2024/07/20 - 21:43

A Country House near New York

“We’ve arrived,” Mr. Pollunder said, right in the middle of one of Karl’s lost moments. The automobile stood in front of a country house that was, for a house in the country, vaster and taller than should have been necessary to serve a single family, as was the style of rich people’s villas in the suburbs of New York. Since only the low part of the house was lit up, you couldn’t tell at all how far it went into the sky. Chestnut trees rustled in the front, and a short way led between them – the gate was already open – to the staircase of the house. Because he was so tired from the trip out, he realized that the journey had taken quite long. In the darkness of the chestnut avenue, he heard a girl’s voice next to him saying, “Finally, here is Mr. Jakob.” “My name is Rossman,” Karl said, and took the girl’s outstretched hand, which he could now distinguish in outline. “He is just Mr. Jakob’s nephew,” Mr. Pollunder said to explain, “and he is called Karl Rossman.” “That doesn’t change how happy we are to have him here,” said the girl, who didn’t put much weight on people’s names. Despite this, Karl still asked as he walked to the house between the girl and Mr. Pollunder: “You are the Miss Klara?” “Yes,” she said, and already a distinguishing light shone from the house onto her face as she leaned it towards him. “I didn’t want to introduce myself in the dark.” So had she been waiting for us by the gate? Karl thought as the walk gradually woke him up. “We’re having another guest this evening,” said Klara. “Impossible!” Pollunder yelled annoyed. “Mr. Green,” Klara said. “When did he come?” Karl asked, as if he were having a premonition. “A moment ago. Didn’t you hear his automobile in front of yours?” Karl looked at Pollunder to find out how he judged the matter, but he had his hands in his pockets and stomped his feet a little bit harder when he walked. “It’s pointless to live a little outside New York if you can’t avoid disturbances. Of course we’ll have to move our home again. And I’ll have to travel half the night before I get home.” They kept standing on the staircase. “But Mr. Green hasn’t been here for a very long time,” Klara said, completely agreeing with her father but wanting to calm him down. “Then why he is coming tonight?” said Pollunder, and the words rolled furiously over his thick lower lip, and its loose, heavy flesh moved easily. “Certainly!” said Klara. “Maybe he’ll go away soon,” Karl observed, and was amazed how much he understood the people who yesterday had been complete strangers. “Oh, no,” said Klara. “He had some big piece of business for Papa, the discussion will take quite a long time, because he already threatened me as a joke, that I’m going to have to listen till morning if I’m going to be a good hostess.” “That too, eh? Then he stays overnight,” moaned Pollunder, as if he had finally reached the worst possibility. “I really have an urge,” he said, and became friendlier because of his new thoughts, “I really have an urge to take you, Karl Rossman, into the auto and back to your uncle. The evening is disturbed from here on out, who knows when your uncle will let you visit us again. But I’d bring you back today, just so that your Mr. Uncle couldn’t refuse you the next time.” And he shook Karl by the hand, so he could begin carrying out his plan. But Karl didn’t move, and Klara asked to leave him here, because she and Karl weren’t being disturbed by Mr. Green in the slightest, and finally Pollunder realized that he didn’t have the firmest resolve. Moreover – and this was probably the deciding factor – Mr. Green could be heard calling into the garden from the top of the highest stair: “Where have you been?” “Come,” Mr. Pollunder said and turned up the staircase. Karl and Klara went behind him, studying each other in the light. “What red lips she has,” Karl said to himself and thought about Mr. Pollunder’s lips and how beautifully they had transformed into his daughter’s. “After dinner,” she said, “if it’s all right with you, we’ll go right to my room, so if Papa has to busy himself with this Mr. Green, at least we’ll be rid of him. And you will be so kind as to play the piano for me, because Papa explained to me how good you are, but sadly I’m completely incapable of pursuing music and never lay a finger on my piano, I love music so much.” Karl entirely agreed with Klara’s proposal, but he would have liked to take Mr. Pollunder into their company. Before the giant figure of Green – Karl could live with Pollunder’s size – which developed slowly as they moved toward it on the stairs, Karl gave up all his hope of coaxing Mr. Pollunder away from this man tonight.
Mr. Green received them in a rush as if he had lots to make up for, took Mr. Pollunder’s arm and shoved Karl and Klara into the dining room, which looked especially festive because of the flowers on the table sticking half-way out of the stripes of foliage. All of it made Mr. Green and his disturbing presence twice as regrettable. But Karl, who waited by the table for the others to sit down, was still happy that the great glass doors to the garden would stay open, because a strong fragrance blew in, like it was a summer house, and then it forced a panting Mr. Green to close the glass doors, bending over to the lowest bolt and stretching for the highest one, all of it so youthfully quick that by the time the servant hurried over he found that there was nothing more to do. The first words from Mr. Green once he was at the table were gestures of astonishment that Karl had actually received permission from his uncle for this visit. He lifted one full soupspoon after another into his mouth and explained, on his right to Klara, on his left to Mr. Pollunder, why he was so astonished and how watchful the uncle was over Karl and how much the uncle loved Karl, as if you only could call it the love of an uncle. “It’s not enough for him to interfere here unnecessarily, now he interferes right between me and my uncle,” thought Karl, unable to bring in a sip of his golden soup. But then he didn’t want anyone to notice how annoyed he felt and began to pour the soup down in silence. The meal passed at length, like torture. Only Mr. Green and maybe Klara were still lively, finding opportunities now and again for a quick laugh. Mr. Pollunder landed in the conversation only a couple of times when Mr. Green talked about business. But he pulled back right away from these conversations and Mr. Green had to surprise him suddenly another time. He emphasized – since Karl pricked up his ears as if he were being threatened, Klara had to carefully make him realize that the roast was standing before him and that he was at a dinner – he never had the intention to make this unexpected visit. Because even if the business they still had to speak about was of particular urgency, the important details could have been handled today in the city and the minor details could have been kept for tomorrow or later. And so he would actually have been with Mr. Pollunder long before closing time, but he didn’t find him, so he was forced to call home to say that he wouldn’t be home and was traveling out here. “Then I must ask your forgiveness,” Karl said loudly, before there was any time for an answer, “because it’s my fault that Mr. Pollunder left his business earlier today, and I am very sorry.” Mr. Pollunder covered the greater part of his face with a napkin while Klara smiled at Karl, not to sympathize with him, but to influence him. “It doesn’t need an apology,” said Mr. Green as he cut a pigeon into thin slices. “Completely to the contrary, I am very happy to spend the night with such pleasant company, instead of taking up the evening at home alone, where my old housekeeper serves me, so old that the way from the door to my table happens to be difficult for her, and if I want to watch her do this, I can lean back in my chair for a long time. To shorten it, I made a servant bring the meal to the dining room door, but she’s made me understand that the way from the door to my table belongs to her.” “My God!” cried Klara. “That is a faithful servant!” “Yes, there is still loyalty in the world,” Mr. Green said, running a morsel into his mouth. Karl noticed by chance how the tongue vigorously seized the food. It almost made him sick and he got up. Right away Mr. Pollunder and Klara seized his hands. “You have to stay seated,” Klara said. As he sat down again, she whispered, “We’ll disappear together soon. Have patience.” Mr. Green busied himself in the meantime with his meal, as if it were Mr. Pollunder’s and Klara’s job to calm Karl down whenever he made him sick.
The meal dragged along, particularly because of the drawn-out precision Mr. Green used with every course. He was prepared to receive every new course again and again without exhaustion, it really gave the impression that he wanted to thoroughly recuperate from his old housekeeper. Here and there he would praise Miss Klara’s art of managing the house, obviously flattering her, while Karl tried to fend him off as if he were attacking her. But Mr. Green didn’t just content himself with her; he also, without looking up from his plate, frequently lamented Karl’s conspicuous loss of appetite. Mr. Pollunder defended Karl’s appetite, even though, being Karl’s host, he probably should have encouraged Karl to eat. And Karl, suffering for the entire meal, actually felt the obligation to eat so sensitively, that against his better judgment he read hostility into Mr. Pollunder’s comments. And it fit his condition well, when suddenly he started eating far too much far too quickly and then, tired, allowed the fork and knife to sink down again for a long time, becoming the most motionless of the party. The servant who handed out the meals didn’t know where to begin.
“I will explain in the morning to the Senator, how you offended Miss Klara during her evening meal,” Mr. Green said, restricting himself to the amusing intent of these words by the way he busied himself with his dinnerware. “Just look at the girl, how sad she is,” he continued and grabbed Klara under the chin. She let it happen and closed her eyes. “You little thing,” he cooed, leaning back and laughing, his face bright red with the strength of his own satisfaction. Karl tried in vain to explain Mr. Pollunder’s behavior. He sat in front of his plate and stared at it, as if something important were happening there. He didn’t move closer to Karl’s chair, and if he ever spoke he spoke to everyone, but he had nothing to say to Karl. And yet he tolerated Mr. Green, that old, boozed-up, New York bachelor, who touched Klara with very specific intentions and insulted Karl, Pollunder’s guest, or at least handled him as if he were a child, and no one could know what he was getting ready for or what he was pushing at.
After the table was cleared – when Green noted the general mood, he was the first to stand up and everyone rose up with him – Karl went out alone to one of the large windows, divided by thin white strips. It led to the terrace, and as he walked closer, he noticed they were actually doors. Was there anything left of the aversion Mr. Pollunder and his daughter had felt from the beginning, and which at first had come across to Karl as incomprehensible? Now they stood together with Green and nodded at him. The smoke from Mr. Green’s cigar, Pollunder’s gift, which had a kind of thickness to it that his father swore existed but had probably never seen with his own eyes, spread out into the hall and carried Green’s influence into those corners and niches where he would never go. Karl stood far in the distance, but he still felt a tickle in his nose from the smoke, and once he looked around quickly from his place, Mr. Green’s behavior seemed scandalous to him. Now he thought it no longer out of the question, that his uncle had refused him permission to visit for so long, because he knew the weak character of Mr. Pollunder and foresaw the possibility, even though he didn’t see enough, of an insult to Karl. And he didn’t like the American girl, although he hadn’t imagined she would be quite as beautiful as she was. Since Mr. Green had gone off with her, he was amazed at the beauty her face was capable of, especially with a glance from her uncontrollably moving eyes. He had never seen before the kind of skirt which tightly enclosed her body, small creases in the yellowish, delicate, tight fabric demonstrated the strength of the tension. But Karl didn’t think of her at all, and he would have liked to refuse being led to her room, to instead be allowed to open the door whose handle lay ready in his hands and climb into the automobile, or, if the chauffeur was asleep already, walk alone to New York. The clear night and the affectionate full moon stood open for him and for everyone, and being afraid outside in the open seemed a little senseless to Karl. He pictured to himself – and for the first time he felt comfortable in that hall – as he surprised his uncle in the morning – he wouldn’t be able to come home any sooner. He had really never been in his bedroom, didn’t even know where it was, but he would find that out. Then he would knock, and with the formal “Come in!” he’d walk into the room and to his beloved uncle sitting upright in bed, his eyes fixed on the door in astonishment, surprised in his nightshirt when up to now he had only been seen well-dressed and buttoned-up as if on high. In and of itself, it probably wasn’t much, but what consequences it could have! Maybe he’d eat breakfast with his uncle for the first time, the uncle in bed, he in a chair, the breakfast on a table in-between them, maybe this shared breakfast would become a permanent practice, maybe they would, because of this kind of breakfast, do what they had avoided until now, come together more than just once a day and then of course they could speak more openly with each other. If he had been disobedient today – or, to be more accurate, stubborn – it was only because of this lack of open conversation. And if he had to stay here overnight – unfortunately it looked that way, even if you stood here by the window and twiddled your fingers – maybe this unlucky visit would be a turning-point for the better in his relationship with his uncle, maybe his uncle was thinking the same thing this evening in his bedroom.
He turned around with a little confidence. Klara stood in front of him and said: “Don’t you like it here by us? Don’t you feel at home? Come, I want to make one last try.” She led him across the hall towards the door. The two men sat at a side table with full, high glasses of a lightly foaming drink that Karl was unfamiliar with and wanted to taste. Mr. Green had an elbow on the table and moved his whole face as close he possibly could to Mr. Pollunder, you might well have thought something criminal was being discussed and not business. While Mr. Pollunder followed Karl to the door with friendly glances, Green for his part didn’t look at Karl in the slightest, even though anyone else would have followed inadvertently the glances of the person across from him, and behind this behavior seemed to lie a sort of conviction on the part of Mr. Green, that everyone, Karl for himself and Green for himself, should try to get along by his own ability, that the necessary societal connection between them would be manufactured in time by the victory or destruction of one or both of them. “If he means that,” Karl said to himself, “He’s a fool. I want nothing to do with him and he should leave me in peace.” He had barely walked down the hallway when it occurred to him that he had behaved rudely, because he had almost allowed Klara to drag him out of the room while his eyes were stapled on Green. So he was all the more willing to go with her now. On his way through the corridor, at first he didn’t believe his eyes when he saw a richly attired servant standing every twenty steps with a candelabra, whose thick handle they all gripped with both hands. “So far the electric lighting has only been installed in the dining room,” Klara explained. “We first bought this house a short time ago, and it’s being entirely rebuilt, so far as an old house and its stubborn material lets itself be rebuilt.” “So there are old houses in America too,” Karl said. “Of course,” Klara said, laughing and dragging him along. “You have strange ideas about America.” “You shouldn’t laugh at me,” he said, annoyed. In the end, he was already acquainted with both Europe and America, but she only knew America.
In passing Klara shoved a door open with a lightly outstretched hand and said without stopping: “You’ll sleep here.” Naturally Karl wanted to look at the room, but Klara explained impatiently, almost shrieking, there would be time for that and he should come over here now. She pulled him down the hallway a little here and there, finally Karl thought, I can’t follow Klara everywhere, tore himself loose and walked into the room. An unexpected darkness by the window explained itself through some tree branches swaying there in their full range. You could hear birds singing. In the room itself, which hadn’t yet been awakened with moonlight, you could barely distinguish anything at all. Karl regretted not having taken the electric flashlight that he had received as a gift from his uncle. In this house a flashlight was indispensable, if you’d had a pair of these lights, you could have sent the servants to bed. He sat himself on the windowsill and looked and listened around. A bird he had agitated seemed to drill through the leaf-work of an old tree. The whistle of a suburban train clanged somewhere in the country. Otherwise it was still.
But not for long, because Klara came rushing in. She cried, clearly angry: “What’s all this then?” and slapped her skirt. First of all, Karl wanted to answer when she was more hospitable. But she went over to him with large strides and cried: “So are you coming with me or not?” and she pushed him on purpose or in naked anger on the chest so that he would have toppled from the window if he hadn’t slid from the windowsill at the last moment with his feet touching the floor. “I would’ve fallen out just now,” he said critically. “A shame it didn’t happen. Why are you so naughty. I’ll push you down there again.” And she really wrapped him up, her body hardened from sport, and carried him over to the window, while he in astonishment forgot to make it difficult for her. But there he caught his senses, got himself loose with a turning of his hips and grabbed her. “Oh you’re hurting me,” she said immediately. But Karl didn’t think she should be let loose anymore. Admittedly he allowed her the freedom to take a few steps as she preferred, but he followed her and didn’t let her go. It was easy to catch her in her tight dress. “Let me go,” she whispered, her hot face tight on his, he had to strain himself to see it, she was close to him, “let me go, I’ll give you something nice.” “Why does she sigh like that?” Karl thought. “This can’t be hurting her, I’m not even squeezing her.” And he still didn’t let her go. But right after standing there careless and quiet for a moment, he felt her growing power back on his body, she had wrenched herself from him and grabbed him with a good imposing grip, repelling his legs with the positions of some exotic fighting technique and driving him back against the wall with a magnificent regularity of breathing. There was, though, a sofa, and she put him down on it without bending down herself, “Now move yourself if you can.” “Cat, wild cat,” Karl was able to cry out in the muddle of rage and shame he found himself in. “You’re crazy, you wild cat.” “Choose your words carefully,” she said and allowed her hand to slide to his throat, which she began to choke so strongly that Karl was entirely incapable of doing anything else but gasp for air, while she ran her other hand over his cheek, as if to try it out, and again and again she pulled it back and every moment could let herself throw it back down for a slap in the face. “How would it be,” she asked then, “if I wanted to send you home with a big slap in the face as punishment for your behavior in front of a lady. Maybe it’d be useful in your future life, even if it left you without any nice memories. I’m sorry for you and you are a tolerably pretty boy and if you’d learned jiu-jitsu, you’d have walloped me. In spite of that, in spite of that, I am enormously tempted to slap you in the face as you lie there. I’ll probably regret it, but if I do it, I already know I’ll do it against my will, almost. And of course by then I wouldn’t content myself with a slap in the face, but I’d also beat you right and left until your cheeks swell up. And maybe you’re a man of honor – I’d almost believe it – and wouldn’t want to live anymore and pass out of the world. But what do you have against me? Don’t you like me? Wouldn’t it have been worth it to come to my room? Pay attention! I almost hit you with a slap in the face right now! If you should get away today, be more refined the next time. I am not your uncle whom you can defy. Besides, I want you to pay attention, so that if I let you go unslapped, you won’t believe that what you’re going through now and an actual slap in the face are the same in terms of honor, but if that were the case, I would prefer to slap you in the face. What will Mack say when I explain all this to him.” When she remembered Mack she let Karl go, in his vague thoughts Mack seemed like a liberator. He still felt Klara’s hand on his throat, so he writhed a little and then he lay still.
She encouraged him to stand up, he didn’t answer and didn’t move. She lit a candle somewhere, the room got some light, a blue zigzag pattern appeared on the ceiling, but Karl lay there, his head resting on the pillow where Klara had left it, not moving one finger’s width. Klara walked around the room, her skirt rustled on her legs, she stayed by the window a long while. “Over it yet?” you could hear her ask. Karl found it painful that he was unable to get any rest in the very room that Mr. Pollunder had thought up for him for the night. Because that girl wandered round, stood there and talked, and he was so indescribably fed up. All he wanted was to fall asleep quickly and get away from here. He didn’t want the bed at all, but wanted to stay on the sofa instead. He lay in wait just for her to walk away, so he could spring to the door behind her, lock it and leap back to the sofa. He wanted so badly to stretch and yawn, but he didn’t want to do it because of Klara. And so he lay there, staring up, and he felt his face become stiff, and a circling fly flickered before his eyes without his knowing exactly what it was.
Again Klara went over to him, bent down in his line of sight, and if he hadn’t have mastered himself, he might have had to look at her. “I’m going now,” she said. “Maybe later you’ll want to come by me. The door to my room is the fourth of these doors on the right, on this side of the hallway. So you’ll pass these doors, and the next one you come to is the right one. I’m not going to the dining hall anymore, but I’ll stay in my room. I’m not going to wait for you, but if you want to come then come. Remember, you promised to play the piano for me. But maybe I’ve completely stunned you and you can’t move anymore, so stay and go to sleep. I won’t say a word to my father about our fight, for now, I know that the circumstances might cause you some trouble.” And so she ran with two leaps out of the room, despite her alleged sleepiness.
At once Karl sat up, this lying around had already become unbearable. Just so he could move around a little, he went to the door and looked into the hallway. But what a darkness! He was happy as he closed and locked the door, and the table continued to stand in the light of a candle. He decided not to stay any longer in this house, but to go down to Mr. Pollunder and tell him frankly how he had treated Klara – admittedly, his defeat didn’t weigh on him at all – and with this entirely sufficient reason he’d ask permission to drive home or to be allowed to walk. If Mr. Pollunder objected to something about this immediate return home, then Karl would want at least to ask him to let a servant guide him to the nearest hotel. So far as Karl knew, as a rule this was not the way you treated friendly hosts, but you also didn’t treat guests like Klara had treated him. She had even thought it kind of her to promise not to tell Mr. Pollunder about their fight, and that was scandalous. And so Karl was invited to a wrestling match, and it had been humiliating for him to be thrown around by a girl who probably committed the greater part of her life to learning wrestling moves. In the end she had received lessons from Mack. If she would explain everything to him, it would be understandable, Karl knew that, even though Karl had never had the opportunity to hear from the man himself. Karl also knew, that if Mack would instruct him he would make even greater progress than Klara; then one day he would come here again, most likely uninvited, to get a feel for the territory, the exact knowledge of which had been a great advantage for Klara, so he could seize this same Klara and knock her onto the same sofa on which he had been thrown today.
His concern now was finding the way back to the hall, where, in his initial absentmindedness, he had probably laid his hat in an inappropriate place. He wanted to take the candle with him of course, but it wasn’t easy to find his way around just by its light. He didn’t know at all, for example, if his door was on the same level as the hall. Klara had dragged him so much on the way here that he hadn’t been able to look around, Mr. Green and the light-bearing servants had taken up his attention, in short, he didn’t know if they had passed one or two or no staircases at all. According to his view of things, the room lay somewhat high, so he tried to imagine that she had come over some steps, but you had to climb steps even on the way up to the house, why couldn’t this side of the house be raised higher. But if there were at least some light shining on a door somewhere for him to see, or a voice in the distance, ever so soft to hear . . .
His pocket watch, a gift from his uncle, read eleven o’clock, he took the candle and went out into the hallway. He left the door open, in case his search were pointless he could at least find his room again and in case of emergency the door to Klara’s room. To be sure that the door wouldn’t close by itself, he blocked it with an armchair. In the hallway, a breeze unfortunately blew against Karl – he naturally went to the left, away from Klara’s room – it was weak, but all the same it could’ve easily extinguished the candle, so Karl protected the flame with his hand and often had to stop moving, so that the weakened flame might revive itself. It made for slow forward progress and because of the stopping the way seemed twice as long. Karl came by a great stretch of wall entirely without doors, you couldn’t imagine what was behind it. Then came again door after door, he tried to open several, they were blocked and the rooms apparently unlived in. It was an unparalleled waste of rooms and Karl thought of the apartments in eastern New York, which his uncle had promised to show him, where allegedly several families lived in one small room and a family’s home was the corner of a room, where the children pawed at their parents. And here so many rooms stood empty, just so you could hear a hollow sound when you knocked on the door. It seemed to Karl that Mr. Pollunder was misled by false friends and crazy about his daughter and ruined because of it. His uncle had certainly judged him correctly, and only his principle of not influencing Karl’s personal judgment was guilty for this visit and this wandering through hallways. Karl wanted to repeat this to his uncle that morning, since because of his principle his uncle would listen to his nephew’s judgment of him calmly and gladly. It was generally this principle that Karl didn’t like about his uncle, but even this dislike didn’t come without qualifications.
Suddenly the wall on one side of the hallway stopped and an ice-cold marble railing stood in its place. Karl put the candle down on it and leaned over carefully. Dark emptiness blew against him. If this was the main lobby of the house – in the shimmer of the candle, a vaulted, arching ceiling appeared – why wasn’t anyone walking through this lobby? What purpose did this great, deep room serve? You stood here in the open, as in the gallery of a church. Karl almost regretted not being able to stay in the house till morning, he would gladly have been led all around by Mr. Pollunder in daylight and would have allowed him to explain everything.
The railing wasn’t long and soon Karl was taken into another enclosed hallway again. When the hallway suddenly turned Karl knocked into a wall with his whole force and only the uninterrupted care with which he desperately held the handle protected it, luckily, from falling and going out. Since the hallway didn’t want to end, there were no windows to look out of, nothing moved, neither high nor low, Karl was already thinking that he if he kept on walking forward through the same circle of intersections he could hope maybe to find the door to his room again, but neither it nor the balustrade returned again. Up to now Karl had kept himself from any loud shouting, because he didn’t want to make any noises in a strange house at such a late hour, but he realized that this wasn’t a bad thing to do in an unlit house and right away he began to scream a loud hallo down both sides of the hallway, when he noticed, in the direction he had come from, a small approaching light. For the first time he could estimate the length of this hallway, the house was a fortress, not a villa. Karl’s joy over this delivering light was so great that he forgot all caution and ran to it, with the first leap his candle already went out. He didn’t pay any attention to it, because he didn’t need it, an old servant was coming with a lantern to show him the right way.
“Who are you?” the servant asked and held the lantern up to Karl’s face, immediately lighting up his own. His face appeared somewhat stiff because of a large, white, full beard which broke off into silky ringlets at his chest. You’d have to be a loyal servant to be allowed to grow a beard like that, thought Karl and stared intently at the length and breadth of this beard, unhindered by the fact that he was being watched himself. Anyway, he answered at once that he was Mr. Pollunder’s guest, wanted to leave his room for the dining room and couldn’t find it. “Ah, so,” the servant said, “we haven’t installed the electric lights yet.” “I know,” Karl said. “Would you like to light your candle on my lantern?” asked the servant. “Please,” Karl said and did it. “It’s been proven here in the hallways,” the servant said, “that a candle easily goes out, and so I have a lantern.” “Yes, a lantern is very practical,” Karl said. “Your candle is also dripping all over you,” he said and shone the light on Karl’s shirt. “I didn’t notice that at all,” Karl cried and he was very sorry about it, because it was a dark suit which his uncle had said fit him best of all. The fight with Klara had also rendered the suit useless, he reminded himself. The servant was kind enough to clean the suit as well as he could in a hurry; again and again Karl turned himself around in front of him and showed him a fleck here and there, which the servant obediently removed. “Why is it breezy like this?” asked Karl, as they continued on. “There is still a lot to build,” the servant said, “they already started rebuilding, but it went on for a long time. Now the construction workers are on strike, as you perhaps know. You get a lot of trouble with this kind of construction. Now they’ve smashed through a couple of large holes which no one has bricked up, and the breeze runs through the whole house. If I didn’t have my ears full of cotton, I couldn’t stand it.” “So do I have to speak louder?” asked Karl. “No, you have a clear voice,” said the servant. “But, to get back to the building, the breeze is unbearable, especially here when you’re close to the chapel, but later it will be completely cut off from the rest of the house.” “That balcony you come over in the hallway, does that go to the chapel too?” “Yes.” “That’s exactly what I thought,” said Karl. “It’s very much worth seeing,” said the servant. “If it weren’t there, Mr. Mack would never have bought the house.” “Mr. Mack?” asked Karl. “I thought the house belonged to Mr. Pollunder.” “Yes it does,” said the servant, “but Mr. Mack was the deciding factor in the purchase. Don’t you know Mr. Mack?” “Oh yes,” said Karl, “but how is he connected with Mr. Pollunder?” “He is the lady’s fiancé,” said the servant. “I did not know that,” said Karl, standing still. “Are you so surprised?” asked the servant. “I just want it all laid out in front of me. If you don’t know about these kind of relationships, you can make gigantic mistakes,” answered Karl. “It just confuses me, that no one said anything to you,” said the servant. “Yes, really,” said Karl, embarrassed. “They probably thought you knew it,” said the servant. “It’s not recent news. Anyway, here we are,” and he opened a door, behind which a stairway revealed itself that led vertically to the back door of the dining room, as brightly illuminated as it had been on his arrival. Before walking into the dining room, where the voices of Mr. Pollunder and Mr. Green could have been heard unchanged for two whole hours, the servant said, “If you want, I’ll wait for you here and then lead you to your room. It’s always difficult to get to know this place the first night.” “I’m not going back to my room anymore,” said Karl, and he didn’t know why this knowledge made me said. “It won’t be so bad,” said the servant, with a little superior laugh and a slap on the arm. He probably thought that Karl meant to stay the entire night in the dining room, so he could talk with the men and drink with them too. Karl didn’t want to make any confessions, besides Karl was thinking that this servant, who pleased him more than the other local servants, could show him the right direction to New York, and because of this he said: “If you’d wait here, that would be a great kindness from you and I’d accept it gratefully. In any case, after a little while I’ll come out and tell you what I’m going to do. I think your help will still be useful to me.” “Good,” the servant said, standing the lantern up on the ground and sitting himself on a low pedestal, whose emptiness probably had something to do with the rebuilding of the house. “So I’ll wait here.” “You can leave the candle with me,” the servant added when Karl nearly walked into the hall with the burning candle. “I’m so forgetful,” said Karl and reached the candle over to the servant, who nodded at him a little without revealing if he did it intentionally or if it was a consequence of the fact that he was stroking his beard with his hand.
Karl opened the door, and it wasn’t his fault that it rattled loudly, because it was made of a single glass plate that was only held on at the handle and almost cracked when the door was opened quickly. Frightened, Karl let go of the door, because he had wanted to walk in quietly. Without any more turning around, he noticed that the servant had apparently climbed down from his pedestal and closed the door without the slightest noise. “Forgive me if I’m disturbing you,” he said to both gentlemen, who stared at him with their large, astonished faces. Immediately, however, he skimmed the hall with a glance to see if he couldn’t find his hat. But it was nowhere to be seen, the dining table was completely cleared away, maybe the hat embarrassingly had been carried away to somewhere in the kitchen. “So where did you lose Klara?” asked Mr. Pollunder, who seemed to enjoy the interruption, because he shifted his position in his chair right away and turned his entire front to Karl. Mr. Green pretended not to be interested and pulled his wallet out, which was enormous for its kind in both length and width. He seemed to look for a certain something in its many pockets, but during the search he read all the various papers that came into his hand. “I have a request, which you must not misunderstand,” said Karl, moving hurriedly to Mr. Pollunder to be near to him, his hand on the armrest of the chair. “What kind of request is it?” asked Mr. Pollunder and looked at Karl with open, supportive glances. “It’s already granted of course.” And he laid an arm around Karl and pulled him onto his lap. Karl put up with it gladly, but he felt much too grown-up for this kind of behavior. But naturally it became more difficult to declare his request. “How do you like it by us?” Mr. Pollunder asked. “Does it seem to you too, that you become free in the country, once you get out of the city. In general –” and Pollunder sent a well-understood glance, somewhat concealed by Karl, right to Mr. Green – “In general I have this feeling again and again every evening.” “He speaks,” thought Karl, “like he knows nothing about this gigantic house, the endless hallways, the chapel, the empty rooms, the darkness over everything.” “Now!” said Mr. Pollunder. “The request!” and he shook Karl affectionately, as Karl sat there dumb. “I request,” said Karl, and as much as he muffled his voice, he couldn’t keep Green, who sat nearby, from hearing everything that Karl would have preferred to keep discrete, everything that was likely to be taken as an insult to Mr. Pollunder. “I request, that you let me go home, right now, in the night.” And since the most unpleasant part had been said, everything else shoved out all the faster, he said without the smallest lie things he hadn’t thought of at all before now. “I would like above all things to go home. I’ll gladly come back, because wherever you are, Mr. Pollunder, I’m fine. It’s just that today I can’t stay here. You know, my uncle hadn’t wanted to give me permission for this visit. He certainly had his good reasons, as he has for everything he does, and I took it upon myself to force out his permission against his better judgment. Simply, I abused his love for me. Whatever doubts he had about this visit are now unimportant, I know simply and entirely and certainly that there was nothing in these doubts about hurting you, Mr. Pollunder, you who are the best, the best friend of my uncle. No one could match, not in the slightest, your friendship with my uncle. That is the single excuse for my disobedience, but it’s not enough. Maybe you don’t have enough insight into the relationship between my uncle and me, so I only want to talk about the most convincing points. As long as my English studies remain incomplete and I haven’t looked around enough for myself in practical business, I am entirely dependent on the goodness of my uncle, which as a blood relative I am admittedly allowed to enjoy. You might not believe that I could somehow earn my own bread – and for everything else may God protect me. My education, unfortunately, has been too impractical for that. I made it through four grades as an average student in a European middle school, and as far as making money goes that counts for less than nothing, because the lesson plan in our school was obsolete. You’d laugh if I told you what I learned. Maybe if someone continued studying, finished school and went to the university, everything might probably balance out somehow, and he’d finally have a well-rounded education that would give him the resolve to start something and make some money. But I, unfortunately, was torn away from this web of studies, sometimes I think I don’t know anything at all, and what I do know wouldn’t be enough in America. Now, here are there in my homeland, reformed schools are being set up, where you can learn modern languages and business science, when I got out of school they weren’t there yet. My father encouraged me to teach myself English, but first of all I couldn’t even guess what kind of misfortune would envelop me and how I’d need that English, and secondly I had so much to learn at that school that I didn’t have much time for other business – I’m saying all of this to show you how I dependent I am on my uncle and consequently how indebted I am to him. You’ll certainly admit, that because of this situation I am not allowed to permit myself even the slightest offense against what he might want. And for that reason, in order to make up for the error I’ve committed against him, I must go home immediately.” During Karl’s long speech, Mr. Pollunder had listened carefully and quite often squeezed Karl up against him imperceptibly, especially when the uncle was mentioned, looking earnestly and full of expectation at Green, who continued to busy himself with his wallet. But Karl just became more impatient, which became clear to him over the course of his speech, seeking instinctively to push Mr. Pollunder’s arm away from him, everything cramped him here, the road to his uncle through the glass doors, down the stairway, over the country roads, through the suburbs to the large traffic-jammed streets leading to his uncle’s house seemed all together as one, lying there empty, smooth and ready for him and calling after him with a strong voice. Mr. Pollunder’s kindness and Mr. Green’s repulsiveness blurred together, and he wanted nothing from this smoky room but permission to say goodbye. He felt alienated from Mr. Pollunder, ready for a fight with Mr. Green, and then an uncertain fear came around and filled him, whose shock clouded his eyes.
He took a step back and stood exactly as far from Mr. Pollunder as he did from Mr. Green. “Do you want to say something to him?” Mr. Pollunder asked Mr. Green, grabbing Mr. Green’s hand as if pleading with him. “I don’t know, what should I say to him?” said Mr. Green, who had finally took a letter from his wallet and laid it before them on the table. “It is highly admirable, that he wants to return to his uncle and you could reasonably believe that he will make his uncle especially happy. It could also be that he made his uncle much too angry through his disobedience. In that case it would be better if he stayed here. It’s difficult to say anything definite, we are both his uncle’s friends and it takes an effort to figure out which friendship ranks higher, mine or Mr. Pollunder’s, but we can’t read your uncle’s mind, especially over all these kilometers separating us from New York.” “Please,” said Karl, bringing himself closer to him through sheer willpower, “I’m detecting in your words, that it would be best if I got back right away.” “That isn’t what I meant,” said Mr. Green, becoming engrossed in the letter and running his two fingers back and forth along the edges. He seemed to want to hint that Mr. Pollunder had asked him a question, that he had answered back, and that he had really nothing to do with Karl.
In the meantime Mr. Pollunder had walked over to Karl and pulled him gently away from Mr. Green to one of the large windows. “Dear Mr. Rossman,” he said, bending down to Karl’s ear, washing his face with a handkerchief in preparation and, after a pause, blowing his nose. “You don’t believe that I want to hold you here against your will. We shouldn’t even talk about that. I cannot provide the automobile for you, because it’s resting far away from here in a public garage, since I didn’t have the time to build my own garage here while everything else is in planning. And the chauffeur doesn’t sleep here in the house, but closer to the garage, I don’t know where exactly. Moreover, it is not his duty at all to be home right now, his duty is just this, to get here early at the right time. But all that would be no obstacle to your returning home at a moment’s notice, because if you insisted on it, I’d accompany you immediately to the nearest station for trains into the city, and that is so far away you wouldn’t be able to arrive home much earlier if you traveled with me in my automobile – we leave at seven o’clock.” “Mr. Pollunder, I would prefer to travel by the train into the city,” said Karl. “I didn’t think at all about the train. You said yourself I could arrive earlier with the train than with the automobile.” “But there’s only a small difference.” “In spite of that, in spite of that Mr. Pollunder,” said Karl, “in memory of your kindness, I will always like to come here, assuming of course that after my behavior today you’ll still want to invite me, and maybe next time I’ll be able to explain to you a little better why every minute I could be with my uncle is so important to me.” And as if he was about to receive permission to leave, he added: “But under no circumstances are you allowed to accompany me. It is entirely unnecessary. There’s a servant outside who will gladly accompany me to the station. Now I just need to find my hat.” And with the last word he cut through the room to make a hurried last attempt to find his hat. “Could I help you out with a cap?” said Mr. Green, taking a cap from his pocket. “Maybe it will fit.” Karl stood amazed and said: “I’m not going to take away your cap. I’ll be just fine with a bare head. I don’t need it at all.” “It’s not my cap. Just take it!” “Then thank you,” said Karl, so he wouldn’t detain himself, and took the cap. He took it and laughed at first, because it fit exactly, then took it again in his hand and examined it, but couldn’t find the special thing that he was looking for; it was a perfect new hat. “It fits so well!” he said. “So it fits!” cried Mr. Green and banged on the table.
Karl was already going to the door to fetch the servant when Mr. Green picked himself up, stretched after a good meal and all that quiet time, clapped strongly against his chest and said in a tone between suggesting and demanding: “Before you leave you have to say goodbye to Miss Klara.” “You must,” said Mr. Pollunder, who had also stood up. You could hear in him that the words weren’t coming from the heart, he weakly let his hands hit his pants seams and was constantly buttoning and unbuttoning his jacket, which was very short, according to the style of the time, and barely went to his hips, and people as large as Mr. Pollunder wore such jackets terribly. Standing close to Mr. Pollunder, you would have had the impression that all this weight wasn’t good for Mr. Pollunder, the entire mass of his back writhed, the stomach was soft and flabby, a real burden, and the face seemed pale and labored. Across from him stood Mr. Green, maybe a little fatter than Mr. Pollunder, but it was a coherent, load-bearing kind of fat, the feet were clapped together in a soldier’s stance, he held the head upright and nodded, he seemed to be a large gymnast, a chief among gymnasts.
“So first of all,” Mr. Green continued, “go to Miss Klara. That will allow you to have a good time and it also fits very nicely with my schedule. Actually, I have something interesting to tell you before you continue on, something that might be crucial for your return. But unfortunately I’m bound by higher orders not to give them away to you before midnight. You can imagine the kind of harm it does to me, because it’s disturbing my night’s rest, but I will hold myself to my orders. Now it’s a quarter after eleven, I’ll discuss my business with Mr. Pollunder to the end, and your presence here would only be a disturbance, so you can spend a nice while with Miss Klara. You will arrive here punctually at twelve o’clock, where you will learn the matter of importance.”
Could Karl defy these orders, which demanded only the smallest bit of hospitality and thanks toward Mr. Pollunder – which, by the way, had been given to him by an indifferent, brutal man while Mr. Pollunder, whose business it actually was, held himself back with words and glances? And what was this interesting thing he would be allowed to hear at midnight? If it didn’t hurry his return home by the three-quarters of an hour it was wasting, it didn’t really interest him. But he doubted the most if he would able to walk over to Klara, his enemy. If only he’d had the chisel his uncle had given to him as a paperweight. Klara’s room could be a dangerous cave. But now it was completely and utterly impossible to say the slightest thing against Klara, because she was Mr. Pollunder’s daughter and, as he had heard, Mack’s fiancée. If she had behaved a tiny bit differently, he would have openly admired her for these relationships. He thought all this over, but noticed, that no one could demand any thought out of him, because Green opened the door and said to the servant, who sprang up from the pedestal: “Take this young man to Miss Klara.”
“So this is how you carry out an order,” thought Karl as he followed at a jog after the servant, who groaned with age down a remarkably short way to Klara’s room. As Karl passed his room, where the door was still standing open, he wanted to step in for a moment, maybe just to reassure himself. But the servant didn’t let him. “No,” he said, “you have to go to Miss Klara. You heard it yourself.” “I’ll only stop inside for a moment,” said Karl, and he thought about throwing himself on the sofa for a change, so that the time until midnight would go more quickly for him. “Don’t make it difficult for me to carry out my duty,” the servant said. “He seems to think it’s a punishment that I have to go to Miss Klara,” thought Karl and took a couple of steps, but then he stood still again in defiance. “Come on, young man,” said the servant. “now that you’re already here. I know you still want to go off into the night, but not everything goes as you want it, I said to you right away, such things barely become possible.” “Yes, I want to go away and so I’ll go away,” said Karl, “and all I want now is to say goodbye to Miss Klara.” “So,” said the servant, and Karl saw that he didn’t believe a word of it, “why wait to say goodbye, come on then.”
“Who’s in the hallway?” Klara’s voice rang out, and you could see her leaning forward out of an approaching door, a large table light with a red lampshade in her hand. The servant hurried over to her and gave her a report, Karl came slowly after him. “You’re coming late,” said Klara. Without answering her for now, Karl spoke softly to the servant, but, since he already knew the man’s nature, he did it in a tone of strict command: “You wait for me just behind this door!” “I would like to go to sleep now,” said Klara and stood the lamp on the table. As he had done downstairs in the dining room, the servant locked the door carefully from the outside. “It is already past half past eleven.” “Past half past eleven,” Karl repeated in question, as if he were frightened over these numbers.
“Then I have to say goodbye right now,” said Karl, “because I have to be in the dining hall punctually at twelve.” “What kind of business do you have to do in such a hurry,” said Klara and absentmindedly arranged the folds of her nightgown, her face glowed and she smiled all the time. Karl seemed to believe that there was no danger of getting in another quarrel with Klara. “Couldn’t you play the piano a little for me, like Papa had promised yesterday and you had promised today?” “But isn’t it already too late?” Karl asked. He would have preferred to please her, because she was entirely different than before, as if somehow she had been promoted a long way into the ranks of Pollunder and Mack. “Yes it is late,” she said and her desire for music seemed to have passed on. “And every note will echo through the entire house too, I am convinced that when you play, the pack of servants in the attic will all wake up.” “So I’ll let the playing go, I hope, by the way, you can still come to visit my uncle some time, if it doesn’t cause you any trouble, and given the chance you could show up in my room. I have a magnificent piano. My uncle gave it to me. Then I’ll play all my little songs for you, if it’s all right by you, it’s not very much unfortunately, and they’re not right at all for such a fine instrument, which only great virtuosos should be heard on. But if you can come to an agreement with me beforehand about your visit, you’ll be able to have that pleasure too, because soon my uncle wants to hire a famous teacher for me – you can imagine how I’d look forward to this – whose playing will make good grounds for you to pay me a visit during the hour lesson. I am, to be honest, happy, that it’s too late for playing, because I can’t play at all, you would be astonished at how little I can play. Now give me permission to leave, it is your bedtime after all.” And because Klara looked kindly on him, and seemed not to bear a grudge towards him at all for their fight, he added with a smile, while he reached his hand toward hers: “In my country, we like to say: Sleep well and dream sweetly.”
“Wait, you,” she said without taking his hand, “maybe you should still play.” And she disappeared through a small side door next to the piano. “What is it then?” Karl thought. “I can’t wait any longer, no matter how nice she is.” There was a knock on the hallway door, and the servant, not daring to fully open the door, whispered through a small crack: “Excuse me, I’ve been called back and can’t wait any more.” “Just go,” said Karl, who decided to take a chance and find his way to the dining room by himself. “Just let me borrow the lantern in front of the door. How late is it anyway?” “Almost quarter to twelve,” said the servant. “The time goes by so slowly,” said Karl. The servant wanted to close the door already, when Karl remembered that he still hadn’t give him a tip, took a shilling out of his pants pocket – he always carried loose change jingling in his pants pocket, according to American custom, while his bank notes were in his vest pocket – and reached it over to the servant with the words: “For your good service.”
Klara had already walked in with her hands on her firm hairstyle, when it occurred to Karl that he shouldn’t have sent the servant away. Who would lead him to the train station now? But Mr. Pollunder would be able to get his hands on a servant somewhere, maybe this servant had been called into the dining room to await further orders. “I’ll ask you then to play a little. You get to listen to music so seldom, you don’t want to pass up any opportunity to listen.” “But then it’s high time,” said Karl without any thought and sat immediately by the piano. “Do you want any sheet music?” asked Klara. “Thank you, I can’t really read the notes,” answered Karl and began playing. It was a short song that Karl knew would have to be played somewhat at length, especially for a foreigner to understand it, but he hustled through it in an angry marching beat. After it was over, the silence swarmed into their area again like a large crowd. “Very beautiful,” said Klara, but there was no amount of courtesy which could have flattered Karl after that kind of playing. “What time is it?” he asked. “A quarter to twelve.” “Then I still have a little time,” he said and thought to himself: “Either/or. I can’t play all ten songs I know, but I can probably play one well.” And he began his beloved soldier’s song. So slowly that the startled desires of the listener anticipated the next note that Karl was holding back and gave up only with difficulty. As with every song, he actually had to seek out the important keys with his eyes, but along with that he felt a sadness coming to life in himself which sought out a different ending over the actual ending of the song, but he couldn’t find it. “I can’t,” said Karl at the end of the song and looked at Klara with tears in his eyes.
Then from the next room, loud applause rang out. “Someone else is listening!” cried Karl, roused up. “Mack,” Klara said softly. And already you could hear Mack call out, “Karl Rossman! Karl Rossman!”
Karl swung both feet over the piano stool at the same time and opened the door. He saw Mack sitting there half-reclined in a large bed with four posts, the blanket had been thrown loosely over his legs. The canopy of blue silk had a unique girlish magnificence on an otherwise simple, heavy, wooden square bed. Only one candle burned on the small night table, but Mack’s shirt and the bed linen were so white, that the falling candlelight shone off of them in an almost blinding reflection; even the canopy glowed at the edges with its softly waving, loose-fitting silk. Just behind Mack, however, the bed and everything else sank into complete darkness. Klara leaned herself against the bedpost and had eyes only for Mack.
“Hello,” said Mack, reaching his hand to Karl. “You play well, up to now I only knew your riding.” “I do one as terribly as the other,” said Karl. “If I’d known you were listening, I would never have played. But your young lady –” He interrupted himself, he hesitated to say “fiancée,” since Mack and Klara obviously slept with each other. “I thought so,” said Mack. “That’s why Klara had to lure you out here from New York, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten to hear you play. It’s thoroughly amateur, and you made a few mistakes in these songs you practiced at, and they’re very primitively arranged, but all the same I liked it, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I never hate anyone’s performance. Won’t you sit down and stay awhile. Klara, give him a chair.” “Thank you,” Karl said hesitantly. “I can’t stay, as much as I would I like to stay here. I learned too late there’s a comfortable room in this house.” “I’m rebuilding everything this way,” said Mack.
At that moment twelve bell chimes rang out, quickly one after the other, each one striking in the echo of the other, Karl felt on his cheeks the contractions of the great movement of the bells. What kind of village was this that had such bells!
“High time,” said Karl, stretching his hands out to Mack and Klara without grabbing them, and left for the hallway. He didn’t find the lantern there and regretted giving the servant his tip too soon. He wanted to feel his way along the way to the open door of his room, but was barely halfway there when he saw Mr. Green staggering here and there in a hurry with a raised candle. In the hand in which he held the candle, he also carried a letter.
“Rossman, why didn’t you come? Why did you let me wait? Why did you carry on like that with Miss Klara?” “So many questions!” thought Karl. “And now he’s pressing me against the wall,” because he was actually standing tightly against Karl, who leaned against the wall with his back. Green took on a large, smiling appearance in this hallway, and Karl asked himself for fun if he had somehow devoured good Mr. Pollunder.
“Really, you are not man of your word. Promising to come down at twelve o’clock and sneaking around Miss Klara’s door instead. But I promised you something interesting at midnight and now I’m here.”
With that he gave Karl a letter. On the envelope stood: “To Karl Rossman. To be personally delivered at midnight, wherever he is found.” “Finally,” said Mr. Green as Karl opened the envelope, “it is, I think, worth mentioning that I traveled out here from New York for you, so you can’t let me run after you up and down these hallways.”
“From Uncle!” Karl said, having barely looked at the letter. “I was expecting it,” he said, turning to Mr. Green.
“Whether you expected it or not is of colossal indifference to me. Just read it,” he said, holding the candle for Karl.
Karl read by its light: Beloved nephew! As you have already noticed during our unfortunately short life together, I am thoroughly a man of principle. Not only is that unpleasant and sad for everyone around me but also for myself, but I owe to my principles everything I am and no one is allowed to demand that I deny myself the very ground I stand on, no one, not even you, my beloved nephew, even though you would’ve been the first, it occurs to me, to be allowed any kind of assault on my person. Then, with these hands that hold the paper and write, I would pick you up and hold you high. Since, however, it doesn’t seem right now that this could happen, I must send you away completely, on account of the present incident, and I urgently insist that you neither seek me out yourself nor seek me by letter or through any intermediary. You have decided to go against my wishes, to leave me tonight, so stay with your decision for the rest of your life. Only then it will be a manly decision. To deliver this news, I chose Mr.Green, my best friend, who will find gentle words for you that could not come from me. He is an influential man and for love of me he will support you with advice and action in your first steps toward independence. To understand our severance, which seems incomprehensible even by the end of this letter, I have to continue to say again and again: Karl, nothing good can come from your family. Should Mr. Green forget to hand over your trunk and umbrella, remind him. With best wishes for your continued welfare
Your loyal Uncle Jakob.

“Are you finished?” asked Green. “Yes,” said Karl. “Did you bring along the trunk and the umbrella?” asked Karl. “Here it is,” said Green and put Karl’s old traveling trunk next to Karl on the floor, which up to now he’d hidden behind his back with his left hand. “And the umbrella?” Karl continued. “Everything’s here,” said Mr. Green and pulled out the umbrella hanging from one of his pants pockets. “Your things were brought up by a certain Schubal, a head machinist on the Hamburg-America line, he claimed to have found it on the ship. You could thank him when you get the chance.” “At least I have my old things again,” said Karl, lying the umbrella on the trunk. “The Senator told me you should take better care of them in the future,” remarked Mr. Green, and he asked out of private curiosity: “What strange kind of luggage is that?” “It’s a trunk that soldiers brought up when they were called to join the army,” answered Karl. “It’s my father’s old military trunk. It’s very practical.” Smiling, he added: “Assuming you don’t leave it around somewhere.” “So you’ve finally learned something,” said Mr. Green, “and you don’t have a second American uncle. I’m giving you a third-class ticket to San Francisco. I’ve decided on this trip for you, first because the promise of making money is much better for you in the east, and second because your uncle has his hands in everything you might consider doing here, and a chance meeting has to be avoided at all costs. In Frisco you could work completely undisturbed, you could begin calmly and gradually work your way up.”
Karl didn’t hear any malice in these words, the bad news that had been stuck in Mr. Green for the whole evening had been delivered and from now on Green seemed harmless, someone he could speak with as openly as with any other. If the best man in the world were chosen to be the messenger of such a secret and tormenting decision, he would seem suspicious so long as he stuck to it. “I will,” said Karl, expecting the approval of an experienced man, “leave this house immediately, because I was only taken in as the nephew of my uncle, but no one will want me here if I’m a stranger. Would you be so kind as to show me the hallway out and lead me on the way to the nearest restaurant.” “But quickly,” said Mr. Green. “You’re causing me a little trouble.” Seeing the large strides Mr. Green immediately made, Karl hesitated, it was a suspicious kind of hurry, and he grabbed Mr. Green by the jacket from behind and said with a sudden realization of the truth: “You need to clear something up for me. On the envelope of the letter you delivered to me, it only said that I had to receive it at midnight, wherever I was found. So why did you hold me back to give me this letter, when I wanted to leave here at a quarter past eleven? You exceeded your orders.” Green led into his answer with a movement of his hands which wanted to exaggerate the uselessness of Karl’s remarks, and then he said: “Does it say on the envelope that I should rush myself to death because of you? Do the contents of the letter conclude that the instructions should be understood as such? If I hadn’t restrained you, I would have had to deliver the letter to you even if you were on a country road.” “No,” said Karl, undeterred, “it’s not like that. On the envelope it says, ‘To be delivered at midnight.’ If you were tired, you didn’t have to follow me at all, or I would have already arrived by my uncle, what Mr. Pollunder said couldn’t have happened, or it would’ve been your duty to bring me back to my uncle with me in your automobile, and the automobile just so happened to have disappeared from the conversation, because I would have been demanding to go back. Hadn’t it been entirely clear on the envelope that the last deadline for me was at midnight? And it’s your fault I missed it.”

Karl looked at Green with sharp eyes and recognized in his face the shame over this unmasking fighting with the joy at his success. Finally he pulled himself together and spoke as if he were interrupting one of Karl’s sentences, when Karl had been silent for a long time: “Don’t say a word!” And now that Karl had taken up his trunk and his umbrella, he shoved him through a door that he had opened.
Karl stood astonished in the open air. The house’s growing steps led downward without railings. All he had to do was go down and turn a little bit right into the alley leading to the country road. In the clear moonlight, you couldn’t get lost. Below in the garden he heard the duplicated barking of the dogs who had been released to run around in the shadow of the trees. You could hear them just enough in the silence as they made great leaps through the grass.
Karl came out of the garden, luckily without being bothered by the dogs. He couldn’t establish for sure where New York was, he hadn’t paid enough attention on the way here, and that might’ve been useful to him. Finally, he said to himself, he couldn’t go to New York, because no one waited for him there and there was someone in particular who didn’t want him. So he chose any direction he pleased and went on his way.

Revision: 2021/01/09 - 23:40 - © Mauro Nervi

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