I’ll piss her pinafore, I swear I will.
2. Merrily They Roll Along.
The better part of the day is behind them, but the Freifrau having brow-beaten her coachman into agreeing they should certainly make Verden by nightfall, they depart in high spirits. The woman is a terror. One wonders how she had submitted to a husband for so many years.
The first order of business for one passenger – and it isn’t John Dee –
is to inspect the poor animal hours caged.
“Loose the cat,” demands Drusilla. “I want to hold it.”
Dee unlatches the lid of the wicker container. Sly pops his head up and looks around.
“Put him on my lap.” You moron, unsaid, is implicit in her tone.
Dee does as told.
The girl wraps Sly tight in her arms and rubs her nose against his and blows in his ear, cooing, “Precious-darling-dumpling,” or some such garbage.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” snarls the animal to his owner. No one remarks it but for Dee. The animal’s quirky articulation takes getting used to.1
“You and I are going to be bestest, bestest friends,” promises the enchanted miss.
“Don’t count on it sugarplum,” warns the cat through clenched teeth. “Dee-you-dog,” he growls. “Make this critter let go of me or I’ll piss her pinafore, I swear I will.”
“Child!” John Dee scolds gently. “The kit-cat has been confined for hours. He may be in need of a potty break. He is a well-mannered brute, but pray don’t squeeze him so or you may regret it. Frau von Droste-Deckenbrock, may we not pause for a leg-stretch? It would do us all good, I suspect.”
“I am properly Freifrau,” the lady corrects him, “Freifrau von Droste-Deckenbrock, a mouthful, to be sure. I am not fond of my given name, Annette, a fancified form of Ann. I am Grübechen to my intimates. I would be pleased to count you one of them. Call me Grübechen.” The tutor raises an eyebrow the merest flick.
“How do we address you, sir?” Heinz asks blandly. “You introduce yourself Doctor. Your pamphlets proclaim you such, but you hold no qualifying degree, not to my knowledge. I understand it as a marketing touch. Do you require it from friends? Or do you consent to drop the fatuity?”
“You are correct, sir. I did not invent myself Doctor, it was others who slapped the label on me. Sick to death of correcting half the world, I fell into the habit. To answer your question, I invite one and all to address me as John. Yes, even the little one.” He smiles at Drusilla. “I love your name, young lady. It is English, of course, derived from the Latin. It means strong.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” replies the girl, rolling her eyes.
“Don’t be rude dear,” chides her mother. “John is being gracious to you. Show him your sweet side, for a while anyway.”
“Doctor!” says the woman. “I cannot bring myself to treat you so easily. I am too much in awe of you. I read everything of yours I can get my hands on. My collected tracts sit on my special shelf, that is rather a shrine for me. We shall all of us,” she glares at Heinz – the corner of his mouth twitched in response – “we shall all honor your considerable scholarship, degree or no, by addressing you Doctor.”
The tutor, at Annette’s prompt, taps the roof of the carriage three times with a cane. The vehicle slows to a stop. “Herr Doctor,” the woman says, “do you have a leash for your animal?”
“Will he run off?” shrieks Drusilla, horrified.
“Rest assured, my dear,” says Dee, “he will not. He is trained to obey. He even does tricks for me.”
“A trained cat!” says the Mama. “Will we have an exhibition, to pass the time?”
“Trained! How trained?” The tyke is beside herself.
“Let it be a secret for now,” Dee teases. “All will be revealed in good order.”
Heinzie’s right eyelid twitches. The earlier eyebrow elevate had seemed to signal disapproval. This lid scrunch is something else. Such fidgets are more a nervous tic than a rebuke.
“Heinz! Don’t sit a bump on a log. Get down the blanket. A brief recline in a lovely sweep of meadow is an excellent idea. The Doctor and his animal may recreate as they wish, though I would prefer the cat leashed. A pause must not turn into an hour’s chase after a fugitive.”
“The cat heeds my every word,” insists Dee. “Let me demonstrate.” He coaxes, “Sly, the child is very taken with you. I call him Sly, my dear, because he is sharp, he sizes people up immediately. He does not care for Heinz, I can tell you. He likes you extremely. Sly, give Fräulein Drusilla a sweet kiss.”
Sly nuzzles her neck, making a hearty smacking sound.
“My turn, kiss me,” directs the man. Sly buries his nose in Dee’s scratchy beard, whispering, “You fuck. You owe me for this.”
“Now, our gracious hostess.”
“Keep that thing away from me,” warns the Freifrau. “My late husband made my life miserable with his Boar Hounds. I lived in a dog-stinking house all my marriage. I despise all animals. I allow your nuisance in my coach in esteem to you, Doctor. Yes, do release him into the meadow. With luck, we will have seen the last of him.”
“You will not flee us, will you, my sweetheart?” asks Drusilla. “Promise not. Kiss me again, both cheeks, as a pledge.”
Sly, snugs up under her chin, rubs his face against hers, left, right, left, right, until he is lifted away and expelled into a pasture. He’s out of sight in a blink of an eye.
Heinz-Helmut has felt himself on shaky ground for weeks.
It feels shakier by the minute.
After a lackluster academic career, he’d accepted a position with small-potatoes gentry in Lower Saxony, a commercial region in which he would certainly be accounted a prize. In his university town such as he were a dime a dozen.
He’d landed in Hameln, where a blade, a sharp dresser with a chiseled face, well-spoken and a witty conversationalist, an elegant addition to any gathering, was welcome in society at the highest level to spice the mix, the omnipresent titans of timber and grain and salt, their dinner table patter leaning heavily on work-a-day wins and woes.
He’d expected to make a good marriage. But lords of commerce do not willingly relinquish a daughter to one lacking a competency of fortune, however well furnished otherwise. They refused to regard him as other than a Jack-Pudding to amuse their silly wives.
He is unnerved by the pace at which a friendship between Dee and his employer has developed. Call me Grübechen, after a few hour’s acquaintance. Outrageous!
Rest period over, they’re rolling again.
“Speak to me of Hameln,” urges Dee. Acquaint me with the particulars. That I met you, Madame – he is not at ease with Grübechen – is a Godsend. You wish to pick my brain, and so you shall. Please, first let me pick yours. You, all three of you, each have something to contribute to my grasp of the calamity. And when we stop for the night, I mean to interview your personnel.”
“They will be dead tired!” objects the Freifrau. “When we clamber down to a poor supper and a worse bed, these men must see to the welfare of the horses. Herr Doctor, this is certainly too much to ask. I forbid it.”
“So be it. But may I not ride the box seat for an afternoon, enjoying the view from the top, engaging your driver in idle conversation?”
“Really now, Doctor! Here am I, at your service. Start with me. Ask what you will and I will answer best I can.”
“Excellent, dear lady. We begin! Herr Wackenroder, I depend on you to clarify as necessary. When we attain Hameln, may I hire you to assist me? I will want a go-between. I can do no better than a small per diem, but the reward, as you know, is a magnificent one, and you will have ten percent of that.”
The tutor stiffens. “Herr Doctor, I will be blunt. Ten percent of a sum unearned avails me not. Sir, I may evacuate from Hameln and for that I need money. I might take your offer if you convince me you have a plan I can believe in. Else, you must up your per diem considerably.”
“Look here, mein herr, I know what I am made of. I have full confidence in my ability to resolve this matter. I wouldn’t have come all this way elsewise. I am not a wealthy man. I live modestly, which is why I accepted this ugly assignment. I have a small retainer from the Saxonian ambassador in London, your token fee will come out of that. I can do no more for you in that regard.”
“Pledge thirty percent and I might be tempted.”
“For the easy work I expect, ten percent is a killing. I should rather have said five.”
“I have learned that nothing is ever as easy as it first appears. I’ll have thirty percent, if you please.” Heinz-Helmut is a haggler. It is this talent that enables him to manage his pupil. He negotiates her good behavior.
“Demonstrate an ingenuity equal to mine and it is yours.”
“How do I do that?”
“How should I know? That’s your problem.”
Annette enters the dispute. “I will settle this. Doctor, I am the largest grain dealer in the area. My facilities are overrun. I will support you in any way I can. Heinz, your duty to me is to assist Doctor Dee. I make it a condition of your continued employment. I will match The Doctor’s per diem, that on top of your usual, and you will have a more than generous ten percent of any reward, for I don’t doubt that the Doctor’s contribution will outshine yours by a thousand suns. Do you agree? Or do you insist on being disloyal to me? You owe me this. You sold yourself to me under false pretenses. I blush to think that I swallowed it.”
Heinz grimaces. The recent sojourn had thrown him together with brilliant men. Contrary to his employer’s expectation, he had not distinguished himself. Wit and charming patter he possessed in abundance. These talents did not factor with that crowd, unless they sauced hardier fare, solid scholarship. His smattering of a range of disciplines – that intimidated the yokels back home – had impressed no one. Is he was in danger of being discarded? Does his patroness see an opportunity to be neatly divested of him? He will not oblige her. The eyelid twitches again, and keeps twitching, until he leans into the window to still it. “Doctor, we have a deal,” he mumbles in a monotone.
They have turned into a winding drive. Behind a hedge of close-grown firs sits a large residence. Past sundown, the house hunkers, dark – the common way, candles are expensive. Grübechen spies no glow, not even in her sister’s bedroom window. Another jackass governing by decree lays down the law in that establishment. Although agreeably fixed, the man erupts if anyone dares to read a bit before drifting off. Her poor sister! She no longer has to deal with that sort of buffoon behavior.
The household must spring to life whether Adolph likes it or not. Her party must be fed, beds found, and a brief period of sociability accorded. And her brother-in-law will have to smile all the while, she being the adored elder sister.
The coachman is sent to bang on windows, to alert abeds to the felicity of the inconvenient arrival.
- Sly, through determination and a lot of hard work, taught himself to understand the mankind language, then to speak, then to write. I deal with the process in The Rogue Decamps.