Home  »  Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  »  Chapter XII

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

Book II

Chapter XII

AFTER a short time, which he passed sitting looking out before him, disquieted by many thoughts, Philina came singing and skipping along through the front door. She sat down by him, nay, we might almost say, on him, so close did she press herself towards him; she leant upon his shoulders, began playing with his hair, patted him, and gave him the best words in the world. She begged of him to stay with them, and not leave her alone in that company, or she must die of tedium: she could not live any longer in the same house with Melina, and had come over to lodge in the other inn for that very reason.

He tried in vain to satisfy her with denials; to make her understand that he neither could nor would remain any longer. She did not cease with her entreaties; nay, suddenly she threw her arm round his neck, and kissed him with the liveliest expression of fondness.

“Are you mad, Philina?” cried Wilhelm, endeavouring to disengage himself; “to make the open street the scene of such caresses, which I nowise merit! Let me go; I cannot and I will not stay.”

“And I will hold thee fast,” said she, “and kiss thee here on the open street, and kiss thee till thou promise what I want. I shall die of laughing,” she continued; “by this familiarity the good people here must take me for thy wife of four weeks’ standing; and husbands, who witness this touching scene, will commend me to their wives as a pattern of childlike simple tenderness.”

Some persons were just then going by; she caressed him in the most graceful way; and he, to avoid giving scandal, was constrained to play the part of the patient husband. Then she made faces at the people, when their backs were turned; and, in the wildest humour, continued to commit all sorts of improprieties, till at last he was obliged to promise that he would not go that day, or the morrow, or the next day.

“You are a true clod!” said she, quitting him; “and I am but a fool to spend so much kindness on you.” She arose with some vexation, and walked a few steps, then turned round laughing, and cried: “I believe it is just that, after all, that makes me so crazy about thee. I will but go and seek my knitting-needles and my stocking, that I may have something to do. Stay there, and let me find the stone man still upon the stone bench when I come back.”

She cast a sparkling glance on him, and went into the house. He had no call to follow her; on the contrary, her conduct had excited fresh aversion in him: yet he rose from the bench to go after her, not well knowing why.

He was just entering the door, when Melina passed by, and spoke to him in a respectful tone, asking his pardon for the somewhat too harsh expressions he had used in their late discussion. “You will not take it ill of me,” continued he, “if I appear perhaps too fretful in my present circumstances. The charge of providing for a wife, perhaps soon for a child, forbids me from day to day to live at peace, or spend my time, as you may do, in the enjoyment of pleasant feelings. Consider, I pray you; and, if possible, do put me in possession of that stage-machinery that is lying here. I shall not be your debtor long, and I shall be obliged to you while I live.”

Our friend, unwilling to be kept upon the threshold, over which an irresistible impulse was drawing him at that moment to Philina, answered, with an absent mind, eager to be gone, and surprised into a transient feeling of good-will: “If I can make you happy and contented by doing this, I will hesitate no longer. Go you and put everything to rights. I shall be prepared this evening, or tomorrow morning, to pay the money.” He then gave his hand to Melina in confirmation of his promise, and was very glad to see him hastily proceed along the street; but, alas, his entrance, which he now thought sure, was a second time prohibited, and more disagreeably than at first.

A young man, with a bundle on his back, came walking fast along the street, and advanced to Wilhelm, who at once recognised him for Friedrich. “Here am I again!” cried he, looking with his large blue eyes joyfully up and down, over all the windows of the house. “Where is Mamsell? Devil take me, if I can stroll about the world any longer without seeing her.”

The landlord, joining them at this instant, replied that she was above; Friedrich with a few bounds was up-stairs, and Wilhelm continued standing as if rooted to the threshold. At the first instant he was tempted to pluck the younker back, and drag him down by the hair; then all at once the spasm of a sharp jealousy stopped the current of his spirits and ideas; and, as he gradually recovered from this stupefaction, there came over him a splenetic fit of restlessness, a general discomfort, such as he had never felt in his life before.

He went up to his room, and found Mignon busy writing. For some time, the creature had been labouring with great diligence in writing everything she knew by heart, giving always to her master and friend the papers to correct. She was indefatigable, and of good comprehension; but still her letters were irregular, and her lines crooked. Here too the body seemed to contradict the mind. In his usual moods, Wilhelm took no small pleasure in the child’s attention; but at the present moment he regarded little what she showed him,—a piece of neglect which she felt the more acutely, as on this occasion she conceived her work had been accomplished with peculiar success.

Wilhelm’s unrest drove him up and down the passages of the house, and finally again to the street-door. A rider was just prancing towards it, a man of good appearance, of middle age, and a brisk contented look. The landlord ran to meet him, holding out his hand as to an old acquaintance. “Ay, Herr Stallmeister,” cried he, “have we the pleasure to see you again?”

“I am just going to bait with you,” replied the stranger, “and then along to the Estate, to get matters put in order as soon as possible. The Count is coming over tomorrow with his lady; they mean to stay a while to entertain the Prince von—in their best style: he intends to fix his headquarters in this neighbourhood for some time.”

“It is pity,” said the landlord, “that you cannot stop with us: we have good company in the house.” The ostler came running out, and took the horse from the Stallmeister, who continued talking in the door with the landlord, and now and then giving a look at Wilhelm.

Our friend, observing that he formed the topic of their conversation, went away, and walked up and down the streets.