared again to fall into some sort of relation with one another. But Ottilie persevered in her silence, and Edward could do nothing except entreat his wife to exert a patience which seemed wanting to himself. Charlotte sent messengers to Mittler and to the major. The first was absent from home and could not be found. The latter came. To him Edward poured out all his heart, confessing every most trifling circumstance to him, and thus Charlotte learned fully what had passed; what it had been which had produced such violent excitement, and how so strange an alteration of their mutual position had been brought about.
She spoke with the utmost tenderness to her husband. She had nothing to ask of him, except that for the present he would leave the poor girl to herself. Edward was not insensible to the worth, the affection, the strong sense of his wife; but his passion absorbed him exclusively. Charlotte tried to cheer him with hopes. She promised that she herself would make no difficulties about the separation; but it had small effect with him. He was so much shaken that hope and faith alternately forsook him. A species of insanity appeared to have taken possession of him. He urged Charlotte to promise to give her hand to the major. To satisfy him and to humor him, she did what he required. She engaged to become herself the wife of the major, in the event of Ottilie consenting to the marriage with Edward; with this express condition, however, that for the present the two gentlemen should go abroad together. The major had a foreign appointment from the court, and it was settled that Edward should accompany him. They arranged it all together, and in doing so found a sort of comfort for themselves in the sense that at least something was being done.
In the meantime they had to remark that Ottilie took scarcely anything to eat or drink. She still persisted in refusing to speak. They at first used to talk to her, but it appeared to distress her, and they left it off. We are not, universally at least, so weak as to persist in torturing people for their good. Charlotte thought over what could possibly be done. At last she fancied it might be well to ask the assistant of the school to come to them. He had much influence with Ottilie, and had been writing with much anxiety to inquire the cause of her not having arrived at the time he had been expecting her; but as yet she had not sent him any answer.
In order not to take Ottilie by surprise, they spoke of their intention of sending this invitation in her presence. It did not seem to please her; she thought for some little time; at last she appeared to have formed some resolution. She retired to her own room, and before the evening sent the following letter to the assembled party:
OTTILIE TO HER FRIENDS.
“Why need I express in words, my dear friends, what is in itself so plain? I have stepped out of my course, and I cannot recover it again. A malignant spirit which has gained power over me seems to hinder me from without, even if within I could again become at peace with myself.
“My purpose was entirely firm to renounce Edward, and to separate myself from him forever. I had hoped that we might never meet again; it has turned out otherwise. Against his own will he stood before me. Too literally, perhaps, I have observed my promise never to admit him into conversation with me. My conscience and the feelings of the moment kept me silent towards him at the time, and now I have nothing more to say. I have taken upon myself, under the accidental impulse of the moment, a difficult vow, which if it had been formed deliberately, might perhaps be painful and distressing. Let me now persist in the observance of it so long as my heart shall enjoin it to me. Do not call in anyone to mediate; do not insist upon my speaking; do not urge me to eat or to drink more than I absolutely must. Bear with me and let me alone, and so help me on through the time; I am young, and youth has many unexpected means of restoring itself. Endure my presence among you; cheer me with your love; make me wiser and better with what you say to one another: but leave me to my own inward self.”
The two friends had made all preparation for their journey, but their departure was still delayed by the formalities of the foreign appointment of the major, a delay most welcome to Edward. Ottilie’s letter had roused all his eagerness again; he had gathered hope and comfort from her words, and now felt himself encouraged and justified in remaining and waiting. He declared, therefore, that he would not go; it would be folly, indeed, he cried, of his own accord, to throw away, by over-precipitateness, what was most valuable and most necessary to him, when although there was a danger of losing it, there was nevertheless a chance that it might be preserved. “What is the right name of conduct such as that?” he said. “It is only that we desire to show that we are able to will and to choose. I myself, under the influences of the same ridiculous folly, have torn myself away, days before there was any necessity for it, from my friends, merely that I might not be forced to go by the definite expiration of my term. This time I will stay: what reason is there for my going; is she not already removed far enough from me? I am not likely now to catch her hand or press her to my heart; I could not even think of it without a shudder. She has not separated herself from me; she has raised herself far above me.”
And so he remained as he desired, as he was obliged; but he was never easy except when he found himself with Ottilie. She, too, had the same feeling with him; she could not tear herself away from the same happy necessity. On all sides they exerted an indescribable, almost magical power of attraction over one another. Living, as they were, under one roof, without even so much as thinking of each other, although they might be occupied with other things, or diverted this way or that way by the other members of the party, they always drew together. If they were in the same room, in a short time they were sure to be either standing or sitting near each other; they were only easy when as close together as they could be, but they were then completely easy. To be near was enough; there was no need for them either to look or to speak: they did not seek to touch one another, or make sign or gesture, but merely to be together. Then there were not two persons, there was but one person in unconscious and perfect content, at peace with itself and with the world. So it was that if either of them had been imprisoned at the further end of the house, the other would by degrees, without intending it, have moved towards its fellow till it found it; life to them was a riddle, the solution of which they could only find in union.
Ottilie was throughout so cheerful and quiet that they were able to feel perfectly easy about her; she was seldom absent from the society of her friends: all that she had desired was that she might be allowed to eat alone, with no one to attend upon her but Nanny.
What habitually befalls any person repeats itself more often than one is apt to suppose, because his own nature gives the immediate occasion for it. Character, individuality, inclination, tendency, locality, circumstance and habits, form together a whole, in which every man moves as in an atmosphere, and where only he feels himself at ease in his proper element.
And so we find men, of whose changeableness so many complaints are made, after many years, to our surprise, unchanged, and in all their infinite tendencies, outward and inward, unchangeable.
Thus in the daily life of our friends, almost everything glided on again in its old smooth track. Ottilie still displayed by many silent attentions her obliging nature, and the others like her continued each themselves; and then the domestic circle exhibited an image of their former life, so like it, that they might be pardoned if at times they dreamed that it might all be again as it was.
The autumn days, which were of the same length with those old spring days, brought the party back into the house out of the air about the same hour. The gay fruits and flowers which belonged to the season, might have made them fancy it was now the autumn of that first spring, and the interval dropped out and forgotten; for the flowers which now were blowing, were the same as those which then they had sown, and the fruits which were now ripening on the trees, were those which at that time they had seen in blossom.
The major went backwards and forwards, and Mittler came frequently. The evenings were generally spent in exactly the same way. Edward usually read aloud, with more life and feeling than before; much better, and even it may be said with more cheerfulness. It appeared as if he was endeavoring, by light-heartedness as much as by devotion, to quicken Ottilie’s torpor into life, and dissolve her silence. He seated himself in the same position as he used to do, that she might look over his book; he was uneasy and distracted unless she was doing so, unless he was sure that she was following his words with her eyes.
Every trace had vanished of the unpleasant, ungracious feelings of the intervening time. No one had any secret complaint against another; there were no cross-purposes, no bitterness. The major accompanied Charlotte’s playing with his violin, and Edward’s flute sounded again, as formerly, in harmony with Ottilie’s piano. Thus they were now approaching Edward’s birthday, which the year before they had missed celebrating. This time they were to keep it without any outward festivities, in quiet enjoyment among themselves. They had so settled it together, half expressly, half from a tacit agreement. As they approached nearer to this epoch, however, an anxiety about it, which had hitherto been more felt than observed, became more noticeable in Ottilie’s manner. She was to be seen often in the garden examining the flowers: she had signified to the gardener that he was to save as many as he could of every sort, and she had been especially occupied with the asters, which this year were blowing in immense profusion.
The most remarkable feature, however, which was observed about Ottilie was that, for the first time, she had now unpacked the box, and had selected a variety of things out of it, which she had cut up, and which were intended evidently to make one complete suit for her. The rest, with Nanny’s assistance, she had endeavored to replace again, and she had been hardly able to get it done, the space being over full, although a portion had been taken out. The covetous little Nanny could never satisfy herself with looking at all the pretty things, especially as she found provision made there for every article of dress which could be wanted, even the smallest. Numbers of shoes and stockings, garters with devices on them, gloves, and various other things were left, and she begged Ottilie just to give her one or two of them. Ottilie refused to do that, but opened a drawer in her wardrobe, and told the girl to take what she liked. The latter hastily and awkwardly dashed in her hand and seized what she could, running off at once with her booty, to show it off and display her good fortune among the rest of the servants.
At last Ottilie succeeded in packing everything carefully into its place. She then opened a secret compartment, which was contrived in the lid, where she kept a number of notes and letters from Edward, many dried flowers, the mementos of their early walks together, a lock of his hair, and various other little matters. She now added one more to them, her father’s portrait, and then locked it all up, and hung the delicate key by a gold chain about her neck, against her heart.
In the meantime, her friends had now in their hearts begun to entertain the best hopes for her. Charlotte was convinced that she would one day begin to speak again. She had latterly seen signs about her which implied that she was engaged in secret about something; a look of cheerful self-satisfaction, a smile like that which hangs about the face of persons who have something pleasant and delightful, which they are keeping concealed from those whom they love. No one knew that she spent many hours in extreme exhaustion, and that only at rare intervals, when she appeared in public through the power of her will, she was able to rouse herself.
Mittler had latterly been a frequent visitor, and when he came he stayed longer than he usually did at other times. This strong-willed, resolute person was only too well aware that there is a certain moment in which alone it will answer to smite the iron. Ottilie’s silence and reserve he interpreted according to his own wishes; no steps had as yet been taken towards a separation of the husband and wife. He hoped to be able to determine the fortunes of the poor girl in some not undesirable way. He listened, he allowed himself to seem convinced; he was discreet and unobtrusive, and conducted himself in his own way with sufficient prudence.
There was but one occasion on which he uniformly forgot himself—when he found an opportunity for giving his opinion upon subjects to which he attached a great importance. He lived much within himself, and when he was with others, his only relation to them generally was in active employment on their behalf; but if once, when among friends, his tongue broke fairly loose, as on more than one occasion we have already seen, he rolled out his words in utter recklessness, whether they wounded or whether they pleased, whether they did evil or whether they did good.
The evening before the birthday, the major and Charlotte were sitting together expecting Edward, who had gone out for a ride; Mittler was walking up and down the saloon; Ottilie was in her own room, laying out the dress which she was to wear on the morrow, and making signs to her maid about a number of things, which the girl, who perfectly understood her silent language, arranged as she was ordered.
Mittler had fallen exactly on his favorite subject. One of the points on which he used most to insist was, that in the education of children, as well as in the conduct of nations, there was nothing more worthless and barbarous than laws and commandments forbidding this and that action. “Man is naturally active,” he said, “wherever he is; and if you know how to tell him what to do, he will do it immediately, and keep straight in the direction in which you set him. I myself, in my own circle, am far better pleased to endure faults and mistakes, till I know what the opposite virtue is that I am to enjoin, than to be rid of the faults and to have nothing good to put in their place. A man is really glad to do what is right and sensible, if he only knows how to get at it. It is no such great matter with him; he does it because he must have something to do, and he thinks no more about it afterwards than he does of the silliest freaks which he engaged in out of the purest idleness. I cannot tell you how it annoys me to hear people going over and over those Ten Commandments in teaching children. The fifth is a thoroughly beautiful, rational, preceptive precept. ‘Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.’ If the children will inscribe that well upon their hearts, they have the whole day before them to put it in practice. But the sixth now? What can we say to that? ‘Thou shalt do no murder;’ as if any man ever felt the slightest general inclination to strike another man dead. Men will hate sometimes: they will fly into passions and forget themselves; and as a consequence of this or other feelings, it may easily come now and then to a murder; but what a barbarous precaution it is to tell children that they are not to kill or murder! If the commandment ran, ‘Have a regard for the life of another—put away whatever can do him hurt—save him though with peril to yourself—if you injure him, consider that you are injuring yourself;’—that is the form which should be in use among educated, reasonable people. And in our Catechism teaching we have only an awkward clumsy way of sliding into it, through a ‘what do you mean by that?’
“And as for the seventh; that is utterly detestable. What! to stimulate the prococious curiosity of children to pry into dangerous mysteries; to obtrude violently upon their imaginations ideas and notions which beyond all things you should wish to keep from them! It were far better if such actions as that commandment speaks of were dealt with arbitrarily by some secret tribunal, than prated openly of before church and congregation—”
At this moment Ottilie entered the room.
“ ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ ”—Mittler went on—“How coarse! how brutal! What a different sound it has, if you let it run, ‘Thou shalt hold in reverence the bond of marriage. When thou seest a husband and a wife between whom there is true love, thou shalt rejoice in it, and their happiness shall gladden thee like the cheerful light of a beautiful day. If there arise anything to make division between them, thou shalt use thy best endeavor to clear it away. Thou shalt labor to pacify them, and to soothe them; to show each of them the excellencies of the other. Thou shalt not think of thyself, but purely and disinterestedly thou shalt seek to further the well-being of others, and make them feel what a happiness is that which arises out of all duty done; and especially out of that duty which holds man and wife indissolubly bound together.’ ”
Charlotte felt as if she was sitting on hot coals. The situation was the more distressing, as she was convinced that Mittler was not thinking the least where he was or what he was saying; and before she was able to interrupt him, she saw Ottilie, after changing color painfully for a few seconds, rise and leave the room.
Charlotte constrained herself to seem unembarrassed: “You will leave us the eighth commandment,” she said, with a faint smile.
“All the rest,” replied Mittler, “if I may only insist first on the foundation of the whole of them.”
At this moment Nanny rushed in, screaming and crying: “She is dying; the young lady is dying; come to her, come.”
Ottilie had found her way back with extreme difficulty to her own room. The beautiful things which she was to wear the next day were laid out on a number of chairs; and the girl, who had been running from one to the other, staring at them and admiring them, called out in her ecstasy, “Look, dearest madam, only look! There is a bridal dress worthy of you.”
Ottilie heard the word, and sank upon the sofa. Nanny saw her mistress turn pale, fall back, and faint. She ran for Charlotte, who came. The medical friend was on the spot in a moment. He thought it was nothing but exhaustion. He ordered some strong soup to be brought. Ottilie refused it with an expression of loathing: it almost threw her into convulsions, when they put the cup to her lips. A light seemed to break on the physician: he asked hastily and anxiously what Ottilie had taken that day. The little girl hesitated. He repeated his question, and she then acknowledged that Ottilie had taken nothing.
There was a nervousness of manner about Nanny which made him suspicious. He carried her with him into the adjoining room; Charlotte followed; and the girl threw herself on her knees, and confessed that for a long time past Ottilie had taken as good as nothing; at her mistress’ urgent request, she had herself eaten the food which had been brought for her; she had said nothing about it, because Ottilie had by signs alternately begged her not to tell anyone, and threatened her if she did; and, as she innocently added, “because it was so nice.”
The major and Mittler now came up as well. They found Charlotte busy with the physician. The pale, beautiful girl was sitting, apparently conscious, in the corner of the sofa. They had begged her to lie down; she had declined to do this; but she made signs to have her box brought, and resting her feet upon it, placed herself in an easy, half recumbent position. She seemed to be wishing to take leave; and by her gestures, was expressing to all about her the tenderest affection, love, gratitude, entreaties for forgiveness, and the most heartfelt farewell.
Edward, on alighting from his horse, was informed of what had happened; he rushed to the room; threw himself down at her side; and seizing her hand, deluged it with silent tears. In this position he remained a long time. At last he called out: “And am I never more to hear your voice? Will you not turn back toward life, to give me one single word? Well, then, very well. I will follow you yonder, and there we will speak in another language.”
She pressed his hand with all the strength she had; she gazed at him with a glance full of life and full of love; and drawing a long breath, and for a little while moving her lips inarticulately, with a tender effort of affection she called out, “Promise me to live;” and then fell back immediately.
“I promise, I promise!” he cried to her; but he cried only after her; she was already gone.
After a miserable night, the care of providing for the loved remains fell upon Charlotte. The major and Mittler assisted her. Edward’s condition was utterly pitiable. His first thought, when he was in any degree recovered from his despair, and able to collect himself, was, that Ottilie should not be carried out of the castle; she should be kept there, and attended upon as if she were alive: for she was not dead; it was impossible that she should be dead. They did what he desired; at least, so far as that they did not do what he had forbidden. He did not ask to see her.
There was now a second alarm, and a further cause for anxiety. Nanny, who had been spoken to sharply by the physician, had been compelled by threats to confess, and after her confession had been overwhelmed with reproaches, had now disappeared. After a long search she was found; but she appeared to be out of her mind. Her parents took her home; but the gentlest treatment had no effect upon her, and she had to be locked up for fear she should run away again.
They succeeded by degrees in recovering Edward from the extreme agony of despair; but only to make him more really wretched. He now saw clearly, he could not doubt how, that the happiness of his life was gone from him forever. It was suggested to him that if Ottilie was placed in the chapel, she would still remain among the living, and it would be a calm, quiet, peaceful home for her. There was much difficulty in obtaining his consent; he would only give it under condition that she should be taken there in an open coffin; that the vault in which she was laid, if covered at all, should be only covered with glass, and a lamp should be kept always burning there. It was arranged that this should be done, and then he seemed resigned.
They clothed the delicate body in the festal dress which she had herself prepared. A garland of asters was wreathed about her head, which shone sadly there like melancholy stars. To decorate the bier and the church and chapel, the gardens were robbed of their beauty; they lay desolate, as if a premature winter had blighted all their loveliness. In the earliest morning she was borne in an open coffin out of the castle, and the heavenly features were once more reddened with the rising sun. The mourners crowded about her as she was being taken along. None would go before; none would follow; everyone would be where she was, everyone would enjoy her presence for the last time. Men and women, and little boys, there was not one unmoved; least of all to be consoled were the girls, who felt most immediately what they had lost.
Nanny was not present; it had been thought better not to allow it, and they had kept secret from her the day and the hour of the funeral. She was at her parents’ house, closely watched, in a room looking towards the garden. But when she heard the bells tolling, she knew too well what they meant; and her attendant having left her out of curiosity to see the funeral, she escaped out of the window into a passage, and from thence, finding all the doors locked, into an upper open loft. At this moment the funeral was passing through the village, which had been all freshly strewed with leaves. Nanny saw her mistress plainly close below her, more plainly, more entirely, than anyone in the procession underneath; she appeared to be lifted above the earth, borne as it were on clouds or waves, and the girl fancied she was making signs to her; her senses swam, she tottered, swayed herself for a moment on the edge, and fell to the ground. The crowd fell asunder on all sides with a cry of horror. In the tumult and confusion, the bearers were obliged to set down the coffin; the girl lay close by it: it seemed as if every limb was broken. They lifted her up, and by accident or providentially she was allowed to lean over the body; she appeared, indeed, to be endeavoring with what remained to her of life to reach her beloved mistress. Scarcely, however, had the loosely hanging limbs touched Ottilie’s robe, and the powerless finger rested on the folded hands, than the girl started up, and, first raising her arms and eyes towards heaven, flung herself down upon her knees before the coffin, and gazed with passionate devotion at her mistress.
At last she sprang, as if inspired, from off the ground, and cried with a voice of ecstasy: “Yes, she has forgiven me; what no man, what I myself could never have forgiven. God forgives me through her look, her motion, her lips. Now she is lying again so still and quiet, but you saw how she raised herself up, and unfolded her hands and blessed me, and how kindly she looked at me. You all heard, you can witness that she said to me: ‘You are forgiven.’ I am not a murderess any more. She has forgiven me. God has forgiven me, and no one may now say anything more against me.’ ”
The people stood crowding around her. They were amazed; they listened and looked this way and that, and no one knew what should next be done. “Bear her on to her rest,” said the girl. “She has done her part; she has suffered, and cannot now remain any more among us.” The bier moved on, Nanny now following it; and thus they reached the church and the chapel.
So now stood the coffin of Ottilie, with the child’s coffin at her head, and her box at her feet, inclosed in a resting-place of massive oak. A woman had been provided to watch the body for the first part of the time, as it lay there so beautifully beneath its glass covering. But Nanny would not permit this duty to be taken from herself. She would remain alone without a companion, and attend to the lamp which was now kindled for the first time; and she begged to be allowed to do it with so much eagerness and perseverance, that they let her have her way, to prevent any greater evil that might ensue.
But she did not long remain alone. As night was falling, and the hanging lamp began to exercise its full right and shed abroad a larger lustre, the door opened and the architect entered the chapel. The chastely ornamented walls in the mild light looked more strange, more awful, more antique, than he was prepared to see them. Nanny was sitting on one side of the coffin. She recognized him immediately; but she pointed in silence to the pale form of her mistress. And there stood he on the other side, in the vigor of youth and of grace, with his arms drooping, and his hands clasped piteously together, motionless, with head and eye inclined over the inanimate body.
Once already he had stood thus before in the Belisarius; he had now involuntarily fallen into the same attitude. And this time how naturally! Here, too, was something of inestimable worth thrown down from its high estate. There were courage, prudence, power, rank and wealth in one single man, lost irrevocably; there were qualities which, in decisive moments, had been of indispensable service to the nation and the prince; but which, when the moment was passed, were no more valued, but flung aside and neglected, and cared for no longer. And here were many other silent virtues, which had been summoned but a little time before by nature out of the depths of her treasures, and now swept rapidly away again by her careless hand—rare, sweet, lovely virtues, whose peaceful workings the thirsty world had welcomed, while it had them, with gladness and joy; and now was sorrowing for them in unavailing desire.
Both the youth and the girl were silent for a long time. But when she saw the tears streaming fast down his cheeks, and he appeared to be sinking under the burden of his sorrow, she spoke to him with so much truthfulness and power, with such kindness and such confidence, that, astonished at the flow of her words, he was able to recover himself, and he saw his beautiful friend floating before him in the new life of a higher world. His tears ceased flowing; his sorrow grew lighter: on his knees he took leave of Ottilie, and with a warm pressure of the hand of Nanny, he rode away from the spot into the night without having seen a single other person.
The surgeon had, without the girl being aware of it, remained all night in the church; and when he went in the morning to see her, he found her cheerful and tranquil. He was prepared for wild aberrations. He thought that she would be sure to speak to him of conversations which she had held in the night with Ottilie, and of other such apparitions. But she was natural, quiet and perfectly self-possessed. She remembered accurately what had happened in her previous life; she could describe the circumstances of it with the greatest exactness, and never in anything which she said stepped out of the course of what was real and natural, except in her account of what had passed with the body, which she delighted to repeat again and again, how Ottilie had raised herself up, had blessed her, had forgiven her, and thereby set her at rest forever.
Ottilie remained so long in her beautiful state, which more resembled sleep than death, that a number of persons were attracted there to look at her. The neighbors and the villagers wished to see her again, and everyone desired to hear Nanny’s incredible story from her own mouth. Many laughed at it, most doubted, and some few were found who were able to believe.
Difficulties, for which no real satisfaction is attainable, compel us to faith. Before the eyes of all the world, Nanny’s limbs had been broken, and by touching the sacred body she had been restored to strength again. Why should not others find similar good fortune? Delicate mothers first privately brought their children who were suffering from obstinate disorders, and they believed that they could trace an immediate improvement. The confidence of the people increased, and at last there was no one so old or so weak as not to have come to seek fresh life and health and strength at this place. The concourse became so great, that they were obliged, except at the hours of divine service, to keep the church and chapel closed.
Edward did not venture to look at her again; he lived on mechanically; he seemed to have no tears left, and to be incapable of any further suffering; his power of taking interest in what was going on diminished every day; his appetite gradually failed. The only refreshment which did him any good was what he drank out of the glass, which to him, indeed, had been but an untrue prophet. He continued to gaze at the intertwining initials, and the earnest cheerfulness of his expression seemed to signify that he still hoped to be united with her at last. And as every little circumstance combines to favor the fortunate, and every accident contributes to elate him; so do the most trifling occurrences love to unite to crush and overwhelm the unhappy. One day as Edward raised the beloved glass to his lips, he put it down and thrust it from him with a shudder. It was the same and not the same. He missed a little private mark upon it. The valet was questioned, and had to confess that the real glass had not long since been broken, and that one like it belonging to the same set had been substituted in its place.
Edward could not be angry. His destiny had spoken out with sufficient clearness in the fact, and how should he be affected by the shadow? and yet it touched him deeply. He seemed now to dislike drinking, and thenceforward purposely to abstain from food and from speaking.
But from time to time a sort of restlessness came over him; he would desire to eat and drink something, and would begin again to speak. “Ah!” he said, one day to the major, who now seldom left his side, “how unhappy I am that all my efforts, are but imitations ever, and false and fruitless. What was blessedness to her, is pain to me; and yet for the sake of this blessedness I am forced to take this pain upon myself. I must go after her; follow her by the same road. But my nature and my promise hold me back. It is a terrible difficulty, indeed, to imitate the inimitable. I feel clearly, my dear friend, that genius is required for everything; for martyrdom as well as the rest.”
What shall we say of the endeavors which in this hopeless condition were made for him? his wife, his friends, his physician, incessantly labored to do something for him. But it was all in vain: at last they found him dead. Mittler was the first to make the melancholy discovery; he called the physician, and examined closely, with his usual presence of mind, the circumstances under which he had been found. Charlotte rushed in to them; she was afraid that he had committed suicide, and accused herself and accused others of unpardonable carelessness. But the physician on natural, and Mittler on moral grounds, were soon able to satisfy her of the contrary. It was quite clear that Edward’s end had taken him by surprise. In a quiet moment he had taken out of his pocket-book and out of a casket everything which remained to him as memorials of Ottilie, and had spread them out before him; a lock of hair; flowers which had been gathered in some happy hour, and every letter which she had written to him from the first, which his wife had ominously happened to give him. It was impossible that he would intentionally have exposed these to the danger of being seen, by the first person who might happen to discover him.
But so lay the heart, which but a short time before had been so swift and eager, at rest now, where it could never be disturbed; and falling asleep, as he did, with his thoughts on one so saintly, he might well be called blessed. Charlotte gave him his place at Ottilie’s side, and arranged that thenceforth no other person should be placed with them in the same vault.
In order to secure this, she made it a condition under which she settled considerable sums of money on the church and the school.
So lie the lovers, sleeping side by side. Peace hovers above their resting-place. Fair angel faces gaze down upon them from the vaulted ceiling, and what a happy moment that will be when one day they awake again together!