Well, I am back to my old tricks again. Here is another segment from the book, this one new as of just a few hours ago. Here is the context: Rachel Thompson, who bought the old house and has been struggling to finance the renovations has finally found the trunks that the original owners of the house hid behind a brick wall in the basement a little more than 100 years ago. What follows is a conversation where a representative from Sotheby’s explains what treasures he has found in the trunks. Ed.
It was Saturday and by noon an astonished representative of Sotheby’s was on the scene.
After reviewing the contents of the trunks, he took Jake and Rachel to an upstairs room where he breathlessly opined that the portraits and larger landscapes were very probably the work of Vincent Van Gogh and, if that were true, each of them could be counted on to bring over a hundred million dollars at auction.
“I can’t be as confident about the other works. Those smaller canvases, the ones with the little crowds and priests and women in gowns, are much, much older. I can tell that by the materials and the dimming of the colors. I don’t know this for sure, but I think this old series – there are ten of them here – might be commemorations of the wedding of Mary and Maximilian.”
At this, Rachel raised her eyes to Jacob, wordlessly asking him for an explanation or at least a request for an explanation.
“Who were Mary and Maximilian?” Jacob asked.
The Sotheby’s man was obviously pleased to be called on, to have his sophistication recognized.
“Mary was the daughter of Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy. Maximilian was the son of Frederick III, the Emperor of the Habsburg dynasty. Their marriage, in 1477, was arranged by their two fathers for the purpose of preserving the state of Burgundy which was in that day the wealthiest nation in all of Europe and comprised of territories that are now parts of France, Germany and Belgium. Charles was getting along in years and he wanted to insure that his country would remain intact after his passing. He knew, or at least he felt, that the Habsburg house was the only power in the world that could insure that. On the other hand, Frederick was tickled pink to receive into his empire the overwhelming wealth of this rich land. What is important to us now, though, is the story of what Frederick did to try to impress the Duke at the time of the wedding. History tells that the Emperor loaded 500 carts of treasure and commissioned his army to carry the bounty from Vienna, some 700 miles, over river and mountain to Ghent, Burgundy, as a token of the beneficence and power of the Empire.”
“I guess Mary must have been impressed,” said Jacob.
“No doubt she was, but the important part of the story, for our sakes, at least, is for now apocryphal. It is this: legend has it that one of the five commanders of this gigantic transport rebelled along the way and carried 100 of the laden wagons to a cave in the Eifel uplands, about two hundred kilometers from Ghent.”
“That’s interesting, but why is it of particular importance to us . . now?”
“Well. There are 114 known caves in Eifel Uplands, most of them quite remote. There have been many searches carried out over these last 500 years, in an attempt to recover this stolen bounty. None of them successful. That is one of the main reasons the story of this mutinous action is doubted by many today. But I think . . . and I am by now means sure of this . . . that the old map in the trunk here marks the spot where the treasures were hidden. Marks out that cave.”
“We could go there?” Rachel asked.
“Yes.” said the man.
“Do you have any idea of what this treasure was . . . is?”
“Some of it is ruined, undoubtedly. If there really was any such. Some of it would have consisted of textiles. Tapestries, gowns, finery of all kinds. Clothing for Mary, undoubtedly. But we can be fairly certain that at least some of it would have survived fairly unharmed. There would likely have been stacks of precious metals – gold and silver bars and ceremonial weapons and armor forged of gold and silver. There would have been jewelry made by the best artisans in the Empire, set with emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. And more paintings, of course.”
“One hundred wagons full?”
“Well. The mutiny started with 100 wagons. We might assume that some of the soldiers, knowing that they would face execution if they ever returned to Vienna, appropriated some of the loot to themselves. But if there are only twenty wagons remaining in the cave, it would still be a find unparalleled since the opening of Tut’s tomb.”