Christoph's estate had the same name as the looming mountain upon whose shoulders it sat: Heldenberg. The surroundings were wild and the nearest town, the tiny village of Heldenruhe, was about seven miles away.
As the time of Cat's departure grew closer, Lady van Velsen seemed increasingly apprehensive. She fussed and fussed over her daughter, insisting that she spend her days overlooking housekeeping in every detail, from kitchen to the linen closet.
"A quick course?" Christoph teased when he discovered them at it. He leaned across the gleaming table and lifted a fat, ripe strawberry from the basket in the center. After biting into it, he sent a nod of approval towards his mother‑in‑law.
"Herr Graf," said Lady von Velsen, drawing herself up very straight, "I have always done my best to instruct Caterina in the duties she would be expected to perform as a gentleman's wife. I have tried persuasion and I have tried whippings. Both, as you probably realize, to no avail."
She looked so distressed that Cat felt she should say something.
"It's not Mama's fault, Graf von Hagen. It's just as she says."
For the first time she could see her mother's point of view. In a few days she would be mistress of a large household and she knew next to nothing about how to manage it.
"Housekeeping just wasn't as interesting to me as horses and‑‑"
A ferocious look from her mother interrupted.
"No apologies, please, from either of you ladies," von Hagen said with a smile. "Especially from Lady Albertine who has been trying to plant on stony ground. Let me assure you that I have a capable staff in residence. They shall, I'm sure, continue to manage as they have in the past. When my wife becomes interested, as I'm sure she will after a time, she can assert her own notions about housekeeping."
He finished the small fruit and dropped the pit upon a plate which had been set next to the basket. It was awful to Cat to see her proud and capable mother standing there, apparently so embarrassed on account of her.
"Until she has some, though," Christoph said with a sudden grin, catching one of Caterina's long red braids and tugging, "she can climb trees and play with Star all day and nevertheless an adequate dinner will find it's way onto the table."
"Oh, Caterina," her Mama said after Christoph, a fresh greengage in hand, had taken his leave. "How on earth are you ever going to manage?"
No servants from home would come along. Christoph had insisted upon that, had been quite adamant that his own people could adequately attend them.
This had upset Lady von Velsen. She'd wanted to send one of the older servants along to advise Caterina. Of course, though none of them would have dared argue with their mistress, not one of them wanted to be exiled to Heldenberg either, especially with Caterina! When the word about Graf von Hagen's decision went out, there was much rejoicing (albeit muted) in the servant's quarters.
The afternoon before Cat was to leave, a summons came from her mother. When she arrived at Lady von Velsen's room, she found it darkened. Her mother was afflicted occasionally by migraine and the silent, dim room attested to just such an attack.
"Oh, Mama," Cat whispered, approaching the bed. "I'm sorry. Is it very bad?"
"Rather, my darling. But don't you worry, it will pass." Lady von Hagen was pale, prone, her dress loosened, her stays opened. A maid beside the bed was wringing out a cloth in a basin of cold water.
"Hanna, dear," Lady von Velsen addressed the servant, "please go out now, but don't go far. I'll soon want you back again."
As the girl curtsied and retreated, Cat stepped into her place. "May I help, Mama?"
"Yes, please. Do as Hanna was doing while I talk to you. It's a very serious talk too, Caterina, so please attend."
There was a pause, a tinkle of water as Cat wrung out the cloth and applied it to her mother's white brow. Finally her mother said, "There are a few last cautions I want to give you, my angel, especially about your husband the Graf's housekeeping arrangements."
"Yes, Mama." Cat was demure, thinking it was going to be another lecture about lazy servants or counting the hams.
"Caterina, as I believe you are aware, Christoph kept a mistress at Heldenberg for many years."
"Yes, I know," Caterina shifted uncomfortably. "Wili told me."
"This spring when your husband returned to marry, he told your father and I that this lady had married another man, a captain in his regiment, and that she had gone to live in Vienna with her husband and their new baby. But now, from something Uncle Rupert said to your father, I am not so sure that this is the case."
(Which cover do you like better?)
"Gottesblut, Mama! What?" Cat dropped the cloth into the basin and stared at her mother with dismay. "Surely you and Papa don't expect me to live under the same roof with a‑‑a‑‑concubine!" ...
Read more about Caterina's journey from teen to wife in:
See my other historical novels:
Follow the link for more Friday Freebits: