On the one hand, as Maire du Palais to the incompetent Otto, and using the love-sick Princess for a tool and mouthpiece, he pursues a policy of arbitrary power and territorial aggrandisement. He has called out the whole capable male population of the state to military service; he has bought cannon; he has tempted away promising officers from foreign armies; and he now begins, in his international relations, to assume the swaggering port and the vague threatful language of a bully. The idea of extending Gruenewald may appear absurd, but the little state is advantageously placed, its neighbours are all defenceless; and if at any moment the jealousies of the greater courts should neutralise each other, an active policy might double the principality both in population and extent. Certainly at least the scheme is entertained in the court of Mittwalden; nor do I myself regard it as entirely desperate. The margravate of Brandenburg has grown from as small beginnings to a formidable power; and though it is late in the day to try adventurous policies, and the age of war seems ended, Fortune, we must not forget, still blindly turns her wheel for men and nations. Concurrently with, and tributary to, these warlike preparations, crushing taxes have been levied, journals have been suppressed, and the country, which three years ago was prosperous and happy, now stagnates in a forced inaction, gold has become a curiosity, and the mills stand idle on the mountain streams.
On the other hand, in his second capacity of popular tribune, Gondremark is the incarnation of the free lodges, and sits at the centre of an organised conspiracy against the state. To any such movement my sympathies were early acquired, and I would not willingly let fall a word that might embarrass or retard the revolution. But to show that I speak of knowledge, and not as the reporter of mere gossip, I may mention that I have myself been present at a meeting where the details of a republican Constitution were minutely debated and arranged; and I may add that Gondremark was throughout referred to by the speakers as their captain in action and the arbiter of their disputes. He has taught his dupes (for so I must regard them) that his power of resistance to the Princess is limited, and at each fresh stretch of authority persuades them, with specious reasons, to postpone the hour of insurrection. Thus (to give some instances of his astute diplomacy) he salved over the decree enforcing military service, under the plea that to be well drilled and exercised in arms was even a necessary preparation for revolt. And the other day, when it began to be rumoured abroad that a war was being forced on a reluctant neighbour, the Grand Duke of Gerolstein, and I made sure it would be the signal for an instant rising, I was struck dumb with wonder to find that even this had been prepared and was to be accepted. I went from one to another in the Liberal camp, and all were in the same story, all had been drilled and schooled and fitted out with vacuous argument. "The lads had better see some real fighting," they said; "and besides, it will be as well to capture Gerolstein; we can then extend to our neighbours the blessing of liberty on the same day that we snatch it for ourselves; and the republic will be all the stronger to resist, if the kings of Europe should band themselves together to reduce it." I know not which of the two I should admire the more: the simplicity of the multitude or the audacity of the adventurer. But such are the subtleties, such the quibbling reasons, with which he blinds and leads this people. How long a course so tortuous can be pursued with safety I am incapable of guessing; not long, one would suppose; and yet this singular man has been treading the mazes for five years, and his favour at court and his popularity among the lodges still endure unbroken.
I have the privilege of slightly knowing him. Heavily and somewhat clumsily built, of a vast, disjointed, rambling frame, he can still pull himself together, and figure, not without admiration, in the saloon or the ball-room. His hue and temperament are plentifully bilious; he has a saturnine eye; his cheek is of a dark blue where he has been shaven. Essentially he is to be numbered among the man-haters, a convinced contemner of his fellows. Yet he is himself of a most commonplace ambition and greedy of applause. In talk, he is remarkable for a thirst of information, loving rather to hear than to communicate; for sound and studious views; and, judging by the extreme short-sightedness of common politicians, for a remarkable prevision of events. All this, however, without grace, pleasantry, or charm, heavily set forth, with a dull countenance. In our numerous conversations, although he has always heard me with deference, I have been conscious throughout of a sort of ponderous finessing hard to tolerate. He produces none of the effect of a gentleman; devoid not merely of pleasantry, but of all attention or communicative warmth of bearing. No gentleman, besides, would so parade his amours with the Princess; still less repay the Prince for his long-suffering with the studied insolence of demeanour and the fabrication of insulting nicknames, such as Prince Featherhead, which run from ear to ear and create a laugh throughout the country. Gondremark has thus some of the clumsier characters of the self-made man, combined with an inordinate, almost a besotted, pride of intellect and birth. Heavy, bilious, selfish, inornate, he sits upon this court and country like an incubus.
But it is probable that he preserves softer gifts for necessary purposes. Indeed, it is certain, although he vouchsafed none of it to me, that this cold and stolid politician possesses to a great degree the art of ingratiation, and can be all things to all men. Hence there has probably sprung up the idle legend that in private life he is a gross romping voluptuary. Nothing, at least, can well be more surprising than the terms of his connection with the Princess. Older than her husband, certainly uglier, and, according to the feeble ideas common among women, in every particular less pleasing, he has not only seized the complete command of all her thought and action, but has imposed on her in public a humiliating part. I do not here refer to the complete sacrifice of every rag of her reputation; for to many women these extremities are in themselves attractive. But there is about the court a certain lady of a dishevelled reputation, a Countess von Rosen, wife or widow of a cloudy count, no longer in her second youth, and already bereft of some of her attractions, who unequivocally occupies the station of the Baron's mistress. I had thought, at first, that she was but a hired accomplice, a mere blind or buffer for the more important sinner. A few hours' acquaintance with Madame von Rosen for ever dispelled the illusion. She is one rather to make than to prevent a scandal, and she values none of those bribes—money, honours, or employment—with which the situation might be gilded. Indeed, as a person frankly bad, she pleased me, in the court of Gruenewald, like a piece of nature.
The power of this man over the Princess is, therefore, without bounds. She has sacrificed to the adoration with which he has inspired her not only her marriage vow and every shred of public decency, but that vice of jealousy which is so much dearer to the female sex than either intrinsic honour or outward consideration. Nay, more: a young, although not a very attractive woman, and a princess both by birth and fact, she submits to the triumphant rivalry of one who might be her mother as to years, and who is so manifestly her inferior in station. This is one of the mysteries of the human heart. But the rage of illicit love, when it is once indulged, appears to grow by feeding; and to a person of the character and temperament of this unfortunate young lady, almost any depth of degradation is within the reach of possibility.
THE PRINCE AND THE ENGLISH TRAVELLER
So far Otto read, with waxing indignation; and here his fury overflowed. He tossed the roll upon the table and stood up. "This man," he said, "is a devil. A filthy imagination, an ear greedy of evil, a ponderous malignity of thought and language: I grow like him by the reading! Chancellor, where is this fellow lodged?"
"He was committed to the Flag Tower," replied Greisengesang, "in the Gamiani apartment."
"Lead me to him," said the Prince; and then, a thought striking him, "Was it for that," he asked, "that I found so many sentries in the garden?"
"Your Highness, I am unaware," answered Greisengesang, true to his policy. "The disposition of the guards is a matter distinct from my functions."
Otto turned upon the old man fiercely, but ere he had time to speak, Gotthold touched him on the arm. He swallowed his wrath with a great effort. "It is well," he said, taking the roll. "Follow me to the Flag Tower."
The Chancellor gathered himself together, and the two set forward. It was a long and complicated voyage; for the library was in the wing of the new buildings, and the tower which carried the flag was in the old schloss upon the garden. By a great variety of stairs and corridors, they came out at last upon a patch of gravelled court; the garden peeped through a high grating with a flash of green; tall, old, gabled buildings mounted on every side; the Flag Tower climbed, stage after stage, into the blue; and high over all, among the building daws, the yellow flag wavered in the wind. A sentinel at the foot of the tower stairs presented arms; another paced the first landing; and a third was stationed before the door of the extemporised prison.
"We guard this mud-bag like a jewel," Otto sneered.
The Gamiani apartment was so called from an Italian doctor who had imposed on the credulity of a former prince. The rooms were large, airy, pleasant, and looked upon the garden; but the walls were of great thickness (for the tower was old), and the windows were heavily barred. The Prince, followed by the Chancellor, still trotting to keep up with him, brushed swiftly through the little library and the long saloon, and burst like a thunderbolt into the bedroom at the farther end. Sir John was finishing his toilet; a man of fifty, hard, uncompromising, able, with the eye and teeth of physical courage. He was unmoved by the irruption, and bowed with a sort of sneering ease.
"To what am I to attribute the honour of this visit?" he asked.
"You have eaten my bread," replied Otto, "you have taken my hand, you have been received under my roof. When did I fail you in courtesy? What have you asked that was not granted as to an honoured guest? And here, sir," tapping fiercely on the manuscript, "here is your return."
"Your Highness has read my papers?" said the Baronet. "I am honoured indeed. But the sketch is most imperfect. I shall now have much to add. I can say that the Prince, whom I had accused of idleness, is zealous in the department of police, taking upon himself those duties that are most distasteful. I shall be able to relate the burlesque incident of my arrest, and the singular interview with which you honour me at present. For the rest, I have already communicated with my Ambassador at Vienna; and unless you propose to murder me, I shall be at liberty, whether you please or not, within the week. For I hardly fancy the future empire of Gruenewald is yet ripe to go to war with England. I conceive I am a little more than quits. I owe you no explanation; yours has been the wrong. You, if you have studied my writing with intelligence, owe me a large debt of gratitude. And to conclude, as I have not yet finished my toilet, I imagine the courtesy of a turnkey to a prisoner would induce you to withdraw."
There was some paper on the table, and Otto, sitting down, wrote a passport in the name of Sir John Crabtree.
"Affix the seal, Herr Cancellarius," he said, in his most princely manner, as he rose.
Greisengesang produced a red portfolio, and affixed the seal in the unpoetic guise of an adhesive stamp; nor did his perturbed and clumsy movements at all lessen the comedy of the performance. Sir John looked on with a malign enjoyment; and Otto chafed, regretting, when too late, the unnecessary royalty of his command and gesture. But at length the Chancellor had finished his piece of prestidigitation, and, without waiting for an order, had countersigned the passport. Thus regularised, he returned it to Otto with a bow.
"You will now," said the Prince, "order one of my own carriages to be prepared; see it, with your own eyes, charged with Sir John's effects, and have it waiting within the hour behind the Pheasant House. Sir John departs this morning for Vienna."
The Chancellor took his elaborate departure.
"Here, sir, is your passport," said Otto, turning to the Baronet. "I regret it from my heart that you have met inhospitable usage."
"Well, there will be no English war," returned Sir John.
"Nay, sir," said Otto; "you surely owe me your civility. Matters are now changed, and we stand again upon the footing of two gentlemen. It was not I who ordered your arrest; I returned late last night from hunting; and as you cannot blame me for your imprisonment, you may even thank me for your freedom."
"And yet you read my papers," said the traveller shrewdly.
"There, sir, I was wrong," returned Otto; "and for that I ask your pardon. You can scarce refuse it, for your own dignity, to one who is a plexus of weaknesses. Nor was the fault entirely mine. Had the papers been innocent, it would have been at most an indiscretion. Your own guilt is the sting of my offence."
Sir John regarded Otto with an approving twinkle; then he bowed, but still in silence.
"Well, sir, as you are now at your entire disposal, I have a favour to beg of your indulgence," continued the Prince. "I have to request that you will walk with me alone into the garden so soon as your convenience permits."
"From the moment that I am a free man," Sir John replied, this time with perfect courtesy, "I am wholly at your Highness's command; and if you will excuse a rather summary toilet, I will even follow you as I am."
"I thank you, sir," said Otto.
So without more delay, the Prince leading, the pair proceeded down through the echoing stairway of the tower, and out through the grating, into the ample air and sunshine of the morning, and among the terraces and flower-beds of the garden. They crossed the fish-pond, where the carp were leaping as thick as bees; they mounted, one after another, the various flights of stairs, snowed upon, as they went, with April blossoms, and marching in time to the great orchestra of birds. Nor did Otto pause till they had reached the highest terrace of the garden. Here was a gate into the park, and hard by, under a tuft of laurel, a marble garden seat. Hence they looked down on the green tops of many elm-trees, where the rooks were busy; and, beyond that, upon the palace roof, and the yellow banner flying in the blue. "I pray you to be seated, sir," said Otto.
Sir John complied without a word; and for some seconds Otto walked to and fro before him, plunged in angry thought. The birds were all singing for a wager.
"Sir," said the Prince at length, turning towards the Englishman, "you are to me, except by the conventions of society, a perfect stranger. Of your character and wishes I am ignorant. I have never wittingly disobliged you. There is a difference in station, which I desire to waive. I would, if you still think me entitled to so much consideration—I would be regarded simply as a gentleman. Now, sir, I did wrong to glance at these papers, which I here return to you; but if curiosity be undignified, as I am free to own, falsehood is both cowardly and cruel. I opened your roll; and what did I find—what did I find about my wife? Lies!" he broke out. "They are lies! There are not, so help me God! four words of truth in your intolerable libel! You are a man; you are old, and might be the girl's father; you are a gentleman; you are a scholar, and have learned refinement; and you rake together all this vulgar scandal, and propose to print it in a public book! Such is your chivalry! But, thank God, sir, she has still a husband. You say, sir, in that paper in your hand, that I am a bad fencer; I have to request from you a lesson in the art. The park is close behind; yonder is the Pheasant House, where you will find your carriage; should I fall, you know, sir—you have written it in your paper—how little my movements are regarded; I am in the custom of disappearing: it will be one more disappearance; and long before it has awakened a remark, you may be safe across the border."
"You will observe," said Sir John, "that what you ask is impossible."
"And if I struck you?" cried the Prince, with a sudden menacing flash.
"It would be a cowardly blow," returned the Baronet, unmoved, "for it would make no change. I cannot draw upon a reigning sovereign."
"And it is this man, to whom you dare not offer satisfaction, that you choose to insult!" cried Otto.
"Pardon me," said the traveller, "you are unjust. It is because you are a reigning sovereign that I cannot fight with you; and it is for the same reason that I have a right to criticise your action and your wife. You are in everything a public creature; you belong to the public, body and bone. You have with you the law, the muskets of the army, and the eyes of spies. We, on our side, have but one weapon—truth."
"Truth!" echoed the Prince, with a gesture.
There was another silence.
"Your Highness," said Sir John at last, "you must not expect grapes from a thistle. I am old and a cynic. Nobody cares a rush for me; and on the whole, after the present interview, I scarce know anybody that I like better than yourself. You see, I have changed my mind, and have the uncommon virtue to avow the change. I tear up this stuff before you, here in your own garden; I ask your pardon, I ask the pardon of the Princess; and I give you my word of honour as a gentleman and an old man, that when my book of travels shall appear it shall not contain so much as the name of Gruenewald. And yet it was a racy chapter! But had your Highness only read about the other courts! I am a carrion crow; but it is not my fault, after all, that the world is such a nauseous kennel."
"Sir," said Otto, "is the eye not jaundiced?"
"Nay," cried the traveller, "very likely. I am one who goes sniffing; I am no poet. I believe in a better future for the world; or, at all accounts, I do most potently disbelieve in the present. Rotten eggs is the burthen of my song. But indeed, your Highness, when I meet with any merit, I do not think that I am slow to recognise it. This is a day that I shall still recall with gratitude, for I have found a sovereign with some manly virtues; and for once—old courtier and old radical as I am—it is from the heart and quite sincerely that I can request the honour of kissing your Highness's hand?"
"Nay, sir," said Otto, "to my heart!"
And the Englishman, taken at unawares, was clasped for a moment in the Prince's arms.
"And now, sir," added Otto, "there is the Pheasant House; close behind it you will find my carriage, which I pray you to accept. God speed you to Vienna!"
"In the impetuosity of youth," replied Sir John, "your Highness has overlooked one circumstance: I am still fasting."
"Well, sir," said Otto, smiling, "you are your own master; you may go or stay. But I warn you, your friend may prove less powerful than your enemies. The Prince, indeed, is thoroughly on your side; he has all the will to help; but to whom do I speak?—you know better than I do, he is not alone in Gruenewald."
"There is a deal in position," returned the traveller, gravely nodding. "Gondremark loves to temporise; his policy is below ground, and he fears all open courses; and now that I have seen you act with so much spirit, I will cheerfully risk myself on your protection. Who knows? You may be yet the better man."
"Do you indeed believe so?" cried the Prince. "You put life into my heart!"
"I will give up sketching portraits," said the Baronet. "I am a blind owl; I had misread you strangely. And yet remember this: a sprint is one thing, and to run all day another. For I still mistrust your constitution; the short nose, the hair and eyes of several complexions; no, they are diagnostic; and I must end, I see, as I began."
"I am still a singing chambermaid?" said Otto.
"Nay, your Highness, I pray you to forget what I had written," said Sir John; "I am not like Pilate; and the chapter is no more. Bury it, if you love me."
WHILE THE PRINCE IS IN THE ANTE-ROOM....
Greatly comforted by the exploits of the morning, the Prince turned towards the Princess's ante-room, bent on a more difficult enterprise. The curtains rose before him, the usher called his name, and he entered the room with an exaggeration of his usual mincing and airy dignity. There were about a score of persons waiting, principally ladies; it was one of the few societies in Gruenewald where Otto knew himself to be popular; and while a maid of honour made her exit by a side door to announce his arrival to the Princess, he moved round the apartment, collecting homage and bestowing compliments with friendly grace. Had this been the sum of his duties, he had been an admirable monarch. Lady after lady was impartially honoured by his attention.
"Madam," he said to one, "how does this happen? I find you daily more adorable."
"And your Highness daily browner," replied the lady. "We began equal; oh, there I will be bold: we have both beautiful complexions. But while I study mine, your Highness tans himself."
"A perfect negro, madam; and what so fitly—being beauty's slave?" said Otto.—"Madame Grafinski, when is our next play? I have just heard that I am a bad actor."
"O ciel!" cried Madame Grafinski. "Who could venture? What a bear!"
"An excellent man, I can assure you," returned Otto.
"O, never! O, is it possible!" fluted the lady. "Your Highness plays like an angel."
"You must be right, madam; who could speak falsely and yet look so charming?" said the Prince. "But this gentleman, it seems, would have preferred me playing like an actor."
A sort of hum, a falsetto, feminine cooing, greeted the tiny sally; and Otto expanded like a peacock. This warm atmosphere of women and flattery and idle chatter pleased him to the marrow.
"Madame von Eisenthal, your coiffure is delicious," he remarked.
"Everyone was saying so," said one.
"If I have pleased Prince Charming?" And Madame von Eisenthal swept him a deep curtsey with a killing glance of adoration.
"It is new?" he asked. "Vienna fashion."
"Mint new," replied the lady, "for your Highness's return. I felt young this morning; it was a premonition. But why, Prince, do you ever leave us?"
"For the pleasure of the return," said Otto. "I am like a dog; I must bury my bone, and then come back to gloat upon it."
"O, a bone! Fie, what a comparison! You have brought back the manners of the wood," returned the lady.
"Madam, it is what the dog has dearest," said the Prince. "But I observe Madame von Rosen."
And Otto, leaving the group to which he had been piping, stepped towards the embrasure of a window where a lady stood.
The Countess von Rosen had hitherto been silent, and a thought depressed, but on the approach of Otto she began to brighten. She was tall, slim as a nymph, and of a very airy carriage; and her face, which was already beautiful in repose, lightened and changed, flashed into smiles, and glowed with a lovely colour at the touch of animation. She was a good vocalist; and, even in speech, her voice commanded a great range of changes, the low notes rich with tenor quality, the upper ringing, on the brink of laughter, into music. A gem of many facets, and variable hues of fire; a woman who withheld the better portion of her beauty, and then, in a caressing second, flashed it like a weapon full on the beholder; now merely a tall figure and a sallow handsome face, with the evidences of a reckless temper; anon opening like a flower to life and colour, mirth and tenderness:—Madame von Rosen had always a dagger in reserve for the despatch of ill-assured admirers. She met Otto with the dart of tender gaiety.
"You have come to me at last, Prince Cruel," she said. "Butterfly! Well, and am I not to kiss your hand?" she added.
"Madam, it is I who must kiss yours." And Otto bowed and kissed it.
"You deny me every indulgence," she said, smiling.
"And now what news in court?" inquired the Prince. "I come to you for my gazette."
"Ditch-water!" she replied. "The world is all asleep, grown grey in slumber; I do not remember any waking movement since quite an eternity; and the last thing in the nature of a sensation was the last time my governess was allowed to box my ears. But yet I do myself and your unfortunate enchanted palace some injustice. Here is the last—O positively!" And she told him the story from behind her fan, with many glances, many cunning strokes of the narrator's art. The others had drawn away, for it was understood that Madame von Rosen was in favour with the Prince. None the less, however, did the Countess lower her voice at times to within a semitone of whispering; and the pair leaned together over the narrative.
"Do you know," said Otto, laughing, "you are the only entertaining woman on this earth!"
"O, you have found out so much," she cried.
"Yes, madam, I grow wiser with advancing years," he returned.
"Years!" she repeated. "Do you name the traitors? I do not believe in years; the calendar is a delusion."
"You must be right, madam," replied the Prince. "For six years that we have been good friends, I have observed you to grow younger."
"Flatterer," cried she, and then, with a change, "But why should I say so," she added, "when I protest I think the same? A week ago I had a council with my father director, the glass; and the glass replied, 'Not yet!' I confess my face in this way once a month. O! a very solemn moment. Do you know what I shall do when the mirror answers, 'Now'?"
"I cannot guess," said he.
"No more can I," returned the Countess. "There is such a choice! Suicide, gambling, a nunnery, a volume of memoirs, or politics—the last, I am afraid."
"It is a dull trade," said Otto.
"Nay," she replied, "it is a trade I rather like. It is, after all, first cousin to gossip, which no one can deny to be amusing. For instance, if I were to tell you that the Princess and the Baron rode out together daily to inspect the cannon, it is either a piece of politics or scandal, as I turn my phrase. I am the alchemist that makes the transmutation. They have been everywhere together since you left," she continued, brightening as she saw Otto darken; "that is a poor snippet of malicious gossip—and they were everywhere cheered—and with that addition all becomes political intelligence."
"Let us change the subject," said Otto.
"I was about to propose it," she replied, "or rather to pursue the politics. Do you know? this war is popular—popular to the length of cheering Princess Seraphina."
"All things, madam, are possible," said the Prince; "and this among others, that we may be going into war, but I give you my word of honour I do not know with whom."
"And you put up with it?" she cried. "I have no pretensions to morality; and I confess I have always abominated the lamb, and nourished a romantic feeling for the wolf. O, be done with lambiness! Let us see there is a prince, for I am weary of the distaff."
"Madam," said Otto, "I thought you were of that faction."
"I should be of yours, mon Prince, if you had one," she retorted. "Is it true that you have no ambition? There was a man once in England whom they call the kingmaker. Do you know," she added, "I fancy I could make a prince?"
"Some day, madam," said Otto, "I may ask you to help make a farmer."
"Is that a riddle?" asked the Countess.
"It is," replied the Prince, "and a very good one too."
"Tit for tat. I will ask you another," she returned. "Where is Gondremark?"
"The Prime Minister? In the prime-ministry, no doubt," said Otto.
"Precisely," said the Countess; and she pointed with her fan to the door of the Princess's apartments. "You and I, mon Prince, are in the ante-room. You think me unkind," she added. "Try me and you will see. Set me a task, put me a question; there is no enormity I am not capable of doing to oblige you, and no secret that I am not ready to betray."
"Nay, madam, but I respect my friend too much," he answered, kissing her hand. "I would rather remain ignorant of all. We fraternise like foemen soldiers at the outposts, but let each be true to his own army."
"Ah," she cried, "if all men were generous like you, it would be worth while to be a woman!" Yet, judging by her looks, his generosity, if anything, had disappointed her; she seemed to seek a remedy, and, having found it, brightened once more. "And now," she said, "may I dismiss my sovereign? This is rebellion and a cas pendable; but what am I to do? My bear is jealous!"
"Madam, enough!" cried Otto. "Ahasuerus reaches you the sceptre; more, he will obey you in all points. I should have been a dog to come to whistling."
And so the Prince departed, and fluttered round Grafinski and von Eisenthal. But the Countess knew the use of her offensive weapons, and had left a pleasant arrow in the Prince's heart. That Gondremark was jealous—here was an agreeable revenge! And Madame von Rosen, as the occasion of the jealousy, appeared to him in a new light.
... GONDREMARK IS IN MY LADY'S CHAMBER
The Countess von Rosen spoke the truth. The great Prime Minister of Gruenewald was already closeted with Seraphina. The toilet was over; and the Princess, tastefully arrayed, sat face to face with a tall mirror. Sir John's description was unkindly true, true in terms and yet a libel, a misogynistic masterpiece. Her forehead was perhaps too high, but it became her; her figure somewhat stooped, but every detail was formed and finished like a gem; her hand, her foot, her ear, the set of her comely head, were all dainty and accordant; if she was not beautiful, she was vivid, changeful, coloured, and pretty with a thousand various prettinesses; and her eyes, if they indeed rolled too consciously, yet rolled to purpose. They were her most attractive feature, yet they continually bore eloquent false witness to her thoughts; for while she herself, in the depths of her immature, unsoftened heart, was given altogether to man-like ambition and the desire of power, the eyes were by turns bold, inviting, fiery, melting, and artful, like the eyes of a rapacious siren. And artful, in a sense, she was. Chafing that she was not a man, and could not shine by action, she had, conceived a woman's part, of answerable domination; she sought to subjugate for by-ends, to rain influence and be fancy free; and, while she loved not man, loved to see man obey her. It is a common girl's ambition. Such was perhaps that lady of the glove, who sent her lover to the lions. But the snare is laid alike for male and female, and the world most artfully contrived.
Near her, in a low chair, Gondremark had arranged his limbs into a cat-like attitude, high-shouldered, stooping, and submiss. The formidable blue jowl of the man, and the dull bilious eye, set perhaps a higher value on his evident desire to please. His face was marked by capacity, temper, and a kind of bold, piratical dishonesty which it would be calumnious to call deceit. His manners, as he smiled upon the Princess, were over-fine, yet hardly elegant.
"Possibly," said the Baron, "I should now proceed to take my leave. I must not keep my sovereign in the ante-room. Let us come at once to a decision."
"It cannot, cannot be put off?" she asked.
"It is impossible," answered Gondremark. "Your Highness sees it for herself. In the earlier stages we might imitate the serpent; but for the ultimatum, there is no choice but to be bold like lions. Had the Prince chosen to remain away, it had been better; but we have gone too far forward to delay."
"What can have brought him?" she cried. "To-day of all days?"
"The marplot, madam, has the instinct of his nature," returned Gondremark. "But you exaggerate the peril. Think, madam, how far we have prospered, and against what odds! Shall a Featherhead?—but no!" And he blew upon his fingers lightly with a laugh.
"Featherhead," she replied, "is still the Prince of Gruenewald."
"On your sufferance only, and so long as you shall please to be indulgent," said the Baron. "There are rights of nature; power to the powerful is the law. If he shall think to cross your destiny—well, you have heard of the brazen and the earthen pot."
"Do you call me pot? You are ungallant, Baron," laughed the Princess.
"Before we are done with your glory, I shall have called you by many different titles," he replied.
The girl flushed with pleasure. "But Frederic is still the Prince, monsieur le flatteur," she said. "You do not propose a revolution?—you of all men?"
"Dear madam, when it is already made!" he cried. "The Prince reigns indeed in the almanac; but my Princess reigns and rules." And he looked at her with a fond admiration that made the heart of Seraphina swell. Looking on her huge slave, she drank the intoxicating joys of power. Meanwhile he continued, with that sort of massive archness that so ill became him, "She has but one fault; there is but one danger in the great career that I foresee for her. May I name it? may I be so irreverent? It is in herself—her heart is soft."
"Her courage is faint, Baron," said the Princess. "Suppose we have judged ill, suppose we were defeated?"
"Defeated, madam?" returned the Baron, with a touch of ill-humour. "Is the dog defeated by the hare? Our troops are all cantoned along the frontier; in five hours the vanguard of five thousand bayonets shall be hammering on the gates of Brandenau; and in all Gerolstein there are not fifteen hundred men who can manoeuvre. It is as simple as a sum. There can be no resistance."
"It is no great exploit," she said. "Is that what you call glory? It is like beating a child."
"The courage, madam, is diplomatic," he replied. "We take a grave step; we fix the eyes of Europe, for the first time, on Gruenewald; and in the negotiations of the next three months, mark me, we stand or fall. It is there, madam, that I shall have to depend upon your counsels," he added, almost gloomily. "If I had not seen you at work, if I did not know the fertility of your mind, I own I should tremble for the consequence. But It is in this field that men must recognise their inability. All the great negotiators, when they have not been women, have had women at their elbows. Madame de Pompadour was ill served; she had not found her Gondremark; but what a mighty politician! Catherine de' Medici, too, what justice of sight, what readiness of means, what elasticity against defeat! But alas! madam, her Featherheads were her own children; and she had that one touch of vulgarity, that one trait of the good-wife, that she suffered family ties and affections to confine her liberty."
These singular views of history, strictly ad usum Seraphinae, did not weave their usual soothing spell over the Princess. It was plain that she had taken a momentary distaste to her own resolutions; for she continued to oppose her counsellor, looking upon him out of half-closed eyes and with the shadow of a sneer upon her lips. "What boys men are!" she said; "what lovers of big words! Courage, indeed! If you had to scour pans, Herr von Gondremark, you would call it, I suppose, Domestic Courage?"
"I would, madam," said the Baron stoutly, "if I scoured them well. I would put a good name upon a virtue; you will not overdo it; they are not so enchanting in themselves."
"Well, but let me see," she said. "I wish to understand your courage. Why we asked leave, like children! Our grannie in Berlin, our uncle in Vienna, the whole family, have patted us on the head and sent us forward. Courage? I wonder when I hear you!"
"My Princess is unlike herself," returned the Baron. "She has forgotten where the peril lies. True, we have received encouragement on every hand; but my Princess knows too well on what untenable conditions; and she knows besides how, in the publicity of the diet, these whispered conferences are forgotten and disowned. The danger is very real"—he raged inwardly at having to blow the very coal he had been quenching—"none the less real in that it is not precisely military, but for that reason the easier to be faced. Had we to count upon your troops, although I share your Highness's expectations of the conduct of Alvenau, we cannot forget that he has not been proved in chief command. But where negotiation is concerned, the conduct lies with us; and with your help, I laugh at danger."
"It may be so," said Seraphina, sighing. "It is elsewhere that I see danger. The people, these abominable people—suppose they should instantly rebel? What a figure we should make in the eyes of Europe to have undertaken an invasion while my own throne was tottering to its fall!"
"Nay, madam," said Gondremark, smiling, "here you are beneath yourself. What is it that feeds their discontent? What but the taxes? Once we have seized Gerolstein, the taxes are remitted, the sons return covered with renown, the houses are adorned with pillage, each tastes his little share of military glory, and behold us once again a happy family! 'Ay,' they will say in each other's long ears, 'the Princess knew what she was about; she was in the right of it; she has a head upon her shoulders; and here we are, you see, better off than before.' But why should I say all this? It is what my Princess pointed out to me herself; it was by these reasons that she converted me to this adventure."
"I think, Herr von Gondremark," said Seraphina, somewhat tartly, "you often attribute your own sagacity to your Princess."
For a second Gondremark staggered under the shrewdness of the attack; the next, he had perfectly recovered. "Do I?" he said. "It is very possible. I have observed a similar tendency in your Highness."
It was so openly spoken, and appeared so just, that Seraphina breathed again. Her vanity had been alarmed, and the greatness of the relief improved her spirits. "Well," she said, "all this is little to the purpose. We are keeping Frederic without, and I am still ignorant of our line of battle. Come, co-admiral, let us consult.... How am I to receive him now? And what are we to do if he should appear at the council?"
"Now," he answered. "I shall leave him to my Princess for just now! I have seen her at work. Send him off to his theatricals! But in all gentleness," he added. "Would it, for instance, would it displease my sovereign to affect a headache?"
"Never!" said she. "The woman who can manage, like the man who can fight, must never shrink from an encounter. The knight must not disgrace his weapons."
"Then let me pray my belle dame sans merci," he returned, "to affect the only virtue that she lacks. Be pitiful to the poor young man; affect an interest in his hunting; be weary of politics; find in his society, as it were, a grateful repose from dry considerations. Does my Princess authorise the line of battle?"
"Well, that is a trifle," answered Seraphina. "The council—there is the point."
"The council?" cried Gondremark. "Permit me, madam." And he rose and proceeded to flutter about the room, counterfeiting Otto both in voice and gesture not unhappily. "What is there to-day, Herr von Gondremark? Ah, Herr Cancellarius, a new wig! You cannot deceive me; I know every wig in Gruenewald; I have the sovereign's eye. What are these papers about? O, I see. O, certainly. Surely, surely. I wager none of you remarked that wig. By all means. I know nothing about that. Dear me, are there as many as all that? Well, you can sign them; you have the procuration. You see, Herr Cancellarius, I knew your wig. And so," concluded Gondremark, resuming his own voice, "our sovereign, by the particular grace of God, enlightens and supports his privy councillors."
But when the Baron turned to Seraphina for approval he found her frozen. "You are pleased to be witty, Herr von Gondremark," she said, "and have perhaps forgotten where you are. But these rehearsals are apt to be misleading. Your master, the Prince of Gruenewald, is sometimes more exacting."
Gondremark cursed her in his soul. Of all injured vanities, that of the reproved buffoon is the most savage; and when grave issues are involved, these petty stabs become unbearable. But Gondremark was a man of iron; he showed nothing; he did not even, like the common trickster, retreat because he had presumed, but held to his point bravely. "Madam," he said, "if, as you say, he prove exacting, we must take the bull by the horns."
"We shall see," she said, and she arranged her skirt like one about to rise. Temper, scorn, disgust, all the more acrid feelings, became her like jewels; and she now looked her best.
"Pray God they quarrel," thought Gondremark. "The damned minx may fail me yet, unless they quarrel. It is time to let him in. Zz—fight, dogs!" Consequent on these reflections, he bent a stiff knee, and chivalrously kissed the Princess's hand. "My Princess," he said, "must now dismiss her servant. I have much to arrange against the hour of council."
"Go," she said, and rose.
And as Gondremark tripped out of a private door, she touched a bell, and gave the order to admit the Prince.
THE PRINCE DELIVERS A LECTURE ON MARRIAGE, WITH PRACTICAL ILLUSTRATIONS OF DIVORCE
With what a world of excellent intentions Otto entered his wife's cabinet! how fatherly, how tender! how morally affecting were the words he had prepared! Nor was Seraphina unamiably inclined. Her usual fear of Otto as a marplot in her great designs was now swallowed up in a passing distrust of the designs themselves. For Gondremark, besides, she had conceived an angry horror. In her heart she did not like the Baron. Behind his impudent servility, behind the devotion which, with indelicate delicacy, he still forced on her attention, she divined the grossness of his nature. So a man may be proud of having tamed a bear, and yet sicken at his captive's odour. And above all, she had certain jealous intimations that the man was false and the deception double. True, she falsely trifled with his love; but he, perhaps, was only trifling with her vanity. The insolence of his late mimicry, and the odium of her own position as she sat and watched it, lay besides like a load upon her conscience. She met Otto almost with a sense of guilt, and yet she welcomed him as a deliverer from ugly things.
But the wheels of an interview are at the mercy of a thousand ruts; and even at Otto's entrance, the first jolt occurred. Gondremark, he saw, was gone; but there was the chair drawn close for consultation; and it pained him not only that this man had been received, but that he should depart with such an air of secrecy. Struggling with this twinge, it was somewhat sharply that he dismissed the attendant who had brought him in.
"You make yourself at home, chez moi," she said, a little ruffled both by his tone of command and by the glance he had thrown upon the chair.
"Madam," replied Otto, "I am here so seldom that I have almost the rights of a stranger."
"You choose your own associates, Frederic," she said.
"I am here to speak of it," he returned. "It is now four years since we were married; and these four years, Seraphina, have not perhaps been happy either for you or for me. I am well aware I was unsuitable to be your husband. I was not young, I had no ambition, I was a trifler; and you despised me, I dare not say unjustly. But to do justice on both sides, you must bear in mind how I have acted. When I found it amused you to play the part of Princess on this little stage, did I not immediately resign to you my box of toys, this Gruenewald? And when I found I was distasteful as a husband, could any husband have been less intrusive? You will tell me that I have no feelings, no preference, and thus no credit; that I go before the wind; that all this was in my character. And indeed, one thing is true,—that it is easy, too easy, to leave things undone. But, Seraphina, I begin to learn it is not always wise. If I were too old and too uncongenial for your husband, I should still have remembered that I was the Prince of that country to which you came, a visitor and a child. In that relation also there were duties, and these duties I have not performed."
To claim the advantage of superior age is to give sure offence. "Duty!" laughed Seraphina, "and on your lips, Frederic! You make me laugh. What fancy is this? Go, flirt with the maids and be a prince in Dresden china, as you look. Enjoy yourself, mon enfant, and leave duty and the state to us."
The plural grated on the Prince. "I have enjoyed myself too much," he said, "since enjoyment is the word. And yet there were much to say upon the other side. You must suppose me desperately fond of hunting. But indeed there were days when I found a great deal of interest in what it was courtesy to call my government. And I have always had some claim to taste; I could tell live happiness from dull routine; and between hunting, and the throne of Austria, and your society, my choice had never wavered, had the choice been mine. You were a girl, a bud, when you were given me——"
"Heavens!" she cried, "is this to be a love-scene?"
"I am never ridiculous," he said; "it is my only merit; and you may be certain this shall be a scene of marriage a la mode. But when I remember the beginning, it is bare courtesy to speak in sorrow. Be just, madam: you would think me strangely uncivil to recall these days without the decency of a regret. Be yet a little juster, and own, if only in complaisance, that you yourself regret that past."
"I have nothing to regret," said the Princess. "You surprise me. I thought you were so happy."
"Happy and happy, there are so many hundred ways," said Otto. "A man may be happy in revolt; he may be happy in sleep; wine, change, and travel make him happy; virtue, they say, will do the like—I have not tried; and they say also that in old, quiet, and habitual marriages there is yet another happiness. Happy, yes; I am happy if you like; but I will tell you frankly, I was happier when I brought you home."
"Well," said the Princess, not without constraint, "it seems you changed your mind."
"Not I," returned Otto, "I never changed. Do you remember, Seraphina, on our way home, when you saw the roses in the lane, and I got out and plucked them? It was a narrow lane between great trees; the sunset at the end was all gold, and the rooks were flying overhead. There were nine, nine red roses; you gave me a kiss for each, and I told myself that every rose and every kiss should stand for a year of love. Well, in eighteen months there was an end. But do you fancy, Seraphina, that my heart has altered?"
"I am sure I cannot tell," she said, like an automaton.
"It has not," the Prince continued. "There is nothing ridiculous, even from a husband, in a love that owns itself unhappy and that asks no more. I built on sand; pardon me, I do not breathe a reproach—I built, I suppose, upon my own infirmities; but I put my heart in the building, and it still lies among the ruins."
"How very poetical!" she said, with a little choking laugh, unknown relentings, unfamiliar softnesses, moving within her. "What would you be at?" she added, hardening her voice.
"I would be at this," he answered; "and hard it is to say. I would be at this:—Seraphina, I am your husband, after all, and a poor fool that loves you. Understand," he cried almost fiercely, "I am no suppliant husband; what your love refuses I would scorn to receive from your pity. I do not ask, I would not take it. And for jealousy, what ground have I? A dog-in-the-manger jealousy is a thing the dogs may laugh at. But at least, in the world's eye, I am still your husband; and I ask you if you treat me fairly? I keep to myself, I leave you free, I have given you in everything your will. What do you in return? I find, Seraphina, that you have been too thoughtless. But between persons such as we are, in our conspicuous station, particular care and a particular courtesy are owing. Scandal is perhaps not easy to avoid; but it is hard to bear."
"Scandal!" she cried, with a deep breath. "Scandal! It is for this you have been driving!"
"I have tried to tell you how I feel," he replied. "I have told you that I love you—love you in vain—a bitter thing for a husband; I have laid myself open that I might speak without offence. And now that I have begun, I will go on and finish."
"I demand it," she said. "What is this about?"
Otto flushed crimson. "I have to say what I would fain not," he answered. "I counsel you to see less of Gondremark."
"Of Gondremark? And why?" she asked.
"Your intimacy is the ground of scandal, madam," said Otto, firmly enough—"of a scandal that is agony to me, and would be crushing to your parents if they knew it."
"You are the first to bring me word of it," said she. "I thank you."
"You have perhaps cause," he replied. "Perhaps I am the only one among your friends——"
"O, leave my friends alone," she interrupted. "My friends are of a different stamp. You have come to me here and made a parade of sentiment. When have I last seen you? I have governed your kingdom for you in the meantime, and there I got no help. At last, when I am weary with a man's work, and you are weary of your playthings, you return to make me a scene of conjugal reproaches—the grocer and his wife! The positions are too much reversed; and you should understand, at least, that I cannot at the same time do your work of government and behave myself like a little girl. Scandal is the atmosphere in which we live, we princes; it is what a prince should know. You play an odious part. Do you believe this rumour?"
"Madam, should I be here?" said Otto.
"It is what I want to know!" she cried, the tempest of her scorn increasing. "Suppose you did—I say, suppose you did believe it?"
"I should make it my business to suppose the contrary," he answered.
"I thought so. O, you are made of baseness!" said she.
"Madam," he cried, roused at last, "enough of this. You wilfully misunderstand my attitude; you outwear my patience. In the name of your parents, in my own name, I summon you to be more circumspect."
"Is this a request, monsieur mon mari?" she demanded.
"Madam, if I chose, I might command," said Otto.
"You might, sir, as the law stands, make me prisoner," returned Seraphina. "Short of that you will gain nothing."
"You will continue as before?" he asked.
"Precisely as before," said she. "As soon as this comedy is over, I shall request the Freiherr von Gondremark to visit me. Do you understand?" she added, rising. "For my part, I have done."
"I will then ask the favour of your hand, madam," said Otto, palpitating in every pulse with anger. "I have to request that you will visit in my society another part of my poor house. And reassure yourself—it will not take long—and it is the last obligation that you shall have the chance to lay me under."
"The last?" she cried. "Most joyfully!"
She offered her hand, and he took it; on each side with an elaborate affectation, each inwardly incandescent. He led her out by the private door, following where Gondremark had passed; they threaded a corridor or two, little frequented, looking on a court, until they came at last into the Prince's suite. The first room was an armoury, hung all about with the weapons of various countries, and looking forth on the front terrace.
"Have you brought me here to slay me?" she inquired.
"I have brought you, madam, only to pass on," replied Otto.
Next they came to a library, where an old chamberlain sat half asleep. He rose and bowed before the princely couple, asking for orders.
"You will attend us here," said Otto.
The next stage was a gallery of pictures, where Seraphina's portrait hung conspicuous, dressed for the chase, red roses in her hair, as Otto, in the first months of marriage, had directed. He pointed to it without a word; she raised her eyebrows in silence; and they passed still forward into a matted corridor where four doors opened. One led to Otto's bedroom; one was the private door to Seraphina's. And here, for the first time, Otto left her hand, and, stepping forward, shot the bolt.
"It is long, madam," said he, "since it was bolted on the other side."
"One was effectual," returned the Princess. "Is this all?"
"Shall I reconduct you?" he asked, bowing.
"I should prefer," she asked, in ringing tones, "the conduct of the Freiherr von Gondremark."
Otto summoned the chamberlain. "If the Freiherr von Gondremark is in the palace," he said, "bid him attend the Princess here." And when the official had departed, "Can I do more to serve you, madam?" the Prince asked.
"Thank you, no. I have been much amused," she answered.
"I have now," continued Otto, "given you your liberty complete. This has been for you a miserable marriage."
"Miserable!" said she.
"It has been made light to you; it shall be lighter still," continued the Prince. "But one thing, madam, you must still continue to bear—my father's name, which is now yours. I leave it in your hands. Let me see you, since you will have no advice of mine, apply the more attention of your own to bear it worthily."
"Herr von Gondremark is long in coming," she remarked.
"O Seraphina, Seraphina!" he cried. And that was the end of their interview.
She tripped to a window and looked out; and a little after, the chamberlain announced the Freiherr von Gondremark, who entered with something of a wild eye and changed complexion, confounded, as he was, at this unusual summons. The Princess faced round from the window with a pearly smile; nothing but her heightened colour spoke of discomposure. Otto was pale, but he was otherwise master of himself.
"Herr von Gondremark," said he, "oblige me so far: reconduct the Princess to her own apartment."
The Baron, still all at sea, offered his hand, which was smilingly accepted, and the pair sailed forth through the picture-gallery.
As soon as they were gone, and Otto knew the length and breadth of his miscarriage, and how he had done the contrary of all that he intended, he stood stupefied. A fiasco so complete and sweeping was laughable, even to himself; and he laughed aloud in his wrath. Upon this mood there followed the sharpest violence of remorse; and to that again, as he recalled his provocation, anger succeeded afresh. So he was tossed in spirit; now bewailing his inconsequence and lack of temper, now flaming up in white-hot indignation and a noble pity for himself.
He paced his apartment like a leopard. There was danger in Otto, for a flash. Like a pistol, he could kill at one moment, and the next he might be kicked aside. But just then, as he walked the long floors in his alternate humours, tearing his handkerchief between his hands, he was strung to his top note, every nerve attent. The pistol, you might say, was charged. And when jealousy from time to time fetched him a lash across the tenderest of his feeling, and sent a string of her fire-pictures glancing before his mind's eye, the contraction of his face was even dangerous. He disregarded jealousy's inventions, yet they stung. In this height of anger, he still preserved his faith in Seraphina's innocence; but the thought of her possible misconduct was the bitterest ingredient in his pot of sorrow.
There came a knock at the door, and the chamberlain brought him a note. He took it and ground it in his hand, continuing his march, continuing his bewildered thoughts; and some minutes had gone by before the circumstance came clearly to his mind. Then he paused and opened it. It was a pencil scratch from Gotthold, thus conceived:
"The council is privately summoned at once.
"G. v. H."
If the council was thus called before the hour, and that privately, it was plain they feared his interference. Feared: here was a sweet thought. Gotthold, too—Gotthold, who had always used and regarded him as a mere peasant lad, had now been at the pains to warn him; Gotthold looked for something at his hands. Well, none should be disappointed; the Prince, too long beshadowed by the uxorious lover, should now return and shine. He summoned his valet, repaired the disorder of his appearance with elaborate care; and then, curled and scented and adorned, Prince Charming in every line, but with a twitching nostril, he set forth unattended for the council.
THE PRINCE DISSOLVES THE COUNCIL
It was as Gotthold wrote. The liberation of Sir John, Greisengesang's uneasy narrative, last of all, the scene between Seraphina and the Prince, had decided the conspirators to take a step of bold timidity. There had been a period of bustle, liveried messengers speeding here and there with notes; and at half-past ten in the morning, about an hour before its usual hour, the council of Gruenewald sat around the board.
It was not a large body. At the instance of Gondremark, it had undergone a strict purgation, and was now composed exclusively of tools. Three secretaries sat at a side-table. Seraphina took the head; on her right was the Baron, on her left Greisengesang; below these Grafinski the treasurer, Count Eisenthal, a couple of non-combatants, and, to the surprise of all, Gotthold. He had been named a privy councillor by Otto, merely that he might profit by the salary; and as he was never known to attend a meeting, it had occurred to nobody to cancel his appointment. His present appearance was the more ominous, coming when it did. Gondremark scowled upon him; and the non-combatant on his right, intercepting this black look, edged away from one who was so clearly out of favour.
"The hour presses, your Highness," said the Baron; "may we proceed to business?"
"At once," replied Seraphina.
"Your Highness will pardon me," said Gotthold; "but you are still, perhaps, unacquainted with the fact that Prince Otto has returned."
"The Prince will not attend the council," replied Seraphina, with a momentary blush.—"The despatches, Herr Cancellarius? There is one for Gerolstein?"
A secretary brought a paper.
"Here, madam," said Greisengesang. "Shall I read it?"
"We are all familiar with its terms," replied Gondremark. "Your Highness approves?"
"Unhesitatingly," said Seraphina.
"It may then be held as read," concluded the Baron. "Will your Highness sign?"
The Princess did so; Gondremark, Eisenthal, and one of the non-combatants followed suit; and the paper was then passed across the table to the librarian. He proceeded leisurely to read.
"We have no time to spare, Herr Doctor," cried the Baron brutally. "If you do not choose to sign on the authority of your sovereign, pass it on. Or you may leave the table," he added, his temper ripping out.
"I decline your invitation, Herr von Gondremark; and my sovereign, as I continue to observe with regret, is still absent from the board," replied the Doctor calmly; and he resumed the perusal of the paper, the rest chafing and exchanging glances. "Madam and gentlemen," he said at last, "what I hold in my hand is simply a declaration of war."
"Simply," said Seraphina, flashing defiance.
"The sovereign of this country is under the same roof with us," continued Gotthold, "and I insist he shall be summoned. It is needless to adduce my reasons; you are all ashamed at heart of this projected treachery."
The council waved like a sea. There were various outcries.
"You insult the Princess," thundered Gondremark.
"I maintain my protest," replied Gotthold.
At the height of this confusion the door was thrown open; an usher announced, "Gentlemen, the Prince!" and Otto, with his most excellent bearing, entered the apartment. It was like oil upon the troubled waters; every one settled instantly into his place, and Greisengesang, to give himself a countenance, became absorbed in the arrangement of his papers; but in their eagerness to dissemble one and all neglected to rise.
"Gentlemen," said the Prince, pausing.
They all got to their feet in a moment; and this reproof still further demoralised the weaker brethren.
The Prince moved slowly towards the lower end of the table; then he paused again, and, fixing his eye on Greisengesang, "How comes it, Herr Cancellarius," he said, "that I have received no notice of the change of hour?"
"Your Highness," replied the Chancellor, "her Highness the Princess ..." and there paused.
"I understood," said Seraphina, taking him up, "that you did not purpose to be present."
Their eyes met for a second, and Seraphina's fell; but her anger only burned the brighter for that private shame.
"And now, gentlemen," said Otto, taking his chair, "I pray you to be seated. I have been absent; there are doubtless some arrears; but ere we proceed to business, Herr Grafinski, you will direct four thousand crowns to be sent to me at once. Make a note, if you please," he added, as the treasurer still stared in wonder.
"Four thousand crowns?" asked Seraphina. "Pray for what?"
"Madam," returned Otto, smiling, "for my own purposes."
Gondremark spurred up Grafinski underneath the table.
"If your Highness will indicate the destination ..." began the puppet.
"You are not here, sir, to interrogate your Prince," said Otto.
Grafinski looked for help to his commander; and Gondrermark came to his aid, in suave and measured tones.
"Your Highness may reasonably be surprised," he said; "and Herr Grafinski, although I am convinced he is clear of the intention of offending, would have perhaps done better to begin with an explanation. The resources of the state are at the present moment entirely swallowed up, or, as we hope to prove, wisely invested. In a month from now, I do not question we shall be able to meet any command your Highness may lay upon us; but at this hour I fear that, even in so small a matter, he must prepare himself for disappointment. Our zeal is no less, although our power may be inadequate."
"How much, Herr Grafinski, have we in the treasury?" asked Otto.
"Your Highness," protested the treasurer, "we have immediate need of every crown."
"I think, sir, you evade me," flashed the Prince; and then, turning to the side-table, "Mr. Secretary," he added, "bring me, if you please, the treasury docket."
Herr Grafinski became deadly pale; the Chancellor, expecting his own turn, was probably engaged in prayer; Gondremark was watching like a ponderous cat. Gotthold, on his part, looked on with wonder at his cousin; he was certainly showing spirit, but what, in such a time of gravity, was all this talk of money? and why should he waste his strength upon a personal issue?
"I find," said Otto, with his finger on the docket, "that we have 20,000 crowns in case."
"That is exact, your Highness," replied the Baron. "But our liabilities, all of which are happily not liquid, amount to a far larger sum; and at the present point of time it would be morally impossible to divert a single florin. Essentially, the case is empty. We have, already presented, a large note for material of war."
"Material of war?" exclaimed Otto, with an excellent assumption of surprise. "But if my memory serves me right, we settled these accounts in January."
"There have been further orders," the Baron explained. "A new park of artillery has been completed; five hundred stand of arms, seven hundred baggage mules—the details are in a special memorandum.—Mr. Secretary Holtz, the memorandum, if you please."
"One would think, gentlemen, that we were going to war," said Otto.
"We are," said Seraphina.
"War!" cried the Prince. "And, gentlemen, with whom? The peace of Gruenewald has endured for centuries. What aggression, what insult, have we suffered?"
"Here, your Highness," said Gotthold, "is the ultimatum. It was in the very article of signature, when your Highness so opportunely entered."
Otto laid the paper before him; as he read, his fingers played tattoo upon the table. "Was it proposed," he inquired, "to send this paper forth without a knowledge of my pleasure?"
One of the non-combatants, eager to trim, volunteered an answer. "The Herr Doctor von Hohenstockwitz had just entered his dissent," he added.
"Give me the rest of this correspondence," said the Prince. It was handed to him, and he read it patiently from end to end, while the councillors sat foolishly enough looking before them on the table. The secretaries, in the background, were exchanging glances of delight; a row at the council was for them a rare and welcome feature.
"Gentlemen," said Otto, when he had finished, "I have read with pain. This claim upon Obermuensterol is palpably unjust; it has not a tincture, not a show, of justice. There is not in all this ground enough for after-dinner talk, and you propose to force it as a casus belli."
"Certainly, your Highness," returned Gondremark, too wise to defend the indefensible, "the claim on Obermuensterol is simply a pretext."
"It is well," said the Prince. "Herr Cancellarius, take your pen. 'The council,'" he began to dictate—"I withhold all notice of my intervention," he said, in parenthesis, and addressing himself more directly to his wife; "and I say nothing of the strange suppression by which this business has been smuggled past my knowledge. I am content to be in time—'The council,'" he resumed, "'on a further examination of the facts, and enlightened by the note in the last despatch from Gerolstein, have the pleasure to announce that they are entirely at one, both as to fact and sentiment, with the Grand-Ducal Court of Gerolstein.' You have it? Upon these lines, sir, you will draw up the despatch."
"If your Highness will allow me," said the Baron, "your Highness is so imperfectly acquainted with the internal history of this correspondence, that any interference will be merely hurtful. Such a paper as your Highness proposes would be to stultify the whole previous policy of Gruenewald."
"The policy of Gruenewald!" cried the Prince. "One would suppose you had no sense of humour! Would you fish in a coffee cup?"
"With deference, your Highness," returned the Baron, "even in a coffee cup there may be poison. The purpose of this war is not simply territorial enlargement; still less is it a war of glory; for, as your Highness indicates, the state of Gruenewald is too small to be ambitious. But the body politic is seriously diseased; republicanism, socialism, many disintegrating ideas are abroad; circle within circle, a really formidable organisation has grown up about your Highness's throne."
"I have heard of it, Herr von Gondremark," put in the Prince; "but I have reason to be aware that yours is the more authoritative information."
"I am honoured by this expression of my Prince's confidence," returned Gondremark, unabashed. "It is, therefore, with a single eye to these disorders that our present external policy has been shaped. Something was required to divert public attention, to employ the idle, to popularise your Highness's rule, and, if it were possible, to enable him to reduce the taxes at a blow, and to a notable amount. The proposed expedition—for it cannot without hyperbole be called a war—seemed to the council to combine the various characters required; a marked improvement in the public sentiment has followed even upon our preparations; and I cannot doubt that when success shall follow, the effect will surpass even our boldest hopes."
"You are very adroit, Herr von Gondremark," said Otto. "You fill me with admiration. I had not heretofore done justice to your qualities."
Seraphina looked up with joy, supposing Otto conquered; but Gondremark still waited, armed at every point; he knew how very stubborn is the revolt of a weak character.
"And the territorial army scheme, to which I was persuaded to consent—was it secretly directed to the same end?" the Prince asked.
"I still believe the effect to have been good," replied the Baron; "discipline and mounting guard are excellent sedatives. But I will avow to your Highness, I was unaware, at the date of that decree, of the magnitude of the revolutionary movement; nor did any of us, I think, imagine that such a territorial army was a part of the republican proposals."
"It was?" asked Otto. "Strange! Upon what fancied grounds?"
"The grounds were indeed fanciful," returned the Baron. "It was conceived among the leaders that a territorial army, drawn from and returning to the people, would, in the event of any popular uprising, prove lukewarm or unfaithful to the throne."
"I see," said the Prince. "I begin to understand."
"His Highness begins to understand?" repeated Gondremark, with the sweetest politeness. "May I beg of him to complete the phrase?"
"The history of the revolution," replied Otto drily. "And now," he added, "what do you conclude?"
"I conclude, your Highness, with a simple reflection," said the Baron, accepting the stab without a quiver, "the war is popular; were the rumour contradicted to-morrow, a considerable disappointment would be felt in many classes; and in the present tension of spirits, the most lukewarm sentiment may be enough to precipitate events. There lies the danger. The revolution hangs imminent; we sit, at this council board, below the sword of Damocles."
"We must then lay our heads together," said the Prince, "and devise some honourable means of safety."
Up to this moment, since the first note of opposition fell from the librarian, Seraphina had uttered about twenty words. With a somewhat heightened colour, her eyes generally lowered, her foot sometimes nervously tapping on the floor, she had kept her own counsel and commanded her anger like a hero. But at this stage of the engagement she lost control of her impatience.
"Means!" she cried. "They have been found and prepared before you knew the need for them. Sign the despatch, and let us be done with this delay."
"Madam, I said 'honourable,'" returned Otto, bowing. "This war is, in my eyes, and by Herr von Gondremark's account, an inadmissible expedient. If we have misgoverned here in Gruenewald, are the people of Gerolstein to bleed and pay for our misdoings? Never, madam; not while I live. But I attach so much importance to all that I have heard to-day for the first time—and why only to-day I do not even stop to ask—that I am eager to find some plan that I can follow with credit to myself."
"And should you fail?" she asked.
"Should I fail, I will then meet the blow half-way," replied the Prince. "On the first open discontent, I shall convoke the States, and, when it pleases them to bid me, abdicate."
Seraphina laughed angrily. "This is the man for whom we have been labouring!" she cried. "We tell him of change; he will devise the means, he says; and his device is abdication? Sir, have you no shame to come here at the eleventh hour among those who have borne the heat and burthen of the day? Do you not wonder at yourself? I, sir, was here in my place, striving to uphold your dignity alone. I took counsel with the wisest I could find, while you were eating and hunting. I have laid my plans with foresight; they were ripe for action; and then—" she choked—"then you return—for a forenoon—to ruin all! To-morrow you will be once more about your pleasures; you will give us leave once more to think and work for you; and again you will come back, and again you will thwart what you had not the industry or knowledge to conceive. O! it is intolerable. Be modest, sir. Do not presume upon the rank you cannot worthily uphold. I would not issue my commands with so much gusto—it is from no merit in yourself they are obeyed. What are you? What have you to do in this grave council? Go," she cried, "go among your equals! The very people in the streets mock at you for a prince."
At this surprising outburst the whole council sat aghast.
"Madam," said the Baron, alarmed out of his caution, "command yourself."
"Address yourself to me, sir!" cried the Prince. "I will not bear these whisperings!"
Seraphina burst into tears.
"Sir," cried the Baron, rising, "this lady——"
"Herr von Gondremark," said the Prince, "one more observation, and I place you under arrest."
"Your Highness is the master," replied Gondremark, bowing.
"Bear it in mind more constantly," said Otto. "Herr Cancellarius, bring all the papers to my cabinet. Gentlemen, the council is dissolved."
And he bowed and left the apartment, followed by Greisengesang and the secretaries, just at the moment when the Princess's ladies, summoned in all haste, entered by another door to help her forth.
THE PARTY OF WAR TAKES ACTION
Half an hour after, Gondremark was once more closeted with Seraphina.
"Where is he now?" she asked, on his arrival.
"Madam, he is with the Chancellor," replied the Baron. "Wonder of wonders, he is at work!"
"Ah," she said, "he was born to torture me! O what a fall, what a humiliation! Such a scheme to wreck upon so small a trifle! But now all is lost."
"Madam," said Gondremark, "nothing is lost. Something, on the other hand, is found. You have found your senses; you see him as he is—see him as you see everything where your too-good heart is not in question—with the judicial, with the statesman's eye. So long as he had a right to interfere, the empire that may be was still distant. I have not entered on this course without the plain foresight of its dangers; and even for this I was prepared. But, madam, I knew two things; I knew that you were born to command, that I was born to serve; I knew that by a rare conjuncture the hand had found the tool; and from the first I was confident, as I am confident to-day, that no hereditary trifler has the power to shatter that alliance."
"I, born to command!" she said. "Do you forget my tears?"
"Madam, they were the tears of Alexander," cried the Baron. "They touched, they thrilled me; I forgot myself a moment—even I! But do you suppose that I had not remarked, that I had not admired, your previous bearing? your great self-command? Ay, that was princely!" He paused. "It was a thing to see. I drank confidence! I tried to imitate your calm. And I was well inspired; in my heart, I think that I was well inspired; that any man, within the reach of argument, had been convinced! But it was not to be; nor, madam, do I regret the failure. Let us be open; let me disclose my heart. I have loved two things, not unworthily: Gruenewald and my sovereign!" Here he kissed her hand. "Either I must resign my ministry, leave the land of my adoption and the queen whom I had chosen to obey—or——" He paused again.
"Alas, Herr von Gondremark, there is no 'or,'" said Seraphina.
"Nay, madam, give me time," he replied. "When first I saw you, you were still young; not every man would have remarked your powers; but I had not been twice honoured by your conversation ere I had found my mistress. I have, madam, I believe, some genius; and I have much ambition. But the genius is of the serving kind; and to offer a career to my ambition, I had to find one born to rule. This is the base and essence of our union; each had need of the other; each recognised, master and servant, lever and fulcrum, the complement of his endowment. Marriages, they say, are made in heaven: how much more these pure, laborious, intellectual fellowships, born to found empires! Nor is this all. We found each other ripe, filled with great ideas that took shape and clarified with every word. We grew together—ay, madam, in mind we grew together like twin children. All of my life until we met was petty and groping; was it not—I will flatter myself openly—it was the same with you! Not till then had you those eagle surveys, that wide and hopeful sweep of intuition! Thus we had formed ourselves, and we were ready."
"It is true," she cried. "I feel it. Yours is the genius; your generosity confounds your insight; all I could offer you was the position, was this throne, to be a fulcrum. But I offered it without reserve; I entered at least warmly into all your thoughts; you were sure of me—sure of my support—certain of justice. Tell me, tell me again, that I have helped you."
"Nay, madam," he said, "you made me. In everything you were my inspiration. And as we prepared our policy, weighing every step, how often have I had to admire your perspicacity, your man-like diligence and fortitude! You know that these are not the words of flattery; your conscience echoes them; have you spared a day? have you indulged yourself in any pleasure? Young and beautiful, you have lived a life of high intellectual effort, of irksome intellectual patience with details. Well, you have your reward: with the fall of Brandenau the throne of your Empire is founded."
"What thought have you in your mind?" she asked. "Is not all ruined?"
"Nay, my Princess, the same thought is in both our minds," he said.
"Herr von Gondremark," she replied, "by all that I hold sacred, I have none; I do not think at all; I am crushed."
"You are looking at the passionate side of a rich nature, misunderstood and recently insulted," said the Baron. "Look into your intellect, and tell me."
"I find nothing, nothing but tumult," she replied.
"You find one word branded, madam," returned the Baron: "'Abdication!'"
"O!" she cried. "The coward! He leaves me to bear all, and in the hour of trial he stabs me from behind. There is nothing in him, not respect, not love, not courage—his wife, his dignity, his throne, the honour of his father, he forgets them all!"
"Yes," pursued the Baron, "the word Abdication. I perceive a glimmering there."
"I read your fancy," she returned. "It is mere madness, midsummer madness. Baron, I am more unpopular than he. You know it. They can excuse, they can love, his weakness; but me, they hate."
"Such is the gratitude of peoples," said the Baron. "But we trifle. Here, madam, are my plain thoughts. The man who in the hour of danger speaks of abdication is, for me, a venomous animal. I speak with the bluntness of gravity, madam; this is no hour for mincing. The coward, in a station of authority, is more dangerous than fire. We dwell on a volcano; if this man can have his way, Gruenewald before a week will have been deluged with innocent blood. You know the truth of what I say; we have looked unblenching into this ever-possible catastrophe. To him it is nothing: he will abdicate! Abdicate, just God! and this unhappy country committed to his charge, and the lives of men and the honour of women...." His voice appeared to fail him; in an instant he had conquered his emotion and resumed: "But you, madam, conceive more worthily of your responsibilities. I am with you in the thought; and in the face of the horrors that I see impending, I say, and your heart repeats it—we have gone too far to pause. Honour, duty, ay, and the care of our own lives, demand we should proceed."
She was looking at him, her brow thoughtfully knitted. "I feel it," she said. "But how? He has the power."
"The power, madam? The power is in the army," he replied; and then hastily, ere she could intevene, "we have to save ourselves," he went on; "I have to save my Princess, she has to save her minister; we have both of us to save this infatuated youth from his own madness. He in the outbreak would be the earliest victim; I see him," he cried, "torn in pieces; and Gruenewald, unhappy Gruenewald! Nay, madam, you who have the power must use it; it lies hard upon your conscience."
"Show me how!" she cried. "Suppose I were to place him under some constraint, the revolution would break upon us instantly."
The Baron feigned defeat. "It is true," he said. "You see more clearly than I do. Yet there should, there must be, some way." And he waited for his chance.
"No," she said; "I told you from the first there is no remedy. Our hopes are lost: lost by one miserable trifler, ignorant, fretful, fitful—who will have disappeared to-morrow, who knows? to his boorish pleasures!"
Any peg would do for Gondremark. "The thing!" he cried, striking his brow. "Fool, not to have thought of it! Madam, without perhaps knowing it, you have solved our problem."
"What do you mean? Speak!" she said.
He appeared to collect himself, and then, with a smile, "The Prince," he said, "must go once more a-hunting."
"Ay, if he would!" cried she, "and stay there!"
"And stay there," echoed the Baron. It was so significantly said, that her face changed; and the schemer, fearful of the sinister ambiguity of his expressions, hastened to explain. "This time he shall go hunting in a carriage, with a good escort of our foreign lancers. His destination shall be the Felsenburg; it is healthy, the rock is high, the windows are small and barred; it might have been built on purpose. We shall entrust the captaincy to the Scotsman Gordon; he at least will have no scruple. Who will miss the sovereign? He is gone hunting; he came home on Tuesday, on Thursday he returned; all is usual in that. Meanwhile the war proceeds; our Prince will soon weary of his solitude; and about the time of our triumph, or, if he prove very obstinate, a little later, he shall be released upon a proper understanding, and I see him once more directing his theatricals."
Seraphina sat gloomy, plunged in thought. "Yes," she said suddenly, "and the despatch? He is now writing it."
"It cannot pass the council before Friday," replied Gondremark; "and as for any private note, the messengers are all at my disposal. They are picked men, madam. I am a person of precaution."
"It would appear so," she said, with a flash of her occasional repugnance to the man; and then after a pause, "Herr von Gondremark," she added, "I recoil from this extremity."
"I share your Highness's repugnance," answered he. "But what would you have? We are defenceless else."
"I see it, but this is sudden. It is a public crime," she said, nodding at him with a sort of horror.
"Look but a little deeper," he returned, "and whose is the crime?"
"His!" she cried. "His, before God! And I hold him liable. But still——"
"It is not as if he would be harmed," submitted Gondremark.
"I know it," she replied, but it was still unheartily.
And then, as brave men are entitled, by prescriptive right as old as the world's history, to the alliance and the active help of Fortune, the punctual goddess stepped down from the machine. One of the Princess's ladies begged to enter; a man, it appeared, had brought a line for the Freiherr von Gondremark. It proved to be a pencil billet, which the crafty Greisengesang had found the means to scribble and despatch under the very guns of Otto; and the daring of the act bore testimony to the terror of the actor. For Greisengesang had but one influential motive: fear. The note ran thus: "At the first council, procuration to be withdrawn.—CORN. GREIS."
So, after three years of exercise, the right of signature was to be stript from Seraphina. It was more than an insult; it was a public disgrace; and she did not pause to consider how she had earned it, but morally bounded under the attack as bounds the wounded tiger.
"Enough," she said; "I will sign the order. When shall he leave?"
"It will take me twelve hours to collect my men, and it had best be done at night. To-morrow midnight, if you please?" answered the Baron.
"Excellent," she said. "My door is always open to you, Baron. As soon as the order is prepared, bring it me to sign."
"Madam," he said, "alone of all of us you do not risk your head in this adventure. For that reason, and to prevent all hesitation, I venture to propose the order should be in your hand throughout."
"You are right," she replied.
He laid a form before her, and she wrote the order in a clear hand, and re-read it. Suddenly a cruel smile came on her face. "I had forgotten his puppet," said she. "They will keep each other company." And she interlined and initialled the condemnation of Dr. Gotthold.
"Your Highness has more memory than your servant," said the Baron; and then he, in his turn, carefully perused the fateful paper. "Good!" said he.
"You will appear in the drawing-room, Baron?" she asked.
"I thought it better," said he, "to avoid the possibility of a public affront. Anything that shook my credit might hamper us in the immediate future."
"You are right," she said; and she held out her hand as to an old friend and equal.
THE PRICE OF THE RIVER FARM; IN WHICH VAIN-GLORY GOES BEFORE A FALL
The pistol had been practically fired. Under ordinary circumstances the scene at the council table would have entirely exhausted Otto's store both of energy and anger; he would have begun to examine and condemn his conduct, have remembered all that was true, forgotten all that was unjust in Seraphina's onslaught; and by half an hour after would have fallen into that state of mind in which a Catholic flees to the confessional and a sot takes refuge with the bottle. Two matters of detail preserved his spirits. For, first, he had still an infinity of business to transact; and to transact business, for a man of Otto's neglectful and procrastinating habits, is the best anodyne for conscience. All afternoon he was hard at it with the Chancellor, reading, dictating, signing, and despatching papers; and this kept him in a glow of self-approval. But, secondly, his vanity was still alarmed; he had failed to get the money; to-morrow before noon he would have to disappoint old Killian; and in the eyes of that family which counted him so little, and to which he had sought to play the part of the heroic comforter, he must sink lower than at first. To a man of Otto's temper, this was death. He could not accept the situation. And even as he worked, and worked wisely and well, over the hated details of his principality, he was secretly maturing a plan by which to turn the situation. It was a scheme as pleasing to the man as it was dishonourable in the prince; in which his frivolous nature found and took vengeance for the gravity and burthen of the afternoon. He chuckled as he thought of it: and Greisengesang heard him with wonder, and attributed his lively spirits to the skirmish of the morning.
Led by this idea, the antique courtier ventured to compliment his sovereign on his bearing. It reminded him, he said, of Otto's father.
"What?" asked the Prince, whose thoughts were miles away.
"Your Highness's authority at the board," explained the flatterer.
"O, that! O, yes," returned Otto; but for all his carelessness, his vanity was delicately tickled, and his mind returned and dwelt approvingly over the details of his victory. "I quelled them all," he thought.
When the more pressing matters had been dismissed, it was already late, and Otto kept the Chancellor to dinner, and was entertained with a leash of ancient histories and modern compliments. The Chancellor's career had been based, from the first off-put, on entire subserviency; he had crawled into honours and employments; and his mind was prostitute. The instinct of the creature served him well with Otto. First, he let fall a sneering word or two upon the female intellect; thence he proceeded to a closer engagement; and before the third course he was artfully dissecting Seraphina's character to her approving husband. Of course no names were used; and of course the identity of that abstract or ideal man, with whom she was currently contrasted, remained an open secret. But this stiff old gentleman had a wonderful instinct for evil, thus to wind his way into man's citadel; thus to harp by the hour on the virtues of his hearer and not once alarm his self-respect. Otto was all roseate, in and out, with flattery and Tokay and an approving conscience. He saw himself in the most attractive colours. If even Greisengesang, he thought, could thus espy the loose stitches in Seraphina's character, and thus disloyally impart them to the opposite camp, he, the discarded husband—the dispossessed Prince—could scarce have erred on the side of severity.
In this excellent frame he bade adieu to the old gentleman, whose voice had proved so musical, and set forth for the drawing-room. Already on the stair, he was seized with some compunction; but when he entered the great gallery and beheld his wife, the Chancellor's abstract flatteries fell from him like rain, and he reawoke to the poetic facts of life. She stood a good way off below a shining lustre, her back turned. The bend of her waist overcame him with physical weakness. This was the girl-wife who had lain in his arms and whom he had sworn to cherish; there was she, who was better than success.
It was Seraphina who restored him from the blow. She swam forward and smiled upon her husband with a sweetness that was insultingly artificial. "Frederic," she lisped, "you are late." It was a scene of high comedy, such as is proper to unhappy marriages; and her aplomb disgusted him.
There was no etiquette at these small drawing-rooms. People came and went at pleasure. The window embrasures became the roost of happy couples; at the great chimney the talkers mostly congregated, each full-charged with scandal; and down at the farther end the gamblers gambled. It was towards this point that Otto moved, not ostentatiously, but with a gentle insistence, and scattering attentions as he went. Once abreast of the card-table, he placed himself opposite to Madame von Rosen, and, as soon as he had caught her eye, withdrew to the embrasure of a window. There she had speedily joined him.
"You did well to call me," she said, a little wildly. "These cards will be my ruin."
"Leave them," said Otto.
"I!" she cried, and laughed; "they are my destiny. My only chance was to die of consumption; now I must die in a garret."
"You are bitter to-night," said Otto.
"I have been losing," she replied. "You do not know what greed is."
"I have come, then, in an evil hour," said he.
"Ah, you wish a favour!" she cried, brightening beautifully.
"Madam," said he, "I am about to found my party, and I come to you for a recruit."
"Done," said the Countess. "I am a man again."
"I may be wrong," continued Otto, "but I believe upon my heart you wish me no ill."
"I wish you so well," she said, "that I dare not tell it you."
"Then if I ask my favour?" quoth the Prince.
"Ask it, mon Prince," she answered. "Whatever it is, it is granted."
"I wish you," he returned, "this very night to make the farmer of our talk."
"Heaven knows your meaning!" she exclaimed. "I know not, neither care; there are no bounds to my desire to please you. Call him made."
"I will put it in another way," returned Otto. "Did you ever steal?"
"Often!" cried the Countess. "I have broken all the ten commandments; and if there were more to-morrow, I should not sleep till I had broken these."