Mignon by James Baldwin
Here is the story of Mignon as I remember having read it in a famous
A young man named Wil-helm was staying at an inn in the city. One day
as he was going up-stairs he met a little girl coming down. He would
have taken her for a boy, if it had not been for the long curls of
black hair wound about her head. As she ran by, he caught her in his
arms and asked her to whom she belonged. He felt sure that she must be
one of the rope-dan-cers who had just come to the inn. She gave him a
sharp, dark look, slipped out of his arms, and ran away without
The next time he saw her, Wil-helm spoke to her again.
"Do not be afraid of me, little one," he said kindly. "What is your
"They call me Mignon," said the child.
"How old are you?" he asked.
"No one has counted," the child an-swered.
Wilhelm went on; but he could not help wondering about the child, and
thinking of her dark eyes and strange ways.
One day not long after that, there was a great outcry among the crowd
that was watching the rope-dan-cers. Wilhelm went down to find out
what was the matter. He saw that the master of the dancers was beating
little Mignon with a stick. He ran and held the man by the collar.
"Let the child alone!" he cried. "If you touch her again, one of us
shall never leave this spot."
The man tried to get loose; but Wilhelm held him fast. The child crept
away, and hid herself in the crowd.
"Pay me what her clothes cost," cried the ropedancer at last, "and you
may take her."
As soon as all was quiet, Wilhelm went to look for Mignon; for she now
belonged to him. But he could not find her, and it was not until the
ropedancers had left the town that she came to him.
"Where have you been?" asked Wilhelm in his kindest tones; but the
child did not speak.
"You are to live with me now, and you must be a good child," he said.
"I will try," said Mignon gently.
From that time she tried to do all that she could for Wilhelm and his
friends. She would let no one wait on him but herself. She was often
seen going to a basin of water to wash from her face the paint with
which the ropedancers had red-dened her cheeks: indeed, she nearly
rubbed off the skin in trying to wash away its fine brown tint, which
she thought was some deep dye.
Mignon grew more lovely every day. She never walked up and down the
stairs, but jumped. She would spring along by the railing, and before
you knew it, would be sitting quietly above on the landing.
To each one she would speak in a different way. To Wilhelm it was with
her arms crossed upon her breast. Often for a whole day she would not
say one word, and yet in waiting upon Wilhelm she never tired.
One night he came home very weary and sad. Mignon was waiting for him.
She carried the light before him up-stairs. She set the light down
upon the table, and in a little while she asked him if she might
"It might ease your heart a little," she said.
Wilhelm, to please her, told her that she might.
Then she brought a little carpet, and spread it upon the floor. At
each corner she placed a candle, and on the carpet she put a number of
eggs. She arranged the eggs in the form of certain figures. When this
was done, she called to a man who was waiting with a violin. She tied
a band about her eyes, and then the dancing began.
"And then the dancing began."
How lightly, quickly, nimbly, wonderfully, she moved! She skipped so
fast among the eggs, she trod so closely beside them, that you would
have thought she must crush them all. But not one of them did she
touch. With all kinds of steps she passed among them. Not one of them
was moved from its place.
Wilhelm forgot all his cares. He watched every motion of the child. He
almost forgot who and where he was.
When the dance was ended, Mignon rolled the eggs together with her
foot into a little heap. Not one was left behind, not one was harmed.
Then she took the band from her eyes, and made a little bow.
Wilhelm thanked her for showing him a dance that was so wonderful and
pretty. He praised her, petted her, and hoped that she had not tired
herself too much.
When she had gone from the room, the man with the violin told Wilhelm
of the care she had taken to teach him the music of the dance. He told
how she had sung it to him over and over again. He told how she had
even wished to pay him with her own money for learning to play it for
There was yet another way in which Mignon tried to please Wilhelm, and
make him forget his cares. She sang to him.
The song which he liked best was one whose words he had never heard
before. Its music, too, was strange to him, and yet it pleased him
very much. He asked her to speak the words over and over again. He
wrote them down; but the sweetness of the tune was more delightful
than the words. The song began in this way:—
"Do you know the land where citrons, lemons, grow,
And oranges under the green leaves glow?"
Once, when she had ended the song, she said again, "Do you know the
"It must be Italy," said Wilhelm. "Have you ever been there?"
The child did not answer.