Ferdinand carried a log on his shoulder. He dropped it on top of the pile he had accumulated in front of Propero’s cave. He stretched then wiped the sweat off his forehead with his hand. Some exercise was difficult but the pleasure it gave made it worthwhile. Some kinds of manual labour can be performed with dignity, and most humble tasks have a worthy end. This one could be as hard as it is unpleasant but the lady he served filled him with enthusiasm for the work and made it almost pleasant. Oh, she was ten times as kind as her irritable father – he was made of harshness. He had to move thousands of these logs and pile them up on his cruel orders. His sweet mistress wept when she saw how hard he worked and said that such menial work shouldn’t have to be done by someone of his status. But he had to get on with it. These thoughts made it easier for him and he worked better when he thought about her.
Miranda saw him and came out of the cave. ‘Oh dear,’ she said, ‘please don’t work so hard. I wish that lightning had struck these logs and burnt them up! Please rest. When they burn they’ll weep for having made you so tired. My father is hard at study. Please rest yourself: he’ll be occupied for the next three hours.’
Neither of them saw Prospero leave the cave and take the path to the ledge from which he could watch them unobserved.
‘Oh, most dear mistress,’ said Ferdinaind. ‘It will be sunset before I’ve finished.’
‘If you’ll sit down I’ll carry the logs for a while.’
‘No, precious creature, I’d rather tear my muscles or break my back than let you do such demeaning work while I sit lazily by.’
‘It would be just as fitting for me. And it would be easier for me because I want to do it and you don’t.’
Prospero sighed. Poor thing, she was infected with love. Everything she said showed it.
‘No, wonderful mistress,’ said Ferdinand, ‘when you are near it makes the night seem like fresh morning.. I beg of you – mainly so that I can include it in my prayers – what is your name?’
‘Miranda,’ She put her hand up to her mouth. ‘Oh! My father, I’ve disobeyed you in saying so!’
‘Admired Miranda!’ Ferdinand moved towards her. ‘Indeed, the highest in admiration. The dearest in the world! I’ve looked at many women with admiration, and their sweet words have often captured my too-attentive ear. I’ve liked particular women for particular qualities but never has any one of them been so perfect that some defect didn’t spoil her. But you! So perfect and unequalled. You are composed of every creature’s best parts.’
‘I don’t know any other women,’ she said. ‘I don’t remember any woman’s face, except my own, that I see in my mirror. Nor have I seen any other man than you, good friend – and my dear father. I’m ignorant of what other people look like but by my modesty, which I value above everything, I wouldn’t wish for any other companion than you. Nor can I imagine liking anyone as much as I like you. But I’m prattling on wildly and by doing that I’m disobeying my father.’
He knelt before her. ‘I am a prince in rank, Miranda,’ he said. ‘A king, I think, although I wish I weren’t. Normally, I would no more endure this wood-carrying slavery than allow a blowfly to enter my mouth.’ He took her hand. ‘Listen to my soul: the instant I saw you, my heart flew to your service, and there it lives, a slave. I’m this patient log-man for your sake.’
She raised him up and looked into his eyes. ‘Do you love me?’
‘Oh heaven! Oh earth! Hear what I say and if I’m speaking the truth, reward me with success. If I’m not, turn all my good fortune to failure. I, above everything in the world, love, prize and admire you.’
Miranda responded to his open arms and melted into his embrace. Her eyes shone with the tears that were starting to form there. ‘I’m a fool to cry about something I’m so happy about,’ she said, smiling through her tears.
Prospero smiled too. It was a happy meeting of two rare souls. He silently blessed their union.
Ferdinand kissed her cheek. ‘Why are you crying?’ he said.
‘At my unworthiness,’ she told him. ‘I don’t dare offer what I wish to give, and much less take what I’m going to die of wanting.’ She blinked her tears away. ‘But this is nonsense: the more I try to hide the truth the more it reveals itself. No more bashful coyness! And let me speak the plain and innocent truth. I’m your wife if you will marry me. If not, I’ll die your servant. You may deny me as an equal but I’ll be your servant whether you like it or not.’
Ferdinand knelt again. ‘My beloved wife. And I, humble forever.’
‘My husband then?’
‘Yes, with a heart as willing as slavery is willing to be free. Here’s my hand.’
She took his hand and raised him again. ‘And mine, with my heart in it. And now, farewell, until a half an hour’s time.’
She ran back to the cave and he went off with a spring in his step to fetch another log.
Prospero began descending the rock face. Although he couldn’t be quite as happy about it as they were, because it was all new to them, nothing could give him more cause for rejoicing. He would get back to his books because there was a lot to do before suppertime.