Chapter 3: The Body by the River
the following day
Dawn came to Wolfgang Muller with a clap of thunder that seemed to rattle the very stones of his castle. It was accompanied by hammering rain. Wolfgang pushed open the shutters. Rain spattered over his face. He watched as the deluge pelted the ripening wheat that lined the River Eisen.
“Another summer storm?” asked the miller’s wife.
“Curse the bewitchment that’s befallen us,” replied Wolfgang.
The peasants had sharpened their scythes and sickles. But the water had turned the fields to mud and the grain was infested with rot. Wolfgang would have to work in the rain. The granaries must be opened and grain stored. The bakers had to have their flour.
“It’s that girl who’s to blame,” said Frau Muller.
“The girl is a great beauty,” said Wolfgang.
“The girl,” said Frau Muller, “is a Jewess. Where is our first-born son, Wolfgang? It is the curse of the Jews.”
“Joseph liked to visit the shepherds in the Hills,” said Wolfgang. “I’m sure he will return safe and sound.”
Frau Muller snorted dismissively, “The only time Joseph takes an interest in sheep is when he eats them. He spends his days talking and singing with heathens. He is a godless lad. And we will pay the price.”
There was a knock on the door. “Master and mistress,” called a voice.
“Come in girl,” said Frau Muller.
The milkmaid entered. Her clothes drenched from the rain. She curtseyed to Frau Muller and then addressed Wolfgang. “If you please, master, you had best come right away.”
Heinrich, weary from the long walk home, breakfasted with his family, Baba his mother, and Basha his daughter. Breakfast was a Baba speciality, baked eggs, course greens, dark bread, water and redcurrants. As a wealthy merchant Heinrich employed a maidservant to wait on them. But Baba would not hear of anyone else meddling in her kitchen and always prepared the food.
“Glucke paid me a visit last night,” said Baba.
“What did that old witch have to say?” Heinrich savoured his goblet of clean rainwater.
“Glucke told me that Johann, that Christian pig who calls himself captain of the guard has been persecuting us. He gave Benjamin a whipping for going out without his cloak and hat and flogged the broom maker’s son half to death for leaving his house on the Christian Sabbath. Something really should be done about that man.”
“And,” continued Baba as she looked over at her lovesick granddaughter “Glucke, gave me this to give to you.” Baba pulled a delicate silver star from her pocket and slid it across the table to Basha who had sat miserably poking at her greens. “It’s from Glucke’s grandson Soloman. Now I really think its time we told everybody about you’re marriage. I can’t keep fending off your suitors all day long.”
Basha looked up from her bowl and glared at her grandmother.
“Smile, child,” said Baba, “a frown will make the fairest face ugly and if the wind changes you’ll be stuck with it.”
“Grandmother,” Basha slammed her spoon down on the table, “You know it’s not that simple. Once everybody knows we’re married they’ll expect us to live together. Joseph would be happy to come and live with us, but it’s not the Christian way. But none of this matters anymore. What if he’s lost or dead? I need to know where he is and that he’s not in some kind of trouble. Father, what did the travellers say?”
Heinrich broke off a hunk of bread. “They said that Joseph would be returning to his family today.”
Basha’s face broke into a smile. “Thank you father.” She rose, and leaving her meal virtually untouched, walked over to him and kissed him on the forehead. “I don’t know what I would do if something happened to him or that he stopped to love me. He’s not like other Christians, papa. He’s so kind and warm.” Basha went very pale. “Oh Yahweh,” she said and ran from the room.
Heinrich looked over at Baba who had finished her food and was mending one of Basha’s dresses. The old woman’s eyes connected with her son’s.
Heinrich shrugged. “Love makes people act strangely.”
“You are an idiot, Heinrich son of Mendel,” said Baba, “Basha left the room because she was sick.”
“Sick?” replied Heinrich, “sick with what?”
Baba sighed. “How did I raise such an ignorant boy? Your daughter, Heinrich, is with child.”
“But,” said Heinrich, “They’ve only just been married.”
Baba rolled her eyes. “It has been known for unmarried girls to have children. What did you think all the rush concerning the marriage was all about, a flight of fancy?” Baba tapped her finger against her head and pointed with her other hand at Heinrich. “God help me that I gave birth to such a stupid child. Give thanks to Yahweh that the miller’s son, is a decent boy.”
Dressed in a long coat of oiled leather, that kept out much of the beating rain, Wolfgang Muller followed the milkmaid to the swampy margins of the river where the milking cows with calf grazed the green grass among the weeping willows.
He saw Joseph, his son, Joseph beloved by all, a boy who had shown no desire for work yet never seemed to go hungry, a boy who spent his days wandering the fields or playing on reed pipes. His broad handsome head, topped with curly brown hair was separated from his body and impaled on a wooden stake. The rest of him lay beneath a willow beside the churning stream.