1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 10

Chapter 6


Franz Sylwester winced as Pastor Jonas Nicolai jerked back in surprise at the vehemence in Marla Linder’s voice. For all that his wife normally shone with a pleasant temperament, she had a temper that, when stirred, rivaled the tempests on the seas. Unfortunately for the pastor, he had just invoked the tempest. And, judging from his expression, the poor man had no idea what had gone wrong, but he had just enough perception to realize that something had.

          Pastor Nicolai from the Heilig Geist (Holy Ghost) church had asked if he could call on them. Franz remembered that he and Marla had looked at each other quizzically when they received the note. Neither of them knew the man, since they did not attend any of the Lutheran churches in Magdeburg, but they decided they would do the polite thing and allow the call.

In the flesh, Pastor Nicolai proved to be somewhat urbane, and his tone had a supercilious air to it. Within five minutes of conversation Franz was wishing the man would say what he had to say and leave. Within the second five minutes it became clear that the pastor was hoping to recruit them as musicians for his church, and Franz became heartily sick of the man. Within five more, as the pastor revealed that his specific purpose was to make a pastoral and consoling visit to the bereaved family that he hoped to pull into his parish, Franz was sick to his soul and desperately seeking ways to cut the visit short.

The still-birth of their first child in October had put Marla on the edge of a mental precipice. It had only been a couple of weeks ago that she had been turned away from it through the help of some of their musician friends. She wouldn’t talk about it now. From conversations with Mary Simpson and Lady Beth Haygood, Franz knew that she might never talk about it. But he knew in his heart that she had spent those weeks staring into the abyss of Hell, unable to even grieve properly for their still-born daughter Alison. And he knew that although she no longer did so directly, and although her face was alive again and her smile could be seen from time to time, she was still subject to times and days of darkness.

And now, out of a misguided desire to comfort the bereaved parents — at least, Franz hoped it was misguided and not an intentional trespass — this idiot of a pastor had opened his mouth and spilled out the one religious doctrine common to all the reformers that he had hoped to keep from Marla until she had regained her balance.

“Frau Linder . . .” Pastor Nicolai began in a worried tone. “I’m afraid it is true Frau Linder. Holy Scripture is quite clear that children who are miscarried or still-born do not have a place in Heaven.”

“No,” Marla responded again. Although her tone was quieter, Franz’s shoulders twitched as he recognized what their friend Rudolf Tuchman had called her “sword steel” voice: hard, cold, inflexible, and barely restrained from cutting the pastor to ribbons. “I don’t accept that.”

“But all the authorities agree . . .”

“Then all your authorities are wrong.”

“Even Martin Luther . . .”

“And he’s wrong, too.”

Pastor Nicolai was now staring red-faced at the very self-assured, very controlled young woman in front of him who was contradicting him at every point. If the man had not been such a fool, Franz would have felt at least a bit sorry for him. As it was, he squeezed Marla’s hand in encouragement.

“But . . .” the pastor managed to utter before Marla cut him off again.

“These men you refer to are only men, Pastor. They can be just as wrong or mistaken as any other men, including the popes they abhor. And in this case, if this is what they all teach on this subject, then they’re all mistaken. The Bible does not teach that Alison is in Hell, and I will not accept that from you or anyone else.” Marla’s tone was beyond cold now. In fact, icy failed to describe it.

Nicolai tried to expound his position again. Franz had had enough, and stood, shutting off the pastor’s flow of words. “This conversation is over. Let me show you to the door, pastor.”

Marla laid a hand on Franz’s arm. “I suggest you spend some time meditating on 2 Samuel Chapter 12, Pastor Nicolai, particularly on David’s reaction to the death of his child. Your authorities misinterpret what is being said there.” She removed her hand, and Franz escorted the pastor to the front door of their house.

Franz led the pastor to the front door and held it open for him. As the pastor stepped through the door, he had a thought.

“Pastor Nicolai?”

“Yes?” The man turned, and Franz could see the light in his eye that perhaps the wayward musician was going to apologize to him. He had to bite his lip for a moment to keep from laughing.

“Are you married, Pastor?”

“Why . . . yes, I am.”

Franz could see the confused look pass over the pastor’s face.

“Is your wife a woman of wisdom?”

Now the poor pastor was very confused. “I believe so.”

“Do you listen to her?” Franz hurried on before the pastor could respond. “I don’t mean talk to her; do you listen to her?”

Pastor Nicolai still looked confused, but gave a slow nod.

“Then I suggest you ask her to explain to you what you did wrong here today. Good day to you, sir.”

Franz closed the door, and turned to find that Marla had come up behind him. Her face was relaxed and her eyes were dancing. “That was cruel, love.”