by H.St Vincent Beechey


Rhine rhymes with wine, or as Bonnie insists, Rhein rhymes with Wein, which she pronounces as Vine, which, in my book, is what the grapes grow on.

At Schloss Eisenberg, we were in the heart of the wine country, and I was anxious to sample the local product. At dinner, Baroness Gisela produced the castle’s most famous vintage, a 1983 white wine which had won countless gold medals. A servant poured me a glass of the exquisite golden liquid and everyone awaited my reaction.

The bouquet was delicate but compelling and I took a sip. It was intensely sweet and full-bodied, and to my Australian palate, used to dry reds, it seemed more like a liqueur than a dinner wine.

‘It is a Beerenauslese’ Gisela said proudly ‘Each grape was individually selected.’

‘It is truly liquid gold.’ I assured her. I was not lying, it was probably the most expensive wine I had ever tasted. There was only one problem, to the German sweeter means better, but, to a claret drinker like me, it was as if I was drinking liquid honey. I am not overly fond of sweet tasting things and my salivary glands flooded in protest.

‘No, ‘ I said, refusing the offer of another glass, ‘Let me savour the experience.’ And I adopted a suitably contemplative expression. It was successful, the von Eisenbergs smiled their approval.

To tell the truth, my reaction to the wine reflected my attitude to the castle. It was suddenly all too much. It was far too rich. My senses were overwhelmed. Every wall was covered in pictures, or tapestries, or gigantic murals portraying Wagnerian operas. The rich oak panelling glowed with a life of its own. There was a ubiquitous odour of furniture polish that seemed to insinuate itself into my taste buds. The only place I felt comfortable was in Gisela’s computer room which had probably been converted from a large cupboard. There, the ceiling was not four metres high and the walls were a peaceful pastel grey. The only bright colours there came from the computer monitor.

I took refuge there one morning, declining to go with the others on a boat trip. Surprisingly, my hostess had no objection and seemed to be quite happy to allow me to ‘play with her computer’ while Bonnie, squired by the ever-present Graf Fritz von Stroheim explored the beauties of the Rhine.

I had adjusted to the idea of Gisela being a seventy-year-old Baroness, though I would never use the word ‘elderly’ to describe her, but I found myself nostalgic for the Gisela I had first envisaged, the girl who had nicknamed herself Das Kaetzchen, The Kitten, on the student chat-line where I had found her. We had had such fun exchanging outrageous opinions and attacking the sacred cows of tradition. It was hard to reconcile that young rebel with the mistress of this grand castle. Maybe that had been her escape from the responsibility of maintaining a palace and looking after a nymphomaniac daughter and a playboy nephew. Poor Gisela, it seemed so sad.

I heard a sound behind me as someone entered the room. I turned in alarm, fearing it might be Magda. It was Gisela; I rose to my feet.

‘Hello Charlie, I think, perhaps, it is time we had a talk.’ She took the other swivel chair and swung it round to face me. We sat almost knee to knee.

‘I have just been talking in my head to Kaetzchen.’ I said. ‘She was a very smart girl.’

‘It is not working out, is it.’ She smiled a tired smile. ‘Chazza and Kaetzchen were a rather special cyber-couple. And now you are sitting here talking to an old woman.’

‘Never Old!’ I said gallantly, but we both knew. Something special had grown, faded and had now evaporated. We sat silent for a moment.

‘I have a confession to make, Charlie. Magda thinks you are stupid, but you and I know better, don’t we? You have seen through my little game. It is sad. Somehow I would have liked you for a son-in-law. Perhaps it would be good if you can have your Bonnie get you out of here. And soon too, before my no-good nephew begins to get ideas.

‘Do you forgive me?’

‘There is nothing to forgive!’ I said.

She leaned across and kissed me on the cheek. “You are a very nice person Charlie. I wish you could have met young Kaetzchen.’

I wished so too, but I could hardly say so. After all, she is a Baroness, and to comment about a lady’s age is hardly in good taste


© Copyright H.St V.Beechey August 1996

Next episode: Goodbye

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