The Mozarts and Langes have supper and plan to attend the opera.
I had been trying to manage my first servant, but Liserel needed a great deal of training. Besides sewing, running errands, making coffee, and helping me curl my hair, she was supposed to assist whenever I dressed formally.
One afternoon, before going to the opera with the Lange’s, I was vibrating with anticipation. The new rose satin dress would have it’s first outing. I wondered what Aloysia would wear and hoped for once to outshine her.
The bedroom was full of the smell of hot curling iron and almost, but blessedly not quite, burned hair. The hundreds of ringlets Liserel and I had put in had come out wonderfully.
Then, she began to tighten my stays. These were front stays and to speak frankly, a lady with plenty of bosom needs the job done slowly and carefully. While I was still adjusting, Liserel pulled and pinched me. Only a small piece of flesh was nipped between the laces, but the sensation was exquisitely painful. Naturally I dealt her a good box on the ear.
Liserel burst into tears and dissolved into a pool of brown skirt and white apron on the bedroom floor.
Hearing the commotion, Mozart came running, powder dusting the air behind him. He, too, was partially dressed, in stockings, trousers and unbuttoned waistcoat. Still in the process of having his hair done, the friseur’s sheet was tied around his neck.
Immediately Mozart raised Liserel, gave her a couple of comforting pats and sent her out.
Easy for him to forgive. He hadn’t been pinched.
The injured place stung. I rubbed it, saying, “The Baroness would have hit her.”
My husband was disapproving and amused, like a parent confronting a bad child.
“You shouldn’t hit the servants, Stanzi. You wouldn’t like to be treated that way, and I’m sure Liserel didn’t mean to hurt you.”
I was in no mood for a lecture, so I swung at him, too.
“Cross as Josepha!” He caught my hand. “You behave yourself.” He squeezed my fingers tight, meeting my force with a little of his own, insisting that he was right. He probably was, but it only made me madder.
We hadn’t been married long, but already I’d learned that Wolfi had a way with words as well as music. Once he’d made up his mind about something, arguing with him was useless. Inwardly fuming, I put my head meekly down on his shoulder.
“Liserel tries very hard to please,” he said. “Don’t you go acting like some ignorant aristocrat.” A finger slipped between my breasts. “Now, where is this wound? Hmm? Where is it?”
When he located the reddened place, he whispered, “Ach, the poor round thing.”
He bent his head and thrust his tongue wetly against the injury.
“Ass!” I gave him a hard push but he held on, threatening the whole time to topple me backwards onto the featherbed.
“Stop it! You’re going to ruin my hair.”
But there was only one way out and I knew it.
“All right,” I cried, “I promise not to hit her again.”
“Good girl. I knew you really weren’t so mean.” He tried for a conciliatory kiss, but I whirled away.
I was going to sulk, at least for awhile. Smug know-it-all.
“I won’t let her near me again,” I said with all the dignity I could muster. “You are going to have to help me finish.”
Let me explain that I was irritated with Liserel even before she pinched me. Mozart had hired her as a favor to a family who had served at his home in Salzburg.
The girl did know how to sew nicely and we worked at my new dresses and petticoats amicably enough, but I had to teach her every other blessed thing, from laying a fire to making coffee.
Simple things that anyone who pretends to be a parlor maid ought to know. Why, Mama had taught me ten times more about keeping house than this servant’s daughter knew.
Mozart dutifully began to work at my stays. Actually, he would have made an exceptional lady’s maid. Of course, I always teased that he was better at unlacing than at lacing, but he was dexterous, sensitive, and quick. When pulling the stays tight, he always knew the right moment to stop.
After I was dressed, I moved in front of the mirror to admire myself. Both of our outfits had cost a fortune, but the rose and azure dress was a dream come true .
The little hat with ostrich plumes was made of the same material and was secured atop the pile of tiny curls with several long pins.
With Wolfi smiling behind me, I completed my toilet, dusting a thin layer of white powder on my face and throat. I painted my lips, dipping a fine brush into a pot. Last of all, I rouged red along the line of my cheeks with a bit of lamb’s wool.
I didn’t get to do this often, so I took my time, carefully finishing with the extravagant application of a tiny, black beauty patch. My husband didn’t approve of makeup, except for the opera or evening parties.
When I was done, I studied my reflection carefully, turning my face from side to side. Astonishing, but there it was: Konstanze, every bit as pretty as her sister...
Mozart rested his hands on my shoulders, and we smiled into the mirror together. He had been unable to resist having a suit made which matched my dress.
Whitened curls tumbled onto the rosy satin jacket. His eyes repeated the azure of the collar.
“The loveliest lady in Vienna.” He lowered his sandy lashes prettily, and, mindful that the barest touch of his lips would turn my powder blue, kissed the air near my cheek.
We first stopped at the Lange’s apartment. There wasn’t much chit-chat before Aloysia and Wolfgang wandered in the direction of the klavier. They never managed any music, though, because they became embroiled in an argument about the new Prima Donna, Anna Storace.
Aloysia insisted that Wolfgang, exactly like every other man in Vienna, was unable to make an unbiased judgment about this shapely, radiantly blonde Englishwoman.
“But Aloysia, my goddess, I’m agreeing with you,” he playfully protested. “She has neither your range nor your erudition. What she does have is a flexible throat and the loveliest tone.”
“Ah, the famous flexible throat." Aloysia favored him with a sour look.
"Ha! You’re just like all the others. Your eyes are so full of her bosom and rosebud mouth that you’ve gone as deaf as the Emperor. Wolfgang, darling, La Bella Storace is an English milkmaid.”
She pretended to straighten his stock, an intimate gesture which always flustered him.
“What are you going to write for your new goddess, Liebling?”
Mozart waxed indignant. He wouldn’t write for Mademoiselle Storace. Never! Why, she was simply another foreign interloper, unfairly preferred over Germans.
“We’ll know the truth soon enough,” Alysia said languidly. “Konstanze, dear, be sure to tell us when Wolfgang starts to learn English. I understand La Bella Storace isn’t capable of German.”
Herr Lange smiled, a little wearily, I thought. I wondered how many times he’d listened to this particular tirade.
“Admit it, my darling,” Lange reproved, “Nancy Storace is a great beauty who also happens to have a pretty voice. Doubtless our friend will earn a few ducats and amuse us all by writing something that makes her sound like the queen of song in spite of the fact that she barely has two octaves. All the musicians will get the joke, but the Emperor won’t. In fact,” and here my elegant brother-in-law grinned wickedly, “Mozart would be smart to write some easy little pieces for Mademoiselle Storace.”
“Make him promise that he won’t write anything for that English cow!” Aloysia reached out to take my hand. “Wolfi always does what you tell him.”
“Is that what she says?” my husband asked, big eyes widening.
“A little gallantry, man,” Lange teased. “How can you do anything but obey this little angel?” As he spoke, he reached out and delicately brushed the tips of long beautiful fingers across my bosom.
Naughty, without a doubt, but it was flattering, too. Rather regretfully, I pushed his hand away.
“My good fellow!” Mozart was surprised by the liberty his brother-in-law had taken.
“Strega! Little witch!” Aloysia rose at once, fan raised threateningly.
What ensued wasn’t much like the chases of our youth. We were laced in, weighed down by panniers, hobbled by heels and precariously styled hair. I trotted around the klavier twice and then, panting happily, took refuge behind my husband.
Does it ever stop being fun to torment a sister?
When we’d quieted down, Lange wittily apologized to his wife, to Mozart, and, with a broad wink, to me. After pouring more champagne, however, he continued to provoke them by putting the first glass into my hand.
Flirting with Joseph Lange was an enjoyable game, one we had begun in unspoken, mutual agreement. It was our entitlement, our revenge. After all, weren’t Aloysia and Wolfgang continually making eyes at each other? Lange indicated that he thoroughly appreciated my collusion.
Of course, I wasn’t really worried about my man, not with what went on in my arms every night, but this business with my beautiful brother-in-law represented a wonderful opportunity to get back at Aloysia for years of being second best. In those days, no woman in Vienna would have been able to resist the temptation of flirting with that god of hers.
Mozart captured my hand, lifted the fingers to his mouth and bit the ends a little harder than I liked.
“Wicked girl,” he murmured. “You mustn’t let this rude fellow touch those, no matter how handsome he is.” He, too, patted my bosom. “Our maid almost nipped a piece off these magnificent sugar lumps while we were dressing.”
“Jealous, is she? God knows, I’ve always been.” Aloysia stuck her tongue out out at me before settling onto the sofa next to her husband.
“Probably she is, the sorry scarecrow.” Mozart now seemed willing to mock Liserel.
Finally, we left for the opera, feeling like royalty. There we were, for all the world to see, Kapellmeister Mozart and his wife, the famous actor Lange and his lovely prima donna. People in the street stopped to watch us go by. Gentlemen doffed their hats. The dropped-jaw admiration of the young lackeys who stood at the door of the opera house was palpable...