Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIII. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER XIII. - 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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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.