The same night
Thus will it be written here, clearly and soberly – just as I would observe someone else’s experiences – a text whose exegesis I will reserve for myself.
So – the sun was starting to go down as I walked to the Daahlens’ house. I felt happy and sure of myself. I was enjoying life. I loved Claudia deeply. I was able to enjoy the sunset, the large, copper-coloured clouds, rather dark, like a violet pike in pink-hued water. Pretty. The people I met along the way also seemed happy. The men carried their hats in their hands, the women smiled up at the red glow in the sky. The sound of Mendelssohn drifted out from one house; the natural sweetness that required no interpretation suited my mood today. A couple came walking in my direction. It was Toni with her cardboard box, on the arm of a young fellow with blond hair. She nodded in greeting and let go of her companion’s arm to come over and greet me.
“Ah, Herr Magnus, you –“
“Well – Toni – how are things?”
“Good, thanks. Look, I waited on the bench for you, and you just never came. There was one time when you walked past and didn’t even notice me.”
“Oh, really…” I mumbled awkwardly.
“I was terribly angry. But that’s all in the past…“
“You have – another…” I asked hesitantly. She beamed.
“Yes, he’s an ophthalmologist. A really nice man.”
“Right. I wish you both well.”
“Thanks. You too, Herr Magnus.” And she linked arms with her ophthalmologist again.
Good, good, I thought. How delightful girls are.
As I walked across the forecourt of the villa, I saw Julchen sitting by the narrow side of the house again in her blue dress, her glasses on her nose, her bonnet all red in the evening light. She had a bowl in her lap – there was another on the ground next to her, and she was peeling small golden pears. When I greeted her in passing, she nodded grimly. I had to ring twice at the front door before someone opened it.
“Is anyone home?” I asked airily and went to walk in.
“His lordship is ill. His lordship isn’t receiving visitors today,” the servant said with a solemn, blank look.
“Ill? Nothing serious, I hope?”
The servant’s face took on a rather tortured expression.
“Well, I wish him a swift recovery.”
Was there not the merest hint of a bitter smile on his cleanly shaven mouth? I stopped for a moment on the forecourt and thought a little: something wasn’t right here.
I decided to ask Julchen.
When I stood before her, she fixed me with a severe stare from behind her spectacles.
“Oh, Fräulein Julchen, it’s nothing serious, I hope, the Baron’s illness, I mean?”
Julchen continued peeling away at her pears and raised her eyebrows.
“These things take their toll,” she said and began to peel away at the pears again. “This morning, when he found the letter, he had such a serious attack that we wanted to send for the doctor, but he wouldn’t allow it.”
“Ah, the letter,” I said, as if I understood, and in truth, somewhere inside I immediately grasped what was as yet unclear. “And how – how did it come about?” I continued blindly.
Julchen tossed the peeled pear into the bowl on the ground with a clatter.
“They must have gone off some time around two. The doorman from the house over there was coming home from the pub this morning. Then he saw a carriage waiting in the avenue. That’s where he must have waited for her.”
“Yes, Herr von Spall. And the vegetable woman, when she was on her way into town, she saw the carriage. They would have been on their way to the nearest railway station.”
“Yes, I suppose they would,” I said unthinkingly.
Julchen shook her head sadly: “Such a thing! It was too quiet for her here, I could tell. Such restless eyes. Whenever I went walking with her down in the garden, she would run, run so fast that it was hard to keep up with her, and then she’d stop all of a sudden, grab my arm so tightly it hurt and say: ‘Julchen, you were surely in love once.’
‘Oh, your ladyship,’ I said, ‘what kind of love would I have had.’
Then she laughed and said: ‘You’re right, Julchen. Your volcanic fires burnt out long ago.’
‘I’m sure you’re right, your ladyship,’ I said. Well, what can the likes of us say to something like that! I never liked Herr von Spall right from the start. Oh, well. She won’t have it as good as here anywhere else. And there’s me having made the effort to get runner beans for her today because she loves them so much. And now she’s gone.”
Julchen sighed and bent her head closer towards her pears.
“I suppose it’ll all blow over,” she mumbled. I couldn’t think of anything to say, I stood there until I felt that I must look rather foolish.
“I’ll just take a little walk in the garden,” I said.
Julchen nodded. “Very good, Herr von Brühlen, there’s no-one down there at the moment.”
I slowly walked down between the flower beds. My initial feeling was simply one of great surprise. Spall and Claudia – was that even possible? How? I couldn’t fathom it. This Frau von Daahlen who had run off with Herr von Spall was a stranger to me. I walked down to the pond, listened to the frogs. One deep, bold frog voice started calling out first. Then the others chimed in, all together, energetic and cheerful, and they seemed to cry out, again and again “Spall – Spall –“.
As I stood there, I was overcome by a warm, painful sensation, a powerful feeling of loss. Everything in me thirsted for Claudia’s presence, for that secret understanding, that familiarity between my body and hers. We did have something. My God – why wasn’t she here! I went up the dark tree-covered corridor that we had walked through together. The fragrance of the hesperus flowers filled the darkness once more.
I leaned against the tree where she had stood and wept. In this spot, my pain took on a somewhat pathetic air that almost did me good. How clearly I saw her there in front of me, I saw her mouth, above all her wonderful mouth, until the thought that someone else had possession of this mouth struck me like a physical blow. And he, this ‘someone else’, had been there the whole time, it was for him that she had cried here, him that she had been thinking of. And I, what had I been doing here? A humiliating rage shook me, a rage as if I had been reminded of a blow that I had received and neglected to return in kind. I hurried up to the terrace, I wanted to get out of this garden where I was in danger of becoming my own pathetic ghost.
Translation © 2019 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.