Home  »  Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  »  Chapter III

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

Book III

Chapter III

AT last the time arrived when the company had to prepare themselves for travelling, and to expect the coaches and other vehicles that were to carry them to the Count’s mansion. Much altercation now took place about the mode of travelling, and who should sit with whom. The ordering and distribution of the whole was at length settled and concluded, with great labour, and, alas, without effect. At the appointed hour, fewer coaches came than were expected; they had to accommodate themselves as the case would admit. The Baron, who followed shortly afterwards on horseback, assigned as the reason, that all was in motion at the Castle, not only because the Prince was to arrive a few days earlier than had been looked for, but also because an unexpected party of visitors were already come; the place, he said, was in great confusion; on this account perhaps they would not lodge so comfortably as had been intended; a change which grieved him very much.

Our travellers packed themselves into the carriages the best way they could; and the weather being tolerable, and the Castle but a few leagues distant, the heartiest of the troop preferred setting out on foot to waiting the return of the coaches. The caravan got under way with great jubilee; for the first time, without caring how the landlord’s bill was to be paid. The Count’s mansion rose like a palace of the fairies on their souls; they were the happiest and merriest mortals in the world. Each throughout the journey, in his own peculiar mode, kept fastening a continued chain of fortune, honour and prosperity to that auspicious day.

A heavy rain, which fell unexpectedly, did not banish these delightful contemplations; though, as it incessantly continued with more and more violence, many of the party began to show traces of uneasiness. The night came on; and no sight could be more welcome than the palace of the Count, which shone upon them from a hill at some distance, glancing with light in all its stories, so that they could reckon every window.

On approaching nearer, they found all the windows in the wings illuminated also. Each of the party thought within himself what chamber would be his; and most of them prudently determined to be satisfied with a room in the attic story, or some of the side buildings.

They were now proceeding through the village, past the inn. Wilhelm stopped the coach, in the mind to alight there; but the landlord protested that it was not in his power to afford the least accommodation: his lordship the Count, he said, being visited by some unexpected guests, had immediately engaged the whole inn; every chamber in the house had been marked with chalk last night, specifying who was to lodge there. Our friend was accordingly obliged, against his will, to travel forward to the Castle, with the rest of the company.

In one of the side buildings, round the kitchen fire, they noticed several cooks running busily about; a sight which refreshed them not a little. Servants came jumping hastily with lights to the staircase of the main-door; and the hearts of the worthy pilgrims overflowed at the aspect of such honours. But how great was their surprise, when this cordial reception changed into a storm of curses. The servants scouted the coachmen for driving in hither; they must wheel out again, it was bawled, and take their loading round to the old Castle; there was no room here for such guests! To this unfriendly and unexpected dismissal, they joined all manner of jeering, and laughed aloud at each other for leaping out in the rain on so false an errand. It was still pouring; no star was visible in the sky; while our company were dragged along a rough jolting road, between two walls, into the old mansion, which stood behind, inhabited by none since the present Count’s father had build the new residence in front of it. The carriages drew up, partly in the courtyard, partly in a long arched gateway; and the postillions, people hired from the village, unyoked their horses and rode off.

As nobody came forward to receive the travellers, they alighted from their places, they shouted, and searched. In vain! All continued dark and still. The wind swept through the lofty gate; the court and the old towers were lying gray and dreary, and so dim that their forms could scarcely be distinguished in the gloom. The people were all shuddering and freezing; the women were becoming frightened; the children began to cry; the general impatience was increasing every minute; so quick a revolution of fortune, for which no one of them had been at all prepared, entirely destroyed their equanimity.

Expecting every minute that some person would appear and unbolt the doors; mistaking at one time the pattering of rain, at another the rocking of the wind, for the much-desired footstep of the Castle Bailiff, they continued downcast and inactive; it occurred to none of them to go into the new mansion, and there solicit help from charitable souls. They could not understand where their friend the Baron was lingering; they were in the most disconsolate condition.

At last some people actually arrived: by their voices, they were recognised as the pedestrians who had fallen behind the others on the journey. They intimated that the Baron had tumbled with his horse, and hurt his leg severely; and that on calling at the Castle, they too had been roughly directed hither.

The whole company were in extreme perplexity; they guessed and speculated as to what should now be done; but they could fix on nothing. At length they noticed from afar a lantern advancing, and took fresh breath at sight of it; but their hopes of quick deliverance again evaporated, when the object approached, and came to be distinctly seen. A groom was lighting the well-known Stallmeister of the Castle towards them; this gentleman, on coming nearer, very anxiously inquired for Mademoiselle Philina. No sooner had she stept forth from the crowd, than he very pressingly offered to conduct her to the new mansion, where a little place had been provided for her with the Countess’s maids. She did not hesitate long about accepting his proposal; she caught his arm, and recommending her trunk to the care of the rest, was going to hasten off with him directly; but the others intercepted them, asking, entreating, conjuring the Stallmeister; till at last, to get away with his fair one, he promised everything, assuring them that in a little while, the Castle should be opened, and they lodged in the most comfortable manner. In a few moments, they saw the glimmer of his lantern vanish; they long looked in vain for another gleam of light. At last, after much watching, scolding and reviling, it actually appeared, and revived them with a touch of hope and consolation.

An ancient footman opened the door of the old edifice, into which they rushed with violence. Each of them now strove to have his trunk unfastened, and brought in beside him. Most of this luggage, like the persons of its owners, was thoroughly wetted. Having but a single light, the process of unpacking went on very slowly. In the dark passages they pushed against each other, they stumbled, they fell. The begged to have more lights, they begged to have some fuel. The monosyllabic footman, with much ado, consented to put down his own lantern; then went his way, and came not again.

They now began to investigate the edifice. The doors of all the rooms were open; large stoves, tapestry hangings, inlaid floors, yet bore witness to its former pomp; but of other house-gear there was none to be seen; no table, chair, or mirror; nothing but a few monstrous empty bedsteads, stript of every ornament and every necessary. The wet trunks and knapsacks were adopted as seats; a part of the tired wanderers placed themselves upon the floor. Wilhelm had sat down upon some steps; Mignon lay upon his knees. The child was restless; and, when he asked what ailed her, she answered: “I am hungry.” He himself had nothing that could still the craving of the child; the rest of the party had consumed their whole provision; so he was obliged to leave the little traveller without refreshment. Through the whole adventure he had been inactive, silently immersed in thought. He was very sullen, and full of indignant regret that he had not kept by his first determination, and remained at the inn, though he should have slept in the garret.

The rest demeaned themselves in various ways. Some of them had got a heap of old wood collected within a vast gaping chimney in the hall; they set fire to the pile with great huzzaing. Unhappily, however, their hopes of warming and drying themselves by means of it, were mocked in the most frightful manner. The chimney, it appeared, was there for ornament alone, and was walled-up above; so the smoke rushed quickly back, and at once filled the whole chamber. The dry wood rose crackling into flames; the flame was also driven back; the draught sweeping through the broken windows gave it a wavering direction. Terrified lest the Castle should catch fire, the unhappy guests had to tear the burning sticks asunder to smother and trample them under their feet; the smoke increased; their case was rendered more intolerable than before; they were driven to the brink of desperation.

Wilhelm had retreated from the smoke into a distant chamber; to which Mignon soon followed him, leading in a well-dressed servant, with a high clear double-lighted lantern in his hand. He turned to Wilhelm, and holding out to him some fruits and confectionery on a beautiful porcelain plate: “The young lady upstairs,” said he, “sends you this, with the request that you would join her party: she bids me tell you,” added the lacquey, with a sort of grin, “that she is very well off yonder, and wishes to divide her enjoyments with her friends.”

Wilhelm had not at all expected such a message; for, ever since the adventure on the stone bench, he had treated Philina with the most decided contempt: he was still so resolute to have no more concern with her, that he thought of sending back her dainty gifts untasted, when a supplicating look of Mignon’s induced him to accept them. He returned his thanks in the name of the child. The invitation he entirely rejected. He desired the servant to exert himself a little for the stranger company, and made inquiry for the Baron. The latter, he was told, had gone to bed; but had already, as the lacquey understood, given orders to some other person to take charge of these unfortunate and ill-lodged gentlemen.

The servant went away, leaving one of his lights, which Wilhelm, in the absence of a candlestick, contrived to fix upon the window casement; and now at least, in his meditations, he could see the four walls of his chamber. Nor was it long till preparations were commenced for conducting our travellers to rest. Candles arrived by degrees, though without snuffers; then a few chairs; an hour afterwards came bed-clothes; then pillows, all well steeped in rain. It was far past midnight when straw-beds and mattresses were produced, which, if sent at first, would have been extremely welcome.

In the interim also, somewhat to eat and drink had been brought in: it was enjoyed without much criticism, though it looked like a most disorderly collection of remains, and offered no very singular proof of the esteem in which our guests were held.