The Problematic Prince - Side Story 20 - Autumn Walk
Baden Street was bustling with activity, in preparation for the guests. The country house had been polished so that even the slightest bit of light sparkled on the floors and the pantry contained so much food that Baden Street could have comfortable housed an army of men.
The Baroness had the double bed from the guest room moved into Erna’s, to replace the uncomfortable, single bed. She had also made a brand new path-work quilt. She spread it out on the bed and looked about the room, it was hard to believe that she was the mother of a child about to have another child. The thought made tears come to her eyes. She managed to hold back the wash of emotions, she would not let this joyous day spoil because of her respectful tears.
Once she was satisfied the bedroom was set and ready, she went down to the kitchen. Mrs Greve was helping get all the food ready, like she had completely forgot her arthritis.
Satisfied, the Baroness went up to her room to get dressed and then spent the rest of the day sat in her garden, waiting for Erna’s arrival. She stared up at the country road like a statue guardian. In her hand was the letter that Bjorn had sent.
Bjorn surprised her with a thoughtful gift. He shared his plans to visit Baden house alongside Erna, who had reached a stable phase and was now capable of journeying far and wide. Very different from the one he sent last year, it informed the Baroness that Erna would be coming up to Baden Street, to allow the Baroness the chance to care for the pregnant Erna.
She had read and re-read the letter several times upon receiving it and it warmed her soul to know that Erna was finally with a husband who loved her very much. It gave her strength and she would have no regrets if she was called to heaven there and then, though she wished it to hold off until after the birth of her Grandchild, who will come to this world the following spring, a season beautifully adorned with flowers in their highest bloom.
“Look, madam, I see a carriage coming,” Mrs Greve called out from an upstairs window, the Baroness was completely unaware her maid was even there.
She pushed up her glasses, putting the letter on the table to be forgotten as she pushed herself out of the chair to get a better look down the country road. She could see there was a precession of carriages coming up the road.
As the carriages pulled into the driveway, Erna was leaning out of the window. “Grandma,” she was calling and waving.
A smile was always on the Baroness’ face, but seeing Erna, it grew much bigger. Her Erna, so unladylike, but today was her day.
When the carriages pulled up and Erna got out, the Baroness couldn’t help but notice how much healthier she looked and when they hugged, she felt the same as if she was hugging that small child that had first come to her all those years ago.
There were a hundred questions the Baroness wanted to ask, how are you, how is the baby, are you eating well, are you sleeping? All the usual concerns of a grand-elder and then some, but now was not the time, basking in Erna’s smile and the Princes’ ever watchful gaze, it seemed like all her concerning questions were answered in their comfort of each other.
“oh! It’s Divorce,” Bjorn called out in surprise as he looked out over the garden.
It was hard to tell who was who as the young calf that Bjorn had so unceremoniously named with such a terrible name, was now as tall as its mother and was a similar dappled brown. Divorce looked up, curious by Bjorn’s cheerful outcry, never pausing in its chewing the cud.
“Don’t call her that, she can hear you, her name is Christa,” Erna scolded her husband. “And I would rather you didn’t say that word around the baby either.” Erna rubbed her belly.
Bjorn gazed affectionately at her, taking notice of where his wife’s hand was touching, “Baby Dniester should know all our history and how much their mother loved that word.” Erna could tell that Bjorn was just being silly and trying to tease her.
“Just don’t,” Erna said, pretending to be hurt.
“Why, are you going to run away again?”
“No, I will just kick you out, I think everyone would like it better that way.”
The amber autumn sun made Erna’s smile shine like gold. Bjorn looked at his deer, not so little and naive any more, she was becoming a wild beast. Though he did not notice the looks of approval from the servants that were forever in the Grand Ducal couples shadow. They were in agreement that the Grand Duchess would be better to have about the palace than the Grand Duke.
The two of them, along with all their attendants, meandered across the field of wild flowers and passed into the autumn forest at its end. Their footsteps became a cacophony as they trudged through piles of dried leaves. The depths of autumn brought a cool breeze, yet As the depths of autumn brought a cool breeze, making it an ideal day for a stroll.
Tranquil days in Buford effortlessly passed by.
Erna enjoyed her leisurely walks, ate home cooked food prepared by Mrs Greves and her kitchen staff and sat to eat the food amidst conversations with the Baroness. In her spare time, she would sit and nit little socks and clothes and even made flowers to decorate her child’s room. Baby Dniester would grow up surrounded by many wonderful things its mother had made with her own hands.
Several times the local physician came to check up on Erna and each time he would inform the couple that their baby was growing just fine. With each check up, Bjorn felt more and more reassured. He was as happy as his wife, who held his hand as they walked under the bare branches.
“Bjorn, look over there,” Erna said excitedly and Bjorn had to fight to turn his gaze away from his wife. When he turned to look at where she was pointing, there was a small tree that still had a few red fruits growing on it.
“The flower apples are open,” Erna declared.
“Flower apples.” Repeating the name his wife gave, Bjorn reached up and broke off a branch bearing the prettiest fruit. With a smile, Erna placed the branch into a basket. Along with some rose fruit, mountain chrysanthemum’s and acorns.
Every time Erna placed a new flower into the basket, she would whisper their names. It was a collection of beautiful colours and smells to which Bjorn could not guess Erna’s purpose for them was to be. Erna was like a squirrel in autumn, collecting things and stashing them away in the basket.
By the time they entered into the deepest parts of the forest, the basket was already full. Bjorn looked at the basket and found he was thankful to have snared a country girl that enjoyed the simpler, less expensive things in life, even if it was collecting colourful weeds.
Bonds, stocks, gold bullions, those were the names of things Bjorn recognised and was most familiar with, had Erna been like that too, he can’t imagine how poor she would have made him.
“Ah, we’re here,” Erna said.
Snapping out of his brooding, Erna ran to the base of a tree surrounded by a colony of mushrooms, their destination for the days excursion.
Bjorn followed a few paces behind Erna, as she ran to the wild mushrooms. The maids chased after and helped Erna pick the mushrooms. He wondered why he had to be here for this, he felt like a fifth wheel on a carriage, but it made Erna happy, which in turn made him happy. What was most incomprehensible was why they needed mushrooms in the first place. The pantries of Baden Street were filled to bursting.
“Would you like to pick some too?” Erna said, pausing as she placed a mushroom into a basket.
“No, I can’t stand the touch of them.”
“I don’t know, its just the whole, getting dirty thing.”
Erna sighed at his response. Lisa, who was yanking out a particularly oversized mushroom, also rolled her eyes and tutted, wiping her hands on her apron.
“Bjorn, the baby can hear you.”
“Why, is there something wrong with what I said?”
“That…” Erna’s face was turning a deep red and her mouth puckered.
“Careful, the baby can hear you.” Bjorn pointed to her belly with a shameless smile on his face.
With a laugh, Bjorn left Erna and her maids picking mushrooms as he carried on, lazily walking the path covered in dried leaves. Erna lost her desire for mushrooms and shook off the dirt from her hands. So did the two servants that were helping her.
Erna straightened up her clothes and picked up the wicker basket she had been putting her mushrooms into. Her nasty husband, seeing Erna finishing up, waited at the end of the path, hands behind his back and stood with a regal posture. He offered her his hand when she got close and she took it.
They returned to Baden Street, the golden sunlight of late afternoon bathing them in a little warmth. Christa greeted them with a sullen moo, as she lazily paced around her paddock, also enjoying the sun. Smoke billowed from the chimney stack. Mrs Greves was already busy cooking up dinner.
“Bjorn.” Erna slowly turned on her husband until they were stood face to face, looking up at his grey eyes. “Can you tell that you love them? The baby wants to hear it.”
Bjorn smiled like afternoon sunlight and looked down at Erna’s tummy, “Baby Dniester….don’t be weak, grow strong.” He said softly, gentler than they typically would—an unexpected whispery sweetness. “Now, let’s go, Erna.”
Bjorn extended his hand to Erna, her expression soured as she faced her shattered hopes. The thought of beseeching him once more wounded her self-esteem.
Saying the phrase “I love you” came at a great emotional cost for him.