This was the Alice of two years ago, the sixteen year old girlfriend of a young jokester, whom she appeared to take seriously. But by now she had long learned not to believe him. Everything had turned out differently than she had hoped, not at all as solemn, much more seductive and soft, grotesque like a type of comedia dell’. And perhaps sweet disgust was already rising in her heart.
Yet perhaps this rummaging around in faded sentiment brought her no less of a sensation than it gave to me, who at the time had loved her differently, more happily.
“Read more, more!” urged Alice, while she folded her hands around my arm, and I took up the second letter.
“My dearest friend,
You are a terrible, tormenting spirit! Stubborn like all men! Even though I was in no way convinced of your principles, I finally went to the Lampe Institute, but, as it happened, waited in vain under the black paintings for the ungrateful. Then weeks passed before we met again at some boring evening event. —No, if you only knew, how impossible it is for us.
In the next room my sister Emmy is rehearsing, who unfortunately, by God’s grace is very musical. At our next evening card party she is supposed to perform something the best she can. Poor thing! Papa is quarreling downstairs with the coachman, and Mama is nervous, because Papa is in a bad mood.
Day after day the same stifling boredom, afternoon French instruction with Mademoiselle and in the evenings the newspaper or music! Music with or without guests; but a real concert; where you have to get dressed up, so the young people of the good families will notice. I had imagined my first winter to be much more different. It is often said, and Mama said it then, that I had apparently been reading books. Dear God! If only I had one in my hands!
No, I am unsatisfied by nature. Mademoiselle is entirely correct about that. Papa says: Unsatisfied as a social democrat. The more they have, the more they want. It’s no different in our factory than it is at home. Papa doesn’t understand what is really wrong with me; a little cordiality, kindness and all kinds of beautiful things. Yes, all kinds of things. It must be that way somewhere. You shall tell me where! And because of that, there remains nothing else for me to do, except to go to you, in your enchanted castle, Mozart St. Nr. 5. But I ask one little thing of you; be well-behaved and don’t scare me! Under these conditions, said in good faith, I am very happy about this.
With many cordial greetings,
Your friend Alice.”
It was then, for the first time, that I recognized a trace of the underlying tone, in which the world itself would be her great courtesan, or else the un-abiding preaching of the women.—
The last letter, a couple of months later, said much the same thing:
My only Tust!
It is impossible for me to come again for three weeks. But on Penance Day, I will be able to stand in line with the congregation, so that morning from 9-12 o’clock will be available. I had hoped at first, to skip family coffee; yet it has been postponed. I also have to be present at the Wilhemi Concert, sitting next to grandmamma, and my absence would be noticed. So then, Penance Day around 9 o’clock! The time is not ideal, but there is no other.
Meanwhile, you can get some work done or find new paintings and poems for me. Really, you have the ability to produce something. The most comical things receive an entirely serious and respectable face at your place. I am especially happy about your forthcoming confession. That will be some dance! Don’t think that I will release you from this. After you have learned all the hair fine details from me, I will demand the same from you as well, even though I am much less jealous than you.
As to the question of whether I love you, I have repeatedly given it serious consideration, but am still not clear about it. In the beginning, it seems I was wild about you. But you have a certain way, which one gets accustomed to so quickly. Sometimes I dream about you night and day, and other times I forget about you entirely.
In any case you are much too dear to me, so dear, that I cannot grasp it or—you are a complete scoundrel! I almost believe it’s the latter. But I don’t want to get married. I am considering your character as well, since we have only had to tolerate each other for a few hours; when we have been sitting good naturedly next to each other. And up until now, those have been most enchanting hours, without wanting to flatter you.
Live well, dearest Tucku, and a thousand greetings and—
From your true Alice.
She appeared to be especially proud of this last letter. Then she laughed contentedly and naively.
I remembered it differently. At the time I really found everything about her charming and original. Now I was almost frightened of this clever child, who with time grew ever older and more clever.—
But had I valued her soul at the time?—Not entirely. But its future and development!—because I hoped to add to its value.—was it already too late for that? Or had it become too wanton? Or had I become too weak?—either way, the joke had now become more of a problem, the game become a battle. And this battle for love disturbed me.
It became twilight. There was really some time before sunset. But my window, which faced to the north, was almost covered with heavy gray curtains and allowed only a small sliver of light into the room. Evening always came an hour earlier at my house than for other people.
I locked the letters back in the chest. Alice followed them thoughtfully with her eyes and waited for some word of recognition for the beautiful things that she had written. I didn’t know what to say to her. Everything that kept us a part lay upon me. At the least I should have learned, to consider her nature, as it was now.
I could not prevent the feeling of coldness that streamed out from her. She quietly slid down from my knees.
As I turned around, she reclined in one of the armchairs and looked down in front of her.
“Make it completely dark,” she asked me very softly and friendly. “This eternal twilight just makes us moody.”
I closed the shutters in front of the window and could only see her figure in outline. Then I stepped up to her and set down next to her on the cushion of the chair.
She reached out her hand to me. If only I had not caressed and kissed it so gladly! She has appeared the symbol of beauty to me for her entire life. So flexibly formed with her fragile limbs and thin, ivory white skin; she could very well be allowed to believe, that body and bearing were the better parts of a lover.
Only the nature of my love was the realization of unknown delights.
If I had wanted to lift the veil from the Sais painting, I would have only made my desire a little poorer, at least in the end.
Then my desire was everything, a thousand times more than the pleasure of past intoxications and avenged itself with disenchantment.
But my last impression of it is always still the kiss. Oh, how I kissed the gentle child next to me that evening! I slipped my hand between her neck and the chair and lay my lips on hers, as if we belonged to each other. She was dull and listless, like one that swoons along the way. Only her eyes looked at me with a strange, sickly glow.
Then something seemed to occur to her and occupy her thinking.
Softly she pulled her lips away and laid her head next to my forehead, temple to temple.
“I want to tell you something, Tust”, she said hesitantly; “Back then, when I wrote those letters, you were much dearer to me than you believed.”
I remained silent between fear and tension; such words could mean many things.
“You have not wanted to notice that,” she continued; “because you have only been playing with me. Isn’t that true, what you have been doing?”
This guilt had never troubled me before. What just occurred must have awoken her suspicions.
Fearfully, like something caught, I sought to calm her:
“Alice,” I said, “don’t you believe that you bring me the dearest, most holy bliss . . .”
“Because you don’t know anything dear or holy any more—tell me, has it now become serious with you?”
“Ah, love, what is serious in our days!”
“There, you see! But I expected that, and I imagined it exactly. Gradually it has become clear to me, that you and I—no, let’s say we,—have deluded ourselves.”
With that she pushed me softly away from her.—it happened for the first time and suddenly the beautiful order of my well nurtured love came crashing down.