Elective Affinities | Part two: Chapter fourteen

Charlotte Receiving the Major
Description: "Charlotte Receiving the Major"(HB:352).
In Elective Affinities (IAD), Part two: Chapter fourteen (add synopsis)

Part two: Chapter fourteen
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.

At that moment Charlotte was heard driving up. The surgeon implored the servants to keep back, and allow him to go to meet her and prepare her. But he was too late; while he was speaking she had entered the drawing-room. She found Ottilie on the ground, and one of the girls of the house came running and screaming to her open-mouthed. The surgeon entered at the same moment, and she was informed of everything. She could not at once, however, give up all hope. She was flying up-stairs to the child, but the physician besought her to remain where she was. He went himself, to deceive her with a show of fresh exertions, and she sat down upon the sofa. Ottilie was still lying on the ground; Charlotte raised her, and supported her against herself, and her beautiful head sank down upon her knee. The kind medical man went backwards and forwards; he appeared to be busy about the child; his real care was for the ladies; and so came on midnight, and the stillness grew more and more deathly. Charlotte did not try to conceal from herself any longer that her child would never return to life again. She desired to see it now. It had been wrapped up in warm woolen coverings. And it was brought down as it was, lying in its cot, which was placed at her side on the sofa. The little face was uncovered; and there it lay in its calm sweet beauty.

The report of the accident soon spread through the village; everyone was roused, and the story reached the hotel. The major hurried up the well-known road; he went round and round the house; at last he met a servant who was going to one of the out-buildings to fetch something. He learned from him in what state things were, and desired him to tell the surgeon that he was there. The latter came out, not a little surprised at the appearance of his old patron. He told him exactly what had happened, and undertook to prepare Charlotte to see him. He then went in, began some conversation to distract her attention, and led her imagination from one object to another, till at last he brought it to rest upon her friend, and the depth of feeling and of sympathy which would surely be called out in him. From the imaginative she was brought at once to the real. Enough! she was informed that he was at the door, that he knew everything and desired to be admitted.

The major entered. Charlotte received him with a miserable smile. He stood before her; she lifted off the green silk covering under which the body was lying; and by the dim light of a taper, he saw before him, not without a secret shudder, the stiffened image of himself. Charlotte pointed to a chair, and there they sat opposite to one another, without speaking, through the night. Ottilie was still lying motionless on Charlotte’s knee; she breathed softly, and slept or seemed to sleep.

The morning dawned, the lights went out; the two friends appeared to awake out of a heavy dream. Charlotte looked towards the major, and said quietly: “Tell me through what circumstances you have been brought hither, to take part in this mourning scene.”

“The present is not a time,” the major answered, in the same low tone as that in which Charlotte had spoken, for fear lest she might disturb Ottilie; “this is not a time, and this is not a place for reserve. The condition in which I find you is so fearful that even the earnest matter on which I am here, loses its importance by the side of it.” He then informed her, quite calmly and simply, of the object of his mission, in so far as he was the ambassador of Edward: of the object of his coming, in so far as his own free will and his own interests were concerned in it. He laid both before her, delicately but uprightly; Charlotte listened quietly, and showed neither surprise nor unwillingness.

As soon as the major had finished, she replied, in a voice so light that to catch her words he was obliged to draw his chair closer to her: “In such a case as this I have never before found myself; but in similar cases I have always said to myself, how will it be to-morrow? I feel very clearly that the fate of many persons is now in my hands, and what I have to do is soon said without scruple or hesitation. I consent to the separation; I ought to have made up my mind to it before; by my unwillingness and reluctance I have destroyed my child. There are certain things on which destiny obstinately insists. In vain may reason, may virtue, may duty, may all holy feelings place themselves in its way. Something shall be done which to it seems good, and which to us seems not good; and it forces its own way through at last, let us conduct ourselves as we will.

“And, indeed, what am I saying? It is but my own desire, my own purpose, against which I acted so unthinkingly, which destiny is again bringing in my way? Did I not long ago, in my thoughts, design Edward and Ottilie for one another? Did I not myself labor to bring them together? And you, my friend, you yourself were an accomplice in my plot. Why, why, could I not distinguish mere man’s obstinacy from real love? Why did I accept his hand, when I could have made him happy as a friend, and when another could have made him happy as a wife? And now, look here on this unhappy slumberer. I tremble for the moment when she will recover out of this half death sleep into consciousness. How can she endure to live? How shall she ever console herself, if she may not hope to make good that to Edward, of which, as the instrument of the most wonderful destiny, she has deprived him? And she can make it all good again by the passion, by the devotion with which she loves him. If love be able to bear all things, it is able to do yet more; it can restore all things: of myself at such a moment I may not think.

“Do you go quietly away, my dear major; say to Edward that I consent to the separation; that I leave it to him, to you, and to Mittler, to settle whatever is to be done. I have no anxiety for my own future condition; it may be what it will; it is nothing to me. I will subscribe whatever paper is submitted to me, only he must not require me to join actively. I cannot have to think about it, or give advice.”

The major rose to go. She stretched out her hand to him across Ottilie. He pressed it to his lips, and whispered gently: “And for myself, may I hope anything?”

“Do not ask me now!” replied Charlotte. “I will tell you another time. We have not deserved to be miserable; but neither can we say that we have deserved to be happy together.”

The major left her, and went, feeling for Charlotte to the bottom of his heart, but not being able to be sorry for the fate of the poor child. Such an offering seemed necessary to him for their general happiness. He pictured Ottilie to himself with a child of her own in her arms, as the most perfect compensation for the one of which she had deprived Edward. He pictured himself with his own son on his knee, who should have better right to resemble him than the one which was departed.

With such flattering hopes and fancies passing through his mind, he returned to the hotel, and on his way back he met Edward, who had been waiting for him the whole night through in the open air, since neither rocket nor report of cannon would bring him news of the successful issue of his undertaking. He had already heard of the misfortune; and he too, instead of being sorry for the poor creature, regarded what had befallen it, without being exactly ready to confess it to himself, as a convenient accident, through which the only impediment in the way of his happiness was at once removed.

The major at once informed him of his wife’s resolution, and he therefore easily allowed himself to be prevailed upon to return again with him to the village, and from thence to go for a while to the little town, where they would consider what was next to be done, and make their arrangements.

After the major had left her, Charlotte sat on, buried in her own reflections; but it was only for a few minutes. Ottilie suddenly raised herself from her lap, and looked full with her large eyes in her friend’s face. Then she got up from off the ground, and stood upright before her.

“This is the second time,” began the noble girl, with an irresistible solemnity of manner, “this is the second time that the same thing has happened to me. You once said to me that similar things often befall people more than once in their lives in a similar way, and if they do, it is always at important moments. I now find that what you said is true, and I have to make a confession to you. Shortly after my mother’s death, when I was a very little child, I was sitting one day on a footstool close to you. You were on the sofa, as you are at this moment, and my head rested on your knees. I was not asleep, I was not awake: I was in a trance. I knew everything which was passing about me. I heard every word which was said with the greatest distinctness, and yet I could not stir, I could not speak; and if I had wished it, I could not have given a hint that I was conscious. On that occasion you were speaking about me to one of your friends; you were commiserating my fate, left as I was a poor orphan in the world. You described my dependent position, and how unfortunate a future was before me, unless some very happy star watched over me. I understood well what you said. I saw, perhaps too clearly, what you appeared to hope of me, and what you thought I ought to do. I made rules to myself, according to such limited insight as I had, and by these I have long lived; by these, at the time when you so kindly took charge of me, and had me with you in your house, I regulated whatever I did, and whatever I left undone. “But I have wandered out of my course; I have broken my rules; I have lost the very power of feeling them. And now, after a dreadful occurrence, you have again made clear to me my situation, which is more pitiable than the first. While lying in a half torpor on your lap, I have again, as if out of another world, heard every syllable which you uttered. I know from you how all is with me. I shudder at the thought of myself; but again, as I did then, in my half sleep of death, I have marked out my new path for myself.

“I am determined, as I was before, and what I have determined I must tell you at once. I will never be Edward’s wife. In a terrible manner God has opened my eyes to see the sin in which I was entangled. I will atone for it, and let no one think to move me from my purpose. It is by this, my dearest, kindest friend, that you must govern your own conduct. Send for the major to come back to you. Write to him that no steps must be taken. It made me miserable that I could not stir or speak when he went;—I tried to rise,—I tried to cry out. Oh, why did you let him leave you with such unlawful hopes!”

Charlotte saw Ottilie’s condition, and she felt for it; but she hoped that by time and persuasion she might be able to prevail upon her. On her uttering a few words, however, which pointed to a future,—to a time when her sufferings would be alleviated, and when there might be better room for hope, “No!” Ottilie cried, with vehemence, “do not endeavor to move me; do not seek to deceive me. At the moment at which I learn that you have consented to the separation, in that same lake I will expiate my errors and my crimes.”

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Elective Affinities (elements)


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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