`I have nothing to regret,' said the Princess. `You surprise me. I thought you were so happy.'
`Happy and happy, there are so many hundred ways,' said Otto. `A man may be happy in revolt; he may be happy in sleep; wine, change, and travel make him happy; virtue, they say, will do the like -- I have not tried; and they say also that in old, quiet, and habitual marriages there is yet another happiness. Happy, yes; I am happy if you like; but I will tell you frankly, I was happier when I brought you home.'
`Well,' said the Princess, not without constraint, `it seems you changed your mind.'
`Not I,' returned Otto, `I never changed. Do you remember, Seraphina, on our way home, when you saw the roses in the lane, and I got out and plucked them? It was a narrow lane between great trees; the sunset at the end was all gold, and the rooks were flying overhead. There were nine, nine red roses; you gave me a kiss for each, and I told myself that every rose and every kiss should stand for a year of love. Well, in eighteen months there was an end. But do you fancy, Seraphina, that my heart has altered?'
`I am sure I cannot tell,' she said, like an automaton.
`It has not,' the Prince continued. `There is nothing ridiculous, even from a husband, in a love that owns itself unhappy and that asks no more. I built on sand; pardon me, I do not breathe a reproach -- I built, I suppose, upon my own infirmities; but I put my heart in the building, and it still lies among the ruins.'
`How very poetical!' she said, with a little choking laugh, unknown relentings, unfamiliar softnesses, moving within her. `What would you be at?' she added, hardening her voice.
`I would be at this,' he answered; `and hard it is to say. I would be at this:- Seraphina, I am your husband after all, and a poor fool that loves you. Understand,' he cried almost fiercely, `I am no suppliant husband; what your love refuses I would scorn to receive from your pity. I do not ask, I would not take it. And for jealousy, what ground have I? A dog-in-the-manger jealousy is a thing the dogs may laugh at. But at least, in the world's eye, I am still your husband; and I ask you if you treat me fairly? I keep to myself, I leave you free, I have given you in everything your will. What do you in return? I find, Seraphina, that you have been too thoughtless. But between persons such as we are, in our conspicuous station, particular care and a particular courtesy are owing. Scandal is perhaps not easy to avoid; but it is hard to bear.'
`Scandal!' she cried, with a deep breath. `Scandal! It is for this you have been driving!'
`I have tried to tell you how I feel,' he replied. `I have told you that I love you -- love you in vain -- a bitter thing for a husband; I have laid myself open that I might speak without offence. And now that I have begun, I will go on and finish.'
`I demand it,' she said. `What is this about?'
Otto flushed crimson. `I have to say what I would fain not,' he answered. `I counsel you to see less of Gondremark.'
`Of Gondremark? And why?' she asked.
`Your intimacy is the ground of scandal, madam,' said Otto, firmly enough -- `of a scandal that is agony to me, and would be crushing to your parents if they knew it.'
`You are the first to bring me word of it,' said she. `I thank you.'
`You have perhaps cause,' he replied. `Perhaps I am the only one among your friends -- `
`O, leave my friends alone,' she interrupted. `My friends are of a different stamp. You have come to me here and made a parade of sentiment. When have I last seen you? I have governed your kingdom for you in the meanwhile, and there I got no help. At last, when I am weary with a man's work, and you