One of the Princess's ladies begged to enter; a man, it appeared, had brought a line for the Freiherr von Gondremark. It proved to be a pencil billet, which the crafty Greisengesang had found the means to scribble and despatch under the very guns of Otto; and the daring of the act bore testimony to the terror of the actor. For Greisengesang had but one influential motive: fear. The note ran thus: 'At the first council, procuration to be withdrawn. - CORN. GREIS.'
So, after three years of exercise, the right of signature was to be stript from Seraphina. It was more than an insult; it was a public disgrace; and she did not pause to consider how she had earned it, but morally bounded under the attack as bounds the wounded tiger.
'Enough,' she said; 'I will sign the order. When shall he leave?'
'It will take me twelve hours to collect my men, and it had best be done at night. To-morrow midnight, if you please?' answered the Baron.
'Excellent,' she said. 'My door is always open to you, Baron. As soon as the order is prepared, bring it me to sign.'
'Madam,' he said, 'alone of all of us you do not risk your head in this adventure. For that reason, and to prevent all hesitation, I venture to propose the order should be in your hand throughout.'
'You are right,' she replied.
He laid a form before her, and she wrote the order in a clear hand, and re-read it. Suddenly a cruel smile came on her face. 'I had forgotten his puppet,' said she. 'They will keep each other company.' And she interlined and initiated the condemnation of Doctor Gotthold.
'Your Highness has more memory than your servant,' said the Baron; and then he, in his turn, carefully perused the fateful paper. 'Good!' said he.
'You will appear in the drawing-room, Baron?' she asked.
'I thought it better,' said he, 'to avoid the possibility of a public affront. Anything that shook my credit might hamper us in the immediate future.'
'You are right,' she said; and she held out her hand as to an old friend and equal.
CHAPTER IX - THE PRICE OF THE RIVER FARM; IN WHICH VAINGLORY GOES BEFORE A FALL
THE pistol had been practically fired. Under ordinary circumstances the scene at the council table would have entirely exhausted Otto's store both of energy and anger; he would have begun to examine and condemn his conduct, have remembered all that was true, forgotten all that was unjust in Seraphina's onslaught; and by half an hour after would have fallen into that state of mind in which a Catholic flees to the confessional and a sot takes refuge with the bottle. Two matters of detail preserved his spirits. For, first, he had still an infinity of business to transact; and to transact business, for a man of Otto's neglectful and procrastinating habits, is the best anodyne for conscience. All afternoon he was hard at it with the Chancellor, reading, dictating, signing, and despatching papers; and this kept him in a glow of self-approval. But, secondly, his vanity was still alarmed; he had failed to get the money; to-morrow before noon he would have to disappoint old Killian; and in the eyes of that family which counted him so little, and to which he had sought to play the part of the heroic comforter, he must sink lower than at first. To a man of Otto's temper, this was death. He could not accept the situation. And even as he worked, and worked wisely and well, over the hated details of his principality, he was secretly maturing a plan by which to turn the situation. It was a scheme as pleasing to the man as it was dishonourable in the prince; in which his frivolous nature found and took vengeance for the gravity and burthen of the afternoon. He chuckled as he thought of it: and Greisengesang heard him with wonder, and attributed his lively spirits to the skirmish of the morning.
Led by this idea, the antique courtier ventured to compliment his sovereign on his bearing. It reminded him, he said, of Otto's father.
'What?' asked the Prince, whose thoughts were miles away.