The Luck of the Weissensteiners (The Three Nations Trilogy)

BOOK: The Luck of the Weissensteiners (The Three Nations Trilogy)
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The Luck of the

Weissensteiners

 

 

 

 

 

b
y

 

 

Christoph Fischer

 

F
irst published in Great Britain in 2012

Copyright @ Christoph Fischer 2012

The moral right of the author

has
been asserted.

No part of this book may
be used

or
reproduced in any manner without permission

from
the author in writing. The book is sold subject

to
the condition that it shall not be lent, re-sold, hired out

or
otherwise circulated without permission from the author

in writing

 

Cover design by Daz Smith of nethed.com

 

To my Amazement!

 

 

Dedicated to the members of my first family:

Gertha, Vilma, Eugen, Marile,

Michael and Susanne

and my new family:

Ryan, Molly, Greta and Wilma

             

 

http://www.christophfischerbooks.com

 

Chapter 1: Bratislava 1933

 

Greta Weissensteiner was a passionate and compulsive reader who spent enormous amounts of her time and money in bookshops and libraries - too much time if you asked the rest of her family. She spoke several languages fluently and was able to read her favourite Russian and German authors in their original versions. For her literary needs she frequently went to 'Mohr & Kling', a particularly renowned bookshop in the Bratislava city centre run by two German men. Greta adored their exquisite selection of beautifully bound and illustrated books, even though she could never afford such luxurious items herself.

The public library stocked mainly reference books and held only a minor collection of dated or classic fiction. In there she rarely found any of her favourite writers which were the more modern romantics
such as E.T.A. Hoffmann, Heinrich Heine and Friedrich Hoelderlin.

“All starting with an aitch
, I’ve noticed,” a Prussian looking junior sales assistant commented one day while he wrapped her latest purchases. “Is that a coincidence or are you working your way through the alphabet?”

His name was Wilhelm. He had spotted Greta from the moment she had first come into the bookshop and was fascinated by her. He could
hardly take his eyes of her while she browsed through both selections of delicate rare prints and the new additions to the stock, and he was astonished at her dedication as a reader. Her questions demonstrated a sound knowledge of literature and her choices proved that she could tell the good from the bad. She also had a slight hint of mystery about her and a set of dark, deep and penetrating eyes that suggested an extensive inner life and a seriousness of character; in many other regular readers, it usually merely signified a melancholic mood and pessimism. However, Greta possessed no such negativity, just pure enthusiasm for the written word and a clear focus on whatever she was doing. Wilhelm loved and knew all about German literature and welcomed a local girl taking such an interest in the excellent hidden treasures that this bookshop held.

Frequently there would be girls or young women trying to engage him in conversations about books, but many used this only as a pretext for flirting with the handsome new assistant. Those silly and unworthy creatures soon exposed how little they
actually knew about literature which put him off. His time was too precious for shallow discussions and idle chit chat. He could tell that Greta was the exact opposite.

She did not seem to notice him at all, her focus was always on the books and when she asked him or the other assistants
or information, she hardly ever even looked up at them. That, for the first time in his career, had created a desire in him to take the attention of a customer away from the literary treasures and bring her focus onto him. He was a good looking young man with strong facial features. Pleasant to the eye and well groomed, he was not used to having to work at being noticed. He thought it was ironic how her aloofness, the one quality missing in all the other woman who admired him, was the very thing that made him invisible to her.

I
n fact, his looks had not passed Greta by at all but she was a little put off by his confident manner, which didn't live up to her romantic ideals of a potential suitor. Yet there was something delicate and soft about him, hidden underneath his confidence, that she thought was very appealing.

His eyes were full of mischief as he spoke to her and his smile was disarmingly warm and friendly. Greta was taken off guard and
was almost lost for words. Whenever she had seen him before, there had never been a simple pretext for speaking to him and being not the most confident 21 year old, Greta would never have thought that she would warrant a second look from him. Behind her rigid posture was more fear and anxiety than an outsider could have detected. When Wilhelm addressed her at the counter she only just managed to hold his provocative gaze and smiled back at him.

“The aitch
is a coincidence,” she quietly got out before composing herself and stating with a bit more confidence: “All of the modern romantic authors are my favourites, really. There are so many, it would be hard to choose amongst them. I also love Dostoevsky and Gogol - Russians and Romantics. If I had more money I would probably collect their complete works.”

“You have an exquisite taste in books youn
g lady,” Wilhelm complemented. “I would recommend you have a look at Hegel and his work. He is also a German romanticist beginning with an aitch and his work is very remarkable – that is if you were ever stuck for more inspiration – which doesn't seem likely.”

“Thank y
ou. I will keep that in mind,” Greta said gratefully. Of her few friends and family, only her older brother, Egon, loved reading as much as she did, but he was solely interested in history books and was not very knowledgeable when it came to fiction or contemporary literature. Her sister Wilma often read what Greta chose for her but she lacked the ability to analyse and discuss the works in a way that Greta would have found stimulating. The young book lover was on her own in her quest for intellectual exchange and so Wilhelm's recommendations and comments were very welcome indeed. She wondered if she would ever be in a position where she could tell the assistant in a shop like this something he didn't yet know about books.

“If you wanted to
, I could always lend you one of my books,” Wilhelm offered, looking around him to make sure no one was listening in on their little conversation. “You know, so you could keep expenses down – if money is a problem.”

Greta was taken
aback by his sudden forwardness.

“Wouldn't that get you into trouble with your boss?” she said evasively.

“Probably, but only if he found out,” Wilhelm said with his mischievous look again.

“I would have to give you the books outside of work of course, not in here. Maybe I could meet you somewhere for a
coffee or a drink?” he asked with a little wink.

“Thank you,
” she replied. “But I don't have a habit of meeting with complete strangers. I am sorry.”  She made for the door.

“Wait! Wait! Well, maybe I could just stop by your house and deliver a few books to you sometime? We would not have to meet or talk if you don't want to. I would just give them to you and then leave. I promise.”

He was insistent this man and Greta felt charmed and singled out, but she wondered whether this handsome German was a genuine admirer of romantic literature and her, or whether he really was just a notorious flirt.

“Why would you do that for someone you do not even know? What would be in it for you?” she asked, instantly regretting that she had given him a chance to explain his feelings, which she guessed
were not of the purest type.

“Because I can tell that you really like our books,” he said, becoming a little more uncomfortable and shy himself. “We don't get many young women in here that appreciate our treasures as much as you do. I would like to
help you with that!” Wilhelm surprised her with his noble answer and the more genuine and kind tone he was now using.

“Maybe,” she replied. “I am
going to read these books first. Can we arrange the delivery of your loan when I come here next?”

“Of course.
When do you think that will be? Are you a fast reader?” he asked.

Greta had to laugh about the sudden panic she detected in his voice.

“I am, but I don't always get much time to read. My father runs a weaving and embroidery business and we are always busy. As a matter of fact, I should be going right now. He sent me on some other errands and only allowed me ten minutes in here. He will be cross with me when he finds out how much longer I have been here and how much money I am spending.”

“There are only a few weavers in
town. Maybe I know the place. Which one is your father?” Wilhelm had left the desk and was following her as she approached the door to leave. “Just so that I can come by sometime for those books, then you would not have to leave work.”

He felt he was making a fool of himself but now that he had
already gone this far, he did not want to let her go. Normally it was he who set the boundaries for admiring ladies, now that the roles were reversed, he did not like it much.

“I am not sure that would be a good idea,” Greta said to his great disappointment.

“Why not?”

“I don't think my father would like it if strangers came to the house unexpectedly. When we are busy I don't even know if I could come out and talk to you when you get there,” she told him.

“I will take the risk. So which weaver is your father? Please tell me!” he said with pleading eyes causing her to finally relent.

“We are the Weissensteiners on Gajova, in the dead end part of the road.”

Pleased with the small progress he had just made, he tried to engage her in further conversation.

“What other writers do you like?”

Greta hesitated a little, and then she replied briefly while looking towards the street outside.

“Schnitzler, Chekhov,
Pushkin, Hoffmannsthal and Joseph Roth; the list has no end,” she laughed. “But I really need to go now.”

“What is your first name?”

“Greta. And yours?”

“Wilhelm. Wilhelm Winkelmeier.” He extended his hand and bow
ed slightly.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.
Goodbye then, Wilhelm.”

When he first showed up at her father's workshop a few days later Greta seemed almost cross with him and acted very abruptly. Much later she explained to him that she was only worried at the time that she would get into trouble with her father or her
co-workers about the unannounced interference with her work life. As the daughter of the owner, she had usually no more rights than any of the other employees were permitted; they didn't like it when she got preferential treatment and her father, Jonah Weissensteiner, did not want to alienate his work force by allowing his children any more freedom or liberties. Weaving had become a fragile business and with the continuing growth of industrialization in the sector – more so in other countries than in Czechoslovakia - competition was fierce. The Weissensteiners owned a few semi-automatic looms, which were already substandard in France and Britain but productive enough for the kind of work they attracted.

The income of the family fortunately did not entirely depend on those looms and the production of fabrics.
Previous generations of the family had acquired traditional embroidery skills in the Ukraine and ran this part of the company as an artistic side-line. Numerous commissions for hand woven 'made to order' work - usually for the local nobility - was the most lucrative branch of the business and Greta’s father was lucky to have made a good name for himself. While he designed and spent endless hours on individual orders, his children and staff had to take shifts in overseeing the looms for the production of blankets and fabrics. Even though this was less demanding than other work, everyone disliked doing it because it was incredibly dull, which was why Jonah insisted that everyone took a fair share of these shifts. He knew that disgruntled employees meant lower quality and damage to his own reputation. When Wilhelm arrived to bring Greta the promised books, she had been on one of those boring shifts and had to make one of the other girls take over for her which earned her a hateful look.

Wilhelm had brought her two books to start with. Of course
, it had been a lie that he had his own private book collection at home. He had left all of his books back in Berlin from where the Winkelmeier family recently had moved. He had none of her favourite German romantics at his family home on a farm just outside of the Bratislava city limits.

He owned up to his lie right away and admitted that to impress her he had taken the books from the shop store room and he would have to
ask her to be careful with them so that he could put them back on the shelves before the next inventory. Greta laughed and promised she would treat them with the utmost care, but she had to go back to her duties now and so the meeting was over quickly.

He swore he would be back the following week to see how she
had gotten on but she did not hear him as she rushed back into the house to relieve her angry and impatiently waiting colleague.

On his next visit
, only five days later, she had already read the first two books.

“I couldn't help myself,” she told him. “I started before going to bed every night and I only meant to read a chapter or two, but I got so drawn into the books that hours passed before I realized how late it was and that I really had to g
o to sleep. Thank you Wilhelm, these were really a pleasure. Look, I made sure they are still clean and proper.”

Wilhelm was impressed that she had such a passion for books and that she had been able to keep her concentration up till late at night. It appeared that she
was having to work very hard at her father’s company and yet her passion was able to overcome her tiredness.

Originally he had meant to wait much longer before coming to see her again to give her sufficient time to read the books he had brought, but he was so eager to hear what she thought of the books that he could not help himself. Besides, with no friends in this foreign land
, he really had nothing better to do. 'Mohr & Kling' was far from his home and he spent a large part of his day commuting on foot. Frequently, he also worked right through lunch, completing orders and store paper work to impress the owners and secure his position. Usually he only had a little snack in one of the back rooms before being able to do a little reading of his own.

BOOK: The Luck of the Weissensteiners (The Three Nations Trilogy)
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