Last Saturday, I stood in a long line to buy apples. Bored as I was, I looked at the apples on display: Gravenstein, Elstar, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Holsteiner Cox, Cox Orange, Jonagold. “They sound like straight out of a Jane Austen novel,” I thought. And suddenly I saw the apples arriving at an old, yet strangely modest castle in their finest clothes, dressed up for a ball hosted by Lord and Lady Gravenstein.
The Gravenstein Ball was the event of the season which all the invited had looked forward to for months. Gowns had been ordered from famous houses in Paris, and all the family jewels appeared on the ladies’ bosoms.
Lord Gravenstein was a tall, stout man. Looking into his eyes, the echo of the hardships and sorrows he had experienced in his lifetime appeared. So did all the joy and happiness when he smiled. Secretly, he hated the ball, but as his father would have said: ”Tradition is tradition.” Lady Gravenstein was a delicate woman. Being in the autumn of her life, her past beauty had not faded. Everyone would agree that Lord and Lady Gravenstein were still a very handsome couple.
It was the young Lord Gravenstein who greeted the guests. He was ever so handsome-looking in his red uniform. The young lord was a tall gentleman with tender and attentive blue eyes. He had a friendly, yet sad appearance that made every heart go out to him.
Also attending the ball was Mr. Braeburn with his wife and daughters. Mr. Braeburn was the Gravenstein´s solicitor as his father had been before him. Braeburn was a very precise and careful man. He had seen fortunes change hands because of words spoken too hastily or contracts not signed in time. Braeburn´s secret hope was for one of his daughters to marry the young lord. However, deep down he knew this would never happen. His daughters were of a plain kind of beauty, a beauty which would never attract the attention of the likes of Alexander Gravenstein. A pity, really, because once you got to know the Braeburn girls their wit and intelligence would strike you. They were very good judges of character and could imitate almost anyone so that audience and victims alike would cry with laughter. Their favorite victim was young Mr. Cox.
Speaking of the devil – the next to arrive was Mr. Cox of the Holsteiner Coxes. His common descent was still apparent in his looks despite his great-grandfather´s rise to fortune. Thomas Cox had thick, rosy cheeks and brown curly hair. He would always draw attention to himself by making vulgar jokes and ill-placed remarks. He had brought along his Dutch cousin once removed from the Cox Oranges. This cousin looked surprisingly similar to his German counterpart, only in a more reddish version.
Out of nowhere Max Elstar appeared next to young Gravenstein, offering him a sip of his flask. Alexander pushed the flask away, hugging Max and whispering into his ear. The two young lords shared a short laugh. Like Alexander Gravenstein, Maximillian Elstar was of a noble, extremely wealthy family. Max was the youngest of four sons and therefore with nothing more to his name than a monthly allowance; an allowance Lord Elstar had reduced time and time again because he deemed Max´s conduct unworthy of a gentleman. Young Max was not blessed with the good looks of Alexander. No money and no looks had made him an ill-natured, mean young man who drank more than was good for him. It puzzled everybody why a nice young man like Alexander would want to be friends with him.
In came Lady Victoria Pinkston. She was an ever so charming, beautiful young lady. As she entered all the guests stopped whatever they were doing. Her complexion and her long hair had a light pink tone to them. She was affectionately called “Pink Lady” behind her back. As she was approaching Alexander, Max looked at her with a mean, knowing smile. Young Lord Gravenstein took her hand and kissed it. As their eyes met, Lady Pinkston blushed and Alexander smiled. Oh, how the old lord ached for an engagement between the two! Lord Gravenstein took his wife’s hand and whispered in her ear: “Perhaps tonight, my darling, perhaps tonight.” Lady Gravenstein noticed the hope in her dear husband’s voice, wishing he would never learn the truth. Lady Pinkston turned away from the two young lords and crossed the room, much like she was floating. She looked stunning in her ash-pink gown, with her reddish curls bouncing off her back. “Granny Smith, aren’t you too old for a ball,” she said as she settled on the sofa taking Granny Smith´s hand. “My dear Vicky,” Granny Smith replied, “I´m too old to care for what one ought and ought not do. If I wish to accept an invitation to a ball, I shall do so. Now to you, my dear, how are things with you?” “Ah, Granny Smith, please….” Annoyed, Victoria Pinkston got up, leaving Granny Smith behind. No one seemed to know how old Granny Smith was. The way she did her hair and the style of her gown had been out of fashion long before any of the other guests had even been born – or so it seemed. Granny Smith had been a widow for just as long. Who the late Mr. Smith had been and what Granny Smith had done before her marriage were lost to memory. Granny Smith knew every man worth knowing, and it was rumored that she could end famines and start wars with a blink of the eye. “Don´t I know an eligible young gentleman? That Alex, he´s breaking too many hearts for his own good. But who knows, maybe Max will break his one day,” Granny Smith thought to herself.
Reaching the edge of the dance floor, Victoria Pinkston met Elisabeth Braeburn. “Vicky, darling, you look so pale. Are you quite well?” Elisabeth led Victoria to a quieter corner.
“He will not ask me to marry him,” Victoria blurted out.
“I’m sorry, Vicky dear,” Elisabeth said quietly, taking Victoria’s hand.
“Alex doesn’t love me, and he will certainly not marry me.” Big soft tears rolled down Victoria´s cheeks.
“How do you know?”
“I asked him at the Jonagold garden party.”
“You did what?” Elisabeth drew a quick breath, and her eyes widened in disbelief. “I think that was rather forward.”
“Ah Lizzie, you know how bored I am with all this behaving-like-a-lady-nonsense.”
They sat lost in their own thoughts. “He loves someone else. He told me,” Victoria sobbed under her breath.
“I know he does,” Elisabeth replied quietly. “I saw something at the Jonagold garden party. They didn´t realize I was there. Oh Vicky, I should have told you, but I wanted to be absolutely sure.”
“What did you see?” Victoria asked eagerly, yet afraid of what Lizzie might say next.
“Well, you must have heard the rumors.”
“That Max and Alex, you know…” Elisabeth was watching Victoria attentively.
“What do you mean? Ohhh!” Victoria’s eyes welled up again.
At that very moment the orchestra played the first notes of the great Viennese waltz. Couples took to the floor and swirled around to the music. I felt someone tapping on my shoulder: “Miss, Miss.” I turned around hoping to gaze into Alexander Gravenstein´s eyes only to look into the angry eyes of a complete stranger. Reluctantly, I left the ball and bought three pounds of Golden Delicious.