I climbed out of my window and went off in search of the voice. Above the meadow there lay a black band of cloud, in which the faint gold of sheet lightning could be discerned. From time to time, a warm wind shook the tops of the linden trees. By the pond beneath the willows I found Margusch. The tall blonde girl was sitting on the grass with her arms wrapped around her knees, gently swaying her round head and singing, tonelessly, as if she were sitting next to a cradle:
“Sew a shirt out in the meadow,
“Measure it against the big oak tree.
“Oh! My darling, grow, grow,
“Straight and strong as the oak you’ll be!
Rai – rai – rah…”
I quietly approached and crouched down next to her. She gave a quick start and then said: “My goodness, it’s the young master!”
“That’s right, Margusch. Please, carry on singing.” Margusch looked out calmly and tiredly across the pond and drew her knees closer to her body. “Oh!” she said: “What’s the point of singing! Why aren’t you in bed, young master?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to be alone. I heard you singing, so I came down to you.”
Margusch sighed. “Of course, even the big folk have their woes. Everyone has their own problems. Even the master has to give up his young woman now. What can you do?”
“His young woman” – in the mouth of this girl it sounded like a simple, melancholy story, just like that of Jakob and Margusch – “Everyone has their own problems.” I pressed myself closer to Margusch. I felt as if this hot female body could shelter me from all the uncertainties that were torturing me. She smiled, put her heavy arm around me, rocked me slowly from side to side, repeating: “Our young master is sad, our young master is sad.” Dark patches of cloud covered the moon. The pond turned black. The frogs fell silent – just occasionally did a solitary frog make itself heard, as if it were calling out to someone. Margusch stroked my arm. “Our young master is sad.” Hot and aroused, I latched onto her warm, calm body. She gave herself to me, good-humouredly, and a little out of sympathy.
It had got dark. A fine rain began to whisper through the willows and the reeds.
“It’s raining,” said Margusch, “time to go home.” I didn’t want to go. Not back home, not all alone again! We sat there wrapped around each other. Margusch hummed softly to herself. It began to get lighter. Ducks took off from the pond and flew off in the direction of the lake, their wings swishing through the air. On the other side of the pond, a dark shape made its way up the avenue towards the house.
“The master,” Margusch whispered. “He quite often comes out at night. He walks up and down over there. He can’t sleep either.”
Around midday, when the whole property lay in bright sunshine, I sauntered over to the stable. I was tired, didn’t really want to do anything, the best thing to do was watch Kaspar grooming the horses, that was relaxing and not at all tiring. At the small stable pond, Margusch stood washing a bucket.
“Ah, Margusch,” I said and stopped. She lifted her head and looked at me indifferently with her crystal-clear eyes.
“Hot,” she remarked.
“But last night – ” I quietly went on.
She smiled weakly, sighed and went back to her work. My father came out of the stable, glanced over at me and then looked away.
Later, during dinner, after Konrad had left the room, my father took his glass of port in hand, and before drinking (this was always the moment in which he brought up unpleasant matters), said: “It’s not recommended to get too involved with our farm girls.” I blushed. My father drank and then continued, looking past me out of the window. “Quite apart from the fact that this isn’t the time for such matters, you should really only have an eye for your studies, I find that affairs with these girls tend to coarsen one’s instincts and manners.” There was a painful pause. My father reflected and then said, as if thinking aloud: “My friend in Constantinople liked to say…”. “Of course!” I thought, “Whenever an unpleasant example is required, the old Turk has one handy!”
“He said that he was only able to become the wine connoisseur he is today because the proscription on drinking provided by his religion in his youth meant he never ruined his taste buds with bad wine.”
I knew only too well what the old Turk meant, but I found it incredible that my father was actually saying it. It embarrassed me somewhat. Had he noticed? At any rate, as he left the table, he made the following comment: “You’re at an age now where we can have a sensible conversation about these matters, I trust.”
I could barely believe my ears.
Translation © 2018 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.