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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 4 - Chapter 31. Princess Ottilia's Letter
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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 4 - Chapter 31. Princess Ottilia's Letter Post by :tessaru Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :2292

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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 4 - Chapter 31. Princess Ottilia's Letter


That hour of tempest went swift as one of its flashes over our little nest of peace, where we crouched like insects. The lightning and the deluge seemed gloriously endless. Ottilia's harbouring nook was dry within an inch of rushing floods and pattered mire. On me the torrents descended, and her gentle efforts drew me to her side, as with a maternal claim to protect me, or to perish in my arms if the lightning found us. We had for prospect an ever-outbursting flame of foliage, and the hubbub of the hissing lake, crimson, purple, dusky grey, like the face of a passionate creature scourged. It was useless to speak. Her lips were shut, but I had the intent kindness of her eyes on me almost unceasingly.

The good hour slipped away. Old Warhead's splashed knees on the level of our heads were seen by us when the thunder had abated. Ottilia prepared to rise.

'You shall hear from me,' she said, bending with brows measuring the boat-roof, like a bird about to fly.

'Shall I see you?'

'Ultimately you surely will. Ah! still be patient.'

'Am I not? have I not been?'

'Yes; and can you regret it?'

'No; but we separate!'

'Would you have us be two feet high for ever?' she answered smiling.

'One foot high, or under earth, if it might be together!'

'Poor little gnomes!' said she.

The homeliness of our resting-place arrested her for an instant, and perhaps a touch of comic pity for things of such diminutive size as to see nothing but knees where a man stood. Our heads were hidden.

'Adieu! no pledge is needed,' she said tenderly.

'None!' I replied.

She returned to the upper world with a burning blush.

Schwartz had borne himself with extraordinary discretion by forbearing to spread alarm at the palace. He saluted his young mistress in the regulation manner while receiving her beneath a vast umbrella, the holiday peasant's invariable companion in these parts. A forester was in attendance carrying shawls, clogs, and matting. The boat was turned and launched.

'Adieu, Harry Richmond. Will you be quite patient till you hear from me?' said Ottilia, and added, 'It is my question!' delightfully recalling old times.

I was soon gazing at the track of the boat in rough water.

Shouts were being raised somewhere about the forest, and were replied to by hearty bellow of the rower's lungs. She was now at liberty to join my name to her own or not, as she willed. I had to wait. But how much richer was I than all the world! The future owed me nothing. I would have registered a vow to ask nothing of it. Among the many determined purposes framing which I walked home, was one to obtain a grant of that bit of land where we had sat together, and build a temple on it. The fear that it might be trodden by feet of men before I had enclosed it beset me with anguish. The most absolute pain I suffered sprang from a bewildering incapacity to conjure up a vision of Ottilia free of the glittering accessories of her high birth; and that was the pain of shame; but it came only at intervals, when pride stood too loftily and the shadow of possible mischance threatened it with the axe.

She did not condemn me to long waiting. Her favourite Aennchen brought me her first letter. The girl's face beamed, and had a look as if she commended me for a worthy deed.

'An answer, Aennchen?' I asked her.

'Yes, yes!' said she anxiously; 'but it will take more time than I can spare.' She appointed a meeting near the palace garden-gates at night.

I chose a roof of limes to read under.

'Noblest and best beloved!' the princess addressed me in her own tongue, doubting, I perceived, as her training had taught her, that my English eyes would tolerate apostrophes of open-hearted affection. The rest was her English confided to a critic who would have good reason to be merciful:

'The night has come that writes the chapter of the day. My father has had his interview with his head-forester to learn what has befallen from the storm in the forest. All has not been told him! That shall not be delayed beyond to-morrow.

'I am hurried to it. And I had the thought that it hung perhaps at the very end of my life among the coloured leaves, the strokes of sunset--that then it would be known! or if earlier, distant from this strange imperative Now. But we have our personal freedom now, and I have learnt from minutes what I did mean to seek from years, and from our forest what I hoped that change of scene, travel, experience, would teach me. Yet I was right in my intention. It was a discreet and a just meaning I had. For things will not go smoothly for him at once: he will have his hard battle. He is proved: he has passed his most brave ordeal. But I! Shall I see him put to it and not certainly know myself? Even thus I reasoned. One cannot study without knowing that our human nature is most frail. Daily the body changes, daily the mind--why not the heart? I did design to travel and converse with various persons.

'Pardon it to one who knew that she would require super-feminine power of decision to resolve that she would dispose of herself!

'I heard of Harry Richmond before I saw him. My curiosity to behold the two fair boys of the sailor kingdom set me whipping my pony after them that day so remote, which is always yesterday. My thoughts followed you, and I wondered--does he mean to be a distinguished countryman of his Nelson? or a man of learning? Then many an argument with "my Professor," until--for so it will ever be--the weaker creature did succumb in the open controversy, and thought her thoughts to herself. Contempt of England gained on me still. But when I lay withered, though so young, by the sea-shore, his country's ancient grandeur insisted, and I dreamed of Harry Richmond, imagining that I had been false to my childhood. You stood before me, dearest. You were kind: you were strong, and had a gentle voice. Our souls were caught together on the sea. Do you recollect my slip in the speaking of Lucy Sibley's marriage?--"We change countries." At that moment I smelt salt air, which would bring you to my sight and touch were you and I divided let me not think how far.

'To-morrow I tell the prince, my father, that I am a plighted woman. Then for us the struggle, for him the grief. I have to look on him and deal it.

'I can refer him to Dr. Julius for my estimate of my husband's worth.

'"My Professor" was won by it. He once did incline to be the young bold Englishman's enemy. "Why is he here? what seeks he among us?" It was his jealousy, not of the man, but of the nation, which would send one to break and bear away his carefully cultivated German lily. No eye but his did read me through. And you endured the trial that was forced on you. You made no claim for recompense when it was over. No, there is no pure love but strong love! It belongs to our original elements, and of its purity should never be question, only of its strength.

'I could not help you when you were put under scrutiny before the margravine and the baroness. Help from me would have been the betrayal of both. The world has accurate eyes, if they are not very penetrating. The world will see a want of balance immediately, and also too true a balance, but it will not detect a depth of concord between two souls that do not show some fretfulness on the surface.

'So it was considered that in refusing my cousin Otto and other proposed alliances, I was heart-free. An instructed princess, they thought, was of the woeful species of woman. You left us: I lost you. I heard you praised for civil indifference to me--the one great quality you do not possess! Then it was the fancy of people that I, being very cold, might be suffered to hear my cousin plead for himself. The majority of our family favour Otto. He was permitted to woo me as though I had been a simple maid; and henceforth shall I have pity for all poor little feminine things who are so persecuted, asked to inflict cruelty--to take a sword and strike with it. But I--who look on marriage as more than a surrender--I could well withstand surpassing eloquence. It was easy to me to be inflexible in speech and will when I stood there, entreated to change myself. But when came magically the other, who is my heart, my voice, my mate, the half of me, and broke into illumination of things long hidden--oh! then did I say to you that it was my weakness had come upon me? It was my last outcry of self--the "I" expiring. I am now yours, "We" has long overshadowed "I," and now engulphs it. We are one. If it were new to me to find myself interrogating the mind of my beloved, relying on his courage, taking many proofs of his devotion, I might pause to re-peruse my words here, without scruple, written. I sign it, before heaven, your Ottilia.

'Princess of Eppenwelzen-Sarkeld.'

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