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 VII

Chapter VIII

IN his journey to the town, our friend was thinking of the lovely women whom he knew, or had heard of: their curious fortunes, which contained so little happiness, were present to him with a sad distinctness. “Ah!” cried he, “poor Mariana! What shall I yet learn of thee? And thou noble Amazon, glorious protecting spirit, to whom I owe so much, whom I everywhere expect to meet, and nowhere see, in what mournful circumstances may I find thee, shouldst thou again appear before me!”

On his arrival in the town, there was not one of his acquaintances at home: he hastened to the theatre; he supposed they would be rehearsing. Here, however, all was still; the house seemed empty; one little door alone was open. Passing through it to the stage, he found Aurelia’s ancient serving-maid, employed in sewing linen for a new decoration: there was barely light enough to let her work. Felix and Mignon were sitting by her on the floor: they had a book between them; and while Mignon read aloud, Felix was repeating all the words, as if he too knew his letters, as if he too could read.

The children started up and ran to him: he embraced them with the tenderest feelings, and brought them closer to the woman. “Art thou the person,” said he to her, with an earnest voice, “from whom Aurelia received this child?” She looked up from her work, and turned her face to him; he saw her in full light; he started back in terror; it was old Barbara.

“Where is Mariana?” cried he.

“Far from here,” replied the crone.

“And Felix——?”

“Is the son of that unhappy, and too true and tenderhearted girl! May you never feel what you have made us suffer! May the treasure which I now deliver you, make you as happy as he made us wretched!”

She arose to go away: Wilhelm held her fast. “I mean not to escape you,” said she; “let me fetch a paper that will make you glad and sorrowful.”

She retired; and Wilhelm gazed upon the child with a painful joy: he durst not reckon him his own. “He is thine!” cried Mignon; “he is thine!” and pressed the child to Wilhelm’s knee.

Barbara came back, and handed him a letter. “Here are Mariana’s last words,” said she.

“She is dead!” cried he.

“Dead,” said the old woman. “I wish to spare you all reproaches.”

Astonished and confounded, Wilhelm broke up the letter; but scarcely had he read the first words of it, when a bitter grief took hold of him; he let the letter fall; and sank upon a seat. Mignon hurried to him, trying to console him. In the mean time, Felix had picked up the letter; he teased his playmate till she yielded, till she knelt beside him, and read it over. Felix repeated the words, and Wilhelm was compelled to hear them twice. “If this sheet should ever reach thee, then lament thy ill-starred friend. Thy love has caused her death. The boy, whose birth I survive but a few days, is thine: I die faithful to thee, much as appearances may be against me: with thee I lost everything that bound me to life. I die content; for they have assured me that the child is healthy and will live. Listen to old Barbara; forgive her; farewell, and forget me not.”

What a painful, and yet to his comfort, half-enigmatic letter! Its contents pierced through his heart, as the children, stuttering and stammering, pronounced and repeated them.

“There you have it now!” said the crone, not waiting till he had recovered. “Thank Heaven that having lost so true a love, you have still so fine a child remaining. Your grief will be unequalled, when you learn how the poor good girl stood faithful to you to the end; how miserable she became, and what she sacrificed for your sake.”

“Let me drain the cup of sorrow and of joy at once!” cried Wilhelm. “Convince me, even persuade me that she was a good girl, that she deserved respect as well as love; then leave me to my grief for her irreparable loss.”

“It is not yet time,” said Barbara; “I have work to do, and I would not we were seen together. Let it be a secret that Felix is your son: I should have too much abuse to suffer from the company, for having formerly deceived them. Mignon will not betray us; she is good and close.”

“I have known it long, and I said nothing,” answered Mignon. “How is it possible?” cried Barbara. “Whence?” cried Wilhelm.

“The spirit told it me.”

“Where? Where?”

“In the vault, when the old man drew his knife, it called to me: ’Bring his father,’ and I thought it must be thou.”

“Who called to thee?”

“I know not; in my heart, in my head, I was terrified; I trembled, I prayed, then it called, and I understood it.”

Wilhelm pressed her to his heart; recommended Felix to her, and retired. He had not observed till then that she was grown much paler and thinner than when he left her. Madam Melina was the first acquaintance he met: she received him in the friendliest manner. “O, that you might find everything among us as you wished!” exclaimed she.

“I doubt it,” answered Wilhelm; “I do not expect it Confess that they have taken all their measures to dispense with me.”

“Why would you go away?” replied his friend.

“We cannot soon enough convince ourselves,” said he, “how very simply we may be dispensed with in the world. What important personages we conceive ourselves to be! We think that it is we alone who animate the circle we move in; that, in our absence, life, nourishment and breath will make a general pause: and, alas, the void which occurs is scarcely remarked, so soon is it filled up again; nay it is often but the place, if not for something better, at least for something more agreeable.”

“And the sorrows of our friends we are not to take into account?”

“For our friends, too, it is well, when they soon recover their composure, when they say each to himself: There where thou art, there where thou remainest, accomplish what thou canst; be busy, be courteous, and let the present scene delight thee.”

On a narrower inquiry, he found what he had looked for; the opera had been set up, and was exclusively attracting the attention of the public. His parts had in the mean while been distributed between Horatio and Laertes; and both of them were in the habit of eliciting from the spectators far more liberal applause than he had ever been enabled to obtain.

Laertes entered, and Madam Melina cried: “Look you here at this lucky fellow: he is soon to be a capitalist, or Heaven knows what!” Wilhelm, in embracing him, discovered that his coat was superfine: the rest of his apparel was simple, but of the very best materials.

“Solve me the riddle!” cried our friend.

“You are still in time to learn,” replied Laertes, “that my running to and fro is now about to be repaid; that a partner in a large commercial house is turning to advantage my acquirements from books or observation, and allowing me a share with him. I would give something, could I purchase back my confidence in women: there is a pretty niece in the house; and I see well enough that, if I pleased, I might soon be a made man.”

“You have not heard,” said Frau Melina, “that a marriage has already taken place among ourselves? Serlo is actually wedded to the fair Elmira; her father would not tolerate their secret correspondence.”

They talked, in this manner, about many things that had occurred while he was absent: nor was it difficult for him to observe, that, according to the present temper and constitution of the company, his dismissal had already taken place.

He impatiently expected Barbara, who had appointed him to wait for her far in the night. She was to come when all were sleeping; she required as many preparations as if she had been the youngest maiden gliding in to her beloved. Meanwhile he read, a hundred times, the letter she had given him; read with unspeakable delight the word faithful in the hand of his darling; with horror the announcement of her death, whose approaches she appeared to view unmoved.

Midnight was past, when something rustled at the half-open door, and Barbara came in with a little basket. “I am to tell you the story of our woes,” said she; “and I must believe that you will sit unmoved at the recital; that you are waiting for me but to satisfy your curiosity; that you will now, as you did formerly, retire within your cold selfishness, while our hearts are breaking. But look you here! Thus, on that happy evening, did I bring you the bottle of champagne; thus did I place the three glasses on the table: and as you then began, with soft nursery tales, to cozen us and lull us asleep, so will I now with stern truths instruct you and keep you waking.”

Wilhelm knew not what to say when the old woman in fact let go the cork, and filled the three glasses to the brim.

“Drink!” cried she, having emptied at a draught her foaming glass. “Drink, ere the spirit of it pass! This third glass shall froth away untasted to the memory of my unhappy Mariana. How red were her lips, when she then drank your health! Ah, and now forever pale and cold!”

“Siby! Fury!” cried Wilhelm, springing up and striking the table with his fist, “what evil spirit possesses thee and drives thee? For what dost thou take me, that thou thinkest the simplest narrative of Mariana’s death and sorrows will not harrow me enough, but usest these hellish arts to sharpen my torment? If thy unsatiable greediness is such, that thou must revel at the funeral table, drink and speak! I have loathed thee from of old; and I cannot reckon Mariana guiltless while I even look upon thee, her companion.”

“Softly, mein herr!” replied the crone; “you shall not ruffle me. Your debts to us are deep and dark: the railing of a debtor does not anger one. But you are right: the simplest narrative will punish you sufficiently. Hear, then, the struggle and the victory of Mariana striving to continue yours.”

“Continue mine?” cried Wilhelm: “what fable dost thou mean to tell me?”

“Interrupt me not,” said she, “hear me, and then give what belief you list: to me it is all one. Did you not, the last night you were with us, find a letter in the room and take it with you?”

“I found the letter after I had taken it with me: it was lying in the neckerchief, which, in the warmth of my love, I had seized and carried off.”

“What did the sheet contain?”

“The expectation of an angry lover to be better treated on the next, than he had been on the preceding evening. And that you kept your word to him, I need not be told; for I saw him with my own eyes gliding from your house before daybreak.”

“You may have seen him: but what occurred within; how sadly Mariana passed that night, how fretfully I passed it, you are yet to learn. I will be altogether candid; I will neither hide nor palliate the fact, that I persuaded Mariana to yield to the solicitations of a certain Norberg: it was with repugnance that she followed my advice, nay that she even heard it. He was rich; he seemed attached; I hoped he would be constant. Soon after, he was forced to go upon his journey, and Mariana became acquainted with you. What had I then to abide! What to hinder, what to undergo! ‘O!’ cried she often, ‘hadst thou spared my youth, my innocence but four short weeks, I might have found a worthy object of my love; I had then been worthy of him, and love might have given, with a quiet conscience, what now I have sold against my will.’ She entirely abandoned herself to her affection for you: I need not ask if you were happy. Over her understanding I had an unbounded power; for I knew the means of satisfying all her little inclinations: but over her heart I had no control; for she never sanctioned what I did for her, what I counselled her to do, when her heart said nay. It was only to irresistible necessity that she would yield: but ere long the necessity appeared to her extremely pressing. In the first period of her youth, she had never known want: by a complication of misfortunes her people lost their fortune; the poor girl had been used to have a number of conveniences; and upon her young spirit certain principles of honour had been stamped, which made her restless, without much helping her. She had not the smallest skill in worldly matters; she was innocent in the strictest meaning of the word. She had no idea that one could buy without paying: nothing frightened her more than being in debt; she always rather liked to give than take. This, and this alone, was what made it possible, that she could be constrained to give herself away, in order to get rid of various little debts which weighed upon her.”

“And couldst not thou,” cried Wilhelm in an angry tone, “have saved her?”

“O yes!” replied the beldame; “with hunger and need; with sorrow and privation: but for this I was not disposed.”

“Abominable, base procuress! So thou hast sacrificed the hapless creature? Offered her up to thy throat, to thy insatiable maw?”

“It were better to compose yourself and cease your reviling,” said the dame. “If you will revile, go to your high noble houses: there you will meet with many a mother full of anxious cares to find out for some lovely heavenly maiden the most odious of men, provided he be the richest. See the poor creature shivering and faltering before her fate; and nowhere finding consolation, till some more experienced female lets her understand, that by marriage she acquires the right in future, to dispose of her heart and person as she pleases.”

“Peace!” cried Wilhelm: “dost thou think that one crime can be the excuse of another? To thy story, without farther observations!”

“Do you listen then, without blaming! Mariana became yours against my will. In this adventure at least I have nothing to reproach myself with. Norberg returned; he made haste to visit Mariana: she received him coldly and angrily; would not even admit him to a kiss. I employed all my art in apologising for her conduct; gave him to understand that her confessor had awakened her conscience; that so long as conscientious scruples lasted one was bound to respect them. I at last so far succeeded that he went away; I promising to do my utmost for him. He was rich and rude; but there was a touch of goodness in him, and he loved Mariana without limit. He promised to be patient; and I laboured with the greatest ardour not to try him too far. With Mariana I had stubborn contest: I persuaded her, nay I may call it forced her, by the threat of leaving her, to write to Norberg and invite him for the night. You came, and by chance picked up his answer in the neckerchief. Your presence broke my game. For scarcely were you gone, when she anew began her lamentation: she swore she would not be unfaithful to you; she was so passionate, so frantic, that I could not help sincerely pitying her. In the end, I promised, that for this night also, I would pacify her lover, and send him off, under some pretence or other. I entreated her to go to bed; but she did not seem to trust me; she kept on her clothes, and at last fell asleep, without undressing, agitated and exhausted with weeping as she was.

“Norberg came: representing in the blackest hues her conscientious agonies and her repentance, I endeavoured to retain him: he wished to see her, and I went into the room to prepare her; he followed me, and both of us at once came forward to her bed. She awoke; sprang wildly up, and tore herself from our arms: she conjured and begged, she entreated, threatened and declared she would not yield. She was improvident enough to let fall some words about the true state of her affections; which poor Norberg had to understand in a spiritual sense. At length he left her, and she locked her door. I kept him long with me, and talked with him about her situation: I told him that she was with child; that, poor girl, she should be humoured. He was so delighted with his fatherhood, with his prospect of a boy, that he granted everything she wished; he promised rather to set out travel for a time, then vex his dear, and injure her by these internal troubles. With such intentions, at an early hour he glided out; and if you, mein herr, stood sentry by our house, there was nothing wanting to your happiness, but to have looked into the bosom of your rival, whom you thought so favoured and so fortunate, and whose appearance drove you to despair.”

“Art thou speaking truth?” said Wilhelm.

“True,” said the crone, “as I still hope to drive you to despair.

“Yes, certainly you would despair, if I could rightly paint to you the following morning. How cheerfully did she awake; how kindly did she call me in; how warmly thank me, how cordially press me to her bosom! ‘Now,’ said she, stepping up to her mirror with a smile, ‘can I again take pleasure in myself, and in my looks, since once more I am my own, am his, my one beloved friend’s. How sweet is it to conquer! How I thank thee for taking charge of me; for having turned thy prudence and thy understanding, once, at least, to my advantage! Stand by me, and devise the means of making me entirely happy!’

“I assented, would not irritate her; I flattered her hopes, and she caressed me tenderly. If she retired but a moment from the window, I was made to stand and watch; for you, of course, would pass; for she at least would see you. Thus did we spend the restless day. At night, at the accustomed hour, we looked for you with certainty. I was already out waiting at the staircase; I grew weary, and came in to her again. With surprise, I found her in her military dress: she looked cheerful, and charming beyond what I had ever seen her. ‘Do I not deserve,’ said she, ‘to appear tonight in man’s apparel? Have I not struggled bravely? My dearest shall see me as he saw me for the first time. I will press him as tenderly and with greater freedom to my heart than then; for am not I his much more than I was then, when a noble resolution had not freed me? But,’ added she, after pausing for a little, ‘I have not yet entirely won him; I must still risk the uttermost, in order to be worthy, to be certain of possessing him; I must disclose the whole to him, discover to him all my state, then leave it to himself to keep or to reject me. This scene I am preparing for my friend, preparing for myself: and were his feelings capable of casting me away, I should then belong again entirely to myself; my punishment would bring me consolation, I would suffer all that fate could lay upon me.’

“With such purposes and hopes, mein herr, this lovely girl expected you: you came not. O! how shall I describe the state of watching and of hope? I see thee still before me; with what love, what heartfelt love, thou spokest of the man, whose cruelty thou hadst not yet experienced!”

“Good, dear Barbara!” cried Wilhelm, springing up, and seizing the old woman by the hand, “we have had enough of mummery and preparation! Thy indifferent, thy calm, contented tone betrays thee. Give me back my Mariana! She is living, she is near at hand. Not in vain didst thou choose this late lonely hour to visit me: not in vain hast thou prepared me by thy most delicious narrative. Where is she? Where hast thou hidden her? I believe all, I will promise to believe all, so thou but show her to me, so thou give her to my arms. The shadow of her I have seen already: let me clasp her once more to my bosom. I will kneel before her, I will entreat forgiveness; I will congratulate her upon her victory over herself and thee; I will bring my Felix to her. Come! where hast thou concealed her? Leave her, leave me no longer in uncertainty! Thy object is attained. Where hast thou hidden her? Let me light thee with this candle, let me once more see her fair and kindly face!”

He had pulled old Barbara from her chair: she stared at him; tears started into her eyes, wild pangs of grief took hold of her. “What luckless error,” cried she, “leaves you still a moment’s hope? Yes, I have hidden her; but beneath the ground: neither the light of the sun, nor any social taper shall again illuminate her kindly face. Take the boy Felix to her grave, and say to him: ‘There lies thy mother, whom thy father doomed unheard.’ The heart of Mariana beats no longer with impatience to behold you; not in a neighbouring chamber is she waiting the conclusion of my narrative, or fable; the dark chamber has received her, to which no bridegroom follows, from which none comes to meet a lover.”

She cast herself upon the floor beside a chair, and wept bitterly. Wilhelm now, for the first time, felt entirely convinced that Mariana was no more; his emotions it is easy to conceive. The old woman rose: “I have nothing more to tell you,” cried she, and threw a packet on the table. “Here are some writings that will put your cruelty to shame: peruse these sheets with unwet eyes, if you can.” She glided softly out. Our friend had not the heart to open the pocket-book that night: he had himself presented it to Mariana; he knew that she had carefully preserved in it every letter he had sent her. Next morning he prevailed upon himself: he untied the ribbon; little notes came forward written with pencil in his own hand; and recalled to him every situation, from the first day of their graceful acquaintance to the last of their stern separation. In particular, it was not without acute anguish, that he read a small series of billets, which had been addressed to himself, and to which, as he saw from their tenor, Werner had refused admittance.

  • “No one of my letters has yet penetrated to thee; my entreaties, my prayers have not reached thee; was it thyself that gave these cruel orders? Shall I never see thee more? Yet again I attempt it: I entreat thee, come, O come! I ask not to retain thee, if I might but once more press thee to my heart.”
  • “When I used to sit beside thee, holding thy hands, looking in thy eyes; and with the full heart of love and trust to call thee, ‘Dear, dear good Wilhelm!’ it would please thee so, that I had to repeat it over and over. I repeat it once again: ‘Dear, dear good Wilhelm! Be good as thou wert; come, and leave me not to perish in my wretchedness.’”
  • “Thou regardest me as guilty: I am so; but not as thou thinkest. Come, let me have this single comfort to be altogether known to thee; let what will befall me afterwards.”
  • “Not for my sake alone, for thy own too, I beg of thee to come. I feel the intolerable pains thou art suffering, whilst thou fliest from me. Come, that our separation may be less cruel! Perhaps I was never worthy of thee till this moment, when thou art repelling me to boundless woe.”
  • “By all that is holy, by all that can touch a human heart, I call upon thee! It involves the safety of a soul, it involves a life, two lives, one of which must ever be dear to thee. This, too, thy suspicion will discredit: yet I will speak it in the hour of death: the child which I carry under my heart is thine. Since I began to love thee, no other man has even pressed my hand: O that thy love, that thy uprightness, had been the companions of my youth!”
  • “Thou wilt not hear me? I must even be silent. But these letters will not die; perhaps they will speak to thee, when the shroud is covering my lips, and the voice of thy repentance cannot reach my ear. Through my weary life, to the last moment, this will be my only comfort: that though I cannot call myself blameless, towards thee I am free from blame.”
  • Wilhelm could proceed no farther: he resigned himself entirely to his sorrow; which became still more afflicting, when, Laertes entering, he was obliged to hide his feelings. Laertes showed a purse of ducats; and began to count and reckon them, assuring Wilhelm that there could be nothing finer in the world than for a man to feel himself in the way to wealth; that nothing then could trouble or detain him. Wilhelm bethought him of his dream, and smiled; but at the same time, he remembered with a shudder, that in his vision Mariana had forsaken him, to follow his departed father, and that both of them at last had moved about the garden, hovering in the air like spirits.

    Laertes forced him from his meditations; he brought him to a coffee-house, where, immediately on Wilhelm’s entrance, several persons gathered round him. They were men who had applauded his performance on the stage: they expressed their joy at meeting him; lamenting that, as they had heard, he meant to leave the theatre. They spoke so reasonably and kindly of himself and his acting, of his talent and their hopes from it, that Wilhelm, not without emotion, cried at last: “O how infinitely precious would such sympathy have been to me some months ago! How instructive, how encouraging! Never had I turned my mind so totally from the concerns of the stage, never had I gone so far as to despair of the public.”

    “So far as this,” said an elderly man who now stept forward, “we should never go. The public is large; true judgment, true feeling, are not quite so rare as one believes; only the artist ought not to demand an unconditional approval of his work. Unconditional approval is always the least valuable; conditional you gentlemen are not content with. In life, as in art, I know well, a person must take counsel with himself when he purposes to do or to produce anything: but when it is produced or done, he must listen with attention to the voices of a number, and with a little practice, out of these many votes he will be able to collect a perfect judgment. The few, who could themselves pronounce one, for the most part hold their peace.”

    “This they should not do,” said Wilhelm. “I have often heard people, who themselves kept silence in regard to works of merit, complaining and lamenting that silence was kept.”

    “Today, then, we will speak aloud,” cried a young man: “You must dine with us, and we will try to pay off a little of the debt we have owed to you, and sometimes also to our good Aurelia.”

    This invitation Wilhelm courteously declined: he went to Frau Melina, whom he wished to speak with on the subject of the children, as he meant to take them from her.

    Old Barbara’s secret was not too religiously observed by him. He betrayed himself so soon as he again beheld the lovely Felix. “O my child!” cried he; “My dear child!” He lifted him, and pressed him to his heart. “Father! what hast thou brought for me?” cried the child. Mignon looked at both, as if she meant to warn them not to blab.

    “What new phenomenon is this?” said Frau Melina. They got the children sent away; and Wilhelm, thinking that he did not owe old Barbara the strictest secrecy, disclosed the whole affair to Frau Melina. She viewed him with a smile.

    “O! these credulous men!” exclaimed she. “If anything is lying in their path, it is so easy to impose it on them; while in other cases they will neither look to the right nor left, and can value nothing, which they have not previously impressed with the stamp of an arbitrary passion!” She sighed, against her will. If our friend had not been altogether blind, he must have noticed in her conduct an affection for him which had never been entirely subdued.

    He now spoke with her about the children; how he purposed to keep Felix with him, and to place Mignon in the country. Madame Melina, though sorry at the thought of parting with them, said the plan was good, nay absolutely necessary. Felix was becoming wild with her; and Mignon seemed to need fresh air and other occupation; she was sickly, and was not yet recovering.

    “Let it not mislead you,” added Frau Melina, “that I have lightly hinted doubts about the boy’s being really yours. The old woman, it is true, deserves but little confidence; yet a person who invents untruths for her advantage may likewise speak the truth when truths are profitable to her. Aurelia she had hoodwinked to believe that Felix was Lothario’s son: and it is a property of us women that we cordially like the children of our lovers, though we do not know the mothers, or even hate them from the heart.” Felix came jumping in; she pressed him to her with a tenderness which was not usual to her. Wilhelm hastened home, and sent for Barbara; who, however, would not undertake to meet him till the twilight. He received her angrily. “There is nothing in the world more shameful,” said he, “than establishing oneself on lies and fables. Already thou hast done much mischief with them; and now when thy word could decide the fortune of my life, now must I stand dubious, not venturing to call the child my own, though to possess him without scruple would form my highest happiness. I cannot look upon thee, scandalous creature, without hatred and contempt.”

    “Your conduct, if I speak with candour,” said the old woman, “appears to me intolerable. Even if Felix were not yours, he is the fairest and the loveliest child in nature; one might purchase him at any price, to have him always near one. Is he not worthy your acceptance? Do not I deserve for my care, for the labour I have had with him, a little pension for the small remainder of my life? O, you gentlemen who know no want! It is well for you to talk of truth and honour: but how the miserable being whose smallest necessity is unprovided for, who sees in her perplexities no friend, no help, no counsel; how she is to press through the crowd of selfish men, and to starve in silence, you are seldom at the trouble to consider. Did you read Mariana’s letters? They are the letters she wrote to you at that unhappy season. It was in vain that I attempted to approach you to deliver you these sheets: your savage brother-in-law had so begirt you that craft and cunning were of no avail; and at last, when he began to threaten me and Mariana with imprisonment, I had then to cease my efforts, and renounced all hope. Does not everything agree with what I told you? And does not Norberg’s letter put the story altogether out of doubt?”

    “What letter?” asked he.

    “Did you not find it in the pocket-book?” said Barbara.

    “I have not yet read all of them.”

    “Give me the pocket-book: on that paper everything depends. Norberg’s luckless billet caused this sorrowful perplexity; another from his hand may loose the knots, so far as aught may still depend upon unravelling them.” She took a letter from the book; Wilhelm recognised that odious writing; he constrained himself and read:

    “Tell me, girl, how hast thou got such power over me? I would not have believed that a goddess herself could make a sighing lover of me. Instead of hastening towards me with open arms, thou shrankest back from me: one might have taken it for aversion. Is it fair that I should spend the night with old Barbara, sitting on a trunk, and but two doors between me and my pretty Mariana? It is too bad, I tell thee! I have promised to allow thee time to think; not to press thee unrelentingly; I could run mad at every wasted quarter of an hour. Have not I given thee gifts according to my power? Dost thou still doubt of my love? What wilt thou have? Do but tell me: thou shalt want for nothing. Would the Devil had the priest that put such stuff into thy head! Why didst thou go to such a churl? There are plenty of them that allow young people somewhat. Enough! I tell thee things must alter: in two days I must have an answer; for I am to leave the town; and if thou become not kind and friendly to me, thou shalt never see me more..…”

    In this style, the letter spun itself to great length; turning, to Wilhelm’s painful satisfaction, still about the same point; and testifying for the truth of the account which he had got from Barbara. A second letter clearly proved, that Mariana in the sequel also had maintained her purpose; and it was not without heartfelt grief that out of these and other papers Wilhelm learned the history of the unlucky girl to the very hour of her death.

    Barbara had gradually tamed the rude Norberg, by announcing to him Mariana’s death, and leaving him in the belief, that Felix was his son. Once or twice he had sent her money; which, however, she retained for herself, having talked Aurelia into taking charge of the child. But unhappily this secret source of riches did not long endure. Norberg by a life of riot had impaired his fortune; and by repeated love-affairs his heart was rendered callous to his supposed first-born.

    Probable as all this seemed, beautifully as it all agreed. Wilhelm did not venture to give way to joy. He still appeared to dread a present coming from his evil Genius.

    “Your jealous fears,” said Barbara, who guessed his mood of mind, “time alone can cure. Look upon the child as a stranger one; take stricter heed of him on that account; observe his gifts, his temper, his capacities; and if you do not, by and by, discover in him the exact resemblance of yourself, your eyes must certainly be bad. Of this I can assure you, were I a man, no one should foist a child on me: but it is a happiness for women, that in these cases men are not so quick of sight.”

    These things over, Wilhelm and Barbara parted; he was to take Felix with him; she to carry Mignon to Theresa, and afterwards to live in any place she pleased, upon a small annuity which he engaged to settle on her.

    He sent for Mignon, to prepare her for the new arrangement. “Master!” said she, “keep me with thee: it will do me good and do me ill.”

    He told her that, as she was now grown up, there should be something farther done for her instruction. “I am sufficiently instructed,” answered she, “to love and grieve.”

    He directed her attention to her health, and showed that she required continuous care, and the direction of a good physician. “Why care for me,” said she, “when there are so many things to care for?”

    After he had laboured greatly to persuade her that he could not take her with him, that he would conduct her to a place where he might often see her, she appeared as if she had not heard a word of it. “Thou wishest not to have me with thee?” said she. “Perhaps it is better; send me to the old Harper; the poor man is lonely where he is.”

    Wilhelm tried to show her that the old man was in comfortable circumstances. “Every hour I long for him,” replied the child.

    “I did not see,” said Wilhelm, “that thou wert so fond of him when he was living with us.”

    “I was frightened for him, when he was awake; I could not bear his eyes; but when he was asleep, I liked so well to sit by him! I used to chase the flies from him; I could not look at him enough. O! he has stood by me in fearful moments; none knows how much I owe him. Had I known the road, I should have run away to him already.”

    Wilhelm set the circumstances in detail before her; he said, that she had always been a reasonable child, and that on this occasion also she might do as she desired. “Reason is cruel,” said she; “the heart is better; I will go as thou requirest, only leave me Felix.”

    After much discussion, her opinion was not altered; and Wilhelm at last resolved on giving Barbara both the children, and sending them together to Theresa. This was the easier for him, as he still feared to look upon the lovely Felix as his son. He would take him on his arm, and carry him about: the child delighted to be held before the glass; Wilhelm also liked, though unavowedly, to hold him there, and seek resemblances between their faces. If for a moment any striking similarity appeared between them, he would press the boy in his arms; and then at once affrighted by the thought that he might be mistaken, he would set him down, and let him run away. “O!” cried he, “if I were to appropriate this priceless treasure, and it were then to be snatched from me, I should be the most unhappy man on earth!”

    The children had been sent away; and Wilhelm was about to take a formal leave of the theatre, when he felt that in reality he had already taken leave, and needed but to go. Mariana was no more; his two guardian spirits had departed, and his thoughts hied after them. The fair boy hovered like a beautiful uncertain vision in the eyes of his imagination: he saw him, at Theresa’s hand, running through the fields and woods, forming his mind and person, in the free air, beside a free and cheerful foster-mother. Theresa had become far dearer to him since he figured her in company with Felix. Even while sitting in the theatre, he thought of her with smiles; he was almost in her own case, the stage could now produce no more illusion in him.

    Serlo and Melina were excessively polite to him, when they observed that he was making no pretensions to his former place. A portion of the public wished to see him act again: this he could not accede to; nor in the company did any one desire it, saving Frau Melina.

    Of this friend he now took leave; he was moved at parting with her; he exclaimed: “Why do we presume to promise anything depending on an unknown future? The most slight engagement we have not power to keep; far less a purpose of importance. I feel ashamed in recollecting what I promised to you all, in that unhappy night, when we were lying plundered, sick and wounded, crammed into a miserable tavern. How did misfortune elevate my courage; what a treasure did I think I had found in my good wishes! And of all this not a jot has taken effect. I leave you as your debtor: and my comfort is, that our people prized my promise at its actual worth, and never more took notice of it.”

    “Be not unjust to yourself,” said Frau Melina: “if no one acknowledges what you have done for us, I at least will not forget it. Our whole condition had been different, if you had not been with us. But it is with our purposes as with our wishes. They seem no longer what they were, when they have been accomplished, been fulfilled; and we think we have done, have wished for nothing.”

    “You shall not, by your friendly statement,” answered Wilhelm, “put my conscience to peace. I shall always look upon myself as in your debt.”

    “Nay, perhaps you are so,” said Madam Melina; “but not in the manner you suppose. We reckon it a shame to fail in the fulfilment of a promise we have uttered with the voice. O my friend, a worthy person by his very presence promises us much! The confidence which he elicits, the inclination he inspires, the hopes which he awakens are unbounded: he is, and he continues, in our debt, although he does not know it. Fare you well! If our external circumstances have been happily repaired by your direction, there is a void produced by your departure, in my mind, which will not be so easily filled up again.”

    Before leaving the city, Wilhelm wrote a copious sheet to Werner. He had before exchanged some letters; but, not being able to agree, they had at length ceased to write. Now, however, Wilhelm had again approximated to his brother; he was just about to do what Werner had so earnestly desired. He could say: ‘I am abandoning the stage: I mean to join myself with men whose intercourse, in every sense, must lead me to a sure and suitable activity.’ He inquired about his property: and it now seemed strange to him, that he had never for so long a time disturbed himself about it. He knew not that it is the manner of all persons who attach importance to their inward cultivation, altogether to neglect their outward circumstances. This had been Wilhelm’s case: he now for the first time seemed to notice, that to work effectively, he stood in need of outward means. He entered on his journey, this time, in a temper altogether different from that of last; the prospects he had in view were charming; he hoped to meet with something cheerful by the way.