To my shock and dismay my father one day announced that we were moving to a new home somewhere in the Bavarian Alps and that it would happen within the next week! I was stunned to say the very least, and even more so when he also disclosed that our new residence would be out in the country, far removed from any major city and even the nearest small village was some ten kilometres away! No matter how I remonstrated and protested this upheaval of my life, he was adamant that I would accompany him, saying that my education would not be interrupted, but in fact continued in an even more intense manner, by means of private tutoring. Little did I know what sort of arrangements he’d made! With misery, I came to accept that the move to the new dwelling was inevitable and so said my goodbyes to my friends and lover, then at the appointed time got into our car and we spent the next six hours on the autobahn, not arriving at our new home until quite late in the evening.
Darkness had closed in while we drove through the thick, mixed forest, so I didn’t really get a good look at my new home; only receiving an impression of stalwart bulk when we passed through the gated entrance in the high stone walls. The drive up the long lane, passing through large gardens on the way to the front portico, revealed that the new place was actually an estate of considerable size! Obviously, my father had done very well in his business, for the house was huge in comparison to the one in which we had resided before. Apparently, the dwelling had originally been built for a minor noble, but had fallen into disrepair and neglect. My father had purchased it at a bargain price, then had it completely renovated and modernized and at his instruction, an additional two metres had been added to the already three metre high stone wall that had been originally built around the entire estate to ensure privacy. My impression of the whole was that it actually resembled some sort of glorified private sanatorium for the recovery of diseased patients, and in a way, as I was to discover, this was its intention ... in relation to me!
The lights came on when we pulled up under the front portico and I got my next shock. A tall, imposing woman wearing a heavy, ankle length black skirt opened the door then came forward and greeted my father warmly, ignoring me for the moment.
“Ah, Herr Strang!” she said in English-accented, but very good German, “I’m happy to see that you have arrived safely. I have matters well in hand and the house is fully prepared and ready. Cook has prepared a small meal and refreshments. The maintenance staff will bring in your cases. All of the other materials you had shipped are already here and arranged as per your instructions.
“And so this must be young Miss Kristal,” she said after turning to inspect me silently with a severe and critical eye. No smile of welcome broke her red lips, as one had for my father, and I thought that she looked upon me with a proprietary and strangely predatory gaze. Her regard sent chills down my spine and for some instinctual reason; I had already begun to fear her. That fear blossomed hugely a moment later when my father spoke for the first time since we’d left our old home.
“Good evening, Frau Baxter! Thank you for all of your trouble in arranging matters as I have requested. I look forward to inspecting them, then enjoying the peace and solitude we have here.” he stated, then introduced me. “You are indeed correct in that this is my daughter, Kristal, and she will be under your care, staying in the suite of rooms I described in my letters and have had created for her.
“Kristal, this is your Governess, Frau Baxter. She will be looking after you in all respects and will continue your education and training ...”
“Father!” I spoke loudly in immediate disagreement, “I neither need, nor do I want any sort of Governess! I am eighteen years old, nearly nineteen, and Governesses are only meant for young children! And, what do you mean by ‘training’?”
“This is neither the time nor place for an argument!” he retorted immediately, becoming red-faced with anger. “Come inside immediately and we will discuss this later.” He turned to Frau Baxter and spoke in an aggrieved tone. “And so, Frau Baxter, you can see that the situation is as I described. I trust that your techniques and costuming requirements for her will quickly provide the desired result.”
“You need have no doubt about it, Herr Strang!” she responded with a reptilian smile while looking straight at me. It never reached her ice blue eyes and that made me recoil. “You have read through my references as well as having seen the pictures of my previous pupils, so you need have no fears about young Kristal here being led astray. Now, let us, by all means, go inside and relax. You must be quite exhausted after the long drive.”
So saying, she turned and strode imperiously through the opened, massive wooden front door and we followed her swirling skirts into the entrance hall. I was by turns stunned at the opulence of the rooms we passed through, awed by their scale, and depressed by their heaviness of massive decoration. While we passed through each one toward the rear of the house, I noted the presence of many age-blackened eye bolts embedded in the stone walls, then, that most of these old bits of ironmongery were fitted with new, gleaming rings and some even had lengths of shiny chain dangling, welded to them, adding even more to my feelings of foreboding menace. What I didn’t notice, was the track network mounted on the high ceilings of all of the hallways and rooms, other than the long entrance hall, but I would come to know this overhead rail system well in the months to come!
At last we arrived in a small, comfortably furnished dining room that overlooked a huge garden lit with small lights along its winding paths, then settled into chairs around a table set for three. Upon the crisp white linen table cloth, a cheese plate and two others containing different types of bread and fruits awaited us, as well as two decanters of wine. We sat so that I was situated between my father and Frau Baxter, although I wanted to remain as far from her as possible, even though having just been introduced.
“Please eat,” my father spoke and a moment later we began to load our respective plates. “Here, Kristal.” he said again with quiet satisfaction, passing me an already-filled glass of red wine. “You may have a drink of this excellent Merlot. I know that you, like most teenagers, have sneaked a drink now and then, but today you are about to do it as an adult and experience the true pleasure of a good wine.”
“Thank you, father,” I replied with automatic politeness, accepting the proffered glass, then taking a sip of the sparkling red liquid. It tasted wonderful and I took yet another sip, then began to nibble on one of the delicious cheese pieces I’d taken.
“And so, my dear Kristal,” he spoke again, extracting one of his awful cigars and lighting it, then drawing its expensive smoke deeply into his lungs and expelling it with a contented sigh, “we have arrived in our new home and I am sure you will find it to be most ... ah ... interesting. Frau Baxter has been very diligent in her work and you will soon see how things are arranged, but in the meantime, I should tell you a little more about the place.
“It was built for a minor count during the latter part of the 19th century, but he, unfortunately, was killed in the Great War and left no dependants. During the remainder of the twentieth century it fell into disuse and lay abandoned for many years. I purchased it last year and have had it completely renovated, modernized and fully-equipped. Naturally, my dear, as I have mentioned a special suite of rooms for your use has been created on the second floor and these contain large, already stocked, walk-in closets filled with your new clothing and uniform. There is a dressing room and a large, fully-equipped washing area and toilets, of course.
“You will soon learn of some of the marvels that have been installed, but Frau Baxter will be the one to more properly acquaint you with these facets. As well, there is my own suite of rooms and those for Frau Baxter. This, the main floor, contains the more ‘public’ rooms such as the kitchen, library, dining room, games room, a small theatre and my office. There are extensive cellars as well, going down three levels beneath the house and these contain wine storage areas and all of the heating, ventilation, electrical and air conditioning machinery. Believe it or not, at one time there was also a large stable down there, but it has been converted to other usages and the area now serves a quite different purpose. You will be intrigued, I am sure, when you are shown theses rooms, but that is a little way in the future.” He finished with a conspiratorial smile at Frau Baxter. She smiled back at him, then looked at me again with a predatory gaze flaring briefly in her eyes.
Saying nothing, I sipped my wine and ate another piece of cheese, listening to him talk and occasionally glancing over at the formidable woman who continued to regard me with penetrating eyes. I shivered again under her exacting inspection, trying to ignore it as best I could.
“May I have another glass of wine, please?” I asked quietly, when there was a lull in my father’s glowing words about the house and grounds.
“Certainly my dear!” he said happily, the first time I’d seen him like that in weeks.
Wordlessly, Frau Baxter reached out and poured another measure into my glass from the decanter nearest me. Neither she nor my father took a drink while his monologue continued and I failed to notice that they both casually selected the other decanter than that from which my own wine had been poured, and filled their glasses.
“... and so, with the 300 hectare grounds and the high stone walls, my dear, we are assured of the utmost in privacy,” he finished his description with another smile at both me and my new Governess. “Now, Frau Baxter, I believe you have something to add?”
“I do, Herr Strang.” She nodded graciously at him, then turned to me. “Miss Kristal, I am here at the request of your father in order to ensure that your education continues, while at the same time implement your transition into a new life. You will, it is to be hoped, find it an interesting although somewhat different path that we will embark upon, and one not without both mental and physical challenges.
“Your father has given me complete freedom to employ whatever measures I may deem necessary for your new educational direction and the correction of the faults you have developed as a result of not having a mother to guide you. Some of those have already become apparent to me and I shall deal with them in due course, as well as others that will assuredly present themselves. Very soon, you will become a different person, my dear Kristal ... one that your father will be most proud of.”
I was dismayed by her blunt way of expressing herself and stunned at her baldly stated plans to change the course of my life. I reached unthinkingly to my wine decanter and poured another glass for myself, disregarding the fleeting smile that my two table companions exchanged. Wine was not a thing I had tried in the past and it seemed to be muddying my thoughts while I sat and listened.
Frau Baxter continued speaking. “You are pursuing a degree in architecture from my understanding, Miss Kristal?” she asked.
“Y-yes, Frau Baxter,” I mumbled around a thickening tongue.
“Well, my dear, those studies are postponed until further notice. I feel there are several other things you must soon learn that are of far more importance. You will embark upon your new journey of discovery and training the first thing tomorrow morning and you will find it to be a most ... ah ... interesting one.”
I suddenly felt very tired and my eyes were only half open while she finished. Her voice seemed to come from a far place when I sat back in my chair.
“My dear,” my father spoke quietly, “you are obviously exhausted from the trip and so Frau Baxter will assist you to your room. Good night, Kristal.”
“G’ night, father,” I mumbled and stood shakily, holding onto the arm of my chair with a weak grip and swaying from side to side.
Frau Baxter appeared at my elbow and walked me from the room, then assisted me up the stairs to the second floor and far down along a darkened corridor to the rearmost part of the house. I was a little drunk, I thought, having given no thought to the fact that perhaps my wine decanter had received some sort of adulteration, and so stumbled along under my Governess’s guidance, until we reached a door deeply-set into one of the thick walls. Leaning against the wall for support, I waited while Frau Baxter fumbled with the door’s opening mechanism, then she reached to a panel high on the side and did something there. A second later she held me up while we walked slowly through a short entry hallway, then again we stopped and she spent a moment at yet another door. Seemingly, Frau Baxter knew the layout intimately for she didn’t turn on any lights, but led me over to a high, pedestal style bed that had already been made up, with the coverlet turned down, then sat me upon its edge. By that point I was virtually asleep on my feet and so made no objection while she undressed me completely and tucked me under the crisp white sheet.
“Sleep well, Kristal.” I heard her faintly, and then passed out.
Unbeknownst to me, Frau Baxter stayed in the room until I was fully unconscious, then gently rolled me to the side and brought out the first of the new, though temporary, implements that were to become an integral part of my costume from that day to this. A moment later when she’d finished applying it, she lifted the covers along the sides and at the end of the bed and added yet more articles from her vast store of such devices. Replacing and smoothing them and the duvet, she moved to check my breathing once more, then quietly left the room, closing and locking the inner, closely-barred door, then the thick wooden one beyond it at the end of the short entrance hall to my suite of rooms.