Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten).

The Wanderer and his Shadow, the second supplement to Human, All Too Human, first published in 1880.


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Prisoners.  One morning the prisoners entered the yard for work, but the warder was not there.  Some, as their manner was, set to work at once; others stood idle and gazed defiantly around.  Then one of them strode forward and cried, "Work as much as you will or do nothing, it all comes to the same.  Your secret machinations have come to light; the warder has been keeping his eye on you of late, and will cause a terrible judgment to be passed upon you in a few days' time.  You know him — he is of a cruel and resentful disposition.  But now, listen: you have mistaken me hitherto.  I am not what I seem, but far more — I am the son of the warder, and can get anything I like out of him.  I can save you — nay, I will save you.  But remember this: I will only save those of you who believe that I am the son of the prison warder.  The rest may reap the fruits of their unbelief”.  "Well” said an old prisoner after an interval of silence, "what can it matter to you whether we believe you or not?  If you are really the son, and can do what you say, then put in a good word for us all.  That would be a real kindness on your part.  But have done with all talk of belief and unbelief"!  "What is more” cried a younger man, "I don't believe him: he has only got a bee in his bonnet.  I'll wager that in a week's time we shall find ourselves in the same place as we are today, and the warder will know nothing”.  "And if the warder ever knew anything, he knows it no longer” said the last of the prisoners, coming down into the yard at that moment, "for he has just died suddenly”.  "Ah ha”!  cried several in confusion, "ah ha!  Sir Son, Sir Son, how stands it now with your title?  Are we by any chance your prisoners now"?  "I told you” answered the man gently, "I will set free all who believe in me, as surely as my father still lives”.  The prisoners did not laugh, but shrugged their shoulders and left him to himself.  

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