The Emperors Candlesticks

Baroness Emmuska Orczy
The Emperor's Candlesticks
by Baroness Orczy
GAY, chic Vienna was en fête. What would you? Shrove Tuesday is
the very last day, allowed by our Holy Mother the Church for revelry,
before the long austere forty days of Lent, and if we do not make use of
her full permission to enjoy ourselves, to the full extent of out capacity,
we shall have nothing left to atone for to-morrow, when the good
fathers place the cross of ashes on our foreheads, and bid us remember
that dust we are, to dust return.
Therefore Vienna was drinking the overflowing cup of pleasure to-day;
had been drinking in it in its gaily lighted streets and boulevards, and
was now enjoying its last drops at the opera ball, the climax to a
carnival that had been unusually brilliant this year.
And in the hall, where but two nights ago the harmonious discords of
Wagner's "Niebelungen" had enchanted and puzzled a
seriously-minded audience, to-night Pierrots and Pierrettes, Fausts and
Marguerites, nymphs, fairies, gnomes and what-nots chased each other
with merry cries and loud laughter, to the sweet tunes of Strauss'
melodious, dreamy waltzes; while the boxes, each filled with spectators
eager to watch, though afraid to mingle in the giddy throng, showed
mysterious dominoes and black masks, behind which gleamed eyes
rendered bright with suppressed excitement at the intoxicating
spectacle below.
"Come down, fair domino, I know thee," whispered a richly dressed
odalisque, whose jewelled mask could not outshine the merry twinkle
of her black eyes beneath. She had placed one dainty hand on the ledge

of a pit tier box, in which two black dominoes had sat for some time,
partially hidden by the half-drawn curtains, and had watched the gay
throng beneath them for some half-hour or so, apparently unnoticed.
The taller of the two dominoes bent forward, trying to pierce the
enterprising houri's disguise.
"Nay! if you know me, fair mask, come up to me, and let me renew an
acquaintance that should have never been dropped!"
But she had once more disappeared as swiftly as she had come, and the
black domino, whose curiosity was aroused, tried vainly to distinguish
her graceful figure among the glitter of the moving crowd.
"I wonder our sober dresses succeeded in drawing that gay butterfly's
attention," he said, turning to his companion, "and what her object was
in speaking to me, if she did not mean to continue the causerie."
"Oh, it is the usual way with these gay Viennese bourgeoisies," replied
his companion; "your Imperial Highness has been sitting too much in
the shade of that curtain, and the odalisque thought your obvious desire
to remain hidden, an object of interest."
The taller domino now lent forward in the box, his opera-glass glued to
his mask, eagerly scanning the crowd; but, though numerous Moorish
and Turkish veiled figures passed backwards and forwards, he did not
recognise the enterprising odalisque among them.
"Look not for the good that lies far away when the best is so close at
hand," whispered a mocking voice, close to his elbow.
The black domino turned sharply round, just in time to catch hold of a
little hand, which had crept round the column, that separated the box in
which he was sitting, from the adjoining one.
"The best is still too far," he whispered; "is it unattainable?"
"Always try to obtain the best," replied the mocking voice, "even at the

risk of scaling the inaccessible walls of an opera-box."
"I cannot get to thee, fair mask, without momentarily letting go this tiny
hand, and it is never safe to let a bird, even for a moment, out of its
"Black Domino, we often must risk the lesser to obtain the great," said
the odalisque maliciously.
"I entreat your Imperial Highness to remain here," said the second
domino imploringly; "you are here incognito: I am the only one in
attendance on you Highness, and -"
"All the more reason why it should be possible, for one brief moment,
for a Tsarvitch to do as he likes," retorted the taller domino laughingly.
And, before his companion had time to add another word of warning,
the young man had, with the freedom which King Carnival always
allows at such a time and in such places, climbed the ledge of the box,
and scrambled with youthful alacrity into the one that contained his
mysterious bright-eyed houri.
But alas! for the waywardness and fickleness of the daughters of the
East, no sooner had the black domino safely reached terra firma once
more, after his perilous climb, than the swift opening and shutting of a
door told him but too plain that the will-o'-the-wisp wished to evade
him yet again.
What young man is there, be him prince or peasant, who would
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