“What is it NOW, Irene?” Grandmother shakes me out of my slumber.
“Mary told me you’ve sent Leopold away! Are you that sick, child? Merciful Heaven!” She bends over me and gives a gasp of shock, smelling the gin on my breath.
“You’re drunk, Irene! What happened to your nose? Couldn’t you keep on your feet?” She moans after a closer inspection.
“I fell down the stairs, grandmother.”
“Shocking! I’m sure you were with that godless Mulstein! What shall I do to bring to your senses, child? Believe me, Irene, you’re asking for trouble! I don’t understand how your father can tolerate or even encourage such a company! I warn you, Irene! One day, Leopold will have enough of your naughtiness and find himself a more suitable fiancée. By the way, how unwise of you to let Leopold go alone to the tuition. Don’t you realise that all other girls are plotting to snatch him away from you?”
“Don’t worry, grandmother. Every girl brings along her own dancing partner and is supposed to stick to him. The only loose couple is Bessie and Milan and they have to train the dancers to bring the best out of them. So Bessie won’t have much time left for Leo and, anyway, I don’t think she’s Leo’s type.”
“How can you be so naive, Irene? Bessie is just the sort of a girl to lure on a sweet, innocent young man like Leopold! Be reminded of the tragic destiny of Milan Zika’s father! If I were you I wouldn’t dawdle away my future lolling in bed and would stop things before they may start. Get up, Irene! I’ll tell Mr. Tichy to get the car.” Grandmother grabs the blanket away and gapes at the blood-smeared sheets.
“It’s nothing, grandmother, don’t be upset. I’ve had my period a little earlier, this time, and it caught me unprepared. I felt so unwell that I had to lie down. You do understand how awkward it would have felt to explain it to Leo, even if he happens to be a surgeon, don’t you, grandmother? I took a drop of gin to ease the cramps and ...”
“My poor little darling, I’m so very sorry I was harsh with you. You should have told me at once, sweetheart! Mary will beat egg yolks with sugar and sherry for you, it will put you on your feet. Yet, I don’t understand how Leopold could have left you behind. It’s not like him at all. Did you have a lovers’ squabble, child?”
“Of course not, grandmother. Leo went to Mirak’s because we need to learn the procedure for the Medical Ball.”
“Well, I still insist it would be wiser to join him, my little one. A man is a fragile creature and, in a weak moment, any clever woman can twist him round her little finger,” my grandmother says ominously before leaving me to get changed for her Opera night.
Brought out of my depths by her gloomy prognosis, I start brooding. Daunted by the vision of Egon’s body crumpled in a heap on the carpet, his blank eyes staring into the void, I decide to do something about it. For all I know, he may be dead! Even if it can’t be proved that I pushed him, I may be tried for not assisting a person in danger as I can scarcely deny to have been with him. My fingerprints and God knows what else, will serve as evidence against me. I might have been even seen fleeing from the flat.
I must confide in Leo and ask for his help whatever his reaction may be. I have no other choice. I force myself to get up and start to dress for the tuition.
Mary, entering with the beaten eggs, watches me suspiciously.
“I thought you were breathing your last, Liebchen! Where are you going?”
“Don’t be so nosy, Mary. If you really must know, to the Rotary,” I add soothingly not to upset a possible ally.
“I don’t blame you! Dancing with that wicked mulatto girl wiggling her naughty bum, even a saint would yield to temptation. Don’t get me wrong, Liebchen, pouring the fat into the fire is the last thing I’d do, but your Doctor is just a man and flesh is weak. Eat your eggs, Liebchen. I mixed them with a hearty portion of sherry. They’ll set you on your feet.”
“Thanks, Mary, I will. Now be a dear and tell Mr. Tichy to bring the car out.”
I send her away to finish my grooming, using a trick or two to look my best. I do need Leo’s help, don’t I! As the saying goes and my grandmother and Mary sing in unison, a man is just a puppet on a woman’s string.