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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 5 - Chapter 35. The Scene In The Lake-Palace Library
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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 5 - Chapter 35. The Scene In The Lake-Palace Library Post by :tessaru Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :1741

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The Adventures Of Harry Richmond - Book 5 - Chapter 35. The Scene In The Lake-Palace Library

BOOK V CHAPTER XXXV. THE SCENE IN THE LAKE-PALACE LIBRARY

I was humming the burden of Gothe's Zigeunerlied, a favourite one with me whenever I had too much to think of, or nothing. A low rush of sound from the hall-doorway swung me on my heel, and I saw her standing with a silver lamp raised in her right hand to the level of her head, as if she expected to meet obscurity. A thin blue Indian scarf mufed her throat and shoulders. Her hair was loosely knotted. The lamp's full glow illumined and shadowed her. She was like a statue of Twilight.

I went up to her quickly, and closed the door, saying, 'You have come'; my voice was not much above a breath.

She looked distrustfully down the length of the room; 'You were speaking to some one?'

'No.'

'You were speaking.'

'To myself, then, I suppose.'

I remembered and repeated the gipsy burden.

She smiled faintly and said it was the hour for Anna and Ursel and Kith and Liese to be out.

Her hands were gloved, a small matter to tell of.

We heard the portico-sentinel challenged and relieved.

'Midnight,' I said.

She replied: 'You were not definite in your directions about the minutes.'

'I feared to name midnight.'

'Why?'

'Lest the appointment of midnight--I lose my knowledge of you!--should make you reflect, frighten you. You see, I am inventing a reason; I really cannot tell why, if it was not that I hoped to have just those few minutes more of you. And now they're gone. I would not have asked you but that I thought you free to act.'

'I am.'

'And you come freely?'

'A "therefore" belongs to every grant of freedom.'

'I understand: your judgement was against it.'

'Be comforted,' she said; 'it is your right to bid me come, if you think fit.'

One of the sofa-volumes fell. She caught her breath; and smiled at her foolish alarm.

I told her that it was my intention to start for England in the morning; that this was the only moment I had, and would be the last interview: my rights, if I possessed any, and I was not aware that I did, I threw down.

'You throw down one end of the chain,' she said.

'In the name of heaven, then,' cried I, 'release yourself.'

She shook her head. 'That is not my meaning.'

Note the predicament of a lover who has a piece of dishonesty lurking in him. My chilled self-love had certainly the right to demand the explanation of her coldness, and I could very well guess that a word or two drawn from the neighbourhood of the heart would fetch a warmer current to unlock the ice between us, but feeling the coldness I complained of to be probably a suspicion, I fixed on the suspicion as a new and deeper injury done to my loyal love for her, and armed against that I dared not take an initiative for fear of unexpectedly justifying it by betraying myself.

Yet, supposing her inclination to have become diverted, I was ready frankly to release her with one squeeze of hands and take all the pain of she pain, and I said: 'Pray, do not speak of chains.'

'But they exist. Things cannot be undone for us two by words.'

The tremble as of a strung wire in the strenuous pitch of her voice seemed to say she was not cold, though her gloved hand resting its finger-ends on the table, her restrained attitude, her very calm eyes, declared the reverse. This and that sensation beset me in turn.

We shrank oddly from uttering one another's Christian name. I was the first with it; my 'Ottilia!' brought soon after 'Harry' on her lips, and an atmosphere about us much less Arctic.

'Ottilia, you have told me you wish me to go to England.'

'I have.'

'We shall be friends.'

'Yes, Harry; we cannot be quite divided; we have that knowledge for our present happiness.'

'The happy knowledge that we may have our bone to gnaw when food's denied. It is something. One would like possibly, after expulsion out of Eden, to climb the gates to see how the trees grow there. What I cannot imagine is the forecasting of any joy in the privilege.'

'By nature or system, then, you are more impatient than I, for I can,' said Ottilia. She added: 'So much of your character I divined early. It was part of my reason for wishing you to work. You will find that hard work in England--but why should I preach to you Harry, you have called me here for some purpose?'

'I must have detained you already too long.'

'Time is not the offender. Since I have come, the evil----'

'Evil? Are not your actions free?'

'Patience, my friend. The freer my actions, the more am I bound to deliberate on them. I have the habit of thinking that my deliberations are not in my sex's fashion of taking counsel of the nerves and the blood.

In truth, Harry, I should not have come but for my acknowledgement of your right to bid me come.'

'You know, princess, that in honouring me with your attachment, you imperil your sovereign rank?'

'I do.'

'What next?'

'Except that it is grievously in peril, nothing!'

'Have you known it all along?'

'Dimly-scarcely. To some extent I knew it, but it did not stand out in broad daylight. I have been learning the world's wisdom recently. Would you have had me neglect it? Surely much is due to my father? My relatives have claims on me. Our princely Houses have. My country has.'

'Oh, princess, if you are pleading----'

'Can you think that I am?'

The splendour of her high nature burst on me with a shock.

I could have fallen to kiss her feet, and I said indifferently: 'Not pleading, only it is evident the claims--I hate myself for bringing you in antagonism with them. Yes, and I have been learning some worldly wisdom; I wish for your sake it had not been so late. What made me overleap the proper estimate of your rank! I can't tell; but now that I know better the kind of creature--the man who won your esteem when you knew less of the world!'--

'Hush! I have an interest in him, and do not suffer him to be spurned,' Ottilia checked me. 'I, too, know him better, and still, if he is dragged down I am in the dust; if he is abused the shame is mine.' Her face bloomed.

Her sweet warmth of colour was transfused through my veins.

'We shall part in a few minutes. I have a mind to beg a gift of you.'

'Name it.'

'That glove.'

She made her hand bare and gave me, not the glove, but the hand.

'Ah! but this I cannot keep.'

'Will you have everything spoken?' she said, in a tone that would have been reproachful had not tenderness melted it. 'There should be a spirit between us, Harry, to spare the task. You do keep it, if you choose. I have some little dread of being taken for a madwoman, and more--an actual horror of behaving ungratefully to my generous father. He has proved that he can be indulgent, most trusting and considerate for his daughter, though he is a prince; my duty is to show him that I do not forget I am a princess. I owe my rank allegiance when he forgets his on my behalf, my friend! You are young. None but an inexperienced girl hoodwinked by her tricks of intuition, would have dreamed you superior to the passions of other men. I was blind; I am regretful--take my word as you do my hand--for no one's sake but my father's. You and I are bound fast; only, help me that the blow may be lighter for him; if I descend from the place I was born to, let me tell him it is to occupy one I am fitted for, or should not at least feel my Family's deep blush in filling. To be in the midst of life in your foremost England is, in my imagination, very glorious. Harry, I remember picturing to myself when I reflected upon your country's history--perhaps a year after I had seen the two "young English gentlemen," that you touch the morning and evening star, and wear them in your coronet, and walk with the sun West and East! Child's imagery; but the impression does not wear off. If I rail at England, it is the anger of love. I fancy I have good and great things to speak to the people through you.'

There she stopped. The fervour she repressed in speech threw a glow over her face, like that on a frosty bare autumn sky after sunset.

I pressed my lips to her hand.

In our silence another of the fatal yellow volumes thumped the floor.

She looked into my eyes and asked,

'Have we been speaking before a witness?'

So thoroughly had she renovated me, that I accused and reproved the lurking suspicion with a soft laugh.

'Beloved! I wish we had been.'

'If it might be,' she said, divining me and musing.

'Why not?'

She stared.

'How? What do you ask?'

The look on my face alarmed her. I was breathless and colourless, with the heart of a hawk eyeing his bird--a fox, would be the truer comparison, but the bird was noble, not one that cowered. Her beauty and courage lifted me into high air, in spite of myself, and it was a huge weight of greed that fell away from me when I said,

'I would not urge it for an instant. Consider--if you had just plighted your hand in mine before a witness!'

'My hand is in yours; my word to you is enough.'

'Enough. My thanks to heaven for it! But consider--a pledge of fidelity that should be my secret angel about me in trouble and trial; my wedded soul! She cannot falter, she is mine for ever, she guides me, holds me to work, inspirits me!--she is secure from temptation, from threats, from everything--nothing can touch, nothing move her, she is mine! I mean, an attested word, a form, that is--a betrothal. For me to say--my beloved and my betrothed! You hear that? Beloved! is a lonely word:--betrothed! carries us joined up to death. Would you?--I do but ask to know that you would. To-morrow I am loose in the world, and there 's a darkness in the thought of it almost too terrible. Would you?--one sworn word that gives me my bride, let men do what they may! I go then singing to battle--sure!--Remember, it is but the question whether you would.'

'Harry, I would, and will,' she said, her lips shuddering--'wait'--for a cry of joy escaped me--'I will look you me in the eyes and tell me you have a doubt of me.'

I looked: she swam in a mist.

We had our full draught of the divine self-oblivion which floated those ghosts of the two immortal lovers through the bounds of their purgatorial circle, and for us to whom the minutes were ages, as for them to whom all time was unmarked, the power of supreme love swept out circumstance. Such embraces cast the soul beyond happiness, into no known region of sadness, but we drew apart sadly, even as that involved pair of bleeding recollections looked on the life lost to them. I knew well what a height she dropped from when the senses took fire. She raised me to learn how little of fretful thirst and its reputed voracity remains with love when it has been met midway in air by a winged mate able to sustain, unable to descend farther.

And it was before a witness, though unviewed by us.

The farewell had come. Her voice was humbled.

Never, I said, delighting in the now conscious bravery of her eyes engaging mine, shadowy with the struggle, I would never doubt her, and I renounced all pledges. To be clear in my own sight as well as in hers, I made mention of the half-formed conspiracy to obtain her plighted troth in a binding manner. It was not necessary for me to excuse myself; she did that, saying, 'Could there be a greater proof of my darling's unhappiness? I am to blame.'

We closed hands for parting. She hesitated and asked if my father was awake; then promptly to my answer:

'I will see him. I have treated you ill. I have exacted too much patience. The suspicion was owing to a warning I had this evening, Harry; a silly warning to beware of snares; and I had no fear of them, believe me, though for some moments, and without the slightest real desire to be guarded, I fancied Harry's father was overhearing me. He is your father, dearest: fetch him to me. My father will hear of this from my lips--why not he? Ah! did I suspect you ever so little? I will atone for it; not atone, I will make it my pleasure; it is my pride that has hurt you both. O my lover! my lover! Dear head, dear eyes! Delicate and noble that you are! my own stronger soul! Where was my heart? Is it sometimes dead, or sleeping? But you can touch it to life. Look at me--I am yours. I consent, I desire it; I will see him. I will be bound. The heavier the chains, oh! the better for me. What am I, to be proud of anything not yours, Harry? and I that have passed over to you! I will see him at once.'

A third in the room cried out, 'No, not that--you do not!'

The tongue was German and struck on us like a roll of unfriendly musketry before we perceived the enemy. 'Princess Ottilia! you remember your dignity or I defend you and it, think of me what you will!'

Baroness Turckems, desperately entangled by the sofa-covering, rushed into the ray of the lamps and laid her hand on the bell-rope. In a minute we had an alarm sounding, my father was among us, there was a mad play of chatter, and we stood in the strangest nightmare-light that ever ended an interview of lovers.

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