We had been traveling for about two hours when we found ourselves halted before a great flood of water which, rolling imperiously over meadows and fields, cut directly across our road. All night torrential downpours had fallen on the mountains, and the waters had drained off, forming this flood. On the other side where the road began to climb, we saw several men gesturing for us to stop. They shouted words which the great distance and the tumult of waters prevented us from understanding.
Catherine had jumped to her feet and, standing up in the carriage, surveyed this ominous sight with shining eyes. “We must pass!” she cried.
I replied, “Of course—it would be too bad to neglect such a perfect opportunity to drown ourselves!”
The coachman, who was already starting to turn back, looked at us with astonishment. He was a young and handsome fellow who, although responsible for the horses, did not want to appear less courageous than a girl, so with shouts he urged the horses into the water. On the other side the watchers yelled and waved their arms like men possessed, while both of us, seated calmly in the carriage, awaited our fate.
Soon the coachman seemed to regret his impulsive decision. The furious water, sweeping all kinds of debris before it, struck the legs of the horses causing near-panic; the violence of the water threatened to topple the carriage itself. And the flood had scooped out large holes which the horses were in danger of sinking into.
Our coachman no longer dared advance, yet could not dream of turning around. We were almost at the midpoint of the deluge; the water had reached the horses’ chests and was seeping into the carriage. On the other side the watchers, now as still as statues, watched our plight without a word.
I stared at the waves rushing by and suddenly felt overcome by the desire to throw myself in, when Catherine grabbed me, crying, “For the love of God, Wanda, don’t look at the water anymore—you have vertigo. Look at the sky and close your eyes.” She took me in her arms and drew me to her. At the moment when my head had started to spin, it was agreeable indeed to feel the sure embrace of those strong arms around me.
Meanwhile, the men on the other side had assessed our peril and decided to come to our aid. They were young millers wearing high boots. Slowly they advanced toward us, prudently testing the waters with long poles. As soon as they were near they began to abuse the coachman, crying that undoubtedly he must have stolen his horses if he were willing to take such risks. As for us, they looked at us curiously and with a little annoyance—had we not, by our folly, forced them to come to our aid?
Catherine smiled at them and began speaking in her faulty German. Soon they were won over; their annoyance vanished and they were throwing looks of admiration at this foreign girl who sat gaily and without fear amidst danger.
One of the young men led the horses, while two others climbed up the footboard of the carriage to steady it against the current, and we made our way to safety.
Shaking their hands, Catherine gave them an ample reward. I think they would voluntarily have thrown themselves back in the water for her, so happy did they seem. For a long time they stood there following us with their eyes while Catherine waved goodbye. She herself was half mad with joy; an adventure of this sort pleased her enormously. She would have desired a similar one every day, because here was real life, and she wanted to live . . . to live . . .
“You alone,” she said to me, “made me afraid for a moment, since, had you fallen, you would have been drowned in that furious current.” She rejoiced at having kept her head throughout, since this was a proof of her courage, of her presence of mind—and of her contempt for life.
“If I could kiss myself, I would do it—I am so pleased with myself!”