Chapter 3

OFF WHEN the busy Countess came forth from her interview with Seraphina, it is not too much to say that she was beginning to be terribly afraid. She paused in the corridor and reckoned up her doings with an eye to Gondremark. The fan was in requisition in an instant; but her disquiet was beyond the reach of fanning. `The girl has lost her head,' she thought; and then dismally, `I have gone too far.' She instantly decided on secession. Now the mons sacer of the Frau von Rosen was a certain rustic villa in the forest, called by herself, in a smart attack of poesy, Tannen Zauber, and by everybody else plain Kleinbrunn.

Thither, upon the thought, she furiously drove, passing Gondremark at the entrance to the Palace avenue, but feigning not to observe him; and as Kleinbrunn was seven good miles away, and in the bottom of a narrow dell, she passed the night without any rumour of the outbreak reaching her; and the glow of the conflagration was concealed by intervening hills. Frau von Rosen did not sleep well; she was seriously uneasy as to the results of her delightful evening, and saw herself condemned to quite a lengthy sojourn in her deserts and a long defensive correspondence, ere she could venture to return to Gondremark. On the other hand, she examined, by way of pastime, the deeds she had received from Otto; and even here saw cause for disappointment. In these troublous days she had no taste for landed property, and she was convinced, besides, that Otto had paid dearer than the farm was worth. Lastly, the order for the Prince's release fairly burned her meddling fingers.

All things considered, the next day beheld an elegant and beautiful lady, in a riding-habit and a flapping hat, draw bridle at the gate of the Felsenburg, not perhaps with any clear idea of her purpose, but with her usual experimental views on life. Governor Gordon, summoned to the gate, welcomed the omnipotent Countess with his most gallant bearing, though it was wonderful how old he looked in the morning.

`Ah, Governor,' she said, `we have surprises for you, sir,' and nodded at him meaningly.

`Eh, madam, leave me my prisoners,' he said; `and if you will but join the band, begad, I'll be happy for life.'

`You would spoil me, would you not?' she asked.

`I would try, I would try,' returned the Governor, and he offered her his arm.

She took it, picked up her skirt, and drew him close to her. `I have come to see the Prince,' she said. `Now, infidel! on business. A message from that stupid Gondremark, who keeps me running like a courier. Do I look like one, Herr Gordon?' And she planted her eyes in him.

`You look like an angel, ma'am,' returned the Governor, with a great air of finished gallantry.

The Countess laughed. `An angel on horseback!' she said. `Quick work.'

`You came, you saw, you conquered,' flourished Gordon, in high good humour with his own wit and grace. `We toasted you, madam, in the carriage, in an excellent good glass of wine; toasted you fathom deep; the finest woman, with, begad, the finest eyes in Grünewald. I never saw the like of them but once, in my own country, when I was a young fool at College: Thomasina Haig her name was. I give you my word of honour, she was as like you as two peas.'

`And so you were merry in the carriage?' asked the Countess, gracefully dissembling a yawn.

`We were; we had a very pleasant conversation; but we took perhaps a glass more than that fine fellow of a Prince has been accustomed to,' said the Governor; `and I observe this morning that he seems a little off his mettle. We'll get him mellow again ere bedtime. This is his door.'

`Well,' she whispered, `let me get my breath. No, no; wait. Have the door ready to open.' And the Countess, standing like one inspired, shook out her fine voice in `Lascia ch'io pianga'; and when she had reached

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