August the 10th
Today was a bad day. I felt that as soon as I awoke. A storm had arrived early in the morning, it was still affecting my nerves. The air had scarcely cooled, the sun was biting again.
There was an unpleasant soberness in me that contradicted everything I had felt, that mocked me and quarrelled with everything I felt inside. Claudia was far away, a stranger. Nothing would come to anything. On top of all that, at breakfast Josef reported that he had encountered Baroness Daahlen this morning. “She was riding. The stable boy rode behind her. Baron Spall was also there.”
This news aroused in me a feeling of unbearable lassitude – a sort of physical discomfort. My tea, and the toasted roll that I had just buttered so carefully, were left standing on the table. These are not really signs of jealousy. I am certainly not jealous of Spall. Claudia loathes Spall, I have seen that in the way she looks at him, in the tired manner in which she turns away from him. Claudia will only obey a love that struggles to the very end against the distance separating her from her loved one. Only when both say: We cannot resist any longer – then, then will she obey. That much I have understood. And yet… In this manner, my day will stretch out miserably until the evening.
It is a strangely insubstantial life that I lead. It only takes on substance out there on the veranda, above the dark, damp garden, in the dreamy light of the moon, with the quiet sound of Claudia’s muslin trail on the gravel. That is how bats must feel when they hang from the walls like little black devils in dark corners in the daytime, and look out, blinking, through a gap to see if that stupid light is still there, the light that mocks everything they experience in the evenings, when, with a small, high-pitched cheer, they flutter off over the moonlit tree tops.
The same night
Today, something unusual happened to me, a trivial matter that may nevertheless provide me with a not unimportant insight into the picture of Claudia’s life.
Claudia was rather distant today. She was quiet most of the time; when she spoke, she sounded slightly irritable, with the bitter undertone of her voice especially clear. Today there was a magnificently tragic look to the lines of her mouth. Spall did his best to appear confident and relaxed. Daahlen laughed at him continually, but that seemed to annoy Claudia. Spall also had such a familiar, intrusive manner with her – as if they belonged together. How clumsy can you get. I had few opportunities to talk to her. We spoke for a while of the weather, and of horses. I was rather reserved and formal – which was appropriate. Nevertheless, I hoped to say a few words to her, quiet, emotional and meaningful, words that she would understand instinctively, as if I were to touch her hand fleetingly and say: “I know that – we – are both suffering,” – but I couldn’t find the right words, today more than ever Daahlen was in the mood for telling stories and kept me all to himself. He sketched out a lengthy, arduous trip that he claimed to have made somewhere out in Africa. He ended up forcing me to go off to his study with him so as to trace the progress of this rather tedious journey on the large map that hung there on the wall.
When we stepped back out onto the veranda, Spall and Claudia were gone. They must have walked down into the garden.
Daahlen carried on with his story, but it seemed as if he had taken a wrong turning, as if we weren’t really making any progress. Every now and then, he paused, looked down into the garden, over which a large moon now hung brightly, and murmured: “Is that them?” “No,” I said, “the white you can see is the tuberose bed.” “Right – right,” he said – “hmm – never mind – allons – allons!”
In the moonlight, I could clearly see the contorted lines of his angled brown face with its mouse-grey beard – as if afflicted by a sharp pain.
“Well, right,” he continued – “So, we were five kilometres from the village of Biri-Biri…” – He was no longer focused on the story, though, rather he repeatedly looked down in the direction of the garden, and I was no longer listening, instead also looking down in the direction of the garden, and we both waited tensely.
“There they are!” I suddenly blurted out.
“Where – where?” Daahlen asked. “Yes – I can see them – there you go.”
Claudia and Spall stepped out of the dark corridor of trees onto the brightly lit terrace.
The poor old man is jealous – I thought – yes, the moment will perhaps arrive when we can no longer spare him. Life can be cruel. But I was happy myself to see the two of them arrive back at the veranda. “So – and we’ve arrived safely in Biri-Biri,” Daahlen announced with relief, and sat down squeakily in his wicker chair.
Claudia and Spall walked onto the veranda. Claudia was walking as if she were fatigued. Daahlen carried on with his story as if he hadn’t noticed them.
There were two chairs at the other end of the veranda. Spall sauntered up to them, threw himself down in one and straightened the other one ready for Claudia. She took a few hesitant steps towards him – then she quickly turned – yes, I could tell – with reluctance, with fear, I could see it clearly in the lines of her sweet figure, swaying slightly within the folds of her muslin dress. She then came over to me decisively and sat down in the armchair next to me – seeking protection – taking her rightful place beside me. Not since my youth had I felt such a strong sensation of joy, the kind that fills one from head to toe with a sweet warmth. A precious hour now arrived – Claudia’s hand lay on the armrest of her chair, my hand on the armrest of mine. Our hands were close together – they yearned for one another, they could sense each other. I could have reached for Claudia’s hand, nothing could have been easier. Spall would probably do that sort of thing. But this was good. The tops of the maples stood black and unmoving in the moonlight. Daahlen’s voice now growled out his story calmly, intoning the barbaric names of the black tribesmen into the nocturnal silence.
Translation © 2019 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.