Excerpt of "The Country Girl Empress"



Chapter One

                                                                    A Princess is Born                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
It was the year 1837. A dark, cloudy sky hung over the Bavarian capital of Munich. It didn’t snow, but it was bitter cold, and the year was coming to an end. Busy people hurried from here to there through the streets. Men and women were covered in thick coats and pelts; their cheeks had turned red from the ice cold winds. Many of them carried loads of packages, large and small, with which they hoped to surprise their loved ones when they found them under the Christmas tree. Because you see, it was Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus was on his way to bring joy and presents to all children around the world.
At the Wittelsbach Palais in Munich, everyone also awaited another special delivery. There was a nervous coming and going, and from the second story, all the way down into the lower levels of the Palais, the servants tiptoed around.
Just now a carriage stopped in front of the main entrance and a sturdy woman, covered from head to toe in a thick winter coat and several shawls, ascended from within its confines. The doorman, Mr. Pichler, dressed in his livery, stormed forward to help the woman, with her large bag out of the vehicle.
“You have finally arrived, Mrs. Steinmaier”, the doorman greeted her. “They are all going stir crazy in the house! Couldn’t you have a hurried a little?”
“Hurry over on Christmas Eve? I have a husband and four children of my own!” countered Mrs. Steinmaier.
“Well, it’s not as if the Duchess got to pick the day of delivery. One must take it as it comes, and the way nature wants it,” the doorman replied. “Now hurry up the stairs. They are all in desperate need of your assistance!”
“Everybody always seems to require my assistance,” Mrs. Steinmaier chuckled. “But I’ve never been too late. Usually, there’s always plenty of time left. So, don’t get into a tiff, Mr. Pichler. After all, it’s not the first time I’ve been summoned to assist the Duchess.”
Resolutely she took the leather bag by its handle, and Mr. Pichler allowed her to enter the Palais. He didn’t dare voice another one of his opinions, not to mention that Mrs. Steinmaier was right.
The lanterns shined brightly, reflecting their light onto the stairs, and the stone staircase to the left showed many wet footprints from previous visitors. Mrs. Steinmaier hadn’t expected anything different; nevertheless, she sighed. She had, after all, been called to a royal house, where traditions seemed to govern matters, even though common sense would have been more practical.
The two lines of the House of Wittelsbach had been steering the fate of Bavaria these past seven hundred years. The Palace had been built for Crown Prince Maximilian, later King Maximilian II, and now Duke Max in Bavaria resided there with his family.
His wife, the resolute Duchess Ludovika, couldn’t have picked a better day to go into labour. According to Mrs. Steinmaier, she could have easily waited a couple more days. But, as the porter, Mr. Pichler had already pointed out, the Duchess didn’t get much of a choice, and since this little bundle of joy was in such a hurry to make an appearance, it would definitely become a real Christmas surprise.
The midwife stopped at the bottom of the staircase to catch her breath. The bag she carried, which contained all necessary midwifery equipment, was heavy. Fortunately, one of the servants, a chap named Fritz, passed by.
“Fritz, don’t be in such a rush and give me a hand. I can barely breathe!”
“Oh my goodness, Mrs. Steinmaier…wait!” Fritz instantly showed mercy and literally ripped the bag out of the hands of the midwife.
“Come quickly, the doctor is already here. The Duchess is miserable, and the entire highborn family is driving us all insane.”
“No wonder, Fritz,” she said and stomped up the stairs next to him. The banisters had been decorated with pine branches, which emanated a pleasant and festive fragrance.
“I am glad, that I wasn’t born a Duchess. My mother wasn’t forced to birth me in public. Where is the Duke now?”
“He’s downstairs in the servant’s hall, drinking a cup of coffee. Nothing can shake His Royal Highness. I just left him downstairs. The Duchess sent me to ask him if he needs anything. She’s not one to let go of the reins, not even on a day like this.”
“That’s so typical,” the midwife snarled. “He sits in the servant’s hall, drinking coffee, while his poor wife…”
“But what is he supposed to do, Mrs. Steinmaier? He can’t help her, and give birth to the child in her stead,” Fritz defended his master. “The doctor is with her now, and you are on your way! And the entire useless company sits behind the paravent and patiently waits for things to move along. The doctor angrily complains like a little canary, if someone dares to light a cigar!”
They had finally reached the foyer. The mother-to-be had been moved to the Red Salon, which could hold a great number of people. The luxurious bed, which had been specifically moved here from the furniture depot for this particular occasion, stood on the other side of a paravent. The screen provided the laboring mother a touch of privacy because on the other side of it, nearly twenty people had assembled; noble-born relatives as well as members of the Royal Ministry. After all, the expected new arrival could have a claim to the throne. So, this birth was for all intents and purposes an official act as well as a family affair. The royal physician, Doctor Reichenach, sat beside the mother-to-be, who tried with all her might to bear the pain of labour with dignity. As long as it was possible, she bit her tongue, but the contractions returned quicker and became more intense. But, so far, everything had always ended well. The Duchess trusted the skillful hands of the midwife, as well as the doctor and most of all the help of the Holy Mother of God, whom she begged with pressed lips that things may end soon.
The murmurs of the waiting crowd sounded like a faraway buzzing to her, yet she continued to be very much aware of the fact that she was the lady of the house, and as such had obligations to fulfill.
Duchess Ludovika was a practical woman, and conscious of her rank and place in society. Her husband, on the other hand, Duke Max, was quite the opposite. He was a rather dull fellow, who hated nothing more than social snobbery and ceremonies. If the midwife would have taken the back gate, which took you through the courtyard of the Palais, then she would have ended up at the snow-covered circus arena. Such a thing, including rows of wooden benches for an audience, one would normally not expect to find at a royal residence. Duke Max, by contrast, had given the order to build the arena. He would often ride through its confines on one of his fine horses, and perform for a variety of visitors. He knew no higher praise than their applause. Among his friends to fill the rows, you found his pals from the HofbrÀuhaus, and they were definitely not noble born. Even people from the infamous artist colony in Schwabing attended some of these private circus showings. Duke Max openly admitted that he would have rather been a circus director than a Duke if he would have had a choice.