Castle Knob Publishing makes this excerpt freely available to increase awareness of the complete work, which can be purchased in a variety of ways, described in the end notes. This extract may be copied, reformatted and distributed, provided no portion of it is deleted.
Marie and Claude, by Lewis Bailhof
Copyright © 2009 by Castle Knob Publishing
All rights reserved
Note from the Publisher
The story of Marie and Claude has passed through many hands before reaching yours. Many questions about the manuscript and its ultimate origin remain unanswered and apparently unanswerable. In publishing the story, we have taken the traditional approach of replacing with initials the names of living persons or those who might have living relatives; our attempts to find them have been fruitless.
We received the manuscript and typescript from a friend who had become too ill to pursue its publication, and understand that it had come to him from an acquaintance at a major publishing house. Before reaching us, the story was buried in the files of a New York City publishing house or agent for at least 20 years. They were unable to use it and could not determine the rightful owner. It seems that it was more attractive for someone to simply “lose” it, rather than keep it against the unlikely possibility that it would someday prove profitable to them. Prior to that, it lay in one attic or another of “Shirley E”’s family for more than a century. For a brief period in the 1870s the manuscript belonged to Lewis Bailhof in Germany. He translated an older manuscript from a Swiss monastery, which had been written in 1485 and copied at least twice in the intervening centuries. The original manuscript apparently recorded the stories of a woodsman named Kurt who sought shelter at the monastery, and evidently thought a great deal of his friends Marie and Claude.
Most of the manuscript is now illegible; where it is possible to compare them, the typescript is a faithful copy. In editing the typescript for publication, we have corrected a few obvious errors and made other minor changes, primarily to the punctuation. The typescript is a sequence of related stories, and is not divided into chapters. We have marked the stories as chapters and inserted section marks for the convenience of the reader.
We did not change the order of the narrative as it appears in the manuscript and typescript, or try to force uniform chapter length. As you will see, it is mainly in chronological order; the only exception is the opening story, which might well have been Kurt’s opening gambit to engage the interest of the monks. This first story is a confusing jumble of three voices: Kurt telling the story to the monk who transcribed it, Claude providing the bulk of the narrative, and Marie filling in the gaps that Claude did not witness. To help the reader, we have placed Kurt’s commentary on this story in italics.
The following letters accompanied the manuscript transmitted by Ms. E to her contact at the original publishing house. Before any further correspondence could take place, Ms. E is said to have died in a motorcycle crash, without a will or heirs.
Given the uncertain provenance of the manuscript, and our inability to verify aspects of its content, we are publishing the work as fiction.
Letter from Ms. E to Ms A.
April 6, 1988
I’m sorry I’ve taken such a long time, but finally I’m sending you the manuscript I told you about at the Bigelow’s party; I’ve also included two letters from the author to his sister. Here is the story of the manuscript, as I understand it.
Lewis Bailhof was a great-uncle, the brother of my great-grandmother, Ann C. He was born in 1843 in western New York and traveled as a young man to France and Germany, where he worked as an engineer building railroad bridges. He was working in the region of Alsace when war broke out between the French and Germans, and interrupted work there. After the war, he returned to the area, and while he was working in Alsace he took a holiday near Basel, Switzerland. He became acquainted with the abbot of a monastery near Basel, who showed him a manuscript written in German. Lewis borrowed the manuscript, translated it into English, and returned the German version.
When he was moving from one project to another, Lewis sent things to Ann to keep for him, and he sent the manuscript to her. He died without ever returning to this country.
Ann kept the manuscript and some other things of his in a trunk. I suppose that the most interesting items were taken from the trunk and lost over the years, but eventually my mother, Catherine D E, received what remained from her mother, Lillian C D, and placed them in a cardboard box. I remember seeing the box in our attic when I was a girl.
My mother and I were not on good terms when she died in 1968. After my father remarried, he asked me to take my mother’s things, because his second wife didn’t want them around. I’ve had the box since 1970. Somewhere around 1985 I read the manuscript for the first time, maybe the first time anyone has read it since Ann, and thought it might be worth publishing. When I met you at the Bigelow’s and learned you work in the publishing business, and realized how much time had gone by, I decided to put it into your hands. I hope you find it worthwhile, and can arrange its publication.
As you can see, the manuscript is not in very good condition. At the very least, I hope that you can arrange to have it typed, so that it might be preserved. Please let me know what you think.
First Letter from Lewis to Ann
September 3, 1873
My Dear Ann,
I hope you are well. I am back in Alsace. We have resumed construction on the Rhine railway bridge, which was disrupted by the late war. We may have returned too soon, as it is very hard to get workmen and materials. There are plenty of men about, but few worth a day’s wages. We are idle too much, though I have taken the chance to get around a bit.
Recently I went up to Basle, in Switzerland. The mountains are lovely, and I thought of how much you would enjoy it. While I was there, the most unusual thing happened. I was walking with some other fellows on an Alpine trail, when we came on a monastery, on fire! Naturally we rushed in, and tried to help. It was a madhouse, with monks’ habits and lederhosen running all around. We managed to confine the fire to two buildings, but they were the largest. There wasn’t much left when we got it out. Unfortunately, the scriptorium was destroyed, along with all of its manuscripts. A great loss to the monks, who were very disheartened.
However, the Abbot took the whole thing in his stride. He is a remarkable man, with an outlook that I can’t really describe. If I say he simply accepted the loss, you will think him a passive man, but believe me nobody was less passive while the fire raged! My fellows went back, but I stayed on a while and talked to the Abbot, commiserating over the loss of the scriptorium. He showed me one manuscript, which had not been lost, because it had been in his own room. I supposed it must have been connected to the life of their patron saint, but he told me no, it was not religious at all, yet remained his favorite work. He urged me to take it and read it, returning it when I finished.
In a couple of days I returned to the monastery with the manuscript. Only the Abbot and two monks remained; the others had been sent to other places while a decision was taken whether to rebuild.
The Abbot was very pleased when I told him how much I liked the manuscript. He said that he himself had transcribed it when he was a young monk, and had modified the archaic Alsatian dialect in which it had been written into modern German. In fact, he said that three of the Abbots of that monastery had transcribed it in their own times. When he saw my enthusiasm, he asked if I would like to translate it into French or English, which I immediately agreed to do. I spent the next three weeks in Basle, working at a desk in my hotel.
By now, you are likely wondering what is this marvelous manuscript about, and I can’t tell you. It appears to be a story about an ordinary Alsatian woodworker from many years ago, told by another ordinary Alsatian woodsman. And yet, the nature of this man shines through in a way that transcends the ordinary. I will send it to you shortly, and I hope you will enjoy it. Unfortunately, the two people I have shown it to here seem not to see anything unusual in it. I will try to get it published when I come home.
We finally have started getting the iron we need for the bridge, and Kloechin is recruiting laborers who aren’t afraid of heights – not easy to do. It looks like we will be getting back to work soon.
You can try to write to me at the Hotel Elsass in Mulhausen, but the post is not very reliable here.
I was glad to hear that you are finally getting over that idiot Lewis – a great name is not enough to make a good man!! As always, give my best to Father, and tell Fred and Sam to go to Hell.
Your Brother Lewis
Second Letter from Lewis to Ann
March 29, 1874
My Dear Ann,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am still in Alsace, where we have just finished building a new railway bridge. This is a lovely place – I wish I could show it to you. The Rhine falls out of the mountain gorges of Switzerland, through the Black Forest, and down into the plains of lower Germany. The valleys are full of villages, vineyards and orchards, clustered around towns and a few small cities. The heights along the river are dominated by castles at every bend. Industry is growing up around the railways, and we are building bridges as fast as we can, despite the late war. The people here speak a sort of German, but many fled to France when the Prussians moved in. The war was very disruptive to town life, though many villagers hardly noticed it. Of course, it was impossible to complete our bridge during the war, but there was plenty to do in Switzerland. When we moved back here, it was still hard to get materials delivered on time, and the work fell far behind schedule. Kloechin took a lot of criticism, but what could he do? He is a prince to work for, and never took it out on us.
It looks like I will be moving to Strasbourg for a while, so I am cleaning out my digs here. I am shipping some more things for you to keep for me. There is a Prussian army officer’s helmet and sword which I won in a card game, from a man who said he came by them honorably! Also an olive-wood rosary from Italy for you, and the manuscript I told you about.
You can write to me at the Hotel Rhinegarten in Strasbourg. As always I look forward to your letters and news of home. Give my best wishes to Father and Fred, and tell Sam to go to Hell. I hope George works out better for you than that other clod.
Notes of Scribes
This is the history of Marie and Claude as Kurt told it in the presence of Abbot Othmar and the brethren at chapter. Most of the brothers do not believe the tale, but I observed Kurt closely, both during his first telling and again as he told the story to me. He did not tell it as a traveler tells tales, for the entertainment of his host. His simple face showed the joys and sadness of the events as he recalled them. The Abbot gave his permission to record the tale. In accord with his wishes, I have written the very words of Kurt as he spoke them in his own tongue.
– Br. Johannes, A.D. 1485
This is a true copy of Kurt’s tale of Marie and Claude.
– Br. Edward, A.D. 1701
I have translated the tale of Marie and Claude from the Alsatian tongue into the German, so that other brothers may read and benefit from the example of a good man.
– Br. Ottfried, A.D. 1832
It has been my privilege to translate the story of Marie and Claude from the German into English, at the suggestion of Abbot Ottfried following the loss to fire of the scriptorium and all its other contents.
– Lewis Bailhof, A.D. 1873
Marie and Claude made a wonderful home together, and I was blessed to often share it with them. Many evenings we sat in front of the fire, Marie weaving and Claude carving or polishing a piece of wood, while the children tried to stay awake. Claude seldom felt a need for idle talk, but when the children asked for a story, he usually indulged them. One unusual story I heard more than once, when one of them demanded, “Tell us how you met Mama!” I also heard them tell the story to their neighbors, and I’ve heard it repeated around Mulhausen.
When the children asked him for the story, Claude would glance at Marie, who usually smiled a little smile at the memory. He kept at his work for a time, then put it away, cleaning his tools. He would stare a few moments into the fire, while the children, more excited now but trying to be quiet, settled down. Claude would begin the story, and Marie would add her part from time to time. I think the story improved with each telling, but it never really changed. It went something like this.
~ ~ ~
You know that Mama and I did not always live in Mulhausen. When we met, your grandpapa Emil was a baker, and your grandmama Adele was a weaver. They lived in one of the villages down the river, named Wenheim. Wenheim was a little bigger than most, but still not quite a town. They had a market every week, and Emil and Adele sold their goods to the people of the village and the surrounding farms. Sometimes they traveled to the larger market in Mulhausen or Colmar when they had goods to sell, or needed something they could not buy at their own market.
Adele was a very good weaver. She made the cloth that every villager and many farmers wore every day. But she also made very fine work which she took to the great fair at Mulhausen to sell to the townsfolk there, and she even sold some to traveling merchants who took her work to other towns to sell again.
Emil was a baker, and a very good one. He baked bread and pastries for the village and farms, and sold as much as he could bake on market days. On feast days he made sweet things that would melt in your mouth. But baked goods don’t travel well, so he couldn’t take any to the bigger towns.
One day when Marie was about twelve years old, she was helping her mother in the village market. They had a stall with the blankets, shirtstuff, and skirts displayed on racks. Emil wasn’t there this time. He had already sold all of his bread and pastries, and had gone back to their house.
Near lunchtime, Adele saw a weaver from a nearby village walking along the stalls, taking a long look at Adele’s goods. Adele went over to talk to her, telling Marie to keep a sharp eye on the stall, and to call her if a buyer came by. Then she and the other weaver strolled away.
Now Marie often helped her mother at the market, running errands and helping to carry the cloth. But she had never been left alone in the stall before, so she was feeling very grown up and proud when some of her friends came by. Marie had to show them she was in charge of the stall.
“Lise, Kirstin,” she called, “come keep me company. I can’t leave just now, because I have to watch the stall.” When the other girls came over, she was standing behind a table with her market apron on, looking for all the world as if her pockets were full of money. She didn’t notice a rather rough looking fellow loafing in the shade of a stall across the way, who kept his steady gaze on her, her friends and her pockets.”
Then the children might ask, “Was that rough looking fellow you, Papa?”
“Yes, but Marie didn’t know me, because this is the story of how we met.”
“Why were you rough looking? Were you a bandit?”
“I was rough looking because I worked in the woods, not in a shop. And I was never a bandit!”
They usually giggled at this, because they liked to pretend that they thought their Papa had been a bandit in his youth. I had told them so, even though it wasn’t true, just a joke. They thought it was funny, but I wish I hadn’t said it.
Marie asked her friends, “What shall we do today for lunch?” The girls usually tried to talk someone out of a special market day treat, either from their parents, or from a merchant hoping to sell something to their parents.
Marie usually smiled at this, but said to the children in a stern voice, “I did not. That is very rude. And I don’t want you to bother people in the market either.”
Lise said, “I saw some of your father’s scrumptious tarts before, but I suppose they are all gone by now.” She looked around the stall, hoping that Marie had some of the tarts in her basket there.
Kirstin added, “My father brought some peaches and pears to market, and I think we could trade some of those for strawberries at the berry man’s stall.” The other girls laughed at this.
Marie would add, “Everyone knew the berry man was the greediest, stingiest man in town, and would never trade for pears. But Kirstin liked his son, Johann, and liked to spend time around him. That’s why we laughed at her. But it was mean of us, and we shouldn’t have been mean.”
When the other girls laughed, Kirstin shook her head and scowled. “Well, if that’s the way you’re going to be, I’ll eat by myself,” and she walked off abruptly. Marie noticed that she was walking in the direction of the berry man’s stall, and winked at Lise, and the two girls started laughing again.
About this time, an old gypsy woman walked into the stall, and started fingering some colorful skirt material. Marie walked up to her and asked if she could help her, but the gypsy ignored her. Finally, after she had walked through the stall, handling every piece of material with her rather dirty hands, she turned suddenly to Marie and said, in a screechy little voice, “Where is your mother, child?” Marie jumped a little at the tone of her voice, and Lise started to edge away from the stall. Marie swallowed a couple of times and said, “She is just down the way.” She pointed the way that Adele had gone and said, “But if you see something you like, I can sell it to you.” I was a little surprised she didn’t run away from that old woman. She was pale as a ghost.
That gypsy lady was scary. She put her face very close to mine, and said in a hissing, smelly voice, “If your mother wants to do business, she should be at her stall when a customer comes calling. If she wants my business, tell her to come find Beata.” At that she turned away and walked into the market crowd.
Once she was gone, I gradually realized my mouth was open and dry, and that I was leaning back against one of the racks where I had tried to get away from the horrid gypsy woman. My heart was pounding, and I looked around for Lise, but she was nowhere to be seen. A few moments later, Mama returned, and asked if anyone had come by. When I stammered out the name of Beata, she became angry and yelled at me for not calling her. “Madame Beata is not a person to trifle with, and her business is always welcome. Which way did she go?” All I could do was point.
When Mama hurried off after her, I was once again alone in the stall, but this time I did not feel proud. That awful witch scared me so much I hoped no one would come by.
While Marie stayed in the stall, I followed as Adele walked quickly through the market, where the stalls were being closed for lunchtime. As the stalls closed, the crowd thinned out, and most of the merchants remained inside their stalls to eat their midday meal.
At the edge of the village, Adele found the gypsy wagons, and several of the gypsies sitting around their cook fire. The gypsy woman was not in sight, so she walked up to the oldest gypsy girl, and asked her if Madame Beata was at home, and said that she was the weaver from the village. The girl looked toward one of the wagons, and shouted something in the gypsy tongue. A little boy poked his head out of the door and waved Adele over. He scampered down the wagon steps, pointed up them, said, “She there,” and ran over to the fire.
Adele climbed up the steps to the open door, and looked into the dim wagon. “Good day to you, Madame Beata, you wished to see me?”
From within came a barely civil, “Come in. Sit down.” Adele bent her head under the doorway, and stepped into the wagon. The door closed and she was alone in the dark with the gypsy witch. After that I couldn’t tell what they said.
Mama told me that she could see the gypsy woman in one corner, and a stool near the door. She sat down and, after a long, awkward silence, said, “What can I do for you?”
After a little time, during which the only sound was the gypsy’s ragged breathing, she said, “I have some thread I would like to see woven. If you feel you can weave the piece I want, I will pay you handsomely. But if you ruin the piece, you must replace the thread so I can have another weaver do the work.” Now this was a proposition unlike anything Mama had ever heard before, and she took a moment to answer. It was well known that the gypsy had gold to pay when she pleased, but everyone knew that she had spells to curse you when she was displeased.
Finally Mama said, “I believe you have seen my work in the market. Some of that is plain weaving, for simple farmers. But some of it is fine work, and some of my finest is in the best houses in this region.” She had not said she would accept the work, but the gypsy woman heard the pride in her voice.
Beata said, “Yes, I have seen your weaving, and it is good. But I have also seen how you raised your daughter, and that is disagreeable to me.” At this Mama took a sharp breath. No mother cares to hear her child criticized, whether with cause or not. But Beata was not a person to anger.
“If she has been rude or careless, I will punish her,” she said, “but if you have some complaint, I wish you would make it plain.”
After a long pause, during which the gypsy woman’s face and eyes seemed to turn to ice, she said, “No, the child has done nothing.” She paused again, and seemed to turn inward. Faintly, Mama thought she heard, “Yet, something about her makes my skin prickle.” After the longest pause yet, Beata roused herself. She opened a chest, and removed two packages. She brought them to Mama and laid one in her lap. “Open that.”
After she had removed two layers of the wrapping, the package in her lap seemed too light to contain anything at all. After she had removed the last layer, she held in her hands two skeins of the finest, lightest thread she had ever seen. The thread was pure white, but not from any bleach. It was soft and made her hands feel as if they would never willingly let it go. She looked up at Beata.
The gypsy woman’s mouth formed a tiny smile as she looked into the weaver’s face. “This is what I want you to make,” and she handed her the second package.
The second package was wrapped as carefully as the first. It contained a shawl woven from the same kind of thread as the first package. The work was the finest Mama had ever seen. It felt like water flowing over her hands, but lighter than air. It was edged with a lace that weighed almost nothing, but contained intricate figures of animals and people, with a curious quality of motion. It was very old. Its original white had yellowed with age, and it showed wear in places. Still, when the gypsy took it out of her hands, her fingers reached out for it of their own accord.
“This thread is enough for two of these shawls. You must make two, and I will take the best. The other will be your payment. If neither shawl is satisfactory, I will take both and you must replace the thread.”
Mama gazed from the thread to the shawl and back. Behind her desire to have the thread and shawl, lay a nagging doubt. “But I have never worked with this thread before,” she said. “This is a beautiful piece. How can I do work like this without more experience with the material? And if I fail to please you, where can I ever find such thread?” As she realized the size of the risk she would take, she was inclined to push the thread out of her lap. But as her hands touched it again, she knew she never could.
Madame Beata said, “I would not offer you this work unless I believed you could do it. As for the thread, it is best if you do not fail, because it would take the rest of your life to replace it. A rich man might buy it in the market at Constantinople, if it could be found. These skeins came from far to the East, in caravan after caravan of my people.”
Mama had no more idea where she might find Constantinople than I have, or where in the East such thread might be found, but she found that she no longer cared.
“I will do the weaving,” she said, “but what of the lace?”
“The lace is not your concern. You must bring the shawls to me here, in no more than four weeks time. You may examine this shawl here, but do not let sunlight fall on it, nor on the thread while you work. And no one must touch the shawls you make.” At this she stepped through the door, leaving Mama alone.
Mama carefully examined the shawl, and noted its shape, size and the details of the weave. When she was finished, she wrapped the skeins of thread in their three layers of wrapping, and left the old shawl on the stool where Beata had sat. She stepped into the sunlight again. Beata was not sitting with the other gypsies at the fire, so Mama walked back to the market.
When Adele returned to the stall, she barely noticed that Marie was jumping with excitement. While Adele had been gone, a farmer had come by the stall and bought enough cloth to make two pairs of trousers, paying Marie with copper coins. If he had paid in produce, Marie would have had to wait for her mother to accept the value, but the farmer had already sold his produce and was in a hurry to return home, so he had paid the asking price for the cloth and gone his way. Marie had nearly forgotten the gypsy woman. She was eager to be off to tell her friends about the first coins she had made as a stall keeper on her own. Adele waved her off.
~ ~ ~
Over the next few days, Mama set up her loom to make the first shawl. She took more care in every step of her task than she had ever done, and found herself exhausted at the end of each day. Even so, she would not allow me to help in any way. The thread was not difficult to work with. But whenever Mama thought of the cost of such thread, she became anxious, afraid to make the slightest mistake. And so, in the end she did make a mistake.
She had nearly finished the first shawl, when she dropped the shuttle through the warp, and snagged a thread, breaking it. The way the shawl was made, the lace would be sewn over the place where the broken thread was repaired, so it really mattered very little. But Mama was sure that Beata would never accept it. She found herself unable to start the second shawl.
~ ~ ~
The next week Marie went with Adele to a market in a neighboring village. While there, she tended the stall again while her mother talked with another weaver. She never saw the gypsy woman staring hard at her from a dark corner of the market, and she never saw a certain rough looking man watching from another shaded stall.
The children would ask, “Was that you again, Papa? Did you follow them so you could rob them?”
“Yes, it was me again, and no I did not follow them. You know I go to all the markets to sell wood, and that is what I did then. I never robbed anyone!”
While Mama was talking to the other weaver, she mentioned the commission from Beata, and wondered aloud about the lace on the shawl she had seen. The other woman exclaimed, “Why, that lace is being made by Frau Reinach from Kaysersberg, and she described that same shawl to me only last Sunday. She is so afraid of ruining the lace, her hands are nearly paralyzed.” Mama laughed a little, and said, “I know just how she feels. But what a wonderful piece of work it will be! Whatever can that old woman want it for?”
“Oh, I know that!” said her friend. “It is for a wedding trap.” When Mama looked puzzled, she went on. “When one of those gypsy witches wants to marry off a girl to a certain man, she makes a spell. It needs a special shawl, and the moon just right, and if there is any flaw in the shawl, then the marriage will fail too! If the girl just wants to marry a gypsy man, she doesn’t bother. But if she wants to marry someone from outside, well, it takes more than a dowry to get a man to join the gypsies. My Aunt Hildie told me all about that, back when – ” But Mama was no longer listening.
“Is Frau Reinach in the market today?” she asked, and she hurried off to find the lace maker from Kaysersberg.
Frau Reinach turned out to be a small, flighty little woman, but her stall was filled with beautiful lace in several styles. None looked like the gypsy’s lace, but her work had a lightness and grace that was well suited to the gypsy shawl. When Mama raised the subject, Frau Reinach got very excited. “Oh, yes, she also offered me one lace, but threatened me if I ruined both of them. And now that I have ruined the first, I hardly dare to try the second!” She went to a basket in the back of her stall, and removed a small package, carefully wrapped. She opened it, revealing a small skein of the same pure white thread, and a lovely piece of lace, with the same strange figures that seemed to move of themselves.
“It is beautiful,” Mama said. “But why do you say you have ruined it?”
“As I nearly finished, the thread broke, right here,” she pointed. “I thought that thread so fine and strong would be easy to repair, and nearly invisible. But just here, under this figure, there is a knot that cannot be undone, no matter how hard I try! If the same thing happens again, I will be ruined!” and she began to cry.
Mama examined the lace carefully. There was no other flaw in it, that she could see, and the tiny knot was invisible unless deliberately displayed. Its similarity to the flaw in her own work caused a shiver to run up her spine, and made the hair on her neck stand up. “I wonder if there is a spell on this thread. Mine broke just the same, and I’m sure that old gypsy will see it in a moment.”
After a moment of thought, she asked, “Would you like to come to my house in Wenheim? We could keep each other company and perhaps we could concentrate better on the work.”
Frau Reinach said that they might indeed be able to help each other, and it was agreed that she would come the following week, and stay until they both had finished.
~ ~ ~
After another week’s work, they were both highly pleased. They completed the second shawl and lace without incident. Both women praised the other’s work, saying it was the finest they had ever seen. And each of them also knew the truth of the praise of her own work, for never had they had thread of such quality to work with. The day after they finished, they went to the gypsy camp.
At the gypsy camp, the little boy was playing by himself near the cook fire when they arrived. When he saw them, he ran to the wagon, and called out. A few moments passed, before Madame Beata herself came to the door and invited them in. After they had all settled, she asked Mama for the two shawls. As she unwrapped them, she ran her fingers softly over them, feeling the cloth more than looking at it. Suddenly she looked sharply at Mama, and then held the shawl’s edge close to her eyes. “No,” she said slowly, “this will not do.”
She picked up the second shawl, and looked at it even more closely than the first, then looked at it again. Mama suddenly felt faint, and realized she was holding her breath. She was trying to let it out quietly, when Madame Beata suddenly looked up and turned to Frau Reinach. “If your work is as fine as this, I will be well pleased,” she said.
Frau Reinach turned pale as Madame Beata examined the lace. She quickly found the flaw in the first lace, but finally she set the second lace on top of the second shawl. “I was not mistaken in choosing you. You may take your payment and go.” She never smiled, and never thanked them. The two women got up and left quietly.
As they walked back to the village, Mama asked, “What will you do with your lace? I’m afraid I shall have to sell this shawl, but I don’t know where I will find a buyer anytime soon.”
“Yes, there are few customers at our markets for this kind of work. I don’t think I will see another of these strange gypsy women. But you are right, I have spent too much time on this work already. If I don’t sell it, it is like taking bread from my family.”
After a few moments Adele said, “Work like this can never bring its true value in our village markets. We should take the shawl and lace to Mulhausen or even Freiburg. Together they would be bound to catch the eye of some nobleman, or more likely his lady. What do you think of this?”
Frau Reinach quickly saw the sense of it. Since Mama was the younger, and could travel more easily to the distant fair, they agreed that she would make the journey and handle the sale.
~ ~ ~
That night, Mama told Papa and me about the shawl, the lace, and the tale about a gypsy wedding trap. I was still afraid of Madame Beata, but I decided to watch the gypsy camp the next night, the night of the full moon, when all witches cast their spells.
The next night, I slipped away after supper, and crept near to the gypsy’s camp. All of the wagons were gone, except one. The little boy was tending the fire, and Madame Beata was sitting on the doorstep of her wagon. A pretty girl of about seventeen was sitting near the fire, staring into the woods.
Suddenly a woodman came out of the forest, carrying an enormous load of wood on his back. He dropped the load near the fire, and Beata rose to pay him. “But,” she said, “if it’s not too much trouble, would you stack it over here, near the wagon? The men are gone, and we are afraid to go far from the wagon after dark.” I shivered with a sudden chill when I realized it was nearly dark, and the moon was just rising over the woods.
As they told what happened on that night, Marie and Claude would become excited and each would jump in with their part of the story.
Beata had summoned me to bring her a load of firewood. I just laughed at their fear, and began to move the wood, stacking it neatly by the wagon door. While I did so, the gypsy girl, whose name was Emerata, walked into the woods. When I was finished, Beata gave me a coin and I took my leave, following the path Emerata had taken. I didn’t know that I was followed, too.
I followed the woodman as quietly as I could. He stopped once, as if listening to something, though I could swear there wasn’t a sound in the woods.
I could hear someone moving quietly, but in the dark under the trees I couldn’t see anyone. Presently I came to a clearing, where I saw the girl Emerata sitting on a log, with the shawl over her hair. I walked up to her and asked if she needed something. As she turned and looked at me, the moon rose full over the trees, and a broad moonbeam lit the shawl as if it glowed from within. As I gazed on it, it seemed that the figures in the lace moved in a dance, sometimes slowly and gracefully, and sometimes wildly like a gypsy dance itself. She asked me to take her to the well in the woods, and I readily agreed.
He agreed very readily! And I followed them. When they reached the well, Emerata turned to the woodman, as if to thank him, and gazed up into his face. He looked down into her eyes, dark and surrounded by the glow from the shawl in the moonlight. As he began to speak, a cloud covered the moon, and they were lost in darkness.
When the moon disappeared, I heard a sound in the bushes, and Emerata made a frightened noise, putting her hands on my arms. They were cold and damp. In the dark, the shawl was nearly invisible. I walked her back to the gypsy camp.
My own heart was pounding so loud, I could not hear their words, but I followed the sound of the woodman’s voice until I came to a place where I could get back to the village, and started running as if my life depended on it. I was sure those woods were bewitched.
We heard a sudden noise, and Emerata squealed again. She made a sound rather like a pig.
I didn’t notice Emerata squeal, for suddenly I saw Madame Beata’s wagon at the edge of the woods, and veered away so I wouldn’t be seen. I ran the rest of the way home, and arrived too frightened to tell anyone what I saw.
When Emerata and I arrived at the gypsy camp, Beata was furious and sent me away. She was certain that she had seen Adele’s daughter, running from the woods, and said her skin prickled.
~ ~ ~
The next market day, I was again in the stall, helping Mama. As the customers thinned out for lunch, I sat down behind a blanket with a basket of rolls and cheese. I heard a sound and stuck my head around the blanket.
Two gypsy boys were in the stall. One with a knife was slashing at the woven goods, and the other had a torch, and was trying to set the stall on fire. As I jumped up, the gypsy girl Emerata appeared from behind the stall, and grabbed my arms, throwing me down and jumping on my back. As the gypsy girl pulled at my hair, and tore at my dress, I saw the flames start to lick at the wooden frame of the stall. I tried to shout for help, but Emerata shoved a thick wad of my dress into my mouth.
Suddenly, one of the gypsy boys crashed down just in front of my face and the other let out a shriek as he ran off. Claude was standing in the stall, beating out the flames with a blanket.
When Claude saw Emerata, he stopped and stared. “You! But why – ?” Emerata jumped up, sobbing, pointed at me on the ground, and cried, “She shall never have you!” and ran off, just as Mama, Papa and several other people arrived.
~ ~ ~
After Marie had calmed down, and closed their stall, Adele and Emil asked me to go home with them, for supper and with the hope of understanding what had happened. The attack of the gypsy boys had been costly, and the family had never been on bad terms with gypsies before. Adele thought that the work she had done for Beata had improved her standing with the gypsies. She couldn’t understand why they would attack her and her daughter this way.
After we had eaten supper, and settled in front of the fire, Emil cleared his throat, looked at me, and began, “First, I would like to thank you for your help. I’m sure that you saved a great deal of my wife’s work, and possibly my daughter’s life. We don’t know why those gypsies attacked us, or whether they will return to attack us again. Do you know anything about them? Can you explain their actions? Have we done something to offend them?”
I looked into the fire, then at Marie, who hadn’t spoken a word since the attack, then at Emil. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. “It’s true, I have had recent dealings with the gypsy girl Emerata, who attacked your daughter today, and with her grandmother, Beata. A few evenings ago, I met Emerata in the woods, and it seemed to me then that she was the loveliest woman I had ever seen. But something in the woods startled her,” here I glanced at Marie, “and it seemed that a spell was broken. I think that may have affected their attitude toward your family.”
Emil looked from me to Marie, and to Adele. After a few moments of silence he said to Adele, “This must be what the shawl was intended for, and something went wrong.” He looked at Marie, and asked gently, “What can you tell us of this?” Marie, who had been sobbing from time to time since the attack in the market, tried to compose herself.
Marie would pause and get very serious when she reached this part of the story, and look hard at the children.
I had no thought to deceive Papa and Mama, but I was afraid of their anger when they learned my part in the family ruin. At last I was able to speak, and told them what I had seen that night. “But I never intended any harm. I just wanted to see your shawl work magic in a gypsy wedding trap.”
Claude looked surprised at this, then laughed a short hard laugh. When we looked at him, he said, “Excuse me, but I never thought of myself as gypsy prey. What is this about your shawl used to trap a poor man into a gypsy tribe?”
So Mama told all about the bargain she made with Madame Beata, and how the lace maker and she had worked on the shawls and lace, their problems and their success. When she had finished, Claude asked if he might see the shawl, and Mama brought it out with Frau Reinach’s lace now attached. She looked at Claude’s hands, large, work-roughened and not very clean, then asked me to wear the shawl so Claude could see it.
I stood, and Mama placed the shawl around my shoulders and over my hair. For the first time, Papa and Mama saw the shawl glow in the wavering firelight, and saw the lace figures move in their dance. I looked from them to Claude. His face had turned pale, and his eyes grew wide. Suddenly, he leapt to his feet and ran out of the house. The three of us looked at each other, and then we all began to laugh.
[END OF CHAPTER 1]
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