His face was disfigured by the marks of weeping; he looked sour and sad; nor did he rise to greet his visitor, but bowed, and bade the man begone. That kind of general tenderness which served the Countess for both heart and conscience, sharply smote her at this spectacle of grief and weakness; she began immediately to enter into the spirit of her part; and as soon as they were alone, taking one step forward and with a magnificent gesture - 'Up!' she cried.
'Madame von Rosen,' replied Otto dully, 'you have used strong words. You speak of life and death. Pray, madam, who is threatened? Who is there,' he added bitterly, 'so destitute that even Otto of Grunewald can assist him?'
'First learn,' said she, 'the names of the conspirators; the Princess and the Baron Gondremark. Can you not guess the rest?' And then, as he maintained his silence - 'You!' she cried, pointing at him with her finger. "Tis you they threaten! Your rascal and mine have laid their heads together and condemned you. But they reckoned without you and me. We make a PARTIE CARREE, Prince, in love and politics. They lead an ace, but we shall trump it. Come, partner, shall I draw my card?'
'Madam,' he said, 'explain yourself. Indeed I fail to comprehend.'
'See, then,' said she; and handed him the order.
He took it, looked upon it with a start; and then, still without speech, he put his hand before his face. She waited for a word in vain.
'What!' she cried, 'do you take the thing down-heartedly? As well seek wine in a milk-pail as love in that girl's heart! Be done with this, and be a man. After the league of the lions, let us have a conspiracy of mice, and pull this piece of machinery to ground. You were brisk enough last night when nothing was at stake and all was frolic. Well, here is better sport; here is life indeed.'
He got to his feet with some alacrity, and his face, which was a little flushed, bore the marks of resolution.
'Madame von Rosen,' said he, 'I am neither unconscious nor ungrateful; this is the true continuation of your friendship; but I see that I must disappoint your expectations. You seem to expect from me some effort of resistance; but why should I resist? I have not much to gain; and now that I have read this paper, and the last of a fool's paradise is shattered, it would be hyperbolical to speak of loss in the same breath with Otto of Grunewald. I have no party, no policy; no pride, nor anything to be proud of. For what benefit or principle under Heaven do you expect me to contend? Or would you have me bite and scratch like a trapped weasel? No, madam; signify to those who sent you my readiness to go. I would at least avoid a scandal.'
'You go? - of your own will, you go?' she cried.
'I cannot say so much, perhaps,' he answered; 'but I go with good alacrity. I have desired a change some time; behold one offered me! Shall I refuse? Thank God, I am not so destitute of humour as to make a tragedy of such a farce.' He flicked the order on the table. 'You may signify my readiness,' he added grandly.
'Ah,' she said, 'you are more angry than you own.'
'I, madam? angry?' he cried. 'You rave! I have no cause for anger. In every way I have been taught my weakness, my instability, and my unfitness for the world. I am a plexus of weaknesses, an impotent Prince, a doubtful gentleman; and you yourself, indulgent as you are, have twice reproved my levity. And shall I be angry? I may feel the unkindness, but I have sufficient honesty of mind to see the reasons of this COUP D'ETAT.'
'From whom have you got this?' she cried in wonder. 'You think you have not behaved well? My Prince, were you not young and handsome, I should detest you for your virtues. You push them to the verge of commonplace. And this ingratitude - '
'Understand me, Madame von Rosen,' returned the Prince, flushing a little darker, 'there can be here no talk of gratitude, none of pride. You are here, by what circumstance I know not, but doubtless led by your kindness, mixed up in what regards my family alone.