The molasses runs as deep—and sweet—as the Danube in this romantic drama set in an Austrian boarding school on the eve of Hitler’s invasion. British novelist Ibbotson (The Morning Gift, 1993, etc.) offers a pleasant if inconsequential tale that follows the pre-war adventures of Londoner Ellen Carr after she takes the position of house mother at a socially progressive academy for budding Marxists, musicians, and artists. The position comes as a shock to Ellen’s family; her mother and two aunts are committed suffragettes, having spent much jail time to free women of the burden of servile housework. But they learn, to their amazement, that this is the role Ellen has always yearned for’so much so that she dropped out of Cambridge to study home management and cooking. And now, under Ellen’s gentle, resourceful care, Hallendorf School begins to function with Victorian efficiency; even the once-atheist children start attending church. Meanwhile, sensible Ellen is thrown among a quirky mix of instructors—a Russian ballerina, a hysteric metalworks teacher, and an overly emotive drama coach. None of the staff, however, is as intriguing as the mysterious groundsman, Marek, who turns out to be a prominent Czech composer hiding incognito at the school to better facilitate the rescue of a Jewish friend from a concentration camp. Ellen and Marek’s acquaintance grows into a deep friendship and then love, and an engagement ensues, taking the two to Marek’s vast country estate. The Nazis, though, take revenge on Marek for helping with the escape of his friend, and mayhem breaks loose. Marek is believed lost, Ellen returns to London to marry an old admirer, and many of the Hallendorf children seek refuge at the Carr residence. Will the two lovers reunite? Will the Allies win the war? A happy ending is, of course, guaranteed, though the predictability barely detracts from this companionable tale, populated with odd, likable characters. Fluff, but high-quality fluff.