Before I could think what I was doing I had cut the rope with the knife given me by the second Sophia. The bear crashed to the ground and lay there without moving. The man turned on me in a fury. ‘You murdering fool!’ he screamed, ‘You’ve killed God!’

I said, ‘I didn’t mean to kill him.’

‘But you have killed him!’ he said. ‘God was everything to me, he was big and strong and shaggy, he was like a bear.’

‘He was a bear,’ I said.

‘Of course he was,’ said the man. ‘God can be whatever he likes, completely and divinely; he always used to find me honey trees. And you’ve killed him, you’ve killed God.’ There were a bow and arrows and a hunter’s pouch lying on the ground; he picked up the bow and fitted an arrow to the string, aiming it at me. At this moment the bear stood up on his hind legs. He began to low and grunt, making gestures with his paws like a man making a speech.

‘Lies!’ shouted the man. ‘Lies, lies, all lies!’ He aimed his arrow at the bear.

The bear made a few more remarks; he put one paw over his heart and shook his head sadly, then he made a gesture clearly expressing that everything was over between him and the man. What a wonderful bear that was! How I wished that I could have him for a friend, what a travelling companion he would be – he clearly had a profound understanding and was one of those people who know when to talk and when to be quiet. While I was thinking this he dropped on to all fours and hurried off towards the trees. The man swung round to loose his arrow, I threw out my hand to knock him off his aim but there fell across my arm something as hard and heavy as an iron bar, a blackness came in front of my eyes and I fell down.

When I came to myself the bear, shot full of arrows, was lying dead and the man was sitting on the ground throwing dirt on his own head and crying, ‘O my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!’

I said, ‘Don’t be such a fool, he hasn’t forsaken you – you’ve killed him.’

He said, ‘I killed him because he forsook me.’

I said, ‘How did he forsake you?’

He said, ‘He wouldn’t show me any more honey trees.’ He sat there rocking to and fro in his grief. It was that sort of a hot still day when one seems particularly to hear the buzzing of flies. I left him to his lamentations and went on my way.

I was thinking about the bear, how good it would have been to have him with me, how I should have heard the padding of his feet and seen out of the corner of my eye his shaggy brown back rocking along beside me through the long miles. Big and strong he was too, a match for half a dozen men in a fight; one would feel easy anywhere with such a friend. Perhaps he might even have danced a little now and then for our supper and a night’s lodging. Pilgermann and his bear would have become famous on the pilgrim road.

There was a low chuckle in my ear and a hard hand clapped me on the shoulder in great good fellowship. It was that bony personage who had been riding his horse in the wood where the headless body of the tax-collector was hanging from the tree. This time he was on foot; he was dressed as a monk and like me he carried a pilgrim’s staff. It was very shadowy under his hood, one couldn’t properly say that there were eyes in the eyeholes of his skull-face but there was definitely a look fixed upon me; it was that peculiarly attentive sidelong look seen in self-portraits.

‘Am I a mirror in which you see yourself?’ I said.

‘Everybody is,’ he said. ‘I am so infinitely varied that I never tire of myself. Mortals looking in a mirror see only me but I see all the faces that ever were and I love myself in all of them.’

‘You think well of yourself!’ I said.

He hugged himself in a transport of self-delight. ‘When I say, “Sleep with me!” nobody says no,’ he said. ‘Kings and queens, I have them all, no inch of them is forbidden to me; nuns and popes, ah! There’s good loving! I am the world’s great lover, that’s a simple fact though I say it myself. Well, there’s no need for me to blow my own trumpet – you’ll see when you sleep with me.’

He kept turning his face to me as he spoke, and his breath did not reek of corruption as one might suppose: it was like the morning wind by the sea. ‘Call me Bruder Pfortner,’ he said, ‘it’s a name I fancy: Brother Gatekeeper. It has a kind of monastic humility but at the same time it goes with a swing.’

‘Bruder Pfortner,’ I said. I thought about the gates he kept.

‘You’ve no idea,’ he said. ‘No idea at all.’ He made a graceful gesture and there opened upon my vision the brilliant lucent purple-blue of the crystalline vibrations of Now. His arm swept back, the gate was closed, the day seemed dark. We went on a little way in silence. His face was looking straight ahead and I saw only his cowl moving companionably beside me. ‘You know why I was chuckling when I first appeared to you?’ he said.

‘Why?’ I said.

‘I was chuckling at your bear thoughts,’ he said. ‘Really, you’re no better than that other fellow, you know. Had the bear been your friend you’d not have been content to let him be, you’d have had him dancing for your supper, and you with all that money on you. That’s how people are: they’re trade-minded, they can’t let anything be simply what it is. It was I that knocked your arm down when you tried to stop that fellow from shooting the bear.’

‘Why?’ I said.

‘That bear was finished,’ he said. ‘He had nothing left to live with. Did you understand what he was saying when he made his little speech?’

‘No,’ I said.

‘This is what he said to that man,’ said Bruder Pfortner: ‘”I never wanted to be anything but a friend to you. The only use I wanted to make of you was to be with you sometimes; nothing more than that, and I didn’t want any use to be made of me more than that. The first time I gave you honey it was just because honey was there, so we both had some of it, sharing like friends. But then you had to boast to everyone that you had a bear who found honey for you and I had to boast to everyone that I had a man who followed me to where the honey was. Then I showed you where the silence was and you thought I was God and I let you think it. We corrupted each other and so there had to be an end to it. Now I don’t think I can even find the silence for myself, I don’t think I even know how to be simply myself any more, and I want to go away and not be with anybody.” That’s what the bear said just before the man shot him.’

‘Poor fellow,’ I said.

‘People can’t let anything be,’ said Bruder Pfortner.