At the height of this confusion the door was thrown open; an usher announced, `Gentlemen, the Prince!' and Otto, with his most excellent bearing, entered the apartment. It was like oil upon the troubled waters; every one settled instantly into his place, and Griesengesang, to give himself a countenance, became absorbed in the arrangement of his papers; but in their eagerness to dissemble, one and all neglected to rise.
`Gentlemen,' said the Prince, pausing.
They all got to their feet in a moment; and this reproof still further demoralised the weaker brethren.
The Prince moved slowly towards the lower end of the table; then he paused again, and, fixing his eye on Greisengesang, `How comes it, Herr Cancellarius,' he asked, `that I have received no notice of the change of hour?'
`Your Highness,' replied the Chancellor, `her Highness the Princess . . .' and there paused.
`I understood,' said Seraphina, taking him up, `that you did not purpose to be present.'
Their eyes met for a second, and Seraphina's fell; but her anger only burned the brighter for that private shame.
`And now, gentlemen,' said Otto, taking his chair, `I pray you to be seated. I have been absent: there are doubtless some arrears; but ere we proceed to business, Herr Grafinski, you will direct four thousand crowns to be sent to me at once. Make a note, if you please,' he added, as the treasurer still stared in wonder.
`Four thousand crowns?' asked Seraphina. `Pray, for what?'
`Madam,' returned Otto, smiling, `for my own purposes.'
Gondremark spurred up Grafinski underneath the table.
`If your Highness will indicate the destination . . . ` began the puppet.
`You are not here, sir, to interrogate your Prince,' said Otto.
Grafinski looked for help to his commander; and Gondremark came to his aid, in suave and measured tones.
`Your Highness may reasonably be surprised,' he said; `and Herr Grafinski, although I am convinced he is clear of the intention of offending, would have perhaps done better to begin with an explanation. The resources of the state are at the present moment entirely swallowed up, or, as we hope to prove, wisely invested. In a month from now, I do not question we shall be able to meet any command your Highness may lay upon us; but at this hour I fear that, even in so small a matter, he must prepare himself for disappointment. Our zeal is no less, although our power may be inadequate.'
`How much, Herr Grafinski, have we in the treasury?' asked Otto.
`Your Highness,' protested the treasurer, `we have immediate need of every crown.'
`I think, sir, you evade me,' flashed the Prince; and then turning to the side-table, `Mr. Secretary,' he added, `bring me, if you please, the treasury docket.'
Herr Grafinski became deadly pale; the Chancellor, expecting his own turn, was probably engaged in prayer; Gondremark was watching like a ponderous cat. Gotthold, on his part, looked on with wonder at his cousin; he was certainly showing spirit, but what, in such a time of gravity, was all this talk of money? and why should he waste his strength upon a personal issue?
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