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

Book IV

Chapter XI

WILHELM was rapidly approaching complete recovery: he now hoped to be upon his journey in a few days. He proposed no more to lead an aimless routine of existence: the steps of his career were henceforth to be calculated for an end. In the first place, he purposed to seek out that beneficent lady, and express the gratitude he felt to her; then to proceed without delay to his friend the Manager, that he might do his utmost to assist the luckless company; intending at the same time to visit the commercial friends whom he had letters for, and to transact the business which had been intrusted to him. He was not without hope that fortune, as formerly, would favour him; and give him opportunity, by some lucky speculation, to repaid his losses, and fill up the vacuity of his coffer.

The desire of again beholding his beautiful deliverer augmented every day. To settle his route, he took counsel with the clergyman, a person well skilled in statistics and geography, and possessing a fine collection of charts and books on those subjects. They two searched for the place which this noble family had chosen as their residence while the war continued; they searched for information respecting the family itself. But their place was to be found in no geography or map; and the heraldic manuals made no mention of their name. Wilhelm became restless; and having mentioned the cause of his uneasiness, the Harper told him he had reason to believe that the huntsman, for whatever reason, had concealed the real designations.

Conceiving himself now to be in the immediate neighbourhood of his lovely benefactress, Wilhelm hoped he might obtain some tidings of her, if he sent out the Harper: but in this too he was deceived. Diligently as the old man kept inquiring, he could find no trace of her. Of late days a number of quick movements and unforeseen marches had taken place in that quarter; no one had particularly noticed the travelling party; and the ancient messenger, to avoid being taken for a Jewish spy, was obliged to return, and appear without any olive-leaf before his master and friend. He gave a strict account of his conduct in this commission, striving to keep far from him all suspicions of remissness. He endeavoured by every means to mitigate the trouble of our friend; bethought him of everything that he had learned from the huntsman, and advanced a number of conjectures; out of all which, one circumstance at length came to light, whereby Wilhelm could explain some enigmatic words of his vanished benefactress.

The freebooters, it appeared, had lain in wait, not for the wandering troop, but for that noble company, whom they rightly guessed to be provided with store of gold and valuables, and of whose movements they must have had precise intelligence. Whether the attack should be imputed to some freecorps, to marauders, or to robbers, was uncertain. It was clear, however, that by good fortune for the high and rich company, the poor and low had first arrived upon the place, and undergone the fate which was provided for the others. It was to this that the lady’s words referred, which Wilhelm yet well recollected. If he might now be happy and contented, that a prescient Genius had selected him for the sacrifice, which saved a perfect mortal; he was, on the other hand, nigh desperate, when he thought that all hope of finding her and seeing her again was, at least for the present, completely gone.

What increased this singular emotion still farther, was the likeness which he thought he had observed between the Countess and the beautiful unknown. They resembled one another, as two sisters may, of whom neither can be called the younger or the elder, for they seem to be twins.

The recollection of the amiable Countess was to Wilhelm infinitely sweet. He recalled her image but too willingly into his memory. But anon the figure of the noble Amazon would step between; one vision melted and changed into the other, and the form of neither would abide with him.

A new resemblance, the similarity of their handwritings, naturally struck him with still greater wonder. He had a charming song in the Countess’s hand laid up his portfolio; and in the surtout he had found a little note, inquiring with much tender care about the health of an uncle.

Wilhelm was convinced that his benefactress must have penned this billet; that it must have been sent from one chamber to another, at some inn during their journey, and put into the coat-pocket by the uncle. He held both papers together; and if the regular and graceful letters of the Countess had already pleased him much, he found in the similar but freer lines of the stranger a flowing harmony which could not be described. The note contained nothing; yet the strokes of it seemed to affect him, as the presence of their fancied writer once had done.

He fell into a dreamy longing; and well accordant with his feelings was the song which at that instant Mignon and the Harper began to sing, with a touching expression, in the form of an irregular duet:

  • You never long’d and lov’d
  • You know not grief like mine:
  • Alone and far remov’d
  • From joys or hopes, I pine:
  • A foreign sky above,
  • And a foreign earth below me,
  • To the south I look all day;
  • For the hearts that love and know me
  • Are far, are far away.
  • I burn, I faint, I languish,
  • My heart is waste, and sick, and sore;
  • Who has not long’d in baffled anguish
  • Cannot know what I deplore.