‘We shall have a word together presently!’
The library door was flung open. Prince Ernest and the margravine were in the room. She walked out with angry majesty. The prince held his figure in the stiff attitude of reception. He could look imposing.
The character of the interview was perceptible at once.
’You have not, I presume, to be informed of the business in hand, Mr. Richmond!’
‘Your Highness, I believe I can guess it.’
This started him pacing the floor.
’An impossibility! a monstrous extravagance! a thing unheard of! mania! mania!’ he muttered. ’You are aware, sir, that you have been doing your worst to destroy the settled arrangements of my family? What does it mean? In common reason you cannot indulge any legitimate hope of succeeding. Taking you as a foreigner, you must know that. Judge of the case by your own reigning Families. Such events never happen amongst them. Do you suppose that the possession of immense wealth entitles you to the immeasurable presumption of aspiring to equality of position with reigning Houses? Such folly is more frequently castigated than reasoned with. Why, now—now, were it published—that I had condescended— condescend as I am doing, I should be the laughing-stock of every Court in Europe. You English want many lessons. You are taught by your scribes to despise the dignity which is not supported by a multitude of bayonets, guns, and gold. I heard of it when I travelled incognito. You make merry over little potentates. Good. But do not cross their paths. Their dominion may be circumscribed, but they have it; and where we are now, my power equals that of the Kaiser and the Czar. You will do me the favour to understand that I am not boasting, not menacing; I attempt, since it is extraordinarily imposed on me, to instruct you. I have cause to be offended; I waive it. I meet you on common ground, and address myself to your good sense. Have you anything to say?’
‘Much?’ he said, with affected incredulity.
The painful hardship for me was to reply in the vague terms he had been pleased to use.
’I have much to say, your Highness. First, to ask pardon of you, without excusing myself.’
’A condition, apparently, that absolves the necessity for the grant. Speak precisely.’
But I was as careful as he in abstaining from any direct indication of his daughter’s complicity, and said, ’I have offended your Highness. You have done me the honour to suggest that it is owing to my English training. You will credit my assurance that the offence was not intentional, not preconceived.’
’You charge it upon your having been trained among a nation of shopkeepers?’
‘My countrymen are not illiterate or unmannerly, your Highness.’
‘I have not spoken it; I may add, I do not think it.’