"Is something more upsetting you, making you unhappy? I only ask this because my grandfather would. It is often the case with this sort of illness."
"I can't think of anything." Klara feared returning to the confessional mood of yesterday.
Akos' hazel eyes turned sorrowful. Of course, he knew she wanted to reestablish distance between them, but the knowledge hurt him. Klara didn’t want to talk anymore about Oettingen, though. She was frightened of the decision she had made. And any day now her master might arrive in Vienna.
After quelling the Polish insurrection, Max had been delayed, first by some unspecified indisposition of his own and then by two enormous winter storms. Usually he arrived in Vienna at Christmas, but it was almost Carnival now and still he hadn't come. During his prolonged absence, Klara had imagined that she could stiffen her resolve and leave Vienna, from the scene of those fairy tale successes which had made her the toast of the Imperial Court. As petrifying and ultimately depressing as the notion was, she knew it would be the only way she could escape.
The last years had witnessed several attempts at rebellion, followed by demeaning surrenders to his jaded voluptuary's tastes. Submission was always followed by a time of luxury, and, yes, to a time of lust. There was a surfeit of physical pleasure, wonderful presents, stellar parties and dances, evenings when she sang for his friends and was everywhere worshipped like a goddess. Every material delight was provided when she acquiesced. Max was truly a formidable opponent. Besides his power to command, he engaged her mind. He could talk authoritatively to Klara about all sorts of things, from politics, to the history of the warring Habsburg Empire, to the aesthetics of his magnificent collection of paintings, or about the plays, ballets and operas which they saw together. Sometimes, though, with no warning, Max swung from lover/teacher to lecturing father. Even worse than that were his occasional moods of cruelty, in which he let Klara know that he considered her little more than a pretty pet.
As soon as Max went away, going to one of his country estates or away again upon the Empresses' business, Klara would be wracked by guilt. She'd say hundreds of rosaries, light candles, and go heavily veiled to confession at churches on the outskirts of town, the poor ones, like Saint Mark's. It was unbearable to think that any priest whom she might know socially would be one to whom she had confessed. Ever since the delirium with Giovanni, when she'd learned that Max viewed himself as her keeper, her sensitive heart grieved ever more deeply for the sins she continued to commit.
"He doesn't keep his women all penned up together like a Turk, but he's a damned wicked Pasha all the same." She’d wept those words to Liese after Max had gone away last spring. "I'm to be all his, but he'll never be mine. I'm just a toy with which he diverts himself when he's in town. He could throw me away next week if he fancied debauching another young singer, and he’s cold enough to do it. Damn his black heart!"
"Oh, mistress! Debauch? No! Hush. Don't talk like that! Count Oettingen adores you." Liese loved Klara, but she was also the Count's servant, and she always sprang to his defense. "He'd never do such a thing. Why, darling, look at the pearls he brought you, at how he's taking such good care of your pretty white ponies. As for the rest, well, don't forget, love, you'll always be twenty-five years younger than he is."
Klara had sighed as she impatiently pushed her servant's plump, enclosing arms away. It was true, but no matter what privation she suffered as a result, she couldn't much longer endure living in this gilded box Max had built for her.
And now here came Herr Almassy, with his wise and beguiling eyes, with his tender, mesmerizing touch, who somehow seemed to understand everything. Her evasion just now had hurt him. Yes, it had. And why? Because he cared