O danke nicht fur diese Lieder
mir ziemt es, dankbar Dir zu sein;
Du gabst sie mir, ich gebe wieder,
was jetzt und einst und ewig Dein.
IT was a small concert hall, holding less than eight hundred people; what it lacked in size it made up for in sumptuousness. The seats were red velvet plush, the carpets had been made to order in France, the murals on the ceiling, showing the whole court of Apollo, were the beautifully restored work of Giorgione. All the railings on the high-stacked balconies were the finest baroque carved wood covered with gold leaf. The orchestra pit was not large, accommodating thirty musicians in a pinch, and for that reason the hall was rarely used for anything other than baroque music.
Tonight was an exception: a concert of art songs with two singers and a piano accompaniment, and the hall was filled, for although the program was fairly unexciting, the baritone and the mezzo-soprano had a large and enthusiastic following, and the charity which the concert benefited was socially popular.
Baronessa Alexis dalla Piaggia occupied the box immediately to the left of what was still designated the Royal Box. She was a self-possessed forty-four years old, of sleek and lean New England good looks which contrasted oddly but not unattractively with the soft Roman extravagance of her silken peach-colored gown. The Barone was away for a month in Britain, and so for the evening, her escort was Francesco Ragoczy, who sat beside her in evening dress and with the Order of Saint Stephan of Hungary on his formal sash.
"I have to tell you this," Alexis whispered to him at the first break in the music. She spoke in English, hardly above a whisper. "They are investigating you."
"They?" Ragoczy murmured as he joined in the applause. "You know, the government. You have dealings with Americans, don't you?" She turned her head toward the stage as the mezzo came forward. He was reminded of the line from Don Giovanni: Nella grande maestosa, oh, the big ones-so majestic, and had to stop himself from mentioning it to Alexis. The mezzo's voice was warm and creamy and rich, like an exotic sauce. "Francesco, are you listening to me?"
"Yes, Alexis. The government. Of course I have dealings with Americans. I have business holdings there and ventures here," he whispered. "My taxes are paid and my attorneys are respectable. What is the difficulty with the government?"
Alexis sighed. "In a bit," she said, listening again to the music. If only, she thought bitterly, her brother had not let drop that question about Ragoczy. She would not be in this awkward position. She sat back and listened to the delicious sounds of Hugo Wolf. When the song was finished, she leaned forward again. "You know how things are in the States right now; investigations and security checks and all the rest of it. That senator, the one from Michigan or Wisconsin or one of those states, is looking for communists everywhere, and those idiots in Congress are helping him. They've got people fired for being in support of the Spanish Civil War. Can you imagine!" She had let her voice rise, and was shocked to hear it over the dying clapping. Chagrined, she slipped back in her chair, and watched while the mezzo continued.
"I am aware of these problems," Ragoczy said at the next break, his face still toward the stage. "But what bearing does it have on me?"
"Well, if I'm not being indelicate, I understand there is a great deal of money involved, Francesco. Your money." Her gown was quite low in front, so that whenever she moved closer to him than required by decorum, she brought her hand up to her decolletage, not realizing that her attempts at modesty only served to emphasize what she intended to conceal.
"Well, that is how most of us do business these days," Ragoczy said with a slight smile.
"But that's just the point!" Alexis protested. "Don't you see, if there weren't so much money involved, they would probably leave you alone. But there you are, a very wealthy foreigner with fingers in all kinds of pies..." She broke off and leaned forward. "My Lord! That man's as handsome as an Italian Gregory Peck."
"Actually, he's Greek," Ragoczy corrected her mildly.
"A Greek Peck then. Where has he been all my life?" She laughed briefly, in the hope that the handsome man might turn toward her and show some interest. But this did not happen. "Do you know him, Francesco?"
"Slightly. I'll introduce you at intermission, if you wish."
"I do wish, if you please." She folded her hands in her lap, and added, "Chester said that all of Capitol Hill is coming down with security worries. They're all trying to prove they're not going to help the country go to hell, or sell out to communism." She was about to go on, but the music began again, and she was glad of it, because it afforded her four minutes to stare at the back of the handsome man's head. He was tall, she decided, and that pleased her, because at five foot eight she often felt she dwarfed the men around her. With tall men, she was less reserved and could play at being girlish now and again. At the end of the song, she touched Ragoczy's sleeve. "You've got to be careful. I mean it, Francesco. They're going through one of their crazy phases in the States, and it might be hard on you and the people who work for you."
"I thank you for the warning," he said sincerely, not entirely sure yet what he could do about it.
"It's not as if you could be asked to take a loyalty oath, but your employees probably will be. And they'll want to go into your background." She applauded more loudly as the mezzo bowed a third time before relinquishing the stage to her baritone partner.
There is a lady sweet and kind
Was never face so pleased my mind
I did but see her passing by
And yet I love her till I die.
"What could they do?" Ragoczy asked when the baritone had finished his first song. "I'm in Europe, and, as you say, a foreigner. I have papers as a displaced person they might check out for themselves."
"Oh, they're all cooperating: Italy, France, that Interpol network. At first they thought they wanted escaping Nazis, but now it's communists. Chester told me that anything that smacks of social reform has only got to be called communist, or the people who support it, communist sympathizers, and that's the end of it." Her eyes were on the handsome Greek again, fixed with all the intensity of a searchlight.
Per la gloria d'avorarvi
voglio amarvi, o luci care,
ma sempre v'amero, si, si
Nel mio penare.
Penero, v'amero, luci care.
"He's pushing on top, don't you think?" Alexis said when the baritone had finished.
"It's not easy to do those upper phrases pianissimo," Ragoczy answered neutrally.
"I suppose not." She looked at her program. "Intermission isn't for almost twenty minutes," she sighed.
"But he will not escape before then," Ragoczy told her with an amused smile.
"No." She closed the program abruptly. "They'll have photographs and fingerprints and all the tax information, I guess, and they'll probably find a way to get a look at everything but your Swiss records. You must have Swiss records, since half the world seems to." She reached down for her beaded handbag and opened it. When she had found her lipstick, she opened her compact and began to apply it with a great deal of care. "I know this is probably rude, but..."
"Go right ahead," Ragoczy said, and crossed one leg over the other.
"It's just that he's so handsome. Well, you are, too, Francesco, in your way, but I'm at least two inches taller than you are, and in heels, it's simply impossible." She flashed a freshly-encarmined smile at him.
"I am desolated to be such a disappointment," Ragoczy told her, and turned toward the stage once again, where the mezzo and baritone were about to do a duet.
"Um," Alexis murmured, bending forward to stare at the Greek again.
"Why should your investigators bother over me?" Ragoczy asked when the two on stage had stopped singing.
"Because you're foreign and rich. They can point to you as another example of questionable foreigners preying off hard-working Americans. There's a lot of that, with inflation going up. Everyone thinks that Eisenhower should do something, but what?" She checked the low V of her neckline, not entirely sure now that it was wise to wear nothing more than the diamond choker Italo had given her for her birthday.
"How long is this likely to last?"
"Oh, who knows? As long as the Congress can get the papers to cover it, I guess. Most of them are using it to get votes, naturally. They like their jobs. What would Speaker Sam do if they ever made him go back to Texas?"
"Your brother told you this?" Ragoczy asked again, wanting to be sure.
"Poor Chester, yes. He's flown over for a couple of weeks, and he's been telling me about some of the things that have been going on. It's shocking!" Her dress, of flowing layers of silk chiffon, slid and drifted as she changed her position in her chair.
Mes vers fuiraient, doux et freles
Vers votre jardin si beau,
Si mes vers avaient des ailes
"What's he like, the Greek?" Alexis asked.
"I don't know; we're not well acquainted. I know him through the woman with him." Ragoczy did not allow his glance to linger on the beautifully coiffured head, nor the angle of her bared shoulder.
"What's she like?" The question was sharper than the previous one had been.
"She is an old and cherished friend of mine, Alexis," Ragoczy answered with just enough warning implied that the American woman with the Italian title looked up, startled, and knew that in some way, she had overstepped the bounds.
"I didn't mean..." She could not unsay the words, so she shrugged and went back to safer ground. "Is there anything they might find out about you or your relatives that they could use against you?"
"My relatives?" Ragoczy repeated. "What significance are they? Or are they still playing that 'you have relatives in the Old Country' record?"
"Something of that nature, I'm afraid. If you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who might think communists are all right, if they find it useful, it might come back to you. In your case, you are an unknown quantity, and they can imply any number of unpleasant things."
"No, infer. I would have to imply," Ragoczy corrected her gently. "It makes little difference."
"They can get a political tempest in a teapot." Alexis lowered her voice as the long musical introduction began, and whispered the last. "You ought to be careful. I've promised Chester to present him to you, but I don't think he'll want to talk about any of this."
"Probably not," Ragoczy agreed.
After the song, there was intermission at last. The singers bowed, the pianist bowed, and they left the stage as the house lights came up and the audience sighed and rustled and moved like a waking dragon.
"Where will the Greek go?" Alexis asked Ragoczy.
"I don't know. I presume he will have a drink," was the answer as he held her chair for her to rise, and then parted the heavy curtain of sculptured velvet at the back of the box.
"I wish it weren't so crowded," Alexis complained as she put her hand through Ragoczy's proffered arm. In three-inch heels, she was quite noticeably taller than he.
"We will find him, never fear." He took her down the plushly-carpeted stairs to the inner lobby where a portable bar was set up. "Does Italo know of your little... adventures?"
"Not exactly. He knows that I have them, but prefers to know nothing more." She could feel her pulse against the choker, as if the diamonds had grown tight.
"And does that trouble you?" He guided her toward the bar. "If nothing else, this is an excellent vantage point."
"I hope so," she said, and ordered champagne. As the cork was popped, she thought over what he had asked her. "At the moment it pleases me. When I am fifteen years older than I am now, I might change my mind. Italo knows that there are advantages in a wife like me, and since I am from New Hampshire and not Rome or Naples or Venice, I'm not a blot on the escutcheon of Italian womanhood. It makes a kind of sense." She took the glass held out to her. "Aren't you having any?"
As Ragoczy paid the ridiculously high price for the champagne, he said, "Alexis, you know I do not drink wine."
"That's right," she agreed a little vaguely. "Well, cheers."
"Good fortune, my dear." His dark eyes wandered over the rest of the people in the lobby. "Which may have just come to you," he said, nodding toward the tall Greek making his way through the crowd with a short, curvaceous Frenchwoman on his arm. He stepped forward. "Signor Athanasios," he said, pitching his voice a bit louder than usual so that it would carry over the drone of conversation.
The Greek looked around, then, at the prompting of the woman beside him, nodded toward Ragoczy. "Yes. My Hungarian friend. I did not see you at first." He came through the crowd, tall and imperious, his smile showing fine white teeth.
"Good evening," Ragoczy said as they shook hands. "Have you met Baronessa dalla Piaggia, Signor Athanasios?"
"Baronessa?" Athanasios repeated, taking Alexis' hand and kissing it. "But you must forgive me-you must be an American."
"I am," Alexis said, pleased that he had already paid her so much attention. "It is my husband who is the Barone."
"That would be Italo dalla Piaggia?" Athanasios ventured. "I know something of his reputation, which is formidable." The smile, this time, was predatory, but Alexis did not mind. "Oh, and my companion. This is Professor de Montalia," he said in an off-handed way. "She has been doing explorations in my country and has helped much in preserving our national treasures."
"Professor?" Alexis said, surprised at the title for a woman who looked little more than twenty.
"Of archeology, Baronessa," was the answer as Madelaine de Montalia put out her hand. "I enjoy my work a great deal, but it is most pleasant to spend an evening listening to music instead of the sounds of bugs."
"I must imagine," Alexis said, recalling the dreadful days she had spent at camp in the summer, when miserable heat and the bites of mosquitoes and can't-see-'ems had made the whole experience torture.
"It takes a particular sort of woman to live as the Professor does," Yiannis Athanasios said with an arch look at Alexis which told her that such a woman was not the kind he preferred.
"How do you come to be aware of the Professor's work?" Alexis asked the tall Greek, meeting his eyes recklessly.
"I have some mining interests which now and again turn up artifacts. Of late, the King has said he wishes all Greek subjects to report such finds." He made a gesture to indicate that he would comply with anything the Greek King requested. "I see your glass is empty, Baronessa. Would you permit me to refill it for you?"
"Why, thank you," Alexis said, dropping her eyes and then lifting them to Athanasios' face.
As the two were talking, Ragoczy put his hand through Madelaine's arm and drew her aside. "How do you come to be in his company again?" There was no trace of jealousy or annoyance. "I thought you did not like him?"
"He has half an eleventh century B.C. village buried where he wants to put a mine shaft. I have been trying to explain to him how he can have his mine and I the village without either of us losing anything." Her violet eyes flashed. "All compliance to the Crown, is he? That's the first I've heard of it."
"Then why this gallantry?" The crowd was growing denser around the portable bar, and the bartenders were becoming more harried. Ragoczy moved a bit further away.
"Because he wants to reduce me to a mere woman. If he wines me and dines me, you see..."
"Not an easy thing to do," Ragoczy interrupted with a gentle smile.
"So he has found out. As to bedding me, I'm not having anything like that between my sheets, thank you." Her gown was of a very pale lilac silk, designed by Jacques Fath with a long waist and full elaborately pleated skirts. She touched the lowered waistband. "I haven't felt this girded into a dress in years. I should be grateful we're not back to the whalebone of my youth."
Ragoczy's dark eyes lingered on her, warm with his affection for her. "I have missed you, my heart."
"Yes. And I have missed you. But unless there are... it is not so painful when I am busy with my work, or I have a new lover, or... any number of things." She could not go on, and it took her a little time to recover. "Why can't we try?"
"Because it's not possible." He was speaking very carefully now, and in French. "We do not have..."
"Life? Must we have life?" She sighed. "Tell me what is happening with you. Or I will go on asking you fruitless questions."
He nodded, at once relieved and saddened to be free of the demand. "I have been told that the Americans want to find out about me, as part of their new concern for security. They are afraid, apparently, that the grapes at my vinyard may be sympathetic to communists. At least, that is the excuse. And the Baronessa has, I think, been charged with the task of the initial drawing out. I am considering telling her that one Franchot Ragoczy escaped from Russia by the skin of his teeth-what an apt expression-in 1917. That may give them an idea that the Ragoczy family is not likely to admire Stalin. As Austro-Hungarian nobility, it is not typical to favor Spartacists. If she hears that, she will probably filter it back to her brother, Chester, and he to his superiors in America, and perhaps my vintners will be left alone." He shook his head. "Oh, Madelaine, how complex it has become. I keep a waxwork of myself so that I may provide them with photographs for passports and visas and all the rest of those documents they love so. How do you manage?"
"I go many places where they care little for such things, but occasionally I have difficulty with photographs. They are always blurred, no matter what is done." She laughed and shook her head. "You are well known and wealthy. That creates demands, as I need not remind you." There were amethyst drops in her ears which he had sent her as a gift many years ago.
"I suppose I can disguise some of my holdings, but creating new identities is getting trickier." He smiled ruefully. "But if I am to live in this world, I will learn to accommodate it." He looked up. "Your Signor Athanasios..."
"He is not my Signor Athanasios," she put in with disgust.
"... appears to be making headway with the Baronessa. She likes tall men, or so she tells me." He looked around as the five well-mannered, unobtrusive bells sounded to recall the audience to the hall. "Are you staying with Bianca? May I call on you tomorrow?"
"Yes, to both. I wish we did not have to..." Madeline's wish was interrupted by the return of Alexis dalla Piaggia who signaled to Ragoczy in a hurried way.
"Francesco," she said urgently as he approached her. "This is very difficult, but I don't know any other way to..." She gave him a flustered smile and touched her honey-brown hair where one of the carefully ordered waves was beginning to droop. "I have had the most... Mister Athanasios has asked me to go off to dinner with him. Now. Of course, I am with you, and I told him that I must not behave so badly to you, nor should he leave the Professor." She cast a quick, inquisitive glance at Madelaine, and then hurried on. "I don't know how she would feel, but do you think... You do seem to know her, and..."
"Italo isn't often so conveniently away, Alexis?" Ragoczy said easily. "It would be boorish to ruin a rare opportunity."
"You've got every right to be sarcastic, but, honestly, Francesco," she protested as the returning crowd jostled them. "You aren't that set on me, are you? And if the Professor is your friend... Look, come to dinner next Wednesday night, and meet Chester. It's awful of me, I know..." She looked up sharply as the second warning sounded. "Please, Francesco."
"Very well. If that is what you want, what can I be but honored to comply?" Ragoczy said, and kissed her hand. "I look forward to seeing you Wednesday evening. Shall we say nine? At your villa?" He watched the color come back into her face. "I hope that your evening lives up to your expectations, my dear. And I mean that most sincerely."
She studied his dark eyes for a moment. "I think you really do," she said slowly, then spun away from him, saying as she did, "You will explain it to the Professor, won't you?"
"It will be my pleasure." He had been attempting to resist the pull of the crush of people returning to the concert hall, but now he let them carry him to the alcove which formed a kind of eddy out of the flood where Madelaine waited.
"What was that about?" Madelaine asked, laughter in her violet eyes.
Ragoczy reached down and took her hand in his. It was a familiar intimate gesture, more loving than the kiss he had bestowed on Alexis' hand. "I think this is what the Americans call being stood up, or something of that nature." V
"What?" The lights in the lobby were dimming as a last, unsubtle hint to those few who remained there.
"We have use of the Baronessa's box, if you like. She has gone off for the evening with your handsome Greek, and hopes that we will understand." As he spoke, he led her toward the mirrored-and-gilt hallway at the back of the boxes.
"And what of the investigation?" Madelaine asked, her concern genuine.
"I've arranged for it to continue next Wednesday night. She can meet that brother of hers with a clear conscience. At least on my account," he added, shaking his head. "What is it about women like her?" he asked Madelaine as they stepped into the box and dropped the curtain behind him. "She hungers, and gorges on that which leaves her the more famished."
"Perhaps she doesn't know the difference between appetite and nourishment," Madelaine suggested, only to be firmly hushed by one of the unseen persons in the adjoining box.
Ragoczy put his finger to his lips as he sat down. "Perhaps," he whispered, and then began to applaud as the mezzo-soprano sailed magnificently onto the stage.
Auf Flugeln des Gesanges
Herz leibchen trag' ich dich fort,
Fort nach den Fluren des Ganges
Dort weiss ish den schonsten Ort.
As the lovely, languid melody filled the concert hall, Ragoczy once again took Madelaine's hand in his: their touch was so much more than most of the world knew, and so much less than he wished they had.
Text of a letter from le Comte de Saint-Germain to James Emmerson Tree.
Via San Gregorio
17 February, 1965
Ewings Landing, British Columbia, Canada
First, yes, I have had word from Madelaine. She sent a telegram from Omdurman, saying that her work had gone well and that she would be returning to France at the end of the month. She has promised to call from Cairo when she has completed her travel arrangements.
How remarkable that seems to me: a hundred years ago she might have been able to telegraph from Cairo that she had returned, and then there would be a train or a ship to carry her home. A hundred years before that, there would have been the ship but not the telegraph and her message would have moved as slowly or as rapidly as she herself. With telephones and satellites, it seems the world is quite transformed, and shrunk to the size of a child's marble. Most of what is commonplace today would have dazzled the world a century ago and stunned it into shock before that. There are times I am tempted to believe that this heralds that promised new age that will unite the entire human race in brotherhood. But then, on the television I see the same brutality and want and neglect and rapacity that has plagued humanity from the beginning and I fear we are not changed at all, but have only acquired new and more sophisticated toys to titillate and exhaust us. You see that I say "us", for in this, we are much the same as the rest of mankind, and while our particular needs keep us from being seduced entirely by the marvels around us, still we are none of us entirely immune from them.
And what toys they are! Think how the Gallic Wars might have gone if there had been television coverage. Or what crimes would have been revealed with current forensic skills. Or what the Inquisition might have accomplished with a computer and data bank at its disposal: mixed blessings indeed.
While I am on the subject of detection, let me recommend that you establish a few more aliases if you can. With the spread of dossiers and police records and tax files the world over, it is becoming increasingly difficult to move about in privacy. Passports, fingerprints, and all the rest of it, are making matters awkward at best. Your New Zealand sheeprun should stand you in good stead, and the house you've bought in Mexico is helpful. Tempting though it is, avoid settling in countries where the government is too oppressive, for it may be that foreigners will be singled out with little warning for more investigation than you would like to have. I have been through several such experiences and I do not recommend them. You are an intelligent man and have learned a great deal.. With a little reasonable care, you should do very well.
It was easier once; at most you carried a letter of authorization and perhaps knew a code phrase which would indicate that you were genuine. Certainly there were hazards, and often travelers would drop out of sight without anyone learning for certain what had become of them. There were abuses of strangers which were grim at best. But is this obsessive identification so great an improvement? Those of us who have changed have sufficient difficulties hampering our movements without these added inconveniences. In time we will become accustomed to them, and it may be that you will accomplish this adaptation more easily than I. No matter, so long as it is done.
You may be interested to know that I have been doing spectrographs analyses of earth, in the hope that I might be able to isolate those elements that make native earth, wherever it is, unique, and provide a concentrated chemical compound that would provide the same protection and strength that we now require of the earth itself. Should I have success, I will let you know at once. How much more convenient to carry a few bottles of powder and solution instead of sacks and crates of earth. But that is for later. For now, my most cordial regards.
Text of a letter from le Comte de Saint-Germain to his manservant Roger.
8 March, 1969
U. S. A.
I have your letter of December 10th at last, and from what you describe, the location is near perfect. Proceed with the purchase plans, using the American bank accounts for most of the monies. Offer them seventy percent in cash and the rest financed for a reasonable time-no more than twenty years. It would be best, I think, to use the name Balletti for this one. Italian names are not as conspicuous as others might be, such as Ragoczy.
My travel plans have not changed. I will be back in Italy before May and will leave for the United States toward the end of summer. I will let you know the precise date shortly.
Apparently we will have little or no chance to reclaim any of the losses incurred in the Balkans. Those holdings must count as lost. How the losses add up-buildings, lands, possessions, all gone, faded in rubble and dust; the rest, the people who are vanished, that is a greater emptiness for which I know no remedy.
As always, you have my gratitude, old friend.