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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 4 - Chapter 24. I Meet The Princess
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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 4 - Chapter 24. I Meet The Princess Post by :tessaru Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :1720

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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 4 - Chapter 24. I Meet The Princess

BOOK IV CHAPTER XXIV. I MEET THE PRINCESS

Hearing that I had not slept at the hotel, the Rev. Ambrose rushed down to Riversley with melancholy ejaculations, and was made to rebound by the squire's contemptuous recommendation to him to learn to know something of the spirit of young bloods, seeing that he had the nominal charge of one, and to preach his sermon in secret, if he would be sermonizing out of church. The good gentleman had not exactly understood his duties, or how to conduct them. Far from objecting to find me in company with my father, as he would otherwise have done by transmitting information of that fact to Riversley, he now congratulated himself on it, and after the two had conversed apart, cordially agreed to our scheme of travelling together. The squire had sickened him. I believe that by comparison he saw in my father a better friend of youth.

'We shall not be the worse for a ghostly adviser at hand,' my father said to me with his quaintest air of gravity and humour mixed, which was not insincerely grave, for the humour was unconscious. 'An accredited casuist may frequently be a treasure. And I avow it, I like to travel with my private chaplain.'

Mr. Peterborough's temporary absence had allowed me time for getting ample funds placed at our disposal through the agency of my father's solicitors, Messrs. Dettermain and Newson, whom I already knew from certain transactions with them on his behalf. They were profoundly courteous to me, and showed me his box, and alluded to his Case--a long one, and a lamentable, I was taught to apprehend, by their lugubriously professional tone about it. The question was naturally prompted in me, 'Why do you not go on with it?'

'Want of funds.'

'There's no necessity to name that now,' I insisted. But my father desired them to postpone any further exposition of the case, saying, 'Pleasure first, business by-and-by. That, I take it, is in the order of our great mother Nature, gentlemen. I will not have him help shoulder his father's pack until he has had his, fill of entertainment.'

A smooth voyage brought us in view of the towers of Ostend at sunrise. Standing with my father on deck, and gazing on this fringe of the grand romantic Continent, I remembered our old travels, and felt myself bound to him indissolubly, ashamed of my recent critical probings of his character. My boy's love for him returned in full force. I was sufficiently cognizant of his history to know that he kept his head erect, lighted by the fire of his robust heart in the thick of overhanging natal clouds. As the way is with men when they are too happy to be sentimental, I chattered of anything but my feelings.

'What a capital idea that was of yours to bring down old Alphonse to Dipwell! You should have heard old John Thresher and Mark Sweetwinter and the others grumbling at the interference of "French frogs;" with their beef, though Alphonse vowed he only ordered the ox to be turned faster, and he dressed their potatoes in six different ways. I doubt if Dipwell has composed itself yet. You know I sat for president in their tent while the beef went its first round; and Alphonse was in an awful hurry to drag me into what he called the royal tent. By the way, you should have hauled the standard down at sunset.'

'Not when the son had not come down among us,' said my father, smiling.

'Well, I forgot to tell you about Alphonse. By the way, we'll have him in our service. There was he plucking at me: "Monsieur Henri-Richie, Monsieur Henri-Richie! mille complimens... et les potages, Monsieur!--a la Camerani, a la tortue, aux petits pois... c'est en vrai artiste que j'ai su tout retarder jusqu'au dernier moment.... Monsieur! cher Monsieur Henri-Richie, je vous en supplie, laissez-la, ces planteurs de choux." And John Thresher, as spokesman for the rest: "Master Harry, we beg to say, in my name, we can't masticate comfortably while we've got a notion Mr. Frenchman he 's present here to play his Frenchified tricks with our plain wholesome dishes. Our opinion is, he don't know beef from hedgehog; and let him trim 'em, and egg 'em,' and bread-crumb 'em, and pound the mess all his might, and then tak' and roll 'em into balls, we say we wun't, for we can't make English muscle out o' that."--And Alphonse, quite indifferent to the vulgar: "He! mais pensez donc au Papa, Monsieur Henri-Richie, sans doute il a une sante de fer: mais encore faut-il lui menager le suc gastrique, pancreatique...."'

'Ay, ay!' laughed my father; 'what sets you thinking of Alphonse?'

'I suppose because I shall have to be speaking French in an hour.'

'German, Richie, German.'

'But these Belgians speak French.'

'Such French as it is. You will, however, be engaged in a German conversation first, I suspect.'

'Very well, I'll stumble on. I don't much like it.'

'In six hours from this second of time, Richie, boy, I undertake to warrant you fonder of the German tongue than of any other spoken language.'

I looked at him. He gave me a broad pleasant smile, without sign of a jest lurking in one corner.

The scene attracted me. Laughing fishwife faces radiant with sea-bloom in among the weedy pier-piles, and sombre blue-cheeked officers of the douane, with their double row of buttons extending the breadth of their shoulders. My father won Mr. Peterborough's approval by declaring cigars which he might easily have passed.

'And now, sir,'--he used the commanding unction of a lady's doctor,--'you to bed, and a short repose. We will, if it pleases you, breakfast at eight. I have a surprise for Mr. Richie. We are about to beat the drum in the market-place, and sing out for echoes.'

'Indeed, sir?' said the simple man.

'I promise you we shall not disturb you, Mr. Peterborough. You have reached that middle age, have you not, when sleep is, so to put it, your capital? And your activity is the interest you draw from it to live on. You have three good hours. So, then, till we meet at the breakfast-table.'

My father's first proceeding at the hotel was to examine the list of visitors. He questioned one of the waiters aside, took information from him, and seized my arm rather tremulously, saying,

'They are here. 'Tis as I expected. And she is taking the morning breath of sea-air on the dunes. Come, Richie, come.'

'Who's the "she"?' I asked incuriously.

'Well, she is young, she is of high birth, she is charming. We have a crowned head or two here. I observe in you, Richie, an extraordinary deficiency of memory. She has had an illness; Neptune speed her recovery! Now for a turn at our German. Die Strassen ruhen; die Stadt schlaft; aber dort, siehst Du, dort liegt das blaue Meer, das nimmer-schlafende! She is gazing on it, and breathing it, Richie. Ach! ihr jauchzende Seejungfern. On my soul, I expect to see the very loveliest of her sex!

You must not be dismayed at pale cheeks-blasse Wangen. Her illness has been alarming. Why, this air is the top of life; it will, and it shall, revive her. How will she address him?--"Freund," in my presence, perchance: she has her invalid's privilege. "Theure Prinzessin" you might venture on. No ice! Ay, there she is!'

Solitary, on the long level of the sand-bank, I perceived a group that became discernible as three persons attached to an invalid's chair, moving leisurely toward us. I was in the state of mind between divination and doubt when the riddle is not impossible to read, would but the heart cease its hurry an instant; a tumbled sky where the break is coming. It came. The dear old days of my wanderings with Temple framed her face. I knew her without need of pause or retrospect. The crocus raising its cup pointed as when it pierced the earth, and the crocus stretched out on earth, wounded by frost, is the same flower. The face was the same, though the features were changed. Unaltered in expression, but wan, and the kind blue eyes large upon lean brows, her aspect was that of one who had been half caught away and still shook faintly in the relaxing invisible grasp.

We stopped at a distance of half-a-dozen paces to allow her time for recollection. She eyed us softly in a fixed manner, while the sea-wind blew her thick redbrown hair to threads on her cheek. Colour on the fair skin told us we were recognized.

'Princess Ottilia!' said my father.

'It is I, my friend,' she answered. 'And you?'

'With more health than I am in need of, dearest princess.'

'And he?'

'Harry Richmond! my son, now of age, commencing his tour; and he has not forgotten the farewell bunch of violets.'

Her eyelids gently lifted, asking me.

'Nor the mount you did me the honour to give me on the little Hungarian,' said I.

'How nice this sea-air is!' she spoke in English. 'England and sea go together in my thoughts. And you are here! I have been down very low, near the lowest. But your good old sea makes me breathe again. I want to toss on it. Have you yet seen the Markgrafin?'

My father explained that we had just landed from the boat.

'Is our meeting, then, an accident?'

'Dear princess, I heard of your being out by the shore.'

'Ah! kind: and you walked to meet me? I love that as well, though I love chance. And it is chance that brings you here! I looked out on the boat from England while they were dressing me: I cannot have too much of the morning, for then I have all to myself: sea and sky and I. The night people are all asleep, and you come like an old Marchen.'

Her eyelids dropped without closing.

'Speak no more to her just at present,' said an English voice, Miss Silbey's. Schwartz, the huge dragoon, whose big black horse hung near him in my memory like a phantom, pulled the chair at a quiet pace, head downward. A young girl clad in plain black walked beside Miss Sibley, following the wheels.

'Danger is over,' Miss Sibley answered my gaze. 'She is convalescent. You see how weak she is.'

I praised the lady for what I deemed her great merit in not having quitted the service of the princess.

'Oh!' said she, 'my adieux to Sarkeld were uttered years ago. But when I heard of her fall from the horse I went and nursed her. We were once in dread of her leaving us. She sank as if she had taken some internal injury. It may have been only the shock to her system and the cessation of her accustomed exercise. She has a little over-studied.'

'The margravine?'

'The margravine is really very good and affectionate, and has won my esteem. So you and your father are united at last? We have often talked of you. Oh! that day up by the tower. But, do you know, the statue is positively there now, and no one--no one who had the privilege of beholding the first bronze Albrecht Wohlgemuth, Furst von Eppenwelzen-Sarkeld, no one will admit that the second is half worthy of him. I can feel to this day the leap of the heart in my mouth when the statue dismounted. The prince sulked for a month: the margravine still longer at your father's evasion. She could not make allowance for the impulsive man: such a father; such a son!'

'Thank you, thank you most humbly,' said I, bowing to her shadow of a mock curtsey.

The princess's hand appeared at a side of the chair. We hastened to her.

'Let me laugh, too,' she prayed.

Miss Sibley was about to reply, but stared, and delight sprang to her lips in a quick cry.

'What medicine is this? Why, the light of morning has come to you, my darling!'

'I am better, dearest, better.'

'You sigh, my own.'

'No; I breathe lots, lots of salt air now, and lift like a boat. Ask him--he had a little friend, much shorter than himself, who came the whole way with him out of true friendship--ask him where is the friend?'

Miss Sibley turned her head to me.

'Temple,' said I; 'Temple is a midshipman; he is at sea.'

'That is something to think of,' the princess murmured, and dropped her eyelids a moment. She resumed 'The Grand Seigneur was at Vienna last year, and would not come to Sarkeld, though he knew I was ill.'

My father stooped low.

'The Grand Seigneur, your servant, dear princess, was an Ottoman Turk, and his Grand Vizier advised him to send flowers in his place weekly.'

'I had them, and when we could get those flowers nowhere else,' she replied. 'So it was you! So my friends have been about me.'

During the remainder of the walk I was on one side of the chair, and her little maid on the other, while my father to rearward conversed with Miss Sibley. The princess took a pleasure in telling me that this Aennchen of hers knew me well, and had known me before ever her mistress had seen me. Aennchen was the eldest of the two children Temple and I had eaten breakfast with in the forester's hut. I felt myself as if in the forest again, merely wondering at the growth of the trees, and the narrowness of my vision in those days.

At parting, the princess said,

'Is my English improved? You smiled at it once. I will ask you when I meet you next.'

'It is my question,' I whispered to my own ears.

She caught the words.

'Why do you say--"It is my question"?'

I was constrained to remind her of her old forms of English speech.

'You remember that? Adieu,' she said.

My father considerately left me to carry on my promenade alone. I crossed the ground she had traversed, noting every feature surrounding it, the curving wheel-track, the thin prickly sand-herbage, the wave-mounds, the sparse wet shells and pebbles, the gleaming flatness of the water, and the vast horizon-boundary of pale flat land level with shore, looking like a dead sister of the sea. By a careful examination of my watch and the sun's altitude, I was able to calculate what would, in all likelihood, have been his height above yonder waves when her chair was turned toward the city, at a point I reached in the track. But of the matter then simultaneously occupying my mind, to recover which was the second supreme task I proposed to myself-of what. I also was thinking upon the stroke of five o'clock, I could recollect nothing. I could not even recollect whether I happened to be looking on sun and waves when she must have had them full and glorious in her face.

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