The Erotic Études Opus VI

Étude XVII - Susanna

Étude XVII - Susanna

The sight of my shredded manuscript, ruined and cast around the piano like evidence of a crime, broke me. As if I could be broken any further. For I was shaken beyond all endurance, the months she was in Russia, and it made me desperate enough to plan definitely upon the end.

I had been extorted from enough. Hiller had found escape for me in Düsseldorf, with a regular salary, because I needed the salary from the Oratorio and the Lieder - kept on a secret set of books by Charles Lamier -- to go to the rents for Claudia, and the treatment of Susanna. Of this, la Wieck had no knowledge. At least, after her father, the old Wieck, had discovered Claudia, he remained in ignorance of the existence of my first and bastard child who still lived and was mad, and still resided with her mother in Grimma-- in a tiny farmhouse down a twisted road between Grimma and the Schloß Colditz. The view of that pink limed lintel, yawning over the Muldetal, haunted me. And the mad dark eyes that peered at me when I visited there -- with their malevolent intent -- how had I fathered this? How did Claudia endure her, without servants to keep her contained and free from self-harm?

Everything was tied up or locked to keep her from dashing herself unconscious against them. Sometimes, her hands had to be bound to keep her from slashing herself to ribbons. And it pained me greatly to see her. And Claudia, her hair tied back in tight braids, to keep from getting her hair pulled and her flesh torn by the wild girl, regarded me with sober duty when I came, flustered in the extreme, in one of Felix's private carriages, to Grimma.

"Robert you do enough," she said to me, serving me tea and cakes. I watched her soft hands, not the slightest bit changed from when she first embraced me. I was entranced, sobered, and dejected.

Is it her fault that she was not acceptable to my mother and that I let my mother dictate to me my future? Is it her fault she had compassion for me, and sheltered me in her arms during my weeks and weeks of weeping and need, after my father's death? Our mad child, the constant, horrifying memory of the fruit of what kept me alive those days... Was it worth it, that she live in constant and ongoing pain? How could I have a moment of pleasure, knowing this and seeing it? I could not send her to the surgeon for abortion of the baby - it was against her will. Felix said go, a baby is just a body before it is born. And I would not even suggest it. She would not burn in hell, in her God's eyes, for the love she so openly gave to me. And I would not have it. I would pay, whatever it took. I would marry her...

But she would have none of it.

"You endure that woman, for my sake," she said sadly.

"She is not so bad. She does love me. And it is not your fault... it is mine. The flaw is in my own seed, for my son Ludwig is already showing the same violent evidence. Ludwig shrieks. It is just as my sister was -- just as I might have been had I not held on to you when I might have gone mad instead. Have you tried giving her an instrument to bang upon?"

"I gave her what you sent," she replied mildly. The toy piano. "She makes odd sounds."

"And Herr Dr. Glock, what says he?"

"He says belladonna will settle her. He uses a new technique of mesmerism and herbs. It does calm her for days, sometimes."

"I am told that such children are prodigies. Does she write or draw strangely?"

"Yes oh yes. Music as well, and odd humming."

"Warbling? Like a morning dove cooing, or like a quail?"

"Hm, not like that."

"I wrote a song for Ludwig called the warbling song. He knows it is my rendering in piano of his voice as he sings, as he makes his communication to perhaps beyond, the spirits. Such children are prodigies of a kind I only slightly comprehend."

"As you were, my love." She stroked my cheek fondly, a gesture so gentle that I welcomed it entirely. How could she be so compassionate, after I had condemned her to a farmhouse at the crooked road-end of nowhere? She knew that her caress would, but did not intend to, make me weep. She could not help but call me that, Geliebt. She loved me so deeply that she refused to have me sacrifice even one thaler for her, one moment of my career; and so I lived as an ascetic, outwardly tending my sober books, and inwardly churning for the constraints that my own excess put on us both. On us all. I did not deserve such devotion, and never have.

I spent some time attempting to interest Susanna in sitting with her Papa. She ran in wild circles and threw herself down, heedless of my attention. She tore her pinafore and held it over her head, naked legs kicking. And I looked at her mother in confusion. "She is like this without stop?"

And when I said these words she swooped upon me like a slender duck with a white breast and lighted on me as though on a sea. "You, man, you... touch my face!" she seized my hands and clapped them together repeatedly, and I allowed this, frowning. Then she took my passive hands, wincing slightly as she squeezed the bones of my broken hand, and placed them on her shoulders and shoved downward. "Make me small!" she demanded. She was immensely strong. It intimidated me. I rooted myself to the seat. Claudia stayed quiet, as I did, listening to what might be encoded into her speech.

"Put me in the barn!" she ordered, pointing stentoriously toward the stables, locked securely against her entry.

I shook my head a slight bit.

"Susanna," I spoke quietly, as I would speak to Ludwig. Quietly and musically.

"Suuuuusssss" she repeated hypnotically

"Annahhhhhh" I said, catching on to the game.

"Sussss!" she said brightly.

"Bist so suss, Suss."

"Bist! Spisst Pisst!" she glissed. Yes. Very very much like Ludwig.

"Suss, sass, spass.." I hissed. And she repeated back to me again, entirely involved.

"You understand her speech?" Claudia interjected, unable to restrain herself.

The spell of her sonority was broken by the utterance and the once passive and responsive girl jerked as though slapped, and shouted: "Spricht nicht mehr! Geh!" Then coyly, putting her head down on my lap and clutching the lunch napkin that still lay there. "I will be alone with my Papa."

Her passivity with me, or periods of it at least, encouraged me, and things improved each time I saw her, whilst in Dresden. I postponed my suicide repeatedly, knowing that my sudden departure would destroy their lives. Not to mention my other children's lives. I hung on, despite the grim horror of my own despair. I visited them regularly, and it got better.

And then... Hiller's offer. I would sacrifice my time with them, and in exchange could provide her a professional doctor and a nurse full time, and a real home in the town. This, I could not resist. It was for this I turned down the editorship of the Leipziger Musikalische Zeitung, and the apparent comfort in Leipzig it would give me. No, no, I must take the better paying position regardless of the separation. Claudia agreed.

It was not as though we were lovers, after all... simply parents. Grieving parents, watching a living death and nurturing within it, a quiet hope of resurrection in the mind of my tormented one.

And two years of frenetic work passed, as Lamier arranged for everything with them, and all was well. I dreamed often of her, learning alphabets and making strange rhymes with her nurses and her tutors. But like a strike of lightning, Lamier arrived by carriage, and his eyes were creased with care. He had terrible news for me.


"Claudia what - she is ill? Dead? The girl stabbed her?" She liked knives, that one.

"No but she does not have long. To have another guardian for her will be more expensive. I have two thousand thaler left of your bonds."

"Oh god!" I cried. "Consumption?"

He nodded. Oh dear god... like Ludwig, like Julius, like Thérese. Consumed. I decided quickly. "Klara is gone in Russia. She will be gone two more months. Bring Susanna to me."

"You are sure?" he looked at me with some shock and suspicion.

"Bring Susanna to me," I repeated. "Give Claudia everything she needs to be comfortable. Send her to the hospice of St. Augustine in Bern. Or wherever she wishes to be. I will spare the expense of the visit; she will appreciate it. All the morphia she needs until it is done. I did not do this for Ludwig and it has cost me nightmares for a decade. I will not have it in her case. Let her breathe easy until her time comes."

Charles arranged for Susanna to travel with Glock since he was coming to see me on another matter. And with the miracle of the Eisenbahn between Leipzig and Nürnberg, and another track between Nürnberg and Stuttgart, the journey that once took me two weeks took them five days, and a carriage between Stuttgart and Mannheim brought them to the Eisenbahn which brought her to me in Düsseldorf in less time than I expected.

I had Königswinter's confidence, and he had a private estate on which to house the doctors and tutors, but this was not as yet established. He would charge me nothing for this - it was part of our agreement and at Hiller's express request. What I had done to deserve this wealth brought to bear on my behalf, I could not fathom. I was not in a position to question it. And so Susanna would stay with me in Brühl until Königswinter was ready for me.

I went there to work on the Mass in C -- my final work. After I had given up any hope of writing another opera, my first having failed with the public.

Her attendant was there, but Glock could not stay, and I was dismayed. I woke and went walking, as was my usual habit, and noticed a stealthy movement at the stables. There were no animals housed here. I cracked open the door, loose in the doorjamb, thinking her secure in her bed and under the watchful eye of her attendant. I heard laughter. It was barely even sunup. I crept in, and lighted a lamp inside the entryway. Definite voices: her coarse uncertain laugh, and a low response -- a male response. "Sussss," the voice said and I trembled and dropped the lamp. Someone had my girl, and I had allowed it, somehow. This would out. This would destroy them and me both! A stranger in Königswinter's loft! The lamp tumbled to the ground and went out, but did not shatter. I picked it up, quaking, as I heard a growl, which made me stop.

I gathered all the strength in me and lighted the lamp again, and hurried up the ladder. What would have happened had I slept? My mind was crowded with thoughts of death and horror. When I got to the top I hardly dared to look. "Suss!" I cried.

She lay naked and outstretched on a bed of hay, her riding cloak beneath her, and atop her was a half naked boy no older than her, blond puffy hair disarrayed. He turned with a sort of challenging smirk, which faded when he saw me.

"Get off her!" I shouted, shaking my fist at him.

"Go away." he shouted back, grasping at her breast, as though to incite me to violence.

I advanced on him, the inevitability of violence crushing me down. I put down the lamp, and grasped him by the shoulders and pulled him off - Luckily for me, he was relatively slight. He did not resist once hands were upon him, and he drew his trousers up and fled.

That left my mad daughter staring up at me with malevolent challenge, her thighs spread.

"Put your hands on me Man."

"Suss, it is Papa."

"Put your hands on me Papa I wish it! She lunged at me with the speed of the mad, and grasped my belt buckle pulling with furious strength. "Put your hands on me Man!" she ordered and my balance was lost and I fell down on her, one knee crushed against a beam as I fell.

"Suss!" I cried in agony as her hand worked furiously to free me from my clothes, tearing open my trousers with her claws. Her touch burned my flesh where it met mine, and I finally grasped her shoulders, she raised her legs and kicked at me in anger, not getting the cooperation she desired, and I threw the cloak across her body, holding her close, like a trembling victim of drowning.

"TAKE ME NOT TAKE ME NOT!" were the last coherent words she spoke before her screams began, and continued on relentlessly. I carried her down as she thrashed, almost falling twice, and she was loosed from my grasp and nearly fell from my grasp both times. I must not let her die, I must not let her kill me...or all is lost...

I got down from the loft with a fury kicking inside the cloak, her screams unstaunched. The attendant, a Hollandisch matron, came running in purple-faced shock, seeing me carry the girl naked in a cloak, my trousers unfastened and in disarray. "Herr Schumann what? Susanna cease! Give her to me!"

As the girl was taken from my arms I had a fit, and fell unconscious on the ground, and woke up an hour later. I never saw her again. And they never told me why. And I did not ask. Glock refused to speak to me of it, and I had no will to inquire.

And when I returned to Düsseldorf upon Klara's return, my last composition -- the Romances for String -- lay in small pieces around my piano in the study. I sat up all night, and the next day, and the next night, silent, with cigars and champagne. And as dawn rose, I slipped away from Mariechen who was guarding me that morning, offered my silk kerchief it to the toll taker on the bridge, climbed onto the embankment, and committed myself to the water at last.

•   •   •   •


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The Erotic Etudes Index

[ I ]   [ II ]   [ III ]   [ IV ]   [ V ]   [ VI ]   [ VII ]   [ VIII ]   [ IX ]
[ X ]   [ XI ]   [ XII ]   [ XIII ]   [ XIV ]   [ XV ]   [ XVI ]   [ XVII ]   [ XVIII ]

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