Less than two months until the release date for Vienna Waltz! Here’s another excerpt, the first scene involving Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary, another of the real historical figures who feature prominently in the book. This scene follows directly on the escape through the streets of Vienna I posted a bit ago.
Also, be sure to check out this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition. It’s the letter Raoul leaves with Lady Frances for Charles. I learned some interesting things about Raoul writing it. Let me know what you think (next week I’ll post an additional letter Raoul writes to Charles about Mélanie).
“Good evening, sir.” Charles drew aside the curtains and handed Mélanie through the window. “My apologies for the inopportune entrance.”
“Never mind about that. I’m used to them. We need— Good God! I thought you’d gone to Baroness Arnstein’s after the opera, Mélanie.”
Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and representative at the Congress of Vienna, stood by a round table that held a single lit taper, the only illumination in the room other than the coals glowing in the porcelain stove in the corner. His fair hair gleamed smooth, and he wore a dark blue dressing gown beneath which his cravat was still impeccably tied.
“I was at Fanny von Arnstein’s.” Mélanie breathed in the sweet relief of level ground beneath her feet and warm air coming from the stove. “I was called away.”
Castlereagh stared at her in the dim light as though he could not make sense of what he was seeing. Mélanie looked down. Her gauze overskirt was in tatters, the satin beneath was torn to reveal her corset and chemise, and in addition to the gash on her arm, she had scrapes on both her hands.
“What in God’s name were you doing dragging your wife into this?” Castlereagh asked Charles.
“I wouldn’t precisely say I dragged her.” Charles pulled a handkerchief from his breeches pocket and wiped the dirt and blood from his hands, then walked through the shadows to a table with decanters. Mélanie heard the clink of crystal and the slosh of liquid. “Do you mind, sir? I think Mélanie and I are both in need of fortification. It’s a bit of a strain having someone try to kill you.”
“Someone–“ Castlereagh’s finely arced brows drew together. “Who the devil tried to kill you?”
“I’m not sure. There were several of them. The man we tried to question was killed himself. After that the first imperative seemed to be to get out of there alive.” Charles crossed back to Mélanie and gave her one of the glasses. He squeezed her fingers as he put the crystal in her hand.
She took a sip. Cognac, of the best quality, available to the British without the need to resort to smugglers now the war with France had ended. It rushed to her head with welcome warmth. She looked down at the glass and saw blood smeared on the crystal from the cut on Charles’s hand.
Castlereagh struck a flint against steel. A lamp flared to life. “My dear Mélanie, you must be exhausted after your ordeal. I’m sure you are eager to go down to your room. I fear I need to speak with Charles before I can send him after you.”
Charles took a long drink from his own glass. “She needs to stay for this.”
“She knows too much.”
Castlereagh fixed Charles with a hard gaze. “You’re invaluable, Charles. But not indispensable. You’d be wise to remember that.”
“Believe me, sir, I’m well aware of it. But at the moment we both need each other.”
Charles’s gaze clashed with the Foreign Secretary’s across the room. All the wellborn young men Castlereagh had brought to the Congress of Vienna as attachés were expected to have myriad talents. To make small talk in five languages, to dance the waltz into the small hours and then return to the embassy and draft the third revision of a white paper before dawn. They were also expected to comb though diplomatic waste baskets for discarded laundry lists and bootmaker’s bills that might be code for something much more serious and to break those codes and pass them on to the Foreign Secretary. Every diplomat at the Congress was something of an intelligence agent. But Charles’s skills were more formidable than most. Though Charles and Lord Castlereagh frequently disagreed, Mélanie knew the Foreign Secretary had a great deal of respect for her husband. He gave him far more latitude than any of his other attachés.
Now Castlereagh inclined his head a fraction of an inch. “Start at the beginning.”
Charles drew a shield-back chair forward and handed Mélanie into it. Then he paced across the room and leaned against the drinks table. He took another deep swallow from his own glass. “Tatiana Kirsanova is dead.”
“I know,” Castlereagh said. “Why do you think I said we were in the devil of a fix?”
Charles’s head snapped up. “My compliments, sir. I didn’t realize your sources of information were quite so efficient.”
“You’re an excellent agent, Charles, but not the only one in my employ.” Castlereagh dropped into a wing-back chair. “Given Princess Tatiana’s role, I’d be remiss if I didn’t have a source among her staff. One of the kitchenmaids sent the news an hour since. Deuced inconvenient.”
Charles slammed his glass down on the drinks table. “She’s dead.”
“And I’m sorry for it. It’s still inconvenient.”
“God damn it, sir–“
“No time for personal feelings, Charles.” Castlereagh rested his fair head against the blue velvet of the chair. “How did you learn of it?”
Charles reached for his glass. The light bounced off his signet ring. Mélanie, used to reading the signs, knew her husband’s fingers were not quite steady. “I discovered the body.”
“Good God. The princess–“
“Sent for me tonight.” Charles stared at a bloodstain on his cuff that might be his own or Princess Tatiana’s. “At least the message seemed to come from her. I begin to question if it really did. She also seemingly sent for Tsar Alexander and Prince Metternich.”
“At the same time?”
“Quite. And she sent for Mélanie.”
Castlereagh’s gaze shot to Mélanie, then back to Charles. “You got there first?”
Charles nodded. “An hour or so after she died. Her throat had been cut. Seemingly by someone she knew and trusted.”
He took another sip of cognac. For a moment, his gaze was raw as an open wound. Mélanie’s own glass nearly tumbled from her fingers at the naked pain in her husband’s eyes. “I saw a man in the street in front of the house a few minutes later,” she said, a little too quickly. “I couldn’t make out any more than that he wore a greatcoat and top hat. He looked up at the window of the room in which the princess died. Then he disappeared.”
Castlereagh regarded her, his fine-boned face set in harsh lines. “What did the princess write to get you to call on her?”
Mélanie fingered a fold of tattered gauze. “Just that she had something important to tell me.”
“All things considered,” Charles said, his gaze armored again, “we’d better tell Castlereagh the whole truth. We can trust him as far as we can trust anyone.”
“Thank you,” Castlereagh said in a dry voice.
Mélanie swallowed. “Princess Tatiana wrote that she had something to say to me concerning Charles.”
Castlereagh grimaced. His gaze moved to Charles. “It can’t be coincidence. This must be connected to her other activities.”
“Probably. The question is how.”
“I hate to seem inquisitive,” Mélanie said, “but if you want me in this discussion, it would help if I knew what was going on.”
Charles regarded her. The moment of vulnerability was so completely gone she might have imagined it. Wariness was written in the lean, elegant lines of his body. His white shirt, splotched with blood and soot, gleamed in the shadows. “Princess Tatiana has been supplying us with information.”
Mélanie stared at her husband. “Are you saying Princess Tatiana was a spy?”
“She dealt in information,” Charles said. “Most people at the Congress do, one way or another.”