Chapter Sixty

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After Bethia had signed the purchase contract, Herr Schmidt put it in his case, then he stood and bowed to her as he took her hand. "Again, a pleasure doing business with you, Frau Eberhardt. They've signed a contract of demand, and you've signed its acceptance. I'll complete the title search tomorrow morning. Could we meet in my office in the afternoon to do the banking and closing?" He glanced again at his notebook. "How's two o'clock?"

"Two would be fine." She rose and led him out into the hall as David and Maria watched.

"What's the piece of land?" Maria asked David after Bethia and Herr Schmidt had disappeared.

"The pastures at the bottom of the vineyard here. They have the same streak of chalky soil going through them. Tante had looked at them while we were away, and she had Herr Schmidt inquire. They run to the border and abut her other plots."

"That will make your job easier."

He smiled at her and nodded. "Much easier and safer. I feel such a weight off my mind not having to keep this from you."

"I could sense your tension with it." She spread her arms. "Hug?"

"I can't see your gown, Maria, with you all wrapped up like that." Bethia laughed as she came back into the drawing-room.

"Tante, I'm flabbergasted with your generosity — your will."

"Sweetheart, who better than you and David? My sister has no need of anything. Your mother is well set and content here. After the Gottenheim property sells, she'll have independent means. I've no other nieces, no nephews, and you're my only grandniece." She looked at Maria and chuckled. "And if you weren't, you'd be my favourite, anyway. Let me see your gown."

Maria did a few slow turns and poses. "Look how effortlessly I move in this. I feel so free." She bent and twisted and spun. "You should have seen the eyes this got, Tante. Both the men and the women."

"I can see why. The men because they wanted you or wanted their wives to look like that. The women because they either disliked you for being so beautiful or because they were trying to analyse how the gown was fabricated. It takes a special woman to wear such a gown, and they would all have known that. You make an exquisite gown come alive. You seem so free, so unencumbered by all the usual layers, all the extra weight, the constraints. It looks as if there's only one layer."

"It has a thin satin lining to allow it to fall smoothly." She winked at Bethia. "But other than that, there's nothing but me underneath."

"Oh, my. But it still appears modest."

"Most of the men commented to me on her beauty and poise," David said. "Some of them more than once."

"Beauty, grace, poise. They're all very powerful. Very influential. People will pay more attention to a woman of Maria's beauty and poise. And David, your looks and commanding presence will always turn heads. But catching attention and turning heads is only the first step. You need to hold it, and you both do that well with your sharp minds, your broad awareness, your inquisitiveness and your acceptance."

Bethia picked up the camera. "You'll have to refresh my mind with this, Sweetheart. It's been a long time since Aaron showed me."

Maria pointed to the camera. "This button allows the front to be opened. Fold it down until it clicks into position." She showed her the aperture and speed settings and explained the viewfinder. "These are the settings that worked best for us indoors the last time. This key winds the film to the next exposure. Watch the arrows until a number appears, then stop. There, the 8. Now you're ready to shoot."

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