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Absolution   By: (1860-1952)

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"The rats! Ugh, the rats!" cried beautiful Mrs. Tiralla, as she stood in the cellar with her maid. They had gone down to fetch some of the pickled cabbage from the tub in the corner in order to cook it, and the maid was carrying the lamp whilst Mrs. Tiralla held the earthenware dish. But now she let it fall with a piercing shriek, and lifted her skirts so high that you could see her gay coloured, striped stockings, and her neat feet encased in shiny leather slippers.

"Where are the rats?" The maid laughed and showed all her big white teeth. "I can't see any rats. There are none here, Pani," and she looked at her mistress with a half stupid, half cunning leer on her face. "Pani must have been dreaming, there's not a living thing in the cellar except Pani and Marianna. Sh! sh! hark!" She bent her head and listened for a moment; then she shook it and laughed again. "Rats would patter, but there's no sound of anything."

She raised the lamp, so that the light shone all around. Gliding shadows fell on the black walls gleaming with moisture, and showed up the cracks in [Pg 2] the rough masonry, the places where the bricks were crumbling away, and the dark corners in which hung big spider webs. It was the old cellar of an old house in which the two women were standing, and a very neglected one to boot. It had never been cleared. Turf and coals, all higgledy piggledy, were stored away near the tub containing the Sauerkraut ; and amongst the many wine bottles that lay scattered about on the floor there were just as many empty ones as full ones. The shelves, which once upon a time had reached half way up the cellar walls, had fallen to pieces, and were now nothing but a heap of rotting wood. All kinds of rubbish lay amongst the potatoes, and broken hooks, broomsticks, and old pieces of pot stuck out of the sand, into which, here and there, a bundle of herbs had been carelessly thrust, in order to keep it through the winter. The place had never been aired, as there was nothing but a very small grating right at the top, which was never opened; and it smelt foul. The lamp gave a dim light, as though stifled by the mustiness, and the two figures the clumsy figure of the maid and the more dainty one of the mistress were encircled by a vaporous, glimmering mist.

"But there are rats here, do you see, do you hear? Ugh!" Mrs. Tiralla again gave a loud shriek, her face was pale, and, opening her sparkling eyes wide as if with terror, she seized hold of the girl's arm. "There was one! Ugh! Horrid animal!" She shook herself and gave a jump, as if one of the long tailed monsters were already creeping up her warm body.

"Holy Mother!" As though infected with the exaggerated fear of her mistress, the maid now also gave a shrill scream and let the lamp fall, as her mistress [Pg 3] before the dish. It broke into many pieces and went out. They stood in pitch darkness.

"You stupid girl!" screamed her mistress nervously, and raised her hand as if to strike her.

The maid ducked down and jumped aside, as though she could see the lifted hand in spite of the darkness; her suppressed chuckling was heard in a distant corner of the cellar.

"If Pani is going to hit me, ha ha! I shall stop here, ha ha!"

"Nonsense. Hit you? I shouldn't think of such a thing," protested Mrs. Tiralla, trying to conciliate her... Continue reading book >>

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