1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 46

Chapter 26

          Gotthilf sat on the window seat, staring out into the night, trying to scratch the itch in the middle of his mental back. He heard someone move up behind him.

          “A pfennig for your thoughts.”

That was his younger sister Margarethe. Without looking around he held his hand out.


“Where’s the pfennig?” he queried.

“Oh! You!” Margarethe slapped his palm. “That’s all the pfennig you will get from me. I think you spend too much time with that up-timer fellow you call your partner.”

Reflected in the small panes of glass he could see multiple images of her sticking her tongue out at him. He spun quickly and ran his palm across her tongue before she could react to his motion.

“Ick!” She jumped back and scrubbed at her mouth with the back of her hand, then stuck her tongue out again as he laughed at her.

After Gotthilf quit chuckling, she said, “No, seriously, what are you thinking about so hard? You haven’t moved from that seat for over an hour.”

“Nothing you can help with, Margarethe.”

He could see her pleased smile at his use of the new nickname she had started using after one of the new up-timer girls at the Duchess Elisabeth Sofie Secondary School for Girls bestowed it on her.

“Maybe I can, maybe I can’t, but we won’t know until you tell me.”

“No,” Gotthilf said, “you can’t help . . .” A sudden realization struck him. “Actually, maybe you can. I met a young woman the other day, a bit older than you, perhaps.”

“Ah,” Margarethe interjected with a sly grin. “Is this something I need to tell Mother or hide from her?”

“Neither,” Gotthilf said, while shuddering a bit from the thought of his busybody mother linking a woman’s name — any woman’s name — to him. “It was in connection with a case we are working, not social at all.”

“Oh. Okay.”

He could see that Margarethe was disappointed there wasn’t some angle she could use to dig at him a little. He continued with, “Anyway, I met this Fräulein, like I said, and she looked familiar to me, but I cannot remember where I have seen her before. I have been wracking my brain for days now, and nothing. It is driving me moon-silly.”

“That’s not a drive, that’s a short putt,” Margarethe spouted.

Gotthilf looked at his sister in disbelief. “What did you just say?”

“Didn’t I say it right? It’s an up-time joke. I learned it from a girl at school. Isn’t it funny?”

“Do you even know what it means?”

Margarethe frowned a little at his lack of reaction. “No.”

Now Gotthilf chuckled a bit. “Margarethe, don’t try to tell up-timer jokes unless you really understand them. You can’t tell them right if you don’t, and depending on the joke you might find yourself in trouble. Besides, I get enough of that from Byron.” He shook his head. “Anyway, before you so rudely interrupted me, I was telling you about the Fräulein. Her name is Ursula Metzgerinin.”

“Metzgerin, Metzgerin,” Margarethe mused. “Ursula . . .” She looked down at the floor, brow wrinkled, mouth pursed. Gotthilf thought about swiping his fingers across her lips, but refrained.

After a moment, she looked up. “There was an older girl in my catechism class a few years ago. Her name was Ursula, and I think her last name started with an M. She only came a few times, then someone said she was going to another church and attending catechism there.”

With that clue, Gotthilf thought back to the times when he walked his sister to catechism. Sure enough, a recollection surfaced of a younger version of Ursula, blonde hair shining, coming out of the church door while he waited on Margarethe.

He jumped to his feet, grabbed Margarethe by the waist and swung her in circles in the air, proclaiming “That’s it!” over her loud protests. He set her feet back on the floor, and flung his arm around her shoulder.

“Thanks, Margarethe. That is a big help.” Their mother appeared in the parlor doorway and motioned them to come to dinner. “You’re a pretty good sister, you know . . . even if you can’t tell a joke.”



“What’s a putt?”


          For the next several days Ursula was her usual cheerful self — or at least she seemed to be. Simon wasn’t so sure, though. There was a shadow in her eyes, and he thought her eyes followed Hans as he moved around the room more than usual. But her voice was bright and she laughed a lot, so maybe he was imagining it.

One day, after Hans left for his job at the grain factorage, Ursula picked up her Bible as had become their custom. “Well, what shall we read today?”

Simon plopped down on his stool. “Samson. I want to hear about Samson.” He had a desire to know everything there was to know about Samson.

She opened the Bible and started turning pages. “There’s still his last adventure to tell.”

Simon hugged his knees with his one good arm, waiting.

And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.

And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.

“Don’t listen to her, Samson,” Simon muttered. He could already see the way this story was weaving.

And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven green withies that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.

Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withies which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.

Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber. And she said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withies, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire. So his strength was not known.

Simon listened to Ursula read the story. As Delilah continued to ply Samson and Samson continued to respond to her, it crossed his mind more than once that Samson did not seem very smart.