Dr. Knoegle, a former high school teacher who had retired early from his profession and had devoted himself to private philological studies, would certainly never have come into contact with vegetarians and vegetarianism if signs of asthma and rheumatism had not at one time compelled him to follow a vegetarian diet. The result was so successful that, from then on, the teacher spent several months every year in some kind of vegetarian health spa or small hotel, mainly in the south. So in spite of his aversion to everything unusual and strange, he began mixing in circles and with individuals with whom he normally did not associate. Nor did he like their unavoidable visits to his hometown, even though they were infrequent.
For many years, Dr. Knoegle spent spring and early summer and even the autumn months in one of the many vegetarian hotels on the coast of southern France or at Lake Maggiore. He became acquainted with many different people at these places and accustomed to many things, such as people walking barefoot, long-haired apostles, fanatics who fasted all the time, and vegetarian gourmands. He made some good friends, especially among the latter, and he himself, whose ailments prevented him more and more from enjoying heavy meals, developed into a modest epicurean in the domain of vegetables and fruit. There was no way that he could be satisfied with your ordinary endive salad, and he would never have mistaken a California orange for an Italian. Otherwise, he did not take a great interest in vegetarianism, for to him it was only a cure, and if it appealed to him at all, it was sometimes due to the splendid linguistic innovations in this area that, as a philologist, he considered to be remarkable. There were vegetarians, vegetarianists, vegetabilitarians, the raw purists, the pulpists, and the mixed vegetarians.
According to the linguistic usage of the initiates, the doctor himself belonged to the mixed vegetarians, because he ate not only fruit and raw food but also cooked vegetables and even dairy products. It did not escape his notice that this diet was an abomination for true vegetarians, above all for purists, who observed a strict code of eating. However, he kept his distance from the fanatical debates conducted by disciples of true vegetarianism, and he demonstrated his status as a mixed vegetarian only through his actions, whereas many acquaintances — namely the Austrians — boasted of their particular status on their business cards.
As I said, Dr. Knoegle did not exactly fit in with these people. With his peaceful red face and broad body, he already looked much different from the disciples of pure vegetarianism, who were mainly lean and ascetic types, often dressed in fantastic clothes. Many had hair that flowed over their shoulders, and they went through life as fanatics, followers of a religion, and martyrs to their special ideals. Dr. Knoegle was a philologist and patriot. He did not support their ideas of humanity and social reform; nor did he share the strange lifestyles of his co-vegetarians. His appearance was such that the porters of the cosmopolitan hotels, who waited at the railroad stations and docks in Locarno and Pallanza and normally could smell every kind of “cabbage-head apostle” from a distance, would confidently recommend their hotels to him. They were always greatly astonished, however, when the man, who looked so respectable, gave his luggage to the porter of the Thalysia or Ceres hotel, or to the donkey master of the Monte Verita.
Nonetheless, Dr. Knoegle gradually became accustomed to the strange surroundings and felt at ease there. He was an optimist, almost an artist of life, and found many a peace-loving, red-cheeked friend among the plant-eaters of various countries. Moreover, he could sit side by side with them, consume his fresh salad and peach tranquilly, and have an agreeable table conversation, without having a fanatic of strict observance reproach him for his mixed diet or a rice-chewing Buddhist reprimand him for his religious indifference.
One time Dr. Knoegle happened to hear about the founding of the International Vegetarian Society, first through the newspapers and then through direct communication from his circle of acquaintances. This new society had acquired a tremendous piece of land in Asia Minor and had invited all the vegetarian disciples of the world to settle there permanently or to visit at reasonable prices. This undertaking was initiated by an idealistic group of German, Dutch, and Austrian plant-eaters, whose aspirations constituted a kind of vegetarian zionism, for they aimed at recruiting followers and believers of their faith to establish their own country with their own government somewhere in the world that already had the natural conditions for the life that they envisioned as ideal. The settlement in Asia Minor was just the beginning of their mission, for their appeals were addressed to “all the friends of the vegetarian and vegetabilitarian lifestyle, of the nudist culture, and the movement to reform life,” and they promised so much and sounded so wonderful that not even Dr. Knoegle could resist the nostalgic music from paradise. He sent in his registration form to be a guest there in the coming fall.
The land was supposed to provide plenty of fruit and vegetables. The kitchen of the large main house was directed by the author of Ways to Paradise, and many people felt it was particularly nice that they could lead their lives there without being subjected to the mockery of the crude world. Every kind of vegetarianism and dress reform was permitted, and there were no prohibitions except those against meat and alcohol.
Strange refugees came from all over the world, partly to find peace and comfort in a life suitable to their nature in Asia Minor, and partly to earn a living and profit from those people eager for salvation. Runaway priests and teachers from all kinds of churches came, phony Hindus, occultists, language teachers, masseuses, mesmerists, magicians, and faith healers. This small group of eccentric people consisted less of swindlers and malicious types than of harmless petty con artists, for there were no great profits to be made and most were seeking a means to earn their livelihood — which need not be much for a plant-eater living in a southern country.
The majority of the people who had derailed themselves from Europe and America carried with them one single vice that many vegetarians had — they had an aversion to work. They did not want gold and pleasure, nor power and amusement. What they wanted most of all was to lead their modest lives without work and annoyances. Many of them had traversed Europe on foot numerous times as unassuming doorknob cleaners in the homes of well-to-do people who shared their ideas, or as preaching prophets and miracle doctors. When Dr. Knoegle arrived in Quisisana, he encountered many a former acquaintance who had visited him every now and then in Leipzig as a harmless beggar.
But above all, he met the great individuals and heroes from all the different factions of vegetarianism. Sun-tanned men with long wavy hair and beards arrived in white robes and sandals, as if they had just stepped out of the Old Testament. Others wore sport clothes made out of bright linen. Some venerable men walked around naked with loincloths made of wool that they had woven themselves. Various groups and even organized clubs were formed. The pulpists met at certain places, the ascetic fasters at other spots, and the theosophists and sun-worshippers at yet others. A temple was constructed by the flowers of the American prophet Davis, while the neo-Swedenborgians made use of a hall for their religious services.
In the beginning Dr. Knoegle did in truth feel some embarrassment as he moved about in this strange crowd. He attended the lectures of a former teacher from Baden named Klaber, who instructed his listeners in pure Allemanian about the fate of Atlantis, and he stared at the Yogi Vishinanda, whose name was actually Beppo Cinari, and who after decades of effort had managed to reduce the rate of his heartbeat by about a third through his own willpower.
In Europe this colony would have left the impression of a madhouse or fantastic comedy set between real political and professional happenings. In Asia Minor, however, everything seemed quite reasonable and not at all impossible. Sometimes newcomers walked around with bright spiritual faces and expressed delight that their fondest dreams had been fulfilled. Others could be seen with tears of joy and flowers in their hands, greeting everyone they encountered with a kiss of peace.
The most striking group, however, was made up of the pure pulpists. They had waived their right to have a temple, house, and organization of any kind and showed no desire but to become more and more natural. As they themselves stated, they wanted “to come closer to the soil.” They lived in the open and ate only things that could be broken off trees and bushes. They completely disdained all other vegetarians, and one of them told Dr. Knoegle to his face that eating rice and bread was exactly the same disgusting thing as enjoying meat, and that there was no real difference between a so-called vegetarian who drank milk and any old drunk and toper.
Among the pulpists, the illustrious disciple Jonas towered above everyone else, for he was the most consistent and successful representative of this faction. To be sure, he wore a loincloth, but it was hardly distinguishable from his hairy brown body. He lived in a small wooded area, where he could be seen swinging through the branches with agility and quickness. His thumbs and large toes were in a miraculous process of reverting back to primitive form, and his mode of life and entire existence represented the most tenacious and successful return to nature that one could imagine. A few people made fun of him among themselves and called him the “gorilla,” Otherwise, Jonas enjoyed the admiration and respect of the entire province.
This great vegetarian had renounced the use of language. When his brother and sister followers discussed things at the edge of his woods, he would sometimes sit on a branch over their heads, grinning with encouragement or laughing with disapproval, but he himself never uttered a word. Instead, he sought through gestures to indicate that his language was the infallible language of nature and would later become the world language of all vegetarians and nature people. His closest friends were with him every day, enjoyed his lessons in the art of chewing and cracking nuts, and watched in awe as he progressively perfected himself. Yet they were worried because he supposedly was going to withdraw into the native wilderness of the mountains to be at one with nature, and this was to happen soon.
Some of the fanatics wanted to bestow divine honors on this remarkable being who had completed the circle of life and found his way back to the beginning point of human development. But on the morning when they went looking for him in his woods to honor him and begin the establishment of their cult with a song, the celebrated Jonas appeared on his favorite large branch, swung his detached loincloth derisively in the air, and threw hard pine cones at the worshippers.
Deep in his timid soul, Dr. Knoegle felt nothing but repulsion for Jonas the Perfect One, the “gorilla.” All that he had always held in the silent depths of his heart against the excesses of the vegetarian outlook and fanatical, crazy behavior was horrifyingly embodied in this character. Jonas seemed to crudely mock his own moderate vegetarianism, and Dr. Knoegle, the unassuming teacher, felt that in some way Jonas had insulted human dignity itself. In fact, Dr. Knoegle, who readily tolerated numerous people with different opinions from his, could not walk past the dwelling place of the Perfect One without feeling hate and rage. Likewise, the “gorilla,” who had observed all kinds of followers, admirers, and critics from his branch with equanimity, felt an increasing bestial bitterness toward this man, whose hate he had instinctively scented. Whenever the doctor happened to come near the woods, he would glare at the tree-dweller with reproachful, insulting glances, which Jonas answered with teeth-baring and angry hissing.
Dr. Knoegle had already decided to leave the province the following month and to return home. But one night, when there was a full moon, he took a walk and was drawn almost against his will near the woods. With sadness he thought of former times when he had still been a meat-eater and normal human being in full health, living among his kind. As he was recalling those more tranquil years, he spontaneously whistled an old student song.
All of a sudden Jonas broke out of the bushes, making a loud cracking sound, for he had been wildly aroused by the song. He stood threateningly in front of the walker, swinging a monstrous club. So bitter and enraged was the surprised doctor, however, that he did not take to his heels. Rather, he felt that the time had arrived to settle accounts with his enemy. Laughing grimly, he bowed and said with as much mockery and affront as he could express, “Permit me to introduce myself. I am Dr. Knoegle.”
Then the “gorilla” threw his club away with an angry cry, pounced on the weak doctor, and strangled him instantly with his terrible hands. Dr. Knoegle was found the next day. Many people suspected what had happened, but nobody dared to take action against the ape Jonas, who cracked his nuts calmly in the branches of his tree. The few friends that the stranger had made during his stay in paradise buried him nearby and placed a simple stone on his grave with the inscription: “Dr. Knoegle, Mixed Vegetarian from Germany.”