'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 Grunewald; 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 Grunewald, 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.
CHAPTER VI - 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.