In a moment, she recovered all her self-possession; but so much the greater was her agony; the boat was drifting 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.
[Illustration: OTTILIE. From the Painting by Wilhelm von Kaulbach]
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.
She hurried to the new house, and called the surgeon and gave the child into his hands. It was carried at once to Charlotte’s sleeping-room. Cool and collected from a wide experience, he submitted the tender body to the usual process. Ottilie stood by him through it all. She prepared everything, she fetched everything, but as if she were moving in another world; for the height of misfortune, like the height of happiness, alters the aspect of every object. And it was only when, after every resource had been exhausted, the good man shook his head, and to her questions, whether there was hope, first was silent, and then answered with a gentle No! that she left the apartment, and had scarcely entered the sitting-room, when she fell fainting, with her face upon the carpet, unable to reach the sofa.