The Prinzessin Sophie-Vittoria sat at her vanity for some time after the polterabend dinner party hosted by her father in honour of the young and dashing Comte de Mazan, arrived in Hunsruck as the proxy of Prinz Friedrich at the wedding ceremony over which Msgr. de Chiaroscuro would preside tomorrow prior to the departure of the wedding party for Waldreck. De Mazan and a company of Waldrecker dragoons would accompany the company of her father's Kürassiere under the command of the departing Oberst Ritter von Trimbach to her intended's capital of Bruttig for the official wedding ceremony at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Gedächtnis-Kirche the next day.
The Prinzessin was entirely at a loss at what to make of the Comte; seated next to her--sitting in her mother's place upon her mother's continuing indisposition--as the guest of honour at dinner his conversation had been completely correct and obsequious, but something in his gaze at her had at all times savoured of impudence. The manner with which he had rendered his baise-main at the end of the evening would have raised a blush had her complexion not been properly whitened and rouged beforehand, and now provoked a lingering discomfort as she contemplated the imminent, four-day carriage procession to Bruttig.
Rousing herself from her reverie, the Prinzessin reached for the sponge and warm water prepared for her to remove her blanche and rouge. Moving the bowl and candle closer to the looking glass, she noticed an unobtrusive white packet bound with a white ribbon which had been propped between the bowl and the glass.
While her dressing maids professed ignorance as to its arrival there, the Prinzessin opened the parcel addressed only "To the Prinzessin." Inside she found a smaller envelope labeled "pour la succession," containing an odourless white powder, and an essay of several pages in an elegant French hand entitled "De l'Assassinat Considéré comme Un des Beaux-Arts." Astonished, the Prinzessin reached for her quizzing glass and began to read...