21

21. A Damn Good Start On A Breakdown.

And, MaybeA Breakthrough.

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It was a mistake to suspend the daily lessons. The girl has run wild.

Dru’s slipped her leash the last couple days. No one’s kept tabs on her but for Addie and her bed checks. The first night, the old lush had been fooled by pillows heaped under a throw. The girl truant a second night, Addie’s brought it to Heinz-Helmut’s attention. It’s Heinzie’s job to deal with any difficulty pertaining to his star pupil.

Dru’s past the stage of needing a nanny. Addie is kept on as an act of charity, nothing expected of her but for the lights-out checks. After all, a young man is not to enter a young lady’s boudoir at any time, much less she in her nightclothes.

Mag’s reported also. Dru slept last night in the yard. She and a filthy hound ruined a treasured coverlet. (Dag spilled the beans.)

Heinzie is summoned to the kitchen. Magda is doubly furious. “Someone, she screams at him – and we know who she is, don’t we? – has ransacked my pantry. Jams are gone. Honey. A rasher of bacon. A beefsteak. Cakes are cut into. Chocolate! The chocolates special purchased for the Friefrau’s dinner party are disappeared.” (The whole box? Well, a good number of them have gone down Dru’s throat. In for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes.)

Heinzie’s in hot water with his employer already. His appeal, both personally and professionally, is at a low point. His value lies in his ability to temper the daughter’s worst behavior. She’s not gotten her medication for weeks. Here’s the result.

He knocks on her bedroom door, Addie in tow as a chaperone.

“What?” yells the child. “Who is it? Come in, you fool, if you absolutely must.”

He opens the door. “You can’t talk like that. What if it had been your mother?”

“Huh! Goes double for her.” Dru’s back to him, without the courtesy to face him, busy with her doll house. “Anyway, Mama doesn’t knock. She barges in. She thinks she owns me.”

Heinz looks over her shoulder. Three miniature chairs are arranged on the table, seating for three dolls dressed in frilly frou-frou. Atypical behavior – the child has never been one for dolls – but welcome. He moves closer. Wait one God-damn minute! Those aren’t dolls. They’re rats!

Addie shrieks.

“What the Holy Grail is going on here?” He’s shrieking also. “Frogs aren’t enough for you? You take up rats? How long has this been going on?”

“My room,” says Dru. “I do what I want here.”

“You do what you want everywhere, by the sound of it.”

“Mag’s been telling tales, I guess.”

“Magda’s not one to keep it under her hat. I cover for you, you know I do. You shape up, or I’ll be fired, you’ll have that on your conscience. Me, good as I’ve been to you.”

“Let’s see, do I care? Let me ponder that a sec.”

“Throw those things off the balcony. Now!”

Sly jumps onto the table. The rats are getting used to him, but they’re startled; they flee posthaste in their trailing gowns. He hisses into her ear. “Yes you care. Tell him you care. You tell him you care right now.”

“I don’t care.”

“You–do–you–do–you–do.”

“I–don’t–I–don’t–I–don’t.”

“You do, damn it. Maahes needs you to care. He just told me.”

“Why do I care?”

“Oh, Crap!” He looks to the ceiling. “Maahes, Your Honor, why does she care?” He pauses. “Yes, certainly. Yessir, I hear ya.” He turns back to Dru. “I’ll explain when we’re alone. Tell Heinzie you’re sorry, Or else.”

“Or else what?”

“That’s the thing with Maahes. You never know.”

“I’m sorry!” she yells, still not looking at Ha-Ha,1 as she refers to him when she’s extra irked. She’s glaring at the cat. “You are good to me. I’ll be better. But I’m not throwing my rats off the balcony.”

The rats, luckily, are in hiding, but not hid well.

“I see one!” Addie backs toward the door, keeping her eyes on a quivering mound of muslin.

“Watch where you step there, Addie,” advises Dru. “Mind you don’t trample my snake.”

Addie bolts.

“You little monster! If I had another post lined up, I’d be gone tomorrow. Why, this very afternoon I treated your disgusting hound as lovingly as I would the handsomest high-bred of Comtesse Whosis-Whatsis. I should have left him to scratch himself to death.”

“He’s my friend! This cat is my friend! These rats are my friends! The only friends I have.”

“Whose fault is that, you the brat of brats?”

“Don’t look for another position. We need you here.”

“Who’s we? You and your mama? Your mama doesn’t need me, not anymore, not for herself. If I can’t contain you, my tenure here on its last legs.”

“Me and Maahes.”

“Maahes! Dee’s still feeding you his crap? I suppose your loon of a mother approves. This place,” Heinzie’s screaming now, “is a damn raving madhouse!”

Sly’s stationed himself by the door. “Heinz-Helmut,” he coos as the man charges his way, “welcome to the funhouse!” Heinz stops dead in his tracks. The cat arches an eyebrow,2 accompanying the unsettling effect with his most horrifying chuckle.

Heinz, white-faced, propels past. Has he heard aright? Surely not. He’d better lay off the black tea, that he compounds himself from his father’s recipe of opium, crushed pearls, musk, and amber.3

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Calm is restored. Tiny chairs are righted, tiny occupants reseated.

The reunited families are chattering sweetly, and nibbling on a buffet of apple, pear, three kinds of cheese, and sweet biscuits. The mamas have little appetite; they pick, to be polite. Merrily is attacking the platter. It’s not grain! Who knows how long the good times will last? Willow is nursing her babes, they are sucking energetically. Everyone is relieved to see it.

That worry’s off my mind,” sighs Sly.

“Do you have so many?” asks Dru. “You sound like you have the weight of the world on your back.”

“This thing is far more daunting than I had imagined it would be. I’m way over my head.”

“Over your head? You always seem so in charge.”

“Dozens to scores of actors, that’s what I envision. Routines to develop. Extras. Special events throughout the summer. Wrap your brain around this: The Feast of the Assumption staged all rats. A Virgin Mary rat, sweet angel rats. I wonder if we can train them to play the harp? They have the fingers for it. Do they have the musical ability? Judging by Merrily’s sense of rhythm, I say yes. Would that be a draw or would that be a draw?

“The casting of the Pied Piper is all-important. This I must get right, or the rest means zilch. No, not zilch, but this can’t be a local entertainment, it must pull from all Europe. Hameln for the RatFest, rivaling Ocktoberfest in popularity. Fat wallets pouring in, making merry for a month. New hotels built, old refurbished. Hameln must be prepared to cater to all sorts, including the tip-topiest. See what I mean? I’m thinking big.”

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“Heinzie’s our Piper. That’s been my idea from the first. I’m gratified to hear it’s Maahes’ idea too.”

“I had thought, maybe Rolf.”

“How old is Rolf?”

“My age, plus a year or two. But he’s tall. He looks older.”

“Is he a commanding figure of a man?”

“He will be some day.”

“No good. We need now. I may make him the understudy. He can grow into the role. Can he act? Put on a good show? Herr Wackenroder can, from the way he operates with your mama. He is slick. Slick is what it takes to be a spell-binding Master of Ceremonies. Is Rolf slick?”

“He’s sweet.”

“We need more than sweet. Sweet won’t have the females coming back and back, and stuffing coins into a pouch on his belt to get a kiss out of him.”

Dru frowns.

“Has he good legs? Tights are the style in London and Paris. Our piper needs muscular legs in taut tights, to swoon the ladies. Heinz is full aware of the effect he has on females. God’s gift to women is how he sees himself. And, we need an adult in charge – we won’t be taken seriously otherwise. Another point: Heinz plays flute. Well, I assume, to be teaching it.”

“Rolf has a lovely singing voice.”

“Fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t suffice. The historical figure played flute, hence the name. Our piper will pipe, period. Heinz can, apparently, tootle a decent tune. He gets a star for that on my mental balance sheet. He yearns to be respected. If we succeed as I hope we do, he will be a local hero. The peer relationship with Dee, we can make hay of that. Dee’s  got to be the one to put it to him. It can’t come from you, or, heaven forbid, from me.

“Hey, why not Uriel? Don’t look at me like I’ve lost my marbles.4 It could work. We sit Ha-Ha down to Dee’s scrying glass, plant it in his head he’s got the gift. Here’s the beauty part: I can feed him stuff only Uriel would know, that will sell him to Dee. Dee’s got another exceptional receptive, Kelley can get lost.

“Here’s the plan for mañana: I meet Rolf, we see him off. Dru, you and Merrily return up here and get to work. Not to put the pressure on, young miss,” he tells the rat-child, “but I believe you capable of extraordinary things. Willow and her triplets bide also, the infants aren’t strong enough to be moved. Twenty-four hours motherless has taken its toll on them. After breakfast with Reisig, can’t have him feeling neglected, I head to Dee, see what I can do with that blockhead. I’ll be back at dusk to report what I have or have not accomplished.

“Ladies, I’m bushed. I’ll find a quiet corner and conk out. Don’t worry about me. Visit into the wee hours if you wish to. You won’t disturb me in the least.”

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Chapter Notes
  1. ‘H’ in German is pronounced ha. Heinz-Helmut, HH, (we say ache-ache) is rendered ha-ha. Neat, huh?
  2. Cats don’t have eyebrows either. But he has tabby markings, and he long ago taught himself to use them to signal emotions.
  3. It is not tea tea. (The first ship known to have brought tea to Europe arrived circa 1610 from Macao.). A visitor to Constantinople reported that many of the natives regularly drank a “certain black water made with opium.” The use of laudanum (“worthy of praise”), from the poppy, was introduced to Western medicine in 1527, when Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known by the name Paracelsus, returned from his wanderings in Arabia. Opium was used to treat a wide range of ailments, including cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and other respiratory illnesses. It was prescribed for rheumatism, insomnia, and nervous disorders. It produces, as we know, a euphoria. It was thought to be a door to creativity. Dervishes claimed the drug conferred visionary powers. (Visionary, yes. Very useful, indeed.)
  4. The game of marbles is considered to be one of the  oldest games in the world. Many ancient civilizations played with marbles, including the Greeks, the Romans, and the Egyptians. The glass marble was first produced in 1903, but the game has been around for millennia.