benjamin’s final trip


On her return she told Birman that she’d heard a ‘loud rattling from one of the neighbouring rooms’. Birman went to investigate and found Benjamin ‘in a desolate state of mind and in a completely exhausted physical condition’. He told her he could not go back to the border and would not move out of the hotel. She said there was no alternative and he disagreed: ‘He hinted that he had some very effective poisonous pills with him. He was lying half naked in his bed and had his very beautiful big golden grandfather watch with open cover on a little board near him, observing the time constantly.’ This ‘big golden grandfather watch’ was perhaps a pocket watch; and if so, surely the one he’d consulted earlier in the day to ration the pauses during his heroic, debilitating ascent. Birman told him about the attempted bribe and urged him to hold off. ‘He was very pessimistic’ and thought the odds were way too long. A little later, Henny Gurland came into the room and Birman left. There were several visits by a local doctor who bled the patient and administered injections, but if Birman was aware of this, she doesn’t say so. She takes it to be a clear case of suicide. ‘The next morning,’ she writes, ‘we heard that he had succeeded and was no more amongst us.’

more from the LRB here.