What has happened so far: Claire and Emma have accepted Léonard's invitation to come to Weymouth. There they are hosted by the du Murnaux siblings, as Léonard is not present. Only after a few days does he show himself and meet Claire and Emma in Pfalzburg, where he talks about how they will celebrate New Year at Kapellen Castle, where a gala is taking place. In this chapter, they prepare for and hold the New Year's celebration. Will everything go as Léonard has planned?
It was cloudy.
It had also been raining. As the group had come over the Spruce Stone Pass, they had not seen the castle.
Their hotel was centrally located in the town of Kapellengarten, right at the entrance of the Vitelotte Valley, where the castle was located, on the shore of the Emerald Lake. There was no view of the lake or the mountains. Many rooms were fully booked. Due to the guests and soldiers (whose families arrived by train), there was hardly a chance to get a bed to stay overnight. It was thanks to Karoline, who had taken care of the reservation and only thought of it at the last moment, that they were now in the centre surrounded by other hotels and their windows showed the windows of the neighbours.
The car was parked somewhere on the shore, as the hotel had no parking spaces. The luggage had not even been emptied, when Léonard had disappeared.
Emma did not like his absence. Claire had a suspicion that he was inspecting the castle from a safe distance. Even Karoline and Stephan could not explain where he was. A walk along the shore enlightened them after lunch. The automobile was also missing. It reinforced Claire's idea that he had gone to the castle.
Poppy Square right by the hotel offered the many soldiers a quiet solace for the otherwise noisy front. Many cafés were waiting for this kind of clientele.
A dozen lime trees were surrounded by heather and pansies and there was a fragile pavilion in between. It was a perfect photo opportunity for the soldiers. Many of them queued up to take a memory with their wife for later. The sun was smiling on the place. The waiters looked forward to welcoming visitors, whether friends or squatters.
It was frightening to be in the minority in one's own country, Karoline said in a whisper as they looked for a table. Likewise, she continued, the language and religion were the same. It was the mentality that made the difference.
"Léonard stormed off immediately. I wonder if something happened?"
Worried about the eldest, Emma repeated herself several times and didn't listen to anything the others were speaking. It reminded Stephan of a whining child. Karoline and Claire knew about his escapades. Nothing surprising really, Karoline said as they placed the order.
"He'll be back soon," Karoline cheered her up, "He's just disappeared. That often happens with men."
"But why doesn't he tell us?" she complained, drowning out Stephan's yips with a sigh.
She shook her head deviously as she heard herself talking. He would never let anyone down. He was a hero. That's when the memories of the arrest in Sehlingen surfaced...
"The Wenzel Valley is history. From now on we come here!" a soldier gushed to his comrades, "Hurray for Kapellengarten!"
"Raise your glasses!" his cronies imitated.
"Pretty noisy in here," Claire observed, glowering at the next table.
"We'll leave as soon as we've paid," Karoline suggested, "Are you uncomfortable?"
"A little bit."
"You must always remember that you are not one of them," she cheered Claire up. Claire smiled.
"That's right. I'm just a girl."
While Emma briefly sought out the certain little place, the eldest was finally able to ask her friend.
"How do we distract her from Léonard?"
"Isn't he coming back?” Claire asked.
"Maybe tomorrow. We don't know."
"Is there something she´s very interested in?" Stephan interjected.
"She really likes animals," Claire reflected.
"A fishing trip?" he joked.
None of those present found it funny.
"There is an animal park nearby. It's halfway to the castle."
"The castle! The wonderful castle!" roared the soldier next door, "I'm going to propose to my beloved!"
The comrades whooped and hollered. Karoline rolled her eyes.
"I will ask later on how to get there."
"Good," Claire said with relief as Emma passed the table with the front-line soldiers. They bawled at her as if she were the soldier's sweetheart.
"Shall we go?" Emma asked in a frightened voice.
"We were waiting for you," Stephan spoke calmly and stood up at the same time.
The early afternoon was spent not far from the hotel. The many officers and privates did not make it easy for Claire to feel at home in Kapellengarten. Despite the imposing smallness of the town, there were many paths and alleys. A meaningless green area served for recreation. Nonsensical at all, considering the woods around the lake.
The group was more concerned with avoiding the song-motivated soldiers than relaxing at all. The only good news was that Karoline had found out that they could get to the park by a small bus. They didn't have to wait long at the bus stop.
Meanwhile, Léonard had not thought of the others. Maybe a few times about Claire or Emma when he took a drag on his cigarette…
Ministerfeld was located off Spruce Stone Pass.
With the achievement of faster travel, one could reach it from Kapellengarten in two hours.
It was a small settlement, enclosed on a plateau, in the middle of the forest. Due to clearing, the village had at some point become a hairless field on a flat plain.
The generously designed wooden huts provided shade for the flowers in front of them. The bustle of the spa Kapellengarten could not be heard. The residents were happy about that. Becoming a tourist attraction for the occupying army was not in the mayor's will.
With its thousand inhabitants and two thousand cows, two-thirds of the families were engaged in farming. Léonard found out about it when he asked an old man with a pipe on the street for directions.
With a stoic conscience, Léonard approached a simple wooden hut with a beautifully painted flower motif. The smell of wood reached his nose. He did not like it very much.
An elderly woman with long, free-hanging grey hair was sitting on a bench, knitting something. It resembled a scarf so far. Her husband had to be either in the field or dead. Léonard wanted to find out now.
He pushed the small gate aside and entered the front garden. A dark yellow-cheeked dog spied him half asleep and did not bark. The lady looked at him from a distance.
"Good afternoon," he greeted her, "I'm sorry to bother you. Am I in the right place with Mrs März?"
She stood up and giggled as Léonard knelt in front of her. He was a head taller than her. The dog seemed to have fallen asleep again after Léonard had patted its head.
"With whom do I have the honour? Call me Marianne, my dear."
"Leon Antrick.", he introduced himself, "From the company Seelenherz Inc. from Berlyne."
"Seelenherz Inc.? It's been a long time since anyone from them has come."
"There shouldn't be any more visitors either," he explained thoughtfully, "May I sit down?"
"I came because an incident took place recently. Near Mühlenbach - Rotunde. At the Victoria Luise Orphanage."
Marianne März was blindsided. Her glassy eyes gazed into his.
"How can I help you?"
"Is your husband present, perhaps?"
"No. He's at the field. Can I be of assistance?"
A few days ago, the orphanage was broken into. A terrible crime. The HePo took care of everything, but we are concerned about the papers. Some documents were stolen. The documents in question are precisely those of Hannah Goldmann. According to our current information, she was adopted 30 years ago. By you. “
The lady thought hard.
"It's true. We adopted one child. I had several miscarriages and this young gentleman... what was his name... offered to adopt."
"You mean Mr Herre. He was my superior."
"Right. A friendly man. How can I help you now? I don't quite understand."
"It seems that the perpetrator deliberately stole these documents. From Miss Goldmann's arrival at the home to her adoption at the age of ten. The police are already investigating this, we - as Seelenherz Inc. - are anxious to set everything straight. Can you tell us about your daughter?"
Marianne März was visibly confused. She did not know what to do.
"I don't follow you."
"You no longer have contact with your daughter?"
She was shaken. Tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks.
"She hasn't been in touch for years."
He tried to comfort her when she offered to come inside.
In the course of the conversation, her husband joined her. They were inside for about three hours, and at the end, there was a piece of homemade crumb cake and tea to heal the wounds of the past. Léonard was finally able to paint a picture.
The clues were enough to solve part of the puzzle. Now he knew that Hannah was renamed to Chloé März after her adoption. He could not get enough of Mrs März's flood of memories. Everything she had divulged; he wrote down in his notebook. He had said goodbye in a friendly manner and declared that he would get in touch as soon as there was something new. Her husband sometimes helped her out when she had forgotten something, which was immensely practical.
Léonard had not had a conscience for a long time. It made no difference who he cheated, old or young.
He lied more often than he told the truth. Again, he had lied just to get closer to his goal. Should he have explained to her what he was really doing? Should he have told her about the death of the children? He no longer asked himself questions like these. He had pushed them out of his brain. His morals were his foundation. He came first before all others.
In the evening, before he went back to the others, he had made himself comfortable in an old barn, where he scribbled more in his notebook. He recorded his ideas and conceptions; they became a construct that he should have recognised when he had messed with her. Now he had captured the overview.
At dusk he drove back to Kapellengarten.
During the night he got over the Spruce Stone Pass and almost ran over two drunken whipping boys. Without taking any further notice of them, he left them to their fate. At the lakeside, he found the motionless scenery he had been looking for. The lake shimmered ghostly in the moonlight. It reminded him of the one around his mansion. He could hardly wait. The longing was killing him. He was months and even years away from home - from his fiancée. Few days remained to him. Hours when he wanted to spur himself on. It gave him hope.
After one last cigarette from the pack, he made his way back to the hotel.
Hidden between Kapellengarten and the castle, right next to the only road, was the Viktoria Luise Animal Park.
It was a neat and wholesome natural jewel in the midst of the conifers. It was not particularly large. Nevertheless, the animals had enough space to feel at home. From the native birds, which were happily confined in sinfully large cages, to the foxes, badgers, and lynxes, which roamed and hid in extensive enclosures. Even wolves lived in a cordoned-off area and a gentle brown bear.
With many informative panels and a stringent falcon show, one could get an entertaining insight into the world of fauna.
Emma was not complaining.
She was able to turn away from Léonard for the first time in a long time. Her thoughts returned to normal. Almost too normal when she talked to Claire about the future. Regardless, she didn't know whether she found the squirrels or the foxes more exciting.
It was also a great opportunity for Claire and the siblings to get away from Léonard. Karoline assumed that he would not return to the hotel before New Year.
In a slender glade, there was a wooden statue of the mayor next to pretty kiosk stalls. The place was well suited for a break. Enjoying a popsicle, Emma had finally lost him completely from her mind.
"When we go back to Regenschloss, you'll start working, won't you? At your aunt's."
Claire bit into the wooden stick.
She had not thought about that anymore. She did not suspect that her friend no longer possessed any thoughts of the future. Frosty displeasure was in her stomach. The thought of later caught up with her.
"Why do you ask?"
"I actually wanted to start working as a seamstress in the textile factory where my mother works. But I thought about doing an apprenticeship. As a waitress or something. That would be fun if we could work together, wouldn't it? “
"You'll have to ask my aunt."
"Let's do that when we get back to Regenschloss," Emma grinned, "because mother doesn't want me to start at the factory. She suggested I go to POIS."
"She wants me to become a conductor," she clarified. "I don't like going back and forth on the train all the time. I don't feel ready to go to work. Besides..." (She came closer to Claire's ear) "Besides, I don't know what the passengers might do to me."
Claire was flabbergasted. Emma was right in what she said.
I hadn't thought about that myself...
"You know, I feel way too young to think about working." Emma said.
"That we women are allowed to work at all is thanks to the war," Karoline shared, "It gave us new rights."
Claire gaped at her.
"I just mean," she said quickly, "It helped, even if there were deaths."
"Times have changed rapidly," Stephan spoke without having a clue about anything, "But honestly; do you want to keep talking about profession and women? I want to see the rest."
"Do you work?" Emma asked Karoline, ignoring Stephan.
She looked shamefacedly at one of the pretty kiosk stalls.
"I keep the household going. We don't really need to earn money, we inherited everything from our family."
So meekly she admitted that they didn't need any earnings. It didn't help Emma much. At the same time, the young lady said that she would rather have a profession. Having her own bakery would be nice, Karoline added.
"Let's go on," Claire motivated the group.
The rest of the time in the zoo was different. This time they couldn't put their heads to the side. While they fed horses, Claire thought about how she could tell Emma about her future. They parted ways after the castle visit at the latest. Only now did she realise the time. Only now did she realise that it was time to say goodbye.
Optimistic, Claire told herself not to fall back into a spiral of hopelessness. Even after a mare tried to nibble her dress, she kept her temper.
Emma was so convinced that she could start working in the restaurant. But nothing ever happened the way one thought it would. No matter how many scripts you thought up in your head, there was always the one you forgot or didn't want to admit.
Actually, it would have made more sense to explain to her aunt that her father had made it all up. Why hadn't Claire done it? Was it fear of punishment? Her reluctance to criticise was childish. Claire's childish self was now afraid of the big adults. It went so far that she believed she would be punished with death if she resisted.
She always did what her sister or her aunt told her to do. They were older and knew the rules. Children are stupid and unaware of their actions, she often heard.
If she had only said something briefly on that evening when the letter arrived, would it have been a breach of trust? Who would Waltraud have believed more? Brother or niece?
Claire's future lay as uncertain as this year's weather. Unaware of the worries she was developing, she had no contingency plan. She put all her eggs in one basket.
The group returned on the last bus. Freed from the boozing soldiers, the oppression returned to the hotel. Kapellengarten was practically made up of them.
Tired and unconcerned, they wandered into their beds. While Emma tried to stop Claire from going to bed, she ignored her friend as she wanted to go to Léonard´s room.