‘Sultry Days’ (‘Schwüle Tage’) by Eduard Graf von Keyserling – Part Eight


I climbed out of my window and went off in search of the voice.  Above the meadow there lay a black band of cloud, in which the faint gold of sheet lightning could be discerned.  From time to time, a warm wind shook the tops of the linden trees.  By the pond beneath the willows I found Margusch.  The tall blonde girl was sitting on the grass with her arms wrapped around her knees, gently swaying her round head and singing, tonelessly, as if she were sitting next to a cradle:

“Sew a shirt out in the meadow,
“Measure it against the big oak tree.
“Oh! My darling, grow, grow,
“Straight and strong as the oak you’ll be!
Rai – rai – rah…”

I quietly approached and crouched down next to her.  She gave a quick start and then said: “My goodness, it’s the young master!”
“That’s right, Margusch.  Please, carry on singing.”  Margusch looked out calmly and tiredly across the pond and drew her knees closer to her body.  “Oh!” she said: “What’s the point of singing!  Why aren’t you in bed, young master?”
“I couldn’t sleep.  I didn’t want to be alone.  I heard you singing, so I came down to you.”
Margusch sighed.  “Of course, even the big folk have their woes.  Everyone has their own problems.  Even the master has to give up his young woman now.  What can you do?”
“His young woman” – in the mouth of this girl it sounded like a simple, melancholy story, just like that of Jakob and Margusch – “Everyone has their own problems.”  I pressed myself closer to Margusch.  I felt as if this hot female body could shelter me from all the uncertainties that were torturing me.  She smiled, put her heavy arm around me, rocked me slowly from side to side, repeating: “Our young master is sad, our young master is sad.” Dark patches of cloud covered the moon.  The pond turned black.  The frogs fell silent – just occasionally did a solitary frog make itself heard, as if it were calling out to someone.  Margusch stroked my arm.  “Our young master is sad.”  Hot and aroused, I latched onto her warm, calm body.  She gave herself to me, good-humouredly, and a little out of sympathy.

It had got dark.  A fine rain began to whisper through the willows and the reeds.
“It’s raining,” said Margusch, “time to go home.”  I didn’t want to go.  Not back home, not all alone again!  We sat there wrapped around each other.  Margusch hummed softly to herself.  It began to get lighter.  Ducks took off from the pond and flew off in the direction of the lake, their wings swishing through the air.  On the other side of the pond, a dark shape made its way up the avenue towards the house.
“The master,” Margusch whispered.  “He quite often comes out at night.  He walks up and down over there.  He can’t sleep either.”

Around midday, when the whole property lay in bright sunshine, I sauntered over to the stable.  I was tired, didn’t really want to do anything, the best thing to do was watch Kaspar grooming the horses, that was relaxing and not at all tiring.  At the small stable pond, Margusch stood washing a bucket.
“Ah, Margusch,” I said and stopped.  She lifted her head and looked at me indifferently with her crystal-clear eyes.
“Hot,” she remarked.
“But last night – ” I quietly went on.
She smiled weakly, sighed and went back to her work.  My father came out of the stable, glanced over at me and then looked away.

Later, during dinner, after Konrad had left the room, my father took his glass of port in hand, and before drinking (this was always the moment in which he brought up unpleasant matters), said: “It’s not recommended to get too involved with our farm girls.”  I blushed.  My father drank and then continued, looking past me out of the window.  “Quite apart from the fact that this isn’t the time for such matters, you should really only have an eye for your studies, I find that affairs with these girls tend to coarsen one’s instincts and manners.”  There was a painful pause.  My father reflected and then said, as if thinking aloud: “My friend in Constantinople liked to say…”.  “Of course!” I thought, “Whenever an unpleasant example is required, the old Turk has one handy!”
“He said that he was only able to become the wine connoisseur he is today because the proscription on drinking provided by his religion in his youth meant he never ruined his taste buds with bad wine.”
I knew only too well what the old Turk meant, but I found it incredible that my father was actually saying it.  It embarrassed me somewhat.  Had he noticed?  At any rate, as he left the table, he made the following comment: “You’re at an age now where we can have a sensible conversation about these matters, I trust.”
I could barely believe my ears.

← Part Seven     Part Nine →

Translation © 2018 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “‘Sultry Days’ (‘Schwüle Tage’) by Eduard Graf von Keyserling – Part Eight

  1. Thank you for these daily translations of the “Sultry Days” book. I am really enjoying the story – the kind of story I love – reminding me of “Grand Meaulnes” or Gide”s “Strait is the Gate”. I have not her of von Keyserling before.


    1. Tim – Glad you’re enjoying it 🙂 His major work is ‘Wellen’, which is being released in translation next year as ‘Waves’ by Dedalus, with Gary Millar on translation duties.


    1. Melethil – Good to hear 🙂 There are five more parts to go, with the next one out in a matter of hours – hopefully, you’ll enjoy these last few installments, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Although this scene felt inevitable from the moment Bill kept hearing the “rai – rai – rah” in the garden, I don’t really like how von Keyserling handled it. I don’t get Margusch’s motivation at all—she just seems like a randomly available female body. But from Bill’s point of view, the encounter, and then the father’s repulsive comment about bad wine, certainly jolts him out of his romantic ideals and exposes him to something very different.


    1. Andrew – It’s one of several scenes that seem off by modern standards, but the way I see it is that Margusch is always in control here. She’s a country girl comforting the ‘young master’ the best way she knows how, and I supect that in this place and at this time this probably wans’t such an unusual occurrence.

      One other comment here. The ‘young master’ of the text was actually ‘Gräfchen’, or ‘little count’. I never successfully managed to get this aristocratic nuance into the text 😦


      1. I think ‘young master’ is the natural term for Bill – another case where there’s no good literal translation for the German term. I did get the sense that they were an aristocratic family just from things like the size of the house and number of servants and the deference with which they were treated (although I suppose at that time they could have been wealthy industrialists too, but I just didn’t see it that way).

        Maybe you could have referred to the father as the count instead of the master somewhere, but ‘young master’ seems right for the son.


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