2024/07/20 - 20:20

The Robinson Affair

Then someone tapped him on the shoulder. Karl, thinking it was a guest, stuck the apple hurriedlg into a pocket and hurried to the elevator, having barely seen the man. “Good evening, Mr. Rossman,” the man said now. “It's me, Robinson.” “But you’ve changed,” said Karl and shook his head. “Yeah, it's going well for me,” said Robinson and looked down at his clothes, which had enough fancy things maybe, but they were so thrown together they almost looked shabby. The most striking piece was a white vest, obviously being worn for the first time, with four small black-rimmed pockets, which Robinson tried to show off by sticking out his chest. “You've got expensive clothes on,” said Karl as he thought briefly about his nice simple clothing, in which he could have held his own next to Renell and which his two terrible friends had sold. “Yes,” said Robinson “I buy something else for myself almost everyday. How do you like the vest?” “Very much,” said Karl. “But there aren't any real pockets, they're only made that way,” said Robinson, grabbing Karl by the hand to satisfy himself. But Karl fell back, because an unbearable smell of booze came from Robinson’s mouth. “You’re drinking again, a lot,” said Karl and stood by the railing again. “No,” said Robinson, “not much,” and then contradicted his prior satisfaction: “What else has a man to do in the world.” A trip on the elevator interrupted the conversation, and Karl was barely down again when he got a loud order over the telephone to fetch the hotel doctor, because a lady had suffered a fainting spell on the seventh floor. Along the way Karl hoped that Robinson would have gone away in the meantime, because he didn’t want to be seen with him and also didn't want to hear from Delamarche, Therese’s warnings about him still in his mind. But Robinson was still waiting, with the stiff posture of complete drunkenness, and just then a high-ranking staff member walked by in black tails and a top hat, fortunately without seeming to take special notice of Robinson. “Won’t you come by us just once, Rossman, we have it very good now,” said Robinson, looking temptingly at Karl. “Are you inviting me, or is Delamarche?” “Me and Delamarche. We're in it together,” said Robinson. “Then I'll say to you, and I'll ask you to give the same to Delamarche: Our goodbye was, if it's not already clear to you, final. The both of you have done me more harm than anyone else. Can't you get it in your heads to leave me in peace?” “We're still your comrades” said Robinson, and repulsive tears of drunkenness rose to his eyes. “Delamarche wanted to say to you, that he wants to make up for everything. We live together with Brunelda now, a marvelous singer.” And in closing, he would've sung a song in a high pitch, if Karl hadn’t hissed at him in time: “But be quiet right now, don’t you know where you are?” “Rossman,” said Robinson, only scared away from the singing, “I'm still your comrade, you say what you want. And you have such a good position here, could you lend me some money.” “You’ll just drink it again,” said Karl. “I see another liquor bottle in your pocket, which you’ve certainly taken a drink from while I was away, because you were still in your senses a little in the beginning.” “That's only for keeping me strong when I'm on my way,” said Robinson apologetically. “I don't want to try to improve you any more,” said Karl. “But the money!” said Robinson with wide open eyes. “You got an errand from Delamarche to bring back money. I’d gladly give you money, but only under the condition that you leave here immediately and never look for me here again. If you want to tell me something, write me. Karl Rossman, Elevator Boy, Hotel Occidental, is enough of an address. But here, I repeat it, you are not allowed to look for me. I work here and have no time for visits. So do you want the money under this condition?” asked Karl and grabbed in his vest pocket, because he had decided to sacrifice his tip money from that night. Robinson barely nodded at the question and breathed heavily. Karl interpreted that incorrectly and asked one more time: “Yes or no?”
Then Robinson called him over and whispered in the middle of a heaving motion that was already very obvious: “Rossman, I feel sick.” “Damn it!” Karl swore, and he dragged him with both hands to the railing.
And already it poured from Robinson’s mouth into the depths. He hung on Karl, helpless and blind, in the pauses his nausea allowed him. “You are really a good boy,” he then said, or, “It’s stopped,” which wasn't correct for long, or, “The dogs, they’ve poured their junk into me!” Karl began to walk back and forth out of nervousness and loathing. Robinson was a little hidden here, in a corner next to the elevator, but if someone noticed him, one of those fidgety rich guests who just waited to share a complaint with a staff member walking by, so that furious revenge would be taken on the entire house, or if one of the constantly changing hotel detectives came over, whom no one knew except the management and whom everyone who squinted, maybe out of short-sightedness, was suspected to be. And downstairs anyone still in the restaurant for the night only needed to go into the pantry, notice in astonishment the horrible mess in the light shaft and ask Karl over the telephone what in God’s name had come loose up there. Could Karl disown Robinson then? And if he did, wouldn’t Robinson, instead of apologizing, plead with Karl in his stupidity and desperation? And wouldn’t Karl have to be fired immediately, because then the outrageous thing had happened: an elevator boy, the lowest and most dispensable position in the enormous hierarchy of hotel employees, had sullied the hotel with his friend and either frightened the guests or drove them away entirely? Could an elevator boy be tolerated, who had such friends who were allowed visits during his work hours? Wouldn’t it seem that this elevator boy was a boozer or just plain trouble, because what suspicion could be more clear than that he supplied his friends from the hotel stock, until they carried on just as Robinson did now in the meticulously tidy hotel? And why should this youth restrict himself to stealing groceries, since the chances to steal were really countless, what with the well-known carelessness of the guests, the wardrobes generally standing open, the valuables lying around on the tables, the opened money-boxes, the thoughtlessly thrown about keys?
Just then Karl saw in the distance guests climbing up from the cellar bar, where a variety show had just ended. Karl put himself at his elevator and didn’t dare turn toward Robinson for fear of what he might have to see. He was a little curious when he heard no loud noises from there, not even a sigh. He served his guests and traveled with them up and down, but he couldn’t entirely hide his distraction, and on each trip down, he was prepared to find a painful surprise downstairs.
Finally he had time again to look after Robinson, who had curled up very small in his corner and pressed his face against his knees. He had slid his round, hard hat away from his forehead. “So leave already,” said Karl softly and certainly. “Here is the money. If you hurry, I can show you the shortest way.” “I won't be able to leave,” said Robinson, wiping his forehead with a tiny handkerchief. “I will die here. You cannot imagine, how sick I am. Delamarche takes me with him to fancy bars, but I can’t stand that rich stuff, I tell it to Delamarche daily.” “You can't stay here now,” said Karl. “Think about where you are. If someone were to find you here, you would be punished and I would lose my job. Do you want that?” “I can't leave,” said Robinson. “I’d gladly jump down there,” and he pointed in-between the railings into the light-shaft. “If I sit here like this, I can still bear it, but I cannot stand up, I already tried it when you were away.” “Then I’ll get you a car and you'll go to the hospital,” said Karl and shook Robinson’s legs a little, which threatened to fall every moment into full collapse. But scarcely had Robinson heard that word “hospital,” when frightened visions seemed to wake him up, because he loudly began to cry and his hands stretched to Karl to ask for mercy.
“Quiet,” said Karl. He knocked him down with a smack of the hands, ran to the elevator boy whom he had stood in for during some nights, asked him the same favor for a short while, hurried back to Robinson, dragged up the eternal weeper with all his strength and whispered to him: “Robinson, if you want me to accept you in, then force yourself now to walk upright a very small stretch of way. I’ll lead you to my bed, where you can stay till you're well. You’ll be amazed at how soon you recover. But act sensibly now, because people are all over these hallways and my bed is in a general sleeping area. If someone notices you only a little, I can’t do any more for you. And you have to keep your eyes open, I can’t carry you around like a dead man.” “I want to do whatever you think is right,” said Robinson, “but you can’t carry me alone. Couldn’t you get Renell.” “Renell’s not here,” said Karl. “Oh, yes,” said Robinson. “Renell is with Delamarche. The both of them sent me to you. I’ve got everything confused.” Karl used this and other incomprehensible speeches from Delarmarche to push him forward, coming with him luckily to an intersection, where a weakly lit hallway led to the sleeping quarters of the elevator boys. Just then an elevator boy tore out of it in full sprint. Up to now they’d only really had harmless encounters; between four and five o’clock was the quiet time and Karl knew full well that if he couldn’t successfully get Robinson out now, there wouldn’t be any thought of doing so in the early morning and the beginning of daily traffic.
In the sleeping quarters on the other end of the hall, a fight or some other event was in progress, you could hear rhythmic hand clapping, excited footsteps and cheers of encouragement. In the half of the hall by the door, you could see only a few unbothered sleepers, most of them were lying on their back and stared into the air, while here and there, one of them sprang out of bed just as he was, dressed or undressed, to see how things stood on the other end of the hall. So Karl brought Robinson, who in the meantime had gotten a little used to walking, pretty well unnoticed to Renell’s bed, because it rested very near the door and luckily was not occupied, while in his own bed, as he saw in the distance, a strange young man he didn’t know slept peacefully. Robinson had barely felt the bed underneath him, when he immediately – with a leg still dangling off the bed – fell asleep. Karl pulled the blanket over his face, believing that he wouldn’t make any trouble in the near future at least, because Robinson would have to be asleep until six o’clock, and by then he would be back and maybe find a way with Renell to take Robinson away. The higher authorities only inspected the sleeping quarters in extraordinary circumstances, the elevator boys had achieved the abolition of regular general inspections years ago, there was nothing to fear from that angle.
When Karl was again positioned at his elevator, he saw that his and his neighbors’ elevators were traveling in the upper floors. He waited impatiently for the situation to clear up. His elevator came down earlier than the others, and out of it climbed the young man who had been running through the hallway. “So where have you been then, Rossman?” he asked. “Why did you leave? Why didn’t you report it?” “But I told him he should stand in for me a little while,” answered Karl and showed the young man the neighboring elevator that came down right away. “I’ve covered for him too, for two hours during the highest traffic.” “That is all very good,” said the person being spoken to, “but it’s not enough. Don’t you know you have to report even the shortest absence during work to the office or the head waiter. That’s why you have the telephone right there. I’d have filled in for you gladly, but you know it’s not that easy. Just now there were new guests from the four-thirty express train at both elevators. I couldn’t run to your elevator first and leave my guests waiting, so first I went up with my elevator.” “And now?” asked Karl tensely, since both men were silent. “And now,” said the young man from the neighboring lift, “the head waiter comes over, sees the people from your elevator without service, gets angry and asks me when I run over right away, where you’ve gotten to, I have no idea, since you said nothing to me about where you were going, so he calls the sleeping quarters for another young man to come over here.” “I met you in the hallway,” said Karl’s replacement. Karl nodded. “Naturally,” persisted the other young man, “That’s just what I said, you had asked me to be your stand-in, but he stopped all those excuses. You probably don’t know him. And we should tell you, that you should immediately go to the office. So stop hanging around and run there. Maybe he’ll still forgive you, you were only away for two minutes. Just mention me calmly, you asked me to stand in. I’d rather you didn’t say that you had stood in for me, nothing can happen to me, I had permission, but it’s not good for these things to be talked about and mixed in with situations they had nothing to do with.” “It was the first time I abandoned my post,” said Karl. “It’s always like that, it’s just that no one ever believes it,” said the young man and ran to his elevator, because people were approaching. Karl’s stand-in, a boy about fourteen years old who had some open sympathy for Karl, said: “There have always been many cases where things like this were forgiven. You’re usually moved comfortably to another job. As far as I know, only one person was let go because of such things. You just have to think up a good excuse for yourself. Under no circumstance should you say that you suddenly became sick, because he’ll laugh at you. It’s much better if you say that a guest somewhere had given you a message in a hurry for another guest and you don’t know who the first guest was anymore and you couldn’t find the second.” “No,” said Karl, “It won’t be so bad.” After everything he had heard, he didn’t believe in a good way out of this anymore. And even if this negligence were forgiven, Robinson was still lying in the sleeping quarters as his living guilt, and it was only too likely, because of the irritable nature of the head waiter, that no one would be content with a superficial investigation and Robinson would finally be tracked down. There wasn’t any specific ban on allowing strange people to be taken into the sleeping quarters, but this meant nothing, because even unthinkable things weren’t banned.
When Karl walked into the office of the head waiter, he was sitting by his morning coffee, taking a sip and looking at a list that the hotel’s head porter, who was right there, had brought to him to be looked over. He was a large man, made even more broad-shouldered then he naturally was by his lavish, richly decorated uniform – golden chains and ribbons wound around his shoulders and arms. A shiny black mustache, pulled out to a point like the Hungarians wore it, never moved when he quickly turned his head. Because of the weight of all his clothing, the man could only move with difficulty, standing with his legs buckled in sideways to correctly distribute the weight.
Karl walked in smoothly and quickly, like he’d gotten used to in the hotel, because the ease and carefulness which was a courtesy in private persons meant laziness in elevator boys. Besides, they mustn’t see his awareness of his guilt by the way he walked in. The head waiter had taken a brief look at the open door, but had then immediately returned to his coffee and his reading, without concerning himself with Karl again. The porter, however, seemed disturbed, maybe by Karl’s presence, maybe he had a secret piece of news or a request to present, whatever the case he looked at Karl angrily every moment, and with his head stiffly inclined toward Karl, he would make eye contact with Karl only to turn back to the head waiter. But Karl believed, it wouldn’t turn out well if he left the office without receiving the order from the head waiter, now that he had already been here once. The head waiter, though, continued to study the list and ate a piece of cake in the meantime, which he shook the sugar off of without stopping his reading. Once a sheet fell from the list to the floor, the porter didn’t once make an attempt to pick it up, he knew he wouldn’t take it up, it wasn’t necessary either, because Karl was already on the job and gave the sheet to the head waiter, who picked it up with a motion of his hands, as if it had flown by itself from the floor. The entire achievement hadn’t been enough, because the porter wouldn’t stop his angry glances.
Nevertheless, Karl was more prepared than before. He could take it as a good sign that his affair seemed to have such little importance for the head waiter. It was only understandable in the end. Of course an elevator boy meant absolutely nothing and therefore couldn’t be allowed anything, but even then, because he meant nothing, he could also do nothing extraordinary. Finally, the head waiter in his own youth had been an elevator boy – which was still the pride of this generation of elevator boys – he had been the one who organized the elevator boys for the first time and certainly he had left his position once without permission, even if no one now could compel him to remember it for himself, and you couldn’t allow yourself to forget, that as an elevator boy he saw that his duty was to maintain order with strict severity. But now Karl rested his hopes on the advance of time. Once the office clock reached a quarter to six, every moment could bring back Renell, maybe he was already there, because it must have been noticeable that Robinson hadn’t come back, Delamarche and Robinson couldn’t have stopped far from the Hotel Occidental, as it now seemed to Karl, because otherwise Robinson wouldn’t have found his way here in his miserable condition. If only Renell found Robinson in his bed, which had to happen, then everything was fine. Because, Renell being as practical as he was, especially when it was in his interest, he would take Robinson far from the hotel right away, which could be done very easily, because Robinson would have recovered in the meanwhile and Delamarche was probably waiting in front of the hotel to receive him. Once Robinson was taken away, Karl could confront the waiter much more calmly and because of it could maybe come out with a heavy reprimand. Then he’d discuss with Therese if he could tell the head cook the truth – for his part he saw nothing in the way – and if it were possible, he would get through these things without any special harm.
Just as Karl had calmed himself down a little with these reflections and started discretely counting his tips for the evening, because it had seemed to him to be a pretty lucrative one, the head waiter laid the list on the table with the words: “Wait just a moment please, Feodor,” sprang up athletically and screamed so loudly at Karl that at first he was frightened into staring solely at the large black hole of his mouth.
“You have abandoned your post without permission. Do you know what that means? That means dismissal. I don’t want to hear any excuses, your fake reasons can only remind me of the entirely sufficient fact that you were not there. If I tolerated that once and forgave you, the next time all forty elevator boys will run off during their work and I will carry all my five thousand guests up the stairs.”
Karl was silent. The porter had come nearer and was poking Karl’s jacket, pressing the one wrinkle a little deeper, maybe to make this tiny disorder in Karl’s uniform especially noticeable to the head waiter.
“Did you maybe become sick all of a sudden?” asked the head waiter slyly. Karl gave him a searching look and answered: “No.” “So you were never sick?” screamed the head waiter even more strongly. “So you must have some magnificent lie. Hand it over. What kind of excuse do you have?” “I didn’t know you had to ask permission by telephone,” said Karl. “That’s delightful,” said the head waiter as he grabbed Karl by the jacket collar and brought him almost suspended to the elevator regulations, which were nailed up on the wall. The porter also walked behind them to the wall. “There! Read!” said the head waiter and pointed to a paragraph. Karl thought he had to read it to himself. “Out loud!” commanded the head waiter. Instead of reading out loud, Karl said, in hope of calming the head waiter down: “I am acquainted with the paragraph, I’ve also received the regulations and read them thoroughly. But those regulations you don’t need, you forget. I’ve already served for two months and have never abandoned my post.” “You’re going to abandon it now,” said the head waiter as he went to the table and picked up the register again, as if he wanted to read it, but he slung it on the table as if it were a useless rag, and with a strong redness in his forehead and cheeks, he walked back and forth across the room. “Boys like these make this necessary! All this excitement in the night shift!” he shouted once more. “Do you know who wanted a ride up, while this bum was running away from the elevator?” he said to the porter. And he named a name, so that the porter, who knew all the guests and could rank them, shuddered so much that he quickly looked at Karl, as if his mere existence were confirmation enough that the owner of this name had to wait a long time in vain by the elevator that this young man had run away from. “That’s horrible!” said the porter and shook his head for a long time in boundless worry at Karl, who looked at him sadly and thought that he had to atone for the obtuseness of this man. “I already know you,” said the porter and extended his thick, large, stiffly stretched pointing finger. “You are that young man, who never says hello to me. What were you imagining! Everyone walking by the porter’s lodge has to say hello to me. You can do what you want with the rest of the porters, but I demand to be greeted. I’ve acted sometimes as if I didn’t notice, but you can relax, I know well enough who says hello to me or not, you lout.” And he turned from Karl and walked head raised high to the waiter, who, instead of commenting on the porter’s affair, finished his breakfast and glanced over a morning paper that a worker had just delivered to the room.
“Sir, Head Porter,” said Karl, who wanted to rein in the matter with the porter during the head waiter’s inattention, because he knew that the porter’s reproach might not disgrace him, but his hostility would. “I most certainly said hello to you, I haven’t been long in America and come from Europe, where we are well known to greet each other much more than is necessary. Naturally, I couldn’t entirely wean myself off of that and for two months in New York, where I moved in some high circles, people advised me at every opportunity to give up my excessive politeness. And yet now I’ve never said hello to you. I said hello to you a few times a day. Of course not every time I saw you, because I came across you a hundred times a day.” “You must say hello to me every time, every time without exception, for the entire time you speak to me, you have to hold your cap in your hand, you speak to me always as “Sir” and never as “You.” And all of it every time and all the time.” “Every time?” Karl repeated softly and questioningly, he remembered now how the porter looked at him strongly and with reproach during his stays in the area, even from the first morning, when he, not quite used to his position, had asked this porter somewhat too boldly, without much fussiness or urgency, if two men hadn’t maybe asked for him and left a photograph for him. “Now you see where such behavior leads,” said the porter, who had again returned close to Karl and pointed to the reading head waiter, as if he were the representative of his vengeance. “In your next job you’ll know enough to greet the porter, even if it’s only in some dive.”
Karl saw he had lost his job, because the head waiter had been prepared to say it, the head porter had repeated it as fact, and the confirmation for dismissal was not necessary with the hotel directors when it came to an elevator boy. It had gone more quickly than he had thought, because he had worked for two months as well as he could and certainly better than some of the other boys. But with these things, even in their decisive moments, no one in any part of the world, neither in Europe or America, ever took the matter into consideration, but decided it in the first rage of judgment flying from the mouth. Maybe it would be for the best now, if he said goodbye immediately and left, with the head cook and Therese maybe still asleep, he would be able to say a brief goodbye to spare them disappointment and grief over his behavior, pack his trunk quickly and go out in silence. But if he stayed a day longer – and he would need a little sleep – nothing waited for him but the exaggeration of his affair into a scandal, reproach from all sides, the unbearable sight of Therese’s tears and maybe even the head cook, and for all that there still would remain the punishment. On the other side, however, it irritated him that he faced two enemies here and that with any word he could say, either one or the other would find fault with something and interpret it to its worst conclusion. So he was quiet and enjoyed for the time being the calm that prevailed in the room, because the head waiter kept reading the newspaper and the head porter put the scattered list into numerical order page by page, which was very difficult for him because he was short-sighted.
Finally, the head waiter laid the newspaper down yawning, looking at Karl to make sure he was still there and turning the bell on the desk telephone. He said hello many times, but no one reported back. “It doesn’t respond,” he said to the head porter. To Karl, he seemed to watch the telephone with great interest and said: “It’s already a quarter to six. She must be awake already. Ring louder.” At this moment, the telephone rang back without further request. “It’s Head Waiter Isbary,” said the head waiter. “Good morning, Head Cook. I didn’t wake you up, did I? I’m sorry about that. Yes, yes, it’s already a quarter to six. But I’m sorry I frightened you. You should turn off the phone when you sleep. No, not really, there’s really no excuse, especially with the smallness of the matter I want to talk to you about. But of course I have the time, excuse me, I’ll stay by the telephone until it’s right for you.” “She had to run to the telephone in her nightgown,” the head waiter said laughing to the head porter, who the entire time had bent over the telephone box with a tense expression. “I really woke her up, she would otherwise have been woken up by a little girl who types for her on the typewriter, and she must have neglected it today, as an exception. I’m sorry I startled her, she’s so nervous.” “Why didn’t she say anything more?” “She went to see what’s the matter with the girl,” answered the head waiter, already with the receiver to his ear, because it rang again. “She’ll be found,” he said into the telephone again. “You shouldn’t let yourself be frightened by everything, you really need a thorough vacation. Yes, and my small enquiry. It’s the elevator boy, by the name of –” he turned in question to Karl, since he was paying enough attention to be immediately able to help out with his name – “by the name of Karl Rossman, if I remember correctly, so you’ve had some interest in him; unfortunately he has rewarded your kindness terribly, he’s abandoned his post without permission and with all this difficulty has made trouble for me which cannot be overlooked, and so I’ve let him go. I hope you don’t take this dreadfully. How do you mean? Let go, yes, let go. But I told you he abandoned his post. No, I cannot give in there, dear Head Cook. It deals with something under my authority, because a lot rests on this, one youth could spoil the whole group for me. You have to be fiendishly attentive with the elevator boys. No, no, in this situation I cannot do you this favor, as much as I always like to be in your service. And if I forgave him here in spite of everything just to keep my heart-rate up, he cannot stay here, for your sake, yes, for your sake Head Cook. You take an interest in him which he does not deserve and since not only am I acquainted with him, but also yourself, I know this must lead to the most heavy disappointment for you, which I want to spare from you at all cost. I say it with the utmost frankness, even though the stubborn youth stands a few steps in front of me. He is fired, no, no, Head Cook, he is completely fired, he will not be assigned to another job, he is completely useless. Other complaints have come against him. The head porter, Feodor, for example, has also complained about the youth’s inhospitality and impudence. What, isn’t that enough? Yes, dear Head Cook, you are betraying your character on account of this young man. No, don’t take it out on me.”
At this moment the porter bent over to the ear of the head waiter and whispered something. The head waiter looked astonished at first and then spoke so quickly into the telephone that Karl didn’t understand him enough at first and took steps closer on his tiptoes.
“Dear Head Cook,” he went, “sincerely, I would not have believed you were such a terrible judge of people. Even I’ve heard something about your little angel which will thoroughly change your opinion of him, and I’m almost sorry that I’m the one who has to say it to you. This fine young man, whom you call a model of decency, allowed no free night to go by without running to the city and coming back first thing in the morning. Yes, yes Head Cook, there is evidence to prove this, indisputable evidence, yes. Could you tell me now, maybe, where he got the money for these festivities? How could he keep attention to his work? And would you also like me to list for you what he indulges in when in the city? I want to concern myself especially with getting rid of this young man. And please take it as a reminder of how careful you should be with the boys who come running in here.”
“But Sir, Head Waiter,” Karl cried out, pretty much relieved because of this that everything which seemed to occur here was a great mistake, which unexpectedly might turn out in the end to improve his situation. “We have a confusion in front of us. I believe the head porter said to you, that I left every night. But that’s completely incorrect, I am in the sleeping quarters every night, all the boys could confirm that. When I wasn’t sleeping I was learning business correspondence, but I never moved from the sleeping quarters on any night. That is very easy to prove. The head porter mistook me for someone else and now I understood why he thinks I didn’t say hello to him.”
“Will you be quiet right now,” screamed the head porter and shook his fist where someone else would have wagged a finger. “I couldn’t be a head porter anymore if I mistook these people. Just listen, Mr. Isbary, I can’t be a head porter anymore if I mistake these people. In my thirty years of service there has never been any confusion, which the hundreds of head waiters who have been here in that time can confirm, but with you, you miserable boy, I should have begun my mistakes. With you, with your noticeably smooth face. What is there to confuse, you could have run every night behind my back to the city and I could tell merely by your face that you’re a gin-soaked bum.”
“Stop it, Feodor!” said the head waiter, whose telephone call with the head cook seemed to have suddenly broken off. “The matter is simple enough. In the first place, his evening entertainments come to nothing. Maybe he would like there to be a length investigation into his nightly business. I can already imagine that would please him. It would involve all forty elevator boys, who would naturally confuse everything for him, and take them in as evidence, it would also have to gradually include all personnel as witnesses, the hotel business would be held up for a little while until he’s finally thrown out, so at least he’d have his fun. And so we prefer not to do it. He took the head cook, that good woman, for a fool and that should be enough. I don’t want to hear it anymore, you are fired from your work for omission of duty at your post. I’m giving you a receipt for the finance office, so you’ll be paid your wages up to the present day. With the way you’ve behaved under us, this is simply a gift that I’m making to you only out of consideration for the head cook.”
A telephone call kept the head waiter from writing the receipt right away. “The elevator boys are giving me trouble today!” he shouted after hearing the first words. “That is unheard of!” he cried after a short while. And he turned away from the telephone to the head porter and said: “Please, Feodor, hold this boy a little, we’ll still be speaking with him.” And into the telephone he gave the order: “Come up here immediately!”
Now the head porter could stomp around, which wouldn’t have been too successful during the discussion. He held Karl tightly by the arm, not with a steady grip, which would have been bearable, but instead he loosened his grip here and there and gradually made it tighter and tighter, so that, with his great strength, it never seemed to stop and Karl’s vision went dark. Not only did he hold Karl, but as if he’d received the order to stretch him out, he raised him up high now and then and shook him, saying again and again in a half-question to the head waiter: “I’m not mistaking him now, I’m not mistaking him now.”
It was a relief for Karl when the highest-ranking elevator boy, a certain Bess, an eternally rasping fat youth, walked in and attracted the attention of the head porter. Karl was so tired he barely said hello, when to his astonishment he saw Therese slipping in behind the youth, deathly pale, her clothes disheveled, her hair sticking up. In a moment she was next to him and whispered: “Does the head cook know?” “The head waiter called her,” answered Karl. “Then it’s already fine, everything’s fine,” she said quickly with livened eyes. “No,” said Karl. “You don’t know what they have against me. I have to leave, the head cook is already convinced about that. Please don’t stay here, get out, I’ll come to say goodbye to you.” “But Rossman, what happened to you? Surely you’ll stay with us as long as you like. The head waiter does everything the head cook wants, he loves her, I heard it by chance. So be calm.” “Please, Therese, go away now. I can’t defend myself as well when you’re here. And I have to defend myself, because lies about me are being brought out. But it’s better that I pay attention and can defend myself, there’s more hope for me then that I’ll stay. And so, Therese –” Unfortunately, in sudden pain, he couldn’t refrain from adding quietly: “If only this head porter would let me go! I didn’t know he was my enemy. But he’s always dragging and pushing me around.” “Why did I just say that?” he thought immediately. “No woman can listen to that calmly.” And actually, Therese turned to the head porter without him being able to stop her with his free hand. “Mr. Head Porter, please let Rossman free right now. You’re hurting him. The head cook will personally come right away and then you’ll see that an injustice has happened to him through everything. Let him go, what kind of pleasure can it give you to torment him.” And she grabbed the head porter’s hand. “Orders, little lady, orders,” said the head porter and took Therese graciously with his free hand, while he squeezed Karl strenuously with the other, not only as if he wanted to cause him pain, but also as if he had the goal of owning his arm, which would still take awhile to achieve.
Therese needed some time to wrench herself from the head porter’s grasp and wanted, for Karl’s sake, to call out to the head waiter, who was still allowing Bess to explain something to him, when the head cook walked in with quick steps. “Thank God,” Therese cried, and you heard in that room at that moment nothing else but those loud words. The head waiter immediately sprang up and shoved Bess to the side: “So you’re coming too, Madame. On account of such a small thing? I might have suspected it after our talk on the telephone, but I didn’t actually believe it. And right now the matter of your protégé is constantly becoming more troublesome. I’m afraid I won’t actually fire him but will have to have him locked up. Listen for yourself!” And he called to Bess. “I would like to speak a few words with Rossman,” said the head cook and sat in a chair that the head waiter brought for her. “Karl, please come nearer,” she then said. Karl followed close behind, or rather was dragged there by the head porter. “Let him go,” said the head cook, annoyed. “He’s not a bandit yet.” The head porter actually let him go, but pushed him forward so strongly that tears welled up in his eyes for the strength of it.
“Karl,” said the head cook, laying her hands calmly in her lap and looking at Karl with her head slightly turned – it wasn’t like an interrogation at all – “I will say to you in front of everyone, that I have complete trust in you. And the head waiter is a just man, I guarantee that. Both of us, basically, would gladly let you stay here.” – She looked fleetingly over at the head waiter, as if she were asking him not to cut in. He didn’t. – “And forget what they might have said to you now. You must not take everything the head porter said to you too hard. He is an excitable man, which is no surprise with his work, but he has a wife and kids and knows that you shouldn’t needlessly torment a young man who has to learn everything by himself, because the rest of the world sees to that.”
It was completely quiet in the room. The head porter, demanding an explanation, looked at the head waiter, who looked at the head cook and shook his head. The elevator boy Bess grinned senselessly behind the head waiter’s back. Therese cried for joy and anxiety and spent all her effort not letting anyone hear it.
Karl, however, even though this could’ve been taken as a bad sign, did not look at the head cook, who was certainly asking for his glance, but in front of himself at the floor. In his arm, the pain twitched in all directions, his shirt was sticking to a welt and he would’ve liked to take off his jacket and look at the thing. The head cook meant what she said very kindly, but it sounded like an unfortunate way to say it, as if the head cook’s behavior was revealing at last that he deserved no kindness, that he had enjoyed the generosity of the head cook for two months unearned, and yes that he deserved nothing more than to come into the hands of the head porter.
“I’m saying this,” continued the head cook, “so that you’ll answer unworried, which you probably would have done already, since I think I know you.”
“May I please fetch a doctor in the meantime, the man could bleed to death,” the elevator boy Bess threw in suddenly, very politely but very distressingly.
“Go,” said the head waiter to Bess, who ran away immediately. And then to the head cook: “This is the matter. The head porter did not hold the young man down for fun. The elevator boys have discovered, downstairs, in a bed in the sleeping quarters, an unknown, heavy, drunk man. Someone woke him up, of course, and wanted to get him out. But then this man started to make a large racket, again and again crying out that the sleeping quarters belonged to Karl Rossman, whose guest he was, who had brought him in and who would punish anyone who dared touch him. So basically he had to wait for Karl Rossman, he had promised him money and was only going to get it. Please notice this, head cook: promised him money, was going to get it. You notice it too, Rossman,” said the head waiter casually to Karl, who had just then turned to Therese, who stared mesmerized at the head waiter and who again and again either brushed some hair away from her forehead or at least went through the motions of it for her own sake. “But maybe I remind you of some more obligations. The man downstairs had continued saying that the both of you would travel back for a night’s visit with some singer whose name no one understood, since the man could only pronounce it in song.”
Here the head waiter interrupted himself, because the head cook, clearly becoming pale, picked herself up from the chair, pushing it back a little. “I’ll spare you anything further,” said the head waiter. “No, please, no,” said the head cook and grabbed his hand. “Just tell me more, I’ll listen to everything, that’s why I’m here.” The head porter, stepping forward as if to say he had seen it all from the beginning, beat his chest and, when the head waiter said, “Yes, you had it right, Feodor!” immediately calmed down and stepped back.
“There isn’t much more to explain,” said the head waiter. “Young men being who they are, they laughed at the man at first, then got in a fight with him and since there are always good boxers waiting in line, he just got beaten up and I didn’t dare ask anything else about where and in how many places he bled, because these young men are fearsome boxers and a drunk just makes it easy for them.”
“So,” said the head cook, leaning against the chair and looking at the place she had just left. “Say one word, please, Rossman!” she said. Therese was running to the head cook’s present position and hung onto her, which Karl had never seen her do. The head waiter stood just behind the head cook and smoothed the head cook’s small, modest collar, which had turned up a little. The head porter next to Karl said: “So now what?” but he only wanted to hide the punch he gave to Karl in the back.
“It is true,” Karl said, with less certainty than he preferred on account of the punch, “that I brought a man into the sleeping quarters.”
“We don’t want to know any more,” said the porter on behalf of everyone. The head cook, silent, turned to the head waiter and then to Therese.
“I couldn’t help it,” Karl continued. “The man is my comrade from before, he came here to pay a visit after we hadn’t seen each other for two months, but he was so drunk that he couldn’t leave by himself.”
The head waiter said quietly to the head cook next to him: “So he came to visit and was so drunk afterwards that he couldn’t leave alone.” The head cook whispered something over her shoulder to the head waiter, who, with an unrelated smile, seemed to make some sort of objection. Therese – Karl was only looking at her – pressed her face against the head cook in complete helplessness and didn’t want to see any more. The only one completely satisfied with Karl’s explanation was the head porter, who repeated one more time: “It’s completely correct, you have to help your drinking buddy,” seeking to force this explanation on everyone present through looks and hand gestures.
“So I’m guilty,” Karl said and made a pause as he waited for a friendly word in this trial, which could give him courage for a continued defense, but it didn’t come. “I’m only guilty of bringing a man into the sleeping quarters, his name is Robinson, he’s an Irishman. Everything else he said he said out of drunkenness and is incorrect.”
“You didn’t promise him any money?” asked the head waiter.
“Yes,” said Karl, and he regretted having forgotten it, out of rashness or absent-mindedness he had portrayed himself as guiltless. “I promised him money, because he begged me for it. But I didn’t want to get it, so I gave him the tips I had earned that night.” As an example, he took the money out of his pocket and showed off a couple of small coins level on his hand.
“You’re going off track,” said the head waiter. “If someone should believe you, he’d constantly have to forget what you said before. First you have this man – I don’t believe the name Robinson, since no Irishman in Ireland has ever been called that – first you never promised him money, and then when we ask you unexpectedly, you’ve suddenly promised him money. But we don’t have a trivia game here, we want to hear your justification. But first you didn’t want to get him the money but instead gave him your tips, but then you show you still have this money and therefore wanted to get different money, which explains your long failure to appear. It would have been nothing special in the end if you had wanted to fetch money from your trunk, but you deny that with all your strength, that is something special. Even as you wanted to conceal that you had gotten this man drunk here in the hotel, which no one has any doubts about, because you yourself admitted he came alone but couldn’t leave alone and he himself shouted throughout the sleeping quarters that he was your guest. Two things still remain doubtful, which you could answer yourself, if you want to simplify the matter, but which we could in the end also establish without your assistance. First, how did you get admittance to the pantry, and second, how did you collect this money you were giving away?”
“It’s impossible to defend yourself when there’s no good will,” said Karl to himself and didn’t answer the head waiter any more, as much as it was probably hurting Therese. He knew that everything he could say would be seen afterwards entirely differently than he had meant it and that it only remained to be seen what kind of judgment would be found, good or terrible.
“He doesn’t answer,” said the head cook.
“It’s the most reasonable thing he can do,” said the head waiter.
“He’ll think up something else,” said the head porter, carefully stroking his beard with his earlier cruel hand.
“Be quiet,” said the head cook to Therese, who for her part began to sob. “You see, he doesn’t answer, how can I do anything for him. I’m the one who was proved wrong in the end in front of the head waiter. Therese, have I, in your judgment, forgotten to do something for him?” How could Therese know that, and what was the point of the head cook shaming herself in front of both these gentleman with these frank questions and requests to this little girl?
“Head Cook,” said Karl, picking himself up once more, but with no other purpose than to spare Therese the answer. “I don’t believe I have made such a disgrace of myself, and after enough investigation someone else would discover that.”
“Someone else,” said the head porter, pointing with his finger to the head waiter. “That’s was aimed against you, Mr. Isbary.”
“Now, Head Cook, it’s half past six, time is up. I think, you will allow me the last word in this all-too tolerantly handled manner.”
The small Giacomo was coming in, wanting to talk to Karl, but he gave up and waited, frightened by the pervasive silence.
Since Karl’s last words, the head cook had not stopped looking at him, and she didn’t seem to have heard the head waiter’s remarks. Her eyes looked entirely at Karl, they were large and blue, but a little cloudy with age and toil. The way she stood there, weakly rocking the chair in front of her, you could very well have expected her to say at the next moment: “Now Karl, when I think about it, the matter isn’t completely clear just yet and requires a thorough investigation, just like you said. And we should organize it now, whether we agree with it or not, because there must be justice.”
Instead of this, however, the head cook said after a small pause no one had dared to interrupt – only the clock rang in confirmation with the head waiter’s comments at half past six, and with it, as everyone knew, all the clocks in the entire hotel clanged in the ear and in the premonition as a doubled twitching of an especially large impatience: “No, Karl, no! We can’t convince ourselves of that. Correct things have a certain appearance, and, I have to say it, there is none of this in your affair. I am allowed to say that, and I have to say it too, because I’m the one who came here with the best conception of you. You see, Therese is also quiet.” (But she wasn’t quiet, she cried.)
The head cook faltered in a decision suddenly coming over her and said: “Karl, come here,” and when he came to her – immediately the head waiter and the head porter united behind his back in lively conversation – she put her left arm around him and walked with him and Therese, who followed mindlessly behind, to the far end of the room, where she paced back and forth and said: “It is possible, Karl, and you seem to think it, otherwise I wouldn’t trust it, that an investigation would give you justice in some small matters. So why not? Maybe you did say hello to the head porter. I’d certainly believe it, and I also know what I think of the head porter, you see I’m talking very openly with you. But such small corrections won’t help you at all. The head waiter, whose knowledge of people I’ve learned to cherish over a run of many years, and who is the most reliable person I know, has clearly pronounced you guilty and it seems irrefutable to me. Maybe you just handled it carelessly, and maybe you’re not the person I took you for. And yet,” and then she stopped herself a little and looked quickly back to the two gentleman. “I can’t give up thinking in principle that you’re an upstanding young man.”
“Madame Head Cook! Madame Head Cook!” urged the head waiter, who had caught her look.
“We’re finishing up,” said the head cook and now spoke faster to Karl: “Listen Karl, so far as I can see, I’m still happy that the head waiter doesn’t want to start an investigation, but if he did want to start it, I would have to stop it in your interest. No one should hear how you managed to entertain that man, who couldn’t have been one of those comrades from before like you pretended, but only someone you carelessly befriended in some bar during the night. Karl, how could you hide all these things from me? If it was unbearable for you in the sleeping quarters, and you began roving through the night for this innocent reason, why didn’t you say a word about it, you knew I wanted to get a room for you but gave it up at your request. It seems now like you preferred the sleeping quarters because you felt uninhibited there. And your money that you stored in my trunk and the tip money you brought every week, young man, where in God’s name did you get the money for your amusement and where would you get that money for your friend? That is a noticeable thing, which I will not allow myself to hint about to the head waiter, because it just might lead to an unavoidable investigation. You absolutely have to leave the hotel and do it as quickly as possible. Go directly to the Motel Brenner – you were there a few times with Therese – they’ll take you in for free on my recommendation” – and the head cook wrote some lines on a ticket with a pen she took out of her blouse, without interrupting what she was saying – “I’ll send your trunk after you, Therese, run to the elevator boys’ wardrobe and pack his trunk.” (But Therese didn’t move, instead wanting, since she had already carried every sorrow, to witness everything now that Karl’s matter was turning for the better thanks to the goodness of the head cook.)
Someone opened the door a little without showing himself and immediately closed it again. It must have had something to do with Giacomo, because he walked to the front and said: “Rossman, I have something to deliver to you.” “Coming,” said the head cook and put the ticket in Karl’s pocket as he listened to her with a bowed head. “I’ll hold your money for the time being, you know you can trust it with me. Stay home today and look over your affairs, tomorrow – I have no time today, I’ve already stayed here too long – I’ll come to the Brenner and we’ll see what else we can do for you. I won’t desert you, in any case you should know that by now. You should about the recent past before you worry about the future.” With that she clapped him lightly on the shoulder and went over to the head waiter, Karl lifted his head and looked at the large, imposing woman who walked from him with quiet steps and a relaxed posture.
“Aren’t you happy at all,” said Therese, who stayed back by him, “that everything’s turned out so well?” “Oh, yes,” said Karl as he smiled at her, not knowing why he should be so happy about being sent away as a criminal. Joy beamed out of Therese’s eyes, as if it were entirely indifferent to her whether Karl had done anything or not, whether he had been justly judged or not, so long as he was allowed to slip away, either in shame or with honor. So Therese was behaving like she did, who in her own matters was so meticulous, turning over and investigating in her mind any unclear word from the head cook for weeks at a time. He deliberately asked: “Will you my pack my trunk now and send it away?” He had to shake his head against his will for astonishment, because Therese was convinced with this question that there were things in the trunk that had to be kept secret from everyone, so she didn’t allow herself to look at Karl at all, didn’t reach her hand to him at all, but only whispered: “Of course, Karl, right away, right away I’ll pack the trunk.” And she was already running away.
But Giacomo didn’t allow any stalling and in the middle of all this waiting he yelled excitedly and loudly: “Rossman, the man is rolling around in the hallway and won’t let anyone take him away. They wanted permission to take him to the hospital, but he protested and maintained you would not tolerate him going to the hospital in any case. You should get an automobile and take him home, you would pay for the automobile. Will you?”
“The man has trust in you,” said the head waiter. Karl shrugged his shoulders and counted the money in his hand for Giacomo. “I don’t have any more,” he said then.
“I should also ask if you want to go with,” Giacomo continued to ask, jingling the money.
“He’s not going with,” said the head cook.
“And Rossman,” the head waiter said quickly, not even waiting until Giacomo was outside. “You are dismissed from your position.”
The head porter nodded many times, as if the head waiter’s words were his own.
“I cannot announce the grounds for your dismissal out loud, because otherwise I would have to have you locked up.”
The head porter looked at the head cook noticeably sternly, because he realized that she was the cause of this all-too mild treatment.
“Now, go to Bess, change, hand your uniform over to Bess and immediately, I said immediately, leave the house.”
The head cook closed her eyes, she was trying to calm Karl down. As he bowed in parting, he looked up fleetingly as the head waiter secretly grabbed the head cook’s hand and played with it. The head porter, stomping his feet, accompanied Karl to the door, which he didn’t let close, but held open himself so he could shout to Karl: “I want to see you going by the front door in a quarter of a minute, remember that.”
Karl hurried as much as he could to avoid any trouble at the front door, but everything went much more slowly than he wanted. First, Bess couldn’t be found right away, and now at breakfast time everything was full of people, then it appeared that one of the boys had borrowed Karl’s old pants and Karl had to search the clothes racks by almost all the beds before he found them, so that a whole five minutes had gone by before Karl came to the front door. A lady walked in front of him, in-between four gentlemen. They all went to a large automobile waiting for them, whose back doors were being held open by a valet who stretched his free left arm straight and stiff, looking highly solemn. But Karl vainly hoped to pass unnoticed under all this bustle. Right away the head porter grabbed him by the hand and pulled him in-between two gentlemen whom he apologized to. “You should have been fifteen seconds,” he said and squinted down at Karl as if he were observing a broken watch. “Come over here,” he said then and led him into the large porter’s lodge, which Karl had wanted to see for the longest time, but which he was now walking into with distrust, being pushed by the head porter. He was already in the door, when he turned and made an attempt to push the porter away and escape. “No, no, you go in this way,” said the head porter, turning Karl around. “I’m already fired,” he said, implying that no one in this hotel could give him orders anymore. “So long as I hold you, you are not fired,” said the porter, and that was correct too.
In the end, Karl found no reason to resist the porter. What could possibly happen to him? The walls of the porter’s lodge consisted exclusively of enormous windowpanes, through which you could clearly see crowds of people streaming against one another in the vestibule, as if you were in the middle of them. There seemed to be no corner in the entire porter’s lodge, where you could hide from the eyes of the people. As busy as the people outside seemed, with outstretched arms, bowed heads, peering eyes, pieces of luggage held high as they sought their way, they could scarcely avoid throwing a glance into the porter’s lodge, where announcements and messages were always hung up that had importance for the guests as well as the hotel staff. In addition, there was direct traffic into the porter’s lodge from the vestibule, because at two large sliding windows, two under-porters sat and gave out information without interruption on the most various of subjects. Now these were overburdened people, and Karl would have liked to believe that the head porter, so far as he knew him, had weaseled his way out of these positions over the course of his career. These two information liaisons – you wouldn’t believe it if you had seen it from the outside – had at least ten inquiring faces in front of them at all times. A muddle of languages was often exchanged behind these ten questioners, as if someone from each country was represented there. People were always asking simultaneously, always talking over one another. Most of them wanted either to fetch something from the porter’s lodge to deliver something there, so you always saw impatient, waving hands rising up out of the crowd. At one point someone wanted a newspaper, which was suddenly unfolded and for a moment covered all the faces. The two under-porters had to face all this. Plain conversation would not have been enough for their problems, they chattered, especially one of them, a gloomy man whose entire face was surrounded by a dark beard, he gave out information without the slightest interruption. He looked neither at the tabletop, where he constantly performed some odd task, nor at the face of this or that interrogator, but instead stared straight head, just to save his strength and collect himself. The beard generally got in the way of comprehending what he said, and Karl could pick up very little of what he said, which might have been in a foreign language in spite of its English tone. In addition, it was disarming how one piece of information was added to another so that they bled into each other, and often a questioner listened with a strained expression, since he believed his problem was still being dealt with, only to notice after a short while that it had already been dealt with. You had to get used to the fact that the under-porters never asked anyone to repeat a question, even if it was generally understandable and only a little unclear, a barely noticeable shaking of the head indicated that he had no intention of answering this question and it was the business of the questioner to recognize his mistake and formulate a better question. Because of this, a lot of people stood in front of the counter for a very long time. To help the under-porters, each was assigned an errand boy, who would bring everything the under-porters required in hasty runs to bookcases or various boxes. This was the best paid position for young people, if also the most strenuous, in a certain sense they were bothered more than the under-porters, because the porters only had to think and to speak, while these young people had to simultaneously think and run. If they brought something incorrect, the under-porter naturally couldn’t stop hurrying to give them longer instructions, he simply swept off with a jerk whatever they had lain on the table. An interesting episode was the changing of the under-porters, which took place just shortly after Karl entered. This switching had to take place many times over the course of a day, because there was barely a person who could have held up longer than one hour behind the counter. At changing-time a bell rung and two under-porters walked out of a side door in a row, each followed by his errand boy. They lined up idly by the counter and contemplated the people outside for a short while, so they could determine the state of all the answering at the moment. It seemed to them then that the moment had come for them to intervene, they tapped the relieved under-porters on the shoulders, who, although they weren’t concerned with what was going on behind their backs, immediately understood and left their positions. The whole thing went so quickly that it often surprised the people outside and they drew back out of fright at the face suddenly emerging before them. The two free men stretched themselves and washed their steaming heads in two wash basins waiting for them, but the relieved boys weren’t allowed to stretch just yet, since they had something to do for awhile, picking up the objects that had been thrown around the room when they’d been working and laying them in their places.
Karl had taken up everything with the most strenuous attentiveness in a few moments, and with a light headache he quietly followed the head porter who continued in front of him. The head porter had observed the large impression this kind of information-giving had made on Karl, and he snatched Karl’s hand and said: “See, this is how you work here.” Karl had not lazed about here in the hotel, but he had no idea of this kind of work and almost completely forgot that the head porter was his great enemy, he looked at him and nodded in silence, acknowledging with the motion of his head. To the head porter, though, that seemed to be an overestimation of the under-porters and maybe an insult to his person, so, as if he were joking with Karl, he yelled without worrying that everyone would hear: “Of course, this here is the stupidest work in the hotel; if you listened for an hour, you’d know all the questions that were posed and the rest don’t have to be answered. If you weren’t so impudent and wicked, if you hadn’t lain about, bummed around, drank and stole, I might have been able to put you at a window, because I only need blockheads for that.” Karl completely failed to hear the abuse insofar as it concerned him, because he was so incensed that the honorable and difficult work of the under-porter, instead of being recognized, was being derided by a man who, if he would have to sit at such a counter just once, would have had to run off after a few minutes under the laughter of the interrogators. “Let me go,” said Karl, his curiosity over the porter’s lodge was more than satisfied. “I want nothing more to do with you.” “That’s not enough to get out of it,” said the head porter, squeezing Karl’s arms so they couldn’t move at all and virtually carrying him to the end of the porter’s lodge. Couldn’t the people outside see this violent act of the head porter? Or if they saw it, how did they interpret it, so that no one even knocked on the windows just to show the head porter that he was being watched and was not allowed to carry on with Karl at his own discretion.

But soon Karl received no more hope of any help from the vestibule, because the head porter grabbed a cord and black curtains flew together over the glass of half the porter’s lodge. There were also people in this section of the porter’s lodge, but everyone was working and had no eyes or ears for anything that didn’t have to do with their work. In addition, they were completely dependent on the head porter, and instead of helping Karl, would have preferred to help hide everything that the head porter might think of doing. So for example, there were six under-porters by six telephones. You immediately noticed that the arrangement was so organized that one of them had just taken down a conversation when his neighbor ran to the telephone with his newly received notes. They were all the newest telephones, not requiring a telephone booth, because the ringing was not louder than a chirp, you could speak into the telephone with a whisper and still the words came to their destination with the voice of thunder, thanks to a spiral electric amplifier. So you barely heard the three speakers on their telephones and might have believed they were murmuring to themselves as they observed some process in their receivers, while the three others let their heads sink to the paper where they wrote their messages, as if stunned by the noise that couldn’t be heard in the surrounding area. A youth also stood here next to each of the three speakers to assist; these three youths did nothing but alternate leaning their heads to hear their gentleman, and as if they’d been bit, they would go look for telephone numbers in giant, yellow books – the rustling of the mass of pages overtook the ringing of the telephones.
Karl couldn’t keep himself from following everything, even though the head porter, who had sat him down, held him in a sort of clamp. “It is my duty,” said the head porter, shaking Karl as if he wanted to make sure that Karl would at least turn his face to him, “in the name of the hotel management, to make up, at least a little, whatever the head waiter has neglected to do on whatever grounds. This is how we stand up for each other here. Without that, such a large business would be unthinkable. Maybe you want to say I’m not your direct superior, but that’s all the more reason for me to take up your otherwise abandoned affair. In a certain sense, as head porter, I watch over everything, because all the doors of the hotel are under my control, as well as this entrance door, the three middle doors and the ten side doors, not to mention the innumerable small doors and doorless entrances. Of course, all the work groups coming into the matter belong to me absolutely. In exchange for this great honor I have the responsibility from the hotel directors to allow no one out who is even the least bit suspicious. But you’re coming to me right now, because you seem to me to be highly suspicious.” With joy, he lifted his hands and allowed them to come down strongly, so that they smacked down and hurt. “It’s possible,” he added, maintaining himself regally, “that you could’ve gone unnoticed down another hallway, because it wouldn’t stand to allow special orders be issued on your account. But since you are here now, I want to enjoy it. I didn’t doubt that you would keep the rendezvous we had planned at the entrance door, because as a rule, the impudent and wicked, with all their vices, always stop in the place that will shame them. You’ll be able to observe this in yourself often.”
“Don’t believe,” said Karl, breathing in the characteristic odor coming from the head porter, which he first noticed here, where he sat in such close proximity. “Don’t believe,” he said, “that I’m completely in your power. I can scream.” “And I can cover your mouth,” said the head porter as calmly and quickly as would be necessary to carry it out. “And do you really mean, that if someone should come in here on your account, he would find in favor of you against me, the head porter. You see full well the senselessness of your hope. Do you really know how you looked in your uniform, you were really remarkable, but in this suit, which could only happen in Europe . . .” And he pulled at various spots on the suit, which, although five months ago it had been almost new, was now worn out, wrinkled and stained, mainly due to the carelessness of the elevator boys, who, in order to keep the floor of the sleeping quarters clean and dust-free according to the general orders, did no actual cleaning, but each day squirted the floor with some oil and splashed disgracefully all the clothes on the clothes stands. You could put your clothes wherever you wanted, there was always someone without his clothes on hand who was able to find easily some stranger’s hidden clothes and borrow them. And this was probably the same person who had taken up the cleaning of the hall on that day and who had not only sprinkled the clothes with oil, but soaked them from top to bottom. Only Renell had kept his expensive clothes in a somewhat secret place from which they had barely been taken, because no one borrowed strange clothes out of anger or malice, but out of mere hurry and disregard wherever he found them. But even on Renell’s clothes there was a round, red oil stain in the middle of the back, and in the city, someone in the know would have recognized this young man as an elevator boy right away.
And with this memory, Karl said to himself that he had suffered enough as an elevator boy and that everything had been in vain, because now all this elevator work wasn’t what he had hoped, a first step to better jobs, but instead he was being pushed into a worse situation and even coming very close to prison. He was held tight by the head porter, who was thinking about how he could do more harm to Karl. And completely forgetting that the head porter was not the sort of man who allowed himself to be persuaded, Karl yelled while hitting himself in the forehead many times with a free hand: “And if I really didn’t say hello to you, how can a grown man become so vengeful on account of an omitted greeting!”
“I’m not vengeful,” said the head porter. “I only want to go through your pockets. I am truly convinced I would find nothing, because you will have been so cautious and your friend would have allowed everything to be carried away, every day something else. But you must be searched.” And already he went through one of Karl’s jacket pockets with such force that the seams broke on the side. “There’s nothing here, either,” he said and picked the innards of the pocket in his hand: a promotional calendar for the hotel, a paper with a note of business correspondence, the ticket from the head cook, a polishing file for his nails that a guest had given him for packing his trunk, an old pocket mirror that Rennel had given him in thanks for maybe ten substitutions at work and still a few small things. “That’s nothing, too,” repeated the head porter and threw everything under the bench, as if it were perfectly comprehensible that Karl’s property, insofar as it wasn’t stolen, belonged under the bench. “But this is enough,” said Karl to himself – his face must have been glowing red – and when he tried out of greed to carelessly grub around in Karl’s second pocket, Karl slipped out of his sleeves with a jerk, pushed an under-porter very strongly against his machinery in his first uncontrolled leap, ran to the door more slowly than he had intended in the humid air, but luckily was outside before the head porter could get up in his heavy coat. The organization of security guards must have not have been very commendable, there was a ringing on every side, but Lord knows why, hotel workers walked back and forth through the doorway in such numbers you would almost think they wanted to make exit impossible in an inconspicuous manner, because there couldn’t be any other reason for all this walking back and forth – in any case Karl soon came into the open, but he had to go along the hotel sidewalk, because he couldn’t make it to the street, since an uninterrupted column of automobiles moved hesitantly to the front door. In order to get to their passengers as quickly as possible, these automobiles were moving into one another, each was pushing the one it followed. Pedestrians, in a special hurry to get to the street, stepped through the automobiles now and then, as if they were an open way through, and it was entirely indifferent to them, if only the chauffer and servants were in the automobile or if the distinguished guests were in there too. Such behavior seemed a little too much for Karl and you had to know your way around the area to even dare it, since he could get into an automobile whose inhabitants wouldn’t like it, throw him out and cause scandal and he had nothing more to fear than as a runaway, suspicious hotel employee in shirt sleeves. The row of automobiles couldn’t go on forever, and so long as he kept to the hotel, he was among the least suspicious. Karl finally came to a spot where the line of automobiles didn’t stop, but turned onto another street and was broken up. Just then he wanted to slip into the traffic on the street, where there were far more suspicious people than he, and run around free, because he heard his name called somewhere nearby. He turned around and saw two well-known elevator boys in a small, open door underneath him, which looked like the entrance to a burial vault, they pulled out a stretcher with the utmost effort, where Karl recognized Robinson lying, his face and arms bandaged in many places. It was disgusting to look as he threw his arms to his eyes to wipe away the tears from his bandages, which he forgot about either for the pain or otherwise for sorrow or for joy over the reunion with Karl. “Rossman,” he cried reproachfully, “why did you let me wait so long? Already I spent one hour resisting so that I wouldn’t be carried away before you came. These jerks –” and he gave one of the elevator boys a nod, as if he were safe from punches because of the bandages – “are true devils. Ah, Rossman, this visit turned out to be very expensive.” “What have they done to you then?” said Karl and stepped over to the stretcher, which the two elevator boys, laughing, laid down so they could rest. “You’re still asking,” sighed Robinson, “and can see how I look. Think! I was beaten into a cripple for most likely my entire life. I have frightening pains from here to here” – and he pointed first to his head and then to his toes. “I wish you would have seen how I bled from the nose. My vest, which I left behind, is completely ruined, my pants are ripped to shreds, I’m in my underwear” – and he lifted his blanket a little and invited Karl to look under it. “What will become of me! I’ll have to be lain up for at least a month and I’ll say it to you straight, I have no one else but you who could care for me, Delamarche is much too impatient. Rossman, dear Rossman!” And Robinson stretched out his hand after Karl stepped back a little, in order to win him back by petting him. “Why did I have to go look for you!” he repeated many times, to make sure Karl never forgot the shared blame which he had for this person’s misfortune. Karl now immediately recognized that Robinson’s laments came not from his wounds, but from the outrageous hangover he found himself in, since he had scarcely slept in heavy drunkenness when he woke up right away and to his surprise was being boxed bloody and could no longer find his way in the waking world. The insignificance of the wounds could already be seen in the formless old rags standing in for bandages, which the elevator boys had completely wound him up in for fun. And also the two elevator boys at the end of the stretcher snorted with laughter from time to time. But now wasn’t the time to bring Robinson to his senses, because passers-by hurried past without concerning themselves with the group by the stretcher, often people would spring with perfectly athletic strides over Robinson, who paid the chauffer with Karl’s money yelling “Forward! Forward!” The elevator boys lifted up the stretcher with their last strength, Robinson grabbed Karl’s hand and said flatteringly, “Now come, so come along,” and wasn’t Karl best looked after, in this mess he found himself in, in the darkness of an automobile? And so he sat next to Robinson, who leaned his head against him, the elevator boys staying behind shook his hand, when he presented heartily to his colleagues through the Coupe window and the automobile turned with a sharp winding to the street, it seemed as if an accident had to happen, but now the all-encompassing traffic took the automobile’s dead straight course calmly into itself.

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

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