Journey to the East

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Journey to the East

By Herman Hesse

Chapter Five

AFTER awakening and dozing off again several times, I awoke the following day with a headache but feeling rested. To my extreme astonishment, pleasure and also embarrassment, I found Leo in the living- room. He was sitting on the edge of a chair and looked as if he had been waiting a long time.

"Leo," I cried, "you have come!"

"They have sent me for you from the League," he said. "You wrote me a letter in connection with it. I gave it to the officials. You are to appear before the High Throne. Can we go?"

In confusion I hastened to put on my shoes. The desk, disarranged the previous night, still had a somewhat disturbed and disorderly appearance. For the moment I hardly knew any more what I had written there so forcibly and full of anguish a few hours ago. Still, it did not seem to have been in vain. Something had happened. Leo had come.

Suddenly, for the first time, I realized the significance of his words. So, there was still a "League" of which I no longer knew anything, which existed without me and which no longer considered me as belonging to it! There was still a League and the High Throne! There were still the officials; they had sent for me! I went hot and cold at the realization. I had lived in this town many months, occupied with my notes about the League and our journey and did not know whether the rest of the League still existed, where it was, and whether I was perhaps its last member. Indeed, to be quite frank, at certain times I was not sure whether the League and my membership of it were ever real. And now Leo stood there, sent by the League to fetch me. I was remembered, I was summoned, they wanted to listen to me, perhaps to pass judgment on me. Good! I was ready. I was ready to show that I had not been unfaithful to the League. I was ready to obey. Whether the officials punished me or pardoned me, I was ready in advance to accept everything, to agree with their judgment in everything and to be obedient to them.

We set off. Leo went on ahead, and again, as I did many years ago when I watched him and the way he walked, I had to admire him as a good and perfect servant. He walked along the lanes in front of me, nimbly and patiently, indicating the way; he was the perfect guide, the perfect servant at his task, the perfect official. Yet he put my patience to no small test. The League had summoned me, I was awaited by the High Throne, everything was at stake for me; the whole of my future life would be decided, the whole of my past life would now either retain or completely lose its meaning — I trembled with expectation, pleasure, anxiety and suppressed fear.

And so, the route that Leo took seemed, in my impatience, intolerably long, for I had to follow my guide for more than two hours by way of the strangest and seemingly most capricious detours. Leo kept me waiting twice in front of a church in which he went to pray. For a long time that seemed endless to me, he remained meditating and absorbed in front of the old town-hall, and told me about its foundation in the fifteenth century by a famous member of the League. And although the way he took this walk seemed so painstaking, zealous and purposeful, I became quite confused by the detours, roundabouts and zig-zags by which he approached his goal. The walk, which took us all morning, could easily have been done in a quarter of an hour.

At last he led me into a sleepy, suburban lane, and into a very large, silent building. Outside it looked like an extended Council building or a museum. At first there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Corridors and stairs were deserted and resounded at our footsteps. Leo began to search among the passages, stairs and antechambers. Once, he cautiously opened a big door, on the other side of which we saw a crowded artist's studio; in front of an easel stood the artist Klingsor in his shirt-sleeves — oh, how many years was it since I had seen his beloved face! But I did not dare to greet him; the time was not yet ripe for that. I was expected. I had been summoned. Klingsor did not pay very much attention to us. He nodded to Leo; either he did not see me or did not recognize me, and silently indicated to us in a friendly but decisive way to go out, not tolerating any interruption of his work.

Finally, at the top of the immense building, we arrived at a garret- store, which smelled of paper and cardboard, and all along the walls for many hundreds of yards protruded cupboard doors, backs of books and bundles of documents: a gigantic archive, a vast chancery. Nobody took any notice of us; everyone was silently occupied. It seemed to me as if the whole world, including the starry heavens, was governed or at least recorded and observed from there. For a long time we stood there and waited; many archive and library officials hastened around us silently with catalogue dockets and numbers in their hands. Ladders were placed in position and mounted, lifts and small trucks were carefully and quietly set into motion. Finally, Leo began to sing. I listened to the tune, deeply moved; it had once been very familiar to me. It was the melody of one of our League songs.

At the sound of the song, everything immediately sprang into movement. The officials drew back, the hall extended into dusky remoteness. The industrious people, small and unreal, worked in the gigantic archive region in the background. The foreground, however, was spacious and empty. The hall extended to an impressive length. In the middle, arranged in strict order, there were many benches, and partly from the background and partly out of the numerous doors came many officials who slowly approached the benches and one by one sat down on them. One row of benches after the other was slowly filled. The structure of benches gradually rose and culminated in a high throne, which was not yet occupied. The solemn Synedrium was crowded right up to the throne. Leo looked at me with a warning glance to be patient, silent and respectful, and disappeared amongst the crowd; all of a sudden, he was gone, and I could no longer see him. But here and there amidst the officials who assembled around the High Throne I perceived familiar faces, serious or smiling. I saw the figure of Albertus Magnus, the ferryman Vasudeva, the artist Klingsor, and others.

At last it became quiet and the Speaker stepped forward. Small and alone I stood before the High Throne, prepared for everything, in a state of great anxiety, but also in full accord with what would take place and be resolved here.

Clearly and evenly the Speaker's voice rang through the hall. "Self- accusation of a deserter League brother," I heard him announce. My knees trembled. It was a question of my life. But it was right that it should be so; everything must now be put in order. The Speaker continued.

"Is your name H.H.? Did you join in the march through Upper Swabia, and in the festival at Bremgarten? Did you desert your colors shortly after Morbio Inferiore? Did you confess that you wanted to write a story of the Journey to the East? Did you consider yourself hampered by your vow of silence about the League's secrets?"

I answered question after question with "Yes," even those which were incomprehensible and terrifying to me.

The officials conferred in whispers and with gestures for a short time; then the Speaker stepped forward again and announced:

"The self-accuser is herewith empowered to reveal publicly every law and secret of the League which is known to him. Moreover, the whole of the League's archives is placed at his disposal for his work."

The Speaker drew back. The officials disbanded and again slowly disappeared, some into the background of the hall and some through the exits; there was complete silence in the large hall. I was looking anxiously around me when I saw something lying on one of the chancery documents which seemed familiar to me. When I picked it up, I recognized my work, my delicate offspring, the manuscript I had commenced. "The Story of the Journey to the East," by H.H., was inscribed on the blue envelope. I seized it and read the small, close, hand-written, oft-times crossed out and corrected pages. In haste, eager to work, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that now at last, with approval from higher quarters, indeed assistance, I was to be allowed to complete my task. When I considered that no vow any longer bound me, that I had access to the archives, to those immense treasure-chambers, my task seemed to me greater and more worth-while than ever.

However, the more pages I read of my handwriting, the less did I like the manuscript. Even in my former most despondent hours it had never seemed so futile and absurd to me as now. Everything seemed so confused and stupid; the clearest relationships were distorted, the most obvious were forgotten, the trivial and the unimportant pushed into the foreground. It must be written again, right from the beginning. As I continued reading the manuscript, I had to cross out sentence after sentence, and as I crossed them out, they crumbled up on the paper, and the clear, sloping letters separated into assorted fragments, into strokes and points, into circles, small flowers and stars, and the pages were covered like carpets with graceful, meaningless, ornamental designs. Soon there was nothing more left of my text; on the other hand, there was much unused paper left for my work. I pulled myself together. I tried to see things clearly.

Naturally, it was not previously possible for me to present an impartial and clear account, because everything was concerned with secrets which I was forbidden to disclose on account of my vow to the League. I had tried to avoid an objective presentation of the story, and without regard to the more important relationships, aims and purposes, I had simply restricted myself to my personal experiences. But one could see where that had led. On the other hand, there was no longer a pledge of silence and no more restrictions. I was given complete official permission, and, moreover, the whole of the inexhaustible archives lay open to me.

It was clear to me that even if my former work had not broken up into ornamentation, I had to begin the whole thing afresh, with a new foundation, and build it up again. I decided to begin with a short account of the League, its foundation and constitution. The extensive, endless, gigantic labelled catalogues on all the tables, which reached far into the distance and semi- darkness, must surely give an answer to all my questions.

 First of all, I decide to examine the archives at random. I had to learn how to use this tremendous machine. Naturally, I looked for the League document before anything else.

"League document," it stated in the catalogue, "see section Chrysostomos, group V, verse 39, 8." — Right, I found the section, the group and the verse quite easily. The archives were wonderfully arranged. And now I held the League document in my hand. I had to be prepared for the possibility that I might not be able to read it. As a matter of fact, I could not read it. It was written in Greek characters, it seemed to me, and I understood a certain amount of Greek, but for one thing it was in extremely ancient, strange writing, the characters of which, despite apparent clarity, were for the most part illegible to me, and, for another thing, the text was written in dialect or in a secret symbolical language, of which I only occasionally understood a word as if from a distance, by sound and analogy. But I was not yet discouraged. Even if the document remained unreadable, its characters brought back to me vivid memories of the past. In particular, I clearly saw my friend Longus writing Greek and Hebrew characters in the garden in the evening, the characters changing into birds, dragons and snakes in the night.

Looking through the catalogue, I trembled at the abundance of material that awaited me there. I came across many familiar words and many well-known names. With a start, I came across my own name, but I did not dare to consult the archives about it — who could bear to hear the verdict of an omniscient Court of Law on oneself? On the other hand, I found, for example, the name of the artist Paul Klee, whose acquaintance I had made during the journey and who was a friend of Klingsor's. I looked up his number in the archives. I found there a small gold-plated dish on which a clover was either painted or engraved. The first of its three leaves represented a small blue sailing-boat, the second a fish with colored scales and the third looked like a telegram-form on which was written:

As blue as snow, Is Paul like Klee.[1]

It also gave me a melancholy pleasure to read about Klingsor, Longus, Max and Tilli. Also, I could not resist the desire to learn something more about Leo. On Leo's catalogue label was written:

Cave!

Archiepisc. XIX. Diacon. D. VII.

Corno Amman.6

Cave!

 The two "Cave" warnings impressed me. I could not bring myself to penetrate this secret. However, with every new attempt, I began to realize more and more what an undreamt-of abundance of material, knowledge and magic formulae these archives contained. It included, it seemed to me, the whole world.

After happy or bewildering excursions into many branches of knowledge, I returned several times to the label "Leo" with ever-increasing curiosity. Each time, the double "Cave" deterred me. Then, while going through another filing cabinet, I came across the word "Fatima," with the notes:

princ. orient. 2

noct. mill. 983

hort. delic. 07

I looked for and found the place in the archives. There lay a tiny locket which could be opened and contained a miniature portrait of a ravishingly beautiful princess, which in an instant reminded me of all the thousand and one nights, of all the tales of my youth, of all the dreams and wishes of that great period when, in order to travel to Fatima in the Orient, I had served my novitiate and had reported myself as a member of the League. The locket was wrapped in a finely-spun mauve silk kerchief, which had an immeasurably remote and sweet fragrance, reminiscent of princesses and the East. As I inhaled this remote, rare, magic fragrance, I was suddenly and powerfully overwhelmed with the realization of the sweet magic which had enveloped me when I commenced my pilgrimage to the East, and how the pilgrimage was shattered by treacherous and, in fact, unknown obstacles, how the magic had then vanished more and more, and what desolation, disillusionment and barren despair had since been my life's breath, my food and drink! I could no longer see the kerchief or the portrait, so thick was the veil of tears which covered my eyes. Ah, now, I thought, the portrait of the Arabian princess could no longer suffice to act as a charm against the world and hell, and make me into a knight and crusader; I would now need other stronger charms. But how sweet, how innocent, how blissful had been that dream which had haunted my youth, which had made me a story-teller, a musician and a novitiate, and had led me to Morbio!

Sounds awakened me from my meditation. From all sides the unending spaciousness of the archive chamber confronted me eerily. A new thought, a new pain shot threw me like a flash of lightning. I, in my simplicity, wanted to write the story of the League, I, who could not decipher or understand one-thousandth part of those millions of scripts, books, pictures and references in the archives! Humbled, unspeakably foolish,

 unspeakably ridiculous, not understanding myself, feeling extremely small, I saw myself standing in the midst of this thing with which I had been allowed to play a little in order to make me realize what the League was and what I was myself.

The officials came through the numerous doors in enormous numbers. I could still recognize many of them through my tears. I recognized Jup, the magician, I recognized Lindhorst, the archivist, I recognized Mozart dressed as Pablo. The illustrious assembly filled the many rows of seats, which became higher and narrower at the black; over the throne which formed the top, I saw a shining golden canopy.

The Speaker stepped forward and announced: "The League is ready to pass judgment, through its officials, on the self-accuser H., who felt bound to keep silent about League secrets, and who has now realized how strange and blasphemous was his intention to write the story of a journey to which he was not equal, and an account of a League in whose existence he no longer believed and to which he had become unfaithful."

He turned towards me and said in his clear, proclamatory voice: "Self-accuser H., do you agree to recognize the Court of Justice and to submit to its judgment?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Self-accuser H.," he continued, "do you agree that the Court of Justice of the officials pass judgment on you without the President in the Chair, or do you desire the President himself to pass judgment on you."

"I agree," I said, "to be judged by the officials, either with or without the President in the Chair."

The Speaker was about to reply when, from the very back of the hall, a soft voice said: "The President is ready to pass judgment himself."

The sound of this soft voice shook me strangely. Right from the depths of the room, from the remote horizons of the archives, came a man. His walk was light and peaceful, his robe sparkled with gold. He came nearer amid the silence of the assembly, and I recognized his walk, I recognized his movements, and finally I recognized his face. It was Leo. In a magnificent, festive robe, he climbed through the rows of officials to the High Throne like a Pope. Like a magnificent, rare flower, he carried the brilliance of his attire up the stairs. Each row of officials rose to greet him as he passed. He bore his radiant office conscientiously, humbly, dutifully, as humbly as a holy Pope or patriarch bears his insignia.

I was deeply intrigued and moved in anticipation of the judgment which I was humbly prepared to accept, whether it would now bring punishment or grace. I was no less deeply moved and amazed that it was Leo, the former porter and servant, who now stood at the head of the whole League and was ready to pass judgment on me. But I was still more stirred, amazed, startled and happy at the great discovery of the day: that the

 League was as completely stable and mighty as ever, that it was not Leo and the League who had deserted and disillusioned me, but only that I had been so weak and foolish as to misinterpret my own experiences, to doubt the League, to consider the Journey to the East a failure, and to regard myself as the survivor and chronicler of a concluded and forgotten tale, while I was nothing more than a run-away, a traitor, a deserter. Amazement and joy lay in this recognition. I stood there, small and humble, at the foot of the High Throne, from which I had once been accepted as a brother of the League, from which I had once undergone my novitiate ceremony, had received the League ring and had immediately been sent to the servant Leo on the journey. And in the middle of everything, I was aware of a new sin, a new inexplicable loss, a new shame: I no longer possessed the League ring. I had lost it, I did not know when or where, and I had not missed it once until this day!

Meantime, the President, the golden-clad Leo, began to speak in his beautiful, gentle voice; his words reached me gently and comfortingly, as gentle and comforting as sunshine.

"The self-accuser," came the words from the High Throne, "has had the opportunity to rid himself of some of his errors. There is much to be said against him. It may be conceivable and very excusable that he was unfaithful to the League, that he reproached the League with his own failings and follies, that he doubted its continuation, that he had the strange ambition to become the historian of the League. All this does not weigh heavily against him. They are, if the self-accuser will permit me the phrase, only novitiate stupidities. They can be dismissed with a smile."

I breathed deeply, and a faint smile passed over the whole of the illustrious assembly. That the most serious of my sins, even my illusion that the League no longer existed and that I was the only disciple left, were only regarded by the President as "stupidities," as trifles, was a tremendous relief to me and at the same time sent me most definitely back to my starting-point.

"But," continued Leo, and his gentle voice was now sad and serious — "there are many more serious offences imputed to the defendant and the worst of them is that he does not stand as self-accuser for these sins, but appears to be unaware of them. He deeply regrets having wronged the League in thought; he cannot forgive himself for not recognizing the President Leo in the servant Leo, and is on the point of realizing the extent of his infidelity to the League. But while he took these sinful thoughts and follies all too seriously, and only just realizes with relief that they can be dismissed with a smile, he stubbornly forgets his real offences, which are legion, each one of which is serious enough to warrant severe punishment."

My heart beat quickly. Leo turned towards me. "Defendant H., later you will have insight to your errors and you will also be shown how to avoid them in future. But just to show you what little understanding you still have of your position, I ask you: Do you remember your walk through the town accompanied by the servant Leo, who, as messenger, had to bring you before the High Throne? Yes, you remember.

And, do you remember how we passed the Town Hall, the Church of St. Paul and the Cathedral, and how the servant Leo entered the Cathedral in order to kneel and pray awhile, and how you not only refrained from entering with me to perform your devotions in accordance with the fourth precept of your League vow, but how you remained outside, impatient and bored, waiting for the end of the tedious ceremony which seemed so unnecessary to you, which was nothing more to you than a disagreeable test of your egoistic impatience? Yes, you remember. By your behavior at the Cathedral gate alone, you have already trampled on the fundamental requirements and customs of the League. You have slighted religion, you have been contemptuous towards a League brother, you have impatiently rejected an opportunity and invitation to prayer and meditations. These sins would be unforgivable were there not special extenuating circumstances in your case."

He had now struck home. Everything would now be said; there would be no more secondary issues, no more mere stupidities. He was more than right. He had struck at my heart.

"We do not want to count up all the defendant's errors," continued the President, "he is not going to be judged according to the letter, and we know that it only needed our reminder to awaken the defendant's conscience and make him a repentant self-accuser.

"Just the same, self-accuser H., I would advise you to bring some of your other acts before the judgment of your conscience. Must I remind you of the evening when you visited the servant Leo and wished to be recognized by him as a League brother, although this was impossible, for you had made yourself unrecognizable as a League brother? Must I remind you of things which you yourself said to the servant Leo? About the sale of your violin? About the dreadful, stupid, narrow, suicidal life which you have led for years?

"There is still one more thing, League brother H., about which I should not keep silent. It is quite possible that the servant Leo did you an injustice that evening. Let us suppose that he did. The servant Leo was perhaps too strict, perhaps too rational; perhaps he did not show enough forbearance and sympathy towards you and your circumstances. But there are higher authorities and more infallible judges than the servant Leo. What was the animal's judgment on you, defendant? Do you remember the dog Necker? Do you remember his rejection and condemnation of you? He is incorruptible, he does not take sides, he is not a League brother."

He paused. Yes, the Alsatian Necker! He had certainly rejected me and condemned me. I agreed. Judgment was already passed on me by the Alsatian, already by myself.

 "Self-accuser H.," began Leo again, and from the golden gleam of his robes and canopy his voice now rang out cool and bright and clear, like the voice of the commandant when he appears before Don Giovanni's door in the last Act. "Self-accuser H., you have listened to me. You have agreed with me. You have, we presume, already passed judgment on yourself?"

"Yes," I said in a soft voice, "yes."

"It is, we presume, an unfavorable judgment which you have passed on yourself?"

"Yes," I whispered.

Leo then rose from the throne and gently stretched out his arms.

"I now turn to you, my officials. You have heard and know how things have been with League Brother H. It is a lot that is not unfamiliar to you; many of you have had to experience it yourself. The defendant did not know until this hour, or could not really believe, that his apostasy and aberration were a test. For a long time he did not give in. He endured it for many years, knowing nothing about the League, remaining alone, and seeing everything in which he believed in ruins. Finally, he could no longer hide and contain himself. His suffering became too great, and you know that as soon as suffering becomes acute enough, one goes forward.

Brother H. was led to despair in his test, and despair is the result of each earnest attempt to understand and vindicate human life. Despair is the result of each earnest attempt to go through life with virtue, justice and understanding and to fulfill their requirements. Children live on one side of despair, the awakened on the other side. Defendant H. is no longer a child and is not yet fully awakened. He is still in the midst of despair. He will overcome it and thereby go through his second novitiate. We welcome him anew into the League, the meaning of which he no longer claims to understand. We give back to him his lost ring, which the servant Leo has kept for him."

The Speaker then brought the ring, kissed me on the cheek and placed the ring on my finger. Hardly had I looked at the ring, hardly had I felt its metallic coolness on my fingers, when a thousand things occurred to me, a thousand inconceivable acts of neglect. Above all, it occurred to me that the ring had four stones at equal distances apart, and that it was a rule of the League and part of the vow to turn the ring slowly on the finger at least once a day, and at each of the four stones to bring to mind one of the four basic precepts of the vow. I had not only lost the ring and had not once missed it, but during all those dreadful years I had also no longer repeated the four basic precepts or thought of them. Immediately, I tried to say them again inwardly. I had an idea what they were, they were still within me, they belonged to me as does a name which one will remember in a moment but at that particular moment cannot be recalled. No, it remained silent within me, I could not repeat the rules, I had forgotten the wording. I had forgotten the rules; for many years I had not repeated them, for many years I had not observed them and held them sacred -- and yet I had considered myself a loyal League brother.

The Speaker patted my arm kindly when he observed my dismay and deep shame. Then I heard the President speak again:

"Defendant and self-accuser H., you are acquitted, but I have to tell you that it is the duty of a brother who is acquitted in such a case to enter the ranks of the officials and occupy one of their seats as soon as he has passed a test of his faith and obedience. He has the option of choosing the test. Now, brother H., answer my questions!

"Are you prepared to tame a wild dog as a test of your faith?"

I drew back in horror.

"No, I could not do it," I cried, moving away.

"Are you prepared and willing to burn the League's archives immediately at our command, as our Speaker burns a portion of them now before your eyes?"

The Speaker stepped forward, plunging his hands into the well- arranged filing-cabinets, drew out both hands full of papers, many hundreds of papers, and to my horror burnt them over a coal-pan.

"No," I said, drawing back, "I could not do that either."

"Cave, frater," cried the President. "Take heed, impetuous brother! I have begun with the easiest tasks which require the smallest amount of faith. Each succeeding task will be increasingly difficult. Answer me: are you prepared and willing to consult our archives about yourself?"

I went cold and held my breath, but I had understood. Each question would become more and more difficult; there was no escape except into what was still worse. Breathing deeply, I stood up and said yes.

The Speaker led me to the tables where the hundreds of filing- cabinets stood. I looked for and found the letter H. I found my name and, indeed, first of all that of my ancestor, Eoban, who, four hundred years ago, had also been a member of the League. Then there was my own name, with the comment:

Chattorum r. gest. XC.

civ. Calv. infid. 49.

The sheet shook in my hand. Meanwhile, the officials rose from their seats one after the other, held out their hands to me, looked me straight in the face, then went away. The High Throne was vacated and, last of all, the President descended the throne, held out his hand to me, looked me in the face, smiled his pious, kind bishop's smile and left the hall last of all. I remained there alone, the note in my hand to refer to the archives for information.

 I could not immediately bring myself to take the step of consulting the archives about myself. I stood hesitating in the empty hall and saw extending for a long way the boxes, cupboards, pigeon-holes and cabinets, the accumulation of all the worth-while knowledge to which I could ever gain access.

Yet, as much from fear of seeing my own record sheet as from a burning desire for knowledge, I allowed my own affairs to wait a little in order to learn first about one thing and another which was important to me and my story of the Journey to the East. To be sure, I had long really known that my story had already been condemned and disposed of and that I should never finish writing it. Just the same, I was curious.

I noticed a badly-filed memorandum projecting from amongst the others in one of the filing cabinets. I went towards it and drew out the memorandum on which was written:

Morbio Inferiore.[2]

No other catch-word could have expressed the extent of my curiosity more briefly and accurately. With my heart beating quickly, I looked up the place in the archives. It was a section of the archives which contained a rather large number of papers. On the top lay a copy of a description of the Morbio Gorge taken from an old Italian book, then there was a quarto sheet with short notes on the part which Morbio had played in the history of the League. All the notes referred to the Journey to the East and indeed to the base and group to which I had belonged. Our group, it was recorded here, had arrived at Morbio on its journey. There it was submitted to a test which it did not pass, namely, the disappearance of Leo.

Although the League's rules should have guided us, and although even in the event of a League group remaining without a leader, the precepts held good and had been inculcated in us at the beginning of the journey, yet from the moment our whole group discovered the disappearance of Leo it had lost its head and faith, had entertained doubts and entered into futile arguments. In the end, the whole group, contrary to the spirit of the League, had broken up into factions and disbanded. This explanation of the disaster of Morbio could no longer surprise me much.

On the other hand, I was extremely surprised at what I read further on about the breaking-up of our group, namely, that no less than three of our League brothers had made an attempt to write an account of our journey and had given a description of the events at Morbio. I was one of these three and a fair copy of my manuscript was included in the section. I read through the two others with the strangest feelings.

Basically, both writers described the events of that day not very differently from the way I had done, and yet how different they seemed to me! I read in one of them:

It was the absence of the servant Leo which revealed to us, suddenly and terribly, the extent of the dissention and the perplexities which shattered our hitherto apparent complete unity. A few of us, to be sure, immediately knew or suspected that Leo had neither come to any harm nor run away, but that he had secretly been recalled by the League's officials.

Yet not one of us can contemplate without feelings of deepest repentance and shame how badly we underwent this test. Hardly had Leo left us, when faith and concord amongst us was at an end; it was as if the life-blood of our group flowed away from an invisible wound. First there were differences of opinion, then open quarrels about the most futile and ridiculous questions. For example, I remember that our very popular and praiseworthy choirmaster H.H. suddenly maintained that the missing Leo had also taken in his bag, along with other valuable objects, the ancient sacred document, the original manuscript of the Master. This statement was heatedly disputed for days.

Treated symbolically, H.'s absurd assertion was really remarkably significant; indeed, it did seem as if the prosperity of the League, the cohesion of the whole, was completely gone with Leo's departure from our little group. The very same musician H. was a sad example of this. Until the day of Morbio Inferiore he was one of the most loyal and faithful League brothers, as well as popular as an artist, and, despite many weaknesses of character, he was one of our most active members. But he relapsed into brooding, depression and mistrust, became more than negligent in his duties, and began to be intolerant, nervous and quarrelsome.

As he finally remained behind on the march one day and did not appear again, it did not to anyone to stop on his behalf and look for him; it was evidently a case of desertion. Unfortunately, he was not the only one, and finally nothing was left of our little traveling group….

I found this passage in the other historian's work:

Just as ancient Rome collapsed after Caesar's death, or democratic thought throughout the world on Wilson's desertion of the colors, so did our League break up on the unhappy day of Morbio. As far as blame and responsibility can be mentioned, two apparently harmless members were to blame for the collapse, the musician H.H. and Leo, one of the servants. These two men were previously popular and faithful members of the League, although lacking in understanding of its significance in world history. They disappeared one day without leaving any trace, taking with them many valuable possessions and important documents, which indicates that both wretches were bribed by enemies of the League. . .

If the memory of this historian was so very confused and inaccurate, although he apparently made the report in all good faith and with the conviction of its complete veracity — what was the value of my own notes? If ten other accounts by other authors were found about Morbio, Leo and myself, they would presumably all contradict and censure each other. No, our historical efforts were of no use; there was no point in continuing with them and reading them; one could quietly let them be covered with dust in this section of the archives.

A shudder went through me at the thought of what I should still learn in this hour. How awry, altered and distorted everything and everyone was in these mirrors, how mockingly and unattainably did the face of truth hide itself behind all these reports, counter-reports and legends! What was still truth? What was still credible? And what would remain when I also learned about myself, about my own character and history from the knowledge stored in these archives?

I must be prepared for anything. Suddenly I could bear the uncertainty and suspense no longer. I hastened to the section Chattorum res gestae, looked for my sub-division and number and stood in front of the part marked with my name. This was a niche, and when I drew the thin curtains aside I saw that it contained nothing written. It contained nothing but a figure, an old and worn-looking model made from wood or wax, in pale colors. It appeared to be a kind of deity or barbaric idol. At first glance it was entirely incomprehensible to me. It was a figure that really consisted of two; it had a common back. I stared at it for a while, disappointed and surprised. Then I noticed a candle in a metal candlestick fixed to the wall of the niche. A match-box lay there. I lit the candle and the strange double figure was now brightly illuminated.

Only slowly did it dawn upon me. Only slowly and gradually did I begin to suspect and then perceive what it was intended to represent. It represented a figure which was myself, and this likeness of myself was unpleasantly weak and half-real; it had blurred features, and in its whole expression there was something unstable, weak, dying or wishing to die, and looked rather like a piece of sculpture which could be called "Transitoriness" or "Decay," or something similar.

On the other hand, the other figure which was joined to mine to make one, was strong in color and form, and just as I began to realize whom it resembled, namely, the servant and President Leo, I discovered a second candle in the wall and lit this also. I now saw the double figure representing Leo and myself, not only becoming clearer and each image more alike, but I also saw that the surface of the figures was transparent and that one could look inside as one can look through the glass of a bottle or vase.

Inside the figures I saw something moving, slowly, extremely slowly, in the same way that a snake moves which has fallen asleep. Something was taking place there, something like a very slow, smooth but continuous flowing or melting; indeed, something melted or poured across from my image to that of Leo's. I perceived that my image was in the process of adding to and flowing into Leo's, nourishing and strengthening it. It seemed that, in time, all the substance from one image would flow into the other and only one would remain: Leo. He must grow, I must disappear.

As I stood there and looked and tried to understand what I saw, I recalled a short conversation that I had once had with Leo during the festive days at Bremgarten. We had talked about the creations of poetry being more vivid and real than the poets themselves.

The candles burned low and went out. I was overcome by an infinite weariness and desire to sleep, and I turned away to find a place where I could lie down and sleep.

[1] Clover.

[2] A municipality in the canton of Ticino in Switzerland in the hills above Chiasso.

 

 

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