I’m buried in the as-yet-untitled Waterloo book this weekend, so I thought I’d post another teaser from Vienna Waltz. This is Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne’s (again I’m keeping their original names in the teaser) meeting with Franz Schubert.
What real historical composers, authors, and visual artists would you like to see Charles and Mel meet? Under what circumstances?
Do check out this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition. It’s a letter Raoul leaves for Mélanie in the event he doesn’t survive events surrounding Napoleon’s escape and attempt to return to power. You can post thoughts on it here as well (or on the Fraser Correspondence page).
The tentative voice came from a short distance away. A slight young man stood a few feet from the table, fingering the brim of the worn top hat he held in his hands. Dark hair curled in disorder about his face and wire rimmed spectacles shielded his eyes.
Charles pushed back his chair. “You have the advantage of me.”
The spectacled man stepped closer. He was very young, Charles saw, probably still in his teens. “Can you tell me–are the rumors about Princess Tatiana true?”
Charles swallowed, his throat scorched. “I’m afraid so.”
A spasm of grief crossed the young man’s face. Charles touched his arm and pressed him into an empty chair. “Sit. It’s a shock to everyone.”
Tears welled behind the young man’s spectacles. He pulled off the spectacles and dashed an impatient hand across his face, then dug in his pocket and tugged out a handkerchief, covered with pencil scratches. Musical notes, Charles realized. He pulled out his own handkerchief and put it in the young man’s hand instead. “How did you know the princess?” Tatiana’s tastes hadn’t tended to run to schoolboys, though with Tania one never knew.
“She did me the kindness to take an interest in my music.” The young man dried his face with Charles’s handkerchief and hooked his spectacles back over his ears.
“Ah.” Charles glanced at the handkerchief with the musical notations, dropped forgotten on the table. “You play the pianoforte? Or the violin?” He signaled a waiter to bring a cup of coffee.
“The pianoforte.” The young man stared at the interwoven white threads of the tablecloth, as though looking into a reality he could not accept. “And I compose. When I’m not teaching in my father’s school.”
“Tatiana loved music.” For a moment, Charles could feel the warmth of Tania’s arm gliding across his own as they played a cross-hand duet.
The waiter brought the coffee. Charles stirred a generous amount of sugar into it and put it into the young musician’s hand. He stared into the steaming cup for a moment, then took a quick swallow. “Last month she attended the premiere of a mass I composed. My first.”
“Of course,” Charles said, the pieces falling into place in his head. “You must be Franz Schubert.”
The young man blinked. “How do you know?”
“Tatiana mentioned the mass. She was very moved.” Charles turned to Mélanie. “My wife Mélanie, Herr Schubert.”
Schubert inclined his head. “Frau Fraser.”
“Princess Tatiana spoke to you after the mass?” Mélanie asked.
Schubert nodded, flushing. “She said she had little interest in religion, but that the music–that it transported her.”
Charles smiled. “That sounds very like Tatiana.”
The young man looked up with a quick answering smile. “She could say the most outrageous things. And yet she always knew just how to put one at ease. She was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.”
“Yes, she could be kind,” Charles said, though it wasn’t a word he’d often heard associated with Tania. He could feel Mélanie’s gaze on him.
“She asked me if I had any music of a more secular sort, and I brought her some of my songs.” Schubert took another fortifying sip of sugar-laced coffee.
Charles folded the handkerchief with the musical notes, careful not to smudge the pencil, and handed it back to Schubert. “How did you know I was acquainted with Tatiana?”
“She spoke of you, sir.” Schubert tucked the handkerchief into his pocket. “Frequently. She said you were the one man in Vienna she knew she could–“ Schubert hesitated. Though he didn’t look at Mélanie, Charles knew he was wondering at the wisdom of speaking so freely before Tatiana’s friend’s wife. “The one man in Vienna she knew she could rely upon.”
Charles leaned back in his chair. “Princess Tatiana was an old friend.”
“Of course.” Schubert cast a quick glance round the café, then hunched forward. “The last time I saw her she was most anxious for you to return to Vienna, sir.”
Charles’s fingers stilled on his coffee cup. “When was this?”
“The afternoon she– The afternoon of the day she was killed.” Schubert tossed down a swallow of coffee so quickly it must have burned his throat. “I’d stopped by the Palm Palace to bring her some new songs. I found her– Not in the best humor.”
“In a temper, was she?”
Schubert flushed. “There were shards of porcelain on the floor. I think she’d smashed a comfit dish.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.” And more than once, the smashed objects had been hurled at Charles’s head. He caught Mélanie’s gaze out of the corner of his eye and suspected she’d divined as much.
“I asked her what the trouble was,” Schubert said. “I told her I was at her service. She shook her head and said it was just that she’d learned something disquieting. Then she said–“ He hesitated again, then spoke in a rush, capturing Tania’s accents to the like. “Why the devil does Charles have to be gone from Vienna just when I need him most?”