Chapter 7IT was as Gotthold wrote. The liberation of Sir John, Greisengesang's uneasy narrative, last of all, the scene between Seraphina and the Prince, had decided the conspirators to take a step of bold timidity. There had been a period of bustle, liveried messengers speeding here and there with notes; and at half- past ten in the morning, about an hour before its usual hour, the council of Grünewald sat around the board.
It was not a large body. At the instance of Gondremark, it had undergone a strict purgation, and was now composed exclusively of tools. Three secretaries sat at a side-table. Seraphina took the head; on her right was the Baron, on her left Greisengesang; below these Grafinski the treasurer, Count Eisenthal, a couple of non- combatants, and, to the surprise of all, Gotthold. He had been named a privy councillor by Otto, merely that he might profit by the salary; and as he was never known to attend a meeting, it had occurred to nobody to cancel his appointment. His present appearance was the more ominous, coming when it did. Gondremark scowled upon him; and the non-combatant on his right, intercepting this black look, edged away from one who was so clearly out of favour.
`The hour presses, your Highness,' said the Baron; `may we proceed to business?'
`At once,' replied Seraphina.
`Your Highness will pardon me,' said Gotthold; `but you are still, perhaps, unacquainted with the fact that Prince Otto has returned.'
`The Prince will not attend the council,' replied Seraphina, with a momentary blush. `The despatches, Herr Cancellarius? There is one for Gerolstein?'
A secretary brought a paper.
`Here, madam,' said Greisengesang. `Shall I read it?'
`We are all familiar with its terms,' replied Gondremark. `Your Highness approves?'
`Unhesitatingly,' said Seraphina.
`It may then be held as read,' concluded the Baron. `Will your Highness sign?'
The Princess did so; Gondremark, Eisenthal, and one of the non- combatants followed suit; and the paper was then passed across the table to the librarian. He proceeded leisurely to read.
`We have no time to spare, Herr Doctor,' cried the Baron brutally. `If you do not choose to sign on the authority of your sovereign, pass it on. Or you may leave the table,' he added, his temper ripping out.
`I decline your invitation, Herr von Gondremark; and my sovereign, as I continue to observe with regret, is still absent from the board,' replied the Doctor calmly; and he resumed the perusal of the paper, the rest chafing and exchanging glances. `Madame and gentlemen,' he said, at last, `what I hold in my hand is simply a declaration of war.'
`Simply,' said Seraphina, flashing defiance.
`The sovereign of this country is under the same roof with us,' continued Gotthold, `and I insist he shall be summoned. It is needless to adduce my reasons; you are all ashamed at heart of this projected treachery.'
The council waved like a sea. There were various outcries.
`You insult the Princess,' thundered Gondremark.
`I maintain my protest,' replied Gotthold.
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