“No, Herr,” said Gretchen.
“That is bad. You have a great voice, Fraeulein. Well, I shall teach you. I shall make you a great singer. It is hard work.”
“I have always worked hard.”
“Good! Your Highness, a thousand thanks! What is your name?” to Gretchen. She told him. “It is a good name. Come to me Monday at the opera and I shall put you into good hands. Some day you will be rich, and I shall become great because I found you.”
Then, with the artist’s positive indifference to the presence of exalted blood, he turned his back upon the two young women and roused his men from the trance.
“So, Gretchen,” said her highness, when the two came out again into the garden, “you are to be rich and famous. That will be fine.”
“Thanks, Highness, thanks! God grant the day to come when I may be of service to you!” Gretchen kissed the hands of her benefactress.
“Whenever you wish to see the gardens,” added the princess, “the gates will be open for you.”
As Gretchen went back to the Krumerweg her wooden shoes were golden slippers and her rough homespun, silk. Rich! Famous! She saw the opera ablaze with lights, she heard the roll of applause. She saw the horn of plenty pouring its largess from the fair sky. Rainbow dreams! But Gretchen never became a prima donna. There was something different on the knees of the gods.
AFFAIRS OF STATE
The grand duke stamped back and forth with a rumble as of distant thunder. He would search the very deeps of this matter. He was of a patient mold, but this was the final straw. He would have his revenge if it upset the whole continent. They would play with him, eh? Well, they had loosed the lion this time. He had sent his valet to summon her highness and Herbeck.
“And tell them to put everything else aside.”
He kneaded the note in his hand powerfully. It was anonymous, but it spoke clearly like truth. It had been left with one of the sentries, who declared that a small boy had delivered it. The sender remained undiscoverable.
His highness had just that hour returned from the military field. He was tired; and it was not the psychological moment for a thing like this to turn up. Had he not opposed it for months? And now, having surrendered against his better judgment, this gratuitous affront was offered him! It was damnable. He smote the offending note. He would soon find out whether it was true or not. Then he flung the thing violently to the floor. But he realized that this burst of fury would not translate the muddle, so he stooped and recovered the missive. He laughed, but the laughter had a grim Homeric sound. War! Nothing less. He was prepared for it. Twenty thousand troops were now in the valley, and there were twenty thousand reserves. What Franz Josef of Austria or William of Prussia said did not amount to the snap of his two fingers. To avenge himself of the wrongs so long endured of Jugendheit, to wipe out the score with blood! Did they think that he was in his dotage, to offer an insult of this magnitude? They should see, aye, that they should! It did not matter that the news reached him through subterranean channels or by treachery; there was truth here, and that sufficed.