A New Translation by Jeff Nowak
As the seventeen-year-old Karl Rossman – who had been shipped off to America by his poor parents because a maid had seduced him and had a child with him – introduced himself to New York’s harbor on a slowly advancing ship, he caught sight of the Statue of Liberty in a sudden, strong advance of sunlight. Her arm with the sword rose upwards now, and over her figure the free air blew.
“So high,” he said to himself, not thinking to leave and being shoved to the railing by an ever-swelling crowd of porters who pushed him around.
A young man he had briefly become acquainted with during the trip said in passing: “Don’t you want to get out of here?” “Oh, I’m ready,” Karl said to him smiling and lifted his trunk onto his shoulder out of pure high spirits – he was a strong boy. But as he looked at his acquaintance, who swung his stick a little as he left with the others, he realized he had forgotten his umbrella back in the ship. He quickly asked his acquaintance, who didn’t seem too happy about it, to wait for a moment by his trunk for friendship’s sake, then he looked over the situation to figure out a return route and hurried along. Beneath the deck, he found to his regret that the way he had at first used as a shortcut was blocked up by what seemed to be all the passengers on the ship disembarking at once, and he had to arduously find his way through a host of smaller rooms, continually bending corridors, short staircases following one after the other, an empty room with a forgotten writing table, and then, because he had only come this way once or twice and even then it had been in larger groups, he found he had completely lost his way. In his bewilderment, and because he hadn’t come across anyone, and because all the time he heard somewhere above him the scraping of a thousand footsteps and in the distance, as if it were breathing, he picked up the last motions of the still-working engine, he flung himself without thinking onto a random, small door, banging on it, and so he broke off his wandering. “It’s open,” someone yelled from the inside, and Karl opened the door with an honest sigh of relief. “Why are you banging on the door like a lunatic?” asked the enormous man, barely looking at Karl. Through some porthole from the top of the ship, a dim, broken light fell into the miserable cabin, in which a bed, a cabinet, an armchair and the man stood tightly crunched against one another. “I’ve lost myself,” Karl said. “I didn’t notice it during the trip, but this is a terribly big ship.” “Yeah, you’ve got that right,” said the man with a certain pride and busied himself with the lock on a small trunk, which he pressed shut again and again with both hands, so he could hear the snapping of the bolts. “But come in,” the man continued. “You shouldn’t stay outside.” “Won’t I bother you?” Karl asked. “Oh how could you bother me!” “Are you German?” Karl asked to reassure himself, because he’d heard a lot about the dangers posed to newcomers in America, particularly by the Irish. “I am, I am,” said the man. Karl still hesitated. Then the man suddenly grabbed the door handle and shoved the door, closing it quickly and pulling Karl inside with him. “I can’t stand it when someone looks in at me from a hallway,” the man said, working again on his trunk. “Then everyone walks by and looks in, I can only take so much.” “But the hallway’s empty,” said Karl, who stood uncomfortably squeezed against the bedpost. “Yeah, for now,” the man said. “All that matters is now,” thought Karl. “It’s tough to talk to this guy.” “Lie down on the bed, you’ll have more room,” said the man. Karl crawled in as best he could and laughed loudly at his first futile attempt to swing into it. He was barely in when he yelled, “Oh God, I forgot my trunk.” “So where is it?” “Over on the deck, I gave it to a friend. But what’s his name?” And he pulled his calling card from a secret pocket which his mother had put in the lining of his jacket for the trip. “Butterbaum. Franz Butterbaum.” “Is your trunk really that important?” “Of course it is.” “Well then, why did you give it to a stranger?” “I’d forgotten my umbrella below and ran in to fetch it, but I didn’t want to schlep my trunk around. Then I lost my way.” “You’re alone? Nobody’s with you?” “Yes, alone.” It went through Karl’s head that he should hold onto this guy, where would he find a better friend? “And now you’ve lost your trunk. Not to mention an umbrella.” And the man sat himself down on the sofa, as if Karl’s business had suddenly become interesting. “I believe, though, that the trunk isn’t lost just yet.” “Believe whatever makes you happy,” said the man as he scratched fiercely at his dark, short, thick hair. “But on a ship the customs change with the ports, in Hamburg maybe your Butterbaum would have watched over your trunk, but here chances are there’s no trace of either of them.” “But now I have to search for it right away,” said Karl and looked around the room for a way out. “Just stay,” the man said and, with a hand against his chest, pushed him roughly onto the bed. “Why?” Karl asked annoyed. “Because it makes no sense,” said the man. “In a little while I’ll go too, then we’ll go together. Either the trunk is stolen, then there’s no help and you can cry about it to the end of your days, or this person is still forever watching over it, then he’s an idiot and should keep on watching it, or he’s just an honest man and left your trunk standing there, and then we’ll have a better time finding it when the ship is completely empty. Even your umbrella too.” “Are you that familiar with the ship?” Karl asked suspiciously, and it seemed to him that there had to be a catch to the otherwise convincing idea that it was best to find his things on an empty ship. “I am the ship’s stoker,” the man said. “You’re the ship’s stoker!” Karl shouted joyfully, as if this surpassed all his expectations, and he propped up on an elbow to get a closer look. “Right from the room, where I had slept with a Slovak, there was an opened hatch which let me see into the engine room.” “Yeah, I worked there,” the stoker said. “I have always been so interested in mechanical things,” said Karl, who stuck to his own train of thought. “And I would have certainly become an engineer, if I hadn’t been forced to go to America.” “Why did you have to go?” “Oh . . . something . . .” Karl said and waved the whole history away with his hand. He looked over at the stoker with a smile, as if begging him to ignore this little non-confession. “I guess there was a reason,” the stoker said, and there was no way to tell if he wanted to ignore Karl’s reasons or demand them. “Now I could become a stoker,” Karl said. “My parents don’t care what I do.” “My job will be free,” said the stoker, consciously jamming his hands into his pockets and throwing out his legs, which had been jammed into a wrinkled, leathery, iron-gray pair of pants, onto the bed so he could stretch them. Karl had to back up closer to the wall. “You’re leaving the ship?” “We move off today.” “But why? Don’t you like it here?” “Yeah, the way things go, it doesn’t matter if you like it or not. You’re right, by the way, I don’t like it here. You probably think it doesn’t take much motivation to become a stoker, but that’s exactly why it’s so easy to become one. I suggest you give up any determination you might have. If you’d wanted to study in Europe, why not study here? The American universities are incomparably better.” “That’s probably true,” Karl said, “but I have almost no money for studying. I did once hear about someone who worked in a store by day and studied at night until he become a doctor and then, I think, a mayor. But that takes a lot of persistence, doesn’t it? I’m afraid I just don’t have that in me. Besides, I wasn’t a very good student, leaving school wasn’t really that hard. And the schools here are probably even tougher. I don’t know much English. I think people here are biased against foreigners anyway.” “So you found out about that too? That’s good. You’re my man. Have you noticed, we’re on a German ship, it belongs to the Hamburg-American line, why should we have anyone who isn’t German? Why is the head engineer a Romanian? His name is Schubal. It’s unbelievable. And this dog of a scoundrel abuses us Germans on a German ship. Now don’t you start thinking –” All his air had rushed out of him, he flapped about with his hands, “ – that I’m complaining just to complain. I know you have no influence and are just a poor boy. But it’s too bad.” He banged hard on the table many times with his fists and didn’t keep his eyes off it while he banged. “I served on so many ships,” and he named twenty names one after another as if they were one word, Karl became completely confused. “And I distinguished myself, was praised, was a worker to the taste of my captain, I was on the same trade ship for quite a few years.” He picked himself up as if this were the highpoint of his life. “And here in this box, where everyone’s pulled on a string, where there’s no need for imagination – I’m useless here, here I’m always in Schubal’s way, I’m lazy, I slave away only to be thrown out and be given my paycheck out of mercy.” “You shouldn’t let this happen to you,” Karl said excitedly. He felt so at home on the stoker’s bed he had almost forgotten he was on uncertain ground in a ship off the coast of an unknown continent. “Have you ever gone to the captain? Have you ever demanded your rights from him?” “Oh just go, I want you to go away, I don’t want you here. You don’t listen to what I say and then you give me advice. How should I get to the captain.” And the stoker sat himself down again, tired, and laid his face in both hands. “I can’t give him any better advice,” Karl said to himself. And he began to think it would have been better to have fetched his trunk than to give advice which would only be taken for idiocy. When his father had handed over the trunk to him for good, he had asked jokingly: How long then will you have it? and now this valuable trunk was probably, in all seriousness, lost. The single remaining comfort was that his father could never hear about all these details from where he was now, even if he himself should start asking questions. All the shipping company could say was that he had come to New York. But Karl regretted that he had barely used anything in the trunk, despite the fact that he should have, for instance, changed his shirt a long time ago. He had saved his money in all the wrong places; now, at the beginning of his career, when he could’ve walked in with immaculate clothing, now he would have to show up in a dirty shirt. That would be a sight to see. Otherwise the loss of the trunk wouldn’t be that bad, since the suit he had on was so much better than the one in the trunk, which was really only an emergency suit which his mother, for lack of money, had been forced to sew up for his departure. He also remembered that his mother had packed a Veronese salami in the trunk as a special treat, but he’d only bitten off the tiniest part, because he’d had no appetite during the trip and the soup distributed in steerage had been more than enough for him. But now he would’ve loved to have the sausage in his hand, so he could offer it up to the stoker. Because such people are easily won over when you slip them some small trifle, Karl found that out from his father, who won over all the hirelings he had to work with by sending out cigars. Karl still had money for a cash gift, and he didn’t want to touch that for now, in case it turned out he really lost the trunk. His thoughts went back to the trunk again, and he couldn’t see why he had lost sleep during the trip to watch over it, only to let that same exact trunk be taken away now so easily. He remembered the five nights when he had kept up the constant suspicion that a tiny Slovak lying two bunks to the left of him had had his eye on the trunk. This Slovak was only lying in wait for Karl to finally fall asleep in a moment of weakness, so that he could pull over the trunk with a long pole he always practiced or played with during the day. By day this Slovak looked innocent enough, but the night barely came on when he would pick himself up off his bed from time to time and look over sadly at Karl’s trunk. Karl could clearly notice all this, because someone with the unrest of an emigrant had always been lighting small candles here and there, even though it was against the ship’s rules, so he could try to decipher the incomprehensible brochures of the emigration agency. If one of these lights were close to him, Karl could doze off for a little, but if the candle was in the distance or if it was dark, then he would have to force his eyes open. The effort of it had exhausted him. And now it was all useless. That Butterbaum! If ever he should meet him!
At that moment, a small, short tapping like the steps of children resonated in the until now perfect silence, they came nearer, with a stronger clanging, and now it was a steady march of men. They plainly were traveling in a line, as was natural in a small hallway, the clinking sounded like armor. Karl, who’d been almost to the point of stretching out on the bed and being free from all his cares about the trunk and the Slovak, became startled and poked the stoker into readiness, since the head of the group seemed to have just reached the door. “That’s the ship’s band,” the stoker said. “They’ve been playing up top and are going to pack up. Now everything’s finished and we can go. Come here.” He grabbed Karl by the hand, took at the last moment a picture of the blessed mother from the wall above his bed, stuffed it in his breast-pocket, grabbed his trunk and quickly abandoned the cabin, Karl in hand.
“Now I’ll go to the office and tell those men what I really think. Nobody’s around anymore, you don’t have to be polite,” the stoker repeated a few different ways, and then he wanted to crush a rat that was in his way by kicking his foot out sideways, but he only forced it faster into its hole, which it reached just in time. All in all, he was very slow moving, because even if his legs were very long, they were also very heavy.
They came through a part of the kitchen where some maids in dirty aprons cleaned dishes in large tubs — they splashed them on purpose. The stoker called over a certain girl named Line, slung an arm around her hips and dragged her along with him for a little while as she squeezed herself against his arm like a coquette. “The paychecks are in, wanna come along?” he asked. “Why should I bother, bring my money back with you,” she answered, slipping under his arm and running away. “Where’d you get that beautiful boy?” she called after him, but she didn’t want any answer.
They went away again and came to a door with a small gable above it carried by small, golden caryatids. For a ship’s fitting it looked downright wasteful. Karl noticed he had never come through this section, it was probably reserved for first and second-class passengers during the trip, but now the partitions had been taken off for the ship’s cleaning crew. They had actually met a few of these men already, who carried brooms on their shoulders and greeted the stoker kindly. Karl was amazed at the whole business, he had experienced little from his spot in steerage. Electric wires ran along the hallway, and somewhere ahead a small bell could always be heard.
The stoker knocked respectfully on the door and when someone called “Come in,” he motioned for Karl to walk in without any fear. He stepped in, but stayed at the door, standing. Through the three windows of the room he saw the waves of the sea, and thinking about their happy motions hit him straight in the heart, as if he hadn’t been watching the sea nonstop for five long days. Huge ships crossed each other’s way and gave in to the ruckus of the waves only as much as their bulk allowed. When you squinted your eyes, the ships seemed to sway from the force of their own bulk. On their masts they carried long but narrow flags, pulled tight from the speed of traveling but still wriggling back and forth. Salute shots rang out, probably from war ships, the cannon of a close one was fondled by the safe, smooth but not quite horizontal movement of its ship, the sunlight reflecting off its steel armor. From the door, you could just make out the small ships and boats as they came in crowds into the openings between the great ships. Behind all this, however, stood New York, and Karl gazed on the skyscrapers with their hundred thousand windows. You knew where you were in this room.
At a round table sat three men, the first a ship’s officer in a blue ship’s uniform, the other two were clerks from the harbor authority in black American uniforms. On the table various documents piled high, which the officer skimmed over with a pen so he could hand them to the other two, who read them here, made excerpts there, now laid them in their briefcase whenever one of them, who nearly incessantly clicked his teeth, wasn’t dictating the minutes to his colleagues.
By the window, a smaller man sat at a writing desk with his back to the door, busying himself with large volumes which were lined up side by side on a strong bookshelf level with his eyes. Next to him a safe stood slightly ajar, and at first glance it was empty.
The second window was empty and gave the best view. But in the area of the third window two men stood in quiet conversation. The first leaned against the window, also wore the ship’s uniform and played with the hilt of a sword. The man he talked to was turned to the window and revealed through his various motions a string of medals on the chest of the other. He was in the civil service and had a thin bamboo stick, and since his hands were on his hips, it also stood out like a sword.
Karl didn’t have much time to see all this, because soon a servant walked up to them, looking at the stoker as if to say he didn’t belong, and asked him what he wanted. The stoker answered as quietly as he was asked, he wanted to speak to the head accountant. The servant, for his part, rejected this request with a motion of his hands, but went on tiptoe to the round table, taking a wide berth around the man with the large volumes. This man, clearly visible, started up immediately at the servant’s words, looked around eventually at the man who wished to speak with him, waved fiercely to dismiss the stoker and denounced the servant too, just to be sure. The servant returned to the stoker and spoke as if he were trusting him with a secret: “Get out of here now!”
The stoker looked over to Karl after this answer, as if Karl were his heart, something he could quietly cry to about his pains. Without thinking, Karl broke away, running straight through the room, so that he even brushed up lightly against the officer’s chair. The servant ran crouched, his arms prepared for a tackle, as if he were hunting vermin, but Karl was the first to the head accountant’s table, where he hung on tight just in case the servant tried to pull him away.
Naturally the entire room livened up immediately. The ship’s officers at the table sprung up, the men from the harbor authorities looked on calmly but attentively, the two men at the window stepped close to each other, the servant backed off, believing it wasn’t his place to be in the way when the high-ranking men showed interest. The stoker waited intently by the door for a moment, until help was necessary. The ship’s officer finally turned in his chair.
Karl rummaged through the secret pocket, which he didn’t hesitate to reveal to these people, and took out his passport, which he opened up and lay on the table in place of any further introduction. The head accountant seemed to brush off this pass, because he snipped it aside with two fingers, and so Karl stuck the pass back in, as if the formalities were over and done with. “I take the liberty of saying,” he then began, “that in my opinion the stoker has been wronged. There is here a certain Schubal, who oppresses him. He has served on many ships, ships he can name for all of you, and served to complete satisfaction, he is industrious, thinks highly of his work and it’s really impossible to see why he should take orders so poorly precisely on this ship, where the work isn’t nearly as difficult as it is, for instance, on commercial ships. Therefore, it could only be slander that’s keeping him from making progress and taking away from him the recognition which he would not be missing otherwise. I have only spoken generally about all this, he will bring his specific complaints himself.” Karl had addressed all of the men, because in reality all of them were listening, and it seemed more probable that he could find one fair man if he tried all the men together, than if he should try to find that fair man in the head accountant. In addition, Karl had cleverly avoided the fact that he had only known the stoker for a very short time. He would’ve spoken even better if he had not been bothered by the red face of the man with the bamboo stick, which he had caught sight off right away from his current position.
“It’s all correct, word for word,” said the stoker before anyone could have a chance to ask him any questions or even look him over. The stoker’s hastiness would have been a terrible mistake, if the man with the medals, whom Karl just realized was the captain, hadn’t already decided to listen to the stoker. He stuck out his hand and called to the stoker, “Come here!” with a voice firm enough to hit with a hammer. Now everything depended on the stoker’s behavior, because Karl had no doubt as to the justice of his cause.
Luckily it became clear just now that the stoker had been around in the world. With exemplary calm he took in one grab a small bundle of paper out of his little trunk, together with a notebook, then went with them right past the head accountant, as if it were the only thing to do, so he could spread out on the windowsill his evidence for the captain. The accountant couldn’t stay where he was, so he addressed everyone instead. “The man’s a notorious crank,” he explained. “He’s at the cash desk more than the machine room. He has brought Schubal, an otherwise calm man, to despair. Listen!” He turned to the stoker. “You like to push people around a little too much. How often have you been thrown out of an office while you make your consistently unjustified demands? How often have you come running back and forth from the main office? How often has someone said to you, in all kindness, that Schubal is your direct superior, that you’re his inferior, that you just have to come to terms with him? And still, you come here now, when the captain is here, with no sense of shame whatsoever, not even if you start to bother him, and you don’t even hesitate to bring this little one, this trained speaker, whom I’ve never seen on this ship before, to make your vulgar accusations.”
Karl had to forcibly keep himself from lunging forward. But then the captain said, “Let’s hear the man. Schubal’s been get a little too independent, but that doesn’t mean I’ll agree with you.” The last part applied to the stoker, it was only natural that he couldn’t back him up right away, but everything seemed to be on the right track. The stoker began his explanation and from the very beginning controlled himself enough to always refer to Schubal as Mr. Schubal. How Karl rejoiced at the deserted writing desk of the head accountant, where he pushed down on a scale again and again just for fun. Mr. Schubal is unfair. Mr. Schubal prefers foreigners. Mr. Schubal kicked the stoker out of the machine room and made him clean bathrooms, which the stoker knew nothing about. Once he even questioned Mr. Schubal’s competence, calling it more apparent than real. By this point Karl was staring at the captain with all his power, like a colleague, so that he wouldn’t think badly of the stoker because of his improper way of speaking. All the same, he couldn’t hear anything concrete from all this talk, and even though the captain looked straight ahead, determined to hear the stoker to the end this time, the other men became impatient, and the stoker’s voice wasn’t dominating the room anymore, and that could lead to something dreadful. At first the man in civil service set his bamboo stick to work and tapped ever so slightly on the floorboards. The other men naturally looked here and there. The ones from the harbor authority, who clearly had urgent business to attend to, grabbed their papers again and began to look through them absentmindedly. The ship’s officer moved his table even nearer, and the head accountant, who believed he had won the game, sighed deeply and ironically. In this general scattering, only the servant seemed reliable, sympathizing in part with the sorrows of a poor man under a great weight, and nodding to Karl as if he wanted to explain something to him.
In the meantime, harbor life went on behind the window. A flat cargo ship dragged along, nearly plunging the room into complete darkness with its mountain of barrels, which must have been miraculously loaded in for them not to go rolling around. Small motorboats, which Karl could’ve seen now if only he’d had the time, rushed straight ahead at the twisting hands of the upright men behind the wheel. Odd floating bodies dove separately in and out of the restless waves, were flooded over all the same and sank underneath his astonished eyes. Feverishly working sailors rowed ocean liners full of passengers, who were sitting still, full of expectation, as if they had been crammed in that way, but some of them couldn’t help but turn their heads to look at the passing scenery. A movement without end, an unrest sent from the restless element down to the helpless people and their works
But everything demanded action, clarity, a complete and precise account, but what did the stoker do? He spoke covered in sweat, he couldn’t hold the papers on the window much longer with his shaking hands, complaints against Schubal spilled into him from every direction, and in his opinion just one of them would’ve been good enough to bury this Schubal completely, but all he could show to the captain was a sad, muddled swirl, all of it the same. The man with a bamboo stick threw a long and weak whistle up towards the deck, the men from the harbor authority held the officer at their table and made no sign of ever letting him loose, the head accountant was kept from his itching desire to intervene only by the silence of the captain. The servant waited for a moment at attention for the captain’s order concerning the stoker.
Karl couldn’t sit still anymore. He went over to the group and, as he went, thought all the faster about how he could take care of the situation. It was high time, only a little while longer and they both could’ve been thrown out of the office. The captain might be a good man and right now he had the opportunity to display the judgment of a true superior, or so it seemed to Karl, but in the end he wasn’t an instrument that could played into the ground and the dirt – and that was exactly how the stoker was treating him, with all the boundless indignation pent up inside him.
So Karl said to the stoker: “You must explain yourself more simply, more clearly, the captain cannot appreciate it so long as you explain it to him like that. Does he know all the machinists and messengers by name, or even by their first names, so that whenever one of these names is spoken, he knows exactly what to do? Put your complaints in order, say the most important first and descend to the others, maybe then it won’t be so important to talk about most of them. You described it so clearly to me.” If a trunk could be stolen in America, a lie could be told every now and then, he thought as an excuse.
If only it could’ve helped! Or was it already too late? The stoker cut himself off right away, as if he heard a familiar voice, but with his eyes fogged over with the tears of offended manly honor, terrifying memories and the most extreme present need, he couldn’t recognize Karl any more. Karl silently inspected the silent one: How could he change his way of speaking now, since it seemed to him on the one hand that he had brought out everything there was to say without the smallest acknowledgment, and on the other hand it seemed as if he hadn’t said nearly enough and couldn’t expect the men to listen to all of it now. And by this point Karl is his only follower, wants to give him a good lesson, but instead shows him that everything and everything is lost.
If I had come in earlier, instead of staring out the window, Karl said to himself, lowering his face to the stoker and beating the seams of his trousers to demonstrate the end of every hope.
But the stoker misunderstood, sensed perhaps in Karl some secret reproach against him, and with the good intention of talking him out of it, he began his crowning glory by arguing with Karl. Now, when the men at the round table at last became indignant over the useless noise, when the head accountant gradually found the captain’s patience incomprehensible and came all the closer to an outburst, when the servant, once again in the sphere of his master, took wild glances at the stoker and when finally the man with the bamboo stick, receiving the occasional kind look from the captain, pulled out a little notebook, openly busied himself with other matters and let his eyes wander here and there between the notebook and Karl . . .
“Yes, I know, I know,” said Karl, warding off with great effort the sweeping torrent of the stoker while trying to keep up a laughing friendliness toward him. “You are right, you’re right, I am not doubting you.” Fearing a beating, he would have liked to hold down those twisting hands, he would have loved to pack him into a corner so he could whisper some soft, comforting words to him that no one else would have to hear. But the stoker was boisterous and jittery. Karl scooped out from his thoughts the consolation that the stoker would be able to conquer all seven of the men here with the strength of his despair. However, a device was laying on the writing desk with many too many push-buttons and electric lights, and the force of one hand pushing down on these buttons could rouse the whole ship, with all its gangs of hostile men.
Then the up-to-now uninterested man with the bamboo stick walked up to Karl and asked, not too loudly, but just enough to be heard over the stoker’s shrieks, “What is your name exactly?” At this moment, as if someone had been waiting behind the door for this man’s remark, there was a knock. The servant looked over at the captain, he nodded. So the servant went to the door and opened it. Outside, a man of middling proportions stood in an old gentleman’s coat, looking somewhat out of place for machinist’s work – and yet it was Schubal. If Karl hadn’t recognized him from the certain satisfaction squeezing out of all the gentlemen’s eyes, even the captain’s, he would have been forced to see it in the horror of the stoker, who tightened the fists on his outstretched arms as if they were the most important thing about him, for which he was prepared to sacrifice everything. He put all his strength there, even the kind that kept him standing straight and tall.
And then there was the demon, dashing and refreshed in a dapper suit, holding under his arm an account-book, probably with the wage sheet and the stoker’s working papers, and he looked fearlessly into everyone’s eyes, each in turn, establishing all of their moods. All seven were already his friends, and if ever the captain had maintained a certain objection against him, or even had only feigned one, after all the sorrows the stoker had put him through, it seemed to him that Schubal hadn’t done the smallest thing wrong. You couldn’t deal harshly enough with a man like the stoker, and if Schubal could be chided for anything, it would be for not having broken the stoker’s tenacity a long time ago, so that today he had dared to show himself in front of the captain.
Now one could probably accept that the confrontation between the stoker and Schubal would not receive any different judgment from this crowd of people than from a higher court, because even if Schubal managed to present himself well, he couldn’t hold it up to the end. A short flash of his malevolence should probably be enough to expose himself to these gentlemen, and Karl worried himself to make sure that would happen. He had become casually acquainted with the acumen, the weaknesses, the whims of each of these men, and from this point of view all his stolen time here had not been lost. If only the stoker had been in a better position, but he seemed completely unfit for battle. If someone had held Schubal in front of him, he could’ve beat his hateful skull in with his fists, like a thin-shelled nut. But he was incapable of taking those few steps over to him. Why hadn’t Karl seen what was so easily seen, that Schubal would finally have to come, if not through his own drive, then by the captain’s call. Why hadn’t he discussed a decent battle plan with the stoker on the way over here, instead what they had really done, walking in damnably unprepared wherever they could find the door. Could the stoker still talk, say yes and no in a cross-examination, but that would only happen in the most favorable fall of events. He stood there, his legs spread apart, his knees a little bent, his head somewhat lifted and the air running through his open mouth as if he had lost his lungs.
Karl, though, felt stronger and smarter than he’d ever felt at home. If his parents could see him now, speaking out for goodness in a strange land before people of importance, and even though he hadn’t yet brought it to victory, he stood completely prepared for the final triumph. Would they change their opinion of him? Sit him down between them and praise him? Look once, just once into his devoted eyes? Uncertain questions, and the worst time to ask them!
“I come here, because I believe, that the stoker has accused me of some dishonesty. A young woman from the kitchen said to me, she had seen him coming this way. Captain, all my gentlemen, I am prepared to refute every accusation through my own handwritten records and, if necessary, through the evidence of unbiased and uninfluenced witnesses.” So said Schubal. That was a man’s speech, and judging by the change in the listeners’ demeanor, you’d believe this was the first time they had heard a human noise in a long while. But they willingly ignored a few holes in this beautiful speech. Why was the first significant word to occur to him “dishonesty”? Maybe the accusations should’ve begun here, instead of with his national prejudices. A young woman from the kitchen had seen the stoker on his way to the office and Schubal had begun planning right away? Was it his guilt that sharpened his wits? And he brought witnesses with him and called them unbiased and uninfluenced? Robbery, nothing but robbery, and these gentlemen tolerate it and endorse it as proper behavior? Why did he let so much time pass between the report of the kitchen maid and his arrival here? For no other reason than to allow the stoker to tire out the men, so that they might lose their clear judgment, and that judgment was what Schubal had been afraid of. Hadn’t he been standing behind the door for a long time, not knocking right away, so that he might hope to shatter the stoker in front of everyone with his petty questions?
Everything was clear, and Schubal presented it that way in spite of himself, but it still had to be put differently to the gentlemen, more tangibly. They needed something rousing. And so Karl, a bit rashly, made the most of his little time before the witnesses walked in and everything went under.
Just now the captain called Schubal off – who stepped aside right away, his business having been pushed away for the meantime – and began a soft conversation with the servant, who had immediately joined him, making their share of sidelong glances at the stoker and Karl as well as hand gestures of the highest conviction. Schubal seemed to be practicing his next big speech.
“Would you like to ask something of this young man here?” said the captain into the general stillness to the man with the bamboo stick.
“Indeed,” the man said, with a little bow in thanks for the courtesy. And then he asked Karl again: “What is your name exactly?”
Believing it was in the interest of his great cause to deal with this stubborn interrogator quickly, Karl answered curtly, without his habit of showing his passport as an introduction, which of course he would’ve had to find first, “Karl Rossman.”
“But,” said the man who was being referred to as Jakob, stepping backwards and laughing in unbelief. Also the captain, the head accountant, the ship’s officer, even the servant plainly showed an overwhelmed astonishment at Karl’s name. Only Schubal and the men from the harbor authority didn’t seem to care.
“But,” Mr. Jakob repeated and walked up to Karl with somewhat stiff steps, “then I am your Uncle Jakob and you are my dear nephew. I suspected it the entire time,” he said to the captain before hugging Karl and kissing him, leaving everyone speechless.
“What’s your name?” Karl asked after he felt himself let go, being polite no doubt but entirely unmoved, and made an effort to see what effect this new event could have on the stoker. It didn’t seem that Schubal could pull some benefit from it, at least not now.
“Realize your good luck, young man,” said the captain, believing that Karl’s question had offended the dignity of Mr. Jakob’s person, who stood by the window dabbing his clearly agitated face with his handkerchief, so that the others wouldn’t see it. “This is Senator Edward Jakob, you know him as your uncle. A shining career waits for you now beyond your latest expectations. Try to see how good it’s going, right now, and compose yourself.”
“I have indeed an Uncle Jakob in America,” Karl said, turning to the captain, “but if I understand correctly, this man’s name is Senator Jakob.”
“So it is,” said the captain expectantly.
“Now, my Uncle Jakob, who is my mother’s brother, has Jakob for his first name while his last name naturally has to be the same as my mother’s, who was born Bendelmayer.”
“My gentlemen!” cried out the senator at Karl’s explanation, returning quite lively from his recovery at the window. Everyone except the harbor officials broke into laughter, some of them emotional, some of them impenetrable.
What I said wasn’t that ridiculous, thought Karl.
“My gentlemen,” repeated the senator. “Against my will, and against yours, you are taking part in this little family scene, and for that reason I cannot avoid giving you an explanation, since I believe only the captain (this mention was followed by a mutual bow) is fully informed.”
Now I have to pay attention to every word, Karl said to himself, and he was overjoyed when he noticed with a sideways look that life was coming back to the stoker’s figure. “I am living all my long years of this American visit – the word “visit” sounds terrible for an American citizen, which I am with my whole soul – I am living my long years here divided from my European relatives on the grounds that, first, shouldn’t be mentioned here and, second, would bother me just too much. I dread the moment when I will be forced to exchange a few frank words with my nephew about his parents and their family.”
“He’s my uncle, no doubt about that,” Karl said to himself and listened. “He’s probably had his name changed.”
“My dear nephew has now been – we’ll call the situation what it is – abandoned by his parents, the way a man tosses a cat out the door when it annoys him. I won’t mince words over what my nephew has done – mincing words is not an American art – but his mistake is the kind that only needs to be named to be forgiven.”
“That sounds okay,” thought Karl, “but I don’t want him to explain all of it. Besides, he can’t know all of it. How could he? But we’ll see if he really knows everything.”
“It was, namely,” his uncle continued, as he leaned on his bamboo stick and rocked a little, taking away some of the unneeded ceremony of the occasion. “He was, namely, seduced by the maid Johanna Brummer, about thirty-five years old. I don’t want to offend you by talking about the seduction of my nephew, but it’s difficult to find a different word on the spot.”
Walking fairly near to his uncle, Karl looked around to see what impression the explanation made on the faces of those present. No one laughed, everyone listened patiently and seriously. No one laughs at the nephew of a senator the first chance he gets. At most, he could’ve said that the stoker was smiling a little, but firstly, that was a good thing, a sign of new life, and secondly, it was forgivable, since back in the cabin Karl had tried to make a secret of things which now had become very public.
“Now this Brummer,” his uncle went on, “has received a child from my nephew, a healthy young boy named Jakob, most likely with my lowly person in mind, because the insignificant mention of me by my nephew must have made a great impression on the girl. All for the better, I say. For since the parents, to avoid alimony payments or to keep the scandal from reaching them – I have to stress, I don’t know much about either local custom or any other circumstances surrounding the parents, aside from two begging letters from the parents from an earlier time, which I left unanswered but kept and which mean for me my only, and moreover, one-sided connection with them during this whole time – since the parents, then, to avoid their alimony payments and their son’s scandals, allowed my dear nephew to be shipped to America with irresponsibly insufficient luggage, as you can see – if not for those signs and wonders still alive in America, this young boy would have been assigned to his lonely self, where he immediately would have come to no good in some alley off the New York harbor, if not this serving woman had sent me a letter, which came into my possession after long wanderings the day before yesterday, and which told me about the entire story, complete with a description of my nephew and also, quite sensibly, the name of his ship. If I had aimed to entertain you gentlemen – ” He pulled two large, closely written sheets of paper from his briefcase and waved them. “ – I could read a few passages from that letter right here. It would certainly move you, because it was written simply, if also with a well-meaning cleverness, and with much love for the father of her child. But I don’t want to keep you longer than is necessary for your enlightenment, nor do I want to hurt any remaining feelings for her my nephew might have. When he likes, he can read the letter for his own instruction in the quiet of his room which waits for him now.”
But Karl didn’t have any feelings for the girl. In the press of a constantly falling past, she sat in the kitchen next to the kitchen dresser, resting her elbow on the surface. She watched him as he walked in and out of her kitchen to fetch a glass of drinking water for his father or to finish a job for his mother. Sometimes she contorted herself oddly to write a letter sideways on the dresser while taking her inspiration from Karl’s face. Sometimes she covered her eyes with her hands, and nothing could get through to her. Sometimes she kneeled in her cramped little room beside the kitchen and prayed to her wooden cross, Karl observed her then only with shyness through the crack in her barely opened door as he walked back. Sometimes she hunted around the kitchen and jumped back if Karl got in her way. Sometimes she closed the door when Karl walked in and held the door handle so long that he demanded to get out. Sometimes she brought him things he didn’t want and pushed them silently into his hand. But once she said “Karl!”, startled him with the unexpected greeting and took him sighing and grimacing into her little room, which she closed. She embraced him with a stranglehold around his neck, and while she begged him to undress her, she in reality undressed him and laid him in her bed as if she didn’t want to let anybody else have him from this day on, so she could stroke and nurse him until the end of the world. “Karl, O my Karl,” she cried as if she could look at him and claim him as her own, while he didn’t see the smallest thing and felt uncomfortable in the much too warm bedding, which she seemed to have piled up just for him. Then she laid herself down with him and wanted to pull some secrets from him, but he couldn’t tell her anything and she pestered him in jest or in earnest, shook him, listened to his heart, presented her breast for him to listen to, but when Karl couldn’t bring himself to do it, she dragged her naked belly onto his body, sought with her hand down between his legs, which so revolted Karl that his head and neck shuddered upwards from the pillows, then thrust that belly against him a couple of times, to him it was as if she were a piece of himself and perhaps for that reason he had been gripped by an appalling need for help. Finally he came back weeping to bed, after many requests on her part to meet again. That had been it, and yet his uncle thought there was a great story to be made of it. And so the cook had been thinking of him and had informed his uncle about his arrival. That had been handled wonderfully by her, and he would pay her back one day.
“And now,” cried the senator, “I want to hear from you, am I your uncle or not?”
“You are my uncle,” Karl said and kissed his hand and was kissed on the forehead. “I am very happy I met you, but you’re wrong if you think my parents only say bad things about you. And apart from that there were also a few mistakes in your speech, that is, I mean, it didn’t all happen like that, really. However, you couldn’t really judge these things very well from all the way over here, and I believe, in addition, it will bring no special harm, if these gentleman were informed a little incorrectly about the details of this matter, which can’t hold much interest for them.”
“Well said,” said the senator, taking Karl to the sympathetic captain and saying, “Don’t I have a magnificent nephew?”
“I am lucky,” said the captain with a bow as only comes from those trained in the military, “to have become acquainted with your nephew, senator. It is a special honor for my ship, that it could provide a place for such a meeting. But the journey in steerage must have been very trying. Who can tell who travels down there? Once, for example, the first-born of a powerful Hungarian magnate traveled in our steerage, I don’t remember his name why he took the trip. I only heard about it much later. Now we do everything possible to make the journey as easy as possible for the people in steerage, far more than, for example, the American lines, but enjoying yourself on that kind of trip . . . is never a successful venture.”
“It didn’t hurt me,” said Karl.
“It didn’t hurt him!” repeated the senator, laughing loudly.
“Only I managed to lose my trunk – ” And with that he remembered everything that had happened and that remained to be done, looked around and caught sight of all those present, their eyes fixed on him, silent from respect and astonishment at his earlier circumstances. Only the harbor authorities showed regret – as far as their stern, complacent faces allowed – for having come at such an inconvenient time, and the pocket watch they relied on was probably as important to them as everything that had gone on in the room and anything that could possibly happen.
The first one after the captain to give congratulations was, strangely enough, the stoker. “I congratulate you deeply,” he said and shook Karl’s hand, trying to squeeze out something like appreciation. When he wanted to turn with the same words to the senator, the man stepped back, as if the stoker were exceeding his rights; the stoker backed off immediately.
The others, though, saw right away what to do and started a fuss over Karl and the senator. It even came about that Karl received congratulations from Schubal, took them and thanked him for them. At last the harbor authorities stepped into the returning quiet and said two words in English, which made quite a ridiculous impression.
The senator was in the mood to take full advantage of this pleasantness by bringing out for the others every insignificant moment he could remember, and not only did the others tolerate it, they took it in with interest. So he was careful to mention he had marked down Karl’s most striking features from the cook’s letter into his notebook for some quick and necessary consulting. During the unbearable talking of the stoker, he had no other prospect but to distract himself by pulling out the notebook, and as a game he tried to connect the not quite detective-grade observations of the cook with Karl’s appearance. “And so one finds one’s nephew,” he said, as if he wanted to receive at least one more congratulation.
“What’s going to happen to the stoker?” asked Karl, speaking over the last explanation of his uncle. He believed that, with his new position, everything he thought could be spoken aloud.
“The stoker will get what he deserves,” said the senator, “and what the captain considers necessary. I believe we have had enough from the stoker, and more than enough. The gentleman will certainly agree with me.”
“That’s not the point, it’s a matter of justice,” said Karl. He stood between the captain and his uncle, believing that in this position he could influence the decision to be handed down.
And in spite of this it seemed that the stoker had stopped hoping. He stuck his hands halfway into his belt, and through his nervous movements revealed the stripes on his shirt. That didn’t concern him in the least, he had cried out all his complaints, now everyone should be allowed to see the pair of rags he carried on his body and then they should carry him out. He thought that the servant and Schubal, being the two lowest ranking here, should be the ones to do him this last kindness. Schubal would have quiet then and not be driven into despair, as the head accountant had put it. The captain would be able to hire nothing but Romanians, Romanian would be spoken everywhere and maybe then everything would go much better. No stoker would drone on in the head accountant’s office, they could remember only his last complaint in a somewhat kinder way, since, as the senator had put it, it had been the indirect reason for the recognizing of his nephew. This nephew had in any case tried quite often to be useful to him and had paid him back more than enough for his service in the reunion; it didn’t occur to the stoker now to ask anything of him. Besides, even if he was the nephew of a senator, he was still a long way from being a captain, and those final, evil words would in the end fall out of the captain’s mouth. So, following his opinions, he tried not to look at Karl, but in this room of foes, there was no other place for his eyes.
“Don’t misunderstand the situation,” the senator said to Karl. “It feels perhaps like a matter of justice, but it’s really a matter of discipline. Both, and especially the last, are subject to the captain’s judgment.”
“So it is,” the stoker mumbled. Anyone who heard this and understood was smiling uncomfortably.
“Besides, we have already done enough to hinder the captain’s duties, which must pile up unbelievably upon arrival in New York, so now it is high time for us to abandon the ship, so we can keep ourselves from making a major event out of a useless interference in a petty squabble between two machinists. I completely understand the way you handled it, dear nephew, but that’s what gives me the right to get you out of here as fast as I can.”
“I’ll get a boat going for you right away,” said the captain, without any objection to the senator’s words, to Karl’s astonishment, although these would certainly have been seen as demeaning. The head accountant rushed quickly to the writing desk and telephoned the captain’s order to the boatswain.
“Time pushes on,” Karl said to himself, “but without offending everyone I can’t do a thing. I can’t abandon my uncle now that’s he just found me. The captain is very polite, but that’s just it. His politeness ends with his discipline, and my uncle had spoken from the heart. I don’t want to talk to Schubal, it makes me sorry I ever reached out a hand to him. And all the other people here don’t matter.”
And he went slowly to the stoker with these thoughts in mind, grabbed his right hand out of his belt and held it effortlessly in his own. “Why don’t you say anything?” he asked. “Why are you letting this happen to you?”
The stoker only wrinkled his brow, as if he were looking for the right words for what he was about to say.
“An injustice has happened to you like none other on this ship, I know that well enough.” And Karl moved his fingers here and there in-between the fingers of the stoker, who looked around with shining eyes, as if he were in the sort of bliss that no one could hold against him.
“You have to defend yourself, say yes and no, or none of the people will have any idea of the truth. You must promise to do as I say, because I myself, and I’m afraid of this for many reasons, I can’t help you anymore.” And Karl cried now as he kissed the stoker’s hand and took that cracked and almost lifeless hand and pressed it to his cheek like a treasure he had to give up. – But then Uncle Senator was by his side and took him away with only the slightest force. “The stoker seems to have enchanted you,” he said and looked understandingly at the captain over Karl’s head. “You felt abandoned, then you found the stoker and are grateful to him, and that’s praiseworthy. But don’t carry on like this, for my sake, and learn to understand your place.” A ruckus picked up from the door, they heard the cries and it was as if someone were brutally knocking against the door.
A sailor trotted in, somewhat unkempt, wearing a maid’s apron. “There’s a mob outside,” he cried and jabbed around with his elbows as if he were still in the crowd. Finally he found his senses and wanted to salute the captain, noticed the maid’s apron, ripped it off, slung it to the ground and cried, “That’s disgusting, someone put a maid’s apron on me!” Then, however, he clicked his heels together and saluted. Someone tried to laugh, but the captain said sternly, “That’s some good mood they’re in. Who’s outside?” “Those are my witnesses,” said Schubal, stepping forward. “I beg pardon for their inappropriate behavior. When these people have a sea voyage behind them, they sometimes get a little crazy.” – “Call them in immediately,” ordered the captain and turned to the senator, saying congenially but quickly, “Would you be as good, honored sir, to go with your nephew and follow this sailor, who will bring you to your boat. I must first say, it has been a pleasure and an honor to get to know you, senator. I wish sometime soon we could have the opportunity to pick up our interrupted discussion about the state of the American fleet, and then perhaps our conversation will be interrupted in as pleasant a manner as it was today.” “For the time being, one nephew is enough for me,” the uncle said, laughing. “And now, take all the best for your kindness, and farewell. It’s not so unlikely –” He grabbed Karl warmly. “ – that we could perhaps come together during our next trip to Europe.” “It would give me great joy,” said the captain. The two men shook each other’s hands, Karl could only reach out a silent and furtive hand to the captain, because he was already busy with the approximately fifteen people, somewhat disconcerted but still very loud, who were being guided in under the command of Schubal. The sailor asked the senator to allow him to go ahead and divided the heap of men for Karl and him, who walked easily through the bowing people. It seemed that all this good-natured crowd took the argument between Schubal and the stoker as a joke, whose absurdity reached all the way up to the captain. Karl noticed in the midst of them the kitchen maid Line, who waved cheerfully to him while wearing the cast-off apron of the sailor – it was hers.
Again following the sailor, they abandoned the office and turned into a small hallway, which took them with a few steps to a small door, at which point they were led down the short staircase into the boat prepared for them. The sailors stood up in the boat and saluted as the guide sprang into it with a single motion. The senator gave Karl a warning to climb down carefully, and Karl broke into the fiercest weeping. The senator laid his right hand under Karl’s chin, pressed him tightly against himself and stroked him with his left hand. And so they went down slowly, stair for stair, and stepped embracing into the boat, where the senator chose a good spot opposite Karl. At a gesture from the senator, the sailors pushed off from the ship and were immediately in full work. They had barely gone a few yards from the ship when Karl made the unexpected discovery that they had found themselves on the side of the ship exactly below the window of the head office. All three windows overflowed with Schubal’s witnesses, who hollered and waved jovially, even the uncle acknowledged them and a sailor pulled off the trick of blowing a kiss with his hand without interrupting his exact rowing. It was as if there were no such thing as the stoker. Karl examined his uncle carefully in the eye, their knees almost touched, and it was doubtful that this man could ever replace the stoker. And the uncle avoided his looks and looked out at the waves on which their boat was tossing.
In his uncle’s house, Karl quickly got used to the new surroundings. His uncle came to him kindly with every little thing, and from the first Karl never had to learn from harsh experience, which embitters most of those starting a new life in a foreign land.
Karl’s room lay on the sixth floor of a building, whose five other floors (and three more underground), were taken up with the business operations of his uncle. The light that penetrated into his room through two windows and a balcony door always brought Karl to astonishment whenever he walked out of his small bedroom in the mornings. Where would he have been forced to live if he had scrambled his way onto land as a poor, little immigrant? Perhaps – and his uncle, with his knowledge of immigration law, held this to be highly likely – they would never have allowed him into the United States but would instead have sent him home, not bothering themselves with the fact that he didn’t have a homeland anymore. Because no one was allowed compassion here, and what Karl had read about America in this respect was entirely correct; here, only the lucky seemed to really enjoy their luck among the untroubled faces of their friends.
A narrow balcony stretched along the entire length of the room. However, what would have been the highest overlook in Karl’s home country allowed here for no more than a glance across a street which ran between two rows of rigidly squared-off buildings as it flew into the distance, where the shape of an enormous cathedral rose up from the heavy mist. And in the morning, as well as in the evening, and also in his dreams at night, this street continued on with the always pressing traffic that from above looked like an eternally new beginning, a sprinkled-together mix of distorted human-like figures and the roofs of a variety of wagons from which rose up a new, multiplying, wilder mix of noise, dust and stink, and all of this was seized and penetrated by a terrific light, which again and again scattered from the mass of objects, was carried away and was eagerly brought back and which seemed so real to the bewitched eyes, it was as if this street were covered with a sheet of glass that was forever being shattered with great strength every moment.
Careful as the uncle was in everything, he advised Karl, for now, not to commit himself seriously. He should test and examine everything, but never allow himself to start anything. The first days of a European in America were comparable to a birth, and although Karl didn’t have much to fear, because you settled into things here faster than if you had just stepped from the hereafter into the human world, you would need to see that your first impression would stand on weak legs and that perhaps you should not let that impression bring into disarray all your future judgments, with whose help you would be continuing your life here. He himself had known of newcomers, for example, who instead of acting according to these good principles, had stood for days at a time on the balcony and gazed onto the street like lost sheep. That would certainly confuse things! The lonely idleness of staring at an industrious New York day would be permissible on a pleasure trip, and maybe even, with a few qualifications, recommended, but you could surely say, even if you exaggerated, that it would spell utter ruin for someone who had to stay here. And his uncle actually made a cross face when he found Karl on the balcony during one of his visits, which he always made once a day and always at a different time of day. Karl noticed this right away and consequently refused himself, as much as possible, the pleasure of standing on the balcony.
It was not the only pleasure that he had. An American writing desk sat in his room, of the best sort, like his father had wanted for years and had tried to buy at all different kinds of auctions for a cheap and reasonable price, without ever having succeeded, on account of his small income. Of course, this desk was not to be compared to those allegedly American desks that hang around at European auctions. It had, for example, a hundred compartments of varying sizes in its top part, and the President of the Union himself would have been able to find a fitting place for each of his files, but there was also a regulator on the side, and you could, with a turning of the crank, achieve a variety of rearrangements and new fittings suited to your pleasures and demands. Thin partitions on the side sank lazily and formed a new floor picking itself up or a ceiling rising with new compartments; even after one turning, the top part had a completely changed display, and everything moved according to how you turned the crank, either slowly or unreasonably fast. It was the newest of inventions, but it reminded Karl vividly of the nativity play back home, shown to astonished children at the Christmas Fair, and Karl had also stood there in front of it, packed into his winter clothes, and without interruption had compared the turning of the crank, which an old man guided along, to the effects on the nativity play: the faltering procession of the three holy kings, the radiance of the star and the hesitant life in the holy stable. And always, it seemed that his mother standing behind him wasn’t following the events nearly enough, he pulled her to himself until he touched her with his back and pointed out to her with loud shouting all the hidden aspects, perhaps a rabbit that alternately stood up from the grass like a tiny man and then made at a run, until his mother covered his mouth and, most likely, fell into her earlier carelessness. Admittedly, the desk hadn’t been made to remind him of such things, but in the history of inventions a similarly vague connection probably existed as it did in Karl’s memory. The uncle, as opposed to Karl, was not happy with the desk, he had even wanted to buy an ordinary desk for Karl, and such desks were all provided with the same new fittings, which had the advantage that they could be attached to older desks without bringing in a huge cost. After all, his uncle did not refrain from advising Karl to, if possible, not use the regulator; to reinforce the effectiveness of this advice, his uncle claimed that the machinery was very touchy, easy to ruin and very costly to restore. It wasn’t difficult to see that these comments were just excuses, although on the other hand you had to say that the regulator was very easy to lock in place and yet his uncle had never done so.
In those first days, when frequent conversations naturally had taken place between Karl and his uncle, Karl had said that he could play the piano – only a little, with the basic knowledge his mother had given him, but he greatly enjoyed it. Karl was fully aware that such an explanation was simultaneously a request for a piano, but he had looked around enough to know that his uncle in no way needed to economize. Nevertheless, this request had not been granted right away, but about eight days later his uncle said, almost as if he were grudgingly confessing it, that the piano would be installed, and Karl, if he wanted, could supervise the transport. Altogether it was light work, but not one bit easier than the transporting itself, because the building had its own freight elevator, in which an entire moving van could fit without trouble, and in this elevator the piano floated up to Karl’s room. Karl could have traveled in the same elevator as the movers and the piano, but right beside it stood a personal elevator free for use; he traveled in this one, held himself at the same height with the other elevator by means of a lever and looked fixedly through the glass walls at the beautiful instrument that was now his property. When he had it in his room and struck the first note, he received such a foolish joy that, instead of continuing to play, he sprang and stared at it in amazement from a distance, his hands on his hips. The acoustics of the room were admirable as well, and it took away his initial, small unease at living in an iron house, entirely allowing that unease to disappear. Actually you also noticed that even though the room seemed so metallic from the outside, not the smallest detail of its iron construction could be seen, and nothing could disturb the complete comfort of its furnishing. Karl hoped for quite a bit from his piano playing after the first few times and wasn’t the least bit ashamed to ponder while half-asleep the direct influence this piano playing could possibly have on his American relationships. When he played an old soldier’s song from his homeland, which the soldiers sing from window to window as they lean out of the barracks windows and look out at the dark square, it resonated oddly in the noise-filled air of his open window – but he looked across the street, it was so unchanged and just a small piece of a giant cycle that no one could stop without knowing all the powers effecting that cycle. The uncle tolerated the piano playing, said nothing against it, especially because Karl, without having to be told, only rarely allowed himself the pleasure of playing, and he even brought Karl the sheet music to American marches and also, of course, the national anthem, but it wasn’t the joy of music which forced him to ask one day if he would not want to learn the violin or French horn as well.
Of course learning English was Karl’s first and most important task. A young professor from a trade school appeared at seven o’clock in the morning in Karl’s room and found him already sitting at his writing desk with his exercise book or committing something to memory as he paced back and forth in the room. Karl saw he could never be in enough of a rush to learn English and that it was through quick progress that he could make his uncle extraordinarily happy. And while at first his uncle had been limited to greetings and goodbyes, soon an ever greater portion of the conversations were done in English, so that at the same time intimate topics began to turn up. The first American poem Karl was able to recite, the description of a fire, made his uncle deep and serious with contentment. At the time they both stood by a window in Karl’s room where the brightness of the sky had already passed. The uncle stared out of it and struck his hands together at length and at regular rhythm with the verse, while Karl stood next to him with rigid eyes and struggled through the difficult poem.
The better Karl’s English became, the greater his uncle showed a desire to bring him together with his associates, and he arranged for the English professor, for the time being, to always be somewhere near Karl at such meetings. The very first associate, whom Karl was introduced to in the morning, was a thin, young, unbelievably supple man, whom the uncle led into Karl’s room with special compliments. It was obviously one of those millionaire’s sons who has turned out rather badly from the standpoint of his parents, whose life has gone enough lost so that an ordinary person wouldn’t be able to follow any one of this young man’s days without pain. And since he knew or suspected this, whenever he met others, there was in his lips and eyes an incessant smile at his good luck, so far as he could manage, which seemed to apply not only to the people across from him but also to the entire world.
With this young man, a Mr. Mak who came completely approved by his uncle, it was mentioned that they together, at half past five in the morning, should go to a riding school or ride in the open air. Karl hesitated to accept at first, since he had never yet sat on a horse and wanted first to learn a little about riding, but since his uncle and Mak tried so hard to persuade him that riding wasn’t an art, it was pure pleasure and healthy exercise, he finally agreed. Now he had to get out of bed at half past four and regretted it, because he suffered from drowsiness due to all of the steady attention he had to spend during the day, but he lost his regret once in the bathroom. The sieve of the shower spanned the entire length and breadth of the tub – which of his schoolmates back home, be they ever so rich, possessed so much just for themselves – and there Karl lay outstretched, in this shower he could spread out his arms and allow the streaming of the lukewarm, then hot, then lukewarm again and finally icy water just as he liked, either over part of him or all of him. How he laid there in the few remaining pleasures of sleep, catching gladly with his closed eyelids the last, individual, falling drops, which opened up and fell over his face.
At the riding school, where his uncle’s automobile dropped him off from on high, the English professor waited for him prepared, whereas Mak always came later. But he could afford to come later, because the lively riding only really began when he was there. Didn’t the horses rear up from their present nap when he entered, didn’t the whip crack more loudly throughout the room, didn’t there suddenly appear a revolving gallery of different persons, spectators, horse-attendants, riding students or whatever else they might be? Karl made the most of his time before Mak’s arrival, running through only the most basic of preparatory riding exercises. There was a taller man there, who could reach the highest spot on a horse’s back with scarcely an outstretched arm and who always gave Karl his lesson, which only lasted a quarter of an hour. The successes Karl achieved there were not particularly great, and he learned in passing some English cries and complaints, which he uttered during these lessons breathlessly to his English professor, who always leaned against the same gatepost, most of the time very much in need of sleep. But almost all dissatisfaction with the riding stopped when Mak came. The tall man was shipped off, and you heard almost nothing else in the always half-dark hall but the hoofs of the galloping horses, and you saw almost nothing else but Mak’s outstretched arm, with which he gave Karl commands. After a half-hour of this pleasure passing away like sleep, it was called to a stop, Mak was in a great hurry, said goodbye to Karl, if he had been satisfied with the riding he clapped him on the cheek, and went out through the door by himself, on account of his great hurry. Karl then took the professor with him in the automobile, and they traveled to their English lesson, because traveling through the heavy traffic of the large road, which led directly from the riding school to his uncle’s house, would have cost too much time. Besides, soon enough the English professor stopped accompanying him, because Karl, who felt guilty for needlessly bothering a tired man at a riding school, asked his father to relieve him of this duty, since his English communication with Mak was very simple. After some reflection, the uncle gave in to this request.
It took a relatively long time before the uncle made up his mind to allow Karl a small look at his business, although Karl had often asked for this. It was a forwarding and receiving business such as wasn’t found in Europe, so far as Karl could remember. The business existed chiefly as a middleman, which, however, didn’t just ship the goods from producers to consumers or sometimes to dealers, but instead handled the shipment of goods and raw materials to the great factory conglomerates and also handled the trading in-between them. It was therefore a business concerned with a tremendous undertaking of buying, storing, transporting and selling, and it needed to support by telephone and telegraph the ceaseless communication with clients. The hall of the telegraphs wasn’t smaller than but larger than the telegraph station in his home city, which Karl had once been led through with the help of a knowledgeable schoolmate. Wherever you went in the hall of telephones, you saw the doors of the telephone boxes opening and closing, and the noise tangled up the senses. The uncle opened the closest of these doors, and you saw in the spreading electric light one of the employees, indifferent to the clamor of the doors, whose head was spanned by a steel band that pressed the headphones down upon his ears. His right arm, as if it were especially heavy, lay on a small table, and only the fingers twitched inhumanly steady and fast as they held a pencil. He was very sparse with the words he spoke into the funnel, and you even saw he might have had an objection to something coming out of the speaker, he wanted to ask for something more precise, but upon hearing a few certain words, he was forced to lower his eyes and write before he could carry out his intention. He must not speak, the uncle explained to Karl, because the same report that this man is taking down is being taken down by two other employees and then compared, so that the errors will most likely be cut out. At the same moment that Karl and the uncle were walking out the door, a trainee slipped in and came out afterwards with the transcription. Right through the middle of the hall, a constant traffic rushed here and there. No one said hello, helloes had been abolished, everyone attached himself to the steps of the person in front of him, walking ahead and looking at the floor on which he wanted to hurry along, or otherwise glancing at a few words or numbers on the paper which fluttered with his footsteps as he held it in his hand.
“You’ve really brought it far,” Karl said once during a walk through the company, which took many days to look through, even if you only glanced at each department.
“And I’ve set it up myself over thirty years, you must know. I once had a small store by the harbor, and if, in one day, five boxes were unloaded, it was so very much and I went home all puffed up. Today, I have the third largest warehouse on the docks, and that store is now the dining room and tool shed for the sixty-fifth group of my longshoremen.”
“That borders on the miraculous,” Karl said.
“Everything develops very quickly for you here,” the uncle said, breaking off the conversation.
A day came when the uncle showed up just in time for dinner, which Karl thought he would take alone as usual, and he invited Karl to dress dark and formal and come with him to a dinner, where two business friends would be in attendance. While Karl changed in the next room, the uncle sat down at the writing table and looked through Karl’s English notebooks, slamming his hand on the table and yelling loudly, “How distinguished!” Doubtless, when Karl heard this praise, his dressing went all the better, even though he was already fairly sure about his English.
In his uncle’s dining room, which still stuck in his memory from the first evening of his arrival, two tall, large men rose in greeting, the first a certain Green, the second a certain Pollunder, which became obvious during the table conversation. The uncle took care to say scarcely one careless word about either of his colleagues, and it was always left to Karl to figure out through observation their essential or interesting characteristics. During the meal only intimate business matters were discussed, which meant a good lesson in business expressions for Karl, and it allowed Karl to busy himself with his meal, as if he were a child, who had to be allowed to eat until it was full, until Mr. Green bent over to Karl and asked, with an unmistakable effort to speak in the clearest possible English, what were Karl’s first impressions of America. Enveloped by a deathly silence, Karl answered in a somewhat detailed manner, glancing sidelong now and then at his uncle and seeking to thank them through some pleasant New Yorker expressions. At one such expression all three gentlemen laughed together, and Karl was afraid he had made a crude mistake, but no, Mr. Pollunder explained, so far he had spoken quite successfully. This Mr. Pollunder seemed to get a special pleasure out of Karl, and while the uncle and Mr. Green returned to the business conversation, Mr. Pollunder let Karl shift his chair closer to him, asking Karl at first many things about his name, his origins and his trip until he finally allowed Karl to rest as he himself laughed, coughed and hurriedly told Karl about himself and his daughter, with whom he lived on a small estate near New York, where he could only spend time in the evenings, because he was a banker and his job held him in New York all day. Karl was immediately invited in a most cordial fashion to come out to this estate, such a fresh, new American needed to take a break from New York sometimes. Karl asked his uncle at once for permission to accept this invitation, and his uncle gave this permission, apparently with joy but without naming a specific date or even allowing consideration of it, as Karl and Mr. Pollunder had expected.
But already by the next day Karl was ordered into the uncle’s office – his uncle had ten different offices in this building alone – where he found both his uncle and Mr. Pollunder lounging in easy chairs, somewhat taciturn. “Mr. Pollunder,” the uncle said, he was barely recognizable in the evening dimness of the room. “Mr. Pollunder has come to take you to his estate, like we said yesterday.” “I didn’t know it would be today,” Karl answered. “Otherwise I would’ve prepared.” “If you’re not ready, perhaps we should move the visit to a better time,” the uncle said. “What’s this about preparation?” Mr. Pollunder yelled. “A young man is always prepared.” “It is not on his account,” the uncle said to his turning guest, “but he would still have to go into his room and you would be delayed.” “Now is a good time,” Mr. Pollunder said. “I took delays into consideration and closed my business early.” “You can see,” the uncle said, “what kind of troubles your visit has already caused.” “I’m sorry,” Karl said, “but I’ll be right back,” and wanted by now to spring away. “Don’t rush yourself,” Mr. Pollunder said. “You’re not causing me the slightest trouble, on the contrary, your visit makes me nothing but happy.” “You’ll miss tomorrow’s riding lesson, did you cancel it?” “No,” Karl said. The trip he had taken great joy in was starting to become a burden. “I didn’t think –” “And despite this you’re going to go away?” the uncle continued to ask. Mr. Pollunder, that friendly man, came over to help. “We’ll stop by the riding school and put things in order.” “That sounds acceptable,” the uncle said. “But Mak will be expecting you.” “He won’t be expecting me,” Karl said, “but he’ll manage.” “Is that so?” the uncle said, as if Karl’s answer wasn’t the least bit justified. Again Mr. Pollunder voiced the deciding factor. “But Klara” – she was Mr. Pollunder’s daughter – “she expects him too, moreover she expects him this evening, and certainly she has value over Mak?” “Certainly,” the uncle said. “So go into your room already,” and he slapped the armrest of the easy chair a few more times, as if he had no choice. Karl was already by the door when his uncle held him back with one question: “Will you be here for your English lesson early in the morning?” “But!” Mr. Pollunder cried and twisted himself around in his armchair for astonishment, so far as his girth allowed. “Isn’t he allowed to stay at least until tomorrow? I’ll bring him back early the day after tomorrow.” “That is not a possibility,” replied the uncle. “I cannot allow his studies to come into such disarray. Later, when he has his own regular, working life, I will gladly permit him more time to follow such a cordial and honorable invitation.” “What a contradiction!” Karl thought. Mr. Pollunder had become depressed. “For an evening and a stay overnight, it’s almost not worth the trouble.” “That is what I meant,” the uncle said. “You take what you can get,” Mr. Pollunder said, and laughed again. “So I wait!” he called to Karl, who, since he didn’t say anything else, hurried away. When he came back ready for travel, he only found Mr. Pollunder in the office, his uncle had gone away. Mr. Pollunder shook both of Karl’s hands happily, as if he wanted to make sure as much as possible, that Karl was still coming with. Karl, still worked up from all the hurry, shook Mr. Pollunder’s hands in return, he was very happy to take the trip. “Wasn’t my uncle upset with my going?” “Not at all! He didn’t mean that seriously. He just takes your education to heart.” “Did he say to you that he didn’t mean all that earlier stuff so seriously?” “Oh, yes,” Mr. Pollunder said, stretching it out to prove he couldn’t be lying. “It’s strange he only reluctantly gave me permission to visit you, even though you’re his friend.” Though he wouldn’t confess to it, Mr. Pollunder couldn’t find an explanation for that, and both thought longer about it as they traveled through the warm evening in Mr. Pollunder’s automobile, even though they spoke of different things.
They sat close to one another, and Mr. Pollunder held Karl’s hand in his as he explained. Karl wanted to hear a lot about this young lady Klara, as if he were impatient with the long trip and could, with the help of these explanations, get there earlier than he really would. Although he had never traveled through the streets of New York at night, and even though they changed directions as if in a whirlwind and the noise raced by as if not caused by man but by some strange element, Karl, as he tried to pick up Mr. Pollunder’s words, concerned himself with Mr. Pollunder’s dark vest, over which a golden chain quietly hung. On the streets, where people were brought to the theaters in a great hurry on foot and in vehicles with a great and undisguised fear of being late, they came through some transitioning areas into the suburbs, where their automobile was guided again and again into side streets by police officers on horseback, because the large streets were for the demonstration of striking metalworkers, and only the important traffic could be allowed into the intersections. The automobile crossed through dark, musty, echoing alleys into a street as large as a plaza, and on either side the view never seemed to end, the sidewalks were filled with a moving mass of tiny steps, whose song was more uniform than the human voice. Where the street was cleared away, however, you saw police on motionless horses, or flag-carriers, or banners spanning the street, or colleagues or orderlies surrounding the union boss, or an electrical streetcar that hadn’t gone fast enough and now stood empty and dark while the boss and the conductor sat on the platform. Small groups of the curious stood far off from the actual demonstration and wouldn’t give up their spots even though they weren’t too sure about the entire event. Karl, however, leaned happily on the arm which Mr. Pollunder had thrown around him, convinced that he would soon be a welcome guest in an illuminated country house surrounded by walls and guarded dogs, and it did him a world of good, and when he began to feel sleepy, he no longer perfectly understood everything Mr. Pollunder said, so he picked himself up from time to time and rubbed his eyes, in order to see if Mr. Pollunder noticed his sleepiness, because he wanted at all cost to keep him from knowing that.
A Country House near New York
Mr. Green received them in a rush as if he had lots to make up for, took Mr. Pollunder’s arm and shoved Karl and Klara into the dining room, which looked especially festive because of the flowers on the table sticking half-way out of the stripes of foliage. All of it made Mr. Green and his disturbing presence twice as regrettable. But Karl, who waited by the table for the others to sit down, was still happy that the great glass doors to the garden would stay open, because a strong fragrance blew in, like it was a summer house, and then it forced a panting Mr. Green to close the glass doors, bending over to the lowest bolt and stretching for the highest one, all of it so youthfully quick that by the time the servant hurried over he found that there was nothing more to do. The first words from Mr. Green once he was at the table were gestures of astonishment that Karl had actually received permission from his uncle for this visit. He lifted one full soupspoon after another into his mouth and explained, on his right to Klara, on his left to Mr. Pollunder, why he was so astonished and how watchful the uncle was over Karl and how much the uncle loved Karl, as if you only could call it the love of an uncle. “It’s not enough for him to interfere here unnecessarily, now he interferes right between me and my uncle,” thought Karl, unable to bring in a sip of his golden soup. But then he didn’t want anyone to notice how annoyed he felt and began to pour the soup down in silence. The meal passed at length, like torture. Only Mr. Green and maybe Klara were still lively, finding opportunities now and again for a quick laugh. Mr. Pollunder landed in the conversation only a couple of times when Mr. Green talked about business. But he pulled back right away from these conversations and Mr. Green had to surprise him suddenly another time. He emphasized – since Karl pricked up his ears as if he were being threatened, Klara had to carefully make him realize that the roast was standing before him and that he was at a dinner – he never had the intention to make this unexpected visit. Because even if the business they still had to speak about was of particular urgency, the important details could have been handled today in the city and the minor details could have been kept for tomorrow or later. And so he would actually have been with Mr. Pollunder long before closing time, but he didn’t find him, so he was forced to call home to say that he wouldn’t be home and was traveling out here. “Then I must ask your forgiveness,” Karl said loudly, before there was any time for an answer, “because it’s my fault that Mr. Pollunder left his business earlier today, and I am very sorry.” Mr. Pollunder covered the greater part of his face with a napkin while Klara smiled at Karl, not to sympathize with him, but to influence him. “It doesn’t need an apology,” said Mr. Green as he cut a pigeon into thin slices. “Completely to the contrary, I am very happy to spend the night with such pleasant company, instead of taking up the evening at home alone, where my old housekeeper serves me, so old that the way from the door to my table happens to be difficult for her, and if I want to watch her do this, I can lean back in my chair for a long time. To shorten it, I made a servant bring the meal to the dining room door, but she’s made me understand that the way from the door to my table belongs to her.” “My God!” cried Klara. “That is a faithful servant!” “Yes, there is still loyalty in the world,” Mr. Green said, running a morsel into his mouth. Karl noticed by chance how the tongue vigorously seized the food. It almost made him sick and he got up. Right away Mr. Pollunder and Klara seized his hands. “You have to stay seated,” Klara said. As he sat down again, she whispered, “We’ll disappear together soon. Have patience.” Mr. Green busied himself in the meantime with his meal, as if it were Mr. Pollunder’s and Klara’s job to calm Karl down whenever he made him sick.
The meal dragged along, particularly because of the drawn-out precision Mr. Green used with every course. He was prepared to receive every new course again and again without exhaustion, it really gave the impression that he wanted to thoroughly recuperate from his old housekeeper. Here and there he would praise Miss Klara’s art of managing the house, obviously flattering her, while Karl tried to fend him off as if he were attacking her. But Mr. Green didn’t just content himself with her; he also, without looking up from his plate, frequently lamented Karl’s conspicuous loss of appetite. Mr. Pollunder defended Karl’s appetite, even though, being Karl’s host, he probably should have encouraged Karl to eat. And Karl, suffering for the entire meal, actually felt the obligation to eat so sensitively, that against his better judgment he read hostility into Mr. Pollunder’s comments. And it fit his condition well, when suddenly he started eating far too much far too quickly and then, tired, allowed the fork and knife to sink down again for a long time, becoming the most motionless of the party. The servant who handed out the meals didn’t know where to begin.
“I will explain in the morning to the Senator, how you offended Miss Klara during her evening meal,” Mr. Green said, restricting himself to the amusing intent of these words by the way he busied himself with his dinnerware. “Just look at the girl, how sad she is,” he continued and grabbed Klara under the chin. She let it happen and closed her eyes. “You little thing,” he cooed, leaning back and laughing, his face bright red with the strength of his own satisfaction. Karl tried in vain to explain Mr. Pollunder’s behavior. He sat in front of his plate and stared at it, as if something important were happening there. He didn’t move closer to Karl’s chair, and if he ever spoke he spoke to everyone, but he had nothing to say to Karl. And yet he tolerated Mr. Green, that old, boozed-up, New York bachelor, who touched Klara with very specific intentions and insulted Karl, Pollunder’s guest, or at least handled him as if he were a child, and no one could know what he was getting ready for or what he was pushing at.
After the table was cleared – when Green noted the general mood, he was the first to stand up and everyone rose up with him – Karl went out alone to one of the large windows, divided by thin white strips. It led to the terrace, and as he walked closer, he noticed they were actually doors. Was there anything left of the aversion Mr. Pollunder and his daughter had felt from the beginning, and which at first had come across to Karl as incomprehensible? Now they stood together with Green and nodded at him. The smoke from Mr. Green’s cigar, Pollunder’s gift, which had a kind of thickness to it that his father swore existed but had probably never seen with his own eyes, spread out into the hall and carried Green’s influence into those corners and niches where he would never go. Karl stood far in the distance, but he still felt a tickle in his nose from the smoke, and once he looked around quickly from his place, Mr. Green’s behavior seemed scandalous to him. Now he thought it no longer out of the question, that his uncle had refused him permission to visit for so long, because he knew the weak character of Mr. Pollunder and foresaw the possibility, even though he didn’t see enough, of an insult to Karl. And he didn’t like the American girl, although he hadn’t imagined she would be quite as beautiful as she was. Since Mr. Green had gone off with her, he was amazed at the beauty her face was capable of, especially with a glance from her uncontrollably moving eyes. He had never seen before the kind of skirt which tightly enclosed her body, small creases in the yellowish, delicate, tight fabric demonstrated the strength of the tension. But Karl didn’t think of her at all, and he would have liked to refuse being led to her room, to instead be allowed to open the door whose handle lay ready in his hands and climb into the automobile, or, if the chauffeur was asleep already, walk alone to New York. The clear night and the affectionate full moon stood open for him and for everyone, and being afraid outside in the open seemed a little senseless to Karl. He pictured to himself – and for the first time he felt comfortable in that hall – as he surprised his uncle in the morning – he wouldn’t be able to come home any sooner. He had really never been in his bedroom, didn’t even know where it was, but he would find that out. Then he would knock, and with the formal “Come in!” he’d walk into the room and to his beloved uncle sitting upright in bed, his eyes fixed on the door in astonishment, surprised in his nightshirt when up to now he had only been seen well-dressed and buttoned-up as if on high. In and of itself, it probably wasn’t much, but what consequences it could have! Maybe he’d eat breakfast with his uncle for the first time, the uncle in bed, he in a chair, the breakfast on a table in-between them, maybe this shared breakfast would become a permanent practice, maybe they would, because of this kind of breakfast, do what they had avoided until now, come together more than just once a day and then of course they could speak more openly with each other. If he had been disobedient today – or, to be more accurate, stubborn – it was only because of this lack of open conversation. And if he had to stay here overnight – unfortunately it looked that way, even if you stood here by the window and twiddled your fingers – maybe this unlucky visit would be a turning-point for the better in his relationship with his uncle, maybe his uncle was thinking the same thing this evening in his bedroom.
He turned around with a little confidence. Klara stood in front of him and said: “Don’t you like it here by us? Don’t you feel at home? Come, I want to make one last try.” She led him across the hall towards the door. The two men sat at a side table with full, high glasses of a lightly foaming drink that Karl was unfamiliar with and wanted to taste. Mr. Green had an elbow on the table and moved his whole face as close he possibly could to Mr. Pollunder, you might well have thought something criminal was being discussed and not business. While Mr. Pollunder followed Karl to the door with friendly glances, Green for his part didn’t look at Karl in the slightest, even though anyone else would have followed inadvertently the glances of the person across from him, and behind this behavior seemed to lie a sort of conviction on the part of Mr. Green, that everyone, Karl for himself and Green for himself, should try to get along by his own ability, that the necessary societal connection between them would be manufactured in time by the victory or destruction of one or both of them. “If he means that,” Karl said to himself, “He’s a fool. I want nothing to do with him and he should leave me in peace.” He had barely walked down the hallway when it occurred to him that he had behaved rudely, because he had almost allowed Klara to drag him out of the room while his eyes were stapled on Green. So he was all the more willing to go with her now. On his way through the corridor, at first he didn’t believe his eyes when he saw a richly attired servant standing every twenty steps with a candelabra, whose thick handle they all gripped with both hands. “So far the electric lighting has only been installed in the dining room,” Klara explained. “We first bought this house a short time ago, and it’s being entirely rebuilt, so far as an old house and its stubborn material lets itself be rebuilt.” “So there are old houses in America too,” Karl said. “Of course,” Klara said, laughing and dragging him along. “You have strange ideas about America.” “You shouldn’t laugh at me,” he said, annoyed. In the end, he was already acquainted with both Europe and America, but she only knew America.
In passing Klara shoved a door open with a lightly outstretched hand and said without stopping: “You’ll sleep here.” Naturally Karl wanted to look at the room, but Klara explained impatiently, almost shrieking, there would be time for that and he should come over here now. She pulled him down the hallway a little here and there, finally Karl thought, I can’t follow Klara everywhere, tore himself loose and walked into the room. An unexpected darkness by the window explained itself through some tree branches swaying there in their full range. You could hear birds singing. In the room itself, which hadn’t yet been awakened with moonlight, you could barely distinguish anything at all. Karl regretted not having taken the electric flashlight that he had received as a gift from his uncle. In this house a flashlight was indispensable, if you’d had a pair of these lights, you could have sent the servants to bed. He sat himself on the windowsill and looked and listened around. A bird he had agitated seemed to drill through the leaf-work of an old tree. The whistle of a suburban train clanged somewhere in the country. Otherwise it was still.
But not for long, because Klara came rushing in. She cried, clearly angry: “What’s all this then?” and slapped her skirt. First of all, Karl wanted to answer when she was more hospitable. But she went over to him with large strides and cried: “So are you coming with me or not?” and she pushed him on purpose or in naked anger on the chest so that he would have toppled from the window if he hadn’t slid from the windowsill at the last moment with his feet touching the floor. “I would’ve fallen out just now,” he said critically. “A shame it didn’t happen. Why are you so naughty. I’ll push you down there again.” And she really wrapped him up, her body hardened from sport, and carried him over to the window, while he in astonishment forgot to make it difficult for her. But there he caught his senses, got himself loose with a turning of his hips and grabbed her. “Oh you’re hurting me,” she said immediately. But Karl didn’t think she should be let loose anymore. Admittedly he allowed her the freedom to take a few steps as she preferred, but he followed her and didn’t let her go. It was easy to catch her in her tight dress. “Let me go,” she whispered, her hot face tight on his, he had to strain himself to see it, she was close to him, “let me go, I’ll give you something nice.” “Why does she sigh like that?” Karl thought. “This can’t be hurting her, I’m not even squeezing her.” And he still didn’t let her go. But right after standing there careless and quiet for a moment, he felt her growing power back on his body, she had wrenched herself from him and grabbed him with a good imposing grip, repelling his legs with the positions of some exotic fighting technique and driving him back against the wall with a magnificent regularity of breathing. There was, though, a sofa, and she put him down on it without bending down herself, “Now move yourself if you can.” “Cat, wild cat,” Karl was able to cry out in the muddle of rage and shame he found himself in. “You’re crazy, you wild cat.” “Choose your words carefully,” she said and allowed her hand to slide to his throat, which she began to choke so strongly that Karl was entirely incapable of doing anything else but gasp for air, while she ran her other hand over his cheek, as if to try it out, and again and again she pulled it back and every moment could let herself throw it back down for a slap in the face. “How would it be,” she asked then, “if I wanted to send you home with a big slap in the face as punishment for your behavior in front of a lady. Maybe it’d be useful in your future life, even if it left you without any nice memories. I’m sorry for you and you are a tolerably pretty boy and if you’d learned jiu-jitsu, you’d have walloped me. In spite of that, in spite of that, I am enormously tempted to slap you in the face as you lie there. I’ll probably regret it, but if I do it, I already know I’ll do it against my will, almost. And of course by then I wouldn’t content myself with a slap in the face, but I’d also beat you right and left until your cheeks swell up. And maybe you’re a man of honor – I’d almost believe it – and wouldn’t want to live anymore and pass out of the world. But what do you have against me? Don’t you like me? Wouldn’t it have been worth it to come to my room? Pay attention! I almost hit you with a slap in the face right now! If you should get away today, be more refined the next time. I am not your uncle whom you can defy. Besides, I want you to pay attention, so that if I let you go unslapped, you won’t believe that what you’re going through now and an actual slap in the face are the same in terms of honor, but if that were the case, I would prefer to slap you in the face. What will Mack say when I explain all this to him.” When she remembered Mack she let Karl go, in his vague thoughts Mack seemed like a liberator. He still felt Klara’s hand on his throat, so he writhed a little and then he lay still.
She encouraged him to stand up, he didn’t answer and didn’t move. She lit a candle somewhere, the room got some light, a blue zigzag pattern appeared on the ceiling, but Karl lay there, his head resting on the pillow where Klara had left it, not moving one finger’s width. Klara walked around the room, her skirt rustled on her legs, she stayed by the window a long while. “Over it yet?” you could hear her ask. Karl found it painful that he was unable to get any rest in the very room that Mr. Pollunder had thought up for him for the night. Because that girl wandered round, stood there and talked, and he was so indescribably fed up. All he wanted was to fall asleep quickly and get away from here. He didn’t want the bed at all, but wanted to stay on the sofa instead. He lay in wait just for her to walk away, so he could spring to the door behind her, lock it and leap back to the sofa. He wanted so badly to stretch and yawn, but he didn’t want to do it because of Klara. And so he lay there, staring up, and he felt his face become stiff, and a circling fly flickered before his eyes without his knowing exactly what it was.
Again Klara went over to him, bent down in his line of sight, and if he hadn’t have mastered himself, he might have had to look at her. “I’m going now,” she said. “Maybe later you’ll want to come by me. The door to my room is the fourth of these doors on the right, on this side of the hallway. So you’ll pass these doors, and the next one you come to is the right one. I’m not going to the dining hall anymore, but I’ll stay in my room. I’m not going to wait for you, but if you want to come then come. Remember, you promised to play the piano for me. But maybe I’ve completely stunned you and you can’t move anymore, so stay and go to sleep. I won’t say a word to my father about our fight, for now, I know that the circumstances might cause you some trouble.” And so she ran with two leaps out of the room, despite her alleged sleepiness.
At once Karl sat up, this lying around had already become unbearable. Just so he could move around a little, he went to the door and looked into the hallway. But what a darkness! He was happy as he closed and locked the door, and the table continued to stand in the light of a candle. He decided not to stay any longer in this house, but to go down to Mr. Pollunder and tell him frankly how he had treated Klara – admittedly, his defeat didn’t weigh on him at all – and with this entirely sufficient reason he’d ask permission to drive home or to be allowed to walk. If Mr. Pollunder objected to something about this immediate return home, then Karl would want at least to ask him to let a servant guide him to the nearest hotel. So far as Karl knew, as a rule this was not the way you treated friendly hosts, but you also didn’t treat guests like Klara had treated him. She had even thought it kind of her to promise not to tell Mr. Pollunder about their fight, and that was scandalous. And so Karl was invited to a wrestling match, and it had been humiliating for him to be thrown around by a girl who probably committed the greater part of her life to learning wrestling moves. In the end she had received lessons from Mack. If she would explain everything to him, it would be understandable, Karl knew that, even though Karl had never had the opportunity to hear from the man himself. Karl also knew, that if Mack would instruct him he would make even greater progress than Klara; then one day he would come here again, most likely uninvited, to get a feel for the territory, the exact knowledge of which had been a great advantage for Klara, so he could seize this same Klara and knock her onto the same sofa on which he had been thrown today.
His concern now was finding the way back to the hall, where, in his initial absentmindedness, he had probably laid his hat in an inappropriate place. He wanted to take the candle with him of course, but it wasn’t easy to find his way around just by its light. He didn’t know at all, for example, if his door was on the same level as the hall. Klara had dragged him so much on the way here that he hadn’t been able to look around, Mr. Green and the light-bearing servants had taken up his attention, in short, he didn’t know if they had passed one or two or no staircases at all. According to his view of things, the room lay somewhat high, so he tried to imagine that she had come over some steps, but you had to climb steps even on the way up to the house, why couldn’t this side of the house be raised higher. But if there were at least some light shining on a door somewhere for him to see, or a voice in the distance, ever so soft to hear . . .
His pocket watch, a gift from his uncle, read eleven o’clock, he took the candle and went out into the hallway. He left the door open, in case his search were pointless he could at least find his room again and in case of emergency the door to Klara’s room. To be sure that the door wouldn’t close by itself, he blocked it with an armchair. In the hallway, a breeze unfortunately blew against Karl – he naturally went to the left, away from Klara’s room – it was weak, but all the same it could’ve easily extinguished the candle, so Karl protected the flame with his hand and often had to stop moving, so that the weakened flame might revive itself. It made for slow forward progress and because of the stopping the way seemed twice as long. Karl came by a great stretch of wall entirely without doors, you couldn’t imagine what was behind it. Then came again door after door, he tried to open several, they were blocked and the rooms apparently unlived in. It was an unparalleled waste of rooms and Karl thought of the apartments in eastern New York, which his uncle had promised to show him, where allegedly several families lived in one small room and a family’s home was the corner of a room, where the children pawed at their parents. And here so many rooms stood empty, just so you could hear a hollow sound when you knocked on the door. It seemed to Karl that Mr. Pollunder was misled by false friends and crazy about his daughter and ruined because of it. His uncle had certainly judged him correctly, and only his principle of not influencing Karl’s personal judgment was guilty for this visit and this wandering through hallways. Karl wanted to repeat this to his uncle that morning, since because of his principle his uncle would listen to his nephew’s judgment of him calmly and gladly. It was generally this principle that Karl didn’t like about his uncle, but even this dislike didn’t come without qualifications.
Suddenly the wall on one side of the hallway stopped and an ice-cold marble railing stood in its place. Karl put the candle down on it and leaned over carefully. Dark emptiness blew against him. If this was the main lobby of the house – in the shimmer of the candle, a vaulted, arching ceiling appeared – why wasn’t anyone walking through this lobby? What purpose did this great, deep room serve? You stood here in the open, as in the gallery of a church. Karl almost regretted not being able to stay in the house till morning, he would gladly have been led all around by Mr. Pollunder in daylight and would have allowed him to explain everything.
The railing wasn’t long and soon Karl was taken into another enclosed hallway again. When the hallway suddenly turned Karl knocked into a wall with his whole force and only the uninterrupted care with which he desperately held the handle protected it, luckily, from falling and going out. Since the hallway didn’t want to end, there were no windows to look out of, nothing moved, neither high nor low, Karl was already thinking that he if he kept on walking forward through the same circle of intersections he could hope maybe to find the door to his room again, but neither it nor the balustrade returned again. Up to now Karl had kept himself from any loud shouting, because he didn’t want to make any noises in a strange house at such a late hour, but he realized that this wasn’t a bad thing to do in an unlit house and right away he began to scream a loud hallo down both sides of the hallway, when he noticed, in the direction he had come from, a small approaching light. For the first time he could estimate the length of this hallway, the house was a fortress, not a villa. Karl’s joy over this delivering light was so great that he forgot all caution and ran to it, with the first leap his candle already went out. He didn’t pay any attention to it, because he didn’t need it, an old servant was coming with a lantern to show him the right way.
“Who are you?” the servant asked and held the lantern up to Karl’s face, immediately lighting up his own. His face appeared somewhat stiff because of a large, white, full beard which broke off into silky ringlets at his chest. You’d have to be a loyal servant to be allowed to grow a beard like that, thought Karl and stared intently at the length and breadth of this beard, unhindered by the fact that he was being watched himself. Anyway, he answered at once that he was Mr. Pollunder’s guest, wanted to leave his room for the dining room and couldn’t find it. “Ah, so,” the servant said, “we haven’t installed the electric lights yet.” “I know,” Karl said. “Would you like to light your candle on my lantern?” asked the servant. “Please,” Karl said and did it. “It’s been proven here in the hallways,” the servant said, “that a candle easily goes out, and so I have a lantern.” “Yes, a lantern is very practical,” Karl said. “Your candle is also dripping all over you,” he said and shone the light on Karl’s shirt. “I didn’t notice that at all,” Karl cried and he was very sorry about it, because it was a dark suit which his uncle had said fit him best of all. The fight with Klara had also rendered the suit useless, he reminded himself. The servant was kind enough to clean the suit as well as he could in a hurry; again and again Karl turned himself around in front of him and showed him a fleck here and there, which the servant obediently removed. “Why is it breezy like this?” asked Karl, as they continued on. “There is still a lot to build,” the servant said, “they already started rebuilding, but it went on for a long time. Now the construction workers are on strike, as you perhaps know. You get a lot of trouble with this kind of construction. Now they’ve smashed through a couple of large holes which no one has bricked up, and the breeze runs through the whole house. If I didn’t have my ears full of cotton, I couldn’t stand it.” “So do I have to speak louder?” asked Karl. “No, you have a clear voice,” said the servant. “But, to get back to the building, the breeze is unbearable, especially here when you’re close to the chapel, but later it will be completely cut off from the rest of the house.” “That balcony you come over in the hallway, does that go to the chapel too?” “Yes.” “That’s exactly what I thought,” said Karl. “It’s very much worth seeing,” said the servant. “If it weren’t there, Mr. Mack would never have bought the house.” “Mr. Mack?” asked Karl. “I thought the house belonged to Mr. Pollunder.” “Yes it does,” said the servant, “but Mr. Mack was the deciding factor in the purchase. Don’t you know Mr. Mack?” “Oh yes,” said Karl, “but how is he connected with Mr. Pollunder?” “He is the lady’s fiancé,” said the servant. “I did not know that,” said Karl, standing still. “Are you so surprised?” asked the servant. “I just want it all laid out in front of me. If you don’t know about these kind of relationships, you can make gigantic mistakes,” answered Karl. “It just confuses me, that no one said anything to you,” said the servant. “Yes, really,” said Karl, embarrassed. “They probably thought you knew it,” said the servant. “It’s not recent news. Anyway, here we are,” and he opened a door, behind which a stairway revealed itself that led vertically to the back door of the dining room, as brightly illuminated as it had been on his arrival. Before walking into the dining room, where the voices of Mr. Pollunder and Mr. Green could have been heard unchanged for two whole hours, the servant said, “If you want, I’ll wait for you here and then lead you to your room. It’s always difficult to get to know this place the first night.” “I’m not going back to my room anymore,” said Karl, and he didn’t know why this knowledge made me said. “It won’t be so bad,” said the servant, with a little superior laugh and a slap on the arm. He probably thought that Karl meant to stay the entire night in the dining room, so he could talk with the men and drink with them too. Karl didn’t want to make any confessions, besides Karl was thinking that this servant, who pleased him more than the other local servants, could show him the right direction to New York, and because of this he said: “If you’d wait here, that would be a great kindness from you and I’d accept it gratefully. In any case, after a little while I’ll come out and tell you what I’m going to do. I think your help will still be useful to me.” “Good,” the servant said, standing the lantern up on the ground and sitting himself on a low pedestal, whose emptiness probably had something to do with the rebuilding of the house. “So I’ll wait here.” “You can leave the candle with me,” the servant added when Karl nearly walked into the hall with the burning candle. “I’m so forgetful,” said Karl and reached the candle over to the servant, who nodded at him a little without revealing if he did it intentionally or if it was a consequence of the fact that he was stroking his beard with his hand.
Karl opened the door, and it wasn’t his fault that it rattled loudly, because it was made of a single glass plate that was only held on at the handle and almost cracked when the door was opened quickly. Frightened, Karl let go of the door, because he had wanted to walk in quietly. Without any more turning around, he noticed that the servant had apparently climbed down from his pedestal and closed the door without the slightest noise. “Forgive me if I’m disturbing you,” he said to both gentlemen, who stared at him with their large, astonished faces. Immediately, however, he skimmed the hall with a glance to see if he couldn’t find his hat. But it was nowhere to be seen, the dining table was completely cleared away, maybe the hat embarrassingly had been carried away to somewhere in the kitchen. “So where did you lose Klara?” asked Mr. Pollunder, who seemed to enjoy the interruption, because he shifted his position in his chair right away and turned his entire front to Karl. Mr. Green pretended not to be interested and pulled his wallet out, which was enormous for its kind in both length and width. He seemed to look for a certain something in its many pockets, but during the search he read all the various papers that came into his hand. “I have a request, which you must not misunderstand,” said Karl, moving hurriedly to Mr. Pollunder to be near to him, his hand on the armrest of the chair. “What kind of request is it?” asked Mr. Pollunder and looked at Karl with open, supportive glances. “It’s already granted of course.” And he laid an arm around Karl and pulled him onto his lap. Karl put up with it gladly, but he felt much too grown-up for this kind of behavior. But naturally it became more difficult to declare his request. “How do you like it by us?” Mr. Pollunder asked. “Does it seem to you too, that you become free in the country, once you get out of the city. In general –” and Pollunder sent a well-understood glance, somewhat concealed by Karl, right to Mr. Green – “In general I have this feeling again and again every evening.” “He speaks,” thought Karl, “like he knows nothing about this gigantic house, the endless hallways, the chapel, the empty rooms, the darkness over everything.” “Now!” said Mr. Pollunder. “The request!” and he shook Karl affectionately, as Karl sat there dumb. “I request,” said Karl, and as much as he muffled his voice, he couldn’t keep Green, who sat nearby, from hearing everything that Karl would have preferred to keep discrete, everything that was likely to be taken as an insult to Mr. Pollunder. “I request, that you let me go home, right now, in the night.” And since the most unpleasant part had been said, everything else shoved out all the faster, he said without the smallest lie things he hadn’t thought of at all before now. “I would like above all things to go home. I’ll gladly come back, because wherever you are, Mr. Pollunder, I’m fine. It’s just that today I can’t stay here. You know, my uncle hadn’t wanted to give me permission for this visit. He certainly had his good reasons, as he has for everything he does, and I took it upon myself to force out his permission against his better judgment. Simply, I abused his love for me. Whatever doubts he had about this visit are now unimportant, I know simply and entirely and certainly that there was nothing in these doubts about hurting you, Mr. Pollunder, you who are the best, the best friend of my uncle. No one could match, not in the slightest, your friendship with my uncle. That is the single excuse for my disobedience, but it’s not enough. Maybe you don’t have enough insight into the relationship between my uncle and me, so I only want to talk about the most convincing points. As long as my English studies remain incomplete and I haven’t looked around enough for myself in practical business, I am entirely dependent on the goodness of my uncle, which as a blood relative I am admittedly allowed to enjoy. You might not believe that I could somehow earn my own bread – and for everything else may God protect me. My education, unfortunately, has been too impractical for that. I made it through four grades as an average student in a European middle school, and as far as making money goes that counts for less than nothing, because the lesson plan in our school was obsolete. You’d laugh if I told you what I learned. Maybe if someone continued studying, finished school and went to the university, everything might probably balance out somehow, and he’d finally have a well-rounded education that would give him the resolve to start something and make some money. But I, unfortunately, was torn away from this web of studies, sometimes I think I don’t know anything at all, and what I do know wouldn’t be enough in America. Now, here are there in my homeland, reformed schools are being set up, where you can learn modern languages and business science, when I got out of school they weren’t there yet. My father encouraged me to teach myself English, but first of all I couldn’t even guess what kind of misfortune would envelop me and how I’d need that English, and secondly I had so much to learn at that school that I didn’t have much time for other business – I’m saying all of this to show you how I dependent I am on my uncle and consequently how indebted I am to him. You’ll certainly admit, that because of this situation I am not allowed to permit myself even the slightest offense against what he might want. And for that reason, in order to make up for the error I’ve committed against him, I must go home immediately.” During Karl’s long speech, Mr. Pollunder had listened carefully and quite often squeezed Karl up against him imperceptibly, especially when the uncle was mentioned, looking earnestly and full of expectation at Green, who continued to busy himself with his wallet. But Karl just became more impatient, which became clear to him over the course of his speech, seeking instinctively to push Mr. Pollunder’s arm away from him, everything cramped him here, the road to his uncle through the glass doors, down the stairway, over the country roads, through the suburbs to the large traffic-jammed streets leading to his uncle’s house seemed all together as one, lying there empty, smooth and ready for him and calling after him with a strong voice. Mr. Pollunder’s kindness and Mr. Green’s repulsiveness blurred together, and he wanted nothing from this smoky room but permission to say goodbye. He felt alienated from Mr. Pollunder, ready for a fight with Mr. Green, and then an uncertain fear came around and filled him, whose shock clouded his eyes.
He took a step back and stood exactly as far from Mr. Pollunder as he did from Mr. Green. “Do you want to say something to him?” Mr. Pollunder asked Mr. Green, grabbing Mr. Green’s hand as if pleading with him. “I don’t know, what should I say to him?” said Mr. Green, who had finally took a letter from his wallet and laid it before them on the table. “It is highly admirable, that he wants to return to his uncle and you could reasonably believe that he will make his uncle especially happy. It could also be that he made his uncle much too angry through his disobedience. In that case it would be better if he stayed here. It’s difficult to say anything definite, we are both his uncle’s friends and it takes an effort to figure out which friendship ranks higher, mine or Mr. Pollunder’s, but we can’t read your uncle’s mind, especially over all these kilometers separating us from New York.” “Please,” said Karl, bringing himself closer to him through sheer willpower, “I’m detecting in your words, that it would be best if I got back right away.” “That isn’t what I meant,” said Mr. Green, becoming engrossed in the letter and running his two fingers back and forth along the edges. He seemed to want to hint that Mr. Pollunder had asked him a question, that he had answered back, and that he had really nothing to do with Karl.
In the meantime Mr. Pollunder had walked over to Karl and pulled him gently away from Mr. Green to one of the large windows. “Dear Mr. Rossman,” he said, bending down to Karl’s ear, washing his face with a handkerchief in preparation and, after a pause, blowing his nose. “You don’t believe that I want to hold you here against your will. We shouldn’t even talk about that. I cannot provide the automobile for you, because it’s resting far away from here in a public garage, since I didn’t have the time to build my own garage here while everything else is in planning. And the chauffeur doesn’t sleep here in the house, but closer to the garage, I don’t know where exactly. Moreover, it is not his duty at all to be home right now, his duty is just this, to get here early at the right time. But all that would be no obstacle to your returning home at a moment’s notice, because if you insisted on it, I’d accompany you immediately to the nearest station for trains into the city, and that is so far away you wouldn’t be able to arrive home much earlier if you traveled with me in my automobile – we leave at seven o’clock.” “Mr. Pollunder, I would prefer to travel by the train into the city,” said Karl. “I didn’t think at all about the train. You said yourself I could arrive earlier with the train than with the automobile.” “But there’s only a small difference.” “In spite of that, in spite of that Mr. Pollunder,” said Karl, “in memory of your kindness, I will always like to come here, assuming of course that after my behavior today you’ll still want to invite me, and maybe next time I’ll be able to explain to you a little better why every minute I could be with my uncle is so important to me.” And as if he was about to receive permission to leave, he added: “But under no circumstances are you allowed to accompany me. It is entirely unnecessary. There’s a servant outside who will gladly accompany me to the station. Now I just need to find my hat.” And with the last word he cut through the room to make a hurried last attempt to find his hat. “Could I help you out with a cap?” said Mr. Green, taking a cap from his pocket. “Maybe it will fit.” Karl stood amazed and said: “I’m not going to take away your cap. I’ll be just fine with a bare head. I don’t need it at all.” “It’s not my cap. Just take it!” “Then thank you,” said Karl, so he wouldn’t detain himself, and took the cap. He took it and laughed at first, because it fit exactly, then took it again in his hand and examined it, but couldn’t find the special thing that he was looking for; it was a perfect new hat. “It fits so well!” he said. “So it fits!” cried Mr. Green and banged on the table.
Karl was already going to the door to fetch the servant when Mr. Green picked himself up, stretched after a good meal and all that quiet time, clapped strongly against his chest and said in a tone between suggesting and demanding: “Before you leave you have to say goodbye to Miss Klara.” “You must,” said Mr. Pollunder, who had also stood up. You could hear in him that the words weren’t coming from the heart, he weakly let his hands hit his pants seams and was constantly buttoning and unbuttoning his jacket, which was very short, according to the style of the time, and barely went to his hips, and people as large as Mr. Pollunder wore such jackets terribly. Standing close to Mr. Pollunder, you would have had the impression that all this weight wasn’t good for Mr. Pollunder, the entire mass of his back writhed, the stomach was soft and flabby, a real burden, and the face seemed pale and labored. Across from him stood Mr. Green, maybe a little fatter than Mr. Pollunder, but it was a coherent, load-bearing kind of fat, the feet were clapped together in a soldier’s stance, he held the head upright and nodded, he seemed to be a large gymnast, a chief among gymnasts.
“So first of all,” Mr. Green continued, “go to Miss Klara. That will allow you to have a good time and it also fits very nicely with my schedule. Actually, I have something interesting to tell you before you continue on, something that might be crucial for your return. But unfortunately I’m bound by higher orders not to give them away to you before midnight. You can imagine the kind of harm it does to me, because it’s disturbing my night’s rest, but I will hold myself to my orders. Now it’s a quarter after eleven, I’ll discuss my business with Mr. Pollunder to the end, and your presence here would only be a disturbance, so you can spend a nice while with Miss Klara. You will arrive here punctually at twelve o’clock, where you will learn the matter of importance.”
Could Karl defy these orders, which demanded only the smallest bit of hospitality and thanks toward Mr. Pollunder – which, by the way, had been given to him by an indifferent, brutal man while Mr. Pollunder, whose business it actually was, held himself back with words and glances? And what was this interesting thing he would be allowed to hear at midnight? If it didn’t hurry his return home by the three-quarters of an hour it was wasting, it didn’t really interest him. But he doubted the most if he would able to walk over to Klara, his enemy. If only he’d had the chisel his uncle had given to him as a paperweight. Klara’s room could be a dangerous cave. But now it was completely and utterly impossible to say the slightest thing against Klara, because she was Mr. Pollunder’s daughter and, as he had heard, Mack’s fiancée. If she had behaved a tiny bit differently, he would have openly admired her for these relationships. He thought all this over, but noticed, that no one could demand any thought out of him, because Green opened the door and said to the servant, who sprang up from the pedestal: “Take this young man to Miss Klara.”
“So this is how you carry out an order,” thought Karl as he followed at a jog after the servant, who groaned with age down a remarkably short way to Klara’s room. As Karl passed his room, where the door was still standing open, he wanted to step in for a moment, maybe just to reassure himself. But the servant didn’t let him. “No,” he said, “you have to go to Miss Klara. You heard it yourself.” “I’ll only stop inside for a moment,” said Karl, and he thought about throwing himself on the sofa for a change, so that the time until midnight would go more quickly for him. “Don’t make it difficult for me to carry out my duty,” the servant said. “He seems to think it’s a punishment that I have to go to Miss Klara,” thought Karl and took a couple of steps, but then he stood still again in defiance. “Come on, young man,” said the servant. “now that you’re already here. I know you still want to go off into the night, but not everything goes as you want it, I said to you right away, such things barely become possible.” “Yes, I want to go away and so I’ll go away,” said Karl, “and all I want now is to say goodbye to Miss Klara.” “So,” said the servant, and Karl saw that he didn’t believe a word of it, “why wait to say goodbye, come on then.”
“Who’s in the hallway?” Klara’s voice rang out, and you could see her leaning forward out of an approaching door, a large table light with a red lampshade in her hand. The servant hurried over to her and gave her a report, Karl came slowly after him. “You’re coming late,” said Klara. Without answering her for now, Karl spoke softly to the servant, but, since he already knew the man’s nature, he did it in a tone of strict command: “You wait for me just behind this door!” “I would like to go to sleep now,” said Klara and stood the lamp on the table. As he had done downstairs in the dining room, the servant locked the door carefully from the outside. “It is already past half past eleven.” “Past half past eleven,” Karl repeated in question, as if he were frightened over these numbers.
“Then I have to say goodbye right now,” said Karl, “because I have to be in the dining hall punctually at twelve.” “What kind of business do you have to do in such a hurry,” said Klara and absentmindedly arranged the folds of her nightgown, her face glowed and she smiled all the time. Karl seemed to believe that there was no danger of getting in another quarrel with Klara. “Couldn’t you play the piano a little for me, like Papa had promised yesterday and you had promised today?” “But isn’t it already too late?” Karl asked. He would have preferred to please her, because she was entirely different than before, as if somehow she had been promoted a long way into the ranks of Pollunder and Mack. “Yes it is late,” she said and her desire for music seemed to have passed on. “And every note will echo through the entire house too, I am convinced that when you play, the pack of servants in the attic will all wake up.” “So I’ll let the playing go, I hope, by the way, you can still come to visit my uncle some time, if it doesn’t cause you any trouble, and given the chance you could show up in my room. I have a magnificent piano. My uncle gave it to me. Then I’ll play all my little songs for you, if it’s all right by you, it’s not very much unfortunately, and they’re not right at all for such a fine instrument, which only great virtuosos should be heard on. But if you can come to an agreement with me beforehand about your visit, you’ll be able to have that pleasure too, because soon my uncle wants to hire a famous teacher for me – you can imagine how I’d look forward to this – whose playing will make good grounds for you to pay me a visit during the hour lesson. I am, to be honest, happy, that it’s too late for playing, because I can’t play at all, you would be astonished at how little I can play. Now give me permission to leave, it is your bedtime after all.” And because Klara looked kindly on him, and seemed not to bear a grudge towards him at all for their fight, he added with a smile, while he reached his hand toward hers: “In my country, we like to say: Sleep well and dream sweetly.”
“Wait, you,” she said without taking his hand, “maybe you should still play.” And she disappeared through a small side door next to the piano. “What is it then?” Karl thought. “I can’t wait any longer, no matter how nice she is.” There was a knock on the hallway door, and the servant, not daring to fully open the door, whispered through a small crack: “Excuse me, I’ve been called back and can’t wait any more.” “Just go,” said Karl, who decided to take a chance and find his way to the dining room by himself. “Just let me borrow the lantern in front of the door. How late is it anyway?” “Almost quarter to twelve,” said the servant. “The time goes by so slowly,” said Karl. The servant wanted to close the door already, when Karl remembered that he still hadn’t give him a tip, took a shilling out of his pants pocket – he always carried loose change jingling in his pants pocket, according to American custom, while his bank notes were in his vest pocket – and reached it over to the servant with the words: “For your good service.”
Klara had already walked in with her hands on her firm hairstyle, when it occurred to Karl that he shouldn’t have sent the servant away. Who would lead him to the train station now? But Mr. Pollunder would be able to get his hands on a servant somewhere, maybe this servant had been called into the dining room to await further orders. “I’ll ask you then to play a little. You get to listen to music so seldom, you don’t want to pass up any opportunity to listen.” “But then it’s high time,” said Karl without any thought and sat immediately by the piano. “Do you want any sheet music?” asked Klara. “Thank you, I can’t really read the notes,” answered Karl and began playing. It was a short song that Karl knew would have to be played somewhat at length, especially for a foreigner to understand it, but he hustled through it in an angry marching beat. After it was over, the silence swarmed into their area again like a large crowd. “Very beautiful,” said Klara, but there was no amount of courtesy which could have flattered Karl after that kind of playing. “What time is it?” he asked. “A quarter to twelve.” “Then I still have a little time,” he said and thought to himself: “Either/or. I can’t play all ten songs I know, but I can probably play one well.” And he began his beloved soldier’s song. So slowly that the startled desires of the listener anticipated the next note that Karl was holding back and gave up only with difficulty. As with every song, he actually had to seek out the important keys with his eyes, but along with that he felt a sadness coming to life in himself which sought out a different ending over the actual ending of the song, but he couldn’t find it. “I can’t,” said Karl at the end of the song and looked at Klara with tears in his eyes.
Then from the next room, loud applause rang out. “Someone else is listening!” cried Karl, roused up. “Mack,” Klara said softly. And already you could hear Mack call out, “Karl Rossman! Karl Rossman!”
Karl swung both feet over the piano stool at the same time and opened the door. He saw Mack sitting there half-reclined in a large bed with four posts, the blanket had been thrown loosely over his legs. The canopy of blue silk had a unique girlish magnificence on an otherwise simple, heavy, wooden square bed. Only one candle burned on the small night table, but Mack’s shirt and the bed linen were so white, that the falling candlelight shone off of them in an almost blinding reflection; even the canopy glowed at the edges with its softly waving, loose-fitting silk. Just behind Mack, however, the bed and everything else sank into complete darkness. Klara leaned herself against the bedpost and had eyes only for Mack.
“Hello,” said Mack, reaching his hand to Karl. “You play well, up to now I only knew your riding.” “I do one as terribly as the other,” said Karl. “If I’d known you were listening, I would never have played. But your young lady –” He interrupted himself, he hesitated to say “fiancée,” since Mack and Klara obviously slept with each other. “I thought so,” said Mack. “That’s why Klara had to lure you out here from New York, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten to hear you play. It’s thoroughly amateur, and you made a few mistakes in these songs you practiced at, and they’re very primitively arranged, but all the same I liked it, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I never hate anyone’s performance. Won’t you sit down and stay awhile. Klara, give him a chair.” “Thank you,” Karl said hesitantly. “I can’t stay, as much as I would I like to stay here. I learned too late there’s a comfortable room in this house.” “I’m rebuilding everything this way,” said Mack.
At that moment twelve bell chimes rang out, quickly one after the other, each one striking in the echo of the other, Karl felt on his cheeks the contractions of the great movement of the bells. What kind of village was this that had such bells!
“High time,” said Karl, stretching his hands out to Mack and Klara without grabbing them, and left for the hallway. He didn’t find the lantern there and regretted giving the servant his tip too soon. He wanted to feel his way along the way to the open door of his room, but was barely halfway there when he saw Mr. Green staggering here and there in a hurry with a raised candle. In the hand in which he held the candle, he also carried a letter.
“Rossman, why didn’t you come? Why did you let me wait? Why did you carry on like that with Miss Klara?” “So many questions!” thought Karl. “And now he’s pressing me against the wall,” because he was actually standing tightly against Karl, who leaned against the wall with his back. Green took on a large, smiling appearance in this hallway, and Karl asked himself for fun if he had somehow devoured good Mr. Pollunder.
“Really, you are not man of your word. Promising to come down at twelve o’clock and sneaking around Miss Klara’s door instead. But I promised you something interesting at midnight and now I’m here.”
With that he gave Karl a letter. On the envelope stood: “To Karl Rossman. To be personally delivered at midnight, wherever he is found.” “Finally,” said Mr. Green as Karl opened the envelope, “it is, I think, worth mentioning that I traveled out here from New York for you, so you can’t let me run after you up and down these hallways.”
“From Uncle!” Karl said, having barely looked at the letter. “I was expecting it,” he said, turning to Mr. Green.
“Whether you expected it or not is of colossal indifference to me. Just read it,” he said, holding the candle for Karl.
Karl read by its light: Beloved nephew! As you have already noticed during our unfortunately short life together, I am thoroughly a man of principle. Not only is that unpleasant and sad for everyone around me but also for myself, but I owe to my principles everything I am and no one is allowed to demand that I deny myself the very ground I stand on, no one, not even you, my beloved nephew, even though you would’ve been the first, it occurs to me, to be allowed any kind of assault on my person. Then, with these hands that hold the paper and write, I would pick you up and hold you high. Since, however, it doesn’t seem right now that this could happen, I must send you away completely, on account of the present incident, and I urgently insist that you neither seek me out yourself nor seek me by letter or through any intermediary. You have decided to go against my wishes, to leave me tonight, so stay with your decision for the rest of your life. Only then it will be a manly decision. To deliver this news, I chose Mr.Green, my best friend, who will find gentle words for you that could not come from me. He is an influential man and for love of me he will support you with advice and action in your first steps toward independence. To understand our severance, which seems incomprehensible even by the end of this letter, I have to continue to say again and again: Karl, nothing good can come from your family. Should Mr. Green forget to hand over your trunk and umbrella, remind him. With best wishes for your continued welfare
Your loyal Uncle Jakob.
“Are you finished?” asked Green. “Yes,” said Karl. “Did you bring along the trunk and the umbrella?” asked Karl. “Here it is,” said Green and put Karl’s old traveling trunk next to Karl on the floor, which up to now he’d hidden behind his back with his left hand. “And the umbrella?” Karl continued. “Everything’s here,” said Mr. Green and pulled out the umbrella hanging from one of his pants pockets. “Your things were brought up by a certain Schubal, a head machinist on the Hamburg-America line, he claimed to have found it on the ship. You could thank him when you get the chance.” “At least I have my old things again,” said Karl, lying the umbrella on the trunk. “The Senator told me you should take better care of them in the future,” remarked Mr. Green, and he asked out of private curiosity: “What strange kind of luggage is that?” “It’s a trunk that soldiers brought up when they were called to join the army,” answered Karl. “It’s my father’s old military trunk. It’s very practical.” Smiling, he added: “Assuming you don’t leave it around somewhere.” “So you’ve finally learned something,” said Mr. Green, “and you don’t have a second American uncle. I’m giving you a third-class ticket to San Francisco. I’ve decided on this trip for you, first because the promise of making money is much better for you in the east, and second because your uncle has his hands in everything you might consider doing here, and a chance meeting has to be avoided at all costs. In Frisco you could work completely undisturbed, you could begin calmly and gradually work your way up.”
Karl didn’t hear any malice in these words, the bad news that had been stuck in Mr. Green for the whole evening had been delivered and from now on Green seemed harmless, someone he could speak with as openly as with any other. If the best man in the world were chosen to be the messenger of such a secret and tormenting decision, he would seem suspicious so long as he stuck to it. “I will,” said Karl, expecting the approval of an experienced man, “leave this house immediately, because I was only taken in as the nephew of my uncle, but no one will want me here if I’m a stranger. Would you be so kind as to show me the hallway out and lead me on the way to the nearest restaurant.” “But quickly,” said Mr. Green. “You’re causing me a little trouble.” Seeing the large strides Mr. Green immediately made, Karl hesitated, it was a suspicious kind of hurry, and he grabbed Mr. Green by the jacket from behind and said with a sudden realization of the truth: “You need to clear something up for me. On the envelope of the letter you delivered to me, it only said that I had to receive it at midnight, wherever I was found. So why did you hold me back to give me this letter, when I wanted to leave here at a quarter past eleven? You exceeded your orders.” Green led into his answer with a movement of his hands which wanted to exaggerate the uselessness of Karl’s remarks, and then he said: “Does it say on the envelope that I should rush myself to death because of you? Do the contents of the letter conclude that the instructions should be understood as such? If I hadn’t restrained you, I would have had to deliver the letter to you even if you were on a country road.” “No,” said Karl, undeterred, “it’s not like that. On the envelope it says, ‘To be delivered at midnight.’ If you were tired, you didn’t have to follow me at all, or I would have already arrived by my uncle, what Mr. Pollunder said couldn’t have happened, or it would’ve been your duty to bring me back to my uncle with me in your automobile, and the automobile just so happened to have disappeared from the conversation, because I would have been demanding to go back. Hadn’t it been entirely clear on the envelope that the last deadline for me was at midnight? And it’s your fault I missed it.”
Karl stood astonished in the open air. The house’s growing steps led downward without railings. All he had to do was go down and turn a little bit right into the alley leading to the country road. In the clear moonlight, you couldn’t get lost. Below in the garden he heard the duplicated barking of the dogs who had been released to run around in the shadow of the trees. You could hear them just enough in the silence as they made great leaps through the grass.
Karl came out of the garden, luckily without being bothered by the dogs. He couldn’t establish for sure where New York was, he hadn’t paid enough attention on the way here, and that might’ve been useful to him. Finally, he said to himself, he couldn’t go to New York, because no one waited for him there and there was someone in particular who didn’t want him. So he chose any direction he pleased and went on his way.
After a short march, Karl came to a small inn, which was actually just a small last stop for the New York traffic and as a result barely looked any good for a night’s rest. Karl asked for the cheapest place to sleep that could be had, because Karl believed he had to start saving right away. In accordance with his demand, he was shown by a signal from the landlord, as if he were an employee, to a flight of stairs, where he was received by a tousled old woman who was annoyed at having her sleep disturbed, and almost without hearing him she scolded him without interruption to walk softly, led him to his room and closed the door, but not without shushing him with a Psst!
It was so dark, Karl didn’t quite know at first if the window shades had been let down all the way or if the room had no windows at all; he noticed at last a small skylight hanging above him, whose curtain he pulled away so that some light came in. The room had two beds, both of which, however, were occupied. Karl saw two young people lying there in a heavy sleep, who didn’t seem very trustworthy, because for no comprehensible reason they slept fully dressed, and one still had his boots on.
At the moment that Karl was opening up the skylight, one of the sleepers raised his arms and legs into the air a little, which presented such a sight that Karl, in spite of his sorrows, laughed inwardly to himself.
He soon saw, that apart from the fact that he didn’t have another place to sleep – neither a couch nor a sofa – he wouldn’t be able to get any sleep, because he wouldn’t allow his newly recovered trunk and the money he carried on him to come into any danger. But he also didn’t want to go away, because he didn’t dare go out of the house and past the old woman and the landlord so soon. In the end it probably wasn’t any more unsafe here than it was on the road. Of course it was striking that there wasn’t a single piece of luggage to be found in the entire room, so far as he could see in the half-light. But most likely these two young people were the house servants, who had to get up soon on account of the guests, and so they slept fully dressed. So it wasn’t particularly honorable to sleep with them, but it was all the more safe. But as long as there was any doubt, he didn’t allow himself to fall asleep.
In front of one of the beds stood a candle with some tiny matches, which Karl crept up to and grabbed. He had no second thoughts about the light, because by order of the landlord the room belonged as much to him as it did to the two others, and they’d already enjoyed their sleep for half the night and had an incomparable advantage over him by occupying the beds. Of course he made a great effort not to wake them by walking around softly and conducting himself carefully.
First of all he wanted to look through his trunk to get an overview of his things, which he only remembered vaguely, the most valuable of which must have gone missing. Because when Schubal lays his hands on something, there is little hope it gets back unharmed. Although he could have expected a large tip from Uncle, while the absence of any object could be blamed on the original trunk watcher, Mr. Butterbaum.
At the first sight of the opened trunk, Karl was horrified. He had spent so many hours during the trip arranging his trunk and arranging it all over again and now everything was so wildly stuffed in there that when the lock opened the lid sprang up into the air. Soon, however, Karl recognized to his great relief, that the only reason for this disorder was that someone later had packed in the suit that he had worn during the trip, which of course had not been calculated for the trunk. Not the slightest thing missing. In the secret pocket of his jacket, not only did he find the passport but also the money he had taken from home, so that when he laid it next to everything he already had, Karl was richly provided for with money, for the moment. And the laundry he had worn for the arrival was freshly washed and ironed. He immediately put the watch and the money in his protected secret pocket. The only regrettable item was the Veronese salami, which hadn’t gone missing but had passed on its smell to all of his things. If this couldn’t be removed somehow, Karl had the prospect of walking around for months wrapped up in its smell.
By looking for certain objects lying at the bottom – a pocket Bible, letter-paper and a photograph of his parents – the cap fell from his head and into the trunk. He recognized it right away in its old surroundings, it was his cap, the cap which his mother had given him as a traveling cap. He’d had the foresight not to wear this cap on the ship, because he knew that generally people in America wore caps and not hats, and he didn’t want to wear it out before the arrival. And now Mr. Green had used it to have fun at Karl’s expense. Maybe his uncle had ordered him to do it. And with an inadvertently furious motion, he loudly clapped the trunk lid shut.
There wasn’t any help for it now, both sleepers had awaken. First they stretched and one of them yawned, and right after him so did the other. By now almost the entire contents had been spilled onto the tables, if they were thieves, all they had to was walk up and take their pick. Not only to anticipate this possibility but also to bring in some clarity, Karl went, candle in hand, to the beds and explained why he was allowed to be here. They didn’t seem to expect this explanation at all, because, much too tired to speak, they looked at him without any amazement. They were both very young, but difficult work or anguish had prematurely uncovered the bones in their faces, unkempt beards hung off their chins, their long, uncut hair hung in scraps from their heads and out of drowsiness they rubbed and pressed their deep-set eyes with their knuckles.
Karl wanted to use their momentary weakness and said: “My name is Karl Rossman and I am a German. Please tell me too, since we’re sharing a room, your names and nationalities. I’ll tell you right now, I have no claim on a bed, because I came so late and don’t plan on sleeping anyway. Plus, you shouldn’t trouble yourselves about my nice clothes, I’m very poor and without any prospects.”
The smaller of the two – it was the one who had boots on – hinted with his arms, legs and expressions that this didn’t interest him at all and that it wasn’t the time for this kind of conversation anyway, so he lay back down and fell asleep right away; the other, a dark-skinned man, lay down too, but with a casually outstretched hand he managed to say before passing out: “He’s Robinson and he’s Irish, I’m Delamarche, I’m French and please be quiet.” He had barely said this when he blew out Karl’s candle with a great expenditure of breath and fell back on the pillow.
“The danger is averted for the moment,” Karl said to himself as he returned to the table. Unless they were faking their drowsiness, everything was going well. It was just unpleasant that one of them was an Irishman. Karl didn’t know what kind of book he had read once at home, that told him to watch out for Irishmen. While staying with his uncle, he’d had the best opportunity to venture into this question of the dangerousness of the Irish, but because he had believed himself permanently secure, the question had been completely neglected. Now at least he wanted to get a good look at this Irishman with the candle, which he had lit again, and he found that this one looked more tolerable than the Frenchman. There was a roundness to his face, and he laughed very kindly in his sleep, so far as he could tell as he stood on his tiptoes from a distance.
Even though everything in him was determined not to sleep, Karl sat down in the room’s only chair, put off for the moment the packing of the trunk – he could still spend the whole night on it – and leafed through the bible without reading anything. Then he picked up the photograph of his parents, where his short father stood erect and tall, while his mother sat a little sunken in the chair in front of him. His father held one hand on the back of the chair, the other balled into a fist on an illustrated book that lay open on the delicately ornate table next to him. There was also a photograph, where Karl was shown with his parents, Father and Mother looked sharply at him in that one, while he had been forced to look at the photographer’s camera. But he hadn’t gotten that photograph for the trip.
He looked more closely at what was lying in front of him and tried to pick up his father’s gaze from every angle. But as he shifted his view by various positions of the candle, his father would not become livelier, his strong horizontal mustache didn’t look anything like it did in reality, it was not a good photograph. His mother, on the contrary, looked much better, her mouth was twisted out of shape as if she had just been hurt and were forcing herself to smile. It seemed to Karl that this would be just as obvious to anyone who saw the picture, then a moment later it seemed to him that the clarity of these impressions would be too strong and almost absurd. How could you get from a picture such an unassailable conviction about the feelings of the people in the picture? And he looked away from the picture for a long while. When he brought his glance back again, it fell on the hand of his mother, hanging off the arm of the chair, near enough to kiss. He thought that it might be good to write to his parents, like the both of them had urged him to do in Hamburg, especially his father. When his mother had announced to him the trip to America in the darkness of a terrible evening, he had sworn openly and irrevocably never to write, but what did the promise of an inexperienced young man matter in these new circumstances? He might as well have sworn that after two months in America he would have been the general of the American Army, while in reality he was stuck with two lumps in an attic on top of an inn outside New York, and he had to admit that this was his rightful place. And smiling, he examined the faces of his parents, as if he could tell whether or not they had ever wanted to receive some news from their son.
With all this looking he soon noticed that he was very tired and could barely stay awake through the night. The picture fell from his hands, then he laid his face on the picture, whose coolness felt good on his cheek, and with a pleasant feeling, he fell asleep.
He was woken up early by a tickling in his armpit. It was the Frenchman who allowed himself these advances. But in addition, the Irishman stood in front of Karl’s table and both looked at him with some interest, like Karl had done to them during the night. Karl wasn’t surprised that they hadn’t woken him when they’d gotten up; there weren’t any evil intentions in their silence, because he had slept deeply and they clearly hadn’t done much with their appearance and their clothing.
Now they greeted each other properly, with a certain formality, and Karl learned that the two were steam-fitters, who hadn’t gotten any work in a long time and as a result were coming to ruin out here. Robinson opened his jacket as proof and you could that there wasn’t any shirt, which admittedly you could already tell because of the loose-fitting collar that had been fastened to the back of his jacket. They were going to walk for two days from New York to the city of Butterford, where allegedly some positions were available. They had nothing against Karl coming with and first they promised to carry his trunk for now and then to secure him an apprenticeship if they could find work, which would be an easy thing to do if there were any work. Karl had barely agreed when they advised him, out of friendship, to take off those nice clothes, since they would be awkward for him when he applied for the position. And right in this house there was a good opportunity to lose these clothes, because the old woman ran a linen business. They helped Karl, who hadn’t yet finished considering the matter, out of his suit, and then they carried it off. As Karl put on his traveling suit, alone and a little sleep-drunk, he reproached himself for having sold the suit which might end up hurting him at an application for the apprenticeship but which would only be useful at a better post, and he opened the door so he could call the two back, but he knocked into them instead. They put the proceeds of half a dollar on the table, but by the happy faces they made, you couldn’t really convince yourself that they hadn’t taken their piece from the sale, and an annoyingly large one at that.
There wasn’t any time to talk about this, because the old woman came in, just as tired as she was during the night, and drove all three out into the hallway with the explanation that the room had to be prepared for new guests. It went without saying she was acting out of malice. Karl, who had wanted to put his trunk in order, had to watch as the woman packed his things with both hands and threw them into the trunk with vigor, as if they were wild animals to be tamed. The two fitters made lots of trouble for her, plucked at her skirt, tapped her back, but if they had intended that to help Karl, she missed the point entirely. When the old woman had clapped shut the trunk, she pressed the handle into Karl’s hand, shook off the fitters and drove all three out of the room with the threat that if they didn’t obey, they wouldn’t get any coffee. The woman must have completely forgotten that right from the beginning Karl hadn’t belonged to the fitters, because she treated them all as one gang. In fact, the fitters had sold Karl’s clothing to her, and that proved a certain commonality.
In the hallway they had to go back and forth at length, especially the Frenchman, who hung on Karl, cursed without interruption and threatened to knock out the landlord if he ever dared come forward, and it seemed he was preparing for this by furiously rubbing his clenched fists against each other. Finally there came an innocent, small young man, who had to stretch out when he handed the coffee pot to Robinson. Unfortunately there was only one pot and they couldn’t make the young man understand they wanted glasses. So only one could ever drink and the two others stood in front of him and waited. Karl had no desire to drink but didn’t want to offend the others, so he held the pot to his lips, even if he didn’t do anything once it was there.
As a goodbye the Irishman threw the pot at the stone pavement, they left the house without anyone seeing and walked in the thick, yellow morning fog. Generally they walked next to each other on the edge of the road, Karl had to carry his trunk, the others would probably relieve him only by request, here and there an automobile shot through the fog and the three turned their heads after the enormous vehicle that was built so garishly and appeared so quickly that you had no time to notice even the existence of the passengers. Later began the convoys of vehicles bringing food to New York, which spread five in a row across the street without interruption, so that no one could cross the street. From time to time the street broadened into a square, where a policeman walked back and forth on a tower-like protrusion in the middle, so he could look over all and be able, with a small stick, to order the traffic on the main road and the traffic flowing down the side streets, which remained unsupervised until the next square and the next policeman, but the silent and careful carriage drivers and chauffeurs stopped of their own free will in a sufficient order. Karl was most surprised at the general calm. Were it not for the shrieks of the animals on the way to the slaughter, you wouldn’t have heard anything but the clapping of hooves and the rush of the tires. But the speeds weren’t always so even. In some squares great detours had to be made because of the great pressure from the side streets, so the entire journey stopped and traveled step by step, then it all came on again, so that for a short while everything rushed by at lightning speed until as if by a single brake a slowdown took over and quieted everything again. Not the slightest bit of dust was kicked up from the road, everything moved in the clearest air. There were no pedestrians, no market women wandered to the city as in Karl’s homeland, but here and there appeared long, flat automobiles where twenty stood with baskets on their backs, perhaps market women, and they stretched out their necks to glance over the traffic and grab at their hopes for a faster trip. Then you could see a similar automobile, where some walked around with their hands in their pockets. These automobiles carried various inscriptions, and Karl cried out when he saw: “Dock-workers hired for the Jakob Shipping Corporation.” The car traveled very slowly and a short, hunched over, lively man standing on the running board invited the three wanderers to get in. Karl took refuge behind the fitters, as if his uncle could be on the wagon and see him. He was happy that the two also rejected the invitation, even if they offended him to some extent with the arrogant expressions on their faces. They can’t believe that they’re too good to go into the service of his uncle. He made them understand that right away, although not so directly. Delamarche asked him pleasantly not to interfere in things he did not understand, this way of hiring people was a disgraceful fraud and the Jakob Corporation was notorious throughout the entire United States. Karl didn’t answer, but stuck to the Irishman from now on, he asked if he could carry his trunk a little, which he did, after Karl had repeated his request a few more times. But he complained without interruption about the heaviness of the trunk, until it was revealed that his only intention was to lighten the trunk of the Veronese salami that he had become pleasantly aware of in the hotel. Karl had to unpack it, the Frenchman took it so he could handle it with dagger-like knives and eat almost all of it alone. Robinson got a slice here and there, Karl by comparison, who again had to carry the trunk if he didn’t want to leave it standing in the road, got nothing, as if he had already taken his share. It seemed petty to beg for a small piece, but it bothered him on the inside.
All the fog had already disappeared, in the distance tall mountains gleamed with wavy ridges in the haze of the sun. By the side of the road lay a miserably cultivated field surrounding gigantic factories, which stood darkly smoking on the open land. In the indiscriminately arranged single tenements the many windows trembled in their multifarious movements and illuminations, and on all the narrow, weak balconies women and children had many things to do, while around them, hiding them and then revealing them, cloth and linen, hung up and laid out, fluttered in the morning wind and billowed out powerfully. With your gaze sliding off of the houses, you saw larks flying high in the sky and under them the swallows, not so far above the heads of the travelers.
Karl recognized much of his homeland and he didn’t know if it would be a good thing to leave New York and go into the interior of the country. The sea was in New York and always the possibility of return to his homeland. And so he remained standing and said to both of his companions, he wanted to stay in New York. And when Delamarche tried to shove him along, he wouldn’t let himself be shoved and said that he still had the right to decide for himself. The Irishman had to mediate and explained that Butterford was much nicer than New York, and both had to ask him politely before he would continue on again. And even then he wouldn’t have gone on if he hadn’t said to himself, that maybe it would be better for him to come to a place where the possibility of return wouldn’t be so easy. He would certainly make better progress there, because there wouldn’t be any useless thoughts to hold him back.
And now he was the one that pulled along the both of them, and they reveled so much in his zeal that they took turns carrying the trunk without having had to be asked, and Karl didn’t quite understand why he was making them so happy. They came into a steep region, and when they stopped here and there, they could see when they looked back the panorama of New York and its harbor forever expanding and developing. The bridge connecting New York to Boston hung delicately over the Hudson, and it trembled when you squinted to see it. It seemed entirely without traffic and underneath it ran an inanimate, smooth belt of water. Everything in both of these giant cities seemed empty and pointlessly displayed. As for the buildings, there was barely any difference between the large ones and the small. In the invisible deep of the streets, the bustle went on after its own manner, but nothing moved above it except for a light haze which wouldn’t be pushed away, but it was as if you could chase it away without any effort. Even in the harbor, the largest in the world, it was quiet, and only here and there, influenced by your memory of seeing it up close, you might believe you saw a ship pushing on for a short stretch. But you couldn’t follow it for long, it escaped from your eyes and couldn’t be found anymore.
But Delamarche and Robinson saw much more, they pointed left and right and arched with their outstretched hands to places and parks that they named by their names. They couldn’t understand that Karl had been in New York for two months and had barely seen anything of the city except one street. And they promised him, that when they’d worked enough in Butterford, they would go with him to New York and show him everything worth seeing and of course every special neighborhood where you could be entertained into paradise. And in connection, Robinson began to sing a song with his whole mouth, which Delamarche accompanied with hand-clapping and which Karl recognized as an opera melody from his homeland that had pleased him more in the English text than it had pleased him at home. So there was a small performance out in the open, where everyone took their part, and the city below them, which allegedly enjoyed this melody so much, didn’t seem to know it.
Karl asked once where Jakob Shipping was, and immediately he saw Robinson’s and Delamarche’s index fingers stretched out to the same place, or maybe to places miles apart. Then, as they continued on, Karl asked when was the earliest they could have enough work to get back to New York. Delamarche said it could be good enough in a month, because there was a worker shortage in Butterford and wages would be high. Naturally, they would keep their money in a common pool, which coincidentally made the differences in their wages equal as partners. Karl didn’t like the common pool, even though as an apprentice he would certainly earn less than the trained workers. Moreover, Robinson mentioned, if there wasn’t any work in Butterford, they would have to keep on wandering, either to find accommodations as farmhands somewhere or maybe go to California to sift for gold, which, to summarize Robinson’s detailed explanation, was his preferred plan. “Why did you become a steam-fitter then, if you want to sift for gold?” asked Karl, who didn’t want to hear about the necessity of such long and uncertain journeys. “Why did I become a steam-fitter?” said Robinson. “My mother’s son will not go hungry. There’s good money in sifting for gold.” “There was at one time,” said Delamarche. “There still is,” said Robinson and talked about people he knew who had gotten rich that way and who were still that way, who didn’t have to raise a finger any more and who would for friendship help him and his partners too with some money. “We will get jobs in Butterford,” said Delamarche and spoke to Karl’s heart, but it wasn’t said very confidently.
During the day they only stopped once in a diner and ate in the open at what seemed to Karl to be an iron table with almost raw flesh that you didn’t cut but tore to pieces. The bread had a cylindrical shape and a long knife stuck in every bread loaf. With the meal was offered a dark liquid that burned in the throat. But Delamarche and Robinson liked it, they raised their glasses often to the attainment of various desires and knocked them against each other, holding them high for a while, glass to glass. At the next table sat workers in lime-splashed jackets and everyone drank the same liquid. Automobiles, driving by in crowds, threw clouds of dust over the tables. Large newspaper sheets were passed around, one spoke excitedly about the construction workers’ strike, the name Mack was often mentioned, Karl inquired about him and learned that this was the father of his acquaintance Mack and the largest building contractor in New York. The strike was costing him millions and threatened his financial standing. Karl didn’t believe a word of this gossip from these uninformed, overbearing people.
The meal was bitter for Karl, because he wasn’t quite sure how the meal was going to be paid for. It would be natural for each to pay his own part, but now and then both Delamarche and Robinson had remarked that their remaining money had run out at their last night’s stay. A watch, a ring or something to sell for cash was nowhere to be found. And Karl couldn’t blame them for profiting from the sale of his clothes, that would have been an insult to them and then they would’ve parted ways. The surprising thing was, though, that neither Delamarche nor Robinson were very concerned with the bill, and they were even in good enough moods to try as often as they could to grab the waitress, who moved proudly between the tables with a heavy stride. Her hair ran a little loose along the side of her forehead and down the cheek, and she straightened it back again and again with her hands. Finally, just as you were about to expect the first friendly word out of her, she walked to the table, lay both hands on him and asked: “Who’s paying?” Hands have never flown faster into the air than they did just now from Delamarche and Robinson as they pointed to Karl. Karl wasn’t surprised about this, because he had seen it coming and had found nothing wrong in the fact that the same companions, who would give him such an advantage later on, would allow him to pay them a kindness in return, even if it would’ve been better if they had talked about it beforehand. It was only a little embarrassing that he would first have to transfer the money out of his secret pocket. His original intention had been to hold back the money until it was absolutely necessary and stand, to a certain degree, on the same level with his companions. The advantage he got by having this money and by hiding it from his companions was more than made up for by the fact that they had been in America since their childhoods, that they had familiarity and experience with making money and that finally they weren’t used to living any better than they did now. Karl’s plans for the money until now wouldn’t be disrupted by this bill, because he could do without a quarter of a pound, and so he could lay a quarter-pound piece onto the table and explain that this was his only property and that he was prepared to sacrifice it for the group trip to Butterford. The amount would be enough for a journey by foot. But now he didn’t know if he had enough small change, and that money was mixed in with the banknotes deep in his secret pocket, and the best way to find something in there was to dump its entire contents onto the table. Otherwise it was highly unnecessary that his companions learn anything at all about this secret pocket. It seemed lucky now that his companions were more interested in the waitress than in how Karl got together the money for the bill. Delamarche lured the waitress between himself and Robinson by offering to pay the bill, she was able to defend herself against both of their advances only by laying her entire hand on one or both of their faces and pushing it away. In the meantime Karl feverishly collected the money into one of his hands under the tabletop, so that, with his other hand, he could hunt for pieces in the secret pocket and fetch them out. Even though he wasn’t quite familiar with American money, he thought in the end that he had taken a sufficient amount from the crowd of pieces, and he laid it on the table. The clanging of the money cut off all the joking right away. To Karl’s embarrassment, and to a general astonishment, it was revealed that almost an entire pound was lying there. Nobody asked why Karl hadn’t said anything before about the money, which would have been enough for a comfortable train ride to Butterford, but Karl was embarrassed enough already. After the meal had been paid for, he slowly brought the money back in, Delamarche took a coin out of his hand to tip the waitress, whom he hugged and pinched so he could reach the money to her on the other side.
Karl was grateful that they didn’t say a thing about the money during the walk, and he thought a long time about telling them about his entire fortune, but he never found an opportunity. Towards evening they came into a more rural, fertile region. You could see unbroken fields all around, stretching their new greenery over gentle hills, rich country houses bordered the streets and you walked for hours at a time through the gilded gates of gardens, they crossed the same slowly flowing stream a number of times and frequently heard above them the railway train thundering on high across the trembling viaducts.
The sun had just come down on the horizon of the distant forests, when they threw themselves on a hill of a grass in the middle of a small group of tress, so that they could rest from the strain. Delamarche and Robinson lay there and stretched themselves powerfully, Karl sat upright and looked down a couple of meters at the street, deeply rutted from the constantly passing automobiles, which hurried by quickly and with urgency one after the other, as if they were sent in precise numbers from far off in the distance and then waited in those same precise numbers in the other direction. Since the earliest morning and through the entire day, Karl had seen no car stop, no passenger get out.
Robinson suggested they spend the night here, since they were all tired enough, and since they’d be able to march out even earlier and finally since they’d rarely find a cheaper and better-placed camp for the night before the onslaught of complete darkness. Delamarche agreed, and only Karl felt obliged to say that he had enough money to buy a place to sleep for all of them in a hotel. Delamarche said they wouldn’t need the money, he should only look after it well. Delamarche wasn’t hiding in the least the fact that they already had plans for Karl’s money. Since his first suggestion had been accepted, Robinson continued to explain that they had to go to sleep now, and to make themselves strong for the morning, they had to eat well and someone should get a meal for everyone from the hotel with the sign “Hotel Occidental” shining just down the road. Being the youngest, and since no one else volunteered, Karl didn’t hesitate to offer himself for this errand and he went over to the hotel, after receiving an order of bacon, bread and beer.
There must have been a large city nearby, because the first large hall of the hotel that Karl walked into was filled with a large crowd, and at the buffet that spread along the long wall and two side walls, waiters ran unceasingly with white aprons on their chests and could not calm down the impatient guests, because again and again you could hear swearing all over the place and fists slamming on tables. No one noticed Karl; there was also no actual service in the hall, the guests, who sat at small tables that disappeared among three neighboring tables, grabbed anything they wanted at the buffet. At every one of the tables stood a large bottle with oil, vinegar or something similar, and all the food that had been grabbed at the buffet was soaked with stuff from this bottle. For Karl to get to the buffet, where it would be difficult to begin, especially with his large order, he had to push past many tables, which predictably couldn’t be carried out without bothering the guests, who took in everything unfeelingly, even when Karl almost tipped over a table after being pushed by a guest. He apologized sincerely but really wasn’t making himself understood, and he didn’t understand at all what the people were shouting to him.
With some effort, he found a small, open place at the buffet, where his view was blocked for a long time by the propped-up elbows of his neighbors. It seemed to be the custom here to prop up your elbows and put your fists against your forehead; Karl thought about how his Latin professor Dr. Krumpal had hated this posture and always approached in secret and then out of nowhere, with a suddenly appearing ruler, would push your elbows from the table with a painful jerk.
Karl stood cramped against the buffet, because he had barely gotten in line when a table had been set up and one of the guests there brushed Karl’s back with his hat whenever he bent backwards a little as he spoke. And there was little hope of getting a waiter, even when both of his plump neighbors went away satisfied. Sometimes Karl snatched a waiter over to his table by the apron, but they always tore themselves free with a disgusted face. No one could be stopped, they only ran and only ran. If only someone had passed with something to eat and drink, he would have taken it, asked about the price, laid out the gold and left gladly. But right by him were lying bowls of herring-like fish whose black scales gleamed golden on the edges. They could be very expensive and would probably satisfy no one. In addition, small bottles of rum were within reach, but he didn’t want to bring his companions rum, they seemed at each opportunity to go for the alcohol with the highest proof, and he didn’t want to support them in that.
So Karl had to look for a different spot and began like he had before. But now time was going by very quickly. The clock at the other end of the hall, whose hands you could make out only by squinting through the smoke, showed that it was almost past nine. By the other spots at the buffet, however, the crowd was even larger than it had been at the earlier position he had left behind. And the more the hall filled up, the later it got. Again and again new guests poured through the main doors with loud hallos. At some places guests cleared away the buffet with authority, sat themselves on a table and toasted one another; it was the best place, you could see the entire hall.
Karl still tried to push through, but he didn’t have a single hope of succeeding. He scolded himself for volunteering to do this errand when he didn’t have any knowledge of the locals. His comrades would accuse him, with every right, that he had tried to save money by not bringing anything back. Now he stood in a section where all round him warm meat was being eaten with beautiful yellow potatoes, it was incomprehensible to him how these people had gotten it.
Then he saw, a few steps ahead of him, an old woman, clearly from the hotel staff, talking and laughing with a guest. She fiddled constantly with a pin in her hair. Immediately Karl was determined to bring his order to this woman, because, being the only woman, she seemed to be the exception to all this general noise and running around, and then for the simpler reason that she was the only hotel employee within reach, assuming that she didn’t continue on her business the first time he tried to talk to her. But exactly the opposite happened. Karl hadn’t even spoken to her, but had only lain in wait, when she saw Karl, as you sometimes look at someone to the side during conversation, and, interrupting her conversation, she asked him kindly and in English as clear as the grammar books, if he was looking for anything. “Yes I am,” said Karl, “I can’t get anything here.” “Then come with me, little one,” she said, said goodbye to her acquaintance, who took off his hat, which in this place seemed to be an unbelievable act of hospitality, then she grabbed Karl by the hand, went to the buffet, shoved a guest aside, opened a trap door on the counter, took Karl across the hallway behind the table where you had to watch out for the ceaselessly running waiters and opened two concealed doors, so that they found themselves in a large, cool pantry. “You just have to know how it works,” Karl said to himself.
“And what do you want then?” she asked and bent down to him obligingly. She was very fat, her body swung, but her face, under the circumstances, had an almost delicate construction. Glancing at the many things to eat, Karl was tempted to quickly think up a finer dinner to order, especially since he could expect cheap service from this influential woman, but finally, since nothing suitable occurred to him, he came back to ordering the bacon, bread and beer. “Nothing else?” asked the woman. “No thank you,” said Karl, “but for three people.” After the woman’s question about the three others, Karl described his companions in a few short words, it made him happy to be asked a few questions.
“But that’s a meal for prisoners,” said the woman, expecting more demands from Karl. But now he was afraid she would give it to him as a gift and wouldn’t take the money, so he was quiet. “We’ll put that together right away,” said the woman, walked to a table with her fat body’s admirable mobility, cut a large piece of bacon streaked with meat using a long, thin, saw-toothed knife, took out shelves with loaves of bread, took up three bottles of beer from the basement and laid everything in a light straw basket, which she handed over to Karl. All the while she explained to Karl that she had led him here because outside at the buffet the food always lost its freshness, no matter how quickly it was eaten, because of the smoke and the odor. But it was good enough for the people outside. Karl didn’t say anything more, because he didn’t know why he deserved this special treatment. He thought about his companions, the good American experts that they were, who probably had never been in this pantry and had to make do with the spoiled things to eat at the buffet. You couldn’t hear any noise from the hall, the walls must have been very thick to keep the vault sufficiently cool. Karl held the straw basket for awhile, didn’t think about the bill and didn’t move. He only thanked her, shivering, when she wanted to set down a bottle that was similar to the ones standing outside on the tables.
“Are you walking very far?” asked the woman. “To Butterford,” answered Karl. “That is still very far,” said the woman. “Still a day’s trip,” said Karl. “No further,” said the woman. “Oh, no,” said Karl.
The woman straightened up some things on the tables, a waiter came in, looked around in search of something, was directed by the woman to a large bowl where a broad pile of sardines was sprinkled with parsley and carried this bowl into the hall with upraised hands.
“Why did you want to spend the night outside?” asked the woman. “We have enough room here. Sleep with us in the hotel.” It was very tempting for Karl, especially since he had been so miserable the previous night. “I have my luggage outside,” he said hesitantly and not entirely without vanity. “Just bring them here,” said the woman. “That shouldn’t get in your way.” “But my companions!” said Karl, remarking immediately that they really would get in the way. “They can also spend the night here,” said the woman. “Just come! Don’t let yourself be asked like this.” “My comrades are honest people, in general,” said Karl, “but they’re not clean.” “Didn’t you see the dirt in the hall?” asked the woman and twisted her face. “Even the most troublesome can come to us. I will have three beds prepared right away. Admittedly, only in the attic, because the hotel is already fully occupied, I’ve been moved to the attic, but in any case it’s better than out in the open.” “I can’t bring my companions with,” said Karl. He imagined to himself the kind of noise these two would make in the hallways of this fine hotel, and Robinson would get dirt on everything and Delamarche inevitably would pester even this woman. “I don’t know why it’s impossible,” said the woman, “but if you want it that way, let your friends stay outside and come in alone to us.” “That’s not right, that’s not right,” said Karl. “They are my companions and I must stay with them.” “You are stubborn,” said the woman and looked away from him. “Someone tries to do a good thing for you, wants to be helpful to you and you resist with all your strength.” Karl considered this, but he knew no way out, so he only said: “My best thanks for your kindness,” then he remembered that he hadn’t paid her yet, and he asked about the amount due. “You pay when you bring the straw basket back to me,” said the woman. “I must have it early in the morning, at the latest.” “Okay,” said Karl. She opened a door, which led straight out into the open and said, as he departed with a bow: “See you in the morning!”
He had just gotten outside, when he heard again the unabated noise from the hall, which was also mixed with the clangs of a brass band. He was happy that he didn’t have to go out through the hall. The hotel was now illuminated on all five of its floors and brightened the street all the way across. As always the automobiles continued, coming in from the distance faster than they had by day, even if not in uninterrupted succession, groping the surface of the road with the white beams of their lights, which grew pale as they crossed the light of the hotel but rushed off into the continuing darkness illuminated again.
Karl found his companions already in a deep sleep, he had stayed away too long. He wanted to invitingly spread out what he had brought with on napkins he had found in the basket and wake up his comrades when everything was ready, only to see to his surprise his trunk completely opened, which he had left behind locked, with the key in his pocket, while its contents were scattered all over the glass. “Get up!” he cried. “You slept and in the meantime thieves were here.” “Missing something?” asked Delamarche. Robinson wasn’t awake yet and reached for the beer. “I don’t know,” cried Karl, “but the trunk is open. It’s careless to lie down to sleep and let the trunk stand here open.” Delamarche and Robinson laughed, and the first said: “You shouldn’t stay away so long the next time. The hotel is ten steps away and you needed three hours to go this way and that. We were hungry, we thought you might have something to eat in your trunk, and we tickled the lock until it opened itself. Nothing was in there generally, and you’d be able to pack everything easily.” “So,” said Karl, staring into the quickly emptying basket and listening to the odd noise Robinson made while he drank as the liquid penetrated his throat, then rushed back up again with a sort of whistling, only to roll back into the deep in a tremendous heap. “Are you finished eating?” he asked, as they both caught their breath for a moment. “Didn’t you eat in the hotel?” asked Delamarche, who thought that Karl was trying to take his share. “If you still want to eat, then hurry up,” said Karl and went to his trunk. “He’s in a mood,” said Delamarche to Robinson. “I am not in a mood,” said Karl, “but is it right to break open my trunk while I’m gone and throw around all my things? I know you have to be patient with companions, and I prepared myself for that, but this is too much. I’m spending the night in the hotel and I’m not going to Butterford. Eat up quickly, I have to bring the basket back.” “Can you see Robinson, now that’s how you speak,” said Delamarche. “That is a refined manner of conversation. He is such a German. You warned me about him earlier, but I was a fool and took him along. We gave him our trust, schlepped him around with us an entire day, lost at least half a day because of it and now – because someone tempted him over at the hotel – he says goodbye, simply says goodbye. But because he’s a lying German, he doesn’t do this openly, he finds an excuse with the trunk, and because he’s a rude German, he cannot go away without insulting our honor and calling us thieves, just because we had a little joke with his trunk.” Karl, who was packing his things, said without turning around: “Keep on talking and make it easier for me to leave. I know what companionship is. I had friends in Europe too and no one can accuse me of false or vulgar behavior. Naturally, we’re out of contact right now, but if I ever get back to Europe, they’ll take me in gladly and know me as their friend right away. And you Delamarche and you Robinson, you would have me think that I betrayed you – and I’ll never be quiet about that – after you were friendly enough to take me in and promise me an apprenticeship at Butterford. But what really happened was something entirely different. You have nothing, and that doesn’t lower you in my eyes in the slightest, but you resented my meager possessions and tried to humiliate me, and I can’t stand that. And even after you’ve broken my trunk, you don’t use a single word in apology, but abuse me and abuse my people – and with that you take away every possibility of staying with you. This isn’t really valid for you Robinson. The only thing I object to your character is that you’re so very dependent on Delamarche.” “Well now we see,” said Delamarche as he stepped to Karl and gave him light push, as if to get him to pay attention. “Now we see how you’ve turned out. For the whole day you walked behind me, held onto my jacket, imitated my every move and was otherwise as quiet as a little mouse. But now that you feel you have some support at the hotel, you start talking big. You are a little shyster, and I don’t know if we can accept that so calmly. Maybe we should just charge you tuition for what you learned from us today. You Robinson, we envy him – so he says – for his possessions. A day’s work in Butterford – to say nothing of California – and we’ll have ten times more than you’ve shown us and than you still have hidden in the lining of your jacket. So watch your mouth!” Karl had picked himself up from the trunk and now saw Robinson approaching, sleepy but a little stimulated by the beer. “If I stay here much longer,” he said, “I might learn more surprises. You seem to want to beat me up.” “All patience has an end,” said Robinson. “You’d better be quiet, Robinson,” said Karl, without taking his eyes off Delamarche. “Inside you know I’m right, but on the outside you have to stay with Delamarche.” “Are you going to bribe him?” asked Delamarche. “It didn’t occur to me,” said Karl. “I’m happy that I’m getting out, and I want nothing more to do with you. I want to say just once, You abuse me for possessing money and having hidden it from you. Granted, it’s true, but hadn’t I handled it correctly with people I’d only know a couple of hours, and haven’t you confirmed the correctness of my methods with your current behavior?” “Stay calm,” said Delamarche to Robinson, even though the other didn’t move. Then he asked Karl: “Since you’re being so flagrantly sincere, keep on going with your sincerity, since we are standing so comfortably together, and tell us why you actually want to go the hotel. Delamarche was walking so close to him that Karl had to take a few steps backwards over the trunk. But Delamarche didn’t let that deter him, pushed the trunk to the side, took a steps forward, planted his foot on a white shirt that was still lying in the grass and repeated his question.
As if in answer, a man with a strongly shining flashlight climbed up to the group from the street. It was a waiter from the hotel. He had barely caught sight of Karl when he said: “I’ve been looking for you for almost half an hour. I’ve already checked all the embankments on both sides of the streets. Madame, the head chef, wants to tell you that she urgently needs the straw basket which she lent to you. “Here it is,” said Karl, his voice uncertain with excitement. Delamarche and Robinson stepped to the side with apparent modesty, as they always did before strange people of good standing. The waiter took the basket and said: “Then allow the head chef to ask you, if you haven’t thought it over and maybe want to stay overnight in the hotel. Both of the other men can come if you want to take them with. The beds are already prepared. The night may be warm today, but sleeping out here in the back is not without its dangers, you often find snakes.” “Since the head chef is so friendly, I will accept her invitation,” said Karl and waited for an answer from his comrades. But Robinson stood there indifferently and Delamarche had his hands in his pockets and looked up at the stars. Both were openly relying on Karl to take them in without any fuss. “For this situation,” said the waiter, “I have an order to lead you to the hotel and carry your luggage.” “Then please wait just a moment,” said Karl and bent down to put into the trunk the few things that were still lying around.
Suddenly he straightened up. The photograph was missing, it had been resting right on the top of the trunk and was nowhere to be found. Everything was complete, only the photograph was missing. “I can’t find the photograph,” he said pleadingly to Delamarche. “What kind of photograph?” he asked. “The photograph of my parents,” said Karl. “We haven’t seen any photographs,” said Delamarche. “There was no photograph inside, Mr. Rossman,” confirmed Robinson. “But that’s impossible,” said Karl, and his looks for help pulled the waiter closer. “It was lying on top and now it’s gone. If you hadn’t preferred to have so much fun with my trunk.” “There’s been no mistake,” said Delmarche. “There was no photograph in the trunk.” It was important to me, like everything else I had in my trunk,” said Karl to the waiter, who walked around and looked in the grass. “It’s irreplaceable, I never got a second.” And when the waiter gave up the hopeless search, he was still saying: “It was the only picture I had of my parents.” As a result the waiter said loudly, without any attempt at diplomacy: “Maybe we could look in the gentleman’s pockets.” “Yes,” said Karl right away. “I have to find the photograph. But before I look through their pockets, I’ll say that whoever gives me the photograph of his own free will gets the entire trunk.” After a moment of general silence, Karl said to the waiter. “My companions must want to have their pockets searched. But even now I promise the entire trunk to whomever has the picture in his pocket. I can do no more.” Right away the waiter got to examining Delamarche, who seemed harder to handle than Robinson, whom he left over for Karl. He made Karl careful about searching both at the same time, because otherwise one of them could throw the photograph to the side unobserved. With his first grab in Robinson’s pocket, Karl found a tie that belonged to him, but he didn’t take it and yelled to the waiter: “Anything else you find on Delamarche, let him keep. I want nothing but the photograph, only the photograph.” In searching through the breast pocket, Karl grabbed Robinson’s hot, greasy breast, and he became aware that maybe he was committing a great injustice to his companions. He hurried now because of the possibility. Generally, everything was useless, neither Robinson nor Delamarche had the photograph.”
“It’s no good,” said the waiter. “They probably tore the photograph up and threw the pieces away,” said Karl. “I thought they were my friends, but secretly they wanted to hurt me. Not Robinson, really, who wouldn’t have come across the idea that the photograph was worth so much to me, but more Delamarche.” Karl saw only the waiter in front of him, whose light illuminated a small circle, while everyone else, including Delamarche and Robinson, were in the dark.
Naturally, there wasn’t any more talking about taking them both along to the hotel. The waiter swung the trunk onto his shoulder, Karl took the straw basket and they went. Karl was already in the street, when as an afterthought he stopped himself, stood still and called out into the darkness: “Listen just once! If either of you still have the photograph and bring it to me in the hotel – he’ll still get the trunk – I swear it – and he will not be reported on.” No real answer came down, only a ragged word, the beginning of something Robinson shouted that was immediately stuffed back in his mouth by Delamarche. For a long while Karl waited to see if one of them would decide something different. A second time he called into the distance: “I’m still here.” But there was no loud answer, only once a stone rolled down the slope, maybe by chance, maybe it was just a bad throw.
At the Hotel Occidental
Karl was immediately led to a sort of office in the hotel, where the head cook dictated notes in her hand to a young female typist at a typewriter. The extremely precise dictation, the composed and flexible keystrokes carried on over the periodically noticeable ticks of the wall clock that showed almost half past eleven. “So!” the head cook said, clapped the notes shut, the typist sprang up and drew the wooden cover over the machine without, during this mechanical action, looking away from Karl. She looked like a schoolgirl, her apron was very carefully ironed, on the shoulders, for example, were ruffles, the hairstyle went straight up and you were a little astonished when, after all these details, you looked at her serious face. After bowing, first to the head cook and then to Karl, she left, and Karl inadvertently looked at the head cook with a questioning expression.
“It’s wonderful you’ve now arrived,” said the head cook. “And your companions?” “I didn’t bring them with,” said Karl. “They’ll be marching off very early,” said the head cook, as if in explanation. “Does she think I’ll be marching with them?” Karl asked himself, and he said so he could close off every doubt: “We parted after a disagreement.” The head cook seemed to take this as a pleasant piece of news. “And so you’re free?” she asked. “Yes, I’m free,” Karl said, and nothing seemed more worthless to him than that. “Listen, wouldn’t you like to take a job here at the hotel?” “Very much,” said Karl, “but I have horribly little experience. For example, I can’t write at all on a typewriter.” “It’s not that important,” said the head cook. “You’ll have for now a very small position and will have to see to it to bring yourself up with diligence and attention. Whatever the case, I believe, it would be better and more appropriate for you to settle down somewhere instead of bumming your way through the world. You don’t seem to me to be made for that.” “My uncle would agree with everything in that,” said Karl to himself and nodded in approval. At the same time he remembered that he, who was being so troubled over, hadn’t introduced himself. “Forgive me, please,” he said, “I haven’t introduced myself, my name is Karl Rossman.” “You’re German, aren’t you?” “Yes,” said Karl, “I haven’t been in America long.” “Where do you come from then?” “From Prague in Bohemia,” said Karl. “Sehn sie einmal an!” the head cook cried with a strong English accent, almost throwing her arms up. “Then we’re compatriots, my name is Grete Mitzelbach and I’m from Vienna. And I am excellently familiar with Prague, I was employed for half a year at the Gold Goose on the Wenzelsplatz. Just think about it!” “When was that?” asked Karl. “That was many, many years ago.” “The old Golden Goose,” said Karl, “was torn down two years ago.” “Yes, of course,” said the head cook, lost in the memories of a past time.
A moment later, lively again, she called out and grabbed Karl’s hands: “Now that it turns out you’re my fellow countryman, you can’t leave here at any price. You’re not allowed to do that to me. Would you want, for example, to be an elevator boy? Just say yes and it’s done. If you’ve been around a little, you’d know it’s not especially easy to get such a position, because it’s the best beginning you can think of. You meet all the guests, they see you all the time, one of them gives you a small task, in short, every day you have the possibility to get something better for yourself. Let me worry about the general stuff.” “I would like very much to be an elevator boy,” said Karl, after a small pause. It would have been absurd to have reservations about being an elevator boy, even with his five years of school. Here in America there was reason enough to be ashamed of those five years of school. Generally, Karl had always liked elevator boys, they stood out as the trimming on the hotel. “Isn’t a knowledge of languages required?” he continued to ask. “You speak German and a decent English, which is good enough.” “I learned English in America in two and a half months,” said Karl, he didn’t believe in concealing his own strengths. “That speaks well enough for you,” said the head cook. “When I think of the difficulties English made for me. That’s already thirty years ago. Just yesterday I was talking about it. Yesterday was my fiftieth birthday.” And, smiling, she tried to pick up in Karl’s reaction what impression the dignity of her age made on him. “Then I wish you good fortune,” said Karl. “One can always need that,” she said, shook Karl’s hand and became a little sad again over this old saying from her homeland, which had just occurred to her as she spoke German.
“But I’m holding you up,” she yelled. “And you are being especially quiet and we could talk about everything much better by day. The joy of meeting a fellow countryman makes you completely thoughtless. Come, I will take you to your room.” “I still have a request, Madame Head Cook,” said Karl as he saw the telephone box standing on the table. “It is possible that my companions from before might bring me a photograph I urgently need in the morning, perhaps very early. Would you be so kind and telephone the doorman, he might prefer to send the people to me or let me get them.” “Certainly,” said the head cook, “but wouldn’t it be enough if he took the photograph from them? What kind of photograph is it, if I may ask?” “It is a photograph of my parents,” said Karl. “No, I must speak with the people myself.” The head cook said nothing more and gave the specific order over the telephone to the porter’s office, naming 536 as Karl’s room number.
Then they went through a door opposite the entrance into a small hallway, where a tiny elevator boy, asleep, leaned on the railings of the elevator. “We can help ourselves,” said the head cook softly, letting Karl into the elevator. “A work schedule from ten to twelve hours is a little too much even for a young man like this,” she said as they traveled up. “But it’s unique to America. Here is this small young man, for example, he arrived here half a year ago with his parents, he is Italian. Now it looks as if he couldn’t possibly hold up, already has no muscle on his face, goes to sleep at work, even though by nature he is very willing — but he only has to work here or somewhere else in America for half a year and everything is taken care of easily and in five years he’ll be a stronger man. I could give you examples like this for hours. Because of that, I won’t worry about you, because you are a hardy young man. You’re seventeen, right?” “I’ll turn sixteen next month,” answered Karl. “Only sixteen!” said the head cook. “Such courage!”
She led Karl upstairs to a room, and even though it had a slanting wall like an attic, it looked very livable in the light of two glowing lamps. “Don’t be surprised at the arrangements,” said the head cook. “It’s no hotel room, but a room where I live, which, however, is made up of three rooms, so you won’t disturb me in the slightest. I’m locking the connecting door, so you can stay completely unencumbered. Naturally in the morning, as a new employee of the hotel, you’ll get your own little room. If you’d come with your companions, I would’ve laid out beds for you in the common sleeping quarters of the house servants, but since you’re alone, I think it would be more appropriate here, even if you had to sleep on the couch. Now sleep well, so you’ll make yourself strong for work. It won’t be too tough in the morning.” “Thank you many times over for your kindness.” “Wait,” she said, standing by the exit, “you almost would’ve been woken up.” And she went to a side door of the room, knocked and called out: “Therese!” “Come in, Madame Head Cook,” reported the voice of the small female typist. “When you go to wake me early in the morning, you have to go through the hallway, a guest is sleeping here in the room. He is dead tired.” She smiled at Karl as she said that. “Did you understand?” “Yes, Madame Head Cook.” “So good night!” “Good night.”
The head cook said in explanation, “I’ve been sleeping tremendously poorly for quite a few years. Now, with my position, I should be satisfied and have no need for sorrow. But it must be all my earlier sorrows which caused this insomnia in me. If I can fall asleep at three o’clock I’m happy. But since I have to be in my place again at five, or at the latest half past five, I must have myself woken up and very carefully too, so I don’t become more nervous than I already am. So Therese wakes me. But really, now you know almost everything and I still haven’t left. Good night!” And despite her weight she almost scurried out of the room
Karl was happy about sleeping, because the day had taken a lot out of him. And he couldn’t wish for more comfortable surroundings for a long, undisturbed sleep. The room was certainly not a bedroom, it was the head cook’s living room or a place for conversation, and a wash-table had been brought in this evening for his sake, but all the same Karl didn’t feel like an intruder, but only all the more provided for. His trunk was set up in order, and had probably not been so safe in a long time. On a low wardrobe with sliding compartments, over which a wide-meshed woolen rug was thrown, stood various photographs in frames and under glass, Karl stood there inspecting the room and looked at them. They were mostly old photographs and for the most part showed young ladies in unmodern, uncomfortable clothes and loose, small yet highly-placed hats, who rested their right hands on umbrellas and turned to the viewer while still managing to look away with their glances. Among the gentleman’s pictures, the one that stood out to Karl was the picture of a young soldier who had laid his garrison cap on a small table, stood there rigidly with wild black hair and was full of a proud but suppressed laugher. The buttons of his uniform had been gilded on the photograph after the fact. All these photographs came from Europe, you could probably read that on the back, but Karl didn’t want to pick them up. He would’ve liked to stand up the photograph of his parents in his future room just as these photographs stood here.
He was stretching just after a thorough washing of his entire body, which he tried to carry out as quietly as possible for the sake of his neighbors, in the anticipated pleasure of sleeping on the couch, when he thought he heard a weak knocking on a door. You couldn’t figure out exactly which door it was, it could have been an accidental noise. It didn’t repeat itself right away and Karl was almost asleep when it happened again. But there wasn’t any doubt anymore, it was a knock and it came from the door of the female typist. Karl walked on tipetoe to the door and asked so softly that if, in spite of everything, someone was sleeping next door, it couldn’t have woken up anyone: “Do you want something?” Immediately, and just as softly, came the answer: “Would you mind opening the door? The key sticks on your side.” “Sure,” said Karl, “I just have to dress first.” There was a small pause, then there came: “That’s not necessary. Open it and lay down in the bed, I’ll wait a little.” “Good,” said Karl and did just that, except that he turned the light on. “I’m lying down,” he said somewhat louder. Then the small typist walked out of her dark room, dressed exactly as she’d been downstairs in the office, she hadn’t thought about going to sleep the entire time.
“Forgive me,” she said, standing a little bowed before Karl’s bed, “and please don’t give me away. I don’t want to disturb you for long, I know, you’re dead tired.” “It’s not a problem,” said Karl, “but it might have been better if I’d gotten dressed.” He had to lay there outstretched so he could cover himself up to his throat, because he didn’t own a nightshirt. “I’ll only stay a moment,” she said and grabbed for a chair. “Can I sit down on the couch?” Karl nodded. Then she sat so cramped on the couch that Karl had to move to the wall to be able to look at her. She had a round, even face, only the forehead was unusually high, but that could’ve been her hairstyle, which wasn’t right for her. Her dress was very clean and exact. In her left hand she clutched a handkerchief.
“Will you stay here long?” she asked. “It’s not entirely clear just yet,” answered Karl, “but I think I’ll stay.” “That would be very good,” she said and ran the handkerchief over her face. “I’ve just been so alone here.” “I’m surprised about that,” said Karl. “The head cook is so friendly to you. She doesn’t treat you like an employee at all. I thought you were related.” “Oh, no,” she said. “My name is Therese Berchtold, I am from Pomerania.” Karl introduced himself as well. As a result she looked at him thoroughly for the first time, as if he had become a little more foreign because of the exchange of names. They were quiet for a little while. Then she said: “You shouldn’t believe I’m ungrateful. Without the head cook it would have gone very badly for me. Earlier, I had been a kitchen girl here in the hotel about to be let go into greater danger, because I couldn’t accomplish the difficult work. You have very large demands here. After one month, a kitchen girl will faint with overexertion and lie for fourteen days in a hospital. And I’m not that strong, I’d had much to suffer early and because of it I’ve developed a little too slowly, you wouldn’t say at all that I’m already eighteen years old. But now I’m much stronger.” “The work here must be very tiring,” said Karl. “I just saw downstairs an elevator boy sleeping on his feet.” “And the elevator boys have it the best,” she said. “They earn good money from tips and don’t have to work as much as the people in the kitchen. But I’ve really had one piece of luck, the head cook had once needed a girl to arrange the napkins for a banquet, sent down to us for kitchen girls, there were fifty such girls here, I was taken by the hand and satisfied her very much, because I’ve always know my way around napkin arrangements. So from then on she kept me by her side and gradually trained me as her secretary. I’ve learned a lot that way.” “Is there so much to write?” asked Karl. “Oh, very much,” she answered. “You probably couldn’t imagine it. You’ve already seen how I work until half past eleven, and today is not a special day. Generally I’m not writing all the time but have to run many errands in the city.” “What’s the name of the city?” asked Karl. “You don’t know?” she said. “Ramses.” “Is it a large city?” asked Karl. “Very large,” she answered. “I don’t like to go there. But don’t you want to go to sleep?” “No, no,” said Karl. “I don’t know why you came in.” “Because I have nobody to talk to. I’m not whining, but when you don’t have anyone, you’re very happy when someone finally listens to you. I’d already seen you downstairs in the hall, I’d been coming to fetch the head cook when she led you away into the pantry.” “That’s a scary hall,” said Karl. “I don’t notice it anymore,” she answered. “But I just want to say that the head cook has been so friendly to me, just like my late mother. But there’s too great a difference in our positions for me to speak freely with her. Earlier I’d had some good friends down with the kitchen girls, but they’ve been gone for the longest time and I barely know the new girls. Finally it came to me that my work now is more strenuous than my old work, that I hadn’t performed nearly as well as they had and that the head cook keeps me in my position only out of pity. In the end, you really need a better education to become a secretary. It’s a sin to say it, but more often now I’m afraid I’m going crazy. For God’s sake,” she said, suddenly much faster, and briefly grabbed Karl’s shoulder, since he was holding his hands under the blanket. “But you can’t say a word of this to the head cook, otherwise I’m lost for good. If I should make her sad, with the situation I made for her with the quality of my work, that would be the end of it.” “Of course I’ll say nothing to her,” answered Karl. “Then it’s good,” she said, “and stay here. I’d be happy if you stayed here and we could stick together, if it’s okay by you. The first time I saw you, I trusted you. And even though – you’ll think I’m terrible – I’m afraid that the head cook could put you in my position as secretary and let me go. While you were downstairs in the office, I was sitting alone and had convinced myself that it would be very good if you would take over my job, because you would certainly understand it better. If you don’t want to run errands in the city, I could do that work. Otherwise, I’d be much more useful in the kitchen, especially since I’ve become much stronger.” “The matter’s already settled,” said Karl. “I’ll be an elevator boy and you’ll be a secretary. However, if you make the slightest indication of your plans to the head cook, I’ll tell her everything you said to me, no matter how much it upsets me.” His tone agitated Therese so much that she threw herself on the bed and pressed her face against the bedding as she whimpered. “I’m not going to say anything,” said Karl, “but you can’t say anything either.” He couldn’t stay covered underneath the blanket anymore, he stroked her arm, couldn’t find anything right to say and only thought that it would be a bitter life here. Finally she calmed herself down enough to at least be ashamed of her weeping, she looked at Karl gratefully, tried to persuade him to sleep long into the morning and promised, if she found the time, to come up here at eight o’clock at wake him up. “You wake up people so skillfully,” said Karl. “Yes, there are some things I can do,” she said, moved her hand gently over his blanket as a goodbye and left for her room.
The next day, Karl was to start his work right away, even though the head cook wanted to let him go that day for some sight-seeing around Ramses. But Karl explained honestly, that there would be a chance for that, now the most important thing was to begin the work, because he’d already broken one of his goals to no purpose – a proper job in Europe – and was beginning as an elevator boy at an old age where other young men would be competent enough to take over higher positions. It would be completely right if he started as an elevator boy, but it would also be right if he rushed himself. Because of these circumstances, he could get no pleasure from looking around a city. He couldn’t even accept an invitation for a short walk with Therese. There was always the thought floating before his eyes, that if he weren’t industrious enough, he could wind up in the end like Delamarche and Robinson.
At the hotel tailor, he was fitted for the elevator boy’s uniform, which was equipped very handsomely with gold buttons and gold cords, but Karl shuddered a little when he put it on, because the jacket was cold, hard and still wet, particularly under the armpits, from the elevator boy who had worn it before him. The uniform had to be widened at the chest just for Karl, because none of the ten uniforms there wanted to fit easily. Despite the tailoring that was necessary, and even though the master craftsman seemed very meticulous – two times he sent the prepared and delivered uniform back to the workshop – everything was finished in barely five minutes, and Karl left the tailor with close-fitting pants and, in spite of the insistence of the master, a very tight jacket, which tempted him to try some breathing exercises just so he could see if breathing were even possible.
Then he reported to the head waiter whose command he would stand under, a thin, nice man with a large nose, who was already in his forties. He had no time for the slightest conversation and rung for an elevator boy, who by chance was the exact one that Karl had seen yesterday. The head waiter called him only by his Christian name, Giacomo, which Karl learned later was unrecognizable to English ears in its full form. This young man arrived to show Karl the necessary duties of running an elevator, but he was so shy and hurried, that he could barely understand the few basics that had to be learned. Certainly because of this Giacomo was annoyed, since he had to leave his position for the sake of Karl and was assigned to helping the chambermaids, which happened to be dishonorable for him, on account of certain experiences which he kept quiet about. Throughout everything, Karl was disappointed that an elevator boy worked the machinery of the elevator only so far as he simply pushed a button, while it was the machinists who were used for repairs to the machinery, so that Giacomo, for example, in spite of half a year of elevator service, had neither seen the motor in the cellar nor the machinery on the inside of the elevator, even though, as he said himself, it would’ve brought him much joy. Altogether it was monotonous work, and it was so tiring, on account of the twelve-hour schedule, alternating between day and night shifts, that he wouldn’t be able to stand it unless, after Giacomo’s instructions, he could sleep on his feet for minutes at a time. Karl said nothing about it, but he completely understood that it was this art which had cost Giacomo his job.
It was very welcoming to Karl that the elevator he had to trouble over was intended only for the highest floors, and that way he wouldn’t have anything to do with the demanding rich people. Admittedly though, he couldn’t learn more here than he could anywhere else, and it was only good as a beginning.
Already by the first week, Karl realized that he was completely ready for the job. The brass on his elevator was the best polished, none of the thirty other elevators could match, and it might’ve even been brighter if only the young man working at the same elevator could’ve been just as industrious, instead of feeling that Karl’s diligence supported his laid-back approach. He was a native-born American named Renell, a vain young man with dark eyes and smooth, somewhat hollow cheeks. He had an elegant, privately owned suit, which he wore on his nights off as he hurried, lightly perfumed, into the city; here and there he asked Karl to stand in for him, since he had to go away on family matters, and it didn’t bother him that his appearance contradicted everything he said. All the same, Karl liked him and enjoyed it when on these evenings Rennel stayed by the elevator in front of him in his own private suit, still apologizing a little while as he pulled the gloves over his fingers and then left down the hallway. Besides, by standing in for him, Karl only wanted to do him a favor, as seems natural in the beginning when dealing with an older colleague, it shouldn’t become a habit. Because these endless travels in the elevator were tiring enough, and there was almost no interruption, especially in the evening hours.
Soon Karl was also learning the quick, deep bows demanded of elevator boys, and he caught the tips in mid-flight. They disappeared into his vest pocket, and no one could guess by his manner if the tip was large or small. He opened the door for ladies with a small gallant gesture and swung slowly behind them into the elevator, as they cared for their skirts, hats and scarves. During the trip, because this was the most inconspicuous way to do it, he stood tight by the door with his back to his passengers and held his grip on the elevator door so he could push it to the side at the moment of arrival without the tiniest surprise. Only rarely would someone tap him on the shoulder during the trip to get some information, but then he would turn around in a hurry, as if he were expecting it, to give his answer in a loud voice. Often, especially after the theater closed or certain express trains arrived, there was such a crowd that, in spite of the many elevators, he had barely let the guests off at the top when he had to race down again to pick up the ones who were waiting. He also had the opportunity, by pulling on one of the cables running through the elevator box, to climb to a steady brisk pace, but generally this was forbidden by the elevator regulations and could also be dangerous. Karl never did it when he traveled with passengers, but when he had set them down and others were waiting downstairs, he didn’t think twice about working the cord with strong, rhythmic tugs, like a sailor. He knew that the other elevator boys did this too, and he didn’t want to lose his passengers to the other young men. Some of the guests who stayed in the hotel for a long time, which was fairly common here, showed with a smile here and there that they recognized Karl as their elevator boy, Karl took this kindness with a serious face, but he took it gladly. Sometimes, when the traffic was weaker, he could take on special small tasks, for instance, for a hotel guest who didn’t want to go to his room for some small, little forgotten thing, and then at such a moment he would fly up alone in his special, trusty elevator, walk into the strange room, where for the most part odd things he had never seen before lay around or rested on the clothes hangers, he felt the characteristic odor of foreign soap, perfume or mouthwash, then without holding back in the slightest, he hurried down with the object he had found in spite of mostly vague instructions. Often he regretted not being able to take on greater tasks, since there were certain servants or errand boys here who made their way on bicycles or even motorcycles, while Karl was only allowed to take messages from the rooms to the dining or gaming halls.
When, after twelve hours starting at six o’clock in the evening, he came out for the next three days at six o’clock in the morning, he was so tired that, without bothering anyone else, he went right to bed. It rested in the common sleeping quarters of the elevator boys, and the head cook, whose influence wasn’t as great as he thought it was on the first day, had really tried to get him a small room of his own, and she might’ve been successful too, but since Karl saw how difficult it was and how often the head cook, on account of it, was calling his superior, the eternally busy head waiter, he gave it up and convinced the head cook how seriously he wanted to give it up by reminding her that he didn’t want to be envied by the other young men because of a privilege he wouldn’t have actually worked for.
The sleeping quarters was, in general, not a quiet hall to sleep in. Since everyone with twelve hours of free time was variously spread out among eating, sleeping, enjoying themselves and working on the side, there was always the greatest commotion in the hall. So some slept and pulled the blanket over their ears to keep from hearing; if one of these was woken up, he’d scream so furiously over the screams of the others that none of the remaining sleepers could hold fast very well. Almost every young man had his pipe, it was indulging in a sort of luxury, Karl had also gotten one and soon found a taste for it. But now they weren’t allowed to smoke during work, so that everyone in the hall, so long as he wasn’t necessarily sleeping, was smoking too. And because of this every bed stood in its own cloud of smoke and everything else in a general haze. Despite the basic agreement of the majority, it was impossible to force the night lights to burn on only one end of the hall in the evening. If this proposal were enforced, then anyone of them who wanted to sleep could do so quietly in the dark of a halved hall – it was a large hall with forty beds – while the others in the illuminated part could have played dice or cards and everyone could have gotten light where it was necessary. If someone whose bed stood in the illuminated half of the hall wanted to go to sleep, he could have laid down in one of the free beds in the dark, because there were enough free beds and, under the circumstances, no one objected to someone else using his bed. But there wasn’t one night where anyone followed this division. Again and again, for example, after using the darkness to get some sleep, two people found themselves wanting to play cards in their bed on a board laid between them, and naturally they turned on a suitable electric lamp, whose stabbing light crashed into the sleepers who were turned to it. You still rolled around a little, but found in the end there was nothing better to do than to also carry out a game by another light with your equally awakened neighbors. And, as ever, pipes were being smoked above all. There were also some who wanted to sleep at any price – most of the time Karl belonged to them – and instead of lying their heads on the pillows, covered it with the pillow or wrapped themselves into it, but how could you want to stay asleep, when your neighbor stands up in the middle of the night to go out to the city a little for fun before work, when at the head of his bed he washes loudly in the wash-basin spraying water, when he puts on his boots not only with loud thumping but also stamping because he wants them to fit better – almost everyone had boots that were too tight, in spite of American design – so that finally, since a small piece in his outfit went missing, he lifts up the pillow of the sleeping man, and you’re lying awake underneath, just waiting to get at him. But they were all sports people and young, strong fellows, who never wanted to miss an opportunity to exercise. And you could be certain to find, when you sprang up awakened out of sleep by some large noise in the middle of the night, two wrestlers on the ground next to your bed and, in the glaring light, experts standing roundabout on all the beds in their shirts and underpants. Once, on the occasion of one of these nightly boxing matches, one of the fighters fell over the sleeping Karl, and the first thing Karl noticed with the opening of his eyes was the blood running out of the nose of the young man, and before he could do something about it, his entire bed was flooded. Often Karl struggled for almost the whole twelve hours to attempt to win some hours of sleep for himself, even though it was very tempting to take part in the conversations of all the others; but it always seemed to him that the others had a head start over him with their lives, which he had to balance out with hard work and a little sacrifice. Although his work was very dependent on his sleep, he didn’t complain to the head cook or to Therese about the conditions in the sleeping quarters, because, first of all, the young man carried the difficulty honorably without any serious complaining, and, second of all, the sufferings of the hall were an important part of his job as an elevator boy, which he had taken gratefully from the hands of the head cook.
Once a week, with the change of shifts, he had twenty-four hours off, which he partly spent paying one or two visits to the head cook and partly waiting for Therese’s meager free time, when they exchanged some fleeting conversations in corners or corridors and only rarely in her room. Sometimes he accompanied her on her errands in the city, where everything had to be carried out in the utmost hurry. Then she would almost run to the next subway station, Karl with her bag in his hand, the journey went by in a flash, as if the train were being carried away without any resistance, already they were getting off, clattering up the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator that was too slow for them, the large squares from which the streets flowed out in a starburst emerged and brought a tumult of streamed lines of traffic from all sides, but Karl and Therese hurried, tightly together, to the different offices, cleaners, warehouses and stores which weren’t easy to contact by telephone in order to make orders or complaints, generally trivial things. Therese soon realized that Karl’s help wasn’t something to sniff at, that it contributed more and more to much of their running around. In his company, she never had to wait, as she had often done, for the over-worked business people to listen to her. He walked right up to the desk and knocked on it for a long time with his knuckles, until it had an effect, he yelled over walls of people with his always somewhat exaggerated English, easy to hear over a hundred voices,
he went up to people without hesitation, people who had already walked arrogantly away into the deeps of the longest corporate hallways. He didn’t do it for kicks and appreciated every setback, but he felt in a secure position, which gave him the right to act like he did, the Hotel Occidental was a customer you were not allowed to joke with, and Therese in the end, in spite of her business experience, needed the help. “You should always come with me,” she said, sometimes laughing cheerfully as they came out of an especially successful expedition.
Only three times during the one and a half months that Karl stayed at Ramses did he spend longer than a few hours in Therese’s small room. Of course, it was smaller than any one of the head cook’s rooms, the couple of things standing in it were generally only stored by the window, but after his experience in the sleeping quarters, Karl understood the appeal of having your own relatively quiet room, and when he said that, even if he didn’t say it directly, Therese noticed too how much he liked her room. She had no secrets from him, and it wouldn’t have been possible to have secrets from him after her visit on the first night. She was an illegitimate child, her father was a building foreman and had arranged for the mother and the child to come after him from Pomerania, but as if that had fulfilled his obligation or as if he were expecting different people than the over-worked woman and the weak child whom he watched arrive at the landing point, he had soon after their arrival wandered off to Canada without any explanation, and the two left behind had not received a letter nor any other piece of news about it, which wasn’t that big a surprise, because now they were lost, nowhere to be found, in the ghettoes of New York’s East Side.
Therese once told him — Karl stood next to her by the window and looked out at the street — how her mother had died. How she and her mother on a winter evening — she might’ve been about five years old — hurried with their bundles through the street, looking for a place to sleep. How at first her mother led her by the hand, there was a snow storm and it wasn’t easy to move forward, until her hand got tired and she let go of Therese without looking back, so that now she had to make an effort to hold on tight to her mother’s skirt. Often Therese stumbled and fell, but the mother was delirious and wouldn’t stop. And the snowstorm in the long, straight New York streets! Karl hadn’t yet gone through a New York snowstorm. You went against the wind and it twirled around, you couldn’t open your eyes, always the wind was blowing snow into your face, you ran but got no further, it was a somewhat futile act. A child naturally has an advantage in not having grown so much, it can run underneath the wind and even take a little joy in it all. So Therese couldn’t have entirely understood her mother, and she was solidly convinced that if she had dealt with her mother more intelligently – she had still been such a small child – she wouldn’t have had to suffer such a miserable death. Her mother had already gone two days without work, not even the smallest bit of money was available anymore, the day was performed out in the open without a bite to eat, and in their bundles they only dragged around useless scraps, which they refused to throw away, maybe out of superstition. Now the mother had been hired for the next morning’s work at a construction site within view, but she was afraid, as she tried to explain to Therese for the entire day, that she wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the lucky opportunity, because she felt dead tired, she had already coughed up blood onto the street that morning, frightening the passersby, and her only longing was to come somewhere warm and rest herself. And it was exactly on this evening that it was impossible to find that small place. Wherever a superintendent didn’t show them out of a doorway where they could’ve recovered a little from the weather, they hurried through tight, icy corridors, climbed to the high floors, circled the small terraces of the courtyards, knocked indiscriminately on doors, sometimes they didn’t dare speak to anyone, and then they’d ask anyone who looked at them and once or twice the mother squatted breathless on the stairs a quiet step behind, snatching Therese, who almost resisted, and kissing her with painful force on the lips. If you knew after the fact that these had been their last kisses, you could’ve been a small worm, but you wouldn’t have understood that someone could’ve been so blind as not to see it. In some rooms they came to, the doors were opened to let out the suffocating air, and out from the smoky fog that filled the room as if from a fire, only the figure of someone who stood in the doorframe stepped out, and either through his silence or a few words he proved the impossibility of coming into this particular room. In looking back, it seemed to Therese that her mother had only seriously looked for a place in those first hours, because about after midnight had passed, she didn’t speak to anyone anymore, even though she continued, with small pauses, to hurry without stopping and even though at every house where neither the gates nor the doors were closed, there was life and you met a person at each and every step. Of course, all this running didn’t bring them any further, it was just the greatest effort they could manage, and it might’ve really been barely a crawl. Also, from midnight until five in the morning, Therese didn’t know if they had been in twenty houses or two houses or only one. Being cleverly designed, the corridors of these places make the best use of space but have no consideration for a person’s sense of direction, because they were often coming through the same corridors! Therese already vaguely remembered that they had abandoned the entrance of a house that they had tried forever to get into, but it seemed to her that they turned around in the street right away and fell back to the same house. For the child it was an incomprehensible sorrow, sometimes being held by the mother, sometimes holding on tight to her, now being dragged along without the smallest word of consolation, and the only explanation for all this absurdity was that the mother wanted to run away from her. Because of that, even when the mother was holding onto her hand, Therese held on all the tighter to her mother’s skirt and yelped, just to be certain. She didn’t want to be left behind here, in the middle of these people who pounded up the stairs in front of them, who came on behind them up the winding steps, still unseen, who fought with one another in the hallways by the doors and pushed each other into the rooms. Drunks wandered into the house with musty songs, and luckily, Therese and her mother managed to slip through one of these advancing groups. They knew that late in the night, when you weren’t so careful anymore and no one really stood up for his rights, they could at least force themselves into one of the several shelters they came across, which were rented out by speculators, but Therese didn’t understand that and her mother didn’t want to rest anymore. In the morning, the beginning of a beautiful winter day, they both leaned on a brick building and had maybe slept there a little, but maybe they only stared around with open eyes. They saw that Therese had lost her bundle, and her mother went to slap Therese in punishment for her carelessness, but Therese heard no blows and felt nothing. They went again through the awakening streets, her mother alongside the brick, they came over a bridge, where her mother brushed against the frost on the railings with a hand and they finally reached the exact construction site that the mother had been hired to for the morning – at the time Therese had accepted it, but today she couldn’t understand it. She didn’t say to Therese, if she should wait or go away, and Therese took this as an order to wait, since this matched up with her best wishes. She sat down on a pile of bricks and watched how she took a colored rag tied up in her bundle and put it over a kerchief she had worn for the entire night. As if only the thoughts were able to reach her, Therese was too tired to help her mother. Without reporting to the site’s office, as was usual, and without asking anyone, the mother climbed up a ladder, as if she already knew where she had been assigned. Therese wondered about it, because the female workers were kept busy underneath with loading lime, passing bricks or with other simple tasks. She thought that her mother wanted to complete better paying work and smiled at her sleepily about it. The site wasn’t tall, barely complete at the ground floor, even though the scaffolding for more construction rose into the blue sky, still without connecting timbers. Up above, her mother went skillfully around the bricklayers laying brick on brick, and unbelievably, they didn’t ask her anything, she held carefully with a gentle hand a wooden box which served as railing, and Therese, dozing off, was astounded at this skill and thought she received a friendly glance from her mother. But now the mother came to a small pile of bricks on the gangway, where the railing and the walkway probably stopped, but she didn’t pay attention, walked freely to the pile of bricks, she seemed to lose her skill, she knocked over the pile of bricks and fell over it down into the deep. Many bricks rolled after her, and finally, a longer while later, a heavy board came loose and smashed her below. Therese’s last memory of her mother was of her lying with legs stretched apart in the checkered skirt from Pomerania as the rough board lay on top of her, almost covering her, as the people ran together from all sides and as from the construction above some man yelled down something angry.
It had gotten late when Therese had ended her explanation. She had explained in detail how this wasn’t her habit to have to pause with tears in her eyes, especially at unimportant places like the description of the scaffolding rising up alone into the sky. She knew every little thing which had happened after ten years now, and because the sight of her mother up above on a half-finished first floor was the last souvenir of the life of her mother, and because she could not describe it clearly enough to her friend, she wanted to come back to it after the end of her story, but she stopped, laid her face in her hands and didn’t say a word more.
There were also happier times in Therese’s room. Right on his first visit Karl had seen a workbook of business correspondence lying around and had asked to borrow it. It was immediately discussed that Karl should do the exercises contained in the book and present it for review to Therese, who had already studied through the book for whatever was necessary for her small errands. Now Karl lay for the entire night, cotton in his ears, downstairs on his bed in the sleeping quarters, shifting through all possible positions for the sake of variety, reading in the book and marking down the exercises in a notebook with a ball-point pen that the head cook had given to him as a reward for very practically laying out and writing up a large list of inventory. Most of the disturbances from the other boys turned out for the good, because he made them give him every small piece of advice on the English language until they were tired and left him in peace. He was often surprised at how the others were completely content with their present positions, didn’t have a sense of its temporary nature – elevator boys as old as twenty years old were not tolerated – did not see the necessity of a decision about their future careers and in spite of Karl’s example read nothing else besides the latest detective stories, which were passed from bed to bed until they were filthy rags.
At their future meetings Therese made her corrections with an exaggerated fussiness, it made for conflicting opinions, Karl took as his witness his great New York professor, but that was about as valid to Therese as the grammatical opinions of the elevator boys. She took the pen out of his hand and crossed out parts she was convinced were wrong, but at such doubtful moments, even though in general he could see no greater authority than Therese, Karl crossed out Therese’s cross-outs for the sake of meticulousness. Sometimes even the head cook came over and always decided in Therese’s favor, which didn’t prove a thing, because Therese was her secretary. At the same time, though, she always reconciled the matter, because tea would be boiled, biscuits prepared and Karl had to talk about Europe, usually with a lot of interruptions on the part of the head cook, who always asked him questions and was always astounded, in the process making Karl aware how much had changed there from the ground up in a relatively short time and how much had really become different since her leaving and how much would always be changing.
Karl might have been in Ramses about a month when Renell said to him in passing one evening that he had spoken to a man in front of the hotel with the name of Delamarche who was asking after Karl. Now Renell had no reason to hide anything and had said truthfully that Karl was an elevator boy but that because of the protection of the head cook he was going to receive an entirely different position. Karl noticed how gently Delamarche had handled Renell, even inviting him to a small dinner that evening. “I have nothing more to do with Delamarche,” said Karl. “Just be careful with him!” “Me?” said Renell as he stretched and hurried away. He was the most delicate youth in the hotel, and a rumor went around the other boys, without anyone knowing who started it, that he was at the very least being kissed by a distinguished lady who had lived in the hotel for a very long time. For those who knew the rumor, there was a large appeal in seeing this self-confident lady walk by with her calm, easy steps, delicate veil, tightly cinched waist, allowing no suspicion of the slightest possibility of such behavior. She lived on the first floor and Renell’s elevator wasn’t hers, but when the other elevators were momentarily occupied, you couldn’t forbid the guests from entering a different elevator. So it happened that this lady traveled now and again in Karl’s and Renell’s elevator and, actually, only when Renell was working. It could have been chance, but no one believed that, and when the elevator traveled up with the both of them, there was a laboriously suppressed restlessness in the entire column of elevator boys, which had even lead to the intervention of one of the head waiters. Whether the lady had started this, or whether it was just a rumor, in any case Renell had changed, become even more self-confident, left the cleaning entirely to Karl, who was already waiting for the next opportunity to have a thorough discussion about it, and couldn’t be found in the sleeping quarters anymore. No one else had ever so completely walked away from the camaraderie of the elevator boys, because when it came to work they all stuck together and even had an organization recognized by the hotel directors.
Karl allowed all this to go through his head, also thinking about Delamarche and performing his duties as always. At midnight he got a small change of pace, because Therese, who often surprised him with small gifts, brought him a large apple and a bar of chocolate. They entertained each other a little, barely disturbed by the interruptions that traveling on the elevator brought along. The conversation came to Delamarche and Karl realized that if he had thought of him as a dangerous person, he had allowed himself to be influenced by Therese, because after Karl’s explanation of him, that’s probably how he seemed to Therese. Nevertheless, in the end Karl only thought of him as a bum who had allowed himself to go bad through some poor luck, someone you could deal with. Therese contradicted him very excitedly and in a long speech encouraged Karl to promise never to speak to Delamarche again. Instead of making this promise, Karl urged her to go to sleep, since it was already long past midnight, and when she refused, he threatened to throw away her letters and they went to her room. When she was finally ready to go away, he said, “Why do you make all this unnecessary trouble for yourself, Therese? Just so that you’ll sleep better, I’ll gladly promise you that I’ll only talk to Delamarche if I can’t avoid it.” Then there were many trips up and down, because the young man on the next elevator was used for someone else’s assignment and Karl had to look after both elevators. There were guests who talked of disorder, and a gentleman accompanying a lady even touched Karl lightly with his walking stick to get him to hurry, a reprimand that was completely unnecessary. If the guests, when they saw that no young man was standing by one of the elevators, would at least have gone to Karl’s elevator, but they didn’t do that, they went to the next elevator and stood there, putting their hands on the door handle or stepping into the elevator, which, according to the most severe paragraph in the rules for the elevator boys, had to be avoided at all costs. So Karl was very tired running here and there without being aware of sufficiently fulfilling his duties. Moreover, at three o’clock in the morning, a busboy he was a little friendly with wanted some help from him now, but he couldn’t do that now by any means, because right now guests were standing by both of his elevators and it took great presence of mind to walk decisively to one group with large strides. He was, however, lucky when the other young man walked over again and yelled a few words of apology because of his absence, even though he probably didn’t feel guilty about it. At four o’clock in the morning there was a little quiet, but Karl needed it urgently. He leaned heavily on the railing next to his elevator, slowly ate an apple, out of which a strong aroma came streaming after the first bite, and looked down a light shaft which was surrounded by a large window of the pantry, behind which shimmered a hanging mass of bananas in the dark.
The Robinson Affair
Then Robinson called him over and whispered in the middle of a heaving motion that was already very obvious: “Rossman, I feel sick.” “Damn it!” Karl swore, and he dragged him with both hands to the railing.
And already it poured from Robinson’s mouth into the depths. He hung on Karl, helpless and blind, in the pauses his nausea allowed him. “You are really a good boy,” he then said, or, “It’s stopped,” which wasn’t correct for long, or, “The dogs, they’ve poured their junk into me!” Karl began to walk back and forth out of nervousness and loathing. Robinson was a little hidden here, in a corner next to the elevator, but if someone noticed him, one of those fidgety rich guests who just waited to share a complaint with a staff member walking by, so that furious revenge would be taken on the entire house, or if one of the constantly changing hotel detectives came over, whom no one knew except the management and whom everyone who squinted, maybe out of short-sightedness, was suspected to be. And downstairs anyone still in the restaurant for the night only needed to go into the pantry, notice in astonishment the horrible mess in the light shaft and ask Karl over the telephone what in God’s name had come loose up there. Could Karl disown Robinson then? And if he did, wouldn’t Robinson, instead of apologizing, plead with Karl in his stupidity and desperation? And wouldn’t Karl have to be fired immediately, because then the outrageous thing had happened: an elevator boy, the lowest and most dispensable position in the enormous hierarchy of hotel employees, had sullied the hotel with his friend and either frightened the guests or drove them away entirely? Could an elevator boy be tolerated, who had such friends who were allowed visits during his work hours? Wouldn’t it seem that this elevator boy was a boozer or just plain trouble, because what suspicion could be more clear than that he supplied his friends from the hotel stock, until they carried on just as Robinson did now in the meticulously tidy hotel? And why should this youth restrict himself to stealing groceries, since the chances to steal were really countless, what with the well-known carelessness of the guests, the wardrobes generally standing open, the valuables lying around on the tables, the opened money-boxes, the thoughtlessly thrown about keys?
Just then Karl saw in the distance guests climbing up from the cellar bar, where a variety show had just ended. Karl put himself at his elevator and didn’t dare turn toward Robinson for fear of what he might have to see. He was a little curious when he heard no loud noises from there, not even a sigh. He served his guests and traveled with them up and down, but he couldn’t entirely hide his distraction, and on each trip down, he was prepared to find a painful surprise downstairs.
Finally he had time again to look after Robinson, who had curled up very small in his corner and pressed his face against his knees. He had slid his round, hard hat away from his forehead. “So leave already,” said Karl softly and certainly. “Here is the money. If you hurry, I can show you the shortest way.” “I won’t be able to leave,” said Robinson, wiping his forehead with a tiny handkerchief. “I will die here. You cannot imagine, how sick I am. Delamarche takes me with him to fancy bars, but I can’t stand that rich stuff, I tell it to Delamarche daily.” “You can’t stay here now,” said Karl. “Think about where you are. If someone were to find you here, you would be punished and I would lose my job. Do you want that?” “I can’t leave,” said Robinson. “I’d gladly jump down there,” and he pointed in-between the railings into the light-shaft. “If I sit here like this, I can still bear it, but I cannot stand up, I already tried it when you were away.” “Then I’ll get you a car and you’ll go to the hospital,” said Karl and shook Robinson’s legs a little, which threatened to fall every moment into full collapse. But scarcely had Robinson heard that word “hospital,” when frightened visions seemed to wake him up, because he loudly began to cry and his hands stretched to Karl to ask for mercy.
“Quiet,” said Karl. He knocked him down with a smack of the hands, ran to the elevator boy whom he had stood in for during some nights, asked him the same favor for a short while, hurried back to Robinson, dragged up the eternal weeper with all his strength and whispered to him: “Robinson, if you want me to accept you in, then force yourself now to walk upright a very small stretch of way. I’ll lead you to my bed, where you can stay till you’re well. You’ll be amazed at how soon you recover. But act sensibly now, because people are all over these hallways and my bed is in a general sleeping area. If someone notices you only a little, I can’t do any more for you. And you have to keep your eyes open, I can’t carry you around like a dead man.” “I want to do whatever you think is right,” said Robinson, “but you can’t carry me alone. Couldn’t you get Renell.” “Renell’s not here,” said Karl. “Oh, yes,” said Robinson. “Renell is with Delamarche. The both of them sent me to you. I’ve got everything confused.” Karl used this and other incomprehensible speeches from Delarmarche to push him forward, coming with him luckily to an intersection, where a weakly lit hallway led to the sleeping quarters of the elevator boys. Just then an elevator boy tore out of it in full sprint. Up to now they’d only really had harmless encounters; between four and five o’clock was the quiet time and Karl knew full well that if he couldn’t successfully get Robinson out now, there wouldn’t be any thought of doing so in the early morning and the beginning of daily traffic.
In the sleeping quarters on the other end of the hall, a fight or some other event was in progress, you could hear rhythmic hand clapping, excited footsteps and cheers of encouragement. In the half of the hall by the door, you could see only a few unbothered sleepers, most of them were lying on their back and stared into the air, while here and there, one of them sprang out of bed just as he was, dressed or undressed, to see how things stood on the other end of the hall. So Karl brought Robinson, who in the meantime had gotten a little used to walking, pretty well unnoticed to Renell’s bed, because it rested very near the door and luckily was not occupied, while in his own bed, as he saw in the distance, a strange young man he didn’t know slept peacefully. Robinson had barely felt the bed underneath him, when he immediately – with a leg still dangling off the bed – fell asleep. Karl pulled the blanket over his face, believing that he wouldn’t make any trouble in the near future at least, because Robinson would have to be asleep until six o’clock, and by then he would be back and maybe find a way with Renell to take Robinson away. The higher authorities only inspected the sleeping quarters in extraordinary circumstances, the elevator boys had achieved the abolition of regular general inspections years ago, there was nothing to fear from that angle.
When Karl was again positioned at his elevator, he saw that his and his neighbors’ elevators were traveling in the upper floors. He waited impatiently for the situation to clear up. His elevator came down earlier than the others, and out of it climbed the young man who had been running through the hallway. “So where have you been then, Rossman?” he asked. “Why did you leave? Why didn’t you report it?” “But I told him he should stand in for me a little while,” answered Karl and showed the young man the neighboring elevator that came down right away. “I’ve covered for him too, for two hours during the highest traffic.” “That is all very good,” said the person being spoken to, “but it’s not enough. Don’t you know you have to report even the shortest absence during work to the office or the head waiter. That’s why you have the telephone right there. I’d have filled in for you gladly, but you know it’s not that easy. Just now there were new guests from the four-thirty express train at both elevators. I couldn’t run to your elevator first and leave my guests waiting, so first I went up with my elevator.” “And now?” asked Karl tensely, since both men were silent. “And now,” said the young man from the neighboring lift, “the head waiter comes over, sees the people from your elevator without service, gets angry and asks me when I run over right away, where you’ve gotten to, I have no idea, since you said nothing to me about where you were going, so he calls the sleeping quarters for another young man to come over here.” “I met you in the hallway,” said Karl’s replacement. Karl nodded. “Naturally,” persisted the other young man, “That’s just what I said, you had asked me to be your stand-in, but he stopped all those excuses. You probably don’t know him. And we should tell you, that you should immediately go to the office. So stop hanging around and run there. Maybe he’ll still forgive you, you were only away for two minutes. Just mention me calmly, you asked me to stand in. I’d rather you didn’t say that you had stood in for me, nothing can happen to me, I had permission, but it’s not good for these things to be talked about and mixed in with situations they had nothing to do with.” “It was the first time I abandoned my post,” said Karl. “It’s always like that, it’s just that no one ever believes it,” said the young man and ran to his elevator, because people were approaching. Karl’s stand-in, a boy about fourteen years old who had some open sympathy for Karl, said: “There have always been many cases where things like this were forgiven. You’re usually moved comfortably to another job. As far as I know, only one person was let go because of such things. You just have to think up a good excuse for yourself. Under no circumstance should you say that you suddenly became sick, because he’ll laugh at you. It’s much better if you say that a guest somewhere had given you a message in a hurry for another guest and you don’t know who the first guest was anymore and you couldn’t find the second.” “No,” said Karl, “It won’t be so bad.” After everything he had heard, he didn’t believe in a good way out of this anymore. And even if this negligence were forgiven, Robinson was still lying in the sleeping quarters as his living guilt, and it was only too likely, because of the irritable nature of the head waiter, that no one would be content with a superficial investigation and Robinson would finally be tracked down. There wasn’t any specific ban on allowing strange people to be taken into the sleeping quarters, but this meant nothing, because even unthinkable things weren’t banned.
When Karl walked into the office of the head waiter, he was sitting by his morning coffee, taking a sip and looking at a list that the hotel’s head porter, who was right there, had brought to him to be looked over. He was a large man, made even more broad-shouldered then he naturally was by his lavish, richly decorated uniform – golden chains and ribbons wound around his shoulders and arms. A shiny black mustache, pulled out to a point like the Hungarians wore it, never moved when he quickly turned his head. Because of the weight of all his clothing, the man could only move with difficulty, standing with his legs buckled in sideways to correctly distribute the weight.
Karl walked in smoothly and quickly, like he’d gotten used to in the hotel, because the ease and carefulness which was a courtesy in private persons meant laziness in elevator boys. Besides, they mustn’t see his awareness of his guilt by the way he walked in. The head waiter had taken a brief look at the open door, but had then immediately returned to his coffee and his reading, without concerning himself with Karl again. The porter, however, seemed disturbed, maybe by Karl’s presence, maybe he had a secret piece of news or a request to present, whatever the case he looked at Karl angrily every moment, and with his head stiffly inclined toward Karl, he would make eye contact with Karl only to turn back to the head waiter. But Karl believed, it wouldn’t turn out well if he left the office without receiving the order from the head waiter, now that he had already been here once. The head waiter, though, continued to study the list and ate a piece of cake in the meantime, which he shook the sugar off of without stopping his reading. Once a sheet fell from the list to the floor, the porter didn’t once make an attempt to pick it up, he knew he wouldn’t take it up, it wasn’t necessary either, because Karl was already on the job and gave the sheet to the head waiter, who picked it up with a motion of his hands, as if it had flown by itself from the floor. The entire achievement hadn’t been enough, because the porter wouldn’t stop his angry glances.
Nevertheless, Karl was more prepared than before. He could take it as a good sign that his affair seemed to have such little importance for the head waiter. It was only understandable in the end. Of course an elevator boy meant absolutely nothing and therefore couldn’t be allowed anything, but even then, because he meant nothing, he could also do nothing extraordinary. Finally, the head waiter in his own youth had been an elevator boy – which was still the pride of this generation of elevator boys – he had been the one who organized the elevator boys for the first time and certainly he had left his position once without permission, even if no one now could compel him to remember it for himself, and you couldn’t allow yourself to forget, that as an elevator boy he saw that his duty was to maintain order with strict severity. But now Karl rested his hopes on the advance of time. Once the office clock reached a quarter to six, every moment could bring back Renell, maybe he was already there, because it must have been noticeable that Robinson hadn’t come back, Delamarche and Robinson couldn’t have stopped far from the Hotel Occidental, as it now seemed to Karl, because otherwise Robinson wouldn’t have found his way here in his miserable condition. If only Renell found Robinson in his bed, which had to happen, then everything was fine. Because, Renell being as practical as he was, especially when it was in his interest, he would take Robinson far from the hotel right away, which could be done very easily, because Robinson would have recovered in the meanwhile and Delamarche was probably waiting in front of the hotel to receive him. Once Robinson was taken away, Karl could confront the waiter much more calmly and because of it could maybe come out with a heavy reprimand. Then he’d discuss with Therese if he could tell the head cook the truth – for his part he saw nothing in the way – and if it were possible, he would get through these things without any special harm.
Just as Karl had calmed himself down a little with these reflections and started discretely counting his tips for the evening, because it had seemed to him to be a pretty lucrative one, the head waiter laid the list on the table with the words: “Wait just a moment please, Feodor,” sprang up athletically and screamed so loudly at Karl that at first he was frightened into staring solely at the large black hole of his mouth.
“You have abandoned your post without permission. Do you know what that means? That means dismissal. I don’t want to hear any excuses, your fake reasons can only remind me of the entirely sufficient fact that you were not there. If I tolerated that once and forgave you, the next time all forty elevator boys will run off during their work and I will carry all my five thousand guests up the stairs.”
Karl was silent. The porter had come nearer and was poking Karl’s jacket, pressing the one wrinkle a little deeper, maybe to make this tiny disorder in Karl’s uniform especially noticeable to the head waiter.
“Did you maybe become sick all of a sudden?” asked the head waiter slyly. Karl gave him a searching look and answered: “No.” “So you were never sick?” screamed the head waiter even more strongly. “So you must have some magnificent lie. Hand it over. What kind of excuse do you have?” “I didn’t know you had to ask permission by telephone,” said Karl. “That’s delightful,” said the head waiter as he grabbed Karl by the jacket collar and brought him almost suspended to the elevator regulations, which were nailed up on the wall. The porter also walked behind them to the wall. “There! Read!” said the head waiter and pointed to a paragraph. Karl thought he had to read it to himself. “Out loud!” commanded the head waiter. Instead of reading out loud, Karl said, in hope of calming the head waiter down: “I am acquainted with the paragraph, I’ve also received the regulations and read them thoroughly. But those regulations you don’t need, you forget. I’ve already served for two months and have never abandoned my post.” “You’re going to abandon it now,” said the head waiter as he went to the table and picked up the register again, as if he wanted to read it, but he slung it on the table as if it were a useless rag, and with a strong redness in his forehead and cheeks, he walked back and forth across the room. “Boys like these make this necessary! All this excitement in the night shift!” he shouted once more. “Do you know who wanted a ride up, while this bum was running away from the elevator?” he said to the porter. And he named a name, so that the porter, who knew all the guests and could rank them, shuddered so much that he quickly looked at Karl, as if his mere existence were confirmation enough that the owner of this name had to wait a long time in vain by the elevator that this young man had run away from. “That’s horrible!” said the porter and shook his head for a long time in boundless worry at Karl, who looked at him sadly and thought that he had to atone for the obtuseness of this man. “I already know you,” said the porter and extended his thick, large, stiffly stretched pointing finger. “You are that young man, who never says hello to me. What were you imagining! Everyone walking by the porter’s lodge has to say hello to me. You can do what you want with the rest of the porters, but I demand to be greeted. I’ve acted sometimes as if I didn’t notice, but you can relax, I know well enough who says hello to me or not, you lout.” And he turned from Karl and walked head raised high to the waiter, who, instead of commenting on the porter’s affair, finished his breakfast and glanced over a morning paper that a worker had just delivered to the room.
“Sir, Head Porter,” said Karl, who wanted to rein in the matter with the porter during the head waiter’s inattention, because he knew that the porter’s reproach might not disgrace him, but his hostility would. “I most certainly said hello to you, I haven’t been long in America and come from Europe, where we are well known to greet each other much more than is necessary. Naturally, I couldn’t entirely wean myself off of that and for two months in New York, where I moved in some high circles, people advised me at every opportunity to give up my excessive politeness. And yet now I’ve never said hello to you. I said hello to you a few times a day. Of course not every time I saw you, because I came across you a hundred times a day.” “You must say hello to me every time, every time without exception, for the entire time you speak to me, you have to hold your cap in your hand, you speak to me always as “Sir” and never as “You.” And all of it every time and all the time.” “Every time?” Karl repeated softly and questioningly, he remembered now how the porter looked at him strongly and with reproach during his stays in the area, even from the first morning, when he, not quite used to his position, had asked this porter somewhat too boldly, without much fussiness or urgency, if two men hadn’t maybe asked for him and left a photograph for him. “Now you see where such behavior leads,” said the porter, who had again returned close to Karl and pointed to the reading head waiter, as if he were the representative of his vengeance. “In your next job you’ll know enough to greet the porter, even if it’s only in some dive.”
Karl saw he had lost his job, because the head waiter had been prepared to say it, the head porter had repeated it as fact, and the confirmation for dismissal was not necessary with the hotel directors when it came to an elevator boy. It had gone more quickly than he had thought, because he had worked for two months as well as he could and certainly better than some of the other boys. But with these things, even in their decisive moments, no one in any part of the world, neither in Europe or America, ever took the matter into consideration, but decided it in the first rage of judgment flying from the mouth. Maybe it would be for the best now, if he said goodbye immediately and left, with the head cook and Therese maybe still asleep, he would be able to say a brief goodbye to spare them disappointment and grief over his behavior, pack his trunk quickly and go out in silence. But if he stayed a day longer – and he would need a little sleep – nothing waited for him but the exaggeration of his affair into a scandal, reproach from all sides, the unbearable sight of Therese’s tears and maybe even the head cook, and for all that there still would remain the punishment. On the other side, however, it irritated him that he faced two enemies here and that with any word he could say, either one or the other would find fault with something and interpret it to its worst conclusion. So he was quiet and enjoyed for the time being the calm that prevailed in the room, because the head waiter kept reading the newspaper and the head porter put the scattered list into numerical order page by page, which was very difficult for him because he was short-sighted.
Finally, the head waiter laid the newspaper down yawning, looking at Karl to make sure he was still there and turning the bell on the desk telephone. He said hello many times, but no one reported back. “It doesn’t respond,” he said to the head porter. To Karl, he seemed to watch the telephone with great interest and said: “It’s already a quarter to six. She must be awake already. Ring louder.” At this moment, the telephone rang back without further request. “It’s Head Waiter Isbary,” said the head waiter. “Good morning, Head Cook. I didn’t wake you up, did I? I’m sorry about that. Yes, yes, it’s already a quarter to six. But I’m sorry I frightened you. You should turn off the phone when you sleep. No, not really, there’s really no excuse, especially with the smallness of the matter I want to talk to you about. But of course I have the time, excuse me, I’ll stay by the telephone until it’s right for you.” “She had to run to the telephone in her nightgown,” the head waiter said laughing to the head porter, who the entire time had bent over the telephone box with a tense expression. “I really woke her up, she would otherwise have been woken up by a little girl who types for her on the typewriter, and she must have neglected it today, as an exception. I’m sorry I startled her, she’s so nervous.” “Why didn’t she say anything more?” “She went to see what’s the matter with the girl,” answered the head waiter, already with the receiver to his ear, because it rang again. “She’ll be found,” he said into the telephone again. “You shouldn’t let yourself be frightened by everything, you really need a thorough vacation. Yes, and my small enquiry. It’s the elevator boy, by the name of –” he turned in question to Karl, since he was paying enough attention to be immediately able to help out with his name – “by the name of Karl Rossman, if I remember correctly, so you’ve had some interest in him; unfortunately he has rewarded your kindness terribly, he’s abandoned his post without permission and with all this difficulty has made trouble for me which cannot be overlooked, and so I’ve let him go. I hope you don’t take this dreadfully. How do you mean? Let go, yes, let go. But I told you he abandoned his post. No, I cannot give in there, dear Head Cook. It deals with something under my authority, because a lot rests on this, one youth could spoil the whole group for me. You have to be fiendishly attentive with the elevator boys. No, no, in this situation I cannot do you this favor, as much as I always like to be in your service. And if I forgave him here in spite of everything just to keep my heart-rate up, he cannot stay here, for your sake, yes, for your sake Head Cook. You take an interest in him which he does not deserve and since not only am I acquainted with him, but also yourself, I know this must lead to the most heavy disappointment for you, which I want to spare from you at all cost. I say it with the utmost frankness, even though the stubborn youth stands a few steps in front of me. He is fired, no, no, Head Cook, he is completely fired, he will not be assigned to another job, he is completely useless. Other complaints have come against him. The head porter, Feodor, for example, has also complained about the youth’s inhospitality and impudence. What, isn’t that enough? Yes, dear Head Cook, you are betraying your character on account of this young man. No, don’t take it out on me.”
At this moment the porter bent over to the ear of the head waiter and whispered something. The head waiter looked astonished at first and then spoke so quickly into the telephone that Karl didn’t understand him enough at first and took steps closer on his tiptoes.
“Dear Head Cook,” he went, “sincerely, I would not have believed you were such a terrible judge of people. Even I’ve heard something about your little angel which will thoroughly change your opinion of him, and I’m almost sorry that I’m the one who has to say it to you. This fine young man, whom you call a model of decency, allowed no free night to go by without running to the city and coming back first thing in the morning. Yes, yes Head Cook, there is evidence to prove this, indisputable evidence, yes. Could you tell me now, maybe, where he got the money for these festivities? How could he keep attention to his work? And would you also like me to list for you what he indulges in when in the city? I want to concern myself especially with getting rid of this young man. And please take it as a reminder of how careful you should be with the boys who come running in here.”
“But Sir, Head Waiter,” Karl cried out, pretty much relieved because of this that everything which seemed to occur here was a great mistake, which unexpectedly might turn out in the end to improve his situation. “We have a confusion in front of us. I believe the head porter said to you, that I left every night. But that’s completely incorrect, I am in the sleeping quarters every night, all the boys could confirm that. When I wasn’t sleeping I was learning business correspondence, but I never moved from the sleeping quarters on any night. That is very easy to prove. The head porter mistook me for someone else and now I understood why he thinks I didn’t say hello to him.”
“Will you be quiet right now,” screamed the head porter and shook his fist where someone else would have wagged a finger. “I couldn’t be a head porter anymore if I mistook these people. Just listen, Mr. Isbary, I can’t be a head porter anymore if I mistake these people. In my thirty years of service there has never been any confusion, which the hundreds of head waiters who have been here in that time can confirm, but with you, you miserable boy, I should have begun my mistakes. With you, with your noticeably smooth face. What is there to confuse, you could have run every night behind my back to the city and I could tell merely by your face that you’re a gin-soaked bum.”
“Stop it, Feodor!” said the head waiter, whose telephone call with the head cook seemed to have suddenly broken off. “The matter is simple enough. In the first place, his evening entertainments come to nothing. Maybe he would like there to be a length investigation into his nightly business. I can already imagine that would please him. It would involve all forty elevator boys, who would naturally confuse everything for him, and take them in as evidence, it would also have to gradually include all personnel as witnesses, the hotel business would be held up for a little while until he’s finally thrown out, so at least he’d have his fun. And so we prefer not to do it. He took the head cook, that good woman, for a fool and that should be enough. I don’t want to hear it anymore, you are fired from your work for omission of duty at your post. I’m giving you a receipt for the finance office, so you’ll be paid your wages up to the present day. With the way you’ve behaved under us, this is simply a gift that I’m making to you only out of consideration for the head cook.”
A telephone call kept the head waiter from writing the receipt right away. “The elevator boys are giving me trouble today!” he shouted after hearing the first words. “That is unheard of!” he cried after a short while. And he turned away from the telephone to the head porter and said: “Please, Feodor, hold this boy a little, we’ll still be speaking with him.” And into the telephone he gave the order: “Come up here immediately!”
Now the head porter could stomp around, which wouldn’t have been too successful during the discussion. He held Karl tightly by the arm, not with a steady grip, which would have been bearable, but instead he loosened his grip here and there and gradually made it tighter and tighter, so that, with his great strength, it never seemed to stop and Karl’s vision went dark. Not only did he hold Karl, but as if he’d received the order to stretch him out, he raised him up high now and then and shook him, saying again and again in a half-question to the head waiter: “I’m not mistaking him now, I’m not mistaking him now.”
It was a relief for Karl when the highest-ranking elevator boy, a certain Bess, an eternally rasping fat youth, walked in and attracted the attention of the head porter. Karl was so tired he barely said hello, when to his astonishment he saw Therese slipping in behind the youth, deathly pale, her clothes disheveled, her hair sticking up. In a moment she was next to him and whispered: “Does the head cook know?” “The head waiter called her,” answered Karl. “Then it’s already fine, everything’s fine,” she said quickly with livened eyes. “No,” said Karl. “You don’t know what they have against me. I have to leave, the head cook is already convinced about that. Please don’t stay here, get out, I’ll come to say goodbye to you.” “But Rossman, what happened to you? Surely you’ll stay with us as long as you like. The head waiter does everything the head cook wants, he loves her, I heard it by chance. So be calm.” “Please, Therese, go away now. I can’t defend myself as well when you’re here. And I have to defend myself, because lies about me are being brought out. But it’s better that I pay attention and can defend myself, there’s more hope for me then that I’ll stay. And so, Therese –” Unfortunately, in sudden pain, he couldn’t refrain from adding quietly: “If only this head porter would let me go! I didn’t know he was my enemy. But he’s always dragging and pushing me around.” “Why did I just say that?” he thought immediately. “No woman can listen to that calmly.” And actually, Therese turned to the head porter without him being able to stop her with his free hand. “Mr. Head Porter, please let Rossman free right now. You’re hurting him. The head cook will personally come right away and then you’ll see that an injustice has happened to him through everything. Let him go, what kind of pleasure can it give you to torment him.” And she grabbed the head porter’s hand. “Orders, little lady, orders,” said the head porter and took Therese graciously with his free hand, while he squeezed Karl strenuously with the other, not only as if he wanted to cause him pain, but also as if he had the goal of owning his arm, which would still take awhile to achieve.
Therese needed some time to wrench herself from the head porter’s grasp and wanted, for Karl’s sake, to call out to the head waiter, who was still allowing Bess to explain something to him, when the head cook walked in with quick steps. “Thank God,” Therese cried, and you heard in that room at that moment nothing else but those loud words. The head waiter immediately sprang up and shoved Bess to the side: “So you’re coming too, Madame. On account of such a small thing? I might have suspected it after our talk on the telephone, but I didn’t actually believe it. And right now the matter of your protégé is constantly becoming more troublesome. I’m afraid I won’t actually fire him but will have to have him locked up. Listen for yourself!” And he called to Bess. “I would like to speak a few words with Rossman,” said the head cook and sat in a chair that the head waiter brought for her. “Karl, please come nearer,” she then said. Karl followed close behind, or rather was dragged there by the head porter. “Let him go,” said the head cook, annoyed. “He’s not a bandit yet.” The head porter actually let him go, but pushed him forward so strongly that tears welled up in his eyes for the strength of it.
“Karl,” said the head cook, laying her hands calmly in her lap and looking at Karl with her head slightly turned – it wasn’t like an interrogation at all – “I will say to you in front of everyone, that I have complete trust in you. And the head waiter is a just man, I guarantee that. Both of us, basically, would gladly let you stay here.” – She looked fleetingly over at the head waiter, as if she were asking him not to cut in. He didn’t. – “And forget what they might have said to you now. You must not take everything the head porter said to you too hard. He is an excitable man, which is no surprise with his work, but he has a wife and kids and knows that you shouldn’t needlessly torment a young man who has to learn everything by himself, because the rest of the world sees to that.”
It was completely quiet in the room. The head porter, demanding an explanation, looked at the head waiter, who looked at the head cook and shook his head. The elevator boy Bess grinned senselessly behind the head waiter’s back. Therese cried for joy and anxiety and spent all her effort not letting anyone hear it.
Karl, however, even though this could’ve been taken as a bad sign, did not look at the head cook, who was certainly asking for his glance, but in front of himself at the floor. In his arm, the pain twitched in all directions, his shirt was sticking to a welt and he would’ve liked to take off his jacket and look at the thing. The head cook meant what she said very kindly, but it sounded like an unfortunate way to say it, as if the head cook’s behavior was revealing at last that he deserved no kindness, that he had enjoyed the generosity of the head cook for two months unearned, and yes that he deserved nothing more than to come into the hands of the head porter.
“I’m saying this,” continued the head cook, “so that you’ll answer unworried, which you probably would have done already, since I think I know you.”
“May I please fetch a doctor in the meantime, the man could bleed to death,” the elevator boy Bess threw in suddenly, very politely but very distressingly.
“Go,” said the head waiter to Bess, who ran away immediately. And then to the head cook: “This is the matter. The head porter did not hold the young man down for fun. The elevator boys have discovered, downstairs, in a bed in the sleeping quarters, an unknown, heavy, drunk man. Someone woke him up, of course, and wanted to get him out. But then this man started to make a large racket, again and again crying out that the sleeping quarters belonged to Karl Rossman, whose guest he was, who had brought him in and who would punish anyone who dared touch him. So basically he had to wait for Karl Rossman, he had promised him money and was only going to get it. Please notice this, head cook: promised him money, was going to get it. You notice it too, Rossman,” said the head waiter casually to Karl, who had just then turned to Therese, who stared mesmerized at the head waiter and who again and again either brushed some hair away from her forehead or at least went through the motions of it for her own sake. “But maybe I remind you of some more obligations. The man downstairs had continued saying that the both of you would travel back for a night’s visit with some singer whose name no one understood, since the man could only pronounce it in song.”
Here the head waiter interrupted himself, because the head cook, clearly becoming pale, picked herself up from the chair, pushing it back a little. “I’ll spare you anything further,” said the head waiter. “No, please, no,” said the head cook and grabbed his hand. “Just tell me more, I’ll listen to everything, that’s why I’m here.” The head porter, stepping forward as if to say he had seen it all from the beginning, beat his chest and, when the head waiter said, “Yes, you had it right, Feodor!” immediately calmed down and stepped back.
“There isn’t much more to explain,” said the head waiter. “Young men being who they are, they laughed at the man at first, then got in a fight with him and since there are always good boxers waiting in line, he just got beaten up and I didn’t dare ask anything else about where and in how many places he bled, because these young men are fearsome boxers and a drunk just makes it easy for them.”
“So,” said the head cook, leaning against the chair and looking at the place she had just left. “Say one word, please, Rossman!” she said. Therese was running to the head cook’s present position and hung onto her, which Karl had never seen her do. The head waiter stood just behind the head cook and smoothed the head cook’s small, modest collar, which had turned up a little. The head porter next to Karl said: “So now what?” but he only wanted to hide the punch he gave to Karl in the back.
“It is true,” Karl said, with less certainty than he preferred on account of the punch, “that I brought a man into the sleeping quarters.”
“We don’t want to know any more,” said the porter on behalf of everyone. The head cook, silent, turned to the head waiter and then to Therese.
“I couldn’t help it,” Karl continued. “The man is my comrade from before, he came here to pay a visit after we hadn’t seen each other for two months, but he was so drunk that he couldn’t leave by himself.”
The head waiter said quietly to the head cook next to him: “So he came to visit and was so drunk afterwards that he couldn’t leave alone.” The head cook whispered something over her shoulder to the head waiter, who, with an unrelated smile, seemed to make some sort of objection. Therese – Karl was only looking at her – pressed her face against the head cook in complete helplessness and didn’t want to see any more. The only one completely satisfied with Karl’s explanation was the head porter, who repeated one more time: “It’s completely correct, you have to help your drinking buddy,” seeking to force this explanation on everyone present through looks and hand gestures.
“So I’m guilty,” Karl said and made a pause as he waited for a friendly word in this trial, which could give him courage for a continued defense, but it didn’t come. “I’m only guilty of bringing a man into the sleeping quarters, his name is Robinson, he’s an Irishman. Everything else he said he said out of drunkenness and is incorrect.”
“You didn’t promise him any money?” asked the head waiter.
“Yes,” said Karl, and he regretted having forgotten it, out of rashness or absent-mindedness he had portrayed himself as guiltless. “I promised him money, because he begged me for it. But I didn’t want to get it, so I gave him the tips I had earned that night.” As an example, he took the money out of his pocket and showed off a couple of small coins level on his hand.
“You’re going off track,” said the head waiter. “If someone should believe you, he’d constantly have to forget what you said before. First you have this man – I don’t believe the name Robinson, since no Irishman in Ireland has ever been called that – first you never promised him money, and then when we ask you unexpectedly, you’ve suddenly promised him money. But we don’t have a trivia game here, we want to hear your justification. But first you didn’t want to get him the money but instead gave him your tips, but then you show you still have this money and therefore wanted to get different money, which explains your long failure to appear. It would have been nothing special in the end if you had wanted to fetch money from your trunk, but you deny that with all your strength, that is something special. Even as you wanted to conceal that you had gotten this man drunk here in the hotel, which no one has any doubts about, because you yourself admitted he came alone but couldn’t leave alone and he himself shouted throughout the sleeping quarters that he was your guest. Two things still remain doubtful, which you could answer yourself, if you want to simplify the matter, but which we could in the end also establish without your assistance. First, how did you get admittance to the pantry, and second, how did you collect this money you were giving away?”
“It’s impossible to defend yourself when there’s no good will,” said Karl to himself and didn’t answer the head waiter any more, as much as it was probably hurting Therese. He knew that everything he could say would be seen afterwards entirely differently than he had meant it and that it only remained to be seen what kind of judgment would be found, good or terrible.
“He doesn’t answer,” said the head cook.
“It’s the most reasonable thing he can do,” said the head waiter.
“He’ll think up something else,” said the head porter, carefully stroking his beard with his earlier cruel hand.
“Be quiet,” said the head cook to Therese, who for her part began to sob. “You see, he doesn’t answer, how can I do anything for him. I’m the one who was proved wrong in the end in front of the head waiter. Therese, have I, in your judgment, forgotten to do something for him?” How could Therese know that, and what was the point of the head cook shaming herself in front of both these gentleman with these frank questions and requests to this little girl?
“Head Cook,” said Karl, picking himself up once more, but with no other purpose than to spare Therese the answer. “I don’t believe I have made such a disgrace of myself, and after enough investigation someone else would discover that.”
“Someone else,” said the head porter, pointing with his finger to the head waiter. “That’s was aimed against you, Mr. Isbary.”
“Now, Head Cook, it’s half past six, time is up. I think, you will allow me the last word in this all-too tolerantly handled manner.”
The small Giacomo was coming in, wanting to talk to Karl, but he gave up and waited, frightened by the pervasive silence.
Since Karl’s last words, the head cook had not stopped looking at him, and she didn’t seem to have heard the head waiter’s remarks. Her eyes looked entirely at Karl, they were large and blue, but a little cloudy with age and toil. The way she stood there, weakly rocking the chair in front of her, you could very well have expected her to say at the next moment: “Now Karl, when I think about it, the matter isn’t completely clear just yet and requires a thorough investigation, just like you said. And we should organize it now, whether we agree with it or not, because there must be justice.”
Instead of this, however, the head cook said after a small pause no one had dared to interrupt – only the clock rang in confirmation with the head waiter’s comments at half past six, and with it, as everyone knew, all the clocks in the entire hotel clanged in the ear and in the premonition as a doubled twitching of an especially large impatience: “No, Karl, no! We can’t convince ourselves of that. Correct things have a certain appearance, and, I have to say it, there is none of this in your affair. I am allowed to say that, and I have to say it too, because I’m the one who came here with the best conception of you. You see, Therese is also quiet.” (But she wasn’t quiet, she cried.)
The head cook faltered in a decision suddenly coming over her and said: “Karl, come here,” and when he came to her – immediately the head waiter and the head porter united behind his back in lively conversation – she put her left arm around him and walked with him and Therese, who followed mindlessly behind, to the far end of the room, where she paced back and forth and said: “It is possible, Karl, and you seem to think it, otherwise I wouldn’t trust it, that an investigation would give you justice in some small matters. So why not? Maybe you did say hello to the head porter. I’d certainly believe it, and I also know what I think of the head porter, you see I’m talking very openly with you. But such small corrections won’t help you at all. The head waiter, whose knowledge of people I’ve learned to cherish over a run of many years, and who is the most reliable person I know, has clearly pronounced you guilty and it seems irrefutable to me. Maybe you just handled it carelessly, and maybe you’re not the person I took you for. And yet,” and then she stopped herself a little and looked quickly back to the two gentleman. “I can’t give up thinking in principle that you’re an upstanding young man.”
“Madame Head Cook! Madame Head Cook!” urged the head waiter, who had caught her look.
“We’re finishing up,” said the head cook and now spoke faster to Karl: “Listen Karl, so far as I can see, I’m still happy that the head waiter doesn’t want to start an investigation, but if he did want to start it, I would have to stop it in your interest. No one should hear how you managed to entertain that man, who couldn’t have been one of those comrades from before like you pretended, but only someone you carelessly befriended in some bar during the night. Karl, how could you hide all these things from me? If it was unbearable for you in the sleeping quarters, and you began roving through the night for this innocent reason, why didn’t you say a word about it, you knew I wanted to get a room for you but gave it up at your request. It seems now like you preferred the sleeping quarters because you felt uninhibited there. And your money that you stored in my trunk and the tip money you brought every week, young man, where in God’s name did you get the money for your amusement and where would you get that money for your friend? That is a noticeable thing, which I will not allow myself to hint about to the head waiter, because it just might lead to an unavoidable investigation. You absolutely have to leave the hotel and do it as quickly as possible. Go directly to the Motel Brenner – you were there a few times with Therese – they’ll take you in for free on my recommendation” – and the head cook wrote some lines on a ticket with a pen she took out of her blouse, without interrupting what she was saying – “I’ll send your trunk after you, Therese, run to the elevator boys’ wardrobe and pack his trunk.” (But Therese didn’t move, instead wanting, since she had already carried every sorrow, to witness everything now that Karl’s matter was turning for the better thanks to the goodness of the head cook.)
Someone opened the door a little without showing himself and immediately closed it again. It must have had something to do with Giacomo, because he walked to the front and said: “Rossman, I have something to deliver to you.” “Coming,” said the head cook and put the ticket in Karl’s pocket as he listened to her with a bowed head. “I’ll hold your money for the time being, you know you can trust it with me. Stay home today and look over your affairs, tomorrow – I have no time today, I’ve already stayed here too long – I’ll come to the Brenner and we’ll see what else we can do for you. I won’t desert you, in any case you should know that by now. You should about the recent past before you worry about the future.” With that she clapped him lightly on the shoulder and went over to the head waiter, Karl lifted his head and looked at the large, imposing woman who walked from him with quiet steps and a relaxed posture.
“Aren’t you happy at all,” said Therese, who stayed back by him, “that everything’s turned out so well?” “Oh, yes,” said Karl as he smiled at her, not knowing why he should be so happy about being sent away as a criminal. Joy beamed out of Therese’s eyes, as if it were entirely indifferent to her whether Karl had done anything or not, whether he had been justly judged or not, so long as he was allowed to slip away, either in shame or with honor. So Therese was behaving like she did, who in her own matters was so meticulous, turning over and investigating in her mind any unclear word from the head cook for weeks at a time. He deliberately asked: “Will you my pack my trunk now and send it away?” He had to shake his head against his will for astonishment, because Therese was convinced with this question that there were things in the trunk that had to be kept secret from everyone, so she didn’t allow herself to look at Karl at all, didn’t reach her hand to him at all, but only whispered: “Of course, Karl, right away, right away I’ll pack the trunk.” And she was already running away.
But Giacomo didn’t allow any stalling and in the middle of all this waiting he yelled excitedly and loudly: “Rossman, the man is rolling around in the hallway and won’t let anyone take him away. They wanted permission to take him to the hospital, but he protested and maintained you would not tolerate him going to the hospital in any case. You should get an automobile and take him home, you would pay for the automobile. Will you?”
“The man has trust in you,” said the head waiter. Karl shrugged his shoulders and counted the money in his hand for Giacomo. “I don’t have any more,” he said then.
“I should also ask if you want to go with,” Giacomo continued to ask, jingling the money.
“He’s not going with,” said the head cook.
“And Rossman,” the head waiter said quickly, not even waiting until Giacomo was outside. “You are dismissed from your position.”
The head porter nodded many times, as if the head waiter’s words were his own.
“I cannot announce the grounds for your dismissal out loud, because otherwise I would have to have you locked up.”
The head porter looked at the head cook noticeably sternly, because he realized that she was the cause of this all-too mild treatment.
“Now, go to Bess, change, hand your uniform over to Bess and immediately, I said immediately, leave the house.”
The head cook closed her eyes, she was trying to calm Karl down. As he bowed in parting, he looked up fleetingly as the head waiter secretly grabbed the head cook’s hand and played with it. The head porter, stomping his feet, accompanied Karl to the door, which he didn’t let close, but held open himself so he could shout to Karl: “I want to see you going by the front door in a quarter of a minute, remember that.”
Karl hurried as much as he could to avoid any trouble at the front door, but everything went much more slowly than he wanted. First, Bess couldn’t be found right away, and now at breakfast time everything was full of people, then it appeared that one of the boys had borrowed Karl’s old pants and Karl had to search the clothes racks by almost all the beds before he found them, so that a whole five minutes had gone by before Karl came to the front door. A lady walked in front of him, in-between four gentlemen. They all went to a large automobile waiting for them, whose back doors were being held open by a valet who stretched his free left arm straight and stiff, looking highly solemn. But Karl vainly hoped to pass unnoticed under all this bustle. Right away the head porter grabbed him by the hand and pulled him in-between two gentlemen whom he apologized to. “You should have been fifteen seconds,” he said and squinted down at Karl as if he were observing a broken watch. “Come over here,” he said then and led him into the large porter’s lodge, which Karl had wanted to see for the longest time, but which he was now walking into with distrust, being pushed by the head porter. He was already in the door, when he turned and made an attempt to push the porter away and escape. “No, no, you go in this way,” said the head porter, turning Karl around. “I’m already fired,” he said, implying that no one in this hotel could give him orders anymore. “So long as I hold you, you are not fired,” said the porter, and that was correct too.
In the end, Karl found no reason to resist the porter. What could possibly happen to him? The walls of the porter’s lodge consisted exclusively of enormous windowpanes, through which you could clearly see crowds of people streaming against one another in the vestibule, as if you were in the middle of them. There seemed to be no corner in the entire porter’s lodge, where you could hide from the eyes of the people. As busy as the people outside seemed, with outstretched arms, bowed heads, peering eyes, pieces of luggage held high as they sought their way, they could scarcely avoid throwing a glance into the porter’s lodge, where announcements and messages were always hung up that had importance for the guests as well as the hotel staff. In addition, there was direct traffic into the porter’s lodge from the vestibule, because at two large sliding windows, two under-porters sat and gave out information without interruption on the most various of subjects. Now these were overburdened people, and Karl would have liked to believe that the head porter, so far as he knew him, had weaseled his way out of these positions over the course of his career. These two information liaisons – you wouldn’t believe it if you had seen it from the outside – had at least ten inquiring faces in front of them at all times. A muddle of languages was often exchanged behind these ten questioners, as if someone from each country was represented there. People were always asking simultaneously, always talking over one another. Most of them wanted either to fetch something from the porter’s lodge to deliver something there, so you always saw impatient, waving hands rising up out of the crowd. At one point someone wanted a newspaper, which was suddenly unfolded and for a moment covered all the faces. The two under-porters had to face all this. Plain conversation would not have been enough for their problems, they chattered, especially one of them, a gloomy man whose entire face was surrounded by a dark beard, he gave out information without the slightest interruption. He looked neither at the tabletop, where he constantly performed some odd task, nor at the face of this or that interrogator, but instead stared straight head, just to save his strength and collect himself. The beard generally got in the way of comprehending what he said, and Karl could pick up very little of what he said, which might have been in a foreign language in spite of its English tone. In addition, it was disarming how one piece of information was added to another so that they bled into each other, and often a questioner listened with a strained expression, since he believed his problem was still being dealt with, only to notice after a short while that it had already been dealt with. You had to get used to the fact that the under-porters never asked anyone to repeat a question, even if it was generally understandable and only a little unclear, a barely noticeable shaking of the head indicated that he had no intention of answering this question and it was the business of the questioner to recognize his mistake and formulate a better question. Because of this, a lot of people stood in front of the counter for a very long time. To help the under-porters, each was assigned an errand boy, who would bring everything the under-porters required in hasty runs to bookcases or various boxes. This was the best paid position for young people, if also the most strenuous, in a certain sense they were bothered more than the under-porters, because the porters only had to think and to speak, while these young people had to simultaneously think and run. If they brought something incorrect, the under-porter naturally couldn’t stop hurrying to give them longer instructions, he simply swept off with a jerk whatever they had lain on the table. An interesting episode was the changing of the under-porters, which took place just shortly after Karl entered. This switching had to take place many times over the course of a day, because there was barely a person who could have held up longer than one hour behind the counter. At changing-time a bell rung and two under-porters walked out of a side door in a row, each followed by his errand boy. They lined up idly by the counter and contemplated the people outside for a short while, so they could determine the state of all the answering at the moment. It seemed to them then that the moment had come for them to intervene, they tapped the relieved under-porters on the shoulders, who, although they weren’t concerned with what was going on behind their backs, immediately understood and left their positions. The whole thing went so quickly that it often surprised the people outside and they drew back out of fright at the face suddenly emerging before them. The two free men stretched themselves and washed their steaming heads in two wash basins waiting for them, but the relieved boys weren’t allowed to stretch just yet, since they had something to do for awhile, picking up the objects that had been thrown around the room when they’d been working and laying them in their places.
Karl had taken up everything with the most strenuous attentiveness in a few moments, and with a light headache he quietly followed the head porter who continued in front of him. The head porter had observed the large impression this kind of information-giving had made on Karl, and he snatched Karl’s hand and said: “See, this is how you work here.” Karl had not lazed about here in the hotel, but he had no idea of this kind of work and almost completely forgot that the head porter was his great enemy, he looked at him and nodded in silence, acknowledging with the motion of his head. To the head porter, though, that seemed to be an overestimation of the under-porters and maybe an insult to his person, so, as if he were joking with Karl, he yelled without worrying that everyone would hear: “Of course, this here is the stupidest work in the hotel; if you listened for an hour, you’d know all the questions that were posed and the rest don’t have to be answered. If you weren’t so impudent and wicked, if you hadn’t lain about, bummed around, drank and stole, I might have been able to put you at a window, because I only need blockheads for that.” Karl completely failed to hear the abuse insofar as it concerned him, because he was so incensed that the honorable and difficult work of the under-porter, instead of being recognized, was being derided by a man who, if he would have to sit at such a counter just once, would have had to run off after a few minutes under the laughter of the interrogators. “Let me go,” said Karl, his curiosity over the porter’s lodge was more than satisfied. “I want nothing more to do with you.” “That’s not enough to get out of it,” said the head porter, squeezing Karl’s arms so they couldn’t move at all and virtually carrying him to the end of the porter’s lodge. Couldn’t the people outside see this violent act of the head porter? Or if they saw it, how did they interpret it, so that no one even knocked on the windows just to show the head porter that he was being watched and was not allowed to carry on with Karl at his own discretion.
Karl couldn’t keep himself from following everything, even though the head porter, who had sat him down, held him in a sort of clamp. “It is my duty,” said the head porter, shaking Karl as if he wanted to make sure that Karl would at least turn his face to him, “in the name of the hotel management, to make up, at least a little, whatever the head waiter has neglected to do on whatever grounds. This is how we stand up for each other here. Without that, such a large business would be unthinkable. Maybe you want to say I’m not your direct superior, but that’s all the more reason for me to take up your otherwise abandoned affair. In a certain sense, as head porter, I watch over everything, because all the doors of the hotel are under my control, as well as this entrance door, the three middle doors and the ten side doors, not to mention the innumerable small doors and doorless entrances. Of course, all the work groups coming into the matter belong to me absolutely. In exchange for this great honor I have the responsibility from the hotel directors to allow no one out who is even the least bit suspicious. But you’re coming to me right now, because you seem to me to be highly suspicious.” With joy, he lifted his hands and allowed them to come down strongly, so that they smacked down and hurt. “It’s possible,” he added, maintaining himself regally, “that you could’ve gone unnoticed down another hallway, because it wouldn’t stand to allow special orders be issued on your account. But since you are here now, I want to enjoy it. I didn’t doubt that you would keep the rendezvous we had planned at the entrance door, because as a rule, the impudent and wicked, with all their vices, always stop in the place that will shame them. You’ll be able to observe this in yourself often.”
“Don’t believe,” said Karl, breathing in the characteristic odor coming from the head porter, which he first noticed here, where he sat in such close proximity. “Don’t believe,” he said, “that I’m completely in your power. I can scream.” “And I can cover your mouth,” said the head porter as calmly and quickly as would be necessary to carry it out. “And do you really mean, that if someone should come in here on your account, he would find in favor of you against me, the head porter. You see full well the senselessness of your hope. Do you really know how you looked in your uniform, you were really remarkable, but in this suit, which could only happen in Europe . . .” And he pulled at various spots on the suit, which, although five months ago it had been almost new, was now worn out, wrinkled and stained, mainly due to the carelessness of the elevator boys, who, in order to keep the floor of the sleeping quarters clean and dust-free according to the general orders, did no actual cleaning, but each day squirted the floor with some oil and splashed disgracefully all the clothes on the clothes stands. You could put your clothes wherever you wanted, there was always someone without his clothes on hand who was able to find easily some stranger’s hidden clothes and borrow them. And this was probably the same person who had taken up the cleaning of the hall on that day and who had not only sprinkled the clothes with oil, but soaked them from top to bottom. Only Renell had kept his expensive clothes in a somewhat secret place from which they had barely been taken, because no one borrowed strange clothes out of anger or malice, but out of mere hurry and disregard wherever he found them. But even on Renell’s clothes there was a round, red oil stain in the middle of the back, and in the city, someone in the know would have recognized this young man as an elevator boy right away.
And with this memory, Karl said to himself that he had suffered enough as an elevator boy and that everything had been in vain, because now all this elevator work wasn’t what he had hoped, a first step to better jobs, but instead he was being pushed into a worse situation and even coming very close to prison. He was held tight by the head porter, who was thinking about how he could do more harm to Karl. And completely forgetting that the head porter was not the sort of man who allowed himself to be persuaded, Karl yelled while hitting himself in the forehead many times with a free hand: “And if I really didn’t say hello to you, how can a grown man become so vengeful on account of an omitted greeting!”
“I’m not vengeful,” said the head porter. “I only want to go through your pockets. I am truly convinced I would find nothing, because you will have been so cautious and your friend would have allowed everything to be carried away, every day something else. But you must be searched.” And already he went through one of Karl’s jacket pockets with such force that the seams broke on the side. “There’s nothing here, either,” he said and picked the innards of the pocket in his hand: a promotional calendar for the hotel, a paper with a note of business correspondence, the ticket from the head cook, a polishing file for his nails that a guest had given him for packing his trunk, an old pocket mirror that Rennel had given him in thanks for maybe ten substitutions at work and still a few small things. “That’s nothing, too,” repeated the head porter and threw everything under the bench, as if it were perfectly comprehensible that Karl’s property, insofar as it wasn’t stolen, belonged under the bench. “But this is enough,” said Karl to himself – his face must have been glowing red – and when he tried out of greed to carelessly grub around in Karl’s second pocket, Karl slipped out of his sleeves with a jerk, pushed an under-porter very strongly against his machinery in his first uncontrolled leap, ran to the door more slowly than he had intended in the humid air, but luckily was outside before the head porter could get up in his heavy coat. The organization of security guards must have not have been very commendable, there was a ringing on every side, but Lord knows why, hotel workers walked back and forth through the doorway in such numbers you would almost think they wanted to make exit impossible in an inconspicuous manner, because there couldn’t be any other reason for all this walking back and forth – in any case Karl soon came into the open, but he had to go along the hotel sidewalk, because he couldn’t make it to the street, since an uninterrupted column of automobiles moved hesitantly to the front door. In order to get to their passengers as quickly as possible, these automobiles were moving into one another, each was pushing the one it followed. Pedestrians, in a special hurry to get to the street, stepped through the automobiles now and then, as if they were an open way through, and it was entirely indifferent to them, if only the chauffer and servants were in the automobile or if the distinguished guests were in there too. Such behavior seemed a little too much for Karl and you had to know your way around the area to even dare it, since he could get into an automobile whose inhabitants wouldn’t like it, throw him out and cause scandal and he had nothing more to fear than as a runaway, suspicious hotel employee in shirt sleeves. The row of automobiles couldn’t go on forever, and so long as he kept to the hotel, he was among the least suspicious. Karl finally came to a spot where the line of automobiles didn’t stop, but turned onto another street and was broken up. Just then he wanted to slip into the traffic on the street, where there were far more suspicious people than he, and run around free, because he heard his name called somewhere nearby. He turned around and saw two well-known elevator boys in a small, open door underneath him, which looked like the entrance to a burial vault, they pulled out a stretcher with the utmost effort, where Karl recognized Robinson lying, his face and arms bandaged in many places. It was disgusting to look as he threw his arms to his eyes to wipe away the tears from his bandages, which he forgot about either for the pain or otherwise for sorrow or for joy over the reunion with Karl. “Rossman,” he cried reproachfully, “why did you let me wait so long? Already I spent one hour resisting so that I wouldn’t be carried away before you came. These jerks –” and he gave one of the elevator boys a nod, as if he were safe from punches because of the bandages – “are true devils. Ah, Rossman, this visit turned out to be very expensive.” “What have they done to you then?” said Karl and stepped over to the stretcher, which the two elevator boys, laughing, laid down so they could rest. “You’re still asking,” sighed Robinson, “and can see how I look. Think! I was beaten into a cripple for most likely my entire life. I have frightening pains from here to here” – and he pointed first to his head and then to his toes. “I wish you would have seen how I bled from the nose. My vest, which I left behind, is completely ruined, my pants are ripped to shreds, I’m in my underwear” – and he lifted his blanket a little and invited Karl to look under it. “What will become of me! I’ll have to be lain up for at least a month and I’ll say it to you straight, I have no one else but you who could care for me, Delamarche is much too impatient. Rossman, dear Rossman!” And Robinson stretched out his hand after Karl stepped back a little, in order to win him back by petting him. “Why did I have to go look for you!” he repeated many times, to make sure Karl never forgot the shared blame which he had for this person’s misfortune. Karl now immediately recognized that Robinson’s laments came not from his wounds, but from the outrageous hangover he found himself in, since he had scarcely slept in heavy drunkenness when he woke up right away and to his surprise was being boxed bloody and could no longer find his way in the waking world. The insignificance of the wounds could already be seen in the formless old rags standing in for bandages, which the elevator boys had completely wound him up in for fun. And also the two elevator boys at the end of the stretcher snorted with laughter from time to time. But now wasn’t the time to bring Robinson to his senses, because passers-by hurried past without concerning themselves with the group by the stretcher, often people would spring with perfectly athletic strides over Robinson, who paid the chauffer with Karl’s money yelling “Forward! Forward!” The elevator boys lifted up the stretcher with their last strength, Robinson grabbed Karl’s hand and said flatteringly, “Now come, so come along,” and wasn’t Karl best looked after, in this mess he found himself in, in the darkness of an automobile? And so he sat next to Robinson, who leaned his head against him, the elevator boys staying behind shook his hand, when he presented heartily to his colleagues through the Coupe window and the automobile turned with a sharp winding to the street, it seemed as if an accident had to happen, but now the all-encompassing traffic took the automobile’s dead straight course calmly into itself.
“Rossman,” a voice called then from up high. It was Delamarche, yelling from the balcony of the highest floor. He himself was still indistinct against the blue and white sky, apparently he had a night-shirt on and watched the street with opera glasses. Next to him, a red sun-umbrella was spread out, under which a woman appeared to be sitting. “Hello,” he yelled as loud as he could to make it understandable, “is Robinson there too?” “Yes,” answered Karl, supported strongly by Robinson in the car with a louder “Yes.” “Hello,” he yelled back. “I’m coming right now.” Robinson leaned out of the car. “That is a man,” he said, directing this praise for Delamarche at Karl, the chauffer, the policeman and at anyone who wanted to hear it. Above, on the balcony, which they still looked at absent-mindedly even though Delamarche had already left it, a heavy woman in a red dress picked herself up from under the sun-umbrella, took the opera glasses from the parapet and looked through them to the people below, who only gradually turned away from her. In expectation of Delamarche, Karl stared at the house gate and beyond it to the courtyard, cut through by an almost uninterrupted row of workers who each carried a small, but apparently very heavy, box on his shoulder. The chauffer was walking to his car and cleaned the headlights with a rag to make use of the time. Robinson rubbed his limbs, was surprised to only be in slight pain, which he could feel in spite of the greatest attention, and began to carefully loosen the thick bandages around his legs. The policeman held his dark baton diagonally and waited quietly with great patience, which policemen must have whether they’re in ordinary service or lying in wait. The young man with the cut-up nose sat by the gate and stretched out his legs. The children came closer to Karl, generally with short steps, because even though he didn’t notice them, he seemed to them, on account of his blue shirt-sleeves, to be the most important one of all.
With the time it took for Delamarche to arrive, you could appreciate the great height of these houses. And Delamarche came very hurriedly with a fluttering sleeping-gown he had thrown on. “So it’s you two!” he yelled, joyful and stern at the same time. With his large steps he showed off his colored undergarments for a moment. Karl didn’t quite understand why Delamarche walked around so comfortably and openly, as if he were in a country villa, in the middle of the city, in gigantic tenements. Even so, just like Robinson, Delamarche had changed a lot. His dark, clean-shaven, meticulously clean, raw and muscular face looked proud and respectable. The dazzling spark in his eyes, which were still somewhat drawn together, was surprising. His violet sleeping gown was very old, speckled and too big for him, but out of this horrible piece of clothing puffed out an enormous dark necktie made of heavy silk. “Now?” he asked everyone. The policeman walked a little closer and leaned on the hood of the automobile. Karl gave a small explanation. “Robinson is a little frail, but if he gets some rest, he’ll be able to get up the steps; the chauffer here wants an additional payment to the fare I’ve already paid. And now I’m going. Have a good day.” “You’re not going,” said Delamarche. “I already told him that,” Robinson announced from the car. “I’m going,” said Karl and made a couple of steps. But Delamarche was already behind him and pulled him back forcefully. “I said, you’re staying,” he yelled. “But let me go,” Karl said and got himself ready, if necessary, to win his freedom with his fists, even if he had little hope of success against a man like Delamarche. But there stood the policeman, there was the chauffer, here and there walked groups of workers through the otherwise open, quiet street, could you then be patient with the injustice Delamarche was committing against him? He wouldn’t want to be in a room alone with him, but here? Delamarche calmly paid the chauffer, who stuffed in the large, unearned amount with a lot of bowing, and out of thankfulness he went to Robinson and talked to him about the best way to get out. Karl watched this unobserved, maybe Delmarche would take it better if he left quietly, it was naturally best if a fight could be avoided, and so Karl simply went into the street to get away as quickly as he could. The children streamed to Delamarche to make him aware of Karl’s escape, but he didn’t have to intervene, because the policeman, with his baton stretched out in front of him, said: “Stop!”
“What’s your name?” he asked, shoving the baton under his arm and slowly taking out a book. Karl looked at him closely for the first time, he was a strong man, but had almost entirely white hair. “Karl Rossman,” he said. “Rossman,” repeated the policeman, but doubtfully, because he was a calm and reasonable man, but Karl, who was coming into contact for the first time with American authorities, already saw a certain suspicion in this repeating of what he said. And actually, his affairs couldn’t be in good standing, because Robinson, who busied himself so much with his own complaints, asked with silent, lively hand-gestures to Delamarche from the car if he might be able to help Karl. But Delamarche resisted him with hasty head shakes and watched idly, his hands in his oversized pockets. The young man by the gate explained to a woman, who was now just walking from the gate, all of the facts from the beginning. The children stood in a semi-circle behind Karl and looked quietly at the policeman.
“Show your identification,” said the policeman. This was only a formal question, because if someone doesn’t have a jacket, he also doesn’t have any ID on him. So Karl remained silent, so he could answer the next question in detail and cover up his lack of identification. But the next question was: “So you have no identification?” and Karl now had to answer: “Not with me.” “But that’s bad,” said the policeman, looking thoughtfully around him and clapping the cover of the book with two fingers. “Do you have a job?” asked the policeman at last. “I was an elevator boy,” said Karl. “You were an elevator boy, so you’re not one anymore and where do you live now?” “Now I’ll look for a new job.” “So you were just fired?” “Yes, an hour ago.” “Suddenly?” “Yes,” said Karl and lifted his hand as if in apology. He couldn’t explain the whole story here, and even if it would have been possible, it seemed entirely hopeless to ward off a looming injustice with the explanation of an injustice already suffered. And if he couldn’t hold onto his rights with the goodness of the head cook and the insight of the head waiter, he had nothing to expect from the people here on the street.
“And you were fired without a jacket?” asked the policeman. “Yes,” said Karl, it was also part of the personality of the authorities to ask about whatever they saw. (His father must have been very annoyed trying to obtain a passport under the useless questioning of the authorities.) Karl had a great desire to run away, to hide somewhere and not have to listen to any more questions. And now the policeman posed the very question which frightened Karl the most and which, in his nervous apprehension, had caused him to be more thoughtless than he would have been otherwise. “Which hotel were you employed at?” He sunk his head and didn’t answer, he absolutely did not want to answer this question. He couldn’t allow for him to come back to the Hotel Occidental under the escort of a policeman, for there to be interrogations where his friends and enemies would be dragged out, for the head cook to give up entirely her weakened good opinion of Karl, since she, expecting to find him at the Motel Brenner, now found him in the grip of policeman, in his shirtsleeves, without bringing back his visitor’s pass, while the head waiter maybe only nodded in complete understanding and the head porter said that the hand of God had finally nabbed the bum.
“He was employed at the Hotel Occidental,” said Delamarche as he walked next to the policeman. “No,” yelled Karl, stamping with his foot, “that is not true.” Delamarche looked at him with a mocking, disparaging look, as if he could have told him entirely other things. Below, the children hustled about at Karl’s excitement, and they ran over to Delamarche so they could look at Karl from there. Robinson had stuck his head completely out of the car and behaved very calmly for all his agitation; here and there a wink of the eye was his only motion. The young man at the gate clapped his hands for fun, the woman next to him gave him a jab with her elbow so he’d quiet down. Just then the workers had a break for breakfast and showed up with big cups of black coffee, in which they stirred loaves of French bread. Some of them sat on the sidewalk, all of them slurped very loudly.
“You know this young man well,” the policeman asked Delamarche. “More than I’d like to,” he said. “I did much good in my time with him, but he thanked me very poorly, which you yourself must easily understand after this very short interrogation you’ve had with him.” “Yes,” said the policeman. “He seems to be a stubborn youth.” “That he is,” said Delamarche, “but it’s not his worst quality.” “Really?” said the policeman. “Yes,” said Delamarche, who was well into his speech and was swinging his entire robe with his hands in his pockets, “he’s a fine scoundrel. My friend in the car and I, we had taken him in at the time in poverty, he didn’t know anything about American customs, he came straight from Europe, where no one could have used him either, so we schlepped him along with us, let him live with us, explained everything to him, wanted to get him a job, thought that in spite of all the signs speaking against him we could still make him a useful person, and then he disappears in the night, was just gone and all of it underneath an accompanying circumstance that I’d rather keep quiet about. Was it like that or not?” asked Delamarche at last and plucked at Karl’s shirt sleeves. “Get back, you kids,” yelled the policeman, since they had advanced so far that Delamarche would have almost tripped over a few of them. In the meantime, the workers, who were so far withholding their interest in the interrogation, were also beginning to take notice and had gathered in a dense ring around Karl, where no one cold take a step back anymore, and in everyone’s ears was the incessant, garbled voices of the workers, which were yelled out in some completely incomprehensible mix of Slavic and English words.
“Thank you for the information,” said the policeman and saluted in front of Delamarche. “In any case I’ll take him with me and have him given back to the Hotel Occidental.” But Delamarche said: “May I pose the request to hand the youth over entirely to me, I have to bring some things into order with him. I’ll be obliged to escort him back to the hotel myself.” “I can’t do that,” said the policeman. Delamarche said: “Here is my traveling pass,” and gave him a ticket. The policeman looked at it approvingly, but said with a friendly smile, “No, it’s useless.” Karl had been watching Delamarche so closely up to now, that he now saw in him a unique possibility for escape. It was very suspicious how this policeman focused on Karl, but in any case it would be easier to convince Delamarche than the policeman not to take him back to the hotel. And even if Karl came back to the hotel in Delamarche’s hands, it would still be better than if it happened in the escort of a policeman. For the time being, however, Karl didn’t want to give the impression that he actually wanted to go with Delamarche, otherwise everything was ruined. And he impatiently looked at the hands of the policeman, which at every moment could pick themselves up to arrest him.
“I at least have to learn why he was let go so suddenly,” said the policeman finally, while Delamarche looked sideways with a glum face and crushed the traveling pass between his fingers. “But he wasn’t let go at all,” yelled Robinson to the surprise of all and rested on the chauffer as he bent as far out of the car as possible. “On the contrary, he has a good position there. He is the highest-ranked in the sleeping quarters and can bring in whomever he wants. It’s just that he’s enormously busy and if someone wants something from him, he has to wait a long time. He always sticks by the head waiter and the head cook and he is a trusted confidant. By no means is he fired. I don’t know why he said that. How could he be fired? I hurt myself badly in the hotel and now he’s gotten the job to take me home and because he didn’t have a jacket just then, he is even traveling without a jacket. I couldn’t wait for him to put on a jacket.” “So now,” said Delamarche with out-stretched arms, as if he were accusing the policeman of not knowing anything about people, and these two words seemed to bring to Robinson’s uncertain speech an irrefutable clarity.
“But is that true?” asked the policeman faintly. “And if it’s true, why did the young man say he was fired?” “You should answer,” said Delamarche. Karl looked at the policeman, who was only here to establish order among people who were only thinking of themselves, and some of his general concern leaked into Karl. He didn’t want to lie and held his hands tightly intertwined behind his back.
At the gate, a supervisor appeared and clapped his hands to signal that the workers had to go to work again. They spilled their coffee onto the ground and dragged themselves quietly with stumbling steps back into the building. “This’ll go on forever,” said the policeman and wanted to grab Karl by the arm. Karl stepped backwards a little instinctively, felt the free space that had opened up for him on account of the workers marching away, turned around, and set off with a great initial leap into a run. The children broke into their own scream and ran alongside with tiny, outstretched arms for a couple of steps. “Stop him!” yelled the policeman down the long, almost empty street and ran behind Karl, yelling out regularly, in a silent run which showed great strength and practice. It was lucky for Karl that the pursuit took place in an industrial zone. The workers didn’t get along with the authorities. Karl ran down the middle of the road, because he had the least hindrance there, looking here and there at the workers on the sidewalk standing and observing him calmly, while the policeman continued to shout, “Stop him!” and as he took the more intelligent way down the smooth sidewalk, he stretched his baton out at Karl. Karl had little hope and almost completely gave up as the policeman blew his deafening whistle, because they were approaching an intersection which must have contained police patrols. Karl’s only advantage was his light clothing, he flew or rather plunged into the ever steeper street, but on account of his weariness he made too many high, wasteful and useless leaps. In addition, the policeman had his target always in front of his eyes, while for Karl running came second, he had to think things out, pick from various possibilities, always deciding again and again. For the time being, his somewhat desperate plan was to avoid the intersections, since you couldn’t know what was stuck in there, maybe he would run right into a police station; he wanted to hold on to this clear street for as long as it went, running deep down to a bridge that scarcely began before it disappeared into a fog of sun and water. According to this conclusion, he wanted just then to start running faster so he could pass the first intersection in a special rush, when he saw, not too far in front of him, a policeman lying in wait on one of the darkened walls in the shadows of one of the houses, prepared to spring loose on Karl at just the right moment. There was nothing to help him anymore except an alley, and when he heard his name being harmlessly called out of this alley – it seemed to be a mistake at first, because he’d had a buzzing in his ears for the entire time, he didn’t hesitate any more and, to maybe surprise the policemen, turned into the alley with one foot swinging at a right-angle.
He had scarcely gone two paces – he had already forgotten the man who had called his name, the second policeman whistled too, you could see his unused strength, distant pedestrians in the alley picked up the pace of their walking – when a hand grabbed Karl out of a small door and took him into a dark corridor with the words, “Be quiet.” It was Delamarche, completely out of breath, with flushed cheeks, his hair sticking to his head. He carried the sleeping robe under his arm and was only dressed in a shirt and flannel underwear. He closed and barred the door, which wasn’t the door into the house but only into an inconspicuous gangway. “One moment,” he said, leaning with his head held high against the wall and breathing heavily. Karl lay tightly against his arm and, half-senseless, pressed his face against his chest. “There go the gentlemen,” said Delamarche as he pointed at something to hear behind the door with his finger. The two policemen really ran by, their running clomped in the empty alley as steel hit against stone. “But you’re taken in respectably here,” Delamarche said to Karl, who was still choking on his breath and couldn’t bring out a word. Delamarche put him on the ground carefully, kneeled next to him, stroked him many times on the forehead and watched him, “It’s okay now,” Karl said finally and stood up with great effort. “Then you’re free,” said Delamarche, who had put on his sleeping robe again and brought Karl in front of him, who held his hands down only out of weakness. From time to time he shook Karl to keep him fresh. “You think you’re tired?” he said. “You could run in the open like a horse, but I had to stay here in the damn gangway and creep through courtyards. By lucky chance, however, I am also a runner.” Out of pride, he punched Karl in the back. “From time to time, this kind of race with the police is good exercise.” “I was already tired when I started running,” said Karl. “There’s no excuse for terrible running,” said Delamarche. “If I hadn’t been there, they would’ve gotten you long ago.” “I agree,” said Karl. “I am very much in debt to you.” “Without a doubt,” said Delamarche.
They walked through a long, narrow corridor paved with dark, smooth stones. Here and there, stairways opened to the right or left or you got a look at a large, different hallway. Adults were scarce, only the children played on empty steps. On a landing a small girl stood and cried, so that her entire face shone with tears. Delamarche had barely noticed her when she ran up the stairs with her open mouth gasping for air, first calming down up on top when she convinced herself, after turning around frequently, that no one was following her or would follow her. “I was running after her a moment ago,” said Delamarche laughing and threatened her with his first, so that she screamed and ran off again.
And the courtyards they came through were almost entirely abandoned. Only here and there a worker pushed a wheelbarrow in front of him, a woman filled a can with water from a pump, a mailman cut through the whole courtyard with quiet steps, an old man with a white handlebar mustache sat cross-legged in front of a glass door and smoked a pipe, in front of a shipping agency boxes were being unloaded, the idle horses turned their heads calmly, a man in a trench coat with a paper in his hand overlooked the entire job, a window was opened in an office and an employee, who sat at his writing desk, turned away from it and looked thoughtfully towards exactly where Karl and Delamarche were walking.
“You couldn’t wish for a quieter neighborhood,” said Delamarche. “In the evening there’s a long, loud noise for a few hours, but during the day it’s perfect here.” Karl nodded, the quiet seemed to be a bit too much for him. “I couldn’t live anywhere else,” said Delamarche, “because Brunelda doesn’t tolerate any noise. Do you know Brunelda? Yes, now you’ll see her. In any case I recommend that you behave as quietly as possible.”
As they came to the steps that led to Delamarche’s apartment, the automobile had already left and the youngster with the cut-up nose announced, without any surprise at Karl reappearing somehow, that he’d carried Robinson up the steps. Delamarche barely nodded to him, as if he were a servant who had fulfilled his duty as a matter of course and dragged Karl, who hesitated a little and looked down the sunny street, with him up the stairs. “We are just above,” said Delamarche once while climbing the stairs, but his prediction didn’t want to come true, again and again the stairs set off in a new, imperceptibly different direction. Karl stood still, not so much out of drowsiness but out of helplessness against the length of these stairs. “The apartment is very high,” said Delamarche as they went on again, “but that too has its advantages. You leave very seldom, you’re in a bathrobe all day, we live very comfortably. Of course visitors never come this high.” “Where should these visitors come from?” thought Karl.
Finally Robinson appeared at a landing in front of a closed apartment door and now they had arrived; the stairs hadn’t ended yet but kept on going into semi-darkness without anything to indicate their swift conclusion. “I’ve been thinking,” said Robinson faintly, as if he had something on his mind. “Delamarche, bring him in! Rossman, what would you be without Delamarche!” Robinson stood there in his undergarments and tried, so far as it was possible, to wrap himself in a small blanket someone had given him at the Hotel Occidental. It wasn’t clear why he didn’t go into the apartment instead of making passersby laugh. “Is she asleep?” asked Delamarche. “I don’t think so,” said Robinson, “but I preferred to wait for you to come.” “First we have to see if she’s sleeping,” said Delamarche and bent down to the keyhole. After he had looked through it a long time while turning his head in various directions, he picked himself up and said: “You can’t see enough, the blinds are down. She’s sitting on a couch, maybe she’s asleep.” “Is she sick then?” asked Karl, because Delamarche stood there as if he were asking for advice. But now he asked back in a sharp tone: “Sick?” “He doesn’t know her,” Robinson said in apology.
A few doors down, two women were walking down the corridor, they wiped their hands on their aprons, looked at Delamarche and Robinson and seemed to be talking about them. A very young girl with gleaming blonde hair sprang out of one door and pressed herself in-between the two women, hanging her arms on them.
“Those are repulsive women,” said Delamarche softly, but only in regard for the sleeping Brunelda. “The next time I’ll report them to the police and will get some quiet from them for years. Don’t look,” he hissed at Karl, who couldn’t find any fault in looking at women if they had to wait in the hallway for Brunelda to wake up. He shook his head out of annoyance, as if he wouldn’t take any warnings from Delamarche, and wanted to walk up to the women in order to see them more distinctly, but Robinson held him back at the shirtsleeves with the words, “Rossman, watch yourself,” and Delamarche, already provoked because of Karl, was so angered by the girls’ loud laughing that he threw out his arms and legs with a great rush to hurry away the girls, who disappeared into their doors as if they’d been blown away. “I have to clean this hallway every so often,” said Delamarche as he walked back slowly. Then he remembered Karl’s resistance. “From you, though, I expect entirely different behavior, or you’ll have a terrible time with me.”
Then a questioning voice called from the room in a soft, tired tone: “Delamarche?” “Yes,” answered Delamarche and looked kindly at the door. “May we step in?” “O, yes,” it called and Delamarche slowly opened the door, after he had touched the two behind him with a look.
They walked into complete darkness. The curtain of the balcony door – there was no window available – was let down to the floor and some light shone through it, but otherwise all the furniture filling the room and all the clothes hanging around contributed to the darkness of the room. The air was damp and you smelled the dust which had collected in the corners, unreachable by any hand. The first thing Karl noticed on walking in were three crates standing tightly against each other.
On the couch lay the woman who had earlier been looking down from the balcony. Her red dress had warped out of shape beneath her and hung in a great tail down to the floor, you saw her legs almost to the knees, she wore thick, white wool stockings, she didn’t have any shoes. “It’s hot, Delamarche,” she said, turning her face to the wall and holding out her hand in casual indecision towards Delamarche, who grabbed it and kissed it. Karl was just looking at her double chin, which rolled along with the turning of her head. “Should I have the curtain pulled up?” asked Delamarche. “No, not that,” she said with closed eyes, as if doubtful, “because it would be annoying.” Karl walked to the foot of the couch to get a good look at the woman, he wondered about her complaints, because the heat wasn’t at all unordinary. “Wait, I’ll make it more comfortable for you,” Delamarche said timidly, opening a couple of the buttons around her throat and pulling the clothes apart so that the throat and the beginning of the chest were free, and the delicate, yellow edge of a blouse appeared. “Who is that,” said the woman suddenly and pointed at Karl with her finger. “Why does he stare at me like that?” “You’ll soon start making yourself useful,” Delamarche said and shoved Karl aside while he calmed down the woman with the words: “It’s only the youth I brought with me to be your servant.” “But I don’t want anyone,” she cried. “Why are you bringing strangers into the apartment?” “But this whole time you’ve wanted a servant,” said Delamarche and knelt down; despite its great breadth, there wasn’t the smallest spot next to Brunelda on the couch. “Ah, Delamarche,” she said. “You don’t understand me and don’t understand me.” “Then I really don’t understand you,” said Delamarche and took her face between both hands. “But it’s not happening, if you want him to leave at once.” “If he’s already here now, he should stay,” she said now and Karl was so thankful in his tiredness for these not very friendly words that he, in indistinct thought of the endless stairs he would have had to climb down again, stepped over the peacefully sleeping Robinson in his blanket and said, in spite of all the angry hand gestures of Delamarche: “I thank you for allowing me to stay here a little. I have not slept for twenty-four hours, I’ve worked enough and have had a lot of excitement. I am horribly tired. I don’t really know exactly where I am. But if I just slept a couple of hours you could ship me off without any other consideration and I’ll gladly go.” “You can stay here,” said the woman and added sarcastically: “We’re just overflowing with room here, as you can see.” “So you have to leave,” said Delamarche. “We couldn’t use you here.” “No, he should stay,” the woman continued earnestly now. And Delamarche said to Karl, as if he were carrying out her desire: “So lay down somewhere already.” “He can rest on the curtains, but he has to take off his boots so he doesn’t rip it.” Delamarche pointed Karl to the place that she meant. Between the doors and the three crates was a large pile of various kinds of window curtains thrown about. If you folded them all regularly together with the heaviest on the bottom and laying the lighter up on top and finally pulled out all the different boards and rings of wood stuck in the pile, it would’ve become a tolerable bed, but so far it was only a rocking and gliding mass where Karl laid down in a moment because he was too tired for special sleeping arrangements and had to be careful about making too much of a fuss out of consideration for his hosts.
He was almost asleep, when he heard a loud scream, picked himself up and saw Brunelda sitting upright on the couch, her arms spread wide apart to hug Delamarche kneeling in front of her. Karl, for whom the moment was awkward, leaned back again and sank into the curtains to go back to sleep. It was clear to him that he wouldn’t last two days here, but that made it all the more important to get enough sleep, so that he could then be able to decide with all of his mind quickly and correctly.
But Brunelda had already noticed Karl’s eyes, torn wide open for weariness, and they’d already scared her once, and she screamed: “Delamarche, I can’t take this heat very well, I’m burning, I must undress, I must bathe, take the two out of the room, wherever you want, in the hallway, on the balcony, I just don’t want to see them. In your own apartment you’re always disturbed. If I were just alone with you, Delamarche. Oh, God, they’re always right there! Look at how that shameless Robinson spreads out his underwear in the presence of a lady. And look at how that strange youth, who was staring at me wildly a moment ago, has just lain down so he could trick me. Just take them away, Delamarche, they’re a burden to me, they lay on my chest, if I die now, it’s because of you.”
“They’re outside right away, you just undress,” said Delamarche, going to Robinson and shaking him by the foot, which he raised to his chest. He immediately yelled at Karl: “Karl, stand up! The both of you have to go to the balcony! And you’ll be sorry if you come in before you’re called for! And quickly Robinson” – with that he shook Robinson more strongly – “and you, Rossman, you be careful that I don’t come after you” – with that he clapped loudly two times with his hands. “It’s taking so long!” yelled Brunelda from the couch, when sitting she spread her legs far apart to give them room for her excessively fat body, she could bend down enough to grab her stockings at the furthest end and pull them down a little only with the greatest effort, with much panting and frequent resting, she couldn’t undress entirely, Delamarche had to worry about that, and she waited for him impatiently.
So tired he had turned into an idiot, Karl had crawled under the pile and went slowly to the balcony door, a piece of curtain stuffing had wound around his foot and he dragged it along indifferently. In his absent-mindedness he said as he passed by Brunelda, “I wish you a good night,” and wandered then onto the balcony past Delamarche, who pushed the curtain of the balcony door a little to the side. Robinson came immediately behind Karl, not any less tired, because he hummed to himself: “Always someone mistreats another! If Brunelda doesn’t come with, I’m not going to the balcony.” But in spite of this assurance he went out without further resistance, where he immediately lay on the stone floor, since Karl had already sunk into the armchair.
When Karl woke up it was already evening, the stars already stood in the sky, the moonlight stood out behind the high houses on the other side of the street. Only after he looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings and after inhaling the cool, fresh air did Karl knew where he was. He had been so careless, he had ignored all the advice of the head cook, all of Therese’s warnings, all of his own apprehensions and was now sitting here quietly on Delamarche’s balcony, having slept here for a whole half a day, as if he weren’t underneath the curtain of Delamarche, his great enemy. On the floor, the lazy Robinson took Karl by the foot, he seemed to have also woken up this way, because he said: “Boy, did you sleep, Rossman! That’s the carelessness of youth. How long did you still want to sleep, I would have let you sleep, but it’s too boring for me here on the floor and I’m very hungry. I’ll ask you to stand up a little, I’ve picked up something to eat under the chair, I would like to take it out. You’ll get some too.” And Karl, standing up, stared as Robinson, without standing up, rolled over on his belly and pulled out from under the chair with out-stretched hands a silver-plated dish of the kind used for holding calling cards. But on this dish was lying half of a completely black sausage, some thin cigarettes, an opened but poorly filled sardine tin which flowed over with oil and a crowd of mostly crushed bon-bons which were turning into a ball. Then a large piece of bread appeared and a sort of perfume bottle which seemed to hold something other than perfume, because Robinson showed it off with a special satisfaction and snapped his fingers at Karl. “Look, Rossman,” said Robinson as he wound around sardine after sardine and wiped the oil off his hands with a wool cloth that Brunelda had forgotten on the balcony. “Look Rossman, this is how you get your food if you don’t want to go hungry. You see, I’ve always been pushed to the side. And if you’re always treated like a dog, you’ll finally think that’s what you are. It’s good you’re here, Rossman, I can at least talk with someone. No one talks to me in this building. We’re hated. And all on account of Brunelda. She is of course a splendid woman. You – ” and he waved Karl closer to himself so he could whisper to him – “I once saw her naked. Oh!” – and in the memory of this joy he began to squeeze Karl’s legs and to hit them until Karl cried out, “Robinson, you’re crazy,” balled his fists and punched him back.
“You’re still a child,” said Robinson as he took a dagger he carried on a neck-cord under his shirt, took off the sheath and cut the hard sausage. “You have a lot to learn. But we’re just the right source. Sit down. Don’t you want to eat something? Maybe you’ll get an appetite if you watch me. Don’t you want a drink too? But you don’t want anything. And you’re not that talkative. But it doesn’t matter who you’re with on the balcony so long as it’s someone. Actually, I’m on the balcony quite a bit. Brunelda has a lot of fun with that. Something just needs to happen to her, sometimes she’s cold, sometimes hot, sometimes she wants to sleep, sometimes she wants to comb her hair, sometimes she wants to open her corset, sometimes she wants to dress up and then I’m thrown out onto the balcony. Sometimes she actually does what she says, but most of the time she lies like before on the couch and doesn’t move. Before, I pulled apart the curtain and looked through, but since Delamarche one time – I know he didn’t want to do it, but only did it at Brunelda’s request – hit me with a whip in the face – can you see the streaks? – I don’t dare look through anymore. And so I’m lying here on the balcony and have no pleasure except for eating. The day before yesterday, when I was lying so alone in the evening, the time I was still in my expensive clothes that I unfortunately lost in the hotel – those dogs! ripping the expensive clothes from my body! – when I was lying there so alone and looked down through the railing, everything was so depressing to me and I began to cry. Then, by chance, without my noticing, Brunelda came up to me in her red dress – that fits the best on her – looked at me a little and finally said: ‘Robinson, why are you crying?’ Then she picked up her dress and wiped the tears from my eyes. Who knew what she would have done if Delamarche hadn’t called her immediately and she wouldn’t have had to go back into the room right away. Of course I thought now would be my turn and I asked through the curtain if I was allowed into the room. And what do you think Brunelda said? ‘No!’ she said and ‘What’s the matter with you?’ she said.”
“Why do you stay here when they treat you like this?” Karl asked.
“Forgive me, Rossman. You don’t ask very reasonably,” answered Robinson. “You’ll stay here too and even if they still treat you miserably. In generally they don’t treat me so badly.”
“No,” said Karl, “I am definitely going away and if possible this evening. I’m not staying because of you.”
“How will you manage, for example, to get away this evening?” answered Robinson, who had cut the soft part of the bread and was soaking it carefully in the oil of the sardine tin. “How will you get away, when you’re not even allowed to go into the room?”
“Why wouldn’t we be allowed to go in?”
“So long as we’re not rung for, we are not allowed to go in,” said Robinson, who opened his mouth as wide as possible to devour the greasy bread as he caught with his hand the oil dropping from the bread, so he could dip the remaining bread into the hollow of his hand, which served as a reservoir. “It’s getting much stricter here. First there was only a thin curtain, you couldn’t see through, but in the evening you recognized the silhouettes. That made Brunelda uncomfortable and so I changed her theater coat into the curtain and instead of the old curtain that one had to hang. Now you don’t see anything anymore. Earlier I had always been allowed to ask if I were allowed to go in and someone always answered me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ according to the circumstances, but I probably exploited it too much and asked too often, Brunelda couldn’t stand it – she’s built very weak in spite of her size, she often has headaches and almost always gout in the legs – and so it was certain that I wasn’t allowed to ask any more, but whenever I can go in, the table bell is rung. That gives such a noise it wakes me up from sleep – I had a cat once for my anymore, which was frightened by this loud noise and ran away and never came back. And it hasn’t rung yet today – if it does ring, then not only am I allowed in, but I have to go in – and if it hasn’t rung in a long time, it can still be a long while.”
“Yes,” said Karl, “but just because it applies to you, it doesn’t have to apply to me. In general, something applies to a person who lets it happen to himself.”
“But,” yelled Robinson, “why shouldn’t it apply to you? Of course it applies to you too. Just wait here quietly with me until it rings. Then you’ll see if you can leave.”
“Why don’t you really leave? Is it just because Delamarche is your friend or, more precisely, was one? Is that a life? Wouldn’t it be better in Butterford, where you had first wanted to go? Or even in California, where you have friends?”
“Yes,” said Robinson, “no one could have foreseen that.” And before he continued to explain, he said: “To your health, dear Rossman” and took a long pull from the perfume bottle. “We were in a terrible position when you left us so unkindly sitting there. We couldn’t get any work in the first days. Delamarche generally didn’t want any work, he would’ve gotten it, but instead just shipped me off to search and I don’t have any luck. He had only hung around, but it was already almost evening when he brought back only a lady’s purse, it was really very pretty, made of pearls, now he’s given it to Brunelda, but there was almost nothing inside. Then he said we should go begging to apartments, you could find some good things with such an opportunity, and so we went begging, and to make it look better, I sang in front of the apartment doors. And already Delamarche has all the luck, we’re standing in front of just the second apartment, one of the very rich apartments on the ground floor, and I’m singing at the door to the cook and to the servant, when out comes the lady who owns the apartment, Brunelda out on the steps. She might have been tied too tightly and could only come a couple of steps. But how beautiful she looked, Rossman! She had an all-white dress and a red sun umbrella. You wanted to lick her clean. You wanted to drink her up. Oh God, oh God was she beautiful. Such a woman! No, tell me, how can there be such a woman? Of course the girl and the servant ran up to her and almost picked her up the stairs. We were standing to the right and left of the door and said hello, which nobody does here. She stayed behind a little, because she still didn’t have enough breath and now I’m not sure how it happened, I was hungry and not in my senses and she was up close still more beautiful and gigantic and on account of the special corset, I can show it to you in a box, so tight – in short, I touched her butt a little, but very softly mind you, I only touched it like this. Of course no one can tolerate a beggar touching a lady. There was almost no touching at all, but in the end there was touching. Who knows how terribly it would have fallen apart if Delamarche hadn’t immediately slapped me in the face, and it was such a slap in the face that I immediately brought both hands to my cheeks.”
“What were you up to?” said Karl, starting to be taken in by the story and sitting down on the floor. “So that was Brunelda?”
“Now, yes,” said Robinson, “that was Brunelda.”
“Didn’t you say once she’s a singer?”
“Yes she is a singer and a great singer,” answered Robinson, who rolled a great mass of bonbons over his tongue, now and then pushing a piece back into his stuffed mouth. “But of course we didn’t know that yet, all we saw was a very rich and refined lady. She acted as if it didn’t happen and maybe she had felt nothing, because I had only grazed her with the tip of my finger. But she was constantly looking at Delamarche, who – he hits it on the mark – looked her right back in the eyes. At that she said to him: “Come in for a little while,” and pointed with sun-umbrella into the apartment, where Delamarche was to go in front of her. Then they both went in and the servant closed the door behind them. They left me outside and I thought it wouldn’t take long and sat on the steps, so I could wait for Delamarche. But instead of Delamarche the servant came out and brought me an entire bowl of soup. “Courtesy of Delamarche!” I said to myself. The servant remained standing and explained a little about Brunelda to me as I ate a little while by myself, and then I saw what importance the visit to Brunelda could have for us. Because Brunelda was a divorced woman, had a large fortune, and was completely self-sufficient. Her former husband, a cocoa manufacturer, still loved her, but she didn’t want to hear the slightest thing from him. He came very often to the apartment, always very elegantly dressed, as if for a wedding – this is true word for word, I know him myself – but the servant didn’t dare ask Brunelda if she’d receive him, in spite of the greatest bribery, because he had already asked a few times and always Brunelda had thrown at his face whatever was at hand. Once it was her large, full hot water bottle and she knocked out a front tooth with it. Yes, Rossman, think about that!”
“Where do you know the man from?” asked Karl.
“He sometimes comes up here,” said Robinson.
“Up here?” Karl struck the ground lightly with his hand out of surprise.
“You’d be surprised,” Robinson continued, “I was astonished myself when the servant explained it to me. Just think, when Brunelda wasn’t home, the man was let in by the servant into her room and always took a small something as a memento and always left behind something very expensive and fine for Brunelda, strongly forbidding the servant from saying whose it was. But once – I believe what the servant told me – when he brought some priceless piece of porcelain, Brunelda must have known about it somehow, she immediately threw it to the ground, walked on it, spat on it and did some other things to it, so that the servant could barely carry it away for disgust.
“What did the man do to her?”
“I don’t really know,” said Robinson. “But I think he doesn’t even know himself. I spoke with him sometimes about it. He waits for me daily there on the street corner, when I come, I have to explain some new thing to him, if I can’t come, he waits for half an hour and goes away again. It was some good additional money for me on the side, because he paid magnificently for the news, but since Delamarche found out about it, I have to deliver everything to him, so I don’t go there so often.”
“But what does the man want?” asked Karl. “What does he want? He knows she doesn’t want him.”
“Yes,” sighed Robinson, lighting a cigarette and blowing the smoke into the sky as he swayed his arms. Then he seemed to have decided something and said: “What difference is it to me? All I know is he would gladly give a lot of money to be allowed to lie here on the balcony like us.”
Karl stood up, leaned over the railing and looked down into the street. The moon was very visible, but its light hadn’t yet penetrated into the depths of the alleys. The streets, so empty by day, were crowded full of people, especially in front of the gates, everything was done slowly and clumsily, the men in their shirtsleeves, the light dresses of the women could weakly be made out in the dark, nobody had anything on his head. The many surrounding balconies were now occupied completely, depending on the size of the balcony, a family sat under the light of the glow lamp either around a small table or on armchairs in a row or at least they stuck their heads out of the room. The men sat there broad-legged and read newspapers which almost stretched to the ground, their feet stretched out between the railing posts, or they played cards seemingly quietly but with heavy pounding of the table, the women had their laps filled with needlework and were unobservant except for a short glance at the surroundings or the street here and there, a blond fragile woman on the neighboring balcony yawned continually, rolled her eyes and always picked up to her mouth a piece of laundry that she’d just been mending, the children on the small balconies understood they had to hunt after one another, which the parents found very troublesome. Inside many of the rooms a gramophone was set up and blew out songs or orchestra music, no one really noticed the music, but now and then the father of the family made a gesture and someone hurried into the room to put on a new record. At many of the windows you could see completely motionless pairs of lovers, at one window across from Karl such a pair stood upright, the young man had his arm laid around the girl and fondled her breast with his hand.
“Do you know any of the people around here?” Karl asked Robinson, who was standing up too and because he was shivering in his blanket he wrapped Brunelda’s blanket around him as well.
“Almost no one. That’s a terrible thing in my position,” said Robinson and brought Karl closer so he could whisper in his ear. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have that much to complain about. Brunelda, on account of Delamarche, has sold everything she has and is dragging all her riches here into this suburban apartment so she can dedicate herself completely to him and so that no one disturbs her, which was what Delamarche wanted too.”
“And she’s fired the servants?”
“Completely correct,” said Robinson. “Where would you put the servants here? These servants are very demanding gentlemen. Once, by Brunelda’s, Delamarche drove out a servant only with slaps in the face, flying one after the other until he was out of the room. Of course the other servants united with him and made some noise in front of the door, when Delamarche came out (I wasn’t a servant at the time, but a houseguest, but at the time I was on the side of the servants) and asked: “What do you want?” The oldest servant, a certain Isidor, said to him: “You have nothing to say to us, our boss is the merciful lady.” As you’ve probably noticed, they worshipped Brunelda very much. But Brunelda, without noticing them, ran to Delamarche, she wasn’t so heavy then as now, hugged him in front of everyone, kissed him and called him ‘beloved Delamarche.’ ‘And send these monkeys away,’ she said finally. Monkeys – that meant the servants, imagine the faces they made. Then Brunelda took Delamarche’s hand to the money-purse she carried on her belt. Delamarche grabbed inside and began to pay off the servants, which Brunelda participated in only insofar as she stood there with an open money-purse on her belt. Delamarche had to grab inside often, because he distributed the money without counting and without checking the demands. Finally he said: Since you don’t want to talk to me, I will speak to you only in the name of Brunelda: ‘Shove off, right now.’ So they were fired, there was still another trial, Delamarche had to go to court once, but I don’t know enough about that. Only after the servant left did Delamarche say to Brunelda: ‘So you don’t have any hired help?’ She said: ‘But there’s Robinson.’ With that Delamarche gave me a punch in the arm and said: ‘Good, you’ll be our servant.’ And Brunelda clicked her tongue at me, if you find the chance, Rossman, let her click her tongue at you, you’ll be surprised how beautiful it is.”
“Did you also become Delamarche’s servant?”
Robinson heard the pity in the question and answered: “I am a servant, but only a few people notice that. You see, you yourself didn’t know, even though you’ve been with us awhile yet. You saw how I’d been dressed in the night with you at the hotel. I had on the finest of the fine, do servants go dressed like that? It’s only that I’m not allowed to leave often, I have to always be at hand, there’s always something to do in maintaining the household. One person is too little for all the work. Maybe you’ve noticed, we have very many things standing around in the room, which we couldn’t sell during our large move, we had to take it with. Of course we would have been able to ship it away, but Brunelda ships nothing away. Just think about what kind of work it was to carry these things up the stairs.”
“Robinson, you carried all this up?” Karl yelled.
“Who else?” said Robinson. “There was a hired helper there, a lazy wretch, I had to do most of the work alone. Brunelda stood downstairs by the car, Delamarche upstairs made orders about where to put things, and I was always running back and forth. It took two days, very long, right? but you don’t know at all how many things are in this room, all the boxes are full and behind the boxes everything is stuffed to the ceiling. If we’d taken a couple of people for the move, everything would have been finished soon, but Brunelda wanted to trust no one but myself. That was very nice, but I ruined my health for my entire life, and what do I have besides my health? If I strain myself it stings me here and here and here. Do you actually believe that those young people in the hotel, those leapfrogs – what else are they then? – would have been able to beat me if I’d been healthy. But whatever I’m missing, I won’t say anything to Delamarche and Brunelda, I’ll work so long as it’ll last and when it doesn’t last any more, I’ll lay down and die and then for the first time they’ll say much too late that I was sick and in spite of that was continuing to work more and more and had worked myself to death in their service. Ah, Rossman,” he said at last and dried his eyes on Karl’s shirtsleeve. After a while he said: “Aren’t you cold, standing like that in your shirt.”
“Get off it Robinson,” said Karl, “you’re always crying. I don’t believe you’re sick. You look completely healthy, but because you’re always lying out here on the balcony, you think differently to yourself. Sometimes you have a stinging in your chest, I have it too, everyone does. If every person cried like that over every small thing like you, all the people on the balconies would have to cry.”
“I know better,” said Robinson and wiped his eyes with the corner of his blanket. “The student who lives next to us with the landlady and who cooked for us too said to me the last time I brought back the dinner plates: ‘Hey, Robinson, are you sick?’ I’m forbidden to speak to people, so I just put down the dishes and wanted to go away. Then he went to me said: ‘Listen, sir, don’t drag these things to their extreme, you’re sick.’ ‘Okay, and what should I do about it,’ I asked. ‘That’s your matter,’ he said and turned around. The others by the table were laughing, we generally have enemies here and I preferred to leave.”
“So you believe the people who take you for a fool and don’t believe the people who mean well by you.”
“But I have to know how I’m feeling,” continued Robinson, but then he returned again to crying.
“You don’t even know what’s wrong with you, you should find an orderly job for yourself somewhere, instead of being Delamarche’s servant. So far as I can judge from your explanation and from what I’ve seen myself, there is no work here except for slavery. No man can take that, I’ll believe you there. But you think, because you’re Delamarche’s friend, that you’re not allowed to leave. That is false, if he doesn’t see what kind of miserable life you lead, you don’t have the slightest responsibility towards him.”
“You really believe, Rossman, that I’ll recover if I give up my job here.”
“Of course,” said Karl.
“Of course,” asked Robinson one more time.
“I’m completely certain,” said Karl smiling.
“Then I can begin recovering immediately,” Robinson said as he looked at Karl.
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Because now you’re taking over my job,” answered Robinson.
“So who told you that?” asked Karl.
“That’s already an old plan. There’s been agreement about that for quite a few days now. It began with Brunelda scolding me because I didn’t keep the apartment clean enough. Of course I promised that I would immediately bring everything into order. But now everything is difficult. For example, in my condition I can’t crawl everywhere to wipe up all the dust, you can’t even move in the middle of the room and certainly not when in-between the furniture and the supplies. And if you want to clean everything thoroughly, you have to push the furniture out of place and do I have to do that alone? And everything has to happen quietly because of Brunelda, who rarely leaves the place and will not be disturbed in the slightest. I also promised to clean everything, but I never really cleaned it. When Brunelda noticed that, she told Delamarche that this couldn’t continue and that they’d have to get a helper. ‘Delamarche,’ she said, ‘I don’t want you to reproach me for not running the household well. I can’t strain myself, you can see that and Robinson isn’t enough, in the beginning he was so fresh and looked around everywhere, but now he’s always tired and sits in a corner most of the time. But a place with as much stuff as ours doesn’t keep itself in order.’ Delamarche thought about what could be done, you can’t just take any random face into such a household, because they watch us from all sides. But because I’m your good friend and heard from Renell how you were struggling in the hotel, I brought you up as a proposal. Delamarche agreed immediately, in spite of the fact that you behaved so rudely in front of him, and of course I was very happy for being so useful. This job was made for you, you are young, strong and clever, while I’m not worth anything anymore. I just want to say, that you are in no way accepted if you don’t please Brunelda, we couldn’t use you then. Just try to be acceptable to her, and I’ll worry about the rest.”
“And what will you do when I’m the servant?” asked Karl, he felt so open now that the first shock of Robinson’s pronouncement was over. Delamarche had no worse intention than to make him a servant – if they’d had more terrible intentions, they would certainly have betrayed them to the chattering Robinson – but if it stood like that, then Karl would risk traveling off during the night. You can’t force anyone to take a job. And while Karl’d had enough to worry him before about getting an acceptable and maybe even decent job to keep himself from going hungry, he would’ve taken any job and even preferred a period of unemployment to this job, which was repulsive to him. But he didn’t try at all to make it understandable to Robinson, especially since Robinson was completely biased right now in every judgment by his hope to be relieved by Karl.
“I will,” Robinson said, accompanying the words with comforting hand motions – he had his elbows propped up on the railing – “explain everything to you first of all and show you the supplies. You are educated and certainly have beautiful writing, maybe you could make a register of all the things we have. Brunelda has wanted that for a long time. If there’s good weather tomorrow morning, we’ll ask Brunelda to sit on the balcony, and in the meantime we’ll be calm and can work in the room without disturbing her. About that, Rossman, you have to be careful above all things. Just don’t disturb Brunelda. She hears everything, she probably has those sensitive ears as a singer. For example, you’re rolling out the barrel of schnapps standing behind the boxes, it makes a noise because it’s heavy and lies around so many various things that you can’t roll it through the first time. Brunelda, for example, lies quietly on the couch and swats at flies, which bother her very much. You believe this doesn’t concern her and roll your barrel along. She lies as quiet as ever. But in a moment when you’re not expecting it at all and make the slightest noise, she suddenly sits upright, pounds with both hands on the couch so that you can’t see her for the dust – since we’ve been here I haven’t been able to beat out the couch, I can’t, she always lies on it – and begins to scream frightfully, like a man, and screams like that for hours at a time. The neighbors forbid her from singing, but no one can forbid the screaming, she has to scream, it doesn’t happen so often anymore. Delamarche and I are becoming very cautious. It hurts her very much. Once she became unconscious and I – Delamarche was away at the time – I had to fetch the student next door, who sprayed this liquid out of a large bottle, but this liquid had an unbearable smell to it, even now, if you hold your nose to the couch, you can smell it. The student is certainly our enemy, as is everyone here, you have to take care in everything and get involved with no one.”
“Robinson,” said Karl, “but that’s difficult work. That’s a beautiful job you’ve recommended for me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Robinson and shook his head with closed eyes to ward off all of Karl’s possible worry. “The position has advantages no other job can offer. You are always in the area of a woman such as Brunelda, sometimes you sleep in the same room as her, as you can imagine that brings various comforts along with it. You will be richly paid, gold is in piles here, being Delamarche’s friend I’ve gotten nothing, Brunelda’s only given me something when I’ve left, but of course you’ll be paid like any other servant. You won’t be anything special. The most important thing for you, though, is that I will make your job much easier. At first, of course, I’ll do nothing in order to recover, but when I recover just a little, you’ll be able to count on me. I’ll keep the actual serving of Brunelda to myself, and the hair-styling and the dressing, insofar as it’s not already attended to by Delamarche, you’ll only have to look after the upkeep of the rooms, the errands and the difficult household work.”
“No, Robinson,” said Karl, “that doesn’t tempt me.”
“Don’t do anything stupid, Rossman,” said Robinson, very close to Karl’s face. “Don’t joke around with this beautiful possibility. Where will you receive the same position? Who knows you? Who do you know? We, two men, who have lived a lot and possess much experience, have run around for weeks at a time without getting work. It’s not easy, it can even be desperately difficult.”
Karl nodded and was surprised at how reasonable even Robinson could sound. This advice had no validity for him, he couldn’t stay here, in the large city there would have to be a little place for him to find, he knew that for the whole night the guest-houses were filled, you needed servants for the guests, he already had some practice in that, he would insert himself quickly and inconspicuously into such a business. In the house just across the way a small guest house was set up, out of which shot tumultuous music. The entrance door was covered with only a large yellow curtain, which sometimes with the breeze fluttered powerfully into the street. Otherwise it became much quieter in the street. Most of the balconies were dark, in the distance you could see a single light here or there, but you barely held it in your eyes for a short while before the people there picked themselves up, and as they pushed back into the apartment, a man grabbed the lamp and, remaining behind on the balcony to get a short look onto the street, turned out the light.
“The night’s already beginning,” Karl said to himself. “If I stay here much longer, I’ll belong to them.” He turned, in order to pull away the curtain from the apartment door. “What do you want?” said Robinson, standing between Karl and the curtain. “I want to leave,” said Karl. “Let me go, just let me go!” “You don’t want to disturb them,” yelled Robinson. “What do you think you’re doing?” And he laid an arm on Karl’s neck, hung on him with his entire weight, wrapped his legs around Karl’s legs, and took him in a moment to the ground. But Karl had learned how to fight a little as an elevator boy, and so he struck Robinson with his fist under the chin, but weakly and with gentleness. Robinson then gave Karl a quick and complete jab in the stomach with his knee, but then both of his hands grabbed his chin, yelling so loudly that a man clapping wildly on the neighboring balcony ordered, “Quiet!” Karl lay still a little, in order to get over the pain that Robinson’s hit had caused. He only turned his face to the curtain, which hung calmly and heavily in front of the dark room. There seemed to be no one in the room, maybe Delamarche and Brunelda had left and Karl already had his freedom. Robinson, really behaving like a guard dog, had finally been completely shaken off.
Karl pushed himself along the side of the railing to make some room for both of them. Certainly no one would be forced to stay here, and if Delamarche should try it, Brunelda would fire him immediately. She didn’t like him at all, his eyes scared her. But when he made a step to the door, she noticed it and said, “Where to, little one?” Karl faltered at the strict look of Delamarche and Brunelda pulled him to herself. “Don’t you want to see the parade below?” she said and pushed him in front of her to the railing. “Do you know what it’s all about?” Karl heard her say behind him and made an involuntary motion, without success, to get away from her grip. He looked sadly down into the street, as if down there were the reasons for his sadness.
First, Delamarche stood behind Brunelda with crossed arms, then he ran into the room and brought Brunelda the opera glasses. Below, behind the musicians appeared the head of the procession. On the shoulders of a giant man sat a gentleman, whom you could see nothing of from up here but his dimly shimmering bald patch, over which he constantly held his top-hat high in greeting. Around him wooden boards were freely carried, which from up high looked completely white; they were arranged so that the signs on all sides leaned on the gentleman as he rose up from the middle of them. Since everyone was in a crowd, this wall of signs was constantly loosening and reordering itself. In a further area around the gentleman, the entire breadth of the street, even if you couldn’t significantly estimate its length, was filled with the gentleman’s followers, who clapped their hands together and pronounced the gentleman’s name, a very short but incomprehensible name, in a solemn chant. Some, cleverly distributed around the crowd, had automobile light of the strongest intensity, which they led slowly along the houses on both sides of the street. At Karl’s height the light didn’t disturb anyone, but on the lower balconies you could see the people struck by it quickly bringing their hands to their eyes.
At Brunelda’s request, Delamarche asked the people at the neighboring balcony what the event was about. Karl was a little curious if and how they would answer him. And actually Delamarche had to ask three times without getting an answer. He bent dangerously over the railing, Brunelda stamped lightly in anger with her neighbors, Karl felt her knees. Finally an answer came, but immediately, everyone began to laugh loudly on the balcony, which was packed full of people. Delamarche screamed something over it so loudly, that if it weren’t for the entire street being very noisy at the moment, everyone around would have had to prick up his ears in astonishment. In any case, it had the effect of unnaturally slowing down the laughter.
“A judge is being elected tomorrow in our district and that one, the one they’re carrying, is a candidate,” said Delamarche, returning perfectly calm to Brunelda. “Well!” he yelled and lovingly patted Brunelda on the back. “We don’t know much about what goes on in the world.”
“Delamarche,” said Brunelda, returning to her neighbors’ behavior. “I would love to move if it weren’t so difficult. But I admit, I’m not capable of it.” And with great sighs, impatiently and absent-mindedly, she fumbled with Karl’s shirt as he tried again and again to inconspicuously push away those small, fat hands, which was fairly easy for him, because Brunelda wasn’t thinking of him, she was busy with entirely other thoughts.
But soon, even Karl forgot Brunelda and tolerated the load of her arm on his shoulder, because the procession on the street took up much of his attention. Organized by a small group of gesticulating men marching just in front of the candidate, whose conversation must have had a special importance, because on all sides you could see listening faces leaning towards them, it all unexpectedly came to a stop in front of an inn. One of these authoritative men made a gesture with an upraised hand, intended as much for the crowd as for the candidate. The crowd fell silent and the candidate, trying to stand up on the shoulders of his carriers and falling back many times into a sitting position, gave a small speech, while he brandished his hat back and forth in the air. You saw this very clearly, because during his speech all of the automobile lights were directed on him, so that he found himself in the middle of a bright star.
But now you made out the interesting part, which the entire street took part in. On the balconies occupied by the party members for the candidate, they joined in with the singing of his name and continued the mechanical applause with their hands stretched over the railing. On the balconies in general, however, which were in the majority, a strong response song was struck up, which had no uniform effect because it was performed by the followers of various other candidates. In addition to that all the enemies of the present candidate banded together in a general whistling and gramophones were turned all over the place. Political quarrels were carried out on individual balconies with strong excitement, made even more vehement by the late hour. Most of the people were already in pajamas and had only thrown on overcoats, the women wrapped in great dark shawls, the unwatched children climbed alarmingly on the edges of the balconies and came in continually larger amounts out of the dark rooms they’d been sleeping in. Here and there, individual unfamiliar were hurled in anger in the direction of their enemies, sometimes they hit their targets, but most of the time they fell down onto the street, where they often caused a scream of anger. When the men in charge got too angry over the noise, the drummers and trumpeters picked up the parade, carrying out with their full, bursting strength, not ceasing the march until they overcame all human voices up to the roofs of the houses. And suddenly – you barely believed it – they stopped, so that the well-trained people on the street roared out in the temporary general silence – you saw the mouth of every person wide open in the beams of the automobile lights – until then the opponents came back yelling ten times as strong as before from all the balconies and windows and brought the short victory of the party underneath to what seemed from these heights to be a complete silence.
“How do you like it, little one?” asked Brunelda, turning here and there tightly behind Karl, so she could see all the people with her binoculars. Karl answered only with nods of his head. By and by he noticed how Robinson made various eager remarks to Delamarche about Karl’s behavior, which Delamarche didn’t seem to think very important, because he was trying to push Robinson to the side with his left hand, with his right he was hugging Brunelda. “Don’t you want to look through the binoculars?” asked Brunelda and tapped Karl’s chest to show that she meant him.
“I see enough,” said Karl.
“Try it,” she said, “you’ll see better.”
“I have good eyes,” answered Karl. “I see everything.” He didn’t see it as a kindness, but as a disturbance, when she brought the glasses closer to his eyes and actually said nothing now but the word “You!” in a melodic but threatening manner. And now Karl had the binoculars on his eyes and saw nothing.
“I see nothing,” he said and wanted to be free of the binoculars, but she held the binoculars tightly and, pressed against her chest, he couldn’t move his head backwards or sideways.
“But you’ll see fine now,” she said and turned the screws on the binoculars.
“No, I’m still seeing nothing,” said Karl and thought that he had relieved Robinson against his will, because Brunelda’s unbearable moods were now focused on him.
“So when will you finally see?” she said and turned the screws again – Karl now had his entire face in her heavy breathing. “Now?” she asked.
“No, no, no!” yelled Karl, even though now he could actually distinguish everything, if only very indistinctly. But just then Brunelda was doing something with Delamarche, she held the glasses loosely in front of Karl’s face and Karl could, without her paying any special attention, look at the street underneath the binoculars. Later she didn’t want to force her will anymore and needed the binoculars for herself.
At the inn below, a waiter walked out and hurriedly took the orders of the leader back and forth over the doorstep. You saw him as he stretched out to look over the inside of the bar and possibly shout in some order. During this obvious preparation for a large round of free drinks, the candidate never let up from speaking. His carrier, the large man serving only him, always made a small turn after each sentence, so as to allow the speech to come to every section of the crowd. The candidate kept himself mostly bent-over and tried with jerky motions of his free hand and the top-hat to give his words the most possible urgency. Sometimes, though, at regular intervals he got the idea to pick himself up with outstretched arms, he no longer spoke to the group but to everyone, he spoke to the inhabitants of the apartments up to the highest floor, and it was still completely clear that no one could hear him on the lowest floor, and even if it were possible, no one would have wanted to hear, because each window and each balcony was occupied by someone yelling. In the meantime, an individual waiter from the inn brought full, glimmering glasses placed on a board about the size of a pool table. The leader organized the distribution, which took the form of a march by the inn door. But even though the glasses on the board were always immediately filled, they weren’t sufficient for the crowd, and two rows of bartenders had to slip away and continually provide for the crowd. The candidate, naturally, had stopped his speech and used the pause to gather his strength. His carrier took him slowly here and there outside the crowd and the bright lights, where only some of his followers accompanied him and spoke up to him there.
“Look at the little one,” said Brunelda. “He forgets where he is with all this staring.” And she surprised Karl and turned his face to hers with both hands, so that she looked him in the eyes. It only took a moment, because Karl brushed off her hands immediately, and angered over the fact that no one ever let him alone for a short while and filled with the desire to go into the street and look at everything up close, he tried now to free himself from Brunelda’s grip with all his strength and said:
“Please, let me go away.”
“You’ll stay with us,” said Delamarche without turning from the street and only stretching out a hand to keep Karl from going away.
“Let it go,” said Brunelda and twisted Delamarche’s hands away. “He’s staying.” And she pressed Karl more tightly against the railing, he would have to fight her to free himself from her. And if that had been successful, what would he have done? To his left stood Delamarche, Robinson had positioned himself to the right, he was in real captivity.
“Be happy you weren’t thrown out,” said Robinson and hit Karl with a hand he had pushed underneath Brunelda’s arm.
“Thrown out?” said Delamarche. “A runaway thief doesn’t get thrown out when you hand him over to the police. And that could happen very early in the morning if he’s not careful.”
From this moment on Karl lost all joy in the show below. He couldn’t stand up straight because of Brunelda, he was forced to bend a little bit over the landing. Full of sorrow, he looked absent-mindedly at the people underneath, who in groups of twenty walked to the door of the inn, grabbed the glasses, turned and raised these glasses to the busy candidate, yelled out a party salute, emptied the glasses and slammed them down, which must have resounded but couldn’t be heard up here, before they set off for the loud, impatient crowd. Following the directions of the leader, the band played on up to the inn and walked into the street, their large wind instruments beaming over the dark crowd, but their playing settled quickly into the general noise. The street now, at least on the side of the inn, was filling up with people. From the higher elevations, where Karl had come in the morning in the automobile, they streamed down, from the lower, they ran up the bridge, and even the people on the balconies were unable to resist the temptation to grab a little something, given the opportunity, almost only women and children stayed behind on the balcony and in the windows while the men pushed downstairs and out the doors. But now the music and the entertainment reached their climax, the crowds were large enough, a leader flanked by two automobile lights waved at the band, shot out a strong whistle and now you saw the carrier, a little annoyed, coming with the candidate down a path cleared away by the followers.
He was barely by the inn door when the candidate began his new speech in the light of a tight circle of sedentary automobile lights. But now everything was more difficult than before, the carrier didn’t have the slightest freedom of movement any more, the crowd was too large. A follower nearby, who had tried before by all possible means to strengthen the effect of the candidate’s speech, now had trouble to stay so close, twenty people held themselves with all their effort to the carrier. But even this strong man couldn’t take a step of his own, there was no chance of influencing the crowd through turning or advancing or falling back. The crowd overflowed without design, one person lay on another, no one stood upright anymore, the contenders seemed to have increased in this new audience, the carrier had held up for a long time in the proximity of the inn door, but now he allowed himself to be driven off the street and then back on, the candidate spoke as always, but it was no longer clear if he was laying out his platform or crying for help, if you didn’t know any better, you’d say that an opposing candidate had showed up, or maybe more than one, because here and there you could see a man lifted from the crowd in a flaring of light with a pale face and balled fists, proceeding with a welcoming speech to a multitude of cheers.
“What’s happening?” Karl asked and turned in breathless confusion to his guards.
“How it excites the little one,” Brunelda said to Delamarche and grabbed Karl on the chin to pull his head to hers. But Karl didn’t want that and, made reckless by the events on the street, shook himself so strongly that not only did Brunelda let him go, but she also drew back and gave him up entirely. “Now you’ve seen enough,” she said, openly angry about Karl’s behavior. “Go in the room, lay down and get ready for the night.” She stretched out her hand towards the room. That was the direction Karl had wanted to take since the first hour, he didn’t resist with a single word. Then you heard from the street the crack of shattering glass. Karl couldn’t control himself and sprang very quickly to the railing to look down just the one time. In an attack from the opponents and perhaps a decisive success, the automobile lanterns of the followers, which had controlled events with their strong light and had managed to keep a certain order, were all smashed just then, so that the candidate and his carrier were embraced in a generally uncertain illumination, which seemed to make it as good as complete darkness. You couldn’t have easily pointed out where the candidate was, and the deception of the dark increased through a yelled, broad, united song, which approached from the bridge.
“Didn’t I tell you what to do,” said Brunelda. “Go away, now. I’m tired,” she added and stretched her arms up high, so that her back arched much more than was comfortable. Delamarche, who still held her in an embrace, took her with him to a corner of the balcony. Robinson went after them, shoving aside the leftovers of his meal still lying there.
Karl had to exploit the favorable situation, now was no time to look down, he woul see enough of the proceedings on the street and certainly more than from up here. In two leaps he rushed through the red-colored room, but the door was locked and the key taken away. It had to be found now, but who could find a key in this mess and especially in the precious little time he had at his disposal? By now he would have been on the stairs, he would be running and should be running. And now he was looking for the key! He looked in all the accessible drawers, rummaged through the tables with their various dinner plates, napkins and half-finished embroidery, was attracted to an armchair on which sat a mashed together pile of scraps of old clothes where the key could be but could not be found, and finally shook out the reeking curtain to feel through all the corners and folds for the key. Brunelda must have fastened the key to her belt, he told himself, so many things hung there, all this searching was pointless.
So Karl blindly grabbed two knives and drove them at the bolt, one above, one underneath, so he could bring the two together at a pressure point. He had barely pushed on the knives when naturally the blades broke into two. He had wanted nothing else, the stumps, which he could now drive in further, held all the better. And now he pushed with all his strength, his arms spread wide out, his legs braced far apart from one another, groaning and staring carefully at the door. They wouldn’t be able to resist for long, he recognized with joy the audible loosening of the bolt, yes, no matter how slowly it went, it was all the more correct not to spring the lock right away, otherwise they’d notice on the balcony, the lock had to come loose slowly and Karl worked on that with great care, his eyes coming ever closer to the lock.
“Now look.” He heard the voice of Delmarche. All three stood in the room, the curtain was pushed behind them, Karl must not have heard them coming in, his hands dropped from the knives in an instant. But he had no time for explanation or apology, because in a fit of rage far surpassing the moment, Robinson sprang loose at Karl – the cord his loose sleeping gown traced a great figure in the air. Karl got out of the way of his grip at the last moment, he might have pulled the knives out of the door and used them in defense, but he didn’t do that, instead he bent down to reinforce himself and jumped at the broad collar of Delamarche’s sleeping gown, hit him up high, picked him up even further – the sleeping gown was much too big for Delamarche – and was now luckily holding Delamarche by the head, who was very much surprised, first blindly waving his hands around, and after awhile unsuccessfully beginning to slam his fists against Karl’s back, who, to protect his face, had thrown himself at Delamarche’s chest. Karl took the blows, even if he twisted with pain and even if the blows became stronger, but he had to take it, because he saw victory. His hands on Delamarche’s head, his thumbs over his eyes, he led him into the angry muddle of furniture and tried with his own feet to wrap the rope of the sleeping-gown around Delamarche’s feet and make him fall.
Since he was completely busy with Delamarche, whose resistance he felt constantly growing, always feeling the sinewy enemy body pushing against him, he actually forgot that he wasn’t alone with Delamarche, but he would be reminded all too soon, because suddenly his feet fell out from under him, because Robinson, falling to the floor, pressed them apart and screamed. Sighing, Karl let Delamarche go, who still took a step back. Brunelda stood with legs far apart and knees bent in their wideness in the middle of the room and followed the proceedings with flashing eyes. As if she actually took part in the struggle, she breathed deeply, squinted her eyes and advanced slowly with her fists. Delamarche pushed his collar down, could look freely around and now of course there wasn’t a struggle, but simply a punishment. He grabbed Karl by the shirt, took him hard against the ground and hurled him, not looking at him for contempt, so strongly against a cupboard a few steps away that Karl thought at first that the pains in his back and head caused by the slamming against the cupboard were actually caused by Delamarche’s hand. “You scoundrel,” he heard Delamarche cry out loudly in the dark that was developing in front of his trembling yes. And in the exhaustion he sunk into in front of the cupboard, the words “Just wait” clanged weakly in his ears.
When he came to his senses, everything was dark, judging from the light shimmering of moonlight coming into the room underneath the curtain, it could still be late at night. You heard the calm breaths of the three sleepers, which at their loudest collected around Brunelda, she panted in her sleep, as she did from time to time when she spoke; but it wasn’t easily established where the individual sleepers were, the entire room was full of the rush of breathing. First, after he had tested his surroundings a little, Karl thought to himself and then was very scared, because he felt very crooked and stiff in the back, he hadn’t thought that he had suffered a bloody injury. But now he felt pressure on his head, and his entire face, throat, his chest under his shirt were damp, as if from blood. He had to get into the light to establish his condition, maybe they had beaten him into a cripple, because then Delamarche would gladly let him go, but should he start then, there was really no prospect for him then. He thought about the lad with the cut-up nose, and he lay there for a moment with his face in his hands.
He unwillingly turned to the door and felt around on all fours. Soon he felt a boot with his fingertips and then a leg further on. That was Robinson, who else slept in boots? Someone had ordered him to lie in front of the door to keep Karl from fleeing. But didn’t they know the condition Karl was in? For the time being he didn’t want to run away, he only wanted to get into the light. He couldn’t go out the door, so he had to go the balcony.
He found the dining table in an entirely different position than in the evening, the couch, which Karl approached very carefully, was surprisingly empty, in the middle of the room he bumped against a high pile of heavily crumpled clothes, blankets, curtains, cushions and carpets. First he thought it would only be a small pile, similar to the one he had found in the evening on the sofa, maybe it had been rolled to the floor, but to his astonishment he noticed by crawling further that an entire wagon-load of these things were lying there, which someone had probably for the night taken out of the boxes that they had been stored in during the day. He crawled onto the pile and soon realized that the whole thing was set up as a sort of bed where through careful feeling around he discovered that Brunelda and Delamarche were resting on high.
So now he knew where everyone slept and hurried to the balcony. It was an entirely different world that he now quickly lifted the curtain on. In the fresh night air, he walked back and forth on the balcony in the full light of the moon. He looked to the street, it was completely still, music still clanged out of the inn, but muffled, in front of the door a man swept the sidewalk, in the street, where in the chaotic noise of the evening the screams of the candidate couldn’t be distinguished from a thousand different voices, you could now distinctly hear the scratching of the broom on the pavement.
The moving of a table on the neighboring balcony made Karl notice that someone was sitting there and studying. It was a young man with a small pointed beard, which he twisted constantly as he read and quickly moved his lips. He sat, his face turned to Karl, at a small book-covered table, he had taken the lamp from the wall, wedged it between two large books and was now entirely illuminated by the glaring light.
“Good evening,” said Karl, since he thought he noticed the young man staring over at him.
But that must have been a mistake, because the young man seemed not to have noticed him and laid his hands over his eyes to block the light and to establish who was suddenly greeting him, and since he saw still saw nothing, he picked up the lamp in order to illuminate the neighboring balcony a little.
“Good evening,” he then said, looking sharply over for a moment and then adding: “and what else?”
“Am I disturbing you?” asked Karl.
“Of course, of course,” said the man and brought the lamp back to its previous spot.
With these words the introduction was refused, but Karl didn’t leave the balcony corner, where he was closest to the man. He stared quietly as the man read in his book, turned the pages, here and there looked up something in another book, which he always grabbed at lightning speed, unexpectedly sinking his face deep into the books.
What if this man was a student? It seemed completely as if he were studying. Karl – now this was already long ago – had sat not very differently at his parent’s table at home and had written his exercises as his father read the newspaper or settled an account book or correspondence for a club and his mother was busy with sewing and pulled the threads high out of the fabric. To keep from bothering his father, Karl only laid the book and the writing things on the table, while he had ordered the important books left and right of himself on the chair. It had been so quiet there! How seldom did strange people come into that room! Already as a small child Karl had always been glad to see his mother turn the lock on the living room door in the evening. She had no idea that Karl would now come so far as to try to break open strange doors with knives.
And what had been the point of all his studying? He had forgotten everything; if it would occur to him to pick up his studies here, it would be very difficult for him. He remembered that he had been sick once at home for a month – which had cost him a lot of effort when afterwards he had to find his way back into the uninterrupted learning. And now, besides the textbook of English business correspondence, he hadn’t read a book in a long time.
“You, young man,” Karl suddenly heard being spoken. “Couldn’t you move somewhere else? Your staring disturbs me horribly. At two o’clock at night you can finally demand to work on the balcony undisturbed. Do you want something from me?”
“You’re studying?” Karl asked.
“Yes, yes,” said the man and used this lost time to put his books into order.
“Then I don’t want to disturb you,” said Karl. “I’ll just go back into the room. Good night.”
The man didn’t give an answer, with a sudden decision after the removal of the disturbance, he went back to studying and rested his forehead in his right hand.
Then Karl remembered just in front of the curtain, why he had actually come out, he didn’t know how things were with him. What was so heavy on his head? He grabbed up there and was astounded that there wasn’t a bloody injury like he had feared in the dark of the room, it was just a damp turban-like bandage. Judging from the hanging shreds of clothing, it had been ripped from an old piece of Brunelda’s clothing and Robinson had temporarily wound it around Karl’s head. It’s just that he had forgotten to unwind it, and so all the water had run down Karl’s face and under his shirt while he was unconscious and had given Karl a scare.
“You’re still there?” asked the man as he looked over.
“Now I’m really going,” said Karl. “I only wanted to see something, it’s completely dark in the room.”
“So where are you?” said the man, laying the quill pen in the book opened in front of him and walking to the railing. “What’s your name? How did you get to these people? Have you been here a long time? What were you staring at? Turn on the lamp so I can see you.”
Karl did this, but pulled the curtain tighter to the door before he answered, so that no one would notice on the inside. “I’m sorry,” he said in a whisper, “that I’m speaking so softly. If the people inside heard me, I’d have a riot again.”
“Again?” asked the man.
“Yes,” said Karl. “This first night I had a big fight with them. I must have a terrible bump.” And he felt behind his head.
“What kind of fight was it?” asked the man and added, since Karl wasn’t answering right away: “You can trust me with whatever you have in your heart against the lady and the gentlemen. I hate all three of them and especially your Madame. It should surprise me if they didn’t try to turn you against me. My name is Josef Mendel and I am a student.”
“Yes,” said Karl. “Someone already told me about you, but nothing bad. You’ve dealt with Miss Brunelda once, right?”
“That’s true,” said the student and laughed. “Have you smelled the couch yet?”
“Oh yes,” said Karl.
“That makes me happy,” said the student, running his hand through his hair. “And why did they give you a bump?”
“It was a fight,” said Karl, thinking afterwards about how he could explain that to the student. But then he interrupted himself and said: “Aren’t I disturbing you?”
“First,” said the student, “you already disturbed me and I am unfortunately so nervous I need a lot of time to collect myself again. Since you began your work there on the balcony, I wasn’t progressing with my studies. But twice every three hours I take a break. Just tell me calmly. It interests me a lot.”
“It’s very simple,” said Karl. “Delamarche wants me to be his servant. But I don’t want to. I would have preferred to leave right away in the evening. He wouldn’t let me, locked the door, I wanted to break it open and it came to a fight. Unfortunately I’m still here.”
“Do you have another job then?” asked the student.
“No,” said Karl, “but that doesn’t bother me when I only want to leave.”
“Listen,” said the student, “that doesn’t bother you?” And both were silent a short while.
“Why wouldn’t you stay with these people?” the student asked then.
“Delamarche is a terrible person,” said Karl. I know him from before. I marched with him once for a day and was happy when I wasn’t with him anymore. And I should become his servant?”
“If all servants were as selective of their masters as you!” said the student and seemed to smile. “Look, I’m a salesman during the day, a lowly salesman, more of an errand-boy at Montly’s, the department store. This Montly is certainly a villain, but I let myself be completely calm about that, I’m only mad about being paid so miserably. So take that from me as an example.”
“How?” said Karl. “you’re a salesman by day and you study at night.”
“Yes,” said the student. “There is no other way. I tried everything possible, but this way of living is still the best. For years I was just a student, by day and night you know, it’s just that I almost starved, lived in a dirty old hovel and didn’t dare show up in the suit I had in the lecture hall. But that’s all done with.”
“But when do you sleep?” asked Karl, looking at the student in wonder.
“Yes, sleep!” said the student. “I will sleep when I’m done with my studies. For the time being I drink black coffee.” And he turned around, took a large pot out from under his table, poured the coffee into a little cup and sipped it as if he were swallowing medicine to get as little taste of it as he could.
“A fine thing, this black coffee,” said the student. “A shame you’re so far away that I can’t give some to you.”
“Black coffee doesn’t taste good to me,” said Karl.
“Not to me, either,” said the student and laughed. “But what would I do without starting with it. Without the black coffee Montly wouldn’t keep me for a second. I always say Montly, although naturally he doesn’t know I exist. I don’t really know how I’d behave in that store if I didn’t always keep in my desk a great big pot of coffee like this one, because I still don’t dare to expose the coffee-drinking, but trust me, I’d just lie behind the desk and sleep. Unfortunately they suspect it, they call me the Black Coffee there, which is a stupid joke and has already ruined my progress.”
“And when will you be finished with your studies?” asked Karl.
“It goes slowly,” said the student with a sunken head. He abandoned the railing and sat at the table again; his elbows leaning on the book, his hands running through his hair, he said: “It can take up to two years.”
“I also wanted to study,” said Karl, as if this fact gave him a right to an even greater trust than the now silenced student had given him.
“So,” said the student, and it wasn’t entirely clear if he was still reading in his book or only absent-mindedly staring at it, “be happy that you’ve given up your studies. I myself studied for years out of habit. I get little satisfaction out of it and even fewer future prospects. What kind of prospects would I want! America is full of con-men.”
“I wanted to become an engineer,” said Karl busily to the student, who didn’t seem to notice.
“And now you should become these people’s servant,” said the student and looked away fleetingly. “Of course that hurts you.”
The student’s final conclusion was simply a misunderstanding, but maybe Karl could use the student with it. So he asked: “Couldn’t I get a position at the department store?”
This question completely ripped the student away from his book; the thought that he could help Karl in applying for the job didn’t occur to him at all. “Try it,” he said, “or better yet, don’t try it. Getting my job at Montly’s has been up to now the greatest success of my life. If I had to choose between the studies and my job, of course I would choose the job. All my effort is in making sure that I never have to make that decision.”
“So it’s that difficult to get a job there,” said Karl, mostly to himself.
“Ah, what are you thinking then,” said the student. “It’s easier to become a district judge than a doorman at Montly’s.”
Karl was silent. This student, so much more experienced than he, who hated Delamarche for reasons unknown to Karl, who certainly wished nothing terrible on him, found no word to encourage Karl to abandon Delamarche. And he didn’t know the fear Karl had of being turned into the police, which only Delamarche could even partly protect him from.
“You saw the demonstration below in the evening? Didn’t you? If you didn’t know the scenario, you would think this candidate, his name is Lobter, will have a future or at least come into consideration, right?”
“I know nothing about politics,” said Karl.
“That is a mistake,” said the student. “But you kept your eyes and ears on it. The man, doubtless, has friends and enemies, you couldn’t have missed that. And now think, this man in my opinion has not the slightest chance to be elected. By chance I know everything about him, someone who lives with us knows him. He is not an incompetent man and according to his political views and political past he would be just the right judge for the district. But no one thinks that he could be elected, he will fail as magnificently as someone can fail, he will throw away his couple of dollars on the election campaign, that will be all.”
Karl and the student looked at each other a short while in the silence. The student nodded, smiling, and pressed his tired eyes with a hand.
“Now, won’t you go to sleep?” he asked then. “I have to study again. Look how much I still have to work through.” And he turned quickly through half of a book, in order to give Karl an understand of the work that waited for him.
“So good night then,” said Karl, bowing.
“Come over by us once,” said the student, who was already sitting back at his table. “Of course, only if you want to. You will always find a lot of company here. From nine to ten o’clock in the evening I have time for you here.”
“So you advise me to stay by Delamarche?” asked Karl.
“Absolutely,” said the student and sunk his head into the books again. It seemed as if he hadn’t said the word at all; as if it had been spoken by a voice deeper than anything from the student, it still echoed in Karl’s ears. Slowly he went to the curtain, threw a glance at the student, who was now entirely motionless, surrounded by the great darkness in which there sat his light, and slipped into the room. He was received by the united breathing of the three sleepers. He looked for the couch along the wall, and when he found it, he stretched quietly out on it, as if it were a comfortable bed. Since the student, who knew enough about Delamarche and local affairs and was generally an educated man, had advised him to stay here, he had no misgivings for the time being. He didn’t have a goal as high as the student’s, who knew if he would’ve successfully completed his studies to the end back at home, and if it seemed barely possible at home, no one could expect him to do it here in a strange land. But the hope to find a job where he could accomplish something and be appreciated for his accomplishments was certainly greater if he took up this servant’s job by Delamarche for the time being and waited for a favorable opportunity. There seemed to be many offices on this street on the middle and lower floors, which maybe weren’t that choosy in their selection of personnel. He would gladly, if he had to, become a janitor, but it wasn’t out of the question to be taken up in a clean office job and sit for the first time at a writing desk and stare a long time out the window without any sorrow, just like any clerk he had seen earlier in his march through the courtyard. It made him calm, as he closed his eyes, to think that he was still young and that Delamarche would one day give him his freedom; this household wouldn’t last forever. But if Karl had a job in an office, he would busy himself with nothing but office work and never divide his strength as a student. If it were important, he would also spend his nights in the office, which would be demanded of him in the beginning because of his little commercial experience. He would think in the interest of the business he would have to serve and undertake every task, even those which other clerks would shun as being not worthy of them. The happy resolutions crowded his head, as if his future boss stood in front of the couch and he could read them to his face.
With these thoughts, Karl slept and only in his first half-sleep was he disturbed by a sigh from Brunelda, who seemed to be plagued by difficult dreams and rolled around on her bed.
“Get up!” yelled Robinson . . .
“Get up!” yelled Robinson as Karl was just opening his eyes. The curtain hadn’t yet been pulled down, but you could notice how late in the morning it was from the sunlight evenly penetrating through the gaps. Robinson ran urgently with troubled glances here and there, soon he was carrying a towel, then a water bucket, then some laundry and pieces of clothing and always as he came over to Karl, he tried to encourage him to stand up by nodding his head, all the while showing what he was carrying in his hand by holding it out, as if this were the last day he were torturing himself for Karl, who of course couldn’t understand the details of his job on the first morning.
But soon Karl saw whom Robinson was actually serving. In an area Karl hadn’t seen yet, separated from the general room by two cabinets, a great bathing was in progress. You could see Brunelda’s head, the exposed throat – her hair was shoved against her face – and the nape of her neck rising over the cabinets, and here and there Delamarche’s raised hand held a sponge that splashed around as Brunelda was washed and scrubbed. You could hear the terse orders Delamarche gave to Robinson, who didn’t hand the things over through the blocked-off entry to the area, but instead had been assigned a small gap in-between the cabinets and a screen, where he had to stretch out his arms as he extended his hands and averted his eyes. “The towel! The towel!” yelled Delamarche. And Robinson, who was already looking for something under the table, had just barely been alerted to this task and was sticking his head out from under the table when it called out again: “Where’s the water, damn it!” and, stretching up over the boxes, Delamarche’s furious expression appeared . So far as Karl understood, everything you usually needed only once for washing and dressing was demanded in every possible order and brought out a number of times. A bucket stood on a small electric stove, warming water, and again and again Robinson carried the heavy load to the wash area between his spread legs. He had so much work to do it was understandable if he didn’t always keep to his orders, and once, when a towel was demanded, he just took a shirt from the large sleeping area in the middle of the room and threw it over the cabinets in a large ball.
But Delamarche also had some tough work and he was probably so aggravated with Robinson because he couldn’t satisfy Brunelda by himself – he was so aggravated that he completely ignored Karl. “Oh,” she shrieked and even Karl, otherwise uninvolved, jumped. “You’re hurting me! Go away! I’d rather wash myself than suffer like this. Now I can’t lift up my arm. It’s terrible how you’re pushing up against me. I must have big bruises on my back. Of course you wouldn’t tell me so. Wait, I’ll have Robinson look at me or our little one. No, I won’t do it, but just be a little gentler. Be careful, Delamarche, but I can repeat that all morning, you’re never careful, never. Robinson,” she yelled right away and swung some pantyhose over her head. “Come help me, look at how I’m suffering, this Delamarche, he calls this torture a bath. Robinson, Robinson, where are you, have you lost your heart too?” Karl made a quiet sign to Robinson that he could go in, but Robinson shook his head with lowered eyes, he knew better. “What’s the matter with you?” said Robinson as he bent over to Karl’s ear. “It’s not meant like that. I only went in once, never again. They both tackled me and threw me into the tub, so that I almost drowned. And for days Brunelda scolded me for being shameless and again and again she said, ‘Haven’t you been waiting a long time to be in the bath with me?’ or ‘When will you come to see me in the bath again?’ She only stopped when I begged her for some time on my knees. I’ll never forget that.” And as Robinson explained, Brunelda yelled again and again: “Robinson! Robinson! Where is that Robinson!”
However, in spite of the fact that no one came to help her and nothing happened in response – Robinson had sat down by Karl and the both of them looked quietly at the cabinets as Brunelda’s or Delamarche’s head appeared now and then – in spite of that, Brunelda wouldn’t stop complaining loudly about Delamarche. “But Delamarche,” she yelled, “now I don’t feel you washing me at all. Where did you put the sponge? So get to it! If only I could bend down, if only I could move myself! I would show you how you’re supposed to wash. Where are my younger days, where I swam every morning in the Colorado on my parents’ property, the most agile of all my girlfriends. And now! When will you learn to wash me, Delamarche, you wave the sponge around, strain yourself, and I don’t feel a thing. When I said you shouldn’t rub me raw, I didn’t mean I wanted to stand here and catch a cold. If it comes to that, I’ll jump out of the tub and run away just as I am.”
But she never carried out these threats – she wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway – Delamarche, out of the fear she could catch cold, seemed to have grabbed her and pushed her into the tub, because there was a strong splashing in the water.
“You always do that, Delamarche,” Brunelda said a little more softly. “You flatter me and flatter me again whenever you’ve done something wrong.” Then it was quiet for awhile. “He’s kissing her now,” said Delamarche as he lifted his eyebrows.
“So what’s there to do?” asked Karl. Since he had finally decided to stay here, he wanted to perform his duties. He let Robinson, who didn’t answer, stay on the couch while he began to pull out the largest things from the pile that had been pressed together into a bed during the night by the sleepers, so that he could lay everything from this pile into individual order, which hadn’t been done for a week already.
“Go look, Delamarche,” Brunelda said. “I think they’re taking our bed apart. With all this you have to think that we’ll never have any peace. You have to be stricter with these two, or else they’ll do whatever they want.” “That has to be the small one with his damned work ethic,” yelled Delamarche, probably wanting to plunge out of the bathing area, Karl threw everything out of his hands, but luckily Brunelda said: “Don’t leave me, Delamarche, don’t leave. This water is so hot, I get very tired. Stay with me, Delamarche.” Karl just noticed now how the steam behind the cabinets rose incessantly.
Robinson’s hand landed on his cheek, as if Karl had done something terrible. “Everything stays in the exact same condition as it was,” the voice of Delamarche clanged out. “Don’t you know that Brunelda always rests for an hour after her bath? Horrible mismanagement! Wait until I come for you two. Robinson, you’re probably dreaming again. You, you alone I’ll make responsible for everything that happened. Hold the boy down, nothing will be put into order according to his plans. I can’t get anything from you two when I want something, but when there’s nothing to do, the both of you turn industrious. Go hide somewhere and wait until someone needs you.”
But everything was forgotten immediately, because Brunelda whispered very wearily, as if she were overwhelmed by the hot water: “The perfume! Bring the perfume!” “The perfume!” screamed Delamarche. “Get moving!” Yes, but where was the perfume? Karl looked at Robinson, Robinson looked at Karl. Karl realized he had to take matters into his own hands, Robinson had no idea where the perfume was, he just lay down on the floor, running both of his arms under the couch but digging up nothing but balls of dust and woman’s hair. Karl hurried to the dresser standing by the door, but could only find an English novel, magazines and notes and everything was so stuffed in there he couldn’t close the drawers when he had opened them. “The perfume!” sighed Brunelda behind all this. “It’s taking so long! If I could get my perfume today!” Because of Brunelda’s impatience Karl wasn’t allowed to search anything thoroughly, he had to leave after his first superficial impression. The bottle wasn’t on the cabinets, on the cabinets were generally little bottles with medicine and ointment, everything else had already been carried into the bathing area. Maybe the bottle was in the drawer of the dining table. On his way to the dining table, however – Karl thought only about the perfume and nothing else – he knocked together violently with Robinson, who had finally given up the search under the couch and with a dim idea of the perfume’s location ran blindly into Karl. You could distinctly hear their heads slamming together, Karl stayed quiet, Robinson didn’t really hold steady, he screamed persistently and excessively loudly to ease the pain.
“They’re fighting instead of looking for the perfume,” said Brunelda. “I’m getting sick of this business, Delamarche, and I’m going to die in your arms. I have to have the perfume,” she yelled. “I absolutely have to have it. I’m not getting out of the bath before someone brings it to me, even if I have to stay here until evening.” And she slammed her fist into the water, you could hear it splashing.
But the perfume wasn’t in the dining room drawer, in the end there were some of Brunelda’s beauty supplies such as old powder brushes, little makeup containers, hair brushes, tiny curls and many ragged and stuck-together little things, but the perfume wasn’t there. And then Robinson, who was still screaming in the middle of about a hundred boxes and containers, opened one after the other and dug through them, always dumping half the insides onto the floor where they stayed, usually sewing things and letters, but he couldn’t find anything, which he signaled to Karl through shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders.
Then Delamarche jumped out of the bathing area in his underclothes as Brunelda cried desperately. Karl and Robinson quit looking and stared at Delamarche, who was all wet through and through, the water running down his face. “Now then, kindly start looking,” he yelled. “Here!” he ordered first for Karl to look and then “There!” for Robinson. Karl really looked and even checked the places Robinson had been ordered to, but he found just as little of the perfume as Robinson, who was eagerly trying to watch Delamarche, who himself stamped up and down the full length of the room and would have preferred to beat up Karl as much as Robinson.
“Delamarche,” Brunelda yelled, “at least come dry me. Those two still haven’t found the perfume and are getting everything out of order. They should immediately stop looking. And right away! But they’re still working like always, a box just fell. They shouldn’t lift anything anymore, they should leave everything lying there and get out of the room! Bolt the door behind them and come to me. I’ve already laid too long in the water, my legs have gone completely cold.”
“Right away, Brunelda, right away,” Delamarche called back and hurried Karl and Robinson to the door. But before he dismissed them, he gave them the job to fetch breakfast and maybe borrow a good perfume from someone for Brunelda.
“Your place is so disorganized and dirty,” said Karl outside in the hallway. “When we get back with breakfast, we’ll need to start organizing.”
“If only I weren’t suffering so much,” said Robinson. “And this treatment!” Robinson was certainly upset over the fact that Brunelda made no distinction between himself, who had served for a month already, and Karl, who had just walked in yesterday. But he deserved nothing better and Karl said: “You have to pull yourself together a little.” But, in order not to leave him in his despair, he added: “It’s only a one-time job. I’ll make a bed for you behind the boxes, and if only everything’s organized once, you’ll be able to lie there the entire day, so that you won’t have to worry and will become healthy very soon.”
“Now you see how it is with me,” said Robinson, turning his face from Karl so he could be alone with himself and his sorrow. “But will they let me lie there in peace?”
“If you want, I’ll talk it over myself with Delamarche and Brunelda.”
“Will Brunelda take consideration for someone else?” Robinson yelled and, without preparing Karl, struck out at the door they had just come to.
They walked into a kitchen, where a stove in need of repair shot out little black clouds. In front of the stove door stood a woman, who had seen Karl yesterday in the corridor and who with her bare hands was laying pieces of coal into the fire, which she examined from all sides. She sighed as she knelt in an uncomfortable position for an old woman.
“And of course these problems come too,” she said as she looked at Robinson, picked herself up laboriously, her hand on the coal-box, and closed the stove door, whose handle she had wrapped up with her apron. “Now, at four o’clock in the afternoon,” – Karl stared at the kitchen clock – “you still need breakfast? What a group!”
“Sit down you two,” she then said, “and wait for me to have time for you.”
Robinson took Karl to a little stool in the area of the door and whispered to him: “We have to obey her. Actually, we’re dependent on her. We rented the room from her and she can evict us at a moment’s notice. But we can’t change apartments, we would have to move all our things again, and above all things Brunelda is not transportable.”
“Aren’t there any other rooms in the hallway?” Karl asked.
“There is no one who will take us,” answered Robinson. “Nobody in the entire building would take us.”
So they sat on her little stool and waited. The woman ran constantly here and there between two tables, a washtub and the stove. By her yelling they learned that her daughter was sick and she had to worry about all the work, namely the serving and feeding of thirty tenants. And now the oven was defective, the meal would not be complete, in two giant pots a thick soup cooked and no matter how many times the woman examined it with a ladle and allowed it to pour down from up high, the soup would not be successful, it had to be the fault of that terrible fire and so she sat close by the stove door on the floor and worked the poker around in the coals. The smell from it had filled the kitchen, it got her to coughing so much that she grabbed onto a chair and did nothing but cough for minutes at a time. She often made the observation that she wouldn’t deliver breakfasts today, because she neither had the time nor the desire. So on the one hand Karl and Robinson had the order to fetch breakfast, on the other couldn’t force her by any means, they never answered her comments, but remained sitting quietly as before.
All around, on chairs and footstools, on and under the tables, even on the ground in a corner, the unwashed breakfast dishes of the tenants stood piled up. There were little cans where you could find a little coffee or milk, on many tiny plates were still some leftover butter, some bread rolls had tumbled far away from a large, fallen baking sheet. There was quite possibly a breakfast in everything taken together, which Brunelda wouldn’t be able to put down if she never learned of its origins. As Karl thought about that and a glance at the clock showed him that they had already been waiting there a half hour and Brunelda was probably raging and Delamarche probably riled up against the servants, the woman yelled at them as she coughed – during which Karl stared at her – “You can sit here, but the breakfast won’t come. Come back in two hours for supper.”
“Come on, Robinson,” Karl said, “we’ll put the breakfast together ourselves.” “How?” yelled the woman with an inclined head. “Please be reasonable,” said Karl, “why wouldn’t you give us breakfast? We’ve been waiting now for half an hour already, that’s long enough. You’re paid for everything and we certainly pay a better price than all the others. Of course it’s annoying for you that we breakfast so late, but we are your tenants, we have the habit of breakfasting late and you have to accommodate us a little. Today it’s especially difficult because of your daughter’s illness, but because of that we’re prepared to put our breakfast together from the leftovers, so long as there’s nothing else and you won’t give us a fresh meal.”
But the woman didn’t want to get involved with anyone in friendly conversation, even the leftovers of this mass breakfast seemed too good for these tenants; but on the other hand she’d had enough of these two servants’ pushiness, so she snatched a pot and stuck it in Robinson’s belly, who grabbed it after whining a little, so that he could hold the pot to receive the food the woman would find. She loaded the pot with a bunch of things, but the entirety looked like a pile of dirty dishes, not like a serviceable breakfast. Still, as she pushed them out and they hurried bent over, as if they were afraid of the swearing or the jabs, Karl took the pot out of Robinson’s hands, because it didn’t seem secure enough with Robinson.
Karl sat down in the hallway with the cup on the floor, once they were far enough away from the landlady’s door, so he could clean out everything in the pot, collect the things that went together, pour the milk together, scrape the leftover butter onto a plate, then remove all signs of usage, and then he’d clean the knives and spoons, evenly cut the half-eaten rolls and give everything a better look. Robinson thought this work was unnecessary and maintained that breakfast had looked worse often enough, but Karl didn’t let that stop him and was quite happy that Robinson wouldn’t be taking part in the work with his dirty fingers. To keep him quiet, Karl had given him, just once he told him, some cake and the thick residue of a tiny container once filled with chocolate.
When they came to their apartment and Robinson, without any hesitation, placed his hand on the doorknob, Karl held him back, because it wasn’t yet certain if they were allowed to walk in. “But yes,” said Robinson, “now he’s just doing her hair.” And actually Brunelda was sitting in an armchair with her legs spread wide apart in the stuffy and enclosed room, and Delamarche, standing behind her, combed her short, probably very tangled hair with a deep expression as he bent over. Brunelda wore a loose dress again, but this one was of a pale red color, it was probably a little shorter than it was yesterday, you could see the white, coarse, knitted stockings almost up to the knee. Impatient over how long the combing was taking, Brunelda darted her thick red tongue here and there between her lips, and sometimes with the shout, “But Delamarche!” she tore herself completely free of Delamarche, who waited quietly with an upraised comb until she laid her head back down again.
“It’s taking a long time,” said Brunelda to everyone, and she said to Karl in particular: “You need to be a little quicker if you want someone to be happy with you. Don’t take the lazy and greedy Robinson as an example. You had breakfast somewhere in the meantime, I’m telling you that next time I will not tolerate it.”
That was very incorrect and Robinson shook his head and moved his lips silently, Karl saw that you could only have an effect on these people if you showed them indisputable results. He took a low Japanese table out from under a table, put a tablecloth over it and placed the things he brought with on top of it. Someone who had seen where the breakfast had come from could have been satisfied with the whole of it, but otherwise, as Karl himself had to say, there were things that could have been criticized.
Fortunately, Brunelda was hungry. She nodded pleasantly at Karl as he prepared everything and she often slowed things down as she took away a mouthful with her soft, fat hand that knocked into everything possible. “He did good,” she said, eating noisily, and then brought Delamarche down to the couch as he left the comb stuck in her hair for later work. With one look at the food, Delamarche also became friendly, both were very hungry, their hands hurried back and forth over the dishes. Karl realized that in order to keep people happy here, all he had to do was bring as much as possible, and in recognition of the fact that he had left a few edible items on the floor in the kitchen, he said: “At first I didn’t know how everything had to be arranged, next time I’ll do better.” But even during this speech he knew whom he was speaking to, he was much too self-conscious about these things. Brunelda, satisfied, nodded to Delamarche and gave Karl a handful of crackers in payment.
One morning Karl pushed the wheelchair where Brunelda was sitting out of the gate. It wasn’t as early as he’d wanted anymore. With the journey begun in the night, they were now coming out into an alley to avoid any excitement, which would have been inevitable by day, no matter how modestly Brunelda wanted to cover herself in a large gray sheet. But the move down the stairs had taken too long, despite the willing assistance of the student, who, as it turned out, was much weaker than Karl. Brunelda held up very bravely, she barely sighed and tried by every means to lighten the work of their carrying. But it couldn’t happen any other way besides setting her down on every fifth step to allow themselves and her the necessary rest. It was a cool morning, a cold wind blew down the corridors as if in a cellar, but Karl and the student were covered in sweat and during the rest breaks had to take corners of Brunelda’s sheet, which she kindly offered to them, so they could dry their faces. So it happened, that they got downstairs after two hours, where a small wagon had stood there overnight. Lifting Brunelda into it took some work, because no matter how everything looked to be a success, since the pulling wouldn’t be difficult on account of the high wheels, there still remained the fear that the wagon would collapse underneath Brunelda. They had to accept that danger, they couldn’t travel with a spare wagon that the student had offered to push half-jokingly. Then came the farewell to the student, who was very cordial about it. All of the disagreements between Brunelda and the student seemed forgotten, he apologized for the old insults he had been guilty of during her sickness, but Brunelda said that everything had been forgotten a long time ago and had been more than made up for. Finally she asked the student if he might take a dollar from her in thanks and friendship, which she looked for laboriously in her many skirts. Because of Brunelda’s renowned stinginess, this gift was full of significance, the student really had great joy over it and threw the coins into the air for joy. Then he had to look for them on the ground and Karl had to help, finally Karl found them under Brunelda’s cart. The goodbye between the student and Karl was much simpler of course, they shook each other’s hands and assured each other that they would see one another again and that at least one of them – the student said it would be Karl, and Karl said the student – would receive some notoriety, which unfortunately was not the case at the moment. Then Karl grabbed the handle of the wagon with good courage and pushed it out the door. The student watched them for as long as he could see them and waved with a handkerchief. Karl nodded back in recognition, Brunelda would have also gladly turned around, but such a movement was too strenuous for her. In order to make a last goodbye possible, Karl turned the cart around in an intersection at the end of the street, so that Brunelda could also see the student, who used this opportunity to wave his handkerchief with a special eagerness.
But then Karl said that they weren’t allowed any more breaks, the way was long and they had gotten out much later than had been intended. You could already see carts here and there, and occasionally pedestrians, going to work. Karl didn’t want to say anything more with his remark than he had already said, but Brunelda with her manners understood this differently and covered herself completely with her gray sheet. Karl didn’t object; anyone with a cart covered in gray was very conspicuous, but would’ve been incomparably less conspicuous than an uncovered Brunelda. He pushed very carefully; before turning into a corner, he watched the next street, left the wagon standing if it seemed necessary, and took a few steps out alone, he looked out for awkward encounters, so he waited until they could avoid them or choose a way through a different street. Since had studied all possible routes, he wasn’t about to go significantly out of his way. Obstacles appeared here and there that they needed to be wary of but that hadn’t been foreseen in every detail. So it was that he stepped immediately into a street that rose gently and was very wide to look over and, happily, completely empty, an advantage which he thought to take advantage of in a particular hurry, when a policeman appeared out of the dark corner of a gate and asked Karl what he was carrying in the carefully covered wagon. But he was looking so sternly at Karl, that he had to laugh when he lifted the cover and found the flustered, nervous face of Brunelda. “How?” he said. “I thought you had ten potato sacks in here and now it’s just one woman? Where are you going then? Who are you?” Brunelda didn’t dare to look at the policeman, but only looked to Karl, doubting that even he would be able to save her. But Karl’d had enough experience with police already, it didn’t seem dangerous to him at all. “Please, Miss,” he said, “show him the document you received.” “Oh yes,” said Brunelda and began to look in so hopeless a manner that she must have appeared suspicious. “The lady,” the policeman said with unmistakable irony, “will not find the document.” “Oh, yes,” said Karl calmly, “she certainly has it, she has only mislaid it.” He now started looking himself and took it out from behind Brunelda’s back. The policeman looked at it fleetingly. “So that’s it,” said the policeman smiling. “So the woman here is that woman? And you, little one, worry about the arrangements and the transport? Couldn’t you have found a better job?” Karl merely shrugged his shoulders, this was all the well-known meddling of the police. “Well, have a good trip,” said the policeman when he didn’t get an answer. There was probably some contempt in the words of the policeman, but with that Karl continued without any further acknowledgment, the contempt of the police was better than their attention.
Shortly afterwards he had an even more awkward encounter, if that was possible. It was all done chiefly by a man who was pushing a wagon with large milk cans and who would have liked to learn to the last detail what was laying under the gray sheet on Karl’s wagon. It wasn’t possible that he was going the same way as Karl, but he stayed by his side no matter what surprising turns Karl made. First he contented himself with statements such as, “You must have a heavy load,” or, “You’ve piled everything on there terribly, something’s going to fall down from the top.” But later he asked precisely: “What do you have under that cover?” Karl said: “What does it matter to you?” But when the man became still more curious, Karl finally said: “It’s apples.” “So many apples,” said the man astonished and didn’t stop repeating that statement. “That’s an entire harvest,” he then said. “Well, yes,” said Karl. But if he didn’t believe Karl, then he would bother him, he kept coming back and started – for the entire trip – stretching his hand out to the sheet as a joke and daring in the end to pluck at the sheet. What Brunelda must have suffered! Out of consideration for her Karl didn’t let himself get into a fight with the man and went for the next open gate as if that were his destination. “Here I am, home,” he said. “Thanks for the company.” The man remained standing, astonished, in front of the gate and looked at Karl, who calmly went in, to cross the entire courtyard if he had to. The man couldn’t doubt any more, but just to satisfy his spite one last time, he left his wagon, ran behind Karl on tiptoe, and pulled so strongly at the sheet that it almost revealed Brunelda’s face. “So your apples will get some air,” he said and ran back. Karl tolerated that as well, since it finally freed him from the man. He pushed the cart into a corner of the courtyard where some large empty boxes were standing, so he could say some reassuring words to Brunelda under their protection. But he had to speak to her for a long time, because she was completely in tears and implored him in all seriousness to stay here behind the boxes for the entire day and start traveling again at night. Maybe he alone wouldn’t have been able to convince her how big a mistake that would’ve been, but when someone on the other end of the pile of boxes threw an empty box to the ground with a resounding echo in the enormous empty courtyard, she pulled the sheet over herself without risking another word and was probably overjoyed when Karl without any hesitation began traveling immediately.
The streets were now becoming lively, but the attention the wagon aroused wasn’t as great as Karl had feared. Maybe it would’ve been smarter to have picked a different time for the move. If such a trip should become necessary again, Karl wanted to try taking her out in the noonday hours. Without being bothered very much, he turned finally into the small dark street where Project Number 25 could be found. In front of the door, a squinting manager stood with a watch in his hand. “Are you usually so late?” he asked. “There were some difficulties,” said Karl. “There are always difficulties, everyone knows that,” said the manager. “But they do not apply in this building. Remember that!” Karl barely listened to such speeches anymore, everyone exploited his own strengths and abused his neighbors. Once you grow accustomed to it, it doesn’t sound any different than the regular chimes of the clock. But what scared him, as he pushed the wagon into the hallway, was the dirt that prevailed here, which, admittedly, he had expected. If you looked closer, there wasn’t any actual dirt. The tiles of the hallway were almost swept clean, the paintings on the walls weren’t old, the artificial palm trees were only a little dusty, and yet everything was slimy and repulsive, it was as if everything were terribly used and could never be cleaned enough to look good again. When he came in, Karl thought gladly about what could be improved here and what joy it would have been to immediately intervene here without any consideration for the probably endless work that would ensue. But he didn’t really know what there was to be done here. He slowly took the sheet off of Brunelda. “Welcome, Madame,” said the manager pretentiously, there wasn’t any doubt that Brunelda made a good impression on him. She noticed this quickly, she understood, while Karl watched with joy, that she had to take advantage of this right away. All the fear of the last few hours disappeared. She [or They] –
Karl saw on a street corner …
Karl saw on a street corner a poster with the following inscription: “Today, at the racetrack in Clayton, from six o’clock in the morning until midnight, staff will be hired for the Theater in Oklahama! The great Theater of Oklahama calls you! It’s only calling today, only once! Whoever misses the chance now, misses it forever! Whoever thinks towards the future, listen to us! Everyone is welcome! Anyone who wants to be an artist, report! Our theater needs everyone, everyone in his place! Anyone who chooses us, we congratulate him right here! But hurry, all of you, because you’ll only be let in up to midnight! Everything will close at twelve and never open again! Damn those who don’t believe in us! On to Clayton!”
Actually, a lot of people stood in front of the poster, but it didn’t seem to find much approval. There were so many posters, no one believed the posters anymore. And this poster was more unbelievable than the others. But above all it had a large error, it made no mention of payment. If it were even a little worth talking about, the poster certainly would have given it; it wouldn’t have forgotten the most tempting thing. Nobody wanted to be an artist, but everyone wanted to be paid for his work.
But the poster had a great temptation for Karl. “Everyone was welcome,” it said. Everyone meant Karl too. Everything he had done up to now was forgotten, no one would criticize him for that. He would be able to sign up for a job, nothing shameful, to which he was openly invited! And just as openly, the promise was given that they’d take him in. He asked nothing more, he wanted at last to find the beginning of a decent career and maybe it would show itself here. It all might just be big talk on that poster, a lie, the great Theater of Oklahama might be a small wandering circus, it wanted to hire people, that was enough. Karl didn’t read the poster again, but only looked for the sentence one more time: “Everyone is welcome.”
At first he thought about walking to Clayton, but that would have been a tough three-hour march, and he might have had to put up with all that only to find out that all the available positions were taken. According to the poster, the number of people hired was limitless, but all the want ads were written like that. Karl saw that he had to do without the job or catch a ride. He counted out his money, it would have lasted eight days without this trip, he pushed the small coins here and there on the palm of his hand. A man who was watching him clapped him on the shoulder and said: “Good luck on your trip to Clayton.” Karl nodded silently and continued counting. But he soon decided, divided up the necessary money for the trip and ran to the subway.
When he got off in Clayton, he immediately heard the sound of many trumpets. It was a tangled noise, the trumpets weren’t coordinated with each other, they blared heedlessly. But that didn’t bother Karl, it confirmed to him all the more that the Theater of Oklahama was a large undertaking. But when he walked out of the station building and looked across the entire layout, he saw that everything was even larger than he had been able to imagine, and he didn’t understand how an undertaking solely for the purpose of getting workers could be so extravagant. In front of the entrance to the racetrack, a long, low stage was built, where a hundred women blowing on trumpets were dressed as angels in white sheets with large wings on their backs. But they weren’t directly on the stage, each one stood on a pedestal that couldn’t be seen because the long, fluttering sheets of the angel’s dresses wrapped them up completely. Since the pedestals were very high, up to two meters high, the figures of the women looked gigantic, it was just that their small heads spoiled their large appearance, and their loose hair hung almost laughably short in-between the large wings and down the sides. In addition, no uniformity was established, someone had bought pedestals of different sizes, there were some very low women, not much above life-size, but next to them other women were swinging so high you’d think they’d be in danger from the slightest puff of wind. And now all these women were playing.
There weren’t many listeners. Small when compared to the large figures, about ten youngsters walked in front of the stage here and there and looked up at the women. They pointed out this one or that one to each other, but they didn’t seem to want to walk in and get themselves hired. Only one older man could be seen, he stood a little to the side. He had also brought his wife with him and his child in a stroller. The wife held the stroller with one hand, with the other she leaned on her husband’s shoulder. They stared in wonder at the performance, but you knew they were disappointed. They had expected to find a job opportunity, these trumpet blasts upset them.
Karl was in the same situation. He walked up to the man, listened to the trumpets a little and said: “Is this where they hire for the Theater of Oklahama?” “I think so too,” said the man, “but we’ve been waiting here an hour and have heard nothing but trumpets. There aren’t any posters to be seen, no speakers anywhere, nobody who could us give any information.” Karl said: “Maybe they’re waiting for more people to gather. There are really very few people here.” “Maybe,” said the man and they continued being silent. It was difficult to understand anything in the noise of the trumpets. But then the woman whispered something to her husband, he nodded and she yelled to Karl: “Could you go over to the racetrack and ask where the hiring takes place?” “Yeah,” said Karl, “but I have to go over the stage, in-between the angels.” “Is that so hard?” asked the wife. To her, the way seemed easy for Karl, but she didn’t want to ship her husband off. “Well then,” Karl said. “I’ll go.” “You’re very helpful,” said the woman and she and her husband shook Karl’s hand. The youngsters came together to get a closer look at how Karl was climbing onto the stage. It was as if the women blew more strongly to greet the first applicant. But those on the pedestals he was walking by took the trumpets out of their mouths and bent over to watch him on his way. Karl saw a restless man walking on the other end of the stage, who was only waiting for the people so he could tell them all the information they could wish for. Karl wanted to go up to him when he heard his name being called from above: “Karl,” yelled an angel. Karl looked up and started laughing at the happy surprise; it was Fanny. “Fanny,” he yelled and waved at her with his hand. “Come over here,” Fanny yelled. “You shouldn’t pass me by.” And she pushed her skirt to the side to reveal a small staircase leading up to the pedestal. “Am I allowed to go up?” asked Karl. “Who would keep us from shaking hands?” yelled Fanny and looked anxiously around for someone to come with a refusal. But Karl was already running up the steps. “Slowly,” Fanny yelled. “The column will fall with us on it.” But it didn’t happen, Karl luckily came up to the last step. “Just look,” said Fanny after they’d said hello, “just look what kind of work I’ve gotten.” “It’s very good,” said Karl and looked around. All the women nearby had already noticed Karl and were giggling. “You’re almost the highest,” said Karl and stretched out his hand to measure the heights of the others. “I saw you right away,” said Fanny, “when you came into the station, but unfortunately I’m here in the last row, no one sees me and I can’t yell out. I even played especially loudly, but you didn’t recognize me.” “You all play terribly,” said Karl. “Let me play once.” “But of course,” said Fanny and gave him the trumpet, “but don’t bother the choir, otherwise they’ll fire me.” Karl started playing, he had thought the trumpet would be poorly made, maybe good for noise making, but now it seemed to be an instrument that could almost carry out every nuance. If all these instruments were of the same quality, a great crime was being carried out on them. Karl played with all his lungs, without disturbing the others with the noise, a song that he had head somewhere in a bar. He was happy to have met an old friend here, to be privileged to play the trumpet in front of everyone, and to maybe be able to receive a good job. Many women heard the playing and listened; when he suddenly broke off, barely half the trumpets were being used, the full noise came back only gradually. “You are an artist,” said Fanny when Karl gave her the trumpet back. “Get yourself hired as a trumpeter.” “Will men be hired too?” asked Karl. “Yes,” said Fanny, “we play for twenty hours. Then we’re relieved by men dressed as devils. One half plays, one half drums. It’s very beautiful how valuable all the instruments are. Aren’t our clothes beautiful too? And the wings?” She looked down at herself. “Do you think,” asked Karl, “that I could get a job as well?” “Absolutely certainly,” said Fanny. “It’s the largest theater in the world. It’s so convenient that we’ll be together again. In general it depends on the kind of job you get. It would really be possible, even if we’re both hired here, that we wouldn’t be able to see each other at all.” “Is everything that large then?” asked Karl. “It’s the largest theater in the world,” Fanny repeated. “I haven’t seen all of it myself, but many of my colleagues who have already been in Oklahama say that it’s almost endless.” “But few people volunteered,” said Karl and pointed down to the children and the small family. “That is true,” said Fanny, “but consider that we hire people from all the states, that our recruitment group is always traveling and that there are still very many groups.” “Isn’t the theater opened yet?” asked Karl. “Oh, yes,” said Fanny, “it’s an old theater, but it’s always growing.” “I’m amazed,” said Karl, “that more people don’t crowd around.” “Yes,” said Fanny, “that is strange.” “Maybe,” said Karl, “all these extravagant angels and devils are scaring more away than they attract.” “How could you figure that out,” said Fanny. “But it’s possible. Tell our leader, maybe you can be useful to him.” “Where is he?” asked Karl. “In the racetrack,” said Fanny. “At the judges’ table.” “That also surprises me,” said Karl. “Why is this hiring taking place on a racetrack?” “Yeah,” said Fanny, “we make the largest accommodations for the greatest crowds. There’s lots of room on a racetrack. And wherever the bets are usually taken, the hiring offices are set up. There should be about two hundred different booths.” “But,” yelled Karl, “does the Theater of Oklahama have so large an income to be able to maintain such recruitment groups?” “What worry is that to us?” said Fanny. “But go Karl, now, so you don’t miss anything, I have to keep on playing. Try whenever you can to get a job with this group and come right away to tell me. Remember, I’m waiting very impatiently for the news.” She squeezed his hand, scolded him to be careful climbing down, put the trumpet back on her lips, but didn’t start playing before she saw Karl safely down on the ground. Karl laid the sheet over the steps, as it had been before, Fanny thanked him by nodding her head, and Karl, thinking over what he had heard in various ways, walked up to the man who had already seen Karl up with Fanny and had gotten closer to the pedestal to wait for him.
“Would you like to join with us?” asked the man. “I’m the chief of personnel for this group and welcome you.” He was constantly fidgeting, a little bent over, as if out of hospitality, but he didn’t move from the spot and played with his watch chain. “Thank you,” said Karl. “I read the poster for your business and am reporting here like it said.” “Very correct,” said the man appreciatively. “Unfortunately, not everyone behaves so correctly here.” Karl thought that he might now be able to let the man know that the allure of the recruitment drive might be failing because of its magnificence. But he didn’t say it, because this man was not at all the leader of the group and it would have been ill advised to make suggestions for improvement when he hadn’t been hired yet. So he only said: “Someone’s waiting outside still, who wants to report too and just sent me out. Can I get him now?” “Of course,” said the man, “the more that come, the better.” “He has a wife with him and a small child in a stroller. Should they come too?” “Of course,” said the man, seeming to smile over Karl’s doubts. “We can use everyone.” “I’ll be right back,” said Karl and ran back to the edge of the stage. He waved to the married couple and shouted that everyone was allowed to come. The children stared, gathered together, then slowly climbed, hesitating until the last moment, their hands in their pockets as they got on the platform and finally followed Karl and the family. Even new passengers came out of the station from the subway, who within view of the stage lifted their hands in astonishment at the angels. It seemed now that applying for jobs should become lively now. Karl was very happy to come so early, maybe as the first one here, the married couple was nervous and asked various questions about whether or not great demands would be asked. Karl said that he didn’t know anything for certain, but he really had the impression that anyone would be taken without exception. He believed they could be calm.
The chief of personnel came up to them, he was very satisfied that so many came, he rubbed his hands, greeted everyone with a small bow and put them into a row. Karl was the first, then came the married couple and then all the others. When they had all lined up, the children bunched together and it took awhile before they were quiet, as the trumpets fell quiet the chief said: “I welcome you in the name of the Theater of Oklahama. You came early (it was already almost midday) the crowd isn’t large yet, the formalities of your hiring will be easier because of this. You have, of course, your identification with you.” The children immediately took some papers out of their pockets and waved them at the chief of personnel, the husband nudged his wife, who took out from under the hood of the stroller an entire bundle of papers, Karl actually had none. Would that get in the way of his being hired? It wasn’t impossible. Karl knew from experience, that those who are a little stubborn with these regulations can get around them easily. The chief of personnel glanced over the row to make sure that everyone had papers, and since Karl lifted up his hand, even though it was empty, he went right by him as if everything were in order. “It’s good,” said the chief of personnel and looked at the children, who wanted their papers to be looked at right away. “The papers will be checked in the hiring office by the hiring official. As you saw on our poster, we could use everyone. However, we must know, of course, what kind of career a person has practiced up to now, so we can put him in the right spot to utilize his knowledge.” “But it’s a theater,” thought Karl doubtfully and listened very carefully. “Therefore,” continued the chief of personnel, “we’ve set up a hiring office in the betting area, a booth for each career group. Everyone will now give me his career, the families generally belong to the husband’s booth, I will then lead you to the booth, where first your papers and then your expertise will be tested – it will only be a very short test, no one has to be afraid of it. There you’ll be hired right away and receive further instructions. And so we begin. Here, the first booth already says it’s intended for engineers. Is there an engineer among you?” Karl raised his hand. He believed that because he didn’t have any papers, he would have to try to run through all the formalities as quickly as possible, he also had the small justification that he had always wanted to be an engineer. But when the children saw that Karl raised his hand, they became jealous and raised their hands too, all of them. The chief of personnel stretched up tall and said to the children: “Are you engineers?” Then they all slowly sunk their hands, Karl in contrast stuck with his first statement. The chief of personnel looked at him in disbelief, because Karl seemed to be dressed miserably and was also too young to be an engineer, but he didn’t say a thing, maybe out of gratefulness, because Karl, at least in his opinion, had led all the applicants to him. He pointed to the booth in meager invitation, and Karl walked in while the chief of personnel turned to the others.
In the engineer booth two men sat on two sides of a right-angled desk and compared two large lists lying before them. One read out loud, the other checked off on a list the names being read out loud. When he stepped up to them to say hello, they put the list down immediately and picked up a different, larger book that they opened up. One of them, apparently just a secretary, said: “I’ll ask for your identification.” “Unfortunately, I don’t have them with me,” said Karl. “He doesn’t have them with him,” the secretary said to the other man and immediately wrote the answer in his book. “You’re an engineer?” asked the other, who seemed to be the office director. “Not yet,” Karl said quickly, “but –” “Enough,” continued the gentleman. “You don’t belong to us. I’ll ask you to read the inscription.” Karl clenched his teeth, the man must have noticed, because he said: “It’s no reason to worry. We can use everyone.” And he waved to a servant, who walked around unhurried between the barriers. “Take this gentleman to the office for people with technical experience.” The servant took the order literally, taking Karl by the hand. They went between many booths, in one Karl already saw one of the kids being prepared to be hired, and a man shook his hand thankfully. In the booth where Karl was now brought, as Karl had foreseen, there was a process similar to that in the first booth. When they heard he had been to high school, they shipped him away from there to an office for those who had been to high school. But when Karl said he had been to a European high school, they said this wasn’t right and had him taken to the booth for those who had been to European high school. It was a booth at the furthest edge, not only smaller but also lower than all the others. The servant who had brought him here was furious over the long trip and the many rejections, for which, in his opinion, Karl was alone to blame. He didn’t wait for any more questions, but left immediately. This booth was also the last refuge. When Karl looked at the booth director, he was frightened at the similarity he had to a professor who was probably still teaching at his secondary school at home. The similarity wasn’t only general, but stood out in details, the glasses resting on the broad nose, the full, blonde beard maintained like a showpiece, the gently sloping back and the always unexpectedly loud voice held Karl astonished for some time. Luckily, he didn’t have to be very careful, because it all went more simply here than in the other office. It was here written down that his identification was missing and the booth director called it an incomprehensible carelessness, but the secretary, who had the upper hand here, quickly ignored that and, as the director asked some short questions that were leading up to a large question, he explained that Karl was hired. The director turned with open mouth to the secretary, but he made a concluding hand gesture, declaring, “Hired,” and carried the decision to the book right away. The secretary was openly of the opinion that to come from a European high school was something so low that it could be believed of anyone who claimed it without anything further. Karl, for his part, had nothing to object to, he walked up to him and wanted to thank him. But there was still a small delay when they asked him his name. He didn’t answer right away, he was afraid to give his real name and have it written down. Once he got the smallest position and completed it to satisfaction, then they might learn his name, but not now, he was keeping quiet for too long when he should have told them something. So, since no other name occurred to him at the time, he only gave his nickname from one of his last jobs: “Negro.” “Negro?” asked the director, turning his head and grimacing as if with this Karl had now reached the high point of implausibility. And the secretary looked at Karl a while to test him, but then he repeated “Negro” and wrote the name down. “You didn’t write down ‘Negro,’” continued the director. “Yes, Negro,” the secretary said calmly, making a hand gesture as if he were leading the director somewhere else. The director collected himself, stood up and said: “And so, you, by the Theater of Oklahama, are –”. But he didn’t go any further, he couldn’t go against his conscience, he sat down and said: “His name is not Negro.” The secretary raised his eyebrows, stood up himself and said: “Then I’ll tell you, that you, by the Theater of Oklahama, are hired and that someone will now introduce you to our leader.” A servant was called again, who led Karl to the judges’ table.
At the bottom of the steps Karl saw the stroller and just then the married couple came down, the wife with the child on her arm. “Are you hired?” asked the husband, he was much livelier than before, and the woman watched him smiling over her shoulder. When Karl answered that he had just been hired and was going to his position, the husband said: “Then I congratulate you. We’ve also been hired, it seemed like a good enterprise, you can’t really turn anything up anywhere, but it’s like that everywhere.” They said goodbye and Karl stepped up to the table. He went slowly, because the small room above him seemed to be overflowing with people and he didn’t want to force himself in. He remained standing and looked across the large racetrack that reached on every side into the distant forests. He suddenly wanted to see a horserace, he hadn’t yet had an opportunity for that in America. In Europe he had once been taken along to a race, but could remember nothing other than not wanting to be torn away from his mother in the middle of all the people he was being pulled through. He had actually not seen a race yet. Behind him, machinery started rattling, and he looked at an apparatus, which displayed the names of the winners for the race and now showed the following inscription up high: “Kaufmann, Kalla with wife and child.” So here was where they announced the names of the hired from the booths.
Just then some men ran down the steps, talking excitedly to each other, pens and notebooks in hand, Karl pushed against the railing to let them by and climbed up, since there was now an open space up there. At a corner of the wooden-railed platform – it looked just like the flat deck of a narrow tower – a gentleman was sitting, his arms stretched along the wooden railing, with a broad white band across his chest that read: Leader of the Tenth Recruitment Group of the Theater of Okalahama. Next to him, on a small table, stood a telephone device used during the race, from which the leader learned all the important information about the recruitment for individual positions, and so he asked no questions to Karl, but instead said to a man, who leaned next to him with crossed legs, his hand on his chin: “Negro, a European high schooler.” And as if everything were settled with the deeply bowing Karl, he looked down the steps to see if anyone was coming. But when no one came, he listened a little to the conversation the other man was having with Karl, but mostly he looked back over the racetrack and tapped his fingers on the railing. These delicate, yet strong, long and quickly moving fingers attracted Karl’s attention in the meantime, even though the other man had taken up enough of it.
“You’ve been unemployed?” the man said first. This question, almost as much as all of the questions, was very simple, not awkward at all, and none of the answers were verified in-between questions, but despite that, from the way he spoke with wide open eyes, the way he observed the effect with a bent torso, the way he accepted the answers with his head sunk to his chest and spoke loudly here and there, he gave an especial importance to things that he never really told you, but which made you careful and self-conscious. It happened often, that Karl dragged out an answer so he could repeat it in a different way to find more approval, but he always held back, because he knew what a terrible impression such wavering would make and how the effect of these answers was for the most part indecipherable. In general, however, his hiring seemed to have already been decided, this knowledge gave him support.
He answered the question if he was unemployed with a simple, “Yes.” “Where were you last employed?” the man asked then. Karl wanted to answer, when the man lifted his index finger and said again: “Last!” Karl had understood the last question correctly, he instinctively shook his head at the off-putting last remark and answered: “In an office.” It was the truth, but if the man were to demand more detailed information about the type of office, he would have to lie. But the man didn’t do that, he just easily accepted the answer as completely true: “Were you happy there?” “No,” Karl yelled, almost interrupting the sentence. With a side glance Karl noticed that the leader smiled a little, Karl regretted how he didn’t think out his last answer, but it had been too tempting to shout out no, because at his last job he had only had the great wish for some strange employer to walk up to him and ask that question. But his answer brought out another disadvantage, because the man could now ask why he wasn’t satisfied. Instead he asked the following: “What kind of position do you feel suitable for?” This question might have been a trap, because no matter what they would ask, Karl was already hired as an actor; but even though he recognized that, he couldn’t force himself to say that he felt especially suited to be an actor. He went around the question and said, out of fear of appearing defiant: “I read on the poster and there it was, you can use everybody, I reported.” “We know that,” the man said, remaining silent and showing that he was persisting in the previous question. “I am hired as an actor,” said Karl hesitantly, to make understandable to him the difficulty the last question had put him in. “That is correct,” the man said and fell silent again. “Now,” said Karl, and all his hope of finding a job came into jeopardy, “I don’t know if I’m suited to theater work. But I want to strain myself and try to carry out every task.” The man turned to the manager, both nodded, Karl seemed to have answered correctly, he maintained his courage and waited for the next question. It came: “What did you originally want to study?” In order to make the question clear enough – the man relied very much on being clear enough – he added: “In Europe, I mean.” Then he took his hand from his chin and made a weak gesture, as if with that he wanted simultaneously to make clear how far away Europe was and how meaningless those dreamed-up plans actually were. Karl said: “I wanted to become an engineer.” He was reluctant to answer, it was ridiculous to revive the old memory again in full knowledge of his American career up to now – would he have even become one in Europe? – but he knew no other answer at the moment and so he said that. But the man took it seriously, as he took everything seriously. “Now, an engineer,” he said, “you couldn’t become one right away, maybe it would agree with you to carry out some lower technical work for the time being.” “Certainly,” said Karl, he was overjoyed, if he took the offer he would be pushed off the actor’s stage into technical work, but he believed he’d actually be able to better prove himself with this work. He repeated again and again, that it didn’t depend on the kind of work so much as how well someone stuck to it. “Are you strong enough for difficult work?” the man asked. “Oh, yes,” Karl said. Here the man allowed himself to get closer to Karl and feel his arm. “He’s a strong lad,” he then said, showing Karl’s arm to the leader. The leader nodded, smiling, and gestured to Karl from his quiet rigidity and said: “And so we are finished. In Oklahama, everything will be put to the test. Make our recruitment group proud!” Karl bowed in goodbye, he wanted to thank the other man, but he was already walking back and forth on the platform, his face turned upwards, as if he were completely done with him. As Karl climbed down the steps, the inscription showed up high on the race board: “Negro, technical worker.” Since everything had gone in such an orderly way, Karl really wouldn’t have been bothered that much if his real name had been read on the board. It was all arranged carefully, because at the foot of the steps a servant waited for Karl and tied a band on his arm. When Karl lifted his arm to see what was on the band, there was the completely correct printout: “Technical work.”
However, now that Karl might be traveling, he first wanted to report to Fanny how luckily everything had fallen into place. But to his regret he learned from the servant that the angels and the devils were already preparing to travel to the next destination of the recruitment group. “A shame,” Karl said, it was the first disappointment he experienced in this enterprise. “I had a friend among the angels.” “You’ll see her again in Oklahama,” the servant said, “but come now, you’re the last.” He led Karl to the low part of the stage where the angels had earlier been standing, now there were only empty pedestals. Karl’s assumption, though, that more job-seekers would come without the music of the angels proved incorrect, because there weren’t any more adults in front of the stage, only a few children fought over a long white feather that had probably fallen out of an angel’s wings. A youth held it up high, while the other children tried to pull his head down with one hand and reached for the feather with the other.
Karl pointed at the children, but the servant said without looking: “Come more quickly, it took a long time before you were hired. Did they have doubts?” “I don’t know,” said Karl amazed, but he didn’t believe it. Always, even in the most transparent relationships, there was always someone who wanted to trouble his fellow men. But with the welcoming sight of the stadium bleachers they now came to, Karl almost forgot the servant’s remark. On these bleachers, one of the very long benches was covered with a white sheet, all the newly hired people sat with their backs to the racetrack on a lower bench and were being served. Everyone was happy and excited, just as Karl was sitting unnoticed as the last one on the bench, many stood up with raised glasses and someone raised a toast to the leader of the tenth recruitment group, whom he called “Father of the Job-Seekers.” Everyone noticed that you could see him from here, and actually the judges’ table and the two men weren’t too far out of sight. Now everyone raised their glasses high, and so Karl grabbed the glass sitting in front of him, but no matter how much they yelled or tried to get themselves noticed, nothing happened at the judges’ table to suggest that anyone noticed the praise or wanted to notice. The leader leaned in the corner like before and the other man stood next to him, his hand on his chin.
A little disappointed, they sat down again, now and then turning again to the judges’ table, but soon they were busying themselves only with the extravagant meal, large poultry such as Karl had never seen was passed around, with many forks in the crisp, roasted flesh, wine was constantly being handed out by the servants – you barely noticed it, you were bent over your plate, and into the glass fell the stream of red wine – and anyone who didn’t want to take part in the festivities could inspect the pictures of scenes of the Theater of Oklahama that were stacked up at the end of the table and were going from hand to hand. Still, no one concerned himself very much with the pictures, and the same happened with Karl, who, being last, only came upon one of the pictures. Judging by this picture, however, they were all worth a look. The picture contained the box for the President of the United States. At first glance you might think it wasn’t a box but the stage, the curved balcony rose so far into free space. This balcony was made entirely of gold in every part. In-between little columns, which seemed cut out with the most delicate scissors, portraits of former presidents were displayed, one had a conspicuously straight nose, raised lips and sinking eyes underneath protruding eyelids. All around the box, from the sides and above, came streams of light; a white and mild light ceremoniously revealed the foreground of the box, while its nooks, containing hanging red velvet bordered with cords, looked like a dark, red, shimmering emptiness. Everything looked so imposing you could barely imagine people in this box. Karl didn’t forget the meal, but looked often at the illustration which he laid next to his plate.
In the end he would have liked very much to have seen at least one more of the pictures, but he never would have been able to catch one, because a servant had his hand on the pictures and order had to be maintaineo, he kept trying just to glance over the table and figure out if a picture was coming nearer. Then he noticed, astonished – at first he didn’t believe it at all – the bent-over face of a good acquaintance on the other end of the table – Giacomo. “Giacomo,” he cried. Shy as always when he was surprised, he picked himself up from the meal, stepped into the small area between benches, wiped his mouth with his hand, but was then very happy to see Karl and asked him to sit next to him or to let him come to Karl’s spot, they wanted to explain everything to each other and constantly stay next to each other. Karl didn’t want to disturb the others, so the both of them had to keep to their spots, the meal would be at an end soon and then of course they’d stick by one another. But Karl still remained by Giacomo, just to look at him. What memories of days gone by! Where was the head cook? What was Therese doing? Giacomo himself had almost not changed his appearance at all, the prediction of the head cook that in half a year he would become a sturdy American had not come true, he was delicate like before, his cheeks sunken-in as before, generally they were rounded, because he had in his mouth an oversized piece of meat, out of which he was slowly taking overflowing bones so he could throw them onto the plate. As Karl could read on the armband, Giacomo was also not hired as an actor but as an elevator boy, the Theater of Oklahama seemed to be able to use everyone.
Lost in the moment with Giacomo, Karl stayed away too long from his spot, he was just now going back when the chief of personnel came, stood on a higher bench, clapped his hands and made a small speech, while mostly everyone stood up and those still sitting, unable to separate themselves from the meal, were finally forced into standing by jabs from the others. “I hope,” he said, Karl was in the meantime running up to him, “that you were satisfied with our reception dinner. Generally, people praise the meals of our recruitment group. Unfortunately, I must be prepared to end the feast, because the train that should bring you to Oklahama leaves in five minutes. It is really a long trip, but you’ll see that you are being cared for well. Here I introduce you to the man who will guide your way and to whom you owe your obedience.” A small, thin man climbed onto the bench where the chief of personnel stood, barely took the time to make a fleeting bow, but immediately began with nervous, outstretched hands to show everyone how to gather, get in order and get set. But no one followed him, because someone in the company who had made a speech before slammed his hand on the table and began a long speech in thanks, although – Karl was becoming very impatient – it was just then being said that the train would be leaving soon. The speaker didn’t care that the chief of personnel wasn’t listening, but instead gave various compliments to the transport leaders, he spoke loudly, counted all the dishes being picked up, gave his judgment to each and ended in summary with the statement: “Honored gentlemen, this is how you win us over.” Everyone except for those being spoken to laughed at the statement, but it was more truth than jest.
This speech had to be made up for, because now the way to the train had to be made at a running pace. That wasn’t very difficult, though, because – Karl first noticed it now – nobody carried a piece of luggage – the only luggage was actually the stroller, which bounced up and down unstably at the head of the pack as the father pushed it along. What kind of homeless, dubious people were coming together here, and were being received so well and being protected! And the transport leader had to be heavily involved. First he grabbed the handlebar of the stroller and spurred on the others to cheer on the group, then he was behind the last row, which he urged on, then he ran along the side, spotted some people in the middle with his eyes and tried to show them with swinging arms that they should be running.
When they came to the train station, the train stood ready. The people at the train station pointed one another to the group, you heard statements like “All these belong to the Theater of Oklahama,” the Theater seemed to be well-known, he had never really concerned himself with the theater. An entire car must have been for the group, the transport leader urged people on more than the conductor. First he looked into every compartment, ordered some people around here and there and then climbed on himself. Karl, by chance, had gotten a window seat and Giacomo pulled in next to him. So they sat squeezed up against one another, both of them overjoyed about the trip, they had yet to take such a worry-free trip in America. When the train began to move they waved their hands out the window as the children pushed up against them and found it all funny.
They traveled two days …
They traveled two days and two nights. For the first time now Karl understood the largeness of America. He looked tirelessly out the window and Giacomo strained to look until the children opposite him, who busied themselves with card games, became tired of it and willingly gave him the window seat. Karl thanked them – Giacomo’s English wasn’t understandable to them – and they became very friendly over the course of time, as always happens between roommates, but their friendship was often troublesome, because, for example, when a card fell on the floor and they all looked for it, they pinched Karl’s or Giacomo’s legs. Giacomo cried out, always surprised, and picked up his leg, Karl tried to answer sometimes with a kick, but he tolerated everything quietly. But everything in the room, which was filled with smoke in spite of the open window, was insignificant compared to what there was to see outside.
On the first day they traveled through mountains. Blue-black stone masses traveled in sharp outcroppings by the train, they bent out the window and tried in vain to see their summits, dark narrow valleys opened up, they pointed to the places where they disappeared with their fingers, broad mountain streams hurried up in great swells along the hilly ground, from which a thousand small foaming wells drove up, they burst out under the bridges the train traveled over and they were so close that the breath of their coolness made everyone’s face shiver.