A historical novel by Baroness Orczy. Written soon after the birth of her son John, it is her first book as an author rather than translator and was a commercial failure. As in the Scarlet Pimpernel, the theme is international intrigue, but this time the setting is pre-World War One Europe and Russia rather than Revolutionary France
The Emperor's Candlesticksby Baroness Orczy
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Gay, chic Vienna was en fête. What would you? Shrove Tuesday is the very last day, allowed by our Holy Mother the Church for revelry, before the long austere forty days of Lent, and if we do not make use of her full permission to enjoy ourselves, to the full extent of out capacity, we shall have nothing left to atone for to-morrow, when the good fathers place the cross of ashes on our foreheads, and bid us remember that dust we are, to dust return.
Therefore Vienna was drinking the overflowing cup of pleasure to-day; had been drinking in it in its gaily lighted streets and boulevards, and was now enjoying its last drops at the opera ball, the climax to a carnival that had been unusually brilliant this year.
And in the hall, where but two nights ago the harmonious discords of Wagner's "Niebelungen" had enchanted and puzzled a seriously-minded audience, to-night Pierrots and Pierrettes, Fausts and Marguerites, nymphs, fairies, gnomes and what-nots chased each other with merry cries and loud laughter, to the sweet tunes of Strauss' melodious, dreamy waltzes; while the boxes, each filled with spectators eager to watch, though afraid to mingle in the giddy throng, showed mysterious dominoes and black masks, behind which gleamed eyes rendered bright with suppressed excitement at the intoxicating spectacle below.
"Come down, fair domino, I know thee," whispered a richly dressed odalisque, whose jewelled mask could not outshine the merry twinkle of her black eyes beneath. She had placed one dainty hand on the ledge of a pit tier box, in which two black dominoes had sat for some time, partially hidden by the half-drawn curtains, and had watched the gay throng beneath them for some half-hour or so, apparently unnoticed.
The taller of the two dominoes bent forward, trying to pierce the enterprising houri's disguise.
"Nay! if you know me, fair mask, come up to me, and let me renew an acquaintance that should have never been dropped!"
But she had once more disappeared as swiftly as she had come, and the black domino, whose curiosity was aroused, tried vainly to distinguish her graceful figure among the glitter of the moving crowd.
"I wonder our sober dresses succeeded in drawing that gay butterfly's attention," he said, turning to his companion, "and what her object was in speaking to me, if she did not mean to continue the causerie."
"Oh, it is the usual way with these gay Viennese bourgeoisies," replied his companion; "your Imperial Highness has been sitting too much in the shade of that curtain, and the odalisque thought your obvious desire to remain hidden an object of interest."
The taller domino now lent forward in the box, his opera-glass glued to his mask, eagerly scanning the crowd; but, though numerous Moorish and Turkish veiled figures passed backwards and forwards, he did not recognise the enterprising odalisque among them.
"Look not for the good that lies far away when the best is so close at hand," whispered a mocking voice, close to his elbow.
The black domino turned sharply round, just in time to catch hold of a little hand, which had crept round the column, that separated the box in which he was sitting, from the adjoining one.
"The best is still too far," he whispered; "is it unattainable?"
- Patrick Constantin
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