“I have enjoyed every day of our journey, Karl. I have learned the great lesson of life, and am now ready to go back to Styria and take up my burden. We must see our friends and say farewell to them. Then—”
“You forget the object of our journey to Burgundy,” I answered.
“No, I have not forgotten it,” he replied. “I had abandoned it even before I heard of the impending French marriage.”
“Not with my consent, Max,” I answered almost fiercely. “The princess is not yet married, and no one can foresee the outcome of these present complications into which the duke is plunging. We could not have reached Burgundy at a more auspicious time. God’s hand seems to have been in our venture. If evil befall the duke, there will be an open gate for you, Max,—a gate opened by fate.”
I could not, by my utmost effort, force myself entirely away from the belief that Yolanda was the princess, and I was near to telling Max of my suspicions; but doubt came before my words, and I remained silent. Before many days I was glad of my caution.
“I knew,” said Max, “that I would pain you, Karl, by this determination to return to Styria without so much as an effort to do—to do what we— what you wished; but it must be as I say. I must leave Burgundy and go back to my strait-jacket. I have lived my life, Karl, I have had my portion of sweet joy and sweeter pain. The pain will give me joy as long as I live. Now for my duty to my father, my house, and my ancestors.”
“But your duty to all these lies here in Peronne,” I answered, almost stifled by the stupendous import of the moment.
“I suppose you are right,” sighed Max, speaking gently, though with decision. “But that duty I’ll shirk, and try to make amends in other ways. I shall never marry. That, Karl, you may depend upon. Styria may go at my death to Albert of Austria, or to his issue.”
“No, no! Max,” I cried. He ignored my interruption.
“Along with the countless duties that fall to the lot of a prince are a few that one owes to himself as a man. There are some sacrifices a man has no right to inflict upon himself, even for the sake of his family, his ancestors, or his state.” He paused for the space of a minute, and, dropping his words slowly, continued in a low voice vibrant with emotion: “There is but one woman, Karl, whom I may marry with God’s pleasure. Her, I may not even think upon; she is as far from me as if she were dead. I must sacrifice her for the sake of the obligations and conditions into which I was born; but—” here he hesitated, rose slowly to his feet, and lifted his hands above his head, “but I swear before the good God, who, in His wisdom, inflicted the curse of my birth upon me, that I will marry no other woman than this, let the result be what it may.”
He sank back into the chair and fell forward on the table, burying his face in his arms. His heart for the moment was stronger than his resolution.