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Oriente's tryst

We met this way for a while. I did not give Gauvain the slightest indication of how I spent my afternoons. I had long been accustomed to my freedom, and he did not think to question it now. Oskar took care to avoid me on any other occasion than our meeting at the summerhouse.

Our friendship was innocent; yet I feared Gauvain would disapprove and take him from me, as our mother once had.

When I was not with Oskar, I kept my daily piano-practice and occasional meetings with tutors and the doctor. He noted my improvement, told Gauvain I was getting exercise, and that I ought to keep my present routine. Gauvain was gratified, and I was elated—I knew he would not keep me from wandering wherever I would. I felt deeply that I deceived my brother, and should he learn the true nature of my wanderings in the wood, he would be smote, and the bond between us disengaged forever.

One morning tucked beneath my breakfast plate was a letter from Oskar, which changed the nature of feelings between us for good.

I still bear the much-read letter and copy as he wrote,

“Dearest Oriente,

“When we are not together, you bear for me equal beauty and fascination. I find myself unable to reconcile the affection I now hold for you with the matchless friendship we once shared. You were once my companion—now you occupy my entire heart—the sole living being that I love. If you share none of my feelings—which surely by now you must have guessed—you will find my declaration repugnant. Far better that it be borne in the silence of a letter.

“If you meet with me once more, you will hear it again, expounded upon more persuasively, if not more gracefully, with the adoration of my eye and tenderness of my touch. Now you know that every sentiment I bore you was visited with this passion. You must tell me whether my friendship be false or true to your own. If we do not feel the same, we should meet no more.

“With all of my heart,

Oskar.”

I was frightened by his letter. I knew my own passion for him. I never anticipated he would match it—perhaps surmount it. To love him at arm’s length was not alarming to my conscience, but to have the object of my devotion as my own was almost unconjurable. I almost feared him—knowing when I saw him all his passion would be writ upon his face.

I sensed I opened a door, and moved into another room—in darkness, without benefit of knowing what lie within.

The doctor was delayed from his scheduled visit that morning, and I was forced to remain in the house for him that afternoon. I pressed Oskar’s letter to my agonized heart and gazed out the window unseeing—knowing, at the very moment, he must be waiting for me in the summerhouse. My absence would smite him, and yet, how could I visit him with this fear?

Finally the doctor arrived and studied me at length. His pronouncement was not as enthusiastic as I expected. While my strength and color were good, there were sounds that the infestation in my lungs still held—and my breath was weakening.

The shadow that had hung over me in childhood yet returned. I felt wild. He wanted to see me again—soon. He went to the next room to speak with Gauvain and I crept to the door, listened attentively.

“Her lung disease is worsening. The diverse things in the air which once promised health may be her undoing. She weakens, and I fear she will relapse to her former state. You must know that others who have fallen back in such a way have never risen more.”

I was stricken by his words. I did not stay to hear Gauvain’s reply. I fled from the hateful doctor. I flung open the porch doors and breathed fresh air. How could natural things murder me?

It was now twilight—long, long past my meeting-hour with Oskar. I flung a hood over my head and hurried from the burg, as though pursued.

The summer air was warm and balmy. Insects clattered and whirred in the high grass as I crept into the woods. I was aware of every sight and smell; my senses heightened with my emotions, I noticed the slant of the fast-vanishing sun, felt dew and sticky pods clinging to my stockings.

I approached the summerhouse, my breath held. I saw Oskar’s dusky head lean against a pillar.

He gave no indication of hearing my approach. I stepped in the doorway, pushing the hood from my spilling hair. He looked up, saw me in the near-darkness.

I crouched near him and pressed his hand to my tumultuous breast. Tears spilled from my eyes; I caressed his face, his hair, willing him to understand that I reciprocated his every sentiment.

He gathered me close in the enveloping darkness. His face was clouded with urgency and fear. I shook my head, willing him to forget my evident sorrow. I held him and indulged myself in loving him unreservedly.

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