Free Perlefter by Joseph Roth

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Authors: Joseph Roth
job Margarete was victorious. For she was Perlefter’s daughter. She even received bonuses while the other girls were dismissed.
    Margarete was pale and thin, and she could not stand the air in the office or the typewriter. Thus she gave the position up and became a kindergarten teacher without pay. But she understood nothing about kindergarten, and they dispensed with her assistance.
    After that she arranged charity balls, surrendering herself to the duties of a committee member.
    Next she dreamed of having a salon with poets, artists and scholars. Her husband should not play a role in this venture but should have money.
    Frau Kempen went in search of such a man.
    Eventually she found one.
    In the meantime, however, something important happened in the Perlefter household. All other things of importance faded into the background before one particular event: Henriette got married. Henriette was thirty years old and had been with the household for twelve years. I remember how she looked when she arrived. She came direct from the country, eighteen years old with red crackling hair, and she smelled of laundry soap bars. One could hear her stiff undergarments rustling.
    I loved her.
    She was the product of a random adventure when the police sergeant connected with her mother eighteen years earlier as he patrolled his route alone. Her mother brought hens, eggs, bread and radishes into the city.
    I went once with Henriette to her village. She wore a hat with glass cherries and held her shoes and stockings in her hand, since the road was muddy. We walked through the fields, the crickets chirping and the glass cherries clinking. Henriette told me all sorts of things that Perlefter’s wife and the porter’s wife said – for example, that Henriette would be better off in a position with a childless couple. But Henriette feared her mother. Under another employer she might perhaps go astray. It seemed to me it was Henriette herself who was most afraid she would go astray.
    She was red and flushed, and we were both hot. Then Henriette took off her hat, and it seemed to me that her hair was fragrant. Yes, it smelled very much like hay, meadows and dew. We stood still, and the windcaressed us. It was late spring, and one could already hear summer’s gallop.
    Then Henriette told me that a new constable had arrived in the village when she was fourteen years old. He had been a handsome officer, fearless and with shiny buttons. So, I thought, Henriette loves a policeman.
    But in the course of the conversation it turned out that this constable was a pretty despicable fellow. He had seduced three fourteen-year-old girls, taken their cash and disappeared.
    I don’t know whether Henriette was one of those fourteen-year-olds. But I am practically convinced of it.
    In the woods a solitary bird was warbling, and we argued about its type. I was two years younger than Henriette, yet she debated with me as if I had been the same age as she. She was the only person who had respect for me. I was a man.
    I said it was a goldfinch. Henriette suggested an oriole.
    I began to quarrel with her. But even though it really was an oriole and Henriette was right, I did not yield.
    Finally she hit me, and I pushed her back, but I bumped into her soft breast, and my anger dissipated. I protested no longer and smiled as Henriette threw me to the ground and pounced on me.
    We lay together in the woods, the wind was warm and fresh, and the oriole warbled. And we got carried away.
    I was determined to marry her, but she cheated on me with a chimney-sweep, yet loved me still. The olderI got the more she loved me. When I took leave of Perlefter she kissed me, and sometimes she came to me ‘just for a quick hello’.
    Henriette could not marry the chimney-sweep, for she could not let go of the Perlefter family. She had announced her intentions and was already making preparations for the wedding. Then Frau Perlefter became sick. She had a weak

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