Then Legal Councilor Gontram comes into the room.
“Good evening colleague,” he says. “Here already? That’s good.”
He begins a long story about all that has happened during the day at the office and before the court. Purely remarkable things that only happen to lawyers once in a lifetime happen to Herr Gontram every day. These strange and often lusty occurrences are sometimes comic, often bloody and highly tragic.
Not a word is true. The Legal Councilor has an incurable shyness of telling the truth. Before his morning bath, yes, even before he washes his face in the basin, from the moment his mouth first opens wide he lies. When he sleeps, he dreams up new lies. Everyone knows that he lies, but his stories are so lusty and interesting they want to hear them anyway. Even when they aren’t that good they are still entertaining.
He is in his late forties with a short, very sparse beard and thinning hair. A gold pince-nez with a long black cord always hangs crookedly over his nose and helps his blue shortsighted eyes see to read.
He is untidy, disorderly, unwashed, and always has ink spots on his fingers. He is a bad jurist and very much against doing any work, always supervising his junior lawyers but not doing anything himself. On this basis he oversees the office managers and clerks and is often not seen for weeks at a time. When he is there, he sleeps. If he is awake, once in awhile he writes a short sentence that reads, “Denied” and stamps the words “Legal Councilor” underneath.
Nevertheless he has a very good practice, much better than the knowledgeable and shrewd Manasse. He understands the language of the people and can chat with them. He is popular with all the judges and lawyers because he never makes any problems and all his clients walk. For the accused and for the jury he is worth the gold he is paid, you can believe that.
Once a Public Prosecutor said, “I ask the accused be denied extenuating circumstances, Legal Councilor Gontram is defending him.”
Extenuating circumstances, his clients always get them, but Manasse seldom receives them despite his scholarly ways and sharp speeches.
There is still more, Legal Councilor Gontram had a couple of big, important and provocative cases that created sensations throughout the land. In both cases he fought through the entire year and finally won. These cases suddenly awoke in him a strange energy that up until then had lain sleeping inside of him.
The first was so full of tangles, a six times loser, nearly impossible case that went from lawyer to lawyer, a case with complicated international questions that he had no suspicion of when he took it. He just thought it was interesting and liked it.
The Koschen brothers out of Lennep had been condemned to death three times. In a fourth resumption he continued on and won their freedom despite hair splitting circumstantial evidence.
The other was a big million-dollar dispute over Galmeiberg Mfg. from Neutral-Moresnet that every jurist in three countries knew about. Certainly Gontram at the least had fought through to the very end and obtained a victorious verdict.
Since then for three years he handles all the legal casework for Princess Wolkonski. Remarkably, this man never says a word about it, about what he really does. Instead he fills the ears of those he meets with lies, cheeky inventions of his legal heroics. Not a single syllable comes over his lips of the real events of his day. This makes it seem like he detests all truth.
Frau Gontram says, “Dinner is just about ready and I’ve already set out a bowl of fresh Woodruff salad. Should I go get dressed?”
“Stay the way you are woman,” the Legal Councilor decides. “Manasse won’t mind–” he interrupts himself, “Dear God, how that child screams! Can’t you hold him?”
She goes past him with long, slow strides, opens the door to the antechamber where the maid has pushed the child’s wagon. She takes Wülfche, carries him in and sits him in a highchair.
“No wonder he screams,” she says. He’s completely wet.”
But she does nothing about it, leaving him to dry out by himself.
“Be still, you little devil,” she continues. “Can’t you see I have company?”
But Wülfche is determined to disturb the entire visit. Manasse stands up, pats him, strokes his chubby back, and brings him a Jack-in-the-box to play with. The child pushes the Jack-in-the-box away, bellows and screams incessantly. Cyclops accompanies him from under the table.
Then Mama says, “Now wait, sugar drop. I have something for you.”
She takes the chewed black cigar stub from out between her teeth and shoves it into the baby’s mouth.
“There Wülfche, how do you like that? Well?”
The child becomes still in the blink of an eye, sucking, pulling and beams, overjoyed, out of huge laughing eyes.
“Now attorney, you see how you must deal with children?” says the tall woman. She speaks confidently and quietly, completely earnest.
“But you men don’t understand anything at all about children.”
The maid comes and announces that dinner is ready. While the others are going into the dining room she goes with unsteady steps up to the child.
“Bah,” she says and rips the cigar stub out of his mouth. Immediately Wülfche starts to howl again. She takes him up, rocks him back and forth and sings him a melancholy lullaby from her Wolloonian homeland in Belgium.
She doesn’t have any more luck than Herr Manasse. The child just screams and screams. She takes the cigar stub again, spits on it and rubs it against her dirty apron to make sure the fire is completely out and puts it back in Wülfche’s red mouth.
Then she takes the child, washes him, changes him, and tucks him into bed. Wülfche never stirs, lies quiet, still and contented. Then he falls asleep, beaming blissfully, the ghastly black cigar stub always in his lips.
Oh yes, she was right, this tall woman. She understands children, at least Gontram children.
During the dinner and into the evening they eat and the Legal Councilor talks. They drink a light wine from the Ruwer. Frau Gontram finishes first and brings the spiced wine.
Her husband sniffs critically.
“I want champagne,” he says.
She sets the spiced wine on the table anyway. “We don’t have any more champagne. All that’s left in the cellar is a bottle of Pommery.”
He looks intently at her over his spectacles, shakes his head dubiously.
“Now you know you are a housewife! We have no champagne and you don’t say a word about it? What? No, champagne in the house! Fetch the bottle of Pommery– Spiced wine is not good enough.”
He shakes his head back and forth, “No champagne. Imagine that!” He repeats. “We must procure some right away. Come woman; bring my quill and paper. I must write the princess.”
But when the paper is set in front of him, he pushes it away again. He sighs.
“I’ve been working all day long. You write woman, I’ll dictate to you.”
Frau Gontram doesn’t move. Write? She’s a complete failure at writing!
“I can’t,” she says.
The Legal Councilor looks over at Manasse.
“See how it is, Colleague? Can’t she do this for me? I am so exhausted–”
The little Attorney looks straight at him.
“Exhausted?” He mocks, “From what? Telling stories? I would like to know why your fingers always have ink on them, Legal Councilor. I know it’s not from writing!”
Frau Gontram laughs. “Oh Manasse, that’s from last Christmas when he had to sign as witness to the children’s bad behavior!–Anyway, why quarrel? Let Frieda write.”
She cries out the window to Frieda. Frieda comes into the room and Olga Wolkonski comes with her.
“So nice to have you here,” the Legal Councilor greets her. “Have you already eaten this evening?”
Both girls have eaten down in the kitchen.
“Sit here Frieda,” bids her father. “Right here.”
“Now, take the quill and write what I tell you.”
But Frieda is a true Gontram child. She hates to write. Instantly she springs up out of the chair.
“No, no,” she cries. “Olga should write, she is so much better than I am.”
The princess stays on the sofa. She doesn’t want to do it either. But her friend has a means to make her submit.
“If you don’t write,” she whispers. “I won’t lend you any sins for the day after tomorrow.”
That did it. The day after tomorrow is Confession and her confession slip is looking very insufficient. Sins are not permitted during this time of First Communion but you still need to confess. You must rigorously investigate, consider and seek to see if you can’t somehow find yet another sin. That is something the princess absolutely can’t understand.
But Frieda is splendid at it. Her confession slip is the envy of the entire class. Thought sins are especially easy for her. She can discover dozens of magnificent sins easily at a time. She gets this from Papa. Once she really gets started she can attend the Father Confessor with such heaps of sins that he never really learns anything.
“Write Olga,” she whispers. “Then I’ll lend you eight fat sins.”
“Ten,” counters the princess.
Frieda Gontram nods. It doesn’t matter to her. She will give away twenty sins so she doesn’t have to write.
Olga sits at the table, picks up the quill and looks questioningly.
“Now write,” says the Legal Councilor.
“Is this for Mama?” the princess asks.
“Naturally, who else would it be for? Write!”
The princess doesn’t write. “If it’s for Mama, I can only write, ‘Dear Mama’.”
The Legal Councilor is impatient.
“Write what you want child, just write!”
She writes, “Dear Mama!”
Then the Legal Councilor dictates:
“Unfortunately I must inform you that there is a problem. There are so many things that I must consider and you can’t consider things when you have nothing to drink. We don’t have a drop of champagne in the house. In the interests of your case please send us a basket of spiced champagne, a basket of Pommery and six bottles of–”
“St. Marceaux!” cries the little attorney.
“St. Marceaux,” continues the Legal Councilor. That is namely the favorite of my colleague, Manasse, who so often helps.
With best Greetings,
“Now see, Colleague!” he says. “You need to correct me! I didn’t dictate this letter alone but I will sign it single handedly, and he puts his name on it.
Frieda turns away from the window, “Are you finished? Yes? Well, I can only say that you didn’t need to write the letter. Olga’s Mama is coming and she’s in the garden now!”
She had seen the princess a long time ago but had kept quiet and not interrupted. If Olga wanted to get ten beautiful sins she should at least work for them!
All the Gontrams were like that, father, mother and children. They are very, very unwilling to work but are very willing to let others do it.