Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER I.: THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 5: W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
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THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT.
IN the shadow of a mighty rock sat Wilhelm, at a gloomy and striking spot, where the steep mountain-path turned sharply round a corner, and rapidly wound down into the chasm below. The sun was still high, and illuminated the tops of the firs in the rocky valleys at his feet. He was just entering something in his memorandum-book, when Felix, who had been clambering about, came up to him with a stone in his hand. “What do they call this stone?” said the boy.
“I do not know,” replied Wilhelm.
“Is it gold that sparkles so in it?” said the former.
“Nothing of the kind!” replied the other; “and now I remember that people call it ‘cats’-gold.’ ”*
“Cats’-gold!” said the boy, laughing; “why?”
“Probably because it is false, and because cats are thought to be false.”
“I will remember that,” said his son, and put the stone into his leathern wallet; but at the same time pulled out something else, and asked, “What is this?”
“A fruit,” replied his father; “and to judge by its scales it ought to be akin to the fir-cones.”
“It does not look like a cone; why it is round.”
“Let us ask the huntsmen: they know the whole forest and all sorts of fruits; they know how to sow, to plant, and to wait; then they let the stems grow and become as big as they can.”
“The hunters know everything; yesterday the postman showed me where a stag had crossed the road; he called me back and made me observe the track, as he called it. I had jumped across it, but now I saw plainly a pair of claws printed; it must have been a big stag.”
“I heard how you were questioning the postman.”
“He knew a great deal, and yet he is not a huntsman. But I want to be a huntsman. It is glorious to be the whole day in the forest, and to listen to the birds, to know their names and where their nests are; how to take the eggs or the young ones; how to feed them, and when to catch the old ones: all this is so splendid!”
Scarcely had this been said, when there appeared coming down the rugged path an unusual phenomenon. Two boys, beautiful as the day, in colored tunics, which one might rather have taken for small shirts girt up, sprang down one after the other; and Wilhelm found an opportunity of inspecting them more closely, as they faltered before him, and for a moment stood still. Around the head of the elder one waved an abundance of fair locks, which one must needs see first on looking at him; and next his light-blue eyes attracted the glance which lost itself with pleasure in his beautiful figure. The second, who looked more like a friend than a brother, was adorned with smooth brown hair, which hung down over his shoulders, and the reflection of which seemed to mirror itself in his eyes.
Wilhelm had not time to contemplate more closely these two extraordinary, and in such a wilderness quite unexpected beings, when he heard a manly voice shouting down in a emptory yet kindly manner from behind the corner of the rock: “Why are you standing still? Do not stop the way for us!”
Wilhelm looked up; and if the children had caused him to wonder, what now met his eyes filled him with astonishment. A strong and vigorous, but not too tall, young man, lightly clad, with brown complexion and black hair, stepped firmly yet carefully down the rocky path, leading after him a donkey, which first displayed its own sleek and well-trimmed head, and then the beautiful burden which it carried. A gentle, lovable woman was sitting in a large finely-mounted saddle; within a blue mantle, which was wrapped round her, she held a lately-born infant, which she pressed to her bosom and regarded with indescribable love. The same thing occurred to the guide as to the children: he hesitated for a moment when he saw Wilhelm. The animal slackened its pace, but the descent was too steep—the passers-by could not stop, and Wilhelm with wonder saw them disappear behind the projecting wall of rock.
Nothing was more natural, than that this unwonted sight should snatch him from his meditations. He stood up in curiosity and looked down from his place into the depth to see whether they would not somewhere or other come into sight again. And he was just on the point of descending himself to greet these strange wanderers, when Felix came up and said:
“Father, may I not go with these children to their house? They want to take me with them. You must come too, the man said to me. Come! They are waiting down yonder.”
“I will speak to them,” answered Wilhelm.
He found them at a place where the road was less precipitous, and he devoured with his eyes the wonderful forms which had so much attracted his attention. But there were one or two other special circumstances, which before now it had not been possible for him to observe.
The young and active man had in fact an adze on his shoulder, and a long, thin, iron measuring-square.
The children carried tall bunches of bulrushes, as if they were palms; and if from this point of view they resembled angels, on the other hand they dragged along small baskets with eatables, and in this resembled the daily messengers, such as are accustomed to go to and fro across the mountain. The mother, too, when he looked at her more closely, had beneath her blue mantle a reddish delicately-tinted under-garment, so that our friend, with astonishment, was fain to find the Flight into Egypt, which he had so often seen painted, actually here before his eyes.
They greeted one another; and whilst Wilhelm, what with astonishment and absorption, could not utter a single word, the young man said:
“Our children have already made friends just now. Will you come with us, that we may see whether the grown-up people may not come to an understanding too.”
Wilhelm bethought himself a little, and then replied:
“The sight of your little family procession inspires confidence and kindliness, and—I may as well confess it at once—no less curiosity, and a lively desire to know more of you. For at the first moment one might almost ask one’s self whether you are real travellers, or only spirits who take a pleasure in animating this inhospitable mountain with pleasant visions.”
“Then come with us to our dwelling,” said the other.
“Come along!” shouted the children, already dragging Felix along with them.
“Come with us!” said the lady, turning her amiable kindly look from her babe towards the stranger.
Without hesitation, Wilhelm said:
“I am sorry that I cannot follow you immediately. This night at least I must pass at the frontier-house above. My wallet, papers and everything are still lying up there unpacked and unattended to. But, that I may show myself ready and willing to do justice to your kind invitation, I will hand you over my Felix as a pledge. To-morrow I shall be with you. How far is it from here?”
“Before sunset we shall reach our dwelling,” said the carpenter, “and from the frontier-house it will be only an hour and a half more for you. Your boy will augment our family for this night; to-morrow we shall expect you.”
The man and the beast set themselves in motion. Wilhelm with visible pleasure saw his Felix in such good company; he could compare him with the dear little angels, from whom he differed so markedly. For his years he was not tall, but robust, with a broad chest and strong shoulders. In his nature there was a peculiar mixture of authority and obedience; he had already laid hold of a palm-branch and a little basket, whereby he seemed to express both. The procession was already on the point of disappearing a second time round a rocky wall, when Wilhelm collected himself, and shouted after them:
“But how shall I inquire for you?”
“Only ask for St. Joseph’s!” rang from the depth, and the whole vision had disappeared behind the blue walls of shadow. A solemn religious hymn, sung in parts, arose and died away in the distance, and Wilhelm thought that he distinguished the voice of his Felix.
He mounted upwards, and in so doing retarded for himself the sunset. The star of heaven which he had lost more than once, shone on him again as he ascended higher, and it was still day when he arrived at his lodging. Once more he gladdened himself with the grand mountain view, and then withdrew to his chamber, where he at once seized a pen, and spent a part of the night in writing.
Wilhelm to Natalia.
“Now at last is the summit reached—the heights of the mountain chain which will set a more effectual separation between us than the whole stretch of country so far. It is my feeling that one is still ever in the neighborhood of one’s beloved ones as long as the streams flow from us to them. To-day I can still fancy to myself that the twig which I cast into the forest brook might leisurely float downwards to her—might in a few days be stranded in front of her garden; and thus our spirit sends its images, our heart its feelings, more easily downwards. But over there I fear that a partition wall is placed against imagination and feeling. Yet that is perhaps only a premature anxiety; for there, too, it will very likely not be otherwise than it is here.
“What could separate me from thee—from thee, to whom I am destined for ever, although a wondrous fate keeps me from thee, and unexpectedly shuts to me the heaven to which I was standing so near! I had time to collect myself, and yet no time would have sufficed to give me this self-possession, if I had not won it from thy mouth, from thy lips, in that decisive moment. How should I have been able to tear myself away, if the indestructible thread had not been spun, which is to unite us for time and eternity.
“Still, I ought not indeed to speak of all this. I will not transgress thy tender commands. Upon this summit let it be for the last time that I utter before thee the word, separation. My life shall become a journey. I have to discharge the traveller’s special duties, and to undergo tests of a peculiar kind. How often I smile when I read through the rules which my craft has prescribed for me, and those which I myself have made! Much has been observed and much transgressed; but even at the transgression, this sheet, this witness to my last confession, my last absolution, serves me instead of an admonishing conscience, and I make a fresh start. I am on my guard, and my errors no longer rush, like mountain torrents, one upon the top of the other.
“Still, I will willingly confess to you, that I often admire those teachers and leaders of men who only impose on their disciples outward mechanical duties. They make the thing easy to themselves and to the world. For just this part of my obligations, which formerly seemed to me the most arduous and the most wonderful—this I observe most conveniently and most pleasantly.
“I must stay not more than three days under the same roof. I must leave no inn without at least removing one mile from the same. These regulations are really designed to make my years years of journeying, and to prevent the least temptation of settling down occurring to me. I have hitherto scrupulously subjected myself to this condition—nay, not once availed myself of the indulgence allowed. It is in fact here for the first time that I make a halt—that I sleep for a third night in the same bed. From here I send you many things that I have, so far, learned, observed, saved up; and then to-morrow early we descend on the other side, in the first place to a wonderful family—a holy family, I might perhaps say—about which you will find more in my diary.
“Now, farewell, and lay down this sheet with the feeling that it has only one thing to say; only one thing that it might say and repeat forever, but will not say, will not repeat, until I have the happiness to lie again at thy feet, and over thy hands to sob out all that I have had to forego.
“I have packed up. The postman is fastening the wallet upon his frame. The sun has not yet risen, the mists are steaming out of all the valleys, but the sky overhead is bright. We are going down into the gloomy depth, which also will soon brighten up above us. Let me send across to you my last sigh! Let my last glance towards you be still filled with an involuntary tear! I am decided and determined. You shall hear no more complaints from me; you shall only hear what happens to the wanderer. And still, whilst I wish to conclude, a thousand more thoughts, wishes, hopes, and intentions, cross one another. Fortunately they urge me away. The postman is calling, and the host is already clearing up again in my presence, as if I had gone; even as cold-hearted improvident heirs do not conceal from the departing the arrangements for putting themselves in possession.”
[* ] A common name for the mineral mica.