destroy me. She is a dream and I shall never stop loving her. We are silent now. I move further into that tiny flame, the gateway to a universe of pleasure; beyond her vagina is infinity, immortality, marvellous escape. She is yelling. Her nails stab into my buttocks and my cries join hers. She lies with her curls against my neck and shoulder. I stroke her arm in the long twilight. 'Shall we go to Roberto's?'

'I am too tired,' she says, 'for the moment. Let us have an early supper here and then see.'

In Zwergengasse, once the home of a famous eighteenth-century Italian circus troupe, a knife-grinder pushes his cart over the cobbles. The street is barely wide enough for him and not much more than thirty yards long. It runs up to the old wall of the city. Its lower floors are large and vacant, occupied only by a tribe of beggars who will, when winter comes, move on to warmer quarters near the quaysides; they squat amongst the remains of the circus - painted tin and rotting velvet -discussing their adventures in loud voices while Pan Sladek reaches his premises at last, lowers the handles of his cart and unlocks the doors of his workshop, suspicious as always of the beggars (who would be far too timid to rob him). His grey face shines like a hatchet as he sweats to manipulate his grinding equipment into the shop. His nose is blue and pointed. He has had a hard day. He locks up and enters the doorway next to the shed, climbing the stairs slowly, but two at a time on his spidery legs until he reaches a door painted a fresh and startling yellow. He opens it. The smell of frying comes from the kitchen. Today is schnitzel day. When Pan Sladek remembers this he brightens. He goes into the kitchen and kisses Pani Sladek as he always kisses her. She smiles to herself. Below, as Zwergengasse grows dim, more beggars flit back, rooks to a rookery, their hands full of sour wine and loaves of yesterday's bread. Somewhere close by, students of the Academy and the Polytechnic are fighting again, shouting obscure private battle-cries from street to street and lying in ambush for one another in alleys and shop doorways, brandishing stolen colours, caps and scarves, which they nail to the walls and beams of the beerhalls, their headquarters. Willi's in Morgenstrasse and Leopold's in Grunegasse are respectively strongholds of the Academy and the Polytechnic. Near Leopold's is The Amoral Jew, a cabaret populated entirely by proponents of the New Art, young Russians and Germans with bizarre notions of perspective.

Alexandra likes The Amoral Jew and I have acquaintances there. We arrive at about nine o'clock to watch the negro orchestra which delighted her on our last visit. She is overdressed and heavily painted for this cabaret but so beautiful that nobody cares. Kulacharsky, barrel-chested and ferociously bearded, in a peasant blouse and clogs, fondles the ostrich feathers in her diamond aigrette and says something wicked to her in Russian which pleases her, though she does not understand a word. It is dark and noisy in The Amoral Jew and Rosenblum himself presides, his goatee twitching as he strolls amongst the tables and glances secretly here and there from mysterious eyes which could be drugged. There are murals on the walls, in gaudy primaries. Were it not for the strange manner of their execution they would be thought indelicate. They were painted by a Spaniard who passed through. Alexandra accepts a glass of absinthe, still the drink of the bohemian from St Petersburg to Paris. Voorman, sweating in his heavy jacket and tweed shooting breeches, begins to talk about his telescope; he is considering giving up painting for astronomy. 'Science is today the proper province of the artist.' Alexandra laughs, but because she finds him attractive not because she understands him. Bodies press around us like mourners at a wake. Alexandra enjoys the attention of the avant-garde. In the old barracks a few streets away, built into the walls of Mirenburg, privates at an off-duty card game drink surreptitiously from illicit jugs while avuncular sergeants turn blind eyes. In the upper storeys of the garrison captains and lieutenants passionately discuss the Armaments Bill which, if implemented, will mean a stronger Waldenstein. 'Everyone is arming. If we wish to keep our freedom, so should we. We are the prize of Europe, never forget that. We are coveted by all: three empires flank us and the only security we have is that one empire will not risk warring upon another in order to win us. Remember Bismarck's words: Waldenstein is the most beautiful bride the masculine nations have ever courted: a virgin whose dowry opens the gateway to power over the entire continent. Whoever wins her shall win the world. The Prince thinks our neutrality is all the security we need. But we must be prepared to defend ourselves from within. There are those who would sell the virgin to the highest bidder.' So says Captain Thomas Vladoroff, a distant cousin of mine, as his batman clears away the cheese. Vladoroff has the pale and misleadingly vacant good looks of his family. 'We must be alert for the agent provocateur in our midst. There are many, in the army and out of it, who support Count Holzhammer.' His friends smile at his zeal. He loosens the collar of his dress tunic. Someone tells him that there could never be a civil war in Waldenstein. 'We are too sensible, too united, too fond of comfort.' Alexandra dislikes my cousin. He is bloodless, she says, and more interested in machines than in his fellow men. He is leaving now, to visit his mistress in Regenstrasse, the widow of an officer killed some twenty years ago as a volunteer on the russian side during their last war with the French. Her name 18 Katerina von Elfenberg and she was seventeen when her husband died. She told my cousin he could be a reincarnation °i that dashing Hussar, who was blown to pieces by a huge UPP gun he was attempting to recapture. Her other lover is a ^aron, a chief of the Stock Exchange, and her advice is making my cousin moderately rich, although he becomes concerned about the nature of the speculation, for it seems to him to anticipate strife. There is a small party tonight. I have been invited but I could not take Alexandra for fear of meeting members of her family. As it is, her servants have had to be heavily bribed to tell callers she is out and to bring messages in secret to our hotel so that she can reply and thus preserve the pretence of being in residence. Her parents write regularly from Rome and she dutifully replies with news of friends and relatives, the weather, expeditions with her friends to museums and the more suitable tea-gardens. She is expected, next year, to go to be finished in Switzerland, but she plans instead, she tells me, to meet me in Berlin. From there we shall discuss the possibilities of Paris, Marseilles and Tangiers, for of course she is below the age of consent.

My cousin is introduced to the members of the Mirenburg Royal Ballet Company, some of the finest dancers in the world. The women offer him controlled hands to be kissed. He will tell me later how he feels uncomfortable, as if corralled with a squadron of ceremonial horses, all of which can pick up their feet and none of which can charge. I look toward the little stage, my arm about Alexandra. She loves the comedy, borrowed from Debureau, she says. Pierrot pursues Columbine and is defeated by Harlequin. A large silk moon ripples in the draught from the door and Pierrot plucks his guitar, singing in French. I am told it is Laforgue. Projected against the backdrop are silhouettes of balloons, trains and automobiles, of factories and iron ships. The song is in praise, I gather, of the machine, for Pierrot's accent is so gutteral I can scarcely understand one word in three. Then on come the novelty dancers; some little ballet of primitive lust and discordant fiddles. In the morning, as soon as there is sunlight a lark will begin to sing from our roof. We touch glasses and sip the heady wormwood. There is no time. I am adrift. I lean towards my ink. I have no pain now. I am full of delight. In Mirenburg's gaslight I call for a cab. Around us is ancient beauty, delicate lacework-stone silent under the deep sky. I resist the temptation to brave Katerina von Elfenberg's salon and we drive instead to the Yanokovski Promenade to marvel at its electrical lights and to listen to the music from the bandstand. I am an old man now and my white suits have become yellowed by the sun; but there is a bandstand in the town, where Italians play selections from Verdi and Rossini. A pleasure boat goes past in the jewelled water. Excited girls and boys of Alexandra's age play innocent games amongst the deck-chairs and the hatch-covers. A flotilla of grim barges passes in the darkness on the other side; a steam- whistle hoots. The pleasure boat disappears beneath the Radota. Mirenburg is the merriest of cities at night. Her citizens belong spiritually to more Southern regions of the continent. In Bachenstrasse, which winds down to the Promenade, Carl-Maria Saratov, his heart broken and his mind desperate for diversion, wanders into the unlit alleys known as the Indian Quarter, perhaps because there was once a cheap waxwork show here with its main tableaux representing the Wild West. Carl-Maria Saratov has come all the way from Falfnersallee where he saw his sweetheart entering the Cafe Wilhelm with his oldest friend, another student at the university. He has heard that opium is to be found in the Indian Quarter and so it is. The den would be unlikely to welcome him. It is typical of its kind, but unlike the one Carl-Maria has heard about from a friend. Mirenburg's best opium-den is not the sordid hovel one finds in Hamburg or London. Even the Chinese attendants at 'Chow-Li's' are not really Chinese, but Magyars dressed in elaborate robes. The place is awash with blue silk and golden brocade. The couches are deep and thickly padded and the owner is British, an exile, James Mackenzie, the Scots military engineer, who committed some crime in the Malay Archipelago and dare not enter any country of the British Empire, yet runs his den with all the tact, discretion and lavish decoration of a fashionable restauranteur. Archduke Otto Budenya- Graetz is there tonight, with two young friends from the military school. Mackenzie will not refuse him entrance, but makes sure he is sent to a remote room and that the pipes are paid for before they are smoked.

The Archduke has not enjoyed his visit to Rosenstrasse and swears the place is overrated and he will never return. He complains of his entrapment in'this provincial town' and speaks to the fascinated students of the glories of Vienna, Buda-Pest and Paris, of the women of St Petersburg, where he was very briefly an attache, of the boys

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