'It was a thing to see. I drank confidence! I tried to imitate your calm. And I was well inspired; in my heart, I think that I was well inspired; that any man, within the reach of argument, had been convinced! But it was not to be; nor, madam, do I regret the failure. Let us be open; let me disclose my heart. I have loved two things, not unworthily: Grunewald and my sovereign!' Here he kissed her hand. 'Either I must resign my ministry, leave the land of my adoption and the queen whom I had chosen to obey - or - ' He paused again.

'Alas, Herr von Gondremark, there is no "or,"' said Seraphina.

'Nay, madam, give me time,' he replied. 'When first I saw you, you were still young; not every man would have remarked your powers; but I had not been twice honoured by your conversation ere I had found my mistress. I have, madam, I believe, some genius; and I have much ambition. But the genius is of the serving kind; and to offer a career to my ambition, I had to find one born to rule. This is the base and essence of our union; each had need of the other; each recognised, master and servant, lever and fulcrum, the complement of his endowment. Marriages, they say, are made in heaven: how much more these pure, alborious, intellectual fellowships, born to found empires! Nor is this all. We found each other ripe, filled with great ideas that took shape and clarified with every word. We grew together - ay, madam, in mind we grew together like twin children. All of my life until we met was petty and groping; was it not - I will flatter myself openly - it WAS the same with you! Not till then had you those eagle surveys, that wide and hopeful sweep of intuition! Thus we had formed ourselves, and we were ready.'

'It is true,' she cried. 'I feel it. Yours is the genius; your generosity confounds your insight; all I could offer you was the position, was this throne, to be a fulcrum. But I offered it without reserve; I entered at least warmly into all your thoughts; you were sure of me - sure of my support - certain of justice. Tell me, tell me again, that I have helped you.'

'Nay, madam,' he said, 'you made me. In everything you were my inspiration. And as we prepared our policy, weighing every step, how often have I had to admire your perspicacity, your man-like diligence and fortitude! You know that these are not the words of flattery; your conscience echoes them; have you spared a day? have you indulged yourself in any pleasure? Young and beautiful, you have lived a life of high intellectual effort, of irksome intellectual patience with details. Well, you have your reward: with the fall of Brandenau, the throne of your Empire is founded.'

'What thought have you in your mind?' she asked. 'Is not all ruined?'

'Nay, my Princess, the same thought is in both our minds,' he said.

'Herr von Gondremark,' she replied, 'by all that I hold sacred, I have none; I do not think at all; I am crushed.'

'You are looking at the passionate side of a rich nature, misunderstood and recently insulted,' said the Baron. 'Look into your intellect, and tell me.'

'I find nothing, nothing but tumult,' she replied.

'You find one word branded, madam,' returned the Baron: '"Abdication!"'

'O!' she cried. 'The coward! He leaves me to bear all, and in the hour of trial he stabs me from behind. There is nothing in him, not respect, not love, not courage - his wife, his dignity, his throne, the honour of his father, he forgets them all!'

'Yes,' pursued the Baron, 'the word Abdication. I perceive a glimmering there.'

'I read your fancy,' she returned. 'It is mere madness, midsummer madness. Baron, I am more unpopular than he. You know it. They can excuse, they can love, his weakness; but me, they hate.'

'Such is the gratitude of peoples,' said the Baron. 'But we trifle. Here, madam, are my plain thoughts. The man who in the hour of danger speaks of abdication is, for me, a venomous animal. I speak with the bluntness of gravity, madam; this is no hour for mincing. The coward, in a station of authority, is more dangerous than fire. We dwell on a volcano; if this man can have his way, Grunewald before a week will have been deluged with innocent blood.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book