J.W. von Goethe (17491832). Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
NEXT morning, the rope-dancers, not without much parade and bustle, having gone away, Mignon immediately appeared, and came into the parlour as Wilhelm and Laertes were busy fencing. Where hast thou been hid? said Wilhelm in a friendly tone. Thou hast given us a deal of anxiety. The child looked at him, and answered nothing. Thou art ours now, cried Laertes, we have bought thee. For how much? inquired the child quite coolly. For a hundred ducats, said the other; pay them again, and thou art free. Is that very much? she asked. O yes! thou must now be a good child. I will try, she said.
From that moment she observed strictly what services the waiter had to do for both her friends: and after next day, she would not any more let him enter the room. She persisted in doing everything herself; and accordingly went through her duties, slowly indeed, and sometimes awkwardly, yet completely and with the greatest care.
She was frequently observed going to a basin of water, and washing her face with such diligence and violence, that she almost wore the skin from her cheeks; till Laertes, by dint of questions and reproofs, learned that she was striving by all means to get the paint from her skin; and that, in her zealous endeavours towards this object, she had mistaken the redness produced by rubbing for the most obdurate dye. They set her right on this point, and she ceased her efforts; after which, having come again to her natural state, she exhibited a fine brown complexion, beautiful, though sparingly intermingled with red.
The siren charms of Philina, the mysterious presence of the child, produced more impression on our friend than he liked to confess; he passed several days in that strange society, endeavouring to elude self-reproaches by a diligent practice of fencing and dancing, accomplishments which he believed might not again be put within his reach so conveniently.
It was with great surprise, and not without a certain satisfaction, that he one day observed Herr Melina and his wife alight at the inn. After the first glad salutation, they inquired about the lady-manager and the other actors; and learned, with astonishment and terror, that the lady-manager had long since gone away, and her actors, to a very few, dispersed themselves about the country.
This couple, subsequently to their marriage, in which, as we know, our friend did his best to serve them, had been travelling about in various quarters, seeking an engagement, without finding any; and had at last been directed to this little town by some persons who met them on their journey, and said there was a good theatre in the place.
Melina by no means pleased the lively Laertes, when introduced to him, any more than his wife did Philina. Both heartily wished to be rid of these new-comers; and Wilhelm could inspire them with no favourable feelings on the subject, though he more than once assured them that the Melinas were very worthy people.
Indeed, the previous merry life of our three adventurers was interfered with by this extension of their society, in more ways than one. Melina had taken up his quarters in the inn where Philina stayed, and he very soon began a system of cheapening and higgling. He would have better lodging, more sumptuous diet, and readier attendance, for a smaller charge. In a short while the landlord and waiter showed very rueful looks! for whereas the others, to get pleasantly along, had expressed no discontent with anything, and paid instantly, that they might avoid thinking longer of payment, Melina now insisted on regulating every meal, and investigating its contents beforehand; a species of service for which Philina named him, without scruple, a ruminating animal.
Yet more did the merry girl hate Melinas wife. Frau Melina was a young woman not without culture, but wofully defective in soul and spirit. She could declaim not badly, and kept declaiming constantly; but it was easy to observe that her performances were little more than recitations of words. She laboured a few detached passages, but never could express the feeling of the whole. Withal, however, she was seldom disagreeable to any one, especially to men. On the contrary, people who enjoyed her acquaintance commonly ascribed to her a fine understanding; for she was what might be called a kind of spiritual chameleon, or taker-on.1 Any friend whose favour she had need of, she could flatter with peculiar adroitness; could give in to his ideas so long as she could understand them; and, when they went beyond her own horizon, could hail with ecstasy such new and brilliant visions. She understood well when to speak and when to keep silence; and though her disposition was not spiteful, she could spy out with great expertness where anothers weak side lay.
Note 1.Anempfinderin (feeler-by, feeler-according-to) is the new untranslatable word poorly paraphrased so. A new German word, first used here, the like of which might be useful in all languages, for it designates a class of persons extant in all countries.ED. [back]