But for one incident about a year and a half after his marriage to Odile, I would have thought that the prince had lost his soul. I was sitting on one of our former tutorial benches, under an overhanging eave in a kitchen courtyard. It was raining heavily, as it must in spring to melt the snow so that summer can blaze across the steppes in green and blue. Watching the rain collide at an angle with a brick wall and then run down it in a tight embrace, I was trying to determine why at a certain volume and force the water bounced off, and why, if neither was sufficient, it didn’t. I came to the conclusion that the gross mechanics were directly attributable to the molecular structure of the water, and that the thresholds of adhesion were determined by group particle affinity, I believe I was slightly ahead of my time.
Anyway, I was intently absorbed, speaking to myself in calculations. When next I looked up, the prince was beside me. “I didn’t see you,” I said.
“I know,” he replied. “You’ve been muttering numbers in a kind of song.”
“Forgive me,” I said dryly.
“Forgiven,” he said twice as dryly, for he, after all, was a prince. This hurt me, for in truth I did love him like a son.
“What were you doing?” he asked.
“Calculating the force of impact between a given amount of water and a porous surface, such as brick, necessary for the deflection of the water rather than its adhesion.”
“In what units?”
“In cubic armands per centipede.”
“How can you do that without instruments?”
“How can you do it with instruments? Estimates – it’s all estimates. Just as you fell in love with a voice or a face: all is most powerful precisely in the absence of precision. And since measurement, no matter how exact, is nothing more than an analogy of unfixable quantities, I am, my prince, unafraid to estimate.”
“You are unafraid of anything, Tutor, are you not?”
“I thought you were fearless. Come, now. You are fearless. I believe that you would look into my eyes and tell me that I am corrupt. You would even go against Von Rothbart, wouldn’t you?”
“Have you become Von Rothbart’s spy?” I asked, amazed at his transformation. “But, yes, certainly I would. That is not what I fear. I am of an age, and I have had a life, whereby I no longer fear what may become of me. But almost as if in compensation, reciprocally, I fear much more and suffer greatly on behalf of others.”
“The world in general?” he asked, as if I had been making a political argument.
“You know that I am not like that. Love for all is love for none.”
“Those who are pure,” I replied, and it went right to him, for he knew who I meant. “Those who suffer. Those who wait.”
The silence that followed was interrupted as one of the orchestras began to tune in a nearby hall. I have always regarded a first-class orchestra tuning its instruments as a toy shop for the ear. We listened to trumpets, violins, drums, and woodwinds playing their scales, while all the time watching the rain run down the saturated bricks. Then, almost tentatively, the orchestra began to play short but powerful sections from the most beautiful symphonies.
The wind and rain picked up until the water crossed the threshold of surface tension and molecular adhesion and began to dash off the wall. I turned to the prince, as in the old days, to remark upon this, and when I did I saw that he was looking straight ahead, and that tears were running down his face.
A Kingdom Far and Clear, “Swan Lake” p. 66-8 Mark Helprin