Read Klingsor's Last Summer Online

Authors: Hermann Hesse

Klingsor's Last Summer (5 page)

Again I talked rapidly. Yes, of course it was true, and my friend Weber had gone into the store, I had only tagged along with him. The money was mainly Weber's, only a little of it came from me.

“Take your cap,” my father said. “We'll go over to Haager's together. He'll certainly remember selling you the figs.”

I tried to smile. Now the cold had penetrated as far as my heart and stomach. I led the way, picking up my blue cap in the hall. Father opened the glass door. He too had taken his hat.

“Just a moment,” I said. “I have to go.”

He nodded. I went to the bathroom, locked the door, and was alone, safe for another moment. If only I could die now!

I stayed a minute, stayed two. It was no use. You didn't die. You had to face everything. I unlocked the door and we descended the stairs together.

As we were going out the front door, a happy thought struck me. I said quickly: “But today is Sunday and Haager's isn't open.”

That hope lasted just two seconds. My father said calmly: “Then we'll go to his house. Come.”

We walked. I straightened my cap, thrust one hand into my pocket, and tried to walk along beside him as though nothing in particular were happening. Although I knew that everybody could see I was a criminal who had just been caught, I tried by a thousand devices to conceal the fact. I struggled to breathe easily and innocently. Nobody needed to see how my whole chest was constricted. I tried to put on a candid expression, to pretend naturalness and security. I pulled up one of my stockings, though it did not need pulling, and smiled, knowing that this smile looked frightfully stupid and forced. The devil was inside me, in my throat and innards, and he was choking me.

We passed the restaurant, passed the blacksmith, passed the hansom-cab stand, passed the railroad bridge. This was where I had fought with Weber last night. Didn't the cut above my eye still hurt? Oh God! Oh God!

Docilely, I walked on, keeping my composure by terrible efforts. We started down Main Street. How amiable and harmless this street had seemed only yesterday. Must not think. On, on!

We were very close to Haager's house. During those few minutes I had several hundred times lived through in advance the scene that awaited me. Now we were there. Now it was coming.

But it was impossible to endure. I stood still.

“Well? What's the matter?” Father asked.

“I'm not going in,” I muttered.

He looked down at me. He had known from the start, of course. Why had he pretended all this and gone to so much trouble. There was no point to it.

“Then you didn't buy the figs at Haager's?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“I see,” he said with seeming calm. “Then we might as well go back home.”

He behaved decently. He spared me on the street, in front of people. There were many people out walking; someone greeted my father every minute. What playacting! What stupid, senseless torment! I could not be grateful to him for sparing me.

He knew everything, of course! And he let me dance, let me perform my useless capers the way you let a captive mouse dance in its wire trap before you drown it. If only he had hit me over the head with his cane right at the start, without asking me any questions at all! I would have preferred that to the calm and righteousness with which he caught me in my idiotic net of lies and slowly strangled me. Maybe it was better to have a coarse father than such a refined and just one. When the kind of father I read about in stories gave his children a terrible beating in rage or drunkenness, then the father was in the wrong, and although the blows hurt, the child could shrug his shoulders inwardly and despise him. With my father, that wouldn't do. He was too refined, too good, never in the wrong. He always made me feel small and wretched.

With clenched teeth I preceded him into the house and returned to my room. He was still quiet and cool, or rather pretending to be so, for in reality he was very angry, as I clearly felt. Now he began to talk in his usual way.

“I would like to know what the purpose of this farce is? Can't you tell me that? I knew at once that your whole pretty story was a lie. So why were you trying to make a fool of me? You don't seriously think me so stupid as to believe you?”

I continued to clench my teeth. I swallowed. If only he would stop. As if I myself had any idea why I had told him the story! As if I myself had any idea why I could not confess my crime and ask for forgiveness. As if I even had any idea why I had stolen those wretched figs. Had I wanted to? Had I done it on reflection and with reasons, knowing what I was doing? Wasn't I sorry I had done it? Wasn't I suffering because of it more than he?

He waited, his face nervous, tense with the effort of patience. For just a moment, in my unconscious, I fully understood the situation, but I could not have put it into words as I can today. It was this: I had stolen because I had gone into Father's room in need of comfort and because to my disappointment I had found it empty. I had not wanted to steal. When I found Father not there I had only wanted to spy, to poke among his things, to penetrate his secrets, to find out something about him. That was it. Then the figs lay there and I stole them. And I immediately regretted the act and all day yesterday I had suffered torment and despair, had wanted to die, had condemned myself, had conceived new, good resolutions. But today—today everything was different. I had tasted the repentance and all the rest to the full; I was less emotional now and felt inexplicable but enormous resistances toward my father and toward everything he expected and demanded of me.

If I had been able to tell him that, he would have understood me. But even children, though they are far ahead of adults in cleverness, are perplexed and alone when they confront fate.

Stiff with defiance and determined anguish, I kept silent, let him talk, and watched with pain and a strange gloating delight the way everything went wrong and turned worse and worse, how he suffered and was disappointed, how he appealed in vain to all my better instincts.

When he asked, “Did you steal the figs?” I could only nod. I could not bring myself to do more than nod feebly when he wanted to know whether I was sorry. How could this big, intelligent man ask such foolish questions! As if I would not have been sorry! As if he could not see how the whole affair hurt me, how it twisted my heart. As if at this point I could have taken any pleasure in my act and in those wretched figs!

Perhaps for the first time in my life I felt, almost to the verge of understanding and consciousness, how utterly two well-intentioned human beings can torment each other, and how in such a case all talk, all attempts at wisdom, all reason merely adds another dose of poison, creates new tortures, new wounds, new errors. How was that possible? But it was possible, it was happening. It was absurd, it was crazy, it was ridiculous and desperate—but it was so.

Enough of this story. It ended with my being locked up in the attic all Sunday afternoon. This harsh punishment lost a part of its terrors for reasons that were my secret. For in that dark, unused attic there was a box, covered with dust, half full of old books, some of which were by no means intended for children. I made light for reading by pushing aside one of the roof tiles.

Shortly before I went to bed that sad Sunday night my father cajoled me into talking with him briefly, and that made peace between us. When I lay in bed I had the certainty that he had completely forgiven me—more completely than I had forgiven him.

Klein and Wagner

1

I
N THE EXPRESS TRAIN
, after the precipitate actions and excitements of his flight and the border crossing, after the whirl of tensions and dangers, and still profoundly astonished that all had gone well, Friedrich Klein collapsed inwardly. Now that there was no longer any reason for haste the train seemed to him to be moving southward with a strange impetuousness, carrying its few passengers speedily past lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and other wonders of nature, through numbing tunnels and over gently swaying bridges. It was all foreign, beautiful, and rather meaningless, pictures from schoolbooks and postcards, landscapes remembered as seen before but really of no personal concern. So now he was in a foreign land where he would henceforth belong. There was no returning home. The money question had been settled; he had it with him, all in large bills safely stowed away in his breast pocket.

There was, in the back of his mind, the pleasant and reassuring thought that now nothing more could happen to him, that he was safely across the border and for the present protected by his false passport. He brought this thought repeatedly to the forefront of consciousness, craving to warm and satisfy himself with it; but this pretty thought was now like a dead bird that a child tries to revive by blowing on its wings. It was not alive, did not open its eye, fell like lead from the hand, gave no pleasure, had no glitter. It was strange, as he had noticed frequently during these past days, that he was far from being able to think what he pleased. He had no authority over his thoughts. They ran along as they wished, and do what he might they dwelt on ideas that tormented him. It was as if his brain were a kaleidoscope in which the shifting images were directed by another's hand. Perhaps this was due only to his long spell of insomnia and agitation; his nerves had been bad for a considerable time. At any rate it was unpleasant, and if his mind did not manage to find its way soon to something like calm and joyousness, he would be desperate.

Friedrich Klein felt for the revolver in his coat pocket. That revolver was another of those items belonging to his new equipment, the new part he was playing, the mask he had donned. Really, how disgusting and bothersome it was to be dragging such stuff with him and to have to carry, down into his thin, poisoned sleep, all the rest: a crime, forged papers, money secretly sewed into his clothes, the revolver, the alias. It all had the savor of detective stories, of crude romanticism, and none of it corresponded to the image of Klein, the good fellow. It was disgusting and bothersome, and there was no sense of relief and liberation about it, such as he had hoped for.

Good Lord, why had he taken all this upon himself—he, a man of nearly forty, generally known as a hardworking civil servant and a quiet, harmless citizen with scholarly leanings, the father of adorable children? Why? He felt that something must have driven him to it, a compulsion sufficiently strong to lead a man like himself to attempt the impossible, and only when he knew, when he understood the nature of this compulsion and obsession, when he had restored order inside himself, would anything like peace of mind be possible.

With a violent effort he sat upright, pressed his temples with his thumbs, and made an effort to think. He was not very successful. His head was like glass, and hollowed out by agitation, fatigue, and lack of sleep. But there was no help for it, he must reflect. He must seek, and must find; he had to know that there was once again a center inside himself. He had to understand himself at least to some degree. Otherwise life was no longer endurable.

Painfully, he tried to put together the memories of these past days. It was like picking up slivers of porcelain with a pincers in order to glue together a broken snuffbox. There were nothing but fragments; none had any connection with any of the others; none indicated the structure and color of the whole. What memories! He saw a small blue case from which he was taking, with trembling hand, his superior's official seal. He saw the old man at the teller's window cashing his check in brown and blue banknotes. He saw a telephone booth in which, while he spoke, he braced his left hand against the wall in order to keep himself from falling. Or rather, he did not really see himself. He saw a stranger doing all these things, a man whose name was Klein and who was not himself. He saw this man burning letters, writing letters. He saw him eating in a restaurant. He saw him—but no, that was not a stranger, that was he, that was Friedrich Klein himself!—stooped at night over the bed of a sleeping child. No, that had been himself! How that hurt, even now in memory. How it hurt to see the sleeping child's face and to hear his breathing and to know: never again would he see these dear eyes opening, never see this little mouth laughing and eating, never again be kissed by it. How that hurt! Why was this man Klein inflicting such hurts upon himself?

It was essential to pick up the little shards. The train stopped. A large, unfamiliar station lay outside the window. Doors banged, suitcases swayed past the windows of the car. Blue and yellow signs proclaimed loudly: Hotel Milano, Hotel Continental! Must he pay attention to these things? Were they important? Was there any danger? He closed his eyes and for a minute sank into numbness, then started up again, rubbed his eyes until he could open them wide, played alert. Where was he? The station was still there. Stop—what is my name? For the thousandth time he tested himself. All right: What is my name? Klein. No, devil take it. Away with Klein. Klein no longer existed. He groped in his breast pocket, where he kept his passport.

How exhausting all this was. In fact, if people only knew how madly tiresome it is to be a criminal…! He clenched his hands with the effort. None of this concerned him at. all, Hotel Milano, station, porters—he could just as well forget about all this. There was something else far more important. What was it?

Half dozing, with the train moving again, he returned to his thoughts. For it was terribly important; what was at stake was whether life was going to be endurable any longer. Or—wasn't it simpler to put an end to the whole wearisome nonsense? Didn't he have poison with him? The opium? Oh no, now he remembered, he had not been able to obtain the poison, of course. But he had the revolver. That was right. Very good. Fine.

He said “very good” and “fine” aloud under his breath, and added several words more. Suddenly he heard himself talking to himself, started, looked in the windowpane and saw his distorted face reflected, a stranger's, a sad, crazy mask of a face. Good Lord, he cried into his own depths, good Lord! What should he do? What was the point of living? He could smash his forehead into this pale mask, throw himself into this stupid, dirt-smeared pane, cut his throat with the glass, fall headfirst on to the tracks, be rolled over by the droning, thundering wheels of all the cars, have everything wound up together around the wheels, guts and brains, bones and heart, eyes too—crushed along the tracks, reduced to nothing, erased. This was the only thing that could still be wished for, that still had meaning.

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