Home  »  Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  »  Chapter VIII

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

Book IV

Chapter VIII

THOUGH our friend was weak from loss of blood, and though ever since the appearance of that helpful angel his feelings had been soft and mild, yet at last he could not help getting vexed at the harsh and unjust speeches which, as he continued silent, the discontented company went on uttering against him. Feeling himself strong enough to sit up, and expostulate on the annoyance they were causing to their friend and leader, he raised his bandaged head, and propping himself with some difficulty, and leaning against the wall, he began to speak as follows:

“Considering the pain which your losses occasion, I forgive you for assailing me with injuries at a moment when you should condole with me; for opposing me and casting me from you, the first time I have needed to look to you for help. The services I did you, the complaisance I showed you, I regarded as sufficiently repaid by your thanks, by your friendly conduct: do not warp my thoughts, do not force my heart to go back and calculate what I have done for you; the calculation would be painful to me. Chance brought me near you, circumstances and a secret inclination kept me with you. I participated in your labours and your pleasures: my slender abilities were ever at your service. If you now blame me with bitterness for the mishap that has befallen us, you do not recollect that the first project of taking this road came to us from stranger people, was tried by all of you, and sanctioned by every one as well as me.

“Had our journey ended happily, each would have taken credit to himself for the happy thought of suggesting this plan and preferring it to others; each would joyfully have put us in mind of our deliberations and of the vote he gave: but now you make me alone responsible; you force a piece of blame upon me, which I would willingly submit to, if my conscience with a clear voice did not pronounce me innocent, nay if I might not appeal with safety even to yourselves. If you have aught to say against me, bring it forward in order, and I shall defend myself; if you have nothing reasonable to allege, then be silent, and do not torment me now when I have such pressing need of rest.”

By way of answer, the girls once more began whimpering and whining, and describing their losses circumstantially. Melina was quite beside himself; for he had suffered more in purse than any of them; more indeed than we can rightly estimate. He stamped like a madman up and down the little room, he knocked his head against the wall, he swore and scolded in the most unseemly manner; and the landlady entering at this very time with news, that his wife had been delivered of a dead child, he yielded to the most furious ebullitions, while in accordance with him all howled and shrieked and bellowed and uproared with double vigour.

Wilhelm, touched to the heart at once with sympathy in their sorrows, and with vexation at their mean way of thinking, felt all the vigour of his soul awakened, notwithstanding the weakness of his body. “Deplorable as your case may be,” exclaimed he, “I shall almost be compelled to despise you. No misfortune gives us right to load an innocent man with reproaches. If I had share in this false step, am not I suffering my share? I lie wounded here; and if the company has come to loss, I myself have come to most. The wardrobe of which we have been robbed, the decorations that are gone, were mine; for you, Herr Melina, have not yet paid me, and I here fully acquit you of all obligation in that matter.”

“It is well to give what none of us will ever see again,” replied Melina. “Your money was lying in my wife’s coffer, and it is your own blame that you have lost it. But ah! if that were all!”—And thereupon he began anew to stamp and scold and squeal. Every one recalled to memory the superb clothes from the Count’s wardrobe; the buckles, watches, snuff-boxes, hats, for which Melina had so happily transacted with the head valet. Each then thought also of his own, though far inferior treasures. They looked with spleen at Philina’s box; and gave Wilhelm to understand, that he had indeed done wisely to connect himself with that fair personage, and to save his own goods also, under the shadow of her fortune.

“Do you think,” he exclaimed at last, “that I shall keep anything apart while you are starving? And is this the first time I have honestly shared with you in a season of need? Open the trunk; all that is mine shall go to supply the common wants.”

“It is my trunk,” observed Philina, “and I will not open it till I please. Your rag or two of clothes, which I have saved for you, could amount to little, though they were sold to the most conscientious of Jews. Think of yourself; what your cure will cost, what may befall you in a strange country.”

“You, Philina,” answered Wilhelm, “will keep back from me nothing that is mine; and that little will help us out of the first perplexity. But a man possesses many things besides coined money to assist his friends with. All that is in me shall be devoted to these hapless persons; who doubtless, on returning to their senses, will repent their present conduct. Yes,” continued he, “I feel that you have need of help, and what is mine to do, I will perform. Give me your confidence again; compose yourselves for a moment, and accept of what I promise! Who will receive the engagement of me in the name of all?”

Here he stretched out his hand and cried: “I promise not to flinch from you, never to forsake you till each shall see his losses doubly and trebly repaired; till the situation you are fallen into, by whose blame soever, shall be totally forgotten by all of you, and changed for a better.”

He kept his hand still stretched out: but no one would take hold of it. “I promise it again,” cried he, sinking back upon his pillow. All continued silent: they felt ashamed, but nothing comforted; and Philina, sitting on her chest, kept cracking nuts, a stock of which she had discovered in her pocket.