1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 20


Chapter 9

          Morning came. Simon came awake gradually, aware that someone was nearby. For a moment he panicked, until he remembered where he was. He opened his eyes to see Hans crouched by his feet, feeding sticks into the rekindled fire. A yawn came upon him without warning and tried to unhinge his jaw. When that was finished and his eyes were open again, he saw Hans looking at him.

          “Good morning.” Hans’ voice was grumbly in the early morning air.

“Good morning,” Simon replied. The tip of his nose was cold, so he reached up and rubbed it. Hans stood and walked over to a table in the corner, where he took cloths off a loaf of bread and a partial wheel of cheese. Simon unfolded the blanket — the nicest, warmest blanket he’d ever seen — and sat up, smacking his lips and rubbing his eyes.

“Hungry?” Hans asked over his shoulder.

“Yah, but . . .”

“There’s a chamber pot in my room.”

Moments later Simon walked back into the main room. As usual, arranging his clothing with only one hand took a bit of effort, but by backing up against the wall to hold things up he managed to deal with the buttons.

“Here.” Hans handed him a plate of bread and cheese.

Simon sat on the stool and began eating just as the door to Ursula’s room opened. Her progress was no faster in the morning that it had been the previous evening, but she finally made it to her chair and lowered herself with care. She sighed and hooked her cane over the edge of the table as Hans approached with another plate.

“I like this cheese,” Ursula said with her mouth full. Simon smiled at the sight of her plump cheeks. “You need to get some more when this is gone.”

“If I can remember who I got it from,” Hans said as he brought two cups over, one for his sister and one for Simon. “This is the last of the small beer. I’ll need to go get some here in a little while, so you’re not left dry when I head out for work.”

There was silence for a while as the three of them munched on hard bread and soft cheese. Midway through their repast, they heard the piercing whistle of the night soil man with his wagon. Hans stood while his cheeks were still bulging and went into his room. He returned with the chamber pot, went into his sister’s room, then carried the two pots down to be dumped in the wagon’s barrels. Simon grinned as he saw that even Stark Hans did not want to be confronted by the CoC and their mania for sanitation.

“All right,” Hans said as he came back into the main room. “I’ll go get the beer now. Nay, Simon,” as the boy started to rise, “stay here. I won’t be gone long.” He picked up a small keg in the corner and left.

Simon and Ursula looked at each other. After a moment, Ursula gave a tentative smile, which Simon echoed.

Fräulein Metzger seemed even more like an angel today, Simon thought to himself. She was dressed in a forest green skirt, with a brown bodice and a cream colored linen blouse. Her hair was braided and wrapped around her head under a soft cap. A glint of humor was in her eye, and a flush was on her cheeks. All in all, she was the prettiest woman he’d ever seen.

Aware that he was almost gaping at her, Simon tore his gaze from the young woman and crammed the last of his bread into his mouth. He looked around the room as he chewed the bread, and noticed the traces of mud that he and Hans must have tracked in last night. “Um,” he started, then strained to swallow the wad of bread in order to clear his mouth. “Do you have a broom?”

“In the corner,” Ursula pointed. She had set her plate on the table next to her, and removed a bundle of cloth from a bag sitting beside her chair. Unfolding it carefully, she pulled a needle out of the cloth and started sewing.

Simon stood and crammed his feet into his wooden shoes. They were cold, and he shivered at their contact. He walked over to the corner and picked up the broom, then turned to address the dried mud.

It took him a few moments to find the balance of the broom. That was always a bit of a challenge for him. But he was sweeping away before long.

Simon decided that as long as he was sweeping, he might as well do a job of it, so he swept the entire room. He was well begun when Ursula spoke.

“Is your other arm hurt?”

He felt his cheeks flush a bit. “No. It’s useless.”

“An injury?”

“No. It’s always been like this.”

“Did Hans bring you here because of that?” She looked up with a frown.

“No . . . at least, I don’t think that was the only reason.” Now she had a quizzical expression on her face. “He calls me his luck.”

Ursula chuckled, and now it was Simon’s turn to feel confused. “My brother, for all that he is hard-headed about most things, is surprisingly superstitious. If something is lucky to him, he’ll keep it around until it absolutely wears out and falls apart.”

“Well, I hope that doesn’t happen to me.” They both shared a laugh over that comment.

Simon swept around the room, brushing all the dirt toward the outside door. He built the pile with care, then opened the door and swept it all outside onto the landing. It was the work of a moment to sweep the dirt off the landing, then he returned inside and placed the broom back in its corner.

“Do you have a family, Simon?” Ursula asked from where she was plying her needle.

“No, Fräulein Metzger.”

Her laugh rang out. “Please, call me Ursula. You make me feel like an old maiden aunt.” The smile left her face. “Not that I won’t be an old maid some day. No one will marry a cripple.”

Simon sat down on his stool. “Me neither.”

“So what happened to your family?”