Issue 13, Summer 1956
Somehow it wasn’t altogether a surprise when Waldeck Brand and his wife bumped into Carlitta at a theater in New York in 1953. The Brands were six thousand miles away from their home in South Africa, and everywhere they had visited in England and Europe before they came to America they had met Waldeck’s contemporaries from Heidelberg whom he hadn’t seen for twenty years and never had expected to see ever again. It had seemed a miracle to Waldeck that all these people, who had had to leave Germany because they were liberals (like himself), or Jews, or both, not only had survived transplantation but had thrived, and not only had thrived but had managed to do so each in the manner and custom of the country which had given him sanctuary.
Of course, Waldeck Brand did not think it a miracle that he had survived and conformed to a pattern of life lived at the other end of the world to which he had belonged. (Perhaps it is true, after all, that no man can believe in the possibility of his own failure or death.) It seemed quite natural that the gay young man destined primarily for a good time and, secondly, for the inheritance of his wealthy father’s publishing house in Berlin should have become a director of an important group of gold mines in southernmost Africa, a world away from medieval German university towns where he had marched at the head of the student socialist group, and the Swiss Alps where he had skied and shared his log cabin with a different free-thinking girl every winter, and the Kurfürstendamm where he had strolled with his friends, wearing elegant clothes specially ordered from England. Yet to him—and to his South African wife, who had been born and had spent the twenty-seven years of her life in Cape Town, looking out, often and often, over the sea which she had now crossed for the first time—it was a small miracle that his Heidelberg friend, Siggie Bentheim, was to be found at the foreign editor’s desk of a famous right-of-center newspaper in London, and another university friend, Stefan Rosovsky, now become Stefan Raines, was president of a public-utility company in New York and had a finger or two dipped comfortably in oil, too. To Waldeck, Siggie was the leader of a Communist cell, an ugly little chap, best student in the Institut für Sozialwissenschaften, whose tiny hands were dry-skinned and shrunken, as if political fervor had used up his blood like fuel. Stefan was the soulful-eyed Russian boy with the soft voice and the calm delivery of dry wit who tutored in economics and obviously was fitted for nothing but an academic career as an economist.
And to Eileen, Waldeck Brand’s wife, both were people who lived, changeless, young, enviable, in a world that existed only in Waldeck’s three green leather photograph albums. Siggie was the one who sat reading the Arbeiterpolitik, oblivious of the fact that a picture was being taken, in the photograph where a whole dim, underexposed room (Waldeck’s at Heidelberg) was full of students. Eileen had been to a university in South Africa, but she had never seen students like that: such good-looking, happy, bold-eyed boys, such beautiful girls, smoking cigarettes in long holders and stretching out their legs in pointed-toed shoes beneath their short skirts. Someone was playing a guitar in that picture. But Siggie Bentheim (you could notice those hands, around the edges of the pages) read a paper.
Stefan was not in that picture, but in dozens of others. In particular, there was one taken in Budapest. A flashlight picture, taken in a night club. Stefan holds up a glass of champagne, resigned in his dinner suit, dignified in a silly paper cap. New Year’s in Budapest, before Hitler, before the war. Can you imagine it? Eileen was fascinated by those photograph albums and those faces. Since she had met and married Waldeck in 1952, she had spent many hours looking at the albums. When she did so, a great yawning envy opened through her whole body. She was young, and the people pictured in those albums were all, even if they were alive, over forty by now. But that did not matter; that did not count. That world of the photograph albums was not lost only by those who had outgrown it into middle age. It was lost. Gone. It did not belong to a new youth. It was not hers, although she was young. It was no use being young, now, in the forties and fifties. She thought of the green albums as the record of an Atlantis.
Waldeck had never been back to Europe since he came as a refugee to South Africa twenty years before. He had not kept up a regular correspondence with his scattered student friends, though one or two had written, at intervals of four or five years, and so for some, when Waldeck took his wife to Europe and America, he had the address-before-the-last, and for others the vaguest ideas of their whereabouts. Yet he found them all, or they found him. It was astonishing. The letters he wrote to old addresses were forwarded; the friends whom he saw knew where other friends lived, or at least what jobs they were doing, so that they could be traced that way, simply by a telephone call. In London there were dinner parties and plain drinking parties, and there they were—the faces from Atlantis, gathered together in a Strand pub. One of the women was a grandmother; most of the men were no longer married to women Waldeck remembered them marrying, and had shed their old political faiths along with their hair. But all were alive, and living variously, and in them was still the peculiar vigor that showed vividly in those faces, caught in the act of life long ago, in the photograph albums.
Once or twice in London, Waldeck had asked one old friend or another, “What happened to Carlitta? Does anyone know where Carlitta is?” Siggie Bentheim, eating Scotch salmon at Rules’, like any other English journalist who can afford to, couldn’t remember Carlitta. Who was she? Then Waldeck remembered that the year when everyone got to know Carlitta was the year that Siggie spent in Lausanne.
Another old friend remembered her very well. “Carlitta! Not in England, at any rate. Carlitta!”
Someone else caught the name, and called across the table, “Carlitta was in London, oh, before the war. She went to America thirteen or fourteen years ago.”
“Did she ever marry poor old Klaus Schultz? My God, he was mad about that girl!”
“Marry him! No-o-o! Carlitta wouldn’t marry him.”
“Carlitta was a collector of scalps, all right,” said Waldeck, laughing.
“Well, do you wonder?” said the friend.
Eileen knew Carlitta well, in picture and anecdote. Eileen had a favorite among the photographs of her, too, just as she had the one of Stefan in Budapest on New Year’s Eve. The photograph was taken in Austria, on one of Waldeck’s skiing holidays. It was a clear print and the snow was blindingly white. In the middle of the whiteness stood a young girl, laughing away from the camera in the direction of something or someone outside the picture. Her little face, burnished by the sun, shone dark against the snow. There was a highlight on each firm, round cheekbone, accentuated in laughter. She was beautiful in the pictures of groups, too—in boats on the Neckar, in the gardens of the Schloss, in cafés and at student dances; even, once, at Deauville, even in the unbecoming bathing dress of the time. In none of the pictures did she face the camera. If, as in the ski picture, she was smiling, it was at someone in the group, and if she was not, her black pensive eyes, her beautiful little firm-fleshed face with the short chin, stared at the toes of her shoes, or at the smoke of her cigarette, arrested in its climbing arabesque by the click of the camera. The total impression of all these photographs of the young German girl was one of arrogance. She did not participate in the taking of a photograph; she was simply there, a thing of beauty which you could attempt to record if you wished.