13. Sweetness And Light . . .
In Short Supply.
Ping . . . ping.
“What in God’s name is that?” mutters Dagobert Fashingbauer.
“There it goes again.”
His wife sits up.
Ping . . . ping . . . ping.
“Some devil is lobbing pebbles at our window,” she says. Magda pulls herself out of bed, shuffles to the pane, and peers into the dark. “Lord Above! It’s Fraulein Drusilla! What’s she doing in the lane at this hour? Dag, run, get her in.”
“You go, Mag. My knees are giving me trouble again.”
“Yes, I go,” says Magda. “It’s almost time for me to get up anyway. Hilda better have that oven ready for me today, that’s all I have to say.”
Magda is one-half of A Couple.
She’s the cook; her husband is the groundskeeper, watchman, and handyman for the von Drost-Deckenbrock household. They reside in a small cottage way at the rear of the property, set back only feet from the iron fencing.
The rear gate is latched shut at night, as are all points of entry. Magda slides the heavy bolt aside, and ushers Drusilla in. A big black dog follows tight on the girl’s heels. Sly had already inserted himself though the uprights, and he’d threaded the pillowcase through as well. It’s now stowed behind bushes.
The girl is hauled into the cottage by a flabbergasted Magda. “What has happened to you, child? What a state you’re in!”
“I suppose I can go for a walk if I want to.”
“At three am?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“How did you get out? Not this route, or it would still be open.”
“Mine to know and yours to wonder.”1
“That’s not manners there, my girl. That’s not a nice attitude to take.”
“I don’t have to be nice. You work for me, in case you forgot.”
“Doors are locked at eight. You’re in bed at nine. Adelheide checks on you.”
“Maybe she doesn’t check so good.”
Dagobert, up and dressed, enters the room.
“This is a disaster,” Magda tells him. “We need to get this one back to bed immediately. I’ll sort this out with Addie this afternoon. Up to the house, quickly. Instruct Helga to fetch one of her nightdresses for our moonlight rambler. I’ll hoist it at the waist with a sash, make it presentable.”
“Adelheide’s been overdoing again, sounds like.”
Mag pulls her husband aside and hisses, “we’ll worry about that later. Once this brat is in the kitchen, we can say she’d come down for a glass of milk.”
“When you bring the gown,” says Dru, “bring also a big steak for my dog.”
“Your dog, is he?”
“I’ve decided to adopt him.”
“No chance of that, Miss Moonbeam. You know how your mother despises dogs.”
“Then you take him in. He needs a home.”
“I have enough problems at present, thank you.”
“And I have things that Mama would like to know. What do you say to that?”
“What kinds of things?”
“You can guess, I think. About Frau Adelheide.”
“Don’t you dare. Oh, I could just wring your little neck, I could.”
“You, both of you, tell Mama there are noises in the lane at night. We must have a guard-dog.”
Reiger sits outside the door uneasily, wondering if he’s been forgotten. Sly tries to reassure him. “Patience, old man. You will be fed. This is a tricky situation.”
“Is something in your cupboard perhaps?” Dru throws open door after door. “Well, well. A handsome ham-steak. Yum! Reisig will love this!”
“That’s for my own breakfast,” objects Dag.
“Well! I beg your pardon,” snifs Drusilla, hands on hips.
“She’s on her high-horse now,” mutters the man.
“Here’s the way it is – nothing on this property is yours, unless we say so. It all comes out of our pocket. This is my ham-steak, you eat something else. If you don’t like that, I’ll march up to the house as I am and Adelheide will catch hell for it. I’ll make good and sure she catches hell.”
“Poor little thing, my arse,” grunts Dag to his dismayed wife.
This is a new development. The child has shown her nasty side to nearly everyone in the house, but never to Magda. “Here’s what we get for being kind to her. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Meanwhile, under the bushes, come-to rats are tearing at the pillowcase with their sharp teeth.
Drusilla has had her face washed, and her hair brushed.
She’s wearing an oversized nightdress, the length adjusted. It will do – it has to do – for a traverse of the big kitchen and a rush up the servant stair.
“I’ll be back at seven,” proclaims the girl to all within earshot. “This one better still be here, or else.” She bends down and pats Reisig, who’s attacking his ham. “I’ll have a plate of even better when I return, my dear,” she tells him. “We’re going to fatten you up.”
Grim-faced, Mag and Dag march to the house, Drusilla behind, shielded from the view of anyone stationed at a window. The yard is bathed in moonlight. The child is easy to identify. No one else of her stature lives on the property.
Adleheide, shaken out of her feathers, is waiting in the mud room to take charge of the truant, see her upstairs, undress her and get her into bed. Helga had been put to the summons as soon as she’d delivered the nightie.
Adleheide starts to speak. “Not a word,” warns Magda. “I expect your explanation later today. This is outrageous. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“You can’t be thinking this is my fault!”
“Save it. I have breakfast to prepare. No, hold on one minute.” She pours a mug of milk. “Your prop, miss, in case you run into Fritz.”
Adelheide takes over. “Sit on that chair. We take off your shoes. You would not be wearing shoes to come down for a sip of milk.” She unlaces the ankle-height boots, and looks up at Magda. “What’s this? You threw the gown over her street clothes.”
“It was the fastest thing. We need to get our little savage where she should be before Fritz begins his morning rounds.”
Wait til you see the state she’s in underneath. What were you up to tonight, my girl, to get so filthy?
“I was hunting toads. My toads need friends. And bugs, and grubs, for their dinner.” She is known to rummage at a nearby pond, but in late afternoon or early evening, naturally.
“Some spread, eh?”
It’s a comment rather than a question, an attempt to be sociable. Sly is trying to put the dog at ease in an alien environment.
“Who knew anyone lived like this?” mutters the dog. “So quiet! Peaceful! I hear the rustle of the trees, not loudmouths cussing each other out. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“You’re in a different world, my friend. A word to the wise – there’s an etiquette in the dainty environs. Let me give you some tips on how to conduct yourself. On the one hand, you’ll need to be somewhat combative. You’re hired on as a guard dog, after all. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You need also to court the ladies. Wag your tail a lot. Curl up at their feet, if they appear inclined to welcome it. Keep off the furniture, that’s a big thing. Try not to drool on them. They hate that too. Do your business way off in a corner of the yard. Don’t stink the garden. Don’t trample it either. The owner of these digs is very proud of her garden. Better you don’t set foot in it at all. Keep out of her sight as much as possible.”
“How will I know her?”
“She’s very grand. Grand in dress, grand in manner. She’s top dog hereabouts and she doesn’t let anyone forget it. If you should run into her, be quietly amiable, no matter what ensues. She disparages your looks, give her a big grin that says, I’m too stupid to know what you think of me. A big, shit-eating grin is never not in order in that situation. Inoffensive! Be inoffensive. She won’t be falling in love with you under any circumstances. Don’t break your heart trying to charm her. Like you did with your former owner, am I right?”
Reisig sighs. “Why do I still hope to be loved, despite ample evidence that I am unlovable?”
“I’m whipped,” says Sly. “How ’bout you?
“Close those eyes and meditate on this – you’re not unloveable. I can’t speak for Dru but, for what it’s worth, I love you. No joke, I mean it. Do you love me back, just a little? And, if you love me, will you still love me tomorrow, when you’re back to your old self? I would hate to have made a dear friend and lost him inside of a single day.
“Here’s what I think – those rats were drugged. You too, by eating them. Will you be Death To All Cats come morning, our short collaboration an odd dream?” From a recline, he’s suddenly on his feet. “Crap!” he cries. “I’ve come unhitched myself. The pillowcase! Back in a sec.”
- There is one spot in the fence where the bars are just wide enough for the girl to slip through. It was easy to do once, but she’s grown some. Now it’s a painful squeeze, to be avoided, if possible.