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BOOK III. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 4 (Recreations of the German Emigrants, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 4: W. Meister’s Apprenticeship.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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Next morning, on looking for Mignon about the house Wilhelm did not find her; but was informed that she had gone out early with Melina, who had risen betimes to receive the wardrobe and other apparatus of his theatre.
After the space of some hours, Wilhelm heard the sound of music before his door. At first he thought it was the harper come again to visit him; but he soon distinguished the tones of a cithern, and the voice which began to sing was Mignon’s. Wilhelm opened the door; the child came in, and sang him the song we have just given above.
The music and general expression of it pleased our friend extremely, though he could not understand all the words. He made her once more repeat the stanzas, and explain them; he wrote them down, and translated them into his native language. But the originality of its turns he could imitate only from afar; its childlike innocence of expression vanished from it in the process of reducing its broken phraseology to uniformity, and combining its disjointed parts. The charm of the tune, moreover, was entirely incomparable.
She began every verse in a stately and solemn manner, as if she wished to draw attention towards something wonderful, as if she had something weighty to communicate. In the third line her tones became deeper and gloomier; the Know’st thou it, then? was uttered with a show of mystery and eager circumspectness; in the ’Tis there! ’tis there! lay a boundless longing; and her I with thee would go! she modified at each repetition, so that now it appeared to entreat and implore, now to impel and persuade.
On finishing her song for the second time, she stood silent for a moment, looked keenly at Wilhelm, and asked him, “Know’st thou the land?” “It must mean Italy,” said Wilhelm: “where didst thou get the little song?” “Italy!” said Mignon, with an earnest air: “if thou go to Italy, take me along with thee; for I am too cold here.” “Hast thou been there already, little dear?” said Wilhelm. But the child was silent, and nothing more could be got out of her.
Melina entered now; he looked at the cithern; was glad that she had rigged it up again so prettily. The instrument had been among Melina’s stage-gear; Mignon had begged it of him in the morning; and then gone to the old harper. On this occasion she had shown a talent she was not before suspected of possessing.
Melina had already got possession of his wardrobe, with all that pertained to it; some members of the town magistracy had promised him permission to act, for a time, in the place. He was now returning with a merry heart and a cheerful look. His nature seemed altogether changed; he was soft, courteous to every one, nay, fond of obliging, and almost attractive. He was happy, he said, at now being able to afford employment to his friends, who had hitherto lain idle and embarrassed; sorry, however, that at first he could not have it in his power to remunerate the excellent actors whom fortune had offered him, in a style corresponding to their talents and capacities; being under the necessity, before all other things, of discharging his debt to so generous a friend as Wilhelm had proved himself to be.
“I cannot describe,” said he to Wilhelm, “the friendliness which you have shown in helping me forward to the management of a theatre. When I found you here, I was in a very curious predicament. You recollect how strongly I displayed to you, on our first acquaintance, my aversion to the stage; and yet, on being married, I was forced to look about for a place in some theatre, out of love to my wife, who promised to herself much joy and great applause, if so engaged. I could find none, at least no constant one; but in return I luckily fell in with some commercial men, who, in extraordinary cases, were enabled to employ a person that could handle his pen, that understood French, and was not without a little skill in ciphering. I managed pretty well in this way, for a time; I was tolerably paid; got about me many things which I had need of, and did not feel ashamed of my work. But these commissions of my patrons came to an end; they could afford me no permanent establishment; and, ever since, my wife has continued urging me still more to go upon the stage again; though, at present, alas, her own situation is none of the most favorable for exhibiting herself, with honor, in the eyes of the public. But now, I hope, the establishment, which by your kind help I have the means of setting up, will prove a good beginning for me and mine; you I shall thank for all my future happiness, let matters turn out as they will.”
Wilhelm listened to him with contentment; the whole fraternity of players were likewise moderately satisfied with the declarations of the new manager; they secretly rejoiced that an offer of employment had occurred so soon; and were disposed to put up, at first, with a smaller salary; the rather, that most of them regarded the present one, so unexpectedly placed within their reach, as a kind of supplement, on which a short while ago they could not count. Melina made haste to profit by this favorable temper; he endeavored in a sly way to get a little talk with each in private; and ere long had, by various methods, so cockered them all, that they did not hesitate to strike a bargain with him, without loss of time; scarcely thinking of this new engagement, or reckoning themselves secure at worst of getting free again after six weeks’ warning.
The terms were now to be reduced to proper form, and Melina was considering with what pieces he would first entice the public, when a courier riding up informed the Stallmeister that his lord and lady were at hand; on which the latter ordered out his horses.
In a short time after this the coach with its masses of luggage rolled in; two servants sprang down from the coach-box before the inn; and Philina, according to her custom, foremost in the way of novelties, placed herself within the door.
“Who are you?” said the countess, entering the house.
“An actress, at your excellency’s service,” was the answer; while the cheat, with a most innocent air, and looks of great humility, courtesied and kissed the lady’s gown.
The count, on seeing some other persons standing round, who also signified that they were players, inquired about the strength of their company, their last place of residence, their manager. “Had they but been Frenchmen,” said he to his lady, “we might have treated the prince with an unexpected enjoyment, and entertained him with his favorite pastime at our house.”
“And could we not,” said the countess, “get these people, though unluckily they are but Germans, to exhibit with us at the castle while the prince stays there? Without doubt, they have some degree of skill: A large party can never be so well amused with anything as with a theatre; besides the baron would assist them.”
So speaking they went up-stairs; and Melina presented himself above as manager. “Call your folk together,” said the count, “and place them before me, that I may see what is in them. I must also have the list of pieces you profess to act.”
Melina, with a low bow, hastened from the room, and soon returned with his actors. They advanced in promiscuous succession; some, out of too great anxiety to please, introduced themselves in a rather sorry style; the others, not much better, by assuming an air of unconcern. Philina showed the deepest reverence to the countess, who behaved with extreme graciousness and condescension; the count, in the meantime, was mustering the rest. He questioned each about his special province of acting; and signified to Melina that he must rigorously keep them to their several provinces; a precept which the manager received with the greatest devotion.
The count then stated to each in particular what he ought especially to study, what about his figure or his postures ought to be amended; showed them luminously in what points the Germans always fail; and displayed such extraordinary knowledge that all stood in the deepest humility, scarcely daring to draw their breath, before so enlightened a critic and so right honorable a patron.
“What fellow is that in the corner?” said the count, looking at a subject, who had not yet been presented to him, and who now approached; a lean shambling figure, with a rusty coat patched at the elbows, and a woful periwig covering his submissive head.
This person, whom, from the last book, we know already as Philina’s darling, had been wont to enact pedants, tutors and poets; generally undertaking parts in which any cudgelling or ducking was to be endured. He had trained himself to certain crouching, ludicrous, timid bows; and his faltering, stammering speech befitted the characters he played, and created laughter in the audience; so that he was always looked on as a useful member of the company, being moreover very serviceable and obliging. He approached the count in his own peculiar way, bent himself before him, and answered every question with the grimaces and gestures he was used to on the stage. The count looked at him for some time with an air of attentive satisfaction and studious observation; then turning to the countess, “Child,” said he, “consider this man well: I will engage for it he is a great actor, or may become so.” The creature here, in the fulness of his heart, made an idiotic bow; the count burst into laughing, and exclaimed: “He does it excellently well! I bet this fellow can act anything he likes; it is a pity that he has not been already used to something better.”
So singular a prepossession was extremely galling to the rest: Melina alone felt no vexation, but completely coincided with the count, and answered with a prostrate look: “Alas! it is too true; both he and others of us have long stood in need of such encouragement and such a judge as we now find in your excellency.”
“Is this the whole company?” inquired the count.
“Some of them are absent,” said the crafty Melina; “and, at any rate, if we should meet with support, we could soon collect abundant numbers from the neighborhood.”
Philina in the meanwhile was saying to the countess: “There is a very pretty young man above, who without doubt would shortly become a first-rate amateur.”
“Why does not he appear?” said the countess.
“I will bring him,” cried Philina, hastening to the door.
She found our friend still occupied with Mignon; she persuaded him to come down. He followed her with some reluctance; yet curiosity impelled him: for hearing that the family were people of rank he longed much to know more of them. On entering the room his eyes met those of the countess, which were directed towards him. Philina led him to the lady, while the count was busied with the rest. Wilhelm made his bow, and replied to several questions from the fair dame, not without confusion of mind. Her beauty and youth, her graceful dignity and refined manner, made the most delightful impression on him; and the more so, as her words and looks were accompanied with a certain bashfulness, one might almost say embarrassment. He was likewise introduced to the count, who however took no special notice of him, but went to the window with his lady, and seemed to ask her about something. It was easy to observe that her opinion accorded strongly with his own; that she even tried to persuade him and strengthen him in his intentions.
In a short while he turned round to the company, and said: “I must not stay at present, but I will send a friend to you; and if you make reasonable proposals, and will take very great pains, I am not disinclined to let you play at the castle.”
All testified their joy at this; Philina in particular kissed the hands of the countess with the greatest vivacity.
“Look you, little thing,” said the lady, patting the cheeks of the light-minded girl, “look you, child, you shall come to me again; I will keep my promise; only you must dress better.” Philina stated in excuse that she had little to lay out upon her wardrobe; and the countess immediately ordered her waiting-maids to bring from the carriage a silk neckerchief and an English hat, the articles easiest to come at, and give them to her new favorite. The countess herself then decked Philina, who continued very neatly to support, by her looks and conduct, that saint-like, guiltless character she had assumed at first.
The count took his lady’s hand and led her down. She bowed to the whole company with a friendly air in passing by them; she turned round again towards Wilhelm, and said to him, with the most gracious mien: “We shall soon meet again.”
These happy prospects enlivened the whole party: every one of them gave free course to his hopes, his wishes, his imaginations; spoke of the parts he would play, and the applause he would acquire. Melina was considering how he might still, by a few speedy exhibitions, gain a little money from the people of the town before he left it, while others went into the kitchen to order a better dinner than of late they had been used to.
After a few days the baron came; and it was not without fear that Melina received him. The count had spoken of him as a critic; and it might be dreaded he would speedily detect the weakness of the little party and see that it formed no efficient troop, there being scarcely a play which they could act in a suitable manner. But the manager, as well as all the members, were soon delivered from their cares, on finding that the baron was a man who viewed the German stage with a most patriotic enthusiasm, to whom every player, and every company of players, was welcome and agreeable. He saluted them all with great solemnity; was happy to come upon a German theatre so unexpectedly, to get connected with it, and to introduce their native muses to the mansion of his relative. He then pulled out from his pocket a bundle of stitched papers, in which Melina hoped to find the terms of their contract specified; but it proved something very different. It was a drama which the baron himself had composed, and wished to have played by them: he requested their attention while he read it. Willingly they formed a circle round him; charmed at being able with so little trouble to secure the favor of a man so important; though judging by the thickness of the manuscript it was clear that a very long rehearsal might be dreaded. Their apprehensions were not groundless; the piece was written in five acts, and that sort of acts which never have an end.
The hero was an excellent, virtuous, magnanimous and at the same time misunderstood and persecuted man; this worthy person, after many trials, gained the victory at last over all his enemies; on whom, in consequence, the most rigorous poetic justice would have been exercised, had he not pardoned them on the spot.
While this piece was rehearsing each of the auditors had leisure enough to think of himself, and to mount up quite softly from the humble prostration of mind, to which, a little while ago, he had felt disposed, into a comfortable state of contentment with his own gifts and advantages; and from this elevation to discover the most pleasing prospects in the future. Such of them as found in the play no parts adapted for their own acting, internally pronounced it bad, and viewed the baron as a miserable author; while the others, every time they noticed any passage which they hoped might procure them a little clapping of the hands, exalted it with the greatest praise, to the immeasurable satisfaction of the author.
The commercial part of their affair was soon completed. Melina made an advantageous bargain with the baron, and contrived to keep it secret from the rest.
Of our friend, Melina took occasion to declare in passing, that he seemed to be successfully qualifying himself for becoming a dramatic poet, and even to have some capacities for being an actor. The baron introduced himself to Wilhelm as a colleague; and the latter by-and-by produced some little pieces, which, with a few other relics, had escaped by chance on the day when he threw the greater part of his works into the flames. The baron lauded both his pieces and delivery; he spoke of it as a settled thing, that Wilhelm should come over to the castle with the rest. For all, at his departure, he engaged to find the best reception, comfortable quarters, a good table, applauses and presents; and Melina further gave the promise of a certain modicum of pocket-money to each.
It is easy to conceive how this visit raised the spirits of the party; instead of a low and harassing situation, they now at once saw honors and enjoyment before them. On the score of these great hopes they already made merry; and each thought it needless and stingy to retain a single groschen of money in his purse.
Meanwhile our friend was taking counsel with himself about accompanying the troop to the castle; and he found it, in more than one sense, advisable to do so. Melina was in hopes of paying off his debt, at least in part, by this engagement; and Wilhelm, who had come from home to study men, was unwilling to let slip this opportunity of examining the great world, where he expected to obtain much insight into life, into himself and the dramatic art. With all this, he durst not confess how greatly he wished again to be near the beautiful countess. He rather sought to persuade himself in general of the mighty advantages which a more intimate acquaintance with the world of rank and wealth would procure for him. He pursued his reflections on the count, the countess, the baron; on the security, the grace and propriety of their demeanor; he exclaimed with rapture when alone:
“Thrice happy are they to be esteemed, whom their birth of itself exalts above the lower stages of mankind; who do not need to traverse those perplexities, not even to skirt them, in which many worthy men so painfully consume the whole period of life. Far-extending and unerring must their vision be, on that higher station; easy each step of their progress in the world! From their very birth they are placed as it were in a ship, which, in this voyage we have all to make, enables them to profit by the favorable winds, and to ride out the cross ones; while others, bare of help, must wear their strength away in swimming, can derive little profit from the favorable breeze, and in the storm must soon become exhausted and sink to the bottom. What convenience, what ease of movement does a fortune we are born to, confer upon us! How securely does a traffic flourish which is founded on a solid capital, where the failure of one or of many enterprises does not of necessity reduce us to inaction! Who can better know the worth and worthlessness of earthly things than he that has had within his choice the enjoyment of them from youth upwards; and who can earlier guide his mind to the useful, the necessary, the true, than he that may convince himself of so many errors in an age when his strength is yet fresh to begin a new career!”
Thus did our friend cry joy to all inhabitants of the upper regions; and not to them only, but to all that were permitted to approach their circle, and draw water from their wells. So he thanked his own happy stars, that seemed preparing to grant this mighty blessing to himself.
Melina, in the meantime, was torturing his brains to get the company arranged according to their several provinces, and each of them appointed to produce his own peculiar effect. In compliance with the count’s injunctions and his own persuasions, he made many efforts: but, at last, when it came to the point of execution, he was forced to be content, if, in so small a troop, he found his people willing to adjust themselves to this or that part, as they best were able. When matters would admit of it Laertes played the lover; Philina the lady’s-maid; the two young girls took up between them the characters of the artless and tender loved ones; the boisterous old gentleman of the piece was sure to be the best acted. Melina himself thought he might come forth as chevalier; Madam Melina, to her no small sorrow, was obliged to satisfy herself with personating young wives, or even affectionate mothers; and as in the newer plays a poet or pedant is rarely introduced, and still more rarely for the purpose of being laughed at, the well-known favorite of the count was now usually transformed into president or minister; these being commonly set forth as knaves, and severely handled in the fifth act. Melina too, in the part of chamberlain or the like, introduced, with great satisfaction, the ineptitudes put into his hands by various honest Germans, according to use and wont, in many well-accepted plays: he delighted in these characters, because he had an opportunity of decking himself out in a fashionable style, and was called upon to assume the airs of a courtier, which he conceived himself to possess in great perfection.
It was not long till they were joined by several actors from different quarters; who, being received without very strict examination, were also retained without very burdensome conditions.
Wilhelm had been more than once assailed with persuasions from Melina to undertake an amateur part. This he declined; yet he interested and occupied himself about the general cause with great alacrity, without our new manager’s acknowledging his labors in the smallest. On the contrary, it seemed to be Melina’s opinion, that with his office he had at the same time picked up all the necessary skill for carrying it on. In particular, the task of curtailment formed one of his most pleasing occupations; he would succeed in reducing any given piece down to the regular measure of time, without the slightest respect to proprieties or proportions, or anything whatever but his watch. He met with great encouragement; the public was very much delighted; the most knowing inhabitants of the burgh maintained that the prince’s theatre itself was not so well conducted as theirs.
At last the time arrived when the company had to prepare themselves for travelling, and to expect the coaches and other vehicles that were to carry them to the count’s mansion. Much altercation now took place about the mode of travelling, and who should sit with whom. The ordering and distribution of the whole was at length settled and concluded with great labor, and, alas, without effect. At the appointed hour fewer coaches came than were expected; they had to accommodate themselves as the case would admit. The baron, who followed shortly afterwards on horseback, assigned as the reason, that all was in commotion at the castle, not only because the prince was to arrive a few days earlier than had been looked for, but also because an unexpected party of visitors were already come; the place, he said, was in great confusion; on this account perhaps they would not lodge so comfortably as had been intended; a change which grieved him very much.
Our travellers packed themselves into the carriages the best way they could; and the weather being tolerable, and the castle but a few leagues distant, the heartiest of the troop preferred setting out on foot to waiting the return of the coaches. The caravan got under way with great jubilee; for the first time, without caring how the landlord’s bill was to be paid. The count’s mansion rose like a palace of the fairies on their souls; they were the happiest and merriest mortals in the world. Each throughout the journey, in his own peculiar mode, kept fastening a continued chain of fortune, honor and prosperity to that auspicious day.
A heavy rain, which fell unexpectedly, did not banish these delightful contemplations; though, as it incessantly continued with more and more violence, many of the party began to show traces of uneasiness. The night came on; and no sight could be more welcome than the palace of the count, which shone upon them from a hill at some distance, glancing with light in all its stories, so that they could reckon every window.
On approaching nearer they found all the windows in the wings illuminated also. Each of the party thought within himself what chamber would be his; and most of them prudently determined to be satisfied with a room in the attic story, or some of the side buildings.
They were now proceeding through the village, past the inn. Wilhelm stopped the coach, in the mind to alight there; but the landlord protested that it was not in his power to afford the least accommodation: his lordship the count, he said, being visited by some unexpected guests, had immediately engaged the whole inn; every chamber in the house had been marked with chalk last night, specifying who was to lodge there. Our friend was accordingly obliged, against his will, to travel forward to the castle with the rest of the company.
In one of the side buildings, round the kitchen fire, they noticed several cooks running busily about; a sight which refreshed them not a little. Servants came jumping hastily with lights to the staircase of the main door; and the hearts of the worthy pilgrims overflowed at the aspect of such honors. But how great was their surprise when this cordial reception changed into a storm of curses. The servants scouted the coachmen for driving in hither; they must wheel out again, it was bawled, and take their loading round to the old castle; there was no room here for such guests! To this unfriendly and unexpected dismissal they joined all manner of jeering, and laughed aloud at each other for leaping out in the rain on so false an errand. It was still pouring; no star was visible in the sky; while our company were dragged along a rough, jolting road, between two walls, into the old mansion which stood behind, inhabited by none since the present count’s father had built the new residence in front of it. The carriages drew up, partly in the courtyard, partly in a long arched gateway; and the postilions, people hired from the village, unyoked their horses and rode off.
As nobody came forward to receive the travellers, they alighted from their places, they shouted, and searched. In vain! All continued dark and still. The wind swept through the lofty gate: the court and the old towers were lying gray and dreary, and so dim that their forms could scarcely be distinguished in the gloom. The people were all shuddering and freezing; the women were becoming frightened; the children began to cry; the general impatience was increasing every minute; so quick a revolution of fortune, for which no one of them had been at all prepared, entirely destroyed their equanimity.
Expecting every minute that some person would appear and unbolt the doors; mistaking at one time the pattering of rain, at another the rocking of the wind, for the much-desired footstep of the castle bailiff, they continued downcast and inactive; it occurred to none of them to go into the new mansion, and there solicit help from charitable souls. They could not understand where their friend the baron was lingering; they were in the most disconsolate condition.
At last some people actually arrived; by their voices they were recognized as the pedestrians who had fallen behind the others on the journey. They intimated that the baron had tumbled with his horse, and hurt his leg severely; and that on calling at the castle they too had been roughly directed hither.
The whole company were in extreme perplexity; they guessed and speculated as to what should now be done; but they could fix on nothing. At length they noticed from afar a lantern advancing, and took fresh breath at sight of it; but their hopes of quick deliverance again evaporated, when the object approached, and came to be distinctly seen. A groom was lighting the well-known Stallmeister of the castle towards them; this gentleman, on coming nearer, very anxiously inquired for Mademoiselle Philina. No sooner had she stepped forth from the crowd, than he very pressingly offered to conduct her to the new mansion, where a little place had been provided for her with the countess’ maids. She did not hesitate long about accepting his proposal; she caught his arm, and, recommending her trunk to the care of the rest, was going to hasten off with him directly; but the others intercepted them, asking, entreating, conjuring the Stallmeister; till at last, to get away with his fair one, he promised everything, assuring them that in a little while the castle should be opened, and they lodged in the most comfortable manner. In a few moments they saw the glimmer of his lantern vanish; they long looked in vain for another gleam of light. At last, after much watching, scolding and reviling, it actually appeared, and revived them with a touch of hope and consolation.
An ancient footman opened the door of the old edifice, into which they rushed with violence. Each of them now strove to have his trunk unfastened, and brought in beside him. Most of this luggage, like the persons of its owners, was thoroughly wet. Having but a single light, the process of unpacking went on very slowly. In the dark passages they pushed against each other, they stumbled, they fell. They begged to have more lights, they begged to have some fuel. The monosyllabic footman, with much ado, consented to put down his own lantern; then went his way, and came not again.
They now began to investigate the edifice. The doors of all the rooms were open; large stoves, tapestry hangings, inlaid floors, yet bore witness to its former pomp: but of other house-gear there was none to be seen; no table, chair, or mirror; nothing but a few monstrous empty bedsteads, stripped of every ornament and every necessary. The wet trunks and knapsacks were adopted as seats; a part of the tired wanderers placed themselves upon the floor. Wilhelm had sat down upon some steps; Mignon lay upon his knees. The child was restless; and, when he asked what ailed her, she answered, “I am hungry.” He himself had nothing that could still the craving of the child; the rest of the party had consumed their whole provision; so he was obliged to leave the little traveller without refreshment. Through the whole adventure he had been inactive, silently immersed in thought. He was very sullen, and full of indignant regret that he had not kept by his first determination, and remained at the inn, though he should have slept in the garret.
The rest demeaned themselves in various ways. Some of them had got a heap of old wood collected within a vast gaping chimney in the hall; they set fire to the pile with great huzzaing. Unhappily, however, their hopes of warming and drying themselves by means of it were mocked in the most frightful manner. The chimney, it appeared, was there for ornament alone, and was walled up above; so the smoke rushed quickly back, and at once filled the whole chamber. The dry wood rose crackling into flames; the flame was also driven back; the draught sweeping through the broken windows gave it a wavering direction. Terrified lest the castle should catch fire, the unhappy guests had to tear the burning sticks asunder, to smother and trample them under their feet; the smoke increased; their case was rendered more intolerable than before; they were driven to the brink of desperation.
Wilhelm had retreated from the smoke into a distant chamber; to which Mignon soon followed him, leading in a well-dressed servant, with a high clear double-lighted lantern in his hand. He turned to Wilhelm, and holding out to him some fruits and confectionery on a beautiful porcelain plate: “The young lady up-stairs,” said he, “sends you this, with the request that you would join her party: she bids me tell you,” added the lackey, with a sort of grin, “that she is very well off yonder, and wishes to divide her enjoyments with her friends.”
Wilhelm had not at all expected such a message; for, ever since the adventure on the stone bench, he had treated Philina with the most decided contempt: he was still so resolute to have no more concern with her, that he thought of sending back her dainty gifts untasted, when a supplicating look of Mignon’s induced him to accept them. He returned his thanks in the name of the child. The invitation he entirely rejected. He desired the servant to exert himself a little for the stranger company, and made inquiry for the baron. The latter, he was told, had gone to bed; but had already, as the lackey understood, given orders to some other person to take charge of these unfortunate and ill-lodged gentlemen.
The servant went away, leaving one of his lights, which Wilhelm, in the absence of a candlestick, contrived to fix upon the window casement; and now at least, in his meditations, he could see the four walls of his chamber. Nor was it long till preparations were commenced for conducting our travellers to rest. Candles arrived by degrees, though without snuffers; then a few chairs; an hour afterwards came bedclothes; then pillows, all well steeped in rain. It was far past midnight when straw-beds and mattresses were produced, which, if sent at first, would have been extremely welcome.
In the interim also, somewhat to eat and drink had been brought in; it was enjoyed without much criticism, though it looked like a most disorderly collection of remains, and offered no very singular proof of the esteem in which our guests were held.
The disorders and mischievous tricks of some frolicksome companions still further augmented the disquietudes and distresses of the night; these gay people woke each other; each played a thousand giddy pranks to plague his fellow. The next morning dawned amid loud complaints against their friend the baron, for having so deceived them, for having given so very false a notion of the order and comfort that awaited their arrival. However, to their great surprise and consolation, at an early hour, the count himself, attended by a few servants, made his entrance, and inquired about their circumstances. He appeared much vexed on discovering how badly they had fared; and the baron, who came limping along, supported on the arm of a servant, bitterly accused the steward for neglecting his commands on this occasion; showing great anxiety to have that person punished for his disobedience.
The count gave immediate orders that everything should be arranged, in his presence, to the utmost possible convenience of the guests. While this was going on, some officers arrived, who forthwith scraped acquaintance with the actresses. The count assembled all the company before him, spoke to each by name, introduced a few jokes among his observations; so that every one was charmed at the gracious condescension of his lordship. At last it came to Wilhelm’s turn; he appeared with Mignon holding by his hand. Our friend excused himself in the best terms he could, for the freedom he had taken; the count, on the other hand, spoke as if the visit had been looked for.
A gentleman, who stood beside the count, and who, although he wore no uniform, appeared to be an officer, conversed with Wilhelm; he was evidently not a common man. His large keen blue eyes, looking out from beneath a high brow; his light-colored hair, thrown carelessly back; his middle stature; everything about him showed an active, firm and decisive mode of being. His questions were lively; he seemed to be at home in all that he inquired about.
Wilhelm asked the baron what this person was; but found that he had little good to say of him. “He held the rank of major, was the special favorite of the prince, managed his most secret affairs, was, in short, regarded as his right arm. Nay, there was reason to believe him the prince’s natural son. He had been on embassies in France, England, Italy; in all those places he had greatly distinguished himself; by which means he was grown conceited, imagining, among other pretensions, that he thoroughly understood the literature of Germany, and allowing himself to vent all kinds of sorry jests upon it. He, the baron, was in the habit of avoiding all intercourse with him; and Wilhelm would do well to imitate that conduct, for it somehow happened that no one could be near him without being punished for it. He was called Jarno; though nobody knew rightly what to make of such a name.”
Wilhelm had nothing to urge against all this; he had felt a sort of inclination for the stranger, though he noticed in him something cold and repulsive.
The company being arranged and distributed throughout the castle, Melina issued the strictest orders, that they should behave themselves with decency; the women live in a separate quarter; and each direct his whole attention to the study of dramatic art, and of the characters he had to play. He posted up written ordinances, consisting of many articles, upon all the doors. He settled the amount of fine, which should be levied upon each transgressor, and put into a common box.
This edict was but little heeded. Young officers went out and in; they jested not in the most modest fashion with the actresses; made game of the actors; and annihilated the whole system of police, before it had the smallest time to take root in the community. The people ran chasing one another through the rooms, they changed clothes, they disguised themselves. Melina, attempting to be rigorous with a few at first, was exasperated by every sort of insolence; and when the count soon after sent for him to come and view the place where his theatre was to be erected, matters grew worse and worse. The young gentry devised a thousand broad jokes; by the help of some actors they became yet coarser; it seemed as if the old castle had been altogether given up to an infuriate host; and the racket did not end till dinner.
Meanwhile the count had led Melina over to a large hall, which, though belonging to the old castle, communicated by a gallery with the new one; it seemed very well adapted for being changed into a little theatre. Here the sagacious lord of the mansion pointed out in person how he wanted everything to be.
The labor now commenced in the greatest haste; the stage-apparatus was erected and furbished up; what decorations they had brought along with them and could employ, were set in order; and what was wanting was prepared by some skilful workmen of the count’s. Wilhelm likewise put his hand to the business; he assisted in settling the perspective, in laying off the outlines of the scenery; he was very anxious that nothing should be executed clumsily. The count, who frequently came in to inspect their progress, was highly satisfied; he showed particularly how they should proceed in every case, displaying an uncommon knowledge of all the arts they were concerned with.
Next began the business of rehearsing, in good earnest; and there would have been enough of space and leisure for this undertaking had the actors not continually been interrupted by the presence of visitors. Some new guests were daily arriving, and each insisted on viewing the operations of the company.
The baron had, for several days, been cheering Wilhelm with the hope of being formally presented to the countess. “I have told this excellent lady,” said he, “so much about the talent and fine sentiment displayed in your compositions, that she feels quite impatient to see you, and hear one or two of them read. Be prepared, therefore, to come over at a moment’s notice; for, the first morning she is at leisure, you will certainly be called on.” He then pointed out to him the afterpiece it would be proper to produce on that occasion; adding, that doubtless it would recommend him to no usual degree of favor. The lady, he declared, was extremely sorry that a guest like him had happened to arrive at a time of such confusion, when they could not entertain him in a style more suitable to his merits and their own wishes.
In consequence of this information, Wilhelm, with the most sedulous attention, set about preparing the piece, which was to usher him into the great world. “Hitherto,” said he, “thou hast labored in silence for thyself; applauded only by a small circle of friends. Thou hast for a time despaired of thy abilities, and art yet full of anxious doubts whether even thy present path is the right one, and whether thy talent for the stage at all corresponds with thy inclination for it. In the hearing of such practised judges, in the closet where no illusion can take place, the attempt is more hazardous than elsewhere; and yet I would not willingly recoil from the experiment; I could wish to add this pleasure to my former enjoyments, and, if it might be, to give extension and stability to my hopes for the future.”
He accordingly went through some pieces; read them with the keenest critical eye; made corrections here and there; recited them aloud, that he might be perfect in his tones and expression; and finally selected the work which he was best acquainted with, and hoped to gain most honor by. He put it in his pocket, one morning, on being summoned to attend the countess.
The baron had assured him that there would be no one present but the lady herself and a worthy female friend of hers. On entering the chamber the Baroness von C— advanced with great friendliness to meet him; expressed her happiness at making his acquaintance; and introduced him to the countess, who was then under the hands of her hair-dresser. The countess received him with kind words and looks; but it vexed him to see Philina kneeling at her chair, and playing a thousand fooleries. “The poor child,” said the baroness, “has just been singing to us. Finish the song you were in the midst of; we should not like to lose it.”
Wilhelm listened to her quavering with great patience, being anxious for the friseur’s departure before he should begin to read. They offered him a cup of chocolate, the baroness herself handing him the biscuit. Yet, in spite of these civilities, he relished not his breakfast; he was longing too eagerly to lay before the lovely countess some performance that might interest and gratify her. Philina too stood somewhat in his way; on former occasions, while listening to him, she had more than once been troublesome. He looked at the friseur with a painful feeling, hoping every moment that the tower of curls would be complete.
Meanwhile the count came in, and began to talk of the fresh visitors he was expecting, of the day’s occupations or amusements, and of various domestic matters that were started. On his retiring, some officers sent to ask permission of the countess to pay their respects to her, as they had to leave the castle before dinner. The footman having come to his post at the door, she permitted him to usher in the gentlemen.
The baroness amid these interruptions gave herself some pains to entertain our friend, and showed him much consideration; all which he accepted with becoming reverence, though not without a little absence of mind. He often felt for the manuscript in his pocket; and hoped for his deliverance every instant. He was almost losing patience, when a man-milliner was introduced, and immediately began without mercy to open his papers, bags and bandboxes; pressing all his various wares upon the ladies, with an importunity peculiar to that species of creature.
The company increased. The baroness cast a look at Wilhelm, and then whispered with the countess: he noticed this, but did not understand the purpose of it. The whole, however, became clear enough when, after an hour of painful and fruitless endurance, he went away. He then found a beautiful pocket-book, of English manufacture, in his pocket. The baroness had dexterously put it there without his notice; and soon afterwards the countess’ little black came out and handed him an elegantly flowered waistcoat, without very clearly saying whence it came.
This mingled feeling of vexation and gratitude spoiled the remainder of his day; till, towards evening, he once more found employment. Melina informed him that the count had been speaking of a little prelude, which he wished to have produced, in honor of the prince, on the day of his highness’ arrival. He meant to have the great qualities of this noble hero and philanthropist personified in the piece. These Virtues were to advance together, to recite his praises, and finally to encircle his bust with garlands of flowers and laurels; behind which a transparency might be inserted, representing the princely hat, and his name illuminated on it. The count, Melina said, had ordered him to take charge of getting ready the verses and other arrangements; and Wilhelm, he hoped, to whom it must be an easy matter, would stand by him on this occasion.
“How!” exclaimed our friend in a splenetic tone, “have we nothing but portraits, illuminated names and allegorical figures to show in honor of a prince, who, in my opinion, merits quite a different eulogy? How can it flatter any reasonable man to see himself set up in effigy, and his name glimmering on oiled paper! I am very much afraid that your allegories, particularly in the present state of the wardrobe, will furnish occasion for many ambiguities and jestings. If you mean, however, to compose the piece, or make it be composed, I can have nothing to object against it; only I desire to have no part or lot in the matter.”
Melina excused himself; alleging this to be only a casual hint of his lordship the count, who for the rest had left the arrangement of the piece entirely in their own hands. “With all my heart,” replied our friend, “will I contribute something to the pleasure of this noble family; my muse has never had so pleasant an employment as to sing, though in broken numbers, the praises of a prince who merits so much veneration. I will think of the matter; perhaps I may be able to contrive some way of bringing out our little troop, so as at least to produce some effect.”
From this moment, Wilhelm eagerly reflected on his undertaking. Before going to sleep he had got it all reduced to some degree of order; early next morning his plan was ready, the scenes laid out; a few of the most striking passages and songs were even versified and written down.
As soon as he was dressed our friend made haste to wait upon the baron, to submit the plan to his inspection, and take his advice upon certain points connected with it. The baron testified his approbation of it; but not without considerable surprise. For, on the previous evening, he had heard his lordship talk of having ordered some quite different piece to be prepared and versified.
“To me it seems improbable,” replied our friend, “that it could be his lordship’s wish to have the piece got ready exactly as he gave it to Melina. If I am not mistaken, he intended merely to point out to us from a distance the path we were to follow. The amateur and critic shows the artist what is wanted; and then leaves to him the care of producing it by his own means.”
“Not at all,” replied the baron: “his lordship understands that the piece shall be composed according to that and no other plan, which he has himself prescribed. Yours has indeed a remote similarity with his idea; but, if we mean to accomplish our purpose, and get the count diverted from his first thought, we shall need to employ the ladies in the matter. The baroness especially contrives to execute such operations in the most masterly manner: the question is now, whether your plan shall so please her that she will undertake the business; in that case it will certainly succeed.”
“We need the assistance of the ladies,” said our friend, “at any rate; for neither our company nor our wardrobe would suffice without them. I have counted on some pretty children that are running up and down the house, and belong to certain of the servants.”
He then desired the baron to communicate his plan to the ladies. The baron soon returned with intelligence that they wished to speak with Wilhelm personally. That same evening, when the gentlemen sat down to play, which, owing to the arrival of a certain general, was expected to be deeper and keener than usual, the countess and her friend, under pretext of some indisposition, would retire to their chamber; where Wilhelm, being introduced by a secret staircase, might submit his project without interruption. This sort of mystery, the baron said, would give the adventure a peculiar charm; in particular the baroness was rejoicing like a child, in the prospect of their rendezvous; and the more so, because it was to be accomplished secretly and against the inclination of the count.
Towards evening, at the appointed time, Wilhelm was sent for, and led in with caution. As the baroness advanced to meet him in a small cabinet, the manner of their interview brought former happy scenes, for a moment, to his mind. She conducted him along to the countess’ chamber; and they now proceeded earnestly to question and investigate. He exhibited his plan with the utmost warmth and vivacity; so that his fair audience were quite decided in its favor. Our readers also will permit us to present a brief sketch of it here.
The piece was to open with a dance of children in some rural scene; their dance representing that particular game wherein each has to wheel round and gain the other’s place. This was to be followed by several variations of their play; till at last, in performing a dance of the repeating kind, they were all to sing a merry song. Here the old harper with Mignon should enter, and by the curiosity which they excited gather several country people round them; the harper would sing various songs in praise of peace, repose and joy; and Mignon would then dance the egg-dance.
In these innocent delights they are disturbed by the sound of martial music; and the party are surprised by a troop of soldiers. The men stand on the defensive, and are overcome; the girls fly, and are taken. In the tumult all seems going to destruction, when a person (about whose form and qualities the poet was not yet determined) enters, and by signifying that the general is near restores composure. Whereupon the hero’s character is painted in the finest colors; security is promised in the midst of arms; violence and lawless disorder are now to be restrained. A universal festival is held in honor of the noble-minded captain.
The countess and her friend expressed great satisfaction with the plan; only they maintained that there must of necessity be something of allegory introduced to make it palatable to his lordship. The baron proposed that the leader of the soldiers should be represented as the Genius of Dissension and Violence; that Minerva should then advance to bind fetters on him, to give notice of the hero’s approach, and celebrate his praise. The baroness undertook the task of persuading the count that this plan was the one proposed by himself with a few alterations; at the same time expressly stipulating that, without fail, at the conclusion of the piece, the bust, the illuminated name, and the princely hat should be exhibited in due order; since otherwise her attempt was vain.
Wilhelm had already figured in his mind how delicately and how nobly he would have the praises of his hero celebrated in the mouth of Minerva; and it was not without a long struggle that he yielded in this point. Yet he felt himself delightfully constrained to yield. The beautiful eyes of the countess and her lovely demeanor would easily have moved him to sin against his conscience as a poet; to abandon the finest and most interesting invention, the keenly wished-for unity of his composition, and all its most suitable details. His conscience as a burgher had a trial no less hard to undergo when the ladies, in distributing the characters, pointedly insisted that he must undertake one himself.
Laertes had received for his allotment the part of that violent war-god; Wilhelm was to represent the leader of the peasants, who had some very pretty and tender verses to recite. After long resistance he was forced to comply; he could find no excuse when the baroness protested that their stage was in all respects to be regarded as a private one, and that she herself would very gladly play on it if they could find her a fit occasion. On receiving his consent, they parted with our friend on the kindest terms. The baroness assured him that he was an incomparable man; she accompanied him to the little stairs, and wished him goodnight with a squeeze of the hand.
The interest in his undertakings, which the countess and her friend expressed and felt so warmly, quickened Wilhelm’s faculties and zeal: the plan of his piece, which the process of describing it had rendered more distinct, was now present in the most brilliant vividness before his mind. He spent the greater part of that night and the whole of the next morning in the sedulous versification of the dialogue and songs.
He had proceeded a considerable way, when a message came requiring his attendance in the castle; the noble company, who were then at breakfast, wished to speak with him. As he entered the parlor, the baroness advanced to meet him; and, under pretext of wishing him good-morning, whispered cunningly, “Say nothing of your piece but what you shall be asked.”
“I hear,” cried the count to him, “that you are very busy working at my prelude, which I mean to present in honor of the prince. I consent that you introduce a Minerva into it; and we are just thinking beforehand how the goddess shall be dressed, that we may not blunder in costume. For this purpose I am causing them to fetch from the library all the books that contain any figures of her.”
At the same instant one or two servants entered the parlor with a huge basket full of books of every shape and appearance.
Montfaucon, the collections of antique statues, gems and coins, all sorts of mythological writings, were turned up, and their plates compared. But even this was not enough. The count’s faithful memory recalled to him all the Minervas to be found in frontispieces, vignettes, or anywhere else; and book after book was, in consequence, carried from the library, till finally the count was sitting in a chaos of volumes. Unable at last to recollect any other figure of Minerva, he observed, with a smile, “I durst bet that now there is not a single Minerva in all the library; and perhaps it is the first time that a collection of books has been so totally deprived of the presence of its patron goddess.”
The whole company were merry at this thought; Jarno particularly, who had all along been spurring on the count to call for more and more books, laughed quite immoderately.
“Now,” said the count, turning to Wilhelm, “one chief point is, which goddess do you mean, Minerva or Pallas? the goddess of war or of the arts?”
“Would it not be best, your excellency,” said Wilhelm, “if we were not clearly to express ourselves on this head; if, since the goddess plays a double part in the ancient mythology, we also exhibited her here in a double quality? She announces a warrior, but only to calm the tumults of the people; she celebrates a hero by exalting his humanity; she conquers violence and restores peace and security.”
The baroness, afraid lest Wilhelm might betray himself, hastily pushed forward the countess’ tailor, to give his opinion how such an antique robe could best be got ready. This man, being frequently employed in making masquerade dresses, very easily contrived the business; and as Madam Melina, notwithstanding her advanced state of pregnancy, had undertaken to enact the celestial virgin, the tailor was directed to take her measure; and the countess, though with some reluctance, selected from the wardrobe the clothes he was to cut up for that purpose.
The baroness, in her dexterous way, again contrived to lead Wilhelm aside, and let him know that she had been providing all the other necessaries. Shortly afterwards she sent him the musician who had charge of the count’s private band, and this professor set about composing what airs were wanted, or choosing from his actual stock such tunes as appeared suitable. From this time all went on according to the wishes of our friend: the count made no more inquiries about the piece; being altogether occupied with the transparent decoration, destined to surprise the spectators at the conclusion of the play. His inventive genius, aided by the skill of his confectioner, produced in fact a very pretty article. In the course of his travels the count had witnessed the most splendid exhibitions of this sort; he had also brought home with him a number of copper-plates and drawings, and could sketch such things with considerable taste.
Meanwhile Wilhelm finished the play; gave every one his part, and began the study of his own. The musician also, having great skill in dancing, prepared the ballet; so that everything proceeded as it ought.
Yet one unexpected obstacle occurred, which threatened to occasion an unpleasant gap in the performance. He had promised to himself a striking effect from Mignon’s egg-dance; and was much surprised when the child, with her customary dryness of manner, refused to dance, saying she was now his, and would no more go upon the stage. He sought to move her by every sort of persuasion, and did not discontinue his attempt till she began weeping bitterly, fell at his feet, and cried out, “Dearest father! stay thou from the boards thyself!” Little heeding this caution, he studied how to give the scene some other turn that might be equally interesting.
Philina, whose appointment was to act one of the peasant girls, and in the concluding dance to give the single-voice part of the song, and lead the chorus, felt exceedingly delighted that it had been so ordered. In other respects, too, her present life was altogether to her mind; she had her separate chamber; was constantly beside the countess, entertaining her with fooleries, and daily receiving some present for her pains. Among other things, a dress had been expressly made for her wearing in this prelude. And being of a light imitative nature, she quickly marked in the procedure of the ladies whatever would befit herself: she had of late grown all politeness and decorum. The attentions of the Stallmeister augmented rather than diminished; and, as the officers also paid zealous court to her, living in so genial an element, it came into her head for once in her life to play the prude, and, in a quiet gradual way, to take upon herself a certain dignity of manner to which she had not before aspired. Cool and sharp-sighted as she was, eight days had not elapsed till she knew the weak side of every person in the house; so that, had she possessed the power of acting from any constant motive, she might very easily have made her fortune. But on this occasion, as on all others, she employed her advantages merely to divert herself, to procure a bright to-day, and be impertinent wherever she observed that impertinence was not attended with danger.
The parts were now committed to memory; a rehearsal of the piece was ordered; the count purposed to be present at it; and his lady began to feel anxious how he might receive it. The baroness called Wilhelm to her privately: the nearer the hour approached, they all displayed the more perplexity; for the truth was, that of the count’s original idea nothing whatever had been introduced. Jarno, who joined them while consulting together, was admitted to the secret. He felt amused at the contrivance, and was heartily disposed to offer the ladies his good services in carrying it through. “It will go hard,” said he, “if you cannot extricate yourselves without help from this affair; but, at all events, I will wait as a body of reserve.” The baroness then told them how she had on various occasions recited the whole piece to the count, but only in fragments and without order; that consequently he was prepared for each individual passage, yet certainly possessed with the idea that the whole would coincide with his original conception. “I will sit by him,” said she, “to-night at the rehearsal, and study to divert his attention. The confectioner I have engaged already to make the decoration as beautiful as possible, but as yet he has not quite completed it.”
“I know of a court,” said Jarno, “where I wish we had a few such active and prudent friends as you. If your skill to-night will not suffice, give me a signal; I will take out the count, and not let him in again till Minerva enters, and you have speedy aid to expect from the illumination. For a day or two I have had something to report to him about his cousin, which for various reasons I have hitherto postponed. It will give his thoughts another turn, and that none of the pleasantest.”
Business hindered the count from being present when the play began; the baroness amused him after his arrival; Jarno’s help was not required. For, as the count had abundance of employment in pointing out improvements, rectifying and arranging the detached parts, he entirely forgot the purport of the whole; and as at last Madam Melina advanced and spoke according to his heart, and the transparency did well, he seemed completely satisfied. It was not till the whole was finished, and his guests were sitting down to cards, that the difference appeared to strike him, and he began to think whether after all this piece was actually of his invention. At a signal from the baroness, Jarno then came forward into action; the evening passed away; the intelligence of the prince’s approach was confirmed; the people rode out more than once to see his vanguard encamping in the neighborhood; the house was full of noise and tumult; and our actors, not always served in the handsomest manner by unwilling servants, had to pass their time in practicings and expectations, at their quarters in the old mansion, without any one particularly taking thought about them.
At length the prince arrived, with all his generals, staff-officers and suite accompanying him. These, and the multitude of people coming to visit or do business with him, made the castle like a bee-hive on the point of swarming. All pressed forward to behold a man no less distinguished by his rank than by his great qualities; and all admired his urbanity and condescension; all were astonished at finding the hero and the leader of armies also the most accomplished and attractive courtier.
By the count’s orders, the inmates of the castle were required to be all at their posts when the prince arrived; not a player was allowed to show himself, that his highness might have no anticipation of the spectacle prepared to welcome him. Accordingly, when at evening he was led into the lofty hall, glowing with light, and adorned with tapestries of the previous century, he seemed not at all prepared to expect a play, and still less a prelude in honor of himself. Everything went off as it should have done: at the conclusion of the show the whole troop were called and presented individually to the prince, who contrived with the most pleasing and friendly air to put some question, or make some remark to every one of them. Wilhelm, as author of the piece, was particularly noticed, and had his tribute of applause liberally paid him.
The prelude being fairly over, no one asked another word about it; in a few days, it was as if it never had existed, except that occasionally Jarno spoke of it to Wilhelm, judiciously praised it, adding however: “It is pity you should play with hollow nuts, for a stake of hollow nuts.” This expression stuck in Wilhelm’s mind for several days; he knew not how to explain it, or what to infer from it.
Meanwhile the company kept acting every night, as well as their capacities permitted; each doing his utmost to attract the attention of spectators. Undeserved applauses cheered them on: in their old castle they fully believed that the great assemblage was crowding thither solely on their account; that the multitude of strangers was allured by their exhibitions; that they were the centre round which, and by means of which, the whole was moving and revolving.
Wilhelm alone discovered, to his sorrow, that directly the reverse was true. For although the prince had waited out the first exhibitions, sitting on his chair with the greatest conscientiousness, yet by degrees he grew remiss in his attendance, and seized every plausible occasion of withdrawing. And those very people whom Wilhelm, in conversation, had found to be the best informed and most sensible, with Jarno at their head, were wont to spend but a few transitory moments in the hall of the theatre; sitting for the rest of their time in the ante-chamber, gaming, or seeming to employ themselves in business.
Amid all his persevering efforts, to want the wished and hoped-for approbation grieved Wilhelm very deeply. In the choice of plays, in transcribing the parts, in numerous rehearsals, and whatever further could be done, he zealously co-operated with Melina, who, being in secret conscious of his own insufficiency, at length acknowledged and pursued these counsels. His own parts Wilhelm diligently studied and executed with vivacity and feeling, and with all the propriety which the little training he had yet received would allow.
At the same time, the unwearied interest which the baron took in their performances, obliterated every doubt from the minds of the rest of the company: he assured them that their exhibitions were producing the deepest effect, especially while one of his own pieces had been representing; only he was grieved to say the prince showed an exclusive inclination for the French theatre; while a part of his people, among whom Jarno was especially distinguished, gave a passionate preference to the monstrous productions of the English stage.
If in this way the art of our players was not adequately noticed and admired, their persons, on the other hand, grew not entirely indifferent to all the gentlemen and all the ladies of the audience. We observed above, that from the very first our actresses had drawn upon them the attention of the young officers; in the sequel they were luckier, and made more important conquests. But omitting these, we shall merely observe that Wilhelm every day appeared more interesting to the countess, while in him too a silent inclination towards her was beginning to take root. Whenever he was on the stage, she could not turn her eyes from him; and ere long he seemed to play and to recite with his face towards her alone. To look upon each other was to them the sweetest satisfaction; to which their harmless souls yielded without reserve, without cherishing a bolder wish, or thinking about any consequence.
As two hostile outposts will sometimes peacefully and pleasantly converse together across the river which divides them, not thinking of the war in which both their countries are engaged, so did the countess exchange looks full of meaning with our friend, across the vast chasm of birth and rank, both believing for themselves that they might safely cherish their several emotions.
The baroness, in the meantime, had selected Laertes, who, being a spirited and lively young man, pleased her very much; and who, woman-hater as he was, felt unwilling to refuse a passing adventure. He would actually on this occasion have been fettered, against his will, by the courteous and attractive nature of the baroness, had not the baron done him accidentally a piece of good, or if you will, of bad service, by instructing him a little in the habits and temper of this lady.
Laertes happening once to celebrate her praises, and give her the preference to every other of her sex, the baron with a grin replied: “I see how matters stand; our fair friend has got a fresh inmate for her stalls.” This luckless comparison, which pointed too clearly to the dangerous caresses of a Circe, grieved poor Laertes to the heart; he could not listen to the baron without spite and anger, as the latter continued without mercy:
“Every stranger thinks he is the first whom this delightful manner of proceeding has concerned: but he is grievously mistaken; for we have all, at one time or another, been trotted round this course. Man, youth, or boy, be who he like, each must devote himself to her service for a season, must hang about her, and toil and long to gain her favor.”
To the happy man, just entering the garden of an enchantress, and welcomed by all the pleasures of an artificial spring, nothing can form a more unpleasant surprise than if, while his ear is watching and drinking in the music of the nightingales, some transformed predecessor on a sudden grunts at his feet.
After this discovery, Laertes felt heartily ashamed that vanity should have again misled him to think well, even in the smallest degree, of any woman whatsoever. He now entirely forsook the baroness; kept by the Stallmeister, with whom he diligently fenced and hunted; conducting himself at rehearsals and representations as if these were but secondary matters.
The count and his lady would often in the mornings send for some of the company to attend them; and all had continual cause to envy the undeserved good fortune of Philina. The count kept his favorite, the pedant, frequently for hours together, at his toilette. This genius had been dressed out by degrees; he was now equipped and furnished even to watch and snuff-box.
Many times, too, particularly after dinner, the whole company were called out before the noble guests; an honor which the artists regarded as the most flattering in the world; not observing that on these very occasions the servants and huntsmen were ordered to bring in a multitude of hounds, and to lead strings of horses about the court of the castle.
Wilhelm had been counselled to praise Racine, the prince’s favorite, and thereby to attract some portion of his highness’ favor to himself. On one of these afternoons, being summoned with the rest, he found an opportunity to introduce this topic. The prince asked him if he diligently read the great French dramatic writers; to which Wilhelm answered with a very eager “Yes.” He did not observe that his highness, without waiting for the answer, was already on the point of turning round to some one else: he fixed upon him, on the contrary, almost stepping in his way; and proceeded to declare that he valued the French theatre very highly, and read the works of their great masters with delight; particularly he had learned with true joy that his highness did complete justice to the great talents of Racine. “I can easily conceive,” continued he, “how people of high breeding and exalted rank must value a poet, who has painted so excellently and so truly the circumstances of their lofty station. Corneille, if I may say so, has delineated great men; Racine, men of eminent rank. In reading his plays, I can always figure to myself the poet as living at a splendid court, with a great king before his eyes, in constant intercourse with the most distinguished persons, and penetrating into the secrets of human nature, as it works concealed behind the gorgeous tapestry of palaces. When I study his Britannicus, his Berenice, it seems as if I were transported in person to the court, were initiated into the great and the little, in the habitations of these earthly gods; through the fine and delicate organs of my author, I see kings whom a nation adores, courtiers whom thousands envy, in their natural forms, with their failings and their pains. The anecdote of Racine’s dying of a broken heart, because Louis XIV. would no longer attend to him, and had shown him his dissatisfaction, is to me the key to all his works. It was impossible that a poet of his talents, whose life and death depended on the looks of a king, should not write such works as a king and a prince might applaud.”
Jarno had stepped near, and was listening with astonishment. The prince, who had made no answer, and had only shown his approbation by an assenting look, now turned aside; though Wilhelm, who did not know that it was contrary to etiquette to continue a discussion under such circumstances and exhaust a subject, would gladly have spoken more, and convinced the prince that he had not read his favorite poet without sensibility and profit.
“Have you never,” said Jarno, taking him aside, “read one of Shakspeare’s plays?”
“No,” replied Wilhelm: “since the time when they became more known in Germany, I have myself grown unacquainted with the theatre; and I know not whether I should now rejoice that an old taste and occupation of my youth has been by chance renewed. In the meantime, all that I have heard of these plays has excited little wish to become acquainted with such extraordinary monsters, which appear to set probability and dignity alike at defiance.”
“I would advise you,” said the other, “to make a trial, notwithstanding: it can do one no harm to look at what is extraordinary with one’s own eyes. I will lend you a volume or two; and you cannot better spend your time than by casting everything aside, and retiring to the solitude of your old habitation, to look into the magic-lantern of that unknown world. It is sinful of you to waste your hours in dressing out these apes to look more human, and teaching dogs to dance. One thing only I require; you must not cavil at the form; the rest I can leave to your own good sense and feeling.”
The horses were standing at the door; and Jarno mounted with some other cavaliers, to go and hunt. Wilhelm looked after him with sadness. He would fain have spoken much with this man, who, though in a harsh unfriendly way, gave him new ideas, ideas that he had need of.
Oftentimes a man when approaching some development of his powers, capacities and conceptions, gets into a perplexity, from which a prudent friend might easily deliver him. He resembles a traveller, who, at but a short distance from the inn he is to rest at, falls into the water; were any one to catch him then, and pull him to the bank, with one good wetting it were over; whereas though he struggles out himself, it is often at the side where he tumbled in, and he has to make a wide and weary circuit before reaching his appointed object.
Wilhelm now began to have an inkling that things went forward in the world differently from what he had supposed. He now viewed close at hand the solemn and imposing life of the great and distinguished; and wondered at the easy dignity which they contrived to give it. An army on its march, a princely hero at the head of it, such a multitude of co-operating warriors, such a multitude of crowding worshippers, exalted his imagination. In this mood he received the promised books; and ere long, as may be easily supposed, the stream of that mighty genius laid hold of him, and led him down to a shoreless ocean, where he soon completely forgot and lost himself.
The connection between the baron and the actors had suffered various changes since the arrival of the latter. At the commencement it had been productive of great satisfaction to both parties. As the baron for the first time in his life now saw one of those pieces, with which he had already graced a private theatre, put into the hands of real actors, and in the fair way for a decent exhibition, he showed the benignest humor in the world. He was liberal in gifts; he bought little presents for the actresses from every millinery-hawker, and contrived to send over many an odd bottle of champagne to the actors. In return for all this our company took every sort of trouble with his play; and Wilhelm spared no diligence in learning, with extreme correctness, the sublime speeches of that very eminent hero whose part had fallen to his share.
But, in spite of all these kind reciprocities, some clouds by degrees arose between the players and their patron. The baron’s preference for certain actors became daily more observable; this of necessity chagrined the rest. He exalted his favorites quite exclusively; and thus, of course, he introduced disunion and jealousy among the company. Melina, without skill to help himself in dubious junctures, felt his situation very vexing. The persons eulogized accepted of their praise, without being singularly thankful for it; while the neglected gentlemen showed traces of their spleen by a thousand methods; and constantly found means to make it very disagreeable for their once much-honored patron to appear among them. Their spite received no little nourishment from a certain poem, by an unknown author, which made a great sensation in the castle. Previously to this, the baron’s intercourse with the company had given rise to many little strokes of merriment; several stories had been raised about him; certain little incidents, adorned with suitable additions, and presented in the proper light, had been talked of, and made the subject of much bantering and laughter. At last it began to be said, that a certain rivalry of trade was arising between him and some of the actors, who also looked upon themselves as writers. The poem we spoke of was founded upon this report; it ran as follows:
Upon this poem, which various persons were possessed of, in copies scarcely legible, opinions were exceedingly divided. But who the author was no one could guess; and as some began to draw a spiteful mirth from it, our friend expressed himself against it very keenly.
“We Germans,” he exclaimed, “deserve to have our muses still continue in the low contempt wherein they have languished so long; since we cannot value men of rank who take a share in our literature, no matter how. Birth, rank and fortune are nowise incompatible with genius and taste; as foreign nations, reckoning among their best minds a great number of noblemen, can fully testify. Hitherto indeed it has been rare in Germany for men of high station to devote themselves to science; hitherto few famous names have become more famous by their love of art and learning; while many, on the other hand, have mounted out of darkness to distinction, and risen like unknown stars on the horizon. Yet such will not always be the case; and I greatly err, if the first classes of the nation are not even now in the way of also employing their advantages to earn the fairest laurels of the muses, at no distant date. Nothing, therefore, grieves me more than to see the burgher jeering at the noble who can value literature; nay, even men of rank themselves, with inconsiderate caprice, maliciously scaring off their equal from a path where honor and contentment wait on all.”
Apparently this latter observation pointed at the count, of whom Wilhelm had heard that he liked the poem very much. In truth, this nobleman, accustomed to rally the baron in his own peculiar way, was extremely glad of such an opportunity to plague his kinsman more effectually. As to who the writer of the squib might be, each formed his own hypothesis; and the count, never willing that another should surpass him in acuteness, fell upon a thought, which, in a short time, he would have sworn to the truth of. The verses could be written, he believed, by no one but his pedant, who was a very shrewd knave, and in whom, for a long while, he had noticed some touches of poetic genius. By way of proper treat, he therefore caused the pedant one morning to be sent for, and made him read the poem, in his own manner, in presence of the countess, the baroness and Jarno; a service he was paid for by applauses, praises and a present: and on the count’s inquiring if he had not still some other poems of an earlier time, he cunningly contrived to evade the question. Thus did the pedant get invested with the reputation of a poet and a wit; and in the eyes of the baron’s friends, of a pasquinader and a bad-hearted man. From that period, play as he might, the count applauded him with greater zeal than ever; so that the poor wight grew at last inflated till he nearly lost his senses, and began to meditate having a chamber in the castle like Philina.
Had this project been fulfilled at once, a great mishap might have been spared him. As he was returning late one evening from the castle, groping about in the dark narrow way, he was suddenly laid hold of, and kept on the spot by some persons, while some others rained a shower of blows upon him, and battered him so stoutly, that in a few seconds he was lying almost dead upon the place, and could not without difficulty crawl in to his companions. These, indignant as they seemed to be at such an outrage, felt their secret joy in the adventure; they could hardly keep from laughing, at seeing him so thoroughly curried, and his new brown coat bedusted through and through, and bedaubed with white, as if he had had to do with millers.
The count, who soon got notice of the business, broke into a boundless rage. He treated this act as the most heinous crime; called it an infringement of the Burgfried, or Peace of the Castle, and caused his judge to make the strictest inquiries touching it. The whited coat, it was imagined, would afford a leading proof. Every creature that possibly could have the smallest trade with flour or powder in the castle was submitted to investigation; but in vain.
The baron solemnly protested on his honor, that although this sort of jesting had considerably displeased him, and the conduct of his lordship the count had not been the friendliest, yet he had got over the affair; and with respect to the misfortune which had come upon the poet, or pasquinader, or whatsoever his title might be, he knew absolutely nothing, and had not the most remote concern in it.
The operations of the strangers, and the general commotion of the house, soon effaced all recollection of the matter; and so, without redress, the unlucky favorite had to pay dear for the satisfaction of pluming himself, a short while, in feathers not his own.
Our troop, regularly acting every night, and on the whole very decently treated, now began to make more clamorous demands, the better they were dealt with. Ere long their victuals, drink, attendance, lodging, grew inadequate; and they called upon the baron, their protector, to provide more liberally for them, and at last make good those promises of comfortable entertainment, which he had been giving them so long. Their complaints grew louder; and the efforts of our friend to still them more and more abortive.
Meanwhile, excepting in rehearsals and hours of acting, Wilhelm scarcely ever came abroad. Shut up in one of the remotest chambers, to which Mignon and the harper alone had free access, he lived and moved in the Shakspearean world, feeling or knowing nothing but the movements of his own mind.
We have heard of some enchanter summoning, by magic formulas, a vast multitude of spiritual shapes into his cell. The conjurations are so powerful that the whole space of the apartment is quickly full; and the spirits crowding on to the verge of the little circle which they must not pass, around this, and above the master’s head, keep increasing in number, and ever whirling in perpetual transformation. Every corner is crammed, every crevice is possessed. Embryos expand themselves, and giant forms contract into the size of nuts. Unhappily the Black Artist has forgotten the counter-word, with which he might command this flood of sprites again to ebb.
So sat Wilhelm in his privacy; with unknown movements, a thousand feelings and capacities awoke in him, of which he formerly had neither notion nor anticipation. Nothing could allure him from this state; he was vexed and restless if any one presumed to come to him, and talk of news or what was passing in the world.
Accordingly he scarcely took notice of the circumstance, when told that a judicial sentence was about being executed in the castle-yard; the flogging of a boy, who had incurred suspicions of nocturnal housebreaking, and who, as he wore a peruke-maker’s coat, had most probably been one of the assaulters of the pedant. The boy indeed, it seemed, denied most obstinately; so that they could not inflict a formal punishment, but meant to give him a slight memorial as a vagabond, and send him about his business; he having prowled about the neighborhood for several days, lain at night in the mills, and at last clapped a ladder to the garden-wall, and mounted over by it.
Our friend saw nothing very strange in the transaction, and was dismissing it altogether, when Mignon came running in, and assured him that the criminal was Friedrich, who, since the rencounter with the Stallmeister, had vanished from the company, and had not again been heard of.
Feeling an interest in the boy, Wilhelm hastily arose; he found, in the court-yard of the castle, the preparations almost finished. The count loved solemnity on these occasions. The boy being now led out, our friend stepped forward, and entreated for delay, as he knew the boy, and had various things to say which might perhaps throw light on the affair. He had difficulty in succeeding, notwithstanding all his statements; at length, however, he did get permission to speak with the culprit in private. Friedrich averred that concerning the assault in which the pedant had been used so harshly he knew nothing whatever. He had merely been lurking about; and had come in at night to see Philina, whose room he had discovered, and would certainly have reached, had he not been taken by the way.
For the credit of the company, Wilhelm felt desirous not to have the truth of his adventure published. He hastened to the Stallmeister; he begged him to show favor, and with his intimate knowledge of men and things about the castle, to find some means of quashing the affair, and dismissing the boy.
This whimsical gentleman, by Wilhelm’s help, invented a little story; how the boy had belonged to the troop, had run away from it, but soon wished to get back and be received again into his place; how he had accordingly been trying in the night to come at certain of his well-wishers, and solicit their assistance. It was testified by others that his former behavior had been good; the ladies put their hands to the work; and Friedrich was let go.
Wilhelm took him in; a third person in that strange family, which for some time he had looked on as his own. The old man and little Mignon received the returning wanderer kindly; and all the three combined to serve their friend and guardian with attention, and procure him all the pleasure in their power.
Philina now succeeded in insinuating further every day into the favor of the ladies. Whenever they were by themselves she was wont to lead the conversation on the men whom they saw about the castle; and our friend was not the last or least important that engaged them. The cunning girl was well aware that he had made a deep impression on the countess; she therefore talked about him often, telling much that she knew or did not know; only taking care to speak of nothing that might be interpreted against him; eulogizing, on the contrary, his nobleness of mind, his generosity, and more than all, his modest and respectful conduct to the fair sex. To all inquiries made about him she replied with equal prudence; and the baroness, when she observed the growing inclination of her amiable friend, was likewise very glad at the discovery. Her own intrigues with several men, especially of late with Jarno, had not remained hidden from the countess, whose pure soul could not look upon such levities without disapprobation and meek though earnest censures.
In this way both Philina and the baroness were personally interested in establishing a closer intercourse between the countess and our friend. Philina hoped, moreover, that there would occur some opportunity when she might once more labor for herself, and, if possible, get back the favor of the young man she had lost.
One day his lordship with his guests had ridden out to hunt, and their return was not expected till the morrow. On this the baroness devised a frolic, which was altogether in her way; for she loved disguises; and, in order to surprise her friends, would suddenly appear among them as a peasant girl at one time, at another as a page, at another as a hunter’s boy. By which means she almost gave herself the air of a little fairy, that is present everywhere, and exactly in the place where it is least expected. Nothing could exceed this lady’s joy, if, without being recognized, she could contrive to wait upon the company for some time as a servant, or mix among them anyhow, and then at last in some sportful way disclose herself.
Towards night she sent for Wilhelm to her chamber; and, happening to have something else to do just then, she left Philina to receive him and prepare him.
He arrived, and found to his surprise, not the honorable lady, but the giddy actress in the room. She received him with a certain dignified openness of manner, which she had of late been practising, and so constrained him likewise to be courteous.
At first she rallied him in general on the good fortune which pursued him everywhere, and which, as she could not but see, had led him hither in the present case. Then she delicately set before him the treatment with which of late he had afflicted her; she blamed and upbraided herself; confessed that she had but too well deserved such punishment; described with the greatest candor what she called her former situation; adding that she would despise herself if she were not capable of altering and making herself worthy of his friendship.
Wilhelm was struck with this oration. He had too little knowledge of the world to understand that persons, quite unstable and incapable of all improvement, frequently accuse themselves in the bitterest manner, confessing and deploring their faults with extreme ingenuousness, though they possess not the smallest power within them to retire from that course, along which the irresistible tendency of their nature is dragging them forward. Accordingly, he could not find in his heart to behave inexorably to the graceful sinner; he entered into conversation, and learned from her the project of a singular disguisement, wherewith it was intended to surprise the countess.
He found some room for hesitation here; nor did he hide his scruples from Philina; but the baroness, entering at this moment, left him not an instant for reflection; she hurried him away with her, declaring it was just the proper hour.
It was now grown dark. She took him to the count’s wardrobe; made him change his own coat with his lordship’s silk night-gown; and put the cap with red trimmings on his head. She then led him forward to the cabinet; and bidding him sit down upon the large chair, and take a book, she lit the Argand’s lamp, which stood before him, and showed him what he was to do, and what kind of part he had to play.
They would inform the countess, she said, of her husband’s unexpected arrival, and that he was in very bad humor. The countess would come in, walk up and down the room once or twice, then place herself beside the back of his chair, lay her arm upon his shoulder, and speak a few words. He was to play the cross husband as long and as well as possible; and when obliged to disclose himself he must behave politely, handsomely and gallantly.
Wilhelm was left sitting, restlessly enough, in this singular mask. The proposal had come upon him by surprise; the execution of it got the start of the deliberation. The baroness had vanished from the room before he saw how dangerous the post was which he had engaged to fill. He could not deny that the beauty, the youth, the gracefulness of the countess had made some impression on him; but his nature was entirely averse to all empty gallantry, and his principles forbade any thought of more serious enterprises; so that his perplexity at this moment was in truth extreme. The fear of displeasing the countess, and that of pleasing her too well, were equally busy in his mind.
Every female charm that had ever acted on him now showed itself again to his imagination. Mariana rose before him in her white morning-gown and entreated his remembrance. Philina’s loveliness, her beautiful hair, her insinuating blandishments, had again become attractive by her late presence. Yet all this retired as if behind the veil of distance when he figured to himself the noble blooming countess, whose arm in a few minutes he would feel upon his neck, whose innocent caresses he was there to answer.
The strange mode in which he was to be delivered out of this perplexity he certainly did not anticipate. We may judge of his astonishment, nay, his terror, when the door opened behind him; and at the first stolen look in the mirror he quite clearly discerned the count coming in with a light in his hand. His doubt what he should do, whether he should sit still or rise, should fly, confess, deny, or beg forgiveness, lasted but a few instants. The count, who had remained motionless standing in the door, retired and shut it softly. At the same moment the baroness sprang forward by the side door, extinguished the lamp, tore Wilhelm from his chair, and hurried him with her into the closet. Instantly he threw off the night-gown and put it in its former place. The baroness took his coat under her arm, and hastened with him through several rooms, passages and partitions into her chamber; where Wilhelm, so soon as she recovered breath, was informed that on her going to the countess, and delivering the fictitious intelligence about her husband’s arrival, the countess had answered: “I know it already: what can have happened? I saw him riding in, at the postern, even now.” On which the baroness, in an excessive panic, had run to the count’s chamber to give warning.
“Unhappily you came too late!” said Wilhelm. “The count was in the room before you, and saw me sitting.”
“And recognized you?”
“That I know not. He was looking at me in the glass, as I at him; and, before I could well determine whether it was he or a spirit, he drew back, and closed the door behind him.”
The anxiety of the baroness increased, when a servant came to call her, signifying that the count was with his lady. She went with no light heart; and found the count silent and thoughtful indeed, but milder and kinder in his words than usual. She knew not what to think of it. They spoke about the incidents of the chase, and the causes of his quick return. The conversation soon ran out. The count became taciturn; and it struck the baroness particularly when he asked for Wilhelm, and expressed a wish that he were sent for to come and read something.
Wilhelm, who had now dressed himself in the baroness’ chamber, and in some degree recovered his composure, obeyed the order, not without anxiety. The count gave him a book; out of which he read an adventurous tale, very little at his ease. His voice had a certain inconstancy and quivering in it, which fortunately corresponded with the import of the story. The count more than once gave kindly tokens of approval; and at last dismissed our friend with praises of his exquisite manner of reading.
Wilhelm had scarcely read one or two of Shakspeare’s plays, till their effect on him became so strong that he could go no further. His whole soul was in commotion. He sought an opportunity to speak with Jarno; to whom, on meeting with him, he expressed his boundless gratitude for such delicious entertainment.
“I clearly foresaw,” said Jarno, “that you would not remain insensible to the charms of the most extraordinary and most admirable of all writers.”
“Yes!” exclaimed our friend; “I cannot recollect that any book, any man, any incident of my life, has produced such important effects on me, as the precious works, to which by your kindness I have been directed. They seem as if they were performances of some celestial genius, descending among men, to make them, by the mildest instructions, acquainted with themselves. They are no fictions! You would think, while reading them, you stood before the unclosed awful Books of Fate, while the whirlwind of most impassioned life was howling through the leaves, and tossing them fiercely to and fro. The strength and tenderness, the power and peacefulness of this man have so astonished and transported me, that I long vehemently for the time when I shall have it in my power to read further.”
“Bravo!” said Jarno, holding out his hand and squeezing our friend’s: “this is as it should be! And the consequences, which I hope for, will likewise surely follow.”
“I wish,” said Wilhelm, “I could but disclose to you all that is going on within me even now. All the anticipations I have ever had regarding man and his destiny, which have accompanied me from youth upwards, often unobserved by myself, I find developed and fulfilled in Shakspeare’s writings. It seems as if he cleared up every one of our enigmas to us, though we cannot say: Here or there is the word of solution. His men appear like natural men, and yet they are not. These, the most mysterious and complex productions of creation, here act before us as if they were watches, whose dial-plates and cases were of crystal; which pointed out, according to their use, the course of the hours and minutes; while, at the same time, you could discern the combination of wheels and springs that turned them. The few glances I have cast over Shakspeare’s world incite me, more than anything beside, to quicken my footsteps forward into the actual world, to mingle in the flood of destinies that is suspended over it; and at length, if I shall prosper, to draw a few cups from the great ocean of true nature, and to distribute them from off the stage among the thirsting people of my native land.”
“I feel delighted with the temper of mind in which I now behold you,” answered Jarno, laying his hand upon the shoulder of the excited youth; “renounce not the purpose of embarking in active life. Make haste to employ with alacrity the years that are granted you. If I can serve you, I will with all my heart. As yet, I have not asked you how you came into this troop, for which you certainly were neither born nor bred. So much I hope and see: you long to be out of it. I know nothing of your parentage, of your domestic circumstances; consider what you shall confide to me. Thus much only I can say: the times of war we live in may produce quick turns of fortune; did you incline devoting your strength and talents to our service, not fearing labor, and if need were, danger, I might even now have an opportunity to put you in a situation, which you would not afterwards be sorry to have filled for a time.” Wilhelm could not sufficiently express his gratitude; he was ready to impart to his friend and patron the whole history of his life.
In the course of this conversation, they had wandered far into the park, and at last come upon the highway that crossed it. Jarno stood silent for a moment, and then said: “Deliberate on my proposal, determine, give me your answer in a few days, and then let me have the narrative you mean to trust me with. I assure you, it has all along to me seemed quite incomprehensible, how you ever could have anything to do with such a class of people. I have often thought with vexation and spleen, how, in order to gain a paltry living, you must fix your heart on a wandering ballad-monger, and a silly mongrel, neither male nor female.”
He had not yet concluded, when an officer on horseback came hastily along; a groom following him with a led horse. Jarno shouted a warm salutation to him. The officer sprang from his horse; Jarno and he embraced and talked together; while Wilhelm, confounded at the last expressions of his warlike friend, stood thoughtfully at a side. Jarno turned over some papers which the stranger had delivered to him; while the latter came to Wilhelm; held out his hand, and said with emphasis: “I find you in worthy company; follow the counsel of your friend; and, by doing so, accomplish likewise the desire of an unknown man, who takes a genuine interest in you.” So saying, he embraced Wilhelm and pressed him cordially to his breast. At the same instant, Jarno advanced, and said to the stranger: “It is best that I ride on with you: by this means you may get the necessary orders, and set out again before night.” Both then leaped into their saddles, and left our astonished friend to his own reflections.
Jarno’s last words were still ringing in his ears. It galled him to see the two human beings, that had most innocently won his affections, so grievously disparaged by a man whom he honored so much. The strange embracing of the officer, whom he knew not, made but a slight impression on him; it occupied his curiosity and his imagination for a moment: but Jarno’s speech had cut him to the heart; he was deeply hurt by it; and now, in his way homewards, he broke out into reproaches against himself, that he should for a single instant have mistaken or forgotten the unfeeling coldness of Jarno, which looked out from his very eyes, and spoke in all his gestures. “No!” exclaimed he, “thou conceivest, dead-hearted worldling, that thou canst be a friend? All that thou hast power to offer me is not worth the sentiment which binds me to these forlorn beings. How fortunate, that I have discovered in time what I had to expect from thee!”
Mignon came to meet him as he entered; he clasped her in his arms, exclaiming: “Nothing, nothing shall part us, thou good little creature! The seeming prudence of the world shall never cause me to forsake thee, or forget what I owe thee.”
The child, whose warm caresses he had been accustomed to avoid, rejoiced with all her heart at this unlooked-for show of tenderness, and clung so fast to him that he had some difficulty to get loose from her.
From this period he kept a stricter eye on Jarno’s conduct: many parts of it he did not think quite praiseworthy: nay, several things came out which totally displeased him. He had strong suspicions, for example, that the verses on the baron, which the poor pedant had so dearly paid for, were composed by Jarno. And as the latter, in Wilhelm’s presence, had made sport of the adventure, our friend thought here was certainly a symptom of a most corrupted heart; for what could be more depraved than to treat a guiltless person, whose griefs one’s self had occasioned, with jeering and mockery, instead of trying to satisfy or to indemnify him? In this matter, Wilhelm would himself willingly have brought about reparation; and ere long a very curious accident led him to obtain some traces of the persons concerned in that nocturnal outrage.
Hitherto his friends had contrived to keep him unacquainted with the fact, that some of the young officers were in the habit of passing whole nights, in merriment and jollity, with certain actors and actresses, in the lower hall of the old castle. One morning, having risen early according to his custom, he happened to visit this chamber, and found the gallant gentlemen just in the act of performing rather a singular operation. They had mixed a bowl of water with a quantity of chalk, and were plastering this gruel with a brush upon their waistcoats and pantaloons, without stripping; thus very expeditiously restoring the spotlessness of their apparel. On witnessing this piece of ingenuity, our friend was at once struck with the recollection of the poor pedant’s whited and bedusted coat: his suspicions gathered strength, when he learned that some relations of the baron’s were among the party.
To throw some light on his doubts, he engaged the youths to breakfast with him. They were very lively, and told a multitude of pleasant stories. One of them especially, who for a time had been on the recruiting service, was loud in praising the craft and activity of his captain; who, it appeared, understood the art of alluring men of all kinds towards him, and overreaching every one by the deception proper for him. He circumstantially described how several young people of good families and careful education had been cozened, by playing off to them a thousand promises of honor and preferment; and he heartily laughed at the simpletons, who felt so gratified, when first enlisted, at the thought of being esteemed and introduced to notice by so reputable, prudent, bold and munificent an officer.
Wilhelm blessed his better genius for having drawn him back in time from the abyss to whose brink he had approached so near. Jarno he now looked upon as nothing better than a crimp; the embrace of the stranger officer was easily explained. He viewed the feelings and opinions of these men with contempt and disgust; from that moment he carefully avoided coming into contact with any one that wore a uniform; and when he heard that the army was about to move its quarters the news would have been extremely welcome to him, if he had not feared that immediately on its departure he himself must be banished from the neighborhood of his lovely friend, perhaps forever.
Meanwhile the baroness had spent several days disquieted by anxious fears and unsatisfied curiosity. Since the late adventure the count’s demeanor had been altogether an enigma to her. His manner was changed; none of his customary jokes were to be heard. His demands on the company and the servants had very much abated. Little pedantry or imperiousness was now to be discerned in him; he was silent and thoughtful; yet withal he seemed composed and placid; in short, he was quite another man. In choosing the books which now and then he caused to be read to him, those of a serious, often a religious cast were pitched upon; and the baroness lived in perpetual fright lest beneath this apparent serenity a secret rancor might be lurking; a silent purpose to revenge the offence he had so accidentally discovered. She determined, therefore, to make Jarno her confidant; and this the more freely, as that gentleman and she already stood in a relation to each other where it is not usual to be very cautious in keeping secrets. For some time Jarno had been her dearest friend; yet they had been dexterous enough to conceal their attachment and joys from the noisy world in which they moved. To the countess alone this new romance had not remained unknown; and very possibly the baroness might wish to get her fair friend occupied with some similar engagement, and thus to escape the silent reproaches she had often to endure from that noble-minded woman.
Scarcely had the baroness related the occurrence to her lover when he cried out, laughing, “To a certainty the old fool believes he has seen his ghost! He dreads that the vision may betoken some misfortune, perhaps death to him; and so he is become quite tame, as all half-men do, in thinking of that consummation which no one has escaped or will escape. Softly a little! As I hope he will live long enough, we may now train him at least, so that he shall not again give disturbance to his wife and household.”
They accordingly, as soon as any opportunity occurred, began talking in the presence of the count about warnings, visions, apparitions, and the like. Jarno played the skeptic, the baroness likewise; and they carried it so far that his lordship at last took Jarno aside, reproved him for his free thinking, and produced his own experience to prove the possibility, nay, actual occurrence, of such preter-natural events. Jarno affected to be struck; to be in doubt; and finally to be convinced; but in private with his friend he made himself so much the merrier at the credulous weakling, who had thus been cured of his evil habits by a bugbear, but who, they admitted, still deserved some praise for expecting dire calamity, or death itself, with such composure.
“The natural result, which the present apparition might have had, would possibly have ruffled him!” exclaimed the baroness, with her wonted vivacity; to which, when anxiety was taken from her heart, she had instantly returned. Jarno was richly rewarded, and the two contrived fresh projects for frightening the count still further; and still further exciting and confirming the affection of the countess for Wilhelm.
With this intention the whole story was related to the countess. She, indeed, expressed her displeasure at such conduct; but from that time she became more thoughtful, and in peaceful moments seemed to be considering, pursuing and painting out that scene which had been prepared for her.
The preparations now going forward on every side left no room for doubt that the armies were soon to move in advance, and the prince at the same time to change his headquarters. It was even said that the count intended leaving his castle and returning to the city. Our players could therefore, without difficulty, calculate the aspect of their stars; yet none of them, except Melina, took any measures in consequence: the rest strove only to catch as much enjoyment as they could from the moment that was passing over them.
Wilhelm, in the meantime, was engaged with a peculiar task. The countess had required from him a copy of his writings; and he looked on this request as the noblest recompense for his labors.
A young author, who has not yet seen himself in print, will, in such a case, apply no ordinary care to provide a clear and beautiful transcript of his works. It is like the golden age of authorship: he feels transported into those centuries when the press had not inundated the world with so many useless writings, when none but excellent performances were copied and kept by the noblest men; and he easily admits the illusion that his own accurately ruled and measured manuscript may itself prove an excellent performance, worthy to be kept and valued by some future critic.
The prince being shortly to depart, a great entertainment had been appointed in honor of him. Many ladies of the neighborhood were invited, and the countess had dressed herself betimes. On this occasion she had taken a costlier suit than usual. Her head-dress and the decorations of her hair were more exquisite and studied: she wore all her jewels. The baroness, too, had done her utmost to appear with becoming taste and splendor.
Philina, observing that both ladies, in expectation of their guests, felt the time rather tedious, proposed to send for Wilhelm, who was wishing to present his manuscript, now completed, and to read them some other little pieces. He came; and on his entrance was astonished at the form and the graces of the countess, which her decorations had but made more visible and striking. Being ordered by the ladies, he began to read; but with so much absence of mind and so badly, that had not his audience been excessively indulgent, they would very soon have dismissed him.
Every time he looked at the countess it seemed to him as if a spark of electric fire were glancing before his eyes. In the end he knew not where to find the breath he wanted for his reading. The countess had always pleased him; but now it appeared as if he never had beheld a being so perfect and so lovely. A thousand thoughts flitted up and down his soul; what follows might be nearly their substance:—
“How foolish is it in so many poets and men of sentiment, as they are called, to make war on pomp and decoration; requiring that women of all ranks should wear no dress but what is simple and conformable to nature! They rail at decoration, without once considering that when we see a plain or positively ugly person clothed in a costly and gorgeous fashion, it is not the poor decoration that displeases us. I would assemble all the judges in the world, and ask them here if they wished to see one of these folds, of these ribbons and laces, these braids, ringlets and glancing stones removed? Would they not dread disturbing the delightful impression that so naturally and spontaneously meets us here? Yes, naturally I will say! As Minerva sprang in complete armor from the head of Jove, so does this goddess seem to have stepped forth with a light foot, in all her ornaments, from the bosom of some flower.”
While reading he turned his eyes upon her frequently, as if he wished to stamp this image on his soul forever; he more than once read wrong, yet without falling into confusion of mind; though at other times he used to feel the mistaking of a word or a letter as a painful deformity, which spoiled a whole recitation.
A false alarm of the arrival of the guests put an end to the reading; the baroness went out, and the countess, while about to shut her writing-desk, which was standing open, took up her casket, and put some other rings upon her finger. “We are soon to part,” said she, keeping her eyes upon the casket; “accept a memorial of a true friend, who wishes nothing more earnestly than that you may always prosper.” She then took out a ring, which, underneath a crystal, bore a little plait of woven hair beautifully set with diamonds. She held it out to Wilhelm, who on taking it knew neither what to say nor do, but stood as if rooted to the ground. The countess shut her desk and sat down upon the sofa.
“And I must go empty?” said Philina, kneeling down at the countess’ right hand. “Do but look at the man; he carries such a store of words in his mouth when no one wants to hear them; and now he cannot stammer out the poorest syllable of thanks. Quick, sir! Express your services by way of pantomime, at least; and if to-day you can invent nothing, then, for heaven’s sake, be my imitator.”
Philina seized the right hand of the countess, and kissed it warmly. Wilhelm sank upon his knee, laid hold of the left, and pressed it to his lips. The countess seemed embarrassed, yet without displeasure.
“Ah!” cried Philina, “so much splendor of attire I may have seen before; but never one so fit to wear it. What bracelets, but also what a hand! What a necklace, but also what a bosom!”
“Peace, little cozener!” said the countess.
“Is this his lordship then?” said Philina, pointing to a rich medallion which the countess wore on her left side by a particular chain.
“He is painted in his bridegroom dress,” replied the countess.
“Was he then so young?” inquired Philina; “I know it is but a year or two since you were married.”
“His youth must be placed to the artist’s account,” replied the lady.
“He is a handsome man,” observed Philina. “But was there never,” she continued, placing her hand on the countess’ heart, “never any other image that found its way in secret hither?”
“Thou art very bold, Philina!” cried she; “I have spoiled thee. Let me never hear the like again.”
“If you are angry, then am I unhappy,” said Philina, springing up, and hastening from the room.
Wilhelm still held that lovely hand in both of his. His eyes were fixed on the bracelet-clasp; he noticed with extreme surprise, that his initials were traced on it, in lines of brilliants.
“Have I then,” he modestly inquired, “your own hair in this precious ring?”
“Yes,” replied she, in a faint voice; then suddenly collecting herself, she said, and pressed his hand: “Arise, and fare you well!”
“Here is my name,” cried he, “by the most curious chance!” He pointed to the bracelet-clasp.
“How?” cried the countess: “it is the cipher of a female friend!”
“They are the initials of my name. Forget me not. Your image is engraven on my heart, and will never be effaced! Farewell! I must be gone.”
He kissed her hand, and meant to rise; but, as in dreams, some strange thing fades and changes into something stranger, and the succeeding wonder takes us by surprise; so, without knowing how it happened, he found the countess in his arms; her lips were resting upon his, and their warm mutual kisses were yielding them that blessedness which mortals sip from the topmost sparkling foam on the freshly-poured cup of love.
Her head lay on his shoulder; the disordered ringlets and ruffles were forgotten. She had thrown her arm round him; he clasped her with vivacity; and pressed her again and again to his breast. Oh, that such a moment could but last forever! And woe to envious fate that shortened even this brief moment to our friends!
How terrified was Wilhelm, how astounded did he start from his happy dream, when the countess, with a shriek, on a sudden tore herself away, and hastily pressed her hand against her heart.
He stood confounded before her; she held the other hand upon her eyes, and, after a moment’s pause, exclaimed: “Away! leave me! delay not!”
He continued standing.
“Leave me!” she cried; and taking off her hand from her eyes, she looked at him with an indescribable expression of countenance; and added, in the most tender and affecting voice: “Fly, if you love me.”
Wilhelm was out of the chamber, and again in his room, before he knew what he was doing.
Unhappy creatures! What singular warning of chance or of destiny tore them asunder?