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Authors: Eva Ibbotson

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult

Madensky Square (5 page)

BOOK: Madensky Square
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‘Can one
someone do that? From the outside?’

But I too turned from the window with a frown. It was too vivid, that image: the meagre undernourished child carrying like a hump his arbitrary talent.

Long after Nini had gone to bed I went on adding imagined details to what I had seen… The child’s frail neck rubbed by the rough collar of his blouse; the dusty neglected room; the sad man with the sideburns, shouting, correcting… The pressure, the obsession… the total absence of a woman in their lives.

A child should grow up slowly, peacefully, in an unemphasized happiness. Poor little Count of Monte Cristo. His seemed a desperately unenviable fate.

After this, the waters closed over my head.

I don’t know the name for these attacks: depression, despair, panic… I only know that there’s nothing to be done; they just have to be lived through. I used to curl up under my quilt, trying not to exist, but now I walk. I walk all day through the city and out of it and by the evening the worst of it is over.

Nini knows by now. She looked at me sitting on the edge of my bed and said: ‘I’ll cancel the Baroness Leitner. The others I can deal with’ – and I nodded, and put my clothes on and went.

Where I go seems to be arbitrary for I’m hardly aware of what I’m doing yet I never find myself in the old city passing beautiful churches or lovely parks. Nearly always I cross the Danube Canal and then the Danube itself, tramping on through the ugly industrial suburbs, and turn to the east.

Everything that was bad for the city came across this desolate Eastern Plain. The Huns came to pillage and slaughter, and the Turks to pitch their tents before the city walls. The wind here blows straight from
the pusztas
of Hungary; there are no romantic taverns as there are in the Wienerwald; no packs of cheerful hikers tramping through the beeches. The people here are poor and incurious, harvesting their maize, keeping their geese. I could have walked to Budapest, wringing my hands, and no one would have turned his head.

‘You should get help,’ Alice said to me when she found me once curled up in a darkened room. ‘There are so many doctors who understand these things. Vienna is full of them.’

That’s true but I don’t want any help. My attacks are not mysterious or causeless afflictions like Job’s boils. I deserve them. They are entirely just.

I was born in the Wachau, in the shadow – or rather in the sunshine of the rococo monastery of Leek. Glorious Leek with its famous library, its green and gilt and strawberry pink church, its serene arcaded courtyards; its devout and scholarly monks.

My Leek though was different. A small cluster of ochre houses shaded by linden trees; little gardens in front, a hayfield behind. The people who lived there were servants of the monastery: the groundsmen and masons and gravediggers whose wives and daughters, when the monks had visitors, were called up to polish the inlaid floors or work in the kitchens.

It was a stable community and a contented one. My father was a master carpenter: the monks thought highly of him; he earned good money and my mother could stay at home and tend the garden and the goats and hens. We had a trellis on the front of the house with apricots and peaches, then came the little garden: zinnias and sunflowers grew in ours, and raspberries and neat vegetables in careful rows. The garden ended in a green kept grazed and springy by the geese, with a small stream crossed by wooden planks – and when you looked up there was the splendid, curling, glittering building like a magic mountain built for God.

My father was stern, fair; very much a man concerned with his work and the work of other men up at the abbey. But my mother…!

My mother believed in God and I believed in my mother. She was fat and fair and smelled of beeswax and vanilla, and she was the only person I can remember who thought it was absolutely all right to be happy.

‘There now, look at that!’ she would say of the speckles on a bird’s egg, the splendid swirling pattern made by the apricot jam as we poured it over the nuts and breadcrumbs to make our strudels. When she washed my hair, rubbing egg yolk into the scalp and drying it off” in the sun, she would brush the tendrils round my fingers so that I could feel the spring in the curls and tell me how lucky she was to have such a pretty daughter and that I would certainly grow up to be good because being pretty and good went hand in hand.

(Up at the monastery an old lay brother who worked in the library told me once about Sappho who long ago lived on the island of Lesbos in a valley filled with hyacinths and roses, and made up songs. She had a daughter, Kleis, with hair as yellow as torchlight.

I wouldn’t change her for all the gold in Lydia
, Sappho wrote about her, and she tried to find her an embroidered head band from Sardis, and chided her when she felt sad. He was an innocent monk and I was an innocent child and it seemed to me that he was describing my mother and myself. And also -I promise there is no hindsight here - that he was describing the daughter that I would one day have and love in just this way.)

Well, I had a long time really. Almost twelve years of baking bread and picking fruit and sewing by lamplight. And of laughing – goodness how we laughed at our idiotic jokes, my mother and I.

She died suddenly of a stroke. I came in from school and the doctor was there and she was dead.

It sounds strange but after the first months of shattering grief I managed quite well. She’d endowed me so richly, you see. I knew how to cook and bake and care for the animals; the monks sent gifts, I was proud to look after my father.

Then Aunt Lina came from Geneva to look after us.

She was my father’s half-sister and she was a Calvinist. I’ve met people of the same faith since and many of them were gentle and kind, but she was a fanatic. My mother lived with God: she baked lebkuchen for Him at Christmas and wove pine branches into Advent rings. She dressed me in my prettiest dress on His birthday and when He rose from the dead, we filled the house with flowers and roasted our best goose.

Aunt Lina dealt with God’s shadow. With Lucifer, with sin… There were many aspects of sin: sloth and waste and pride. But the worst of course was lust… sex… and this she saw personified in me aged thirteen. How that woman battled! She scraped back my hair and it burst from its skinned pigtails into its uncontrollable curls. She dressed me in black calico and heavy boots and tried to flatten my breasts – but it was no use. She couldn’t blacken my teeth or dim my eyes and the boys still came and whistled outside in the field on summer evenings.

I was a good pupil at school; there was talk of my staying on and training to be a teacher, but I didn’t want that for I already had a vocation. I was going to go to Vienna and make beautiful clothes. It beckoned more and more with every wretched year that passed: the Kaiserstadt, the Imperial City – but I was seventeen before I got away and then I went like a foolish girl in an operetta, eloping with a young lieutenant stationed in the little town to which I went each day to work as a sewing maid in an orphanage.

He was good-looking and friendly and undemanding. Simply being alive, that was enough for Karli. He didn’t persuade me to run away: he just said, ‘I’m going to Vienna; they’re sending me on a course.’ Then he held out his nice, strong brown

hands and said, ‘Come with me?’ and I came, just like that, in the clothes I stood up in.

We spent a month together in an attic behind the fruit market. Leaning out of the window we could see the green dome of St Charles’ Church and the fashionable people driving across the square to concerts at the Musikverein. I was in love with the city and a little with him.

‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want, Sanna,’ Karli said, the first day. ‘You’re so young.’

But by then I did want to… I wanted to know, to be part of the mystery. I was grateful to him too for setting me free. The loss of my virtue, that cataclysmic event, took place pleasantly on a Sunday afternoon with the market women outside, crying their wares. An important day, but in line with the other important days of my childhood: the day we killed the pig; the day the crib was brought out for Christmas.

Then Karli’s course finished and he was transferred to a garrison in Moravia. He left me all the money he had and hugged me and said he’d be back. Perhaps he did come back, I don’t know. When I found I was pregnant, I moved to the cheapest room I could find, above a draper’s shop in Leopoldstadt. Even so the money barely lasted three months.

My daughter was born in the House of Refuge on the seventh of April 1893. I was just eighteen years old and penniless, and the nuns who nursed me through the puerperal fever that followed her birth arranged for her adoption.

If I hadn’t been so ill I think I would have retained my sanity and fought for her. For in the moment of her birth I knew beyond any doubt that I was the right and proper person to bring her up. But then the fever came and through it the quiet voices of the nuns, endlessly repeating what they believed to be right. I must be sensible; I must think of the child. They had already found for her a home that anyone would envy.

‘You must make the sacrifice,’ they said.

So I made it. I turned my back on the legacy of courage and
bequeathed by my mother; I broke the chain.

And this is why even now I sometimes walk like a madwoman out of the city. Why, too, I don’t seek out kind doctors who might help me. I gave away my daughter. Let them cure me of that!

Today Alice’s pork butcher, Herr Huber from Linz, came to the shop. He ordered a full trousseau: a wedding dress, two evening gowns, day dresses, a travelling cloak… ‘And perhaps a negligee and such things; you will know, Gnadige Frau,’ he said shyly.

We settled down to business and spent a very useful half hour. I asked for something on account and an idea of his price limits, and it was clear that however hard-headed he might be about charcuterie, where Magdalena Winter was concerned he was generosity itself. The only stipulation he made was that her trousseau should be completed a week before the wedding, which was to take place in the Capuchin Church on the fifteenth of October.

I must say I liked Herr Huber. True he was gargantuan, his thighs spread like tree trunks across the chair, his stomach bulged like a tympani under his waistcoat. But the contrast between his ginger hair and crimson face was somehow endearing, the small brown eyes were bright and alert, and the pride he clearly took in being well turned out was touching. The butcher’s brown and white checked suit was immaculate, his spats gleamed, and the handkerchief with which he periodically wiped his perspiring face was of the best linen and spotless.

‘Will Fraulein Winter help you with the business ?’ I asked.

‘No, no! Absolutely not!’ Herr Huber’s eyes widened with dismay at the thought. He was buying for her a villa – well away from the contamination of his factory – which he now described to me: pepperpot towers, gables – and in the garden a wooden shrine to the Virgin carved in oak.

‘She is very devout, you see. An angel…’

It now became evident that Herr Huber was going to tell me the story of his life so I went to the workroom to tell Gretl to bring coffee and to fetch Frau Hutte-Klopstock’s dress which still lacked button loops. When I have some sewing in my hand I can listen to anything.

Herr Huber had been born into charcuterie. He remembered

the animals coming into the yard behind his father’s shop in a village on the Hungarian border.

‘He was the best butcher in the province. One stroke and it was all over; no animal ever suffered at his hands; and he taught me. It’s very good for the muscles, slaughtering.’ Herr Huber paused to sprinkle Hungary water on to his handkerchief and wiped his face. ‘The business was quite small but everyone knew him. My father’s
had just so much paprika in diem; not a spot more, not a spot less, and people came from miles away for his jagwurst. Then he got gallstones and the operation went wrong. I was fifteen, I had my mother to think of, and two sisters. So I took over. And I had a talent, Frau Susanna. You’ll know I’m not being conceited because it’s clear you have one too.’

The young Ludwig Huber became a connoisseur of charcuterie. He travelled by post bus to Italy to study the richer, more voluptuous sausages of the south.

‘I can’t tell you how I felt when I saw my first mortadella. It was in Turin, in a little shop by the Duomo. The marble white splodges of fat… so round and unashamed, and then die brilliant green of the peppercorns against the pink…’

By the time he was twenty-one he had moved to Linz, acquired his own slaughterhouse, and soon afterwards a second shop across the Danube. He pioneered a newer, creamier leberwurst…

‘People often seem to smile when I tell them my profession,’ said Herr Huber. ‘To titter, as though wurst was funny. But I can’t explain to you how interesting I find it. The endless variations in a salami…’

He looked at me anxiously, wondering if I too was going to jeer.

‘We are both artists, Herr Huber,’ I said firmly. ‘You begin with an animal and make it into a beautiful sausage. I take a piece of cloth and make it into a beautiful dress. God may have meant animals to live unslaughtered and women to go unclothed, but life hasn’t turned out like that and you and I must do our best.’

‘Ah, Frau Susanna you understand,’ he said.

And I did. I was also relieved – for a man who can stand transfixed by the beauty of a mortadella is not going to be indifferent to the sensuous qualities of velvet or the fall of a hem. Fraulein Winter would choose, but Herr Huber would pay – and when a man pays I like to please him.

By the time his wife died, Herr Huber had his own slaughterhouse, a factory working entirely to his specifications, a pleasant house with a balcony overlooking the Danube, and seven shops. Frau Huber had not seen the poetry of charcuterie, but she kept the books and enjoyed their prosperity and consequence, and her death left him very lonely.

Then last autumn he’d come to Vienna thinking he might rent a shop in the Inner City. It was a big step, but he felt he still had it in him, being on the right side of forty. He’d seen a property that looked promising, but there were certain problems.

BOOK: Madensky Square
8.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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