Authors: Danielle Steel
“He's a nobleman,” her mother said quietly, her words full of reproach. And as such, he was not a suitable option for either of her daughters, no matter who he was. There were some lines one didn't cross, and that was one of them. Beata knew what she was thinking, her mother didn't have to spell it out. They were Jewish. He wasn't.
“Is that a crime, being noble?” Beata said a little tartly, but as she looked at her mother, her eyes were sad, which worried her mother even more.
“Have you ever met this man before?” In answer, Beata shook her head, as Brigitte bounced into the room with armloads of her purchases. She had had a wonderful time in the shops, although she thought they were better in Cologne. But at least here in Switzerland they had none of the obvious shortages of war. It was nice to get a break from all that.
“What does he look like?” Brigitte asked, holding up a new black suede handbag and a beautiful pair of long white kid gloves. “Is he handsome?”
“That's not the point,” Beata snapped at both of them. “He just seems like a very nice man, and he invited all three of us to lunch, which was very polite and kind.”
“And why do you suppose he did that?” her mother asked with a look of disapproval. “Because he is dying to meet me and Brigitte? Of course not. He obviously wants to spend time with you. How old is this man?” All her suspicions were on high alert.
“I don't know. Maybe around Ulm's age.” In fact, he was five years older, as she knew. It was the third lie she had told to protect him and their budding friendship. Spending time with Antoine seemed worth it to her. She wanted to see him again, even if it was with her mother and sister, if that was all she could do. She just wanted to spend a little more time with him. Who knew when and if they would meet again.
“He's too old for you,” her mother said bluntly, when in fact her objections to him were in an entirely different vein. But she didn't want to voice them to Beata.
She didn't want to give enough credence to this man's invitation to state what her real objections were, but Beata knew anyway. Other than being a total stranger, Antoine wasn't Jewish. Monika was not going to expose her daughters to handsome young men of the Christian faith. Jacob would have had her head for it, and she agreed unreservedly with him. There was no point letting this new acquaintance of Beata's go any further. She was not going to do anything to encourage a Swiss Christian nobleman to pursue one of her daughters. Even the thought of it was insane. Some of their own friends certainly were Christian, but she would never have introduced their sons to her daughters. There was no point putting the girls in harm's way, or tempting them with something they could never have. And however beautiful her daughters were, none of her Christian friends had ever suggested introducing them to their sons. In this case, as in all cases, the adults knew better. And Monika remained intransigent and firm. Jacob would have killed her, and rightly so, if she weren't.
“I don't understand what you think is going to happen at lunch. He's not a murderer, after all,” Beata said plaintively.
“How do you know?” her mother asked in a stern voice. She was definitely not amused, particularly as this was so unlike Beata. Although it was not unlike her to fight for something she believed in and wanted desperately. This was just stubbornness on her part, since she didn't even know the man. And as long as Monika was there to see to it, she never would. It was better to stop this kind of thing before it could start. She knew full well what Jacob expected of her as their mother. What it did point out to her, however, was that it was time to find Beata a husband. If suddenly young noblemen were beginning to circle around her like vultures, it was time for her to settle down, before something unpleasant happened.
Beata was far too liberal in her ideas, although normally she was obedient and well behaved and a credit to her parents. Monika decided then to talk to Jacob about it when they got back. She knew he had several respectable, substantial men in mind, including one who owned a rival bank. He was nearly old enough to be Beata's father, but Monika agreed with her husband, as she did in all things, that an older man of intellect and substance would suit her very well. Although still young, she was a very serious girl, and a young man wouldn't suit her nearly as well. But whatever else he had to have in his favor, the most important factor in her parents' eyes was that he had to be of the same faith. Anything other than that was out of the question. And clearly the young nobleman who had invited them to lunch was in that realm. He was obviously Christian, and more than likely Catholic, with a name like Antoine de Vallerand. At least he was Swiss, and not French. Monika had developed a powerful hatred for the French in the last year, ever since war had been declared. The French were out there in the trenches trying to kill her sons.
Beata did not argue with her mother further, in fact she said not a word as she and Brigitte dressed for dinner.
“So what really happened with that man today?” Brigitte asked, looking mischievous, in peach satin underwear trimmed in cream lace, which her mother had bought her that day. Monika had found it a bit racy, but there was no harm in indulging her. No one was going to see it except her sister and her mother anyway. “Did he kiss you?”
“Are you insane?” Beata said, looking angry and upset. “What do you think I am? Besides, he's a gentleman. He actually caught my arm and kept me from falling when he nearly knocked me down.”
“That's how you met?” Brigitte looked enchanted at the idea. “How romantic! Why didn't you tell Mama that? She might have been grateful that he kept you from falling and getting hurt.”
“I don't think so,” Beata said quietly. She knew her mother better, and gauged her better than Brigitte, who was still given to childish tantrums and making scenes, which wasn't Beata's style, to say the least. “I thought it sounded more respectable to say we met over tea.”
“Maybe. Did you fall in the dirt? That would have been embarrassing,” Brigitte said, as she slipped on a white linen dress and combed out her long golden curls, as Beata looked at her with envy. Brigitte was so beautiful she almost looked angelic. Beata always felt like a mouse next to her, and hated her dark hair. She didn't resent Brigitte for it, she just wished she could look more like her. And her figure was far more voluptuous than Beata's. Next to her younger sister, she looked like a little girl. And Brigitte seemed far wiser in the ways of men. She talked to them far more often than Beata did, and loved teasing them and driving them insane. Beata was far more comfortable and at ease in the company of women. Brigitte was fearlessly flirtatious, and painfully adept at torturing men.
“I didn't fall in the dirt,” Beata explained. “I told you, he kept me from falling down.”
“That was nice of him. What else did he do?”
“Nothing. We just talked,” Beata said, as she put on a red silk dress, which set off the sharp contrast of her hair and complexion. Beata looked glum. She was going to have to tell Antoine that she couldn't see him when he called. She knew with total certainty that there was no way she could talk her mother into lunch as a group, and surely not alone.
“What did you talk about?”
“Philosophy, the Bible, his land, going to university, nothing important. He's very nice.”
“Oh my God, Beata,” Brigitte looked at her with unbridled seventeen-year-old excitement, “are you in love?”
“Of course not. I don't even know him. He was just nice to talk to.”
“You shouldn't talk to men about things like that. They don't like it. They'll think you're strange,” she warned her older sister with the best of intentions, which only depressed Beata more.
“I guess I am strange. I'm not interested in …” She struggled to find the right words, so as not to offend Brigitte. “I'm not interested in ‘lighter’ things. I like serious subjects, like the ancient Greeks.”
“I wish you'd talk about something else. Like parties and fashion and jewels. That's what men want to hear. Otherwise, they'll think you're smarter than they are, and you'll scare them off.” Brigitte was wise for her years, based on instinct if not experience.
“I probably will.” She wasn't even sure she cared. Most of the young men she met at parties seemed ridiculous to her.
Beata adored her brother, but she would rather have died than marry a man like Horst. She could have tolerated a man like Ulm, but the prospect of marriage to anyone in her world didn't appeal to her much, or at all. They all seemed dreary and boring and more often than not foolish and superficial to her. Antoine had seemed very different. Earnest, and deeper than most of the men she met, protective and sincere. She had never felt about anyone after a few hours as she did about him. Not that it would go anywhere. And she had no idea how he felt about her. She had none of Brigitte's instincts or artful ways with men. Brigitte could have told her in an instant that Antoine was crazy about her, but she hadn't seen them together. Although it sounded good to her. And the invitation to lunch was a sign that there was some interest there, but she didn't say anything to Beata. Her older sister was clearly not in the mood to discuss the matter further.
Beata was still silent as they rode the elevator downstairs for dinner, and as it was a warm night, their mother asked for a table on the terrace. She was wearing a very elegant navy blue silk dress, with a sapphire necklace, and matching navy silk shoes and bag. And she was wearing sapphire and diamond earrings that matched the necklace. They were three very beautiful women as the headwaiter seated them at their table. Beata was still quiet after they had ordered their meal, while Brigitte and their mother chatted about the shopping they'd done that afternoon. Monika told Beata that they had seen several dresses that would look well on her, but Beata showed no interest.
“It's a shame you can't wear books,” Brigitte teased her. “You'd have much more fun in the shops.”
“I'd rather make my clothes myself,” Beata said simply, as her sister rolled her eyes.
“Why go to all that trouble when you can buy them in shops?”
“Because then I can have what I want.” She had in fact made the pretty red silk dress she had on, which fit her to perfection, and hung on her slim body in clean, simple lines.
She was a gifted seamstress and had loved sewing since she was a child. Their governess had taught her, although Monika always told her that she didn't have to do that. But Beata preferred it. She had made some of her own evening gowns too, copied them from magazines, and drawings she saw of Paris collections, which were no longer available to them now anyway. She liked modifying them, and simplifying them to suit her tastes. She had made a beautiful green satin evening gown for her mother once as a gift, and Monika had been stunned by how expertly made it was. She would have done it for Brigitte, but she always said she hated homemade clothes. They seemed pathetic to her. Instead, sometimes Beata made her sister the satin and lace underwear that she loved, in a rainbow of colors. Brigitte loved those.
They had just finished their soup course when Beata saw her mother look up and just past her older daugh-ter's shoulder with a stunned expression. Beata had no idea what it was, and turned, to find Antoine standing just behind her, with a warm smile that took in the entire group.
“Madame Wittgenstein?” he asked politely, ignoring both her daughters, including the one who had captivated him that afternoon. He appeared to be riveted by their mother. “I must apologize for interrupting you, but I wanted to introduce myself and apologize as well for inviting your daughter to tea this afternoon without a chaperone. She had a little stumble on a walk near the lake, and I believe her ankle was hurting her. I thought the tea would do her good. Please forgive me.”
“No, I… not at all…of course…how kind of you …” Her gaze darted to Beata and then back to him as he introduced himself, bowed politely, and kissed her hand. Quite correctly, he had not made the same gesture to Beata, as she was unmarried, and hand kissing was a courtesy properly only proffered to married women. Beata had gotten only the bow, as was proper. In Germany, young men like him and her brothers bowed as he had, and clicked their heels together. But neither the Swiss nor the French did that, nor did he now. “I didn't realize she'd gotten hurt.” Monika looked momentarily confused, as Antoine turned to look at Beata, and nearly caught his breath when he saw her in the red dress. She had lit up like a starburst when he saw her from across the room, and had excused himself from his own mother to come to meet hers.
He made no attempt to introduce the two mothers as he knew he would be in deep waters, since Beata wanted him to claim to be Swiss. So he couldn't introduce Monika to his mother, and was content to meet her himself, and the striking Brigitte, who was staring at him in disbelief. He barely looked at her, treating her like the child she was, and not the woman she was longing to be, which won Monika's approval. Antoine had impeccable manners, and was obviously a man of breeding, and not a masher, as she had feared.
“How is your ankle, mademoiselle?” he asked with concern.
“It's fine, thank you very much, monsieur. You were very kind.” Beata blushed as she said it.
“Not at all.
C'était la moindre des choses …
it was the least I could do.” He turned his attention back to her mother then, and reiterated his luncheon invitation, which for once actually flustered her mother. He was so polite, so properly solicitous, so ingenuous, and so warm and kind that even Monika didn't have the heart to rebuff him, and in spite of herself she accepted, and they agreed to meet on the terrace at one o'clock the next day for lunch. As soon as that arrangement was made, he bowed again, kissed Mrs. Wittgenstein's hand again, and left to rejoin his own family, without a single longing look at Beata. He was entirely correct and pleasant. And once he was gone, Monika looked at her daughter with uncomfortable amazement.
“I can see why you like him. He is a very nice young man. He reminds me of Ulm.” It was an enormous compliment coming from her.