Schmidt was the eldest
daughter of Helmuth Schmidt, the Schönwald stableman, and
Emma Schmidt the Schönwald household cook. Even as a
small child, Cosima was acutely aware that she was born rather
too quickly after her parents’ marriage for propriety.
She didn’t find this out from her parents.
Emma and Helmuth were each embarrassed by their indiscretion
and never spoke of it.
They certainly didn’t say a word to any of the children.
Cosima heard about her “unsavory” beginnings repeatedly
and cruelly from the household staff at Schönwald.
had two effects on Cosima.
One was to make her
hate the elderly household staff, who were cruel to her mother
and cruel to her younger sister and herself as the children of
other was to make her feel that she was a bastard.
Even though she knew
her parents were married, she felt the stain that they had
sinned, and she was the result of that sin.
Cosima was very tall, heavy in a chunky kind of way, ungainly
felt stupid and ugly.
She believed that if
she’d been pretty or graceful or tiny or smart that no one
would have minded that she was born too soon.
If she’d been a
small baby, people might even have believed she was premature
and not a bastard at all.
unhappiness gave her a sullen expression and a lurching flat
footed walk, which did nothing to help her overcome her
feelings of ugliness and uselessness.
The scoldings, her
bad temper, stomping, and door slamming earned her only served
to convince her that no-one loved her or wanted her.
heiress, Luise von Goff, was three years younger than Cosima,
who was seven when Luise started sneaking down to the kitchen
first Cosima was jealous of the attention her mother gave
Luise, but she quickly came to pity her when she saw the
nanny, Frau Blücher, catch her in the kitchen one day and
haul her off back upstairs, and saw the sympathy the kitchen
staff had for anyone who had to live with Frau Blücher.
As sorry as Cosima
felt for herself, at least she didn't have to live with Frau
if Cosima felt that Emma didn’t understand her and scolded
her more than she deserved, Cosima wasn't ignored by her
mother the way Luise was ignored by her mother, Hildegard, and
Cosima didn't have to live with Frau Blücher, who Cosima
She didn’t envy
Luise’s position because when she compared Luise’s life to
her own, she thought she was better off than Luise was.
time Cosima came to have a strong affection for Luise,
enjoying her company, and looking forward to having her
spirits lifted by Luise's openhearted delight in every day
things that Cosima took for granted, such as toast.
Cosima saw that
Luise was lonelier than she was.
At least Cosima had
a sister, even if she didn’t get along with her, and three
older half-brothers, even if Markus was slow and she didn’t
She adored her
half-brother Kurt, and pitied Luise being all alone all the
time with no brother like Kurt, and no mother-love.
admired her mother tremendously, and felt inadequate in
all she’d been through, Emma was still even tempered, good
hearted, and cheerful without a hint of bitterness about her.
Cosima wished she could be like her mother.
was deeply humiliating to the Schmidt children that Helmuth
was married to the household cook instead of to the stable
wasn’t right for the stableman to eat in the big house, any
more than it was right for the household cook to sleep in the
That Emma and
Helmuth went back and forth between the two worlds was wrong
in the eyes of their children, and served to illustrate that
something untoward had gone on between the two, for them to
have married at all.
It was that
wrongness that the senior household staff fastened on in their
relentless campaign against Emma and her children.
spent her first twelve years in her mother's kitchen, and
seemed destined to be a kitchen servant, or to work in the
had thought that she would be the stable cook, so she spent
some time in the stable kitchens helping her father's sister.
Then an order came
down that the master of the estate, Otto von Goff, wished to
have Cosima serve at the dinner table.
Previous to that
Hildegard's mother, Clothild, had hired a series of well
trained serving girls who had been so mistreated by Hildegard
and the senior household staff, that none of them had stayed
up with the constant departures of anyone new to Schönwald,
Otto ordered that someone who lived there and could not quit
should serve him.
first Cosima was humiliated and appalled to be called back
into the house and sent above stairs.
She had no idea what
was expected of her, except that she was sure she’d mess it
knew that Hildegard loathed her, and felt as if Otto was using
her to get back at his wife.
She was in the room
when Hildegard and Clothild both scolded Otto for interfering
in the running of the house, and she could see how it amused
Otto when her clumsiness drove his wife and mother-in-law mad.
However, it soon
became clear to Cosima that the von Puttkamer staff were
outraged that she was serving at the table, and if there was
anything that Cosima enjoyed, it was upsetting them.
She became grimly
determined to continue to serve at the table.
intended to hire more serving girls, but when she died
suddenly no one followed through on her plans, which meant
Cosima continued to serve Otto.
After a while
Otto’s kindness to her created a spark of hopefulness in
her, and a desire to do better.
Not only that, but
serving at the master’s table included serving him at
breakfast, at which Otto was never joined by Clothild or
liked to have breakfast with Luise each morning.
Cosima found herself
drawn into their sense of fun, and realised that they not only
didn’t despise her, they actually liked her.
formed a plan to do something for herself, the way Emma did
something for herself.
exposure to Luise gave her the feeling that she could count on
Luise, and that Luise wouldn’t be above breaking a few
eventually plucked up the courage to ask Luise to teach her to
was blind-sided by the request, but was intrigued by the idea,
they spend time together on Cosima’s reading lessons, the
two girls came to trust and like each other, so that Luise
felt she could depend on Cosima to help her when she got
herself into a jam, and Cosima felt that she could depend on
Luise to keep her secrets.
Cosima formed her big plan to “be somebody,” Luise was the
only person she confided it to. Although Luise didn’t
understand Cosima’s need, and they fought about it, she
never broke Cosima’s confidence. As Cosima became more
purposeful, she became less sullen and clumsy, earning praise
from Otto, and earning Emma’s approval. That was
enough to steel her in her resolve, despite the sneering from
her little sister, and the lack of acceptance from her father