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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesO. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 14
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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 14 Post by :twoelfling Category :Long Stories Author :Hans Christian Andersen Date :May 2012 Read :3125

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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

"Man seems to me a foolish being; he drives along over the waves of time, endlessly thrown up and down, and descrying a little verdant spot, formed of mud and stagnant moor and of putrid green mouldiness, he cries out, Land! He rows thither, ascends--and sinks and sinks--and is no more to be seen."--The Golden Fleece of GRILLPARZER.

Old Rosalie was pouring out coffee when Otto came down the next morning. Peace and resignation to the will of God lay in her soft countenance. Otto was pale, paler than usual, but handsomer than Rosalie had seen him before: a year had rendered him older and more manly; a handsome, crisp beard curled over his chin; manly gravity lay in his eyes, in which, at his departure, she had only remarked their inborn melancholy glance. With a kind of satisfaction she looked upon this beautiful, melancholy countenance, and with cordial affection she stretched forth her hand toward him.

"Here stands thy chair, Otto; and here thy cup. I will drink to thy welcome. It seems to me long since I saw thee, and yet it is, now I have thee again, only a short time. Were that place only not empty!" and she pointed to the place at the table which the grandfather had used to occupy.

"If I had only seen him!" said Otto.

"His countenance was so gentle in death," said Rosalie. "The severity and gravity which had settled in his eyes were softened away. I was myself present when he was dressed. He had his uniform on, which he always wore upon occasions of ceremony, the sabre by his side and the great hat upon his head. I knew that this was his wish!" Quietly she made the sign of the cross.

"Are all my grandfather's papers sealed?" inquired Otto.

"The most important--those which have the greatest interest for thee," said Rosalie, "are in the hands of the preacher. Last year, the day after thy departure, he gave them to the preacher; thy father's last letter I know is amongst them."

"My father!" said Otto, and glanced toward the ground. "Yes," continued he, "there is truth in the words of Scripture,--the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation!"

"Otto!" said Rosalie, with a beseeching and reproachful look, "thy grandfather was a severe man. Thou last known him, hast seen his darkest moments, and yet then age and cares had softened him: his love to thee calmed every outbreak. Had he only loved thy father as he loved thee, things would, perhaps, have ended better: but we may not judge!"

"And what have I done?" said Otto. "Thou, Rosalie, knowest the history of my life. Is it not as if a curse rested upon me? I was a high-spirited boy, I often occasioned thee tears; yet didst thou always place thyself between me and punishment. It was my evil blood, the blood of my birth in which the curse lay, that drove me on!"

"But thou didst become good and full of love, as thou art now!" said Rosalie.

"Only when I became acquainted with myself and my destiny. In the thoughtlessness of childhood, unacquainted with myself and the world, did I myself have that sign of my misery, which now presses down my soul, cut into my flesh. Yes, Rosalie! I remember this very well, and have clearly preserved this, my earliest recollection before my grandfather took me, and I came here a boy. I remember the great building from whence I was brought, the number of people who there worked, sang, and laughed, and who told me extraordinary stories of how badly people were treated in the beautiful world. This was my parents' home, thought I, when I began to ponder upon parents and their connection with children. It was a large manufactory which they possessed, thought I; I remembered the number of work-people. All played and romped with me. I was wild and full of boisterous spirits a boy of only six years old, but with the perseverance and will of one of ten. Rosalie, thou sawest many proofs of the evil which lay in my blood; it bordered upon insolence. I remembered well the strong, merry Heinrich, who always sang at his loom; he showed me and the others his tattooed breast, upon which he had his whole mournful history imprinted. Upon his arm were his own and his bride's names. That pleased me; I wished to have my name also on my arm. 'It is painful!' said he; 'then thou wilt pipe, my lad!' That was spur enough to make me desire it. I allowed him to puncture my skin, to puncture an O and a T upon my shoulder, and did not cry,--no, not once whilst the powder burnt into it; but I was praised, and was proud to bear the initials-- proud of them until three years ago, when I met Heinrich here. I recognized him, but he did not recognize me. I showed him my shoulder, and besought him to read the name, this O and T: but he did not say Otto Thostrup; he named a name which destroyed the happiness of my childhood, and has made me miserable forever!"

"It was a fearful day!" said Rosalie. "Thou didst demand from me an explanation, thy grandfather gave it thee, and thou wast no longer the Otto thou hadst formerly been. Yet wherefore speak of it? Thou art good and wise, noble and innocent. Do not fill thy heart with sorrow from a time which is past, and which, for thy sake, shall be forgotten."

"But Heinrich still lives!" said Otto; "I have met with him, have spoken with him: it was as if all presence of mind forsook me."

"When and where?" asked Rosalie.

Otto related of his walk with Wilhelm in the park, and of the juggler, in whom he had recognized Heinrich. "I tore myself from my friends, I wandered the whole night alone in the wood. O Rosalie, I thought of death! I thought of death as no Christian ought to do. A beautiful morning followed, I wandered beside the sea which I love, and in which I have so often dived. Since that explanation of the initials on my shoulder was suggested, that explanation which reminded me of my unhappy birth, I have never uncovered them before any one. O, I have rubbed thorn with a stone, until they were bloody! The letters are gone, but still I imagine I can read them in the deep scar--that in it I see a Cain's mark! That morning the desire to bathe came upon me. The fresh current infused life once more into my soul. Just then Wilhelm and several acquaintance came down; they called to me and carried off my clothes; my blood boiled; all my unhappiness, which this night had stirred within my soul, again overwhelmed me: it was as though the obliterated initials on my shoulder would reveal themselves in the scar and betray the secret of my grief. Disgust of life seized upon me. I no longer knew what I shouted to them, but it seemed to me as if I must swim out into the stream and never return. I swam until it became night before my eyes. I sank, and Wilhelm rescued me! Never since then have we spoken of this hour! O Rosalie! long is it since I have been able to open my heart as before thee at this moment. What use is it to have a friend if one cannot lay before him one's whole thoughts? To no one have I been able to unfold them but to thee, who already knowest them. I suffer, as a criminal and yet am I innocent,--just as the misshapen, the deformed man, is innocent of his ugliness!"

"I do not possess thy knowledge, Otto," said Rosalie, and pressed his hand; "have never rejoiced in such a clear head as thine; but I have that which thou canst not as yet possess--experience. In trouble, as well as in joy, youth transforms the light cobweb into the cable. Self-deception has changed the blood in thy veins, the thoughts in thy soul; but do not forever cling to this one black spot! Neither wilt thou! it will spur thee on to activity, will enervate thy soul, not depress thee! The melancholy surprise of thy grandfather's death, whom thou didst believe active and well, has now made thee dejected, and thy thoughts so desponding. But there will come better days! happy days! Thou art young, and youth brings health for the soul and body!"

She led Otto into the garden, where the willow plantations protected the other trees from the sharp west wind. The gooseberry-bushes bore fruit, but it was not yet ripe: one bush Otto had planted when a cutting; it was now large. Rosalie had tied the twigs to a palisade, so that, as an espalier, it could thoroughly drink in the sun's rays. Otto regarded the fetters more than the good intention.

"Let it grow free!" said he; "if that brittle palisade should tumble down, the twigs would be broken." And he cut the bands.

"Thou art still the old Otto," said Rosalie.

They went into her little room, where the crucifix, and before it a small vase of flowers, adorned the table. Above the cross hung a garland of withered heather.

"Two years ago didst thou give me that, Otto!" said Rosalie. "There were no more flowers, there was nothing green but the heath, and thou twinedst a garland of it for me. Afterward I would not take it down from the crucifix."

They were interrupted by a visit. It was from the old preacher.

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