STORIES BY FOREIGN AUTHORS - GERMAN
CHRISTIAN GELLERT'S LAST CHRISTMAS …… BY BERTHOLD AUERBACH
A GHETTO VIOLET ….. BY LEOPOLD KOMPERT
THE SEVERED HAND …. BY WILHELM HAUFF
PETER SCHLEMIHL ….. BY ADELBERT VON CHAMISSO
The translations in this volume, where previously published, are used
by arrangement with the owners of the copyrights (as specified at the
beginning of each story). Translations made especially for the series
are covered by its general copyright. All rights in both classes are
CHRISTIAN GELLERT'S LAST CHRISTMAS
From "German Tales."
Three o'clock had just struck from the tower of St. Nicholas, Leipzig,
on the afternoon of December 22d, 1768, when a man, wrapped in a loose
overcoat, came out of the door of the University. His countenance was
exceedingly gentle, and on his features cheerfulness still lingered, for
he had been gazing upon a hundred cheerful faces; after him thronged a
troop of students, who, holding back, allowed him to precede them: the
passengers in the streets saluted him, and some students, who pressed
forwards and hurried past him homewards, saluted him quite
reverentially. He returned their salutations with a surprised and almost
deprecatory air, and yet he knew, and could not conceal from himself,
that he was one of the best beloved, not only in the good city of
Leipzig, but in all lands far and wide.
It was Christian Furchtegott Gellert, the Poet of Fables, Hymns, and
Lays, who was just leaving his college.
When we read his "Lectures upon Morals," which were not printed until
after his death, we obtain but a very incomplete idea of the great power
with which they came immediately from Gellert's mouth. Indeed, it was
his voice, and the touching manner in which he delivered his lectures,
that made so deep an impression upon his hearers; and Rabener was right
when once he wrote to a friend, that "the philanthropic voice" of
Gellert belonged to his words.
Above all, however, it was the amiable and pure personal character of
Gellert which vividly and edifyingly impressed young hearts. Gellert was
himself the best example of pure moral teaching; and the best which a
teacher can give his pupils is faith in the victorious might, and the
stability of the eternal moral laws. His lessons were for the Life, for
his life in itself was a lesson. Many a victory over the troubles of
life, over temptations of every kind, ay, many an elevation to nobility
of thought, and to purity of action, had its origin in that
lecture-hall, at the feet of Gellert.
It was as though Gellert felt that it was the last time he would deliver
these lectures; that those words so often and so impressively uttered
would be heard no more from his mouth; and there was a peculiar sadness,
yet a peculiar strength, in all he said that day.
He had this day earnestly recommended modesty and humility; and it
appeared almost offensive to him, that people as he went should tempt
him in regard to these very virtues; for continually he heard men
whisper, "That is Gellert!"
What is fame, and what is honor? A cloak of many colors, without warmth,
without protection: and now, as he walked along, his heart literally
froze in his bosom, as he confessed to himself that he had as yet done
nothing—nothing which could give him a feeling of real satisfaction.
Men honored him and loved him: but what was all that worth? His
innermost heart could not be satisfied with that; in his own estimation
he deserved no meed of praise; and where, where was there any evidence
of that higher and purer life which he would fain bring about! Then,
again, the Spirit would comfort him and say: "Much seed is lost, much
falls in stony places, and much on good ground and brings forth
His inmost soul heard not the consolation, for his body was weak and
sore burdened from his youth up, and in his latter days yet more than
ever; and there are conditions of the body in which the most elevating
words, and the cheeriest notes of joy, strike dull and heavy on the
soul. It is one of the bitterest experiences of life to discover how
little one man can really be to another. How joyous is that youthful
freshness which can believe that, by a thought transferred to another's
heart, we can induce him to become another being, to live according to
what he must acknowledge true, to throw aside his previous delusions,
and return to the right path!
The youngsters go their way! Do your words follow after? Whither are
they going? What are now their thoughts? What manner of life will be
theirs? "My heart yearns after them, but cannot be with them: oh, how
happy were those messengers of the Spirit, who cried aloud to youth or
manhood the words of the Spirit, that they must leave their former ways,
and thenceforth change to other beings! Pardon me, O God! that I would
fain be like them; I am weak and vile, and yet, methinks, there must be
words as yet unheard, unknown—oh! where are they, those words which at
once lay hold upon the soul?"
With such heavy thoughts went Gellert away from his college-gate to
Rosenthal. There was but one small pathway cleared, but the passers
cheerfully made way for him, and walked in the snow that they might
leave him the pathway unimpeded; but he felt sad, and "as if each tree
had somewhat to cast at him." Like all men really pure, and cleaving to
the good with all their might, Gellert was not only far from contenting
himself with work already done: he also, in his anxiety to be doing,
almost forgot that he the inward depression easily changes to
displeasure against every one, and the household of the melancholic
suffers thereby intolerably; for the displeasure turns against them,—no
one does anything properly, nothing is in its place. How very different
is Gellert's melancholy! Not a soul suffers from it but himself, against
himself alone his gloomy thoughts turn, and towards every other creature
he is always kind, amiable, and obliging: he bites his lips; but when
he speaks to any one, he is wholly good, forbearing, and self-forgetful.
Whilst they were talking together, Gellert was sitting in his room, and
had lighted a pipe to dispel the agitation which he would experience in
opening his letters; and while smoking, he could read them much more
comfortably. He reproached himself for smoking, which was said to be
injurious to his health, but he could not quite give up the "horrible
practice," as he called it.
He first examined the addresses and seals of the letters which had
arrived, then quietly opened and read them. A fitful smile passed over
his features; there were letters from well-known friends, full of love
and admiration, but from strangers also, who, in all kinds of
heart-distress, took counsel of him. He read the letters full of
friendly applause, first hastily, that he might have the right of
reading them again, and that he might not know all at once; and when he
had read a friend's letter for the second time, he sprang from his seat
and cried, "Thank God! thank God! that I am so fortunate as to have such
friends!" To his inwardly diffident nature these helps were a real
requirement; they served to cheer him, and only those who did not know
him called his joy at the reception of praise—conceit; it was, on the
contrary, the truest modesty. How often did he sit there, and all that
he had taught and written, all that he had ever been to men in word and
deed, faded, vanished, and died away, and he appeared to himself but a
useless servant of the world. His friends he answered immediately; and
as his inward melancholy vanished, and the philanthropy, nay, the
sprightliness of his soul beamed forth, when he was among men and looked
in a living face, so was it also with his letters. When he bethought him
of the friends to whom he was writing, he not only acquired
tranquillity, that virtue for which his whole life long he strove; but
his loving nature received new life, and only by slight intimations did
he betray the heaviness and dejection which weighed upon his soul. He
was, in the full sense of the word, "philanthropic," in the sight of
good men; and in thoughts for their welfare, there was for him a real
happiness and a joyous animation.
When, however, he had done writing and felt lonely again, the gloomy
spirits came back: he had seated himself, wishing to raise his thoughts
for composing a sacred song; but he was ill at ease, and had no power
to express that inward, firm, and self-rejoicing might of faith which
lived in him. Again and again the scoffers and free-thinkers rose up
before his thoughts: he must refute their objections, and not until that
was done did he become himself.
It is a hard position, when a creative spirit cannot forget the
adversaries which on all sides oppose him in the world: they come
unsummoned to the room and will not be expelled; they peer over the
shoulder, and tug at the hand which fain would write; they turn images
upside down, and distort the thoughts; and here and there, from ceiling
and wall, they grin, and scoff, and oppose: and what was just gushing
as an aspiration from the soul, is converted to a confused absurdity.
At such a time, the spirit, courageous and self-dependent, must take
refuge in itself and show a firm front to a world of foes.
A strong nature boldly hurls his inkstand at the Devil's head; goes to
battle with his opponents with words both written and spoken; and keeps
his own individuality free from the perplexities with which opponents
disturb all that has been previously done, and make the soul unsteadfast
and unnerved for what is to come.
Gellert's was no battling, defiant nature, which relies upon itself; he
did not hurl his opponents down and go his way; he would convince them,
and so they were always ready to encounter him. And as the applause of
his friends rejoiced him, so the opposition of his enemies could sink
him in deep dejection. Besides, he had always been weakly; he had, as
he himself complained, in addition to frequent coughs and a pain in his
loins, a continual gnawing and pressure in the centre of his chest,
which accompanied him from his first rising in the morning until he
slept at night.
Thus he sat for a while, in deep dejection: and, as often before, his
only wish was, that God would give him grace whereby when his hour was
come, he might die piously and tranquilly.
It was past midnight when he sought his bed and extinguished his light.
And the buckets at the well go up and go down.
About the same hour, in Duben Forest, the rustic Christopher was rising
from his bed. As with steel and flint he scattered sparks upon the
tinder, in kindling himself a light, his wife, awakening, cried:
"Why that heavy sigh?"
"Ah! life is a burden: I'm the most harassed mortal in the world. The
pettiest office-clerk may now be abed in peace, and needn't break off
his sleep, while I must go out and brave wind and weather."
"Be content," replied his wife: "why, I dreamt you had actually been
made magistrate, and wore something on your head like a king's crown."
"Oh! you women; as though what you see isn't enough, you like to chatter
about what you dream."
"Light the lamp, too," said his wife, "and I'll get up and make you a
The peasant, putting a candle in his lantern, went to the stable; and
after he had given some fodder to the horses, he seated himself upon the
manger. With his hands squeezed between his knees and his head bent
down, he reflected over and over again what a wretched existence he had
of it. "Why," thought he, "are so many men so well-off, so comfortable,
whilst you must be always toiling? What care I if envy be not a
virtue?—and yet I'm not envious, I don't grudge others being well-off,
only I should like to be well-off too; oh, for a quiet, easy life! Am
I not worse off than a horse? He gets his fodder at the proper time, and
takes no care about it. Why did my father make my brother a minister?
He gets his salary without any trouble, sits in a warm room, has no care
in the world; and I must slave and torment myself."
Strange to say, his very next thought, that he would like to be made
local magistrate, he would in no wise confess to himself.
He sat still a long while; then he went back again to the sitting-room,
past the kitchen, where the fire was burning cheerily. He seated himself
at the table and waited for his morning porridge. On the table lay an
open book; his children had been reading it the previous evening:
involuntarily taking it up, he began to read. Suddenly he started,
rubbed his eyes, and then read again. How comes this verse here just at
this moment? He kept his hand upon the book, and so easily had he caught
the words, that he repeated them to himself softly with his lips, and
nodded several times, as much as to say: "That's true!" And he said
aloud: "It's all there together: short and sweet!" and he was still
staring at it, when his wife brought in the smoking porridge. Taking off
his cap, he folded his hands and said aloud:
"Accept God's gifts with resignation,
Content to lack what thou hast not:
In every lot there's consolation;
There's trouble, too, in every lot!"
The wife looked at her husband with amazement. What a strange expression
was upon his face! And as he sat down and began to eat, she said: "What
is the meaning of that grace? What has to you? Where did you find it?"
"It the best of all graces, the very best,—real God's word. Yes, and
all your life you've never made such nice porridge before. You must have
put something special in it!"
"I don't know what you mean. Stop! There's the book lying there—ah!
that's it—and it's by Gellert, of Leipzig."
"What! Gellert, of Leipzig! Men with ideas like that don't live now;
there may have been such, a thousand years ago, in holy lands, not among
us; those are the words of a saint of old."
"And I tell you they are by Gellert, of Leipzig, of whom your brother
has told us; in fact, he was his tutor, and haven't you heard how pious
and good he is?"
"I wouldn't have believed that such men still lived, and so near us,
too, as Leipzig."
"Well, but those who lived a thousand years ago were also once living
creatures: and over Leipzig is just the same heaven, and the same sun
shines, and the same God rules, as over all other cities."
"Oh! yes, my brother has an apt pupil in you!"
"Well, and why not? I've treasured up all he told us of Professor
"A man with such a proud, new-fangled title couldn't write anything like
"He didn't give himself the title, and he is poor enough withal! and how
hard it has fared with him! Even from childhood he has been well
acquainted with poverty: his father was a poor minister in Haynichen,
with thirteen children; Gellert, when quite a little fellow, was obliged
to be a copying office-clerk: who can tell whether he didn't then
contract that physical weakness of his? And now that he's an old man,
things will never go better with him; he has often no wood, and must be
pinched with cold. It is with him, perhaps, as with that student of whom
your brother has told us, who is as poor as a rat, and yet must read;
and so in winter he lies in bed with an empty stomach, until day is far
advanced; and he has his book before him, and first he takes out one
hand to hold his book, and then, when that is numb with cold, the other.
Ah! tongue cannot tell how poorly the man must live; and yet your
brother has told me, if he has but a few pounds, he doesn't think at all
of himself; he always looks out for one still poorer than he is, and
then gives all away: and he's always engaged in aiding and assisting
others. Oh! dear, and yet he is so poor! May be at this moment he is
hungry and cold; and he is said to be in ill-health, besides."
"Wife, I would willingly do the man a good turn if I could. If, now, he
had some land, I could plough, and sow, and reap, and carry, and thresh
by the week together for him. I should like to pay him attention in such
a way that he might know there was at least one who cared for him. But
his profession is one in which I can't be of any use to him."
"Well, just seek him out and speak with him once; you are going to-day,
you know, with your wood to Leipzig. Seek him out and thank him; that
sort of thing does such a man's heart good. Anybody can see him."
"Yes, yes; I should like much to see him, and hold out to him my
hand,—but not empty: I wish I had something!"
"Speak to your brother, and get him to give you a note to him."
"No, no; say nothing to my brother; but it might be possible for me to
meet him in the street. Give me my Sunday coat; it will come to no harm
under my cloak."
When his wife brought him the coat, she said: "If, now, Gellert had a
wife, or a household of his own, one might send him something; but your
brother says he is a bachelor, and lives quite alone."
Christopher had never before so cheerfully harnessed his horses and put
them to his wood-laden wagon; for a long while he had not given his hand
so gayly to his wife at parting as to-day. Now he started with his
heavily-laden vehicle through the village; the wheels creaked and
crackled in the snow. At the parsonage he stopped, and looked away
yonder where his brother was still sleeping; he thought he would wake
him and tell him his intention: but suddenly he whipped up his horses,
and continued his route. He wouldn't yet bind himself to his
intention—perchance it was but a passing thought; he doesn't own that
to himself, but he says to himself that he will surprise his brother
with the news of what he has done; and then his thoughts wandered away
to the good man still sleeping yonder in the city; and he hummed the
verse to himself in an old familiar tune.
Wonderfully in life do effects manifest themselves, of which we have no
trace. Gellert, too, heard in his dreams a singing; he knew not what it
was, but it rang so consolingly, so joyously! … Christopher drove on,
and he felt as though a bandage had been taken from his eyes; he
reflected what a nice house, what a bonny wife and rosy children he had,
and how warm the cloak which he had thrown over him was, and how well
off were both man and beast; and through the still night he drove along,
and beside him sat a spirit; but not an illusion of the brain, such as
in olden time men conjured up to their terror, a good spirit sat beside
him—beside the woodman who his whole life long had never believed that
anything could have power over him but what had hands and feet.
It is said that, on troublous nights, evil spirits settle upon the necks
of men, and belabor them so that they gasp and sweat for very terror;
quite another sort it was to-day which sat by the woodman: and his heart
was warm, and its beating quick.
In ancient times, men also carried loads of wood through the night, that
heretics might be burned thereon: these men thought they were doing a
good deed in helping to execute justice; and who can say how painful it
was to their hearts, when they were forced to think: To-morrow, on this
wood which now you carry, will shriek, and crackle, and gasp, a human
being like yourself? Who can tell what black spirits settled on the
necks of those who bore the wood to make the funeral-pile? How very
different was it to-day with our woodman Christopher!
And earlier still, in ancient times, men brought wood to the temple,
whereon they offered victims in the honor of God; and, according to
their notions, they did a good deed: for when words can no longer
suffice to express the fervency of the heart, it gladly offers what it
prizes, what it dearly loves, as a proof of its devotion, of the
earnestness of its intent.
How differently went Christopher from the Duben Forest upon his way! He
knew not whether he were intending to bring a purer offering than men
had brought in bygone ages; but his heart grew warm within him.
It was day as he arrived before the gates of Leipzig. Here there met him
a funeral-procession; behind the bier the scholars of St. Thomas, in
long black cloaks, were chanting. Christopher stopped and raised his
hat. Whom were they burying? Supposing it were Gellert.—Yes, surely,
he thought, it is he: and how gladly, said he to himself, would you now
have done him a kindness—ay, even given him your wood! Yes, indeed you
would, and now he is dead, and you cannot give him any help!
As soon as the train had passed, Christopher asked who was being buried.
It was a simple burgher, it was not Gellert; and in the deep breath
which Christopher drew lay a double signification: on the one hand, was
joy that Gellert was not dead; on the other, a still small voice
whispered to him that he had now really promised to give him the wood:
ah! but whom had he promised?—himself: and it is easy to argue with
one's own conscience.
Superstition babbles of conjuring-spells, by which, without the
co-operation of the patient, the evil spirit can be summarily ejected.
It would be convenient if one had that power, but, in truth, it is not
so: it is long ere the evil desire and the evil habit are removed from
the soul into which they have nestled; and the will, for a long while
in bondage, must co-operate, if a releasing spell from without is to set
the prisoner free. One can only be guided, but himself must move his
As Christopher now looked about him, he found that he had stopped close
by an inn; he drove his load a little aside, went into the parlor, and
drank a glass of warmed beer. There was already a goodly company, and
not far from Christopher sat a husbandman with his son, a student here,
who was telling him how there had been lately quite a stir. Professor
Gellert had been ill, and riding a well-trained horse had been
recommended for his health. Now Prince Henry of Prussia, during the
Seven Years' War, at the occupation of Leipzig, had sent him a piebald,
that had died a short time ago; and the Elector, hearing of it, had sent
Gellert from Dresden another—a chestnut—with golden bridle, blue
velvet saddle, and gold-embroidered housings. Half the city had
assembled when the groom, a man with iron-gray hair, brought the horse;
and for several days it was to be seen at the stable; but Gellert dared
not mount it, it was so young and high-spirited. The rustic now asked
his son whether the Professor did not make money enough to procure a
horse of his own, to which the son answered: "Certainly not. His salary
is but one hundred and twenty-five dollars, and his further gains are
inconsiderable. His Lectures on Morals he gives publicly, i.e., gratis,
and he has hundreds of hearers; and, therefore, at his own lectures,
which must be paid for, he has so many the fewer. To be sure, he has now
and then presents from grand patrons; but no one gives him, once and for
all, enough to live upon, and to have all over with a single
Our friend Christopher started as he heard this; he had quite made up
his mind to take Gellert the wood: but he had yet to do it. How easy
were virtue, if will and deed were the same thing! if performance could
immediately succeed to the moment off burning enthusiasm! But one must
make way over obstacles; over those that outwardly lie in one's path,
and over those that are hidden deep in the heart; and negligence has a
thousand very cunning advocates.
How many go forth, prompted by good intentions, but let little
hindrances turn them from their way—entirely from their way of life!
In front of the house Christopher met other woodmen whom he knew,
and—"You are stirring betimes!" "Prices are good to-day!" "But little
comes to the market now!" was the cry from all sides. Christopher wanted
to say that all that didn't concern him, but he was ashamed to confess
that his design was, and an inward voice told him he must not lie.
Without answering he joined the rest, and wended his way to the market;
and on the road he thought: "There are Peter, and Godfrey, and John, who
have seven times your means, and not one of them, I'm sure, would think
of doing anything of this kind; why will you be the kind-hearted fool?
Stay! what matters it what others do or leave undone? Every man shall
answer for himself. Yes, but go to market—it is better it should be so;
yes, certainly, much better: sell your wood—who knows? perhaps he
doesn't want it—and take him the proceeds, or at least the greater
portion. But is the wood still yours? You have, properly speaking,
already given it away; it has only not been taken from your keeping…."
There are people who cannot give; they can only let a thing be taken
either by the hand of chance, or by urgency and entreaty. Christopher
had such fast hold of possession, that it was only after sore wrestling
that he let go; and yet his heart was kind, at least to-day it was so
disposed, but the tempter whispered: "It is not easy to find so
good-natured a fellow as you. How readily would you have given, had the
man been in want, and your good intention must go for the deed." Still,
on the other hand, there was something in him which made opposition,—an
echo from those hours, when, in the still night, he was driving
hither,—and it burned in him like sacred fire, and it said, "You must
now accomplish what you intended. Certainly no one knows of it, and you
are responsible to no one; but you know of it yourself, and One above
you knows, and how shall you be justified?" And he said to himself,
"I'll stand by this: look, it is just nine; if no one ask the price of
your wood until ten o'clock, until the stroke of ten,—until it has done
striking, I mean; if no one ask, then the wood belongs to Professor
Gellert: but if a buyer come, then it is a sign that you need
not—should not give it away. There, that's all settled. But how? what
means this? Can you make your good deed dependent on such a chance as
this? No, no; I don't mean it. But yet—yet—only for a joke, I'll try
Temptation kept him turning as it were in a circle, and still he stood
with an apparently quiet heart by his wagon in the market. The people
who heard him muttering in this way to himself looked at him with
wonder, and passed by him to another wagon, as though he had not been
there. It struck nine. Can you wait patiently another hour? Christopher
lighted his pipe, and looked calmly on, while this and that load was
driven off. It struck the quarter, half-hour, three-quarters.
Christopher now put his pipe in his pocket; it had long been cold, and
his hands were almost frozen; all his blood had rushed to his heart. Now
it struck the full hour, stroke after stroke. At first he counted; then
he fancied he had lost a stroke and miscalculated. Either voluntarily
or involuntarily, he said to himself, when it had finished striking,
"You're wrong; it is nine, not ten." He turned round that he might not
see the dial, and thus he stood for some time, with his hands upon the
wagon-rack, gazing at the wood. He knew not how long he had been thus
standing, when some one tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "How much
for the load of wood?"
Christopher turned round: there was an odd look of irresolution in his
eyes as he said: "Eh? eh? what time is it?"
"Then the wood is now no longer mine—at least to sell:" and, collecting
himself, he became suddenly warm, and with firm hand turned his horses
round, and begged the woodmen who accompanied him to point him out the
way to the house with the "Schwarz Brett," Dr. Junius's. There he
delivered a full load: at each log he took out of the wagon he smiled
oddly. The wood-measurer measured the wood carefully, turning each log
and placing it exactly, that there might not be a crevice anywhere.
"Why are you so over-particular to-day, pray?" asked Christopher, and
he received for answer:
"Professor Gellert must have a fair load; every shaving kept back from
him were a sin."
Christopher laughed aloud, and the wood-measurer looked at him with
amazement; for such particularity generally provoked a quarrel.
Christopher had still some logs over; these he kept by him on the wagon.
At this moment the servant Sauer came up, and asked to whom the wood
"To Professor Gellert," answered Christopher.
"The man's mad! it isn't true. Professor Gellert has not bought any
wood; it is my business to look after that."
"He has not bought it, and yet it is his!" cried Christopher.
Sauer was on the point of giving the mad peasant a hearty scolding,
raising his voice so much the louder, as it was striking eleven by St.
Nicholas. At this moment, however, he became suddenly mute; for yonder
from the University there came, with tired gait, a man of a noble
countenance: at every step he made, on this side and on that, off came
the hats and the caps of the passers-by, and Sauer simply called out,
"There comes the Professor himself."
What a peculiar expression passed over Christopher's face! He looked at
the new-comer, and so earnest was his gaze, that Gellert, who always
walked with his head bowed, suddenly looked up. Christopher said: "Mr.
Gellert, I am glad to see you still alive."
"I thank you," said Gellert, and made as though he would pass on; but
Christopher stepped up closer to him, and, stretching out his hand to
him, said: "I have taken the liberty—I should like—will you give me
your hand, Mr. Gellert?"
Gellert drew his long thin hand out of his muff and placed it in the
hard oaken-like hand of the peasant; and at this moment, when the
peasant's hand lay in the scholar's palm, as one felt the other's
pressure in actual living grasp, there took place, though the mortal
actors in the scene were all unconscious of it, a renewal of that
healthy life which alone can make a people one.
How long had the learned world, wrapped up in itself, separated from the
fellow-men around, thought in Latin, felt as foreigners, and lived
buried in contemplation of bygone worlds! From the time of Gellert
commences the ever-increasing unity of good-fellowship throughout all
classes of life, kept up by mutual giving and receiving. As the
scholar—as the solitary poet endeavors to work upon others by lays that
quicken and songs that incite, so he in his turn is a debtor to his age,
and the lonely thinking and writing become the property of all; but the
effects are not seen in a moment; for higher than the most highly gifted
spirit of any single man is the spirit of a nation. With the pressure
which Gellert and the peasant exchanged commenced a mighty change in
universal life, which never more can cease to act.
"Permit me to enter your room?" said Christopher, and Gellert nodded
assent. He was so courteous that he motioned to the peasant to enter
first; however, Sauer went close after him: he thought it must be a
madman; he must protect his master; the man looked just as if he were
drunk. Gellert, with his amanuensis, Godike, followed them.
Gellert, however, felt that the man must be actuated by pure motives:
he bade the others retire, and took Christopher alone into his study;
and, as he clasped his left with his own right hand, he asked: "Well,
my good friend, what is your business?"
"Eh? oh! nothing—I've only brought you a load of wood there—a fair,
full load; however, I'll give you the few logs which I have in my wagon,
"My good man, my servant Sauer looks after buying my wood."
"It is no question of buying. No, my dear sir, I give it to you."
"Give it to me? Why me particularly?"
"Oh! sir, you do not know at all what good you do, what good you have
done me; and my wife was right; why should there not be really pious men
in our day too? Surely the sun still shines as he shone thousands of
years ago; all is now the same as then; and the God of old is still
"Certainly, certainly; I am glad to see you so pious."
"Ah! believe me, dear sir, I am not always so pious; and that I am so
disposed today is owing to you. We have no more confessionals now, but
I can confess to you: and you have taken a heavier load from my heart
than a wagon-load of wood. Oh! sir, I am not what I was. In my early
days I was a high-spirited, merry lad, and out in the field, and indoors
in the inn and the spinning-room, there was none who could sing against
me; but that is long past. What has a man on whose head the
grave-blossoms are growing," and he pointed to his gray head, "to do
with all that trash? And besides, the Seven Years' War has put a stop
to all our singing. But last night, in the midst of the fearful cold,
I sang a lay set expressly for me—all old tunes go to it: and it seemed
to me as though I saw a sign-post which pointed I know not whither—or,
nay, I do know whither." And now the peasant related how discontented
and unhappy in mind he had been, and how the words in the lay had all
at once raised his spirits and accompanied him upon the journey, like
a good fellow who talks to one cheerfully.
At this part of the peasant's tale Gellert folded his hands in silence,
and the peasant concluded: "How I always envied others, I cannot now
think why; but you I do envy, sir: I should like to be as you."
And Gellert answered: "I thank God, and rejoice greatly that my writings
have been of service to you. Think not so well of me. Would God I were
really the good man I appear in your eyes! I am far from being such as
I should, such as I would fain be. I write my books for my own
improvement also, to show myself as well as others what manner of men
we should be."
Laughing, the peasant replied: "You put me in mind of the story my poor
mother used to tell of the old minister; he stood up once in the pulpit
and said: 'My dear friends, I speak not only for you, but for myself
also; I, too, have need of it.'"
Christopher laughed outrageously when he had finished, and Gellert
smiled, and said: "Yes, whoever in the darkness lighteth another with
a lamp, lighteth himself also; and the light is not part of
ourselves,—it is put into our hands by Him who hath appointed the suns
The peasant stood speechless, and looked upon the ground: there was
something within him which took away the power of looking up; he was
only conscious that it ill became him to laugh so loudly just now, when
he told the story of the old minister.
A longer pause ensued, and Gellert seemed to be lost in reflection upon
this reference to a minister's work, for he said half to himself: "Oh!
how would it fulfil my dearest wish to be a village-pastor! To move
about among my people, and really be one with them; the friend of their
souls my whole life long, never to lose them out of my sight! Yonder
goes one whom I have led into the right way; there another, with whom
I still wrestle, but whom I shall assuredly save; and in them all the
teaching lives which God proclaims by me. Did I not think that I should
be acting against my duty, I would this moment choose a country life for
the remnant of my days. When I look from my window over the country, I
have before me the broad sky, of which we citizens know but little, a
scene entirely new; there I stand and lose myself for half an hour in
gazing and in thinking. Yes, good friend, envy no man in the rank of
scholars. Look at me; I am almost always ill; and what a burden is a
sickly body! How strong, on the contrary, are you! I am never happier
than when, without being remarked, I can watch a dinner-table thronged
by hungry men and maids. Even if these folks be not generally so happy
as their superiors, at table they are certainly happier."
"Yes, sir; we relish our eating and drinking. And, lately, when felling
and sorting that wood below, I was more than usually lively; it seems
as though I had a notion I was to do some good with it."
"And must I permit you to make me a present?" asked Gellert, resting his
chin upon his left hand.
The peasant answered: "It is not worth talking about."
"Nay, it might be well worth talking about; but I accept your present.
It is pride not to be ready to accept a gift. Is not all we have a gift
from God? And what one man gives another, he gives, as is most
appropriately said, for God's sake. Were I your minister, I should be
pleased to accept a present from you. You see, good friend, we men have
no occasion to thank each other. You have given me nothing of yours, and
I have given you nothing of mine. That the trees grow in the forest is
none of your doing, it is the work of the Creator and Preserver of the
world; and the soil is not yours; and the sun and the rain are not
yours; they all are the works of His hand; and if, perchance, I have
some healthy thoughts rising up in my soul, which benefit my fellow-men,
it is none of mine, it is His doing. The word is not mine, and the
spirit is not mine; and I am but an instrument in His hand. Therefore
one man needs not to utter words of thanks to his fellow, if every one
would but acknowledge who it really is that gives."
The peasant looked up in astonishment. Gellert remarked it, and said:
"Understand me aright. I thank you from my heart; you have done a kind
action. But that the trees grow is none of yours, and it is none of mine
that thoughts arise in me; every one simply tills his field, and tends
his woodland, and the honest, assiduous toil he gives thereto is his
virtue. That you felled, loaded, and brought the wood, and wish no
recompense for your labor, is very thank-worthy. My wood was more
easily felled; but those still nights which I and all of my calling pass
in heavy thought—who can tell what toil there is in them? There is in
the world an adjustment which no one sees, and which but seldom
discovers itself; and this and that shift thither and hither, and the
scales of the balance become even, and then ceases all distinction
between 'mine' and 'thine,' and in the still forest rings an axe for me,
and in the silent night my spirit thinks and my pen writes for you."
The peasant passed both his hands over his temples, and his look was as
though he said to himself, "Where are you? Are you still in the world?
Is it a mortal man who speaks to you? Are you in Leipzig, in that
populous city where men jostle one another for gain and bare existence?"
Below might be heard the creaking of the saw as the wood was being
sundered: and now the near horse neighs, and Christopher is in the world
again. "It may injure the horse to stand so long in the cold; and no
money for the wood! but perhaps a sick horse to take home into the
bargain; that would be too much," he thought.
"Yes, yes, Mr. Professor," said he—he had his hat under his arm, and
was rubbing his hands—"yes, I am delighted with what I have done; and
I value the lesson, believe me, more than ten loads of wood: and never
shall I forget you to my dying day. And though I see you are not so poor
as I had imagined, still I don't regret it. Oh! no, certainly not at
"Eh! did you think me so very poor, then?"
"Yes, miserably poor."
"I have always been poor, but God has never suffered me to be a single
day without necessaries. I have in the world much happiness which I have
not deserved, and much unhappiness I have not, which perchance I have
deserved. I have found much favor with both high and low, for which I
cannot sufficiently thank God. And now tell me, cannot I give you
something, or obtain something for you? You are a local magistrate, I
"You look like it: you might be."
Christopher had taken his hat into his hands, and was crumpling it up
now; he half closed his eyes, and with a sly, inquiring glance, he
peered at Gellert. Suddenly, however, the expression of his face
changed, and the muscles quivered, as he said: "Sir, what a man are you!
How you can dive into the recesses of one's heart! I have really pined
night and day, and been cross with the whole world, because I could not
be magistrate, and you, sir, you have actually helped to overcome that
in me. Oh! sir, as soon as I read that verse in your book, I had an
idea, and now I see still more plainly that you must be a man of God,
who can pluck the heart from one's bosom, and turn it round and round.
I had thought I could never have another moment's happiness, if my
neighbor, Hans Gottlieb, should be magistrate: and with that verse of
yours, it has been with me as when one calms the blood with a magic
"Well, my good friend, I am rejoiced to hear it: believe me, every one
has in himself alone a whole host to govern. What can so strongly urge
men to wish to govern others? What can it profit you to be local
magistrate, when to accomplish your object you must perhaps do something
wrong? What were the fame, not only of a village, but even of the whole
world, if you could have no self-respect? Let it suffice for you to
perform your daily duties with uprightness; let your joys be centred in
your wife and children, and you will be happy. What need you more? Think
not that honor and station would make you happy. Rejoice, and again I
say, rejoice: 'A contented spirit is a continual feast.' I often whisper
this to myself, when I feel disposed to give way to dejection: and
although misery be not our fault, yet lack of endurance and of patience
in misery is undoubtedly our fault."
"I would my wife were here too, that she also might hear this; I grudge
myself the hearing of it all alone; I cannot remember it all properly,
and yet I should like to tell it to her word for word. Who would have
thought that, by standing upon a load of wood, one could get a peep into
Gellert in silence bowed his head; and afterwards he said: "Yes, rejoice
in your deed, as I do in your gift. Your wood is sacrificial-wood. In
olden time—and it was right in principle, because man could not yet
offer prayer and thanks in spirit—it was a custom and ordinance to
bring something from one's possessions, as a proof of devotion: this was
a sacrifice. And the more important the gift to be given, or the request
to be granted, the more costly was the sacrifice. Our God will have no
victims; but whatsoever you do unto one of the least of His, you do unto
Him. Such are our sacrifices. My dear friend, from my heart I thank you;
for you have done me a kindness, in that you have given me a real,
undeniable proof, that my words have penetrated your heart, and that I
do not live on for nothing: and treasure it up in your heart, that you
have caused real joy to one who is often, very often, weighed down with
heaviness and sorrow. You have not only kindled bright tapers upon my
Christmas-tree, but the tree itself burns, gives light, and warms: the
bush burns, and is not consumed, which is an image of the presence of
the Holy Spirit, and its admonition to trust in the Most High in this
wilderness of life, in mourning and in woe. Oh! my dear friend, I have
been nigh unto death. What a solemn, quaking stride is the stride into
eternity! What a difference between ideas of death in the days of
health, and on the brink of the grave! And how shall I show myself
worthy of longer life? By learning better to die. And, mark, when I sit
here in solitude pursuing my thoughts, keeping some and driving away
others, then I can think, that in distant valleys, upon distant
mountains, there are living men who carry my thoughts within their
hearts; and for them I live, and they are near and dear to me, till one
day we shall meet where there is no more parting, no more separation.
Peasant and scholar, let us abide as we are. Give me your hand—farewell!"
And once again, the soft and the hard hand were clasped together, and
Christopher really trembled as Gellert laid his hand upon his shoulder.
They shook hands, and therewith something touched the heart of each more
impressively, more completely, than ever words could touch it.
Christopher got downstairs without knowing how: below, he threw down the
extra logs of wood, which he had kept back, with a clatter from the
wagon, and then drove briskly from the city. Not till he arrived at
Lindenthal did he allow himself and his horses rest or food. He had
driven away empty: he had nothing on his wagon, nothing in his purse;
and yet who can tell what treasures he took home; and who can tell what
inextinguishable fire he left behind him yonder, by that lonely scholar!
Gellert, who usually dined at his brother's, today had dinner brought
into his own room, remained quite alone, and did not go out again: he
had experienced quite enough excitement, and society he had in his own
thoughts. Oh! to find that there are open, susceptible hearts, is a
blessing to him that writes in solitude, and is as wondrous to him as
though he dipped his pen in streams of sunshine, and as if all he wrote
were Light. The raindrop which falls from the cloud cannot tell upon
what plant it drops: there is a quickening power in it, but for what?
And a thought which finds expression from a human heart; an action, nay,
a whole life is like the raindrop falling from the cloud: the whole
period of a life endures no longer than the raindrop needs for falling.
And as for knowing where your life is continued, how your work proceeds,
you cannot attain to that.
And in the night all was still around: nothing was astir; the whole
earth was simple rest, as Gellert sat in his room by his lonely lamp;
his hand lay upon an open book, and his eyes were fixed upon the empty
air; and on a sudden came once more upon him that melancholy gloom,
which so easily resumes its place after more than usual excitement.
It is as though the soul, suddenly elevated above all, must still
remember the heaviness it but now experienced, though that expresses
itself as tears of joy in the eye.
In Gellert, however, this melancholy had a more peculiar phase: a sort
of timidity had rooted itself in him, connected with his weak chest, and
that secret gnawing pain in his head; it was a fearfulness which his
manner of life only tended to increase. Surrounded though he was by
nothing but love and admiration in the world, he could not divest
himself of the fear that all which is most horrible and terrible would
burst suddenly upon him: and so he gazed fixedly before him. He passed
his hand over his face, and with an effort concentrated his looks and
thoughts upon surrounding objects, saying to himself almost aloud: "How
comforting is light! Were there no light from without to illumine
objects for us, we should perish in gloom, in the shadows of night. And
light is a gentle friend that watches by us, and, when we are sunk in
sorrow, points out to us that the world is still here, that it calls,
and beckons us, and requires of us duty and cheerfulness. 'You must not
be lost in self,' it says, 'see! the world is still here:' and a friend
beside us is as a light which illumines surrounding objects; we cannot
forget them, we must see them and mingle with them. How hard is life,
and how little I accomplish! I would fain awaken the whole world to
goodness and to love; but my voice is weak, my strength is insufficient:
how insignificant is all I do!"
And now he rose up and strode across the room; and he stood at the
hearth where the fire was burning, made of wood given to him that very
day, and his thoughts reverted to the man who had given it. Why had he
not asked his name, and where he came from? Perchance he might have been
able in thought to follow him all the way, as he drove home; and now …
but yet 'tis more, 'tis better as it is: it is not an individual, it is
not So-and-so, who has shown his gratitude, but all the world by the
mouth of one. "The kindnesses I receive," he thought, "are indeed
trials; but yet I ought to accept them with thanks. I will try
henceforth to be a benefactor to others as others are to me, without
display, and with grateful thanks to God, our highest Benefactor: this
will I do, and search no further for the why and for the wherefore." And
once more a voice spoke within him, and he stood erect, and raised his
arms on high. "Who knows," he thought, "whether at this moment I have
not been in this or that place, to this or that man, a brother, a
friend, a comforter, a saviour; and from house to house, may be, my
spirit travels, awakening, enlivening, refreshing—yonder in the attic,
where burns a solitary light; and afar in some village a mother is
sitting by her child, and hearing him repeat the thoughts I have
arranged in verse; and peradventure some solitary old man, who is
waiting for death, is now sitting by his fireside, and his lips are
uttering my words."
"And yonder in the church, the choir is chanting a hymn of yours; could
you have written this hymn without its vigor in your heart? Oh! no, it
MUST be there." And with trembling he thought: "There is nothing so
small as to have no place in the government of God! Should you not then
believe that He suffered this day's incident to happen for your joy? Oh!
were it so, what happiness were yours! A heart renewed." … He moved
to the window, looked up to heaven, and prayed inwardly: "My soul is
with my brothers and my sisters: nay, it is with Thee, my God, and in
humility I acknowledge how richly Thou hast blessed me. And if, in the
kingdom of the world to come, a soul should cry to me: 'Thou didst guide
and cheer me on to happiness eternal!' all hail! my friend, my
benefactor, my glory in the presence of God. … In these thoughts let
me die, and pardon me my weakness and my sins!"
"And the evening and morning were the first day."
At early morning, Gellert was sitting at his table, and reading
according to his invariable custom, first of all in the Bible. He never
left the Bible open—he always shut it with a peaceful, devotional air,
after he had read therein: there was something grateful as well as
reverential in his manner of closing the volume; the holy words should
not lie uncovered.
To-day, however, the Bible was lying open when he rose. His eye fell
upon the history of the creation, and at the words, "And the evening and
the morning were the first day," he leaned back his head against the
arm-chair, and kept his hand upon the book, as though he would grasp
with his hand also the lofty thought, how night and day were divided.
For a long while he sat thus, and he was wondrously bright in spirit,
and a soft reminiscence dawned upon him; of a bright day in childhood,
when he had been so happy, and in Haynichen, his native place, had gone
out with his father for a walk. An inward warmth roused his heart to
quicker pulsation; and suddenly he started and looked about him: he had
been humming a tune.
Up from the street came the busy sound of Jay: at other times how
insufferable he had found it! and now how joyous it seemed that men
should bestir themselves, and turn to all sorts of occupations! There
was a sound of crumbling snow: and how nice to have a house and a blaze
upon the hearth! "And the evening and the morning were the first day!"
And man getteth himself a light in the darkness: but how long, O man!
could you make it endure? What could you do with your artificial light,
if God did not cause His sun to shine? Without it grows no grass, no
corn. On the hand lying upon the book there fell a bright sunbeam. How
soon, at other times, would Gellert have drawn the defensive curtain!
Now he watches the little motes that play about in the sunbeam.
The servant brought coffee, and the amanuensis, Godike, asked if there
were anything to do. Generally, Gellert scarce lifted his head from his
books, hastily acknowledging the attention and reading on in silence;
to-day, he motioned to Godike to stay, and said to Sauer, "Another cup:
Mr. Godike will take coffee with me. God has given me a day of
rejoicing." Sauer brought the cup, and Gellert said: "Yes, God has given
me a day of rejoicing, and what I am most thankful for is, that He has
granted me strength to thank Him with all my heart: not so entirely,
however, as I should like."
"Thank God, Mr. Professor, that you are once more in health, and
cheerful: and permit me, Mr. Professor, to tell you that I was myself
also ill a short time ago, and I then learned a lesson which I shall
never forget. Who is most grateful? The convalescent. He learns to love
God and His beautiful world anew; he is grateful for everything, and
delighted with everything. What a flavor has his first cup of coffee!
How he enjoys his first walk outside the house, outside the gate! The
houses, the trees, all give us greeting: all is again in us full of
health and joy!" So said Godike, and Gellert rejoined:
"You are a good creature, and have just spoken good words. Certainly,
the convalescent is the most grateful. We are, however, for the most
part, sick in spirit, and have not strength to recover: and a sickly,
stricken spirit is the heaviest pain."
Long time the two sat quietly together: it struck eight. Gellert started
up, and cried irritably: "There, now, you have allowed me to forget that
I must be on my way to the University."
"The vacation has begun: Mr. Professor has no lecture to-day."
"No lecture to-day? Ah! and I believe today is just the time when I
could have told my young friends something that would have benefited
them for their whole lives."
There was a shuffling of many feet outside the door: the door opened,
and several boys from St Thomas' School-choir advanced and sang to
Gellert some of his own hymns; and as they chanted the verse—
"And haply there—oh! grant it, Heaven!
Some blessed saint will greet me too;
'All hail! all hail! to you was given
To save my life and soul, to you!'
O God! my God! what joy to be
The winner of a soul to thee!"
Gellert wept aloud, folded his hands, and raised his eyes to heaven.
A happier Christmas than that of 1768 had Gellert never seen; and it was
his last. Scarcely a year after, on the 13th of December, 1769, Gellert
died a pious, tranquil death, such as he had ever coveted.
As the long train which followed his bier moved to the churchyard of St.
John's, Leipzig, a peasant with his wife and children in holiday clothes
entered among the last. It was Christopher with his family. The whole
way he had been silent: and whilst his wife wept passionately at the
pastor's touching address, it was only by the working of his features
that Christopher showed how deeply moved he was.
But on the way home he said: "I am glad I did him a kindness in his
lifetime; it would now be too late."
The summer after, when he built a new house, he had this verse placed
upon it as an inscription:
"Accept God's gifts with resignation,
Content to lack what thou hast not:
In every lot there's consolation;
There's trouble, too, in every lot."
A GHETTO VIOLET
From "Christian and Leah." Translated by A.S. Arnold.
Through the open window came the clear trill of a canary singing
blithely in its cage. Within the tidy, homely little room a pale-faced
girl and a youth of slender frame listened intently while the bird sang
its song. The girl was the first to break the silence.
"Ephraim, my brother!" she said.
"What is it, dear Viola?"
"I wonder does the birdie know that it is the Sabbath to-day?"
"What a child you are!" answered Ephraim.
"Yes, that's always the way; when you clever men can't explain a thing,
you simply dismiss the question by calling it childish," Viola
exclaimed, as though quite angry. "And, pray, why shouldn't the bird
know? The whole week it scarcely sang a note: to-day it warbles and
warbles so that it makes my head ache. And what's the reason? Every
Sabbath it's just the same, I notice it regularly. Shall I tell you what
my idea is?
"The whole week long the little bird looks into our room and sees
nothing but the humdrum of work-a-day life. To-day it sees the bright
rays of the Sabbath lamp and the white Sabbath cloth upon the table.
Don't you think I'm right, Ephraim?"
"Wait, dear Viola," said Ephraim, and he went to the cage.
The bird's song suddenly ceased.
"Now you've spoilt its Sabbath!" cried the girl, and she was so excited
that the book which had been lying upon her lap fell to the ground.
Ephraim turned towards her; he looked at her solemnly, and said quietly:
"Pick up your prayer-book first, and then I'll answer. A holy book
should not be on the ground like that. Had our mother dropped her
prayer-book, she would have kissed it … Kiss it, Viola, my child!"
Viola did so.
"And now I'll tell you, dear Viola, what I think is the reason why the
bird sings so blithely to-day … Of course, I don't say I'm right."
Viola's brown eyes were fixed inquiringly upon her brother's face.
"How seriously you talk to-day," she said, making a feeble attempt at
a smile. "I was only joking. Mustn't I ask if the bird knows anything
about the Sabbath?"
"There are subjects it is sinful to joke about, and this may be one of
"You really quite frighten me, Ephraim."
"You little goose, I don't want to frighten you," said Ephraim, while
a faint flush suffused his features. "I'll tell you my opinion about the
singing of the bird. I think, dear Viola, that our little canary knows
… that before long it will change its quarters."
"You're surely not going to sell it or give it away?" cried the girl,
in great alarm; and springing to her feet, she quickly drew her brother
away from the cage.
"No, I'm not going to sell it nor give it away," said Ephraim, whose
quiet bearing contrasted strongly with his sister's excitement. "Is it
likely that I should do anything that would give you pain? And yet, I
have but to say one word … and I'll wager that you will be the first
to open the cage and say to the bird, 'Fly, fly away, birdie, fly away
"Never, never!" cried the girl.
"Viola," said Ephraim beseechingly, "I have taken a vow. Surely you
would not have me break it?"
"A vow?" asked his sister.
"Viola," Ephraim continued, as he bent his head down to the girl's face,
"I have vowed to myself that whenever he … our father … should
return, I would give our little bird its freedom. It shall be free, free
as he will be."
"He is coming—he is already on his way home."
Viola flung her arms round her brother's neck. For a long time brother
and sister remained locked in a close embrace.
Meanwhile the bird resumed its jubilant song.
"Do you hear how it sings again?" said Ephraim; and he gently stroked
his sister's hair.
"It knows that it will soon be free."
"A father out of jail!" sobbed Viola, as she released herself from her
"He has had his punishment, dear Viola!" said Ephraim softly.
Viola turned away. There was a painful silence, and then she looked up
at her brother again. Her face was aglow, her eyes sparkled with a
strange fire; she was trembling with agitation. Never before had Ephraim
seen her thus.
"Ephraim, my brother," she commenced, in that measured monotone so
peculiar to intense emotion, "with the bird you can do as you please.
You can set it free, or, if you like, you can wring its neck. But as for
him, I'll never look in his face again, from me he shall not have a word
of welcome. He broke our mother's heart … our good, good mother; he
has dishonored himself and us. And I can never forget it."
"Is it right for a child to talk like that of her own father?" said
Ephraim in a tremulous voice.
"When a child has good cause to be ashamed of her own father!" cried
"Oh, my Viola, you must have forgotten dear mother's dying words. Don't
you remember, as she opened her eyes for the last time, how she gathered
up her failing strength, and raising herself in her bed, 'Children,' she
said, 'my memory will protect you both, yea, and your father too.'
Viola, have you forgotten?"
Had you entered that little room an hour later, a touching sight would
have met your eyes. Viola was seated on her brother's knee, her arms
round his neck, whilst Ephraim with the gentle love of a brother for a
younger sister, was stroking her hair, and whispering in her ear sweet
words of solace.
The bird-cage was empty. … That evening Ephraim sat up till midnight.
Outside in the Ghetto reigned the stillness of night.
All at once Ephraim rose from his chair, walked to the old bureau which
stood near the door, opened it, and took from it a bulky volume, which
he laid upon the table in front of him. But he did not seem at all bent
upon reading. He began fingering the pages, until he came upon a bundle
of bank-notes, and these he proceeded to count, with a whispering
movement of his lips. He had but three or four more notes still to
count, when his sharp ear detected the sound of stealthy footsteps, in
the little courtyard in front of the house. Closing the book, and
hastily putting it back again in the old bureau, Ephraim sprang to the
window and opened it.
"Is that you, father?" he cried.
There was no answer.
Ephraim repeated his question.
He strained his eyes, peering into the dense darkness, but no living
thing could he see. Then quite close to him a voice cried: "Make no
noise … and first put out the light."
"Heavens! Father, it is you then…!" Ephraim exclaimed.
"Hush!" came in a whisper from without, "first put out the light."
Ephraim closed the window, and extinguished the light. Then, with almost
inaudible step, he walked out of the room into the dark passage;
noiselessly he proceeded to unbolt the street-door. Almost at the same
moment a heavy hand clasped his own.
"Father, father!" Ephraim cried, trying to raise his parent's hand to
"Make no noise," the man repeated, in a somewhat commanding tone.
With his father's hand in his, cautiously feeling his way, Ephraim led
him into the room. In the room adjoining lay Viola, sleeping peacefully.
Time was when "Wild" Ascher's welcome home had been far otherwise.
Eighteen years before, upon that very threshold which he now crossed
with halting, stealthy steps, as of a thief in the night, stood a fair
and loving wife, holding a sturdy lad aloft in her arms, so that the
father might at once see, as he turned the street corner, that wife and
child were well and happy. Not another Ghetto in all Bohemia could show
a handsomer and happier couple than Ascher and his wife. "Wild" Ascher
was one of those intrepid, venturesome spirits, to whom no obstacle is
so great that it cannot be surmounted. And the success which crowned his
long, persistent wooing was often cited as striking testimony to his
indomitable will. Gudule was famous throughout the Ghetto as "the girl
with the wonderful eyes," eyes—so the saying ran—into which no man
could look and think of evil. During the earlier years of their married
life those unfathomable brown eyes exercised on Ascher the full power
of their fascination. A time came, however, when he alleged that those
very eyes had been the cause of all his ruin.
Gudule's birthplace was far removed from the Ghetto, where Ascher had
first seen the light. Her father was a wealthy farmer in a secluded
village in Lower Bohemia. But distant though it was from the nearest
town of any importance, the solitary grange became the centre of
attraction to all the young swains far and near. But there was none who
found favor in Gudule's eyes save "Wild Ascher," in spite of many a
friendly warning to beware of him. One day, just before the betrothal
of the young people, an anonymous letter was delivered at the grange.
The writer, who called himself an old friend, entreated the farmer to
prevent his dear child from becoming the wife of one who was suspected
of being a gambler. The farmer was of an easy-going, indulgent nature,
shunning care and anxiety as a very plague. Accordingly, no sooner had
he read the anonymous missive than he handed it to his daughter, as
though its contents were no concern of his.
When Gudule had read the letter to the end, she merely remarked:
"Father, this concerns me, and nobody else."
And so the matter dropped.
Not until the wedding-day, half an hour before the ceremony, when the
marriage canopy had already been erected in the courtyard, did the
farmer sum up courage to revert to the warning of the unknown
letter-writer. Taking his future son-in-law aside, he said:
"Ascher, is it true that you gamble?"
"Father," Ascher answered with equal firmness, "Gudule's eyes will save
me!" Ascher had uttered no untruth when he gave his father-in-law this
assurance. He spoke in all earnestness, for like every one else he knew
the magnetic power of Gudule's eyes.
Nowhere, probably, does the grim, consuming pestilence of gaming claim
more victims than in the Ghetto. The ravages of drink and debauchery are
slight indeed; but the tortuous streets can show too many a humble home
haunted by the spectres of ruin and misery which stalked across the
threshold when the FIRST CARD GAME was played.
It was with almost feverish anxiety that the eyes of the Ghetto were
fixed upon the development of a character like Ascher's; they followed
his every step with the closest attention. Long experience had taught
the Ghetto that no gambler could be trusted.
As though conscious that all eyes were upon him, Ascher showed himself
most punctilious in the discharge of even the minutest of communal
duties which devolved upon him as a denizen of the Ghetto, and his
habits of life were almost ostentatiously regular and decorous. His
business had prospered, and Gudule had borne him a son.
"Well, Gudule, my child," the farmer asked his daughter on the day when
his grandson was received into the covenant of Abraham,—"well, Gudule,
was the letter right?"
"What letter?" asked Gudule.
"That in which your husband was called a gambler."
"And can you still give a thought to such a letter?" was Gudule's
Three years later, Gudule's father came to visit her. This time she
showed him his second grandchild, her little Viola. He kissed the
children, and round little Viola's neck clasped three rows of pearls,
"that the child may know it had a grandfather once."
"And where are your pearls, Gudule?" he asked, "those left you by your
mother,—may she rest in peace! She always set such store by them."
"Those, father?" Gudule replied, turning pale; "oh, my husband has taken
them to a goldsmith in Prague. They require a new clasp."
"I see," remarked her father. Notwithstanding his limited powers of
observation, it did not escape the old man's eyes that Gudule looked
alarmingly wan and emaciated. He saw it, and it grieved his very soul.
He said nothing however: only, when leaving, and after he had kissed the
Mezuza [Footnote: Small cylinder inclosing a roll of parchment inscribed
with the Hebrew word Shadai (Almighty) and with other texts, which is
affixed to the lintel of every Jewish house.], he said to Gudule (who,
with little Viola in her arms, went with him to the door), in a voice
quivering with suppressed emotion: "Gudule, my child, the pearl necklet
which I have given your little Viola has a clasp strong enough to last
a hundred years … you need never, therefore, give it to your husband
to have a new clasp made for it." And without bestowing another glance
upon his child the easy-going man left the house. It was his last visit.
Within the year Gudule received a letter from her eldest brother telling
her that their father was dead, and that she would have to keep the week
of mourning for him. Ever since his last visit to her—her brother
wrote—the old man had been somewhat ailing, but knowing his vigorous
constitution, they had paid little heed to his complaints. It was only
during the last few weeks that a marked loss of strength had been
noticed. This was followed by fever and delirium. Whenever he was asked
whether he would not like to see Gudule, his only answer was: "She must
not give away the clasp of little Viola's necklet." And but an hour
before his death, he raised his voice, and loudly called for "the
letter." Nobody knew what letter. "Gudule knows where it is," he said,
with a gentle shake of his head. Those were the last words he spoke.
Had the old man's eyes deceived him on the occasion of his last visit
to his son-in-law's house? No! For, setting aside the incident of the
missing pearls, the whole Ghetto could long since have told him that the
warning of the anonymous letter was not unfounded—for Gudule was the
wife of a gambler.
With the resistless impetuosity of a torrent released from its prison
of ice and snow, the old invincible disease had again overwhelmed its
victim. Gudule noticed the first signs of it when one day her husband
returned home from one of his business journeys earlier than he had
arranged. Gudule had not expected him.
"Why did you not come to meet me with the children?" he cried peevishly;
"do you begrudge me even that pleasure?"
"I begrudge you a pleasure?" Gudule ventured to remark, as she raised
her swimming eyes to his face.
"Why do you look at me so tearfully?" he almost shouted.
Ascher loved his wife, and when he saw the effect which his rough words
had produced, he tenderly embraced her. "Am I not right, Gudule?" he
said, "after a man has been working and slaving the livelong week, don't
you think he looks forward with longing eyes for his dear children to
welcome him at his door?"
At that moment Gudule felt the long latent suspicion revive in her that
her husband was not speaking the truth. As if written in characters of
fire, the words of that letter now came back to her memory; she knew now
what was the fate that awaited her and her children.
Thenceforward, all the characteristic tokens of a gambler's life, all
the vicissitudes which attend his unholy calling, followed close upon
each other in grim succession. Most marked was the disturbance which his
mental equilibrium was undergoing. Fits of gloomy despondency were
succeeded, with alarming rapidity, by periods of tumultuous exaltation.
One moment it would seem as though Gudule and the children were to him
the living embodiment of all that was precious and lovable, whilst at
other times he would regard them with sullen indifference. It soon
became evident to Gudule that her husband's affairs were in a very bad
way, for her house-keeping allowance no longer came to her with its
wonted regularity. But what grieved and alarmed her most, was the fact
that Ascher was openly neglecting every one of his religious duties. To
return home late on Friday night, long after sunset had ushered in the
Sabbath, was now a common practice. Once even it happened, that with his
clothes covered with dust, he came home from one of his business tours
on a Sabbath morning, when the people in holiday attire were wending
their way to the synagogue.
Nevertheless, not a sound of complaint escaped Gudule's lips. Hers was
one of those proud, sensitive natures, such as are to be met with among
all classes and amid all circumstances of life, in Ghetto and in
secluded village, no less than among the most favored ones of the earth.
Had she not cast to the winds the well-intentioned counsel given her in
that unsigned letter? Why then should she complain and lament, now that
the seed had borne fruit? She shrank from alluding before her husband
to the passion which day by day, nay, hour by hour, tightened its hold
upon him. She would have died sooner than permit the word "gambler" to
pass her lips. Besides, did not her eyes tell Ascher what she suffered?
Those very eyes were, according to Ascher, the cause of his rapid
journey along the road to ruin.
"Why do you look at me so, Gudule?" he would testily ask her, at the
Often when, as he explained, he had had "a specially good week," he
would bring home the costliest gifts for his children. Gudule, however,
made no use whatever of these trinkets, neither for herself nor for the
children. She put the things away in drawers and cupboards, and never
looked at them, more especially as she observed that, under some pretext
or another, Ascher generally took those glittering things away again,
"in order to exchange them for others," he said: as often as not never
replacing them at all.
"Gudule!" he said one day, when he happened to be in a particularly good
humor, "why do you let the key remain in the door of that bureau where
you keep so many valuables?"
And again Gudule regarded him with those unfathomable eyes.
"There, you're … looking at me again!" he exclaimed with sudden
"They're safe enough in the cupboard," Gudule said, smiling, "why should
I lock it?"
"Gudule, do you mean to say …" he cried, raising his hand as for a
blow. Then he fell back in his chair, and his frame was shaken with
"Gudule, my heart's love," he cried, "I am not worthy that your eyes
should rest on me. Everywhere, wherever I go, they look at me, those
eyes … and that is my ruin. If business is bad, your eyes ask me, 'Why
did you mix yourself up with these things, without a thought of wife or
children?'… Then I feel as if some evil spirit possessed me and
tortured my soul. Oh, why can't you look at me again as you did when you
were my bride?—then you looked so happy, so lovely! At other times I
think: 'I shall yet grasp fortune with both hands … and then I can
face my Gudule's eyes again.' But now, now … oh, don't look at me,
There spoke the self-reproaching voice, which sometimes burst forth
unbidden from a suffering soul.
As for Gudule, she already knew how to appreciate this cry of her
husband's conscience at its true value. It was not that she felt one
moment's doubt as to its sincerity, but she knew dot so far as it
affected the future, it was a mere cry and nothing more.
The years rolled on. The children were growing up. Ephraim had entered
his fifteenth year. Viola was a little pale girl of twelve. In opinion
of the Ghetto they were the most extraordinary children in the world.
In the midst of the harassing life to which her marriage with the
gambler had brought her, Gudule so reared them that they grew to be
living reflections of her own inmost being. People wondered when they
beheld the strange development of "Wild" Ascher's children.
Their natures were as proud and reserved as that of their mother. They
did not associate with the youth of the Ghetto; it seemed as though they
were not of their kind, as though an insurmountable barrier divided
them. And many a bitter sneer was hurled at Gudule's head.
"Does she imagine," she often heard people whisper, "that because her
father was a farmer her children are princes? Let her remember that her
husband is but a common gambler."
How different would have been their thoughts had they known that the
children were Gudule's sole comfort. What their father had never heard
from her, she poured into their youthful souls. No tear their mother
shed was unobserved by them; they knew when their father had lost and
when he had won; they knew, too, all the varying moods of his unhinged
mind; and in this terrible school of misery they acquired an instinctive
intelligence, which in the eyes of strangers seemed mere precocity.
The two children, however, had early given evidence of a marked
difference in disposition. Ephraim's nature was one of an almost
feminine gentleness, whilst Viola was strong-willed and proudly
"Mother," she said one day, "do you think he will continue to play much
"Viola, how can you talk like that?" Ephraim cried, greatly disturbed.
Thereupon Viola impetuously flung her arms round her mother's neck, and
for some moments she clung to her with all the strength of her
passionate nature. It was as though in that wild embrace she would fain
pour forth the long pent-up sorrows of her blighted childhood.
"Mother!" she cried, "you are so good to him. Never, never shall he have
such kindness from me!"
"Ephraim," said Gudule, "speak to your sister. In her sinful anger,
Viola would revenge herself upon her own father. Does it so beseem a
"Why does he treat you so cruelly, then?" Viola almost hissed the words.
Soon after fell the final crushing blow. Ascher had been away from home
for some weeks, when one day Gudule received a letter, dated a prison
in the neighborhood of Vienna. In words of genuine sympathy the writer
explained that Ascher had been unfortunate enough to forge the signature
to a bill. She would not see him again for the next five years. God
comfort her! The letter was signed: "A fellow-sufferer with your
As it had been with her old father, after he had bidden her a last
farewell, so it was now with Gudule. From that moment her days were
numbered, and although not a murmur escaped her lips, hour by hour she
One Friday evening, shortly after the seven-branched Sabbath lamp had
been lit, Gudule, seated in her arm-chair, out of which she had not
moved all day, called the two children to her. A bright smile hovered
around her lips, an unwonted fire burned in her still beautiful eyes,
her bosom heaved … in the eyes of her children she seemed strangely
changed. "Children," said she, "come and stand by me. Ephraim, you stand
here on my right, and you, dear Viola, on my left. I would like to tell
you a little story, such as they tell little children to soothe them to
sleep. Shall I?"
"Mother!" they both cried, as they bent towards her.
"You must not interrupt me, children," she observed, still with that
strange smile on her lips, "but leave me to tell my little story in my
"Listen, children," she resumed, after a brief pause. "Every human
being—be he ever so wicked—if he have done but a single good deed on
earth, will, when he arrives above, in the seventh heaven, get his
Sechus, that is to say, the memory of the good he has done here below
will be remembered and rewarded bountifully by the Almighty." Gudule
ceased speaking. Suddenly a change came over her features: her breath
came and went in labored gasps; but her brown eyes still gleamed
In tones well-nigh inaudible she continued: "When Jerusalem, the Holy
City, was destroyed, the dead rose up out of their graves … the holy
patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob … and also Moses, and Aaron his
brother … and David the King … and prostrating themselves before
God's throne they sobbed: 'Dost Thou not remember the deeds we have
done?… Wouldst Thou now utterly destroy all these our children, even
to the innocent babe at the breast?' But the Almighty was inexorable.
"Then Sarah, our mother, approached the Throne… When God beheld her,
He covered His face, and wept. 'Go,' said He, 'I cannot listen to thee.'
… But she exclaimed … 'Dost Thou no longer remember the tears I shed
before I gave birth to my Joseph and Benjamin … and dost Thou not
remember the day when they buried me yonder, on the borders of the
Promised Land … and now, must mine eyes behold the slaughter of my
children, their disgrace, and their captivity?'… Then God cried: 'For
THY sake will I remember thy children and spare them.' …"
"Would you like to know," Gudule suddenly cried, with uplifted voice,
"what this Sechus is like? It has the form of an angel, and it stands
near the Throne of the Almighty. … But, since the days of Rachel, our
mother, it is the Sechus of a mother that finds most favor in God's
eyes. When a mother dies, her soul straightway soars heavenward, and
there it takes its place amid the others.
"'Who art thou?' asks God. 'I am the Sechus of a mother,' is the answer,
'of a mother who has left children behind her on earth.' 'Then do thou
stand here and keep guard over them!' says God. And when it is well with
the children, it is the Sechus of a mother which has caused them to
prosper, and when evil days befall them … it is again the Angel who
stands before God and pleads: 'Dost Thou forget that these children no
longer have a mother?'… and the evil is averted. …"
Gudule's voice had sunk to a mere whisper. Her eyes closed, her head
fell back, her breathing became slower and more labored. "Are you still
there, children?" she softly whispered.
Anxiously they bent over her. Then once again she opened her eyes.
"I see you still"—the words came with difficulty from her blanched
lips—"you, Ephraim, and you, my little Viola … I am sure my Sechus
will plead for you … for you and your father." They were Gudule's last
words. When her children, whose eyes had never as yet been confronted
with Death, called her by her name, covering her icy hands with burning
kisses, their mother was no more …
Who can tell what influence causes the downtrodden blade to raise itself
once more! Is it the vivifying breath of the west wind, or a mysterious
power sent forth from the bosom of Mother Earth? It was a touching sight
to see how those two children, crushed as they were beneath the weight
of a twofold blow, raised their heads again, and in their very
desolation found new-born strength. And it filled the Ghetto with
wonder. For what were they but the offspring of a gambler? Or was it the
spirit of Gudule, their mother, that lived in them?
After Gudule's death, her eldest brother, the then owner of the grange,
came over to discuss the future of his sister's children. He wished
Ephraim and Viola to go with him to his home in Lower Bohemia, where he
could find them occupation. The children, however, were opposed to the
idea. They had taken no previous counsel together, yet, upon this point,
both were in perfect accord,—they would prefer to be left in their old
"When father comes back again," said Ephraim, "he must know where to
find us. But to you, Uncle Gabriel, he would never come."
The uncle then insisted that Viola at least should accompany him, for
he had daughters at home whom she could assist in their duties in the
house and on the farm. But the child clung to Ephraim, and with flaming
eyes, and in a voice of proud disdain, which filled the simple farmer
with something like terror, she cried:
"Uncle, you have enough to do to provide for your own daughters; don't
let ME be an additional burden upon you; besides, sooner would I wander
destitute through the world than be separated from my brother."
"And what do you propose to do then?" exclaimed the uncle, after he had
somewhat recovered from his astonishment at Viola's vehemence.
"You see, Uncle Gabriel," said Ephraim, a sudden flush overspreading his
grief-stricken features, "you see I have thought about it, and I have
come to the conclusion that this is the best plan. Viola shall keep
house, and I … I'll start a business."
"YOU start a business?" cried the uncle with a loud laugh. "Perhaps you
can tell me what price I'll get for my oats next market day? A
business!… and what business, my lad?"
"Uncle," said Ephraim, "if I dispose of all that is left us, I shall
have enough money to buy a small business. Others in our position have
done the same… and then…"
"Well, and then?" the uncle cried, eagerly anticipating his answer.
"Then the Sechus of our mother will come to our aid." Ephraim said softly.
The farmer's eyes grew dim with moisture; his sister had been very dear
"As I live!" he cried, brushing his hand across his eyes, "you are true
children of my sister Gudule. That's all I can say."
Then, as though moved by a sudden impulse, he quickly produced, from the
depths of his overcoat, a heavy pocketbook. "There!"… he cried,
well-nigh out of breath, "there are a hundred gulden for you, Ephraim.
With that you can, at all events, make a start; and then you needn't
sell the few things you still have. There … put the money away… oats
haven't fetched any price at all to-day, 'tis true; but for the sake of
Gudule's children, I don't mind what I do… Come, put it away,
Ephraim… and may God bless you, and make you prosper."
"Uncle!" cried Ephraim, as he raised the farmer's hand to his lips, "is
all this to be mine? All this?"
"Yes, my boy, yes; it IS a deal of money isn't it?" … said Gudule's
brother, accompanying his words with a sounding slap on his massive
thigh. "I should rather think it is. With that you can do something, at
all events … and shall I tell you something? In Bohemia the oat crop
is, unfortunately, very bad this season. But in Moravia it's splendid,
and is two groats cheaper … So there's your chance, Ephraim, my child;
you've got the money, buy!" All at once a dark cloud overspread his
"It's a lot of money, Ephraim, that I am giving you … many a merchant
can't lay his hands on it," he said, hesitatingly; "but if … you were
to … gam—"
The word remained unfinished, for upon his arm he suddenly felt a
sensation as of a sharp, pricking needle.
"Uncle Gabriel!" cried Viola—for it was she who had gripped his
arm—and the child's cheeks were flaming, whilst her lips curled with
scorn, and her white teeth gleamed like those of a beast of prey. "Uncle
Gabriel!" she almost shrieked, "if you don't trust Ephraim, then take
your money back again … it's only because you are our mother's brother
that we accept it from you at all … Ephraim shall repay you to the
last farthing … Ephraim doesn't gamble … you sha'n't lose a single
penny of it."
With a shake of his head the farmer regarded the strange child. He felt
something like annoyance rise within him; an angry word rose to the lips
of the usually good tempered man. But it remained unsaid; he was unable
to remove his eyes from the child's face.
"As I live," he muttered, "she has Gudule's very eyes."
And with another thumping slap on his leg, he merrily exclaimed:
"All right, we'll leave it so then…. If Ephraim doesn't repay me, I'll
take YOU, you wild thing… for you've stood surety for your brother,
and then I'll take you away, and keep you with me at home. Do you
agree… you little spit-fire, eh?"
"Yes, uncle!" cried Viola.
"Then give me a kiss, Viola."
The child hesitated for a moment, then she laid her cheek upon her
"Ah, now I've got you, you little spit-fire," he cried, kissing her
again and again. "Aren't you ashamed now to have snapped your uncle up
Then after giving Ephraim some further information about the present
price of oats, and the future prospects of the crops, with a sideshot
at the chances of wool, skins, and other merchandise, he took his leave.
There was great surprise in the Ghetto when the barely fifteen-year-old
lad made his first start in business. Many made merry over "the great
merchant," but before the year was ended, the sharp-seeing eyes of the
Ghetto saw that Ephraim had "a lucky hand." Whatever he undertook he
followed up with a calmness and tact which often baffled the restless
activity of many a big dealer, with all his cuteness and trickery.
Whenever Ephraim, with his pale, sad fnce, made his appearance at a
farmstead, to negotiate for the purchase of wool, or some such matter,
it seemed as though some invisible messenger had gone before him to
soften the hearts of the farmers. "No one ever gets things as cheap as
you do," he was assured by many a farmer's wife, who had been won by the
unconscious eloquence of his dark eyes. No longer did people laugh at
"the little merchant," for nothing so quickly kills ridicule as success.
When, two years later, his Uncle Gabriel came again to see how the
children were getting on, Ephraim was enabled to repay, in hard cash,
the money he had lent him.
"Oho!" cried Gudule's brother, with big staring eyes, as he clutched his
legs with both hands, "how have you managed in so short a time to save
so much? D'ye know that that's a great deal of money?"
"I've had good luck, uncle," said Ephraim, modestly.
"You've been…playing, perhaps?"
The words fell bluntly from the rough country-man, but hardly had they
been uttered, when Viola sprang from her chair, as though an adder had
stung her. "Uncle," she cried, and a small fist hovered before Gabriel's
eyes in such a threatening manner that he involuntarily closed them. But
the child, whose features reminded him so strongly of his dead sister,
could not make him angry.
"Ephraim," he exclaimed, in a jocund tone, warding off Viola with his
hands, "you take my advice. Take this little spit-fire with you into the
village one day…they may want a young she-wolf there." Then he
pocketed the money.
"Well, Ephraim," said he, "may God bless you, and grant you further
luck. But you won't blame me if I take the money,—I can do with it, and
in oats, as you know, there's some chance of good business just now. But
I am glad to see that you're so prompt at paying. Never give too much
credit! That's always my motto; trust means ruin, and eats up a man's
business, as rats devour the contents of a corn-barn."
There was but one thing that constantly threw its dark shadow across
these two budding lives,—it was the dark figure in a distant prison.
This it was that saddened the souls of the two children with a gloom
which no sunshine could dispel. When on Fridays Ephraim returned,
fatigued and weary from his work, to the home over which Viola presided
with such pathetic housewifely care, no smile of welcome was on her
face, no greeting on his. Ephraim, 'tis true, told his sister where he
had been, and what he had done, but in the simplest words there vibrated
that tone of unutterable sadness which has its constant dwelling-place
in such sorely-tried hearts.
Meanwhile, a great change had come over Viola. Nature continues her
processes of growth and development 'mid the tempests of human grief,
and often the fiercer the storm the more beautiful the after effects.
Viola was no longer the pale child, "the little spit-fire," by whom her
Uncle Gabriel's arm had been seized in such a violent grip. A womanly
gentleness had come over her whole being, and already voices were heard
in the Ghetto praising her grace and beauty, which surpassed even the
loveliness of her dead mother in her happiest days. Many an admiring eye
dwelt upon the beautiful girl, many a longing glance was cast in the
direction of the little house, where she dwelt with her brother. But the
daughter of a "gambler," the child of a man who was undergoing
imprisonment for the indulgence of his shameful vice! That was a picture
from which many an admirer shrank with horror!
One day Ephraim brought home a young canary for his sister. When he
handed her the bird in its little gilt cage, her joy knew no bounds, and
showering kisses by turns upon her brother, and on the wire-work of the
cage, her eyes sparkling with animation:
"You shall see, Ephraim, how I'll teach the little bird to speak," she
The softening influence which had, during the last few months, come over
his sister's nature was truly a matter of wonder to Ephraim. Humbly and
submissively she accepted the slightest suggestion on his part, as
though it were a command. He was to her a father and mother, and never
were parents more implicitly obeyed by a child than this brother by a
sister but three years his junior.
There was one subject, however, upon which Ephraim found his sister
implacable and firm—their absent father, the mere mention of whose name
made her tremble. Then there returned that haughty curl of the lips, and
all the other symptoms of a proud, inflexible spirit. It was evident
that Viola hated the man to whom she owed her existence.
Thus had it come about that Ephraim was almost afraid to pronounce his
father's name. Neither did he care to allude to their mother before
Viola, for the memory of her death was too closely bound up with that
dark form behind the distant prison walls.
Let us now return to the night on which Ephraim opened the door to his
father. How had it come about? A thousand times Ephraim had thought
about his father's return—and now he durst not even kindle a light, to
look upon the long-estranged face. As silent as when he had come,
Ascher remained during the rest of the night; he had seated himself at
the window, and his arm was resting upon the very spot where formerly
the cage had stood. The bird had obtained its freedom, and was, no
doubt, by this time asleep, nestling amid the breeze-swept foliage of
some wooded glen. HE too had regained his liberty, but no sleep closed
his eyes, and yet he was in safe shelter, in the house of his children.
At length the day began to break. The sun was still hiding behind the
mountain-tops, but its earliest rays were already reflected upon the
window-panes. In the Ghetto footsteps became audible; here and there the
grating noise of an opening street-door was heard, while from round the
corner resounded, ever and anon, the hammer of the watchman, calling the
people to morning service; for it was a Fast-day, which commenced at
At that moment Ascher raised himself from his chair, and quickly turned
away from the window. Ephraim was already by his side. "Father, dear
father!" he cried from the inmost depths of his heart, as he tried to
grasp the hand of the convict.
"Don't make such a noise," said the latter, casting a furtive glance in
the direction of the window, and speaking in the same mysterious whisper
in which he had asked for admittance into the house.
What a strange awakening it was to his son, when, in the gray twilight
of the breaking day, he looked at Ascher more closely. In his
imagination Ephraim had pictured a wan, grief-worn figure, and now he
saw before him a strong, well-built man, who certainly did not present
the appearance of a person who had just emerged from the dank atmosphere
of a prison! On the contrary, he seemed stronger and more vigorous than
he had appeared in his best days.
"Has he had such a good time of it…?" Ephraim felt compelled to ask
himself… "how different our poor mother looked!"
With a violent effort he repressed the feelings which swelled his bosom.
"Dear father," he said, with tears in his eyes, "make yourself quite
comfortable; you haven't closed your eyes the whole night, you must be
worn out. You are at home, remember…father!"
"It's all right," said Ascher, with a deprecating gesture, "WE fellows
know other ways of spending the night."
"WE FELLOWS!" The words cut Ephraim to the heart.
"But you may be taken ill, father," he timidly observed.
"I taken ill! What do you take me for?" Ascher laughed, boisterously.
"I haven't the slightest intention of falling ill."
At that moment the watchman was heard hammering at the door of the next
house. The reverberating blows seemed to have a strangely disquieting
effect upon the strong man: a violent tremor seized him; he cast one of
the frightened glances which Ephraim had noticed before in the direction
of the window, then with one bound he was at the door, and swiftly
turned the knob.
"Father, what's the matter?" Ephraim cried, much alarmed.
"Does the watchman look into the room when he passes by?" asked Ascher,
while his eyes almost burst from their sockets, with the intentness of
"Never," Ephraim assured him.
"Let me see, wait…" whispered Ascher.
The three well-known knocks now resounded upon their own door, then the
shadow of a passing figure was thrown upon the opposite wall. With a
sigh of relief, the words escaped Ascher's bosom:
"He did not look inside…" he muttered to himself.
Then he removed his hand from the door-knob, came back into the centre
of the room, and approaching the table, rested his hand upon it.
"Ephraim…" he said after a while, in that suppressed tone which seemed
to be peculiar to him, "aren't you going to synagogue?"
"No, father," replied Ephraim, "I'm not going to-day."
"But they'll want to know," Ascher observed, and at the words an ugly
sneer curled the corners of his lip; "they'll want to know who your
guest is. Why don't you go and tell them?"
"Father!" cried Ephraim.
"Then be good enough to draw down the blinds. …What business is it of
theirs who your guest is? Let them attend to their own affairs… But
they wouldn't be of 'the chosen race' if they didn't want to know what
was taking place in the furthermost corner of your brain. You can't be
too careful with them…you're never secure against their far-scenting
noses and their sharp, searching eyes."
It was now broad daylight. Ephraim drew down the blinds.
"The blinds are too white…" Ascher muttered, and moving a chair
forward, he sat down upon it with his back to the window.
Ephraim proceeded to wind the phylacteries round his arm, and commenced
to say his prayers softly.
His devotions over, he hurriedly took the phylacteries from his head and
Ascher was still sitting immovable, his back to the window, his eyes
fixed upon the door.
"Why don't you ask me where I've left my luggage?" he suddenly cried.
"I'll fetch it myself if you'll tell me where it is," Ephraim remarked,
in all simplicity.
"Upon my word, you make me laugh," cried Ascher, and a laugh like that
of delirium burst from his lips. "All I can say, Ephraim, is, the most
powerful giant upon earth would break his back beneath the weight of my
Then only did Ephraim grasp his father's meaning.
"Don't worry yourself, father…" he said lovingly.
"Would you like to support me, perhaps!" Ascher shouted, with cutting
Ephraim's heart almost ceased to beat. Then movements were heard in the
"Have you any one with you?" cried Ascher springing up. His sharp ears
had instantly caught the sounds, and again the strong man was seized
with violent trembling.
"Father, it's only dear Viola," said Ephraim.
A nameless terror seemed to have over-powered Ascher. With one hand
convulsively clenched upon the arm of the chair, and the other pressed
to his temple, he sat breathing heavily. Ephraim observed with alarm
what a terrible change had come over his father's features during the
last few seconds: his face had become ashen white, his eyes had lost
their lustre, he seemed to have aged ten years.
The door opened, and Viola entered.
"Viola!" cried Ephraim, "here is our—"
"Welcome!" said the girl, in a low voice, as she approached a few steps
nearer. She extended her hand towards him, but her eyes were cast down.
She stood still for a moment, then, with a hurried movement, turned
"Gudule!" cried Ascher, horror-stricken, as he fell back almost
senseless in his chair.
Was it the glamour of her maiden beauty that had so overpowered this
unhappy father? Or was it the extraordinary resemblance she bore to the
woman who had so loved him, and whose heart he had broken? The utterance
of her name, the terror that accompanied the exclamation, denoted the
effect which the girl's sudden appearance had produced upon that sadly
"Viola!" Ephraim cried, in a sorrow-stricken voice, "why don't you come
"I CAN'T, Ephraim, I CAN'T…" she moaned, as, with halting steps, she
walked towards the door.
"Come, speak to him, do," Ephraim entreated, taking her hand in his.
"Let me go!" she cried, trying to release herself … "I am thinking of
Suddenly Ascher rose.
"Where's my stick?" he cried. "I want the stick which I brought with
me…Where is it? I must go."
"Father, you won't…" cried Ephraim.
Then Viola turned round.
"Father," she said, with twitching lips… "you'll want something to eat
before you go."
"Yes, yes, let me have something to eat," he shouted, as he brought his
fist down upon the table. "Bring me wine…and let it be good …I am
thirsty enough to drink the river dry. …Wine, and beer, and anything
else you can find, bring all here, and then, when I've had my fill, I'll
"Go, Viola," Ephraim whispered in his sister's ear, "and bring him all
he asks for."
When Viola had left the room, Ascher appeared to grow calmer. He sat
down again leaning his arms upon the table.
"Yes," he muttered to himself: "I'll taste food with my children, before
I take up my stick and go…They say it's lucky to have the first drink
of the day served by one's own child …and luck I will have again, at
any price… What good children! While I've been anything but a good
father to them, they run hither and thither and take the trouble to get
me food and drink, and I, I've brought them home nothing but a wooden
stick. But I'll repay them, so help me God, I'll make them rich yet, but
I've got nothing but a wooden stick, and I want money, no play without
money, and no luck either…"
Gradually a certain thoughtfulness overspread Ascher's agitated
features, his lips were tightly compressed, deep furrows lined his
forehead, while his eyes were fixed in a stony glare, as if upon some
distant object. In the meantime Ephraim had remained standing almost
motionless, and it was evident that his presence in the room had quite
escaped his father's observation. With a chilling shudder running
through his frame, his hair on end with horror, he listened to the
strange soliloquy!…Then he saw his father's eyes travelling slowly in
the direction of the old bureau in the corner, and there they remained
fixed. "Why does he leave the key in the door, I wonder," he heard him
mutter between his teeth, "just as Gudule used to do; I must tell him
when he comes back, keys shouldn't be left indoors, never, under any
circumstances." The entrance of Viola interrupted the old gambler's
audible train of thought.
Ephraim gave a gasp of relief.
"Ah, what have you brought me?" cried Ascher, and his eyes sparkled with
animation, as Viola produced some bottles from under her apron, and
placed them and some glasses upon the table.
"Now then, fill up the glass," he shouted, in a commanding voice, "and
take care that you don't spill any, or you'll spoil my luck."
With trembling hand Viola did as she was bidden, without spilling a
single drop. Then he took up the glass and drained it at one draught.
His face flushed a bright crimson: he poured himself out another glass.
"Aren't you drinking, Ephraim?" he exclaimed, after he had finished that
"I don't drink to-day, father," Ephraim faltered, "it's a fast."
"A fast? What fast? I have been fasting too," he continued, with a
coarse laugh, "twice a week, on bread and water; an excellent thing for
the stomach. Fancy, a fast-day in midsummer. On such a long day, when
the sun is up at three already, and at eight o'clock at night is still
hesitating whether he'll go to bed or not …what have I got to do with
His face grew redder every moment; he had drunk a third and a fourth
glass, and there was nothing but a mere drain left in the bottle.
Already his utterance was thick and incoherent, and his eyes were fast
assuming that glassy brightness that is usually the forerunner of
helpless intoxication. It was a sight Ephraim could not bear to see.
Impelled by that natural, almost holy shame which prompted the son of
Noah to cover the nakedness of his father, he motioned to his sister to
leave. Then HE, too, softly walked out of the room.
Outside, in the corridor, the brother and sister fell into each other's
arms. Both wept bitterly: for a long time neither of them could find
words in which to express the grief which filled their souls. At length
Viola, her head resting upon Ephraim's shoulder, whispered: "Ephraim,
what do you think of him?"
"He is ill, I think…" said Ephraim, in a voice choked with sobs.
"What, you call THAT illness, Ephraim?" Viola cried; "if that's illness,
then a wild beast is ill too."
"Viola, for Heaven's sake, be quiet: he's our own father after all!"
"Ephraim!" said the girl, with a violent outburst of emotion, as she
again threw herself into her brother's arms… "just think if mother had
lived to see this!"
"Don't, don't, Viola, my sweet!" Ephraim exclaimed, sobbing convulsively.
"Ephraim!" the girl cried, shaking her head in wild despair, "I don't
believe in the Sechus! When we live to see all this, and our hearts do
not break, we lose faith in everything…Ephraim, what is to become of
"Hush, dear Viola, hush, you don't know what you are saying," replied
Ephraim, "I believe in it, because mother herself told us…you must
believe in it too."
But Viola again shook her head. "I don't believe in it any longer," she
moaned, "I can't."
Noiselessly, Ephraim walked toward the door of the front room; he placed
his ear against the keyhole, and listened. Within all was silent. A
fresh terror seized him. Why was no sound to be heard?…He opened the
door cautiously lest it should creak. There sat his father asleep in the
arm-chair, his head bent on his bosom, his arms hanging limp by his
"Hush, Viola," he whispered, closing the door as cautiously as he had
opened it, "he is asleep. …I think it will do him good. Be careful
that you make no noise."
Viola had seated herself upon a block of wood outside the kitchen door,
and was sobbing silently. In the meantime, Ephraim, unable to find a
word of solace for his sister, went and stood at the street door, so
that no unbidden guest should come to disturb his father's slumbers. It
was mid-day; from the church hard by streamed the peasants and their
wives in their Sunday attire, and many bestowed a friendly smile upon
the well-known youth. But he could only nod his head in return, his
heart was sore oppressed, and a smile at such a moment seemed to him
nothing short of sin. He went back into the house, and listened at the
door of the room. Silence still reigned unbroken, and with noiseless
steps he again walked away.
"He is still sleeping," he whispered to his sister. "Just think what
would have happened if we had still had that bird…He wouldn't have
been able to sleep a wink."
"Ephraim, why do you remind me of it?" cried Viola with a fresh outburst
of tears. "Where is the little bird now, I wonder?…"
Ephraim sat down beside his sister, and took her hand in his. Thus they
remained seated for some time, unable to find a word of comfort for each
At length movements were heard. Ephraim sprang to his feet and once more
approached the door to listen.
"He is awake!" he softly said to Viola, and slowly opening the door, he
entered the room.
Ascher was walking up and down with heavy tread.
"Do you feel refreshed after your sleep, father?" Ephraim asked timidly.
Ascher stood still, and confronted his son. His face was still very
flushed, but his eyes had lost their glassy stare; his glance was clear
"Ephraim, my son," he began, in a kindly, almost cheerful tone, "you've
grown into a splendid business man, as good a business man as one can
meet with between this and Vienna. I'm sure of it. But I must give you
one bit of advice; it's worth a hundred pounds to one in your position.
Never leave a key in the lock of a bureau!"
Ephraim looked at his father as though stupefied. Was the man mad or
delirious to talk in such a strain? At that moment, from the extreme end
of the Ghetto, there sounded the three knocks, summoning the people to
evening prayer. As in the morning, so again now the sound seemed to stun
the vigorous man. His face blanched and assumed an expression of terror;
he trembled from head to foot. Then again he cast a frightened glance
in the direction of the window.
"Nothing but knocking, knocking!" he muttered. "They would like to knock
the most hidden thoughts out of one's brains, if they only could. What
makes them do it, I should like to know?…To the clanging of a bell you
can, at all events, shut your ears, you need only place your hands to
them…but with that hammer they bang at every confounded door, and
drive one crazy. Who gives them the right to do it, I should like to
know?" He stood still listening.
"Do you think he will be long before he reaches here?" he asked Ephraim,
in a frightened voice.
"He has already knocked next door but one."
Another minute, and the three strokes sounded on the door of the house.
Ascher heaved a sigh of relief; he rubbed his hand across his forehead;
it was wet with perspiration.
"Thank God!" he cried, as though addressing himself, "that's over, and
won't come again till to-morrow."
"Ephraim, my son!" he cried, with a sudden outburst of cheerfulness,
accompanying the words with a thundering bang upon the table, "Ephraim,
my son, you shall soon see what sort of a father you have. Now, you're
continually worrying your brains, walking your feet off, trying to get
a skin, or praying some fool of a peasant to be good enough to sell you
a bit of wool. Ephraim, my son, all that shall soon be changed, take my
word for it. I'll make you rich, and as for Viola, I'll get her a
husband—such a husband that all the girls in Bohemia will turn green
and yellow with envy…Ascher's daughter shall have as rich a dowry as
the daughter of a Rothschild… But there's one thing, and one thing
only, that I need, and then all will happen as I promise, in one night."
"And what is that, father!" asked Ephraim, with a slight shudder.
"Luck, luck, Ephraim, my son!" he shouted. "What is a man without luck?
Put a man who has no luck in a chest full of gold; cover him with gold
from head to foot; when he crawls out of it, and you search his pockets,
you'll find the gold has turned to copper."
"And will you have luck, father?" asked Ephraim.
"Ephraim, my son!" said the old gambler, with a cunning smile, "I'll
tell you something—There are persons whose whole powers are devoted to
one object—how to win a fortune; in the same way as there are some who
study to become doctors, and the like, so these study what we call
luck…and from them I've learned it."
He checked himself in sudden alarm lest he might have said too much, and
looked searchingly at his son. A pure soul shone through Ephraim's open
countenance, and showed his father that his real meaning had not been
"Never mind," he shouted loudly, waving his arms in the air, "what is
to come no man can stop. Give me something to drink, Ephraim."
"Father," the latter faltered, "don't you think it will harm you?"
"Don't be a fool, Ephraim!" cried Ascher, "you don't know my
constitution. Besides, didn't you say that to-day was a fast, when it
is forbidden to eat anything? And have I asked you for any food? But as
for drink, that's quite another thing! The birds of the air can't do
without it, much less man!"
Ephraim saw that for that evening, at all events, it would not do to
oppose his father. He walked into the kitchen where Viola was preparing
supper, or rather breakfast, for after the fast this was the first meal
of the day.
"Viola," he said, "make haste and fetch some fresh wine."
"For him?" cried Viola, pointing her finger almost threateningly in the
direction of the sitting-room door.
"Don't, don't, Viola!" Ephraim implored.
"And you are fasting!" she said.
"Am I not also fasting for him?" said Ephraim.
With a full bottle in his hand Ephraim once more entered the room. He
placed the wine upon the table, where the glasses from which Ascher had
drunk in the morning were still standing.
"Where is Viola?" asked Ascher, who was again pacing the room with firm
"She is busy cooking."
"Tell her she shall have a husband, and a dowry that will make half the
girls in Bohemia turn green and yellow with envy."
Then he approached the table, and drank three brimming glasses, one
after the other. "Now then," he said, as with his whole weight he
dropped into the old arm-chair… "Now I'll have a good night's rest.
I need strength and sharp eyes, and they are things which only sleep can
give. Ephraim, my son," he continued after awhile in thick, halting
accents… "tell the watch—Simon is his name, I think—he can give six
knocks instead of three upon the door, in the morning, he won't disturb
me…and to Viola you can say I'll find her a husband, handsomer than
her eyes have ever beheld, and tell her on her wedding-day she shall
wear pearls round her neck like those of a queen—no, no, like those of
Gudule, her mother." A few moments later he was sound asleep.
It was the dead of night. All round reigned stillness and peace, the
peace of night! What a gentle sound those words convey, a sound akin
only to the word HOME! Fraught, like it, with sweetest balm, a fragrant
flower from long-lost paradise. Thou art at rest, Ascher, and in safe
shelter; the breathing of thy children is so restful, so tranquil…
Desist! desist! 'T is too late. Side by side with the peace of night,
there dwell Spirits of Evil, the never-resting, vagrant, home-destroying
guests, who enter unbidden into the human soul! Hark, the rustling of
their raven-hued plumage! They take wing, they fly aloft; 't is the
shriek of the vulture, swooping down upon the guileless dove.
Is there no eye to watch thee? Doth not thine own kin see thy foul deeds?
'T is too late…
Open is the window, no grating noise has accompanied the unbolting of
the shutter… The evil spirits have taken care that the faintest sound
shall die away…even the rough iron obeys their voices…it is they who
have bidden: "Be silent; betray him not; he is one of us."
Even the key in the door of the old bureau is turned lightly and without
noise. Groping fingers are searching for a bulky volume. Have they found
it? Is there none there to cry in a voice of thunder: "Cursed be the
father who stretches forth his desecrating hand towards the things that
are his children's"?…
They HAVE found it, the greedy fingers! and now, but a spring through
the open window, and out into the night…
At that moment a sudden ray of light shines through a crack in the door
of the room… Swiftly the door opens, a girlish figure appears on the
threshold, a lighted lamp in her hand…
"Gudule!" he shrieks, horror-stricken, and falls senseless at her feet.
Ascher was saved. The terrible blow which had struck him down had not
crushed the life from him. He was awakened. But when, after four weeks
of gruesome fever and delirium, his mind had somewhat regained its
equilibrium, his hair had turned white as snow, and his children beheld
an old, decrepit man.
That which Viola had denied her father when he returned to them in all
the vigor of his manhood, she now lavished upon him in his suffering and
helplessness, with that concentrated power of love, the source of which
is not human, but Divine. In the space of one night of terror, the
merest bud of yesterday had suddenly blossomed forth into a flower of
rarest beauty. Never did gentler hands cool a fever-heated brow, never
did sweeter voice mingle its melody with the gruesome dreams of
On his sick-bed, lovingly tended by Ephraim and Viola, an ennobling
influence gradually came over the heart of the old gambler, and so
deeply touched it, that calm peace crowned his closing days. It was
strange that the events of that memorable night, and the vicissitudes
that had preceded it, had left no recollection behind, and his children
took good care not to re-awaken, by the slightest hint, his sleeping
A carriage drew up one day in front of Ascher's house. There has
evidently been a splendid crop of oats this year. Uncle Gabriel has
come. Uncle Gabriel has only lately assumed the additional character of
father-in-law to Ephraim, for he declared that none but Ephraim should
be his pet daughter's husband. And now he has come for the purpose of
having a confidential chat with Viola. There he sits, the kind-hearted,
simple-minded man, every line of his honest face eloquent with
good-humor and happiness, still guilty of an occasional violent
onslaught upon his thighs. Viola still remains his "little spit-fire."
"Now, Viola, my little spit-fire," said he, "won't you yet allow me to
talk to my Nathan about you? Upon my word, the boy can't bear the
suspense any longer."
"Uncle," says Viola, and a crimson blush dyes her pale cheeks: "Uncle,"
she repeats, in a tone of such deep earnestness, that the laughing
expression upon Gabriel's face instantly vanishes, "please don't talk
to him at all. MY place is with my father!"
And to all appearances Viola will keep her word.
Had she taken upon herself a voluntary penance for having, in her
heart's bitter despair, presumed to abjure her faith in the Sechus of
her mother? Or was there yet another reason? The heart of woman is a
strangely sensitive thing. It loves not to build its happiness upon the
hidden ruins of another's life.
THE SEVERED HAND
I was born in Constantinople; my father was a dragoman at the Porte, and
besides, carried on a fairly lucrative business in sweet-scented
perfumes and silk goods. He gave me a good education; he partly
instructed me himself, and also had me instructed by one of our priests.
He at first intended me to succeed him in business one day, but as I
showed greater aptitude than he had expected, he destined me, on the
advice of his friends, to be a doctor; for if a doctor has learned a
little more than the ordinary charlatan, he can make his fortune in
Constantinople. Many Franks frequented our house, and one of them
persuaded my father to allow me to travel to his native land to the city
of Paris, where such things could be best acquired and free of charge.
He wished, however, to take me with himself gratuitously on his journey
home. My father, who had also travelled in his youth, agreed, and the
Frank told me to hold myself in readiness three months hence. I was
beside myself with joy at the idea of seeing foreign countries, and
eagerly awaited the moment when we should embark. The Frank had at last
concluded his business and prepared himself for the journey. On the
evening before our departure my father led me into his little bedroom.
There I saw splendid dresses and arms lying on the table. My looks were
however chiefly attracted to an immense heap of gold, for I had never
before seen so much collected together.
My father embraced me and said: "Behold, my son, I have procured for
thee clothes for the journey. These weapons are thine; they are the same
which thy grandfather hung around me when I went abroad. I know that
thou canst use them aright; but only make use of them when thou art
attacked; on such occasions, however, defend thyself bravely. My
property is not large; behold I have divided it into three parts, one
part for thee, another for my support and spare money, but the third is
to me a sacred and untouched property, it is for thee in the hour of
need." Thus spoke my old father, tears standing in his eyes, perhaps
from some foreboding, for I never saw him again.
The journey passed off very well; we had soon reached the land of the
Franks, and six days later we arrived in the large city of Paris. There
my Frankish friend hired a room for me, and advised me to spend wisely
my money, which amounted in all to two thousand dollars. I lived three
years in this city, and learned what is necessary for a skilful doctor
to know. I should not, however, be stating the truth if I said that I
liked being there, for the customs of this nation displeased me;
besides, I had only a few chosen friends there, and these were noble
The longing after home at last possessed me mightily; during the whole
of that time I had not heard anything from my father, and I therefore
seized a favorable opportunity of reaching home. An embassy from France
left for Turkey. I acted as surgeon to the suite of the Ambassador and
arrived happily in Stamboul. My father's house was locked, and the
neighbors, who were surprised on seeing me, told me my father had died
two months ago. The priest who had instructed me in my youth brought me
the key; alone and desolate I entered the empty house. All was still in
the same position as my father had left it, only the gold which I was
to inherit was gone. I questioned the priest about it, and he, bowing,
said: "Your father died a saint, for he has bequeathed his gold to the
Church." This was and remained inexplicable to me. However, what could
I do? I had no witness against the priest, and had to be glad that he
had not considered the house and the goods of my father as a bequest.
This was the first misfortune that I encountered. Henceforth nothing but
ill-luck attended me. My reputation as doctor would not spread at all,
because I was ashamed to act the charlatan; and I felt everywhere the
want of the recommendation of my father, who would have introduced me
to the richest and most distinguished, but who now no longer thought of
the poor Zaleukos! The goods of my father also had no sale, for his
customers had deserted him after his death, and new ones are only to be
Thus when I was one day meditating sadly over my position, it occurred
to me that I had often seen in France men of my nation travelling
through the country exhibiting their goods in the markets of the towns.
I remembered that the people liked to buy of them, because they came
from abroad, and that such a business would be most lucrative.
Immediately I resolved what to do. I disposed of my father's house, gave
part of the money to a trusty friend to keep for me, and with the rest
I bought what are very rare in France, shawls, silk goods, ointments,
and oils, took a berth on board a ship, and thus entered upon my second
journey to the land of the Franks. It seemed as if fortune had favored
me again as soon as I had turned my back upon the Castles of the
Dardanelles. Our journey was short and successful. I travelled through
the large and small towns of the Franks, and found everywhere willing
buyers of my goods. My friend in Stamboul always sent me fresh stores,
and my wealth increased day by day. When I had saved at last so much
that I thought I might venture on a greater undertaking, I travelled
with my goods to Italy. I must however confess to something, which
brought me not a little money: I also employed my knowledge of physic.
On reaching a town, I had it published that a Greek physician had
arrived, who had already healed many; and in fact my balsam and medicine
gained me many a sequin. Thus I had at length reached the city of
Florence in Italy.
I resolved upon remaining in this town for some time, partly because I
liked it so well, partly also because I wished to recruit myself from
the exertions of my travels. I hired a vaulted shop, in that part of the
town called Sta. Croce, and not far from this a couple of nice rooms at
an inn, leading out upon a balcony. I immediately had my bills
circulated, which announced me to be both physician and merchant.
Scarcely had I opened my shop when I was besieged by buyers, and in
spite of my high prices I sold more than any one else, because I was
obliging and friendly towards my customers. Thus I had already lived
four days happily in Florence, when one evening, as I was about to close
my vaulted room, and on examining once more the contents of my ointment
boxes, as I was in the habit of doing, I found in one of the small boxes
a piece of paper, which I did not remember to have put into it.
I unfolded the paper, and found in it an invitation to be on the bridge
which is called Ponto Vecchio that night exactly at midnight. I was
thinking for a long time as to who it might be who had invited me there;
and not knowing a single soul in Florence, I thought perhaps I should
be secretly conducted to a patient, a thing which had already often
occurred. I therefore determined to proceed thither, but took care to
gird on the sword which my father had once presented to me. When it was
close upon midnight I set out on my journey, and soon reached the Ponte
Vecchio. I found the bridge deserted, and determined to await the
appearance of him who called me. It was a cold night; the moon shone
brightly, and I looked down upon the waves of the Arno, which sparkled
far away in the moonlight. It was now striking twelve o'clock from all
the churches of the city, when I looked up and saw a tall man standing
before me completely covered in a scarlet cloak, one end of which hid
At first I was somewhat frightened, because he had made his appearance
so suddenly; but was however myself again shortly afterwards, and said:
"If it is you who have ordered me here, say what you want?" The man
dressed in scarlet turned round and said in an undertone: "Follow!" At
this, however, I felt a little timid to go alone with this stranger. I
stood still and said: "Not so, sir, kindly first tell me where; you
might also let me see your countenance a little, in order to convince
me that you wish me no harm." The red one, however, did not seem to pay
any attention to this. "If thou art unwilling, Zaleukos, remain," he
replied, and continued his way. I grew angry. "Do you think," I
exclaimed, "a man like myself allows himself to be made a fool of, and
to have waited on this cold night for nothing?"
In three bounds I had reached him, seized him by his cloak, and cried
still louder, whilst laying hold of my sabre with my other hand. His
cloak, however, remained in my hand, and the stranger had disappeared
round the nearest corner. I became calmer by degrees. I had the cloak
at any rate, and it was this which would give me the key to this
remarkable adventure. I put it on and continued my way home. When I was
at a distance of about a hundred paces from it, some one brushed very
closely by me and whispered in the language of the Franks: "Take care,
Count, nothing can be done to-night." Before I had time, however, to
turn round, this somebody had passed, and I merely saw a shadow hovering
along the houses. I perceived that these words did not concern me, but
rather the cloak, yet it gave me no explanation concerning the affair.
On the following morning I considered what was to be done. At first I
had intended to have the cloak cried in the streets, as if I had found
it. But then the stranger might send for it by a third person, and thus
no light would be thrown upon the matter. Whilst I was thus thinking,
I examined the cloak more closely. It was made of thick Genoese velvet,
scarlet in color, edged with Astrachan fur and richly embroidered with
gold. The magnificent appearance of the cloak put a thought into my mind
which I resolved to carry out.
I carried it into my shop and exposed it for sale, but placed such a
high price upon it that I was sure nobody would buy it. My object in
this was to scrutinize everybody sharply who might ask for the fur
cloak; for the figure of the stranger, which I had seen but
superficially, though with some certainty, after the loss of the cloak,
I should recognize amongst a thousand. There were many would-be
purchasers for the cloak, the extraordinary beauty of which attracted
everybody; but none resembled the stranger in the slightest degree, and
nobody was willing to pay such a high price as two hundred sequins for
it. What astonished me was that on asking somebody or other if there was
not such a cloak in Florence, they all answered "No," and assured me
they never had seen so precious and tasteful a piece of work.
Evening was drawing near, when at last a young man appeared, who had
already been to my place, and who had also offered me a great deal for
the cloak. He threw a purse with sequins upon the table, and exclaimed:
"Of a truth, Zaleukos, I must have thy cloak, should I turn into a
beggar over it!" He immediately began to count his pieces of gold. I was
in a dangerous position: I had only exposed the cloak, in order merely
to attract the attention of my stranger, and now a young fool came to
pay an immense price for it. However, what could I do? I yielded; for
on the other hand I was delighted at the idea of being so handsomely
recompensed for my nocturnal adventure.
The young man put the cloak around him and went away, but on reaching
the threshold he returned; whilst unfastening a piece of paper which had
been tied to the cloak, and throwing it towards me, he exclaimed: "Here,
Zaleukos, hangs something which I dare say does not belong to the
cloak." I picked up the piece of paper carelessly, but behold, on it
these words were written: "Bring the cloak at the appointed hour
to-night to the Ponte Vecchio, four hundred sequins are thine." I stood
thunderstruck. Thus I had lost my fortune and completely missed my aim!
Yet I did not think long. I picked up the two hundred sequins, jumped
after the one who had bought the cloak, and said: "Dear friend, take
back your sequins, and give me the cloak; I cannot possibly part with
it." He first regarded the matter as a joke; but when he saw that I was
in earnest, he became angry at my demand, called me a fool, and finally
it came to blows.
However, I was fortunate enough to wrench the cloak from him in the
scuffle, and was about to run away with it, when the young man called
the police to his assistance, and we both appeared before the judge. The
latter was much surprised at the accusation, and adjudicated the cloak
in favor of my adversary. I offered the young man twenty, fifty, eighty,
even a hundred sequins in addition to his two hundred, if he would part
with the cloak. What my entreaties could not do, my gold did. He
accepted it. I, however, went away with the cloak triumphantly, and had
to appear to the whole town of Florence as a madman. I did not care,
however, about the opinion of the people; I knew better than they that
I profited after all by the bargain.
Impatiently I awaited the night. At the same hour as before I went with
the cloak under my arm towards the Ponte Vecchio. With the last stroke
of twelve the figure appeared out of the darkness, and came towards me.
It was unmistakably the man whom I had seen yesterday. "Hast thou the
cloak?" he asked me. "Yes, sir," I replied; "but it cost me a hundred
sequins ready money." "I know it," replied the other "Look here, here
are four hundred." He went with me towards the wide balustrade of the
bridge, and counted out the money. There were four hundred; they
sparkled magnificently in the moonlight; their glitter rejoiced my
heart. Alas, I did not anticipate that this would be its last joy. I put
the money into my pocket, and was desirous of thoroughly looking at my
kind and unknown stranger; but he wore a mask, through which dark eyes
stared at me frightfully. "I thank you, sir, for your kindness," I said
to him; "what else do you require of me? I tell you beforehand it must
be an honorable transaction." "There is no occasion for alarm," he
replied, whilst winding the cloak around his shoulders; "I require your
assistance as surgeon, not for one alive, but dead."
"What do you mean?" I exclaimed, full of surprise. "I arrived with my
sister from abroad." he said, and beckoned me at the same time to follow
him. "I lived here with her at the house of a friend. My sister died
yesterday suddenly of a disease, and my relatives wish to bury her
to-morrow. According to an old custom of our family all are to be buried
in the tomb of our ancestors; many, notwithstanding, who died in foreign
countries are buried there and embalmed. I do not grudge my relatives
her body, but for my father I want at least the head of his daughter,
in order that he may see her once more." This custom of severing the
heads of beloved relatives appeared to me somewhat awful, yet I did not
dare to object to it lest I should offend the stranger. I told him that
I was acquainted with the embalming of the dead, and begged him to
conduct me to the deceased. Yet I could not help asking him why all this
must be done so mysteriously and at night? He answered me that his
relatives, who considered his intention horrible, objected to it by
daylight; if only the head were severed, then they could say no more
about it; although he might have brought me the head, yet a natural
feeling had prevented him from severing it himself.
In the meantime we had reached a large, splendid house. My companion
pointed it out to me as the end of our nocturnal walk. We passed the
principal entrance of the house, entered a little door, which the
stranger carefully locked behind him, and now ascended in the dark a
narrow spiral staircase. It led towards a dimly lighted passage, out of
which we entered a room lighted by a lamp fastened to the ceiling.
In this room was a bed, on which the corpse lay. The stranger turned
aside his face, evidently endeavoring to hide his tears. He pointed
towards the bed, telling me to do my business well and quickly, and left
I took my instruments, which I as surgeon always carried about with me,
and approached the bed. Only the head of the corpse was visible, and it
was so beautiful that I experienced involuntarily the deepest sympathy.
Dark hair hung down in long plaits, the features were pale, the eyes
closed. At first I made an incision into the skin, after the manner of
surgeons when amputating a limb. I then took my sharpest knife, and with
one stroke cut the throat. But oh, horror! The dead opened her eyes, but
immediately closed them again, and with a deep sigh she now seemed to
breathe her last. At the same moment a stream of hot blood shot towards
me from the wound. I was convinced that the poor creature had been
killed by me. That she was dead there was no doubt, for there was no
recovery from this wound. I stood for some minutes in painful anguish
at what had happened. Had the "red-cloak" deceived me, or had his sister
perhaps merely been apparently dead? The latter seemed to me more
likely. But I dare not tell the brother of the deceased that perhaps a
little less deliberate cut might have awakened her without killing her;
therefore I wished to sever the head completely; but once more the dying
woman groaned, stretched herself out in painful movements, and died.
Fright overpowered me, and shuddering, I hastened out of the room. But
outside in the passage it was dark; for the light was out, no trace of
my companion was to be seen, and I was obliged, haphazard, to feel my
way in the dark along the wall, in order to reach the staircase. I
discovered it at last and descended, partly falling and partly gliding.
But there was not a soul downstairs. I merely found the door ajar, and
breathed freer on reaching the street, for I had felt very strange
inside the house. Urged on by terror, I rushed towards my dwelling-place,
and buried myself in the cushions of my bed, in order to forget the
terrible thing that I had done.
But sleep deserted me, and only the morning admonished me again to take
courage. It seemed to me probable that the man who had induced me to
commit this nefarious deed, as it now appeared to me, might not denounce
me. I immediately resolved to set to work in my vaulted room, and if
possible to assume an indifferent look. But alas! an additional
circumstance, which I only now noticed, increased my anxiety still more.
My cap and my girdle, as well as my instruments, were wanting, and I was
uncertain as to whether I had left them in the room of the murdered
girl, or whether I had lost them in my flight. The former seemed indeed
the more likely, and thus I could easily be discovered as the murderer.
At the accustomed hour I opened my vaulted room. My neighbor came in,
as was his wont every morning, for he was a talkative man. "Well," he
said, "what do you say about the terrible affair which has occurred
during the night?" I pretended not to know anything. "What, do you not
know what is known all over the town? Are you not aware that the
loveliest flower in Florence, Bianca, the Governor's daughter, was
murdered last night? I saw her only yesterday driving through the
streets in so cheerful a manner with her intended one, for to-day the
marriage was to have taken place." I felt deeply wounded at each word
of my neighbor. Many a time my torment was renewed, for every one of my
customers told me of the affair, each one more ghastly than the other,
and yet nobody could relate anything more terrible than that which I had
About mid-day a police-officer entered my shop and requested me to send
the people away. "Signor Zaleukos" he said, producing the things which
I had missed, "do these things belong to you?" I was thinking as to
whether I should not entirely repudiate them, but on seeing through the
door, which stood ajar, my landlord and several acquaintances, I
determined not to aggravate the affair by telling a lie, and
acknowledged myself as the owner of the things. The police-officer
asked me to follow him, and led me towards a large building which I soon
recognized as the prison. There he showed me into a room meanwhile.
My situation was terrible, as I thought of it in my solitude. The idea
of having committed a murder, unintentionally, constantly presented
itself to my mind. I also could not conceal from myself that the glitter
of the gold had captivated my feelings, otherwise I should not have
fallen blindly into the trap. Two hours after my arrest I was led out
of my cell. I descended several steps until at last I reached a great
hall. Around a long table draped in black were seated twelve men, mostly
old men. There were benches along the sides of the hall, filled with the
most distinguished of Florence. The galleries, which were above, were
thickly crowded with spectators. When I had stepped towards the table
covered with black cloth, a man with a gloomy and sad countenance rose;
it was the Governor. He said to the assembly that he as the father in
this affair could not sentence, and that he resigned his place on this
occasion to the eldest of the Senators. The eldest of the Senators was
an old man at least ninety years of age. He stood in a bent attitude,
and his temples were covered with thin white hair, but his eyes were as
yet very fiery, and his voice powerful and weighty. He commenced by
asking me whether I confessed to the murder. I requested him to allow
me to speak, and related undauntedly and with a clear voice what I had
done, and what I knew.
I noticed that the Governor, during my recital, at one time turned pale,
and at another time red. When I had finished, he rose angrily: "What,
wretch!" he exclaimed, "dost thou even dare to impute a crime which thou
hast committed from greediness to another?" The Senator reprimanded him
for his interruption, since he had voluntarily renounced his right;
besides it was not clear that I did the deed from greediness, for,
according to his own statement, nothing had been stolen from the victim.
He even went further. He told the Governor that he must give an account
of the early life of his daughter, for then only it would be possible
to decide whether I had spoken the truth or not. At the same time he
adjourned the court for the day, in order, as he said, to consult the
papers of the deceased, which the Governor would give him. I was again
taken back to my prison, where I spent a wretched day, always fervently
wishing that a link between the deceased and the "red-cloak" might be
discovered. Full of hope, I entered the Court of Justice the next day.
Several letters were lying upon the table. The old Senator asked me
whether they were in my hand-writing. I looked at them and noticed that
they must have been written by the same hand as the other two papers
which I had received. I communicated this to the Senators, but no
attention was paid to it, and they told me that I might have written
both, for the signature of the letters was undoubtedly a Z., the first
letter of my name. The letters, however, contained threats against the
deceased, and warnings against the marriage which she was about to
The Governor seemed to have given extraordinary information concerning
me, for I was treated with more suspicion and rigor on this day. I
referred, to justify myself, to my papers which must be in my room, but
was told they had been looked for without success. Thus at the
conclusion of this sitting all hope vanished, and on being brought into
the Court the third day, judgment was pronounced on me. I was convicted
of wilful murder and condemned to death. Things had come to such a pass!
Deserted by all that was precious to me upon earth, far away from home,
I was to die innocently in the bloom of my life.
On the evening of this terrible day which had decided my fate, I was
sitting in my lonely cell, my hopes were gone, my thoughts steadfastly
fixed upon death, when the door of my prison opened, and in came a man,
who for a long time looked at me silently. "Is it thus I find you again,
Zaleukos?" he said. I had not recognized him by the dim light of my
lamp, but the sound of his voice roused in me old remembrances. It was
Valetti, one of those few friends whose acquaintance I made in the city
of Paris when I was studying there. He said that he had come to Florence
accidentally, where his father, who was a distinguished man, lived. He
had heard about my affair, and had come to see me once more, and to hear
from my own lips how I could have committed such a crime. I related to
him the whole affair. He seemed much surprised at it, and adjured me,
as my only friend, to tell him all, in order not to leave the world with
a lie behind me. I confirmed my assertions with an oath that I had
spoken the truth, and that I was not guilty of anything, except that the
glitter of the gold had dazzled me, and that I had not perceived the
improbability of the story of the stranger. "Did you not know Bianca?"
he asked me. I assured him that I had never seen her. Valetti now
related to me that a profound mystery rested on the affair, that the
Governor had very much accelerated my condemnation, and now a report was
spread that I had known Bianca for a long time, and had murdered her out
of revenge for her marriage with some one else. I told him that all this
coincided exactly with the "red-cloak," but that I was unable to prove
his participation in the affair. Valetti embraced me weeping, and
promised me to do all, at least to save my life.
I had little hope, though I knew that Valetti a clever man, well versed
in the law, and that he would do all in his power to save my life. For
two long days I was in uncertainty; at last Valetti appeared. "I bring
consolation, though painful. You will live and be free with the loss of
one hand." Affected, I thanked my friend for saving my life. He told me
that the Governor had been inexorable in having the affair investigated
a second time, but that he at last, in order not to appear unjust, had
agreed, that if a similar case could be found in the law books of the
history of Florence, my punishment should be the same as the one
recorded in these books. He and his father had searched in the old books
day and night, and at last found a case quite similar to mine. The
sentence was: That his left hand be cut off, his property confiscated,
and he himself banished for ever. This was my punishment also, and he
asked me to prepare for the painful hour which awaited me. I will not
describe to you that terrible hour, when I laid my hand upon the block
in the public market-place and my own blood shot over me in broad
Valetti took me to his house until I had recovered; he then most
generously supplied me with money for travelling, for all I had acquired
with so much difficulty had fallen a prey to the law. I left Florence
for Sicily and embarked on the first ship that I found for
Constantinople. My hope was fixed upon the sum which I had entrusted to
my friend. I also requested to be allowed to live with him. But how
great was my astonishment on being asked why I did not wish to live in
my own house. He told me that some unknown man had bought a house in the
Greek Quarter in my name, and this very man had also told the neighbors
of my early arrival. I immediately proceeded thither accompanied by my
friend, and was received by all my old acquaintances joyfully. An old
merchant gave me a letter, which the man who had bought the house for
me had left behind. I read as follows: "Zaleukos! Two hands are prepared
to work incessantly, in order that you may not feel the loss of one of
yours. The house which you see and all its contents are yours, and every
year you will receive enough to be counted amongst the rich of your
people. Forgive him who is unhappier than yourself!" I could guess who
had written it, and in answer to my question, the merchant told me it
had been a man, whom he took for a Frank, and who had worn a scarlet
cloak. I knew enough to understand that the stranger was, after all, not
entirely devoid of noble intentions. In my new house I found everything
arranged in the best style, also a vaulted room stored with goods, more
splendid than I had ever had. Ten years have passed since. I still
continue my commercial travels, more from old custom than necessity, yet
I have never again seen that country where I became so unfortunate.
Every year since, I have received a thousand gold-pieces; and although
I rejoice to know that unfortunate man to be noble, yet he cannot
relieve me of the sorrow of my soul, for the terrible picture of the
murdered Bianca is continually on my mind.
ADELBERT VON CHAMISSO
After a prosperous, but to me very wearisome, voyage, we came at last
into port. Immediately on landing I got together my few effects; and,
squeezing myself through the crowd, went into the nearest and humblest
inn which first met my gaze. On asking for a room the waiter looked at
me from head to foot, and conducted me to one. I asked for some cold
water, and for the correct address of Mr. Thomas John, which was
described as being "by the north gate, the first country-house to the
right, a large new house of red and white marble, with many pillars."
This was enough. As the day was not yet far advanced, I untied my
bundle, took out my newly-turned black coat, dressed myself in my best
clothes, and, with my letter of recommendation, set out for the man who
was to assist me in the attainment of my moderate wishes.
After proceeding up the north street, I reached the gate, and saw the
marble columns glittering through the trees. Having wiped the dust from
my shoes with my pocket-handkerchief, and readjusted my cravat, I rang
the bell—offering up at the same time a silent prayer. The door flew
open, and the porter sent in my name. I had soon the honor to be invited
into the park, where Mr. John was walking with a few friends. I
recognized him at once by his corpulency and self-complacent air. He
received me very well—just as a rich man receives a poor devil; and
turning to me, took my letter. "Oh, from my brother! it is a long time
since I heard from him: is he well?—Yonder," he went on,—turning to
the company, and pointing to a distant hill—"yonder is the site of the
new building." He broke the seal without discontinuing the conversation,
which turned upon riches. "The man," he said, "who does not possess at
least a million is a poor wretch." "Oh, how true!" I exclaimed, in the
fulness of my heart. He seemed pleased at this, and replied with a
smile: "Stop here, my dear friend; afterwards I shall, perhaps, have
time to tell you what I think of this," pointing to the letter, which
he then put into his pocket, and turned round to the company, offering
his arm to a young lady: his example was followed by the other
gentlemen, each politely escorting a lady; and the whole party proceeded
towards a little hill thickly planted with blooming roses.
I followed without troubling any one, for none took the least further
notice of me. The party was in high spirits—lounging about and
jesting—speaking sometimes of trifling matters very seriously, and of
serious matters as triflingly—and exercising their wit in particular
to great advantage on their absent friends and their affairs. I was too
ignorant of what they were talking about to understand much of it, and
too anxious and absorbed in my own reflections to occupy myself with the
solution of such enigmas as their conversation presented.
By this time we had reached the thicket of roses. The lovely Fanny, who
seemed to be the queen of the day, was obstinately bent on plucking a
rose-branch for herself, and in the attempt pricked her finger with a
thorn. The crimson stream, as if flowing from the dark-tinted rose,
tinged her fair hand with the purple current. This circumstance set the
whole company in commotion; and court-plaster was called for. A quiet,
elderly man, tall and meagre-looking, who was one of the company, but
whom I had not before observed, immediately put his hand into the tight
breast-pocket of his old-fashioned coat of gray sarcenet, pulled out a
small letter-case, opened it, and, with a most respectful bow, presented
the lady with the wished-for article. She received it without noticing
the giver, or thanking him. The wound was bound up, and the party
proceeded along the hill towards the back part, from which they enjoyed
an extensive view across the green labyrinth of the park to the
wide-spreading ocean. The view was truly a magnificent one. A slight
speck was observed on the horizon, between the dark flood and the azure
sky. "A telescope!" called out Mr. John; but before any of the servants
could answer the summons the gray man, with a modest bow, drew his hand
from his pocket, and presented a beautiful Dollond's telescope to Mr.
John, who, on looking through it, informed the company that the speck
in the distance was the ship which had sailed yesterday, and which was
detained within sight of the haven by contrary winds. The telescope
passed from hand to hand, but was not returned to the owner, whom I
gazed at with astonishment, and could not conceive how so large an
instrument could have proceeded from so small a pocket. This, however,
seemed to excite surprise in no one; and the gray man appeared to create
as little interest as myself.
Refreshments were now brought forward, consisting of the rarest fruits
from all parts of the world, served up in the most costly dishes. Mr.
John did the honors with unaffected grace, and addressed me for the
second time, saying, "You had better eat; you did not get such things
at sea." I acknowledged his politeness with a bow, which, however, he
did not perceive, having turned round to speak with some one else.
The party would willingly have stopped some time here on the declivity
of the hill, to enjoy the extensive prospect before them, had they not
been apprehensive of the dampness of the grass. "How delightful it would
be," exclaimed some one, "if we had a Turkey carpet to lay down here!"
The wish was scarcely expressed when the man in the gray coat put his
hand in his pocket, and, with a modest and even humble air, pulled out
a rich Turkey carpet, embroidered in gold. The servant received it as
a matter of course, and spread it out on the desired spot; and, without
any ceremony, the company seated themselves on it. Confounded by what
I saw, I gazed again at the man, his pocket, and the carpet, which was
more than twenty feet in length and ten in breadth, and rubbed my eyes,
not knowing what to think, particularly as no one saw anything
extraordinary in the matter.
I would gladly have made some inquiries respecting the man, and asked
who he was, but knew not to whom I should address myself, for I felt
almost more afraid of the servants than of their master. At length I
took courage, and stepping up to a young man who seemed of less
consequence than the others, and who was more frequently standing by
himself, I begged of him, in a low tone, to tell me who the obliging
gentleman was in the gray cloak. "That man who looks like a piece of
thread just escaped from a tailor's needle?" "Yes; he who is standing
alone yonder." "I do not know," was the reply; and to avoid, as it
seemed, any further conversation with me, he turned away, and spoke of
some commonplace matters with a neighbor.
The sun's rays now being stronger, the ladies complained of feeling
oppressed by the heat; and the lovely Fanny, turning carelessly to the
gray man, to whom I had not yet observed that any one had addressed the
most trifling question, asked him if, perhaps, he had not a tent about
him. He replied, with a low bow, as if some unmerited honor had been
conferred upon him; and, putting his hand in his pocket, drew from it
canvas, poles, cord, iron—in short, everything belonging to the most
splendid tent for a party of pleasure. The young gentlemen assisted in
pitching it; and it covered the whole carpet; but no one seemed to think
that there was anything extraordinary in it.
I had long secretly felt uneasy—indeed, almost horrified; but how was
this feeling increased when, at the next wish expressed, I saw him take
from his pocket three horses! Yes, Adelbert, three large beautiful
steeds, with saddles and bridles, out of the very pocket whence had
already issued a letter-case, a telescope, a carpet twenty feet broad
and ten in length, and a pavilion of the same extent, with all its
appurtenances! Did I not assure thee that my own eyes had seen all this,
thou wouldst certainly disbelieve it.
This man, although he appeared so humble and embarrassed in his air and
manners, and passed so unheeded, had inspired me with such a feeling of
horror by the unearthly paleness of his countenance, from which I could
not avert my eyes, that I was unable longer to endure it.
I determined, therefore, to steal away from the company, which appeared
no difficult matter, from the undistinguished part I acted in it. I
resolved to return to the town, and pay another visit to Mr. John the
following morning, and, at the same time, make some inquiries of him
relative to the extraordinary man in gray, provided I could command
sufficient courage. Would to Heaven that such good fortune had awaited
I had stolen safely down the hill, through the thicket of roses, and now
found myself on an open plain; but fearing lest I should be met out of
the proper path, crossing the grass, I cast an inquisitive glance
around, and started as I beheld the man in the gray cloak advancing
towards me. He took off his hat, and made me a lower bow than mortal had
ever yet favored me with. It was evident that he wished to address me;
and I could not avoid encountering him without seeming rude. I returned
his salutation, therefore, and stood bareheaded in the sunshine as if
rooted to the ground. I gazed at him with the utmost horror, and felt
like a bird fascinated by a serpent.
He affected himself to have an air of embarassment. With his eyes on the
ground, he bowed several times, drew nearer, and at last, without
looking up, addressed me in a low and hesitating voice, almost in the
tone of a suppliant: "Will you, sir, excuse my importunity in venturing
to intrude upon you in so unusual a manner? I have a request to
make—would you most graciously be pleased to allow me—?" "Hold! for
Heaven's sake!" I exclaimed; "what can I do for a man who—" I stopped
in some confusion, which he seemed to share. After a moment's pause he
resumed: "During the short time I have had the pleasure to be in your
company, I have—permit me, sir, to say—beheld with unspeakable
admiration your most beautiful shadow, and remarked the air of noble
indifference with which you, at the same time, turn from the glorious
picture at your feet, as if disdaining to vouchsafe a glance at it.
Excuse the boldness of my proposal; but perhaps you would have no
objection to sell me your shadow?" He stopped, while my head turned
round like a mill-wheel. What was I to think of so extraordinary a
proposal? To sell my shadow! "He must be mad," thought I; and assuming
a tone more in character with the submissiveness of his own, I replied,
"My good friend, are you not content with your own shadow? This would
be a bargain of a strange nature indeed!"
"I have in my pocket," he said, "many things which may possess some
value in your eyes: for that inestimable shadow I should deem the
highest price too little."
A cold shuddering came over me as I recollected the pocket; and I could
not conceive what had induced me to style him "GOOD FRIEND," which I
took care not to repeat, endeavoring to make up for it by studied
I now resumed the conversation: "But, sir—excuse your humble servant—I
am at a loss to comprehend your meaning,—my shadow?—how can I?"
"Permit me," he exclaimed, interrupting me, "to gather up the noble
image as it lies on the ground, and to take it into my possession. As
to the manner of accomplishing it, leave that to me. In return, and as
an evidence of my gratitude, I shall leave you to choose among all the
treasures I have in my pocket, among which are a variety of enchanting
articles, not exactly adapted for you, who, I am sure, would like better
to have the wishing-cap of Fortunatus, all made new and sound again, and
a lucky purse which also belonged to him."
"Fortunatus's purse!" cried I; and, great as was my mental anguish, with
that one word he had penetrated the deepest recesses of my soul. A
feeling of giddiness came over me, and double ducats glittered before
"Be pleased, gracious sir, to examine this purse, and make a trial of
its contents." He put his hand in his pocket, and drew forth a large
strongly stitched bag of stout Cordovan leather, with a couple of
strings to match, and presented it to me. I seized it—took out ten
gold-pieces, then ten more, and this I repeated again and again.
Instantly I held out my hand to him. "Done," said I; "the bargain is
made: my shadow for the purse." "Agreed," he answered; and, immediately
kneeling down, I beheld him, with extraordinary dexterity, gently loosen
my shadow from the grass, lift it up, fold it together, and, at last,
put it his pocket. He then rose, bowed once more to me, and directed his
steps towards the rose bushes. I fancied I heard him quietly laughing
to himself. However, I held the purse fast by the two strings. The earth
was basking beneath the brightness of the sun; but I presently lost all
On recovering my senses, I hastened to quit a place where I hoped there
was nothing further to detain me. I first filled my pockets with gold,
then fastened the strings of the purse round my neck, and concealed it
in my bosom. I passed unnoticed out of the park, gained the high-road,
and took the way to the town. As I was thoughtfully approaching the
gate, I heard some one behind me exclaiming: "Young man! young man! you
have lost your shadow!" I turned, and perceived an old woman calling
after me. "Thank you, my good woman," said I; and throwing her a piece
of gold for her well-intended information, I stepped under the trees.
At the gate, again, it was my fate to hear the sentry inquiring where
the gentleman had left his shadow; and immediately I heard a couple of
women exclaiming, "Jesu Maria! the poor man has no shadow." All this
began to depress me, and I carefully avoided walking in the sun; but
this could not everywhere be the case: for in the next broad street I
had to cross, and, unfortunately for me, at the very hour in which the
boys were coming out of school, a humpbacked lout of a fellow—I see him
yet—soon made the discovery that I was without a shadow, and
communicated the news, with loud outcries, to a knot of young urchins.
The whole swarm proceeded immediately to reconnoitre me, and to pelt me
with mud. "People," cried they, "are generally accustomed to take their
shadows with them when they walk in the sunshine."
In order to drive them away I threw gold by handfuls among them, and
sprang into a hackney-coach which some compassionate spectators sent to
As soon as I found myself alone in the rolling vehicle I began to weep
bitterly. I had by this time a misgiving that, in the same degree in
which gold in this world prevails over merit and virtue, by so much
one's shadow excels gold; and now that I had sacrificed my conscience
for riches, and given my shadow in exchange for mere gold, what on earth
would become of me?
As the coach stopped at the door of my late inn, I felt much perplexed,
and not at all disposed to enter so wretched an abode. I called for my
things, and received them with an air of contempt, threw down a few
gold-pieces, and desired to be conducted to a first-rate hotel. This
house had a northern aspect, so that I had nothing to fear from the sun.
I dismissed the coachman with gold, asked to be conducted to the best
apartment, and locked myself up in it as soon as possible.
Imagine, my friend, what I then set about? O my dear Chamisso! even to
thee I blush to mention what follows.
I drew the ill-fated purse from my bosom; and, in a sort of frenzy that
raged like a self-fed fire within me, I took out gold—gold—gold—more
and more, till I strewed it on the floor, trampled upon it, and feasting
on its very sound and brilliancy, added coins to coins, rolling and
revelling on the gorgeous bed, until I sank exhausted.
Thus passed away that day and evening; and as my door remained locked,
night found me still lying on the gold, where, at last, sleep
Then I dreamed of thee, and fancied I stood behind the glass door of thy
little room, and saw thee seated at thy table between a skeleton and a
bunch of dried plants; before thee lay open the works of Haller,
Humboldt, and Linnaeus; on thy sofa a volume of Goethe, and the
Enchanted Ring. I stood a long time contemplating thee, and everything
in thy apartment; and again turning my gaze upon thee, I perceived that
thou wast motionless—thou didst not breathe—thou wast dead.
I awoke—it seemed yet early—my watch had stopped. I felt thirsty,
faint, and worn out; for since the preceding morning I had not tasted
food. I now cast from me, with loathing and disgust, the very gold with
which but a short time before I had satiated my foolish heart. Now I
knew not where to put it—I dared not leave it lying there. I examined
my purse to see if it would hold it,—impossible! Neither of my windows
opened on the sea. I had no other resource but, with toil and great
fatigue, to drag it to a huge chest which stood in a closet in my room;
where I placed it all, with the exception of a handful or two. Then I
threw myself, exhausted, into an arm-chair, till the people of the house
should be up and stirring. As soon as possible I sent for some
refreshment, and desired to see the landlord.
I entered into some conversation with this man respecting the
arrangement of my future establishment. He recommended for my personal
attendant one Bendel, whose honest and intelligent countenance
immediately prepossessed me in his favor. It is this individual whose
persevering attachment has consoled me in all the miseries of my life,
and enabled me to bear up under my wretched lot. I was occupied the
whole day in my room with servants in want of a situation, and tradesmen
of every description. I decided on my future plans, and purchased
various articles of vertu and splendid jewels, in order to get rid of
some of my gold; but nothing seemed to diminish the inexhaustible heap.
I now reflected on my situation with the utmost uneasiness. I dared not
take a single step beyond my own door; and in the evening I had forty
wax tapers lighted before I ventured to leave the shade. I reflected
with horror on the frightful encounter with the schoolboys; yet I
resolved, if I could command sufficient courage, to put the public
opinion to a second trial. The nights were now moonlight. Late in the
evening I wrapped myself in a large cloak, pulled my hat over my eyes,
and, trembling like a criminal, stole out of the house.
I did not venture to leave the friendly shadow of the houses until I had
reached a distant part of the town; and then I emerged into the broad
moonlight, fully prepared to hear my fate from the lips of the
Spare me, my beloved friend, the painful recital of all that I was
doomed to endure. The women often expressed the deepest sympathy for
me—a sympathy not less piercing to my soul than the scoffs of the young
people, and the proud contempt of the men, particularly of the more
corpulent, who threw an ample shadow before them. A fair and beauteous
maiden, apparently accompanied by her parents, who gravely kept looking
straight before them, chanced to cast a beaming glance on me; but was
evidently startled at perceiving that I was without a shadow, and hiding
her lovely face in her veil, and holding down her head, passed silently
This was past all endurance. Tears streamed from my eyes; and with a
heart pierced through and through, I once more took refuge in the shade.
I leaned on the houses for support, and reached home at a late hour,
worn out with fatigue.
I passed a sleepless night. My first care the following morning was to
devise some means of discovering the man in the gray cloak. Perhaps I
may succeed in finding him; and how fortunate it were if he should be
as ill satisfied with his bargain as I am with mine!
I desired Bendel to be sent for, who seemed to possess some tact and
ability. I minutely described to him the individual who possessed a
treasure without which life itself was rendered a burden to me. I
mentioned the time and place at which I had seen him, named all the
persons who were present, and concluded with the following directions:
He was to inquire for a Dollond's telescope, a Turkey carpet interwoven
with gold, a marquee, and, finally, for some black steeds—the history,
without entering into particulars, of all these being singularly
connected with the mysterious character who seemed to pass unnoticed by
every one, but whose appearance had destroyed the peace and happiness
of my life.
As I spoke I produced as much gold as I could hold in my two hands, and
added jewels and precious stones of still greater value. "Bendel," said
I, "this smooths many a path, and renders that easy which seems almost
impossible. Be not sparing of it, for I am not so; but go, and rejoice
thy master with intelligence on which depend all his hopes."
He departed, and returned late and melancholy. None of Mr. John's
servants, none of his guests (and Bendel had spoken to them all), had
the slightest recollection of the man in the gray cloak. The new
telescope was still there, but no one knew how it had come; and the tent
and Turkey carpet were still stretched out on the hill. The servants
boasted of their master's wealth; but no one seemed to know by what
means he had become possessed of these newly acquired luxuries. He was
gratified; and it gave him no concern to be ignorant how they had come
to him. The black coursers which had been mounted on that day were in
the stables of the young gentlemen of the party, who admired them as the
munificent present of Mr. John.
Such was the information I gained from Bendel's detailed account; but,
in spite of this unsatisfactory result, his zeal and prudence deserved
and received my commendation. In a gloomy mood, I made him a sign to
"I have, sir," he continued, "laid before you all the information in my
power relative to the subject of the most importance to you. I have now
a message to deliver which I received early this morning from a person
at the gate, as I was proceeding to execute the commission in which I
have so unfortunately failed. The man's words were precisely these:
'Tell your master, Peter Schlemihl, he will not see me here again. I am
going to cross the sea; a favorable wind now calls all the passengers
on board; but in a year and a day I shall have the honor of paying him
a visit; when, in all probability, I shall have a proposal to make to
him of a very agreeable nature. Commend me to him most respectfully,
with many thanks.' I inquired his name; but he said you would remember
"What sort of a person was he?" cried I, in great emotion; and Bendel
described the man in the gray coat feature by feature, word for word;
in short, the very individual in search of whom he had been sent. "How
unfortunate!" cried I bitterly; "it was himself." Scales, as it were,
fell from Bendel's eyes. "Yes, it was he," cried he, "undoubtedly it was
he; and fool, madman, that I was, I did not recognize him—I did not,
and I have betrayed my master!" He then broke out into a torrent of
self-reproach; and his distress really excited my compassion. I
endeavored to console him, repeatedly assuring him that I entertained
no doubt of his fidelity; and despatched him immediately to the wharf,
to discover, if possible, some trace of the extraordinary being. But on
that very morning many vessels which had been detained in port by
contrary winds had set sail, all bound to different parts of the globe;
and the gray man had disappeared like a shadow.
Of what use were wings to a man fast bound in chains of iron? They would
but increase the horror of his despair. Like the dragon guarding his
treasure, I remained cut off from all human intercourse, and starving
amidst my very gold, for it gave me no pleasure: I anathematized it as
the source of all my wretchedness.
Sole depository of my fearful secret, I trembled before the meanest of
my attendants, whom, at the same time, I envied; for he possessed a
shadow, and could venture to go out in the day-time, while I shut myself
up in my room day and night, and indulged in all the bitterness of
One individual, however, was daily pining away before my eyes—my
faithful Bendel, who was the victim of silent self-reproach, tormenting
himself with the idea that he had betrayed the confidence reposed in him
by a good master, in failing to recognize the individual in quest of
whom he had been sent, and with whom he had been led to believe that my
melancholy fate was closely connected. Still, I had nothing to accuse
him with, as I recognized in the occurrence the mysterious character of
In order to leave no means untried, I one day despatched Bendel with a
costly ring to the most celebrated artist in the town, desiring him to
wait upon me. He came; and, dismissing the attendants, I secured the
door, placing myself opposite to him, and, after extolling his art, with
a heavy heart came to the point, first enjoining the strictest secrecy.
"For a person," said I, "who most unfortunately has lost his shadow,
could you paint a false one?"
"Do you speak of the natural shadow?"
"But," he asked, "by what awkward negligence can a man have lost his
"How it occurred," I answered, "is of no consequence; but it was in this
manner"—(and here I uttered an unblushing falsehood)—"he was
travelling in Russia last winter, and one bitterly cold day it froze so
intensely, that his shadow remained so fixed to the ground, that it was
found impossible to remove it."
"The false shadow that I might paint," said the artist, "would be liable
to be lost on the slightest movement, particularly in a person who, from
your account, cares so little about his shadow. A person without a
shadow should keep out of the sun, that is the only safe and rational
He arose and took his leave, casting so penetrating a look at me that
I shrank from it. I sank back in my chair, and hid my face in my hands.
In this attitude Bendel found me, and was about to withdraw silently and
respectfully on seeing me in such a state of grief: looking up,
overwhelmed with my sorrows, I felt that I must communicate them to him.
"Bendel," I exclaimed, "Bendel, thou the only being who seest and
respectest my grief too much to inquire into its cause—thou who seemest
silently and sincerely to sympathize with me—come and share my
confidence. The extent of my wealth I have not withheld from thee,
neither will I conceal from thee the extent of my grief. Bendel! forsake
me not. Bendel, you see me rich, free, beneficent; you fancy all the
world in my power; yet you must have observed that I shun it, and avoid
all human intercourse. You think, Bendel, that the world and I are at
variance; and you yourself, perhaps, will abandon me, when I acquaint
you with this fearful secret. Bendel, I am rich, free, generous; but,
O God, I have NO SHADOW!
"No shadow!" exclaimed the faithful young man, tears starting from his
eyes. "Alas! that I am born to serve a master without a shadow!" He was
silent, and again I hid my face in my hands.
"Bendel," at last I tremblingly resumed, "you have now my confidence;
you may betray me—go—bear witness against me!"
He seemed to be agitated with conflicting feelings; at last he threw
himself at my feet and seized my hand, which he bathed with his tears.
"No," he exclaimed; "whatever the world may say, I neither can nor will
forsake my excellent master because he has lost his shadow. I will
rather do what is right than what may seem prudent. I will remain with
you—I will shade you with my own shadow—I will assist you when I
can—and when I cannot, I will weep with you."
I fell upon his neck, astonished at sentiments so unusual; for it was
very evident that he was not prompted by the love of money.
My mode of life and my fate now became somewhat different. It is
incredible with what provident foresight Bendel contrived to conceal my
deficiency. Everywhere he was before me, and with me, providing against
every contingency, and in cases of unlooked-for danger, flying to shield
me with his own shadow, for he was taller and stouter than myself. Thus
I once more ventured among mankind, and began to take a part in worldly
affairs. I was compelled, indeed, to affect certain peculiarities and
whims; but in a rich man they seem only appropriate; and so long as the
truth was kept concealed I enjoyed all the honor and respect which gold
I now looked forward with more composure to the promised visit of the
mysterious unknown at the expiration of the year and a day.
I was very sensible that I could not venture to remain long in a place
where I had once been seen without a shadow, and where I might easily
be betrayed; and perhaps, too, I recollected my first introduction to
Mr. John, and this was by no means a pleasing reminiscence. However, I
wished just to make a trial here, that I might with greater ease and
security visit some other place. But my vanity for some time withheld
me, for it is in this quality of our race that the anchor takes the
Even the lovely Fanny, whom I again met in several places, without her
seeming to recollect that she had ever seen me before, bestowed some
notice on me; for wit and understanding were mine in abundance now. When
I spoke, I was listened to; and I was at a loss to know how I had so
easily acquired the art of commanding attention, and giving the tone to
The impression which I perceived I had made upon this fair one
completely turned my brain; and this was just what she wished. After
that, I pursued her with infinite pains through every obstacle. My
vanity was only intent on exciting hers to make a conquest of me; but
although the intoxication disturbed my head, it failed to make the least
impression on my heart.
But why detail to you the oft-repeated story which I have so often heard
However, in the old and well-known drama in which I played so worn-out
a part, a catastrophe occurred of quite a peculiar nature, in a manner
equally unexpected to her, to me, and to everybody.
One beautiful evening I had, according to my usual custom, assembled a
party in a garden, and was walking arm-in-arm with Fanny at a little
distance from the rest of the company, and pouring into her ear the
usual well-turned phrases, while she was demurely gazing on vacancy, and
now and then gently returning the pressure of my hand. The moon suddenly
emerged from behind a cloud at our back. Fanny perceived only her own
shadow before us. She started, looked at me with terror, and then again
on the ground, in search of my shadow. All that was passing in her mind
was so strangely depicted in her countenance, that I should have burst
into a loud fit of laughter had I not suddenly felt my blood run cold
within me. I suffered her to fall from my arm in a fainting-fit; shot
with the rapidity of an arrow through the astonished guests, reached the
gate, threw myself into the first conveyance I met with, and returned
to the town, where this time, unfortunately, I had left the wary Bendel.
He was alarmed on seeing me: one word explained all. Post-horses were
immediately procured. I took with me none of my servants, one cunning
knave only excepted, called Rascal, who had by his adroitness become
very serviceable to me, and who at present knew nothing of what had
occurred. I travelled thirty leagues that night; having left Bendel
behind to discharge my servants, pay my debts, and bring me all that was
When he came up with me next day, I threw myself into his arms, vowing
to avoid such follies and to be more careful for the future.
We pursued our journey uninterruptedly over the frontiers and mountains;
and it was not until I had placed this lofty barrier between myself and
the before-mentioned unlucky town that I was persuaded to recruit
myself after my fatigues in a neighboring and little-frequented
I must now pass rapidly over one period of my history, on which how
gladly would I dwell, could I conjure up your lively powers of
delineation! But the vivid hues which are at your command, and which
alone can give life and animation to the picture, have left no trace
within me; and were I now to endeavor to recall the joys, the griefs,
the pure and enchanting emotions, which once held such powerful dominion
in my breast, it would be like striking a rock which yields no longer
the living spring, and whose spirit has fled for ever. With what an
altered aspect do those bygone days now present themselves to my gaze!
In this watering-place I acted an heroic character, badly studied; and
being a novice on such a stage, I forgot my part before a pair of lovely
All possible means were used by the infatuated parents to conclude the
bargain; and deception put an end to these usual artifices. And that is
The powerful emotions which once swelled my bosom seem now in the
retrospect to be poor and insipid, nay, even terrible to me.
Alas, Minna! as I wept for thee the day I lost thee, so do I now weep
that I can no longer retrace thine image in my soul.
Am I, then, so far advanced into the vale of years? O fatal effects of
maturity! would that I could feel one throb, one emotion of former days
of enchantment—alas, not one! a solitary being, tossed on the wild
ocean of life—it is long since I drained thine enchanted cup to the
But to return to my narrative. I had sent Bendel to the little town with
plenty of money to procure me a suitable habitation. He spent my gold
profusely; and as he expressed himself rather reservedly concerning his
distinguished master (for I did not wish to be named), the good people
began to form rather extraordinary conjectures.
As soon as my house was ready for my reception, Bendel returned to
conduct me to it. We set out on our journey. About a league from the
town, on a sunny plain, we were stopped by a crowd of people, arrayed
in holiday attire for some festival. The carriage stopped. Music, bells,
cannons, were heard; and loud acclamations rang through the air.
Before the carriage now appeared in white dresses a chorus of maidens,
all of extraordinary beauty; but one of them shone in resplendent
loveliness, and eclipsed the rest as the sun eclipses the stars of
night. She advanced from the midst of her companions, and, with a lofty
yet winning air, blushingly knelt before me, presenting on a silken
cushion a wreath, composed of laurel branches, the olive, and the rose,
saying something respecting majesty, love, honor, etc., which I could
not comprehend; but the sweet and silvery magic of her tones intoxicated
my senses and my whole soul: it seemed as if some heavenly apparition
were hovering over me. The chorus now began to sing the praises of a
good sovereign and the happiness of his subjects. All this, dear
Chamisso, took place in the sun: she was kneeling two steps from me, and
I, without a shadow, could not dart through the air, nor fall on my
knees before the angelic being. Oh, what would I not now have given for
a shadow! To conceal my shame, agony, and despair, I buried myself in
the recesses of the carriage. Bendel at last thought of an expedient;
he jumped out of the carriage. I called him back, and gave him out of
the casket I had by me a rich diamond coronet, which had been intended
for the lovely Fanny.
He stepped forward, and spoke in the name of his master, who, he said,
was overwhelmed by so many demonstrations of respect, which he really
could not accept as an honor—there must be some error; nevertheless he
begged to express his thanks for the goodwill of the worthy townspeople.
In the meantime Bendel had taken the wreath from the cushion, and laid
the brilliant crown in its place. He then respectfully raised the lovely
girl from the ground; and, at one sign, the clergy, magistrates, and all
the deputations withdrew. The crowd separated to allow the horses to
pass, and we pursued our way to the town at full gallop, through arches
ornamented with flowers and branches of laurel. Salvos of artillery
again were heard. The carriage stopped at my gate; I hastened through
the crowd which curiosity had attracted to witness my arrival.
Enthusiastic shouts resounded under my windows, from whence I showered
gold amidst the people; and in the evening the whole town was
illuminated. Still all remained a mystery to me, and I could not imagine
for whom I had been taken. I sent Rascal out to make inquiry; and he
soon obtained intelligence that the good King of Prussia was travelling
through the country under the name of some count; that my aide-de-camp
had been recognized, and that he had divulged the secret; that on
acquiring the certainty that I would enter their town, their joy had
known no bounds: however, as they perceived I was determined on
preserving the strictest incognito, they felt how wrong they had been
in too importunately seeking to withdraw the veil; but I had received
them so condescendingly and so graciously, that they were sure I would
forgive them. The whole affair was such capital amusement to the
unprincipled Rascal, that he did his best to confirm the good people in
their belief, while affecting to reprove them. He gave me a very comical
account of the matter; and, seeing that I was amused by it, actually
endeavored to make a merit of his impudence.
Shall I own the truth? My vanity was flattered by having been mistaken
for our revered sovereign. I ordered a banquet to be got ready for the
following evening, under the trees before my house, and invited the
whole town. The mysterious power of my purse, Bendel's exertions, and
Rascal's ready invention made the shortness of the time seem as nothing.
It was really astonishing how magnificently and beautifully everything
was arranged in these few hours. Splendor and abundance vied with each
other, and the lights were so carefully arranged that I felt quite safe:
the zeal of my servants met every exigency and merited all praise.
Evening drew on, the guests arrived, and were presented to me. The word
MAJESTY was now dropped; but, with the deepest respect and humility, I
was addressed as the COUNT. What could I do? I accepted the title, and
from that moment I was known as Count Peter. In the midst of all this
festivity my soul pined for one individual. She came late—she who was
the empress of the scene, and wore the emblem of sovereignty on her
She modestly accompanied her parents, and seemed unconscious of her
The Ranger of the Forests, his wife, and daughter were presented to me.
I was at no loss to make myself agreeable to the parents; but before the
daughter I stood like a well-scolded schoolboy, incapable of speaking
a single word.
At length I hesitatingly entreated her to honor my banquet by presiding
at it—an office for which her rare endowments pointed her out as
admirably fitted. With a blush and an expressive glance she entreated
to be excused; but, in still greater confusion than herself, I
respectfully begged her to accept the homage of the first and most
devoted of her subjects, and one glance of the count was the same as a
command to the guests, who all vied with each other in acting up to the
spirit of the noble host.
In her person, majesty, innocence, and grace, in union with beauty,
presided over this joyous banquet. Minna's happy parents were elated by
the honors conferred upon their child. As for me, I abandoned myself to
all the intoxication of delight: I sent for all the jewels, pearls, and
precious stones still left to me—the produce of my fatal wealth—and,
filling two vases, I placed them on the table, in the name of the queen
of the banquet, to be divided among her companions and the remainder of
I ordered gold, in the meantime, to be showered down without ceasing
among the happy multitude.
Next morning Bendel told me in confidence that the suspicions he had
long entertained of Rascal's honesty were now reduced to a certainty;
he had yesterday embezzled many bags of gold.
"Never mind," said I; "let him enjoy his paltry booty. I like to spend
it; why should not he? Yesterday he, and all the newly-engaged servants
whom you had hired, served me honorably, and cheerfully assisted me to
enjoy the banquet."
No more was said on the subject. Rascal remained at the head of my
domestics. Bendel was my friend and confidant; he had by this time
become accustomed to look upon my wealth as inexhaustible, without
seeking to inquire into its source. He entered into all my schemes, and
effectually assisted me in devising methods of spending my money.
Of the pale, sneaking scoundrel—the unknown—Bendel only knew thus
much, that he alone had power to release me from the curse which weighed
so heavily on me, and yet that I stood in awe of him on whom all my
hopes rested. Besides, I felt convinced that he had the means of
discovering ME under any circumstances, while he himself remained
concealed. I therefore abandoned my fruitless inquiries, and patiently
awaited the appointed day.
The magnificence of my banquet, and my deportment on the occasion, had
but strengthened the credulous townspeople in their previous belief.
It appeared soon after, from accounts in the newspapers, that the whole
history of the King of Prussia's fictitious journey originated in mere
idle report. But a king I was, and a king I must remain by all means;
and one of the richest and most royal, although people were at a loss
to know where my territories lay.
The world has never had reason to lament the scarcity of monarchs,
particularly in these days; and the good people, who had never yet seen
a king, now fancied me to be first one, and then another, with equal
success; and in the meanwhile I remained as before, Count Peter.
Among the visitors at this watering-place a merchant made his
appearance, one who had become a bankrupt in order to enrich himself.
He enjoyed the general good opinion; for he projected a shadow of
respectable size, though of somewhat faint hue.
This man wished to show off in this place by means of his wealth, and
sought to rival me. My purse soon enabled me to leave the poor devil far
behind. To save his credit he became bankrupt again, and fled beyond the
mountains; and thus I was rid of him. Many a one in this place was
reduced to beggary and ruin through my means.
In the midst of the really princely magnificence and profusion, which
carried all before me, my own style of living was very simple and
retired. I had made it a point to observe the strictest precaution; and,
with the exception of Bendel, no one was permitted, on any pretence
whatever, to enter my private apartment. As long as the sun shone I
remained shut up with him; and the Count was then said to be deeply
occupied in his closet. The numerous couriers, whom I kept in constant
attendance about matters of no importance, were supposed to be the
bearers of my despatches. I only received company in the evening under
the trees of my garden, or in my saloons, after Bendel's assurance of
their being carefully and brilliantly lit up.
My walks, in which the Argus-eyed Bendel was constantly on the watch for
me, extended only to the garden of the forest-ranger, to enjoy the
society of one who was dear to me as my own existence.
Oh, my Chamisso! I trust thou hast not forgotten what love is! I must
here leave much to thine imagination. Minna was in truth an amiable and
excellent maiden: her whole soul was wrapped up in me, and in her lowly
thoughts of herself she could not imagine how she had deserved a single
thought from me. She returned love for love with all the full and
youthful fervor of an innocent heart; her love was a true woman's love,
with all the devotion and total absence of selfishness which is found
only in woman; she lived but in me, her whole soul being bound up in
mine, regardless what her own fate might be.
Yet I, alas, during those hours of wretchedness—hours I would even now
gladly recall—how often have I wept on Bendel's bosom, when after the
first mad whirlwind of passion I reflected, with the keenest
self-upbraidings, that I, a shadowless man, had, with cruel selfishness,
practised a wicked deception, and stolen away the pure and angelic heart
of the innocent Minna!
At one moment I resolved to confess all to her; then that I would fly
for ever; then I broke out into a flood of bitter tears, and 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 idolized 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
scrutinize; 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 neighborhood 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 L150,000.
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 honor 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 recognized 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 thunder-cloud. 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
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 ante-chamber. 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
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 favor
me with a sight of your shadow? The sun is now shining brightly in the
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 honorable 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
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 arbor, which had received the name of Count
Peter's arbor, 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
The ranger, with a written paper in his hand, was walking up and down
in an agitated manner, 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.
"A man," he continued, "of excellent character and extraordinary
He paused for an answer. "And supposing I myself were that very man?"
"You!" he exclaimed passionately; "he has lost his shadow!"
"Oh, my suspicion is true!" cried Minna; "I have long known it—he has
no shadow!" And she threw herself into her mother's arms, who,
convulsively clasping her to her bosom, reproached her for having so
long, to her hurt, kept such a secret. But, like the fabled Arethusa,
her tears, as from a fountain, flowed more abundantly, and her sobs
increased at my approach.
"And so," said the ranger fiercely, "you have not scrupled, with
unparalleled shamelessness, to deceive both her and me; and you
pretended to love her, forsooth!—her whom you have reduced to the state
in which you now see her. See how she weeps!—Oh, shocking, shocking!"
By this time I had lost all presence of mind; and I answered,
confusedly: "After all, it is but a shadow, a mere shadow, which a man
can do very well without; and really it is not worth the while to make
all this noise about such a trifle." Feeling the groundlessness of what
I was saying, I ceased, and no one condescended to reply. At last I
added: "What is lost to-day may be found to-morrow."
"Be pleased, sir," continued the ranger, in great wrath—"be pleased to
explain how you have lost your shadow."
Here again an excuse was ready: "A boor of a fellow," said I, "one day
trod so rudely on my shadow that he tore a large hole in it. I sent it
to be repaired—for gold can do wonders—and yesterday I expected it
"Very well," answered the ranger. "You are a suitor my daughter's hand,
and so are others. As a father, I am bound to provide for her. I will
give you three days to seek your shadow. Return to me in the course of
that time with a well-fitted shadow, and you shall receive a hearty
welcome; otherwise, on the fourth day—remember, on the fourth day—my
daughter becomes the wife of another."
I now attempted to say one word to Minna; but, sobbing more violently,
she clung still closer to her mother, who made a sign for me to
withdraw. I obeyed; and now the world seemed shut out from me for ever.
Having escaped from the affectionate care of Bendel, I now wandered
wildly through the neighboring woods and meadows. Drops of anguish fell
from my brow, deep groans burst from my bosom—frenzied despair raged
I knew not how long this had lasted, when I felt myself seized by the
sleeve on a sunny heath. I stopped, and looking up, beheld the
gray-coated man, who appeared to have run himself out of breath in
pursuing me. He immediately began: "I had," said he, "appointed this
day; but your impatience anticipated it. All, however, may yet be right.
Take my advice—redeem your shadow, which is at your command, and return
immediately to the ranger's garden, where you will be well received, and
all the past will seem a mere joke. As for Rascal—who has betrayed you
in order to pay his addresses to Minna—leave him to me; he is just a
fit subject for me."
I stood like one in a dream. "This day?" I considered again. He was
right—I had made a mistake of a day. I felt in my bosom for the purse.
He perceived my intention, and drew back.
"No, Count Peter; the purse is in good hands—pray keep it." I gazed at
him with looks of astonishment and inquiry. "I only beg a trifle as a
token of remembrance. Be so good as to sign this memorandum." On the
parchment, which he held out to me, were these words: "By virtue of this
present, to which I have appended my signature, I hereby bequeath my
soul to the holder, after its natural separation from my body."
I gazed in mute astonishment alternately at the paper and the gray
unknown. In the meantime he had dipped a new pen in a drop of blood
which was issuing from a scratch in my hand just made by a thorn. He
presented it to me. "Who are you?" at last I exclaimed. "What can it
signify?" he answered: "do you not perceive who I am? A poor devil—a
sort of scholar and philosopher, who obtains but poor thanks from his
friends for his admirable arts, and whose only amusement on earth
consists in his small experiments. But just sign this; to the right,
exactly underneath—Peter Schlemihl."
I shook my head, and replied: "Excuse me, sir; I cannot sign that."
"Cannot!" he exclaimed; "and why not?"
"Because it appears to me a hazardous thing to exchange my soul for my
"Hazardous!" he exclaimed, bursting into a loud laugh. "And, pray, may
I be allowed to inquire what sort of a thing your soul is?—have you
ever seen it?—and what do you mean to do with it after your death? You
ought to think yourself fortunate in meeting with a customer who, during
your life, in exchange for this infinitely minute quantity, this
galvanic principle, this polarized agency, or whatever other foolish
name you may give it, is willing to bestow on you something
substantial—in a word, your own identical shadow, by virtue of which
you will obtain your beloved Minna, and arrive at the accomplishment of
all your wishes; or do you prefer giving up the poor young girl to the
power of that contemptible scoundrel Rascal? Nay, you shall behold her
with your own eyes. Come here; I will lend you an invisible cap (he drew
something out of his pocket), and we will enter the ranger's garden
I must confess that I felt excessively ashamed to be thus laughed at by
the gray stranger. I detested him from the very bottom of my soul; and
I really believe this personal antipathy, more than principle or
previously formed opinion, restrained me from purchasing my shadow, much
as I stood in need of it, at such an expense. Besides, the thought was
insupportable of making this proposed visit in his society. To behold
this hateful sneak, this mocking fiend, place himself between me and my
beloved, between our torn and bleeding hearts, was too revolting an idea
to be entertained for a moment. I considered the past as irrevocable,
my own misery as inevitable; and turning to the gray man, I said: "I
have exchanged my shadow for this very extraordinary purse, and I have
sufficiently repented it. For Heaven's sake, let the transaction be
declared null and void!" He shook his head, and his countenance assumed
an expression of the most sinister cast. I continued: "I will make no
exchange whatever, even for the sake of my shadow, nor will I sign the
paper. It follows, also, that the incognito visit you propose to me
would afford you far more entertainment than it could possibly give me.
Accept my excuses, therefore; and, since it must be so, let us part."
"I am sorry, Mr. Schlemihl, that you thus obstinately persist in
rejecting my friendly offer. Perhaps, another time, I may be more
fortunate. Farewell! May we shortly meet again! But, a propos, allow me
to show you that I do not undervalue my purchase, but preserve it
So saying, he drew my shadow out of his pocket; and shaking it cleverly
out of its folds, he stretched it out at his feet in the sun—so that
he stood between two obedient shadows, his own and mine, which was
compelled to follow and comply with his every movement. On again
beholding my poor shadow after so long a separation, and seeing it
degraded to so vile a bondage at the very time that I was so unspeakably
in want of it, my heart was ready to burst, and I wept bitterly. The
detested wretch stood exulting over his prey, and unblushingly renewed
his proposal. "One stroke of your pen, and the unhappy Minna is rescued
from the clutches of the villain Rascal, and transferred to the arms of
the high-born Count Peter—merely a stroke of your pen!"
My tears broke out with renewed violence; but I turned away from him,
and made a sign for him to be gone.
Bendel, whose deep solicitude had induced him to come in search of me,
arrived at this very moment. The good and faithful creature, on seeing
me weeping, and that a shadow (evidently mine) was in the power of the
mysterious unknown, determined to rescue it by force, should that be
necessary; and disdaining to use any finesse, he desired him directly,
and without any disputing, to restore my property. Instead of a reply,
the gray man turned his back on the worthy fellow, and was making off.
But Bendel raised his buck-thorn stick; and following close upon him,
after repeated commands, but in vain, to restore the shadow, he made him
feel the whole force of his powerful arm. The gray man, as if accustomed
to such treatment, held down his head, slouched his shoulders, and, with
soft and noiseless steps, pursued his way over the heath, carrying with
him my shadow, and also my faithful servant. For a long time I heard
hollow sounds ringing through the waste, until at last they died away
in the distance, and I was again left to solitude and misery.
Alone on the wild heath, I disburdened my heart of an insupportable load
by given free vent to my tears. But I saw no bounds, no relief, to my
surpassing wretchedness; and I drank in the fresh poison which the
mysterious stranger had poured into my wounds with a furious avidity.
As I retraced in my mind the loved image of my Minna, and depicted her
sweet countenance all pale and in tears, such as I had beheld her in my
late disgrace, the bold and sarcastic visage of Rascal would ever and
anon thrust itself between us. I hid my face, and fled rapidly over the
plains; but the horrible vision unrelentingly pursued me, till at last
I sank breathless on the ground, and bedewed it with a fresh torrent of
tears—and all this for a shadow!—a shadow which one stroke of the pen
would repurchase. I pondered on the singular proposal, and on my
hesitation to comply with it. My mind was confused—I had lost the power
of judging or comprehending. The day was waning apace. I satisfied the
cravings of hunger with a few wild fruits, and quenched my thirst at a
neighboring stream. Night came on; I threw myself down under a tree, and
was awoke by the damp morning air from an uneasy sleep, in which I had
fancied myself struggling in the agonies of death. Bendel had certainly
lost all trace of me, and I was glad of it. I did not wish to return
among my fellow-creatures—I shunned them as the hunted deer flies
before its pursuers. Thus I passed three melancholy days.
I found myself on the morning of the fourth on a sandy plain, basking
in the rays of the sun, and sitting on a fragment of rock; for it was
sweet to enjoy the genial warmth of which I had so long been deprived.
Despair still preyed on my heart. Suddenly a slight sound startled me;
I looked round, prepared to fly, but saw no one. On the sunlit sand
before me flitted the shadow of a man not unlike my own; and wandering
about alone, it seemed to have lost its master. This sight powerfully
excited me. "Shadow!" thought I, "art thou in search of thy master? in
me thou shall find him." And I sprang forward to seize it, fancying that
could I succeed in treading so exactly in its traces as to step in its
footmarks, it would attach itself to me, and in time become accustomed
to me, and follow all my movements.
The shadow, as I moved, took to flight, and I commenced a hot chase
after the airy fugitive, solely excited by the hope of being delivered
from my present dreadful situation; the bare idea inspired me with fresh
strength and vigor.
The shadow now fled towards a distant wood, among whose shades I must
necessarily have lost it. Seeing this, my heart beat wild with fright,
my ardor increased and lent wings to my speed. I was evidently gaining
on the shadow—I came nearer and nearer—I was within reach of it, when
it suddenly stopped and turned towards me. Like a lion darting on its
prey, I made a powerful spring and fell unexpectedly upon a hard
substance. Then followed, from an invisible hand, the most terrible
blows in the ribs that anyone ever received. The effect of my terror
made me endeavor convulsively to strike and grasp at the unseen object
before me. The rapidity of my motions brought me to the ground, where
I lay stretched out with a man under me, whom I held tight, and who now
The whole affair was now explained. The man had undoubtedly possessed
the bird's nest which communicates its charm of invisibility to its
possessor, though not equally so to his shadow; and this nest he had now
thrown away. I looked all round, and soon discovered the shadow of this
invisible nest. I sprang towards it, and was fortunate enough to seize
the precious booty, and immediately became invisible and shadowless.
The moment the man regained his feet he looked all round over the wide
sunny plain to discover his fortunate vanquisher, but could see neither
him nor his shadow, the latter seeming particularly to be the object of
his search: for previous to our encounter he had not had leisure to
observe that I was shadowless, and he could not be aware of it. Becoming
convinced that all traces of me were lost, he began to tear his hair,
and give himself up to all the frenzy of despair. In the meantime, this
newly acquired treasure communicated to me both the ability and the
desire to mix again among mankind.
I was at no loss for a pretext to vindicate this unjust robbery—or,
rather, so deadened had I become, I felt no need of a pretext; and in
order to dissipate every idea of the kind, I hastened on, regardless of
the unhappy man, whose fearful lamentations long resounded in my ears.
Such, at the time, were my impressions of all the circumstances of this
I now ardently desired to return to the ranger's garden, in order to
ascertain in person the truth of the information communicated by the
odious unknown; but I knew not where I was, until, ascending an eminence
to take a survey of the surrounding country, I perceived, from its
summit, the little town and the gardens almost at my feet. My heart beat
violently, and tears of a nature very different from those I had lately
shed filled my eyes. I should, then, once more behold her!
Anxiety now hastened my steps. Unseen, I met some peasants coming from
the town; they were talking of me, of Rascal, and of the ranger. I would
not stay to listen to their conversation, but proceeded on. My bosom
thrilled with expectation as I entered the garden. At this moment I
heard something like a hollow laugh which caused me involuntarily to
shudder. I cast a rapid glance around, but could see no one. I passed
on; presently I fancied I heard the sound of footsteps close to me, but
no one was within sight. My ears must have deceived me.
It was early; no one was in Count Peter's bower—the gardens were
deserted. I traversed all the well-known paths, and penetrated even to
the dwelling-house itself. The same rustling sound became now more and
more audible. With anguished feelings I sat down on a seat placed in the
sunny space before the door, and actually felt some invisible fiend take
a place by me, and heard him utter a sarcastic laugh. The key was turned
in the door, which was opened. The forest-master appeared with a paper
in his hand. Suddenly my head was, as it were, enveloped in a mist. I
looked up, and, oh horror! the gray-coated man was at my side, peering
in my face with a satanic grin. He had extended the mist-cap he wore
over my head. His shadow and my own were lying together at his feet in
perfect amity. He kept twirling in his hand the well-known parchment
with an air of indifference; and while the ranger, absorbed in thought,
and intent upon his paper, paced up and down the arbor, my tormentor
confidentially leaned towards me, and whispered: "So, Mr. Schlemihl, you
have at length accepted my invitation; and here we sit, two heads under
one hood, as the saying is. Well, well, all in good time. But now you
can return me my bird's nest—you have no further occasion for it; and
I am sure you are too honorable a man to withhold it from me. No need
of thanks, I assure you; I had infinite pleasure in lending it to you."
He took it out of my unresisting hand, put it into his pocket, and then
broke into so loud a laugh at my expense, that the forest-master turned
round, startled at the sound. I was petrified. "You must acknowledge,"
he continued, "that in our position a hood is much more convenient. It
serves to conceal not only a man, but his shadow, or as many shadows as
he chooses to carry. I, for instance, to-day bring two, you perceive."
He laughed again. "Take notice, Schlemihl, that what a man refuses to
do with a good grace in the first instance, he is always in the end
compelled to do. I am still of opinion that you ought to redeem your
shadow and claim your bride (for it is yet time); and as to Rascal, he
shall dangle at a rope's end—no difficult matter, so long as we can
find a bit. As a mark of friendship I will give you my cap into the
The mother now came out, and the following conversation took place:
"What is Minna doing?"—"She is weeping."—"Silly child! what good can
that do?"—"None, certainly; but it is so soon to bestow her hand on
another. O husband, you are too harsh to your poor child."—"No, wife;
you view things in a wrong light. When she finds herself the wife of a
wealthy and honorable man, her tears will soon cease; she will waken out
of a dream, as it were, happy and grateful to Heaven and to her parents,
as you will see."—"Heaven grant it may be so!" replied the wife. "She
has, indeed, now considerable property; but after the noise occasioned
by her unlucky affair with that adventurer, do you imagine that she is
likely soon to meet with so advantageous a match as Mr. Rascal? Do you
know the extent of Mr. Rascal's influence and wealth? Why, he has
purchased with ready money, in this country, six millions of landed
property, free from all encumbrances. I have had all the documents in
my hands. It was he who outbid me everywhere when I was about to make
a desirable purchase; and, besides, he has bills on Mr. Thomas John's
house to the amount of three millions and a half."—"He must have been
a prodigious thief!"—"How foolishly you talk! he wisely saved where
others squandered their property."—"A mere livery-servant!"—"Nonsense!
he has at all events an unexceptionable shadow."—"True, but…"
While this conversation was passing, the gray-coated man looked at me
with a satirical smile.
The door opened, and Minna entered, leaning on the arm of her female
attendant, silent tears flowing down her fair but pallid face. She
seated herself in the chair which had been placed for her under the lime
trees, and her father took a stool by her side. He gently raised her
hand; and as her tears flowed afresh, he addressed her in the most
"My own dear, good child—my Minna—will act reasonably, and not afflict
her poor old father, who only wishes to make her happy. My dearest
child, this blow has shaken you—dreadfully, I know it; but you have
been saved, as by a miracle, from a miserable fate, my Minna. You loved
the unworthy villain most tenderly before his treachery was discovered:
I feel all this, Minna; and far be it from me to reproach you for it—in
fact, I myself loved him so long as I considered him to be a person of
rank: you now see yourself how differently it has turned out. Every dog
has a shadow; and the idea of my child having been on the eve of uniting
herself to a man who… but I am sure you will think no more of him. A
suitor has just appeared for you in the person of a man who does not
fear the sun—an honorable man—no prince indeed, but a man worth ten
millions of golden ducats sterling—a sum nearly ten times larger than
your fortune consists of—a man, too, who will make my dear child
happy—nay, do not oppose me—be my own good, dutiful child—allow your
loving father to provide for you, and to dry up these tears. Promise to
bestow your hand on Mr. Rascal. Speak my child: will you not?"
Minna could scarcely summon strength to reply that she had now no longer
any hopes or desires on earth, and that she was entirely at her father's
disposal. Rascal was therefore immediately sent for, and entered the
room with his usual forwardness; but Minna in the meantime had swooned
My detested companion looked at me indignantly, and whispered: "Can you
endure this? Have you no blood in your veins?" He instantly pricked my
finger, which bled. "Yes, positively," he exclaimed, "you have some
blood left!—come, sign." The parchment and pen were in my hand!…
I submit myself to thy judgment, my dear Chamisso; I do not seek to bias
it. I have long been a rigid censor of myself, and nourished at my heart
the worm of remorse. This critical moment of my life is ever present to
my soul, and I dare only cast a hesitating glance at it, with a deep
sense of humiliation and grief. Ah, my dear friend, he who once permits
himself thoughtlessly to deviate but one step from the right road will
imperceptibly find himself involved in various intricate paths, all
leading him farther and farther astray. In vain he beholds the
guiding-stars of heaven shining before him. No choice is left him—he
must descend the precipice, and offer himself up a sacrifice to his
fate. After the false step which I had rashly made, and which entailed
a curse upon me, I had, in the wantonness of passion, entangled one in
my fate who had staked all her happiness upon me. What was left for me
to do in a case where I had brought another into misery, but to make a
desperate leap in the dark to save her?—the last, the only means of
rescue presented itself. Think not so meanly of me, Chamisso, as to
imagine that I would have shrunk from any sacrifice on my part. In such
a case it would have been but a poor ransom. No, Chamisso; but my whole
soul was filled with unconquerable hatred to the cringing knave and his
crooked ways. I might be doing him injustice; but I shuddered at the
bare idea of entering into any fresh compact with him. But here a
circumstance took place which entirely changed the face of things….
I know not whether to ascribe it to excitement of mind, exhaustion of
physical strength (for during the last few days I had scarcely tasted
anything), or the antipathy I felt to the society of my fiendish
companion; but just as I was about to sign the fatal paper, I fell into
a deep swoon, and remained for a long time as if dead. The first sounds
which greeted my ears on recovering my consciousness were those of
cursing and imprecation; I opened my eyes—it was dusk; my hateful
companion was overwhelming me with reproaches. "Is not this behaving
like an old woman? Come, rise up, and finish quickly what you were going
to do; or perhaps you have changed your determination, and prefer to lie
I raised myself with difficulty from the ground and gazed around me
without speaking a word. It was late in the evening, and I heard strains
of festive music proceeding from the ranger's brilliantly illuminated
house; groups of company were lounging about the gardens; two persons
approached, and seating themselves on the bench I had lately occupied,
began to converse on the subject of the marriage which had taken place
that morning between the wealthy Mr. Rascal and Minna. All was then
I tore off the cap which rendered me invisible; and my companion having
disappeared, I plunged in silence into the thickest gloom of the grove,
rapidly passed Count Peter's bower towards the entrance-gate; but my
tormentor still haunted me, and loaded me with reproaches. "And is this
all the gratitude I am to expect from you, Mr. Schlemihl—you, whom I
have been watching all the weary day, until you should recover from your
nervous attack? What a fool's part I have been enacting! It is of no use
flying from me, Mr. Perverse—we are inseparable—you have my gold, I
have your shadow; this exchange deprives us both of peace. Did you ever
hear of a man's shadow leaving him?—yours follows me until you receive
it again into favor, and thus free me from it. Disgust and weariness
sooner or later will compel you to do what you should have done gladly
at first. In vain you strive with fate!"
He continued unceasingly in the same tone, uttering constant sarcasms
about the gold and the shadow, till I was completely bewildered. To fly
from him was impossible. I had pursued my way through the empty streets
towards my own house, which I could scarcely recognize—the windows were
broken to pieces, no light was visible, the doors were shut, and the
bustle of domestics had ceased. My companion burst into a loud laugh.
"Yes, yes," said he, "you see the state of things: however, you will
find your friend Bendel at home; he was sent back the other day so
fatigued, that I assure you he has never left the house since. He will
have a fine story to tell! So I wish you a very good night—may we
shortly meet again!"
I had repeatedly rung the bell; at last a light appeared; and Bendel
inquired from within who was there. The poor fellow could scarcely
contain himself at the sound of my voice. The door flew open, and we
were locked in each other's arms. I found him sadly changed; he was
looking ill and feeble. I, too, was altered; my hair had become quite
gray. He conducted me through the desolate apartments to an inner room,
which had escaped the general wreck. After partaking of some
refreshments, we seated ourselves; and, with fresh lamentations, he
began to tell me that the gray, withered old man whom he had met with
my shadow had insensibly led him such a zig-zag race, that he had lost
all traces of me, and at last sank down exhausted with fatigue; that,
unable to find me, he had returned home, when, shortly after, the mob,
at Rascal's instigation, assembled violently before the house, broke the
windows, and by all sorts of excesses completely satiated their fury.
Thus had they treated their benefactor. My servants had fled in all
directions. The police had banished me from the town as a suspicious
character, and granted me an interval of twenty-four hours to leave the
territory. Bendel added many particulars as to the information I had
already obtained respecting Rascal's wealth and marriage. This villain,
it seems—who was the author of all the measures taken against
me—became possessed of my secret nearly from the beginning, and,
tempted by the love of money, had supplied himself with a key to my
chest, and from that time had been laying the foundation of his present
wealth. Bendel related all this with many tears, and wept for joy that
I was once more safely restored to him, after all his fears and
anxieties for me. In me, however, such a state of things only awoke
My dreadful fate now stared me in the face in all its gigantic and
unchangeable horror. The source of tears was exhausted within me; no
groans escaped my breast; but with cool indifference I bared my
unprotected head to the blast. "Bendel," said I, "you know my fate; this
heavy visitation is a punishment for my early sins: but as for thee, my
innocent friend, I can no longer permit thee to share my destiny. I will
depart this very night—saddle me a horse—I will set out alone. Remain
here, Bendel—I insist upon it: there must be some chests of gold still
left in the house—take them, they are thine. I shall be a restless and
solitary wanderer on the face of the earth; but should better days
arise, and fortune once more smile propitiously on me, then I will not
forget thy steady fidelity; for in hours of deep distress thy faithful
bosom has been the depository of my sorrows." With a bursting heart, the
worthy Bendel prepared to obey this last command of his master; for I
was deaf to all his arguments and blind to his tears. My horse was
brought—I pressed my weeping friend to my bosom—threw myself into the
saddle, and, under the friendly shades of night, quitted this sepulchre
of my existence, indifferent which road my horse should take; for now
on this side the grave I had neither wishes, hopes, nor fears.
After a short time I was joined by a traveller on foot, who, after
walking for a while by the side of my horse, observed that as we both
seemed to be travelling the same road, he should beg my permission to
lay his cloak on the horse's back behind me, to which I silently
assented. He thanked me with easy politeness for this trifling favor,
praised my horse, and then took occasion to extol the happiness and the
power of the rich, and fell, I scarcely know how, into a sort of
conversation with himself, in which I merely acted the part of listener.
He unfolded his views of human life and of the world, and, touching on
metaphysics, demanded an answer from that cloudy science to the question
of questions—the answer that should solve all mysteries. He deduced one
problem from another in a very lucid manner, and then proceeded to their
You may remember, my dear friend, that after having run through the
school-philosophy, I became sensible of my unfitness for metaphysical
speculations, and therefore totally abstained from engaging in them.
Since then I have acquiesced in some things, and abandoned all hope of
comprehending others; trusting, as you advised me, to my own plain sense
and the voice of conscience to direct, and, if possible, maintain me in
the right path.
Now this skilful rhetorician seemed to me to expend great skill in
rearing a firmly-constructed edifice, towering aloft on its own
self-supported basis, but resting on, and upheld by, some internal
principle of necessity. I regretted in it the total absence of what I
desired to find; and thus it seemed a mere work of art, serving only by
its elegance and exquisite finish to captivate the eye. Nevertheless,
I listened with pleasure to this eloquently gifted man, who diverted my
attention from my own sorrows to the speaker; and he would have secured
my entire acquiescence if he had appealed to my heart as well as to my
In the meantime the hours had passed away, and morning had already
dawned imperceptibly in the horizon; looking up, I shuddered as I beheld
in the east all those splendid hues that announce the rising sun. At
this hour, when all natural shadows are seen in their full proportions,
not a fence or shelter of any kind could I descry in this open country,
and I was not alone! I cast a glance at my companion, and shuddered
again—it was the man in the gray coat himself! He laughed at my
surprise, and said, without giving me time to speak: "You see, according
to the fashion of this world, mutual convenience binds us together for
a time; there is plenty of time to think of parting. The road here along
the mountain, which perhaps has escaped your notice, is the only one
that you can prudently take; into the valley you dare not descend—the
path over the mountain would but reconduct you to the town which you
have left—my road, too, lies this way. I perceive you change color at
the rising sun—I have no objections to let you have the loan of your
shadow during our journey, and in return you may not be indisposed to
tolerate my society. You have now no Bendel; but I will act for him. I
regret that you are not over-fond of me; but that need not prevent you
from accepting my poor services. The devil is not so black as he is
painted. Yesterday you provoked me, I own; but now that is all
forgotten, and you must confess I have this day succeeded in beguiling
the wearisomeness of your journey. Come, take your shadow, and make
trial of it."
The sun had risen, and we were meeting with passengers; so I reluctantly
consented. With a smile, he immediately let my shadow glide down to the
ground; and I beheld it take its place by that of my horse, and gayly
trot along with me. My feelings were anything but pleasant. I rode
through groups of country people, who respectfully made way for the
well-mounted stranger. Thus I proceeded, occasionally stealing a
side-long glance with a beating heart from my horse at the shadow once
my own, but now, alas, accepted as a loan from a stranger, or rather a
fiend. He moved on carelessly at my side, whistling a song. He being on
foot, and I on horseback, the temptation to hazard a silly project
occurred to me; so, suddenly turning my bridle, I set spurs to my horse,
and at full gallop struck into a by-path; but my shadow, on the sudden
movement of my horse, glided away, and stood on the road quietly
awaiting the approach of its legal owner. I was obliged to return
abashed towards the gray man; but he very coolly finished his song, and
with a laugh set my shadow to rights again, reminding me that it was at
my option to have it irrevocably fixed to me, by purchasing it on just
and equitable terms. "I hold you," said he, "by the shadow; and you seek
in vain to get rid of me. A rich man like you requires a shadow,
unquestionably; and you are to blame for not having seen this sooner."
I now continued my journey on the same road; every convenience and even
luxury of life was mine; I moved about in peace and freedom, for I
possessed a shadow, though a borrowed one; and all the respect due to
wealth was paid to me. But a deadly disease preyed on my heart. My
extraordinary companion, who gave himself out to be the humble attendant
of the richest individual in the world, was remarkable for his
dexterity; in short, his singular address and promptitude admirably
fitted him to be the very beau ideal of a rich man's lacquey. But he
never stirred from my side, and tormented me with constant assurances
that a day would most certainly come when, if it were only to get rid
of him, I should gladly comply with his terms, and redeem my shadow.
Thus he became as irksome as he was hateful to me. I really stood in awe
of him—I had placed myself in 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 favorite custom,
employing all the powers of his lavish fancy, and all the charm of the
most brilliant coloring, 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 endeavored to seduce away the shadow with which I had
entrusted you—my own property—confiding implicitly in your honor? 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 honorable
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
"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 rose,
and immediately vanished behind the huge rocks which surrounded the
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 good-will; 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, etc. 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 market-place, 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 myself. I had not
gone two hundred steps, when I perceived I was not in the right road.
I looked round, and found myself in a wild-looking forest of ancient
firs, where apparently the stroke of the axe had never been heard. A few
steps more brought me amid huge rocks covered with moss and saxifragous
plants, between which whole fields of snow and ice were extended. The
air was intensely cold. I looked round, and the forest had disappeared
behind me; a few steps more, and there was the stillness of death
itself. The icy plain on which I stood stretched to an immeasurable
distance, and a thick cloud rested upon it; the sun was of a red
blood-color at the verge of the horizon: the cold was insupportable. I
could not imagine what had happened to me. The benumbing frost made me
quicken my pace. I heard a distant sound of waters; and at one step more
I stood on the icy shore of some ocean. Innumerable droves of sea-dogs
rushed past me and plunged into the waves. I continued my way along this
coast, and again met with rocks, plains, birch and fir forests, and yet
only a few minutes had elapsed. It was now intensely hot. I looked
around, and suddenly found myself between some fertile rice-fields and
mulberry trees; I sat down under their shade, and found by my watch that
it was just one quarter of an hour since I had left the village market.
I fancied it was a dream; but no, I was indeed awake, as I felt by the
experiment I made of biting my tongue. I closed my eyes in order to
collect my scattered thoughts. Presently I heard unintelligible words
uttered in a nasal tone; and I beheld two Chinese, whose Asiatic
physiognomies were not to be mistaken, even had their costume not
betrayed their origin. They were addressing me in the language and with
the salutations of their country. I rose and drew back a couple of
steps. They had disappeared; the landscape was entirely changed; the
rice-fields had given place to trees and woods. I examined some of the
trees and plants around me, and ascertained such of them as I was
acquainted with to be productions of the southern part of Asia. I made
one step towards a particular tree, and again all was changed. I now
moved on like a recruit at drill, taking slow and measured steps, gazing
with astonished eyes at the wonderful variety of regions, plains,
meadows, mountains, steppes, and sandy deserts, which passed in
succession before me. I had now no doubt that I had seven-leagued boots
on my feet.
I fell on my knees in silent gratitude, shedding tears of thankfulness;
for I now saw clearly what was to be my future condition. Shut out by
early sins from all human society, I was offered amends for the
privation by Nature herself, which I had ever loved. The earth was
granted me as a rich garden; and the knowledge of her operations was to
be the study and object of my life. This was not a mere resolution. I
have since endeavored, with anxious and unabated industry, faithfully
to imitate the finished and brilliant model then presented to me; and
my vanity has received a check when led to compare the picture with the
original. I rose immediately, and took a hasty survey of this new field,
where I hoped afterwards to reap a rich harvest.
I stood on the heights of Thibet; and the sun I had lately beheld in the
east was now sinking in the west. I traversed Asia from east to west,
and thence passed into Africa, which I curiously examined, at repeated
visits, in all directions. As I gazed on the ancient pyramids and
temples of Egypt, I descried, in the sandy deserts near Thebes of the
hundred gates, the caves where Christian hermits dwelt of old.
My determination was instantly taken, that here should be my future
dwelling. I chose one of the most secluded, but roomy, comfortable, and
inaccessible to the jackals.
I stepped over from the pillars of Hercules to Europe; and having taken
a survey of its northern and southern countries, I passed by the north
of Asia, on the polar glaciers, to Greenland and America, visiting both
parts of this continent; and the winter, which was already at its height
in the south, drove me quickly back from Cape Horn to the north. I
waited till daylight had risen in the east of Asia, and then, after a
short rest, continued my pilgrimage. I followed in both the Americas the
vast chain of the Andes, once considered the loftiest on our globe. I
stepped carefully and slowly from one summit to another, sometimes over
snowy heights, sometimes over flaming volcanoes, often breathless from
fatigue. At last I reached Elias's mountain, and sprang over Behring's
Straits into Asia; I followed the western coast in its various windings,
carefully observing which of the neighboring isles was accessible to me.
From the peninsula of Malacca my boots carried me to Sumatra, Java,
Bali, and Lombok. I made many attempts—often with danger, and always
unsuccessfully—to force my way over the numerous little islands and
rocks with which this sea is studded, wishing to find a northwest
passage to Borneo and other islands of the Archipelago.
At last I sat down at the extreme point of Lombok, my eyes turned
towards the southeast, lamenting that I had so soon reached the limits
allotted to me, and bewailing my fate as a captive in his grated cell.
Thus was I shut out from that remarkable country, New Holland, and the
islands of the southern ocean, so essentially necessary to a knowledge
of the earth, and which would have best assisted me in the study of the
animal and vegetable kingdoms. And thus, at the very outset, I beheld
all my labors condemned to be limited to mere fragments.
Ah! Chamisso, what is the activity of man?
Frequently in the most rigorous winters of the southern hemisphere I
have rashly thrown myself on a fragment of drifting ice between Cape
Horn and Van Diemen's Land, in the hope of effecting a passage to New
Holland, reckless of the cold and the vast ocean, reckless of my fate,
even should this savage land prove my grave.
But all in vain—I never reached New Holland. Each time, when defeated
in my attempt, I returned to Lombok; and seated at its extreme point,
my eyes directed to the southeast, I gave way afresh to lamentations
that my range of investigation was so limited. At last I tore myself
from the spot, and, heartily grieved at my disappointment, returned to
the interior of Asia. Setting out at morning dawn, I traversed it from
east to west, and at night reached the cave in Thebes which I had
previously selected for my dwelling-place, and had visited yesterday
After a short repose, as soon as daylight had visited Europe, it was my
first care to provide myself with the articles of which I stood most in
need. First of all a drag to act on my boots; for I had experienced the
inconvenience of these whenever I wished to shorten my steps and examine
surrounding objects more fully. A pair of slippers to go over the boots
served the purpose effectually; and from that time I carried two pairs
about me, because I frequently cast them off from my feet in my
botanical investigations, without having time to pick them up, when
threatened by the approach of lions, men, or hyenas. My excellent watch,
owing to the short duration of my movements, was also on these occasions
an admirable chronometer. I wanted, besides, a sextant, a few
philosophical instruments, and some books. To purchase these things, I
made several unwilling journeys to London and Paris, choosing a time
when I could be hid by the favoring clouds. As all my ill-gotten gold
was exhausted, I carried over from Africa some ivory, which is there so
plentiful, in payment of my purchases—taking care, however; to pick
out the smallest teeth, in order not to overburden myself. I had thus
soon provided myself with all that I wanted, and now entered on a new
mode of life as a student—wandering over the globe—measuring the
height of the mountains, and the temperature of the air and of the
springs—observing the manners and habits of animals—investigating
plants and flowers. From the equator to the pole, and from the new world
to the old, I was constantly engaged in repeating and comparing my
My usual food consisted of the eggs of the African ostrich or northern
sea-birds, with a few fruits, especially those of the palm and the
banana of the tropics. The tobacco-plant consoled me when I was
depressed; and the affection of my spaniel was a compensation for the
loss of human sympathy and society. When I returned from my excursions,
loaded with fresh treasures, to my cave in Thebes, which he guarded
during my absence, he ever sprang joyfully forward to greet me, and made
me feel that I was indeed not alone on the earth. An adventure soon
occurred which brought me once more among my fellow-creatures.
One day, as I was gathering lichens and algae on the northern coast,
with the drag on my boots, a bear suddenly made his appearance, and was
stealing towards me round the corner of a rock. After throwing away my
slippers, I attempted to step across to an island, by means of a rock,
projecting from the waves in the intermediate space, that served as a
stepping-stone. I reached the rock safely with one foot, but instantly
fell into the sea with the other, one of my slippers having
inadvertently remained on. The cold was intense; and I escaped this
imminent peril at the risk of my life. On coming ashore, I hastened to
the Libyan sands to dry myself in the sun; but the heat affected my head
so much, that, in a fit of illness, I staggered back to the north. In
vain I sought relief by change of place—hurrying from east to west, and
from west to east—now in climes of the south, now in those of the
north; sometimes I rushed into daylight, sometimes into the shades of
night. I know not how long this lasted. A burning fever raged in my
veins; with extreme anguish I felt my senses leaving me. Suddenly, by
an unlucky accident, I trod upon some one's foot, whom I had hurt, and
received a blow in return which laid me senseless.
On recovering, I found myself lying comfortably in a good bed, which,
with many other beds, stood in a spacious and handsome apartment. Some
one was watching by me; people seemed to be walking from one bed to
another; they came beside me, and spoke of me as NUMBER TWELVE. On the
wall, at the foot of my bed—it was no dream, for I distinctly read
it—on a black-marble tablet was inscribed my name, in large letters of
Underneath were two rows of letters in smaller characters, which I was
too feeble to connect together, and closed my eyes again.
I now heard something read aloud, in which I distinctly noted the words,
"Peter Schlemihl," but could not collect the full meaning. I saw a man
of benevolent aspect, and a very beautiful female dressed in black,
standing near my bed; their countenances were not unknown to me, but in
my weak state I could not remember who they were. Some time elapsed, and
I began to regain my strength. I was called Number Twelve, and, from my
long beard, was supposed to be a Jew, but was not the less carefully
nursed on that account. No one seemed to perceive that I was destitute
of a shadow. My boots, I was assured, together with everything found on
me when I was brought here, were in safe keeping, and would be given up
to me on my restoration to health. This place was called the
SCHLEMIHLIUM: the daily recitation I had heard was an exhortation to
pray for Peter Schlemihl as the founder and benefactor of this
institution. The benevolent-looking man whom I had seen by my bedside
was Bendel; the beautiful lady in black was Minna. I had been enjoying
the advantages of the Schlemihlium without being recognized; and I
learned, further, that I was in Bendel's native town, where he had
employed a part of my once unhallowed gold in founding an hospital in
my name, under his superintendence, and that its unfortunate inmates
daily pronounced blessings on me. Minna had become a widow: an unhappy
lawsuit had deprived Rascal of his life, and Minna of the greater part
of her property. Her parents were no more; and here she dwelt in widowed
piety, wholly devoting herself to works of mercy.
One day, as she stood by the side of Number Twelve's bed with Bendel,
he said to her, "Noble lady, why expose yourself so frequently to this
unhealthy atmosphere? Has fate dealt so harshly with you as to render
you desirous of death?"
"By no means, Mr. Bendel," she replied; "since I have awoke from my long
dream, all has gone well with me. I now neither wish for death nor fear
it, and think on the future and on the past with equal serenity. Do you
not also feel an inward satisfaction in thus paying a pious tribute of
gratitude and love to your old master and friend?"
"Thanks be to God, I do, noble lady," said he. "Ah, how wonderfully has
everything fallen out! How thoughtlessly have we sipped joys and sorrows
from the full cup now drained to the last drop; and we might fancy the
past a mere prelude to the real scene for which we now wait armed by
experience. How different has been the reality! Yet let us not regret
the past, but rather rejoice that we have not lived in vain. As respects
our old friend also, I have a firm hope that it is now better with him
"I trust so, too," answered Minna; and so saying, she passed by me, and
This conversation made a deep impression on me; and I hesitated whether
I should discover myself or depart unknown. At last I decided; and,
asking for pen and paper, wrote as follows:
"Matters are indeed better with your old friend than formerly. He has
repented; and his repentance has led to forgiveness."
I now attempted to rise, for I felt myself stronger. The keys of a
little chest near my bed were given me; and in it I found all my
effects. I put on my clothes; fastened my botanical case round
me—wherein, with delight, I found my northern lichens all safe—put on
my boots, and, leaving my note on the table, left the gates, and was
speedily far advanced on the road to Thebes.
Passing along the Syrian coast, which was the same road I had taken on
last leaving home, I beheld my poor Figaro running to meet me. The
faithful animal, after vainly waiting at home for his master's return,
had probably followed his traces. I stood still, and called him. He
sprang towards me with leaps and barks, and a thousand demonstrations
of unaffected delight. I took him in my arms—for he was unable to
follow me—and carried him home.
There I found everything exactly in the order in which I had left it;
and returned by degrees, as my increasing strength allowed me, to my old
occupations and usual mode of life, from which I was kept back a whole
year by my fall into the Polar Ocean. And this, dear Chamisso, is the
life I am still leading. My boots are not yet worn out, as I had been
led to fear would be the case from that very learned work of
Tieckius—De Rebus Gestis Pollicilli. Their energies remain unimpaired;
and although mine are gradually failing me, I enjoy the consolation of
having spent them in pursuing incessantly one object, and that not
So far as my boots would carry me, I have observed and studied our globe
and its conformation, its mountains and temperature, the atmosphere in
its various changes, the influences of the magnetic power; in fact, I
have studied all living creation—and more especially the kingdom of
plants—more profoundly than any one of our race. I have arranged all
the facts in proper order, to the best of my ability, in different
works. The consequences deducible from these facts, and my views
respecting them, I have hastily recorded in some essays and
dissertations. I have settled the geography of the interior of Africa
and the Arctic regions, of the interior of Asia and of its eastern
coast. My Historia Stirpium Plantarum Utriusque Orbis is an extensive
fragment of a Flora universalis terrae and a part of my Systema Naturae.
Besides increasing the number of our known species by more than a third,
I have also contributed somewhat to the natural system of plants and to
a knowledge of their geography. I am now deeply engaged on my Fauna, and
shall take care to have my manuscripts sent to the University of Berlin
before my decease.
I have selected thee, my dear Chamisso, to be the guardian of my
wonderful history, thinking that, when I have left this world, it may
afford valuable instruction to the living. As for thee, Chamisso, if
thou wouldst live amongst thy fellow-creatures, learn to value thy
shadow more than gold; if thou wouldst only live to thyself and thy
nobler part—in this thou needest no counsel.