Read Klingsor's Last Summer Online

Authors: Hermann Hesse

Klingsor's Last Summer (6 page)

While he despairingly stared at his mirror image, and bumped his nose against the glass, he fell asleep again. Perhaps for seconds, perhaps for hours. His head swayed back and forth, but he did not open his eyes.

He awoke from a dream. The tail end of it remained in his memory. He was sitting, he had dreamed, in the front seat of an automobile that was moving rapidly and rather recklessly through a city, up and down hills. Beside him sat someone who was driving. In the dream he gave the driver a punch in the stomach, snatched the wheel from his hands, and now drove himself, drove wildly and terrifyingly over hill and dale, barely skirting horses and shop windows, grazing trees so closely that sparks flashed in his eyes.

He awoke from this dream. His head felt clearer. He smiled at the dream images. That punch in the stomach was good; he could still feel the glee of it. Now he began reconstructing the dream and thinking it over. How the car had whistled past the trees. Perhaps that came from the train? But driving himself had been, in spite of all the danger, a pleasure, a joy, a relief! Yes, it was better to drive yourself even if it meant peril than always to be driven and directed by others.

But in the dream, who was it he had hit? Who was the driver; who had been sitting beside him at the wheel of an automobile? He could not remember any face or shape, merely the feeling of someone else, a vague, obscure mood.… Who could it have been? Someone he respected, whom he allowed to have power over his life, whom he bowed before yet secretly hated, and whom ultimately he punched in the stomach. Perhaps his father? Or one of his superiors? Or—or was it after all…?

Klein opened his eyes wide. He had found one end of the lost thread. Now everything came back to him. The dream was forgotten. There were more important things. Now he knew! Now he was beginning to know, to guess, to sense, why he was sitting in this train, why his name was no longer Klein, why he had embezzled money and forged papers. At last, at last!

Yes, that was it. There was no longer any point concealing it from himself. It had all been done because of his wife, solely because of his wife. How good that he knew that at last.

From the high tower of this awareness he now suddenly thought he could see over vast stretches of his life that for a long time had seemed nothing but small, disconnected segments. He looked back upon a great long line, upon his whole marriage, and the distance traversed seemed to him a weary, dreary road on which a man toils alone through the dust bearing heavy burdens on his back. Somewhere far back, invisible now beyond the dust, he knew that the bright hills and rustling green treetops of youth had vanished. Yes, he had once been young, and no commonplace youth; he had dreamed great dreams, had asked much of life and of himself. But since then there had been nothing but dust and burdens, the long road, heat and weary legs, and a slumberous, aging nostalgia lurking in his parching heart. That had been his life. That had been his life.

He looked out through the window and gave a start of amazement. The scenery was unfamiliar. Suddenly he realized that he was in the southland. Astonished, he straightened up and leaned forward. Once again a veil dropped away and the puzzle of his destiny became a little clearer to him. He was in the south! He saw grapevines on green terraces, golden-brown walls half in ruins, as in old engravings, and rosy blossoming trees. A small station fled past, with an Italian name, something with

Now Klein could read a part of the signpost of his destiny. He was leaving behind his marriage, his job, everything which had hitherto been life and homeland to him. And he was heading south. Only now did he realize why, in the midst of the daze and harassment of his flight, he had chosen as his destination that city with the Italian name. He had picked it out of a hotel list, seemingly at random; he might just as well have said Amsterdam, Zurich, or Malmö. But now it was no longer chance. He was in the south; he had crossed the Alps. And in doing this he had fulfilled the most glowing dream of his youth, that youth whose relics had vanished along the dreary road of a meaningless life. An unknown power had arranged matters so that the two most ardent desires of his life would be fulfilled: the long-forgotten yearning for the south, and the secret, never clearly formulated craving for escape and liberty from the serfdom and dust of his marriage. That quarrel with his superior, that wonderful chance to embezzle the money—all that, which had seemed so important to him, now shrank to a series of petty accidents. These were not what had guided him. Those two great desires in his soul had proved triumphant; the rest had been nothing but ways and means.

Faced with this new insight, Klein was startled. He felt like a child who has played with matches and set fire to a house. Now it was burning. Good Lord! And what was he getting out of it? Suppose he rode all the way to Sicily or Constantinople—would that make him twenty years younger?

Meanwhile the train rode on, and village after village came toward him, each of a foreign beauty, a gay picture book containing all the pretty features people expected of the south and knew from postcards: beautifully arched bridges over streams, brown cliffs, stone walls overgrown by small ferns, tall, slender campaniles, brightly painted church fronts, roofed marketplaces, lovely arches, rose-colored houses and stout arcades painted the coolest blue, chestnut trees and here and there black cypresses, clambering goats, and on the lawn in front of a villa the first squat palms. Everything was remarkable and rather improbable, but all together it was most charming and promised something like consolation. This southland existed; it was no fable. The bridges and cypresses were youthful dreams realized. The houses and palm trees said: you are no longer in the old routine; something purely new is beginning. The air and the sunshine seemed spiced and stronger, breathing easier, life more possible, the revolver more dispensable, being erased upon the rails less urgent. In spite of everything, an effort seemed possible. Perhaps life could be endured.

Again exhaustion overcame him. This time he yielded more easily and slept until evening, when the resonant name of the city he had picked from the hotel list awakened him. Hastily, he left the train.

A man with “Hotel Milano” blazoned on his cap addressed him in German. He reserved a room and took the address. Dazed with sleep, he reeled out of the glass-enclosed station into the soft evening.

“This is rather the way I imagined Honolulu,” he thought. A fantastically charged landscape, with night falling, swayed toward him, strange and incomprehensible. The hill dropped away steeply in front of him; far below were the staggered houses of the city. He looked vertically down into illuminated squares. A crescent of steep sugarloaf hills plunged down into a lake whose dark waters reflected the innumerable quayside lights. A cog railway train dropped like a basket down the shaft to the town, looking half dangerous, half toylike. On some of the high hillsides illuminated windows glowed in whimsical rows all the way to the peak, patterned in ladder steps and constellations. From the town loomed the roofs of large hotels; amid them were dusky gardens. A warm, summery evening breeze, full of dust and scents, blew pleasantly beneath the brilliant street lights. From the tangle of lights about the dark lake, band music floated upward, the rhythm firm, the sound preposterous.

Whether this was Honolulu, Mexico, or Italy really should not matter to him. It was a strange land; it was a new world and new air; and although it confused him and produced a secret anxiety, yet it bore the savor of intoxication and forgetfulness and new, untried emotions.

A street seemed to lead out into open country. He strolled along it, past sheds and empty trucks, then past small suburban houses where loud voices were shouting in Italian and a mandolin was clinking in the yard of a tavern. In the last house along the street a girl's voice rang out; the sweetness of it tugged at his heart. To his delight he was able to understand many of the words, and he noted the refrain:

Mamma non vuole, papà ne meno,

Come faremo a fare l'amor?

It was as if it had come from the dreams of his youth. Utterly absorbed, he walked on down the street, ecstatically merging with the warm night loud with the chirp of crickets. He came to a vineyard and stopped, enchanted: fireworks, a multitude of miniature glowing greenish sparks filled the air and the tall fragrant grass. A thousand shooting stars reeled in a drunken dance. It was a swarm of fireflies slowly and noiselessly flitting through the warmly quivering night. The summery air and earth seemed to be exulting fantastically in luminescent figures and a thousand tiny wheeling constellations.

For a long time the foreigner stood yielding to the enchantment, forgetful of the painful story of his journey and the painful story of his life. Did any reality still exist? Were there such things as businesses and police? Magistrates and market reports? Was there a railroad station ten minutes' walk from this spot?

Slowly the fugitive, who had traveled out of his life and into a fairy tale, turned back toward the city. Street lamps came to glowing life. People called out to him words he did not understand. Huge, unfamiliar trees stood hung with blossom. A stone church thrust its escarpment out over an abyss. Bright streets pierced by staircases flowed swiftly as mountain brooks down into the town.

Klein found his hotel. And as he entered the over-bright, banal lobby and stairwell, his intoxication vanished and his anxious timidity returned, his curse and his mark of Cain. Uneasily, he skulked past the sharp, appraising eyes of the concierge, the waiters, the elevator boy, and the other hotel guests and made his way into the dreariest corner of a restaurant. In a faint voice he asked for the menu, and as if he were still poor and had to be thrifty, he took careful stock of the prices of all the dishes, ordered something cheap, tried the artificial cheer of a half bottle of Bordeaux from which he had no pleasure, and was grateful when he was at last lying behind a locked door in his small, shabby room. Soon he fell asleep, slept deep and greedily, but only for two or three hours. It was still the middle of the night when he awoke again.

Emerging from the abysses of the unconscious, he stared into the hostile blackness, not knowing where he was, guiltily oppressed by the feeling of having forgotten and neglected something important. Groping confusedly, he felt for a switch and turned on the light. The small room burst into glaring light, alien, dreary, and meaningless. Where was he? The plush chairs stared malignantly. Everything had a cold and challenging look. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and read in his face what he had forgotten. Yes, he knew. He had formerly not had this face, these eyes, these wrinkles, this flesh. It was a new face; he had already noticed that once before, in the mirror of a windowpane at some point in the harried drama of these insane days. It was not his good, quiet, rather long-suffering Friedrich Klein face. It was the face of a marked man, stamped by destiny with new symbols, both older and younger than the former face, like a mask and yet permeated by a strange inner glow. No one loved such a face.

Here he sat in a hotel room in the southland, with his marked face. At home the children he had abandoned were sleeping. He would never again see them sleeping, never see them just awakening, never again hear their voices. Never again would he drink from the glass of water on that night table beside the floor lamp, the table on which lay the evening newspaper and a book, and on the wall above the head of the bed the pictures of his parents, and everything, everything. Instead, here he was in a foreign hotel staring into the mirror, into the sad and anxious face of Klein the criminal, and the plush furniture stared back, cold and nasty, and everything was different, nothing was right any more. If his father had lived to see this!…

Never since his youth had Klein been left so starkly and so solitarily to his emotions. Never had he been exposed so utterly to alien surroundings, been so naked beneath the sharp, inexorable sunlight of fate. He had always been busy with something, with something other than himself; he had always had things to do and to be worried about, money, promotion, the peace of the household, school matters, and children's illnesses. The imposing, sacred duties of the citizen, the husband, the father had always loomed over him. He had lived in their shade and shelter, made sacrifices to them, derived the justification and meaning of his life from them. Now he was suddenly suspended naked in space, confronting sun and moon alone, and he felt that the air was icy and rarefied.

And the strange part of it was that no earthquake had thrust him into this fearful and dangerous predicament, no god or devil, but he himself, he alone! His own act had sent him hurtling here, had set him down in the midst of this alien infinity. Everything had arisen within himself; his destiny had grown to maturity in his own heart. Out of it had come crime and rebellion, the flouting of sacred obligations, the leap into space, hatred for his wife, flight, loneliness, and perhaps suicide. Others no doubt had experienced loss and upheaval through fire and warfare, through accidents and the ill will of others. But he, Klein the criminal, could not ascribe anything to outside agencies, could not clear himself, could not make others responsible—or perhaps at most his wife. Yes, she certainly must be cited, she made responsible; he could point to her if ever an accounting were demanded of him.

A great rage flared up within him, and suddenly he remembered something, burning and deadly, a clump of emotions and experiences. It reminded him of the dream of the automobile and of the punch in the stomach he had given his enemy.

What he remembered now was a feeling or a fantasy, a strange and morbid psychological state, a temptation, an insane craving, or whatever was the proper name for it. It was the conception or vision of a terrible murder he was committing, killing his wife, his children, and himself. Several times, he now recalled, while the mirror continued to show him his branded, distraught criminal's face, several times he had been forced to imagine this fourfold murder, or rather he had desperately fended off this wild and horrible vision, as it had then seemed to him. At those very times the thoughts, dreams, and torments had begun within him which, he now believed, had led by and by to the embezzlement and his flight. Perhaps—it was possible—not just the growing and ultimately intense dislike for his wife and his marital life had driven him from home, but even more the fear that one day he might after all commit this far more dreadful crime: might kill them all, slaughter them, and see them lying in their blood. And there was more to it: this fantasy too had its background. It had come to him now and then like a slight dizzy spell that makes you think you must let go and drop to the floor. But the vision, the image of the murders in his mind, sprang from a particular source. Incredible that he was only realizing that now.

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