Chapter 13

WHEN Madame von Rosen left the Prince, she hurried straight to Colonel Gordon; and not content with directing the arrangements, she had herself accompanied the soldier of fortune to the Flying Mercury. The Colonel gave her his arm, and the talk between this pair of conspirators ran high and lively. The Countess, indeed, was in a whirl of pleasure and excitement; her tongue stumbled upon laughter, her eyes shone, the colour that was usually wanting now perfected her face. It would have taken little more to bring Gordon to her feet -- or so, at least, she believed, disdaining the idea.

Hidden among some lilac bushes, she enjoyed the great decorum of the arrest, and heard the dialogue of the two men die away along the path. Soon after, the rolling of a carriage and the beat of hoofs arose in the still air of the night, and passed speedily farther and fainter into silence. The Prince was gone.

Madame von Rosen consulted her watch. She had still, she thought, time enough for the tit-bit of her evening; and hurrying to the palace, winged by the fear of Gondremark's arrival, she sent her name and a pressing request for a reception to the Princess Seraphina. As the Countess von Rosen unqualified, she was sure to be refused; but as an emissary of the Baron's, for so she chose to style herself, she gained immediate entry.

The Princess sat alone at table, making a feint of dining. Her cheeks were mottled, her eyes heavy; she had neither slept nor eaten; even her dress had been neglected. In short, she was out of health, out of looks, out of heart, and hag-ridden by her conscience. The Countess drew a swift comparison, and shone brighter in beauty.

`You come, madam, de la part de Monsieur le Baron,' drawled the Princess. `Be seated! What have you to say?'

`To say?' repeated Madame von Rosen, `O, much to say! Much to say that I would rather not, and much to leave unsaid that I would rather say. For I am like St. Paul, your Highness, and always wish to do the things I should not. Well! to be categorical -- that is the word? -- I took the Prince your order. He could not credit his senses. "Ah," he cried "dear Madame von Rosen, it is not possible -- it cannot be I must hear it from your lips. My wife is a poor girl misled, she is only silly, she is not cruel." "mon Prince," said I, "a girl -- and therefore cruel; youth kills flies." -- He had such pain to understand it!'

`Madame von Rosen,' said the Princess, in most steadfast tones, but with a rose of anger in her face, `who sent you here, and for what purpose? Tell your errand.'

`O, madam, I believe you understand me very well,' returned von Rosen. `I have not your philosophy. I wear my heart upon my sleeve, excuse the indecency! It is a very little one,' she laughed, `and I so often change the sleeve!'

`Am I to understand the Prince has been arrested?' asked the Princess, rising.

`While you sat there dining!' cried the Countess, still nonchalantly seated.

`You have discharged your errand,' was the reply; `I will not detain you.'

`O no, madam,' said the Countess, `with your permission, I have not yet done. I have borne much this evening in your service. I have suffered. I was made to suffer in your service.' She unfolded her fan as she spoke. Quick as her pulses beat, the fan waved languidly. She betrayed her emotion only by the brightness of her eyes and face, and by the almost insolent triumph with which she looked down upon the Princess. There were old scores of rivalry between them in more than one field; so at least von Rosen felt; and now she was to have her hour of victory in them all.

`You are no servant, Madame von Rosen, of mine,' said Seraphina.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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