Historical Romance, Part IV

 

 

 

Here is installment number four in my ongoing historical romance.  I have changed Martin’s first name from William to Isaac.  Sounds more patriarchal, don’t you think?

 

When the dessert dishes were taken away, the Count approached Isaac Martin, who remained alone at his table.

“We should go out onto the balcony and smoke.  The night is clear and the air will do you good; do us both good.”

“Not tonight, my friend.  Thank you, but I have other business.”

“You’re going to approach Prince von Badeni?”

“Yes.  You know?”

“Everyone knows.”

“Everyone knows what?

“Everyone knows why.  That you are in love with his daughter.”

“Any advice?”

“No.  The Prince is inscrutable.  No one knows how he will react.”

“He’s irrational?”

“No. Not irrational.  In fact, he is always right.”

The Count took his leave, heading for the great doors that stood open to the balcony and Isaac Martin stood and walked across the polished floor of the dining hall to the Prince’s table. The Prince was alone, except for a servant who was clearing the table.  The Prince dismissed the servant and gestured for Martin to sit down.

“Thank you, sir,” Martin said.  “I want to speak with you about your daughter.  About Rebecca.”

The Prince held his silence for a long moment.  “Yes.  I know.  Will you come with me to my study?”

And the two left the bright, high-ceilinged dining room and walked down the hall to a stairway and then up two flights to the highest floor of the castle and then into a room lined with books and hunting trophies.  There was a low fire in the hearth.

“Would you care for a drink, Mr. Martin?”

“No sir.  But thank you.”

“I have noticed, Mr. Martin, as the days have gone on here, you drink very little.”

“That’s true, sir.  In my country I do not drink at all.   I take wine with my meals here because it is the way of this house; of this country.  I am a guest and I partake of what is put before me.  Anything less would appear ungracious, I think.”

“Yes.  And where did you learn such manners?”

“From the Gospels, sir.”

“Eat what is set before thee?”

“Yes.  When you are a guest in another man’s home.”

“And yet you do not drink at all otherwise.  The Gospels do not demand this.  Christ drank wine.”

“I believe that, sir, and all is well in His company.  But I see so much damage around me.  Caused or at least accelerated by drink.  I feel that I am missing almost nothing by abstaining and that I am gaining daily in attentiveness to life and the opportunities around me and I know that I have not been a cause to make my brother stumble.”

“We have that in common then, Mr. Martin.  I take none myself except for ceremony.  But how did we get here?  You have asked to speak to me about Rebecca.”

“Yes sir.  I love your house and your country.  More than I could have imagined. I am most grateful for your generous hospitality.  It has been more of an education for me than all of my years in the best schools in my own country.   And yet I am still a novice in this house.  I don’t know exactly what is proper and I fear that what I have to say may be seen as the highest impertinence and yet I must say it.”

“Or the very rocks will cry out?”

“Yes.  And I wish that they would.  I wish the stones and trees would make my case for me.”

“Go on.  You have done yourself no harm thus far.  Make your case.”

“I love your daughter.  I am in love with your daughter.”

“Those are two very different things, you know.”

“I do know that.  And both are true.  I have been all my life in love with commerce.  You know of my successes.  I don’t offer them as proof of any virtue; I know that in the final analysis my wealth is simply a blessing from God.  I mention this now only to say that I have focused myself till now almost entirely on the world of business.  I have been given the best of opportunities and the prospects before me and, after that, the growing returns have kept me fascinated and immersed in this world.  I have never given much thought to a family and never been seriously enamored of any woman.  Any other woman, I mean.”

“I believe you.  I know of your successes.  They are phenomenal and enough to keep a man – a certain kind of man, the kind of man who might make a way in this wilderness – completely engaged.  Go on.”

“Sir, until I came to your estate, I did not know myself.  Your daughter has awakened in me so much that I was not before aware of.  I would give everything away for her. Nothing matters beside.  I would start again, without the first connection if I were given her hand.”

“And yet, you know, that is the worst thing that you could do.”

“Yes.  And my ability to provide for her and bring her into a life that is in keeping with her station and tastes is in my favor.  Perhaps the only thing in my favor.  But, sir, I would ask for her hand if I were penniless.  I did not know that this world could ever promise so much happiness as I have in her.”

“Your wealth is not only wealth, Mr Martin.  I know that because of my place here.  I am surrounded – she is surrounded – by young men of great means.  Men who could, as you say, support her in the kind of life that she is meant for.  But their wealth is inherited.  It is evidence of nothing but their good luck in being born to the right parents; the right station; the right class.  Your wealth is evidence of much, Mr. Martin.”

“Of hard work?”

“Yes.  Of course. And that is a virtue that is almost entirely unknown by this generation that surrounds us here.  But that is not the most important thing.  Your wealth is evidence of venture.  You have stepped out and made your own way.  Used your own imagination of what could be.  Such thinking, I suspect, is more common in your young and unstratified country.  It is completely absent here.”

“But the Count?”

“Yes.  Your friend.  Your host.  He has ventured, and he will succeed.  But he is the exception that proves the rule here.  There is none other like him, and he is Rebecca’s cousin.  He can be no husband to her.  Tell me, Mr. Martin, do you wonder at our ways here?  Our pretty customs and ornate dress and architecture?”

“I will admit, sir, that I was doubtful of it at first.  But I think I have grown to appreciate your ways.”

“Do you know what they are based on?”

“A long history?”

“Yes.  But first and foremost, they are based on heaven.  They are meant to be a vision of heaven.”

“I can believe that, sir.”

“Yes, but no one else can.  There are none in this generation who have any appreciation of what this wealth and this culture is finally based on.  They walk in oblivion.  They have every need and taste met and worry not about the future or concern themselves with their duty.  This world you have tasted was cut out of a wilderness.  Men have sacrificed themselves in the building up of this nation.  Whole generations of them have fought and died to make this place a haven of grace and peace.  But this generation and the one immediately before it have paid no such price.  They think that this world is normal; that it will sustain itself.  It will not.  The handwriting is already on the wall of these castles.”

“You fear judgement?”

“Yes.  Our judge will be the working classes.  They are not a righteous judge, but they may do the work of the Almighty unconsciously.”

“Like the Babylonians of old?”

“Yes.  We will be able to muster no real defense.”

“And Rebecca?”

“In another time I would never part with her.  But I am now so convinced that all that is before me now will be taken away by the hordes that I must consider your suit very seriously.  If she would leave she would take my heart with her.  I, like you, understand her beauty – her character and her charm.  She is not a part of this generation and she may be saved.  She ought to be saved.”

“You will entrust me with her?”

“It is not that easy, Mr. Martin.  You have given me no reason to doubt your sincerity and character.  But I must demand evidence.  If I let my daughter go with you across the ocean –thousands of miles away – and with the probability that I will never see her again, I must know where she is going and that a place fitting for her has been prepared.  Where will you keep her, Mr. Martin?  Where shall my princess spend her life?”

And Isaac Martin left the Prince’s study happier than he ever imagined that he could be.  Happier and more determined.  He sought the Prince’s counsel for the names of architects and craftsmen – the finest in Europe – who he could hire and bring to America and to Raccoon Creek where they would build a palace for Rebecca in this new world.

 

copyright 2016

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