- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
"LIEUTENANT! ... LIEUTENANT! ... LIEUTENANT!" Only after the third call did the young officer move, stretch himself, and turn his head toward the door. Still half asleep, he growled from between the pillows, "What's going on?" Then, having roused himself, and seeing that it was only his orderly standing in the shadow of the half-opened door, he shouted, "What the devil do you want so early in the morning?"
"There is a gentleman below in the courtyard, sir, who wishes to speak with you, sir."
"What do you mean, a gentleman? What time is it? Didn't I tell you not to wake me on Sundays?"
The orderly walked over to the bed and handed Wilhelm a visiting card.
"Do you think I'm an owl, you blockhead? Do you think I can read in the dark? Pull up the shades!"
Even before the command was finished, Joseph had opened the inner shutters of the window and drawn up the dirty white curtain. The lieutenant, half sitting up in bed, could now read the name on the card. He let it fall on the bedcovers, looked at it again, ran his fingers through his blonde, close-cropped, morning-messy hair, and thought quickly: "Send him away? Impossible! I don't really have any reason to. Just because I receive someone, that doesn't imply that I'm close friends with him. Anyway, it was only because of his debts that he had to quit the regiment. Others just have better luck. But what could he wantfrom me?"
He turned back to his orderly: "How does he look, the first lieut—I mean, Herr von Bogner?"
The orderly replied with a broad but somewhat melancholy smile: "If I may be permitted to say so, sir, the first lieutenant looked better in uniform."
Wilhelm was silent for a moment, then sat up more comfortably in the bed. "Well, ask him to come in. And beg the—first lieutenant—to be so good as to excuse me if I'm not quite dressed. And see here—if any of the other officers should ask for me, First Lieutenant Höchster or Lieutenant Wengler, or the captain, or anyone else—I'm not at home. Understand?"
As Joseph closed the door behind him, Wilhelm hurriedly pulled on his shirt, ran a comb through his hair, and, crossing to the window, looked down into the still-deserted courtyard of the barracks. As he saw his former comrade walking up and down with bowed head, a stiff, black hat pressed down over his forehead, in an unbuttoned yellow overcoat and brown, not very clean shoes, he felt a pang of sympathy. He opened the window and was almost at the point of waving to the waiting man and greeting him out loud when he saw his orderly approach him and Wilhelm observed, by the anxious and drawn look on his old friend's face, with how much emotion he was waiting for the answer. Since it was favorable, Bogner's features lightened, and he disappeared with the orderly through the door beneath Wilhelm's window—which Wilhelm now closed, as though he suspected that the coming conversation would call for that kind of precaution. All at once the odor of forest and spring was gone again—that odor which permeated the courtyard of the barracks on such Sunday mornings, but which curiously enough could never be noticed on weekdays. Whatever happens, thought Wilhelm—and what could happen anyway?—I'm going to Baden today, and I'll have dinner at the Stadt Wien—if they don't keep me for dinner at the Kessners as they did the other day.
"Come in!" And with rather exaggerated cordiality, Wilhelm held out his hand. "How are you, Bogner? I'm delighted to see you. Won't you take off your coat? Yes, look around; everything's the same as ever. The place hasn't gotten any larger. But there's room enough in the smallest hut for a happy ..."
Otto smiled politely, as if he were aware of Wilhelm's embarrassment and wished to help him out of it. "I hope," he said, "that your quote about the `smallest hut' is usually more apt than it is at the moment."
Wilhelm laughed more loudly than was necessary. "Unfortunately, it isn't often. I live quite simply. I assure you, no female foot has stepped into this room for at least six weeks. Plato was a womanizer compared to me. But do sit down." He took some linen from a chair and threw it on the bed. "And may I offer you a cup of coffee?"
"Thank you, Kasda, don't go to any trouble for me. I've already had breakfast.... A cigarette, though, if you don't mind...."
Wilhelm wouldn't permit Otto to use his own cigarette case but pointed to the smoking stand, where an open box of his cigarettes was lying. Wilhelm offered him a light, and Otto silently took a few puffs, glancing at the well-known picture that hung on the wall above the black leather sofa and depicted an old-fashioned officers' steeplechase.
"Well, now tell me about yourself," said Wilhelm. "How've you been? How come no one has heard from you for such a long time? When we parted—two or three years ago now—you did promise that from time to time you—"
Otto interrupted him: "It was better, perhaps, that I let no one see or hear of me, and it would certainly have been better if I hadn't been obliged to come to you today, either." And, to Wilhelm's surprise, he suddenly sat down in a corner of the sofa whose other corner was filled with a clutter of well-thumbed books. "For, as you may well imagine, Willi"—he spoke rapidly and sharply—"my visit today, at this unusual hour—I know you like to sleep in on Sundays—my visit, of course, has a purpose. Otherwise I'd certainly not have allowed myself—to be brief, I've come in the name of our old friendship—unfortunately, I can't say our `comradeship' any longer. You don't have to turn so pale, Willi; it's nothing dangerous. It's a question of a few gulden, which I simply must have by tomorrow morning, because if I don't, there's nothing left for me to do but"—his voice rose to a military pitch—"well—what I should have done two years ago if I had been wiser."
"Don't talk nonsense!" said Wilhelm in a tone of annoyance tempered by friendly embarrassment.
The orderly brought in breakfast and disappeared. Willi poured the coffee. He became conscious of a bitter taste in his mouth and felt peeved that he had not been able to complete his morning toilet. Fortunately he had planned to take a Turkish bath on his way to the station. He didn't need to be in Baden until around noon anyway. He hadn't made a definite appointment, and if he were to show up late—yes, even if he were not to come at all, no one would think it strange, neither the men in the Café Schopf nor Miss Kessner. Only her mother—who wasn't bad-looking herself—might wonder why he hadn't come.
"Please, do help yourself," he said to Otto, who had not yet put the cup to his lips.
Otto took a quick sip and started at once, "I'll be brief: maybe you know that for the last three months I've had a position as a cashier in the office of an electrical installation company. But why should you know that? You don't even know that I'm married and have a son—a four-year-old boy. You see, I already had him when I was here. No one knew. Well, anyway, things didn't go so well for me. You can imagine. It was especially bad this last winter. The boy was ill—well, the details can't really be of interest to you—and so I was forced to borrow from the cash drawer on a few occasions. I've always paid it back in time. But this time it was a bit more than usual, unfortunately, and"—he paused for a moment while Wilhelm stirred his coffee with his spoon—"and even worse, as luck would have it, I learned just by chance that this time, on Monday, tomorrow morning in other words, we're to be audited by the company headquarters. We're a branch, you understand, and we handle only very small accounts. Really, the amount I owe is trivial—nine hundred and sixty gulden. Let's say a thousand, more or less. But the exact amount is nine hundred and sixty. And that has to be there tomorrow by half past eight, otherwise—well, you get the idea. You really would be doing me a tremendous favor, Willi, if you could—"
Suddenly, he could go no further. Willi was a little embarrassed for him, not so much because of the petty cheating or—well, theft, that's what it really was—which his old comrade was guilty of, but rather because the former First Lieutenant Otto von Bogner—only a few years ago a popular, well-situated, and fashionable young officer—now sat pale and crumpled in a corner of the sofa, unable to go on talking because he was choking back tears.
He placed his hand on Otto's shoulder. "Come on, Otto," he said, "you don't have to take it so tragically." As if in answer to this not very auspicious beginning, Otto looked up at him with a desolate, frightened air, so Wilhelm added, "The trouble is, I'm pretty broke myself just now. My entire fortune at the moment consists of a little over a hundred gulden. A hundred and twenty, to be as exact as you were. Of course it goes without saying that the entire amount is at your disposal, down to the last kreuzer. But if we make an effort, I'm sure we can think of some way out."
Otto interrupted him. "You can be sure that I've already exhausted all the other—ways. So we don't have to waste time racking our brains unnecessarily—especially since I've come with a definite proposal."
Wilhelm looked at him intently.
"Try to imagine, Willi, that you found yourself in just such a difficulty. What would you do?"
"I don't quite understand," Willi replied defensively.
"Naturally, I know that you've never taken money from someone else's cash drawer—that's something that can only happen in civilian life. Okay. But still, if for some—less criminal—reason you desperately needed a certain sum of money, to whom would you turn?"
"I'm sorry, Otto, but I've never thought about something like that, and I hope ... Of course, I don't deny that I've also sometimes had debts. Just last month Höchster helped me out with fifty gulden, which of course I repaid him on the first. That's why I'm so short right now. But a thousand gulden—a thousand!—I have absolutely no idea how I could get a hold of such a sum!"
"You really don't?" said Otto, looking him squarely in the eye.
"That's what I said."
"What about your uncle?"
"Your Uncle Robert."
"What—makes you think of him?"
"Why, it's obvious. He's helped you out on several occasions. And you have a regular allowance from him as well."
"There hasn't been an allowance for a long time now," answered Willi, annoyed by the inappropriate tone his former comrade had taken. "And not only is there no more allowance: Uncle Robert has become an eccentric. The truth is that I haven't set eyes on him for over a year now. And the last time I went to him for a little something—as a very special accommodation—well, he practically threw me out of the house."
"Hmm. Is that so?" Bogner rubbed his forehead. "So you really feel it's totally out of the question?"
"I hope you don't doubt my word," replied Wilhelm sharply.
Suddenly Bogner rose from the corner of the sofa, pushed the table aside, and went over to the window. "We have to try it anyway," he then said with certainty. "Yes, pardon me, but we must. The worst that can happen to you is that he'll say no. And maybe not too politely. But compared to what I'll have to face if I don't succeed in getting the few paltry gulden together by tomorrow morning, that's nothing but a little unpleasantness."
"Maybe," said Wilhelm, "but it would be an unpleasantness that would serve absolutely no purpose. If there were the slightest chance—well, I trust that you don't doubt my good intentions. But damn it, there must be other possibilities. For example—don't get angry, I just thought of it—what about your cousin Guido, the one who has the estate near Amstetten?"
"I assure you, Willi," Bogner replied calmly, "that there's no possibility of getting anything from him. If there were, I certainly wouldn't be here. In short, there's no person on the face of the earth—"
Willi suddenly lifted a finger, as if an idea had just struck him. Bogner looked at him expectantly.
"Rudi Höchster—what if you were to try him! Only a few months ago, as it happens, he received an inheritance. Twenty or twenty-five thousand gulden! He's got to have some of that left!"
Bogner wrinkled his brow, then replied with some hesitation, "Once, three weeks ago, when it wasn't half as urgent as it is now, I wrote to him, asking for much less than a thousand, and he never even answered me. So you see, there is just one possible solution—your uncle." And, as Willi shrugged his shoulders, he added, "After all, I know him, Willi—he's such a likable, charming old gentleman. We were at the theatre together several times, and at Riedhof's—he'll no doubt remember. For God's sake, he can't suddenly have become someone else!"
Willi interrupted him impatiently. "But it seems that he has! I don't know myself what's happened to him. But it's not uncommon for people between fifty and sixty to change in peculiar ways. I can't tell you any more than that—for at least fifteen months or more I haven't been in his house and—in short—I'll never under any circumstances enter it again."
Bogner stared ahead. Then suddenly he looked at Willi absentmindedly and said, "Well, sorry to have troubled you then. Goodbye." And, taking his hat, he turned to go.
"Otto," cried Willi, "wait! I have another idea."
"Another idea? Good!"
"Well, listen to me, Bogner. I'm going out to the country today—to Baden. There, on Sunday afternoons, in the Café Schopf, we sometimes gamble a little: a friendly game of twenty-one, or baccarat, as the case may be. Of course, I only play very modestly, if at all. I've played three or four times, mostly just for the fun of it. The main organizer is Dr. Tugut, the regiment doctor, who incidentally has recently had a fantastic run of good luck. Lieutenant Wimmer is usually there, and Greising, of the 77th.... You don't know him. He's in treatment in Baden—on account of an old ailment. A few civilians also participate—a local attorney, the manager of the local theatre, an actor, and an older man, a certain Consul Schnabel. He's having an affair with an operetta singer—well, really a chorus girl—there. Those are the regulars. Two weeks ago, Tugut raked in no less than three thousand gulden from Schnabel in a single sitting. We played on the open veranda until six o'clock in the morning, to the musical accompaniment of the morning birds. The hundred and twenty gulden that I still have today I owe only to my endurance—otherwise I'd be totally broke. Tell you what, Otto—I'll bet a hundred of those hundred and twenty for you today. I know the chances of winning aren't overwhelming, but only a few days ago Tugut sat down with only fifty and got up with three thousand. And there is still another point—in the last few months I haven't had any luck at all in love. Maybe we can rely more on the old saying than on people!"
Bogner said nothing.
"Well—what do you think of my idea?" demanded Willi.
Bogner shrugged his shoulders. "Naturally, I thank you—obviously I'm not going to say no—even though ..."
"Of course, I can't make any guarantees," Wilhelm interrupted with an exaggerated vivacity, "but in the end it's not risking very much. And if I win—whatever I win—a thousand of it is yours—at least a thousand. And if I should happen to make an extraordinary killing ..."
"Don't promise too much," said Otto with a melancholy smile. "But I don't want to keep you any longer, for my own sake as well as yours. Tomorrow morning I will permit myself—rather ... I'll wait for you tomorrow at half past seven, over there, near the Alser Church." With a bitter laugh, he continued, "We could have met there by chance." Silencing an attempt at a reply from Willi with a gesture, he added quickly, "Besides, I'm not going to stay idle in the meantime. I still have seventy gulden left. I'll bet those this afternoon at the races—at the ten-kreuzer window, of course."
He crossed over to the window with quick steps and looked into the courtyard of the barracks. "The coast is clear," he said, his mouth twisted into a bitter and sardonic smile. Pulling up his collar, he shook hands with Willi and left.
Willi sighed softly, pondered for a moment, and then hurried to get ready to leave. He wasn't very happy with the condition of his uniform. If he should win today, he would buy himself a new cape at the very least. He abandoned the idea of a Turkish bath because of the lateness of the hour and decided to take a carriage to the train. Two gulden more or less didn't really matter today, considering.
Getting off the train in Baden around noon, Willi found himself in excellent spirits. At the train station in Vienna he had had a very cordial con-
Excerpted from Night Games by Arthur Schnitzler. Copyright © 2002 by Ivan R. Dee, Inc..
Translation copyright © 2002 Margret Schaefer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|The Dead Are Silent||83|
|Blind Geronimo and His Brother||101|
|Baron von Leisenbohg's Destiny||161|
|Death of a Bachelor||190|