1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 52

Chapter 28

          For several days, Samson’s end was never very far from the front of Simon’s mind. He would worry at the tale like a dog with a scrap of bone. How could a hero be so stupid? If Samson was God’s hero, why did God let him fall the way he did? Wouldn’t it have been better for the people if he had beaten the Philistines instead of being captured?

          Never far from those thoughts was the reminder that so many people called Hans “the Samson of Magdeburg,” which in turn would remind him of what Lieutenant Chieske had told him might result from Hans’ boxing career. As soon as those thoughts crossed his mind, he would shake his head violently and do anything he could to change what he was thinking about. But eventually his thoughts would circle back to Samson and the cycle would start over again.

And so Simon found himself walking by St. Jacob’s church, the Filialkirche that served the poorest district of Magdeburg. Thoughts of Samson were running through his brain as he looked in the doorway to the shadowy interior of the church.

Simon had not attended church since before the sack of the city by Pappenheim’s troops. But now, for the first time in what was literally years, Simon felt an urge to enter a church; this church, in the most down-trodden area of the Magdeburg that was being resurrected from the ashes of the old city. With hesitance he walked inside and stood in the shadows, waiting for his eyes to adjust. After a few moments, he stepped forward with care, setting his feet down so that there was little noise as he made his way down the center. About half-way down, where he was just beginning to make out the details of the crucifix hanging on the wall behind the podium, he tripped over the edge of a paving stone that was protruding up from the floor by just enough to catch the toe of his shoe. Only by great exertion did he manage to keep himself from stretching his length on the floor. The resulting noise echoed through the building.

“Who’s there?”

Simon froze. If he’d known there was anyone in the church, he wouldn’t have entered. What to do?

There was a shuffling sound as a figure moved from the front of the nave into a beam of light from one of the few windows. “Who’s there?” The voice was that of an old man. Simon relaxed. “Is there something I can do to help you?”

“No,” Simon replied. “Um, I just . . . I was just passing by . . . and, um . . .”

“And you wanted to see the inside of the church?” The speaker resolved into the figure of a stooped old man with flowing white hair and beard and dressed in rusty black clothes.

“Well . . .”

“It’s all right, son. There is nothing happening today. The wedding that was scheduled for this afternoon has been postponed.”

The smile on the old man’s face prompted Simon to ask, “Why?”

The old man chuckled. “Well, it seems that the bride’s mother invited the groom to dine with the family, and fixed a special dish. In the middle of the night the poor man awoke with stomach pains, and could not even clamber out of the bed before his bowels released. I understand it was rather noxious.”

Simon giggled.

“Well may you laugh, boy. But the groom accused his mother-in-law-to-be of attempting to poison him, and his betrothed began throwing everything at him that she could get her hands on because of the insult dealt her mother.”

“So, they are not going to wed?” Simon said around another giggle about to escape.

“No, they will probably marry after the heat of everyone’s anger cools off. But I wager it will be some time before the groom eats his bride’s mother’s cooking again.”

That did it. Simon’s giggle escaped, followed by several chortles and even a guffaw or two. When his hilarity began to settle, the old man spoke up again.

“Did you come just to hear the latest gossip from an old preacher, lad? Or did you have some question on your heart?”

“Well . . .” Simon began, dragging the word out. The old man smiled encouragingly. “. . . it’s Samson, you see.”

“Ah, Samson,” the old man nodded. He gestured with a gnarled hand. “Come, let us sit and discuss Samson.” When they had settled on the steps leading up to the podium, he faced Simon with faded blue eyes framed with wrinkles peering out from between his bushy white eyebrows and his beard.

“So, lad . . . what is your name.”

“Simon, sir.”

“And I am Pastor Gruber.” He nodded. “So, Simon, which Samson are we to talk about?”

Simon was perplexed. “You mean there is more than one?”

The old pastor gave a hearty chuckle. “I meant did you want to talk about the Samson of the Bible or some other Samson?”

“The one in the Bible, please, sir.”

“Do you have a question, then?”

“Well . . .” Simon hesitated, then poured out in a rush, “why was Samson such a fool? Why could he not see that Delilah was playing with him? Why did he tell her his secret so she could tell the Philistines and they could capture and blind him?” He stopped, breathless.

Pastor Gruber reached up and ran rheumatism-twisted fingers through his beard. “Yes, indeed, those are good questions.” At least he wasn’t laughing at him, Simon thought to himself.