Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen

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Bremen

April 1635

 

"Marieke! Come here now, girl!"

Marieke cringed in her bedroom, looking out the blue curtain-framed window at what had begun as a sunny spring day. Her father's bellow told her the day was probably getting worse rather than better.

Marieke's stepmother quickly confirmed Marieke's suspicions when she peered around the bedroom door with a worried look on her slender face. "Marieke, dear, your father would like a word with you in the library. Please come with me."

At that moment, her father released another elephantine bellow from the floor below. Marieke thought she saw the painting of the flowers on the wall over her lace-covered bed quiver but surely, she told herself, she imagined it. Didn't she?

The picture could stay calmly perched on her wall but she must follow her stepmother to confront the man calling for her. At eighteen, Marieke was very much an adult but her father still ruled the house and held sway over his unmarried daughter.

Marieke loved her sometimes bombastic father but ever since he had retired from Prince Frederick's service a few months back, her father had been a man with no purpose. Instead of spending hours every day managing affairs for the prince, her father wandered around the house, and sometimes all of Bremen, like a rooster with no hens. That meant that he was all too free to attend to the affairs of his small family, most especially including Marieke.

Stepmother and daughter went down the wooden staircase to the richly appointed library where the red-faced bürger paced in front of a huge stone fireplace. His green silk doublet had wrinkled where his ample belly had stretched the material as he sat at his leather-topped desk. But now he was apparently too agitated for any sitting.

"Marieke, my dear, I have something I must ask you." His whole demeanor told both daughter and wife that the man was having to make a major effort to contain himself and control his temper. He spat out his question like it tasted bad on his tongue. "I have been told that there are rumors of you still being involved with the ludicrous, demon-spawned Committee of Correspondence in town. Is this true?" Herr Knaub's grey eyes bored into her, his ferocious beetling eyebrows framing their anger.

Herr Knaub stood in front of the unused fireplace as if he could not move until his daughter answered. Frau Knaub gasped and held her breath, waiting for Marieke's reply. The color drained from her face and neck as Marieke pushed back her white blonde bangs, dropped her cornflower blue eyes to the wool rug under her feet and gripped the light blue skirt under her brown bodice. She had known she would have to tell her parents some time but had hoped it would be later. After all, the confrontation about the now-traveling Hans had been but four weeks back. Hardly enough time for the hurt feelings to heal. Even though she knew Hans had planned to leave and go study engineering, Marieke still blamed her father for running the young man off sooner than she wished.

All this flashed through her mind as she stood in front of her father and her stepmother wrung her own hands.

"Well? Answer me, child? Is my daughter still consorting with revolutionaries and atheists? Is this a lie by those who wish us ill?"

There was no help for it. She could not outright lie to Papa. He would find out and then, then he would not trust her. No, she must, as the up-timers said, make a clean breast of it.

"Yes, Papa, I have been spending time at the Freedom Arches in town. They are good people and have been helping the flood victims. You have always told me it is our Christian duty to help others." Marieke could see the storm clouds suffusing her father's face as the rest of her pitch poured from her lips. "They do so much good and they help so many people. Besides, Aunt Betlinda volunteers there, too."

At the mention of his sister's name, Herr Knaub became, if possible, even more enraged. His chest puffed out even further, endangering the silver buttons. "Do not use your aunt as an excuse or example of anything. That apostate holds queer ideas about life and has always been an embarrassment to this family!"

He paused to calm himself, running a pudgy paw through his thinning grey hair, pushing the once-neat shoulder-length hair back from his sweating face.

"What am I to do with you? First, you take up with a young man from a family of night soil workers. Now I find you are spending time with up-time revolutionaries. Do you not see how your actions besmirch us all? I am a man of some importance in our town! Your mother is known as a beacon of righteousness! Your brother is . . ."

Marieke could stand her father's self-righteous tirade no longer. "My brother is a pompous, primping, two-faced lout who only cares for himself! The stories I could tell . . ."

She was ready to declare a litany of her brother's sins and missteps when her father stopped her with a raised hand as he turned his back. "Stop now, girl, before you overstep yourself. This discussion is about you, not Ebbe! He has not been called in fault!"

Now Marieke's face was as flushed as her father's. "It is time to discuss him. He had no right to attack Hans and no right to say anything about how I live my life!"

"Yes, he does on both accounts. You are unmarried and still the responsibility of this household. It falls to us, your mother, brother, and I, to ensure you are able to make a good marriage when the time comes. Running with the reprobates of the CoC could dirty your reputation, making it impossible for you to find a good match short of frozen Russia or God-forsaken Ireland! No! There will be no more discussion! You will not go back to the CoC, and you will stay away from Betlinda."

Marieke heard her stepmother sob behind her, knowing she could not reason with her enraged father. Afraid of losing her own temper beyond reason, Marieke turned and fled the room, running up the stairs to her bedroom. She slammed the door behind her and threw herself on the bed.

Whether from anger or frustration, tears filled Marieke's eyes, dampening the down pillow she cried into. She did not want to give her father the satisfaction of hearing her cry so she pushed her face into the pillow.

What was she to do? Marieke had always wanted a true job, a true purpose. Working with the CoC gave her that purpose. She could well and truly help people who needed aid. She had been raised to be a pretty, yet vacuous housewife, a trophy for some well-heeled businessman or noble. She was trained to serve tea and social niceties. But always, even before the up-timers arrived and showed her world that women could do more, be more, she had wanted better. No, she couldn't captain a ship to explore the world but through the CoC she could change things for the better! Couldn't her father see this?

Maybe she could convince her stepmother . . . She and her stepmother were not close, but they also were not open enemies. Their relationship was more like two boats docked at the same port.

Aunt Betlinda would help her if she could. She understood. She herself worked with the Committees of Correspondence and had avoided the chains of marriage so she could stay free. Maybe if Marieke declared her intention of doing the same her parents would leave her alone and give up on making a marriage match for her. It was worth a try . . .

Marieke lay on her bed as the sun rays shifted and the day passed. Intent on planning her escape from matrimony, she did not hear the first few rappings on her door.

"Marieke! Marieke!" A quiet female voice called from the other side of the wooden barrier.

Her sister, Katrin, slowly opened the door and stepped halfway into the room. "Are you going to throw something at me?" Katrin's lips curled into an impish grin. "Your row with Papa was quite impressive. I don't want to come in if you are going to use me for pitching practice like the up-timer baseball players. Are you, or is it safe?"

"You are quite safe, Dumpling. Come in and sit with me." Marieke was the only family member that Katrin let call her by her baby name, Dumpling. When she was young, Katrin with her round face and body did bear a passing resemblance to a potato dumpling. As she grew older, Katrin had lost most of her baby fat and with it, the baby name.

"I only caught part of what was said but it seems Papa does not agree with the way you spend your time?" Katrin had seated herself on the bed, pushing off her silk indoor shoes and putting her bare feet on the bed. Her hair was a darker blonde than Marieke's but she had the same clear blue eyes. It being a housework day, Katrin had on some of Marieke's hand-me-downs. At fourteen, Katrin was almost as tall as her older sister.

Marieke reached out to affectionately tug on one of Katrin's fuzzy braids. "I think you heard enough. Papa is concerned for the household reputation and demands that I avoid the CoC."

A sly smile spread across Katrin's sweet face. "Yessss, I am sure he said that. I am also sure you will not do that. Am I wrong?" The smile grew to a toothy grin.

Marieke met her sister with a smile of her own as she reached for a small, clean cloth on the night stand next to the bed. She blew her nose and gave a short laugh." You know me too well, Dumpling. I have been making other plans."

Katrin giggled and hugged her sister. "Good for you! It is a new time and a new world. It is time that women make their own destinies and not be forced into marriages as their life's work."

"That is what I have been learning from Aunt Betlinda." Marieke nodded and dabbed at her still-dripping nose.

"I am so glad to hear that! There is something I have just been dying to tell you, and it seems that now is the time." The younger girl glowed with anticipation.

"Tell me, silly goose! What could be that important?"

Katrin drew herself up on the bed, sitting as tall as she could, patted her yellow skirt and straightened it across her knees. "Two things, actually. First, I have decided what I want to do with my life. You know I love up-timer rock and roll. I have always been able to sing."

"Yes, and?"

"I have joined a rock and roll band as a singer."

Marieke clapped her hands and hugged her sister. "How lovely! Have you told Mama or Papa?"

"Not yet. The band has only started rehearsing together. We have a drummer. It's not really an up-time drum set. It is an empty ale barrel. Then we have a lutist. We hope to add a few more players in time."

"Does your band have a name?"

"Not yet, but we are trying out several that sound like up-time bands. I can't tell you now because it might jinx it. But I can tell you something else."

"And what would that be? I can't wait!"

"Well, I cannot tell you one name but I can tell you another."


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