Konstanze very nearly loses her chance to be respectable married woman.
Major Von Hagen became a regular visitor. In spite of the warning I had been given, he soon had me imagining that he was in love with me. There was no more salacious talk, just endless courtliness.
There were beautiful presents, a canary in a golden cage, golden earrings, and, after awhile, the hottest kisses. Von Hagen, more than Mozart ever did, whispered whole litanies of “I love you.” What young girl doesn’t find that the most tantalizing of sauces?
Learning from the crowd at the Baronesses’, I began to believe that accepting Major von Hagen’s attentions was the sophisticated thing to do.
The other girls swelled my head by talking endlessly about “my conquest.”
I think they were maliciously assisting me along the same path down which they were walzing—the seductive, sparkling way which abruptly ends along with a girl’s looks, concluding, at best, in the tawdry prison of a brothel.
Still, even if they’d been disapproving, I don’t think it would have changed anything. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but the rogue’s calculated attentions had gone straight to my naive head.
One afternoon, after the usual music and dancing, we played forfeits. When the Baroness lost to her devoted Palffy, she permitted him to measure her calves with a ribbon.
Winking at the young officers, Count Palffy reached under his lady’s voluminous skirts and stroked her legs up and down before he measured. The Baroness wriggled and protested, but she had no genuine intention of making him stop.
Several other couples played, with equally stimulating results. Then, grinning like a fiend, Christoph challenged me.
Against the tricks of a gambler, what chance did I have?
In no time at all, von Hagen was reaching for the ribbon. My face was on fire even before he put his hands under my dress.
Abusing his privilege shamefully, my skirts were soon raised to the knee garters. I backed away in an agony of embarrassment, struggling to disengage his hands, twisting and turning, while the loud laughter of too much wine pursued.
“Beautiful legs,” Christoph was shouting. “Beautiful legs always lead to a higher beauty!”
Then he fell to his knees and tried to thrust his head under my skirts. In the nick of time I dodged away.
The next time Mozart visited, I knew something was wrong. His big blue eyes were icy; he greeted me with the most profound formality. During the Baronesses’ lesson, he sent not a single glance in my direction. After the lesson finished, he marched me into the conservatory and immediately announced that he’d heard I’d “made myself cheap” by allowing a gentleman to measure my legs.
“I hear that this fellow visits all the time. That you dance with him. Accept presents from him. And even…even…kiss him! Have you forgotten that you are my promised bride?”
It was as if a bucket of freezing water had been dumped over my head. Wolfi had never before given me anything but caresses and sweet words.
“Why are you so angry?” I stammered, though I knew full well I’d done wrong. “The Baroness let Count Palffy measure her legs. All the other girls do it.”
In a rare gesture of prudence, Mozart looked around for servants before he replied.
“The Baroness is not one to model yourself after, Konstanze,” he said severely. “She’s been our good angel and I hate to talk about her, but it’s well known that she’s free with her favors. And as for that rake who’s been paying you so much attention. If he was a real gentleman, he would have put the ribbon into your hands. Damn it, Stanzi, von Hagen has ruined every girl in the ballet and brags about it, too. Ask Madame Podleska if you don’t believe me.”
I was full of conflicting emotions. I knew I was in the wrong, but to admit it was humiliating.
Mozart, noting my silence, tugged at his cuffs distractedly. “Perhaps it’s time you went home to your Mama.”
Then I was boiling; afraid, too. What if he got me sent home? Back to the Auge Gottes, with Mama nagging and screaming and treating me like her slave?
I stamped my foot. “The Baroness likes me. She wants me here.”
“This month the Baroness likes you,” he replied coldly. “Next month, who can tell? And the same goes for your so-called gentleman friend. After he’s ruined you, he’ll be gone. Don’t expect me to take second-hand goods.”
“What do you think I am? All I’m doing is having some fun. I’m sure you have plenty after you’ve played at all those parties you go to. Kissing all those ladies and all your darling singers. Am I supposed to never have a good time?”
“Not if that means letting von Hagen show your ass to the room!”
“Shut your dirty mouth! I wish I’d never torn up that contract. Then you’d have to pay and I could find a real man for a husband.”
“I’d never have believed it, Konstanze, but you’re just as much of a slut as your sister,” Wolfgang said. His white face told me that I’d scored.
“Go on then, go on as you are. Don’t expect me to come to the rescue after that aristocrat pig puffs your belly.” His eyes were blazing like blue ice, but I was beyond fear.
“Why,” I drew myself up as tall as I could, “I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on earth.”
For a frozen moment we stared at each other, both hurting, both furious; and both frightened to death.
Where had our anger taken us?
Wolfgang recovered first. He swept me one of his mocking courtier’s bows.
“As you wish, Fraulein Cat-With-Her-Tail-Up!”
I threw one of the Baronesses’ novels at him, but with his usual infuriating dexterity, he intercepted it in mid-air.
During the next week, Mozart came as usual to give the Baroness her lesson. He asked to speak with me, but I refused.
He, I decided, had been not only crude but dreadfully mean. What was I supposed to do, sit around and wait for him in order to have a good time?
What was the harm in dancing? What was the harm in a silly parlor game? Why, over almost nothing he’d called me “cheap” and had accused me of behaving like a slut.
I tried and tried to tell myself that I was entirely right and that Mozart was entirely wrong, but even counting in his insults, it wasn’t easy. My guilty conscience kept telling me that I’d been enjoying my flirtation with von Hagen far too much.
Naturally, I missed Wolfi, but I decided to do as the other girls did and bandage my aching heart with bravado, with the kisses and admiration of a new man. I even began to entertain the fantastic notion that if I was pretty enough to catch a Kapellmeister, perhaps I was pretty enough to catch a nobleman.
Palffy and the Baroness were very cosy, trading kisses and heated glances, talking in tones too soft for anyone else to overhear. After a time of this, the Baroness did something unusual.
Telling her guests they were free to remain, she retired to her private suite, accompanied only by Madame Podleska and the Count. She didn’t call for me or any of her other attendants.
A few couples, officers and their girls, stayed at cards. Encouraged by the absence of the Baroness and gossip about the state of my engagement, Christoph took my hand in his and playfully began to pull me towards the conservatory.
“We shouldn’t,” I protested. It would have been less alarming if Anton or one of the other servants were around, but for the moment not a single one was in sight. The conservatory was open to the huge parlor, but dim and secluded, lit in the evenings with only a few little lamps.
“What if Her Ladyship calls for me?”
“Oh, I think she’s forgotten you for awhile, Fraulein Weber,” he said, smiling a lazy, dangerous smile.
In no time, I was on the very couch that Wolfi and I had petted on, being kissed by that handsome giant. His lips were warm and encouraging. His “I love you’s” frequent. In a last surge of foolhardiness, I kissed back.
Delighted by my apparent willingness, he pushed me down. That was frightening. From beneath, I began to struggle and protest, but he was tremendously strong. Every attempt I made to escape was stifled before it could begin.
Then, in the dim light, I saw a flash of silver. The mischief, once started, was accomplished in a smooth, practiced up and down stroke. He cut my dress from the stays—and then cut the stays!
I pushed and beat on his huge chest, but he had me pinned. With one fierce tug, he ripped the bodice apart and ran his lips across my breasts. As he did so, I suffered the humiliating realization that my body, my woman’s body, was willing to play traitor.
His harsh grip hurt, but the caresses of those greedy lips set me on fire.
With every last ounce of strength and will power I could gather, I pulled one hand free and slammed it as hard as I could against his ear.
“Ow! Damn! You little cat!” Christoph caught my hand and forced it back, then regarded me crossly. “Don’t tell me that a girl with a set like yours hasn’t had her stays cut before.”
“You let me up at once or I’ll scream.”
“Listen,” he said. “No more of this stupid game. Come with me tonight. I have a beautiful apartment. I promise I’ll take good care of you.”
Oh, God! There it was, the aristocrat’s best offer.
“Or is there more craft in that curly head than I think?” he asked, amusement invading his tone as he regarded me. “What do you want, you rascal? You aren’t really so scared, are you? Here and now, on my honor, I promise you dresses, hats, carriages, dinners, servants.”
His white smile gleamed confidently. “Of course, there’s me, too, every inch,” he whispered moving illustratively against me.
When I, shocked and ashamed to the core, lay quite still, he let go of my hands, sat back and groped in his jacket pocket. Next there was a startling gleam. A beautiful string of pearls dangled in front of my nose.
“Come with me and it’s yours.”
“What do you think I am?” I was trying hard to sound outraged, but I was so scared my voice quivered.
“Oh, come on, Konstanze, don’t play reluctant virgin. Everyone knows that your little Kapellmeister has had you.”
Well and truly humiliated, I began to sob.
“Oh, no! Don’t do that!” Now he seemed genuinely concerned. “Here, take the pearls. They’re yours…and there will be more, Angel, much more. You won’t ever have to worry about anything again; I promise. We can slip out right now. After you’ve had a night of me between your pretty legs, you’ll forget all about your funny little musiker.”
As he attempted to fasten the pearls around my neck, I shoved with both hands and kicked with both feet, praying I could manage to shift all that muscle.
“No!” I screamed. “Damn you!”
I must have taken him by surprise, for he slipped off the divan. The necklace made a cool slither across my bare breasts, and, with a bounce and rattle, joined him on the floor.
Then, a shadow fell between us. I recognized it at once, the hour-glass silhouette of my mistress. There she was, and Palffy too, both of them in quite a startling state of undress.
Behind them, big as an Alp, stood Anton. My two male rescuers were all grinning admiration. Face on fire, I quickly crossed my arms over my breasts.
“You foolish little girl. Leave you alone for half an hour and look what happens.” The Baroness briskly slapped my arms. “You’ve been lucky, you know. Lucky that Christoph prefers finesse to rape, lucky that Anton has a soft spot for you. If he hadn’t gone looking...”
She and Madame Podleska had put me into her bed. Now they sat beside me, one on each side, alternately slapping and petting.
To be out of my clothes and sinking into mountains of goose down was a breathtaking experience. Under any other circumstance this would have occupied all my senses.
“I was pleased to hear you refuse,” said the Baroness. “He wasn’t offering you much except those pearls and a whole lot of trouble.”
Long jewel-covered fingers seized my jaw. “Now, Fraulein Weber, once and for all, listen! Do you want to be a wife or a mistress? That’s your choice. von Hagen will never marry you. He’s promised to his cousin and he must marry her. It’s a matter of inheritance. Like a lot of young men, he’s playing around, putting off the inevitable. Sooner or later he’ll have to follow his Papa’s orders. So understand, my darling, that to him, every other woman, be she rich or be she poor, is just a dish to be eaten.”
Mortified, I sobbed. My head rang with voices that gabbled about what a wicked, stupid creature I had been. Wolfgang’s cold eyes floated in the air before me, accusing. His Salzburger’s tongue heaped insults. And, at this instant, it seemed as if every word of his rude abuse was true .
“Well,” said Madame Podleska running her hand down my back, “Perhaps, she understands now. Isn’t a demonstration always more educational than a lecture?”
I cried until I couldn’t breathe. I begged them to forgive me. I begged the Baroness not to dismiss me. I begged them not to tell Mozart.
At last, when I had quieted a little, the Baroness firmly took one of my hands. Turning it over, she stared down at my palm as if trying to fathom the depths of a dark forest pool. For a long time the only sound in the suite was my teary hiccuping, but finally the Baroness smiled, a slow, ironic smile.
“Look at this,” she said to Madame Podleska. She traced a line on my palm with her index finger. “See here? What a life for this little creature! Quite astonishing.”
Madame Podleska gazed down and then slowly, solemnly, nodded. Her great dark eyes turned to me with wonder.
“Who would ever think?” the Baroness continued, shaking her elegant head. “It’s a tangle later on, but look at the present. Clear as the full moon.”
She traced the lines, connected them triumphantly. “It’s Matrimonio Presto, Fraulein Weber. I shall send for your Kapellmeister first thing in the morning.”