Authors: Hermann Hesse
In memory I could never afterward recall how this fight ended. At some point it was over; at some point I stood alone in the quiet darkness, recognized street corners and houses, was close to our own house. Slowly, the intoxication subsided; slowly the thunder and roar of wings ceased, and reality penetrated bit by bit to my senses, first of all to my eyes. There was the fountain. The bridge. Blood on my hand, torn clothes, stockings that had slipped down, pain in my knee, pain in my eye, cap goneâeverything came to me gradually, became reality, registered. Suddenly I was exhausted. I felt my legs and arms trembling, groped for the wall of a building.
And there was our house. Thank God! All I knew in this world right now was that there was refuge, peace, light, shelter. With a sigh of relief I pushed back the high gate.
Then, with the smell of stone and damp coolness, recollection suddenly poured over me, multiplied a hundredfold. Oh God! That was the smell of sternness, of law, of responsibility. Of Father and God. I had stolen. I was not a wounded hero returning home from the fray. I was not a poor child finding his way home to be bedded down by his mother with warmth and sympathy. I was a thief, a criminal. Up those stairs was no refuge, bed, and sleep for me, no food and tender care, no comfort and forgetfulness. What awaited me was guilt and judgment.
That evening, in the dusky hallway and stairwell, whose many steps I climbed with an effort, I think I breathed in for the first time in my life the cold of empty space, solitude, fate. I saw no way out, I had no plans, not even fear, nothing but that cold, harsh feeling: “It must be so.” Clinging to the banister, I drew myself up the stairs. At the glass door I felt tempted to sit down on the step for one moment, to catch my breath. I did not do it; there was no point. I had to go in. As I opened the door, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder how late it was.
I entered the dining room. There they sat around the table and had just finished eating; a plate of apples was still on the table. It was nearly eight o'clock. I had never come home so late without permission, never been absent for supper.
“Thank God, here you are!” my mother exclaimed. I saw that she had been anxious about me. She ran toward me, then stopped in alarm when she saw my face and my dirtied, torn clothing. I said nothing and looked at no one, but I distinctly felt Father and Mother communicating with one another by looks. My father controlled himself; but although he said nothing I felt how angry he was. Mother took care of me. My face and hands were washed, bandages plastered on my cuts; then I was given supper. Sympathy and solicitude surrounded me. I sat quietly, deeply ashamed, feeling the warmth and enjoying it with a guilty conscience. Then I was sent to bed. I shook hands with Father without looking at him.
After I was in bed, Mother came in to me once more. She took my clothes from the chair and put others there for me, since tomorrow was Sunday. Then she began cautiously asking questions, and I had to tell her about my fight. She thought it bad but did not scold and seemed a little astonished that I was so depressed and timid about it. Then she left.
Now, I thought, she is convinced that everything is all right. I had quarreled and fought and been bloodied, but by tomorrow that would all be forgotten. She did not know about the other thing, the thing that mattered. She had been disturbed, but affectionate and unconstrained. This meant that Father, too, probably knew nothing yet.
And now a terrible sense of disappointment overcame me. I realized that from the moment I had entered the house I had been filled with one intense, consuming desire. I had thought, wished, longed for nothing but that the thunderstorm would crash down upon me at once, that the judgment would descend, that the terror would become a reality and my frightful fear of it cease. I was prepared for anything, could have withstood anything. I wanted to be punished, beaten, locked up. I wanted Father to make me go hungry. I wanted him to curse and reject me. If only the dread and the suspense would end!
Instead, here I lay, had enjoyed love and care, was being gently spared and not called to account for my sin, and had to go on waiting and fearing still longer. They had forgiven me my torn clothes, my long absence, missing my supper, because I was tired and bleeding and they felt sorry for me, but above all because they had no inkling of the other thing, because they knew only of my naughtiness and nothing of my depravity. It would go doubly hard for me when it came to light. Perhaps, as they had once threatened in the past, they would send me to a reformatory where I would have only stale, hard bread to eat and in all the time not taken up by lessons would have to saw wood and clean shoes, and where there were dormitories with monitors who would beat me with a cane and wake me at four o'clock in the morning with cold water. Or else would they turn me over to the police?
But at any rate, no matter what happened, a waiting period was facing me again. I would have to suffer the dread for still longer, carry my secret with me still longer, tremble at every look and footstep in the house, and be unable to look anyone in the eye.
Or was it possible after all that my theft would not even be noticed? That everything would remain as it was? That I had inflicted all this anxiety and torment on myself for nothing. Oh, if that were to happen, if that inexpressible wonder were possible, then I would begin a wholly new life, would thank God and show myself worthy of such goodness by living with utter purity and stainlessness from this moment on! What I had tried so often before and always failed at would now be possible; now my resolution and my will were strong enough, now after this misery, this hell of torment. My whole being seized upon this wishful thought and clung to it. Comfort rained down from heaven; a blue and sunny future opened up before me. In the midst of these fantasies I finally fell asleep and slept untroubled all through the good night.
Next morning was Sunday, and while still lying in bed I felt, like the taste of a fruit, the peculiar, curiously mixed, but on the whole so precious Sunday feeling I had known ever since I began going to school. Sunday morning was a good thing: sleeping late, no school, prospect of a good dinner, no smell of teachers and ink, plenty of time to myself. That was the main thing. Other, alien, less pleasant notes sounded also, but they were weaker: churchgoing or Sunday school, family walk, having to be careful of my fine clothes. That somewhat spoiled the pure, good, precious taste and smell of Sundayâjust as two desserts eaten at the same time, say a pudding and a sauce that went with it, did not quite fit together, or as sometimes candy or cookies bought in small shops had a faint, annoying overtone of cheese or kerosene. You ate them and they were good, but they were not perfect and radiant; there was something about them you had to overlook. Sunday was usually something like that, especially when I had to go to church or Sunday school, which fortunately was not always the case. If I did, the free day acquired an added taste of duty and boredom. And although walks with the whole family could often be very fine, usually something happened. There was a quarrel with my sisters, or I walked too fast or too slow, or I smeared resin on my clothes. Most of the time there was a catch to it.
All right, I could put up with that. I felt good. A vast amount of time had passed since yesterday. I had not forgotten my crime; I remembered it first thing in the morning; but now it was so long ago that the terrors had receded far away and become unreal. Yesterday I had atoned for my guilt, even though it was only by the pangs of conscience. I had suffered through a wretched, horrible day. Now I was once more inclined to trustfulness and innocence and no longer worried very much. The agony was not entirely dissipated; a note of threat and uneasiness still sounded inside my head, but it was much like the minor duties and bothers that marred the loveliness of Sunday.
At breakfast we were all cheerful. I was given the choice between church and Sunday school. As always, I preferred church. There at least I was let alone and my thoughts could wander. Moreover, the high, solemn chamber with its colored windows often seemed beautiful and uplifting, and when I squinted my eyes and peered down the long, dusty nave to the organ I often saw wonderful pictures. The organ pipes towering out of the gloom frequently seemed like a radiant city of a hundred towers. Moreover, when attendance was sparse I had often managed to lose myself in a book of stories for the entire hour.
On this day I did not take a book along. Nor did it even occur to me to try some evasion as I had done in the past. That much was left of last night; I remembered my vows to be good and reconciled to God, my parents, and the world. Even my anger against Oskar Weber had entirely dissipated. If he had turned up, I would have received him in the friendliest spirit.
The service began. I sang the choral verses with the others; the hymn was “Shepherd of thy sheep,” which we had learned by heart in school. Once again I noticed how the verses of a song seemed so entirely different in singing, especially when sung in the slow, limping fashion of church, from the way it was in reading or reciting from memory. In reading, the verses were a whole, they had meaning and consisted of phrases. In singing they consisted only of words, there were no phrases at all, no meaning emerged, but on the other hand the single, long-drawn-out words had a curiously strong, independent life of their own. Frequently mere syllables, meaningless in themselves, took forms of their own and soared off by themselves. For example, as we sang the lines, “Shepherd of thy sheep who knowest naught of sleep, them that stumble darkly, thou wilt guide and keep,” they seemed without coherence and meaning. I did not think of a shepherd or of sheep; I thought of nothing at all. Yet that was by no means boring. Single words, especially “sle-eep,” became so strangely full and lovely, rocked me so softly, and the “stum-ble” sounded so mysterious and weighty, reminded me of “stomach” and of dark, strongly emotional, half-understood things that I had inside my body. And along with all that, the music of the organ.
And then came the pastor and the sermon, which was always so incomprehensibly long, and the strange state of listening in which for a long time I heard only the sound of the speaking voice floating in the air like a bell, then took in single words sharply and distinctly, along with their meaning, and tried to follow what was being said as long as I could. If only I had been permitted to sit in the choir instead of among all the men in the gallery. In the choir, where I had sat at church concerts, you sank deeply into heavy, isolated chairs, each of them a small, firm building, and overhead you had a strangely attractive, complex, netlike vault, and high up on the wall the Sermon on the Mount was painted in soft colors, and the blue and red garment of the Saviour against the pale blue sky was so delicate and such a pleasure to look at.
Sometimes the wood of the pew creaked. I disliked it intensely because it was coated with a dreary yellow varnish which you always stuck to slightly. Sometimes a fly buzzed off into one of the windows, which had blue and red flowers and green stars painted at their tops, where they curved into a pointed arch. And then the sermon was suddenly over and I leaned forward to see the pastor disappearing into his narrow, dark tube of a stairway. Everyone sang again, with relief and very loudly, and then people stood up and poured out of the church. I tossed the coin I had been given into the collection plate, whose tinny sound went so ill with all the solemnity, and let the stream of people carry me to the doors and out into the open.
Now came the finest part of Sunday: the two hours between church and Sunday dinner. I had done my duty, and now after sitting so long I was eager for movement, for games or walks, or for a book. At any rate, I was completely free until dinner, when there usually was something good to eat. Contentedly, I sauntered home, filled with amiable thoughts and purposes. The world was all right; it was livable. Peacefully, I trotted through the hallway and up the stairs.
The sun was shining in my room. I looked to my box of caterpillars, which I had neglected yesterday, found a few new cocoons, watered the plants.
Then the door opened.
I paid no attention at first. After a minute the silence began to seem strange. I turned around. There stood my father. He was pale and looked tormented. My welcome stuck in my throat. I saw that he knew. He had come. The trial was beginning. Nothing had turned out well, nothing was atoned for, nothing forgotten. The sun paled and the Sunday morning collapsed.
Thunderstruck, I stared at Father. I hated him. Why had he not come yesterday? Now I was not girded for this, had no resources, not even repentance and a sense of guilt. And why did he have to keep figs upstairs in his chest of drawers?
He went over to my bookcase, reached behind the books, and took out several figs. There were few left. As he did so, he looked at me with mute inquiry. I could not say anything. Anguish and defiance choked me.
“What's the matter?” I finally brought out.
“Where did you get these figs?” he asked me in that low, controlled voice I so bitterly hated.
I began talking at once. Lying. I said I had bought the figs at a confectioner's, that there had been a whole ring of them. Where did the money come from? From a savings box I had together with a friend. We'd pooled the small coins we were given every so often. Incidentallyâhere was the box. I produced the box with the slit. Now there was only a ten-pfennig piece left in it because we had bought the figs yesterday.
My father listened with a quiet, composed expression. Not for a moment did I believe he felt as calm as he looked.
“How much did the figs cost?” he asked in that soft voice.
“One mark sixty.”
“And where did you buy them?”
“At the confectioner's.”
There was a pause. I was still holding the money box in my freezing fingers. My whole body was cold and shivering.
And now he asked, with a note of menace in his voice: “Is that true?”