Read Klingsor's Last Summer Online

Authors: Hermann Hesse

Klingsor's Last Summer (9 page)

He felt somewhat wearied as after intense intellectual effort, but he was not unpleasantly and futilely exhausted. Rather, this fatigue was meaningful, like that which follows satisfying work. I suppose I slept an hour or more, he thought, and went over to the mirror to brush his hair. He felt strangely easy and good, and in the mirror he saw himself smiling. His pale, overstrained face, which for so long he had seen distorted and rigid and wild, wore a gentle, amiable, good smile. Astonished, he shook his head and smiled at himself.

He went downstairs. At a few tables in the restaurant some people were already at their supper. Hadn't he just eaten? No matter, in any case he felt intensely eager to do so again, at once. Addressing lively queries to the waiter, he ordered a good meal.

“Would you care to ride to Castiglione this evening, sir?” the waiter asked as he served. “There is a hotel motorboat leaving.”

Klein shook his head. No, such outings were not for him. Castiglione? He had already heard some talk about the place. It was an amusement area with a casino, a kind of small Monte Carlo. Good Lord, what would he do there?

While the coffee was being served, he took a small white rose from the bouquet in the crystal vase on the table and tucked it into his lapel. From the next table the smoke of a newly lit cigar drifted past him. Right, he wanted a good cigar too.

Indecisively, he walked back and forth in front of the hotel for a while. He felt a strong desire to return to that rural area where he had heard the Italian girl singing last night and, watching the magical sparkling dance of the fireflies, had for the first time sensed the sweet reality of the south. But he was also drawn to the park, to the still water under leafy shade, to the strange trees, and if the woman with the yellow hair had met him again her cold glance would not irritate or shame him now. Altogether—how unimaginably long a time had passed since yesterday! How much at home he already felt in this southland. How much he had experienced, thought, learned.

He strolled a block away from the hotel, wrapped in a good, gentle, summer evening breeze. Moths circled passionately around the street lamps as they winked on. Hard-working people belatedly closed their shops and fastened the shutters in front of them. Many children were still playing about, running among the small tables of the sidewalk cafés where coffee and lemonade were being drunk. An image of the Virgin in a wall niche smiled in the glow of burning candles. The benches by the lake were also still animated; people were laughing, quarreling, singing, and here and there on the water a boat still bobbed, with shirtsleeved rowers and girls in white blouses.

Klein easily found the way back to the park, but the high gate was closed. Behind the tall iron bars stood the alien, silent darkness of the trees, already full of night and sleep. He looked in for a long time. Then he smiled, and only now did he become conscious of the secret wish that had impelled him to seek out this place outside the locked iron gate. Well, it did not matter; he could manage without the park, too.

On a bench by the lake he sat peaceably, watching people pass. In the bright light from the street lamp he unfolded an Italian newspaper and tried to read it. He did not understand everything, but each sentence he was able to translate gave him pleasure. It was a while before he began reaching beyond the grammar and paying attention to the sense. Then he found, with a certain astonishment, that the article was a violent, embittered denunciation of his people and his native country. How odd, he thought, all this is still going on. The Italians were writing about his nation just as his home newspapers had always done about Italy, exactly as censorious, exactly as indignant, exactly as convinced of the rightness of their own nation and the wrongness of the foreigners. It was also strange that this newspaper with its hatred and its cruel opinions did not manage to excite him. Or did it, in some measure? No, what was the point of indignation? All that was the manner and the language of a world to which he no longer belonged. It might be the better world, the right world—but it was no longer his.

He left the newspaper on the bench and walked on. Above profusely flowering rose bushes in a garden, a hundred colored lights shone. People were entering; he joined them. A ticket seller, attendants, a wall with posters. In the middle of the garden was a hall without walls, merely a large canvas roof about which the innumerable colored lights were draped. Many half-occupied garden tables filled the airy hall. In the background, glistening silver, green, and pink, too bright under the many lights, was a small raised stage. Below the platform sat musicians, a small orchestra. Lightly soaring, the flute breathed out into the many-hued warm night, the oboe swelled full-throatedly, the cello sang darkly, warmly, and bashfully. On the stage an old man was singing comic songs; forced laughter issued from his painted mouth; the rush of light was reflected from his worried baldpate.

Klein had not been expecting anything of the sort. For a moment he felt a sense of disappointment and criticism, and his old timidity about sitting alone in the midst of a well-clad lively crowd. The artificial joviality seemed to him to harmonize ill with the evening fragrance of the garden. But he sat down anyhow, and the light dripping from so many colored bulbs soon reconciled him to the scene. It hung like a magic veil over the enclosure. Frail and deeply felt, the trivial music eddied toward him, mingled with the scent of all the roses. People sat about enjoying themselves. Above the tables, bottles, and cups of sherbet, gently powdered by the colored lights, floated bright faces and vivid women's hats, and even the yellow and pink sherbets in the cups and the glasses of green and yellow lemonade harmonized like jewelry with the whole picture.

No one was listening to the comedian. The wretched old man stood lonely and ignored on his stage, singing what he had learned, the gemlike light pouring down his unhappy figure. He ended his song and seemed relieved to have discharged his duty. Two or three persons at the front tables clapped. The singer walked off and soon reappeared in the garden; he took a seat at one of the tables near the orchestra. A young woman poured soda water into a glass for him, half rising as she did so. Klein looked over at her. It was the girl with the yellow hair.

Now, from somewhere, a shrill bell rang long and insistently. The crowd stirred. Many went out without their hats or coats. The table by the orchestra emptied also; the yellow-haired girl bustled out with the others, her hair gleaming brightly even outside the area under the lights. Only the old singer remained sitting at the table.

Klein gave himself a push and went over to the man. He politely greeted the old fellow, who merely nodded.

“Could you tell me what the bell means?” Klein asked.

“Intermission,” the comedian said.

“And where has everybody gone?”

“To gamble. There's a half-hour intermission, and they can play in the casino across the street.”

“Thank you. I didn't know there was a casino here too.”

“Not worth mentioning. Baby stuff. The highest stake is five francs.”

“Thank you very much.”

He tipped his hat again and turned around. Then it occurred to him that he could ask the old man about the girl with the yellow hair, with whom he stood on some familiar terms.

He hesitated, hat still in his hand. Then he walked away. What did he really want? Why should the girl concern him? But he sensed that she nevertheless did. It was only shyness, some delusion, an inhibition. A faint wave of annoyance rose in him, like a tenuous cloud. Melancholy was welling up again; now he was caught once more, unfree and annoyed with himself. It would be better for him to go home to the hotel. What was he doing here, among these pleasure-seekers? He was not one of them.

A waiter asking payment interrupted his thoughts. He became angry.

“Can't you wait until I call you?”

“Sorry, sir, I thought you wanted to leave. It comes out of my own pocket if someone runs off.”

He gave a larger tip than was necessary.

As he started to leave, he saw the yellow-haired girl returning. He lingered, and let her pass him. She walked erect, with lithe, light step, as if on springs. Her eyes met his, coolly, without recognition. He saw her face in bright light, a tranquil and sensible face, firm and pale, slightly blasé, her rouged mouth blood-red, gray, alert eyes, a pretty, finely molded ear on which a greenish oblong stone flashed. Her dress was of white silk; her slender neck descended into opal shadow. She wore a thin necklace of green stones.

He looked at her, secretly excited, and again with divided feelings. Something about her lured him, spoke of happiness and intimacy, was redolent of flesh and hair and groomed beauty, and something else repelled, seemed inauthentic, made him fear disappointment. It was the old, learned, and long-nourished timidity in the face of what he felt to be sluttish, a fear of conscious display of beauty, of frank reminders of sex and sexual combat. He felt quite clearly that the dichotomy lay within himself. Here was Wagner again, here again was the world of beauty, but without decency, of charm but without concealment, without pudeur, without guilty conscience. There was an enemy within him who barred the way to paradise.

The tables were now being moved by the waiters so that there was a clear area in the center. Some of the guests had not returned.

“Stay,” one impulse bade the lonely man. He could foresee the kind of night awaiting him if he left now. A night like the last, probably even worse. Little sleep, evil dreams, hopelessness and self-torment, along with the wail of the senses, the thought of that string of green stones on the woman's white and pearly breast. Perhaps soon, very soon, he would reach the point at which life could no longer be endured. And strangely enough he was nevertheless attached to life. Or was he? But would he be here otherwise? Would he have left his wife, burned his boats behind him; would he have set this whole terrible course of things going, made all these incisions into his own flesh, if he were not attached to life, if there were not longings and a sense of the future within him? Had he not felt the goodness of life today, so clearly and beautifully, over the good wine, at the closed park gate, on the bench at the lakeside?

He stayed, and found a seat at the table beside the one where the singer and the yellow-haired girl sat. There were six or seven persons sitting around it, obviously at home here, in a sense part of the place and the entertainment. He fixed his eyes upon them. They seemed on intimate terms with some of the patrons of this garden restaurant. The members of the orchestra also knew them and went over to their table or called out jokes to them now and then. They addressed the waiters by their first names. German, Italian, and French were being spoken all at once in gay confusion.

Klein studied the yellow-haired girl. She remained cool and grave; he had not yet seen her smiling. Her controlled face seemed impassive. He could see that she counted for something at her table; the men and girls took a tone of comradely respect toward her. He also heard her name said: Teresina. Was she beautiful, he considered; did he really like her? He could not say. Undoubtedly her figure and her walk were beautiful, unusually so in fact, as was her posture while sitting and the movements of her very well groomed hands. But the quiet coolness of her face irritated him, the composure of its expression, the almost masklike immobility. She looked like a person who has his own heaven and his own hell, which no one can share with him. This was a person with a hard, brittle, perhaps proud and even spiteful spirit; yet in her too desires and passions must burn. What kinds of feelings did she love and seek, what kinds did she flee? Where were her weaknesses, her anxieties, her concealments? How did she look when she laughed, when she slept, when she wept, when she kissed?

And how was it that she had been occupying his thoughts for half a day now, that he was watching her, studying her, fearing her, angered by her, when he did not even know yet whether or not he liked her?

Was she possibly a destination for him, part of his destiny? Was some secret power attracting him to her, as a power had drawn him to the south? An innate impulse, a line of fate, a lifelong unconscious urge? Perhaps their meeting was predestined. Imposed upon him.

By listening strenuously he managed to pick a fragment of her conversation out of the general chatter. To a dapper young man with wavy black hair and a smooth face he heard her saying: “Some time I'd like to really gamble again, not here, not for chocolates, but over in Castiglione or in Monte Carlo.” And then, in reply to whatever he'd said, she continued: “No, you can't realize what it's like. Perhaps it's ugly, perhaps it's irrational, but it's intoxicating.”

Now he knew something about her. It gave him great pleasure to have eavesdropped on her. Through a small illuminated window he, the stranger, standing at his post outside, had been able to cast a brief spy's look into her heart. She had desires. She craved something exciting and dangerous, something at which you could lose. He was pleased to know that. And what was this about Castiglione? Hadn't he heard the name mentioned once before today? Where? When?

No matter, he could not remember just now. But once more he had the feeling, as he had frequently had it during these strange days, that everything he did, heard, saw, and thought was full of allusions and necessity, that a guide was leading him, that long, remote chains of causation were producing their results. Well, let them. That was just as well.

Once again a sense of happiness passed over him, a sense of calm and security, balm for one who had been experiencing anxiety and horror. He recalled a phrase from his boyhood. He and a group of his schoolmates had been talking about how tightrope dancers managed to walk so assuredly and fearlessly on their ropes. And one boy had said: “If you draw a chalk line on the kitchen floor, it's just as hard to walk right on this chalk line as on the thinnest rope. And yet you do it calmly because there's no danger. If you imagine that it's just a chalk line and the air next to you is a floor, you can walk safely on any rope.” He recalled that now. How fine it was! Perhaps the trouble with him was that he took the reverse view. Perhaps he could no longer walk calmly and safely on a level floor because he mistook it for a rope.

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