Chapter Thirty-One

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David assisted the women into the lorry, then before he started the engine, he checked the fuel level with the dipstick. "We should fill the tank while we're in town, the level's quite low. I saw a gasoline pump over by the market yesterday."

Maria laughed. "Another thing I've not thought of. I would likely have continued driving until we ran out of fuel."

Bethia patted her hand. "Men are made to more readily think of such things, Sweetheart. Women are made to keep men comfortable and yearning to continue loving, caring for and supporting. Both can do both, but each has a speciality."

Rachel, Maddie and Jacob were in the courtyard at Meierhof with concerned looks as David drove in. He jumped from the cab, nodded at them and smiled before he turned to give Bethia a hand down. They all hugged greetings, then turned to Bethia to congratulate her.

"We have much to do," Bethia said. "First, I must find reliable workers and skilled craftsmen." She looked at Jacob. "I need a good masonry team to build a meat smoker. Carpenters who can follow engineering drawings. Pruners, many pruners and —"

"Come, let's sit inside and have tea," Maddie interrupted. "We can talk more comfortably there. I'm so excited for you."

Through the mid-afternoon, as Bethia talked of work needed and projects wanted, David compiled a list, which included names of people Jacob suggested would be good for each aspect of the work. When the clock struck the half hour, Bethia looked up at it. "Five thirty already. We should go before the border closes."

"Why must you go?" Maddie asked. "Why not stay here? We've plenty of room."

"We can go early into town to locate craftsmen and labourers," Jacob said. "The best ones will likely be working, so we'll have to search them out. There was talk last year of establishing a labour office. We can see if that's been done."

Rachel looked at Bethia and nodded. "That'll save another two crossings of the border. I'm tense each time we do it." She shook her head. "I don't trust the Germans to continue allowing us to cross. They'll question our purpose."

"Would it make it easier if you had a small load of vegetables to bring in?" David asked. "Show a purpose for your crossing the border. You had mentioned that to them when you first crossed."

"Yes, but where do we find them?"

"We laid in too many beets, parsnips and turnips in the root cellar last autumn. We always seem to." Jacob laughed. "You can take some of them; the new vegetables are now coming into the market."

Maddie rose. "You can do that tomorrow. It's too late now. Come, Rachel, help me arrange your rooms."

"Greta still has a large amount in her root cellar," Maria said. "They had laid in enough for two, but with Franz..."

"Excellent idea." Bethia nodded and continued. "That will give us legitimate loads for each return trip as we bring the wine across. And some of my furnishings, my belongings. There's so much of it." She sighed. "Maybe wise to leave most of it there."

"Can you not engage a removal company to do it for you?" Jacob asked. "Work like that is too heavy for you. Besides, you've much better things to be doing with your time and energy."

"And our furniture from Gottenheim," Maria said. "There are so many empty rooms in Sonnenhang. It could easily absorb both our households. Looks as though Greta and Franz sold most of their furnishings to keep them going as their money dwindled."

"This is sounding better all the time." Bethia looked at each of them. "It's so good to have family."

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After breakfast on Friday morning, David drove Bethia and Jacob into Unterhallau, where he and stopped the lorry in front of the town hall. Inside they were directed to the new labour office, and in it, Bethia spoke with the elderly woman behind the desk in one corner of the room. On the wall to her left was a large corkboard with paper scraps and pages pinned on it, and to her right was a huge slate slab with some chalked notes. Around the remainder of the room were chairs.

"There were nearly two dozen men in here at six o'clock," the woman said. "Most of the day hiring is done by six thirty."

"I won't need anyone until next Wednesday, then I'll need five strong men who understand vine pruning. There's ten days of work for each of them, and the best one I'll keep on for a longer term."

"I'll chalk a notice on the slate," the woman said. "It's rather late for pruning, isn't it?"

"The vineyard's been ignored and needs restoration."

"I'll add that to the notice."

"I also need a team of people to clean the interior of the house. Eight or ten rooms that have been abandoned for years, and —"

David interrupted her. "There are eleven abandoned rooms, Tante, three on the main floor and eight upstairs."

"I'll chalk a notice for that as well. When do you want them?"

"Also starting next Wednesday." They continued the discussion, asking about masons, carpenters, electricians, plumbers and painters, and where to find each, Jacob mentioning the craftsmen he had previously used. They spent much of the remainder of the morning tracking down and talking with the men and arranging to meet with them at Sonnenhang on Wednesday.

The Friday market was beginning to wind down as they shopped, but there was still a good selection. After a visit to the butcher, they drove to Sonnenhang.

"My lawyer will be here at noon on Tuesday," Bethia told Greta. "He'll have us sign the transfer papers and give you a bank draft to close the sale."

"So quickly?" Greta stood with a shocked expression on her face as she looked around. "We had such grand dreams, but they slowly faded as Franz took more and more to drinking." She dabbed her eyes. "In the end, he was taking more from the barrels than he was putting in. Drank himself to death. Liver failed."

Bethia saw Greta's shoulders begin to quake and stepped forward to hug her. "Share our dreams with us. Be part of them. Life's too precious to spend being sad."

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