Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Bargain
By Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838)
From ‘The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl’

AFTER a fortunate, but for me very troublesome voyage, we finally reached the port. The instant that I touched land in the boat, I loaded myself with my few effects, and passing through the swarming people I entered the first and least house before which I saw a sign hang. I requested a room; the boots measured me with a look, and conducted me into the garret. I caused fresh water to be brought, and made him exactly describe to me where I should find Mr. Thomas John.  1
  “Before the north gate; the first country-house on the right hand; a large new house of red and white marble, with many columns.”  2
  “Good.” It was still early in the day. I opened at once my bundle; took thence my new black-cloth coat; clad myself cleanly in my best apparel; put my letter of introduction into my pocket, and set out on the way to the man who was to promote my modest expectations.  3
  When I had ascended the long North Street, and reached the gate, I soon saw the pillars glimmer through the foliage. “Here it is, then,” thought I. I wiped the dust from my feet with my pocket-handkerchief, put my neckcloth in order, and in God’s name rang the bell. The door flew open. In the hall I had an examination to undergo; the porter however permitted me to be announced, and I had the honor to be called into the park, where Mr. John was walking with a select party. I recognized the man at once by the lustre of his corpulent self-complacency. He received me very well,—as a rich man receives a poor devil,—even turned towards me, without turning from the rest of the company, and took the offered letter from my hand. “So, so, from my brother. I have heard nothing from him for a long time. But he is well? There,” continued he, addressing the company, without waiting for an answer, and pointing with the letter to a hill, “there I am going to erect the new building.” He broke the seal without breaking off the conversation, which turned upon riches.  4
  “He that is not master of a million at least,” he observed, “is—pardon me the word—a wretch!”  5
  “Oh, how true!” I exclaimed, with a rush of overflowing feeling.  6
  That pleased him. He smiled at me and said, “Stay here, my good friend; in a while I shall perhaps have time to tell you what I think about this.” He pointed to the letter, which he then thrust into his pocket, and turned again to the company. He offered his arm to a young lady; the other gentlemen addressed themselves to other fair ones; each found what suited him: and all proceeded towards the rose-blossomed mount.  7
  I slid into the rear without troubling any one, for no one troubled himself any further about me. The company was excessively lively; there was dalliance and playfulness; trifles were sometimes discussed with an important tone, but oftener important matters with levity; and the wit flew with special gayety over absent friends and their circumstances. I was too strange to understand much of all this; too anxious and introverted to take an interest in such riddles.  8
  We had reached the rosery. The lovely Fanny, who seemed the belle of the day, insisted out of obstinacy in breaking off a blossomed stem herself. She wounded herself on a thorn, and the purple streamed from her tender hand as if from the dark roses. This circumstance put the whole party into a flutter. English plaster was sought for. A quiet, thin, lanky, longish, oldish man who stood near, and whom I had not hitherto remarked, put his hand instantly into the tight breast-pocket of his old gray French taffeta coat; produced thence a little pocket-book, opened it, and presented to the lady with a profound obeisance the required article. She took it without noticing the giver, and without thanks; the wound was bound up and we went forward over the hill, from whose back the company could enjoy the wide prospect over the green labyrinth of the park to the boundless ocean.  9
  The view was in reality vast and splendid. A light point appeared on the horizon between the dark flood and the blue of the heaven. “A telescope here!” cried John; and already, before the servants who appeared at the call were in motion, the gray man, modestly bowing, had thrust his hand into his coat pocket, drawn thence a beautiful Dollond, and handed it to Mr. John. Bringing it immediately to his eye, he informed the company that it was the ship which went out yesterday, and was detained in view of port by contrary winds. The telescope passed from hand to hand, but not again into that of its owner. I however gazed in wonder at the man, and could not conceive how the great machine had come out of the narrow pocket; but this seemed to have struck no one else, and nobody troubled himself any further about the gray man than about myself.  10
  Refreshments were handed round; the choicest fruits of every zone, in the costliest vessels. Mr. John did the honors with an easy grace, and a second time addressed a word to me: “Help yourself; you have not had the like at sea.” I bowed, but he did not see it; he was already speaking with some one else.  11
  The company would fain have reclined upon the sward on the slope of the hill, opposite to the outstretched landscape, had they not feared the dampness of the earth. “It were divine,” observed one of the party, “had we but a Turkey carpet to spread here.” The wish was scarcely expressed when the man in the gray coat had his hand in his pocket, and was busied in drawing thence, with a modest and even humble deportment, a rich Turkey carpet interwoven with gold. The servants received it as a matter of course, and opened it on the required spot. The company, without ceremony, took their places upon it; for myself, I looked again in amazement on the man—at the carpet, which measured about twenty paces long and ten in breadth and rubbed my eyes, not knowing what to think of it, especially as nobody saw anything extraordinary in it.  12
  I would fain have had some explanation regarding the man and have asked who he was, but I knew not to whom to address myself, for I was almost more afraid of the gentlemen’s servants than of the served gentlemen. At length I took courage, and stepped up to a young man who appeared to me to be of less consideration than the rest, and who had often stood alone. I begged him softly to tell me who the agreeable man in the gray coat there was.  13
  “He there, who looks like an end of thread that has escaped out of a tailor’s needle?”  14
  “Yes, he who stands alone.”  15
  “I don’t know him,” he replied, and—in order to avoid a longer conversation with me, apparently—he turned away and spoke of indifferent matters to another.  16
  The sun began now to shine more powerfully, and to inconvenience the ladies. The lovely Fanny addressed carelessly to the gray man—whom, as far as I am aware, no one had yet spoken to—the trifling question whether he “had not, perchance, also a tent by him?” He answered her by an obeisance most profound, as if an unmerited honor were done him, and had already his hand in his pocket, out of which I saw come canvas, poles, cordage, iron-work,—in short, everything which belongs to the most splendid pleasure-tent. The young gentlemen helped to expand it, and it covered the whole extent of the carpet, and nobody found anything remarkable in it.  17
  I had already become uneasy—nay, horrified—at heart; but how completely so, as at the very next wish expressed I saw him pull out of his pocket three roadsters I tell you, three beautiful great black horses, with saddle and caparison. Take it in, for Heaven’s sake!—three saddled horses, out of the same pocket from which already a pocket-book, a telescope, an embroidered carpet twenty paces long and ten broad, a pleasure-tent of equal dimensions and all the requisite poles and irons, had come forth! If I did not protest to you that I saw it myself with my own eyes, you could not possibly believe it.  18
  Embarrassed and obsequious as the man himself appeared to be, little as was the attention which had been bestowed upon him, yet to me his grisly aspect, from which I could not turn my eyes, became so fearful that I could bear it no longer.  19
  I resolved to steal away from the company, which from the insignificant part I played in it seemed to me an easy affair. I proposed to myself to return to the city to try my luck again on the morrow with Mr. John, and if I could muster the necessary courage, to question him about the singular gray man. Had I only had the good fortune to escape so well!  20
  I had already actually succeeded in stealing through the rosery, and on descending the hill found myself on a piece of lawn, when, fearing to be encountered in crossing the grass out of the path, I cast an inquiring glance round me. What was my terror to behold the man in the gray coat behind me, and making towards me! The next moment he took off his hat before me, and bowed so low as no one had ever yet done to me. There was no doubt but that he wished to address me, and without being rude I could not prevent it. I also took off my hat, bowed also, and stood there in the sun with bare head as if rooted to the ground. I stared at him full of terror, and was like a bird which a serpent has fascinated. He himself appeared very much embarrassed. He did not raise his eyes, again bowed repeatedly, drew nearer and addressed me with a soft tremulous voice, almost in a tone of supplication:—  21
  “May I hope, sir, that you will pardon my boldness in venturing in so unusual a manner to approach you? but I would ask a favor. Permit me most condescendingly—”  22
  “But in God’s name!” exclaimed I in my trepidation, “what can I do for a man who—” we both started, and as I believe, reddened.  23
  After a moment’s silence he again resumed:—  24
  “During the short time that I had the happiness to find myself near you, I have, sir, many times,—allow me to say it to you,—really contemplated with inexpressible admiration the beautiful, beautiful shadow which, as it were with a certain noble disdain and without yourself remarking it, you cast from you in the sunshine. The noble shadow at your feet there! Pardon me the bold supposition, but possibly you might not be indisposed to make this shadow over to me.”  25
  I was silent, and a mill-wheel seemed to whirl round in my head. What was I to make of this singular proposition to sell my own shadow? He must be mad, thought I; and with an altered tone which was more assimilated to that of his own humility, I answered him thus:—  26
  “Ha! ha! good friend, have not you then enough of your own shadow? I take this for a business of a very singular sort—”  27
  He hastily interrupted me:—“I have many things in my pocket which, sir, might not appear worthless to you; and for this inestimable shadow I hold the very highest price too small.”  28
  It struck cold through me again as I was reminded of the pocket. I knew not how I could have called him good friend. I resumed the conversation, and sought to set all right again by excessive politeness if possible.  29
  “But, sir, pardon your most humble servant; I do not understand your meaning. How indeed could my shadow—”  30
  He interrupted me.  31
  “I beg your permission only here on the spot to be allowed to take up this noble shadow and put it in my pocket; how I shall do that, be my care. On the other hand, as a testimony of my grateful acknowledgment to you, I give you the choice of all the treasures which I carry in my pocket,—the genuine ‘spring-root,’ the ‘mandrake-root,’ the ‘change-penny,’ the ‘rob-dollar,’ the ‘napkin of Roland’s page,’ a ‘mandrake-man,’ at your own price. But these probably don’t interest you; rather ‘Fortunatus’s wishing-cap,’ newly and stoutly repaired, and a lucky-bag such as he had!”  32
  “The luck-purse of Fortunatus!” I exclaimed, interrupting him; and great as my anxiety was, with that one word he had taken my whole mind captive. A dizziness seized me, and double ducats seemed to glitter before my eyes.  33
  “Honored sir, will you do me the favor to view and to make trial of this purse?” He thrust his hand into his pocket and drew out a tolerably large, well-sewed purse of stout Cordovan leather, with two strong strings, and handed it to me. I plunged my hand into it, and drew out ten gold pieces, and again ten. I extended him eagerly my hand. “Agreed! the business is done: for the purse you have my shadow!”  34
  He closed with me; kneeled instantly down before me, and I beheld him, with an admirable dexterity, gently loosen my shadow from top to toe from the grass, lift it up, roll it together, fold it, and finally pocket it. He arose, made me another obeisance, and retreated towards the rosery. I fancied that I heard him there softly laughing to himself, but I held the purse fast by the strings; all round me lay the clear sunshine, and within me was yet no power of reflection.  35
  At length I came to myself, and hastened to quit the place where I had nothing more to expect. In the first place I filled my pockets with gold; then I secured the strings of the purse fast round my neck, and concealed the purse itself in my bosom. I passed unobserved out of the park, reached the highway and took the road to the city. As, sunk in thought, I approached the gate, I heard a cry behind me:  36
  “Young gentleman! eh! young gentleman! hear you!”  37
  I looked round; an old woman called after me.  38
  “Do take care, sir, you have lost your shadow!”  39
  “Thank you, good mother!” I threw her a gold piece for her well-meant intelligence, and stopped under the trees.  40
  At the city gate I was compelled to hear again from the sentinel, “Where has the gentleman left his shadow?” And immediately again from some women, “Jesus Maria! the poor fellow has no shadow!” That began to irritate me, and I became especially careful not to walk in the sun. This could not, however, be accomplished everywhere; for instance, over the broad street I must next take—actually, as mischief would have it, at the very moment the boys came out of school. A cursed hunchbacked rogue—I see him yet—spied out instantly that I had no shadow. He proclaimed the fact with a loud outcry to the whole assembled literary street youth of the suburb, who began forthwith to criticize me and to pelt me with mud. “Decent people are accustomed to take their shadow with them when they go into the sunshine.” To defend myself from them I threw whole handfuls of gold amongst them, and sprang into a hackney coach which some compassionate soul procured for me. As soon as I found myself alone in the rolling carriage, I began to weep bitterly. The presentiment must already have arisen in me that on earth, far as gold transcends merit and virtue in estimation, so much higher than gold itself is the shadow valued; and as I had earlier sacrificed wealth to conscience, I had now thrown away the shadow for mere gold. What in the world could and would become of me!  41

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