1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 35
Ursula took the coat and examined it, checking the material and the seams. It passed her grudging judgment, so she held it out to Simon. “Here, try this on. Let’s see how it fits.”
Hans reached over and took the bundle of clothes from Simon, leaving him free to try the coat on. It took a few moments to get into it, for sliding his right arm down the sleeve was a bit of a challenge, but with help from Hans to hold the front of the coat open he managed. He turned and faced Ursula.
“Mm-hmm.” She touched a finger to her lips as she studied him, and reached out to adjust the lapels on the front of the coat so it would hang straight. A definite nod. “I think it will do. It is a bit large, but that leaves room for growing. Not a bad thing with a boy, I am told.” She turned to Herman. “How much?”
Again the bargaining, again the back and forth, again ending in Hans pulling money from his pocket and counting it out. Simon’s head was beginning to spin. How much money they had spent, just on him! He had never dreamed of that happening. He smoothed his hand down the front of the coat, feeling the warmth it gave him.
Ursula turned from accepting Herman’s farewell, craned her head and looked around.
“What are you looking for?” Hans asked.
“Something . . . yes, over there.” She pointed and led the way, stopping in front of a trestle with pairs of shoes on it. The woman who was there was tall and stooped, with hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes. She didn’t look healthy to Simon, and after she gave a rheumy cough he edged away from the table.
“You need shoes, mistress?” the woman asked.
“For the boy,” Ursula replied. Her gaze wandered over the table of second-hand footwear and finally lit on a pair of half-boots. “Hans,” she said, putting her hand out to touch them, “measure these against Simon’s foot.”
The bundle of clothes got passed to Ursula while Hans picked a boot up, stepped around behind Simon and pulled his foot up to measure against the sole of the boot. Simon had to wave his arm wildly to maintain his balance while this was going on. He sighed with relief and shoved his foot back into its clog when Hans let go.
“They are a bit large, but I think they will do.”
Ursula nodded and passed the clothing bundle back to Simon. “As with the coat, that is probably not a bad thing for a boy his age. He might actually wear them out before he outgrows them.”
One more round of bargaining ensued, perhaps cut short by the woman’s persistent cough. Hans hung the boots around Simon’s neck and flashed a grin of triumph and congratulations at the boy. Simon was absolutely jubilant. Shoes! Real leather shoes, not clogs. He couldn’t ever remember having leather shoes. He reached up to touch them, and managed to get a finger on them without dropping the bundle. He knew there was a silly grin on his own face, but he couldn’t help it. Shoes.
Ursula turned to Hans. “We are done here, I think. Can we go someplace to sit and eat?” Simon thought it odd how her voice had gone all soft after being so firm earlier in the day.
Hans nodded and picked her up again. He gave her a moment to settle herself, then looked over to Simon, who was just enjoying the thought of his new belongings. “Do you know where The Green Horse is from here, lad?”
Simon thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yah. That way,” he made an abortive move with his hand, but the package dragged it down.
“Lead the way, then.”
Filled with joy and pride, Simon did lead the way, unerring in his path, arriving at the door to the tavern before much more of the day had passed. Hans set Ursula on her feet with his usual care, she settled her skirts, and they entered the tavern together.
It was the middle of what was shaping up to be a very long day for his partner and himself, Gotthilf decided. They had made the rounds of their informants once again — nothing new there, not even from Demetrious. They checked with the patrol watchmen who had been keeping a particular eye on the warehouse of Andreas Schardius’ corn factorage — nothing out of the very ordinary reported. They talked to the other investigators who had questioned the workmen who labored in that warehouse. Nothing at all noted.
“Three strikes and we’re out,” Byron muttered as they walked back toward the police house.
“I don’t know,” Gotthilf replied, thinking back over everything they had heard. One thing stuck out to him. “It strikes me that the answers of the warehousemen seemed to be uniform to an unlikely degree.”
Byron gave a slow nod. “Yeah, now that you mention it, it did seem like they all gave more or less the same answers to the questions.”
“That, and not a single word spoken against their work bosses or Schardius himself.”
“Too right that’s odd. Never met a workman yet who didn’t have some kind of gripe against the men he worked for. It’s like someone passed the word to watch what they said.”
Their steps had wended their way toward The Green Horse in the new town. Gotthilf looked up and almost stumbled. “Byron, that’s Metzger going in to the tavern.”