In 1813, Adelbert von Chamisso fell into the hands of a notebook – a diary of his friend, Peter Schlemel. He was brought early in the morning by a strange man with a long gray beard, dressed in a worn black Hungarian. Here is its content.
After a long voyage, I arrived in Hamburg with a letter for Mr. Thomas John from his brother. The guests of Mr. John, among whom was the beautiful Fanny, did not notice me. Similarly, they did not notice the long, bony man in years, dressed in a gray silk redingote, who was also among the guests. To serve the masters, this man, one by one, took out items that could not fit there – a telescope, a Turkish carpet, a tent and even three riding horses. The guests did not seem to find anything wonderful in it. In the pale face of this man was something so eerie that I could not stand it and decided to quietly retire.
How did I overdo it when I saw that a man in gray caught up with me. He politely talked to me and suggested any of
his fabulous treasures – the root of the mandrake, pfennig-flip-flop, tablecloth-self-cleaning, the magic purse Fortunatto – to exchange for my own shadow. No matter how great was my fear, at the thought of wealth I forgot about everything and chose a magical purse. The stranger carefully rolled my shadow, hid it in his bottomless pocket and quickly retired.
Soon I began to regret what I had done. It turned out that without a shadow it is impossible to show up on the street – everyone noticed its absence. I began to awaken to the consciousness that, although gold is valued on earth much more than merit and virtue, the shadow is respected even more than gold. I rented a room in the most expensive hotel, facing north. To care for his person, I hired a man named Bendel. After that, I decided to check the public opinion once more and went out on a moonlit night. Because of the lack of a shadow, the men looked at me with contempt, and women – with pity. Many passers-by simply turn away from me.
In the morning I decided to find a man in gray at all costs. I accurately described it to Bendel
and pointed out the place where I met him. But in the house of Mr. John, no one remembered him and did not know. The same day Bendel met him at the door of the hotel, but did not recognize him. The man in gray asked me to tell him that he is now leaving the sea. Exactly in a year he will find me, and then we can conclude a better deal. I tried to intercept him in the harbor, but the gray man disappeared like a shadow.
I confessed to the servant that I lost my shadow, and people despise me. Bendel blamed himself for my misfortune, because he had missed a man in gray. He swore he would never leave me. I was convinced that he was not led by self-interest. Since then, I once again decided to visit people and began to play a certain role in the world. Bendel with amazing dexterity managed to hide the absence of a shadow. As a very rich man, I could afford all sorts of eccentricities and moods. I was already calmly waiting for the visit, promised by a mysterious stranger in a year.
Soon, I was attracted by the beauty Fani. This flattered my vanity, and I followed her, hiding from the light. I loved only with my mind and could not love with my heart. This trivial novel ended unexpectedly. One moonlit night, Fanny saw that I did not have a shadow and lost my senses. I hurriedly left the city, taking with me two servants: the faithful Bendel and the sneaker named Rascal, who had not suspected anything. We crossed the border and mountains without stopping. Crossing the other side of the ridge, I agreed to stop to rest on the water, in a secluded place.
I sent Bendel forward, instructing me to find a suitable house. Approximately one hour from the destination, the festively dressed crowd blocked the road for us – local residents arranged a solemn meeting for me. Then the first time I saw a girl, beautiful, like an angel. Later I learned that I was mistaken for a Prussian king traveling around the country under the name of a count. Since then, I became Count Peter. In the evening, with the help of my servants, I organized a magnificent festival, where I saw her again. She was the daughter of the chief forester named Minna.
With my truly royal extravagance and luxury, I controlled everything, but at home I lived very modestly and secludedly. Nobody, except for Bendel, dared enter the day into my chambers. I only took guests in the evenings. The most cherished in my life was for me my love. Minna was a kind, gentle girl, worthy of love. I mastered all her thoughts. She also loved me, but we could not be together because of my curse. I calculated the day of meeting a man in gray and waited for him with impatience and fear.
I confessed to Minna that I was not a count, but just a rich and unhappy man, but I did not say the whole truth. I told the forester that I intended to ask the first day of the next month for his daughter’s hands, because from day to day I was expecting a man’s visit to gray. Finally the fateful day came, but the stranger in gray did not appear.
The next day Raskal appeared to me, said that he could not serve a man without a shadow and demanded a calculation. A rumor spread about the town that I do not have a shadow. I decided to return the word to Minna. It turned out that the girl had long since unraveled my secret, and the main forester knew my real name. He gave me three days to get a shadow, otherwise Minna would become the wife of another.
I wandered off. After a while I found myself in a sunny glade and felt someone grab my sleeve. Turning around, I saw a man in gray. He said that I had been given out by Raskal, and now he is wooing himself to Minna, in which he helps gold stolen from me. The stranger promised to return the shadow to me, deal with Ruskal, and even leave me a magical purse. In return, he demanded my soul after death.
I flatly refused. Then he took out my poor shadow and spread it in front of me. At this time, Bendel appeared on the clearing. He decided to take his shadow from the stranger by force, and began mercilessly striking him with a club. The stranger silently turned and walked away, speeding up the pace, leading both my shadow and my faithful servant. I was alone again with my grief. I did not want to return to people, and I lived for three days in the forest like a shy beast.
In the morning of the fourth day I saw a shadow without a master. Thinking that she had escaped from her master, I decided to catch her and take it. I caught up with the shadow and found that she still had a master. This man carried an invisible nest, and so only his shadow was visible. I took his invisibility nest from him. It gave me the opportunity to appear among people.
Invisible, I went to the house of Minna. In the garden near her house, I discovered that a man in gray, wearing an invisibility cap, all this time followed me. He again began to tempt me, twisting the parchment in his hands with the contract. Minna came out into the garden with tears. The father began to persuade her to marry Raskal – a very rich man with an impeccable shadow. “I’ll do as you like, Father, you will,” Minna said quietly. At this time, Raskal appeared, and the girl lost her senses. The man in gray quickly scratched my palm, and put a pen in his hand. From the spiritual tension and the breaking of physical strength, I fell into deep oblivion, without signing the contract.
I woke up late at night. The garden was full of guests. From their conversations, I learned that the wedding of Raskal and Minna had taken place this morning. I hurried away from the garden, and my tormentor did not lag behind me a single step. He kept saying that my shadow would carry him everywhere. We will be inseparable until I sign the contract.
Secretly, I made my way to my house and found him ruined by mob, which Naskalak Raskal. There I met the faithful Bendel. He said that the local police forbade me as a person unreliable stay in the city and ordered me to leave it within twenty-four hours. Bendel wanted to go with me, but I did not want to subject him to such a test and remained deaf to his pleas and pleas. I said goodbye to him, jumped into the saddle and left the place where I buried my life.
On the way to me joined a pedestrian, in which I soon in horror recognized the man in gray. He offered to lend me my shadow for the time that we travel together, and I reluctantly agreed. Comfort and luxury were again beating at my service – after all, I was a rich man with a shadow. A man in gray posed as my valet and did not step away from me for a single step. He was convinced that sooner or later I would sign a contract. I firmly decided not to.
One day I decided to part with a stranger once and for all. He rolled up my shadow and again put it in his pocket, and then reported that I can always call him, tinkling with gold in a magical purse. I asked him if Mr. John had given him a receipt. The man in the gray grinned and took Mr. John out of his pocket. I was horrified and threw the purse into the abyss. The stranger rose grimly from his seat and disappeared.
I remained without a shadow and without money, but from my soul a heavy burden fell. I would be happy if I did not lose my love. With sorrow in my heart, I continued my journey. I lost the desire to meet people and went deep into the thicket of the forest, leaving it only to spend the night in some village. I kept my way to mountain mines, where I expected to work underground.
My boots worn out, and I had to buy worn-out ones – there was no money for new ones. Soon I lost my way. A minute ago I walked through the forest, and suddenly I found myself among the wild cold rocks. Fierce frost made me speed up the pace, and soon I was on the icy shore of some ocean. I ran for a few minutes and stopped among the rice fields and mulberry trees. Now I walked in a measured manner, and before my eyes flashed forests, steppes, mountains and deserts. Doubt could not be: on my feet I had seven-mile boots.
Now the goal of my life was science. From that time I worked with unquenchable zeal, trying to convey to others what I saw with my inner eye. The earth was a garden for me. For housing, I chose the most hidden cave, and continued my wanderings around the world, diligently exploring it.
During my wanderings, I fell seriously ill. The fever burned me, I fainted and woke up in a spacious and beautiful room. On the wall, at the foot of the bed, on my black marble plaque, in large gold letters, was written my name: Peter Schlemil. I listened to someone reading something loudly, as my name is mentioned, but I could not understand the meaning. To my bed came a friendly gentleman with a very beautiful lady in a black dress. Their appearance was familiar to me, but I could not remember who it was.
Some time has passed. The place where I was lying was called “Schleumium”. What was read was a reminder to pray for Peter Shlemil as the founder of this institution.. The friendly gentleman turned out to be Bendel, and the beautiful lady was Mine. Because of the long beard, I was mistaken for a Jew. I recovered, who was not recognized by anyone. Afterwards, I found out that I was in the home town of Bendel, who founded this clinic for the rest of my damned money. Minna was widowed. Her parents were no longer alive. She led the life of the God-fearing widow and was engaged in charity.
I left there, never having opened my friends, and returned to my previous studies. My strength is on the wane, but I am consoled by the fact that I spent them knowingly and for a specific purpose. To you, dear Chamisso, I will bequeathing an amazing story of my life so that she can serve people a useful lesson.