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- Peter Schlemihl etc. - 6/20 -
consulted Bendel as to the means of meeting her again in the forester's garden.
At times I flattered myself with great hopes from the near approaching visit of the unknown; then wept again, because I saw clearly on reflection that they would end in disappointment. I had made a calculation of the day fixed on by the fearful being for our interview; for he had said in a year and a day, and I depended on his word.
The parents were worthy old people, devoted to their only child; and our mutual affection was a circumstance so overwhelming that they knew not how to act. They had never dreamed for a moment that the Count could bestow a thought on their daughter; but such was the case--he loved and was beloved. The pride of the mother might not have led her to consider such an alliance quite impossible, but so extravagant an idea had never entered the contemplation of the sounder judgment of the old man. Both were satisfied of the sincerity of my love, and could but put up prayers to Heaven for the happiness of their child.
A letter which I received from Minna about that time has just fallen into my hands. Yes, these are the characters traced by her own hand. I will transcribe the letter:-
"I am indeed a weak, foolish girl to fancy that the friend I so tenderly love could give an instant's pain to his poor Minna! Oh no! thou art so good, so inexpressibly good! But do not misunderstand me. I will accept no sacrifice at thy hands--none whatever. Oh heavens! I should hate myself! No; thou hast made me happy, thou hast taught me to love thee.
"Go, then--let me not forget my destiny--Count Peter belongs not to me, but to the whole world; and oh! what pride for thy Minna to hear thy deeds proclaimed, and blessings invoked on thy idolised head! Ah! when I think of this, I could chide thee that thou shouldst for one instant forget thy high destiny for the sake of a simple maiden! Go, then; otherwise the reflection will pierce me. How blest I have been rendered by thy love! Perhaps, also, I have planted some flowers in the path of thy life, as I twined them in the wreath which I presented to thee.
"Go, then--fear not to leave me--you are too deeply seated in my heart--I shall die inexpressibly happy in thy love."
Conceive how these words pierced my soul, Chamisso!
I declared to her that I was not what I seemed--that, although a rich, I was an unspeakably miserable man--that a curse was on me, which must remain a secret, although the only one between us--yet that I was not without a hope of its being removed--that this poisoned every hour of my life--that I should plunge her with me into the abyss--she, the light and joy, the very soul of my existence. Then she wept because I was unhappy. Oh! Minna was all love and tenderness. To save me one tear she would gladly have sacrificed her life.
Yet she was far from comprehending the full meaning of my words. She still looked upon me as some proscribed prince or illustrious exile; and her vivid imagination had invested her lover with every lofty attribute.
One day I said to her, "Minna, the last day in next month will decide my fate, and perhaps change it for the better; if not, I would sooner die than render you miserable."
She laid her head on my shoulder to conceal her tears. "Should thy fate be changed," she said, "I only wish to know that thou art happy; if thy condition is an unhappy one, I will share it with thee, and assist thee to support it."
"Minna, Minna!" I exclaimed, "recall those rash words--those mad words which have escaped thy lips! Didst thou know the misery and curse--didst thou know who--what--thy lover--Seest thou not, my Minna, this convulsive shuddering which thrills my whole frame, and that there is a secret in my breast which you cannot penetrate?" She sank sobbing at my feet, and renewed her vows and entreaties.
Her father now entered, and I declared to him my intention to solicit the hand of his daughter on the first day of the month after the ensuing one. I fixed that time, I told him, because circumstances might probably occur in the interval materially to influence my future destiny; but my love for his daughter was unchangeable.
The good old man started at hearing such words from the mouth of Count Peter. He fell upon my neck, and rose again in the utmost confusion for having forgotten himself. Then he began to doubt, to ponder, and to scrutinise; and spoke of dowry, security, and future provision for his beloved child. I thanked him for having reminded me of all this, and told him it was my wish to remain in a country where I seemed to be beloved, and to lead a life free from anxiety. I then commissioned him to purchase the finest estate in the neighbourhood in the name of his daughter--for a father was the best person to act for his daughter in such a case--and to refer for payment to me. This occasioned him a good deal of trouble, as a stranger had everywhere anticipated him; but at last he made a purchase for about 150,000 pounds.
I confess this was but an innocent artifice to get rid of him, as I had frequently done before; for it must be confessed that he was somewhat tedious. The good mother was rather deaf, and not jealous, like her husband, of the honour of conversing with the Count.
The happy party pressed me to remain with them longer this evening. I dared not--I had not a moment to lose. I saw the rising moon streaking the horizon--my hour was come.
Next evening I went again to the forester's garden. I had wrapped myself closely up in my cloak, slouched my hat over my eyes, and advanced towards Minna. As she raised her head and looked at me, she started involuntarily. The apparition of that dreadful night in which I had been seen without a shadow was now standing distinctly before me--it was she herself. Had she recognised me? She was silent and thoughtful. I felt an oppressive load at my heart. I rose from my seat. She laid her head on my shoulder, still silent and in tears. I went away.
I now found her frequently weeping. I became more and more melancholy. Her parents were beyond expression happy. The eventful day approached, threatening and heavy, like a thundercloud. The evening preceding arrived. I could scarcely breathe. I had carefully filled a large chest with gold, and sat down to await the appointed time--the twelfth hour--it struck.
Now I remained with my eyes fixed on the hand of the clock, counting the seconds--the minutes--which struck me to the heart like daggers. I started at every sound--at last daylight appeared. The leaden hours passed on--morning--evening--night came. Hope was fast fading away as the hand advanced. It struck eleven--no one appeared--the last minutes--the first and last stroke of the twelfth hour died away. I sank back in my bed in an agony of weeping. In the morning I should, shadowless as I was, claim the hand of my beloved Minna. A heavy sleep towards daylight closed my eyes.
It was yet early, when I was suddenly awoke by voices in hot dispute in my antechamber. I listened. Bendel was forbidding Rascal to enter my room, who swore he would receive no orders from his equals, and insisted on forcing his way. The faithful Bendel reminded him that if such words reached his master's ears, he would turn him out of an excellent place. Rascal threatened to strike him if he persisted in refusing his entrance.
By this time, having half dressed myself, I angrily threw open the door, and addressing myself to Rascal, inquired what he meant by such disgraceful conduct. He drew back a couple of steps, and coolly answered, "Count Peter, may I beg most respectfully that you will favour me with a sight of your shadow? The sun is now shining brightly in the court below."
I stood as if struck by a thunderbolt, and for some time was unable to speak. At last, I asked him how a servant could dare to behave so towards his master. He interrupted me by saying, quite coolly, "A servant may be a very honourable man, and unwilling to serve a shadowless master--I request my dismissal."
I felt that I must adopt a softer tone, and replied, "But, Rascal, my good fellow, who can have put such strange ideas into your head? How can you imagine--"
He again interrupted me in the same tone--"People say you have no shadow. In short, let me see your shadow, or give me my dismissal."
Bendel, pale and trembling, but more collected than myself, made a sign to me. I had recourse to the all-powerful influence of gold. But even gold had lost its power--Rascal threw it at my feet: "From a shadowless man," he said, "I will take nothing."
Turning his back upon me, and putting on his hat, he then slowly left the room, whistling a tune. I stood, with Bendel, as if petrified, gazing after him.
With a deep sigh and a heavy heart I now prepared to keep my engagement, and to appear in the forester's garden like a criminal before his judge. I entered by the shady arbour, which had received the name of Count Peter's arbour, where we had appointed to meet. The mother advanced with a cheerful air; Minna sat fair and beautiful as the early snow of autumn reposing on the departing flowers, soon to be dissolved and lost in the cold stream.
The ranger, with a written paper in his hand, was walking up and down in an agitated manner, and struggling to suppress his feelings- -his usually unmoved countenance being one moment flushed, and the next perfectly pale. He came forward as I entered, and, in a faltering voice, requested a private conversation with me. The path by which he requested me to follow him led to an open spot in the garden, where the sun was shining. I sat down. A long silence ensued, which even the good woman herself did not venture to break. The ranger, in an agitated manner, paced up and down with unequal steps. At last he stood still; and glancing over the paper he held in his hand, he said, addressing me with a penetrating look,
"Count Peter, do you know one Peter Schlemihl?" I was silent.
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