‘Your Shakespeare, I think,’ said the prince, ’has a scene of young Frenchmen praising their horses. I myself am no stranger to the enthusiasm: one could not stake life and honour on a nobler brute. Pardon me if I state my opinion that you young Englishmen of to-day are sometimes rather overbearing in your assumption of a superior knowledge of horseflesh. We Germans in the Baltic provinces and in the Austrian cavalry think we have a right to a remark or two; and if we have not suborned the testimony of modern history, the value of our Hanoverian troopers is not unknown to one at least of your Generals. However, the odds are that you were right and Otto wrong, and he certainly put himself in the wrong to defend his ground.’
I begged him to pass a lenient sentence upon fiery youth. He assured me that he remembered his own. Our interchange of courtesies was cordially commonplace: we walked, as it were, arm-in-arm on thin ice, rivalling one another’s gentlemanly composure. Satisfied with my discretion, the prince invited me to the lake-palace, and then a week’s shooting in Styria to recruit. I thanked him in as clear a voice as I could command:
‘Your Highness, the mine flourishes, I trust?’
‘It does; I think I may say it does,’ he replied. ’There is always the want of capital. What can be accomplished, in the present state of affairs, your father performs, on the whole, well. You smile—but I mean extraordinarily well. He has, with an accountant at his elbow, really the genius of management. He serves me busily, and, I repeat, well. A better employment for him than the direction of Court theatricals?’
‘Undoubtedly it is.’
’Or than bestriding a bronze horse, personifying my good ancestor! Are you acquainted with the Chancellor von Redwitz?’
’All I know of him, sir, is that he is fortunate to enjoy the particular confidence of his master.’
’He has a long head. But, now, he is a disappointing man in action; responsibility overturns him. He is the reverse of Roy, whose advice I do not take, though I’m glad to set him running. Von Redwitz is in the town. He shall call on you, and amuse an hour or so of your convalescence.’
I confessed that I began to feel longings for society.
Prince Ernest was kind enough to quit me without unmasking. I had not to learn that the simplest visits and observations of ruling princes signify more than lies on the surface. Interests so highly personal as theirs demand from them a decent insincerity.