It was in Hamburg, where every sensible travel itinerary should end, because it is Germany’s most beautiful city, and it was in front of the three-part mirror. The mirror was in a hotel, the hotel was in front of the Alster, the man was standing in front of the mirror. The morning clock showed exactly five and twenty past nine.
The man was only wearing his self-confidence, and it was that time of a day off at which one gets dressed with an almost sensuous slowness, lingers, carries things back and forward across the room, takes a thousand unnecessary things out of the suitcase, packs them away again, counts handkerchiefs and behaves altogether like a moderately deranged individual. It is a very active idleness, which is what holidays are there for. The man was standing in front of the mirror.
Men are not vain, women are. All of them. This man was standing in front of the mirror because it was a three-part mirror and he did not have anything of the like at home. He could see himself, Antinous with a paunch, in the three-part mirror, and regarded his profile as critically as his self-regard would allow. Actually, and he stood a little more erect, actually, he looked quite good in the mirror, what? He stroked his skin, with his arms crossed, like someone who is about to step into the bath. And as he did so, his left eye happened to glance out of the thin net curtain, out of the window. There was something there.
It was a narrow side-street, and opposite, on the same floor, stood a woman at the window. A somewhat older woman, it seemed, she had pushed her net curtain a little to the side, leant her arm on a small pedestal, and she was looking, peering, staring, intently at the man’s reflected belly. Good grief.
The man’s first impulse was to step back from the mirror, into the protective space of the room, protected from view. Such a brazen hussy. But it was really a sort of compliment, he couldn’t deny that; then even if she was in the habit of doing it, it was flattering. »In Praise of Beauty.« There was no denying it. The man took three steps forward.
Indeed: she was still standing there looking, staring. Now, we are put on this Earth to do good… and we are worth looking at any time – another glance in the mirror confirmed it – go to the mirror, go to the window!
No. It was tooo embarrassing… the man leapt away like a young girl, hurried into the bathroom and shaved himself with a new blade, which slid gently across his skin, like a damp towel, it was a pleasure. Rinse (»Can I rinse with an after-shave?« he asked himself, and answered in the affirmative). After-shave, talcum powder… that took at least ten minutes. Back to the room. He wanted to see, just out of interest,…
And what do you know? She was indeed still standing there, in exactly the same position as before, with the net curtain pulled slightly to the side, the arm leant, and was looking across motionlessly. So it really was – well, now we’ll see about that.
The man didn’t go away from the mirror any more. He busied himself there, like an actress in the theatre. He brushed himself and moved a comb from one side of the dressing table to the other; he cut his nails and dried himself carefully behind the ears. He looked at himself searchingly from the side, from the front, and anywhere else… a slanting glance across the road: the woman, the lady, the girl – she was still standing there.
The man, fully aware of his victorious masculine strength, moved around the room like a gladiator, he acted as though the window did not exist, he seemed to ignore the audience, for whom he was doing all that he did: he displayed himself, and his whole body made a fast audible cock-a-doodle-do! Then he reluctantly got dressed.
Now a well-dressed man stood there, and the person was still standing there! He pulled the net curtains back, opened the window with a slightly knowing smile, and looked across.
The woman wasn’t a woman at all.
The woman to whom he had been presenting his masculine nudity for half an hour was – a wooden frame covered by a coat, a potted palm tree and a dark chair. Just as one composes faces from leaves and branches in the woods at night, he had seen a spectator where there was only wood, cloth, and a potted plant.
The gentleman closed the window shamefacedly. Women are vain. Men? Never!