emotions, though Charlotte had completely accepted her mother’s choice, and Emily largely so. Only their grandmother remained horrified. But then, Mariah Ellison had made a profession out of disapproving. Caroline’s second husband, Joshua Fielding, belonged to an acting troupe, was Caroline’s junior by many years, and was Jewish to boot. Caroline’s marriage to him gave Grandmama more than ample opportunity to express all her pent- up prejudices. That Caroline was thoroughly happy with Joshua only added insult to the injury.

It made Charlotte happy to think that Emily seemed to be learning how to love in a different, more unselfish way, a way that was more protective, more mature. It meant she herself was becoming more mature. Not that the ambition was gone! It was very much present, woven into the fiber of Emily’s character.

Charlotte also understood the defensive posture Emily had adopted earlier. Charlotte felt the same tigress- like instinct to protect Pitt; but she also knew that in his new position, there was little with which she could help. He was on far more unfamiliar ground than even Jack was; though Jack’s family had had no money, it did have aristocratic connections in half the counties in England. Pitt was the mere son of a gamekeeper.

But if Charlotte were to attempt to protect him, she would not signal it as clearly as Emily had done earlier. Charlotte knew Pitt would hate that! She wasn’t sure whether Jack would too.

When the performance was over and the applause died down, the conversations resumed, and Charlotte soon found herself talking to a most unusual woman.

She was probably in her late thirties, like Charlotte herself, but in all other ways she was quite different. She was dressed in a huge-skirted gown the color of candlelight through brandy, and she was so slender as to look fragile. The bones of her neck and shoulders appeared as if they might break if she were bumped too roughly. There were blue veins just visible beneath her milk-white skin, and her hair was so dark as to be nearly black. Her eyes were dark-lashed and heavy-lidded above her high cheekbones, her mouth soft and generous. To Charlotte it was a face that was instantly likeable. She felt the moment their eyes met that the mysterious woman had a great strength.

She introduced herself as Adriana Blantyre. Her voice was very low, just a trifle husky, and she spoke with an accent so slight that Charlotte had to strain her ears to make certain she had really heard it.

Adriana’s husband was tall and dark, and he too had a remarkable face. At a glance he was handsome, yet there was far more to him than a mere balance or regularity of feature. Once Charlotte had met his eyes, she kept looking back at him because of their intelligence, and the fierceness of his emotion. There was a grace in the way he stood, but no ease. She felt Pitt watching her curiously as she looked at the man, and yet she did not stop herself.

Evan Blantyre was an ex-diplomat, particularly interested in the eastern Mediterranean.

“A marvelous place, the Mediterranean,” he said, facing Charlotte, and yet speaking almost to himself. “Part of Europe, and yet at the gateway to a world far older, and civilizations that prefigure ours and from which we are sprung.”

“Such as Greece?” Charlotte asked, not having to feign interest. “And maybe Egypt?”

“Byzantium, Macedonia, and before that Troy,” he elaborated. “The world of Homer, imagination and memory at the root of our thoughts, and the concepts from which they rise.”

Charlotte could not let him go unchallenged, not because she disbelieved him but because there was an arrogance in him that she was compelled to probe.

“Really? I would have thought Judea was the place at the root of our thoughts,” she argued.

He smiled widely, seizing on her interest. “Judea certainly, for the roots of faith, but not of thought, or, if you prefer, philosophy, the love of wisdom rather than commanded belief. I chose my words with care, Mrs. Pitt.”

Now she knew exactly what he meant, and that he had been deliberately baiting her, but she also saw that there was intense conviction behind what he said. There was no pretense in the passion of his voice.

She smiled at him. “I see. And which of our modern civilizations carry the torch of that philosophy now?” It was a challenge, and she meant him to answer.

“Ah.” Now he was ignoring the others in their group. “What an interesting question. Not Germany, all brightly polished and looking for something brave and brash to do. Not really France, although it has a uniquely piquant sophistication. Italy has sown the seeds of much glory, yet it is forever quarrelling within itself.” He made a rueful and elegant gesture.

“And us?” Charlotte asked him, her tone a little sharper than she had meant it to be.

“Adventurers,” he replied without hesitation. “And shopkeepers to the world.”

“So no present-day heirs?” she said, with sudden disappointment.

“Austro-Hungary,” he replied too quickly to conceal his own feelings. “It has inherited the mantle of the old Holy Roman Empire that bound Europe into one Christian unity after the fall of Rome itself.”

Charlotte was startled. “Austria? But it is ramshackle, all but falling apart, isn’t it? Unless all we are told of it is nonsense?”

Now he was amused, and he allowed her to see it. There was warmth in his smile, but also a bright and hard irony.

“I thought I was baiting you, Mrs. Pitt, and I find instead that you are baiting me.” He turned to Pitt. “I underestimated your wife, sir. Someone mentioned that you are head of Special Branch. If that is indeed true, then I should have known better than to imagine that you would choose a wife purely for her looks, however charming.”

Pitt was smiling now too. “I was not head of Special Branch at the time,” he replied. “But I was ambitious, and hungry enough to reach for the best with no idea of my own limitations.”

“Excellent!” Blantyre applauded him. “Never allow your dreams to be limited. You should aim for the stars. Live and die with your arms outstretched and your eyes seeking the next goal.”

“Evan, you are talking nonsense,” Adriana said quietly, looking first at Charlotte, then at Pitt, judging their reactions. “Aren’t you ever afraid people will believe you?”

“Do you believe me, Mrs. Pitt?” Blantyre inquired, his eyes wide, still challenging.

Charlotte looked at him directly. She was quite sure of her answer.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Blantyre, because I don’t think you mean me to, but yes, I do believe you.”

“Bravo!” he said quietly. “I have found a sparring partner worth my efforts.” He turned to Pitt. “Does your position involve dealing with the Balkans, Mr. Pitt?”

Pitt glanced at Jack and Emily-who had now moved farther away and were engaged in conversation elsewhere-then back at Blantyre.

“With anyone whose activities might threaten the peace or safety of Britain,” he replied, the levity wiped from his face.

Blantyre’s eyebrows rose. “Even if in northern Italy, or Croatia? In Vienna itself?”

“No,” Pitt told him, keeping his expression agreeable, as if they were playing a parlor game of no consequence. “Only on British soil. Farther afield would be Mr. Radley’s concern. As I’m sure you know.”

“Of course.” Blantyre nodded. “That must be challenging for you, to know when you can act, and when you must leave the action to someone else. Or am I being unsophisticated? Is it actually more a matter of how you do a thing rather than what you do?”

Pitt smiled without answering.

“Does your search for information ever take you abroad?” Blantyre continued, completely unperturbed. “You would love Vienna. The quickness of wit, and the music. There is so much music there that is new, innovative in concept, challenging to the mind. I daresay they are musicians you have never heard of, but you will. Above all, there is a breadth of thought in a score of subjects: philosophy, science, social mores, psychology, the very fundamentals of how the human mind works. There is an intellectual imagination there that will very soon lead the world in some areas.”

He gave a slight mocking shrug, as if to deny the heat of his feelings. “And of course there is the traditional as well.” He turned to look at Adriana. “Do you remember dancing all night to Mr. Strauss’s music? Our feet ached, the dawn was paling the sky, and yet if the orchestra had played into the daylight hours, we could not have kept still.”

The memory was there in Adriana’s eyes, but Charlotte was certain she also saw a shadow cross her face.

“Of course I do,” Adriana answered. “No one who has waltzed in Vienna ever completely forgets it.”

Charlotte looked at her, fascinated by the romance of dancing to the music of the Waltz King. “You actually

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