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J.W. von Goethe (1749–1832). Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Book VII

Chapter II

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 blameably 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 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 colours, 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 dispatched. 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 stept 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 today 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.