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Authors: Eva Ibbotson

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Adult

Madensky Square (32 page)

BOOK: Madensky Square
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It didn’t take Edith long to understand the point of my charade that day in the fitting room, and when Herr Huber proposed, she came at once to see me.

‘You must tell me what to do about clothes, Frau Susanna, please. I mustn’t disgrace him.’

‘You won’t disgrace him, Edith, but I’ll tell you what to do about clothes. Nothing. Forget them. Dress as plainly as you can, ignore fashion – be seemly and nothing more – by day. But at night…!’ And I scribbled down for her the address of the woman who makes lingerie for the girls of the Opera Ballet.

And it worked, of course. Inspired by that great gift, a secret wife, Herr Huber, within a month of his marriage, had patented the Huberwurst which is causing a sensation in the world of charcuterie.

It was almost time to open the shop, but I went out first into the courtyard because they’re so magical, these hesitant first days of spring. Mitzi had spent the night with Maia and they were playing next door.

‘We’re in an igloo,’ came Maia’s voice over the wall. ‘You can’t cook in an igloo.’

But Mitzi is growing up. ‘Yes I can. I’m going to heat some seal oil and fry strips of penguin meat.’

The buds on my pear tree are already showing white. This year I feel sure will be its annus mirabilis. It will give two pears or even three – but if not it doesn’t matter for I have plenty of time. When you plant pears you plant for those who come after you, for your heirs. And I have an heir… an heiress. No one ever had such an heiress as 1.1 know her name now. She’s called Elisabeth. They gave her the name I offered her in the hospital – my mother’s name. I found this so amazing, so unbelievable, but Gernot said it just meant that the nun who was on duty that night, the one who gave me the baby to hold, had told them what I wanted. He’s not at all keen on miracles, yet it was a sort of miracle he performed for me.

Because I’ve seen her – I’ve seen my daughter! Oh, only from a distance, but I’ve seen her, and it was because of him!

Gernot was right about the square. There were some fulsome obituaries about Herr Egger who had died so tragically in a shooting accident; then Heinrid came to lay a wreath on the family grave, and two weeks later the plan was dropped.

But he was wrong about having to resign from the army. The Kaiser was displeased about the duel, but a great deal more displeased at the idea of losing Gernot. ‘Don’t be silly, my dear fellow,’ he said – and immediately sent him to Albania to calm King Ferdinand.

When he came back we met at the Bristol and he asked me if I’d like to go to a wedding.

‘You’d have to go incognito – in one of your famous veils – and watch from a window. But I’ll take you if it would make you happy. If there are no tears.’

‘Your daughter’s, you mean?’

He shook his head. ‘The whiskery young man in the Diplomatic Corps got away. I was afraid he would. No, not my daughter’s wedding. Yours.’

I was sitting at the dressing table, brushing my hair. I knew he was watching my face so I took some deep breaths and managed to speak steadily (I think).

‘How do you know she’s getting married ?’

It was his turn to pick his words with care.

‘Since you first told me about her, I gave instructions to… certain people to keep me informed about her. You can call it spying,’ he said, anticipating my words, ‘but I thought of it as keeping watch. You were in fact perfectly correct in that assessment you made in Salzburg. The Tollers have been excellent parents, your daughter has grown up in peace and happiness and she is marrying the man of her choice. But if it had been otherwise – if anything had happened to her adoptive parents – I would have been in a position to let you know.’

‘My God, Gernot, all those years.’ I was humbled, overwhelmed.

Then he handed me a newspaper in which Herr and Frau Toller announced the wedding of their daughter Elisabeth in St Peter’s Church, Salzburg, on 16 March.

‘Well, do you want to go?’

‘Yes, Gernot, I want to go.’

But he was irritable and edgy as we drove from the station in Salzburg to St Peter’s Square, wondering, I suppose, if I was going to collapse and make a scene. Though now I think of it, men often look like that at weddings. He was in mufti and hates hard hats.

He had arranged everything. Opposite the church is a row of ancient houses, once part of a friary. We were admitted to one of these, taken to the first floor, led to a bare room where two chairs were placed by the windows. Gernot handed me his field glasses.

Down in the street the carriages were assembling, dropping the guests. Some came on foot, solid-looking burghers in their best dirndls and loden suits. Then a carriage, smarter than the rest, the horses in white rosettes, out of which stepped two young men. One was slender, tall, in a well-cut grey suit with a carnation in his buttonhole and a dark, sensitive-looking face. The bridegroom, I was sure. The other was a fair man, stocky, with a blond beard: one of those dependable friends who makes a perfect best man and never drops the ring.

The bells had grown silent, the last of the guests moved into the church. Somewhere, just inside, I knew, the woman waited, in the place where I should have been, to set my daughter’s dress straight and send her up the aisle. Had she spent the night in tears or was she proud and pleased? Did she like the young man ?

It was a grey day, blustery. I realized that I had thought of my daughter as existing in perpetual sunshine.

Then she came. The carriage was decked with flowers, and she sat beside the water engineer with her white veil blowing in the wind. Beside me, Gernot frowned and I sat up very straight in my chair. No scenes, no tears; I had promised.

The water engineer got down and helped her out. A small man with a goatee… My hand tightened round the glasses. She descended gracefully, walked up the steps, erect and slender, managed her train with skill.

Of course. Of course.

The church door closed. I followed the service in my mind. The introit… the blessing… the moment of communion… Till she came out at last with her veil thrown back and I could see her face.

God, she was beautiful! My daughter was, is and always will be the most beautiful creature that exists on earth.

Then I saw that there had been a disaster.

‘Gernot, she’s married the wrong man! Look – she’s on the arm of the stocky fair one. The one she’s got is hardly taller than she is!’

My lover does not often laugh. A twitch of the cheek to indicate a brief amusement is generally as far as he goes, but now he almost choked on his cigar.

‘Oh splendid, splendid! You obviously have the right idea already. Heaven forbid that the poor girl should choose her own husband.’

‘No, honestly, Gernot, the other one -‘

Then I too began to laugh. Would I really have been one of those mothers speaking always ‘for her daughter’s good’ ? ‘Of course I like Paulchen, my darling, I like him very much, but I do feel you should tell him to come in earlier at night. It’s not fair on you when he stays out so late…’

Gernot was still in a state of high amusement when we arrived at the Hotel Winkler and booked in for the night, but later he paid me a compliment that I value very much.

‘No one,’ he said, ‘absolutely no one who has not been to bed with a mother-in-law can be said to have truly lived.’

I was thinking of her still, my newly-wedded heiress, as I stood in the sunlight beside my little tree. I may never see her again in this world, but to her I bequeath everything I have learnt, and am, and have experienced. For you, my Kleis, my Elisabeth, the pale green tips of the larches, the overtures of operas, the alpenrosen… For you the filigree of spiders’ webs, the giants and angels in the Grottenbahn, the garlands and the songs. I haven’t lived for you – I wasn’t able to – but I’ve lived
at
you – and for the last time, my darling, I’m sorry, so very sorry, that I wasn’t brave enough.

It was a long day in the shop and among my clients, alas, was the Countess von Metz whom I shall dress now, I suppose, until she dies. But tomorrow is Sunday and when I have been to church I shall go down to the workroom and make a dress. The material is waiting for me and it’s ravishing: aquamarine watered silk as blue and green and silver as the sea which now, perhaps, I shall never see.

And when I have made it, I shall put it on and float through the streets of the Kaiserstadt and Franz Joseph will drive by in his gold-wheeled carriage and decide to live a while longer, poor old man, because there are such lovely dresses in his town. The little girls will stop playing with their hoops and ask their mothers if they too could, please, have such a dress when they’re grown up; and the hussars in their scarlet and blue, and the young men about town in their silk hats will stare at me and wonder whether perhaps I could be persuaded… Yes, even though I have had another and quite unnecessary birthday, they will wonder it. But I shall float on unregarding in my sea-green dress, for there is only one man in the wide world, only one ageing, irascible man, who may say the words which will reward me for all my labour:

‘Take it off, my darling. Quickly, please. Take it off!’

BOOK: Madensky Square
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