“Good heavens!”

“Or, any rate, go near it: and I shall send a “semi-official” to the papers.”

“I’ll do nothing of the sort—no more will you!” said I. “I utterly refuse to take part in making a fool of the princess.”

Sapt looked at me with his small keen eyes. A slow cunning smile passed over his face.

“All right, lad, all right,” said he. “We mustn’t press you too hard. Soothe her down a bit, if you can, you know. Now for Michael!”

“Oh, damn Michael!” said I. “He’ll do tomorrow. Here, Fritz, come for a stroll in the garden.”

Sapt at once yielded. His rough manner covered a wonderful tact—and as I came to recognize more and more, a remarkable knowledge of human nature. Why did he urge me so little about the princess? Because he knew that her beauty and my ardour would carry me further than all his arguments—and that the less I thought about the thing, the more likely was I to do it. He must have seen the unhappiness he might bring on the princess; but that went for nothing with him. Can I say, confidently, that he was wrong? If the King were restored, the princess must turn to him, either knowing or not knowing the change. And if the King were not restored to us? It was a subject that we had never yet spoken of. But I had an idea that, in such a case, Sapt meant to seat me on the throne of Ruritania for the term of my life. He would have set Satan himself there sooner than that pupil of his, Black Michael.

The ball was a sumptuous affair. I opened it by dancing a quadrille with Flavia: then I waltzed with her. Curious eyes and eager whispers attended us. We went in to supper; and, half way through, I, half mad by then, for her glance had answered mine, and her quick breathing met my stammered sentences—I rose in my place before all the brilliant crowd, and taking the Red Rose that I wore, flung the ribbon with its jewelled badge round her neck. In a tumult of applause I sat down: I saw Sapt smiling over his wine, and Fritz frowning. The rest of the meal passed in silence; neither Flavia nor I could speak. Fritz touched me on the shoulder, and I rose, gave her my arm, and walked down the hall into a little room,where coffee was served to us. The gentlemen and ladies in attendance withdrew,and we were alone.

The little room had French windows opening on the gardens. The night was fine, cool, and fragrant. Flavia sat down, and I stood opposite her. I was struggling with myself: if she had not looked at me, I believe that even then I should have won my fight. But suddenly, involuntarily, she gave me one brief glance—a glance of question, hurriedly turned aside; a blush that the question had ever come spread over her cheek, and she caught her breath. Ah, if you had seen her! I forgot the King in Zenda. I forgot the King in Strelsau. She was a princess—and I an impostor. Do you think I remembered that? I threw myself on my knee and seized her hands in mine. I said nothing. Why should I? The soft sounds of the night set my wooing to a wordless melody, as I pressed my kisses on her lips.

She pushed me from her, crying suddenly:

“Ah! is it true? or is it only because you must?”

“It’s true!” I said, in low smothered tones—“true that I love you more than life—or truth—or honour!”

She set no meaning to my words, treating them as one of love’s sweet extravagances. She came close to me, and whispered:

“Oh, if you were not the King! Then I could show you how I love you! How is it that I love you now, Rudolf?”


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