I cannot describe my state of mind as I stood outside the house. Behind the lighted windows the music died away; no doubt the musicians were merely breaking off for an interval, but in my guilty and overwrought state I feverishly imagined that it was because of me that the dancing had stopped. Everyone would now be crowding into the little boudoir to comfort the sobbing girl; all the guests, the women, the men, would, one and all, be inveighing against the reprobate who had invited a crippled child to dance and then, having played his dastardly trick, beat a cowardly retreat. And tomorrow — I could feel the cold sweat breaking out under my cap — my shameful behaviour would be gossiped about and decried all over the town. I could just imagine how my fellow-officers, Ferenez, Mislywitz and above all Jozsi, that confounded wag, would come up to me, smacking their lips. “Well, Toni, this is a fine way to behave! Once you’re let off the lead you go and disgrace the whole regiment.” For months this ragging and sneering would go on in the officers’ mess; at our mess table every piece of idiocy on the part of any one of us was chewed over for the next ten or twenty years, every asininity immortalized, every joke fossilized. Today, after the lapse of sixteen years, they still tell the hoary old story of how Captain Wolinski came back from Vienna and boasted of having made the acquaintance in the Ringstrasse of Countess T. and having spent the very same night with her in her flat; of how two days later the newspapers reported the scandalous story of a maid who, having been dismissed by the Countess, had swindled a number of shops and indulged in all sorts of amorous adventures by passing herself off as her former mistress; and how the wretched Casanova had been obliged, moreover, to put himself in the hands of the regimental doctor for three weeks. Anyone who once made himself a laughing-stock in the eyes of the regiment remained so forever; there was no forgetting, no forgiving, there. And the more I figured the whole thing out, the more frenzied and absurd did my ideas become. At that moment of folly it seemed to me a hundred times easier to give one quick pull on the trigger of my revolver than to live through the hellish torments of the next few days, the impotent waiting to discover whether my comrades already knew of my disgrace and whether the secret whispering and sniggering were not already going on behind my back. Oh, I knew myself only too well! I knew that I should never have the strength to hold out once the mocking and sneering and gossiping got under way.
How I reached home that night I no longer know. All I remember is wrenching open the cupboard in which I kept a bottle of slivovitz for visitors and tossing down three half-tumblersful to get rid of the horrible feeling of nausea in my throat. Then I threw myself down on the bed, fully dressed, and tried to think things out. But just as flowers grow in more tropical luxuriance in a hothouse, so do wild and frenzied ideas flourish in the darkness. Confused and fantastic, they shoot up out of the sultry soil into garish lianas which choke the breath out of one’s body, and with the swiftness of dreams the most fantastic hallucinations take shape and chase hither and thither round the overheated brain. Disgraced for life, I thought to myself, hounded out of society, sneered at by my fellow-officers, gossiped about all over the town! Nevermore would I be able to set foot outside my room, nevermore venture out into the streets, for fear of meeting one of the people who knew of my crime (for it was as a crime that in that first night of emotional tension I looked upon my simple blunder; myself I looked upon as hunted and pursued by universal ridicule).