"Alexandra, this sounds serious." In all the years they had known each other, Alexandra had only fallen in love once -- and that had ended in catastrophe. Thereafter, she dated only occasionally, and nothing seemed to really "take off." Lotte knew that Alexandra was still a virgin. In consequence, Lotte felt Alexandra was terribly inexperienced when it came to men, and was instantly protective. "Is he married?"
"Lotte! You know I wouldn't go out with a married man."
"But I thought all officers married when they were lieutenants or captains or whatever? At least that's what you told me not three months ago," Lotte reminded her. Lotte, like Alix's mother, had immediately assumed that [Alix's job at General Staff HQ] would be an ideal place for Alix to meet a suitable young man, but Alexandra had dismissed the idea on the grounds that the officers with whom she had to deal were too senior not to be married already.
"Most do," Alexandra admitted.
"So what's wrong with your major? What did you say his name was?"
"Feldburg, Philip Freiherr von Feldburg."
Lotte whistled and sat back in her chair, her attention focused intently on her friend. "Go on."
"What do you mean?"
"Tell me more. For example, how long has this been going on?"
"There's nothing going on, Lotte. Major v. Feldburg joined the AHA about two months ago. Over the last six weeks, he's asked me out every weekend except the one when he was Duty Officer."
"That sounds good."
Alexandra sighed. "I know, but it isn't what it sounds like. He still used the formal form, and he's never touched more than my elbow -- to help me in or out of a taxi or across a street or whatever."
Lotte frowned. She didn't like the sound of this. Alexandra was an attractive young woman, and it was clear to her that a serious suitor should have been more ardent. Then again, Alexandra's good looks might intimidate an ugly man. "What does he look like?"
"Dark hair, dark-grey eyes, fine classical face, glasses."
"I supposed he might just prefer boys. There are men --"
Alexandra was so indignant in her denials that Lotte instantly knew Alexandra's heart was lost -- even if she didn't know it herself yet. She sipped her champagne thoughtfully and listened carefully as Alexandra finally started to pour her heart out. Alix was always like that. She needed to be encouraged at first, but when she'd overcome her inhibitions, she would speak with feeling and openness.
"I honestly don't know what ot make of him, Lotte. He's everything I thought I hated when I was at university." She gestured vaguely to the room around her to refer to that stage of her life. "He's not only an aristocratic land-owner, he's a General Staff officer and he's Catholic. There are times when he's so formal that it drives me mad! But there's nothing haughty about him -- or even arrogant. Nor is he the list bit bigoted. I swear, Lotte, he's given more thought to a wider range of topics than most students or even professors. He's amazingly well-read, despite his lack of university education, and what's more, he tries to analyze and understand concepts -- like the key elements of education, the essence of leadership, the relevance of religion in warfare, etc. etc."
Lotte laughed, and Alexandra stopped talking, offended.
Lotte reached out and patted her arm. "I'm not laughing at you, Alix. I just find it amazing how different we are! Can you picture me raving about some man who wanted to talk about religion and leadership?" Alexandra had to giggle at the thought. Lotte nodded and insisted seriously. "Go on. Tell me what it is you like best about your young man."
Alexandra hesitated, took her time considering her answer, and then decided, "It's that he has no patent answers and seems genuinely interested in my opinions. He doesn't lecture to me, Lotte. He really listens to what I have to say." Alexandra sounded amazed by this, and Lotte knew it was the old wound. Alexandra was continuing, however, unable to restrict Philip's virtues to a single point. "He's reliable. He's trustworthy. He has a strong sense of responsibility, and even if we disagree about this or that on the surface, our basic values are the same."
"So what's wrong with him?" Lotte challenged.
Alexandra shrugged, sighed and played with the empty Sekt glass. "He still calls me 'Frl. v. Mollwitz' and at times -- despite his rank, title and decorations -- he seems outright diffident."
"Alexandra," Lotte leaned forward, placed her elbows flat on the table, and folded her hands together. "I want an honest answer: Have you ever done anything to encourage him?"
"What do you mean? I've always accepted his invitations."
"Well, does he see you home?"
"To your apartment?"
"And do you invite him up for coffee or a glass of wine?"
"Of course not! He might get the wrong idea! I'm not like you, Lotte; I couldn't deal with having one affair after another. I couldn't go through an abortion to save my life, and being an unwed mother would be even worse." Alix was not so much angry as agitated. Part of her felt that she ought to be more like Lotte. She was 28 years old and with every day she got older and less "eligible." Her mother had almost despaired, blaming Alix's education. She told Alix she was "too outspoken," adding that men didn't like "clever" women. Alix had started to believe her -- until she met Philip. Philip was everything she had ever dreamed of in a husband -- except that he was a reactionary Junker. But if he wasn't seriously interested in her, she supposed she ought to at least enjoy an affair with him. The problem was that she simply couldn't imagine sleeping with a man just for the "fun" of it, without any prospects of permanency.
Lotte was making calming gestures. "Relax, Alix. I'm not suggesting you sleep with him. But, you see, men don't like being rejected any more than we do. Maybe he's afraid you'll you'll reject him, if he goes too far too fast?"
"Lotte! He's a rich baron with an Iron Cross. What has he got to be afraid of?"
"Me? I'm an old maid --"
"Nonsense! Besides, there must be some reason he isn't married at his age. Maybe he was rejected by the woman of his dreams and hasn't recovered? Or maybe he was just too busy getting his rank and those General Staff stripes and the medals to have time for women? Maybe he's completely inexerienced?"
"I can't imagine that," Alexandra asserted, thinking that Philip was simply too good-looking and charming not to have had lots of experience with women. She combed her hair out of her face wtih her hand. "You don't really think that's possible, do you?" she tensely asked her experienced friend.
Lotte shrugged. "I admit it's hard to imagine -- if he's even half as charming as you make him sound. Maybe he's just too conservative. Don't Catholic aristocrats usually marry modest maidens straight out of convent schools? -- preferably someone they're related to."
"Yes, and that's what I'm afraid of," Alexandra admitted candidly. "I'm afraid that he sees me as a pleasant way to fill his free time until he finds an immature maiden wth the right bloodlines."
"And that's not enough for you?" Lotte pressed her. "I know girls who'd sell their souls for just one evening at Kempinski's on the arm of a young, decorated baron. But being taken out to expensive restaurants and concerts and films all without any obligations isn't enough for you?" The question wasn't unkind, just very penetrating.
Alexandra paused, her hand still in her hair. Their eyes met. Alexandra shook her head. "No, Lotte. It's ironic, but this reactionary Junker is everything I though an open-minded, socialist intellectual would be -- and wasn't. He's the first man in my whole life who has ever really taken me seriously. He's so much better than Martin was -- and he would still be, without his rank, his title or his wealth. I'm not saying I'm in love with him," she hastened to stress to Lotte (who smiled knowingly). "It's just that there's nothing I'd like more in the world right now than to get to know him better. I want to know about his personal opinions, not just his public ones. I want to know more about what he feels, not just what he thinks."
Lotte leaned forward and put her hand on Alexandra's wrist. "Then don't let him slip away, Alix. Take a chance."
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