Home  »  Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  »  Chapter VI

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

Book IV

Chapter VI

MEANWHILE our three adventurers continued yet a space in their strange position, no one returning to their aid. Evening was advancing; the darkness threatened to come on. Philina’s indifference was changing to anxiety; Mignon ran to and fro, her impatience increasing every moment; and at last, when their prayer was granted, and human creatures did approach, a new alarm fell upon them. They distinctly heard a troop of horses coming up the road, which they had lately travelled; they dreaded lest, a second time, some company of unbidden guests might be purposing to visit this scene of battle, and gather up the gleanings.

The more agreeable was their surprise, when, after a few moments, a young lady issued from the thickets, riding on a gray courser, and accompanied by an elderly gentleman and some cavaliers. Grooms, servants and a troops of hussars closed up the rear.

Philina stared at this phenomenon, and was about to call, and entreat the fair Amazon for help; when the latter, turning her astonished eyes on the group, instantly checked her horse, rode up to them, and halted. She inquired eagerly about the wounded man, whose posture in the lap of this light-minded Samaritan seemed to strike her as peculiarly strange.

“Is it your husband?” she inquired of Philina. “Only a good friend,” replied the other, with a tone that Wilhelm liked extremely ill. He had fixed his eyes upon the soft, elevated, calm, sympathising features of the stranger; he thought he had never seen aught nobler or more lovely. Her shape he could not see: it was hid by a man’s white greatcoat, which she seemed to have borrowed from some of her attendants, to screen her from the chill evening air.

By this, the horsemen also had come near. Some of them dismounted: the lady did so likewise. She asked, with humane sympathy, concerning every circumstance of the mishap which had befallen the travellers; but especially concerning the wounds of the poor youth who lay before her. Thereupon she turned quickly round, and went aside with the old gentleman to some carriages, which were slowly coming up the hill, and which at length stopped upon the scene of action.

The young lady having stood with her conductor a short time at the door of one of the coaches, and talked with the people in it, a man of a squat figure stept out, and came along with them to our wounded hero. By the little box which he held in his hand, and the leathern pouch with instruments in it, you soon recognised him for a surgeon. His manners were rude rather than attractive; but his hand was light and his help was welcome.

Having examined strictly, he declared that none of the wounds were dangerous. He would dress them, he said, on the spot; after which the patient might be carried to the nearest village.

The anxious attentions of the young lady seemed to augment.

“Do but look,” she said, after going to and fro once or twice, and again bringing the old gentleman to the place; “look how they have treated him? And is it not on our account that he is suffering?” Wilhelm heard these words, but did not understand them. She went restlessly up and down: it seemed as if she could not tear herself away from the presence of the wounded man, while at the same time she feared to violate decorum by remaining, when they had begun, though not without difficulty, to remove some part of his apparel. The surgeon was just cutting off the left sleeve of his patient’s coat, when the old gentleman came near, and represented to the lady, in a serious tone, the necessity of proceeding on their journey. Wilhelm kept his eyes bent on her; and was so enchanted with her looks, that he scarcely felt what he was suffering or doing.

Philina, in the mean time, had risen up to kiss the hand of this kind young lady. While they stood beside each other, Wilhelm thought he had never seen such a contrast. Philina had never till now appeared in so unfavourable a light. She had no right, as it seemed to him, to come near that noble creature, still less to touch her.

The lady asked Philina various things, but in an under tone. At length she turned to the old gentleman, and said, “Dear uncle, may I be generous at your expense?” She took off the greatcoat, with the visible intention to give it to the stript and wounded youth.

Wilhelm, whom the healing look of her eyes had hitherto held fixed, was now, as the surtout fell away, astonished at her lovely figure. She came near, and softly laid the coat above him. At this moment, as he tried to open his mouth, and stammer out some words of gratitude, the lively impression of her presence worked so strongly on his senses, already caught and bewildered, that all at once it appeared to him as if her head were encircled with rays; and a glancing light seemed by degrees to spread itself over all her form. At this moment the surgeon, making preparations to extract the ball from his wound, gave him a sharper twinge: the angel faded away from the eyes of the fainting patient; he lost all consciousness; and on returning to himself, the horseman and coaches, the fair one with her attendants, had vanished like a dream.