As her fingers fumbled with the wrapping she was conscious of his face, his kind stupid English face. It was filled with a delighted anticipation as he watched her unwrap his Christmas gift to her.
“I hope you like it, Eva,” he said. “I had a devil of a time getting the genuine article but I thought it would remind you of home.”
A cold shiver etched a tingling path down her lower spine. Intuition? and with trembling fingers she lifted the lid of the square and heavy box.
The little girl awoke at the first sound. The clock in her room was always the first but she could hear the others throughout the house taking up the chorus. Cuckoo! There would be ten more before it began! and her uncontrollable shivering had nothing to do with the ice on the window or the thick blanket of snow that defied gravity as it clung to the sloping roof of her attic room. The goose-down quilt was no protection against this chill.
With a ragged finish from the downstairs clocks completing the eleventh hour, the dread sequence began. The voices raised in song defiled the stillness of the night. Raucous Good-nights preceded the slamming of the great oak door. The child froze, watchful as a bird. Whose turn tonight?
She lived in a world of giants. At five years old her uncles, ten to thirteen years her senior, seemed fully grown men. Her grandmother too was tall for a woman but tiny compared to Him. HE, der Grossvater, was a huge man and it was strange to think of those great paws, big as a bear’s, delicately assembling the tiny cogs and springs of a fine watch. Herr Fischer, the clock-maker, was not always so gentle.
The heavy footsteps on the stairs echoed through the listening house. She knew that other ears were also alert. Whose turn? Silently she counted. The staggering tread did not stop at the first landing; the twins were safe, for the moment. There was a slight pause outside Wolfgang’s door but the lurching steps resumed. Maybe he was just going to bed.
Slipping out of bed and kneeling on the icy floor to make it official she prayed for her grandmother. The door of the room beneath her slammed shut and for a blessed moment there was silence. The child slipped shivering back into bed. And then the sounds began!
The loud voice raised in accusation, the murmured response, the thuds, the cries, and finally, interminably, the creaking of the great bed. Eva pulled the pillow over her head but even when silence finally came sleep was a long way behind.
In church the following morning Herr Fischer’s rich baritone drowned out the weaker voices of the congregation but his three sons, in their best suits, were subdued and their mother was wearing her black hat with the veil. The other women noted this with knowing glances at each other. ‘Poor Frau Fischer,’ thought the Pastor’s wife. ‘At least my husband makes sure the bruises never show!’ and she mused on the advantages of being married to a man of God.
Eva stood on her grandfathers right, his heavy hand resting fondly on her shoulder. She was wearing her favourite dress of maroon velvet trimmed with lace at the neck and cuffs. She was very proud, the memories of the previous night banished to a secret corner of her mind. Her grandfather was the loudest singer in the village.
The five-year-old was remarkably grown-up by modern standards. Already she could sew a straight seam and could knit a sock with the four steel needles, although her grandmother might assist in turning the heel. She helped with the housework and had her own duties which she performed without question. The world was a stable and ordered place, except for the anarchy of Saturday Night. And even that had an unerring regularity. The cuckoos always sang eleven times.
The woman looked down at the cuckoo clock. Trembling, she lifted it from its box. She had to be sure. She turned it over to look at the back.
“Careful! ” cried her husband, “You nearly dropped it!”
But she had seen enough. There, carved so neatly, were the words H. Fischer. Uhrmacher. The name of her village followed but her eyes were too blurred to see. Wordlessly she replaced it gently in its box.
“There!” said the man, beaming proudly. “I knew you would like it.”