Prince Hermann had gone. His departure was mentioned with the ordinary commonplaces of regret. Ottilia was unembarrassed, both in speaking of him and looking at me. We had the Court physician and his wife at table, Chancellor von Redwitz and his daughter, and General Happenwyll, chief of the prince’s contingent, a Prussian at heart, said to be a good officer on the strength of a military book of some sort that he had full leisure to compose. The Chancellor’s daughter and Baroness Turckems enclosed me.
I was questioned by the baroness as to the cause of my father’s unexpected return. ‘He is generally opportune,’ she remarked.
‘He goes with me to England,’ I said.
‘Oh! he goes,’ said she; and asked why we were honoured with the presence of Mr. Peterborough that evening. There had always been a smouldering hostility between her and my father.
To my surprise, the baroness spoke of Ottilia by her name.
’Ottilia must have mountain air. These late hours destroy her complexion. Active exercise by day and proper fatigue by night time—that is my prescription.’
‘The princess,’ I replied, envying Peterborough, who was placed on one side of her, ’will benefit, I am sure, from mountain air. Does she read excessively? The sea—’
‘The sea I pronounce bad for her—unwholesome,’ returned the baroness. ‘It is damp.’
‘Damp,’ she reiterated. ’The vapours, I am convinced, affect mind and body. That excursion in the yacht did her infinite mischief. The mountains restored her. They will again, take my word for it. Now take you my word for it, they will again. She is not too strong in constitution, but in order to prescribe accurately one must find out whether there is seated malady. To ride out in the night instead of reposing! To drive on and on, and not reappear till the night of the next day—I ask you, is it sensible? Does it not approach mania?’
‘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.’