The Matchstick Boy by Rowena Kinread

1849. Anton lives with his pregnant wife and two sons in Weissbruegg, a remote village in the Swiss Alps. His farm burns to ashes, bringing on his wife’s labour prematurely. She dies giving birth to a daughter, Wilhelmine, with a club foot.
Disaster strikes again when floods sweep down the valley ruining the crops. The Irish potato blight spreads across the Channel to Switzerland. Anton and his family face starvation.
Anton finds work in a matchstick factory. His young sons, Jakob and Josef, must work there too.
Anton’s brother-in-law, is caught stealing money. He loses his job and can no longer afford to send his son, Hari, to boarding school. Hari resents this and is jealous of Ramun, the son of the director of the matchstick factory, and Ferdinand, the mayor’s son, who both attend boarding school and wear smart blue jackets.
At the village school, Hari taunts Wilhelmine because of her limp. Josef comes to her defence. He calls Hari’s father a thief and a fight ensues. Hari is punished and plans revenge. The matchstick factories use yellow phosphor that glows green in the dark. Hari and his friends steal some phosphor to create a ghost to scare Wilhelmine. The trick goes horribly wrong when the phosphor begins to burn and Hari gets badly injured. Hari visits Ferdinand and steals his blue blazer.
Josef, eleven, is killed by a rock avalanche. Jakob is convinced it is murder. He had seen someone in a blue jacket on the mountain ridge above the scree, before it began to slide. He suspects Ramun, but cannot prove it.
Hari works for Ernst Pfister, a philanthropist in Bern. Pfister catches him red-handed breaking into his safe. Hari murders Pfister, steals the money and tries to abscond to America. His ship leaves harbour but is involved in an accident. Damaged it must return to port. Police are waiting for him there, and he is convicted of murder and receives a life sentence. He admits causing Josef’s death but says it was a mistake.
Ten years later Jakob marries Berta. Their daughter Gretl is profoundly deaf. When she is sixteen, she begins to work in the same matchstick factory where Ramun is now director. He rapes Gretl and she becomes with child. Jakob demands alimony for her infant. Ramun denies any intimacy with Gretl.
Jakob is determined to gain justice for Gretl and her child. He files a paternity suit against Ramun and unearths a myriad of well-kept secrets in the tight-lipped community. First one woman, then several, come forward and testify in Gretl’s favour. Ramun is sentenced to pay alimony and to three years’ imprisonment.
Thanks to the alimony, Gretl’s son can be apprenticed and learn a qualified job, thus breaking out of poverty. 459 words


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