1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 18
“Hans? Is that you?”
Simon’s ears perked up at the sound of the voice from inside the rooms. It was a clear bell-like soprano that seemed to tease his ears, so unlike the voices of the vegetable sellers and bar maids that he saw on the streets.
“And who else would it be, Ursula?” Hans reached back and drew the boy into the room with him, then closed the door. Simon could make out a figure sitting in a chair with a candle on a nearby table.
“Oh!” Simon heard the surprise in her voice. “You have someone with you.”
“Ursula, meet my young friend Simon . . . I never did learn your other name, boy.”
Simon felt a laugh coming up his throat, which he hurried to turn into a cough. “Bayer.”
“Ah,” Ursula said, “you are from Bavaria.”
“Yes. I mean no.” Simon was flustered now. “I was born here in Magdeburg. My father came from Bavaria, I think.”
“Well, it is good to meet you, Herr Bayer. Please excuse my appearance.” The young woman was sitting in a robe, yellow hair plaited into a thick braid that hung before her shoulder. Simon was stunned by how beautiful she looked in the soft candlelight.
Hans dropped his hand from Simon’s shoulder, ducked his head and shuffled closer to his sister. “I . . . uh . . . I forgot how late it was, and I wasn’t thinking. Sorry, Uschi.”
Ursula gave a warm smile up to her brother. “I know. It’s all right.” She lifted her hand. “Help me up, please.”
Hans took her small hand with one of his and placed the other under her elbow. Simon watched as he gently lifted her from the chair. She came to her feet, then she . . . sagged. Simon almost jumped forward, afraid that she was falling. But then he could see that she was standing on her feet, she just wasn’t straight. Her right shoulder was dropped, which meant that her hip probably was as well.
Ursula reached to the table where the candle was and picked up a cane that was hooked over the edge of the table. With that in hand, she lurched into motion. Step by laborious step she made her way to a door in one wall. She leaned on the cane as she reached to open the door, then pivoted slowly to look back at her brother and his guest.
“Good night, Hans, Herr Bayer.”
“Good night, Uschi,” Hans said. Simon’s tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth. He could say nothing.
Hans sighed after her door closed and sat down in a chair across from Ursula’s. He waved Simon to a nearby stool.
“It happened during the sack of the city,” Hans began. “We were trying to get out, get away from Pappenheim’s troops. I was able to force our way through the crowds, able to hold on to her and keep her with me. She was only fifteen, and so small, so delicate.” There was a pensive expression on Hans’ face in the candlelight. “I thought I could keep her safe, keep her protected. But there came a surge of the crowd and her hand was torn from mine. I turned and looked for her, I called for her, I started pushing against the flow trying to get back to where I lost her. Then I heard her scream.”
The big man clasped his hands together, hard. “She had fallen, and before she could get back up some fool on a horse had ridden right over her. Her left leg was cut up, but her right . . . the knee was crushed, and the bones were broken in two other places.”
Simon heard Hans swallow, hard.
“I almost went for him. I’ve never wanted to kill anyone, before or since, but him I wanted dead. Still do, for that matter. If I ever see his face, he’s a dead man. But she screamed again, and I turned to her. I picked her up and carried her, out of the city and away to one of the villages. I didn’t care where we went, so long as Ursula could find help.”
Simon could see that scene in his mind; Hans cradling Ursula and walking as far as he had to go.
“It was months before she healed and could walk again. The leg didn’t heal straight, and it’s shorter than the other. You’ve seen what she’s like.”
Hans stared ahead, rocking his clasped hands. Simon said nothing, just waited.
“She’s a saint, Simon. I know her leg hurts, but she hardly ever complains. And she never blames me, even though it’s my fault she got hurt. She’s a saint,” he repeated. “She hardly ever gets out, because of the leg. It hurts her to walk, and she doesn’t like people staring at her, but she does what she has to do. She takes in embroidery and sewing. She reads her Bible. And she’s so good it almost kills me to see her like she is.”
There was another long pause. Simon broke the silence. “Is . . . is that why you brought me here? To meet her, I mean?”
Hans looked into his eyes. “Yes. I mean, I thought . . . You’ve got a weakness,” Simon’s pride flashed a bit at that statement, but he forced it down, “I thought you would understand what she’s going through.” Hans looked down again. “You’ve been my luck tonight; I thought maybe you could be hers, too. Maybe even be a friend.” Simon could see his hands twist together. “I think she may need a friend, maybe soon.”
The big man looked up again with a strange expression on his face. Simon looked back at him solemnly. “If Fräulein Metzger will have me, I would like to be her luck, and her friend as well.”
The biggest smile of the evening broke out on Hans’ face. “Great! That’s great, Simon. We’ll talk to her about it in the morning.”
They sat together in a companionable mood, neither speaking. At length, Hans rose and went through a door opposite the one into Ursula’s room, returning with a thick blanket.
“Here. You can pull the two chairs together, or roll up in this on the floor for the night. We’ll do something better if you stay over longer.”
Simon took the blanket, marveling at how thick and warm it was. “Oh, this will be fine. I’ll just roll up in front of the fireplace.”
“Go ahead, then, before I blow out the candle.”
Simon wasted no time in kicking off his wooden shoes. Suiting his actions to words, it was the work of moments to lay the blanket out in front of the fireplace and roll up in it.
“Good night, lad.” Simon heard Hans blow out the candle. Darkness descended in the room, alleviated only by the glow of the banked fire in the fireplace.
Hans walked across the room in the darkness. The door closed behind him.
It had been an exciting day. Simon had never dreamed when he awoke in his cramped little nook this morning everything that he would do. New people to meet and adventures of a sort. He yawned, and fell asleep thinking that Fräulein Ursula was an angel. He’d never met an angel before.