Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIII. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER XIII. - 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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A perfect rest succeeded all the busy movement of the past day. The three friends remained alone standing facing one another, and it was soon obvious that two of them, Lenardo and Friedrich, were moved by a strange unrest. Neither of them concealed that they were impatient to see themselves hindered from taking their share in the departure from this place; they were expecting a messenger, it appeared, and in the meantime nothing sensible or determinate was discussed.
At last the messenger comes, bringing an important packet, upon which Friedrich at once seizes in order to open it. Lenardo prevents him, and says, “Leave it untouched; lay it down on the table in front of us; we will look at it, think, and guess what it may contain. For our destiny is nearer to its decision, and if we are not ourselves masters of it, if it depends upon the understanding, the feelings of others, whether a yes or no, a thus or thus, is to be awaited, then it behoves us to stand calmly, to contain ourselves, to ask ourselves whether we could endure it—as if it were a so-called judgment of God—in whatever way we are enjoined to make a captive of reason.”
“You are not so cool as you wish to appear,” replied Friedrich; “so remain alone with your secrets, and dispose of them as you like; in any case they do not affect me. But meanwhile let me reveal the contents to this old and tried friend, and explain the ambiguous circumstances which we have so long concealed from him.”
With these words he carried off our friend with him, and even on the way exclaimed, “She is found!—found long ago! and the question only is, what is to be done with her.”
“I have found out that already,” said Wilhelm, “for friends disclose to each other most clearly, exactly what they do not mention to each other; the last passage of the diary, where Lenardo, in the very midst of the mountains, remembers the letter that I wrote to him, summoned up in my imagination that good creature in complete communion of soul and feeling; I saw him the very next morning approach her, recognize her, and all else that would ensue. But then I will frankly confess that no curiosity, but honest sympathy, which I have devoted to her, disquieted me on account of your silence and reserve.”
“And chiefly from this point of view,” cried Friedrich, “you have a joint-interest in this very packet that has arrived. The continuation of the diary was sent to Makaria, and we did not wish to spoil for you, by an account of it, the seriously gratifying incident. Now you shall have it, and at once. Lenardo, in the meantime, has surely opened it, and he does not need it for his enlightenment.”
Friedrich hereupon rushed away, after his old fashion, rushed in again, bringing with him the promised book.
“But now I must also find out what is to become of us.”
Hereupon he was off again, and Wilhelm read—
As there must needs be no diary to-day, in order to reach Frau Susanna’s early, I breakfasted hurriedly with the whole family, returned thanks, with private good wishes, and left with the loomfitter, who remained behind, the presents intended for the young women, somewhat richer and more bridal-like than those of the day before yesterday, handing them over secretly to him, at which the good man seemed to be highly delighted.
This time the road was soon got over: after a few hours we saw, in a peaceful, not too broad and level valley, one rocky side of which was lightly washed by the waves of a most limpid lake in which it was reflected, some respectable well-built houses, round about which a better and carefully tended plot of soil, with a sunny aspect, was favorable to a certain amount of gardening. On being conducted by the yarn-man to the principal house, and introduced to Frau Susanna, I had a quite peculiar feeling, as she spoke to us in a friendly fashion, and assured us that she was very glad that we came on Friday, the quietest day in the week, for on Thursday evening the goods that were ready were taken to the lake, and to the town.
To the yarn-man, who interposed, saying, “I suppose Daniel always takes them down,” she replied, “To be sure; he looks after the business as well and faithfully as if it were his own.”
“However, there is no such great difference either.” answered the other; and having undertaken some commissions from the friendly hostess, he hastened off to finish his business in the side-valleys, promising to come back in a few days and fetch me away.
Meanwhile I felt in quite a strange state of mind. At my first entrance a strange presentiment had come over me that she was the much-desired one: on a longer inspection it was not she again, and could not be, and yet at a side view or when she turned round, it was she again: just as in a dream memory and fancy contend with one another.
Some spinning-girls who were behindhand with their work brought it in: the mistress, with the most kindly warning to be industrious, was bargaining with them, but in order to entertain her guest, she left the matter to two girls whom she called Gretchen and Lieschen, and whom I observed all the more attentively, as I wished to discover in any case how they answered to the description of the loomfitter. These two forms led me quite astray, and destroyed all likeness between the object of my search and the housewife.
But I observed the latter all the more attentively, and in every way she seemed to me the worthiest, most amiable being of all that I had seen in my mountain travels. By this time I was sufficiently well instructed in the trade to be able to talk to her about the business, which she understood well, with knowledge: my intuitive sympathy delighted her, and when I asked her whence she got her supply of cotton, the wholesale transport of which across the mountains I had seen a few days before, she replied that this very consignment had included a considerable supply for her. The situation of her dwelling was also on this account fortunate, because the high road leading down to the lake ran at a distance of only about a quarter of an hour lower down her valley, where she either in person, or through an agent, received the bales which were consigned and addressed to her from Trieste; as had actually been the case the day before yesterday.
She now allowed her new friend to look into a large airy cellar, where the supply is stored, in order that the cotton may not get too dry, lose weight and become less pliable. Here too I found, for the most part, collected together what I had already seen in detail. She pointed out this thing and that, one after another, whilst I showed an intelligent interest. Meanwhile she became less talkative: by her questions I could guess that I was supposed to be connected with the trade. For she said that as the cotton had just arrived she was shortly expecting a clerk or partner from the Trieste firm, who after a discreet inspection of her circumstances would take back with him the sum of money due: that this was lying ready for any one who could show his credentials.
Somewhat embarrassed, I tried to turn it off, and looked after her as she just then walked across the room to arrange something. She seemed to me like Penelope among the maids. She returns, and I fancy that something has struck her.
“Then you are not a business man?” she said; “I do not know whence the confidence comes, and how I venture to inquire about your affairs. I certainly do not wish to be inquisitive, but let me know what your purpose is.”
Therewith a strange face looked at me with such familiar, recognizing eyes that I felt completely penetrated, and hardly managed to control myself. My knees, my thoughts, were on the point of failing me, when fortunately some one called her away very hurriedly. I was able to recover myself, to confirm my intention, and keep it as long as possible to myself. For I had a foreboding as if an unfortunate connection were again threatening me.
Gretchen, a really amiable child, led me off in order to show me the artistic fabrics; she did it sensibly and quietly. In order to show her my attention, I wrote down what she said to me in my pocket-book, where it still stands in witness of a purely mechanical process; for I had something quite different in my mind. It runs as follows:—
“The weft of piled as well as of drawn fabric is made, accordingly as the pattern requires, with white loosely spun so-called muggenyarn, at the same time also colored with Turkey-red, of the same kind as the blue yarn which is also used for stripes and flowers. On being clipped the web is wound on cylinders which form a table-shaped frame, round which several persons sit and work.”
Lieschen, who has been sitting amongst the clippers, stands up, joins us, and is eager to put in her word, and in fact in such a way as only to put the other one out by contradiction; and, when in spite of her, I gave more attention to Gretchen, Lieschen fussed about to fetch or take something, and in doing so she twice very distinctly grazed my arm with her soft elbow, without being forced to do so by the smallness of the room,—which did not particularly please me.
The good fair one (she deserves to be so called in a general way, but particularly when compared with the others) took me out into the garden to enjoy the evening sun, before it hid itself behind the mountain. A smile was hovering round her lips, as is often seen when one is hesitating to say something amusing; and in this hesitation I, too, seemed to feel a pleasure. We were walking side by side. I did not venture to give her my hand, glad as I would have been to do so. We both of us seemed to dread words and gestures through which the happy discovery might too soon become mutually evident. She showed me some flower-clusters, in which I at once recognized budding cotton-plants:—
“This is how we rear and foster the seeds that in our occupation are useless, not to say objectionable, and which come to us from such a long distance with the cotton. It is an act of gratitude, and there is a singular pleasure in seeing the living form whose lifeless remains animate our being. Here you see the beginning—the middle you know,—and this evening, if fortune favors, you shall see a joyful conclusion.
“We, the actual manufacturers, or an agent, on Thursday evening take the goods which have come in during the week to the market-boat, and thus, in company with others who pursue the same trade, we arrive at the earliest hour on Friday morning at the town. Here every one takes his goods to the merchants who deal in wholesale and try to dispose of them as well as possible, and perhaps also take ultimately, instead of payment, as much raw wool as is needed.
“But not only do the market-people in the town take away as much raw material as they require for manufacture, together with the profit in cash—they also provide themselves with many other things for their needs or enjoyment. Wherever one out of the family has gone marketing to the town, there expectations, hopes, wishes, nay, often even anxiety and fear, are rife. Storm or thunder may come on, and there is anxiety lest the boat should come to harm! Those who are eager for profit loiter about, and long to hear how the sale of the goods has turned out, and already reckon in advance the amount of clear profit. The inquisitive wait for news from the town; those fond of dress look for articles of dress or fashions, which the traveller was commissioned to bring back with him; and lastly, the sweet-toothed, and especially the children, look for the eatables, even if they should be only seed-cakes.
“The departure from the town is generally delayed until towards evening; then the lake becomes all alive, and the boats, sailing or propelled by the strength of the rowers, glide across its surface. Everything is eager to outstrip the rest, and those who are successful jokingly banter those whom they see forced to lag behind.
“It is a joyous and pretty spectacle at the embarkation on the lake, when its surface, with the surrounding mountains illuminated by the evening glow, is warmly and more and more deeply shaded, when the stars become visible, the curfew bells are to be heard, candles are lighted in the villages on the bank, shining again in the water; then the moon rises, and scatters its light over the nigh motionless surface; the rich landscape flies by, village after village, homestead after homestead, are left behind. Arriving at last in the neighborhood of home a horn is blown, and lights are immediately seen shining here and there in the mountain, and moving down towards the shore. Every household that has a relative in the boat sends some one to help to carry the parcel. We are situated higher up; but every one of us has often enough taken part in this excursion, and so far as business is concerned we are all similarly interested.”
I had listened to her with astonishment to hear how well and beautifully she told it all, and could not refrain from remarking aloud: How could she, in this wild district with so mechanical an occupation, have attained to so much culture.
She answered, looking down with a most amiable, almost roguish smile, “I was born in a fairer and more kindly neighborhood, where clever men rule and dwell, and although as a child I was wild and unruly, yet the influence of highly gifted landowners in their surroundings was unmistakable; the greatest effect, however, upon a youthful being was due to a pious bringing up, which developed in me a certain sense of the just and proper, as derived from the omnipresence of divine love.
“We emigrated,” she continued—and the pretty smile forsook her lips; a suppressed tear filled her eye—“we wandered far, far, from one neighborhood to another, guided by religious indications and recommendations: at last we came hither to this most active region. The house in which you find me was occupied by people of like mind; they received us with confidence: my father spoke the same language in the same sense: we soon seemed to belong to the family.
“In all the business of the house and handicraft I took a vigorous part: and all of which you now see me the manager, I gradually learned, practised, and became proficient in. The son of the house, a few years my elder, well-made and handsome in face, fell in love with me, and made me his confidential friend. He was of a strong and at the same time refined nature; piety as it was practised in the house found no acceptance with him: it did not satisfy him. He secretly read books which he managed to buy for himself in the town, of the sort which impart a more general, a freer tenor to the mind, and when he observed in me a similar tendency and a similar disposition, he took pains gradually to impart to me that which so earnestly occupied him. At last, when I entered into it all, he no longer abstained from disclosing to me his whole secret. And we really were a thoroughly wonderful couple, conversing in our lonely walks only on such principles as make people independent, whilst our actual terms of attachment seemed to consist only in mutually confirming one another in ideas of the kind by which people generally become completely alienated from each other.”
Although I did not look closely at her, but only glanced up from time to time as if by accident, yet I observed with astonishment and sympathy that her features immediately and entirely expressed the sense of her words. After a momentary silence her face brightened.
“I must make a confession,” she said, “with regard to your principal question, in order that you may be better able to account for my readiness of speech, which may often seem not quite natural.
“Unfortunately we were obliged to dissemble before the others, and although were closely on our guard against lying, and being deceitful in the vulgar sense, yet we actually were so in a more refined sense, inasmuch as we could not find any excuse for not attending the well-frequented meetings of brethren and sisters. But while we were forced to hear there a good deal against our convictions, still he soon made me see and understand that it did not all come freely from the heart, but that a good deal of verbiage, images, comparisons, traditional forms of speech, and a repetition of similar lines, were forever revolving round as if on a general axis. I now paid better attention, and picked up the language so closely, that I could have delivered a sermon as well, at any rate, as any superintendent. At first the good man was delighted at this: at last he grew impatient from satiety, so that to pacify him I adopted the opposite course, listened to him all the more attentively, and was able a week afterwards to repeat to him his cordially true sermon, with at least approximating freedom, and no very dissimilar spiritual character.
“Thus our connection grew into the most intimate bond, and a passion for any recognizable form of truth and goodness, as well as any practicable exercise of the same, was what actually united us.
“In thinking what it was that occasioned you to ask me for such a narrative as this, I recollect it was my lively description of a happily spent market-day. Do not wonder at this; for indeed it was a joyous, heartfelt contemplation of charming and sublime natural scenery that gave me and my bridegroom in peaceful and unoccupied hours our most charming converse. Excellent national poets had awakened and fostered the feeling in us. Haller’s ‘Alps,’ Gesner’s ‘Idylls,’ Kleist’s ‘Spring,’ were often repeated by us, and we regarded the world that surrounded us, sometimes from its graceful, sometimes from its elevated side.
“I still like to remember how we two, keen and far-sighted, tried to vie, and often hastily, in making each other observe the phenomena in the earth and sky, endeavoring to surpass and overbid each other. This was the finest recreation, not only from the daily task, but also from those serious conversations which often plunged us only too deeply within ourselves, and threatened in that respect to disturb our peace.
“About this time a traveller, probably under a fictitious name, called at our house. We don’t intrude further on him, since his character at once inspires our confidence; he behaves in everything with the greatest propriety, and is becomingly attentive in our assemblies. On being conducted about the mountain-side by my friend, he proved himself serious, observant and full of knowledge. I, too, take part in their moral discussions, in which everything that can be important to a thoughtful man comes by degrees under debate. Here he very soon remarks something uncertain in our mode of thought in reference to things divine. Religious expressions had become trite to us: the kernel which they should have contained had escaped us. So he made us observe the danger of our position, how precarious must be our divergence from the tradition with which, from our youth up, so much had been associated: it was in the highest degree dangerous, particularly in the state of imperfection of our own minds. It was true that religion, practised every day and every hour, at last became only a pastime and acted as a sort of police upon the outward demeanor, but no longer on the depths of the understanding: the only remedy for that was to call forth from our own hearts thoughts equally valid, equally effective, and equally soothing in a moral sense.
“Our parents had silently anticipated our union, and I know not how it was, but the presence of our new friend hastened the betrothal. It seemed to be his wish to celebrate this confirmation of our happiness in our quiet circle, and then too he must needs hear how the superintendent took the opportunity of reminding us of the Bishop of Laodicea, and of the great danger of lukewarmness which they thought that they had observed in us. We spoke of these subjects yet a few times; and he left behind for us a paper relating thereto, which I afterwards often had reason to look at again.
“He then left us, and it seemed as if every good spirit had gone away with him. It is not a new remark how the appearance of a great man in any circle makes an epoch, and on his departure there appears a gap in which a casual misfortune will often penetrate. And now let me cast a veil over what followed: through an accident the precious life of my betrothed, his noble form, was suddenly destroyed. He steadfastly devoted his last hours to seeing himself joined to me, inconsolable as I was, and securing me in the right to his inheritance. But what made this blow still more painful to the parents was that shortly before they had lost a daughter, and thus saw themselves in a most special sense bereaved; whereby their tender souls were so stricken that their lives were not long spared. They soon followed their dear ones; and yet another misfortune overtook me; for my father, struck with apoplexy, has still preserved, it is true, his bodily consciousness of the world, but neither spiritual nor physical activity in it. And thus I really had need of that self-dependence in the greatest stress and isolation, in which I had formerly practised myself when looking forward to a happy union and pleasant companionship in life, and in which but shortly before I had singularly confirmed myself by help of the pure, encouraging precepts of the mysterious traveller.
“Yet I ought not to be ungrateful, since in these circumstances I have still a trusty helper left, who as my agent looks after everything that in such businesses seems to fall to the lot of manly activity. If he comes back from the town this evening and you have been able to make his acquaintance, you will see my wonderful dependence upon him.”
I had said a good deal in the meantime, and by approving and confidential sympathy tried to open out her heart more and more, and keep up the flow of her speech. I did not avoid touching quite closely what as yet had not been fully outspoken: she too was always drawing nearer to it, and we had got so far that on the slightest pretext the open secret would have come forth in words.
She stood up and said, “Let us go to my father.” She hastened on, and I followed slowly. I shook my head over the strange situation in which I found myself. She showed me into a very neat back room, where the good old man sat motionless in the arm-chair. He was little altered. I went up to him: he at first looked at me with a rigid stare, then with more animated eyes; his features grew bright, he tried to move his lips, and when I stretched out my hand to take his as it lay, he grasped mine of his own accord, pressed it, and jumped to his feet, stretching out his arms towards me. “O God!” he exclaimed, “Squire Lenardo! it is he, it is he himself!”
I could not refrain from pressing him to my heart; he sank back into the chair, his daughter ran forward to help him; she too exclaimed, “It is he! It is you, Lenardo!”
The younger niece had come in; they led the father, who all at once was able to walk again, to his bedroom, and turning towards me he said quite distinctly, “How happy! happy! we shall meet again soon!”
I stood still, looking straight before me and thinking; Mariechen came back, and handed me a paper with the information that it was the one referred to. I at once recognized Wilhelm’s hand, even as before his person had occurred to me from the description. Many strange faces crowded round about me; there was a peculiar excitement in the entrance. And what a repelling sensation it is, from the enthusiasm of a genuine recognition, from the assurance of a grateful recollection, the appreciation of a wonderful event in life, and whatever else ardent and beautiful that may arise in us therewith—to be brought back all at once to the uncouth reality of a distracted every-day dulness.
This time Friday evening was not so generally cheerful and merry as it otherwise might have been. The agent had not returned from the town in the market-boat. He would come by another opportunity, and bring with him all that had been ordered and promised. The neighbors, young and old, who as usual had gathered together in expectation, pulled long faces: Lieschen especially, who had gone to meet him, seemed in a very bad humor.
I had taken refuge in my room, keeping the papers in my hand without looking into them: for it had already given me some private vexation to find from her narrative that Wilhelm had accelerated the betrothal. “Thus are all friends, they are all diplomatists: instead of responding honestly to our confidence, they pursue their own plans, thwart our wishes, and lead our destiny astray!” Thus I exclaimed: however, I soon recovered from my injustice, allowed that my friend was right, especially in view of the present situation, and no longer forbore to read what follows.
“Every human being, from the earliest moment of his life, is first unconscious, then half-conscious, and at last wholly so: he finds himself forever controlled, limited in his position; but as no one knows the end and aim of his existence, or rather, as its secret is withheld by the hand of the Most High, he therefore only gropes about, grasps at, leaves hold, stands still, moves, lingers and worries, and so on in so manifold ways, as all the errors which confuse us arise.
“Even the wisest is compelled in daily life to be wise for the moment, and by that means attains no enlightenment in the universal. Seldom does he know for certain whither he has to turn in the future, and what he really has to do and to leave undone.
“Happily all these, and yet a hundred other wondrous questions are answered by your incessantly active course of life. Persevere in direct observance of the day’s duty, and thereby test the purity of your heart, and the safety of your soul. If thus in unoccupied hours you aspire, and find opportunity to elevate yourself, you will so gain a right attitude towards the sublime, to which we must in every way reverently surrender ourselves, regard every occurrence with veneration, and acknowledge therein a higher guidance.”
Absorbed in thoughts in whose wondrous mazes a feeling soul will gladly accompany me with sympathy, I had with daybreak walked to and from the lake. The housewife (I was glad to be unable to think of her as a widow) showed herself just when she was wanted, first at the window, then at the door: she told me that her father had slept well, had woke up in good spirits, and had declared in distinct words that he desired to remain in bed, and to see me, not to-day, but to-morrow after service, when he would certainly feel well strengthened. She then said to me that to-day she intended to leave me a good deal alone: for her it was a very busy day; she came down-stairs and gave me an account of it.
I listened to her, only for the sake of hearing her; at the same time I satisfied myself that she seemed to be thoroughly penetrated by the business, invested with it, as traditional duty, and was busy by her own consent.
She continued: “It is usual and understood that the web be ready towards the end of the week, and on Saturday afternoon be taken to the contractor, who looks through it, measures and weighs it, in order to ascertain that the work is properly done and free from blemish, and whether the proper amount in weight and measure has been delivered to him; and if all is found to be correct, he then pays the wages agreed upon. He is careful, on his own part, to free the woven piece from all manner of threads and knots that may be attached to it, to lay it down in the neatest way, keeping the side that is finest and most free from blemish upwards to the sight, and thus to make the goods acceptable in the highest degree.”
In the meantime a number of weaving girls were coming in from the mountain, bringing their wares to the house, amongst whom, too, I noticed her who employed our loomfitter. She thanked me very kindly for the present I had left behind me, and prettily told me that the loomfitter was with them, and was working to-day at their loom, and had assured her as she left that what he was doing to it would be seen directly by Frau Susanna in the work. Thereupon she went like the rest into the house, and I could not refrain from asking the dear good-wife, “For Heaven’s sake, how did you come by this extraordinary name?”
“It is the third,” she said, “that they have imposed upon me: I willingly assented, for my father- and mother-in-law wished it. It was the name of their lost daughter, whose place they wished me to take, and the name is ever the best and most living substitute for the person.”
To this I answered, “A fourth has been found already. I would name you Fair-good-one if it depended on me.”
She made a very pretty humble curtsey, and managed to combine and set-off her delight at the recovery of her father with her pleasure at seeing me again, in such a way that I thought I had never heard and felt anything more flattering and delightful in all my life.
The Fair-good-one, summoned twice or thrice into the house, handed me over to a sensible well-informed man, who was told to show me the curiosities of the mountain. We went together, under the finest sky, through richly varied tracts. But it may be taken for granted that neither rock nor wood nor waterfall, still less mills and smithies, or even families who worked cleverly enough in wood, could gain any attention from me. However, the excursion was arranged for the whole day; the porter carried a fine breakfast in his knapsack; at midday we found a good meal in the counting-house of a mine where no one could quite make me out; for to active people nothing is more objectionable than an empty indifference simulating interest.
But least of all did the guide understand me; the yarn-man had recommended me to him with great praise of my fine technical knowledge and special interest in such things. That good man had also told him of my copious writing down and noting, for which his fellow-mountaineer had likewise prepared himself. My guide waited a long time for me to pull out my note-book, which at last he somewhat impatiently inquired after.
Midday had almost come before I could see my dear friend again. The family service, at which she did not want me to be present, was held in the meantime; the father had taken part in it, and uttering words most edifying, distinctly and intelligently, he had moved her and all who were present to the most heartfelt tears.
“They were,” she said, “familiar proverbs, rhymes, expressions and turns that I had heard a hundred times and been vexed at as hollow sounds: but now they flowed forth so heartily molten together, quietly glowing, and free from slag, just as we see the molten metal flow out into the mould. I was afraid and anxious that he would exhaust himself in these outpourings: however, he let himself be taken quite cheerfully to bed: he wished quietly to collect himself, and to have the guest summoned to him as soon as he felt strong enough.”
After dinner our talk became more animated and confidential: but for this very reason I could the better feel and perceive that she was keeping something back, that she was struggling with disquieting thoughts, so that she did not quite succeed in brightening up her face. After I had tried one way and another to get her to speak out, I frankly said that I fancied I saw in her a certain dulness, an expression of anxiety: whether they were domestic or business troubles, she ought to confide in me. I was rich enough to pay her an old debt in any way.
She denied with a smile that this was the case. “I thought,” she continued, “when you first came, that you were one of the firm who give me credit in Trieste, and I was well pleased that I had my money ready at hand, whether they wanted the whole sum or a part of it. What troubles me is, nevertheless, a business anxiety, unfortunately not for the moment, no! for the whole future. The machinery that is getting the upper-hand frightens me and makes me anxious: it comes rolling on like a thunderstorm, slowly, slowly, but it has taken its direction; it will come, and strike. My husband was penetrated even by this melancholy conviction. People think about it, talk of it, and neither thinking nor talking can be of any use; and who would like to realize such horrors! Only think that there are many valleys winding through the mountain, like that through which you came down; that comely joyous life still flits before you, as you have seen it there during these past days, whereof the gayly dressed crowd thronging from all directions yesterday gave the happiest evidence, bethink you, how this will little by little collapse, die out, and the desert animated and peopled for centuries will again fall back into its primeval solitude.
“There remain only two roads to choose from; one as sad as the other—either to take to the new state of things one’s self and hasten on ruin, or to break up, take the best and worthiest along with us, and seek a better destiny beyond the sea. One as well as the other has its dangers, but who is there to help us to weigh the reasons which should decide us? I know very well that people are going about in the neighborhood with the idea of setting up machines, and taking the bread out of the mouths of the common people. I cannot blame any one for thinking of himself first. But I should think myself despicable if I were to plunder these poor people, and see them go away at last poor and helpless: and go away they must, sooner or later. They forbode it, they know it, they say it, and no one decides to take any saving step. And yet where is the resolution to come from? is it not as difficult to every one as to me?
“My betrothed had made up his mind to emigrate with me: he often communed with himself about the means and ways of getting himself free from here. He looked about for the better men, whom one could gather round one’s self, with whom one could make common cause; whom one could draw to one and take away with one; we longed, with perhaps too youthful hopefulness, for lands where that might count for duty and right that here would be a crime. Now the case is just the opposite. The honest helper, who remained to me after my husband’s death, excellent in every sense, attached to me by friendship and love, is of a quite contrary opinion.
“I must speak of him before you have seen him: I would rather have done it afterwards, because personal presence clears up many a riddle. About the same age as my husband, he attached himself as a poor little boy to his well-to-do, kindly-disposed playmate; to the family, the house, and the business. They grew up together, and held together, and the pair were of quite different natures: the one frank and communicative, the other oppressed in early youth, reserved, holding firmly to the least acquired possession, of pious disposition it is true, but thinking more of himself than of others.
“I know very well that from the first he had turned his eyes towards me (he might well do so, for I was poorer than he), yet he kept himself in the background as soon as he noticed his friend’s attachment to me. By steady industry, energy and trustworthiness, he soon made himself a partner in the business. My husband secretly entertained the thought of settling him here when we emigrated, and intrusting him with everything that was left. Soon after our excellent one’s death he approached me, and before long he did not conceal the fact that he was a suitor for my hand. But now came the doubly wonderful circumstance that he steadfastly declared himself against emigration, and, on the contrary, eagerly urged that we should even set up machines. His reasons are certainly cogent, for on our mountain there lives a man, who, if he liked to abandon our simpler appliances, and construct more complicated ones for himself, could easily bring us to ruin. This—in his own department a very skilful man (we call him the loomfitter)—is a dependent of a well-to-do family in the neighborhood, and one might well believe that he intended to make use of this rising discovery for the benefit of himself and his patrons. There is nothing to be said against my assistant’s arguments, for too much time has in a way been already wasted, and if they get the start, we must, even at a loss, take the same course. This is what frightens me and makes me anxious; it is this, my dearest friend, that makes you seem to me like a guardian angel.”
I had little that was consoling to say in reply; I must needs find the case complicated enough to demand time for me to think over it.
“However,” she continued, “I have still much to disclose, which will make my situation seem yet more wonderful to you. The young man, to whom personally I am not averse, but who would by no means supply the place of my husband, nor win my special affection” (she sighed as she said this), “has lately become decidedly more urgent; his representations are as amiable as they are sensible. The necessity of giving him my hand, the imprudence of thinking of emigration, and thus neglecting the only real means of self-preservation, are not to be denied; and my opposition, my whim of emigrating, seems to him to agree so little with the rest of my disposition to good management, that at our last somewhat hasty conversation I could detect the supposition that my affections must be placed elsewhere.”
She brought out this last sentence with hesitation, and looked down before her. What passed through my soul at these words let anyone imagine, and yet as reflection followed with the speed of lightning, I could not but feel that every word would increase the complication; and yet, at once, as I stood thus before her, I was most distinctly conscious that I had got to love her most profoundly, and I had to employ all that was left me of rational intelligent strength to refrain from offering her my hand forthwith. “Yet she could leave everything behind her,” I thought, “if she follows me.” However, the sorrows of past years held me back. “Shouldst thou cherish a false hope, to repent of it your life long?”
We had both stood for some time in silence, when Lieschen, whom I had not seen enter, surprised us by coming up and asking permission to spend this evening at the neighboring forge. It was granted with hesitation.
I had in the meantime collected myself, and began to tell, in a general way, how in my travels I had long seen all this coming on—how the impulse and necessity for emigration was growing stronger every day; and yet this always involved the greatest risk. To hurry away unprepared brought an unhappy return. No other undertaking demanded so much foresight and guidance as this.
This view was not new to her; she had thought a great deal about all contingencies; but at last she said, with a deep sigh, “During these days of your stay here I have been continually hoping to gain comfort by confidential communication, but I feel in a worse position than before; I feel most deeply how unhappy I am.”
She looked up to me, but to hide the tears welling out of her good and beautiful eyes, turned round and went a few paces apart.
I will not excuse myself; but the wish to distract at least, if not to comfort this noble soul, gave me the idea of speaking to her of the wonderful reunion of several wanderers and parted friends in which I had had a share some time ago. I had unwittingly so far expatiated that I should scarcely have been able to restrain myself, when I became aware of how imprudent my confidence might have been. She calmed herself, wondered, brightened up, disclosed her whole being, and questioned me with such fondness and cleverness, that I was no longer able to avoid confessing everything to her.
Gretchen came in, and said that we might go to her father. The girl seemed very thoughtful and vexed as she went out. Fair-good-one said to her, “Lieschen has leave to go out this evening; you will look after the business.”
“You should not have given it,” replied Gretchen; “she is after no good. You indulge the mischievous thing more than is right, and trust her more than you ought. I have just found out that she wrote a letter to him yesterday evening: she listened to your conversation: now she is going to meet him.”
A child who had in the meantime remained with the father begged me to make haste: the good man was restless. We went in: cheerful, nay, strangely beautiful he was, sitting up in bed.
“Children,” said he, “I have spent these hours in continual prayer; not one of all David’s Psalms of thankfulness and praise has been passed over by me; and to them I add from my own mind, with confirmed faith: Wherefore hopeth man only when near at hand? Then he must act, and help himself; from afar should he hope and trust in God.”
He grasped Lenardo’s hand, and then the hand of his daughter, and laying them one in the other he said, “This must not be an earthly, it must be a heavenly bond: as brother and sister love, trust, serve and help one another, as unselfishly as may God help you;” as he said this he sank back with a heavenly smile, and was gone home. The daughter threw herself down by the bed, Lenardo close by her: their cheeks touched, their tears flowed together upon his hand.
The assistant at this moment runs in, and is transfixed at the scene. With a wild look, shaking his black locks, the handsome young man cries, “He is dead, at the moment when I was about to appeal urgently to his restored speech to decide my fate and his daughter’s—the being whom next to God I love the most, for whom I desired a sound heart, a heart that could feel the worth of my affection! For me she is lost, she kneels near another! Has he given you his blessing? Say only that it is so!”
The noble creature had meanwhile risen to her feet: Lenardo had got up and recovered himself. She said, “I recognize you no longer, the gentle, pious, and all at once so distracted man: yet do you not know how grateful I am to you, what I think of you?”
“It is not a question of thanking and thinking,” replied the other, quieted, “it is a matter of happiness or unhappiness for all my life. This strange man troubles me: as I look at him, I do not trust myself to outweigh him: to push out former rights, to loosen former ties I cannot pretend.”
“As soon as you can come back to yourself,” said my kind one, more beautiful than ever, “when it is possible to talk to you as at other times and always, then I will tell you, will swear to you by the earthly remains of my glorified father, that I have no other relation to this gentleman and friend, than you can recognize, approve and share, and for which you must be glad.”
Lenardo quailed to the depths of his heart: they all three stood for awhile, quite silent and thoughtful. The young man was the first to break the silence: and said, “The moment is one of too great significance to be aught but decisive. It is not upon the spur of the moment that I speak. I have had time to think; do you then listen! Your reason for refusing me your hand was my refusal to follow you, if from necessity or caprice you were to emigrate. Here then I solemnly declare before this competent witness that I will place no obstacle in the way of your departure, rather will I further it, and follow you everywhere. But in return for this declaration, which has not been forced from me, but only accelerated by these strange circumstances, I this moment ask you for your hand.”
He stretched forth his own, and stood there calm and confident. The two others, overcome with surprise, shrank back involuntarily.
“It is decreed,” said the youth, with a certain pious exultation. “It is to happen; it is to the interest of us all: God has willed it! But that you may not think that it is hastiness and caprice, at least learn that for love of you I had renounced mountains and rocks, and have even now been arranging everything, in the town, in order to live according to your wishes. But now I go alone; you will not deny me the means to do so. You would still have enough left to lose here, as you dread, and as you have reason to dread. For I have at last convinced myself also that that skilful, industrious rascal has betaken himself to the upper valley, and is there setting up machinery. You will soon see him drawing to himself all means of support: perhaps you will call back—only too soon—a true friend whom you drove away.”
Three people have seldom stood in a more painful position towards one another: all at the same time in dread of losing one another: and at the moment ignorant of how they should reciprocally retain each other.
The youth with passionate determination rushed out of the door. The Fair-good-one had laid her hand upon her father’s chilled breast. “From near at hand one must not hope,” she exclaimed, “but from afar: that was his last blessing. Let us trust in God: each one in himself and in the other, and so it will be well!”