CHAPTER V - . . . GONDREMARK IS IN MY LADY'S CHAMBER
THE Countess von Rosen spoke the truth. The great Prime Minister of Grunewald was already closeted with Seraphina. The toilet was over; and the Princess, tastefully arrayed, sat face to face with a tall mirror. Sir John's description was unkindly true, true in terms and yet a libel, a misogynistic masterpiece. Her forehead was perhaps too high, but it became her; her figure somewhat stooped, but every detail was formed and finished like a gem; her hand, her foot, her ear, the set of her comely head, were all dainty and accordant; if she was not beautiful, she was vivid, changeful, coloured, and pretty with a thousand various prettinesses; and her eyes, if they indeed rolled too consciously, yet rolled to purpose. They were her most attractive feature, yet they continually bore eloquent false witness to her thoughts; for while she herself, in the depths of her immature, unsoftened heart, was given altogether to manlike ambition and the desire of power, the eyes were by turns bold, inviting, fiery, melting, and artful, like the eyes of a rapacious siren. And artful, in a sense, she was. Chafing that she was not a man, and could not shine by action, she had conceived a woman's part, of answerable domination; she sought to subjugate for by-ends, to rain influence and be fancy free; and, while she loved not man, loved to see man obey her. It is a common girl's ambition. Such was perhaps that lady of the glove, who sent her lover to the lions. But the snare is laid alike for male and female, and the world most artfully contrived.
Near her, in a low chair, Gondremark had arranged his limbs into a cat-like attitude, high-shouldered, stooping, and submiss. The formidable blue jowl of the man, and the dull bilious eye, set perhaps a higher value on his evident desire to please. His face was marked by capacity, temper, and a kind of bold, piratical dishonesty which it would be calumnious to call deceit. His manners, as he smiled upon the Princess, were over-fine, yet hardly elegant.
'Possibly,' said the Baron, 'I should now proceed to take my leave. I must not keep my sovereign in the ante-room. Let us come at once to a decision.'
'It cannot, cannot be put off?' she asked.
'It is impossible,' answered Gondremark. 'Your Highness sees it for herself. In the earlier stages, we might imitate the serpent; but for the ultimatum, there is no choice but to be bold like lions. Had the Prince chosen to remain away, it had been better; but we have gone too far forward to delay.'
'What can have brought him?' she cried. 'To-day of all days?'
'The marplot, madam, has the instinct of his nature,' returned Gondremark. 'But you exaggerate the peril. Think, madam, how far we have prospered, and against what odds! Shall a Featherhead? - but no!' And he blew upon his fingers lightly with a laugh.
'Featherhead,' she replied, 'is still the Prince of Grunewald.'
'On your sufferance only, and so long as you shall please to be indulgent,' said the Baron. 'There are rights of nature; power to the powerful is the law. If he shall think to cross your destiny - well, you have heard of the brazen and the earthen pot.'
'Do you call me pot? You are ungallant, Baron,' laughed the Princess.
'Before we are done with your glory, I shall have called you by many different titles,' he replied.
The girl flushed with pleasure. 'But Frederic is still the Prince, MONSIEUR LE FLATTEUR,' she said. 'You do not propose a revolution? - you of all men?'
'Dear madam, when it is already made!' he cried. 'The Prince reigns indeed in the almanac; but my Princess reigns and rules.' And he looked at her with a fond admiration that made the heart of Seraphina swell. Looking on her huge slave, she drank the intoxicating joys of power. Meanwhile he continued, with that sort of massive archness that so ill became him, 'She has but one fault; there is but one danger in the great career that I foresee for her. May I name it? may I be so irreverent? It is in herself - her heart is soft.'
'Her courage is faint, Baron,' said the Princess.