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

TEN

There followed a period of calm.  People complained about the lack of rain and feared for the winter crops.  Hollyhocks and dahlias began to bloom in the garden, and there was the scent of raspberries and plums.  Blue mist lay over the hills.  The geese were shooed away from the harvested fields.  There was never any talk of my going off to Warnow.  I only saw my father at meal times.  His face seemed tired and grey, he spoke little.  Should his distracted gaze fall upon me, he merely asked: “So, how are your studies going?”, but he didn’t seem particularly interested in the answer.  I no longer felt the thrill that his presence had once inspired in me.  In these days, with their unchanging blue skies, their unchanging harsh sunshine, the unchanging sounds of farm life, everything seemed devoid of interest and colour.  I heard that they were packing up over in Warnow, the furniture was apparently already covered in white sheets.  The whole family would be leaving soon.  That too!  Margusch no longer sang down in the park.  I saw her standing laughing with Jakob at the forge.  I was left with my books.  I lay on the heath and studied.  Antigone’s ακτις αελιου melted inseparably into the chatter of the geese, the scent of the sun-baked juniper bushes.  Antigone looked just like Ellita, and the timid Ismene resembled Gerda.  Ah!  I couldn’t even summon up the usual feelings of love these days!  And when the evening came around, and the stable boys went off into the bushes with the milkmaids, and the sound of a harmonica floated across from far over the meadow, then all the unused life inside me boiled, and I cursed the fact that all the pretty and mysterious and terrible and exciting things were meant for others, and not for me.

*****
The heavy, reddish-gold afternoon light flowed through the trees in the park.  I sat high up in an old linden tree, where the branches had grown together to form a rather comfortable seat.  The tree was full of the buzzing of insects, an elegant humming noise.  It’s enough to make you sleepy.  I closed my eyes.  On the gravel path down below, steps could be heard approaching.  I lazily half-opened my eyes again.  Ellita and my father were walking along the path.  Ellita wore her blue riding outfit and her small shiny riding hat.  In her right hand, she held the bottom of her dress, in her left, her riding whip, with which she lashed the caraway perennials along the path.  They stopped by the elm across from me.  Ellita leaned against the tree.  Her cheeks were red.  I immediately saw that she was angry.  Her small upper lip twitched even more proudly than usual.
“Good, right.  I am obeying you, as you can see,” she began.
My father leaned lightly against the trunk of a small birch, one foot crossed over the other, and absent-mindedly tapped the toes of his boots with a stick.  Now he bowed his head slightly and said politely: “You know how grateful I am to you for doing so.”
“Oh!  You’ve raised me wonderfully,” Ellita continued, “you’ve done a wonderful job of that!  When you wanted me to be the lonely little country girl who had thoughts only for you and waited for you, I was.  And now I’m once more supposed to be – how did you put it – the bloom of our aristocratic culture, fine – I’ll be that.”
My father took off his straw hat and wiped his forehead with his hand.  He began to talk in a quiet, discreet voice, as if holding a conversation at a sickbed.
“I’m not important in this.  Only you are.  If you feel the need to say all this to me, to reproach me, please, do so.  But please carry on down the chosen path… just do that.”
“I’m not accusing you of anything,” Ellita said passionately.  “Why couldn’t you just have left me out here by myself?  I would have carried on waiting for you, been mean to Mama and Gerda and taken care of the stupid money that’s never there when you need it… and whenever you came, I would have thought, ‘this is the greatest happiness in life’ – to be wicked – to be wicked with you, I think, would be marvellous…”
“Go on, let it all out,” interjected my father, who then looked back down at the toes of his boots.
“Naturally,” Ellita continued, “I would never have reproached you for any of that.  But now, now that all of that is supposedly an ugly faux-pas that is to be covered up, now I feel ashamed.  I feel like a porcelain doll that you’ve put back on the shelf in the drawing room – it has to do its duty once more, represent its class.”
“Very nice,” my father commented with a dull smile.  That only fuelled Ellita’s anger.
“You see, I’ve learned from you and your old Turk how to draw comparisons.  Oh, how ugly this all is!  What did what became of me have to do with you?  If I had just thrown myself in the pond in the park like Mama’s little maid did because of the new gardener, even that would have been better than all this.”
My father shrugged his shoulders.  “I think,” he said, “you and I were raised too well to be involved in such dramas.”  At that, Ellita raised both arms, her eyes flamed up, two large tears ran down her cheeks.  “God, how much I hate them, all these words – – isn’t that right, I belong on a pedestal – I’m a work of art – and a bloom of culture, I know your lesson only too well.  How I hate it all!”

My God!  How beautiful she was!  My father seemed to see it, too.  He gazed at her for a moment with hungry, blazing eyes, as on that evening in Warnow.  Then he said, softly and gently: “It hurts me to see you suffer.  It will pass.  You are one of those who follow their path in safety like – like sleepwalkers -, who may also have a few wild dreams along the way.”
“And I could whip myself for being one of them,” replied Ellita, striking herself on the knee with her whip.  “And – him – the poor boy – he loves me, after all.”
“And so he should,” said my father.
“You don’t expect much from others,” taunted Ellita.
He smiled his tired smile once more.  “My God!  Yes – you are my only consideration now.”
“That almost sounds as if you still loved me.”
My father silently shrugged his shoulders.  They both fell silent, Ellita let her arms fall loosely to her sides, as if tired, and her voice also sounded tired as she sorrowfully asked: “What’s the point?  It’s all the same now.  I’ll do as you wish.  All that’s finished now.”
“Thank you, child,” my father’s voice now rang deep and warm again.  “As long as you are safe – as long as they are unable to touch you, that’s quite enough.”  Now he stepped forward a little, a fleeting red suffusing his temples and cheeks.  “I am grateful to you for this, child, – and – also for – for everything that is now in our past… for the last shred of happiness – that you gave to an old man…”  Now his voice trembled with emotion – he spread his arms out.  Ellita retreated to the tree, she backed up against it – the blood had vanished from her face.  “Don’t touch me, Gert!” she quietly uttered, and she lifted her right hand a touch, the one holding the whip.  My father stepped back, bent down, picked the glove she had dropped up from the ground and passed it to her.  Then he looked at his watch and calmly said: “It’s getting late.  You need to get home before the storm gets here, it’s on its way at last.”
“Yes – let’s go,” said Ellita.

They walked back along the path.  How peacefully and politely the two figures walked along beside each other.  Ellita with her gently swaying gait, slim and dark in her riding costume, my father turned a little to the side so that he could see her while talking, all the while making gestures that brought attention to his attractive hands.

← Part Nine    Part Eleven →

Translation © 2018 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.

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

  1. I’m with Ellita! I hate that idea of being “raised too well to be involved in such dramas”, and of women on pedestals. I can really feel her devastation at falling in love with a man who now tells her it was all a mistake, just “a few wild dreams along the way.” I know that with the strict rules of class and behaviour, Gert feels as if he is doing not just the right thing but the only possible thing. But it’s such a betrayal, both for Ellita and for the boy sitting in the linden tree.

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    1. Andrew – It’s certainly difficult for Ellita to accept that their relationship was wrong, but as someone getting on in years (!), I can see the old man’s side of the story. He’s protecting her from rumours that could destroy her life – and, as we see later, wrapping up affairs before it’s too late…

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