The Magic Mountain Of Course, A Female!

HOW long it lasted he could not have told. When the moment arrived, the gong sounded. But it was not the gong for the meal, it was only the dressing-bell, as Hans Castorp knew, and so he still lay, until the metallic drone rose and died away a second time. When Joachim came to fetch him, Hans Castorp wanted to change, but this Joachim would not allow. He hated and despised unpunctuality. Would he be likely, he asked, to get on, and get strong enough for the service, if he was too feeble to observe the hours for meals? Wherein he was, of course, quite right, and Hans Castorp could only say that he was not ill at all, but only utterly and entirely sleepy. He confined himself to washing his hands; and then for the third time they went down together to the dining-hall.

The guests streamed in through both entrances, they even came through the open verandah door. Soon they all sat at their several tables as though they had never risen. Such at least was Hans Castorp’s impression—a dreamy and irrational impression, of course, but one which his muddled brain could not for an instant get rid of, in which it even took a certain satisfaction, so that several times in the course of the meal he sought to call it up again and was always perfectly successful in reproducing the illusion. The gay old lady continued to talk in her semifluid tongue at the care-worn Dr. Blumenkohl, diagonally opposite; her lean niece actually at last ate something else than yogurt; namely, the thick cream of barley soup, which was handed round in soup-plates by the waitresses. Of this she took a few spoonfuls and left the rest. Pretty Marusja giggled, then stuffed her dainty handkerchief in her mouth—it gave out a scent of oranges. Miss Robinson read the same letters, in the same round script, which she had read at breakfast. Obviously she knew not a word of German, nor wished to do so. Joachim, preux chevalier, said something to her in English, which she answered in a monosyllable without ceasing to chew, and relapsed again into silence. Frau Stöhr, sitting there in her woollen blouse, gave the table to know she had been examined that forenoon; she went into particulars, affectedly drawing back her upper lip from the rodent-like teeth. There were rhonchi to be heard in the upper right side, and under the left shoulder-blade the breathing was still very limited; the “old man”

said she would have to stop another five months. It sounded very common to hear her refer thus to Herr Hofrat Behrens. She displayed, moreover, a feeling of injury because the “old man” was not sitting at her table to-day, where he should by rights be sitting if he had taken them “à la tournée”—by which she presumably meant in turn—instead of going to the next table again. (There, in fact, he really was sitting, his great hands folded before his place.) But of course that was Frau Salomon’s table, the fat Frau Salomon from Amsterdam, who came décolletée to table even on week-days, a sight which the “old man” liked to see, though for her part—Frau Stöhr’s—she never could understand why, since he could see all he wanted of Frau Salomon at every examination. She related, in an excited whisper, that last night, in the general rest-hall up under the roof, somebody had put out the light, for purposes which she designated as “transparent.” The “old man” had seen it, and stormed so you could hear it all over the place. He had not discovered the culprit, of course, but it didn’t take a university education to guess that it was Captain Miklosich from Bucharest, for whom, when in the society of ladies, it could never be dark enough: a man without any and all refinement—though he did wear a corset—and, by nature, simply a beast of prey—a perfect beast of prey, repeated Frau Stöhr, in a stifled whisper, beads of perspiration on her brow and upper lip. The relations between him and Frau ConsulGeneral Wurmbrandt from Vienna were known throughout Dorf and Platz—it was idle any longer to speak of them as clandestine. Not merely did the captain go into the Frau Consul-General’s bedroom while she was still in bed, and remain there

throughout her toilet; last Thursday he had not left the Wurmbrandt’s room until four in the morning; that they knew from the nurse who was taking care of young Franz in number nineteen—his pneumothorax operation had gone wrong. She had, in her

embarrassment, mistaken her own door, and burst suddenly into the room of Herr Paravant, a Dortmund lawyer. Lastly Frau Stöhr held forth for some time on the merits of a “cosmic” establishment down in the village, where she bought her mouthwash. Joachim gazed stonily downwards at his plate. The meal was as faultlessly prepared as it was abundant. Counting the hearty soup, it consisted of no less than six courses. After the fish followed an excellent meat dish, with garnishings, then a separate vegetable course, then roast fowl, a pudding, not inferior to yesterday evening’s, and lastly cheese and fruit. Each dish was handed twice and not in vain. At all seven tables they filled their plates and ate: they ate like wolves; they displayed a voracity which would have been a pleasure to see, had there not been something else about it, an effect almost uncanny, not to say repulsive. It was not only the light-hearted who thus laced into the food—those who chattered as they ate and threw pellets of bread at each other. No, the same appetite was evinced by the silent, gloomy ones as well, those who in the pauses between courses leaned their heads on their hands and stared before them. A half-grown youth at the next table on the left, by his years a schoolboy, with his wrists coming out of his jacket sleeves, and thick, round eye-glasses, cut all the heaped-up food on his plate into a sort of mash, then bent over and gulped it down; he reached with his serviette behind his glasses now and then and dried his eyes—whether it was sweat or tears he dried one could not tell.

There were two incidents during the course of the meal of which Hans Castorp took note, so far as his condition permitted. One was the banging of the glass door, which occurred while they were having the fish course. Hans Castorp gave an exasperated shrug and angrily resolved that this time he really must find out who did it. He said this not only within himself, his lips formed the words. “I must find out,” he whispered with exaggerated earnestness. Miss Robinson and the schoolmistress both looked at him in surprise. He turned the whole upper half of his body to the left and opened wide his bloodshot blue eyes.

It was a lady who was passing through the room; a woman, or rather girl, of middle height, in a white sweater and coloured skirt, her reddish-blond hair wound in braids about her head. Hans Castorp had only a glimpse of her profile. She moved, in singular contrast to the noise of her entrance, almost without sound, passing with a peculiarly gliding step, her head a little thrust forward, to her place at the furthest table on the left, at right angles to the verandah door: the “good” Russian table, in fact. As she walked, she held one hand deep in the pocket of her close-fitting jacket; the other she lifted to the back of her head and arranged the plaits of her hair. Hans Castorp looked at the hand. He was habitually observant and critical of this feature, and accustomed when he made a new acquaintance to direct his attention first upon it. It was not particularly ladylike, this hand that was putting the braids to rights; not so refined and well kept as the hands of ladies in Hans Castorp’s own social sphere. Rather broad, with stumpy fingers, it had about it something primitive and childish, something indeed of the schoolgirl. The nails, it was plain, knew nothing of the manicurist’s art; they were cut in rough-and-ready schoolgirl fashion, and the skin at the side looked almost as though someone were subject to the childish vice of finger biting. But Hans Castorp sensed rather than saw this, owing to the distance. The laggard greeted her table-mates with a nod, and took her place on the inner side of the table with her back to the room, next to Dr. Krokowski, who was sitting at the top. As she did so, she turned her head, with the hand still raised to it, toward the dining-room and surveyed the public; Hans Castorp had opportunity for the fleeting observation that her cheek-bones were broad and her eyes narrow.—A vague memory of

something, of somebody, stirred him slightly and fleetingly as he looked.

“Of course, a female!” he thought, or rather he actually uttered, in a murmur, yet so that the schoolmistress, Fräulein Engelhart, understood. The poor old spinster smiled in sympathy.

“That is Madame Chauchat,”’ she said. “She is so heedless. A charming creature.”

And the downy flush on her cheek grew a shade darker—as it did whenever she spoke.

“A Frenchwoman?” Hans Castorp asked, with severity.

“No, she is a Russian,” was the answer. “Her husband is very likely French or of French descent, I am not sure.”

Hans Castorp asked, still irritated, if that was he—pointing to a gentleman with drooping shoulders who sat at the “good” Russian table.

“Oh, no,” the schoolmistress answered, “he isn’t here; he has never been here, no one knows him.”

“She ought to learn how to shut a door,” Hans Castorp said. “She always lets it slam. It is a piece of ill breeding.”

And on the schoolmistress’s meekly accepting this reproof as though she herself had been the guilty party, there was no more talk of Madame Chauchat.

The second event was the temporary absence of Dr. Blumenkohl from the room—

nothing more. The mildly disgusted facial expression suddenly deepened, he looked with sadder fixity into space, then unobtrusively moved back his chair and went out. Whereupon Frau Stöhr’s essential ill breeding showed itself in the clearest light; probably out of vulgar satisfaction in the fact that she was less ill than Dr. Blumenkohl. She accompanied his exit with comments half pitying, half


“Poor creature,” she said. “He’ll soon be at his last gasp. He had to go out for a talk with his ‘Blue Peter.’ ”

Quite stolidly, without repulsion, she brought out the grotesque phrase—Hans Castorp felt a mixture of repugnance and desire to laugh. Presently Dr. Blumenkohl came back in the same unobtrusive way, took his place, and went on eating. He too ate a great deal, twice of every dish, always in silence, with the same melancholy, preoccupied air.

Thus the midday meal came to an end. Thanks to the skilled service—the dwarf at Hans Castorp’s table was one of the quickest on her feet—it had lasted only a round hour. Breathing heavily, and not quite sure how he got upstairs, Hans Castorp lay once more in his capital chair upon his loggia; after this meal there was rest-cure until tea-time—the most important and rigidly adhered-to rest period of the day. Between the opaque glass walls that divided him on the one side from Joachim, on the other from the Russian couple, he lay and idly dreamed, his heart pounding, breathing through his mouth. On using his handkerchief he discovered it to be red with blood, but had not enough energy to think about the fact, though he was rather given to worrying over himself and by nature inclined to hypochondria. Once more he had lighted a Maria Mancini, and this time he smoked it to the end, no matter how it tasted. Giddy and oppressed, he considered as in a dream how very odd he had felt since he came up here. Two or three times his breast was shaken by inward laughter at the horrid expression which that ignorant creature, Frau Stöhr, had used.