I stared at Bonnie in utter disbelief. ‘You what?
‘I’m not going. I’m staying here, with Fritz. I’ll fax the trust. I’m sure they will fly someone out to take care of you. Don’t worry, I won’t tell them that you took advantage of me.’ She tossed her head, ‘Fritz says you are lucky I don’t sue you.’
It is said, that some things spoken can never be unsaid I think that was one of them. I suspected that once I had time alone to consider it, I would be deeply hurt.
Luckily, I suppose, in a crisis, I go into crisis mode. My observer observes; all emotions are put on hold and I enter a world of crystal clarity. Crystal is a good metaphor. This is a place of keen, hard edges, of shadowless light, a cyber-space of the mind. I knew, remotely, that later I would be bitterly upset, but for the moment I was clear-headed and coping.
‘Sit down,’ I said ‘and tell me what is happening.’
I should have known that something was wrong. We had been at the castle for ten days. On the last three, the communicating door had remained closed. Bonnie had claimed headaches. That had sounded like an excuse, but, in my ignorance of female physiology, I had supposed that the phenomenon was connected to women’s problems. It seems I was wrong. I had been so busy avoiding Magda that I had failed to notice the Count’s wooing of Bonnie. Poor Bonnie, her head turned by the thought of becoming a Countess-Die Frau Graefin von Stroheim!
I had severe doubts about Fritz’s intentions. From what I understood, he was a penniless layabout who was living on Gisela’s charity. I resolved to have a serious talk to the young man, and his aunt, the Baroness, but first I must tackle Bonnie.
‘Now Bonnie, what is all this? Tell me from the beginning. What has Fritz got to do with our relationship? We only met him ten days ago. And how do you expect to stay here? Have you spoken to the Baroness? From my conversation with her this morning I am sure she has no idea of your plans, or she wouldn’t have told me to get you to arrange our departure.’ (I didn’t mention Gisela’s reference to Bonnie’s leaving before the no-good nephew got ideas.) ‘How far has this thing gone with Fritz? Has he made you any promises? Has he asked you to marry him? What do you propose to live on? Will you apply for a work permit? The Germans are very strict about immigrant workers.. Remember, you are an Australian. You don’t even come under the EC rules. I don’t have to tell you about visas! Sometimes, Bonnie, you can be a real worry!’
During all this, Bonnie wouldn’t look me in the eye. Her lips twisted into a sullen pout and she crossed her arms tightly and looked down at the floor.
‘Hey, Bonn, snap out of it. I may not be the most practical bloke in the world, but these matters are serious. I can’t go off and leave you until I am sure you are going to be all right.’ I ran my fingers through my hair. ‘Hell, Bonnie, You may be a no-good, two-timing little trollop, but I really care what happens to you. Don’t be so difficult!’
I think Bonnie was spoiling for a fight, if only to ease her conscience.
‘How dare you call me names! Fritz is right, just because you are rich, you think you can buy people.’ She went on to say many more wounding things, but I remembered my golden rule. I decide where and when to fight-and Whom. It seemed to me my fight was with von Stroheim, not this poor deluded girl.
I waited till she had run out of breath.
‘Please feel free to be hostile,’ I said, ‘if you feel it is doing you some good.’ I smiled a tolerant smile. I thought she was going to pop a blood vessel.
‘Oh, you!’ She stormed off to her room and I heard the heavy door slam.
Right, I thought, The Baroness first, and then, with her permission, I will sort out von Stroheim!
I will give Gisela her due; she listened to what I had to say, and then she went into action. I have described her as small and birdlike, but had neglected to say that the bird was a peregrine falcon! And she knew her nephew was a mouse (I would have said rat).
‘I was afraid something like this might happen. He is just leading the poor girl on. He has no money and no prospects other than marrying for money on the strength of the family name. He knows that Bonnie is working for her living. I think it is just a clumsy seduction. I shall fix him.’ And her piercing hawk eyes flashed.
I proposed a stratagem. She listened, and smiled a wintry smile. ‘That should do the trick. And teach him a lesson he will not forget. Let us set the scene.’
Gisela sent her personal maid to fetch Bonnie, and the saturnine chauffeur to summon Fritz. We assembled in the great hall.
The Baroness sat in judgement on the high throne-like chair, her role as judge-arbiter of the castle enshrined in history. Bonnie, with the maid in attendance, stood to the left, I, to the right.
‘Graf von Stroheim, Stand before me!’ The Baroness said in German. She repeated it in English, as a very uncomfortable looking Fritz shuffled forward.
‘Tell me,’ the Baroness’s voice was full of menace, ‘Just what are your intentions towards this young lady?’ she indicated Bonnie. ‘Are you affianced to her? Have you entered into a marriage contract?’
‘Well,’ Fritz was evasive, “Not exactly. We are just close friends.’
Bonnie’s face was a picture of dismay.
The Baroness was relentless. “Tell us your intentions.’
‘I’m not in a position to marry at this time. Perhaps the young lady has got the wrong impression. The language difficulty perhaps …’ he trailed off.
For the first time, I felt really sorry for Bonnie. She prided herself on her fluent German.
I stepped forward. ‘Baroness, may I speak?’
‘Certainly Herr Quinn.’
‘This young lady is under my protection. In the circumstances, I feel my honour has been compromised and I must seek satisfaction. Perhaps, if I might borrow a sword?’ And I strode over to the wall and removed a particularly vicious looking blade from its rack. I bristled my beard and tried to look ferocious. “Perhaps the courtyard? I do not wish to get blood on your polished flooring.’
I practised swishing the sword.
Fritz gave a startled gasp. His face turned ashen and he turned and fled. I had heard of the phenomenon but I had never seen it before, He left a trail of liquid behind him. I fear the castle floor was soiled after all. But we had said goodbye to Fritz von Stroheim.
Gisela dismissed the servants. ‘I hope we have taught him a lesson, Charlie.” She turned to Bonnie, ‘Forgive me, my dear, but it had to be done. I hope he has not hurt you too much. I suppose you will both now want to be on your way. I am sorry your visit has had to end like this. I have really enjoyed your stay.”
I thanked the Baroness and turned to Bonnie who still seemed to be suffering from shock.
‘Come, Bonnie,’ I said, ‘We have a lot to arrange before we say Goodbye.’
© Copyright H.St V.Beechey August 1996
Next Episode: Good Riddance