“How did you get away from your coffee with the ladies just now?” I asked her.
“Just now, for example, I claimed that I had to dart over to aunt Almalie’s and see her; if she is not there, so much the better! You would not believe how easy it is to dupe the ladies and my good mama.”
“But how about your papa?”
“When he gets back from work he plays whist and is more than happy if he doesn’t have to trouble with us.”
“Do your parents know that you are at a dangerous age?”
“What do you mean?” asked Alice, taken aback and a little offended.”
“You must know that little ladies between sixteen and eighteen are often little varmints.”
“You—I won’t stand for that!” she cried laughing. “Be happy that I still even come. By the way, my parents are much too honest of people, to think that something is not proper. They also have no idea that such a convincing child as I am is capable of such foolish escapades.”
“Aren’t they a little more than foolish escapades?”
“How beautiful it is that escapades can last for years!”
“I was still a child then.”
“I have become accustomed to it.”
I had heard hard words like this from her the last several times she had visited. She always spoke them flippantly. Striking me with them in grinning ridicule, as if she wanted to provoke me about something and then pouted, because I never gave her an answer, with a short angry puff of cigarette smoke toward the ceiling.
Perhaps originally she had spoken in jest. But later it appeared to be truer and pressed upon me in a threatening way. I believed in this threat and began to be afraid. But the fear made my weakly shimmering love flicker that much more brightly, so that after a while it assumed the Medusa head of passion.
I sat turned away from Alice and tried to fight it. I had to support my head with both hands, so heavy weighed the image of a near catastrophe on my thoughts. Then she stepped up softly behind me and ruffled my hair. She stroked lightly with the finger nails of her index fingers across my skin, in endless winding pathways that led through the hair to the back of my neck, along the edge of my ear lobes and across my forehead from temple to temple. It was a joyful, familiar love caress that went through the reflexes in my nerves and brought sweet shivers to my spine.
That seemed so comical that I regained my composure again and let the disturbing girl ride on my knee. She pulled the key out of my pocket and opened the compartments of my writing desk in order to rummage through the countless packets of letters that lay there in a clutter; to open and read them. She had listened much too well to the mysteries of my life.
Naturally she left all my business letters and family letters alone. But love letters that I had exchanged with old school friends and later with good hearted girls brought her great joy. I read along with over her shoulder, not at all displeased at this sweet youthful foolishness.
Finally she found the slanted flourishes of her own handwriting. There were only three letters, the only things that she had written me from out of those most beautiful weeks that had brought us together and when she had attempted to seduce me.
“We should read these again,” she opined. “There is certainly much foolishness in them.”
I took the small, light blue letters, which she had written, from out of her hand with shy emotion and unfolded them.
“Would you like to hear,” I asked, “how dear I was to you?”
“Why not?” she said. “I can barely remember back then.”
It was a soft teasing, yet not without a touch of melancholy. I took the first letter and read it out loud, while Alice listened with dreaming eyes.
Liepzig, Carl Tauschnitz Strasse, 8 Jan 95
My dear friend,
I have considered everything for a long time and it will not work! I really cannot risk it. If anyone sees me ringing on your door, if papa finds out, it would be terrible and destroy our beautiful plans for a friendship. Naturally people would think the worst things and entirely without any reason. Do not believe that I have any fear of you! After having twice danced the cotillion with you and recently sitting next to you for ten hours as a bridesmaid at a wedding, I feel that I know you quite well. No one has less talent at courting a lady or falling in love than you; and of course, our serious, solemn friendship is the best protection against such silly thoughts.
Well, it is really only on account of the danger we have in common. By the way, don’t think of me as such a gosling on that count—in all the world, that is something that I don’t want—so I will make you a different proposal. Come to the museum Sunday afternoon, to the Lanpe foundation, where I will be waiting for you. No one there will notice and we will be completely undisturbed; especially since we are up to nothing bad, simply wanting to talk about serious things, about life and the world; about the grand and interesting world, which I like to hear so much about, especially everything if possible from out of your own mouth.
As you know, you have promised to tell me how things are going and to give particulars. But now you will once more say that my proposal is nothing more than a rendezvous like the serving maids have with their cherished ones in the courtyard. I don’t need to assure you that these thoughts of mine are even more terrible than yours are. But still people can’t comprehend that serving maids don’t go into museums and that my “cherished one” is not you and never will be. I will never have a so called “cherished one” anyway.
Please answer me very soon, so that I know where I stand and don’t forget to let your land lady write the address so it is written in a lady’s hand.
With most cordial greetings,
Your friend, Alice