‘I have known it by my knowledge of myself,’ she said, breathing with her lips dissevered. ’My weakness has come upon me. Yes, I love you. It is spoken. It is too true. Is it a fate that brings us together when I have just lost my little remaining strength—all power? You hear me! I pretend to wisdom, and talk of fate!’
She tried to laugh in scorn of herself, and looked at me with almost a bitter smile on her features, made beautiful by her soft eyes. I feared from the helpless hanging of her underlip that she would swoon; a shudder convulsed her; and at the same time I became aware of the blotting out of sunlight, and a strange bowing and shore-like noising of the forest.
‘Do not heed me,’ she said in happy undertones. ’I think I am going to cry like a girl. One cannot see one’s pride die like this, without but it is not anguish of any kind. Since we are here together, I would have no other change.’
She spoke till the tears came thick.
I told her of the letters I had received, warning me of a trouble besetting her. They were, perhaps, the excuse for my conduct, if I had any.
Schwartz burst on us with his drill-sergeant’s shout for the princess. Standing grey in big rain-drops he was an object of curiosity to us both. He came to take her orders.
‘The thunder,’ he announced, raising a telegraphic arm, ’rolls. It rains. We have a storm. Command me, princess! your highness!’
Ottilia’s eyelids were set blinking by one look aloft. Rain and lightning filled heaven and earth.
‘Direct us, you!’ she said to me gently.
The natural proposal was to despatch her giant by the direct way down the lake to fetch a carriage from the stables, or matting from the boathouse. I mentioned it, but did not press it.
She meditated an instant. ‘I believe I may stay with my beloved?’
Schwartz and I ran to the boat, hauled it on land, and set it keel upward against a low leafy dripping branch. To this place of shelter, protecting her as securely as I could, I led the princess, while Schwartz happed a rough trench around it with one of the sculls. We started him on foot to do the best thing possible; for the storm gave no promise that it was a passing one. In truth, I knew that I should have been the emissary and he the guard; but the storm overhead was not fuller of its mighty burden than I of mine. I looked on her as mine for the hour, and well won.
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.