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Characters in Depth:
Otto von Goff

First Trilogy
All Manor of Yarns

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 I.

Prussian Yarns

II.

A Stitch in Time

III.

Tinctures & Tantrums

Second Trilogy
The Snow Queen and
The Caterpillar

IV.

There is a Season

V.

 Viennese Yarns

VI.

Orchids

Third Trilogy
Taffeta Tales

VII.

British Yarns

VIII.

Polish Yarns

IX.

Threads of Strife

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Lorraine Stanton
Vicki Wootton
Shalanna Collins
 
In 1860 Otto von Goff is the Gutsherr of Schönwald; the lord of the manor.  The Free Trade Agreement of that time, the Cobden Treaty between France and England, is about to change the face of European economics.  Otto is determined to benefit from the coming changes, not to be disadvantaged by them.  He is alone in his thinking, and has to invent a way of reacting to the challenge without having anyone to discuss his ideas with.

The reason Otto does not always walk lockstep with the mind-set of the other large land-owners of Prussia, is that he was not raised in the same way as they were.  Instead of being sent to school at eight as all other boys of his class were, Otto was educated at home until he was twelve.  The time alone, and the indulgence of his mother, gave Otto the chance to learn to think for himself.  By the time the regimentation of Prussian boys' schools closed around him the efforts of the masters to indoctrinate him was too late.  Their attempts to beat some sense into him only served to make him devious and rebellious.

The more force that was used to make Otto conform, the more he kept a secret, stubborn part inside himself that refused to do what "they" wanted, just because it was what "they" wanted.  When the good, upright Junker boys would have nothing to do with him, Otto collected a group of friends who were also outsiders.  Mostly English boys sent to Göttingen University after having been expelled from English Universities, though some had gone to "the Continent" to further their education.  There was also an American boy who had gone to Europe for his higher education, and a French boy who had gone to Göttingen in a mostly unsuccessful attempt to master the language.

As an adult Otto maintained the ability to remain steadfast to his own reasoning regardless of whether anyone else agreed with him or not.  He travelled to places no-one else he knew had seen just because no-one else had.  He bought foreign horses no-one in his area had ever seen just because no-one else had the like.  He had newspapers from France and England sent to him, even though the news in them was old by the time he read it, not only because no-one else read foreign newspapers, but also to maintain his fluency in French and English.

Otto didn't speak only the fashionable French like everyone else; he was fluent in every-day French, including the Parisian slang of the day, thanks mostly to his French schoolmate.

Through all of these means Otto formed a different opinion of the effect the Cobden Treaty would have on Prussia.  The prevalent attitude was that it made no difference to Prussians what the French and the English did with their trade.  Otto, however, was a believer in the ripples from a stone thrown into a pond reaching even the far flung edges of the pond.  He thought that the most likely outcome was unrest caused by changes to a familiar system, followed by an increase in the movement of goods between France and England.

Whether the long-term effects would be increased prosperity or not he couldn't tell.  Sometimes he thought it could lead to economic collapse, sometimes he thought it could lead to economic expansion, but either way he wanted to be a part of the increase that he was sure would happen.  One of the possible effects was a downturn in Prussia's economy, and he wanted to guard against that.

The railways came late to Prussia, and had different gauges at the border of every principality, sometimes even within principalities.  Even so, he conceived of a plan to use the new rails to send Schönwald cattle to France to be fattened and sold.  His French friend knew of a man, Jean Beaulieu, who would be able to facilitate such a venture, so Otto had Jean travel to Schönwald to discuss the possibility of shipping cattle by train from Schönwald to France.

Not only did Jean believe it was possible to do what Otto suggested, he wanted to try it.  The two men spent five weeks inventing an international trade agreement whereby the cattle would be shipped, kept alive, taken off trains and onto other trains at each change of gauge, then inspected when they arrived, and paid for.  The men had to work out a way that deaths and injuries would be handled in such a way that neither of them took all of the losses, and they had to work out a system of checks and balances so that the claims of one could be verified by the other without either of them being on the spot.

What Otto had envisioned as taking a couple of weeks actually used up all of September and part of October, five weeks of working all day every day.

Jean had brought four of his sons with him to Schönwald.  The older two, adults, worked with Otto and Jean.  The younger two were mere children aged ten and thirteen.  Otto assumed Jean had brought the boys along for a holiday, but in actual fact Jean had brought them along to work and to learn.  Otto refused to work with a ten year old child in the room, so Jean-Philippe was ordered by his father to stay in their rooms.  Otto thought the child could have been occupied by spending his time having schooling with Otto's ten year old daughter, Luise, but Jean was insulted at the idea of a son of his being schooled in a girl's nursery.

Distrustful of Jean and his adult sons, Otto ordered Luise and her attractive companion/maid, Kirsten, to stay out of sight while Jean and his sons were at Schönwald.  Unable to depend on his wife, Hildegard to take care of the girls, since Hildegard was agoraphobic and never left her room, Otto thought it wouldn't hurt the girls to keep out of sight for two weeks.  He had miscalculated the time the Beaulieus would be at Schönwald.

Overwhelmed by the demands of trying to invent the agreement for something that had never been done before, as well as trying to run the house in Hildegard's stead without giving any appearance of doing "women's work," on top of keeping the estate running and doing all of his normal daily work, Otto hoped that the household and the nursery would take care of themselves while he concentrated on getting the work with the Beaulieus done as quickly as possible.

Once they were gone he could turn his attention back to Luise and the house, he reasoned.

Despite the fact that he had been a lonely child himself, Otto reckoned without the effect of loneliness on Luise and Jean-Philippe Beaulieu.  The two children found each other and started to sneak out to the forest to play together every morning.  Busy with the preparations for winter, the staff didn't notice that the two children had time unaccounted for every morning.  Luise's governess thought she was with the person assigned to accompany her as she did her morning chores in the stables, and that person, Cosima, thought Luise went back up to the nursery when they parted company.

The governess and the Schönwald housekeeper had both been hired during the year, so it was the first time either of them had gone through the preparations for winter at Schönwald, and they were doing so without direction from either the mistress or the master.  Plus there was no retired housekeeper or governess for either of them to call on.  Each fully absorbed in her tasks, neither noticed that Luise slipped away every morning.

Otto didn't dare let Jean see that he "meddled in women's work."  He was sure if Jean suspected such a thing he would view Otto as beneath contempt, and untrustworthy.  The trade agreement depended a great deal on trust between the men.  Even though Otto knew Luise was lonely, and that keeping her confined would be a problem, even though he knew there was no one supervising the running of the household and that could be a problem, still he put all of his time and attention into the trade agreement, trusting that he could take care of the other things "later."

When the housekeeper brought it to his attention that the staff had not been paid, and that she needed to see what had been spent on preparations for winter in previous years to be able to estimate for the winter of 1860-61, Otto dealt with it as quickly as he could without letting Jean know any such thing was going on.  Despite Hildegard's objections, he obtained the books from her and turned them over to the housekeeper.

That was not the end of it.  The housekeeper and the butler made an appointment to see Otto to point out to him the appalling disarray of the housekeeping books.  There was no possibility of Otto sorting it out while the Beaulieus were at Schönwald.  With the staff not paid, and the trade agreement taking an unknown amount of time more than Otto had anticipated, he could not wait until the Beaulieus were gone to deal with the question of the household books.  All he could think of to do was tell his butler and housekeeper to sort it out between them, and meantime he would have to pay the household staff out of his funds, and reimburse himself once they had things sorted out.

The strain on Otto increased when it became clear that funds were missing and unaccounted for from the household records.  He realised that he should have looked into Hildegard's accounts long before then.  He knew she was not fulfilling her responsibilities, but he had left her realm alone as long as it looked as if things were being done.  Now he had a huge problem to deal with, and it had come to light at the worst possible time: while there were people in the house in front of whom he had to appear to be well organised and in complete control.

When the trade agreement was finally finished, and the Beaulieus had returned to France, Otto set about finding out what had gone on while he'd been unavailable.  He was, at first, heartbroken to find out that Luise had been sneaking out every morning with the two young Beaulieu boys.  Sent to check up on his younger brother, the older boy had been drawn into Luise and Philippe's play, and the three children had been seen together.

All of the hard work, all of the stress he had been under had been for Luise's sake, and this was how she repaid him, by defying him and everyone else he had entrusted with her care.  It hurt him so deeply that it was almost as if his daughter had died.  He didn't know who this child was.  All he knew was that she wasn't who he'd thought she was.

It took a long time for Otto to come to terms with the fact he'd known Luise was so lonely that it was bound to lead to problems, but he'd done nothing about it.  She wasn't wicked, or a stranger to him, she was exactly who he knew she was, and she'd done what he would have done in her place.  If he'd taken care of the problem as soon as he realised it existed, it would never have reached that point, in the same way as the household books would never have reached such a sorry state if he'd insisted on taking a look at them as soon as he realised Hildegard was not fulfilling any of her responsibilities.

He had to face the fact that Hildegard, too, might not have slid so far down the path she'd gone if he had dealt with her problems years before.  Even if he couldn't have prevented her from ending up as filled with nameless fears as she was, he could at least have taken proper control and found a way to work around her difficulties.

Otto had been taught the maxim, "A stitch in time saves nine" when he was a child, yet he had done the exact opposite, letting things slide, hoping everything would turn out, until small difficulties had developed into huge problems.  He had only himself to blame, and he hated that part of it more than anything else.

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