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

In the evening, as Dina and Oskar sat on the balcony, the voices of their neighbours could again be heard drifting up from below.

“Another day gone by,” complained Doctor Krammer, “and why, I ask, why?”

Adine answered; her voice trembled, she seemed to be crying.

“What can I do about it?  You say it will happen without our needing to do anything, I’m waiting for it.”

Doktor Krammer laughed, briefly, mockingly, Dina found the laugh disturbing.  What was even more disturbing was when Oskar, beside her in the darkness, also began to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?”  she asked.  “I thought you felt sorry for her.”

“I do feel sorry for her,” he replied, “and that’s why I’m laughing.”

Dina shrugged her shoulders.  The poetry was to blame for Oskar’s love of such expressions, words she found fully incomprehensible.

*****

There now followed for Dina lonely days that seemed impossibly long.  Apart from at meals, she virtually never saw Oskar, she had to take her walks alone, or she simply sat out on the balcony reading her English novel with the sunny valley, and its rich, colourful tranquillity, spread out before her.  She would have given much for any kind of occurrence, even one of those exhausting scenes with Oskar, full of tears and reconciliation.  One day, when she had just got back from her walk in the morning warmth and was resigning herself to waiting for Oskar, who was late for lunch every day now, the maid, Resei, came in and reported: the gentleman wished to notify the lady that he had needed to urgently return to the city, he would write in due course.  Well, that was certainly news, but it didn’t surprise Dina overly, she was used to such secretive resolutions on Oskar’s part.

“Yes, down at the farm,” Resei continued with her story, “the gentleman took a carriage to the station.”

Right, well, now there was nothing stopping Resei from bringing lunch in.  The girl went, she stopped in the doorway as if she had something else to say.  Dina looked at her expectantly.

“Yes – and,” Resei began hesitantly, “the farmer says that over by the woods the lady, the one who came with the doctor downstairs, she got into the carriage and went off with him.”

Without looking back at Dina, Resei quickly left the room.  Dina had turned pale, she leaned her head against the back of her armchair.  My God, this again, always this!  It’s probably another of those ‘experiences’.  Whenever Dina became jealous, Oskar liked to say:

“I take nothing from you, but I need experiences like this, just as a painter needs his paints.”

Dina wasn’t overly distressed, her heart was merely weighed down with a dismal tiredness.  She decided not to leave the room anymore, she would be ashamed in front of the people who all knew what had occurred, she simply wished to sit quietly in her chair and not move from the spot.  While it was true that she currently felt nothing but tired resignation, unhappiness would eventually arrive, this she knew from similar events in the past.

*****

The sultry afternoon hours passed slowly, with the buzzing of flies and the bright sunlight that made it through the gaps in the shutters and pierced the darkness of the room.  Then came the cool change of the evening, the wind whispered in the trees, and the sweet, strong fragrance of the meadows forced its way inside, blowing like solace into the room, which for Dina seemed full of sadness.  At last, pink evening clouds hung on the mountain tops.

There was a knock at the door.  Dina said, ”Come in,” without looking up, thinking it was the maid.  However, when the door opened and closed again, she raised her head.  A man stood by the door, Doctor Krammer, with his messy, black hair, his lively eyes in a pale face, and his clumsy schoolboy movements.  He gave a hurried bow.  Oh, him! thought Dina and looked at him with disdain.  What did he want?  Oh, no, he had no place here, her affair and his affair had no relation to one another, and she was happy with the cold, haughty tone in which she asked:

“Can I be of service, sir?”

Doctor Krammer stumbled towards her and began to speak.

“Please excuse me, madam, I wish to ask for a moment of your time, just a few words.”

Dina pointed towards a chair, Krammer sat down, wringing his hands, and with difficulty forced his words out.

“Perhaps you already know this, madam, your husband left today with my – my companion.”

”So I hear,” Dina said, speaking as if this were the most indifferent of all facts.

The young man looked at her in astonishment, a strange expression passed over his face, then he thought to himself for a moment and murmured:

“I wasn’t expecting this, I wasn’t expecting it to be taken this way.”

He shivered as though cold, and when he began to speak, he stumbled over his words and spoke quickly, as if afraid of being interrupted.

“I could never have expected such an occurrence to be taken this way.  I should just go now, but I just want to say that for me this occurrence is a tragedy, yes, the greatest tragedy of my entire life.  I had formed a tie with this young woman, one stronger, I would even say more sacred, than any other, and now – this petty triviality of life has come along and ruined everything.”

He fell silent, wrung his hands until they cracked, and his face twitched as if he were about to cry.

“I’m very sorry,” said Dina, more sympathetic now, “but what can I…”

“No, you cannot help me,” the young man interrupted abruptly, “I was mistaken.  I have been unhappy my entire life, I’m quite used to that, but I never quite got used to being unhappy by myself, I had always sought a companion for my misfortune, finally I believed I had found one, it was a dreadful disappointment, and in my excitement I thought to find something like a comrade in suffering up here, it was foolish of me, forgive me, madam, for the disturbance, I shall leave now.”

Yet he remained seated, looking down at the floor.  Dina examined him with a mix of sympathy and curiosity.

“What will you do now?” she asked.  “Will you write something?”

“Write!” Krammer exclaimed, “are you mocking me?”

Dina blushed.

“No, Doctor, of course not, it’s just that I’ve always been told that you need experiences in order to write something.  It was foolish of me to say that, of course.”

Krammer smiled acceptingly.

“What I will do,” he said, “well, it doesn’t really matter, I’ll simply live,” and at this his voice grew louder, “I see that life is so wretched that a noble death has no place here.”

These words seemed to restore his bearing to him.  He stood up, with a haughty expression on his face, and bowed.  Dina nodded to him.

“Yes, Doctor, please do so, and when the young lady finds out, she’ll almost certainly…”

However, he made a gesture as if to brush the words off and left.

Twilight filled the room, Dina remained sitting.  She thought of Krammer, with slight dread to begin with, then with sympathy, and finally she thought about herself, and at this her self-pity grew to such an extent that for a long time she silently wept.

THE END

*****

← Part Three     Translator’s Afterword →

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.

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

    1. Kaggsy – Yes, lots to ponder after these last few scenes (and unlike in the last story, the main man here certainly has no redeeming features!).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m like Karen: didn’t see quite this ending coming. And she’s right about what’s not said, a more subtle version of Hemingway’s (in)famous ‘iceberg’ method. To paraphrase Rita during her education, ‘That Oskar, what a swine!’

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    1. Simon – Yes, it ends nicely, and it’s good that not everything is explicitly stated (although it’s not hard to read between the lines…).

      Like

  2. I’m continuing to enjoy the story Tony. Thank you! I don’t read many short stories and yours is making me think I should do so.

    I’m thinking that you might welcome more technical comment, even if mildly critical. If not, please excuse me. One passage that interrupted the flow for me was “this petty triviality of life has come along and ruined everything.” Did you consider any alternative renderings?

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    1. Steve – I could have flattened it out with something like “some little thing” or “some minor incident”, but the German does use “Trivialität”, and I think I kept it to emphasise the pompous nature of Krammer’s tone. Certainly, Keyserling is mocking his creation here a little 🙂

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