The winter sun, only a poor make-believe, hung milky pale behind cloud strata above the cramped city. Wet and draughty were the gable-fringed streets, and now and then there fell a sort of soft hail, not ice and not snow.
School was out. Over the paved yard and from out the barred portal streamed the throngs of the liberated. Big boys dignifiedly held their books tightly under their left armpits, while their right arms rowed them against the wind toward the noon meal; little fellows set off on a merry canter, so that the icy slush spattered, and the traps of Science rattled in their knapsacks of seal leather. But here and there all caps flew off, and a score of reverent eyes did homage to the hat of Odin and the beard of Jove—on some senior teacher striding along with measured step ...
"Is it you at last, Hans?" said Tonio Kröger, who had long been waiting on the drive; and with a smile he stepped up to his friend, who was just coming out of the gate in conversation with other comrades, and who was on the point of going off with them.
"What is it?" asked the latter, looking at Tonio;—"Oh yes, that's so; well, let's take a little walk, then."
Tonio was silent, and his eyes grew sad. Had Hans forgotten, not to think of it again until this minute, that they were going to walk a bit together this noon? And he himself had been looking forward to it almost uninterruptedly since the plan was made.
"Well, so long, fellows," said Hans Hansen to his comrades. "I'm going to take a little walk with Kröger." And they turned to the left, while the others sauntered off to the right.
Hans and Tonio had time to go walking after school, because they both belonged to houses in which dinner was not eaten until four o'clock. Their fathers were great merchants who held public offices and were a power in the city. For many a generation the Hansens had owned the extensive lumber yards down along the river, where mighty steam saws cut up the logs amid buzzing and hissing. And Tonio was Consul Kröger's son, whose grain sacks were carted through the streets day after day, with the broad black trade mark on them; the big ancient house of his ancestors was the most princely of the whole town. The two friends had to take off their caps constantly, because of their many acquaintances, and indeed these fourteen-year-old boys did not always have to bow first.
Both had hung their school-bags over their shoulders, and both were dressed warmly and well; Hans in a short seaman's jacket, over the shoulders and back of which lay the broad blue collar of his sailor suit, Tonio in a gray belted top-coat. Hans wore a Danish sailor's cap with short ribbons, a tuft of his flaxen hair peeping out from under it. He was extraordinarily handsome and well formed, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, with unshaded, keen, steel-blue eyes. From under Tonio's round fur cap, on the other hand, there looked out of a swarthy face, with very clearly marked southern features, dark and delicately shaded eyes under excessively heavy lids, dreamy and a trifle timid. Mouth and chin were both fashioned with uncommonly soft lines. He walked carelessly and unevenly, whereas Hans's slender legs in their black stockings moved so elastically and rhythmically.
Tonio did not speak. He was grieved. Drawing together his rather slanting eyebrows, and holding his lips pursed for whistling, he looked into space with his head on one side. This attitude and expression were peculiar to him.
Suddenly Hans thrust his arm under that of Tonio with a sidelong glance at him, for he understood quite well what the matter was. And although Tonio persisted in silence during the next few steps, yet he was all at once amazingly softened.
"You know I hadn't forgotten, Tonio," said Hans, looking down at the walk before him, "but I simply thought probably nothing could come of it today, because it's so wet and windy, you know. But that doesn't bother me at all, and I think it's fine that you waited for me in spite of it. I had begun to think you had gone on home, and was vexed ..."
At these words Tonio's entire being began to leap and shout.
"Why, then we'll go over the ramparts now," he said with agitated voice. Over the Mill Rampart and the Holsten Rampart, and then I'll take you home that way, Hans ... Why no, it doesn't matter if I go home alone then; next time you'll go with me."
At bottom he did not believe very completely in what Hans had said, and he felt distinctly that the latter assigned only half as much importance to this walk as he. But yet he saw that Hans regretted his forgetfulness and was making it a point to conciliate him. And he was far from wishing to impede the conciliation.
The fact was that Tonio loved Hans Hansen and had already suffered much for his sake. He who loves most is the weaker and must suffer—this simple and bitter doctrine of life his fourteen-year-old spirit had already accepted; and he was so constituted that he marked well all such experiences, and as it were jotted them down inwardly, and indeed he had a certain pleasure in them, though to be sure without ordering his conduct accordingly and so deriving practical benefit from them. Furthermore, his nature was such that he deemed such teachings much more important and interesting than the knowledge which was forced upon him in school; during the class hours in the vaulted Gothic school-rooms he applied himself mostly to tasting the sensations of such bits of insight to the lees, and thinking them out in their entirety. This occupation afforded the same kind of satisfaction as when he would walk up and down his room with his violin (for he played the violin), letting the soft tones, as soft as he could produce them, mingle with the plashing of the fountain which rose in a flickering jet under the branches of the old walnutree in the garden below.
The fountain, the old walnut, his violin, and far away the sea, the Baltic, whose summer dreams he could listen to in the long vacation—these were the things he loved, with which he encompassed himself, as it were, and among which his inward life ran its course; things whose names may be employed with good effect in verse, and which did actually ring out time and again in the verses which Tonio Kröger occasionally composed.
This fact, that he possessed a note-book with verse of his own in it, had become known through his own fault, and it injured him greatly both with his fellows and his teachers. The son of Consul Kröger thought it on the one hand stupid and base to condemn him for writing verses, and he despised on that account both fellows and teachers, whose bad manners were always repellent to him, and whose personal weaknesses he detected with strange penetration. On the other hand, he himself found it really an improper dissipation to write verse, and so had to agree to some extent with all those who regarded it as a doubtful occupation. But this could not make him give it up.
As he wasted his time at home, was slow and generally inattentive in class hours, and had a bad record with his teachers, he always brought home the most wretched reports; at which his father, a tall, carefully dressed gentleman with meditative blue eyes, who always wore a wild flower in his button-hole, showed himself both incensed and distressed. But to his mother, his beautiful mother with the black hair, whose name was Consuelo and who was altogether so different from the other ladies of the town, because Tonio's father had once fetched her from clear down at the bottom of the map—to his mother his reports were absolutely immaterial.
Tonio loved his dark, passionate mother, who played the piano and the mandolin so wonderfully, and he was happy that she did not grieve over his doubtful position among men. On the other hand, however, he realized that his father's anger was much more estimable and respectable, and although he was censured by his father, he was at bottom quite in agreement with him, whereas he found the cheerful indifference of his mother a trifle unprincipled. At times his thoughts would run about thus: "It is bad enough that I am as I am, and will not and cannot alter myself, negligent, refractory, and intent on things that nobody else thinks of. At least it is proper that they should seriously chide and punish me for it, and not pass it over with kisses and music. After all, we aren't gipsies in a green wagon, but decent folks, Consul Krögers, the Kröger family" ... And not infrequently he would think: "Well, why am I so peculiar and at outs with everything, at loggerheads with my teachers and a stranger among the boys? Look at them, the good pupils and those of honest mediocrity. They don't think the teachers funny, they write no verses, and they only think what others think and what you can say out loud. How proper they must feel, how satisfied with everything and everybody. That must be nice ... But what ails me, and how will all this end?"
This fashion of scrutinizing himself and his relation to life played an important part in Tonio's love for Hans Hansen. First of all he loved him because he was handsome; but also because he seemed to be his own antipodes and converse in all respects. Hans Hansen was an excellent scholar and at the same time a lively fellow who rode, swam, and played athletic games like a hero and rejoiced in universal popularity. The teachers were devoted to him almost to the point of affection, called him by his Christian name, and advanced him in every way; his comrades were eager for his favor, and on the street ladies and gentlemen would stop him, seize him by the tuft of flaxen hair that peeped out from under his Danish sailor's cap, saying, "Good day, Hans Hansen with your pretty tuft! Are you still Primus? Remember me to father and mother, my fine boy ..."
That was Hans Hansen, and ever since Tonio Kröger first knew him he felt a longing as often as he beheld him, an envious longing that dwelt above his breast and burned there. "Oh, if one had such blue eyes," he thought, "and lived such an orderly life and in such happy communion with the whole world as you do! You are always occupied in some decorous and universally respected way. When you have done your tasks for school, you take riding lessons or work with the fret-saw, and even in the long vacation on the seashore your time is taken up with rowing, sailing, and swimming; while I lie lost in idle thought on the sand, staring at the mysteriously changing expressions that flit over the countenance of the sea. And that is why your eyes are so clear. To be like you." ...
He did not make the attempt to be like Hans Hansen, and perhaps he did not even mean this wish very seriously. But he did have an aching desire to be loved by Hans, just as he was, and he sued for that love in his fashion, a slow and intimate, devoted, passive and sorrowful fashion, but a sorrow which can burn more deeply and consumingly than all the swift passionateness one might have expected in view of his foreign appearance.
And he did not sue wholly in vain; for Hans, who by the way respected a certain superiority in Tonio, a skill in speech which enabled him to give utterance to difficult matters, understood quite well that an unusually strong and tender affection was vibrating here, showed himself grateful, and gave Tonio many a happy hour by meeting him half-way—but also many a pang of jealousy and disappointment, the pain of a vain endeavor to find a common spiritual ground. For the remarkable thing was that Tonio, although he envied Hans Hansen for his way of living, constantly tried to bring him around to his own, which he could never do for more than a few minutes, and then only in seeming.
"I've just been reading something wonderful, something splendid," he said. They were walking along, eating fruit tablets from a bag which they had purchased at Iverson's on Mill Street for ten pfennig. "You must read it, Hans, it is Don Carlos by Schiller. I'll lend it to you, if you wish."
"No, no," said Hans Hansen, "never mind, Tonio, that's not my style. I stick to my horse-books, you know. Splendid illustrations in them, I tell you. Sometime I'll show them to you at the house. They are snap-shots, and you see the horses trotting and galloping and jumping, in every position, such as you would never see in life because they move too fast."
"In all positions?" asked Tonio politely. "Yes, that's fine, but as for Don Carlos, it is beyond all comprehension. There are passages in it, you'll see, that are so beautiful that it gives you a jerk, as if something had suddenly burst."
"Burst?" asked Hans Hansen. "How do you mean?"
"For example, there is the passage where the king has wept because he has been deceived by the marquis—but the marquis has only deceived him for love of the prince, you understand, for whom he is sacrificing himself. And now the news that the king has wept comes out of his cabinet into the ante-room. 'Wept? The king has wept?' All the courtiers are terribly taken aback, and it just goes through you, for he's an awfully stiff and strict king. But you understand so clearly that he did weep, and I really feel sorrier for him than for the marquis and the prince together. He's always so utterly alone and without love, and now he thinks he has found a friend, and the friend betrays him ..."
Hans Hansen cast a sidelong glance into Tonio's face, and something in that face must surely have won him over to this subject, for he suddenly thrust his arm into Tonio's again and asked,
"Why, how does he betray the king, Tonio?"
Tonio was stirred to action.
"Why, the fact is," he began, "that all letters to Brabant and Flanders ..."
"There comes Erwin Immerthal," said Hans.
Tonio was silent. "If only the earth would swallow him up," he thought, "this Immerthal. Why must he come and disturb us? I only hope he won't go along and talk about his riding lessons the whole hour"—For Erwin Immerthal had riding lessons also. He was the son of a bank director and lived here outside the gate. With his crooked legs and his eyes like slits he came along the avenue to meet them, his school-bag already safe at home.
"Hello, Immerthal," said Hans. "I'm taking a little walk with Kröger."
"I have to go into town," said Immerthal, "on some errands. But I'll walk a piece with you ... Those are fruit tablets, aren't they? Thanks, yes, I'll eat a couple. We take another lesson tomorrow, Hans."—He meant the riding lesson.
"Fine!" said Hans. "You know, I'm going to get the leather spats now, because I got A on my exercise last week."
"I suppose you aren't taking riding lessons yet, Kröger?" asked Immerthal, and his eyes were only a pair of shining slits.
"No," answered Tonio with quite uncertain accent.
"You ought to ask your father, Kröger," remarked Hans Hansen, "to let you take lessons too."
"Ayah," said Tonio both hastily and indifferently. For a moment he had a lump in his throat, because Hans had called him by his surname; and Hans seemed to feel this, for he said in explanation:
"I call you Kröger, because your Christian name is so crazy; excuse me, but I don't like it. Tonio ... that's no name at all. But then it's not your fault, of course not."
"No, I suppose the chief reason why you are named that is because it sounds foreign and is uncommon," said Immerthal, acting as if he wanted to patch things up.
Tonio's mouth quivered. He pulled himself together and said,
Yes, it is a silly name, and Heaven knows I wish I were named Heinrich or Wilhelm, you can take my word for that. But the reason is that a brother of my mother, for whom I was christened, is named Antonio; for you know my mother came from over there ..."
Then he said no more, and let the other two talk of horses and harness. Hans had taken Immerthal's arm, and was talking with a fluent sympathy which never could have been aroused in him for Don Carlos ... From time to time Tonio felt rising and tickling his nose a desire to weep; and he had difficulty in controlling his chin, which constantly tried to quiver.
Hans did not like his name—what was to be done? His own name was Hans, and Immerthal's was Erwin; very well, those were universally recognized names that no one thought strange. But "Tonio" was something foreign and uncommon. Yes, there was something uncommon about him in every respect, whether he would or no, and he was alone and excluded from regular and ordinary folks, although he was no gipsy in a green wagon, but a son of Consul Kröger, of the Kröger family ... But why did Hans call him Tonio so long as they were alone, if he began to be ashamed of him when a third person came up? At times Hans was close to him, even won over, it seemed. "How does he betray him, Tonio?" he had asked, and taken his arm. But then when Immerthal came, Hans sighed with relief just the same, forsook him, and found no difficulty in reproaching him with his foreign name. How it hurt to have to see through all this! ... At bottom, Hans Hansen liked him a little when they were alone together, he knew that. But when a third person came, Hans was ashamed of it and sacrificed him. And he was alone again. He thought of King Philip. The king had wept ...
"For heaven's sake," said Erwin Immerthal, "now I really must be off into town. Good-by, fellows, and thanks for the candy." With that he jumped upon a bench that stood beside the street, ran along it with his crooked legs, and trotted off.
"I like Immerthal," said Hans emphatically. Hans had a spoiled and self-conscious way of making known his likes and antipathies, of distributing them with royal favor, as it were ... And then he went on to speak of the riding lessons, for he was now in that vein. Besides, it was now not far to the Hansens' house; the walk over the ramparts did not take very long. They held their caps tightly, and bowed their heads before the strong damp wind that creaked and groaned in the bare branches of the trees. And Hans Hansen talked, while Tonio interjected no more than a mechanical "Oh" or "Oh yes" from time to time, nor felt any joy that Hans had taken his arm again in the ardor of speech; for that was only a seeming advance, without significance.
Then they forsook the park strip along the ramparts not far from the station, watched a train puff by with clumsy haste, counted the cars to pass the time, and waved to the man who sat perched high on the last car, muffled in furs. And then they came to a stop on the square with the lindens in front of the villa of Hansen the wholesaler, and Hans showed in detail what fun it was to stand on the bottom of the garden gate and swing back and forth until the hinges fairly screeched. But hereupon he took his leave.
"Well, now I must go in," he said. Good-by, Tonio. Next time I'll go home with you, be sure of that."
"Good-by, Hans," said Tonio, "it was nice to go walking."
The hands they clasped were quite wet and rusty from the garden gate. But when Hans looked into Tonio's eyes, something like penitent reflection came into his handsome face.
"And by the way, I'm going to read Don Carlos pretty soon," he said quickly. "That about the king in his cabinet must be fine." Then he put his school-bag under his arm and ran off through the front yard. Before he disappeared into the house he turned once more and nodded.
And Tonio Kröger went away quite transfigured and on wings. The wind was at his back, but that was not the only reason why he moved away so lightly.
Hans would read Don Carlos, and then they would have something in common, about which neither Immerthal nor any one else could talk with them. How well they understood each other. Who could tell—perhaps he might even bring him to the point of writing verses too ... No, no, he did not want to do that. Hans must not become like Tonio, but remain as he was, so bright and strong, just as everybody loved him, and Tonio most of all. But to read Don Carlos wouldn't hurt him, just the same ... And Tonio went through the old, square-built gate, along the harbor, and up the steep, draughty, and wet Gable Street to the house of his parents. That was when his heart lived; there was longing in it and melancholy envy and a tiny bit of contempt, and an unalloyed chaste blissfulness.
Fair-haired Inga, Ingeborg Holm, daughter of Doctor Holm who lived on the market-place where the Gothic fountain stood, lofty, many-pointed, and of varied form, she it was whom Tonio Kröger loved at sixteen.
How did that happen? He had seen her a thousand times; but one evening he saw her in a certain light, saw how in conversing with a girl friend she laughingly tossed her head in a certain saucy fashion, and carried her hand, a little-girl's hand, by no means especially slender or dainty, up to her back hair in a certain fashion, so that the white gauze sleeve slipped down from her elbow; heard how she pronounced a word, an insignificant word, in a certain fashion, with a warm ring in her voice,—and a rapture seized upon his heart, far stronger than that which he had formerly felt at times when he looked at Hans Hansen, in those days when he was a small, silly boy.
On this evening he took away with him an image of her, with the thick blond braid, the elongated, laughing blue eyes, and a delicately marked saddle of freckles on her nose, and could not sleep for hearing the ring in her voice, softly trying to imitate the intonation with which she had uttered the insignificant word, and quivering as he did so. Experience taught him that this was love. But although he knew perfectly that love must inevitably bring him much pain, affliction, and humiliation, that it moreover destroys peace and overfills the heart with sweet melodies, without giving a man peace enough to round off any one thing and calmly weld it into a unified whole, yet he entertained it with joy, surrendered wholly to it, and nursed it with all the powers of his spirit; for he knew that it gives life and riches, and he longed to be alive and rich, instead of calmly welding anything into a unified whole.
This loss of Tonio Kröger's heart to merry Inga Holm occurred in the empty drawing-room of Mrs. Consul Husteede, whose turn it was that evening to have the dancing class; for it was a private class, to which only members of the first families belonged, and they assembled in turn in the parental houses in order to receive instruction in dancing and deportment. For this special purpose dancing-master Knaak came over every week from Hamburg.
François Knaak was his name, and what a man he was! "J'ai l'honneur de me vous représenter," he would say, "mon nom est Knaak ... And this one does not say while one is bowing, but when one is again standing upright—not loudly and yet clearly. One is not every day in a position where one must introduce oneself in French, but if one can do so correctly and flawlessly in that language, then one will certainly not fail in German." How wonderfully the silky black frock-coat clung about his fat hips! In soft folds his trousers fell to his patent-leather pumps, which were adorned with broad satin bows, and his brown eyes looked about with a satiated happiness at their own beauty.
Every one was crushed by the excess of assurance and decorum in him. He would glide—and none could glide like him, elastic, rocking, swaying, royal—up to the mistress of the house, bow, and wait for her to extend her hand to him. When he had received it, he would thank her in a low voice, step back springily, turn on his left foot, snap the toe of his right foot sidewise off the floor, and glide away with swaying hips.
One went out of the door backward and bowing when one left a company; one did not bring up a chair by seizing one leg of it, or dragging it along the floor, but one carried it lightly by the back and set it down noiselessly. One did not stand with hands folded on the—pardon!—belly, and the tongue thrust into the cheek; but if one did so none the less, M. Knaak had such a fashion of doing likewise that one preserved for the rest of his days a loathing for this attitude.
This was deportment. But as for dancing, M. Knaak mastered that in still higher degree, if possible. In the empty salon the gas-flames of the chandelier and the candles on the mantle-piece were burning. The floor was strewn with soapstone, and the pupils stood about in a mute semicircle. Beyond those portières, in the adjoining room, sat the mothers and aunts in plush chairs, surveying M. Knaak through their lorgnettes, as he bowed forward, grasped the hem of his frock-coat with two fingers of each hand, and with springy legs demonstrated the various steps of the mazurka. But when he had a mind to completely startle his audience, he would suddenly and without cogent reason leap high in the air, cut pigeon-wings with bewildering rapidity, trilling with his feet, so to say, whereupon he would return to this earth with a muffled thud which, however, shook everything to its foundations.
"What an incomprehensible monkey!" thought Tonio Kröger. But he saw clearly that Inga Holm, the merry Inga, often followed M. Knaak's movements with a self-forgetful smile, and this was not the only reason why all this wonderfully controlled corporosity did at bottom wrest from him something like admiration. How peaceful and unperplexed M. Knaak's eyes were! They did not penetrate to the point where matters grow complex and mournful; they knew nothing save that they were brown and beautiful. But that was why his bearing was so haughty. Yes, you must be stupid in order to walk like him; and then you would be loved because you were amiable. He comprehended so readily that Inga, fair-haired, sweet Inga, looked upon M. Knaak as she did. But would never a maiden look thus upon himself?
Oh yes, that happened. There was Magdalen Vermehren, lawyer Vermehren's daughter, with the gentle mouth and the large, dark, shining eyes full of seriousness—and sentimentality. She often fell in dancing; but she came to him when it was ladies' choice, she knew that he wrote verses, twice she had asked him to show them to her, and often she looked at him from a distance with lowered head. But what good was that to him? As for him, he loved Inga Holm, the fair-haired merry Inga, who undoubtedly despised him because he wrote poetic things ... he looked at her, saw her elongated blue eyes full of happiness and mockery, and an envious longing, a bitter, harassing pain at being cut off from her and eternally foreign to her, dwelt in his breast and burned there ...
"First couple en avant!" said M. Knaak, and no words can describe how wonderfully the man brought out the nasal sound. They were practising the quadrille, and to Tonio Kröger's intense terror he found himself in the same set with Inga Holm. He avoided her when he could, and still he kept getting near her; he forbade his eyes to approach her, and still his glance was forever striking her ... Now she came gliding and running up hand in hand with red-headed Ferdinand Matthiessen, threw back her braid, and placed herself opposite him, breathing deeply; Mr. Heinzelmann the pianist ran his bony fingers over the keys, M. Knaak called out the figures, and the quadrille began.
She moved back and forth before him, forward and back, gliding and turning: a fragrance that came from her hair or the dainty white stuff of her dress reached him now and then, and his eyes grew sadder and sadder. "I love you, dear, sweet Inga," he was saying to himself; and he put into these words all the pain he felt that she was so merry and so intent on the dancing, and paid no heed to him. A wonderful poem by Storm came to his mind: "I fain would sleep, but thou must dance." He was tormented by the humiliating contradiction that lay in having to dance while he was in love ...
"First couple en avant!" said M. Knaak, for a new figure was beginning. " Compliment! Moulinet des dames! Tour de main!" And no one can describe in what a graceful manner he swallowed the silent e in de.
"Second couple en avant!" Tonio Kröger and his lady were the ones. "Compliment!" And Tonio Kröger bowed. "Moulinet des dames!" And Tonio Kröger, with lowered head and gloomy brow, laid his hand on the hands of the four ladies, on that of Inga Holm, and danced "moulinet."
All around there arose a giggling and laughing. M. Knaak assumed a ballet pose which expressed a conventionalized horror. "O dear," he cried. "Halt, halt! Kröger has got in among the ladies. En arrière, Miss Kröger, back, fi donc! All understand it now except you. Quick, away, back with you!" And he drew out his yellow silk handkerchief and waved Tonio Kröger back to his place with it.
Everybody laughed—the boys, the girls, and the ladies beyond the portières; for M. Knaak had made the little episode too funny for words, and all were amused as at a play. Only Mr. Heinzelmann waited with unmoved official countenance for the signal to play on, for he was hardened against M. Knaak's effects.
Then the quadrille was continued. And then there was an intermission. The second-girl came clinking through the door with a tea-tray of wine-jelly in glasses, and the cook followed in her wake with a cargo of raisin-cake. But Tonio Kröger stole away in secret out into the corridor, and there placed himself with his hands behind him at the window with drawn blinds, not reflecting that one could see nothing at all through the blinds, and that it was therefore ridiculous to stand in front of them and to act as if one were looking out.
But he looked into himself, where there was so much grief and longing. Why, why was he here? Why was he not sitting in his room by the window, reading in Storm's Immensee and looking now and then into the twilight of the garden, where the old walnut-tree was groaning heavily? That would have been the place for him. Let the others dance and be lively and adept at it ... But no, this was the right place after all, where he knew himself near to Inga, even though he only stood lonely and far off, trying to distinguish her voice, with its ring of warm life, in the hum, clinking, and laughter there within. Oh, your laughing blue almond eyes, you fair-haired Inga! As fair and merry as you, one can be only when one does not read Immensee and never attempts to compose its like; that is the sad part! ...
She ought to come to him! She ought to notice that he was gone, ought to feel how it was with him, ought to follow him secretly, if only out of compassion, lay her hand on his shoulder and say: "Come in and join us and be happy, for I love you." And he listened for steps behind him, and waited in unreasonable suspense for her to come. But she came not at all. The like of that did not happen on earth.
Had she too laughed at him, like all the rest? Yes, she had done so, gladly as he would have denied it for her and his own sake. And yet he had only danced "moulinet des dames" because absorbed in her presence. And what did it matter? Perhaps they would stop laughing some time. Had not a magazine a short while before accepted one of his poems, though it was discontinued before the poem could appear? The day would come when he would be famous, when everything he wrote would be printed, and then it was to be seen whether that wouldn't make an impression on Inga Holm ... But it wouldn't make any impression, no, that was just the trouble. On Magdalen Vermehren, who was always falling down, yes, on her it would. But never on Inga Holm, never on the blue-eyed, merry Inga. And so was it not in vain?
Tonio Kröger's heart contracted with pain at this thought. To feel how wonderful sportive and melancholy powers are stirring in you, and to know at the same time that those to whom your longing draws you are gaily inaccessible to them, that hurts grievously. But although he stood lonely, shut out, and without hope before closed blinds, pretending in his distress that he could look through them, he was none the less happy. For in those days his heart lived. Warmly and sadly it beat for you, Ingeborg Holm, and his soul embraced your blond, bright, and saucily ordinary little personality in blissful self-abnegation.
More than once he stood with heated face in lonely spots but faintly reached by music, the scent of flowers, and the clink of glasses, seeking to distinguish your ringing voice in the distant hum of the festive throng; grieving for you he stood, and still was happy. More than once it pained him that he could talk to Magdalen Vermehren, who was always falling down, that she understood him and was merry or grave with him, whereas fair-haired Inga, even though he sat beside her, seemed distant and strange and estranged, for his language was not hers; and still he was happy. For happiness, he told himself, is not being loved; that is satisfied vanity mingled with repugnance. Happiness consists in loving and snatching up perhaps tiny, deceptive approaches to the loved object. And he noted down this idea inwardly, thought it out in its entirety, and tasted it to the lees.
"Faithfulness!" thought Tonio Kröger. "I will be faithful and love you, Ingeborg, as long as I live." So good were his intentions. And yet a secret fear and sadness whispered: "You know you have forgotten Hans Hansen altogether, although you see him daily." And the hateful and pitiful thing was that this soft and slightly malicious voice had the right of it, that time went on and days came when Tonio Kröger was no longer so unconditionally ready to die for the merry Inga as formerly, because he felt in himself the desire and the ability to accomplish in his fashion a quantity of remarkable things in the world.
And he cautiously circled about the altar of sacrifice on which the pure and chaste flame of his love was blazing, knelt before it, and stirred and fed it in every way, because he wanted to be faithful. Yet after a time, imperceptibly, without sensation or noise, it went out nevertheless.
But Tonio Kröger stood yet awhile before the chilled altar, full of wonder and disappointment to find that faithfulness was impossible on earth. Then he shrugged his shoulders and went his way.
He went the way he had to go, a little carelessly and unevenly, whistling to himself, looking into space with head on one side; and if he went astray, that was because there simply is no right path for some individuals. If you asked him what in all the world he intended to be, he would supply varying information, for he was wont to say (and had already written it down) that he had in him the possibilities of a thousand forms of existence, together with the secret consciousness that they really were one and all impossibilities.
Even before he departed from his cramped native city, the clamps and threads with which it held him had gently loosened their hold. The old family of the Krögers had little by little begun to crumble and disintegrate, and men had reason to reckon Tonio Kröger's own existence and nature among the other features of that process. His father's mother had died, the head of the family, and not long afterward his father, the tall, meditative, carefully dressed gentleman with the wild flower in his buttonhole, had followed her in death. The big Kröger house together with its honorable history was for sale, and the firm went out of business. Tonio's mother, however, his beautiful, passionate mother, who played the piano and the mandolin so wonderfully, and to whom everything was quite immaterial, married anew after the lapse of a year, this time a musician, a virtuoso with an Italian name whom she followed to faraway lands. Tonio Kröger found this a trifle unprincipled; but was he called upon to prevent her? He who wrote verses and could not even answer the question what in all the world he intended to become ...
And he forsook his zigzagging native city, around whose gables the damp winds whistled, forsook the fountain and the old walnut-tree in the garden, the familiars of his youth, forsook also the sea that he loved so dearly, and felt no pain in so doing. For he had grown mature and shrewd, had come to comprehend how things stood with himself, and was full of mockery of the stupid and vulgar existence that had so long held him in its midst.
He surrendered himself wholly to the power which seemed to him the most lofty on earth, into whose service he felt himself called, and which promised him rank and honors, the power of the spirit and of speech, which sits smilingly enthroned over this unconscious and mute life. With all his young passion he surrendered himself to her, and she rewarded him with all she has to bestow, and took from him inexorably all that she is wont to take as equivalent.
She sharpened his eyes and made him see through and through the big words that swell men's bosoms, she unlocked for him the souls of men and his own soul, made him a seer, and showed him the heart of the world and every first cause hidden behind words and deeds. But what he saw was this: comedy and misery—comedy and misery.
Then came loneliness with the anguish and the arrogance of this knowledge, because he could not endure the circle of the innocent with their happily beclouded minds, and the mark on his brow was disconcerting to them. But sweeter and sweeter grew to him the joy in words and in beautiful forms, for he was wont to say (and had already written it down) that mere knowledge of the soul would infallibly make us dejected if the pleasure of expression did not keep us awake and lively. ...
So he lived in great cities and in the South, from whose sunshine he promised himself a more luxuriant maturing of his art; and perhaps it was the blood of his mother that drew him thither. But as his heart was dead and without love, he fell into adventures of the flesh, sank deeply into lust and the guilt of passion, and suffered unspeakably from it all. Perhaps it was the heritage of his father in him, of that tall, meditative, neatly dressed gentleman with the wild flower in his button-hole, that made him suffer so down yonder, and that occasionally set in motion within him a faint, yearning recollection of a pleasure of the spirit, which had once been his own, and which he could not find again in all his pleasures.
A loathing and a hatred of the senses seized him, and a thirst for purity and decency and peace; while after all he was breathing the air of art, that lukewarm, sweet air of an eternal spring, pregnant with fragrance, in which a mysterious procreative rapture seethes and germinates and sprouts. So the only result was that Tonio, without support between these crass extremes, tossed back and forth between icy intellectuality and consuming sensual fire, led an exhausting life amid torments of conscience, an exquisite, debauched, extraordinary life, which he, Tonio Kröger, abhorred in his heart. What vagaries, he thought at times. How was it ever possible that I should fall into all these eccentric adventures? After all, I was no gipsy in a green wagon to start with ...
But in the same measure that his health was undermined, his artistry grew keener, becoming fastidious, exquisite, precious, delicate, irritable toward the banal, and most sensitive in matters of tact and taste. When he first came forward, there was much noise of approval and joy among those concerned, for what he had produced was a thing full of valuable work, of humor, and of acquaintance with suffering. And his name, the same name that his teachers had once used to reprove him, the same name that he had signed to his first rhymes to the walnut-tree, the fountain, and the sea, this mixture of north and south, this plebeian name with the exotic flavor, swiftly became the standing symbol of excellence; for with the painful thoroughness of his experience became associated a rare, tenacious, and ambitious industry, whose struggle with the finical sensitiveness of his taste produced, amid exquisite torments, unusual works.
He did not work like one who works to live, but like one who desires nothing but work, because he counts the living man as nothing, only wishes to be considered as a creator, and for the rest goes about in unobtrusive gray like an unpainted actor who is nothing so long as he has no part to play. He worked in mute isolation, excluding and despising those petty ones who used their talent as a social ornament, who either went about in barbarous raggedness, whatever the state of their fortunes, or else were extravagant in "personal" cravats; whose foremost thought was to live happily, amiably, and artistically, ignorant of the fact that good works can only originate under the pressure of an evil life, that he who lives does not work, and that one must have died in order to be altogether a creator.
"Do I disturb you?" asked Tonio Kröger on the threshold of the studio. He was holding his hat in his hand, and even bowed slightly, although Lisaveta Ivanovna was his close friend, whom he told everything.
"Take pity on me, Tonio Kröger, and come in without ceremony," she replied with her frisking intonation. "It is no secret that you have enjoyed a good bringing up and know what is proper." Whereat she thrust her brush into her left hand beside the palette, extended her right to him, and looked into his face with a laugh and a shake of the head.
"Yes, but you are working," he said. "Let me see ... Oh, you have made progress." And he surveyed in turn the colored sketches leaning against chairs on either side of the easel, and the great canvas covered with a network of squares, on which the first spots of color were beginning to appear in the confused and shadowy charcoal sketch.
It was in Munich, in a rear building on Schelling Street, up several flights of stairs. Outside, behind the broad north window, there was the blue of the sky, the twitter of birds, and sunshine; and the young, sweet breath of spring streaming in through an open trap-door mingled with the odor of fixative and oil-paint that filled the large work-room. Unobstructed, the golden light of the bright afternoon flooded the spacious bareness of the studio, shone frankly on the somewhat damaged floor, the rude table under the window covered with bottles, tubes, and brushes, and the unframed studies on the unpapered walls; shone on the screen of tattered silk which stood near the door and shut off a small corner, tastefully furnished as a living-room and rest-room, shone also on the nascent work on the easel and the painter and the poet before it.
She might have been about as old as he, that is, a little past thirty. She sat on a low foot-stool in a dark-blue paint-spotted apron-dress, resting her chin on her hand. Her brown hair, tightly combed and already turning gray on either side, covered her temples in soft waves and supplied the frame for her dark Slavic face, infinitely appealing in its expression, with a pug-nose, sharply prominent cheek bones, and small, glittering black eyes. Expectant, distrustful, and as it were irritated, she squinted askance at her work ...
He stood beside her, his right hand on his hip, his left rapidly twisting his brown moustache. His slanting eyebrows showed a gloomy and strained agitation, while he softly whistled to himself, as usual. His attire, most carefully selected and in excellent taste, was a suit of quiet gray and of conservative cut. But in his work-lined brow, above which his dark hair was so very simply and correctly parted, there was a nervous quiver, and the features of his Southern countenance were already sharply marked, as if a hard burin had gone over them and brought them into higher relief, whereas his mouth seemed so soft in outline, his chin so gently formed ... After a time he drew his hand over brow and eyes and turned away.
"I ought not to have come," he said.
"Why not, Tonio Kröger?"
"I have just got up from my work, Lisaveta, and the inside of my head looks exactly like your canvas. A framework, a dim sketch soiled with alterations, and a few dabs of color, to be sure; and now I come here and see the same. And the conflict and contrast that tormented me at home I find here too," and he sniffed the air. "It is strange. If an idea gains control of you, you will find it expressed everywhere, you will actually smell it in the wind. Fixative and the aroma of spring, isn't that it? Art and—well, what is the other? Do not say 'Nature,' Lisaveta, 'Nature' does not exhaust it. Oh, no, I think I ought rather to have gone walking, although it is a question whether I should have felt any better: five minutes ago, not far from here, I met a colleague, Adalbert the novelist, and he said in his aggressive way, 'Damn the spring! It is and always will be the most horrible season. Can you lay hold of one sensible idea, Kröger, can you work out the tiniest point or effect with any calmness, when you are feeling an indecent prickling in your blood and are upset by a whole mass of irrelevant sensations which so soon as you test them are unmasked as unmistakably trivial and wholly unusable stuff? As for me, I am going to the café now. That is neutral ground, untouched by the change of seasons, you see; it represents, so to speak, the remote and elevated sphere of the literary, where one is capable of none but distinguished ideas ... ' And he went to the café, and perhaps I ought to have gone along."
Lisaveta was amused.
"That is good, Tonio Kröger. That about 'indecent prickling' is good. And in a way he is right, for spring is really not a specially good time to work. But now listen to me. Now I am going to do this little thing just the same, to make this little point and effect, as Adalbert would say. Afterward we'll go into the drawing-room and drink some tea, and you will unburden yourself; for I can see well enough that you are loaded today. Until then you will group yourself anywhere, for example on that box yonder, if you are not afraid for your patrician garments."
"Oh, let me alone about my garments, Lisaveta Ivanovna! Would you want me to run around in a torn velvet jacket or a red vest? Inwardly an artist is only too much of an adventurer. Outwardly he ought to dress well, devil take it, and behave like a decent person ... No, I'm not loaded," he said, watching her prepare a mixture on her palette. "You heard me say that it was a problem and a contrast that is on my mind and that disturbed me at my work ... What were we saying just now? Oh, Adalbert the novelist, and what a proud and substantial fellow he is. 'Spring is the most horrible season,' he said, and went to the café. For a man must know what he wants, mustn't he? You see, the spring makes me nervous too, I too am upset by the charming triviality of the recollections and sensations which it awakens; only that I cannot bring myself to the point of chiding and scorning the spring for it; for the fact is that I am ashamed before it, ashamed before its pure naturalness and its victorious youth. And I do not know whether to envy or to despise Adalbert for not knowing anything of this ...
"We do work badly in the spring, certainly, and why? Because we feel. And because that man is a duffer who thinks the creative artist is allowed to feel. Every genuine and sincere artist smiles at the naïveté of this bungler's error—sadly perhaps, but he does smile. For what one says must of course never be the first consideration, but the ingredients, indifferent in themselves, from which the esthetic product is to be put together with easy, calm mastery. If you care too much about what you have to say, if your heart beats too warmly for it, you can be sure of a complete fiasco. You become emotional, you become sentimental; something unwieldy, awkwardly serious, uncontrolled, unironical, unspiced, tedious, or banal takes form under your hands, and the end is simply indifference in your public, simply disappointment and lamentation in yourself ... For so it is, Lisaveta: feeling, any warm, hearty feeling is always banal and unusable, and only the irritations and the cold ecstasies of our demoralized, of our artistic nervous system are useful in art. It is necessary that one should be something superhuman and inhuman, that one should have a strangely distant and uninterested relation to everything human, in order to be able or even tempted to play life, to play with it, to represent it effectively and tastefully. The talent for style, form, and expression presupposes this cool and fastidious relation to things human, and even a certain impoverishment and stagnation of the artist. For every healthy and strong emotion, that is beyond doubt, is tasteless. The artist is done for so soon as he becomes a man and begins to feel. Adalbert knew that, and that is why he went to the café, off to the remote sphere, yes indeed."
"Well, God be with him, Batushka," said Lisaveta, washing her hands in a tin basin; "you don't have to follow him."
"No, Lisaveta, I will not follow him, but only for the reason that I am now and then able to be a little ashamed before the spring-time of my artistry. You see, at times I get letters from unknown hands, letters of praise and thanks from my public, admiring apostrophes from affected readers. I read these and am myself touched in view of the warm and inarticulate human feeling which my art has aroused in these people; a kind of sympathy comes over me at the naïve enthusiasm which the letters utter, and I blush at the thought of how it would sober these honest folk if they could ever cast a glance behind the scenes, if their innocence could ever comprehend that an honest, healthy, and decent human being never writes, acts, or composes ... all of which does not prevent me of course from using their admiration of my genius to strengthen and stimulate myself, that I take it with the gravest seriousness, and put on a face like that of an ape pretending to be a big man ... Now don't put in your oar, Lisaveta! I tell you I am often weary to death of depicting things human without having any share in them ... Is an artist a man, anyhow? Let some one ask 'woman' that question. It seems to me that we artists all share a little the fate of those eunuchs that used to sing for the Pope ... Our singing is touchingly beautiful. And yet—"
"You ought to be a little ashamed, Tonio Kröger. Now come and have tea. The water will boil directly, and here are cigarettes. You were speaking of sopranos when you stopped; go right on from there. But ashamed you ought to be. If I did not know with what pride and passion you are devoted to your calling ..."
"Say nothing about a 'calling,' Lisaveta Ivanovna. Literature is not a calling, but a curse—let me tell you that. When does this curse begin to be perceptible? Early, terribly early. At a time when by rights one ought still to be living in peace and harmony with God and the world. You begin to feel yourself marked out, to feel yourself in a mysterious antagonism to other men, to every-day and decent men, and the abyss of irony, unbelief, opposition, knowledge, and feeling which cuts you off from the world yawns deeper and deeper; you are lonely, and from then on all possibility of understanding is over. What a fate! Suppose your heart sufficiently alive, sufficiently affectionate still, to feel it a terrible one ... Your self-consciousness takes fire, because you among thousands feel that your brow bears the mark and that it escapes no one. I knew an actor of genius who as a man had to struggle with morbid embarrassment and instability. His over-sensitive ego-feeling, together with a lack of parts to play, of histrionic activity, had that effect upon this perfect artist and impoverished human being ... An artist, a real one, not one whose official profession is art, but a predestined and pre-condemned artist, you can pick out of a thousand men, with a little sharpness of sight. The feeling of separation and of non-membership, of being recognized and observed, is in his face, something at once regal and perplexed. In the features of a prince walking in ordinary clothes through a crowd one can see something similar. But here no ordinary garb does any good, Lisaveta. Disguise yourself, mask yourself, dress like an attaché or like a lieutenant of the Guard on leave: you will scarcely need to lift your eyes and utter a word before every one will know that you are not a man, but something strange, something that estranges, that is different ...
"But what is the artist? Toward no question has mankind's indolence and inertia of discernment proved more unyielding than toward this one. 'Such things are a gift,' humbly say the good people who are under the influence of an artist, and because cheerful and exalted effects, according to their good-natured view, must quite inevitably have cheerful and exalted origins, nobody suspects that we may perhaps have here a most questionable 'gift,' most evilly conditioned ... It is known that artists are over-sensitive—well, it is also known that this is not the case with people of good conscience and well-founded self-esteem ... You see, Lisaveta, at the bottom of my soul—translated into the intellectual—I have all the suspicion of the artist type with which each one of my honorable forefathers up yonder in that cramped city would have encountered any charlatan or adventurous 'artist' that might have entered his house. Listen to this. I know a banker, a gray-haired business man, who possesses the ability to write stories. He makes use of this talent in his hours of leisure, and his things are sometimes quite excellent. Despite—I say 'despite'—this sublime talent, this man's record is not wholly stainless; on the contrary, he has already had to serve a long term in prison, and for valid reasons. Indeed it was really in prison that he first became aware of his ability, and his experiences as inmate of the jail form the fundamental theme in all his writings. One might infer from this, with a little boldness, that it is necessary to be at home in some sort of a penal institution in order to become a poet. But does not the suspicion arise that his experiences as convict may have been less intimately interwoven with the roots and origins of his artistry than what made him one—? A banker who writes stories is a curiosity, isn't he? But a non-criminal, honest banker of clean reputation who should write stories,— there is no such thing ... Yes, now you are laughing, and still I am only half joking. No problem, none in the world, is more tormenting than that of artistry and its effect on humanity. Take that most extraordinary creation of the most typical and hence mightiest artist, take so morbid and deeply ambiguous a work as Tristan and Isolde, and observe the effect this work has upon a young, healthy man with strongly normal feeling. You see elevation, invigoration, warm and honest enthusiasm, perhaps stimulation to some 'artistic' creation of his own ... The good dilettante! Our hearts look very different from what he dreams, with his 'warm heart' and 'honest enthusiasm.' I have seen artists surrounded by adoring women and shouting youths, whereas I knew about them ... One constantly has the most peculiar experiences with regard to the origin, the co-phenomena, and the conditions of artistry ..."
"In others, Tonio Kröger—excuse me—or not only in others?"
He was silent. He drew his slanting eyebrows together and whistled to himself.
"Let me have your cup, Tonio. It is not strong. And take a fresh cigarette. And anyway, you know quite well that you look at things as they don't necessarily have to be looked at."
"That is Horatio's answer, dear Lisaveta. ''Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so,' am I not right?"
"I say that one can consider them just as curiously from another side, Tonio Kröger. I am simply a stupid, painting female, and if I can make any answer to you at all, if I can take the part of your own calling to protect it a little against you, it is surely nothing new that I am advancing, but only a reminder of what you yourself know quite well ... What then: the purifying, sanctifying power of literature; the destruction of passion by the agency of knowledge and speech; literature as the road to understanding, to forgiveness, and to love; the redeeming power of language; literary intellect as the noblest phenomenon of all human intellect whatsoever; the writer as perfect man, as saint;—if one considered things so, would that be not considering them curiously enough?"
"You have a right to speak so, Lisaveta Ivanovna, and especially in view of the work of your poets, and that worship-deserving Russian literature which does really and truly represent the sacred literature you name. But I have not overlooked your objections, nay, they are a part of what is on my mind today ... Look at me. I do not look immoderately cheerful, do I? A little old and sharp-featured and weary? Well, to come back to 'knowledge,' a man might be imagined, originally unsceptical, long-suffering, well-meaning, and a little sentimental, who would simply be ground to powder and wrecked by psychological clearness of vision. Not to let yourself be overcome by the sadness of the world; to observe, mark, and insert everything, even the most anguishing things, and for the rest be of good courage, even though in the full grasp of moral superiority over that horrible invention, Life—aye, to be sure! Yet at times things get away from you a bit despite all the pleasures of Expressing. Does understanding everything mean forgiving everything? I don't know. There is something that I call the loathing of perception, Lisaveta: a state in which a man only needs to see through a thing in order to feel nauseated to the point of dying (and by no means put into a reconciled mood)—the case of Hamlet the Dane, that most typical man of letters. He knew what it means to be called upon to know without being born to it. To see clearly even through the tear-woven veil of emotion, to recognize, mark, observe, and be obliged to thrust aside one's perceptions with a smile at the very moment when hands clasp each other, lips meet, and when eyes grow dim, blinded with deep feeling—it is infamous, Lisaveta, it is vile, revolting ... but what good in revolting?
"Another side of the matter, but not less admirable, is then of course a blasé, indifferent, and ironically weary attitude toward all truth, and it is a fact that there is nothing on earth stupider or more hopeless than a circle of brilliant people who are already up to every dodge in the world. All knowledge is old and tedious. Utter a truth in whose conquest and possession you perhaps have a certain youthful joy, and your vulgar enlightenment will be answered by a very brief emission of air through the nose ... Ah yes, literature wearies, Lisaveta! I assure you, it can come to pass in human society that sheer scepticism and continence of opinion make you seem stupid, whereas you are only proud and discouraged ... So much for 'knowledge.' As for 'speech,' that is perhaps less a matter of redemption than of taking a feeling and putting it on ice. Seriously, there is an icy and revolting presumption in this prompt and superficial dispatching of emotion by means of literary speech. If your heart is too full, if you feel yourself too greatly stirred by some sweet or exalted experience, what could be simpler?—you go to the poet, and everything is regulated in the shortest time. He will analyze and formulate your affair for you, name and utter it and make it talk, relieve you of the whole thing, and make it indifferent to you for all time and accept no thanks for it. And you—you will go home relieved, cooled, and clarified, and wonder what there was in the matter that only a moment before could perplex you with so sweet a tumult. And would you seriously stand up for this cold and vain charlatan? What is uttered, so runs his confession of faith, is settled. If the whole world is put into speech, it is settled, redeemed, done away with ... Very good. Yet I am no nihilist ..."
"You are no—" said Lisaveta. She was just holding a spoonful of tea near her mouth, and stayed so as if paralyzed.
"Why yes ... why yes ... come to your senses, Lisaveta. I am not that, I say, as far as living emotion is concerned. You see, the man of letters fails to understand, after all, that life still likes to go on living, that it is not ashamed of living after it has been put into words and 'redeemed.' Lo and behold, it keeps on sinning unflinchingly despite its redemption at the hand of literature; for all action is sin in the eyes of the mind ...
"I am ready to make my point, Lisaveta. Listen to me. I am a lover of life—this is a confession. Take it and keep it, for I never made it to any one else. They say, they have actually written and printed it, that I hate or fear or despise or loathe life. I have liked to hear that, for it flattered me; but it is none the less false. I love life ... You smile, Lisaveta, and I know why. But I conjure you, do not regard what I am just saying as literature. Do not think of Cesar Borgia or of any drunken philosophy that elevates him to its escutcheon. He is nothing to me, this Cesar Borgia. I have the poorest possible opinion of him, and I shall never in my life understand how men can revere the extraordinary and the demoniacal as an ideal. No, 'life,' standing as it does in eternal contrast to intellect and art—not as a vision of bloody greatness and barbarous beauty, not as the unusual does it appear to us unusual men; on the contrary, the normal, decorous, and amiable are the realm of our longing, and these are life in its seductive banality. That man is far from being an artist, my dear, whose ultimate and deepest passion is the exquisite, eccentric, and satanic, who knows no yearning for the innocent, simple, and vital, for a little friendship, devotion, familiarity, and human happiness—the furtive and consuming yearning, Lisaveta, for the raptures of the commonplace.
"A human friend! Will you believe that it would make me proud and happy to possess one friend among human beings? But so far I have had friends only among demons, goblins, deep-souled monsters, and spirits mute with knowledge: that is, among men of letters.
"At times I get on to some platform or other, find myself in a hall face to face with people who have come to listen to me. Do you know that I often watch myself surveying the audience, and catch myself stealthily looking around with the question in my heart: who is it that has come to me, whose applause and thanks are reaching me, with whom will my art procure me an ideal union here? ... I do not find what I seek, Lisaveta. I find the flock and the congregation that are familiar to me, a gathering of the early Christians, as it were: people with awkward bodies and fine souls, people who are always falling down, so to speak—you understand—and for whom poetry is a gentle vengeance upon life; never any but sufferers, yearners, paupers, never one of those others, the blue-eyed ones, Lisaveta, who have no need of intellect! ...
"And in the last analysis, would it not show a lamentable lack of logic, if one were glad to have it otherwise? It is inconsistent to love life, and none the less to endeavor constantly with every possible device to drag it over to your side, to win it over to the finesses and melancholies, the entire diseased nobility of literature. The realm of art is waxing, and that of health and innocence is waning on earth. One should preserve as carefully as possible the little that is left of it, nor try to seduce into poetry those who much prefer to read books about horses with instantaneous photographs in them.
"For, after all, what sight is more pitiful than life making an attempt at art? We artists despise no one more thoroughly than the dilettante, the red-blooded man, who thinks he can be an artist occasionally and on the side. I assure you, this kind of disdain is one of my own most personal experiences. I find myself in company in an aristocratic house, we eat, drink, and converse, and understand each other perfectly, and I feel glad and grateful to be able to disappear for a time among harmless and regular people as a normal man. Suddenly—this has happened to me—an officer rises, a lieutenant, a handsome, well-built fellow, of whom I should never have suspected an action unworthy of his honorable dress, and begs in unambiguous words for permission to communicate to us a few verses which he has manufactured. With a smile of consternation the permission is given him, and he carries out his purpose, reading his composition from a slip of paper which he has till then kept hidden in his coat-tail,—something about music and love;—in short, as deep in feeling as it is ineffective. Now in the name of all the world: a lieutenant! One of the lords of the earth! He surely doesn't need it! ... Well, the result is inevitable: long faces, silence, a little artificial applause, and the profoundest discomfort round about. The first spiritual fact of which I become conscious is that I feel myself an accomplice in the upsetting of the company by this indiscreet young man; and sure enough: I too, upon whose province he has encroached, catch glances of mockery and scepticism. But the second fact is that my opinion of this man, for whose whole being I had just felt the most honest respect, suddenly falls, falls, falls ... A compassionate benevolence seizes me. With other courageous and good-natured gentlemen I step up to him and encourage him. 'Congratulations,' I say, 'what a delightful talent! Really, that was most charming.' And I am not far from clapping him on the shoulder. But is benevolence the feeling that one should have toward a lieutenant? ... His own fault! There he stood and in great embarrassment atoned for the erroneous idea that one may pluck a leaf, just one, from the bay-tree of art, without paying for it with one's life. No, there I agree with my colleague, the criminal banker. But tell me, Lisaveta, don't you think I am endowed with the eloquence of a Hamlet today?"
"Are you through now, Tonio Kröger?"
"No. But I will say no more."
"Nor do you need to.—Do you expect an answer?"
"Have you any?"
"I should think I had.—I have listened closely to you, Tonio, from beginning to end, and I will give you the answer which fits everything you have said this afternoon, and which is the solution of the problem that has disquieted you so. Well, then! The solution is this, that you, just as you sit there, are simply an ordinary man."
"Am I?" he asked, collapsing a little.
"That is a cruel blow, isn't it? It must be. And therefore I will soften my sentence a little, for I can do so. You are an ordinary man astray, Tonio Kröger,—an erring commoner."
—Silence. Then he stood up resolutely and reached for hat and cane.
"I thank you, Lisaveta Ivanovna; now I can go home in peace. I am finished."
Toward autumn Tonio Kröger said to Lisaveta Ivanovna,
"Yes, I am going away now, Lisaveta; I must take an airing, and I am going off, going to take to the open."
"Well, how is it, Little Father, will it be your royal pleasure to return to Italy?"
"Good gracious, go on with your Italy, Lisaveta! Italy is indifferent to me to the point of contempt. It is a long time since I imagined I belonged there. Art, eh? Velvety blue sky, fiery wine, and sweet sensuality ... In short, I don't like it. I resign. The whole bellezza makes me nervous. Nor I don't like all these frightfully lively human beings down there with their black animal eyes. None of the Romance peoples have any conscience in their eyes. ... No, now I am going up to Denmark for a while."
"Yes. And I promise myself benefit from it. Chance kept me from ever going there, close as I was to the boundary all through my youth, and yet I have always known and loved the place. I suppose I must have this affection for the north from my father, for my mother was really fonder of the bellezza, that is, provided she didn't find everything utterly immaterial. But take the books that are written up there, those deep, pure, humorous books, Lisaveta—to me there is nothing like them and I love them. Take the Scandinavian meals, those incomparable meals that you can only stand in a strong salt air (I don't know whether I can stand them at all any more), and that I'm a little familiar with from my own home, for that's just the way we eat at home. Or just simply take the names, the personal names that adorn the people up there, and that we also had in large numbers at home, take a name like Ingeborg,—a harp-chord of the most immaculate poesy. And then the sea—they have the Baltic up there! ... In short, I am going up there, Lisaveta. I wish to see the Baltic again, hear these names again, read those books on the spot; and I wish to stand on the terrace of Kronborg, where the ghost appeared to Hamlet and brought distress and death upon the poor, noble young man ..."
"How are you going to go, Tonio, if I may ask? By what route?"
"The usual one," he said with a shrug of the shoulders and a visible blush. "Yes, I shall touch upon my—my point of departure, Lisaveta, after the lapse of thirteen years, and that may be rather comic.
"That is what I wanted to hear, Tonio Kröger. And so, go with God. And don't fail to write to me, too, do you hear? I promise myself an eventful letter from your trip to—Denmark."
And Tonio Kröger journeyed northward. He traveled comfortably (for he was wont to say that any one who has so much more distress of soul than other people may justly claim a little external comfort), and he did not rest until the towers of the cramped city which had been his starting-point rose before him in the gray air. There he made a brief, strange sojourn ...
A dreary afternoon was already turning into evening as the train pulled into the narrow, smoke-blackened, queerly familiar train-shed; under the dirty glass roof the thick smoke still gathered into roundish clumps and floated back and forth in long ragged ribbons, just as when Tonio Kröger rode away with nothing but mockery in his heart.—He attended to his baggage, ordered it brought to the hotel, and left the station.
Those were the black, immoderately broad and high two-horse cabs of the city, standing outside in a row. He did not take one; he merely looked at them as he looked at everything: the narrow gables and pointed turrets that greeted him across the nearest roofs, the fair-haired, idly awkward people round about him, with their broad yet rapid speech—and a nervous laughter rose up in him that was secretly allied to sobbing.—He went on foot, quite slowly, with the incessant pressure of the moist wind on his face, over the bridge on whose balustrade mythological figures stood, and then along the harbor for some distance.
Good heavens, how tiny and crooked the whole place seemed! Had these narrow gable-fringed streets risen to the town in such comical steepness through all those years? The smoke-stacks and masts of the ships swayed gently in the breeze and in the twilight on the murky river. Should he go up yonder street, the one on which stood the house that he had in mind? No, tomorrow. He was so sleepy now. His head was heavy from the journey, and slow, nebulous thoughts crossed his mind.
At times, during these thirteen years, when his stomach was out of order, he had dreamed that he was again at home in the echoing old house on the slanting street, and that his father was there again too, chiding him severely because of his degenerate mode of life,—which censure he regularly regarded as quite proper. And this present moment now had nothing to distinguish it from one of those illusory and unrending dream-fabrics, in which one may ask himself whether this be hallucination or reality, and of necessity and with deep conviction declare for the latter, only to wake up after all ... He walked through the sparsely peopled, draughty streets, lowering his head against the wind, and moved like a somnambulist in the direction of the hotel, the best in the city, where he intended to spend the night. A bow-legged man, carrying a pole surmounted by a flame, walked along before him with a rocking sailor's gait, lighting the gas-lamps.
How did he feel? What was all this that glowed so darkly and painfully under the ashes of his weariness, without becoming a clear flame? Hush, hush, and not a word! No words! Fain would he have spent a long time walking thus in the wind through the dim, dreamily familiar streets. But everything was so cramped and so close together. It took no time to reach one's goal.
In the upper city there were arc-lights and they were just beginning to glow. There was the hotel, and there were the two black lions before it that had frightened him so as a child. They still looked at each other just as if they were about to sneeze; but they seemed to have grown much smaller since that day.—Tonio Kröger passed between them.
As he came on foot, he was received without much ceremony. The porter and a very elegant gentleman in black who received the guests, and who was forever thrusting either cuff back into its sleeve with his little finger, surveyed him searchingly and critically from his crown to his boots in the visible effort to make something of a social diagnosis of him, to determine his civil and religious classification, and to assign to him some definite place in their esteem, without, however, being able to reach a satisfying result; wherefore they resolved upon a moderate politeness. A waiter, a mild-mannered creature with light blond strips of side-whiskers, a dress-coat shiny with age, and rosettes on his noiseless shoes, led him up two flights to a room furnished neatly and patriarchally, whose window opened up in the twilight a picturesque and medieval prospect of courts, gables, and the bizarre masses of the church near which the hotel stood. Tonio Kröger stood awhile at this window; then he seated himself with folded arms on the rambling sofa, drew his eyebrows together, and whistled to himself.
Lights were brought, and his baggage came. At the same time the mild-mannered waiter laid the registry blank on the table, and Tonio Kröger dashed off on it with head on one side something that looked like name, station, and birth-place. Hereupon he ordered something for supper, and continued to look into space from his sofa-corner. When the food stood before him, he left it untouched for a long time, but finally took a few bites and then walked up and down his room for an hour, standing still from time to time and shutting his eyes. Then he undressed with sluggish movements and went to bed. He slept long, amid confused dreams full of strange yearning.—
When he awoke, he saw his room filled with bright daylight. In perplexed haste he bethought himself where he was, and got up to open the curtains. The late summer blue of the sky, already a trifle pale, was traversed by thin cloud strips, ragged out by the wind; but the sun was shining above his native city.
He took more pains than usual with his toilet, washed and shaved with great care, and made himself as fresh and neat as if he were planning to make a call in some aristocratic, highly proper house, where it was necessary to make a smart and irreproachable impression; and during the manipulations of dressing he listened to the alarmed throbbing of his heart.
How bright it was outside. He would have felt more comfortable if there had been twilight in the streets, as when he came; but now he was to walk through the bright sunshine under the people's eyes. Would he hit upon acquaintances, be stopped and questioned, and have to give an account of how he had spent these thirteen years? No, thank the Lord, no one would know him any more, and those who remembered him would not recognize him, for he had really altered a little in the meantime. He regarded himself attentively in the mirror, and suddenly felt more secure behind his mask, behind his prematurely work-lined face, which was older than his years ... He sent for breakfast and then went out, out through the vestibule past the appraising glances of the porter and the elegant gentleman in black, out into the open between the two lions.
Whither was he going? He hardly knew. It was like yesterday. Scarcely did he again see himself surrounded by this queerly venerable and eternally familiar mixture of gables, turrets, arcades, and fountains, scarcely did he again feel on his face the pressure of the wind, the strong wind that brought with it a delicate and pungent aroma from far-away dreams, than something like a veil, a fabric of fog, enveloped his senses ... The muscles of his face relaxed; and with quieted eyes he contemplated men and things. Perhaps he would awake none the less on that street corner yonder ...
Whither was he going? It seemed to him as if the direction he took had some connection with his sad and strangely penitent dreams by night ... To the market he went, through the vaulted arches of the city hall, where butchers weighed their wares with blood-stained hands, and to the market-place, where the high, pointed, and variegated Gothic fountain stood. There he stood still before a house, a narrow, simple house, like many others, with an openwork gable of curving lines, and became lost in contemplation of it. He read the name-plate on the door, and let his eyes rest a while on each window. Then he turned slowly away.
Whither was he going? Homeward. But he chose a roundabout way, taking a walk out beyond the gate, for there was plenty of time. He went across the Mill Rampart and the Holsten Rampart, holding his hat firmly against the wind that creaked and groaned in the trees. Then he forsook the park strip along the ramparts not far from the station, watched a train puff by in clumsy haste, counted the cars to pass the time, and looked after the man who sat perched high on the last one. But he came to a stop on the square with the lindens before one of the pretty villas that stood there, looked long into the garden and up at the windows, and finally took a notion to swing the garden-gate back and forth and make the hinges screech. Then he contemplated for a time his hand, which had become cold and rusty, and went on, through the old square-built gate, along the harbor, and up the steep, draughty, and wet Gable Street to the house of his parents.
Closed in by the neighboring houses which its gable overtopped, it stood there gray and forbidding as for these three hundred years past, and Tonio Kröger read the pious legend that was above the door in half effaced letters. Then he drew a deep breath and went in.
His heart beat fearfully, for he half expected his father might issue from one of the doors on the ground floor past which he was walking, his father in office coat and with a pen behind his ear, who would stop him and sternly call him to account for his extravagant life,—which censure he would have found quite proper. But he got past the doors unmolested. The storm door was not shut, but only pulled to, which he considered censurable, while at the same time he felt as in certain light dreams, when hindrances vanish of themselves before us and we press forward unchecked, favored by wonderful good fortune ... The spacious hall, paved with large square slabs of stone, echoed to his tread. Opposite the kitchen, where all was still, the strange, clumsy, but neatly varnished partition-rooms jutted out from the wall at a considerable height; these were the servants' rooms, which could only be reached by a sort of open staircase from the hall floor. But the great wardrobes and the carved chest that used to stand here were gone ... The son of the house set foot upon the mighty staircase and rested his hand upon the white enameled, fretwork banister, lifting it, however, at each step and then gently dropping it again at the next one, as if he were timidly trying to see whether his former familiarity with this respectable old banister could be restored ... On the first landing, before the entrance to the so-called "intermediate story," he stood still. A white door-plate was fastened to the door, and on it could be read in black letters: People's Library.
People's Library? thought Tonio Kröger, for it seemed to him that neither the people nor literature had any business here. He knocked on the door, heard "Come in," and obeyed. With gloomy curiosity he looked in upon a most unseemly alteration.
The apartment was three rooms deep, and the connecting doors were open. The walls were covered almost to the top with books in uniform bindings, which stood in long rows on dark shelves. In each room a needy looking individual sat writing behind a sort of counter. Two of them merely turned their heads toward Tonio Kröger, but the first one stood up hastily, rested both hands on the table before him, thrust his head forward, pursed his lips, drew up his eyebrows, and looked at the visitor with rapidly winking eyes ...
"Excuse me," said Tonio Kröger, without turning his eyes from the many books. "I am a stranger here, and am taking a look at the city. So this is the People's Library? Would you permit me to look into the collection a little?"
"Willingly," said the official, winking still more vehemently ... "Certainly, that is every one's privilege. Please look around ... Should you care for a catalogue?"
"Thank you," said Tonio Kröger, "I can easily find my bearings." And he began to walk slowly along the walls, pretending to be reading the titles on the backs of the books. Finally he took out a volume, opened it, and went to the window with it.
This had been the breakfast room. Here they had breakfasted, not upstairs in the great dining-room, where white gods stood out on the blue wall-paper ... That room had served as a bed-chamber. His father's mother had died there in bitter anguish, old as she was, for she was a pleasure-loving woman of the world and clung to life. And later his father too had breathed his last sigh there, the tall, correct, somewhat melancholy and meditative gentleman with the wild-flower in his button-hole ... Tonio had sat with hot eyes at the foot of his death-bed, sincerely and completely given over to a strong, mute feeling, one of love and pain. And his mother too had knelt by the bed, his beautiful, passionate mother, quite dissolved in hot tears; whereupon she had strayed off to faraway lands with the southern artist ... But back there, that smaller third room, now also completely filled with books over which a needy-looking individual kept watch, had been his own for many years. Thither he had returned after school, or after such a walk as he had just taken; against that wall his table had stood, in whose drawer he had treasured his first intimate and clumsy verses ... The walnut-tree ... A piercing sadness quivered through him. He looked sidewise through the window. The garden lay waste, but the old walnut-tree stood in its place, heavily creaking and rustling in the wind. And Tonio Kröger let his eyes rove back upon the book he held in his hands, a distinguished poetic work that he knew well. He looked down upon these black lines and sentence-groups, followed for a space the skilful flow of the text, watching it rise in creative passion to a fine point and effect and then break off with equal effect ...
Yes, that is good work, he said, and put the volume back and turned away. Then he saw that the official was still standing, winking his eyes with an expression of mingled zeal and pensive distrust.
"An excellent collection, I see," said Tonio Kröger. "I have already gained a general idea of it. I am much indebted to you. Good day." With that he went out of the door; but it was a doubtful exit, and he clearly felt that the official, full of disquiet at this visit, would keep on standing and winking for a quarter of an hour.
He felt no inclination to penetrate farther. He had been at home. Upstairs in the great rooms beyond the colonnade there were strangers living, he could see; for the head of the stairs was shut off by a glass door which had not formerly been there, and some name-plate or other was on it. He went away, down the stairs and over the echoing hall, and left his father's house. In one corner of a restaurant he consumed a heavy, hearty meal, his thoughts ever turned inward, and then he returned to the hotel.
"I am through," he said to the elegant gentleman in black. "I leave this afternoon." And he sent for his bill, also the carriage that was to take him to the harbor, to the steamer for Copenhagen. Then he went up to his room and sat down at the table, sat quietly erect, resting his cheek on his hand and looking at the table with unseeing eyes. Later on he paid his bill and got his effects ready. At the designated time the carriage was announced, and Tonio Kröger went down-stairs in readiness to go.
Below, at the foot of the stairs, the elegant gentleman in black was waiting for him.
"Your pardon," he said, thrusting back either cuff into its sleeve with the little finger ... "Excuse me, sir, that we must still claim a minute of your time. Mr. Seehaase, the owner of the hotel, begs for a very brief conversation with you. A mere formality ... He is back yonder ... Will you have the goodness to go with me ... It is only Mr. Seehaase, the owner of the hotel."
And he led Tonio Kröger with gestures of invitation toward the back part of the vestibule. There the owner of the hotel was indeed standing. Tonio Kröger knew him by sight from his youth. He was short, fat, and bow-legged. His cropped side-whiskers had grown white; but he still wore a Tuxedo of wide cut and in addition a small green-embroidered velvet cap. Nor was he alone. Near him, at a small writing-desk fastened to the wall, stood a helmeted policeman, whose gloved right hand rested on a curiously bescribbled piece of paper that lay before him on the desk, and whose honest soldier-face looked at Tonio Kröger as if he expected that the latter must sink into the ground at sight of him.
Tonio Kröger looked from one to the other and applied himself to waiting.
"You come from Munich?" asked the policeman at last with a good-natured and ponderous voice.
Tonio Kröger assented.
"You are traveling to Copenhagen?"
"Yes, I am on the way to a Danish seashore resort."
"Seashore?—Well, you must show your papers," said the policeman, uttering the last word with particular satisfaction.
"Papers ..." He had no papers. He drew out his pocketbook and looked into it; but besides some bills there was nothing in it but the proof-sheets of a story, which he had intended to correct at his journey's end. He was not fond of dealings with officials and had never had a passport filled out ...
"I am sorry," he said, "but I have no papers with me."
"Oh," said the policeman ..."None at all?—What is your name?"
Tonio Kröger answered him.
"Is that true?" said the policeman, straightening up and suddenly opening his nostrils as far as he could ...
"Quite true," answered Tonio Kröger.
"And what are you?"
Tonio Kröger swallowed and named his calling with firm voice.—Mr. Seehaase raised his head and looked curiously up into his face.
"Hm," said the policeman. "And you claim not to be identical with an individial named—" He said "individial" and then spelled from the curiously bescribbled piece of paper a most puzzling and romantic name, which seemed to have been freakishly composed of the sounds of various languages and which Tonio Kröger had forgotten the next moment. "—Who," he continued, "of unknown parentage and uncertain competence, is being sought by the Munich police on account of various swindles and other crimes, and is probably trying to flee to Denmark?"
"I do more than claim," said Tonio Kröger, making a nervous movement with his shoulders.—This created a certain impression.
"What? Oh yes, quite so," said the officer. "But that you shouldn't be able to show any papers at all."
Now Mr. Seehaase interposed conciliatingly.
"The whole thing is only a formality," he said, "nothing more. You must reflect that the official is only doing his duty. If you can identify yourself in any way ... Any document ..."
All were silent. Should he put an end to the affair by making himself known, by revealing to Mr. Seehaase that he was no swindler of uncertain competence, by birth no gipsy in a green wagon, but the son of Consul Kröger, of the Kröger family? No, he had no desire for that. And did not these men of the civic order really have a little right on their side? To a certain extent he was quite in agreement with them ... He shrugged his shoulders and remained silent.
"What is that you have there?" asked the officer. "There in that portfoly?"
"Here? Nothing. Proof-sheets," answered Tonio Kröger.
"Proof-sheets? How so? Let me see a minute."
And Tonio Kröger handed them over to him. The policeman spread them out on the desk and began to read them. Mr. Seehaase also stepped closer and participated in the reading. Tonio Kröger looked over their shoulders to see where they were reading. It was a good passage, a point and effect which he had worked out superbly. He was content with himself.
"You see," he said. "There stands my name. I wrote this, and now it is being published, you understand."
"Well, that is sufficient," said Mr. Seehaase determinedly, and he gathered up the sheets, folded them, and returned them. "That must suffice, Peterson," he repeated brusquely, furtively closing his eyes and shaking his head as a sign to desist. "We must not detain the gentleman longer. The carriage is waiting. I earnestly beg you to excuse the little inconvenience, sir. The official has of course only done his duty, but I told him at once that he was on the wrong scent ..."
Did you? thought Tonio Kröger.
The officer did not seem to agree entirely; he made some objection about "individial" and "papers." But Mr. Seehaase led his guest back through the vestibule amid repeated expressions of regret, escorted him out between the two lions to his carriage, and closed the carriage door himself with attestations of his esteem. And then the ridiculously broad and high cab rolled down the steep streets to the harbor, rocking, rattling, and rumbling ...
This was Tonio Kröger's strange sojourn in his native city.
Night was falling, and the moon was already rising bathed in silvery light, when Tonio Kröger's ship reached the open sea. He stood by the bowsprit, his mantle shielding him from the steadily freshening breeze, and looked down into the dark roving and surging of the strong, smooth wave-bodies below him, as they rocked about each other, met each other with a splash, separated with a rush in unexpected directions, or suddenly flashed white with foam ...
A swaying, quietly rapturous mood came over him. He had of course been a little depressed because they had wanted to arrest him at home as a swindler—although to a certain extent he had found it quite proper. But then after going aboard he had watched, as he and his father had sometimes done, the loading of the cargo with which the deep hold of the boat was filled, amid cries of mingled Low German and Danish, and seen them let down not merely bales and boxes, but also a polar bear and a royal tiger in heavily barred cages, doubtless coming from Hamburg and destined for some Danish menagerie; and this had diverted him. Then while the boat was gliding along the river between flat banks he had completely forgotten officer Peterson's interrogatory; and all that had gone before, his sweet, sad, and regretful dreams during the night, the walk he had taken, the sight of the walnut-tree,—these had again become powerful in his soul. And now that the sea opened out he saw from afar the shore on which as a boy he had been privileged to listen to the summer dreams of the sea; saw the gleam of the light-house and the lights of the seashore hotel where he had stayed with his parents ... The Baltic! He leaned his head against the strong salt breeze that came to him free and unchecked, enveloped his ears, and produced in him a gentle vertigo, a slight stupefaction, in which the recollection of all evil, of torment and erring ways, of great plans and arduous labors, became lazily and blissfully submerged. And in the roaring, splashing, foaming, and groaning round about him he fancied he heard the rustling and creaking of the old walnut-tree, and the screeching of a garden gate ... It grew darker and darker.
"De stars, my gracious, just look at de stars," suddenly remarked in a ponderous sing-song a voice that seemed to come from inside a barrel. He knew the voice. It belonged to a reddish-blond, simply dressed man with reddened eyelids and a clammy look, as if he had just taken a bath. At supper in the cabin he had been Tonio Kröger's neighbor and with hesitant and modest motions he had taken unto himself astonishing quantities of lobster-omelette. Now he was leaning against the rail beside his new acquaintance and looking up at the sky, holding his chin with thumb and forefinger. Without doubt he was in one of those extraordinary and solemnly contemplative moods in which the barriers between men fall away, in which the heart opens even to strangers, and the mouth utters things which would otherwise close it in modesty ...
"Look, sir, just look at de stars. Dere dey stand and twinkle, upon my word de whole sky is full of dem. And now let me ask you, when we look up and reflect dat many of dem are supposed to be a hundred times bigger dan de eart', how do we feel? We men have invented de telegraph and de telephone, and so many achievements of modern life, yes, dat we have. But when we look up dere, den we have to recognize and understand dat after all we're only vermin, miserable vermin and not'ing else—am I right or wrong, sir? Yes, we are vermin," he answered himself, and nodded up at the firmament, humble and crushed.
Ouch ... no, he has no literature in him, thought Tonio Kröger. And forthwith something that he had recently been reading occurred to him, an article by a famous French author on cosmological and psychological philosophy; it had been very elegant chatter.
He gave the young man something like an answer to his deep-felt remark, and they continued to talk, leaning over the rail and looking out into the restlessly illuminated, agitated evening. It turned out that the traveling companion was a young merchant from Hamburg, who was using his vacation for this pleasure trip ...
"Go and take a little trip," he was saying, "to Copenhagen wit de Dampfoot, I tought, and so here I am, and so far it's very nice. But dose lobster-omelettes, you know, dat wasn't de ting, you'll see, for it's going to be a stormy night, de captain said so himself, and wit such an indigestible supper in your stomach dat's no joke ..."
Tonio Kröger listened to all this complaisant folly with a secretly friendly feeling.
"Yes," he said, "they eat far too much up here anyway. That makes them lazy and melancholy."
"Melancholy?" repeated the young man, looking at him in consternation ... "I suppose you are a stranger here?" he suddenly inquired ...
"Oh yes, I come from far away," answered Tonio Kröger with a vague and evasive gesture.
"But you are right," said the young man; "God knows you are right about melancholy. I am almost always melancholy, but especially on such evenings as dis, when de stars are in de sky." And again he propped up his chin on thumb and forefinger.
He undoubtedly writes verses, thought Tonio Kröger, merchant's verses full of deeply honest feeling ...
The evening wore on, and the wind had now become so violent that it interfered with conversation. So they resolved to sleep a little, and wished each other good night.
Tonio Kröger stretched himself out on the narrow bunk in his cabin, but he found no rest. The strong wind and its pungent aroma had agitated him strangely, and his heart was restless as if in anxious expectation of something sweet. And the shock to the ship which resulted when it slid down a steep wave-slope and the screw raced convulsively out of water, caused him severe nausea. He dressed again completely and mounted into the open air.
Clouds were racing past the moon. The sea was dancing. There were no round and uniform waves coming on in order, but as far as one could see, in the pale and flickering light, the sea was torn up, lashed and stirred into fragments; its flamelike, gigantic tongues licked and leaped into the air, beside foam-filled abysses it cast up jagged and improbable forms, and seemed with the force of monstrous arms to hurl the spume in mad playfulness to invisible heights. The ship had a toilsome journey; crashing, rolling, and groaning it worked its way through the commotion, and now and again one could hear the polar bear and the tiger, who had suffered from the high sea, roaring in the hold. A man in an oilskin cape, the hood drawn over his head, and a lantern buckled about his body, was walking spread-legged up and down the deck, balancing with difficulty. But there at the stern, bending low over the rail, stood the young man from Hamburg, taking it very hard indeed. "Good heavens," he said in a hollow and faltering voice, as he became aware of Tonio Kröger, "just see de tumult of de elements, sir." But then he was interrupted and turned hastily away.
Tonio Kröger held on to some taut cable and looked out into all this uncontrollable exuberance. An exultation winged its way upward within him, and it seemed to him powerful enough to drown out both tempest and flood. A song to the sea, inspired by love, rang out within him. Wild comrade of my youth's delight, once more our spirits now unite ... But then the poem was at an end. It was not completed, was not rounded off, not welded calmly into a unified whole. His heart was alive ...
Long he stood thus; then he stretched out on a bench near the deck-cabin and looked up at the sky in which the stars were flickering. He even slumbered a little. And when the cold spray flew into his face, it seemed in his half wakeful state like a caress.
Vertical chalk cliffs, ghostlike in the moonlight, came in sight and drew near; that was the Island of Moen. And again slumber intervened, interrupted by showers of salt spray which sharply stung the face and benumbed the features ... When he fully awoke, it was already day, a light-gray, bracing day, and the green sea was quieter. At breakfast he saw the young merchant again, and the latter blushed violently, probably for shame at having uttered in the dark such poetic and disgraceful things, rubbed up his small reddish moustache with all five fingers, and returned Tonio Kröger's salutation with a curt military greeting, to avoid him anxiously thenceforward.
And Tonio Kröger landed in Denmark. He arrived formally in Copenhagen, gave a tip to every one who pretended he could lay claim to it, spent three days in tramping the town with his hotel as a starting-point and carrying his Baedeker open before him, and behaved just like the better class of strangers who desire to increase their information. He studied the King's Newmarket with the "horse" in the middle of it, looked respectfully up the pillars of Our Lady's, stood long before Thorwaldsen's noble and lovely sculpture, climbed the Round Tower, visited castles, and spent two lively evenings in the Tivoli. But all this was not really what he saw.
On the houses, which frequently had the very look of the old houses of his native city with their curved and pierced gables, he would see names that were familiar to him from olden times, which seemed to him to signify something tender and precious, and at the same time included something like reproach, lament, and longing for things lost. And everywhere, while breathing in retarded, meditative draughts the moist sea-air, he saw eyes as blue, hair as blond, faces of just the same type and formation as those he had seen in the strangely grievous and regretful dreams of the night spent in his native city. It not seldom happened on the open street that a glance, a ringing word, a peal of laughter would strike his very marrow ...
He could not long endure the gay city. An unrest, sweet and foolish, half recollection and half expectation, stirred him, together with the desire to lie quietly somewhere along the shore and not have to play the eagerly observing tourist. So he took ship again and sailed on a gloomy day (the sea was black) northward up the coast of Seeland to Elsinore. From there he continued his journey without delay by carriage along the high road for three quarters of an hour, always a little above the sea, until he stopped at his final and real goal, the little white summer hotel with green blinds which stood in the midst of a settlement of low cottages, and whose wooden-roofed tower looked out on the strand and toward the Swedish coast. Here he got out, took possession of the sunny room that had been kept ready for him, filled book-shelf and wardrobe with the effects he had brought with him, and prepared to live here a while.
September was already at hand; there were no longer many guests in Aalsgaard. At the meals in the great timber-ceiled dining-hall on the ground floor, whose high windows opened out upon the sun-porch and the sea, the hostess always presided, an elderly spinster with white hair, colorless eyes, delicately pink cheeks, and a quavering, chirping voice, who always tried to group her red hands to advantage on the white table-cloth. A short-necked old gentleman with ice-gray sailor's beard and dark-blue face was there, a fish-dealer from the capital, who understood German. He seemed to be wholly stopped up as to nose, and inclined to apoplexy, for he drew short, jerky breaths and raised from time to time his beringed forefinger to one of his nostrils, in order to shut it and procure the other one a little air by means of vigorous snorting. None the less he paid constant court to the brandy bottle, which stood before him at breakfast as well as at the other meals. There was no one else except three tall American youths with their don or tutor, who silently adjusted his glasses and played football with them by day. They parted their reddish yellow hair in the middle and had long, impassive faces.
"Please, give me the wurst-things there," the one would say.
"That's not wurst, that's schinken," remarked another, and this was the only contribution which either they or the tutor made to the conversation; for otherwise they sat in silence and drank hot water.
Tonio Kröger would have desired no other sort of company at table. He enjoyed his peace, listened to the Danish gutturals and the bright and dark vowels, when the fish-dealer and the hostess occasionally conversed together, exchanged now and then with the former some simple remark about the barometer, and would then get up to pass through the verandah and down on to the shore again, where he had already spent long morning hours.
Sometimes it was quiet and summerlike there. The sea would rest lazily and smoothly, in blue, bottle-green, and reddish streaks, with silvery, glittering reflections playing over it, while the seaweed dried into hay in the sunshine, and the jelly-fish lay there and evaporated. It smelled a little of decay and also of the pitch of the fishing-boat against which Tonio Kröger leaned his back as he sat on the sand, turning so as to have the open horizon and not the Swedish coast before his eyes; but the light breath of the sea floated pure and fresh over everything.
And gray, stormy days came. The waves bowed their heads like steers lowering their horns to butt, and rushed furiously against the strand, which was flooded to a great height and covered with shining sea-grass, shells, and driftwood. Between the long lines of wave-crests the pale green, foam-flecked troughs extended under the lowering sky; but yonder where the sun hung behind the clouds, a whitish velvet sheen lay on the waters.
Tonio Kröger stood enveloped by wind and clamor, lost in this eternal, ponderous, deafening roar that he loved so much. If he turned and went away, on a sudden it seemed quite still and warm about him. But at his back, he knew, was the sea; it called him, enticed him, spoke to him. And he would smile.
He would go inland through the solitude along meadow paths, and soon birch woods would receive him, extending far over the rolling country. He would sit down in the moss and lean against a tree from which he could see a patch of ocean between the trunks. At times the wind would carry to him the noise of the surf, like distant boards falling on each other. The caw of crows above the treetops, hoarse, desolate, forlorn ... He had a book on his knees, but he read not a line in it. He was enjoying a deep oblivion, a floating in perfect freedom over space and time; and only occasionally did it seem as if some pain quivered through his heart, a short, piercing feeling of longing or regret, which he was too lazy and too absorbed to question as to its name and origin.
So passed many a day; he could not have said how many, and had no desire to know. But then came a day when something happened; happened while the sun stood in the sky and people were present, and Tonio Kröger was not even especially astonished at it.
The very beginning of this day took a festive and delightful form. Tonio Kröger awoke very early and quite suddenly, started up from sleep with a subtle and vague fear, and thought he was looking upon a miracle, into some enchanted, fairy-like illumination. His room, with a glass door and a balcony looking out on the Sound, and divided by a thin white gauze curtain into living-room and bedroom, was papered in delicate colors and furnished with light, bright articles, so that it always made a cheerful, sunny impression. But now his sleep-drunk eyes saw an unearthly transfiguration and illumination before him, saw his room immersed to the farthest corner in an unspeakably lovely, hazy rose-glow, which gilded walls and furnishings and caused the gauze curtain to gleam with a mild ruddy light ... For a long time Tonio Kröger did not understand what was happening. But when he stood at the glass door and looked out, he saw that it was the rising sun.
For several days it had been dark and rainy; but now the sky, like a taut canopy of pale-blue silk, rose in shimmering purity over sea and land, and the sun's disk, beflecked and surrounded by cloud-strips shot with red and gold, was rising impressively out of the sea, which with its flickering ripples seemed to quiver and to glow beneath it ... So the day began, and in bewildered happiness Tonio Kröger flung himself into his clothes, breakfasted downstairs on the verandah before any one else, swam some distance out into the Sound from the little wooden bath-house, and then walked for an hour along the shore. When he returned, several wagons that looked like omnibuses were stopping before the hotel, and from the dining-room he could see that not only in the adjoining living-room, where the piano stood, but also on the verandah and the terrace in front of it, a great company of people, dressed in provincial style, were sitting at round tables and consuming beer and sandwiches amid lively conversation. There were whole families of old and young people, and even a few children.
At the second breakfast (the table was loaded down with cold viands, smoked, salted, and baked) Tonio Kröger inquired what was going on.
"Guests," said the fish-dealer. "Picnickers and dancers from Elsinore. Aye, God help us, we shan't be able to sleep this night. There will be dancing, dancing and music, and it is to be feared that it will last a long time. It is a family gathering, picnic and reunion at once, in short a subscription dance or something of the sort, and they are going to enjoy the fine day. They have come by boat and wagon, and now they are lunching. Later they will go on across country, but in the evening they will come back, and then there will be dancing in the hall here. Yes, damn it and curse it, we shan't close an eye ..."
"That will be a nice change," said Tonio Kröger.
Hereupon nothing further was said for some time. The hostess grouped her red fingers, the fish-dealer blew through his right nostril in order to get a little air, and the Americans drank hot water and pulled long faces over it.
Then on a sudden this happened: Hans Hansen and Ingeborg Holm went through the hall.—
Tonio Kröger, comfortably weary after his bath and his rapid walk, was leaning back in his chair, eating smoked salmon on toast; he sat facing the verandah and the sea. And suddenly the door opened and the two entered hand in hand—sauntering and without haste. Ingeborg, the fair-haired Inga, was dressed in bright colors, as she was wont to be in M. Knaak's dancing class. The light, flowered dress only reached to her ankles, and about her shoulders she wore a broad, V-shaped fichu of white tulle, leaving her soft, supple throat free. Her hat hung on one arm by its knotted ribbons. She was perhaps a little less grown-up than of old, simply wearing her wonderful braid wound about her head; but Hans Hansen looked as he always did. He had on his seaman's jacket with the gold buttons, over which the broad blue collar lay on shoulders and back; the sailor's cap with the short ribbons he was holding in one hand, swinging it carelessly back and forth. Ingeborg kept her elongated eyes cast down, perhaps a little embarrassed by the gaze of the breakfasters. But Hans Hansen turned his head squarely toward the table, as if defying the world, and mustered with his steel-blue eyes one face after another, challengingly and as it were contemptuously; he even dropped Ingeborg's hand and swung his cap back and forth more vehemently, to show what sort of a man he was. So the couple walked past Tonio Kröger's eyes, with the quiet blue sea as a background, traversed the entire length of the hall, and vanished through the opposite door into the music-room.
This took place at half past eleven, and while the regular guests were still at their meal, the company in the adjoining room and on the verandah broke up and left the hotel by the side entrance, without any one having set foot in the dining-room. They could be heard climbing into the wagons outside amid jest and laughter, and one conveyance after the other crunchingly got under way and rolled off along the high road ...
"So they are coming back?" asked Tonio Kröger.
"That they are," said the fish-dealer. "And God help us. They have ordered music, you must know, and I sleep right over the hall."
"That will be a nice change," repeated Tonio Kröger. Then he stood up and went out.
He spent the day as he had spent the others, on the shore and in the woods, holding a book in his lap and blinking at the sun. He entertained only one idea: that they would come back and have a dance in the hall, as the fish-dealer had promised; and he did nothing but look forward to this with an anxious and sweet joy such as he had not experienced for many long, dead years. Once, by some chain of ideas, he had a fleeting recollection of a distant acquaintance, of Adalbert the novelist, who knew what he wanted and had gone to the café to escape the spring. And he shrugged his shoulders at him ...
Dinner was served earlier than usual, and supper also was eaten earlier than otherwise and in the music-room, because preparations for the ball were already going on in the hall: in such a festive manner was everything brought into disorder. Then, after it had grown dark and Tonio Kröger was sitting in his room, there was noise and bustle again on the road and in the house. The picnickers were returning; yes, and from the direction of Elsinore new guests came by bicycle and carriage, and already one could hear in the room below a fiddle tuning up and a clarinet executing nasal runs by way of practice ... Everything promised to make it a brilliant ball.
Now the little orchestra opened up with a march: the muffled sounds came up in steady rhythm: they were opening the dance with a polonaise. Tonio Kröger sat still awhile and listened. But when he heard the march-time change to a waltz, he got up and glided noiselessly out of his room.
From the corridor outside his room one could go by a stairway to the side-entrance of the hotel, and from there to the sun-porch without entering a room. He took this course, softly and stealthily, as if treading forbidden paths, and cautiously felt his way through the darkness, irresistibly attracted by this stupid, blissfully swaying music, whose tones were already reaching his ear clear and unmuffled.
The verandah was empty and unlighted, but the glass door to the hall, where the two great oil lamps were shining brightly before their polished reflectors, stood open. Thither he crept on tiptoe, and the enjoyment of stealthily standing here in the dark and watching unseen those who were dancing in the light made his flesh tingle. Hastily and eagerly he sent his glances in search of that one couple ...
The merriment of the festivity already seemed to be full-blown, although the ball had begun scarcely a half hour before; but of course they had been warm and excited when they arrived, after spending the entire day together, carefree and happy. In the music-room, which Tonio Kröger could see if he ventured to step forward a little, several elderly gentlemen had gathered to smoke and drink over their cards; while others were sitting beside their spouses on the plush chairs in the foreground and along the walls, looking on at the dancing. They held their hands propped on their spread knees, and blew out their cheeks with a well-to-do air, while the mothers, with bonnets on their parted hair, hands folded on their stomachs, and head on one side, looked into the swarm of young people. A platform had been erected against one of the long side walls, and here the musicians were doing their best. There was even a trumpet, which pealed with a certain hesitant cautiousness, as if afraid of its own voice, but which none the less constantly broke and gave out ... Whirling and surging the couples moved about each other, while others promenaded arm in arm. They were not in gala dress, but only as on a summer afternoon spent in the open: the cavaliers in suits of provincial cut, which one could see had been spared all week, and the young girls in light, bright dresses with bouquets of wild flowers on their bodices. A few children were in the hall, too, and they danced together child-fashion, not even stopping with the music. A long-legged person in a swallow-tailed coat, a provincial lion with monocle and curled hair, mail clerk or something like it, looking like the comic figure of a Danish novel in the flesh, seemed to be the manager of the festivities and director of the ball. Precipitate, perspiring, and with his whole soul in his task, he was everywhere at once; he "sashayed" officiously through the hall, artfully treading on the balls of his feet, which were shod with shining, pointed military boots, and setting them down crosswise in some intricate fashion, swung his arms in the air, made arrangements, called for music, clapped his hands,—and through all this the ribbons of the great, gay-colored bow which was fastened to his shoulder in token of his dignity, and toward which he occasionally turned his head lovingly, fluttered in the air behind him.
Yes, they were there, those two that had passed Tonio Kröger that day in the sunlight; he saw them again and felt a joyful shock as he perceived them both almost at once. Here stood Hans Hansen, quite close to him, next to the door; with feet spread and a little bent forward he was deliberately consuming a large piece of Madeira cake, hollowing his hand under his chin to catch the crumbs. And there against the wall sat Ingeborg Holm, fair-haired Inga, and the mail clerk just "sashaying" up to her to ask her for a dance with a choice gesture, consisting in laying one hand on his back and thrusting the other into his bosom; but she shook her head and motioned that she was too much out of breath and must rest a little, whereupon he sat down at her side.
Tonio Kröger looked at the two for whom he had suffered love of yore—Hans and Ingeborg. It was they not so much by virtue of single features and the similarity of their dress, as on the strength of their likeness in race and type, this bright, steel-blue-eyed, fair-haired stock, which suggested purity, serenity, and cheerfulness, and an at once proud and simple, inviolable reserve ... He looked at them, saw Hans Hansen stand there in his sailor suit as bold and as shapely as ever, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, saw how Ingeborg laughingly tossed her head in a certain saucy fashion, and carried her hand, a little girl's hand by no means especially slender or dainty, up to her back hair in a certain fashion, so that the light sleeve slipped down from her elbow,—and suddenly homesickness shook his breast with such pain that he involuntarily retreated farther into the darkness, lest any one see the quivering of his countenance.
Had I forgotten you? he asked. No, never! Not you, Hans, nor you, blond Inga. It was you for whom I worked, and when I heard applause, I secretly looked about me to see if you had any part in it ... Have you now read Don Carlos, Hans Hansen, as you promised me at your garden gate? Do not do so, I no longer ask it of you. What is the king to you, weeping because he is lonely? You must not make your bright eyes dull and dream-dimmed by staring into verses and melancholy ... To be like you! To begin once more, grow up like you, honest, happy, and simple, regular, orderly, and in agreement with God and the world, to be loved by the innocent and happy, to take you to wife, Ingeborg Holm, and have a son like you, Hans Hansen,—to live, love, and laud in blessed prosaic bliss, free from the curse of knowledge and of creative torment! ... Begin again? But it would do no good. It would turn out the same way again,—everything would be just as it has been this time. For some go astray of necessity, because there is absolutely no right way for them.
Now the music stopped, there was an intermission, and refreshments were served. The mail clerk hurried about in person with a tea-tray of herring salad, serving the ladies; but before Ingeborg Holm he actually dropped on one knee as he offered her the dish, making her blush for joy.
The people in the hall now began to be aware of the spectator in the doorway, after all, and strange, searching glances came upon him from pretty, heated faces; but he stood his ground. Ingeborg and Hans, too, passed their eyes over him almost at the same moment, with that complete indifference which almost has the appearance of contempt. Suddenly, however, he became conscious that from somewhere a glance had reached him and was resting on him ... He turned his head, and at once his eyes met the ones he had felt. A girl stood not far from him, with a pale, narrow, delicate face which he had noticed before. She had not danced much, the cavaliers had not paid much attention to her, and he had seen her sitting alone against the wall with bitterly closed lips. And she stood alone now, too. She wore a bright, filmy dress, like the others, but under the diaphanous goods her bare shoulders looked sharp and scanty, and the lean neck went down so far between these pitiful shoulders that the quiet girl seemed almost a little deformed. She held her hands in their thin short gloves in front of her flat breast so that the fingertips barely touched. With lowered head she looked up at Tonio Kröger out of black, swimming eyes. He turned away ...
Here stood Hans and Ingeborg quite close to him. He had sat down beside her,—she was perhaps his sister,—and surrounded by other red-cheeked children of men they ate and drank, chattered merrily, called out teasing remarks to each other with ringing voices, and let their laughter peal out. Could he not approach them a little? Could he not direct to him or her a jest that would come to his mind, and that they must at least answer with a smile? It would make him happy, he longed for it; he would then return more contentedly to his room, with the consciousness of having established some little community with them. He thought out what he might say; but he did not find the courage to say it. And then too it was as of old: they would not understand him, would listen with disapproval to what he could say. For their language was not his language.
Now the dance was to begin again, it seemed. The mail clerk revealed an all-embracing activity. He hurried around and invited every one to engage partners, pushed and cleared away chairs and glasses with the aid of the waiter, gave orders to the musicians, and took some awkward ones, who did not know where to go, by the shoulders and pushed them along before him. What were they going to do? Groups of eight couples were forming sets ... A terrible memory made Tonio Kröger blush. They were dancing the quadrille.
The music began, and the couples bowed and marched past each other. The mail clerk called the figures, and he did so, by heaven, in French, and brought out the nasal sounds in an incomparably distinguished fashion. Ingeborg Holm was dancing right in front of Tonio Kröger, in the set just next to the door. She moved back and forth in front of him, forward and backward, gliding and whirling; a perfume that came from her hair or the dainty stuff of her dress reached him occasionally, and he shut his eyes with a feeling that had been so familiar to him all his life, whose aroma and bitter stimulus he had faintly discerned all these last days, and that now filled him again completely with its sweet distress. What was it? Longing? Tenderness? Envy, self-contempt? ... Moulinet des dames! Did you laugh, blond Inga, did you laugh at me when I danced moulinet and made such a pitiable fool of myself? And would you laugh today, now that I have after all become something like a famous man? Yes, you would, and you would have thrice as much right as before! And if I, all by myself, had created the Nine Symphonies, The World as Will and Idea, and the Last Judgment—still you would be eternally justified in laughing ... He looked at her, and a line occurred to him which he had long forgotten, and yet was so familiar and so akin to him: "I fain would sleep, but thou must dance." He knew so well the deep, clumsy, melancholy Scandinavian awkwardness of feeling that was expressed by it. To sleep ... To long to live simply and wholly for the feeling that sweetly and indolently satisfies itself, without the obligation of becoming a deed and a dance—and nevertheless to dance, to have to execute nimbly and with presence of mind the hard, hard and dangerous knife-dance of art, without ever quite forgetting the humiliating contradiction that lay in having to dance while one was in love ...
All at once the whole throng broke into mad and exuberant motion. The sets had broken up, and the dancers shot around jumping and gliding: the quadrille was ending with a galop. The couples flew past Tonio Kröger to the furious beat of the music, chasséing, hurrying, overtaking each other, with quick, breathless laughter. One couple came along, carried away by the universal race, whirling and whizzing forward. The girl had a delicate, pale face and lean, very high shoulders. And suddenly, close before him, there was a stumbling, sliding, and falling ... The pale girl fell down. She fell so heavily and violently that it almost looked dangerous, and her cavalier fell with her. The latter must have hurt himself so painfully that he forgot his partner altogether, for he began amid grimaces to rub his knees with his hands, without getting off the floor; and the girl, seemingly quite stunned by the fall, still lay on the floor. Now Tonio Kröger stepped forward, grasped her gently by the arms, and lifted her up. Exhausted, confused, and unhappy, she looked up at him, and suddenly her delicate face was suffused with a faint flush.
"Tak! O, mange Tak!" (Thanks, Oh, many thanks), she said, and looked up at him with dark, swimming eyes.
"You should not dance any more," he said gently. Then he looked around at them once more, at Hans and Ingeborg, and went out, leaving the verandah and the dance, and going up to his room.
He was intoxicated by the festivities in which he had had no part, and weary with jealousy. It had been like long ago, just like long ago. With heated face he had stood in a dark spot, full of grief on your account, ye blond ones, happy and full of life, and then had gone away lonely. Some one ought to come now. Ingeborg ought to come now, ought to notice that he was gone, follow him secretly, lay her hand on his shoulder and say: Come in and join us. Be happy! I love you ... But she came not at all. Such things did not happen. Yes, it was just like those days, and he was happy as in those days. For his heart was alive. But what had there been during all the time in which he had become what he now was?—Stupefaction; desolation; ice; and intellect. And art! ...
He undressed, lay down to rest, and put out the light. He whispered two names into the pillow, these few chaste Norse syllables which designated for him the real and original type of his love, suffering, and happiness, which meant life, simple and intimate emotion, home. He looked back upon the years elapsed from that time to this. He thought of the wild adventures his senses, nerves, and intellect had gone through, saw himself devoured by irony and brilliance, made stagnant and lame by knowledge, half worn out by the fevers and frosts of creative work, unstable and in torments of conscience between crass extremes, cast back and forth between sanctity and passion, exquisite, impoverished, exhausted by frigid and artificially selected exaltations, astray, laid waste, tortured, diseased—and he sobbed with repentance and homesickness.
About him it was quiet and dark. But from below the sweet, trivial waltz time of life came up to him muffled and swaying.
Tonio Kröger sat in the North and wrote to Lisaveta Ivanovna, his friend, as he had promised.
Dear Lisaveta, down yonder in Arcadia, whither I shall soon return, he wrote. Here, then, is something like a letter, but it will probably disappoint you, for I am thinking of keeping it somewhat general. Not as if I had nothing to tell, or had not had this or that experience on my journey. At home, in my native town, they were actually going to arrest me ... but of that you shall hear by word of mouth. Now I frequently have days on which I prefer making some good general observations to telling stories.
I wonder if you still remember, Lisaveta, that you once called me a commoner, a commoner astray. You called me so at a time when I was confessing my love for that which I call Life, being led on to it by other confessions which I had allowed to escape me; and I ask myself whether you knew how closely you struck the truth in calling me so, how nearly my commonership and my love for "life" are one and the same thing. This journey has given me occasion to think about it ...
My father, you know, was of a Norse temperament: reflective, thorough, Puritanically correct, and inclined to melancholy; my mother of nondescript exotic blood, beautiful, sensual, naïve, at once slovenly and passionate, and of an impulsive and unprincipled mind. Quite without doubt this was a mixture which involved extraordinary possibilities, and extraordinary dangers. What came of it was this: a commoner who lost his way into art, a Bohemian homesick for a model nursery, an artist with a bad conscience. For it is of course my bourgeois conscience which makes me see in all artistry, in all unusualness and all genius something deeply ambiguous, deeply dubious, deeply disreputable, and which fills me with this lovelorn weakness for the simple, candid, and agreeably normal, for the decent and mediocre.
I stand between two worlds, am at home in neither, and in consequence have rather a hard time of it. You artists call me a commoner, and commoners feel tempted to arrest me ... I do not know which wounds me more bitterly. Commoners are stupid; but you worshippers of beauty who call me phlegmatic and without yearning, ought to reflect that there is an artistry so deep, so primordial and elemental, that no yearning seems to it sweeter and more worthy of tasting than that for the raptures of common-placeness.
I admire the proud and cold who go adventuring on the paths of great and demoniac beauty, and scorn "man"—but I do not envy them. For if anything is capable of making a poet out of a man of letters, it is this plebeian love of mine for the human, living, and commonplace. All warmth, all goodness, all humor is born of it, and it almost seems to me as if it were that love itself, of which it is written that a man might speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and yet without it be no more than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
What I have done is nothing, not much—as good as nothing. I shall do better things, Lisaveta—this is a promise. While I am writing, the sea's roar is coming up to me, and I close my eyes. I am looking into an unborn and shapeless world that longs to be called to life and order, I am looking into a throng of phantoms of human forms which beckon me to conjure them and set them free: some of them tragic, some of them ridiculous, and some that are both at once—and to these I am very devoted. But my deepest and most secret love belongs to the blond and blue-eyed, the bright-spirited living ones, the happy, amiable, and commonplace.
Do not speak lightly of this love, Lisaveta; it is good and fruitful. There is longing in it and melancholy envy, and a tiny bit of contempt, and an unalloyed chaste blissfulness.