sylvie suddenly remembered where she had seen the colonel before . at the sanitarium at t————, where the conference had taken place to finalize the details of the first catastrophe.
how innocent she had been then!
the colonel for his part - absorbed as he was in his own machinations - had not recognized sylvie, although he was quite taken by her womanly charms.
far paolo was attempting to tell a joke, but it was not going well, as it depended on the hearer’s recognition of the intricacies of long-forgotten heresies.
but who was the faceless man in the corner that sylvie noticed for the first time.
had she been informed of his identity - if she had enquired as to his identity - she might have been surprised by the answer, as the gentleman was widely believed to have perished in the dungeons of the people’s republic of y—————.
the baron de d———, absorbed in his own thoughts, blew a few perfect smoke rings.
sylvie’s mind drifted back to the conference at t————. not to the discussions themselves, but to the perfectly clear air - the first she had ever breathed.
where had far paolo been, when the others had been at table? had the message from the pope really taken up the whole time?
modest as the meal had been, they had had six courses.
after tonight, after the arrangements had been made, nothing would ever be the same. either for the wretched of the earth, or their masters.
the baron smiled to himself, as he considered the deviltry which would soon be unleashed.
and the opportunities it would provide for such as himself.
sylvie twirled the ring on her finger. she had quite forgotten where she had obtained it.
roger and general b————, who had taken their time over dessert - the general because of his advanced age, and roger because he had had three servings - now rejoined the party.
it was time for the last act to begin, and judgment to be levied on the peoples of the earth.
what the gutter press, if it had been privy to the proceedings, would have termed “zero hour”.
the duchess of g——— rang a little silver bell to get everybody’s attention.
roger stood at the fireplace, behind the empress. the others, even the languid annette and the supremely indifferent baron de b————, arranged themselves in chairs in a semicircle around the empress.
so it has come to this, thought sylvie with some amusement. as great a pack of rascals as has ever been assembled - and not an honest person left in the world.
“if no one has any objections,” intoned the empress, “we will agree that the decisions of this night are to be regarded as final. at least as far as official versions go. as it is unlikely that we shall ever meet again.”
they all agreed, although the count of a——— had to be asked by the empress to speak up, as his response had been somewhat mumbled.
sources: clarissa, by samuel richardsion;
sir charles grandson, by samuel richardson;
war and peace, by leo tolstoy;
the magic mountain, by thomas mann;
anthony adverse, by hervey allen;
the man without qualities, by robert musil;
lord of the rings, by j r r tolkien;
the demons, by hermito von doderer;
gravity’s rainbow, by thomas pynchon;
harlot’s ghost, by norman mailer;
infinite jest, by david foster wallace