The Fall of the Stone City

The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare Read Free Book Online

Book: The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ismail Kadare
nationalists, royalists and communists, who had been at
odds over everything else for years, were of the same mind concerning this Jew. Jakoel wanted to weep but the tears would not come.
    The discussion in Dr Gurameto’s house petered out. Only the gramophone continued its din. The guests looked first at the colonel and then at the doctor, not understanding what was
happening. It was as if a dense fog had descended. The rumour was that a second order had just arrived from Berlin, annulling Big Dr Gurameto’s appointment as governor and restoring his
powers to Fritz von Schwabe.
    The colonel himself stood up to change the gramophone record. He put on Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” and everybody realised there was no more hope. And so they sat for a
long time, waiting for the rattle of machine guns.
    The first cocks crew. A superstition claimed that they drove away ghosts.
    The doctor and the colonel muttered to each other in private for a long time and again the situation changed. Nobody explained why. Colonel Fritz von Schwabe, bearer of the Iron Cross, took a
deep breath and ordered the hostages to be freed. Not just some, but all of them.
    The tension relaxed and it was as if the dinner were starting again. Dr Gurameto’s sweet-natured daughter, her chestnut hair combed in the latest fashion, carried in a tray with glasses to
celebrate the agreement. All the guests had seen how beautiful she was, even if they had pretended to take no notice. One after another they had fallen in love with her, passionately, as war-weary
men do. And she had fallen in love with them. Faced for the first time with such a dense crowd of dangerous masculinity, all men of chivalry, intimate with death, she had fallen suddenly,
tremulously in love with them, as if here in this room the men would fill the great emptiness of the future. Her hands trembled as she passed round the drinks to the colonel, then to her father,
her mother and to the others in turn and finally, with a slight hesitation, to her fiancé.
    They emptied their glasses and the shouts of “Zum Wohl!” mingled with the music of the gramophone as the cocks crew a second time. With soft steps the girl left the drawing room
before the exhausted men collapsed on the sofas and on the carpet itself, drifting into a deep sleep.
    The girl was woken by the first morning light. For a moment, she could not tell what time it was or why she was lying fully clothed on the bed in her parents’ room.
    “Oh God, what have I done!” she said in terror, holding her brow.
    The house was silent. Her feet carried her involuntarily to the great drawing room, from which a rasping sound came, like the final struggle of a man who finds it hard to die.
    She saw them stretched out where they had fallen, arms outspread and mouths gaping, her father, fiancé and mother, in whose lap an officer had laid his head; and then the colonel, his
face still masked, and the others, frozen, white, like sculptures.
    She turned towards the gramophone. The needle was stuck, causing the rasping noise. The icy thought ran through her that nobody else could be blamed for the poisoning but herself, the sole
person left alive.

    After this unforgettable mid-September night the sun rose, for the first time unobserved by anyone in the stone city. Everybody was still asleep, exhausted by the
night’s events.
    Their waking would become a whole story in itself, to be told in the course of many days and over many cups of coffee. “Where are we?” they asked, as they awoke to find themselves on
verandas, in linen cupboards, stretched on the rafters of attics or, as in most cases, on the staircases and in the cellars where sleep had overtaken them. They struggled to work out, if not what
time it was, at least the day or the month.
    The most difficult question: “What happened?” came last. A thick veil had fallen between them and their memories of events. Behind this veil the story

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