Four Bach Cantatas
Cantata 2. Now Come, Savior of the Gentiles (“Nun Komm’ der Heiden Heiland,”)
By Ash Warren
For the Hindsight Isn’t 20/20 Award
The author recommends that the above be played while reading.
The very moment she touched the letter he handed her, the afternoon light seemed to flicker and die, as if someone had just blown out a candle.
‘Looks like a storm coming’ the boy said, looking at the darkening clouds.
Alice felt a cold wind on her skin, and heard it shifting among the branches of the old elm in the garden. She would remember this later, and wonder if it had been an omen.
‘Better close the shutters I suppose. You get along home.’ she said and turned inside.
She found Marais sitting at the piano as he usually was at this time of day. As he played he was swaying slightly, his head tilted back and his eyes closed, like he was trying to find some elusive scent.
The sound of the cantata Nun Komm’ der Heiden Heiland flowed from under his fingers like a sinuous vein of molten silver, calm, its aching melody beautifully controlled.
He stopped and smiled at her as she handed him the letter and returned to the kitchen.
Marais turned the bulky looking brown envelope over in his hands and wondered at the fine handwriting on it. He thought that it looked vaguely like some kind of legal missive. He broke the wax seal on the back and took out several sheets of thick paper covered with a flowing copperplate which reminded him of something he last saw in his schooldays.
Putting on his glasses he began to read.
My dearest Auguste,
How many years has it been since we last saw one another? Perhaps there have been more than thirty winters since then?
Yet I remember you fondly and have followed your illustrious career with interest in the newspapers. I even own some of your recordings which are, without question, among my treasures. Many are the evenings I have spent playing them and thinking of the times we had together when we were boys here in Marseille.
My old friend, you are no doubt curious as to the purpose of this letter after so long. I shall come to the point.
It is about Elizabet.
In the years after her tragic death in Auschwitz and your own release from detention as a prisoner of war, there has been little real news of what actually happened to her in that dreadful place and how she died, though myself and others have not given up the search for the truth, which we feel we owe to the families.
After the war I eventually took over my father’s legal practice here in Marseille, and it is in this capacity that I have been involved for many years now with an international group of Holocaust survivors to establish as far as possible what happened to those murdered in the camps.
It is only recently though that we have obtained some information, which has caused me to hasten to write to you. It comes from the daughter of one of the survivors who was incarcerated with Elizabet, who now lives in Jerusalem.
It would appear that before she died, Elizabet confided in this woman that she had given birth to a daughter, whom she named Laure. This child was born some eight months after your own arrest and was left with her aunt, one Antionnete de Villiers, living in your hometown of Aubers.
Due to the fact that this child, who can only be your child, was born out of wedlock to a Jewish mother and in secret while the family was in hiding from the Germans, we believe she may be unaware of the identity of her true father. It was also apparently the wish of her remaining family that no scandal tarnish the memory of Elisabet, who along with most of her kin, perished in those terrible times.
So now my old friend, I urge you with all my heart. Seek out this child. It would be what her mother wanted, and I know she loved you beyond all things. Do this, my friend, for her. And for yourself, and most of all, for Laure.
A final word. I recently came across this photograph and I thought that this also should really be yours. It belongs to a gentler, happier time.
With warmest regards,
The scream that rang through the house was like nothing Alice had ever heard before.
She dropped the plate she had been washing into the sink and raced towards the parlour where she flung open the door and found Marais on his knees in the middle of the room, his hands clutching at his face. He was rocking to and fro, and in his eyes there was a look of utter despair.
Around him on the floor lay scattered the pages of the letter, and lying among them Alice noticed an old photograph. It was of a young couple standing under a tree at what looked like some kind of picnic. The woman, blonde and undeniably beautiful was smiling happily at the camera while the young man, leaning against the trunk of the tree, observed her with a look of quiet adoration.
She stared at Marais. The young man in the picture was undoubtedly him.
Marais was staring at the photograph. He began whispering something, over and over to himself.
‘What have I done?’
To be continued.