If on a winter's night a traveler

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino

Book: If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino Read Free Book Online
Authors: Italo Calvino
Tags: Fiction, Literary
subject; so before going out, I put on a balaclava helmet and over it a wool cap and, over that, a felt hat. Bundled up like this, and moreover with a scarf around my neck and another around my waist, a woolen jacket, a fur jacket, a leather coat, and lined boots, I could recover a certain security. The night, as I was then able to ascertain, was mild and serene. But I still failed to understand why Mr. Kauderer felt impelled to make an appointment with me at the cemetery, in the heart of the night, through a mysterious note delivered to me in great secrecy. If he had come back, why could we not meet as we had every day? And if he had not come back, whom was I on my way to meet at the cemetery?
    To open the gate for me there was the gravedigger I had already met at The Star of Sweden. "I am looking for Mr. Kauderer," I said to him.
    He answered, "Mr. Kauderer is not here. But since the cemetery is the home of those who are not here, come in."
----
    I was proceeding among the gravestones when a swift, rustling shadow grazed me; it braked and got down from the seat. "Mr. Kauderer!" I exclaimed, amazed at seeing him ride around on his bicycle among the graves, his headlight turned off.
    "Ssssh," he silenced me. "You are committing serious imprudences. When I entrusted the observatory to you, I did not suppose you would compromise yourself in an escape attempt. I must tell you we are opposed to individual escapes. You have to know how to wait. We have a more general plan to carry forward, a long-term plan."
    Hearing him say "we" as he made a broad, sweeping gesture, I thought he was speaking in the name of the dead. It was the dead, whose spokesman Mr. Kauderer obviously was, who had declared they did not yet want to accept me among them. I felt an undeniable relief.
    "It is also your fault that I shall have to prolong my absence," he added. "Tomorrow or the next day you will be summoned by the police chief, who will question you about the grapnel. Be very careful not to involve me in this business; bear in mind that the chief's questions will all be aimed at making you confess something involving me. You know nothing about me, except that I am traveling and I have not told you when I will be back. You can say that I asked you to take my place in recording the readings for a few days only. For that matter, starting tomorrow, you are relieved of the duty of going to the observatory."
    "No! Not that!" I cried, gripped by a sudden desperation, as if at that moment I had realized that only the checking of the meteorological instruments enabled me to master the forces of the universe and recognize an order in it.
    Sunday. Early in the morning, I went to the meteorological observatory, I climbed on the platform, and I
----
    stood there listening to the tick of the recording instruments, like the music of the celestial spheres. The wind sped through the morning sky, transporting soft clouds; the clouds arrayed themselves in cirrus festoons, then in cumuli; toward nine-thirty there was a rain shower, and the pluviometer collected a few centiliters; there followed a partial rainbow, of brief duration; the sky darkened again, the nib of the barograph descended, tracing an almost vertical line; the thunder rumbled and the hail rattled. From my position up there I felt as if I had the storms and the clear skies in my hand, the thunderbolts and the mists: not like a god, no, do not believe me mad, I did not feel I was Zeus the Thunderer, but a bit like a conductor who has before him a score already written and who knows that the sounds rising from the instruments correspond to a pattern of which he is the principal curator and possessor. The corrugated-iron roof resounded like a drum beneath the downpour; the anemometer spun; that universe all crashes and leaps was translatable into figures to be lined up in my ledger; a supreme calm presided over the texture of the cataclysms.
    In that moment of harmony and fullness, a creak made me look

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