The Life of High Countess Gritta von Ratsinourhouse

The Life of High Countess Gritta von Ratsinourhouse

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Overview


Appearing for the first time in English, this delightful story of the adventures of twelve young girls will appeal to readers of all ages. Gritta, neglected by her father, is uprooted when her new stepmother insists she enter a convent school. Strictly supervised by the nun Sequestra, Gritta slips into melancholy. A mishandled bird, however, awakens Gritta to the realization that she and her friends must flee their walled-in life. Following her heart and employing her wits, Gritta leads the escape. The runaway girls are eventually shipwrecked near the principality of Sumbona. They establish a Robinson Crusoe–like existence and later found their own cloister.
 
Their community is sustained by the industry and talents of each of the girls. Mayeli paints, Harmony composes, and Wildberry, an herbalist, learns nature’s secrets and gains access to supernatural powers that will guarantee the future of the community. Gritta chooses to marry Prince Bonus of Sumbona, but when she sees the twelve cells in the cloister, she realizes with a pang of longing that she will never occupy the one meant for her.
 
This enchanting tale, coauthored in the early 1840s by Gisela von Arnim Grimm and her mother, Bettine von Arnim, lay undiscovered in an archive for nearly a century. Through humor and delicate satire, the authors criticize the place of women and children in nineteenth-century German society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803246652
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Publication date: 08/28/1999
Series: European Women Writers
Pages: 154
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author


Lisa Ohm is an assistant professor of German at the College of St. Benedict and Saint John’s University in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Once upon a time an old castle sat perched on a steep outcrop of rock. A valley encircled this rocky protrusion like a ring, and another ring, higher yet, of dark, jagged, stony mountains encircled the valley. Here and there sparse bunches of sedge grass grew out of the moss-lined cracks in the rocks. Life unfolded peacefully in the valley below. A brook flowed hither and thither through the green meadows and past occasional bushes, watering their roots, and, if it was feeling kind, whispered tales to the baby birds up in the tree branches, which, their heads peeking out over the edges of nests of straw and mother-bird down, let out an occasional peep of satisfaction. It was a pleasant life, one bird flying on the breezes and another singing sweetly. In short, having settled down here without disturbance, the birds were satisfied with their home.

    The only exit from this valley was completely hidden by rocks, but here and there the entrance to a narrow dark cave could be seen in the mountainside, and at various places little mountain springs burst forth to fall straight down into the valley, where they bubbled up with vigor before gradually losing themselves in a soft watery murmur.

    Now the walls of this old castle rose up obliquely from the edges of the rocky outcrop. The bareness of the castle walls was broken here and there by barred windows more suitable for a rat's snout than a human face. In the evening, when the world was tinted bright red and the dark mountains beyond were illuminated by a soft pink shimmer, the ancient walls seemed to come alive. The wholecastle, in fact, vibrated with the usual evening tumult of the graycoats: young rats balanced themselves on the slanting walls, a mother rat brought her seven young to enjoy the evening air, a fat hermit rat came, and even a many-headed rat king, until eventually a gray swarm covered the walls. From afar, when the sun reflected off the castle windows, it seemed as if the old gray stones were threatening to dance away in the evening light, leaving the castle proprietor without his property. The corner towers had all fallen into ruins but for one that, although moss and grass grew out of the curves of its Gothic roses and borders, was attached to the dilapidated walls in a charming way.

    This was the castle of an old count, Count von Ratsinourhouse, who lived there with his small daughter, Gritta. A narrow little plank bridge, such as one usually lays across small streams, led from a rocky cliff projecting out over the valley below to the little wooden door of the castle entrance. The worms had bored many a hole in the door, and the spiders had woven many a web over it. To the side of tire entrance door nodded a flowering elder tree.

    Already Gritta's little spinning wheel could be heard busily spooling thread. There was a stone corridor that vaulted up to a dark peak, and along which were found various holes for rats and mice, then a little winding staircase leading upward, and here sat the little High Countess Gritta looking on dreamily as she turned the spinning wheel and pulled the fine threads through her fingers. At the end of the corridor was one of only three glass-paned windows in the castle, a round one half-filled with green glass, with a dragon and half of the body of St. George the Knight. On the window sill stood a small pitcher with little stalks of carnations in it. The sun shone through St. George's blue and red garments onto the royal golden blond hair of the countess and cast marvelous shades of soft color onto the floor, warming the stones, even though it was still rather cold in the corridor.

    Mueffert, the count's old servant, appeared just then from behind Gritta's door, which was in a state of decay, with a steaming bowl of millet gruel in his hands. He glanced at the child:


A flower in bloom
A heart so good.


    "Is she to wilt behind these crumbling walls like her poor mother?" Mueffert mumbled half aloud to himself. "If only the count would stop working like he does on that machine! Youth needs to be with youth!"

    He looked about shyly, fearful that he'd been heard, then continued loudly: "There, child, hurry and bring this bowl to your father."

    "Already?" asked the little countess slowly. She raised eyes of Germanic steel gray under dark eyelashes to glance apprehensively at Mueffert through the sun-drenched cloud of steam rising from the bowl of hot gruel.

    "Oh, I too wish it were twenty-four hours past now and never, because today it's my turn!"

    The little countess took the tray, which on closer inspection turned out to be the battle-worn shield of a knight, with a half-rusted rose still bearing the traces of combat. Had our bold count ever dreamed that his shield would one day be utilized in such lowly service? Gritta walked slowly, stepping softly down one corridor and into another until the snarling sounds of hammering and drilling came closer and closer. She stepped up to an unusual door decorated with little dragons and masks. Working up her courage, she pulled on the heavy iron latch. The oak door opened into a room in which the second, and next to the last, glass window pane in the castle could still be seen. Hammers, big tongs, little tongs, and all sorts of strange tools hung on the gray walls or were suspended on cords from the ceiling. Old manuscripts, clockworks, and junk, all covered by spider webs and chewed by worms, lay along the walls of the room. The centerpiece was a white-silk bed canopy with a scene from the Garden of Eden embroidered on it in bright colored silk. The apples in paradise stood out in bright red, but Adam and Eve, whom the count had used as targets, had been reduced to invalids by his arrows.

    Sweating, angry in the face, the count was poking here and there with a tool at an unusual machine that looked somewhat like an old high-backed chair. In response to his poking, the machine seemed to stretch and bend itself until at last the seat cushion sprang upwards. Then it sprang and sprang and sprang again, each time bringing a look of great satisfaction to the count's face. He glanced sideways at the little countess.

    "Is Mueffert coming?"

    "Father, I'm putting your food here on the chair." She placed the tray on the only chair in the room, then fetched an old pitcher out of the corner and set it next to the bowl.

    "Couldn't I spring for Mueffert today? I'm so light," she added, approaching him and his machine fearfully.

    "Nix that!" answered the old count testily, pulling his eyebrows together over his nose. "Nix that! Mueffert springs! Nix. Stupid stuff! Stupid stuff!" He threw her an angry look, which sent Gritta flying out the door.

    The count had learned mechanics when he was young, not out of his own interest, but because it was a family tradition. His great-great-great-great-grandfather, being a grandfather, understood perfectly the inner workings of grandfather clocks and other mechanical devices. In fact, it was on account of a machine with which an ancestor had healed a wound of Peter the Null that he had been dubbed Count von Ratspath. The resident rat family had to be driven out of his new estate, that is, out of their rat holes, by the royal pantry mouser and disenfranchised on account of their treasonable plot against the royal household: a sugar-munching gathering. As soon as the royal pantry mouser's family died out, however, the rats settled in again, and when the count returned from an information-gathering tour to learn how to govern the numerous underlings he had had at his departure, nothing remained but the old castle, burdened with liens. Since the extensive rat family now in residence was laying claim to the old castle, the count renamed himself Count von Ratsinourhouse.

    At this point a curtain falls over our count's official history. He married the young Countess Mouseary and lived with her in the old castle, passionately pursuing something behind closed doors of which even his faithful old servant Mueffert knew naught, there being nothing more than books and tools in the room! Then one day Mueffert appeared in the doorway and announced that the supply of millet, on which they had survived up until then, was all gone. The count, making need his master, worked industriously on an oatsharvesting machine for a rich farmer, who advanced him a subsistence portion of millet. With this machine he gained great honor.

    Now around this time His Majesty the King wrote to several machine-construction companies in his realm, asking them to make a rescue machine and promising the first to succeed the Royal Order of the Machine, First Class with Oak Leaf. The count, who also received this news, began working on such a machine; he had been working on it for a long time and, in fact, at this very hour was still working on it. And since no one else had yet succeeded in producing a rescue machine, the monarch still sat trembling on his throne.

    During this time, however, Count von Ratsinourshouse became a father, his wife died, ideas came and went, the winter wind raged around the castle, spring budded, fall stripped the trees of their foliage, snow set pretty white caps on the little tower and the crenelated castle walls, and little Gritta seldom stuck her frozen nose out the window. Often the count would spend all day trying out on his machine an idea he had dug up after researching the whole night in deeply mystical books. That's why he's probably cleverer than other people, Mueffert explained.

    Just then Mueffert appeared with a pained look on his face. For a year now he had had to take turns with Gritta every other day in the rescue machine. She was a light little thing and flew up in such a way that she usually escaped with only several black and blue marks and bumped elbows from the little corners of the small, bowl-shaped seat. Mueffert, however, always had a hard landing and expected each time to meet his end. Every day the machine was wound up a little bit more, since its proper function was, when gently pressed in a moment of danger, to eject its occupant out of harm's way. For a year the count had been making improvements so that the occupant, by achieving the proper trajectory, would not be injured when ejected. Anything, man or beast, that came near the exacting old gentleman was obliged to test his machine.

    On this day the machine was wound up tighter than ever. The count stepped a good ways back. Mueffert set himself in the seat, took courage where he could, pressed down, soared through the air, and ... got hung up on a long pole that was protruding out of the wall. The pole, which was beautifully carved and inlaid with bronze figures, had probably been used to hang a light. Now, however, only a long string of flypaper was hanging down from it, and Mueffert joined the buzzing and humming company. Swinging himself up onto the pole, Mueffert straddled it like a rider, looking anxiously from the heights into the depths over which he usually flew in a wide arc. The count, his eyes growing wide, stared at him.

    "Kuno Gebhardt Mueffert! You look like a little lamp, hanging there like that," he shouted angrily. "Come, you, little one, you are your father's child, now you spring properly." He lifted little Gritta onto the machine. "There," he said, "I want to release the tension a little anyway."

    "Father," exclaimed Gritta, "it's so much tighter today."

    "Nonsense," growled the old gentleman.

    Little Gritta seized the knob firmly, pressed, and sprang. Alarmed at seeing poor Mueffert's legs swinging directly above her, however, she broke her trajectory, grabbed on to his legs, and remained hanging there. "Argh!" her father howled in irritation, "Was that my child, my flesh and blood, that got hung up there?"

    Mueffert pulled the trembling child up and helped her to a little niche in the wall near him. There she sat next to an old broken image of the Virgin Mary. Down below her father was raving. She couldn't jump down without breaking her neck — that he realized. Grumbling, he sat down to his gruel.

    "And when you do get down," he threatened, "you'll get a birching! There'll still be enough switches growing on the royal family tree outside to send the blood of a cowardly little girl rushing to her scaredy-cat heart!"

    One spoonful of gruel after another disappeared behind the count's snarling lips while he considered how he was going to get the two of them down. When he finished his gruel, he went to fetch a piece of timber or something to make a ladder. Oh, but Mueffert knew that anything of that sort around the castle had already been burned for fuel because of the extreme cold of the past winter.

    The moon was shining through the window into the old hall, causing the junk to cast strange shadows. Up high a soft whispering stirred between old Mueffert riding on the lantern pole and Gritta in her niche. Nothing had been found to help them, and since they hadn't figured out any other way down, they sat there still.

    "You're probably hungry, child," began Mueffert, "I had left the pot for you to scrape."

    "No, I'm full. But Uncle Mueffert! It must be difficult for you to ride like that at your age. Don't you want to crawl into this niche?"

    "Mine is indeed a dreadful seat, but next to you I'd be too bent over." They were silent again for a while.

    "Listen! I think I heard something running!" said Gritta. Something flitted through the room, then it was still again. Something was gnawing on the old junk. Woodworms?

    "Good evening, Little Ringtail," chimed a strange, tiny, high-pitched voice. A cloud over the moon passed by to reveal a fat gray rat with incredibly black and shiny little eyes sitting there in the moonlight. Gritta's heart stood still in fear and awe. Soon another rat came running to the center of the room.

    "Good evening to you again, old Auntie," piped its tiny voice. "What are you doing?"

    "Not so loud!" A little tear escaped from the rat's eye. "I'm sad today. Do you know what? It has been exactly seven years since the young woman lay here, the wife of the old count. She was sick and weak. Next to her lay a little child, six weeks old it was. Although she felt very weak, the woman pulled the curtain back from her bed to look upon the child. The moon was shining through those windows, like now, illuminating her pale face, which was so full of love for that infant. 'Who will protect her when I am gone?' she asked softly. 'No one will educate her and lead her on the path of life, which is often paved with sadness.' So I hopped onto the edge of the bed ..." The rat wiped away a tear with the tip of its little tail. Gritta heaved with a silent sob — that must have been her mother!

    "Did you hear something, child?" asked the old rat.

    "No, Auntie, and my young ears can hear better than your old ones."

    "Don't be so sure, smarty-tail," said the old rat, before continuing her story. "I put my whiskers right next to her and made the kindest face possible. At first she was frightened, but then I said: 'My dear lady, Most Honorable Wife and High Countess, kind fellow dweller on this earth, it is true that one of us is only a tiny creature, but together we rats are capable of a great deal. We have been blessed with wisdom, a nose for news — and bacon, cleverness and drilling power, and whatever we rats can do for you and your child, that I promise to you, in my name and in the name of my brothers and sisters, for you are a very noble creature of God who grew up like a flower in the field, according to your nature and unspoiled, while we rats in our holes have often suffered from your husband's anger.' She looked at me in a friendly manner and spoke kind words: I was to care for her infant child, she trusted for the most part in God, and so on. I swore her a rat's oath on all that was holy and dear. She thanked me deeply and gently stroked my fur. Oh, how good her gentle human kindness made me feel. A few days later she was carried away." There was a pause during which Gritta had time to silently cry her heart out.

    "The child cried all alone, and the count just let it cry and was gone half the day. How often I stuck my tail in the milk pot and let the milk drip into the baby's mouth, or I powdered my whiskers with sugar and gave the infant an enjoyable meal from that. How often I fluffed up its little pillow and spent half the night humming it to sleep. You know already that she grew and got bigger, and then we left her on her own for she was doing fine. At the most I followed after her and, if she was about to fall, I quickly sunk my teeth into her little skirt and held on tight. I often read up in old books and consulted the motes of sunbeams (who have lived a long time in old books and are well-read creatures regarding the future), and even the old she-spider there in the corner helped me. A year from now there will be a happy celebration, but before that a bad year is coming for us and for our little castle maiden. First — psst!"

    Old Mueffert had shifted on his uncomfortable seat and was now riding sidesaddle like a lady. The rats disappeared at the noise.

    "Did you hear that?" Gritta called out softly.

    "What? I saw the two rats, but you know I can't hear very well. Did they whistle and sing?" Gritta was silent. "Oh," continued Mueffert, "it's going to be extremely difficult to continue this ride without sleep."

    So passed the night. Despite her attempt to stay alert and hear more, Gritta fell asleep in her little wall niche. The next morning the sun was shining through the window. She thought she was still dreaming when Mueffert's silhouette, perched so miserably, came into view through the dust-laden sunbeams. Finally the count appeared. He opened the door, made a dash for his machine, and began to hammer. There was a buzzing and a grinding while the two prisoners sat up above. A half-hour passed.

    "Ach," said Gritta, looking at the pale Mueffert, "he's forgotten us! Shall I throw something down so that he'll look up?"

    "No, he'll get angry. Let me! I'll make some noise."

    "No!" said Gritta nobly. They began to vie with each other until finally Gritta took the only thing there was, the Virgin Mary's footstool, and let it fall. The count didn't hear it.

    "A-hem, A-hem." Mueffert cleared his throat loudly. Gritta looked around for something she could toss. "Meow," said Mueffert.

    "Meow," copied Gritta. The count looked around, then up.

    "Ho!" he laughed, half grinning with pleasure when he saw Mueffert's painful pose. "I'd forgotten you." After considering for some time what he should do, the count announced that he intended to go down into the valley and fetch the miller's farm hand from near the road.

    After opening the little castle gate and looking about from the rocky heights into the distance, the count took the stony path that wound down around the castle to the valley below. Fog still lay in the valley. In the treetops above birds were singing, and the grass glistened with dew. The further he descended, the thicker the fog became. Only a few scattered rays of sun broke through the mist — and through the dust of peevishness and ill humor into the count's soul, through the rust of.... But wait! As soon as his feet struck water, he immediately blew his top again and shouted angrily. "A double curse on all fog!" and more such incredible phrases flew out of his mouth.

    "Hey, there!" called out the sprightly voice of a young boy. "This way, sir!" At that moment the fog parted and the sun illuminated the ruddy round face of a peasant boy. His coal black eyes sparkled like great stars in his delightful face framed by a white pointed cap with a red border. He was dressed in a shabby blue jacket and his pants were wet with dew and mud up to the knees. In short; sun, rain, and wind had worked their well-known chemical tricks and processes on this little fellow. The lad's eyes, full of astonishment, were riveted on the count's strange person.

    "Hurry up, you dumb bumpkin! You sheep's face!" shouted the old count, who was now standing on a rock. The boy, probably not expecting to see such an angry face so early in the morning, called out to his dog to guard his flock of geese while he collected large rocks from the field to throw into the swamp for stepping stones. "Hurry up, you little farmer's clod, and I'll reward your efforts!"

    When he had finished, the count stepped across from stone to stone, the boy pointing out the way. The count reached into his pocket, cursing under his breath, and, hoping to pull something out, reached deeper and deeper until he finally found something, which he pressed into the boy's hand. Meanwhile the geese got into such a fright that they scattered in every direction, cackling loudly, and the boy, now terribly worried about his geese, tried to refuse the count's offer. The count, however, insisted that he hadn't expected any help without offering a reward in return: in his hand the boy found an old button. Thinking he would have preferred a friendly word to a reward, the boy nonetheless gratefully stuffed it into his pocket and ran off after his geese.

    The count had reached the end of the rocky pass when he thought he heard clearly the pawing of horses' hooves. Pricking up his ears, he turned the corner by the miller's, and there before his astonished eyes the sun shone in all its splendor on a magnificent riding party. Pages with rosy round cheeks, blue, brown, and black eyes, brilliant green and red feathers in their caps, sat on fresh young horses around a lady dressed in a green costume with spun-silver buttons who was sitting comfortably astride a sorrel horse. She had a proud, happy look on her face of milk white skin and rose-tinted cheeks.

    The astonished count, buttoning his leather jacket (made from the pigskin covers of the castle library books) over his parchment vest decorated with beautiful curlicued script, approached the young lady's riding party. When the count made a genuinely chivalrous, if somewhat old-fashioned, bow before her, she, sensing something that could tickle her fancy, sniffed the morning air with her little nose and made a face. The pages, reflecting her mood instantaneously, all followed suite, sticking their thin, fat, bold, pug, and crooked noses into the wind, a ready laugh playing about their lips. The lady, however, sent an elbow punch into the ribs of the page riding closest to her, who passed it on, and soon all sat on their horses looking serious. The old miller turned to the count just then and explained that the lady had gotten lost and was asking the way, but he hadn't yet learned whence she had come.

    "My most honored and gracious young lady, if you wish to tell me from which point you rode out this morning," began the count, "then I will send along a servant ... of mine ... to accompany you. On the other hand, if you would rather rest here at the mill or at my castle, which is beautifully situated, then I most urgently invite you."

    He most certainly thought that this could never occur, for she was a young lady and surely had to return to her parents. To his astonishment, however, she accepted his offer, wishing only to drink first some milk at the mill. While dismounting she placed her tender white hand on the count's shoulder. The count, thoroughly delighted, suddenly forgot all about a machine for giving directions, which he had been mulling over in his head all this time, and looked with uncustomarily happy eyes into the young lady's face.

    "Grant only that I might send someone ahead, m'lady, to prepare your reception." After accompanying them into the mill, he dispatched the miller's hired hand with a rope for the sitting prisoners and an order that the servants prepare everything.

    Mueffert and Gritta were still sitting up there, looking down, when the miller's farm hand announced with a happy face that Count von Ratsinourhouse wished his loyal servant to prepare everything to receive a young countess, sparing nothing and arranging everything in accordance with his royal standing.

    "Good heavens," said Mueffert quite seriously, "I've lost the key to the royal treasury."

    "The miller has sent along some loaves of bread," continued the farm hand, "in case one wishes to offer the countess something. Payment is not necessary," he added simply, passing the rope to them on the end of a pole. Mueffert tied it onto the lantern pole and slid down. Gritta followed behind.

    They were curious to know what the countess looked like who, according to the miller's man, intended to visit the castle. The farm hand fetched water from the castle well, and Gritta industriously washed the floors from the uppermost corridors down to the castle gate so that everything was shiny clean. In her father's workroom, where she was now finally permitted to straighten things up, she found several nice things among the junk. These she set out neatly on display, decorating everything with wreaths of greenery that they had wound. But what was to happen if the countess should decide to sleep here! Gritta had never known any kind of bed but one of moss, but Mueffert suddenly felt embarrassed.

    "What for?" said Gritta. "We'll make her a very nice bed of moss and scatter rose petals over it." And that's what happened.

    After the little bridge had been decorated with garlands of flowers and the little countess's garment of book covers freshly oiled, they stood at the door. Finally the procession appeared in the valley. The count could be seen in the distance pointing out his castle to the lady at his side. The pages behind them all began to whisper, but the young lady had such a serious expression on her face that they all soon copied her, even though they seemed to think that she was playacting and had some clever joke in mind, the funniest part of which was yet to come. In this manner they arrived at the bridge.

    An amused smile flickered across the young lady's face when she caught sight of little Gritta in her pigskin dress. The pages wanted to go from smiling to laughing but were stopped by an elbow punch. The countess gave Gritta a friendly kiss and turned her first to the right and then to the left. Here and there engraved letters or golden script with fancy swirls billowed out of the folds of Gritta's dress. On the left side the countess read, The Life and Deeds of the Most Noble Knight Kunz von Swiney, related according to him — the rest was hidden in a fold. On Gritta's belly stood the words, Little Garden of Christian Paradise for Strolls Taken by the Christian Lambs of John; on the back, The Life of the Christian Maiden Anna Maria Schweidnitzer; and on the left an entire chapter of The Book That Deals with Witches and Those Exorcised of Them.

    Reading the titles, the countess followed the count into the castle and up to the room with the only chair. Here the count claimed that only a single chair was kept purposely so that the men would have no choice but to honor any lady present by kneeling or sitting at her feet. The countess declared it a very clever way to force people to be polite.

    "And what in the world is that?" she cried out, standing in front of the display of junk.

    "Those are," began the count, "unusual curiosities. This is an Indian quiver." The pages thought it was not unlike a worm-eaten chair leg, but one word from the countess made it a quiver — even one with arrows, and the count was kept busy explaining to her all his Japanese and Hottentot curiosities until it was time to go to the table.

    In this case, of course, it was not to the table but to the floor, the count having refused to have the table brought out of the furniture stores since it was the custom in the castle to honor ladies by eating on the floor. The countess was delighted. The pages asked if this was a custom brought from Paris — or from Paradise, where, as we all know, Eve bit into the apple because she didn't have a knife.

    So they all ate on the floor, the count holding the countess's plate for her. Since the china set had pieces missing, some ate out of pots, others out of helmets — one even ate out of a mousetrap! In contrast to the variety in china, the courses of the meal had little, there being gruel soup, gruel dumplings, and gruel pudding. The count insisted that everything tasted best when eaten from a simple plate, and, in any case, too many different kinds of food upset the stomach. And that was that.

    Little Countess Gritta helped with the cooking, having no desire to be near the pages who continually teased her by calling, "Hey, come here, Little Garden of Eden! Hey, Sir Kunz von Swiney!"

    At night the entire corridor was strewn with hay for the pages, who slept there in rows like an army regiment. The countess, full of smiles, snuggled down into her moss bed, and a blessed quiet settled on the castle.

    First thing the next day the countess asked the count for a few benches, suggesting that such great respect for her person was not necessary. But the count had lost the key to the royal furniture storage room.

    In this manner happy times arrived in the old castle. The countess danced every evening, sang songs to the count, laughed, and sprang about wildly and — the count forgot his machine. The pages raced about the halls and courtyards, filling them with happy shouting. Toward evening of about the third day the impetuous countess stood at the count's side in front of the large window, looking at the sky, which glowed a soft rosy red over the mountains covered with dark evergreen forests. Her little heart beat rapidly as she placed her tender hand on the count's arm. In the background, bathed in the red glow of evening, some pages played ball with the Japanese curiosities, while a few sat chatting softly in one of the dark recesses of the castle wall.

    Suddenly the door opened. Gritta stuck her head in to say something but was immediately pushed aside by a short fat man with a white powdered wig stacked up proudly in front. The fat man, dripping sweat, stood as if thunderstruck, looking at the wild goings-on in the room.

    "Is that proper?" he wheezed, still out of breath. "One can't leave you alone for a minute with orders to behave yourself! One can't leave you alone for a moment and you run away! A countess of the ancient noble family von Ratspath!" He had to pause a moment to catch his breath. The frightened pages placed themselves in a row behind their mistress, who was staring at the man's huge stomach as if she could see what he'd eaten for breakfast that morning. He continued to rage: "I, your guardian, appointed by the well-meaning Advisory Council of Prague, I, I don't find you home in the castle and I have to ask the administrator, I ... Where is the young lady? They all tell me she's been gone for two days! Gone! Gone! Gone!" With every "Gone!" he furiously stamped his foot on the floor. "Messengers were sent after you whose only report was what we had to pay for damages where you rode through the farmers' fields, until one, yes, one farmer brought the news that he'd seen you here with an enemy of your clan, of your family!"

    "Come with me, my dear guardian," the countess said as she led him through the line of astonished pages into an old arsenal down the hall. Soon thereafter her voice resounded impetuously, "But I will!" and the guardian shouted his answer, "Have you gone out of your mind?" Everyone stood stock-still. After a while the guardian pulled her angrily back into the room.

    "I want to and I will marry the count, and it doesn't matter to me whether you like it or not!" shouted the countess, almost choking, her little mouth so full of "I will, too!" The count, embarrassed, tugged at his nose.

    "But you ought to come with me now," said the fat man.

    "For now, yes, but I'm coming back after I've spoken with the other two guardians, and if they don't agree, then I'll run away." Before taking her guardian's arm, she threw the count a knowing look and then angrily rushed down the steps, causing the little man leading her to stumble several times.

    "But think, my pretty, you could have the most handsome man, with such a beautiful moustache and so many pieces of gold in his pockets. Think of it, child," he whined, "a real sugar-cookie man!"

    "Rubbish! If I want a sugar-cookie man, I can bake him myself! I want the count." With the pages following, the party slowly descended the mountain. The count stood alone in his hall, his mind crowded with incredible ideas for a machine for thoroughly thrashing guardians.

(Continues...)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsix
Introduction: The Fairy Tale of Women's Bildung in the
Nineteenth Centuryxi
The Life of High Countess Gritta von Ratsinourhouse1

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