Thomas Mann (1875–1955) was born in Lübeck, Germany. In 1901, his first novel, Buddenbrooks, won critical acclaim. Succeeding works, such as the novellas Tonio Kröger (1903) and Death in Venice (1912) and the novel The Magic Mountain (1924), established him as the leading writer of his generation and as the first twentieth-century representative of the great German literary tradition. After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929, he left Hitler’s Germany in 1933, eventually settling in 1938 in the United States, where he was an outspoken supporter of the Allied war effort. His most important late work was Doctor Faustus (1947), a novel exploring the cultural and psychological reasons for the rise of Nazism in civilized, bourgeois Germany. He eventually returned to Europe and died in Switzerland.
Jefferson S. Chase holds a doctorate in German literature from the University of Virginia, where he was also a President’s Fellow. From 1994 to 1996, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Berlin Institute for German and European Studies. He collaborated on the English version of Gregor von Rezzori’s Oedipus at Stalingrad and his translations of Heine, Borne, and Saphir appear in his book Inciting Laughter: The Rise of Jewish Humor in German Culture. He is currently lecturer in German at the University of Nottingham.
Martin Swales was born in 1940. He studied German at the universities of Cambridge and Birmingham and has held teaching posts in German at Birmingham, Toronto, King’s College London, and University College London, where he was a professor from 1976 to 2003. He has written widely on modern German literature, publishing monographs on Goethe, Stifter, Schnitzler, and Thomas Mann and on German realistic fiction, the Novelle, and the Bildungsroman. He is a Fellow of the British Academy.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank some of the people who supported and assisted me in the long process of preparing this edition, to wit: Julia Moskin, Don Hymans at Signet, Jonathan Long, Walter Sokel, Wiebke Sievers, Julie Gregson, and Irmela Plamann. Many of my ideas about translating and reading these stories arose during enjoyable conversations with Alex Ross, a true Mann enthusiast and an insightful critic. Above all, my thanks go out to Lara Brekenfeld, to whom my translations are also dedicated.
Thomas Mann: An Introduction
“For an imaginative work of any significance to make an on-the-spot impact that is both broad and deep,” writes Thomas Mann in “Death in Venice,” “there must be some unspoken affinity, indeed basic agreement between the individual destiny of the author and the general one of his contemporaries and fellow citizens.” Mann might well have been writing of himself. Together with Franz Kafka, Mann overshadows all other twentieth-century German authors in world fame and importance. He sold millions of books during his lifetime, exerted a literary influence to rival that of Faulkner or Joyce, functioned in American exile during World War II as the premier voice of Germany’s humanist tradition, and is still read today throughout the world by both popular and academic audiences. Yet he remains a difficult, problematic figure. Unlike Kafka, whose works take place in a singular alternative nightmare world and whose name spawned an English adjective, Mann wrote in a variety of modes ranging from the everyday-realistic to the surreal, and his authorial presence always seems to hover outside his fictional creations, apart and separate from them. There is no adjective Mannian except among Mann scholars. Instead, there is a continuing fascination with him as a person and with the circumstances surrounding the composition of his works. No fewer than three Mann biographies appeared in 1995.
Paul Thomas Mann was born on June 6, 1875, in Lübeck, the second child of Senator Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann. The Manns had been citizens first-class of the Hanseatic trading city for over a hundred years before Thomas’s birth, possessing a large import-export firm and holding office in the autonomous city-state’s government. Thomas’s mother, Julia da Silva-Bruhns, was of Brazilian descent: his mixed parentage would later become a subject he would explore in his semi-autobiographical “Tonio Kröger” and “Death in Venice.” Success for Thomas came early, despite the swift demise of the family business after his father’s death in 1892. After his father died, Thomas’s family moved to Munich, where he was educated and worked as a clerk in an insurance office and served on the staff of the Munich journal Simplicissimus before taking up writing as a career. He published his first novella at the age of nineteen. By 1904 he had completed Buddenbrooks, the novel that was to bring him international fame. In the years to follow, despite occasional financial crises brought on by the vicissitudes in Germany’s political fortunes, Mann never seriously questioned his calling as an author and a public figure. Indeed, he saw his career as following in the great tradition of the twin idols of German literature, Goethe and Schiller. After he completed Buddenbrooks, Mann married into a wealthy Jewish family, composed the short stories collected in this edition, and experienced his second novelistic triumph with the epic The Magic Mountain (1924). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929.
Thomas Mann was an enthusiastic, indeed chauvinistic supporter of the German cause in World War I, which led to a prolonged estrangement from his older brother Heinrich, a successful and important novelist in his own right, with whom Thomas had worked closely in the incipient days of his career. The experience of German defeat, however, converted Mann from an adherent of Imperial monarchism to a committed, if culturally snobbish, proponent of democracy. His opposition to the politics of the National Socialists, together with his wife Katia’s Jewish background, led to his emigration shortly after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, first to Switzerland, then to the United States (1938). He became a U.S. citizen in 1944, took up various academic posts, and worked closely with the U.S. State Department on scores of anti-Hitlerian essays and radio addresses. In 1947, while he was living in Los Angeles, he completed his last great novel, Doctor Faustus, a fictional reckoning with what the historian Friedrich Meineke was to term “the German catastrophe.” He returned to Europe in 1953 and settled near Zurich, Switzerland, where he died on August 12, 1955. He was the father of the author Klaus Mann (1906–49) and the historian Golo Mann (1909–94).
Mann’s works are remarkably philosophical, very much the product of the intellectual environment of their time. Though a poor student, Mann was an avid reader and absorbed a great deal of the philosophical views that were popular during his formative years, chiefly those of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. From Schopenhauer, he incorporated the idea of an irrational, destructive will—a natural force of life described as present alternately in the world itself and deep within the human psyche—which was fundamentally opposed to the stabilizing, constructive efforts of the rational mind. From Nietzsche, he took insights concerning human psychology, especially the psychology of the artist as outsider vis-à-vis Western civilization. This view ran contrary to the popular nineteenth-century idea of the artist as a heroic representative of bourgeois society. For Mann, as well as for Nietzsche, the artist was a dubious figure, a creature of sickness and longing for death, motivated by resentment of society’s stronger self-perpetuating impulses. As such, however, the artist was emblematic of a basic conflict between individual desire and civilized behavior.
Mann was also influenced by his contemporary Freud, who likewise focused on sexual desire as a nexus of frustrated individual will and likewise came to perceive a death-wish, or thanatos, embedded within the human subconscious. Still another, less frequently noted influence was the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, with its methodological emphasis on descriptive perception as a means of insight into the human condition. Some of Mann’s maddeningly detailed, at times seemingly hair-splitting prose can be understood as an attempt to do in fiction what the phenomenologists of his day pursued in philosophy.
Surprisingly, Mann’s thematic interests are rather narrow—although he did often quote from outside sources, he was not the writer to be inspired by newspaper curiosities or second-hand anecdotes. First and foremost among his favorite themes is the relationship between the artist and bourgeois society. This topic had long been a literary preoccupation before Mann, but no writer had ever depicted the entwined impulses toward integration and rebellion characteristic of the artist with quite the complexity that Mann did. The artists in Mann’s works are not Romantic bohemians who sacrifice themselves in struggle against bourgeois constraints. More often than not, they are profoundly bourgeois souls who long for complete integration into the everyday world of the warm-hearted and the banal. Their central dilemma, which Mann treats both tragically and comically, is that the very artistic talent that earns them social acclaim also makes them creatures of anti-emotional irony, musical frenzy, or destructive passion. Mann challenges traditional conceptions of the artist as a heroic figure by portraying the creative impulse as a compensatory mechanism for individual weakness, for the artist or art- lover’s inability to fit into a “normal,” healthy world. Mann pursues this theme most satirically in “Tristan,” whereas the writer-protagonists of “Tonio Kröger” and “Man and Dog” (two directly autobiographical works) reconcile their social and destructive impulses in much the same fashion as Mann did in real life. In “Death in Venice,” it is debatable as to whether Gustav Aschenbach’s fatal lapse into forbidden passion represents ridiculous foible or tragic triumph.
Mann is not a “political” writer in the typical sense of the word. He largely eschews depictions of class conflict, political events, and technological transformations of society in his works. Yet his treatment of the individual-versus-society theme does have broad relevance. For Mann, the destructive, antisocial impulses at work within the artistic psyche reveal the potential for violence and warfare latent in civilized society, of which art is a major institution. Public attitudes toward war during Mann’s time differed markedly from our own. World War I was greeted by some as a positive development that would cleanse Europe of the torpor and malaise into which it was perceived to have fallen at the turn of the century. Mann lived through both of the great European wars and witnessed the near destruction of the culture with which he identified most. It is not surprising, then, that references to war are scattered throughout his late works: the evocation of the politically explosive atmosphere of the early 1910’s in the beginning of “Death in Venice,” for example, or allusions to war-time privation in “Man and Dog.” In these and other passages, Mann suggests that individual “artistic” antipathy toward civilization is indicative of a self-destructive impulse at work within European culture at large. He would develop this view with unambiguous reference to fascism in later works such as “Mario and the Magician” (not included here because of copyright constraints) and Doctor Faustus. For Mann, European society, like the artist, was sick.
A third major theme in Mann’s work is homoeroticism. As his recent biographer Anthony Heilbutt points out, Mann repeatedly developed crushes on attractive young men of the sort depicted in the first chapter of “Tonio Kröger.” Aschenbach’s obsession with Tadzio in “Death in Venice,” too, had its origins in a real-life fascination to which Mann succumbed while on vacation with his brother and wife. However, there is no reliable evidence to suggest that Mann consummated any of these relationships sexually. What seems more probable is that, like Tonio Kröger, Mann restricted his homosexual leanings to fiction and led a life of heterosexual “normality.” In any case, his exploration of homosexuality enabled him to develop a unique understanding of the situation of the social outsider. In drawing the connection between artists and homosexuality, Mann directly confronted an issue that had been lurking scandalously within German literature at least since the Heine-Platen feud of 1828. Mann does not take up a clear moral position in regard to homosexuality in his works. Aschenbach’s feelings for Tadzio are described in sympathetic detail, but at the same time Mann’s overall depiction of his protagonist is ironic and therefore calls Aschenbach’s sensibilities—artistic as well as erotic—into question. It was thanks to this ironic distance from his subject matter that Thomas Mann—who otherwise placed enormous value on respectability—could create one of the most frank depictions of homosexual desire the world has ever known.
Mann’s distanced perspective as author is reinforced by the style in which he writes. The first and perhaps most obvious feature of his style is parataxis—long-windedness. Owing to its syntactic structure, German is a “long” language, but even so Mann constructs mammoth sentences. Contrary to initial impressions, though, Mann’s long-windedness is motivated by a desire to be as precise as possible. True to the phenomenological belief in the intrinsic worth of descriptive perception, Mann leaves no impression about his subject matter unrecorded. It is a signature move of Mann’s, for instance, to juxtapose two or more seemingly synonymous adjectives or verbs in order to point out the subtle differences in meaning and perception they entail. He also exploits syntactic vagaries to create revealing ambiguity: this occurs most prominently in “Death in Venice,” in which ambiguously referring relative pronouns are employed to depict Aschenbach’s own confused and conflict-ridden thought process. Even when its sense does eventually emerge without ambiguity, the typical Mann sentence is not necessarily immediately comprehensible. It is a puzzle that one has to put together, and this putting together is an important part of the pleasure and the profit of reading Mann.
A second major aspect of Mann’s style is the protean quality of his narrative voice. Much like his contemporary Alfred Döblin, the author of Berlin Alexanderplatz, Mann was a great lover of found material, and his writing often takes on the character of quoted pastiche. “Death in Venice,” for example, contains strategically altered citations from Plato, Cicero, Homer, Xenophon, Plutarch, and August von Platen, as well as an encyclopedia entry on Asiatic cholera. This penchant for quotation feeds into two other stylistic idiosyncrasies: an inscrutable authorial perspective and periodic ruptures of hermetic fictionality. Because Mann’s narrators so often speak through the voice of a quoted source, authorial opinion is placed at double remove, filtered through narration that is itself filtered through the material on which it is based. It is thus very difficult to determine, in any definitive way, what Mann may have thought about his characters—readers are left to judge them for themselves. Moreover, Mann’s quotations also direct readers’ attention outside the fictional universe of the actual story at hand. His stories are set in real places and at real times. They occasionally even modulate into the present tense, as in the graveyard scene in the first chapter of “Death in Venice,” to emphasize that the fictional events are taking place in actual locations that readers can, if they choose, go and see for themselves. Both in its intertextuality and its willful rupturing of fictional illusion, Mann’s work anticipates the postmodern impulses characteristic of contemporary fiction.
It is a tribute to Mann’s compositional talent that his works are anything but postmodern exercises in the arbitrary and the contingent. On the contrary, they are structured to a remarkable degree, with motifs recurring and connecting in a way that has often been described as symphonic. Thinking of music is appropriate when reading Mann: he was a great admirer of Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler, and he used Mahler as the physical model for Gustav Aschenbach. As in a symphony, scarcely a phrase goes by in Mann’s writing without echoing, or being echoed by, another phrase. There are other echoes as well. The list of citations from “Death in Venice” reveals the extent of Mann’s familiarity with Greek literature and myth, and the complex network of allusions in that novella rivals that in Faust by Goethe. Any assertions about Mann’s classicism must be tempered, however, by an appreciation of ironic context. The classical allusions in “Death in Venice,” after all, reflect the decidedly ambiguous consciousness of Aschenbach. Even in his greatest creative triumph, Mann remains impossible to pin down.
Mann’s ironic, disengaged but precise treatment of the most personal and explosive subject matter is the basis of his literary achievement. His importance to both German and world literature—as well as the status of the former within the latter—can hardly be overestimated. Unlike its English, French, Russian, and American counterparts, nineteenth-century German literature, with its emphasis on poetry and ornate novellas, produced no monumental novels of lasting international reputation. In fact, if we ignore the existence of several excellent and innovative writers (Heinrich Heine, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Theodor Fontane), Mann can be said to have rescued German literature from a relatively fallow period. In scope and stylistic mastery, though not in content, Buddenbrooks can be compared to the great novels of Balzac and Flaubert, Dickens and Eliot, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Yet in Buddenbrooks and in his remarkable series of short stories, Mann progresses beyond the bourgeois concerns and mimetic techniques of Realism to expose the precarious psychological foundations of Western civilization, uncovering in the process the often dubious aspects of literary creativity itself. In doing so, he was perfectly attuned to what the social theorist E. J. Hobsbawm calls “The Age of Extremes,” the twentieth century—a century of rupture between the individual and society, a century of unprecedented improvement in Western standards of living and almost unthinkable bureaucratized destruction.
The present edition has been selected and translated with this connection between author and society in mind. “Death in Venice” is, of course, a natural selection and among Germans “Tonio Kröger” and “Tristan” also have the status of classics in their own right. “Man and Dog,” one of Mann’s most everyday, realistic works, is also one of his most underrated—valuable for its mastery of parataxis and as a companion piece to “Death in Venice,” its immediate predecessor. The remaining three short stories have been included because they contain themes also found in Mann’s longer works. “The Child Prodigy” is a quasi-clinical case study of the conflict between commercialism and art in twentieth-century cultural production. “Hour of Hardship,” narrated from Schiller’s point of view, reveals Mann’s fascination with the role of sickness and self-transcendence in artistic genius. Finally, “Tobias Mindernickel” introduces Mann’s strange preoccupation with house pets (specifically dogs) as mirrors of mankind’s ambiguous attitudes toward the unthinking, amoral vitality of the Schopenhauerian will. All three reflect and interact with Mann’s “major” works and shed considerable light on his creative development.
My translations focus not only on content but also seek to render the complexity of Mann’s style into contemporary American English. For all his stylistic elegance, Mann writes anything but standard German literary prose and is therefore among the most difficult writers to translate. Because Mann’s long, complex sentences are written to be puzzled out, I have retained his paratactic syntax, rather than broken up the German into easily digestible units. I have also tried to preserve Mann’s often idiosyncratic emphasis within sentences, which is crucial to our ability to follow their sense. This is not just a question of following original word order. Owing to the differences between English and German, reproduction of emphasis often involves reformulation: the insertion of introductory, emphatic phrases, for instance, or the use of dashes to capture the interjectory character of the German relative clause. At the same time, the syntactic differences between German and English occasionally require the shortening, even elision of phrases to avoid overloading individual sentences—Mann’s prose is ponderous, but rarely clumsy. Rhetorical techniques such as assonance, alliteration, and rhyme are also crucial to reproducing the literary quality of Mann’s work. In order to compensate for inevitable translation loss in this regard, I have not shied away from pursuing occasional felicitous opportunities in English for typically Mannian effects. In terms of word choice, I have sought to compensate for the drift caused by inexact vocabulary equivalents by striking a balance between the particularizing and the general. Moreover, I have made a distinction between those multipurpose German words like Geist (mind, spirit, imagination) which need to be rendered by various English equivalents and recurring terms like Zügellosigkeit (abandon) in “Death in Venice,” which function as quasi-symphonic motifs and therefore must be signaled with one and the same English word. In general, I have opted for a temporally neutral vocabulary, avoiding words not in currency during Mann’s day but resisting deliberate archaism, which inevitably rings precious and false. Temporal neutrality of course itself entails distortion, but it is, I believe, the most acceptable approach to a work foreign to its audience not only in language but in time.
All these strategic decisions have been made with one ultimate goal: to allow the contemporary American reader to experience Mann much as a contemporary German reader would. The reader should not approach Mann—in translation, or in German for that matter—expecting to experience anything immediately obvious. Puzzling out Mann is an intrinsic part of reading his work. I hope the present edition is one that helps the reader to do this and contributes in some way to a deeper appreciation of Mann’s uniquely enigmatic work.
—Jefferson S. Chase Nottingham, 1998
Among the streets that head up the rather steep hill from the quayside to the middle of town, there is one called Grauer Weg. About halfway along on the right, if one is walking from the river, comes number 47, a narrow drab gray building utterly indistinguishable from its neighbors. The ground floor is home to a small shop, where, along with the usual, one can find galoshes and castor oil. Past the main hall, which looks out on a small courtyard populated by cats, a narrow wooden staircase with footworn treads and an unspeakably dank, seedy smell leads to the upper floors. On the second-floor left is a cabinetmaker; second-floor right, a midwife. On the third-floor left is a cobbler; third-floor right, a lady who immediately starts up a loud singing whenever she hears footsteps on the stairs. The fourth-floor left is empty, but on the fourth-floor right lives a man by the name of Mindernickel, who, on top of that, is called Tobias. An intriguing story is connected to this man that just has to be told, for it is both intriguing and scandalous beyond measure.
Mindernickel’s appearance is eye-catching, quite odd, indeed ridiculous. If you see him, for example, out on a walk, hauling his gaunt frame up the hill with the help of a cane, he will invariably be dressed in black, from head to toe. He always wears an old-fashioned coarse top hat with a curved brim, a threadbare overcoat that fits too tightly and an equally shabby pair of trousers, frayed at the cuffs and so short you can see the rubber trim of his boots—though it should also be noted that he keeps his attire immaculately brushed. His haggard neck, jutting out of a low turn-down collar, looks even longer than it actually is. His hair is gray and slicked back severely at the temples, and the wide brim of his hat casts a shadow upon a pale clean-shaven face with sunken cheeks, swollen eyes that rarely lift from the ground and two deep, sullen lines that connect his nose and perennially frowning mouth.
Mindernickel seldom leaves his room—with good reason. No sooner does he appear on the street than a large group of children gathers, trailing at his heels for some distance, laughing, jeering, singing “Hah, hah, Tobias,” often tugging at his coattails, while people emerge from their houses to make jokes at his expense. Undeterred, he proceeds on his walk, putting up no resistance, just timorously glancing around, his head pressed into his shoulders and his neck craned, like a person hurrying through a downpour without an umbrella. And although they’re all laughing in his face, these people standing at their front doors, he still greets the odd one with humble courtesies. Further on, after the children have run back home, in streets where he’s unknown and rarely attracts a second glance, his behavior doesn’t alter significantly. He continues to glance around in fear and scurry along his way, huddled, as though he felt a thousand scornful stares upon him, and when he does timorously and hesitantly lift his gaze from the ground, one notices something strange. He’s unable to look with any steadiness or determination at other people or even at inanimate objects. As strange as this may sound, he seems to lack that natural sovereignty of sensory perception that allows the individual to gaze out upon external phenomena. He seems to feel a sense of inferiority toward any and all such outside presence, and his aimlessly wandering eyes can’t help but grovel before man and thing . . .
How to explain this person, who is so constantly alone and seems so extraordinarily sad? His decisively bourgeois attire, along with his genteel habit of delicately rubbing his chin, would indicate that he rejects any affiliation with the class of society in whose midst he lives. God only knows what hardships he has had to endure. From his face, it looks as though life itself had reared back in contemptuous laughter and punched him with all its might . . . On the other hand, it’s quite possible that he’s never suffered any such blows of fate, that he’s simply unequal to the task of being a man. The tortured submissiveness and vacuity of his appearance convey the disagreeable impression that nature has denied him the strength, equilibrium and spine necessary to exist with his head held upright.
Having completed his huddled walk on his black cane to the center of town, he will make his way home to Grauer Weg to be received by the howling children. He’ll climb up the musty stairs to his room, which is poorly furnished and void of decoration, the only object of any value or beauty being the sturdy Empire commode with the heavy metal handles. In front of his lone window, whose view is abruptly cut off by the gray wall of the neighboring house, there is a flowerpot full of soil in which nothing at all grows. Nonetheless Tobias Mindernickel will occasionally go over and examine it, sniffing at the barren soil. — Off to the side is a dark little sleeping alcove. — Back in his room, Tobias will lay his hat and cane atop the table, sit down upon his dusty-smelling sofa with its green upholstery, put his hand to his chin and stare with raised eyebrows at the ground in front of him. This would seem to be his sole purpose on earth.
As far as Mindernickel’s character is concerned, it’s difficult to say, although the following incident appears to speak in his favor. One day, as the odd little man left the house with the usual gang of children trailing behind him, laughing and shouting out insults, a boy of about ten tripped over another’s foot and fell so hard on the cobblestones that he bloodied his nose and cut his forehead. He lay there in tears. Tobias immediately turned, hurried back to the fallen child, crouched down and began to comfort him in a mild, quavering voice. “You poor boy,” he said. “Have you hurt yourself? Why, you’re bleeding! Just look at the blood running down his forehead! How miserable you look lying there! Of course when it hurts so, the poor child starts crying! How I feel for you! It was your own fault, but let me bandage your head with my handkerchief . . . So, there we are! Now let’s pull ourselves together and stand on our feet . . .” And having spoken these words of consolation and indeed made a bandage from his very own handkerchief, he gently lifted the boy and continued on. At that particular moment, however, he seemed utterly transformed in both posture and expression. He walked firm and upright, taking deep breaths, his chest swelling under his tight-fitting overcoat. His eyes were wide and had begun to twinkle, gazing at people and things with assurance, while a contented smile of sorrow played over his lips . . .
This incident had the short-term result that the denizens of Grauer Weg relented somewhat in their gleeful insults. After a little while, however, they forgot about the surprising behavior of this errant, huddled man, and a chorus of healthy, cheerful, cruel young throats again sang out behind him: “Hah, hah, Tobias!”
One sunny morning around eleven, Mindernickel left the house and proceeded across town to the Lerchenberge, that gradual slope that provides the best grounds in the city for an afternoon stroll and that, even before noon, was well visited by a number of carriages and pedestrians out to enjoy the excellent spring weather. Beside the broad main esplanade stood a man under a tree with a young game dog on a leash. He was displaying it to all passers-by, obviously in hope of finding an interested buyer. It was a handsome, healthy little animal, yellow in color, approximately four months old, with one black ear and a black ring around one eye.
When Tobias first saw them, at ten steps’ remove, he stopped short, rubbed his chin repeatedly and stared thoughtfully at the owner and the little dog, who was alertly wagging his tail. A moment later, with the handle of his cane pressed to his mouth, he started out again. He made three circles around the tree where the man was leaning, then finally approached and asked, never taking his eyes off the animal, in a soft and flustered voice: “How much is the dog?”
“Ten marks,” answered the man.
At first Tobias said nothing. Then he repeated, hesitantly, “Ten marks?”
“Yes,” said the man.
With that, Tobias removed a leather pouch from his pocket, took out a five-mark note together with one three- and one two-mark coin, and hastily handed the money to the seller. He then grabbed the leash, this huddled man, timorously glanced around as several witnesses to the transaction broke out in laughter, and began to pull the whimpering, struggling animal urgently along behind him. The dog put up a fight for the entire duration of their way, digging its front paws into the ground and looking up with frightened, searching eyes at his new master. The latter, however, continued to pull at the leash, mute and insistent, and managed to proceed back through town and start down the hill.
The street kids of Grauer Weg gave a terrific noise when Tobias appeared with the dog, but he lifted the animal and, cradling him in his arms, hurried through the mockery, the insults, the laughter and the tugging at his coattails up the three flights of stairs to his room. There he set the still whimpering creature on the ground, patted him affectionately and said in a condescending tone: “There, there, there’s no reason to be afraid of me, you silly thing. That’s not necessary.”
With that, he pulled out a commode drawer, removed a plate of boiled meat and potatoes and tossed some to the animal, which ceased its whining and devoured the meal, happily wagging its tail and slobbering.
“By the way, your name is Esau,” said Tobias. “Do you understand? Esau. The simple sounds should be easy for you to remember . . .”
And pointing to the ground before him, he called out in a tone of command: “Esau!”
The dog, probably expecting something more to eat, did in fact come, and Tobias patted his side in approval, saying, “Well done, my friend. You’ve earned my praise.”
Then he took a couple of steps back, once more pointed to the floor and called out: “Esau!”
And the animal, whose spirits had perked up, again sprang forward and licked his master’s boot.
Tobias, tireless in his joy at issuing commands and seeing them executed, must have repeated this exercise thirteen or fourteen times. The dog, however, did finally get tired. It seemed he wanted to stop and digest his food. He lay down on the floor in the typically graceful, alert pose of a game dog, both of his long and delicately formed front paws stretched out beside one another.
“Again!” ordered Tobias. “Esau!”
But Esau turned his head and remained where he was.
“Esau!” Tobias repeated, imperiously raising his voice. “You must come at my command, even if you’re tired!”
But Esau rested his head on his paws and gave no sign of coming at all.
“Listen here,” said Tobias in a quiet but terribly menacing tone. “Obey my commands, or you’ll find out how unwise it is to challenge me!”
The animal hardly moved its tail.
At that Mindernickel was seized by anger, a boundless, disproportionate, fully irrational anger. Beside himself with indignant rage, he grabbed his black cane, lifted Esau by the scruff of the neck and gave the yowling animal a thrashing, repeating over and over in a terrible hiss: “So you refuse to obey? You dare to disobey me?”
Finally he tossed his cane aside, set the whimpering dog back on the ground and began to pace the room in long strides, his hands behind his back, drawing deep breaths, occasionally casting a proud and angry glance down at Esau. After parading about for some time, he stopped before the animal, which lay on its back making pleading motions with its front legs. He folded his arms across his chest and spoke with the horribly cold, hard gaze and tone Napoleon had used in confronting the regiment that had lost its standard in battle: “How have you conducted yourself, if I may ask?”
Happy for even this bit of reconciliation, the dog crawled nearer, pressed himself against his master’s leg and looked up at him with bright beseeching eyes.
For a long while Tobias looked down without a word, observing the humble creature; but then, with the warmth of Esau’s body against his leg tugging at his heart, he picked him back up.
“All right, I’ll take pity on you,” he said. And as the good-natured animal began to lick his face, his mood swung full round, becoming melancholy and sentimental. He hugged the dog to his chest with a love full of sorrow, tears flooding his eyes, and repeated, his voice faltering, never finishing the sentence, over and over:
“You see, you’re my only . . . my only . . .” Then he laid Esau gently on the sofa, sat down beside him, put his hand to his chin and gazed at the animal, his eyes calm and mild.
From then on Tobias Mindernickel left the house even less often than previously, for he felt no desire to show himself in public with Esau. He devoted all his attention to the dog: morning, noon and night Tobias did nothing but feed him, wipe his eyes, issue commands, scold him and talk to him like a human being. The only thing was that Esau didn’t always conduct himself as his master would have wished. As long as the dog, lethargic from the lack of fresh air and freedom, lay on the sofa staring up at his face with melancholy eyes, Tobias had no complaints. He would sit there, calm and content, patting Esau’s back and consoling him: “Why do you look up at me with such sorrow, my poor little friend? Yes, indeed, the world is a sad place, you feel it, too, even at your young age . . .”
Sometimes, however, the animal’s playful game-dog instincts would whip him up into a blind frenzy. He would scamper frantically throughout the room and vent his enormous energy tussling with a slipper, jumping on the furniture and doing somersaults across the floor. Tobias, keeping his distance, followed such activity with a hapless, disapproving, uncertain look and a smile that was both ugly and full of irritation. Finally, laying down the law, he would bring the animal to heel: “Quit the rambunctiousness. There’s no reason to be waltzing around.”
Once, it even happened that Esau escaped his master’s quarters and sprang downstairs into the street, where in a fit of delight he immediately began chasing a cat, eating horse dung and playing with the children. And when Tobias, his face twisted with sorrow, arrived on the scene—to the applause and laughter of half the street—the sad truth was that the dog fled from his master in long leaps . . . Tobias gave him a long and bitter thrashing for that.
One day at feeding time—the dog had been in his possession for several weeks—Tobias took a loaf of bread from the commode drawer. With the long bone-handled knife he always used for such purposes, the hunched little man began to cut off small pieces and drop them on the ground. Esau, however, heedless in his hunger and frivolity, leapt headlong toward his master, ramming his right shoulder into the clumsily held knife. He fell to the floor, twisted and bleeding.
Shocked, Tobias tossed everything aside and crouched over the wounded animal. Suddenly, however, his face was transformed; truth be told, a shimmer of happy relief flitted across it. He gently carried the whimpering dog over to the sofa, and you can’t imagine the devotion with which he began to nurse his patient! During the day, Tobias never left his side for a minute, and at night, he let him sleep on his very own bed. He washed and bandaged him, patted and consoled him, and never tired in his gleeful expressions of sympathy and concern.
“Does it hurt a lot?” he would ask. “Yes, indeed, your suffering is bitter, my poor little creature! But lie still! We must endure it!” His face was calm, melancholy and glad as he said this.
Yet the more Esau gained in strength, the more he took heart and began to recover, the more agitated and resentful Tobias became. From that point on, he found it best no longer to fuss over the wound itself, ministering to the dog instead with pitying words and caresses. The dog’s recovery, however, was quite well advanced. He had a strong constitution and soon began to move about the room again. And one day, having lapped up a plate of milk and white bread, he jumped down from the sofa in full health and began to race through the room with his former abandon, happily yelping, clawing the bedspread, chasing a potato across the floor and performing a series of gleeful somersaults.
Over at the window, beside the flowerpot, stood Tobias, twirling a lock of severely slicked-back hair in one of those hands that protruded so long and gaunt from their frayed sleeves. His frame loomed dark and eerie against the gray backdrop of the neighboring house, his face was pale and twisted by hate, and he followed every movement with a resentful, desperate, jealous and malevolent glare. Suddenly, though, he came to. He approached Esau, stopped him and took him slowly in his arms.
“My poor little creature,” he started to say in a melancholy voice—but Esau, full of energy and in no mood to tolerate any further such treatment, took a playful bite at the hand attempting to pat him, wriggled from Tobias’s arms, leapt to the ground, sprang mischievously to one side, yelped, then ran off happily.
What followed was something so incomprehensible and dastardly that I refuse to recount it in detail. Inclined slightly forward, Tobias Mindernickel stood, his arms hanging at his sides, his lips pressed together and his eyeballs trembling eerily in their sockets. Suddenly, with a kind of crazed leap, he had taken hold of the animal. A long bright object gleamed in his hand and the dog crashed to the floor, a knife wound running from his right shoulder deep into his chest. He didn’t make a sound. He just fell on his side, bleeding and quivering . . .
A second later he was lying on the sofa, Tobias kneeling over him, pressing a handkerchief to the wound and stammering: “My poor little creature! My poor little creature! How sad this all is! How sad for both of us! Are you in pain? There, there, I know you are—how pitiful you look lying there! But I’ll, I’ll stay by your side! I’ll comfort you! I’ll take my best handkerchief . . .”
But Esau just lay there and groaned his last. His dim searching eyes were directed at his master, all innocence and accusation, unable to comprehend—then he straightened his legs out slightly and died.
Tobias, however, remained in his position, not moving. He had laid his face down upon Esau’s body and was crying bitterly.
This is “Einfried,” the sanitarium. The long main building with its straight white lines and side wing stands amidst the spacious garden, which is delightfully appointed with grottos, arbors and little tree-bark pavilions, while behind its slate-tiled roof, pine green mountains, massive and delicately fissured, tower toward the heavens.
Now as always the director of the institution is Dr. Leander. With his double-pointed black beard, which is as hard and frizzy as upholstery horsehair, with his thick eyeglasses that shine with reflected light, and with the aspect of a man whom science has made cold and hard, this quiet, thoughtful pessimist holds sway over the patients. Yes, in his curt, close-to-the-vest manner, he holds absolute sway over all these individuals who, too weak to set and follow their own rules, relinquish their fortunes in return for permission to abandon themselves to his strict regimen.
Miss von Osterloh, for her part, runs the household with tireless devotion. Lord, what a busy woman she is, hurrying up and down the stairs, from one end of the institution to the other. She lays down the law in the kitchen and the stock room, climbs around in the linen closets, issues orders to the servants and sets a house menu of economy, nutrition, taste and external elegance, managing everything with frantic conscientiousness. Concealed within this extreme efficiency is a standing reproach against men, against men everywhere, none of whom have succumbed to the idea of taking her for a wife. Nonetheless, in the two round, crimson spots on her cheeks, the inextinguishable hope still burns of someday becoming Mrs. Leander, the doctor’s wife . . .
Ozone and calm, calm air . . . For sufferers of lung ailments, Einfried is, whatever Dr. Leander’s jealous colleagues and rivals might say, to be warmly recommended. Not that consumptives are the only ones who check themselves in here. All sorts of patients—gentlemen, ladies, and even children—check in as well, for Dr. Leander has triumphs to report in the widest of areas. There are stomach cases here—Mrs. Spatz, for example, the magistrate’s wife, who also has an ear problem—heart patients, paralytics, rheumatics and people with various nervous conditions. There’s a diabetic general, constantly grumbling as he uses up his pension. There are a number of gentlemen with emaciated faces whose legs twitch in that spastic way from which nothing good ever comes. There’s a fifty-year-old lady—Mrs. Höhlenrauch, the pastor’s wife—who lost her wits after bringing nineteen children into the world and yet is still unable to find any peace. For a year now she has been driven by some absurd restlessness to wander on the arm of her private nurse, staring and silent, aimless and uncanny, throughout the entire household.
Now and then there is a death among the “serious cases,” who are confined to their beds and appear neither at meals nor in the sitting room, but no one, not even the patient in the next room, hears anything of it. In the still of night the waxlike guest is laid aside, and Einfried’s normal activities—the massages, shocks and shots, the showers, baths, exercise, steam cures and inhalations—continue on undisturbed in the various modern, technologically up-to-date treatment areas . . .
Yes, things are lively in these parts. The clinic is flourishing. The porter at the entrance to the side wing sounds the great bell every time new guests arrive, and with all the formalities both Dr. Leander and Miss von Osterloh accompany those departing to their carriages. And Einfried certainly has welcomed all types within its walls! There is even a writer, who has a name that sounds like a mineral or a precious stone, whiling away the days here . . .
Moreover, in addition to Dr. Leander, there is a second physician in residence for the minor cases and the terminally ill. But his name is Müller, and he’s of no concern.
At the beginning of January the wholesaler Klöterjahn—of the firm A. C. Klöterjahn & Co.—brought his wife to Einfried. The porter sounded the bell, and Miss von Osterloh greeted the guests after their long journey in the ground-floor reception room, which, like almost everything else in the grand old house, was decorated exclusively in wonderful authentic Empire style. Scarcely a second passed before Dr. Leander too appeared. He bowed, and an introductory conversation was held for the orientation of both parties.
Outside, the wintertime garden lay with its flowerbeds covered in matting, its grottos snowed under and its little shrines abandoned. Two house employees lugged in the new guests’ suitcases from their carriage, which, since there was no direct access to the house itself, had pulled up by the wrought-iron gate.
“Slowly, Gabriele, take care, my angel. Keep your lips closed,” Mr. Klöterjahn had said as he led his wife through the garden. No one who had witnessed them could have helped but silently join, heart atremble, in the phrase “take care,” which Mr. Klöterjahn had said, without any particular reason, in English.
The coachman who had brought the worthy couple from the station to the sanitarium, a rough, simple man of corresponding sensibilities, had practically bitten his tongue in helpless concern as the wholesaler helped his wife down from the carriage. Indeed, even the team of bay horses, their breath steaming in the frigid stillness of the air, seemingly strained to follow this harrowing procedure, their eyes rolled back in their heads, full of concern for such fragile grace and delicate charm.
The young woman had a throat condition, something in the trachea, as was unequivocally stated in the letter announcing their arrival that Mr. Klöterjahn had addressed from the Baltic coast to Einfried’s director. Thank God it wasn’t the lungs. Had it been the lungs, however, the new patient could hardly have looked fairer and more delicately refined, more sublime and ethereal than she did now, seated beside her burly husband in her whitewashed, straight-backed armchair, leaning back weak and tired as she followed the conversation.
Her beautiful pale hands, devoid of all jewelry except for a simple wedding ring, rested in her lap amid the folds of a heavy, dark cloth skirt, and she was wearing a silvery gray connecting bodice with a stiff standing collar and layers of arabesque patterns in raised velvet. These warm, heavy materials only rendered her indescribably delicate, charming, weary little head all the more moving, unearthly and delightful. Secured in a knot at the bottom of her neck, her light brown hair was brushed back flat, one single loose curl falling near her right temple, not far from the spot just over her clearly defined eyebrow where a strange little vein branched out, pale blue and sickly, across the otherwise unblemished perfection of her nearly transparent forehead. This little blue vein above the eye loomed unsettlingly over the entire fine oval of her face. It stood out all the more whenever the woman spoke, indeed whenever she as much as smiled, and gave her face the expression of exertion, even strain, which was the cause of considerable indefinite alarm. Nonetheless, she did talk and did smile. She talked openly and amicably, in a slightly husky voice, and she smiled both with her somewhat tired eyes, which now and then displayed a slight tendency to lose focus and whose interior corners lay in the shadows of her narrow nose, and with her beautiful wide mouth, which seemed to shine despite its pallor, probably on account of her lips being so clearly and distinctly outlined. Frequently she would clear her throat. On such occasions she would bring her handkerchief to her mouth, inspecting it immediately thereafter.
“Don’t clear your throat, Gabriele, darling,” Mr. Klöterjahn said. “You know that Dr. Hinzpeter back home expressly forbade it—it’s simply a matter of self-control, my angel. As the doctor said, it’s just the trachea,” he repeated. “When it began, I really thought it was the lungs. That was, God knows, quite a shock. But it’s not the lungs, no, the hell with that, we won’t have any of that, will we, Gabriele? Oh no!”
“Of course not,” said Dr. Leander, his glasses reflecting light in their faces.
Mr. Klöterjahn then ordered some coffee, coffee with buttered rolls. He had such an animated Northern accent—pronouncing the c in “coffee” all the way back in his throat, and saying “bottered” rolls—that everyone present felt suddenly hungry too.
He was given what he requested, then also given rooms for himself and his wife, and they settled in.
Moreover, Dr. Leander personally took over her treatment, not consulting Dr. Müller about the case.
The personability of the new patient caused an unusual stir at Einfried, and Mr. Klöterjahn, accustomed to such triumphs, accepted every compliment she was paid with self-satisfaction. The diabetic general momentarily ceased grumbling when he first caught glimpse of her, the gentlemen with the emaciated faces smiled and did their best to control their spastic legs whenever she came near, and Mrs. Spatz, the magistrate’s wife, immediately attached herself as the young woman’s mentor. She certainly made an impression, this woman who had taken Mr. Klöterjahn’s good name! A certain writer who had been staying at Einfried for a couple of weeks now—an unpleasant oddball whose name sounded like a precious stone—almost blushed when she first passed him in the hallway. He stopped cold and stood as though rooted to the spot long after she had gone.
Before two full days had passed, the entire clinic community was familiar with her story. She came from Bremen—a fact obvious from certain charmingly pronounced vowels when she spoke—and that was where, twenty-four months ago, she had given the wholesaler Klöterjahn her lifelong “I do.” She had followed him to his hometown, up there on the Baltic coast, and about ten months ago had, after an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous labor, borne him a child, blessing her spouse with a son and heir of astonishing vigor and magnificence. Since those terrible days, however, she had never regained her strength, assuming, that is, that she’d ever had any. She had barely left the maternity bed, when, extremely exhausted, extremely low on vital energy, she had coughed up a little blood. Oh, not much, an insignificant drop. It would have been better, though, if it had never happened, and even more worrisome was the recurrence of this disturbing little incident not long afterward. There were treatments for this sort of thing, of course, and Dr. Hinzpeter, the family physician, availed himself of them. Complete rest was ordered, bits of ice taken internally, morphine prescribed for the cough and the pulse calmed whenever possible. But her recovery just wouldn’t take, and while the child, Anton Klöterjahn, Jr., a jewel of a baby, took possession of and asserted his place in the world with energetic disregard, his young mother seemed to fade, gently and silently, like a dying ember. It was, as they knew, the trachea, a word which in Dr. Hinzpeter’s mouth had a surprisingly comforting, calming, almost uplifting effect on everyone’s spirits. But even though it wasn’t the lungs, the doctor had concluded that the influence of a milder climate and a stay in a clinic would be desirable in order to speed her recovery. The reputation of Einfried and its director had done the rest.
That was how things stood; Mr. Klöterjahn himself would tell the whole story to anyone who revealed an interest in it. He spoke in the loud, coarse, cheerful voice of a man whose digestion is as sound as his finances, with prominently flanging lips and the broad yet clipped accent typical of Northern coastal denizens. He blurted out a good portion of what he said, each syllable resembling a tiny discharge, and laughed at his own words as at a good joke.
He was of average height, broad-shouldered, strong and short-legged, possessing a full red face, aquamarine eyes shadowed by very light blond brows, wide nostrils and moist lips. He sported English whiskers, dressed in the English style and was delighted to discover at Einfried an English family—father, mother and three darling children together with their nurse—who were staying here simply and solely because they didn’t know where else to stay. With them he enjoyed an English breakfast every morning. Above all else he loved food and drink, in both fine quality and great quantity. Indeed he proved to be a genuine connoisseur of kitchen and wine cellar, entertaining the clinic society with the most fascinating stories about dinners back home among his circle, replete with descriptions of certain select, hereabouts unknown dishes. Engaged in such descriptions, his eyes would squint congenially and his voice would take on a gummy nasal quality, accompanied by a slight smacking in the back of the throat. He also demonstrated his lack of aversion to other worldly pleasures: one night a patient at Einfried, a writer by trade, witnessed him in the hall jesting most freely with a chambermaid—a minor, comic incident that the writer in question greeted with a ridiculously disgusted expression.
As for Mr. Klöterjahn’s wife, it was plain to see that she was devoted to him with all her heart. She followed his every word and gesture with a smile, displaying none of the patronizing indulgence many invalids show toward the healthy, but rather benevolently enjoying and sharing the excitement of others, as good-natured patients do when confronted with confident outbursts of vitality from those who have no complaints from life.
Mr. Klöterjahn did not stay long at Einfried. He had escorted his wife there, but after a week had passed, after he saw that she was well housed and in good hands, his time was up. Equally important duties—his bouncing baby boy, his likewise booming business—called him back home, obliging him to depart. He left his wife behind to enjoy the best of care.
Spinell was the name of that writer who had for some weeks now been living at Einfried—Detlev Spinell—and his appearance was rather remarkable.
Picture a dark-complected man in his early thirties, of stately frame, whose hair has begun to go noticeably gray at the temples and whose round, white, somewhat bloated face is without a trace of beard. It wasn’t just clean-shaven—one would have been able to see some stubble. On the contrary, it was soft, bleary and boyish, nourishing only the occasional patch of down. And that looked very odd. The expression in his glassy, doe-brown eyes was mild, his nose squat and a bit too fleshy. What’s more, this Mr. Spinell had an arched Roman-looking upper lip that was perished like leather, big decaying teeth and feet of unusual dimensions. One of the gentlemen with the spastic legs, a cynical joker, had dubbed him, behind his back, the “Rotten Infant,” but that was spiteful and less than accurate.—He went around in fine, stylish clothes, always with a long black jacket and a colorful spotted vest.
He was unsociable, sharing nothing of himself with a single soul. Only occasionally a congenial, affable, even exuberant mood could steal over him: this happened invariably when Mr. Spinell was in an aesthetic frame of mind, when the sight of something beautiful—the harmony of two colors, an exquisitely sculpted vase or the sunset shining over the mountains—inspired him. His amazement on such occasions often turned vocal. “How beautiful,” he’d say, tilting his head to one side, raising his shoulders, spreading his fingers and crinkling his nose and lips. “Lord, just look how beautiful!” He was capable of blindly hugging the most dignified personages, ladies as well as gentlemen, when he got carried away in such moments . . .
On the table in his room, permanently on display for anyone caring to visit, was the book he had written. It was a novel of moderate length, complete with an utterly inscrutable cover illustration. It was printed on a kind of paper like that used to filter coffee, in a typeface whose every letter looked like a Gothic cathedral. Miss von Osterloh had looked through it once during an idle fifteen minutes and pronounced it “quite sophisticated,” which verdict was her euphemism for “inhumanly boring.” It was set in chic salons and luxurious boudoirs crammed with precious objects—Gobelin tapestries, ancient furniture, exquisite china, priceless materials and objets d’art of every sort. Loving care had been lavished on the descriptions of these things, and upon reading them you could picture Mr. Spinell crinkling his nose and exclaiming “How beautiful! Lord, just look how beautiful!” . . . Incidentally, it was remarkable that he hadn’t published any other books besides this one since he appeared to be an avid writer. He spent the better part of every day writing away in his room and had an extraordinary number of letters posted, one or two almost every day—the absurd and amusing fact being that he rarely received any himself . . .
Mr. Spinell was seated across from Mr. Klöterjahn’s wife at dinner. During the first meal the couple attended, he arrived a bit late in the large dining room, which was located on the ground floor of the side wing. He murmured a soft greeting to all present and took his seat, whereupon Dr. Leander, without much ceremony, introduced him to the newly arrived guests. He bowed, then began to eat, apparently somewhat self-conscious, for the movements of the large, well-formed white hands that poked out from his extremely tight sleeves while maneuvering knife and fork were rather affected. Later on he relaxed and, by turns, calmly observed Mr. Klöterjahn and his wife. Mr. Klöterjahn addressed him during the course of the meal with several questions and remarks concerning the layout and climate at Einfried, and his wife interspersed two or three words in her charming way, which Mr. Spinell returned politely. His voice was mild and quite pleasant, although he had a rather cumbersome, slurping manner of speech, as if his teeth were getting in the way of his tongue.
After dinner, the party having adjourned to the sitting room and Dr. Leander having specially inquired as to whether the new guests had enjoyed their meal, Mr. Klöterjahn’s wife asked about her opposite at table.
“What was the gentleman’s name?” she asked . . . “Spinelli? I couldn’t make it out.”
“Spinell . . . not Spinelli, madam. He’s not Italian, not at all. Born in Lemberg, as far as I know . . .”
“A writer you say? Is that right?” Mr. Klöterjahn asked; his hands were thrust in the pockets of his comfortable English trousers, and he turned his ear toward the doctor and opened his mouth, as some people do, when listening intently.
“Well, I don’t know—he writes . . .” Dr. Leander answered. “He has, I believe, published a book, some kind of novel, but I don’t really know.”
This repeated “I don’t know” was meant to indicate that Dr. Leander didn’t think much of the writer and disclaimed any responsibility for him.
“But that’s very interesting!” Mr. Klöterjahn’s wife said. She had never met a writer face to face.
“Oh, indeed,” Dr. Leander responded amiably. “He supposedly enjoys something of a reputation . . .” After that nothing more was said about the writer.
A bit later, when the new guests had retired and Dr. Leander too was ready to leave the sitting room, Mr. Spinell stopped him and made inquiries of his own.
“What was the name of that couple?” he asked . . . “Of course I couldn’t understand a word.”
“Klöterjahn,” Dr. Leander said, trying to leave.
“What is the man’s name?”
“Their name is Klöterjahn!” said Dr. Leander, brushing past him. — He didn’t think very much at all of the writer.
Have we gotten to the point when Mr. Klöterjahn returned home? Yes, indeed, he was back on the Baltic coast with his business and his baby, that selfish and vigorous little creature who had cost his mother much suffering and a minor tracheal condition. She, the young wife, however, stayed behind at Einfried, and Mrs. Spatz immediately attached herself as her mentor. That didn’t prevent Mrs. Klöterjahn, however, from enjoying good relations with the other patients at the clinic. This was the case, for example, with Mr. Spinell, who, right from the start and to everyone’s amazement (since he had shared nothing of himself with a single soul), proved extraordinarily helpful and devoted, and with whom she, for her part, during the few free hours she had in her strict daily regimen, didn’t object to chatting.
He would approach her with extreme delicacy, like a supplicant, never speaking except in carefully hushed tones, so that the magistrate’s wife, who had an ear condition, could rarely make out anything of what he said. He would tiptoe on his immense feet over to the chair where Mr. Klöterjahn’s wife leaned back, fragile and smiling. There he would stand at two steps’ remove, one leg behind the other, bent over at the waist, talking in his rather cumbersome, slurping manner, speaking softly but urgently, prepared at any moment to withdraw and disappear should any sign of fatigue or annoyance cross her face. But he didn’t annoy her at all; she encouraged him to sit with her and the magistrate’s wife. She would ask him some question or other, then listen with an inquisitive smile, for he often gave such amusing and strange answers as she had never before heard.
“Why exactly are you at Einfried?” she asked. “What treatments do you need, Mr. Spinell?”
“Treatment? . . .Oh, I’m getting a little electricity. It’s not worth mentioning, though. I’ll tell you, madam, why I’m really here—because of the decor.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Klöterjahn’s wife, bracing her chin in her hand and turning toward him with the sort of exaggerated enthusiasm people show toward children who have something to tell.
“Yes, madam. Einfried is pure Empire. It used to be an estate, a royal summer residence, I’m told. This side wing is certainly a later addition, but the main building is authentic. There are times when I simply cannot do without Empire, when I absolutely must have it, if I’m to feel even moderately well. Clearly one feels one way amidst furniture that is sinfully soft and comfortable, altogether differently amidst the austere lines of these tables, chairs and draperies . . . This brightness and severity, this cold, blunt simplicity and reserved exactitude—they impart composure, madam, and dignity. The result is an inner cleansing and convalescence, a moral elevation. Of that I’m absolutely sure . . .”
“Yes, it’s strange how that is,” she said. “I think I can understand what you mean, if I try.”