2024/07/20 - 21:02

It must have been . . .

It must have been a remote suburban street where the automobile came to stop, because all around it was quiet, on the pavement children squatted and played, a man with packs of old clothes over his shoulders shouted upwards as he stared at the windows of the houses, Karl felt uncomfortable in his drowsiness as he stepped from the automobile to the asphalt, which seemed warm and bright from the morning. “Do you really live here?” he yelled into the automobile. Robinson, who had slept peacefully during the entire trip, mumbled some indistinct confirmation and seemed to expect that Karl would carry him in. “Then I have nothing else to do. Good luck,” said Karl and started to go down the street, which sloped a little. “But Karl, what do you think you’re doing?” yelled Robinson and out of great concern stood upright in the wagon with somewhat uneasy knees. “I have to go,” said Karl, watching Robinson’s quick recovery. “In your shirt sleeves?” he asked. “I will earn myself a jacket,” answered Karl as he nodded to Robinson confidently, waved at him a raised hand and was really about to go away if the chauffer hadn’t called out: “Just a moment, sir.” There appeared to be the unpleasant matter, that the chauffer demanded an additional payment, because the time he spent waiting in front of the hotel hadn’t been paid for. “Oh, yes,” called Robinson from the automobile in confirmation of the correctness of this demand. “I had to wait so long for you there. You need to give him something.” “Yes, honestly,” said the chauffer. “Yes, if only I had it,” said Karl and reached in his pants pockets even though he knew it was useless. “Then I’ll just hold onto you,” said the chauffer and got up with his legs spread wide apart. “I can’t ask anything of the sick man.” At the gate, a young man with a cut-up nose came closer and listened from a few steps away. Just then a policeman making his rounds saw with his sunken face a man in shirt sleeves and stopped. Robinson, who had also noticed the policeman, was stupid enough to yell at him from the other window: “It’s nothing, it’s nothing,” as if he could shoo away a policeman like a fly. The children, watching the policeman stop, were now paying attention to Karl and the chauffer and ran by in a jog. At the opposite gate an old woman stared.
“Rossman,” a voice called then from up high. It was Delamarche, yelling from the balcony of the highest floor. He himself was still indistinct against the blue and white sky, apparently he had a night-shirt on and watched the street with opera glasses. Next to him, a red sun-umbrella was spread out, under which a woman appeared to be sitting. “Hello,” he yelled as loud as he could to make it understandable, “is Robinson there too?” “Yes,” answered Karl, supported strongly by Robinson in the car with a louder “Yes.” “Hello,” he yelled back. “I’m coming right now.” Robinson leaned out of the car. “That is a man,” he said, directing this praise for Delamarche at Karl, the chauffer, the policeman and at anyone who wanted to hear it. Above, on the balcony, which they still looked at absent-mindedly even though Delamarche had already left it, a heavy woman in a red dress picked herself up from under the sun-umbrella, took the opera glasses from the parapet and looked through them to the people below, who only gradually turned away from her. In expectation of Delamarche, Karl stared at the house gate and beyond it to the courtyard, cut through by an almost uninterrupted row of workers who each carried a small, but apparently very heavy, box on his shoulder. The chauffer was walking to his car and cleaned the headlights with a rag to make use of the time. Robinson rubbed his limbs, was surprised to only be in slight pain, which he could feel in spite of the greatest attention, and began to carefully loosen the thick bandages around his legs. The policeman held his dark baton diagonally and waited quietly with great patience, which policemen must have whether they’re in ordinary service or lying in wait. The young man with the cut-up nose sat by the gate and stretched out his legs. The children came closer to Karl, generally with short steps, because even though he didn’t notice them, he seemed to them, on account of his blue shirt-sleeves, to be the most important one of all.
With the time it took for Delamarche to arrive, you could appreciate the great height of these houses. And Delamarche came very hurriedly with a fluttering sleeping-gown he had thrown on. “So it’s you two!” he yelled, joyful and stern at the same time. With his large steps he showed off his colored undergarments for a moment. Karl didn’t quite understand why Delamarche walked around so comfortably and openly, as if he were in a country villa, in the middle of the city, in gigantic tenements. Even so, just like Robinson, Delamarche had changed a lot. His dark, clean-shaven, meticulously clean, raw and muscular face looked proud and respectable. The dazzling spark in his eyes, which were still somewhat drawn together, was surprising. His violet sleeping gown was very old, speckled and too big for him, but out of this horrible piece of clothing puffed out an enormous dark necktie made of heavy silk. “Now?” he asked everyone. The policeman walked a little closer and leaned on the hood of the automobile. Karl gave a small explanation. “Robinson is a little frail, but if he gets some rest, he’ll be able to get up the steps; the chauffer here wants an additional payment to the fare I’ve already paid. And now I’m going. Have a good day.” “You’re not going,” said Delamarche. “I already told him that,” Robinson announced from the car. “I’m going,” said Karl and made a couple of steps. But Delamarche was already behind him and pulled him back forcefully. “I said, you’re staying,” he yelled. “But let me go,” Karl said and got himself ready, if necessary, to win his freedom with his fists, even if he had little hope of success against a man like Delamarche. But there stood the policeman, there was the chauffer, here and there walked groups of workers through the otherwise open, quiet street, could you then be patient with the injustice Delamarche was committing against him? He wouldn’t want to be in a room alone with him, but here? Delamarche calmly paid the chauffer, who stuffed in the large, unearned amount with a lot of bowing, and out of thankfulness he went to Robinson and talked to him about the best way to get out. Karl watched this unobserved, maybe Delmarche would take it better if he left quietly, it was naturally best if a fight could be avoided, and so Karl simply went into the street to get away as quickly as he could. The children streamed to Delamarche to make him aware of Karl’s escape, but he didn’t have to intervene, because the policeman, with his baton stretched out in front of him, said: “Stop!”
“What’s your name?” he asked, shoving the baton under his arm and slowly taking out a book. Karl looked at him closely for the first time, he was a strong man, but had almost entirely white hair. “Karl Rossman,” he said. “Rossman,” repeated the policeman, but doubtfully, because he was a calm and reasonable man, but Karl, who was coming into contact for the first time with American authorities, already saw a certain suspicion in this repeating of what he said. And actually, his affairs couldn’t be in good standing, because Robinson, who busied himself so much with his own complaints, asked with silent, lively hand-gestures to Delamarche from the car if he might be able to help Karl. But Delamarche resisted him with hasty head shakes and watched idly, his hands in his oversized pockets. The young man by the gate explained to a woman, who was now just walking from the gate, all of the facts from the beginning. The children stood in a semi-circle behind Karl and looked quietly at the policeman.
“Show your identification,” said the policeman. This was only a formal question, because if someone doesn’t have a jacket, he also doesn’t have any ID on him. So Karl remained silent, so he could answer the next question in detail and cover up his lack of identification. But the next question was: “So you have no identification?” and Karl now had to answer: “Not with me.” “But that’s bad,” said the policeman, looking thoughtfully around him and clapping the cover of the book with two fingers. “Do you have a job?” asked the policeman at last. “I was an elevator boy,” said Karl. “You were an elevator boy, so you’re not one anymore and where do you live now?” “Now I’ll look for a new job.” “So you were just fired?” “Yes, an hour ago.” “Suddenly?” “Yes,” said Karl and lifted his hand as if in apology. He couldn’t explain the whole story here, and even if it would have been possible, it seemed entirely hopeless to ward off a looming injustice with the explanation of an injustice already suffered. And if he couldn’t hold onto his rights with the goodness of the head cook and the insight of the head waiter, he had nothing to expect from the people here on the street.
“And you were fired without a jacket?” asked the policeman. “Yes,” said Karl, it was also part of the personality of the authorities to ask about whatever they saw. (His father must have been very annoyed trying to obtain a passport under the useless questioning of the authorities.) Karl had a great desire to run away, to hide somewhere and not have to listen to any more questions. And now the policeman posed the very question which frightened Karl the most and which, in his nervous apprehension, had caused him to be more thoughtless than he would have been otherwise. “Which hotel were you employed at?” He sunk his head and didn’t answer, he absolutely did not want to answer this question. He couldn’t allow for him to come back to the Hotel Occidental under the escort of a policeman, for there to be interrogations where his friends and enemies would be dragged out, for the head cook to give up entirely her weakened good opinion of Karl, since she, expecting to find him at the Motel Brenner, now found him in the grip of policeman, in his shirtsleeves, without bringing back his visitor’s pass, while the head waiter maybe only nodded in complete understanding and the head porter said that the hand of God had finally nabbed the bum.
“He was employed at the Hotel Occidental,” said Delamarche as he walked next to the policeman. “No,” yelled Karl, stamping with his foot, “that is not true.” Delamarche looked at him with a mocking, disparaging look, as if he could have told him entirely other things. Below, the children hustled about at Karl’s excitement, and they ran over to Delamarche so they could look at Karl from there. Robinson had stuck his head completely out of the car and behaved very calmly for all his agitation; here and there a wink of the eye was his only motion. The young man at the gate clapped his hands for fun, the woman next to him gave him a jab with her elbow so he’d quiet down. Just then the workers had a break for breakfast and showed up with big cups of black coffee, in which they stirred loaves of French bread. Some of them sat on the sidewalk, all of them slurped very loudly.
“You know this young man well,” the policeman asked Delamarche. “More than I’d like to,” he said. “I did much good in my time with him, but he thanked me very poorly, which you yourself must easily understand after this very short interrogation you’ve had with him.” “Yes,” said the policeman. “He seems to be a stubborn youth.” “That he is,” said Delamarche, “but it’s not his worst quality.” “Really?” said the policeman. “Yes,” said Delamarche, who was well into his speech and was swinging his entire robe with his hands in his pockets, “he’s a fine scoundrel. My friend in the car and I, we had taken him in at the time in poverty, he didn’t know anything about American customs, he came straight from Europe, where no one could have used him either, so we schlepped him along with us, let him live with us, explained everything to him, wanted to get him a job, thought that in spite of all the signs speaking against him we could still make him a useful person, and then he disappears in the night, was just gone and all of it underneath an accompanying circumstance that I’d rather keep quiet about. Was it like that or not?” asked Delamarche at last and plucked at Karl’s shirt sleeves. “Get back, you kids,” yelled the policeman, since they had advanced so far that Delamarche would have almost tripped over a few of them. In the meantime, the workers, who were so far withholding their interest in the interrogation, were also beginning to take notice and had gathered in a dense ring around Karl, where no one cold take a step back anymore, and in everyone’s ears was the incessant, garbled voices of the workers, which were yelled out in some completely incomprehensible mix of Slavic and English words.
“Thank you for the information,” said the policeman and saluted in front of Delamarche. “In any case I’ll take him with me and have him given back to the Hotel Occidental.” But Delamarche said: “May I pose the request to hand the youth over entirely to me, I have to bring some things into order with him. I’ll be obliged to escort him back to the hotel myself.” “I can’t do that,” said the policeman. Delamarche said: “Here is my traveling pass,” and gave him a ticket. The policeman looked at it approvingly, but said with a friendly smile, “No, it’s useless.” Karl had been watching Delamarche so closely up to now, that he now saw in him a unique possibility for escape. It was very suspicious how this policeman focused on Karl, but in any case it would be easier to convince Delamarche than the policeman not to take him back to the hotel. And even if Karl came back to the hotel in Delamarche’s hands, it would still be better than if it happened in the escort of a policeman. For the time being, however, Karl didn’t want to give the impression that he actually wanted to go with Delamarche, otherwise everything was ruined. And he impatiently looked at the hands of the policeman, which at every moment could pick themselves up to arrest him.
“I at least have to learn why he was let go so suddenly,” said the policeman finally, while Delamarche looked sideways with a glum face and crushed the traveling pass between his fingers. “But he wasn’t let go at all,” yelled Robinson to the surprise of all and rested on the chauffer as he bent as far out of the car as possible. “On the contrary, he has a good position there. He is the highest-ranked in the sleeping quarters and can bring in whomever he wants. It’s just that he’s enormously busy and if someone wants something from him, he has to wait a long time. He always sticks by the head waiter and the head cook and he is a trusted confidant. By no means is he fired. I don’t know why he said that. How could he be fired? I hurt myself badly in the hotel and now he’s gotten the job to take me home and because he didn’t have a jacket just then, he is even traveling without a jacket. I couldn’t wait for him to put on a jacket.” “So now,” said Delamarche with out-stretched arms, as if he were accusing the policeman of not knowing anything about people, and these two words seemed to bring to Robinson’s uncertain speech an irrefutable clarity.
“But is that true?” asked the policeman faintly. “And if it’s true, why did the young man say he was fired?” “You should answer,” said Delamarche. Karl looked at the policeman, who was only here to establish order among people who were only thinking of themselves, and some of his general concern leaked into Karl. He didn’t want to lie and held his hands tightly intertwined behind his back.
At the gate, a supervisor appeared and clapped his hands to signal that the workers had to go to work again. They spilled their coffee onto the ground and dragged themselves quietly with stumbling steps back into the building. “This’ll go on forever,” said the policeman and wanted to grab Karl by the arm. Karl stepped backwards a little instinctively, felt the free space that had opened up for him on account of the workers marching away, turned around, and set off with a great initial leap into a run. The children broke into their own scream and ran alongside with tiny, outstretched arms for a couple of steps. “Stop him!” yelled the policeman down the long, almost empty street and ran behind Karl, yelling out regularly, in a silent run which showed great strength and practice. It was lucky for Karl that the pursuit took place in an industrial zone. The workers didn’t get along with the authorities. Karl ran down the middle of the road, because he had the least hindrance there, looking here and there at the workers on the sidewalk standing and observing him calmly, while the policeman continued to shout, “Stop him!” and as he took the more intelligent way down the smooth sidewalk, he stretched his baton out at Karl. Karl had little hope and almost completely gave up as the policeman blew his deafening whistle, because they were approaching an intersection which must have contained police patrols. Karl’s only advantage was his light clothing, he flew or rather plunged into the ever steeper street, but on account of his weariness he made too many high, wasteful and useless leaps. In addition, the policeman had his target always in front of his eyes, while for Karl running came second, he had to think things out, pick from various possibilities, always deciding again and again. For the time being, his somewhat desperate plan was to avoid the intersections, since you couldn’t know what was stuck in there, maybe he would run right into a police station; he wanted to hold on to this clear street for as long as it went, running deep down to a bridge that scarcely began before it disappeared into a fog of sun and water. According to this conclusion, he wanted just then to start running faster so he could pass the first intersection in a special rush, when he saw, not too far in front of him, a policeman lying in wait on one of the darkened walls in the shadows of one of the houses, prepared to spring loose on Karl at just the right moment. There was nothing to help him anymore except an alley, and when he heard his name being harmlessly called out of this alley – it seemed to be a mistake at first, because he’d had a buzzing in his ears for the entire time, he didn’t hesitate any more and, to maybe surprise the policemen, turned into the alley with one foot swinging at a right-angle.
He had scarcely gone two paces – he had already forgotten the man who had called his name, the second policeman whistled too, you could see his unused strength, distant pedestrians in the alley picked up the pace of their walking – when a hand grabbed Karl out of a small door and took him into a dark corridor with the words, “Be quiet.” It was Delamarche, completely out of breath, with flushed cheeks, his hair sticking to his head. He carried the sleeping robe under his arm and was only dressed in a shirt and flannel underwear. He closed and barred the door, which wasn’t the door into the house but only into an inconspicuous gangway. “One moment,” he said, leaning with his head held high against the wall and breathing heavily. Karl lay tightly against his arm and, half-senseless, pressed his face against his chest. “There go the gentlemen,” said Delamarche as he pointed at something to hear behind the door with his finger. The two policemen really ran by, their running clomped in the empty alley as steel hit against stone. “But you’re taken in respectably here,” Delamarche said to Karl, who was still choking on his breath and couldn’t bring out a word. Delamarche put him on the ground carefully, kneeled next to him, stroked him many times on the forehead and watched him, “It’s okay now,” Karl said finally and stood up with great effort. “Then you’re free,” said Delamarche, who had put on his sleeping robe again and brought Karl in front of him, who held his hands down only out of weakness. From time to time he shook Karl to keep him fresh. “You think you’re tired?” he said. “You could run in the open like a horse, but I had to stay here in the damn gangway and creep through courtyards. By lucky chance, however, I am also a runner.” Out of pride, he punched Karl in the back. “From time to time, this kind of race with the police is good exercise.” “I was already tired when I started running,” said Karl. “There’s no excuse for terrible running,” said Delamarche. “If I hadn’t been there, they would’ve gotten you long ago.” “I agree,” said Karl. “I am very much in debt to you.” “Without a doubt,” said Delamarche.
They walked through a long, narrow corridor paved with dark, smooth stones. Here and there, stairways opened to the right or left or you got a look at a large, different hallway. Adults were scarce, only the children played on empty steps. On a landing a small girl stood and cried, so that her entire face shone with tears. Delamarche had barely noticed her when she ran up the stairs with her open mouth gasping for air, first calming down up on top when she convinced herself, after turning around frequently, that no one was following her or would follow her. “I was running after her a moment ago,” said Delamarche laughing and threatened her with his first, so that she screamed and ran off again.
And the courtyards they came through were almost entirely abandoned. Only here and there a worker pushed a wheelbarrow in front of him, a woman filled a can with water from a pump, a mailman cut through the whole courtyard with quiet steps, an old man with a white handlebar mustache sat cross-legged in front of a glass door and smoked a pipe, in front of a shipping agency boxes were being unloaded, the idle horses turned their heads calmly, a man in a trench coat with a paper in his hand overlooked the entire job, a window was opened in an office and an employee, who sat at his writing desk, turned away from it and looked thoughtfully towards exactly where Karl and Delamarche were walking.
“You couldn’t wish for a quieter neighborhood,” said Delamarche. “In the evening there’s a long, loud noise for a few hours, but during the day it’s perfect here.” Karl nodded, the quiet seemed to be a bit too much for him. “I couldn’t live anywhere else,” said Delamarche, “because Brunelda doesn’t tolerate any noise. Do you know Brunelda? Yes, now you’ll see her. In any case I recommend that you behave as quietly as possible.”
As they came to the steps that led to Delamarche’s apartment, the automobile had already left and the youngster with the cut-up nose announced, without any surprise at Karl reappearing somehow, that he’d carried Robinson up the steps. Delamarche barely nodded to him, as if he were a servant who had fulfilled his duty as a matter of course and dragged Karl, who hesitated a little and looked down the sunny street, with him up the stairs. “We are just above,” said Delamarche once while climbing the stairs, but his prediction didn’t want to come true, again and again the stairs set off in a new, imperceptibly different direction. Karl stood still, not so much out of drowsiness but out of helplessness against the length of these stairs. “The apartment is very high,” said Delamarche as they went on again, “but that too has its advantages. You leave very seldom, you’re in a bathrobe all day, we live very comfortably. Of course visitors never come this high.” “Where should these visitors come from?” thought Karl.
Finally Robinson appeared at a landing in front of a closed apartment door and now they had arrived; the stairs hadn’t ended yet but kept on going into semi-darkness without anything to indicate their swift conclusion. “I’ve been thinking,” said Robinson faintly, as if he had something on his mind. “Delamarche, bring him in! Rossman, what would you be without Delamarche!” Robinson stood there in his undergarments and tried, so far as it was possible, to wrap himself in a small blanket someone had given him at the Hotel Occidental. It wasn’t clear why he didn’t go into the apartment instead of making passersby laugh. “Is she asleep?” asked Delamarche. “I don’t think so,” said Robinson, “but I preferred to wait for you to come.” “First we have to see if she’s sleeping,” said Delamarche and bent down to the keyhole. After he had looked through it a long time while turning his head in various directions, he picked himself up and said: “You can’t see enough, the blinds are down. She’s sitting on a couch, maybe she’s asleep.” “Is she sick then?” asked Karl, because Delamarche stood there as if he were asking for advice. But now he asked back in a sharp tone: “Sick?” “He doesn’t know her,” Robinson said in apology.
A few doors down, two women were walking down the corridor, they wiped their hands on their aprons, looked at Delamarche and Robinson and seemed to be talking about them. A very young girl with gleaming blonde hair sprang out of one door and pressed herself in-between the two women, hanging her arms on them.
“Those are repulsive women,” said Delamarche softly, but only in regard for the sleeping Brunelda. “The next time I’ll report them to the police and will get some quiet from them for years. Don’t look,” he hissed at Karl, who couldn’t find any fault in looking at women if they had to wait in the hallway for Brunelda to wake up. He shook his head out of annoyance, as if he wouldn’t take any warnings from Delamarche, and wanted to walk up to the women in order to see them more distinctly, but Robinson held him back at the shirtsleeves with the words, “Rossman, watch yourself,” and Delamarche, already provoked because of Karl, was so angered by the girls’ loud laughing that he threw out his arms and legs with a great rush to hurry away the girls, who disappeared into their doors as if they’d been blown away. “I have to clean this hallway every so often,” said Delamarche as he walked back slowly. Then he remembered Karl’s resistance. “From you, though, I expect entirely different behavior, or you’ll have a terrible time with me.”
Then a questioning voice called from the room in a soft, tired tone: “Delamarche?” “Yes,” answered Delamarche and looked kindly at the door. “May we step in?” “O, yes,” it called and Delamarche slowly opened the door, after he had touched the two behind him with a look.
They walked into complete darkness. The curtain of the balcony door – there was no window available – was let down to the floor and some light shone through it, but otherwise all the furniture filling the room and all the clothes hanging around contributed to the darkness of the room. The air was damp and you smelled the dust which had collected in the corners, unreachable by any hand. The first thing Karl noticed on walking in were three crates standing tightly against each other.
On the couch lay the woman who had earlier been looking down from the balcony. Her red dress had warped out of shape beneath her and hung in a great tail down to the floor, you saw her legs almost to the knees, she wore thick, white wool stockings, she didn’t have any shoes. “It’s hot, Delamarche,” she said, turning her face to the wall and holding out her hand in casual indecision towards Delamarche, who grabbed it and kissed it. Karl was just looking at her double chin, which rolled along with the turning of her head. “Should I have the curtain pulled up?” asked Delamarche. “No, not that,” she said with closed eyes, as if doubtful, “because it would be annoying.” Karl walked to the foot of the couch to get a good look at the woman, he wondered about her complaints, because the heat wasn’t at all unordinary. “Wait, I’ll make it more comfortable for you,” Delamarche said timidly, opening a couple of the buttons around her throat and pulling the clothes apart so that the throat and the beginning of the chest were free, and the delicate, yellow edge of a blouse appeared. “Who is that,” said the woman suddenly and pointed at Karl with her finger. “Why does he stare at me like that?” “You’ll soon start making yourself useful,” Delamarche said and shoved Karl aside while he calmed down the woman with the words: “It’s only the youth I brought with me to be your servant.” “But I don’t want anyone,” she cried. “Why are you bringing strangers into the apartment?” “But this whole time you’ve wanted a servant,” said Delamarche and knelt down; despite its great breadth, there wasn’t the smallest spot next to Brunelda on the couch. “Ah, Delamarche,” she said. “You don’t understand me and don’t understand me.” “Then I really don’t understand you,” said Delamarche and took her face between both hands. “But it’s not happening, if you want him to leave at once.” “If he’s already here now, he should stay,” she said now and Karl was so thankful in his tiredness for these not very friendly words that he, in indistinct thought of the endless stairs he would have had to climb down again, stepped over the peacefully sleeping Robinson in his blanket and said, in spite of all the angry hand gestures of Delamarche: “I thank you for allowing me to stay here a little. I have not slept for twenty-four hours, I’ve worked enough and have had a lot of excitement. I am horribly tired. I don’t really know exactly where I am. But if I just slept a couple of hours you could ship me off without any other consideration and I’ll gladly go.” “You can stay here,” said the woman and added sarcastically: “We’re just overflowing with room here, as you can see.” “So you have to leave,” said Delamarche. “We couldn’t use you here.” “No, he should stay,” the woman continued earnestly now. And Delamarche said to Karl, as if he were carrying out her desire: “So lay down somewhere already.” “He can rest on the curtains, but he has to take off his boots so he doesn’t rip it.” Delamarche pointed Karl to the place that she meant. Between the doors and the three crates was a large pile of various kinds of window curtains thrown about. If you folded them all regularly together with the heaviest on the bottom and laying the lighter up on top and finally pulled out all the different boards and rings of wood stuck in the pile, it would’ve become a tolerable bed, but so far it was only a rocking and gliding mass where Karl laid down in a moment because he was too tired for special sleeping arrangements and had to be careful about making too much of a fuss out of consideration for his hosts.
He was almost asleep, when he heard a loud scream, picked himself up and saw Brunelda sitting upright on the couch, her arms spread wide apart to hug Delamarche kneeling in front of her. Karl, for whom the moment was awkward, leaned back again and sank into the curtains to go back to sleep. It was clear to him that he wouldn’t last two days here, but that made it all the more important to get enough sleep, so that he could then be able to decide with all of his mind quickly and correctly.
But Brunelda had already noticed Karl’s eyes, torn wide open for weariness, and they’d already scared her once, and she screamed: “Delamarche, I can’t take this heat very well, I’m burning, I must undress, I must bathe, take the two out of the room, wherever you want, in the hallway, on the balcony, I just don’t want to see them. In your own apartment you’re always disturbed. If I were just alone with you, Delamarche. Oh, God, they’re always right there! Look at how that shameless Robinson spreads out his underwear in the presence of a lady. And look at how that strange youth, who was staring at me wildly a moment ago, has just lain down so he could trick me. Just take them away, Delamarche, they’re a burden to me, they lay on my chest, if I die now, it’s because of you.”
“They’re outside right away, you just undress,” said Delamarche, going to Robinson and shaking him by the foot, which he raised to his chest. He immediately yelled at Karl: “Karl, stand up! The both of you have to go to the balcony! And you’ll be sorry if you come in before you’re called for! And quickly Robinson” – with that he shook Robinson more strongly – “and you, Rossman, you be careful that I don’t come after you” – with that he clapped loudly two times with his hands. “It’s taking so long!” yelled Brunelda from the couch, when sitting she spread her legs far apart to give them room for her excessively fat body, she could bend down enough to grab her stockings at the furthest end and pull them down a little only with the greatest effort, with much panting and frequent resting, she couldn’t undress entirely, Delamarche had to worry about that, and she waited for him impatiently.
So tired he had turned into an idiot, Karl had crawled under the pile and went slowly to the balcony door, a piece of curtain stuffing had wound around his foot and he dragged it along indifferently. In his absent-mindedness he said as he passed by Brunelda, “I wish you a good night,” and wandered then onto the balcony past Delamarche, who pushed the curtain of the balcony door a little to the side. Robinson came immediately behind Karl, not any less tired, because he hummed to himself: “Always someone mistreats another! If Brunelda doesn’t come with, I’m not going to the balcony.” But in spite of this assurance he went out without further resistance, where he immediately lay on the stone floor, since Karl had already sunk into the armchair.
When Karl woke up it was already evening, the stars already stood in the sky, the moonlight stood out behind the high houses on the other side of the street. Only after he looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings and after inhaling the cool, fresh air did Karl knew where he was. He had been so careless, he had ignored all the advice of the head cook, all of Therese’s warnings, all of his own apprehensions and was now sitting here quietly on Delamarche’s balcony, having slept here for a whole half a day, as if he weren’t underneath the curtain of Delamarche, his great enemy. On the floor, the lazy Robinson took Karl by the foot, he seemed to have also woken up this way, because he said: “Boy, did you sleep, Rossman! That’s the carelessness of youth. How long did you still want to sleep, I would have let you sleep, but it’s too boring for me here on the floor and I’m very hungry. I’ll ask you to stand up a little, I’ve picked up something to eat under the chair, I would like to take it out. You’ll get some too.” And Karl, standing up, stared as Robinson, without standing up, rolled over on his belly and pulled out from under the chair with out-stretched hands a silver-plated dish of the kind used for holding calling cards. But on this dish was lying half of a completely black sausage, some thin cigarettes, an opened but poorly filled sardine tin which flowed over with oil and a crowd of mostly crushed bon-bons which were turning into a ball. Then a large piece of bread appeared and a sort of perfume bottle which seemed to hold something other than perfume, because Robinson showed it off with a special satisfaction and snapped his fingers at Karl. “Look, Rossman,” said Robinson as he wound around sardine after sardine and wiped the oil off his hands with a wool cloth that Brunelda had forgotten on the balcony. “Look Rossman, this is how you get your food if you don’t want to go hungry. You see, I’ve always been pushed to the side. And if you’re always treated like a dog, you’ll finally think that’s what you are. It’s good you’re here, Rossman, I can at least talk with someone. No one talks to me in this building. We’re hated. And all on account of Brunelda. She is of course a splendid woman. You – ” and he waved Karl closer to himself so he could whisper to him – “I once saw her naked. Oh!” – and in the memory of this joy he began to squeeze Karl’s legs and to hit them until Karl cried out, “Robinson, you’re crazy,” balled his fists and punched him back.
“You’re still a child,” said Robinson as he took a dagger he carried on a neck-cord under his shirt, took off the sheath and cut the hard sausage. “You have a lot to learn. But we’re just the right source. Sit down. Don’t you want to eat something? Maybe you’ll get an appetite if you watch me. Don’t you want a drink too? But you don’t want anything. And you’re not that talkative. But it doesn’t matter who you’re with on the balcony so long as it’s someone. Actually, I’m on the balcony quite a bit. Brunelda has a lot of fun with that. Something just needs to happen to her, sometimes she’s cold, sometimes hot, sometimes she wants to sleep, sometimes she wants to comb her hair, sometimes she wants to open her corset, sometimes she wants to dress up and then I’m thrown out onto the balcony. Sometimes she actually does what she says, but most of the time she lies like before on the couch and doesn’t move. Before, I pulled apart the curtain and looked through, but since Delamarche one time – I know he didn’t want to do it, but only did it at Brunelda’s request – hit me with a whip in the face – can you see the streaks? – I don’t dare look through anymore. And so I’m lying here on the balcony and have no pleasure except for eating. The day before yesterday, when I was lying so alone in the evening, the time I was still in my expensive clothes that I unfortunately lost in the hotel – those dogs! ripping the expensive clothes from my body! – when I was lying there so alone and looked down through the railing, everything was so depressing to me and I began to cry. Then, by chance, without my noticing, Brunelda came up to me in her red dress – that fits the best on her – looked at me a little and finally said: ‘Robinson, why are you crying?’ Then she picked up her dress and wiped the tears from my eyes. Who knew what she would have done if Delamarche hadn’t called her immediately and she wouldn’t have had to go back into the room right away. Of course I thought now would be my turn and I asked through the curtain if I was allowed into the room. And what do you think Brunelda said? ‘No!’ she said and ‘What’s the matter with you?’ she said.”
“Why do you stay here when they treat you like this?” Karl asked.
“Forgive me, Rossman. You don’t ask very reasonably,” answered Robinson. “You’ll stay here too and even if they still treat you miserably. In generally they don’t treat me so badly.”
“No,” said Karl, “I am definitely going away and if possible this evening. I’m not staying because of you.”
“How will you manage, for example, to get away this evening?” answered Robinson, who had cut the soft part of the bread and was soaking it carefully in the oil of the sardine tin. “How will you get away, when you’re not even allowed to go into the room?”
“Why wouldn’t we be allowed to go in?”
“So long as we’re not rung for, we are not allowed to go in,” said Robinson, who opened his mouth as wide as possible to devour the greasy bread as he caught with his hand the oil dropping from the bread, so he could dip the remaining bread into the hollow of his hand, which served as a reservoir. “It’s getting much stricter here. First there was only a thin curtain, you couldn’t see through, but in the evening you recognized the silhouettes. That made Brunelda uncomfortable and so I changed her theater coat into the curtain and instead of the old curtain that one had to hang. Now you don’t see anything anymore. Earlier I had always been allowed to ask if I were allowed to go in and someone always answered me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ according to the circumstances, but I probably exploited it too much and asked too often, Brunelda couldn’t stand it – she’s built very weak in spite of her size, she often has headaches and almost always gout in the legs – and so it was certain that I wasn’t allowed to ask any more, but whenever I can go in, the table bell is rung. That gives such a noise it wakes me up from sleep – I had a cat once for my anymore, which was frightened by this loud noise and ran away and never came back. And it hasn’t rung yet today – if it does ring, then not only am I allowed in, but I have to go in – and if it hasn’t rung in a long time, it can still be a long while.”
“Yes,” said Karl, “but just because it applies to you, it doesn’t have to apply to me. In general, something applies to a person who lets it happen to himself.”
“But,” yelled Robinson, “why shouldn’t it apply to you? Of course it applies to you too. Just wait here quietly with me until it rings. Then you’ll see if you can leave.”
“Why don’t you really leave? Is it just because Delamarche is your friend or, more precisely, was one? Is that a life? Wouldn’t it be better in Butterford, where you had first wanted to go? Or even in California, where you have friends?”
“Yes,” said Robinson, “no one could have foreseen that.” And before he continued to explain, he said: “To your health, dear Rossman” and took a long pull from the perfume bottle. “We were in a terrible position when you left us so unkindly sitting there. We couldn’t get any work in the first days. Delamarche generally didn’t want any work, he would’ve gotten it, but instead just shipped me off to search and I don’t have any luck. He had only hung around, but it was already almost evening when he brought back only a lady’s purse, it was really very pretty, made of pearls, now he’s given it to Brunelda, but there was almost nothing inside. Then he said we should go begging to apartments, you could find some good things with such an opportunity, and so we went begging, and to make it look better, I sang in front of the apartment doors. And already Delamarche has all the luck, we’re standing in front of just the second apartment, one of the very rich apartments on the ground floor, and I’m singing at the door to the cook and to the servant, when out comes the lady who owns the apartment, Brunelda out on the steps. She might have been tied too tightly and could only come a couple of steps. But how beautiful she looked, Rossman! She had an all-white dress and a red sun umbrella. You wanted to lick her clean. You wanted to drink her up. Oh God, oh God was she beautiful. Such a woman! No, tell me, how can there be such a woman? Of course the girl and the servant ran up to her and almost picked her up the stairs. We were standing to the right and left of the door and said hello, which nobody does here. She stayed behind a little, because she still didn’t have enough breath and now I’m not sure how it happened, I was hungry and not in my senses and she was up close still more beautiful and gigantic and on account of the special corset, I can show it to you in a box, so tight – in short, I touched her butt a little, but very softly mind you, I only touched it like this. Of course no one can tolerate a beggar touching a lady. There was almost no touching at all, but in the end there was touching. Who knows how terribly it would have fallen apart if Delamarche hadn’t immediately slapped me in the face, and it was such a slap in the face that I immediately brought both hands to my cheeks.”
“What were you up to?” said Karl, starting to be taken in by the story and sitting down on the floor. “So that was Brunelda?”
“Now, yes,” said Robinson, “that was Brunelda.”
“Didn’t you say once she’s a singer?”
“Yes she is a singer and a great singer,” answered Robinson, who rolled a great mass of bonbons over his tongue, now and then pushing a piece back into his stuffed mouth. “But of course we didn’t know that yet, all we saw was a very rich and refined lady. She acted as if it didn’t happen and maybe she had felt nothing, because I had only grazed her with the tip of my finger. But she was constantly looking at Delamarche, who – he hits it on the mark – looked her right back in the eyes. At that she said to him: “Come in for a little while,” and pointed with sun-umbrella into the apartment, where Delamarche was to go in front of her. Then they both went in and the servant closed the door behind them. They left me outside and I thought it wouldn’t take long and sat on the steps, so I could wait for Delamarche. But instead of Delamarche the servant came out and brought me an entire bowl of soup. “Courtesy of Delamarche!” I said to myself. The servant remained standing and explained a little about Brunelda to me as I ate a little while by myself, and then I saw what importance the visit to Brunelda could have for us. Because Brunelda was a divorced woman, had a large fortune, and was completely self-sufficient. Her former husband, a cocoa manufacturer, still loved her, but she didn’t want to hear the slightest thing from him. He came very often to the apartment, always very elegantly dressed, as if for a wedding – this is true word for word, I know him myself – but the servant didn’t dare ask Brunelda if she’d receive him, in spite of the greatest bribery, because he had already asked a few times and always Brunelda had thrown at his face whatever was at hand. Once it was her large, full hot water bottle and she knocked out a front tooth with it. Yes, Rossman, think about that!”
“Where do you know the man from?” asked Karl.
“He sometimes comes up here,” said Robinson.
“Up here?” Karl struck the ground lightly with his hand out of surprise.
“You’d be surprised,” Robinson continued, “I was astonished myself when the servant explained it to me. Just think, when Brunelda wasn’t home, the man was let in by the servant into her room and always took a small something as a memento and always left behind something very expensive and fine for Brunelda, strongly forbidding the servant from saying whose it was. But once – I believe what the servant told me – when he brought some priceless piece of porcelain, Brunelda must have known about it somehow, she immediately threw it to the ground, walked on it, spat on it and did some other things to it, so that the servant could barely carry it away for disgust.
“What did the man do to her?”
“I don’t really know,” said Robinson. “But I think he doesn’t even know himself. I spoke with him sometimes about it. He waits for me daily there on the street corner, when I come, I have to explain some new thing to him, if I can’t come, he waits for half an hour and goes away again. It was some good additional money for me on the side, because he paid magnificently for the news, but since Delamarche found out about it, I have to deliver everything to him, so I don’t go there so often.”
“But what does the man want?” asked Karl. “What does he want? He knows she doesn’t want him.”
“Yes,” sighed Robinson, lighting a cigarette and blowing the smoke into the sky as he swayed his arms. Then he seemed to have decided something and said: “What difference is it to me? All I know is he would gladly give a lot of money to be allowed to lie here on the balcony like us.”
Karl stood up, leaned over the railing and looked down into the street. The moon was very visible, but its light hadn’t yet penetrated into the depths of the alleys. The streets, so empty by day, were crowded full of people, especially in front of the gates, everything was done slowly and clumsily, the men in their shirtsleeves, the light dresses of the women could weakly be made out in the dark, nobody had anything on his head. The many surrounding balconies were now occupied completely, depending on the size of the balcony, a family sat under the light of the glow lamp either around a small table or on armchairs in a row or at least they stuck their heads out of the room. The men sat there broad-legged and read newspapers which almost stretched to the ground, their feet stretched out between the railing posts, or they played cards seemingly quietly but with heavy pounding of the table, the women had their laps filled with needlework and were unobservant except for a short glance at the surroundings or the street here and there, a blond fragile woman on the neighboring balcony yawned continually, rolled her eyes and always picked up to her mouth a piece of laundry that she’d just been mending, the children on the small balconies understood they had to hunt after one another, which the parents found very troublesome. Inside many of the rooms a gramophone was set up and blew out songs or orchestra music, no one really noticed the music, but now and then the father of the family made a gesture and someone hurried into the room to put on a new record. At many of the windows you could see completely motionless pairs of lovers, at one window across from Karl such a pair stood upright, the young man had his arm laid around the girl and fondled her breast with his hand.
“Do you know any of the people around here?” Karl asked Robinson, who was standing up too and because he was shivering in his blanket he wrapped Brunelda’s blanket around him as well.
“Almost no one. That’s a terrible thing in my position,” said Robinson and brought Karl closer so he could whisper in his ear. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have that much to complain about. Brunelda, on account of Delamarche, has sold everything she has and is dragging all her riches here into this suburban apartment so she can dedicate herself completely to him and so that no one disturbs her, which was what Delamarche wanted too.”
“And she’s fired the servants?”
“Completely correct,” said Robinson. “Where would you put the servants here? These servants are very demanding gentlemen. Once, by Brunelda’s, Delamarche drove out a servant only with slaps in the face, flying one after the other until he was out of the room. Of course the other servants united with him and made some noise in front of the door, when Delamarche came out (I wasn’t a servant at the time, but a houseguest, but at the time I was on the side of the servants) and asked: “What do you want?” The oldest servant, a certain Isidor, said to him: “You have nothing to say to us, our boss is the merciful lady.” As you’ve probably noticed, they worshipped Brunelda very much. But Brunelda, without noticing them, ran to Delamarche, she wasn’t so heavy then as now, hugged him in front of everyone, kissed him and called him ‘beloved Delamarche.’ ‘And send these monkeys away,’ she said finally. Monkeys – that meant the servants, imagine the faces they made. Then Brunelda took Delamarche’s hand to the money-purse she carried on her belt. Delamarche grabbed inside and began to pay off the servants, which Brunelda participated in only insofar as she stood there with an open money-purse on her belt. Delamarche had to grab inside often, because he distributed the money without counting and without checking the demands. Finally he said: Since you don’t want to talk to me, I will speak to you only in the name of Brunelda: ‘Shove off, right now.’ So they were fired, there was still another trial, Delamarche had to go to court once, but I don’t know enough about that. Only after the servant left did Delamarche say to Brunelda: ‘So you don’t have any hired help?’ She said: ‘But there’s Robinson.’ With that Delamarche gave me a punch in the arm and said: ‘Good, you’ll be our servant.’ And Brunelda clicked her tongue at me, if you find the chance, Rossman, let her click her tongue at you, you’ll be surprised how beautiful it is.”
“Did you also become Delamarche’s servant?”
Robinson heard the pity in the question and answered: “I am a servant, but only a few people notice that. You see, you yourself didn’t know, even though you’ve been with us awhile yet. You saw how I’d been dressed in the night with you at the hotel. I had on the finest of the fine, do servants go dressed like that? It’s only that I’m not allowed to leave often, I have to always be at hand, there’s always something to do in maintaining the household. One person is too little for all the work. Maybe you’ve noticed, we have very many things standing around in the room, which we couldn’t sell during our large move, we had to take it with. Of course we would have been able to ship it away, but Brunelda ships nothing away. Just think about what kind of work it was to carry these things up the stairs.”
“Robinson, you carried all this up?” Karl yelled.
“Who else?” said Robinson. “There was a hired helper there, a lazy wretch, I had to do most of the work alone. Brunelda stood downstairs by the car, Delamarche upstairs made orders about where to put things, and I was always running back and forth. It took two days, very long, right? but you don’t know at all how many things are in this room, all the boxes are full and behind the boxes everything is stuffed to the ceiling. If we’d taken a couple of people for the move, everything would have been finished soon, but Brunelda wanted to trust no one but myself. That was very nice, but I ruined my health for my entire life, and what do I have besides my health? If I strain myself it stings me here and here and here. Do you actually believe that those young people in the hotel, those leapfrogs – what else are they then? – would have been able to beat me if I’d been healthy. But whatever I’m missing, I won’t say anything to Delamarche and Brunelda, I’ll work so long as it’ll last and when it doesn’t last any more, I’ll lay down and die and then for the first time they’ll say much too late that I was sick and in spite of that was continuing to work more and more and had worked myself to death in their service. Ah, Rossman,” he said at last and dried his eyes on Karl’s shirtsleeve. After a while he said: “Aren’t you cold, standing like that in your shirt.”
“Get off it Robinson,” said Karl, “you’re always crying. I don’t believe you’re sick. You look completely healthy, but because you’re always lying out here on the balcony, you think differently to yourself. Sometimes you have a stinging in your chest, I have it too, everyone does. If every person cried like that over every small thing like you, all the people on the balconies would have to cry.”
“I know better,” said Robinson and wiped his eyes with the corner of his blanket. “The student who lives next to us with the landlady and who cooked for us too said to me the last time I brought back the dinner plates: ‘Hey, Robinson, are you sick?’ I’m forbidden to speak to people, so I just put down the dishes and wanted to go away. Then he went to me said: ‘Listen, sir, don’t drag these things to their extreme, you’re sick.’ ‘Okay, and what should I do about it,’ I asked. ‘That’s your matter,’ he said and turned around. The others by the table were laughing, we generally have enemies here and I preferred to leave.”
“So you believe the people who take you for a fool and don’t believe the people who mean well by you.”
“But I have to know how I’m feeling,” continued Robinson, but then he returned again to crying.
“You don’t even know what’s wrong with you, you should find an orderly job for yourself somewhere, instead of being Delamarche’s servant. So far as I can judge from your explanation and from what I’ve seen myself, there is no work here except for slavery. No man can take that, I’ll believe you there. But you think, because you’re Delamarche’s friend, that you’re not allowed to leave. That is false, if he doesn’t see what kind of miserable life you lead, you don’t have the slightest responsibility towards him.”
“You really believe, Rossman, that I’ll recover if I give up my job here.”
“Of course,” said Karl.
“Of course,” asked Robinson one more time.
“I’m completely certain,” said Karl smiling.
“Then I can begin recovering immediately,” Robinson said as he looked at Karl.
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Because now you’re taking over my job,” answered Robinson.
“So who told you that?” asked Karl.
“That’s already an old plan. There’s been agreement about that for quite a few days now. It began with Brunelda scolding me because I didn’t keep the apartment clean enough. Of course I promised that I would immediately bring everything into order. But now everything is difficult. For example, in my condition I can’t crawl everywhere to wipe up all the dust, you can’t even move in the middle of the room and certainly not when in-between the furniture and the supplies. And if you want to clean everything thoroughly, you have to push the furniture out of place and do I have to do that alone? And everything has to happen quietly because of Brunelda, who rarely leaves the place and will not be disturbed in the slightest. I also promised to clean everything, but I never really cleaned it. When Brunelda noticed that, she told Delamarche that this couldn’t continue and that they’d have to get a helper. ‘Delamarche,’ she said, ‘I don’t want you to reproach me for not running the household well. I can’t strain myself, you can see that and Robinson isn’t enough, in the beginning he was so fresh and looked around everywhere, but now he’s always tired and sits in a corner most of the time. But a place with as much stuff as ours doesn’t keep itself in order.’ Delamarche thought about what could be done, you can’t just take any random face into such a household, because they watch us from all sides. But because I’m your good friend and heard from Renell how you were struggling in the hotel, I brought you up as a proposal. Delamarche agreed immediately, in spite of the fact that you behaved so rudely in front of him, and of course I was very happy for being so useful. This job was made for you, you are young, strong and clever, while I’m not worth anything anymore. I just want to say, that you are in no way accepted if you don’t please Brunelda, we couldn’t use you then. Just try to be acceptable to her, and I’ll worry about the rest.”
“And what will you do when I’m the servant?” asked Karl, he felt so open now that the first shock of Robinson’s pronouncement was over. Delamarche had no worse intention than to make him a servant – if they’d had more terrible intentions, they would certainly have betrayed them to the chattering Robinson – but if it stood like that, then Karl would risk traveling off during the night. You can’t force anyone to take a job. And while Karl’d had enough to worry him before about getting an acceptable and maybe even decent job to keep himself from going hungry, he would’ve taken any job and even preferred a period of unemployment to this job, which was repulsive to him. But he didn’t try at all to make it understandable to Robinson, especially since Robinson was completely biased right now in every judgment by his hope to be relieved by Karl.
“I will,” Robinson said, accompanying the words with comforting hand motions – he had his elbows propped up on the railing – “explain everything to you first of all and show you the supplies. You are educated and certainly have beautiful writing, maybe you could make a register of all the things we have. Brunelda has wanted that for a long time. If there’s good weather tomorrow morning, we’ll ask Brunelda to sit on the balcony, and in the meantime we’ll be calm and can work in the room without disturbing her. About that, Rossman, you have to be careful above all things. Just don’t disturb Brunelda. She hears everything, she probably has those sensitive ears as a singer. For example, you’re rolling out the barrel of schnapps standing behind the boxes, it makes a noise because it’s heavy and lies around so many various things that you can’t roll it through the first time. Brunelda, for example, lies quietly on the couch and swats at flies, which bother her very much. You believe this doesn’t concern her and roll your barrel along. She lies as quiet as ever. But in a moment when you’re not expecting it at all and make the slightest noise, she suddenly sits upright, pounds with both hands on the couch so that you can’t see her for the dust – since we’ve been here I haven’t been able to beat out the couch, I can’t, she always lies on it – and begins to scream frightfully, like a man, and screams like that for hours at a time. The neighbors forbid her from singing, but no one can forbid the screaming, she has to scream, it doesn’t happen so often anymore. Delamarche and I are becoming very cautious. It hurts her very much. Once she became unconscious and I – Delamarche was away at the time – I had to fetch the student next door, who sprayed this liquid out of a large bottle, but this liquid had an unbearable smell to it, even now, if you hold your nose to the couch, you can smell it. The student is certainly our enemy, as is everyone here, you have to take care in everything and get involved with no one.”
“Robinson,” said Karl, “but that’s difficult work. That’s a beautiful job you’ve recommended for me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Robinson and shook his head with closed eyes to ward off all of Karl’s possible worry. “The position has advantages no other job can offer. You are always in the area of a woman such as Brunelda, sometimes you sleep in the same room as her, as you can imagine that brings various comforts along with it. You will be richly paid, gold is in piles here, being Delamarche’s friend I’ve gotten nothing, Brunelda’s only given me something when I’ve left, but of course you’ll be paid like any other servant. You won’t be anything special. The most important thing for you, though, is that I will make your job much easier. At first, of course, I’ll do nothing in order to recover, but when I recover just a little, you’ll be able to count on me. I’ll keep the actual serving of Brunelda to myself, and the hair-styling and the dressing, insofar as it’s not already attended to by Delamarche, you’ll only have to look after the upkeep of the rooms, the errands and the difficult household work.”
“No, Robinson,” said Karl, “that doesn’t tempt me.”
“Don’t do anything stupid, Rossman,” said Robinson, very close to Karl’s face. “Don’t joke around with this beautiful possibility. Where will you receive the same position? Who knows you? Who do you know? We, two men, who have lived a lot and possess much experience, have run around for weeks at a time without getting work. It’s not easy, it can even be desperately difficult.”
Karl nodded and was surprised at how reasonable even Robinson could sound. This advice had no validity for him, he couldn’t stay here, in the large city there would have to be a little place for him to find, he knew that for the whole night the guest-houses were filled, you needed servants for the guests, he already had some practice in that, he would insert himself quickly and inconspicuously into such a business. In the house just across the way a small guest house was set up, out of which shot tumultuous music. The entrance door was covered with only a large yellow curtain, which sometimes with the breeze fluttered powerfully into the street. Otherwise it became much quieter in the street. Most of the balconies were dark, in the distance you could see a single light here or there, but you barely held it in your eyes for a short while before the people there picked themselves up, and as they pushed back into the apartment, a man grabbed the lamp and, remaining behind on the balcony to get a short look onto the street, turned out the light.
“The night’s already beginning,” Karl said to himself. “If I stay here much longer, I’ll belong to them.” He turned, in order to pull away the curtain from the apartment door. “What do you want?” said Robinson, standing between Karl and the curtain. “I want to leave,” said Karl. “Let me go, just let me go!” “You don’t want to disturb them,” yelled Robinson. “What do you think you’re doing?” And he laid an arm on Karl’s neck, hung on him with his entire weight, wrapped his legs around Karl’s legs, and took him in a moment to the ground. But Karl had learned how to fight a little as an elevator boy, and so he struck Robinson with his fist under the chin, but weakly and with gentleness. Robinson then gave Karl a quick and complete jab in the stomach with his knee, but then both of his hands grabbed his chin, yelling so loudly that a man clapping wildly on the neighboring balcony ordered, “Quiet!” Karl lay still a little, in order to get over the pain that Robinson’s hit had caused. He only turned his face to the curtain, which hung calmly and heavily in front of the dark room. There seemed to be no one in the room, maybe Delamarche and Brunelda had left and Karl already had his freedom. Robinson, really behaving like a guard dog, had finally been completely shaken off.

Then, blasting drums and trumpets intoned in the distance. The individual shouts of many people soon collected into a general scream. Karl turned his head and saw all the balconies enlivened again. He slowly picked himself up, he couldn’t stand completely upright and had to lean heavily against the railing. Downstairs on the sidewalk, young lads marched with giant steps and outstretched arms, their caps in their upraised hands, their faces lifted backwards. The roadway was still open. Someone swung from the high perch of a lamppost and was covered in yellow smoke. Just then, the drummers and trumpeters walked in broad rows to the light and Karl stared in astonishment at the crowd, when he heard voices behind him, turned around and saw Delamarche lifting the curtain and then Brunelda stepping out of the dark room in a red dress, with a scarf over her shoulders, a small dark cap over her probably unmade and piled-up hair whose ends stuck out here and there. She held a small, spread-out fan in her hand but didn’t move it, only pressing it tightly against herself.
Karl pushed himself along the side of the railing to make some room for both of them. Certainly no one would be forced to stay here, and if Delamarche should try it, Brunelda would fire him immediately. She didn’t like him at all, his eyes scared her. But when he made a step to the door, she noticed it and said, “Where to, little one?” Karl faltered at the strict look of Delamarche and Brunelda pulled him to herself. “Don’t you want to see the parade below?” she said and pushed him in front of her to the railing. “Do you know what it’s all about?” Karl heard her say behind him and made an involuntary motion, without success, to get away from her grip. He looked sadly down into the street, as if down there were the reasons for his sadness.
First, Delamarche stood behind Brunelda with crossed arms, then he ran into the room and brought Brunelda the opera glasses. Below, behind the musicians appeared the head of the procession. On the shoulders of a giant man sat a gentleman, whom you could see nothing of from up here but his dimly shimmering bald patch, over which he constantly held his top-hat high in greeting. Around him wooden boards were freely carried, which from up high looked completely white; they were arranged so that the signs on all sides leaned on the gentleman as he rose up from the middle of them. Since everyone was in a crowd, this wall of signs was constantly loosening and reordering itself. In a further area around the gentleman, the entire breadth of the street, even if you couldn’t significantly estimate its length, was filled with the gentleman’s followers, who clapped their hands together and pronounced the gentleman’s name, a very short but incomprehensible name, in a solemn chant. Some, cleverly distributed around the crowd, had automobile light of the strongest intensity, which they led slowly along the houses on both sides of the street. At Karl’s height the light didn’t disturb anyone, but on the lower balconies you could see the people struck by it quickly bringing their hands to their eyes.
At Brunelda’s request, Delamarche asked the people at the neighboring balcony what the event was about. Karl was a little curious if and how they would answer him. And actually Delamarche had to ask three times without getting an answer. He bent dangerously over the railing, Brunelda stamped lightly in anger with her neighbors, Karl felt her knees. Finally an answer came, but immediately, everyone began to laugh loudly on the balcony, which was packed full of people. Delamarche screamed something over it so loudly, that if it weren’t for the entire street being very noisy at the moment, everyone around would have had to prick up his ears in astonishment. In any case, it had the effect of unnaturally slowing down the laughter.
“A judge is being elected tomorrow in our district and that one, the one they’re carrying, is a candidate,” said Delamarche, returning perfectly calm to Brunelda. “Well!” he yelled and lovingly patted Brunelda on the back. “We don’t know much about what goes on in the world.”
“Delamarche,” said Brunelda, returning to her neighbors’ behavior. “I would love to move if it weren’t so difficult. But I admit, I’m not capable of it.” And with great sighs, impatiently and absent-mindedly, she fumbled with Karl’s shirt as he tried again and again to inconspicuously push away those small, fat hands, which was fairly easy for him, because Brunelda wasn’t thinking of him, she was busy with entirely other thoughts.
But soon, even Karl forgot Brunelda and tolerated the load of her arm on his shoulder, because the procession on the street took up much of his attention. Organized by a small group of gesticulating men marching just in front of the candidate, whose conversation must have had a special importance, because on all sides you could see listening faces leaning towards them, it all unexpectedly came to a stop in front of an inn. One of these authoritative men made a gesture with an upraised hand, intended as much for the crowd as for the candidate. The crowd fell silent and the candidate, trying to stand up on the shoulders of his carriers and falling back many times into a sitting position, gave a small speech, while he brandished his hat back and forth in the air. You saw this very clearly, because during his speech all of the automobile lights were directed on him, so that he found himself in the middle of a bright star.
But now you made out the interesting part, which the entire street took part in. On the balconies occupied by the party members for the candidate, they joined in with the singing of his name and continued the mechanical applause with their hands stretched over the railing. On the balconies in general, however, which were in the majority, a strong response song was struck up, which had no uniform effect because it was performed by the followers of various other candidates. In addition to that all the enemies of the present candidate banded together in a general whistling and gramophones were turned all over the place. Political quarrels were carried out on individual balconies with strong excitement, made even more vehement by the late hour. Most of the people were already in pajamas and had only thrown on overcoats, the women wrapped in great dark shawls, the unwatched children climbed alarmingly on the edges of the balconies and came in continually larger amounts out of the dark rooms they’d been sleeping in. Here and there, individual unfamiliar were hurled in anger in the direction of their enemies, sometimes they hit their targets, but most of the time they fell down onto the street, where they often caused a scream of anger. When the men in charge got too angry over the noise, the drummers and trumpeters picked up the parade, carrying out with their full, bursting strength, not ceasing the march until they overcame all human voices up to the roofs of the houses. And suddenly – you barely believed it – they stopped, so that the well-trained people on the street roared out in the temporary general silence – you saw the mouth of every person wide open in the beams of the automobile lights – until then the opponents came back yelling ten times as strong as before from all the balconies and windows and brought the short victory of the party underneath to what seemed from these heights to be a complete silence.
“How do you like it, little one?” asked Brunelda, turning here and there tightly behind Karl, so she could see all the people with her binoculars. Karl answered only with nods of his head. By and by he noticed how Robinson made various eager remarks to Delamarche about Karl’s behavior, which Delamarche didn’t seem to think very important, because he was trying to push Robinson to the side with his left hand, with his right he was hugging Brunelda. “Don’t you want to look through the binoculars?” asked Brunelda and tapped Karl’s chest to show that she meant him.
“I see enough,” said Karl.
“Try it,” she said, “you’ll see better.”
“I have good eyes,” answered Karl. “I see everything.” He didn’t see it as a kindness, but as a disturbance, when she brought the glasses closer to his eyes and actually said nothing now but the word “You!” in a melodic but threatening manner. And now Karl had the binoculars on his eyes and saw nothing.
“I see nothing,” he said and wanted to be free of the binoculars, but she held the binoculars tightly and, pressed against her chest, he couldn’t move his head backwards or sideways.
“But you’ll see fine now,” she said and turned the screws on the binoculars.
“No, I’m still seeing nothing,” said Karl and thought that he had relieved Robinson against his will, because Brunelda’s unbearable moods were now focused on him.
“So when will you finally see?” she said and turned the screws again – Karl now had his entire face in her heavy breathing. “Now?” she asked.
“No, no, no!” yelled Karl, even though now he could actually distinguish everything, if only very indistinctly. But just then Brunelda was doing something with Delamarche, she held the glasses loosely in front of Karl’s face and Karl could, without her paying any special attention, look at the street underneath the binoculars. Later she didn’t want to force her will anymore and needed the binoculars for herself.
At the inn below, a waiter walked out and hurriedly took the orders of the leader back and forth over the doorstep. You saw him as he stretched out to look over the inside of the bar and possibly shout in some order. During this obvious preparation for a large round of free drinks, the candidate never let up from speaking. His carrier, the large man serving only him, always made a small turn after each sentence, so as to allow the speech to come to every section of the crowd. The candidate kept himself mostly bent-over and tried with jerky motions of his free hand and the top-hat to give his words the most possible urgency. Sometimes, though, at regular intervals he got the idea to pick himself up with outstretched arms, he no longer spoke to the group but to everyone, he spoke to the inhabitants of the apartments up to the highest floor, and it was still completely clear that no one could hear him on the lowest floor, and even if it were possible, no one would have wanted to hear, because each window and each balcony was occupied by someone yelling. In the meantime, an individual waiter from the inn brought full, glimmering glasses placed on a board about the size of a pool table. The leader organized the distribution, which took the form of a march by the inn door. But even though the glasses on the board were always immediately filled, they weren’t sufficient for the crowd, and two rows of bartenders had to slip away and continually provide for the crowd. The candidate, naturally, had stopped his speech and used the pause to gather his strength. His carrier took him slowly here and there outside the crowd and the bright lights, where only some of his followers accompanied him and spoke up to him there.
“Look at the little one,” said Brunelda. “He forgets where he is with all this staring.” And she surprised Karl and turned his face to hers with both hands, so that she looked him in the eyes. It only took a moment, because Karl brushed off her hands immediately, and angered over the fact that no one ever let him alone for a short while and filled with the desire to go into the street and look at everything up close, he tried now to free himself from Brunelda’s grip with all his strength and said:
“Please, let me go away.”
“You’ll stay with us,” said Delamarche without turning from the street and only stretching out a hand to keep Karl from going away.
“Let it go,” said Brunelda and twisted Delamarche’s hands away. “He’s staying.” And she pressed Karl more tightly against the railing, he would have to fight her to free himself from her. And if that had been successful, what would he have done? To his left stood Delamarche, Robinson had positioned himself to the right, he was in real captivity.
“Be happy you weren’t thrown out,” said Robinson and hit Karl with a hand he had pushed underneath Brunelda’s arm.
“Thrown out?” said Delamarche. “A runaway thief doesn’t get thrown out when you hand him over to the police. And that could happen very early in the morning if he’s not careful.”
From this moment on Karl lost all joy in the show below. He couldn’t stand up straight because of Brunelda, he was forced to bend a little bit over the landing. Full of sorrow, he looked absent-mindedly at the people underneath, who in groups of twenty walked to the door of the inn, grabbed the glasses, turned and raised these glasses to the busy candidate, yelled out a party salute, emptied the glasses and slammed them down, which must have resounded but couldn’t be heard up here, before they set off for the loud, impatient crowd. Following the directions of the leader, the band played on up to the inn and walked into the street, their large wind instruments beaming over the dark crowd, but their playing settled quickly into the general noise. The street now, at least on the side of the inn, was filling up with people. From the higher elevations, where Karl had come in the morning in the automobile, they streamed down, from the lower, they ran up the bridge, and even the people on the balconies were unable to resist the temptation to grab a little something, given the opportunity, almost only women and children stayed behind on the balcony and in the windows while the men pushed downstairs and out the doors. But now the music and the entertainment reached their climax, the crowds were large enough, a leader flanked by two automobile lights waved at the band, shot out a strong whistle and now you saw the carrier, a little annoyed, coming with the candidate down a path cleared away by the followers.
He was barely by the inn door when the candidate began his new speech in the light of a tight circle of sedentary automobile lights. But now everything was more difficult than before, the carrier didn’t have the slightest freedom of movement any more, the crowd was too large. A follower nearby, who had tried before by all possible means to strengthen the effect of the candidate’s speech, now had trouble to stay so close, twenty people held themselves with all their effort to the carrier. But even this strong man couldn’t take a step of his own, there was no chance of influencing the crowd through turning or advancing or falling back. The crowd overflowed without design, one person lay on another, no one stood upright anymore, the contenders seemed to have increased in this new audience, the carrier had held up for a long time in the proximity of the inn door, but now he allowed himself to be driven off the street and then back on, the candidate spoke as always, but it was no longer clear if he was laying out his platform or crying for help, if you didn’t know any better, you’d say that an opposing candidate had showed up, or maybe more than one, because here and there you could see a man lifted from the crowd in a flaring of light with a pale face and balled fists, proceeding with a welcoming speech to a multitude of cheers.
“What’s happening?” Karl asked and turned in breathless confusion to his guards.
“How it excites the little one,” Brunelda said to Delamarche and grabbed Karl on the chin to pull his head to hers. But Karl didn’t want that and, made reckless by the events on the street, shook himself so strongly that not only did Brunelda let him go, but she also drew back and gave him up entirely. “Now you’ve seen enough,” she said, openly angry about Karl’s behavior. “Go in the room, lay down and get ready for the night.” She stretched out her hand towards the room. That was the direction Karl had wanted to take since the first hour, he didn’t resist with a single word. Then you heard from the street the crack of shattering glass. Karl couldn’t control himself and sprang very quickly to the railing to look down just the one time. In an attack from the opponents and perhaps a decisive success, the automobile lanterns of the followers, which had controlled events with their strong light and had managed to keep a certain order, were all smashed just then, so that the candidate and his carrier were embraced in a generally uncertain illumination, which seemed to make it as good as complete darkness. You couldn’t have easily pointed out where the candidate was, and the deception of the dark increased through a yelled, broad, united song, which approached from the bridge.
“Didn’t I tell you what to do,” said Brunelda. “Go away, now. I’m tired,” she added and stretched her arms up high, so that her back arched much more than was comfortable. Delamarche, who still held her in an embrace, took her with him to a corner of the balcony. Robinson went after them, shoving aside the leftovers of his meal still lying there.
Karl had to exploit the favorable situation, now was no time to look down, he woul see enough of the proceedings on the street and certainly more than from up here. In two leaps he rushed through the red-colored room, but the door was locked and the key taken away. It had to be found now, but who could find a key in this mess and especially in the precious little time he had at his disposal? By now he would have been on the stairs, he would be running and should be running. And now he was looking for the key! He looked in all the accessible drawers, rummaged through the tables with their various dinner plates, napkins and half-finished embroidery, was attracted to an armchair on which sat a mashed together pile of scraps of old clothes where the key could be but could not be found, and finally shook out the reeking curtain to feel through all the corners and folds for the key. Brunelda must have fastened the key to her belt, he told himself, so many things hung there, all this searching was pointless.
So Karl blindly grabbed two knives and drove them at the bolt, one above, one underneath, so he could bring the two together at a pressure point. He had barely pushed on the knives when naturally the blades broke into two. He had wanted nothing else, the stumps, which he could now drive in further, held all the better. And now he pushed with all his strength, his arms spread wide out, his legs braced far apart from one another, groaning and staring carefully at the door. They wouldn’t be able to resist for long, he recognized with joy the audible loosening of the bolt, yes, no matter how slowly it went, it was all the more correct not to spring the lock right away, otherwise they’d notice on the balcony, the lock had to come loose slowly and Karl worked on that with great care, his eyes coming ever closer to the lock.
“Now look.” He heard the voice of Delmarche. All three stood in the room, the curtain was pushed behind them, Karl must not have heard them coming in, his hands dropped from the knives in an instant. But he had no time for explanation or apology, because in a fit of rage far surpassing the moment, Robinson sprang loose at Karl – the cord his loose sleeping gown traced a great figure in the air. Karl got out of the way of his grip at the last moment, he might have pulled the knives out of the door and used them in defense, but he didn’t do that, instead he bent down to reinforce himself and jumped at the broad collar of Delamarche’s sleeping gown, hit him up high, picked him up even further – the sleeping gown was much too big for Delamarche – and was now luckily holding Delamarche by the head, who was very much surprised, first blindly waving his hands around, and after awhile unsuccessfully beginning to slam his fists against Karl’s back, who, to protect his face, had thrown himself at Delamarche’s chest. Karl took the blows, even if he twisted with pain and even if the blows became stronger, but he had to take it, because he saw victory. His hands on Delamarche’s head, his thumbs over his eyes, he led him into the angry muddle of furniture and tried with his own feet to wrap the rope of the sleeping-gown around Delamarche’s feet and make him fall.
Since he was completely busy with Delamarche, whose resistance he felt constantly growing, always feeling the sinewy enemy body pushing against him, he actually forgot that he wasn’t alone with Delamarche, but he would be reminded all too soon, because suddenly his feet fell out from under him, because Robinson, falling to the floor, pressed them apart and screamed. Sighing, Karl let Delamarche go, who still took a step back. Brunelda stood with legs far apart and knees bent in their wideness in the middle of the room and followed the proceedings with flashing eyes. As if she actually took part in the struggle, she breathed deeply, squinted her eyes and advanced slowly with her fists. Delamarche pushed his collar down, could look freely around and now of course there wasn’t a struggle, but simply a punishment. He grabbed Karl by the shirt, took him hard against the ground and hurled him, not looking at him for contempt, so strongly against a cupboard a few steps away that Karl thought at first that the pains in his back and head caused by the slamming against the cupboard were actually caused by Delamarche’s hand. “You scoundrel,” he heard Delamarche cry out loudly in the dark that was developing in front of his trembling yes. And in the exhaustion he sunk into in front of the cupboard, the words “Just wait” clanged weakly in his ears.
When he came to his senses, everything was dark, judging from the light shimmering of moonlight coming into the room underneath the curtain, it could still be late at night. You heard the calm breaths of the three sleepers, which at their loudest collected around Brunelda, she panted in her sleep, as she did from time to time when she spoke; but it wasn’t easily established where the individual sleepers were, the entire room was full of the rush of breathing. First, after he had tested his surroundings a little, Karl thought to himself and then was very scared, because he felt very crooked and stiff in the back, he hadn’t thought that he had suffered a bloody injury. But now he felt pressure on his head, and his entire face, throat, his chest under his shirt were damp, as if from blood. He had to get into the light to establish his condition, maybe they had beaten him into a cripple, because then Delamarche would gladly let him go, but should he start then, there was really no prospect for him then. He thought about the lad with the cut-up nose, and he lay there for a moment with his face in his hands.
He unwillingly turned to the door and felt around on all fours. Soon he felt a boot with his fingertips and then a leg further on. That was Robinson, who else slept in boots? Someone had ordered him to lie in front of the door to keep Karl from fleeing. But didn’t they know the condition Karl was in? For the time being he didn’t want to run away, he only wanted to get into the light. He couldn’t go out the door, so he had to go the balcony.
He found the dining table in an entirely different position than in the evening, the couch, which Karl approached very carefully, was surprisingly empty, in the middle of the room he bumped against a high pile of heavily crumpled clothes, blankets, curtains, cushions and carpets. First he thought it would only be a small pile, similar to the one he had found in the evening on the sofa, maybe it had been rolled to the floor, but to his astonishment he noticed by crawling further that an entire wagon-load of these things were lying there, which someone had probably for the night taken out of the boxes that they had been stored in during the day. He crawled onto the pile and soon realized that the whole thing was set up as a sort of bed where through careful feeling around he discovered that Brunelda and Delamarche were resting on high.
So now he knew where everyone slept and hurried to the balcony. It was an entirely different world that he now quickly lifted the curtain on. In the fresh night air, he walked back and forth on the balcony in the full light of the moon. He looked to the street, it was completely still, music still clanged out of the inn, but muffled, in front of the door a man swept the sidewalk, in the street, where in the chaotic noise of the evening the screams of the candidate couldn’t be distinguished from a thousand different voices, you could now distinctly hear the scratching of the broom on the pavement.
The moving of a table on the neighboring balcony made Karl notice that someone was sitting there and studying. It was a young man with a small pointed beard, which he twisted constantly as he read and quickly moved his lips. He sat, his face turned to Karl, at a small book-covered table, he had taken the lamp from the wall, wedged it between two large books and was now entirely illuminated by the glaring light.
“Good evening,” said Karl, since he thought he noticed the young man staring over at him.
But that must have been a mistake, because the young man seemed not to have noticed him and laid his hands over his eyes to block the light and to establish who was suddenly greeting him, and since he saw still saw nothing, he picked up the lamp in order to illuminate the neighboring balcony a little.
“Good evening,” he then said, looking sharply over for a moment and then adding: “and what else?”
“Am I disturbing you?” asked Karl.
“Of course, of course,” said the man and brought the lamp back to its previous spot.
With these words the introduction was refused, but Karl didn’t leave the balcony corner, where he was closest to the man. He stared quietly as the man read in his book, turned the pages, here and there looked up something in another book, which he always grabbed at lightning speed, unexpectedly sinking his face deep into the books.
What if this man was a student? It seemed completely as if he were studying. Karl – now this was already long ago – had sat not very differently at his parent’s table at home and had written his exercises as his father read the newspaper or settled an account book or correspondence for a club and his mother was busy with sewing and pulled the threads high out of the fabric. To keep from bothering his father, Karl only laid the book and the writing things on the table, while he had ordered the important books left and right of himself on the chair. It had been so quiet there! How seldom did strange people come into that room! Already as a small child Karl had always been glad to see his mother turn the lock on the living room door in the evening. She had no idea that Karl would now come so far as to try to break open strange doors with knives.
And what had been the point of all his studying? He had forgotten everything; if it would occur to him to pick up his studies here, it would be very difficult for him. He remembered that he had been sick once at home for a month – which had cost him a lot of effort when afterwards he had to find his way back into the uninterrupted learning. And now, besides the textbook of English business correspondence, he hadn’t read a book in a long time.
“You, young man,” Karl suddenly heard being spoken. “Couldn’t you move somewhere else? Your staring disturbs me horribly. At two o’clock at night you can finally demand to work on the balcony undisturbed. Do you want something from me?”
“You’re studying?” Karl asked.
“Yes, yes,” said the man and used this lost time to put his books into order.
“Then I don’t want to disturb you,” said Karl. “I’ll just go back into the room. Good night.”
The man didn’t give an answer, with a sudden decision after the removal of the disturbance, he went back to studying and rested his forehead in his right hand.
Then Karl remembered just in front of the curtain, why he had actually come out, he didn’t know how things were with him. What was so heavy on his head? He grabbed up there and was astounded that there wasn’t a bloody injury like he had feared in the dark of the room, it was just a damp turban-like bandage. Judging from the hanging shreds of clothing, it had been ripped from an old piece of Brunelda’s clothing and Robinson had temporarily wound it around Karl’s head. It’s just that he had forgotten to unwind it, and so all the water had run down Karl’s face and under his shirt while he was unconscious and had given Karl a scare.
“You’re still there?” asked the man as he looked over.
“Now I’m really going,” said Karl. “I only wanted to see something, it’s completely dark in the room.”
“So where are you?” said the man, laying the quill pen in the book opened in front of him and walking to the railing. “What’s your name? How did you get to these people? Have you been here a long time? What were you staring at? Turn on the lamp so I can see you.”
Karl did this, but pulled the curtain tighter to the door before he answered, so that no one would notice on the inside. “I’m sorry,” he said in a whisper, “that I’m speaking so softly. If the people inside heard me, I’d have a riot again.”
“Again?” asked the man.
“Yes,” said Karl. “This first night I had a big fight with them. I must have a terrible bump.” And he felt behind his head.
“What kind of fight was it?” asked the man and added, since Karl wasn’t answering right away: “You can trust me with whatever you have in your heart against the lady and the gentlemen. I hate all three of them and especially your Madame. It should surprise me if they didn’t try to turn you against me. My name is Josef Mendel and I am a student.”
“Yes,” said Karl. “Someone already told me about you, but nothing bad. You’ve dealt with Miss Brunelda once, right?”
“That’s true,” said the student and laughed. “Have you smelled the couch yet?”
“Oh yes,” said Karl.
“That makes me happy,” said the student, running his hand through his hair. “And why did they give you a bump?”
“It was a fight,” said Karl, thinking afterwards about how he could explain that to the student. But then he interrupted himself and said: “Aren’t I disturbing you?”
“First,” said the student, “you already disturbed me and I am unfortunately so nervous I need a lot of time to collect myself again. Since you began your work there on the balcony, I wasn’t progressing with my studies. But twice every three hours I take a break. Just tell me calmly. It interests me a lot.”
“It’s very simple,” said Karl. “Delamarche wants me to be his servant. But I don’t want to. I would have preferred to leave right away in the evening. He wouldn’t let me, locked the door, I wanted to break it open and it came to a fight. Unfortunately I’m still here.”
“Do you have another job then?” asked the student.
“No,” said Karl, “but that doesn’t bother me when I only want to leave.”
“Listen,” said the student, “that doesn’t bother you?” And both were silent a short while.
“Why wouldn’t you stay with these people?” the student asked then.
“Delamarche is a terrible person,” said Karl. I know him from before. I marched with him once for a day and was happy when I wasn’t with him anymore. And I should become his servant?”
“If all servants were as selective of their masters as you!” said the student and seemed to smile. “Look, I’m a salesman during the day, a lowly salesman, more of an errand-boy at Montly’s, the department store. This Montly is certainly a villain, but I let myself be completely calm about that, I’m only mad about being paid so miserably. So take that from me as an example.”
“How?” said Karl. “you’re a salesman by day and you study at night.”
“Yes,” said the student. “There is no other way. I tried everything possible, but this way of living is still the best. For years I was just a student, by day and night you know, it’s just that I almost starved, lived in a dirty old hovel and didn’t dare show up in the suit I had in the lecture hall. But that’s all done with.”
“But when do you sleep?” asked Karl, looking at the student in wonder.
“Yes, sleep!” said the student. “I will sleep when I’m done with my studies. For the time being I drink black coffee.” And he turned around, took a large pot out from under his table, poured the coffee into a little cup and sipped it as if he were swallowing medicine to get as little taste of it as he could.
“A fine thing, this black coffee,” said the student. “A shame you’re so far away that I can’t give some to you.”
“Black coffee doesn’t taste good to me,” said Karl.
“Not to me, either,” said the student and laughed. “But what would I do without starting with it. Without the black coffee Montly wouldn’t keep me for a second. I always say Montly, although naturally he doesn’t know I exist. I don’t really know how I’d behave in that store if I didn’t always keep in my desk a great big pot of coffee like this one, because I still don’t dare to expose the coffee-drinking, but trust me, I’d just lie behind the desk and sleep. Unfortunately they suspect it, they call me the Black Coffee there, which is a stupid joke and has already ruined my progress.”
“And when will you be finished with your studies?” asked Karl.
“It goes slowly,” said the student with a sunken head. He abandoned the railing and sat at the table again; his elbows leaning on the book, his hands running through his hair, he said: “It can take up to two years.”
“I also wanted to study,” said Karl, as if this fact gave him a right to an even greater trust than the now silenced student had given him.
“So,” said the student, and it wasn’t entirely clear if he was still reading in his book or only absent-mindedly staring at it, “be happy that you’ve given up your studies. I myself studied for years out of habit. I get little satisfaction out of it and even fewer future prospects. What kind of prospects would I want! America is full of con-men.”
“I wanted to become an engineer,” said Karl busily to the student, who didn’t seem to notice.
“And now you should become these people’s servant,” said the student and looked away fleetingly. “Of course that hurts you.”
The student’s final conclusion was simply a misunderstanding, but maybe Karl could use the student with it. So he asked: “Couldn’t I get a position at the department store?”
This question completely ripped the student away from his book; the thought that he could help Karl in applying for the job didn’t occur to him at all. “Try it,” he said, “or better yet, don’t try it. Getting my job at Montly’s has been up to now the greatest success of my life. If I had to choose between the studies and my job, of course I would choose the job. All my effort is in making sure that I never have to make that decision.”
“So it’s that difficult to get a job there,” said Karl, mostly to himself.
“Ah, what are you thinking then,” said the student. “It’s easier to become a district judge than a doorman at Montly’s.”
Karl was silent. This student, so much more experienced than he, who hated Delamarche for reasons unknown to Karl, who certainly wished nothing terrible on him, found no word to encourage Karl to abandon Delamarche. And he didn’t know the fear Karl had of being turned into the police, which only Delamarche could even partly protect him from.
“You saw the demonstration below in the evening? Didn’t you? If you didn’t know the scenario, you would think this candidate, his name is Lobter, will have a future or at least come into consideration, right?”
“I know nothing about politics,” said Karl.
“That is a mistake,” said the student. “But you kept your eyes and ears on it. The man, doubtless, has friends and enemies, you couldn’t have missed that. And now think, this man in my opinion has not the slightest chance to be elected. By chance I know everything about him, someone who lives with us knows him. He is not an incompetent man and according to his political views and political past he would be just the right judge for the district. But no one thinks that he could be elected, he will fail as magnificently as someone can fail, he will throw away his couple of dollars on the election campaign, that will be all.”
Karl and the student looked at each other a short while in the silence. The student nodded, smiling, and pressed his tired eyes with a hand.
“Now, won’t you go to sleep?” he asked then. “I have to study again. Look how much I still have to work through.” And he turned quickly through half of a book, in order to give Karl an understand of the work that waited for him.
“So good night then,” said Karl, bowing.
“Come over by us once,” said the student, who was already sitting back at his table. “Of course, only if you want to. You will always find a lot of company here. From nine to ten o’clock in the evening I have time for you here.”
“So you advise me to stay by Delamarche?” asked Karl.
“Absolutely,” said the student and sunk his head into the books again. It seemed as if he hadn’t said the word at all; as if it had been spoken by a voice deeper than anything from the student, it still echoed in Karl’s ears. Slowly he went to the curtain, threw a glance at the student, who was now entirely motionless, surrounded by the great darkness in which there sat his light, and slipped into the room. He was received by the united breathing of the three sleepers. He looked for the couch along the wall, and when he found it, he stretched quietly out on it, as if it were a comfortable bed. Since the student, who knew enough about Delamarche and local affairs and was generally an educated man, had advised him to stay here, he had no misgivings for the time being. He didn’t have a goal as high as the student’s, who knew if he would’ve successfully completed his studies to the end back at home, and if it seemed barely possible at home, no one could expect him to do it here in a strange land. But the hope to find a job where he could accomplish something and be appreciated for his accomplishments was certainly greater if he took up this servant’s job by Delamarche for the time being and waited for a favorable opportunity. There seemed to be many offices on this street on the middle and lower floors, which maybe weren’t that choosy in their selection of personnel. He would gladly, if he had to, become a janitor, but it wasn’t out of the question to be taken up in a clean office job and sit for the first time at a writing desk and stare a long time out the window without any sorrow, just like any clerk he had seen earlier in his march through the courtyard. It made him calm, as he closed his eyes, to think that he was still young and that Delamarche would one day give him his freedom; this household wouldn’t last forever. But if Karl had a job in an office, he would busy himself with nothing but office work and never divide his strength as a student. If it were important, he would also spend his nights in the office, which would be demanded of him in the beginning because of his little commercial experience. He would think in the interest of the business he would have to serve and undertake every task, even those which other clerks would shun as being not worthy of them. The happy resolutions crowded his head, as if his future boss stood in front of the couch and he could read them to his face.
With these thoughts, Karl slept and only in his first half-sleep was he disturbed by a sigh from Brunelda, who seemed to be plagued by difficult dreams and rolled around on her bed.

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

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