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The air was damp and gloomy the day Lena Weiss stepped off of the train and onto the platform. Nevertheless, she took a deep breath of it as her feet once again touched stable land. The train ride from Berlin to Augsburg had been a long one, and she craved nothing more than to break free of the confinement that was the cramped train car.
Her mother had called her crazy for daring to board a train. “The high speeds will render you unable to breathe, Lena!” She recalled her mother’s words vividly.
Her mother did not have the same fondness for new technology as Lena had. Things that she could not explain frightened her, and concepts that made her feel dumb angered her. Lena would have to write to her mother that she had survived the journey, for she would surely assume Lena dead if she did not do so immediately.
She was getting ahead of herself, though. What she first needed to do was locate the inn she was to be staying at and take a long nap. She was drowsy from the ride and yearned to rest her busying mind and aching body.
She rustled in her hidden skirt pocket for the Count’s letter that contained the inn he had signed her into for the night. She did find it odd that a woman of her birth would have to stay the night at an inn, but her train had arrived early, and there was no way to get to the Count that she was here.
The astound Count of Wimmer had planned for this very outcome, though. At 222 South Limburg Street you will find my favorite inn, should you arrive early, his letter wrote. A carriage will take you to Gloggerson in the morning.
She scanned the platform for well-meaning townsfolk who seemed to know their way around. Fortunately, that described about everyone here. She honed her gaze on a woman who walked with a small dog trailing her. She swiftly approached the woman and said, “excuse me, ma’am?”
The woman with the dog halted her stride and swiveled around to face Lena. “Sitz, Marvin!” she commanded as the miniature hound came to sit by her feet. She then addressed Lena with, “what is it you need, meine Frau?” Lena was thankful this woman spoke English.
She offered the woman the letter with the address on it and asked, “do you happen to know how I could get to this address?”
The woman took the letter from her hand and scanned it for the address. Once she had read it, she looked Lena up and down in confusion. “Pardon me for asking, but why are you going to an inn?”
Lena guessed that she had taken one look at the custom-tailored blue dress, pagoda sleeves, laced ribbing, and flowered bonnet and realized that the last place an outfit like this would be found in was a traveler’s inn.
“I was invited to be a guest at Gloggerson Manner by the Count of Wimmer. My train arrived early, though, so he recommended me an inn to stay in should I end up in this predicament.”
“Oh meine Frau, no offence to Seine Hochgeboren, but he greatly overestimates the gentlemanliness of the men who take residence at the inn. I insist you spend the night at my husband and I’s cottage. I live only a short distance away from the manner and can have my coachman send word to the Count that his carriage is to be sent there in the morning.”
“Thank you so much, my kind Frau, but I couldn’t possible accept. I wouldn’t want to be a bother to you or your husband.”
“Oh, you English! Always too polite. Please accept my offer. The knowledge that I let a woman such as yourself stay at a traveler’s den for even just one night would be too much of a burden for me to bear.”
“Okay, I will accept your invitation. Thank you so much. You do not know how greatly I appreciate the service you are offering me.”
With that, the woman turned to face the opposite direction and said, “come with me this way, my coach is waiting just a block from here.”
Lena picked up her trunk and approached the woman’s side. “Komm, Marvin,” was the woman’s final command to her dog as they took off.
“So, what is it you’d like to be called?” Lena inquired as they walked side-by-side.
“My name is Angeline Pospischil, but you can refer to me just by my first name. How about you?”
“Lena,” was all she said. She hoped Angeline would question no further because she very strongly wished against providing her surname. Then Angeline might recognize her father, or where her family was from, and that would only raise a handful more questions.
Thankfully, Angeline avoided just that. “Well, Lena, why has a man such as the Count of Wimmer invited you to take residence in his manner?”
Though she had avoided a heap of questions, her answer to this question would certainly bring on a good amount more.
“He is in need of my profession.”
“What is your profession?”
“It’s a bit . . . unusual?”
“What do you mean by unusual?” Angeline looked at Lena like she feared what she would say next.
“I’m an investigator,” Lena answered.
Angeline’s brows raised.
“I help solve crimes. At home I worked under the magistrate,” Lena clarified.
She expected the long stare. The look of disgust that a woman did anything other than serve her husband and care for her children. She had gotten it all more times than she could count. Sometimes, from her own family members.
But to her surprise, Angeline did nothing of that sort. Instead, she was plagued by curiosity. “How’d you acquire a job like that?”
“It’s a long story, actually. But in short, I was very mischievous as a child. This led to me poking and prodding in many places I shouldn’t have. I got so good at it, that one day, I was hired to do it professionally.”
Angeline looked amazed. “Were you compensated for your services?”
“Handsomely,” she replied with a look of pride on her face that would make her mother faint.
“I want to live in your town,” Angeline said as they finally approached the carriage. “Victor, this is Lena, she will be traveling with us,” she instructed the coachman.
“Nice to meet you, Frau Lena,” the coachman said as he bowed his head just a little. He then proceeded to help Angeline into the carriage.
After hoisting Marvin up into his owner’s arms, Victor offered his hand to assist her into the carriage. She took it and swung her body up into the raised platform.
As she took a seat on the bench opposite Angeline, she was surprised to find a man sitting right next to her. With her dog seated nicely on her lap, Angeline turned and gave the man a peck on the cheek. “Lena, this is my husband, Gregory,” she introduced. “Gregory, this Lena. I met her by the train platform. Are you okay if she stays in our spare bedroom for the night? She is to be picked up by the Count of Wimmer in the morning.”
“Of course, it’s fine with me.” He held out a hand for her to shake. She took it. “Nice to meet you, Lena. Are you new in town?”
“Yes, I have just arrived in Augsburg via train.”
“Lena’s an investigator. She was invited by the Count to solve crimes,” Angeline boasted.
“Wow, what an intriguing profession. Do you know, specifically, why the Count is in need of your assistance?”
“A few crops have gone missing from his tenant’s farms. He suspects that someone could be stealing them.” This, of course, was not the truth. She could not risk compromising the integrity of her investigation. The more people who knew, the harder her job would be.
Along with this, the details of the case would be far too much for them to comprehend. Even she could hardly believe the photographs that were sent to her.
“Poor Graf. His father runs off with his brother to be the Margrave of some border territory and now he must deal with this? His circumstances are quite unfortunate.”
Lena’s eye’s widened and her jaw dropped. “The Count of Wimmer isn’t . . . the Count?”
“Edwin von Wimmer was given the title of Margrave by Seine Majestät. With the Prussian’s being so greedy, the King seeks to ensure we don’t lose any land to them. The new Margrave signed his County away to his second son, Michael.”
“You have been writing him, haven’t you?” Angeline questioned.
“Indeed, I have, but I had just assumed I was in communication with the old Count. I was not made aware of this change. He did not tell me.”
Reflecting on the letters he had sent, there had been a certain youthfulness to his writing. There was an innocence to his words and an air to his penmanship that would not be found in an older man.
“You must be from far away, then. I would assume the Margrave’s promotion to be common knowledge in Bavaria. It’s repeatedly been in the papers,” Gregory explained.
“I am from England.” This was partly truthful, at least. She did spend a great amount of her childhood in Yorkshire.
She could not tell them she was from Berlin. Given Gregory’s clear political position against the Prussian’s, it would be unwise to reveal such a thing.
“I thought so,” Angeline commented. “I hear a tone of northern English in your accent.”
A cruel joke it had been to brand her with an English accent when everyone she had ever loved had a German one. At family reunions and formal gatherings, she had stuck out like a sore thumb. Her vocabulary was lacking too. Even after living seven years in Berlin, she could only string together basic German sentences at best. She could understand everything, but she couldn’t properly respond.
“Is it cold there? I’ve always wanted to take a holiday in Yorkshire, but I’d imagine Angeline and I wouldn’t know how to properly dress.”
“You mean you wouldn’t know how to properly dress, Gregory. You very well know that I have a dress prepared for every occasion. Fashion isn’t one of my weaknesses.”
Lena allowed herself to let out a chuckle as she answered “yes, it is quite cold in the winters.”
“Do you have any family back in Yorkshire?” Gregory questioned.
“Yes. I have my mother, sister, and about a million uncles. Would you like to see photographs of them?”
“You’ve gotten photographed?” Angeline questioned.
“Yes, indeed I have. A photographer came to town one day and my sister insisted we all get pictures taken. It was all very experimental quite exciting.”
She opened locket, that never strayed more than an inch from her heart, to reveal the two rose tinted pictures. A stern-faced woman poked her head out of the right flap, with eyes that would never reveal just how open-hearted she was. Softer features graced the other flap, but with a mischievous grin that could rock the world.
“Oh, they’re both so beautiful, Lena. You must miss them a great deal,” Angeline complemented as Lena held open her locket for them to look at.
“Yes, I miss them very much.”
The truth of the matter was that she did not feel the burden of their absence quite yet. She had been gone for just two and a half days. She had taken vacations with her aunt for much longer a time than that.
“Don’t mind me asking, dear, but why is your father not here?” Gregory questioned.
“My father passed away about ten years ago.”
Angeline’s hand flew to her heart. “Oh, I’m so very sorry to hear that.”
And with that, the conversation fell barren for the rest of the carriage ride home.
She must have fallen asleep at some point, because when she awoke, she was the only one in the carriage. Confounded, she leaned over and poked her head through the carriage window.
“Mr. and Mrs. Pospischil didn’t want to wake you.” Lena felt her heart do a cartwheel as the coachman emerged from a spot behind the carriage. “They told me to wait here until you rose. I can show you up to your quarters if you’d like.”
“I would like that very much, thanks.”
He extended his hand out and she took it to help herself of the raised carriage. After she had dusted off her dress, she reached back in for her trunk and handed it to him.
She let him take the lead as they walked towards a semi-rustic house. With carefully embellished turrets, slightly faded window engravings, and a modest yet intricate garden, Lena thought this house to be grander than the one she resided at in Berlin. Nothing compared to the one her father had bought for them in England, but a step up from the carful dwellings her mother, sister, and her had inhabited in Prussia.
She surveyed more of her surroundings. To her left, only a small fraction of the sun was left peaking above the horizon. Had she really been asleep for that long? How embarrassing of her. She would have to apologize to the Pospischil’s relentlessly for her poor mannerisms.
Once they had made it to the red encrusted doors, the coachman held it open for her to proceed through. She did so with caution and grace in case Angeline and Gregory happened to be there. They were not, though, and she let the coachman lead her up the grand staircase and around the corner into her room.
“Here is the guest room,” the coachman said as he held open the door for her. She proceeded through and he followed behind her.
“Mr. and Mrs. Pospischil took dinner with some friends across the way. They send their apologies that they were not here to greet you. The cook left some dinner out for you, but Mrs. Pospischil thought you would want to head straight to bed,” he said as he set her trunk down.
Angeline was right. She did want nothing more than to lay down on that mattress and let her eyes close off the entrance to her mind. But she couldn’t allow herself that luxury- not yet at least.
“Thank you for your service today,” Lena told the coachman.
He bowed his head slightly in reply and exited the room.
After giving her back a stretch, her hands drifted around to the back of her corset. Luckily, she had worn a gown that she could just manage to remove by herself. She had no inkling as to whether Angeline had a lady’s maid or not and wouldn’t want to bother one at this late of night.
Lena took a deep breath as the last of the hooks was unfastened. The sight of her corset falling to the ground was always the biggest relief of her day.
Next came her sleeves, then her hair ribbon and bonnet, and then finally her two layers of skirt. She stood just in her underdress, drawers, and crinoline as she viewed everything on the carpet encircling her.
Removing her crinoline would be the hardest task of undressing, but she figured she could manage. She knew wearing it would be a bad idea, but it was too grand to pack in her trunk and she was unsure if there would be any locations here where she could obtain one.
Ever so carefully, she shifted the wired cage around so that the fastens were positioned directly under her nose rather than at her back. She undid the first three rows of hooks which provided her with just enough room to wiggle out. Once she had successfully stepped out of the cage, she held the crinoline in her hands as she undid the rest of the fastens.
The last thing left was her drawers, which she took off with ease as she sat down on the bed. She felt no need to sort through the heavily packed contents of her trunk for her nightdress as her underdress would suffice for a night.
Allowing another breath to cleanse her system, she pulled out the journal that had been stashed deep in her pocket. Among the pages lived the tens of letters that had narrated the correspondence between her and the Count. She reread each and every one of them several times over before she decided to call it in for the night.
She allowed the photographs of mutilated bodies floating mere feet above the ground to haunt her nightmares as she finally fell into a slumber.