The Other Half
“Um morgen.” I offered to the woman I took to be Max's mum stood by the Cayenne at the bottom of our drive.
“Ah Gaby, nice to finally meet you, my son is always talking of you, Gaby did this, Gaby did that.”
“Get on with it Gloria!” the testy sound of Max's Gran called out.
“Sorry Mother, okay Gaby, you'll be riding in back with my mother, you've already met I hear?”
“Er yes, a few weeks ago.”
“Ah yes the costume party, well hop in, we've got a long drive ahead.”
I opened the rear door and climbed, hey I'm only short, into the back seat.
“Ah there you are young lady, come get settled, put your bag in the middle there, that's right.”
“Er thank you Baroness.” It never hurts to be polite.
“Pah! Baroness! Do you hear that Glo? Respect. Now young lady you must call me Grandma, Baroness is so formal and technically that's Gloria here as young Wilhelm is now the Baron.”
I pulled the seat belt around me and managed to wave to Mum as we pulled away.
“So my grandson tells me you are something of a sportswoman.”
“I er race bicycles.”
“Well not my particular sport but its good exercise for a young woman."
“I think Gaby does it for more than exercise Mother. Don't you dear?” Gloria offered from the front.
“I um guess so.”
“Her mother is on the Apollinaris team, there was a feature in Bild a while back.”
“A real radrenfahrerin eh, you will follow your mother's career?”
“I hope to.”
“And your father? What does he do?”
“Well speak up girl.”
We're not even on the autobahn yet, I'm never gonna survive a day of this!
“He's the team director for the junior Apollinaris team.”
“All in the family business then.”
“I suppose so.” I allowed.
“You have siblings?”
“Oh um, yes a sister.”
“Younger? Older? “
“Er older, two years.”
“Uh huh, she a radfahrerin also?”
“Jules, not likely! If sitting was in the Olympics she would be the champion.”
That elicited a bit of a chuckle from both the older women.
The conversation finally strayed to less personal subjects and I started to relax some as we headed steadily southwards towards Frankfurt/Main. At some point the older woman became silent and I realised that she had fallen asleep.
“Finally!” Gloria noted, “sorry about the interrogation Gaby.”
“She can go on a bit but she's got a heart of gold.”
“My Gran's the same.” I observed.
“Thanks for doing this for Max, he was petrified that he'd get paired off with Annaliese von Burcow again, nice girl, looks like a horse.”
“Erm.” I really can string the words together today.
“You'd be amazed how many engagements and weddings are organised at these big family do's.”
“Of course, you don't think Wilhelm and Marguerite got together on their own do you? Politics, its all politics even me and my Willy.”
“Oh, I didn't think that kind of stuff still happened.”
“Well it's not as blatant as in the Mittelalter but most marriages within the families are arranged. You therefore are like a breath of fresh air.”
“But I'm not marrying anyone!” I mentioned in a slightly louder voice than I intended.
“Of course not dear, but this is good for both of you, Max's value will rise having such a beauty on his arm and you Gaby, you get to make connections at the highest levels of society.”
“Indeed.” Granny Strechau murmured from beside me.
Oh joy! Me and my big mouth.
We stopped at some services just south of Frankfurt for a coffee, leg stretch and toilets – not necessarily in that order. Then we turned east through Spessart to Würzburg before turning south once more towards Rothenburg/Tauber where we left the motorway and headed into the town.
“You have been here before Gaby?” Gloria enquired.
“I don't think so.”
“A beautiful city, the Americans razed it at the end of the war.” There was a hint of bitterness there, “it survived intact, the walls, the Mittelalter houses, all preserved, the gem of the Romantische Strasse.” Gran instructed me.
“So what happened, it got rebuilt yeah?”
“For sure and the stupid Americans paid for most of it, every building was rebuilt from old photographs and plans as accurate as they could but it's not the same.”
“I wouldn't have known.” I admitted as we made our way into the old town. “So what are we doing here?”
“Lunch of course, you didn't think we'd eat on the autobahn?”
“Stop winding the girl up Mother, we're picking my sister up, we'll eat at her house.”
Gloria's sister, Catherine, it turns out lives in a large property close to the centre with a view over the Taubertal from the airy lounge where I found myself ten minutes later.
“Miss Bond I'd like to introduce you to my sister, the Countess Schillingsfürst.”
She looked everything you'd expect in a Countess, immaculate clothing, not a hair out of place, although you could see they were sisters, Gloria was dressed much more, erm normal even if her jeans were D&G!
“Nice to meet you Gabriella.”
“She goes by Gaby, Kate.” Gloria advised her sister.
“How do you do er, your grace.” I nervously offered.
“Manners.” Gran noted once more.
“Delightful! You are seeing my nephew I understand?”
“We're in the same class.”
Thankfully a growling stomach – not mine I should add, hinted at lunch and any further inquisition was at least deferred. I was actually too nervous to really eat much and found myself looking at the view down to the river below as the others caught up on the family news and gossip.
It was after two before we returned to the car where once again I got to sit in the back with Gran whilst the sisters occupied the front seats. We were soon on the south bound autobahn again and with the sisters busy gossiping in the front Gran quickly lapsed into a post lunch snooze which left me to watch the countryside go by and ponder what I've got myself into.
Here I am sat in a car with a countess and two baronesses', me, lowly Drew Bond. Not only that but I'm staying in a palace tonight – the girls'll be so jealous!
“Er, could we stop for the loo?” I enquired, nerves getting the better of me.
“Sure Gaby, Ellwangen is just coming up, we can stop there.”
“You okay Gaby?” Kate asked.
“Bit of a dicky tummy.” I admitted.
“We'll get a coffee, help settle your stomach.”
In the end I had camomile tea, which I must admit did settle things down a bit. Then it was back on the motorway towards Ulm where we changed motorways for the final leg to Augsburg. We made our way into the busy city centre eventually pulling up before a pair of huge doors painted in the blue and white chevrons of Bavaria.
We waited for a minute or so then the gates opened inwards allowing us to drive through into a sizeable courtyard already quite full of expensive automotive engineering from Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar – well you get the idea. Gloria swung the Cayenne into a space between a Range Rover and one of those Mercedes SLK roadsters and killed the engine.
“Gloria! Katie! You made it.”
“As if we'd miss it Marg.” Catherine mentioned between air kissing the young woman.
“And Frau Strechau, its good to see you too.”
“Thank you my dear.”
“And who is this young thing?”
“Maximillian's friend, Gabrielle Bond.”
“Mama did mention, nice to meet you Gaby.”
“Gaby this is the lucky girl who's snagged Habsburg, Princess Marguerite Saxe Coburg.”
Oh shitza! What do I do?
“Nice to meet you your Highness.” I got out whilst executing something that was a combination of bow and curtsey.
“Oh Gaby, we are not so formal, now my mother, she likes the bowing and scraping. Here at the house everyone calls me Marg, I think we can extend that to include you eh?” she gave me a wink.
“Thank you, er Marg.” I resisted the temptation to try another curtsey type thing – just.
“Where is that mother of yours?” Gran asked.
“Fluttering about somewhere, come on inside, I'll get one of the men to bring your bags in.
So okay it isn't exactly Chatsworth but the Schloss Rotturm is certainly quite a place. Where the Strechau place in Rech is to say the least a bit tired, this place by contrast is spectacular and everything you'd expect of a royal palace. I say everything, you kind of expect guards in ornate uniforms and tons of liveried staff, both were noticeably absent.
“Has my husband arrived yet?” Gloria asked our hostess as we moved inside.
“I haven't seen him, but there again there are so many people here I could easily have missed him.”
“Don't fret so Gloria, Frank only had the one crash last year.” Gran put in.
All I could do was follow behind gaping at the décor as we moved through to some kind of reception room.
“Come on Gabrielle, don't dawdle.” Gran instructed.
Since when did people start calling me Gabrielle?
“I'll find someone to show you to your rooms,“ Marg told us before slipping away.
“So Gaby, you okay?” Countess Schillingsfürst asked.
“I er, guess so.”
to be continued....
Maddy Bell 19.05.11 © 2011