It was past nine o’clock as he roamed the vast garden surrounding the Palace of a Thousand Sounds—thus named because of the tiny bells tinkling about its marble dome. He had eaten an unsatisfying meal in a small antechamber, waited upon by a stupid servant. And worse still, the food was ill cooked. On presenting his credentials, earlier in the evening, the grand vizier, a sneaky-appearing man, had welcomed him coldly, telling him that her Serene Highness was too exhausted to receive so late in the day; she had granted too many audiences that afternoon.
“And the prince?” he queried. The prince was away hunting by moonlight, and could not be seen for at least a day. In the interim, Pobloff was told to make himself at home, as became such a distinguished composer and artistic plenipotentiary of Balakia’s king. Then he was bowed out of the chamber, down the low malachite staircase, into his supper room. It was all very disturbing to a man of Pobloff’s equable disposition.
He thought of Luga, his little wife, his dove; but not long. She did not appeal to his heart of hearts; she was a coquette. Pobloff sighed. He was midway in his mortal life, a dangerous period for susceptible manhood. He lifted moist eyes to the stars; the night was delicious. He rested upon a cushioned couch of stone. About him the moonlight painted the trees, until they seemed like liquefied ermine; the palace arose in pyramidal surges of marble to the sky, meeting the moonbeams as if in friendly defiance, and casting them back to heaven with triumphant reflections. And the stillness, profound as the tomb, was punctuated by glancing fireflies. Pobloff hummed melodiously.
“A night to make music,” whispered a deep, sweet voice. Before he could rise, his heart bounding as if stung to its centre, a woman, swathed in white, sat beside him, touched him, put such a pressure upon his shoulder that his blood began to stir. It was she. He stumbled in his speech. She laughed, and he ground his teeth, for this alone saved him from foolishness, from mad behaviour.
“Maestro—you could make music this lovely night?” Pobloff started.
“In God’s name, who are you, and what are you doing here? Where did you go this evening? I missed you. Ah! unhappy man that I am, you will drive me crazy!”