'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.