Chapter Thirty-Two

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Unterhallau, Switzerland — Tuesday, 25 May 1915

Following breakfast on Tuesday morning, David drove Bethia into town to confirm that her funds had been deposited to her bank account. After they both had their passbooks updated, they walked to the offices of Wilm Schmidt, the lawyer, to tell him he could proceed.

"The title was still in Franz' name," Herr Schmidt said, "but with his death certificate and their marriage certificate, I've had the registration changed." He looked up, then continued. "There's a large mortgage against the property and three unsettled liens. I've confirmed the legitimacy of the liens and have made arrangements to discharge them when we close the sale."

Bethia clucked her tongue. "Will Frau Frith be left with much?"

"She'll be fine, there's still a substantial balance for her to remain comfortable. I was out to visit with her yesterday to get the necessary documents. Frau Frith was surprised by the mortgage and the liens but has accepted them. She's a fine, strong woman."

"From what I've seen, she didn't deserve a man like Franz."

"It was sad to watch over the years." Schmidt shook his head. "But back to this." He turned a page toward Bethia. "This is the amount you will have the bank transfer to my escrow account." He pointed to the figures that were arranged in an itemised column, and he ran his finger slowly down them as he explained. "From your funds, I'll discharge the mortgage, the three liens, the registration taxes and my fees."

They walked together to the bank, where Bethia had an accountant draw the transfer document for her signature. When the transaction was complete, they stepped outside and spoke briefly. "I have an appointment in a few minutes," Herr Schmidt said. "I'll see you at noon at Sonnenhang to conclude this."

As David and Bethia headed back to Meierhof, they were silent until well out of town, when Bethia spoke. "That must have been hard on her, watching her dreams slowly dissolve. Seems she was unaware of his drawing them into increasing debt."

"I've been thinking on that since Herr Schmidt mentioned the liens and the mortgage. I was near dumbfounded when I saw the amount. Franz must have been gambling or womanising — it would be difficult to squander a hundred and twenty-four thousand Francs any other way."

As they approached the lane leading to Meierhof, Bethia asked, "Can you drive me over to Sonnenhang? I'd like to sit and talk with Greta while we wait for the sale to close. I'm sure she's feeling strange. This is a huge change for her, and from what we've seen, I sense it's one for the better."

He looked at his watch. "It's not much past eleven. That's a long time."

"It will be much longer for Greta without company."

David nodded and continued along the road toward Sonnenhang. As they drove into the courtyard, Greta climbed down a ladder from washing a window. Around her were buckets, cloths, brushes and a broom. Bethia smiled at David and said, "A very strong woman."

Bethia took David's hand as she descended from the cab, then she turned to look at Greta as she said, "Leave all that be. I've a whole team of cleaners coming tomorrow. Let's sit and have tea and chat while we wait for Herr Schmidt."

David watched them hug. "I'll come back over a bit past noon with the others."

Preparations were well underway at Meierhof when he arrived. A large table and seven chairs were standing on the flagstone patio, the table laden with baskets and a bundle of cloths. He stopped the lorry with the rear doors next to them as Maria came to greet him. "Where's Tante?"

"With Greta. She thought she'd appreciate the company as the last of her old dreams fall apart." They hugged a warm greeting and kissed, then he continued, "She was up a ladder washing the windows as we arrived. They appeared as though they hadn't been done in such a long time. She seems to be on her way up from the depths to which Franz dragged her."

Jacob came out and helped them load the baskets, bundle and furniture into the lorry while David explained how smoothly the arrangements had gone with the bank and the lawyer. Rachel and Maddie came out with two more baskets. "We're just waiting for the quiches to finish baking."

When the quiches were done, David said to Rachel, "You drive Oma around, and we'll meet you over there. Let me start the engine."

Bethia was shaking hands with Herr Schmidt beside his automobile when Jacob, Maria and David stepped around the end of the wing and into the courtyard. Herr Schmidt paused at the engine crank and held out his hand as David approached. "A pleasure doing business with the both of you. Please keep us in mind if you need anything further," He looked around at the sound of the lorry approaching, then started his engine, climbed aboard and motored away.

Bethia motioned to Rachel and pointed to the shade of the oak trees. Within five minutes, the table was draped with a beige linen cloth and set with linen serviettes, plates, cutlery and wine glasses. In the centre were two quiches, a wooden bowl of fresh garden greens, a platter of Bethia's hams and sausages and another of cheeses, plus a large basket of bread. Bottles of 1911 Riesling, Weißburgunder and Gewürztraminer from three estates lay slanted in a large silver bowl of ice and water.

Greta had stood enchanted as she watched it evolve. When the setting was complete, she walked over and took Bethia's hand. "This is part of my dream that never happened."

As they sat enjoying the celebratory lunch in the warmth of the late spring afternoon, Greta repeatedly expressed her amazement at the quality of the wines. "It's so long ago now, but this is the quality of the wines I remember when I bought this place." She shook her head. "Franz tried so hard in the beginning. The stubborn mule wouldn't listen to anybody. Refused all advice. He insisted that he'd figure it out."

Bethia looked at her with a surprised expression. "You bought this place? The title was in Franz' name."

"He always took care of the business things. Not a woman's place, he said. Guess it's part my fault. I trusted him."

"Trust is important. Very important." Bethia nodded. "So when did you buy Sonnenhang?"

"After my mother died. Seems so long ago now — guess it is, it's well over thirty years now. I had been caring for her as she declined."

"And Franz? How did you meet?"

"He began courting me as I nursed my mother. The dreams he shared sounded so wondrous. He enchanted me with his talk. We married, and he moved into the house with us."

"How did you come to buy Sonnenhang?"

"The idea to buy vineyards and start making wine was his. Part of his sweet talk. But the idea to buy Sonnenhang was mine. I remembered it from walks as a child. We lived in Trasadingen, just along the road." Greta raised her arm and pointed. "I was always charmed by this place. It was the fairytale castle of my childhood. The year after Mother died, Sonnenhang was put up for sale, I sold the remainder of the family properties and bought this."

"And your children? You mentioned they're in Zürich."

"My disguise to hide my shame. I've no idea where they are." She dabbed her eyes. "Fifteen years ago now since they ran away. Franz was cruel and demeaning to them, and he beat me when I tried to defend them, so I stopped. His anger and abuses finally drove them away, and I blamed myself for not being stronger."

Bethia put her hand on Greta's. "His evil is behind you now. Let's all move onward together. Let's celebrate where we are and what we have. We have each other and such wondrous potential."

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