That may have been right or wrong; I know not; at least, you had stirred her temper. At the council she insults you; well, you insult her back - a man to a woman, a husband to his wife, in public! Next upon the back of this, you propose - the story runs like wildfire - to recall the power of signature. Can she ever forgive that? a woman - a young woman - ambitious, conscious of talents beyond yours? Never, Otto. And to sum all, at such a crisis in your married life, you get into a window corner with that ogling dame von Rosen. I do not dream that there was any harm; but I do say it was an idle disrespect to your wife. Why, man, the woman is not decent.'
'Gotthold,' said Otto, 'I will hear no evil of the Countess.'
'You will certainly hear no good of her,' returned Gotthold; 'and if you wish your wife to be the pink of nicety, you should clear your court of demi-reputations.'
'The commonplace injustice of a by-word,' Otto cried. 'The partiality of sex. She is a demirep; what then is Gondremark? Were she a man - '
'It would be all one,' retorted Gotthold roughly. 'When I see a man, come to years of wisdom, who speaks in double-meanings and is the braggart of his vices, I spit on the other side. "You, my friend," say I, "are not even a gentleman." Well, she's not even a lady.'
'She is the best friend I have, and I choose that she shall be respected,' Otto said.
'If she is your friend, so much the worse,' replied the Doctor. 'It will not stop there.'
'Ah!' cried Otto, 'there is the charity of virtue! All evil in the spotted fruit. But I can tell you, sir, that you do Madame von Rosen prodigal injustice.'
'You can tell me!' said the Doctor shrewdly. 'Have you, tried? have you been riding the marches?'
The blood came into Otto's face.
'Ah!' cried Gotthold, 'look at your wife and blush! There's a wife for a man to marry and then lose! She's a carnation, Otto. The soul is in her eyes.'
'You have changed your note for Seraphina, I perceive,' said Otto.
'Changed it!' cried the Doctor, with a flush. 'Why, when was it different? But I own I admired her at the council. When she sat there silent, tapping with her foot, I admired her as I might a hurricane. Were I one of those who venture upon matrimony, there had been the prize to tempt me! She invites, as Mexico invited Cortez; the enterprise is hard, the natives are unfriendly - I believe them cruel too - but the metropolis is paved with gold and the breeze blows out of paradise. Yes, I could desire to be that conqueror. But to philander with von Rosen! never! Senses? I discard them; what are they? - pruritus! Curiosity? Reach me my Anatomy!'
'To whom do you address yourself?' cried Otto. 'Surely you, of all men, know that I love my wife!'
'O, love!' cried Gotthold; 'love is a great word; it is in all the dictionaries. If you had loved, she would have paid you back. What does she ask? A little ardour!'
'It is hard to love for two,' replied the Prince.
'Hard? Why, there's the touchstone! O, I know my poets!' cried the Doctor. 'We are but dust and fire, too and to endure life's scorching; and love, like the shadow of a great rock, should lend shelter and refreshment, not to the lover only, but to his mistress and to the children that reward them; and their very friends should seek repose in the fringes of that peace. Love is not love that cannot build a home. And you call it love to grudge and quarrel and pick faults? You call it love to thwart her to her face, and bandy insults? Love!'
'Gotthold, you are unjust. I was then fighting for my country,' said the Prince.
'Ay, and there's the worst of all,' returned the Doctor. 'You could not even see that you were wrong; that being where they were, retreat was ruin.'
Why, you supported me!' cried Otto.
'I did. I was a fool like you,' replied Gotthold. 'But now my eyes are open. If you go on as you have started, disgrace this fellow Gondremark, and publish the scandal of your divided house, there will befall a most abominable thing in Grunewald.