‘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.’
’I feared that your Highness entertained what I find to be a very general, perhaps here and there wilful, error with regard to England.’
’When I was in the service I had a comrade, a gallant gentleman, deeply beloved by me, and he was an Englishman. He died in the uniform and under the flag I reverence.’
’I rejoice that your Highness has had this experience of us. I have to imagine that I expressed myself badly. My English training certainly does not preclude the respect due to exalted rank. Your Highness will, I trust humbly, pardon my offence. I do not excuse myself because I cannot withdraw, and I am incapable of saying that I regret it.’
‘In cool blood you utter that?’ exclaimed the prince.
His amazement was unfeigned.
’What are the impossible, monstrous ideas you—where—? Who leads you to fancy there is one earthly chance for you when you say you cannot withdraw? Cannot? Are you requested? Are you consulted? It is a question to be decided in the imperative: you must. What wheel it is you think you have sufficient vigour to stop, I am profoundly unaware, but I am prepared to affirm that it is not the wheel of my household. I would declare it, were I a plain citizen. You are a nullity in the case, in point of your individual will—a nullity swept away with one wave of the hand. You can