“But soft, what avenging sprite is this?” slurred Zamorna. “What eldritch, elfin being divines my actions and gazes upon them with silent contumely?”
True to the description, Charlotte viewed him with wordless disapproval, but he believed he discerned a tiny glitter of humor in her stern gray eye, and so he continued.
“I may perhaps be suffering — slightly, I say! But slightly! — from an over-application of tonic, but hear my tale! For my nerves have been tried most strangely. This very day did I pass from the kingdoms I have known, to find myself in a forbidding and mournful land, where my reputation, my powers, my very self, are sadly diminished. You look at me, and you see a poor creature named Branwell, and yet, I know myself to be the Duke of Zamorna.”
“Very well, Zamorna, then where is Branwell?”
“In Glass Town, perhaps. I shudder to think it, for tomorrow Parliament is to vote on my appointment as King of Angria.”
“Very good. Have you begun to plan an inaugural address?”
“Indeed I have. The theme is the vitality of nations as it waxes and wanes… the elusive flame, can it be steadied, so that a glorious nation need not decline and fall?”
Charlotte’s face reddened. “You have been in my desk!” she accused.
“Indeed, not! For haven’t I been in the Black Bull Inn since before tea time? However, that reminds me, if you could direct me to my sleeping chamber, and convince the stairs not to rise and fall like the foot pedals of an organ in the meantime, I have no doubt that all will be right in the morning.”
Charlotte led him, groping and weaving, to his room, and then retired to her own. But it was long ere she slept, for she thought gravely of what Zamorna had told her, and, reader, she half believed him.
Baron von Fopl, sole survivor of the siege of Swartezland, was master of a very large and not very exclusive residence in upper Glass Town. His parties were known for their licentiousness, and the waltz there was danced with impunity.
Half the town was crammed into long series of drawing rooms, and Branwell lost Lady de Trois in the crowd almost immediately.
He wandered through the rooms, unrecognized in his mask, and accepted glass after glass of champagne. His own secret world, which he had seen so many times in his imagination, was swirling before him. It dazzled, and yet he saw as through a glass darkly, for every character was masked and caped. Were the companions of his loneliest hours here in this mad crush — Percy, Sneachie, Ross, Frenchy and Quaisha? What about the beautiful, impetuous women — were the volatile passions of Lady Zenobia Ellrington wrapped in the folds of one of these black satin dominos?
Many times, locked in his room with pen and paper, or weaving plots with Charlotte before the parlor fire, they had fluttered and danced before his inward eye — and his sister knew them just as well. Instead of fading away, the enfant plays of brother and sister had grown with them. They had not cast off childish things. In their quiet hours, they did not meditate on the peace of heaven, but on a vast infernal world of sin, war and intrigue. They wrote in secret, hoarding up candle ends and dregs of ink, like an opium eaters with their grains.
The stifling ballroom, lit with a million burning tapers, took on the aspect of nightmare.
And then, he felt a cool little hand in his, leading him through the crowd.
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