(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At the beginning of January, Anton Kloterjahn and his wife arrive at Einfried, a clinic in the mountain climate once favored by tuberculosis patients. Kloterjahn, who has brought his wife here for treatment of a slight tracheal disorder, is in robust good health and richly enjoys the fruits of his material success. Gabriele Kloterjahn is younger than he; her face betrays fatigue and a delicate constitution; shadows appear at the corners of her eyes, and a pale blue vein stands out under the fair skin of her forehead. Her present complaint—weakness, slight fever, and traces of blood when she coughs—appeared directly after the difficult birth of her first child, a lusty baby who immediately asserted his place in life “with prodigious energy and ruthlessness.”

Detlev Spinell, a writer of no particular renown, has been resident at Einfried for a short time already. He has about him an air of illegitimacy, seemingly more dilettante than artist and more vacationer than patient. For some, he is merely amusing, an odd sort who affects the role of the unappreciated, solitary aesthete. Several inmates refer to him privately as “the dissipated baby.” Once Kloterjahn returns to his flourishing business in the north, Spinell displays growing interest in his wife, and she finds a certain diversion in his conversation, eccentric as it is. He makes no secret of his dislike for her husband, insists that the name Kloterjahn is an affront to her, and queries her about her own family and her youth in Bremen. On learning that Gabriele and her father are amateur musicians, Spinell laments that the young woman sacrificed her artistic sensitivities to the domination of an acquisitive, boorish husband. Gabriele is vaguely charmed by this devotion; at the same time, her physical condition grows less encouraging.

One day at the end of February, a sleighing party is arranged for the patients, but she prefers not to...

(The entire section is 785 words.)