1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 21


“Mutti and Vatti died before the soldiers came, along with my little brother Johann. The pastor came and put me in a family to foster me, because I had no uncles or cousins to take me in. That was okay, I guess, but then the soldiers came and we had to leave.”

          “That’s when I got hurt.”

“Hans told me last night.”

Ursula sighed. “He would. He gives no thought that I might like some things to remain private.” Sigh again. “Brothers.”

“Anyway, when we came back, they didn’t want me any more. The pastor tried to find me an apprenticeship, but no one wants a one-handed apprentice. Especially a left-handed one. He found me another family to take me in, but they were hateful folk, so I left. I’ve been on my own ever since.”

“So what do you do?”

“Whatever I can. I can carry messages and small packages. I can watch over things. I can sweep.”

“You seem to be surviving.”

“I do okay.”

Simon stood up, restless all of a sudden. He wandered around the room, looking at different objects, wondering what it was like to be able to pay for rooms like this, and have your own things in them. His path took him by Ursula’s chair, where he looked at what she was working on. He discovered she wasn’t sewing, she was embroidering.

“That’s pretty,” he remarked.

“Thank you,” Ursula replied. “It’s a good thing I like to embroider, since that’s about all I can do to earn money.”

“Someone pays you to do this?”

“Oh, yes. I work mostly for Frau Schneider, seamstress for many of the best families in the city. Sometimes I’ll do something for someone else, but Frau Schneider keeps me pretty busy.”

Simon watched her for a while, watched the precise stitches being placed just so, watched as a bit more of the pattern was revealed. “I wish I could do something like that.” His voice was very wistful. “To be able to make something beautiful, that would be . . . wonderful.”

Ursula looked up at him. “Perhaps some day you will.”

“Not with only a left hand I won’t.”

She started to say something, then stopped all of a sudden. A smile crossed her face. “Did you know that one of the heroes of the Bible was left-handed?”

Simon was startled. “Really?”

“Really.” Ursula set the embroidery in her lap and reached over to the table, where she picked up a worn Bible. She handled it with care, opening it with a delicate touch. “It’s in the book of Judges.” Pages were turned, one by one. “Here it is.” She cleared her throat and began to read:

“And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord. And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm trees. So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.”

Simon listened as she read the tale; how Ehud bound a dagger to his right leg under his clothes, fooled the king into dismissing his guards by saying he had a secret message for him, and when they were alone stabbed him with such force that the handle of the dagger was hidden by the king’s fat. The end of the story was eighty years of peace for Israel.

There was a moment of silence after Ursula finished reading. She closed the Bible and put it back on the table, then resumed her embroidery. “Of course, I always thought it was a little unfair for Ehud to trick the king like that. But then, I guess the king was not a nice man, so maybe it was all right.” She giggled. “He must have been very fat, though.”

Simon laughed with her, all the while marveling at the thought of a left-handed hero. A Bible hero, at that. His heart seemed to beat stronger at the thought of somehow following in Ehud’s footsteps. He didn’t know how he would do it, but somehow, some day people would tell stories about him like that.

The outside door opened as they were laughing. Hans stepped through, a small keg on his shoulder. He grinned at their mirth. The keg was placed in its corner and made ready. Hans straightened and dusted his hands together.

“Hah! All done.” He looked to Simon. “Well, boy, time for us to be about our work. Come on.”

Simon stood and crossed to the door, where he turned back for a moment. “Goodbye, Fräulein Ursula. I’ll see you another time.”

“Goodbye, Simon. I’d like that.”

Hans crossed to his sister and bent to kiss her cheek. “There’s still water left from yesterday. I think you have everything you need. I’ll be back late tonight.”

“Another fight?”

“We need the money.” Hans straightened.

She caught his hand. “Be careful, then. You know I don’t like you fighting. You might get hurt.”

“Don’t worry. Careful doesn’t win fights. I’ll be the best.”

Simon waited for Hans to move through the door, then he followed him with a wave to Ursula. At the bottom of the steps, Hans turned to him.

“I’m off to work.”

“Where do you work?” Simon asked.

“At the Schardius grain factorage warehouse, down by the river.”

“Can I come? Would they have work for me?”

“Probably not.” Simon’s face fell and Hans added, “But I will ask. Where will you be around sundown?”

“At Frau Zenzi’s.”

“The bakery?” Hans asked. Simon nodded. “Good. I’ll meet you there. Here.” Hans pressed a pfennig on Simon. “Get something to eat today. I’ll see you later.”

With a wave of his own, Hans was off down the street, whistling tunelessly as he dodged around a woman with a basket on her arm and then sidestepped a pile of dung. Simon watched him go, feeling a bit left out. He comforted himself with the thought that Hans had promised to meet him in the evening.

Simon squared his shoulders back, and set out to face the day.