'I? What do you mean? Madam, you have some news for me,' he cried.

'O, O!' said madam dubiously.

He was at her feet. 'Do not trifle with my hopes,' he pleaded. 'Tell me, dearest Madame von Rosen, tell me! You cannot be cruel: it is not in your nature. Give? I can give nothing; I have nothing; I can only plead in mercy.'

'Do not,' she said; 'it is not fair. Otto, you know my weakness. Spare me. Be generous.'

'O, madam,' he said, 'it is for you to be generous, to have pity.' He took her hand and pressed it; he plied her with caresses and appeals. The Countess had a most enjoyable sham siege, and then relented. She sprang to her feet, she tore her dress open, and, all warm from her bosom, threw the order on the floor.

'There!' she cried. 'I forced it from her. Use it, and I am ruined!' And she turned away as if to veil the force of her emotions.

Otto sprang upon the paper, read it, and cried out aloud. 'O, God bless her!' he said, 'God bless her.' And he kissed the writing.

Von Rosen was a singularly good-natured woman, but her part was now beyond her. 'Ingrate!' she cried; 'I wrung it from her, I betrayed my trust to get it, and 'tis she you thank!'

'Can you blame me?' said the Prince. 'I love her.'

'I see that,' she said. 'And I?'

'You, Madame von Rosen? You are my dearest, my kindest, and most generous of friends,' he said, approaching her. 'You would be a perfect friend, if you were not so lovely. You have a great sense of humour, you cannot be unconscious of your charm, and you amuse yourself at times by playing on my weakness; and at times I can take pleasure in the comedy. But not to-day: to-day you will be the true, the serious, the manly friend, and you will suffer me to forget that you are lovely and that I am weak. Come, dear Countess, let me to-day repose in you entirely.'

He held out his hand, smiling, and she took it frankly. 'I vow you have bewitched me,' she said; and then with a laugh, 'I break my staff!' she added; 'and I must pay you my best compliment. You made a difficult speech. You are as adroit, dear Prince, as I am - charming.' And as she said the word with a great curtsey, she justified it.

'You hardly keep the bargain, madam, when you make yourself so beautiful,' said the Prince, bowing.

'It was my last arrow,' she returned. 'I am disarmed. Blank cartridge, O MON PRINCE! And now I tell you, if you choose to leave this prison, you can, and I am ruined. Choose!'

'Madame von Rosen,' replied Otto, 'I choose, and I will go. My duty points me, duty still neglected by this Featherhead. But do not fear to be a loser. I propose instead that you should take me with you, a bear in chains, to Baron Gondremark. I am become perfectly unscrupulous: to save my wife I will do all, all he can ask or fancy. He shall be filled; were he huge as leviathan and greedy as the grave, I will content him. And you, the fairy of our pantomime, shall have the credit.'

'Done!' she cried. 'Admirable! Prince Charming no longer - Prince Sorcerer, Prince Solon! Let us go this moment. Stay,' she cried, pausing. 'I beg dear Prince, to give you back these deeds. 'Twas you who liked the farm - I have not seen it; and it was you who wished to benefit the peasants. And, besides,' she added, with a comical change of tone, 'I should prefer the ready money.'

Both laughed. 'Here I am, once more a farmer,' said Otto, accepting the papers, 'but overwhelmed in debt.'

The Countess touched a bell, and the Governor appeared.

'Governor,' she said, 'I am going to elope with his Highness. The result of our talk has been a thorough understanding, and the COUP D'ETAT is over. Here is the order.'

Colonel Gordon adjusted silver spectacles upon his nose. 'Yes,' he said, 'the Princess: very right. But the warrant, madam, was countersigned.'

'By Heinrich!' said von Rosen. 'Well, and here am I to represent him.'

'Well, your Highness,' resumed the soldier of fortune, 'I must congratulate you upon my loss.

Prince Otto a Romance Page 80

Robert Louis Stevenson

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