Elective Affinities | Part two: Chapter eleven

Ottilie Displaying her Skill to Earl's Friend
Description: "Ottilie Displaying her Skill to Earl's Friend" (HB:344).
In Elective Affinities (IAD), Part two: Chapter eleven (add synopsis)

Part two: Chapter eleven
The narrator made a pause, or rather he had already finished his story, before he observed the emotion into which Charlotte had been thrown by it. She got up, uttered some sort of an apology, and left the room. To her it was a well-known history. The principal incident in it had really taken place with the captain and a neighbor of her own; not exactly, indeed, as the Englishman had related it. But the main features of it were the same. It had only been more finished off and elaborated in its details, as stories of that kind always are, when they have passed first through the lips of the multitude, and then through the fancy of a clever and imaginative narrator; the result of the process being usually to leave everything and nothing as it was.

Ottilie followed Charlotte, as the two friends begged her to do; and then it was the earl’s turn to remark, that perhaps they had made a second mistake, and that the subject of the story had been well known to or was in some way connected with the family. “We must take care,” he added, “that we do no more mischief here; we seem to bring little good to our entertainers for all the kindness and hospitality which they have shown us; we will make some excuse for ourselves, and then take our leave.”

“I must confess,” answered his companion, “that there is something else which still holds me here, which I should be very sorry to leave the house without seeing cleared up or in some way explained. You were too busy yourself yesterday when we were in the park with the camera, in looking for spots where you could make your sketches, to have observed anything else which was passing. You left the broad walk, you remember, and went to a sequestered place on the side of the lake. There was a fine view of the opposite shore which you wished to take. Well, Ottilie, who was with us, got up to follow; and then proposed that she and I should find our way to you in the boat. I got in with her, and was delighted with the skill of my fair conductress. I assured her that never since I had been in Switzerland, where the young ladies so often fill the place of the boatmen, had I been so pleasantly ferried over the water. At the same time I could not help asking her why she had shown such an objection to going the way which you had gone, along the little by-path. I had observed her shrink from it with a sort of painful uneasiness. She was not at all offended. ‘If you will promise not to laugh at me,’ she answered, ‘I will tell you as much as I know about it; but to myself it is a mystery which I cannot explain. There is a particular spot in that path which I never pass without a strange shiver passing over me, which I do not remember ever feeling anywhere else, and which I cannot the least understand. But I shrink from exposing myself to the sensation, because it is followed immediately after by a pain on the left side of my head, from which at other times I suffer severely.’ We landed. Ottilie was engaged with you, and I took the opportunity of examining the spot, which she pointed out to me as we went by on the water. I was not a little surprised to find there distinct traces of coal, in sufficient quantities to convince me that at a short distance below the surface there must be a considerable bed of it.

“Pardon me, my lord; I see you smile; and I know very well that you have no faith in these things about which I am so eager, and that it is only your sense and your kindness which enable you to tolerate me. However, it is impossible for me to leave this place without trying on that beautiful creature an experiment with the pendulum.”

The earl, whenever these matters came to be spoken of, never failed to repeat the same objections to them over and over again; and his friend endured them all quietly and patiently, remaining firm, nevertheless, to his own opinion, and holding to his own wishes. He, too, again repeated, that there was no reason, because the experiment did not succeed with everyone, that they should give them up, as if there was nothing in them but fancy. They should be examined into all the more earnestly and scrupulously; and there was no doubt that the result would be the discovery of a number of affinities of inorganic creatures for one another, and of organic creatures for them, and again for each other, which at present were unknown to us.

He had already spread out his apparatus of gold rings, markasites, and other metallic substances, a pretty little box of which he always carried about with himself; and he suspended a piece of metal by a string over another piece, which he placed upon the table. “Now, my lord,” he said, “you may take what pleasure you please (I can see in your face what you are feeling), at perceiving that nothing will set itself in motion with me, or for me. But my operation is no more than a pretense; when the ladies come back, they will be curious to know what strange work we are about.”

The ladies returned. Charlotte understood at once what was going on. “I have heard much of these things,” she said; “but I never saw the effect myself. You have everything ready there. Let me try whether I can succeed in producing anything.”

She took the thread in her hand, and as she was perfectly serious, she held it steady, and without any agitation. Not the slightest motion, however, could be detected. Ottilie was then called upon to try. She held the pendulum still more quietly and unconsciously over the plate on the table. But in a moment the swinging piece of metal began to stir with a distinct rotatory action, and turned as they moved the position of the plate, first to one side and then to the other; now in circles, now in ellipses; or else describing a series of straight lines; doing all the earl’s friend could expect, and far exceeding, indeed, all his expectations.

The earl himself was a little staggered; but the other could never be satisfied, from delight and curiosity, and begged for the experiment again and again with all sorts of variations. Ottilie was good-natured enough to gratify him; till at last she was obliged to desire to be allowed to go, as her headache had come on again. In further admiration and even rapture, he assured her with enthusiasm that he would cure her forever of her disorder, if she would only trust herself to his remedies. For a moment they did not know what he meant; but Charlotte, who comprehended immediately after, declined his well-meant offer, not liking to have introduced and practised about her a thing of which she had always had the strongest apprehensions.

The strangers were gone, and, notwithstanding their having been the inadvertent cause of strange and painful emotions, left the wish behind them, that this meeting might not be the last. Charlotte now made use of the beautiful weather to return visits in the neighborhood, which, indeed, gave her work enough to do, seeing that the whole country round, some from a real interest, some merely from custom, had been most attentive in calling to inquire after her. At home her delight was the sight of the child, and really it well deserved all love and interest. People saw in it a wonderful, indeed a miraculous child; the brightest, sunniest little face; a fine, well-proportioned body, strong and healthy; and what surprised them more, the double resemblance, which became more and more conspicuous. In figure and in the features of the face, it was like the captain; the eyes every day it was less easy to distinguish from the eyes of Ottilie.

Ottilie herself, partly from this remarkable affinity, perhaps still more under the influence of that sweet woman’s feeling which makes them regard with the most tender affection the offspring, even by another, of the man they love, was as good as a mother to the little creature as it grew, or rather, she was a second mother of another kind. If Charlotte was absent, Ottilie remained alone with the child and the nurse. Nanny had for some time past been jealous of the boy for monopolizing the entire affections of her mistress; she had left her in a fit of crossness, and gone back to her mother. Ottilie would carry the child about in the open air, and by degrees took longer and longer walks with it. She took her bottle of milk to give the child its food when it wanted any. Generally, too, she took a book with her; and so with the child in her arms, reading and wandering, she made a very pretty Penserosa.



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Elective Affinities (elements)

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See also
Goethe’s affinity table | Used to make Elective Affinities.
Goethe timeline | Historical overview of the construction of Elective Affinities.
Goethe’s human chemistry | Goethe's version of human chemistry.
Goethean philosophy | Goethe's philosophy.
Goethe-Helmholtz equation | Connection between Elective Affinities and chemical thermodynamics.

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