Uniontown, Pennsylvania is the last province of the Hapsburg empire, a polyglot satrapy of Hungarians, Poles, Croats, Slovenians, Slovakians, Serbs, whose grandparents had fled the Double Eagle and instead indentured themselves to the Consolidation Coal Company. Today as you come into town on Route 51, from Pittsburgh, where the coal went, you see at Five Corners the bronze effigy of a doughboy, his bayoneted rifle held negligently in one hand, the other on his hip, his tin hat tilted rakishly as a gangster's fedora, standing guard before the universal small town tablet of war dead.
In his place should be Franz Josef, sceptered and sabred, side-whiskers trailing onto Imperial ermine. His Imperial chin, happily free of the family curse, arrogantly thrust at passing motorists who but for the grace of God would have fed his dynasty's draft.
The Emperor's basilisk stare meets a senior housing project. The tallest building in town, eleven proud stories of glazed brick, centrally air conditioned, monument to an effusion of Federal money in the 1970's. And he would grind his bronze teeth in Holy Roman Imperial rage, not because he spent half the day in its proletarian shadow, but because of what it had replaced.
The senior project had risen on the rubble of what local boys called the Addams Family Mansion, an American Gothic pile of scrimshaw and cupolas strangled by ivy and overshadowed by willows. The credulous claimed it to have been the home of a local girl who'd married a European prince and come back to her roots after his death. Others, more sophisticated, thought it only the refuge of a crazy old lady with money.
But the scoffers were wrong.
In 1911 Lida Eleanor Nicholls of Brownsville, PA, married Prince Viktor von Thurn und Taxis, scion of a family descended from the hereditary Postmaster General of the Holy Roman Empire, in Uniontown. After the Prince had breathed his last in Vienna in 1928, true to her white trash heart, she came back to Uniontown to die.
For a girl from Brownsville, a Uniontown wedding was a step up. And this Brownsville girl did better still. She married the Prince at the best time, the time just before his world was swept away, when she could as a new bride run laughing down the halls of a schloss in East Prussia counting the antlers of slain chamois hovering between leatherbound books and coffined ceiling, and pirouette, still laughing, and collapse in a heap when her count reached five hundred.
This Brownsville girl who still a young wife would travel with her husband in a private railway car to Vienna, where she would make her best curtsey to an old man who would extend to her a hand that had shaken Metternich's, a hand that had touched a hand that had touched Napoleon's, and lift her up and present her to his son, a man himself already a grandfather and who in a few years would drive through Sarajevo in an open car like JFK and like JFK die in a hail of inexplicable bullets. Whose death would send millions to their equally inexplicable ends.
Talleyrand—friend of Metternich whose hand shook the hand of the Austrian Emperor whose hand she touched—said that no one who had not known the world before the French Revolution could know the sweetness of life. But the Brownsville girl knew another sweet world, a world before the Second Somme and the trenches squelching with the clotted blood of their fallen defenders. After she kissed the Emperor's hand in Vienna she traveled east to St. Petersburg to curtsey before the Czar; later she would go west to bow her head before a little man with a withered arm in Berlin. And further west to shooting parties at Sandringham where the King-Emperor, lord of a quarter of the earth's land surface and all of its seas, devoted his weekends to blowing grouse in their hundreds from a lowering English sky.
And in all this time the girl from Brownsville kept up her bargain with the Prince. Each time she dropped in royal curtsey to a crowned head she dropped in carnal curtsey to her husband. Heir to a name once one with the Imperial Post Office, he winced as markgrafen whose most distant ancestors bent under the Order of the Golden Fleece smirked and tittered as he marched his wife down a double row of jackbooted dragoons, sabers drawn, to be presented to the Kaiser. A husband who wondered as His Majesty lifted his wife to her feet with his one good arm whether he had heard the stories that made the markgrafen giggle. Whether the Kaiser wondered if the Princess who knelt before him would unbutton his fly and reach into his breeches as she had for so many men before her present husband.
A present husband who knew his wife for what she was before he married her. So when he took the Brownsville girl back down Unter den Linden in his growling Lagonda to his Baroque townhouse he arranged her on a red satin sofa, naked, in a room hung with tapestries of the Bavarian hunt. There she played with herself to the polite applause of monocled Junkers with foot-long ivory cigarette holders and bored wives who had seen the same more times than they cared to remember. Her husband sat in the last row of gilt Rococo chairs and embarrassed his guests with the wildness of his applause at his wife's public climax.
A Brownsville wife who nevertheless smiled and clung to her husband's arm as the photographers detonated their flash powder while they strolled down Cunard gangplanks into ports wide open before August 1914. Who loyally clung to her husband's friends when their world was split asunder as the trenches bisected Belgium, writing them thank you's for the hampers from Fortnum's and notes of condolence when their lordling sons fell flaming from the skies or coughed up their lives in the thick yellow haze of mustard gas with which the Junkers smothered their trenches, as those brave Oxonian lieutenants tried to keep up the Tommies' spirits with music hall songs from the days before the war.
A Brownsville princess who, when the war was nearing its end, tried to forget that the bandages she rolled with her few remaining maids would stanch wounds inflicted by her own countrymen. Terrified boys from Montana and New York and perhaps even Brownsville, thrown into the Argonne when the French had mutinied and the English simply had no more to give, to drive her husband's people back past their last lines of defense. What did she think as she wiped the fever sweat from the brow of a dying Pomeranian Grenadier in the hospital at which she volunteered? Perhaps when her husband, grand in a staff colonel's uniform, came home after midnight laughing with news of London zeppelin raids and Russia's collapse, she pleasured him into a stupor and then wept herself to sleep, biting her knuckles as she thought of the Sergeant Yorks disintegrating under big Hunnish artillery shells. Perhaps when her husband came home early, in November 1918, and slumped in his chair and said, We are lost, she kissed his pomaded head and filled his glass again and again until it finally fell from his fingers and crashed in a thousand crystal fragments on parquetry floor. To sing, just audibly, just to herself, after she had closed the big double doors on her snoring Prince, as she swept down the gilded hallway to her own room, I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy.
But perhaps not. She stayed with her Prince when the bad days came. When the men who had been foolish enough to destroy her borrowed world deemed themselves wise enough to make a new one. When the Kaiser was gone and the Czar dead. As her husband's Germany submerged under tides of street armies proclaiming Marxist soviets or Hohenzollern restorations she and the Prince scuttled to the relative quiet of Vienna, barely in time to see the last Hapsburg—Carl, Franz Josef not having lived to see his patrimony ripped asunder in Versailles—himself scuttle away with barely a dozen hussars to remind him of what he had been cheated of.
Leaving the Brownsville aristocrat to recreate herself as a Jazz Princess. Her husband's money evaporating in Weimar inflation, his Berlin Baroque townhouse now a Vienna Beidermeir apartment, string quartets and waltzes now a gramophone and Charlestons.
Somehow, in Vienna, for the first time she shone in her own right. In this necropolis between East and West, capital of an ossified empire whose final collapse had taken down with it an entire world. Not so long ago, before the old world dissolved in the trenches, her transatlantic origin barred her from the choicest Berlin salons. No longer; as estates granted by Charlemagne were confiscated by Slovenian nationalists or foreclosed by Dutch bankers, it was her name, rather than the prince's, that appeared on guest lists. Americanness and title suddenly intersected to open every door.
Her limousine, escutcheoned with sixteen quarterings of nobility, pulled up to basement rathskellers from which American jazz wailed. In those smoky caverns she took as lovers French musicians or penniless counts.
In these pursuits her husband was an only occasional obstacle. His brain bowed under the weight of defeat, syphilis, and gin, he generally made his presence felt only on occasional predawn rambles through the apartment after which she explained his howlings to neighbors as the result of a head wound in the Great War. On evenings increasingly rare, he arranged his little tableaux, just like the old days, with audiences smaller and shabbier on each performance, to which she readily agreed, certain that her compliance secured his complaisance.
On one such evening, however, the audience had shrunk to one. In the salon hung with hunting tapestries. The Prince sat in a chair whose gilded arms were twisted in the shapes of dolphins and tritons, whose needlepoint back was worked with his family's arms at Gobelins when Louis XV was still a bachelor. His wife reclining naked on a red satin chaise lounge, just like the old days, waiting irritably for what would come next.
The tapestries thrust away. From either side cavalrymen, two from the left, one from the right, young, obviously drunk, swagger in. She ignores the reek of garlic and beer and expertly unbuttons their flies. Within a minute their breeches have fallen around their boots and the Prince is shrieking encouragement. Hands and mouth occupied she steals a glance at the Louis XV throne, where the Prince flails away at his stubbornly flaccid cock.
The boys are finished soon. The Prince has been silent a while. She sits up, disturbing the viscous puddle that has formed on her belly.
"Again?" says the boldest of the hussars. His friends laugh and wink.
"Get out," she says. "Now."
"We were just getting started," says the hero.
"Get out or I'll call the police."
The hero laughs and strokes himself. He was still a boy when the war began, but he remembers his father and grandfather and uncles crawling to women like this, tugging forelocks, knuckling foreheads, grinning and scraping in stables and sculleries. He will tell the Princess what he thinks of women like her.
Before the hero can reply he glances at his audience. The Prince sprawls sideways, eyes rolled back behind lids at half mast. A puddle of urine on the floor between his feet. His tongue, purple and bleeding, caught between his teeth. One out thrust arm twitching, its fingers clicking as though playing a castanet, the other modestly cupping his genitals.
As the bravest hussar watches the Prince struggles for breath. Once. Twice. His tongue still caught between his teeth. Snoring like a basset hound. Suddenly still.
The Princess is staring at her husband. Her face expressionless. For a while there is silence. Fabric rustles; she looks up. The boys have disappeared behind the tapestries.
The Prince's brother arrives at breakfast. Murmurous undertakers, schooled in the hatchments and black plumes attending the funeral of an heir to the Imperial Post Office, have already laid out the Prince in his bedroom. His hands decorously folded over a scarlet coverlet worked with the double eagle in gilt thread. As the princess shares coffee with her brother-in-law the undertakers discreetly measure stairs and hallways for their capacity for a coffin.
The Prince's brother—himself also a Prince under the Imperial constitution; without duels and cavalry charges and suicide, Europe would long since have collapsed under the accumulated weight of its Highnesses—is magnificent in black cutaway and striped trousers, his mustache artfully groomed to conceal a harelip. His grief is even less visible.
He sips coffee and dabs linen at his deformity. "Don't worry," he says, "you will be taken care of. And I'm sure you agree that there will be no need to discuss these sad circumstances."
"Of course," she says, avoiding the implication that she needed taking care of. "He had a stroke. You know that there are others?"
The brother-in-law nods. He winks, surprisingly jovial given the occasion. "I know their colonel."
His cup is empty. He stands. "My sisters will call this afternoon." He kisses her hand.
Her sisters-in-law arrive in deep mourning from different centuries. The younger has adopted what her mother must have worn for the funeral of Empress Elizabeth forty years ago: black taffeta and lace and a ribboned bonnet. Her older sister is up to date in ebony sheath and cloche hat that does little to flatter a lower jaw that protrudes so far that it looks as though her servants must chew her food for her. Like their brother, they have concealed their grief perfectly; unlike their brother, they no longer see a reason to treat her as anything other than a whore.
"You will be leaving Vienna," says the younger. Her tone is equidistant between question and command. Prim mouth and bulging eyes; she looks like a squirrel.
"I may," says the Princess.
"Our lawyers will call on you," says the older, speaking slowly. The jaw that advertises her genuine Imperial connection makes it difficult to articulate.
"I will be happy to receive them," says the Princess. With barely the conventional expressions of condolence the sisters are gone.
That evening the Princess is busy. She lets it be known that her house will be open to her friends, even in mourning. She takes counsel from the morganatic widows and bankrupt counts who detour to her apartments on their way to the cabarets. They urge her to get her own lawyer, one whom they describe with fingers raised to their own noses in Semitic hooks and in accents of lisping Yiddish caricature. Almost always using the same name, and always the same tribe.
The next afternoon the Princess takes a closed car, without coat of arms, curtains drawn across saloon windows, to a side street off the Ringstrasse, not far from the Spanish Riding School. A street broad by the standards of the eighteenth century, its cobbles making the tires sing; on either side creamy stucco facades broken at regular and frequent intervals by big casement windows. Before the car has even stopped a porter darts from the doorway to which she is bound. White tie and black cutaway, massive English umbrella overpowering a Vienna mist. He opens the door and bows her forward. He opens another door, folds his umbrella with a murmured apology, and decorously follows her up the single carpeted flight to the office.
It is not what she expects. She thought that a Hungarian Jew whose banker father had bought a barony before the war would surround himself in legitimizing mahogany and leather and brass. That he himself would be fat, pince-nezed, bearded, his extra chins thrust upward from a starched wing collar cinched tight with an Ascot tie.
But the office into which she is led is as bright and open as these precincts will allow, the desk a piece of blonde wood that could disappear in the fittings of an ocean liner's lounge, white walls hung with unframed oils streaked with ragged colors. Behind the desk a slender young man in dove gray flannel who rises to greet her in a smooth colloquial German that would have been at home in the Berlin she had left.
"Princess," he says, "accept my condolences for your loss." He bows her to a chair, black leather slings stretched between chrome tubes. As soon as her mourning veil is lifted he offers a Virginia cigarette and fire from a Ronson.
He lights one himself and settles behind his ocean liner desk. "Please," he says.
"I think my late husband's family may make difficulties," she says.
"I think they will," he says.
"I think my late husband had financial difficulties," she says.
"He did," he says. "Forgive me, but I have made inquiries."
They sit in silence for a moment, enjoying their cigarettes.
"So," she says. She abandons her Imperial diction. She is, after all, a Brownsville Princess. "How bad is it?"
He taps feathery ash into a crystal tray. "Not good."
She leans forward to deposit ash as well. She raises her eyebrows and waits.
"The Prince was never as wealthy as he seemed," says the lawyer. "He was still very rich. But nevertheless after your marriage he borrowed money against his lands and his incomes to finance the way you lived. Had the Central Powers won the War, things would have been different." He taps ash from his cigarette again. "But they did not. And they are not. The mortgaged lands have been seized in the new countries made in Versailles. His rents from the estates in Austria and Germany do not pay the interest on his debts. Speaking of rent, your apartment in the Ring is two years in arrears."
He leans forward and folds his hands on the leather blotter on his blonde wood desk. "Forgive me, Princess," he says, moving his eyes from her white face to the cigarette burning dangerously close to her fingers, "but there is also a child from a previous entanglement who makes claim on his estate."
"A child? A child? Him?"
"I understand, Princess, that given his proclivities it was unlikely. But he was young, and he acknowledged the outcome. Thus the estates are burdened with that as well."
She stubs out her cigarette before it burns her fingers. "So there is nothing?"
"Very little," says the lawyer. "Perhaps nothing."
"So when his family says they'll take care of me, what does that mean?"
"Very little," says the lawyer. "Perhaps nothing."
Moments pass. She can hear the clop-clop of horses and the growl of the cars that will shortly displace them. "So," she says. "What should I do?"
"Perhaps another cigarette?" She shakes her head and he closes the silver case on his transatlantic desk. "Well. You know I am a Jew?"
"My people are often accused of avarice in matters of money." He shrugs. "Perhaps at times that has been true. But I will tell you, Princess, that whatever my people have done, whatever they have been driven by necessity to do, it is nothing compared to what noble families in this city, the oldest families, the best families, have done."
He reaches forward and takes another cigarette. He settles back in his chair and squints through coiling smoke. "They will fight like snakes over whatever little is left."
"I thought," she says, "that you have done well in court."
"I have," he says. "I have done very well. When two Jew lawyers fight for two princely families I will usually win. But when a Jew lawyer fights for an American wife against a princely family, I will lose." He takes a long drag from his cigarette. "And there is little to fight over anyway."
The office is heavy with silence and smoke. "Okay," she says, her Imperial diction slipping further, "what do I do?"
He stubs out the cigarette. He leans forward conspiratorially. "Do you have jewels?"
"Yours, those he gave you, as well as the family's?"
"Are there things around the apartment of value—paintings, tapestries, silver—things that you could pack and move?"
"Then," he says, leaning further forward, his tobacco scented breath in her face, "tonight, pack them all, tell your servants to take a holiday because you're in mourning, except one or two you trust, take everything of value and take a night train to Paris and sell it. Then take the cash and go back to America."
She is stunned. "America?"
"Tonight. I know, I know, your husband's funeral is tomorrow. I will tell the family that you are so undone by grief you had to leave. And I will express surprise when they visit your apartment and see it stripped bare. Now please, Princess," he says, rising, "go." He extends his hand.
She takes it. "What must I pay you?"
"Nothing," he says.
"Nothing?" She says. "But—"
"Pay a Hungarian Jew lawyer nothing?" He laughs. "What? Princess, please believe charity is not exclusively Christian." He bows her to the office door and bends to kiss her hand. "And in any event, I imagine I will soon be doing the same myself. Have you not seen the flyers in the street? Those passed around by the young men in the brown shirts? Princess, you and I are birds of a feather. You fly a little earlier."
The closed car waits on the street. The lawyer's porter stands beside it under his big English umbrella. Bowing he opens the door. "Wait," she says as she slides in. She reaches into her bag and pulls out her note case. She scribbles for a moment and hands him three slips of paper wrapped in a banknote with many zeroes; a fortune before the war, but still a good dinner after.
"These have to be delivered in the next hour. Can you? I can't go home unless you can."
If the porter sees the banknote his face doesn't show it. "Please, Princess," he says, "go home."
"Thank you," she says.
She very much wants a drink, but she knows that if she has one she will have three and if things don't work as she intends that will be very bad. She tells the chauffeur to drive to a café near St. Stephens; when he gets there she tells him she's changed her mind and wants to walk while having a cigarette and that he should meet her in front of the Sacher.
When she finally arrives more than two hours have passed. Her limousine has blocked traffic for at least an hour. As the chauffeur leaps out to open her door she endures angry murmurs in a half a dozen accents from hotel guests, fat with sachertorte, whose Viennese evenings have been delayed. English, French, even her American, growling angrily, We won this war, why do we have to wait?
The car rolls to a stop. Another doorman holds open another vast umbrella. Into her chauffeur's hand she presses banknotes wrapped around gold. "The next few days will be hard," she says. "Take care of those who come for my husband. Now goodnight."
"Princess," he says, bowing low.
She turns to the porter. "I will need your help tonight."
"You will not be disturbed, Princess," says the porter. He stares at the chauffeur as he counts his money.
"That is not what I mean," she says. "You will be." She is nervous; if her notes were not delivered things will be very bad.
The chauffeur slams his door and edges into the sparse traffic of a beaten city.
"Princess," says the porter. "Your servants are gone. I have two men upstairs with crates. Cars will be here when you need them to go wherever you need them to go."
The Brownsville girl wants to weep, to throw her arms around the porter's neck, to kiss his cheeks and call him daddy. But there are still couples on the street in white tie and ostrich boa; the porter's pronouns are still formal; and she is still, however briefly, the widow of an heir of the Imperial Post Office. So instead she presses into the porter's hand a metal disk weighing nearly an ounce, a circle of gold stamped with the profiles of Franz Josef and his long dead Elizabeth, a coin that could buy the porter a bad farm.
"Another when we're done," she says.
"This is enough, Princess," he says.
"Say that then," she says.
He holds the door open and she walks up the stairs acutely aware of the lightness of her purse; if the prince's family strikes first, the porter is now worth more than she.
The apartment. Nearly silent. In the anteroom, beside a dozen big wooden crates, their roughness an insult to the marquetry panels, the two men the porter had promised. Middle-aged veterans, they remember their prewar manners and pull off their caps as she enters. One says, "Whenever you're ready, ma'am, we have no place else to go." He has an eyepatch. His friend's lower jaw is altogether gone, and she sees in his throat just over the open collar the silver tube of a whistler. Maimed by bullet or shrapnel, he can no longer speak, but instead warbles in a chickadee code. As she stares the whistler winks, and replacing his cap, tweets what she thinks must be a friendly how-de-do.
Her ladysmaid enters the room. "Princess, we don't have much time."
The Princess moves fast. Her bedroom. Her maid has already spread every suitcase she owns over her bed. In one goes the cheap paste, the everyday stuff. In another the jewels she pulls out of her dresser, nothing special, Wednesday night diamonds. Then the contents of her case, the good things, the tiara she wore when she bowed to the Czar, the heavy emerald drops that hung from her ears when she played bridge with George V.
Her ladysmaid snaps up the case and says, "Shall we go?"
The Brownsville girl says, "Not yet, let's see what the Prince had."
"But Princess," says the ladysmaid, "he's still there."
The Princess winks at her maid and says, "He won't mind."
Beside the bed, his coffin. Ebony; his arms in gilt and enamel on its lid. Open to receive him for tomorrow's funeral.
The Prince himself in his canopied bed. Dead two days, livid and swollen. Hands crossed across his chest discreetly bound with silk thread. Jaw wrapped shut with a bandage as though he suffered from toothache. Eyes closed with coins, mere pennies.
The Princess and her ladysmaid stand at the bedroom's open door.
"I'm sorry," says the Princess, averting her eyes as the maid gags into her handkerchief. "I'll open the windows. Did you remember the bag?"
The Princess tears open drawers. Into the leather satchel go diamond edged miniatures of Louis XV, Augustus the Strong, George II. The goggle eyed kings disappearing under platinum cigarette cases chased with the arms of emperors and their affectionate remembrances to the Prince's father, uncles, cousins. Another drawer: cases of duelling pistols, the oldest made in London in 1799 for Beau Brummel, the most recent smooth-and-singles that had settled matters of honor in the Wald just before the war. As the Princess cracks their case she smells gunpowder and wonders who won.
The bag is now almost too heavy for her to carry and the room i still fat with treasure. She jerks her head at her ladysmaid. The girl, bent double under the satchel's weight, whines into the hallway.
The Princess' lip curls with sour satisfaction at the girl's absence as she opens another drawer. Subdivided into a dozen sliding compartments. She knew the Prince would have such a hiding place.
A cigar cutter shaped like a satyr bending over a nymph, the cutting edge a sickle that jets from his loins into hers. A portrait miniature of a decorous eighteenth century couple, the man ribboned with the order of St Louis; its jewelled edge contains a snap that reveals another portrait within, the noble naked save for his Order, his wife kneeling on a chair guiding in his impossible member. Volumes bound in calfskin, printed on vellum, their pages littered with men and women naked chained and racked.
The ladysmaid is back with more bags. The Princess blinks hard, twice, and the images of her honeymoon in the East Prussian schloss and what she had hoped for are gone. She dumps the Prince's secret cache into a valise herself and snaps it shut.
His jewelry case: tie pin!s, rings, daytime cufflinks, five sets of studs. Enamel, precious and semiprecious stones, cloisonne. The ladysmaid says, "Now, Princess?"
She sweeps from her husband's room. Behind her the whistler and the ladysmaid, who closes the bedroom door with evident relief and the Sign of the Cross. "Now," she says to the whistler, "big boxes, big enough to hold pictures." She looks at her watch. "And tell your friend we need cars in an hour. For the station. Twice as many as you think we need for what we have now. And when you come back, bring a screwdriver."
The whistler chirps and nods. As he trots down the hall the Princess believes his eyes are merry.
The ladysmaid is crying. "Highness," she says, "I don't think this is right."
The Brownsville princess thinks about putting her arm around the shoulders of a poor provincial girl not so different from herself when an heir to the Imperial Post Office lifted her from the obscurity of southwestern Pennsylvania. It isn't, she will say, but I'm just a poor girl like you, what can I do, I just lost my husband, you know how these people are.
Instead she grabs the ladysmaid's shoulders and says, "Look at me." And when the ladysmaid does she slaps her hard, twice.
The crying stops.
"Now," says the Princess. "Do you stay here in Vienna and live on whatever they drop from their table or come with me to Paris or wherever I go and take your chance?"
The girl raises her tearstained face. "Wherever you go, Princess."
The whistler is back. The Princess has already decided that the Meissen is too numerous and too delicate to move, and the Delft too common to bother with. But she knows the durable, the good, and the readily converted. Thus two Watteau oils are wrapped and carefully boxed, followed by three drawings regularly, but not reliably, attributed to Rembrandt. The hunting prints, worth less than their frames, she leaves to her sisters in law. But the ormolu mounts on Louis XVI consoles fall to the whistler's screwdriver, and a pair of Empire gilt-bronze sconces wind up boxed.
The ladysmaid is back. "Princess," she says, "the cars are outside. It's three o clock."
The Princess is handing a pair of candelabra to the whistler. There is nothing with which to wrap them; the strips of chamois and bolts of flannel are gone.
"One minute," says the Princess. She winks at the whistler. The whistler winks back. Then he turns to the ladysmaid and winks at her and chirps like a finch.
The Princess runs to the little salon with the red silk divan. A tapestry, long and narrow, hangs over the doorway to the back stairs up which her once lovers trooped in their twos and threes for an evening's entertainment. No wider than a door and not much longer. Sixteenth century Flemish, the Prince once told her, from a cartoon by Raphael, "The Siege of Jerusalem" by Frederick Barbarossa with my ancestor the Prince of Thurn holding his stirrup.
She tugs. It stays where it is. She tugs again, harder. Fabric rips; studs pop out; it is on the floor. A square foot of silk and wool stays anchored to the wall over the backstairs doorway.
She is back in the entry. "Here," she says, "use this."
The one-eyed man and the porter have been busy. Only one box is left and the tapestry soon pads its contents. She and the ladysmaid and the whistler are on the street. Vienna is at last silent and as dark as such a place can ever be, in the hour before the horizon ceases to be utterly black.
There are four cars at the curb. Each sags visibly at the rear. "Princess," says the porter, "Should I call for more? The train is in two hours."
The Princess laughs. She doesn't know why; it seems the only thing to do. She wants to tell him, Yes, more cars, let me take everything; she wants to say No, unload these things, I'm staying. I want to go home, I want to go back to where I come from, I want to be in my home town where I was poor but I want to go there rich; I want to be right here, I want to be around kings and queens and jazz musicians, but I want this to be my home town where people love me just the way I am. I want to weep at my husband's funeral but I don't want to remember what I had to do to be his wife.
Still smiling she turns to the porter. "No," she says, "this is enough." She fumbles in her purse for another of the big coins.
"Princess," says the porter. "That was enough." He clicks his heels and bows and opens the door of the first car. The Princess enters, followed by the ladysmaid. As soon as they are settled the whistler makes as if to enter too, but the ladysmaid pushes him back. He mimes an aw-shucks, but grinning as best as he can without a lower jaw he lifts his cap as the porter slams the door.
The Princess turns to the rear window as her convoy pulls away from the curb. The porter's white-gloved hand is raised in salute; the whistler's cap is waving in little circles. The Princess settles back against the stiff leather and stares at the back of the driver's head, sure that if she looks at what she is leaving she will throw open the door and throw herself rolling onto the Ringstrasse, crying, But I married you, I married this place, I married these things, don't make me go back!
But she does not. As the car growls to the station, to the raised eyebrows of customs agents and border guards and perhaps acquaintances perplexed by the widow's flight, her attention remains fixed on a carbuncle on the driver's neck.
Her ladysmaid breaks the silence. "Are we going to Amsterdam, Princess?"
"At first," she says.
"Paris, then?" Says the ladysmaid, unable to conceal her excitement.
"Next," says the Princess. She wonders how the driver's barber can shave his neck without drawing blood.
"Will we stay there, Princess?"
"No. Then Hamburg."
"Hamburg? Princess, we're staying in Hamburg?" The ladysmaid is tired and so can be forgiven the note of hysteria.
"Don't worry," says the Princess. "We're not staying in Hamburg. We're taking ship."
"Ah, London? New York? Oh, wonderful, New York!"
"Perhaps. You'll see."
The ladysmaid sinks back. Tired as she is her face is alight with the glow of Manhattan, Buenos Aires, Lisbon. Her eyelids flutter over dreams of cocktail parties and polo matches.
The Princess allows her to snore the fifteen minutes to the station. She sees no reason to tell her where their trunks will at last be unpacked.
Terence S. Hawkins hails from Uniontown, PA, where the Princes of Thurn und Taxis actual did live out the remainder of her life in a decrepit mansion. His first novel, The Rage of Achilles, will be available from Casperian Books soon. Read the Prologue online.
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