The sudden quiet was broken by the sound of instruments, instruments not being played but being bent and broken. Violin strings separated with a twang, bows and tambourines crashed to the floor to the accompaniment of clatters and clangs. The dancers on the stage sagged to the floor, their boilers suddenly turned cold, with sad hisses of steam escaping from failed pistons and leaking pipes, and every one of those startling red eyes faded to blackness.

The audience was visibly shocked, aghast to a man. A sudden hubbub of conversation swept around the auditorium as the realisation of the magnitude of the failure spread. The house lights were turned up and the curtains were dragged closed, hurriedly, raggedly tugged across the proscenium; a far cry from the majestic sweep when they were opened.

Mister Wallace the impresario struggled through the opening in the curtains and stood centre-stage, looking both nervous and furiously angry.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," he said loudly, waving his hands for attention. He waited for the alarmed conversation to subside.

"The show is cancelled," he said, "Refunds will be available. Please make your way out through the foyer as soon as you can."

The buzz of conversation rose up again, then there was a shout from the back.

"What happened?" came a man's voice.

Mister Wallace's face darkened.

"I can't say," he responded in an icy-calm voice which belied the expression on his face, "Now, please leave the theatre, as quickly as possible."

With that, he spun on his heel and disappeared back through the curtain.

I gestured to my trusted companions, those two taciturn servants who had accompanied me from my residence, who had been standing unobtrusively towards the rear of the box. They approached, nodded their heads politely.

"Thomas," I said quietly, addressing the older of the two, "See to my guests. Make sure they get to their carriages. Do what you can for their confort and safety."

Thomas nodded again, then returned to the rear of the box, positioning himself adjacent to the door in a fashion which made it not immediately obvious he was on guard duty.

The younger man, George, was a tall and blocky fellow with a brutish face and swarthy skin, who looked as if he could barely string a sentence together. The appearance was deceptive: in actual fact, he was gentlemanly and eloquently spoken, very well-read and prone to philosophical musings, occasionally at inappropriate moments. He leaned forward so that I could speak directly into his ear.

"You must get me an audience with Mister Wallace," I hissed.

George nodded once, then offered his arm. I stood gracefully and took his proffered elbow. We moved swiftly to the exit, Thomas holding the door open for our passage.

From my vantage-point in the box, faces everywhere in the audience had showed shock and surprise. But, as we were swept away in the press of the crowd, I looked back through the rapidly closing door to the Royal Box at my guests and was struck by their reactions. In General von Hötzendorf, I thought I could detect a peculiar undercurrent of amusement, perhaps even pleasure, hidden under a polite facade of concern. More strangely, I could not make out any expression at all on the faces of Mister Abrahams or Mister Furaha: not alarm, not fear; if anything, just blank incomprehension.

Part 2 Part 4