The path of later-on and the road of tomorrow lead only to
the castle of nothing-at-all.
By the wayside, many-coloured flowers delight the eye, red berries gleam
on small trees with knotty branches, and in the distance a brilliant
sun shines gold upon the ripe corn.
A young traveller is walking briskly along, happily breathing in the
pure morning air; he seems joyful, without a care for the future. The
way he is following comes to a cross-roads, where innumerable paths
branch off in all directions.
Everywhere the young man can see criss-crossing foot-prints. The sun
shines ever bright in the sky; the birds are singing in the trees; the
day promises to be very beautiful. Without thinking, the traveller takes
the path that is nearest to him, which seems, after all, quite practicable;
it occurs to him for a moment that he could have chosen another way;
but there will always be time to retrace his steps if the path he has
taken leads nowhere. A voice seems to tell him, Turn back, turn
back, you are not on the right road. But everything around him
is charming and delightful. What should he do? He does not know. He
goes on without taking any decision; he enjoys the pleasures of the
moment. In a little while, he replies to the voice, in
a little while I shall think; I have plenty of time. The wild
grasses around him whisper in his ear, Later. Later, yes,
later. Ah, how pleasant it is to breathe the scented breeze, while the
sun warms the air with its fiery rays. Later, later. And the traveller
walks on; the path widens. Voices are heard from afar, Where are
you going? Poor fool, don't you see that you are heading for your ruin?
You are young; come, come to us, to the beautiful, the good, the true;
do not be misled by indolence and weakness; do not fall asleep in the
present; come to the future. Later, later, the traveller
answers these unwelcome voices. The flowers smile at him and echo, Later.
The path becomes wider and wider. The sun has reached its zenith; it
is a glorious day. The path becomes a road.
The road is white and dusty, bordered with slender birch-trees; the
soft purling of a little stream is heard; but in vain he looks in every
direction, he can see no end to this interminable road.
The young man, feeling a secret unease, cries, Where am I? Where
am I going?... What does it matter? Why think, why act? Let us drift
along on this endless road; let us walk on, I shall think tomorrow.
The small trees have disappeared; oak-trees line the road; a gully runs
on either side. The traveller feels no weariness; he is borne along
as if in a delirium.
The gully becomes deeper; the oaks give way to fir-trees; the sun begins
to go down. In a daze, the traveller looks all around him; he sees human
figures rolling into the ravine, clutching at the fir-trees, the sheer
rocks, the roots jutting from the ground. Some of them are making great
efforts to climb out; but as they come near to the edge, they turn their
heads and let themselves fall back.
Hollow voices cry out to the traveller, Flee this place; go back
to the cross-roads; there is still time. The young man hesitates,
then replies, Tomorrow. He covers his face with his hands
so as not to see the bodies rolling into the ravine, and runs along
the road, drawn on by an irresistible urge to go forward. He no longer
wonders whether he will find a way out. With furrowed brow and clothes
in disorder, he runs on in desperation. At last, thinking himself far
away from the accursed place, he opens his eyes: there are no more fir-trees;
all around are barren stones and grey dust. The sun has disappeared
beyond the horizon; night is coming on. The road has lost itself in
an endless desert. The desperate traveller, worn out by his long run,
wants to stop; but he must walk on. All around him is ruin; he hears
stifled cries; his feet stumble on skeletons. In the distance, the thick
mist takes on terrifying shapes; black forms loom up; something huge
and misshapen suggests itself. The traveller flies rather than walks
towards the goal he senses and which seems to flee from him; wild cries
direct his steps; he brushes against phantoms.
At last he sees before him a huge edifice, dark, desolate, gloomy, a
castle to make one say with a shudder: A haunted castle.
But the young man pays no attention to the bleakness of the place; these
great black walls make no impression on him; as he stands on the dusty
ground, he hardly trembles at the sight of these formidable towers;
he thinks only that the goal is reached, he forgets his weariness and
discouragement. As he approaches the castle, he brushes against a wall,
and the wall crumbles; instantly everything collapses around him; towers,
battlements, walls have vanished, sinking into dust which is added to
the dust already covering the ground.
Owls, crows and bats fly out in all directions, screeching and circling
around the head of the poor traveller who, dazed, downcast, overwhelmed,
stands rooted to the spot, unable to move; suddenly, horror of horrors,
he sees rising up before him terrible phantoms who bear the names of
Desolation, Despair, Disgust with life, and amidst the ruins he even
glimpses Suicide, pallid and dismal above a bottomless gulf. All these
malignant spirits surround him, clutch him, propel him towards the yawning
chasm. The poor youth tries to resist this irresistible force, he wants
to draw back, to flee, to tear himself away from all these invisible
arms entwining and clasping him. But it is too late; he moves on towards
the fatal abyss. He feels drawn, hypnotized by it. He calls out; no
voice answers to his cries. He grasps at the phantoms, everything gives
way beneath him. With haggard eyes he scans the void, he calls out,
he implores; the macabre laughter of Evil rings out at last.
The traveller is at the edge of the gulf. All his efforts have been
in vain. After a supreme struggle he falls... from his bed.
A young student had a long essay to prepare for the following morning.
A little tired by his day's work, he had said to himself as he arrived
home, I shall work later. Soon afterwards he thought that
if he went to bed early, he could get up early the next morning and
quickly finish his task. Let's go to bed, he said to himself,
I shall work better tomorrow; I shall sleep on it. He did
not know how truly he spoke. His sleep was troubled by the terrible
nightmare we have described, and his fall awoke him with a start. Thinking
over what he had dreamt, he exclaimed, But it's quite clear: the
path is called the path of `later on', the road is the road of `tomorrow'
and the great building the castle of `nothing at all'. Elated
at his cleverness, he set to work, vowing to himself that he would never
put off until tomorrow what he could do today.