Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
or
to get started!
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "The body is a sacred garment."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Swept and Garnished

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 13
    Previous Chapter
    (January 1915)

    When the first waves of feverish cold stole over Frau Ebermann she very
    wisely telephoned for the doctor and went to bed. He diagnosed the
    attack as mild influenza, prescribed the appropriate remedies, and left
    her to the care of her one servant in her comfortable Berlin flat. Frau
    Ebermann, beneath the thick coverlet, curled up with what patience she
    could until the aspirin should begin to act, and Anna should come back
    from the chemist with the formamint, the ammoniated quinine, the
    eucalyptus, and the little tin steam-inhaler. Meantime, every bone in
    her body ached; her head throbbed; her hot, dry hands would not stay the
    same size for a minute together; and her body, tucked into the smallest
    possible compass, shrank from the chill of the well-warmed sheets.

    Of a sudden she noticed that an imitation-lace cover which should have
    lain mathematically square with the imitation-marble top of the radiator
    behind the green plush sofa had slipped away so that one corner hung
    over the bronze-painted steam pipes. She recalled that she must have
    rested her poor head against the radiator-top while she was taking off
    her boots. She tried to get up and set the thing straight, but the
    radiator at once receded toward the horizon, which, unlike true
    horizons, slanted diagonally, exactly parallel with the dropped lace
    edge of the cover. Frau Ebermann groaned through sticky lips and
    lay still.

    'Certainly, I have a temperature,' she said. 'Certainly, I have a grave
    temperature. I should have been warned by that chill after dinner.'

    She resolved to shut her hot-lidded eyes, but opened them in a little
    while to torture herself with the knowledge of that ungeometrical thing
    against the far wall. Then she saw a child--an untidy, thin-faced little
    girl of about ten, who must have strayed in from the adjoining flat.
    This proved--Frau Ebermann groaned again at the way the world falls to
    bits when one is sick--proved that Anna had forgotten to shut the outer
    door of the flat when she went to the chemist. Frau Ebermann had had
    children of her own, but they were all grown up now, and she had never
    been a child-lover in any sense. Yet the intruder might be made to serve
    her scheme of things.

    'Make--put,' she muttered thickly, 'that white thing straight on the top
    of that yellow thing.'

    The child paid no attention, but moved about the room, investigating
    everything that came in her way--the yellow cut-glass handles of the
    chest of drawers, the stamped bronze hook to hold back the heavy puce
    curtains, and the mauve enamel, New Art finger-plates on the door. Frau
    Ebermann watched indignantly.

    'Aie! That is bad and rude. Go away!' she cried, though it hurt her to
    raise her voice. 'Go away by the road you came!' The child passed
    behind the bed-foot, where she could not see her. 'Shut the door as you
    go. I will speak to Anna, but--first, put that white thing straight.'

    She closed her eyes in misery of body and soul. The outer door clicked,
    and Anna entered, very penitent that she had stayed so long at the
    chemist's. But it had been difficult to find the proper type of
    inhaler, and--

    'Where did the child go?' moaned Frau Ebermann--'the child that was
    here?'

    'There was no child,' said startled Anna. 'How should any child come in
    when I shut the door behind me after I go out? All the keys of the flats
    are different.'

    'No, no! You forgot this time. But my back is aching, and up my legs
    also. Besides, who knows what it may have fingered and upset? Look
    and see.'

    'Nothing is fingered, nothing is upset,' Anna replied, as she took the
    inhaler from its paper box.

    'Yes, there is. Now I remember all about it. Put--put that white thing,
    with the open edge--the lace, I mean--quite straight on that--' she
    pointed. Anna, accustomed to her ways, understood and went to it.

    'Now, is it quite straight?' Frau Ebermann demanded.

    'Perfectly,' said Anna. 'In fact, in the very centre of the radiator.'
    Anna measured the equal margins with her knuckle, as she had been told
    to do when she first took service.

    'And my tortoise-shell hair brushes?' Frau Ebermann could not command
    her dressing-table from where she lay.

    'Perfectly straight, side by side in the big tray, and the comb laid
    across them. Your watch also in the coralline watch-holder.
    Everything'--she moved round the room to make sure--'everything is as
    you have it when you are well.' Frau Ebermann sighed with relief. It
    seemed to her that the room and her head had suddenly grown cooler.

    'Good!' said she. 'Now warm my night-gown in the kitchen, so it will be
    ready when I have perspired. And the towels also. Make the inhaler
    steam, and put in the eucalyptus; that is good for the larynx. Then sit
    you in the kitchen, and come when I ring. But, first, my
    hot-water bottle.'

    It was brought and scientifically tucked in.

    'What news?' said Frau Ebermann drowsily. She had not been out that day.

    'Another victory,' said Anna. 'Many more prisoners and guns.'

    Frau Ebermann purred, one might almost say grunted, contentedly.

    'That is good too,' she said; and Anna, after lighting the inhaler-lamp,
    went out.

    Frau Ebermann reflected that in an hour or so the aspirin would begin to
    work, and all would be well. To-morrow--no, the day after--she would
    take up life with something to talk over with her friends at coffee. It
    was rare--every one knew it--that she should be overcome by any
    ailment. Yet in all her distresses she had not allowed the minutest
    deviation from daily routine and ritual. She would tell her friends--she
    ran over their names one by one--exactly what measures she had taken
    against the lace cover on the radiator-top and in regard to her two
    tortoise-shell hair brushes and the comb at right angles. How she had
    set everything in order--everything in order. She roved further afield
    as she wriggled her toes luxuriously on the hot-water bottle. If it
    pleased our dear God to take her to Himself, and she was not so young as
    she had been--there was that plate of the four lower ones in the blue
    tooth-glass, for instance--He should find all her belongings fit to meet
    His eye. 'Swept and garnished' were the words that shaped themselves in
    her intent brain. 'Swept and garnished for--'

    No, it was certainly not for the dear Lord that she had swept; she would
    have her room swept out to-morrow or the day after, and garnished. Her
    hands began to swell again into huge pillows of nothingness. Then they
    shrank, and so did her head, to minute dots. It occurred to her that she
    was waiting for some event, some tremendously important event, to come
    to pass. She lay with shut eyes for a long time till her head and hands
    should return to their proper size.

    She opened her eyes with a jerk.

    'How stupid of me,' she said aloud, 'to set the room in order for a
    parcel of dirty little children!'

    They were there--five of them, two little boys and three girls--headed
    by the anxious-eyed ten-year-old whom she had seen before. They must
    have entered by the outer door, which Anna had neglected to shut behind
    her when she returned with the inhaler. She counted them backward and
    forward as one counts scales--one, two, three, four, five.

    They took no notice of her, but hung about, first on one foot then on
    the other, like strayed chickens, the smaller ones holding by the
    larger. They had the air of utterly wearied passengers in a railway
    waiting-room, and their clothes were disgracefully dirty.

    'Go away!' cried Frau Ebermann at last, after she had struggled, it
    seemed to her, for years to shape the words.

    'You called?' said Anna at the living-room door.

    'No,' said her mistress. 'Did you shut the flat door when you came in?'

    'Assuredly,' said Anna. 'Besides, it is made to catch shut of itself.'

    'Then go away,' said she, very little above a whisper. If Anna pretended
    not to see the children, she would speak to Anna later on.

    'And now,' she said, turning toward them as soon as the door closed. The
    smallest of the crowd smiled at her, and shook his head before he buried
    it in his sister's skirts.

    'Why--don't--you--go--away?' she whispered earnestly.

    Again they took no notice, but, guided by the elder girl, set themselves
    to climb, boots and all, on to the green plush sofa in front of the
    radiator. The little boys had to be pushed, as they could not compass
    the stretch unaided. They settled themselves in a row, with small gasps
    of relief, and pawed the plush approvingly.

    'I ask you--I ask you why do you not go away--why do you not go away?'
    Frau Ebermann found herself repeating the question twenty times. It
    seemed to her that everything in the world hung on the answer. 'You know
    you should not come into houses and rooms unless you are invited. Not
    houses and bedrooms, you know.'

    'No,' a solemn little six-year-old repeated, 'not houses nor bedrooms,
    nor dining-rooms, nor churches, nor all those places. Shouldn't come in.
    It's rude.'

    'Yes, he said so,' the younger girl put in proudly. 'He said it. He told
    them only pigs would do that.' The line nodded and dimpled one to
    another with little explosive giggles, such as children use when they
    tell deeds of great daring against their elders.

    'If you know it is wrong, that makes it much worse,' said Frau Ebermann.

    'Oh yes; much worse,' they assented cheerfully, till the smallest boy
    changed his smile to a baby wail of weariness.

    'When will they come for us?' he asked, and the girl at the head of the
    row hauled him bodily into her square little capable lap.

    'He's tired,' she explained. 'He is only four. He only had his first
    breeches this spring.' They came almost under his armpits, and were held
    up by broad linen braces, which, his sorrow diverted for the moment, he
    patted proudly.

    'Yes, beautiful, dear,' said both girls.

    'Go away!' said Frau Ebermann. 'Go home to your father and mother!'

    Their faces grew grave at once.

    'H'sh! We _can't_,' whispered the eldest. 'There isn't anything left.'

    'All gone,' a boy echoed, and he puffed through pursed lips. 'Like
    _that_, uncle told me. Both cows too.'

    'And my own three ducks,' the boy on the girl's lap said sleepily.

    'So, you see, we came here.' The elder girl leaned forward a little,
    caressing the child she rocked.

    'I--I don't understand,' said Frau Ebermann 'Are you lost, then? You
    must tell our police.'

    'Oh no; we are only waiting.'

    'But what are you waiting _for?_'

    'We are waiting for our people to come for us. They told us to come here
    and wait for them. So we are waiting till they come,' the eldest
    girl replied.

    'Yes. We are waiting till our people come for us,' said all the others
    in chorus.

    'But,' said Frau Ebermann very patiently--'but now tell me, for I tell
    you that I am not in the least angry, where do you come from? Where do
    you come from?'

    The five gave the names of two villages of which she had read in the
    papers,

    'That is silly,' said Frau Ebermann. 'The people fired on us, and they
    were punished. Those places are wiped out, stamped flat.'

    'Yes, yes, wiped out, stamped flat. That is why and--I have lost the
    ribbon off my pigtail,' said the younger girl. She looked behind her
    over the sofa-back.

    'It is not here,' said the elder. 'It was lost before. Don't you
    remember?'

    'Now, if you are lost, you must go and tell our police. They will take
    care of you and give you food,' said Frau Ebermann. 'Anna will show you
    the way there.'

    'No,'--this was the six-year-old with the smile,--'we must wait here
    till our people come for us. Mustn't we, sister?'

    'Of course. We wait here till our people come for us. All the world
    knows that,' said the eldest girl.

    'Yes.' The boy in her lap had waked again. 'Little children, too--as
    little as Henri, and _he_ doesn't wear trousers yet. As little as
    all that.'

    'I don't understand,' said Frau Ebermann, shivering. In spite of the
    heat of the room and the damp breath of the steam-inhaler, the aspirin
    was not doing its duty.

    The girl raised her blue eyes and looked at the woman for an instant.

    'You see,' she said, emphasising her statements with her ringers,
    '_they_ told _us_ to wait _here_ till _our_ people came for us. So we
    came. We wait till our people come for us.'

    'That is silly again,' said Frau Ebermann. 'It is no good for you to
    wait here. Do you know what this place is? You have been to school? It
    is Berlin, the capital of Germany.'

    'Yes, yes,' they all cried; 'Berlin, capital of Germany. We know that.
    That is why we came.'

    'So, you see, it is no good,' she said triumphantly, 'because your
    people can never come for you here.'

    'They told us to come here and wait till our people came for us.' They
    delivered this as if it were a lesson in school. Then they sat still,
    their hands orderly folded on their laps, smiling as sweetly as ever.

    'Go away! Go away!' Frau Ebermann shrieked.

    'You called?' said Anna, entering.

    'No. Go away! Go away!'

    'Very good, old cat,' said the maid under her breath. 'Next time you
    _may_ call,' and she returned to her friend in the kitchen.

    'I ask you--ask you, _please_ to go away,' Frau Ebermann pleaded. 'Go to
    my Anna through that door, and she will give you cakes and sweeties. It
    is not kind of you to come into my room and behave so badly.'

    'Where else shall we go now?' the elder girl demanded, turning to her
    little company. They fell into discussion. One preferred the broad
    street with trees, another the railway station; but when she suggested
    an Emperor's palace, they agreed with her.

    'We will go then,' she said, and added half apologetically to Frau
    Ebermann, 'You see, they are so little they like to meet all
    the others.'

    'What others?' said Frau Ebermann.

    'The others--hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands of the
    others.'

    'That is a lie. There cannot be a hundred even, much less a thousand,'
    cried Frau Ebermann.

    'So?' said the girl politely.

    'Yes. _I_ tell you; and I have very good information. I know how it
    happened. You should have been more careful. You should not have run out
    to see the horses and guns passing. That is how it is done when our
    troops pass through. My son has written me so.'

    They had clambered down from the sofa, and gathered round the bed with
    eager, interested eyes.

    'Horses and guns going by--how fine!' some one whispered.

    'Yes, yes; believe me, _that_ is how the accidents to the children
    happen. You must know yourself that it is true. One runs out to look--'

    'But I never saw any at all,' a boy cried sorrowfully. 'Only one noise I
    heard. That was when Aunt Emmeline's house fell down.'

    'But listen to me. _I_ am telling you! One runs out to look, because one
    is little and cannot see well. So one peeps between the man's legs, and
    then--you know how close those big horses and guns turn the
    corners--then one's foot slips and one gets run over. That's how it
    happens. Several times it had happened, but not many times; certainly
    not a hundred, perhaps not twenty. So, you see, you _must_ be all. Tell
    me now that you are all that there are, and Anna shall give you
    the cakes.'

    'Thousands,' a boy repeated monotonously. 'Then we all come here to
    wait till our people come for us.'

    'But now we will go away from here. The poor lady is tired,' said the
    elder girl, plucking his sleeve.

    'Oh, you hurt, you hurt!' he cried, and burst into tears.

    'What is that for?' said Frau Ebermann. 'To cry in a room where a poor
    lady is sick is very inconsiderate.'

    'Oh, but look, lady!' said the elder girl.

    Frau Ebermann looked and saw.

    '_Au revoir_, lady.' They made their little smiling bows and curtseys
    undisturbed by her loud cries. '_Au revoir,_ lady. We will wait till our
    people come for us.'

    When Anna at last ran in, she found her mistress on her knees, busily
    cleaning the floor with the lace cover from the radiator, because, she
    explained, it was all spotted with the blood of five children--she was
    perfectly certain there could not be more than five in the whole
    world--who had gone away for the moment, but were now waiting round the
    corner, and Anna was to find them and give them cakes to stop the
    bleeding, while her mistress swept and garnished that Our dear Lord when
    He came might find everything as it should be.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 13
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Rudyard Kipling essay and need some advice, post your Rudyard Kipling essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?