“It’s really nice to see people enjoying themselves after that long, cold winter,” she said.
Horatio nodded. “Oh yes. This state visit by the Reich Duke and King Basil has galvanized their natural gaiety. The average Hetzenberger is always up for a good party and this one promises to be the best for years.” He paused to smile and exchange salutes with a young boy clad in a sailor suit, who’d seen Horatio’s uniform and had come to attention – after a fashion, all the while clinging to his proud mother’s hand. “There goes a promising future officer,” he said with a chuckle, turning back to Ursula.
“You’ve inspired a whole generation to respect the riverine navy by your efforts, dearest,” Ursula smiled, squeezing his hand.
“I was only doing my job,” he protested mildly.
“And you do it very well too,” she said with a wink.
Horatio grinned, loving Ursula’s talent for double-intendre.
“Are you nervous about marrying in front of a whole crowd of dignitaries?” she asked.
He shrugged. “What’s to be nervous about? You and I have too much fun together to allow pomp and circumstance to overawe us.”
“That’s true.” They swept into the Great Square just at that moment and the magnificent façade of the cathedral of St. Rupert der Barr rose up on their right. Ursula looked at it with jaundiced eyes. “I’m glad you don’t feel nervous. At least one of us won’t be when we walk up those steps tomorrow!”
“It’ll be fine, my love. Your father will ensure all goes well. It’d better – or else!”
* * *Not far away stood the Ducal Opera House. The opera may have the outward guise of calm Baroque splendor but within the rehearsal rooms and chamber de dance, all was in a state of controlled mayhem. Faint screams and cries came from the ballerinas as Madame de Wouters put them through yet another round of rehearsals for the vital Woodland scene for Der Grüne Ritter. The hard rehearsals for Der Tanz der Blumen had been a piece of celery in comparison.
Out in the auditorium the great composer Herr Wömfondlach stood upon the podium before the orchestra and beat upon the rail with his baton. “No, no, no!” His bald head gleamed in the lamplight as he bent to glare at the errant third violin. “The descant drops to E flat, not E sharp! Pray, did you tune your instrument with a wrench this morning? Did you tune your instrument at all?” The orchestra hid their grins as they watched the third violin’s discomfort as Herr Wömfondlach waxed lyrical. “Did you perhaps leave your instrument at the bottom of the river all night, the better to improve its qualities?”
“No, Herr Wömfondlach,” the man murmured. Rumor had it that rehearsal for the last production headed by the great man in Prague had seen the deaths of two percussionists, one harpist, and a stagehand who’d wandered into the line of fire. It did not pay to cross Herr Wömfondlach.
Wömfondlach sighed and rolled his eyes in despair. “We shall begin again from the top! And this time get it right!”
Cowed and broken, the musicians bent to their task yet again, dreaming wistfully of taverns, tobacco, and rich ale.
* * *In the Great Park Graf Philip von Hetzenberg straightened up from his work with a grin. The array of fireworks gleamed under the bright sunlight. “There we are, my dear! The alignment has been corrected for the expected wind velocity this evening. By my calculations the display should be able to reach a maximum height of five hundred feet!”
Mary Amadeus sat upon a park bench nearby. She was wearing a fine red dress for a change, but had taken her shawl off and draped it over the back of the bench, it being so warm. A drawing slate lay on her lap and she had a piece of chalk in her hand. A mug of small beer and a rather large plate of cheese rolls lay to hand nearby. She was holding the beer bottle and gazing at it in a way that gave Philip a thrill of expectation. “Do you have an idea?” he asked softly, not daring to speak too loud for fear of disturbing her train of thought.
Mary turned gleaming eyes to him. “What if…” she said then stopped and pursed her lips. “What if we were to fit another stage to the main rockets?”
“Another stage?” He cocked his head. “To raise them higher for launch, you mean?”
She shook her head. “No, I mean another, bigger rocket attached to the bottom half of those ones there.” She held up the bottle and pointed to the tapering neck. “Let this represent the current size of rocket.” Her finger dropped to the body of the bottle. “Now, let this represent another, larger rocket attached to the base, with a fuse depending into the head of it from the smaller stage.”
Setting the bottle aside she scribbled calculations on the slate. Philip watched, his mind suddenly flowing with equations and power-to-weight ratios and his soul glowed like the sun with Mary’s reflected inspiration. “My God! That would mean…”
Mary looked up, her face aglow. “Yes! By using a larger booster-stage body, stabilized with fins and filled with Number Two powder we can loft a rocket to a height of five thousand feet!”
“It would be seen for miles!” he whispered, entranced. “The display can be shared by thousands more people!”
“Yes! If we get started right away we can have at least three such rockets ready for tonight.”
He sat down and hugged her. “I love it when you talk theory!”