Chapter 4

GREATLY comforted by the exploits of the morning, the Prince turned towards the Princess's ante-room, bent on a more difficult enterprise. The curtains rose before him, the usher called his name, and he entered the room with an exaggeration of his usual mincing and airy dignity. There were about a score of persons waiting, principally ladies; it was one of the few societies in Grünewald where Otto knew himself to be popular; and while a maid of honour made her exit by a side door to announce his arrival to the Princess, he moved round the apartment, collecting homage and bestowing compliments with friendly grace. Had this been the sum of his duties, he had been an admirable monarch. Lady after lady was impartially honoured by his attention.

`Madam,' he said to one, `how does this happen? I find you daily more adorable.'

`And your Highness daily browner,' replied the lady. `We began equal; O, there I will be bold: we have both beautiful complexions. But while I study mine, your Highness tans himself.'

`A perfect negro, madam; and what so fitly -- being beauty's slave?' said Otto. -- `Madame Grafinski, when is our next play? I have just heard that I am a bad actor.'

`O ciel!' cried Madame Grafinski. `Who could venture? What a bear!'

`An excellent man, I can assure you,' returned Otto.

`O, never! O, is it possible!' fluted the lady. `Your Highness plays like an angel.'

`You must be right, madam; who could speak falsely and yet look so charming?' said the Prince. `But this gentleman, it seems, would have preferred me playing like an actor.'

A sort of hum, a falsetto, feminine cooing, greeted the tiny sally; and Otto expanded like a peacock. This warm atmosphere of women and flattery and idle chatter pleased him to the marrow.

`Madame von Eisenthal, your coiffure is delicious,' he remarked.

`Every one was saying so,' said one.

`If I have pleased Prince Charming?' And Madame von Eisenthal swept him a deep curtsy with a killing glance of adoration.

`It is new?' he asked. `Vienna fashion.'

`Mint new,' replied the lady, `for your Highness's return. I felt young this morning; it was a premonition. But why, Prince, do you ever leave us?'

`For the pleasure of the return,' said Otto. `I am like a dog; I must bury my bone, and then come back to great upon it.'

`O, a bone! Fie, what a comparison! You have brought back the manners of the wood,' returned the lady.

`Madam, it is what the dog has dearest,' said the Prince. `But I observe Madame von Rosen.'

And Otto, leaving the group to which he had been piping, stepped towards the embrasure of a window where a lady stood.

The Countess von Rosen had hitherto been silent, and a thought depressed, but on the approach of Otto she began to brighten. She was tall, slim as a nymph, and of a very airy carriage; and her face, which was already beautiful in repose, lightened and changed, flashed into smiles, and glowed with lovely colour at the touch of animation. She was a good vocalist; and, even in speech, her voice commanded a great range of changes, the low notes rich with tenor quality, the upper ringing, on the brink of laughter,

  By PanEris using Melati.

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