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BELLA DEMONIA.

A STORY OF THE FRANCO RUSSIAN WAR,

[By Sbuna Dolako.]

BOOK I".—VIENNA.

CHAPTER I. MASQUERADE BALI.

The grand masquerade at the Vienna Opera House, of the 15th August, 18y«, was at its height. Round about the corridors, in and out of the boxes, over the floor, the stage, and the balconies, surged tho bedlamite crowd of men aud dominoed women, who were enjoying, or trying to enjoy, or pretending to enjoy, the "grand masquerade. _ The scene was gay enough, as novelists say, in all conscience, but it mint be confessed that unless one is a memter of a large and merry party, or unless one has Borne particular intrigue to carry to its more or less lurid termination, a masked ball is the deadliest, dullest, dreariest affair that was over invented for the torture of the long-suffering and ironically so-called "gay world."

On no mind did ttiis circumstance impress itself with drearier persistence than on that of Captain tho Honorable Aubyn Goddard, sometime of the Twentieth Hussars, and now occupying the uncomfortable but none the less on that account eagerly-sought-after position of Queen's Messenger. Captain Goddard wa9 the ideal guardsman of the young lady's dream. Well over the regulation six feet in height, and broad in proportion, his well - balanced head was covered with close-cropped fair hair; his irreproachable moustache was carefully trimmed, and the look of intense boredom on his handsome face gave him a certain Byronic expression that evidently found favor in tho majority of bright eyes that flashed from beneath dominoes of all colors; or at least so it would seem from tho persistency with which the fair—or dark artillerists attacked him, with nod, beck, wreathed smile, nudge, punch, and apology, But Captain Aubyn Goddard seemed invulnerable, for no irritation or challenge seemed able to rouse him from his apathy as he leaned against one of the pilasters at the foot of the grand staircase, and slightly yawned as he watched the procession before him and wondered vaguely on the chance that found him there when he would infinitely rather be in bed. I use the word " chance " advisedly. In his capacity of Queen's Messenger he had arrived in Vienna bearing despatches the previous evening, and early that morning had delivered his despatches at the Austrian Foreign Office, He was to leave on the following afternoon. For the previous five years the political world had been in a ferment over that timehonored bogie, the Eastern Question. In IS7I Mr Gladstone had sat calmly in Whitehall, and uttered no protest, whilst Russia, repudiating the Treaty of Paris of 1856, converted the Black Sea into a Russian lake, and the effete demagogue whom Lord Beaconsfield has handed down to posterity in his famons epigram, as " a sophisticated rhetorician inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity," had rendered the taking of Sevastopol vain, and surrendered all that Europe had won with her blood in the Crimean War. From that time (I>S7l) a cloud had begun to gather in the E ißt, which now threatened to burst and engulf the Balkan Peninsula, and called fortli the historic "Andressy Note" in December, 1875, following on the rising in Herzegovina.

At the sound of Count Andressy's clarion Europe awakened from the sleep into which she had been lulled by successive Liberal Governments and Gladstonian croonings, and throughout IS7C there had been almost daily interchange of despatches between London, Berlin, Vienna, and Constantinople. As a natural consequence, trusty messengers were in increased demand, and Captain Aubyn Goddard having, unlike the majority of men of his years, spent his days as a subaltorn in the study of European politics and languages, had bceu one of the first to receive a commission as one of ller Majesty's postmen, and to commence the nomad career of Queen's Messenger specially detailed for Oriental seavice.

Things were quieting down, and Europe might have had peace, when the deposition and suicide of Abd-ul-Aziz, and the ten days' sultanate of tho imbecile Murad the Fifth, once more gave the malcontents in the Balkan Peninsula the opportunity they had looked for, and brought the present Sultan Abd-ul-Hamid the Second to tho throne, determined to put down the distarbances that threatened to rend asunder the empire founded by tho first Othnian, and consolidated by Suleiman the Magnificent. Some cruelties practiced by the Turkish soldiery at Batak, in Bulgaria, afforded Mr Gladstone, the Irrepressible, an opportunity to fulminate, which no consideration for the welfare of Europe could allow him to let slip, and accordingly he published his incandescent pamphlet on ' Bulgarian Atrocities' that in course of time plunged Europe in war and gave Russia the opportunity she had so long desired to encroach in the southeast and south-west of her dominions.

European Cabinets were preparing for the Conference at Constantinople of January, 1877, and thus we find Captain Aubyn Goddard in Vienna in the August of the preceding year. As the bearer of important despatches, the Queen's Messenger had not thought it expedient to look up any of his convivial acquaintances in the Austrian capital, and after delivering his despatches in the morning he had taken a long and solitary drive, idly wondering how he should kill the hours of that evening and of the following day until he should return to the Foreign Office.

On his return from hiß drive his question was answered for him. As he entered his hotel an envelope was put into his hand. He turned it over and over, profoundly perplexed. What could it mean? Whom oould it be from ? He had apprised no one of his arrival, and tho handwriting was entirely unfamiliar. But that he was known was evident, for the superscription was in full:

To—Captain the Honorable Aubyn God' d.ard.

There was nothing to indicate whether the note was addressed in a male or a female handwriting. At last he came to the conclusion that there was only one solution for the mystery, and that that was inside the envelope. Accordingly he opened it. Nothing ! Not a word of any kind. Only a ticket for the masked ball at the operahouse that evening. Well, there was his evening accounted for. But whence could the ticket have come ? Who had brought it ? A servant in a black livery that gave no indication of his master's rank or nationality. "Anyhow," thought the Queen's Messenger, " I'll go. There can be no harm in that. I know how to take care of myself. No doubt my mysterious host, will reveal his—or her—incognito at the ball." And so he had dined, had strolled out on to the Prater and watched the motley passing panorama of people as he listened to the strains of " unser Strauss," and when the last chords of the march from ' Tannhauser' had exploded into the bhio vault of the sounding-board he stepped into a cab and was deposited at the doors of the Grand Opera-liouße. But that had been two hours previous to the moment when we first set eyes on him, and as yet no solution of the mystery of his presence there had offered itself. The ball was at its height, aud would presently wane. People who had come on business had transacted it and gone away, people who had come after intrigues had found them and were developing them, and people who had wandered in, unattached and for no particular reason, were beginning to have had enough of it, and wero turning their thoughts homeward. Among these latter, as wo havo said, was the Honorable Aubyn Goddard, and he had just stretched himself uud was casting a last look rout-d, after the manner of a man who is about to depart, when a woman passed him. Her figure, which was_ Korgeonsly proportioned, waa entirely clad in a trghtlyfitting domiuo of black satin, heavily brocaded with a raised black embroidery. A hood covered her hair, and a hluck halt mask rendered more brilliant a pair of giaud black eyes that caught hja for an instant aa she

passed, ami the rich crimson of a rather stern mouth, The jaw was massive, and the cotnplexion colorloss. Thus much Goeldard had had time to notice, when his attention was diverted to a shambling, awkward figure that seemed to be following her. It was that of a man in the costume of a medieval jester, that accorded well with his sinister, ugly face. As the woman disappeared in the crowd, Goddard saw the hunchback address her, and saw her shrink from him with a gesture of repulsion, leu ring him biting his nails as lie leered after her for a moment before starting in pursuit.

Captain Goddard, for the first time_ since his arrival, felt an awakening intereit in the scene, and resumed his place against the pilaster, waiting for tho brocaded domino to pass again. Suddenly lie heard an exclamation behind him, and looking round saw the same woman hastily descending the grand staircase. At the same moment the hunchback appeared, shuilling down after her, evidently in hot pursuit. He caught her at the foot of the stairs, and as he passed slipped a piece of paper into her hand, which she instantly dropped. Next moment both hunchback and domino once more disappeared. By this time thoroughly aroused, Goddard stooped and picked up the twisted scrap of paper, though not without a certain sensation that he had no right to do so. He opened it. The paper was blank. "Egad,"' said he to himself, "this is getting interesting. But, despatches or no despatches, that little beast mustn't be allowed to insult that glorious creature." And Captain Goddard—who was only a man, after all—started off in tho direction the pair had taken. His towering frame forced for him a passage through the throng, and he had hardly got halfway around before he found himself immediately behind the brocaded domino. Where was the hunchback ? Ah ! there he was. He had passed the domino, and was just advancing as if to address her when tho woman turned sharply, and was almost thrown into Goddard's arms.

" I beg your pardon," said she in English, without a trace of foreign accent, as she stood irresolute before him.

" I beg yours," replied Goddard. "Can Ibe of any assistance ? I see that you are being annoyed." '* If an utter stranger may so far trespass upon the goodness of a gentleman, may I beg you to conduct me to my carriage V I am alarmed and foolishly upset by this man's persecution." "Certainly," answered Goddard, extending his arm, as he looked round in search of tho hunchback, who had disappeared.

Together they made their way to the entrance. Suddenly the woman spoke : " I beg that you will forgive me, and I hope that you 'will not misunderstand my object in begging your momentary protection, but I felt that as an English gentleman I could trust you not to look upon mo as—asone of these."

"Of course; of course," replied Goddard, feeling, nevertheless, vaguely disappointed. They had reached the grand entrance, and Goddard made as if to turn.

" Not that way," said tho domino. "My carriage is at t'.ie side entrance." "Oh ! " returned the Queen's Messenger, his spirite imperfectly reviving.

She led him down a narrow passage to a door that opened upon a side street. At the kerb stood a perfectly-appointed black coupe, with a single horse of the same color. Goddard opened the door and she stepped iu.

" Will you accept my protection as far as you have to go?" said Goddard, seeing bis " adventuro" vanishing into thin air. " You may not yet bo safe." " No," said she, raising her band as if to atop him. "1 am quite safe now." "Can I direct your coachman 1 " " He needs no directions."

" At least, you will allow mc to call and ascertain that you are quite recovered from your alarm,'' pleaded Goddard, despaiririqly. The woman appeared to reflect for a moment, and then she said : " If 1 give you that permission, will you promise not to make any inquiries about me, and to forget afterwards that we ever met?"

" Yeb "—this desperately. " On your honor?" " Very well," and she took a card from the rack before her and scribbled a word or two on it in pencil, saying as she handed it to him : " Do me the pleasure to breakfast with me at this address at twelve to-morrow, or rather to-day." "I will be punctual." "That is well. And now, good night. Au revoir, and a thousand thanks, Cajilain. Aubi/n Goddard!" Bis name! She knew it! He started back to get a better view of the carriage. Instantly the door was slummed from the iniide, and the coupe dashed off and was lost in the dimly-lighted street. Goddard took the card which he held in his hand to the nearest lamp. On it was engraved, in tiny capitals— THE BAKON'ESS ALTIJORIT, and an address was added in pencil. " Well, I'm damned !" remarked Captain Aubyn Goddard to himself, as he lit a cigar and walked round to the main entrance of the Opera-house as a point of departure for his stroll borne in the moonlight. ( To be continued.)

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890622.2.36.5

Bibliographic details

BELLA DEMONIA., Issue 7940, 22 June 1889, Supplement

Word Count
2,196

BELLA DEMONIA. Issue 7940, 22 June 1889, Supplement

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