Alraune ten Brinken turned around in the saddle, toyed with the riding whip.
“Dead,” she said slowly. “Dead. That’s really too bad.”
She lightly struck her horse and walked it up to the gate.
“Fräulein,” screamed Frau Lisbeth. “Fräulein, Fräulein–”
Frau Lisbeth ran to the Privy Councilor overflowing with all her despair and hatred. The Privy Councilor let her talk until she quieted down. Then he said that he understood her pain and was not offended at what she had said. He was also prepared, despite the notice, to pay three months of her husband’s wages. But she needed to be reasonable, should be able to see that her husband alone carried the blame for the regrettable accident.
She ran to the police and they were not even polite to her. They had seen it coming, they said. Everyone knew that Raspe was the wildest driver on the entire Rhine. They had done their duty many times by trying to warn him. She should be ashamed of herself for trying to lay the blame on the young Fräulein! Had she ever been seen driving? Yesterday or ever?
Then she ran to an attorney, then a second and a third. But they were honest people and told her that they could not move forward with a lawsuit even when she wanted to pay in advance. Oh, certainly, anything was possible and conceivable, why not? But did she have any proof? No, none at all. Well then! She should just go quietly back home. There was nothing that she could do. Even if everything that she said was true and could be proved–her husband would still carry the blame. He was a grown man, a skilled and experienced chauffeur, while the Fräulein was an inexperienced scarcely grown thing–
So she went back home. She buried her husband in the little cemetery behind the church. She packed all her things and loaded them onto the cart herself. She took the money the Privy Councilor had given her, took her boys and left.
A couple of days later a new chauffeur moved into her old living quarters. He was short, fat and drank a lot. Fräulein ten Brinken didn’t like him and seldom went driving alone with him. He never got any speeding tickets and the people said that he was a good driver, much better than wild Raspe had been.
“Little moth,” said Alraune ten Brinken when Wolf Gontram stepped into the room one evening.
The beautiful eyes of the youth glowed.
“You are the candle flame,” he said.
Then she spoke, “You will burn your beautiful wings and then you will lie on the floor like an ugly worm. Be careful Wolf Gontram.”
He looked at her and shook his head.
“No,” he said. “This is the way I want it.”
And every long evening he flew around the flame. Two others flew around it as well and got burned. Karl Mohnen was one and the other was Hans Geroldingen. It was a matter of honor for Dr. Mohnen to court her.
“A perfect match,” he thought. “Finally, she is the right one!”
And his little ship rushed in with full sails. He was always a little in love with every woman but now his brain burned under his bald head, making him foolish, letting him feel for this one girl everything that he had felt for dozens of other women one after the other back through the years. Like always he made the assumption that Alraune ten Brinken felt the same ardent desire toward him, a love that was boundless, limitless and breathless.
One day he talked to Wolf Gontram about his great new conquest. He was glad the boy rode out to Lendenich–as his messenger of love. He had the boy bring many greetings, hand kisses and small gifts from him. Not just one red rose, that was for gentlemen. He was both lover and beloved and needed to send more, flowers, chocolates, petit fours, pralines, and fans, hundreds of little things and knick-knacks. The small bit of good taste that he did have and which he had so successfully taught to his ward melted in the blink of an eye in the flickering fire of his love.
The cavalry captain would often go traveling with him. They had been friends for many years. Count Geroldingen had once been nurtured by Dr. Mohnen’s treasures of wisdom just as Wolf Gontram was now being nurtured. Dr. Mohnen had a vast storehouse and gave it out by the handfuls, happy to find someone that would make use of it.
The two of them would go off on adventures together. It was always the doctor that met the ladies and made their acquaintance. Later he would introduce the count as his friend and boast about him. Often enough it was the Hussar officer who finally plucked the ripe cherries from the tree which Karl Mohnen had discovered.
The first time he had pangs of conscience and considered himself as low as they came. He tormented himself for a couple of days and then openly confessed to his friend what he had done. He made vehement excuses saying the girl had made such advances toward him that he had no choice but to submit to her. He was glad that it had happened because now he knew the girl was not worthy of his friend’s love.
Dr. Mohnen made nothing about it, saying that it didn’t matter to him at all, that it was completely all right. Then he gave the example of the Mayan Indians in the Yucatan. It was customary for them to say, “My wife is also my friend’s wife”.
But Count Geroldingen could tell his friend was sick about it so the next time a new acquaintance of the doctor preferred him, he didn’t say anything. Thus it happened over the years that quite a few of Dr. Mohnen’s women also became the handsome cavalry captain’s women as well, exactly like in the Yucatan. Only there was this difference, most of them had never been the doctor’s women at all.
He was the chicari, the beater, that tracked down the game and drove it out into the open–but the hunter was Hans Geroldingen. Yet he was quiet about it, had a good heart and didn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings. So the beater never noticed when the hunter shot and held himself up as the most glorious Nimrod on the Rhine.
Dr. Mohnen would often say, “Come along count. I’ve made a new conquest, a picture beautiful English girl. I picked her up yesterday at the open air concert and am meeting her tonight on the banks of the Rhine.”
“But what about Elly?” the cavalry captain would reply.
“Replaced,” declared Karl Mohnen grandly.
It was phenomenal how easily he could exchange his current flame for a new one. As soon as he found someone new he was simply done with the old one and didn’t care about her at all. The girls never made any troubles for him either. In that respect he far surpassed the Hussar who always had difficulty letting go and even more difficulty in getting his women to let go of him. For those reasons it required all the energy and persuasive skill of the doctor to take him along to meet some new beauty.
This time he said, “You must see her captain. God, I’m so happy that I have come so lightly through all my adventures and never been caught. Finally I’ve found the right one! She’s enormously rich, enormously. His old Excellency has over thirty million, perhaps forty. Well, what do you say count? His foster daughter is pretty as a picture and fresh as a blossom on a tree limb! By the way, speaking in strict confidence, the little bird is already in my net. I have never been so certain of things!”
“Yes, but what about Fräulein Clara?” returned the cavalry captain.
“Gone,” declared the doctor. “Just today I wrote her a letter saying that my work load had become so overwhelming that I simply had no more time left for her.”
Geroldingen sighed; Fräulein Clara was a teacher in an English finishing school. Dr. Mohnen had met her at a local dance and later introduced him to her. She loved the cavalry captain and he had hoped that for once Dr. Mohnen would take her away from him. He had to start thinking seriously about getting married. Sooner or later it had to happen, his debts were growing and he needed to find some solution.
“Write her the same thing!” cried Karl Mohnen. “God, if I can do it, you can do it as well. You’re just her friend! You have too much conscience man, much too much conscience.”
He wanted to take the count with him to Lendenich, to give him a reason for visiting with the little Fräulein ten Brinken.
He hit his friend lightly on the shoulder; “You’re as sentimental as a freshman, count! I leave one sitting and you blame yourself, always the same old song! But consider what stands to be won this time, the richest heiress on the Rhine. No delay is permitted!”
The cavalry captain rode out there with his friend and fell no less deeply in love with the strange creature who was so very different from all the others that had offered their red lips for him to kiss. As he went back home that night he felt the same way he had that time twenty years ago when for the first time he had taken for himself the girl that his friend adored.
Over the years this had happened so often and he had been so successful at it that his conscience no longer bothered him. But he was ashamed of himself now. This time it was entirely different. His feelings toward this half child were different and he knew that his friend’s emotions were different as well.
There was one thing that consoled him; Dr. Mohnen would certainly not win Fräulein ten Brinken. His chances of doing that were much less than they had been with any of the other women. Really, this time he was not even sure if she would be interested in him. When it came to this little doll all of his natural confidence had completely deserted him.
As far as young Gontram was concerned, it appeared that the Fräulein liked to have her handsome page, as she called him, around. But it was just as clear that he was nothing more than a plaything for Alraune without any will of his own.
No, neither of these two were rivals, not the smooth talking doctor nor the handsome youth. The cavalry captain seriously weighed his chances for the first time in his life. He was from an ancient and noble family and the King’s Hussars were considered the finest regiment in the West.
He was slender and well built, still looked young enough and was soon to be promoted to Major. He was a dilettante, and versed well enough in all the arts. If he had to be honest with himself he would have to admit that it would not be easy to find a Prussian cavalry officer with more interests or more accomplishments than he had. Truthfully it was not surprising that both women and girls threw themselves around his neck. Why shouldn’t Alraune do the same? She could search for a long time before she found anyone better. Even more, as the adopted daughter of his Excellency, she had the only thing that he couldn’t offer, money, and she had it in such immense abundance! The two of them would make an excellent couple, he thought.
Wolf Gontram was in the house sacred to St. Nepomuk every evening and at least three times every week he brought the cavalry captain and the doctor along with him. The Privy Councilor withdrew after the meal, coming in only occasionally for a half hour at a time, listening to them, observing for a bit and withdrawing again, “testing the waters” as he called it.
The three lovers sat around the little Fräulein, looking at her and making love to her, each in their own way.
The young girl enjoyed the attention for awhile but then it began to bore her. Things were getting too monotonous and a little more color was needed to liven up the evenings in Lendenich.
“They should do something,” she said to Wolf Gontram.
The youth asked, “Who should do something?”
She looked at him, “Who? Those two! Dr. Mohnen and the count.”
“Tell them what they should do,” he replied. “I’m sure they will do it.”
Alraune looked at him astonished, “How should I know what they should do? They have to figure that out themselves.”
She put her head in her hands and stared out into the room.
“Wouldn’t it be nice Wölfchen, if they dueled each other? Shot each other dead–both of them?”