The Blue Flower

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

Book: The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald Read Free Book Online
Authors: Penelope Fitzgerald
later the girls with unwanted pregnancies, who could not afford the services of the Angel-maker, the back-street abortionist. These girls did not come to the kitchen door until it was quite dark.
    In the library candles had been attached, waiting to blaze, on every sprig of the heaped-up fir branches. The tables were laid with white cloths, a table for each soul in the household. On each table was placed a name, made out of almond paste and baked brown. The presents themselves were not labelled. One must guess, or perhaps never know, who were the givers.
    ‘What are we expected to sing for Christmas Eve?’ Karl asked.
    ‘I don’t know,’ said Sidonie. ‘Father likes Reichardt’s “Welcome to this Vale of Sorrow.”’
    ‘Bernhard,’ said Karl, ‘you are not to eat the almond-paste letters.’
    The Bernhard was wounded. It had been almost two years now since he cared anything about sweets.
    ‘I dare say too that this is the last year I shall be called upon to sing a treble solo,’ he said. ‘Pubescence is at the door.’
    ‘What I want to know is this,’ cried Erasmus, ‘I want to know from you, our Fritz, what you will say when Father asks us to confess what we have done during the year. You know what I have already written to you, that you can rely upon me in everything. But are you going to tell him, as you have told me, not that you are in love, that needs no more apology than a bird needs an apology to fly, no, but that you have committed yourself to a little girl of twelve who laughs through her fingers to see a drunk in the snow?’
    ‘Of this you have told me nothing,’ said Karl reproachfully. Bernhard, although attached to Fritz, was in ecstasies, foreseeing embarrassments of all kinds.
    ‘I shall tell him nothing that is unworthy of Sophie,’ Fritz declared. ‘Her name means wisdom. She is my wisdom, she is my truth.’
    ‘Freiin, the lights,’ said Lukas, hurrying in. ‘Your gracious father is coming down to the library.’
    ‘Well, help me, then, Lukas.’ He had left the door open and they saw the household assembled outside, their aprons patches of white in the shadows of the hall. At Gruningen they would have been in uproar on a holiday like this, but not in the Kloster Gasse.
    Inside the library the myriad fiery shining points of light threw vast shadows of the fir branches onto the high walls and even across the ceiling. In the warmth the room breathed even more deeply, more resinously, more greenly. On the tables the light sparkled across gold-painted walnuts, birds in cages, dormice in their nests, dolls made of white bread twisted into shape, hymnbooks, Fritz’s needle-cases and little bottles of Kolnischwasser , Sidonie’s embroidery, oddments made out of willow and birch, pocket-knives, scissors, pipes, wooden spoons with curious handles which made them almost unusable, religious prints mounted on brilliant sheets of tin. By contrast with this sparkle and display how worn, as he came in, how haggard in spite of its roundness, was the face of the Freiherr von Hardenberg. As he paused at the door to give some instructions to Lukas, Fritz said to Karl, ‘He is old, but I cannot bring myself to make things easy for him.’
    The Freiherr came in, and quite against precedent, sat down in the elbow chair. His family looked at him in dismay. It had been his habit on Christmas Eve to stand behind the large leather-covered desk, always kept clear of presents and candles, in the very centre of the library.
    ‘Why does he do this?’ muttered Erasmus.
    ‘I don’t know,’ said Fritz. ‘Schlegel tells me that Goethe has bought one of these chairs, but when he sits in it he can’t think.’
    As their father began to speak he beat his hand, as though marking time, on the embracing arm of the chair.
    ‘You expect me to consider your conduct for the past year, both the progress you have made and your backsliding. You expect me to question you about anything that has been concealed from

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