Here below is the latest installment of my new and developing historical romance. This chapter is a letter written in 1909 by William Martin, a young, rich American businessman, to his father. The young man finds himself in the court of an Austrian prince where he meets and falls in love with the Prince’s young daughter. If you haven’t read the preceeding chapters, just go back a ways on this blog. I’ve posted two earlier segments of the story.
September 23, 1909
I am quite well here in this far-off country. In fact, I will write only of the comfort and beauty I have found here for they are profound and it will exercise my best talents to communicate to you only a fraction of what I have seen and felt.
First, the natural beauty of this land is breathtaking. You know well of the immense splendor of the Appalachian forests that have been a home and have produced a fortune for me. I will not denigrate them, but only say that the Alpine Mountains where I am now ensconced make the beauty of my own land seem – I don’t know the word to use here. I don’t mean to say “homely,” in the sense of less than attractive, but I mean something like it – “homelike,” might be the better expression. You know something of the music of both places. How well you and I love the music of our own hills – the speed and brightness of the banjo, the sad strumming of the guitar, the almost dissonant harmonies, how well they capture and reflect the gentle green hills and hollows of home and the life there. But this place is where Mozart composed and performed and the depth and reach of his music is of another scale entirely. So the Alpine Mountains. They make our tallest hills look like soft mounds of earth. They rise into the clouds and are snow covered, many of them, even in the summer. The slopes are rugged and steep so that they may only be climbed by men with pickaxe s and ropes. Each sunset behind these peaks is a magnificent painting.
As we have hiked through the gigantic and untouched forests here, we have looked down into high meadows crowded with herds of antlered red deer, hundreds at a time, knee deep in new snow and breathing smoke. There are creatures here that are unknown in our land – the ibex with long horns curved back like the sword of some Arab and the chamois, a small, deer-like animal that scales straight up these rocky cliffs as if it were being pulled by a wire.
Beyond that, because of the Count’s patronage, I had been admitted to an ancient and complex society, the manners and mores of which were at first completely opaque to me. At first I dismissed it all as so much foppery and ostentation, but over time I have come to an understanding and appreciation, even a taste for the life here. It has been like learning a language – a dawning awareness of the meaning of what is going on around you.
I might begin by telling you that the food here is beyond delicious. There is not a meal without some wild game – venison or fowl or pink-fleshed trout just from the stream. The kraut is ubiquitous and tangy and a great aid to digestion. Every dinner is a grand affair and all proceeds according to long tradition – prayers in Latin, shining silver service and bright crystal filled with old wine selected to balance the meal.
I leave the table not feeling bloated or full, but satisfied, relaxed and refreshed.
It is common here to leave windows open to the weather, even in the autumn. I have a fireplace in my bedroom and the fresh mountain air streams in through the open casements and is warmed in the orange glow of my hearth. The scents of live pine from outside and burning beech logs within combine to produce one of the most heavenly aromas I have ever known. I have never slept so soundly.
Then there is Rebecca. Princess Rebecca von Badeni, that is. This young woman is the Count’s second cousin and the daughter of Prince Felix von Badeni, a man of stature, consequence and great and ancient estate. To say that I am enamored of her would be understatement. She took my eye when I first saw her at table and her conversation has only magnified her mystery and charm. She is very young and her father dotes on her, but he is anxious for her to learn of America (she speaks English well enough) and has permitted me her society. I have never felt in such a way about any other woman and, indeed, did not imagine myself to be capable of such feeling. She fulfills desires in me that I did not know were there.
I am bold, I know, but I will ask the Prince for her hand before I leave this place. I really do not know how he will react. He may banish me immediately, but I have weighed every possibility and am ready to weather it all. She is the pearl of great price. I would sell all and do all for her.
Your faithful son,