The dark meadow, p.1

The Dark Meadow, page 1

 

The Dark Meadow
 


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The Dark Meadow


  Contents

  Cover Page

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Hermann Müller

  Afra

  Johann

  Afra

  Afra

  Johann

  Johann

  Afra

  Theres

  The Doctor

  Johann

  Theres

  Dr Augustin

  Johann

  Matthias Karrer

  Theres

  Johann

  Afra

  Hetsch

  Afra

  Wackes

  Translated from the German by Anthea Bell

  Published in Germany as Finsterau by Hoffmann & Campe

  First published in Great Britain in 2014 by

  Quercus Editions Ltd

  55 Baker Street

  7th Floor, South Block

  London

  W1U 8EW

  Copyright © 2012 by Andrea Maria Schenkel First published by Hoffman & Campe Verlag, Hamburg, 2012 English translation copyright © 2014 by Anthea Bell

  The moral right of Andrea Maria Schenkel to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

  HB ISBN 978 1 78087 773 0

  TPB ISBN 978 1 78087 774 7

  EBOOK ISBN 978 1 78087 775 4

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  You can find this and many other great books at:

  www.quercusbooks.co.uk

  Hermann Müller

  Roswitha Haimerl stood there with her coat buttoned up and her bag under her arm. ‘I’m off home now, Hermann. I’ve cleared up the bar and stood the chairs on the tables, except for the one at the corner table. There’s some no-good layabout still sitting there, he’ll have to throw himself out. He’s paid what he owes.’

  ‘Steady. You can’t be sure he’s a drifter just because he looks like one. But off you go. We’ll be busy tomorrow, the regulars will be back.’

  The landlord was just rinsing out the last glasses. He put them on the draining rack beside the sink to dry and wiped his damp hands on the dish towel.

  ‘Oh, and before I forget, I was going to ask if you can get here a little earlier.’

  ‘Yes, that’s OK. See you tomorrow, then.’

  Roswitha Haimerl went to the door. Hermann Müller accompanied her.

  ‘Good night, and mind you don’t let anyone pick you up.’

  ‘Don’t you worry, Hermann, if anyone comes to meet me at night he’ll bring me back next morning at the latest. So long, and make sure you get rid of that no-good fellow.’

  Roswitha Haimerl went away, laughing, while the landlord locked up behind her. He left the key in the lock. Then he went over to the corner table.

  The guest lay with his torso slumped over the table, one hand under his face, the other holding his half-full beer glass. The landlord picked up the glass and put it out of the sleeping man’s reach. Then he placed a hand on his shoulder and tried to wake him.

  ‘Hey, time to go home. We’re closing. Can you hear me?’

  The man, obviously muzzy, straightened up. ‘OK, OK, just going.’

  ‘Want me to get you a taxi? Or can you walk home?’

  The stranger tried to stand up, slipped, and fell back on the chair. ‘You let me be! Like I said, I’m just going. Take your great paws off of me!’

  ‘Go easy, go easy. Like me to help you?’

  ‘I don’t need no help, I don’t.’

  He tried to get to his feet again, clinging to the table top with both hands. As he did so his key ring fell to the floor.

  Hermann Müller bent down and picked the keys up. ‘Tell you what, I’m getting you a taxi. You can’t drive in that state, friend! Or the police will pick you up, and I’ll be in the shit for not calling a taxi.’

  ‘The police, what a laugh!’ And indeed, the guest tried laughing. ‘You think they care? Someone’s had one over the eight, oh yes, they’ll stick their oar in then, they’ll take him in, the police will, but murder someone and they don’t give a damn. It’s all one to them, I’m telling you.’

  ‘What are you babbling on about? What’s all right to who?’

  Somehow or other the drunk had managed to get to his feet. He leaned slightly forward, swaying, and brought his face close to the landlord’s.

  ‘The police let murderers go free, let me tell you that.’

  He kept tapping the landlord’s chest with his forefinger.

  ‘I know about a murder. Two years after the war, that was, and no one wants to know. But I know, and I’m not letting it rest. I know who done it and why. But they don’t want to know a thing about it.’

  ‘I can’t think that the police don’t want to know about a murder.’

  ‘Them? They don’t want to know a thing, not a thing. It’s all the same to them, they don’t care. Never even investigated properly, they didn’t.’ He put his forefinger to his mouth. ‘Ssh! Not a word, got to keep mum! Oh yes, I know all about it.’

  He dropped back on the chair again.

  ‘See, it’s like with them three monkeys. See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. And if it looks like foreign cops got to be brought in, they don’t want to touch it. Better keep their mouths shut than call the Frenchies in. Don’t want to show themselves up, do they?’

  ‘That’s a load of garbage. Why would the police do nothing just to avoid making inquiries abroad?’

  But the man did not reply; his head was down on the table again and he was asleep. Hermann Müller had another shot at waking him, but after a while he abandoned the attempt, put out the light, shot the bolt on the door of the bar, picked up the day’s takings and went home to his apartment upstairs.

  Next morning the man had gone. Some time during the night he had climbed out of a window in the bar, leaving his wallet lying under the table.

  When Roswitha Haimerl came to get the bar ready for the day, she found a few till receipts and a twenty-mark note in the wallet, along with a yellowed old newspaper cutting. Her curiosity aroused, she unfolded it.

  ‘Take a look at this, Hermann. Don’t you know him? Surely that’s Dr Augustin!’

  She held the news report out to the landlord. ‘In that picture – he was still young then.’

  The landlord took the cutting. ‘Let’s see it.’

  Then he folded it up again and put it in his own wallet.

  ‘Tell you what, Roswitha, I’ll show that cutting to Augustin when he comes in for his usual at midday. What a joke! Can’t wait to hear what he says, especially when I tell him the story of that layabout drunk yesterday.’

  Afra

  The shutters had been half open all night, letting out the sultry heat of the day and allowing the cooler morning air to stream into the room. The mosquito came in with it, and now its high-pitched whine has woken her. Afra lies in her bed in the bedroom, listening. The sound gets louder when the insect comes closer, fainter when it moves away. Sometimes it even flies so close to her face that she feels a slight current of air on her skin. Afra lies there quietly, waiting. The humming gets louder and finally stops. She feels the mosquito on her cheek, keeps s
till a moment longer, then hits out with the flat of her hand. The insect’s body, swollen with blood, bursts, and the sticky fluid clings to her fingers and her cheek.

  *

  Afra opens her eyes. Disgusted, she wipes her hand on the sheet. The light in the room is grey. The few pieces of furniture are dark shapes standing out against the walls. Just before sunrise. Time to get up. She pushes the quilt aside; feeling the cold trodden-mud floor under her bare feet, she sits on the edge of the bed a little longer, looking across the room at Albert, who is asleep in his cot. The child is dear to her, and at the same time a stranger. He is her flesh and blood, so she must love him, but sometimes, when she’s sitting on her bed as she is now, she wishes he wasn’t there. Then her life would be simpler. She instantly feels ashamed, tells herself it’s unfair and sinful to think like that, the child can’t help it, and there are good moments too, she wouldn’t want to miss those. All the same, she can’t shake off the thought; it torments her, it comes back again and again. There are only a few days when she’s entirely free of it. Yesterday was one of them. Her parents went to Mass early, and on after that to visit relations. Afra and the child stayed behind in the house on their own. All that day, she’d felt none of the nightmare pressure that usually weighed down on her. To get out of going with her parents she had said there was laundry to do, the whites needed washing, and in spite of the drudgery it had been her best Sunday in a long time. She’d got up at four in the morning, had breakfast and went out into the yard. Before the others in the house were awake, she was already standing at the wooden trough, taking out the things that had been soaking in soda overnight and rubbing them on the washboard one by one. When she had put the big pan containing the laundry and soft soap on the kitchen stove, her father and mother had just been getting ready to go to church. Once they had left, she woke Albert and dressed him, did the housework, and from time to time she stirred the boiling washing with the big wooden kitchen spoon. The little boy ran about energetically, and she had been afraid he might scald himself on the hot soapsuds in a careless moment. So in the end she had taken him on her lap, and together they sang the song about the little witch who gets up at six in the morning to go into the barn. They sang it over and over again, until it was time to take the washing out of the suds and rub it on the washboard in the yard again. Albert never tired of helping as far as he could. He carried the smaller items over to the trough to rinse them in cold water from the well until he was wet all over, and his hands were blue with cold. Afra took his wet clothes off, dried him, and sat him down with a piece of bread on the bench in the sun outside the house. And when she had finally wrung out the washing and spread it on the meadow to bleach, she too sat down in the sun and watched the little boy trying to drive the neighbour’s geese away with a thin switch, to keep them from walking all over the laundry on the ground. From time to time she stood up and went to sprinkle the washing lying out to bleach with water, until finally she put it all back in the tub in the evening, ready to be hung out to dry next morning.

  When she was clearing everything up and was about to go indoors with the boy, two travelling journeymen came by the yard and asked if she knew where they could stay the night. One of them reminded her slightly of Albert’s father; it wasn’t so much his looks as the way he smiled when his eyes dwelt on her. She had talked to them for a little while, and then sent them over to the neighbour’s house. After that she had gone indoors with the child to make supper. While she was busy with that, Albert had fallen asleep on the sofa in the kitchen, and she carried the sleeping child over to the bedroom without waking him.

  *

  Afra takes a deep breath. Why can’t every day be as carefree as yesterday? Then she gets up, dresses herself quietly so as not to wake Albert, and goes into the kitchen.

  Day is beginning to dawn at last outside the window. She hesitates: should she put the light on in the kitchen? With her hand already on the switch she decides not to, and in the dim light she goes over to the cubbyhole where kindling is kept beside the stove, takes matches, paper, twigs and pieces of wood, opens the stove door and gets the fire going. Then she lifts the wooden bowl down from the shelf and goes into the pantry. The earthenware basin of milk set out to curdle is standing on the windowsill. Afra ladles curds out of it into the smaller wooden bowl. Fills it to the brim. Carefully, making sure she doesn’t spill any, she goes back into the kitchen. There she puts the bowl of curds for breakfast on the table, with some bread to break into it. Afra takes a spoon out of the table drawer and puts it down beside the bowl. She sits there waiting. Her father or mother could open the kitchen door any moment now. She can imagine what it will be like when they come in. Her mother will be telling her off again for not going to church yesterday, and not to Evensong either, saying how ashamed she felt in front of the whole village and their relations. Her father will tell her to sit like a good girl and say a morning prayer of thanksgiving with him.

  She will feel bad. Ever since she was little they’ve made her feel she has done something wrong, or was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She can’t do anything right in her parents’ eyes. She knows how hard her mother takes it if she doesn’t say prayers and go to church. But she doesn’t want to, she won’t. Is she supposed to feel grateful for having to fight for the simplest things all over again every day? Who is this God of theirs who forces such a life on her? She hates the poverty, the cramped conditions here. But most of all she can’t stand her parents’ slavish regard for authority. All that, ‘What will people say, child? Haven’t you brought enough shame on us? Why can’t you tread the straight and narrow road of righteousness?’

  Angrily, she pushes the bowl aside with a jerk, ignoring the curdled milk slopping over, and stands up.

  At that moment her father comes into the kitchen. Afra doesn’t look at him, doesn’t wish him good morning, makes her way past him.

  ‘Where do you think you’re going? Doesn’t anyone say good morning in this house any more? This is a place where decent people still live!’ he calls after her.

  She replies quietly, without turning to look at him, ‘Oh, get lost, you old fool.’

  Johann

  They hadn’t let him go. He ought to have known, it was like that other time, back then. He’d spent his whole life trying to be God-fearing and respectable. Just like before, they’d taken him away and wouldn’t let him go again.

  That boy, he’d always been getting underfoot, he was always in the way. And as for her, she’d spoilt him. It hadn’t been right of her. Hadn’t been right.

  He paced up and down the cell, he couldn’t sit down. He couldn’t think straight, either.

  Take up thy cross daily and follow me. The only difference was why. When it happened before, it had been his faith. He wouldn’t abjure it. He had stood firmly by his God.

  ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death … though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …’

  How did it go on? He couldn’t remember.

  There was so much he couldn’t remember any more. It annoyed him, why was he suddenly so confused these days? He was beginning to mislay things, or find himself somewhere without knowing what he wanted to do there, or even where he was. Then he sat down and waited until it came back into his mind. Maybe they were right, and it had been him, but he wasn’t crazy. He stood up and went on walking around the cell.

  *

  They’d kept him for eight weeks that other time, and in the end they’d let him go. He hadn’t abjured, he had held fast to his faith. Ever since the day when he made his vow he had stood firmly by it. He could remember that, he wasn’t forgetful, and didn’t that prove it? It was all there, every detail, clear and distinct as if it had been only yesterday. He’d joined the Third Order even before the First World War. He’d been a young fellow at the time, and he had sworn to himself to lead a God-fearing life. Ever since then, he had worn the cord around his body as a sign of his membership of the Order. In the
last year of the war he had married Theres. Her brothers had all fallen fighting, and her father and mother were long dead. She had no one now, and it was time he looked for a wife. Love comes with marriage. From then on they went through life together. She was no beauty, small, always too thin, but she was devout and modest. She’d already had four children before Afra was born, none of them survived more than two days, one was born dead before its time, another died while she was in labour. He began to doubt whether it had been right for them to marry, because they were blood relations, although at some distance. When they neither of them still expected God to give them a child, Afra came into the world. And then, from the first day on, it seemed as if the Lord wanted to test their faith by giving them a child like Afra. Afra had ideas of her own, she told lies, she went on lying even when he caught her at it. She brought him nothing but trouble. Was flirting with the boys from the neighbourhood at an early age. He beat her to make her stay on the straight and narrow path. She didn’t care, shook herself like a wet dog, and he suspected Theres of comforting her behind his back. As soon as Afra had finished school she went away. She very seldom came home, and if she did, it wasn’t for long. But she couldn’t have stayed in the house anyway. They had nothing, only just enough to live on. He worked on the railway, Theres sat at her sewing machine until late at night making edgings and braid for the farmers’ wives’ Sunday-best clothes. Although he thought poorly of their addiction to finery, customers came from all over the place, and they could do with every pfennig.

  *

  He walked and walked, he didn’t want to stop. He couldn’t remember the rest of the psalm, which made him furious. Why did it go out of his mind just now? He had always followed the path of righteousness. Always followed the straight and narrow path, all his life. He had prayed and worked, tried to be a good man and bring up his daughter in the fear of the Lord. He always knew his place, only once had he refused to obey authority, and he’d paid for that. Just after that brown-shirted gang came to power. He’d felt abandoned at the time, even the priest in the pulpit parroted what those folk said. But he went on reading the Bible every evening with his wife and child, so he couldn’t keep his mouth shut, he stood up before everyone and openly contradicted the priest, in front of the whole congregation. He had said that no upright Christian could be glad of what was happening, they’d all be led into misfortune, the priest and the bishop couldn’t allow it.

 
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