With Von der Tann actively opposed to them, the value of having the king upon their side would be greatly minimized. The people and the army had every confidence in the old chancellor. Even if he opposed the king there was reason to believe that they might still side with him.
“What is to be done?” asked Zellerndorf. “Is there no way either to win or force Von der Tann to acquiescence?”
“I think we can accomplish it,” said Prince Peter, after a moment of thought. “Let us see Leopold. His mind has been prepared to receive almost gratefully any insinuations against the loyalty of Von der Tann. With proper evidence the king may easily be persuaded to order the chancellor’s arrest—possibly his execution as well.”
So they saw the king, only to meet a stubborn refusal upon the part of Leopold to accede to their suggestions. He still was madly in love with Von der Tann’s daughter, and he knew that a blow delivered at her father would only tend to increase her bitterness toward him. The conspirators were nonplussed.
They had looked for a comparatively easy road to the consummation of their desires. What in the world could be the cause of the king’s stubborn desire to protect the man they knew he feared, hated, and mistrusted with all the energy of his suspicious nature? It was the king himself who answered their unspoken question.
“I cannot believe in the disloyalty of Prince Ludwig,” he said, “nor could I, even if I desired it, take such drastic steps as you suggest. Some day the Princess Emma, his daughter, will be my queen.”
Count Zellerndorf was the first to grasp the possibilities that lay in the suggestion the king’s words carried.
“Your majesty,” he cried, “there is a way to unite all factions in Lutha. It would be better to insure the loyalty of Von der Tann through bonds of kinship than to antagonize him. Marry the Princess Emma at once.
“Wait, your majesty,” he added, as Leopold raised an objecting hand. “I am well informed as to the strange obstinacy of the princess, but for the welfare of the state—yes, for the sake of your very throne, sire—you should exert your royal prerogatives and command the Princess Emma to carry out the terms of your betrothal.”
“What do you mean, Zellerndorf?” asked the king.
“I mean, sire, that we should bring the princess here and compel her to marry you.”
Leopold shook his head. “You do not know her,” he said. “You do not know the Von der Tann nature—one cannot force a Von der Tann.”
“Pardon, sire,” urged Zellerndorf, “but I think it can be accomplished. If the Princess Emma knew that your majesty believed her father to be a traitor—that the order for his arrest and execution but awaited your signature—I doubt not that she would gladly become queen of Lutha, with her father’s life and liberty as a wedding gift.”
For several minutes no one spoke after Count Zellerndorf had ceased. Leopold sat looking at the toe of his boot. Peter of Blentz, Maenck, and the Austrian watched him intently. The possibilities of the plan were sinking deep into the minds of all four. At last the king rose. He was mumbling to himself as though unconscious of the presence of the others.