‘Nachbarn’ (‘Neighbours’) by Eduard Graf von Keyserling – Part Three

Oskar walked off into the woods.  The young pines in the plantation stood bright and unmoving in the mid-day sun, a myriad of tiny wings buzzed through the hot air, a sound resembling the regular breathing of a sleeper.  He felt much better here.  The row with Dina had ruined the pleasant excitement, the powerful emotions that had recently begun to build up inside him, here he could feel them once more.

He was walking slowly along the path in the woods when he saw the stranger sitting on a bench.  Miss Adeline Mieke, all dressed in white, without a hat, her hands folded in her lap, strangely unmoving, as if she were sleeping, yet her eyes were open wide and boldly looked ahead, her pale face wore an expression of a great fatigue that delighted in the intoxication resulting from all the calm.  Oskar was taken aback by this sight, he stopped for a moment, then walked determinedly over to the bench and sat down with a brief “Excuse me”.  The young woman gave a start, blushed and replied: “Oh, please.”  Immediately, however, she sank back into her tired staring into the distance and appeared to have forgotten Oskar entirely.  But he sensed a need to say something meaningful, to take the initiative.  He started with

“This is new, miss, you don’t tend to go out in the daytime, I believe.”

Adine Mieke came to herself again, blushed, and traces of something resembling fear appeared on her face, as if she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t.

“Yes, well,” she hastily replied, as if feeling the need to excuse herself, “we don’t go out during the day, he, my friend, that is, doesn’t want to, but it all got so cramped there inside behind closed shutters, I couldn’t breathe, it was making me ill.  So I decided to go out for a while.”

She blurted this all out in the manner of an invalid who, when asked a sympathetic question, is keen to pour out all of their sufferings.

“You’re doing the right thing,” Oskar replied, moved by the tortured look in her eyes, ”sitting here quietly at this hour is, in my opinion, wonderfully beneficial; do you not sense, as I do, how our bodies are drinking in the life here, full to overflowing?  Out here we can recharge our supplies of life.”

Oskar smiled, but far from smiling herself, Adine still wore her startled expression.

“Oh, do you think so?” she said.

“And that’s a good thing,” Oskar continued, “for however much life we store up, it’s never enough.”

This seemed to annoy Adine, she furrowed her brow, her mouth twitched as if she were cross and about to burst into tears.

“I just wanted to relax out here a little,” she said in a trembling voice, “I didn’t want to store anything up or drink anything in, and I don’t need to recharge, and now I have to go.”

She hurriedly stood up, nodded and walked back down the path towards the house.  Oskar was moved as he watched her go and said to himself: “Oh, there’s plenty of life in her yet.”

*****

Oskar didn’t tell Dina anything about the encounter, but he was attentive and kind.  He spoke of how with each passing day, nature was making a greater impression on him, of how his poetry was growing inside him, “it’s coming, it’s coming,” he said and wrung his hands in pleasure, it was just a matter of spending as much time as possible alone with nature, one-to-one with it, so to speak.  With a sigh, Dina reached for her English novel. Yes!  It always boiled down to this, her sitting at home alone.

In the evenings, Oskar had a strenuous watch duty, he followed the couple when they went down to the lake, he took a boat and went out onto the lake, his entire being taut with excitement, with fear, with a torturing compassion, as if he were charged with retrieving something precious.  On the day after their first encounter, he hadn’t met Adine at the bench, but she was there the following day, her legs stretched out in front of her, her hands folded in her lap, fully absorbed in the ecstasy of rest.  Oskar sat down next to her, with a wan smile she softly said:

“Here I am again.”

“That’s good, that’s good,” Oskar replied eagerly.

“No, well, but – he was asleep, I simply had to get out.  You said you can drink in life here, yes, that’s what I feel like, like a drinker who secretly creeps out to get drunk.”

“Why secretly?” Oskar rang out, ”it’s our duty to absorb as much life as we can, it’s for the best, who would want to forbid us that?”

Adine tiredly shrugged her shoulders.

“But what for!  There’s no point to it all, anyway.”

Oskar sat up straight, now was the time for him to say something decisive, now was the time to persuade this poor, despondent creature to live.  He felt a warmth in his heart, he was a poet after all, even if he hadn’t yet found the time for his verse.  He began thus:

“Please, young lady, it is possible that there is no point to life, very possible, even, but it doesn’t need to have a point, it’s quite enough in itself.  And you see, in those very moments when it seems to have the least meaning, when everything simply burns inside us and renders us unthinking, that’s when it makes us the happiest, that’s when we fully grasp its meaning.  It’s for the sake of such moments that we can take the odd hardship in our stride.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Adeline asked, looking at Oskar in surprise and anger, but he merely continued in his calm, moralising tone:

“Because – because it seems to me that you might have forgotten that.  Well, look, do you hear the buzzing here, is there a point to it?  It’s nothing more than the pleasant music of thousands of tiny beings simply happy to be alive.  Please, look at that bumblebee over there, that pretty little golden-brown ball of velvet, look at it making its way sedately through the sunshine.  It flies over to the flowers with nothing to do but buzz around in the sunshine and sing sleepily to itself.  No, please, don’t speak, just let us sit here together quietly.  Then you’ll understand what I mean.  You see, it’s actually for the best for two people to sit and experience these moments together – please, it enhances the moment.”

Adine smiled her wan smile once more, but she obediently fell silent, folded her hands in her lap and looked at the bee.  All the tension and fear slipped from her pale face, it was the face of someone who longed for sleep and yet hesitated a little in order to feel the sweet sensation of peace overcoming them.  However, from her unmoving eyes, tears ran slowly down her pale cheeks.

← Part Two     Part Four →

Translation © 2020 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.

*****
The image of the author’s painting (1900), by Lovis Corinth, was sourced from the writer’s German-language Wikipedia page.

4 thoughts on “‘Nachbarn’ (‘Neighbours’) by Eduard Graf von Keyserling – Part Three

    1. Simon – I find myself reading through it now and hoping that the tone is consistent. That was basically my plan, not overly, showily old, but with nothing glaringly out of place. Fingers crossed!

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