He was a man of about forty, flaxen- haired, with refined features a little worn, and bright eyes somewhat faded. Early to bed and early to rise, his life was devoted to two things: erudition and Rhine wine. An ancient friendship existed latent between him and Otto; they rarely met, but when they did it was to take up at once the thread of their suspended intimacy. Gotthold, the virgin priest of knowledge, had envied his cousin, for half a day, when he was married; he had never envied him his throne.
Reading was not a popular diversion at the court of Grunewald; and that great, pleasant, sunshiny gallery of books and statues was, in practice, Gotthold's private cabinet. On this particular Wednesday morning, however, he had not been long about his manuscript when a door opened and the Prince stepped into the apartment. The doctor watched him as he drew near, receiving, from each of the embayed windows in succession, a flush of morning sun; and Otto looked so gay, and walked so airily, he was so well dressed and brushed and frizzled, so point-device, and of such a sovereign elegance, that the heart of his cousin the recluse was rather moved against him.
'Good-morning, Gotthold,' said Otto, dropping in a chair.
'Good-morning, Otto,' returned the librarian. 'You are an early bird. Is this an accident, or do you begin reforming?'
'It is about time, I fancy,' answered the Prince.
'I cannot imagine,' said the Doctor. 'I am too sceptical to be an ethical adviser; and as for good resolutions, I believed in them when I was young. They are the colours of hope's rainbow.'
'If you come to think of it,' said Otto, 'I am not a popular sovereign.' And with a look he changed his statement to a question.
'Popular? Well, there I would distinguish,' answered Gotthold, leaning back and joining the tips of his fingers. 'There are various kinds of popularity; the bookish, which is perfectly impersonal, as unreal as the nightmare; the politician's, a mixed variety; and yours, which is the most personal of all. Women take to you; footmen adore you; it is as natural to like you as to pat a dog; and were you a saw-miller you would be the most popular citizen in Grunewald. As a prince - well, you are in the wrong trade. It is perhaps philosophical to recognise it as you do.'
'Perhaps philosophical?' repeated Otto.
'Yes, perhaps. I would not be dogmatic,' answered Gotthold.
'Perhaps philosophical, and certainly not virtuous,' Otto resumed.
'Not of a Roman virtue,' chuckled the recluse.
Otto drew his chair nearer to the table, leaned upon it with his elbow, and looked his cousin squarely in the face. 'In short,' he asked, 'not manly?'
'Well,' Gotthold hesitated, 'not manly, if you will.' And then, with a laugh, 'I did not know that you gave yourself out to be manly,' he added. 'It was one of the points that I inclined to like about you; inclined, I believe, to admire. The names of virtues exercise a charm on most of us; we must lay claim to all of them, however incompatible; we must all be both daring and prudent; we must all vaunt our pride and go to the stake for our humility. Not so you. Without compromise you were yourself: a pretty sight. I have always said it: none so void of all pretence as Otto.'
'Pretence and effort both!' cried Otto. 'A dead dog in a canal is more alive. And the question, Gotthold, the question that I have to face is this: Can I not, with effort and self-denial, can I not become a tolerable sovereign?'
'Never,' replied Gotthold. 'Dismiss the notion. And besides, dear child, you would not try.'
'Nay, Gotthold, I am not to be put by,' said Otto. 'If I am constitutionally unfit to be a sovereign, what am I doing with this money, with this palace, with these guards? And I - a thief - am to execute the law on others?'
'I admit the difficulty,' said Gotthold.
'Well, can I not try?' continued Otto. 'Am I not bound to try? And with the advice and help of such a man as you - '
'Me!' cried the librarian.