The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter

  “I suppose so,” said Charles. “Yes, that’s true.”

  Hans said, “My father sent me here to see a doctor who is an old friend of his, but in ten days I shall be back in Heidelberg. The Polish fellow is a pianist so he came here because pianists seem to think old Schwartzkopf is the only Master. Herr Bussen, down the hall, he is Platt Deutsch to begin with and he lives in Dalmatia, so anything would perhaps be a change for the better to him. He thinks he is getting an education here and maybe he is. But look at you. A free man and you come to Berlin.” He smiled on one side of his face, then shuddered bitterly. “Are you staying on, then?”

  “Three months,” said Charles, rather gloomily. “I don’t know why I came, except that I had a good friend who was German. He used to come here with his family—that was years ago—and he would say, Go to Berlin. I always thought it was the place to be, and if you haven’t seen anything else much, this looks pretty good. Of course, there is New York. I stayed there only about a week, but I liked it, I think I could live there.”

  “Of course, New York,” said Hans, indifferently. “But here, there are Vienna, and Prague, and Munich and Budapest, and Nice and Rome and Florence, and, ah, Paris, Paris, Paris,” said Hans, suddenly almost gay. Imitating a German actor imitating a Frenchman, he kissed his fingers and wiggled them lightly towards the west.

  “I am going to Paris later,” said Charles. “Were you ever there?”

  “No, but I am going,” said Hans. “My plans are all made.” He got up as if his words excited him, wrapped his robe around his knees, felt his cheek tenderly and sat down again.

  “I hope to stay there a year, I’m going to some atelier and get some painting done. Maybe you will be there before I leave.”

  “Oh, I have another year in Heidelberg,” said Hans, “and my grandfather, who is old, is giving me the money, so I must stop with him for at least a few months first. But then I may go, I shall be free then for a while, perhaps for two years.”

  “It is strange to have everything mapped out so,” said Charles. “I haven’t a notion where I’ll be two years from now. Something might even happen to keep me from Paris.”

  “Oh, it is necessary to plan everything,” said Hans, soberly, “or how should we know where we were? Besides, the family has it arranged. I even know the girl I am to marry,” he said, “and I know how much money she has. She is an extremely fine girl,” he said, without enthusiasm. “Paris will be my own, though, my holiday. I shall do as I please.”

  “Well,” said Charles, seriously, “I am glad to be here. All Americans want to come to Europe one time or another, you know. They think there is something here.” He sat back and crossed his legs, feeling comfortable with Hans.

  “There is something in Europe,” said Hans, “but not in Berlin. You are wasting your time here. Go to Paris if you can.” He kicked off his slippers and slid into bed, piling up his pillows and letting his head down very carefully.

  “I hope you are feeling better,” said Charles. “Perhaps you could sleep now.”

  Hans frowned slightly, retreated. “There is nothing wrong with me,” he declared, “and I was asleep before. This is perfectly normal, it happens quite often.”

  “Well, good night,” said Charles, getting up.

  “Oh, no, don’t go yet,” said Hans, starting to sit up and thinking better of it. “I tell you—knock on Tadeusz’ door and get him up, too. He sleeps too much. It’s just there, next door. If you please, dear fellow. He’ll like it.”

  A moment of complete silence followed Charles’ knock, and in silence the door opened on darkness. A thin, tallish young man, his small sharp head thrust forward like a bird’s, appeared in the hall. He wore a thin plum-colored silk dressing gown and his long yellowed hands were flattened one above the other over his chest, the fingers lying together. He seemed entirely awake, and his keen little dark eyes were smiling and good tempered. “What’s up now?” he asked in an English accent lying over a Polish accent. “Is the damnation dueler raising hell again?”

  “Not exactly,” said Charles, pleased at hearing English and astonished at the speech, “but he isn’t resting easy, either. We were having some brandy. I’m Charles Upton.”

  “Tadeusz Mey,” said the Pole, sliding out and closing the door noiselessly. He spoke just above a whisper in an easy voice. “Polish in spite of the misleading name. Indiscreet grandmother married an Austrian. The rest of my family have names like Zamoisky, lucky devils.”

  They entered Hans’ room and Tadeusz said instantly in German, “Yes, yes, you are going to have a real beauty,” and leaned over to examine the wound with a knowing eye. “It’s doing very well.”

  “It will last,” said Hans. Over his face spread an expression very puzzling to Charles. It was there like a change of light, slow and deep, with no perceptible movement of eyelids or face muscles. It rose from within in the mysterious place where Hans really lived, and it was amazing arrogance, pleasure, inexpressible vanity and self-satisfaction. He lay entirely motionless and this look came, grew, faded and disappeared on the tidal movement of his true character. Charles thought, Why, if I drew him without that look I should never have him at all. Tadeusz was talking along in his low voice, amiably in a mixture of French and German. The easy use of languages was a mystery to Charles. He listened acutely, but Tadeusz, gesturing neatly with his brandy glass, did not seem to be saying anything in particular, though Hans was also listening attentively.

  Charles, feeling free not to talk, was trying to see Hans in Paris, with that scar. Trying to see him in America, in a small American town like San Antonio, for example, with that scar. In Paris perhaps they would understand, but how would it look in San Antonio, Texas? The people there would think he had got into a disgraceful cutting scrape, probably with a Mexican, or that he had been in an automobile accident. They would think it a pity that such a nice fellow should be so disfigured, they would be tactful and not mention it and try to keep their eyes off it. Even in Paris, Charles imagined, those who understood would also disapprove. Hans would simply be another of those Germans with a dueling scar carefully made livid and jagged to last him a lifetime. It occurred to him that nowhere but in this one small country could Hans boast of his scar and his way of getting it. In any other place at all, it would seem strange, a misfortune, or discreditable. Listening to Tadeusz chattering along, Charles watched Hans and thought hard in a series of unsatisfactory circles, trying to get out of them. It was just a custom of the country, that was all. That was the way to look at it, of course. But Charles didn’t know, had never known, very likely never would know, a friend in the world who, if he saw Hans, wouldn’t ask privately afterwards, “Where did he get that scar?” Except Kuno, perhaps. But Kuno had never said a word about this. Kuno had said, that if you didn’t get off the sidewalk when army officers came along, you would be pushed off, and when his mother and he were walking together, she would always step into the street and let them by. Kuno had not minded this, he had rather admired the tall officers with their greatcoats and helmets, but his mother had not liked it at all. Charles remembered this for years; it was nothing related to anything he knew in his own life, yet remained in his memory as unquestioned truth, that part of Kuno’s life lived in absence and strangeness which seemed to him more real than any life they had shared.

  Prize fighters got cauliflower ears, but not purposely. It was a hazard of the game. Waiters got something called kidney feet. Glass blowers blow their cheeks all out of shape, so they hang like bags. Violinists sometimes get abscesses on their jaws where they hold the violin. Soldiers now and then have their faces blown off and have to get them put back by surgery. All kinds of things happen to men in the course of their jobs, accidents or just deformities that come on so gradually they are hardly noticed until it is too late to do much about it. Dueling had been a respectable old custom almost everywhere, but there had to be a quarrel first. He had seen his great-grandfather’s dueling pistols, the family pride in a v
elvet-lined case. But what kind of man would stand up in cold blood and let another man split his face to the teeth just for the hell of it? And then ever after to wear the wound with that look of self-satisfaction, with everybody knowing how he had got it? And you were supposed to admire him for that. Charles had liked Hans on sight, but there was something he wouldn’t know about him if they both lived for a thousand years; it was something you were, or were not, and Charles rejected that wound, the reason why it existed, and everything that made it possible, then and there, simply because there were no conditions for acceptance in his mind.

  Still he liked Hans, and wished the wound were not there. But it was there, an improbable and blood-chilling sight, as if at broad noon he should meet in Kurfürstendamm a knight in armor, or the very skeleton from the Dance of Death.

  “You don’t speak French?” Tadeusz asked at last, turning to Charles.

  “A little,” said Charles, but fearing to begin.

  “You are lucky,” said Tadeusz. “You have a language everyone tries to learn. So have the French. But for me, I have to learn every pest of language there is, because no one but a Pole speaks Polish.”

  He was a narrow, green-faced young man and in the light his eyes were liver colored. He looked bilious, somehow, and he continually twisted a scorched looking lock of hair on the crown of his head as he talked, a tight clever little smile in the corners of his mouth. “I can even speak Platt Deutsch, but Herr Bussen pretends not to understand me.”

  “That is the fellow our landlady was scolding today,” said Charles, and felt instantly that he had been tactless.

  “Today?” asked Tadeusz. “She scolds him every day for one thing or another. He’s very stupid. All the Platt Deutsch are stupid beyond hope. Let Rosa take it all out on him. She won’t annoy the rest of us so much. She is a terror, that woman.”

  “Well,” said Hans fretfully, pouting under his lip, “what do you expect? This is a pension.”

  “On the recommended list, too,” said Tadeusz, amiably, smoking, holding his cigarette at the base of his third and fourth finger, lighted end towards the palm. “I don’t expect anything.”

  “It would be all right if only she would let my papers alone,” said Charles.

  “You’re the rich American who pays the rent for all of us,” said Tadeusz, smiling. “You’ve got the real lace curtains and the best feather bed. But if you do anything tactless, remember, Herr Bussen will catch it.”

  Charles shook his head at this, thinking it was too near the truth to be funny for him, at least. He poured more brandy, and they lighted fresh cigarettes all around. The visitors sat back comfortably and Hans turned on his side. They all felt well disposed and at peace and as if they were beginning to get acquainted with each other. Three sharp little raps upon the door were followed by Rosa’s voice. With sweet severity she reminded them in a set speech that it was three o’clock and others in the house might like some sleep. They glanced at each other with conspiratorial smiles.

  “Rosa, dear,” said Hans, putting a good deal of patient persuasion in his tone, “I was feeling frightfully and they came to sit up with me.”

  “You do not need anyone to sit up with you,” said Rosa, briskly. “You need sleep.”

  Tadeusz, rising in silence, opened the door suddenly and Rosa fled with small squeaks, an apparition in dressing gown and hair net. He called after her soothingly, “We are going at once,” and turned back with a monkeyish gleam in his near-sighted little eyes. “I thought that would rout her,” he said, “that woman is vain as if she were twenty. You’d think we were living in a damnation jail,” he went on, taking his glass again, “but all Berlin is just that. Let me tell you,” he said to Charles, “I can hardly wait to get back to London. You should go there by all means. Believe me, I have seen nearly all the cities—except your fabulous New York, and those photographs made from the air terrorize me—and London is the only place for a civilized man.”

  Hans shook his head cautiously and repeated, “No, Paris, Paris.”

  “All right,” said Tadeusz in English. “Okay. I learned that from one of your Americans: typical 100 per cent specimen, he told me. He was a cowboy from Arizona with a five gallon hat. He was a Holy Roller and a vegetarian and he drank a tumblerful of whiskey every morning before breakfast. He was in love with a snake charmer who also did a fan dance. When I knew him he was running a little boîte on the Left Bank; the walls were covered with steers’ horns and lariats. When he quarreled with the snake charmer, he dragged her all around the floor by one of the lariats. She left him at once, but not before putting a venomous serpent in his bed. However, no harm was done. As he said, it was all okay by him.”

  Hans said, “What are you saying, please? Remember I don’t know English.”

  Tadeusz said in German, “I was explaining where I learned to say Okay.”

  Hans nodded. “Ah, yes, I understand that very well, okay. That is the only English I know.”

  By way of proving they were still men, masters of themselves, they lingered somewhat and took their sweet time about saying good night and separating.

  Charles, emerging from the bathroom in the morning, met Herr Bussen in the hall. Herr Bussen was wearing a short cotton bathrobe and carrying a rather draggled towel. His fat round face wore a grieved and bewildered look, like a child who had been so sternly treated at home it did not expect better from the rest of the world. Charles had been wakened by the sound of Rosa scolding Herr Bussen about something or other. Presently she came in with coffee and rolls and butter, looking very well combed and dressed so early in the morning, but with a light sparkle of roused temper in her eyes. She opened the curtains and turned out the light, leaving the winter day like dirty water in the room. She spun away and knocked at the bathroom door, saying in a prissy voice of authority, “It is fifteen minutes, your time is up, Herr Bussen.” Returning, she stripped the bed with one gesture, creating a small breeze over Charles’ head as he sat at the table. Standing close beside him she sighed suddenly: “Oh, how hard it is to have an orderly and peaceful life, a correct life of the kind I was accustomed to. And the bathroom. Always shaving soap, toothpaste and water, water on the linoleum, the mirrors themselves splashed, everything so unclean, oh, Herr Upton, I do not know why gentlemen will never wash the bathtub. And oh, the Herr Bussen. Every day his bed is full of cheese and bread crumbs, there are often tins of sardines open in the chest among his clothes, he eats walnuts and hides the shells in the closet. It is no excuse to say he is going to be a professor. And every month late, late with the rent. How does he think I shall exist if I cannot have the rent promptly?”

  Charles, positively blushing all over, got up and said, “If you will wait a few minutes, I am going out and won’t trouble you.”

  “Ah, you don’t trouble me. I am going about my work, you about yours. No, it is not that.” She smiled brightly upon him, her despair seemed to pass. “Let me tell you, before the war I had five servants besides a gardener and a chauffeur, my frocks came from Paris and my furniture from England; I had three diamond necklaces, Herr Upton, three—so now, is it strange that sometimes I wonder what is to become of me? I make up beds like a servant,” she said, “and I wash dirty floors. . . .”

  Charles, feeling cornered, got his hat and coat, stammered a sentence in German unintelligible to himself even, and rushed away, appalled at Rosa’s lack of decency in her confidences, and her shameful knowledge of his own untidy bathroom habits.

  He pawned his camera, expecting to get almost nothing for it, but the quiet little man in the shop took his thin nose out of a book, examined the handsome contrivance with professional approval, and gave him a hundred marks without question. Feeling unreasonably rich and cheered up, Charles rushed back to the apartment hoping to work for a while. A few steps from his own door, he saw Herr Bussen going in, clutching a small brown paper parcel—bread and liver sausage, perhaps—and without an overcoat in the wolfish cold. Charles overtook him on the st
airway, for Herr Bussen was moving slowly, his shoulders bent. From the back he appeared to be a middle-aged man, but the face he turned to Charles seemed even younger than it should have been, with an underlying half-spent childhood still lingering in it. His nose was red and wet, his eyes were full of tears, his bare hand holding the parcel was cracked at the knuckles.

  “Good morning,” said Herr Bussen, and his lumpy face lightened, just for a moment, as if he expected something pleasant to happen. Charles slowed down, they exchanged names, and went on together in silence. Rosa opened the door for them.

  “Ah,” she remarked, glancing from one to the other suspiciously, “so you are acquainted already?”

  “Yes,” they said in one voice, and strong in solidarity, they moved past her without another word. Rosa disappeared into her own part of the house, talking to herself.

  “Does she insult you every time she speaks to you?” asked Herr Bussen, with resigned patience.

  “Not yet,” said Charles, who was beginning to find his immunity a disadvantage. He felt he was on the wrong side, he would not if he could help it be a pet of Rosa’s. Herr Bussen said, “Every day she insults me for at least half an hour, then she goes and insults Herr Mey, but in a different way, for he is very sharp and answers her in little ways she does not understand, but he really insults her in turn. She makes a house cat of Herr von Gehring because he fought a mensur, but it won’t last, and she is polite to you because you are a foreigner and pay more rent than we do. But you wait. Your turn will come.”

  “Well, when it does,” said Charles, easily, “I’ll just get out.”

  “And pay your whole three months’ rent or have her report you to the police?” asked Herr Bussen in wonder. “My God, you must be rich.”

  Charles shook his head, feeling that it was all pretty much no use. A look of envy so deep it was almost hatred spread over Herr Bussen’s face, he paused and his eye wandered over Charles from head to foot as if he were some improbable faintly repellent creature of another species. “Ah, well,” he said, “seriously, I advise you to observe our curious customs, and do nothing, not the smallest thing, to attract the attention of the police. I tell you this because you are unfamiliar with the country—they are not fond of outlanders here.”

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