Once up on a time – it was during the holidays, and it wasn’t all that long ago – I was staying in a boarding house near Lucerne, looking at the grey lake. The weather was dull, and I thought, „That horse race down there won’t be much fun either.“ Maybe it wasn’t a horse race at all, it may have been show jumping. I don’t understand much about such things. If you had seen me ride a horse, you would understand what pacifism is. I know where the horse’s head is, at the front, but that’s all I know, so I will never write one of those fine social novels in which the lower orders forget, and are supposed to forget, their place. Class war? Just hang a hired evening dress below stairs, they’ll soon forget about class war. Anyway, as I was saying, Lucerne.
I was sitting there, and saw how the small room slowly filled up with dinner guests. Frau Otto from Magdeburg, who looked like protestant morality and had a daughter. If it was difficult to imagine how this mother came to have a daughter, and one couldn’t imagine anything at all about the daughter, and one had no desire to do so. Then there was the Director Zuegli from somewhere in Switzerland, which, to judge by his pronunciation, must be somewhere in the throat; then a pious lady from Geneva, who was so fine that she was hardly prepared to acknowledge herself; then an old Austrian aristocrat who looked like Kaiser Franz Joseph, and treated the personnel in just as unfriendly a manner as the Kaiser would probably have done. Then came Frau Steiner. Frau Steiner was from Frankfurt am Main, no longer very young, all on her own, and she had black hair. She wore a different dress every evening, and sat quietly at her table and read sophisticated books. To describe her briefly: she was one of Stefan Zweig’s readers. Enough said? Enough said.
And then came Frau Steiner, and I didn’t recognize her. Her fine Frankfurt eyes shone. Her cheeks were a pale red colour which wasn’t by Coty, and her hat… The hat was just a little, a tiny nuance, a millimeter, crooked. It sat there on top, with a, „You see! We‘re not as old as all that! Even if we do have a grown-up daughter! Life really is fun!“ What had happened?
Frau Steiner had been to the horse races. She said so to her neighbour, Frau Otto from Magdeburg. And she told her how enjoyable it had been, and how attractively the horses had jumped, and how agreeable the company… But that wasn’t what she was thinking while she was talking. Her hat said what she was thinking.
The crooked hat said, „We saw young men! They sat so erect on their horses, with their thighs pressed against the saddle. Erect, but relaxed at the same time. We felt so young, oh so young! There’s nothing wrong with that! We thought, ‘We could make each of these young men happy if it came to it!’ But it didn’t come to it. We had lovely conversations: outside, with the people in the grandstands, and in the shadows, with the riders. What lovely horses, we said. We didn’t think anything, but we felt something. It was like champagne.”
That’s what the hat said. The lady had not embarrassed herself in the least, it was just the tiny degree to which the hat was too crooked. Young people can declare themselves to be in love, without any problem. Older people must be very careful about it, in case anyone notices. That’s why our mothers sometimes came home from a ball, or an afternoon tea, with shiny eyes, and we wondered at how changed they were, and what was up with them.
It was light which fell in a tunnel. Temporarily blinded, the one it hit closed her eyes and thought for a moment about a life which she was probably entitled to, but had never led.