The Wolf

Hermann Hesse (1907)
Never had there been so cruelly cold and long a winter in the French mountains. For weeks the air had been clear, crisp and cold. By day the great slanting snowfields lay dull-white and endless under the glaring blue sky; by night the moon passed over them, a small, clear, angry frosty moon, and on the snow its yellowish glare turned a dull blue that seemed the very essence of coldness. The roads and trails were deserted, especially the higher ones, and the people sat lazy and grumbling in the village huts. At night the windows glowed smoky red in the blue moonlight, and before long they were dark.
It was a hard time for the animals of the region. Many of the smaller ones, and birds as well, froze to death, and their gaunt corpses fell prey to the hawks and wolves. But they too suffered cruelly from cold and hunger. There were only a few wolf families in the region, and their distress led them to band more closely together. By day they went out singly. Here and there one of them would dart through the snow, lean, hungry, and alert, as soundless and furtive as a ghost, his narrow shadow gliding beside him in the whiteness. He would turn his pointed muzzle into the wind and sniff, and from time to time let out a dry, tortured howl. But at night they would all go out together and the villages would be surrounded by their plaintive howling. Cattle and poultry were carefully shut up, and guns lay in readiness behind sturdy shutters. Only seldom were the wolves able to pounce on a dog or other small prey, and two of the pack had already been shot.
The cold went on and on. Often the wolves huddled together for warmth and lay still and brooding, listening woefully to the dead countryside around them, until one of them, tortured by hunger, suddenly jumped up with a bloodcurdling roar. Then all the others turned their muzzles toward him and trembled; and all together burst into a terrible, menacing, dismal howl.
Finally a small part of the pack decided to move. Early in the morning they left their holes, gathered together, and sniffed anxiously and excitedly at the frosty air. Then they started off at a quick, even trot. Those who were staying behind looked after them with wide glassy eyes, trotted a few steps in their wake, stopped, stood still for a moment in indecision, and went slowly back to their empty dens.
At noon the traveling party split in two. Three of the wolves turned eastward toward the Swiss Jura, the others continued southward. The three were fine strong animals, but dreadfully emaciated. Their indrawn light-colored bellies were as narrow as straps, their ribs stood out pitifully on their chests, their mouths were dry and their eyes distended and desperate. They went deep into the Jura. The second day they killed a sheep, the third a dog and a foal. On all sides the infuriated country people began to hunt them. Fear of the unaccustomed intruders spread through the towns and villages of the region. The mail sleighs went out armed, no one went from one village to another without a gun.
After such good pickings, the three wolves felt at once contented and uncertain in the strange surroundings. Becoming more foolhardy than they had ever been at home, they broke into a cow barn in broad daylight. The warm little building was filled with the bellowing of cows, the crashing of wooden bars, the thudding of hooves, and the hot, hungry breath of the wolves. But this time people stepped in. A price had been set on the wolves, and that redoubled the peasants' courage. They killed one with a gunshot through the neck, the second with an ax. The third escaped and ran until he fell half-dead in the snow. He was the youngest and most beautiful of the wolves, a proud beast, strong and graceful. For a long time he lay panting. Blood-red circles whirled before his eyes, and at times a painful, wheezing moan escaped him. A hurled ax had struck him in the back. But he recovered and managed to stand up. Only then did he see how far he had run. Far and wide there were neither people nor houses. Ahead of him lay an enormous snow-covered mountain, the Chasseral. He decided to go around it. Tortured by thirst, he took a few bites of the frozen hard snow crust.
On the other side of the mountain he spied a village. It was getting on toward nightfall. He waited in a dense clump of fir trees. Then he crept cautiously past the garden fences, following the smell of warm barns. There was no one in the street. Hungrily but fearfully, he peered between the houses. A shot rang out. He threw his head back and was about to run when a second shot came. He was hit. On one side his whitish belly was spotted with blood, which fell steadily in big drops. In spite of his wound he broke into a bounding run and managed to reach the wooded mountain. There he stopped for a moment to listen, and heard voices and steps in the distance. Terror-stricken, he looked up at the mountainside. It was steep, densely wooded, and hard to climb. But he had no choice. Panting, he made his way up the steep wall, while below him a confusion of curses, commands, and lantern lights skirted the mountain. Trembling, the wounded wolf climbed through the woods in the half-light, while slowly the brown blood trickled down his flank.
The cold had let up. The sky in the west was hazy, giving promise of snow.
At last the exhausted beast reached the top. He was at the edge of a large, slightly inclined snowfield not far from Mont Crosin, high above the village from which he had escaped. He felt no hunger, but a dull persistent pain from his wound. A low sick bark came from his drooping jaws, his heart beat heavily and painfully; the hand of death weighed on it like a heavy load. A lone fir tree with spreading branches lured him; there he sat down and stared forlornly into the snow-gray night. Half an hour passed. Then a red, strangely muted light fell on the snow. With a groan the wolf stood up and turned his beautiful head toward the light. It was the moon, which, gigantic and blood-red, had risen in the southeast and was slowly climbing higher in the misty sky. For many weeks it had not been so big and red. Sadly, the dying wolf's eyes clung to the hazy disk, and again a faint howl rattled painfully through the night.
Then came lights and steps. Peasants in thick coats, hunters and boys in fur caps and clumsy leggings came tramping through the snow. A triumphant cry went up. They had sighted the dying wolf, two shots were quickly fired. Both missed. Then they saw that he was already dying and fell upon him with sticks and clubs. He felt nothing more.
Having broken his bones, they dragged him down to Saint-Immer. They laughed, they boasted, they sang, they cursed; they were looking forward to brandy and coffee. None of them saw the beauty of the snow-covered forest, or the radiance of the high plateau, or the red moon which hovered over the Chasseral, and whose faint light shimmered on their rifle barrels, on the crystalline snow, and on the blurred eyes of the dead wolf.
8 Februaro 2000 modifita.

Hermann Hesse? English?