“Yes.” I gnawed the ends of my mustache.
“Monsieur, it is against my will, my whole being. I have no desire to contribute a principality and a wife to a man who is not worthy of one or the other. I refuse to become the King’s puppet, notwithstanding his power to take away my principality and leave me comparatively without resources. I detest this man so thoroughly that I cannot hate him. I abhor him. It is you who must save me from him; it is you who must also save me my principality. Oh, they envy me, these poor people, because I am a Princess, because I dwell in the tinsel glitter of the court. Could they but know how I envy their lives, their homes, their humble ambitions! Believe me, monsieur, as yet I love no man; but that is no reason why I should link my life to that of a man to whom virtue in a woman means nothing. He caused my mother great sorrow. He came between her and my father. He spoiled her life, now he wishes to spoil mine. But I will not have it so. I will give up my principality rather. But first let me try to see if I cannot retain the one and rid myself of the other. Listen. To-morrow night there will be a dinner here. The King and the inner court will hold forth. But they will cast aside their pomp and become, for the time being, ordinary people. The Prince will be in Brussels, and therefore unable to attend. You are to come in his stead.”
“I?” in astonishment.
“Even so,” she smiled. “While the festivities are at their height you and I will secretly leave and return to the city. We shall go immediately to the station, thence to France.”
I looked at her as one in a dream. “I!—You!—thence to France?”
Hillars went to the sideboard and emptied half a glass of brandy. Coming back to his chair he remained in a reverie for a short time. Then he resumed his narrative.
The Princess looked up into my face and smiled.
“Yes; thence to France. Ah, I could go alone. But listen, monsieur. Above all things there must be a scandal. A Princess elopes with an American adventurer. The Prince will withdraw his suit. The King may or may not forgive me; but I will risk it. He is still somewhat fond of me, notwithstanding the worry I have caused him. This way is the only method by which I may convince him how detestable this engagement is to me. Yet, my freedom is more to me than my principality. Let the King bestow it upon whom he will. I shall become a teacher of languages, or something of that sort. I shall be free and happy. Oh, you will have a merry tale to tell, a merry adventure. You will return to your country. You will be the envy of your compatriots. You will recount at your clubs a story such as men read, but never hear told!” She was growing a bit hysterical. As she looked at me she saw that my face was grave.