Gretchen Stultz may have been born a commoner, but there was little common about her. Even as a child, the pretty, red-haired girl quickly learned that a smile or a glance could win the hearts of men and women.
Her mother was a washer-woman when there was work and a strumpet when there was not; therefore, Gretchen's parentage was questionable. She was allowed to plant a garden on the tiny patch of ground behind the hovel she shared with her mother and three brothers. She grew turnips and parsnips to supplement their meager diet, but also flowers.
Gretchen loved this garden and mostly she loved the beautiful flowers which she watered and tended carefully. When they bloomed to their fullest, she cut them and gathered them in her apron and took them to the town square of Wittenburg where she sold them.
"Little fraulein, your flowers are the largest and most fragrant in all the land," they would say to her, or, "Oh, they are so pretty, just like you."
In truth, her flowers were no prettier than anyone else's, but Gretchen was prettier than the other flower girls and she never failed to sell all her wares.
In time, Gretchen's ambitions and tastes grew. When she could grow no more flowers in her tiny garden she bought flowers cheap from old women in the neighborhood and sold them at a premium, sometimes to their husbands. In the square, Gretchen met not only commoners but tradesmen and soldiers and squires. She considered marrying one soldier who made his affection for her quite plain. But she held her heart in check-after all, she might do better.
And then, one sunny day, a middle-aged doctor spotted her in the street. He was not only smitten with her, as were so many others, but he paid for her posies with silver, not copper.
Doctor Johann Faust showered her with fine clothes, linens, kitchen wares, tulips from Holland, and various trinkets, including a solid gold heart on a gold chain. Always she encouraged him, but never did she allow him access to her own treasures. At forty, he was just too old. Indeed, the old wives muttered he was older still.
More important, when Gretchen asked if he intended marriage, he confessed that would never happen. Indeed, the subject not only embarrassed him, but she thought it even frightened him.
The doctor's apprentice, Wagner, was closer to her age and station, and he gave her an appreciative glance from time to time. But he went no further, no matter her encouragement, and it was obvious he feared the consequences of such a dalliance.
There was one other in Faust's household, seldom seen and never heard. He appeared in the robes of an Augustinian monk, but he was anything but. With his hood thrown back, he was a gaunt, cruel-faced man with long, curly, black hair and a mustache like a Turk.
"I call him Mephistopheles," Faust told her, tickling her nose with a rose he had purchased from her. "He's my personal devil, and I will send him after thee, if you do not give me a kiss."
Gretchen quickly crossed herself and he laughed. Then she kissed him. But that was all he could get on his own.
One evening in 1540, Dr. Faust surprised Gretchen Stultz in the main square of Wittenberg.
"This is her," he said, obviously not speaking to her.
Gretchen, suddenly surprised, turned to see whom he might be speaking to. She found herself looking into the face of Mephistopheles.
This man, this devil, looked at her, peering deeply into her eyes. They... they were the color of blood. She wanted to scream. She wanted to run. She did neither.
Faust gave orders, but Gretchen could not make them out. She could obey only this demon.
"Come with us, to Faust's house," the devil commanded. She did so.
When they were there, Mephistopheles ordered her out of her clothes and she did as he bade.
"Lay on the bed. Faust will come to thee in the manner of a man to a woman. Respond to him as such."
She lay on the bed and spread open her legs. Faust divested himself of his scholarly robes and mounted her. And the devil stood over them, watching.