This story – in deference to Hermann Hesse – was originally published in alongstoryshort e-zine.
The path leading up to the Amalec peak began near the hotel where the old poet had been staying with his wife. Steep even at its lowest point, it opened into a semicircle on its climb toward the forest, studded with pines. Daily since their arrival the man of letters had taken a walk at the warmest part of the afternoon. Most days he tested himself on the path to Amalec though more often than not he advanced no further than a meadow one hundred and fifty metres above the hotel.
He had commemorated his seventieth birthday the previous July. His white hair notwithstanding, he took a measure of pride in the leanness of his frame and the fact that he immersed himself in the elements every single day unless the sciatica that had plagued him most of his adult life proved too painful.
He ventured outdoors again on the penultimate day of his and Lena’s sojourn at the locale they had been content to visit on multiple occasions during their declining years. En route he passed by stalls closed for business in the heat of the day. Their clear canvas coverings called to mind those he had seen at camps in the same area as well as depictions encountered long ago in an illustrated edition of the Bible. At innumerable sites nearby he had spent hours resting, sketching and writing.
Cloud masses hovered atop the snow-capped peaks in the distance, visible against a backdrop of tenuous blue. Sometimes, as though on a caprice, they lingered in weightless repose. At other times they drifted east, at the behest of wind gusts scarcely noticeable lower down.
Mopping perspiration from his brow with a white handkerchief, he searched for a suitable place. All around, amidst the sun and shade at the edge of the forest, visitors idled away the afternoon, sleeping, reading or chatting, many of them partly or completely naked. A succession of hollows behind the path offered nooks within which people could rest without being seen, much less disturbed by passers-by.
The poet found his niche amongst a cluster of small rocks. He put down his rubber-tipped cane and reclined on the grass, the weight of his upper body balanced upon one bent arm. Here, alone, he felt that the shade of the forest, the meadow and a vista of huts or shacks down below belonged to him and no one else. The sweep of his gaze encompassed the Lauterbrunnen valley wrapped in mist. How vast the space that separated the valley from the perennial snow atop the stupendous mountains.
After a moment he recaptured his breath. Then, with a deliberate, slow movement he opened a small folder. The clothbound item, the work of Rudolf Mosse, had been a constant companion on his peregrinations over a period of decades. It showed little wear and tear despite its age.
He opened the folder and commenced drawing with a fountain pen. He traced the outline of a garden wall, inserting in the background a wooden hut in the Bernese style standing in the shade of two maple trees. Next – further in the background – he sketched the steep incline at the foot of the mountain as well as its crowning glory: a sharp pointed peak. Behind this anfractuous apex stood the Jungfrau silhouette, the line of which ran off his page and remained a mere suggestion.
After a while the effort and concentration required by the sketch left a burning sensation in the eyes of the aging man. He lay flat on the ground to rest and did not move until he made out the hullabaloo of youthful voices down below. A group of children with rucksacks affixed to their narrow shoulders strode into view. He listened to their Bernese-tinged German and then beheld them at close enough quarters to confidently estimate their ages at between fourteen and sixteen.
Perspiration glowed on their faces and the bedraggled state of their uniforms testified to the length and arduousness of the hike they had embarked on. But they showed no great haste. The last one of the group insisted on making a detour that brought him and several of the others to an opening above the point where the poet reclined. They wiped the sweat from their brows and seated themselves on the grass.
Taking food, they gazed all around. Little by little their conversation waned until one of the boys broke the silence with a recitation. From time to time his recall became hazy and his efforts bogged down for an instant. The poet pricked up his ears when he heard familiar words.
He recognised not only the singsong cadence but also the words of a piece he penned when scarcely older than the one who spoke it back to him now. The poem celebrated the beauties of nature – clouds and mountains – but had been forgotten by the author in the fifty years that had elapsed since its creation.
The boy continued in the same harmonious if solemn tone. His companions heard him out in a respectful silence. Finally, he came to the last line: I hope you, beloved mountain, remember me in your dreaming. At least a minute passed before the poet turned and gazed in the direction of the group. By then, they had disappeared from view and progressed up the mountain. He remained in the same place, marvelling at how his words had returned to him through the mouth of an unknown schoolboy.