'And even so, it is not for your virtues,' she added.

Otto was embarrassed. 'And now,' he asked, 'if you are anyway rested?'

'Presently, presently. Let me breathe,' she said, panting a little harder than before.

'And what has so wearied you?' he asked. 'This bag? And why, in the name of eccentricity, a bag? For an empty one, you might have relied on my own foresight; and this one is very far from being empty. My dear Count, with what trash have you come laden? But the shortest method is to see for myself.' And he put down his hand.

She stopped him at once. 'Otto,' she said, 'no - not that way. I will tell, I will make a clean breast. It is done already. I have robbed the treasury single-handed. There are three thousand two hundred crowns. O, I trust it is enough!'

Her embarrassment was so obvious that the Prince was struck into a muse, gazing in her face, with his hand still outstretched, and she still holding him by the wrist. 'You!' he said at last. 'How?' And then drawing himself up, 'O madam,' he cried, 'I understand. You must indeed think meanly of the Prince.'

'Well, then, it was a lie!' she cried. 'The money is mine, honestly my own - now yours. This was an unworthy act that you proposed. But I love your honour, and I swore to myself that I should save it in your teeth. I beg of you to let me save it' - with a sudden lovely change of tone. 'Otto, I beseech you let me save it. Take this dross from your poor friend who loves you!'

'Madam, madam,' babbled Otto, in the extreme of misery, 'I cannot - I must go.'

And he half rose; but she was on the ground before him in an instant, clasping his knees. 'No,' she gasped, 'you shall not go. Do you despise me so entirely? It is dross; I hate it; I should squander it at play and be no richer; it is an investment, it is to save me from ruin. Otto,' she cried, as he again feebly tried to put her from him, 'if you leave me alone in this disgrace, I will die here!' He groaned aloud. 'O,' she said, 'think what I suffer! If you suffer from a piece of delicacy, think what I suffer in my shame! To have my trash refused! You would rather steal, you think of me so basely! You would rather tread my heart in pieces! O, unkind! O my Prince! O Otto! O pity me!' She was still clasping him; then she found his hand and covered it with kisses, and at this his head began to turn. 'O,' she cried again, 'I see it! O what a horror! It is because I am old, because I am no longer beautiful.' And she burst into a storm of sobs.

This was the COUP DE GRACE. Otto had now to comfort and compose her as he could, and before many words, the money was accepted. Between the woman and the weak man such was the inevitable end. Madame von Rosen instantly composed her sobs. She thanked him with a fluttering voice, and resumed her place upon the bench, at the far end from Otto. 'Now you see,' she said, 'why I bade you keep the thief at distance, and why I came alone. How I trembled for my treasure!'

'Madam,' said Otto, with a tearful whimper in his voice, 'spare me! You are too good, too noble!'

'I wonder to hear you,' she returned. 'You have avoided a great folly. You will be able to meet your good old peasant. You have found an excellent investment for a friend's money. You have preferred essential kindness to an empty scruple; and now you are ashamed of it! You have made your friend happy; and now you mourn as the dove! Come, cheer up. I know it is depressing to have done exactly right; but you need not make a practice of it. Forgive yourself this virtue; come now, look me in the face and smile!'

He did look at her. When a man has been embraced by a woman, he sees her in a glamour; and at such a time, in the baffling glimmer of the stars, she will look wildly well. The hair is touched with light; the eyes are constellations; the face sketched in shadows - a sketch, you might say, by passion. Otto became consoled for his defeat; he began to take an interest. 'No,' he said, 'I am no ingrate.'

'You promised me fun,' she returned, with a laugh.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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