“Wilhelm has a high fever today. I’m to take his place.”
“Thank you, Steffi. Wilhelm had told up until the point where he carried Erika home with him.”
“That I will never forget! Mama and I were busy doing the wash outside in the garden, and there they came. She looked at everything so wildly, as if she didn’t know whether to run away or stay. Wilhelm spoke to her softly the entire time. Mama was completely taken by surprise. ‘Good heavens! What is that?’ Erika’s dress looked like it hadn’t been washed in years, and her hair really did break a comb later that day. Wilhelm looked like a child at Christmas. ‘Look what I found!’ he said proudly.”
“I can imagine that. He always looks like that when he’s caught a new animal.”
“At the time I was eleven, but I was more curious than scared. ‘Who is that? What’s her name?’ I asked. ‘That’s my mother,’ Wilhelm said, ‘and that’s my sister Steffi’. She looked at us curiously and reached for my necklace with the crucifix on it. ‘I found her in the forest,’ Wilhelm said. ‘I think she’s been living there alone for quite some time’.”
The scratching sound of a pen hurried against paper.
“At first we didn’t do anything about her ankle. Mama had already reached for the soap and ordered Wilhelm to carry Erika to the bathroom, and then Mama shooed him out. He was only allowed to fetch water from the well, and it seemed like we emptied the whole well. She was so dirty! She didn’t want to take off her dress and didn’t do it until I took my own off just to show her that it could be put back on again. We used two bars of soap to find her original skin color. After that, she had tan skin and light blond hair. But her hair! The comb broke in two after just a few minutes. Erika hadn’t found the bath too bad, but when we combed her hair for probably the first time in years, she hissed and yowled. In the end, Mama gave her one of her own dresses because her old one was so torn. It was a little large for her, but…”
“And you’d guess as Wilhelm did that she was about sixteen?”
“Yes, I’d say so. She was a little older than I am now. The original dress that she wore was about the size of an eleven-year-old girl.”
“She had lived alone in the forest for five years?”
“Six, we later found out.”
Steffi laughed. “That’s exactly what Wilhelm said when Erika walked into the living room after her bath. She had been completely transformed—and so had Wilhelm. He was madly in love with her at first sight. He couldn’t even speak. After two minutes he managed to say, ‘You’re beautiful… a true princess of the forest’.”
Helmut had to laugh.
“Stella was insanely jealous after she got to know our new guest,” Steffi said with a grin.
“Ah, Wilhelm’s fiancée. I can understand why.”
Steffi stood up suddenly. “I’d better check on Wilhelm now. This morning he wasn’t doing so well.” She disappeared into the next room.
“See you tomorrow.”