The Short Stories of Gustav Meyrink Volume 2 (The Master and other stories)Dedalus European Classics - Gustav Meyrink - E-Book

The Short Stories of Gustav Meyrink Volume 2 (The Master and other stories)Dedalus European Classics E-Book

Gustav Meyrink



This collection contains short stories translated for the first time as well as stories featured in Dedalus anthologies. Together with volume 1 they comprise the most comprehensive collection of Meyrink short stories to appear in English. 'Meyrink's short stories epitomised the non-plus-ultra of all modern writing. Their magnificent colour, their spine-chilling and bizarre inventiveness, their aggression, their succinctness of style, their overwhelming originality of ideas, which is so evident in every sentence and phrase that there seem to be no lacunae.'Max Brod 'His stories recall Gogol in their black, humorous vigour.'The European Books of the Year.

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Dedalus European Classics

General Editor: Timothy Lane



Published in the UK by Dedalus Limited

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email: [email protected]

ISBN printed book 978 1 915568 05 2

ISBN ebook 978 1 915568 37 3

Dedalus is distributed in the USA & Canada by SCB Distributors

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First published in Germany in 1913

First published by Dedalus in 2023

Translation of The Short Stories of Gustav Meyrink Volume II copyright © Mike Mitchell 2023

The right of Mike Mitchell to be identified as the translator of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Printed and bound in the UK by Clays Elcograf S.p.A.

Typeset by Marie Lane

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A C.I.P. listing for this book is available on request.



Mike Mitchell has been a freelance literary translator since 1995. The Short Stories of Gustav Meyrink Volume II (The Master & Other Stories) is his ninety-ninth translation from German and French.

His translations include, including Gustav Meyrink’s five novels and The Dedalus Book of Austrian Fantasy. His translation of Rosendorfer’s Letters Back to Ancient China won the 1998 Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize after he had been shortlisted in previous years for his translations of Stephanie by Herbert Rosendorfer and The Golem by Gustav Meyrink.

His translations have been shortlisted four times for The Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize: Simplicissimus by Johann Grimmelshausen in 1999, The Other Side by Alfred Kubin in 2000, The Bells of Bruges by Georges Rodenbach in 2008 and The Lairds of Cromarty by Jean-Pierre Ohl in 2013. His biography of Gustav Meyrink: Vivo: The Life of Gustav Meyrink was published by Dedalus in November 2008.


The Master

The Storming of Sarajevo

Chitrakarna the Refined Camel

The Death of Schmel, the Pork Butcher

The Evaporated Brain

Been There, Done That, Princess

Honni soit qui mal y pense

The Whole of Existence is Blazing a Vale of Woe

The Story of Alois the Lion

That, However

Prince Rupert’s Drops

The Queen among the Brægens

The Slimy Patch in Carp Cove

The Astrologer

An extract from the article: ‘The Magician Gustav Meyrink’ by Kemil Orak



Leonhard sits in his Gothic chair, motionless, eyes wide, staring into space.

The flames blazing up from the twigs in the small fireplace send the light flickering over his hair shirt, but the immobility surrounding him allows it no purchase, and it slides off his long white beard, his furrowed face and old man’s hands so deathly still they seem part of the brown and gold of the arms of the chair.

Leonhard is staring at the window. Outside, the ruinous, half-tumbledown castle chapel where he is sitting is surrounded by snowy mounds the height of a man, but his mind’s eye sees the bare, narrow, unadorned walls behind him, the squalid pile of bedding and the crucifix over the worm-eaten door, sees the jug of water, the loaf of bread he baked himself from beechnut flour and next to it the knife with the notched bone handle in the corner recess.

He hears the huge trees crack under the hard frost and sees, in the harsh, sharp-edged moonlight, the icicles glittering on the branches groaning under their burden of white. He sees his own shadow stretching out through the pointed arch of the window and joining the silhouettes of the fir trees in a spectral dance over the sparkling snow as the flames leap up and down; at other times he sees it shrink to the figure of a goat on a blue-black throne with the knobs on his chair forming a pair of devil’s horns above pointed ears.

An old, hunchbacked woman from the kiln, which is down in the valley hours away across the moor, hobbles laboriously through the trees, pulling a sledge loaded with dry wood. Startled, she gapes at the brilliant light, uncomprehending. Her eye falls on the devilish shadow on the snow and she realises where she is, that she is outside the chapel where, according to legend, the last scion of a cursed line, immune to death, lives out his empty life.

Seized with horror, she crosses herself and hurries back into the forest, knees trembling.

In his mind’s eye Leonhard follows her for a while along the path. It takes him past the fire-blackened ruins of the castle beneath which his childhood lies buried, but he feels no emotion, for him everything is present, beyond suffering, clear as a shape formed out of coloured air. He sees himself as a child, playing with bright pebbles under a young birch tree, and at the same time he sees himself as an old man sitting watching his shadow.

The figure of his mother appears before him, her features twitching as always. Everything about her is in a constant quiver of restlessness, only the skin on her forehead is unmoving, smooth as parchment and stretched tight over her round skull, like an ivory sphere imprisoning a swarm of thoughts which buzz like flies to get out.

He hears the constant rustle of her black silk dress, never silent for a moment, filling the castle with the exasperating buzz of millions of insects, finding its way through every gap in walls or floorboards, robbing everyone, man and beast alike, of their peace. Those thin lips, ever ready to snap out a command, hold even objects in thrall; they seem to be permanently on the alert, not one of them daring to make itself comfortable. She only knows of what goes on in the world outside from hearsay and thinks that searching for the meaning of life is a waste of time, merely an excuse for idleness. As long as the house is filled from morning till night with pointless, ant-like scurrying around, needless moving of things from here to there, feverish activity to the point of exhaustion and sleep, wearing down everything and everyone, she believes she is fulfilling her duty in life.

No thought ever reaches fruition in her mind. Hardly has one entered her head than it is transformed into hasty, pointless action.

She is like the second hand on a clock, forever jerking forward and imagining, in its insignificance, that the world would come to a standstill if it didn’t keep twitching, three thousand six hundred times an hour, twelve hours a day, grinding time to dust and impatiently waiting for the placid hour-hand to give the signal for the bell to chime.

In the middle of the night her obsessive restlessness often drags her from her bed and she wakes the servants: the interminable rows of flower pots on the window ledges must be watered at once. She cannot say why, it is enough that they ‘must’ be watered. No one dares to gainsay her, everyone is struck dumb, since to reason with her is as hopeless as trying to fight a will-o’-the-wisp with a sword. None of her plants take root as she repots them daily, birds never perch on the castle roof; driven on by a deep-seated instinct they criss-cross the sky, wheeling this way and that, up and down, now appearing as dots, now broadening out into black, fluttering hands. Even the sun’s rays are eternally atremble, for there is always a wind hustling the clouds to blot out their light. The leaves and branches are swirled and ruffled from morn till eve and fruits never ripen, the May breezes themselves blow away the blossom. All around, nature is sick from the restlessness in the castle.

Leonhard sees himself, twelve years old, sitting at his sums, pressing his hands hard over his ears so as not to hear the slamming of doors, the constant up-and-down of the maids on the stairs or the shrill of his mother’s voice. But it’s no use, the numbers turn into a herd of tiny, spiteful, wriggling goblins, run through his brain, through his nose, in and out of his eyes and ears, making his blood boil and his skin burn. He tries reading — in vain, the letters dance before his eyes like a blurry cloud of midges.

‘Have you still not done that exercise?’ He starts at the sound of his mother’s voice, but she doesn’t wait for an answer, her watery blue eyes are already flitting from one corner to the next to see if she can spot a trace of dust. Non-existent spider’s webs have to be brushed off, pieces of furniture moved, carried out and brought back in again, wardrobes taken apart to make sure there are no moths, table legs are screwed off and on again, drawers fly open and shut, pictures are rehung, nails torn out of the walls and knocked back in one inch away, objects are seized with a frenzy, the hammerhead flies off the shaft, rungs of the ladder break, plaster trickles down the wall — fetch the plasterer at once! — cloths get stuck, needles slip out of hands and hide in gaps in the floorboards, the watchdog in the courtyard breaks loose, comes rushing in, its chain clattering behind it, and knocks over the grandfather clock. Little Leonhard immerses himself in his book again and grits his teeth, trying to get some sense out of the curly black pothooks chasing each other across the page. He must sit somewhere else, the chair has to have the dust beaten out of it. He leans on the window ledge, a book in his hand — the window ledge has to be washed, has to be painted white. Why is he always in the way, and has he finally done that exercise? Then she sweeps out. The maids have to drop everything, quickly, follow her and get shovels, axes and sticks in case there are rats in the cellar.

The window ledge is half painted, the chairs are all minus their seats and the room is a scene of devastation. Dull, unbounded hatred of his mother eats into the boy’s heart. With his every fibre he yearns for peace. He longs for night to come, but even sleep does not bring the desired rest, confused dreams split his thoughts in two, chasing but never catching each other. His muscles find it impossible to relax, his whole body is tensed, waiting for a lightning order to do some pointless activity or other.

His daytime games in the garden are not the expression of childish exuberance, his mother decrees them mindlessly, like everything she does, to interrupt them the next moment. To her, persevering with one thing for any length of time looks like inactivity, which she feels she must fight against as she would fight against death. The boy does not dare leave the castle, always stays within earshot. He feels there is no escape; one step too far and a loud command from the open window will shackle his feet.

Little Sabina ia a peasant girl a year younger than Leonhard who lives with the servants. He only ever sees her from a distance, and if they do manage to talk for a few brief moments, they speak in rushed, disjointed phrases, like people on passing ships calling out a few hurried words to each other.

The old count, Leonhard’s father, is lame in both legs. He spends all day in a wheelchair in his library, always just about to start reading, but even there he has no peace. At regular intervals Leonhard’s mother appears and her restless fingers root around in the books, dust them and clap them together, sending markers fluttering to the floor. Volumes which are here today are on the top shelf tomorrow, or piled up in mountains on the floor if the wallpaper behind suddenly has to be brushed or rubbed down with slices of bread. Even when the Countess is occupied in other rooms, that only increases the mental confusion and torment of the nagging suspense that any moment she might unexpectedly reappear.

In the evening, when the candles are lit, little Leonhard creeps in to be with his father, to keep him company, but they never talk. It is as if there were a glass wall between them, making understanding impossible. Sometimes the old man excitedly leans forward and opens his mouth, as if he had suddenly made up his mind to tell his son something important, something with far-reaching consequences, but the words always stick in his throat, he closes his lips and just mutely, tenderly strokes the boy’s burning forehead, and even as he does so his gaze flickers towards the door through which interruption might come at any moment.

The boy has a vague sense of what is going on inside his father, that it is the fullness, not the emptiness of his heart that ties his tongue. Once again, he feels the bitter hatred of his mother rise in his gorge. In his mind he perceives an obscure connection between her and the deep furrows and distraught expression on the old man’s face in the cushions of the wheelchair. A wish that his mother might be found dead in her bed one morning quietly surfaces inside him, adding the agony of waiting to the constant torment of inner unrest. Secretly he observes her features in the mirror, looking for any trace of illness, watches her as she walks, hoping to discover the signs of incipient debility. But the woman remains as fit as a fiddle, never shows the slightest weakness, indeed, seems to draw new strength the more the people around her grow jaded and infirm.

From Sabina and the servants Leonhard learns that his father is a philosopher, a wise man, and that all the books are full of wisdom, so he resolves, in his childish fashion, to acquire wisdom. Perhaps then the invisible barrier separating him from his father will fall, the furrowed brow be smoothed, the bitter old man’s face young again. But no one can tell him what wisdom is. He turns to the priest, but his orotund, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,’ only succeeds in confusing him more.

One thing he is absolutely convinced of is that his mother does not know, and it slowly begins to dawn on him that everything she thinks and does must be the opposite of wisdom.

One evening when they are alone together for a moment, he plucks up his courage, and abruptly, haltingly, like someone crying out for help, asks his father what wisdom is. He sees the muscles in his father’s clean-shaven face straining with the effort of finding the right words for the mind of an inquiring child. His own head is almost bursting with the effort of trying to understand what his father is saying. He realises why the sentences coming from the toothless mouth are so hurried, so fragmentary. It is his father’s fear of interruption by his mother, his concern lest the sacred seeds be corrupted by the corrosive matter-of-fact aura she exudes. If Leonhard should misunderstand them, they could easily send up poisonous shoots.

All his endeavours to understand are in vain. Already he can hear the loud footsteps bustling along the corridor, the curt, shrill commands and the terrible rustling of her black silk dress. His father speaks faster and faster. He tries to catch his words, to store them up so he can think about them later, grabbing at them as if they were knives whistling through the air, but they slip from his grasp, leaving bloody cuts.

The breathless utterances: ‘the longing for wisdom itself is wisdom’ — ‘search for a fixed point within yourself, my child, that the world cannot reach’ — ‘regard everything that happens as a lifeless painting and do not let yourself be touched by it’, pierce his heart, but it is as if they were wearing masks he cannot penetrate. He is about to ask another question, but the door is already flying open. One last piece of advice — ‘let time run off you like water’ — floats past his ear, then the Countess rushes in, a bucket topples over on the threshold, a flood of dirty water pours over the tiles. ‘Don’t get in the way! Make yourself useful!’ The words echo behind him as, filled with despair, he dashes down the stairs to his room.

The images of childhood fade and once more Leonhard is looking at the white forest in the moonlight outside his chapel window and it is no clearer, nor fainter than the scenes from the days of his youth. To the adamantine clarity of his mind reality and memory are equally lifeless and alive.

A fox trots past, lean-limbed, silent. The snow spouts up in a glittering puff where its bushy tail touches the ground, its eyes glow green in the darkness of the trunks, then disappear in the undergrowth.

In his mind’s eye Leonhard sees scrawny figures in shabby clothes, vacant, expressionless faces, different in age and yet so strangely similar, hears names whispered in his ear, unmemorable, everyday names, which scarcely serve to distinguish their bearers. In them he recognises his tutors, who come and then go after a month. His mother is never satisfied with them, dismisses them one after the other without knowing nor asking herself the reason. All that matters is that they are there and then gone again, like bubbles in seething waters.

Leonhard is a youth with down on his lip and already as tall as his mother. When he stands facing her, his eyes are on the same level as hers, but he always feels compelled to look away, not daring to give way to the constant prick of the urge to fix her vacant stare and pour into it all the searing hatred he feels for her. Each time he chokes it back and the saliva in his mouth tastes bitter as gall, his blood feels poisoned.

He pries and probes within himself, but cannot find what makes him so powerless in the face of this woman with her restless, bat-like zigzag flight. A chaos of ideas is swirling round inside his head like a wheel spinning out of control, each heartbeat washes another scum of half-grasped thoughts into his mind and washes it away again. Jostling and shattering against each other, plans that are no such thing, contradictory ideas, aimless desires, blind, ravenous cravings emerge from the turbulence of the depths, which immediately suck them back in again. Screams suffocate in his breast, unable to reach the surface.

Leonhard is in the grip of a wild, howling despair which grows stronger with each day. His mother’s detested face haunts him. A ghostly apparition, it stares out from every corner, leaps up at him from every book he opens. He is incapable of turning the page, for fear of seeing it again, does not dare look round in case it is behind him. Every shadow congeals into the dreaded features, the sound of his own breath is like the rustle of her silk dress.

His senses are as sore and tender as an exposed nerve. When he is in bed, he does not know whether he is dreaming or awake, and when sleep finally does overcome him, her figure rises up from the floor in her nightgown, wakes him and screeches in his ear, ‘Leonhard, are you asleep already?’

Now he is convulsed by a new, strangely hot sensation, which constricts his breathing, pursues him and drives him to seek out Sabina, without really knowing what it is he wants from her. She is grown up. Her dresses come down to her ankles and the rustling of her skirt arouses him even more than that of his mother’s.

Understanding with his father is impossible now, his mind is completely clouded by madness. At regular intervals the old man’s ghastly groans interrupt the hustle and bustle of the house, hour by hour they swab his face with vinegar, push his wheelchair here and there, torture the dying man to death.

Leonhard buries his head in the pillows so as not to hear. A servant plucks at his sleeve. ‘Quick, for God’s sake come quick, the old Count’s almost gone!’ Leonhard jumps up, doesn’t know where he is, how the sun can be shining, why it isn’t deepest night if his father is dying. He staggers, telling himself with numb lips that it is all a dream, then hurries over to the sickroom. Wet towels are hanging up to dry on lines stretched right across the room, baskets block his way, the wind is roaring in through the open windows, making the white linen billow; from somewhere in the corner comes the sound of the death rattle.

Leonhard tears down the clotheslines — wet washing smacks onto the floor — flings everything aside and forces a way through to the wheelchair from which the eyes, as the final curtain falls, fix him with a blind, glassy stare. He collapses to his knees and presses the unresponding hand, damp with the cold sweat of death, to his forehead. He tries to cry out, ‘Father!’, but the word will not come, it has suddenly been expunged from his memory. It is on the tip of his tongue, but the next moment, seized with terror, he has forgotten it, choked by a mind-numbing fear that the dying man will never regain his senses if he doesn’t call out that word to him. That word alone has the power to call the fading consciousness back over the threshold of life, if only for a brief second. He tears his hair and beats his face. A thousand words bombard him, only the one word, the word he is seeking with all the fervour of his heart, refuses to come, and the death rattle is growing weaker and weaker — halts — starts again — breaks off — for ever.

The jaw drops. The mouth stays open.

‘Father!’ Leonhard cries. At last, the word has come, but the man to whom it is addressed will never move again.

Uproar on the stairs, screaming voices, running steps echoing up and down the passages; the dog starts barking, interspersed with howls. Leonhard pays no attention, all he can see and feel is the terrible calm on the rigid, lifeless face. It fills the room with a radiance which illumines, envelops him. A dizzying sense of a happiness he has never known lays its hand on his heart, an intimation of an unchanging present beyond past and future, a mute rejoicing in the discovery that all around is the pulsation of a force in which he can take refuge, as if in a cloud that makes him invisible, from the restless maelstrom of the house.

The air is filled with brightness.

Tears are pouring down Leonhard’s cheeks.

He starts as the door opens with a clatter. His mother comes tearing in. ‘No time for crying now. Can’t you see we’re rushed off our feet?’ Her words cut like a whiplash. The orders come tumbling out, the one countermanded by the next, the maids sob and get thrown out, in frantic haste the servants carry the furniture out into the corridor, panes of glass rattle, medicine bottles smash.