danced when Mr. Strauss conducted the orchestra?” she asked with awe.

“Indeed,” Blantyre responded. “No one else can give music quite the same magic. It makes one feel as if one must dance forever. We watched the moon rise over the Danube, and talked all night with the most amazing people: princes, philosophers, artists, and scientists.”

“Have you met the emperor Franz Josef?” Charlotte pursued. “They say he is very conservative. Is that true?” She told herself it was to keep the conversation innocuous, but she was caught up in this dream portait of Vienna, the new inventions and new ideas of society. It was a world she herself would never see, but-at least as Blantyre had told it-Vienna was the heart of Europe. It was the place of the genesis of new ideas that would spread throughout the whole continent one day, and beyond.

“Yes, I have, and it is true.” Blantyre was smiling but the emotion in his face was intense. There was a passion in him that was urgent, electric.

“A grim man, with a devil on his shoulder,” he went on, watching her face as closely as she was watching his. “A contradiction of a man. More disciplined than anyone else I know. He sleeps on an army bed and rises at some ungodly hour long before dawn. And yet he fell madly in love with Elisabeth, seven years younger than himself, sister of the woman his father wished him to marry.”

“The empress Elisabeth?” Charlotte said with even sharper interest. There was a vitality in Blantyre that intrigued her. She was unsure whether he spoke with such intensity merely to entertain, or possibly to impress, or whether his passion for his subject was really so fierce that he had no control over it.

“The very same,” Blantyre agreed. “He overrode all opposition. He would not be denied.” Now the admiration in his face was undisguised. “They married, and by the time she was twenty-one she had given birth to her third child, her only son.”

“A strange mixture of rigidity and romance,” she said thoughtfully. “Are they happy?”

She felt Pitt’s hand touching her arm, but it was too late to withdraw the remark. She glanced at Adriana and saw in her eyes an emotion she could not read at all: a brilliance, a pain, and something she was trying very hard to conceal. Becoming aware of Charlotte’s gaze on her, she looked away.

“No,” Blantyre said frankly. “She is somewhat bohemian in her tastes, and highly eccentric. She travels all over Europe wherever she can.”

Charlotte wanted to make some light remark that would ease the tension and turn the conversation away from her misjudged question, but she thought now that such a thing would be obvious, and only make matters worse.

“Perhaps it was a case of falling in love with a dream that one did not really understand,” she said quietly.

“How very perceptive of you. You are rather alarming, Mrs. Pitt.” Blantyre said this with pleasure, and a distinct respect. “And very honest!”

“I think you mean ‘indiscreet,’ ” she said ruefully. “Perhaps we had better return to Mr. Strauss and his music. I believe his father was a noted composer as well?”

“Ah, yes.” He drew a deep breath and his smile was a little wry. “He composed the ‘Radetzky March.’ ”

At the farther side of the room was Victor Narraway, newly elevated and a somewhat reluctant member of the House of Lords. He suddenly smiled as he saw Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould. She was now of an age that it would be indelicate to mention, but she still had the beauty that had made her famous. She walked with the grace of an empress, but without the arrogance. Her silver hair was her crown. As always, she was dressed in the height of fashion. She was tall enough to carry off the huge, puffed upper sleeves that were in style, and she clearly found her great sweeping skirt no encumbrance.

He was still watching her, with the pleasure of friendship, when she turned slightly and saw him. She did not move, but waited for him to come to her.

“Good evening, Lady Vespasia,” he said warmly. “You have just made all the trivialities of attending such an event worthwhile.”

“Good evening, my lord,” she replied with laughter in her eyes.

“That is unnecessary!” Now he felt self-conscious, which was a very rare thing for him. He had held extraordinary power, discreetly, for most of his adult life, first as a member of Special Branch, then for the last decade and a half as its head. But it was a new experience for him to be given such social deference.

“You will have to get used to it, Victor,” she said gently. “Elevation to the peerage gains a different kind of influence.”

“Their lordships’ deliberations are mostly a lot of pontificating,” he replied a trifle sourly. “Very often for the sound of their own voices. No one else is listening.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Have you just discovered that?”

“No, of course not. But now that no one is obliged to listen to me, I miss the pretense of respect, but far more, I miss the knowledge of my own purpose.”

She caught the pain in his voice, even though he had tried to mask it with lightness. He knew she had heard it and he was not sure if he wished he had been cleverer at concealing it, or that she knew him less well. But perhaps the comfort of friendship was of greater value than the privacy that came from not being understood.

“You will find a cause worth risking something for,” she assured him. “Or if none presents itself, you will create one. There is enough stupidity and injustice in the world to last us both the rest of our lives.”

“Is that supposed to comfort me?” he said with a smile.

She raised her silver eyebrows. “Certainly! To be without purpose is the same as being dead, only less peaceful.” She laughed very delicately. It was a mere whisper of amusement, but he knew she meant it passionately. He remembered her speaking once, only briefly, of her participation in the revolutions against oppression that had fired Europe almost half a century ago. They had rocked the entire continent. For a few short months, hope of a new democracy, freedom to speak and write as one chose, had flared wild and bright. People met together and talked all night, planning new laws, an equality that had never existed before, only to see their hope snuffed out. In France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, all the old tyrannies were restored with barely any change. The barricades were swept away and the emperors and kings sat back on their thrones.

“I have grown used to being given my causes without the effort of looking for them,” he admitted. “I accept the rebuke.”

“It was not meant as a rebuke, my dear,” she answered. “I would welcome your assistance in finding something worthy of doing myself.”

“Nonsense,” he said very softly, looking across the room to where Pitt and Charlotte were speaking with Evan Blantyre. Looking at Charlotte caused a sudden catch in his breath, a twist of his heart. The memories of their time in Ireland were still far from healing. He had always known that it was his dream alone; she had been there only to help him, and in so doing, to help Pitt. It was Pitt whom she loved. It always would be. “Right now I am sure you are very much occupied in worrying about whether Pitt is going to be eaten by the lions,” he said, looking back at her.

“Oh, dear! Am I so transparent?” Vespasia looked momentarily crestfallen.

“Only because I am worrying about the same thing,” he told her, pleased that she had not denied it. It said something for their friendship that she had owned the concern. Now she met his eyes, her anxiety undisguised.

“Are you afraid he will retain his respect for the upper classes, and defer to them even if he suspects them of treason?” he asked her.

“Certainly not!” she responded without hesitation. “He has been a policeman far too long to do anything so idiotic! He is painfully aware of our weaknesses. Have you already forgotten that miserable affair at the palace? I assure you, the Prince of Wales has not! Were it not for the queen’s own personal gratitude to Pitt, he would not have the position he does now, nor, very likely, any position at all!”

Narraway pulled his mouth into a bitter line at the memory. He knew His Royal Highness was still carrying a deep grudge about the whole fiasco. It was not forgiveness that stayed his hand, it was his mother’s iron will and strong personal loyalty to those who had served her with grace, and at the risk of their own lives.

But Victoria was old, and the shadows around her were growing ever longer.

“Does the prince’s anger concern you?” he asked Vespasia.

She gave a shrug so slight it hardly moved the deep lavender silk of her gown. “Not immediately. By the time

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