1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 25
Friedrich von Logau sat in Walcha’s Coffee House, doodling in his pocket notebook while his friends argued. Gathered around the table were a group of poets and writers from all over Germany, there to seek patrons and to partake of the capital city’s élan.
“Lovecraft was the greater writer,” intoned Karl Seelbach, Friedrich’s fellow Silesian. Karl then proceeded to slurp his coffee, which evoked winces all around the table.
Friedrich drew loops around his latest attempt at an epigram.
In danger and great need,
Irresolution brings destruction.
It was rough, and he wasn’t satisfied with it yet. So he listened to his friends while his mind worked under the level of the conversation.
“You’ve drunk so much coffee your head is addled,” Johann Gronow retorted. “Anyone with a wit can clearly tell that Poe’s skills were far superior to Lovecraft’s, although he didn’t write as much. Isn’t that right, Friedrich?”
Gronow’s Hamburg accent grated on Friedrich’s Silesian ear just a bit, but he ignored it. “Don’t be dragging me into your interminable verbal duels over which up-time author of old grandmother tales is superior.”
Friedrich spoke with a smile, as he was the one who had put Gronow on the trail of both authors, with the end result being the creation of Der schwartzer Kater – Eine Zeitschrift. Or Black Tomcat Magazine, as the up-timers more succinctly called it. Gronow was the publisher/editor of the two issues it had done so far, and his oft-spoken mission was to further the development of the art of macabre story-telling in German. Friedrich had it on good authority that Johann had written all of the first issue and most of the second issue except for the translations of two Poe stories.
His mind raised a thought at that moment, and he crossed out “Irresolution” and replaced it with “Compromise.” He surveyed the result. Better, but still not quite right, somehow.
A sudden silence at the table caused Friedrich to look up. His friends were all looking behind him. “I wonder what she wants?” Johannes Plavius said. Friedrich turned in his chair and draped an arm across its back.
He knew who the woman was that approached with her husband shadowing her as he usually did. No one could move in the middle or upper circles of Magdeburg and not know — or at least know of — Marla Linder. Depending on one’s beliefs about music, she was either famous or notorious, but she was never ignored. All agreed that her voice was spectacular.
Walcha’s Coffee House was not one of her usual haunts. Friedrich watched her walk toward their table. Tall, with long black hair pulled back into a “pony-tail,” as up-timers called that odd hairstyle, she walked with assurance, as if she was so certain of herself and her place that she had no doubt of what she was doing. Which she probably didn’t, he thought before he echoed Plavius’ thoughts. “I wonder what she wants with us?”
“I believe we are about to find out,” Plavius muttered.
Frau Linder came to a halt just beyond Friedrich’s reach. “Good afternoon, meine Herren.” Her Amideutsch had the unmistakable flavor of the Grantville up-timers, for all that her pronunciation was impeccable. Something about the tonal quality of the voice, he mused.
Greetings rumbled from most of the circle at the table. Friedrich contented himself with a nod of the head.
“I’m looking for Friedrich von Logau.”
Although Friedrich did not react, he felt the gazes of his friends fix on him, and one of them must have pointed, for Frau Linder’s eyes settled on him. A feeling not unlike staring at the muzzle of a loaded gun entered his mind.
“Herr Logau, I am Marla Linder, and this is my husband, Franz Sylwester.” Herr Sylwester nodded his head in turn.
“I know who you are, Frau Linder. How could I not?” He felt the corner of his mouth quirk upward.
That seemed to fluster her for a moment, but she clasped her hands around the tube of paper she carried and settled. “I — we — have need of a poet. You have been highly recommended to us. Herr Adalbert, the editor at The Times-Journal, told us we might find you here.”
“You have need of a poet.” Friedrich made it a statement, not a question, and his voice was very dry.
“Yes. I have a song lyric written in up-time English that I need translated into German.”
“A . . . song.” Friedrich had trouble believing what he was hearing. He frowned. “You want me to translate?”
Frau Linder started to nod, then shook her head, which made for a very odd motion.
“Not just translate. I don’t want a word for word literal translation. I need a German’s poet’s translations of the . . . the thoughts behind the English words. I need you to make the German lyrics sing like the English ones do.”
“Ah.” That was different. That, he could understand.
Friedrich had done some translating in his time. Most poets and men of letters did at one time or another in their careers. Translating words was usually easy. Translating the thought was always the challenge.
He held out his hand. “Let me see it.”
Frau Linder placed the paper cylinder in his hand. He unrolled it, and started scanning the text. Midway through, he stopped, went back to the beginning, and read through again slowly, letting each word register in his mind.
He looked up at the woman. “I will not insult you by asking if you know what you are asking. But do you realize the kind of storm this could raise? Especially now?”
Frau Linder returned a grin that reminded him of nothing more than a feral cat showing its fangs. “Oh, I intend for it to do that,” she breathed. “Exactly that.” Her tone was not loud, but every man at the table heard it, and Friedrich felt the hair on his neck rise.
Friedrich looked at the short length of lines on the page. He read through them again, then folded the paper and put it in his inside coat pocket.
“Where can I reach you?”
“Messages can reach me at The Duchess Elisabeth Sofie Secondary School for Girls, at the Royal Academy of Music, or at our home.” Herr Sylwester handed his wife a card, which she in turn handed to Friedrich. He looked at the address, then tucked that card into the same pocket.
“Give me a week.”
“Sooner would be better, but if it takes a week, and it’s good, so be it.”
Herr Sylwester leaned forward and whispered in Frau Linder’s ear. She nodded in response, then returned her focus to Friedrich. “How much?”
Friedrich was tempted to play word games with the woman, but in the end decided not to. “Nothing. I will do this just for the pleasure of being a part of it.”
He was surprised when Frau Linder didn’t remonstrate with him. She simply took him at his word, and nodded. “Within the week, then. Good day to you, Herr Logau, meine Herren.”