The De Greek Retreat
I built my weekend retreat almost at the top of a 2200 foot high hill I owned, which the local villagers called the De Greek Mountain. Though I built for seclusion and privacy, from a certain position I could just see on the hill next to mine the house of the Italian courtesan, at the time a veritable mansion but now a run-down decrepit building. The lack of maintenance has taken its toll and its old glory is now long gone. It now looks a little like the mansion of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.
Her house was built for her by one of her innumerable admirers, the original one who brought her to the area. He was not a proud example of male beauty whose brave deeds will be sung through the ages, but he was a self made millionaire who wanted everyone to know that he had arrived.
His open purse for the duration of his interest had ensured that for a long period of time she and her house had become the centre of male congregation of socialites who had wealth and wanted more of it and of socialites who did not have any and wouldn’t mind some of it.
She was a stunning woman and knew how to get men’s attention. I remember her quirkiness in insisting on maintaining the only operational horse-drawn carriage in the county with two beautiful, powerful, young white horses she had trained to the harness.
In fact, when I built my own place on my mountain twenty years ago and had declined her first written invitation to dinner, she actually paid me a visit herself in that very coach. Those who know about horses will know that we like to canter them uphill because they are so much easier to control on the ascend and once the poor beasts start they will run until they drop. I remember watching her coach coming up the hill and admiring the power of those two beautiful two-year olds as they pulled the coach at a canter as if the weight of the coach was not there. She arrived flushed with excitement and I helped her down making sure the coachman (a strange looking specimen, a bit like Christoph Reilly) would walk the horses until they cooled down after a mile long climb at a canter.
When I first met her that day she was in her forties (like Feline Prophet I imagine) and still lovely and graceful with an undeniable charm that could not but captivate. She sat for about an hour and I could see how she used her femininity to get what she wanted. She said that she would not leave until I assured her that my wife and I would join her at a gathering of her friends the following Saturday.
I did go with my wife as requested, but the experience was not for me and I left early. Besides a number of girlfriends of hers, I felt as if I was in the middle of a stampede of Young Lochinvars and their uncles, all clearly feeling that they were standing on Holy Ground and who followed after her like puppy dogs with that natural awe which falls upon populace when they behold the great.
The older men affectionately held large drinks in their hands while stoking up at the buffet table to preserve their strength and at the same time drooling over our hostess who appeared to be in a world of her own. The devotion of the young men made them appear as if they would have been happy with a dog biscuit and a glass of water as long as they were near her and she cast the occasional smile in their direction.
There was one particular specimen who appeared to be the contemporary financier of the event, a general with an extra four of five inches of neck and shoulders the width of which necessitated him going through double doors sideways. I felt it highly unlikely that he would have serious hopes of obtaining high honours in any unprejudiced beauty competition, unless the judges were all below the rank of Private First Class. The light of intelligence did not appear to shine brightly from his sizzled eyes, but as even the worst of tragedies will have a silver lining, his generosity at paying for the current festivities could not be faulted and certainly they must have given a serious shock to the Privy Purse.
Our hostess dispersed her charm and wit like an empress casting largesse on her followers and everyone breathed in her charm and presence as if it were a life giving elixir.
When she tried to flirt with me inappropriately in front of my wife, I felt that she overstepped the bounds by insulting my wife directly to her face so I bid her a cool good night and left just twenty minutes after we had arrived and we never saw her again.
My gardener was her coachman’s brother, so I got to hear all the village gossip about the “Italian”.
Eventually I got divorced, sold the house and moved away from the area, though I would go there once every year or so to inspect the land I still own next to the house I sold.
Last year I went there with my current wife and after inspecting the land, we sat at the coffee shop in the village square. I heard horses’ hooves and looked up to see two decrepit, scrawny old nags slowly walk into the square, pulling a cart with what appeared to be considerable difficulty. They were white and they appeared to be malnourished, with heads down, bones sticking out all over the place and with what appeared to be sores and my heart went out to them. The reins were held by a wizened old man (looked like tonymac04 or Shadesbreath, only one week after the post mortem) whom I recognized with shock as the brother of my old gardener and the coachman of the Italian courtesan.
I soon realised that I was looking at what remained of the proud and once powerful two-year old horses I had seen cantering up my hill with so much ease twenty odd years previously. Everyone around me stood up and those who wore hats took them off. My wife and I mechanically followed suit and also stood up without knowing why. I saw a catholic priest walking behind the cart before I saw the coffin at the back of the cart and I realised who was inside. All that beauty, all that vitality was now gone. Gone also were the young men and the salivating old Lotharios who used to follow her around twenty odd years ago.
The woman who had been a depository of fortunes and in whose embrace so many lovers had happily melted away was no more. Where were those young men of yore whose puppy like devotion had created so much arrogance and haughtiness? Where were the aging millionaires and the generals now? Which new Goddess was providing the latest sport?
Only the weak and hungry looking old horses appear to be left to you now you poor broken wilted flower and it is only the horses which appear to generate a sense of pity in the hearts of the villagers you so despised and so looked down upon in the days of your glory. The villagers who now interrupt their card games and their chatting to stand up out of their deep respect for the dead, any human dead, just for the few minutes it will take you to pass them by on the way to your final resting place. As soon as the cart passes by, they will return to their card games and their laughter once more and not give you another thought.
I took my wife by the hand and joined the lonely priest behind the cart for the short distance to the cemetery.