|She liked the old man, who had taken to sending her Passover cake every year, and gibed gently at her misfortunes with her watch.|
"Ah, my good friend Fraulein Bettany! Come in, come in. And what can I get for you this fine spring morning? A pretty necklace, perhaps, or a pair of earrings?" Herr Goldmann’s eyes twinkled. The head girl of the English school at the Tiernsee was one of his regular customers, her brother-in-law Herr Doktor Russell having often said exasperatedly that it baffled belief how anyone could have as much trouble with their watch as she did. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the watch itself - Frau Doktor Russell had purchased it from his shop for her sister's sixteenth birthday, on the day that she'd collected Jo's previous watch after its third visit there in ten weeks – but it was rare that more than a couple of months went by without its shamefaced owner visiting his shop to confess that, once again, she appeared to have over-wound it.
"Er, not exactly." Jo looked embarrassed for a moment, but then the old man winked at her and she started to laugh. "I don't know what I do to it, Herr Goldmann: honestly I don't. I do try to be careful but I suppose I must have over-wound it again." She produced it from her pocket and handed it to him, a rueful expression on her face.
The jeweller had a quick glance at it, held it to his ear and nodded. "I do not think that it can be very much. I'm sure I shall be able to get it back to you as good as new, Fraulein Bettany, but unfortunately I will not be able to attend to it today. I have a number of repairs and orders which I must finish by this evening already." The shop was busy at the moment and he sometimes wondered if he should take on an assistant.
"Oh, I wasn't expecting you to do it now this minute," Jo assured him. "I'll collect it next time I'm in Spartz." She frowned. "I don't know when that's going to be, though. Certainly not before Easter. I shall have to see if anyone's got a spare one that I can borrow in the meantime. Oh well, it's my own silly fault, I suppose!"
Herr Goldmann shook his head. "Do not worry yourself, Fraulein Bettany. I shall have it sent back to you as soon as it is ready." He winked at her. "Then we shall see how long it is before it is back here again, shall we not?"
Jo blushed. "I really don’t know what I do wrong. I'd be awfully grateful if you could send it back to me, though. And I'll pay now, if you’d rather?"
The old man waved away her offer. "I think we can trust one another by now, don't you, my friend? I have faith that you won't leave the country with my few schillings! Call in to see me next time you are in Spartz, and pay for it then. Now, I know that you are not at school at the moment - I saw some of your young ladies walking through Spartz to take the train last week, with their luggage – so I shall have it sent to you at the Sonnalpe, if you will write down the address for me."
Jo smiled at him gratefully. "Thanks awfully, Herr Goldmann. It's Die Rosen … here." She took the pen and paper he was holding out to her and scrawled down the address. "And yes, we're off for a bit now – off school, I mean, not actually off anywhere in particular. For the Easter holidays. It’s awfully jolly not having to do lessons on a day like today when the weather's so nice. I love days like today - nice and sunny but not boiling hot like it sometimes gets in the summer, you know."
"It is a pleasant time of year," the jeweller agreed. “So you are remaining here in Tyrol for the holidays, Fraulein Bettany? You are not going back to England? Well, I suppose your sister could not travel at the moment anyway, so soon after the arrival of the new little one. Please pass on best wishes from Frau Goldmann and me to her and to the Herr Doktor, when you return home." The Russells were well known in the small town of Spartz and news of the arrival of their daughter had soon spread. "Are she and the baby both well?"
"Very well, thank you." The baby had arrived earlier than expected, but was thriving, and Madge had suffered none of the problems which had occurred during David's birth two years earlier. "Madge is fine, and Baby Sybil's a darling. And I don't suppose we'd have gone back to England anyway. There isn't really time during these hols … although I don't suppose we'll go during the summer hols anyway. Jem can't be away from the San for long, and it wouldn't be easy to travel with all the babies. I don’t know when I'll get to see England again … and it's so beautiful there at this time of year, Herr Goldmann." An unexpected wave of homesickness overcame her, as Robert Browning's well known words on Home Thoughts From Abroad suddenly filled her mind. She blinked, shaking her head. Austria was her home now, and she couldn't imagine that she'd ever live in England again. "Still, I like being in Austria at Easter," she said firmly.
"You like the way that the people celebrate it here?" He smiled pensively. It was a joyous and colourful time of year here in Tyrol, and indeed he rather enjoyed watching the Easter festivities himself. So often in the past it had been a time of persecution but, for now, there was peace … although the news coming from Germany was increasingly worrying. He shook his head, trying not to dwell on that last thought. "Do the people do the same things in England, Fraulein Bettany? The children walking through the streets with the ratchets when the church bells have flown away to Rome … ah, but no, you won't do that: that is a Catholic tradition and you are mostly Protestant in England."
"We don't do the thing with the ratchets, no," Jo agreed. "I like seeing it here, though; and I like the Easter services at the local churches. Madge – my sister, I mean – doesn’t mind if I go to them. I think I've probably been to more Catholic services than Church of England services now, after all these years in Austria."
"Your sister is a good woman: there are not many so broad-minded," the old man said thoughtfully. "It is unfortunate that there are not more like her: there are too many people who … but let us not talk of that. So, you have no ratchets, my friend! Do you have the Oosterhaas, though, to bring eggs on Easter Day?"
"Oh yes, we have the … well, he's not actually an Easter Hare in England, he's an Easter Bunny! A rabbit, you know." Jo grinned at the recollection of one occasion on which Dick had taken it upon himself to dress up as an Easter Bunny and had ended up tripping and spilling the eggs in his basket all over the floor. "But it's the same thing: the bunny brings the eggs. And we eat lamb."
Herr Goldmann nodded. "They are the symbols of springtime, the eggs and the lamb. And we of the Jewish faith, we have a hard-boiled egg and a lamb bone on our table during our Seder, the Passover meal. Perhaps the different faiths are not so very different after all, nicht wahr? Are you familiar with our Passover, Fraulein Bettany?"
"Sort of." Jo wrinkled her nose, trying to remember what she knew about the Jewish springtide festival. "It's to do with Moses and the Hebrew slaves and when they left Egypt to go to the Promised Land, isn't it? And isn't there something about not eating bread for a week?"
He raised his eyebrows and smiled, surprised and rather impressed. Not many people in Tyrol knew even that much about the festivals of any faiths other than their own. "Eight days. Well, eight and a half days. And not just bread, Fraulein Bettany, but anything made with yeast … anything made with any of five types of grain. So for that time there will be no Sachertorte for Frau Goldmann and me! No Sachertorte, no Linzertorte, no Punschkrapfen, no Dobostorte …" He burst out laughing at the expression on her face. "You do not like the thought of that, Fraulein Bettany?"
"Not really, no!" Jo admitted. "Your Austrian cakes are all so gorgeous: I'd hate to do without them, even just for eight days! So no cake at all, then?"
He laughed again. "It's not as bad as all that! We can have as much cake as we like, provided that it's made without yeast. Frau Goldmann makes a chocolate torte every year, with no yeast, and it looks just the same as the normal sort."
"Doesn't it taste frightfully strange, though?" Jo asked thoughtlessly. She reddened. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be rude. I just can't imagine it."
"It tastes a little strange," he agreed. "Although I would not dare to tell Frau Goldmann that: it is an old family recipe handed down from her grandmother! A lot of the food which we eat during Passover tastes a little strange, when we are so used to eating what we like during the rest of the year. But we do it to remember, Fraulein Joey. The story in the Bible … it's a story of people seeking their freedom from oppression; and we should all remember, all of us, how lucky we are to live in a world in which we have that freedom, to live as we choose.
"And that, like the eggs and the lamb which symbolise the coming of springtime, are relevant to all of us, whatever religion we may be of, or whether we are of no religion at all. The seasons keep on turning, year after year, and we always know that, however harsh the winter may be, it cannot be long before spring will come again; and we should rejoice that we are free to enjoy its coming in peace, and not in slavery."
He stopped. He hadn't meant to talk so much, but it was a time of year that always made him think, and this girl was easy to talk to. "I'm sorry, Fraulein Bettany – do forgive the ramblings of an old man. I will be quiet now!"
"No … it's interesting." Jo looked at him thoughtfully. "A piece of cake, it's just a piece of cake, but when you think about all that, everything you’ve just said … it can say so much, can't it?" She smiled, wonderingly. "We take so much for granted. Most of the time we just don’t think about it at all, and then something makes us think. And sometimes it's something really big, and then other times it's just something like …"
"A piece of cake." They both spoke at the same time. And then they both laughed.
Jo's watch was delivered to Die Rosen the following week, back in perfect working order. Alongside it was a small cardboard box, tied with a ribbon; and, when she opened it, she found inside it a piece of Frau Goldmann’s Passover chocolate torte.
She received one every year after that – every year up to and including that spring in which the Nazis marched into Austria. That was the last one. Years later, she tried to make her own. It didn't taste the same. Nothing ever tasted quite the same again after that spring of 1938 and what followed it. But the sentiment was the same. In fact, the sentiment was far stronger, because by then she knew what it was like to live in a country which was enslaved by tyranny, and to appreciate all the more what it was to celebrate the springtime, and the blessings of every other time of year too, in a land of peace and freedom.