He engulfed my hand in his, as familiarly as if I had invited him to. “It’s silly, actually, all the fuss,” he went on. “Marches and dances. That’s all the music anyone needs.”
After delivering this remarkably brainless opinion, he waved at the Baronesses’ most imposing footman.
“Hey, Anton! Get me some brandy, will you?”
“I’m sorry, Major.” Anton had the build of a blacksmith, but I could tell he wasn’t happy to deny von Hagen. “My mistress says you are to have anything you wish, but not a drop more drink.”
“And just why is that, you jackass?” the dark haired giant at my side said.
The servant, face impassive, straightened. “Forgive me, sir, but the Baroness is of the opinion that your new horse is too spirited for a man as drunk as you…seem to be. She says she would never forgive herself if you broke your neck on the way back to town.”
For a moment I thought von Hagen would strike the servant, but again he surprised me.
“By God!” He burst out with a riotous baritone laugh, “She’s right and so are you, damn you! Bring me chocolate, then. Enough for this lady, too.”
If I’d imagined that this apparent reasonableness was a forecast of better behavior, I was quickly disappointed. No sooner had Anton left, then von Hagen turned to me and said, “A beauty like you shouldn’t rush to get married, you know, especially to a musiker. They never have any money.”
“Herr Mozart is a Kapellmeister, not a mere musiker,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster. Into his widening grin I added, “Kapellmeister Gluck hasn’t done badly for himself. And neither has Signor Salieri.”
Von Hagen chuckled. “Ah, but you’re overlooking something, Fraulein. Those two are ass-kissers. Both of ‘em. And your man, little Fraulein, is not. Don’t you know that you’ve got to be an extraordinary ass-kisser to get an appointment in Vienna?”
He leaned closer. Had I a candle in hand, I could have set fire to his breath.
“Has it ever occurred to you,” he said, the lashes of one eye coming together in a lazy wink, “that there are roles other than Hausfrau that a pretty girl like yourself could play?”
“Sir! How dare you?” I tried to get up, but somehow he’d got hold of my hands.
A lively contradanse was in progress, the wide wooden floor resounding with the uniform strike of feet. Even that tuneful noise did not drown out his next remark.
“God’s Blood! You’re a beauty! Angry women always are. The only time they’re prettier is when they’re on their backs.”
Outrage extricated one of my hands. I delivered the hardest slap of which I was capable to the handsome face.
“Temper! Temper!” he cried, laughing and shaking his head. He caught my hand on the rebound.
Glowing as if I’d kissed him, he mused, “I really must be in bad shape. First the old tigress lands one on me and now her newest little kitten.”
The wicked smile grew; the dark eyes postively glowed. “Oh, but you must forgive me, pretty little Fraulein. Forgive me! I really was terribly rude, most terribly, terribly rude. But it’s your own fault, you know, for being such an adorable little angel.”
Unbelievable! Now he leaned forward in an attempt to kiss me.
“Let go,” I hissed, frantically struggling with him.
“Let go? Oh, no. Absolutely not! Not until we’ve danced. That’s your penalty for hitting. I’m a very good dancer and I’m really very sorry, very, very sorry that I was so terribly, terribly rude.”
If one thing was clear, it was that he wasn’t the least bit sorry. He was laughing, already on his feet, dragging me after him.
“Come on, sweetheart, let’s dance. I’m sure Madame Baroness has forgiven me by now.”
He wouldn’t let me go, and just as he said, he really was a very good dancer. After we joined the others, charm fairly oozed from him. We danced our way through several progressions, this Wilde Bube now emanating nothing but gallantry and grace. I’m ashamed to admit that the envious looks of the other girls was a heady experience, too.
Suddenly, I heard the Baroness call.
Christoph winked, then let me go after pressing a lingering kiss upon my hand.
As I trotted to her, she patted the divan, indicating that I was to sit as close as her full skirts would allow. Something in her expression told me that it might be prudent to begin a defense at once.
“Major von Hagen…um…insisted that I dance with him, your Ladyship. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Of course, my darling.” The Baroness rolled her eyes at Madame Podleska. “That is why I called you here,” she said in her most motherly tone. She seized my hands that still tingled with the rogue’s kisses.
“Now listen to your Mistress, Fraulein Weber,” she said severely. “Major von Hagen can be terribly charming…when the mood strikes him. Since he was a darling little boy I’ve indulged him and now, no matter what he does, I can’t seem to stop. Sadly, he’s become a gambler and the most heartless rake. He’s far too dangerous for you, little one.”
Long fingers lifted my chin, and her strange, pale eyes gazed deep into mine. “So, a dance or two, my angel, but promise me that you’ll be very, very careful. He’s made a fool of far more worldly women than you.”
~ ~ ~