1938, Salzburg. A powerful story of hope, forbidden love, and incredible courage, about three sisters who will risk everything—even their own lives—as part of the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Austria. Johanna, Birgit and Lotte Eder have always lived quiet lives, working in their father’s clockmaking shop and helping their mother in the house. But like many other Austrians, they find it impossible to ignore the changes in the world around them. At first Johanna finds it hard to believe the Nazis pose a real threat. But then her father hires Franz to help in his shop. He’s kind and soulful, with dark eyes that twinkle with intelligence. But he’s Jewish, and as Johanna falls for him, she realizes that loving him puts them all in danger. Then comes the Anschluss—the reunification of Austria and Germany under Nazi rule. The three sisters’ lives have become ever more separate with Lotte joining the convent at Nonnberg Abbey and Birgit’s secret involvement with the Resistance. But as Johanna realizes how mistaken she was about the level of danger, she begins to see that it may be down to her to protect the man she loves. She knows that she can’t do it alone though. She will have to turn to the people she trusts the most: her sisters. The three of them work together to try to get Franz to the safety of Switzerland, and they soon prove invaluable to the Resistance. But they’re risking everything. Can three women who would die for each other, also be prepared to die for what is right? The sisters’ subsequent journey from Nazi-occupied Salzburg to the devastating concentration camps of Ravensbruck and Mauthausen will show the strength of human spirit like never before. As, out of the darkness, a tiny seed of hope flowers… A totally heartbreaking and impossibly powerful story about love, tragedy, and the power of humanity. Perfect for fans of The Nightingale, The Lilac Girls and The Sound of Music. Readers are loving The Edelweiss Sisters : “A heart-breaking, tear-jerking and emotional book... I was so hooked into the story that I felt I was living with these sisters during that time!! The ending was so sad, heart-breaking that I felt like I wanted to cry… I stayed up all night reading this book and didn’t want to let this book go!… A tear-jerking, heart-breaking emotional tale of three sisters who are brave and courageous women… Will keep you up all night.” Tropical Girl Reads Books, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ Soooo hauntingly raw & captivating, it was so hard to put it down. Reading this, I felt instantly transported… This is one novel I would 100% recommend putting on your TBR list this summer. You find instant connection with at least one of the sisters, if not all of them. It will completely move you & pull at your heart strings.” Kate J Renee Book Reviews ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ What a wonderfully written book… Sobbed my eyes out… it should have come with a hankie-needed warning. Felt so much for each of the characters it was like they were also my family and friends. Highly recommended and worth more than a five-star rating.” NetGalley reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I’m going to venture to say this is the best WW2 historical fiction tale I’ve ever read… Hewitt not only shows the emotion, you feel it. If you love historical fiction, this is a MUST read.” Goodreads reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“A story about incredible, courage, unconditional love and sacrifice… Heart wrenching and heart warming, and I guarantee you will not be able to put the book down!... This is a beautifully written and inspirational read.” Christian Novel Review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Excellent… I enjoyed immensely… There was adventure, suspense, mystery, passion, romance… I loved every minute of it.” Goodreads reviewer ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Release date: June 8, 2021
Print pages: 350
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The Edelweiss Sisters
Spring is bursting like a song through the city, a symphony of beauty and renewal amidst the devastation wreaked by war. In Mirabellgarten, outside the magnificent palace, the flowerbeds are a riot of daisies and wallflowers, pansies and forget-me-nots.
The magnolia trees in Marktplatz Square froth with silken-petaled flowers, and the Salzach River, flowing down from the snow-capped Kitzbühel Alps through meadows studded with the white stars of narcissi, burbles joyfully through the city. The river’s blue-green waters are untroubled by the broken bridges that gape above it, shattered reminders of the Allied bombs that destroyed them along with the dome of the cathedral, yet thankfully left much else unscathed.
High above the city, by the ancient ochre buildings of Nonnberg Abbey, a woman skulks in the shadows as the dawn sun creeps over the blue-misted mountains of the Salzkammergut and spreads long, golden fingers of buttery light over the indigo peaks that ring Salzburg like a giant’s jagged crown. In her arms a baby stirs and lets out a small, mewling cry, the sound far too weak for a hungry infant.
She draws the blanket up around the child’s face, rocking her as she whispers for her to hush. It has taken her nearly a week to arrive at this point, and she is filthy, exhausted, and starving. It would have been far easier to give the child to the relevant authorities that now swarm the cities and towns from here to Hamburg, officious and efficient, or even to leave the creature where it had been born mere weeks ago, in pain and suffering, into a world that seems broken beyond repair.
But she made a promise, and so she is here, her body bruised and aching, her arms cradling this scrap of humanity that has somehow, impossibly, managed to survive.
High above, the clock in the baroque dome that crowns the abbey begins to chime six o’clock. Soon the nuns will be assembling for prime, their voices rising as one as they recite the ancient words in a ritual that has remained unchanged by time, by war.
The baby cries again, and the woman knows she can wait no longer. As reluctantly as she accepted this burden, she is now loath to let it go. This tiny child is the only thing that anchors her to another human being, to a reality other than wandering the world, one of the many lost to war—homeless, nameless, alone.
She cradles the infant to her chest as she remembers the child’s mother’s fingers clasped in her own, cold and bony, ragged nails digging into skin, eyes lit with the dregs of her strength as it seeped away into the dirty straw.
“Please… promise me… for the sake of my child…”
What else could she have done but given her vow?
“There is a clockmaker on Getreidegasse… a painted sign above it with a sprig of edelweiss… take the baby there… but if no one is there, then take it to the abbey. The nuns are kind there. They will know what to do. Swear to me…”
And so here she is, with this tiny bundle, who nobody still living wants, clutched in her arms. She went to the shop on Getreidegasse, and it was boarded shut. So she came here, up to the abbey, to give them her offering. There is no way she can provide for the child; she must leave her here. The last chime of the clock fades into the dawn silence, a remnant of the echo reverberating through the narrow courtyard as shreds of mist begin to evaporate under the rising sun. Steeling herself, the woman moves forward, the baby cradled in one arm, an old crate held in the other. She found the crate outside a grocer’s in a fetid alleyway off Kaigasse, its damp, half-rotten slats as humble a crib as that for the holy child to whom the nuns raise their voices.
She puts the crate on the doorstep of the abbey, and then gently places the baby inside, tucking the dirty blanket, given to her by a Red Cross worker in Munich, carefully around her tiny, wizened face. She tucks the little knitted flower, the edelweiss, into the blanket; the baby’s mother gave it to her, a keepsake she’d managed to hold on to. Perhaps the nuns will know and understand.
She stoops to kiss the baby’s pale cheek before she lifts the heavy door knocker and lets it fall once, twice, three times, each reverberation in time to the thud of her heart.
She hears footsteps, quiet and unhurried on the ancient stones, and she retreats to the shadows, hiding behind a pillar, daring to peek around it because she must see this through.
The door opens with a long, protesting creak and a nun steps out, glancing around in untroubled curiosity before, with a start, she notices the crate at her feet. She is young, this nun; her face is a smooth, placid oval underneath her white wimple, and her body is slender, as are the hands that reach for the crate. A look of wonder flashes across her face as she takes the baby into her arms.
The woman watches as the nun cradles the baby against her body; despite her vocation she seems to know how to hold a child, drawing it instinctively towards her, one hand caressing the tiny, fragile head. A smile curves her lips as tenderness suffuses her face.
It is enough. She has made good on her promise; there is nothing more for her here. Silently, her heart and body both aching, the woman slips away as the sun rises high above the city, filling it with its light.
Music rose from the tall, narrow house on Getreidegasse, joyous tendrils of sound winding their way through the dim and crowded shop on the first floor, with its glass cabinets of marble mantel clocks. A majestic grandfather clock presided over the premises, along with an intricately carved cuckoo clock, made by the great Johann Baptist Beha, that had chimed every quarter hour for nearly a hundred years.
The music rose up the narrow flight of stairs to the front sitting room with its worn velveteen sofas crowned with hand-stitched antimacassars, the heavy wooden tables and chairs, a mahogany cabinet dark with age—all of it brought from a timbered farmhouse in the Tyrol—and then back to the kitchen, with its square wooden table and blackened range.
Up another flight to the main bedrooms and then further still to the second floor, with its small attic rooms, their small windows overlooking the onion domes of Salzburg Cathedral, the ever-present Alps an indigo fringe beyond.
Music filled every room as three voices joined in sweet melody, alto, soprano and second soprano, the different harmonies mingling together in the popular folk song “Die Lorelei”:
“I do not know what it means, to feel so sad;
there is a tale from olden times I cannot get out of my mind.
The air is cool, and twilights falls…”
Then, suddenly, silence.
“Birgit, I think you’ve gone flat,” Lotte said with a kindly laugh, shaking back her blond hair, a shower of wheat-gold about her shoulders. “Or was it me?” She laughed again, smiling at both her sisters with easy joy. “Let’s try again.”
“There’s no time.” Birgit turned away quickly, hiding her expression from her younger sister’s laughing eyes. “Father’s waiting,” she added and hurried from the back room of the shop where they’d been practicing to give their father peace from their racket; he had suffered from severe headaches ever since he’d been hit by a Romanian shell in the Battle of Orsova nearly twenty years earlier.
“Birgit…” Lotte began, her voice filling with dismay as she flung one hand out to stay her sister, and the oldest, Johanna, shook her head.
“Let her be. You know how she gets. I’m going to change my apron.” Briskly she followed Birgit out of the room and upstairs to the family’s living quarters; with a little sigh Lotte followed too, restarting the melody as she mounted the stairs, although this time her sisters did not join her.
Up in the kitchen their mother, Hedwig Eder, was fussing with the cakes she’d made in celebration of the day, her apron tied over her best dress, usually kept for Sundays. Although she had lived in the city for twenty-three years, she had never gone to any of the events of the Salzburg Festival before, save for the free performance of Jedermann in the cathedral square that even the peasants came down from the mountains for.
The festival proper was reserved for the wealthy holidaymakers and day trippers who came from as far as Vienna, Berlin, or even further abroad—sophisticated people with sleek motor cars, arch voices, and a sly, knowing manner, or at least they seemed that way to Hedwig. The elegants, Salzburgers called them, with either awe or scorn, or perhaps both.
Her husband Manfred appeared in the doorway of the kitchen; like her he was wearing his Sunday clothes, a suit of well-worn wool tweed, smiling at the sight of the sugar-dusted cakes filled with cream and piled neatly on a plate.
“Ah, Prügeltorte,” he exclaimed in pleasure. “My favorite.” He came over to plant a kiss on her cheek; embarrassed, Hedwig twitched away.
“I think I saw a mouse,” she told him as she clapped a net dome over the cakes. “We’ll have to get the man in again.”
He regarded her tenderly for a moment as she bustled around the kitchen, moving the kettle here or a plate there, not meeting his gaze. “Hedwig, there is no mouse,” he finally said, his tone gentle.
She shrugged. “I thought I saw something.”
Smiling, Manfred put an arm around her waist. “You’re nervous.”
“Why should I be nervous? I’m not the one singing.”
She moved away from him, as she always did, even though she loved him, because his easy affection so often felt beyond her.
“They will be fine,” Manfred told her as she continued to bustle around the kitchen. “It is more for the experience than the winning. Besides, it is not as if they will be on stage at the Festspielhaus—they are merely taking part in a competition for amateurs, at a restaurant, no less. Let us enjoy the day.”
Hedwig did not reply, because she knew she would not enjoy the day, although she would try. Still, she managed to give her husband a distracted smile, knowing he would certainly enjoy it, before she went to the small, cracked mirror by the door and tidied her hair. She might be a simple farmer’s daughter, but she would always keep herself neat.
“And here they are!” Manfred announced, beaming as Lotte came into the kitchen with a laughing twirl, followed by Johanna, as brisk as ever, and Birgit, who was trying not to look anxious. They wore full-skirted dirndls with checked aprons; Lotte had laughed that they looked like milkmaids, but as the competition was sponsored by the Association of Austrian National Costumes, the clothes, made with loving determination by Hedwig, seemed more than appropriate.
It had been Lotte’s music teacher who had arranged their entry into the competition. Manfred and Hedwig’s youngest daughter had been blessed thrice over—of the three Eder girls, she was tacitly acknowledged as the prettiest, the most charming, and the most musical.
Some years ago Manfred and Hedwig had decided she should have singing lessons, something that had not been thought of for either Johanna or Birgit, for there was not really the money. Lotte, however, had such a love of music that to deny their little lark lessons had seemed, to Manfred at least, almost cruel. Hedwig, who managed the household purse strings, had agreed more reluctantly, but nevertheless the silver groschen and gold schillings had gone into the battered tin on the shelf above the range, day by day and week by week.
When the teacher, Herr Gruber, had suggested Lotte sing at one of the competitions for amateurs that ran alongside the famous music festival, Lotte had insisted she not sing alone, but rather with her sisters. They could form a trio; they had sometimes sung in three parts in the evenings, with Lotte’s high soprano soaring above her sisters’ more cautious voices, although they’d never done such a thing in public.
Herr Gruber had agreed to the trio and duly entered them into a competition for folk singing. Lotte had buoyed her sisters along with her enthusiasm, determined they would all share in this marvelous experience together, because she had never craved the spotlight, even though she seemed as if she were born for it.
“Are we ready?” Manfred asked as Lotte tied a scarf over her golden hair and Birgit fussed with her apron. His daughters, he reflected, were all alike in their blond, blue-eyed looks, and yet they were as different as three people could possibly be: Johanna, so much like his Hedwig, with her strong-boned face and briskly capable manner; Lotte, so playful and pretty and light; and Birgit, sandwiched in the middle, quiet and shy, a bit clumsy, still struggling to find her place in the world.
“How do we look, Papa?” Lotte asked as she twirled again in her skirt.
“Like the most beautiful girls in all of Salzburg. But wait.” From his pocket he took the three sprigs of edelweiss he had picked only that morning, on his walk up the Monschsberg. He’d been surprised to find it, growing determinedly from an outcropping of limestone high above the city.
“Edelweiss!” Johanna exclaimed. “Where did you find it?”
“Growing where it always does, on the mountains,” Manfred replied with a smile. Carefully he tucked a sprig of the flower with its yellow clustered heads and velvety white leaves into each of the necklines of his daughters’ dresses. “Now you are not the Eder Sisters, but the Edelweiss Sisters! Soon to be a sensation.”
“What nonsense,” Hedwig muttered, but she was smiling, and Lotte laughed, the sound as clear as a crystal bell.
“The Edelweiss Sisters!” Lotte exclaimed. “Yes, indeed.”
“We’ll be late,” Birgit said, and Johanna clucked in impatience.
“Then let us be off.” Manfred clapped his hands lightly and they left the kitchen, heading down the stairs and out into the busy street, a steady stream of festivalgoers heading towards the Festspielhaus on Hofstallgasse, just half a mile away, while they were going to the Elektrischer Aufzug restaurant on Monchsberg, where their competition was to be held.
Lotte was prancing ahead, winsome as ever, entranced by the carnival atmosphere. Many of the festivalgoers wore country costumes of leather lederhosen or dirndl dresses—while others wore sleek gowns or dapper suits. The mood was buoyant, carrying them all along with its infectious excitement. As Johanna paused to re-tie her apron, a sleek Daimler nosed out of a narrow side street into the square ahead of them, the pale face of the woman inside eyeing the crowd with sophisticated indifference.
“All right, Birgit?” Manfred asked with a smiling glance for his middle daughter, who as usual lagged a little behind, twisting her hands in her apron.
“Yes, Papa.” She gave him a quick smile that lit up her face and made her almost pretty. Manfred patted her arm. He had a special affection for the daughter whose soul was so much like his own.
Ever since Birgit had left the convent school at seventeen they had worked side by side in the shop; of his three children she alone showed interest in the intricate mechanics of a clock, the coils and springs and gears that together were able to mark time. He only wished she could find a way to be truly settled in herself, with a purpose that was perhaps far from their little shop.
Johanna walked alongside Hedwig; save for his wife’s graying hair they could have been sisters, so clearly were they cut from the same durable cloth. His hope for Johanna was that she might find something to soften her; love, perhaps, as it had done her mother.
As for Lotte, his laughing, lovely youngest daughter? She was as light on her toes as a ballet dancer, tilting her face to the sky without a care, arms flung out as she reveled in life’s simple pleasures. What could Lotte possibly need? Manfred smiled just to look at her.
There was so much to be thankful for, on a day like this—when the air was as crisp and clear as water, and the sky was a deep cerulean blue that hurt your eyes to look at it, and yet still you did, drinking in the color along with the air, as well as the mountains. Who could fail to gasp or at least murmur a hushed “wunderbar” at the beauty of the mountains that ringed Salzburg, the crown of glory that had kept her protected for a thousand years and more?
It was a day for reveling and remembering the good things, for there had been far too much uncertainty across Austria in recent months—the uprising in February between fascists and socialists that had led to hundreds of deaths, and then in May a bomb had exploded in the Festival Theatre right here in Salzburg. In July the chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss had been assassinated by Austrian Nazis in an attempted coup, which had thankfully been suppressed in a matter of hours. Such uncertainty made every day precious.
The family turned onto the Hofstallgasse, joining even more people heading towards Festspielhaus where the festival’s major performances would take place—Bruno Walter conducting Mozart’s Don Giovanni as well as the eminent Arturo Toscanini’s debut.
Another few minutes and they finally arrived at the Elektrischer Aufzug, an impressive edifice of timber and stone, with views encompassing the old town as well as Salzburg’s ancient fortress perched above the city. Lotte exclaimed over the lift that sent them soaring upwards while Hedwig could not keep from frowning and clutching at the sides.
The restaurant itself was paneled in wood and inset with mirrors, so it seemed much bigger than it was, the tables removed so more chairs could fit, and nearly every one of them was already filled.
“I did not expect so many people,” Hedwig murmured in dismay, and Manfred gave her a comforting smile.
“It is good they are here. An audience is important.”
She watched helplessly as her daughters were shepherded towards the makeshift stage by someone who seemed important; smiling, Manfred put his arm around her and led her to the seats that had been reserved for them, close to the front.
“Where are they going?”
“Backstage, to get ready. Don’t worry. They’re excited!” He squeezed her arm, his expression one of fond amusement, while Hedwig looked uneasily about.
The restaurant was filling up, the air buzzing with conversation and laughter as everyone chatted and studied their programs. Hedwig glanced at the sheet Manfred had given her, and the sight of The Eder Sisters Trio halfway down the page gave her a sensation like vertigo, a tipping over, as if everything were sliding, and she did not know how to right herself.
Manfred put a hand on her arm. “It’s about to begin.”
And so it was. They listened in silence to several acts, applauding as necessary, impressed by the voices of even the most obvious amateurs. As the competition was sponsored by the Association for National Costumes, everyone was in traditional dress, singing folk songs, and Hedwig felt herself relax. She knew many of the songs, and the clothes, when not worn by cosmopolitan Viennese, felt familiar and friendly. She began to enjoy herself.
And then their daughters came on the stage—three lovely young women in dirndls and checked aprons, with bright hair and rosy cheeks, and Hedwig felt as if she were looking at them with new eyes. Johanna, so tall and strong, twenty years old and such a hard worker; Birgit, who could look so friendly when she stood up straight and met people’s gazes; and Lotte, lovely Lotte, only sixteen, with skin like dew and eyes as blue as the sky above, longing only to please and entertain, seeming almost of another world. Who could fail to love Lotte?
And then their voices—so sweet and lovely, soaring above, the harmonies twining together, the sound of innocence, of purity. Surely everyone was as moved as she was. Hedwig’s heart beat painfully with love and she glanced at Manfred with a fierce look of pride and joy. He smiled back so tenderly that her eyes stung.
“Aren’t we lucky?” he murmured as he took her hand in his. “Aren’t we blessed?”
Hedwig could only nod.
The Eder Sisters did not win; they did not even take a prize, but none of them minded that. It was enough that they had sung at all, and at the end of the competition it seemed all anyone could talk of was the surprise late entry to the event, the von Trapp Family Singers, who had amazed the audience with their complex harmonies, as well as performing as an entire family—not merely three daughters, but nine children, and the mother as well! Even Hedwig had been impressed.
“Maria von Trapp used to be a nun at Nonnberg Abbey,” Lotte remarked dreamily as they walked back to the house on Getreidegasse through a violet twilight, the air as soft as silk, a balmy caress on their heated skin. Festivalgoers had returned to their houses and hotels to change into evening dress to spend the rest of the night at the city’s finest restaurants or supper clubs, and the streets had, for the moment, emptied out.
“And then she was sent to the von Trapps as a governess to one of the children—there were seven then—who was ill. She ended up marrying their father, who is a baron,” Lotte continued. “Isn’t that romantic?”
“It is not very sensible,” Hedwig replied with her usual bluntness. “What does a nun know of children? And what of her vows?” Hedwig had grown up with a faith as solid and immovable as her husband’s; there was not a Sunday in her life where she had missed attending mass, or an evening where she had not said the rosary on her knees before bed.
“She was only a postulant, not a full nun or even a novice,” Johanna replied, with a look for Lotte that was both fond and a bit reproving. “Really, it’s not such a shocking story. And she has since had two children herself, so she must know something about them. I spoke to her at the intermission. She was actually very interesting, in her own way.”
“Well, it is of no consequence to us,” Hedwig replied firmly. “We should hurry. The cakes might spoil in this heat.”
“Did you like it, Papa?” Lotte asked as she twirled ahead of them, her skirt flying out, her golden hair catching the last of the sun’s rays. “Wasn’t it wonderful? All that lovely music… it sounded like heaven, to me.”
“You were wonderful,” Manfred replied with a laugh, “as I expect you know very well. I hardly need tell you, but I will, and no doubt more than once. My edelweiss daughters. You must keep those sprigs, as a reminder.”
His benevolent smile faltered for a moment, along with his step, as his gaze fell on a rowdy gang of boys across the street, jostling each other and laughing loudly. A few daringly wore swastika armbands, the red and black visible even in the dusky light. One of them was daubing paint onto a brick wall. Manfred could make out Blut und Ehre. Blood and Honor.
One of the boys glanced over at the little group and then sent his arm shooting out like a challenge. “Heil Hitler,” he called, his tone one of both good humor and veiled threat; the Nazi party had been outlawed in Austria for a year, but it didn’t seem to deter its proponents very much.
Manfred dropped his gaze as he put his arm around his wife and continued on without replying. Johanna’s glance swept over the boys with their short blond hair and bright eyes with a look of consideration; Birgit’s lips twisted as she turned away. One of the boys snared Lotte’s gaze with a bold look of his own and she flushed and hurried to catch up with her father.
“Come, girls,” Hedwig called sharply, although they’d all already turned away from the scene. “It’s getting late.”
As the shadows lengthened and the sky grew dark, the little family hurried towards Getreidegasse and the waiting cakes while Lotte began to sing the last verse of “Die Lorelei,” Birgit and Johanna gamely taking up their parts, their voices rising with melancholy beauty up into the oncoming night.
“The boatman in the small ship is gripped with wild pain,
he does not look at the rocky reefs, he only looks up into the heights.
I think the waves devour boatmen and boats at the end…”
Salzburg, August 1936
The kitchen was stifling. Johanna had rolled up the sleeves of her blouse, but it still stuck to her shoulder blades and perspiration beaded between her breasts. Her mother was baking bread, and Johanna, of course, was helping.
Johanna could not remember exactly when the lines in her family had fallen as they did—Birgit helped her father in the shop, she helped her mother in the house, and Lotte… what did Lotte do? Lotte laughed and sang and made everything brighter, and no one begrudged her for it, because she was Lotte, and she decorated all their lives with grace and cheer.
And, starting in September, she would be a student at the Mozarteum, to study voice and theory and composition, their little lark spreading her wings at last.
“Johanna, the oven,” Hedwig commanded, and wordlessly Johanna went to the oven and stoked the fire, shoving a few sticks of wood inside before closing the door. Her mother’s kitchen had to be, she sometimes thought, the most old-fashioned in all of Salzburg.
There were no modern conveniences for Hedwig Eder; she based her kitchen on the one of her childhood, and stepping into the large, square room, one might think they’d stepped into a Tyrolean farmhouse. It was furnished with a wooden table and benches, and an old-fashioned cooking range, while bundles of dried herbs and ropes of onions hung from the ceiling alongside well-used copper pots and pans. She had grudgingly allowed her husband to buy an icebox only a few years ago, for it was hardly practical to keep food in an icehouse or stream as she might have done back at her home in the mountains.
Still, Hedwig insisted on doing everything as she had done it as a girl—whether it was baking bread, or dying cloth, or drying herbs, or bottling jam. Modern methods were to be disdained, and as for buying something in a shop…!
It was bad enough that she had to get her milk from the wagon that came down the street every morning with its rattling cans, just like everyone else did in Salzburg; if she could have managed it, Johanna thought she would have kept a cow in the courtyard. And in all these domestic endeavors, Johanna was her helpmeet.
It was a role she’d taken on with the same determined pragmatism her mother possessed, working alongside her in silent solidarity, finding satisfaction in the small yet significant achievements of a golden loaf of bread, a freshly starched shirt, a polished table. She had never been particularly interested in school learning, despite her father’s love of books and music; Johanna preferred the practical and tangible to the obscure or abstract.
But four years on from finishing at the convent school all three girls had attended, unmarried and without any prospects of changing that state, Johanna had started to feel stifled in a way that had nothing to do with the hot kitchen.
“There.” Her mother took the round, golden loaves of bread from the oven, a look of almost grim satisfaction on her face. “They are done.” She glanced at the clock that hung above the door, and Johanna reached for the small copper pot they always used to make coffee—every afternoon Johanna would bring a tray down to Birgit and her father before sitting down with her mother at the kitchen table to drink their own, usually in fairly companionable silence.
Sometimes Lotte would join them, although more often she would take her coffee to the sitting room with a book, and leave Hedwig and Johanna to their quiet. Their places, Johanna was realizing more and more, were marked and always had been, but today she was determined that it was going to be different.
She waited until the coffee had been made, the tray of cups and saucers, accompanied by glasses of water, delivered to her father and sister, who were bent over their work in the back room, squinting at the bits of metal that Johanna found so tiresome.
“Thank you, mein schatz,” Manfred said with an affectionate smile and Johanna dipped her head, too nervous now to make a reply. It wasn’t like her to be nervous; she was direct to the point of bluntness or even awkwardness, so sometimes her father would laugh that one never had to ask Johanna to “Rede nicht um den heissen Brei herum,” or “stop talking around the hot mash.” “Our Johanna will dump the mash on your head!” Manfred would laugh, his eyes twinkling and Johanna would smile, taking it as a compliment, as a sign of her strength.
And she needed that strength now.
Upstairs her mother was already sat at the table, her normally straight back slightly slumped with fatigue as she sipped her coffee in the afternoon sunlight. She’d eased her shoes off, for her ankles had swollen in the heat, her thick-knit stockings gathering around them in elephantine wrinkles.
As Johanna paused in the doorway, she was suddenly accosted by how old her mother looked—her hair, scraped back into its usual tight bun, held far more gray than blond, and there were deep wrinkles etched into her forehead, her ruddy cheeks a spiderweb of broken veins, her body’s solid form softened.
She’d never been a beautiful woman, but her husband had been devoted to her all his life. Five years younger and four inches shorter than his wife, Manfred had met her on a walking holiday near Innsbruck. Many times Johanna had heard him tell the story of how he’d seen her mother herding goats across a meadow and fallen straight in love. It seemed to Johan
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