2024/07/20 - 21:08

The March to Ramses

After a short march, Karl came to a small inn, which was actually just a small last stop for the New York traffic and as a result barely looked any good for a night’s rest. Karl asked for the cheapest place to sleep that could be had, because Karl believed he had to start saving right away. In accordance with his demand, he was shown by a signal from the landlord, as if he were an employee, to a flight of stairs, where he was received by a tousled old woman who was annoyed at having her sleep disturbed, and almost without hearing him she scolded him without interruption to walk softly, led him to his room and closed the door, but not without shushing him with a Psst!
It was so dark, Karl didn’t quite know at first if the window shades had been let down all the way or if the room had no windows at all; he noticed at last a small skylight hanging above him, whose curtain he pulled away so that some light came in. The room had two beds, both of which, however, were occupied. Karl saw two young people lying there in a heavy sleep, who didn’t seem very trustworthy, because for no comprehensible reason they slept fully dressed, and one still had his boots on.
At the moment that Karl was opening up the skylight, one of the sleepers raised his arms and legs into the air a little, which presented such a sight that Karl, in spite of his sorrows, laughed inwardly to himself.
He soon saw, that apart from the fact that he didn’t have another place to sleep – neither a couch nor a sofa – he wouldn’t be able to get any sleep, because he wouldn’t allow his newly recovered trunk and the money he carried on him to come into any danger. But he also didn’t want to go away, because he didn’t dare go out of the house and past the old woman and the landlord so soon. In the end it probably wasn’t any more unsafe here than it was on the road. Of course it was striking that there wasn’t a single piece of luggage to be found in the entire room, so far as he could see in the half-light. But most likely these two young people were the house servants, who had to get up soon on account of the guests, and so they slept fully dressed. So it wasn’t particularly honorable to sleep with them, but it was all the more safe. But as long as there was any doubt, he didn’t allow himself to fall asleep.
In front of one of the beds stood a candle with some tiny matches, which Karl crept up to and grabbed. He had no second thoughts about the light, because by order of the landlord the room belonged as much to him as it did to the two others, and they’d already enjoyed their sleep for half the night and had an incomparable advantage over him by occupying the beds. Of course he made a great effort not to wake them by walking around softly and conducting himself carefully.
First of all he wanted to look through his trunk to get an overview of his things, which he only remembered vaguely, the most valuable of which must have gone missing. Because when Schubal lays his hands on something, there is little hope it gets back unharmed. Although he could have expected a large tip from Uncle, while the absence of any object could be blamed on the original trunk watcher, Mr. Butterbaum.
At the first sight of the opened trunk, Karl was horrified. He had spent so many hours during the trip arranging his trunk and arranging it all over again and now everything was so wildly stuffed in there that when the lock opened the lid sprang up into the air. Soon, however, Karl recognized to his great relief, that the only reason for this disorder was that someone later had packed in the suit that he had worn during the trip, which of course had not been calculated for the trunk. Not the slightest thing missing. In the secret pocket of his jacket, not only did he find the passport but also the money he had taken from home, so that when he laid it next to everything he already had, Karl was richly provided for with money, for the moment. And the laundry he had worn for the arrival was freshly washed and ironed. He immediately put the watch and the money in his protected secret pocket. The only regrettable item was the Veronese salami, which hadn’t gone missing but had passed on its smell to all of his things. If this couldn’t be removed somehow, Karl had the prospect of walking around for months wrapped up in its smell.
By looking for certain objects lying at the bottom – a pocket Bible, letter-paper and a photograph of his parents – the cap fell from his head and into the trunk. He recognized it right away in its old surroundings, it was his cap, the cap which his mother had given him as a traveling cap. He’d had the foresight not to wear this cap on the ship, because he knew that generally people in America wore caps and not hats, and he didn’t want to wear it out before the arrival. And now Mr. Green had used it to have fun at Karl’s expense. Maybe his uncle had ordered him to do it. And with an inadvertently furious motion, he loudly clapped the trunk lid shut.
There wasn’t any help for it now, both sleepers had awaken. First they stretched and one of them yawned, and right after him so did the other. By now almost the entire contents had been spilled onto the tables, if they were thieves, all they had to was walk up and take their pick. Not only to anticipate this possibility but also to bring in some clarity, Karl went, candle in hand, to the beds and explained why he was allowed to be here. They didn’t seem to expect this explanation at all, because, much too tired to speak, they looked at him without any amazement. They were both very young, but difficult work or anguish had prematurely uncovered the bones in their faces, unkempt beards hung off their chins, their long, uncut hair hung in scraps from their heads and out of drowsiness they rubbed and pressed their deep-set eyes with their knuckles.
Karl wanted to use their momentary weakness and said: “My name is Karl Rossman and I am a German. Please tell me too, since we’re sharing a room, your names and nationalities. I’ll tell you right now, I have no claim on a bed, because I came so late and don’t plan on sleeping anyway. Plus, you shouldn’t trouble yourselves about my nice clothes, I’m very poor and without any prospects.”
The smaller of the two – it was the one who had boots on – hinted with his arms, legs and expressions that this didn’t interest him at all and that it wasn’t the time for this kind of conversation anyway, so he lay back down and fell asleep right away; the other, a dark-skinned man, lay down too, but with a casually outstretched hand he managed to say before passing out: “He’s Robinson and he’s Irish, I’m Delamarche, I’m French and please be quiet.” He had barely said this when he blew out Karl’s candle with a great expenditure of breath and fell back on the pillow.
“The danger is averted for the moment,” Karl said to himself as he returned to the table. Unless they were faking their drowsiness, everything was going well. It was just unpleasant that one of them was an Irishman. Karl didn’t know what kind of book he had read once at home, that told him to watch out for Irishmen. While staying with his uncle, he’d had the best opportunity to venture into this question of the dangerousness of the Irish, but because he had believed himself permanently secure, the question had been completely neglected. Now at least he wanted to get a good look at this Irishman with the candle, which he had lit again, and he found that this one looked more tolerable than the Frenchman. There was a roundness to his face, and he laughed very kindly in his sleep, so far as he could tell as he stood on his tiptoes from a distance.
Even though everything in him was determined not to sleep, Karl sat down in the room’s only chair, put off for the moment the packing of the trunk – he could still spend the whole night on it – and leafed through the bible without reading anything. Then he picked up the photograph of his parents, where his short father stood erect and tall, while his mother sat a little sunken in the chair in front of him. His father held one hand on the back of the chair, the other balled into a fist on an illustrated book that lay open on the delicately ornate table next to him. There was also a photograph, where Karl was shown with his parents, Father and Mother looked sharply at him in that one, while he had been forced to look at the photographer’s camera. But he hadn’t gotten that photograph for the trip.
He looked more closely at what was lying in front of him and tried to pick up his father’s gaze from every angle. But as he shifted his view by various positions of the candle, his father would not become livelier, his strong horizontal mustache didn’t look anything like it did in reality, it was not a good photograph. His mother, on the contrary, looked much better, her mouth was twisted out of shape as if she had just been hurt and were forcing herself to smile. It seemed to Karl that this would be just as obvious to anyone who saw the picture, then a moment later it seemed to him that the clarity of these impressions would be too strong and almost absurd. How could you get from a picture such an unassailable conviction about the feelings of the people in the picture? And he looked away from the picture for a long while. When he brought his glance back again, it fell on the hand of his mother, hanging off the arm of the chair, near enough to kiss. He thought that it might be good to write to his parents, like the both of them had urged him to do in Hamburg, especially his father. When his mother had announced to him the trip to America in the darkness of a terrible evening, he had sworn openly and irrevocably never to write, but what did the promise of an inexperienced young man matter in these new circumstances? He might as well have sworn that after two months in America he would have been the general of the American Army, while in reality he was stuck with two lumps in an attic on top of an inn outside New York, and he had to admit that this was his rightful place. And smiling, he examined the faces of his parents, as if he could tell whether or not they had ever wanted to receive some news from their son.
With all this looking he soon noticed that he was very tired and could barely stay awake through the night. The picture fell from his hands, then he laid his face on the picture, whose coolness felt good on his cheek, and with a pleasant feeling, he fell asleep.
He was woken up early by a tickling in his armpit. It was the Frenchman who allowed himself these advances. But in addition, the Irishman stood in front of Karl’s table and both looked at him with some interest, like Karl had done to them during the night. Karl wasn’t surprised that they hadn’t woken him when they’d gotten up; there weren’t any evil intentions in their silence, because he had slept deeply and they clearly hadn’t done much with their appearance and their clothing.
Now they greeted each other properly, with a certain formality, and Karl learned that the two were steam-fitters, who hadn’t gotten any work in a long time and as a result were coming to ruin out here. Robinson opened his jacket as proof and you could that there wasn’t any shirt, which admittedly you could already tell because of the loose-fitting collar that had been fastened to the back of his jacket. They were going to walk for two days from New York to the city of Butterford, where allegedly some positions were available. They had nothing against Karl coming with and first they promised to carry his trunk for now and then to secure him an apprenticeship if they could find work, which would be an easy thing to do if there were any work. Karl had barely agreed when they advised him, out of friendship, to take off those nice clothes, since they would be awkward for him when he applied for the position. And right in this house there was a good opportunity to lose these clothes, because the old woman ran a linen business. They helped Karl, who hadn’t yet finished considering the matter, out of his suit, and then they carried it off. As Karl put on his traveling suit, alone and a little sleep-drunk, he reproached himself for having sold the suit which might end up hurting him at an application for the apprenticeship but which would only be useful at a better post, and he opened the door so he could call the two back, but he knocked into them instead. They put the proceeds of half a dollar on the table, but by the happy faces they made, you couldn’t really convince yourself that they hadn’t taken their piece from the sale, and an annoyingly large one at that.
There wasn’t any time to talk about this, because the old woman came in, just as tired as she was during the night, and drove all three out into the hallway with the explanation that the room had to be prepared for new guests. It went without saying she was acting out of malice. Karl, who had wanted to put his trunk in order, had to watch as the woman packed his things with both hands and threw them into the trunk with vigor, as if they were wild animals to be tamed. The two fitters made lots of trouble for her, plucked at her skirt, tapped her back, but if they had intended that to help Karl, she missed the point entirely. When the old woman had clapped shut the trunk, she pressed the handle into Karl’s hand, shook off the fitters and drove all three out of the room with the threat that if they didn’t obey, they wouldn’t get any coffee. The woman must have completely forgotten that right from the beginning Karl hadn’t belonged to the fitters, because she treated them all as one gang. In fact, the fitters had sold Karl’s clothing to her, and that proved a certain commonality.
In the hallway they had to go back and forth at length, especially the Frenchman, who hung on Karl, cursed without interruption and threatened to knock out the landlord if he ever dared come forward, and it seemed he was preparing for this by furiously rubbing his clenched fists against each other. Finally there came an innocent, small young man, who had to stretch out when he handed the coffee pot to Robinson. Unfortunately there was only one pot and they couldn’t make the young man understand they wanted glasses. So only one could ever drink and the two others stood in front of him and waited. Karl had no desire to drink but didn’t want to offend the others, so he held the pot to his lips, even if he didn’t do anything once it was there.
As a goodbye the Irishman threw the pot at the stone pavement, they left the house without anyone seeing and walked in the thick, yellow morning fog. Generally they walked next to each other on the edge of the road, Karl had to carry his trunk, the others would probably relieve him only by request, here and there an automobile shot through the fog and the three turned their heads after the enormous vehicle that was built so garishly and appeared so quickly that you had no time to notice even the existence of the passengers. Later began the convoys of vehicles bringing food to New York, which spread five in a row across the street without interruption, so that no one could cross the street. From time to time the street broadened into a square, where a policeman walked back and forth on a tower-like protrusion in the middle, so he could look over all and be able, with a small stick, to order the traffic on the main road and the traffic flowing down the side streets, which remained unsupervised until the next square and the next policeman, but the silent and careful carriage drivers and chauffeurs stopped of their own free will in a sufficient order. Karl was most surprised at the general calm. Were it not for the shrieks of the animals on the way to the slaughter, you wouldn’t have heard anything but the clapping of hooves and the rush of the tires. But the speeds weren’t always so even. In some squares great detours had to be made because of the great pressure from the side streets, so the entire journey stopped and traveled step by step, then it all came on again, so that for a short while everything rushed by at lightning speed until as if by a single brake a slowdown took over and quieted everything again. Not the slightest bit of dust was kicked up from the road, everything moved in the clearest air. There were no pedestrians, no market women wandered to the city as in Karl’s homeland, but here and there appeared long, flat automobiles where twenty stood with baskets on their backs, perhaps market women, and they stretched out their necks to glance over the traffic and grab at their hopes for a faster trip. Then you could see a similar automobile, where some walked around with their hands in their pockets. These automobiles carried various inscriptions, and Karl cried out when he saw: “Dock-workers hired for the Jakob Shipping Corporation.” The car traveled very slowly and a short, hunched over, lively man standing on the running board invited the three wanderers to get in. Karl took refuge behind the fitters, as if his uncle could be on the wagon and see him. He was happy that the two also rejected the invitation, even if they offended him to some extent with the arrogant expressions on their faces. They can’t believe that they’re too good to go into the service of his uncle. He made them understand that right away, although not so directly. Delamarche asked him pleasantly not to interfere in things he did not understand, this way of hiring people was a disgraceful fraud and the Jakob Corporation was notorious throughout the entire United States. Karl didn’t answer, but stuck to the Irishman from now on, he asked if he could carry his trunk a little, which he did, after Karl had repeated his request a few more times. But he complained without interruption about the heaviness of the trunk, until it was revealed that his only intention was to lighten the trunk of the Veronese salami that he had become pleasantly aware of in the hotel. Karl had to unpack it, the Frenchman took it so he could handle it with dagger-like knives and eat almost all of it alone. Robinson got a slice here and there, Karl by comparison, who again had to carry the trunk if he didn’t want to leave it standing in the road, got nothing, as if he had already taken his share. It seemed petty to beg for a small piece, but it bothered him on the inside.
All the fog had already disappeared, in the distance tall mountains gleamed with wavy ridges in the haze of the sun. By the side of the road lay a miserably cultivated field surrounding gigantic factories, which stood darkly smoking on the open land. In the indiscriminately arranged single tenements the many windows trembled in their multifarious movements and illuminations, and on all the narrow, weak balconies women and children had many things to do, while around them, hiding them and then revealing them, cloth and linen, hung up and laid out, fluttered in the morning wind and billowed out powerfully. With your gaze sliding off of the houses, you saw larks flying high in the sky and under them the swallows, not so far above the heads of the travelers.
Karl recognized much of his homeland and he didn’t know if it would be a good thing to leave New York and go into the interior of the country. The sea was in New York and always the possibility of return to his homeland. And so he remained standing and said to both of his companions, he wanted to stay in New York. And when Delamarche tried to shove him along, he wouldn’t let himself be shoved and said that he still had the right to decide for himself. The Irishman had to mediate and explained that Butterford was much nicer than New York, and both had to ask him politely before he would continue on again. And even then he wouldn’t have gone on if he hadn’t said to himself, that maybe it would be better for him to come to a place where the possibility of return wouldn’t be so easy. He would certainly make better progress there, because there wouldn’t be any useless thoughts to hold him back.
And now he was the one that pulled along the both of them, and they reveled so much in his zeal that they took turns carrying the trunk without having had to be asked, and Karl didn’t quite understand why he was making them so happy. They came into a steep region, and when they stopped here and there, they could see when they looked back the panorama of New York and its harbor forever expanding and developing. The bridge connecting New York to Boston hung delicately over the Hudson, and it trembled when you squinted to see it. It seemed entirely without traffic and underneath it ran an inanimate, smooth belt of water. Everything in both of these giant cities seemed empty and pointlessly displayed. As for the buildings, there was barely any difference between the large ones and the small. In the invisible deep of the streets, the bustle went on after its own manner, but nothing moved above it except for a light haze which wouldn’t be pushed away, but it was as if you could chase it away without any effort. Even in the harbor, the largest in the world, it was quiet, and only here and there, influenced by your memory of seeing it up close, you might believe you saw a ship pushing on for a short stretch. But you couldn’t follow it for long, it escaped from your eyes and couldn’t be found anymore.
But Delamarche and Robinson saw much more, they pointed left and right and arched with their outstretched hands to places and parks that they named by their names. They couldn’t understand that Karl had been in New York for two months and had barely seen anything of the city except one street. And they promised him, that when they’d worked enough in Butterford, they would go with him to New York and show him everything worth seeing and of course every special neighborhood where you could be entertained into paradise. And in connection, Robinson began to sing a song with his whole mouth, which Delamarche accompanied with hand-clapping and which Karl recognized as an opera melody from his homeland that had pleased him more in the English text than it had pleased him at home. So there was a small performance out in the open, where everyone took their part, and the city below them, which allegedly enjoyed this melody so much, didn’t seem to know it.
Karl asked once where Jakob Shipping was, and immediately he saw Robinson’s and Delamarche’s index fingers stretched out to the same place, or maybe to places miles apart. Then, as they continued on, Karl asked when was the earliest they could have enough work to get back to New York. Delamarche said it could be good enough in a month, because there was a worker shortage in Butterford and wages would be high. Naturally, they would keep their money in a common pool, which coincidentally made the differences in their wages equal as partners. Karl didn’t like the common pool, even though as an apprentice he would certainly earn less than the trained workers. Moreover, Robinson mentioned, if there wasn’t any work in Butterford, they would have to keep on wandering, either to find accommodations as farmhands somewhere or maybe go to California to sift for gold, which, to summarize Robinson’s detailed explanation, was his preferred plan. “Why did you become a steam-fitter then, if you want to sift for gold?” asked Karl, who didn’t want to hear about the necessity of such long and uncertain journeys. “Why did I become a steam-fitter?” said Robinson. “My mother’s son will not go hungry. There’s good money in sifting for gold.” “There was at one time,” said Delamarche. “There still is,” said Robinson and talked about people he knew who had gotten rich that way and who were still that way, who didn’t have to raise a finger any more and who would for friendship help him and his partners too with some money. “We will get jobs in Butterford,” said Delamarche and spoke to Karl’s heart, but it wasn’t said very confidently.
During the day they only stopped once in a diner and ate in the open at what seemed to Karl to be an iron table with almost raw flesh that you didn’t cut but tore to pieces. The bread had a cylindrical shape and a long knife stuck in every bread loaf. With the meal was offered a dark liquid that burned in the throat. But Delamarche and Robinson liked it, they raised their glasses often to the attainment of various desires and knocked them against each other, holding them high for a while, glass to glass. At the next table sat workers in lime-splashed jackets and everyone drank the same liquid. Automobiles, driving by in crowds, threw clouds of dust over the tables. Large newspaper sheets were passed around, one spoke excitedly about the construction workers’ strike, the name Mack was often mentioned, Karl inquired about him and learned that this was the father of his acquaintance Mack and the largest building contractor in New York. The strike was costing him millions and threatened his financial standing. Karl didn’t believe a word of this gossip from these uninformed, overbearing people.
The meal was bitter for Karl, because he wasn’t quite sure how the meal was going to be paid for. It would be natural for each to pay his own part, but now and then both Delamarche and Robinson had remarked that their remaining money had run out at their last night’s stay. A watch, a ring or something to sell for cash was nowhere to be found. And Karl couldn’t blame them for profiting from the sale of his clothes, that would have been an insult to them and then they would’ve parted ways. The surprising thing was, though, that neither Delamarche nor Robinson were very concerned with the bill, and they were even in good enough moods to try as often as they could to grab the waitress, who moved proudly between the tables with a heavy stride. Her hair ran a little loose along the side of her forehead and down the cheek, and she straightened it back again and again with her hands. Finally, just as you were about to expect the first friendly word out of her, she walked to the table, lay both hands on him and asked: “Who’s paying?” Hands have never flown faster into the air than they did just now from Delamarche and Robinson as they pointed to Karl. Karl wasn’t surprised about this, because he had seen it coming and had found nothing wrong in the fact that the same companions, who would give him such an advantage later on, would allow him to pay them a kindness in return, even if it would’ve been better if they had talked about it beforehand. It was only a little embarrassing that he would first have to transfer the money out of his secret pocket. His original intention had been to hold back the money until it was absolutely necessary and stand, to a certain degree, on the same level with his companions. The advantage he got by having this money and by hiding it from his companions was more than made up for by the fact that they had been in America since their childhoods, that they had familiarity and experience with making money and that finally they weren’t used to living any better than they did now. Karl’s plans for the money until now wouldn’t be disrupted by this bill, because he could do without a quarter of a pound, and so he could lay a quarter-pound piece onto the table and explain that this was his only property and that he was prepared to sacrifice it for the group trip to Butterford. The amount would be enough for a journey by foot. But now he didn’t know if he had enough small change, and that money was mixed in with the banknotes deep in his secret pocket, and the best way to find something in there was to dump its entire contents onto the table. Otherwise it was highly unnecessary that his companions learn anything at all about this secret pocket. It seemed lucky now that his companions were more interested in the waitress than in how Karl got together the money for the bill. Delamarche lured the waitress between himself and Robinson by offering to pay the bill, she was able to defend herself against both of their advances only by laying her entire hand on one or both of their faces and pushing it away. In the meantime Karl feverishly collected the money into one of his hands under the tabletop, so that, with his other hand, he could hunt for pieces in the secret pocket and fetch them out. Even though he wasn’t quite familiar with American money, he thought in the end that he had taken a sufficient amount from the crowd of pieces, and he laid it on the table. The clanging of the money cut off all the joking right away. To Karl’s embarrassment, and to a general astonishment, it was revealed that almost an entire pound was lying there. Nobody asked why Karl hadn’t said anything before about the money, which would have been enough for a comfortable train ride to Butterford, but Karl was embarrassed enough already. After the meal had been paid for, he slowly brought the money back in, Delamarche took a coin out of his hand to tip the waitress, whom he hugged and pinched so he could reach the money to her on the other side.
Karl was grateful that they didn’t say a thing about the money during the walk, and he thought a long time about telling them about his entire fortune, but he never found an opportunity. Towards evening they came into a more rural, fertile region. You could see unbroken fields all around, stretching their new greenery over gentle hills, rich country houses bordered the streets and you walked for hours at a time through the gilded gates of gardens, they crossed the same slowly flowing stream a number of times and frequently heard above them the railway train thundering on high across the trembling viaducts.
The sun had just come down on the horizon of the distant forests, when they threw themselves on a hill of a grass in the middle of a small group of tress, so that they could rest from the strain. Delamarche and Robinson lay there and stretched themselves powerfully, Karl sat upright and looked down a couple of meters at the street, deeply rutted from the constantly passing automobiles, which hurried by quickly and with urgency one after the other, as if they were sent in precise numbers from far off in the distance and then waited in those same precise numbers in the other direction. Since the earliest morning and through the entire day, Karl had seen no car stop, no passenger get out.
Robinson suggested they spend the night here, since they were all tired enough, and since they’d be able to march out even earlier and finally since they’d rarely find a cheaper and better-placed camp for the night before the onslaught of complete darkness. Delamarche agreed, and only Karl felt obliged to say that he had enough money to buy a place to sleep for all of them in a hotel. Delamarche said they wouldn’t need the money, he should only look after it well. Delamarche wasn’t hiding in the least the fact that they already had plans for Karl’s money. Since his first suggestion had been accepted, Robinson continued to explain that they had to go to sleep now, and to make themselves strong for the morning, they had to eat well and someone should get a meal for everyone from the hotel with the sign “Hotel Occidental” shining just down the road. Being the youngest, and since no one else volunteered, Karl didn’t hesitate to offer himself for this errand and he went over to the hotel, after receiving an order of bacon, bread and beer.
There must have been a large city nearby, because the first large hall of the hotel that Karl walked into was filled with a large crowd, and at the buffet that spread along the long wall and two side walls, waiters ran unceasingly with white aprons on their chests and could not calm down the impatient guests, because again and again you could hear swearing all over the place and fists slamming on tables. No one noticed Karl; there was also no actual service in the hall, the guests, who sat at small tables that disappeared among three neighboring tables, grabbed anything they wanted at the buffet. At every one of the tables stood a large bottle with oil, vinegar or something similar, and all the food that had been grabbed at the buffet was soaked with stuff from this bottle. For Karl to get to the buffet, where it would be difficult to begin, especially with his large order, he had to push past many tables, which predictably couldn’t be carried out without bothering the guests, who took in everything unfeelingly, even when Karl almost tipped over a table after being pushed by a guest. He apologized sincerely but really wasn’t making himself understood, and he didn’t understand at all what the people were shouting to him.
With some effort, he found a small, open place at the buffet, where his view was blocked for a long time by the propped-up elbows of his neighbors. It seemed to be the custom here to prop up your elbows and put your fists against your forehead; Karl thought about how his Latin professor Dr. Krumpal had hated this posture and always approached in secret and then out of nowhere, with a suddenly appearing ruler, would push your elbows from the table with a painful jerk.
Karl stood cramped against the buffet, because he had barely gotten in line when a table had been set up and one of the guests there brushed Karl’s back with his hat whenever he bent backwards a little as he spoke. And there was little hope of getting a waiter, even when both of his plump neighbors went away satisfied. Sometimes Karl snatched a waiter over to his table by the apron, but they always tore themselves free with a disgusted face. No one could be stopped, they only ran and only ran. If only someone had passed with something to eat and drink, he would have taken it, asked about the price, laid out the gold and left gladly. But right by him were lying bowls of herring-like fish whose black scales gleamed golden on the edges. They could be very expensive and would probably satisfy no one. In addition, small bottles of rum were within reach, but he didn’t want to bring his companions rum, they seemed at each opportunity to go for the alcohol with the highest proof, and he didn’t want to support them in that.
So Karl had to look for a different spot and began like he had before. But now time was going by very quickly. The clock at the other end of the hall, whose hands you could make out only by squinting through the smoke, showed that it was almost past nine. By the other spots at the buffet, however, the crowd was even larger than it had been at the earlier position he had left behind. And the more the hall filled up, the later it got. Again and again new guests poured through the main doors with loud hallos. At some places guests cleared away the buffet with authority, sat themselves on a table and toasted one another; it was the best place, you could see the entire hall.
Karl still tried to push through, but he didn’t have a single hope of succeeding. He scolded himself for volunteering to do this errand when he didn’t have any knowledge of the locals. His comrades would accuse him, with every right, that he had tried to save money by not bringing anything back. Now he stood in a section where all round him warm meat was being eaten with beautiful yellow potatoes, it was incomprehensible to him how these people had gotten it.
Then he saw, a few steps ahead of him, an old woman, clearly from the hotel staff, talking and laughing with a guest. She fiddled constantly with a pin in her hair. Immediately Karl was determined to bring his order to this woman, because, being the only woman, she seemed to be the exception to all this general noise and running around, and then for the simpler reason that she was the only hotel employee within reach, assuming that she didn’t continue on her business the first time he tried to talk to her. But exactly the opposite happened. Karl hadn’t even spoken to her, but had only lain in wait, when she saw Karl, as you sometimes look at someone to the side during conversation, and, interrupting her conversation, she asked him kindly and in English as clear as the grammar books, if he was looking for anything. “Yes I am,” said Karl, “I can’t get anything here.” “Then come with me, little one,” she said, said goodbye to her acquaintance, who took off his hat, which in this place seemed to be an unbelievable act of hospitality, then she grabbed Karl by the hand, went to the buffet, shoved a guest aside, opened a trap door on the counter, took Karl across the hallway behind the table where you had to watch out for the ceaselessly running waiters and opened two concealed doors, so that they found themselves in a large, cool pantry. “You just have to know how it works,” Karl said to himself.
“And what do you want then?” she asked and bent down to him obligingly. She was very fat, her body swung, but her face, under the circumstances, had an almost delicate construction. Glancing at the many things to eat, Karl was tempted to quickly think up a finer dinner to order, especially since he could expect cheap service from this influential woman, but finally, since nothing suitable occurred to him, he came back to ordering the bacon, bread and beer. “Nothing else?” asked the woman. “No thank you,” said Karl, “but for three people.” After the woman’s question about the three others, Karl described his companions in a few short words, it made him happy to be asked a few questions.
“But that’s a meal for prisoners,” said the woman, expecting more demands from Karl. But now he was afraid she would give it to him as a gift and wouldn’t take the money, so he was quiet. “We’ll put that together right away,” said the woman, walked to a table with her fat body’s admirable mobility, cut a large piece of bacon streaked with meat using a long, thin, saw-toothed knife, took out shelves with loaves of bread, took up three bottles of beer from the basement and laid everything in a light straw basket, which she handed over to Karl. All the while she explained to Karl that she had led him here because outside at the buffet the food always lost its freshness, no matter how quickly it was eaten, because of the smoke and the odor. But it was good enough for the people outside. Karl didn’t say anything more, because he didn’t know why he deserved this special treatment. He thought about his companions, the good American experts that they were, who probably had never been in this pantry and had to make do with the spoiled things to eat at the buffet. You couldn’t hear any noise from the hall, the walls must have been very thick to keep the vault sufficiently cool. Karl held the straw basket for awhile, didn’t think about the bill and didn’t move. He only thanked her, shivering, when she wanted to set down a bottle that was similar to the ones standing outside on the tables.
“Are you walking very far?” asked the woman. “To Butterford,” answered Karl. “That is still very far,” said the woman. “Still a day’s trip,” said Karl. “No further,” said the woman. “Oh, no,” said Karl.
The woman straightened up some things on the tables, a waiter came in, looked around in search of something, was directed by the woman to a large bowl where a broad pile of sardines was sprinkled with parsley and carried this bowl into the hall with upraised hands.
“Why did you want to spend the night outside?” asked the woman. “We have enough room here. Sleep with us in the hotel.” It was very tempting for Karl, especially since he had been so miserable the previous night. “I have my luggage outside,” he said hesitantly and not entirely without vanity. “Just bring them here,” said the woman. “That shouldn’t get in your way.” “But my companions!” said Karl, remarking immediately that they really would get in the way. “They can also spend the night here,” said the woman. “Just come! Don’t let yourself be asked like this.” “My comrades are honest people, in general,” said Karl, “but they’re not clean.” “Didn’t you see the dirt in the hall?” asked the woman and twisted her face. “Even the most troublesome can come to us. I will have three beds prepared right away. Admittedly, only in the attic, because the hotel is already fully occupied, I’ve been moved to the attic, but in any case it’s better than out in the open.” “I can’t bring my companions with,” said Karl. He imagined to himself the kind of noise these two would make in the hallways of this fine hotel, and Robinson would get dirt on everything and Delamarche inevitably would pester even this woman. “I don’t know why it’s impossible,” said the woman, “but if you want it that way, let your friends stay outside and come in alone to us.” “That’s not right, that’s not right,” said Karl. “They are my companions and I must stay with them.” “You are stubborn,” said the woman and looked away from him. “Someone tries to do a good thing for you, wants to be helpful to you and you resist with all your strength.” Karl considered this, but he knew no way out, so he only said: “My best thanks for your kindness,” then he remembered that he hadn’t paid her yet, and he asked about the amount due. “You pay when you bring the straw basket back to me,” said the woman. “I must have it early in the morning, at the latest.” “Okay,” said Karl. She opened a door, which led straight out into the open and said, as he departed with a bow: “See you in the morning!”
He had just gotten outside, when he heard again the unabated noise from the hall, which was also mixed with the clangs of a brass band. He was happy that he didn’t have to go out through the hall. The hotel was now illuminated on all five of its floors and brightened the street all the way across. As always the automobiles continued, coming in from the distance faster than they had by day, even if not in uninterrupted succession, groping the surface of the road with the white beams of their lights, which grew pale as they crossed the light of the hotel but rushed off into the continuing darkness illuminated again.
Karl found his companions already in a deep sleep, he had stayed away too long. He wanted to invitingly spread out what he had brought with on napkins he had found in the basket and wake up his comrades when everything was ready, only to see to his surprise his trunk completely opened, which he had left behind locked, with the key in his pocket, while its contents were scattered all over the glass. “Get up!” he cried. “You slept and in the meantime thieves were here.” “Missing something?” asked Delamarche. Robinson wasn’t awake yet and reached for the beer. “I don’t know,” cried Karl, “but the trunk is open. It’s careless to lie down to sleep and let the trunk stand here open.” Delamarche and Robinson laughed, and the first said: “You shouldn’t stay away so long the next time. The hotel is ten steps away and you needed three hours to go this way and that. We were hungry, we thought you might have something to eat in your trunk, and we tickled the lock until it opened itself. Nothing was in there generally, and you’d be able to pack everything easily.” “So,” said Karl, staring into the quickly emptying basket and listening to the odd noise Robinson made while he drank as the liquid penetrated his throat, then rushed back up again with a sort of whistling, only to roll back into the deep in a tremendous heap. “Are you finished eating?” he asked, as they both caught their breath for a moment. “Didn’t you eat in the hotel?” asked Delamarche, who thought that Karl was trying to take his share. “If you still want to eat, then hurry up,” said Karl and went to his trunk. “He’s in a mood,” said Delamarche to Robinson. “I am not in a mood,” said Karl, “but is it right to break open my trunk while I’m gone and throw around all my things? I know you have to be patient with companions, and I prepared myself for that, but this is too much. I’m spending the night in the hotel and I’m not going to Butterford. Eat up quickly, I have to bring the basket back.” “Can you see Robinson, now that’s how you speak,” said Delamarche. “That is a refined manner of conversation. He is such a German. You warned me about him earlier, but I was a fool and took him along. We gave him our trust, schlepped him around with us an entire day, lost at least half a day because of it and now – because someone tempted him over at the hotel – he says goodbye, simply says goodbye. But because he’s a lying German, he doesn’t do this openly, he finds an excuse with the trunk, and because he’s a rude German, he cannot go away without insulting our honor and calling us thieves, just because we had a little joke with his trunk.” Karl, who was packing his things, said without turning around: “Keep on talking and make it easier for me to leave. I know what companionship is. I had friends in Europe too and no one can accuse me of false or vulgar behavior. Naturally, we’re out of contact right now, but if I ever get back to Europe, they’ll take me in gladly and know me as their friend right away. And you Delamarche and you Robinson, you would have me think that I betrayed you – and I’ll never be quiet about that – after you were friendly enough to take me in and promise me an apprenticeship at Butterford. But what really happened was something entirely different. You have nothing, and that doesn’t lower you in my eyes in the slightest, but you resented my meager possessions and tried to humiliate me, and I can’t stand that. And even after you’ve broken my trunk, you don’t use a single word in apology, but abuse me and abuse my people – and with that you take away every possibility of staying with you. This isn’t really valid for you Robinson. The only thing I object to your character is that you’re so very dependent on Delamarche.” “Well now we see,” said Delamarche as he stepped to Karl and gave him light push, as if to get him to pay attention. “Now we see how you’ve turned out. For the whole day you walked behind me, held onto my jacket, imitated my every move and was otherwise as quiet as a little mouse. But now that you feel you have some support at the hotel, you start talking big. You are a little shyster, and I don’t know if we can accept that so calmly. Maybe we should just charge you tuition for what you learned from us today. You Robinson, we envy him – so he says – for his possessions. A day’s work in Butterford – to say nothing of California – and we’ll have ten times more than you’ve shown us and than you still have hidden in the lining of your jacket. So watch your mouth!” Karl had picked himself up from the trunk and now saw Robinson approaching, sleepy but a little stimulated by the beer. “If I stay here much longer,” he said, “I might learn more surprises. You seem to want to beat me up.” “All patience has an end,” said Robinson. “You’d better be quiet, Robinson,” said Karl, without taking his eyes off Delamarche. “Inside you know I’m right, but on the outside you have to stay with Delamarche.” “Are you going to bribe him?” asked Delamarche. “It didn’t occur to me,” said Karl. “I’m happy that I’m getting out, and I want nothing more to do with you. I want to say just once, You abuse me for possessing money and having hidden it from you. Granted, it’s true, but hadn’t I handled it correctly with people I’d only know a couple of hours, and haven’t you confirmed the correctness of my methods with your current behavior?” “Stay calm,” said Delamarche to Robinson, even though the other didn’t move. Then he asked Karl: “Since you’re being so flagrantly sincere, keep on going with your sincerity, since we are standing so comfortably together, and tell us why you actually want to go the hotel. Delamarche was walking so close to him that Karl had to take a few steps backwards over the trunk. But Delamarche didn’t let that deter him, pushed the trunk to the side, took a steps forward, planted his foot on a white shirt that was still lying in the grass and repeated his question.
As if in answer, a man with a strongly shining flashlight climbed up to the group from the street. It was a waiter from the hotel. He had barely caught sight of Karl when he said: “I’ve been looking for you for almost half an hour. I’ve already checked all the embankments on both sides of the streets. Madame, the head chef, wants to tell you that she urgently needs the straw basket which she lent to you. “Here it is,” said Karl, his voice uncertain with excitement. Delamarche and Robinson stepped to the side with apparent modesty, as they always did before strange people of good standing. The waiter took the basket and said: “Then allow the head chef to ask you, if you haven’t thought it over and maybe want to stay overnight in the hotel. Both of the other men can come if you want to take them with. The beds are already prepared. The night may be warm today, but sleeping out here in the back is not without its dangers, you often find snakes.” “Since the head chef is so friendly, I will accept her invitation,” said Karl and waited for an answer from his comrades. But Robinson stood there indifferently and Delamarche had his hands in his pockets and looked up at the stars. Both were openly relying on Karl to take them in without any fuss. “For this situation,” said the waiter, “I have an order to lead you to the hotel and carry your luggage.” “Then please wait just a moment,” said Karl and bent down to put into the trunk the few things that were still lying around.
Suddenly he straightened up. The photograph was missing, it had been resting right on the top of the trunk and was nowhere to be found. Everything was complete, only the photograph was missing. “I can’t find the photograph,” he said pleadingly to Delamarche. “What kind of photograph?” he asked. “The photograph of my parents,” said Karl. “We haven’t seen any photographs,” said Delamarche. “There was no photograph inside, Mr. Rossman,” confirmed Robinson. “But that’s impossible,” said Karl, and his looks for help pulled the waiter closer. “It was lying on top and now it’s gone. If you hadn’t preferred to have so much fun with my trunk.” “There’s been no mistake,” said Delmarche. “There was no photograph in the trunk.” It was important to me, like everything else I had in my trunk,” said Karl to the waiter, who walked around and looked in the grass. “It’s irreplaceable, I never got a second.” And when the waiter gave up the hopeless search, he was still saying: “It was the only picture I had of my parents.” As a result the waiter said loudly, without any attempt at diplomacy: “Maybe we could look in the gentleman’s pockets.” “Yes,” said Karl right away. “I have to find the photograph. But before I look through their pockets, I’ll say that whoever gives me the photograph of his own free will gets the entire trunk.” After a moment of general silence, Karl said to the waiter. “My companions must want to have their pockets searched. But even now I promise the entire trunk to whomever has the picture in his pocket. I can do no more.” Right away the waiter got to examining Delamarche, who seemed harder to handle than Robinson, whom he left over for Karl. He made Karl careful about searching both at the same time, because otherwise one of them could throw the photograph to the side unobserved. With his first grab in Robinson’s pocket, Karl found a tie that belonged to him, but he didn’t take it and yelled to the waiter: “Anything else you find on Delamarche, let him keep. I want nothing but the photograph, only the photograph.” In searching through the breast pocket, Karl grabbed Robinson’s hot, greasy breast, and he became aware that maybe he was committing a great injustice to his companions. He hurried now because of the possibility. Generally, everything was useless, neither Robinson nor Delamarche had the photograph.”
“It’s no good,” said the waiter. “They probably tore the photograph up and threw the pieces away,” said Karl. “I thought they were my friends, but secretly they wanted to hurt me. Not Robinson, really, who wouldn’t have come across the idea that the photograph was worth so much to me, but more Delamarche.” Karl saw only the waiter in front of him, whose light illuminated a small circle, while everyone else, including Delamarche and Robinson, were in the dark.
Naturally, there wasn’t any more talking about taking them both along to the hotel. The waiter swung the trunk onto his shoulder, Karl took the straw basket and they went. Karl was already in the street, when as an afterthought he stopped himself, stood still and called out into the darkness: “Listen just once! If either of you still have the photograph and bring it to me in the hotel – he’ll still get the trunk – I swear it – and he will not be reported on.” No real answer came down, only a ragged word, the beginning of something Robinson shouted that was immediately stuffed back in his mouth by Delamarche. For a long while Karl waited to see if one of them would decide something different. A second time he called into the distance: “I’m still here.” But there was no loud answer, only once a stone rolled down the slope, maybe by chance, maybe it was just a bad throw.

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

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