He nodded, but she fell silent again.
“So,” he began, “did you read the leather bound volume?”
“Yes,” she said.
She took a deep breath, looked at him.
“So, am I only a joke that you once made, Frank Braun?”
“A joke?” he returned. “–An–idea, if you will–”
“And I suppose it was funny enough,” she laughed out loud. But that’s not why I waited here for you. I want to know something entirely different. Tell me. Do you believe it?”
“Do I believe what?” he answered. “If everything happened like Uncle relates in the leather bound volume? Yes, I believe that.”
She shook her head impatiently. “No, that’s not what I mean. Naturally that is true–why would he lie in his book?–I want to know whether you also believe–like my–my–that is–your uncle did–That I am a different type of creature, different from other people, that I–am now, that I am, what my name implies?”
“How shall I reply to your question?” he said. “Ask any medical doctor–he will certainly say that you are just as good a human being as anyone else in the world, even if your first appearance was a little unusual–He would add, that all the other details are pure coincidence and unimportant, the–”
“That means nothing to me,” she interrupted.
“For your uncle these little details were most important. Basically it doesn’t matter if they are or not. I want to know if you share his opinion? Do you believe as well that I am a strange creature?”
He remained silent, searched for a reply, didn’t know how he should respond. He did believe it–and then again he didn’t–
“You see–” he began finally.
“Speak,” she urged. “Do you believe that I am your insolent joke–that took form? Your idea, which the old Privy Councilor threw into his crucible, which he cooked and distilled, until something came out that now sits before you?”
This time he didn’t hesitate, “If you put it that way, yes, that’s what I believe.”
She laughed softly, “I thought so–and that’s why I waited up for you tonight, to cure you of this vanity as soon as possible. No, cousin, you didn’t throw this idea into the world, not you–not any more than the old Privy Councilor did.”
He didn’t understand her.
“Then who did?” he asked.
She reached under the pillow with her hand.
“This did!” she cried.
She lightly tossed the little alraune into the air and caught it again, caressed it lovingly with nervous fingers.
“That there? Why that?” he asked.
She gave back, “Did you think about it earlier–before the day the Legal Councilor celebrated the communion of the two children?”
“No,” he replied. “Certainly not.”
But then this thing fell down from the wall, that was when the idea came to you! Isn’t that true?”
“Yes,” he confessed. “That is how it was.”
“Now then,” she continued, “so the idea came from outside somewhere and entered into you. It was when Attorney Manasse gave his lecture, when he recited like a school book and explained to all of you what this little alraune was and what it meant–That’s when the idea grew in your brain. It became so large and so strong that you found the strength to suggest it to your uncle, to persuade him to carry it out, to create me.
Then, if I am only an idea that came into the world and took on human form, it is also true that you, Frank Braun, were only an agent, an instrument–no more than the Privy Councilor or his assistant doctor. No different than–”
She hesitated, fell silent, but only for a moment. Then she continued–
“than the prostitute, Alma and the rapist-murderer whom you all coupled–you and Death!”
She laid the little alraune on the silk cushions, looked at it with an almost loving glance and said,” You are my father: You are my mother. You are what created me.”
He looked at her.
“Perhaps it was so,” he thought.
Ideas whirl through the air, like the pollen from flowers and play around before finally sinking into someone’s brain. Often they waste away there, spoil and die–Only a few find good rich soil–
“Perhaps she is right,” he thought.
His brain had always been a fertile planting place for all kinds of foolishness and abstruse fantasies. It seemed the same to him, whether he was the one that once threw the seed of this idea into the world–or whether he was the fertile earth that had received it.
But he remained silent, left her with her thought. He glanced over at her, a child, playing with her doll. She slowly stood up, not letting the little manikin out of her hands.
“There is something else I want to tell you,” she spoke softly. “But first I want to thank you for it, for giving me the leather bound volume and not burning it.”
“What is it?” he asked.
She interrupted herself.
“Should I kiss you?” she asked. “I could kiss–”
“Was that all you wanted to say, Alraune?” he said.
She replied, “No, not that!–I only thought I would like to kiss you once. Just in case–But first I want to tell you this, why I waited. Go away!”
He bit his lips, “Why?”
“Because–because it would be better,” she answered, “for you–perhaps for me as well. But it doesn’t depend on that–I now know how things are–am now enlightened, and I think that things will continue to go as they have–only, I will not be running around blindly anymore–Now I see everything. Soon–soon it will be your turn, and that’s why it would be better if you left.”
“Are you so certain of this?” he asked.
“Don’t I need to be?”
He shrugged his shoulders, “Perhaps, I don’t know. But tell me, why do you want to do this for me?”
“I like you,” she said quietly. “You have been good to me.”
He laughed, “Weren’t the others as well?”
“Yes,” she answered. “They all were. But I didn’t see it. And they–all of them–they loved me–you don’t–not yet.”
She went to the writing desk, took a postcard and gave it to him.
“Here is a postcard from your mother. It came earlier this evening; the servant brought it up with my mail by mistake. I read it. Your mother is ill–She very much begs you to come back to her.”
He took the postcard, stared in front of him undecided. He knew that they were right, both of them, could feel it, that it was foolishness to remain here. Then a boyish defiance seized him that screamed out, “No! No!”
“Will you go?” she asked.
He forced himself, spoke with a determined voice, “Yes, cousin!”
He looked at her sharply, watched every line of her face searching for some movement, a little tug at the corners of her mouth, a little sigh would have been enough, some something that showed him her regret. But she remained quiet and serious. No breath moved on her inflexible mask.
That vexed him, wounded him, seemed like an affront and an insult to him. He pressed his lips solidly together.
“Not like this,” he thought. “I won’t go like this.”
She came up to him, reached out her hand to him.
“Good,” she said. “Good–Now I will go. I can give you a goodbye kiss if you want.”
A sudden fire flickered in his eyes at that.
Without even wanting to, he said, “Don’t do it Alraune. Don’t do it!”
And his voice took on her own tone.
She raised her head and quickly asked, “Why not?”
Again he used her words, but she sensed that it was on purpose.
“I like you, Alraune,” he said. “You have been good to me today–many red lips have kissed my mouth–and they became very pale. Now–now, it would be your turn. That is why it would be better if you didn’t kiss me!”
They stood facing each other; their eyes glowed hard as steel. Unnoticed, a smile played on his lips. His weapon was bright and sharp. Now she could choose. Her “No” would be his victory and her defeat–then he could go with a light heart. But her “Yes” would mean war and she felt it–the same way he did. It was like that very first evening, exactly the same, only that time was the beginning and opening round. There had still been hope for several other rounds in the duel. But now–it was the end. He was the one that had thrown the glove–
She took him up on it.
“I am not afraid,” she spoke.
He fell silent and the smile died on his lips–Now it was serious.
“I want to kiss you,” she repeated.
He said, “Be careful! I will kiss you back.”
She held his gaze–“Yes,” she said–Then she smiled.
“Sit down, you are a little too tall for me!”
“No,” he cried out loudly. “Not like that.”
He went to the wide divan, laid down on it, buried his head in the cushions, stretched his arms out wide on both sides, closed his eyes.
“Now, come Alraune!” he cried.
She stepped closer, kneeled by his hips, hesitated, looked at him, then suddenly threw herself down onto him, seized his head, pressed her lips on his. He didn’t embrace her, didn’t move his arms. But his fingers tightened into fists. He felt her tongue, the light bite of her teeth.
“Kiss harder,” he whispered. “Kiss harder.”
Red fog lay before his eyes. He heard the Privy Councilor’s repulsive laugh, saw the large piercing eyes of Frau Gontram, how she begged little Manasse to explain the little alraune to her. He heard the giggling of the two celebrants, Olga and Frieda, and the broken, yet still beautiful voice of Madame de Vére singing “Les Papillons”, saw the small Hussar Lieutenant listening eagerly to the attorney, saw Karl Mohnen, as he wiped the little alraune with the large napkin–
“Kiss harder!” he murmured.
And Alma–her mother, red like a burning torch, snow-white breasts with tiny blue veins, and the execution of her father–as Uncle Jakob had described it in his leather bound volume–Out of the mouth of the princess–And the hour, in which the old man created her–and the other, in which his doctor brought her into this world–
“Kiss me,” he moaned, “Kiss me.”
He drank her kisses, sucked the hot blood from his lips, which her teeth had torn, and he became intoxicated, knowingly and intentionally, as if from champagne or his oriental narcotics–
“Enough,” he said suddenly, “enough, you don’t know what you are doing.”
At that she pressed her curls more tightly against his forehead, her kisses became hotter and more wild. Now the clear thoughts of day lay shattered, now came the dreams, swelling on a blood red ocean, now the Maenad swung her thyrsos and he frothed in the holy frenzy of Dionysus.
“Kiss me,” he screamed.
But she released him, let her arms sink. He opened his eyes, looked at her.
“Kiss me!” he repeated softly.
Her eyes glazed over, her breath came in short pants. Slowly she shook her head. At that he sprang up.
“Then I will kiss you,” he cried.
He lifted her up in his arms, threw her down struggling onto the divan, knelt down–there, right where she had knelt.
“Close your eyes,” he whispered and he bent down–
Good, his kisses were good–caressing and soft, like a harp played on a summer night, wild too, yes, and raw, like a storm wind blowing over the North sea. They burned red-hot like the fiery breath out of mount Aetna, ravishing and consuming like the vortex of a maelstrom–
“It’s pulling me under,” she felt, “pulling me into it.”
But then the spark struck and burning flames shot high into the heavens, the burning torch flew, ignited the altar, and with bloody jowls the wolf sprang into the sanctuary.
She embraced him, pressed herself tightly to his breast–I’m burning–she exalted–I’m burning–at that, he tore the clothes from her body.
The sun that woke her was high in the sky. She saw that she was lying there completely naked, but didn’t cover herself. She turned her head, saw him sitting up right next to her–naked like she was.
She asked, “Will you be leaving today?”
“Is that what you want, that I should leave?” he gave back.
“Stay,” she whispered. “Stay!”