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- Peter Schlemihl etc. - 10/20 -
his power. Since he had effected my return to the pleasures of the world, which I had resolved to shun, he had the perfect mastery of me. His eloquence was irresistible, and at times I almost thought he was in the right. A shadow is indeed necessary to a man of fortune; and if I chose to maintain the position in which he had placed me, there was only one means of doing so. But on one point I was immovable: since I had sacrificed my love for Minna, and thereby blighted the happiness of my whole life, I would not now, for all the shadows in the universe be induced to sign away my soul to this being--I knew not how it might end.
One day we were sitting by the entrance of a cavern, much visited by strangers, who ascended the mountain: the rushing noise of a subterranean torrent resounded from the fathomless abyss, the depths of which exceeded all calculation. He was, according to his favourite custom, employing all the powers of his lavish fancy, and all the charm of the most brilliant colouring, to depict to me what I might effect in the world by virtue of my purse, when once I had recovered my shadow. With my elbows resting on my knees, I kept my face concealed in my hands, and listened to the false fiend, my heart torn between the temptation and my determined opposition to it. Such indecision I could no longer endure, and resolved on one decisive effort.
"You seem to forget," said I, "that I tolerate your presence only on certain conditions, and that I am to retain perfect freedom of action."
"You have but to command, I depart," was all his reply.
The threat was familiar to me; I was silent. He then began to fold up my shadow. I turned pale, but allowed him to continue. A long silence ensued, which he was the first to break.
"You cannot endure me, Mr Schlemihl--you hate me--I am aware of it-- but why?--is it, perhaps, because you attacked me on the open plain, in order to rob me of my invisible bird's nest? or is it because you thievishly endeavoured to seduce away the shadow with which I had entrusted you--my own property--confiding implicitly in your honour! I, for my part, have no dislike to you. It is perfectly natural that you should avail yourself of every means, presented either by cunning or force, to promote your own interests. That your principles also should be of the strictest sort, and your intentions of the most honourable description,--these are fancies with which I have nothing to do; I do not pretend to such strictness myself. Each of us is free, I to act, and you to think, as seems best. Did I ever seize you by the throat, to tear out of your body that valuable soul I so ardently wish to possess? Did I ever set my servant to attack you, to get back my purse, or attempt to run off with it from you?"
I had not a word to reply.
"Well, well," he exclaimed, "you detest me, and I know it; but I bear you no malice on that account. We must part--that is clear; also I must say that you begin to be very tiresome to me. Once more let me advise you to free yourself entirely from my troublesome presence by the purchase of your shadow."
I held out the purse to him.
"No, Mr. Schlemihl; not at that price."
With a deep sigh, I said, "Be it so, then; let us part, I entreat; cross my path no more. There is surely room enough in the world for us both."
Laughing, he replied, "I go; but just allow me to inform you how you may at any time recall me whenever you have a mind to see your most humble servant: you have only to shake your purse, the sound of the gold will bring me to you in an instant. In this world every one consults his own advantage; but you see I have thought of yours, and clearly confer upon you a new power. Oh this purse! it would still prove a powerful bond between us, had the moth begun to devour your shadow.--But enough: you hold me by my gold, and may command your servant at any distance. You know that I can be very serviceable to my friends; and that the rich are my peculiar care--this you have observed. As to your shadow, allow me to say, you can only redeem it on one condition."
Recollections of former days came over me; and I hastily asked him if he had obtained Mr. Thomas John's signature.
He smiled, and said, "It was by no means necessary from so excellent a friend."
"Where is he? for God's sake tell me: I insist upon knowing."
With some hesitation, he put his hand into his pocket; and drew out the altered and pallid form of Mr. John by the hair of his head, whose livid lips uttered the awful words, "Justo judicio Dei judicatus sum; justo judicio Dei condemnatus sum"--"I am judged and condemned by the just judgment of God." I was horror-struck; and instantly throwing the jingling purse into the abyss, I exclaimed, "Wretch! in the name of Heaven, I conjure you to be gone!--away from my sight!--never appear before me again!" With a dark expression on his countenance, he arose, and immediately vanished behind the huge rocks which surrounded the place.
I was now left equally without gold and without shadow; but a heavy load was taken from my breast, and I felt cheerful. Had not my Minna been irrecoverably lost to me, or even had I been perfectly free from self-reproach on her account, I felt that happiness might yet have been mine. At present I was lost in doubt as to my future course. I examined my pockets, and found I had a few gold pieces still left, which I counted with feelings of great satisfaction. I had left my horse at the inn, and was ashamed to return, or at all events I must wait till the sun had set, which at present was high in the heavens. I laid myself down under a shady tree and fell into a peaceful sleep.
Lovely forms floated in airy measures before me, and filled up my delightful dreams. Minna, with a garland of flowers entwined in her hair, was bending over me with a smile of goodwill; also the worthy Bendel was crowned with flowers, and hastened to meet me with friendly greetings. Many other forms seemed to rise up confusedly in the distance: thyself among the number, Chamisso. Perfect radiance beamed around them, but none had a shadow; and what was more surprising, there was no appearance of unhappiness on this account. Nothing was to be seen or heard but flowers and music; and love and joy, and groves of never-fading palms, seemed the natives of that happy clime.
In vain I tried to detain and comprehend the lovely but fleeting forms. I was conscious, also, of being in a dream, and was anxious that nothing should rouse me from it; and when I did awake, I kept my eyes closed, in order if possible to continue the illusion. At last I opened my eyes. The sun was now visible in the east; I must have slept the whole night: I looked upon this as a warning not to return to the inn. What I had left there I was content to lose, without much regret; and resigning myself to Providence, I decided on taking a by-road that led through the wooded declivity of the mountain. I never once cast a glance behind me; nor did it ever occur to me to return, as I might have done, to Bendel, whom I had left in affluence. I reflected on the new character I was now going to assume in the world. My present garb was very humble--consisting of an old black coat I formerly had worn at Berlin, and which by some chance was the first I put my hand on before setting out on this journey, a travelling-cap, and an old pair of boots. I cut down a knotted stick in memory of the spot, and commenced my pilgrimage.
In the forest I met an aged peasant, who gave me a friendly greeting, and with whom I entered into conversation, requesting, as a traveller desirous of information, some particulars relative to the road, the country, and its inhabitants, the productions of the mountain, &c. He replied to my various inquiries with readiness and intelligence. At last we reached the bed of a mountain-torrent, which had laid waste a considerable tract of the forest; I inwardly shuddered at the idea of the open sunshine. I suffered the peasant to go before me. In the middle of the very place which I dreaded so much, he suddenly stopped, and turned back to give me an account of this inundation; but instantly perceiving that I had no shadow, he broke off abruptly, and exclaimed, "How is this?--you have no shadow!"
"Alas, alas!" said I, "in a long and serious illness I had the misfortune to lose my hair, my nails, and my shadow. Look, good father; although my hair has grown again, it is quite white; and at my age, my nails are still very short; and my poor shadow seems to have left me, never to return."
"Ah!" said the old man, shaking his head; "no shadow! that was indeed a terrible illness, sir."
But he did not resume his narrative; and at the very first cross- road we came to, left me without uttering a syllable. Fresh tears flowed from my eyes, and my cheerfulness had fled. With a heavy heart I travelled on, avoiding all society. I plunged into the deepest shades of the forest; and often, to avoid a sunny tract of country, I waited for hours till every human being had left it, and I could pass it unobserved. In the evenings I took shelter in the villages. I bent my steps to a mine in the mountains, where I hoped to meet with work underground; for besides that my present situation compelled me to provide for my own support, I felt that incessant and laborious occupation alone could divert my mind from dwelling on painful subjects. A few rainy days assisted me materially on my journey; but it was to the no small detriment of my boots, the soles of which were better suited to Count Peter than to the poor foot- traveller. I was soon barefoot, and a new purchase must be made. The following morning I commenced an earnest search in a marketplace, where a fair was being held; and I saw in one of the booths new and second-hand boots set out for sale. I was a long time selecting and bargaining; I wished much to have a new pair, but was frightened at the extravagant price; and so was obliged to content myself with a second-hand pair, still pretty good and strong, which the beautiful fair-haired youth who kept the booth handed over to me with a cheerful smile, wishing me a prosperous journey. I went on, and left the place immediately by the northern gate.
I was so lost in my own thoughts, that I walked along scarcely knowing how or where. I was calculating the chances of my reaching the mine by the evening, and considering how I should introduce
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