But what of the lover who insults his mistress? You use the name of love. I should think this lady might very fairly ask to be delivered from love of such a nature. For if I, a stranger, had been one-tenth part so gross and so discourteous, you would most righteously have broke my head. It would have been in your part, as lover, to protect her from such insolence. Protect her first, then, from yourself.'
'Ay,' quoth Mr. Gottesheim, who had been looking on with his hands behind his tall old back, 'ay, that's Scripture truth.'
Fritz was staggered, not only by the Prince's imperturbable superiority of manner, but by a glimmering consciousness that he himself was in the wrong. The appeal to liberal doctrines had, besides, unmanned him.
'Well,' said he, 'if I was rude, I'll own to it. I meant no ill, and did nothing out of my just rights; but I am above all these old vulgar notions too; and if I spoke sharp, I'll ask her pardon.'
'Freely granted, Fritz,' said Ottilia.
'But all this doesn't answer me,' cried Fritz. 'I ask what you two spoke about. She says she promised not to tell; well, then, I mean to know. Civility is civility, but I'll be no man's gull. I have a right to common justice, if I DO keep company!'
'If you will ask Mr. Gottesheim,' replied Otto, 'you will find I have not spent my hours in idleness. I have, since I arose this morning, agreed to buy the farm. So far I will go to satisfy a curiosity which I condemn.'
'O, well, if there was business, that's another matter,' returned Fritz. 'Though it beats me why you could not tell. But, of course, if the gentleman is to buy the farm, I suppose there would naturally be an end.'
'To be sure,' said Mr. Gottesheim, with a strong accent of conviction.
But Ottilia was much braver. 'There now!' she cried in triumph. 'What did I tell you? I told you I was fighting your battles. Now you see! Think shame of your suspicious temper! You should go down upon your bended knees both to that gentleman and me.'
CHAPTER IV - IN WHICH THE PRINCE COLLECTS OPINIONS BY THE WAY
A LITTLE before noon Otto, by a triumph of manoeuvring, effected his escape. He was quit in this way of the ponderous gratitude of Mr. Killian, and of the confidential gratitude of poor Ottilia; but of Fritz he was not quit so readily. That young politician, brimming with mysterious glances, offered to lend his convoy as far as to the high-road; and Otto, in fear of some residuary jealousy and for the girl's sake, had not the courage to gainsay him; but he regarded his companion with uneasy glances, and devoutly wished the business at an end. For some time Fritz walked by the mare in silence; and they had already traversed more than half the proposed distance when, with something of a blush, he looked up and opened fire.
'Are you not,' he asked, 'what they call a socialist?'
'Why, no,' returned Otto, 'not precisely what they call so. Why do you ask?'
'I will tell you why,' said the young man. 'I saw from the first that you were a red progressional, and nothing but the fear of old Killian kept you back. And there, sir, you were right: old men are always cowards. But nowadays, you see, there are so many groups: you can never tell how far the likeliest kind of man may be prepared to go; and I was never sure you were one of the strong thinkers, till you hinted about women and free love.'
'Indeed,' cried Otto, 'I never said a word of such a thing.'
'Not you!' cried Fritz. 'Never a word to compromise! You was sowing seed: ground-bait, our president calls it. But it's hard to deceive me, for I know all the agitators and their ways, and all the doctrines; and between you and me,' lowering his voice, 'I am myself affiliated. O yes, I am a secret society man, and here is my medal.' And drawing out a green ribbon that he wore about his neck, he held up, for Otto's inspection, a pewter medal bearing the imprint of a Phoenix and the legend LIBERTAS. 'And so now you see you may trust me,' added Fritz, 'I am none of your alehouse talkers; I am a convinced revolutionary.' And he looked meltingly upon Otto.