At the Edge of Utopia
(Swans in England; my photo)
Every evening after supper, Lydia, a young bachelorette of no small beauty, would secretly climb out of the window of her room and sneak down to the river. A little tributary to the river ran through her backyard, and she would follow that stream into the woods that separated her property and her destination–a journey of one and a half miles at most. Upon arrival she would sit at the edge of a cliff that jutted out over the river valley. Throughout the better part of the year, since she faced west, the sun would be slowly setting on the horizon on the other side of the flowing water.
The villagers of the area had named the cliff “Utopia.” The legend goes that they chose the name because no place was more picturesque in all the land. From Utopia one could see the green of the forest, the blue of the sky, and the crystal clear water below.
Lydia had been in the habit of making the trek to Utopia since she was a little girl, but more recently her efforts to follow the routine redoubled. About a month ago Lydia had a most wonderful dream in which she was sitting on the edge of the cliff as she usually would. Now, however, instead of enjoying the company of merely the wind and the water, she found that a young man emerged from the trees to sit with her. The man was exceedingly handsome, and his presence made her feel complete. Lydia awoke from the dream anxious for night to come so that she could go to Utopia and run into this gentleman. For Lydia the dream was not just a dream; it carried for her something of the prophetic.
That evening, after supper, she ventured over to Utopia and waited there well into the dark. No one came. The lack of fulfillment distressed her greatly. As she returned home along the stream near midnight, tears gently rolled down her face. Yet the reality of the dream remained as strong as in the morning, so she made up her mind to go to Utopia every night for at least an hour to wait there for her lover.
At this time a month had passed, and Lydia waited faithfully to no avail. During those thirty solitary days everyone in the village noticed a change in Lydia’s manner of acting in public. Whereas before she seemed comfortable around men, especially those of good character and attractive features, she now conversed with them as if she desired to keep them at a certain distance. It is not so much that she was forward and quick to please before–for she had always been polite and prudent in such matters–but more that presently she seemed to actively disengage whenever someone paid her a compliment or raised to her an inviting eye. No one knew that Lydia was totally committed to a young man she had never met. She did not share her dream with a single soul even though the fantasy consumed her.
With so much tension building inside poor Lydia because of the secrecy and the lack of fulfillment, one might suppose that the situation would be too much for the fragile, young girl that she was; but as days passed her passion for the mysterious figure only grew. She arose each morning thinking, “One day closer to him. I know he’ll come soon.”
On her walks through the forest on the way to Utopia, Lydia grew fond of imagining what the meeting would be like. She also thought about how she might act: “If the man were to emerge, would I stay silent or would I say something? If I were to say something, would it be best to offer a greeting or to ask a question?” In the end she settled on a question of intrigue: what brings you here tonight? To Lydia this inquiry left room for the most romantic of responses. It almost goes without saying that she wondered how he would answer her exciting question. She fancied a brilliant combination of flattery and enigma.
By the end of the second month of Lydia’s unfulfilled outings, her friends began to become curious about the strangeness of her behaviour. They pondered why she was almost always tired and dazed yet shockingly giddy and wistful. Full of the good intention of discovering the source of Lydia’s recent oddity, they dared to surprise her with a visit one evening after supper in order to probe her for clues in a conversation out of the public eye. As they were approaching the house, they caught a glimpse of Lydia quickly crossing her backyard and slipping away into the forest. Curious, they whispered to each other, “Let’s follow.”
The two friends kept their distance as not to be noticed. Lydia was moving particularly fast on this night, so her friends had to keep up a brisk pace to ensure that she did not depart from their sight. Shortly, though, the two realized that she must be heading for Utopia.
From the edge of the woods, Lydia’s companions watched her closely as she sat down at the edge of the cliff and looked out at the sunset. Purples and reds glimmered in the sky.
After what seemed like a long while, it became dusk. There Lydia remained at the edge of Utopia. There remained her friends just a stone’s throw away.
Suddenly, the two girls heard some leaves rustle on the ground behind them. Turning around, they saw a man on a horse. His grandeur captivated them. He rode with such gallantry that they both could not help but stare at him for several moments. Even after their prolonged glance, the man was still a good distance away and was riding slowly, contemplating the front side of a letter that he held in his right hand.
Shifting his gaze from the paper to the trail before him, his eyes met those of the two young ladies. Startled by their presence, he stopped his horse immediately, turned around, and galloped away. In the midst of the confusion surrounding the abrupt altering of his fate, he dropped the letter on the ground. Quietly, Lydia’s two companions went over to the spot where the horseman had been and picked up the letter. Reading its front side, they let out a pair of shrieks… An Invitation of Marriage from His Royal Highness the Prince to a Young Lady Who Waits at the Edge of Utopia.
–David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.