To read the novel in start-to-finish order, click the Volume Two link and consult the Table of Contents links at the bottom of the page.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chapter 2-2

At 1:00 PM the lunch bell rang. The workers at the Meyer Cycle Works stepped away from their tools and began to disperse for the midday meal. Out in the street, food carts and stands had set up offering sausages and cabbage soup and other midday fare to the workers in the district’s factories. Some workers hurried home for lunch, others went to carts or taverns. A number of the women, whose salaries did not stretch to buying hot food, sat in the workers’ room knitting and eating pieces of bread they had brought from home.

Walter took the streetcar home, the cost of getting there and back quickly enough to see his mother and brother at the same time. Soup was bubbling on the burner in the kitchen when he entered. Frau Ilse Heuber was already dressed in her best clothes, the ones she only wore when teaching piano lessons or if she went to service on Sunday. She had put on a large apron to preserve her finery and was bustling around the table putting out three settings of china.

It was already becoming stifling in the flat and sweat glistened on Frau Heuber’s forehead, but Walter left his jacket on when he hung up his cap by the door. Mother did not believe that a gentleman should eat in shirtsleeves. “We may live here among the poor,” she would tell her sons. “But we do not have to live as they do. Never forget that your grandfather owned the best saddlery shop in Eickstedt. He sent all six of us children to school, and we girls had music lessons.”

Erich arrived a few minutes after Walter, and their main meal of the day commenced. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, Walter told the news of his conversation with Herr Meyer.

“Will this mean a raise?” his mother asked. “How much?”

Walter felt his triumph checked. There would be more money. Certainly there must be more money. Meyer had said there would be, hadn’t he? He tried to recall the exact words spoken rather than his own impressions. Perhaps it hadn’t been said, but surely he wouldn’t be made a foreman without getting a raise. He felt his pride suddenly checked, and as a result a flash of anger towards his mother.

“The raise isn’t decided yet, but I’m sure there will be more money,” he said.

“Perhaps it would be enough… Enough that I could spend my time only on giving piano lessons.” Unless forced she prefered not to mention her night job as a charwoman.

Walter wished that he could promise her that as a foreman he would earn enough that she could quit that second job, but he knew that if once stated such a promise would be taken as absolute. “I hope so, Mother. But I don’t know yet.”

Frau Heuber did not reply, eating silently, her forehead slightly creased.

“Will you buy a bicycle?” asked Erich? “I’d get the Model 17 racer if I had money.”

Walter grasped at this happier line of discussion. “If it’s a good raise, I’ll buy a bicycle. The last time I was in Herr Meyer’s office, to talk to him about the jig design, he told me I should buy a bicycle. Though I think I’d get a Model 12 Men’s All-Weather.”

Erich nodded, satisfied that if there was a bicycle in the family he would get at least some of the enjoyment of it.

Frau Heuber put her spoon down and squared her shoulders. “I won’t have it, Walter. You must refuse.”

The intensity of the anger which flared up in him surprised Walter. He had come home with news that made him proud, and the reception of it was not what he instinctively felt he deserved. “Why is that, Mother?”

“That the factory has offered you this promotion so soon shows your value. It’s been wrong of me to let you help support the family while giving up your future by working in a factory. You should have a profession. A government job, perhaps. A clerk in an office. If you accept this job you’ll always be working in a sooty factory.”


“I can’t be selfish.”

“I won’t be a clerk, Mother. I don’t have connections, and I don’t have experience.”

“We have connections. Uncle Krem could recommend you.”

“Uncle Krem is a rural policeman. He’s not the sort of civil servant who can recommend someone for an office job. Mother, my job at the cycle works is a good job. Herr Meyer respects my work, and as a foreman I’ll have a chance for more advancement.”

“It’s not right. You should have volunteered to stay in the army. You could have been a sergeant like Uncle Krem and then retired as a policemen. The army is respectable.”

“But mother--” Walter realized that he was starting to shout. He took a breath and forced himself to speak calmly. “You know you didn’t like it when I was away with the army serving my two years. The pay was less than half what I make now, and they fed us so little you had to send me parcels. This is a good job. A respectable job. Factories are the future, not the army or government work.”

Frau Heuber pursed her lips in disapproval. “Well I think that you could do better.”

“Well, I’m sorry not to satisfy your aspirations for me.”

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