One May morning in 1922 (meaning nearly winter here in the Warmbad district) a young engineering student named Kurt Mondaugen, late of the Technical University in Munich, arrived at a white outpost near the village of Kalkfontein South. More voluptuous than fat, with fair hair, long eyelashes and a shy smile that enchanted older women, Mondaugen sat in an aged Cape cart idly picking his nose, waiting for the sun to come up and contemplating the pontok or grass hut of Willem van Wijk, a minor extremity of the Administration in Windhoek. His horse drowsed and collected dew while Mondaugen squirmed on the seat, trying to control anger, confusion, petulance; and below the farthest verge of the Kalahari, that vast death, the tardy sun mocked him.
Originally a native of
Mondaugen was here as part of a program having to do with atmospheric radio disturbances: sferics for short. During the Great War one H. Barkhausen, listening in on telephone messages among the Allied forces, heard a series of falling tones, much like a slide whistle descending in pitch. Each of these "whistlers" (as Barkhausen named them) lasted only about a second and seemed to be in the low or audio-frequency range. As it turned out, the whistler was only the first of a family of sferics whose taxonomy was to include clicks, hooks, risers, nose-whistlers and one like a warbling of birds called the dawn chorus. No one knew exactly what caused any of them. Some said sunspots, others lightning bursts; but everyone agreed that in there someplace was the earth's magnetic field, so a plan evolved to keep a record of sferics received at different latitudes. Mondaugen, near the bottom of the list, drew
It had disturbed him at first, having to live in what had once been a German colony. Like most violent young men - and not a few stuffy old ones - he found the idea of defeat hateful. But he soon discovered that many Germans who'd been landowners before the war had simply continued on, allowed by the government of the
The sun rose and van Wijk appeared in his doorway like a two-dimensional figure jerked suddenly onstage by hidden pulleys. A vulture lit in front of the but and stared at van Wijk. Mondaugen himself acquired motion; jumped down off the cart, moved toward the but.
Van Wijk waved a bottle of Homemade beer at him. "I know," he shouted across the parched earth between them, "I know. I've been up all night with it. You think I don't have more to worry about?"
"My antennas," Mondaugen cried.
"Your antennas, my Warmbad district," the Boer said. He was half drunk. "Do you know what happened yesterday? Get worried. Abraham Morris has crossed the Orange."
Which, as had been intended, shook Mondaugen. He managed, "Only Morris?"
"Six men, some women and children rifles, stock. It isn't that. Morris isn't a man. He's a Messiah."
Mondaugen's annoyance had given way all at once to fear; fear began to bud from his intestinal walls.
"They threatened to rip down your antennas, didn't they."
But he'd done nothing ....
Van Wijk snorted. "You contributed. You told me you'd listen for disturbances and record certain data. You didn't say you'd blast them out all over my bush country and become a disturbance yourself. The Bondelswaartz believe in ghosts, the sferics frighten them. Frightened, they're dangerous."
Mondaugen admitted he'd been using an audio amplifier and loudspeaker. "I fall asleep," he explained. "Different sorts come in at different times of day. I'm a one-man research team, I have to sleep sometime. The little loudspeaker is set up at the head of my cot, I've conditioned myself to awake instantaneously, so no more than the first few of any group are lost . . ."
"When you return to your station," van Wijk cut in, "those antennas will be down, and your equipment smashed. A moment -" as the young man turned, redfaced and snuffling - "before you dash off screaming revenge, one word. Just one. An unpleasant word: rebellion."
"Every time a Bondel talks back to you people, it's rebellion." Mondaugen looked as if he might cry.
"Abraham Morris has joined forces by now with Jacobus Christian and Tim Beukes. They're trekking north. You saw for yourself that they'd heard about it already in your own neighborhood. It wouldn't surprise me if every Bondelswaartz in the district were under arms within the week. Not to mention a number of homicidally-disposed Veldschoendragers and Witboois from up north. Witboois are always looking for a fight." Inside the but a telephone began to ring. Van Wijk saw the look on Mondaugen's face. "Yes," he said. "Wait here, it may be interesting news." He vanished inside. From a nearby but came the sound of a Bondelswaartz pennywhistle, insubstantial as wind monotonous as sunlight in a dry season. Mondaugen listened as if it had something to say to him. It didn't.
Van Wijk appeared in the doorway. "Now listen to me, younker, if I were you I would go to Warmbad and stay there until this blows over."
"That was the location superintendent at Guruchas. Apparently they caught up with Morris, and a Sergeant van Niekerk tried an hour ago to get him to come in to Warmbad peacefully. Morris refused, van Niekerk placed his hand an Morris's shoulder in token of arrest. According to the Bondel version - which you may be sure has already spread to the Portuguese frontier - the Sergeant then proclaimed 'Die lood van die Goevernement sal nou op julle smelt.' The lead of the Government shall now melt upon you. Poetic, Wouldn't you say?
"The Bondels with Morris took it as a declaration of war. So the balloon's gone up, Mondaugen. Go to Warmbad, better yet keep going and get safely across the Orange. That's my best advice."
"No, no," Mondaugen said, "I am something of a coward, you know that. But tell me your second-best advice, because you see there are my antennas."
"You worry about your antennas as if they sprouted from your forehead. Go ahead. Return - if you have the courage, which I certainly don't - return up-country and tell them at Foppl's what you've heard here. Hole up in that fortress of his. If you want my own opinion it will be a blood bath. You weren't here in 1904. But ask Foppl. He remembers. Tell him the days of yon Trotha are back again."
"You could have prevented this," Mondaugen cried. "Isn't that what you're all here for, to keep them happy? To remove any need for rebellion?"
Van Wijk exploded in a bitter fit of laughing. "You seem," he finally drawled, "to be under certain delusions about the civil service. History, the proverb says, is made at night. The European civil servant normally sleeps at night. What waits in his IN basket to confront him at nine in the morning is history. He doesn't fight it, he tries to coexist with it.
"Die lood van die Goevernement indeed. We are, perhaps, the lead weights of a fantastic clock, necessary to keep it in motion, to keep an ordered sense of history and time prevailing against chaos. Very well! Let a few of them melt. Let the clock tell false time for a while. But the weights will be reforged, and rehung, and if there doesn't happen to be one there in the shape or name of Willem van Wijk to make it run right again, so much the worse for me."
To this curious soliloquy Kurt Mondaugen flipped a desperate farewell salute, climbed into his Cape cart, and headed back up-country. The trip was uneventful. Once in a great while an oxcart would materialize out of the scrubland; or a jet-black kite would come to hang in the sky, studying something small and quick among the cactus and thorn trees. The sun was hot. Mondaugen leaked at every orifice; fell asleep, was jolted awake; once dreamed gunshots and human screams. He arrived at the recovery station in the afternoon, found the Bondel village nearby quiet and his equipment undisturbed. Working as quickly as he could, he dismantled the antennas and packed them and the receiving equipment in the Cape cart. Half a dozen Bondelswaartz stood around watching. By the time he was ready to leave the sun was nearly down. From time to time, at the edges of his field of vision, Mondaugen would see small scurrying bands of Bondels, seeming almost to merge with the twilight, moving in and out of the small settlement in every direction. Somewhere to the west a dogfight had started. As he tightened the last half-hitch a pennywhistle began to play nearby, and it took him only a moment to realize that the player was imitating sferics. Bondels who were watching started to giggle. The laughter swelled, until it sounded like a jungleful of small exotic animals, fleeing some basic danger. But Mondaugen knew well enough who was fleeing what. The sun set, he climbed on the cart. No one said anything in farewell: all he heard at his back were the whistle and the laughter.
It was several more hours to Foppl's. The only incident on route was a flurry of gunfire - real, this time - off to his left, behind a hill. At last, quite early in the morning, the lights of Foppl's burst on him suddenly out of the scrubland's absolute blackness. He crossed a small ravine on a plank bridge and drew up before the door.
As usual a party was in progress, a hundred windows blazed, the gargoyles, arabesques, pargeting and fretwork of Foppl's "villa" vibrated in the African night. A cluster of girls and Foppl himself stood at the door while the farm's Bondels offloaded the Cape cart and Mondaugen reported the situation.
The news alarmed certain of Foppl's neighbors who owned farms and stock nearby. "But it would be best," Foppl announced to the party, "if we all stayed here. If there's to be burning and destruction, it will happen whether or not you're there to defend your own. If we disperse our strength they can destroy us as well as our farms. This house is the best fortress in the region: strong, easily defended. House and grounds are protected on all sides by deep ravines. There is more than enough food, good wine, music and -" winking lewdly - "beautiful women.
"To hell with them out there. Let them have their war. In here we shall hold Fasching. Bolt the doors, seal the windows, tear down the plank bridges and distribute arms. Tonight we enter a state of siege."
Thus began Foppl's Siege Party. Mondaugen left after two and a half months. In that time no one had ventured outside, or received any news from the rest of the district. By the time Mondaugen departed, a dozen bottles of wine still lay cobwebbed in the cellar, a dozen cattle remained to be slaughtered. The vegetable garden behind the house was still abundant with tomatoes, yams, chard, herbs. So affluent was the farmer Foppl.
The day after Mondaugen's arrival, the house and grounds were sealed off from the outside world. Up went an inner palisade of strong logs, pointed at the top, and down went the bridges. A watch list was made up, a General Staff appointed, all in the spirit of a new party game.
A curious crew were thus thrown together. Many, of course, were German: rich neighbors, visitors from Windhoek and Swakopmund. But there were also Dutch and English from the Union; Italians, Austrians, Belgians from the diamond fields near the coast; French, Russian, Spanish and one Pole from various corners of the earth; all creating the appearance of a tiny European Conclave or League of Nations, assembled here while political chaos howled outside.
Early on the morning after his arrival, Mondaugen was up on the roof, stringing his antennas along the iron fanciwork that topped the villa's highest gable. He had an uninspiring view of ravines, grass dry pans, dust, scrub; all repeating, undulating east to the eventual wastes of the Kalahari; north to a distant yellow exhalation that rose from far under the horizon and seemed to hang eternally over the Tropic of Capricorn.
Back here Mondaugen could also see down into a kind of inner courtyard. Sunlight, filtered through a great sandstorm far away in the desert, bounced off an open bay window and down, too bright, as if amplified, into the courtyard to illuminate a patch or pool of deep red. Twin tendrils of it extended to a nearby doorway. Mondaugen shivered and stared. The reflected sunlight vanished up a wall and into the sky. He looked up, saw the window opposite complete its swing open and a woman of indeterminate age in a negligee of peacock blues and greens squint into the sun. Her left hand rose to her left eye, fumbled there as if positioning a monocle. Mondaugen crouched behind curlicues of wrought iron, astonished not so much at anything in her appearance as at his own latent desire to see and not be seen. He waited for the sun or her chance movement to show him nipples, navel, pubic hair.
But she had seen him. "Come out, come out, gargoyle," she called playfully. Mondaugen lurched vertical, lost his balance, nearly fell off the roof, grabbed hold of a lightning rod, slid to a 45 degree angle and began to laugh.
"My little antennas," he gurgled.
"Come to the roof garden," she invited, and disappeared then back into a white room turned to blinding enigma by a sun finally free of its Kalahari.
He completed his job of setting up the antennas, then made his way round cupolas and chimney pots, up and down slopes and slates till at length he vaulted clumsily over a low wall and it seemed some tropic as well, for the life there he found too lavish, spectral, probably carnivorous; not in good taste.
"How pretty he is." The woman, dressed now in jodhpurs and an army shirt, leaned against the wall, smoking a cigarette. All at once, as he'd been half-expecting, cries of pain lanced a morning quiet that had known only visiting kites and wind, and the dry rustling of the exterior veld.
Mondaugen knew, without having to run to see, that the cries had come from the courtyard where he'd seen the crimson stain. Neither he nor the woman moved. It somehow having become part of a mutual constraint that neither of them show curiosity. Voila: conspiracy already, without a dozen words having passed between them.
Her name proved to be Vera Meroving, her companion a Lieutenant Weissmann, her city Munich.
"Perhaps we even met one Fasching," she said, "masked and strangers."
Mondaugen doubted, but had they met: were there any least basis for that "conspiracy" a moment ago: it would surely have been somewhere like Munich, a city dying of abandon, venality, a mark swollen with fiscal cancer.
As the distance between them gradually diminished Mondaugen saw that her left eye was artificial: she, noticing his curiosity, obligingly removed the eye and held it out to him in the hollow of her hand. A bubble blown translucent, its "white" would show up when in the socket as a half-lit sea green. A fine network of nearly microscopic fractures covered its surface. Inside were the delicately-wrought wheels, springs, ratchets of a watch, wound by a gold key which Fraulein Meroving wore on a slender chain round her neck. Darker green and flecks of gold had been fused into twelve vaguely zodiacal shapes, placed annular on the surface of the bubble to represent the iris and also the face of the watch.
"What was it like outside?"
He told her the little he knew. Her hands had begun to tremble: he noticed it when she went to replace the eye. He could scarcely hear her when she said:
"It could be 1904 again."
Curious: van Wijk had said that. What was 1904 to these people? He was about to ask her when Lieutenant Weissmann appeared in mufti from behind an unwholesomelooking palm and pulled her by the hand, back into the depths of the house.
Two things made Foppl's a fortunate place to be carrying on sferic research. First, the farmer had given Mondaugen a room to himself in a turret at one corner of the house; a little enclave of scientific endeavor, buffered by a number of empty storage roams and with access to the roof through a stained-glass window portraying an early Christian martyr being devoured by wild beasts.
Second, modest though their demands were, there was an auxiliary source of electric power for his receivers in the small generator Foppl kept to light the giant chandelier in the dining hall. Rather than rely, as he had been doing, on a number of bulky batteries, Mondaugen was sure it wouldn't be too difficult simply to tap off and devise circuitry to modify what power he needed, either to operate the equipment directly or to recharge the batteries. Accordingly, that afternoon, after arranging his effects, equipment and the attendant paper work into an imitation of professional disorder, Mondaugen set off into the house and down, in search of this generator.
Soon, padding down a narrow, sloping corridor, he was brought to attention by a mirror hung some twenty feet ahead, angled to reflect the interior of a room around the next corner. Framed for him there were Vera Meroving and her lieutenant in profile, she striking at his chest with what appeared to be a small riding crop, he twisting a gloved hand into her hair and talking to her all the while, so precisely that the voyeur Mondaugen could lip-read each obscenity. The geometry of the corridors somehow baffled all sound: Mondaugen, with the queer excitement he'd felt watching her at her window that morning, expected captions explaining it all to flash on to the mirror. But she finally released Weissmann; he reached out with the curiously gloved hand and closed the door, and it was as if Mondaugen had dreamed them.
Presently he began to hear music, which grew louder the deeper he descended into this house. Accordion, fiddle and guitar were playing a tango full of minor chords and an eerie Ratting of certain notes which to German ears should have remained natural. A young girl's voice was singing sweetly:
Love's a lash,
Kisses gall the tongue, harrow the heart;
Cankered tissue apart.
Be my Hottentot bondsman tonight,
The sjambok's kiss
Is unending delight.
Love, my little slave,
For white and black
Are only states of mind.
So at my feet
Nod and genuflect, whimper for me:
Though tears are dried
Their pain is yet to be.
Enchanted, Mondaugen peered round the door jamb and found the singer to be a child of not more than sixteen, with white-blond, hip-length hair and breasts perhaps too large for her slender frame.
"I am Hedwig Vogelsang," she informed him, "and my purpose on earth is to tantalize and send raving the race of man." Whereupon the musicians, hidden from them in an alcove behind a hanging arras, struck up a kind of schottische; Mondaugen, overcome by the sudden scent of musk, brought in a puff to his nostrils by interior winds which could not have arisen by accident, seized her round the waist and wheeled with her across the room, and out, and through a bedroom lined with mirrors round a canopied four-poster and into a long gallery, stabbed at ten-yard intervals down its length by yellow daggers of African sun, hung with nostalgic landscapes of a Rhine valley that never existed, portraits of Prussian officers who'd died long before Caprivi (some even before Bismarck) and their blond, untender ladies who'd nothing now but dust to bloom in; past rhythmic gusts of blond sun that crazed the eyeballs with vein-images; out of the gallery and into a tiny unfurnished room hung all in black velvet, high as the house, narrowing into a chimney and open at the top, so that one could see the stars in the daytime; finally down three or four steps to Foppl's own planetarium, a circular room with a great wooden sun, overlaid with gold leaf, burning cold in the very center and round it the nine planets and their moons, suspended from tracks in the ceiling, actuated by a coarse cobweb of chains, pulleys, belts, racks, pinions and worms, all receiving their prime impulse from a treadmill in the corner, usually operated for the amusement of the guests by a Bondelswaartz, now unoccupied. Having long fled all vestiges of music Mondaugen released her here, skipped to the treadmill and began a jog-trot that set the solar system in motion, creaking and whining in a way that raised a prickling in the teeth. Rattling, shuddering, the wooden planets began to rotate and spin, Saturn's rings to whirl, moons their precessions, our own Earth its nutational wobble, all picking up speed; as the girl continued to dance, having chosen the planet Venus for her partner; as Mondaugen dashed along his own geodesic, following in the footsteps of a generation of slaves.
When at length he tired, slowed and stopped she'd gone, vanished into the wooden reaches of what remained after all a parody of space. Mondaugen, breathing heavily, staggered off the treadmill to carry on his descent and search for the generator.
Soon he stumbled into a basement room where gardening implements were stored. As if the entire day had come into being only to prepare him for this, he discovered a Bondel male, face down and naked, the back and buttocks showing scar tissue from old sjambokings as well as more recent wounds, laid open across the flesh like so many toothless smiles. Hardening himself the weakling Mondaugen approached the man and stooped to listen for breathing or a heartbeat, trying not to see the white vertebra that winked at him from one long opening.
"Don't touch him." Foppl stood holding a sjambok or cattle whip of giraffe hide, tapping the handle against his leg in a steady, syncopated figure. "He doesn't want you to help. Even to sympathize. He doesn't want anything but the sjambok." Raising his voice till it found the hysterical-bitch level Foppl always affected with Bondels: "You like the sjambok, don't you, Andreas."
Andreas moved his head feebly and whispered; "Baas . . ."
"Your people have defied the Government," Foppl continued, "they've rebelled, they have sinned. General yon Trotha will have to come back to punish you all. He'll have to bring his soldiers with the beards and the bright eyes, and his artillery that speaks with a loud voice. How you will enjoy it, Andreas. Like Jesus returning to earth, yon Trotha is coming to deliver you. Be joyful; sing hymns of thanks. And until then love me as your parent, because I am yon Trotha's arm, and the agent of his will."
As van Wijk had bade him do, Mondaugen remembered to ask Foppl about 1904 and the "days of yon Trotha." If Foppl's response was sick, it was sick of more than simple enthusiasm; not only did he yarn about the past - first there in the cellar as both stood watching a Bondelswaartz whose face Mondaugen was never to see continue to die; later at riotous feasting, on watch or patrol, to ragtime accompaniment in the grand ballroom; even up in the turret, as deliberate interruption to the experiment - but he also seemed under compulsion somehow to recreate the Deutsch-Sudwestafrika of nearly twenty years ago, in word and perhaps in deed. "Perhaps" because as the siege party progressed it became more and more difficult to make the distinction.
One midnight Mondaugen stood on a small balcony just under the eaves, officially on watch, though little could be seen in the uncertain illumination. The moon, or half of it, had risen above the house: his antennas cut like rigging dead-black across its face. As he swung his rifle idly by its shoulder strap, gazing out across the ravine at nothing in particular, someone stepped on to the balcony beside him: it was an old Englishman named Godolphin, tiny in the moonlight. Small scrubland noises now and again rose to them from the outside.
"I hope I don't disturb you," Godolphin said. Mondaugen shrugged, keeping his eyes in a constant sweep over what he guessed to be the horizon. "I enjoy it on watch," the Englishman continued, "it's the only peace there is to this eternal celebration." He was a retired sea captain; in his seventies, Mondaugen would guess. "I was in Cape Town, trying to raise a crew for the Pole."
Mondaugen's eyebrows went up. Embarrassed, he began to pick at his nose. "The South Pole?"
"Of course. Rather awkward if it were the other, haw-haw.
"And I'd heard of a stout boat in Swakopmund. But of course she was too small. Hardly do for the pack ice. Foppl was in town, and invited me out for a weekend. I imagine I needed the rest."
"You sound cheerful. In the face of what must be frequent disappointment."
"They leave the sting out. Treat the doddering old fool with sympathy. He's living in the past. Of course I'm living in the past. I was there."
"At the Pole."
"Certainly. Now I have to go back, it's that simple. I'm beginning to think that if I get through our siege party I shall be quite ready for anything the Antarctic has for me."
Mondaugen was inclined to agree. "Though I don't plan on any little Antarctic."
The old sea dog chuckled. "Oh there will be. You wait. Everyone has an Antarctic."
Which it occurred to Mondaugen, was as far South as one could get. At first he'd plunged eagerly into the social life that jittered all over the sprawling plantation house, usually leaving his Scientific duties until the early afternoon, when everyone but the watch was asleep. He had even begun a dogged pursuit of Hedwig Vogelsang, but somehow kept running into Vera Meroving instead. Southsickness in its tertiary stage, whispered that adenoidal Saxon youth who was Mondaugen's doubleganger: beware, beware.
The woman, twice as old as he, exerted a sexual fascination he found impossible to explain away. He'd meet her head-on in corridors, or rounding some salient of cabinetwork, or on the roof, or simply in the night, always unlooked for. He would make no advances, she no response; but despite all efforts to hold it in check, their conspiracy grew.
As if it were a real affair, Lieutenant Weissmann cornered him in the billiard room. Mondaugen quivered and prepared to flee: but it proved to be something else entirely.
"You're from Munich," Weissmann established. "Ever been around the Schwabing quarter?" On occasion. "The Brennessel cabaret?" Never. "Ever heard of D'Annunzio?" Then: Mussolini? Fiume? Italia irredenta? Fascisti? National Socialist German Workers' Party? Adolf Hitler? Kautsky's Independents?
"So many capital letters," Mondaugen protested.
"From Munich, and never heard of Hitler," said Weissmann, as if "Hitler" were the name of an avant-garde play. "What the hell's wrong with young people." Light from the green overhead lamp turned his spectacles to twin, tender leaves, giving him a gentle look.
"I'm an engineer, you see. politics isn't my line."
"Someday we'll need you," Weissmann told him, "for something or other, I'm sure. Specialized and limited as you are, you fellows will be valuable. I didn't mean to get angry."
"politics is a kind of engineering, isn't it. With people as your raw material."
"I don't know," Weissmann said. "Tell me, how long are you staying in this part of the world."
"No longer than I have to. Six months? it's indefinite."
"If I could put you in the way of something, oh, with a little authority to it, not really involving much of your time . . ."
"Organizing, you'd call it?"
"Yes, you're sharp. You knew right away, didn't you. Yes. You are my man. The young people especially, Mondaugen because you see - I know this won't be repeated - we could be getting it back."
"The Protectorate? But it's under the League of Nations."
Weissmann threw back his head and began to laugh, and would say no more. Mondaugen shrugged, took down a cue, dumped the three balls from their velvet bag and practiced draw shots till well into the morning.
He emerged from the billiard room to hot jazz from somewhere overhead. Blinking, he made his way up marble steps to the grand ballroom and found the dance floor empty. Clothing of both sexes was littered about; the music, which came from a Gramophone in the corner, roared gay and hollow under the electric chandelier. But no one was there, no one at all. He plodded up to his turret room with its ludicrous circular bed and found that a typhoon of sferics had been bombarding the earth. He fell asleep and dreamed, for the first time since he'd left it, of Munich.
In the dream it was Fasching, the mad German Carnival or Mardi Gras that ends the day before Lent begins. The season in Munich, under the Weimar Republic and the inflation, had followed since the war a constantly rising curve, taking human depravity as ordinate. Chief reason being that no one in the city knew if he'd be alive or well come next Fasching. Any windfall - food, firewood, coal - was consumed as quickly as possible. Why hoard, why ration? Depression hung in the gray strata of clouds, looked at you out of faces waiting in bread queues and dehumanized by the bitter cold. Depression stalked the Liebigstrasse, where Mondaugen had had an attic room in a mansarde: a figure with an old woman's face, bent against the wind off the Isar and wrapped tightly in a frayed black coat; who might, like some angel of death, mark in pink spittle the doorsteps of those who'd starve tomorrow.
It was dark. He was in an old cloth jacket, a stocking cap tugged down over his ears, arms linked with a number of young people he didn't know but suspected were students, all singing a death-song and weaving side to side in a chain, broadside to the street's centerline. He could hear bands of other rollickers, drunk and singing lustily in other streets. Beneath a tree, near one of the infrequent street lights, he came upon a boy and girl, coupled, one of the girl's fat and aging thighs exposed to the still-winter wind. He stooped and covered them with his old jacket, his tears fell and froze in mid-air, and rattled like sleet on the couple, who'd turned to stone.
He was in a beer hall. Young, old, students, workmen, grandfathers, adolescent girls drank, sang, cried, fondled blindly after same and different-sexed alike. Someone had set a blaze in the fireplace and was roasting a cat he'd found in the street. The black oak clock above the fireplace ticked terribly loud in strange waves of silence that swept regularly over the company. Girls appeared out of the confusion of moving faces, sat on his lap while he squeezed breasts and thighs and tweaked noses; beer spilled at the far end of the table and swept the table's length in a great foam cascade. The fire that had been roasting the cat spread to a number of tables and had to be doused with more beer; fat and charred-black, the cat itself was snatched from the hands of its unfortunate cook and tossed about the room like a football, blistering the hands that passed it on, till it disintegrated among roars of laughter. Smoke hung like winter fog in the beer hall, changing the massed weaving of bodies to more a writhing perhaps of damned in some underworld. Faces all had the same curious whiteness: concave cheeks, highlighted temples, bone of the starved corpse there just tinder the skin.
Vera Meroving appeared (why Vera? her black mask covered the entire head) in black sweater and black dancer's tights. "Come," she whispered; led him by the hand through narrow streets, hardly lit but thronged with celebrants who sang and cheered in tubercular voices. White faces, like diseased blooms, bobbed along in the dark as if moved by other forces toward some graveyard, to pay homage at an important burial.
At dawn she came in through the stained-glass window to tell him that another Bondel had been executed, this time by hanging.
"Come and see," she urged him. "In the garden."
"No, no." It had been a popular form of killing during the Great Rebellion of 1904-07, when the Hereros and Hottentots, who usually fought one another, staged a simultaneous but uncoordinated rising against an incompetent German administration. General Lothar von Trotha, having demonstrated to Berlin during his Chinese and East African campaigns a certain expertise at suppressing pigmented populations, was brought in to deal with the Hereros. In August 1904, von Trotha issued his "Vernichtungs Befehl," whereby the German forces were ordered to exterminate systematically every Herero man, woman and child they could find. He was about 80 per cent successful. Out of the estimated 80,000 Hereros living in the territory in 1904, an official German census taken seven years later set the Herero population at only 15,130, this being a decrease of 64,870. Similarly the Hottentots were reduced in the same period by about 10,000, the Berg-Damaras by 17,000. Allowing for natural causes during those unnatural years, von Trotha, who stayed for only one of them, is reckoned to have done away with about 60,000 people. This is only 1 per cent of six million, but still pretty good.
Foppl had first come to Sudwestafrika as a young Army recruit. It didn't take him long to find out how much he enjoyed it all. He'd ridden out with von Trotha that August, that inverted spring. "You'd find them wounded, or sick, by the side of the road," he told Mondaugen, "but you didn't want to waste the ammunition. Logistics at the time were sluggish. Some you bayoneted, others you hanged. Procedure was simple: one led the fellow or woman to the nearest tree, stood him on an ammunition box, fashioned a noose of rope (failing that, telegraph or fencing wire), slipped it round his neck, ran the rope through a fork in the tree and secured it to the trunk, kicked the box away. It was slow strangulation, but then these were summary courts-martial. Field expedients had to be used when you couldn't put up a scaffold each time."
"Of course not," said Mondaugen in his nit-picking engineer's way, "but with so much telegraph wire and so many ammunition boxes lying around, logistics couldn't have been all that sluggish."
"Oh," Foppl said. "Well. You're busy."
As it happened, Mondaugen was. Though it may have been only because of bodily exhaustion from too much partying, he'd begun to notice something unusual in the sferic signals. Having dexterously scavenged a motor from one of Foppl's phonographs, a pen and rollers and several long sheets of paper, the resourceful Mondaugen had fashioned a crude sort of oscillograph to record signals in his absence. The project hadn't seen fit to provide him with one and he'd had nowhere to go at his former station, making one up till now unnecessary. As he looked now at the cryptic pen-scrawls, he detected a regularity or patterning which might almost have been a kind of code. But it took him weeks even to decide that the only way to see if it were a code was to try to break it. His room became littered with tables, equations, graphs; he appeared to labor to the accompaniment of twitterings, hisses, clicks and carolings but in reality he dawdled. Something kept him off. Events intimidated him: one night during another "typhoon" the oscillograph broke, chattering and scratching away madly. The difficulty was minor and Mondaugen was able to fix it. But he wondered if the malfunction had been quite an accident.
He took to roaming the house at odd hours, at loose ends. Like the "eye" in his dream of Fasching he now found he had a gift of visual serendipity: a sense of timing, a perverse certainty about not whether but when to play the voyeur. A taming, possibly, of the original heat with which he'd watched Vera Meroving in the earlier days of the siege party. For example, leaning in bleak winter sunlight against a Corinthian column, Mondaugen could hear her voice not far away.
"No. Non-military it may be, but a false siege it is not."
Mondaugen lit a cigarette and peered around the column. She was sitting in the rockery with old Godolphin, beside a goldfish pool.
"Do you remember," she began. But then noticed perhaps the pain of a return Home choking him more than any noose of memory she could provide, because she let him interrupt:
"I have done believing in siege as anything more than military technic. That was well over with twenty years ago, before even your beloved 1904."
Condescending, she explained that she'd been off in another country in 1904, and that a year and place don't have to include the physical person for there to be a certain ownership.
It was beyond Godolphin. "I was advising the Russian Fleet in 1904," he remembered. "They didn't take my advice, the Japanese you'll remember bottled us up in Port Arthur. Good God. It was a siege in the great tradition, it lasted a year. I remember frozen hillsides, and the ghastly nagging of those field-mortars, coughing away day in and day out. And white spotlights, moving over the positions at night. Blinding you. A devout junior officer with an arm gone and the empty sleeve pinned across like a sash said they looked like the fingers of God, seeking soft throats to strangle."
"Lieutenant Weissmann and Herr Foppl have given me my 1904," she told him, like a schoolgirl enumerating birthday gifts. "Just as you were given your Vheissu."
Hardly any time at all passed before he cried, "No! No, I was there." Then, his head moving with difficulty to face her, "I didn't tell you about Vheissu. Did I?"
"Of course you did."
"I hardly remember Vheissu myself."
"I do. I have remembered for us."
"'Have remembered,'" with a sudden canny tilt to one eye. But it relaxed, and he rambled off:
"If anything gave me my Vheissu it was the time, the Pole, the service . . . But it's all been taken away, I mean the leisure and the sympathy. It's fashionable to say the War did it. Whatever you choose. But Vheissu is gone and impossible to bring back, along with so many other old jokes, songs, 'rages.' And the sort of beauty one had in Cleo de Merode, or Eleonora Duse. The way those eyes turned down at the corners; the incredible expanse of eyelid above, like old vellum . . . But you're too young, you wouldn't remember."
"I'm past forty," smiled Vera Meroving, "and of course I remember. I was given the Duse too, by the man in fact who gave her to Europe, over twenty years ago, in Il Fuoco. We were in Fiume. Another siege. The Christmas before last, he called it the Christmas of blood. He gave her to me as memories, in his palace, while the Andrea Doria dropped shells on us."
"They'd go to the Adriatic on holiday," Godolphin said with a foolish smile, as if the memory were his own; "he, naked, rode his sorrel into the sea while she waited on the strand . . ."
"No," suddenly and only for the moment vicious, "not selling her jewels to suppress the novel about her, nor using a virgin's skull for a loving cup, none of that's true. She was past forty and in love, and he hurt her. Went out of his way to hurt her. That's all there was to it.
"Weren't we both in Florence then? While he was writing the novel about their affair; how could we have avoided them! Yet it seemed always that I was just missing him. First in Florence, then in Paris just before the war, as if I'd been condemned to wait until he reached his supreme moment, his peak of virtu: Fiume!"
"In Florence . . . we . . ." quizzical, weak.
She leaned forward, as if hinting she'd like to be kissed. "Don't you see? This siege. It's Vheissu. It's finally happened."
Abruptly then occurred one of those ironic reversals in which the weakling for a short while gains the upper hand, and the attacker is forced, at best, into a holding operation. Mondaugen, watching, credited this less to any internal logic in their discussion than to a latent virility in the old man, hidden against contingencies like this from the cormorant graspings of age.
Godolphin laughed at her. "There's been a war, Fraulein. Vheissu was a luxury, an indulgence. We can no longer afford the likes of Vheissu."
"But the need," she protested, "its void. What can fill that?"
He cocked his head and grinned at her. "What is already filling it. The real thing. Unfortunately. Take your friend D'Annunzio. Whether we like it or not that war destroyed a kind of privacy, perhaps the privacy of dream. Committed us like him to work out three-o'clock anxieties, excesses of character, political hallucinations on a live mass, a real human population. The discretion, the sense of comedy about the Vheissu affair are with us no more, our Vheissus are no longer our own, or even confined to a circle of friends; they're public property, God knows how much of it the world will see, or what lengths it will be taken to. It's a pity; and I'm only glad I don't have to live in it too much longer."
"You're remarkable," was all she'd say; and after braining an inquisitive goldfish with a rock, she left Godolphin.
Alone, he said: "We simply grow up. In Florence, at age fifty-four, I was a brash youth. Had I known the Duse was there her poet chap might have found dangerous competition, ha-ha. The only trouble is that now, nearing eighty, I keep discovering that damned war has made the world older than I. The world frowns now on youth in a vacuum, it insists youth be turned-to, utilized, exploited. No time for pranks. No more Vheissus. Ah, well." And to a catchy, rather syncopated fox-trot tune, he sang:
Once we could flirt and spoon,
Down by the summertime sea.
Your aunt Iphigenia found it terribly odd
To see us stealing a kiss there on the Promenade, oh
You weren't past seventeen,
Parasol-pretty for me;
Ah, could we but return to that season of light,
With our puppy-love soaring like a gay summer kite,
When it wasn't yet time to think of autumn, or night;
Down by the summertime sea.
(Here Eigenvalue made his single interruption: "They spoke in German? English? Did Mondaugen know English then?" Forestalling a nervous outburst by Stencil: "I only think it strange that he should remember an unremarkable conversation, let alone in that much detail, thirty-four years later. A conversation meaning nothing to Mondaugen but everything to Stencil."
Stencil, silenced puffed his pipe and watched the psychodontist, a quirk to one side of his mouth revealed now and again, enigmatic, through the white fumes. Finally: "Stencil called it serendipity, not he. Do you understand? Of course you do. But you want to hear him say it."
"I understand only," Eigenvalue drawled, "that your attitude toward V. must have more sides to it than you're ready to admit. It's what the psychoanalysts used to call ambivalence, what we now call simply a heterodont configuration."
Stencil made no answer; Eigenvalue shrugged and let him continue.)
In the evening a roasted veal was set out on a long table in the dining hall. Guests fell upon it drunkenly, tearing away choice pieces of flesh with their hands, staining what clothes they wore with gravy and grease. Mondaugen was feeling his usual reluctance to return to work. He padded along crimson-carpeted passageways, mirrored, unpopulated, ill-lit, without echoes. He was, tonight, a bit upset and depressed without being able to say exactly why. Perhaps because he'd begun to detect the same desperation in Foppl's siege party as there'd been in Munich during Fasching; but without any clear reason, for here after all was abundance not Depression, luxury not a daily struggle for life; above all, possibly, breasts and buttocks that could be pinched.
Somehow he'd wandered by Hedwig's room. Her door was open. She sat before her vanity mirror making up her eyes. "Come in," she called, "don't stand there leering."
"Your little eyes look so antiquated."
"Herr Foppl has ordered all the ladies to dress and make up as they would have done in 1904." She giggled. "I wasn't even born in 1904, so I really shouldn't be wearing anything." She sighed. "But after all the trouble I'd gone to to pluck my eyebrows to look like Dietrich's. Now I must draw them in again like great dark wings, and point them at either end; and so much mascara!" She pouted, "Pray no one breaks my heart, Kurt, for tears would ruin these old-fashioned eyes."
"Oh, you have a heart then."
"Please, Kurt, I said don't make me cry. Come: you may help me arrange my hair."
When he lifted the heavy, pale locks from her nape he saw two parallel rings of recently chafed skin running round the neck, about two inches apart. If surprise was communicated through her hair by any movement his hands may have made, Hedwig gave no sign. Together they put up her hair in an elaborate curly bun, securing it with a black satin band. Round her neck, to cover each abrasion, she wound a thin string of little onyx beads, letting three more loops or so drop progressively looser down between her breasts,
He bent to kiss one shoulder. "No," she moaned, then went berserk; picked up a flacon of Cologne water, inverted it on his head arose from her vanity, hitting Mondaugen in the jaw with the shoulder he'd been trying to kiss. He, felled, lost consciousness for a fraction of a minute, woke to see her cakewalking out the door, singing Auf dem Zippel-Zappel-Zeppelin, a tune popular at the turn of the century.
He staggered to the corridor: she'd vanished. Feeling rather a sexual failure, Mondaugen set out for his turret and oscillograph, and the comforts of science, which are glacial and few.
He got as far as a decorative grotto, located in the very guts of the house. There Weissmann, in full uniform, lunged at him from behind a stalagmite. "Upington!" he screamed.
"Ah?" inquired Mondaugen, blinking.
"You're a cool one. Professional traitors are always so cool." His mouth remaining open, Weissmann sniffed the air. "Oh, my. Don't we smell nice." His eyeglasses blazed.
Mondaugen, still groggy and enveloped in a miasma of cologne, wanted only to sleep. He tried to push past the piqued lieutenant, who barred his path with the butt end of a sjambok.
"Whom have you been in contact with at Upington?"
"It has to be, it's the nearest large town in the Union. You can't expect English operatives to give up the comforts of civilization."
"I don't know anyone in the Union."
"Careful how you answer, Mondaugen."
It finally came to him that Weissmann was talking about the sferic experiment. "It can't transmit," he yelled. "If you knew anything at all you'd see that immediately. It's for receiving only, stupid."
Weissmann favored him with a smile. "You just convicted yourself. They send you instructions. I may not know electronics, but I can recognize the scrawlings of a bad cryptanalyst."
If you can do any better you're welcome," Mondaugen sighed. He told Weissmann about his whim, the "code."
"You mean that?" abruptly almost childlike. "You'll let me see what you've received?"
"You've obviously seen everything. But it'll put us that much closer to a solution."
Quite soon he had Weissmann laughing shyly. "Oh. Oh, I see. You're ingenious. Amazing. Ja. Stupid of me, you see. I do apologize."
Struck by an inspiration, Mondaugen whispered, "I'm monitoring their little broadcasts."
Weissmann frowned. "That's what I just said."
Mondaugen shrugged. The lieutenant lit a whale-oil lamp and they set out for the turret. As they ascended a sloping hallway, the great villa was filled with a single, deafening pulse of laughter. Mondaugen became numb, the lantern went smash behind him. He turned to see Weissmann standing among little blue flames and shiny fragments of glass.
"The strand wolf," was all Weissmann could manage.
In his room Mondaugen had brandy, but Weissmann's face remained the color of cigar smoke. He wouldn't talk. He got drunk and presently feel asleep in a chair.
Mondaugen worked on the code into the early morning, getting, as usual, nowhere. He kept dozing off and being brought awake by brief chuckling sounds from the loudspeaker. They sounded to Mondaugen, half in dream, like that other chilling laugh, and made him reluctant to go back to sleep. But he continued to, fitfully.
Somewhere out in the house (though he may have dreamed that too) a chorus had begun singing a Dies Irae in plainsong. It got so loud it woke Mondaugen. Irritated, he lurched to the door and went out to tell them to keep quiet.
Once past the storage rooms, he found the adjoining corridors brilliantly lit. On the whitewashed floor he saw a trail of blood-spatters, still wet. Intrigued, he followed. The blood led him perhaps fifty yards through drapes and around corners to what may have been a human form, lying covered with a piece of old canvas sail, blocking further passage. Beyond it the floor of the corridor gleamed white and bloodless.
Mondaugen broke into a sprint, jumped neatly over whatever it was and continued on at a jogging pace. Eventually he found himself at the head of a portrait gallery he and Hedwig Vogelsang had once danced down. His head still reeled with her cologne. Halfway along, illuminated by a nearby sconce, he saw Foppl, dressed in his old private-soldier's uniform and standing on tiptoe to kiss one of the portraits. When he'd gone, Mondaugen looked at the brass plate on the frame to verify his suspicion. It was indeed von Trotha.
"I loved the man," he'd said. "He taught us not to fear. It's impossible to describe the sudden release; the comfort, the luxury; when you knew you could safely forget all the rote-lessons you'd had to learn about the value and dignity of human life. I had the same feeling once in the Realgymnasium when they told us we wouldn't be responsible in the examination for all the historical dates we'd spent weeks memorizing ....
"Till we've done it, we're taught that it's evil. Having done it, then's the struggle: to admit to yourself that it's not really evil at all. That like forbidden sex it's enjoyable."
Shuffling sounds behind him. MondaugEn turned; it was Godolphin. "Evan," the old man whispered.
"I beg your pardon."
"It's I, son. Captain Hugh."
Mondaugen came closer, thinking possibly Godolphin's eyes were troubling him. But worse troubled him and there was nothing remarkable about the eyes save tears.
"Good morning, Captain."
"You don't have to hide any more, son. She told me; I know; it's all right. You can be Evan again. Father's here." The old man gripped his arm above the elbow and smiled bravely. "Son. It's time we went Home. God, we've been so long away. Come."
Trying to be gentle, Mondaugen let the sea captain steer him along the corridor. "Who told you? You said 'she.'"
Godolphin had gone vague. "The girl. Your girl. What's-her-name."
A minute passed before Mondaugen remembered enough of Godolphin to ask, with a certain sense of shock: "What has she done to you."
Godolphin's little head nodded, brushed Mondaugen's arm. "I'm so tired."
Mondaugen stooped and picked up the old man, who seemed to weigh less than a child, and bore him along the white ramps, between mirrors and past tapestries, among scores of separate lives brought to ripeness by this siege and hidden each behind its heavy door; up through the enormous house to his own turret. Weissmann still snored in the chair. Mondaugen laid the old man on the circular bed, covered him with a black satin comforter. And stood over him, and sang:
Dream tonight of peacock tails,
Diamond fields and spouter whales.
Ills are many, blessings few,
But dreams tonight will shelter you.
Let the vampire's creaking wing
Hide the stars while banshees sing;
Let the ghouls gorge all night long;
Dreams will keep you safe and strong.
Skeletons with poison teeth,
Risen from the world beneath,
Ogre, troll, and loup-garou,
Bloody wraith who looks like you,
Shadow on the window shade,
Harpies in a midnight raid,
Goblins seeking tender prey,
Dreams will chase them all away.
Dreams are like a magic cloak
Woven by the fairy folk,
Covering from top to toe,
Keeping you from winds and woe.
And should the Angel come this night
To fetch your soul away from light,
Cross yourself, and face the wall:
Dreams will help you not at all.
Outside the strand wolf screamed again. Mondaugen pounded a bag of dirty laundry into a pillow, doused the light, and lay down trembling on the rug to sleep.
But his own musical commentary on dreams had not included the obvious and perhaps for him indispensable: that if dreams are only waking sensation first stored and later operated on, then the dreams of a voyeur can never be his own. This soon showed up, not too surprisingly, as an increasing inability to distinguish Godolphin from Foppl: it may or may not have been helped along by Vera Meroving, and some of it could have been dreamed. There, precisely, was the difficulty. He'd no idea, for instance, where this had come from:
. . . so much rot spoken about their inferior kultur-position and our herrenschaft - but that was for the Kaiser and the Businessmen at Home; no one, not even our gay Lothario (as we called the General), believed it out here. They may have been as civilized as we, I'm not an anthropologist, you can't compare anyway - they were an agricultural, pastoral people. They loved their cattle as we perhaps love toys from childhood. Under Leutwein's administration the cattle were taken away and given to white settlers. Of course the Hereros revolted, though the Bondelswaartz Hottentots actually started it because their chief Abraham Christian had been shot in Warmbad. No one is sure who fired first. It's an old dispute: who knows, who cares? The flint had been struck, and we were needed, and we came.
Except that the shape of Mondaugen s "conspiracy" with Vera Meroving was finally beginning to come clear to him. She apparently wanted Godolphin, for reasons he could only guess at, though her desire seemed to arise out of a nostalgic sensuality whose appetites knew nothing at all of nerves, or heat, but instead belonged entirely to the barren touchlessness of memory. She had obviously needed Mondaugen only to be called (he might assume cruelly) a long-ago son, to weaken her prey.
Not unreasonably then she would also have used Foppl, perhaps to replace the father as she thought she'd replaced the son, Foppl the siege party's demon, who was in fact coming more and more to define his guests assembled, to prescribe their common dream. Possibly Mondaugen alone among them was escaping it, because of his peculiar habits of observation. So in a passage (memory, nightmare, yarn, maundering, anything) ostensibly his host's Mondaugen could at least note that though the events were Foppl's, the humanity could easily have been Godolphin's.
Again one night he heard the Dies Irae, or some organized foreign chant, approach to the verge of his buffer zone of empty rooms. Feeling invisible he glided out to look and not be seen. His neighbor, an elderly merchant from Milan, had in recent days it seemed collapsed from a heart attack, lingered, died. The others, roisterers, had organized a wake. With ceremony they wrapped his body in silk sheets stripped from his bed: but before the last brightness of dead flesh had been covered Mondaugen saw in a quick sly look its decoration of furrows and poor young scar tissue cut down in its prime. Sjambok, makoss, donkey whip . . . something long that could cut.
They took the cadaver off to a ravine to toss it in. One stayed behind.
"He remains in your room, then," she began.
"He has no choice. You'll make him go."
"You'll have to make him go, Fraulein."
"Then bring me to him?" almost importunate. Her eyes, rimmed in black after Foppl's 1904, needed something less hermetic than this empty corridor to frame them: palazzo's facade, provincial square, esplanade in the winter - yet more human, perhaps only more humorous than, say, the Kalahari. It was her inability to come to rest anywhere inside plausible extremes, her nervous, endless motion, like the counter-crepitating of the ball along its roulette spokes, seeking a random compartment but finally making, having made, sense only as precisely the dynamic uncertainty she was, this that upset Mondaugen enough to scowl quietly and say with a certain dignity no, turn, leave her there and, return to his sferics. They both knew he'd done nothing decisive.
Having found the sad imitation of a strayed son, Godolphin wouldn't think of returning to his own room. One of them had taken the other in. The old officer slept, drowsed, talked. Because he'd "found" Mondaugen only after she'd well begun some program of indoctrination on him that Mondaugen would rather not guess at, there was no way to say for certain, later, whether Foppl himself might not have come in to tell tales of when he'd been a trooper, eighteen years ago.
Eighteen years ago everyone was in better condition. You were shown how his upper arms and thighs had become flabby; and the roll of fat around his middle. His hair was beginning to fall out. He was developing breasts; even they reminded him of when he first arrived in Africa. They'd all had their inoculations on route: for bubonic plague the ship's medic jabbed you with a tremendous needle in the muscle by the left breast, and for a week or so it puffed up. In the way troops have when there's not much else to do, they amused themselves by unbuttoning the tops of their shirts and coyly exposing these new female acquisitions.
Later, when it had got into deep winter, the sun bleached their hair white and browned their skins. The standing joke was "Don't walk up on me unless you're in uniform, I might mistake you for a nigger." The "mistake" was made more than once. Around Waterberg especially, he remembered, when they were chasing Hereros into the bush and the desert, there were a few unpopular soldiers - reluctant? humanitarian. Their bitching got so bad you found yourself hoping . . . How much of a "mistake" it was was open to question, that's all be meant. By him bleeding hearts like that weren't much better than the natives.
Most of the time, thank God, you were with your own kind: comrades who all felt the same way, who weren't going to give you any nonsense no matter what you did. When a man wants to appear politically moral he speaks of human brotherhood. In the field you actually found it. You weren't ashamed. For the first time in twenty years of continuous education-to-guilt, a guilt that had never really had meaning, that the Church and the secular entrenched had made out of whole cloth; after twenty years, simply not to he ashamed. Before you disemboweled or whatever you did with her to be able to take a Herero girl before the eyes of your superior officer, and stay potent. And talk with them before you killed them without the sheep's eye, the shuffling, the prickly-heat of embarrassment . . .
His efforts at the code, such as they were, didn't succeed in keeping back the nightfall of ambiguity that filled his room progressively as time - such as it was - went by. When Weissmann came in and asked if he could help, Mondaugen turned surly. "Out," he snarled.
"But we were to collaborate."
"I know what your interest is," Mondaugen said mysteriously. "I know what 'code' you're after."
"It's part of my job." Putting on his sincere farm-lad face, removing the eyeglasses and cleaning them mock-distracted on his necktie.
"Tell her it won't, it didn't work," Mondaugen said.
The lieutenant ground his teeth solicitously. "I can't indulge your whims much longer," he tried to explain; "Berlin is impatient, I'm not going to make excuses forever."
"I am working for you?" Mondaugen screamed. "Scheisse." But this woke up Godolphin, who began to sing splinters of sentimental ballads and to call for his Evan. Weissmann regarded the old man with wide eyes and only his two front teeth showing.
"My God," he said finally, tonelessly; about-faced and left.
But when Mondaugen found the first oscillograph roll missing he was charitable enough to ask, "Lost or taken?" out loud to his inert equipment and a faraway old skipper, before putting the blame on Weissmann.
"He must have come in when I was asleep." Not even Mondaugen knew when that was. And was the roll all he'd taken? Shaking Godolphin: "Do you know who I am, where we are," and other elementary questions that we shouldn't ask, that only prove how afraid we are to a hypothetical anybody.
Afraid he was and as it turned out with good reason. For, half an hour later, the old man still sat on the edge of the bed, making friends with Mondaugen, whom he was seeing for the first time. With the Weimar Republic's bitter breed of humor (but none of his own) Mondaugen stood at his stained-glass window and asked that evening's veld: was I being that successful a voyeur? As his days at the siege party became less current and more numbered (though not by him) he was to wonder with exponential frequency who in fact had seen him. Anyone at all? Being cowardly and thus a gourmet of fear, Mondaugen prepared himself for an unprecedented, exquisite treat. This unglimpsed item on his menu of anxieties took the form of a very German question: if no one has seen me then am I really here at all; and as a sort of savory, if I am not here then where are all these dreams coming from, if dreams is what they are.
He was given a lovely mare named Firelily: how he adored that animal! You couldn't keep her from prancing and posturing; she was a typical woman. How her deep sorrel flanks and hindquarters would flash in the sun! He was careful to have his Bastard servant keep her always curried and clean. He believed the first time the General ever addressed him directly was to compliment him on Firelily.
He rode her all over the territory. From the coastal desert to the Kalahari, from Warmbad to the Portuguese frontier Firelily and he, and his good comrades Schwach and Fleische, they dashed madcap over sand, rock, bush; forded streams that could go from a trickle to a mile-wide flood in half an hour. Always, no matter which region it was through those ever-dwindling herds of blacks. What were they chasing? What youthful dream?
For it was hard to avoid a feeling of impracticality about their adventure. Idealism, fatedness. As if first the missionaries, then the merchants and miners, and lately the settlers and bourgeoisie had all had their chance at something and had failed, and now it was the army's turn. To go in and chase about that silly wedge of German earth two tropics away for no other reason, apparently, than to give the warrior class equal time with God, Mammon, Freyr. Certainly not for the usual soldatesque reasons-young as they were they could see that. Next to nothing to plunder; and as for glory, what was there to hanging, clubbing, bayoneting something that did not resist? It had been a terribly unequal show from the start: Hereros were simply not the adversaries a young warrior expects. He felt cheated out of the army life the posters had shown. Only a pitiful minority of the niggers were even armed, and then only a fraction of those had rifles that worked, or ammunition. The army had Maxim and Krupp guns, and little howitzers. Often they never even saw the natives before they killed them; merely stood off on a kopje and bombarded the village, then went in afterward to finish any they'd missed.
His gums ached, he felt tired and possibly slept mare than normal, whatever normal was. But this had modulated at some paint into yellow skin, high thirst, flat purple spots on his legs; and his own breath sickened him. Godolphin in one of his lucid moments diagnosed this as scurvy, the cause being simply had (in fact hardly any) diet: he'd lost twenty pounds since the beginning of the siege.
"You want fresh vegetables," the sea dog informed him, fretting. "There must be something in the larder."
"No. For God's sake," Mondaugen raved, "don't leave the room. Hyenas and jackals are padding up and down those little corridors."
"Try to lie quietly," Godolphin told him. "I can handle myself. I won't be a moment."
Mondaugen lunged off the bed, but flaccid muscles betrayed him. Nimble Godolphin vanished, the door swung to. Far the first time since hearing about the Treaty of Versailles in detail, Mondaugen found himself crying.
They'll drain his juices, he thought; caress his bones with their paw-pads, gag on his fine white hair.
Mondaugen's own father had died not so many years ago, somehow involved in the Kiel revolt. That the son should think of him at this point indicated perhaps that Godolphin hadn't been the only one in that room to be "visited." As the partying rushed in phantasmagoria at and around their supposedly insulated turret, into blur, there had grown increasingly more visible one unwavering projection on the wall of night: Evan Godolphin, whom Mondaugen had never seen save by the dubious fluorescence of nostalgia he didn't want, nostalgia forced on him by something he was coming to look on as a coalition.
Presently, heavy footsteps approached through the outer regions of his Versuchsstelle. Too heavy, he decided, to be Godolphin's returning: so craftily Mondaugen wiped his gums once more on the bedsheets and allowed himself to fall off the bed and roll back under an arras of satin comforter, into that cool, dusty world of old burlesque jokes and so many unhappy-go-accident-prone lovers in this real life. He made a little peephole in the coverlet and looked out: his view was directly into a high mirror that commanded, say, a third of the circular room. The knob turned, the door opened and Weissmann, draped in an ankle-length white dress with ruffled neck, bodice and sleeves, circa 1904, tiptoed into the room, crossing between the mirror's frontiers and vanishing again near the sferic equipment. All at once a dawn chorus burst from the loudspeaker, chaotic at first but resolving eventually into a deep-space madrigal for three or four voices. To which the intruder Weissmann, out of sight, added still another, in falsetto, to a minor-keyed Charleston:
Now that the twilight's just beginning,
Cuckoo's in his clock with laryngitis,
So he can't tell us what night tonight is.
No one among the other dancers has
You, I, the night
And a little black sjambok . . .
When Weissmann came back into the mirror he was carrying another oscillograph roll. Mondaugen lay among dust babies, feeling too impotent to yell stop, thief. The transvestite lieutenant had parted his hair in the middle and larded his eyelashes with mascara; these, batting against his lenses, left dark parallel streaks so that each eye looked out from its own prison window. As he passed the imprint on the coverlet of the scurvified body which had lately occupied it, Weissmann gave it (so Mondaugen fancied) a coy, sidewise smile. Then he vanished. Not too long after that Mondaugen's retinae withdrew, for a time from light. Or it is presumed they did; either that or Under-the-Bed is even stranger country than neurasthenic children have dreamt it to be.
One could as well have been a stonemason. It dawned on you slowly, but the conclusion was irresistible: you were in no sense killing. The voluptuous feeling of safety, the delicious lassitude you went into the extermination with was sooner or later replaced by a very curious-not emotion because part of it was obviously a lack of what we commonly call "feeling" - "functional agreement" would come closer to it; operational sympathy.
The first clear instance of it he could remember came one day during a trek from Warmbad to Keetmanshoop. His outfit were moving consignments of Hottentot prisoners for some reason which doubtless made sense to the upper echelons. It was 140 miles and took generally a week or ten days to do, and none of them liked the detail much. A lot of prisoners died on route, and that meant stopping the whole trek, finding the sergeant with the keys, who it seemed was always miles back under a kameeldoorn tree, dead drunk or well on the way, then riding back, unlocking the neck-ring of the fellow who'd died; sometimes rearranging the line so the weight of the extra chain would be more evenly distributed. Not to make it easier on them, exactly, but so one wouldn't wear out any more blacks than one had to.
It was a glorious day, December and hot, a bird somewhere gone mad with the season. Firelily, under him, seemed sexually aroused, she curveted and frolicked so about the line of march, covering five miles to the prisoners' one. From the side it always looked medieval, the way the chain hung down in bights between their neck-rings, the way the weight pulled them constantly toward earth, the force only just overcome as long as they managed to keep their legs moving. Behind them came army oxcarts, driven by loyal Rehoboth Bastards. How many can understand the resemblance he saw? In his village church in the Palatinate was a mural of the Dance of Death, led by a rather sinuous, effeminate Death in his black cloak, carrying his scythe and followed by all ranks of society from prince to peasant. Their own African progress was hardly so elegant: they could only boast a homogeneous string of suffering Negroes and a drunken sergeant in a wideawake hat who carried a Mauser. Yet that association, which most of them shared, was enough to give the unpopular chore an atmosphere of ceremony.
The trek hadn't been under way more than an hour before one of the blacks began to complain about his feet. They were bleeding, he said. His overseer brought Firelily close in and looked: so they were. Hardly would the blood soak into the sand than the prisoner behind would kick it invisible. Not long after that the same prisoner complained that the sand was working its way into the cuts on his feet and the pain was making it difficult for him to walk. No doubt this was also true. He was told either to be quiet or forfeit his share of water when they outspanned for the noon rest. The soldiers had learned on previous treks that if one native was allowed to complain the others soon enough took it up and this for some reason slowed everyone. They wouldn't sing or chant; that perhaps could have been borne. But the wailing, self-indulgent babel that would go up - God, it was awful. Silence, for practical reasons, was the rule and was enforced.
But this Hottentot would not keep silent. He was only limping slightly, he didn't stumble. But he bitched more than the most malcontent of infantry. The young trooper edged Firelily toward him in her sensual strut and flicked him once or twice with a sjambok. From the height of a man on horseback a good rhinoceros sjambok used properly can quiet a nigger in less time and with less trouble than it takes to shoot him. But it had no effect on this one. Fleische saw what was happening and brought his black gelding up from the other side. Together the troopers sjamboked the Hottentot on the buttocks and thighs, forcing him into a queer little dance. It took a certain talent to make a prisoner dance that way without slowing down the rest of the trek because of the way they were all chained together. They were doing quite well until through some stupid misjudgment, Fleische's sjambok caught in the chain and he was pulled from his horse and under the feet of the prisoners.
Their reflexes are fast, they're like animals. Before the other trooper had really taken it in the fellow they'd been sjamboking leaped on Fleische, trying to get his bight of chain around Fleische's neck. The rest of the line, realizing through some extra sense what had happened - anticipating murder - had come to a halt.
Fleische managed to roll away. The two of them got the key from the sergeant, unlocked and removed their Hottentot from the trek, and brought him off to the side. After Fleische, with the tip of his sjambok, had had the obligatory sport with the black's genitals, they clubbed him to death with the butts of their rifles and tossed what was left behind a rock for the vultures and flies.
But as they did this thing - and Fleische said later that he'd felt something like it too - there came over him for the first time an odd sort of peace, perhaps like what the black was feeling as he gave up the ghost. Usually the most you felt was annoyance; the kind of annoyance you have for an insect that's buzzed around you far too long. You have to obliterate its life, and the physical effort, the obviousness of the act, the knowledge that this is only one unit in a seemingly infinite series, that killing this one won't end it won't relieve you from having to kill more tomorrow, and the day after, and on, and on . . . the futility of it irritates you and so to each individual act you bring something of the savagery of military boredom, which as any trooper knows is mighty indeed.
This time it wasn't like that. Things seemed all at once to fall into a pattern: a great cosmic fluttering in the blank, bright sky and each grain of sand, each cactus spine, each feather of the circling vulture above them and invisible molecule of heated air seemed to shift imperceptibly so that this black and he, and he and every other black he would henceforth have to kill slid into alignment, assumed a set symmetry, a dancelike poise. It finally meant something different: different from the recruiting poster, the mural in the church and the natives already exterminated - sleeping and lame burned en masse in their pontoks, babies tossed in the air and caught on bayonets, girls approached with organ at the ready, their eyes filming over in anticipated pleasure or possibly only an anticipated five more minutes of life, only to be shot through the head first and then ravished, after of course being made aware at the last moment that this would happen to them - different from the official language of yon Trotha's orders and directives, different from the sense of function and the delightful, powerless languor that are both part of following a military order that's filtered like spring rain down countless levels before reaching you; different from colonial policy, international finagling, hope of advancement within the army or enrichment out of it.
It had only to do with the destroyer and the destroyed, and the act which united them, and it had never been that way before. Returning from the Waterberg with von Trotha and his staff, they came upon an old woman digging wild onions at the side of the road. A trooper named Konig jumped down off his horse and shot her dead: but before he pulled the trigger he put the muzzle against her forehead and said, "I am going to kill you." She looked up and said, "I thank you." Later, toward dusk, there was one Herero girl, sixteen or seventeen years old, for the platoon; and Firelily's rider was last. After he'd had her he must have hesitated a moment between sidearm and bayonet. She actually smiled then; pointed to both, and began to shift her hips lazily in the dust. He used both.
When through some levitation he again found himself on top of the bed, Hedwig Vogelsang was just entering the room astride a male Bondel who crawled on all fours. She wore only a pair of black tights and had let her long hair down.
"Good evening, poor Kurt." She rode the Bondel as far as the bed and dismounted. "You may go, Firelily. I call it Firelily," she smiled at Mondaugen, "because of its sorrel skin."
Mondaugen attempted a greeting, found himself too weak to talk. Hedwig was slithering out of the tights. "I made up only my eyes," she told him in a decadent whisper: "my lips can redden with your blood as we kiss." She began making love to him. He tried to respond but the scurvy had weakened him. How long it went on he didn't know. It seemed to go on for days. The light in the room kept changing, Hedwig seemed to be everywhere at once in this black satin circle the world had shrunk to: either she was inexhaustible or Mondaugen had lost all sense of duration. They seemed wound into a cocoon of blond hair and ubiquitous, dry kisses: once or twice she may have brought in a Bondel girl to assist.
"Where is Godolphin," he cried.
"She has him."
"O God . . ."
Sometimes impotent, sometimes aroused despite his lassitude, Mondaugen stayed neutral, neither enjoying her attentions nor worrying about her opinion of his virility. At length she grew frustrated. He knew what she was looking for.
"You hate me," her lip quivering unnaturally as a forced vibrato.
"But I have to recuperate."
In through the window came Weissmann with his hair combed in bangs, wearing white silk lounging pajamas, rhinestone pumps, and black eyeholes and lips, to steal another oscillograph roll. The loudspeaker blithered at him as if it were angry.
Later Foppl appeared in the door with Vera Meroving, held her hand, and sang to a sprightly waltz melody:
I know what you want,
Princess of coquettes:
Deviations, fantasies and secret amulets.
Only try to go
Further than you've gone
If you never want to live to see another dawn.
Seventeen is cruel,
Yet at forty-two,
Purgatory fires burn no livelier than you.
So, come away from him,
Take my hand instead,
Let the dead get to the task of burying their dead;
Through that hidden door again,
Bravo for '04 again; I'm a
Deutschesudwestafrikaner in love . . .
Once mustered out, those who stayed either drifted west to work at mines like the Khan or Homesteaded their own land where the farming was good. He was restless. After doing what he'd been doing for three years a man doesn't settle down, at least not too quickly. So he went to the coast.
Just as its own loose sand was licked away by the cold tongue of a current from the Antarctic south, that coast began to devour time the moment you arrived. It offered life nothing: its soil was arid; salt-bearing winds, chilled by the great Benguela, swept in off the sea to blight anything that tried to grow. There was constant battle between the fog, which wanted to freeze your marrow, and the sun: which, once having burned off the fog, sought you. Over Swakopmund the sun often seemed to fill the entire sky, so diffracted was it by the sea fog. A luminous gray tending to yellow, that hurt the eyes. You learned soon enough to wear tinted glasses for the sky: If you stayed long enough you came to feel it was almost an affront for humans to be living there at all. The sky was too large, the coastal settlements under it too mean. The harbor at Swakopmund was slowly, continuously filling with sand, men were felled mysteriously by the afternoon's sun, horses went mad and were lost in the tenacious ooze down along the beaches. It was a brute coast, and survival for white and black less a matter of choice than anywhere else in the Territory.
He'd been deceived, that was his first thought: it wasn't to be like the army. Something had changed. The blacks mattered even less. You didn't recognize their being there in the same way you once had. Objectives were different, that may simply have been all. The harbor needed dredging; railroads had to be built inland from the seaports, which couldn't thrive by themselves any more than the interior could survive without them. Having legitimized their presence in the Territory the colonists were now obliged to improve what they had taken.
There were compensations, but they were not the luxuries army life had offered. As Schachtmeister you got a house to yourself and first look at girls who came in from the bush to surrender. Lindequist, who'd succeeded von Trotha, had canceled the extermination order, asking all the natives who'd fled to return, promising that no one would be hurt. It was cheaper than sending out search expeditions and rounding them up. Because they were starving out in the bush, promises of mercy included promises of food. After being fed they were taken into custody and sent out to the mines, or the coast, or the Cameroons. Their laagers, under military escort, arrived from the interior almost daily. Mornings he'd go down to the staging area and assist in the sorting-out. The Hottentots were mostly women. Among the few Hereros they got, the proportion was of course more nearly equal.
After three years of ripe, Southern indulgence to come upon this ash plain impregnated with a killer sea may have needed a strength not really found in nature: sustained necessarily by illusion. Not even whales could skirt that strand with impunity: walking along what served for an esplanade you might see one of the rotting creatures, beached, covered by feeding gulls who with the coming of night would be relieved at the giant carrion by a pack of strand wolves. And in a matter of days there would be left only the portals of great jaws and a picked, architectural web of bone, mellowing eventually to false ivory in the sun and fog.
The barren islets off Luderitzbucht were natural concentration camps. Walking among huddled forms in the evening, distributing blankets, food and occasional kisses from the sjambok, you felt like the father colonial policy wanted you to be when it spoke of Vaterliche Zuchtigung; fatherly chastisement, an inalienable right. Their bodies, so terribly thin and slick with cloud, lay drawn together to pool what marginal warmth was left to them. Here and there a torch of bound reeds soaked in whale oil hissed bravely in the fog. A swaddled silence would be over the island, nights like that: if they complained, or had to cry for some lesion or cramp, it was baffled by the thick mists and all you heard was the tide, slapping ever sideways along the strand, viscous, reverberating; then seltzering back to sea, violently salt, leaving a white skin on the sand it hadn't taken. And only occasionally above the mindless rhythm, from across the narrow strait, aver on the great African continent itself, a sound would arise to make the fog colder, the night darker, the Atlantic more menacing: if it were human it could have been called laughter, but it was not human. It was a product of alien secretions, boiling over into blood already choked and heady; causing ganglia to twitch, the field of night-vision to be grayed into shapes that threatened, putting an itch into every fiber, an unbalance, a general sensation of error that could only be nulled by those hideous paroxysms, those fat, spindle-shaped bursts of air up the pharynx, counter-irritating the top of the mouth cavity, filling the nostrils, easing the prickliness under the jaw and down the center-line of the skull: it was the cry of the brown hyena called the strand wolf, who prowled the beach singly or with companions in search of shellfish, dead gulls, anything flesh and unmoving.
And so, as you moved among them, you were forced to look at them as a collection: knowing from statistics that twelve to fifteen of them died per day, but eventually unable even to wonder which twelve to fifteen: in the dark they differed only in size, and that made it easier not to care as you once had. But every time the strand wolf howled across the water, as, perhaps, you were stooping down to examine a prospective concubine missed in the first winnowing, it was only by suppressing memories of the three years just passed that you kept from wondering if it was this particular girl the beast waited far.
As a civilian Schachtmeister drawing government pay this was one among many luxuries he'd had to abandon: the luxury of being able to see them as individuals. This extended even to one's concubines; one had several, some purely for housework, others for pleasure, domesticity too having become a massed affair. They were the exclusive possession of no one save the high-ranking officers. Subalterns, enlisted men and gangers like himself shared them out of a common pool, housed in a barbed-wire compound near the B.O.Q.
It was problematical who among the females had the better time of it in the way of creature comfort; the courtesans who lived inside the barbed wire or the workers who were housed in a great thorn enclosure nearer the beach. They had to rely on primarily female labor, there simply being, for obvious reasons, a severe shortage of males. They found the distaff side useful for a number of functions. Women could be inspanned to the heavy-duty carts to pull loads of silt dredged from the floor of the harbor; or to carry the rails for the road of iron being driven across the Namib toward Keetmanshoop. That destination naturally enough reminded him of the old days when he'd helped march blacks there. Often, under the hazed-out sun, he'd daydream; remembering water holes filled to the brim with black corpses, their ears, nostrils and mouths bejeweled green, white, black, iridescent with flies and their offspring; human pyres whose flames seemed to leap high as the Southern Cross; the frangibility of bone, the splitting-open of body sacs, the sudden heaviness of even a frail child. But here there could be none of that: they were organized, made to perform en masse - you'd have to supervise not a chained trek but a long double line of women, carrying rails with iron ties attached; if one woman fell it meant only a fractional increase in the force required per carrier, not the confusion and paralysis resulting from a single failure in one of the old treks. Only once could he remember anything like that happening, and it may have been because the fog and cold the previous week had been worse than usual, so that their sockets and joints may have become inflamed - that day his own neck ached and he had trouble turning it to see what had happened - but a sudden wail went up and he saw that one of the women had stumbled and fallen and brought the whole line down. His heart rose, the wind off the ocean turned balmy; here was a fragment of the old past, revealed as if by a parting in the fog. He went back to her, ascertained that the falling rail had broken her leg; dragged her out from under it without bothering to lift it, rolled her down the embankment and left her to die. It did him good, he thought; it took him temporarily away from nostalgia, which on that coast was a kind of despondency.
But if physical labor exhausted those who lived inside thorns, sexual labor could as easily fatigue those who lived inside steel. Some of the military had brought with them curious ideas. One sergeant, too far down the chain of command to rate a young boy (young boys being rare), did the best he could with pre-adolescent, breastless girls whose heads he shaved and whom he kept naked except for shrunken army leggings. Another made his partners he still, like corpses; any sexual responses, sudden breaths or involuntary jerks were reprimanded with an elegant jeweled sjambok he'd had designed for him in Berlin. So if the women thought about any of this at all there couldn't have been much to choose between thorns and steel.
Himself, he could have been happy in that new corporative life; could have made a career out of construction work, except for one of his concubines, a Herero child named Sarah. She brought his discontent to a focus; perhaps even became one reason finally why he quit it all and headed inland to try to regain a little of the luxury and abundance that had vanished (he feared) with von Trotha.
He found her first a mile out in the Atlantic, on a breakwater they were building of sleek dark rocks that the women carried out by hand, deep-sixed and slowly, painfully stacked into a tentacle crawling along the sea. That day gray sheets were tacked to the sky, and a black cloud remained all day at the western horizon. It was her eyes he saw first, whites reflecting something of the sea's slow turbulence; then her back, beaded with old sjambok scars. He supposed it was simple lust that made him go over and motion to her to put down the rock she'd begun to lift: scribble and give her a note for her compound supervisor. "Give it to him," he warned her, "or - " and he made the sjambok whistle in the salt wind. In earlier days you hadn't had to warn them: somehow, because of that "operational sympathy," they always delivered notes, even when they knew the note might well be a death warrant.
She looked at the chit, then at him. Clouds moved across those eyes; whether reflected or transmitted he'd never know. Brine slapped at their feet, carrion birds wheeled in the sky. The breakwater stretched behind them back to land and safety; but it could take only a word; any, the most inconsequential, to implant in each of them the perverse notion that their own path lay the other way, on the invisible mole not yet built; as if the sea were pavement for them, as for our Redeemer.
Here was another like the woman pinned under the rail, another piece of those soldiering days. He knew he didn't want to share this girl; he was feeling again the pleasure of making a choice whose consequences, even the most terrible, he could ignore.
He asked her name, she answered Sarah, eyes never having left him. A squall, cold as Antarctica, came rushing across the water, drenched them, continued on toward the north, though it would die without ever seeing the Congo's mouth or the Bight of Benin. She shivered, his hand in apparent reflex went to touch her but she avoided it and stooped to pick up the rock. He tapped her lightly on the rear with his sjambok and the moment, whatever it had meant, was over.
That night she didn't come. Next morning he caught her on the breakwater, made her kneel, placed his boot on her nape and pushed her head under the sea until his sense of timing told him to let her up for air. He noticed then how long and snakelike her thighs were; how clearly the musculature of her hips stood under the skin, skin with a certain glow, but finely striated because of her long fast in the bush. That day he'd sjambok her on any least pretense. At dusk he wrote out another chit and handed it to her. "You have an hour." She watched him, nothing about her at all of the animal he'd seen in other nigger women. Only eyes giving back the red sun, and the white stalks of fog that had already begun to rise off the water.
He didn't eat supper. He waited alone in his house near the barbed-wire compound, listening to the drunks selecting their mates for the night. He couldn't stay off his feet and perhaps he'd caught a chill. The hour passed; she didn't come. He walked out without a coat into low clouds and made his way to her thorn compound. It was pitch-black out. Wet gusts slapped his cheeks, he stumbled. Once at the enclosure he took up a torch and went looking for her. Perhaps they thought he was mad, perhaps he was. He didn't know how long he looked. He couldn't find her. They all looked alike.
The next morning she appeared as usual. He chose two strong women, bent her back over a rock and while they held her he first sjamboked, then took her. She lay in a cold rigor; and when it was over he was astonished to find that at same point during it the women had, like goodnatured duennas, released her and gone about their morning's labor.
And that night, long after he'd turned in, she came to his house and slid into the bed next to him. Woman's perversity! She was his.
Yet how long could he have had her to himself? During the day he manacled her to the bed, and he continued to use the woman-pool at night so he wouldn't arouse suspicion. Sarah might have cooked, cleaned, comforted, been the closest thing to a wife he'd ever had. But on that foggy, sweating, sterile coast there were no owners, nothing owned. Community may have been the only solution possible against such an assertion of the Inanimate. Soon enough his neighbor the pederast had discovered her and become enchanted. He requested Sarah; this was answered by the lie that she'd come from the pool and the pederast could wait his turn. But it could only get them a reprieve. The neighbor visited his house during the day, found her manacled and helpless, took her his own way and then decided, like a thoughtful sergeant, to share this good fortune with his platoon. Between noon and suppertime, as the fog's glare shifted in the sky, they took out an abnormal distribution of sexual preferences on her, poor Sarah, "his" Sarah only in a way that poisonous strand could never support.
He came Home to find her drooling, her eyes drained for good of all weather. Not thinking, probably not having taken it all in, he unlocked her shackles and it was as if like a spring she'd been storing the additive force that convivial platoon had expended in amusing themselves; for with an incredible strength she broke out of his embrace and fled, and that was how he saw her, alive, for the last time.
The next day her body was washed up on the beach. She had perished in a sea they would perhaps never succeed in calming any part of. Jackals had eaten her breasts. It seemed then that something had at last been brought to consummation since his arrival centuries ago on the troop ship Habicht, that had only as obviousness and immediacy to do with the sergeant-pederast's preference as to women or that old bubonic plague injection. If it were parable (which he doubted) it probably went to illustrate the progress of appetite or evolution of indulgence, both in a direction he found unpleasant to contemplate. If a season like the Great Rebellion ever came to him again, he feared, it could never be in that same personal, random array of picaresque acts he was to recall and celebrate in later years at best furious and nostalgic; but rather with a logic that chilled the comfortable perversity of the heart, that substituted capability for character, deliberate scheme for political epiphany (so incomparably African); and for Sarah, the sjambok, the dances of death between Warmbad and Keetmanshoop, the taut haunches of his Firelily, the black corpse impaled on a thorn tree in a river swollen with sudden rain, for these the dearest canvases in his soul's gallery, it was to substitute the bleak, abstracted and for him rather meaningless hanging on which he now turned his back, but which was to backdrop his retreat until he reached the Other Wall, the engineering design for a world he knew with numb leeriness nothing could now keep from becoming reality, a world whose full despair he, at the vantage of eighteen years later, couldn't even find adequate parables for, but a design whose first fumbling sketches he thought must have been done the year after Jacob Marengo died, on that terrible coast, where the beach between Luderitzbucht and the cemetery was actually littered each morning with a score of identical female corpses, an agglomeration no more substantial-looking than seaweed against the unhealthy yellow sand; where the soul's passage was more a mass migration across that choppy fetch of Atlantic the wind never left alone, from an island of low cloud, like an anchored prison ship, to simple integration with the unimaginable mass of their continent; where the single line of track still edged toward a Keetmanshoop that could in no conceivable iconology be any part of the Kingdom of Death; where, finally, humanity was reduced, out of a necessity which in his loonier moments he could almost believe was only Deutsch-Sudwestafrika's (actually he knew better), out of a confrontation the young of one's contemporaries, God help them, had yet to make, humanity was reduced to a nervous, disquieted, forever inadequate but indissoluble Popular Front against deceptively unpolitical and apparently minor enemies, enemies that would be with him to the grave: a sun with no shape, a beach alien as the moon's antarctic, restless concubines in barbed wire, salt mists, alkaline earth, the Benguela Current that would never cease bringing sand to raise the harbor floor, the inertia of rock, the frailty of flesh, the structural unreliability of thorns; the unheard whimper of a dying woman; the frightening but necessary cry of the strand wolf in the fog.
"Kurt, why do you never kiss me any more?"
"How long have I been sleeping," he wanted to know. Heavy blue drapes had at some point been drawn across the window.
He grew aware of an absence in the room: located this eventually as an absence of background noise from the loudspeaker, and was off the bed and tottering toward his receivers before realizing he'd recovered enough to be walking at all. His mouth tasted vile but his joints no longer ached, gums no longer felt as sore or spongy. The purple spots on his legs had gone.
Hedwig giggled. "They made you look like a hyena."
The mirror had nothing encouraging to show hint. He batted his eyes at himself and the lashes of the left one promptly stuck together.
"Don't squint, darling." She had a toe pointed toward the ceiling and was adjusting a stocking. Mondaugen leered at her crookedly and began trouble-shooting his equipment. Behind him he heard someone enter the room and Hedwig begin to moan. Chains tinkled in the heavy sickroom air, something whistled and impacted with a loud report against what might have been flesh. Satin tore, silk hissed, French heels beat a tattoo against the parquetry. Had the scurvy changed him from voyeur to ecouteur, or was it deeper and part of a general change of heart? The trouble was a burned-out tube in the power amplifier. He replaced it with a spare and turned and saw that Hedwig had vanished. Mondaugen stayed alone in the turret for a few dozen visitations from the sferics, this being the only link remaining with the kind of time that continued to pass outside Foppl's. He was awakened from a light sleep by the sound of explosions to the east. When he finally decided to climb out the stained-glass window to investigate, he found that everyone had rushed to the roof. A battle, a real one, was in progress across the ravine. Such was their elevation that they could see everything spread out in panorama, as if for their amusement. A small group of Bondels huddled among some rocks: men, women, children and a few starved-looking goats. Hedwig inched her way across the roof's shallow slope to Mondaugen and held his hand. "How exciting," she whispered, eyes huger than he'd ever seen them, blood crusted on her wrists and ankles. Declining sunlight stained the bodies of the Bondels to a certain orange. Thin wisps of cirrus floated diaphanous in a late afternoon sky. But soon the sun had turned them blinding white.
Surrounding the besieged Bondels, in a ragged noose, were whites, closing, mostly volunteer except for a cadre of Union officers and noncoms. They exchanged occasional gunfire with the natives, who seemed to have only half-a-dozen rifles among them. Doubtless there were human voices down there, uttering cries of command, triumph, pain; but at this distance only the tiny pop-pop of gunshots could be heard. To one side was a singed area, streaked with the gray of pulverized rock and littered with bodies and parts of bodies which had once belonged to Bondels.
"Bombs," Foppl commented. "That's what woke us up." Someone had come up from below with wine and glasses, and cigars. The accordionist had brought his instrument, but after a few bars was silenced: no one on the roof wanted to miss any sound of death that should reach them. They leaned toward the battle: cords of the neck drawn tense, eyes sleep-puffed, hair in disarray and dotted with dandruff, fingers with dirty nails clutching like talons the sun-reddened stems of their wine goblets; lips blackened with yesterday's wine, nicotine, blood and drawn back from the tartared teeth so that the original hue only showed in cracks. Aging women shifted their legs frequently, makeup they'd not cleaned away clinging in blotches to pore-riddled cheeks.
Over the horizon from the direction of the Union came two biplanes, flying low and lazy, like birds wandered away from a flock. "That's where the bombs came from," announced Foppl to his company. So excited now that he slopped wine on the roof. Mondaugen watched it flow in twin streams all the way to the eaves. It reminded him somehow of his first morning at Foppl's, and the two streaks of blood (when had he began to call it blood?) in the courtyard. A kite lit lower down on the roof and began to peck at the wine. Soon it took wing again. When had he begun to call it blood?
The planes looked as if they would come no nearer, only hang forever in the sky. The sun was going down. The clouds had been blown terribly thin, and begun to glow red, and seemed to ribbon the sky its entire length, filmy and splendid, as if it were they that held it all together. One of the Bondels suddenly appeared to run amok: stood upright, waving a spear, and began to run toward the nearest part of the advancing cordon. The whites there bunched together and fired at him in a flurry of pops, echoed by the pop of corks on Foppl's roof. He had almost reached them before he fell.
Now the planes could be heard: a snarling, intermittent sound. They swooped clumsy in a dive toward the Bondelswaartz position: the sun caught suddenly the three canisters dropped from each, turned them to six drops of orange fire. They seemed to take a century to fall. But soon, two bracketing the rocks, two among the Bondels and two in the area where the corpses lay, there bloomed at last six explosions, sending earth, stone and flesh cascading toward the nearly black sky with its scarlet overlay of cloud. Seconds later the loud, coughing blasts, overlapping, reached the roof. How the watchers cheered. The cordon moved rapidly then, through what was now a pall of thin smoke, killing the still-active and wounded, sending bullets into corpses, into women and children, even into the one goat that had survived. Then abruptly the crescendo of cork-pops ceased and night fell. And after a few minutes someone lit a campfire out on the battlefield. The watchers on the roof retired inside for a night of more than usually riotous celebration.
Had a new phase of the siege party begun with that dusk's intrusion from the present year, 1922, or was the change internal and Mondaugen's: a shift in the configuration of sights and sounds he was now filtering out, choosing not to notice? No way to tell; no one to say. Whatever it arose from, health returning or simple impatience with the hermetic, he was starting to feel those first tentative glandular pressures that one day develop into moral outrage. At least he was to experience a for him rare Achphenomenon: the discovery that his voyeurism had been determined purely by events seen, and not by any deliberate choice, or preexisting set of personal psychic needs.
No one saw any more battles. From time to time a body of horse-soldiers might be noted in the distance, tearing desperate across the plateau, raising a little dust; there would be explosions, miles away in the direction of the Karas mountains. And they heard a Bondel one night, lost in the dark, scream the name of Abraham Morris as he stumbled and fell into a ravine. In the last weeks of Mondaugen's stay everyone remained in the house, getting only a few hours' sleep per twenty-four-hour period. Easily a third of their number were bedridden: several, besides Foppl's Bondels, had died. It had become an amusement to visit an invalid each night to feed him wine and arouse him sexually.
Mondaugen remained up in his turret, working diligently at his code, taking occasional breaks to stand out alone on the roof and wonder if he would ever escape a curse that seemed to have been put on him one Fasching: to become surrounded by decadence no matter what exotic region, north or south, he wandered into. It couldn't be only Munich, he decided at some point: nor even the fact of economic depression. This was a soul-Depression which must surely infest Europe as it infested this house.
One night he was awakened by a disheveled Weissmann, who could scarcely stand still for excitement. "Look, look," he cried, waving a sheet of paper under Mondaugen's s slowly blinking eyes. Mondaugen read:
"So," he yawned.
"It's your code. I've broken it. See: I remove every third letter and obtain: GODMEANTNUURK. This rearranged spells Kurt Mondaugen."
"Well, then," Mondaugen snarled. "And who the hell told you you could read my mail."
"The remainder of the message," Weissmann continued, "now reads: DIEWELTISTALLESWASDERFALLIST."
"The world is all that the case is," Mondaugen said. "I've heard that somewhere before." A smile began to spread. "Weissmann, for shame. Resign your commission, you're in the wrong line of work. You'd make a fine engineer: you've been finagling."
"I swear," Weissmann protested, hurt.
Later on, finding the turret oppressive, Mondaugen exited through the window and wandered the gables, corridors and stairways of the villa till the moon was down. Early in the morning, with only the nacreous beginnings of a dawn visible out over the Kalahari, he came around a brick wall and entered a small hopyard. Hanging over the rows, each wrist attached to a different stringing-wire, feet dangling over young hops already sick with downy mildew, was another Bondel, perhaps Foppl's last. Below, dancing about the body and flicking its buttocks with a sjambok, was old Godolphin. Vera Meroving stood by his side and they appeared to have exchanged clothing. Godolphin, keeping time with the sjambok, launched quaveringly into a reprise of Down by the Summertime Sea.
Mondaugen this time withdrew, preferring at last neither to watch nor to listen. Instead he returned to the turret and gathered up his log books, oscillograms and a small knapsack of clothing and toilet articles. He sneaked downstairs and went out by a French window; located a long plank at the rear of the house and dragged it to the ravine. Foppl and guests had been somehow alerted to his departure. They crowded the windows; some sat out on the balconies and roof, some came to the veranda to watch. With a final grunt Mondaugen dropped the plank across a narrow part of the ravine. As he was working his way gingerly across, trying not to look down at the tiny stream two hundred feet below, the accordion began a slow sad tango, as if piping him ashore. This soon modulated into a rousing valediction, which they all sang in chorus:
Why are you leaving the party so early,
Just when it was getting good?
Were the crowds and the laughter just a little too tame,
Did the girl you had your eye on go and forfeit the game?
O tell me
Where is there music any gayer than ours, and tell me
Where are wine and ladies in such ample supply?
If you know a better party in the Southwest Protectorate,
Tell us and we'll drop on by
(Right after this one)
Tell us and we'll drop on by.
He reached the other side, adjusted the knapsack and began to trudge toward a distant clump of trees. After a few hundred yards he decided to look back after all. They still watched him and their hush now was a part of the same that hung over all the scrubland. The morning's sun bleached their faces a Fasching-white he remembered seeing in another place. They gazed across the ravine dehumanized and aloof, as if they were the last gods on earth.
Two miles further on at a fork in the road he met a Bondel riding on a donkey. The Bondel had lost his right arm. "All over," he said. "Many Bondels dead, baases dead, van Wijk dead. My woman, younkers dead." He let Mondaugen ride behind him. At that point Mondaugen didn't know where they were going. As the sun climbed he dozed on and off, his cheek against the Bondel's scarred back. They seemed the only three animate objects on the yellow road which led, he knew, sooner or later, to the Atlantic. The sunlight was immense, the plateau country wide, and Mondaugen felt little and lost in the dun-colored waste. Soon as they trotted along the Bondel began to sing, in a small voice which was lost before it reached the nearest Ganna bush. The song was in Hottentot dialect, and Mondaugen couldn't understand it.