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BOOK VII. - 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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The spring had commenced in all its brilliancy; a storm, that had been lowering all day, went fiercely down upon the hills; the rain drew back into the country; the sun came forth in all its splendor, and upon the dark vapor rose the lordly rainbow. Wilhelm was riding towards it: the sight made him sad. “Ah!” said he within himself, “do the fairest hues of life appear, then, only on a ground of black? And must drops fall if we are to be charmed? A bright day is like a dim one if we look at it unmoved: and what can move us but some silent hope that the inborn inclination of our soul shall not always be without an object? The recital of a noble action moves us; the sight of everything harmonious moves us: we feel then as if we were not altogether in a foreign land; we fancy we are nearer the home towards which our best and inmost wishes impatiently strive.”
Meanwhile a pedestrian overtook him, and, walking with a stout step by the side of the horse, began to keep him company. After a few common words, he looked at the rider and said: “If I am not mistaken I must have already seen you somewhere.”
“I too remember you,” said Wilhelm: “had we not some time ago a pleasant sail together?”
“Right!” replied the other.
Wilhelm looked at him more narrowly; then, after a pause, observed: “I do not know what alteration has occurred in you; last time we met, I took you for a Lutheran clergyman; you now seem rather like a Catholic one.”
“To-day at least you are not wrong,” replied the other, taking off his hat and showing him the tonsure. “Where is your company gone? Did you stay long with them?”
“Longer than was good. On looking back upon the period which I passed in their society it seems as if I looked into an endless void; nothing of it has remained with me.”
“Here you are mistaken,” said the stranger; “everything that happens to us leaves some trace behind it; everything contributes imperceptibly to form us. Yet often it is dangerous to take a strict account of that. For either we grow proud and negligent, or downcast and dispirited; and both are equally injurious in their consequences. The safe plan is, always simply to do the task that lies nearest us; and this in the present case,” added he with a smile, “is to hasten to our quarters.”
Wilhelm asked how far Lothario’s house was distant; the stranger answered that it lay behind the hill. “Perhaps I shall meet you there,” continued he; “I have merely a small affair to manage in the neighborhood. Farewell till then!” And with this he struck into a steep path that seemed to lead more speedily across the hill.
“Yes, the man is right!” said Wilhelm to himself as he proceeded; “we should think of what is nearest: and for me at present there is nothing nearer than the mournful errand I have come to do. Let me see whether I can still repeat the speech which is to put that cruel man to shame.”
He then began reciting to himself this piece of oratory: not a syllable was wanting; and the more his recollection served him, the higher grew his passion and his courage. Aurelia’s sorrows and her death were vividly present to his soul.
“Spirit of my friend!” exclaimed he, “hover round me; and, if thou canst, give some sign to me that thou art softened, art appeased!”
Amid such words and meditations he had reached the summit of the hill; and near the foot of its declivity he now beheld a curious building, which he at once took to be Lothario’s dwelling. An old irregular castle, with several turrets and peaked roofs, appeared to have been the primitive erection; but the new additions to it, placed near the main structure, looked still more irregular. A part of them stood close upon the main edifice; others, at some distance, were combined with it by galleries and covered passages. All external symmetry, every shade of architectural beauty, appeared to have been sacrificed to the convenience of the interior. No trace of wall or trench was to be seen; none of avenues or artificial gardens. A fruit and potherb garden reached to the very buildings; and little patches of a like sort showed themselves even in the intermediate spaces. A cheerful village lay at no great distance: the fields and gardens everywhere appeared in the highest state of cultivation.
Sunk in his own impassioned feelings, Wilhelm rode along, not thinking much of what he saw: he put up his horse at an inn, and, not without emotion, hastened to the castle.
An old serving-man received him at the door, and signified, with much good nature, that to-day it would be difficult to get admission to his lordship, who was occupied in writing letters, and had already refused some people that had business with him. Our friend became more importunate; the old man was at last obliged to yield, and announce him. He returned, and conducted Wilhelm to a spacious ancient hall, desiring him to be so good as wait, since perhaps it might be some time before his lordship could appear. Our friend walked up and down unrestfully; casting now and then a look at the knights and dames whose ancient figures hung round him on the walls. He repeated the beginning of his speech: it seemed, in presence of these ruffs and coats of mail, to answer even better. Every time there rose any stir, he put himself in posture to receive his man with dignity; meaning first to hand him the letter, then assail him with the weapons of reproach.
More than once mistaken, he was now beginning to be really vexed and out of tune, when at last a handsome man, in boots and light surtout, stepped in from a side-door. “What good news have you for me?” said he to Wilhelm, with a friendly voice. “Pardon me, that I have made you wait.”
So speaking, he kept folding a letter which he held in his hand. Wilhelm, not without embarrassment, delivered him Aurelia’s paper, and replied: “I bring you the last words of a friend, which you will not read without emotion.”
Lothario took it and returned to his chamber with it, where, as Wilhelm through the open door could very easily observe, he addressed and sealed some letters before opening Aurelia’s. He appeared to have perused it once or twice; and Wilhelm, though his feelings signified that the pathetic speech would sort but ill with such a cool reception, girded up his mind, went forward to the threshold, and was just about beginning his address, when a tapestry door of the cabinet opened, and the clergyman came in.
“I have got the strangest message you can think of,” cried Lothario to him. “Pardon me,” continued he, addressing Wilhelm, “if I am not in a mood for speaking further with you at this moment. You remain with us to-night. You, abbé, see the stranger properly attended to.”
With these words he made his guest a bow. The clergyman took Wilhelm by the hand, who followed, not without reluctance.
They walked along some curious passages, in silence, and at last reached a very pretty chamber. The abbé led him in; then left him, making no excuses. Ere long an active boy appeared; he introduced himself as Wilhelm’s valet, and brought up his supper. In waiting, he had much to say about the order of the house, about their breakfasting and dining, labors and amusements; interspersing many things in commendation of Lothario.
Pleasant as the boy was, Wilhelm endeavored to get rid of him as soon as possible. He wished to be alone, for he felt exceedingly oppressed and straitened in his new position. He reproached himself with having executed his intentions so ill, with having done his errand only half. One moment he proposed to overtake next morning what he had neglected to-night; the next, he saw that by Lothario’s presence he would be attuned to quite a different set of feelings. The house, too, where he was, seemed very strange to him: he could not be at home in his position. Intending to undress, he opened his travelling-bag: with his night-clothes he took out the Spirit’s veil, which Mignon had packed in along with them. The sight of it increased the sadness of his humor. “Fly! youth, fly!” cried he. “What means this mystic word? What am I to fly, or whither? It were better had the Spirit called to me: Return to thyself!” He cast his eyes on some English copperplates, hung round the room in frames; most of them he looked at with indifference; at last he met with one in which a ship was represented sinking in a tempest; a father with his lovely daughters was awaiting death from the intrusive billows. One of the maidens had a kind of likeness to the Amazon. An indescribable compassion seized our friend; he felt an irresistible necessity to vent his feelings; tears filled his eyes, he wept, and did not recover his composure till slumber overpowered him.
Strange dreams arose upon him towards morning. He was in a garden, which in boyhood he had often visited; he looked with pleasure at the well-known alleys, hedges, flower-beds: Mariana met him; he spoke to her with love and tenderness, recollecting nothing of any bygone grievance. Ere long his father joined them, in his week-day dress. With a look of frankness that was rare in him, he bade his son fetch two seats from the garden-house, then took Mariana by the hand and led her into a grove.
Wilhelm hastened to the garden-house, but found it altogether empty; only at a window in the farther side he saw Aurelia standing. He went forward and addressed her, but she turned not round; and though he placed himself beside her, he could never see her face. He looked out from the window; in an unknown garden there were several people, some of whom he recognized. Frau Melina, seated under a tree, was playing with a rose which she had in her hand; Laertes stood beside her, counting money from the one hand to the other. Mignon and Felix were lying on the grass—the former on her back, the latter on his face. Philina came and clapped her hands above the children; Mignon lay unmoved; Felix started up and fled. At first he laughed while running, as Philina followed; but he screamed in terror when he saw the Harper coming after him with large, slow steps. Felix ran directly to a pond; Wilhelm hastened after him. Too late! the child was lying in the water! Wilhelm stood as if rooted to the spot. The fair Amazon appeared on the other side of the pond; she stretched her right hand towards the child, and walked along the shore. The child came through the water, by the course her finger pointed to; he followed her as she went round; at last she reached her hand to him and pulled him out. Wilhelm had come nearer: the child was all in flames; fiery drops were falling from his body. Wilhelm’s agony was greater than ever; but instantly the Amazon took a white veil from her head and covered up the child with it. The fire was at once quenched. But when she lifted up the veil, two boys sprang out from under it, and frolicsomely sported to and fro; while Wilhelm and the Amazon proceeded hand in hand across the garden, and noticed in the distance Mariana and his father walking in an alley, which was formed of lofty trees, and seemed to go quite round the garden. He turned his steps to them, and with his beautiful attendant was moving through the garden, when suddenly the fair-haired Friedrich came across their path, and kept them back with loud laughter and a thousand tricks. Still, however, they insisted on proceeding; and Friedrich hastened off, running towards Mariana and the father. These seemed to fly before him. He pursued the faster, till Wilhelm saw them hovering down the alley almost as on wings. Nature and inclination called on him to go and help them; but the hand of the Amazon detained him. How gladly did he let himself be held! With this mingled feeling he awoke, and found his chamber shining with the morning beams.
Our friend was called to breakfast by the boy. He found the abbé waiting in the hall. Lothario, it appeared, had ridden out. The abbé was not very talkative, but rather wore a thoughtful look. He inquired about Aurelia’s death, and listened to our friend’s recital of it, with apparent sympathy. “Ah!” cried he, “the man that discerns, with lively clearness, what infinite operations art and nature must have joined in before a cultivated human being can be formed—the man that himself as much as possible takes interest in the culture of his fellowmen, is ready to despair when he sees how lightly mortals will destroy themselves, will blamelessly or blamably expose themselves to be destroyed. When I think of these things, life itself appears to me so uncertain a gift that I could praise the man who does not value it beyond its worth.”
Scarcely had he spoken, when the door flew violently up; a young lady came rushing in; she pushed away the old servant who attempted to restrain her. She made right to the abbé, and seized him by the arm; her tears and sobs would hardly let her speak these words: “Where is he? Where have you put him? ’Tis a frightful treachery! Confess it now! I know what you are doing; I will after him; will know where you have sent him!”
“Be calm, my child!” replied the abbé, with assumed composure: “come with me to your room; you shall know it all; only you must have the strength to listen if you ask me to relate.” He offered her his hand, as if he meant to lead her out.
“I will not return to my room,” cried she; “I hate the walls where you have kept me prisoner so long. I know it all already: the colonel has challenged him; he is gone to meet his enemy. Perhaps this very moment he—Once or twice I thought I heard the sound of shots! I tell you, order out a coach, and come along with me, or I will fill the house and all the village with my screaming.”
Weeping bitterly, she hastened to the window. The abbé held her back, and sought in vain to soothe her.
They heard a sound of wheels. She threw up the window, exclaiming: “He is dead! They are bringing home his body!”
“He is coming out,” replied the abbé; “you perceive he lives.”
“He is wounded,” said she wildly, “else he would have come on horseback. They are holding him! The wound is dangerous!” She ran to the door and down the stairs. The abbé hastened after her; and Wilhelm following, observed the fair one meet her lover, who had now dismounted.
Lothario leaned on his attendant, whom Wilhelm at once knew as his ancient patron Jarno. The wounded man spoke very tenderly and kindly to the tearful damsel; he rested on her shoulder, and came slowly up the steps; saluted Wilhelm as he passed, and was conducted to his cabinet.
Jarno soon returned, and going up to Wilhelm, “It appears,” said he, “you are predestined everywhere to find a theatre and actors. We have here commenced a play which is not altogether pleasant.”
“I rejoice to find you,” answered Wilhelm, “in so strange an hour; I am astonished, frightened; and your presence already quiets my mind. Tell me, is there danger? Is the Baron badly wounded?”
“I imagine not,” said Jarno.
It was not long till the young surgeon entered from the cabinet. “Now what say you!” cried Jarno to him.
“That it is a dangerous piece of work,” replied the other, putting several instruments into his leathern pouch. Wilhelm looked at the band, which was hanging from the pouch. He fancied he knew it. Bright contrary colors, a curious pattern, gold and silver wrought in singular figures, marked this band from all the bands in the world. Wilhelm was convinced he beheld the very pouch of the ancient surgeon who had dressed his wounds in the green of the forest; and the hope, so long deferred, of again finding traces of the lovely Amazon, struck like a flame through all his soul.
“Where did you get that pouch?” cried he. “To whom did it belong before you? I beg of you, tell me.”
“I bought it at an auction,” said the other. “What is it to me whom it belonged to?”
So speaking, he went out; and Jarno said: “If there would come but one word of truth from our young doctor’s mouth!”
“Then he did not buy the pouch?” said Wilhelm.
“Just as little as Lothario is in danger,” said the other.
Wilhelm stood immersed in many reflections. Jarno asked how he had fared of late. Wilhelm sketched an outline of his history; and when he at last came to speak of Aurelia’s death, and his message to the place, his auditor exclaimed: “Well! it is strange, most strange!”
The abbé entered from Lothario’s chamber; beckoned Jarno to go in instead of him, and said to Wilhelm: “The baron bids me ask you to remain with us a day or two, to share his hospitality, and, in the present circumstances, contribute to his solacement. If you need to give any notice to your people, your letter shall be instantly despatched. Meanwhile, to make you understand this curious incident, of which you have been witness, I must tell you something, which indeed is no secret. The baron had a small adventure with a lady, which excited more than usual attention—the lady having taken him from a rival, and wishing to enjoy her victory too ostentatiously. After a time he no longer found the same delight in her society, which he of course forsook: but, being of a violent temper, she could not bear her fate with patience. Meeting at a ball, they had an open quarrel. She thought herself irreparably injured, and would be revenged. No knight stepped forth to do battle for her, till her husband, whom for years she had not lived with, heard of the affair and took it up. He challenged the baron, and to-day he has wounded him; yet, as I hear, the gallant colonel has himself come still worse off.”
From this hour our friend was treated in the house as if he had belonged to it.
At times they had read a little to the patient. Wilhelm joyfully performed this service. Lydia stirred not from Lothario’s bed. Her care for him absorbed her whole attention. But to-day the patient himself seemed occupied with thought: he bade them lay aside their book. “To-day,” said he, “I feel through my whole heart how foolishly we let our time pass on. How many things have I proposed to do, how many have I planned: yet how we loiter in our noblest purposes! I have just read over the scheme of the changes which I mean to make in my estates: and it is chiefly, I may say, on their account that I rejoice at the bullet’s not having gone a deadlier road.”
Lydia looked at him with tenderness, with tears in her eyes, as if to ask if she, if his friends could not pretend to any interest in his wish to live. Jarno answered: “Changes, such as you project, require to be considered well on every side before they are resolved on.”
“Long considerations,” said Lothario, “are commonly a proof that we have not the point to be determined clearly in our eye; precipitate proceedings that we do not know it. I see distinctly that in managing my property there are several particulars, in which the services of my dependants cannot be remitted, certain rights which I must rigidly insist on; but I also see that there are other articles, advantageous to me, but by no means indispensable, which might admit of relaxation. Do I not profit by my lands far better than my father did? Is not my income still increasing? And shall I alone enjoy this growing benefit? Shall not those who labor with and for me partake, in their degree, of the advantages which expanding knowledge, which a period of improvement are procuring for us?”
“ ’Tis human nature!” cried Jarno. “I do not blame myself when I detect this selfish quality among the rest. Every man desires to gather all things round him, to shape and manage them according to his own pleasure. The money which he himself does not expend he seldom reckons well expended.”
“Certainly,” observed Lothario, “much of the capital might be abated if we consumed the interest less capriciously.”
“The only thing I shall mention,” said the other, “the only reason I can urge against your now proceeding with those alterations, which, for a time at least, must cause you loss, is, that you yourself are still in debt, and that the payment presses hard on you. My advice is, therefore, to postpone your plan till you are altogether free.”
“And in the meanwhile leave it at the mercy of a bullet, or the fall of a tile, to annihilate the whole result of my existence and activity! O my friend! it is ever thus; it is ever the besetting fault of cultivated men that they wish to spend their whole resources on some idea, scarcely any part of them on tangible existing objects. Why was it that I contracted debts, that I quarrelled with my uncle, that I left my sisters to themselves so long? Purely for the sake of an idea. In America, I fancied I might accomplish something; over seas, I hoped to become useful and essential. If any task was not begirt with a thousand dangers, I considered it trivial, unworthy of me. How differently do matters now appear! How precious, how important seems the duty which is nearest me, whatever it may be!”
“I recollect the letter which you sent me from the Western world,” said Jarno; “it contained the words: ‘I will return, and in my house, amid my fields, among my people, I will say: Here or nowhere is America!’ ”
“Yes, my friend! and I am still repeating it, and still repining at myself that I am not so busy here as I was there. For certain equable, continuous modes of life, there is nothing more than judgment necessary, and we study to attain nothing more; so that we become unable to discern what extraordinary services each vulgar day requires of us; or, if we do discern them, we find abundance of excuses for not doing them. A judicious man is valuable to himself; but of little value for the general whole.”
“We will not,” said Jarno, “bear too hard upon judgment; let us grant that whenever extraordinary things are done, they are generally foolish.”
“Yes! and just because they are not done according to the proper plan. My brother-in-law, you see, is giving up his fortune, so far as in his power, to the Community of Herrnhut; he reckons that by doing so he is advancing the salvation of his soul. Had he sacrificed a small portion of his revenue, he might have rendered many people happy, might have made for them and for himself a heaven upon earth. Our sacrifices are rarely of an active kind; we, as it were, abandon what we give away. It is not from resolution, but despair, that we renounce our property. In these days, I confess it, the image of the count is hovering constantly before me; I have firmly resolved on doing from conviction what a crazy fear is forcing upon him. I will not wait for being cured. Here are the papers; they require only to be properly drawn out. Take the lawyer with you; our guest will help you. What I want, you know as well as I. Recovering or dying, I will stand by it, and say: Here or nowhere is Herrnhut!”
When he mentioned dying, Lydia sank before his bed; she hung upon his arm and wept bitterly. The surgeon entered; Jarno gave our friend the papers, and made Lydia leave the room.
“For Heaven’s sake! what is this about the count?” cried Wilhelm, when they reached the hall and were alone. “What count is it that means to join the Herrnhuters?”
“One whom you know very well,” said Jarno. “You yourself are the ghost who have frightened the unhappy wiseacre into piety; you are the villain who have brought his pretty wife to such a state, that she inclines accompanying him.”
“And she is Lothario’s sister?” cried our friend.
“And Lothario knows—?”
“Oh, let me fly!” cried Wilhelm. “How shall I appear before him? What can he say to me?”
“That no man should cast a stone at his brother; that when one composes long speeches, with a view to shame his neighbors, he should speak them to a looking-glass.”
“Do you know that too?”
“And many things beside,” said Jarno with a smile. “But in the present case,” continued he, “you shall not get away from me so easily as you did last time. You need not now be apprehensive of my bounty-money; I have ceased to be a soldier; when I was one, you might have thought more charitably of me. Since you saw me, many things have altered. My prince, my only friend and benefactor, being dead, I have now withdrawn from busy life and its concerns. I used to have a pleasure in advancing what was reasonable. When I met with any despicable thing, I hesitated not to call it so; and men had never done with talking of my restless head and wicked tongue. The herd of people dread sound understanding more than anything; they ought to dread stupidity, if they had any notion what was really dreadful. Understanding is unpleasant, they must have it pushed aside; stupidity is but pernicious, they can let it stay. Well, be it so! I need to live; I will by-and-by communicate my plans to you. If you incline, you shall partake in them. But tell me first how things have gone with you. I see, I feel that you are changed. How is it with your ancient maggot of producing something beautiful and good in the society of gypsies?”
“Do not speak of it!” cried Wilhelm. “I have been already punished for it. People talk about the stage; but none, that has not been upon it personally, can form the smallest notion of it. How utterly these men are unacquainted with themselves, how thoughtlessly they carry on their trade, how boundless their pretensions are, no mortal can conceive. Each not only would be first, but sole; each wishes to exclude the rest, and does not see that, even with them, he can scarcely accomplish anything. Each thinks himself a man of marvellous originality; yet, with a ravening appetite for novelty, he cannot walk a footstep from the beaten track. How vehemently they counterwork each other! It is only the pitifulest self-love, the narrowest views of interest, that unite them. Of reciprocal accommodation they have no idea; backbiting and hidden spitefulness maintain a constant jealousy among them. In their lives they are either rakes or simpletons. Each claims the loftiest respect, each writhes under the slightest blame. ‘All this he knew already,’ he will tell you. Why then did he not do it? Ever needy, ever unconfiding, they seem as if their greatest fear were reason and good taste, their highest care were to secure the majesty of their self-will.”
Wilhelm drew breath, intending to proceed with his eulogium, when an immoderate laugh from Jarno interrupted him. “Poor actors!” cried he; threw himself into a chair, and laughed away—“Poor dear actors! Do you know, my friend,” continued he, recovering from his fit, “that you have been describing not the playhouse, but the world; that out of all ranks I could find you characters and doings in abundance to suit your cruel pencil? Pardon me, it makes me laugh again that you should think these amiable qualities existed on the boards alone.”
Wilhelm checked his feelings. Jarno’s extravagant, untimely laughter had in truth offended him. “It is scarcely hiding your misanthropy,” said he, “when you maintain that faults like these are universal.”
“And it shows your unacquaintance with the world when you impute them to the theatre in such a heinous light. I pardon in the player every fault that springs from self-deception and the desire to please. If he seem not something to himself and others, he is nothing. To seem is his vocation. He must prize his moment of applause, for he gets no other recompense; he must try to glitter; he is there to do so.”
“You will give me leave at least to smile in my turn,” answered Wilhelm. “I should never have believed that you could be so merciful, so tolerant.”
“I swear to you I am serious, fully and deliberately serious. All faults of the man I can pardon in the player; no fault of the player can I pardon in the man. Do not set me upon chanting my lament about the latter; it might have a sharper sound than yours.”
The surgeon entered from the cabinet; and to the question how his patient was, he answered with a lively air of complaisance: “Extremely well indeed; I hope soon to see him quite recovered.” He hastened through the hall, not waiting Wilhelm’s speech, who was preparing to inquire again with greater importunity about the leathern case. His anxiety to gain some tidings of his Amazon inspired him with confidence in Jarno; he disclosed his case to him and begged his help. “You that know so many things,” said he, “can you not discover this?”
Jarno reflected for a moment, then turning to his friend: “Be calm,” said he; “give no one any hint of it; we shall come upon the fair one’s footsteps, never fear. At present, I am anxious only for Lothario; the case is dangerous; the kindliness and comfortable talking of the doctor tells me so. We should be quit of Lydia; for here she does no good; but how to set about the task, I know not. To-night I am looking for our old physician; we shall then take further counsel.”
The physician came; it was the good, old, little doctor whom we know already, and to whom we were obliged for the communication of the pious manuscript. First of all, he visited the wounded man; with whose condition he appeared to be by no means satisfied. He had next a long interview with Jarno; but they made no allusion to the subject of it when they came to supper.
Wilhelm saluted him in the kindest manner, and inquired about the harper.
“We have still hopes of bringing round the hapless creature,” answered the physician.
“He formed a dreary item in your limited and singular way of life,” said Jarno. “How has it fared with him? Tell me.”
Having satisfied Jarno’s curiosity, the physician thus proceeded: “I have never seen another man so strangely circumstanced. For many years he has not felt the smallest interest in anything without him, scarcely paid the smallest notice to it; wrapped up in himself, he has looked at nothing but his own hollow empty Me, which seemed to him like an immeasurable abyss. It was really touching when he spoke to us of this mournful state. ‘Before me,’ cried he, ‘I see nothing; behind me nothing but an endless night, in which I live in the most horrid solitude. There is no feeling in me but the feeling of my guilt; and this appears but like a dim formless spirit, far before me. Yet here there is no height, no depth, no forwards, no backwards; no words can express this never-changing state. Often in the agony of this sameness, I exclaim with violence: Forever! forever: and this dark incomprehensible word is clear and plain to the gloom of my condition. No ray of a Divinity illuminates this night; I shed all my tears by myself and for myself. Nothing is more horrible to me than friendship and love; for they alone excite in me the wish that the apparitions which surround me might be real. But these two spectres also have arisen from the abyss to plague me, and at length to tear from me the precious consciousness of my existence, unearthly though it be.’
“You should hear him speak,” continued the physician, “when in hours of confidence he thus alleviates his heart. I have listened to him often with the deepest feelings. When pressed by anything, and as it were compelled for an instant to confess that a space of time has passed, he looks astounded, then again refers the alteration to the things about him, considering it as an appearance of appearances, and so rejecting the idea of progress in duration. One night he sung a song about his gray hairs: we all sat round him weeping.”
“Oh, get it for me!” cried Wilhelm.
“But have you not discovered any trace of what he calls his crime?” inquired Jarno: “nor found out the reason of his wearing such a singular garb; of his conduct at the burning of the house; of his rage against the child?”
“It is only by conjectures that we can approximate to any knowledge of his fate: to question him directly, contradicts our principle. Observing easily that he was of the Catholic religion, we thought perhaps confession might afford him some assuagement; but he shrinks away, with the strangest gestures, every time we try to introduce the priest to him. However, not to leave your curiosity respecting him entirely unsatisfied, I may communicate our suppositions on the subject. In his youth, we think, he must have been a clergyman: hence probably his wish to keep his beard and long cloak. The joys of love appear to have remained for many years unknown to him. Late in life, as we conceive, some aberration with a lady very nearly related to him; then her death, the consequence of an unlucky creature’s birth, have altogether crazed his brain.
“His chief delusion is a fancy that he brings misfortune everywhere along with him; and that death, to be unwittingly occasioned by a boy, is constantly impending over him. At first he was afraid of Mignon, not knowing that she was a girl; then Felix frightened him; and as, with all his misery, he has a boundless love of life, this may perhaps have been the origin of his aversion to the child.”
“What hopes have you of his recovery?” inquired our friend.
“It advances slowly,” answered the physician; “yet it does advance. He continues his appointed occupations: we have now accustomed him to read the newspapers; he always looks for them with eagerness.”
“I am curious about his songs,” said Jarno.
“Of these I can engage to get you several,” replied the doctor. “Our parson’s eldest son, who frequently writes down his father’s sermons, has, unnoticed by the harper, marked on paper many stanzas of his singing; out of which some songs have gradually been pieced together.”
Next morning Jarno met our friend, and said to him: “We have to ask a kindness of you. Lydia must, for some time, be removed: her violent unreasonable love and passionateness hinders the baron’s recovery. His wound requires rest and calmness, though with his healthy temperament it is not dangerous. You see how Lydia tortures him with her tempestuous anxieties, her ungovernable terrors, her never-drying tears; and—Enough!” he added with a smile, after pausing for a moment, “our doctor expressly requires that she must quit us for a while. We have got her to believe that a lady, one of her most intimate friends, is at present in the neighborhood, wishing and expecting instantly to see her. She has been prevailed upon to undertake a journey to our lawyer’s, which is but two leagues off. This man is in the secret: he will wofully lament that Fräulein Theresa should just have left him again; he will seem to think she may still be overtaken. Lydia will hasten after her; and, if you prosper, will be led from place to place. At last, if she insist on turning back, you must not contradict her; but the night will help you; the coachman is a cunning knave, and we shall speak with him before he goes. You are to travel with her in the coach, to talk to her, and manage the adventure.”
“It is a strange and dubious commission that you give me,” answered Wilhelm. “How painful is the sight of true love injured! And am I to be the instrument of injuring it? I have never cheated any person so; for it has always seemed to me that if we once begin deceiving with a view to good and useful purposes, we run the risk of carrying it to excess.”
“Yet you cannot manage children otherwise,” said Jarno.
“With children it may do,” said Wilhelm; “for we love them tenderly, and take an open charge of them. But with our equals, in behalf of whom our heart is not so sure to call upon us for forbearance, it might frequently be dangerous. Yet do not think,” he added, after a pause for a moment, “that I intend to decline the task on this account. Honoring your judgment, as I do, feeling such attachment to your noble friend, such eagerness to forward his recovery by whatever means, I willingly forget myself and my opinions. It is not enough that we can risk our life to serve a friend; in the hour of need we should also yield him our convictions. Our dearest passions, our best wishes we are bound to sacrifice in helping him. I undertake the charge; though it is easy to foresee the pain I shall have to suffer from the tears, from the despair of Lydia.”
“And for this, no small reward awaits you,” answered Jarno: “Fräulein Theresa, whom you get acquainted with, is a lady such as you will rarely see. She puts many a man to shame: I may say, she is a genuine Amazon; while others are but pretty counterfeits, that wander up and down the world in that ambiguous dress.”
Wilhelm was struck: he almost fancied that in Theresa he would find his Amazon again; especially as Jarno, whom he importuned to tell him more, broke off abruptly, and went away.
The new, near hope of once more seeing that beloved and honored being, awoke a thousand feelings in his heart. He now looked upon the task which had been given him as the intervention of a special Providence; the thought that he was minded treacherously to carry off a helpless girl from the object of her sincerest warmest love, dwelt but a moment in his mind, as the shadow of a bird flits over the sunshiny earth.
The coach was at the door; Lydia lingered for a moment, as she was about to mount. “Salute your lord again for me,” said she to the old servant; “tell him that I shall be home before night.” Tears were standing in her eyes, as she again looked back when the carriage started. She then turned round to Wilhelm; made an effort to compose herself, and said: “In Fräulein Theresa you will find a very interesting person. I wonder what it is that brings her hither: for, you must know, Lothario and she once passionately loved each other. In spite of the distance, he often used to visit her: I was staying with her then; I thought they would have lived and died for one another. But all at once it went to wreck, no creature could discover why. He had seen me, and I must confess that I was envious of Theresa’s fortune; that I scarcely hid my love from him; that when he suddenly appeared to choose me in her stead, I could not but accept of him. She behaved to me beyond my wishes; though it almost seemed as if I had robbed her of this precious lover. But ah, how many thousand tears and pains that love of his has cost me! At first we met only now and then, and by stealth, at some appointed place; but I could not long endure that kind of life: in his presence only was I happy, wholly happy! Far from him, my eyes were never dry, my pulse was never calm. Once he stayed away for several days: I was altogether in despair; I ordered out my carriage, and surprised him here. He received me tenderly; and had not this unlucky quarrel happened, I should have led a heavenly life with him. But since the time when he began to be in danger and in pain, I shall not say what I have suffered; at this moment I am bitterly reproaching myself that I could leave him for a single day.”
Wilhelm was proceeding to inquire about Theresa, when they reached the lawyer’s house. This gentleman came forward to the coach, lamenting wofully that Fräulein Theresa was already gone. He invited them to breakfast; signifying, however, that the lady might be overtaken in the nearest village. They determined upon following her: the coachman did not loiter; they had soon passed several villages, and yet come up with nobody. Lydia now gave orders for returning; the coachman drove along, as if he did not understand her. As she insisted with redoubled vehemence, Wilhelm called to him, and gave the promised token. The coachman answered, that it was not necessary to go back by the same road; he knew a shorter, and at the same time greatly easier one. He now turned aside across a wood, and over large commons. At last, no object they could recognize appearing, he confessed that unfortunately he had lost his way; declaring at the same time that he would soon get right again, as he saw a little town before him. Night came on; the coachman managed so discreetly that he asked everywhere, and nowhere waited for an answer. He drove along all night: Lydia never closed an eye; in the moonshine she was constantly detecting similarities, which as constantly turned out to be dissimilar. In the morning, things around seemed known to her, and but more strange on that account. The coach drew up before a neat little country-house; a young lady stepped out, and opened the carriage-door. Lydia looked at her with a stare of wonder; looked round; looked at her again; and fainted in the arms of Wilhelm.
Wilhelm was conducted to a little upper-room: the house was new, as small nearly as it could be, and extremely orderly and clean. In Theresa, who had welcomed him and Lydia at the coach, he had not found his Amazon: she was another and an altogether different woman. Handsome, and but of middle stature, she moved about with great alertness; and it seemed as if her clear blue open eyes let nothing that occurred escape them.
She entered Wilhelm’s room, inquiring if he wanted anything. “Pardon me,” said she, “for having lodged you in a chamber which the smell of paint still renders disagreeable: my little dwelling is but just made ready; you are handselling this room, which is appointed for my guests. Would that you had come on some more pleasant errand! Poor Lydia is like to be a dull companion; in other points also, you will have much to pardon. My cook has run away from me, at this unseasonable time; and a serving-man has bruised his hand. The case might happen I had to manage everything myself; and if it were so, why then we should just put up with it. One is plagued so with nobody as with one’s servants; none of them will serve you, scarcely even serve himself.”
She said a good deal more on different matters; in general she seemed to like speaking. Wilhelm inquired for Lydia; if he might not see her, and endeavor to excuse himself.
“It will have no effect at present,” said Theresa; “time excuses, as it comforts. Words, in both cases, are of little effect. Lydia will not see you. ‘Keep him from my sight,’ she cried, when I was leaving her; ‘I could almost despair of human nature. Such an honorable countenance, so frank a manner, and this secret guile!’ Lothario she has quite forgiven: in a letter to the poor girl he declares: ‘My friends persuaded me, my friends compelled me!’ Among these she reckons you, and she condemns you with the rest.”
“She does me too much honor in so blaming me,” said Wilhelm: “I have no pretension to the friendship of that noble gentleman; on this occasion I am but a guiltless instrument. I will not praise what I have done; it is enough that I could do it. It concerned the health, it concerned the life of a man whom I value more than any one I ever knew before. Oh, what a man is he, fräulein; and what men are they that live about him! In their society I for the first time, I may well say, carried on a conversation; for the first time, was the inmost sense of my words returned to me, more rich, more full, more comprehensive, from another’s mouth; what I had been groping for, was rendered clear to me; what I had been thinking, I was taught to see. Unfortunately this enjoyment was disturbed, at first by numerous anxieties and whims, and then by this unpleasant task. I undertook it with submission; for I reckoned it my duty, even though I sacrificed my feelings, to comply with the request of this gifted company of men.”
While he spoke, Theresa had been looking at him with a very friendly air. “Oh, how sweet is it, to hear one’s own opinion uttered by a stranger tongue! We are never properly ourselves until another thinks entirely as we do. My own opinion of Lothario is perfectly the same as yours: it is not every one that does him justice; and therefore all that know him better are enthusiastic in esteem of him. The painful sentiment that mingles with the memory of him in my heart, cannot hinder me from thinking of him daily.” A sigh heaved her bosom as she spoke thus; and a lovely tear glittered in her right eye. “Think not,” continued she, “that I am so weak, so easy to be moved. It is but the eye that weeps. There was a little wart upon the under eyelid; they have happily removed it; but the eye has been weak ever since; the smallest cause brings a tear into it. Here sat the little wart: you cannot see a vestige of it now.”
He saw no vestige; but he saw into her eye; it was clear as crystal; he almost imagined he could see to the very bottom of her soul.
“We have now,” said she, “pronounced the watchword of our friendship: let us get entirely acquainted as fast as possible. The history of every person paints his character. I will tell you what my life has been: do you too place a little trust in me; and let us be united even when distance parts us. The world is so waste and empty, when we figure only towns and hills and rivers in it; but to know of some one here and there whom we accord with, who is living on with us even in silence, this makes our earthly ball a peopled garden.”
She hastened off; engaging soon to take him out to walk. Her presence had affected him agreeably: he wished to be informed of her relation to Lothario. He was called; she came to meet him from her room. While they descended, necessarily one by one, the strait and even steepish stairs, she said: “All this might have been larger and grander, had I chosen to accept the offers of your generous friend: but, to continue worthy of him, I must study to retain the qualities which gave me merit in his eyes.—Where is the steward?” asked she, stepping from the bottom of the stairs. “You must not think,” continued she, “that I am rich enough to need a steward: the few acres of my own little property I myself can manage well enough. The steward is my new neighbor’s, who has bought a fine estate beside us, every point of which I am acquainted with. The good old gentleman is lying ill of gout; his men are strangers here; I willingly assist in settling them.”
They took a walk through fields, meadows and some orchards. Everywhere Theresa kept instructing the steward; nothing so minute but she could give account of it; and Wilhelm had reason to wonder at her knowledge, her precision, the prompt dexterity with which she suggested means for ends. She loitered nowhere; always hastened to the leading points; and thus her task was quickly over. “Salute your master,” said she, as she sent away the man; “I mean to visit him as soon as possible, and wish him a complete recovery.—There now,” she added with a smile, as soon as he was gone, “I might soon be rich: my good neighbor, I believe, would not be disinclined to offer me his hand.”
“The old man with the gout?” cried Wilhelm: “I know not how, at your years, you could bring yourself to make so desperate a determination.”
“Nor am I tempted to it!” said Theresa: “Whoever can administer what he possesses has enough, and to be wealthy is a burdensome affair, unless you understand it.”
Wilhelm testified his admiration at her skill in husbandry concerns. “Decided inclination, early opportunity, external impulse, and continued occupation in a useful business,” said she, “make many things, which were at first far harder, possible in life. When you have learned what causes have stimulated me in this pursuit, you will cease to wonder at the talent you now think strange.”
On returning home, she sent him to her little garden. Here he could scarcely turn himself, so narrow were the walks, so thickly was it sown and planted. On looking over to the court, he could not help smiling: the firewood was lying there, as accurately sawed, split and piled, as if it had been part of the building, and had been intended to continue permanently there. The tubs and implements, all clean, were standing in their places: the house was painted white and red; it was really pleasant to behold. Whatever can be done by handicraft, which knows not beautiful proportions, but labors for convenience, cheerfulness and durability, appeared united in this spot. They served him up dinner in his own room; he had time enough for meditating. Especially it struck him, that he should have got acquainted with another person of so interesting a character, who had been so closely related to Lothario. “It is just,” said he to himself, “that a man so gifted should attract round him gifted women. How far the influence of manliness and dignity extends! Would that others did not come so wofully short, compared with him! Yes, confess thy fear. When thou meetest with thy Amazon, this woman of women, in spite of all thy hopes and dreaming, thou wilt find her, in the end, to thy humiliation and thy shame,—his bride.”
Wilhelm had passed a restless afternoon, not altogether without tedium; when towards evening his door opened, and a handsome hunter-boy stepped forward with a bow. “Shall we have a walk?” said the youth; and in the instant Wilhelm recognized Theresa by her lovely eyes.
“Pardon me this masquerade,” said she; “for now, alas, it is nothing more. But as I am going to tell you of the time when I so enjoyed the world, I will recall those days, by every method, to my fancy. Come along! Even the place, where we have rested so often from our hunts and promenades, shall help me.”
They went accordingly. On the way, Theresa said to her attendant: “It is not fair that I alone should speak: you already know enough of me, I nothing about you. Tell me in the meanwhile something of yourself, that I may gather courage to submit to you my history and situation.”
“Alas!” said Wilhelm, “I have nothing to relate but error on the back of error, deviation following deviation: and I know none from whom I would more gladly hide my present and my past embarrassments than from yourself. Your look, the scene you move in, your whole temperament and manner, prove to me that you have reason to rejoice in your bygone life; that you have travelled by a fair, clear path, in constant progress; that you have lost no time, that you have nothing to reproach yourself withal.”
Theresa answered with a smile: “Let us see if you will think so, after you have heard my history.” They walked along: among some general remarks, Theresa asked him: “Are you free?” “I think I am,” said he; “and yet I do not wish it.” “Good!” said she: “that indicates a complicated story; you also will have something to relate.”
Conversing thus, they ascended the hill, and placed themselves beside a lofty oak, which spread its shade far out on every side. “Here,” said she, “beneath this German tree, will I disclose to you the history of a German maiden: listen to me patiently.
“My father was a wealthy nobleman of this province, a cheerful, clear-sighted, active, able man; a tender father, an upright friend, an excellent economist. I knew but one fault in him; he was too compliant to a wife who did not know his worth. Alas, that I should have to say so of my mother! Her nature was the opposite of his. She was quick and changeful; without affection either for her home, or for me her only child; extravagant, but beautiful, sprightly, full of talent, the delight of a circle she had gathered round her. Her society in truth was never large; nor did it long continue the same. It consisted principally of men; for no woman could like to be near her, still less could she endure the merit or the praise of any woman. I resembled my father, both in form and disposition. As the duckling, with its first footsteps, seeks the water; so, from my earliest youth, the kitchen, the store-room, the granaries, the fields, were my selected element. Cleanliness and order in the house seemed, even while I was playing in it, to be my peculiar instinct, my peculiar object. This tendency gave my father pleasure; and he directed, step by step, my childish endeavor into the suitablest employments. On the contrary, my mother did not like me, and she never for a moment hid it.
“I waxed in stature: with my years increased my turn for occupation and my father’s love to me. When we were by ourselves, when walking through the fields, when I was helping to examine his accounts, it was then I could see how glad he was. While gazing on his eyes, I felt as if I had been looking in upon myself: for it was in the eyes that I completely resembled him. But in the presence of my mother, he lost this energy, this aspect: he excused me mildly, when she blamed me unjustly and violently; he took my part, not as if he would protect me, but as if he would extenuate the dement of my good qualities. To none of her caprices did he set himself in opposition. She began to be immensely taken with a passion for the stage; a theatre was soon got up; of men of all shapes and ages, crowding to display themselves along with her upon her boards, she had abundance; of women, on the other hand, there was often a scarcity. Lydia, a pretty girl, who had been brought up with me, and who promised from the first to be extremely beautiful, had to undertake the secondary parts; the mothers and the aunts were represented by an ancient chambermaid; while the leading heroines, lovers and shepherdesses of every kind, were seized on by my mother. I cannot tell you how ridiculous it seemed to me, to see the people, every one of whom I knew full well, standing on their scaffold, and pretending, after they had dressed themselves in other clothes, to pass for something else than what they were. In my eyes they were never anything but Lydia and my mother, this baron and that secretary, whether they appeared as counts and princes or as peasants: and I could not understand how they meant to make me think that they were sad or happy, that they were indifferent or in love, liberal or avaricious, when I well knew the contrary to be the case. Accordingly, I very seldom stayed among the audience; I always snuffed their candles, that I might not be entirely without employment; I prepared the supper; and next morning before they rose I used to have their wardrobe all sorted, which commonly, the night before, they had left in a chaotic state.
“To my mother this activity appeared quite proper; but her love I could not gain. She despised me; and I know for certain that she more than once exclaimed with bitterness: ‘If the mother could be as uncertain as the father, you would scarcely take this housemaid for my daughter!’ Such treatment, I confess, at length entirely estranged me from her: I viewed her conduct as the conduct of a person unconnected with me; and being used to watch our servants like a falcon (for this, be it said in passing, is the ground of all true housekeeping), the proceedings of my mother and her friends, at the same time, naturally forced themselves upon my observation. It was easy to perceive that she did not look on all the men alike: I gave sharper heed; and soon found out that Lydia was her confidant, and had herself, by this opportunity, become acquainted with a passion, which from her earliest youth she had so often represented. I was aware of all their meetings: but I held my tongue; hinting nothing to my father, whom I was afraid of troubling. At last, however, I was obliged to speak. Many of their enterprises could not be accomplished without corrupting the servants. These now began to grow refractory; they despised my father’s regulations, disregarded my commands. The disorders which arose from this I could not tolerate; I discovered all, complained of all to my father.
“He listened to me calmly. ‘Good girl!’ replied he with a smile; ‘I know it all: be quiet, bear it patiently; for it is on thy account alone that I endure it.’
“I was not quiet, I had not patience. I in secret blamed my father: for I did not think that any reason should induce him to endure such things. I called for regularity from all the servants; I was bent on driving matters to extremity.
“My mother had been rich before her marriage; yet she squandered more than she had a right to; and this, as I observed, occasioned many conferences between my parents. For a long time the evil was not helped; till at last the passions of my mother brought it to a head.
“Her first gallant became unfaithful in a glaring manner: the house, the neighborhood, her whole condition grew offensive to her. She insisted on removing to a different estate; there she was too solitary: she insisted on removing to the town; there she felt herself eclipsed among the crowd. Of much that passed between my father and her I know nothing: however, he at last determined, under stipulations which I did not learn, to consent that she should take a journey, which she had been meditating, to the south of France.
“We were now free; we lived as if in heaven: I do believe, my father could not be a loser, had he purchased her absence by a considerable sum. All our useless domestics were dismissed; and fortune seemed to smile on our undertakings: we had some extremely prosperous years; all things succeeded to our wish. But, alas, this pleasing state was not of long continuance; altogether unexpectedly my father had a shock of palsy; it lamed his right side, and deprived him of the proper use of speech. We had to guess at everything that he required; for he never could pronounce the word that he intended. There were times when this was dreadfully afflicting to us: he would require expressly to be left alone with me; with earnest gestures he would signify that every one should go away; and when we saw ourselves alone, he could not speak the word he meant. His impatience mounted to the highest pitch: his situation touched me to the inmost heart. Thus much seemed certain: he had something which he wished to tell me, which especially concerned my interest. What longing did I feel to know it! At other times, I could discover all things in his eyes: but now it was in vain. Even his eyes no longer spoke. Only this was clear: he wanted nothing, he desired nothing; he was striving to discover something to me; which unhappily I did not learn. His malady revisited him: he grew entirely inactive, incapable of motion, and a short time afterwards he died.
“I know not how it had got rooted in my thoughts that somewhere he had hid a treasure, which he wished at death to leave me rather than my mother: I searched about for traces of it while he lived, but I could meet with none; at his death a seal was put on everything. I wrote to my mother, offering to continue in the house, and manage for her: she refused, and I was obliged to leave the place. A mutual testament was now produced; it gave my mother the possession and the use of all; and I was left, at least throughout her life, dependent on her. It was now that I conceived I rightly understood my father’s beckoning: I pitied him for having been so weak; he had let himself be forced to do unjustly to me even after he was dead. Certain of my friends maintained that it was little better than if he had disinherited me: they called upon me to attack the will by law; but this I never could resolve on doing. I reverenced my father’s memory too much; I trusted in destiny; I trusted in myself.
“There was a lady in the neighborhood possessed of large property, with whom I had always been on good terms: she gladly received me; I engaged to superintend her household, and ere long the task grew very easy to me. She lived regularly, she loved order in everything: and I faithfully assisted her in struggling with her steward and domestics. I am neither of a niggardly nor grudging temper; but we women are disposed to insist, more earnestly than men, that nothing shall be wasted. Embezzlement of all sorts is intolerable to us: we require that each enjoy exactly in so far as right entitles him.
“Here I was in my element once more; I mourned my father’s death in silence. My protectress was content with me: one small circumstance alone disturbed my peace. Lydia returned: my mother had been harsh enough to cast the poor girl off, after having altogether spoiled her. Lydia had learned with her mistress to consider passions as her occupation; she was wont to curb herself in nothing. On her unexpected reappearance, the lady whom I lived with took her in; she wished to help me, but could train herself to nothing.
“About this time, the relatives and future heirs of my protectress often visited the house, to recreate themselves with hunting. Lothario was frequently among them: it was not long till I had noticed, though without the smallest reference to myself, how far he was superior to the rest. He was courteous towards all; and Lydia seemed ere long to have attracted his attention to her. Constantly engaged in something, I was seldom with the company: while he was there I did not talk so much as usual; for, I will confess it, lively conversation, from of old, had been to me the finest seasoning of existence. With my father I was wont to talk of everything that happened. What you do not speak of, you will seldom accurately think of. No man had I ever heard with greater pleasure than I did Lothario, when he told us of his travels and campaigns. The world appeared to lie before him clear and open, as to me the district was in which I lived and managed. We were not entertained with marvellous personal adventures, the extravagant half-truths of a shallow traveller, who is always painting out himself, and not the country he has undertaken to describe. Lothario did not tell us his adventures; he led us to the place itself. I have seldom felt so pure a satisfaction.
“But still higher was my pleasure, when I heard him talk, one evening, about women. The subject happened to be introduced; some ladies of the neighborhood had come to see us; and were speaking, in the common style, about the cultivation of the female mind. Our sex, they said, was treated unjustly; every sort of higher education men insisted on retaining for themselves: they admitted us to no science, they required us either to be dolls or family drudges. To all this Lothario said not much: but when the party was a little thinned, he gave us his opinion more explicitly. ‘It is very strange,’ cried he, ‘that men are blamed for their proceeding here: they have placed woman on the highest station she is capable of occupying. And where is there any station higher than the ordering of the house? While the husband has to vex himself with outward matters, while he has wealth to gather and secure, while perhaps he takes part in the administration of the State, and everywhere depends on circumstances; ruling nothing, I may say, while he conceives that he is ruling much; compelled to be but politic where he would willingly be reasonable, to dissemble where he would be open, to be false where he would be upright; while thus, for the sake of an object which he never reaches, he must every moment sacrifice the first of objects, harmony with himself,—a reasonable housewife is actually governing in the interior of her family; has the comfort and activity of every person in it to provide for, and make possible. What is the highest happiness of mortals, if not to execute what we consider right and good; to be really masters of the means conducive to our aims? And where should or can our nearest aims be, but in the interior of our home? All those indispensable, and still to be renewed supplies, where do we expect, do we require to find them, if not in the place where we rise and where we go to sleep, where kitchen and cellar, and every species of accommodation for ourselves and ours is to be always ready? What unvarying activity is needed to conduct this constantly recurring series in unbroken living order! How few are the men, to whom it is given to return regularly like a star, to command their day as they command their night; to form for themselves their household instruments, to sow and to reap, to gain and to expend, and to travel round their circle with perpetual success and peace and love! It is when a woman has attained this inward mastery, that she truly makes the husband whom she loves a master: her attention will acquire all sorts of knowledge; her activity will turn them all to profit. Thus is she dependent upon no one; and she procures her husband genuine independence, that which is interior and domestic: whatever he possesses, he beholds secured; what he earns, well employed; and thus he can direct his mind to lofty objects, and if fortune favors, he may act in the State the same character which so well becomes his wife at home.’
“He then described to us the kind of wife he wished. I reddened; for he was describing me as I looked and lived. I silently enjoyed my triumph; and the more, as I perceived, from all the circumstances, that he had not meant me individually, that indeed he did not know me. I cannot recollect a more delightful feeling in my life than this, when a man whom I so highly valued gave the preference, not to my person, but to my inmost nature. What a recompense did I consider it! What encouragement did it afford me!
“So soon as they were gone, my worthy benefactress, with a smile, observed to me: ‘Pity that men often think and speak of what they will never execute, else here were a special match, the exact thing for my dear Theresa!’ I made sport of her remark; and added, that indeed men’s understanding gave its vote for household wives; but that their heart and imagination longed for other qualities; and that we household people could not stand a rivalry with beautiful and lovely women. This was spoken for the ear of Lydia; she did not hide from us that Lothario had made a deep impression on her heart; and in reality he seemed at each new visit to grow more and more attentive to her. She was poor and not of rank; she could not think of marriage; but she was unable to resist the dear delight of charming and of being charmed. I had never loved, nor did I love at present: but though it was unspeakably agreeable to see in what light my turn of mind was viewed, how high it was ranked by such a man, I will confess I still was not altogether satisfied. I now wished that he should be acquainted with me, and should take a personal interest in me. This wish arose, without the smallest settled thought of anything that could result from it.
“The greatest service I did my benefactress was in bringing into order the extensive forests which belonged to her. In this precious property, whose value time and circumstances were continually increasing, matters still went on according to the old routine; without regularity, without plan: no end to theft and fraud. Many hills were standing bare; an equal growth was nowhere to be found but in the oldest cuttings. I personally visited the whole of them, with an experienced forester. I got the woods correctly measured; I set men to hew, to sow, to plant; in a short time all things were in progress. That I might mount more readily on horseback, and also walk on foot with less obstruction, I had a suit of men’s clothes made for me; I was present in many places, I was feared in all.
“Hearing that our young friends with Lothario were purposing to have another hunt, it came into my head, for the first time in my life, to make a figure; or that I may not do myself injustice, to pass in the eyes of this noble gentleman for what I was. I put on my men’s-clothes, took my gun upon my shoulder, and went forward with our hunters, to await the party on our marches. They came; Lothario did not know me: a nephew of the lady’s introduced me to him as a clever forester; joked about my youth, and carried on his jesting in my praise, till at last Lothario recognized me. The nephew seconded my project, as if we had concocted it together. He circumstantially and gratefully described what I had done for the estates of his aunt, and consequently for himself.
“Lothario listened with attention; he talked with me; inquired concerning all particulars of the estates and district. I of course was glad to have such an opportunity of showing him my knowledge: I stood my ordeal very well; I submitted certain projects of improvement to him; which he sanctioned, telling me of similar examples, and strengthening my arguments by the connection which he gave them. My satisfaction grew more perfect every moment. Happily, however, I merely wished that he should be acquainted with me, not that he should love me. We came home: and I observed more clearly than before, that the attention he showed to Lydia seemed expressive of a secret inclination. I had reached my object; yet I was not at rest: from that day he showed a true respect for me, a fine trust in me; in company he usually spoke to me, asked my opinion, and appeared to be persuaded that, in household matters, nothing was unknown to me. His sympathy excited me extremely: even when the conversation was of general finance and political economy, he used to lead me to take part in it; and in his absence I endeavored to acquire more knowledge of our province, nay, of all the empire. The task was easy for me: it was but repeating on the great scale what I knew so accurately on the small.
“From this period he visited our house oftener. We talked, I may say, of everything: yet in some degree our conversation always in the end grew economical, if even but in a secondary sense. What immense effects a man, by the continuous application of his powers, his time, his money, even by means which seem but small, may bring about, was frequently and largely spoken of.
“I did not withstand the tendency which drew me towards him: and, alas, I felt too soon how deep, how cordial, how pure and genuine was my love, as I believed it more and more apparent that Lydia and not myself was the occasion of these visits. She, at least, was most vividly persuaded so; she made me her confidant; and this, again, in some degree, consoled me. For, in truth, what she explained so much to her advantage, I reckoned nowise of importance; there was not a trace of any serious lasting union being meditated; but the more distinctly did I see the wish of the impassioned girl to be his at any price.
“Thus did matters stand, when the lady of the house surprised me with an unexpected message. ‘Lothario,’ said she, ‘offers you his hand, and desires through life to have you ever at his side.’ She enlarged upon my qualities, and told me, what I liked sufficiently to hear, that in me Lothario was persuaded he had found the person whom he had so long been seeking for.
“The height of happiness was now attained for me: my hand was asked by a man for whom I had the greatest value; beside whom and along with whom I might expect a full, expanded, free and profitable employment of my inborn tendency, of my talent perfected by practice. The sum of my existence seemed to have enlarged itself into infinitude. I gave my consent; he himself came, and spoke with me in private; he held out his hand to me; he looked into my eyes, he clasped me in his arms, and pressed a kiss upon my lips. It was the first and the last. He confided to me all his circumstances; told me how much his American campaign had cost him, what debts he had accumulated on his property; that, on this score, he had in some measure quarrelled with his granduncle; that the worthy gentleman intended to relieve him, though truly in his own peculiar way, being minded to provide him with a rich wife, whereas a man of sense would choose a household wife at all events; that however, by his sister’s influence, he hoped his noble relative would be persuaded. He set before me the condition of his fortune, his plans, his prospects, and requested my co-operation. Till his uncle should consent, our promise was to be a secret.
“Scarcely was he gone, when Lydia asked me whether he had spoken of her. I answered no; and tired her with a long detail of economical affairs. She was restless, out of humor; and his conduct, when he came again, did not improve her situation.
“But the sun, I see, is bending to the place of rest. Well for you, my friend! You would otherwise have had to hear this story, which I often enough go over by myself, in all its most minute particulars. Let me hasten: we are coming to an epoch, on which it is not good to linger.
“By Lothario I was made acquainted with his noble sister; and she, at a convenient time, contrived to introduce me to the uncle. I gained the old man; he consented to our wishes; and I returned, with happy tidings, to my benefactress. The affair was now no secret in the house: Lydia heard of it; she thought the thing impossible. When she could no longer doubt of it, she vanished all at once: we knew not whither she had gone.
“Our marriage-day was coming near: I had often asked him for his portrait; just as he was going off I reminded him that he had promised it. He said: ‘You have never given me the case you want to have it fitted into.’ This was true: I had got a present from a female friend, on which I set no ordinary value. Her name, worked from her own hair, was fastened on the outer glass; within there was a vacant piece of ivory, on which her portrait was to have been painted, when a sudden death snatched her from me. Lothario’s love had cheered me at the time her death lay heavy on my spirits: and I wished to have the void, which she had left me in her present, filled by the picture of my friend.
“I ran to my chamber; fetched my jewel-box, and opened it in his presence. Scarcely had he looked into it, when he noticed a medallion with the portrait of a lady. He took it in his hand, considered it attentively, and asked me hastily whose face it was. ‘My mother’s,’ answered I. ‘I could have sworn,’ said he, ‘that it was the portrait of a Madame Saint Alban, whom I met some years ago in Switzerland.’ ‘It is the same,’ replied I, smiling; ‘and so you have unwittingly become acquainted with your stepmother. Saint Alban is the name my mother has assumed for travelling with: she passes under it in France at present.’
“ ‘I am the miserablest man alive!’ exclaimed he, as he threw the portrait back into the box, covered his eyes with his hand, and hurried from the room. He sprang on horseback; I ran to the balcony, and called out after him: he turned, waved his hand to me, went speedily away,—and I have never seen him more.”
The sun went down: Theresa gazed with unaverted looks upon the splendor; and both her fine eyes filled with tears.
Theresa spoke not: she laid her hand upon her new friend’s hands: he kissed it with emotion; she dried her tears, and rose. “Let us return and see that all is right,” said she.
The conversation was not lively by the way. They entered the garden-door, and noticed Lydia sitting on a bench: she rose, withdrew before them, and walked in. She had a paper in her hand; two little girls were by her. “I see,” observed Theresa, “she is still carrying her only comfort, Lothario’s letter, with her. He promises that she shall live with him again, so soon as he is well: he begs of her till then to stay in peace with me. On these words she hangs; with these lines she solaces herself; but with his friends she is extremely angry.”
Meanwhile the two children had approached. They courtesied to Theresa, and gave her an account of all that had occurred while she was absent. “You see here another part of my employment,” said Theresa. “Lothario’s sister and I have made a league: we educate some little ones in common: such as promise to be lively serviceable housewives I take charge of; she of such as show a finer and more quiet talent: it is right to provide for the happiness of future husbands both in household and in intellectual matters. When you become acquainted with my noble friend, a new era in your life will open. Her beauty, her goodness, make her worthy of the reverence of the world.” Wilhelm did not venture to confess that unhappily the lovely countess was already known to him: that his transient connection with her would occasion him perpetual sorrow. He was well pleased that Theresa let the conversation drop; that some business called for her within. He was now alone: the intelligence which he had just received, of the young and lovely countess being driven to replace, by deeds of benevolence, her own lost comfort, made him very sad; he felt that with her it was but a need of self-oblivion, an attempt to supply, by the hopes of happiness to others, the want of a cheerful enjoyment of existence in herself. He thought Theresa happy, since even in that unexpected melancholy alteration which had taken place in her prospects, there was no alteration needed in herself. “How fortunate beyond all others,” cried he, “is the man who, in order to adjust himself to fate, is not required to cast away his whole preceding life!”
Theresa came into his room, and begged pardon for disturbing him. “My whole library,” said she, “is in the wall-press here; they are rather books which I do not throw aside, than which I have taken up. Lydia wants a pious book: there are one or two of that sort among them. Persons who throughout the whole twelve months are worldly, think it necessary to be godly at a time of straits: all moral and religious matters they regard as physic, which is to be taken with aversion when they are unwell: in a clergyman, a moralist, they see nothing but a doctor, whom they cannot soon enough get rid of. Now, I confess, I look upon religion as a kind of diet, which can only be so when I make a constant practice of it, when throughout the whole twelve months I never lose it out of sight.”
She searched among the books; she found some edifying works, as they are called. “It was of my mother,” said Theresa, “that poor Lydia learned to have recourse to books like these. While her gallant continued faithful, plays and novels were her life; his departure brought religious writings once more into credit. I, for my share, cannot understand.” continued she, “how men have made themselves believe that God speaks to us through books and histories. The man, to whom the universe does not reveal directly what relation it has to him; whose heart does not tell him what he owes to himself and others,—that man will scarcely learn it out of books; which generally do little more than give our errors names.”
She left our friend alone: he passed his evening in examining the little library; it had, in truth, been gathered quite at random.
Theresa, for the few days Wilhelm spent with her, continued still the same: she related to him, at different times, the consequences of that singular incident with great minuteness. Day and hour, place and name, were present to her memory: we shall here compress into a word or two, so much of it as will be necessary for the information of our readers.
The reason of Lothario’s quick departure was unhappily too easy to explain. He had met Theresa’s mother on her journey; her charms attracted him; she was no niggard of them; and this luckless transitory aberration came at length to shut him out from being united to a lady, whom nature seemed to have expressly made for him. As for Theresa, she continued in the pure circle of her duties. They learned that Lydia had been living in the neighborhood in secret. She was happy that the marriage, though for unknown causes, had not been completed. She endeavored to renew her intimacy with Lothario: and more, as it seemed, out of desperation than affection, by surprise than with consideration, from tedium than of purpose, he had met her wishes.
Theresa was quiet on the subject; she made no pretensions further to him; and if he had even been her husband, she would probably have had sufficient spirit to endure a matter of this kind, if it had not troubled her domestic order: at least she often used to say, that a wife, who properly conducted her economy, should take no umbrage at such little fancies of her husband, but be always certain that he would return.
Ere long, Theresa’s mother had deranged her fortune: the losses fell upon the daughter, whose share of the effects, in consequence, was small. The old lady, who had been Theresa’s benefactress, died; leaving her a little property in land, and a handsome sum by way of legacy. Theresa soon contrived to make herself at home in this new narrow circle. Lothario offered her a better property, Jarno endeavoring to negotiate the business: but she refused it. “I will show,” said she, “in this little that I deserved to share the great with him: but I keep this before me, that, should accident embarrass me, on my own account or that of others, I will betake myself without the smallest hesitation to my generous friend.”
There is nothing less liable to be concealed and unemployed than well-directed practical activity. Scarcely had she settled in her little property, when her acquaintance and advice began to be desired by many of her neighbors; and the proprietor of the adjacent lands gave her plainly enough to understand that it depended on herself alone whether she would take his hand, and be heiress of the greater part of his estates. She had already mentioned the matter to our friend: she often jested with him about marriages, suitable and unsuitable.
“Nothing,” said she once, “gives a greater loose to people’s tongues than when a marriage happens which they can denominate unsuitable: and yet the unsuitable are far more common than the suitable; for, alas, with most marriages, it is not long till things assume a very piteous look. The confusion of ranks by marriage can be called unsuitable, only when the one party is unable to participate in the manner of existence which is native, habitual, and which at length grows absolutely necessary to the other. The different classes have different ways of living, which they cannot change or communicate to one another; and this is the reason why connections such as these, in general, were better not formed. Yet exceptions, and exceptions of the happiest kind, are possible. Thus too, the marriage of a young woman with a man advanced in life is generally unsuitable; yet I have seen some such turn out extremely well. For me, I know but of one kind of marriage that would be entirely unsuitable; that in which I should be called upon to make a show, and manage ceremonies: I had rather give my hand to the son of any honest farmer in the neighborhood.”
Wilhelm at length made ready for returning. He requested of Theresa to obtain for him a parting word with Lydia. The impassioned girl at last consented: he said some kindly things to her; to which she answered: “The first burst of anguish I have conquered. Lothario will be ever dear to me: but for those friends of his, I know them; and it grieves me that they are about him. The abbé, for a whim’s sake, could leave a person in extreme need, or even plunge one into it; the doctor would have all things go on like clock-work; Jarno has no heart: and you—at least no force of character! Just go on; let these three people use you as their tool; they will have many an execution to commit to you. For a long time, as I know well, my presence has been hateful to them: I had not found out their secret, but I had observed that they had one. Why these bolted rooms, these strange passages? Why can no one ever reach the central tower? Why did they banish me, whenever they could, to my own chamber? I will confess, jealousy at first incited me to these discoveries: I feared some lucky rival might be hid there. I have now laid aside that suspicion: I am well convinced that Lothario loves me, that he means honorably by me; but I am quite as well convinced that his false and artful friends betray him. If you would really do him service; if you would ever be forgiven for the injury which I have suffered from you, free him from the hands of these men. But what am I expecting! Give this letter to him: repeat what it contains; that I will love him forever, that I depend upon his word. Ah!” cried she, rising and throwing herself with tears upon Theresa’s neck: “he is surrounded by my foes; they will endeavor to persuade him that I have sacrificed nothing for his sake: Oh! Lothario may well believe that he is worthy of any sacrifice, without needing to be grateful for it.”
Wilhelm’s parting with Theresa was more cheerful: she wished they might soon meet again. “Me you wholly know,” said she: “I alone have talked while we have been together. It will be your duty, next time, to repay my candor.”
During his return he kept contemplating this new and bright phenomenon with the liveliest recollection. What confidence had she inspired him with! He thought of Mignon and Felix; and how happy they might be if under her direction: then he thought of himself; and felt what pleasure it would be to live beside a being so entirely serene and clear. As he approached Lothario’s castle, he observed, with more than usual interest, the central tower and the many passages and side-buildings: he resolved to question Jarno or the abbé on the subject, by the earliest opportunity.
On arriving at the castle, Wilhelm found its noble owner in the way of full recovery: the doctor and the abbé had gone off; Jarno alone was there. It was not long till the patient now and then could ride; sometimes by himself; sometimes with his friends. His conversation was at once courteous and earnest, instructive and enlivening: you could often notice in it traces of a tender sensibility, although he strove to hide it, and almost seemed to blame it, when in spite of him it came to view.
One evening while at table he was silent, though his look was very cheerful.
“To-day,” said Jarno, “you have met with an adventure; and a pleasing one?”
“I give you credit for your penetration!” said Lothario. “Yes, I have met with a very pleasing adventure. At another time perhaps I should not have considered it so charming as to-day, when it came upon me so attractively. Towards night I rode out beyond the river, through the hamlets, by a path which I had often visited in former years. My corporeal sufferings must have reduced me more than I supposed: I felt weak; but as my strength was re-awakening, I was as it were new-born. All objects seemed to wear the hues they had in earlier times; all looked graceful, lovely, charming, as they have not looked to me for many years. I easily observed that it was mere debility; yet I continued to enjoy it; I rode softly onwards, and could now conceive how men may grow to like diseases which attune us to those sweet emotions. You know, perhaps, what used of old so frequently to lead me that way?”
“If I mistake not,” answered Jarno, “it was a little love concern you were engaged in with a farmer’s daughter.”
“It might be called a great one,” said Lothario: “for we loved each other deeply, seriously and for a long time. To-day it happened everything combined to represent before me in its liveliest color the earliest season of our love. The boys were again shaking maybugs from the trees; the ashen grove had not grown larger since the day I saw her first. It was now long since I had met with Margaret. She is married at a distance; and I had heard by chance that she was come with her children some weeks ago to pay a visit to her father.”
“This ride, then, was not altogether accidental?”
“I will not deny,” replied Lothario, “that I wished to meet her. On coming near the house, I saw her father sitting at the door; a child of probably a year old was standing by him. As I approached, a female gave a hasty look from an upper window; and a minute afterwards I heard some person tripping downstairs. I thought surely it was she: and I will confess, I was flattering myself that she had recognized me, and was hastening to meet me. But what was my surprise and disappointment, when she bounded from the door, seized the child, to which the horses had come pretty close, and took it in! It gave me a painful twinge: my vanity, however, was a little solaced, when I thought I saw a tint of redness on her neck and on the ear, which was uncovered.
“I drew up, and spoke a little with the father, glancing sideways, in the meantime, over all the windows, to observe if she would not appear at some of them: but no trace of her was visible. Ask I would not; so I rode away. My displeasure was a little mollified by wonder: though I had not seen the face, it appeared to me that she was scarcely changed; and ten years are a pretty space! Nay, she looked even younger, quite as slim, as light of foot; her neck if possible was lovelier than before; her cheeks as quick at blushing; yet she was the mother of six children, perhaps of more. This apparition suited the enchantment which surrounded me so well, that I rode along with feelings grown still younger: and I did not turn till I was at the forest, when the sun was going down. Strongly as the falling dew, and the prescription of our doctor, called upon me to proceed direct homewards, I could not help again going round by the farmhouse. I observed a woman walking up and down the garden, which is fenced by a light hedge. I rode along the footpath to it; and found myself at no great distance from the person whom I wanted.
“Though the evening sun was glancing in my eyes, I saw that she was busy with the hedge, which only slightly covered her. I thought I recognized my mistress. On coming up, I halted, not without a palpitation at the heart. Some high twigs of wild roses, which a soft air was blowing to and fro, made her figure indistinct to me. I spoke to her, asked her how she was. She answered in an undertone, ‘Quite well.’ In the meantime I perceived a child behind the hedge, engaged in plucking roses, and I took the opportunity of asking where her other children were. ‘It is not my child,’ said she; ‘that were rather early!’ And at this moment it happened that the twigs were blown aside, and her face could be distinctly seen. I knew not what to make of the affair. It was my mistress, and it was not. Almost younger, almost lovelier than she used to be ten years before. ‘Are not you the farmer’s daughter, then?’ inquired I, half confused. ‘No,’ said she: ‘I am her cousin.’
“ ‘You resemble one another wonderfully,’ added I.
“ ‘Yes, so says every one that knew her half-a-score of years ago.’
“I continued putting various questions to her: my mistake was pleasant to me, even after I had found it out. I could not leave this living image of bygone blessedness that stood before me. The child meanwhile had gone away; it had wandered to the pond in search of flowers. She took her leave, and hastened after it.
“I had now, however, learned that my former love was really in her father’s house: while riding forward, I employed myself in guessing whether it had been her cousin or she, that had secured the child from harm. I more than once, in thought, repeated all the circumstances of the incident: I can remember few things that have affected me more gratefully. But I feel that I am still unwell: we must ask the doctor to deliver us from the remains of this pathetic humor.”
With confidential narratives of pretty love-adventures, it often happens as with ghost-stories; when the first is told, the others follow of themselves.
Our little party, in recalling other times, found numerous passages of this description. Lothario had the most to tell. Jarno’s histories were all of one peculiar character: what Wilhelm could disclose we already know. He was apprehensive they might mention his adventure with the countess; but it was not hinted at, not even in the remotest manner.
“It is true,” observed Lothario, “there can scarcely any feeling in the world be more agreeable than when the heart, after a pause of indifference, again opens to love for some new object; yet I would forever have renounced that happiness, had fate been pleased to unite me with Theresa. We are not always youths; we ought not always to be children. To the man who knows the world; who understands what he should do in it, what he should hope from it, nothing can be more desirable than meeting with a wife who will everywhere co-operate with him, who will everywhere prepare his way for him; whose diligence takes up what his must leave; whose occupation spreads itself on every side, while his must travel forward on its single path. What a heaven had I figured for myself beside Theresa! Not the heaven of an enthusiastic bliss; but of a sure life on earth: order in prosperity, courage in adversity, care for the smallest, and a spirit capable of comprehending and managing the greatest. Oh! I saw in her the qualities, which, when developed, make such women as we find in history, whose excellence appears to us far preferable to that of men: this clearness of view; this expertness in all emergencies; this sureness in details, which brings the whole so accurately out, although they never seem to think of it. You may well forgive me,” added he, and turned to Wilhelm with a smile, “that I forsook Aurelia for Theresa: with the one I could expect a calm and cheerful life, with the other not a happy hour.”
“I will confess,” said Wilhelm, “that in coming hither, I had no small anger in my heart against you; that I proposed to censure with severity your conduct to Aurelia.”
“It was really censurable,” said Lothario: “I should not have exchanged my friendship for her with the sentiment of love; I should not, in place of the respect which she deserved, have intruded an attachment she was neither calculated to excite nor to maintain. Alas! she was not lovely when she loved; the greatest misery that can befall a woman.”
“Well, it is past!” said Wilhelm. “We cannot always shun the things we blame: in spite of us, our feelings and our actions sometimes strangely swerve from their natural and right direction; yet there are certain duties which we never should lose sight of. Peace be to the ashes of our friend! Without censuring ourselves or her, let us, with sympathizing hearts, strew flowers upon her grave. But at the grave in which the hapless mother sleeps, let me ask why you acknowledge not the child; a son whom any father might rejoice in, and whom you appear entirely to overlook? With your pure and tender nature, how can you altogether cast away the instinct of a parent? All this while, you have not spent one syllable upon that precious creature, of whose attractions I could say so much.”
“Whom do you speak of?” asked Lothario: “I do not understand you.”
“Of whom but of your son, Aurelia’s son, the lovely child, to whose good fortune there is nothing wanting but that a tender father should acknowledge and receive him.”
“You mistake, my friend,” exclaimed Lothario: “Aurelia never had a son, at least by me: I know of no child, or I would with joy acknowledge it; and even in the present case, I will gladly look upon the little creature as a relic of her, and take charge of educating it. But did she ever give you to believe that the boy was hers, was mine?”
“I cannot recollect that I ever heard a word from her expressly on the subject: but we took it up so, and I never for a moment doubted it.”
“I can give you something like a clue to this perplexity,” said Jarno. “An old woman, whom you must have noticed often, gave Aurelia the child: she accepted it with passion, hoping to alleviate her sorrows by its presence: and, in truth, it gave her many a comfortable hour.”
This discovery awoke anxieties in Wilhelm; he thought of his dear Mignon and his beautiful Felix with the liveliest distinctness. He expressed his wish to remove them both from the state in which they were.
“We shall soon arrange it,” said Lothario. “The little girl may be committed to Theresa; she cannot be in better hands. As for the boy, I think you should yourself take charge of him: what in us the women leave uncultivated, children cultivate, when we retain them near us.”
“But first, I think,” said Jarno, “you will once for all renounce the stage, as you have no talent for it.”
Our friend was struck: he had to curb himself, for Jarno’s harsh sentence had not a little wounded his self-love. “If you convince me of that,” replied he, forcing a smile, “you will do me a service; though it is but a mournful service to rouse one from a pleasing dream.”
“Without enlarging on the subject,” answered Jarno, “I could merely wish you would go and fetch the children. The rest will come in course.”
“I am ready,” answered Wilhelm: “I am restless, and curious to see if I can get no further knowledge of the boy: I long to see the little girl who has attached herself so strangely to me.”
It was agreed that he should lose no time in setting out. Next day he had prepared himself; his horse was saddled: he only waited for Lothario, to take leave of him. At the dinner hour they went as usual to table, not waiting for the master of the house. He did not come till late; and then sat down by them.
“I could bet,” said Jarno, “that to-day you have again been making trial of your tenderness of heart; you have not been able to withstand the curiosity to see your quondam love.”
“Guessed!” replied Lothario.
“Let us hear,” said Jarno, “how it went: I long to know.”
“I confess,” replied Lothario, “the affair lay nearer my heart than it reasonably ought: so I formed the resolution of again riding out, and actually seeing the person, whose renewed young image had affected me with such a pleasing illusion. I alighted at some distance from the house, and sent the horses to a side, that the children, who were playing at the door, might not be disturbed. I entered the house; by chance she met me just within the threshold; it was herself; and I recognized her, notwithstanding the striking change. She had grown stouter, and seemed to be larger: her gracefulness was shaded by a look of staidness; her vivacity had passed into a calm reflectiveness. Her head, which she once bore so airily and freely, drooped a little; slight furrows had been traced upon her brow.
“She cast down her eyes on seeing me; but no blush announced any inward movement of the heart. I held out my hand to her, she gave me hers: I inquired about her husband, he was absent; about her children, she stepped out and called them; all came in and gathered round her. Nothing is more charming than to see a mother with a child upon her arm; nothing is more reverend than a mother among many children. That I might say something, I asked the name of the youngest. She desired me to walk in, and see her father: I agreed; she introduced me to the room, where everything was standing almost just as I had left it; and what seemed stranger still, the fair cousin, her living image, was sitting on the very seat behind the spinning-wheel, where I had found my love so often in the self-same form. A little girl, the very figure of her mother, had come after us; and thus I stood in the most curious scene, between the future and the past, as in a grove of oranges, where, within a little circle, flowers and fruits are living, in successive stages of their growth, beside each other. The cousin went away to fetch us some refreshment; I gave the woman I had loved so much my hand, and said to her: ‘I feel a true joy in seeing you again.’ ‘You are very good to say so,’ answered she: ‘but I also can assure you I feel the highest joy. How often have I wished to see you once more in my life! I have wished it in moments which I regarded as my last.’ She said this with a settled voice, without appearance of emotion, with that natural air which of old delighted me so much. The cousin returned; the father with her: and I leave you to conceive with what feelings I remained, and with what I came away.”
In his journey to the town, our friend was thinking of the lovely women whom he knew, or had heard of: their curious fortunes, which contained so little happiness, were present to him with a sad distinctness. “Ah!” cried he, “poor Mariana! What shall I yet learn of thee? And thou noble Amazon, glorious protecting spirit, to whom I owe so much, whom I everywhere expect to meet, and nowhere see, in what mournful circumstances may I find thee, should’st thou again appear before me!”
On his arrival in the town, there was not one of his acquaintances at home: he hastened to the theatre; he supposed they would be rehearsing. Here, however, all was still; the house seemed empty; one little door alone was open. Passing through it to the stage, he found Aurelia’s ancient serving-maid, employed in sewing linen for a new decoration: there was barely light enough to let her work. Felix and Mignon were sitting by her on the floor: they had a book between them; and while Mignon read aloud, Felix was repeating all the words, as if he too knew his letters, as if he too could read.
The children started up and ran to him: he embraced them with the tenderest feelings, and brought them closer to the woman. “Art thou the person,” said he to her, with an earnest voice, “from whom Aurelia received this child?” She looked up from her work, and turned her face to him; he saw her in full light; he started back in terror; it was old Barbara.
“Where is Mariana?” cried he.
“Far from here,” replied the crone.
“Is the son of that unhappy, and too true and tender-hearted girl! May you never feel what you have made us suffer! May the treasure which I now deliver you, make you as happy as he made us wretched!”
She arose to go away: Wilhelm held her fast. “I mean not to escape you,” said she; “let me fetch a paper that will make you glad and sorrowful.”
She retired; and Wilhelm gazed upon the child with a painful joy: he durst not reckon him his own.
“He is thine!” cried Mignon; “he is thine!” and pressed the child to Wilhelm’s knee.
Barbara came back, and handed him a letter. “Here are Mariana’s last words,” said she.
“She is dead!” cried he.
“Dead,” said the old woman. “I wish to spare you all reproaches.”
Astonished and confounded, Wilhelm broke up the letter; but scarcely had he read the first words of it, when a bitter grief took hold of him; he let the letter fall; and sank upon a seat. Mignon hurried to him, trying to console him. In the meantime, Felix had picked up the letter; he teased his playmate till she yielded, till she knelt beside him and read it over. Felix repeated the words, and Wilhelm was compelled to hear them twice. “If this sheet should ever reach thee, then lament thy ill-starred friend. Thy love has caused her death. The boy, whose birth I survive but a few days, is thine: I die faithful to thee, much as appearances may be against me: with thee I lost everything that bound me to life. I die content; for they have assured me that the child is healthy and will live. Listen to old Barbara; forgive her; farewell, and forget me not.”
What a painful, and yet to his comfort, half-enigmatic letter! Its contents pierced through his heart, as the children, stuttering and stammering, pronounced and repeated them.
“There you have it now!” said the crone, not waiting till he had recovered. “Thank Heaven that having lost so true a love, you have still so fine a child remaining. Your grief will be unequalled, when you learn how the poor good girl stood faithful to you to the end; how miserable she became, and what she sacrificed for your sake.”
“Let me drain the cup of sorrow and of joy at once!” cried Wilhelm. “Convince me, even persuade me that she was a good girl, that she deserved respect as well as love; then leave me to my grief for her irreparable loss.”
“It is not yet time,” said Barbara; “I have work to do, and I would not we were seen together. Let it be a secret that Felix is your son: I should have too much abuse to suffer from the company, for having formerly deceived them. Mignon will not betray us; she is good and close.”
“I have known it long, and I said nothing,” answered Mignon.
“How is it possible?” cried Barbara.
“Whence?” cried Wilhelm.
“The spirit told it me.”
“In the vault, when the old man drew his knife, it called to me: ‘Bring his father,’ and I thought it must be thou.”
“Who called to thee?”
“I know not; in my heart, in my head, I was terrified; I trembled, I prayed, then it called, and I understood it.”
Wilhelm pressed her to his heart; recommended Felix to her, and retired. He had not observed till then that she was grown much paler and thinner than when he left her. Madam Melina was the first acquaintance he met: she received him in the friendliest manner. “Oh, that you might find everything among us as you wished!” exclaimed she.
“I doubt it,” answered Wilhelm; “I do not expect it. Confess that they have taken all their measures to dispense with me.”
“Why would you go away?” replied his friend.
“We cannot soon enough convince ourselves,” said he, “how very simply we may be dispensed with in the world. What important personages we conceive ourselves to be! We think that it is we alone who animate the circle we move in; that, in our absence, life, nourishment and breath will make a general pause: and, alas, the void which occurs is scarcely remarked, so soon is it filled up again; nay, it is often but the place, if not for something better, at least for something more agreeable.”
“And the sorrows of our friends we are not to take into account?”
“For our friends, too, it is well, when they soon recover their composure, when they say each to himself: There where thou art, there where thou remainest, accomplish what thou canst; be busy, be courteous, and let the present scene delight thee.”
On a narrower inquiry, he found what he had looked for; the opera had been set up, and was exclusively attracting the attention of the public. His parts had in the meanwhile been distributed between Horatio and Laertes; and both of them were in the habit of eliciting from the spectators far more liberal applause than he had ever been enabled to obtain.
Laertes entered, and Madam Melina cried: “Look you here at this lucky fellow: he is soon to be a capitalist, or Heaven knows what!” Wilhelm, in embracing him, discovered that his coat was superfine: the rest of his apparel was simple, but of the very best materials.
“Solve me the riddle!” cried our friend.
“You are still in time to learn,” replied Laertes, “that my running to and fro is now about to be repaid; that a partner in a large commercial house is turning to advantage my acquirements from books or observation, and allowing me a share with him. I would give something, could I purchase back my confidence in women: there is a pretty niece in the house; and I see well enough that, if I pleased, I might soon be a made man.”
“You have not heard,” said Frau Melina, “that a marriage has already taken place among ourselves? Serlo is actually wedded to the fair Elmira; her father would not tolerate their secret correspondence.”
They talked, in this manner, about many things that had occurred while he was absent: nor was it difficult for him to observe, that, according to the present temper and constitution of the company, his dismissal had already taken place.
He impatiently expected Barbara, who had appointed him to wait for her far in the night. She was to come when all were sleeping; she required as many preparations as if she had been the youngest maiden gliding in to her beloved. Meanwhile he read, a hundred times, the letter she had given him; read with unspeakable delight the word faithful in the hand of his darling; with horror the announcement of her death, whose approaches she appeared to view unmoved.
Midnight was past, when something rustled at the half-open door, and Barbara came in with a little basket. “I am to tell you the story of our woes,” said she; “and I must believe that you will sit unmoved at the recital; that you are waiting for me but to satisfy your curiosity; that you will now, as you did formerly, retire within your cold selfishness, while our hearts are breaking. But look you here! Thus, on that happy evening, did I bring you the bottle of champagne; thus did I place the three glasses on the table: and as you then began, with soft nursery tales, to cozen us and lull us asleep, so will I now with stern truths instruct you and keep you waking.”
Wilhelm knew not what to say, when the old woman in fact let go the cork, and filled the three glasses to the brim.
“Drink!” cried she, having emptied at a draught her foaming glass. “Drink, ere the spirit of it pass! This third glass shall froth away untasted to the memory of my unhappy Mariana. How red were her lips, when she then drank your health! Ah, and now forever pale and cold!”
“Sibyl! fury!” cried Wilhelm, springing up and striking the table with his fist, “what evil spirit possesses thee and drives thee? For what dost thou take me, that thou thinkest the simplest narrative of Mariana’s death and sorrows will not harrow me enough, but usest these hellish arts to sharpen my torment? If thy unsatiable greediness is such that thou must revel at the funeral table, drink and speak! I have loathed thee from of old; and I cannot reckon Mariana guiltless while I even look upon thee, her companion.”
“Softly, mein herr!” replied the crone; “you shall not ruffle me. Your debts to us are deep and dark: the railing of a debtor does not anger one. But you are right: the simplest narrative will punish you sufficiently. Hear, then, the struggle and the victory of Mariana striving to continue yours.”
“Continue mine?” cried Wilhelm: “what fable dost thou mean to tell me?”
“Interrupt me not,” said she; “hear me, and then give what belief you list: to me it is all one. Did you not, the last night you were with us, find a letter in the room and take it with you?”
“I found the letter after I had taken it with me: it was lying in the neckerchief, which, in the warmth of my love, I had seized and carried off.”
“What did the sheet contain?”
“The expectation of an angry lover to be better treated on the next than he had been on the preceding evening. And that you kept your word to him, I need not be told; for I saw him with my own eyes gliding from your house before daybreak.”
“You may have seen him: but what occurred within; how sadly Mariana passed that night, how fretfully I passed it, you are yet to learn. I will be altogether candid; I will neither hide nor palliate the fact, that I persuaded Mariana to yield to the solicitations of a certain Norberg: it was with repugnance that she followed my advice, nay, that she even heard it. He was rich; he seemed attached; I hoped he would be constant. Soon after, he was forced to go upon his journey, and Mariana became acquainted with you. What had I then to abide! What to hinder, what to undergo! ‘Oh!’ cried she often, ‘hadst thou spared my youth, my innocence but four short weeks, I might have found a worthy object of my love; I had then been worthy of him, and love might have given, with a quiet conscience, what now I have sold against my will.’ She entirely abandoned herself to her affection for you: I need not ask if you were happy. Over her understanding I had an unbounded power; for I knew the means of satisfying all her little inclinations: but over her heart I had no control; for she never sanctioned what I did for her, what I counselled her to do, when her heart said nay. It was only to irresistible necessity that she would yield: but ere long the necessity appeared to her extremely pressing. In the first period of her youth she had never known want: by a complication of misfortunes her people lost their fortune; the poor girl had been used to have a number of conveniences; and upon her young spirit certain principles of honor had been stamped, which made her restless, without much helping her. She had not the smallest skill in worldly matters; she was innocent in the strictest meaning of the word. She had no idea that one could buy without paying: nothing frightened her more than being in debt; she always rather liked to give than take. This, and this alone, was what made it possible that she could be constrained to give herself away, in order to get rid of various little debts which weighed upon her.”
“And could’st not thou,” cried Wilhelm in an angry tone, “have saved her?”
“Oh, yes!” replied the beldame; “with hunger and need; with sorrow and privation: but for this I was not disposed.”
“Abominable, base procuress! So thou hast sacrificed the hapless creature? Offered her up to thy throat, to thy insatiable maw?”
“It were better to compose yourself and cease your reviling,” said the dame. “If you will revile, go to your high noble houses: there you will meet with many a mother full of anxious cares to find out for some lovely heavenly maiden the most odious of men, provided he be the richest. See the poor creature shivering and faltering before her fate; and nowhere finding consolation, till some more experienced female lets her understand that by marriage she acquires the right, in future, to dispose of her heart and person as she pleases.”
“Peace!” cried Wilhelm: “dost thou think that one crime can be the excuse of another? To thy story, without further observations!”
“Do you listen then, without blaming! Mariana became yours against my will. In this adventure at least I have nothing to reproach myself with. Norberg returned; he made haste to visit Mariana: she received him coldly and angrily; would not even admit him to a kiss. I employed all my art in apologizing for her conduct; gave him to understand that her confessor had awakened her conscience; that so long as conscientious scruples lasted one was bound to respect them. I at last so far succeeded that he went away; I promising to do my utmost for him. He was rich and rude; but there was a touch of goodness in him, and he loved Mariana without limit. He promised to be patient; and I labored with the greatest ardor not to try him too far. With Mariana I had a stubborn contest: I persuaded her, nay, I may call it forced her, by the threat of leaving her, to write to Norberg and invite him for the night. You came, and by chance picked up his answer in the neckerchief. Your presence broke my game. For scarcely were you gone when she anew began her lamentation: she swore she would not be unfaithful to you; she was so passionate, so frantic, that I could not help sincerely pitying her. In the end I promised that for this night also I would pacify her lover and send him off under some pretence or other. I entreated her to go to bed; but she did not seem to trust me; she kept on her clothes, and at last fell asleep, without undressing, agitated and exhausted with weeping as she was.
“Norberg came: representing in the blackest hues her conscientious agonies and her repentance, I endeavored to retain him: he wished to see her, and I went into the room to prepare her; he followed me, and both of us at once came forward to her bed. She awoke; sprang wildly up, and tore herself from our arms: she conjured and begged, she entreated, threatened and declared she would not yield. She was improvident enough to let fall some words about the true state of her affections; which poor Norberg had to understand in a spiritual sense. At length he left her, and she locked her door. I kept him long with me, and talked with him about her situation: I told him that she was with child; that, poor girl, she should be humored. He was so delighted with his fatherhood, with his prospect of a boy, that he granted everything she wished; he promised rather to set out and travel for a time than vex his dear and injure her by these internal troubles. With such intentions, at an early hour he glided out; and if you, mein herr, stood sentry by our house, there was nothing wanting to your happiness but to have looked into the bosom of your rival, whom you thought so favored and so fortunate, and whose appearance drove you to despair.”
“Art thou speaking truth?” said Wilhelm.
“True,” said the crone, “as I still hope to drive you to despair.
“Yes, certainly you would despair, if I could rightly paint to you the following morning. How cheerfully did she awake; how kindly did she call me in; how warmly thank me, how cordially press me to her bosom! ‘Now,’ said she, stepping up to her mirror with a smile, ‘can I again take pleasure in myself and in my looks, since once more I am my own, am his, my one beloved friend’s. How sweet is it to conquer! How I thank thee for taking charge of me; for having turned thy prudence and thy understanding, once at least, to my advantage! Stand by me, and devise the means of making me entirely happy!’
“I assented, would not irritate her; I flattered her hopes, and she caressed me tenderly. If she retired but a moment from the window, I was made to stand and watch; for you, of course, would pass; for she at least would see you. Thus did we spend the restless day. At night at the accustomed hour we looked for you with certainty. I was already out waiting at the staircase, I grew weary, and came in to her again. With surprise I found her in her military dress: she looked cheerful, and charming beyond what I had ever seen her. ‘Do I not deserve,’ said she, ‘to appear to-night in man’s apparel? Have I not struggled bravely? My dearest shall see me as he saw me for the first time. I will press him as tenderly and with greater freedom to my heart than then; for am not I his much more than I was then, when a noble resolution had not freed me? But,’ added she, after pausing for a little, ‘I have not yet entirely won him; I must still risk the uttermost, in order to be worthy, to be certain of possessing him; I must disclose the whole to him, discover to him all my state, then leave it to himself to keep or to reject me. This scene I am preparing for my friend, preparing for myself: and were his feelings capable of casting me away, I should then belong again entirely to myself; my punishment would bring me consolation, I would suffer all that fate could lay upon me.’
“With such purposes and hopes, mein herr, this lovely girl expected you: you came not. Oh! how shall I describe the state of watching and of hope? I see thee still before me; with what love, what heartfelt love, thou spokest of the man whose cruelty thou hadst not yet experienced!”
“Good, dear Barbara!” cried Wilhelm, springing up and seizing the old woman by the hand, “we have had enough of mummery and preparation! Thy indifferent, thy calm, contented tone betrays thee. Give me back my Mariana! She is living, she is near at hand. Not in vain didst thou choose this late lonely hour to visit me: not in vain hast thou prepared me by thy most delicious narrative. Where is she? Where hast thou hidden her? I believe all, I will promise to believe all, so thou but show her to me, so thou give her to my arms. The shadow of her I have seen already: let me clasp her once more to my bosom. I will kneel before her, I will entreat forgiveness; I will congratulate her upon her victory over herself and thee; I will bring my Felix to her. Come! where hast thou concealed her? Leave her, leave me no longer in uncertainty! Thy object is attained. Where hast thou hidden her? Let me light thee with this candle, let me once more see her fair and kindly face!”
He had pulled old Barbara from her chair: she stared at him; tears started into her eyes, wild pangs of grief took hold of her. “What luckless error,” cried she, “leaves you still a moment’s hope? Yes, I have hidden her; but beneath the ground: neither the light of the sun, nor any social taper shall again illuminate her kindly face. Take the boy Felix to her grave, and say to him: ‘There lies thy mother, whom thy father doomed unheard.’ The heart of Mariana beats no longer with impatience to behold you; not in a neighboring chamber is she waiting the conclusion of my narrative or fable; the dark chamber has received her, to which no bridegroom follows, from which none comes to meet a lover.”
She cast herself upon the floor beside a chair and wept bitterly. Wilhelm now, for the first time, felt entirely convinced that Mariana was no more; his emotions it is easy to conceive. The old woman rose: “I have nothing more to tell you,” cried she, and threw a packet on the table. “Here are some writings that will put your cruelty to shame: peruse these sheets with unwet eyes if you can.” She glided softly out. Our friend had not the heart to open the pocket-book that night: he had himself presented it to Mariana; he knew that she had carefully preserved in it every letter he had sent her. Next morning he prevailed upon himself: he untied the ribbon; little notes came forward written with pencil in his own hand; and recalled to him every situation, from the first day of their graceful acquaintance to the last of their stern separation. In particular, it was not without acute anguish that he read a small series of billets which had been addressed to himself, and to which, as he saw from their tenor, Werner had refused admittance.
“No one of my letters has yet penetrated to thee; my entreaties, my prayers have not reached thee; was it thyself that gave these cruel orders? Shall I never see thee more? Yet again I attempt it: I entreat thee, come, oh, come! I ask not to retain thee, if I might but once more press thee to my heart.”
“When I used to sit beside thee, holding thy hands, looking in thy eyes; and with the full heart of love and trust to call thee ‘Dear, dear good Wilhelm!’ it would please thee so, that I had to repeat it over and over. I repeat it once again: ‘Dear, dear good Wilhelm! Be good as thou wert; come, and leave me not to perish in my wretchedness.’ ”
“Thou regardest me as guilty! I am so; but not as thou thinkest. Come, let me have this single comfort to be altogether known to thee; let what will befall me afterwards.”
“Not for my sake alone, for thy own too, I beg of thee to come. I feel the intolerable pains thou art suffering whilst thou fliest from me. Come, that our separation may be less cruel! Perhaps I was never worthy of thee till this moment, when thou art repelling me to boundless woe.”
“By all that is holy, by all that can touch a human heart, I call upon thee! It involves the safety of a soul, it involves a life, two lives, one of which must ever be dear to thee. This, too, thy suspicion will discredit: yet I will speak it in the hour of death: the child which I carry under my heart is thine. Since I began to love thee, no other man has even pressed my hand: oh, that thy love, that thy uprightness had been the companions of my youth!”
“Thou wilt not hear me? I must even be silent. But these letters will not die; perhaps they will speak to thee when the shroud is covering my lips and the voice of thy repentance cannot reach my ear. Through my weary life to the last moment this will be my only comfort: that though I cannot call myself blameless, towards thee I am free from blame.”
Wilhelm could proceed no further: he resigned himself entirely to his sorrow; which became still more afflicting, when, Laertes entering, he was obliged to hide his feelings. Laertes showed a purse of ducats; and began to count and reckon them, assuring Wilhelm that there could be nothing finer in the world than for a man to feel himself in the way to wealth; that nothing then could trouble or detain him. Wilhelm bethought him of his dream, and smiled; but at the same time he remembered with a shudder that in his vision Mariana had forsaken him to follow his departed father, and that both of them at last had moved about the garden, hovering in the air like spirits.
Laertes forced him from his meditations; he brought him to a coffee-house, where, immediately on Wilhelm’s entrance, several persons gathered round him. They were men who had applauded his performance on the stage: they expressed their joy at meeting him; lamenting that, as they had heard, he meant to leave the theatre. They spoke so reasonably and kindly of himself and his acting, of his talent and their hopes from it, that Wilhelm, not without emotion, cried at last: “Oh, how infinitely precious would such sympathy have been to me some months ago! How instructive, how encouraging! Never had I turned my mind so totally from the concerns of the stage, never had I gone so far as to despair of the public.”
“So far as this,” said an elderly man who now stepped forward, “we should never go. The public is large; true judgment, true feeling are not quite so rare as one believes; only the artist ought not to demand an unconditional approval of his work. Unconditional approval is always the least valuable; conditional you gentlemen are not content with. In life, as in art, I know well, a person must take counsel with himself when he purposes to do or to produce anything; but when it is produced or done, he must listen with attention to the voices of a number, and with a little practice, out of these many votes, he will be able to collect a perfect judgment. The few, who could themselves pronounce one, for the most part hold their peace.”
“This they should not do,” said Wilhelm. “I have often heard people, who themselves kept silence in regard to works of merit, complaining and lamenting that silence was kept.”
“To-day, then, we will speak aloud,” cried a young man. “You must dine with us, and we will try to pay off a little of the debt we have owed to you, and sometimes also to our good Aurelia.”
This invitation Wilhelm courteously declined: he went to Frau Melina, whom he wished to speak with on the subject of the children, as he meant to take them from her.
Old Barbara’s secret was not too religiously observed by him. He betrayed himself so soon as he again beheld the lovely Felix. “O my child!” cried he; “my dear child!” He lifted him and pressed him to his heart. “Father! what hast thou brought for me?” cried the child. Mignon looked at both, as if she meant to warn them not to blab.
“What new phenomenon is this?” said Frau Melina. They got the children sent away; and Wilhelm, thinking that he did not owe old Barbara the strictest secrecy, disclosed the whole affair to Frau Melina. She viewed him with a smile. “Oh! these credulous men!” exclaimed she. “If anything is lying in their path, it is so easy to impose it on them; while in other cases they will neither look to the right nor left, and can value nothing which they have not previously impressed with the stamp of an arbitrary passion!” She sighed against her will. If our friend had not been altogether blind, he must have noticed in her conduct an affection for him which had never been entirely subdued.
He now spoke with her about the children; how he purposed to keep Felix with him, and to place Mignon in the country. Madam Melina, though sorry at the thought of parting with them, said the plan was good, nay, absolutely necessary. Felix was becoming wild with her; and Mignon seemed to need fresh air and other occupation; she was sickly, and was not yet recovering.
“Let it not mislead you,” added Frau Melina, “that I have lightly hinted doubts about the boy’s being really yours. The old woman, it is true, deserves but little confidence; yet a person who invents untruths for her advantage may likewise speak the truth when truths are profitable to her. Aurelia she had hoodwinked to believe that Felix was Lothario’s son: and it is a property of us women that we cordially like the children of our lovers, though we do not know the mothers, or even hate them from the heart.” Felix came jumping in; she pressed him to her with a tenderness which was not usual to her.
Wilhelm hastened home, and sent for Barbara; who, however, would not undertake to meet him till the twilight. He received her angrily. “There is nothing in the world more shameful,” said he, “than establishing one’s self on lies and fables. Already thou hast done much mischief with them; and now when thy word could decide the fortune of my life, now must I stand dubious, not venturing to call the child my own, though to possess him without scruple would form my highest happiness. I cannot look upon thee, scandalous creature, without hatred and contempt.”
“Your conduct, if I speak with candor,” said the old woman, “appears to me intolerable. Even if Felix were not yours, he is the fairest and the loveliest child in nature; one might purchase him at any price, to have him always near one. Is he not worthy your acceptance? Do not I deserve for my care, for the labor I have had with him, a little pension for the small remainder of my life? Oh, you gentlemen who know no want! It is well for you to talk of truth and honor: but how the miserable being whose smallest necessity is unprovided for, who sees in her perplexities no friend, no help, no counsel; how she is to press through the crowd of selfish men, and to starve in silence, you are seldom at the trouble to consider. Did you read Mariana’s letters? They are the letters she wrote to you at that unhappy season. It was in vain that I attempted to approach you to deliver you these sheets: your savage brother-in-law had so begirt you that craft and cunning were of no avail; and at last, when he began to threaten me and Mariana with imprisonment, I had then to cease my efforts, and renounce all hope. Does not everything agree with what I told you? And does not Norberg’s letter put the story altogether out of doubt?”
“What letter?” asked he.
“Did you not find it in the pocket-book?” said Barbara.
“I have not yet read all of them.”
“Give me the pocket-book: on that paper everything depends. Norberg’s luckless billet caused this sorrowful perplexity; another from his hand may loose the knots, so far as aught may still depend upon unravelling them.” She took a letter from the book; Wilhelm recognized that odious writing; he constrained himself and read:
“Tell me, girl, how hast thou got such power over me? I would not have believed that a goddess herself could make a sighing lover of me. Instead of hastening towards me with open arms, thou shrankest back from me; one might have taken it for aversion. Is it fair that I should spend the night with old Barbara, sitting on a trunk, and but two doors between me and my pretty Mariana? It is too bad, I tell thee! I have promised to allow thee time to think; not to press thee unrelentingly; I could run mad at every wasted quarter of an hour. Have not I given thee gifts according to my power? Dost thou still doubt of my love? What wilt thou have? Do but tell me: thou shalt want for nothing. Would the devil had the priest that put such stuff into thy head! Why didst thou go to such a churl? There are plenty of them that allow young people somewhat. Enough! I tell thee things must alter: in two days I must have an answer; for I am to leave the town; and if thou become not kind and friendly to me, thou shalt never see me more. . . .”
In this style the letter spun itself to great length; turning, to Wilhelm’s painful satisfaction, still about the same point; and testifying for the truth of the account which he had got from Barbara. A second letter clearly proved that Mariana in the sequel also had maintained her purpose; and it was not without heartfelt grief that out of these and other papers Wilhelm learned the history of the unlucky girl to the very hour of her death.
Barbara had gradually tamed the rude Norberg, by announcing to him Mariana’s death, and leaving him in the belief that Felix was his son. Once or twice he had sent her money; which, however, she retained for herself, having talked Aurelia into taking charge of the child. But unhappily this secret source of riches did not long endure. Norberg by a life of riot had impaired his fortune; and by repeated love-affairs his heart was rendered callous to his supposed first-born.
Probable as all this seemed, beautifully as it all agreed, Wilhelm did not venture to give way to joy. He still appeared to dread a present coming from his evil genius.
“Your jealous fears,” said Barbara, who guessed his mood of mind, “time alone can cure. Look upon the child as a stranger one; take stricter heed of him on that account; observe his gifts, his temper, his capacities; and if you do not, by and by, discover in him the exact resemblance of yourself, your eyes must certainly be bad. Of this I can assure you, were I a man, no one should foist a child on me: but it is a happiness for women, that in these cases men are not so quick of sight.”
These things over, Wilhelm and Barbara parted; he was to take Felix with him; she to carry Mignon to Theresa, and afterwards to live in any place she pleased, upon a small annuity which he engaged to settle on her.
He sent for Mignon, to prepare her for the new arrangement. “Master!” said she, “keep me with thee: it will do me good and do me ill.”
He told her that, as she was now grown up, there should be something further done for her instruction. “I am sufficiently instructed,” answered she, “to love and grieve.”
He directed her attention to her health, and showed that she required continuous care and the direction of a good physician. “Why care for me,” said she, “when there are so many things to care for?”
After he had labored greatly to persuade her that he could not take her with him, that he would conduct her to a place where he might often see her, she appeared as if she had not heard a word of it. “Thou wishest not to have me with thee?” said she. “Perhaps it is better; send me to the old harper; the poor man is lonely where he is.”
Wilhelm tried to show her that the old man was in comfortable circumstances. “Every hour I long for him,” replied the child.
“I did not see,” said Wilhelm, “that thou wert so fond of him when he was living with us.”
“I was frightened for him when he was awake; I could not bear his eyes; but when he was asleep, I liked so well to sit by him! I used to chase the flies from him; I could not look at him enough. Oh! he has stood by me in fearful moments; none knows how much I owe him. Had I known the road, I should have run away to him already.”
Wilhelm set the circumstances in detail before her; he said that she had always been a reasonable child, and that on this occasion also she might do as she desired. “Reason is cruel,” said she; “the heart is better; I will go as thou requirest, only leave me Felix.”
After much discussion her opinion was not altered; and Wilhelm at last resolved on giving Barbara both the children, and sending them together to Theresa. This was the easier for him, as he still feared to look upon the lovely Felix as his son. He would take him on his arm, and carry him about: the child delighted to be held before the glass; Wilhelm also liked, though unavowedly, to hold him there, and seek resemblances between their faces. If for a moment any striking similarity appeared between them, he would press the boy in his arms; and then at once, affrighted by the thought that he might be mistaken, he would set him down, and let him run away. “Oh!” cried he, “if I were to appropriate this priceless treasure, and it were then to be snatched from me, I should be the most unhappy man on earth!”
The children had been sent away; and Wilhelm was about to take a formal leave of the theatre, when he felt that in reality he had already taken leave, and needed but to go. Mariana was no more; his two guardian spirits had departed, and his thoughts hied after them. The fair boy hovered like a beautiful uncertain vision in the eyes of his imagination: he saw him, at Theresa’s hand, running through the fields and woods, forming his mind and person in the free air, beside a free and cheerful foster-mother. Theresa had become far dearer to him since he figured her in company with Felix. Even while sitting in the theatre he thought of her with smiles; he was almost in her own case, the stage could now produce no more illusion in him.
Serlo and Melina were excessively polite to him when they observed that he was making no pretensions to his former place. A portion of the public wished to see him act again: this he could not accede to; nor in the company did any one desire it, saving Frau Melina.
Of this friend he now took leave; he was moved at parting with her; he exclaimed: “Why do we presume to promise anything depending on an unknown future? The most slight engagement we have not power to keep; far less a purpose of importance. I feel ashamed in recollecting what I promised to you all, in that unhappy night, when we were lying plundered, sick and wounded, crammed into a miserable tavern. How did misfortune elevate my courage; what a treasure did I think I had found in my good wishes! And of all this not a jot has taken effect. I leave you as your debtor: and my comfort is, that our people prized my promise at its actual worth, and never more took notice of it.”
“Be not unjust to yourself,” said Frau Melina: “if no one acknowledges what you have done for us, I at least will not forget it. Our whole condition had been different, if you had not been with us. But it is with our purposes as with our wishes. They seem no longer what they were, when they have been accomplished, been fulfilled; and we think we have done, have wished for nothing.”
“You shall not, by your friendly statement,” answered Wilhelm, “put my conscience to peace. I shall always look upon myself as in your debt.”
“Nay, perhaps you are so,” said Madam Melina; “but not in the manner you suppose. We reckon it a shame to fail in the fulfilment of a promise we have uttered with the voice. O my friend, a worthy person by his very presence promises us much! The confidence which he elicits, the inclination he inspires, the hopes which he awakens are unbounded: he is, and he continues, in our debt, although he does not know it. Fare you well! If our external circumstances have been happily repaired by your direction, there is a void produced by your departure, in my mind, which will not be so easily filled up again.”
Before leaving the city Wilhelm wrote a copious sheet to Werner. He had before exchanged some letters; but, not being able to agree, they had at length ceased to write. Now, however, Wilhelm had again approximated to his brother; he was just about to do what Werner had so earnestly desired. He could say: “I am abandoning the stage; I mean to join myself with men whose intercourse, in every sense, must lead me to a sure and suitable activity.” He inquired about his property: and it now seemed strange to him, that he had never for so long a time disturbed himself about it. He knew not that it is the manner of all persons who attach importance to their inward cultivation, altogether to neglect their outward circumstances. This had been Wilhelm’s case: he now for the first time seemed to notice, that to work effectively, he stood in need of outward means. He entered on his journey, this time, in a temper altogether different from that of last; the prospects he had in view were charming; he hoped to meet with something cheerful by the way.
On returning to Lothario’s Castle Wilhelm found that changes had occurred. Jarno met him with the tidings, that Lothario’s uncle being dead, the baron had himself set out to take possession of the heritage. “You come in time,” said he, “to help the abbé and me. Lothario has commissioned us to purchase some extensive properties of land in this quarter: he has long contemplated the bargain, and we have now got cash and credit just in season. The only point which made us hesitate was, that a distant trading house had also views upon the same estate; at length we have determined to make common cause with it; as otherwise we might outbid each other without need or reason. The trader seems to be a prudent man. At present we are making estimates and calculations: we must also settle economically how the lands are to be shared, so that each of us may have a fine estate.” The papers were submitted to our friend; the fields, meadows, houses, were inspected; and though Jarno and the abbé seemed to understand the matter fully, Wilhelm could not help desiring that Theresa had been with them.
In these labors several days were spent, and Wilhelm had scarcely time to tell his friends of his adventures and his dubious fatherhood. This incident, to him so interesting, they treated with indifference and levity.
He had noticed, that they frequently in confidential conversation, while at table or in walks, would suddenly stop short, and give their words another application, thereby showing, at least, that they had on the anvil many things which were concealed from him. He bethought him of what Lydia had said; and he put the greater faith in it, as one entire division of the castle had always been inaccessible to him. The way to certain galleries, particularly to the ancient tower, with which externally he was so well acquainted, he had often sought, and hitherto in vain.
One evening Jarno said to him: “We can now consider you as ours, with such security, that it were unjust if we did not introduce you deeper into our mysteries. It is right that a man, when he first enters upon life, should think highly of himself, should determine to attain many eminent distinctions, should endeavor to make all things possible; but when his education has proceeded to a certain pitch, it is advantageous for him that he learn to lose himself among a mass of men, that he learn to live for the sake of others, and to forget himself in an activity prescribed by duty. It is then that he first becomes acquainted with himself; for it is conduct alone that compares us with others. You shall soon see what a curious little world is at your very hand, and how well you are known in it. To-morrow morning before sunrise be dressed and ready.”
Jarno came at the appointed hour: he led our friend through certain known and unknown chambers of the castle, then through several galleries; till at last they reached a large old door, strongly framed with iron. Jarno knocked; the door went up a little, so as to admit one person. Jarno introduced our friend, and did not follow him. Wilhelm found himself in an obscure and narrow stand: all was dark round him: and when he tried to go a step forward, he found himself hemmed in. A voice not altogether strange to him cried: “Enter!” and he now discovered that the sides of the place where he was were merely hung with tapestry, through which a feeble light glimmered in to him. “Enter!” cried the voice again: he raised the tapestry and entered.
The hall, in which he now stood, appeared to have at one time been a chapel; instead of the altar he observed a large table raised some steps above the floor, and covered with a green cloth hanging over it. On the top of this, a drawn curtain seemed as if it hid a picture; on the sides were spaces beautifully worked, and covered in with fine wire netting, like the shelves of a library; only here, instead of books, a multitude of rolls had been inserted. Nobody was in the hall, the rising sun shone through the window, right on Wilhelm, and kindly saluted him as he came in.
“Be seated!” cried a voice, which seemed to issue from the altar. Wilhelm placed himself in a small arm-chair, which stood against the tapestry where he had entered. There was no seat but this in the room; Wilhelm had to be content with it, though the morning radiance dazzled him; the chair stood fast, he could only keep his hand before his eyes.
But now the curtain, which hung down above the altar, went asunder with a gentle rustling; and showed, within a picture-frame, a dark empty aperture. A man stepped forward at it, in a common dress; saluted the astonished looker-on, and said to him: “Do you not recognize me? Among the many things which you would like to know, do you feel no curiosity to learn where your grandfather’s collection of pictures and statues are at present? Have you forgot the painting which you once so much delighted in? Where, think you, is the sick king’s son now languishing?” Wilhelm, without difficulty, recognized the stranger, whom, in that important night, he had conversed with at the inn. “Perhaps,” continued his interrogator, “we should now be less at variance in regard to Destiny and Character.”
Wilhelm was about to answer, when the curtain quickly flew together. “Strange!” said Wilhelm to himself: “Can chance occurrences have a connection? Is what we call Destiny but Chance? Where is my grandfather’s collection; and why am I remembered of it in these solemn moments?”
He had not leisure to pursue his thoughts: the curtain once more parted; and a person stood before him, whom he instantly perceived to be the country clergyman, that had attended him and his companions on that pleasure sail of theirs. He had a resemblance to the abbé, though he seemed to be a different person. With a cheerful countenance, in a tone of dignity, he said: “To guard from error, is not the instructor’s duty; but to lead the erring pupil; nay, to let him quaff his error in deep satiating draughts, this is the instructor’s wisdom. He who only tastes his error, will long dwell with it, will take delight in it as in a singular felicity: while he who drains it to the dregs will, if he be not crazy, find it out.” The curtain closed again; and Wilhelm had a little time to think. “What error can he mean,” said he within himself, “but the error which has clung to me through my whole life; that I sought for cultivation where it was not to be found; that I fancied I could form a talent in me, while without the smallest gift for it.”
The curtain dashed asunder faster than before; an officer advanced, and said in passing: “Learn to know the men who may be trusted!” The curtain closed; and Wilhelm did not long consider, till he found this officer to be the one who had embraced him in the count’s park, and had caused his taking Jarno for a crimp. How that stranger had come hither, who he was, were riddles to our friend. “If so many men,” cried he, “took interest in thee, knew thy way of life, and how it should be carried on, why did they not conduct thee with greater strictness, with greater seriousness? Why did they favor thy silly sports, instead of drawing thee away from them?”
“Dispute not with us!” cried a voice: “Thou art saved, thou art on the way to the goal. None of thy follies wilt thou repent; none wilt thou wish to repeat; no luckier destiny can be allotted to a man.” The curtain went asunder; and in full armor stood the old King of Denmark in the space. “I am thy father’s spirit,” said the figure, “and I depart in comfort, since my wishes for thee are accomplished, in a higher sense than I myself contemplated. Steep regions cannot be surmounted save by winding paths; on the plain, straight roads conduct from place to place. Farewell, and think of me, when thou enjoyest what I have provided for thee.”
Wilhelm was exceedingly amazed and struck: he thought it was his father’s voice; and yet in truth it was not: the present and the past alike confounded and perplexed him.
He had not meditated long when the abbé came to view, and placed himself behind the green table. “Come hither!” cried he to his marvelling friend. He went, and mounted up the steps. On the green cloth lay a little roll. “Here is your indenture,” said the abbé: “take it to heart; it is of weighty import.” Wilhelm lifted, opened it, and read:
Art is long, life short, judgment difficult, opportunity transient. To act is easy, to think is hard; to act according to our thought is troublesome. Every beginning is cheerful; the threshold is the place of expectation. The boy stands astonished, his impressions guide him, he learns sportfully, seriousness comes on him by surprise. Imitation is born with us; what should be imitated is not easy to discover. The excellent is rarely found, more rarely valued. The height charms us, the steps to it do not: with the summit in our eye, we love to walk along the plain. It is but a part of art that can be taught; the artist needs it all. Who knows it half, speaks much, and is always wrong; who knows it wholly, inclines to act, and speaks seldom or late. The former have no secrets and no force: the instruction they can give is like baked bread, savoury and satisfying for a single day; but flour cannot be sown and seed-corn ought not to be ground. Words are good, but they are not the best. The best is not to be explained by words. The spirit in which we act is the highest matter. Action can be understood and again represented by the spirit alone. No one knows what he is doing, while he acts aright; but of what is wrong we are always conscious. Whoever works with symbols only, is a pedant, a hypocrite, or a bungler. There are many such, and they like to be together. Their babbling detains the scholar: their obstinate mediocrity vexes even the best. The instruction which the true artist gives us, opens the mind; for where words fail him, deeds speak. The true scholar learns from the known to unfold the unknown, and approaches more and more to being a master.
“Enough!” cried the abbé; “the rest in due time. Now, look round you among these cases.”
Wilhelm went, and read the titles of the rolls. With astonishment, he found Lothario’s Apprenticeship, Jarno’s Apprenticeship, and his own Apprenticeship placed there, with many others whose names he did not know.
“May I hope to cast a look into these rolls?”
“In this chamber there is now nothing hid from you.”
“May I put a question?”
“Without scruple; and you may expect a positive reply, if it concerns a matter which is nearest your heart, and ought to be so.”
“Good then! Ye marvellous sages, whose sight has pierced so many secrets, can you tell me whether Felix is in truth my son?”
“Hail to you for this question!” cried the abbé, clapping hands for joy. “Felix is your son! By the holiest that lies hid among us, I swear to you, Felix is your son; nor, in our opinion, was the mother that is gone unworthy of you. Receive the lovely child from our hands; turn round, and venture to be happy.”
Wilhelm heard a noise behind him; he turned round, and saw a child’s face peeping archly through the tapestry at the end of the room; it was Felix. The boy playfully hid himself as soon as he was noticed. “Come forward!” cried the abbé; he came running; his father rushed towards him, took him in his arms, and pressed him to his heart. “Yes! I feel it,” cried he, “thou art mine! What a gift of Heaven have I to thank my friends for! Whence, or how, comest thou, my child, at this important moment?”
“Ask not,” said the abbé. “Hail to thee, young man! Thy Apprenticeship is done; Nature has pronounced thee free.”