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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.