Mild spoiler alert: this won't actually give the story away - and anyway chances are if you've read The House on Schellberg Street you may have figured out what's happened to Clara. it's no worse, anyway, that that little blurby synopses we see on recorded TV programmes.
The story attempts to tell the how and the why, not the what.
Clara's Story is not presented entirely chronologically. This is therefore not the first chapter. It is, however, the earliest glimpse we have of her.
15 July 1883, Mecklenburg: Sunday best
Clara looked out of the drawing-room window to the street below. They were there again, the same as every Sunday. The three little girls looked so pretty in their summer dresses. The older girl – Clara guessed she must be the same age as herself – and the two boys who looked just like her own older brothers, Wilhelm and Rupert, were walking behind them, making sure that the little ones kept up with the rest. There were three younger boys who walked just behind the parents.
“They’re just like us,” said Clara.
“Except that they’re not,” said Wilhelm. “They’re Christians and we’re Jews.”
“What difference does that make?” asked Clara.
Rupert sighed. “A lot, Clarachen.”
“Don’t call me that. I’m nearly twelve and then I shall be a grown-up.”
Rupert tutted. “Well grow up then. They’re on their way home from church. They go to church on Sunday and we go to the synagogue on Saturday. They have a day of rest on Sunday and we have ours on Saturday.”
“But they dress like us and I expect they eat the same food. I expect their Mama is just as nice as ours. And there are nine of them, just like there are nine of us. We could each have a friend.”
Mama put down her sewing. “They might not want to be friends with us.”
“Why ever not?”
Mama and Papa exchanged a glance. Papa nodded. “She’s right. She will be grown up soon.”
“All right. Come with me, you big girl, you.” Mama stood up and slipped her arm around Clara’s waist. “You can help me make some tea and I’ll explain it all to you.”
As they set off down the stairs Mama whispered “I didn’t want the little ones to hear this yet.”
They heard a scream from outside and then a child howling. Clara just knew it was one of the little girls. She ran down the stairs and opened the front door.
Yes, there was one of them lying on the ground, screaming. Blood was streaming from cuts on her head and her leg. The mother and an older girl, about the same age as Clara, were bending down trying to comfort her. The others were looking on helplessly.
“Oh, Mama, we must help her,” said Clara. She rushed over to the family. “Will you come inside? We can bathe her leg and her head.”
The two mamas exchanged a look.
“Please,” said Clara. “She can’t walk home like that.”
The Christian lady looked at her husband.
“It’s true,” he said. “Perhaps you should stay here with her. I’ll take the others home and come back with the carriage.” He turned to Mama and Clara. “This is so very kind of you,” he said.
“I am Frau Hellerman,” said the lady, “and this is my daughter Lotte and her sister, Melissa.”
“Frau Loewenthal. Clara.” Mama was already helping Frau Hellerman to get Lotte on to her feet. “Come on young lady. We’ll soon get you sorted out.”
Lotte managed to limp into the kitchen and Mama lifted her up on to a stool. She filled a bowl with warm water. She gently dabbed the wounds on the little girl’s knee and forehead. “I hope it’s not stinging too much.”
Lotte shook her head. “I’ve spoiled my dress, though.”
“She should put some salt on it, shouldn’t she?” said Clara. “Won’t it stop it staining?”
Mama nodded. Clara fetched the krug and sprinkled salt on the stains.
“You see,” whispered Frau Hellerman. “Frau Loewenthal and Clara are taking good care of you.”
A few moments later Lotte was completely cleaned up.
“Would you like some tea?” said Mama. “Clara and I were just about to make some. And Lotte, I think we might find some lemonade for you.”
The door opened. Papa walked in. “There you are. And I see we have some visitors.”
Mama did the introductions.
“You have all been so kind,” said Frau Hellerman.
Clara helped Lotte hobble up into the lounge. Käthe brought one of her dolls for her to play with while they waited for Herr Hellerman.
“This really is kind of you,” said Frau Hellerman. “I’m sure my husband won’t be long. I’m so glad - well I’m so glad the law is on your side now.”
“Yes, it is easier now,” said Mama.
Clara wished she understood. Lotte and Käthe looked so similar and were obviously enjoying playing together.
“Ah. It looks as if your husband has arrived,” said Papa. “I’ll go and greet him.”
“Can Käthe and I be friends?” Lotte kissed the doll and handed it back to Käthe.
Mama and Frau Herllerman exchanged a glance. Mama nodded. “You are welcome in our home any time, my dear.”
“Come, let us find Papa,” said Frau Hellerman. She smiled at Clara and Mama. “I’m so glad you’ve found a new friend.”
“What did Frau Hellerman mean about the law being on our side now?” Clara asked Wilhelm later.
“It’s not always been easy for Jews,” her brother replied. “A lot of people don’t like us. But now the law says we have to be treated like any other citizen.”
This was so difficult to understand. They were just like everybody else, weren’t they? So why did they need a law to make them the same as everyone else?
“Is it just because we don’t believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah? Is that why people don’t like us?
Wilhelm laughed. “It’s not that simple, actually. You’ll understand one day. Listen. You’re just in the first stage of your life. Just enjoy it and don’t worry so much.” He turned and left the room.
It was so annoying. Why did they all treat her like a child? She was almost twelve and would have to pin her hair up soon.