'Your Highness will pardon me,' said Gotthold; 'but you are still, perhaps, unacquainted with the fact that Prince Otto has returned.'
'The Prince will not attend the council,' replied Seraphina, with a momentary blush. 'The despatches, Herr Cancellarius? There is one for Gerolstein?'
A secretary brought a paper.
'Here, madam,' said Greisengesang. 'Shall I read it?'
'We are all familiar with its terms,' replied Gondremark. 'Your Highness approves?'
'Unhesitatingly,' said Seraphina.
'It may then be held as read,' concluded the Baron. 'Will your Highness sign?'
The Princess did so; Gondremark, Eisenthal, and one of the non- combatants followed suit; and the paper was then passed across the table to the librarian. He proceeded leisurely to read.
'We have no time to spare, Herr Doctor,' cried the Baron brutally. 'If you do not choose to sign on the authority of your sovereign, pass it on. Or you may leave the table,' he added, his temper ripping out.
'I decline your invitation, Herr von Gondremark; and my sovereign, as I continue to observe with regret, is still absent from the board,' replied the Doctor calmly; and he resumed the perusal of the paper, the rest chafing and exchanging glances. 'Madame and gentlemen,' he said, at last, 'what I hold in my hand is simply a declaration of war.'
'Simply,' said Seraphina, flashing defiance.
'The sovereign of this country is under the same roof with us,' continued Gotthold, 'and I insist he shall be summoned. It is needless to adduce my reasons; you are all ashamed at heart of this projected treachery.'
The council waved like a sea. There were various outcries.
'You insult the Princess,' thundered Gondremark.
'I maintain my protest,' replied Gotthold.
At the height of this confusion the door was thrown open; an usher announced, 'Gentlemen, the Prince!' and Otto, with his most excellent bearing, entered the apartment. It was like oil upon the troubled waters; every one settled instantly into his place, and Griesengesang, to give himself a countenance, became absorbed in the arrangement of his papers; but in their eagerness to dissemble, one and all neglected to rise.
'Gentlemen,' said the Prince, pausing.
They all got to their feet in a moment; and this reproof still further demoralised the weaker brethren.
The Prince moved slowly towards the lower end of the table; then he paused again, and, fixing his eye on Greisengesang, 'How comes it, Herr Cancellarius,' he asked, 'that I have received no notice of the change of hour?'
'Your Highness,' replied the Chancellor, 'her Highness the Princess . . .' and there paused.
'I understood,' said Seraphina, taking him up, 'that you did not purpose to be present.'
Their eyes met for a second, and Seraphina's fell; but her anger only burned the brighter for that private shame.
'And now, gentlemen,' said Otto, taking his chair, 'I pray you to be seated. I have been absent: there are doubtless some arrears; but ere we proceed to business, Herr Grafinski, you will direct four thousand crowns to be sent to me at once. Make a note, if you please,' he added, as the treasurer still stared in wonder.
'Four thousand crowns?' asked Seraphina. 'Pray, for what?'
'Madam,' returned Otto, smiling, 'for my own purposes.'
Gondremark spurred up Grafinski underneath the table.
'If your Highness will indicate the destination . . . ' began the puppet.
'You are not here, sir, to interrogate your Prince,' said Otto.
Grafinski looked for help to his commander; and Gondremark came to his aid, in suave and measured tones.
'Your Highness may reasonably be surprised,' he said; 'and Herr Grafinski, although I am convinced he is clear of the intention of offending, would have perhaps done better to begin with an explanation. The resources of the state are at the present moment entirely swallowed up, or, as we hope to prove, wisely invested. In a month from now, I do not question we shall be able to meet any command your Highness may lay upon us; but at this hour I fear that, even in so small a matter, he must prepare himself for disappointment.