Authors: Hermann Hesse
His knees repeatedly giving way, he kept moving on hour after hour. He lay for a while on railroad tracks that crossed the road, actually dozed off with his head on the steel rail, awoke again and had forgotten what he wanted, stood up and reeled on, the soles of his feet aching, shooting pains in his head, sometimes falling, scratched by thorns, sometimes floating lightly along, sometimes forcing every step with great effort.
“Now the devil rides me ripe!” he sang hoarsely under his breath. Ah, to ripen! To be grilled brown, painfully, to be roasted completely, like the pit in a peach, to be ripe, to be able to die!
There was a spark floating in this darkness. He clung to it with all the ardor of his racked soul. It was a thought: useless to kill himself, to kill himself now; no point to exterminating himself, tearing himself limb from limbâit was useless. But it was good and redeeming to suffer, to ferment to ripeness amid tears and tortures, to be forged to completion amid blows and pangs. Then you had earned the right to die, and then dying was good, beautiful, and meaningful, the greatest blessing in the world, more blissful than any night of love: burned out and utterly resigned to fall back into the womb, to be extinguished, redeemed, reborn. Such a death, such a ripe and good, noble death, alone had meaning; it alone was salvation, it alone was homecoming. Longing cried in his heart. Where, where was the narrow, difficult path, where was the gateway? He was ready; with every quiver of his exhausted, agitated body, of his anguished mind, he yearned for it.
When the morning grayed in the sky and the leaden lake awoke with its first cool flash of silver, the harried man was standing in a small chestnut grove, high above the lake and the city, among ferns and high, flowering spireas damp with dew. With lifeless eyes, but smiling, he stared down into the strange world. He had reached the goal of his obsessive wanderings; he was so dead tired that his terrified spirit was silent. And above all, the night was over. The battle had been fought, a peril overcome. Felled by exhaustion, he dropped like a dead man among the fern and roots on the ground, his head in a bilberry bush. The world melted away from his fading senses. His hands clenched among the ferns, his face and chest against the soil, he yielded hungrily to slumber as if it were the longed-for last sleep.
In a dream, of which he could afterwards recall only a few fragments, he saw a door that looked like the entrance to a theater. On it a large poster with huge lettering read (this was undecided) either
or “Wagner.” He entered. Inside was a woman who resembled the innkeeper's wife, but also his own wife. Her head was distorted; it was too large and the face changed to a horrible mask. He was seized by an overwhelming repugnance for this woman and drove a knife into her abdomen. But another woman, like a mirror image of the first, attacked him from behind, drove sharp, powerful claws into his throat and tried to strangle him.
Waking from this deep sleep, he saw with astonishment the trees above him. He was stiff from lying on the hard ground, but refreshed. With a faint note of dreadfulness, the dream reverberated within him. What strange, naÃ¯ve, and African games of the imagination! he thought, smiling for a moment as the door with its invitation to enter the “Wagner” theater returned to his memory. What an idea, to represent his relationship with Wagner in this way. The spirit of the dream was coarse, but brilliant. It hit the nail on the head. The theater called “Wagner”âwas that not himself, was it not an invitation to enter into his own interior being, into the foreign land of his true self? For Wagner was himselfâWagner was the murderer and the hunted man within him, but Wagner was also the composer, the artist, the genius, the seducer, lover of life and the senses, luxuryâWagner was the collective name for everything repressed, buried, scanted in the life of Friedrich Klein, the former civil servant. And
âwas not he himself Lohengrin, the errant knight with the mysterious goal who had to hide his name? The rest was not clear: the woman with the horrible mask of a face and the other woman with the claws. Stabbing her belly with the knife also reminded him of something, and he hoped he would still be able to find what it wasâthe mood of murder and deadly peril was oddly and harshly mingled with that of theaters, masks, and carnival.
At the thought of the woman and the knife he distinctly saw, for a moment, his connubial bedroom. Then his mind leaped to the childrenâhow had he been able to forget them! He thought of them clambering out of their little beds in their nightshirts each morning. Their names came into his mind, especially Elly's. Oh, the children! Slowly, tears ran from his eyes down his tired face. He shook his head, rose to his feet with an effort, and began picking leaves and crumbs of soil from his rumpled clothes. Only now did he clearly recall the previous night, the bare stone chamber in the village inn, the woman in his arms, his flight, his driven, endless tramping. He beheld this distorted little fragment of life as a sick man looks at his emaciated hand or the eczema on his leg.
In composed sadness, with tears still brimming in his eyes, he murmured softly to himself: “God, what do you still have in mind for me?” Of the thoughts of the night, only one yearning voice continued to reverberate within him: the cry for ripeness, for homecoming, for permission to die. Was the way he had to go still far? Was home still remote? Was there much more suffering to come, suffering still inconceivable? He was prepared for it; he offered himself. His heart was open to fate. Strike away!
Walking slowly, he descended through meadows and vineyards toward the city. He went to his hotel, washed and combed himself, changed his clothes. He went to dine, drank some of the good wine, and felt the weariness in his stiff limbs diminishing and giving way to pleasurable feelings. He asked when the dancing began in the Rose Garden, and went there at teatime.
Teresina was dancing when he entered. He saw that curiously glowing dance-smile on her face again, and rejoiced. He greeted her when she returned to her table, and went to speak to her.
“I'd like to ask you to come to Castiglione with me this evening,” he said softly.
“Today, right off?” she asked. “Is there such a hurry?”
“I can wait if you prefer. But it would be nice. Where shall we meet?”
She did not resist the invitation, or the childlike smile that for seconds clung to his furrowed, lonely face, making it oddly handsome, like a brave wallpaper on the last wall of a burned and collapsed house.
“Where have you been?” she asked curiously. “You disappeared so suddenly yesterday. And every time I see you, you have a different face. Again today. You aren't a drug addict, by any chance?”
He only laughed, with an oddly handsome and rather alien laugh, his mouth and chin looking utterly boyish, while the circlet of thorns remained above his forehead and eyes.
“Call for me at the restaurant of the Hotel Esplanade. I think there is a boat leaving at nine. But tell me what you did yesterday.”
“I think I went walking, most of the day and most of the night. I had to comfort a village woman whose husband had run off. And then I took great pains to learn an Italian song because it dealt with a Teresina.”
“What song is that?”
Su in cima di quel boschetto.
“Good heavens, you already know that wretched thing. Yes, it's all the rage among shopgirls now.”
“Oh, I think it's a very pretty song.”
“And you comforted a woman?”
“Yes, she was feeling bad and her husband had run off and was unfaithful to her.”
“I see. And what did you do to make her feel better?”
“She came to me so as not to be alone any longer. I kissed her and lay with her.”
“Was she nice-looking?”
“I don't know, I didn't look close. No, don't laugh, not at that. It was so sad.”
She laughed anyhow. “How funny you are. Well, and so you didn't sleep at all. You look it.”
“Oh yes, I slept for several hours. In woods, up on the mountain.”
She followed the direction of his finger, which was pointing at the ceiling, and laughed loudly.
“In an inn?”
“No, in the woods. Among the bilberries. They're good, almost ripe.”
“You're a dreamer. But I must danceâthe conductor is already tapping. Where are you, Claudio?”
The handsome, dark-haired dancer was standing behind her chair. The music began. At the end of the dance, Klein left.
He called for her punctually that evening and was glad he had worn evening clothes, for Teresina was dressed very festively, in violet, with a great deal of lace; she looked like a princess.
At the beach he led Teresina not to the hotel ferry but to a pretty motorboat he had rented for the evening. They entered; in the half-enclosed cabin, blankets for Teresina lay ready, and flowers. In a tight curve the swift boat shot out of the harbor into the lake.
On the water, surrounded by night and silence, Klein said: “Teresina, isn't it a pity to go over there now among so many people? If you care to, we can ride on, without a destination, as long as we please, or stop at some quiet, lovely village, drink a country wine and listen to the girls sing. What do you think?”
She did not reply, and he at once saw the disappointment on her face. He laughed.
“No, it was just a notion of mine, forgive me. I want you to be amused and to do what gives you pleasure; that is our only program. We'll be across in ten minutes.”
“Doesn't the gambling interest you at all?” she asked.
“I'll have to see; I'll have to try it first. At the moment I don't quite see the point of it. Either one wins money or one loses money. I think there are stronger sensations.”
“The money you play for isn't just money. It's more or less a symbol. Everyone wins or loses not just money but all the wishes and dreams that money means to him. If I have money nobody can order me around any more. I'll live the way I like. I'll dance whenever and wherever and for anyone I like. I'll travel wherever I want.”
He interrupted her. “What a child you are, my dear young lady. There is no such freedom, except in your wishes. If you should become rich and free and independent tomorrowâthe day after tomorrow you'll fall in love with some man who'll take the money for himself or cut your throat one night.”
“Don't say such horrible things! All right, if I were rich maybe I would live even more simply than I do now, but I'd do it because it pleased me, voluntarily and not because I have to. I hate having no choice. And you see, if I go ahead and risk my money at the gaming table, all my wishes take part every time I win or lose. I'm staking everything valuable and desirable to me, and that gives you a feeling that's pretty rare.”
Klein watched her as she spoke, without paying close attention to her words. Unwittingly, he compared Teresina's face with the face of the woman he had dreamed of in the woods.
He did not become aware of this until the boat glided into the bay of Castiglione, for there the sight of the illuminated sheet-metal sign with the name of the town violently reminded him of the sign in the dream which had borne the word Lohengrin or Wagner. That was exactly how the sign had looked, just as large, just as gray and white, just as glaringly illuminated. Was this the stage on which he must set foot? Was he coming to Wagner here? Now, too, he became aware that Teresina resembled the woman in the dream, or rather both dream women, one of whom he had stabbed to death and the other who had strangled him with her claws. A shiver of fear ran over his skin. Was all this possibly connected? Was he again being led by unknown spirits? And where to? To Wagner? To murder? To death?
Teresina took his arm as they debarked, and so arm in arm they walked down the bright, noisy quay, through the village and into the casino. There everything had that air of improbability, half exciting, half wearisome, which marks the enterprises of avaricious people transplanted from cities into tranquil landscapes. The buildings were too large and too new, the light too ample, the halls too resplendent, the people too lively. Between the towering, dark mountain ranges and the broad, gentle lake this dense little bee-swarm of greedy and surfeited people squeezed fearfully together, as if uncertain that it could last for another hour, as if at any moment something might happen to wipe it out. From rooms where people were dining and drinking champagne, sickly, fevered violin music sounded. On stairs among palms and leaping fountains massed flowers and women's finery rivaled each other in brilliance. Men's pale faces over open dinner jackets, bustling servants in blue livery with gold buttons, assiduous and knowing, perfumed women with southern faces pale and flushed, beautiful and morbid, and strapping Nordic women, commanding and self-assured, old gentlemen like illustrations for Turgenev and Fontane.â¦
Klein felt ill and tired as soon as they entered the casino. In the main hall he took two thousand-franc notes from his pocket.
“What now?” he asked. “Shall we play together?”
“No, no, that's no fun. Each for himself.”
He gave her one of the notes and asked her to show him what the procedure was. Soon they were standing at a gaming table. Klein placed his banknote on a number, the wheel was turned; he did not know what was going on, merely saw his stake swept away. This goes fast, he thought contentedly, and wanted to smile at Teresina. She was no longer beside him. He saw her standing at another table and changing her money. He went over there. She looked thoughtful, anxious, and very busy, like a housewife.
He followed her to a table and watched her. She was familiar with the game and watched it with close attention. She staked small sums, never more than fifty francs, now here, now there, won several times, tucked notes into her pearl-embroidered handbag and took notes out again.
“How is it going?” he asked at one point.