From Out of Decadence; a Novel
By Kurt Martens 1898
Translated by Joe Bandel
I had decorated my room with flowers, with Iris, lilacs and white clusters of vanilla.
The perfume of these wilting greenhouse flowers was weak and painful, like my love, which aroused and disturbed me, without fulfillment, without pain—
Toward evening, exactly at the promised hour, Alice came and greeted me with a friendly handshake. Then she threw off her coat, her cap with a veil, and laughed at me with her accustomed gaiety.
Again I found her less and less of a child, older and fuller than six weeks earlier when I had seen her the last time. All too quickly she was becoming a lady, as if she could not wait for it, eager to enjoy every strong pleasure, of which she had only known up until this time from my own words. But previously she had always been moderate and of impeccable manners; and I must admit, despite all dangers, that my joy at her loveliness increased precisely because this little girl maintained our friendship and held this alluring charm ever since she had been so fortunately separated from the poverty and underworld of her childhood.
This fine poise and carriage that encircled her like the perfume of her maidenhood also raised her far above the hordes of young wives, who were less tender in their desires and easier to be won. She was a very rare fruit on the tree of life. For these reasons, I was very proud of Alice and listened so passionately to the last melancholy words of this sonata that they call love—
The first thing that Alice did was to stretch out on my sofa and clasp her hands together behind the knot of her hair. Even though shy and well behaved in her position as eldest daughter, she had learned to feel at home with me in the two years of our acquaintance. Why shouldn’t she want to come now and enjoy some more of this harmless freedom! That was why she took up one of my blade thin cigarettes, which she had learned how to smoke from me. I pushed an ashtray over to her and sat down beside her.
In front of us, on the low étagère were even more pleasures for Alice, a bottle of brown Curacao liqueur, which she loved to mix with chrysanthemum and bitter orange, as well as banana biscuits, much sweeter than the exaggerated taste of bonbons. That was why she broke off almost invisibly small portions and slowly pushed them between her teeth with an adorable and coquettish gesture. Then she noticed another plate with overly large, sugary balls of pastry.
“What are those funny looking things?”
“Kourabiedes”, I said auspiciously. “The national pastry of Greece, consisting mostly of butter and they taste delicious.”
“Oh, how charming!” she cried and spread her little fingers wide apart in order to grab one of the monsters. The taste created an unspeakable joy in her.
“Blessed Ambrosia!” she murmured with full jaws. “Ambrosia straight from Olympia!”
She guzzled down her liqueur in one draught, the brown Curacao with the bitter orange.
Then she slung her arms around my neck and kissed me, only a glancing kiss with closed lips, like every little girl kisses, who has still not known love. Oh, how strange it was to have her lying there so tenderly against me. For her to do that you had to give her delicacies and liqueur. That made the exquisite ray of passion even more enchanting. It gave hope and strengthened the belief, that she may yet love me.
Whether it was clearly the warm, deep cordiality of long breeding, devotion and cherishing, a thankful feeling of well-being or whether it was really passion that remained the question. I have never found the answer to that, never, not even now when it has become a question for a doctor.
She sees in me a very dear friend, like some romantic singer, who sings of the flattering joys of life in the middle of a dim theater, while the wide questioning eyes of the child look toward the curtain. The singer sings of many wonders that lie behind the curtain. The little girl fidgets with impatience and finds the melody of the singer wonderfully sweet; until the time the curtains are pulled apart and the entire splendor becomes visible in front of her.
After that there is only one question, whether the singer was just a prologue that had stepped up onto the stage, or if he would continue to sing in the great concert.
That was often the question for me, and yet I did not really want to be there when the performance began. It would no doubt be a great performance that played out in front of me, with bad actors taking part in it.
Oh, but it was a much higher honor to be the muse of the bud, the first enticing light of day that brings it to bloom. Later its fragrance is for everyone, who is skilled and clever enough to pluck it. And that is not really difficult with young ladies!
No, only to have her near me, in the power of my spell, under the influence of my powers! To drink in her beauty with eyes that are moist with love, to touch her white skin with trembling fingers and search every secret place with my lips, where the blood races and throbs, beneath her throat and on her temples beneath the curls of her blonde hair!