Read Narcissus and Goldmund Online

Authors: Hermann Hesse

Narcissus and Goldmund (6 page)

He panted, pushing his breath away from him. Like a person who has been poisoned, he was bursting with the feeling that he had to free himself of something deadly, deep inside him. With the movements of a swimmer he rushed from his room, fled unconsciously to the quietest, loneliest parts of the cloister, through passages, down stairways and out into the open. He had wandered into the innermost refuge of the cloister, into the court of the cross. The sky stretched clear and sunny over the few bright flower beds; the scent of roses drifted through the cool stony air in sweet hesitant threads.

Without knowing it, Narcissus had accomplished his long-desired aim: he had named the demon by which his friend was possessed; he had called it out into the open. One of his many words had touched the secret in Goldmund's heart, which had reared up in furious pain. For a long time Narcissus wandered through the cloister, looking for his friend, but he could not find him.

Goldmund was standing under one of the massive stone arches that led from the passageway out into the little cloister garden; on each column three animal heads, the stone-carved heads of dogs and wolves, glared down at him. Pain was raging inside him, pushing, finding no way toward the light, toward reason. Deathly fear clutched at his throat, knotted his stomach. Mechanically he looked up, saw the animal heads on the capital of one of the columns, and began to feel that those three monstrous heads were squatting, glaring, barking inside him.

“I'm going to die any moment,” he felt with terror. “I'll lose my mind and those animal snouts will devour me.”

His body twitched; he sank down at the foot of the column. The pain was too great; he had reached the limit. He fainted; he drowned in longed-for oblivion.

*   *   *

It had been a rather unsatisfactory day for Abbot Daniel. Two of the older monks had come to him, foaming with excitement, full of accusations, bringing up petty old jealousies, squabbling furiously. He had listened to them altogether too long, had unsuccessfully admonished them, and dismissed them severely with rather heavy penances. With a feeling of futility in his heart, he had withdrawn for prayer in the lower chapel, prayed, and stood up again, unrefreshed. Now he stepped out into the court a moment for some air, attracted by the smell of roses. There he found the pupil Goldmund lying in a faint on the stones. He looked at him with sadness, frightened by the pallor and remoteness of the usually winsome face. It had not been a good day, and now this to top it all! He tried to lift the young man, but was not up to the effort. With a deep sigh the old man walked away to call two younger brothers to carry Goldmund upstairs and to send Father Anselm to him, the cloister physician. He also sent for Brother Narcissus, who soon appeared before him.

“Have you heard?” he asked.

“About Goldmund? Yes, gentle father, I just heard that he has been taken ill or has had an accident and has been carried in.”

“Yes, I found him lying in the inner court, where actually he had no business to be. It was not an accident that he fainted. I don't like this. It would seem to me that you are somehow connected with it, or at least know of it, since you are so intimate. That is why I have called you. Speak.”

With his usual control of bearing and speech, Narcissus gave a brief account of his conversation with Goldmund and of its surprisingly violent effect on him. The Abbot shook his head, not without ill humor.

“Those are strange conversations,” he said, forcing himself to remain calm. “What you have just described to me is a conversation that might be called interference with another soul, what I might call a confessor's conversation. But you're not Goldmund's confessor. You are no one's confessor; you have not been ordained. How is it that you discussed matters with a pupil, in the tone of an adviser, that concern no one but his confessor? As you can see, the consequences have been harmful.”

“The consequences,” Narcissus said in a mild but firm voice, “are not yet known to us, gentle father. I was somewhat frightened by the violence of his reaction, but I have no doubt that the consequences of our conversation will be good for Goldmund.”

“We shall see. I am not speaking of the consequences now, I am speaking of your action. What prompted you to have such conversations with Goldmund?”

“As you know, he is my friend. I have a special fondness for him and I believe that I understand him particularly well. You say that I acted toward him like a confessor. In no way have I assumed any religious authority; I merely thought that I knew him a little better than he knows himself.”

The Abbot shrugged.

“I know, that is your métier. Let us hope that you did not cause any harm with it. But is Goldmund ill? I mean, is anything wrong with him? Does he feel weak? Has he been sleeping poorly? Does he eat badly? Has he some kind of pain?”

“No, until today he's been healthy. In his body, that is.”

“And otherwise?”

“His soul is ailing. As you know, he is at an age when struggles with sex begin.”

“I know. He is seventeen?”

“He is eighteen.”

“Eighteen. Well, yes, that is late enough. But these struggles are natural; everybody goes through them. That is no reason to say that he is ailing in his soul.”

“No, gentle father. That is not the only reason. But Goldmund's soul has been ailing for a long time; that is why these struggles hold more danger for him than for others. I believe that he suffers because he has forgotten a part of his past.”

“Ah? And what part is that?”

“His mother, and everything connected with her. I don't know anything about her, either. I merely know that there must lie the source of his illness. Because Goldmund knows nothing of his mother apparently, except that he lost her at an early age. I have the impression that he seems ashamed of her. And yet it must be from her that he inherited most of his gifts, because his description of his father does not make him seem a man who would have such a winsome, talented, original son. Nothing of this has been told me; I deduced it from signs.”

At first the Abbot had smiled slightly at this precocious, arrogant-sounding speech; the whole matter was a troublesome chore to him. Now he began to think. He remembered Goldmund's father as a somewhat brittle, distrustful man; now, as he searched his memory, he suddenly remembered a few words the father had, at that time, uttered about Goldmund's mother. He had said that she had brought shame upon him and run away, and that he had tried to suppress the mother's memory in his young son, as well as any vices he might have inherited from her. And that he had most probably succeeded, because the boy was willing to offer his life up to God, in atonement for his mother's sins.

Never had Narcissus pleased the Abbot less than today. And yet—how well this thinker had guessed; how well he really did seem to know Goldmund.

He asked a final question about the day's occurrences, and Narcissus said: “I had not intended to upset Goldmund so violently. I reminded him that he does not know himself, that he had forgotten his childhood and his mother. Something I said must have struck him and penetrated the darkness I have been fighting so long. He seemed beside himself; he looked at me as though he no longer knew himself or me. I have often told him that he was asleep, that he was not really awake. Now he has been awakened. I have no doubt about that.”

He was dismissed, without a scolding but with an admonition not to visit the sick boy for the time being.

Meanwhile Father Anselm had ordered the boy put to bed and was sitting beside him. He had not deemed it advisable to shock him back into consciousness by violent means. The boy looked altogether too sick. Out of his kind, wrinkled face, the old man looked fondly upon the adolescent. Meanwhile he checked his pulse and heartbeat. The boy must have eaten something impossible, a bunch of sorrel, or something equally silly; that kind of thing happened sometimes. The boy's mouth was closed, so he couldn't check his tongue. He was fond of Goldmund but had little use for his friend, that precocious, overly young teacher. Now it had come to this. Brother Narcissus surely had something to do with this stupid mishap. Why had this charming, clear-eyed youngster, this dear child of nature, picked the arrogant scholar, the vain grammarian, who valued his Greek more highly than all living creatures of this world!

When the door opened much later, and the Abbot came in, Father Anselm was still sitting beside the bed, staring into the boy's face. What a dear, trusting young face this was, and all one could do was to sit beside it, wishing, but probably unable, to help. It might all be due to a colic, of course; he would prescribe hot wine, perhaps some rhubarb. But the longer he looked into the greenish-pale, distorted face, the more his suspicions leaned toward another cause, a much more serious one. Father Anselm was experienced. More than once, in the course of his long life, he had seen men who were possessed. He hesitated to formulate this suspicion even to himself. He would wait and observe. But if this poor boy had really been hexed, he thought grimly, we probably won't have to look far for the culprit, and he shall not have an easy time of it.

The Abbot stepped up to the bed, bent over the sick boy, and gently drew back one of the eyelids.

“Can he be roused?” he asked.

“I'd rather wait a bit longer. His heart is sound. We must not let anyone in to see him.”

“Is he in danger?”

“I don't think so. There aren't any wounds, no trace of a blow or fall. He is unconscious because of a colic, perhaps. Extreme pain can cause loss of consciousness. If he had been poisoned, he'd be running a fever. No, he'll come to and go on living.”

“Do you think it could be his soul?”

“I wouldn't rule that out. Do we know anything? Has he had a shock perhaps? News of someone's death? A violent dispute, an insult? That would certainly explain it.”

“We know of nothing. Make sure that no one is allowed to see him. Please stay with him until he comes to. If anything should go wrong, call me, even if it's in the middle of the night.”

Before leaving, the old man bent once more over the sick boy. He thought of the boy's father, of the day this charming blond head had been brought to him, how everyone had taken to him from the start. He, too, had been glad to see him in the cloister. But Narcissus was certainly right in one respect: nothing in the boy recalled his father. Ah, how much worry there was everywhere, how insufficient all our striving! Had he perhaps been neglectful of this poor boy? Was it right that no one in the house knew this pupil as thoroughly as Narcissus? How could he be helped by someone who was still a novice, who had not yet been consecrated, who was not yet a monk, and whose thoughts and ideas all had something unpleasantly superior about them, something almost hostile? God alone knew whether Narcissus too had not been handled wrongly all this time? Was he concealing something evil behind his mask of obedience, hedonism perhaps? Whatever these two young men would some day become would be partly his responsibility.

It was dark when Goldmund came to. His head felt empty, dizzy. He knew that he was lying in bed, but not where. He didn't think about that; it didn't matter. But where had he been? From what strange land of experience had he returned? He had been to some far-away place. He had seen something there, something extraordinary, something sublime, but also frightful, and unforgettable—and yet he had forgotten it. Where had it been? What was it that had appeared to him, huge, painful, blissful? That had vanished again?

He listened deeply inside him, to that place from which something had erupted today, where something had happened—what had it been? Wild tangles of images rose before him, he saw dogs' heads, the heads of three dogs, and he sniffed the scent of roses. The pain he had felt! He closed his eyes. The dreadful pain he had felt! Again he fell asleep.

As he awoke from the rapidly vanishing dream world that was sliding away from him, he saw it. He rediscovered the image, and trembled with pain and joy. His eyes had been opened: he saw Her. He saw the tall, radiant woman with the full mouth and glowing hair—his mother. And at the same time he thought he heard a voice: “You have forgotten your childhood.” But whose voice was that? He listened, thought, found it. Narcissus's voice. Narcissus? In a flash everything came back: he remembered. O mother, mother! Mountains of rubbish collapsed, oceans of forgetfulness vanished. The lost woman, the indescribably beloved, was again looking at him with her regal light-blue eyes.

Father Anselm had dozed off in the armchair beside the bed; he awoke. He heard the sick boy stir, he heard him breathe. Gently he stood up.

“Is someone in the room?” Goldmund asked.

“It is I, have no fear. I'll put the light on.”

He lighted the lamp, its glow fell over his well-meaning, wrinkled face.

“But am I ill?” asked the boy.

“You fainted, son. Hold out your hand, let's take a look at your pulse. How do you feel?”

“Fine. Thank you, Father Anselm, you're very kind. Nothing's wrong with me now. I'm just tired.”

“I bet you are. And you'll go right back to sleep. But first you'll have a sip of hot wine; it's all made and ready. Let's drain a mug together, my boy, to good fellowship.”

He had kept a small pitcher of hot wine in readiness.

“So we both had a nice nap,” laughed the physician. “A fine night nurse, huh, who can't keep awake. Well, we're all human. Now we'll take a sip of this magic potion, my boy. Nothing's more pleasant than a little secret drinking in the middle of the night.

Goldmund laughed, clinked cups, and tasted the warm wine. It was spiced with cinnamon and cloves and sweetened; he had never tasted such a drink before. He remembered his previous illness, when Narcissus had taken care of him. Now it was Father Anselm who was caring for him. It was all so pleasant and strange to be lying there in the lamplight, drinking a mug of sweet warm wine with the old father in the middle of the night.

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