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

Book VII

Chapter V

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 hand-selling 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 endeavour 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 honourable 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 honour 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. O 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. “O 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 neighbour’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 neighbour, 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 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 labours 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.”