Free B000FBJF64 EBOK by Sándor Marai

Book: B000FBJF64 EBOK by Sándor Marai Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sándor Marai
coat stands motionless in the background, keeping watch over the serving table and directing the servants—dressed tonight in knee breeches and black tailcoats in the French manner—simply by moving his eyes. The General’s mother was the one who had established French customs here as the order of the household, and whenever she ate in this room—whose furniture, plates, gold cutlery, glasses, crystal vases, and paneling had all come with her from her foreign homeland—she had always insisted that the servants dress and serve accordingly. It is so quiet in the room that even the faint crackling of the logs is audible. The two men are speaking in hushed tones and yet their voices echo: like stringed instruments, the ancient wooden panels covering the walls also vibrate to the muffled words, amplifying them.
    “No,” says Konrad, who has been thinking as he was eating. “I came because I was in Vienna.”
    He eats quickly, with neat movements but the greediness of old age. Now he lays down his fork, bends forward a little and raises his voice as he almost calls down the table to his host sitting far away at the other end: “I came because I wanted to see you one more time. Isn’t it natural?”
    “Nothing could be more natural,” the General replies courteously. “So you were in Vienna. After the tropics and their passions, it must have been a great experience. Is it a long time since you were last there?”
    He asks politely, without a trace of irony in his voice. The guest looks at him distrustfully from the other end of the table. They sit there a little lost, the two old men in the large room, so far from each other.
    “Yes, a long time.” Konrad replies. “Forty years. It was when . . .” He speaks uncertainly, stumbling involuntarily in his embarrassment. “It was when I was on my way to Singapore.”
    “I understand,” says the General. “And this time, what did you find in Vienna?”
    “Change,” says Konrad. “At my age and in my circumstances, all one encounters wherever one goes is change. Admittedly, I did not set foot on the continent of Europe for forty years. I only spent the occasional hour in one French port or another en route from Singapore to London. But I wanted to see Vienna again. And this house.”
    “Is that why you made the trip?” asks the General. “To see Vienna and this house? Or do you have business on the Continent?”
    “I am no longer active in any way whatever,” Konrad answers. “Like you, I’m seventy-five years old. I shall die soon. That’s why I made the trip. That’s why I’m here.”
    “They say,” says the General politely and encouragingly, “that when one reaches our age, one lives until one is tired of it. Don’t you find?”
    “I’m tired of it already,” says the guest. His voice is composed, uninflected. “Vienna,” he says. “To me it was the tuning fork for the entire world. Saying the word Vienna was like striking a tuning fork and then listening to find out what tone it called forth in the person I was talking to. It was how I tested people. If there was no response, this was not the kind of person I liked.
    “Vienna wasn’t just a city, it was a tone that either one carries forever in one’s soul or one does not. It was the most beautiful thing in my life. I was poor, but I was not alone, because I had a friend. And Vienna was like another friend. When it rained in the tropics, I always heard the voice of Vienna. And at other times too. Sometimes deep in the virgin forests I smelled the musty smell of the entrance hall in the house in Hietzing. Music and everything I loved was in the stones of Vienna, and in people’s glances and their behavior, the way pure feelings are part of one’s very heart. You know when the feelings stop hurting. Vienna in winter and spring. The allées in Schönbrunn. The blue light in the dormitory at the academy, the great white stairwell with the baroque statue. Mornings riding in the Prater. The

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