‘The princess—?’ said I.
‘Ottilia has done that.’
‘Baroness, can I believe you?—and alone?’
A marvellous twinkle of shuffle appeared in the small slate-coloured eyes I looked at under their roofing of thick black eyebrows.
‘Alone,’ she said. ’That is, she was precautious to have her giant to protect her from violence. There you have a glimmering of reason in her; and all of it that I can see.’
‘Old Schwartz is a very faithful servant,’ said I, thinking that she resembled the old Warhead in visage.
‘A dog’s obedience to the master’s whims you call faithfulness! Hem!’ The baroness coughed dryly.
I whispered: ‘Does Prince Ernest—is he aware?’
‘You are aware,’ retorted the baroness, ’that what a man idolizes he won’t see flaw in. Remember, I am something here, or I am nothing.’
The enigmatical remark was received by me decorously as a piece of merited chastisement. Nodding with gravity, I expressed regrets that the sea did not please her, otherwise I could have offered her a yacht for a cruise. She nodded stiffly. Her mouth shut up a smile, showing more of the door than the ray. The dinner, virtually a German supper, ended in general conversation on political affairs, preceded and supported by a discussion between the Prussian-hearted General and the Austrian-hearted margravine. Prince Ernest, true to his view that diplomacy was the weapon of minor sovereigns, held the balance, with now a foot in one scale, now in the other; a politic proceeding, so long as the rival powers passively consent to be weighed.
We trifled with music, made our bow to the ladies, and changed garments for the smoking-room. Prince Ernest smoked his one cigar among guests. The General, the Chancellor, and the doctor, knew the signal for retirement, and rose simultaneously with the discharge of his cigar-end in sparks on the unlit logwood pile. My father and Mr. Peterborough kept their chairs.
There was, I felt with relief, no plot, for nothing had been definitely assented to by me. I received Prince Ernest’s proffer of his hand, on making my adieux to him, with a passably clear conscience.
I went out to the library. A man came in for orders; I had none to give. He saw that the shutters were fixed and the curtains down, examined my hand-lamp, and placed lamps on the reading-desk and mantel-piece. Bronze busts of sages became my solitary companions. The room was long, low and dusky, voluminously and richly hung with draperies at the farther end, where a table stood for the prince to jot down memoranda, and a sofa to incline him to the relaxation of romance-reading. A door at this end led to the sleeping apartments of the West wing of the palace. Where I sat the student had ranges of classical volumes in prospect and classic heads; no other decoration to the walls. I paced to and fro and should have flung myself on