After the Black Eagle through the Tea Dance
“Oh! how stiff you are! Just go straight ahead as if you were walking . . . Dancing, don’t you see, is every bit as easy as thinking. . . .”See Important Quotations Explained
Harry runs into his landlady upon returning to his house the next morning. He feels unusually talkative, and they have a pleasant cup of tea together. Harry comments on ancient Indian philosophy, which he says understands the “unreality of time” that has now only been manifest by the device of the radio. Harry points out his disappointment that modern man uses the radio merely as one of his many distractions. He almost launches into a rant, but he holds back his bitterness and makes a joke instead.
Harry waits impatiently for Tuesday, when he is to have dinner with the girl from the Black Eagle. He views his interactions with the girl as the only way he can change his life and avoid suicide. Tuesday finally comes, and during dinner, the girl’s intelligent manner switches between charming jovialness and utter seriousness. Her behavior fascinates Harry. When Harry asks her name, she points out that her face resembles a boy’s and asks him to guess. Because the girl reminds Harry of a childhood friend called Herman, he guesses, correctly, that her name is Hermine.
Hermine tells Harry that she is a kind of mirror for him, one that responds to his gaze with understanding. He does indeed see how looking at his “opposite” is like looking into a “magic mirror.” Hermine explains that Harry needs her—that he is “dying just for the lack of a push to throw [him] into the water and bring [him] to life again”—and that she is going to teach him how to dance, laugh, and live. She also tells Harry she will fulfill his needs, but in return she will make him fall in love with her and then make him obey a final command: to kill her. Harry accepts without protest. By the end of their talk, he feels that Hermine has seen through him entirely, and he tells her his secret about the Treatise.
Harry and Hermine agree to start dance lessons, and she tells him to buy a gramophone and records. Even though Harry hesitates to immerse himself in the jazz music of the times, which he dislikes, he has agreed to obey all of Hermine’s commands. During their meetings, they discuss the Treatise and their daily thoughts. Each time they meet, Hermine displays surprising wisdom, but she always cuts short their conversations with some comment that highlights the uselessness of excessive thought. Once, for example, after a long talk about the inevitability of war, Hermine points out the value of living and seizing life, even if only for a short time. Later, she suggests that Harry’s lack of engagement with life is just as problematic as others’ lack of engagement with serious thought. Hermine, on the other hand, is able to enjoy even the smallest tasks of daily existence, such as choosing a gramophone or pulling meat off a duck bone.
After two foxtrot lessons, Hermine takes Harry to a restaurant, which he sees as a world of unintelligent, unthinking pleasure-seekers. There, after a few dances together, Hermine encourages Harry to overcome his shyness and ask a pretty blonde to dance with him. He does so despite his belief that he is a stiff old man and his fear that he will be laughed at. The girl, who he later learns is called Maria, accepts. Maria’s own effortless grace makes Harry feel like this is the first time he has really danced.
At the dance, Harry also meets Pablo, a striking but taciturn young bandleader who Hermine claims “could play on all instruments and talk every language in the world.” Hermine is very much attached to Pablo. However, Harry is not much impressed as he watches Pablo play his two saxophones and attempts to communicate with the less-than-talkative young man. In the end, Harry dances again with Hermine, and he feels that she is his “double,” resembling not only himself but also Herman, his boyhood friend, “the enthusiast, the poet.” As they dance, Hermine explains that she suffers exactly the way Harry does in the disappointing, crude world.