Friday, November 04, 2005

A Story for the Sickbed

Katharina Gilowska – my dear Katherl - stopped her dreadful wheezes – though not her coughing - the moment I agreed to tell her a story.
‘Please Nan, ugh-her, ugh-her, make it a long one for I need distraction from my chest.' She had closed her eyes on the pillow, at the same time waving me to sit down with her lace handkerchief as I paced around the room, wondering how much longer I would have to stay.
‘There was once in Augsburg,’ I began, ‘a widower with seven daughters and not another man in the pack. Since his wife's death, he had invested wisely in a guild that made coaches with doors that were higher than the custom.'
‘Why was that?' demanded my Queen of Invalids.
‘The widower had observed from his own daughters that the wigs for the ladies had become taller.' I paused to arrange my plot as Katherl worked on a coughing fit.
‘Ugh-her-ugh-her-err-her…Go on,' she gasped, and I found myself thinking of the reasons why I keep this diary - how I enjoy telling stories almost as much as writing music.
‘Go on, go on,’ urged Katharina.
‘The widower, Baron Von Breuner by name, managed to save seven thousand gulden for each daughter for her wedding day and said to himself with satisfaction that they were the prettiest, most accomplished young ladies a gentleman could wish to know.
‘One night, he was sitting at his harpsichord and happily playing an Italian overture with all the trills when six of his daughters came to him and argued with much kissing and persuasion that they would like to leave Augsburg and live in Munich to cut a dash.
‘But my dears, that would mean spending some of your endowment and I don't see why we should waste the money.' He was remembering the poverty of his earlier days when his dear wife was alive.
‘Why waste?' cried the eldest daughter.
'It would be an investment,' said another and all six pretty lips were pursed.
‘In Augsburg,' the father continued as he closed the lid of his harpsichord, 'one treads on pavements of gold. In Munich it costs gold to walk on them.'
‘Are we never to find husbands then? For surely, we will die old maids if we remain here.'

‘Cowed by such clamour and femininity and the very real problem that there were not enough men in Augsburg at that time, the baron agreed and they moved soon afterwards at some expense to a grander life in Munich.'

'And the seventh daughter? Did she go too?" Ugh-her-ugh-her-ergh-her.’ Katherl began a spasm of coughing in a show of great distress. 'You haven't mentioned what she thought about leaving home, Nan.'

'You would like to know what happened to Schatzl? She was the widower's favourite youngest child. She had rosy cheeks and underneath her wig, her hair was the colour of French jet.' I knew this would please Katharina as she was fond of fairy tales.

'Her waist was so tiny, she never had to wear one of those new fandangled corsets and her voice was sweeter than a canary's.'

‘I suppose she already had a lover in Augsburg.'

‘Exactly,' and I buttoned up my coat because I remembered I had promised Papa I would not be gone long. 'I will tell you more tomorrow.'

‘Then I had better remain as sick as a parrot,' sighed Katherl, her illness a performance for my benefit as she turned her face to the wall. When I left, I heard her coughing with a great deal of energy from the other side of the courtyard. Ugh-her-ergh-her-ugh-her.’ N


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