You know the truth of what I say; we have looked unblenching into this ever- possible catastrophe. To him it is nothing: he will abdicate! Abdicate, just God! and this unhappy country committed to his charge, and the lives of men and the honour of women . . .' His voice appeared to fail him; in an instant he had conquered his emotion and resumed: 'But you, madam, conceive more worthily of your responsibilities. I am with you in the thought; and in the face of the horrors that I see impending, I say, and your heart repeats it - we have gone too far to pause. Honour, duty, ay, and the care of our own lives, demand we should proceed.'
She was looking at him, her brow thoughtfully knitted. 'I feel it,' she said. 'But how? He has the power.'
'The power, madam? The power is in the army,' he replied; and then hastily, ere she could intervene, 'we have to save ourselves,' he went on; 'I have to save my Princess, she has to save her minister; we have both of us to save this infatuated youth from his own madness. He in the outbreak would be the earliest victim; I see him,' he cried, 'torn in pieces; and Grunewald, unhappy Grunewald! Nay, madam, you who have the power must use it; it lies hard upon your conscience.'
'Show me how!' she cried. 'Suppose I were to place him under some constraint, the revolution would break upon us instantly.'
The Baron feigned defeat. 'It is true,' he said. 'You see more clearly than I do. Yet there should, there must be, some way.' And he waited for his chance.
'No,' she said; 'I told you from the first there is no remedy. Our hopes are lost: lost by one miserable trifler, ignorant, fretful, fitful - who will have disappeared to-morrow, who knows? to his boorish pleasures!'
Any peg would do for Gondremark. 'The thing!' he cried, striking his brow. 'Fool, not to have thought of it! Madam, without perhaps knowing it, you have solved our problem.'
'What do you mean? Speak!' she said.
He appeared to collect himself; and then, with a smile, 'The Prince,' he said, 'must go once more a-hunting.'
'Ay, if he would!' cried she, 'and stay there!'
'And stay there,' echoed the Baron. It was so significantly said, that her face changed; and the schemer, fearful of the sinister ambiguity of his expressions, hastened to explain. 'This time he shall go hunting in a carriage, with a good escort of our foreign lancers. His destination shall be the Felsenburg; it is healthy, the rock is high, the windows are small and barred; it might have been built on purpose. We shall intrust the captaincy to the Scotsman Gordon; he at least will have no scruple. Who will miss the sovereign? He is gone hunting; he came home on Tuesday, on Thursday he returned; all is usual in that. Meanwhile the war proceeds; our Prince will soon weary of his solitude; and about the time of our triumph, or, if he prove very obstinate, a little later, he shall be released upon a proper understanding, and I see him once more directing his theatricals.'
Seraphina sat gloomy, plunged in thought. 'Yes,' she said suddenly, 'and the despatch? He is now writing it.'
'It cannot pass the council before Friday,' replied Gondremark; 'and as for any private note, the messengers are all at my disposal. They are picked men, madam. I am a person of precaution.'
'It would appear so,' she said, with a flash of her occasional repugnance to the man; and then after a pause, 'Herr von Gondremark,' she added, 'I recoil from this extremity.'
'I share your Highness's repugnance,' answered he. 'But what would you have? We are defenceless, else.'
'I see it, but this is sudden. It is a public crime,' she said, nodding at him with a sort of horror.
'Look but a little deeper,' he returned, 'and whose is the crime?'
'His!' she cried. 'His, before God! And I hold him liable. But still - '
'It is not as if he would be harmed,' submitted Gondremark.
'I know it,' she replied, but it was still unheartily.
And then, as brave men are entitled, by prescriptive right as old as the world's history, to the alliance and the active help of Fortune, the punctual goddess stepped down from the machine.