Hot Bath á deux
We tiptoed along the passageway, then paused at the narrow stairway that led down to the wash shed and listened. We wanted to avoid Herr Rottger, the landlord. Ignoring the little matter of our overdue rent, my Salzburger observed, “Why, the old fart would shit his pants if saw La Bella Stani in her dressing gown.”
The corridor was freezing, but it didn’t freeze my husband’s high spirits.
“Tonight will be the night Lichnowsky tries to look us up . . .”
That made us both giggle. The idea of meeting Prince Lichnowsky in our nightclothes! While it seemed highly unlikely, it was the kind of thing that happened to us all the time: the worst possible thing at the worst possible moment.
When we got inside the bathroom, I went straight to the bench in the corner and sat down, laying the clean stuff down. The servant must have just finished pouring the water, for the tub was full and streaming. After shooting the bolt, my husband approached with a big grin. I knew I’d better keep him busy.
Mozart stuck his hand into the tub and withdrew it quickly.
“Well, then, you go first,” I said. It would be fun to tease him and it wouldn’t take me long to disarm his little fellow—especially if he’d been as chaste as he claimed.
Wolfi stripped off his gown, stepped out of his slippers and unrolled his stockings. Then, as an afterthought, he moved the only othe piece of furniture in the room, a low stool, next to the tub.
For the first—and only--time in my life, I was offered a seat by a naked man.
My husband! Nowadays he looked like one of those cupids on the ceiling of the Burgtheater, with those blue eyes, blonde hair and pink chubbiness. Once he was belly deep in the steaming water, I reached in and pinched the roll around his midriff.
“Where have your ribs gone, my Kugelrund?”
“Please!” He playfully pushed away my hand. “Please, Madame. I’m a virtuous fellow.”
At first we really did stick to business. We scrubbed backs and took time washing our hair. From the other side of the wall came an occasional clunk as the servant loaded more wood into the stove, the backend of which glowed in our room. We heard the stove creak. Although the water cooled, the room stayed blissfully hot.
Finally we helped each other dry off and brushed the tangles out of the other’s hair. Quite a bit of work got done before the usual nonsense started . . .
~ ~ ~
Laundry and a Cold Wind
I woke up from a nap, yawned, and, as I’d been sleeping in my petticoat, I tied on a cloth above my big belly. I wondered how Wolfgang was doing outside with Karl.
My leg throbbed miserably as soon as I stood up, so I sat back on the edge of the bed in order to look at it. The veins in the calf were prominent and it was definitely swollen again. My groin ached, too.
Dear Holy Mother! Not back from Baden four weeks, and here I was, half crippled again.
As soon as I’d returned home I’d begun to do cooking and some cleaning. Elise couldn’t do everything, and as usual we didn’t have a spare Kreutzer for another servant.
How I wished to be back in Baden with Christoph, wished life to be anything but what it was! Sighing, I limped to the window and looked out. There, sitting around the stone table I saw Mozart, Stadler, Hofer and that new friend from the Weiden Theater, Franz Gerl. The men smoked long clay pipes and were passing a bottle hand to hand.
Didn’t any of these loungers have any work to do?
Our yard had a few patches of grass, but mostly it was pounded into dirt. Laundry hung everywhere, flapping wildly in the brisk wind. Karl and the two neighbor girls were down on their knees by the far wall, playing quietly together. Those girls were one of the better things about this place, as they were gentle and well-behaved. They liked Karl and kept him entertained. Since we’d returned from Baden, much of his care had fallen on me. I wasn’t as patient as Elize and Karl’s constant three-year-old chatter got on my nerves. While I should have been proud of what a bright curious little fellow he was, there were times when I heartily wished him mute. Even Wolfgang sometimes joked that it seemed impossible we’d ever wanted him to talk!
Today Mozart was supposedly to be working on more arrangements of Handel for Baron von Sweiten, but it didn’t look like much was getting accomplished. Their brash joking male camaraderie sounded in my ears, although I couldn’t make out the words. Wind gusted, cracking the sheets. That and the hiss of the weedy trees in the alley combined to drown them out. Clouds scuttled overhead. I shivered and hugged myself.
Not much longer before snow.
Hofer boomed out a laugh and the others joined in. From the look of them it would only be a few minutes before they all headed down to the Ungarische Krone to start on the serious drinking…
Perhaps if I went out, I could keep Wolfi from leaving. We really needed the few florins his minuets and songs were bringing in. The sooner he finished up for von Sweiten, the sooner he could get back to writing dances.
I hated to go out in petticoats, but if I didn’t he’d run off. First, though, I seized the covers and tossed them over the sheets in an approximation of making the bed. If I didn’t do that, Souki would climb in and shed dirt and fleas. Fleas didn’t often bite me, but they loved to bite Wolfgang. As a result he was always demanding that we wash the sheets.
Grumbling to myself, I slipped on the very proper gown I’d made for Leopold’s visit and limped across the parlor and out into the yard. The bad leg pulsed mercilessly and the wind outside made it even colder than in the house.
In the low sunlight I saw that the seats by the table were now unoccupied. An empty wine bottle and Mozart’s squat ink well were all that remained to show that they’d been there. I shaded my eyes and looked along the alley. Not a soul in sight!
Karl and the girls were oblivious, deeply engaged in digging a hole with sticks and an old spoon. The older girl was giving orders and their shiny heads were bent close together.
The backhouse door opened and my neighbor, Frau Kuhn, emerged. Seeing me, she smiled and then came trundling over. She was a very common person, but good-natured and always obliging. Just as poor as we were, she had no pretentions to anything better.
“Your husband asked me to keep an eye on Karl until you got up. As I’ve got to fold all this anyway, it’s no bother.”
“Where did he go?”
“Off to the Krone.”
I knew she wouldn’t share my irritation. To her, drunkards were simply what all men were. She began to struggle with a sheet, trying to fold it straight into the basket. It bloomed and billowed in the wind, threatening all the time to drag in the dirt.
“Don’t worry about him, dear, just take care of yourself.”
“I guess he took his music?”
“That he did. Although how he write anything around those fellows beats me.”
The sun was setting fast. The wind became a notch colder. A shirt flapped free, ending its flight in the bushes by the wall. Frau Kuhn shook her head at it.
“You’ll catch your death out here. I’ll bring Karl in when I’m done. It’s no trouble at all.”
“Oh, you don’t have to. I’ll bring him in in a minute.”
We both turned to gaze at the three children bent intently over their hole in the ground. I heard the word “China” blew past.
“Don’t be silly. He can come in with us. It’ll be a lot easier if they all come inside together, don’t you know?”
I nodded and slowly got up. She was right about Karl. He was having a good time with his friends. As for me, there was a lump of cold mutton and a hardening loaf of bread in the cupboard. I’d eat a little of that, drink a swallow of wine and then straight back to bed.
~ ~ ~