'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 meanwhile, 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.