The following Friday, we left on the first train for Hannibal. It came through Browns Creek at 7:15 in the morning, and there were very few people at the station. I carefully if somewhat self-consciously noticed that Erica and I were the only ones who got on the train.
We arrived at the beautiful Hannibal train station at noon, and walked quickly to the downtown post office. We encountered no difficulty retrieving the letter. It seemed quite unlikely that we would be seen in the busy station coffee shop, so I led the way there to open and read the letter. Erica read the letter first, then without a word extracted her notebook from her bag and wrote out a translation in English. Then, still without speaking, she handed me the page from her notebook. Translated from German, it read:
I write this letter hoping it finds you well and safe far away over there in America. I miss you terribly, but also I am very glad that you are not here. People are not safe here in Germany. The Socialist movement has incurred the wrath of both the Freicorps and the government, as though they weren't the same thing.
You might know that Luxembourg and Liebknecht were murdered by the government after the uprising. They publicly said didn't want to begin the revolution at this time, and wouldn't be any part of it. And still, they were murdered.
So now the Socialists have new leadership, and I am no longer part of the movement. I spoke out against the Bolsheviks in a meeting and as a result lost my position as secretary. Now I have two enemies, the Freicorps and the Bolsheviks. When they take a break from fighting each other, they go hunting for me. I do not any longer go out of doors often, especially at night. The devil take all this popularity!
But, Liebchen, there are more important things to tell you of than my personal danger. There is also danger to you, and even to your country.
Although I have lost my position in the Central Committee, I still have friends there, and they risk their lives to tell me that plans are being made to send trained agents-provocateur from Germany and possibly Russia to the United States to start the Revolution over there. The Bolsheviks believe that a small, professional group of agents can sway the socialist and labor movements in the United States towards general strikes and then violent revolution. If you can read the recent speeches of Vladimir Lenin all this will be explained to you.
They are probably wrong about the outcome, but the danger of an attempt is very real.
There are such agents already in place in your country, and I have heard a rumor that one of them is now at your college. That person, if he exists, will most certainly be looking for you. The Bolsheviks have learned that I know some of their plans. I do not wish to explain how they found that out. That is why I am being hunted, and why you will be also. The Bolsheviks suspect that I have related to you what I know of their plans.
I do not know who they have sent to find you. God knows that I would tell you if I did. I do not know how long he has been in place there in America. He is possibly one of your fellow students. I know his task is to find you and anyone you have talked to and kill all of you.
Please believe me. The Bolsheviks are not like the socialists you and I met with and marched with when you were here. They serve a different cause, that of world revolution, and they will not stop at violence, even murder, to achieve that goal.
I may very well be dead by the time you receive this letter. I have asked my friend Micky to send it for me, however he could, so that you could not be traced back to me and thus identified. I can only hope that he succeeded, and that you have not been traced.
I can not tell you what to do. The authorities in your country should be warned, but if you go to them, I do not think you will be believed. I do think that if whoever they have sent to your college identifies you, he will kill you without even asking what you might know. Please let me believe that you will do everything to save yourself. Once the attempt at a revolution in your country fails, then I think you will be safe. There will no longer be any reason to act against you. Especially if I am already dead. I shall in any event take steps to insure that I am not captured alive.
I shall love you all the rest of my life, and my memory of you will be my final thought when the end comes.
Wordlessly, I handed the translation back to Erica and motioned for us to go meet our train. I can't explain it, but I needed to be away from here and somewhere more familiar and safer immediately. We would not talk of this until I was sure we would not be overheard, or even noticed. And besides, our train for Brown's Creek would arrive in 15 minutes.
* * *
The train was almost full on the return trip, and we did not want to talk about the letter for fear of being overheard. But since that was all that was on either of our minds, we soon fell into a contemplative silence which lasted for the entire trip. Erica stared endlessly out of the window while I pretended to read.
What a strange little wildflower our Erica is, I thought. She is so young, and ethereal, but she has seen and done so much! I have always wondered how such a frail little pansy like that survives. I wonder who on earth would want to harm her?
Mary Susan always thought logically, and today was no exception. She wondered who would fear what Erica knew, if they knew she knew it. According to the letter, the secret Bolshevik would. Erica might betray him to the authorities, whoever they might be. When it comes right down to it, who are the "Authorities" in our sleepy little college town. The local Sheriff? Some sort of Federal Agent? Who would believe her fairy story about the Bolsheviks coming to America to lead a revolution? Then she thought of a number of people, some of them rather important in the town, who would love to believe it. She remembered during the war when some of the madder citizens were saying that the Germans were going to invade the United States, and we would all have to speak German when that happened. How could rational people believe such tarradiddle! But believe it they did, and would believe it again, in these times, with "Reds" being uncovered all over the place.
It seemed to me that we were going to have to find out who the Bolshevik was before the Bolshevik found out who we were.
I thought of political science students I knew. Which of them would favor the Bolshevik cause? Probably none of them, I thought, but I wished I had paid more attention to what had been said in in my parlor and by whom over the past few weeks.
And would an anarchist on a mission major in politics, and possibly expose himself for what he was? Or would he remain free from any leftist connections at all? He might join groups that he thought might follow him when he started his big putsch, but how likely was that in the political science class in our little liberal arts college? Not very, I thought.