The music in the ballroom of Schloss Eberbach stopped, causing an eerie stillness to fall over the couple standing in the garden. Klaus looked at the woman before him. Her face was unreadable. She merely gazed blandly back at him, awaiting his decision.

"Well, Major? Yes or no?"

Before the Major could reply one way or the other, another voice was calling from the door. "Maria Schmidt, what are you doing out here in the damp?"

The couple in the garden turned to see Frau Schmidt heading in their direction.

"Herr von dem Eberbach and I were just getting some air, Mother," Anna replied calmly.

Her mother gave her a disapproving look. "Sneaking one of those filthy cigars of yours, more like," she said with a disgusted snort. She looked at the Major, smiled politely and then took her daughter firmly by the arm. "Excuse us, Herr von dem Eberbach."

"Of course, Frau Schmidt," Klaus replied with a slight nod of the head. Words could not express his gratitude for her timely intervention, which spared him having to make any decision at all.

As she pulled her daughter toward the door, Frau Schmidt leaned close to her ear. "What were you thinking, having Herr von dem Eberbach escort you to the garden?" she admonished in a low voice. "You're supposed to be looking for a husband."

"Mama," Anna moaned, rolling her eyes at the same time.

"I told you not to waste your time on a man like that."

Klaus stiffened visibly upon hearing this. Obviously, the older woman did not realize that her words carried with complete clarity though the still evening air.

The Major heard Anna echo his own thoughts when she asked, "A man like what?"

"You know…" Frau Schmidt threw a quick glance over her shoulder, exchanging a forced smile with the Major.

"No, Mama, I don't know."

Her mother heaved an exasperated sigh. "Anna, really! He travels all over the world. He must have a woman stashed in every city."

It was all Klaus could do not to cry out in alarm upon hearing this. The very thought made his head spin.

Anna, on the other hand, had to fight not to burst out laughing. A woman in every city! Iron Klaus?

Just before her mother pulled her through the door, Anna turned back, a long-suffering look on her face. She shook her head and shrugged. A moment later, she was talking to the "gigglers" and directing their attention to the "gropers" across the room.

Klaus heaved a sigh of relief and lit a cigarette, turning his back on the entire scene.


— End —