1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 34

“Simon,” Ursula beckoned with her free hand. He stepped around Hans to where she could lay her hand on his shoulder. “The boy needs clothes. Two shirts, two pants, two hose, a jacket that fits, and a coat.”

          Frau Anna looked Simon up and down. He straightened under her examination. “A scamp of a lad, I imagine he is.” She chuckled again, reached out a wrinkled hand and patted his cheek. He bore the soft touch without flinching, he was proud to note. “Well enough, let me see what I have.”

The old woman turned to her cart. Simon detected no rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the piles of clothes on the cart, but Anna’s hands dove into the piles like otters into a river, surfacing every now and then to drape a bundle of cloth over the cart handles. One last time they appeared, and she began handing garments to Ursula.

“Simon,” Ursula said again and pulled him around in front of her. He stood, bewildered, as she held shirts up against his back and shoulders and pants up against his waist, bending to see where they fell to. The two women muttered to each other, and Anna dove back into the cart to pull out yet another shirt. Ursula examined it with care, then nodded her approval.

Anna had a jacket for him as well, but when it came to a coat anywhere close to his size, she had nothing that a man would wear. “Sorry, Liebling, but I sold the last one I had not an hour before you came. But you might go down the way to old Herman’s cart. He had some the last time I saw him. Just look them over good.”

The old woman smiled, and just for a moment Simon got a glimpse of what she must have been like as a girl. That surprised him. He’d never thought before that old people had to have been his age upon a time.

“So how much?” Ursula asked. This commenced the bargaining over his new clothes. Simon listened, awe-struck, as the two women chaffered back and forth, eventually arriving at a sum that almost made him choke. It didn’t seem to bother Hans, though, when Ursula waved at him. He stepped up, pulled a handful of money from his pocket, and counted a paper bill and a pfennig and bits of broken coins until Frau Anna was satisfied.

Frau Anna folded the clothes together, then tied the bundle with a bit of twine. She held it out to Simon. It took him a moment to realize that he was supposed to take it; he had never had a package of his own to carry.

Ursula said her farewells, then turned and limped down the street, Hans at her side. Simon followed behind, as usual, and noticed as he did so that Hans was very careful not to actually grab Ursula or hold her while she was walking but still managed to be close enough to provide instant support if she needed it.

Their progress was slow, but others would make way for them. Simon suspected this had more to do with Hans glowering at people than it did people giving way out of courtesy for Ursula’s infirmity. He knew that if Hans had glowered at him, he would certainly have moved out of the way.

Ursula walked with her head held high, moving with an odd grace, despite her limp. They passed one vendor after another, from cart to ramshackle booth to oilskin laid on the ground. Several of the vendors would speak to Hans or his sister. A few nodded to Simon as well.

They stopped in front of another cart. Simon assumed this must be old Herman’s.

“Fräulein Metzger,” a man stepped up and gave a short bow. “Herr Metzger.” Hans nodded in return. Simon was ignored for the moment, which was just fine with him.

Old Herman did not look so old, at least not when he was compared with Frau Anna. His bushy beard and the hair that stuck out like a fringe from under his small hat were iron gray rather than snow white. His face wasn’t as cross-hatched with wrinkles as the old woman’s was; instead it bore deep furrows and seams. When his mouth opened, there were teeth present; not a lot, mind you, but still teeth peeped out from behind his lips. He was of middling height and of solid build despite his age.

“A coat,” Herman said after Ursula had made known the object of their quest. He peered at Simon and beckoned him to come closer. “Hmm, yes, a coat for this lad. Have I seen you around here, boy?”

“Maybe,” Simon muttered.

“Ah, well, with my memory I would not remember from one day to the next.” Herman nodded several times with vigor, then started. “A coat. Yes, indeed, a coat.” He turned and began rummaging through the piles on his cart. “No, not that one . . . nor that one, either . . . tch, definitely not that one . . .” Simon smiled as the old man kept up a running commentary. “Hmm . . . this one?” Herman held it up and stared at it, then tossed it back in the cart. “No. Keep looking.”

After a few more minutes of searching accompanied by monologue, Herman pulled an item out of the bottom of the pile. “Aha! You just thought you would escape me.” He shook it out, and it took form as a faded green coat of a size to perhaps fit Simon.