JOURNEY TO THE EAST
Now everything seems different again, and I do not yet know whether it has helped me in my problem or not. But I have had an experience, something has happened to me which I never expected-or no, did I not really expect it, did I not anticipate, hope for and really fear it? Yes, I did. Yet it remains strange and improbable enough.
I went to Seilergraben frequently, twenty times or more, at what I thought were favorable times, and often wandered past No. 69a, always with the thought, "I shall try once more, and if there is nothing in it I shall not come again." Yet I went again and again, and the day before yesterday my wish was fulfilled. Oh, and what a fulfillment it was.
As I approached the house of which I now knew every crack and fissure in its grey-green plaster, I heard the tune whistled of a little song or dance, a popular tune, coming from the upper window. I did not know anything yet, but I listened. The tune stirred my memory and some dormant recollections came to the fore. The music was banal but the whistling was wonderfully sweet, with soft and pleasing notes, unusually pure, as happy and as natural as the songs of birds. I stood and listened, enchanted, and at the same time strangely moved without, however, having any kind of accompanying thoughts. Or if I did, it was perhaps that it must be a very happy and amiable man who could whistle like that. For several minutes I stood there rooted to the spot and listened. An old man with a sick, sunken face went by. He saw me standing and listened too, just for a moment, then smiled at me with understanding as he went on. His beautiful, far-seeing old man's look seemed to say: "You stay there, one does not hear whistling like that every day." The old man's glance cheered me. I was sorry when he went past. At the same moment, however, I immediately realized that this whistling was the fulfillment of all my wishes, that the whistler must be Leo.
It was growing dark but there was still no light in any window. The tune, with its simple variations, was finished. There was silence. "He will now make a light up there," I thought, but everything remained in darkness. Then I heard a door being opened upstairs and soon I also heard footsteps on the stairs. The door of the house was opened and someone came out, and his walk was like his whistling, light and jolly, but steady, healthy and youthful. It was a very slim, hatless man, not very tall, who walked there, and now my feelings was changed to certainty. It was Leo; not only the Leo from the directory, it was Leo himself, our dear traveling companion and servant Leo, whose disappearance ten or more years ago had brought us so much sadness and confusion. I nearly addressed him in the moment of my initial joy and surprise. Then I only just remembered that I had also often heard him whistling during the Journey to the East. They were the same strains of previous times, and yet how strangely different they sounded to me! A feeling of sadness came over me like a stab in the heart: oh, how different everything had become since then, the sky, the air, the seasons, dreams, sleep, day and night! How greatly and terribly everything had changed for me when, through memory of the past alone, a whistle and the rhythm of a known step could affect me so deeply and give me so much pleasure and pain!
The man went close by me, his bare head, supple and serene on his bare neck, appeared above his blue open-neck shirt. The figure moved easily and gaily along the darkening lane, hardly audible in thin sandals or gym shoes. I followed him without any particular intention. How could I help but follow him! He walked down the lane, and although his step was light, effortless and youthful, it was also in keeping with the evening; it was of the same quality as the twilight, it was friendly and at one with the hour, with the subdued sounds from the center of the town, with the half-light of the first lamps which were just beginning to appear.
He turned into the small park at St. Paul's Gate, disappeared amongst the tall round bushes, and I hurried so that I should not lose him. There he was again; he was sauntering slowly alongside the lilac bushes and the acacia. The path divided into two through the little wood. There were a couple of benches at the edge of the sward. Here under the trees it was already dark. Leo went past the first bench; a pair of lovers were sitting on it. The next bench was empty. He sat down, leaned against the bench, pressed his head back and for a time looked up at the foliage and the clouds. Then he took a small round white metal box out of his coat pocket, put it by his side on the bench, unscrewed the lid and slowly began to take something out of the box which he put into his mouth and ate with enjoyment. Meantime I walked to and from the entrance to the wood; I then went up to his bench and sat down at the other end. He looked up, gazed at me with clear grey eyes and went on eating. He was eating dried fruits, a few prunes and half apricots. He took them one after the other between two fingers, pressed and fingered each one a little, put them in his mouth and chewed them for a long time with enjoyment. It took a long time before he came to the last one and ate it. He then closed the box again and put it away, leaned back and stretched out his legs. I now saw that his cloth shoes had soles of plaited rope.
"It will rain tonight," he said suddenly, I knew not whether to me or to himself.
"Yes, it looks like it," I said, somewhat embarrassed, for as he had not yet recognized my figure and walk, it was possible and I was almost certain that he would now recognize me by my voice.
But no, he did not recognize me at all, not even by my voice, and although that had been my first wish, it nevertheless gave me a feeling of great disappointment. He did not recognize me. While he had remained the same after ten years and had apparently not aged at all, it was quite different with me, sadly different.
"You whistle very well," I said. "I heard you earlier on in Seilergraben. It gave me very much pleasure. I used to be a musician."
"Oh, were you!" he said in a friendly manner. "It's a great profession. Have you given it up?"
"Yes, for the time being. I have even sold my violin."
"Have you? What a pity! Are you in difficulties-that is to say, are you hungry? There is still some food at my house. I also have a little money in my purse."
"Oh, no," I said quickly, "I did not mean that. I am in quite good circumstances. I have more than I need. But thank you very much; it was very kind of you to make the offer. One does not often meet such kind people."
"Don't you think so? Well, maybe! People are often very strange. You are a strange person, too."
"Am I? Why?"
"Well, because you have enough money and yet you sell your violin. Don't you like music any more?"
"Oh, yes, but sometimes a man no longer finds pleasure in something he previously loved. Sometimes a man sells his violin or throws it against the wall, or a painter burns all his pictures. Have you never heard of such a thing?"
"Oh, yes. That comes from despair. It does happen. I even knew two people who committed suicide. Such people are stupid and can be dangerous. One just cannot help some people. But what do you do now that you no longer have your violin?"
"Oh, this, that and the other. I do not really do much. I am no longer young and I am also often ill. But why do you keep on talking about this violin? It is not really so important."
"The violin? It made me think of King David."
"King David? What has he to do with it?"
"He was also a musician. When he was quite young he used to play for King Saul and sometimes dispelled his bad moods with music. Later he became a king himself, a great king full of cares, having all sorts of moods and vexations. He wore a crown and conducted wars and all that kind of thing, and he also did many really wicked things and became very famous. But when I think of his life, the most beautiful part of it all is about the young David with his harp playing music to poor Saul, and it seems a pity to me that he later became a king. He was a much happier and better person when he was a musician.
"Of course he was!" I cried rather passionately. "Of course, he was younger then and more handsome and happier. But one does not always remain young; your David would in time have grown older and uglier and would have been full of cares even if he had remained a musician. So he became the great David, performed his deeds and composed his psalms. Life is not just a game!"
Leo then rose and bowed. "It is growing dark," he said, "and it will rain soon. I do not know a great deal more about the deeds that David performed, and whether they were really great. To be quite frank, I do not know very much more about his psalms either, but I should not like to say anything against them. But no account of David can prove to me that life is not just a game. That is just what life is when it is beautiful and happy-a game! Naturally, one can also do all kinds of other things with it, make a duty of it, or a battleground, or a prison, but that does not make it any prettier. Good-bye, pleased to have met you!"
This strange, lovable man began to move away in his light, steady and pleasing gait, and was on the point of disappearing when all my restraint and self-control broke down. I ran after him in despair and cried imploringly, "Leo! Leo! You are Leo, aren't you? Do you not know me any more? We were League brothers together and should still be so. We were both travelers on the Journey to the East. Have you really forgotten me, Leo? Do you really no longer remember the Crown Watchers, Klingsor and Goldmund, the Festival in Bremgarten and the gorge at Morbio Inferiore? Leo, have pity on me!"
He did not run away as I had feared but he also did not turn round; he walked steadily on as if he had heard nothing but gave me time to catch up to him, and did not seem to object to my joining him.
"You are so troubled and hasty," he said kindly, "that is not a good thing. It distorts the face and makes one ill. We shall walk quite slowly-it is so soothing. The few drops of rain are wonderful, aren't they? They come from the air like Eau de Cologne."
"Leo," I pleaded, "have pity! Tell me just one thing; do you know me yet?"
"Ah," he said kindly, and went on speaking as if to a sick or drunken man, "you will be better now; it was only excitement. You ask if I know you. Well, what person really knows another or even himself? As for me, I am not one who understands people at all. I am not interested in them. Now, I understand dogs quite well, and also birds and cats-but I don't really know you, sir."
"But do you not belong to the League? Did you not come on the journey with us?"
"I am still on the journey, sir, and I still belong to the League. So many come and go; one knows people and yet does not know them. It is much easier with dogs. Wait, stay here a moment!"
He raised a warning finger. We stood on the darkening garden-path which was becoming increasingly enveloped in a thin descending dampness. Leo pursed up his lips and sent out a long, vibrating, soft whistle, waited a while and whistled again. I drew back a little as, suddenly, close to us, behind the trellis-work railing at which we stood, a large Alsatian dog jumped out of the bushes and, whining with pleasure, pressed close to the fence in order to be stroked by Leo's fingers between the bars and wires. The powerful animal's eyes gleamed a light green, and whenever his glance alighted on me he growled deep down in his throat. It was like distant thunder, hardly audible.
"This is the Alsatian dog, Necker," said Leo, introducing me. "We are very good friends. Necker, here is a former violinist. You must not do anything to him, not even bark at him."
We stood there, and Leo gently scratched the dog's damp coat through the railing. It really was a pretty scene; it pleased me very much to see how friendly he was with the dog and the pleasure that this nocturnal greeting gave him. At the same time, it was painful to me and seemed hardly bearable that Leo should be so friendly with this Alsatian, and probably with many, perhaps with all the dogs in the district, while a world of aloofness separated him from me. The friendship and intimacy which I beseechingly and humbly sought seemed not only to belong to this dog Necker, but every animal, to every raindrop, to every spot of ground on which Leo trod. He seemed to dedicate himself steadfastly and to rest continually in an easy, balanced relationship with his surroundings, knowing all things, known and beloved by all. Only with me, who loved and needed him so much, was there no contact, only from me did he dissociate himself; he regarded me in an unfriendly and cool fashion, was distant with me and had erased me from his memory.
We walked slowly on. On the other side of the railing the Alsatian accompanied him, making soft, contented sounds of affection and pleasure, but without forgetting my undesirable presence, for several times he suppressed his growling tone of defence and hostility for Leo's sake.
"Forgive me," I began again, "I am attaching myself to you and taking up your time. Naturally, you want to go home and go to bed.'"
"Not at all," he said with a smile. "I do not mind strolling along throughout the night like this. I am not lacking in either the time or the desire if it is not too much for you."
He said this in a very friendly manner and certainly without reservation. But he had hardly uttered the words when I suddenly felt in my head and in every muscle of my body how terribly tired I was, and how fatiguing every step of this futile and embarrassing nocturnal wandering was to me.
"I am really very tired," I said dejectedly, "I have only just realized it. There is also no sense in wandering about all night in the rain and being a nuisance to other people."
"As you wish," he said politely.
"Oh, Mr. Leo, you did not talk to me like that during the League's Journey to the East. Have you really forgotten all about it? Oh, well, it is no use. Do not let me keep you any longer. Good-night."
He disappeared quickly into the dark night. I remained alone, foolish, with my head bent. I had lost the game. He did not know me; he did not want to know me; he made fun of me.
I went back along the path; the dog Necker barked angrily behind the railing. I shivered from weariness, grief and loneliness in the damp warmth of the summer night.
I had experienced similar hours in the past. During such periods of despair it seemed to me as if I, a lost pilgrim, had reached the extreme edge of the world, and there was nothing left for me to do but to satisfy my last desire: to let myself fall from the edge of the world into the void--to death. In the course of time this despair returned many times; the compelling suicidal impulse, however, had been diverted and had almost vanished. Death was no longer nothingness, a void, negation. It had also become many other things to me. I now accepted the hours of despair as one accepts acute physical pain; one endures it, complainingly or defiantly; one feels it swell and increase, and sometimes there is a raging or mocking curiosity as to how much further it can go, to what extent the pain can still increase.
All the disgust for my disillusioned life which, since my return from the unsuccessful journey to the East, had become increasingly worthless and spiritless, all disbelief in myself and my abilities, all envious and regretful longing for the good and great times which I had once experienced, grew like a pain within me, grew as high as a tree, like a mountain, tugged at me, and was all related to the former task that I had begun, to the account of the Journey to the East and the League. It now seemed to me that even its accomplishment was no longer desirable or worthwhile. Only one hope still seemed worthwhile to me--to cleanse and redeem myself to some extent through my work, through my service to the memory of that great time, to bring myself once again into contact with the League and its experiences.
When I reached home I turned on the light, sat down at my desk in my wet clothes, my hat on my head, and wrote a letter. I wrote ten, twelve, twenty pages of grievances, remorse and entreaty to Leo. I described my need to him, conjured up images of our common experiences, of our former mutual friends. I bewailed the endless extreme difficulties which had shattered my noble enterprise. The weariness of the moment had disappeared; excited, I sat there and wrote. Despite all difficulties, I wrote, I would endure the worst possible thing rather than divulge a single secret of the League. Despite everything, I would not fail to complete my work in memory of the Journey to the East, in glorification of the League. As if in a fever, I covered page after page with hastily written words. The grievances, indictments and self-accusations tumbled from me like water from a breaking jug, without reflection, without faith, without hope of reply, only with the desire to unburden myself. While it was yet night I took the thick, confused letter to the nearest letter-box. Then, at last, it was nearly morning. I turned out the light, went to the small attic-bedroom next to my living-room and went to bed. I fell asleep immediately and slept very deeply and for a long time.