1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 53
Vienna, capital of Austria-Hungary
The young woman on the stage finished the piece she was playing with a flourish, both vocally and with the fiddle itself. The audience in the reception chamber burst into applause.
Some of the applause was tentative, tepid, even tremulous. The audience was mostly made up of Austrian and Hungarian nobility, who were not accustomed to this sort of music. Some of them were dubious that it qualified as “music” at all. But since the performer was closely associated with Americans, even if she was not American herself, they extended her the benefit of the doubt.
Others, though, had no doubts at all. No sooner had Minnie Hugelmair finished her rendition of “The Wabash Cannonball” than Denise Beasley and Judy Wendell both jumped to their feet and started whooping and hollering to go along with their hand-clapping.
The audience stared at them for a second or two, unsure whether this unseemly display should be the cause of further applause or disapproving silence. But that issue was settled a moment later, when Archduke Leopold rose to his feet and joined the clapping — thought not the hollering and whooping — followed almost immediately by his sister, Archduchess Cecilia Renata. It took the assembled audience, most of whom were well-trained courtiers, no time at all to mimic their betters.
Minnie did a bow coupled with a curtsy of sorts — something of a truncated one, since she had both hands engaged with the fiddle and the bow — grinning in a manner than was just as unseemly as the music itself. Those who knew her well, which now included Judy as well as Denise, understood that the grin was largely derisive. Minnie Hugelmair had no illusions at all concerning her position in the eyes of Austria-Hungary’s aristocracy — and didn’t care in the least.
When her eyes — eye, rather — met those of Leopold, the grin transmuted into something a lot more friendly. She hadn’t decided yet what sort of relationship she might wind up having with the youngest of the Austro-Hungarian empire’s four royal siblings, but of one thing she was now certain. Unlike most of the people feigning applause in the room, Leopold’s applause was genuine. And unlike most of the people in the room, Leopold understood that she was an actual person.
Not very well, to be sure. He had been born and raised in a manner that made such an understanding difficult. But she was willing to give him credit for trying. He was having a definite influence on his sister, too.
All four of the siblings were close to each other, from what Minnie and her friends had been able to ascertain. That was probably due in part to the fact they were close in age. Ferdinand, now the emperor, had been born in July of 1608. The other three had all been born in the month of January — of the year 1610, in the case of Maria Anna; 1611, in the case of Cecilia Renata, and 1614 in the case of Leopold Wilhelm. Less than a six year spread, all told.
The fact that Leopold was favorably inclined toward Minnie had made Cecilia Renata less skeptical of the ragamuffin and her friends than she would have been otherwise. That lowered guard, in turn, had led her to become better acquainted with Judy Wendell. Up until then, Cecilia Renata had very mixed feelings about the beautiful young American. On the one hand, she’d been just as outraged as any other proper aristocrat at Judy’s astonishingly rude treatment of her brother Leopold Wilhelm when the archduke had made physical advances on her. On the other hand…
He was also her younger brother and who knew better than his closest sibling — especially a sister! — just how richly deserved that rebuke had been. True, Judy shouldn’t have kneed him in the testicles. That was very crude. But she was a commoner, so what could you expect? Cecilia Renata could remember plenty of occasions in her childhood when she’d been sorely tempted to do the same.
Well… perhaps not knee him in the testicles. But hit him on the head? Oh, surely. Punch him in the nose? Yes, that too.
Once Cecilia Renata became better acquainted with Judy Wendell, she found herself becoming friends with the girl. She was a few years older than the American — twenty-four years of age as opposed to Judy Wendell’s eighteen years. But Judy had a dry, sardonic wit that Cecilia Renata enjoyed and which resonated with her own detached and acerbic view of most of the people around her. Being a member of the royal family who lacked much in the way of direct power but had a great deal of indirect influence had made Cecilia Renata skeptical of most people’s motives. When they fawned on her they usually wanted something.
Judy Wendell never fawned on Cecilia Renata — nor on anyone else, so far as she could determine. The young American knew she was gorgeous and accepted that in the same spirit she accepted the sky being blue and water being wet. It was just a fact — an enjoyable one, in this case — but nothing she took credit for herself, any more than she’d take credit for the color of the sky or the wetness of water.
Cecilia Renata knew that she herself was not beautiful. She didn’t think she was ugly, certainly, and everyone agreed that she had very lovely red hair. But she also shared her brother Leopold’s long, bony nose, even if she didn’t have as pronounced a lower lip as most Habsburgs. And, like Leopold, she was on the tall and gangly side.
When you were royalty, of course, looks didn’t matter very much. Someone would marry you even if you looked like a troll. But that too, in its own way, strengthened Cecilia Renata’s sometimes mordant outlook. Trust nothing anyone says to you, especially about yourself, unless you know them very well.
She was becoming more and more inclined toward getting to know Judy Wendell very well.
At the reception, following the performance, most of the gathered nobility fell back into comfortable habits and ignored Minnie Hugelmair completely. This suited her just fine because there weren’t that many people there whom she had any desire to talk to anyway.
She started with Denise, as she usually did. “You should leave with Eddie,” she told her, in a tone that made the statement an outright command.