Nightingale
181 pages
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181 pages
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Description

Count Maximilian discovers Klara in a Nightingale Cage, an orphanage for the abandoned children of musicians. He educates her, fosters her remarkable vocal talent and initiates her into the art of love, creating the perfect mistress. The Count controls every aspect of Klara's life, until fate, in the form of handsome Akos Almassy, takes a hand. The tall, dark Magyar violinist can make beautiful music and healing potions, too, but can he rescue Klara from the Count and live?

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Publié par
Date de parution 15 juin 2013
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781773626895
Langue English

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1
 
Nightingale, Her Lovers and Mozart
By Juliet Waldron
 
Digital ISBNs
EPUB 978-1-77362-689-5
Kindle 978-1-77145-092-8
WEB 978-1-77362-690-1
 
Amazon Print 978-1-77362-691-8
 
 

 
2 nd Ed. Copyright 2018 by JulietWaldron
Cover art by Michelle Lee
 
 
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, nopart of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introducedinto a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by anymeans (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, orotherwise) without the prior written permission of both thecopyright owner and the above publisher of this book
All characters in this book have no existence outsidethe imagination of the author, and have no relation whatever toanyone bearing the same name or names. These characters are noteven distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to theauthor, and all incidents are pure invention.
 
Chapter One
 
 
Klara ached all over, but perhaps the bitter draught of willow bark and hotwater which she had just swallowed would subdue it. Thearistocratic audience, which contained two princes of the Blood Royal, was one she did not darerefuse.
In the winter twilight, servants had beenlighting ranks of candles set upon the chandeliers. The task completed, those tinkling balls of crystal and light were hoisted towardsthe ceiling. A glow fell over the white wigs and court clothes ofthe guests, who were seated in a half-circle around four stringplayers and a gilded harpsichord.
The January afternoon was cold, and her maid,Liese had scolded. In the end, Klara resigned herself to wear asilver wig. Very often, in Max’s absence, she did not. This, ofcourse, quickly set her apart from the other ladies, but KlaraSilber’s hair was her glory. Thick, lively, and the color ofpolished mahogany, it made a spectacular crown about herheart-shaped face. To atone for the absence of the required wig,her hairdresser would create a frenzy of curls. One auburn lock wasoften left loose to trail with lazy abandon over one shoulder.Today, however, she was simply too cold. Today she would gratefullyaccept the warmth that came with the wig.
The host of this English Tea, an elderlyBaron, took Klara’s hand into his white kid glove, ready to leadher to the harpsichord.
“You appear a little fatigued, FrauleinSilber. Please don’t feel you must tax yourself too much on myaccount, especially when there is so much sickness about thiswinter. Perhaps just sing the poignant little piece ofKapellmeister Handel, the song of Queen Sheba, which the ladieslove so much.”
The Baron, unlike so many others of highrank, was always considerate.
“I do feel somewhat tired, sir.” Meeting hisfaded, benevolent gaze, Klara glossed her discomfort. “However, Iwould never wish to disappoint you, or your distinguishedguests.”
“I think there is little danger of that,Fraulein.” He regarded her with a fatherly smile. “We wouldn’t wantyou to be ill when your patron returns from his labors in Silesia.I’m sure that after the fighting and the long labors of hisabsence, Count Oettingen will often require the healing solace ofyour voice.”
The Baron was simply making conversation, but Klara shivered.
Just the mention of Max!
Snow and continuing turmoil on the Prussianborder had detained her patron, The Most Noble Maximilian vonOettingen. Klara had been gratefully thanking every saint in thecalendar that he had not yet returned.
As she approached the fortepiano on theBaron’s arm, a tall, muscular man in the black and scarlet liveryof the Hungarian Prince Vehnsky stood and made a graceful bow. If Klara had only seen him and hadnot listened to his skillful harpsichord work for the last halfhour, she would have believed him to be a member of the Prince’sguard.
“ You have givenin to convention today, but it seems there is another musicianpresent who doesn’t care much for fashion.” The Baron alluded tothe fact that the accompanist’s shiny black hair was worn in asimple queue. Klara, who thought him handsome as well as talented,had wondered about this. If he were an ordinary servant, to be outof uniform would have been considered impertinent. Perhaps todispel that notion, or as a kind of compromise, the man’s queue washeavily braided with a scarlet ribbon which exactly matched hislivery.
“Allow me to introduce you.” The Barongestured. “Fraulein Singerin Silber, this is Herr Akos Almassy, Concertmasterfor His Serene Highness, Prince Vehnsky .”
The Baron’s usual harpsichord player was downwith the prevailing winter ailment, a fierce cold which ended,sometimes, fatally, in the chest. Prince Vehnsky had graciously provided his host with areplacement for their musical afternoon.
The topaz gaze that met hers wasdisconcertingly direct. Like locking eyes with a cat. The eyes ofAkos Almassy were at once sensual, candid, and bright. She realizedthat she had seen him, had even heard him play before, althoughthey had not been introduced. It had been the previous winter, at acharity concert.
There would have been no reason to introducea reigning prima donna to a mere orchestra musician. Klara had beenin the audience, her hand held by Max. She remembered Herr Almassygoing to the instrument with none of the scraping bustle of aservant, but like a young aristocrat gracefully accepting a tasksomewhat beneath him.
“I am honored, Fraulein Silber.” His voicebroke her reverie, so she extended a jeweled hand. Baritone, Klaranoted, thinking that his voice matched him well. The German wasaccented by his Hungarian mother tongue.
“I sincerely hope that my accompaniment willbe acceptable. And please let me add, Fraulein, that the memory ofthe Eurydice you sang last Christmas will only die when I do.”
At his side, the Baron gravely nodded hismassive head. He, too, had much admired Klara in the role.
“ Thank you, Herr Almassy.” Klarasmiled at the compliment, one offered by a musician who was fullycompetent to have an opinion. Singing Eurydice had been both a joyand a universally acknowledged triumph. What the nuns had taughtwas sinful pride—wicked, but apparently inextinguishable-insistedshe should take pleasure in her achievements. She could feel aflush rising, coloring her cheeks and tinting her bosom. All thehumility drummed in during childhood was often at war with thevainglorious world in which she now dwelt.
Herr Almassy’s eyes followed the progress of the blush withinterest. They were extravagantly lashed and there was a hint ofthe exotic, a tilted fold at the corner. The color was interesting , a hazel that tended, not to green, but to amber, like one of hervoice teacher’s exotic cats.
And how his eyes were looking, as if he couldpierce straight through her chaste exterior to the white-hotessence!
She found Herr Almassys ' aquiline nose and high cheekbones compelling,and began to imagine him as some long ago Attila carrying fire andsword across the European plains. His black braid, thick as horse tail, slipped over onestrong shoulder as he bowed to kiss her hand.
His lips grazed her knuckles, and Klara wasstruck by a series of inexplicable sensations. First there was astartling flash of déjà vu, as if this raw moment had already had athousand repetitions. Hard on the heels of that there was anothersensation, one even stranger, perhaps because it had been so longsince she’d felt it in relation to another human being— a rush ofjoy!
His lips were soft and warm. They lingered.To actually kiss the hand and not the air above it was somewhatdaring, but the feeling that they were already intimate was sopowerful that she experienced, not displeasure, but a thrill. Shecaught the scent of him, healthy, manly, and something else aswell, of musk and green, something from a wild, dark forest.
The salute to her hand completed, he liftedhis head. In the instant his eyes pierced hers, the world of up anddown was no more.
She was falling, head over heels, a longdizzying descent through clouds. Falling…
“Herr Concertmaster.” Klara lowered herauburn lashes, able to acknowledge little more than the bare factof his existence. There was something she ought to be saying, abrief conversation to organize this impromptu collaboration betweenthem, but the flood of unexpected sensation struck her dumb.
Maria Klara Silber was twenty-four . She was beautiful and famous. Before Akos touched her, she had known bythe deep breath he drew as he reached for her hand that he was notonly a fellow musician who greatly admired her talent, but a manexperiencing the body summons of a beautiful woman. This happened often , although shedidn’t think she’d ever get used to it. Fame and fortune had comeso suddenly, carrying her along like a flood. This year, all ofmusical Vienna resounded with her Christmas triumph, the role ofAlceste. Nevertheless, passionate as worship of a Diva could be,she sensed there was more here than that. This was immense,tidal.
Suddenly nervous, Klara locked her fingers together.There was a drop of moisture in the palm where his hand hadsupported hers. She turned to the harpsichord, to the music setthere, resolutely facing the work they must do.
Performance would cure these queer, vaporishfeelings!
Klara straightened herself, placed her hand upon the top of the instrument,all gilded and painted with cherubs, and drew several deep breaths.Akos, following her, took a seat at the instrument and leanedforward to softly ask: “Shall it be Frondi tenere e belle , then?”
“Yes, Herr Almassy, for our kind Baron lovesit even more than he says we ladies do.” They shared a smile, twoperformers who knew how to please their audience. They spent a fewmoments collecting themselves and then Klara signaled her companionto begin. Warming her voice earlier with scales, she hadexperienced an annoying constriction in her chest, but the willow draught had helped. Now she felt a bit better, so, supported by HerrAlmassy’s elegant introduction, she was able to sing, to let thepoetry of the words, the reflective beauty of the music, supporther.
 
Beautiful plane tree, ruler of this mysticplace,
Shade me from the cruel wrath of the sun,
From the envious strike of the moon….

Because they hadn’t performed togetherbefore, it was paramount to maintain eye contact. Hisinterpretation of the score proved properly reticent, but as shegrew more confident in their musical connection, Klara relaxed,allowed years of training to carry her. Herr Almassy wound hismusic around each note as skillfully as if there had already beentwenty rehearsals.
Whenever there was pain in Klara’s life, she ran to Music, let it carry herto a world of calm, grace and balance. Music could heal any wound,dry any tear. Music was her tenderMother, the only one Klara had ever known.
She filled her lungs, felt the muscularpleasure of response in throat and diaphragm, and the rich glory ofher voice. As his strong fingers moved upon the black keys, hisamber eyes stayed upon her. He wasutterly focused upon her everymove, her every breath.
When the first song was done, Klara curtsiedand smiled at the warm applause. On the walls of this elegantreception room, ornamental details flowed up supporting columns andonto vaulted, painted ceilings, where angels and cherubs flew intoclouds. She turned to include Akos in the applause, but she didn’tquite dare to look into his eyes now that there was no musicbetween them. Her heart raced, and not entirely from the exertionof singing.
Perhaps , if I translate thissensation into something recognizable, I can dismiss these queer,disturbing feelings….
Klara was accustomed to the games men played,either because they imagined it politic to feed her vanity, or forthe very masculine reason that they needed to feed their own. Shehad learned to flirt lightly, mean nothing.
After all, who would dare to challenge Maximilian, the man who owned her, theman whose perverse desire had pierced her, a butterfly strugglingon the jeweled pin of his passion?
Herr Almassy’s long elegant hands arranged the next score. Afew moments later, after the applause had died, he’d begun, with abusiness-like nod of his head, to embroider the prelude to the nextpiece. When he cued her, Klaralifted her voice again.
 
Sweet bird,
Enchantress of the woodland,
Heal my broken heart,
Return me to delight….
 
A long setof birdsong cadenzas ornamented the bridges between each verse.Under the best circumstances, the song was difficult. Thisafternoon, although she was famous both for her range and vocalagility, Klara had to force the top notes.
Once more she thanked a rapturous audience,but this time she gestured for a servant to bring her a mixture shefavored, made of lemon, wine and water. She drank deeply and thenturned away from the audience to clear her throat and spit into ahandkerchief. She usually loved performing for the Baron and hisfriends. They knew music. Their applause mattered. She drewstrength from their regard, but today she just wasn’t well, andthis new accompanist…well, his presence had put her off-stride.
One song followed another. Klara was thankfulthe chosen pieces were so familiar and that Herr Almassy was proving to be a perfect support. Sheknew, however, she was not at her best.
Perhaps on this occasion, craft may masquerade asart…
Anticipating the end of her performance, shecalled again for the mixture. Then she asked Almassy to take up thelast piece, a passionate love song. Klara pursed her lips. In herpresent odd mood, she thought, this would not be the easiest routeto a finale! Still, it must be sung. Her friend, the kind andgenerous Baron, simply adoredit.
 
Your eyes blaze and
Through them
Your soul leaps to mine .
In the taste of your mouth,
I embrace delirium.
Oh Beloved,
I can only surrender.
 
The sound came, smooth at last, pouring fromher throat like cream and chocolate. Akos' amber eyes burned andKlara felt herself falling again, spiraling into their ravishinglight.
Together they were making glorious music,music like Love’s breathless clasping and twining.
 
* * *
 
Klara swayed, leaned against the narrow topof harpsichord . She couldn’t lookat her audience, who had caught her fire and were now returning heroffering in tumultuous applause. She certainly couldn’t look atAkos.
God of Love!
He didn’t touch her, but when she opened hereyes, he was watching her, his expression nothing less than purejoy. A shining bolt of mingled delight and pain struck her, squarein the chest.
Quickly Klara turned away, curtsied to the audience,and, with her usual simplicity, said, “Thank you, my dearestpatrons, both ladies and gentlemen. You are all too kind to yourmost grateful, obedient servant.”
She made awide gesture to include Akos in the applause. He stood, andthen bowed once more over her hand.
His warm breath, the soft touch of his lips upon her flesh! Her head was onfire; her heart thundered. There was a sweet longing, deep, deep , where she most feared….
Desire! Love! Did she dare to let even these words trip by?
Akos stepped back, madeway for the audience, now flocking toward her, a sea of lace andsatin, the swish of layers of clothing and the strong andconflicting scent of many perfumes, as lords and their ladies cameto offer her compliments.
Klara curtsied and smiled and presented herhands and cheeks for kisses, but tonight the aristocratic admirersappeared before her as little more than a moving cloud of white,blue and silver. She went through the motions woodenly, stillblindingly aware of Herr Almassy. He was not far away, nowreceiving praise and thanks from the Baron.
 
* * *
 
It seemed an eternity later, but finally aline of servants issued from a gilt door carrying trays of cheeses,sweets and wines toward a long table set on the far side of theroom. As the guests drifted after, Klara turned and ventured to dowhat any prima donna might. Boldly extending her hand, she summonedher accompanist.
“Thank you, Herr Concertmaster Almassy, foran inspired performance at short notice. I am most grateful.”
“It was an honor, Fraulein Silber.” Hestepped forward to capture her delicate fingers. “And, I confess, adream of mine ever since last year. I will set what I have heardtoday beside the miracle of last winter’s Eurydice.”
Klara felt herself flush as she gazed intothe warm sincerity of Herr Almassy’s lion’s eyes.
“I am happy you think I did some justice toChevalier Gluck and Herr Handel, but I am not in exactly perfectvoice. I’m sure my Maestro, Signor Manzoli, would criticize. And healways says that praise is like a feast of sugarplums, liable tosicken if one devours every piece on offer. Still,” she ended witha delighted smile, “I cannot resist accepting a compliment fromsuch a talented fellow musician.”
Herr Almassy made a depreciating gesture. “To accompany you was myinspiration, but I’m afraid that exactly as my grandfather says,I’m Jack-of-all-Trades-and-Master-of-None.”
“Don’t be humble. Your playing wasexcellent.” Klara felt easier now, with the strain of performanceand the mysterious high drama of their musical collaboration nowsafely behind her. “Tell your Grandpapa that I, Singerin Maria Klara Silber, have declared thatthe Genius of Music certainly guides you.”
“Oh, but that is what he most fears.” Hercompanion’s smile developed a rueful edge.
“How can he not value your gift?”
“My Grandfather Almassy is apothecary to Prince Vehnsky . As a child, I helped in his garden and went withhim into the woods to gather simples . He believes the life of a healer is a far more important calling than thatof a mere musician.”
“If you are not a musician born,” Klaraasked, now a little puzzled, “how did you acquire such skill?”
“The high nobility of Hungary adhere to theold practice of teaching all their servants music so that they maysummon a well-trained orchestra whenever they wish.”
“And it early became apparent to yourteachers that you were especially gifted.” Klara found herself relishing their similarity. The talentshe’d witnessed him display had earned this grandson of an herbalist a better station in life, justas it had done for an orphan convent girl.
“Well,” Almassy replied, “music transports me from our less thanperfect world. I have studied and I have a certain skill in my hands, but really that’s all.Composers are the ones who carry fire from the gods.”
Admiring his assurance, his musicianship andhis sentiments about equally, Klara wondered what Akos' other‘trades’ might be. “I believe as you do. Without them, what wouldthere be for those of us who can only perform? Nevertheless, I takepride in being a good instrument,in giving my best to what some genius has created.”
The conversation was what Maximiliancondescendingly called ‘musician’s babble’, but Klara didn’t care.Max was not here, Thank the Blessed Mother! She was perfectly happyto go on talking about anything with this striking fellow.
“But where is old Concertmaster Novotna, whoused to travel with your Prince? Has he passed away?”
“He is ill. My Grandfather says the apoplexystalks him, for his color is high and his wind is short. Sometimeshe faints and then awakens confused and lethargic.”
“Ah, poor man! Still, his passage to heavenwill mean a promotion for you.”
“Yes, but it’s not pleasant to know that myfortune comes by his death. Herr Novotna has always been kind andgenerous to me.”
“Merit alone, as I am frequently reminded, isnot a completely reliablesupport.” Klara spoke with feeling. “In this world, extraordinaryluck or patronage decides the fate of people like us. Rarely doestalent alone tip the scales.”
She was, of course, thinking of her ownsituation. Her powerful patron had spared her many of the rebuffsand delays the careers of other less well-protected singerssuffered. Whenever Max wanted to humble her, he’d point thisout.
“But to anyone with half an ear, your talentis supreme, Fraulein Silber. Why, your range, your tone….”
“Is perfection itself.” A commanding voiceinterrupted them.
Klara and Akos startled, and then loweredtheir heads, puppets on the same string. They had been so engagedthat they hadn’t noticed the approach of Prince Vehnsky .
“We have beenintending an entertainment to celebrate the opening of ourwinter residence in Vienna, Fraulein Silber.” Herr Almassy’s master was an old man, well oversixty, and apparently in the habit of coming straight to the point.“It would please us if you would honor us with your talent.” ThePrince appropriated her hand, and Klara felt his within the glove,knotted with age.
Why, the Prince himself was asking for her services,had not delegated to a chamberlain the task of speaking to a mereperformer!
“The honor would be all mine, most noble andserene Prince.” She only rose from the deep curtsy she’d made whenhe lifted her up. Deeply gratified, Klara gazed into the Prince’sblack eyes. Though set in a hawkish, weathered face, they werelively, and still held a sparkle.
“If you will only sing half as beautifully atour residence as you have done tonight, Fraulein, we shall bedelighted. However, like our friend the Baron, we have someparticular rarities which we would like you to perform.Concertmaster Almassy will bring you the music and will be at yourdisposal for whatever rehearsals you might require.”
A servant passed with a huge candelabrum.Light struck a nearby mirror and illuminated a flock of fat giltand plaster cherubs, fluttering a delirious ascent up the columntoward the painted ceiling. Klara felt as if she ascended withthem.
“I am entirely at the service of my Prince,and Prima Donna Silber,” Akos said. His eyes touched hers and ashiver shot through her. It was as if she’d been kissed.
 
* * *
 
Stop this! An inner voice scolded asKlara sat shivering beside Liese in the carriage. The party wasover, and singer and servant traveled through a snow-fillednight.
Remember how it was with Giovanni. His love,all his promises, all lies! The madness you felt tonight was onlybecause you are so lonely, because you have foolishly learned tohave these sinful desires. You must never again—never again…!
Klara thought that Max’s twisted kind of lovemust suffice. Anything else was too dangerous. Hadn’t he taught herabout illusion? About what it was like to see a love she’d imagedto be real die in a mire of deceit and betrayal? She would neverlove any man again, not after Giovanni, not after what he and Maxhad done!
Remembering, Klara shivered.
“What’s wrong, Liebchen ?” Liese,beside her, was all attention.
Klara had been thirteen when the Count hadsent Liese to be watchdog and nursemaid to his ‘LittleNightingale’. She still performed the task with fiercedevotion.
“Can’t you fools hurry?” Liese pounded herfist on the roof of the coach. “Fraulein Silber is cold!”
Klara covered her face with both hands andhuddled back into the cold leather. Suddenly, she felt as if shecouldn’t breathe.
After meeting Concertmaster Almassy, afterexperiencing this sudden, violent attraction, it was absolutely clear what she felt about Max’simminent return. Sheer, soul-shriveling dread!
From her palm came a scent which allowedKlara to conjure an image of the tall, dark Concertmaster, of hisbroad, straight shoulders, of the adoration she’d seen in hismysterious topaz eyes.
Immediately, the counter image arose:Maximilian, elegant, graying—her sensual, cruel Master!
A bolt of pain pierced her forehead. Klarabegan to cry in long, drawn out sobs.
“Klara! Stop that!” Liese seized hershoulders and shook. What the Court physician had diagnosed as‘hysteria’ had been a fact of life since ‘that business’ withGiovanni.
“You will injure your voice.” Liese beganhere, with this most terrible consequence of tears. “Stop at once,Klara, or I’ll call for the tincture of poppy as soon as we get home.”
Klara, knowing Liese was in earnest, andloathing the shadowy half-world in which the drug enveloped her,tried to choke back her tears. She slumped against the cushions,hugged herself and shivered ever harder
Oh, she had loved Maximilian vonOettingen once, as only an innocent and guileless girl can! In themiracle he’d worked upon her life, she’d imagined himthe good magician of a thousand fairy tales.
But Love involved risk, and Max never tookrisks. Klara was a rare object, one that gave him artistic andsensual delight, her flesh and blood only one among many treasures.Even the decadent pleasures Max had ordered up for her at hiscountry house, the passion so falsely expressed, could never, everbe again!
 
* * *
 
In the blinding, snow-swirling darkness, asKlara was handed to her door by the footman, she stumbled andnearly fell. The bright exultation of the Baron’s party, theburning musical connection with the Concertmaster, had flown. Shewas empty now, drained.
At least, she thought, as she slowly made herway up the stairs, Max was not yet in Vienna. There would be sometime to imagine freedom, a few more weeks before she would have tomake the difficult choice over which she’d been hesitating.
Comforting herself with the idea that a newfriendship could aid her in the terrible decision she’d beencontemplating, Klara mastered herself. She would be rehearsing withhandsome Akos Almassy daily. The command of Prince Vehnsky would be an adequate reason to seek hiscompany.
After undressingand washing away powder and rouge, after sitting in her shiftbeside the stove while a thin young maid administered one hundredstrokes to her thick ruddy hair, Klara was ready at last to subsideinto her narrow bed. Liese bustled, making sure that thestove was sufficiently stoked, that her mistress' fine white silkgown and the heavy quiltedpetticoat were carefully laid away.
Klara faced the curtained wall and thought ofthe Concertmaster. She remembered the glorious music they’d madetogether, remembered their magical connection. At last alone in thedark, she lifted her hand, caught the faint enigmatic scent of awild wood, one which fine Castilesoap and hot water had somehow not quite washed away. She prayed to dream of the golden eyesof Akos Almassy, alight with a true and noble passion.

 

 
Chapter Two
 
 
As Klara entered the drafty theater inside Prince Vehnsky’s palace, she sawthe tall figure of the Concertmaster, today holding a violineasily. Wind players stood around him, and they seemed to bediscussing some point of performance.
Had her imagination been running away withher? At once she felt hesitant. She recognized and feared thepresent tide of longing. The sympathetic, handsome and supremelymusical Almassy was the spark, shethe tinder .
Oh, if she daredto reach out, or was this, somehow, another of the Count’sgames? Would it only end with her face pressed against the bars ofa cage from which she could never escape?
Around her gathered other singers andinstrumentalists, all those engaged for Prince Vehnsky’s fete . Klara resolved to becautious. This was neither the time nor place to pursue thesensations of yesterday. A better opportunity would come in themilling aftermath of the Prince’s party, a few days hence. The great Vehnsky palace was filled with hiding places. After theperformance, she would take Herr Almassy boldly by the hand andthey would slip away like two children and talk. If he tried to doas his eyes had proclaimed and kiss her, she would allow it, try to taste the truth in the wayhis beautiful mouth met hers.
Despite her resolves, when Herr Almassy’s lips grazed the sensitive back ofKlara’s hand within the glove, a profound shiver ran throughher.
“Are you cold, Fraulein Silber?”
All this morning Klara had been sufferingfrom a logy , heavy feeling. Thecarriage ride to Vehnskys ’ palacehad been frigid and uncomfortable.
“Yes, I am. This room is absolutelyfreezing.”
Akos tenderly pressed her fingers. It seemedhe could send concern as well as the stronger emotions. He nodded,but she could tell that he didn’t share her opinion. An estimatingglance followed.
Drawing a heavy shawl closer, she shiveredagain. The theater at the Vehnsky palace was a large space. In winter, without the body heat of anaudience, it was difficult to heat properly. The warmth radiating from the corner stoves was not equalto today’s bitter weather.
“You must truly loathe a wig.” She changed the subject as Akos,with graceful formality, led her to a row of seats close by one ofthe stoves. Again, Klara had followed fashion, and today’s whitecurls only accentuated her pallor.
“Does your Prince never complain?”
“That I am out of uniform?”
When she nodded, he said, “I have the honorto be a little indulged by my lord . When I entertain those who take offense at suchomissions, I comply. I do not wish anyone to think me disrespectfulof so good a master.”
“Ah, then it was because the Empress waspresent at last winter’s charity performance.”
“Exactly.” His eyes brightened. “I confess,however, I was so pleased that you would be present—bending theknee to fashion made not a whit of difference.”
“Me?”
“Yes, Fraulein Silber. Forgive my boldness,but that was an experience which fatally changed my life.”
“Fatally? Heavens, Sir! I shall suspect youof trifling.”
Flirtation!
“I never trifle, Fraulein.” His exotic eyessteadily regarded her. “Perhaps when there is more time someday,you will do me the honor to allow me to explain.”
But this conversation, so tantalizinglybegun, would have to wait. Klara could see a cello playerapproaching, score in hand, a question framed on his plump lips.Akos turned to attend to him and let her go with a regretfulbow.
Singing was hard. Akos, who seemed tounderstand, took her through some extra scales, but her chestremained tight, her throat dry. They agreed she would paraphrasesome of the high notes to spare herself. When she sang, there was afeeling of danger in the top, as if her voice might suddenly,disgracefully crack. It took every ounce of technique she possessedto get safely through the chosen pieces.
“Very precise,” Akos said when she’dfinished. “Thank you, Fraulein Silber. That is all for today. Doyou think, however, that you will you be in voice sufficiently to sing cadenzas tomorrow? Prince Vehnsky wishes to attend ourrehearsal.”
Klara stared , offended. A mereConcertmaster didn’t speak that way to a prima donna! And certainlynot where other singers, a wolf pack constantly on the watch forany sign of weakness in the leader, could overhear!
“Let me be certain that I understand you, Herr Concertmaster. Do youimply I am not in voice , or that Ihave come unprepared?” She knew perfectly well the sound had notbeen up to her usual standard, but his outspokenness made hercross.
A cold was certainly coming on, maybe a bad one, and tofall sick just before Carnival was awful luck!
After she had worked so hard, had used everyounce of her technique to hide it, still, this Concertmaster hadheard! The detection spoke volumes about his ear, but, how darehe?
The look in Herr Almassy’s eyes told her that he might be a man who woreservant’s livery, but he would not be cowed. Not even by a VienneseDiva for whom he was nourishing a passion. Klara felt herselfdeflate, knowing that this interchange, public or not, was going tobe absolutely candid, musician tomusician.
“As you know, Prince Vehnsky possesses perfect pitch.”
At least, he has lowered his voice…
“I believe,” Akos earnestly added, “that youhave the beginnings of a severe catarrh. It would be wisest if youwent home and began a cure.”
As if she could admit weakness! Anything lessthan perfection led to someone else taking those bows before thenobility. From the corner of her eye, Klara could see SignoraAmelia, her chief rival, moving closer, straining to catch hiswords.
“I see no need to pull out all the stops at arehearsal, especially when the room is so dreadfully cold.”
“Fraulein Silber,” Herr Almassy began again,“I think….
“Never think, Concertmaster! Just followorders. Anything more leads to trouble, especially here inVienna.”
She’d spent the early morning breathing steamand drinking mallow tea. She had gargled, had stuck out her tonguea hundred times, had coughed and tried to bring up the weight inher chest.
This performance at Vehnsky’s was terriblyimportant, the festive gate which would lead to Carnival, now amere four weeks away. Nobility from all over the Empire were already in town. She knew that theItalian Kapellmeisters, always in high favor at Court, were toutingtheir countrywomen. Nevertheless, as muchas Klara feared failing to perform, she could read the signs of herbody and knew that now, approaching the critical weeks of Carnival,the busiest and most profitable time of the year, she was getting ahorrible cold.
And why oh why did it have to happen now, just asshe had stiffened her resolve to escape Max? To do so, I will needevery florin I can earn…
“There might be a way I can assist you,” HerrAlmassy whispered softly, “with remedies.”
“Thank you, Herr Almassy, but you aremistaken.” Klara pitched her voice so that the entire room couldhear. “And if that is all you need for today, I shall retire.”
When he silently bowed, Klara, stiflinganother shiver, swept away, straight to gray haired Liese, waitingat the door with the other servants. She seized the heavy fox trimmed cloak held out for her. Afterwrapping herself with care, she went directly to the frigiddiscomfort of the waiting carriage.
 
* * *
 
Later, Klara sat in the kitchen of herapartment, but she wasn’t relaxing the way she usually did, withher beloved tabby cat sprawled in her lap like a big lazy baby.Instead, she was bending, red-faced, over a steaming pot breathingin a vapor that rose from a roiling stew of pine needles andeucalyptus, desperately trying to loosen the lump of misery in herchest. Nearby, Herr Messer, the cook, rolled noodle dough upon awooden table.
Klara had moved to this respectable butunpretentious neighborhood after a horrible incident with Max’swife. The Count had fussed, asking why she was suddenly sointerested in economy, but he had permitted her to take thisordinary bourgeois apartment. Klara felt comfortable in the warmatmosphere of her new home, even though she now knew that theoutwardly pleasant fellow tenants on the ground floor spied on hercomings and goings.
Now, at the sound of footsteps on the backstairs, she turned. Outside the kitchen window, on the narrowporch, the shadow of a man passed. Klara didn’t think much aboutit, for peddlers of all sorts came up from the alley to sellsundries to the cook or to Liese.
Wiping flour onto his apron, the cook wentout to see what was being offered. Klara liked him far better thanany of the women cooks she’d employed. Messer cooked plain food,with lots of pork, chicken, apples, kraut, noodles and gravy, andhe didn’t fuss about lugging his own water upstairs or splitting kindling either.
After a short conversation outside, Messeradmitted the man. As the door opened, hercat, who had been basking by the stove, made an acrobatic leapwhich carried him from the floor to the table, and from there ontoa high shelf kept empty for him. Heat rising from the stovemade it a prime kitty spot in winter.
“It’s all right, Satzi ,” Klara soothed. “It’s not Max. Don’t be afraid, Liebchen .”
The cat expressed a wait and see attitude. Hesat, curling his fluffy tail neatly around his big feet. Green eyesstared curiously down.
“Good day, Fraulein Silber,” said thevisitor, bowing low. “I have come to make an apology.”
A jolting thrill shot through Klara as Akospushed back the hood of his long black cape.
“Here! Don’t you come botherin’ my mistress!” Herr Messer plucked theintruder’s sleeve. “He said he was an apothecary, Fraulein!” The cook’s broad, pock marked face went ashade darker, for he’d begun to imagine he’d been tricked byanother of Klara’s crazy admirers, the kind who would do anythingin order to meet her.
“Ah, but here is the mixture which will beginthe cure of your mistress.”
Herr Almassy whisked a small cone of brownpaper from his pocket.
“Would you steep this, please?” It was framed as a request, but thetone of command was unmistakable. “Prima Donna Wranitzsky swears bythis mixture.”
Herr Messer slewed his eyes toward Klara. She nodded.
“Do as the gentleman asks, Messer. I’ll tryanything in the state I’m in.” She paused to clear her throat,which was growing by the minute ever more painful and sore. “Thisis Herr Almassy, Concertmaster to Prince Vehnsky , so mind your manners.”
Messer grunted and tugged a scant forelock.He hated to be made a fool of, and he was devoted to Klara.
He went at once for the small teapot ,rinsed it with hot water from a black iron kettle, and then addedthe contents of the paper cone. As the infusion began, a spicy odorflooded the room.
“I’m sorry to intrude upon you like this, Singerin ,” Almassy said, “but the strain in your voice wasunmistakable. I sometimes forget how precarious position is at the Viennese Court, even for asupremely talented lady. I apologize for expressing my concern soopenly.”
“You are bold to appear at my door after theway we parted.” In spite of a myriadaches , Klara smiled. “But you are correct. I’m not at allwell, nor am I likely to be in good voice again anytime soon.”
“’Tis not boldness, but concern for a giftedlady, Fraulein Silber. What I have here is a sovereign remedy. Ihave too much concern for your talent not to dare bringing it to you.”
“Ah, so you do know the game!” It was noteasy to smile when she felt so wretched, sitting here in an oldmorning gown, but there he stood, the object of so much fantasy,right in her kitchen! “I, too, should apologize. I was very rude .”
“You were defending yourself. I didn’t meanto make you vulnerable to the ambitions of others, but I was—and Iam—concerned about you.”
“Yes.” Klara paused to catch a sudden sneezein her handkerchief. “I’m worse than I was earlier. I was angrybecause Signorina Amelli , thatshe-dog, pricked up her ears so brightly when she heard what yousaid. She will take every part I was to sing this season andnothing short of a knife in her back will ever get them back for meagain.”
“I pray to Saint Cecilia the Viennese havebetter ears than that.”
“Sometimes it’s not a matter of ears, butinfluence.”
Klara paused again, this time to cough.
“It must not come to that. If you will trust me, or rather trust my wiseGrandfather, whose cure this is, I am certain that I can lessen the length and severity of yourillness. My motive for that is absolutely selfish. Before I go back to Komarom, I musthear you in perfect voiceagain.”
“Well, sir, come and sit beside me. Eversince we were introduced, I’ve beenwishing for time in whichto become better acquainted.”
Herr Almassy had been such a firm commander at the rehearsal and so bold inmaking his way past Messer, but now, swinging a kitchen chair intoplace beside hers, he suddenly looked shy. Noting that, Klaraexperienced a happy flutter. Although she was dressed in a drab oldmorning gown, and, in spite of the aches, it would be so much nicerto have a chat here than at some hard-edged, swirling party.
“That was quite a feat this morning, to singso well through the cold. You have had excellent teaching.”
“Thank you. My maestro is a wonder.”
“I have heard you study with SignorManzoli.”
“Yes. For several years now.”
“ He himself is a legend.”
“He is still a marvelous violinist. Hestudied with the great Padre Martini in Bologna.”
“Indeed?”
Klara, suddenly a little nervous at thegentleman’s closeness, pressed on. It was good to have a neutralsubject.
“I count Signor Manzoli as one of my bestfriends. But I confess when I first met him I stared as if he werethe man in the moon. Being convent raised, well,” Klara paused toshake her head, “to say I hadn’t seen much of the world would be anunderstatement. Count Oettingen warned me that Signor Manzoli waseccentric, and so he was. Such a curious mix of masculine andfeminine! He even affects it in his clothing.”
“Well, castrati are like men in the moon,especially nowadays, when the Italians don’t make as many as theyused to. There was a castrato at Prince Esterhaza’s when I visited,one Signor Del Prato. Such a curious muscular quality in a veryhigh soprano voice.”
Klara caught a sneeze in her handkerchief andfollowed with a dry cough. She was enjoying his company, buttalking was hard. When she looked up, she found Akos gazing at heras if she were Venus rising from the foam instead of a sick womanin her kitchen in shabby undress.
“Do you know, Fraulein Silber, you are thesecond wonderful singer I’ve hadthe pleasure to hear who was raised at Saint Cecilia’s? Did youknow Johannes Kreisler?”
“He was on his way to fame and fortune when Iwas a little girl. I remember imagining that I was in love andblushing whenever I was near him, silly child that I was.”
Akos flashed a quicksilver smile. His thickraven hair reminded her distantly of the traitorous Giovanni, but,mercifully, otherwise this man was not much like her fallen idol.
“Not so silly! I’ve always liked baritonesbetter than tenors and Kreisler’s voice is so sensuous. When hesings the villain, there is hardly a woman in the audience who canunderstand why the heroine bothers to resist.”
Klara wanted to giggle, for his assessmentwas correct. Instead, the endless tickle in her throat forced herto make do with a nod and a cough.
“Saint Cecilia’s should be as famous anursery for young singers as any Italian Nightingale Cage.”
“Our teachers were good .” Klara gathered her shawl closer. “Still, withoutthe excellent training that I got here in Vienna….” She stopped andshivered, for the unpleasant inevitable in the narrative of herrise to fame was Count Maximilian von Oettingen.
Oh, yes, the last years had brought her fameand fortune, more than she’d ever dreamed, but she’d paid dearly.Let no one think otherwise!
Those days at Max’ssplendid Italian villa, bright days filled with plays, music andstrange sensual games, all ending in the black rain of autumnalVienna, the sour end of that fatal, fiery summer—rain, and so manytears!
Max’s country househad held old masters, French china and antique sculpture, as wellas equally beautiful young actors, dancers and musicians who camefor his parties, who stayed to keep her company while he ‘went backand forth on business’. Sheremembered Hermione’s false bright smile, Giovanni’s dark eyesflooding with desire, the touch of his hands, his lips … and now ahandsome, considerate, and obviously intelligent man sat besideher, his eyes shimmering gold, like an October leaf.
As much as I long for what he seems tooffer….
To this day Maximilian maintained that all hehad done was to show Klara “the ugly truth of the pretty word, Love.” He claimed he had taught hera useful lesson.
Well, perhaps he had, but how hard it was todistrust every man who found her attractive! She was young,beautiful, the object of desire for so many, but her heart wasfrozen now, ice to the core….
The admiration of this sympatheticand ever so musical Concertmaster seemed genuine. He was aforeigner in town for only a few weeks a year, a servant of PrinceVehnsky’s. It did not seem possible that he could be yet anotherpuppet delivered by Max. Nevertheless, even if he was not, whatcould she expect from her attraction to him?
Love was not the joy of her arias, but aruinous madness!
Love promised bliss, but delivered onlysearing disillusion. Klara wanted no more of it, especially rightnow, when she was so weak, so afraid and so very, very sick!
“No more chat, Herr Concertmaster. What aboutmy cure?”
“Of course.” Herr Almassy rose. “HerrMesser,” he turned to the cook, now busily cutting the noodles, “ifyou will bring a cup, I will seeif the tisane is ready for your mistress.”
Messer laid down his knife and dutifullybrought the cup. Dark liquid emerged from the teapot’s fancifulgreen spout into a matching china cup. A dark, sharp odor filledthe room.
“Ginger?” Klara took the cup from Akos'well-proportioned hand, the same hand which yesterday had movedwith such agility upon the double-rowed harpsichord.
“Yes, but there is also mullein, horehound,nasturtium, valerian and pleurisy root. Sip slowly, for it is very hot . You will sweat and thenyou will feel sleepy. It will help you most if you obey thatimpulse.”
Klara sipped. Immediately, her mouth and lipswere on fire.
“Now, while you are drinking, there’s anotherpart of the remedy, if you will permit me.”
Klara cocked a dark eyebrow.
“Madame Wranitzsky swears that it doesn’twork half so well without this part.”
He smiled wryly, and she saw him hesitate.“Fraulein Silber,” he finally said, “this may seem odd, but withHerr Messer with us, I’m sure you will agree there can be noimpropriety.”
“Exactly what do you intend?”
At once her guard went up. The heat of thetea coursed through her, magically soothing her throat, warming thecold stone lodged so heavily in her chest.
“To complete the treatment, I must rub yourfeet.” Klara was so surprised that she didn’t say a word as he, notwaiting, knelt beside her and reached beneath the heavy folds of her morning gown and removed theslipper.
“Oh, ah, Herr Almassy….” She began a protest,but her small foot in a knit gray woolen stocking was already inhis hand.
“A far prettier object than some to which Ihave applied this cure.” Akos smiled up at her.
“Rubbing the feet of singers is part of aconcertmaster’s job at Komarom?”
Klara hardly knew what to think, but he hadalready begun, his strong fingers probing through the sock into thestiff, cold flesh beneath.
Messer stirred a pot of broth in which spaetzli cooked, whileoccasionally looking over his shoulder with a puzzled expression.He was relaxed about sharing the kitchen with his employer, whofrequently took her cures here. He had seen many odd remedies inthe last few years, but nothing quite like this.
“Oh, heavens!” Klara stared down in surpriseat the man who had so completely taken possession of her foot.
“You will begin to experience some tinglingin the mask of your face and then in your chest.” As Akos spoke, he increased the pressure.“Just put your head back, close your eyes and relax. For somereason, this causes draining. You will feel worse for a few hoursafter I am done and I promise that you will do a lot of coughingand spitting, but tomorrow you will begin to feel better.”
“That doesn’t sound completelyencouraging.”
Still, what he was doing felt good, even theoccasional stabs that went shooting from her toes into some far offpart of her body. After some minutes her anxiety subsided. It wassucceeded by a warm all-over glow which felt suspiciouslyvoluptuous.
As Akos worked, Klara had a sudden memory ofMax, stroking her loosened hair as they sat by the fire in histownhouse, just the same absent way she sometimes stroked Satz. Tothe Count’s chagrin, she had begun to weep. On that night her hearthad felt empty. So empty!
Now, as if it had happened again, tearswelled. Stunned by the despair the memory carried, Klara coveredher face.
“ Mistress Klara! Are you allright?”
“Don’t worry, sir. It’s part of the cure.”Akos answered for her. “It will move what’s in her chest.”
Then he simply went on rubbing, while her tears came in torrents.Messer, responding to the calm and command in Akos' voice, wentback to stirring, although from now on he would keep turning tothem, watching the proceedings with the concerned perplexity of adog.
The flood of coughs and tears quicklysaturated Klara’s handkerchief and then Herr Almassy’s . Herr Messer presented Klara with aclean kitchen towel, which she, wordlessly grateful, accepted.
The Cook pushed his noodles to the back ofthe little stove. It wasn’t just his mistress' tears or thisinvasion by an imperious stranger that troubled him.
“Fraulein, I beg your pardon, but the woodhas not yet come. I have supper to finish and we have none for theparlor. We must not run out, especially when it is so cold and youare so sick.”
“Then see to it, Herr Messer.” Akos said, notlooking up from Klara’s foot. She seemed beyond speech, leaningback in the much-clawed stuffed chair, the towel pressed to herface, her shoulders rising and falling with distress.
“But neither Frau Liese nor Marie is here. Icannot leave my mistress alone.”
“Liese will be home soon.” Klara gatheredherself sufficiently to reply to his concerns. “Get the wood!Concertmaster Almassy is agentleman.”
Messer was still unsure, but he moved towardhis cloak, hung by the door. “I will be back in three shakes of alamb’s tail, Mistress.” He aimed a warning glance at Almassy and then went quickly out, closing thedoor behind him.
Akos rose to pour another cup of theinfusion.
“Do I really have to drink more?”
“Yes. All of it.”
“I feel sick to my stomach.”
“That is not the tea. It is emotion. Pleasefinish it.”
“Emotion?” Klara asked as he handed her thesteaming cup.
“Yes. All those tears, Fraulein.”
“Naturally I’m upset. I am too sick to singfor your Prince. Perhaps even-so-sick-I-shall-miss-Carnival!”
Akos didn’t reply. Instead, he knelt and thentook up her foot again, pressing those strong fingers into the baseof her toes.
“Your tears are from your heart, FrauleinSilber.”
“What do you mean?”
He did not reply, simply pressed harder. A vicious stab raced upward toterminate in the center of her forehead.
“Ow!” Klara cried. “Now my head aches ! Stop! I can’t bear it.”
The cup dropped. It struck her lap and rolledover her knees, splashing the dregs upon the thick material of hermorning gown and finally coming to rest with a bell-like clinkagainst a table leg.
Suddenly she was afraid that he would takeadvantage, embrace her, but the strong fingers simply went on with their task. Her feet, thiswinter ever cold and stiff, felt as if they were turning to well-kneaded dough. A dizzyingbarrage issued from those exploring fingertips and raced to explodethroughout her body. He kept up even when Klara began to wail.
“That’s right. Cry. It will help.”
“Nothing can help. Nothing can help!”
It was impossible now, impossible to holdback.
“I am the Count’s slave. I shall die if Ihave to go on living like this.”
His eyes locked with hers, but she saw nojudgment, no revulsion, nothing but—love!
 
* * *
 
Maria Klara Silber had been born somewhere inGermany, but she didn’t know where or remember her parents. As avery toddler she had been left in the Church of St. Cecelia, in theBishopric of Passau. For about fifty years, ever since amusic-loving Italian Hapsburg Prince had ruled there, it had beenordered that the nuns of Saint Cecelia keep an orphanage of a mostparticular kind. The abandoned children accepted at this church,one dedicated to the patron saint of music, were the unwantedchildren of musicians and actors. The children were educated, and,according to their talents, dispatched into the orchestras of theelectorates and princedoms of which Germany consisted. Some wereapprenticed to organists , some toinstrument makers. Some of the more gifted singers, especially theprettiest girls, found their way into the world in lessconventional ways.
Aged twelve, Klara,already acknowledged as the finest female singer the convent hadhad in twenty years, sang a solo in a high holy Mass attended bythe Prince Archbishop and some members of his family, among them,his cousin, Count Oettingen, Councilor of War to the Empress MariaTheresa. The story had begun like a fairy tale, when thetall elegant Count had taken her the very next day into hisentourage.
At first, the relationship wasirreproachable. The Count kept Klara in a house he owned in Viennawhere she was tended by an army of servants, among them themotherly and attentive Liese. There was no more of the sewing andcookery which, among other things, had filled Klara’s days at theconvent. Everything came to her, for now she was to study music andlanguages full time. She had music masters for her voice and toinstruct her upon the harpsichord and violin. There were teacherswho taught her to write a graceful letter and dancing masters. Shelearned a smattering of history and geography, and a great deal ofFrench and Italian, in short, it was the education given to anyprivileged female. When she was fifteen, she also began to spenddays at the opera, singing in the chorus and seeing a little of thetheater life.
At seventeen, the Count had obtained for hera small trouser role in a court opera. At once, her creamy mezzovoice made a tremendous success.
“ Hereafter ,”he’d said one night soon after her debut, “you shall be able tomake your way as a singer upon your merits alone. So many youngtalents never enjoy the good fortune which a good patron maybestow.”
“Yes, My Lord.” Klara’s made a dutiful replyand dropped a graceful curtsy. The strict upbringing in the nunneryhad not, even in four pampered years in a Viennese townhouse, wornoff. Her Oettingen was a demanding, handsome god, someone highabove her, whose wishes were enforced by teachers and, of course,by the attentive Liese. Sometimes, nowthat she knew a little more about the ways of the world, Klarafantasized that this rich, graying aristocrat might actually be herfather, or that she was an illegitimate child he’d chosen to claimbecause of the talent she’d displayed.
As if he’d decided to acknowledge her innermusings, the Count’s next words were “Have you never wondered,Maria Klara, why I chose you from among all the others?”
“I thought, Herr Count, ah….” She had begunher reply with hesitation, blushing and wondering if her imaginingswere about to be confirmed. She sensed a disturbing purpose intonight’s inquiry.
“Ah, sir, I thought it was because I was thebest singer at Saint Cecelia’s, but I, um, wouldn’t presume….”
As Klara gazed into his intense andpenetrating gray eyes, the cold, precise mask her patron had alwaysworn seemed to mellow in a way which made her deeply uneasy. Although she was physicallyinnocent, she was no longer unsophisticated. No one had had the temerity to approach her at theopera house, but during the last two years she’d had ampleopportunity to observe divas at the game of love, playing offhusbands, noble patrons, and lovers.
In the next moment her benefactor had seizedher hand, and, in a gallant rush, kissed it. What a strange feelingswept through her, as, for thefirst time ever, that silver head lowered itself humbly. It was asif the world had turned upside down! How many times in the lastfive years had she gone to her knees before him to kiss the ringsupon that extended, powerful hand?How many times had she thanked him from the bottom of her heart forall his generosity?
“It was partly your most beautiful voice,Nightingale,” Maximilian said. The words were soft; the salutationintimate. “And partly….” A muscular armcame to enclose her slender waist, to draw her close, “because Ihave for years been wishing to experiment with the notion that themost satisfactory mistress of all will be a young woman who hasbeen tenderly raised for the position.”
He pulled her into his lap and kissed her, onthe lips, and man to woman. She had not resisted, had not known howto resist, what speedily followed. The Count was vastlyexperienced, and although the hair beneath his elegant wig wascropped and gray, his body, hard and trim with long bouts of realsoldiering, pressed against her young one with ardor.
“Sir,” she’d gasped when he let her mouth go,“please, sir, this is not right.”
Klara had been frightened and surprised, butshe had also been schooled to absolute obedience. So, in spite of a thousand warnings from theSisters chanting in her head, there were powerful counter forces at work. Her patron’s long,powerful jaw and blue eyes mirrored the faces of the Habsburgemperors whose heads adorned every coin she’d ever seen. He was ofthe bluest blood. He is my master! Were there not stories inholy writ about lords exercising this right over their femaleservants—and with God’s blessing?
Oettingen hadpicked her up, as easily as if she were a doll, and carried her outof the great room decorated with stag’s heads into a smallwindowless antechamber, the door to which lay hidden behind atapestry. The face of the liveried valetwho pulled back the curtain so that his master and the slight youngburden he carried could pass through was like a blind man’s,unseeing, expressionless.
It was in thissecret room, already prepared with the glow of candles, allreflecting in mirrored tiles, upon a silken bed, where all ofKlara’s senses were first seared by the cold fire of her count’sexperience. Her lips whispered ‘no’ but from the firstskillful passages of his hands, her young body, hungry forexperience, began to betray her. Maximilian, sure of his ultimatevictory, had approached his goal slowly, imaginatively, using allhis expertise. Klara had been pushed from intimacy to intimacy,until, with luxurious finality, Maximilian’s strong, hard body had claimed the ultimate favor.
She’d wept afterwards , for although this first experience had beencarefully orchestrated, there throbbed a confused understandingthat love was a gift freely given, not a treasure which could bestolen! Dimly understood, painfully felt, her body and heart hadbeen forced, for the first time ever, apart. Oh, Max had given along lesson in pleasure, such as only a practiced sensualist cangive, but even as Klara’s body responded, her heart had remainedquite still.
“Damned nuns.” Max had held her tenderlyagainst his broad chest and stroked her wealth of loose auburnhair. “I didn’t get you away from them quite soon enough, didI?”
“Oh, sir Count….”
“At this moment I am not your master, littleone. In fact, I shall now commit the supreme folly of telling youthat it is quite the other way round. 'Max' will do when we are inbed.” Tenderly, he’d tilted her chin. “Please don’t cry! And don’tworry about anything, either. I swear upon my honor that no matterwhat happens in this ugly and capricious world of ours, I mean toalways take perfect care of you, my beautiful Maria Klara.”
“This is mortal sin!” She’d sobbed the words.
“The sin,” he’d responded, his proud face asgrave and humble as she’d ever seen it, “I claim here and now asmine. You are only a little white ewe lamb who has gone where shewas led. Besides, it may be a sin in the eyes of the priests, but experience of this kind of love isa requirement of your art. A virgin would never be able to discoverthe emotion that is required to sing the great arias . And I,” he continued, his gray eyesfierce, “intend to have the joy of hearing you sing all ofthem.”
There were other occasions in the next threeweeks in which he took her to bed. With the same thorough attentionhe had given to other aspects of her education, he’d taught herabout pleasure. Then he’d gone with his troops to battles with theTurks and had stayed away for almost six months. Klara remained inthe townhouse going to lessons just as if she were still the samegirl as before, although it was during this time that she wasoffered her first solo roles. In fact, a great triumph came to herin Maximilian’s absence. The old Empress honored her by allowingKlara to kiss her cheek and then commented sentimentally upon herbeauty in the presence of the assembled court. After that high markof imperial favor, Klara’s fortune was made. Every impresario theCourt employed begged the talented beauty to sing for him.
Klara was still called upon to performprivately for the Oettingen family. Feeling terribly guilty andfrightened, she’d sung at house-parties given by her lover’s wife.One great ball at which sheperformed in front of the assembled nobility celebrated themarriage of one of Maximilian’s daughters, a tall blonde with herfather’s cold gray eyes who was younger than Klara.
Although she was awarded a good salary at theopera house, more money than she had ever dreamed of earning,Maximilian continued as her advisor. He saw that she took thegreater part of her new wealth and put it with a banker. He himself took drove her to thehaughtiest dressmakers and jewelers.
“Always use restraint, Klara.” Oettingenwaved away a brilliant red satin the shopkeeper had offered. “Toomuch and too gaudy is for noblewomen who have more money than tasteor for courtesans. Remember that neither your beautiful body noryour beautiful voice will last forever. What will you do if youhave spent all you earn on trinkets? It’s easy to get used tocomfort, my dear, and a wretched business to give it up.”
In those early days she’d imagined she was inlove with him. After all, she must be! How else could sheexperience such pleasure in his embrace? She worried when theEmpress repeatedly dispatched him to the eternal border wars.Impatiently, she awaited hisreturn from military duties, or from long visits to his country estates.
Once she expressed jealousy of his wife whenhe had just returned from several months in the country. Max hadlaughed at her. “It has been awhile since there was much lovethere! Perhaps, little one, when I’m in the country it isn’t mywife of whom you should be jealous.”
She’d looked puzzled and Max, an ironic lookin his eye, hadn’t hesitated to explain.
“My peasants always seem to have a pretty daughter or two, just grown to theright age. I must say those fellows understand how to offer their lord hospitality.”
Klara, cut to the quick, had leapt out of bed they’d been sharing.
“Blessed Holy Mother! Why—why! You're nobetter than a heathen Turk!”
“All men are Turks, little one.” Max had comeafter her, laughing. “Were you imagining something else?”
“And is that what I am? A diversion while youare in Vienna?”
“Not at all, Klara!” He’d chuckled, capturingher in his big hands. Although she’d struggled, tried to slap him,he’d unceremoniously carried her back to his bed. “You and thosepeasant girls have a certain sweetthing in common, but your talent sets you apart. Why, everyconnoisseur in Vienna is wild with envy that such a treasurebelongs to me.”
It was the first time she’d ever attempted todeny him. Even though Max was a big man, powerful enough to forceher, not even on this night when she had been so humiliated did hehave to resort to that. Max’s force, Klara realized bitterly whenshe was alone again, devised hurts more sophisticated, and the kindwhich did not leave bruises.
The grinding formality of their relations inpublic was often humiliating too. For allher success at the opera, she was a dependent, a servant, one whocould be summoned to play the harpsichord or to sing at the snap ofhis, or his wife’s, fingers.
The only others who knew the secret was herwoman servant, Liese, and the Count’s personal valet, both of whommaintained a tomb-like silence. Still, somehow, his wife found out.During one of Oettengin’s absences, her servants came and ejectedKlara from the townhouse.
“But where shall I go?” She’d pleaded withthe imperious man who’d pushed her out the door into the snow.
“To the nearest whorehouse, where youbelong!” He gave Liese the scornful kick he didn’t quite dare tobestow upon Klara.
When the Count’s bailiff found out what hadhappened and came to her rescue a few days later, he discoveredKlara ensconced in a modest few rooms in a respectable buildingwhich her banker owned. She’d appealed to him, and, with her savedmoney and Liese’s help, she had set up housekeeping. Saying nothingto anyone about what had happened she held her head high and keptup her schedule.
After all was said and done, Klara wasreimbursed for the clothes and jewels which the Countess hadspitefully removed. Something, however, was lost which could not bereplaced, her reputation. Overnight the eyes of men grew bold. Thearistocratic rakes who hung around the opera house were the firstto step forward.
“Drop the old man! The blind fool didn’t eventhink far enough ahead to protect you from his Countess!”
“To go with you? You who are at the feet of anew lady as soon as the last one’s belly shows?” By this time Klaraknew their ways all too well.
And it was not only the rakes young and old,but musicians, other singers and orchestra members who now lookedat her differently. Here, she soon understood, was where the realdanger lay. Mutual admiration among comrades in a shareddiscipline, comrades who also worshipped the Divinity of Music,was a powerful aphrodisiac.
Klara stayed in her modest apartment with afew servants, the kind suited to a bourgeois existence, even afterthe Count’s return. After a little argument, he’d acquiesced to herdesire to be, at least, apparently, independent of him.
Still, Maximilian suspected what must happenas soon as he allowed his caged bird a little more freedom. Duringhis next prolonged absence, Klara fell in love for the first time.Her idol was a young Italian, a talented tenor, whose gloriousvoice had sent him in one leap from chorus to hero. That winterKlara and Giovanni sang the parts of lovers, ridden the alwaysthrilling skyrocket of success together. It wasn’t long beforeKlara believed she was in love with him.
Overflowing with self-confidence, black-eyedand darkly handsome, Giovanni Lugiati filled her heart and mind for the better part ofa whirlwind three months. She preparedherself to tell her patron that she and Giovanni were to be wed,had happily been thinking ahead to a glorious future of sharedmusic and love, when one day she woke up to discover that duringthe night her lover had precipitously fled to Milan.
 
* * *
 
“I thought Giovanni and I would marry andleave Vienna,” Klara whispered against Akos’ cheek, “but then, Maxcame back.”
One morning, when she’d gone joyously to seeGiovanni, his landlady met her at the door, saying he’d decamped inthe middle of the night, leaving no forwarding address. An hourlater, while she was lying prostrate upon her bed in a pool of tears, Max had come marchingin.
“All this over a florin a dozen Italiantenor!” He sat down beside her and roughly turned her over, pushingthe ruddy dark hair from her face.
Of course, that had been provocationsufficient to rouse. Maximilian let her slap him once then he’d simply engulfed her little hand inhis big one.
“ Basta ! Enough! And I really don’tdeserve it!”
“Oh yes you do! You have driven my darlingGiovanni away!”
“Yes. Aside from the fact that you are mine,a small fact which you seem to have forgotten, that arrogant browncockerel was a disaster, not half good enough for my MariaKlara!”
“I don’t love you. I know that now. You arethe vilest kind of aristocrat! One who has used his power to forcehimself upon a helpless dependent! You’ve done your worst, now letme go! I’m not your slave! I shall follow Giovanni.”
“You and I, Maria Klara, will be done witheach other when I say so and not a moment sooner.” The Count wasentirely calm, as if his words were sweet reason. “As for your Italian cockerel, well, someday you will thank me for running him off. What do you know of men,little bird? Jealous of your freedom, your voice, that prancingfool would have filled you with baby after baby, out of a weak need to assure himself heowned you. He would have destroyed your talent. “
”Dreck!” Klara screamed, spitting. “Dreck!Dreck! Dreck!”
She’d stared up into those cold, consideringeyes and watched, mesmerized, as her contempt dripped from hisproud hawk’s face.
“The sad truth is that forty ducats and thepromise of a primo role in Milanwas all it took to get rid of Giovanni Lugiati , Klara.” From a pocket, Max removed ahandkerchief with which to wipe his face. “All things considered,I’m wondering if I’ve let him off too lightly.” His pale eyes,which she’d seen full of desire as he moved passionately above her,seemed as cold as the frozen Danube, as cruel as those of hisfavorite falcon.
“Sir, oh please, oh please, do not hurtGiovanni.”
“I did not have to hurt him, Klara. I confess that I longed to crush histhroat …. I confess that I told him I would do exactly that, butSignor Lugiati’s greed and good sense prevented such wantondestruction of what even I must admit is a lovelyinstrument. I wish you could have seen how quickly andgratefully Bellisimo Giovanni Lugiati took the forty ducats and my letter ofrecommendation to Count Pallavicini in Milan.”
When she began to sob bitterly, the Countreleased her.
“Imagine,” Klara sobbed , “when you took me away from Saint Cecelia’s Ithought I was so lucky, that my life was a fairy tale! What wouldthe good Mother Superior have thought if she had known that youonly meant to make me your whore?”
“Ridiculous! You can’t really believe that.Why, even with your talent, don’t you realize that without me you’d still be in the chorus?” He’dtried to stroke her, but she had furiously pushed his hand away.“Never mind,” he grumbled, humbly accepting her rebuff. “You’llsoon forget the greasy fool.”
“I’ll never forget my darling Giovanni andhis love. You may force me, but you will never again be able tocompel my affection.”
“Proud words, but still so naïve.” Max hadsuddenly smiled, so fierce and knowing, that Klara had thrownherself at him again in redoubled rage. Without much trouble hecaught her wrists and tossed her back down upon the bed.
“Let me suggest,” he said, assuming the calmattitude of a schoolmaster giving a lesson, “that you do not yetunderstand your own warm female nature. What happened is that I wasgone for too long and the strutting fool dared to caress you. Cosi fan tutte ! Women are not called the weaker sex fornothing. My only prayer is that you be spared any lasting mementoof this foolish and dangerous escapade.”
“I hope I am carrying his child.” She’d notbothered to deny that she’d given herself to Giovanni. “I pray thatI am! All of Vienna will laugh at you and will know that for a moment a slave tastedfreedom.”
“Some dreck of your own, sweetheart.” Max was dismissive. He turned on his heeland strode to the door, shaking his gray head. “You have absolutelyno idea of the hell you arewishing upon yourself.”
Klara had raised her head, feeling onlysatisfaction. Something I said has finally hurt him!
“Once and for all, both presumptuousmusicians and young rakes alike have been put on notice that PrimaDonna Silber is firmly under the protection of Maximilian vonOettingen.”
“By the Blessed Mother, I shall not be yourslave forever. I swear it.”
Max stopped at the door, one powerful hand resting on the high door latch,gazing back at her.
“The day will come when I will relinquish youto whatever fate devises .” Hespoke evenly, as if this, too, were an outcome he would manipulate.“But, Klara, haven’t your teachers explained that words should beprecise? You are not my slave. A more perfect metaphor would bethat of a little brown nightingale kept in a fine and luxurious cage forher own good .”
“Your pet!”
“My sweet, sweet songbird.” Tenderness, forthe first time in this encounter, entered his voice. “My beautifuland wonderfully talented Nightingale.”
While she wept hopelessly he’d said, “Nowlisten to me, Maria Klara and listen well! I charge you to alwaysremember; I am the one who holds the key to your cage.”
Klara, raising a tear-stained face, caught aglimpse of something Max had certainly had not wanted her to see.The cruel self-confidence of his words did not match hisexpression. He seemed drained, for the first time ever in her eyes,like an old man.
 
* * *
 
“When he took me from Saint Cecilia’s, Ithought I might be a love child of his.” Klara could feelconfession coming, a torrential wave pouring from her soul. For thelast hour she had been trying to swallow the past and its attendantsorrow back, but it was like a huge lump she couldn’t close herthroat around. Besides, his eyes seemed to demand nothing less thanhonesty.
“Count Oettingen?”
“Yes, but I’ve since learned that he alwayshas a singer.” Miserably Klara raised the towel and blew her nose.“He had me educated like a lady, gave me the finest teachers. Heopened the door for me at the Court Theater and I thought he wasthe kindest man in the world—I loved him like a good father! And then he, then he….”
Akos nodded, his eyes darkening withsympathy.
“The night after I had my first big success at the opera. At first I thought Iloved him.” Klara gazed into Akos' eyes, those beautifuleyes , praying not to see the admiration there change todisdain. “I had to.”
He took her hand in his, gently carried it to hismouth and kissed it with as much reverence as he might have kissedthe hand of the Virgin. When he raised his eyes again, he said,“For so many musical women, especially those of great talent, it isoften this way.”
“Ah, Herr Almassy….” His sympathy, his highregard, hurt almost as much as she had earlier imagined his disdainmight. “I am ruined for the love of any honest man.”
Klara rolled her head from side to side ingrief, buried her face in her hands.
“Don’t believe it.” He was stern as he caughther hands, refused to let her hide. “Never say it. He has done hisworst, but he hasn’t touched your soul, Fraulein. It remains pureand bright as your name.”
He drew her close against his slim strength, rocking her and her sorrow,her illness, like a child. The sun came and went, a golden line upon the floor. After a while Akoswhispered against her cheek, “I have heard about Giovanni Lugiati .”
The look on her face, the flush, the rapidrising and falling of her bosom, the renewed tears, told the storyof this next humiliation without words. To keep her from runningfrom him, Akos' strong arms tightened, drawing her against hisshoulder like a baby. Klara, far gone in the momentum ofconfession, was too weak to resist.
The kettle hissed softly; the fire crackled.The rattle and noise of the street, the sound of chatter in theapartment below rose into their silence. Akos held her, gentlyrubbed her back. Klara drew a deep sobbing breath, rested her headagainst the somber black broadcloth that covered his strong shoulder. Now that everything had comeout, she felt exhausted.
After a pause to use her handkerchief, shesaid, “Herr Almassy, I know what I must do. I must take the money Ihave saved and leave Vienna, try to make a life outside of theEmpire. It is a bitter choice, though.” She trembled as she spokethe words, the words which revealed the cross upon which she hung,“to choose between freedom and my art. Oh, when I think of neverstanding upon a great stageagain!”
“A nightingale in a cage.” Akos quietlyrepeated Max’s own words. His strong arms were still around her.His face, serious and beautiful li ke that of a dark angel, studiedher.
“I am not afraid of Count Oettingen, MariaKlara. I will help you fly away. And not to obscurity, but to famein another place. The Count does not command everywhere.”
The room seemed to brighten, to open, at hiswords. A ray of sun, a miracle upon this afternoon of low grayclouds suddenly entered the kitchen.
Klara gazed in wonder. Her hand began a slowtraverse along the bones of his cheek and jaw, deliberately,carefully, as if she were blind and learning him by touch. Akos'strong hand came to make an echoing tracery of her sad, sweet face.Tears dropped bright.
“You mustn’t endanger yourself on my behalf.I must find the strength to do what I must alone.”
“But in this world, as you well know, by therule of law, by the rule of church , a woman has no being butin a man. You will need help.”
Even through the tears, her blue eyesflashed. She had allowed herself to depend upon Giovanni, too, uponhis promises of eternal love. As if he had read her mind, Akossaid, “But, Fraulein Silber, another pledge I will make to you. Itis not my intent to take you from one cage only to seek to put youinto another.”
A sob rose. With those words he piercedstraight to her darkest fear, the fear Max had taught her to knowwhenever she imagined the love of any other man.
Was this truly the miracle for which she’dprayed?
Was there a man on earth not like Max,wanting only to possess, to control, to display?
“Maximilian is not only a powerful nobleman,but he is a man who is said to take pleasure in killing. And youah, sir….”
“A mere musician, but I too have secrets,Maria Klara. Musician Medicus , these are but two of theroles I play. I do not deny that your Count is a formidable enemy,but I am more than he thinks. You shall be free. Yes, you shall befree. I swear it!”
Capturing her hand, he brought to his lips. Thistime when he kissed, his mouth touched, not the back, but made atender salute to the palm. There was a thrill, not only in the warmcaressing, but in his brave words, which filled her winter darkheart with spring-time. She wanted to put her arms around him, tokiss him, but instead she said, “When Max returns, I shall breakwith him for good and all. I shall leave Vienna.”
Akos nodded, but he also pressed his fingersto her lips. That was when Klara heard the footsteps.
“What is this?”
A sharp voice as the door banged open. It wasLiese, big hands resting on her hips as she took in the scene.Behind her came Messer, lugging a shoulder-load of wood.
“What’s wrong, my darling?” In the nextinstant she’d thrown off her cloak. “Herr Messer says you have beencrying.”
After one look at Klara’s swollen pale face,Liese rounded on Akos. “And so she has! Why, who are you, youcriminal? She has been crying terribly! It will surely hurt hervoice!”
“Be quiet, Liese. This is Herr Almassy.”Klara held back a cough long enough to explain. “He isConcertmaster to Prince Vehnsky .He is curing my cold.”
“I told you; he brewed medicine and rubbedthe little mistress’ feet,” Messer said. “She was resting easy at first, but then shestarted to cry.”
“Idiot!” Liese turned toward Messer. “Younever should have let him in here. Now, get into the parlor and geta good fire going. At once!”
As Messer dutifully shuffled off with hisload, she turned back to Almassy ,straightening her plump gray self.
“You, sir, if you value your hide, will leavehere at once.”
“I can’t leave now,” Almassy said. “The treatment is not finished.”
“If you don’t go now, young man, I shallsummon Count Oettingen’s men and they will make you wish youhad.”
“I am not here to make love to yourmistress.” Akos seemed neither awed by nor interested in herthreats. “I belong to the household of Prince Vehnsky , and, as his chamberlain will tell you, I particularly understand thehealing of singers. And healing your lady desperately needs or shewill not sing a note this Carnival season. If you stop me now, theconsequences will be on your head.”
“ Let him alone! Let him finish orI’ll die!” Since Liese had come in, Klara’s whole body had begun tothrob.
“Since the mistress commands, you shall stayand finish whatever this is, but I caution you, sir.

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