The fact that Léonard was now bringing up Mönchsberg Abbey to back up his lies was Claire's proof that he was planning something. They had learned it in class. There was little information about it in the textbooks provided, but one thing was certain; the Mönchsberg Abbey had been banned nearly four hundred years ago and the order had been dissolved. She condemned Emma´s stupidity and how she could not see that he was an impostor.
In her brain, the synapses were sparking in every nook and cranny, trying to find the name Mönchsberg again. Only after Auntie's return at night was she able to rest for a few hours.
The next morning was blessed with no clouds. Light blue tones dominated Regenschloss. A golden eagle flew over the Norbertshöhe as Claire came to the breakfast table. Giselle consulted the newspaper. With a quick glance at Claire's wrinkled nightgown, she was able to reconstruct her night's struggle.
"You look more tired than yesterday."
"Barely slept," Claire mumbled.
"You can stay in bed," Giselle recommended.
"I´m too awake."
"I know what it's like," she shared, "Eat something and you'll feel better."
She looked for a slice of bread and butter. Just as she was about to get up to get a knife, Giselle offered her hers.
"Here you go," she smiled, "I don't think there's a bigger sleepyhead than you in Regenschloss."
The rustling of the newspaper warmed the kitchen. Claire liked this sound. It took her mind off things as she ate her bread.
"Failed negotiations in Gnomonpol," read Giselle, "This has been dragging on forever... why don't they give in?"
Claire did not listen to her. Mönchsberg Abbey returned. In her mind's eye, yesterday played itself out. Léonard was a liar. The abbey no longer existed.
"Can I ask you something?" she interrupted her sister.
"Have you ever heard of Mönchsberg Abbey?"
Giselle looked at her perplexed.
"At school. Besides, Father dealt with it."
Claire was blindsided.
"You were too young to remember. It was after you were born. During that time, he was interested in the history of the country. Aunt Waltraud looked after us all the time. He stopped doing that after he got his job back."
"I didn't know that at all."
"Understandable. Father was often out of the house. After Mother's death he could hardly get himself together and in the sanatorium, he became interested in the abbey. Auntie even said that he was fascinated by the occult. As if he wanted to bring her back to life. For him it must have been a terrible blow when Mother passed away."
Claire felt guilty.
"You shouldn't worry about that," Giselle comforted. She clearly noticed how her younger sister's face had changed, "Father has always been a friend of history.”
Ashamed, Claire thought of her childhood. Whether her Father was there or not, she had had a happy one. At least from the point of view of others. They were more prosperous than most. They never had to worry about their existence, quite unlike Emma, who lived with her mother and her sick grandmother. All her money saved for a year went on the trip to her grandfather.
Waltraud once said that Claire was the greatest happinessin her Father's life. She asked herself whether it would not have been better to die herself than her Mother. On her birthday - shouldn't she lay flowers at the grave instead of celebrating? Then Giselle realised how little Claire knew about her parents.
"Forget all that. It doesn't matter anyway. How did you even get the idea?"
"While falling asleep," Claire lied.
Giselle rolled her eyes.
"To fall asleep is to sleep. Not thinking."
"I know... sometimes the strangest things pop into my head. Don't you?"
"No." her sister replied. "I'm going to Kerner's. Would you like to come with me?"
"All right. See you later."
Just as Giselle was saying goodbye, another question occurred to her.
"Could it be that you smoke? You smelled strongly of cigarettes yesterday."
"Léonard smokes," Claire said in a flash.
"I see. You're too young to smoke. Bolderich smokes one now and then. Father doesn't like it. Besides, it's not proper for a young lady."
"I am not a young lady!"
"But really, I have to go. See you later, Claire!"
Claire was alone. Waltraud was asleep. She treated herself to a bath.
In the tub, she worried more than relaxation could heal. Who had her Mother been? What kind of person was she?
There were no family photos in the whole house. Father had never spoken of her. Never mentioned her in a letter. There were no albums with all the family memories. Nowhere did a picture of a woman resembling her or Giselle exist.
Claire turned away from Emma and Léonard.
As little as she wanted to have anything to do with him, she wanted to know more about her Mother. As little as she knew about her, she made enquiries. Before Claire dared to enter her Father's study, she went to the town hall for information. They could not help her there. When Claire then also replied that she did not know where her Mother was buried, she was told to leave and not to make a fool of herself.
A visit to the Regenschloss cemetery was in vain, she found no grave there with the name Chloé Silberlilie.
In her eagerness to solve it alone, Claire had grabbed the key to Father's office. Immediately afterwards, she was caught by her sister, who started packing her suitcase. Claire could think of no excuse; her imagination had failed her.
The fanatical idea of finding out more about her Mother made her visibly forget that Giselle had to leave. Saying goodbye was easier than she had thought. The next day Claire had waved to her as the locomotive left the station, then stormed straight back to the office.
There was nothing.
Frustrated by the search, Claire thought of writing a letter to her Father and asking him about this. But she did not dare. Waltraud had noticed that something was not right with her niece.
The days had flown by, the novena was approaching and so was the new year. Emma and Léonard had not shown themselves since their trip. Claire was happy about this and at the same time thought she had been forgotten. Emma, of course, wanted to have her Léonard all to herself. That liar was going to get her into a lot of trouble. She wished it on her.
Angry at her frustration, Claire agreed to have dinner with her aunt at the restaurant. The evening was pleasantly noisy. It felt different from usual for Claire. She enjoyed being part of a crowd, the long-winded and plodding conversations about the feast and the war buzzing in her ears, underpinned by clanking, laughing guests and peppy music.
Waltraud was sitting opposite of her, a little tired, but always satisfied and trying to look good.
"Giselle was gone all of a sudden. I didn't think she would miss her husband so soon," she babbled, giggling.
The monologue was kept alive with a second glass of red wine. Claire's interest was focused on the rolling peas on her plate.
"It was like when we were all living together."
"That's how I felt too," Claire admitted absently.
There was a pause. What could she have said in reply? Strangely enough, it often happened that she could not keep her aunt's conservations alive.
"You seem to miss her a lot," her aunt said thoughtfully, "You even forgot to check the mail. A letter arrived for you."
"For me? What's in there?" she asked, astonished.
"It arrived yesterday. It's from your Father," Waltraud replied, handing her the envelope.
Presumably, belated birthday wishes.
With a cautious expression, so as not to let on anything, she opened it. Enclosed with the actual letter was a brochure and another paper addressed to her aunt.
"This is for you."
Waltraud began to read it straight away. Claire looked at the text for a long time before she started.
Happy birthday, Claire!
Everyone turns eighteen only once in their life. Congratulations from the bottom of my heart! Many congratulations also from Bolderich.
I am extremely sorry that I could not attend your special day. In the meantime, events came to a head and I was forced to cancel the visit at short notice. I hope you were not too disappointed. I hope you forgive me. I hope you understand.
Nevertheless, I am pleased to be able to write these lines at last. Soon we will be able to see each other. We will meet in your last holiday week for New Year. At the moment I commute daily, so I have little time to catch my breath. That's why I took a few days off after New Year.
You know how important you are to me.
As soon as you come to me, you will start your education at a private girls' school. It should help you to master the most important tasks in your future life with flying colours. Please read the brochure for further information. I don't have the time to write everything down. We will get the most important information on the spot when we introduce ourselves to the headmaster - he is a friend of mine.
I hope you're happy to come to a big city. Haven't you always wanted to get out of Regenschloss and discover the world?
As the novena restricts the train timetable, I will call you in the coming days to discuss how you will travel. I need to see when I can pick you up. Be so kind and be at home between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. for the next few days. I usually finish work then and contact you then. You will be the first thing on my mind as soon as I get off work.
That is all I can write now. I look forward to the moment when we will meet again.
With love, your father
Claire picked up the brochure. The front picture showed a new-fangled building in a natural area, probably a small suburb, surrounded by rich villas. She could decipher the heading in this old-fashioned spelling, with some effort.
Petra Schröder Private Girls' School
"Training to be a chambermaid... lovely wife... and midwife?" she whispered as softly as she could.
Claire was stunned, dismayed, befuddled, speechless.
A second time she read the letter. Now it became clear to her. This was how her Father wanted to treat her? Was she seriously going to become a chambermaid...? No, she was to become a wife. Probably be given a husband as soon as her education was completed. The headmaster most likely, whom he called his friend. Just like Giselle. The way her sister was lured by him and never came back.
Anger welled up inside her. Did she now have to do what her Father demanded of her? The one who was never home when she was unwell? Did he think he could do his duties as a Father in those short letters? To make up for the lost years of her childhood in these lines?
Claire was overwhelmed by her heated feelings. In a sheer tantrum, she crumpled the brochure. Grimly, she noticed her aunt. The frenzy stopped as soon as she saw she was being watched.
She also had a letter. Claire fervently wished she could turn back time to know what it said. Slowly she unfolded the brochure and put it aside. Remorse was in her entire body. Waltraud looked at her with a worried expression.
"I didn't think it would come to this."
She tried to put on a tasteless smile.
The petrified Silberlilie would have liked to get up and leave. As she rose, she could not think of any places to retreat to. No matter where she fled, reality haunted her. Even in her mind, she banged against a wall. Like a malfunctioning record, the music kept repeating. Each time it had the same ending. There was no confidence.
Claire sat down and took a deep breath.
"So, you can fulfil your dream, aren't you pleased?" continued Waltraud as if nothing had happened.
Claire said nothing in reply. She looked at the peas.
Waltraud excused herself briefly to go to the cook. Claire quickly picked up the envelope. It was even worse than hers. Inside her, the world was collapsing. Trapped in a cage with ripping threads, she had no chance of walking without hurting herself.
It became even more momentous.
Father told a lie. A bold-faced lie.
When Aunt Waltraud returned, Claire was already gone. The two letters, the brochure, the envelope, everything she had torn up and thrown into the river. Crying, she ran home and locked herself in her room.
To the next part: Chapter IV.3.