Who would have thought that now, at this age, there is more to tie her to home than ever?
She will follow all the protocols. First, visiting cards. She has not used them for years.
When they first married, Ernst presented her with a stack of cream cards, with her name printed on them:
Frau H. Schwebel
The printed font was italicized, so the H bent forward as if it had a load on its back.
Now, she opens a small wooden drawer and takes out the first of the pack. She looks at it. It is slightly yellowing on the corners. It’s been years since she used them. She has long since eschewed the formal visiting, and with her few close friends, like Sarah, she simply knows what time they are usually at home. And they know that even if they are not sitting in state in the drawing room, she is only too happy to follow them into the kitchen while they supervise a beef stew.
She discards the first few cards. Those toward the middle look respectable enough.
It took Felix precisely one day to find the address of the Von Albrechts. He warned her of the distance. “It is at least 40 minutes’ walk, Mama,” he had said, forehead wrinkled in filial concern that was quite touching. “Perhaps we should order you a carriage for the occasion.”
But a carriage would necessitate asking Ernst, and Ernst would never do such a thing without consulting Emmy. And although she has made noises to Emmy about inviting Joachim, about getting to know him, first she wants to go alone to find out who this man’s mother is.
Does she pray? Does she separate milk and meat? Is she kind?
Now, she will simply present her calling card. The butler — for doubtless they have a butler, and a bevy of servants, too — will hold out a silver tray and offer her a gold fountain pen. Hoping that the ink does not blot — perhaps she should take a spare card, just in case — she will scrawl across her card: With kind regards.
The butler will disappear along with her card on his tray, and return with a day and time when his mistress will be glad to receive her.
Oh, what people do to make themselves feel important. Is it like that in Paris? Did Becca also print visiting cards? Surely France is not as formal as Bohemia, or at least the parts that aspire to be German.
She feels a pang of homesickness. One of these weeks, Ernst promised her, she would return home — and it is still home, after all this time — and see Mama and Tatte. They are old now, and feeble. She must press Ernst on that one, in an oh, so womanly manner.
When the children were small she had thought it was a temporary separation. That when the children were just a little bigger, she would be able to leave them, for a visit. Who would have thought that now, at this age, there is more to tie her to home than ever?
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 685)
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